Mother’s Day Musings

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I’m listening to the baby monitor. My son is coughing off and on. He calms and snores softly, then resumes coughing. This is his pattern. I’m praying he gets rest tonight…and I’m wishing there was more I could do to ease his discomfort.
But I can’t make his cough disappear, I can only soothe him, rock him, and apply Vic’s to his chest.

That’s why I’m here.

To wrap my arms around him.
To read stories.
To sing songs.
To teach him “no” means “no.”
To encourage him to eat the carrots, not feed them to the dog.
To help him navigate a crazy world.
To let him know he has a mind and can think for himself.
To remind him to pray.
To point him to Jesus.
To teach  him compassion.

I’m here to love him.

I’m not here to buy him the next best toy.
I’m not here to enroll him in every up and coming kiddie class.
I’m not here to attempt perfection in motherhood.
I’m not here to foster his sense of entitlement. (He has enough of that all on his own considering he’s a toddler)
I’m not here to be his friend, his roommate, or his “get out of jail free” card.

I’m here to parent him.
It’s my blessing and joy. It’s hard and wild and ridiculous. It’s fantastic, fun, and fulfilling.

I get tired and annoyed. I grow irritable. I am imperfect. I want to be selfish all too often.
But I love my son.
And that’s the power of true motherhood: love.
Paul wrote, “If I have not love, I am a clanging cymbal.”
Sometimes, the clanging of the chaos of a typcial week threatens to overtake the force of love.
But, when I pause, look into those green-brown eyes, feel those tiny arms encircle my neck, love chimes louder than the chaos.
When…
Love gives the strength.. makes us whole.. guides our decisions…
Love encompasses every word….
Then…
Everybody sleeps well.

The Past

 

I’m not angry.

Inside beyond the cobwebs

Lies a trunk of memories

Not the happy Christmases

Or jolly birthday parties.

I dare not open its lid

Else I find ripe bitterness.

Things from years as kids

Conversations, fight, bruises

Stuff from adulthood choices.

Not just these, but people too

Ones I care to forget.

I won’t open it—you

Can’t make me do it.

Someday—who knows—I’ll look inside

Crack the lid, to relive the past

But now the memories, the scars hide

In the locked, dusty trunk their cast

I have no more to say.

No. Nothing. That’s it.

Except perhaps this:

I am not angry.

And now….

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There is a red and white tassel hanging in my office. Attached to it are the gold numbers, “2017”, in miniature form. It was part of my graduation apparel. It is  now forever ensconced as a symbol of hard work and effort.

All the papers have been written.

The lab work is completed.

Discussion groups are over.

Credits are accrued.

The graduation ceremony was attended.

A toast was proclaimed to the graduate.

Yet the persistent question quietly drumming in my heart is:

What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?

That’s the expectation.

You are expected to achieve a goal, and then move on to the next goal. Yes, great job, nice work, well done. But what’s on the horizon? What do you have going? Where do you want to go from here? There is a constant hum in the background. I recently heard a person speculate that our society is addicted to stress. We have a need to be so overwhelmed that we can’t hear ourselves think. We crave the buzzing of busyness to our lives.

And when we achieve a goal, we have to immediately replace it with another one. Go, go, go! Don’t stop!

On my bus rides to work over the last few weeks, I’ve just stared out the window. I feel a bit…

Lost.

Tired.

Worn.

What if I don’t know what’s next? What if I’m simply depleted? What if I can’t think straight because my brain is still fried from late night homework? What if I’m just plain, ole tuckered out?

I was perusing the Gospel of Luke recently, and I came across the story of Jesus in the boat with his disciples. They’ve just spent time going around towns and villages, sharing the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Jesus has given sermons and healed people. He had been followed around by almost everyone, calling His name, asking Him questions, wanting something from Him.

(You know how that is, right? Come on, Moms, we know what it’s like to go everywhere with a persistent, little voice behind us, saying, “Mommy, mommy, mommy?”)

I love this line from The Message:

“One day he and his disciples got in a boat…. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep.”

It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep.

The sun was warm. The water was calm. The boat swayed in just the right rhythm.

The Creator of the Universe fell asleep.

Because he was tired.

That’s what his human body needed at that moment:  A quick “40 winks”, a power nap, a resting of the eyes.

In the last few years, I’ve undergone some major life changes and haven’t stopped to reflect on them. I’m learning slowly—ever so slowly—that I’m not made for constant movement. I’m recognizing there is an ebb and flow to existence and I’m trying to practice the ability to be in one season and out of another. I could go charging ahead recklessly into the next thing. I could keep on racing without restoring my juices. I could run myself into the ground and burn, burn, burn until there was nothing left inside of me.

King Solomon commented on the in his sermon in Ecclesiastes. “A right time to cry and another to laugh, a right time to plant and another to reap, a right time to lament and another to cheer. A right time to rip out and another to mend, a right time to shut up and another to speak up.” (The Message)

The seasons are changing. The weather is warming up. Flowers are blooming. Daylight lingers long into the evening hours. It’s turning into summer time. And for me, it’s turning into a time to rest and recharge. A time to reap. A time to laugh. A time to reflect.

Do I have new goals on my list?

Sure, I have a few.

Do I know exactly what’s around the bend?

No, I don’t.

But, right now, I’m going to take a deep breath. In and out. I’m going to marvel that I’m alive on this earth. I’m going to wonder that I get a chance to live and to move and to have my being in God.

Right now, I’m going to tend to my herb garden and make fresh, vibrant recipes.

Right now, I’m going to teach my son the ABC’s with chalk on our front steps.

Right now, I’m going to sit on the couch with Thomas.

Right now, I’m going to be inspired by a book.

Right now, I’m going to go outside in the sun and soak up its rays.

Right now, I’m going to listen and absorb. I’m going to think and ponder and write. I’m slowing down from the busy pace for a short time.

The sailing is smooth. There might be a storm coming, or a madman with pigs, or a crowd of people pressing around me soon. (Read ahead in Luke’s Gospel….) It was after the resting that Jesus continued to do good for everyone He met.

The future is going to be wild and crazy and unpredictable. I’m so excited to see what happens then. I’m ready to do good for everyone. I’m open to whatever comes my way.

So while I can’t answer the question of “what’s next”, I can tell you what I’m doing right now.

I’m savoring this moment.

It’s beautiful.

I’m so grateful to be…right here.

Unbroken Snow

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I’ve started a new list. It’s titled “Goals for 2017”.

After the title, the list is blank.

I’m stymied. Every year, since around age 16, I’ve written down what I want to do the coming year. Places I want to go. Things I want to do. Outcomes I hope I achieve. The work I plan on completing.

It’s a tad exhausting.

No wonder I’m always worn out at the end of the year.

At this time of year, in the village in Germany, where I grew up, the pace slows. People relax. They see their families. Stores close early. In America, we have 1 day for Christmas and 1 day for New Year’s. In Bavaria, they have 2 ½ days at Christmas, and then another 2 days for New Year’s celebrations. While in America, the average working man or woman puts in 47 hours of work a week; in Germany, the average hours in a work week are 35. Taking vacation, having family time, getting good sleep – all these things are wrapped up in their culture. They don’t even think twice about it. They take the time.

I think I’m having trouble forming a new list of things to accomplish because my world is in a whirlwind. I’m putting in long hours at work; I’m endeavoring to finish school; I’m raising a family; I’m involved in groups and social events; I volunteer. I hear John Denver’s words, “The days, they pass so quickly now, the nights are seldom long,” and I wish time would slow its harried pace.

Slowly, I’m realizing that I am the one making time feel fast and furious. I’m the one that is stuffing my schedule so full that it is about to explode like Clark Griswold’s Christmas turkey. While I’m hurrying from one thing to the next, with my heart palpitating and my chest restricting, the small voice is whispering, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Be. Still. Know.

Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom said once, “With God, there is no time. With God it is always now.”

I don’t see my life as a great, big NOW. I am pushing for the next thing, the next step, the next prize. I work towards goals. I strive for achievement. I look to the future, thinking joy is over there.

Meanwhile, God is whispering, “I am here. I am present. I am now.” The prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The LORD your God is in your midst.” Jesus Himself said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”

Now is the time for love. Now is the time for redemption. Now is the time for joy for the journey. Now is the time for listening, for empathy, and for compassion. I don’t have to complete a list of prerequisites or bring any sort of qualifications. I don’t have to work really hard or receive rewards. I just have to be open to seeing what God is up to in the moment.

For 2017, I do have plans – some big, some small. I’m excited to do a lot of new things, reach new heights, and work towards my dreams.

However, overall, in this New Year, I’m looking for the unbroken snow.

When a new snow falls on a mountain trail, the first person to hike the path experiences the pleasure of breaking the clean blanket of fresh powder.

The path that had disappeared is then visible again.

I want the paths of grace and peace in my life that have been buried in the avalanche of my plans and human purposes to be cleared.

I’m ready to embrace the present.

Because…to quote King David…

“You will show me the path of life and in Your presence is fullness of joy.”

Right before my eyes. Right in my own home. Right in this very moment.

Now.

 

Happy New Year, Friends. 

 

P.S.

Someday when my son is older, he’s going to be embarrassed how often I used his picture as the title image for this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

WHOLE

A dozen tiny shards of sandy substance sprinkled to the floor as I un-wrapped the tissue paper. My sand dollar, a gift from my dad during a trip to Holland, was destroyed on its journey home. With my 10-year-old heart crushed at having lost my treasure, I told my dad. He hugged me and said he was sorry for my loss.

A few months later, Dad found me one afternoon, playing outside.

“What’s that?” I asked, gesturing to the package in his hand.

“Just something I bought for you today.”

He handed me the brown paper wrapped package. A brilliant white sand dollar lay there, shimmering in the hot June sun.

“Don’t break it,” he said and hugged me.

My treasure was restored that day. I still have the second sand dollar. It’s a symbol of my Dad’s persistent love for me. I wonder how many times we attempt to protect our treasured hopes and dreams, our desires and wants, only to see them dashed. How many times have I run to my heavenly Father, offering Him the shards?

Only the Lord can restore the years the locusts have eaten. He gave Job double blessing after all of his losses. The disciples gathered the fragments that remained after the 5,000 were fed.  David wrote in the Psalms, “The LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.”

Our heads hang low. Our eyes are rimmed red. Our plans have gone awry. A divorce happened. A death struck us. Financial turmoil depleted the savings accounts. The job is lost. We feel shattered, yet God is most present during suffering. C.S. Lewis said, of pain, that it is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

God who sees the sparrows fall, sees all pain. His reply is “I know the plans I have for you—plans to prosper you and bring you peace.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Something awakens in my soul at Jeremiah’s words. My spirit quickens at God’s voice. He promises His peace in exchange for my pieces. My brokenness for His wholeness. My pennies for His treasure. My darkness for His light. My soul longs to be full of this inner light, which comes from His Spirit manifesting itself in me. In 2 Corinthians 4, verse 7, Paul says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” The treasure is the presence of God.

My hope remains in God. He is the one who is famous for being the Repairer of Broken Walls, a Restorer of Shattered Relationships, and a Giver of Good Things. He created me for more than just brokenness. He wants me whole…as whole as the sand dollar my daddy gave me.

Skateboards

I don’t like skateboards.

I know, I know, I sound like a stuffed shirt. Basically, I’ve almost been run over  several times by boys riding them, and it’s ruined my view of them. Plus they are loud on the sidewalks, and when they are coming up behind me, I can’t tell which way they are coming. It just sounds like a stampede.

It makes me feel skittish.
Sigh.
This is my thought as I boarded the bus for the ride home, as I noticed the young man across from me with his skateboard. I wanted to roll my eyes in frustration.  Here was another ruffian, not caring about anyone else, just wanting room for his noisy, obnoxious piece of wood on wheels.
Then he pulled a black journal from his dusty backback.
He began to write.
Write.
The boy with the skateboard is a writer.
Not what I expected at all.
And then I felt ashamed at judging him based on his mode of transportation.

Isn’t that how it is?

We see the outside and frown. We take a cursory glance and disapprove. We assume we know what’s going on and the truth is we don’t.

I wonder what he was writing.
Was it an essay for class? Was it poetry? Was it private thoughts that no one else will ever read? Does he have to hide it from a sibling?
Jesus said, “Do not judge by the outward appearance.”
God told Samuel, “Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I’m bombarded every day with news and social media and opinions, asserting to me that this person is good or that person is bad. Too often, these assertions are based on a passing overview of the person, and not on a genuine understanding of who they are. It just takes too much time to dig in and have a relationship with someone. It’s easier to make a snap judgment and move on.
I’m tired of this trend I see in myself.
I see the harsh criticism in my heart. I want to be gentler and kinder. I want to have an encouraging word for each one I meet.
Because, who knows…
The boy writing in the black journal on the bus may be the next Thoreau or Shakespeare. Maybe he’s waiting for someone to notice.
I certainly did today. It softened my heart.
I’ve completely forgotten why I don’t like skateboards.
Now, they don’t seem so bad.

The Birthday Gift

Kathleen 2 YEARS

On September 11, 1984, I arrived, red and wrinkled and screaming. The doctor counted my fingers and toes, checked my lungs, and pronounced me, “perfect.”

I was an ugly baby. My head was slightly conical in shape. My wide lips appeared too large for my face. My skin was a splotchy red. At least, that’s how the old pictures portray me. My mom gets upset at me when I say I was ugly. But I what I mean is that I wasn’t about to win any “Most Beautiful Baby” awards.

But as oddly shaped as my tiny baby self was, I grew into a happy, healthy toddler and kid. First drooling and crawling. Then running and playing. And swinging on the tree swing. Racing bikes with my brothers. Laughing and grinning. I wore pink plastic glasses and my two front teeth were bigger than the rest.

I didn’t care. I flounced around in my frilly dresses. I loved the wind in my hair during a bike ride. I gave hugs often. I was uninhibited. Even when my body grew and changed around the age of 12, I paid no attention. I just wore the extra “undergarments” my mom gave me and continued being me.

Sunny. Light. Unconcerned.

I enjoyed almost 15 years living in a body that moved and breathed. I think of those years sometimes as my “Eden” years. Before the taint. Before the harsh words. Before the shift in my senses.

It was summer. Hot and humid. Sweat dripped down my face as I stared into the mirror, examining my face. Tears stung the corners of my eyes. The words had just been spoken to me.

“You’re fat. In the face.”

The sting is still there a bit. After all this time. Even as I write it, I feel the urge to get up from my computer and run to the bathroom to check out my face.

Instead, I’m here, writing this.

That summer day altered the way I saw my body. I started to hate it. Later that year, I stood in front of my bedroom’s full-length mirror, naked. I took stock of my body and made mental notes of everything that wasn’t perfect. All the counts added up to the guilty verdict.

That’s when the taunt in my head began. The one that said, “You’re fat, therefore ugly…and therefore, stupid.”

Listening to this lie caused me to lose a gift. The one God gave me when I was born.

Life.

God created us in His image. We are made to thrive and to create and to grow. These bodies are His invention. He wanted us to relish them, to enjoy them, to take care of them. He desires us to live with the confidence that we are loved in greater measure than we could ever imagine.

But our belief in lies steers us from this truth. We then head on a path to destroy God’s own perfect design.

Because I let the lies about my body consume me, I spent many unhappy years. My journals are filled with lines of meanness and vitriol towards my body. I missed out on opportunities, lost out on friendships, didn’t pursue education, and was stunted in careers. All because the lie, “You’re fat…therefore you are ugly…therefore you are stupid,” consumed me.

Don’t get me wrong. The years between ages 15 and now have not been horrible. Not entirely bleak and sad. I enjoyed many good times. There was just an over-arching sense of disconnections between my mind and my body. It was like I was wearing dark sunglasses, seeing the world through the lenses of self-loathing and disappointment.

When I spiraled to my lowest point and contemplated hurting this physical body of mine, I sought help. Through months and months of counseling, I started to reshape the view of myself. I saw myself through the lens of God. He has filled me with the fullness of Christ.

I wrote in my journal, after 10 months of counseling, a quote from Walt Whitman, “I cannot be awake, for nothing looks to me like it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.”

I was waking up.

My counselor didn’t begin with big ideas and grand notions. She started small.

“Just part your hair a different direction.”

So I did. Parted the hair to the right instead of the left, and slowly began the crawl back to the carefree child I had once been. Over the last seven years, I have talked and cried and written stuff down. I ran a few half marathons. I married a guy who tells me every day that I’m pretty. I have lost a few pounds. I carried a baby. I retained several stretch marks from birthing the baby.

I’m relearning to move in this body. I’m trying to appreciate its capabilities. I’m reclaiming the gift.

Yet one thing remains for me to do.

One thing I have to change.

A pattern I have to break.

I still call myself, “fat, ugly, and stupid.” It’s my go-to phrase. It’s my fall-back mantra. It’s my comfort zone. (without the comfort….)

I have to retrain my brain to believe the good. That I am a daughter of the King. That I am all glorious within because of grace. That Christ is the One Who makes me whole. I now believe, it’s not just the words “fat, ugly, stupid” that matter. You can fill in any word. Any old name. Any negative memory. Everybody has the old tape that plays again and again in their head. Listening to those worn out mantras leads down the path of nowhere.
I’ve been mediating on the words from Psalm 16, where David exclaims, “You will show me the path of life—in Your presence there is fullness of joy!”On this path, there are no slurs, no hateful words, and no sneering comments. No shame. No guilt. God’s goodness just doesn’t allow it.
So, this, my friends, will be my gift to myself for my birthday:

I’m deleting the words “fat, ugly, and stupid” from my vocabulary. They have no place.

I’m hanging out on the path of life and am full of joy. I’m enjoying the gift God gave me on the day of my birth. This earthly tent, as the New Testament writer, Paul, would put it.

It’s pretty great.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some pie to eat and a 2 year old to chase.

“It’s a beautiful day…don’t let it slip away…”-U2

Happy 32.

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Girl Talk – Part One: Face

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I carry a small tube in my backpack every day. The product is made by Revlon. It’s called “Photoready: concealer.” The purpose of the product is to conceal blemishes and even out skin tone.

I apply it regularly. Almost obsessively.

I don’t want anyone to see my real face with all its blemishes, odd spots, and uneven tones.
I want to cover it up. I want to look beautiful. I want to feel picture perfect.

I’ve let myself fall for the lie: “You’re only beautiful if you look a certain way.”

When I was 15 years-old, I overheard a conversation between two adult family members.

“Have you shown Katie how to use make-up yet?”

“No, I haven’t even thought about it.”

“Well, it would certainly cover all that acne.”

A flame of red surged into my cheeks. I ran to the bathroom to examine myself in the mirror. All I saw was imperfection.

I’ve worn make-up ever since that day.

But in the last few years, I’ve started to stage a protest. Just in my own head. I’m revolting against the idea that I have to pile on “gluconate, magnesium aspartate, paraffin, copper glucate, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, dimethicone, isododecane,” and other various ingredients, on my skin to be beautiful.

That list up there? Actual list from Maybelline’s Superstay Better Skin foundation. I stopped typing because the list was too long of the ingredients.

And those contents?

All noted under “Drug Facts.”

I’ve been applying drugs to my face.

“The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter,” said Cicero. The face holds expressions and reflects the meanings behind our words. The face represents our nature, ourselves, our souls. The face shows the world who I am.

So why am I desperately covering it up? Why am I buying into the idea that drugs will make it better? That without these products my face is ugly and worthless? Does the make-up help people see my true essence?

I remember when I first starting dating my now husband, I met up with him a few times without makeup. I wanted to see what his reaction would be. When I was a kid, I had heard a story about a pastor who wouldn’t let his wife go to sleep without make-up. She always had to “look good.”

Thomas didn’t say anything. Truly. It gave me another reason to fall in love with him.

I’m still in a process. I’m not completely ready to go to work without make-up. I’m not giving up my foundation, and eye shadow, and lip gloss. I don’t really think I ever will be; sometimes I just like the way I look with make-up. It’s the self-deprecating part of me that I’m trying to change. If I honestly believe that I am a created being, that the God of the universe has a good plan for me, that I’m destined to fulfill a purpose for me life, then I have to accept my face. Something bigger is going on. I’m more than just my skin. I have thoughts and plans and dreams and goals.

I’m trying to not cover up so much. I’m trying not to live behind the mask. I’m trying to be more genuine, more honest, and more vulnerable. Because at the end of the day, I’m still me, reflected through my face.

No drugs necessary.