A Lady who was Mean to her Kid (or “Grace for Jerks”)

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“Friends” by Liz Lemon Swindle

“One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”– Matthew 19:14 (MSG)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Jana Greene

In her book “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith,” Anne Lamott wrote a chapter entitled “A Man who was Mean to His Dog.” She wrote about witnessing a guy being mean to his Golden Retriever at her local beach, and her incredulousness that anyone could be unkind to a dog of that breed. Goldens are the most people-pleasing dogs in the world, just so full of goofy and abundant love. They just want to win your approval.

I witnessed something this morning at the grocery store that may have been the human equivalent, which is even worse.

I live in a coastal town, and here’s one of the Rules of Living at the Beach on any 4th of July weekend: DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE. And if you must leave the house, do it at 7 a.m. in the morning before the tourist craziness reaches fever pitch, usually around 9:30 a.m on a holiday.

But I had to leave the house, because I needed some things from the grocery store, so I trekked out early and thankfully there were few people out and about yet.  Unfortunately, one of those people was a really upsetting presence. A harried-looking mom (or grandmother? Could have been either) with a darling little tow-headed 3 or 4 year-old girl.

The first time she opened a tirade on the wee one was in Bakery.

“Put that down!” the mom shouted, when the girl reached for a free cookie. “Can’t you just ever do anything right?

To which the tiny, blonde adorable human being who has the inalienable right to enjoy a free grocery store cookie (it’s in the Constitution) responded with a muted “Sorry.”

I blew it off as a frustrated albeit really cranky mom, and made a note to try to avoid her for the rest of my shopping, which of course resulted in her passing me in almost EVERY AISLE.

In Bread, the girl skipped around the cart while her mother scanned the shelves.

“STOP IT!” the mom commanded.

“I’m just being silly….”

“Well, knock it off. You’re always silly. Its getting really old.”

Ok, now I’m getting angry. Who the hell reprimands a child for silliness? I catch the mother’s eye and give her a mid-grade stink-eye in return. She looks mean. MEAN, I tell you. But I thought she might think twice about berating her daughter if someone gave her the stink-eye.

But no.

In Pasta / Rice / Soup, I met them again. This time, the girl was trying to put a tiny stuffed animal she had brought into her mom’s purse.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She snapped loudly. “Carry it! If you didn’t want to hold on to it, you shouldn’t of brought it. If you put it in my bag, I’m throwing it away.”

Let me stop right here and assure you that my mothering skills are completely imperfect and always have been. I try really hard and always have, but I make mistakes. I snapped at my daughters plenty as they were growing up, I know I did. We all have bad mommy days. Snapping at your child occasionally isn’t what I’m talking about. I don’t mean to judge this woman harshly, but as she systematically tore down her child in such a nasty way,  I started judging aplenty. Every word she directed at her daughter was full of scorn. I can only describe it as venomous. (The sad thing is that if this is mom at 7 a.m., I cannot imagine how she might treat the kid at 5 p.m. when exhaustion really kicks in, or at 8 p.m. when putting her child to bed.)

I started praying for the girl, who wasn’t even misbehaving in the least – just being a kid. Even on the aisles we didn’t mutually cross, I could hear the mom yelling at her.

When we met up in Frozen Foods, the little girl told her mom “You look pretty.” Anyone could see that this child was trying to win approval, and it was freaking heartbreaking, because her mother responded with “Yeah, whatever.”

Finally, at the checkout, who should queue up behind me but this woman and her daughter. The girl touched a candy bar and her mother loudly said in a seething tone: “You got a hundred dollars? No, you got nothing. Don’t even touch that.”

She didn’t get physical with the girl, but I wanted to scoop the child up and get her away for a while. I wanted to offer to babysit, and invite the girl to come skip around my dining room table and eat candy. I would take her to feed the ducks at the pond near our house, and I would put flowers in her hair and assure her that she IS doing everything RIGHT, and that silliness is a character attribute of the very highest order.

Instead, I smiled and winked at her. She was just precious beyond all description and she smiled back at me – as sweet and happy as a Golden Retriever whose owner had mistreated it. What I’d witnessed  wasn’t cruel enough to be reported to the authorities, but it was definitely cruel enough to chip away at the spirit of a beautiful little girl.

Four year-olds are full of glee and “why?” and skipping around. Quite frankly, that age is often the most lovable of the childhood years, the most people-pleasing age, just so full of goofy and abundant love. I continued praying for the girl as I checked out my groceries and put them in the cart. By this point, I’m beyond angry. I am rolling away to my car, imploring God to protect and comfort that child’s wounded little spirit.

And then I had a thought invade my pleadings: Pray for the mother.

Hurumph! I shut that thought down quick, dismissing it on the grounds of righteous anger.

I’m loading my groceries, and again – like an annoying internet pop-up ad, it comes again: Pray for the mother.

What do you want me to pray, God? Forgive her,  for she knows not what she does? She knows damn well what she’s doing! But still, as I started the car, God really just wouldn’t get off my back about it, so I prayed an honest prayer:

God, I’m just so mad. I’m mad but I’m asking you to somehow work in the heart and mind of that mother. I don’t know what she is going through, but you do. That meanie is your little girl. Forgive me for praying for her very last, and with trepidation.  You were pretty clear about praying for our enemies, and I ask for you to pour your supernatural, unconditional love on her. Show her grace, Lord. And show me grace and mercy too, please. I need it just as much.

Praying for thine enemies is very, very difficult. That’s why Jesus was the only person ever to do it perfectly. It’s especially hard when the aggressor is mean to a child or a dog. I’m working on learning to petition God on the behalf of the jerks in the world, because I’ve been a jerk before too in other ways, so maybe someone was praying for me.

God bless us, every one. Please, God. We need it so.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Very Slippery Assumption

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By: Jana Greene

I once sat in on a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class under a Super Zen Therapist,  and let me just say out of the gate, it was FASCINATING. I cannot even begin to touch on all the things I learned (and have on occasion, even practiced) but seriously, folks. If you ever have the opportunity to explore this therapy,  I highly recommend it.

The term “dialectical” means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change.

I love the premise, and the belief that OK, I feel this way, but I don’t have to. I can feel THAT way. Life is nothing if not a big, fat paradox on so many levels. I will take all the help I can get! I’m still about 95% emotion-driven, but hey – that’s a 5% improvement (and ‘progress, not perfection,’ right?)

About halfway through the course, though, we came to this one sentence in the teaching, and my spiritual breaks screeched to so such a sudden halt that it could have propelled me right out of the classroom and back into my AllTheFeels way of coping with everything.

That sentence was this:

Assume that everyone is doing the best they can at any given time.

Ok, hold up. HOLD UP!

I KNOW that’s not true in certain instances. For instance, when I visit my children in their homes and they are not super nice and tidy, I KNOW for a fact that they are not doing the best they can. I taught them, so obviously I’m calling BULLSH*T on this.

And what about other people, who have – and are actively –  hurting me by making stupid decisions? You are telling me that the person/people who have (to my mind) driven me to require therapy are doing the best they can? I have to ACCEPT that?

“No, you can accept it or not. Is not accepting it working for you?” Says Super Zen Therapist.

Huh.

Here’s what I’m still learning, and what is helping me oil those spiritual breaks and get them rolling in a forward-moving direction again….

You cannot keep a handle on another person’s issue. You simply cannot.

I came up with a dorky little rhyme to help me remember this, and I’ve probably said it to myself several thousand times (especially when the girls were teens):

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You can die trying. You can contortionist yourself into all kinds of positions that only end up making you sore and tired. The stress will kill you, I’m not even kidding.

But that’s what happens when you assume that another person is not even TRYING, and you take it personal.

It’s not personal. That person is learning and morphing and all of your hand-wringing and brow-beating will not another minute add to your relationship life, but may well shorten it.

I don’t have to go back that far in my own history to recognize the power of this principal.

When I was an active alcoholic, I wanted to be better for my children. Even as intimate as the mother/child connection was, I didn’t always get it right!  I had to learn and do, stop and lurch forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My process spilled over to them, but it was never meant to be personal.

I was doing the best I could at the moment, I swear to you. I did the best I could until I could do better. I did better when I surrounded myself with people who were doing better and whose love for me was not contingent on my doing better.

It will behoove YOUR state of mind to believe that the person most getting on your nerves is doing their best in this moment, with their particular life experience.

(And when I really stop to consider it, even the example of my kids and their tendencies NOT to be neat freaks, It was I who cleaned their rooms for ALL of their lives when they lived at home, because in some twisted way, I was making up for lost ‘drunk’ time as a mommy. They may well BE doing the best they know how in this moment. Because something is important to me, doesn’t mean its the only ‘right’ way  (But that’s a subject for another therapy session….)

What about the big things?

If someone else’s life choices are spilling over on you and your heart is broken? Consider that they are doing their best. Go one further, even. Pray for them and believe for resolution to their situation. Petition God and plead your case, and then release.

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You cannot grasp it because you aren’t SUPPOSED to grasp it.

You think holding on to it is helping, but it won’t be under your control.

You cannot drop it until you drop your Very Slippery Assumption and use both arms instead to embrace the person driving you completely crazy.

God  bless us, every one.

Trusting Adult Kids to God’s Care (Even when it really freaks you out)

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By: Jana Greene

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and because it was Mother’s Day, I cried a lot. I cried because it is my first totally empty nest Mother’s Day. I cried because  my own relationship with my mother is fractured into a bazillion pieces. I cried because someone I love didn’t acknowledge me at all. I did have a few tear-free segments of the day, but menopause was around to keep the good times rolling.

I may or may not have fed my feelings heaping spoonfuls of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream.

I’m still kind of mopey, honestly. But I’m getting a grip today. I must get a grip today.

You see,  I love my daughters. Oh my God, how I love my daughters. But they took different paths than I’d expected.

I think that every mother has a certain set of dreams and assumptions for her child. Those assumptions are that your child will grow up to be successful and kind and happy, and stop wiping boogers on the wall. Happily, this is usually the case.

I assumed mine would grow up and get scholarships to universities because they are super smart, they would naturally stay away from all drugs and alcohol (from, you know, learning from MY mistakes, like THAT ever worked,) graduate college and get jobs they are passionate about. That they would be in straight, monogamous relationships – not living together before marriage – then get married to Godly men, and have a couple of kids that they devote their entire lives to, just like mom. (But that was MY own dream, and I couldn’t even do it right!)

Then there are is The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams –  that they will follow God – really know Him on a personal, intimate level. That they will pray regularly, and allow Him to guide their lives.

The reality is that kids are not appliances – there are no warranties. They are on a crazy merry-g0-round. You can try to hop on if you dare, but it won’t slow down for you and in the end, there is a lot of nausea involved. It’s best just to stay out of the way. There is no control.

There is, however, a loving God we can trust them to.

Perhaps your child grew up and stopped wiping boogers on the wall (remember when that seemed like such a BIG DEAL? Sigh)  but instead ran away from home and you don’t know where she is.

Or is gay / transgendered.

Or is a drug addict.

Or is in prison.

Or drinks to much.

Or is mean to people who don’t think the way she does.

Or has turned her back on everything you taught her.

Or hates you.

Or hates God.

…Any deviation from the loving plans you made for that child when she was first born and they lay her on your belly. (Remember how EASY it was to TRUST GOD with that child when they were brand new? Piece of cake!) New babies don’t stay new, though. They grow up and do wonderful, glorious, horrible, confused, amazing, and confounding things. Things for which YOU HAVE ZERO CONTROL.

Yet, in the midst of whatever your child engages in that breaks your heart, you still – always – love that child.  If YOU love her so much, can you imagine how much ABBA loves your child? He isn’t surprised at your kid’s lifestyle choices, and He isn’t limited by  our ways of imagining our children ‘fixed.’

There is no grace deficit for your child that you have to worry will run out. God is merciful and FULL of grace! Because they are not the droids we were looking for – happy little predictable robots – does not mean God is not working out HIS PURPOSE IN OUR KIDS, even as they experience stuff.

I still pray every day that my wild and loving and confounding children will make good choices. I pray that The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams that I harbor in my heart for them comes to fruition. I will pray that until my dying breath.

I want to trust the Lord with my daughters JUST AS MUCH as when they lay on my belly as little newborns, squinting up at their mama. I want to trust Him that easily with them still, and I’m asking Him to help me do it.

Jesus, 

I lay my children down at the altar and TRUST YOU with their lives. Ultimately I know that my children must know YOU intimately. Lord, help me get out of the way.

And all God’s children said, Amen.

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More than Many Sparrows – My Daughter’s Tattoo

My daughter's tattoo, which has come to have significant spiritual meaning to me as a mother.

More than Many Sparrows

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A Tale of My Daughter and the Audacity of Ink 

By:  Jana Greene

 

      The first thing I noticed about it was the blackness of the outline, almost as if it were drawn with bold magic marker.   My next thought was that I must absolutely write about thisthe design that now lay bare on her skin.   As if, somehow putting pen to paper would give permanence to the moment, as the needle brought it to her flesh.

My daughter’s first tattoo.

     I had known that it was coming, that she considered it a rite of passage. My girl had always danced to the beat of a different drummer; a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture.  If she had a credo it would be this:  Live by Deliberate Acts of Impulsivity.

As her mother, I would surely prefer that she not bear any tattoos at all, because (and yes, I am the expert here) she is absolutely perfect the way God made her.  I am rather attached to her being, looking, sounding exactly like my daughter – the only one of her kind, anywhere.  Tattoos are just not my thing”, whereas she very much is.  

           Nineteen years ago, just after she was born, the delivery room nurses whisked her away for her first bath and returned with my infant girl swaddled very tightly.  No sooner was she in my arms than I was removing the blankets, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning.  As mothers have done since the dawn of time, I checked her, head to toe.  I found her birthmarks, the dimples in her plump hands, and worked my way to her tiny, peach-fuzzed back.  There, between two flawless round shoulder blades, I placed my open palm to her skin.  It was a perfect fit.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined anything marring that space.

  In her “growing up” years, there were manifestations of her free spiritof course… harmless acts of rebellion, none of them leaving a lasting mark.  She formed strong opinions before she could form complete sentences, and had no trouble expressing them.  At around age four, she developed magnetism to the camera (any camera) andmade it habit to insert herself into any and every photograph.  

Around the same time, Alexandra began displaying fashionista tendencies.  An ensemble she chosen for a summer day in the park might include: a sweater with leggings, plastic Disney princess shoes, a toboggan with ear flaps, seven necklaces and a life-vest (after all, it was July!)…all worn together and on dry land.  It soon became apparent that stares, glares and pointing in her direction by the public at large was not a deterrent to this behavior.  It was more the entire motivation.

This is when the adage “choose your battles” took on meaning for me.  And as I became a student of war, the years rolled on like a tank.

With the advent of tweenhood, there were lines drawn, of course. Not a fan of shirts that showed adolescent bellies and shorts that declared suggestive adjectives across their bottoms, those were not tolerated.  Alexandra compensated with crazy combinations of adornment, including stick-on tattoos of all kinds.  

At twelve, after spending a long day with friends at the beach boardwalk, she returned home with a henna tattoo, ecstatic.  

“Until I get a real one,” she told me.

She managed to graduate high school with only a nose ring as modification, butno sooner was the ink dry on her diploma than she was ready to display ink on her body.

“I’m ready,” she said to me one day.  “I’m getting my tattoo. A bird.”

          Okay.  A bird.

         “A Tribal Sparrow,” she added.

         “What in the world is a ‘tribal sparrow’?” My voice is more condescending than I intend.

          Eye rolling and head shaking.  Translation: Mother, you just don’t get it.

          I wonder about the subject she has chosen for the artist, and it’s tribal-ness.  Our family heritage is sort-of a homogenized breed.  We have no “tribe”. We have no “people”.  We are Scotch-Irish with German in the mix, and a little Louisiana-Cajun-French (but you have to really look for it).  No- we are very garden variety, Ellis-Island mutt American.  Perhaps that’s the attraction for her, the tribal aspect.

         “If you’re trying to belong,” I said, in an attempt to appeal to her lovingly (sometimes changing strategy can be effective)“You already do.  You don’t need a tattoo to belong here.”

She knows that, she says.  

Is a bird something you now,” I pause for effect. “And forever more want to be associated with?  Because you will.you will be ‘that girl with that tattoo. But as I am asking her, I am secretly grateful she isn’t branding herself with a map of Area 51, or the image of a pop tart, or a beer keg.  It should be something meaningful to you.”

         “It is.  It represents freedom to me, Mom.”

        “You still live at home,” I reply dryly. We pay all of your bills…..  Don’t you want to wait until you are free to commemorate freedom?”

        Heavy sigh.  “Freedom from things.  Personal things.”

        “If it’s so personal, why does it have to be permanently inked on your body for the whole world to see?”

        “Why would I not?” she counters, and I have no reply.  All their lives, my children have been told to be authentic, true to themselves.  Encouraged to be real.

Don’t be afraid to show who you are.  It’s the message I’ve tried to impart, even during the years of life-vest accessorizing.  Don’t wear the masks.

         “You know what?” I say. You don’t even know who you are yet!  You are whoyou are right now, and a mere five years from today, you will be in a completely different place.”

She says that none of us remain the same, not even for a single year. And it’s true  .I am a very, very different mother than I was when she was born, unwrapping her like apresent on Christmas morning.  The particular audacity of getting inked is that it alters your shell, the only one you will get in this life.    It is a deliberately impulsive act.

Parenting is not a sane endeavor, and complicating the matter is that she is, in fact, not a child.  Still, I have to believe she will listen to reason.

“Not everyone is going to be so accepting of your ways in the world,” I bleat wearily..   “There are people who will make value judgments about you based solely onthe fact that you have a tattoo.

But my instincts tell me to RETREAT, as I watch her body tense.

RETREAT, or there will be immediate launch into mutual hysteria, familiar territory for us.  It seems that – these days –she and I are either dissolving into tears of laughter together (our ‘inside jokes’ are legion), or hurling words of frustration at one another, rapid-fire.

If I ever care what people think of me based solely on my appearance, than I have bigger problems than having a tattoo!”

How can I not admire that statement?  Who can argue?  She is, after all, an adult.  I surrender, but silently, and with a slow refrain of “Taps” playing in my mind.  

What I want to tell her, but do not say aloud, is that she will be marked, molded, and modified, without ever setting foot into a tattoo parlor.  I look at my body, once just as perfect as hers, mapped by the story of my life.  Constellations of freckles from forgetting sunscreen a thousand times, and wrinkles from the same offense.   Smile-lines around my eyes from laughing, scars from mishaps and missteps, and from the pieces I have lost to surgeries….all part of the story.   But it’s the pink, translucent ribbons that cover my lower belly that mean the most to me.  Tributaries of skin stretched to accommodate the growing bodies of she and her sister long ago….These are my tribal marks.  

When the time arrives, Alexandra comes to tell me it is The Day.  .  She tells me the name of the artist who will do the work.  I recognize his name; he attends my church.  She is the definition of “all smiles”, luminous.

“Do you want to come with me while I have it done?” She asks.  “You can hold my hand.”  I am instantly frustrated with her for acting like a little girl – still needing my approval, and equally frustrated that she is not one anymore.

I politely decline, and her boyfriend goes with her instead.  I am considering the natural order of things, pondering the business of ‘letting go’ when she walks out the door with him.  I try not to think about ink and needles.  I’m glad he will hold her hand.

It finally occurred to me to talk to God about my qualms; it should have been my first  response.  How many times do I wrestle tiny inconsequential issues to the ground as though they are giants without asking the Almighty God to assist me on the mat?  As usual, He was already in that place I had hesitated to invite him.

The Bible has a lot to say, and the gist of the message that speaks to my life is Grace.  True, there are passages that warn about marking the body, scriptures that warn against cutting the hair.  But it is a verse about birds that God brought to my mind.  Leafing through the pages, I found it right away:

Matthew 10:29.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Has my daughter inadvertently given flesh to the scripture I pray over her?    

Though I hate to admit it, Alexandra’s tattoo has forced me to consider the messy business of acceptance.   The “Choose-Your-Battle” cry of all parents has a different tone for each scrimmage and every life stage.  What do I gain, as a mother, if I choose not to accept my grown child’s decisions?  Am I selfishly seeking validation that I have “raised her right” if she refrains from what society might be uncomfortable with?  

The freedom she is trying to parlay is that today, she can still go anywhere from here.  This tattoo is meaningful to her.  And she is meaningful to me.

When she returns, she cannot wait to show me, walking backwards into my bedroom so that it’s the first thing I see.  There is no hiding the work; she will have none of that.  This girl, a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture….Now adorned.

So that’s a Tribal Sparrow...  

A clear coat of laminate covers the wound, so that it can heal properly.  In the mental melee of preparing myself to see it, I had forgotten that it would scab and scar…that it would be a ‘no pain, no gain’ commitment, as most things that become permanent are.

“It’s lovely,” I say.  And I think I mean it.

The Tribal Sparrow is a beautiful bird.

Her outline is striking and very bold, not the least bit likely to fade, but her plumage is just the color of Alexandra’s complexion.  Centered between my daughter’s flawless and round shoulder blades, the sparrow is exactly the size of my open palm…a perfect fit.  She is in flight, but I’m not sure she knows where she is going, her two tail feathers pointed high.  Her eye appears to be a soft swirl, peering neither downward or behind, but straight ahead.  Her wings are gently drawn with a curve, as if she is gliding, not yet looking for a place to land.  A true Artist painted her right onto my daughter’s perfect body.  And every time I see it now, I am reminded that His eye is on the sparrow,and that she can go anywhere from here.  

Anywhere at all.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream-Maker’s Daughters – Women stepping out in mid-life

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“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.” – (The Great) Erma Bombeck

By: Jana Greene

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to do a lot of things. But while she was waiting until she had time to do them, she did other things. She became a woman who did lots of important life work:

She became a mother and raised children.

She fell in love and got married.

She wrote a lot of poetry read a lot of books.

She even wrote a few.

She held several full-time jobs at one time or another.

She served in church.

Pretty standard fare.

Then, one by one, many of the manifestations of importance in her life grew up and moved on, fell away, or got too messy to maintain.

As things left, she sought new things to do. But she couldn’t remember what her inner little girl had dreamt of doing in the first place, when she finally had the time to consider it.

The messed up part of her says “Bah! All of it was frivolous and time-wasting. Better you don’t remember those dreams. And especially don’t ACT on the ones you do remember. Time is precious, don’t waste it.”

But her truest identity as Daughter of the King won’t be shushed for exactly that reason….time is precious.

Now, in midlife, she is finding that she has been considering God from a place of paralysis….so afraid to do the wrong thing, she does nothing at all.

“What if I fail?” She asks. “I’m too old to start over.”

Take action, God says. I will bless it if it’s the right thing, and if you are wavering and need to be corrected, I will restore gently. Either you win or you learn, but operate from a place of Love and move. Step out.

Time is only finite, but here’s the thing….it bends to the Creator.

In the tenderest places in her soul – the ones where the King keeps as storehouse for that crazy Grace of His – He keeps reminding her of the truth.

That she is kin to The Dream-Maker Himself, and is more than free to ask Him for new dreams. He delights in His children!

That she is still on a mission, with the benefit of experience to move forward expecting great things.

That this season is a time for exploring and listening, not being plagued with identity crisis. Satan is the author of confusion and the enemy of clarity.

That she is not ‘past her prime’ and done with her purpose until she stops asking “What’s next, Papa?” He placed the dreams in her heart for a purpose in every life stage.

That even though the world has gone mad, God keeps her full of Grace on every occasion. He does not finance her life in a deficit.

That it’s not too late. It’s never too late!

Do the things, Daughter! Do them with joy.

I have come that you have life to the FULL.

Once upon a time there was a woman approaching 50 years of age, and God gave her a little extra time to figure out who she really is.

In this new season, she is grateful for that.

 

Time is finite. Lord Jesus, help me to make my portion count. Let me use up everything you give me, every bit of talent.

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

The Privilege of Focusing Elsewhere

sunset

By Jana Greene

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ and he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” –  Mark 4:35-41

Yesterday as a super weird day. Ever feel ‘off’? Ever feel ‘unhinged?’ That was me yesterday, all day.

I woke up upset about the state of the world – the terrorist attacks in Paris, more specifically.  Then I got more and more upset about how improperly people were responding to it.

People I love dearly, suggesting we all basically sit in a giant circle around the globe and sing Kumbaya until mean people stop being mean. Honestly, that makes no sense to me. You’d think you would catch on to the ineffectiveness of that plan already. It’s not working.

Then I wrote about it on this blog, and poised my finger over the ‘publish’ button on WordPress. It was a stellar piece, really. Full of common sense and righteous indignation, and I really wanted to post it. I wanted to post it and share it so that I could stick some facts and impassioned logic in the faces of people who are just NOT getting it. People who make me wonder where the world would be if we applied tolerance liberally to the Nazi regime. (Spoiler alert: The gentiles among us would all be speaking German and the Jews would all have been murdered years ago….)

I am related to some very dove-ish people, they are hopelessly and unrealistically optimistic. I love them dearly, even in their perceived wrongness.

Finger poised over the ‘publish’ key, I decided to shut down the computer. I was simply too sad to even post it.

Now, although I reserve the right to publish it later (and probably WILL at some point) God had other plans for my spirit yesterday, plans put into motion by My Beloved. That man is a saint in sinner’s clothing, I’m absolutely convinced of it.

“Lets take a ride,” he suggests. Understand that I am alternately glowering and crying, slamming things around. I don’t feel like a ride. I feel like crying, and can you not plainly SEE this? But I know the plans he (my husband) has for me, and they are entirely good, always. So I ride along.

While we are driving down to Southport, a quaint little harbor town nearly an hour away, I am on my phone texting madly with my adult daughters. They are not upset enough at the right people my liking about the whole Paris thing, and I am going to MAKE THEM SEE the light. I am also having an internal conversation with God, who keeps insisting that maybe it’s time to trust Him with my daughters (and, um….everything else.)

But when a woman is high on anxiety and low on estrogen, there is no reasoning with her. In a group text, I reminded my kids about 9/11 and how dangerous it can be to try to reason with terrorists, worse even then reasoning with their hormone-depleted mother. They took offense, naturally, but I could not stop. I was going to make my point, dammit, for their own good.

It went abysmally, the whole exchange. They reminded me that they are adults and have their own opinions. I sometimes forget that.

MEANWHILE, as I’m furiously texting 90 words per minute, I am SOBBING. Absolutely just losing it. My poor husband.

Why is everything so SAD? Why don’t my kids GET IT? By the time we got to Southport, I’ve blown through an entire box of Puffs Plus. Little balls of snotty tissue littered the lovely leather interior of the car.

My Beloved pulls the car over at a little ice cream stand and insists I eat some ice cream. I look like a frog from crying hysterically and you think I want ICE CREAM?

Okay, I do want ice cream. So we sit out on the patio and I eat Mint Chocolate chip whilst crying. The kid at the counter looked so confused. I fought the urge to remind him to call his mother and be nice to her.

After the treat, My Beloved drove down to the water, and when we got out of the car, this happened:

sunset 3

It took my breath away, the calmness. I didn’t welcome it at first. I still wanted to hold on to my hysteria because the world is upside down (as if that HELPS turn it right side up?)

But then I just rested my eyes on the whole scene in front of me. You would never know that the world is on fire, if you were sitting at this little spot by the sea. And then came peace.

You have to LOOK for the calmness, it won’t come to you first.

The truth is that while I am very upset about terrorism, I am also upset about everything else changing in my world. From job loss to depression to major surgery to empty nest syndrome to becoming a grandparent….things are weird and different and I’m scared of all the change.

It’s chaos, if I’m looking around me.

Today I told God that I was SO over this planet and everyone on it. And what is the DEAL with humanity being so freaking hateful and disregarding human life and Lord God, do you even SEE what is going on here!?

“Teacher, do you not CARE that we are perishing!?”

And then this happened. In the midst of being so OVER everything, because that’s where He shows up. Smack dab in the middle.

sunset1And this happened too.

Jesus

And then I say, “Okay, God. Now you’re just showing off.” But I’m not crying anymore.

My Heavenly Papa spoke to me.

“Hey you,” He said. “Get over yourself and look at this! Isn’t it incredible? I’m here, never left. Stop flailing about in worried hysteria. I’m still Me. This is to remind you where your eyes belong.”

I just love Him so much.

The world was still crazy when we drove back home. Real messed up. I tried not to watch the news at all. I was still hormonal and unhinged, but a little less weepy. I texted my children to ask them to please forgive my harsh tone and my expectation that they think like me. It’s unrealistic. If you’ve never asked your children to forgive you after a blow-up, it’s very humbling.

And they texted back that they love their mom and forgive her, just as they always do when I mess up. Just like I always do for them when they mess up. We try really hard not to let the sun set on our anger, no matter what. And this day, the sunset was absolutely spectacular (literally and figuratively.)

“Peace!” Jesus says. “Be still!'”

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Here’s a little insight: You cannot control a SINGLE act or reaction that another person exhibits. Not even a little bit. Don’t say I never taught you anything here at The Beggar’s Bakery.

But you can refocus your eyes. Even when it feels like God is sleeping.

Although pretty sunsets and ice cream don’t ‘fix’ what’s wrong, they can be a catalyst to changing your thinking, even for a while.

You have the right to look for calm in the midst of a crazy chaotic world. You have the right to use up a whole box of tissues in one sobbing sitting if you need to, but God gives us the privilege of refocusing on Him.

It’s a privilege.

Teacher, help us to be still.

Amen.

Mom, Re-purposed

birbs

By: Jana Greene

On my youngest daughter’s last high school theater performance, I sat in the front row to watch her take her last bow and had the sharpest pang in my heart. My husband and I had sat in that same theater through the band, chorus and theater productions of our three daughters seemingly hundreds of times through the years. On this last event, I had come by myself. As the crowd filed out of the theater, I just sat in the chair and felt tears well up in my eyes. The Drama teacher and her troupe of performers were packing up the last prop in the darkened room when I finally stood up and – much to my own surprise – loudly questioned to the empty theater, “What’s a helicopter mom supposed to do NOW!?”

It was a very sincere question, one that I would wrangle with for the next few years as the kids left the ‘nest’ one by one to pursue their own lives. Just as they should.

Being a Mom is a full identity, right? RIGHT!?

Except that it really isn’t and never should have been in total. When God created us and poured the emotions and and love into us, I’m not sure anymore that he expected us to pour every drop of it back out without leaving anything for our own spirits. I don’t think ‘wife’ and ‘mom’ is our only identity, even those roles are a huge part of who we are.

It’s not that we didn’t want our kids to grow up. Oh how we did! During the teen years especially, God prepares you to let them go by allowing the obnoxiousness and rebellious quotient to replicate exponentially in your child. Yes, they ‘grow up so fast’ but NOT FAST ENOUGH when they are full of attitude and angst. But what they say about kids ‘coming back around’ on the other side of the teen years is SO true, I am happy to report.

I am not asking them to move back in. PLEASE LET ME BE CLEAR ABOUT THAT.

I am just asking God to re-purpose me as a 47-year old woman whose kids have become awesome and independent young women.

Mother Identity Crisis is also known in more polite circles as “Empty Nest Syndrome.” The subject doesn’t get a lot of play in the media because it isn’t a hot topic. It pertains to middle-aged women and the grunt work they did with hearts a-burst with love who have lost their some of their purpose as the children grow up and need them less.

It isn’t a subject that graces magazine covers. It’s not the subject of Lifetime Channel movies.

It isn’t ‘sexy.’

But it needs to be addressed because the women who make up this demographic are a huge part of society and are walking around like shells as they try to explore who they really ARE now. All we really hear about as we near our fifties is the message that we are past our prime, and too many of us believe that.

I flatly refuse to be past my ‘prime.’

I had many ‘jobs’ when my kids were growing up, but never a ‘career,’ and that was purposeful. I wanted to pour all of my emotional energies into my kids and did so as I do every other thing – obsessively. Who needs hobbies when your whole life is about making sure these offspring have dance lessons to chauffeur and field trips to chaperone? Who has time for exploring interests when the 2nd Grade classroom needs a “Room Mother” (now THERE’S a calling for you!)

I just kind of lost myself in fray, and it seemed a noble thing to do at the time.

It WAS the noble thing to do at the time. Nothing makes one feel successful like cutting peanut butter sandwiches with heart cookie-cutters and packing a lunchbox with a note that says “Your book report will go great! I love you!” I’m not being snarky…things like that did indeed make me feel successful. Making my kids happy was tantamount.  I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

But mothers of youngsters take note – you will need to remember who you are at your own core one day. Take that pottery class. Pursue that degree, if you wish. Read books that aren’t only about Very Hungry Caterpillars and the adventures of Junie B. Jones. Listen to music not sung exclusively by puppets and cartoon characters.

Super importantly, go on date night with your husband. Your relationship with him needs to stay fresh for the day your children take up residence in their own lives.

A dear friend of mine has four children, all of whom are peering over the edge of the nest – the nice, fluffy, safe nest their mother has feathered all of their lives.

“So here we are,” she says. “And my life is still revolving around planning my celebrations around the fleeting loyalties of my offspring.”

She and I often compare notes about MIC and the challenges of this new season. Mainly, figuring out who God created us to be outside of the “mom” role.

“God is doing a new thing in my life. GOD IS DOING A NEW THING,” She recently mused. “Maybe I need to stop doing the old things and expecting them to fit in my new life?”

I think she is on to something there. Our kids still need us, but in brand new ways. They need us to do the new things, and  to trust in who they grew up to be.

But Lord Jesus, help us with ALL OF THESE FEELS!

Letting go is HARD.

Lord, help me to consider things not from the perspective of an ‘Empty Nester’  (with the emphasis on loss and hollow space) to being FULL and purposeful.

I’m not sure what that fullness looks like yet, to be honest.

But I know that I want to set a precedent for my grown daughters to know what a fulfilled woman in mid-life can be, just in case they have daughters of their own to pour into, who will – as it should be – leave their own nests one day.

I know that the Lord wants abundant life for us in this season. He wants His daughter to know her own interests and ministries outside those of her children. He wants us to be able to enjoy our marriages, which were so often put on the back burner in the interest of feathering those nests.

Re-purpose me, God. My kids are grown but you are nowhere near done with using and blessing my life. Take the front row seat in my life.

In each new season, re-purpose me.