Wednesday, April 27, 2016

making sense of beauty with my daughter

When I was pregnant with her, I wondered if it would be different. After three sons, I wasn't sure what would it be like to raise a daughter.

{Girls are different, you know.}

delight in my boys. I am smitten and enthralled by their plucky way of conquering the world. Boys who need their mama make the world go 'round with love, love, love.

Raising a girl, though, will undo the knots life has tied in your soul.

I look at this little whisp of a thing, birthed from my womb straight into my heart. Her smile is full of silly mischief and her words are like honey and lavender; her blonde hair and sparkly shoes skip, fly, and dance through our home.

I believe deep down in my bones that everything about her is perfectly glorious. She is beauty, she is grace, she bubbles with all that is wonderful.

Our culture salivates over her youth and joy. It waits for an opportune time to accuse her of being less than enough for everyone around her and everything she longs to do.

I'm building walls around her to keep that filthy lie out.

"Beauty is as beauty believes," I tell her.

Because I know it isn't her hair or her skin, her clothes or her jewelry that make her truly beautiful. It is God Himself that causes us to light the world with glory.

Her beauty is birthed from the way He formed her for this world, lovingly carved her in heavenly places from the glory only He can contain.

I'm like an old time tent evangelist, preaching the gospel of beauty and grace to her. I point to the women we know and love, who radiate God's love and I define the words "beautiful" and "enough" for her by God's standards.

I tell her the only way we can really be ugly is to stop loving Jesus and only care about ourselves. I tell her that as she grows up, my wrinkles are going to become deeper because I'm on my way to being a grandmother, and everyone knows grandmas are awesome. My love for her and my wisdom will deepen, too, and that will be amazing. I point out how beautiful other women are, women who serve us in restaurants, are kind to others, and whose beauty might be easily missed because they aren't flashy or fancy. 

She is already familiar with the world's message, that beauty comes from a bottle and can be bought on a hanger. She will soon hear that youth is the height of glory and wrinkles are our greatest enemy. Someone will tell her that her appearance is of more importance than her mind, or her generous heart, or her love for others. The evil siren song that she will never be enough will try to win her heart away.

Here is where the true challenge comes: you can't teach to others what you don't know yourself. I can't show her how to love herself if I don't love myself. 

Late at night I wash my face and peer deeply into my reflection. A strange face gazes back for behind this looking glass. I think to myself, "Beauty is as beauty believes," and I know what I see.

I see a woman who is loved. I'm not afraid of aging or of wrinkles. I have decided to take life as it comes and that living up to the world's standard of beauty isn't worth the effort.

Because that's what God says about me. And because I have a daughter who is watching me very closely.

I'm calling out to her from under this tent, singing praises to God, and I'm about to make a run for The Lord because the world's beauty message is garbage that could rot our souls, but we are women set free by the truth.

God's love makes us beautiful, and by His grace we are enough. Nothing will ever change that.

Yes, yes, beauty is as beauty believes. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

holding onto God

This morning we read Psalm 62 as a part of our family devotional. We asked everyone to close their eyes and listen to the beginning and the end, and see if the Holy Spirit spoke anything to them- if any of the words "came alive" in their hearts as they listened. This is the beginning of hearing God's voice, and it's amazing to watch my children practice this discipline.

My daughter said she heard the word "Yours" as we read, and it made her think about the way we are all God's treasures, belonging to Him alone. She's a little deep for a seven year old.

It reminded me of how my friend Amelia used to let the Lady hold her wedding ring. There are a lot of ways to bond with a four year old girl, but this by far was proven to be quite successful.

Little girls do love pretty, shiny things.

Finley, age 4

In her hand is not simply a sparkly, expensive thing, that a man gave to the woman he loves. It is a symbol of forever love, the proof of a vow that links two people for all time.

We often hold more than we realize.

I keep looking at this old photo of my daughter, so full of glee and joy. I miss her younger face, babyish words, and gushing toddler hugs. In this photo she is feeling loved by her grown-up friend, and loving her in return. But I love the way she is growing up, so fun and full of life and new wisdom all uniquely her own.

It isn't only listening in silence to God's word that leads us to broader truths, our friendships can teach us a great deal about broader things.

In the grand exchange of love we call friendship, we hold the heart and soul of someone else in our own.

In the lilting syllables of God's Word we hold many deep truths to discover.

Like Amelia did with her ring, God lets us hold His treasures so we will know His love for us. And by holding the people and truths and experiences He gives us Himself. We are holding God's treasures, but we are really holding God. And all the while He is holding us.

I hope today I don't fail to see what I am really holding, that the pains and struggles are for His shining glory, that the children I am struggling to raise well will one day rise up and shine for God alone, and that the words I agonize over writing belong to Him alone and He will do as He pleases with them.

We hold so much, even when we hold such small things. The true blessing of today is simply to have open hands.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

remember that time I fell out of a VW van as a child?

When I was a toddler, I fell out the back of a VW van. All the cool kids were doing it back then, sitting up in the weird rear shelf thing, leaning on the back window, flopping out in the middle of Santa Ana Canyon Road under the Eucalyptus trees near the Sizzler steakhouse in Anaheim Hills, CA. It was very common and trendy, even. Or not. I don't really know.

My poor mom was oblivious. There were about twenty kids in the car, so she had no clue one had popped out the back. Seatbelts were considered optional in my childhood, and no one thought twice about shoving every cousin in one car/pickup bed/trailer and driving to the park. It was considered fun and convenient to cram every person alive into only one vehicle. Those were the days! Safety ignorance was a gift (except that it caused me to fall out the back here, so you could say it was to blame in this particular case).

This is basically the opposite of what happened to me.
(Also, our van was blue)

Of course, other people saw me fall out onto the asphalt street. The kids in the van started screaming and yelling, but that was pretty typical and in no way helpful. All the cars around my mom honked and honked, but my mom thought it was her own horn, which frequently got stuck when she turned the steering wheel. It wasn't until she glanced in her rear view mirror that she saw me sitting there, crying, mostly unharmed.

We were on our way to a barbecue so there were some steaks in the car. My mom slapped one on my head as a medicinal compress because this was the late 70s and life was still normal back then: gluten was just some word on the Shredded Wheat box diagram and anything in the cooler made a great ice pack. (Necessary Note: I live in Texas now, and so I realize I am misusing the term "barbecue" here, but in California a "barbecue" is any meal cooked outside on some kind of grill-like device. No barbecue sauce or side of cow/pig roasting necessary. I know what you're wondering, and yes, you can technically serve only vegetables at a California barbecue. Totally acceptable, although not always very tasty or popular.)

My mom could barely talk about this VW van story when I was a kid. She was so scarred. In fact, I may be telling it all wrong because I don't think I've ever really heard it properly told. I gathered bits and pieces over the years and sort of stuck them all together. Now that I think about it, my mom is going to be really mad if I botched this story. (Sorry, Mom. This is the downside of a memoir: no fact-checking required.)

When my older brother tells people this story he always ends it shaking his head and saying, "...and so that's pretty much how Carrie ended up the way she did..." He's probably just always been jealous of my sturdiness and ninja-like physicality that resulted in no hospital visit that day.

When I tell the story I think two things:

1. We should have kept that van and sold it on eBay for cool $150,000. 
2. Chin up, buttercup. It's always something.

Because really, it is always something. I mean, if your kid isn't falling out the back of the car, then he's failing math or mouthing off to his soccer coach. Or the living room has flooded the day you have out of town guests coming. Or your husband is being a real jerk and ate the best piece of chocolate cake and now you are forced to blame him for ruining the entire evening, which is really mean to do and very unlike you, but he left you no choice. Or your best friend has cancer. Or depression is pulling you down into the darkness. Or there's been another terrorist attack. Or you just found out you're pregnant (again) and you don't have insurance or a plan in place. Or everything you try to do to make things better only makes life itself worse and you are beginning to wonder if it's even worth trying any more.

Friends, life happens out here, in the middle of a battlefield. Even when there's no major "war" happening, every rabbit in the bushes or owl in the night can send us into a full-fledged panic attack. The small battles remind us that there are bigger ones coming some day, and that can be paralyzing. Then the seemingly big battles hit us, only to be eclipsed by some new horrendous fight we never dreamed we would have to take on.

Some days we can handle all of it all like champions. Other days we want to run away. Many days, we must stand up and fight for the good, the beauty, the honor, and the glory of Love. On those days, I pray you find an abundance of coffee and chocolate awaiting you at the beginning and end of the onslaught.

Today I am fighting battles that I cannot possibly win on my own. Mine mostly involve the horrendously strong wills of my children, the health of my family, a book I am determined to write, and the great needs of a thriving church. I am not strong enough. I am not smart enough. (After all, I did once fall out the back of a VW van.) I am not brave enough. I am not big enough.

Maybe you know what I mean?

Maybe, like me, your current battles require, demand, and cry out unashamedly for God's help. It has come to this, you guys, we are not going to make it without Him. The first thing a real battle does is heighten our awareness that too many times we have trusted in our own strength and leaned on our own abilities. The battles we can't win on our own make us desperate because they expose our weakness and prove how powerless we are without God. It's very disconcerting and bothersome to be human.

Our only available action is to worship on the battlefield. 

We become stronger and braver and bigger and wiser when we lift our hands and proclaim His goodness and unfailing love for us. It's like some kind of transformational miracle. Worship directs our hearts toward how faithful God is to us, and we somehow become more faithful too. Worship reminds us that He fights for us, through us, and in us. We let go of our need to be amazing on our own and we stand in awe of how amazing He really is.

I don't have any memory of falling out the back of that van, or of sitting on the ground, waiting for my mom to come get me. But when I imagine the scene, I always see myself sitting there with my hands held straight out, my eyes clenched shut, with loud cries coming from my mouth.

Interestingly, that's pretty much what I look like when I'm worshiping.

Chin up, buttercup. It's always something. You might as well stand in the middle of this current mess and worship the God who turns all the somethings into miraculous tales of His faithfulness and glory. Because tomorrow or next month or next year, it will probably be something else, and you're going to need the practice.

"Let them give glory to the Lord 
and proclaim his praise in the islands.
The Lord will march out like a champion,
 like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
 and will triumph over his enemies."
Isaiah 42:12-13

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

what a mom does when her kid is puking

I learned last night that if a 12 year-old boy who usually eats more than his other three siblings combined, tells you he "isn't really all that hungry" at dinner, he is about to puke for the next eight hours.

Stomach bugs are the super most bestest!

Here's what you do when your preteen boy is sick: You sit on the bathroom floor and promise him he isn't going to die. When he moans, "Why is God doing this to me???", you tell him there is no "why" for this. And you are very, very, very sorry. And you love him. 

You think about his future wife, who will do this dark-of-night nursing for him one day. You know she will be basically Snow White, Pollyanna, and Katniss all rolled into one person. You love her so much already.

Here's what you do not do: You don't say you wish it were you lying on the cold tile sweating in between episodes. Because even though you're a mom and you would do anything for him, moms can't get sick like that because the whole world seems to orbit around your ability to stand up straight and make pancakes.

I don't think I realized that surviving stomach bugs is such a learned skill before last night. I had to teach him everything: when to brush his teeth, at what point you realize drinking water is making it worse, and how to get a pillow and then endure the agony right there on the bathroom floor.

By the way, of course we are in the middle of a Job series at church right now. So I was thinking all about how not to be like Job's friends, how Job had it so much worse than we have it, and how suffering has a purpose even though it seems purposeless. 

Then at about 1:00am, like a good evangelical, I started blaming the devil for everything. I think this is how Christians become superstitious. (Don't talk about Job! That's like asking for trouble!! Things will get worse!) I didn't want to be superstitious, but just in case, I stopped with the Job topic in my head, and upped my warfare prayers a notch spiritually. Just. In. Case.

I will now spend the rest of the day analyzing the state of my own stomach. (Am I hungry, or about to hurl? Should I eat crackers all day just in case?) I will disinfect all the toilets and wash all the bedding and towels, so as to fabricate hope. I may bleach the porch if it makes me feel less powerless against the viral onslaught. I will force and bribe all the kids to sit very still and be very nice to me, like I'm made of fragile porcelain. (Just kidding. That is impossible crazy talk. They will make me bonkers all day long.)

Mostly, I will just take everything slowly. And if you opened up my soul it would look like this:

I hope your Wednesday is vomit free. I hope mine is, too. 

But my daughter just told me her "tummy hurts", so I'm a little nervous. Let's not mention Job, okay? Just in case.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

a wednesday kind of prayer

"There's no greater lifestyle and no greater happiness than that of having a continual conversation with God."
—Brother Lawrence (1614-1691)

He gently tapped my shoulder while it was still dark outside, still dark in our room, while I was covered in the dark of my dreams.

"Do you still want to wake up this early?"

Yes. I really do.

I made a cup of coffee, opened my computer, and let words trickle from my fingertips onto the keyboard.

And I felt it there, the seed that was planted decades ago when I began to love God most, to hope for the courage to follow Him wherever He led me. I felt the seed vibrate with the song of my soul, singing along to the longing to die to my own dreams and live the one He wrote for me before my lungs ever filled with air.

God is.

What does that mean about us? We are the dream and the plan and the song of His Being in this dark world. Our God placed His treasure not in the glorious mountains or the endless ocean tides. He did not breathe the essence of His person into a golden temple.

He set the fire of His glory in our breasts, and lights the world with a forever Love that redeems even the most broken bits of humanity.

One small seed of sown in faith will change everything for someone, somewhere, somehow. Because those who are poor in spirit, who have poured out all they are, who live emptied of their need for worldly glory, they will inherit the Kingdom of God.

And so we crawl into His presence. We climb this great mountain of God. We write. We pray. We preach. We give of ourselves, of our money, of our time, of our inconvenience. We have mercy on those who least deserve it. We forgive those who harm us. We offer more to those who appreciate it least. We live poured out, broken into bits under the weight of our smallness. We are those who deserve God least, and yet He has chosen us to be His Very Own.

Here in my living room, with its half-painted walls, in front of the coffee table I found on the side of the road and the lamp everyone loves best of all, I pray the only prayer that can help me up this hill all of humanity must conquer in order to find the way Home.

"Lord, show me the Way."

The seed within me expands and grows and everything makes sense because I know nothing at all for certain, but God is and does and has forever.

His answer to me is simply this: It's never too early to wake up.