Friday, September 20, 2013

Intolerable Grace

My breakthrough came because of my son, who is still only a promise for the future.

Since he is the only child we have a name picked out for, he is the one I think about the most. I think about the kind of mom I want to be, the kinds of things I want to teach him, and what I need to learn or change before he gets here so I can be the best mom to him that I am capable of being.

I was sitting at my desk one morning, half asleep, thinking about these things. It's funny, but sometimes I think God waits to talk to me until that still of the morning time, when I'm awake because I'm developing habits but my brain hasn't caught up with the game plan yet. I think he waits because he knows I'm more likely to really hear him without my own brain in the way. When I get a question out of nowhere in this time, I take it to mean that God is trying to tell me something. He likes to ask me questions, and make me realize things for myself.

So here I was, staring at the beauty of a world just beginning to wake up, thinking about my son, when a question came to me:

How will you teach him to be strong in himself, to be strong in God, to have a knowledge of who he is and where he comes from that is rooted in God's purpose for him, if you refuse to do the same? 

God had a point. Kids do what they see you doing, believe what they see you believing, regardless of what you're saying to them. So how could I expect to teach my son confidence when I hated myself? How could I teach him about forgiveness when I wouldn't even forgive myself? How could I tell him about a loving God who accepts everyone and has such an amazing purpose for us if we will only listen - if I wouldn't allow God anywhere near my heart?

You see, for as long as I can remember I've struggled with not feeling good enough. In my mind and my heart, everything that went badly in my life was my fault because it wouldn't have happened if I was good enough. My parents wouldn't struggle financially if I was good enough, my mom wouldn't have heart problems if I was good enough, my best friend wouldn't have shot himself if I was good enough, I wouldn't have been another domestic violence and sex trafficking statistic if I had been good enough. Throughout my life, everything that ever happened, I took the blame for. If only I was good enough, these things wouldn't have been a problem. When I started lashing out and hurting other people because of my own pain, it was just more evidence that I wasn't good enough - after all, people who are good enough don't hurt this way, and they don't hurt the people around them.

I was living a delusion built on pride and I didn't even know it.

Trapped by feelings of inferiority, burdened by my pain and unforgiveness, I was on the outside when it came to anything about God. I'd been raised Christian, so I knew beyond doubt that God accepted me. And I resented him for it. How could he accept me? Hurt, broken, screwup me?

I didn't want to bring all of that pain to someone who would actually accept me. I didn't want someone to see everything that was wrong with me and still accept and love me. It wasn't how my mind thought the world should work. It wasn't comfortable to be forgiven without paying a penance that is even with the sin. It wasn't comfortable to be loved even though I knew - and so did he - that I was a complete mess.

I simply couldn't tolerate the idea of grace. Not for me. I didn't feel that I deserved to be accepted. It was uncomfortable to belong. I felt more comfortable - safer - on the outside where I could blame any failure on myself and where only I controlled the outcome of everything. It wasn't a happy life, but it was what I used to, and it was all that I thought I deserved. And so I stood on the outside, constantly pushing God away, refusing to be accepted. I built a wall between myself and God, I wasn't perfect enough to be loved and he was just going to have to accept that!

See the pride? That same thinking almost ruined my relationship with my husband too.

How could I teach my son that I would always love and accept him no matter what, if I wasn't even willing to let God do the same for me?

That was the moment, the breakthrough. I couldn't let myself hurt my son the way I was hurting myself.

I spent the next few days wrestling with myself. Everything in me bucked against the idea that I should let God love me. I was too broken, too messed up. Everything in me hated the idea that I didn't have to pay for the things I'd messed up, that God wasn't even going to hold it against me. I wasn't on probation with God. My record with him wasn't full of black marks for bad behavior. I wrestled with that. It was so hard to fathom that I could have a love and acceptance that I didn't deserve, that it wouldn't be conditional to my paying the price for my sins. Everything was just new and forgiven. I was just accepted.

I had to decide to accept it. And then I had to walk in that decision. I have to remind myself that I'm not holding on to this stuff anymore, not keeping people at a distance anymore. Sometimes, I have to mentally sit myself down and have a talk about it. "Don't you remember? This is what we decided. God isn't holding this against me and neither are you."

It was the breakthrough I've needed the most for many years.

Without that breakthrough, nothing would have changed. I would have kept fighting my husband's love and acceptance as hard as I was fighting God. I would have kept hating myself. I would have kept pushing everything and everyone good out of my life.

Instead, I'm happy.

Happy is a strange feeling for me, it's still very new. I'm still not perfect, and the wounds of the past are still healing, but I'm happy. I'm losing weight because I finally love myself enough to do something about the things that make me hate myself - and because my son deserves a mom who can play with him. I fight with my husband much less because I can accept that he loves me, and so he doesn't feel constantly rejected. I'm making friends because my confidence is through the roof. And finally, for once in my life, I'm not so terrified of my dreams coming true.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On the Bench

The term "Bench Player" has a lot of connotations. John Maxwell talks about it as a good thing. If you're on the bench then you're the supporting team. You're the one they'll call on when something needs to change or when the score needs to be made without the star player on the field. He advises coaches in all areas of life to have a strong "bench" - a large group of backup players who can be counted on to help them toward their goals.

Most of us understand the bench to be a bad thing. We know that if you're sitting on the bench for the whole game, that means you didn't play. You didn't get to actively participate in the victory. Sure, everyone on the team won - and when we're talking about teams that's what matters.

But nobody looks at the stats card of a lifetime bencher and says "Jerry, this guy is amazing, truly amazing! He's spent his entire life sitting on that bench!"

We know this, and so when we're on the team it takes a lot of patience and self control not to try to force our way off the bench and into the game. I've seen high school players get violent over it. "Let me play, coach! Just let me play!" They'll scream about it. They'll work harder in practice for it. They'll get into brawls with each other over it. Something inside them instinctively screams "I have a stake here, let me do something about it!"

Yet, in the game of life, so many of us are content to just sit on the bench. In fact, many of us aren't even geared up. We aren't ready to be called off the bench! We're making ourselves permanent backseat players in our own lives.

Remember when you were a kid and you had an idea of what being a grownup was going to be like? Remember the kind of house you thought you'd live in, the kind of person you thought you'd marry, the kind of life you thought you'd live?

Let me ask you a personal question:

Today, do you live in that house? Did you marry that person? Do you live that life?

I'm betting the answer to at least one of those is no.

For most of the population, the answer isn't just no. The reality is so far from where we thought we'd be that we have to follow the no with excuses. "No, but y'know, times are tough." "No, but I didn't understand the world back then."

If you have to say no, and if you have to follow that no with an excuse, you're a bench player in your own life. You put on the jersey of someone else's team and spend your day taking a beating in their game, then you come home and sit on the couch and watch TV. Sometimes you spend the weekend with a different team jersey on, but it's still not yours.

You're not looking at the score in your own game, you don't know who your teammates are, you probably don't even know what your gear looks like anymore.

As a result, you're losing your game.

What does that look like for you? Do you live in a worse neighborhood than your family deserves? Maybe your house is smaller than you always thought it would be. Maybe you're ignoring the fact that the food you eat isn't good for you, might even be killing you, but you eat it because it's what you can afford. If you're like most Americans, the vacations you take - if you take vacation at all - are disappointing, more of an exercise in playing pretend than a vacation.

Whatever it looks like, I'm betting that all in all your life has gone in a different direction from where you thought you'd be.

And I'm betting you don't know what to do about it. Most of us don't. We look around at 20 or 30 or 40 and say "How did I get here?"

The answer, my friend, is that you've been benching in your own life. You're supposed to be the star player, but you've been sitting down, sitting out.

But there's good news!

This is still your game, it's still your life, and your destiny is still to get out there and be the star player. It won't be easy. You've got to train, to rebuild the muscles you've allowed to atrophy. But you can do it. You can get off the bench and start making a difference in your own life. Start taking hold of your own victory.

If we were talking about sports, you probably wouldn't be content to spend season after season on the team but never getting to play the game. So don't be content to do so in your life.

It's your life. You have every right to win! You just have to go out there and earn it.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Most fears are silly.

Founded or unfounded, our fears are rooted in a desire not to feel pain. These desires tend to create patterns in our mind - fear patterns - that hold us back.

When confronted by our fears, it's important to let our reality mind - and our faith in God - take hold. I can be afraid of all people I don't already know and refuse to go anywhere without my husband because a girl my age in my area was killed by a stranger, or I can realize that statistically it's improbable that I will run into the same situation, and choose to have faith that God has a greater purpose for my life.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm still careful when I'm out alone. I don't go whistling into dark alleyways just because God has a greater purpose for me.

Really, most fears aren't any more of a problem by themselves than spiders are. It's our brains and our choices of what to do with those fears that makes them road blocks.

Right now I have a lot of spiders around my house. They've crawled up from the forest behind my yard and made homes for themselves on the windows and railings around the outside. Some of them have even made massive webs stretching from the side of the house to our cars! And, as is always the case, some of them have found their way into the house as well.

I hate spiders. They freak me out. I think they're gross and I'm afraid of one biting me because I've heard of some awful situations where people have died from spider bites.

Do I know this is an unreasonable fear? Yes. I'm much bigger than the spider, and the chances of it actually being able to get through my flesh far enough to get poison into my blood stream is very, very low. Even then, I know that most spiders don't have venom strong enough to actually kill an adult human anyway. There may be a little bit of sickness or inflammation, but overall the chances of me dying from a spider bite are incredibly small. So it's silly for me to be afraid of spiders.

And yet, something in my nature just causes my whole body to cringe when I see one near me, and I tend to stay as far away from them as possible. They can live in the window frames on the outside, and I'm ok with that, but I don't want them in the house or near where I'm going to be walking.

Recently, a particularly ambitious pair of spiders has taken residence in the corner of the frame on the sliding glass door I use to get in and out of the house. For a few days I just ducked my head slightly to avoid the web and didn't bother with the spider. It was keeping the moths out, after all. But this morning I opened the door and the webs they had made were impossible not to walk through. It's almost like they were trying to catch me! Did I shut the door and stay in the house? No! That would be silly! I got the broom and removed the webs, and then went about my business, as anyone else would do.

So why don't we do the same with other fears?

That's not to say that there aren't reasonable fears and things we all ought to be careful about. But there is a balance to be found between exercising due caution and letting our fears control us. Picking up hitchhikers isn't safe anymore, and especially should be avoided if you're a woman driving alone. But you would probably think it silly if one of your friends told you that they would not get into a car anymore because they might be in a car accident sometime.

Some things are risky, and have potential of pain, but the payoff is worth whatever the potential failure is. For example, it was risky and frightening when my husband and I took our lives into our own hands and started a business. We had no money, and there was huge potential for massive struggle and even failure. There was a potential that things wouldn't take off, and by the time we realized the venture was lost we would have even less than we started with. But there was also potential that we could make it work, and we could support ourselves on our own business and even live comfortably. So we took the chance, and today we're glad we did.

Today I'd like to encourage you to face your fear. Look it in the eyes and say "I'm going to do it anyway. You can't stop me."

And remember, fear isn't from God. God gave you a spirit full of love and power, and a mind that is meant to be a tool of strength for you. Use that tool, be strong and courageous, and go take your victory!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Ohana" means "Family"

My husband and I talk a lot about the future, especially where it involves our future children. We know that we both come from different families and were raised very differently in many ways. We also come from separate parts of the generation - far enough apart and different enough that some sociologists are even separating my part of the generation from his when they talk about how we will be affecting the world in the next 30 years. Despite all of our similarities, we're very different, and so we know that it's important for us to talk and come to common ground on things - before they come up.

We also both come from broken families. Our parents did their best, but because our families were broken there are a lot of things about our childhood, our lives in general, that we want to engineer differently for our own children. And so we talk.

In fact, our children are probably the topic of at least 70% of our conversation. We talk about how we'll raise them, about what we want them to believe about the world and themselves and God and how we're going to teach them these things. We talk about the mindsets we want to teach them, the ways we want them to learn to handle the challenges of life, and how we'll foster a sense of trust in us without promoting weak character.

We ask ourselves a lot of questions. How do we pass on our belief that they are filled with amazing potential but avoid creating a sense that their potential entitles them to things they haven't earned? How do we balance teaching them to march to the beat of a different drum, to not just go with the crowd, but still foster a sense of respect and trust for authority and for those who have walked the path ahead of them? What do we do to teach them an entrepreneurial mindset that will help them create for themselves the best opportunities?

Will they be sports kids? Music kids?

One of the topics that comes up a lot in relation to our children is family. We've done a lot of talking around the questions of what it really means - to us - to be a family, and how we'll teach that to our kids.

The interesting thing, is that we both agree 100% with no compromise or changed perspectives, on what kind of family we want to be. Perhaps even more interesting is that it's not the kind of family either of us grew up in.

I watched Lilo and Stitch the other day - you know, that Disney movie about the alien. It's a story of family, threaded with examples of how - no matter how difficult it may be sometimes - family stands up for each other. In this movie you see over and over how the little family, broken as they are, finds a way to overcome things together.

Togetherness is a big part of family.

To us, family is more than just the people you share your home with. It's more than the people you shared your childhood with, or who is related to you by bloodlines. To us family is a team, sometimes a war machine, sometimes the most enthusiastic cheering section in existence. They're the people you can trust to be on your side and at your back no matter what.

Family is who you turn to with your victories, knowing they will always celebrate you. They are also who you turn to with your challenges and even your defeats, knowing they will help and uplift you. Family sticks together, stands up for each other, supports each other, and shares the load. We help each other be stronger and better. We protect each other. We're a personal army, always ready to stand and defend each other.

We know that sometimes this will mean we'll be in the Principal's office with one of our children, who started whaling on the kid who upset their sibling. After all, teaching a little one that they're part of a unit who defends and protects each other means that sometimes they will go a little overboard. But that's the kind of family we want to build.

Family believes in you, and your dreams, even if they don't agree with you. For example, my husband hates sports and I'm no good at them. But we know that if we have a child who somehow falls in love with Basketball, we'll be in the driveway or at the gym with that child every day helping them to practice. We'll hire someone who can teach what we can't, which will be just about everything. We'll do everything in our power to help that kid be the best they can be in their area of passion - even if we inwardly think it's pretty stupid. And if the best way we can help that kid achieve his or her goals is to make sure they always have a drill partner, then the family will take turns doing drills together. Because that's what family does.

As in everything, there's a balance in family. Family always supports you, and they're always the ones you can rely on to go to the craziest lengths for you. But the flip side of that, is that family will never ask you to sacrifice your dreams and potential for them. Family are the ones you can count on to cross the world to help you out or support you, but the other side of that is that as family you never demand of each other something that conflicts with their life goals or puts their smaller family unit in danger. You ask for the support, because you know your most trustworthy and reliable teammates are going to come from your family. But you don't make them feel badly if they aren't able to do what you're asking.

However, even if they can't help in the way you ask for, family always finds a way to help.

Together we're stronger. That's family.
In hard times or when something needs to get done, family is the team you rely on. They pull together and pull through. Each person's talents are unique and important. We are all better because of each member of our family. We all do better, go farther, and achieve more when family is on our side.

In the good times  family is the group you celebrate with, train with, study with. They're your running mates, your biggest supporters, the first ones to tell you when you've done a good job.

Family is where you want to be because you know that you belong there, because they've made room for you, because you're a part of their team and they're a part of yours.

Family backs you, takes risks for you, stretches farther for you, and you do the same for them.

Family will throw you the biggest victory parties, and will always be proud that you're a member of the family.

Family is your mastermind group, your inner circle, your training team. And you are theirs. Members of a family know they can count on each other, can trust each other. You're always safe in your family, always wanted and accepted, always loved. There's not a question. It just is.

Every member of the family is vitally important to the success of the family and of it's individual members. It's simple when you think about it. It's family.