Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Fourth Essential Prayer

Anne Lamott says that when it comes to prayer, it's best to keep it simple.  It's best to say, "Thanks!", "Help!", "Wow!", each one bringing us to a place of utter humility where we come out of ourselves for just long enough to realize that the earth does not revolve around us.

But she says there is also another essential prayer.  "Ok!"

"Ok" might be one of the hardest prayers because unlike all the rest of the essential prayers, it calls us to action.  We say "Ok" and  accept that we aren't going to get our way, that our beloved person or pet won't return from their death.  We have to forgive someone who doesn't deserve it.  We need to get up out of our big, squishy comfort zone and do something that makes our heart race and sweat start to pool in embarrassingly conspicuous places.

"Ok" is what people say before they board a 21 hour flight to Asia to do what they can, anything, for sex slaves.  It's what they say when they give up their lives in the states to live in Africa and adopt a dozen girls.

It's what we say to the big stuff but also what we say to the little stuff as well, the stuff that while not as exotic, is often times equally as hard if not harder.

"Ok", I'll give up my day to help someone.  I'll put the last $100 in the tithe basket.  I'll go to church even though all I want to do is roll around in these cool sheets and drool on my pillow!

This week God asked me to face ugliness about myself.  I tried to run from it because, let's face it, that's the easy thing to do!  But he just wouldn't let it go! You see, I'd had a terrible attitude and had been unkind, even hateful to someone.

I wish I could say why.  I would totally explain it if I understood it at all.  The best I can say is that I was being selfish, that I could only see things my way, that I allowed myself to indulge in thoughts that centered only around what I needed and wanted.  I basically acted like a spoiled brat.

God nagged at me though, like stood over me with his hands folded while tapping his feet and giving me "the look", the one that says, "c'mon know what you have to do."

So I apologized and that's always horrible.  Taking responsibility is not fun.  Hearing negative things about myself is not a joy ride.

C.S. Lewis said, "humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

I'd been the opposite of humble for these past few weeks.  In fact, I'd been downright prideful!  If Lewis' quote is correct then I can infer that pride is not thinking more of myself, it's thinking of myself more!  And that's exactly what I'd done.

I had to rein myself in and say, "this is all very, very wrong.  Let me start over here, hands and knees on the ground so that  I can get a little perspective and only see the dust I came from and realize how in the grand scheme of things, I'm so very small.

Humility is a hard thing to live out because we live in a world that shouts catch phrases like, "You're worth it" and "Have it your way!"  I am worth a lot but I'm certainly not worth more than anyone else.  And while I want to have it my way, everyday, that isn't the life I've vowed to live.  It's really inconvenient to die to myself when I'm trying to have it my way!

Being an asshat is easy.  Following God? Not so much!

What I'm learning is that the only thing I can control is my actions.  Damn it, I hate that.  I don't control anyone else or any situation and I have to be okay with that.  In the midst of my growing up and realizing that the universe does not in fact exist to suit me, I have to put on my big girl pants and take control of myself.  Sometimes I'll do things right and other times I'll do things wrong and when I do the bad stuff, the only thing I can do is own up to it and ask for forgiveness.

That's it.

Sometimes I'll be forgiven and sometimes I won't.  If being a screw up helps me at all, it does so by teaching me to be understanding when someone else goes bonkers and acts like a weirdo too. This week I've prayed all the essential prayers.

"Thanks" for friends who are amazing, who have this miraculous ability to love and forgive me even when I'm acting totally unlovable and unforgivable.

"Help" because I've really messed things up!

"Wow", for beautiful days and butterfly kisses from seven year old eyelashes and facetime connections that don't cut out and that extra long hug that leaves me covered in the scent of that amazing woman I love and perfect words at the perfect time.

"Ok", I don't really have it all together. I mostly don't know what I'm doing and I need to admit that, like shout it across the internets lest someone think that it's all unicorns and rainbows over here, that while there are sunny days on the sand where I'm kissed by the sun, there are also rainy, stormy days in the trenches where I'm eaten alive by ravenous bugs.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Holy Cow, We're Debt Free (And by the way, so are you!)

This morning I read an article by Crystal Paine, a blogger otherwise known as "The Money Saving Mom."  In a several part series, she shared the inspirational story of how she and her husband, both who are completely devoted to the idea of living completely debt free, pinched pennies and lived years of sacrifice in order to be able to pay for their starter home in cash.

And they did it!  She described the moment they walked into their new home and how satisfying it was to claim this space knowing how much work, focus and selflessness it took to get to that point.

I would love to get to that point as well, to pay off our house and be completely debt free.  It's such a dream to be completely without the weight of owing something.  We're on our way!  We've paid off our vehicles, are this close to paying off student loans and having no credit cards either.  But it's terribly hard when unexpected expenses crop up.  It can be overwhelming.

It made me think about the overwhelming amount of debt I owe for my sins, for that which I could never pay for if I lived to be 200 years old and worked 24 hours a day without rest.  I know this is hard for many people to understand. Honestly, it's even hard for me to understand as well.  All I know for sure is that I am not without failure.  I know for sure that I cannot live a perfect life.  I am going to hurt people or say or do or think the wrong thing.  I will have attitude problems and fall into apathy.

There are a million ways to screw up but even if I focused on just those top ten, I'd still fail everyday.  I don't always put God first, I still covet, I still lie...mostly to myself, about what I can get done and how important my needs are!

I know that I could never be without flaw and so by default that I'd have a mountain of debt if it weren't for what Jesus did for me when he got nailed to that piece of wood.

He was beaten, kicked, spit on, gouged, pierced, humiliated and murdered.  "It is finished," he said with his last breath.  He said this in Greek with one word, "Tetelestai."  Incidentally, "Tetelestai" is what people at that time used to stamp on loan notes when the debt had been cancelled. The literal meaning of it is "Paid In Full."

That's what I am, what that debt that I rack up daily is every single morning, paid in full.

And so why is it that I often live as though I still owe so much? Why do I often feel the weight of my debt on my shoulders?  I still try to make payments on something that was paid before I was ever born.  It would be as if Hal and I do finally pay off that last mortgage payment and receive a statement with a big fat zero due balance and then try to continue to make payments.

We shouldn't try to keep paying what we don't owe!

I can't pay for my covetousness.  I can't pay for my apathy.  I can't pay for the lies I tell myself or others.  The best I can do is be grateful that my statement shows a zero balance every morning, that I can walk into the world unburdened, shoulders unweighted.

I don't owe anything.  And neither do you.

You don't have to make any escrow payments.  You don't have any late fees.  You don't have a balance owed.  You are debt free!

I hope I do achieve our goals of living debt free in terms of money but I do know that today I can start living in the reality that all of my sins are forgiven!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Americas Next Top Mommy: Take Care Of Your Vessel

Americas Next Top Mommy: Take Care Of Your Vessel

Take Care Of Your Vessel

I had a talk with my daughter this morning as we drove in the car.  It was just me and her, my sweet 12 year old who is finding her way and wrestling with all the things that 12 year old girls wrestle with.  She'd never admit that self-image is one of those things but it is- because it just is with every female aged 12 to ...

I myself wrestle with it and try really hard to find a balance between being responsible for my body yet not being down on myself when I don't do such a great job at it. Both of us struggle with giving in, with having that extra fudge pop or not getting enough sleep or not working out.

So our talk went down like this...
"Do you think that the car we drive has any bearing on what kind of person we are?" I asked.  "No, that would be stupid," she said with her face all scrunched up.  "Because it's just a car."  "You're right, it is and so we can't base our worth on what kind of car we drive.  It's just a thing, a vehicle that gets us from point A to point B."

There was a moment of silence as we stopped at red light.  We both gazed out of the windows and I noticed the thousands of tiny droplets attached to the glass like little, watery marbles.

I continued.  "The thing is, we belong to God.  We are not of the earth. We didn't come from here and when our lives are over we will return to God.  Our lives are short.  These bodies of ours are gifts, just vehicles the Lord gives us to get from one place to another and our job is simply to take care of them.  It's like this car.  In order for it to keep running well, we have to maintain it (change the oil, wash it, vacuum it, rotate the tires).  And our bodies are the same.  We maintain them by getting plenty of exercise, eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, drinking enough water.  And if we do, God willing, our bodies will take care of us while we are here.  They will keep us safe and keep us moving."

She smiled and nodded her head.

"This is why I tell you to skip the extra bite of that brownie, baby.  Not because of your weight or how you look on the outside.  You are beautiful no matter what.  You'd be beautiful with one less leg and half your face melted away.  You'd be beautiful fat or thin, tall or short, pimply faced, bed-headed and stinky.  You would be because your inside is beautiful.  And so my advice to you baby is to simply take care of your vehicle.  Don't do it because it matters how you look on the outside. Do it because it matters that you take care of this gift that God has given to you, because you value it."

Teenagers are sometimes hard to understand.  That's because they don't communicate well.  A slammed door could mean they are feeling hurt just as easily as it could mean they are being selfish.  That's why I try to see past the exterior and listen to her sweet, little spirit.  Her spirit was singing this morning with relief, relief that someone saw her as perfect and beautiful and that she has my undying support and approval, that she doesn't have to try to live up to the world's standards because they are unrealistic and hurtful.  Her spirit was happy and relieved and best of all, inspired.

"The world will tell you that it's all about the outside.  That you should be skinny and sexy and gorgeous all of the time or else nobody will love you and you should know that those things are lies.  So many people live their lives working just on the outside but that's such a waste of time.  That's sort of like buying a run down house and putting new siding on it with a new roof and gorgeous landscaping in front in order to make it look good on the outside but leaving growing mold, rusted pipes, warped floors, cracked walls and raw sewage on the inside.  The house is worthless even though it looks good on the outside. on your inside, baby.  And take care of your vehicle because you love God.  It's not easy but it's pretty simple."

If only my mom had said these words to me.  If only it hadn't been about trying to fit in or how people would "see me" or first impressions.  The good news is that I know this now and that decisions are made easier every single day having the conviction that I want to care for myself not because of anything else but for my desire to be loving and grateful with the gift God has given me.

It's been so good to me, this body.  It's kept me healthy and sane and given me much pleasure.  It's given birth to three babies, nursed them, carried them and wrapped itself around them when they were feeling sad.  It truly is a gift and so today I will try to separate myself from it to see it for what it is, something that doesn't reflect my value or beauty, but rather, my vehicle.  It's time I start pampering it because I want to put a couple more hundred thousand miles on it!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Saying "I'm Sorry"

We spent the better part of the weekend working on my oldest daughter's room.  She outgrew her bunk bed months ago and the walls were a Pepto Bismol color.  She vehemently abhors anything "girlie",  so she's been begging and pleading for us to "give her a new room" for the past few months.

This isn't exactly the kind of project that's on my priority list.  I mean, we're talking about going through a room packed to the gills with junk; trash, stuffed animals, papers, books, clothes.  I have nightmares about the kinds of things that grow in her closet!

So I made a deal with her.  If she cleaned her closet, threw away all the trash, organized her toys and kept it clean for a few weeks, we'd talk make-over.  I made this deal thinking that there was no way she would be able to do it which in turn would get me off the hook but darned if that girl didn't keep her end of the bargain.  This totally backfired right in my face.

We emptied the room, cleaned, washed walls, sanded, painted, shampooed the carpets and washed windows.  All in all it was lots of sweaty, messy work.  My husband was a lot of help and so was my oldest daughter and son!  My little one? Not so much.

She was more like the dog...eager to be with us but always under foot at THE. WORST. TIMES. POSSIBLE!

When the carpet had finally dried and we brought the bed back inside all hands were on deck to move the full sized bed.  And there she was, underfoot yet again and adding high doses of drama to the situation by saying she saw a spider on the bed which made everyone else drop the mattress just as we were going up the stairs and left me heaving and cramping and dripping with sweat.

All the kids screamed in terror.  The dog barked.  It was chaos!

From my daughter's description the spider was a beastly creature with fangs and claws, the "biggest thing" she'd ever seen.  It was going to eat her in one swallow without having to chew.

I looked everywhere and finally spotted the monster.  It was about the size of a grain of sand and it was trembling with fear.

"It's a tiny, little spider", I said. 
"Come on you guys, help me with this mattress!"

Since it was the little one causing all the drama I yelled, "Stop it! I can't stand it anymore! Go AWAY!"

She immediately ran away crying, this time because of her terrible, terrifying mother with fangs and claws.  We put the bed in place and though the weight of the bed was off my shoulders I felt heavy with guilt.  My poor baby girl.  I'm setting such a terrible example when I lose my cool like that.  I mean, stressful as they are, those kinds of moments are learning opportunities, moments when I can show my kids how to behave under pressure with grace, patience and kindness.

I was the exact opposite of graceful, patient and kind today.  I was like a sweaty, growling animal. Ugh!

I went downstairs with my tail tucked between my legs and found her in the kitchen still crying.  I said, "I'm so sorry for yelling at you baby."

"I..*gasp* was just trying to *sniff* help *gasp* and that spider *sniff* scaaaaaaared me!!"  She sobbed and I felt terrible.  She really was trying to help in her little seven year old way with her noodle arms and super xray vision eye sight able to spot invisible spiders!

"I'm so sorry! I was wrong.  I shouldn't have yelled at you and I know you were trying to help and I do appreciate your help.  I'm sorry the spider scared you and I'm really sorry that I got mad at you when I should have been making you feel better. Can you forgive me?"

She gave me a hug and it was over. Like immediately.  She went from cries of agony to smiling and laughing in lightning speed, like someone had yelled "CUT" on set and her performance was over.  She really is a pain in the behind sometimes.  So am I.  I wonder where she gets it from!?

I wish I could say that I will never do that again, that I won't ever lose my cool under pressure, that I'll never yell at my kids when I've cracked but that wouldn't be the truth.  I will do my best but there is a good chance that I will falter again.  And I'll apologize again and that's the cycle of love, right?  We love well and then sometimes we don't and we offer a heartfelt apology and our loved ones forgive us because they know that we will forgive them when they fall apart too.

I'm trying to learn not to beat myself up about these kinds of things.  After all, this is family life.  There is no such thing as a perfect family, a family who never argues or never gets on each others nerves.  There will always be a crack somewhere and it's good to know that while I can't avoid falling in them, saying "I'm sorry" goes a long way in making things right again.