The Fish Has Wings

One of the first things I learned as a child growing up in a Christian home is that Christians are supposed to be good. We’re supposed to do the right thing and understand the depravity of our sin, and we are supposed to strive to be like Jesus. And then a list of steps and strategies to avoid the pitfalls of sin would be presented and stored inside my young brain so that whenever I crossed the boundary into sin I would know to jump out as quickly as possible.

I always loved doing the right thing ever since I was a kid. Even now, sometimes I have trouble making a decision for fear of being “unfair” or compromising my integrity. But all those years beginning as a child I have been expecting to be the impossible, and his name is Jesus. And at some point I had made an unrealistic goal for myself: to be as perfect as possible because it really isn’t that hard (just look at the 10 steps outlined in the church bulletin), and I should be able to do it. It was never presented to me in those terms, but simple phrases put the pressure on me to earn a close connection with God, like: “Sin separates us from God. When you sin you create distance from God. You have a harder time hearing God’s voice when you sin, etc.” If this is true, then why did my holy efforts turn out so little profit? I was not experiencing God at a deeper level when I kept myself from “sinning.”

I should want to be like Jesus, but my desire was inverted. My desire to be perfect did not come from my result of being in love with God. Being good was my effort to place myself in the path where I could receive God’s love. This was a message that I had to disentangle from my mind before I really experienced what the disciple John was saying when he talked about God’s love. He called himself “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23) not because he considered himself the only one Jesus loved, but because he really understood how important it was to let himself be loved by God.

Not until I was almost 24 did I really feel an undeniable sense of God’s love for me. And I was far from my definition of “good Christian standing” when this part of my life finally happened. I did set myself on a course to obtain this love through praying really hard for a summer. I received a couple special words from God, but nothing lasting or gut-wrenching. Special, but not incredible. It was just a preview to the truth waiting for me that I had always known but had never known, if you know what I mean.

At the start of my last semester of college, I finally believed what God was telling me. He told me I was the person I always have wanted to be, and I don’t mean because I was doing the right thing at the right time. He told me I was brave and creative. As I finally believed this, the impulse to scrape myself clean of all my sin and walk the upright life was now meaningless. I remember being in a bad mood right before receiving this message from God, and being in a bad mood shortly after (I was having a lot of problems with my school getting my graduation in order). Throughout my time of negative thoughts and frustration and lack of trust in God (in other words, during my time of “sin”), I would be surprised by a strong, deep stillness in the pit of my stomach. Undeniable butterflies reached the center of me, bypassing the emotions of the heart that now seem so fleeting and temporary. Saying the words joy, peace, happiness, contentment, or deep sense of love are all short of the truth. I am the one whom he loves.

So when I think of those words, “sin separates us from God,” I remember I have been saved and that Paul says we are no longer slaves to sin (Galatians 4:7) and no longer under the curse of the law, but freed by the gift of grace (Romans 6:14), thanks to Jesus Christ.

When I think of the adage, “sin makes it harder to hear God,” I think of how pride is really the only sin that makes it hard to hear from God, and not because we don’t hear him, but because we don’t listen, if you know what I mean. So now I am learning to let go of the idea that when I sin (a.k.a. act human), I lose God’s favor. There is no mistake. God is slow to anger and quick to forgive (Numbers 14:18). Shall we keep forgetting the forgiveness? Shall we keep forgetting the slow to anger?

He understands us even as we sin. When Christ came as a man, he really saw us as the imperfect people that we are, and he understood (not to be confused with pitied). He didn’t sit up on the cross thinking to himself, “these people really don’t deserve this, but I’m going to die for them because God loves them, so . . .” He said, “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He even understood the men putting him to death. God is not allergic to us after all! He has just created a way to be near us.

It is like that quote from Ever After where Drew Barrymore says she cannot be with the prince because she is a fish who is in love with a bird. Leonardo Da Vinci so kindly replies, “Then we shall have to make you wings.” Thank you Jesus for making us wings! Now that the weight of perfection is slowly being shrugged off my shoulders, I may be able to fly.

 

Posted in Theology & Philosophy | Leave a comment

Comparative Parenting

Somehow parenting has become a war. And because of the nature of this kind of war, most of us are losing. The culprit behind it all is comparison. As a result, friendly fire and turncoats are common in the war of raising children. We’re sisters in Christ, and we don’t mean to damage each other, but when we compare, there are casualties, and it makes me so sad.

From the moment you get pregnant, you start asking for advice from other moms. You take the good and the bad and make a mental list of the things you want to do with your children, the kind of mom you want to be, and the kind of kids your kids WILL be.

Then your child comes into the world and you . . . compare.

You compare with statistics the doctors give you, other little ones at church or in your community, and you compare with books. And thus beings the cycle of comparison.

Jane’s daughter walked at 9 months, so my baby should walk by then.

Suzie’s son says ten words; mine only says two.

Amy’s daughter can recite all of the books of the Bible. Mine can’t even pronounce “Bible”.

And the other side of the coin is just as ugly.

My son knew his alphabet at 18 months.

My daughter always says please and thank you.

My son never pushes.

I have a friend whose daughter, to me, is a challenge. She talks back, is willful and does things that I think are just mean-spirited. It drives me crazy. One day when I was praying for my friend (that God would let her see the error of her parenting), I felt the Holy Sprit tell me: Kristin Lynn, you have no idea what goes on in their home. You are not her parent; you do not know how that child learns. It is not your place to comment on things you were not asked to.

I hate when the Holy Spirit is right. (Kidding!)

I know a lot of moms and they all parent differently. There are moms who are very hands-on and run on a tight schedule, and moms who are insanely laid back and give the more structured parents panic attacks. Neither is a better parent. Neither is right or wrong. We are all just doing our best for our kids. And that is commendable.

In my personal experience, sometimes the way your kid responds and grows has less to do with you and more to do with his or her own personality. I am not negating parenting. I think that exposing your children to as many tools as possible to become productive adults is not only amazing but necessary. What I am saying is, like adults, all children respond differently, so comparing parenting and children is counterproductive and damaging.

These kinds of thoughts — or even words — are what I’m talking about:

Well, So-and-So does it this way so I am obviously doing it wrong and now my kid is going to be a serial killer.

Or . . .

My child would never do that. I have all the answers.

You. Do. Not.

What you have is pride.

The first parent is so concerned about the way her child looks that she fears she is doing something wrong and doesn’t want to be judged. The root of that fear is pride.

And the second parent thinks she knows best. But let me tell you something. Be careful. Anything can happen. You might just not know best in the end.

By judging ourselves or others and comparing between the two, we cause division. We are not good enough or they are not good enough. And that is not what God has called us to. We are to be in community, loving, serving and honoring each other. Not picking apart every one else.

Humility is an essential part of parenting. I humbly ask other parents for advice. I repent when I secretly judge another.

And I give myself GRACE.

I am not super mom. I lean heavily on my ten year old for help (he is currently playing with the littles while I write this). I do not do crafts with my children. My kids do not eat organic or gluten free. My kids do not have cloth diapers. I rarely do play dates. I almost never take my kids to the park or zoo or learning whatever. And I am short with them — often.

I do give more hugs than necessary, say “I love you” often, apologize more than I care to admit, listen to every ridiculous story about video games or princesses, or rambling nonsense. And I read to my kids, because it’s kinda my thing. Am I doing everything right?

Probably not.

Are you?

2 Corinthians 10:12, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

Have the understanding that the only opinion, advice, and approval you need to be seeking is God’s.

So let’s call a truce. No more comparative parenting. Let’s trade our pride for humility and our judgment for grace. Have grace for yourself and, most importantly, have grace for others. All of us, with our hair a mess, no make-up on, food stains on our clothes, in need of a good night’s sleep and a shower – we are all running toward the same finish line.

Photo via.

Posted in Family, Parenting, Relationships | 3 Comments

Sense

When our first child, Fiona, was born, our friends Trisha and Abel gave her this beautiful print, set in a frame they’d made themselves:

Print by Brian Andreas.

This print was our introduction to the charming work of California artist and storyteller Brian Andreas. In case you can’t read the text around the image, here’s what it says:

We lay there and looked up at the night sky and she told me about stars called blue squares and red swirls and I told her I’d never heard of them. Of course not, she said, the really important stuff they never tell you. You have to imagine it on your own.

The Andreas print hung in the nurseries of the two houses we occupied during our time in California. When we moved to Vermont, decorating being what it is, the print ended up in the girls’ bathroom. (BUT, Trisha and Abel, if you’re reading this, it’s in an extremely important place in the bathroom: facing the toilet. So, once all three of our girls are potty trained, they’ll have to stare at this print every time they . . . Okay, I’m not sure this is making you feel any better, so I’ll stop now!)

Anyway, the other night I was in the bathroom with all three of our girls, helping them perform their bedtime ablutions, when one of them zeroed in on the print on the wall, the print they’ve lived with every day of their lives, as if seeing it for the first time.

“Read it, Mommy.”

So I read the text, and their eyes lit up. “Read it again!” “Again!” I must’ve read it five times over. They were caught up in the magic of the words.

Then they wanted to know about the image. “Who’s that lady? Is that the lady in the story?” “What’s she doing? Is she doing a somersault? A headstand?” It was Fiona who asked, “What’s that stuff hanging off her foot?”

“I’m not sure, Fiona,” I answered, “but I think maybe it’s the blue squares and red swirls.”

“That’s funny,” she said, “How can somebody have stars hanging on their foot?

“Well, it’s art, Fiona, and art doesn’t always have to make sense.”

Pause. “Mommy, what does that mean, ‘make sense’?”

That’s how I found myself stumbling over what it means when something either does or doesn’t “make sense.” And in trying to explain “sense” to a four-year-old (“Well, things are usually a certain way, so if something doesn’t make sense that means that it isn’t the way things usually are . . .”), I had a fascinating glimpse into my child’s mind. Because, it turns out, Fiona has lived for four years without the concept that some things “don’t make sense.”

This and the following photos are the beautiful work of Zoe Reyes.

I’m hesitant to generalize from Fiona to all children, but I suppose this might be what we refer to when we talk about the “innocence” of childhood; not that children are angelic and do no wrong (HA!), but rather that they live in a world where anything could be possible. It takes experience to know that there are certain rules regarding how the world should be, and to perceive when something breaks those rules. Experience, of course, is exactly what all children lack.

I’m guessing this is why children ask so many questions; they honestly expect that every question has an answer, that everything will “make sense” if you just ask the right question. Fiona, at four, is starting to become more savvy and world-wise — she did, after all, question how somebody could have stars hanging from their foot. But if I’d responded authoritatively that it was possible to hang stars from your feet, she probably would have bought it.

I can’t remember what it’s like to live free from knowing that some things don’t make sense; to expect that every question has a logical answer. It’s begun to dawn on me that very soon I will be what could be described as “middle aged” — that I will have lived half of my expected life (assuming the best). And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from living half my life, it’s that every question does NOT have an answer. There are some things, mostly things pertaining to love and death and justice, that I’ve had to accept I will go to my grave not understanding.

Like the cold-blooded killing of twelve innocent people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater.

In the weeks following the Aurora shootings, many beautiful reflections and thoughtful analyses have been written. It’s not my intent to add to that volume; others more qualified and eloquent than myself have already spoken. But all these reflections and analyses are in agreement on one fact: that the murders in Aurora do not make sense. Regardless of your views on mental illness or violent movies or gun control, this is not the way the world should be.

Here’s something else that doesn’t make sense to me:

The Sunday after the Aurora shootings, an 80-something-year-old man who has been a member of our church for decades stood up following the service to speak a few words about a difficult decision our church is making. This man has fought in two wars, he and his wife struggle with the health issues that go along with being 80-something, and he’s seen many close friends die in the past year alone. I can’t imagine what else he must have seen in eight decades; I’m worn down enough by what I’ve seen in three.

For his advice to our congregation, he quoted from Deuteronomy, the words that Moses repeats when he’s at the end of his life and sending the Israelites on to the promised land he’ll never enter: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

HOW can someone who’s experienced the horrors of two wars, countless deaths of loved ones, and all that’s gone wrong in this world over the past century stand up and still have enough faith in God to say, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”? HOW has he not sunk into bitterness and hopelessness? It doesn’t make sense.

But that’s the kind of world we live in: a world where things don’t make sense in horrible ways, where people watching a movie are shot dead for no reason at all — and a world where things don’t make sense in beautiful ways, where our elders can still somehow counsel us to be brave and have faith. A world where these things can happen so close together, like the inhale and exhale of a single breath.

It’s exciting that, for my kids right now, anything is possible and everything has an answer. But when I think about it, I wouldn’t want to return to a state of innocence that expects everything to make sense. There’s a certain freedom in recognizing that some questions have no good answers. And when my children find those spaces, those spaces that hold grief or mystery or hope instead of an answer, that’s where their hearts and minds will be free to sing.

Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

The really important stuff they never tell you. You have to imagine it on your own.

Posted in Adversity, Culture & Media, Current Events, Family, Grief & Loss, Parenting, Theology & Philosophy, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Yes, No, Maybe So

When I was in fourth through seventh grade, I had these three best girlfriends. We called ourselves the Four Amigas and we did everything together. There was barely a weekend during the school year we weren’t living at each other’s houses and in the summer – sayonara Mom and Dad – I was never home, always with the girls.

I remember once in sixth grade I was planning a shopping trip with my mom and I invited one of the Four Amigas to go with us. I was so excited and I planned my entire weekend around it. My mom and I planned out lunch and ice cream with her to make it extra special, and I could barely wait. But the night before, she called and said she was sick and couldn’t go. I was sorely disappointed, and asked my mom if I could take her soup or a movie the next day to cheer her up. But when I called to say we would be coming by with some goodies on our way out to go shopping, her mom answered the phone. She was out with one of the other Four Amigas. She wasn’t sick. And I . . . was crushed.

My eleven-year-old little heart was broken by my friend’s lack of consideration toward me. She didn’t take her commitment to me seriously, and I learned at that very young age how when someone else backs out of their commitment to me, it is for their convenience and my inconvenience, and it can be painful. Never wanting to do that to someone else, I learned how important it was to only make commitments I intended to keep – to let my yes be yes (Matthew 5:37).

As a young adult I heard a message by someone I respect greatly on Psalm 15:4 which talks about keeping your oath, even when it hurts. Some people refer to this concept as swearing to your own hurt. In either case, it means that we are to be people of our word, and that we should go to great lengths, even if it hurts us, to make sure we keep our word. The most excellent, home-hitting example of this would be Jesus. He had to go through great inconvenience and pain of death to keep his commitment to us. But he was a man of his word, and he took that commitment to the cross. Now every human being for all of time gets the benefit of it.

That message struck a new chord in me. Suddenly I was much more careful about the commitments I made, because in order to keep them, it was potentially going to cost me something. If I was going to be a person who kept my word, it would mean when I told someone I would pray for them, I would do it – even if they never knew about it. It would mean when I told someone I would do something for them, I would do it. It would mean when I told my husband I’d make him his favorite dinner and then got invited to a girls’ night out, I would suck it up and make him dinner, because he was likely looking forward to it all day, and – I said I would.

I’m not talking about being legalistic. There are times when it is acceptable to ask the person you made a commitment to to be released from it for a genuinely good reason. And then of course if you’re sick, your kids are sick, your babysitter bailed (who then needs to read this article) etc., it’s appropriate. But in most cases, letting your yes be yes doesn’t mean it’s “yes” until you forget about it, “yes” until something better comes around, or “yes” until it’s inconvenient for you. It just means yes.

I had a conversation with a very dear friend recently who was explaining to me about the day she realized she should no longer be okay with being late to everything. It was when an authority figure in her life challenged her by saying that showing up late meant she considered her time to be more valuable than those who were waiting on her. Because she genuinely didn’t believe her time was more valuable (because it’s not), she immediately made a change. No more being late unless the circumstance is out of her control.

I would venture to say it’s a similar concept here. Is your schedule more important than the person’s you’ve committed to? Of course not. Are your priorities more valuable than your friend’s/co-worker’s/employee’s/loved one’s/etc? No way.

If this is something you can look at your life with absolute honesty and say it’s something you struggle with or are consistently guilty of, what things stand in your way of keeping your commitments? Maybe you have never considered that your being flaky is inconvenient and inconsiderate to other people. Maybe you’re a forgetful person and commitments easily slip your mind, so you need to set up a better reminder system. Maybe the problem is that you’re just over-committed (a potential people-pleasing symptom) and need to learn to say no.

Whatever the explanation/excuse may be, I would encourage you to challenge yourself to take up that characteristic that God charges us with and let your yes be yes, and learn the virtue of swearing to your own hurt. I think you will find that it blesses people and honors God, and that you will be a blessed, more disciplined, and more dependable person in the process.

Photo via

Posted in Relationships | 9 Comments

Of Pinterest

Pinterest Creative

As ladies living in the year 2012 we are probably all quite familiar with Pinterest. If you don’t use it you probably have consciously made the decision to not get on Pinterest for your own reasons. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re probably not reading this article as you don’t spend much time on the internet.

I started pinning early last year when the full force of the craze hadn’t hit yet and I only had a couple dozen of my Facebook friends’ boards to follow. Now I would guesstimate that about 70-80% of my lady Facebook friends and about 5-10% of the men are on Pinterest.

It’s no surprise why Pinterest became popular, considering its ease of use, visual platform, and social integration. Pinterest quickly became the largest place on the web for referring to other urls, beating out even Facebook. It joined the ranks of other successful sites whose functions were clear: giving the user one major function and a clean design (Twitter, Google, etc.). I myself love the site. I’ve found amazing recipes, home decorating ideas, and some of the cutest outfit examples I’ve ever found. I go to Pinterest every day and use it as an important resource.

Most things have their dark sides, and it’s difficult to spot what might be wrong with the cutesy, beautiful, friendly site that is Pinterest. Yes, you can waste a lot of time there, but after a few months there myself, I started to spot a few worrisome images.

I will spare  you the popular speech about how Photoshop and improper body images are ruining the entire universe. Most of us are acutely aware of this fact when we look at advertising and have resigned ourselves to adding this to the list of things we must teach our children (and remember ourselves) about the world.

Images. Get. Edited.

It’s the truth. Photoshop isn’t going anywhere and I’m not making an argument that it should. What should change is our recognition and response to altered images. Pinterest is very magazine-like in its nature, but it’s a “magazine” where users themselves compile and project the content. We have control of this medium, but my homepage feed looks remarkably like the images I see when flipping through a magazine while getting a pedicure. The disturbing part is not even the images — it’s the captions that users write under their pins.

“I love this dress . . . just need to lose 10 pounds.”

– Women’s Fashion Pin

Katie Holmes

Can you see how her head is enlarged to make her body skinny? This pin placed in a “Haircuts” category can help contribute to unrealistic body images.

“Ugh . . . those legs!”

– Fitness Pin (which was Photoshopped)

From where I sit as a lady and a Christian, being a part of the Pinterest community can be a part of being “in the world, but not of the world.” We have to be careful what we say about what we pin. I’m guilty of this, and learning to be aware of what we see is the first step. Let’s do more pinning of real people’s images who blog, create and photograph. Can we all pause for one more second before clicking the repin button? What did the previous person’s caption say? Should I change it to something more uplifting for the next gal or guy who will see this pin? I say we all actually try to do this. Let’s change small things about the places we hang out online and make those things into large, positive changes.

I’ll see you on the boards, ladies . . .

(you can follow my pins at pinterest.com/jessicaraehuber)

Photo Sources: 1, 2-InStyle Magazine 2005-Pinned to Pinterest

Posted in Culture & Media | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment