Lucky in Love

Valentine’s Day.  I’m not sure if there is another holiday that evokes such diverse reactions in women across the globe.  Okay, maybe “across the globe” is dramatic but at least in the US where we have the luxury of celebrating a day of such frivolousness and fancy.  Come on…candy hearts, big red boxes of chocolate, flowers and teddy bears.  No adult woman really needs these things.  But somehow, if you get them you feel super special and if you don’t, well…it’s like not being asked to a junior high dance: EVERYONE knows you just didn’t make the cut.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy the holiday.  Especially when my wonderful husband puts forth even a small amount of effort.  I love getting flowers and going on a hot date with the man I love.  He will often write a mushy romantic card.  I feel loved because I am.  But I also know a world full of women who are not so lucky.  Many women feel the pangs of abuse or rejection.  How many Valentine’s Days for them over the years have been spent with different men in an effort to feel loved?  I know some women who have been hurt so badly by “love” that they have become bitter.  The smallest reminder of “ooey gooey” love makes them want to spew venom.  For them Valentine’s Day is trite, trivial and offensive.

I’m not advocating that we all wear black and go into mourning just to “stick it to the man” on this Hallmark holiday.  But I do want to offer a piece of hope with something that is a bit deeper than chocolate and teddy bears.  Whether you are married, single, waiting or worn out…there is a love that is better than life.

Psalm 63:2-3 says:

“So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

God loves you no matter what your station in life.  In fact, the Bible says while we were yet sinners (running away from God, content in our offensive behavior and attitude toward him), he sent his only son Jesus to DIE for us.  He is pursuing you now.  His love is better than any husband, any hot Valentine’s date, any romantic gesture.  His love is better than life itself.  I encourage you to take a moment—whether you are anticipating V-day or dreading it—to stop and behold God’s power and glory.  His love is steadfast, it will never go wrong and he will never stop wooing you.

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Posted in Culture & Media, Relationships | 2 Comments

On Fear and Love

My husband and I have three little girls, and our parenting goal can be summed up as, simply: to get these kids out of our house.  (Or, more delicately put, we’d like to raise daughters who, when it’s legally appropriate, are equipped to leave us). But there is a little something else, something that is important to me as a mother regarding the kind of kids we send out into the world.

It occurred to me back when I was pregnant with our first daughter: I want to raise children who are not afraid.

 

To clarify, I do want our children to survive their childhoods, so obviously there are things that it’s appropriate and desirable for them to fear, like traffic, strangers, and crystal meth. I’m talking about Fear in a broader sense:

I don’t want my kids to be afraid to do what’s right, to stand up for the truth even when their peers are telling them otherwise.

I don’t want my kids to be afraid to love boldly, even when other people are hard to love or when they’re risking the pain of loss.

I don’t want my kids to be afraid to see the world, to go to far-flung places that need help and offer their hands, even when it means facing discomfort and a broken heart.

I don’t want my kids to be afraid to fix a leaky faucet, change a flat tire, paint a room, sew a dress — heck, even build a whole house from the bottom up!

I don’t want my kids to be afraid to do what they love even if it’s difficult or not immediately rewarding. (NOTE: This does NOT necessarily mean that we will pay for advanced degrees in drama or art!)

And — perhaps more relevant to our current life — I don’t want my kids to be afraid to run onto the playground without a backwards glace, to scale the climbing wall and the ladders, to swing out across the monkey bars, to jump into piles of leaves, to stomp in mud puddles, or to strip off all their clothes and run out into a lake.

In brief, I don’t want my kids to be afraid to be themselves, the very unique people they’ve been created to be. I want them to let their little lights shine, without any room-darkening shade of fear.

I’m about to make a very sweeping statement: I think that fear can be found at the origin of almost all personal and global problems.

Now, this all may sound pretty unobjectionable. It also probably comes off as very pie-in-the-sky and “let’s all hold hands and sing ‘I Hope You Dance.'” But don’t be deceived. The more I think about it, and the more that I live out this parenting thing, the more I realize how very, very hard it is to raise children who aren’t afraid.

It’s hard, because in order to even approach this goal it means that I can’t be afraid.

The power and terror of parenting is that parents are the first lenses through which their children view the world. The things we say to them, the experiences we provide them, will all in some way shape the men and women they become. So if I’m afraid, if I’m transmitting fear signals to my children as we move through life together, doesn’t it follow that they will likely, in some way, internalize this fear?

I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot lately because of Joan Didion’s new book. Joan Didion has been one of my favorite writers for years; I own all of her books, and they’re the only ones I consistently reread. This Christmas, my husband gave me her newest book, Blue Nights, a memoir about her daughter, Quintana, who died several years ago. It’s a beautiful and painful read, and what grabbed me was this passage, in which Didion describes Quintana’s recurring childhood nightmares about somebody she called “The Broken Man”:

“[The Broken Man] has on a blue work shirt, like a repair man,” she repeatedly told me. “Short sleeves. He has his name always on his shirt. On the right-hand side. His name is David, Bill, Steve, one of those common names. I would guess this man is maybe age fifty to fifty-nine. Cap like a Dodger cap, navy blue, GULF on it. Brown belt, navy-blue pants, black really shiny shoes. And he talks to me in a really deep voice: Hello, Quintana. I’m going to lock you here in the garage. After I became five I never ever dreamed about him.”

It was when she said “I would guess this man is maybe age fifty to fifty-nine” that I realized my fear of The Broken Man to be as unquestioning as her own.

-Joan Didion, Blue Nights

To me, this anecdote powerfully illustrates how our children’s fears feed off of our own, and vice versa. How to be a parent and not fear? In so many ways, to be a parent is to be afraid. I have never been prey to so many fears as I have been since our children were born. Afraid of something happening to them, afraid of something happening to me. Never has mortality been so real to me. Never have I cried so easily at things that wouldn’t have phased me before parenthood; there are books I can no longer read, movies I can no longer see, because of the fearful places they’d take me.

I can’t say that I have an easy solution to this problem of fear. Like everybody, I’m still in the process of becoming. But I think I may have found a little clue in the very place that most of our girls’ fears currently come from: fairy tales.

Like most young children, our girls love reading fairy tales — especially the ones that include princesses. All day long we read, reenact, listen to, and watch fairy tales. These fairy tales are also the single greatest source of the fears that keep them up at night: the witches, evil stepmothers, dragons, and wizards that, to quote our oldest, “I can’t get out of my head.”

But I’ve noticed something about these fairy tales — at least the princess ones — that I use to try and help the girls with their fear: in the end, Love always wins. And I don’t just mean love like, “The prince thought the princess was mighty fine and they lived happily ever after.” I mean Love with a capital “L,” the kind of love where you put the needs of others and the desire to do what’s right above your own comfort. The kind of Love where you have to be Brave. (The kind of Love that, in our family, we root down in our Christian faith. I’m not a religious scholar, but I’m willing to bet its roots grow in the soil of most other faiths, too). So when my girls feel scared about the evil in a fairy tale, I say, “You can handle that witch/stepmother/dragon/wizard, because you know that Love always wins in the end.”

You don’t have to tell me that life isn’t a fairy tale. The girls already know a family that lost its father in a tragic car accident this summer, and they have some other friends whose mother just up and left. As they grow older, they’re going to learn that some people do unspeakable things to children, that some people feel so broken that they don’t want to live anymore, that natural disasters can take away everything you have, that the Holocaust happened, that the Rwandan genocide happened, that worse things are probably happening right at this very moment.

And when they come to me and ask about these things, I think I’ll probably have the same answer as I do to their fairy tale fears: “Yes, there is great, great evil in the world, but you don’t have to be afraid because Love always wins in the end. And even when it looks like the evil is winning, like there’s no sense to all this darkness, that’s just because it’s not the end yet.”

I’m going to keep telling myself that, too, every time we go to the playground and they start scaling that steep climbing wall alone. Or the next time this happens:

Wishing you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day, filled with Love with a capital “L.”

Posted in Parenting, Theology & Philosophy | 7 Comments

Love at First Solitude

Valentine’s Day is coming in just a few days! Usually, my husband and I go out on a simple date. We tend to “splurge” a little more on our Wedding Anniversary in April (which is so much more meaningful to me, personally!). Of course, any day is a great day to show how much you love your mate!

Lately, I have been thinking about the importance of solitude and wanted to write about it. Then I thought how Valentine’s Day is coming, and that might not be the most popular topic. However, I’m convinced that they go hand in hand, in a very special and encouraging way.

As humans, we romanticize about how our lovers will fulfill our deepest needs for love, approval and wholeness. Then, when we fail each other, we are shocked, so disappointed, and we lose trust. However, it is important that we do not place such great expectations on our partners (and ourselves). As fallible and broken humans, we unreasonably expect each other to do something that only God can do for us. Only God can fulfill our deepest needs for love, approval and wholeness.

This is where solitude comes in. Personally, I avoid solitude because I know that there, I will find a pretty messy situation. In solitude, I see my sins, my fears, my insecurities and everything else that I would rather avoid. In a meditation on solitude, Henri Nouwen says that if we don’t run, we will also meet Him there.

Christ is there to carry the burdens we place on ourselves to be perfect lovers, wives, mothers, girlfriends, etc. He is there to drive our fears away. The cross is a constant reminder to us, that the ultimate validation is already ours. A loving King who took our sin upon Himself, gives us an approval that we could never gain from anyone.

This realization of Christ’s Love for us, should cause us to respond to each other in a way that Christ did… regardless of who “deserves” it or not, we can give and serve and love one another, from the ever-flowing well that Christ satisfies. Because our Savior did not calculate our “worthiness” of love, we, too, should give love without hesitation.

Let these truths warm you to love as you have never loved before. Happy Valentine’s Day to my single and married friends! What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?

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Posted in Marriage, Relationships, Theology & Philosophy | 9 Comments

The Gift that “Grace” is

Zaqarah Grace Gahagan is my second born. She’s 4 and a half going on 12, and a pure firecracker. I remember, like it was yesterday, double and triple checking that pregnancy test.  Surely I wasn’t pregnant!! Elasia (my first born) was still nursing all. the. time.  What’s a “period” anyway?!  But after the second test I swallowed the fact – we were having ANOTHER baby.
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I felt like I was drowning in the crushing expectations of motherhood already, barely catching my breath in the mornings to charge head-long into days of the tedious demands of mothering an 8 month old. I didn’t think I was doing anything right. Anything. And here I was going to have another one.  Most of what I was feeling (which now I know was Postpartum Depression) was chemical. Things went wacky in my brain and caused me to distort reality.
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Reality: I was a pretty good first-time mom. I was tenacious with breastfeeding, even though I had to really work on that latch and Elasia had reflux. I was meticulous at filtering through all the propaganda information out there and deciding what would benefit our little family. I wasn’t a germaphobe, but kept things relatively clean and safe. Elasia seemed like she had the potential to be a happy person despite the eternal bouts of colic.
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But I didn’t see this. I would whisper prayers through tears during late night feedings, “Oh God help. Oh God help.”  Nothing theologically complicated, just the plea of a young mom whose mind had turned on her.
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Adam (my husband), who was struggling with his own expectations of what parenthood would be like versus our reality, was really amazing during this time. But that’s a whole other post in itself. He saw my deer-in-the-headlights look when we talked about this second pregnancy and did what any dreamily hot, God-fearing guy would do. He prayed. And a few days later he came to me a said something like, “Babe, I know it seems like life is crazy, but I feel like this baby is a gift. Not generically, but specifically. I feel like this baby is a reward. God sees all the details of our lives here in NYC and is telling us He’s proud of us.”
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Okay.
Thanks.
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It was a cold, hard choice to believe that. We searched and searched for the perfect name and when we found out, around 27 weeks or so, that it was a girl, we knew she would be called Zaqarah Grace – which means “God’s Gracious Reward.”
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On August 24, 2007 – from that first breath at 9:40 PM on a Friday night, she was (and continues to be) exactly that. Now, I know there are actually medical explanations for this and here’s my I’m-not-a-doctor-but-googled-it-enough-to-say-it-with-authority explanation: The post-partum hormones I experienced after Qara actually kicked my brain back in gear rather than compounding my PPD.  I felt like I snapped out of it. I had “space” for Elasia’s tantrums (as she was 17 months old then) while nursing a newborn with one hand and sweeping the floors with the other.  I still (even now) have days when I feel like a thick dark fog is threatening to swallow me, but they are so few and far between compared to what I thought was normal motherhood before Qara came.
I feel able to truly enjoy the complex creature that Elasia is. I look at her and see a phenomenal world-changing girl who kids will read about in their history books one day…probably. Instead of seeing a tornado of chaos, I (usually) see two sisters enjoying each other and discovering the world together.
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Besides the science, I can’t help but see Divine fingerprints in this. It’s like He heard my midnight cries and saw all those tears and gave me a “life-saver”: a baby who would nurse/gain weight just fine. Who would grow to be a toddler with PERFECT comedic timing and lots of hugs to spare. Who liked to smush her face on my cheek just because.  Who had an infectious belly-laugh and a spritely little nature.
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…Who would cause me to have a heart attack at LEAST once a week because of her fearlessness at the playground… who might not revolutionize nations in the same way her sister would, but will, nonetheless, with her own uniquely endearing charm.
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I was given “grace” in the form of an unexpected/unplanned baby.
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Dictionary definition says it so well – each definition seems so specific to what her birth brought into my life:
grace (grs)
n.
1. Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.
2. A characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement.
3. A sense of fitness or propriety.
4. a. A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill.
b. Mercy; clemency.
5. A favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence.
6. A temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve.
7. a. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.
b. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.
c. An excellence or power granted by God
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I was also given grace on that Sunday morning in 1996, when my eyes were opened to the fact that, even though I was an enemy of God’s, Christ gave himself sacrificially to pay my ransom, and to give me the credit for his perfect life, even though my life was in shambles. I shook my fist at God. He reached into my rebellious heart and transformed me. I only desired things that would ruin me, yet the Monday after that transforming day, I had an inexplicable desire to learn how to talk to God and to read His word. Grace.
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Accordingly to this definition of grace above (so rich!), I’m actually given this gift daily. It’s easy to notice it in the positive: every breath, smile, giggle, sticky kiss. But it’s a present that comes in painful wrapping paper sometimes too. Every tear-streaked story I pour out to my husband at the end of a mommy “fail” day, ends up leaving me with the quiet realization that God is more committed to my children than I am and He can/will use my mistakes just as much as what I think are my “right choices” to mold them into the women He’s created them to become.  Grace.
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When I lose my way, when I don’t recognize the grace I’m given – even in the moment – I’m thankful for my curly-haired, bright-eyed little reminder. I was helpless and needed to be rescued. I thought my problem was only getting worse with an unplanned pregnancy. But it was God’s beautiful rescue plan. And it was only a shadow of his ultimate rescue plan: through death and resurrection of Christ, we can truly live.
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I’m enjoying a fast paced life with my two beauties (who are now almost 6 and 4.5), and because we are weeks away from meeting our third princess (due April 2nd), all of life seems to be revolving around preparation for our newest addition. But I still need to be reminded:  I don’t have to drown in this thing called “motherhood”. There is a gift of Grace just waiting to be unwrapped right in front of me.
Posted in Parenting, Theology & Philosophy | 5 Comments

Iron Lady

Remember how amazing Meryl Streep was playing Julia Child in Julie & Julia? Well, her performance was comparable, if not MORE amazing, playing Margaret Thatcher in the recent docudrama, The Iron Lady. And that is pretty much the sole reason I recommend seeing this film. The rest of the acting was also very well done, and the story itself does get moderate applause from this movie-goer. However, if you’re not into politics or history like I am, you may find it a touch boring. That said, SEE IT for Ms. Streep’s performance. I mean, she did win the Golden Globe for Best Actress for this role.

The story is told via flashbacks from the perspective of the modern, elderly Margaret Thatcher who suffers from a bit of dementia and hallucinations. Projecting the Margaret Thatcher legacy through cinematic flashbacks didn’t thrill me at first, and didn’t leave me with the impression of having been particularly entertained, but as I reflected on it, I appreciated it. Here’s why.

Historical “fact” often includes the bias of the historian. Many people did not like Margaret Thatcher’s politics, and therefore did not like Margaret Thatcher the woman. Some described her as cold, emotionless, heartless, and having surpassed the toughness of a man. Truly, her career and policies may serve as evidence to such descriptions. “Iron Lady” is indeed her acquired nickname for a reason, and that is the legacy this film focused on. But no person is completely void of emotion. The flashback perspective allowed for the story to be told through her memory, her experience, and so there was some humanity projected into it, which I think is probably more accurate, and certainly more relatable to a broad audience.

The film sort of rushed through her entire life (well, her career, mainly), and it was primarily showing how hated she was. Sure, every politician will have her opponents, but when you’re in office for 10+ years in a democratic system, you’ve gotta be doing something right. Not only that, but this woman is incredibly inspiring, as her remarkable ascension to Prime Minister was an historical feat. The daughter of sort of a “nobody” small business owner, she was by no means handed her political career on a silver platter, and became the very first woman to lead a major Western democracy. That’s kind of a big deal. While this movie did not necessarily ignore this fact, it certainly didn’t capitalize on it either.

Admittedly, I had high hopes for a story that was a bit more inspiring, and perhaps one that might unveil more of the human side of Baroness Thatcher. But, The Iron Lady stayed true to its title, was brilliantly acted, and hopefully will be widely viewed and compel more people to research the rest of her story. That said, I still recommend seeing it, if only once.

1. Theater-worthy! See it!
2. Definitely rent it
3. Stream it on Netflix, if you must.
4. Don’t even bother
Posted in Culture & Media, Movies | 4 Comments