Late Bloomer on a Learning Curve

I recently had lunch with Amy Balliett, co-founder of Killer Infographics. It was great to meet another female business owner and get a little pep talk from someone who is now experiencing growth, but started out struggling, just like anyone else.

It was just what I needed.

Earlier this year I realized I make an extremely unlikely CEO. I took a talent insight assessment test to map my behavior and motivators, and it revealed that I’m a very passionate person who is loyal to a great leader and/or a great cause.

In other words, I follow well.

But instead of feeling discouraged by this epiphany, I found it to be a huge relief. It explained why I kept waiting around for someone else to tell me what to do next to grow the business — I was that someone else!

The assessment also helped me understand my strengths, and now I’m on a mission to improve my areas of weakness.

office with a view
I spend my evenings studying up on strategic planning.

“The two most important attributes of effective leaders are their abilities to predict and to delegate.”

This quote is from Verne Harnish in, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, a book that Amy recommend I read.

Turns out that I’m terrible at both of those things. I’m a control freak, and I prefer observation over prediction.

But the ability to predict and delegate is not an impossible thing for me to learn, and maybe my first big act of delegation is to give someone else the job of predicting!

The point is, I’m passionate about helping people and businesses tell their stories, and I love running a small business with people I love. With my strengths shored up, I’m ready to tackle the learning curve so I can be who I am and do what I love, successfully.

Many thanks to Amy for her pep talk, and to Shandel at True Life Coaching, who provided the talent insights assessment and interpretation.

Keeping Our Kids Safe Online – Part 1

One evening a couple weeks ago, Ruthie’s friend called and said, “Go on your Google hangout!”

Ruthie didn’t know what that was, so Bryan set up her own account on the family computer in the living room, and within a few minutes we were flies on the wall to a pre-teen conversation.


The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: I had just heard Katie Greer speak about keeping our kids safe online, and I felt ready for this moment.

I didn’t know what to expect from the event, since I’d never heard of Katie Greer before. I thought – worst case scenario – that it might be a fear-inducing call to ban all technology from the home, but I was so pleasantly surprised.

I don’t know how the other parents felt, but I came away completely at peace about our family’s use of technology, and armed with helpful information about keeping them safe online.

Over the next few posts I’ll share my main take-aways from the event.

In the meantime, I definitely recommend checking out her site for helpful tips and information on where she might be speaking near you.

A Few Thoughts About My Day…

  • God created the law.
  • I cannot keep to the law in my own power.
  • “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
  • Jesus paid the debt for my sin.
  • He paid the entire debt.
  • I owe him nothing.
  • He expects nothing from me.
  • It was a free gift.
  • I don’t have the means to pay it back even if I wanted to.
  • This is why I follow Jesus.
  • Sometimes I do things for other people
  • like buy them a drink, or babysit their kids, or pay off their financial debt.
  • The smaller the act, the less I really think about it.
  • But sometimes, like for the really big things, I expect something in return,
  • when maybe I should just do that Thing and say, Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

Eeyore Attitudes & Slippery Slope Theories

David was a shepherd, but when God looked at him, he saw a king.

Sure enough, when David grew up, that’s just what he became. And David was a great king. He had a heart like God’s heart – full of love.

Now, that didn’t mean he was perfect, because he did some terrible things – he even murdered a man. No, David made a big mess of his life. But God can take even the biggest mess and make it work in his plan.

“I need a new heart, Lord,” David prayed, “because mine is full of sin. Make me clean inside.”

God heard David’s prayer. He forgave David and he made David a promise: “I will make you great, David. And one day, a King will be born into your family, and he will heal the whole world.”
The Jesus Storybook Bible

I tend to let my vision for the future be clouded by what’s right in front of me.

If I’m having a busy week, I tend to go all Eeyore on Bryan and whine about how it’s ALWAYS GOING TO BE THIS WAY. Then we both laugh at my folly when the weekend comes and we’re sipping margaritas on the deck while giving each other foot massages.

Okay, that hasn’t happened yet, but you get the idea.

After catching my daughter in another lie this afternoon – just one in a long succession of lies that I’m constantly sniffing out – my eyes began to glaze over with the idea that I’m raising a lying liar.

Because surely, this is a slippery slope to a dime in the state penn, right?

I understand my daughter’s issues clearly, because she struggles in all the same ways I did do. When I was a kid I, too, was a lying liar. I lied about Big Things, and I lied about Stupid Stuff.

I told my mom I was at Jean Donohue’s house when I was really making out with a boy in a parked car. I told my step dad I only stole one cassette tape, when really my whole collection at the time came as a “five finger discount.” I said I was the one driving the car we wrecked so I wouldn’t get in trouble for letting a friend try out a stick shift.

These are the realities I have in the back of my mind every time Ruthie tells me she put her laundry away, when in reality she shoved it under the bed. Because I know. Seriously, I KNOW. The lies will get more complicated, and the liar will get more crafty.

I know this because I invented lying.

So I sit there in my thinking chair and steep in fear, worrying that she’s already gone, that her heart is a stone cold lump of coal, that my work here is futile and there’s nothing left to be done for her.

And through the drama of my drama-filled dramatic thoughts, a story from my kids’ Bible speaks to me profoundly.

Here is what I am reminded of:

  1. I am still a lying liar. I hide the bills I forget to pay on time, I hide the message I forget to pass on and now it’s too late, I hide the invite to the party I don’t want to attend (not yours, of course. I would never do that).
  2. God blessed me with a lying liar for a daughter – not to punish me or make me miserable, but because he knew I would empathize with her, love her fiercely in spite of it, and continually point her to Jesus as the truth-giver.
  3. I did not do ten years in the state penn, despite the fact I am a lying liar.
  4. My daughter is only seven years old. And she is a cutie pie. And her heart is not (usually) made of coal (kidding!). There is still much work to be done, and I will never give up.
  5. “God can take even the biggest mess and make it work in his plan.” So even if she does do a dime in the state penn, God will not let go of her.

In the moment of dealing with Ruthie, I tend to forget I do the same thing she does – even now as an adult. I sometimes scold her as if her life is already over, as if the shackles are hanging on the coat rack by the door, ready to slap on her wrists and take her in.

My prayer today is for my heart to remain soft toward her, and to be compassionate. It’s easy to hate what she does, because I hate what I do – but it’s easier to yell at her than it is to yell at myself.

I’m thankful for a God that doesn’t expect us to be perfect, who shows us grace and mercy and kindness. As a parent, I pray I reflect more of this to my kids.

Ten years ago I realized I could drink booze AND love Jesus and only the Baptists would condemn me.

Yesterday there was a TenYearsAgo meme going around twitter, and it got me thinking.

During the late nineties, my Christian faith ceased being a religious set of rules to follow and became a relationship with Jesus Christ. This meant I could finally enjoy certain freedoms in this life such as rated R movies, really great music, and vodka.

My eyes were opened to all the extra rules I’d been following that I thought made me a better Christian. I thought if I listened to a certain kind of music, or attended prayer meetings before work every morning, or was only friends with other Christians that Jesus would love me more.

As it turns out, nothing I do or say will make Jesus love me more. He just loves me.

A young man once addressed this issue with Jesus in the book of Matthew:

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:35-40, ESV).

I’m called to love God first, above all other things, and then I’m to love my neighbor second. Out of these two commands flow all the other answers to life.

For instance, if I need to drink all day long to cope with life, then I’m loving booze more than Jesus. If I’m flaunting my ability to enjoy a drink around my friend who struggles with a drinking problem, then I’m not loving my neighbor.

Freedoms are freedoms, not rights.

I’m thankful to Jesus for using this last decade to prune the unnecessary laws from my faith and graft me in to a new life of faith.

Friday Link Love

Link Love Badge

Am I Kate? – PBS Supersisters
While I’ve never watched John and Kate Plus 8, I’ll admit I got caught up a little in the gross blog commentary re their personal lives as depicted on the show. It was refreshing to come across this post that invites you to empathize a little with their circumstances, and to quit throwing stones at others from our own glass house.

Pomp and Circumstance – Amy Letinsky
Great tribute to the beauty of a well-oiled marriage:
“Marriage is a team effort. And your spouse’s successes are your successes. His failures are your failures. It’s not a popular notion, especially when the wife is the one at home, doing the domestic duties that are the less glorified “behind the scenes” work. But they’re important. God knows the job is important. And my husband knows it too.”

June the 3rd – Mandajuice

I appreciated this post because I struggle with the same things when it comes to giving money to the homeless with their cardboard signs. It was great to read Amanda’s thoughts as she processed through it “in the moment.”

Fear of Life – Conversion Diary
A great post on opening our lives to one another – the blessings and the pitfalls we fear:
“…our biggest problems in life often come from other people. The more you allow someone else into your life, the more there’s the potential for them to screw it up….The safest, most reasonable thing to do is to allow just enough people into your life so that you’re not lonely, and to carefully guard the intermingling of any other lives with your own after that point.”

How to build traffic to your blog – Rants & Ramblings
This is a popular blog topic, but I’m often left feeling like an internet street beggar after reading pointers like these. But this essay is different – I appreciate the author’s conversational style & push toward participating in community. You don’t get more readers by whoring yourself out there – you get more readers by being a great writer & participating in the conversation. After reading this I know I need to work on responding to my commentors as well as commenting on all the posts I read. I guilty of lurking!

Lost Generation

on suffering openly

I’d seen Bryan around, but I first noticed him when he officially introduced himself to the group at a staff meeting. He was from southern Colorado, his wife left him, and he came to Seattle trying to make sense of the last six years of his life.

I took note.

It wasn’t that I reveled in rescuing lost puppies; but rather, because he suffered, I knew he wasn’t shallow.

I look around me now, at my closest friends, and they all know or have experienced suffering. Some I have watched suffer; some suffered before I knew them. But it is their Story of pain and tragedy that allows me to trust them, to let them watch me as I writhe in my own confused, dark places.

I’ve had a few people tell me I’m stand-offish, that I’m hard to get to know. This confused me, because my commitment to friends is deep and forever. But when I think about it, when I think about who makes these claims, I realize it’s the people I don’t really know – the ones who lie to themselves and everyone else about their suffering, who want to pretend they have it together, who avoid suffering at all costs.

And they’re right: I’m stand-offish to them.

I have to be, because in relationship I don’t hide much, and it would be foolish for me to expose myself to the untested.

A few years ago I lost a friend. She met me on the doorstep as I came to pick up my kids at her house, and she told me we couldn’t be friends anymore. She didn’t really explain, and it didn’t make any sense. Conflict was happening around us, but I wrongly assumed we were tight, that we would persevere, that our friendship could withstand it all.

Ironically, as I walked over to pick up my children that morning I felt compelled to acknowledge all that was swirling around us. I was planning to tell her I loved her, and that I wanted us to pray together for Peace in the midst of The Ugliness, and that I wanted to wrestle through our friendship.

So her confrontation was quite a blow.

But it let me know I had chosen wrongly in her as a friend, that my vulnerability was given to her untested. As the following weeks unraveled, everything I thought I knew about our friendship turned out to be a polite facade that covered gossip, disdain, and betrayal. Despite the fact I could see how she suffered, it turns out she never let me in. She was pushing me away, and I never even saw it.

It took two and a half years for me to understand this – to understand we did not feel the same way about suffering and friendship. In fact, I don’t think I understood it until around paragraph seven of this post.

Thankfully, that experience did not cause me to retract my vulnerability, but it did open my eyes to Caution. I think back on what it is I saw in Bryan, and in my friends, that drew me in to their Story – and I believe it is the limps and scars and weathered skin that tell me I’d be safer in their boat than in a greenhorn’s.

“renew my will from day to day…”

We sing this song often in our church, but it became particularly relevant during the five weeks Bryan was out of work. It often seems that stress begets stress, and things began to fall apart a little between us in that season. We pressed through and we’re all good now, but I wouldn’t change a thing even if I had the opportunity. Jesus took those really shitty circumstances and revealed areas of my heart that longed for things other than Him.

Anger and fear welled up in me as I began to feel like no one was on “my side” – lost friends, lost income, and at the time a husband who didn’t seem to understand me. I felt alone and discouraged and afraid of the unknown future. But Jesus revealed himself to me through his word and gave me peace so perfect I felt as if I floated through those days on the drunkenness of his holy spirit.

The sweet melody of this song and the lyrics of total surrender filled up that empty reservoir of peace each week, and I’m grateful to our faith community for producing such excellent music that refocuses me on Christ each week.

Here are the lyrics:

My God and Father, While I stray
by Charlotte Elliott

My God My Father while I stray
Far from my home and life’s rough way
Oh Teach me from my heart to say
Thy will be done

Though dark my path and sad my lot
Let me be still and murmur not
Or breathe the prayer divinely taught
Thy will be done

But if my fainting heart be blessed
With the Holy Spirit for its guest
My God, to thee I leave the rest
Thy will be done

If thou should call me to resign
What most I prize, never was mine
I only yield thee what is thine
Thy will be done

Renew my will from day to day
Blend it with thine and take away
All that now makes it hard to say
Thy will be done

Then when on earth I breathe no more
The prayer oft mixed with tears before
I’ll sing upon that joyful shore
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

Thy will be done (hosanna)
Thy will be done (Thy kingdom come)
Thy will be done (hosanna)
Thy will be done (Thy kingdom come)

Hosanna (Thy Kingdom come)
Hosanna (Thy will be done)

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Hosanna (Thy Kingdom come)
Hosanna (Thy will be done)

My hope is built on nothing less…

joe day twitter

Last night in our community group the question was asked, Why did Jesus humble himself and come into human history? There are so many ways to answer this question, but as I read through Job this week I am surprised to find much of his lamenting is a plea for a Savior to spare him from the wrath of God. This is thousands of years before Jesus is born, and even before Isaiah prophesied of his coming.

Here are the passages I’ve come across so far:

Why don’t you just forgive my sins
and start me off with a clean slate?
(Job 7:21, The Message)

He is not a man like me that I might answer him,
that we might confront each other in court.
If only there were someone to arbitrate between us,
to lay his hand upon us both,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Then I would speak up without fear of him,
but as it now stands with me, I cannot.
(Job 9:32-35, NIV)

If we humans die, will we live again? That’s my question.
All through these difficult days I keep hoping,
waiting for the final change—for resurrection!
Homesick with longing for the creature you made,
you’ll call—and I’ll answer!
You’ll watch over every step I take,
but you won’t keep track of my missteps.
My sins will be stuffed in a sack
and thrown into the sea—sunk in deep ocean.
(Job 14:14-17, The Message)

I’m reading through the Bible chronologically for the first time since high school. The story of Jesus is woven through time, even before time began (In the beginning was the Word…). Man’s need for a Savior began the moment we tried to be like God, and throughout human history this longing is the seed that births all great stories – both fiction and non fiction.

Seeing the constancy of Jesus behind me is breathing life into my understanding of Jesus now and renewing my hope for Jesus in the future. The bottom may fall out from under me, the walls may cave in on all sides, but Jesus set the stars in the sky, defied death, and still calls me by name.

That is what I hang my hat on today.

The Devil Doesn’t Always Do It

Over the last couple years I’ve learned what circumstances trigger my rage episodes, and they are as follows:

Low blood sugar – If I go too long without eating, or if I eat all the wrong things, watch out! When my blood sugar gets low I feel frantic, anxious, on edge, and my patience is on a very short leash. I yell at the nearest person or dog at the slightest provocation. When my blood sugar is low, I definitely feel out of control of myself.

Running Late – If I need to be somewhere in five minutes but Thomas is not moving fast enough for me, he is screwed. Poor kid. And he’s one to freeze in the face of conflict and stress, too, so the more angry and impatient I get, the more he freezes up, which only increases my impatience. It’s a quick ride to CrazyTown when we get into that loop.

Too Busy – Occasionally we get into a week when we’re never home. Laundry piles up, clutter builds up, and dishes don’t get done. Sometimes the kids don’t get to bed at a decent hour, and I’m so tired at the end of the day I crash into bed without any sort of mental recharging. When going at a pace like this, my body aches and my brain hurts. Literally.

PMS – I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true. I started tracking things related to my cycle several months ago, and as it turns out I’m a complete irrational bitch the day before I start my period. Not the week before, not two days before, but the 24 hours before I start.

Well guess what? The last two weeks have been a perfect storm of all these challenges, and I’ve been rough on my family. But this is not to imply “the devil made me do it” or any other such blame shifting. I’m the first to admit I create most of these scenarios because I’m selfish and easily distracted.

99% of the times I run late it’s because I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing rather than getting everyone ready to go. And running late is usually the reason I forget to eat a meal, which makes me insanely grouchy as we’re rushing out the door behind schedule.

Sometimes I can’t help how busy we are. We generally do a pretty good job of saying no to things and leaving white spaces on our calendar, but on occasion everything just happens to land during the same week, and I can’t really do anything about it.

What I would like to be able to say after a stretch like this, is that it was a hard week but I managed to find peace and focus in Jesus. I would like to be able to say I resisted the urge to give in to my anger during these weak moments, and breathed deep from the Holy Spirit. I would like to be able to say I put others before myself and stayed on task, thereby avoiding 75% of these situations altogether.

But I can’t say this.


Or at least not all the time.

Definitely not this week.

But there’s always tomorrow.

Education and the inner city

I’ve been pondering over the issues of education and the inner city at great length since last Spring when I registered Ruthie for kindergarten. We are a white, middle class family living in a diverse community with lower class and working poor families. On more than one occasion I’ve heard my neighborhood referred to as “the inner city.”

75% of the kids at Ruthie’s elementary school qualify for free or reduced lunch. As a white girl, she is in the minority 17% of the population. There is a sign on all the doors leading into her school that reads, “This Is a Weapons Free Zone.” I shudder to think why this is even necessary to mention to kids under the age of ten.

I will admit there are times I considered transferring Ruthie to a different school – one with higher test scores and fewer kids on assistance – and even filled out the necessary paperwork. I wrestled with my ideals, because I never wanted to be that “white flight” family who sequestered itself from people who are different, who fled the “evils” of the inner city simply because I had the means to. My ideals told me I could be part of the solution, that if I stayed I could make a difference in my community. But at the same time, I wasn’t sure I was willing to gamble my child’s education to follow those ideals.

As a friend put it, “It’s kind of like the difference between reading the communist manifesto as a naive college freshman, versus actually living in the Soviet Union.”

In the end, we decided to stay in the school. For now. Someday I’ll write a post about the reasons why we decided to stay, but for now I just want to share three things that have influenced me the most over the last few months: a sermon, a podcast, and a television show.

It Takes a City to Raise a Child – Pastor & Author Tim Keller.
The community I live in doesn’t even come close to the dense urban environment of New York City, and neither does Seattle, for that matter. But I still found this lecture compelling since so many white, middle class families are fleeing urban areas in general for the seclusion and “safety” of the suburbs.

Keller gives three cons and eight pros to raising your kids in the city, and begins with the thesis that living in the city enhances factors related to kids embracing the Christian faith of their parents. As a teaser, I’ll list those positive factors here, but you really must listen to the 1+ hour podcast.

  1. If you raise kids in the city, they will believe they are living in the real world, and will have realistic expectations of life. (i.e. “Friends” who work at coffee houses can NOT afford apartments that big)
  2. It undercuts their self righteousness toward you and your faith. Kids want to believe their parents don’t understand the real world, but when they see you interacting with city life, they will have respect for you.
  3. Your children will become more confident and self reliant, living in the city.
  4. Your kids will be better at handling diversity, and will have more diverse friendships. The essence of suburbia is zoning – racially, economically, etc. There’s fewer people unlike you.
  5. The city pushes the family together and creates more coherence between home, work, and school. Relationally it’s much more intense. Suburbia pushes everybody apart.
  6. In the city, your teenagers will more easily see a Christianity they can envision and respect because the churches are filled with young people they can identify with (does your sunday school teacher have glorious tatts?).
  7. You can help your kids start to process the real world by living in the city.
  8. In general, kids raised in cities do not have same pressure brought on them to conform because it is so diverse.

Keller mentions several times that we all think the suburbs is the best place to raise our kids, but in reality it may be more polarizing to families.

Think about it: we all get into our cars and go in different directions each day; our commutes take hours away from our family life; when our teenagers have friends, they drive around recklessly in a car together; we live in communities with people who are just like us in every way; our children aren’t exposed to poverty unless they go on a mission trip; kids face an immense amount of pressure to conform.

I loved loved loved this lecture, and I especially loved that Bryan whipped out his computer for us to listen to it on a drive up to Bellingham on Labor Day.

Whatever it takes to teach kids – Geoffrey Canada & Paul Tough
This is an interesting discussion regarding some charter schools Geoffrey Canada began in Harlem, serving the needs of 8,000 kids in all areas of educational and socio-economical need. He talks about the failure of preschool and kindergarten programs because an at-risk child needs that kind of support throughout their entire education, not just in the early years.

He also discusses the lack of support available in the inner cities. In upper middle class schools, when there is an act of violence – a shooting, a murder, a suicide, etc – the school provides mental health professionals the next day to help support kids who are dealing with the trauma. In poor communities, kids often see and experience violence on a regular basis – in their homes, on the streets among their friends – but there is no regular mental health support for them in the schools.

He also discusses the need for school leadership who are firm but loving, who set clear boundaries and stick to them. His staff lives in the community, and interacts with the kids even outside of school. If a teacher catches a kid fighting, even if it’s outside of school that teacher will take action. Canada believes it takes a lot of adults acting in a consistent way and going the extra mile.

It’s a fascinating program, and I plan to read Paul Tough’s book on the project, titled, Whatever It Takes.

The Wire, Season 4 – HBO

This is the best show on television, topping even The Sopranos for me. Season 4 in particular was breathtaking – both as an amazingly written drama and as an eye opener to the issues inner city schools are facing.

One of the things Geoffrey Canada said in the above interview on Fresh Air, is kids in inner city students can’t learn algebra if they’re worried about their safety on a daily basis. This is precisely the issue The Wire takes on through the storyline of a local middle school that is filled with kids whose parents use their welfare money to buy drugs instead of groceries, who sell all the clothes donated for their children to buy drugs, and whose neighborhoods are run by drug lords that “drop bodies” on a regular basis.

Through a specially funded program, ten of the school’s most poorly behaved kids are pulled out of their classroom into a special track of learning that becomes very controversial within the school district. The program’s success becomes tangled up in a web of political fire storms and bureaucratic red tape, and it’s heartbreaking to watch kids with great potential teetering on the edge of a very distinct precipice in their lives.

In summary
These are all the things swirling around in my head lately. I’m intrigued by it all as a mother, as a neighbor, as sociology major, and as a Christ follower. What is my role? What is the government’s? What is the Church’s? How do I keep my kids grounded while raising them in an urban setting? How do I give back to my community without acting like I’m swooping in to rescue the poor black families?

Again, I don’t exactly live in The Big City, but many of these issues apply to my community, and I found these resources very educational.

What about you? Any thoughts?

Peering underneath the floor boards

Arrogant know-it-alls stir up discord, but wise men and women listen to each other’s counsel (Proverbs 13:10).

I came across this verse one morning in The Message Bible, and read it out loud to Bryan. I’ve come across a lot of arrogant know-it-alls in my life, and had one in particular I was thinking about as I read it. Knowing exactly what I was thinking, Bryan says, “Yeah, but by definition, the arrogant person is going to believe he is the wise person, and all who disagree with him are stirring up discord.”

My response? “Yes, but I know the truth!”

We laughed, and Bryan went back to work, and I went on to more reading. But as I did, something nagged at me – the thought that I often act like an arrogant know-it-all.

All current trains of thought seem to be pointing me in this direction, lately. I can’t seem to escape the fact that I am no different from those I have hated. For the last year I’ve been dissecting several difficult relationships – relationships that are now, or have in the past been paralyzing, broken, stalled, or otherwise disrupted.

Recently, in regards to one particular relationship, I had a Kaiser Soze moment in which everything I had believed to be true suddenly flashed before my eyes in a montage of new realization: that which I judged this person for, I was also guilty of.

Realizing this triggered a domino affect which knocked down several assumptions I’d made in other difficult relationships as well. In my quest for personal justice, in my pointing out the speck in one person’s eye, I was unaware of the log in my own eye. I was crying out for justice and retribution, without recognizing my own need for grace and mercy.

Sufjan Stevens wrote a song about the famous serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., who apparently raped and killed 27 boys and buried them in a crawl space under his house. In the last lines of the song, Stevens sings,

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid

This is a haunting admission, and captures the essence of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

These are not easy things to hear, particularly when faced with real injustice and true offense. It’s not easy to extend grace, to forgive, to search my heart for understanding, to identify with that common denominator of sin. I would rather put myself first than put Peace first. I would rather see punishment than reconciliation. I would rather be right than gracious.

But Jesus is transforming my heart. He’s telling me to quit reading the Bible as if it was written for somebody else. He is filling my heart with compassion, and when it comes to one particular person, I actually feel genuine love toward and acceptance of him. Miraculously, I no longer look at him through a lens of judgment. I don’t even look down on him with arrogant compassion.

Instead I feel a sense of camaraderie with him. Kinship. I recognize that I am really just like him, and that maybe there’s hope we could be drawn closer by our shared flaws.

As for the “one particular know-it-all” I thought of when reading the Proverb, I’m still working on it. I’ve written several drafts of a letter. I’ve tried to imagine peace. I’ve tried to imagine a future as friends rather than enemies. And slowly, these images are taking shape. They are coming into focus, and my heart does not clench in anger as much when I think about it.

But I had to first consider my own offenses, I had to consider my own heart. I had to stop pointing outwardly, and start looking inward. It has been a painful year in this regard, but I feel a sense of purging, of cleansing, of dead weight being lifted from my shoulders.

The pains of labor are birthing new eyes and a new mind, and I am hopeful.

Last Breaths & Connecting Dots

My Grandma – my mom’s mom – died on or around Valentine’s Day a few years ago. She was a sturdy, healthy woman, who simply grew too old for her body to carry her. She died peacefully in her own bed, with Gordy by her side.

My mom was getting her hair done at the time, which is so mom. When she’s old and not so independent, I’ll be taking her to the beauty shop every week to get her hair done. In heaven her hair will be thick and full of body – no beauty shops necessary there.

Gordy adored my Grandma, and she adored him, in her reserved, German kind of way. When my Grandpa died, her husband of more than 50 years, my Grandma collapsed from the exhaustion of caring for him, her body somehow understanding she was no longer on duty. She was in the hospital during his funeral, but Gordy sat with her, quietly holding her hand.

Then years later as she passed away, he was holding her hand again.

I didn’t consider at the time how prophetic this was, Gordy holding the hand of a dying woman, watching her take her last breath. It would be years later that he lay in a hospice bed in his own living room, in and out of awareness, his body giving way to cancer.

I wonder if he remembered that moment, the moment he was holding the hand of a woman when the life went out of her. I wonder if he remembered her last breath, the peaceful silence, the whisper of a soul floating away. I wonder if this memory brought him comfort. I wonder if this prepared him for his own passing.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he called my Grandma home just then, as Gordy held her hand.

When life feels out of control I try to remember that God sees the bigger picture. He doesn’t just see the moment, but he sees the moment in connection with an infinity of moments. In my panic I often run into the street, naked and screaming maniacally about the end of the world as we know it, when all I really need to do is sit and quietly allow the Holy Spirit to connect the dots from one moment to the next.

When life feels out of control I need to ask myself, Do I trust him to carry me from moment to moment, even into infinite?

Weekend Project.

weekend project

We don’t have an entryway.

I have dozens of pictures clipped from magazines of large, high-ceiling-ed entryways with sweeping staircases and homey benches. I have pictures of back door mud rooms with cute storage lockers or cubbies sectioned off for each child. I have pictures of old wardrobes converted to coat closets, of closet system installations, of change jars and old-fashioned telephones atop hall tables.

I had it all figured out, and then I bought a house with no front entryway, no back door mud room, and no coat closet.

We started with a coat tree. I hate coat trees. Thankfully ours never tipped over, but when I cleared all the coats off I found a purse I’d been looking for since last summer and a mysterious red jacket from Land’s End in size 18 months. If you’re the first to hang your coat up when arriving, it takes you ten minutes to uncover it again when you leave.

Not to mention the kids can’t reach it to hang up their coats.

I put together this little ensemble from Ikea for less than fifty bucks. Two basic coat hook racks, and a bench-shoe-rack thing from the bathroom section. We are not a no-shoes house, but with all our bedrooms upstairs it’s not practical to keep the kids’ shoes in their rooms. Having them right by the door saves time and hassle when we are rushing out the door.

At the suggestion of a friend, who is one of my two personal decorators, we flipped the couch to the other side and put the chairs against the wall (you can see the arm of the black club chair). This opened up more space in that corner for a cute little kid sized coat rack that Thomas and Ruthie ADORE. Just like he announced the new kitchen to every visitor, Thomas WILL point out his new coat rack every time you come over.

I may frame some of Ruthie’s art and hang it above their coats.

The milestone for me in all of this – besides the fact we actually hauled out a drill and did it – is that it looks nothing like what I always wanted, yet I’m so happy with it. I needed to adjust my expectations to fit my circumstances. I needed to let go of the picture in my head.

Which I did.

And now I’m well on the road to maintaining order in my home.

It’s not all rainbows and puppies around here…

It’s been a rough week at the Zughaus. The kids were puking, and I wasn’t getting any sleep. I had to make another trip to the ER with Thomas to rehydrate him, almost had to make a second trip, and throughout it all Bryan had to work until nine or ten at night. Under that kind of stress and exhaustion, he and I haven’t been very nice to each other.

I’ve been patient with the kids to a point, but when one is still sick and the other is feeling better enough to antagonize everyone else I start to lose my mind just a little bit. Posting last night’s video is my attempt at capturing a shining moment in a dark week.

But this morning, when I cheerfully announce that it’s time for preschool and we are actually LEAVING THE HOUSE, and a certain child screams at me to go away because she wants to stay in the bath…these are the moments I break down and cry, right there in front of everybody.

When I spend my week snuggling, and comforting, and worrying, covered in puke and washing load after load of puked on sheets and towels – getting screamed at by those same cherubs I cared for just makes me want to go on strike.

In trying to maintain perspective, I think about Jesus – how he was perfect, sinless, and without fault. Yet in his perfection, he took my lying, angry, bitter sin upon himself and died, taking it all to the grave with him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I’ve been thinking about this all morning. I can’t compete with what kind of sacrifice Jesus made for me, but I know he calls me to love others sacrificially.

So this morning I’ve been praying for peace, graciousness, and a heart that desires to serve, even when my service is not always appreciated.