Five Minute “Friday”: help

I love this weekly writing exercise/community, and I return after a few months’ absence. Because it’s always there waiting. And it’s *only* five minutes.

Five Minute Friday is my favorite of writing link-ups hosted by Kate Motaung. Her description draws me back every week, and the community of FMF keeps me writing – “This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. Just write.”

helpIt’s a word that can save a life. But I find it almost impossible to utter. It feels so, well, helpless. Who needs help in my self-sufficient world? I’m doing just fine, thank you.

Except when I’m not. Like tonight when one of my 5-year-olds defied me in front of her grandparents, and I messed it up. I was angry and frustrated and overwhelmed and out of my league. I was also ashamed for my daughter’s behavior in front of her grandparents and my response in front of them, too. Why couldn’t I just have said, “help, please”?

It’s a lie that as a parent I can do it all and be it all for my kids. But it’s a lie we all deceive ourselves into living by more often than not.

I wonder if this false stigma with the word “help” is what contributed to the tragic death in our church community of a mother and daughter two years ago today. Afterwards, we all expressed the sentiment – “If only she’d asked for help …” We all wished we could have jumped in. But how many of us would have been willing to ask for that help if we had been in her shoes? On my hardest, darkest day of parenting, it took all I had in me to finally, finally text my trusted friend and neighbor with the simplest of requests – “Will you help? I need a hug and I can’t deal with bedtime tonight.” She was over within minutes, and I felt simultaneously grateful and humbled. 

It’s the hardest, best thing in the world to ask for help. Because we know there’s One eager to help us when we ask. And He’s sent people into our lives who are as eager to assist us as we are to give them a hand when needed.

So do you need to ask for help? Don’t delay. Help is on its way.

***

If you find yourself to be entertaining thoughts or ideas of suicide in particular do not hesitate to ask for help. If you’re not sure where to turn, contact the crisis text line by texting “GO” to 741741 or call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

 

 

 

 

scattered chaos – or a story?

A half dozen (or more) children’s books are scattered in piles of two or three around the perimeter of our living room. The one most recently read lays atop our ottoman beside a discarded ballet slipper. Its pink partner sits in front of my husband’s recliner. A pink polka-dotted blanket is on top of the rug, and a paper airline peeks out from underneath the couch. Blue sparkly Cinderella shoes and fuzzy pink slippers grace another corner, and the pink bin of Legos sits opposite. A plastic green cup with a straw sits proudly beside the remote controls. Cushions are all in tact at the end of this day – and that says something.

In my more frustrated moments, I’d say this is scattered chaos. I look around and feel annoyed that I didn’t ask my daughters to pick things up before they went to bed. I’m annoyed with myself for not picking up more before grabbing my laptop to write a long overdue blog post. But then I try to remember how this mess tells a story of a full day well enjoyed by two five-year-old girls. The books are from reading time at the end of the day, me in one chair with one twin and my husband in another chair with her sister. Before this there were dance parties (hence the ballet slippers and Cinderella shoes) and a yoga session (note the blanket on the floor as makeshift mat). One twin adores her slippers and hates cold feet, so she wore them downstairs until the day’s play began. Another girl was thirsty before bedtime and so she brought in her ice water with a straw while being read stories.

In ten years, the mess will look very different.

In twenty years, we’ll miss the days that left behind such a scattered chaos.

I wish – I pray – that I would have the long view as I parent during what feels like a long summer in the midst of a long season of gloriously imaginative play and charming smiles punctuated by sibling conflict and mommy frustration.

My word of 2016 has been “rooted.” I haven’t written about it here before because, well, the book has taken a lot of air time. But it’s because of the book’s publication that I chose this word as a focus and prayer for this year. It can be too easy to get lost “in the clouds” of a book release, becoming a published author, engaging in speaking events I’d only dreamed of before – and forgetting my roots. The lovely, hard, sanctifying thing about motherhood and marriage is that my family roots me and grounds me in reality. There is laundry, and the dishes pile up when neglected, and meals need to be cooked and planned, and these ones I love are always present. Loving me and counting on me for their rootedness.

This task feels too immense. And it is until I remember where I am rooted. Deep in the eternal love of God, secured for me by Jesus Christ, spoken into my heart and soul by the Spirit. To be rooted in him, all I need to do is rest and abide and remember. Reading the Bible and praying and worshiping in our local church community help immensely. roots

The truth is that as I look around my living room this evening, the scattered chaos and the story it tells reminds me where I am rooted. Physically and emotionally – here with my family at a house in Virginia amidst a neighborhood and community of friends. Spiritually – I am rooted in a story that often looks to human eyes like the scattered chaos of this room. But it is telling a bigger story of redemption and hope and joy as the life of God is known through my work and play and parenting and marriage and friendship.

 

when May reminds you of what you’re missing

strawberries
May is usually pictured as cheerful. Kids running through fields of wildflowers, or picking strawberries with red juice staining white frocks. The world coming awake from its wintry hibernation. It is happy. It’s spring. The earth is blooming. 

But what about when you feel at odds with the world outside? Like the inevitable good-byes that come when you live in a military community. Like remembering the bittersweet end of each school year – mostly sweet, because the long, lovely days of summer were ahead; but a bit bitter, too, when it meant change was around the corner. I remember the year I graduated from the only school I’d known because I’d be attending high school the next fall. I can recall the joyous grief when I graduated from high school, as we all were about to scatter to our next stages of life. And college graduation was probably the most distinct. Those four years were a sweet, sweet season of my life that I wept at leaving behind. The drive back to South Carolina from Chicago that May was a trail of tears … mine as I kept wanting to look in the rearview and remember the good times, as if that might help them to last forever.

So I think it’s normal (I tell myself) that each May I feel a mixture of all of the Mays I’ve lived. The excitement, the anticipation, the anxiety, the regret, the sad farewells to friends and seasons. And I can’t help but remember the May two years ago when friends lost their 17-year-old son to tragedy. In meeting with this friend a few weeks ago, she talked about the way that May seems to drag on forever some years (like this one).

If you have felt the May blues in whatever degree, take heart. You’re not alone. Change, well, it’s unsettling at any stage of life. This May our across-the-street beloved neighbors moved. They were the kind of friends you felt truly #blessed to have as neighbors. My husband and I enjoyed the company of the parents as much as our kids loved playing together. We left for vacation for a week and when we came back, they’d moved already. We knew it was coming, but after the fact … it feels like something is missing. Life on our street doesn’t feel the same.

And I’ll be honest. As a mom of twin 5-year-olds, summer feels rather daunting. I want to be the mom who enjoys the extra free time at home with her children (and some days I do), but I too often feel like the mom who gets tired of being camp director/chef/cleaning boss/chief disciplinarian. Times 100 in the summer because of all.those.hours. Every day. And so.much.heat. And no.more.naps. I don’t want to default to PBS kids’ marathons Mon-Fri because “mama just can’t take it anymore.” So while the finish line of preschool edges ever so close these next few weeks, I am trying to remember the “sweet” part of “bittersweet May” and to remind myself that these days with these 5-year-olds will one day be a wistful glance in the rearview of my life. 

wildflowers

 

 

 

 

Holy Monday

{repost from March 30, 2015}

It sits just on the other side of triumphant Palm Sunday, and days before the remembering, mourning, and celebrating of Thursday through Sunday. It can feel lost – this “Holy Monday.” (And is that an oxymoron? How can Monday ever be holy? More often “mundane” is an adjective of choice.)

I wonder if “Holy Monday” (and “Holy Tuesday” and “Holy Wednesday”) are needed so that our hearts are ready for the sobriety of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. For something shifted in the crowd who welcomed Jesus with palm branches waving, surrendering their outerwear as a pathway for their donkey-saddled King. Something shifted between this “Triumphal Entry” and the angry crowds begging for his execution on Friday. It was the overlooked days of “Holy Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday.”

The days when I overlook – or fail to look – at my king, humbled and riding on a donkey, but riding nonetheless TO ME; the days when I overlook the tears Jesus wept over this city (and symbolically, over every city in which any of us dwell); these days are the ones when my heart can go rogue. It slips out beneath my notice and goes after its old lovers. The ones promising quick satisfaction without waiting for long promises to be fulfilled. The lovers who tell me I’m beautiful (especially if I use their line of clothing and beauty products). The ones who lure my restless heart with excitement and adventure (forgetting to highlight the fine print warning of: use only at great risk to your soul). It was these false lovers who won over the hearts of the crowds in the four days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The false lovers were clothed in religious garb. They planted questions like –

“How dare he claim to be the Son of God? Who does he think he is?”

“We were promised a Messiah to rescue us. We are still under Roman oppression. Jesus cannot be the promised one.”

“This Jesus is not what we really want. He is working too slow – or not at all.”

And these same religious leaders were at work behind closed doors making deals with an insider who would betray Jesus (Judas). They were plotting his death while the crowds went about their business on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They were stirring up the crowds, with insidious doubts at first and then with explicit commands.

Holy Monday can become “Holy” only when I first admit how similar I am to these fickle crowds. I want a king who comes on my terms, to deliver me in my way, and to make me powerful with him. A king who calls me to follow after him, deny myself, and lose my life to save it? No, thank you. I think I’ll go find someone else. Holy Monday becomes holy when I look at the God who has won me wholly. Even (especially) in the days when my heart feels prone to wander.

when you break Lent (and it breaks you)

This is a post from three years ago, and it’s worth reposting. Because it’s just as true for me now as it was then. The only difference is that my Lenten fast is much smaller now – but it’s still more than what I can do on my own strength!

I offer this as an encouragement to look up and out to Jesus. He is our hope, and He is the whole point of Lent. It’s the journey to the cross.

***

Lent.

The period of 40 weekdays that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.

I chose what I thought would be four hard but do-able items for my Lenten fast this year. Call me an overachiever, or more accurately, an over-estimator of my own strength. A month ago I posted about my hopes for Lent. How hard could it really be? And how refreshing and empowering could it be! In taking away many of my heart’s distractions – phone apps, Target, sweets, t.v. – I assumed that God would replace my heart’s misplaced affections with a renewed love for Christ and the people around me.

About three weeks in, I broke Lent. Fully and completely. Not just one day, but I think it was about every day of the week and I broke every single “fast” multiple times. I rationalized why for each of them.

  • Going to Target will help me stick to our family budget on some key grocery items like Kashi cereal and goldfish.
  • “Non-essential” phone app category expanded dramatically. I started Lent with 6 icons on my home screen that I deemed “non-essential.” I’m ending Lent with twice as many.
  • Television is the only way that my husband and I can really share down time together after busy days in the midst of a busy week
  • I really just “need” a quick pick-me-up. Nothing like a bite of chocolate to do that.

My response to breaking Lent? First, my typical pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps approach: “Just try harder, Heather. Get it together. You can do it!” As this failed, I descended to self-blame, punishment, guilt and shame. “This is really not that hard. There are millions of people in the world who LIVE without these things daily, and you can’t just go without for 40 days?? What is wrong with YOU?” That also got me nowhere fast.

And then I realized that maybe this is the real purpose of Lent. To reveal (again) that I cannot fulfill the Law. Any law – of God’s eternally perfect law, other people’s expectations, or my own standards. Maybe Lent is meant to show me how little I can do in my own strength, and therefore how MUCH I need Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter. Truth echoed in these verses from Romans 3:19-20 –

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Breaking Lent is one way that the law breaks me. It’s a beautiful breaking, for it leads me to the One who restores and makes new. If I didn’t practice a Lenten fast this year, I would be that much less aware of my helplessness to gain eternal life and a relationship with God on my own strength or efforts. And so, in an upside-down backwards way, breaking Lent has broken me of trying and pointed me in desperate hope to Jesus whose death we remember this week and whose life we celebrate next Sunday. Listen to this hope found in Romans 5:6 and 21 –

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. … so that … grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we round the final corner of Lent, walking into Holy Week’s somber reflections, let us remember that we cannot earn Easter on our own merit. Our best trying leaves us hopeless. Let us fall in our weariness and allow Jesus to pick us up and bring us with Him to the cross and then the hope of the empty tomb this week and always.

who’s at your bonfire?

Last weekend I attended the 30th birthday party for my youngest brother. I’m the big sister of two younger brothers, although they’ve long since surpassed me in height. So now I look like the little sister. (But my wrinkles prove otherwise. Ha!) I am proud of both of my brothers for the husbands, fathers, and hard-working professionals that they are. I love them dearly, and their wives are like the sisters I never had. Since we live far away from each other, family gatherings are more infrequent than we’d choose, but we try to make the moments count when we’re together.

bonfireSo last weekend I drove the hours necessary to be present at his monumental birthday party. And it was a blast! My favorite part had to be the bonfire in the backyard of the extensive property where he lives. As we huddled around the warm glow, the circle of family and friends who love my brother was enviable (in the best of ways). He’s stayed close to home, and so present at the bonfire-birthday-party was a friend he’s known since they were toddlers – who had his own toddler in tow. There was also another good friend he’s known since high school, and a guy he had mentored as well as his incredible boss/employer who’s mentored him. There were representatives of the family – parents and in-laws and a sibling and nieces and a nephew – and we all enjoyed gathering around the bonfire with one another. We came together to celebrate this friend/family member whose joy for life has always been contagious.

And it made me think as the chill in the air increased, and we all began moseying back inside and into our cars and back to our homes – the bonfire is a great image for a circle of friends and family. Ones who’ve made our history with us, who remember the stories we’d rather forget or the moments so beautiful for having been shared.

To gather all the friends I love around a bonfire would entail literally flying people in from the corners of globe – from Singapore and Nairobi, Kenya – and from coast to coast, North/South/East/West.

And isn’t that the picture of heaven? We will all come around – gather together – around the One we love, whose Joy welcomes us in and warms our hearts with the Spirit’s fire.

I’ll leave you with a verse that gives words to this vision from Isaiah 60

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you:
    All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
    and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy;..”

 

 

Konmari and my bookshelf

On my birthday, my best friend gifted me with a magical book, titled “the life-changing magic of tidying up” by Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing professional. It had already been buzzing around my circle of friends when Mary told me about it at a spring baby shower. She described it in those very terms – “life-transforming!” and summarized the book by saying, “You clean out your house by asking the simple question of every item in it: does this spark joy?” I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about it. It sounds a bit too simple, and “magical” and organizing don’t seem to fit together in a book title. Plus as a Christian who puts value in the spiritual and eternal over the temporary and material, none of my stuff *should* spark true joy, right?

Yes, and no. Of course possessions shouldn’t spark true, lasting eternal joy, but the things I choose to invest in should bring some measure of meaning and beauty into my life. Beauty reflects God’s glory wherever it is found. And shouldn’t I want my house and closet and bookshelf to only be filled with what seems beautiful (and useful) to me/our family? Additionally, if my energy and time and attention is consumed with maintaining all my “things,” I have less of it to devote to what is truly and most important in my life – relationships, service, justice, mercy, kindness, God’s Word, to list a few.

So I read the book this summer, and decided that when my 5-year-olds started 5-day preschool this fall, I would give the “Konmari method” a fair shot. I’ve sorted through clothing and books so far, with three categories remaining: paper, miscellany, memorabilia. And it has been pretty darn close to magical in terms of how liberating it feels to get rid of things I do not want or need. I can feel my mental capacity increasing as my things in my closet decrease and as my bookshelves open up. For me as a self-professed bibliophile, that says something.

  

And an important caveat: no method is 100% effective, nor can it be for all people. I’m not following all of her suggestions, and there’s a few sections I’m amending or omitting entirely. Like emptying my purse every day and thanking all of my things for serving me each day. Or her instruction not to roll up socks because they’ve done so much work during the day and need some rest. I’m not an animist, and parts of her book sound a bit like animism and a mixture of her Japanese Shintoism. But I as a Christian should be first in line to care for things better, and to live life more simply and with greater joy. Plus – for a second post in the future – all the things I’m purging from my house can be put to better use and shared with those who need them more than I do.

If you’ve tried the Konmari method, has it worked for you? What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you. It’ll give me the courage I need to tackle the piles and piles and piles of papers scattered throughout my house as next week’s Konmari task … !

Five Minute Friday: “same”

It’s ironic that this week’s writing prompt is “same” after a week that’s been anything but same. My daughters turned 5-years-old on Tuesday and also began pre-K for the year. Our family has a whole new schedule now since they’re attending five days a week. I feel like I can breathe again and get to a few projects I’ve been putting off all summer, like purging KonMari style.

For today, I write. Join us?

****

At the beginning of motherhood, it was the repetitive nature of “same” that squelched my soul. Feed, pump, sleep, repeat. Every day felt like the movie “Groundhog Day,” which is exactly the same day on repeat. As much as we all appreciate same, we count on each day to be distinguished in some way. Not for all of them to run together. Even the most rigid of us don’t really want “same” day-in and day-out.

We want the newborns to grow up and begin talking, walking, and eating independently. We want our spouses to change in the areas that bug us. I want to get rid of bad habits that have been the same for far too long.

And yet same can also be an anchor. There are things in life we count on to be the same, and if they are shaken, so are we.

photo credit: theatlantic.com

photo credit: theatlantic.com

Fourteen years ago to this day, 9/11 interrupted the “same” monotony we were dwelling in as Americans and told us life would never be the same. And not only for those immediately impacted by the twin towers’ fall, but all of us all over America. Somehow the illusion of safety under which we lived shattered. At least for our generation who had not known the devastation of either World War.

In a world where so much is shaken, we need “the same.” But change is inevitable, both in seasons and in relationships. How can we adapt to the shifting tides without being overwhelmed by them?

***

A poem I wrote in 2007 upon reflection on 9/11 –

“remembering 9/11”

Before:
innocence,
naivety,
impenetrable defense,
children playing happily in the streets,
businessmen going about their routines,
the Big Apple buzzing with activity
Unaware

Until
the unthinkable occurred
we were attacked by terrorists
Here.
Not “over there”
the towers fell
our proud self-confidence with them

After:
suspicion,
paranoia,
the fear of attack,
danger lurks on every corner
wives grieve, children fear
that today he might disappear
terror enters the American dream
National security?
Now exposed as a myth
(or a political ideal).

Five Minute Friday: “yes”

Diving right into Five Minute Friday today with this week’s prompt of “yes.” Read more about Five Minute Friday at Kate Motaung’s blog, who hosts this weekly gathering/writing.

***

Every yes entails a thousand “no’s.” So I want to make my yes count. Saying no and drawing boundaries gets a lot of press these days, yet I wonder if that’s because we don’t rightly know how to say yes?

Yes to healthy.

Yes to good.

Yes to valuable.

Yes to our gifts and talents and small, specific callings.

Yes to those we profess to love the most.

Yes to what our souls need instead of what our worlds demand of us.

Yes to love.

Yes to grace.

Yes to embracing what’s true and life-giving.

Yes to the path of life.

Yes to the One who said “yes” to me through agonized cries on a hill called Golgotha.

Yes to resurrection life because of God’s “yes and Amen” in Christ.

Yes to freedom.

Yes to getting messy for good causes.

Yes to engaging social injustice of our day.

Yes to quiet and rest.

Yes to slow and calm.

Yes to an unplanned day or hour or week.

Yes to good books and life-refreshing friends.

What’s your yes?

***

summer book report: a trio of “ordinary” books, part 1

Summer is almost over. By that I mean we are two weeks and a few days away from day one of back to {pre}school! The summer has been good, in the way that hard things are ultimately good for you or that vegetables are good for your health. There were many days that felt like I was merely slogging through, like the long, hot days mid-summer when spring was a memory and fall a distant dream. My main tasks were (1) parenting my twin four-year-old daughters and (2) revising the manuscript for my first book to be released early summer 2016 on shame.  These are mutually exclusive tasks. No multi-tasking possible, and it was hard to feel distracted by one when seeking to do the other. Both tasks are also quite ordinary and a bit mundane. It is absolutely an unexpected and incredible opportunity to be writing a book but that doesn’t make editing sentences and punctuation any more glamourous. And, yes, being at home with my kids can be “the best hardest job in the world” when we’re having a blast at the beach or they’re being super-sweet, but these same kids still need to sleep, and get their clothes dirty every day, and occasionally (wink, wink) do not listen to my instructions.

My husband took a mission trip to Japan with our church in early July. He came back with stories of watching God at work in another culture and great pictures of Japanese sushi and Mt. Fuji. While happy for him, I felt a bit left behind like I usually do when he gets to have what I think of as “great frontline experiences” while I am manning the homefront.

But, oh, how good it is for me who can be so prideful and self-sufficient and self-everything to have to learn the hidden work of ordinary! And I was not left without guides, which came in the form of three books I read this summer.

Ordinary by Michael Horton called me to reexamine my definition and methods of success and happiness with the idea that the most important change toward Christ-likeness often happens in the most “ordinary” ways. It’s not only or primarily the mountain-top experiences that build faith, but the day-in, day-out challenge of faithfulness to where God’s placed me today. A few of the many quotes I underlined:

Even more than I’m afraid of failure, I’m terrified by boredom. Facing another day, with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around us is much more difficult than chasing my own dreams that I have envisioned for the grand story of my life.

This is not a call to do less, but to invest in things that we often give up on when we don’t see an immediate return.

When I find my justification in Christ alone, I am free to love and serve others in ordinary and unheralded ways.

Instead of mounting up to heaven in self-righteous ambition, we reach out to those who are right under our nose each day who need something that we have to offer.

We do not find success by trying to be successful or happiness by trying to be happy. Rather, we find these things by attending to the skills, habits, and — to be honest — the often dull routines that make us even modestly successful at anything. If you are always looking for an impact, a legacy, and success, you will not take the time to care for the things that matter.

It is precisely because of this extraordinary hope [of glorification in Christ], therefore, that we can embrace the ordinary lives God gives us here and now.

That’ll preach, as they say back where I grew up in the South. It’ll preach meaning and purpose to you as you’re doing dishes and picking up shoes and clothes of the little people or big people in your house. It’ll preach as you faithfully complete the spreadsheet and budget review and as you reply to emails and answer phone calls. It’ll preach to you and me every day of our lives actually. For ordinary will be part of each day we live, and God is at work right in the midst of these tasks. What hope that is for today!

Next up – A Loving Life by Paul Miller, coming your way in the next few days.