Monday, July 22, 2013

Me Too, Part One

I recently heard a woman speak at a conference. Her name is Angie Smith She was speaking to a room full of women who were there to glean from her experience in women's ministry. She is a gorgeous red-head with a dry sense of humor and a kind heart. As she introduced herself she said something like, "I have four daughters. My twins are the older girls. They might literally be the perfect children. They obey. They don't throw tantrums. They are sweet and easy kids." She had almost lost me at this introduction until she said, "And my other two, the younger girls, well they're on Ebay." The room erputed in laughter and some applause. I was part of the crowd applauding and laughing hysterically. Heck, I could have picked up her tiny ginger-headed-frame, kissed her cheek and squeezed her. Your kids are on Ebay? Me too, sister. Me too. 

Brad was off work early last Friday. He suggested we go to dinner and then check out some furniture stores b/c we are turning our old Man Cave into the new estrogen-filled craft room. I faked a smile and said, "Great! Sounds great." We call these evenings "family dates", a time when just the three of us get gussied up, go to dinner and then find some unfortunate merchant establishment to let our child run wild through while we chase her saying, "Emmy, stop. Emmy don't touch that. Emmy you can't climb on that! Emmy, get down! Emmy, obey. Emmy, where are you?" It is not something I enjoy, not because I don't love my husband and my daughter, but because I'm totally sweaty, nervous and running in uncomfortable shoes the entire time. Not relaxing. Not a date. 

So we got gussied up. Translation: Daddy and Emery looked like models right out of the JC Penney catalog (the new JC Penney - the cute and relevant one with the hipsters on each page). Second translation: Mama showered, remembered deodorant and attempted to put on her cutest strappy sandals that are actually a disguise for the orthopedic brand I now wear. Yes, they really are orhopedic. And they really are...old, faded and abused, because they are expensive and this mama lives on the Dave Ramsey envelope system and can't buy $85 orthopedic strappy shoes just any ole time she wants. 

So being that the Phillips family is dressed, we jumped in the minivan and drive to the Olive Garden. It went fairly well at the O.G. Emmy ate breadsticks and fetuccini alfredo. Mama and Daddy walked out without food on their clothing. If anyone is keeping score, that is Emmy: 0, Parents: 2 (one point for being dressed and the second point for not wearing Emmy's food at dinner).

And then it happened, we went to the first furniture store. Emmy ran around like a wild cat hopped up on Mountain Dew and crack. She rocked in a tiny wooden toddler rocking chair until she nearly threw herself out of it only to pick herself up, say "owie" and then run to climb on a bed, stand up and then jump on the mattress. All before I could "run" across the store in my orthopedic sandals to stop her. This is store numero uno in my laser-focused-husband's stop of THREE furniture stores. That's three as in, "We just damaged property at the first store. Hope the cops don't beat us to the third store before we get there and can run through it like the parental fugitives we are.". 

Score is now Emmy: 1, Parents: 2. 

The second store experience was so bad that I can't describe it. I would need the tongues of angels to describe the atrocity that was "the second furniture store" experience. At one point, Emmy ran underneath a dining room table and hit her head in warp speed so hard that her body flew backwards onto the ground appearing lifeless. For two seconds. Then she stood up, hit me, and ran away screaming, "NO TABLE! GO TO TIME OUT!". The sales associates wouldn't even make eye contact with us as I ran after her trying not to threaten to beat her. We were that family. Again. 

Score: Emmy: 2, Parents 2. 

At this point, Mama and Daddy are red-faced, sweaty and tired. We should have known what was happening when Emmy suddenly got still and quiet. She wasn't winding down. She was pooping. And I live in Texas, y'all. That means there are no changing tables in public men's restrooms for Daddy to take a turn. It's all Mama. So I took her by the hand and began walking back across the store to the restroom. It was the 'walk of shame' as I passed well-behaved children and their horrified parents; I'm sure they were praying that our particular 'parenting style' wouldn't rub off on them as we walked by. No one made eye contact with me, which only made me feel more isolated and judged. 

By the time we made it to the entry of the restroom door, Emmy was finished making a mess in her pants and she was getting her second wind. She was hopping around, swinging my hand around like a rag doll and I was done. We passed an empty-nest couple trying out comfy office chairs and I smiled weakly and said, "Here. You can take her. She's only a dollar." They laughed and the gentleman replied, "Oh heck, hun, I'll give you two." Then he winked that sweet Grandpa kind of wink that says, "you'll make it" and I smiled back. Renewed by their confidence in me I entered the ladies room to tackle Emmy's bursting diaper while she screamed, "NAAAASTY" in her loudest 'outside' voice. I'm sure they heard her from outside the bathroom door. They probably giggled and maybe they remembered a time when they threatened to sell their children to strangers at a furniture store. But they didn't shame me. Nope. They showed empathy through their kind smiles. 

I often feel shame for my unsettled feelings in my role as wife and mother. I feel a sense of not deserving my beautiful baby girl and I feel shame over any conversation in which I really let loose and explain my frustrations as a mom. Listen up, I gave birth to myself! She is me incarnate. I know it. I love her - every single bit of her. I love that she is outgoing and loud and she dances even when there is no music playing. I love that she is opinionated, strong-willed and independent. I love that when she thinks something is funny she cackles with laughter like an old woman who has smoked her entire life. I love that she rocks her babies to sleep every night while she sings to them.  I love that she is aggressive and dominant and cray-to-tha-cray! love that she is imperfect and needs Jesus to redeem her soul. And I love being her Mama. 

But I also love when other Moms share how hard it is. I'm tired of the shame game. I appreciate a person who will let down their guard of pretend perfection and say, "I prayed and asked God to give me children, to make me a Mom. I didn't know it was going to be so difficult and exhausting. I feel so much shame for wanting alone time away from the very children I asked God to give me." Yeah, me too. 

(part two coming tomorrow!)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Don't Be Two

I get a weekly email from a parenting website that tells me about my daughter's development. It's interesting and usually exactly on-point with what we're dealing with (i.e. when I ask her if she'd like some water and she screams "NO. DON'T LIKE IT. WANT A COKE." in front of God and everybody - at the health food store when I'm trying to look like the organic good Mom who gives her child a healthy alternative instead of a sugary gonna-eat-her-stomach-lining coke. Busted). Every week I look forward to the parenting email because it tells me something about my 2 year old that makes me feel like she's...normal. It's normal that she is testing boundaries. It's normal that she spends "some" time every day in time out and that I spend "some" time every day in tears. It's normal that she wants to put on her own shoes but doesn't know which foot they go on or how to tie/buckle them when/if she gets them on...leading to the mother of all meltdowns.  It's normal that she's not flexible. It's normal that she's a bit rigid. 

This is the "normalizing" email I got today from the parenting site:

"You may have noticed that your 2-year-old isn't exactly the most flexible person in the world. Her little brain is trying to understand how the world works, and once she gets a concept down, she expects it to stay that way. Having things happen the same way every time reassures your preschooler and gives her a confidence boost ("I knew that would happen!"). That's why she likes to sit in a certain chair or goes bananas when her cracker breaks in two. "

Whew! Great, my toddler is normal. She wants things to stay the same. She expects things to stay the same. She expects things to happen the same way every time - it gives her confidence. 

God poked fun at me as I read this. All I could think is that some days, okay, a lot of days, when it comes to my relationship with my Heavenly Father, I'm a normal two-year-old. 

I want things to stay the same. It gives me confidence - uh, no. It gives me a sense of control. If things stay the same, if I'm not flexible, then I'm in control. My expectations never have to shift. I can just stay the same. But that's not what's best for me. If I never have to change, then I also never have to grow up. When I always know what to expect, I can rely on myself, my feelings, my responses - but God wants me to rely on Him. God wants me to grow up and stop being a baby. He wants it for all of us. It's not normal for a Jesus follower to stop growing or never grow from the beginning.

 Paul gave a good tongue-lashing to the Corinthians when he said: 

"...when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?" 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

Jealousy. Fighting. Controlled by the sinful nature. Sounds like a two-year-old. Sounds like me some days. 

Hebrews 5:11-13 NLT speaks about our spiritual growth (or lack thereof):

"11 There is much more we would like to say..., but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong."

Spiritually dull. Don't seem to listen. Again, sounds like a two-year-old and it sounds like me some days. Sounds like your kids, your marriage, your family. Sounds like mine, too. 

It's time to grow up. We've got to move on from spiritual milk and on to solid food. Spiritual milk looks like this: a Sunday morning sermon. That's certainly not a diss of any Pastor's effort to teach God's Word. It's an indictment against you and me, the Christ followers. If our only spiritual food is coming from the Sunday morning sermon, then we are starving. Can you only eat one meal in seven days? I can't. I get weak if I don't eat by 9am and then again at 11am and then again at 2pm and then again at 6pm. I would be sick if I only ate one meal in a seven day period. Sick. Weak. Useless. Many of us are sick and weak and useless to God because we aren't ingesting His Word regularly. His Word and our normal don't match up. 

We need to get healthy. We need to take in His Word so that we can be strong and ready and useful. Don't be two. We're too old to be two. We're too old to act like we're two. Growth happens a little bit every day. Grow up a little bit today. Read God's Word. Memorize a verse. Pray. Move on from spiritual milk and take in some solid food. Let's be mature. Let's stop being controlled by our sin. 

Start with some mooshy green beans today. You'll be chewing a steak in no time. God wants us to grow. He loves you. 

Start chewing solid food today and just KEEP GOING!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Career Day

David was a shepherd boy. When he was about 15 years old, the prophet Samuel showed up in Bethlehem and anointed him as King of Israel (1 Samuel 16). But it wasn't until David was 30 that he actually took the throne and began to reign as King. I wonder if, on career day at the local Bethlehem Elementary School, David dressed up with a robe and a crown and dreamed of being king. Maybe he dressed up as a shepherd or a soldier or a musician - because those were all 'careers' he pursued. I can relate to David.  

We had career day at school when I was a kid. I was probably 9 years old and I dressed up in a suit and carried a leather briefcase that my Dad had purchased at a garage sale. I was a lawyer. I didn't just want to be a lawyer, that day, I was one. I felt successful. I looked good. The briefcase felt natural in my tiny hand. I could probably smack some law & order around my fifth grade class with it if I was strong enough to swing it around. It was the perfect career path for an ambitious little 9 year old Jessica. There were things I was good at and things I wanted in life that came naturally to me. I wanted to argue, win and get paid lots of money for doing it. I wanted justice. Law and order. That's my personality. 

But God came in the way He does in my life, out of left field where He'd been calling my name for quite a while, and He changed the course of my life. Instead of letting me chase the dollar and seek justice (or heaven forbid, help the bad guy so I could make the really big bucks), He called me into ministry. Like church ministry (hence my Twitter handle @churchladyjes). 

Church ministry, the place where you get paid quarters per hour, you turn the other cheek and you offer mercy, forgiveness and love. And that's what I did for about a decade (some of those years I wasn't even on staff, I was volunteering and getting paid in hugs and God's blessing on my life). 

I left my staff position at our church two and a half years ago when I gave birth to our daughter, Emery. I left for no other reason than Brad and I believed that God wanted me to be at home with her while she's little. It's a blessing to get to be home. I recognize that. I also recognize that God has called me to serve Him further than the walls I live in and He's been pressing that issue down on my heart lately. But for the flippin' life of me, I have NO idea what He's calling me to do. 

I've been struggling with my purpose, identity and insecurity. It's been a stronger struggle as of lately than ever before in my life. I find it frustrating. I'll be 34 at the end of this month. Shouldn't I be past this part? Shouldn't I be living out my purpose, identity and security instead of figuring it out? Yes, yes I should. Or maybe not yet. Maybe this is part of His plan for my life. Maybe this is the exact season of life I'm supposed to be in. The season where if I don't rely on Jesus as my purpose, identity and security, I'll act in my own pride, arrogance and flesh - and then I'll screw it all up (and I'll probably take some people down with me as I fall).  

David waited to be king. He waited for God to establish his place on the throne. He didn't kill King Saul to hurry up God's plan or 'help' God out. He waited on God's timing. He waited for 15 years. He walked the earth as the unknown, incognito King of God's chosen people. (Okay, he was 'known' in his circles - I think the Bible says that Saul had thousands of followers on Twitter but David had tens of thousands. Yeah. That sounds right.) But ultimately, he remained known by only One - the only One who mattered until it was "time" for him to go nationally 'viral' and take his seat on the throne. 

David whined & cried when it got hard. Especially when he was hard pressed by his enemies who were out to kill him. He's attributed as writing about 78 of the Psalms. I love the Psalms. Praising God one verse and in the next crying "Why did you leave me? Do you not love me? Why don't you just kill me or let me die?". 

I'm David. You're David. We've all been there. (Unless you're the person who dressed up as a lawyer on career day and then grew up and actually became a lawyer. If you're that person, chances are, we're not friends.) You're asking God, "Didn't you tell me I was gonna do (insert your calling here)?" Then you begin to question your "calling". Maybe you made it up. Maybe it wasn't the voice of God you heard calling you to be a doctor, a lawyer, a missionary, a wife, a dad...and your calling gets swept away by fear, panic and impatience. 

It's Career Day, people. What do you wanna be? Who do you wanna be? I'm asking God to give me clear direction for my life. I trust Him. He will tell me...when it's time. Until then, I'm clinging to Romans 11:29, "for God's gifts and His call are irrevocable." 


Don't give up on Career Day. Grab your briefcase or your stethoscope or your Bible or your fireman's jacket, say a prayer, and START in a direction and after you start...



Monday, July 8, 2013

Don't Blame Yourself

Didn't I begin this "Top Ten" like a month ago? Sorry. 
(This is the #1 "Don't" on my list...drumroll please)

Suicide Survivor's Top Ten Things To Do (or NOT Do). 

The words we heard more than any other following my Dad's suicide were, "He was on my mind the week he died. I should have called him." I nodded, put my hand on hundreds of shoulders, hugged them and reassured the person standing in front of me that his death wasn't their fault. 

It wasn't. 

Their phone call wouldn't have made much difference to my Dad. He had made up his mind. It was done. 

But that phone call, the one his friend didn't make, made a difference to that friend when they were attending the funeral of the person they didn't call when they knew they were supposed to call. 

Dad had been on my mind the week he killed himself. I felt a tug inside my heart to call him the day he went missing. I thought of him many times throughout that day. I even remember thinking, "Why is he on heart this heavily today? What is he up to?"  

But I still didn't call him. 

We guilt ourselves into believing that our phone call would have been the turning point in the other person's life. Is that prideful? Hopeful? I don't know. I do know that I let it go very early on in my grief recovery. Guilt was the place I knew that I wouldn't emerge from if I let myself dwell there for very long. I never looked at any of Dad's friends and thought, "Yes, it was your phone call that would have made my Dad stop drinking, go to rehab and turn his life around. It's your fault he's dead." That's ridiculous. I realized that if it was ridiculous for any of them, it was ridiculous for me also. So I forgave myself for not calling him. 

But here's my life lesson: when something inside of you says to call someone or send them a text or drop a card in the mail, then DO IT. (Yes, I just suggested snail mail on the internet machine! I feel like the hipster police might arrest me any minute and take away my MacBook Pro.)

Listen to the voice inside your heart and head. Obey that voice. Take the time to let the person know you're thinking of them. You don't have to fix them. That's not your job. Your job is to obey God's voice inside of you. Offer another person life, hope and love. Offer them Jesus with skin. I know it sounds so corny and seventh grade church camp fire with Reverend TimTom strumming his guitar while singing "Lead your friends to Him. Win them with your grin. Be a good friend. Be Jesus with skin." (Yes I just wrote that beautiful chorus. I'm available for weddings as well as seventh grade church camp fires.) 

But I actually mean it. Be Jesus with skin because what is Jesus so great at doing during prayer? Listening and interceding. Be that to someone. Listen to them. And then intercede for them. Pray with them. Pray for them. Your phone call may not change anything, but your prayer could move heaven and earth. 

Obey God's leading. Always obey. Blessing follows obedience. Regret follows disobedience. Don't live in regret anymore. Live in obedience to our life giving God. Because after the funeral the person you have to live with is yourself. Be a person you can live with.

And when you want to start playing the blame game with yourself don't. Just don't. You won't win. Pray and ask God to release you from that guilt. Ask God to help you to obey the next time He prompts you with His leading.  You can't live in the regret of the past if you want to be of use to Him today and, believe me friend, He's got SO much for you to do today! 

So let it go into His hands and as always:

Keep Going!