One of my favorite moments from Christmas break found my daughter and I in my little sunroom, paintbrushes in hand. She was trying out her new easel, and I was leaning against the loveseat, watercoloring. A happy surprise was how much she shared about what was going on at school. And one that will stick with me even longer? Her observation about how she was contributing to the problem, not just how other girls were mishandling things.
Maybe that sounds weird, to like that behavior. But as I type to you, I realize I want kids who voluntarily discard the blindness that naturally shrouds all of us. I want kids who, from constant practice, see the log in their eye. Who can step back from any situation and see how their sin is contributing and destroying–so they can make it right.
I know, I know. Confession can sound like, well, not that much fun. Maybe a bit like sniveling. Or depending on your background, something like Bless me, Father, for I have sinned rolls around in your head.
But what if it sounded more like handcuffs falling off?
THE KEY: To create a culture of frequent confession in our homes–to one another, and to God. This keeps our need for Jesus in front of our eyes, and gradually makes “have mercy on me” (Luke 8:13) a part of who we are. It breeds humility in us and our families, rather than the appearance or requirement of perfection and self-righteousness. And it welcomes grace, giving shame the boot.
I’ve gotten better about not making jokes about my body, at least. (Body issues of mine have a thick and convoluted history; read here and here.) To my sister a few years ago, I shook my head–made a comment about my hulking German shoulders making me look like a linebacker from the back. She countered me, all seriousness: “Would you ever talk that way around your daughter?” Honestly, I wouldn’t. (If you vocalize your body image issues around your kids, don’t miss this brief video–which yes, my sister passed on.) But I had to wonder: Was it a problem to say it openly to a friend?
All of this makes me wonder why I’m more comfortable with self-deprecation than talking about my strengths. Which, healthy as it is, still feels about as natural as swallowing a tennis shoe.
Honestly, if I were a weather forecaster, I should have seen this perfect storm whirling my way, shooting out a few lightning bolts. It was brewing for two weeks as my husband and I sprinted to keep up with the pace of American life, which still overwhelms us. (Me to him: “I don’t know how people do this well.” Him: “I’m not sure they do.”) As much as we’d thinned out the “must do’s” from the “should do’s”, the calendar was still practically leaning over with the weight of all that ink. Mix in more work deadlines than I have fingers, and my brain was starting to resemble mashed potatoes.
I padded downstairs to shake my daughter’s shoulder, waking her for school. But instead, she woke to my “Oh, no.”
‘Cause that’s generally what you say when you see liquid pooling in the hall in the half-light, oozing from the laundry-room-slash-pantry.
That was the price-club-sized empty detergent bottle on its side, the cap to the air vent lying surrendered beside it, and the laundry room now flooded with a pleasantly lemony, biodegradable, outstandingly viscous liquid soap.
The power of shame continues to make my mind fizz. (Yours might, too: This post on shame in parenting has drawn more readers than any other post on this site, bar none.)
But now all those thoughts are bubbling over what shame might look like in a marriage; in our most intimate concentric circle of community. See, I know shame—this idea that I’m not worthy of connecting with someone—immediately leads me to cover up.
Take the typical fight with a spouse. First reaction is not typically, You’re so right. I’m snippy, and I have a profound case of PMS. It’s more along the lines of blame-shifting (Well, if you’d stop overreacting like some kind of hypersensitive Pomeranian). Denying (I didn’t say you were arrogant! I said you were cocky). Hiding (If I don’t say anything, it will look a lot like peace and taking the higher road).
Joking aside—this predilection to hiding means the manifestations of shame are endless. For me, it led to a profound insecurity (you can read how that affected our relationship); to people-pleasing ad nauseam, to the extent of a near eating disorder.
The other day, both a bad thing and a good thing happened. My son—the one with ADHD—had a meltdown after lunch over his math homework. Maybe you’re thinking, I missed the “good” part. Good part: I realized he hadn’t melted down in a long time. So we were actually able to tease apart some of the factors for the meltdown (math after lunch, when his brain is tired; worrying that he wouldn’t get enough time to mess around at the pool after swim practice). We had time to deal not just with the meltdown, but to recognize it as the dashboard light it was—and hopefully circumvent it in the future.
One of the things I’m loving about some friends who’ve done the hard work of going—and responding to!—counseling is their remarkable capacity to love even better. As they’re combing out some of the tangles in their brains, everyone around them is cashing in on more enjoyable, meaningful interactions. My point? The time we spend investing in our homes’ emotional health pays untold dividends both to people around us now, and the countless ones in the future—including generations to come. Here, I’ve compiled some new and best-of ideas to take us to the next level (including yours truly).
It was a low moment in my parenting—so I’m still a little flabbergasted for the high point my then-four-year old made it.
I’d made a phone call to him as he stayed at his grandma’s for the day. I hated I even needed to make it. After shouting at him that morning, I’d done a fairly false, overall lame job of apologizing. I’d still been so stinkin’ angry—and my mind’s eye zoomed in on his own error. (That’s him at four years or so, on the right.) So I picked up my cell and attempted something more like Jesus.
What I will always remember was what he said in return.
“Mommy, I forgive you. And I want to let you know that even when you do bad things, I still love you. And I want you to know that even when you do bad things, God still loves you.”
My family and I are headed back from Africa, which twists my heart in all sorts of new ways. But with that, my kids will be attending school for the first time—American school. Any of you mamas out there imagine the ways that messes with a mama’s heart?
So many of my prayers are poured out like water over their adjustment. Over finding just one solid friend. Over teachers and my son’s learning disorder and my kids’ abilities to be kind in the face of insult. And I think this is as it should be: asking God’s generous favor, slathered all over our kids.
But there’s this. I was reading Brene Brown last night, who occasionally helps me get my emotional head screwed on straight. And she reminded me of this: “Hope is a function of struggle. If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle.”
As you know now, my family and I are moving back from Africa, i.e. place I have felt technicolor, I-heart-my-life alive for the last five years. Though I believe God is showing us it’s time to move back for now, and though it’s also been a place where our family has encountered profound suffering, it’s been far more of a place of deep satisfaction. All of us are struggling with returning. We’ve been so stinkin’ happy in this place. For me, serving in my sweet spot has throbbed with purpose and meaning.
Ugly truth: My hide has been, off and on, a little chapped. I don’t completely understand why God’s doing this. And after all we have endured here, truth is still percolating into my heart that, hey, God can put me wherever He wants me.
Truth: Even (especially?) in work that serves God, I can get pretty…entitled. Sometimes I think I can even be in danger of passing that on to my kids. There’s a thin line, I think, between our kids trusting in God’s good character, His working everything out for our good, waiting expectantly for God to work on our behalf…and us feeling entitled to His tangible reward here on this planet, when we want it, as we want it.
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.