Monthly Archives: August 2021

Be the Mama


Early this summer I was traveling solo for the first time in over a year-and-a-half when a woman sitting near me at the airport asked, “Will you watch my bags?”  I nodded yes.  There is a social contract that exists among women when we are by ourselves in places like airports.  I’ll watch your bags if you need to go to the restroom or visit the convenience store, and you’ll watch mine in turn.  When the woman came back, she sat down and said, “Thanks, mama.”  I wondered if I’d heard her correctly.  She was younger than me, but she wasn’t a kid.  Instead of taking offense, though, I smiled behind my mask as I realized that I have taken on the persona of mama in my life, not just in relation to my own children, but with almost everyone.  

My daughter dubbed me the “work mom” at the pool that we frequent because I try to get to know the young men and women who work there as lifeguards and servers.  I want them to know that an adult other than their parents is interested in their well-being and what they plan to do with their lives.  I’m a talker by nature, but I try to listen well so that I can follow up with them about high school and college or sometimes more personal matters like their family situations.  My mama instincts are strong, and I’ve accepted my role as mama to many.   

If you’d told me a few years ago that I would embrace this mama moniker for people other than my own children, I probably would’ve rolled my eyes and scoffed.  When my children were little bitty and needed my undivided attention for every detail of their lives, I couldn’t see past my own circumstances.  I didn’t have the time or energy to concentrate in depth on other children.  But then my two oldest became teenagers, and I experienced a shift in my perspective.  I was around teenagers and young adults a lot more.  I could try to be a positive influence without the pressure and anxiety of raising them.  I really want to pour out love and attention to these young people.  My mama outlook became less self-centered and more community focused.  

Most of the imagery we associate with God is linked to fatherhood, but God is a mother too.  In one instance, Jesus himself spoke about God’s mothering side when he lamented the people of Jerusalem’s failure to follow God.  Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34).  Even though Jesus scolded the people in this verse, God incarnate compared himself to a mother who longs to gather her children together and protect them.  I can see and feel the direct connection between Jesus’ words and the hearts of the mamas I know. 

God’s desire to bring people together extends beyond the citizens of ancient Jerusalem.  God longs to pull all of us into God’s community where we, as the people of God, can love and support one another.  We can serve God and extend the positive qualities of parenting, especially mothering, to those beyond our immediate families to reach all of God’s people.  We are God’s family.  Let’s take care of one another as if we believe it.                       

The Names We’re Called


Turks and Caicos is our family’s favorite vacation destination.  The island is the epitome of paradise with gorgeous beaches, crystal clear water, and swaying palm trees.  We can relax, slow down, and just enjoy life while we are there.  The beauty of the place is enhanced by the beauty of the people.  The people we meet are usually from Turks or Jamaica.  They are friendly and gracious and make us feel at home.  And many also have fantastic names.  We’ve met people named Princess, Esmerelda, Geiko, and Cadet.  

On our recent trip, I was ordering a meal at a food truck when the woman supervisor said to another young lady, “Lovely, will you man the drink station?”  I thought she was using the term “lovely” in the way certain folks in the southern United States use phrases like “honey,” “sweetheart,” and “darlin’.”  But then I saw the woman’s name tag, which said “Lovely.”  I couldn’t believe it.  This young lady’s actual name was Lovely.  All day, every day, every person she meets calls her Lovely.  I thought about how lovely it is to be reminded constantly that one is lovely.  And then I thought about the words that run through my head on a regular basis.  I think “stupid” if I make a mistake; “ugly” when the mirror seems unkind; “failure” when I don’t live up to my expectations as a wife, mother, human being.  I cannot recall an instance in which I’ve looked at myself with abundant compassion and called myself lovely.  

On another day, I accompanied my daughter Riley to obtain a kayak for she and my son Jed.  The man in charge was flirting and asked Riley if I was her sister, which is obviously not true.  I smiled and said, “you’re funny” as we bumped our forearms.  I looked at his name tag and was once again surprised.  His name was Prophet.  I wondered if he took his name as indicative of his calling.  Did he feel he was anointed to point others to God, to show them how they could live and love better?   I often question my calling.  Or my perception of my calling.  I wonder if I’ve understood God correctly.  Do I really know what God wants me to do or to be?  I feel lost sometimes with respect to whether I’m following the correct path.  I found myself wishing that my name was the equivalent of my calling.                     

We often assume God shares the negative opinions we have about ourselves.  We think that God must constantly degrade us and label us bad and sinful.  We believe that God’s judgment aligns with our own worst fears.  Surely, God is just as disappointed with us as we are with ourselves.  And if God only knows us by names of disdain, then surely he doesn’t have a calling for us.  How could God use us when he knows how incompetent and worthless we really are?  We think we can never be good enough for God.      

But I wonder what names God actually uses for us.  I think God showers us with names that reflect his love, not our shortcomings.  I imagine God calls us lovely, beautiful, and kind. That God believes we are good, smart, and worthy.  That throughout our lives, God calls us to different roles in different seasons.  For a while God may need us to be prophets and inspire those around us to live into God’s hopes for us and humanity.  At other times, God may ask us to serve as teachers, workers, givers of hospitality, or learners.  The list of God’s potential callings is infinite. 

God wants us to embrace the positive and endearing names that he gives us.  God hopes we believe that he calls us to help build his kingdom on earth.  When I think something negative about myself, I want to substitute my vacation friends’ names, Lovely or Prophet, or some other encouraging term.  God says, “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).  Let’s decide that the names God uses for us are wonderful affirmations that reflect how much he loves us and all the good he knows we can bring to the world.  

I Got You


My son Clay enjoyed wake boarding at camp this year, so upon his return, we purchased a morning of wake boarding at a water park as a birthday gift.  Instead of a boat, though, a cable pulled him through the water.  Because he needed to adjust to wake boarding with a cable, he went with another kid to practice at a different portion of the facility.  The other mother and I stood there unsure of whether to go or stay when one of the teenagers who worked there looked at the boys and said, “we got you.”  In that moment, I realized I’d heard that statement a lot this summer from other young people.  This variation of “I’ve got your back” often comes out of their mouths as “igotchu.”  For example, at restaurants I’ve had more than one waiter say, “I got you” when I asked for a menu item or a refill.  

I like the recent uptick in the use of this phrase.  When someone says, “I got you,” they convey an air of confidence.  They know how to do the task at hand or can access what another needs or wants.  The speaker tells the other person that they will take care of them and that they will act as a backstop of sorts. They will provide comfort and help when needed.     

We all want someone to stand in the gap for us when we feel lost or untethered.  But sometimes we face dilemmas that we think no other person will understand.  We may not want to admit our true feelings or concerns to another. Honesty with someone else may seem impossible when we can’t first be honest with ourselves.  The possibility of rejection may make us afraid to confess our failings or anxieties.  We may become defensive and build up our walls so that no one will find out the pain we hide.  When we think that no one has got us, the isolation is real and hurtful.  

And sometimes, we feel that God hasn’t got us either.  The peace and comfort we want doesn’t arrive in a timely fashion, and we may doubt that we will ever be better again. When we worry that God has abandoned us, the grief is deep and the silence deafening.  We may find ourselves shutting down emotionally with God as well because we question whether God is in the struggle with us.  We can build walls with God just like we do with other people.   

Even though we may not feel God’s presence at times, God is still with us.  A familiar but favorite passage of mine captures God’s promise to never leave us: 

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze….  Do not be afraid, for I am with you; …   Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”   Isaiah 43:1-2, 5, 18-19.  

God will bring us out of the spiritually depleted season eventually.  We must hang on to our faith when we are in the dry, arid desert emotionally and mentally. One way God provides a path forward is through other people.  We may be consumed by isolation, but rest assured almost everyone has been there.  We have all felt lost and disconnected from other people and from God.  We can reach out to others for their support and encouragement, confident that they’ve most likely traveled this same road.  Then, those people can repeat the words that God wants us to believe every single day, even in the hard times – “I got you.”     

Ease the Pressure


The familiar bumper sticker says, “Please be Patient.  Student Driver.”  I see them all over town even though my daughter adamantly opposed putting one on our car.  Every time I view some version of the student driver warning, I ease off of the gas a little bit so that I don’t put unnecessary pressure on the teenager.  But I’ve found that I put unnecessary pressure on myself when it comes to driving.  When I’m at a red light turning right, I feel the need to closely monitor the oncoming traffic in case an opportunity arises to enter the road before the light becomes green.  In the past, I’ve had people behind me honk because they think I should turn, even when they don’t have a clear view of the cars coming.  Usually when I look in the rearview mirror there are no other cars behind me.  No one else is actually pressuring me.  I’ve internalized the pressure and have made it all my own.   

Honestly, though, driving is the least of my worries when it comes to self-imposed, internal pressure.  I walk around carrying a lot of burdens, my own and those of other people I love and care about.  I feel the constant pressure to do something, analyze the problem, figure it all out.  And I struggle with my inability to control things and make them “right” in my eyes.  When Ben and I first married, we talked about the need to relax more, and I said, “But what if I lose my edge?”  Without missing a beat, Ben replied, “I think it’s okay if you lose a little bit of your edge.”  Over the past twenty years, the pressure I experience has changed as my life has evolved but the drain on my mind, heart, and body still exists.  I hope I’m less anxious now, but I still feel the constant weight of self-imposed pressure.  

I don’t think God wants us to put so much pressure on ourselves.  God wants us to live in peace with others but also with ourselves.  When we place too much pressure on ourselves, we feel heavy and unsettled.  We are not at peace.  Apostle Paul said, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:2-3.  This verse applies, not only to our relationships with others, but to ourselves.  God wants us to be completely humble and gentle with ourselves; be patient with ourselves, bear ourselves in love.  God asks us to make every effort to keep ourselves in unity with the Spirit through the bond of peace.  

God wants us to release some of the pressure that we impose on ourselves.  We can give ourselves a break.  We don’t have to be so hard on ourselves all of the time.  God desires that we accept the grace and mercy that God freely provides.  God is here to support and guide us.  Imagine God posting reminder stickers all around us that say, “Be Patient with Yourself.  Let Me Drive.”