Alright, if it isn’t obvious already–I’ve never really been one of the cool cats. I will sheepishly admit to wearing pleated pants in high school. I had braces until I was a junior. It took years for me to learn to tame these crazy curls (not to mention the frizz and curly eyebrows that went with them). I was more than a little Anne of Green Gables-ish with all my melodramatic creativity. And as you could probably pick up from my blog–I am guilty of trying too hard. Which is woefully beyond any scope of cool in high school.
But in church circles? I have one of those personalities that’s easily accepted. I’m bubbly. I’m a married, creative mother (bonus!) with domestic-diva interests and a bleeding heart. I’m high-capacity in my time management, irreverent in the right ways, and–wait for it–I was a missionary. (I know! Cue the heavenly theme music!) So my gifts, talents, and temperament can lend me toward respect in these circles.
The other night, one of my kids was at his finest. It was as if a switch had been flipped. He went from easy-going to stonewalling us, arms crossed, resolutely stubborn. And man, was I getting the stinkeye.
Though his attitude was not without consequences, God was kind to me. I think He reminded me that disproportionate reactions are a lot of times symptoms that something deeper’s being triggered. Thankfully, this tipped my husband and I off to dig and uncover the problem more than just slam down the symptom.
Because when you’re going through a hard time, life can feel a little…naked. So our emotional safety is directly tied to the degree of acceptance we sense from someone.
At some thoughts one stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide “I will combat it by humble love.” If you resolve on that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humiity is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing like it.
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.
It was late, and she was crying now. Her marriage had been hard–hard for a long time.
I think it was there that I really saw Him, though He’d been there the whole time. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is a little like an I Spy book to me. Knowing what He looks like, I’m learning to spot Him among the clutter of circumstances, ones He’s meticulously arranged.
I want to tell you what He looked like, there in that dimly-lit room, where she was just so tired of waiting for God to change things. Even there, in her road-weary face that longed for a break in being “tough” and “strong”–I saw Him making beautiful things out of dust, as the song goes.
He’d already been working there for years.
This kind of waiting reminds me of what it must feel like to be lying on the ground, holding on to something precious over a cliff: your muscles, fatigued and burning as your grip slips, your heart pleading and knocking in the hollow of your chest. If you’re there, your hands sweating and slipping, I want you to picture someone lowering Himself beside you, taking over your weary hold. Where your biceps and forearms were failing, His are able and unmoved. His voice and your relieved muscles speak of presence, of release to infinitely more capable hands.
Author’s note: I write this post to you with a sliver of trepidation and a big slice of humility, because it’s heavily nuanced and divided (even among Christians). And essentially, I loathe conflict. I’d rather write on topics no one disagrees with and that I only felt sheer confidence. Consider me just getting a conversation started.
The Dark Question
I feel God was actually somewhat clear about our decision to leave Africa. But I need to confess: Some part of me felt raw, then calloused–specifically connected to my femininity.
Right now, scooter wheels are rattling past my bedroom window. Ugandan kids are out of school—and once 3 PM hits, they know they’re free to knock at our metal gate. They pour in from the neighborhood, sometimes even slinging their legs over the shoulder-height brick walls to leap down in our yard. Though I admit to some sense of relief when holidays are over—there’s a part of me that loves our yard swarming with kids.
Scientist Jared Diamond’s quote remains perennially rooted in my mind:
I have heard many anecdotal stories, among my own friends, of children who were raised by difficult parents but who nevertheless became socially and cognitively competent adults, and who told me that what had saved their sanity was regular contact with a supportive adult other than their parents, even if that adult was just a piano teacher whom they saw once a week for a piano lesson. (The World Until Yesterday, p.190)
TobyMac sung that when love is in the house, the house is packed. There’s a magnetic quality to loving homes where you can practically smell the fragrance of Jesus as you walk up the sidewalk.
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.”
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.