What’s Your Standard of Measure?

Our society has it totally wrong. (No surprise there–oh, let me count the ways it has it wrong!)

No, I’m not talking the current political mess (though I easily could, and just might, at some point, dip my toe in those waters).

I’m not talking about the government, or the establishment, or of race and gender equality, or the many topics and ways that society as a group gets it wrong.

I’m talking about us. We, the society of individuals, we have it totally wrong on a fundamental level.

Case in point, I want you to think back to your last class reunion. What thoughts occupied your head prior to attending?

i-am-not-good-enough-L-EseIyyI can tell you what occupied mine.:I need to drop the last of that baby weight. I want to look good. . . which dress should I wear…and then I started cataloging my accomplishments. How much had I accomplished? Would they think me successful, or would they think I was a massive under achiever? Had I done enough, accomplished enough?

My guess is, most of you would have had a similar train of thought. And it shows an inherent flaw in how we approach this wild and wonderful journey we call life.

We are preoccupied by the doing–but what we need to embrace is the becoming.

Not_Good_Enough_by_graphiqualAs I approach the ripe old age of forty, I’ve been taking stock, and I haven’t liked what I’ve tallied. I’ve been left with this disappointment, this sense of dissatisfaction that it isn’t enough–that I haven’t done enough–that I’m not enough.

But I’ve got it all wrong. My standard of measure is off. My worth as a human being is not weighed by the things I’ve done, the mountains I’ve climbed, the awards I’ve won–it’s much more simple than that. My worth is measured by how well I have allowed God to make me into the person he wants me to be.

Just as yours is.

Lynne Twist, in her book The Soul of Money refers to something she calls the scarcity principle which is her term for this “never enough” idea that seems to eat away at most of us these days. She calls it the”great lie.” In reference to this concept she says:

Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack.”

She pegged it. She pegged me. I’ve been buying the lie that society has been selling and I’ve been allowing it to tell me that I’m not enough.

My to do list, my already done list, my list of accomplishments, is not the embodiment of my worth.

So often, we look at where we thought we would be, where we think we should be, and when we’re not there, when life doesn’t look like we thought it would look, we feel like we’ve failed. But we’ve missed the fundamental–God was never concerned with our destination, he was concerned with who become on the journey.

climbingYouth Groups all around the country can be blamed a little bit for this misconception. Every youth group I know used to sing the song “I’m gonna do great things, accomplish great things, climb every mountain with God.”

That sounds great. It gets us jazzed. It imbues us with a great sense of purpose–but it also causes us to misconstrue what this journey we call Christianity is all about.

Christianity is not about doing great things, it’s about becoming who we are meant to be–and who we are meant to be is not made on the mountain tops, but rather in the valleys.

My standard of measure is not what I’ve done, but how much I’ve allowed God to transform me.

This disappointment I feel in myself is not really about the list of things I haven’t done and accomplished. It’s about how I’ve not yet become who I am meant to be.

John Ortberg in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted puts it this way:

Sometimes, although I am aware of how far I fall short, it doesn’t even bother me very much. And I am disappointed by my lack of disappointment…the older and wiser answer is that the feeling of disappointment is not the problem, but a reflection of a deeper problem–my failure to be the person God had in mind when He created me.

Yikes. I’ve been worried because my tally of accomplishments is to short and paltry, but what I should have been worried about is that innate lethargy that seems to find all of us as we leave our youth behind. Too often, as life takes on its treadmill quality, I have gotten lost in the details, and have had too little motivation to focus on the becoming–therein lies the real issue.

Ortberg calls it being dis-appointed with God, as in, missing the life that I was appointed by God to live.

My life might never look how I thought it should look when I was twenty. I might never do the great things I thought I would do. But the more important question is, will I become who He wants me to be?

Will you?

That’s all He ever asks of us.

919d35bde32013777cc945aa5b2b78e6Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that includes doing, and sometimes it even includes the mountain tops, but more often than not, the work is done in the anonymous seasons of life, and in the valleys–and it’s important to remember that. These are the seasons that, if we allow Him to work, He will look at us one day and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

And that’s the only standard of measure I need.

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Father knows Best–and it’s time we start believing it

My son is 12. (any of the parents of difficult tweens out there, you felt the sympathetic wince that statement elicits)

angry-teen-boy-350Yep, he’s twelve–and it’s been baptism by fire.

You see, he’s our first, and our most difficult. And this year has been hard.

I was a teacher, now am a professor, and I have a graduate degree in Psychology, so I should have been ready for everything this year and this stage were going to unload on me–right?

Sadly, no.

I have been pushed to the limit of my parenting skills and my psychology skills. It’s just been plain hard.

You see, my son is hard-headed (that’s the understatement of the century!) He might only be twelve, but he thinks he knows better than everybody else. And the kid has always known what he’s wanted and has had the stubbornness and tenacity to go after it. The combination of these two traits has been a nightmare.

That was unacceptable behaviour, young man

In one of our most recent battle of the wills, we tried another tact. Instead of addressing Gavin’s behavior (which was mean, spiteful, and disrespectful), we addressed it’s effectiveness.

We pointed out that his approach was not meeting and gaining his objective. In other words,

“You’re not getting what you want when you act this way! So why not change your behavior, and see if that gives you the pay out you’re looking for?!!”

I wish that my son would choose to do the right thing, because it is the right thing. That’s what I want, but sadly, he’s not there–yet.

But when we pointed out that what he considers his shortcut, is not only not a shortcut, but is preventing him from the desired end all together, he finally started paying a little bit of attention.

As I explained to him that my desire is not to hurt him, but to ensure his well being and his happiness…when I explained that we correct his behavior because we see and know more, and that he just needs to trust us, even if he doesn’t see how it makes sense or why it should work that way…I couldn’t help but see the correlation to my own relationship with God.

We know where we want to go. We see what we want.

And we see the quick route–the direct route–to our destination.

But most of the time, that’s not the route we find ourselves on. We find ourselves on what appears to be a circuitous route, one that sometimes seems to go backwards, wanders to rabbit trails, and even sometimes seems to end in dead-ends. Much of my life I have felt like Moses wandering around in the desert, knowing where I need to be, but unable to get there. Or like David, the anointed King of Israel who, instead of ruling as was his right, finds himself moldering in a cave for years.

long-winding-road-p92b_saint_gothard_pass_switzerlandWhen there is a disconnect between the life that is, and the life that we feel like we should be living, we become confused, disgruntled,  angry, and often bitter.

“Why, God? Why?” we rail.

He gives us the dream, He sets our path, but instead of the path leading to our expected destination, we find ourselves in the desert, or hidden in a cave, forgotten, moldering away into anonymity.

I’ve had lots of these moments in my life. Moments when it seems like God stopped listening, stopped caring, and certainly stopped guiding.

But as I talked with Gavin, I was convicted.

That was the child’s response, and I am not a child. It is time to put away childish things.

Just as I am asking Gavin to trust that my way is better, I need to trust that God’s way is better.

Just as I tell my son that I am looking at the big picture that he cannot know, I need to trust that God is seeing the big picture that I cannot see.

This place, where I’m at, this isn’t what I wanted. Or at least, this was not the way I wanted it to be.

I thought I’d be much farther by now.

Next year I turn 40. By 40, I thought I would be established.

I’m not.

I have a fledgling writing career.

I am an associate professor, not a tenured one.

I’m not in the ministry.

My goal to change the world and help people in some large way, has translated into a much smaller sphere of influence than I anticipated.

And it’s taken me almost 40 years to get here.

But, I think I’ve been missing the point.

I’m a writer and a professor, and that’s what I always wanted to be.

And occasionally, God has used me to touch a few, not as a missionary, not in some defined role, but as I rub shoulders with people in my daily life.

waysThe road was not the road I would have chosen, but, I have to believe, it was the road I was meant to take–the road I needed to take. God sees the big picture, the destination and the necessary journey.

It’s time I started giving God the trust He deserves. I need to have faith in a Father who loves me and who knows more, sees more, than I do.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

“My doubtful heart, which trembling scarce believes…”

When I was younger, I thought I knew the voice of God.

Tell-Me-What-I-want-to-hear
As I’ve gotten older, I realize that the voice of God is easy to misconstrue. There were many things I attributed to God that were merely my own desires. We have a tendency, as human beings, to hear what we want to hear, and too often, I heard God saying what I wanted him to say–whatever it was that would make me believe that what I wanted was going to happen–almost like He was a fortune teller, or a wish-granting fairy.

For instance, there was a boy I liked. And, of course, I was looking for hope that he would like me too, and even more than that, that we were “destined” to be. I wanted to believe that he was the one, and so I convinced myself that God wanted it to be.

When it never happened (Thank God!! He’s a great guy and all, but we definitely were not a good match!), let’s just say I was a bit disillusioned. It was my first realization that maybe some of what I attributed to God was just my own inner dialogue. How could I tell the difference?

jesus-not-meantOther times, I heard him, but I misunderstood him. I drew the wrong conclusions.

When I was in the eighth grade, I had a life changing moment. It was in the middle of my World Geography class of all places. We were talking about current events, and a cyclone had just devastated Bangladesh. In that moment I felt something stir inside of me. I needed to go there. I needed to help. I felt it as strongly as I have felt anything.

I interpreted this to mean that I was going to be a missionary to Bangladesh. I believed that for a long time. I now know that I misinterpreted what God was saying.

I did go to Bangladesh, for three months as my internship in college, and it changed me forever. It was one of the most life altering experiences of my life. Not only that, it was the door through which I met my husband (a much better fit for me than the guy I was so convinced I was supposed to be with btw!). I was meant to go there, just not when and how I thought I was.

These experiences changed me, and they changed my understanding of God. I had been naive, and it was good to know the truth, but now, I find it hard to know when to trust God’s direction. How do I know it is him? Is it really Him guiding me, or am I looking for divine intervention in random circumstances? Is it His voice guiding me, or simply my subconscious hearing what it wants to hear?

These questions are crippling and they leave me wracked with indecision.

I always believed I was meant to live overseas. So did my husband. As he finished up his undergraduate degree, we prayed and contemplated. We waited for a sign, and when none was forthcoming, we made plans to move to Saipan to teach in a school there.

Your-plan-RealityInstead, we got pregnant with Serena, and the timing was such that we couldn’t go. We unpacked our stuff and decided to wait a year.

When Serena was about six months old, we resurrected the dream of teaching overseas, and this time we were in conversation about positions in China. We were hammering out the details when we found out Serena was sick and our lives were sucked into a whirl pool.

In the aftermath, this dream laid dormant.

I thought about it often, wondering if that dream had “shriveled like a raisin in the sun.” Had it run its course? Was it just another example of my penchant to misunderstand the voice of God? I thought about it, but felt no inclination to pursue it.

For years, we were wracked with grief. Like a leaf caught in an autumn wind, we were dried out, brittle, damaged. We were blown wherever circumstance chose to take us. We could barely keep our heads above water much less think about going overseas.

Eventually, we felt less brittle, but the dream of moving overseas was replaced with a need for safety and security. Losing Serena had taught us of the transience of life, the unfairness of it. The hand of fate could reach down at any moment and tear our world apart. So we attempted to fill this lack of control with things we could control.

We surrounded ourselves with stuff–stuff that gave us the illusion of permanence. We got a big house in the suburbs complete with pool and hot tub in the backyard. We got a shiny new SUV. I decorated my house with care and creativity to resemble the houses in “Good Housekeeping” and “Better Homes and Gardens.”. I signed my kids up for football and baseball, ballet and gymnastics. I dressed them in trendy little outfits from the Gap and adorable outfits by Matilda Jane. In essence, we became the typical suburban family, living the stereotypical suburban life.

broken heartI feel like we have been in stasis the last three years, a holding pattern. We have lost the brittleness. The desperate need for security has lessened. Don’t get me wrong, we have not healed–I don’t think we ever will really heal. My heart is a web of cracks, any one of them can start throbbing or even begin bleeding again with the slightest of pressure. My daughter is not with me. I buried my first born–time cannot completely heal those wounds. But I am not a whirlpool inside any longer. I don’t feel the emptiness, the black hole, within me. I don’t need to try to fill it with “stuff.”

Instead of feeling sheltered by the “stuff,” I feel as if I am a mouse on a wheel, running, stuckrunning, always running, but nothing ever changes. I am on a treadmill, the suburban treadmill, and just as I always knew, I do not find it satisfying. It leaves me feeling vaguely empty and unsatisfied.

And so I feel the dream stir.

Where in this broad world can I go? What places can I see? What adventures can I have?

I want to make a difference. I want to, at the end of my life, know that I have truly lived, that I’ve given back, that I have made this world better for having existed. That I have not simply gone through the motions.

dream deferredBut I question.

Is this stirring I feel the hand of God or is it merely my own thirst for adventure and meaning?

Am I going to step out, and reach for this dream knowing that the last time I did so, fate crushed me? Am I tempting fate by daring to dream this dream once more?

Or is it the voice of God I hear whispering in the corners of my mind? Is this not a dream that “fester[s] like a sore” but instead one that has spent the intervening years as a chrysalis–waiting to emerge as something I never could have imagined?

Did I hear the voice of God, but misconstrue the form it would take?

Is it the same dream, evolved, reformed, reborn?

How do I know the difference?chrysalis

Do I wait until I know that it is God’s will?

I fear that, if I wait, I will never move, because I will never know for sure if it is His voice or my own. And it is safer, more comfortable, to do nothing.

But I can’t. Though my heart quakes, I think I would rather risk it, than grow roots and never move at all.

I think I’d rather hope for the butterfly, than settle for the treadmill.

treadmill

I don’t know where,

I don’t know when,

and I don’t know how,

but for the first time since my world fell apart, I am ready, and willing, to leave comfort and security behind, and to see what else there is in this world of ours, and to see if, perhaps, this dream, rather than being a “heavy load,” might instead provide me with wings that will take me far from the treadmills of life.

Spoiler alert . . . The Easter bunny isn’t real!

easter-bunny-2This was a momentous Easter for us.

We outed the Easter bunny.

The Tooth Fairy participated in his downfall.

But not Santa. We drew the line at Santa.

“Mama, does that mean that Santa isn’t real too,” my daughter asked with her wide blue eyes starting to glisten.

I hesitated a split second. Darn it! I just couldn’t do it! “No, honey! Not Santa! Of course, Santa is real!”

I threw a stern glance at my almost eleven year-old son–he would not ruin this for his little sister. He rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut. (A rarity these days!)

But my middle daughter piped up. “Zoe’s mom told her that Santa isn’t real.”

Didn’t expect difficulty coming from that quarter! I thought quickly and punted. “That’s just because Zoe’s mom lacks imagination. Does she know he’s not real? Has she walked around the North Pole and actually looked for him?” (Sorry Zoe’s mom! I hate to throw you under the bus, but . . . well, desperate times and all.)

shockYes, I lie to my children. (Insert gasp. Followed by looks of horror and outrage.)

I have also told my girls that we can’t know for sure that mermaids (or water dinosaurs for that matter) don’t exist, as, to date, we have explored less than five percent of the ocean. I admit to them that I don’t think they are real, but that we can’t entirely rule out the possibility. My husband always rolls his eyes at me when I say this–and I think my daughter’s teacher thinks I’m nuts–but, seriously! We have no clue what is at the bottom of the ocean!

At least I don’t do what a friend of mine does (though I did consider it).

While her little loves are sound asleep, the “fairies” come and play with their toys. Her children wake to the visible proof of fairies existence. Perhaps that is crossing a line, but I thought it was rather fun and clever.

santa lieThere is a lot of disagreement on this particular issue among parents and even psychologists. Is this kind of lying harmful to your children? Is it even really lying?

I have been on the receiving end of scorn and judgement from parents. “We do not lie to our children!”

Said parents say that it “erodes the foundation of trust.”

I tend to think that is ridiculous.

tooth fairyMy daughters do not trust me less now that they know the Easter Bunny is really just Mommy and Daddy. In fact, they had a fun little time of it proving the lack of a Tooth Fairy. They looked for clues. The Tooth Fairy happened to use the same kinds of markers that their mother owned. Hmmm . . . They then put their hypothesis to the test when Arabelle put a tooth under her pillow without mentioning it to me. Sadly, the Tooth Fairy did not know she needed to visit that night and so the tooth, and not money, was found under her pillow that morning. A fine little piece of detective work on their parts!

I read an article by a psychologist who, like me, believed that the promoting of these myths was just fine, and yet one of her children felt extremely betrayed upon realizing that Santa was not real. To that, I would say, you know your own children best. If you have a very literal minded child, or a child who is easily wounded, perhaps these myths are not for them.

But, on the other hand, I think that we, as a society, tend to get too focused on what can be proven, on what is concrete. It is a flaw of our western world. I want my children to imagine, and I want them to have the capacity to believe on faith, not on sight.

string_theoryWe know mathematically, according to string theory, that there are ten dimensions. Ten! Though we can only understand and measure four of them. Still, though we cannot see them or touch them, they exist. Just like, though a dog cannot perceive, or even conceive of, the existence of color, color does, in fact, permeate our world.

Or what about the Multiverse Theory? Many physicists fully believe that there are parallel universes to our own. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Sir Issac Newton

Or how about dark matter? We know virtually nothing about it except that it does (at least we think) exist.

But how do we know? Can we see it or touch it?

I am not saying that I really think the Easter Bunny or Santa exists. What I am saying is that I want my children to have the capacity to believe in things they do not see. I want them to have imagination. And I want them to have faith. Faith in the existence of God and goodness, even when neither is readily evident.

I want them to open up their minds to the possibilities of this world. Both science and religion attest to the reality that there is so much more to this world than we can see and touch. I want them to embrace what they do not know and believe in its possibility.

So, do I lie to my children? Yes, I am not ashamed to say that I do in these ways. But in the ways that count–doing what I say I will do, being honest about life and its difficulties, being open about the hiccups that permeate a relationship (aka fights between mom and dad)–in these ways I will always be truthful. Because those things will erode the trust my children have in me, not the belief in Santa.

And this way, they will still have wonder in their eyes and the imagination to believe in all this world can be as they start their journeys into this big, wide, mysterious world we live in.

Live Life with Your Arms Wide Open

            We’ve all been hurt. Sadly, it’s often the people we love the most and trust the most who end up hurting us the most. What we do with that hurt can actually be more harmful that the hurt itself.

            So many of us leave a trail of broken relationships in our wake. We’ve been hurt or we’ve hurt others and rather than working through the conflict, we let the relationship go. Sadly, it’s easier to let go than resolve the conflict, even if it is a mother, a brother or a best friend. What we often don’t consider is how every broken relationship, every unresolved “betrayal,” changes us forever.

            Many of us build walls around our hearts. In theory, the walls are supposed to protect us from getting hurt again, but in reality they do more harm than protection. It is these walls that keep us from living and loving to the fullest. When we allow the pain of our past to impact our present by putting us in protection mode, we are the ones who lose.

            For years I lived with walls around my heart. I was so scared of getting hurt that I didn’t let anyone close enough to hurt me. I was lonely and longing and I began to realize that not only were the walls I had built keeping the harmful relationships out, but also the very ones that I longed for the most. You see, the thing about walls, they keep people out, ALL of them.

           With lots of prayer, journaling and tears I tore the walls down.

            Some of the best friends in my life (including my husband) entered my life shortly after this. I would never have allowed those relationships if my walls had still been up; they were far too risky. Every one of these friendships was well worth the risk!

            I’ve been hurt over the years now that my walls are down. One friend hurt me repeatedly. But the thing about letting your walls down, well, they are DOWN. At least for me, it meant living my life with my arms wide open. Despite getting hurt, I can’t help it, I love unreservedly and I forgive without question, sometimes again and again.

            Recently I was going through an especially dark time and I called one of the people who is on that top tier of people. I was at my wits end. I was near to despairing and I needed to know someone loved me and I needed empathy. What I got was something very different.

            Instead of getting love and compassion, I got judgment. I was told that it was my fault, that all these bad things totally out of our control that were happening to us were somehow our fault. I was told that there must be something wrong with us that made us a target for all the bad things that happened. I was not only hurt, I felt betrayed.

            I didn’t yell or get angry. I didn’t defend myself. I listened and I let go, determined to not talk to this person until I received an apology for the truly terrible things she said. This wasn’t the first time she had hurt me and I have always forgiven and let it go despite the hurt she has caused, but this one . . . well, when I needed her the most she made it abundantly clear that she did not intend to be there for me.

            So I built a wall, for the first time in years, and I waited for the phone call of apology that would bring the wall down. But the phone call never came.

            I’ve spent the last 2 ½ months debating what to do. I don’t want to be a door mat. I don’t want people to think that they can treat me like crap and that I’ll just come back for more. I don’t want to be weak. BUT, am I willing to lose this relationship because of my pride and just because I’m right? Is it really worth that?

            I couldn’t get around it. Despite how justified my reaction might be, it is not worth losing the relationship. The wall has to come down. I have to call her, even if I never get my apology. It’s the right thing to do, even if I don’t like it.

            As I came to this decision I had an epiphany. In every single relationship we have, we are going to hurt people. We don’t mean to, we don’t want to, but we are going to do it despite our best efforts. It is part of being human. So often, those we love the most, we fail the most.

            However you feel about the Bible, you can’t deny the truth of grace. Grace is given, not deserved. I need grace from all the people I have hurt, as unintentionally as it might have been, I still hurt them. I want their grace. I need their grace. As much as I love my children, it’s inevitable, I will hurt them someday, maybe even fail them in some way. I need grace.

            If I want to receive grace and forgiveness from others, I also need to give it, freely, even when it isn’t deserved, because the very definition of grace is that it is not deserved.

            So how many times do I forgive my brother who has hurt me, seventy times seven. I forgive without fail. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. Withholding grace does not punish the one who doesn’t receive it as much as it hurts us for withholding it. We become stingy and small of spirit. We become jaded and stunted. Grace is as much for us as it is for them.

            So I will swallow my pride, pick up my phone and CALL. I will live my life with my arms wide open. It’s worth any pain that comes my way.