A Little Perspective

Right now, as I sit in my room, on our first day of Fall Break I can hear my fifteen year old, four, and seven year old discussing rivers and lakes in the kitchen. The fifteen year old made them all some hot cocoa and they are all sitting together happily chatting about the world they live in. My other seven year old is playing outside on the rope swing with two other neighborhood girls. My middleschool boys wanted to play minecraft so, to earn their time, they cleaned the entire downstairs and washed the dishes. My seventeen year old has been researching job options. I sat in my chair and read Dr. Seuss to the three youngest, all of them squeezing onto my lap. We had an intense discussion later, trying to decide what kind of accent our dog would have if he could talk. Since he’s half Irish Setter, my vote is Irish. Other activities that have happened today are lego building, a playdough session, fortress building with blocks, and a lot of lolling around together being lazy. 

Last night I was sitting in my chair, feeling a bit depressed. My husband asked what I was doing and I said I was contemplating my life. Oh, don’t do that, he said. Why don’t you look at pictures on your phone instead, that always helps. And this morning, while I was waiting for my son while he got his vision check up, I started scrolling through pictures from this past year. All pictures of my kids. A handful of pictures of my husband. Hardly any of me. (I need to do something about that.) But, kids are so much more fun to take pictures of. They are so beautiful, cute and sweet. And wow, we have some really good memories from this year. 

And today, as I’ve taken a step back and just watched my kids, I wonder what had me so depressed last night. I can’t even remember. Probably thinking about all the repair work we need to do on our house, or projects that need to get done. Things that really aren’t that important. The important things, namely my family, they are all doing pretty good. 

Sometimes I kind of lose sight of what I am doing. I get caught up in future dreams and goals. My own personal goals. The craziness of the world we are living in. And I forget that right now, my primary job is MOM. And it’s a worthy job. I’m not doing it perfectly, but I’m giving it my best effort. 

A couple weeks ago, a cousin of mine posted a very old picture of my great grandmother. It was a striking picture. She died in 1953 and while I had heard references to her a couple times, I knew nothing about her. I asked my cousin if she had any information and she sent me my great-grandmother’s Eulogy that my great grandfather had written. He talked about what a great wife, mother, friend, and Christian woman that she was. I was a little disappointed because I was hoping to learn more about her interests and personality, family history etc. But, as I think about it more, the Eulogy covered the most important facts. It covered the legacy part of who she was, the things that were passed forward to the next generations. She raised healthy, well rounded children. Taught them to love the Lord, modeled Christian living and service. One of her sons became a missionary, two others became pastors, her daughter was a well-loved teacher. And those children passed the same values down to the next generation, and then it got passed down to me. And now, here I am, trying to pass the same thing down to my children. 

I wrote recently about struggling with being the parent of grown up children, the lack of guarantees.  I have no idea what each of my children will do with their lives in the future, that is up to them, but I still have to do my part well. What I’m doing right now is important. I remember when I got pregnant with my first child and my husband said, this is the most important thing we will ever do. And I agree. My eulogy will not have anything in it about how well fixed up my house was. It probably won’t mention the vacations I’ve gone on or fun adventures I’ve had. It might not even mention things I enjoy doing like playing piano or writing. But, it will talk about what kind of wife and mother I was. What kind of friend I was. What kind of Christian I was. And that means that today, hanging out with my kids, taking them to doctor appointments, fixing them a hot supper, reading books, having devotions together…these are the most important things I will ever do. 

Fat Fridays: Which Direction are You Looking?

Losing weight is kind of a funny thing. You drop some pounds and you look at yourself and you’re so excited. I look great! I look so much better! Isn’t this wonderful! But then, after a while you start looking at yourself and thinking, man, I need to lose so much more weight. Look at all this fat. This is so depressing. 

It really has to do with your perspective. Which direction are you looking? If you’re looking backwards then losing weight feels great. I used to be THIS much and now I’m a lot less!! Yay me!! But when you’re looking forwards, it can get depressing. I want to weigh THIS much and I still have so far to go. Uggh. 

This week I found myself kind of in the UGGH category. I’ve lost a lot of weight (44 pounds as of this morning!), but in order to hit my goal weight, I still have 62 pounds to go. Argh. I’ve been having to encourage myself. I’ve been keeping a log of my weight loss and I went back and looked at the numbers. Ok, a month ago you weighed this much, you’ve made a lot of progress! 

It also makes me think about the WHY of weight loss. Why am I doing this? I know when I was in my teens and twenties, weight loss was about achieving a certain look. I want to wear THIS size clothing. I want my measurements to be THIS much. If I can look like that model in the magazine, then I will be happy. And I think I thought I would be happy because then I would be attractive enough. Which is what our culture teaches us. You have to look a certain way or you are not really worthy of being loved. 

Well, I have been happily married for almost twenty-two years now and my husband has proved to me that he is capable of loving me through thick or thin. And while I would love to look my best for him, I don’t feel like I have to look a certain way to be lovable. (I say that breezily, but it was a long, hard-fought journey to get to this place.) 

I now find myself being motivated a lot more by health concerns. I am prediabetic. I know that my weight is a major contributing factor. I have spent long periods of my life completely inactive and I feel like I’m missing out on things I want to do because my body simply isnt’ strong enough to do it. I want to climb mountains, go on long bike rides, go running. I want to have energy to do active things with my kids instead of just watching from a chair. 

These past six months as I have been exercising daily, losing weight, getting stronger, I have started to appreciate and love my body more. Look at you! Look at what you just did! I am excited to think of all the things I will be able to do as I shed more and more weight. 

But, all of this brings me to the final point I want to make. This week I was at the park taking a long walk, almost four miles. It was so nice to be outside in nature. The sunlight was at that perfect evening slant, the trees were shimmering in the breeze, the grass was extra green. It was just a perfect time. And I was thinking about my goals, ONE DAY, I’ll be at the weight I want. ONE DAY I’ll have arrived. And I was thinking about my WHY for weight loss. And it occurred to me that I was already doing my WHY. I was taking time for myself to get out in nature and walk. I was being active and doing something I liked. I don’t have to wait for some nebulous time in the future when my scale finally says the magic number. I’m already living the life that I want. Right here, in the present. And instead of swiveling my head back and forth: future, past; focusing on the here and now seems better. 

I am Not your Enemy

I had to take my daughter to a doctor’s appointment this morning. Last year she broke her arm and had a metal rod put in her bone. Now that the bone is healed, we have to have another surgery to remove the rod. She does not want to have another surgery. She did not want to miss some of school this morning as they were doing something fun in class. She was not happy. When we got to the waiting room, she chose a seat just far enough away from me to announce how unhappy she was with me. And I sat there watching her angry face and I thought, I am not your enemy! I am doing this for you! 

This week I had to take my six year old who is homeschooling this year, to the public school four different times so he could do some testing. We are trying to get a good evaluation so we can get him placed in the right class next school year. In order for them to get all their data, they needed him to do some writing samples. He hates writing. With a passion. He is capable of writing. He writes for me every day in school. And every day it’s a fight. So, when they asked him to write for the testing, he dug in his heels, mad at me, mad at the testing. I had to talk to him. Listen, this is in order to help you so you can be placed in the right class next year so you won’t be bored in school. I am not your enemy. I am trying to help you. 

I’ve had a couple other situations this week where I have come across as public enemy number one because I’m making the hard choices that aren’t popular, but are for the best. It’s not fun. I am a peacemaker, and a people pleaser. I just want everyone to like me and be happy. That’s not too much to ask, is it? 

I was grumbling about it to God this morning. Here I am, just trying to help people, and everyone is mad at me. I am not the enemy! 

And he kind of whispered back to me, I am not your enemy either. 

Ah. 

Yes. 

I’ve been kind of mad this week. Why haven’t you intervened in this situation God? Why haven’t you healed? Why haven’t you stepped in and shown up big? 

And I am reminded that the same trust and faith that I require of my children, is being required of me. My kids can’t see the big picture in the same way I, as an adult, can. And I can’t see the big picture in the same way God does. And so I have to just trust. And in the same way that I can point out to my kids all the ways that I love them, to reassure them that my actions are in their best interest, I can remind myself of all the ways God has shown his love to me, and be reassured myself. 

Not the enemy. 

Penance or Grace?

This past week I’ve been thinking about penance and grace. The dictionary gives the following definition for penance:

pen·ance

noun

  1. 1.
    voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.

I have been on a journey this year to lose weight. At the beginning of my journey I was losing two pounds a week. Yay! It felt like I was making good progress. Then the weight loss slowed down to one pound a week. And that just feels agonizingly slow. Every week I am working out six days a week, I am keeping a record of everything I eat, keeping my calories at the right amount, always choosing the healthier options, checking in with a personal trainer daily…it’s a lot of work just to see the scale move one pound. 

And I had this thought. This is my penance for being overweight. My punishment for gluttony and sloth. My just dues for allowing myself to get to this place of needing to lose so much weight.

And that thought felt very comfortable. Yes. I am facing the consequences of bad choices, and I’m just going to have to work really really hard to get myself back to a good weight. It’s all my fault and this is my punishment. 

So, I kept hold of this idea for a couple days and then, all of sudden, out of nowhere, this thought popped into my head. What if, instead of punishment, this is grace? 

Definition of grace (Entry 1 of 2)

1a: unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification

What if I have simply not been in a place, mentally or spirtually, to be able to fully learn how to take care of my body the way I need to? And finally I am in that place. And God is teaching me how to care for myself. And it’s a long process. A long process of breaking off bad habits and establishing good ones. A long process of learning how to gage how much food is “enough” and how much is just gluttony. A long process of learning how to enjoy movement, exercise. A long process of changing my lifestyle so that it embraces health. What if that one pound a week is a symbol of grace. Proof that God does not simply leave me wallowing in my sin, but has opened a way for me to change. 

Last night I attended a Celebration of Life service for a man who had recently died of Covid. I was not personally friends with him, but I am friends with his wife and one of his daughters. As people shared stories of his life and personality and character, a picture was painted of a wonderful father and husband and friend. But what really stood out to me was the observation, by more than one person, that this man was who he was because he was a follower of Jesus. It was Jesus’ grace in his life that enabled him to be this wonderful father, husband, friend. And I think about this as I think about penance and grace. 

God’s grace in my life enables me to become the best version of myself. It’s not about punishment any more. Jesus already took that punishment on the cross and then declared that It was Finished. Yes, we face the consequences of our sins, but it is not in a spirit of punishment and condemnation. It is a spirit of Grace. Here, my daughter. The way you are choosing is not bringing you life, try doing it my way instead. Let me restore you, strengthen you. Walk with me and I will turn your ashes into beauty. 

Penance or grace? I choose grace. Or rather, grace chose me. 

Thoughts on the Protests

This past week the DA in our city released the bodycam video of the police shooting of Anthony Thompson Jr at Austin East High School. I watched the presentation the DA gave as she walked through all the evidence, one step at a time, and ended with the conclusion that it was a justifiable action by the police officer and no charges would be brought against the police. Seeing the evidence, as she presented it, I had to agree. Yes. This looks like it was definitely justifiable. 

So, I was really surprised when I started reading FB posts from my black friends from this neighborhood. They had a completely different perspective. They felt that the DA maligned Anthony’s character by bringing up the domestic violence incidents that led to the police being called. They wanted to know why the police did not use a taser or try talking first. They wanted to know why the police did not speak to Anthony from the doorway of the bathroom and ask him to drop his weapons and come out with his hands up. They watched the video and felt that they were seeing the police’s hands on the gun, not Anthony’s, when it was fired. In fact, they were seeing something completely different from me. 

When two people watch the same video and see two different things, you’ve got to step back and realize that vision is not just a physical thing that our eyes do for us. Vision is affected by what is in our minds, our past, our experiences as well. Perspective. We can all see an image, but our perspective is going to tell us different things about that image. 

I think about where we are at in our country. When this incident happened, we were in the middle of the George Floyd trial. The news is frequently posting more and more incidents of police officer shootings that seem to have been avoidable. The experience of people of color in their involvement with the police has led to a feeling of distrust and danger where the police are concerned. 

Since the release of the bodycam videos, our city has seen a couple protests. I watched some video from one of the protests and the things that they were chanting hurt my heart. This is not my perspective. I don’t hold these views. But, I feel like I can understand, a little, where these views are coming from. 

So, here’s the question. Can we lay down our self-righteousness, our desperate need to always be right, and just enter into the idea that other people have different perspectives than us? Can we withhold our judgement for a minute and remember that other people have vastly different stories than we do, and those stories have caused them to see the world in a very different light than us?   

I believe in absolute truth. And I believe the Bible spells out what that truth is. But, when it comes to things like watching bodycam videos of a seventeen year old being shot and then deciding who is guilty and not guilty, I don’t think that falls into right and wrong categories. There is a lot of gray that we have to wade through. Let’s have grace for each other and understanding as we all react to this event in a different way. 

The Power of Worship

I started off this morning feeling off-balance. Unresolved conflicts. In the middle of a battle with myself as I try to adopt healthier habits. Children not as happy as I’d like to see them. The overwhelming amount of projects I need to do in my house. A dull February morning, the sunrise trying to push away the gray, but not quite managing to do so. The feeling of not having it all together. 

Then my fifteen year old came downstairs, dressed in cheerful pink, and turned on some worship music on her phone. I found myself singing along. And almost right away, I felt Hope returning. Jesus is good. He is on his throne. My life is in his hands. 

There is something about worship that recenters your perspective. As I write, the sunshine suddenly gets brighter, I can see more blue peeking around the clouds. My little boys are playing cheerfully. I feel a bit more confident that I can handle whatever this day hands me. 

The kids are memorizing Psalm 100. Every morning on the way to school, we practice our verses. It’s a good way to start the day. Though sometimes, I’m not paying enough attention to the words we are saying. 

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

    Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];

    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Worship does not change your circumstances, but it shrinks them back into perspective. Instead of me standing alone in a pit, it’s me holding the hand of my Father God as we navigate a bumpy road together. 

Come, Let Us Worship our God, Let us kneel Before the God our Maker, For He is Good and his Love Endures Forever. 

I Am Rich

I love the sounds of my house. A couple minutes ago I was sitting at the piano, trying to sight-read through a fairly simple Chopin piece I had never seen or heard before. It was slow going. Adagio. I wasn’t really focusing on what I was doing. Honestly, I was just killing time, waiting for my kindergartner to finish his workbook. Right now all the kids are waiting for him to finish his workbook. I told him that when he had finished his school work (workbook and read aloud a story) then I would go down to the store and buy our traditional bags of Candy Corn (and for all you haters out there, we happen to think candy corn is awesome!!). Every October I put out some ceramic pumpkins on my mantle, fill them with candy corn and the kids get to grab some after school is done, or chores, or whatever hard task is in front of them. 

Anyway, I was playing the piano, waiting for David to finish his workbook, and I started just listening to all the sounds of our house. 

We started a fire in the wood-burning stove this morning. The stove has a little fan that blows warm air into the room. It is a soothing white noise. We also have a large fish tank in the living room whose water filter sounds like a little waterfall. We need these soothing sounds. They counterbalance the sound of teenagers hurling themselves down our wooden staircase as loud as they can. And the sound of the three year old talking to himself as he plays his little imaginary games. I have one teenager home this week because her school is shut down for Covid. She loves music and carries her phone everywhere with her, sharing her very eclectic music choices with the whole family. 

You can hear our dog barking outside, faithfully protecting us from any random person walking down the sidewalk. The occasional car drives by on the street in front of our house. You can occasionally hear a siren rushing past on the main road which is only a block away from us. 

The kindergartner has a chronic whistling habit and the eleven year old is constantly humming. And Chopin continues to plunk along in the background. 

There is so much life tucked into the walls of this home. 

(Time lapse)

So, I just got back from the store, candy corn has been bought, pumpkin candy dishes are now full. 

When I pulled up to the Family Dollar, I saw two apparently homeless people, a man and a woman, in the alley behind the store. By the time that I left the store and was heading back to my car, they had settled themselves on the back steps of the store’s delivery entrance. They had bags of belongings and some fountain soda cups from a nearby gas station. They looked dirty and the woman looked like she was crying. But they weren’t trying to make eye contact with me, and I had nothing to offer them. No groceries in my bag, just candy corn. No cash in my wallet, just a bankcard. No words to share, my innate shyness balking at starting a conversation. I remembered that I had supported one of our homeless shelters this past weekend by shopping at their thrift store (thank you Ma’am, your purchase has just helped us feed ten people!), and I just hope that this couple will make their way to the shelter by evening and take advantage of this ministry in our city.

I climbed back into my car and drove back home. And once again, I felt like the blinders had been ripped off my eyes. A glimpse at my true reality. My home, a beautiful mansion. My children, costly jewels, unmeasurable treasures. My life, a dream come true.

And the noises in my house sound like a beautiful symphony. The chaos is simply an outpouring of joy. I feel like the richest woman on the planet as I survey this ramshackle house of mine. 

And my prayer becomes, make me a blessing.

God, you have blessed me, show me how to bless others.