Monthly Archives: January 2020

Hands and Knees



The beginning of each year usually has a pattern for me.  After Christmas and New Year’s Day are over, I put the Christmas decorations up in storage over the course of several days.  By myself.  We try to make holiday decorating a family affair, especially putting ornaments on the Christmas tree.  But taking the decorations off the tree, wrapping the delicate ones, and placing them in boxes is a solitary endeavor.  Then, my daughter Riley and son Jed have birthdays in January less than two weeks apart.  So, I end up doing a deep clean of the house because both of them will have friends over for parties or sleepovers.  The whirlwind from the holidays through the birthday preparations is pretty chaotic and exhausting.

Recently, I was in the middle of the pre-birthday party deep clean. Honestly, I was a little irritated because I didn’t feel overly appreciated.  No one had even mentioned the disappearance of the Christmas decorations earlier that month.  Now, I was on my hands and knees with the vacuum cleaner hose going around the edges of the carpets and baseboards.  My husband Ben was fulfilling another role by carting the kids back and forth to numerous activities.  But I still wondered if anyone would notice my intense efforts to clean the house.

While I was down on the floor, vacuuming and scrubbing, I started wondering about our view of God.  We often imagine God on a throne like ones we’ve seen on tv or in movies, a distant king looking down on us from on high.  But what if, instead of a deity who may or may not grant an audience with us when we need help, God is actually down on his hands and knees in the floor with us helping us clean up the messes of our lives?  Perhaps he notices our efforts to deal with the consequences of our actions or those of others.  He sees us reeling when we experience unexpected, life altering circumstances. And he is with us down in the muck.

Jesus confused people because he did not try to wrest power from the religious leaders or government officials.  Instead, he hung out with regular people, some considered undesirable, and even washed his disciples’ feet.  Where did that servant leadership behavior originate?  Not from a God who was unconcerned or unengaged but from a God who is willing to help us do the dirty work.

How would our approach to God be different if we thought of God as intimately involved like this in our lives?  The other day, I made a mistake, acted in a manner that was unbecoming, and did it without thinking beforehand.  I felt guilty and sorry and hoped that not too many people had witnessed my behavior.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t change what I’d done, but the rapidity with which I’d acted, without forethought, bothered me greatly.  I needed to work on myself, so I wouldn’t repeat my automatic actions. I imagined God sitting with me in the floor looking at a spot of sticky, gooey gunk that won’t easily come off without some serious scouring.  “This is going to take some work,” God might say.  Yes, changing my heart and mind so that I won’t react so poorly, so quickly in the future will take a good, long scrub and may need to be repeated a few times to really get rid of it.  God is not like Cinderella’s fairy godmother who waves a magic wand to fix everything instantly.  But he will help me as I figure out how to change, deal with consequences, and do better in the future.  God won’t leave me to do it alone.

After I finished the vigorous birthday party cleaning, I was tired, dirty, and sweaty, but I felt content that the house was clean.  I knew it would only last for a little while and that it would be messed up again quickly.  Just like life.  But I’m thankful that God is always ready to help and guide me as I clean up again and again as often as the dust accumulates, the dirt piles up, and the filth gathers in life.  I envision him giving me a wink and a hug and nodding as we roll up our sleeves together.


Express Yourself



We were on our way to Dairy Queen to get a treat when I asked ten-year-old Clay what he wanted.  “That chocolate thing,” he said.  At the drive thru, I ordered a chocolate dipped cone for him.  “That’s not what I want,” he hissed from the passenger seat. “I want a cookie dough blizzard.” While the cookie dough blizzard has chocolate chips, I didn’t think it qualified as “that chocolate thing.”  I changed the order, and as we waited, I asked, “Why did you describe what you wanted like that?”  Sounding a bit exasperated, Clay replied, “I didn’t know how to express it.”

I smiled at Clay’s way of expressing himself in that moment.  Then, I started wondering about the kernel of truth in Clay’s statement.  Lacking the ability to express ourselves is confusing and frustrating to the one trying to express himself and the one trying to understand.  Unfortunately, it is not limited to childhood.  In theory, we should know better how to express ourselves as we get older, but this is not always the case.

Life gets complicated, and we don’t always know exactly how we feel.  That is, if we are willing to feel the emotions in the first place. Many of us spend a lot of time avoiding our emotions at all costs.  We don’t want to experience anger, frustration, sadness, or unhappiness, so we pretend that everything is fine even when it’s not.  If we are brave enough to feel our emotions, especially the negative ones, we still may not be able to find the words to describe those emotions or label the roots of discontent.

This inability can lead to aggravation on our part and for those around us.  My teenage daughter Riley has called me out in the past when I’ve snapped at her for a minor infraction that didn’t rise to the level of my reaction.  She’ll say, “You’re mad about something else.”  Then, I have to confess that she’s right along with an apology.  Something else has upset me, but instead of expressing that accurately, I take my anger out on someone else.  If only we could be honest with ourselves and others when we don’t know how to express ourselves.   We might save ourselves a lot of heartache and miscommunication. Saying, “I’m having a hard time, but I don’t know why,” could go a long way to easing tension inside of our own heads and in our relationships.

Thankfully, God does not need us to communicate with crystal clarity with him. One of my favorite passages in the Bible says, “God’s Spirit is right alongside us helping us along.  If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter.  He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.  He knows us far better than we know ourselves . . .” Romans 8:26-28 (MSG).  God does not require us to know exactly what emotions we are feeling, where they came from, or what they mean before we ask him for help.  When we feel overwhelmed by emotions, we can simply sigh or groan, vent or cry, and he understands. We may not understand our own emotions, but he does.  God is present with us in the swirl of emotions, shame, and guilt, even when we feel we are in an endless downward spiral.

And maybe, if we seek God’s help when we feel unable to express our emotions, he will give us guidance on how to adequately express ourselves to others who can help us in our daily lives.  God gives us family, friends, and community to surround us and hold us up when we feel we are drowning in emotions that threaten to drag us under.  The willingness to ask for help, even if we don’t know what we need, is brave and a sign of strength.

Clay’s willingness to confess that he didn’t know how to express himself was a mature analysis for a kid, even if he was talking about ice cream.  Words may escape us at times, but it’s okay to be open and honest and admit our failure to find the right words.  God will help us when we are lost and help us find the people who will stand with us as we find our way.




The Job



I’ve been working at the same job for fifteen years.  When I reach a major milestone, I tend to assess (or more accurately, obsess about) the good and bad.  So, on this fifteenth anniversary, I’m thinking about where I’ve been and how I got here.

When I first started, I was so excited to have this position. It was what I’d wanted for so long.  I’d been dreaming and planning to take on this role, but I also had no idea what I was doing.  The learning curve was steep and rapid.  No one told me it would be that hard, but I probably wouldn’t have believed them anyway. As it turned out, I couldn’t prepare in advance.  On the job training was the only way to learn.  Sometimes it was difficult and painful; at other times it was simple and easy.

Time passed and my comfort level increased in many respects, but then I was put in charge of more people.  For better or worse, my team members have strong personalities.  They continually ask questions, express their opinions, challenge my authority, and often make demands.  This crew also argues amongst themselves incessantly.  Unfortunately, there is no one way to deal with all of them because each one responds differently to my efforts.  Depending on the circumstances, I must be stern and unrelenting or charming and persuasive.  It’s always better with this group if they think they came up with the ideas themselves. Of course, those same people can turn around and be kind and appreciative.  The thank you’s and the interpersonal relationships serve as a salve when the difficulties pile up.

On some days, the tasks are mind numbingly routine, and I feel like I can’t repeat an assignment one more time.  Oddly, at the same time, the job is dynamic and keeps changing.  I’ll be convinced that we have a method down pat or that the way we did things before will work again, but the world shifts and we start over.  I must evolve in my approach or fall behind.  However, when we encounter new issues and solve them with creativity and imagination, we feel invigorated and proud.  The logistics of scheduling can be nightmarish, and I’m the one in charge of all the organization and transportation.  I’m on the road now more than ever, although the trips are short. Every now and again, I feel as though I’ve accomplished a great deal.  Then, moments later, I feel like a complete failure.

But I am devoted to this job.  In fact, some would take issue with me calling it a “job” when the bottom line is, I love it.  I have passion for what I do.  The fulfillment and satisfaction far outweigh the adversities.  I won’t get a plaque to commemorate the time I’ve served. Instead, I’ll get a cake for the person who gave me the title in the first place: my daughter.  The icing will read, “Happy 15thBirthday!” Our family, including the three boys born after her, will sing in celebration, and I’ll thank God once again for giving me the hardest and most beautiful role, that of mother.


P.S.  Riley turns 16 this January.  One more year on the job with my team of Riley, Jed, Clay and Alex.  Love my kids!

Why Are You Here?



On a recent holiday morning, we sat in the living room of my parents’ house with a parade playing on television in the background.  When a musical group came on during the parade, ten-year old Clay announced, “I love them.”  One of his siblings, who shall remain nameless, groaned and declared disdain for the band in question.  This wasn’t the first time said sibling had criticized Clay’s musical choices.  Of course, Clay’s favorites fall right in line with today’s pop culture and include some of the most popular artists out there.  But Clay’s sibling deems these same bands uncool or at least not cool enough for an “older aged” crowd.  Clay refused to stand for it that day.  He looked at his sibling and shot back, “you’re just here to criticize.”

Even after their argument ended, Clay’s statement stayed with me.  I started wondering why we fall into this snare so frequently. We see situations in which we disagree with how things are being done, and what do we do?  We talk about how terribly things are being managed, usually behind others’ backs.  We may not have any real interest in improving the situation or care if things get better, but it becomes a sport to pick apart the choices that others make. We stand back and wait to see if those implementing the current policies fail.  And, sometimes, we act petty or even nasty.  It’s easy to criticize when we’re not the ones making the decisions, whether at work or church or school.  We’ve all been guilty of such behavior.  I know I’ve done it, and I’m not proud of it.

Not to say that criticism does not have its place.  There are times when decision makers get off course, and their actions should be questioned.  And venting can provide some positive benefits – getting our concerns off our chests so that we can get back to dealing with the matters at hand.  But frequently, our criticism just provides us with a chance to tear down another without providing any constructive ideas.  Instead of offering to help, we focus on the negative. We say what we would do if we were in charge, but we don’t volunteer to serve.  We talk a good game with a little snark and sarcasm thrown in to make ourselves seem witty and above it all.

But that’s not how Jesus acted.  He criticized many of the establishments, people, and situations of his day.  But he didn’t stop there.  Jesus offered a different example of how to be.  He was a servant leader.  He ate meals with outcasts and touched those who were considered unhealthy.  He taught that forgiveness was better than holding grudges.  He even washed his disciples’ feet.

Jesus could’ve easily sat in judgment, making pronouncements from afar about how the rulers of the day had it all wrong, sitting on a proverbial high horse, not getting his hands or feet dirty.  But that’s not who he was or how he made his way in the world.  I don’t think he would want us to be that way either. He wants us to follow his example and get to work when we see a situation that needs our help.

So, the next time we find ourselves huddled with others complaining about how things need to change in our given community, large or small, let’s remember how Jesus offered criticism but then showed others how to be different.  Let’s ask if we if we can help change things in some way.  And one day if you find me falling into this negativity trap, you can remind me of my own essay and ask me Clay’s words: “are you just here to criticize” or here to help?



2020 or 20/20?



Recently, I went to the eye doctor for the first time in a couple of years.  I decided to go to a different doctor than I had before merely because of convenience.  I don’t really enjoy going to the eye doctor.  I always feel a little stupid because without my glasses I can’t read the letters far away.  Unfortunately, even with my glasses, I can’t read all of the letters that, in theory, I should be able to see from far away with corrective lenses.  The new doctor became a little frustrated because he couldn’t figure out how to get my right eye to 20/20.  The best he could do was 20/40.  He asked me if previous doctors had ever mentioned this issue.  I told him that other doctors agreed with him.  No one could perfectly correct my eyesight.

This year of 2020 is one that lends itself to the theme of 20/20 vision.  I’ve always been one to embrace the idea of developing vision for the future.  When a new year or a birthday approaches, I’ll analyze the last year’s ups and downs to determine what worked and what didn’t all with the intention of moving forward. I like to rip pictures and words out of magazines and then make a collage that is my own vision board.  My plans cover career, family, volunteer work, friendships.  Every aspect of life is susceptible to goal setting.  I believe in honing my focus and setting priorities to make dreams become realities.

But after this visit to the doctor, I started wondering about the 20/20 vision metaphor because, in some respects, 20/20 invokes the idea of perfection.  We want to see the future clearly without blurriness or shadows.  We want to achieve our goals without distractions or detours.  But that’s not the way life works.  We must understand that neither our plans nor reality will be without difficulty.  Having vision and clarity of purpose is great as long as we recognize that perfection is unattainable.

Growing up, I thought God wanted perfection from me.  Don’t make mistakes, don’t sin, don’t screw up in any way.  Perfection became the goal.  A goal that meant I ended every day in failure.  A goal that became stunting emotionally and spiritually because it was overwhelming and completely impossible.  But as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned how to more fully follow God’s advice to fear not.  If perfection is the goal, fear of failure is never far from mind.  Pursuit of perfection and fear go hand in hand, so perfection can’t be God’s expectation of us.  He understands that we will make mistakes, and he graciously shows us his mercy, forgiveness, and love.

As we embark on this new decade of the 2020’s, may we have vision, focus, and purpose, but let’s leave perfection seeking behind.  Just like my eyesight, my efforts to achieve my goals will never be perfect.  But maybe, if we remember that God does not expect perfection in any way, we can pursue our vision with new eyes.