Parenting From Fear

There were a few brief minutes after my daughter was born, when my husband had signed all the paperwork at the hospital, gone down to get our car, and come back to get me, that she and I were all alone. It was the first time I’d been able to look at her and whisper in her ear when no one else was around to see or hear.

I kissed her forehead and placed my lips close to her ear and whispered, “I have no idea what I’m doing and I know you have no idea what you’re doing either but we will figure this out together.”

I felt as if I were at a disadvantage because my mom had died several years before, and truthfully, I was bitter about it in that moment. She should have been there to help me figure it out, to bounce the crying baby girl when I needed a shower, or to just tell me I was going to be okay. Realistically, I know most women feel as if they have no clue, whether they have a mom to help or not. We all kind of look around and wonder, “Are they really going to let me take this baby home with me? Shouldn’t there be a test?”

For the first five or six years of parenting my two babies, my girl and my boy, I did it with a stomach full of anxiety and a fist tightly gripped on a set of rules I had made up in my head of what “good moms” did.

I yelled a lot – at them, at my husband, at passing cars, the pharmacist, and anyone who didn’t do what I said, when I said it, or how I wanted it done. I cried a lot. I didn’t just burn the candle at both ends, I lit several candles up and did a baton routine with them. I was living in fear, and I was parenting from fear. I couldn’t label it or put my finger on what the problem was at the time, but looking back, I now know that’s exactly what was happening.

I finally sought help. Not on my own, mind you. Quite a few people recommended it, and after a particularly hard day in the middle of a vacation, I collapsed and admitted I needed it. I am so grateful I was able to receive the help I needed to break several bad habits but to also look back at my life, figure out where many of my fears were coming from, and be honest about how my behavior was effecting my parenting.

I wasn’t enjoying my kids; I was trying to make them perfect. I didn’t have fun with them because I wouldn’t allow myself to have fun. That’s not to say there weren’t fun moments – there were! But overall, my anxiety was holding me captive. My worry of messing them up or worse, allowing them to mess up, was like a set of iron handcuffs. When I look back at pictures of me during those years, I was skinnier than I should have been and my eyes had a dark and empty glaze. My fear had convinced me I would never be a good enough parent and therefore, my kids would never be good enough.

Crying out to God for help and seeking the advice and teaching of people in a position to help me was the best decision I have ever made for my family. God delivered a peace to my soul and a healing balm that soothed me from the inside out.

It didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work and dedication to being a parent who offers love and grace. And truthfully, I’m still working on it. God opened my eyes in a whole new way to see the love and grace He offers me every day. He showed me how to rely on Him and to rest in His arms. He pointed me to loving people who could stand in the gap for me when I needed a mama of my own.

I memorized Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid I will trust in You,” and whispered it over and over and over. I realized the enemy wants nothing more than for me to live gripped in fear. When I ask God to remind me of what is good and true, He does it. He takes away the lies the enemy throws at me and disintegrates them immediately. And when those lies sneak back in, I whisper again to the Lord and He always answers.

These days, my kids and I enjoy each other a lot. We can have fun together, laugh at each other and with each other. We laugh at their dad a lot! They talk to me about life and love and faith and I talk to them, too. I am able to give them appropriate amounts of freedom because I don’t live in fear of them making terrible choices. I trust in God. I trust in the faith we have taught them. I trust in their hearts and minds to do what’s right. Will they mess up? Of course! They mess up all the time! But so do I! Messing up is part of living and I finally learned that no matter how tight I grip my kids, they are still going to grow up and fly away from our nest one day. I want them to feel like they have been loved well and taught well and can come back any time they wish. I don’t want them to feel the need to break free from a prison I built for myself and them.

If you have been living a life filled with anxiety and fear, know there is hope. It doesn’t have to be that way and it’s never too late to seek the peace our Heavenly Father offers. I got involved with Celebrate Recovery and see a therapist regularly. You may find other ways of receiving help. Whatever you do, I encourage you to reach out to someone today. You are worth it. And your family is worth it.

Surprising Tears

I had, what some might call an over-reaction a few days ago, to what should have been a small, every day inconvenience. I share because I have a suspicion I am not the only one having surprising reactions lately to what we otherwise might believe incidents that need little reaction at all. I share because, at the moment, I felt quite absurd but, later, after asking myself a few questions, was able to uncover the underlying feelings.

To say I am an HEB fan would be a slight understatement. If you live outside of Texas and don’t know what HEB is, my heart is a little sad for you. You might even be confused as to why one would have a need to be a fan of a grocery store, which is not fully describing what HEB is to Texas.

HEB is technically a grocery store. Our local HEB is what some might call a mega-store. It has food and drinks, a pharmacy, kitchen supplies, a really nice seafood department, bakery, etc. It also has a florist, and a sit-down barbecue restaurant with some of the best banana pudding you’ve ever tasted. The service is always friendly and the shelves are always stocked. (At least as much as they can be during a global pandemic and world-wide shutdown.)

HEB does smart thinking and amazing community care when it’s hurricane season or when a storm has blown through an area. They halt production and delivery on frivolous items and bulk up items people tend to reach out for – white bread, hot dogs, buns, toilet paper, bottled water, etc. They do what they can to love their neighbors and care for their customers. It’s a rare thing you don’t see in a lot of corporations anymore.

One day, when my kids were toddlers, I was waiting in line at the pharmacy when a full blown fight broke out between my son and daughter. I had run into the store quickly, only to grab prescriptions, and had put both of my children in the basket of a cart – despite the instructions on the cart clearly stating it was not a safe place for children. But I was only going to be a couple of minutes and I didn’t need the giant car cart, with its bright red car on the front for the kids to drive while I filled the tiny basket with groceries. I was only picking up our prescriptions. I simply needed to keep my children wrangled.

The fight exploded faster than I could contain it and my son fell out of the cart, head smacking the linoleum tile. To this day, I can still close my eyes and hear that terrible smacking sound of his little skull on the floor. He cried and cried and cried and I picked him up quickly to try to assess the situation and soothe him. There was no broken skin, no bump, no indention…only screams. (I could write a book on the injuries that child should have suffered over the years. He was clearly born with a tough skull, thick skin, and a very strong and swift guardian angel!) The pharmacist ran out from behind the counter, passing all the customers in front of me, bringing me a soft ice pack. I’ll never know how she moved so quickly. She then asked the customers ahead of me if they minded if she took care of me first, she handed me my prescriptions, gave my hand a squeeze, and told me to go home and rest.

Two days later, I received a card in the mail from that pharmacist. It was a “thinking of you” type card, and she wrote the sweetest message inside. She told me she understood the late afternoon trials of being a mom to toddlers, and that I was doing a good job. She reminded me to take deep breaths and know that kids are resilient and bouncy, and that she just knew my son was going to be okay.

He was.

This is one of more than a handful of examples I could give you of ways the pharmacists at my HEB have loved me well over the years. So when I found out this week that our prescription insurance would no longer pay for our medications unless we went to the pharmacy they required, I sobbed.

You may think, “Sobbed? Really?” and I would answer you, “Yes. I sobbed.” And truthfully, at first, I was incredibly embarrassed for myself. It felt so silly, so dramatic, so unnecessary.

But because I am learning to lean into my emotions, my feelings, and my reactions to certain situations, I started to ask myself questions.

What was this really about? Was I sad about the pharmacy or the people? Did I doubt the capability of the new, required pharmacy? When else had I felt this emotion lately?

Ah-ha. That was it. When else had I felt this emotion lately? That’s when the answer clicked.

This last year – actually more than a year – has been a time of government, doctors, businesses, friends, and even strangers online, telling us all what we can and cannot do, where we can and cannot go, how we can and cannot dress, who is safe, who is not safe, how we love our neighbors and what isn’t loving to our neighbors. We’ve been told that if we vote this way it is loving and if we vote that way it is hateful. We’ve been told if we support this we are righteous but if we support that we are selfish. We’ve been told we must accept this but not that, that but not this, and the idea that me, a grown, educated woman, could make a decision for her own life or the lives of her children has been criticized.

And then my insurance told me I couldn’t fill my prescriptions where I wanted.

It was one more domino in a long line of tumbling dominoes in this world and I, apparently, had reached my threshold. So I cried.

I realized in that moment I wasn’t crying for the inconvienience of having to switch pharmacies, although I really was sad about doing so. I was grieving the loss of one more piece of the “before.” This pandemic has been more than just a health scare; it’s been a reckoning. It’s changed so many policies, so many friendships, so many families. It’s shown false colors and true colors and turned so many issues into black or white, leaving no gray in between. I was grieving the loss of “before.”

I took a deep breath and allowed myself to sit in the sadness for a few minutes before asking God to step in and soothe my heart.

Philippians 4: 6-7 says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Jesus Christ.”

Acknowledging and allowing space for grief is so healthy. It’s a fact I’ve known for years, but only recently have I allowed it to be true for me and not just for other people. Sometimes, grief can spiral into worry and fear, and I don’t want that to happen. When I worry, I rob myself of the peace and joy God offers me so freely in amounts that far exceed my own understanding. Grief, however, is a different bird than worry. Grief acknowledges that something has changed and may not ever be the way it was before. It’s important to grieve the changes in life, to cry for them, and then set them free…even grief as small as a pharmacist change. I’m learning that the more freely I acknowledge the tiny grief moments, the easier it is to see the big ones for what they truly are. I can talk about them, thank God for His presence amidst them, and ask Him to take them from my open hands.

It sounds so simple when I type it out but, experience has taught me my tendency is to hold tight to grief. My personality is one that likes to hold the sadness close because it proves I have been hurt or wronged or mistreated. When God offers to take these grief moments from me, I allow Him in to sit with me and then I shoo Him away. I hold tight to the sadness and try to comfort it all on my own.

The thing is, my own brand of comfort never works. So my prayers lately are shifting from “Dear God, please take away…,” to “Dear God, help me release…” He has always been and will always be willing to take away what is harmful to me. I, however, have rarely been willing to hand it over. I want to take my cue from Jesus, who showed grief when on this earth. I want to shed the tears my body needs to shed, sit with the people who want to hold my hand, and then allow God to do the work needed to bring glory to His Kingdom. Again, it sounds so simple as I type the words. I know it will take a God-sized miracle for me to do it. But then again, those are the exact size of miracles He performs.

When the Body Remembers

In the first few years after my mom’s suicide, I dealt with trauma daily. I had nightmares and crying spells and anxiety attacks all the time. It was common for something to trigger my memories and my body and mind would shut down for the rest of the day.

It’s been twenty-four years since I last saw my mom and, while I have done an incredible amount of therapy and healing, my body still reacts this time of year. I get sad and my chronic fatigue syndrome flares up. I can’t get enough sleep. I ache all over. My digestion slows down. I cry at the drop of a hat, even when I’m not able to pinpoint my sadness.

The reason I experience all these symptoms is that my body is remembering the trauma of my mom’s suicide even when my brain isn’t thinking about it. Every cell in our body has the ability to remember trauma, even when our mind doesn’t. I have done a lot of work to process the memories of Mom’s death; of finding her body and the story that surrounds those memories. But I have only recently begin to understand body memory. I am learning ways to connect my mind and body to help release the tension when it begins to build up. Here are a few things that are working for me:

Be in the moment and feel the feelings. It’s easy to try to hide from or numb tension, stress, and anxiety. But when I acknowledge that something is happening in my body and am honest with myself, it’s easier to give myself what I need; which is usually a cold drink of water, a nap, and a hug from someone I love.

Make self-care a priority. Our society tends to reward those who never take a break and always put themselves last. When dealing with post-traumatic stress, these behaviors are not rewarding for the body. Slowing down and simplifying my day is often the best thing for me. Turning down the lights, lighting a candle, taking a bubble bath, listening to soft music are all ways I can connect my body and mind. For some, exercise is the way they connect mind and body. For others, walking in the grass with bare feet. Everyone has to figure out the method that works best for them.

Talking to my therapist, my friends, and, most importantly, to God. When depression rises up – in my mind or my body – I have to resist the urge to isolate. Isolation does not allow my brain or body to connect joyfully with others and joy is the exact thing I need when my body is trying to protect me from my past trauma.

Overcoming trauma is a long process, but thankfully, I serve a God who is bigger than my pain. He created my mind and body to be a miraculous work of art; one that does things even the most intelligent doctors don’t quite understand yet. He not only sees my past, my present, and my future, but He cares about all my days. He is the healer and His love for me allows Him to collide with my pain – and My God always wins.

“He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”

Psalm 91:4 NLT

Starting Over. Again.

If I had a dollar for every time I said I was starting over on something, I’d have, I don’t know…a lot of dollars. And if I had a dollar for every time I started a health journey over, I’d have enough dollars to buy some really nice Spanx.

And yet, here I am again, starting over on a health journey. Again.

Every time I do this, I swear it’s not a diet. I promise myself it’s going to be a lifestyle change. I vow it will be the final time I need a reset because I will take care of myself from here on out. I look myself in the eye and tell myself I am worth it; that I am worthy of the love I am showing myself by taking care of my health. I pray to God, repenting of the sin of treating my body, his creation, like a dumping ground. I ask for forgiveness for making food an idol; the thing I run to for comfort instead of my Heavenly Father. I jump in with both feet, both hands, both chins, and I make changes needed to become the healthiest version of myself.

So what is my problem? Why am I carrying more weight than I’ve ever carried in my entire life? Why are my hormones out of control? Why is my skin a mess?

I could give the laundry list of health issues I have working against me losing weight. I could speak of health issues I have because I haven’t lost the weight. I could talk about menopause. I could give all the reasons and all the excuses. Sometimes I feel like it’s such a vicious cycle I want nothing more than to throw up my hands and pour a glass of red wine. Or white.

The reality is I have never, in my entire life, had a healthy relationship with my body. Growing up, I was tiny. I was petite and muscular and adorable, but I never saw myself as such. I lived my life in constant fear of gaining weight because my mom was overweight. I remember learning about the food pyramid in elementary school (the old version with bread on the bottom row) and keeping copies in my room and on the fridge in order to track what I was eating. I believed if I could control my diet and keep it within the pyramid, I would be alright.

Something in me never allowed me to see myself as beautiful. Was it boys who made rude comments? Maybe, but kids are just kids, right? Was it comparison to other girls? Maybe, but I knew I wasn’t much smaller or bigger than girls I thought were much prettier than me. Was it teen magazines making an ideal out of waif models in the 1990s? Possibly, but I also accepted my bone structure alone would never allow me to look like Kate Moss.

I don’t have one particular answer as to why I couldn’t grasp the idea of loving myself or, more specifically, my body. What I do know, however, is that I am not alone. I know it is more common that not for women to have some sort of body dysmorphia. I know the rate of eating disorders for women is so much higher than any of us want to admit. But I also see more and more women coming into a place of loving comfort with their body; a friendship with the casing carrying around their heart and soul…and I want that.

I want to take care of myself because I am worthy of love. I want to treat myself with love because I am valuable. I want to look at my body, as she is, and remember her strength and resilience. She has done amazing things! I am proud of her, and she deserves to be celebrated. I want to treat her like the friend she is instead of some separate thing to be hated and abused.

So here I go, starting over, again. It’s a health journey and not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. Actually, no; it’s a mindset change. Actually, no. I don’t want to label it. I’m just learning some new ways of living that include speaking to myself with gentle love. I’m learning to feed myself what I need, when I need it, but not hate myself when I mess up. I’m learning to lean into Jesus instead of food. Again.

Thank You, For Giving to the Lord

This week marks twenty years since I took a job in ministry. Twenty years feels like a long time but I still remember my interview like it was yesterday. Twenty years means a lot of kids, a lot of families, have passed by, but I can still remember most of them. But twenty years can go by in the blink of an eye.

Bob Wagner spent more than fifty years in ministry. He was the pastor at Second Baptist Church in Marion, IL for thirty of those years. He wasn’t my pastor; I went to Third Baptist. But that doesn’t mean his ministry didn’t touch my life.

Bob’s church was the first in our town to go to Camp Lookout, a summer church camp on Lookout Mountain, TN. After Bob’s church went a few summers, taking most of the teenagers in town, my church decided to go along, taking some of the last few who had never attended. Camp Lonestar is where I, along with most of my friends, made a commitment to follow Christ. Camp Lonestar is where my mom made the decision to rededicate her life and promised to follow through with baptism when we got home, despite her crippling fear of water.

The touch of God’s Call on Bob’s life didn’t stop with church, though. In fact, for me, it wasn’t where it began.

Bob and, his wife, Sandra, had three kids. The baby, Stefanie, was my very first new friend in junior high. When my mom dropped me off at the corner of West Main Street and South Russell Street on my first day of 6th grade, I started across the lawn, heading towards the school building, where a large herd of kids gathered. Stefanie was the first person to smile and wave at me. In fairness, lest I make her out to be an angel, she thought I was someone else and when I got close, and she could see me better, she stopped awkwardly. But, also in fairness, she didn’t let the awkward get the best of her. Stefanie and I were inseparable from that day until we got our driver’s licenses and could take ourselves elsewhere.

Stefanie and spent every weekend, for years and years, at each others houses. When I wasn’t at her house, she was at mine. We vacationed with each other’s families. She knew my people and I knew hers. We were never apart. My parents were her parents and her parents were mine. This is where I got to know Bob Wagner.

Bob wasn’t an easy man to know and I didn’t understand that when I was twelve but, after twenty years in ministry myself, I sort of get it now. Now I know what it’s like to give everything you have to a family in need that isn’t your own. Now I know what it’s like to allow the Holy Spirit to pour through you so fully in order to reach one kid that you get home and don’t have much left for your own. Now I know the pressure of worrying about people relying on you to have all the right words in public and coming home and having no words left. It doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make an excuse and I don’t know any way to explain it. Bob gave his all to the ministry to which God called him, just like so many others do every day.

Please hear me. I don’t say any of this to say Bob wasn’t there for his family. He was. Bob loved his wife, and he loved his kids, and he loved his grandkids, and his great-grandkids. Bob was few on words at home, but those words were often hilarious. Bob could walk through the room and drop and word and keep walking, while everyone else broke out laughing. Bob could drop truth bombs when needed. Bob could comfort the hurting. And Bob never stopped cheering for the Dallas Cowboys.

Bob left this world last week, but he is not gone. Bob went home to be with Jesus, but he left a legacy of lives touched by the ministry to which he devoted his life. God poured love and life into Bob for many, many years and, thankfully, Bob allowed it. And because Bob submitted to God’s will, thousands of lives were touched; including mine.

There was a song that was made popular among Christian circles in the late 80s/early 90s by Ray Boltz, called “Thank You.” The chorus sings, “Thank you for giving to the Lord;
I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am so glad you gave.”

Because Bob gave, because God opened Bob’s heart and life and, allowed Jesus to work through him, there will be thousands of people in heaven one day. One day, we will all walk in Glory and bow at the throne of God. Bob will be there with us, thanking Jesus for the people who gave of themselves, so he could be there, too.

I Love a Good Book

Those who know me, know I love a good story. I love to hear stories, to tell stories, to write stories, and to read stories. I think part of my love for country music is that most country songs tell a story. No singer tells a story like Garth Brooks, George Strait, or Reba. I miss the old days of music videos telling the story of the song; unlike the new trend of making a random, artistic video that has zero to do with the lyrics.

But I digress.

I love reading. Self help books and educational books are not usually my first pick but I do read them. My true love is a good story about someone’s life – a memoir, a fictional story, even a biography. But my greatest love is historical fiction. And because I often have people ask me for recommendations, I thought I would share some of my most recent joys. I read a lot of books over the last year. Quarantine certainly allowed me the time. These are just a few of the stand outs. I’m always happy to share more if you’re interested.

Last fall, a friend shared with me that someone gave her this book, and she couldn’t remember who it was. She had started reading and found the story incredibly moving and recommended it to me because she knows my love of story.

Dr. Edith Eva Eger is a world renowned psychologist and one of the few remaining survivors of The Holocaust. Edith was sent to Auschwitz at the age of sixteen and only hours after arriving, she watched as her parents were sent to the gas chambers.

Dr. Eger treats people suffering with traumatic stress issues and speaks around the world about the choices we all make to hold on or let go of anger. This book is her life story but it’s also an encouraging word. Dr. Eger’s words inspire us all to confront the stories in our own past – the stories we hold onto and the stories who have made us who we are today – and find freedom.

When I finished reading The Choice, I was led to this next book because I had heard so many good reviews. My mind was already wrapped around the horror of Auschwitz and I wanted to know more.

Heather Morris tells this beautiful story based on real life accounts of a young man, Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, plucked from the prisoners, and forced to tattoo identification numbers on the arm of incoming prisoners.

The story is full of heartbreaking tales of everyday life in a German death camp but reads more like a love story. I found myself rooting for Lale and Gita, the young woman who steals his heart, and wanting to believe their future would be one of love and prosperity, freedom, and chocolate – lots of chocolate.

Cilka was the best friend of Gita, and I was introduced to her in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. She received special treatment in Auschwitz for her beauty but, if you know anything about this evil, horrible place, you know that special treatment doesn’t mean you were not still treated like an animal.

Cilka did what she had to do to stay alive and, because of that, she survived the German death camp; only to be imprisoned in a Siberian camp after that. Cilka’s Journey brings to light the vibrancy and resiliency of the human spirit and made me question what I would do in her shoes. It made me think about women all over the world who fight against evil day after day and continue to wake up and choose to live.

Alina Dziak was a small child, living in Poland, totally oblivious to the Nazi invasion that was about to change her life forever.

Alice is a young, modern woman, juggling a child with special needs, a busy life, and a dying grandmother.

As Alice tries to uncover her grandmother’s past, we see the convergence of her life with Alina’s. We see old and new, past and present, devastation and reconciliation. It’s a story of love and loss, life and death. This is a beautifully written story that will stay with me for a long time.

Now, lest you think I only read WWII novels, I want to share this gem with you.

“Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First. 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level” is like sitting down with your best girlfriends, over nachos and margaritas, and telling stories from childhood. The author, Laura Tremaine, shares ten chapters of stories about her own life, personal, deep, funny, sad…real stories of who she is and how she came to this point in her life. But she doesn’t just stop at talking about herself. Laura, who I feel like I am on a first name basis with after reading her book, gives the reader a list of questions, at the end of each chapter, to ask your sisters, mom, girlfriends, daughters, or whoever you want know on a deeper level.

Reading is one of the great joys of my life but, in all honesty, I don’t always “read” the books I devour. I’m also a huge fan of listening to books. My point here is to say that however you take your stories – hardback, paperback, digital, or audio – I hope you will take time for yourself to enjoy a good story. Let it take you to a land you’ve never visited, to introduce you to a culture you’ve never experienced, and meet people you’ve never met. Let it open your mind, expand your thinking, and stretch your beliefs. Allow your heart to be touched, softened, warmed. Do it for you because you deserve to have something just for you.

Family Touchstones

Whew! 2020 was a crazy year!

I actually wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said or heard that phrase. I’m over it. I’m over the year, over the crazy, and over talking about it. I’m ready to move on.

There was a lot of grieving last year over the loss of normalcy, loss of traditions, loss of celebrations, loss of… everything. The grief was real. It actually still is real. I’m still grieving and I’m sure some of you are, too. I think somewhere in our hearts we were hoping 2021 would start, and we would realize 2020 had all been a blip. Like maybe the world had slid into some kind of alternate comic book universe, and we would slide back into place with the ball drop. Or maybe that was just me and I’ve been watching too many movies.

I have to say, we are only seven days into this year and so far, I am not impressed. If this was a free ten-day trial I would already be deleting my credit card information and cancelling. I have decided, however, to lay this year out ahead of me with some family touchstones. I don’t want to waste another year grieving what we missed doing.

I’m going to share some of these touchstones for you. They’re nothing radical, just family ideas and activities we can do together so when we reach the end of the year, we won’t feel like we missed out. Some of these are things we have been doing for many years and some are ideas I’ve only now decided to implement. Take what you like, add your own, share with your friends, or come up with your own list!

Creating touchstones doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, or any money at all. The idea is that you create moments of joy with your family. These moments can be called upon any time a little joy is needed! And most of these moments can happen any time, even during a world-wide pandemic. So when days seem crazy and nothing feels normal, you have moments of joy to reach for and remember that normal is relative – it’s joy that matters.

2020 In Hindsight

We had no clue.

They say that hindsight is 20/20 and I imagine we will forever remember 2020 as the year we wished we had seen coming. Or maybe not. If someone could have warned any of us of what was coming, I doubt we would have believed.

We cheered 2020 in by attending a Roaring Twenties New Year’s Eve party. We had no clue what we were welcoming into our lives.

Cherished Friends

I truly believe if you make it to the end of your life and can count more than one person as a friend who is as dear as family, you are truly blessed. We have a handful of those people in our lives, so it is really hard when jobs take them to live in far away lands – like Ohio. We were so sad for them to move but knew that God would keep our hearts bonded for life.

The year wasn’t all bad; we actually found lots of ways to experience joy. Before the world shut down, I got to be a part of our church’s women’s retreat. We spent a weekend in nature with beautiful friends learning how to slow down, to be still, and wait for God. None of us had any idea how much we would be using these skills in a matter of weeks!

Chuck and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary only days before the whole world shut down. We went to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, one of our favorites, for a night of fine dining.

Chuck shot a hole-in-one as a birthday gift to himself. He was so excited and I had the ball and photo framed for him.

COVID changed everything this year for everyone. We all had to learn how to work from home – the kids, Chuck, and me. We spread out in rooms across the house with our computers and made the best of it.

Palm Sunday and Easter hit us hard – like most of you, I’m sure – because we had never experienced isolation like that on a holiday.

Relaxing with good friends in
my home town.

By May, we were stir-crazy. We talked to our good friends in my home town and decided to make the trip north to visit. They were all living in a “quarantine bubble” together, so we felt like we were being safe. We stayed in a camper instead of staying at anyone’s house, and we grilled out, swam, boated, and watched some of the most beautiful sunsets God has ever painted in the sky. Chuck and I were both able to work remotely, so we could stay on top of things. That trip was so good for our souls and was a healing balm for our mental health. I am so glad we took the time and that our friends welcomed us.

Camp Lone Star

Texas opened up a bit in June and the kids were able to go to one of their favorite places on earth – Camp Lone Star. They spent the week swimming, hiking, completing high ropes courses, and learning about the peace that passes all understanding – God’s peace. Unfortunately, CLS was only able to offer two weeks of activities for campers. They were forced to shut down when some of their counselors tested positive for COVID.

Seth’s confirmation was postponed from May to August and the church did a special ceremony just for confirmands and their families. It was really nice and I’m so glad we were able to have it. So many ceremonies and dances and reunions and so on and so on had to be cancelled this year. After Seth and his classmates studied and learned for two years, it was a blessing to be able to celebrate the faith of their baptism in a public way.

We had high hopes for school to start in person, but alas, like much of 2020, everyone had to pivot. Fortunately, our school district did an amazing job of getting teachers online and getting students into virtual classrooms. Our kids did a few weeks online and then were able to transition to split learning; with virtual classes and face-to-face learning rotating ever other day. It was stressful for the kids, stressful for teachers and administrators, and stressful for parents. But again, I can’t sing the praises of our district enough. They did, and continue to do, everything they can to keep kids safe while they’re learning.

As we began to adjust to this new way of life, which we all pray is only temporary, we continue to seek time with the people we love. Any time we can have with family or friends feels brings a sense of appreciation like never before. Logically, we all know that we are not promised tomorrow, but living through a world-wide pandemic really changes the way we think about life.

We lost my granddaddy this year, not to COVID but to old age. He was 101 when he passed, and we had to postpone the funeral until a time when it would be safer for everyone to gather.

This loss, combined with the pandemic, made Thanksgiving feel so much more precious this year. We were blessed to be able to spend a long weekend with my family in our tradition of feasting outdoors in my cousin’s barn. It was so good to laugh and cry and share stories and recipes and feel “normal,” if only for a weekend.

And now, days before Christmas, I offer a blessing for my family, your family, and all the families of the world:

May God bless and keep you. May you know peace in your heart and your home. May you be blessed with health and surrounded by loved ones. May you know the love of our Savior, Jesus, and experience the joy and hope of a life lived with Him. May you offer grace to all you meet, knowing you can give it freely because of the unending grace poured over you by God.

Don’t Take It So Personally

Do you know about the enneagram? It’s sort of making waves across the internet and there are people acting as if it’s some sort of sorcery but in reality, it’s not new at all. It’s just new to us. There is actually a long history to this way of understanding your personality. Even in typing this, I am over-simplifying it. It’s more than a personality test. The enneagram helps you to understand your dominant personality type, both in strengths and weaknesses, and how you interact with others. It delves into the traits you had when you were born and who you have become after all of your life experiences. But again, I am over simplifying it. I would really encourage you to take a test and see for yourself.

I am a Four. According to The Enneagram Institute, “Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity. At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.”

One of the biggest personality “things” about Fours is the tendency to take everything personally. But taking things personally isn’t limited to Fours. Really, all of us have moments of taking life entirely too personally. I have found that when I do this, I can spiral into shame. And usually, it’s for no reason because the thing I took personally wasn’t about me at all.

So if you, like me, find yourself making things about you that are zero percent about you, you might need to do some of the work I have been doing to stop. And if you, like me, find that, after some thinking, you have been making things about you for a really long time, this is important work to get started on today.

The first thing, the thing you need to start with, is realizing that other people’s actions are rarely about you. If someone is rude, grouchy, sad, pulls out in front of you in traffic, ignores you in the grocery store…it’s not about you. You don’t know what their life is like. You don’t know the day they’ve had. You don’t know. But what I can assure you of is it’s almost never about you.

The second thing for people like us is that we often struggle with constructive criticism. When someone suggests you use a different tool or drive a different route, you may, like me, immediately think, “They hate me and think I am stupid.” But I would encourage you to take a minute, take a breath, and ask yourself why this person is offering you this criticism. Do they care about you and want to see you save time/energy/money? Do they need you to be a part of their team and see ways you could add value? Is there anything you could learn from what they have offered? If yes, take the advice and move on. If no, don’t take the advice and move on. It really is that simple.

The third thing is to realize you will never please all the people all the time. Marilyn Monroe said something like, “You could be the sweetest and juiciest peach in the whole world and someone will tell you they don’t like peaches.” It’s true – the phrase, at least. I don’t know for sure if Marilyn Monroe said it.

I love big hair. I know people who don’t. I don’t understand those people, but their opinion doesn’t mean that big hair is wrong. I often drink wine from a box. Some people think that’s gross. I think it’s cost-efficient. We can both be right. Or we can both be wrong. But the reality is, I can live my life and you can live yours, and we don’t have to live them the same way.

The fourth thing is very important. Sometimes, you need to get an outside perspective. You see, people like you and me, we can get trapped in our brains and start spiraling in our own thoughts. We stand in the shower and prepare comebacks to arguments that never happen. We build energy on words that never were said. We imagine scenarios playing out in multiple ways, so we can be prepared.

But the reality is, the other person is going on with their life. They are making sandwiches, going to the library, watching Netflix… and they have no idea you are obsessing about the thing. So when this happens, it’s good to get another opinion. Ask a friend. Or a different friend. Call your cousin. Tell your therapist. But look for someone who is willing to give you some truth.

The fifth thing is to remember you are not the sum of your past. You are not a total of your mistakes. You are not a collection of every piece of criticism you have ever received. In fact, most people don’t know about your mistakes. The majority of people do not remember the times you fell down. Your true friends will remember the times you soared.

And finally, you have to understand that your self-worth depends on you and not what people say about you. You are a child of God. You are a unique creation. You are a blessing. You were created with love by the Creator of the Universe. When you can learn to live in that knowledge and see yourself through that lens, you can begin to believe that no one on this earth gets to label you. You get to walk in the truth that no one’s opinion of you matters more than His. And you begin to learn that no boss, no coworker, no sibling, no family member, no friend, no neighbor, no test gets to define who you were created to be.

The Work He is Doing is Far More Spectacular When You See What He Started With

I have a bit of a rebellious spirit in me that occasionally gets me into trouble. It often causes me to speak before I think about the mood of the room or to let sarcasm seep into a conversation that requires more professionalism.

But that same spirit also allows me to be incredibly vulnerable because I have zero patience for pretentiousness. I can be an over-sharer because my feelings run deep and wide, and I don’t always see the need for societal rules that say we should keep our mouth shut. I struggle when people expect me to hide or not talk about parts of my life that they feel are shameful or inappropriate. This rebellion in me sometimes makes those people feel uncomfortable.

Most of the time, this way of being hurts no one. It can make my children walk far away from me, so no one realizes they belong to me, but that’s normal for teenagers, right? My husband occasionally kicks me under the table at dinner with his coworkers, but I always tone it down when that happens. I have never been someone who intentionally seeks to cause shock and awe; I am just someone who appreciates thoughtful honesty.

I never want my life to be something that turns people away from or off of Jesus. He has called me into a life of leadership and I don’t take that role lightly. I want to speak truth in love, listen well, and share the truth of God’s Word. I want those around me to feel welcomed and loved, accepted and heard, comfortable with who they are with no need to pretend. I would be so sad if I thought someone felt like they couldn’t be real with me; it would seriously break my heart! I try to model this realness in all my relationships, within reason. I, of course, don’t share my deepest, darkest secrets with everyone, but I also think most things aren’t as deep and dark as some might. So therein lies the rub.

There are people who are very uncomfortable with deep levels of vulnerability. There are people who feel like sharing is meant only for a precious few – and that’s okay! One of the greatest blessings about being in God’s family is that we are each unique. God gave us all different talents, abilities, and personalities; he never intended us to be robots!

On the flip side of my rebellious spirit, however, is a desire to please others. So while I may walk where I’m not supposed to walk or talk when I’m not supposed to talk, my soul feels crushed if I find out I’ve disappointed you or let you down.

This week someone who I hold an enormous amount of love and respect for, let me know they were incredibly disappointed with me. It was over a post I had made, with very little thought, on social media about a year that happened a long time ago and the music I enjoyed during that year. The music was not Godly. It wasn’t holy or pure or lovely and didn’t bring praise to God. But it was music that was sort of a battle cry for young women at the time when most of our generation was being told to be quiet and wait patiently for the older generation to hand us our role. It was vulgar and angry music and it felt very rebellious to an eighteen-year-old version of myself. The intention of the post was less about the music and more about me realizing all the things that happened that year, including that music, happened a long time ago. It was me, remembering a time in life that felt so big and weighted and is now but a memory.

But my post had brought offense and I felt the weight of that offense handed to me as shame. It felt hard and heavy in a week that already felt hard and heavy in a year that feels so hard and heavy I want to scream and cry and kick until it goes away. I allowed the words that were questioning my judgment, my character, and my ability to lead families to be spoken over me as fact instead of opinion. I immediately began to beat myself up and question the legitimacy of my life, choices and career. I allowed the enemy to use something intended to be a spiritual rebuke as shame. My head knows that shame never comes from Jesus, but my heart wasn’t hearing it.

This morning, however, God spoke to the deep places of my heart with an invitation of love.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28

I was reminded that I never have to perform for God. Because of Jesus, I am always acceptable in His sight. God doesn’t need me to look a certain way or pretend to be someone I am not in order to fulfill His plan. There is nothing I can ever do or say to make Him love me any more or any less than He does at this very moment in time.

This doesn’t mean I rebel against God’s laws or sin against Him freely and expect to live a blessed life. No, it means that when I am walking with God and doing all I can to follow His ways, I will receive the blessing that comes in relationship with Him! I can rest in knowing that I share this walk with Christ alone. When I try to walk for religion or church or man, I exhaust myself. Jesus calls me to walk with Him, so He can carry my burdens for me, and I don’t have to be bothered with putting on a show for others.

I always want to reflect who Jesus is, and I never want my life to cause anyone else to stumble. But in my life, Jesus is full of love and grace and mercy. In my life, Jesus loves me for the person our Father created me to be. It is much more freeing to take Christ’s attitude of gentle, humble service and love to a world that is as imperfect as I am than to try to be someone I am not and not know how to reach anyone. It is so much more satisfying to laugh and love and allow people to see the power of Christ working in me in real time than to pretend He put me on this earth already knowing how to follow Him with ease.

I am working every day to be more like Jesus. I struggle every day to allow Him to work a miracle of healing in me, overcoming my character-flaws, addictions, and sinful ways. And I will never hide the work God is doing in me for the shame of who I used to be. The beauty of the woman He is creating is far more spectacular when you see where I started, how many times I have fallen along the way, and the grace He generously pours over me when He calls me to His arms to rest for the day. My prayer is that my life, and all that God is doing in me, will always point to the richness and beauty of a relationship with Him.

I know there will be many days when I mess up. I know there will be times I run ahead, thinking my way is better or faster. I know I will stick my foot in my mouth, sing the wrong words to the wrong songs, and dance off beat. I will laugh too loud and be way too much for some. But I am never too much for my Lord. I am also thankful for a long list of people in the Bible who were louder and more embarrassing than me; people who God used to build His Kingdom despite themselves. I am thankful the path to eternity does not depend on me but has already been carved by Jesus. I am thankful He has put people in my life that remind me to stay on the path, remind me of His love, and remind me of how far He has brought me. I am thankful He never shames me but instead invites me to rest in His arms of love.