Archives for posts with tag: love

I don’t like asking for favors. Even small ones. For example: asking a neighbor to get our mail when we’re out of town. Getting the mail is a super easy job. The required amount of activity, deductive reasoning skill and manual labor is quite trivial, but I profusely apologize like I’ve just asked Senora Aurora (next door neighbor) to be the surrogate mother of our next child (that analogy is strictly to illustrate a point! Plus she’s definitely past child-bearing years). Then, when we return and I walk next door to retrieve the collected mail, I am sure to bring four different quick breads, fresh out of the oven, to thank her for the major inconvenience I caused her.

Now, when neighbors ask me to collect their mail? Really, truly no big deal. It is zero percent a hassle. In fact, it’s sometimes nice to have a reason to take a little stroll down the street. I’ve tried to internalize the fact that (hopefully!) my neighbors really, truly feel just as unbothered by little favors as I do so that I can not be afraid to become real friends with them. Because real friendship is built through real life and not just niceties, right? And when I humble myself to be put in a position of debt to my neighbor or friend or family member, usually I am rewarded by their willingness to be equally as vulnerable. Just ask my super awesome neighbor Becky. She fed and watered Frankie the rabbit every day and (in the pouring rain) checked in our chickens multiple times while we were gone over Thanksgiving. She’s one of the sweetest, easy-to-be-friends-with women I know. Now get this. She’s 9 months pregnant. I know. I can see you all shaking your heads. What monster asks their dear neighbor who’s about to pop a baby out to feed their livestock for a week? ME. I’m that monster. I owe her big time and at least 10 quick breads.

Superstar neighbor Miss Becky

Superstar neighbor Miss Becky

My mom and my dad. In my 32 years, I have already drawn out SO many favors from them. Before I ever really realized how much I was taking and even now when I do realize it. When it comes to their willingness to give or extend favor to me, the supply never seems to dry up. Although I know how generous they’ve been with me through my life, I am still never afraid to ask for help. They may be the only two people on this earth whose well of favor I’m not afraid to keep drawing from. Even with my husband Matt, I sometimes still think in terms like this when there’s something I want to ask of him: Ok, when was the last time he went out to play basketball with his friends because there’s a Noonday party I want to go to with my friends. It’s like we think that kindness and generosity are measurable units that we can trade, stockpile, or deplete. And that very well could be true with most humans because many of us are keeping score. NOT GOD. My eyes well up just resting on that truth because He gives and gives and gives generously to all without finding fault.

I stop and pray every time I see a prayer request come through Facebook. This afternoon, there were several prayer requests in a row for major health concerns. By the third or fourth prayer request, I found myself forgetting that God is not keeping score of how many favors I’ve asked of Him. Praying like this: God, I know I’ve just asked for three other miracles, so…well…okay yeah, since I’m overloading You, I’ll be back to pray for this tomorrow when the favor-meter has been recharged. His favor, his love for us, his desire to do good in our lives does not dry up. You can’t ask too many times for too many favors. He can do all that and infinitely more. If I believe (and I do) that He gladly receives my request of Him to heal three people in a row, then why not ask healing for the fourth? I take my own insecurities and misguided conclusions about myself and other people, then I apply them to a God who is just not like me. Praise you, Lord!

I hope I can mature to a place with my people, and surely with my God, where kindness, good, generosity, neighborliness, love, and favor is so abundant in our lives that it passes freely between us, no tabs kept. I pray that we can desire those things with so much fervor that our communities are not so fragmented, fractured, and broken. Thank you to all of you who, like my parents, have let me take more than I have given back without being offended; when you do that, God’s likeness is tangible and precious in your living, breathing example of endless favor.

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Well, I got rather depressing news a couple months ago. Some back story first. When you think of the people in your life – when their image is conjured up by someone mentioning their name – do you have a go-to mental picture for each of them? Let me explain this better. My Grandma Swanson: She’s at her kitchen counter at their old house in Lincoln, bent over something delicious. Maybe homemade bread, possibly rhubarb pie, often heart-shaped sugar cookies, or it could be her own canned jams. Well, she’s either in the kitchen or beating us all in a card game. My sister Caitlin is on a stage being beautiful, singing her heart out and charming everyone within earshot. One Jenna is eating JuJuBees and wearing red sweat pants while the other Jenna dips honey wheat pretzels in oily natural peanut butter – we’re laughing and telling stories. I’m cruising O with Whitney in either her or my station wagon, drinking Lemonberry Slushes – it’s summer and we have not a single care in the world. My mom is sewing or scrapbooking or baking or packaging a gift for someone – she’s doing a lot of different things and none of them require sitting for any length of time! Whether these images have been stamped on my memory due to repetition or due to isolated events that simply made a big impression on me or due to the good feelings that those moments created, they are important because they are lasting.

So, I posed this question to Harper awhile back, “Harper, close your eyes and think of Mama. What am I doing?”

She responded quickly, “You’re working.”

“What kind of work?” (Hoping she’d say gardening or laundry or cleaning – at least something truly productive)

“On your computer.”

Ouch. If you know me and how I feel about technology and social media, this was truly a punch in the gut. And you should know I’m rarely ever doing actual “work” on the computer – I’m typically just making the rounds on Facebook or the blogs. I have a love/hate relationship with screens and have made a conscious effort to limit my time online over the past four months or so. Therefore, I am inclined to defend myself. To tell you about how often we bake or garden or play at the park together. I FEEL like we are constantly logging those quality hours and I FEEL like I’ve drastically cut back on my own screentime. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I FEEL or even how much quality time I actually spend with them if what they perceive is that I’m hooked to a screen. Perception is reality, yes?

So, to combat my inclination to get lost in scrolling, I moved my entire computer desk to a place where I rarely go during the day – our bedroom. I only recently upgraded to a smartphone a month ago, but I have made myself accountable to my husband to not download apps that devour my precious time without adding any real benefit to my life (for me, no social media at all). I understand that these years are fleeting and I want to be present for them. What’s more, I want to set the precedent in my household of how we hope and expect our daughters to act with technology when they’re old enough to have screens. I’m hoping that, given a few more months of my intentional self-discipline to not be consumed by technology, I will be able to get a different answer from my oldest daughter.

You see, for my children, I desperately don’t want their go-to mental image of me to be hunched over a screen. They deserve my eyes and my undivided attention. I don’t want them to look over and see the top of my head when my smile is how I want them to think of me. When I’m not with them, I want them to remember me and feel happy because my general presence in their lives is inviting and warm, not cold, closed off and consumed by a device. Another thing, I don’t want them to picture me with my phone constantly aimed at their faces, snapping away psychotically until I get a shot worthy of Instagram. If they see me bowing to something, I want to be bowing in prayer and not to a stupid phone. If they think I can’t get enough of something, my unquenchable thirst better be for God’s life-giving Word and not the life-sucking internet.

Harper’s honest answer, although painful and a bit embarrassing, was a challenge. A reminder. A reprimand. A gut-check. But ultimately an opportunity to reroute and start doing things differently. To start creating a mental-image in their memories that I can be proud of and a pattern of behavior that I can live with. If you struggle with this, too, just start with maybe trying to make sure the people around you don’t see the top of your head very often. Eyes are a much better view. If you’re not sure what your people are perceiving about you, then ask them. You are painting your own self-portrait – better make sure your legacy is looking the way you hoped it would.

 

 

One of the worst things you can be in America 2015 is someone who judges the actions or decisions or lifestyles of your fellow man. I am a person with conservative beliefs. But I go online and read some articles or blogs, what have you, and second guess myself because our culture hates intolerance more than murder or adultery. In our New Age era where we’re supposed to follow our hearts and accept everything, I am afraid to even own up to my dissenting opinions. And yet, I have this thing inside of me that pushes back and I realize: I have been grossly neglecting and underutilizing my most powerful spiritual weapon: the Holy Spirit living in me. I read comments by LOTR actor John Rhys-Davies yesterday about how we’ve lost our moral compass and what it means for Christianity. I had the bulk of this blog post sitting in my drafts folder, but that interview inspired me to finish collecting my thoughts on the necessity of judging.

In reality, not only do I pass a steady stream of judgments throughout my day, good judgment is essential to my health and safety. I stop at red lights. I look before crossing the street. I don’t eat roadkill squirrels in the gutter. I decide to wear clothes. And beyond myself, I actively instruct our children to make all these same judgments. To consciously weigh the benefits and consequences of the actions, thoughts, and words that fill their days. Of course, whether or not I walk into oncoming traffic is a matter of life and death – not a moral judgment. But if I saw a person walk into oncoming traffic, I would surely say that he is either blind, mentally ill, confused, or suicidal. Can’t the same logic translate over to our spiritual lives? I think it can and should. All around me, people are walking into oncoming traffic in their moral and spiritual lives, not believing – some not knowing – that they have put themselves at serious risk. They may be blind, sick, confused or depraved, but they’re there. In the middle of the road. Consequences manifest themselves physically and emotionally, of course, but the spiritual self is the part of the person most at risk…especially when those who DO know better are not warning about the oncoming traffic.  I get it, though. It’s hard to speak out when you know that your words could cost you. It can cost real money. See: the privately owned businesses who were court ordered to fork over thousands and thousands of dollars after refusing business to gay couples. It can cost real relationships. It can cost real comfort. From Jesus: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15.18. Sometimes when the world hates you, you’re on to something.

There’s a big flipside, though. Scripture is also clear about the dangers of judging each other. Matthew 7: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ “…and Luke 6: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

Then there’s this really interesting little verse in John 7 (v24): “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”  I really like the NLT version: “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” So, apparently there is a right way to judge, but also a wrong way. Instead of rejecting the popular notion that judging is wrong altogether, maybe we need to simply examine the way we use judgment. Are we doing it the correct way or the way that gets us into spiritual trouble?

The difference reminds me of a concept I learned while taking a parenting class called “Growing Kids God’s Way”. The lesson was about kids tattling/telling on each other. Bottom line: where is the heart of the tattler? Is he tattling on his sister because he wants to see her get into trouble? Because he wants to elevate himself as the better child? Because he thinks tattling will earn him some sort of reward? Because he wants her to feel guilty and ashamed? All of those are, of course, wrong reasons and our kids get punished for tattling. The class taught that the only good reason a child would “tell” to his parents was because he feared for the health and safety of his sibling. Example: he saw his sister about to walk into oncoming traffic and ran to his father for help. That’s the good kind of “telling” and comes from a heart of love and genuine concern.

Adult application. Bottom line: where is your heart when you judge? Do you judge someone because you’d like to see them “get what they deserve”? Because you feel better about yourself when you can look down on someone else? Because you think judging will earn you some sort of reward or points? Or maybe because you want someone else to feel guilty and ashamed? All of those are, of course, wrong reasons. Is gossip involved? Is slander involved? If so, wrong kind of judging. Is prayer involved? Is getting to know someone intimately (“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly”) part of it? Do you feel compassion for your brother or sister? Then proceed with caution.

God gave me the Holy Spirit, who is my judgment-helper, to get me through life. All facets of life. Good judgment stops me from licking doorknobs. Good judgment keeps me from over-investing in relationships that drain me. Good judgment grounds me from throwing the towel in on parenting in the middle of super hard days. And if you’re someone who knows the truth and hears the Spirit prodding you, you need to speak up in private, heartfelt conversations with the people who you have love and concern for – the ones who are standing in the middle of the road, somehow thinking it’s safe there.

We all have something, right? A fatal flaw that we can’t seem to shake? I’m telling you mine.

We’ll just rip it off like a bandaid and expose this thing for what it is: my ongoing sin of pride. Pride is so hard to overcome; in fact, it will likely be the battle I fight my whole life rather than something I can rid myself of once and for all. I understand how dangerous and filthy pride is, and I fight it in me. For anyone who passes pride off as “not that bad” a sin, read this short excerpt and, when you have some time, go ahead and read this whole blog by Fabienne Harford:

Pride will kill you. Forever. Pride is the sin most likely to keep you from crying out for a Savior. Those who think they are well will not look for a doctor.

We are all in need of a Savior. There’s no heavenly ranking system for sin. If you’re not crying out for a Savior, then you might be struggling with pride. If you are quick to notice all the other people who are in need of a Savior more than you, then you are definitely struggling with pride.

Anyway, it’s crazy, with as dangerous and blinding a problem as the sin of pride is, I can post this confession and be not at all nervous about the repercussions because America isn’t too bothered by pride – celebrates it even. But what if my Great Sin was something else? What if I asked for help kicking my crack habit? What if I confessed an affair? What if I needed to let my loved ones know I was gay? No way on earth would I freely reveal those things for fear that I would lose friends or at least be treated differently. This double standard is not a God problem. It’s not a Bible problem. It’s a problem we have as people. We’re the ones who have come up with the ranking system. Sidenote: In my heart and in my gut, I’m certainly more disgusted by a child molester than by a Wall Street guy who’s cheating someone out of money. I do think that instinct IS God-given, but meant more for us to protect those who are the most helpless and vulnerable rather than to incite riot against the person committing the crime.

It’s not just believers who adhere to the sin ranking system. I have a non-religious friend who has lived a very difficult life – chronic drug use and relapses, isolation from his now teenaged daughter, a brother who committed suicide. The future feels bleak for him and he was telling me one day how much “better” I am than he is. “What have you ever done?” he asked. “Pride. Pride. Pride. And I have a temper. I yell at my kids when they irritate me.” He rolled his eyes, passing my stuff off as small potatoes. And, I confess, I’d rather have my current set of problems than his. By the standard of the world, I am good. Just fine. My family may even be more functional than average. But as my minister Chris Seidman said recently, “It’s a level playing field at the foot of the cross.” My friend and I are equally in need of the mercy and forgiveness that Jesus offers.

There’s a lot going on right now socially in America. We’ve got tense race issues, gay marriage, gun rights, and illegal immigration. No need to delve into debates over any of those issues, but they’re the reddest, hottest, hot-button discussions people are having. I have my own opinions on these topics, but no ruling or legislation or law has ever disheartened me more than observing the total lack of compassion that spews from the mouths of those (on both side of the issues) who are angrily picking fights in the aftermath. These reactions expose the pride that we are all drowning in.

If we truly understood the gravity of our sin, how could we spend so much emotion and energy pointing fingers at each other?

If we could get a grip on how quickly we’re sinking in our own pits of quicksand, where do we get off berating someone else for the mess they’re in?

Love is what we’re supposed to be doing – letting our understanding of where our own sin has left us lead us to compassion for the people around us who are as wretched, messed up, and pathetic as we are. But that means we first need to GET it. Not many of us feel desperately ashamed and broken over our sin. While we acknowledge that there is a sin rank system in our world and, admittedly, the natural consequences of different sins vary greatly, there is no sin rank system in heaven. We all need Jesus equally and if that’s hard for you to swallow, then you may struggle with pride.

All this to say, it’s this attitude we have about “worse” sins that is keeping people from our churches. I am committed to changing my thinking. To learning to love people who sometimes scare me because of the places they’ve been. To letting the knowledge of my own brokenness lead me to compassion and to serving others who are also struggling with something, be it my same sin tendencies or something very different.

We’re all in this together. We really are. So let’s help each other succeed. And one other thing since this post is kind of a bummer: God takes our jagged, ugly brokenness, carefully and lovingly puts together the pieces with the restoring power of Jesus’ blood, and invites us into his presence to eat with him at his table. He doesn’t look back and he doesn’t keep record of our wrongs. Neither should we once we have received the freedom and joy we have been offered through salvation in Jesus Christ. No matter where we’ve been, we all have been given the same shot at happy endings to our life stories.

Not my grandma.

Not my grandma.

Sorry to anyone who clicked on this to read an actual list, hoping you could maybe get a clue as to where exactly it started going south during your conversation with a former friend who happens to match that exact description. That’s a weird coincidence.

But have you seen these types of lists circulating? I’ve seen a ton. There is one for every group and sub-group of human being, from “pet owners” to “teachers” to “women who had a C-section.” I was seeing so many people post these that it started making me nervous to have a conversation with anyone who had any type of life experience for fear that I’d accidentally offend them.  I’d read through the lists and discover comments of two varieties: Genuine but mis-communicated concern OR evidence of plain ‘ole self-absorption (projecting personal or preconceived feelings or reflections onto the receiver of their comment). Even so, I kept thinking to myself, “Are people really getting all worked up over something like this?”. Not having ever been a teacher, C-section mom, and just barely a new pet owner (hey, Frankie!), I just took it on good faith that these were legitimately insensitive words. One day I saw someone post about 5 Things You Should Never Say To A New Mom. Finally! I have been a new mom, so I followed the link, prepared to be super angry at what calloused things some heartless goon would let pass their lips onto the delicate ears of a new mother like me. And then nothing happened.

Not my daughter.

Not my daughter.

I get how, “Are you breastfeeding?” could be too personal a thing to bring up, but one of the things on the list was, “Are you loving it?” Really? I’m sorry, but if someone asking if you are enjoying being a new parent makes you steam, then maybe you need to take a breather. Maybe the commentor can’t remember how hard this phase is or maybe the commentor has never actually been in this phase. And I’ll be the first to echo every mom out there trying to make the rest of the world understand exactly how insane parenting makes us (this blogger’s description of her “day” SO resonated with me!). However, after reading a list that I could identify with, my initial hunch was confirmed (at least in my own head) that maybe instead of presuming that all of our so-called friends are deep-down-mean, we’re sometimes just a little too easily offended.

Not being easily offended could be something you have to work on. Like the other attributes of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13, not being easily angered or irritated may not come naturally. I have to work like CRAZY on being patient and not being proud. Those are mine. But don’t let a well-intentioned comment mess with your head.

There is a flip-side. I’m definitely not advocating that there is no need to pay careful attention to your words; I’m not saying that being offended is always the fault of the person who got their feelings hurt. Two – no, make that three – instances are coming  to mind of times where I said something really insensitive and stupid. Cringe-worthy, in fact. Thankfully, the people on the receiving end of those thoughtless remarks were proficient at grace and forgiveness. Being on the goon-side of insensitive comments helped me overlook an instance when, in my third trimester, a relative told me that I “didn’t really look pregnant, just bigger all over”. Who knows why she said that! Ha, I mean, really. I think we could all probably agree you don’t say that to a pregnant woman. Be that as it may, the comment caught me off-guard, but it didn’t offend me because I know she loves me and her comment was certainly not meant to be an attack on my self-esteem. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I tend to assume that most people are generally well-meaning. Or maybe I should just say that I’m not looking for reasons to be mad or resentful toward the people I interact with. Because, for real, mad and resentful is no way to live.

I look pregnant to me...

I look pregnant to me…

Ok, here are some math jokes to win back your excitable, one-legged, former math teacher friend. Good luck.

Still alive. And making appearances, in fact. He was invited to visit the kids at Hayes School of Wonder next week, so he’s kind of a big deal. I’m just glad he’s going to work and not just bumming around here like a free-loader. Just kidding. He’s the best. These pictures were taken about 10 minutes ago and were just so cute, I couldn’t wait to get them online.

Harper + Frankie = Love

This is love.

This is love.

I'm saying constantly, "GENTLE! Don't squeeze too hard."

I’m saying constantly, “GENTLE! Don’t squeeze too hard.”

Basking in the sunlight.

Basking in the sunlight.

I'm so afraid she's going to Lennie him. #ofmiceandmen

I’m so afraid she’s going to Lennie him. #ofmiceandmen

frank 015

I can't read this bunny language? Playing dead so she'll leave him alone?

I can’t read this bunny language. Playing dead so she’ll leave him alone?

Always festive.

Always festive.

Always fun.

Always fun.

Always hospitable.

Always classy.

Ode to Nanny.  This woman is incredible. She has a knack for making every gathering spirited and delicious. Seriously, she ranks somewhere in the top 10% of the world’s most hospitable. And she can really cut a rug. She’s the wheels on this family’s bus. Thanks for being so cool, Mom.

The whole fam

Family Christmas 2013