the trouble with grace

As the days of summer “vacation” dwindle, I find myself looking for a moment to exhale.

The beginning of summer was pretty peaceful, quite possibly because our little darlings were spending three-ish weeks away and I was napping every afternoon in first-trimester lovely exhaustion.

But the weather got hotter and the kids got more restless and the workload of life has gotten crazier, and my second-trimester blissfulness has not yet kicked in. I’m a little crabby, and to be more specific, I am frustrated. Like, with everything.

I sat in a Bible study this morning in which the main topic is grace (this was part of my work day… one of the perks!) I thought about how grace first really captured me, for real, just moments before I found out Miranda was on her way. (full story here).

And tonight, as I dish out heated up pizza to the kids, on the fifth night Daddy is away and the edge of my sanity, I am telling myself in an inward chant that grace is for everyone.grace-by-nathan-furr-free-photo-12440

Grace. Is. For. EVERYONE.

Does that ever just frustrate the crap out of you?

Grace is for whatever neighbor called our out-of-state landlord to complain about our shrubs needing a TRIM.

Grace is for the people who ask questions and then talk over you when you try to answer.

Grace is for the child who asks you for her cup when it is closer to her than it is to you
– or the one who throws her (thankfully, plastic) plate from the living to the kitchen,
– or the one who complains about the spices on the pizza and then about the bread used for her dinner-substitution sandwich
– or the one who repeatedly gets you up at 1:30, 3:30, or 4:30 in the morning.
– or the one who whines for a playdate and then fights with her friend the whole time.
– or the one who is all of the above :)

Grace is for the one who asked you to do something and then doesn’t acknowledge it was done, much less say thanks.

Grace is for the well-meaning person who says all the wrong post-miscarriage things.

Grace is for the toxic personalities who only speak negatively.

Grace is for the ones who complain about what is wrong but refuse to be part of change.

Grace is for the people who forget you, ignore you, or never see you in the first place.

Grace is for the ignorant, the mean, the judgmental, and the selfish.

And you know what else?

Grace is for me – who made every form of bad relationship choices in her teen and young adult years.

Grace is for me – who lied for years to cover those tracks.

Grace is for me – who gets so easily defensive and has difficulty taking criticism.

Grace is for me – who sometimes chews on hurt feelings or righteous indignation like Hubba Bubba until the flavorless lump nearly chokes me.

Grace is for me – who wishes someone would help sometimes but refuses to ask for it.

Grace is for me – who could definitely stand to be a better listener, a better mama, a better soul.

Grace is for me – who sometimes indulges so deeply in loneliness that I am also refusing to see those around me.

Grace is for me – who feels inadequate over frozen pizza dinners, lost patience, and those stupid shrubs.

Grace is for me – who after so much learning and acceptance of grace, still falls into the trap of pursuing perfection so that I will please myself, the people around me, the strangers on the internet, and my Heavenly Father.

Grace is for me – because He is already pleased.

Grace is for you  – whether you identify with pieces of this list or have one of your own.

Grace is for us.

Grace is for everyone.

 

dream jobs

I pull in the driveway, grab the heavy bag, the empty water bottle, the almost-dead phone, and my keys, and before I can swing my legs around the side of the van, they are running, smiling, saying my name (“Mommy,” the best name), and waiting for hugs and greetings and compliments. It’s one of the most precious moments of the day, and sometimes the most taxing one, too. Time to make the switch.

“Mama, you know something? When you’re at work, I look at the clock every hour to see how long before you come home.” – Miranda, age 7

Before I ever got pregnant, Rod and I talked through options because it was just a given that I would go back to teaching after we had a baby.

IMG_8253THE DAY I found out I was pregnant with Miranda, I ended up in tears saying to him, “There is NO way!”

My husband was gracious (and making a doable income) and I got my wish. However, I spent very little time as a “stay-at-home mom” or whatever we are calling it these days. I was still traveling for, marketing, organizing his southern gospel singing ministry… before long, I was teaching a one-day, two-hour class at the local hospital, and then, we were planning our annual gospel convention (which, to this day, is still some of the hardest work I’ve ever done), and then, for fun, I began editing a magazine.

But three years ago this summer, I returned to the more traditional work force. For 2 years (with a depressing gap in the middle), I worked in theatre management. THAT was crazy hard work too… but thankfully, the second part of it meant I could have the girls with me.

When that part morphed into being on a church staff, it didn’t take long for me to know that this was the perfect-fitting job for me as a mommy. While I don’t prefer to have my kids in the office with me, it’s an option when it’s needed. And all the “after-hours” parts of it… meetings, events, the madness that sometimes is synonymous with Sunday mornings: they are part of it.

This summer, like the last, I re-arranged my hours to be there three days a week instead of four. And because the girls were away with their grandparents for several weeks – and their Daddy is working from home when he isn’t traveling – there hasn’t been a Childcare Issue (thank the Lord!)

I tend to fit my other part-time job, as an editor for TRU Teen Magazine, around everything else. The girls have seen the magazine, admired the clothes and faces, and know that I work for their friends’ mom, Ms. Deanna.

IMG_8256Occasionally, they express their frustration with me and my “distractions.” Sometimes, they would rather not go to both church services every Sunday (which, we’d probably do a lot whether I was working there or not). Sometimes, when I am in the throes of a deadline or a streak of inspiration, they’d rather I just put my computer away and watch Jessie with them. I continue to try to show them the positive aspects of Mommy Working (money for eating out and going to the movies, people we get to meet and help), but I understand. My personality lends itself to focused work, and it’s hard for me to make the switch from “doing” to “Disney” sometimes.

They don’t always get it. *I* don’t always get it. All moms have “distractions” – some of them are working much longer hours and have constant Childcare Issues, some of them are taking care of other family members who need extra help, some of them have health problems, and some, too many, of them are doing it on their own.

I remind myself when statements like Miranda’s pour on the Mom Guilt that my little ladies have a pretty awesome life. When we were traveling all the time, they got to see many places, ride planes, trains, and a bus, and were doted on and fed by people from all over the country. When we were working the theatre, they got to see shows they loved, meet people they adored, eat endless popcorn, and learn about the backstage workings of live shows. And now, again, they get to be part of whatever I do in some capacity – something that would not be true if I worked in a doctor’s office, a school, a bank…

What I must also remind myself of, though, when that newsletter just needs to be tweaked and sent, when we get out of the 90 minute movie and there are 4 voice mails waiting for me, when it’s been a manic Sunday and all I want is a nap, is that at this stage of their lives, when they innocently and sweetly live in a world of where they can be anything and want such simple things, the best thing I can give them is ME.

conference this

God is preparing youI admit, I am a bit of an eye-roller about the conference circuit. After running around the southern gospel convention circuit for 5 years like it was my job (oh wait! it was! we even had our own for three of those years…), I was over it. The crazy schedules. The inevitable disappointment. The exhaustion. The drama. The competition. The inspiration that would burn like a candle until… 3 days later… when you’re home and real life squelches it all.

So when two friends from Chicago included me on an invitation to a WRITERS conference… for WOMEN… CHRISTIAN women, I sort of rolled my eyes. It was expensive. It looked very pretty and perfect, so I figured I would not fit in. And after all this time – 3 decades, y’all! – writing, getting published here and there, I wasn’t sure what I had to gain.

But it would be with girlfriends, who get that ambitious and artistic side of me, who I rarely get to see, and once we decided to get there the day before and have our own “pre-conference,” I was in.

I’m not going to list all the details of the Proverbs 31 She Speaks conference. If you know anything about this 22-year-old ministry (that started as a newsletter! Just sayin’!), you know it was first class… thoughtful, thorough, lovely. If you don’t know about it, you should definitely check it out.

What I want to reflect on for just a moment is that right there on the first day, when I went to a myriad of informational workshops and one fairly successful meeting, the bookend general sessions grabbed my heart, my thoughts, and my spirit and would not let go.

It was the story Proverbs 31 President Lysa Terkeurst shared about having Monday night dinners at their house, and in particular, instead of turning to Facebook to discuss and judge issues that affect people’s lives, having those people into their home and loving them.

It was every single thing that came out of the mouth of Christine Caine, founder of A21, who called all of us to take time in the dark room, being developed, before we lunge for the spotlight. In particular, it was when she said:

Looking at all the things we’re not invited to only fuels our selfish ambition. If GOD has assigned you, HE will FIND you!

I’ve spent so much of the past three years wringing my hands and wiping my tears, trying to figure out where I fit in, what is next, why this or that fell apart, why I’m not a part of this group or that gathering. So Christine’s words struck me straight to my core. I was listening to her fervently but also speed-texting my husband her words and my thoughts on them, because…

WHAT? What am I waiting for? What are we doing? God has assigned us. We’re not hamsters on a wheel nor are we sitting ducks. Maybe we aren’t doing what we used to do, and maybe we aren’t doing what we WILL be doing, but, the next piece of Christine’s statement was:

God is preparing you for the things He has prepared FOR you.

We have a promise of an assignment, a purpose, an opportunity to make a difference. Apparently, it isn’t in music industry, in family friendly entertainment, in a theatre, or on a bus. OK. Cool. Done. It might not be on any stage or published page or viral blog or huge platform. OK. Cool. Whatever.

But it will be loving people and serving people. It already is.

pre-conference with Deanna & Lisa: sushi dinner!

This past weekend included time with one of my besties and a dear friend I didn’t get to know so well before moving away. It included a bonus visit with my bonus daughter Paige. It included precious moments with ladies who shared their visions, hearts, stories, smiles, prayers, and hugs. It included valuable learning from women who have paved a way in writing and publishing words of life.

But as with all the messages I have heard in the past few years that resound strongly in my spirit, the idea of simplifying, working with what is in my hand, seeing, loving and serving the people around us – including our family first – was what struck. There is nothing to wait for, no spinning wheel, no box to wait in.

It’s time to simply be who I am called to be. What greater adventure?
To learn more:
Proverbs 31
She Speaks
Lisa Terkeurst
Christine Caine

100 happy days

#100happydays#100happydays is a Facebook challenge.

{You can read more about it here}

I decided to assign this one to myself today because I felt it first. I felt it when my phone pinged after a crazy day at work and cancelled plans for after, no plan for dinner and no nap (still hanging on to the last days of first trimester, y’all). I looked and saw my friend Deanna’s words

I discretely snapped this for you.

What was it she snapped? A photo of my daughters’ pediatrician in Illinois during her kids’ own visit. Oh, how we loved Dr. C.! And how we miss him. He was so fabulous… had three daughters of his own, never panicked or gave us trendy advice, always smiled and spent time with us, and when we were losing our health insurance, made sure we had plenty of samples for Kaity’s nebulizer.

We have a good doctor here, but when you spend 2 straight years of well visits and plenty of sick ones with your little almost-Irish-twins, you grow attached.

That Deanna knew the picture would make me smile, possibly make my day… well, that is pretty fabulous too.

Feeding the birds leftover tortillas at Chipotle
Feeding the birds leftover tortillas at Chipotle

I think we often equate a happy result with a grand gesture… planning, formality, fanciness, bigness. And then, when we look back at the times we spend preparing The Grand, the effort was often more draining than the result deserved. Or perhaps, the process was happier than the outcome.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the simple. Look at your day. What moments made you smile? What notions made you laugh? Did you give anyone a hug or an encouraging word? Did you appreciate anything you saw in nature? Did you listen to your favorite song one time? Did you call a friend or hold your husband’s hand?

It doesn’t have to take much. It doesn’t take much. When I look around and see dissatisfaction or even misery in our first-world experience, it is usually due to unrealistic expectations or misplaced energy.

A trip to Target... Randa's not in pain. She's singing, I think :)
A trip to Target… Randa’s not in pain. She’s singing, I think :)

So I take the challenge of 100 days. I accept the opportunity to find pleasure in one of my favorite Friends episodes being on at bedtime, or my child saying something completely hilarious first thing in the morning… to be satisfied by a family outing to Target on a Sunday night or to be fulfilled by a 4-text conversation with a faraway friend.

Happiness is accessible. It is simple. It is a choice.

Take the challenge with me. And clap along…!

We were made for this

kaitlyn_dec2013 She runs outside with the other girls, excitedly whooping and ready for adventure. They’re all cute as buttons, pictures of what little girls look like in their homemade t-shirts and bare feet, or dress up clothes and funny socks.

I look at the window just minutes later (so grateful for the view to the outside, and so grateful for the sprawling, shared yards we have with friendly neighbors). She is there, alone, playing on the climbing wall, having an adventure with herself.

It’s taken awhile, but I’ve learned that these are not sad adventures, and this is not a lonely child. Sometimes, most times, she does not fit in. She is the one with the “thing” that I can’t quite put my finger on, the thing that isn’t a diagnosis or a label. She is going to dress her way, imagine her way, and demand her way. She is going to challenge me and she is going to be challenged.

She is mighty. She is a leader. And she is a child. And that last one sometimes trumps the first two, and the brave warrior comes crashing down, with angry accusations and heart-wrenching tears that break her mama’s heart, because I never wanted my five-year-old to feel that level of fear, of uncertainty, of rejection, of humiliation, or frankly, of intensity.

~

On church day, a friend comes to me. She knows me pretty well by now, and she embraces me as she tells me what she feels God has shown her. It’s confirmation, so I know it’s true. One daughter, she says, is just like her daddy. And this one, she is like you. God is showing you what you were like, so you can see… so you can see…

Like me? This five year old with bravery that I envy? With confidence that I long for? With coolness that I strive for? She is me? Did I leave others in awe? Did I leave my parents in manic states of amusement and frustration and utter bewilderment at my brilliance? Surely not.

But now, colored with perspective, I watch her today. I remember the stories I began to write at age 6, excited ramblings and detailed imaginings. I remember how my heart reached out for others, wanted to be like them, but could never quite change enough to fit. I know that looking back at the girl I was…age 6, age 9, age 12, age 18… age 35, that I was beautiful, but I didn’t see it, so I tried to be something else, anything else.

icor12-4I look in the mirror and see the same blue eyes and pale skin as our youngest child, the one who does not look at all like her three older siblings, (who’ve captured their daddy’s little bit of Cherokee blood, deep brown eyes, and great ability to tan), the one whose flowing blond mane calls to mind “Irish Lass” or “Tinkerbell” until people realize it’s more like “Buzz Lightyear” or “Thor.” Can I have the same care, the same grace, for my own reflection as I have for my baby girl? Can I accept, even celebrate, that those uncategorizable differences my Father gave to me make me special and fun and even great? Can I accept the beauty that others insist is there, in spite of the wiry grays and the extra pounds and general feelings of awkwardness? Can I apply the lesson that adventures of my own making, taken alone, are acceptable and even enough, if they are what I am meant to have?

~
I look outside again, just after writing those words, and see the girls have regrouped, then run off again, except now one has stayed behind with my warrior, swinging on a tire just feet away, companionable but separate. Companionable but separate: kind of like my husband, reading across the room but smiling knowingly at me on the occasions I look up… or my Dad, who sometimes smirks and shakes his head at my “Kelly-ness”… or those friends, some 1000 miles away and some at the next desk, who know my fake smile from my real one (even on Facebook) and when to call me on it.

We were not made to be just like everyone else. We were not made always to fit in the crowd, but sometimes to get lost in it, and sometimes run circles around it. She will be ok, and so will I. And if this resounds in your spirit, so will you.

~ November 2013