Friday, June 22, 2012

Waiting for the end

Life seems to go in cycles. You go five years without seeing a person and then run into them twice in a week. Or, as has happened in our life, you go five years without attending a funeral, and then have to attend two in a matter of weeks.

I don't think there is any way to attend a funeral without contemplating your own eventual end. Because the truth is, we are all dying. Some just take a bit longer to get to it.

When you have kids, funerals also make it difficult to escape the discussion of what happens when we die. Especially when you have very curious and observant kids like mine tend to be. Especially the older one.

Facing death is one of the times I think I most appreciate my Christian beliefs.  Telling our seven year old, "Our friend (or grandparent) gets to live in heaven forever with Jesus, and he will have a brand new body and won't be sick or ever get hurt," is a lot easier to say than, "well, they are going to put him in a big box and cover him up with dirt."

Now, please don't get me wrong when I say this, but even if I didn't believe Christianity to be true, I think believing it would make life a lot easier....especially at the end of it.

Hear what I am saying;  I believe Christianity is true.

I believe it is a religion grounded in history as well as science. Over the past few decades, archeological digs have helped prove the accuracy of the Bible. Even many scientists now admit that "something" had to initiate the big bang. Of course growing up I believed in a Christian God because my parents did. Not only did they teach the gospel to me as parents, but my dad was also my pastor.  So I spent more time in church than I did anywhere else, including my own home.

During my childhood and teen years, I was incredibly self righteous and thought I had it all figured out. (Side note to apologize for all of you who grew up under my self righteous glare). Then I went to college. I attended a university bigger than my home town. A university with all kinds of different people from different backgrounds and different beliefs. And to my surprise, a lot of these people were really nice. Really moral. Really generous. And really smart.

How could it be that my religion was right, making all of theirs wrong?

Enter crisis of faith.

College was the first time that I really examined my faith on my own. The first time I looked at the Bible and didn't take what it said with blind faith, but questioned what I read. I talked to people of different faiths, and a lot of people who claimed not to have faith in anything. I compared, contrasted, and questioned. A lot. But for the first time, I didn't just ask my dad for the answers. I searched them out myself.

And at the end of my search, I came back to where I started; believing that Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, lived a perfect life and died for my sins so that I could have a  relationship with him that ultimately brings me from death into life. I discovered there was no way for me to earn this gift. In fact, my self righteous way of trying to keep all the rules (and judging those I thought weren't keeping them as well as I did) was exactly what Jesus died to save me from. His gift was free, and I could never earn it.  Only accept it.

But I digress.....

As I sat in the funeral this week, I couldn't help but think about my journey of self-discovery in college. I thought about all of the different religions and beliefs and wondered how I would feel viewing my friend's death through one of those lenses.

A lens like reincarnation where the afterlife depends on our behavior in this life.

A lens like atheism where the end of this life is simply the end.

And I realized, even if my search for what I believed ended differently, if I didn't believe that a relationship with Jesus resulted in eternal life, at a time like this, I would fake it.

Because otherwise I am not sure how you go on after watching a loved one die. I don't know how you face death if you don't have hope that there is something better than this life ahead of us. Something better for those who have gone on before us.

How does this man's wife of 46 years wake up every day with no hope that he is in a better place?  How does she go on without hope that she will see him again? Sure, she has kids and grand kids who love her, but without hope all she can believe is that someday those kids and grand kids will die too. And that will be the end.

I sat holding Richie's hand, thinking about my kids, my parents, my husband. Without the hope of something better I don't think I could go on in the face of their death.

Not without hope.

I know many people will disagree with this post. In fact, many people probably stopped reading a couple paragraphs in. That's okay. Like I said, I know there are some really amazing, moral, and smart people who don't share my belief system.

I just don't know how to hold on to those other beliefs in the face of death. Watching your spouse, your parent, or your child take their last breath, I think I would prefer to believe Christianity, even if it isn't true, than to believe that this life is all there is.

The pastor said something at the funeral that struck me. He said, "Boyd lived his entire life to prepare us for this day."

Not that we shouldn't be sad or that we won't miss him, but that we know without a doubt he finished well and he is living more fully now than he ever did on earth.

In the face of death, I choose hope. I don't know how to choose anything else. I want to live my life preparing everyone I leave behind for my death. I want them to miss me like crazy. And I want them to know they will see me again. And when they do, we will celebrate for eternity with no chance of migraines.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Waiting for Monday

So yesterday was the day when we all take a moment to recognize the amazing contributions of dads, grandpa's, husbands, and uncles. And as great as that day is, I think that there is an even more important day; today.

On Father's Day we tend to gloss over the shortcomings of the favorite men in our lives. We buy them witty cards, sports jerseys, and electronics to show them our devotion.

And then the day ends, and it is just another Monday.

And it is on this day, a regular old Monday, that I think I appreciate the father of my children most of all.

A regular old Monday where he gets up with the kids (who do not understand they can sleep past 6 a.m. in the summer) and gets them breakfast while I am still sound asleep.

A regular day where he completely ignores the dishes in the sink in the morning and then unloads and reloads the dishwasher after 8 hours of work and an hour commute. All without making one comment about me being home all day and failing to do so.

A regular day where he has to pull a clean shirt off of the floor instead of out of the drawer. Sometimes the shirt is still in the laundry basket, but most likely the kids have used the baskets to make space ships, or boats, or stages. And he would rather me play with the kids and the laundry baskets than match socks or fold towels.

A regular day where he kisses me goodbye even though I haven't brushed my teeth yet.

A regular day where he plays tickle monster with the kids, even though his head and his back hurt.

A regular day when he watches Cars 2 for the fourth time, even though there is a Rangers game on the other channel.

A regular day when he takes out the trash without being asked because he knows I hate to do it.

A regular day when he realizes that the size of the mess in the house and the amount of fun had during a day are directly linked.

A regular day when he gives the kids baths, reads them some books, and tucks them in, because he realizes the number of nights he will get to do this are running out.

A regular day when he goes to the grocery store on the way home from work because we are out of milk and he knows I don't want to drag the kids to the store.

A regular day when he tells me I am beautiful even though I spent the entire day in my pajamas without any make up (and a slight possibility that I still haven't brushed my teeth).

There are no cards, no presents, and many times not even a thank you. But these are the days when I know that the father of my children is exactly the man I want my son to grow up to be like.

The man I want to grow old with and watch open Grandfather Day cards.

The perfect man for our imperfect life.

Every day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Waiting for Our Father

I am blessed with an amazing dad. One who taught me how to ride a bike, throw a ball, check my oil, and change a tire.  More importantly, one who taught me the value of hard work, honesty, and trust. Some of this he taught with words. Much of it, he taught by example.

So it is a difficult thing for me to imagine not having a strong father figure in my life.

I don't think it is by accident that God is often referred to as Our Father.  Even more intimately as Abba Father, which I am told is akin to calling Him "daddy".  To me, this shows the profound value that God places on the relationship of Father and child.  It also provides a roadmap for how a father should, well, father.

Of course, no one will do it perfectly. My daddy comes awfully close, but he is still human and makes mistakes from time to time. But he must have learned how to father from God, because his father was not one to be emulated.  In fact, when I think of stories about my dad's father, I am in awe that my dad turned out to be even a fraction of the man he is. Growing up in a home of alcoholism, watching his dad step out on his mom frequently, moving in the middle of the night because his dad gambled away this month's paycheck; honestly, it sounds like the backstory of a serial killer. Not a man who grew up to own his own business, pastor a church, and raise (if I might say so) two pretty great children.

My daddy follows the example of his Heavenly Father. He is patient and kind. He shows grace even when it is most undeserved. He is compassionate and generous to a fault. But he also taught us there are consequences for bad choices. I think because he believed in consequences, he also believed very strongly in helping us make the right choice so we could avoid them.

When I moved to Texas at 18, it was the first time I was apart from my dad. I experienced the crisis of faith that most of us do at some point in our lives. I examined my faith for the first time as something that was mine, not something handed down to me by my parents. I tested that faith. And for a time, thought I may have lost it all together.

But that's the thing about something true. It can be tested and tried and at the end of the day, it is still true.

That is what I found about my faith. I found that the reason my daddy is the man he is had nothing to do with his earthly father and everything to do with his Heavenly One. If this Heavenly Father loved my daddy so much that against all odds, He made a man of integrity, strength, and value, I believed He would do the same for me. Not because I earned it. Certainly not because I deserved it. But because before He is judge, jury or king, He is my Father. And He loves me perfectly.

If your earthly father has disappointed, hurt, or abandoned you, there is still a reason to celebrate on Father's Day. You have a Heavenly Father, an Abba Daddy, who is waiting for you to run into His arms. He can teach you, not only how to be a great father yourself, but how it feels to be loved as His child.

To all of you fathers out there, keep looking up. Our future rests in your hands.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Waiting to catch the Roadrunner

My kids have recently become fans of Looney Tunes. Some of you may not know this, but there is a new version, called The Looney Tunes Show in which Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are roommates, Taz is their pet, and Yosemite Sam is their next door neighbor. Crazy right? At first I was totally against it, but Kristen Wiig plays Bugs' crazy stalker girlfriend, which is kind of hilarious.

The one thing this new version of the Looney Tunes did is stay true to the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner concept, which usually comes on right at the end of each episode. The Coyote still uses ACME products to blow himself up, drop himself off cliffs, and generally fail in every way to catch the Roadrunner. My kids think this is hysterical. Who doesn't? It is classic cartoon violence at its best.

I'm not going to debate the merits or horrors of cartoon violence in this blog post. That is for another time.  Instead, I want to ask a question.

Why the heck doesn't the Coyote give up?

Clearly, he came into old money some time back because he has unlimited funds to buy rockets, jetpacks, Batman suits, earthquake pills, slingshots, and of course birdseed.  According to those rare episodes where Wile E. Coyote actually talks (something my kids hate) he has a genius I.Q., or as he says, he is a super genius.  But if the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over, expecting different results, doesn't that make him an insane genius?  Insane, rich, and genius. I feel like I read about those people in the paper pretty frequently.

Perhaps it is because he is rich and incredibly smart that he keeps on chasing that which will always allude him. (Maybe it is because Warner Brothers realizes there will always be kids laughing as the Coyote falls off a cliff with a sign that says "help!").

But isn't it true that when you have everything you ever wanted, you want the one thing you can't have?

Not to say that the Bible and Looney Tunes are equally reliable sources of moral guidance, but I can't help but be reminded of King David. After years of being chased, threatened, and waiting for the throne, he finally got it. He slew giants. His army was feared above all others. He was always successful in whatever he did.
And then he saw something he didn't have.  Bathsheba.  Only issue was, she was someone else's wife. You can read the whole story here, but is short version is King David used battle, liquor, sex, and murder to get the thing he couldn't have.

A little different, (and more effective) than the anvils and solar powered race cars of the Coyote, but I would argue it is the same concept at the core.

When we spend our days working hard for a paycheck, caring for a family, enjoying our blessings, we don't have the time (or energy) to fixate on the only thing we don't have. When we get everything we ever wanted, we have unlimited time, energy, and resources to pour into our obsession.

I mentioned  I was planning this post to my husband. I told him that I wanted to examine those things in our life that we continue to chase regardless of how many times they blow up in our face (literal or figurative interpretations apply).  He had a completely different view. This could be because he enjoys debating for debate sake.  None the less, he said that the Coyote's "never say die" attitude shows persistence, which he contends is a positive trait to teach our kids. 

Quite a different view from my "give it up and order a pizza" attitude.

So, I am leaving to you. When is enough enough? When do you give up the chasing the uncatchable?

When do you admit the Roadrunner wins?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Waiting for prince....ummmm....whoever.

I have always been a lover of Disney movies. Even so, I used to believe that they set a bad example for us gals. Whenever a princess, a step sister, a mermaid, or basically any girl with power to sing to animals would find herself in some sort of trouble, along would come prince charming (or another perfect prince, Eric, John, whatever the name) and he would save the day and they would live happily ever after.

It isn't even the happily ever after part that bothered me, even though, that is a tough one.  It was the perfect prince, and the easiness with which the princess, stepdaugther, mermaid, etc, snagged him. I mean, I dated. A lot, and not once did I find a prince. Now I could chalk this up to the fact we live in a democracy and I would need to travel across the pound to find an actual prince.  But I think the more likely explaination is that there are no Prince Charmings. No Prince Erics.

But as I sit here watching Tangled with my daughter, I have an even bigger issue with the more recent Disney movies. It started with Beauty and the Beast, kept on with The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and even Cars.

What these movies teach is that you can turn a beast into a prince with your kindness, a snowball fight, some singing dishes, and well, love.

It teaches that the lying, fun loving prince who is broke and looking only to marry for money will have a change of heart after his time as a frog.

A thief will completely change his ways after watching you hit a few guys with a frying pan, dance, and share a moment in a boat watching flying lanterns.

To me, this message is more dangerous to our daughters than the idea that there is a prince charming waiting in the wings. It is the idea that they can take a horrible person and change them into prince charming. If they just love him enough, sing enough songs, and of course, share some kind of dance (dancing seems to be the key).

This isn't to say that people can't change. Certainly they can and do. But falling in love with someone with the idea that you can change them, well, that is even more absurd than happily ever after. If you  look at someone and think, "I could love him if just...." Or "I'm sure that once we are together he will stop...." Well, that isn't fair to the princess or the theif.  If someone has to completely change who they are to earn tour love, they will never be happy. And neither will you.

Because people change because they want to change. Not because someone is constantly nagging them, or singing, or even dancing with them.  I have seen a lot of relationships that start with the hopes of one person changing the other. I haven't seen many of them succeed.

Because whether we marry Prince Charming or the Beast, we should love them for who they are. It isn't our job to change them. It is our job to look at their shortcomings and faults, to see their distinct lack of royalty,  and decide we love them anyway. Just like they are.

So maybe Disney movies aren't the best guide to relationships. Which I guess is why I, as a mom, have to show my daughter how to love unconditionally. I hope as she watches me unconditionally loving her daddy she will learn that she should fall in love with the man who is, not who she wants him to be. And as she watches him love me unconditionally, she should learn that she should never have to change who she is for a man.

Because if he truly is a prince, charming or otherwise, he will love her for exactly who she is. And she will do the same.

That is how I found my happily ever after.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Waiting to graduate from hell

The book of Revelations has always been a little confusing to me so I'm not sure if hell is one big place or if there are personal hells devised to torture us in much more unique and painful ways than fire and brimstone. I'm not planning to ever have first hand knowledge of that one.

But for me, if hell was personal, mine would be middle school. More specifically, I would be stuck in middle school while AC/DC played an endless loop of The Little Drummer Boy. But mostly, it is that awkward, hormonal, mean, and confusing time between 12-15 that makes my skin crawl.

I grew up in small town Montana (there aren't a lot of other options in MT). This meant for the most part I went from kindergarten through high school graduation with the same girls. Girls I considered my friends in elementary school who magically grew breasts and simultaneously forgot that they knew me over the summer between sixth and seventh-grade. My breasts did not get the memo that they should appear until about 4 years later, and even then, it was a meager showing.

What I lacked in breasts I made up for with my good grades,  a talent for playing saxophone, braces, glasses, and a pretty impressive case of acne.


Oh wait, in seventh-grade I also learned to play the clarinet. Surprisingly, that did not raise my stock.

As you can imagine, I was quite a catch. Unfortunately, not many people were fishing for my particular species.

But it wasn't the middle school boys or their lack of interest that made my early teenage years unbearable. Probably because most of the boys were just as awkward as I was. Voice changes, carrying their Trapper Keeper in front of them while walking through the hall (I didn't understand why until college).  Not too many boys hit their stride at 13. Plus, I was pretty sure I was going to marry Kirk Cameron.

No, it was the girls who bloomed early, teased their bangs, put on the blue eye shadow and grew mean streaks. The girls who constantly made me feel like less of a person because I didn't wear designer jeans, have a boyfriend, or drink peach schnapps on Friday nights.  I feared the girls who played sports and got a tan while I did science fair projects and wrote short stories.

As I watched 13 Going on 30 today I was transported back to East Junior High. I was sitting in my backyard, wishing or maybe even praying, that I would magically be sixteen I never wanted to be 30. Even back then, 30 seemed old. But sixteen, sixteen seemed perfect. For crying out loud, they call it sweet sixteen for a reason. Probably because when you are sixteen you are done with middle school. But I had no magic wish dust that swooped me past my middle school years unscathed.

I did something even better.

I survived.

Not only did I survive, I survived while staying true to the girl in the mirror, even if I did hate how she looked most of the time. I didn't stuff my bra, beg my mom for Z-Cavaricci jeans (oh yeah, they were hot), drop out of band or try to be someone I wasn't. Instead of trading in my elementary school friends, we bonded together.  I think maybe we figured it was harder to pick us off if we were in a group.

In fact, my only good memories about middle school involve this amazing little group of girl friends.  The kind that weren't willing to change who they were either. We passed notes, giggled and talked about boys we would never be brave enough to actually meet.  We stayed up all night at sleepovers using Ouija boards to predict our future (don't judge) and eating Cool Ranch Doritos and raw cookie dough straight out of the package (again, don't judge).

Most importantly, we accepted each other.  No strings attached. Those girls, those amazing girls, gave me the confidence I needed to survive my little hell, because they never asked me to be anything.....but me.

There are still times when my insecurities get the best of me. I walk into a room of PTA moms who all know each other or start a new women's Bible study, and I am all of the sudden 13 again, only this time it is my wrinkles and weight that I'm self conscious about. I worry that I talk too much, am too sarcastic, and still don't own designer...well anything.  In an instant I forget that I am a smart, successful, fun woman who married an incredibly handsome man. Every time one of those gals whispers to another, I'm sure they are listing my glaring faults in great detail.

What I have learned over the last two decades is that most women feel exactly the same way. Even the ones with perfectly manicured nails, no stretch marks, and who only wear yoga pants when they are actually doing yoga have some buried insecurities that rise to the surface on occasion.

And just like middle school, this is one of the most important reasons we need friends. Not acquaintances. Not work friends. Not Facebook friends.

Real friends. Friends who love us exactly like we are. Who can laugh with us about our wrinkles, cry with us when our life falls apart, freak out with is as our kids grow into teenagers themselves. Friends who know exactly what kind of person we are, and love us anyway.

Because even though the door you walk through today might be to your office or even to your own house instead of home room, all of us have a middle school day once in a while. And on those days, we are just trying to survive.

So be nice. That girl you really hate, she may be having a middle school day herself.

And when you are lucky enough to find true friends, the kind that stick with you through middle school and beyond, cherish them. Whether they live next door or across the country in Chicago, they will be the reason you survive.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Waiting to be okay with the woman in the mirror

First off, my mom rocks. I think I've established this in several posts, but in case you are new to the blog or don't know my mom, she rocks.

With that said, most of my childhood memories of my mom have to do with her hating her body. She bounced from one fad diet to the next. Took diet pills, and hated shopping because she hated her body. She never went to the pool or beach with us because it meant putting on a swimsuit.

I honestly didn't think her weight struggles had an effect on me either way. I was always pretty happy with my weight. I have come to realize that the reason it didn't affect me is because my weight stayed pretty stable for most of my life. I might have moved from a 6 to and 8. After kids I was a 10 for a while, but eventually landed  on an 8, which I was totally fine with.

Then, at Christmas, we took a family photo and I looked at it and thought "who is that fat girl?" Not just a little overweight, but fat.  I didn't recognize myself. It had been coming for a year. I had been stuck in bed for months and then put on medicines that, instead of helping, made me crazy and gain 15 pounds in two weeks. All of the sudden, I wasn't 10 pounds away from where I wanted to be, I was 40.

In case you are wondering, I hate it.  I hate how I look. I hate how I feel. I hate to look at myself.  I go to try on clothes, and I hate everything. Not because of the clothes or how they fit, but because the body I'm looking at in the mirror cannot possibly be mine. My body is an 8, not a 12. I keep thinking maybe it is one of the funhouse mirrors.  

 It isn't.

My instinct is to complain continuously, pummel my self esteem, and just stay in bed until the weight magically goes away. (fyi, I have not found this to be an effective weight loss strategy).

But then, I look at my daughter. Tall, skinny, perfect daughter. And I realize, someday her body will go through awkward changes. She will be tempted to hate her body, even if she is still tall and skinny. If she has heard her mom talk continuously about how much I hate my body, how can I expect her not to hate hers.

This is not to say that we shouldn't eat healthy and exercise. We should, and as a parent it is my job to lead that charge. But it is also my job to make my kids feel great about themselves. There are times in our lives where even if we eat right and exercise, our body doesn't respond like we would like it to.  If they get sick, or something happens and they aren't the perfect size, they should still feel great about who they are. And if I can't feel great about who I am no matter my size, how do I teach them that they should love who they are, no matter what. 

And it isn't just about them. What about their friends that are bigger then they are? My kids need to know those kids are just as amazing, fun, and delightful they are.

The most wonderful thing to me is that right now, at ages 7 and 4, my kids don't care about size. They think their mommy and daddy are awesome and beautiful (or handsome in daddy's case), even when we feel frumpy and old. I don't want to be the reason that ideal changes. They should love themselves, and others, no matter what the size or shape.

If I am constantly complaining about my weight and that changes my kids' perspecive, shame on me. I can work out, eat sensibly, and even if I have to buy a size bigger, it will be okay.

I want to be the person my kids think I am, and they think I'm beautiful.  I need to think that too, because kids see through our lies, especially when we are lying to ourselves.

I saw a sign in a doctor's office that said "Be your own kind of beautiful." I'm signing up. How about you?