Five Minute Friday: Together

I return today to this weekly writing practice of Five Minute Friday: Five minutes on a weekly prompt, no editing, just free-flowing words and stream-of-consciousness. And a supportive writing community hosted by Kate Motaung – head over to fiveminutefriday.com to learn more.

As an extroverted introvert – or an introverted extrovert – this question of whether to get together isn’t simple for me to answer. I vacillate between wanting to be together with “my people” (husband, kids, family, neighbors, friends) and craving the quiet solitude that gives my soul space to breathe.

It wasn’t always such a dilemma. I was the “yes girl” all growing up, all through college, and beyond. Then I got married, and we were together all the time – 24/7/365 – and it was great, and it was challenging for us both. But we navigated around it; found ways to be together and to also enjoy being apart. Then twins came barely four years into marriage, and “together” was no longer an option. Their survival very literally depended on it. We were feeding round-the-clock and sleeping in shifts. We were all very together all the time, and it was beautiful and delightful and difficult. I found when given the option during free time, I didn’t choose “together” automatically anymore. I chose “alone” because it became a rare luxury.

But now – these twins are becoming teens, and I find I’m shifting again. I want to be together … and that’s where we all are this weekend, and I’m hoping “together” will be what they want as well in the years and decades to come.

dear summer-weary mom (from one to another)

image from unsplash.com

July has felt like the longest month. I’m ready to flip the page on my calendar, and we’ve still three days left, including today. But who’s counting?

Well, to be honest, I am. And I think a lot of my other moms are, too. I get to this place and feel surprised by it every summer. It’s the place in summer where my fun has worn out, as well as my creative parenting energy; and it’s very very hot; and my kids are bored; and school isn’t quite yet close enough – but it’s creeping up in a way that feels rushed and oppressive. It’s the pressure of, “I want to fit all those summer projects and day trips and visits in but oh-my-goodness there isn’t enough time for it all, and I certainly don’t have enough energy (that wore out a few weeks ago).”

When my twins were old enough to be school-age, this switch happened for me – where fall is what I began to look forward to, because it meant a routine for all of us and a break for me and learning and friends and an amazing teacher (or two) for my girls. By spring, I get a weariness from all of the school year activity and feel ready for the quieter, slower rhythm of summer. But by mid-to-end-of-July, I’m ready for summer to be done. Although my kids won’t as readily admit it, they are too.

How did I know I was here again? Meaning, this place of summer-weariness common to moms of school-age kids? My anger and frustration and irritability kept creeping up, until it reached a boiling point this morning, and I lost it. Ironically enough, we were trying to fit a lot of things into today’s schedule, and I was mentally trying to coordinate whether the dog would be let out midday while we’re gone (and by whom), what time I needed to drop each daughter off at their activities for the day so that I would make it to work on time, and then what the other end of the day would look like. What time is today’s camp pickup, and what had my friend graciously offered in terms of when to pick up my other daughter from her house? (Or were they meeting me at my house?) Not to mention, did I have my lunch? What about my girls – do they have lunches if they need them and water bottles? Did she take her pool bag with her? And which stores do I need to try to swing by – squeeze in between the running and picking up of my kids and coming home from work and preparing dinner and our home to host friends for dinner?

So dear summer-weary mom, you’re almost to the finish line of this summer, and you don’t have to muster up the strength to make it through this last stretch on your own.

You’re not alone (even when you want to be – ha!). But seriously, know that up and down the streets of your neighborhood, the corridors of your apartment, the lanes of your farmhouse out in the country – there are other moms trying to make it, too. We’re in this together, and maybe my weariness and *feeling* of being in it alone means I should reach out honestly to a fellow mom – and share the understanding that what we’re experiencing isn’t uncommon. Maybe you fill up that backyard inflatable pool or bust out the slip n’ slide and invite her and her kids over. Maybe you make lemonade and dump out the Legos container and let your kids entertain themselves a bit while the mamas discuss whatever adult topic seems good. Maybe you meet up with a friend after work for an hour or two before heading home. And maybe – if your personality is (like mine) craving people-free time by this time of a summer with “all the people” – steal away for an hour or two to a favorite place and just bring a book, or a journal, or a sketchpad. (Swap with another mom-friend craving as much solitude as you are …. or find someone craving little-people time because they don’t have any of their own in their home.)

And breathe. Right now, take three deep breaths and remind yourself that you are loved by the God who sees into your weariness and seeks to strengthen you by His grace.

You’ve got this! Because He’s got you.

Five Minute Friday: Chance

I return today to this weekly writing practice of Five Minute Friday: Five minutes on a weekly prompt, no editing, just free-flowing words and stream-of-consciousness. And a supportive writing community hosted by Kate Motaung – head over to fiveminutefriday.com to learn more.

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?” this line from a movie whose title is long forgotten is what first comes to mind. I think the context is a desperate boy trying to convince a popular girl that she should go out with him, and she rebuffs him, but he finds some sliver of a way in through the way she words it.

Chance isn’t something I do a lot, in terms of using it as a verb, and at least not consciously. I recently told a friend, “I’m risk-adverse in everything except for international travel,” and that really does describe me. I’ll never skydive, for example, nor would I do the really crazy high-in-the-air roller coasters. Fun fact: I didn’t ride my first roller coaster until my early 20s!

“Just leave it to chance,” is a phrase I actually profoundly disagree with. I believe in a loving and sovereign God, so I really don’t believe that “chance” exists. There’s a purpose in everything, and a loving hand guiding us. There’s a mystery in this doctrine of providence that I won’t pretend to explain away or understand completely, and I’m the first to admit that I don’t always enjoy the idea of this truth. But if God’s character and nature could be perfectly explained, then He wouldn’t be God – more likely a figment of my imagination. So I won’t leave it to chance, but remind myself to trust the good, the bad, the hard, the confusing, the inexplicable to the loving care of a God who’s over it all and in it all and committed to working all for good.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. … If God is for us, who can ever be against us? … And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. … nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:28, 32, 38-39 New Living Translation

a Sunday prayer

Lord God,

You see the weary one struggling to make it through another week, to drag herself into a place of worship – perhaps with a few young kids in tow – and see her now and let her know you are near.

You see the pastor’s wife, whose day will be the opposite of rest-filled as her husband preaches and shepherds to bring spiritual rest to the congregation. Meet her this morning, as you met me when I was in that place, and let her know you will carry her burdens and shepherd her heart.

You see the joy-filled one, brimming with optimism and hope and eager to join his church in worship. Let him be a blessing to the ones in the row beside him, the ones he greets who may be in need of a cheerful look or a kind word.

You see the lonely one, whose church experience is the most poignant weekly reminder of what you have not given as they sit alone in a pew. Let them feel part of a community; let them feel known – that they belong and that they are loved.

You see the exhausted one, ready for rest from a week well-lived and well-loved. Let him find a soul stillness that refreshes him, that lets him know you are near and that you see the work he’s done, and it’s never in vain.

You see the depressed and anxious one, who will muster all courage she has to simply show up and be present with God’s people today. Let her know that you recognize her bravery in being present, in stepping out of her comfort zone, and let her feel whispers of hope this morning.

You see the grieving one, who longs for comfort and not pat answers or well-meaning platitudes. Let him feel the nearness of the fellowship of the One acquainted with sorrows and grief, the comfort of others who can sit with him in the awkward discomfort of grief and let him ask the questions without answers.

You are the God who sees.

Let us rest and worship and be comforted by You today.

Amen

Five Minute Friday: Twenty

The essence of this weekly writing practice of Five Minute Friday: Five minutes on a weekly prompt, no editing, just free-flowing words and stream-of-consciousness. And a supportive writing community hosted by Kate Motaung – head over to fiveminutefriday.com to learn more.

Twenty years ago I was in my 20s. What an odd statement, mostly because it makes me feel so old! Although I wouldn’t go back to my 20s – let me make that clear – it was quite a decade of change. I graduated from college; taught school; volunteered in youth ministry and college ministry and bilingual kids’ ministry; pursued a different calling to seminary and counseling; got married; and lived in Chicago, South Carolina, and Philadelphia. I look back at my 20s as a decade of discovery – discovering who God made me (and who I wasn’t), who God was calling me to share life with, and how I wanted to serve the broken world in which I found myself.

***

I’m going to be honest: as soon as my timer finished, I felt disappointed in how little I had written and I didn’t want to post this. Yet as someone who believes that vulnerability and imperfection actually creates connection and isn’t a barrier to it – I’m going to publish this post. Some prompts are more inspiring than others, and some days I write more fluidly than others. This is part of the struggle of being and becoming a writer. Too often it’s the polished words that find their way into my hands, and I have to remember that’s rarely where they began. Every book has a humble, often bumbling, beginning. So I’m reminding myself of that with today’s words.

Five Minute Friday: Trust

The essence of this weekly writing practice of Five Minute Friday: Five minutes on a weekly prompt, no editing, just free-flowing words and stream-of-consciousness. And a supportive writing community hosted by Kate Motaung – head over to fiveminutefriday.com to learn more.

****

She looks up at me with eyes wide open, innocent, trusting, the question inherent – “will you take care of me?” And of course I draw near, hug her close, whisper a sweet sh, sh, sh in her ear. That’s the only language that makes sense to her as a baby. She doesn’t have words yet.

He looks across joined hands with me at the front of a church, and I know deep in my soul I can trust him. I say “yes” and “I do” and “from this day forward.”

Yet trust can be so tenuous. So difficult to build – and long and hard to maintain. When breached, it can seem impossible to come back from. Have you ever trusted someone who failed you? Have you ever broken the trust of someone you loved?

Yes, and yes.

So there must be One more steadfast than a human heart can be. One whose arms always uphold, who’s ever ready to deliver and stand beside and repair the breaches of trust – the holes in the bridge of this tenuous endeavor called “trust.”

***

Five Minute Friday: Aware

Back by popular demand (you know who you are, friends – thank you for inviting back into this writing sphere with your encouragement last month!) – Five Minute Friday. Five minutes on a weekly prompt, no editing, just free-flowing words and stream-of-consciousness. I’ve been part of this community in its early stages, and it’s amazing what it’s become as of late. Curious? Head over to fiveminutefriday.com for more.

I’ve heard that a parent’s role is to be aware. To be alert, to notice, to watch out for impending danger ahead and warn or reroute as necessary. I’ve been told in my own journey of counseling that there have been blindspots in my own heart that I’ve not been aware of – that I’ve missed so much at times because of this lack of *awareness.* So to be aware is to be alert, but more than that, to be awake to life. Both its hard and its beautiful places. My own perspective can become so skewed – I’m trained by profession and calling to be aware of abusive tendencies in clients and to be aware of how my clients’ issues can bring up my own and to be aware of what’s not quite right so that I can help lead and guide and redirect to the best path forward.

But what God’s teaching me, what my counselor and good friends are inviting me into, is to bring my honed powers of awareness to the good and the beautiful. God is here, too, not just in the hard and the difficult and the sad. In fact, I think in today’s current cultural and political and international climate, to be aware of what’s good and beautiful requires *greater* powers of awareness than to notice what’s not right.

I want to be eyes wide opened to the good. I don’t want to miss a thing (thinking of lyrics by my favorite artist of late, Ellie Holcomb).

**END**

Ecclesiastes and the Enneagram

I’ve been reading through the Bible this year as part of an invitation from my church to a “Journey Through Scripture,” and it’s been so good for my heart and soul. I’ve been reminded that yep, there are parts of the Bible that are difficult to understand and that can feel a bit like hiking through the mud, but then there are other parts of the Bible that are immediately accessible and astonishingly relevant to our current day. Enter the wisdom books of the Old Testament, particularly Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I’ve found these gems from Proverbs that made for great conversations with my tween-age kids (as I shared with them how convicted I am about how I can easily give in to anger, too):

Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.

Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.

Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.

Proverbs 13:2, 13:10, 15: 1, 16:32, 29:11 (New Living Translation)

Much, much more I could write on the themes of Proverbs, but Proverbs already gets a lot of the “limelight” in books and sermons and articles.

Ecclesiastes is a different story. Outside of the popular “A Time for Everything” passage (“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die …” 3:1-8), we often don’t know what to do with the book that systematically goes through all of life’s most popular pursuits and concludes, “Everything is meaningless.” It’s a bit jarring, to be honest, leaving me with questions like, “What is the point of anything then?” and “How did this book get included in Scripture?” Yet here it is, inviting me (as all wisdom literature does) to go deeper beyond my discomfort, to trace answers to my questions and accept the uncertainty that some questions will remain unanswered this side of eternity.

And yet, I was struck by how Ecclesiastes also brings balance. For a few years now, I’ve been interested in the popularity of the Enneagram (a 9-type personality theory). I was initially skeptical at a theory that would say all people fit into one of 9 personality types, but as I’ve continued to read about it and discuss it with friends who are much more well versed in it than me, there’s a lot that resonates as I’ve learned it’s much more nuanced than a simple 9-personality-type system. What’s unique about the Enneagram distinct from other personality theories is that the nine types arise from motivations. This means that there’s no easy test to determine what your Enneagram type is (although there are many that will help you sort through what your type could be – I recommend this one by “Your Enneagram Coach” ), and you aren’t supposed to “type” other people because you can’t really know what motivates them either. If you’re into the Enneagram, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, rest assured that I’m not going to try to convince you to get on board “the Enneagram train.” I’m simply giving context to what I’m going to suggest – which is how different portions of Ecclesiastes seem to perfectly speak into the excesses (or “vices”) of these nine different Enneagram types. I focused on what speaks to Type Threes, Fours, Fives, Eights, and Sevens, because these are the ones I’ve studied most closely and am most intimately acquainted with (either through my own life or family). [Note: I’m using the labels crafted by Jeff and Beth McCord of “Your Enneagram Coach” as they resonate the most. Click here for their graphic and overview of all nine types.]

For Type Three – “The Admirable Achiever”

Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless – like chasing the wind.

“Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.”

I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. … Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. …

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God.

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless – like chasing the wind.

Proverbs 4:4, 4:6, 2:18-23, 5:18-19, 6:9 (NLT)

For Type Four – “The Introspective Individualist”

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless, like chasing the wind.

To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.

Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise.

Ecclesiastes 6:9, 5:19-20, 6:10 (NLT)

For Type Five – “The Analytical Investigator”

But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.

Ecclesiastes 12:12 (NLT)

For Type Seven – “The Enthusiastic Optimist”

So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?

Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies – so the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.

Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.

Happy is the land … whose leaders feast at the proper time to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk.

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.”

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, 7:2-4, 7:8, 10:17, 12:1 (NLT)

For Type Eight – “The Passionate Protector”

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool.

Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person than the shouts of a foolish king. Better to have wisdom than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much that is good.

If your boss is angry at you, don’t quit! A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes.

Ecclesiastes 7:9, 9:17-18, 10:4 (NLT)

Lent reflections on the Eve of Palm Sunday

Regular fasting is a good discipline, but flawless obedience to our commitments isn’t where we find our value. God doesn’t love us because of how successful we are at fasting during Lent. God loves us because we’re his children.

Tsh Oxenreider, Bitter & Sweet: A Journey into Easter

I never personally observed Lent until college, when I first met Christians from different denominational backgrounds where Lent was part of the rhythm of their Christian life. I was intrigued, and also compelled to try this for myself. So I distinctly remember the year as a student at Wheaton College when I gave up desserts for Lent. As a “sugaraholic,” this was difficult to say the least, and I had terrible headaches the first several days. Yet I also longed for and prepared for Easter in a way I hadn’t before.

Since college, my practice of Lent has been consistently sporadic – often depending on the season of life I was in and where we were worshiping, whether or not the congregation was being led to observe Lent as well. The years I observed Lent most consistently were when my husband was an associate pastor and often wrote the Lenten devotional for the congregation (I definitely felt some extra pressure to follow along!). During those years I blogged about my greater-or-lesser “success” with Lent. I think the post that best describes these reflections is this one: “When you break Lent (and it breaks you).”

Because here’s the thing: I never observed Lent perfectly, and I often made Lent more about my efforts to “keep it” than about preparing my heart during this season of repentance and anticipation of Resurrection Hope we celebrate on Easter. YET God was so faithful to use my failure to keep Lent as part of me learning more deeply the whole point of Lent and Easter: I need Jesus. My best efforts (at Lenten observance or righteous living) fall far short – and in fact, often blind me from my need for Christ’s righteousness on my behalf. Enter the beautiful, convicting words of Galatians 2:19-21 (NIV):

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

So my encouragement to you, my fellow Lent-observer-aware-of-your-failures-anew: take Tsh Oxenreider’s words to heart. You are loved, not because of how well you are or aren’t observing Lent (or even whether you choose to observe Lent), but because you are HIS Beloved as a child of God. Jesus loved you and gave himself for you. Let us feast upon this beautiful truth even as we walk into the most solemn and Holy Week of the church’s calendar … and remember not only is Easter coming next Sunday, but He is already Risen!

“Grace in Real Life” podcast + giveaway

Jill McCormick invited me to be a guest on her podcast Grace in Real Life this fall, and I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with her about topic “Getting Unstuck from Shame” in September ’21. [Link to episode here.] Her description of who her podcast is for resonates with me, both personally and also in how I hope to minister to fellow women, too:

This podcast is for those who want to wholeheartedly pursue Christ. You’re a woman who wants to follow where God leads, to live and love well, to extend grace to yourself and others, but there’s a part of you that’s like how? You want your faith to intersect with your busy and full life, but you aren’t sure what that looks like in real-time. Here at the Grace In Real Life podcast, we talk about how to practically apply grace in real life. Listen in!

-Jill McCormick, Grace in Real Life

In celebration of reaching 100 episodes, she is running a giveaway this weekend, and I’d love for you to have the chance to win! I’ve contributed an autographed copy of Unashamed and a free 45-minute coaching consultation. Head here for all the details – and be sure to enter by Monday, January 31st!