When you want to put the election to rest but need to help your children do it better

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Our home has begun to bustle with that familiar surge of energy and excitement that comes each year as the holidays (and a couple of birthdays) approach. Days before Thanksgiving, and my children are eager for our home to be full of friends and family. For their bellies to be full of those once-a-year kind of treats. For their hearts to be full of the joy and anticipation of the season. For their noses to be full of those smells that seem to make the whole of life make sense.

But for me, the air has another unfamiliar scent this year. No matter how I’ve tried, I struggle to take hold of the holiday cheer with usual ease. I know the holidays are already layered for many of you – with grief and loss, longing or heartache. But this thing in the air right now…it stings the nose and disorients the heart.

There’s a thing I haven’t wanted to write about, but nothing else will come. It’s sticking to me like peanut butter to the roof of my mouth. I’m tired of all the words, but I can’t seem to move forward without adding mine to the story. Maybe you can relate. It’s like the song I can’t get out of my head. Except I’m not sure I want to. There is something happening here that needs our attention. And as I walk into a season marked with giving thanks and preparing our hearts to receive anew the gift of God With Us, I need to link arms with you on something.

Our children feel it too. They have seen and heard all kinds of things these last weeks and months. And just like when they fall down and look at my face before deciding if they are going to cry, they are looking now to see if it’s all ok.

This thing that won’t lift off my heart or get out of my head – I have to think it’s worth my intention to choose what story I’m going to tell on my face, in my spirit, and in where I choose to shine a light for them.

 

The titles we give to folks are a funny thing. The lofty ones come with a sense of power and greatness, honor and respect. These titles we stick to the front of a name can seem to grow the very size of a person.

I imagine that you, like me, have thought a bit these last two weeks about one such title. You may have taken moments to consider it’s grandeur, and all that rests under it’s authority. Perhaps you’ve allowed yourself to ruminate on the monumental task to direct the future of our country. To mark, or in some cases, dramatically alter the course of history. Maybe you have pondered the enormity of being granted that title by the people, for the people of this nation. Perhaps you’ve wondered how anyone could ever be truly worthy of it.

The President of the United States.

It strikes the ears with a unique magnitude. With authority to appoint leaders and declare war. With a voice to which we have looked to comfort us in the wake of crisis. With opportunity to inspire hope, and encourage endurance amidst uncertainty or catastrophe. With influence to build or destroy our nation’s reputation across the globe. With ability to give us a sense of identity and belonging, to make us proud, or to make us afraid.

In our home, we have worked to learn the names and faces of the past 44 Presidents. We have taught our children that this is a position of greatest honor –a powerful mark in history – worth giving our attention and teachable ear. And that God has a hand – that He ultimately chooses and appoints leaders, and that His plans cannot be thwarted. And friends, I believe this is still true.

 

The title of Mama is only lofty in our own hearts. We know the weight of it only because it sits down heavy on us when we climb into bed at night. But we mamas can’t turn a blind eye to the world our children walk into. We have to shine a light on ahead so we can be their guide as they encounter it.

In the wake of a harsh campaign full of ugly words and surrounded by a fog of fear, I am saddened. I am saddened that words like “campaign” and “election” feel ugly in themselves, though they might once have been full of promise, hope, and freedom. No matter where your politics rest this November, I hope we can unite in a sense that something is broken. I am saddened by the anger, the confusion, the division, the void left where dignity and pride and respect and heroism once stood.

This last two weeks, I’m considering the title I bear, and the little ones who look to me and their daddy to make sense of it all. Bearing the title of Mama may not gain us a place in the history books, but the history of our own family is being written before our eyes, and under our care.

And my spirit tells me that this is a moment in history through which I want to take great care in leading my children.

This truth gives me peace: “President” is a vast and heavy and awe-striking word to add before a name, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “Almighty God of the Universe,” who set the stars in place. He is the one who knit together the very body and soul of each President and each who cast their vote to elect him (or her, as the case may someday be).

In light of this, I’m looking to Him with the Greater Title to be the voice that comforts. To Him to be the one who shapes history. To Him to give hope and a sense of identity and belonging.

And in this light, I look for how to guide my children through this moment in history.

I want to prepare and equip my children (and myself) to bring a message of love and grace in an environment of hatred and judgment and deep division.

I want to have an answer for their confusion about what they are hearing, and what they have heard about those to whom they might have looked for leadership and example.

I want to have an answer for the deep divisions that seem to leave no space for loving and productive conversation around what I think – I hope – we can all agree is broken.

As I scan the aftermath of November 8th, and I look to friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans, I see a heavy and dynamic and complicated landscape. I wrestle with wanting to understand and categorize and rationalize what has happened among us, and who plays what role. But when I look in the faces of my children, there is only one thing I want them to see…not parties or movements, races or religions, groups or categories…but individual human hearts. I want them to simply see human hearts the way God sees them, made by Him and in His own image.

I want to teach my children to do it better – to get rid of bitterness and rage, anger and brawling, slander and malice (Ephesians 4), and to use their words to build up, rather than tear down. I want to demonstrate kindness and compassion – not just towards those who agree, but towards all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or voting record.

I want to teach my children that our opinions and feelings ought not divide us, but provide an opportunity to extend compassion and kindness towards one another.

As I look at human hearts, I see hearts that are lonely with their pain, and see no space for it. I see hearts that are grieved and heartbroken. I see hearts that are relieved and hopeful. I see hearts that are offended. I see hearts that feel silenced for fear of offending. I see hearts that are deeply afraid. I see hearts that have been afraid for a long time. I see hearts that long for healing and wholeness in this country and the world, and believe differently how it comes. I see hearts that want to be seen, and didn’t realize who was hurt on their path. I see hearts that have been wounded and have turned on their neighbors because they want someone to blame. I see hearts that feel rejected and cast off. I see hearts that feel misunderstood in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons.

There is a deep pain in some hearts, that we cannot neglect simply because we didn’t mean to hurt each other.  It can’t be neglected by those who experienced tragedy and defeat that Tuesday night, or by those who experienced victory and relief.  We need to name the broken thing for the sake of equipping our children to do it better.

Regardless of which candidate you believe was the better choice or the lesser of evils this November, the language of this campaign left some hearts feeling that there is no longer a place for them here in the United States. I’m grieved that we have refused to see each other.  The election is over, and the voice of democracy has spoken, but friends, we have some cleanup to do.  I want to invite our children to be part of the healing.

We need to have an answer for our children about how to love our neighbor who is different from us.

We need to have an answer for our children about the treasure and worth and profound beauty of a woman – that her body is not for the taking, and that her worth lies far deeper than her skin.

We can continue to disagree on all kinds of things, but let’s agree on the value of every human heart and life. Let’s agree that the lessons our children are learning in kindergarten, about not leaving someone out, taking turns speaking, and not using hurtful words…that these still apply when you’re a grown up.

Let’s be willing to see human hearts that are hurting for all kinds of reasons, with all kinds of stories, and voting records, and agree that those hearts are worth our attention and our listening ear. I want to have an answer for our children about loving all of God’s people, despite our differences, or our disagreements.

This title of Mama holds great blessing and tremendous responsibility…and almost no control. But I’m making an intentional choice for my tiny corner of the world. I’m choosing not to be another voice of what’s wrong with the world, and another finger pointed at who caused it all. I’d like to take this title of Mama that I’ve been given and use it to be a voice of hope… a voice of love for all people… a voice for the voiceless… a voice lifting up the only name and title that truly comes with power and authority – Almighty God.

I can’t control much, but I can control which direction I point the light I’m shining ahead for my children. And if I want to raise children who will rise above all of the noise, I need to point that light up into the heart of heaven. I can choose to point a light towards opportunities for unity and connection, rather than places of division. I can choose to point a light towards kindness and compassion, rather than bitterness and judgment. I can choose to point a light towards love rather than hate. I can choose to point a light towards gratitude rather than the bitterness and hopelessness that sometimes steal my heart away.

As we shine a light on the days and years ahead of November 8th, I want to link arms as champions of love. Let’s agree that we can’t march forward with the banner of love if only one side is held up. We need each other.

This Thanksgiving week, I’m choosing to give thanks that today I have a fuller picture of what is broken, than what I could see two weeks ago. I’m giving thanks for a window into the pain that must grieve the heart of God, because I want to be moved by what moves Him. I’m giving thanks for an opportunity to teach my children that the job of fighting for justice and caring for the marginalized really is our job, as followers of Christ. I’m giving thanks that we have the only hero we will ever need in Jesus, who was friend to the hated, the rejected, the outcast, the brokenhearted. I’m giving thanks that my God and Father is on the throne. And I’m giving thanks for you, whether you celebrated or grieved or a complicated mix of both on that Tuesday night, that we can link arms and teach this next generation to do it better.

I want you – specifically you – to hold your corner of this banner of love with me, and march onward.

 

Note:  Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, I am turning off comments for this post.  If you would like to contact me directly, I would love to hear from you!  Feel free to send me a message through my “Contact” page.

Freedom for those up close and personal moments

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A sweet little voice from the backseat reaches my ears as we approach a red light. “Mommy, can we help that woman with the sign that says ‘homeless’?” See, I can tell them that we love the poor, but my tenderheart in the backseat doesn’t want to hear about it. She wants to see it, feel it, touch it, taste it. And I’m suddenly in one of those crises of my intention smashing up against my lack of follow-through. My words and the reality of my life collide in a heap, and I realize again that the most important things are not really taught, but caught. I’m in that sloppy space of needing to mean what I say and say only what I’m ready to live out. This kind of discipleship – the kind where our children learn what it means to live and walk in faith by watching – this kind gets right up in your face.

There was a time in my life when loving others, ministry, discipleship – it all felt tidied up. I could go about my life, and use the free spaces to find opportunities to share about my faith in Jesus. Only the safe, pretty and in-control spaces. Without realizing, I was presenting a story of “Once upon a time life was messy, and then I met Jesus and now it’s tidied up and beautiful.” God was gracious to redeem what I offered, but in the quiet, I think something felt disingenuous. You and I both know that life doesn’t get tidy when we follow Jesus. Life is still a sloppy mess with pain and grief and temptation and disease and broken relationship. Even under God’s covering, and in His hope, life and our own weakness this side of heaven, still hurt and confuse us.

It took some up close and personal relationships to show me that I hadn’t been free. The honest truth is that there is no freedom in offering only the pretty spaces to the world. Only the clean house. Only the made-up face. Only the well-prepared bible study lesson. I felt the pressure of keeping it up. I felt the fear of being “found out.” And those with me likely felt the same.

I faced my first crisis of intention versus reality a number of years ago when life got a little intense. My husband was elected to the State Legislature, I was running a small personal training business, I had recently become a mom, and I was involved in a ministry for high school students, which I was striving to do in the in-between spaces. As my life became more demanding, I began to see that if I only invited those around me to see the pretty parts of my life, I would soon run out of parts to offer. I began to see that the margin for loving anyone from the tidied-up spaces was quickly being squeezed out of my life.  I considered cutting things out to make more pretty space, but I felt that God was leading me in a different direction. I felt that I needed to step in faith, rather than rest on my own strength.

I had always thought that loving others could only come from a put-together life. But in that season, God brought into my path an opportunity that began to change my thinking. I met a young woman looking for a home in which to heal from family hurts, to learn what godly marriage, parenting, family looks like. When this opportunity arose, I was days away from the birth of my second child, and my husband a couple months from his second election. I was working, and had stepped into leadership in several places in the church and community. Life was chaotic and messy. But my husband and I felt a nudge to invite this person in. It felt like a giant step of faith to allow someone into the mess or our home and family life, and to believe that she would see God in the midst.

It’s terrifying to let someone see our life when it is not put together. We want to clean up our bodies and our houses and our lives before we invite someone in. But I found myself wondering what I was really afraid of. If I truly believed I was following Christ in the mess, then there should be evidence…right?  If someone watching can’t see God and lives of faith in the messy times, than we must be lying to ourselves.  So, God challenged me to begin to develop a “come and watch me need Jesus” attitude. Watch my husband and I fall towards one another. Watch us ask each other and our children for forgiveness. Watch us get on our knees with our great need.

And guess what, by God’s grace, this young woman saw us forgiving ourselves and each other. She saw us living beyond ourselves and drawing on God’s grace. She saw us failing in ways that made all of us want less of ourselves and more of Jesus, and it changed her life. And ours.

God is still leading me on this journey – the journey of living fearlessly, and letting His power be made perfect in my weakness.  I’m seeing that I still have layers and layers of wanting to keep it all together for everyone watching.

And motherhood gets right up in my face like nothing ever has. I now have little eyes watching to see if my words come alive in my actions, and seeing all the moments – not just the pretty ones. And it forces me to look right at the truth of my life and how it compares to my words and my intention.

I have to be ready to say what I mean and mean what I say. And I have to be ready to need lots of grace.

I have to be ready to point to the Merciful One, and to teach my children not how to stop being weak, but how to lean our weakness right into the strong chest of God.

I have to be ready to teach them not how to fix our hearts up so we want and seek better things, but to go ahead and die to ourselves. We can just lay our will right down, and let God show us how to align with His will instead.

I have to be ready to teach my children not how to get better and stronger, but how to get right down on our knees and let God wash us again and again in grace through Jesus. This is freedom. I can live the life I intend to live, and not just pretend to. I can flounder and fail, and let God’s grace pick me up. And I can let my children and the world watch the whole thing. I can do more than teach them the Bible lessons (those are good too!), but I can also let them catch from me the freedom of walking in grace.

Yes, motherhood gets right up in our faces where there is no escaping being seen. And so, I’m forced to ask myself the question “Do I believe that I have the spirit of the Living God in me, or not?”

If I believe it, than I truly have nothing to fear. There is freedom to be seen in my broken and redeemed mess. There is no pretending that because I am a follower of Jesus, I no longer struggle with sin and weakness. In motherhood, and in the hardship of real life, I am led to a place of inviting my children (and others) to walk with me on a broken road of needing Jesus every minute. They see me fail and be forgiven over and over and over.

On the fly, I’m constantly led to face not only my intention, but the reality of my heart.  I’m forced to ask what I want my children to see me doing, and then do it.

In a moment when I could have convinced myself that I do care about the poor, but that there’s nothing I can do right now because I’m in a hurry anyway…my children bring me to the feet of Jesus. I face the truth that my intentions and actions are not lining up.

So, after that sweet cry from the backseat about whether we might do something to help, I try something new with my little disciples. I roll down our windows, we say “hello,” ask her name and say a quick prayer for her. My children join me as we offer this woman the dignity of being seen, and a little snack. A simple thing, but one that challenges the way I’ve lived, and the frequent emptiness of my intention. I can’t for a moment feel proud for the change, as I know I would never have done it without the innocent challenge from little lips. I want it to be real for them. And they make me want it to be real for me. I want to live more than a life of good intention.

Motherhood is teaching me that loving others can’t be tidy. There is a kind of discipleship that lets us reflect the greatness of God, by leaning our weakness into God’s strength. There is a way of loving others that lets us be broken, because we lay down our own greatness and point to God’s greatness instead. And God gets the glory as we let him reflect his great glory on the broken mirror of our lives.

In this life that comes with being covered in spit up, with whining and back-talking, and a million hidden things that make us feel so small… we can just be small, so the bigness of God can be seen through us. I imagine sometimes that this life as mama must be a little bit like trying to live with a TV camera in your face. Someone is always there to catch your weakest, ugliest moments – the moments that basic human dignity tells us should happen in private. But when children bust through the bathroom door, or pull off the nursing cover, or yell at us when we are running on an hour of sleep, the challenge to love and disciple them gets really up close and personal.

But if we let the up close and personal moments push us to laugh at our humanness, and be the empty vessels of God’s love.  If we let the moments when we face our inconsistencies to push us to live out our intention, and to say what we mean and mean what we say, then we spread our wings and soar in new freedom.