Ready or Not

Well, it’s that time of year again.  The musician Winter break is over, touring season is upon us, and we’re headed back into the road hard pace of life.  My husband is like a kid in a candy store.  New tour, new songs, new venues.  The fans – radio – shows.  Buses, planes, a new city everyday.  His excitement is palpable.  This is what he was created to do.  And, me.  Well, I’m getting there.

If I’m honest, I struggle this time of year.  I’m not ready to give him up just yet.  I’m not ready for chaotic, opposite schedules.  I’m not ready for the change of pace, early mornings, communication by phone and weekends alone.  Then there’s homework, toddler tantrums, baseball, potty training, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping – Oh, and that little thing called work.  It’s overwhelming and the challenge of flying solo gets me every time.

It’s not that I’m not supportive – It’s just that out of the swing of things and I’ve got to get my head in the game.

I would love to tell you that I’ve always handled this season with great grace and humility, but the reality is that many years have been a little more “real housewives” than I’d like to admit.  In more than one instance, I’ve picked fights and tried to make my husband feel oh-so guilty for being out-of-town.  My sassy and smart aleck nature has occasionally been used for spite – like when my husband sends me amazing pictures of venues or scenery, I sometimes, maybe send him pictures of laundry or my children throwing tantrums.   I’ve hidden behind unkind text messages and used my gift of sarcasm for evil.  I’ve thrown the best pity parties around and allowed my head to go to dark places where no good can be found.  But, the truth is I’ve learned a lot in these times and with the help of a good counselor, chocolate, coffee, and Jesus I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for survival of the “I’m not ready”.  You may not share my exact circumstances, but hopefully these tips will cross over into your territory of life.

7.  Fighting tips: Arguments happen, but you can argue smart.

  • Don’t fight when you’re tired.  You won’t make sense and you’ll have to apologize.  That’s the worst.
  • Slow down the conversation.  This is one of the best counseling tips I’ve ever received.  Before you fire off that great comeback, text, or smart aleck picture wait a minute or two – you may change your mind.
  • Try not to fight when you only have limited time. Conversations when my husband is gone are sometimes very short in duration.  I’ve learned to say we need to talk about things and try to somewhat schedule a serious conversation instead of trying to get everything out and make up in 5 minutes.  Believe me, it only makes things worse.

6.  Modern technology is your friend.  Amazon Prime and Kroger CheckList will change your life.

  • If you’ve received a gift from me in the past year, it’s highly likely that I Amazon Primed it.  I just don’t have time in my schedule to physically go to a store and look.  Y’all, I use this for everything – school supplies, toilet paper, everything!!!  I must warn you, however, that this may ruin you and make your patience for indoor shopping intolerable.  amazon.com
  • And, don’t get me started on Kroger CheckList.  Order online with curbside delivery – yes, please!  I’ve got to stop hugging the delivery people, though.  I think it makes them uncomfortable.  Here’s the link Kroger.com – then click on “online shopping”.
  • I also reserve my spot in line for my son’s hair cuts at great clips, tire rotations, etc.  Find your favorite stores and just explore.  You will save time and a lot of frustration.

5.  Sow and Reap.  Now this is a biblical principle for a lot of things in life, but I will apply it very practically here.

  • Plan ahead and prepare as much as you can.  I get book bags ready, clothes laid out, lunches prepared, and baths completed the night before .  I’m not a morning person and sometimes this preparation literally saves me.
  • Meal preparation tips:  you can plan ahead, cook in bulk, and cut up veggies on the weekend or just spend a little extra and buy the pre-cut veggies in the store.  I used to judge the lazy moms in the “pre-cut” section.  But, now when I’ve waited too late for Kroger CheckList, I just high-five my lazy mom friends and move on.
  • Spend a few minutes each night and pick up the clutter a bit.  Honestly, I’m really horrible at this, but I hear it helps.
  • Laundry.  I have no tips for laundry.  It’s evil and of the devil!!!

4.  Take care of yourself.  Eat right, exercise, go to bed early… yada, yada, yada.  Everyone knows this, right?  This is one of the principles that I’ve taught families of my patient’s for years.  You can’t take care of someone else if you don’t take care of yourself.

3.  Get over yourself.

  • If you look back on my list of problems, it was very heavily focused on me.  I hadn’t considered the struggle of my kids or my husband.  Along the same lines, when I focus on me, I listen to the wrong voices and hear “I can’t”.  But, when I change my focus to what God says about me everything changes.  For more on this read my previous blog post  I Think You’re Brave.
  • Advice to those of you who can specifically identify with my situation.  Get out there!  If I haven’t seen my husband play in a while, I lose my focus.  I forget.  But, every time – every single time – I see him play I quickly regain my focus and remember my calling – for more read The Dreamer and The Fuel.

2.  Forgive yourself often and quickly.  You will make mistakes.  You will sometimes abandon all of the above and handle things like a school yard fight.  Ask for forgiveness, forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

1. God loves to use people who are not ready.  This by far the most important.  No matter your calling, you will likely say “I’m not ready” at some point.  One of my favorite examples is Moses.  Exodus 3 tells us that when God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt he said “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God’s reply “I will be with you”.  Now Moses continues to make excuses much like me.  I’m like:  “Who am I to care for these children alone?  Who am I to manage this house?  Who am I to control this chaos?  God you know me – I’m a sassy, sarcastic smart aleck – Who am I?  God, I literally can’t”  His response, always, “I will be with you”.  There’s not a lot of talk, but a lot of action – he is there, always!

So, ready or not….. here it comes.  That thing, that time, that situation, that season you aren’t ready for.  Keep your chin up, use your resources, sow and reap, take care of yourself, get over yourself, forgive quickly and, most of all, remember you are not alone.  This road is hard, but oh so worth it.  Remember chocolate is good, coffee is necessary, amazon prime is your best friend, and Jesus is all you need!

Mary Ann

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Side

Today, I find myself in unfamiliar territory.  I have nothing to say.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to write so many blog posts that continually fall short of what I’m feeling.  The political climate of our country right now combined with the social medial outlets to express hate left all of my recent attempts at wisdom a little lack-luster.

This time of year is supposed to be a time for new beginnings and starting over, but it seems to me that, as a society, we are just moving further apart.  Division, lines drawn in the sand, my side vs. your side – honestly, I’m sick of it.  My heart aches for unity.  When did we become a society that is self-serving, self-seeking, and unable to see the other side?

The other side. Now there’s a concept.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you associate yourself, there is, in fact, another side.  Those people – the one’s we love to hate.  We group together with those on our side in order to argue a point to those who will always agree.  We watch the news that caters to our views.  We de-friend, uninvite and oppose all those who are different.

And, why?  Well, I don’t know about you but when I stick to my own kind, I get what I want.  Approval.  It makes it easier for me to justify my views if no one opposes them.  It’s more comfortable.  More enjoyable.  Satisfying.  But also isolating and destructive.

I look at a specific issue and not people.  It’s easy for me to become judgmental especially about those issues that have never been a struggle for me.  For example, I’m a white middle-class female.  I’m married with two children and a dog.  I’m a rule-following perfectionist with control issues.  And, if I only look at life through this lens, well, you better watch out!  I’ll stuff you into a type-A box so fast you won’t see what hit you.  You’ll be making lists, coloring inside the lines, and organizing the custom life planner that you never knew you always wanted.  Sounds fun – doesn’t it?

No, that even sounds horrible to me – and I do all those things.  People, please hear me!!!  For the love of all things holy – we are supposed to be – created to be – DIFFERENT.

A few days ago, I was making my morning smoothie and just like every morning I offered some to my seven-year-old.  He declined and said to me, “When are you gonna realize we’re different?  I don’t like smoothies”.  I laughed but found so much wisdom in his words.  What if we all realized that the person across the line we drew in the sand was different – not wrong, but different?  What kind of progress would we make if we could just step outside of ourselves, even for a moment, and look at things from the other side.

There is a passage in Mark 4-5 and Luke 8 describing a situation in which Jesus and his disciples go to the “other side” in the “region of Gerasenes”.  Why is the region significant? –  because this was gentile territory.  Let me explain…. synonyms for gentiles include heathen, heretic, pagan, unbeliever – everything opposite of the Jews.  Now, why would Jesus willingly go over to the other side.  Well maybe because he knew there was a man and a region of people who needed him and the only way to reach them was to go to the other side.

Upon arrival to the other side, Jesus and his disciples find a demon-possessed man “chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places”.  Can you imagine the look on the disciples faces?  Really, Jesus, really???  You brought us to the other side, the land of heathens, and this is the welcoming committee?? Really??  So, in true form, Jesus casts out the demons and sends them into pigs – Wow, never a dull moment.  And, Luke reports that the people of Gerasenes were afraid and asked Jesus to leave.  I bet so.  I mean, here’s a Jew, whom we don’t associate with, who just casts demons out of the town freak and sent them into pigs.  Yep – just go.

Now, does Jesus argue his point, his views, or his purpose – No.  Luke tells us that he “got into the boat and left”.  Now the demon-possessed man begged to go with Jesus – can you blame him – dude was chained hand and foot because of the demons and now he’s free.  I’d be begging too.  But, Jesus said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you”.  And, Mark tells us that the man did just that and “all the people were amazed.”

Now, what is the point of all of this?  Well, to reach people, Jesus knew that he had to go to them and cross over to the other side.  He didn’t go preach and yell at them.  He didn’t tell them how horrible they were.  He didn’t bombard them with hateful social medial posts (see what I did there?) – he found their most troubled citizen and healed him.  Now, the people were scared and when asked to leave – Jesus left.  But, don’t be mistaken – his message and, ultimately, the reason he went to the region in the first place – remained.  And, although the bible doesn’t elaborate, we do know that they were amazed and maybe changed.

Even if you don’t believe in the bible, Jesus, or miracles, there is still a lesson to be learned.  The people most different from us, most frustrating to us, and most unlike us will not be reached through division.  They may, however, be reached or changed if we go to the other side and make a connection.

Well, I guess I did have something to say!!!!  I’ll just step off this soapbox and be on my way.  My hope is that you’ll find these words encouraging, and the next time you’re tempted to rip someone to shreds on social media (or maybe in line at the grocery store) you’ll reconsider and take a little walk to other side.

Mary Ann

 

 

 

Mr.  Misunderstood 

Over the past several months, I’ve found myself in an almost constant misunderstanding.  Not a fighting or quarreling state – not an anger state – just misunderstanding state over and over again with various relationships, job struggles, church struggles, etc.  I just keep saying, mostly to my husband – “I just don’t understand” – “I don’t get it”.

To further help you understand my misunderstandings, I’ll provide you with a short list of my most recent frustrations….

  • I don’t understand common core math – both its purpose and logic.  It makes me look stupid in front of my child.  (also a little tip for parents out there who share this position – Google it – my child’s book bag contains no actual books or examples – just Google it)
  • I don’t understand why paper towel dispensers only provide enough paper towel to dry a chicken’s foot.  I have two hands – TWO – and when one of those evil machines gives me a tiny piece of paper towel to dry two hands, I will – let me repeat – I will stand there and take at least one more than I need just to prove my point.  No one actually sees this, but I feel better when leaving a public restroom.  And, don’t even get me started on the devil hand dryers that don’t actually dry your hands!!!
  • I don’t understand people who don’t eat spicy foods.
  • I don’t understand why we all can’t just get along.
  • I don’t understand why my church that has been a place of grace, community, and so many other things to my family is going through an unbelievable time of transition.
  • I don’t understand why some marriages fall apart and some, like mine, are spared.
  • I don’t understand racism, prejudice, and judgment.  I do understand that it usually stems from fear, but what are we so scared of?
  • I don’t understand addiction and why it holds so many people captive.
  • And, finally, I don’t understand 7-year old boys.

There, I said it.  Confession:  over the past 6 months I have increasingly been unable to understand my own child.  He’s seven.  He’s silly.  He loves bathroom humor.  He loves video games and really pointless TV shows.  He’s got enough energy for three children and he’s at an age that I just don’t understand.  I mean, I get all the important stuff.  I know his preferences, his little dreams, what he needs, and what he wants.  But, I’ve recently had a hard time with the connection.  We’ve been on different pages – his behavior towards me is sometimes less than acceptable and my patience is the same.  He’s changed from a little boy to a big boy and what used to connect us is no longer working.

I even had a conversation with my husband about this just a few weeks ago.  This was super hard for me because I’m not one to admit defeat quickly.  But since I’ve never been a 7-year-old boy, I begged for help.  His advice – show interest in what he likes.  Well that seems simple enough, but when one is terrible at flying drones and playing video games – not so much!!!  Nonetheless, I’m trying.

What I’ve learned in the short few weeks since that conversation is priceless.  This little boy has taught me how to fly the drone, not very well but it’s flying.  I’ve learned a few new dance moves and dinosaur names.  He’s taught me how to build a Minecraft house, play a goat game, and I’ve even participated in the bathroom humor.  And, you know what, both of our behavior has changed.  I’m more patient and he’s more obedient.  Imagine that!!!

The point of all of this is when you are in a state of misunderstanding, you’ve got a lot of learning to do.  You may never understand the reasons why something is the way it is, but if you want to connect with that thing or that someone you don’t understand you must be willing to learn new things.  Here’s a few tips from my recent revelation….

  • LISTEN.  Let me repeat – LISTEN.  James 1:19 teaches us to be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak”.  There have been times when I did not stop to listen to my young son.  I saw an action and immediately disciplined.  Maybe his wild silly behavior just needed to be redirected or maybe I just needed to pay attention – OUCH!!!  SLOW DOWN and listen. Here’s a little public service announcement for all the leaders out there (this includes all parents):  those under your authority need to know that you hear them.  They need less talk!!!  More listening!!!  Proverbs 18:13 also gives us a warning:  “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame”.  I’ll just leave that right there for you to ponder.
  • Ask for help – from someone who has been there and is in a position to give it.  That’s why I asked my husband.  I’ve never been a 7 year old boy – he has.  I’ve also asked my son to help me learn the things he likes.  Let me tell you, when you ask a little boy to help you fly a drone, he will light up like a Christmas tree.
  • Don’t accept the notion that “this is the way it is”.  Its easier for me to say, “I’m not used to boys because I only have sisters” or “it’s a stage” than to admit that I need to change.  Try for goodness sake!!!  I may never completely understand 7-year-old boys, but I will try my best to make a better connection.  As he changes, so will my try.

I’ll leave you with one quick little story that hopefully demonstrates all of the above.  This actually happened a few months ago and if I’d stayed with these actions maybe my recent learning curve would not have been so steep.  My son came into my room and said, “I’ve learned a new song”.  He then started singing “Baby Got Back”.  He only knew a few words as he had surely only heard another child’s rendition.  I was then faced with quite the dilemma – Do I sharply discipline because of the inappropriateness of this song or do I break it down right there and sing all the lyrics.  I chose the latter.  All I can say is – MIND BLOWN.  He looked at me in complete shock and said, “Mom, that was awesome”.  Now I’m not recommending that you teach your children 90’s rap, but do believe in hidden opportunities.  He is still talking about the time that mom went straight gangsta in her bedroom.  It reminds me of the time when my own mother did the twist like a pro at my sister’s wedding and when my dad knew who Queen was – MIND BLOWN=CONNECTION.

I’m sure this son of mine, and my daughter too, will go through thousands of moments of misunderstanding over the next few years.  I will be constantly listening, asking for help and trying hard to understand them as my parents surely did for me.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll reach out to the paper towel dispenser company to clear up our misunderstanding too!

Mary Ann

 

 

 

 

 

Water Walking

Happy New Year Everyone!!!  It’s 2017.  Can you believe it?  Honestly its a little unbelievable to me that the year could actually be 2017.  I mean I’m still walking around thinking I’m 27, singing the best of TLC and maybe a little 90’s country, and hoping that people born in 1994 aren’t actually old enough to vote.  Did you know that someone in their early 20’s actually asked me who Tom Cruise was a few months ago?  My response was, “get out of my office”.  I was mostly joking, in a serious sort of way, but really mostly joking.  How can this be?  I’m actually 36, currently watching Dora the Explorer with a 2-year-old, and planning my evening meal of black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread that my children will surely complain about – but I have to keep this southern tradition alive – otherwise my children will have no idea what to eat on New Year’s Day when they’re 36 and probably living on Mars.

Seriously, though, how exciting is it to live right now?  Things change so fast that I can’t possibly keep up with what the kids are doing.  I recently joined the snap chat world and although I had a long tutorial from my 14-year-old nephew over Christmas, I still don’t get the point.  But, I will continue to try this form of communication and put my face in awkward deer designs as to attempt conversation with the Millennials in my life that I love dearly.  After all, I do get a good laugh and a funny deer face never hurt anyone.

So what are your hopes and dreams in 2017?  Resolutions? New goals?  Well, I’m not big on the New Year’s Resolutions.  It reminds me of dieting or restriction and that is painful to me.  I believe in healthy living and all but it really must be a lifestyle and to me diet is temporary – something that I know will not last – so why even try?  So I try to start the new year with more of restoration period.  A time to look at what’s working, what’s not and rebuild so to speak.

For me, this year I just want to have a little less fear and a lot more faith.  I want to take more risks.  Less worry and more trust.  So, how you ask?  How do you make lasting restorative change? Honestly, I’m not sure but as I think about my own life and faith/trust journey it has happened little-by-little with short bursts of water-walking faith.

Matthew 14 describes a scene where Jesus had just heard of the death of John the Baptist and he was trying to find a “solitary place” – I’m sure to contemplate the news.  Unfortunately, however, Jesus was somewhat of a celebrity and was followed by crowds of people.  Because the people were hungry, he then performed a miracle of feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish.  At this point, still needing time to himself, Jesus asked the disciples to go ahead of him on the boat.  Early in the morning, Jesus began walking on water to get in the boat.  According to the bible, the disciples were “terrified”.  Now I would think after all the miracles the disciples had witnessed they would be used to strange things by now, but since I’m somewhat of a “jumpy” person who can easily be frightened by predictable “tricks” of my seven-year-old, I’ll cut them some slack.  Anyway, Jesus said in verse 27, “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid”….. and Peter said, “tell me to come to you on the water”.  “Come, he said”.  “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus”.

Now if you’ve heard this story before you know that shortly after the stroll on the water began, Peter “saw the wind,… was afraid….(and began) to sink”.  He cried out to the Lord and Jesus reached out and saved him.  There are thousands of good lessons here but I want to focus on the part of the story where Peter got out of the boat.  Think about that for a minute – he got out of a perfectly good boat and came toward Jesus.  Was he afraid?  Yes.  Did he lose his nerve right in the middle?  Yes.  Did he need to be rescued?  Yes.  But he was the only one that got out of the boat.  There were 12 disciples and 11 of them stayed in the boat.  Peter was the only one who knew what it was like to walk on water.    For a moment, even in fear, Peter got out of the boat to walk toward Jesus.  For a moment, faith conquered fear.  For a moment, Peter believed the words of Jesus “don’t be afraid” and took him at his word and walked on water.   Peter said, “tell me (what to do)” and Jesus said “come (to me)”.

So, how do I have less fear this year?  More faith.  How do I worry less?  More faith.  How do I take more risks?  More faith.  How do I make lasting, restorative change?  More faith.  Not perfect faith.  Not mind altering faith without fear involved.  Maybe just short bursts of water-walking faith.  Maybe with your knees shaking and your hands trembling.  Maybe you just take Him at His word, even if just for a moment, and believe what He says, “don’t be afraid”.

So this year, my prayer for myself and for you is just a little more faith.  When you’re faced with difficult decisions. When life is hard.  When life is great.   Just a little more faith – bursts of water-walking faith.  These moments make all the difference and change us forever.  So, let’s go 2017!!!  Let’s get out of the boat, walk toward Jesus and, who knows, we may just walk on water!

Mary Ann

Treasure Up

One of the things I really dislike about living in Middle Tennessee is the end of daylight saving time.  I’m so close to the eastern time zone that I could almost reach out and touch it, yet I’m still forced to live an hour behind.  That, my dear friends, means that it gets dark at 4:30pm.  I literally feel your heart ache for me as you read this.  I’m fully aware that this is a first world problem and I should just grow up and get over it, but when I walk to my car every evening at 5ish in pitch black darkness I die a little inside.  The only thing that makes this tolerable right now is Christmas lights.  Every evening, I pass house after house after house full of lights- some nice and elegant – some tacky – some that have been up since last year – but all of them put a little smile on my face and warm my winter-hating heart.

There is one house in particular that caught my eye last week.   The house was lit with white lights strung from the porch down to a nativity scene.  There were little plastic figures of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, and an angel gathered neatly around a little manger holding baby Jesus.  As I passed this house, I began to think:  Is that what really happened?  Did everyone gather around the baby in perfect form, all in a neat little row?  I’m not buying it.

Now the bible does not give a full play-by-play of the birth of Jesus but the books of Matthew and Luke provide us with a little sneak peak.  Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but became pregnant – oops!  Well, as it turns out she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit and the little baby she was carrying was the Son of God.  Now, I’m sure that no one believed that story and neither did Joseph because Matthew tells us that he was planning to quietly divorce her.  I know that I just said they were “pledged” to be married but then Joseph was going to divorce her?  Well, this was before the Bachelor, so if you said you were gonna marry someone, you better be serious because in those days you couldn’t just give the ring back and provide an interview to People magazine – it required divorce.  Anyway, an angel appeared to Joseph and smoothed things over assuring him that Mary was telling the truth.  There they were – a young Jewish couple, with an unplanned pregnancy, who had just encountered angels, and most likely overwhelmed with their newly given task of raising the Son of God – no pressure.

Intrigued?  I’ll continue.  While pregnant, Mary had to travel with Joseph to Bethlehem for a census.  According to the footnotes in my bible, this was a least a three day trip.  Now, I am pretty sure that they didn’t travel in any luxury capacity – so a three day pregnant trip, most likely on the back of a camel or a donkey – no thanks!  We also know that while she was there, in Bethlehem, she went into labor.  The details of this blessed event are somewhat short and sweet, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).  Most nativity scenes appear to take place in a barn or a stable.  Honestly I’m not really sure, but since they were apparently looking for an inn, the setting for the birth of the little baby Jesus was not ideal.  I mean, she was giving birth to the Son of God in a makeshift room with a manger as a bed for her newborn that was going to save the world.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here-I’m guessing Mary was not as put together as she appears in those little plastic figures.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure the birth of Christ was nothing short of amazing, but please don’t be deceived – it was still a birth.  I’ve had two children in the very controlled setting of an operating room, and even with the latest and greatest medical equipment and knowledge literally at my fingertips, I was overwhelmed.  Can you imagine what Mary was feeling?  Not to mention the awkward presence of the shepherds, the wise men who just showed up out of nowhere.  But, I also imagine if an angel has appeared to you and you became pregnant by the Holy Spirit – at this point, a few strangers are no big deal.  And if all of this is not enough, King Herod wanted to kill the little baby King.  So, I’m sure as they were living as refugees in Egypt, the promise of a savior seemed out of reach.

Have you been there?  In a messy situation that was completely off course?  Have you ever planned for something and things are not turning out the way you planned?  This reason right here is why I love the Christmas story.  Christ was born into a messy situation and his parents were literally hanging on by a promise.  The fact that this is how our Savior was born proves that He’s not scared, embarrassed or ashamed of my mess.  He’s familiar with messy – He can handle it.  And, when I read the scriptures about Mary and Joseph I see a familiar theme – in the middle of the mess, they continued to believe.

They believed when everyone thought they were crazy.  They believed when there was no room in the inn.  They believed when they fled to Egypt.  They believed when Jesus was a young boy in the temple.  They believed when He turned water to wine, healed the sick, raised the dead, when He was wrongly accused, convicted and crucified on a cross.  They believed through the mess.

Why?  Because of a promise that was placed deep in their hearts.  Luke tells us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”.  She stored them up, she “pondered” them, she held them close.  And, although I don’t have proof of this, I imagine as she moved from one messy situation to another, she remembered the promise of a savior and her belief was renewed.

So wherever you find yourself, remember that God is present in your mess.  Right there in the middle.  He’s not a sideline coach or an innocent bystander.  He chose to show up mid-mess, when the light was dim and the promise was almost out of reach.  God became human to fulfill a promise to His people and save them from their sins.

Therefore, treasure up.  Do you have a promise that was placed in your heart?  Treasure up when life gets messy.  Treasure up when the light is dim.  Treasure up when the promise is almost out of reach and continue to believe.  Treasure up and look around.  God presents himself in the most unlikely places and fulfills His promises in the most unexpected messy ways – like a virgin birth with a baby King – so that you will know He showed up.   So this Christmas, treasure up, my friends.  Treasure up.

Mary Ann

 

The Frogs

This month is a very special month to me for many reasons.  The first, very obvious reason, is Christmas.  I love to reminisce about all the wonderful Christmases with my family when I was young.  All of the traditions – some of which I still keep alive today.  I think about my grandparents and how my grandmother would always say, “well its over ’till next year” when we finished opening the presents.  Then, there was this one year when my uncle bought her a present that she really wanted but wouldn’t dare ask for.  I don’t even remember what it was, but when she opened it she said, “my country tis of thee”.  Every time I think of that moment and her smile I can’t help but laugh and tear up at the same time – man, I miss her!!!

But, this month is also special because it’s the month I got engaged.  It was December 20th, just five days before Christmas.  We went to dinner and my soon-to-be fiancé was so nervous he couldn’t carry on a conversation.  Then, suddenly, he just kinda fell on one knee and popped the question.  We were so young, so in love and so stupid at the same time.  We had big dreams, little pocket books and nothing but blue skies – or so we thought.  I guess we were somewhat “typical” of most young couples – starry eyes and miles of rough terrain ahead.

The first year of marriage was really very easy.  We had always lived about three hours away from each other, so just being together most of the time was kinda nice.  The second year, we moved to Nashville and I’m not gonna lie to ya – it was pretty rough.  Everything was different – he went from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in an ocean.  I didn’t know anyone really and we both took a large pay cut when we moved.  We plowed through, however, and things gradually began to improve.  Then, there was year three through five – I was in graduate school and I really don’t remember much of anything except the Krebs cycle, talk of action potentials, cytochrome P450, calculating GFR, mg/kg/hr, etc. (if you’re a nurse you know what I’m talking about and I bet you just shivered – if not, please disregard).  Anyway, I finally graduated, had a baby about two years later and then, in year seven, things began to unravel.

I’ll skip the details because it’s always the root of the problem that matters.  But, we had become okay with mediocre.  We had grown apart for a lot of reasons: graduate school, he traveled more, and a baby.  These things are natural and happen to most people I think; but the problem is that we accepted this as a normal part of life and forgot to reconnect and fix it.  We got used to it, okay with it  – and what is the “it” you ask?  We became used to the frogs.

I know this sounds crazy but let me explain.  The scene takes place in Exodus 8.  The background is that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and God sent plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians in order to free the Israelites.  The plague of the frogs is particularly annoying and gross to me.  Apparently the frogs were everywhere – “the Nile will teem with frogs.  They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs.  The frogs will go up on you and your people and all your officials” (Exodus 8:3-4).  Gag!!!  Then Pharaoh asked Moses to pray and ask the Lord to cancel the frog thing.  And, Moses was like, okay, when would you like for them to leave?  And Pharaoh said, “tomorrow”.

What? Tomorrow?  Are you kidding me?  There are frogs in my bed, my oven and jumping all over me.  Not tomorrow – how about “yesterday” for an answer – or a simple “now, right now”.  But no – he said tomorrow.

I’m sure that theologians and scholars have very sophisticated lessons to learn from this passage of scripture, but I think maybe Pharaoh was just used to the frogs.  I first heard this message preached a few years ago and it was like a light bulb went off.  That’s what happened to my marriage.  We just became used to mediocre, used to distance, used to hit-or-miss connection, and used to just okay.  We didn’t communicate well and sometimes not at all.  We accepted this as “normal”.   We both knew that it wasn’t great but we also weren’t calling lawyers.  We didn’t address the frogs in our home because we settled for a frog-filled life.  Underwhelmed, out of touch, and headed for a break down.

Thankfully, we were jolted into reality pretty quickly and forced to address the frogs or lose it all.  But, I believe that many people spend their whole lives in a frog-filled existence.  It may not be marriage – maybe a career, other relationships, hard to break habits.  We know they aren’t right but we settle because addressing the frogs seems impossible.  So, every night we lie down with the frogs and say “tomorrow”.

What I love about my story is that it ends well – not really ends – continues well, I guess.  We started intense counseling and began addressing the frogs one-by-one.  We started with the big bull frogs and worked our way down.  Frogs are problems and they never really go away but they will move out of your house and into the rivers, ponds, etc. where they belong.  But only, and this is key, if you stop saying tomorrow and start saying now.

If this is you, my prayer is that you will start right now and begin to address the frogs in your life.  Make a phone call, see a counselor, go to meetings, make an appointment with a pastor/friend/confidant – anyone you can trust.  Take one step in the right direction.  It will not be easy.  It will be messy but you are more than mediocre.  You are better than okay.   And, you are worth so much more than the frogs.

Mary Ann

 

The Vine

Ya know what I miss?  I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I miss “normal”.  This week in particular, I really miss it.  I miss sitting down at the dinner table with my husband and my kids.  I miss going to church as a family.  I miss routine.  I miss regular.  I miss day-to-day.  I just miss normal.

Ya know why I miss it, because a couple of weeks ago my husband was home for a whole week and I got a little taste of normal.  Or at least what society says is normal.  For a whole week, I didn’t have to answer questions as to what part of the country he was in, where he was playing, or when was he coming home.  When asked, I could just say – he’s home.  For a week, we could just be us with no questions asked.

Sometimes, “normal” is the hardest part of this journey.  Nothing in my life is really what society deems normal and on most days I’m not only fine with that – I love it.  But, there are those days when I feel the pressure of normal and finding the strength to live off the beaten path seems impossible.  It’s kinda like middle school and wanting to sit at the “cool” kids table.  It’s like everywhere I go I see the typical American family – 2.5 kids and a dog – playing baseball and eating apple pie.  Then there’s me …

I have two great kids and a dog, but as a family we’re a little different.  First of all, my husband is waaaaaay cooler than me.  He brought me lunch at work this week and I literally busted out laughing when I saw him.  Here I was in scrubs, hair in ponytail and a labcoat – ya know, boring and regular –  and he walked in looking like a cross between LL Cool J and Johnny Cash.  His whole persona from the crazy t-shirt, bracelets, necklace, and hat screamed chill. Sometimes I still can’t believe that we ended up together.  But hey, it works.

Then there’s our schedule.  He is gone about four days a week on average.  I’m off when he’s working and visa-versa.  He travels the country, living out of a suitcase, every day in a new city.  And, I travel from an elementary school to work and back again.  The kids and I try to keep a schedule as much as possible, but we’re always a little off balance. I like to call it controlled chaos.  So it’s easy to look at others and feel like a fish out of water.

If I’m honest, however, my problem is not really in my chosen lifestyle, my cooler than me husband, or all the other perfect families – the problem I sometimes encounter is comparison.  If money is the root of all evil, comparison is the root of self-destruction.  Theodore Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy”.  Comparison takes all my insecurities and pits them against everyone else’s strongest attributes.  My unusual lifestyle no longer looks unusual, it looks less-than.  When I compare me to you, I stop living me because I’m looking at you.  Then, as to be expected, I feel like a failure because I can’t be you and I’m no longer me.  Sound familiar?

So, how do I stop the comparison game?  How do I keep my joy and regain focus?  I abide in the vine.  John 15 teaches us about the “true vine” found in Jesus.  He teaches us to “remain” or live in him.  I’m talking about a connection, literally.

Do you like fresh cut flowers?  I do, but the problem with flowers in a vase is that they are no longer connected to the vine and they will wither and die.  Sure, you can add all sorts of stuff to the water to make them last a little longer,  but the end result will always be the same.  This is how I lived my life for years.  I was a Christian but I lived very defeated.  I filled the space with religious activity – I could talk the talk, I went to church, I tithed, I even read my bible – but there was no connection.  Those things are not bad, but without a connection to the vine what’s the purpose?  I did a lot to modify my behavior but I found that God was much more interested in modifying my heart.

Then one night about six years ago, I found myself lying on my bed with nothing left to give and decided to give this Christian thing one last chance.  It would take days to tell you the full story but what happened over the next year changed my life forever.   I began to learn that Christianity is not about behavior modification at all.  It’s about love.  “For God so LOVED the world, that he gave his one and only son” (John 3:16).  Pure, perfect, unconditional love.  I began to accept grace, mercy and forgiveness.  Then, and only then, was I able to give those things freely.  My behavior did change, but in ways of love and not obligation.

Slowly, I’m learning to abide in the vine.  Personally, I believe this looks different for everyone.  For me, I have a few things I try to do on the regular to keep me connected like quiet time on my morning commute – listening to favorite speakers – reading devotionals – praying like a human instead of an old testament scholar.  Things that will help me stay personally connected.  This is not about rule keeping, modifying behavior, or checking boxes off a list – it’s about connection. Your ways of connection will be completely different.  But, the end result is to “remain in my love” (John 15:9).  Then guess what?  John 15:11 says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”.  Yep, that’s right – Joy, and not just any joy – God’s Joy!!!

When I abide in the vine, I know where my strength comes from – the vine.   The vine is almighty, everlasting, the beginning and the end.  The vine is joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, and love – the vine is life.

I don’t know about you but that’s great news for me and provides unbelievable relief.  Ya know why?  Well, because, I’m fully aware of my limitations.  I know where my personal strength ends and if I’m honest it usually doesn’t end well and leaves me empty.  But, when I’m abiding in the vine, I have one job – to abide in his love.  I don’t have to be supper mommy, perfect wife, or better than you.  I have one job – abide.

So my advice to you (and to me) when the pressure of “normal” weighs on your soul – abide in the vine.  When you feel the need to compare – abide in the vine.  When life becomes too much, when you’re heart is heavy, when you’re lost – lonely – and broken… abide, abide, abide.  And, guess what?  If you get off track like I did this week, he’s waiting for you with gracious, open, and loving arms.  You’ve got one job – abide in the vine.

Mary Ann

 

One more day…

Hello dear friends.  I have been silent on the blog since the election.  If you’re curious, this has absolutely been intentional.  Mostly because the last thing you need to read is one more opinion.  You really don’t need one more person in your life filling you in on his/her thoughts, opinions, or reasons.

But, what you might need is a little laughter.

I’m supposed to be working-out right now.  At least that’s what I told myself this morning when I hit snooze on my alarm clock – sleep 30 more minutes, you can work out tonight.  In my defense, I have developed a little cold and currently can’t breath out of the right side of my nose.  My throat is also sore, so I will use this as an excuse to procrastinate my work-out and justify the cellulite on the back of my legs for one more day.

One more day…… isn’t that what you want?  Wouldn’t you like one more day in the week, in a year, in a month.  Couldn’t you get more done?  Wouldn’t you like just one more?  Well if I’m wishing, I would settle for a full-time maid or a daily nap time – I’ll take either one.  There are, however, days I would like to forget.  You know the days when things didn’t go quite right, things are a little off, and you fall flat on your face.  So, since we’ve all had a tense week, I’m gonna tell you about my most embarrassing moment as a mother.  I hope you get a good laugh, at my expense.  Take a load off, let your hair down, for the next few minutes forget about all the tension in our country, lean in and relax.  Here goes nothing…..

My son was three on this dreadful day.  If you’ve ever met a three-year-old, you know that two-year-olds are like sweet baby chickens on a warm summer day compared to a three-year-old.  Terrible Two’s – piece of cake.  Three – well, it’s basically like negotiating with a terrorist that you created 24-7.  So in an attempt to survive the trip to Wal-Mart, I had the bright idea of taking my son for lunch.  Mexican food to be exact.  He loves quesadillas and I was gonna take him to Wal-Mart with a full happy tummy.  The plan was to rock Wal-Mart like it’s 1999 and to make it out alive.  Well, obviously that didn’t happen – we are alive, but I sometimes still shutter when pulling in the parking lot.

I ate my usual taco salad and everything was completely normal until we walked in the store.  I’m still not sure what happened –  for some reason that day my food just didn’t settle the right way.  As I walked through the store, things were rapidly spinning out of control.  You know where this is goin’ – don’t ya?  With a half-full grocery cart, I realized I needed to turn this cart around and head toward the restroom.  My son caught on to the fact that something was very wrong as we began to run.  He was a little distraught and concerned, but trying to hang in there.

Things changed, however, when we reached the restroom.  At this point in his life, he was a little scared of the public restroom.  The loud flushing was too much for him.  So as I quickly pulled him out of the shopping cart, he realized where we were going.  His little arms tightened around my neck and I was fully aware that this was going to be a family affair.  Luckily, the restroom was empty, but not for long.  For some reason, every woman and child in the store decided to use the restroom during my misfortune.  As I heard footsteps, I prayed for a quick and quiet restroom experience.  I most certainly promised God many things if I could just get out of there with little embarrassment.  This prayer was not answered – to my dismay – but, I will continue because maybe your need for a laugh will give my moment a cause.

So the scene, at this point, is pretty ugly.  I’m in a very vulnerable position, literally and figuratively, and my sweet three-year-old is terrified for so many reasons and sitting on my lap.  Just as I was sure things couldn’t get worse, I heard that little boy ask, “Mama, do you feel bad?”.   I replied, “yes, but I’ll be okay.”. Then he said, “does you tummy hurt?”. Me:  “yes, please stop talking”. Then the killer – he said, “are you pooping?”. I literally almost died as the entire restroom erupted in laughter.  He was truly concerned about me, as I was most assuredly sweating profusely while dying on the inside.  How did I get to this point in my life?  Sitting in a public restroom with a toddler on my lap giving complete strangers the full play-by-play.  Now what?  I had to get out of there!!!

I decided to make the most dignified effort and casually walk out of there like nothing happened.  Unfortunately, my embarrassment got the best of me and I ran out of the restroom and the store, after washing my hands of course.  We left without the groceries  – we just left.

Have you ever felt that way? – like you need to just get out.  Maybe you feel this way now.  A little broken hearted, like you don’t belong.  A little embarrassed, frustrated, misunderstood.  I’m not really referring to the election – although it may apply to you.  I’m really referring to life in general.  We all have those moments and many of them are far more serious than my bathroom tragedy.  I’m not gonna try and fill you with a great theological explanation or solution right now.  I’m not going to offer sound advice, but I will tell you what I’ve found to be true during the get-me-out-of-here moments.

The next day the sun still came up.  I was still breathing in and out.  My heart was still beating, although sometimes breaking.  Mercy was renewed, grace was poured out and love remained.  During my darkest hours, much more serious than that described above, I hold on to these things just as tightly as my son held my neck that horrifying day.  I find comfort in the fact that for some reason I’m still here.

So, to all those going through a hard time right now – I see you, I hear you, my heart breaks with you.  But, you’re still breathing in and out, your heart is still beating and you’re still here.  Hold on tight to mercy, grace and love and when you want to give up just give it one more day.

Mary Ann

I am Mom.

This morning, as I was leaving for work, I gave my son a hug and said, “I love you”.  He said, “See ya later, Hot Lady”.  This is one of his newest names for me – the others range from the most popular “Big Mama” to a simple “Mom”.  I laughed and as I drove to work I thought a lot about my job as a mother – all the things I thought it would be and all the things that it is.  While I was pregnant with my first bundle of joy, I had all these plans for my maternity leave.  I was going to get organized, cook dinner every night, take long walks with the stroller, keep my house really clean – you know, because I wasn’t working – how hard can this be?  Oh, how wrong I was!!!  I found that I was lucky to shower and put on clean clothes every day.  Since that time, I entered the real world and learned a few things about mothering.  There are good days and bad days.  There are days I so feel strong and courageous that I could parent ten more children.  Then there are days when I’ve said, “stop licking the walls… floor…bathtub…” so many times that I’m convinced I’m gonna lose my mind.  But, in the midst of it all – I am Mom.

One of the things I was so surprised about when I became a mother was “Mom Guilt”.  It’s like the moment the baby is placed in your arms you feel guilty about something.  When I go to work, I feel like I should be at home.  When I’m at home, I feel like I should fill their day with unforgettable moments that will last a lifetime.  Are they watching too much TV? – are the meals healthy? – are the meals boring? – are they playing enough? – are they learning enough? – am I too hard on them? – are they manipulating me? – should I work? – should I stay at home? – and the list could go on and on and on.  And, if they get sick I second guess every decision that I made that lead to this dreadful moment when we’re all covered in vomit.  Too much sugar?  We shouldn’t have gone to that gross playground?  Did I wipe the shopping cart down at Wal-Mart? Mom guilt – its the worst.

But this week, I had a moment when my husband was walking in Chick-fil-A to grab some dinner.  He said, “what should I get them?  I gave him the order and then I said, “ask for Chick-fil-A sauce, not honey mustard.  They like honey mustard, but not the Chick-fil-A honey mustard – here, they like Chick-fil-A sauce”.  Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much to you, but it kinda hit me hard.  This week I have experienced an extreme amount of mommy guilt over my work schedule and a little struggle my son had at school.  I was a little down on my mothering skills and rethinking many of my recent decisions.  But, when I rattled off sauce preference it hit me – I am Mom.

I have a friend that’s not close to his mother for a variety of reasons.  He once said something to me that illustrates motherhood perfectly.  He said, in frustration – “she doesn’t know me – she couldn’t make me a sandwich because she has no idea what I like  – she doesn’t know me.”  Is that what children want?  Well, I think that’s what we all want – to be known.  Fully known.

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That really changes my perspective on motherhood – maybe the most important thing is the relationship we are building with our children.  Maybe its how well we come to really know them that matters in the end.   So when the mom guilt builds up, as it did this week, these are the things I will choose to remember – a list of my mommy superpowers, if you will….

  • I know that when my son says he wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that he really only wants peanut butter – he doesn’t care for jelly.
  • I know the difference between a sleepy cry, a hurt cry, a scared cry, a mad cry and a fake cry – I can also hear the hurt/scared cry a mile away and I can turn into an Olympic sprinter when I hear it.
  • I know that my daughter will drink anything out of a cup with a lid and straw – anything.
  • I know when they are sick – even before a fever, vomiting, etc. starts.  – I look into their eyes and I know.
  • I know when they’re lying.
  • I know that when the noise stops, something’s wrong.
  • I know where they hide when we play hide-and-go-seek.  I pretend I don’t know, but I know.
  • I know that my daughter says she likes rice but really doesn’t; and that my son eats spaghetti with butter but never sauce.
  • I know that my daughter needs two books and about 10 minutes of rocking before bed – no more and definitely no less.
  • I know my son can’t read about alligators, snakes, bears, or anything scary, even in his Jack Hanna book, before bed.
  • I know that my daughter prefers pants without buttons and my son would rather wear a tuxedo than jeans.

I know them – I know their preferences, their fears, their little hopes and dreams.  I know they will never acknowledge all the little ways that I’ve cared for them.  They have no idea who cuts their grapes in half, how clean clothes appear in their closet, or how the dog stays alive.  But, that also means that they don’t realize all the ways that I mess up either.  So, at the end of the day, maybe I should measure my success on how well I really know my children rather than how well they perform.  Because, to be fully known is to be fully loved.

So when the mom guilt hits hard, think about your children and all the ways that you know them.  You too know their preferences, their fears, their hopes and dreams.  You are mom and these are your mommy superpowers.  You may not be perfect, but if you can make them a sandwich you’re probably doing okay.

Mary Ann

 

 

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