Wednesday, January 18, 2017

middle-aged mom life is a real thing

When I imagined myself as a mom, it was always as a young mom of very small children. It is a pure shock to me that that stage has ended in many ways for me. I can't really explain my utter lack of reality, except to say I like babies and wish my kids could be Peter Pan.

However, my oldest will be a TEENAGER on Saturday, and I feel like Alice when she went through the looking glass.

This whole middle-aged mom life thing is really weird to me.

A few weeks ago, I went out to dinner with a friend from church. She’s about a decade older than I am, and somehow we started talking about birthdays and how hard it is for us to get older. I turned 40 last year and I’m still reeling from the shock of it. Everyone promised me that 40 was the new 30, but that is a lie. 40 is 40, THE END.

My friend didn’t make me feel any better about turning 50 one day. (But by the time I hit that decade, she’ll be 60, and still the world will spin on its axis. This truth is shocking to my very core.)

Which is ridiculous. We are both women of deep faith. We love Jesus. We love watching our kids grow up. Our latter is better. Heaven is our destiny. We love what God has brought us through, and all we have learned, and we don’t want to be young and lacking the wisdom that we’ve gleaned through the years.

And yet. There we were, in a diner, eating pancakes and enchiladas, comparing the elasticity of the skin on our hands.

Aging just goes to prove that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (And wrinkly and a maybe a little thin and crepey.)

However, one of the perks of my new, middle-aged status is that my kids are old enough to stay at home while I run to the grocery store, or workout at the gym, or run away from the madness for thirty minutes of peace at a coffee shop.

For a woman who homeschools her kids, this is a kind of glorious liberation I knew not of before now. I’m practically sixteen again, driving in my car BY MYSELF to Walgreens to pick up a bottle of Pantene and a bag of gummy bears. Since having my first baby thirteen years ago, I have been alone in my car exactly eleventeen-shmomething times. (I can only count these solo trips in mythical numbers, because being alone is the unicorn of early motherhood.)

Being alone is so rare, in fact, that I have become a real superfan of the single public bathroom in recent years. Any restaurant or shop with a bathroom with only one room and a lock on the door should be rated as a multi-star Michelin establishment. First of all, I love that these bathrooms give me an excuse to shut a door and lock it. This alone makes for an experience that is akin to a trip to the spa. I’m in a public place, and yet no one is shouting at me from under another stall or talking too many words in between flushes about the thing they want for their birthday in two Novembers.

I try to take my time and really squeeze the joy out of those blessed single person bathroom facilities. I let the water get really warm before I wash my hands like a surgeon about to operate. I reapply lipstick twice. Sometimes I take a minute (or ten) to do some anti-anxiety breathing exercises. I look for a mint in my purse because I can. I give myself a pep talk in the mirror, “Hey Girl, there will be shenanigans you will have to deal with when you get out of here. That’s okay. They are kids. They like to be dumb most of the time. Just smile and wait for your moment to unleash your amazing mom-ness. It always works out alright.” Then I go back and try to be a really great mom.

Thank you, very small local businesses with tiny lavatories, you really are the wind beneath my wings.

This new freedom to leave the kids at home for an hour or two during the day has caused a new reality to set in, though. Someday, I will no longer need any babysitters at all. Not for late night events. Not for overnight trips. Once these kids are all grown up, they will not need any supervision at all. Ever.

I can't tell you how odd this fact is to me. For years now, many parts of my professional life, and my entire social life have hinged on my ability to get a babysitter. Babysitters aren’t unicorns, exactly, but they are close. I’d compare them to reverse leprechauns. Much like those little Irish fairies, babysitters are very hard to find, and the nice ones are even rarer. Leprechauns give you money though, and babysitters take all your money. (That’s the reverse part.)

I can't imagine a world in which I don't have to text three different people to find childcare just so I can go to a planning meeting or have dinner with my husband. I think this is because I haven't really accepted that my children will actually grow up one day. I mean, I know I won't be doing their laundry and packing a snack for them at the library twenty years from now, but it feels like I will have to do all this stuff for an eternity. In fact, it feels like I've been doing this mom life for an eternity already- folding laundry and doing dishes and picking up dirty underwear and carrying everything they don't want to carry and listening to endless explanations about things that aren't even important and pretending to care about new apps and fantasy football stats and American Girl Doll minutiae.

I'm so tired, you guys. But even this season won't last forever.

Someday I’m going to go to my daughter’s fortieth birthday dinner and tell her that 40 is the new 20, what with that new infrabluish transformative light that makes all the wrinkles go away forever by changing your DNA. (The miracles of science astound in the year 2048!!)

I’ll be 72 by then, which is completely impossible.

Gosh, I wonder who I’ll text when I need a babysitter for that party? I hope she doesn't charge too much....

Thursday, January 5, 2017

the bittersweet road home

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
-John 4:31-34

I sat in the car watching the scenery of the southwest speed by at 70 miles per hour last week. The long drive from Colorado to Texas was like water through a sieve and my thoughts kept coming back to this passage in John, when Jesus talked about food that no one can see.

And I wondered, How does a woman learn to eat God’s will?

Is it like the proverbial elephant, consumed one bite at a time? Is God’s will supposed to be a banquet, or simply a bite of bread and a sip of wine? How do we remember how low our place was before we knew the grace that brought us to God’s table, serving us dishes like salvation, restoration, and friendship with the eternal and the divine?

A few things have gone terribly wrong in our little world recently, and our days have tasted bitter and painful. Words have been spoken that we don't understand. We have discovered we are surrounded by circumstances we can’t seem to sort out. I have held out my hands to God and asked Him to show me my part in it all. Have I failed Him, where am I blinded by my brokenness, how can I help to put the pieces back together?

Then some child of mine loaded the dishwasher with all the sloppy spaghetti plates and coffee-ringed cups and poured regular old dish soap in that machine. I walked into the kitchen and saw great mounds of suds all over the wood floors.

Down on my knees with beach towels in hand, the truth bubbled up from my own heart and I answered my own deep questions about eating God’s will.

I want to taste the sweetness in all the bitter things.

I looked up the scripture in Proverbs 27 after the soapy floors had been dried up. “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.”

I realized that to taste the sweetness in the bitter things, I must stay hungry. And maybe the hard things in life remind me of how hungry I really am. Hungry for God’s word, hungry for His presence, hungry to love a whole world full of people in need. In order to savor our great need for God in the depths of my soul I have to look the pain of humanity square in the face.

So today I am not staring at the mysteries of my circumstances, trying to sort out all that they mean. I am eating them. I am tasting the ways I have been disappointed by people I love and the ways I have failed them, too. I am chewing every bite of hope and sadness and tender vulnerability that is in my life. I savor the bitterness because somewhere in this meal there is nourishment for the journey ahead.

I have a God who makes all the sad things untrue. He turns the bitterest things into honey flowing from His hands. I’m not afraid of the darkness or of the sour meals life offers us.

Every road He leads us on ends at the sweetest home we’ve ever known, and today I am one step closer to heaven.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

all the favorites: books & posts from 2016

I really don't know where this year has gone. I had high expectations for 2016 to be something special, because I was turning forty (why are new decades such a WEIRD THING, by the way??) and 2016 was the year Morgan and I would celebrate 15 years of marriage (which seems like a lot to everyone except the people who have been married for any number of years over sixteen). I was very "Audrey Hepburn finds love at last in the rain" kind of excited a year ago. Expectations are complicated, though, so I should have known better.

In some ways, 2016 didn't disappoint. Morgan and I got to travel to South Africa for the first time. I love exploring new places with him. I had many chances to speak and preach, which I love doing in increasing amount. And, even though turning turning forty was AWFUL I am grateful it's over, like a big ol' bandaid being ripped off at last. (Incidentally, don't let everyone tell you forty is the new thirty. It isn't AT ALL, unless the old thirty involved massive shifts in metabolism, an increase in your most charming neuroses, sadly diminishing skin quality, and lots of new and bizarre health concerns. In which case, they're totally the same.)

In lots of ways, 2016 was a real dud. Such is life, I suppose. I certainly didn't see the election going the way it did. But I am no political savant, so my naivete should not be surprising.

But this has been a year of unprecedented favor in some ways. I have never felt so lifted by God's grace before, and I end this year with a great deal of gratitude in my soul.

I read some really amazing books this year, too. Just this afternoon, I sat at the kitchen table with my friend Cori and gushed over the stack of seven books I'm loaning her for a trip she's taking this week. (I truly hope my enthusiasm for literature is my geekiest quality.)

I wrote some things this year. I wrote some posts I'm still processing internally. I also wrote six chapters of a book that will probably sell like HOT CAKES to at least a dozen people whenever I finally finish it and get it published. (BTW, if you are a book agent, I promise the dozen people will all buy at least 10,000 copies each. I have lots of friends named Oprah and Bill Gates.** You should totally represent my book!)

As a final farewell to this strange year, here are my favorite books and posts.

I hope you find that God's favor has rested upon you in surprising ways this year, and that His Light is leading onward through all the mysterious grace that 2017 holds for you. May it be your best year yet.

Cheers and Happy New Year, sweet friends.


Favorite Posts from 2016:
Spolier alert: I realized in the car on the way to church that I forgot to put on makeup. (This post could also be called, the day I proved I was exactly that vain.)

Gosh, I love being a mom. But it is so crazy hard to love them this much, be this angry with them when they make bad choices, and still let go a little more every day because they're becoming big people.

Who doesn't love a post about chasing the trash truck in your yoga pants??

Just this, forever and always: "Our love of books isn't just about reading. Books and reading will teach us empathy for others' stories and help us tell our own stories well. This is about the way technology is causing us to lose ourselves and each other a little bit, because we are more engaged with people on the internet than we are with the people right in front of us..."

I long for justice and unity in the area of race. I have too many friends with brown and black skin who are hurting and afraid right now. I carry their stories and I will not forget them, or that Jesus has carried all of us in the most amazing ways.  "When Jesus carried the cross to Calvary, everyone could see He was carrying death, but only He knew He also carried the greatest gift of life on His back. He carried death so He could end its reign on earth, and life so He could lavish it upon the children of God for all the evers that ever will be. If we look away or fall asleep, we might miss our chance join Him in living for the sake of true Love...."

This is my heart as clearly as I can put it out there. I am clinging to my people more than I ever have before here at the end of 2016. I have learned this year that we only really heal in community. My natural and spiritual family are essential on my path to eternity, and I am grateful for all the people who let me be who God made me to be, and who love me unconditionally. 

Favorite Books from 2016:

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
This tale of a dysfunctional family was FUN. I finished it in about two days and then immediately loaned it to a friend. It's a good poolside/beach/sit and enjoy a book read. I liked it as much as What Alice Forgot, and to me, they're super similar in experience, although different in structure.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
What can I say about this? It's moving and meaningful, full of poetic language and science, too, which was really intriguing. Some tragic emements of the story made me angry, which may mean the author did a great job helping me to care too much about the characters. It's WW2 Historical fiction, and I would say that if you liked the Book Thief, you will like this, too.

An Altar in the World and Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor 
One of my dreams in life is to meet BBT. When I read her words, I feel like I've found a friend who understands how much I love Jesus. She encourages me with our similarities, and challenges me with our differences. I'm a better human after reading her books.

 A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. 
Backman writes beautifully, with a poetry that sort of sounds more like wisdom literature. This story takes place in modern day Sweden, but also tells Ove's life story, so it jumps back and forth a little. Ove's life is a sad and yet funny tale. It seems so true you easily forget this is fiction. The book is about a man of another era who is forced to accept the post-modern world he lives in by the neighbors around him. This is not Christian literature, so if you don't like to read books with very post-modern morality and worldviews, it's not for you. But it is a redemptive story in a lot of ways, and so if you can hang with the secular ways of the characters, you'll find yourself loving these awkward, broken people with great sincerity of heart. If you liked All the Light We Cannot See, I think you'll like this book.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty. 
Such a fun book!! All of Moriarty's books have twists and secrets that are slowly revealed as you read and they are highly addictive. Her books are completely worth reading in one sitting if you can get your kids to leave you alone and stay up until 3AM dying of joy. I loved her books What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret so much, I will probably read every book she ever writes, because when you love a writer, you stay loyal.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. 
I had GREAT anticipation for this book because I enjoy Nieqist's writing supremely. I loved Bread and WineCold Tangerines, and Bittersweet. Present over Perfect didn't disappoint. It was hard to read in parts, because it's so vulnerable. But I am extremely grateful for the challenge it brought me to redefine success in my daily life is still pressing into my soul. I have come face to face with my contorted way of trying to earn grace and impress Jesus lately. The emptiness that is in that endless race is not what I want. I am learning the beauty of being His is far sweeter than earning a crown I can't hold in His presence. Present Over Perfect may be my favorite book this year.

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. 
Nouwen is one of my favorite writers. Most of his books feel like liquid wisdom flowing directly into my soul. This may be my favorite of his books. It is simple and yet exceedingly profound, and taught me many things abotu what it means to be God's beloved. Everyone should read this book. 

** I don't really know Oprah or Bill Gates. But in my defense, they might love my book anyways!