embracing imperfection (July edition): living between “not quite enough” and “a little too much”

I’ve felt my inadequacy this month, which I’ll label under the category of “not quite enough.” Today all it took was hearing about a higher-than-expected car repair bill, which sent my heart sinking. Any cushion – any savings goals? They seem to have fled out the window as that bill fluttered into my text messages. A feeling of being defeated. And it’s not just that. It connects with a larger picture of feeling not quite enough as I seek to parent my “spirited” three-year-old twin daughters. I gave up on bedtime last night. I was doing all of *those things* you’re not supposed to do: empty threats, adult-like reprimands that devolved into harsh commands barked from downstairs – “JUST.GET.BACK.INTO.BED!” I felt as if I didn’t have the energy to get up from my comfy chair and interesting TV show (Parenthood in case you were curious) to do more than that. And you know what? Eventually, they went to sleep and settled down. So did I. But this morning roared to a start just minutes after I had settled into the quiet of my journal, and it felt like “you’re not quite enough” was the banner floating over my head as a mom yet again. 

“Not quite enough” is a shame sentence. A statement connecting to that vague sense of inadequacy we all carry and experience, that lurks behind any attempt to do or to be something glorious. Like a writer. I’m wrestling with feeling “not quite enough” as I long to pursue my passion to write, but feel like I don’t have quite enough time and I’m not sure I have quite enough of an audience and a message and would anyone really publish what I wanted to write?

I’m not quite enough when it comes to being a strong wife for my husband as he endures the challenges of full-time ministry as a pastor.

I’m not quite enough of a good friend because so often I can feel swamped by an over-full schedule.

But then the tone can switch, too. And I feel “a little too much” when I look at the scale and see a number there that feels 10 pounds too high. I was talking to a childhood friend who’s also recently reached mid-30s and we were commiserating about how much more difficult it is at this age and after having babies to be in the shape to which we’d grown accustomed.

I felt “a little too much” when I showed up in my full ballet leotard and tights to the “Mommy and Me” class when all the other moms (except my friend and I) had on t-shirts and yoga pants. Oops. Felt a bit out of place that day!

I can be “a little too much” at a dinner party – too intense, too counselor-esque, too brooding, too withdrawn (all at the same time).

But you know what my real problem is? It’s that I have not embraced “not quite enough” and “a little too much” as part of what it means to be a human dependent on a strong God. A God in whom I am more than enough, not because of me but because of all He gives me and all that He is for me. A God who never views me as “a little too much” because He delights in me. Yet I kick against my human limitations while God continues to shower me with grace. A God who says gently in the stolen, quiet moments (few though they be) that how well today went does not equate to how much He loves me. (Thank you, Gloria Furman, in Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full for that thought!) A God who reminds me that who I am is not what my ever-wavering bank account shows or the scale reveals, but it is forever redeemed, forever loved, forever holy because of Jesus’ forever grace. 

embracing imperfection, part 4 (erasing or embracing?)

We arrived home recently from a week-long visit with family in the Carolinas. While away, my girls came down with (yet another) illness – meaning that they have now been sick for the better part of 8 weeks. !! This mama is going crazy. Sick kids=cranky kids. Sick kids=I don’t go to church (married to a pastor, we can’t trade off Sundays for obvious reasons). Sick kids=disrupted routine and changed plans. I had planned to take the girls with me to go visit a dear friend from childhood who will be moving overseas in a few months. But since she’s also pregnant with her fourth child, we had to reschedule because she does not need these germs at such a vulnerable time.

Lots of imperfection for me to embrace in a season of sick kids, isn’t there? And so, naturally, I am leaning into what God has ordained for us in this season, counting my gifts, and growing in thankfulness for the days when no one is ill. I wish! Instead, part of embracing imperfection is realizing anew the ways I try to ERASE imperfection rather than EMBRACE it. I obviously can’t do much to make my kids well, but you better believe I can clean my house till it shines. I realized my misdirected energies as I thrilled at using a long-handled 360 duster yesterday for getting the cobwebs out of high ceilings. And as I manically cleared the clutter off its favorite gathering place on our kitchen counter. And when I bought yet another by-the-back-door key hook/cabinet organizer from Target. [sidebar: isn’t it ironic that while I can’t go to church with sick kids, I can still go to Target? As long as my kiddos are confined to their red cart, I don’t worry about spreading their infectious coughing.] Then let’s talk about the way I’m trying to erase imperfection through eating yummy things, like chocolate and ice cream and salty snacks.

Today, what would it look like to embrace imperfection? Maybe for me it means less cleaning/organizing/escaping into news and chocolate and smartphone apps and more on-the-floor play time with my daughters. It means confessing my complaint to God in my heart and asking him for more grace. And then moving out in faith that grace is there and saying no to the manic cleaning and yes to loving my children through offering my undivided presence. And yes to restorative activities for my soul during naptime instead of busy task-completion. And yes to a God who loves me in the midst of my imperfection and does not try to erase it, but in his embracing of my imperfect, communicates to me volumes of his perfect love.



embracing imperfection, part 3 (or, how imperfection frees me to create)

One of the first assignments was to draw a self-portrait. In crayon, no doubt. Sounds simple, childish even. And is that what paralyzed me in front of the box of 64 Crayolas? I would dare to take one crayon out, only to have to put it back because it didn’t seem quite right. Do I start with the eyes? or the nose? Or the outline of the face?

Trying to create art paralyzes me sometimes. And it’s my drive for perfection, to be perfect and produce perfection that often holds me back. Nestled underneath that desire is a fear of imperfect, of failure, of disapproval and messing up. When the art I’m working on is visual colors on a page, it can be easier to jump over that hurdle of fear mixed with desire – but when the art is words capturing ideas on a screen. Aahh. That can stop me in my tracks. I can honestly say that most times I begin to craft a blog post, I start with beating down the doubts inside of, “you have nothing to say … what new thing can you add to this topic that hasn’t already been written well [better] by someone else …?”

But I am called to show up and to offer myself, my story, my words, my heart. All of those are imperfect. The more you know any of me, the more you’ll see my imperfection. Yet I don’t want that to paralyze me, just like I don’t want that to hold you back from offering yourself either. In fact, when you (my friend, sibling, parent, husband, pastor) admit your imperfection, it frees me to acknowledge mine. And also to find strength not to allow my own imperfection hold me back from my offering. 

Emily Freeman is teaching me through her book A Million Little Ways. I read this yesterday, and inside I said “yes!”

Knowing we can’t fully live the words we call others to live can keep us from ever saying the words at all. … Just because you can’t fully live your life the way you so long to live it doesn’t mean you don’t fully believe it’s possible with all your heart. And it doesn’t mean you are forbidden to share what you’re learning unless you are living it perfectly. Christ is in you and wants to come out through you in a million little ways – through your strength and also your weakness, your abilities and also your lack. … God calls us his poem. And the job of the poem is to inspire. To sing. To express the full spectrum of the human experience – both the bright hope that comes with victory and the profound loss that accompanies defeat. We must make art, even in our weakness.

So what’s your poetry? Your imperfect poem you’re being asked to write today? For me, it’s a poorly rhymed poem expressing thanks to the preschool teachers my girls have learned from and loved this year, their first year of preschool that ends today (sad!). I offer it here, not because I think it’s beautiful art but because it’s imperfect art. Not my best poem and certainly won’t be published anywhere, but here’s to hoping that it will bring big smiles to the two women who have certainly brought big smiles to my three-year-old daughters in their first school experience.

You have taught us our letters,
And now we can count much better;
We know how to spell our names,
And follow the rules of a game.
We have learned to share
Under your tutelage and care.
We stand in line and wait
And can look at a calendar to find the date.
You’ve introduced us to school,
And how to follow its rules.
You’ve welcomed us with love
Reminding us of God above.
For all of this we say THANK YOU –
And that next year we will miss you! 


embracing imperfection

Originally this post was going to be titled “practicing imperfection.” The problem is that practice implies that it’s something you have to intentionally do that you wouldn’t otherwise be doing. The laborious hours of piano practice from 4th grade through 12th grade come to mind (short fingernails, scales, metronome ticking). And the problem about “practicing imperfection” is that is would lead you me to believe that I am only imperfect when I am being purposeful about it. The truth is, imperfection shows up aplenty in my less-than-perfect, far-from-ideal day-to-day life under the sun

I just usually prefer to hide from it or run from it or pretend it isn’t there. Denial can be a very happy place to live. Until you awaken to reality. Like Dorothy’s discovery of the wizard of Oz, it feels shattering to lose all that we were hoping for in the blink of an eye. So, in the interest of living in light of reality, I want to consciously embrace imperfection. 

What this might mean is that I’m quicker to say I’m sorry when I’ve realized I hurt you (or when you tell me), or that I don’t try to scramble around like a crazy person to clean up the mess of a home that’s lived in because you’re coming to dinner and you don’t have kids yet, or that i don’t always do my hair and makeup to drop off my kids at preschool, or that when the small imperfections of life occur in my home/school/church/neighborhood – instead of judging and distancing, I lean in and accept. For this is what I hope from you when you notice my imperfections. Chances are, you will more often than I can. Sometimes I need to hear about them; other times I’d prefer that you cover it over with love and grace. I will try to do the same.

Have I done this? Do I do this? Those of you who know me in real life know that, well, sometimes I do. And sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I speak before I should. Sometimes I stay silent when I should speak up. I’m learning. And so are you.

Let’s breathe grace for one another. Let’s embrace imperfection. 

Two stories to illustrate, from the past 24 hours:

(1) A couple was over at our house last night for premarital counseling with my husband and I. They had just gotten settled into our couch (barely) when I heard cries erupt from our 3-year-old twin daughters’ room upstairs. I rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah – they haven’t really settled down very well tonight.” But the scene that greeted me when I opened the door was a far cry from this. Or, rather, the stench and the sight of one girl vomiting in the middle of the room and her sister crying out from the fear and shock of it all. Oh my. I don’t do vomit. At all. So I’m saying, “Seth, I can’t do this!” as I run down the stairs. The sweet couple quickly ushered themselves out the door, and I can only imagine that this session could be entitled, “reasons to wait a few more years before having kids.” Oh, yeah. #Embracing imperfection.

(2) This morning I had managed to wrangle the squirmy (but feeling much better) girls through an entire and very full wholesale store shopping trip. You know, the one where you’ve gotta get the deodorant and the tomatoes and the milk and the eggs and the pens and the Oxy-Clean – plus groceries for the week. And I was pretty worn out by the time we got to our car and I unloaded all of our assortment of items. I was rushing a bit because I wanted to get back to meet my friend for lunch. And then I realized that I had forgotten to get the main ingredient for our lunch together: the rotisserie chicken. The Heather-who-tries-to-hide-imperfection would have hightailed it back through the store TO THE VERY BACK where they keep the chicken, probably screaming and dragging my kids behind me, and I would have felt very frantic all around (more than I already did). Instead, I called my friend and asked her if she could bring chicken. Wouldn’t you know – she had one in her fridge already! What kindness in this embracing imperfection journey … what about you? I’d love to hear your stories.

What started me on this journey? I am deeply indebted to Emily Freeman’s Grace for the Good Girl and Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. Books I plan to read and reread for the rest of my life … and hopefully write a chapter or two of my own to add to their conversations.