Monday, February 25, 2013


2 b: acute mental or emotional distress or suffering : grief

One night last week I was praying for a friend as I went to sleep.  As I was praying for her, my mind shifted from seeing her standing on the shore with God to seeing myself seated in the sand with Jesus beside me.  For a while, we sat companionably but then he moved into the water and invited me to join him.  Before I joined him, he was clear about one thing: moving into this water would hurt.  Not because the water was cold (though it was) but because this water was the pain of the world.  I was afraid.  Would anyone head into something containing the pain of the world without at least pausing?

But I wanted to be near Jesus, so I went.  There wasn't anything for me to do with all of this pain, just bear witness to it.  And as I stood in the midst of the pain, the water shifted.  Standing there beside Jesus, the water immediately surrounding us changed from murky brown to turquoise, aquamarine, sky blue.  Instead of sitting stagnant, it shimmered.  This beauty didn't mean the pain went away.  It was still there, but with beauty amongst it.

Since that prayer, I have tried to choose moments to stand in the pain instead of avoiding it.  Perhaps it is not surprising that I've found it is easier to stand in others' pain than my own.  My own pain, especially when accompanied by anger, makes me feel shame.  One reason I wrote about my frustration, disappointment and sense of abandonment surrounding our magnet school application process was as an attempt to stand in the pain.

I tend to deal with pain in one of two ways: I let anger fuel me and push through it belligerently or I gloss over the pain, moving as quickly as possible to a place where I can see the good instead of the bad.  These are not necessary poor ways to cope with the world: seeing things positively does make me more content and pushing through the pain gives (at least the impression of) strength.  But there is a difference between coping and growing.  I do a lot of the former.  I want to do the latter.  Choosing to stand in the pain?  That's not my typical approach.  It requires patience.  It requires that I acknowledge everything is not OK.  It encourages me to feel deeply.  And it hurts.

The only time I willingly stand in the pain is when I have no choice.  (I'll let you decide whether that really qualifies as "willing.")  There are times when what I am feeling is so big, so encompassing, there is no pushing through or glossing over.

The circumstances surrounding B's school options for next year are not nearly so big as that.  There is much I appreciate and enjoy about homeschooling.  I treasure the time with B and the flexibility our family will continue to enjoy.  But rather than go straight to the silver linings, I felt it was important for me to actually see, dwell on and process the way this particular disappointment has brought pain to my heart.  As always, it has been illuminating.  (I think pain tends to function as an internal spotlight, showing us the places we neglect, the unkempt corners of our souls.)

What I have seen this time is that I believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God takes some pleasure in causing me pain.  I know this particular idea of who God is comes from my earthly father.  He always seemed tickled when I did something wrong or stupid.  Why this is true, I am not sure.  I hurt for my children when they make a mistake or feel shamed.  But that wasn't my own experience.  I'm not the only one to confuse God the Father with an earthly father.  Richard Rohr writes:

After years of giving and receiving spiritual direction, it has become obvious to me and to many of my colleagues that most peoples’ operative, de facto image of God is initially a subtle combination of their Mom and their Dad, or any early authority figures... The goal, of course, is to grow toward an adult religion that includes both reason and faith and inner experience that you can trust. A mature God creates mature people. A big God creates big people.

I hope I am growing toward a mature faith, but allowing my image of God to change is no small task.  Awareness is hopefully the first step, but I imagine I may only have my toe on the first step of a processes comprising many flights of stairs.  For now the only thing I know to do is try to sit with the pain and hope that staying in it will allow beauty to enter and commingle with the pain, thereby transforming me in the process.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


2: something that attracts

For hours, I have been trying to do something other than sit down and write this post.  I've cooked.  I've done laundry.  I've watched a TV show.  But the words keep circling in my mind and I feel the pull to put the words down, even while I don't want to.  (This, by the way, is the thing that stinks about Lent this year: when I feel that pull to write and ignore it, I feel like I'm ignoring God.) So I will write, despite my misgivings, despite my fear, despite my shame.  I will write with the caveat that if you are one of my readers who judge me for homeschooling, please just click away right now and don't read this post.  Or if you are a fellow homeschooler who judges me for thinking a return to school might factor into our future, now might also be a good time for you to depart.  Because I'm feeling enough shame without having others heap it on.

The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster.  On January 12, our public school system held their annual lottery for admission to a variety of magnet schools.  We only entered one child for one school this year.  A is entering 8th grade next year, which means her chances for getting into a magnet were slim.  Plus, who wants to join a school in 8th grade after everyone else has already been there for three years together?  But B is entering 7th grade and is therefore eligible to apply to a math and science school.  On lottery day, she came in 77th on the waiting list.  Then the roller coaster began.

I initially thought 77th on a waiting list sounded like it would never happen.  Then I noticed that not a single seventh grader was admitted via the lottery.  Were they all going to a waiting list, only to to pulled off later?  After checking with some friends, I heard encouraging news: each class has roughly 200 students and 100 of those spots are filled by students from a feeder school.  That made 77th sound pretty good.  But why would everyone go to a waiting list?  I thought I had uncovered the answer to that mystery when I heard from someone whose son attends the feeder school that current sixth graders are given one more opportunity to get into the magnet school if their grades on this year's standardized tests allow them in.  That meant a long wait (until late spring or early summer), but I still felt good about B's chances.  I had been mentally preparing to have her back in school next year.  Until yesterday when I ran into a friend who is now a guidance counselor at the school.  We haven't seen each other in years, so I didn't even know she was working there until I noticed her t-shirt.  I mentioned that B might be there next year and when I told her our lottery number, she broke the news to me: no students will come off the waiting list this year.  They are only accepting students from the feeder school, none from the population at large.  So if you didn't win the lottery two years ago and end up at a magnet school back then, you are out of luck.

I am so thankful that I ran into this friend.  I can't imagine how devastated and befuddled we would have been to have received this news just weeks before school starts.  And my friend couldn't have been kinder in the way she broke the news to me.  She even commiserated with me that the school system has not and will not be informing parents of this.  From their perspective, we are on a waiting list.  We should have no expectation of getting in.

Yesterday I was shell-shocked.  Today I'm more angry than shocked.  I'm angry at a school system with nearly universally weak middle schools that forces me into feeling like our only option is to try for a magnet.  I'm angry that they don't respect parents enough to explain the situation - thinking that it is perfectly acceptable for a family to wait months with no clear information.  And I'm angry with God for leading me down this path and then yanking the rug out from under my feet.

Last year, we didn't lottery for spots for any of our daughters, but this year I felt oddly compelled about putting B in the lottery for this particular school.  And when I thought our chances were good, I started reconciling myself to the idea and was able to see that in many ways I am not the ideal teacher for B.  She pushes back so hard in everything and I don't want to be the one who pushes her. I want to be her safe place, not her taskmaster.  She and I discussed this shortly after the lottery.  B wasn't excited about the idea of going back to public school, so she offered a solution that she would try not to push so hard so that I would keep homeschooling her.  A sweet offer, but not something she would be able to sustain for very long.

So now that I've reconciled myself to the idea that she should go to school, I find out she can't go back to school.  I feel like saying, yet again, to God, "What the hell?"  And when I look at the families who do win the lottery, for not just one child, but multiple children, I feel like God is looking at us and saying, "Nope.  Not you.  I don't love you enough to let your children go to a good public school.  You are not enough.  Go sit over there."  Because it seems outside the realm of possibility that God's best for my children is me as their teacher.

I actually love homeschooling them.  I love teaching them things like how to create ordered pairs from a two variable equation and graph a line.  I love showing K that her cursive is better than my own.  I love the way she wants a bonus spelling word every day: "Give me a really hard one," she says.  I love getting to spend time with my children.  Because in less than five years, A could be off in another city, pursuing a career.  (Am I the only one that finds that scary? Five years?!)  So it's not that I don't want them around.  Or that I don't enjoy the teaching.  It's just that I don't want doors closed to them because of my own failings.

Maybe that in itself is naive.  There are already doors closed to them because of who they are and who I am.  Doors start closing for most of us the minute we're born, even though we'd like to believe anyone can do anything in our country.  That simply isn't true.  We are limited by our socioeconomic status, our race, our gender, our abilities, our work ethic.  But it's one thing to see my own life options narrow as I make choices.  It's entirely another to see that happen to my children.

Alongside my anger with God for not deeming us worthy of good schools is an anger at our school system for using magnet schools as an excuse to not make every school in our system one that parents want to have their children attend.  If magnets attract, shouldn't all schools be attractive?  But they aren't.  They are gloomy, sterile and sometimes downright scary.  I know their job is a huge one - to educate such a disparate population while making sure no child is "left behind."  But perhaps instead of concentrating middle class educationally talented children at two high schools by attracting them like metal pilings to a magnet, they should work at attracting families to the system and keeping them there, in all of the schools throughout the system.

I know this is a pipe dream.  I know it won't happen in time to change anything for my children.  But the other thing magnets do?  They polarize?  That attract like to like and push differences away.  Is this really the approach we want our schools to take?

As I shared my frustration with J earlier today, he was able to be much more positive about the possible reasons for B not getting to attend a magnet school.  (Admittedly it's not difficult to be more positive than, "God doesn't love us.  That's why this happened.")  He offered a range of options from God protecting B from potential dangers to God asking J and I to confront our own biases about education and how that should play out for our daughters.  I'm not able to see this glass-half-full yet, especially when I feel like God has turned his back on me in the last six months and left me standing in the desert gasping for air.

I don't know how to end this post other than to acknowledge that even as I try to work through my anger with a God who seems to not care a whit for me or my family, one of my daughters ran downstairs to tell me that a song we know was playing on the radio.  We came to know this song after a friend read a post of mine and brought me the CD.  At that time, the CD hadn't been released yet, but she thought one song in particular would encourage me - a song called Not for a Moment about how God doesn't forsake us, not for a moment.  So while I'm reluctantly fulfilled a lenten discipline by writing about my wounded heart, God is reminding me that even in the dark, he will never leave.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


1 b : a woman admired and emulated for her achievements and qualities
2 a : the principal female character in a literary or dramatic work

My virtual book club recently read The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  While the book was one that struck me as a great concept that struggled to execute well, it got me thinking about what a heroine is and what books I would choose to have my daughters read to help them see ways they can live heroically.

The structure of The Heroine's Bookshelf was that Blakemore selected a heroine and a character trait that each heroine embodied.  For example, Anne of Green Gables illustrated happiness and Scarlett O'Hara showed us fight.  The traits Blakemore associates with heroines are self, faith, happiness, dignity, family ties, indulgence, fight, compassion, simplicity, steadfastness, ambition and magic.  Late in the book it became clear to me that Blakemore and I envision heroines differently.  When I think about a heroine's bookshelf, my mind goes to books that I want my daughters to read in order to see richly imagined characters who meet life's challenges with grace, strength and resilience, amongst other things.

So here are the heroines on my bookshelf (links will take you to my Goodreads review of the book):

Anne from Anne of Green Gables:
There is just so very much to love about Anne, but I chose her first because she feels deeply and isn't afraid to show it.  As she matures, Anne learns to listen to her head, but not at the expense of her heart.  Yet it is the bold Anne in the very first book of the series whom I fell in love with.  She is imaginative, resilient, earnest and loyal - all traits that I would love for my daughters to witness both in life and in books.  If you don't already know Anne, I highly recommend you become acquainted with her.

Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird:
Scout is not your typical girl and she wants you to know it.  Yet she embodies a trait I want my daughters to possess all of their days: hope.  I clearly remember reading this book in the ninth grade.  As the story of the trial unfolded in the book, I recall thinking, "Surely they can't convict him.  Look at all of the evidence."  Like Scout, I had hope that the characters would do what is right, not what is culturally acceptable.  And I was heartbroken when they didn't.  I want my daughters to read books like this one - books that show even when good people take a stand, things don't always go the way we want.  Books that are populated with characters who choose hope anyway.

Leslie from Bridge to Terabithia
Bridge to Terabithia was my favorite book in fourth grade.  Fourth grade was many and many a year ago, but I remember how much this book captured my imagination and broke my heart.  Leslie is the heroine in this book and her imagination is unparalleled.  She's the kind of character I want my children to know because I hope they will cling to their imaginings long past the age when others set aside such things in favor of "real life."  Leslie knows (and teaches Jesse) that life is in the imagined.

Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars
It may be ironic that I recommend a book about a teenager with cancer to help you appreciate living fully.  Yet Hazel will help you see the beauty of the everyday and the way it inevitably melds with the painful.  Not long ago I was thinking about the fact that I can't honestly pray for my daughters to be hurt in order to grow.  I'm not sure any parent can.  But I do pray that any pain they experience will be put to good use.  I can't know how long or short my life or their lives will be, but a heroine like Hazel reminds us all to soak up every minute we have.

Liesel from The Book Thief
How could Liesel not be on my heroine's bookshelf?  She is brave, resilient, hopeful in the face of tragedy, compassionate, a survivor.  And words save her.  Liesel is a heroine who shows us heroism takes place in the small, everyday acts - in painting clouds in a basement, in a crossword puzzle, in a kind word, in a stolen book.  Liesel reminds us that words matter, that we can make a difference and that life is not life without both the beauty and the pain.

What heroines are on your bookshelf - literal or imagined?  Who do you spend your literary time with?  Who do you want to make sure the young readers in your life get to know?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

1 : not genuine
2a : intentionally untrue

I am in the process of reading an exceptionally good book right now.  As with most good non-fiction books, I am taking it slowly.  Not because the writing is dense nor difficult, but because there is so much truth there for my soul to soak up.  I need to read it slowly and give each truth time to settle down into my soul before moving on.  The book is When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd and it recounts the author's own spiritual crisis and the process of active waiting she embraced during this time.  As she attempts to discover who she really is, Monk Kidd investigates and names her false selves:

...I began a process of "naming" my false selves, a process that spanned many weeks of looking within and reflecting on my life.  By naming the inner patterns that imprison us, we come to know them more fully and obtain a certain power over them.

Finding and naming our false selves enables us to answer questions like: If all of my roles were taken away, who would I be?  If not wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, who am I?  What are the masks I wear and who do I don them for?

My bookmark has been sitting on the precipice of the section Naming False Selves for days.  Not because I don't want to read more, but because I think I need to at least make an attempt to see my own constructs before reading Monk Kidd's.  So as I took a very brisk walk yesterday in colder than expected weather, I contemplated what masks I've worn to get through my life to this point. 

The first one that popped to mind was valedictorian.  If you've only known me for the last five years, I'm not sure whether it would be surprising to know I was valedictorian of my high school class.  I'd like to think you would be surprised - not because you'd think I'm not smart enough to have been so, but because you might see that I am not a person given to competition nor am I particularly achievement oriented.  As I've come to know myself better, I've realized that I don't like competition because competing divides people whereas I long for unity.  My healthier adult self doesn't long to be better than or smarter than other people.  I don't pursue things in order to stand out, but because they interest me or help me grow as a person.

I wore the mask of valedictorian because it was expected of me, even demanded of me.  Without pressure would I have been first in my class?  I think it's unlikely.  I think I still would have had good grades and done well on standardized tests, but I might have been able to relax a bit and enjoy school rather than seeing it as a place where academic performance was of the utmost importance.

The Misfit
Welcome to my college years.  If I felt pressure to be perfect in high school, that fell away the first semester of my freshman year.  I brought home three B's and a C that semester and felt no shame about it.  What I felt instead was a decided case of not-belonging, which persisted right through graduation.  Some of this was borne of being a middle class scholarship girl in the midst of wealthy private school born and bred peers.  Some of it was simply my discomfort in my own skin.  For most of my time at Vanderbilt, I felt like everyone there had been cut out with the same cookie cutter except me. 

I think this is a mask that still appears regularly in my repertoire.  When I'm wearing the misfit mask, I struggle with a desire to fit in that collides with a desire to be seen.  Because if I'm really fitting in and blending in, I'm not being seen for who I am.

The Bitch
Hopefully many of you have never seen this incarnation of me.  In the post-valedictorian, post-misfit years, the bitch was how I coped with working full time, excelling at that work and never feeling very fulfilled by it.  I wanted to understand my work, do it with excellence and help my clients and co-workers.  I felt such pressure to perform and my employer's solution to any complaint I voiced was to throw money at me.  This was not particularly effective.

So I set aside my feelings and hardened myself.  It worked fairly well and in some ways it looked a lot like the valedictorian mask, only with harder lines.  I learned a lot from a very demanding boss, I honed computer skills that still serve me well years later and I compartmentalized my self to be who they needed me to be.  This was not particularly effective, either.

The Conformist
Then came the evangelical years, when I wanted desperately to respond to God's voice and to be accepted by the women in my church as one of them.  I can still remember the hurt of a group leader who strongly disliked me.  In my desire to conform and be accepted, I couldn't tell whether she simply didn't like me or God didn't, either.   Then there were the theological collisions.  I spent years attempting to reconcile the church's belief in the inerrancy of scripture with my own heart and mind's objections that you can't take the portions of scripture on women literally, but ascribe passages on slavery to being from a different historical context.  To conform, I tried to hold back the parts of me that didn't fit my church's image of who women should be.

That was working reasonably well until I gave birth to three diverse, strong girls.  If I could accept the shame thrown upon my shoulders week after week, I could not saddle my daughters with it.  After seeing one daughter labeled as not enough one too many times, the mask of conformity shattered and I let go of the myth that there was only one right path to God.

I'm sure there are other masks in my closet, but I think identifying these four gives me enough insight into myself to move forward with reading about Sue Monk Kidd's false selves.  As I look at these Shannons that used to be, I feel more frustration and shame than compassion.  But I want to be compassionate to these selves that shielded the real and fragile me from the world.  Because they weren't constructed as intentionally untrue.  Instead, they simply took one aspect of my personality and magnified it past the point of being genuine.

What I want for the next decade of my life is to be the things required of me as wife, mother, daughter and friend, but hold tight to a sense of who I truly am, separate from what I do.  May I have compassion on my many selves, both when I fail and when I succeed in seeing the real me.

Friday, February 15, 2013


: done by intention or design : intended

There are many words describing me in the slim journal I bought for my 40th birthday.

Some make me stop and think.  Others are so well-stated I can only nod assent.  A few are so unexpected I haven't yet assimilated them into my vision of myself.  But one word appears several times, in entries by friends who don't even know each other.  That word is intentional.

One friend says the very existence of a journal to explore who I am is evidence of my intentionality.  While some words frighten me with implied responsibility, intentional is a word I will gladly own.

I want, perhaps more than anything else, to live intentionally.  I want to choose my path and walk it with my eyes open, not somnambulate through life.  This is a continual choose, not a rigid setting forth nor a stubborn refusal to take the scenic route.  But this continual choosing is deliberate and thoughtful, even when of-the-moment.

I don't want life to happen to me.  I claim an ownership stake in my yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.  One way I claim this is by planning.  Without forethought and a plan, I wouldn't get many of the moments I treasure:  a Thursday afternoon at Cheekwood isn't possible without three previous days of working ahead, family vacations don't appear fully formed from my forehead and family dinners require provision and preparation.

The best plans I make are those I hold loosely, that I am willing to change as a part of the continuous choosing of my life.  Because while I believe in planning, I also subscribe to the theory that plans, like rules, are made to be broken.  I want a plan to help me get where I'm going, not to shame me for taking too long to get there.

As I read the words I've written so far, I think I might sound like a bit of a control freak.  But I don't equate intentionality with control.  Things happen (every day) that are beyond my control or choosing.  I can fight against that or I can choose my response to those things.  I'm not a control freak, but I do believe I always, always have a choice.  Even when life hits me with hard things, I can choose to hide, walk through the pain or cower in fear.

I think the beauty of living intentionally is that it enables you to turn your back on shame and regret.  If I've consciously chosen the path I'm on, I'm far less likely to back with regret or longing on the things that brought me here.  I don't do this (or anything) perfectly.  I have days where I seem to simply be pulled through life by my to-do list or the activities we have on the calendar.  Those same days can find me numbing out with a book or a game instead of choosing rest for my weary soul.  But even though I fail repeatedly, I want to be intentional.  

A Cheekwood Day: Valentine's 2013

May I remember that I can continually choose - even on those days when life feels bigger than I am. 

May I always see before me the choices I have and may I choose one, instead of passively waiting for new choices to appear.

May I stay anchored to the present, where choices live.

May I remain awed, humbled and inspired by the chance to be intentional.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


1 : to set at liberty : free; specifically : to free (as a country) from domination by a foreign power

Yesterday the girls and I went to see the Emancipation Proclamation. (If you live in Nashville, I highly recommend you go.)  Before we went, I looked up a bit about the document online.  I found this article on the National Archives website and read it aloud to the girls as we sat around the breakfast table.  It was good background for all of us to understand the limitations of this document that proclaimed freedom for some, but not all.  Yet the thing that stuck with me was this sentence: "Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators."

Did you catch that?  "enabling the liberated to become liberators."  What a gift: allowing freed slaves the opportunity to fight for the freedom of others.  Because freedom, once gained, begs to be shared.  I find this a powerful concept to ponder and explore on Ash Wednesday, especially since today's second lesson included a favorite passage reminding us that we are God's ambassadors.  If I'm God's ambassador, what country do I represent?  An enslaved one, held captive by lies?  Or one that is filled with light and truth?

We all need to be liberated from something.  Whether it's an addiction, a fear, a deeply rooted sin, a predilection for numbing the pain in our lives with screen time or the belief that we don't matter, we are all either enslaved or liberated - or both.  Having one set of chains broken often leaves us passionate about the areas of our former enslavement.  Once free of shame, we want others to see and name that demon for what it is.  Formerly blind to the prison of objectification, we long to help other women see that they are more than the cells, ligaments, tendons and bones that comprise their bodies.  Freedom begs to be shared.

But when we are trapped, we can resent the freedom of others.  Addicts cleave to addicts, whether the addiction is alcohol or pessimism.  Emotionally unhealthy people surround themselves with others in similar circumstances, if only to better shroud their hurt and pain.  I am certainly guilty of surrounding myself with people like me.  Currently, that means I want to be around friends who are self-aware, who know their own strengths and weaknesses and aren't afraid to share both.  I crave time with women who walk with a limp from the ways life has broken and bruised them - but not defeated them.  I want friends who wear their scars proudly because scars do not form on the dying.

That hasn't always been the case.  For many years, I didn't see how broken I really was.  I went through life shoving all of the hard feelings and hurts deep down inside.  I wanted to be around people who didn't go too deep, who were content to watch a football game with me, but never push past the surface level.  That got lonely.  And I grew restless, tired of the same old me.  I wanted more and sought people who want more.

I'm not sure whether I could qualify as liberated yet.  There are still chains encircling me, many of which I don't even see holding me back.  But I will tell you this, I long for freedom for myself and others and I am thankful for the blinders that have been removed from my eyes.  I hope my daughters are never enslaved to the idea that they are not enough.  I want mothers to resist efforts to shame their parenting, who instead revel in not having it all together, who can laugh over their inefficiencies and flaws.

Last night a friend who is walking a long, dark and muddy road shared her story.  There was pain, anger and bleeding, but also hope: hope for a deep and lasting healing.  And I saw in my friend a liberated woman who will tell her story to liberate others.  There is nothing more beautiful than claiming the pain in our lives and using it to sow seeds of beauty and freedom.  May we all have the courage this Lent to face, walk through and embrace our pain in order to be both liberated and liberators.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


: the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting

If you don't come from a faith tradition that follows a liturgical calendar, the idea of church seasons might seem odd, useless or even suspicious to you.  (I once had a friend tell me she wouldn't consider observing Lent until someone could show her the Biblical precedent for it.) Yet the longer I participate in a spiritual life structured around the liturgical calendar, the more I realize how well it suits me.

Lent snuck up on me this year: this week is chock full with Shrove Tuesday today, Ash Wednesday tomorrow and Valentine's Day Thursday.  By the end of the week, we won't know whether to celebrate or contemplate.  Which is perhaps the very value that the church seasons bring us - reminders to pause and reflect on both the beauty and the pain of this life.

A friend posted an Abraham Lincoln quote on Facebook today.  It read, "Life is hard, but so very beautiful."  The same could be said of Lent.  I often find it hard from start to finish.  I want to choose the right discipline - one that is meaningful, one that will change me, one that is what I need, not what others are doing.  Once chosen, I want to embrace the discipline, however difficult that may be.  Last year, I committed to take a morning walk every day of Lent - and we promptly went to Green Bay, WI the second week of Lent.  So I bundled up and walked anyway.  The year before that, I gave up caffeine, which was even harder than a morning walk in Wisconsin.

I've had the most success with Lenten disciplines when I've prayed and asked God to show me what to give up or take on during Lent.  So when I realized ten days ago that Lent was fast approaching, I was worried.  I smile a bit at myself about that - do I think God can't answer quickly?  That I'm going to catch him asleep on the job?  That I must get my request in with a two week minimum? I think it's partly that I don't trust myself to hear well or quickly, but there is also an element of my faith that thinks I need to give God time to get around to answering me. 

My worry did not abate when I prayed about Lent and the first thing I heard was, "Write."  Write what?  Write everyday?  How?  When will I find the time?  

But as I explored this thought, I realized how bereft of creative outlets my life has become.  I don't blog as often as I'd like.  My journal is filled with white space.  I rarely take out my collage materials.  I haven't made anything at all since Advent projects with the girls.  More than just writing, I see in my life a need to create and to make the space for that to happen.  If my daughters will live what they see modeled, they aren't going to be taking very good care of themselves in two or three decades.  I need to put on my oxygen mask first if I want them to know, use and flex their creative muscles.

So I had the first piece of the puzzle: something creative.  As I thought and prayed and pondered some more, my mind kept circling all of the various pursuits I am currently neglecting.  Productive things like writing or art, but also restorative things reading and taking long baths.  As I thought about all my heart was aching to do, I realized that might be my discipline: to create space to fulfill my heart's desires.  The beauty and pain of this will be the need to constantly rely on God to show me my heart's desire for that day's allotted time.  Because while some of you may know immediately the desires of your heart, I have done an excellent job of burying those desires deep within me.  It's like an excavation project to get to them.  I can tell you what any of the immediate members of my family want, but when asked what I want, that requires a long and thoughtful pause before an answer emerges.

I am approaching tomorrow's start of the Lenten season with some trepidation.  Does my discipline sound more self-serving than God-honoring?  (My daughter B wanted to adopt a "Lenten discipline" of eating dessert after every meal.  I gently re-directed her.)  Am I willing to face my own desires with eyes open?  Can I bear the pain of seeing desires that will go unfulfilled (since this is why I hide them away in the first place)?  Most of all, will I emerge transformed at Easter?

Because that's what I want: transformation.  I want to listen and see with a willing heart, a heart willing to walk through pain for the beauty.

The word Lent comes from lengthen because it arrives at the time of year when the days are growing longer, stretching out to give us more light with each sunrise.  I want my heart to stretch and lengthen and be grown this Lent.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


1 a : an envelope often largely of silk which an insect larva forms about itself and in which it passes the pupa stage

A friend gave me a book I've never read for my birthday and the title immediately intrigued me: When The Heart Waits.  The book itself has intrigued me even more.  It's a book to savor and read slowly.  I'm reading one chapter at a time to let the words, thoughts and images sink down into my heart before moving on.  In the first chapter, Sue Monk Kidd talks about being in the midst of a spiritual crisis moment and crying out to God for a sign, for an answer.  Instead of an answer, she turned around to find a cocoon hanging in a tree.  From there, she saw butterflies and cocoons everywhere - in a childhood book remembered, in an art gallery, through a gift from a friend.  "Sometimes God is funny about pointing things out again and again," I thought to myself and smiled as I read.


Shortly after that I realized I had been seeing butterflies everywhere myself: in Flight Behavior, in birthday art created especially for me by a friend, in the When The Heart Waits book.  Since 2009, I have associated butterflies with faith.  That was the year B found a monarch caterpillar and brought him home for us to witness his transformation as a family.  I wrote about that experience back then (if you follow the link, start at the bottom and read your way up) and as I re-read those posts this morning, tears came.  I am still awed by the contrast of my fear and B's quiet confidence.  She had complete faith that her caterpillar Artie would emerge as the butterfly he was meant to be.  And she was right.

So why am I seeing butterfly imagery everywhere lately?  (I will confess I am wearing a dress with butterflies printed all over it as I type this - completely unintentional.)  I suspect God is trying to tell me something.  Sue Monk Kidd's words about waiting in her book have certainly resonated with me.  I want to be patient in the waiting, relinquish my own desire to control the outcome and trust that what emerges will be transformed.

That is more difficult than it sounds.  I do long for this decade of my life to be about transformation.  I want to be what I was really made to be, not what I think I should be.  I want to see myself truly and live boldly.  But in order to get there, I have to give myself over to the waiting in the cocoon.  Even that is harder than I would like for it to be.  If I could slip into a chrysalis and hang there all alone for a few days or weeks, that might be easy to settle down for.  Instead, I have to give myself over to waiting for transformation while teaching, chauffeuring, parenting and managing my family.

Will it be worth it?  Can I wait patiently to become someone worth knowing, loving and doing life alongside?  Can I really change and stay transformed?  Because as I read those posts from 2009, I am feeling much the same way right now - low on solitude, like what I need is distasteful to others and hard to come by, afraid I won't ever emerge from this season.  Am I even ready to emerge as a butterfly at the other end of my time in the cocoon?  I'm not sure a butterfly is the animal I would choose to represent me, but I do love that butterflies move lightly and quickly through life, touching down gently, leaving a small wake of beauty as they go.  That I could buy in to.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


1. the action or an instance of determining the importance, size, or value of: appraisal

It's that time of year: the time when people are looking back with a small degree of distance at 2012 to assess their performance.  Over the last few weeks, my husband has done his self-assessment and has moved on to evaluating his direct reports.  Inspired by this, tonight at dinner I suggested the girls do an impromptu assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses.  Their initial reactions were more interesting - and telling - than any thoughts they offered on their performance: B was immediately defensive and then starkly rattled off weaknesses, K effusively offered her strengths and A was hesitant but honest in offering thoughts on things she should work to improve.

After initial reactions, I asked A to give me some of her strengths.  In the pregnant pause that followed, J observed that A was a lot like him in that it was easier to list her weaknesses than strengths.  I agreed and offered that I thought 4 of the 5 of us at the table found our weaknesses more readily apparent than our strengths.  The exception?  K, of course.  I'm not sure whether it's her age or her personality that enables her to proudly state that she is good at reading, science, math and organizing (the last a blatant lie), but she clearly doesn't have self-esteem problems.

Our dinner conversation left me pondering the idea of evaluating my own performance.  And then I read a blog post by a friend of mine that made me wonder whether I would even be able to provide a semi-accurate self-assessment.  I say that because I read my friend's post and nearly glowed with pride in her hard parenting work and thankfulness for her success and gratitude that her children are blessed to have her as a mom.  I know my friend T isn't perfect, but from where I stand, she is a great mom.  But what if she were to do a self-assessment?  I'm betting she wouldn't give herself an A+.  Nor would I give myself stellar marks.

Tonight as I put B to bed, we talked about the start of her day.  After I showered this morning, I went upstairs to check on she and K.  I was surprised to find B still asleep since she normally sets her alarm on tutorial days and is one of the first ones out of bed and into the shower.  But today she was sound asleep until I walked into the room and whispered her name.  Upon hearing me, she bolted upright and said, "What time is it?  Why didn't my alarm go off?"  She still had plenty of time to get ready, but it broke my heart when tears sprang to her eyes as she realized her clock hadn't done its part to get her day started right. 

At bedtime, I told B how sad it made me for her to cry over a missed alarm and asked what she had been thinking.  Her response?  That she was thinking about how stupid she was.  She tried to continue, but I cut in.  "That voice in your head is a liar," I said vehemently.  She looked surprised at my tone and insistence, but I continued, "There's another voice that tells you true and good things.  There's a voice you can trust and one you can't.  The sooner you learn to know which one is which, the better.   You can save yourself years of pain if you learn that now."  I didn't go on to tell B this, but I call that untrustworthy voice in my head my inner critic.  No matter what I do, the critic is not satisfied.

But there's another voice I hear as well, one that is so much like my own, but more quietly confident.  I think of that voice as the Holy Spirit, but I suppose you could call it lots of things - a conscience, a higher consciousness, God.  The point is that I know I can trust that voice.  It's the same voice that's been encouraging me to see myself through the eyes of others in an effort to see myself more clearly.

I don't know whether it's possible or profitable to try to assess the work I do daily.  There's no matrix for laundry, homeschooling, cooking and chauffeuring, all of which fall within my jurisdiction.  And I'm inclined to think I would be harsh on myself if I sat down with a rubric to assess what I think I should do versus what I actually do.  Yet the truth of the matter is that I am trying.  I cook when I don't feel like it.  I drive hours weekly to enable my daughters to pursue the things they love.  I mark history and science papers when I'd rather be reading my own book.  I fail them daily, but I am trying.  I am working to (nearly) the best of my ability.  Surely I can admit there is room for improvement?

I want my daughters to see themselves with eyes that see clearly - eyes that are spared the filters of familial expectations, society's pressures or shame heaped on by others.  And if I truly want that for them, I need to model it for them.  I need to graciously accept their enthusiasm for a meal that I feel is second rate.  I need to admit I am actually good at some things because they already see that with their own eyes.  In fact, I'm sure it would do me some good to try to see myself through their eyes.  Their assessment of me might be far kinder than my own would be.

The final thing for you and I to keep in mind with any assessment is that we aren't really the ones who determine our own importance or value.  God has already done that.  And he thinks we're all priceless.