Motherhood as Worship

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17, NLT

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” – Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a mom. You don’t have to have read my previous mommin’ blogs to know that it. is. HARD. Really hard. Admitting that it’s hard doesn’t take away from the greatness and the privilege of it, and being blessed to be mothers doesn’t make it awesome all the time. There’s no way around it and there’s no shame in admitting it: being a mother is just really freaking hard sometimes.

Days, weeks go by without me getting any time at all to myself. I start to groan when the kids ask me to play with them. I begin to even grow resentful towards all the things I have to do for them, things they almost certainly won’t appreciate or remember. I scroll through Instagram and Pinterest and dream of all the things I can’t do “because of” my kids. I grow weary. I grow annoyed. I count down the days until school and the hours until pickup. I want a break. And to be honest, there’s really nothing wrong with needing a break. Breaks are healthy, refreshing, self-care necessities. But momming for the breaks is as defeating as working for the weekend – you view  your situation as an obstacle instead of an opportunity. And, I’ll admit, I sometimes feel like the kids’ needs are hurdles. I sometimes view motherhood as an inconvenience, something that holds me back from what I’d rather be doing (probably napping), as opposed to what it really is: worship.

Each of us has a purpose. We have gifts, abilities, callings. We are uniquely formed to fulfill unique destinies on this earth, and each step we take within God’s will is an act of worship. By following the plan He has for our life, we are praising Him, glorifying Him. If God has made you a mother – be it through biology, adoption, fostering, or a caring heart – you are part of His plan, both for yourself and your child. Being in His will, then, we can do what He has called us to do with a heart of worship, as an act of worship. Every shoe we tie, every bad dream we snuggle away, every lunch we pack or pay for is an act of worshipping our God because we are doing what He intended us to do as mothers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all women are called to be mothers, and I’m not saying mothers are called or capable only to parent. We are magnificently created women with multiple gifts and callings, we can do so very much, each act with a heart of worship. Whatever we do as we walk in God’s plan, we can approach just as we would worship – “Here I am, Father – broken, imperfect, tired. I don’t know it all and I doubt myself, but I know You are good and have placed me here. Do what You will and what You can with whatever is left of me.”

Worship is sometimes hard for me, at least fully. I can sing the songs and clap the hands and do a mean church sway, but it’s difficult at times to completely turn off my brain and praise my Savior. I’m tired. I’m distracted. I don’t always feel well. I notice a missed note. I can think of 100 other things I could be doing and 100 other things that await me when I get home. It doesn’t lessen my love for my Creator, but sometimes it’s just hard for me to give all of me. If this isn’t parallel to motherhood, I don’t know what is. I love you, I can go through the motions, but sometimes I’m so distracted and tired that I just don’t put my heart into it. Both motherhood and worship ask me to give of myself, to reach from what is left of me and offer it to another. That’s hard. But when it hits, when I think of how GOOD God is to me, how GOOD He is on His own, oh how I praise Him. When I think about what He’s saved me from and what He’s led me to, I can’t help but worship Him. And what an honor to use my life to worship Him beyond the Sunday service times. What a loving God to look upon my life, full of fumbles, and say, “I can use that.” How often must our offerings of praise to Him be like the macaroni crafts we receive from our own children – imperfect, falling apart in places, but offered with love and awe and received with gratitude and affection. God is SO GOOD, ya’ll, and He has chosen YOU. Remember the next time that you are distracted, depleted, that He hand-made and hand-picked YOU. How much easier the brokenness is to bear when you’re reminded that you can be made whole by the One who made you to begin with.

Momming is hard. It can be frustrating. It can lead to the most tremendous self-doubt and the most stifling isolation. I find myself sitting here with dried tears on my cheeks, equal parts frustration with my kids and mourning the idea of “normal”. It just rarely looks like we thought it would, this parenting gig. I can list what I’ve given up and long for what I’ve yet to get, but at the end of the very long day, curled into a ball of brokenness, touched-out, talked-out, doubting it all, I see a stuffed animal I sewed back together and realize: it’s not all about me. It never will be. Whatever my frustrations and sacrifices, however real and valid, they will never overwhelm the need my children have for me. The will of God for me to influence them as people will not shrink back because I haven’t had a Snickers in months. Again, self care is incredibly necessary, and the needs we have are very real. I’m not dismissing them. I’m just reminding us, reminding myself, that motherhood by nature is about someone else. I am very much looking forward to Heaven someday, when I can freely worship my God all day, for eternity. So for now I can prepare myself by worshipping Him with my life, with my actions. I can view motherhood as His will and not an inconvenience. I can prepare for Heaven tomorrow by worshiping through my actions today.

If I will allow motherhood to become an act of worship, I am inviting God to be instrumental in my walk as a mother. No pun intended. I can acknowledge my shortcomings and imperfections, both as a Christ-follower and a mother, and say, “Here I am, Father. Use what you can of what’s left of me.” I can end each night in tears, knowing that while my offering may not have been perfect, it was done in worship. Jesus’ walk to Golgotha was painful, bumpy. He needed help to get there. And while I wouldn’t necessarily compare motherhood to crucifixion, I will say that both are journeys of sacrifice and completion. Both are the will of God asking very much of us in the name of love for our children. Jesus felt such stress that He sweat blood, He asked God if there was any other way. Not once did His love or commitment to us waiver just because he felt the weight of it all. Not once do we stop loving our children because it is hard to care for them. Jesus stumbling never meant He couldn’t do it, and the same is true for you, mama. And at the end, be it on a cross or waving your child off at their wedding reception, when we cry out that it is finished, we know that the sacrifice, the pain was worth it. That God was glorified, His will was done, and our children are better for it. Jesus’ story didn’t end on the cross and yours doesn’t end at graduation.

Every set of sheets you change in the night, every tear that you wipe, every correction you give, every meal you feed them, every ride to school, every doctor appointment, every ride from practice, every load of laundry, every dish you clean, every video game you research, every Pokémon story you listen to, every teacher you meet with, every book you listen to them slowly stumble through, every pile of crumbs you sweep, every backpack you check, every jacket you hang, every carseat you buckle, every cough medicine you give, every little, thankless, tiring job you do and every huge, significant, exhausting obstacle you tackle, they’re all acts of worship. They all honor God as you walk in His will. The Virgin Mary is mostly noted as having given birth to Jesus, but between the manger and the cross she performed untold amounts of tasks to care for Him. Mary, the mother of God, bathed her infant, taught Him things, cleaned up after Him, fed Him. Motherhood was necessary to the will of God. You, mama, you who is tired, discouraged, drained – you are necessary to the will of God. You are worshipping God in your faithfulness, in your tasks. You aren’t dressed in your Sunday best and you aren’t harmonizing to beautiful music, but you are worshiping Him. “Here I am, God. I can’t do this without You and I’m offering to do it for You. Do what You will with what’s left of me.”

 

 

Measuring Others’ Pain

This post has been stirring in my heart for a while. It seems that almost every conversation I have had for the last few weeks has just confirmed the need for me to write these words down, even if only to humble myself into accepting them. I myself am guilty of what I’m about to write about, as many of us are, and I apologize.

We all, at any point in our lives, have a friend or loved one who is hurting. Death. Sickness. Divorce. Infertility. Special needs. Mental illness. The loss of a job. The loss of a child. The loss of a parent. The loss of a home. The loss of an ability. The loss of a friendship. Addiction. Affairs. Abuse. Straight-up drama.  We can all call to the front of our minds someone we know who is going through something painful. I can name a friend for almost all of the above-mentioned situations, and it’s sobering. Pain is all around us, even when it doesn’t directly affect us. We cannot always protect those we care about from experiencing it and we cannot walk this earth without at some point feeling it ourselves. Pain is a part of life, and a very important part at that. And while pain is, at some point, unavoidable, that does not make it dismissible.

My oh my, how many times have we heard the plight of a friend and commented to ourselves, “If I were in that situation, I’d……”, almost with a sense of superiority, as though our opinion of their situation held more weight than the situation itself?

“I’d never stand for that.”

“I’d never stay if he did that.”

“It’s been six months already, how has she not moved on?”

“I’d have seen a doctor sooner.”

“I’d go to college.”

“I’d get a better-paying job.”

“I’d never do that.”

“I can’t believe she stayed.”

“I can’t believe she left.”

“I can’t believe she’s still talking about it.”

We go on and on, offering our opinions instead of our support, proud of ourselves for having it all together and never realizing how lucky we are to be able to view the pain from the outside. Or we apply our own experience.

“When that happened to me, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps.”

“I worked hard, so anyone else can, too.”

“It worked for me, there’s no reason she can’t do it.”

“I was smart enough to leave.”

“I struggle, too, but you don’t hear me crying about it.”

“I never let my kids do that.”

“I had to pay, they should, too.”

The fact is, pain is not quantitative. There is no way to measure what another person is going through, therefore there is no way to compare what they’re going through.

There is no expiration date for grief, no way to determine when an appropriate amount of time has passed before one must “get over it”. Whether a pregnancy was lost in the early weeks or in the delivery room does not hold any weight to the pain felt. There is no “at least” that will bring comfort to the persons who have said goodbye to someone they love – “at least you were only 6 weeks pregnant”, “at least you know you can get pregnant”, “at least you had all that time together”, “at least they went quickly”, “at least you had time to prepare yourself”, “at least you had a chance to say goodbye”, “at least you’re young”, “at least they were old”…. there is no “at least” that is bigger than the hole left behind.

Disappointment is not relative. A friend of mine delivered her first baby a few years ago and was deeply disappointed over the experience, as it had not gone as she’d planned and prepared for. In the middle of her tears she said, almost apologetically, “I know, at least I didn’t have to have a C-section like you, so I should be grateful…” NO. Disappointment is not relative. My disappointment being different from her disappointment does not make hers less, and does not make mine more. It’s okay to admit disappointment – it’s not the same as discontentment. And that old monster “At Least” has no place in disappointment. “At least” hints that the pain that is felt is too great, that the feelings experienced are not proportionate to the situation. But as grief cannot be quantified, there is no such thing as proportionate pain.

Mourning is not morning – it is not over at a specific time. A death, a divorce, whatever has ended has an effect, and your opinion of how long the process has taken does not speed it up. “Long enough” is not helpful, is not supportive. It does not push one towards healing, but rather towards isolation. If someone cannot share their pain with you because of how you attempt to measure or judge it, they will keep it to themselves and share the burden of their feelings alone.

While we are not meant to be sad, we are meant to feel sadness when it arises. One of the most powerful representations I’ve ever seen of its importance was, of all places, in a Pixar movie. If you haven’t seen Inside Out, go rent it tonight! The main character, Joy, obviously wants everything to be happy all the time, as do most of us. Social media, Pinterest, tv, Instagram… we’re surrounded by the most perfect and joyous of images and messages all day long, and we like it. We strive for it. But when something legitimately sad happens, Joy tries to push through, move on, gloss over it and pretend like it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. In the movie – and I promise you I paused immediately after this scene to wipe my tears and explain how impactful it was to my kids – Sadness sits down and talks about how sad it is. She lets the tears flow, admits that it is sad, and feels the pain of it all. Once this has happened – and ONLY after this has happened – are they able to move on in their journey. Sadness must be felt. We have to acknowledge how painful something is before we can begin to heal from it. To become stronger we must admit we were once weaker, and accept that neither is better than the other. Sadness, pain, grief, mourning, disappointment – they’re all very real emotions that will take place regardless of our opinion of the circumstances they showed up in.

Ah, the circumstances. This one is tough, because all too often the circumstances of one’s pain create an excuse for others to dismiss them. You never liked that friend’s husband so you’re not sad to see their marriage fail. You don’t do drugs so you have a hard time feeling compassion for those who lose everything to addiction. You would never let your kids behave so poorly so you feel justified when someone else’s teenager runs away. You know he cheated before so you have a hard time feeling sorry for your friend who stayed anyway when he does it again. You judged their spending habits or their low-paying jobs so you judge their bankruptcy or their pleas for help. You had success with a weight loss program so you are exasperated with your overweight friend. But our opinions, again, are not helpful. They didn’t protect anyone from getting hurt and they certainly won’t help anyone to heal. To put it plainly, it truly, 100%, completely, wholly DOES NOT MATTER what we think. We do not get to decide who is deserving of their pain. Not agreeing with another’s pain does not negate it. Just because you don’t agree with someone’s divorce does not mean you can drop off a casserole and hope it goes away. Your discomfort is not a factor any more than your opinion. People around us are hurting, and we are not called to sit in judgement of them. We don’t have to like what’s happening, only love the person its happening to.

That’s what it all comes down to, really – judgement. We think we know better, think we’d do better, feel we’ve done better. But the hurting ones around us are not asking for our expertise, they’re asking for our compassion. One of the most humbling experiences of my life has been to tell someone I love that I support their decisions because I support them, and then watch them make a decision I would not have made. So what am I to do now? Do I withdraw my support because I disagree, or do I swallow my pride and recognize that my opinion is literally worth nothing in such matters? Do I henceforth offer only conditional support to loved ones in the hopes that they’ll do what I want them to? Do I sit in bitter judgement and disbelief at their choices, or do I thank God that I am not in the same boat, having to make the same ones? Do I turn up my nose or lend them my ear?

Don’t misunderstand me, support is not the same as enabling. Enabling is offering your permission; support is offering your hand. Enabling is making something possible; support is making someone stronger. Support is propping up someone when they’re too weak to stand on their own. Support is listening to them, crying with them, praying for them. It’s offering your help, your ear, your time, your words when asked and your shoulder when needed. Only offering support when your opinions are followed is friendship on demand, it’s help for sale, it’s selfish. So when you find yourself beginning to judge someone else’s pain or reactions, as yourself, “How on EARTH is their pain about ME?”

It’s not.

So stop telling people to get over it already. Stop telling yourself you’d do any better. Stop trying to measure someone else’s pain and stop kidding yourself that you even can. Start listening without forming an opinion. Start acknowledging sadness when you’d rather stick your head in the sand. Start accepting that there is only so much you can control, and it’s even less than you think. Start being a friend instead of a jury. And for the love, stop telling people how to feel.

 

Part Two: I Am “That Mom” (and here’s why)

You had to know a part two was coming. I couldn’t very well call out my son for being “that kid” without admitting that I am “that mom”, right?

I didn’t set out to be That Mom. None of us do. I know I’ve started numerous emails with, “I promise I’m not trying to be That Mom,” “Not to be That Mom, but…”, or just the blatant, “I’m not That Mom.” But it happened. I am That Mom. In the same way that we women often apologize more often than we need to, we seem to be terrified of being seen as or referred to as That Mom. As if we’ll send the PTO running for the hills away from us, the dragon lady who breathes fire and eats teachers. As if being That Mom were synonymous with being a Bad Mom.

I am not one for confrontation. I’m not good at it, it makes me uncomfortable. I’m great at responding and reacting, but to confront an issue I must first dwell on it for a while, talk myself out of it a few times, ask friends to tell me any other way to get around it, allow myself to get flushed, hear my heartbeat, and probably cry from frustration. Once these steps have been achieved, I can now timidly approach confrontation. Why? Well, to be honest, most of the time it’s because I’m afraid of how I’ll be perceived. I want to be liked, and that’s as hard to admit as confrontation is to initiate. I like smiling and getting along with people. I want things to go well, and I don’t want to be associated with negative things or thoughts. But that’s just not life. Things happen and things have to be dealt with, and when you have That Kid, things happen and have to be dealt with more often.

I’m not blaming my That Mom status on my kid. I didn’t become That Mom because of him, I became That Mom for him. Because he needs an advocate. Because he is a square peg and the round hole isn’t always a good fit. Because there are cracks in every system no matter how wonderful it is. Not because I enjoy arguing, not because I’m angry inside, not because I think he’s an infallible snowflake, not because I’m picking on anyone, not because I have it out for someone, not because I’m impossible to please, and definitely not because I’m a b word. Because the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Because I can either sit back and allow the cracks to swallow him, or I can speak up on his behalf. I am That Mom because he needs me to be. I am That Mom because I am HIS mom.

My kids’ teachers are saints, before this is taken as a rant against anyone. They have wings and just about walk on water as far as I’m concerned. But they’re overworked, underpaid, and have their hands tied in an increasing number of ways. More often than not the situations where I speak up are situations where they cannot. I even had one angelic teacher thank me for using my voice and speaking up. Where school is concerned, there are a growing number of cracks for children to fall through. Class size, test prep, 22 different IEP’s, integration, transition time, finding ways to get PE time in during Spanish… schools are being choked more and more by legislation and requirements, and the teachers who volunteered to help shape our young people are often left with only the power to check boxes. Sometimes a need isn’t met, and I don’t blame the teacher, but that doesn’t mean our kids don’t deserve what they showed up for. So when it comes to school, I will take what he needs and leave the whispers behind. I will speak up for him and ensure that he is fought for, taught to, and included, no matter how it makes me look. Because I guarantee you that the stares and judgements and derogatory names will not matter or even cross my mind when I see him graduate. If the administration is breathing a sigh of relief to see him gone, so be it. We can speak up on political affairs, the management of our favorite sports teams, and pop culture, but not on behalf of our kids? That’s a big fat NOPE from me. No one else can be my kids’ mom – that privilege and work belongs to me alone. And if I don’t work harder on their behalf than I do at being liked I will have failed. Miserably.

It’s not like it’s a source of pride. I don’t use “haters” as fuel or anything so dramatic. I’m not immune to the eye rolls and sighs and tension. I’m saddened each time I know I’ve blown a chance at a friendship by speaking up. I’m not out on a mission to get anyone fired, and I hate to think of anyone getting into trouble because of me. But I can’t let my timidity overrule my children’s needs. I can’t not stand up for what’s right just because I want everyone to like me. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if I make friends, it matters that they get what they need.

Last year an issue arose where my son did not get what he needed, that middle kid of mine. It was a big deal, by anyone’s standards, and rippled out to affect others. So I showed up and did my work as That Mom. In this particular instance there really may have been steam coming from my nostrils, but I didn’t eat any teachers and I wasn’t on the news, so we’ll call it a win. I knew the exact moment I was trading in “I love that mom!” for “Oh, she’s That Mom, ” but I could either back down and try to make a friend at my son’s expense or hold someone accountable. He needed what he was promised. A few months after, a friend of mine saw me at the store and asked me about it. I was quite surprised, as I hadn’t advertised it or vented publicly. Somehow, though, as will happen, some person shared some version of it, and the gossip mill got to work grinding out sensational tales of Jennifer the Whip-Wielding Crusader Mom. That’s not really word-for-word, but it was quite a story. To be honest, I was first surprised that anyone even knew who I was to share the story. That meant that I could no longer go incognito at pickup and show up makeup-free in my sweats, hoping my messy hair was going unnoticed. Dang. If people know who I am enough to share stories about me, they’re going to see me when I show up. Now I have to wear pants with a zipper. Ugh. My next reaction was one of embarrassment. What must these people think of me? I bet they’re hoping they don’t get a class with any of my kids! Do the kids’ teachers know the true version of what happened, or are they going to cower when I walk in to Meet the Teacher? What do people think?! Eh, it doesn’t matter. If they think I’m a crusader, awesome. Maybe it will empower them to speak up on behalf of their kid. Maybe they’ll approach me with suggestions and energy about how to fight for change in the system. Or maybe they’ll just be scared of me and let me sit in peace in my sweats in the pickup line. Either way, their opinion didn’t matter. They definitely formed thoughts, judgements, and gossipy tales, but it didn’t affect what my son needed or what he got. They’re going to talk. I can’t control what they’ll say about me. But I can control how my son will remember me fighting for him.

Which leads me to the main, ultimate, single most important reason I am That Mom.

Last week that same middle kid (it’s always him) took a fall at school. It was a total accident, but he hit his face HARD on the floor – chipped tooth, lots of blood, and we later found out a broken nose. He was glassy-eyed, irritable, and very tired, so I took him to the emergency room just to be safe. When the doctor came in, she spent less than 3 minutes with him – checking his tooth, checking his tongue, feeling his broken nose and telling him he could go home. I know I’m not a doctor, but it seemed a bit rushed and incomplete, knowing we were there for a possible concussion.

This is where it gets good.

My son was as surprised as I was. Maybe surprised isn’t the right word – he was angry. “That’s IT?” he asked, completely incredulous. “You’re not going to check me or anything?” The doctor, bless her, didn’t know this boy or the IQ he walked in with. She assured him he was fine, which only ruffled him more. “I’m not fine, that’s why I’m in here.” She asked if maybe she had used some words that he didn’t understand, which seemed to add fuel to his fire. “I understood everything you said perfectly, which is why I’m upset.” We were a printout away from being discharged, and here he was, speaking up in a room full of adults, advocating for himself. Sure we can work on his delivery, but the bravery it took was still incredible. I had tears in my eyes, not from embarrassment – from pride. This little boy wasn’t trying to put anyone in their place, he wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, he wasn’t trying to prove anything, he was only trying to get the care he needed. And he knew what to do in a situation where he felt he wasn’t being heard – he spoke up. Speaking up eventually led to him getting a CT scan, which it turned out he needed. If he hadn’t advocated for himself, I don’t know what would have happened. He has seen me fight for him and now knows that he can fight back, too. He knows that if something isn’t right, you can say something. Then say something else. And keep saying something until someone listens and it gets made right.

He’s only 8, so I don’t think my job is quite done yet. I’m not trying to protect my kids, I’m trying to equip them, and sometimes it takes losing a popularity contest to do that.

I know I’m not alone, know there are a lot of others out there doing the best they can for their kids at the expense of their image. High-five, Momma. Parenting is hard, and parenting to cater to everyone else’s opinions is impossible, so let’s stop apologizing for advocating and get our kids what they need. It doesn’t matter what they call us – That Mom, Tiger Mom, Mama Bear, Helicopter Mom, Room Mom, Team Mom… it only matters that we are a good mom.

The Tagged Photo

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know I’m a big girl. I’ve written about some of the issues I’ve faced as a plus-sized woman here, here, and here. It’s not a big secret, it’s something I discuss openly, it’s something I’ve had to deal with for a long time now. Yet for all the struggles I’ve shared and the courage I’ve mustered, few things terrify me as much as the tagged photo.

You never know when it will strike, when it will creep up on you, completely unprepared and unaware. You step away from social media, have a lovely day, then come back to a strange surge in notifications – gasp! You’ve been tagged in a photo… and people have SEEN it! You can remove the tag if you want, sure. You can adjust your settings so that you must first approve tags (and I thought I had). You can walk around in full hair and makeup, sucking in everywhere you go and appearing to candidly laugh in the background at all times. No matter what precautions you take, it never fails that someone, somewhere, will at some point tag you in an unflattering photo. Such tragedy befell me yesterday.

Earlier this week I went on a field trip with my daughter and her pre-k class. She had a great time, talked about it for the rest of the day with the biggest smile on her face, just so excited about what we’d done together that day. The day was a success! Truth be told I was as excited as she was about the day and couldn’t wait to announce it on social media, it was such a fun time. But I didn’t. Over the course of the morning we took at least 30 selfies together, and none of them met my standards. We tried side light, low light, direct light, sunlight. Silly faces, vogue faces, the right side of our faces and the left side of our faces. Different backgrounds, different poses, different angles. I looked at every single one of them and dismissed them as unworthy of sharing because I didn’t like how I looked in them. My daughter, of course, was adorable in each one, even though the last dozen or so really began to show her annoyance with the constant pictures. I’m a photographer and this is my busiest season, so I’ve been staying up working at a computer screen until 6 am, getting about 3 hours of sleep a night, and it showed. I had bags under my eyes from editing, grey in my hair from parenting. My nose looked too pointy in one photo, too bulbous in another. I didn’t like the way I looked and controlled how my friends on social media saw me. Goodbye, photographic evidence of an otherwise lovely day.

Or so I thought.

Yesterday evening, my adorable daughter’s amazing teacher posted some photos she had taken of the day. Group photos of the class, pictures of her with some of the kids, parents… and then I saw it, the reason I’d gotten a notification in the first place – a photo of my little girl and I, together, and I was – gulp – tagged.

My cheeks instantly flushed, my ears burned with embarrassment. I was sitting, rarely a good pose for anyone and never a good one for a plus-sized person, and my tiny little daughter looked positively elfin next to me. There I was, obviously large, nothing and no none to hide behind. Just me. I was humiliated at how much of the photo I took up, how apparent my size was. I was disappointed, all my carefully-crafted, expertly-angled, creatively-cropped selfies gone to waste now because this photo was showing the truth. I felt exposed. Here I was and there was nothing I could do to change it. I’ll be honest, as silly as it may sound, my eyes burned with tears. I didn’t like what I saw and I didn’t want anyone else to see it.

But they already had.

The photo already had a handful of “likes” from friends who had seen me, the real me, in their newsfeed. As I stared at the image and dissected it, made a mental list of everything I hated about myself, I got a few more notifications that friends had “liked” the photo I was tagged in. Crap, there goes another one. And another.

I put my phone down and hung my head. I stayed silent for a while, just sitting on the couch, watching tv with my husband and feeling that gnaw in my stomach that comes with regret. I badly wanted to go back in time and either decline the photo op or set my daughter in my lap and smile over her shoulder, shielded from the camera, from the truth of who I am. I wanted to remove the tag. I wanted to investigate and look at who all had seen the photo.

I opened Facebook back up and checked my notifications. Yep, a few more “likes” on that embarrassing picture of me. I clicked on it and started reading the names of my friends who had taken the time to react to it. Not react – they liked it. Some of them even took the time to “love” it. Some of the friends I’ve never met in real life. I’d met them in groups where we shared similar interests and hit it off,  but we’d never met, never hugged, never shared a cup of coffee. These people had just gotten their first glimpse of me – the real me. The unflattering, sitting-down, chest-is-bigger-than-the-head-of-the-child-sitting-next-to-me, what-on-earth-is-my-hair-doing me. Some of the friends – there goes another like! – do know me in real life. They’ve hugged me, seen me cry, listened to my loud voice and smiled when I walked into a room. They weren’t duped. They’ve seen me look like that, every time they’ve been around me. They’ve seen me sit, seen me with lipstick on my teeth, seen me sweat and get frustrated and take my heels off in stores to walk around barefoot. They’ve seen me, and still they’re my friends. And they “liked” the picture. They support me, encourage me, and are happy to see me smiling on a field trip with my daughter. They may not have cared if I was sitting, they may have, but they’ve seen me and it didn’t matter. They “liked” it. Oh man, Amber just saw this picture of me. Come ON, I saw Amber in person two weeks ago, this picture isn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know about me!

Instead of seeing each notification as a nail in the coffin of my image, I began to see them as little high fives, little pats on the back, little gestures from friends who saw me, the real me, and were happy they had. Friends I’d encouraged to make sure they had pictures of themselves no matter how unhappy they were with their appearance. Friends I looked up to. Friends I grew up with. Friends who knew me when I was thin and friends who first met me when I wasn’t. It sounds so simple, they just “liked” my picture and went on scrolling. But it meant so much more. Instead of feeling exposed I was feeling accepted. Instead of feeling disgusted I was feeling loved. I may not have liked what I saw in that picture, but my friends did, and not because of how I looked, but because it was ME in it.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be changing my profile picture to that one any time soon. My profile picture which, by the way, is a carefully-angled selfie of me wearing a shirt that says “Plus is Equal”, picked from about 30 other attempts at the same shot and run through a filter or two. Do I look like that? Well, sure, from the right angle and cropped close in. But I sit a lot more than I stand on my porch in full makeup, looking up just enough to elongate my face and neck. I have bags and greys frequently enough, too. I’ve been hiding in plain sight, so scared of how I’d look that I forgot that this is how I really do look, that people in my life see me every day without a second thought. I’ve been laying bare my emotions and experiences and hiding my appearance, the very thing about me that so many posts have sprung from. I’ve been telling everyone without hesitation that I was a plus-sized woman but was too embarrassed to prove it.

So there I am. I’m not removing the tag. I’m not mad, I’m not upset. I’m still probably a little sheepish about the picture, but I’m glad I have it, glad to have a memory saved of that wonderful day with my girl, glad she’ll have something to look back at and remember. I’m challenged now to embrace who I am. I’m convicted that I’ve been using my voice to advocate for people who look like me but using any other means possible to keep people from looking AT me. My pants size didn’t change when that picture was seen by others, my weight didn’t fluctuate. I’m still exactly who I was and I still look exactly the same. My husband still loves me and tells me I’m beautiful, I still have 3 awesome kids, and the Backstreet Boys are still better than N Sync. Nothing really changed in my world apart from how terrified I’ve been to let my friends see me.

Now I challenge you, friend, to do the same. Let your friends see you. Let us know you. Don’t duck away from photos (guilty), don’t hide behind the camera so you don’t have to be in front of it (guilty), don’t pass up an opportunity to capture a memory forever because you didn’t want to see yourself in the present (also guilty). Take pictures. Heck, jump into the pictures. Who you are is not how you look, so anyone who calls themselves your friend has already decided to like you without knowing that you wear your belts under your bust instead of around your waist (so very guilty). So you look different than you used to – there’s a whole day devoted to laughing and musing over how much we’ve ALL changed, Throwback Thursday. So you don’t love how you look – you’ve got a lot of people who love who you ARE. I challenge you to answer these questions whenever you hesitate to share a photo, a memory – what is the absolute worst thing that can come from an unflattering photo of you being seen by others? Is it catastrophic or can you survive it? Is the memory of that moment more valuable than the image you’ve crafted up until then? Have you ever lost respect for someone or ended a friendship with anyone because they had a roll of chub showing or were in the middle of a breakout? If you have never been so shallow as to stop caring for a friend because they didn’t look perfect, then do your friends the courtesy of not assuming they will, either.

Let’s put ourselves out there, warts, tight shirts, wrinkles and all. Let’s be real. Let’s encourage and empower one another. Let us let go of the pursuit of perfection and remind ourselves that even Beyoncé has some embarrassing pictures tagged, and that while our social media images may be a little imperfect, at least ours aren’t as easily found on Google. Give your friends a chance to “like” what they see, and give yourself the freedom to accept just what it is they’re looking at.

So What Now?

I won’t lie and say this will be my one and only post about the election. If you’re my friend on Facebook then you probably just laughed at that first sentence. If you’re my friend in real life then you definitely fell off your seat in hysterics. I’m not interested in debating politics, the electoral college, candidates, or platforms. I’m not interested in who you voted for and I’m not going to announce who I voted for. That part is over. What I’m talking about, what is causing my heart to ache, what is flying around my head faster than my hands can type is the aftermath. What happens now.

Tuesday night a large portion of our country sat in disbelief, shock. Wednesday night a large portion of our country fumed in anger. And now on Thursday, I see an enormous portion of our country even more divided than they were on Monday. Relationships that made it all the way through the particularly vicious election cycle are crumbling. Respectable people resorting to name-calling. Hurting people being dismissed, innocent people being accused and attacked. The numbers don’t lie: our country is deeply divided. The arguments, words, fights, even violence that have erupted in the wake of our election are a more painful illustration of it.

But what few are realizing in their zeal to defend their vote is that either way we would be having these arguments. No matter which candidate won, our country was not going to be healed by the declaration of one person’s name.

Racism has been alive in our country for centuries. Sexism has been a problem always. In my white suburban bubble I was able to believe that racism really wasn’t around anymore, but after 8 years with a black president, countless terrorist attacks, and to be honest, a lifetime of living in a border state, I’ve had to admit something ugly: racism is very much alive. As a woman, well, I’ll tell you that I never doubted gender inequality and misogyny.

Racism and sexism do not happen overnight. Ableism does not happen overnight. Phobias and hatred are not formed overnight. And they are not cured overnight. No matter whose name was announced as our next president, these things were not going to disappear. One leader does not make those kinds of changes. WE DO.

We the people, we speak up. We the people, we defend. We the people, we make change. If we are willing to defend our vote then we must be willing to defend each other. We have to use the same determination we had walking into the polling booth to walk up to a bully and say “no more”. We have to have the same fire within us in person as we do on social media. It’s a huge responsibility, change. These cancers did not pop up because of a candidate and a president will not be the one on the ground to treat them. It’s up to us, regardless of who we voted for, of who we have in charge, the responsibility has not changed: we have to make this country better. Our job would be no different today with a different president. Our job today is the same as it was Monday, as it was in 2012, 2008, 1980, and before. A different president-elect would not lessen our burden to effect change around us.

So I beg of you, friends, accept your responsibility. My conservative friends, people are genuinely afraid, genuinely hurting, and just because you don’t understand or agree with it doesn’t make it any less real. My liberal friends, all hope is not lost and the country is not as hateful as you fear – someone’s vote is not all there is to them and is rarely about what you may think. My white friends, we have the opportunity every day to listen, extend a bridge, and stand up for those who don’t look like us. My friends of color, I can never pretend to imagine how you’re feeling, but I can tell you that you have allies and support, more than you may feel you have right now.

This is not intended to bash or endorse either candidate. This is my first election cycle I’ve experienced without having loyalty a political party, and it’s been awkward to say the least. I’ve mourned, grieved for our country, for months, as someone in between all the screams and ideas and anger and pain I have no answer but love. With feet in all political camps I can tell you that there is no one answer, there is no one candidate who would leave everyone pleased, there is no one person who will unite us. Fiscal policy, foreign policy, education policy, healthcare policy, guns, abortion, marijuana, religion, race, gender, rights…. we will never all agree on all of these issues, but we are all capable of love. We can listen with love rather than listen with comebacks. We can attempt empathy. We can quiet ourselves long enough to hear the other. We can not allow ourselves to stereotype or generalize or name-call. We can approach one another with love and correct to teach, not to win. We can make change happen.

Our job remains the same, regardless of the winner, regardless of our skin color, regardless of our religion, socioeconomic status, gender, or political beliefs. Our job is to rid our country of hatred. It has always been our job, and hopefully someday we’ll work ourselves out of it. Hopefully we’ll be so good at our jobs that our kids won’t have to inherit them. Let’s stop putting our blame and our hopes into a candidate and accept our own responsibility to make this a better place. Sexism was not going to disappear if a woman were chosen as our president. Racism did not disappear when a black man was chosen as our president. Ableism is only JUST becoming recognized. There’s a quote that is sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “The US Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”  We the people have a lot of work to do, and the sooner we stop fighting with each other, the sooner we can get started.

 

 

Part One: I Am the Mom of “That Kid”

I see them.

The looks you toss my way. How your eyes narrow and your eyebrows shoot up. I’ve felt the room quiet and tense when I walk in with my son. I’ve noticed how the class pictures, special projects, birthday parties and candid shots you share don’t include him. I feel your judgements, your distaste, your impatience, your discomfort, your dislike. Sometimes, if I’m really unlucky that day, I catch your words, hear your thoughts, get wind of your opinions.

And so does my son.

My child, who doesn’t act like yours, he hears you. He feels your stares, feels the isolation of being left out of the pictures, the projects, the parties. He sits alone and is not oblivious to it. Because my kid, “that kid”, he’s still a kid.

He has a birthday. He has a favorite stuffed animal. He laughs at tv shows, has bad dreams, scrapes his knees, and doesn’t always want to eat his vegetables. He plays, he reads, he draws. He has Legos, he uses his sleeve like a napkin, he has dreams for when he’s a grown up and fears for right now as a kid.

Because he’s still just a kid.

That child, the person you resent, dislike, the boy you make assumptions about, the one you give up on before trying, he’s a kid. The boy who needs help, he’s a kid. The child who has trouble making or keeping friends, he’s a kid. The boy who so obviously doesn’t mesh with whatever environment you’re judging him in, he’s just a kid. Yet somehow it’s been decided that he’s “that kid”, the one who gets in trouble, the one who causes trouble, the one who just can’t seem to act like the other kids around him. You’ve allowed his obvious struggle to be the one trait that defines him. Kids do well when they can, and for whatever reason – or for many reasons – he can’t do well, not at what you’re asking of him. So really, when you roll your eyes, when you shun him away from your kid, when you refer to him as “that kid”, what you really mean is he’s not your kid. And you’re right, he’s not.

He doesn’t act like your kid. He doesn’t have the benefit of your doubt like your kid. He doesn’t get included like your kid. He doesn’t get your advocacy like your kid. And the best part of all of it is that he isn’t your kid. He’s mine. He’s unique to us, our family, our dynamic. His struggles aren’t your job, but neither is his assessment. He is mine, my snuggly boy, my loving boy, my creative and hilarious little guy who has so much more to offer than just his classroom behavior. There isn’t a child in any classroom shared with yours who doesn’t have at least one parent aware of their child’s behavior. Your opinion isn’t needed in the raising of any of them.

Yet still you stand, a little straighter when you see him, in judgement. Casting your thoughts down upon a child. Narrowing your eyes to create a tunnel vision that only allows you to see what he struggles most with, allows you to place sanctimonious blinders on and miss the great things about him in your peripheral. You feel indignation towards him, as though “that kid” is a wrong that needs to be righted. The superiority  you feel in having identified “that kid” fills you with comfort and relief that it isn’t your kid. So you avoid him, judge him, make assumptions about myself and our home. You expect the worst and are irritated when you’re proven right. Because my boy can’t act like your kid. He isn’t like the other kids. He does struggle, daily… with issues you haven’t even bothered to consider. Maybe the kid who won’t talk to you has a speech delay. Maybe the girl who flinches away from you has a sensory processing disorder. Maybe the boy who ignites in anger has a legitimate emotional disorder. Maybe the girl who won’t stop talking at inappropriate times is just looking for someone to listen because no one at home does. Maybe the bully is being abused. Maybe the kid who brought the wrong snack didn’t have anyone at home to help him. Maybe the grumpy guy in the corner didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe the clingy kid on every field trip isn’t handling her parents’ divorce. Maybe the boy who asks for everyone else’s leftovers is eating the only meal he’ll get that day. Maybe the sweet little boy who sits away from everyone has a mind that far exceeds his abilities to control. Maybe their behavior is telling us something, not backing up your opinion. Maybe “that kid” is “that hurting kid”, “that hungry kid”, “that lonely kid”, “that kid in therapy who is really trying”.

Because they know they’re different, these kids. They know they’re left out, avoided, whispered about and looked down upon. And for every empty seat next to them, it reinforces their immature belief that something is wrong with them. Kids have a very narrow understanding of the world, of themselves. Much of what they think about themselves they’ve built buy comparison to others, so when others – especially adults – shun them, roll their eyes at them, or even speak harsh words, they don’t have the capacity to consider whether it’s true or not. They see they don’t act like others, they see the activities going on without them, and by comparison now believe that something is wrong with them – not the society that would avoid or blame a struggling child for being different.

“That kid” stays “that kid” because you keep treating him like “that kid”.

Imagine if we stopped resenting “that kid” and started remembering they’re JUST a kid.  Imagine if we stopped searching for ways to be RIGHT about them and started looking for ways to be KIND to them. They’re different from your kid, and that’s okay. They’re not fitting into the mold, and that’s okay. They’re most certainly lonely, and that’s not okay. Kids are not the people to shun or judge, and what does it say about us as adults if we’re holding so tightly on to wanting to?

Again, kids do well when they can. So let’s stop putting up social roadblocks that make it even harder for them to do well. I’m not expecting invitations for play dates, but a smile instead of a scowl wouldn’t kill ya. My struggling apple won’t spoil your whole bunch.

Common Criticisms of the Church: What Many Say (and What Few Know)

I have started and stopped writing this post several times. I had to make sure each time that I was writing it out of a desire to educate and not to be passive aggressive. I am human, after all. But know that this post is not directed towards anyone specific, only intended to address some common criticisms – and memes – that I’ve seen.

In 5th grade I began attending a church for the first time with any regularity. I quickly formed a deep bond with the pastor’s daughter and we remained best friends for years. There were months at a time where I actually even lived with them, my best friend’s family, the pastor of our church. When I met the (super hot) man who would become my husband, I was 16 and he had recently become the children’s pastor at our church. We married when I was 19 and he was on staff full-time at a very large church. Now, almost 12 years of marriage later, we are still in full-time ministry. It’s all we’ve known as a couple, it’s all our kids have known as a family. My experience with ministry spans decades and denominations, positions and places. I’ve both witnessed it and lived it for the majority of my life. I also live in this modern society. I see the posts, the memes, the comments, the assumptions. I hear the complaints and the criticisms. I listen, I do. I don’t dismiss them as the ramblings of godless pagans (sarcasm font). As someone who passionately loves Jesus, it does me no good to write off an entire generation of people simply for having different beliefs than I do. But also as someone who loves Jesus, it does me no good if I don’t try to present the truth about what seems to bring up such strong negative feelings in so many people – the church. I don’t want to argue. I don’t want to taunt. And I certainly don’t want to use this platform as a chance to passive aggressively discuss how hard ministry is – I’ll openly tell anyone that, haha! I just want to take this opportunity to do my part to dispel some rumors and myths about churches and pastors, to the best of my ability. I obviously don’t speak for all churches or pastors, and there will of course be some who don’t adhere to the same beliefs or practices. There will also always be some bad apples in a bunch, regardless of profession or location. So I ask that you read this with an open mind and an open heart, willing to hear some truth about an institution you may have been hurt by or misinformed about. My intent is never to attack anyone, only to help.

Common Criticism: “Pastors don’t pay taxes.”

We totally do. I’ve seen the meme making the rounds for years now, images of Joel Osteen’s or T.D. Jakes’ or Ed Young’s enormous homes, pointing out the assumed hypocrisy of their wealth and not paying any portions of it to the government like everyone else has to. And while I understand how many, many people would be turned off by those pictures, I guarantee you they paid taxes on whatever they earned to buy those homes. Pastors are considered self-employed for tax purposes and have to put aside their own taxes throughout the year, they aren’t automatically removed from paychecks. We’ve written our share of checks to Uncle Sam in April, believe me, pastors pay taxes. CHURCHES do not. Churches are nonprofit organizations – they literally do not turn a profit. Every cent that is given to a church is processed right back out of it, like the ACLU, Doctors Without Borders, NPR, American Red Cross, ASPCA, St. Jude’s, Make A Wish, Ted Talks, Ronald McDonald House, Planned Parenthood, PBS, the Mayo Foundation, AARP, American Heart Association, the Humane Society, Susan G. Komen, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Habitat for Humanity, American Cancer Society, Amnesty International, and countless others. These foundations and organizations work on behalf of others using donations to operate, the same as a church. Employees of these organizations all receive a salary, but their salaries are set and are not impacted by the amount of donations received… unless the donations stop coming in. Just like a church. Simply to add more clarity and definitely not to defend, Joel Osteen does not receive a salary from the church he pastors. He, like T.D. Jakes and Ed Young, writes books. Books that sell millions of copies and generate a lot of taxable income. To summarize, pastors pay taxes, all nonprofit organizations do not.

Common Criticism: “Pastors are preying on people, always asking for money.”

They do ask for money, in the form of tithes and offerings. As a nonprofit, a church cannot operate unless money is donated. Electric bills that ensure lights and air conditioning, phone service that allows people to call the church office, employees to answer the phones, clean the church, mow the grass, and, you know, minister. In addition to just the common operating expenses, churches GIVE. They pay bills for those who come to them in need, they support missionaries around the world, buy school supplies for single moms, foot the bill for enormous outreaches, food ministries, homeless ministries… the amount of people a church can bless is only limited by the funds they receive. Aside from the Biblical call to tithe, if a church member wants to experience church, they must acknowledge that it costs to run that church. If they want to see that church do more, someone has to give more. In our denomination – and I know not all operate this way – churches are autonomous. Our church does not receive funds from a central office or district manager. What our church brings in is what our church operates on. Many,  many churches are not supported by higher-up offices and do not have free reign or blank checks when it comes to spending, so if a church is going to pay a bill, it has to have the money in its own account.

Common Criticism: “Churches don’t do enough. They should spend all their money on the poor instead of giant buildings.”

It’s a proven fact – the bigger the church, the bigger the reach. A church that seats 5,000 can do more than a church that seats 30. Neither is better than the other, neither is more holy. But when a church is more visible, it reaches more people. When a church has more tithing members, it has more funds to give, to send, to share. When a church can hold more, there are more opportunities for people to find someone to connect with. When a church has a large operating budget, it can afford programs and ministries during the week. You don’t have to like them, you don’t have to attend them, but mega churches are not inherently, automatically evil. A room full of thousands of worshipers is a mighty thing for a community, not a symbol of greed. It’s crass, but the bigger the church, the more money it brings in, the more it can do. Jesus preached to thousands and it didn’t make him a sellout any more than preaching to one woman in the dirt made him ineffective. Christian crowds come in all sizes and shapes and numbers, and their reach is greatly increased when those sizes grow. The less a church receives in tithes and offerings, the less it is able to do. Electricity is not free. Food to hand out to the homeless is not free. Childcare for single mothers is not free. This is one of the most frequent criticisms I see of the church, a list of things people think the church should do, and every single time it is in the same breath as a complaint about pastors asking for money. EVERY. TIME. Divorce ministries cost money. Bibles cost money. After school programs cost money. Blankets, hot chocolate, gift baskets, anything kind you could think to hand out to someone – they all cost money. Counselors on staff cost money. Events cost money. Easter eggs full of candy cost money. Even filling up a baptismal costs money. Churches have to have money to be able to provide the things and services so many think they should, the things and services the Bible says they should.

Common Criticism: “Pastor didn’t come to my _(insert private event here)_.”

This is one of the biggest reasons people leave a church – offense at the pastor. I even know a few friends who are vocal atheists who have said the turning point in their faith was something a pastor did. It’s a big deal when people are hurt by their shepherd, and I’m in no way excusing or condoning the actions of some very flawed people. But I will address this frequent complaint, if you’ll allow me.

I’m just going to say it – attending graduation/anniversary/birthday/lawn clipping parties is not biblical. The Bible has some very clear guidelines for those in ministry, and modern society has added on a very long list of expectations. It is impossible, truly impossible, to meet them all, to attend everything, to keep everyone happy. In addition to the wants of the congregation come the needs of a family. The Bible makes multiple mentions of pastors caring for their families, this isn’t selfishness. I can tell tales of 7am Saturday phone calls demanding my husband attend someone’s game, of graduation seasons when I don’t see my husband for weeks. There is always, always something to do, which means that pastors can’t always, always attend. They are very busy people attending to the long list of responsibilities and expectations laid before them, and sometimes items just have to drop off the list. Not because they don’t care, not because you’re not special, but because they just can’t do it. So I ask you, when you’re offended or upset that a pastor hasn’t done something or made an appearance somewhere, ask yourself if your offense is biblical or personal. It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but it’s a lot easier than holding onto bitterness and offense.

 

Common Criticism: “Pastors don’t do enough. They just read the Bible and play golf.”

……………………

I had to take a break to compose myself, I was just laughing way too hard to type! Okay, I’m back.

One of the main questions my husband gets from young people is, “What do you DO, like, for a job?” They all assume that he works somewhere in an office, 9-5, and is able to toss together a service in his spare time. In truth, I don’t know of a single day he’s worked 9-5. Pastors are really freaking busy. When I lived with my best friend so many years ago, I was so surprised at the number of messages on the answering machine any time we got back from an errand. People calling at all hours for prayer, for help with a bill, hoping for a visit in the hospital, wanting to tattle on and complain about another church member. Two of my husband’s favorite hobbies are golf and fishing, neither of which he’s been able to do in a few years. Budgeting, board meetings, counseling, hospital visits, staff meetings, sermon prep, video prep, service outlines, more hospital visits, meetings with church members, taking phone calls, meeting people at whatever utility office they have an unpaid bill at, mission trips, outreaches, camps, event planning, volunteer recruitment, volunteer follow up, begging volunteers not to quit, visitor follow up, praying, not to mention the pastors who are responsible for cleaning the church, mowing the lawn, and doing the work in the community no one sees – there is not enough time in a week to be a pastor. If ever you’ve driven past the church and not seen my husband’s car, it’s not because he wasn’t working, it’s because he was out taking the church somewhere it was needed. We get phone calls, texts, and emails on “days off”, on our trip to Disney World several years back, and even during family members’ funerals. The work of pastoring is never complete and rarely seen. Recently my family left a church event we were enjoying because a man no one had ever met came through the doors in need of money for a prescription. We all loaded up and followed him to the pharmacy and paid for his medications… only to drive past his car in the parking lot of a restaurant a few minutes later. Pastors are always doing. During the first few months of school my husband is so busy that our kids can go days without seeing him – despite the church only being 10 minutes away from our house. The number one fight among all of the married couples I know who are in ministry, by far, is fighting over how much the pastor is gone. Pastoring. It’s a never-ending job, shepherding the flock, and the sheep rarely realize that the pastor is not with them simply because he’s with someone else. Definitely not because he’s on the golf course.

 

Common Criticism: “Pastors only hang out with an elite group. If you’re not one of the chosen few, your pastor doesn’t care about you.”

This has a smidgen of truth to it. Not that anyone is elite, not that pastors don’t care, but that pastors are a little hesitant. First, there’s the time issue – pastors have very little, if any, free time. Nights out with friends don’t happen. Going to the movies doesn’t happen. Guys’ camping trips don’t happen. There really isn’t much time to hang out with ANYONE, so they often fall back to the friends who have proven to be understanding of their schedules over time. There is also a fear of being a status symbol. A lot of people want proximity to a pastor, not a relationship with them. The same for their spouses and children. The number of people who have declared devotion to helping my husband, who have proclaimed a dedication to praying for him and being his “armor bearer”, outnumbers the actual number of people in our lives… by probably 20 to 1. It’s just a fact that not everyone stays in a church, and it’s a fact that people hold pastors to an often-impossible standard. Add in the fact that people are imperfect, and you have a lot of hurt pastors who are lonely and afraid to let new people into their private lives. The statistics on pastors struggling with depression and loneliness are staggering. The numbers on pastoral burnout are worse – the overwhelming majority of people who enter into full time ministry will walk away from it, for good. Pastors have their own struggles and are often unable to share them with friends for any number of reasons – fear of judgement, fear of their confidence being betrayed, fear of being used to boost someone’s social standing. No one in church is elite. There’s not a list of the members who give the most money, and tithing doesn’t buy an audience with anyone. It IS hard for pastors to find friends among the congregation, but usually because they’ve been hurt before, not because you’re not rich/cool/young/old/involved enough.

Common Criticism: “My pastor didn’t….”

I once met a woman who left her church because her pastor didn’t approach her son with whom she was feuding. The pastor had no idea the argument was ongoing, the son didn’t attend the church so the pastor didn’t know him, and the woman never asked him to intervene. While pastors do hear from God, they can’t read YOUR mind. If you need something from a pastor, let them know before you criticize them for not providing it. Pastors have jobs, families, commitments, all the things anyone else is juggling, IN ADDITION to being needed everywhere all the time. If your hope and expectations are always in your pastor, you will always leave disappointed. The goal of a pastor is to introduce you to Jesus, not himself. Jesus is way more available whenever you need Him, too.

Common Criticism: “Pastors make so much money.”

……………………………………..

Okay, okay, stop! I can’t catch my breath with these jokes you’re making! Whew, that was a knee-slapper if I’ve ever heard one!

Yes, some pastors make a crapload of money. Yes, some pastors live well. But most live very, very modestly. An enormous number of pastors are even bi-vocational – they work a paying job in addition to the low-paying or volunteer position of pastor. Most denominations do  not offer parsonages – I’ve only ever met one pastor who lived in one. Our housing is not free, our bills are not free. There have been many times where we’ve had to collect groceries from the church’s food ministry or food bank. We rarely get Christmas bonuses. My kids qualify for free lunch at school. All of our bills are due the same time as anyone else’s, we definitely pay taxes, we experience the same raise in the cost of living, yet many pastoral salaries have actually DECREASED over the years. Because of the nature of his work and the hours involved in always being on call, my husband cannot get a second job, and he does not earn overtime pay. I read a hilarious satirical article I’ll link here, and it will tell you everything you need to know about the attitude often held towards pastors and money. Without going into too much more detail, we really, truly, do not get paid a lot. Our salary is set by the board and does not fluctuate with attendance – though a downward trend in giving and membership will absolutely lead to a pay cut, simply because the money isn’t there to pay the staff. No one goes into ministry for the money.

Common Criticism: “Churches are all full of hypocrites.”

Yeah, actually. We’re all imperfect, flawed, sinning people. We’re all doing our best. We’re all at some point in our spiritual journey – none of us are done. We’re all going to do the wrong thing sometimes, we’re all going to offend someone, we’re all going to stumble, fall, mess up, and look like the worst Christians alive. There is no such thing as a perfect Christian. So if you enter a church, be prepared to meet some seriously imperfect people. Me, especially.

Common Criticism: “My pastor’s wife….”

I’ll stop you right there. Homegirl is holding down the fort. She cannot be Your Pastor 2.0. Pastors have families, illnesses, bills, homes, tragedies, struggles, yards, laundry… they’re normal people. Just as the pastor can’t always be at everything, neither can his wife. Just as he will disappoint you sometimes, so will his wife. Just as he can’t always hang out with you, neither can his wife. They’re a team, no doubt. What he does couldn’t be accomplished without the help and support she offers at home. So again, examine your offense before you declare yourself to be wronged and ask if you had the same schedule and circumstances as she did, would you have been able to do what you expected of her?

 

Common Criticism: “This blog is too long!”

I agree. I’ve gone on way longer than I intended to (you thought pastors were the only ones to never stop talking?!), so I’ll leave you with this: Pastors are people. They struggle. Churches are trying. They’re made up of imperfect people. They do not erect walls with the intention to deceive or exclude anyone. Money is personal for a lot of people so I understand the reservations that come with writing checks. But please, what ever your criticism, what ever your questions, just ask. Pastors don’t go into ministry for the money, they go into it because they love and care about people. They want to help you. But because they are people, they can only give you what they have, in the form of time, money, or abilities. Please, ask. And if you’re a member of a church somewhere, remember that Pastor Appreciation Month is all of October. Wink wink. Your pastors could really use the boost… and a volunteer. 😉

 

 

 

Sometimes It Just Storms

Years ago, my husband started a new job. It was in a new city with much better schools and a too-long commute that cost us almost as much in gas as we were paying for our mortgage, so we made the obvious decision to move. We listed our home and prayed for the best.  Then the real estate bubble burst.

We landscaped our home. We painted our home. People came, walked through, and left. We updated fixtures. We steam cleaned the carpets. Still no one wanted our home. We welcomed our second child and brought him home to a bare nursery, convinced we’d be moving soon. We lowered the price. We switched realtors. We tried Craigslist. We lived among boxes with no decorations on the walls for almost two years, always at the ready to be gone, move on. But no matter what we did, no one wanted our home. What we’d bought it for and what it was now worth with 7 foreclosures on the same street were just too far apart. No one was qualifying for home loans – fewer were even looking to buy. We waited, prayed. We had one car so I would be home all day with two boys, a baby and a toddler, with no transportation. My husband would leave in the morning while it was still dark and not get home until it was almost bedtime for the kids. We spent so much in gas that we had to get groceries from the food pantry. Once, my oldest son pulled a classic toddler move and busted his eyebrow open, obviously needing stitches, but I was alone, my husband was at an event over an hour away and didn’t have his cell phone on him. There were times the four of us slept in his office to avoid having to make the drive back home before another service or event. It was bad. We wanted so badly to be out of there, to get on with our life, to be rid of something that was once such a source of pride for us, but no one was buying.

Then one day someone was listening to me vent about not having sold the house and she asked me something that’s always stuck with me: “Do you think God hasn’t allowed the house to sell because you’re not supposed to be in that new city?”

Years before that, far back in my college days, a psychology professor of mine told the story of the time he was pastoring a church and several people brought a member to him, someone in need of immediate prayer. They believed this person who was foaming at the mouth and convulsing to be possessed. My professor immediately recognized that they were having a seizure.

Even longer ago, Jesus slept on a boat. A huge storm came up, waves crashed, and the elements threatened to capsize the boat. Terrified, the disciples with Jesus woke Him, who promptly spoke to the storm and calmed it.

What have I learned from these accounts? Sometimes it just storms.

Sometimes God works in mysterious ways, sometimes His will is obvious, sometimes God closes a door and opens a window. And sometimes it just storms.

How often we experience turbulence and immediately turn to the heavens and cry out, “Why?!”

The disciples on the boat with Jesus, rocking with the waves, feeling the spray in their face, seeing the clouds and clashing all around them, cried out, asking Jesus if He even cared if they drowned. They saw trouble and assumed it represented an emotion or intention on the part of God. Even though they were with Him, literally right next to Him, able to see Him and know He was real and with them, their first thought was that He was against them, or at least indifferent. How often we count ourselves in God’s company and begin assigning His will to storms, all the while forgetting his ability to calm it. Sometimes it just storms. Not because God is trying to drown you, not because God is trying to stop you, not because you haven’t prayed enough, but because it just does.

What would happen if, instead of crying out, “God, why is it storming?!” we steely spoke, “God, calm the storm.”? If we saw trouble ahead, found ourselves in the midst of hardships, and rather than seeing ourselves as victims of a God who has forgotten us, we remembered what He can do for us?

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and they came to the Red Sea, they were forced to stop. Did Moses cry out, “God must have led us here to be slaughtered!”? Did he look at the water and say, “Welp, I guess all those plagues were off the mark – we probably should have stayed behind in slavery.”? NO! God did not put the Red Sea in front of them to stop them, He put it there to EMPOWER them. Because when Moses came to that water, the seeming dead end, he did not stop and whimper that it must be God’s way of stopping them, he lifted his hand and with the power of God saw those waters part. Suddenly what was once an obstacle was a pathway. What could have been interpreted as the end became an unmistakable beginning. Sometimes it just storms, sometimes there’s just stuff in the way, but every time God is able to overcome it.

Yes, sometimes bad things do happen because of the hand of God. Job is an example who easily comes to mind. The Great Flood was never just a storm. But look also at Joseph – sold into slavery, falsely imprisoned, the guy had every reason to think God’s will for his life wouldn’t come to pass. “It’s kinda dark in this pit my brothers tossed me into, I guess those dreams probably meant something else.” NOPE. Jacob, a man who literally wrestled with God, could have tapped out, could have justifiably thought God just didn’t like him, but would not let go until he got the blessing he KNEW God alone could give him. He walked away with a limp, but sometimes limps happen. A limp doesn’t mean God didn’t bless you – heck, in Jacob’s case it was proof that He had.

Because as much as someone can walk away from Jesus healed and whole, they can walk away from God limping and still have been blessed. Because as much as God can bring a flood to destroy, He can calm a storm to save. Because sometimes He wants to do something, sometimes He wants to show us or stop us or teach us or lead us. But sometimes it also just storms, and He has no motives. Jesus didn’t cause the storm on that day He was in the boat. God wasn’t smiting anyone. It was just a storm. And misinterpreting it did nothing to God’s abilities to calm it.

God has a voice. He speaks to us. It is not up to us to interpret what we see around us when we have every right to just ask Him ourselves… if only we’ll listen. If only we’ll stop looking for signs and just listen for guidance. If only we’ll stop assuming that everything happens for a reason. If only we’ll remember that the God who creates storms is also able to calm them. If only we will listen in patience instead of blaming in fear. If only we will pray with mercy rather than judge another’s storm. God is powerful, He’s mighty, He’s able and always, and yes, He can create a storm, be it in the form of weather or circumstance, rain or consequences. What He isn’t is mute. He does not only speak to us through trials and high winds. Do not be so quick to assign God’s will to an event that we give the storm more power than His voice. Listen to Him, not the rattling windows. Blame the wind, not the Father, when it storms. Stare up into the heavens, beyond the wall of clouds, and rather than wait to ride out the storm you think you’ve earned, call out to the One above it who can calm it should He desire. Or just let the rains wash over you, because sometimes it just storms.

So no, I do not think that God crashed the entire US real estate market to keep us from selling that house. He’s able, sure, but I don’t think He did. God’s pretty cool about making His will known, about speaking to His children. And I refuse to listen to the storm around me tell me what God wants to do when I could just ask Him myself. Because as you know, sometimes it just storms.

To the Parents Who Hurt on the First Day of School

It’s back to school season, ya’ll. Summer is fading and sales are aplenty. Excitement and dread fill the air in equal parts, apples are decorative, and grown people are found rocking in the school supply aisle, eyes glazed over and muttering something about folders with brads.

This week my social media feeds have been flooded with first day of school photos, adorable, smiling faces ready to learn, teenagers eager to get away from the camera, parents excited for a little more quiet. It’s a time of anticipation and preparation, of labeling and laminating. Back to school is upon us, and all the parents shouted amen – even though they’re all broke by now from all the back to school buying needs.

But I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to the parents who made it through the first day, who survived it rather than celebrated it.

To the parents of children not with them on this earth, the parents who didn’t get to write their child’s name on a backpack because at some point they had to engrave their name on a tombstone.

To the parents of children who have not yet come, those waiting and crying and desperately wanting their own littles to buy obscene amounts of glue sticks for.

To the parents who don’t get to walk their child to class because their child is wheeled in by an aide.

To the parents whose school year started weeks ago with ARD meetings and IEPs and 504’s.

To the parents introducing their child to yet another new school.

To the parents who are limping across the month of August because the clothes, shoes, gear, supplies, extra supplies, surprise supplies, and lunch staples have drained you of more than you could give.

To the parent who is doing it alone.

To the parents who watch their child walk into a classroom full of saved seats – but not a one was reserved for them.

To the parents who watch their child walk into a classroom full of parents who judge you – and your child.

To the parents who didn’t get to watch at all, because work or health or some other circumstance meant you couldn’t be there.

To the parents who are scared, worried, wondering if their child is able or their teacher is prepared.

To the parents of the bullied – and the parents of the bully.

To the parents of the medically fragile and the emotionally unstable, the academically challenged and the intellectually unchallenged.

To the parents who spend more time advocating than anticipating.

To the parents of the foster kids.

To the parents of the kids repeating a grade.

To the parents of the quirky kids, the overlooked kids, the oblivious kids, the hyper-aware kids. The sensory kids, the allergy kids, the differently-abled kids.

To all the parents who made it through – you did it. You’re not alone, though you’re often overlooked. The work and love you put into getting your child through the doors of that school may not look like everyone else’s, it may not have started when everyone else’s did, and it may not even be complete, but you did it. To all the parents who are a little sad, it’s okay. To all the parents who played off their tears and didn’t vocalize their fears, it’s okay. To the parents who approach the year with trepidation and built-in exhaustion, you’re not a downer, you’re not a curmudgeon, you’re not a pessimist and you’re not a bad parent. It’s just a hard day, and that’s okay. So shout out to you for making it through. Shout out to you for bearing what your child needs and what the world has handed you. Shout out to you for being stronger than most know, even when the tears creep down. Shout out to you for doing what any kid needs regardless of abilities, health, socioeconomic status or social standing – you got stuff done. Shout out to you, parents, for being everything your child needs of you, even when you feel like you’ve failed, and especially when the world just doesn’t get it. Shout out to you for making it to another year, for trying again, for not giving up. Shout out to you… and your amazing kid.

 

 

The Bad Weather Friend

We all know about fair weather friends. We’ve had them, been them. We all have the the friend who is only a friend when times are good, fun, easy, carefree. Then life happens, the going gets tough and the fair weather friends throw up their deuces and are nowhere to be seen.

That’s not what I am.

I’m a bad weather friend. The friend you call when life gives you lemons. The friend you message when you’re broken-hearted, hurting, in need of some kind. I’m not the only friend like this, I don’t begin to be so prideful as to assume that, and I’m not always as available as I’d like to be during the storm. But us, the bad weather friends, we’re the ones in the background, the ones deep in the message inbox because your life has been going well and you haven’t needed us.

I used to resent it, being a safe place. “Don’t tell Betty Sue,” you’d plead to me, “She has no idea I’m going through this.” A week later I’d see you on social media out to dinner with Betty Sue, at the movies with Betty Sue, with nary an invite for me, the person you trusted in your state of vulnerability. “Please help me,” your message would start, “I don’t know what to do.” The next week I’d see the read receipt on my lengthy and well-thought-out response, the words I prayed over and poured into, and see that you’d read them days before without thanks. “I desperately need your prayers,” you cry, “my life is in shambles and I’m terrified of what is to come.” I hold you, cry with you, pray with you, and plead on your behalf at the feet of God, to hear through the grapevine later that everything worked out fine. This hurt me. I felt used, discarded, like a friend of convenience. I was who you turned to in times of need but not times of leisure, someone you knew would be a friend to you but not someone you were interested in being a friend with. I got bitter. I got discouraged. I got jealous.

Then I had to wonder – why would God honor my jealousy? Isn’t there totally something in the Bible about not being jealous? Whatever my experiences and emotions, jealousy is never holy or righteous on my part. Whatever Betty Sue has with you that I don’t, it’s not okay to be jealous of. Because you know what? Betty Sue obviously doesn’t have something that I do. Betty Sue may be fun and may get all the girls nights out, but she doesn’t get you at your worst, she isn’t who you turn to when you need someone you know will be there. Also, Betty Sue is a lot more available to go to the movies than I am – I don’t have childcare or spare cash lying around, so I’m glad you have Betty Sue. I couldn’t maintain the friendship that you and Betty Sue have even if I wanted to, so I’m happy to be your person, happy to keep your secrets and know sides of you that few others do. As for the unreturned messages, well, I’m glad you got them. Those words were for you and I hope they helped. I didn’t offer my help in exchange for thanks, and I’m sure that in the moment you read them you were experiencing the chaos you first messaged me about. Your life was obviously upside down in one way or another, so I couldn’t have expected you to behave as normal. You messaged me in desperation and probably read my replies in the same manner… or you just really hated what I had to say, haha! And when I prayed for you I didn’t do so to gain an invitation into your life. Yes, I would really like to hear the good news, or any news, to follow up and know how you are, because I’m genuinely concerned. But I also understand that I’ve just seen you at your worst – I know your deep, dark shames, I’ve seen you heave and snot and wail. I know about your husband’s infidelities and your boss’ activities, your addictions, your failings, your criminal record. I know things that you wish others didn’t, so it has to be hard to feel comfortable around me sometimes, when things are good and you don’t want to look in the eye of someone who knew you when they weren’t.

On any given morning, I wake to about 10 messages in my inbox, not including invitations to check out whatever direct sales company my friend has joined. It varies from car seat and cloth diaper advice to marital problems, mental health issues, secret cancer scares, legal problems, and more. I receive texts from many others. On any given day, I will most likely not be able to meet these friends for lunch, go out to eat, see a movie, or come hold them in their living rooms. But what I can do, what I can offer them, is being their bad weather friend. I don’t always know what to say and I don’t always have an answer, but they do always have a friend. They always have someone they know they can reach out to, and how humbled I am that they know it’s me. I could feel petty and jealous that they didn’t invite me to dinner, or I can feel honored that they did invite me into their struggles. I can marvel that sometimes after years have gone by without a word, someone will think of me when they need something, when they need encouragement or advice, and know that I’m the person they want. Because my friendship isn’t for sale – you don’t have to buy it with nights out or mani/pedi days or even “likes” on a Facebook post. I’ll keep doing my life and you’ll keep doing yours, and I’ll be happy to help each time you need me to. Besides, it’s just not possible to be best friends with every single person we know.

So we thank you, friends, we bad weather ones who are waiting in the wings. We thank you for trusting us, for turning to us. We thank you for your confidence you share with us and the confidence you place in us. Most likely you come to us because you know we will be there, because something in us wants to be there. We want to help, you’re not a bother. We’d like an update when you can manage and we’d like to share in some of your good times as well, but if we don’t get it we’re still happy for you. Sometimes, just sometimes, we may ask of you what you’ve needed of us – please don’t run. Sometimes we need a safe place, too. Sometimes we need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes protecting everyone’s secrets gets heavy and we just need someone to sit with. Sometimes we really, really want to go out to dinner, too. So I ask, friends, on behalf of all the bad weather friends, don’t forget about us until you need us. Let us be all-weather friends. We may not be Betty Sue, but we’re here for you, we care about you, and we’re cheering you on from wherever you’ll let us.