Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Importance of Friends

Friendships matter, and I've had two experiences this week to remind me of that truth.

On Sunday, we celebrated my mother-in-law Kathy's 70th birthday. A few months ago, Dan's siblings and I started working on a unique birthday present for her. We used a company called LifeOnRecord, to "rent" a phone number and voicemail box. We contacted loved ones and asked them to leave a message for Kathy: a birthday greeting, a sentimental tribute, or a funny memory.

At the party, we presented Kathy with a CD of forty recordings. There were messages from nieces and nephews, neighbors, grandchildren, siblings, and in-laws. When we first started playing the recordings, Kathy's face had a look of intrigue and surprise.

A few tracks in, intrigue gave way to tenderness and her eyes filled with tears as she heard the voice of her kids' third-grade teacher. Soon after, laughter replaced the tears when a cousin's voice recalled funny stories from childhood. The tears returned when the voice of Kathy's best friend described the gift of Kathy's presence at her father's funeral.

I watched my mother-in-law's range of emotions with anticipation and empathy, riding the roller coaster of laughter and tears with her. As I watched her face, I realized Kathy has spent 70 years not knowing how loved she is. Haven't we all spent our lives with that same mindset, thinking we don't matter much in the big scheme of things?

Kathy melted when friends from her past - and present - gave her the cheapest and most priceless gift of all: words. They shared their memories and reminded Kathy she has a place in this world.

The words of friends can give you the location of your heart.

While witnessing this happen with my mother-in-law, God overlapped a second friendship lesson this week. I've had quite a few phone conversations, emails, and texts with one of my brother Jackson's best friends. Tobi met Jackson in college at West Point, and he is writing a memorial article about Jackson for a school publication.

Tobi has been gathering information about his life and achievements, reaching out to my family and Jackson's classmates. Yesterday and today, I helped Tobi with some of the editing. In that process, he shared stories I never knew and revealed a side of Jackson I had forgotten in my grief. We laughed about Jackson's perfectionism and razzed about him as if he were still here.

I realized this friend still holds pieces of my brother inside him. As long as Jackson's friends continue to live, so does he.

Talking to Tobi was like putting on an old, comfy sweatshirt I had stuffed in the back of my closet. I remembered the joy of being Jackson's sister and how he was a truly remarkable man. I remembered how my relationship with him shaped my view of the world and my self-worth. I thought to myself, "We should all live in such a way that memorial articles are written about us when we die, like Jackson." And then I caught myself comparing and competing with him, even twenty years after his death. I chuckled as gratitude for a brother who shaped me bubbled up inside my heart.

Remembering is where the inhale of knowledge becomes the exhale of gratitude: I remember, then I understand, and then I thank.

Friendships matter: not only the ones people have gifted to me, but also the friendships I have chosen to extend to others in my life. I think of the deep friendships that have wilted over time, or completely rotted on the vine. Yes, even those kinds of friendships matter too because we grow even in the heartache.

Watching Kathy and reminiscing with Tobi reminds me how friendships shape us, refine us, define us, and center us. Friendships can be our lifeline, because trusted friends can nudge you when you're wobbling off course or wipe your tears when sadness threatens to consume you. How do your friendships affect you? Do they grow you, mature you, or sustain you? And what kind of friend are you?

The healthy friendships in your life are an extension of God, an echo of His voice that names you through relationship with others. My prayer is that we will sense the presence of God in our friendships, since we are each made in His image.

Monday, April 18, 2016

When Curses are Blessings

LAUNDRY. 

That one simple word makes you want to groan, doesn't it? Me too... and I did, as I dragged three loads down the stairs this morning. I pulled the hamper liners to the laundry room and felt defeat even before turning the dial and hitting the button to start the first load.

In the battle of human vs. laundry, laundry wins every time. Why? Unless you're doing it naked, you're never done. It's the everlasting curse of adulthood.

But today, I happened to have my grace glasses on and got to see the curse as a blessing.

When I pulled the bags from the hampers, I said under my breath, "I can't WAIT until the kids are gone and I can get away with doing laundry only once every ten days!"

That's when it hit me: there will come a season of my life when I'll actually miss these days of drudgery and everlasting laundry. I'll bemoan how the hampers are never quite full enough to justify washing a load mid-week. I'll miss the days of active mothering in the trenches, wishing I had my laundry-multiplying little ones around to make extra work for me. 

Um... What?! Let's get real here, people. I'm not *quite* sure I'll feel THAT nostalgic for dirty undies and smelly socks. But I'm sure there will come a day when I desperately miss the small clothes that fill my hamper to overflowing. Maybe it'll be the day we sell the house and downsize, or the day I first come home to an empty nest after dropping Katie and then Jackson off at college, only to find a perfectly organized laundry room mocking my tears. (Even then, laundry wins the battle. It's a cruel world, isn't it?!)

Today, my prayer is that we can see our curses as blessings. Instead of focusing on the everlasting suds to come, I'm choosing to focus on the fact that I HAVE  laundry to do and a family to take care of. 

Could I actually show gratitude for the things that weigh me down?

I can, when I remember the mamas out there who no longer have laundry to do or dishes to scrub or dinner to make, because maybe their kids are grown or maybe they turned their backs or, heaven forbid, didn't survive after a terminal diagnosis.

What's the "curse" of your life today that you could see as a blessing if only you stepped back far enough to gain perspective?

Friday, April 15, 2016

God's Name

Last weekend I attended the To Be Told conference with Dr. Dan Allender, who is an author, therapist, professor, and speaker. I heard of him years ago when I was going through grief counseling and my therapist suggested I read one of his books. I now have four of them, including To Be Told.

After the conference ended, Dr. Allender stuck around all weekend and preached at our church services. I was happy to get an extra dose of him! The whole weekend was phenomenal and I'll be digesting it for a while to come.

One of the things Allender asked this weekend is this question:

"What do you call God?"

Allender read the story of Hagar in Genesis 16, when she was pregnant and ran away from Sarai and Abram. God's angel meets her in the desert, names her unborn son Ishmael, and tells her to return home. After this interaction, Hagar had a new name for God: El Roi. In Hebrew, it means "You are the God who sees me." God went to such lengths to chase her down in the desert and demonstrate that she is not invisible and inconsequential, which changed her view of Him and developed a new nickname of sorts she could use for Him.

Allender told a story he experienced with his young son while fishing. It was a long story, so I'll summarize by saying they had been fishing for days and hadn't caught a single fish. Allender prayed, asking God for just! one! fish! But still, no fish.

He was ready to pack up and leave when his son begged him to stay. He relented and promised his boy he could cast five more times but THAT IS ALL. Four casts came and went, and still no fish. Allender had already started the boat to leave when his son threw his last cast, and caught a fish. There was much rejoicing and later, after the excitement died down, his son said, "Dad, I know God's name. To me, He is the God of the 5th cast."

This story brings up the question, "Who or what do you call God?" because there are experiences in our lives where we learn a new name for God. Wednesday night, when I was volunteering for our church's youth, the youth pastor asked if any of us knows our name for God and if we would like to share it.

The first name that came to my mind is The God of Open Arms. That's one of the names I call Him, because He has welcomed me home countless times: when I first got to know him as a child, when I was born again as a teenager, when I turned back to Him after walking away in 1996, and now on a daily basis as I make mistakes and keep asking forgiveness.

But after that name another, more intimate name came to mind: The God Who Dances. I remembered the name I gave God when I returned to Him in 2009, when I saw my life with Him as a dance. I remember when I first wrote about that name here on my blog, so I went looking for that post. And as I looked, I found so many other names I've whispered and shouted and cried for God, as He surprised me with new dance moves and spun me around the dance floor of life:

The God Who Provides through PayPal

The God Who Unravels Scarves

The God of Flawed and Imperfect

The God of Intersecting Dreams

The God of Letting Go and Giving it Away

The God of the Internal Eternal

The God Who Turns Liabilities into Assets

The God of U-Turns

The God of Krazy Glue

The God of Parenting Redemption

The God Who Meets Me

The God Who Wants Me

The God of Enough

Who is God, to you? What do you call Him? Maybe you've spent your life not knowing what to call Him, or not even wanting to.

I get it. There was a 5 year period of my life where I called Him things like The God of Harsh Hurt, The God of No Healing, and The God Who Doesn't Care. Thankfully, the distorted view I had of Him didn't change who He was, and He waited patiently for me to get back on the dance floor and, then, to stop dancing alone.

He's gracious enough to love me no matter what I call Him, because His name for me has never changed.

He calls me His.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Going Public

This week, I took a HUGE risk: I went public with my blog.

Yes, I know that sounds like somewhat of a letdown to a certain group of people whose definition of a "HUGE" risk might be something like climbing the Himalayas or selling your house and living out of an RV or quitting your job to pursue your lifelong dream of being a dolphin trainer. (Uh, what?!) Publicizing a blog doesn't seem like much of a risk...

...UNLESS you're a recovering People Pleaser.

...UNLESS your confidence is shaky because you've been called names like crazy or weird or fanatical or exhausting or demanding or "just too much" (and, hey, let's add Bible-thumping Christian to the mix too!).

...UNLESS you've spent any amount of your day listening to the lies saying you aren't enough or you're invisible or you have nothing to add like other writers who are so witty and know just how to turn a phrase.

What seems risky to me might seem dull to you!

God has used books and podcasts and retreats and conversations to give me courage to go public. He has reminded me that being vulnerable is a calling and sharing my story through writing is my sacred, holy inheritance. Being who I am, I (of course) tried to argue God out of this idea for the past few months.

The arguing ended this weekend, when I sat in tears at the Allender Center's To Be Told conference. I'll go into what I learned some other time, but it became clear to me that the wrestling was over and I must attempt this crazy transparency God is asking of me.

On Tuesday I posted a link to my blog on Facebook, along with these words:

I can't believe I'm actually going to do this, SO PLEASE BE GENTLE and read on.
Sometimes, God is like a determined sibling who keeps tap-tap-tapping me on the shoulder and poking me into action. He uses a husband who never doubts and a sister who holds my early memories and friends who encourage and songs on the radio and speakers at conferences and books about lovely things and devotionals that stir longing and condemn fear.
The tap-tap-tapping is so fierce I’m convinced it’ll turn into whacking if I don’t surrender soon. And THIS is what surrender looks like for me.
A handful of you already know I've been blogging for a while: eight years and one week, to be exact. I've never shared my blog publicly, choosing to share it only in one-on-one conversations with close friends and family. I've been too (chicken) private (chicken) worried (chicken) scared to EVER link to it through Facebook.
Until now!
I spent the weekend listening to a man named Dan Allender explain how God says we are each a story to be told. Couple that with encouragement from some of you after I posted a birthday letter to my son on FB two weeks ago AND a triple dog dare from a friend.
Oh, and this "calling" (ha) thing God’s been echoing in my life since elementary school...
...and I realize time is wasting and there is encouragement for each other in all of the ME TOO moments of our lives. Writing is the best ME TOO offering I can give. What’s yours?
It is time to replace fear and trembling with equal parts trust and vulnerability.
I am going public and asking you to grab a cup of coffee (or a beer) and come join me at Six Golden Coins. And while this isn't even a blip on the radar of your life, it IS more-than-a-blip for me! (This is where I repeat the BE GENTLE request. Pretty please?!)
Being obedient to the tap-tap-tapping is a BIG deal. Click on the link to read and you'll understand why!

[Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go toss my cookies from all the nerves! Sheesh!]

And, that was it! For the next 24 hours, I fought the urge to delete the post and barf. People actually started reading Six Golden Coins, and I haven't received any hate mail (yet!). I even got a few blog comments, plus a lot of love that rained down on me through Facebook comments, texts, and face-to-face conversations.

Look at me being brave! AND still standing in the aftermath! Whew!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

I Get Fed in the Writing

Here’s the thing about writing. Well, actually, there are a lot of “things” about writing – but this is the thing that captivates me right now: writing is mostly one-sided.

You can get to know me through the words I choose to withdraw from my mental bank and deposit on the screen or the page. You can read about my mountains and my valleys, if I choose to be vulnerable and allow these words to see daylight which, often, I do.

You can read my words and a few of them may resonate and call something out of your past or put a name to your present. In the reading of these words, you come to know me and feel a kinship with me.

But that's the thing about writing: it's mostly one-sided. You read. You ingest and then digest and, maybe, God lets my words become a nutrient that grows the muscles of your heart.

Yet here, on the other side of the screen, I don't know how - or even IF - my words were consumed. Were they an appetizer that you nibbled on the way to another author's gourmet meal? Were my words the main course, the one source of sustenance for your soul? (God forbid! I hope you are going to His words for deep feeding, not mine.) Maybe my words were the cherry on top of your banana split day.

The thing is, I don't know! My passion for writing means I do it regardless of consumption.

On my worst days, I imagine this little blog as a place where I craft and create succulent foods but no one makes a dinner reservation. Some words can be bagged up and stored in the freezer that is the online blogging world. Other words don't freeze well; they are the lettuce that wilts and liquefies in the bottom of the fridge crisper. They get tossed in the dumpster in the back alley. On my worst days, I see a landfill of waste. I wonder if words even matter at all.

When I turn inward, I know words DO matter. So do I. And so do you.

I write.

You read.

You learn about me and the way I make sense of the world. But unless you respond to tell me which part of the dish had the best flavor for you, I never know if the meal was tasty at all.

The question is this: do I write to be read, or do I write to be obedient? When I admit to my pride wanting a little action, I confess sometimes I write only to be read. Lately, though, I'm learning obedience can be the workshop where passion lives. Writing means responding to God's nudges and obeying even when He's asking me to write the hard things.

I'll keep writing, for me. And you can keep reading, for you. Or not reading, too. That's okay with me either way, because I get fed in the writing.

God is so good to nourish me with the thing that makes me notice and relate to Him best: creating just like He does.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Looking for Lovely (aka One More Reason I Might Get That White Tattoo)

Rejoice, bookworms! We get to welcome a bouncing new book to the world today!

I kinda feel like I should be writing a birth announcement, except it isn't a book I birthed and, really, is it my place to announce it? On the other hand, books aren't birthed solely by their authors. Readers have a role in the birthing process, too. Beside, I got the honor of being on this book's launch team so, here goes!

I'm pleased to announce the arrival of Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs! *cue the party horns*

I received my copy of LFL in February, and quickly consumed it: which means I dog-eared pages, underlined, and starred the heck out of it. And then I did what I normally do after I read a book that connected with me.

I collected all my favorite quotes from the book and jotted them down. This time, I added the notes to the back pages of the book so I'll always have them.

This is the second book I've read of Annie's. [Sidebar: through her book Let's All Be Brave, I found out we are from the same hometown in Georgia. I loved her already!] I love her writing style because it flows and doesn't force me to work at comprehending. When I read her words, I feel like she's having a conversation in my head. I like authors who feel like friends (even though the moment I raise my head from the book, reality pummels me and I remember - sadly - that I really don't know this person in real life).

The premise of Looking for Lovely requires language that doesn't force its way into your head: the point of the book is we all have the God-given ability to find lovely even in the starkest circumstances. Annie tells the stories of her life and doesn't shy away from the painful parts. In the foreword, she spends the the very first 88 words of the book unpacking her "massive breakdown" and ends it with seven words of wisdom that came with a price, as most wisdom does:
Transformation and suffering came in a pair.
When Annie throws down a gauntlet by starting the book like that? Whoa, baby. Get your waders on because it's gonna get deep in here.

Annie continued to captivate me in the Introduction when she went just a bit further into the story of her breakdown, and explained the hard place she found herself in the summer of 2012. And then, she went and brought up her white tattoo. And THAT was the hook that pulled me into the boat of Annie's book.

I've been wanting a white tattoo for a while. A few days before my 40th birthday, I even went to the tattoo parlor to discuss the one I wanted with the tattoo artist. When I explained I wanted a white one because I wanted it to be faint so only I could see it, the artist and his buddies argued tattoos are meant to be visible art - so why make it barely visible? Seeing how pale my skin is, he and his buddies advised me NOT to get a white tattoo. I walked away and shelved my idea... until I read Annie's words:
So grace. I needed it. I really wanted it permanently tattooed on my wrist. But, because I didn't want it to be distracting every day for the rest of my existence, I wanted it to be white. I am as pale a shade of human as people come, and I cannot tan. I'm either white or red. Pale or sunburned. So a black ink tattoo would be seen a mile away, while a white tattoo on me doesn't stand out at all. I imagined it would almost look like a brand. And that is the feel I wanted. I wanted it literally burned into my skin because I wanted to BE grace. I wanted those five letters to be stuck to me. And I wanted it, then in August 2012, to mark some important shifts of season.
Annie asked a lifelong friend to write the word "grace" with her great penmanship, and the tattoo artist inked it in the friend's handwriting. My word isn't grace. It's something else I've written on myself countless times already, using pens and Sharpies and tubes of henna. It's a word that defines who I am because it reminds me WHOSE I am. After reading Looking for Lovely, I haven't bolted out to get my tattoo quite yet. However, it's something I'm still pondering.

I turned the page and moved from the white tattoo story into the next topic on Annie's mind: fitted sheets. Yep... fitted sheets!

Aaaannndd... this is where I stop. I'm not going to unpack the book blow by blow for you. You don't need a "helicopter parent" book review! You need to go pick up the book yourself, and dive in. You're going to love the short chapters and the way Annie ends some of them with a tip on looking for your own lovely.

But before you do that, I'll leave you with two things:

First, I know it's hard to find lovely in the shattered pieces of your life. I've lived days full of such grief and loss when I couldn't get out of bed, much less look for something worth finding. There are still days I feel looking is a waste of time. If you relate to this, would you consider reaching out to me or someone you trust? And as a way to encourage you (and myself), I'm going to post photo art for the next few Mondays (because Mondays can be hard days, which means looking for lovely can be a hard task). I'll use my photos or art, plus and Annie's Looking for Lovely words in hopes of reminding you to keep looking.

Second, I thought it best to end this post where Annie's book ends (and I promise this isn't a spoiler). In the last chapter, she talks about her love for God and music and wanting to sing a song for Him. It's a lovely tune! Wanna sing along with us?
I would sing that He is a miracle worker, even when you aren't seeing it. I'd sing that His love is unmatched, and you can see that best in the darkness. I'd sing that my life is only because of Jesus and only for Jesus and the mess of an Annie I would be without Him is almost too painful for me to imagine. I'd sing over and over again that He knows me better than I know myself, and for all the hard days and all the confusing moments and all the pain I have faced, I wouldn't trade a minute of it because of how I know Him now. I'd share a verse about how He can be trusted, how God is your Father and Jesus is your best Friend and the Holy Spirit is here to comfort you.
I would sing that I know no greater joy than living life with Jesus, and I lack absolutely nothing because I have Him.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Happy 9th Birthday, Jackson!

My son,

Last night, when I kissed you good night, you told me you didn't want today to come. You wanted to stay eight forever.

As much as I'd like you to stay small enough to fit in my lap when we rock in the recliner, my eyes gaze more on your future than on your past. I'm sure there will come a day when I'd give anything to return to these days, but right now - crawling on my belly in the bottom of the parenting trenches - I don't anticipate anything as much as I look forward to your growth and development.

Parenting feels a little like reading tea leaves: I try to find patterns and things that make sense and foretell of your future, only to realize the actual living of your life changes every prediction I had the audacity to suggest. Your future develops only as you're living it.

In layman's terms: as soon as I figure you out, you grow and change on me! Parenting, in a nutshell.

So, partly as a note to my future self (who will likely over-romanticize these days of your childhood) and as a note to your future self (who will likely have a skewed memory), here are the things I will and won't miss about your 8th year:

I will not miss the way you hide around corners and in dark rooms, waiting to jump out and scare your sister... or me... or the dog. (You take extensive glee in terrorizing your sister!)

Speaking of that, I will not miss the way you and Katie push each other's buttons. What is it with you two? You poke for the sheer pleasure of poking, like it's a science experiment you're trying to prove wrong.

Yet at the same time, I will miss the way you adore Katie. You reserve a special kind of love for her. I see it when you have good news and want to share it with her first. I see it when you stand in the garage after school, desperate for Katie's bus to arrive so you can welcome her home. I know you adore her when I hear your giggles coming from the basement fort she's helped you build. Oh please, Jackson! Let that adoration of your sister thrive as you mature!

I will not miss your attachment to your Nike Elite socks. Dude, you have GOT to stop digging them out of the laundry and let me wash them before you wear them... yet again.

But on the other hand, I will miss your magical, childish thinking and the way you believe fluorescent Nike socks really do make you run faster. I'll miss seeing the world through your eyes, believing in the impossible AND convinced you'll be a professional baseball, football, and basketball player all at the same time. (No matter how much I debate with you, you staunchly refuse to budge on this future career path. Man, I sound like a dream killer, don't I?!)

I will not miss your shaggy hair and the way you already flinch when I reach to brush your bangs from your eyes.

I also will not miss the way you have become my human alarm clock on the mornings I sleep late. The snuggles are nice, but I could do without the sighing and the repeated "Can we get up now?" questions. (I am not a morning person, which is a concept you have yet to acknowledge.) Speaking of snuggles, I will miss those and the time we get reading in the LoveSac or on the couch or before bedtime.

As I tucked you into bed last night and you resisted turning nine, I kissed you and reminded you there is a Lifetime of So Much Ahead of You. While yesterday was good and today is better, tomorrow will be greater than you could ever imagine: great in the good ways and the not-so-good, too. There is life to be lived, joy to be savored, and pain to survive. God will draw you closer to Him through every day you have yet to live, and the thought of that growth makes my heart pound.

Now today, on your 9th birthday, I say a prayer for the Lifetime of So Much Ahead of You: I ask God to bless you, bend you, carry you, console you, train you, temper you, adore you, and adopt you.

SO MUCH starts now! Happy birthday, Sugar Boy. Your daddy and I sure do love you!
Mommy

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Scaffolding

This blog post centers around an event that happened a few weeks ago. I’ve been letting this sift through my heart for a while before writing about it, because it happened in a dark period and there is pain surrounding it. Also, writing about it shows chinks in my armor, and vulnerable is never a comfortable place to be. But I’ve shared this with a few close friends and I think there is value in sharing it here, mostly because one day my children will read it and know they aren’t alone.

The dark side of motherhood is living with the feeling of being inconsequential. The world pays lip service to motherhood, saying it’s the “Most Important Job Ever.” It sounds like a holy calling  which it is – but it’s a calling that comes with tremendous strings attached. It’s a calling that requires the withering of the person you used to be.

I’ve bristled under the yoke of motherhood, because – frankly – I am self-centered and don’t want “Elizabeth” to wither so “Mom” can flourish. I watched my own mother be Mom exceptionally well; so well that when I (the last of 3 kids) went to college, Mom no longer had a daily need to mother and the “Mom” part of her withered. But by then, the individual she used to be (Brenda) had been smothered for so long there was nothing left for Mom to transition back into being. I swore this wouldn’t happen to me.

Twelve and a half years into mothering, I’m realizing it’s inevitable.

At the start of last month, I hit a brick wall personally. I looked at the writing and photography dreams I’d been pursuing and saw only a bunch of smoke and mirrors. I was spending energy trying to build the Elizabeth Empire while also trying to build the Katie Empire, the Jackson Empire, and be co-architect in building the Dan Empire. Suddenly, it became clear to me: my empire needed to wait.

I had no business trying to build ELIZABETH during this season of my life when I have an 8-year-old and 12-year-old at home, requiring so much of my patience and passion. I also have a husband who needs his own space and creative outlets, which he wasn’t getting because I was busy chasing my own passions. I told myself that ELIZABETH needed to wait. I needed to be – I HAD to be – satisfied with my existence as Laundry Washer, Grocery Shopper, and Toilet Paper Changer.

One morning in early December, I got the kids on the bus then spent hours in quiet time before God. I begged Him to please-please-oh-please take away my longings and desires to be something other than Toilet Paper Changer. I read scriptures that supported my begging: verses about dying to self and especially the verse Paul wrote asking God to take away the thorn in his side. I realized the more time I spent begging Him, the more I felt the tug to become the person God made me to be – which is more than just a Toilet Paper Changer. Being the ultra mature person I am, I decided stop talking to God. If being with Him meant feeling desire for “more,” then I’d simply stop being with Him.

I needed to become okay with feeling invisible. And when you're meeting with El Roi (the God Who Sees Me), it's kind of hard to be invisible.

Later that same day (of course, because God has to pound lessons into my head sometimes), I met the kids at the bus stop so we could rush to piano lessons. Katie got in the car and I asked what the best part of her day was. I really didn’t want to ask because I really didn’t want to feel. I wanted to be a numb robot Toilet Paper Changer but I know “good” moms ask about their kids’ days, so I did too. She responded there had not been anything good about her day. This broke into my pity party enough for me to ask what happened.

Katie told me about a girl at school we’ll call Ashley. Ashley draws so well that friends give her lots of attention. Katie prides herself on her drawing abilities, but doesn’t get the accolades Ashley gets. I replied to Katie, “So you want all the attention Ashley gets?”

Katie’s face looked like she sucked on a lemon as she said, “What? No! I don’t want attention!” (because she has always been a kid who shies away from the limelight). I responded with, “But you don’t want to be ignored?”

Sheepishly, she said, “No. I don’t want to be ignored.”

I summed it up for her by saying, “You want to be seen but not noticed.” And this phrase is what caused my throat to constrict and my eyes to sting with tears because this desire deeply resonated in my soul: I don’t want to be Invisible Mom (a.k.a. Toilet Paper Changer), but I don’t want to be Spotlight Elizabeth (a.k.a. Famous Author). I want to be lowercase elizabeth, who matters as a person and not just as a role.

With sobs threatening to escape my mouth, I told Katie I’d been feeling the same way all day long: invisible and inconsequential.

To help her understand her situation better, I described it like this: Ashley is the Taj Mahal. People come from all over the world to tour the Taj Mahal and wonder at its majesty. It sounded like Katie doesn’t want to be the Taj Mahal. She affirmed that, and also added that she doesn’t want to be a tourist going to visit someone else’s Taj Mahal. (“I’m not a groupie!”) However, she isn’t a shack that people should pass by and ignore.


I looked Katie in the eyes, as best as I could while driving, and told her this truth of my life: “Katie, you are the Taj Mahal to me.” Then I explained another truth of my life: as a mother, I feel like I am simply the scaffolding whose only purpose is to build the Taj Mahal. She didn’t know what scaffolding was and in one of God’s great moments of timing, we happened to be passing a construction site where scaffolding surrounded a building. I pointed out the window and showed her what scaffolding looks like.

I described scaffolding for her, saying it’s construction equipment made of common metal that isn’t very precious. Scaffolding can be dinged and lost and replaced, and it isn’t very useful after a building has reached a certain construction stage unless you’re restoring or cleaning.

With a trembling chin and cracking voice, I told her that’s what I feel like as a mother. I’m the support God uses to build the Taj Mahal of Katie’s life, knowing the focus is on the Taj Mahal and not the tools used to build it. I told her this so she would know that I know what it’s like to want to be seen but not noticed.

I told her this so she would know she isn’t alone. I told her this to minister to her heart. And wouldn’t you know it, but that girl ministered to mine.

Because in the next breath, she looked at me with all the compassion her body could hold and said, “But Mommy, you’re MY Taj Mahal. You’re everything I want to be!” When I scoffed, she pointed out the qualities I have that she’s striving for: creativity and faith and really good handwriting. (!)

I told her she shouldn’t try to be me; she should be Katie-The-Not-Taj-Mahal-But-Not-A-Shack-Either. With a wink, I told her I’m glad she’s not a shack because shacks are usually only one story and don’t require scaffolding. Right now, she is in a Taj Mahal stage of her life. One day, she’ll meet a man and fall in love and become a townhome with him. Then she’ll have kids and become scaffolding for their Taj Mahals.

And then, I couldn’t talk anymore because I was broken inside. I simply reached over and held her hand and told her how much I love her, and we sniffled together for a few miles.


As much as I would like to say it did, this conversation didn’t cause a full course correction in my heart. As I mentioned above, I can be immature and thick-skulled. I went about the next few weeks continuing to act like a numb robot Toilet Paper Changer because it seemed easier to turn from my desires/dreams/callings than to chase them. There were days God would lay a devotion topic on my heart (like He regularly did when I was actively writing my devotional book), and I intentionally turned away from His nudge. I was disobedient and refused to jot any notes down for future writing sessions. I specifically reminded Him that I. Am. Not. Writing. Anymore. and would even catch myself folding my arms across my chest in defiance.

Sheesh. It’s a wonder He didn’t just strike me dead right then and there!

Even today, as I write this post, I would say I’m not completely out of the woods yet. Yes, I’ve stopped crossing my arms in defiance. Yes, I’ve jotted down a few nudges God has given me for devotional topics. But this time, I’m not charging full throttle into the writing calling like I did last July. That whole staying up late to write and exhausting myself (not to mention neglecting my husband and kids) isn’t sustainable. Besides, who really needs an Elizabeth Empire anyway?

I guess you could say I’m in a middle ground, the stage after the beginning but not quite before the end. I’m Taj Mahal Scaffolding with scaffolding of my own, deep in a reconstruction stage:
I’m talking to God again. I’m back in the War Room, listening and learning and leaning into Him. I’m grateful He always welcomes me back.
I’ve started reading a book called Simply Tuesday that is already rocking my world, causing me to reassess my Spotlight Elizabeth tendencies and swap them out for a nice bench or, in my case, a comfy couch for inviting friends to sit a spell.
I’m trying to instill new habits of slowing down (daily yoga, reading real books instead of Facebooks).
Just yesterday, I took a big step and asked a friend to intentionally mentor me through a wound that’s been festering for two years.
I’m scared, looking for hope. I’m tentative, looking for tenacity. I’m a Taj Mahal with scaffolding.

What a way to start the new year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Breath of Heaven: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 24

​These lyrics are a prayer my heart beats every day: "Breath of Heaven, hold me together."

Genesis tells us God's breath is what brought the very first human to life. God's breath still sustains us, and it is the only thing that holds us together. I pray you take a breather in these last hours of the Christmas season and allow God's breath to fill your lungs. Whether you're singing Silent Night at church or staying up late to assemble the last gifts, may you inhale and exhale and remember His goodness.

Day 24: Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song) written by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant, performed by Amy Grant

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tips for My Children on "The Marrying Type"


Katie and Jackson,

Today is the 20th anniversary of the start of our family. On December 23, 1995, your father gave me the honor of becoming his wife.

In a few years, you might think your mother is terribly dull and dim. You'll wonder where her brains went and why she doesn't understand much about life. While you are free - and might even be encouraged - to think that, I DO want you to know I fully, 100% understand life... especially the hardest and best parts of it, like marriage.

In an effort to help you find a person you might want to spend the rest of your days with, I thought of some things you might want to look for in a spouse. I hope you will indulge me as I dispense a little advice, and you might even laugh a little along the way. Look for someone like this:
  • ​The kind of person who will help you mop up a flooded basement
  • And dance in restaurants with you
  • And look at you with love-filled eyes
  • Who will want you no matter how many stretch marks you have or jean sizes you've gone through
  • Who will tolerate stopping to take hundreds of photos in a town you want to explore
  • Who, on the 23rd anniversary of the day you met, will rub your head in the emergency room and sit on a tiny bed to hold you
  • Who will change ALL the dirty diapers for your newborn in the hospital, not permitting you to do it yourself because you're recovering from surgery
  • Who will encourage independence for you in pursuing outside friendships, knowing spouses don't have to be your everything - and, honestly, shouldn't be anyway
  • Who will trust you to stay connected to high school friends, even a select few of the opposite gender
  • Who will trust your judgment enough to say yes to church and follow the dance steps you show him for dancing with Jesus
  • Who will ask you to stand beside him when he goes public about surrendering his life to Jesus
  • Who will pray for you in the dark hours of every morning before leaving for work
  • Who will get up at an ungodly hour to get to work early so he can make it home for the Cub Scout meeting
  • Who gives his word and keeps it
  • Whose chin trembles at sappy movies
  • Who is the first to say sorry
  • Who will stand beside you at funerals and hold you while you weep... and weep WITH you
  • Who reminds you every single day in the pit of postpartum depression that you will be okay
  • Who will indulge your love for kitchen gadgets by buying you an avocado slicer for Christmas
  • Who tolerates you cross stitching silly sayings on pillows
  • Who will drive an hour out of the way to get a geocache in another state for your children
  • Who will clean the disgusting shower without being asked
  • Who will change the dressings on your wounds
  • Who will set firm boundaries while living in a state of grace and second chances
  • Who will not keep a record of your wrongs, even when you do
  • Who will not give you what you deserve and always believes the best about you
  • Who loves you enough to stop chasing you when you storm off during a fight
  • Who looks at you with a twinkle in his eyes, as if you share a secret no one else on this earth will ever know
  • Who (sometimes annoyingly) knows you better than you know yourself

To my daughter and son: please find someone you can trust even more than yourself. Don't settle for "good enough" and don't sell yourself short. On the other hand, don't think more of yourself than you should! Your future spouse will change everything about you. He or she will bring out every worst characteristic you don't even know you have, and polish off more than a few rough spots. He or she will also deepen you and help you grow in magnificent ways. This person is the one you will have an unbreakable bond with, so make sure it's a person you'll want to stay bonded to forever. There is no going back when you make a promise like marriage. It's a covenant, not a contract!

To my husband: thank you for giving me more than just a new name. I will never be able to measure up to you and the ways you give yourself to me. Your loyalty, passion, security and sense of adventure is unlike anyone I've ever met. Even after 20 years of marriage, there are days I look at you and say to myself, "I cannot believe HE is MINE!" Thank you for loving me deeply and for showing me how to allow that love to heal me in some deeply broken places. You make me feel safe and wanted, and I am still so in love with you. Happy 20th anniversary!

To all three of you: twenty years is a drop in the bucket, and we have so much more ahead of us! I pray we keep each other safe, encouraged, and loved.

Always and forever,
Elizabeth

O Holy Night: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 23

​Love means helping someone know his worth. It's showing another person she matters and is worth fighting for.

This lyric from O Holy Night, written by Adolphe Adam, is the epitome of God's love for us. Our souls didn't know their true value until Jesus came and showed us we are worth dying for. Can you fathom that? It hardly makes sense!

I bet the song O Holy Night has been recorded hundreds of times, but my very favorite version is by David Phelps. I love his version so much I listen to it year-round.

My only regret about it is I wish my parents could have heard this version before they died. Dad would have come unglued listening to David Phelps sing, and Mom would have sobbed the ugly cry because she always teared up when we sang O Holy Night in church. David's version of this song would have unraveled her!

Day 23: O Holy Night, written by Adolphe Adam, performed by David Phelps

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