Stop the World, I Want To Get Off

I know this will shock you, but not every moment in our household is delightful and heartwarming.

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Fun family night, right? Yeah, none of us were speaking. #2 got mad because I made her wear a hat. She sulked through the whole game. #1 flat-out refused to take a picture with me. Memories!

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That’s Steve’s “We should have just fed it the money for these tickets to a goat…” look. At least the Celtics won.

This was especially bad in the first year, when I so regularly found myself in situations I had no clue how to handle.

     Can you go to some random park with your friends? How should I know?

     Should I worry that you wear the same sweatshirt all week long and now I can’t get the boy smell out of it? Probably.

     What IS the consequence for yelling at me, “I AM TOO smarter than you (DOOR SLAM)”?  (And before you tell me that such statements are only made in the heat of the moment and aren’t what they really think…let me assure you that this particular Cherub doesn’t just think she’s smarter than me. She’s quite certain she’s smarter than you, too).

I’ve learned that 90% of the time, my initial response in these moments will be something I’ll wish I hadn’t said. I get into bad habits: the reflexive no to everything, the letting my thoughts come out as words (Last week when it was 19 degrees outside and my son wouldn’t wear a coat, I actually said, “Fine. Freeze your ass off. It’s your ass…”)

Here’s the funny thing: My kids are okay when these things happen. They’re no fragile snowflakes. The problem with my initial responses is that they leave me in a heap in corner, angry and exhausted, wanting nothing more than to be left alone. And it takes me forever to regroup. That’s not all that helpful when you’ve just doubled the number of people who live in your house.

The embarrassing part is NOT that I can be such a disaster. It’s how long it’s taken me to realize that the same skills I use in every other relationship in my life – marriage, work, friendships – are the ones that save me here.

When I have no clue what to do, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to talk to God.

But first, I need to fume. I need  time to marinate in the absolute rightness of my position, even when I’m not entirely sure what it is.

Once that is finished, I talk to God. (Be sure to check out my forthcoming prayer book, Okay God, What The %^&* Should I Do Now?)  

Then, so long as I have properly completed the fuming step, I almost always have some sort of intersecting, Gee I wouldn’t have thought of that, idea pass through my mind. Hallmarks of these ideas (the answer to the perennial “How do you KNOW it’s God?” question) are:

  1. They don’t involve swear words or threats to give my children’s unworn or unkempt clothes to some anonymous grateful child who will appreciate them;
  2. They consider the larger picture of the kids’ growth and desired development, not just this present frustrating moment; and
  3. They are so reasonable that I can say them to the Cherub(s) in a normal voice, and tell them I love you from my heart, not just my brain.

This is a good news miracle, every time.

I’m in the process right now of organizing a Vineyard Women’s Retreat for our area, so I’m thinking a lot about the concept of retreat – what a difference it makes to take a intentional breather before you move forward. It’s so counter-intuitive. And yet I bet it’s EXACTLY what my mother longed for for when we were little kids and she used to cry, “STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF!” in the middle of a particularly frazzled moment.

I’ve felt that so often in life, not just since motherhood.

If you’re feeling this sneak up on you, too, look for a retreat. Pray for one. If you’re from New England (or game to travel), come to ours. Let’s ask God our impossible questions (and pray the prayers with ALL THE WORDS) together.

Fight For It

Today’s adoption question: What have you learned about yourself through this process? 

That I hate conflict. This is not new information. But it feels newish, because sometimes  the term parenting just feels like a code word for “being mad at someone ALL THE TIME.”

I just don’t like being angry. My Dad is like this. He honestly does not remember entire swaths of our family history that were unpleasant. He’s there in the midst of them – he doesn’t check out in the moment.  But once something is over? It is OVER. To those of you with a more therapy-based outlook on mental health this might seem terrible, but I have to say, we were a pretty happy family through some heavy stuff as I grew up. I think there’s much to be said for resolving unpleasantness as quickly as possible and then moving on.

iuThe problem is that I’m not great at upholding consequences for The Cherubs the day after a major “parenting moment” occurs, because I forget it ever happened. I can’t tell you how often The Cherubs have to remind me that they’ve lost their screen time, or their condiments (it turns out denial of KETCHUP is our single most effective behavior modification tool), or will be doing some “voluntary” vacuuming as discussed the night before.

I don’t mind talking through a situation or misunderstanding, even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable. (I don’t consider that conflict, actually; that’s just having different perspectives and needing to use words to try to get on the same page. That’s life.) But I don’t like adversarial show downs.

That said, it’s a skill I’m developing…

We have one child who is all about the adversarial show downs. She will argue her point even in the face of obvious, demonstrable evidence that she is wrong. She will not back down. It’s a thing to behold. And let me tell you, what I used to view as, All that money I wasted becoming  lawyer? Now shines bright as, the best parental survival investment I ever made.

Because My Oh My, Child…if you stand in my kitchen while I point to royal blue nail polish on the counter (and lime green paint on the door frame, and pink sparkle something on the dog) and say, “You don’t know! It could have been DAD!!!” you had better believe that you will not emerge from that battle with your ketchup rights intact.

One refrain I saw in almost every recommended adoption book I read: Pick your battles carefully. Win the ones you pick.

Strangely enough, she does so much better when she is not allowed to win these stupid fights. It’s as if somehow it reassures her that the grown ups are on the job. (Which is why it’s such a problem that I forget about the consequences).

Adoption has taught me how much I hate fighting. And yet it’s teaching me to fight, because sometimes you have to.

 

Friendships, High School & Advice for #2 Cherub

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My friends (Amy, Holly, Pam, Me, Theresa, Trissi, & Jodi) in our senior year at Kennebunk High School.

Two related things happened this weekend:

First, I learned that my High School Reunion is coming up this summer (!!!). I’ve never been to one, and I’m surprisingly excited to go. And second, #2 Cherub asked if I would preach a sermon series at church about friendships. Specifically, the friendships that happen during the school years of life, when you have less control over things like who is in your class and where you sit.

This sent me on a wild trip down memory lane, as I pulled out photo albums and wondered where my yearbook landed the last time we moved.

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Senior Skip Day with my best friend, Amy.

 

I don’t remember receiving specific advice about friendship when I was a kid. We were taught as toddlers to share, not to push or call each other names, and that if we could manage an hour or so of outside play where no one came back bleeding, there was often cookies & Kool Aid in the deal to make it worth our effort.

As we got older, we were expected not to be bullies (although some kids were.) We were expected to be respectful and polite (although some kids weren’t.) There was a lot of teaching about behavior, but not much that I recall about friendship. (How you handled the former more or less governed how you experienced the latter.) I think this system served us pretty well and prepared us for life: No one was ALWAYS popular, it was okay to have friendships across different groups, and I gained a ton of abstract understanding about humanity – primarily that friendships have seasons and that somehow in the complexity, things work out.

But #2 Cherub wants specifics. She is very “have a plan and work it” in her approach to life, so I want to give her solid pieces to consider as she makes her plan.

So I ask you, fine readers: What specific, tangible advice would you give about making and keeping (and ending) friendships? 

One caveat: PLEASE don’t say, “Be Kind.”

Let me explain…

Kindness is the primary relationships narrative taught at her school right now. It looks lovely on a banner, but is not all that helpful in the depths of actual tween/teen relationships. It’s a starting point, obviously. But it’s not even close to the total skill set you need to build healthy, fun relationships.

I don’t think my friends and I were always kind to one another. We were pretty real. Caring. Occasionally b*tchy. Supportive. We had spats and subgroups and times when some weren’t speaking to others. As challenging as some of those aspects were, were learned a ton as we figured things out.  Yes, it sucks to go to school when one or more of your friends isn’t speaking to you. But it toughens you up. And you learn that these things don’t last forever, and at some point you won’t remember what even caused the rift. And how to move forward (or, as I learned later in life with different friends, to move on.)

When I look at the challenges my daughter faces now, I wonder if all this pressure to be KIND – nice, nonjudgmental, endlessly accepting to the point that there is no room to consider her actual response to people and situations – is part of the mean girl epidemic we see?

Don’t get me wrong. There have always been mean girls. But you could usually look behind it and see, even as a kid, “Oh, I bet that’s why she’s like that.” I don’t remember it being a norm, or something expected of a certain group of girls. I feel like we limit the development of nuanced skills when all the emphasis is on being KIND.  Because if you’re not KIND, you’re pretty much only left with MEAN. So you might as well make the most of it.

So now I’m wrestling with what to teach #2 about friendships. Because I think they matter so much.

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See this picture? My Dad calls it, “The National Honor Society…and Trish.” :) It’s not even an insult – just a candid acknowledgement of my priorities during those years (shopping, anyone?)

I applied to colleges primarily because that’s what these friends were doing. I first visited Wheaton because it gave me an excuse to see my then-boyfriend at Boston College. So much of life is what you wind up in the middle of because of who (whom?) you’re with. (Cue joke about needing a iufriend who loves grammar…)

I just don’t think “be kind to everyone” offers enough as a governing principle. It’s like an Allen wrench: it’s either exactly what you need in the moment, or of little use at all.

 But what’s the better advice?

Tell me…What would you tell your school-age self about friendships?

What would you tell a school-age kid today? 

Things tend to get done

I had a cold last week. I’m astonished how that became THE defining factor of 5 full days. I slept, took kids to school, walked the dog, slept, walked the dog, picked kids up from school, slept. That’s it. On Thursday I read a book, falling asleep between chapters 2 and 3, and again at the 14-15 mark.

I should look well rested. I don’t. I’m still puffy and sneezy. When I left the house for church yesterday, I put the whole box of Kleenex right in my bag.

Such a boring, normal human experience.

So why am I telling you?

Well, because it feels like it summarizes so much of life. We can be plugging along, doing work we’re excited about, maybe writing or creating in some way, finding our grove to help people…and then something really simple sidelines us for a big chunk of time, and it feels (in a way) like the tide has gone out, like everything we’ve worked for is washed away.

This silly cold is forcing me to face down the lie of momentum. There’s this false belief out there (and like all lies, it has a kernel of truth) that for new things to succeed, you need to push and pull and work so very hard until the thing gets rolling. Then you have MOMENTUM. But you still can’t relax, because you have to make sure your wheel keeps rolling. Forever.

The problem is, we can’t keep the wheel rolling forever. Things stop us from pushing it along (like my cold) or maybe the wheel hits a bump and goes flat.

In those moments, the lie tells us it’s over. The Truth tells us, “Chill out. God’s got this.”

It is much harder to believe the Truth. But the thing about Truth is, it’s unaffected by our reaction to it.  It just goes right on being the Truth.

I’m encouraged by this today: That I’ll be back to blog about adoption soon. That there WILL come a day where my head is clear enough to compile the 427 pages of scribbled chapter notes for my next book project.  That I will unwrap the games I bought to play with the Cherubs over Christmas vacation sometime between now and February vacation (or at the very latest, April.)

I’ve quoted this 1,000 times, but God keeps bringing me back to this wise truth offered by my most laid-back friend in the midst of law school finals: “Things tend to get done.”

So if you have a cold today, or are still feeling fried from the holidays, or are looking at the long stretch of winter months ahead and wondering if it’s viable for humans to hibernate, take solace. Take a break. Take a nap (or several). God’s got this. Let’s let Him.

This Is What Love Feels Like

On Sunday, the Cherubs will have lived with us for six months! Six months is a big deal in the adoption from foster care world, because that’s how long you have to live together before you can finalize the adoption.

They’ve been marking off the days toward that date with a mixture of terror (that we won’t come through, that we’ll abandon them) and hope (that we will come through, that this really is forever).

A lot has changed in six months. Not just the obvious stuff, but small things. For example, just recently, one of the kids started to hug me back. Before, hugs were tolerated well but not reciprocal. Now they’re a source of laughter as the kids roll their eyes & joke that we hug them all the time. That’s a big win. I’m glad I didn’t know it would take this long. And yet it reminds me that this bonding thing is real. It takes effort and focus, even on days I don’t have much to give (and on days I have a lot to give that the kids don’t feel safe enough to want). But love accumulates.  Over time it melts the ice holding their hearts captive.

I know many of you are thinking about adoption, so I thought I’d take a minute and share some of the things that have worked in this ice-melting process. Each one of them came from something I read before – I’m not inventing sliced bread here. But back when I read these things, they seemed so counter-intuitive, I couldn’t imagine that they’d work. But they do. So here they are, in no particular order:

Structure.  Okay, I lied already. There is an order here. Structure is the #1 thing that will get you through the early months of adoption. I don’t care if your kids are six months or sixteen years. They will be FREAKING OUT at the prospect of living forever with you (you unknown weird grown up who is now supposed to be their new Mom or Dad), and have no idea how to be or what to do. It is your job to TELL THEM and even more so to SHOW THEM. Decide what your day will look like – in 5 to 10 minute increments if necessary – and then do that, every single day.

Our kids know that on weekdays, Steve & I get up an hour before we wake them up. They’ll hear him get ready for work, and me come down for coffee, then again for a second cup. They know when I’ll wake them up and that I’ll ask them softly about breakfast while giving them a hug. It took awhile for them to trust that I wouldn’t oversleep, or forget to pack their lunch. But I’m gaining some credibility as the successful wakeups pile up. (See love accumulates, above). On weekends, they know we’ll be down for coffee sometime around 8:00 and that we make breakfast at 9:00.

Our kids are older, so a lot of our structure came from them: they like to do homework right when they get home from school while they have a snack. I added the expectation that they have some sort of “blow off steam” activity outside after that, unless we’re in a downpour or temps are in the low 20s. I hadn’t planned to limit screen time, to be honest (please don’t tell them). But they expected it, and set their own limit at half an hour. So we go with it, and try to remember to enforce this rule we didn’t create. And bedtime is EARLY. They argue with this almost every night, and almost every night are sound asleep within 20 minutes.

My hard lesson in this has been that my kids don’t want choices. Choices are overwhelming right now. They want to know what to do so they can focus their energy on doing it, and on finding their way in this new life. Even when they don’t like what they’re supposed to do, dislike is better than uncertainty.

All the good stuff comes from us. This was one surprised me: the idea that bonding is facilitated by becoming THE SOLE go-to people your kids must go to for getting needs met. It made sense once I thought about it. If kids have spent their lives cultivating a wide assortment of adult relationships because they didn’t have primary people to count on (many children in foster care are ASTONISHINGLY good with adults for this reason), that’s a tough habit to shake. For Steve & me to become more than just two more faces in the crowd, we needed to become the PROVIDERS OF ALL THE THINGS.

This was easy with stuff we could shop for: clothes, room decor, bikes, etc. It was more challenging with food. The kids are great cooks, and they love it. But I realized early on that they needed the experience of being cooked for. They needed to see one of their parents do all the things to feed them – earning the money, buying the food, planning the meal, preparing it, etc. I can’t quite explain how, but this has helped them figure out the divide between what parents do and what kids do.  We also do this with laundry. They know how to do laundry. They’re learning what it’s like to have someone love them enough to take the heaps of smelly chaos they bring to the hamper and return them in orderly piles. Part of adoptive parenting is parenting in reverse – helping kids who know how to DO learn how to trust and be cared for.

This provision theme included their birthdays (where they received nice gifts from a few others, but most came from us), and Christmas (where “Santa” will only get credit for small stocking stuffers, but all the other gifts – big & small, fun & practical – are labeled, “With love from Mom & Dad.”)

One thing that has been unexpectedly helpful in this is the rule that our kids can’t ride in a car with anyone who has not been through a CORI background check with DCF. The CORI office is incredibly backlogged – a couple of forms friends submitted over the summer STILL have not come through. Practically speaking, this means is that if our kids go anywhere, they go there with us. School drop off & pickup is ALMOST ALWAYS Mom, sometimes Dad, and once Grandma. (It felt like a huge win that when I told them Grandma would be picking them up they cheered – it seemed like a fun change of pace rather than me abandoning them for something more important. This was PROGRESS.)

Also, we can’t leave the kids alone, even though they’re at an age where they would normally be starting to be trusted with that for short periods. So if I’m running errands, they’re running errands. If THIS DOG needs a walk at an unplanned time, we’re all trudging around the block together. And while the Cherubs balked at this as absolutely ridiculous when we first started out together (seriously, they were SALTY), over time I think they’ve realized this means, a.) we’re people who follow rules rather than bending them and that feels safe; and b.) we want them with us, even when they’re sulking and grumpy.

Which leads me to…

Escape. Steve plays hockey two mornings a week before work. I get together with a friend for food & grown up beverages once a week. These are automatic activities, non-negotiable. They keep us sane.

Picking Our Worries. Our children are not learning Mandarin this week, or computer coding, or training for the Olympic rowing team. They each have a school subject they’re not doing particularly well in, and you know what? I kind of don’t care. They’re both doing better than I did, grade wise, and I believe that it will turn out okay.  Our primary focus is that they come to know that God loves them and  we love them, and that there are healthy, life-giving ways to respond to  these realities.

A song that captures this experience for me is Love Feels Like by Toby Mac:

Poured out, used up, still giving…stretching me out to the end of my limits. This is what love feels like.

It’s worth everything you put in.

If you want it, go after it

Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of the first time Steve asked me out. This year is first time since then that I’ve remembered that particular date. I think it popped up because I’ve been thinking about this blog series on adopting from foster care, and what it takes to want and go after big things.

Perhaps the best thing about the way Steve asked me out and our “courtship” (I’m reclaiming that word from the Duggars) was that from the beginning, Steve was very clear with his intentions.

I’d prayed for this. I’d spent a year or so caught up in a swirl of not-quite-dating situations, and watched the same thing happen to others. It was like all the stakes felt so high and scary, no one was brave enough to admit that we wanted to find a wife or husband, and that the first step to that is to say, “Would you like to go out sometime?” in a way that makes it clear that this is a romantic overture, not just a chance to work at lowering your score at mini-golf.

It takes courage to take a clear first step, because it shows the world (or what feels like the world; usually it’s only a couple of people) that you want something.  As I prayed for a husband, I prayed that God would lead that guy to be really clear in his intentions toward me, and for our dating, engagement, and marriage to be free from equivocation and confusion.

And I prayed for what I really wanted: that the guy would pursue me – that he would do the asking out and the initiating. I knew that in days to come, when perhaps I might not feel all that lovely, it would help to know that my husband chose me voluntarily, rather than being caught in an awkward situation that somehow spiraled into a wedding just because I’m good at taking risks. I prayed for a husband who’d be braver and bolder than me. (This felt like one of the 995 ways God prompted me to narrow the pool of viable candidates into the equivalent of a bird-bath, even AFTER He moved me from the Bible Belt to New England and THEN said, “Pray for a husband who’s a Christian.” It was all just ridiculous. )

My experience of MAPP class felt like this same kind of risk: to show up on that first day was, in essence, a declaration: that we wanted to be parents, and we needed CFCS to help us find the right child/children. It was, in a way, like working with a matchmaker.

At some level, we could have “faux-dated” this process – when asked, we could have waxed poetic about the spiritual imperative we see in the Bible to care for orphans, and talked about how called we feel to help children in need. We could have tried to make it seem like we were noble and heroic, rather than wanting something and taking a risk to get it.

But that would have been a lie; an attempt to hide our vulnerability by approaching this as SAVIORS OF CHILDREN!!! rather than just everyday people who needed help creating a family.

That’s kind of the human way, trying to be saviors instead of people with wants we need help fulfilling. We lie because it is flat-out terrifying to admit that we want something big, even if that big thing is good. (A corollary to this is our tendency to talk endlessly about what we want but never take the steps to go after it because we’re so afraid it won’t work out.)

It’s also hard to go after big things. But we were made for hard. We’re good at it. The Bible isn’t a collection of stories of men and women basking in nirvana. A man and a woman screwed up nirvana after about 14 minutes, and now our story is of navigating a life filled with hard challenges. As we take on these challenges, though, we find ourselves closer to nirvana – God’s heavenly Kingdom, here on earth. It’s complicated. There are some serious ups and downs on that ride. But it’s worth it, and ultimately so much more satisfying than living without things that feel essential while pretending to be fine with the status quo.

I saw this expressed in a quote somewhere online last week, something about how the happiness we crave is found through self-sacrifice, not self-expression. I just stared at the screen wishing I could underline or highlight, thinking, “It’s is so TRUE!”

Twelve years ago, it might not have worked out between Steve & me. His asking me out was only a first step. I could have said no. Or we might not have been compatible, and wow, that would have been crushing. But we’d be better off for trying. There’s a lot to be said for knowing you tried. In the same way,  MAPP class might not have worked out for us. That would have been disappointing. But we’d be better off for having gone for it than being left wondering.

There’s an expression you hear a lot in sports, about leaving it all out on the field. It means going after every play like it’s the most important one, not holding anything back. I think it’s a moderately helpful metaphor for life, because unlike a game that has a defined timeframe, life goes on until we die and we don’t usually know when that will happen; we need times of going for it and times of rest. But I do think that the idea of recognizing what we want and then REALLY going for it – through prayer, preparation, and clear steps forward/showing up ready to play – is so valuable. Over the course of my life, I want to leave it all out on the field.

This week, if you see a door open for something you know you want, step through it. If you don’t yet see a door, pray for one to open, and for God to light it up such that you can’t help but recognize the invitation.

Pursuing the whole story

I wrote about losing Princess Peach this weekend. It was excruciating. A friend told me recently that she’s been pondering the word “debridement” (the scouring exfoliation done to patients who’ve been severely burned), and afterwords I realized that this is exactly what it felt like: Taking a rough brush to the places I’d been burned.

Princess Peach had a wonderful therapist when she was with us. One of the things she taught me is that when we’ve been through chaos, our hearts and minds call out for a narrative…a story to make sense of what we’ve been through. Much of our work with this therapist was around providing Princess Peach with a story to help organize what she knew about her life.

At some level, Steve and I have been engaged in the same process for a few years now, around this and a few other things: wondering What was that about? Could we have prevented what happened? What’s the best way to move forward? 

I have a lot of experience with starting over. These questions are not new to me. And the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can’t just drum up my own answers. Sometimes they take awhile to fall into place, before I can see the coherent storyline I crave.

When I’m in the middle of this process, I always blame myself for my lack of cognitive organizational abilities. I just want to say, “Okay, HERE is what happened, and THIS is more or less why, and HERE is what I’m making of it, and so OFF I go into the rest of my life…” (Picture me clapping my hands together twice in a “That’s all done, now moving on!” gesture).

Which is a tremendous plan, one I can totally work with…just as soon as I have the pieces. But the truth about hurt and loss and chaos is that pieces are missing. We’re all working with an incomplete puzzle. Writing is the primary way I navigate this. I use words to check in on the state of my story, knowing that if there isn’t a satisfying ending yet, then it’s not the end.

If you read any good book on novel writing, it will hammer home this point…readers HATE a book that fails to tie up loose ends, or leaves you not knowing if a character will be okay. We crave closure, the full experience of the narrative arc. When a story fails to provide this, we feel cheated. I’ve found this to be even more true in real life than in fiction.

For the longest time, my missing piece has been our craving for evidence that anything works in our state’s child welfare system. I begged people to show me success stories. But NOTHING. On top of that, we’ve been inundated by tragic stories in the news about myriad systemic failures. It’s just all felt so grim.

And then last summer, God prompted both Steve and me – separately – to consider diving back in to see if we could adopt some kids. Friends of ours had adopted three awesome siblings. (I want to write “rescued” there, because that’s what it feels like…and I don’t even mean rescued from a bad birth parent situation, but rather rescued from a complex governmental system that sometimes seems to do more harm than good.) Watching their story unfold, we saw a satisfying ending, a time where the system worked. Seeing our friends’ story gave us a way to go after a more satisfying ending of our own.

Sometimes you need someone else to have a big win to remind you that it’s possible.

Today, if you’re feeling hopeless and win-less, ask God for the missing pieces. As Him for a big win.

I’m serious. Ask Him directly for your next step, for narrative order, for the full arc of the story, including the satisfying ending. Ask for the type of closure that points and pushes you out toward exciting and/or terrifying next steps, and freedom from things that might try to hold you back.

I guess what I’m saying is, ask God to be God, the author of our lives. I’ve found that He responds in interesting ways to this invitation.

 

Praying

The other night a friend & I had a long conversation about prayer, and how weird it is when the challenge of your faith shifts: When it’s less about the fear that you’ll disappoint God, and more fear that God might disappoint you.

I’m not in that season right now. But I’ve been there. And I figure it will come again someday, because that’s how seasons work.

When you’re in those times, you realize that while it’s true that God delights in blessing us, He also has a larger mission going on, and we don’t necessarily know  our role. Faced with this reality, it’s tough to know how to pray…or if prayer even matters.

Early in my faith life (the Christian part), the main image I was given for prayer was this: that there are these bowls in heaven that receive our prayers. When the bowls are filled, an angel adds incense and some sort of heavenly power, and then POW! There’s an explosion and the angel pours the bowl out onto the earth in answer to our prayers.  It’s based on this passage from the Biblical book, Revelation. From this, it seemed easy to surmise that there was an order of magnitude for certain prayers: world peace required a bigger bowl than relief from seasonal allergies.

I LOVED having such a tangible picture. I went after the HUSBAND prayer bowl like it was my job.  And that prayer was answered rather directly (even though it felt like it took forever at the time).

But prayer has never worked that way for me since. In other ways, to be sure. But never the thing with the bowl. Recently, as I re-read that scene in Revelation, I realized that we’d taken that passage completely out of context. If you keep reading, the Bible doesn’t describe a flood of answered prayers flung throughout the earth. Rather, after the prayers and incense in the bowls, after the pouring out and the lightening/earthquake power, come seven trumpets that unleash, one by one, SEVEN HORRIFIC WOES, and the destruction of a good part of the world. Essentially, it’s the beginning of the end.

We prayed for this for years, dutifully filling up the bowls. Bless our (driven, results-oriented) clueless little hearts.

I’m not that into speculating about the end of the world, but it strikes me that the temptation to make God and prayer, and the realization of our dreams, seem attainable and manageable seems more like a lie than a blessing. But the truth is revealed, eventually, and we’re left to reckon with this counterfeit version of what a real relationship with God looks like.

That’s what my friend and I discussed. How the real thing is complicated. We disappoint, and are disappointed. We’re also blessed beyond measure and loved more than we could ever know.  It’s both/and, in the most frustrating way.

And that’s okay.

We pray on. We wing it. We talk to God like He’s our friend or boyfriend or some random person we met in an airport. Really, it depends on the day. I’m not sure what it means or how prayers do or don’t add up. But I’ve found that somehow, things are better when I engage God than when I shut Him out.

And yet I’ve also learned that it’s okay to take a break. To let your silence do the talking. God can handle that too, and it doesn’t mean we’re leaving some heavenly bowls half-filled.

This is the upside to there being no real system…it makes it possible for us to be real with God in every season.

Extraordinary Time

Some-Thoughts-On-FailureSo…blogging for Lent. That went well, huh?  :)

I’m not sure what happened. I woke up on day 3 with a clear plan to write here about shopping for a new car and realizing that I am more of a “satisficer” than a “maximizer” when it comes to adding new things to my life. (I like to find the car – or sweater or coffee mug, etc. –  that meets my needs, buy it, and then get on with life. I don’t need to see and evaluate all of the possibilities before I can make a choice. For more on this distinction, see this from Gretchen Rubin.)

Perhaps my satisficer ways caught up with me, because by the end of the day, I was quite content with not having blogged. The same the next day, and the day after that. As it turns out, the shift in my brain–from living life in tiny scenes suitable for writing to just living life–has been rather complete. More so than I planned, at least.

This has been exacerbated by one big failure on my part: I denied the part of me that has known since childhood that I am not liturgically designed, and tried for the past year to live by the liturgical calendar. I worked hard to care about the seasons of the church.  But Good Lord (and I mean that in a prayerful way, not as blasphemy) I do not care. Try as I might, I cannot sync my attitude toward God with this worldwide timeframe. I am neither sorrowful on schedule nor anticipatory on demand. My gratitude for Jesus’ birth never happens in late December. It pops up all throughout the year like dandelions – pretty, but not the stuff of a well-groomed lawn.  I can’t describe how grateful I was this year when our church finally put away the manger scenes and announced the return to Ordinary Time. I love Ordinary Time!  This is (at least in my experience) when miracles happen today.  To maintain some sort of spiritual equilibrium, I need at least 2/3 of my attention focused on what God is doing today. I can’t live on a diet of just remembering things from the past.

Then Lent came early this year and simply did me in.

So I’m stopping now with the liturgical calendar, and committing to live in Ordinary Time. Only I believe that’s a bit of a misnomer. Extraordinary Time is where we really live. We just have to be brave enough to look for it.

And as God does stuff, I’ll show up here to talk about it. It’s not much of a promise, but I suspect I’ll have a better time of keeping it. Thanks for your patience as God reorganizes me. He seems surprisingly unconcerned with the metrics of social media :)

What Motivates You: Calling or Ego?

ego2-drhannanI found this gem of an article in the March 2014 issue of Inc. Magazine.  I wish it were an entire book – there’s much to consider here. But narrowing it down to three basic distinctions isn’t a bad place to start. I’m taking some of this verbatim from columnist Shelley Prevost – these are her ideas, not mine. I’m just putting them in question form because I think they’re handy, especially for artistic types as we consider new projects.

If you’re trying to decipher what’s driving you – ego or calling – consider these three questions:

1. Are you burnt out? 

Ego leads to burnout, calling leads to fulfillment. When you feel deep satisfaction when you’re in the muddle with a project that may or may not lead to anything, and long to keep going…that’s a sign of calling.

2. Is your main focus the finish line?

Ego focuses on the result, whereas calling focuses on the process. Prevost points out that when we feel like all our work is pointless unless or until we get the result we were shooting for–publish the book, finish the race, thwart the evil villian once and for all (oops, that’s my superhero side slipping out!) — we’re at the mercy of our egos.  “A calling, however, can handle the stress of ambiguity.” (Isn’t that a nice way to put it?)

3. Are you thinking about the impact this project will have on you, or on others? 

This is a tricky one, because most writers write for other people…and the way we imagine it will feel to have them read our book. See how circular that can be? But I think the question comes to this: am I writing to have written another book, or can I see in my mind’s eye an individual reader who will be entertained/inspired because I wrote another book?

Interesting questions, right?

My thoughts: Having an ego gets a bad rap (especially in faith circles). The temptation is to pretend that we’re above all this, that our motives pure and altruistic. What crap. NOBODY has more ego that someone who writes or speaks or sings or performs for a living. It takes ego to carry the audacious idea that not only do we have something to say…but other people should stop what they’re doing and listen.

Ego isn’t bad. It’s just that those little seeds of narcissism need careful tending, lest they grow all up through our creative Unknownprocess and ruin everything. The ego says, “I have something to say!” whereas calling helps you slow down enough to figure out what that something is, and how to say it well.

I’ve written from both of these places. Obviously, the stuff I wrote when I was fulfilled, enjoying the process, and thinking of readers is far better than what I’ve come up with in the throes of “I have to get another book written or I’m a failure!” angst. The first-catagory pages are the ones I come back to again and again, adding and editing, tinkering and moving things around, waiting to see what new thoughts and shapes emerge. I’m grateful for this reminder that this isn’t just a waste of time when I SHOULD REALLY BE WRITING!

This IS writing.

Bonus: Digging around, I found this longer article by Prevost expanding on this topic. Enjoy :)