Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning to Make a Fool of Myself

For as long as I can remember, I have sought a life of invisibility, of striving to simply blend into the woodwork.

Twenty years ago this upcoming May, I honestly thought I could finally achieve that goal.  It was graduation day, and I just knew that in college, I could be anybody--could be nobody.

No longer would everyone pigeonhole me as the smart one, as the unpopular one, as the nonathletic one.  I was just another blank face in a field of thousands; if I kept my head down, nobody would notice me.  And if nobody noticed me, nobody could criticize, gossip about, or think negative thoughts about me.

I tried living this life of caution, always concerned about drawing attention to myself.  The problem is a simple one: I worry too much about what others think of me; I worry I won't meet their approval, no matter who "they" are.

I have walked across school campuses, across city skylines, across entire countries, all the while trying to be invisible so no one would disapprove of anything about me. 

It's un-Biblical, I know.  God's approval is all I should need.  And yet, I can't tell you how many times I have intentionally not done something I wanted to do or not worn something I wanted to wear because of the "what if's." 

If someone thinks this dress would look better on someone else...

If someone cringes when I don't quite hit the high E flat in that song...

If someone thinks my face isn't beautiful were they to see me out in public without makeup...

If someone laughs at the sight of me belting out a song at a red light...

If someone judges me a poor dancer or a slow runner or a bad cook or a shabby seamstress or a lousy farmer or imperfect in any of a zillion ways...

There have been days when these "what if's" have imprisoned me.

Those prison bars closed in even more when I had children.  Now, I had three little ones to draw attention to this wanna-be wallflower.  Every temper tantrum, every loud cry, every outside voice inside--they all shouted to the masses of my shortcomings, inviting the judgmental glances.

Maybe it was realizing how much fun it was to dance with my children or to sing with them at the red lights; how freeing it was to not have to spend 20 minutes painting my face just for a quick trip to the store for a single gallon of milk; or how satisfying it was to sing from my heart to my Lord in worship.   But somewhere along the way, I started taking one step at a time towards freedom...towards living.

Today was one such example of living versus seeking others' approval.

Last week, I crocheted my children hats for the Dr. Seuss party at our local library, but instead of stopping there, I crocheted myself one, too.

It didn't matter that we were the only people with winter hats on this time of year in Louisiana.  It didn't even matter that I might look silly, which I'm sure I did.  What mattered was how excited my children were that mommy had a hat, too--a "Cat in the Hat" hat--and how fun it felt to join in their play, even in public.

The party was something we did together, not something I merely took them to. 

When I am dead and gone, my children will not remember how many people approved of me as someone smart, intelligent, pretty, or stylish.  They will only remember me—my actions, my words (hopefully some of them!), and my interactions with them.  They will remember what I taught them through what I do, through how I live.

If I am honest, I will admit there are still days when I struggle with what others think of me.  I know I will always be a "recovering approval-seeker."  And yet, in my heart, I know that's ok, too.

What matters is that I recognize the lie of needing others' approval and make a daily effort to reject it as such.

(If you're a crocheter, the adorable hat pattern is free from Micah Makes.)

Images: Playing stack the Yertle the Turtle buckets along with Green Eggs and Ham tic tac toe, and matching the rhyming words on Hop on Pop eggs.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Modern Parable of the Lost Coin

My father said he was jolted out of a deep sleep at 1:30 a.m., his unconscious brain somehow realizing what his conscious mind had not--the ring on his right hand was missing.

I spoke with my mother a few short hours later.  Both parents had already spent much of the morning searching through a half acre of closely cropped grass.  

Nothing.  From her tone, it was clear she had given up and had moved on to another Saturday project.

As with most things we lose, it's not the value on the open market so much as it is the sentimental value of what has been a daily part of you over the course of time.  Thirty some odd years, I remember my father buying the small, gold nugget ring and personalizing it by adding several very tiny diamonds across the top.  As a child, I never thought it as pretty as my mother's emerald or wedding diamond.  Still, it was as much a part of my daddy as his pocket knife. 

Phone to my ear, I listened to mother talk about some future generation finding the ring and thinking it a great treasure, never knowing its true story.  My heart sank with hers at the impossibility of finding such a needle in the haystack of her backyard.  But immediately after that thought came one of many popcorn prayers asking that God help us do the impossible--recover the ring for my father.

By lunchtime, my mind had selected dozens of hiding places where I had seen him take off his work gloves the day before.  A click through yesterday's photos narrowed that window of time even further, showing him ringless by the time cupcakes were served for supper.

Logically, twelve eyes are better than four, so I loaded up my three children, and we drove to Grandmama's house to join in a search my mother and father had long ago stopped.

An hour later, we had come up empty.  By then, my children had given up, too.  Their sounds of happy laughter only increased my frustration at being unable to help my parents. 

"Are you still looking!?" asked my youngest, Emerson.

I wordlessly glared at him and kept walking, hunched low to the ground, sweeping my hand through patches of clover in search of that glint of gold, but all I found were a few pieces of plastic and a metal bottle cap that had made my heart rush for a minute when it caught the late afternoon sun's brilliant light.

Minutes later, my oldest, Wyatt, took up the complaining.  "When can we leave?  When will you give up?"

I answered honestly--I didn't know.  But not yet.  I reminded him of the woman in Scripture who tore apart her house until she found the one coin she had lost.  I remembered how  last October, I had found a lost a necklace and pendant that one of my children had knocked into a basket on the floor.

This time, though, I wasn't sure.  The search area outdoors was a lot bigger than inside my house. 

As I walked to the front yard again, I continued to look and pray.  I thanked God that He had heard my prayer like He had heard Daniel's even though it had taken many days for the angel to come to him with an answer.  I told him it was ok if someone else made the discovery because I didn't want the glory; I simply wanted it found--by anybody--because it meant something to my daddy.  And I told God I would be sad, but I would love Him just as much, even if it were never found.

"Have you found it yet," interrupted Wyatt again.  "I'm hot.  I'm tiiiiiiiiired.  Can we go home now!?"  He sighed at my silent answer and huffed off.

I kicked through some pine straw right beside their gray cat, Dusty, and moved to the front yard as my daddy came to join me.

Suddenly, he called my name.  "JenniferLook."

There, right by the cat, inches from where I had been kicking in the pine straw, a circle of gold shone.

"If you hadn't come, I wouldn't have looked again," he said, placing it into the familiar groove of his finger. We hugged and joyfully went to show Grandmama and three children what God had done. What was lost was now found.

When I pulled into the drive back home, my father in law turned off the water hose and walked toward the van.  "Did you find it?"

"Yes.  In a pile of pine straw."

He shook his head and smiled.  "A miracle."

At home, I took out The Bible and opened it again to Luke 15, reading aloud to my three children the story I had recounted them earlier.

Twice in six months, God has presented this same parable to me.  I'm still not sure why.  What I do know, though, is that He is Sovereign over all.   And for that, I am thankful.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Daylight Shining Through a Tree

By the time I arrived, the trapeze artist was already at work high overhead, a trail of fine wood chips floating through the air beneath him as a chainsaw spun short work of another limb.

The next few hours was a careful dance between the man in the air and his father on the ground.  The elder one yelled out the order of the tree's destruction--this limb first, then cross to the other branch and take that one.  The younger man methodically moved in turn.  Although he was too high off the ground to see the spikes grabbing the bark, I knew they were there, making seem easy what was not.

An audience of nine watched these partners from front row seats.  Metal teeth chewed through pulpy flesh and dropped one heavy appendage after another to shake the earth.  The young man performed flawlessly with this tool, his airborne stance always seeming casual, relaxed, as if he were standing two inches off the ground.  Yet, the bright orange harness and web of ropes tethering him to the limbs above and below showed the true danger of his situation.

With one hand, he held the spinning saw; with the other, he balanced against the rough bark that bounced beneath his weight.  One wrong move, and he would have been suspended between heaven and earth like a spider, completely dependent upon the thread that connected him to safety.  Still, his nonchalant attitude communicated complete trust in that network of ropes.
That was Friday, not exactly the activity we had planned for the week's end.  Only a few days before, my Uncle had just happened to look up into the backyard oak tree and see a crack where the main trunk branched into an oversized letter Y. 

"You can see light through it," my mother related to me over the phone.  Even though I'd yet to see the crack, I knew this was bad news, especially since that part of the Y soared outwards and over my Grandmother's house.  When the sap came up and added the heaviness of plush springtime foliage to the many small branches at its tip, the limb would come down on her roof.  No question.

Sure enough, as soon as the weight of that limb was cut off, the crack went back together so that only a small ray of light still shone through.

All of us who witnessed the successful felling of a major tree couldn't help but shake our heads in utter awe of the miracle of it all.  I don't know about the men in your family, but the men in ours aren't in the habit of walking around looking at nature.  They could even be accused of being unobservant at times.

And yet, God showed my Uncle this problem at exactly the right time to save my Grandmother's house from a lot of damage in just a few short weeks.  For that, I am grateful and humbled, being reminded once again that my God sees all and that He cares for us both in the little and the big things.

Sometimes, we just have to look up to see it.
Image: Tree crack after most of the Y limb had been taken safely to the ground, our trapeze artist, and my twins pretending to be the tree.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Binding Wounds: A Father's Touch

There is no such thing as "out of earshot" when it comes to hearing my daughter's voice.  I am forever shushing her, begging her to use her inside voice, and holding my ears as she blasts louder than any nighttime television commercial. 

Lately, I've been tempted to nickname her Megaphone since even when I'm inside the house with all the doors and windows shut tight and she's far across the tadpole "swamp" by the playground, I can still hear that mouth (plus her twin brother's equally loud mouth) running overtime.

The running joke on the farm is when Opa was working one Saturday out beside the hay barns, across the fields from our home.  As Opa tells it, the voice yelling his name was crystal clear as if Amelia were right beside him.  Only problem?  When he turned to look, she was waving to him from our front lawn....a quarter mile away.  Yes.  Miss Megaphone.

Impossible as it may seem, though, when Amelia is hurt, her screams can spike several decibels above her normal football yell.  Such a sound can cause even her generally oblivious brothers to pause from their Lego building project and go running with a "where's the blood!?" mentality that boys have. 

Two weeks ago, the blessed silence of Sunday afternoon naps was broken by such a must-be-blood scream.  Bored with the boys' games, Amelia had gone outside, taken apart the boys' sign that they'd nailed to a stake, placed said stake on the concrete (nail side up, of course) and proceed to jump over it.

She obviously inherited my  lack of athleticism.

Thankfully, the soles of rubber clogs are thick.  Just  not thick enough to save her slender foot from a small puncture and a couple smudges of blood. 

Mommy was totally failing to calm the injured.  That's when daddy swooped in, gathered Amelia up in his arms, and carried her upstairs for some hot soapy silence, band aid that wouldn't stay on, and TLC.  Heart medicine.

I can't look at this picture without thinking of the verse, "He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3).

How better to know the love of a heavenly father than through the love of an earthly one.

And with that thought, I mourn, my heart feeling a physical ache for all the young girls I know whose earthly fathers have fallen so short.

I pray for those whose fathers have let go instead of holding tight, who have harmed rather than healed, who have showered them with anger instead of with love.

There is a Father waiting with outstretched arms for each of them, for each of us--to heal our broken hearts and bind up our wounds.  If we will only reach out to take His hand.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Frozen Take On Marriage

Emerson belts out another line of the Frozen soundtrack from the back seat of my van.  I grin, cringe, and roll my eyes heavenward--all at the same time.   He's uncomfortably off-key, but the unabashed passion in his voice is beautiful, a rarity generally reserved for those children still yet to grow self conscious (or for adults who believe themselves to be without an audience).

Over both Emerson and the original artists come the sounds of both Amelia's voice-over commentary and the clinking of a racecar plowing through golden pixels in Wyatt's Angry Birds Go! game.  It's going to be a noisy ride from farm to ESL class in the city.

My children have only seen the film Frozen once, but the music from last fall's blockbuster instantly took root in our household.  In the weeks following our family date to the movies, I would unexpectedly find myself the center of others' grinning amusement as my daughter Amelia would choose the ketchup aisle to burst forth with the refrain to Idina Menzel's "Let it Go!", complete with her little hands swirling upwards with imaginary snowflakes.

Needless to say, I broke down and bought the CD.  Ten dollars bought me both sanity and insanity, sanity in that my children could now learn the proper lyrics versus whatever crazy words they thought they had heard the first go-around.  And insanity because no matter how long our road trip, I can't even pop the gear shift into reverse before someone is asking for Frozen.

It's been three months.  They still aren't tired of it.  To them, this is what you do in a car--you sing.  Loudly. Like mommy.  Until you have every word memorized.  Somehow, neither Emerson nor my two other children have realized mommy only sings like a rockstar when the three of them are around or when she is alone. Even their daddy's presence makes my throat tighten to softer tones.

And when you're not singing? You're talking about the songs.  That's where my daughter comes in with her running commentary, kinda like a catechism where each lyric has an appropriate rote response she's created in her own head after first peppering me for the answers.  

"Why wouldn't Elsa build a snowman with Anna?  Why did Elsa create the snow monster to attack her sister?"

"Because she was scared.  And sometimes when people are scared, they make bad decisions."  (Good answer, mom.)

"Well, why did Anna go up the mountain?"

"Because she loved her sister.  She was a good sister because family never gives up on each other.  They always love each other no matter what."  (Yep... I'd hear those phrases repeated in the commentary for sure.)

Then came the more involved "Why didn't Elsa want Anna to get married?"

If you've been living in a cave (i.e., you don't have girls to drag you to another princess movie), Anna is desperate to meet "the one" and thinks she has only one day to do it. Orphaned--and with a sister who has locked herself away in a misguided attempt to protect everyone--Anna is so lonely for human companionship that she "falls in love" with the first guy she meets, Hans, and gets engaged to him....all in the time it takes the two of them to sing one song.

The problem was my discussing the psychology of Anna's decision wasn't going to fly with a five year old.  Anna and Hans actually had a lot in common, and the relationship honestly might have worked...if he became greedy.   

Blessedly, words came to my tongue so that months later, every time the "Love is an Open Door" song finishes, Amelia shakes her head, clucks her tongue like an old mother hen, and instructs everyone within the sound of her voice: "She didn't ask God if she should marry him.  Anna should have asked God first."

It's not that I planned on having a discussion on marriage and dating with my five year old.  I mean, gee, she's FIVE.  But in a world where "marriage" and "family" are constantly being deconstructed and redefined, I'm actually thankful for movies like this that give me the chance to provide a Biblical worldview within the normal conversations of our daily life instead of me having to create the scenario and preach.

All too soon, my three will be teenagers in the throws of their first love and all the brainless stupidity that follows.  I can only hope by then, enough of these conversations will have taken root in my children's hearts and minds to make a difference.