Don’t Freak Out

 

My daughter approached me this morning saying, “don’t freak out mom, but…” Now, if you are a mother, you can anticipate my reaction to these words without hesitation.  My mind is racing with all of the scenarios involving permanent marker and glitter glue that could possibly warrant this opening line.  I paused, though, and realized that there are two ways to interpret her comment.  In both cases, there is cause for concern.

On the one hand, my six-year-old mermaid may have caused a mini-tsunami in the bath tub that will require several towels and a lesson in the principles of water management but, on the other, she may be highlighting a tendency on my part to, in fact, “freak out”.  Either way, I have a problem.

I’d like to think that my freaking out would be reserved for real tsunamis in life where my emotional response is proportional to the actual incident but I’m afraid that I tend to react to daily mishaps with less grace and calm then I might like to admit.

My daughter’s attempt to preempt these reactions when anticipated, leads me to believe that they are not becoming and perhaps too frequent altogether.  I have learned to expect a little mess with toddlers let loose in the house but I’d like to be better able to respond in a dignified fashion to the inevitable splashes on my bathroom floor.

I think I need to avoid “sweating the small stuff” (if you can pardon the cliché).  Life is full of little mistakes and my ability to avoid freaking out is directly related to my own perception of what really matters.  I need to learn that many incidents are not worthy of the reaction I give them and that I need to exercise a little more self control and perspective when confronted with a mess.   After all, it was only water.

If it was permanent marker and glitter glue then I might be justified.

(originally posted in 2009)

 

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Cracking Me Out

 

Gwyneth shouted at Wesley, “stop that singing, you’re cracking me out!”

“Don’t you mean, cracking me up?” I asked.

“No, cracking me out, like ignoying me!”

You see, Wesley has a tendency to fixate on a single lyric and proceed to sing it like a broken record, with only slight variations in tone and volume.  For the most part he is completely oblivious to the fact that he is even doing it.  He just enters into his own little world of play and repeats his chosen phrase to the rhythm of his own imagination.  The day of this particular outburst, Gwyneth was trying not to listen as she coloured nearby but the repetition was getting to her and she was beginning to be annoyed.  In her frustration, she invented this new phrase, one that I have since adopted into our family’s vernacular.

So, what does it mean to be “cracked out” (avoiding all obvious drug-related references)?  In Gwyneth’s world, it means to be pushed beyond her limits and frustrated by the actions of another.  Considering this definition, I can identify with her sentiment.  In fact, I often experience this phenomenon:  I allow someone’s words or actions to get under my skin and become an irritant.

But getting “cracked out”, though annoying on one level, may actually provide a needed opportunity for spiritual growth.  My tendency to be frustrated with the deficiencies in others is actually a call to look in the mirror.  Instead of blaming the annoyance on the annoyer, perhaps I should examine my own heart to understand why I am responding the way that I am.  Is this reaction more about my inability to accept a difference of opinion?  Have I really listened in the first place to what was being said?  Am I hard-hearted or judgmental?  Am I extending grace?  Do I accept the reality of a flawed and shared humanness?

I think God uses relational conflict to cut to the heart of the matter.  Through relational tension, my shell, or the illusion of where I think I am spiritually, is figuratively broken and my true self is exposed.  My responses to annoyances, miscommunications, and offences reveal what is really going on in my internal world.   In essence, I am “cracked out” and my spiritual maturity is tested.

When I harbour unforgiveness, gossip or complain about a situation I can be sure that I am not honouring God with my reaction.  In fact, it is a wake up call for me to revisit some of the scriptural wisdom about judgment.  Jesus asks me, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).  When I find myself irritated by a speck, first and foremost, I need to address the plank.

Jesus carefully chooses the substance of comparison in this illustration.  Sawdust is merely a tiny wooden byproduct whereas a plank, also wooden, is significantly more obvious.  The specifics of the speck that I notice should reveal something to me about the nature of my grievances:  the things I criticize in others should be measured in my own self-analysis, especially considering the difference in magnitude.  For example, if I am critical of someone’s pride, it may be that I am significantly more prideful.

When I realize that my weaknesses are made from the same fabric as those offending me, I might discover a renewed desire to extend grace.  If Gwyneth understood that she is often the one with the louder voice, singing without apology when she plays, she might be able to let Wesley’s serenades be less of an issue.

I believe God gave our family this new adage as a reminder.  Next time I feel like someone is “cracking me out,” I’ll remember that the emphasis is on me.

(originally posted in 2009)

 

Abundant Life

 

I have an abundance of stuff in my home.  I have an overflowing sock drawer, a more than adequate supply of breakfast cereal, and an abounding mound of laundry.

I also have an abundance of activities on my calendar.  I have a ton of commitments, a large number of obligations, and several fun-filled social engagements.

On one level, I am thankful for these things (okay maybe not the laundry) but the fact that they exist in abundance doesn’t do much for my spirituality.  Most of this stuff just distracts me from seeking the real thing.

Confusing God’s abundance with accumulation and activity is fairly common.  Most people, myself included, rush about in an effort to have more and to do more.  But more of what?

It’s no surprise that God’s agenda does not prioritize material things or busyness.  He explains in John 10:10 that the life he wants for us directly competes with the life the world offers.  The enemy comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” (hardly appealing) but Jesus comes that we can have a full life. I think most people’s lives are full but with the wrong things.

God offers us a life full of stuff that Satan has no power over.  Things he cannot steal, kill or destroy, at least not unless we let him.  Jesus offers us forgiveness, healing, rest, peace, contentment and love and the only way we lose out in those areas is if we fail to claim His promises or if we choose to live outside his will.  Otherwise, he will fill us to overflowing with the stuff that really matters.

In certain situations, like my laundry heap, more is not better.  But if it’s more of God and His goodness, I’ll welcome the abundance.

(Originally posted in 2009)

 

Something Extra in the Ordinary

 

I was sitting at a café near Union Station watching the morning crowd stream in the revolving door like a school of fish released from captivity and I noticed something unusual.  In the middle of all the hustle and bustle a couple stood still, saying goodbye.  Independently, this man and women would likely go unnoticed in a crowd:  middle-aged, brown hair, neutral clothing.   There was nothing particularly eye-catching or distinct about the way they looked.  In fact, I think most people would miss seeing them for this very reason.

But here’s the thing:  just before they parted, with an influx of people swimming around them, they took the time to notice one another.  The man, slightly taller, leaned in to meet the eyes of the woman, quietly whispered something and with his hand gently touching her face, kissed her forehead.

I don’t know the particulars of their relationship but I do know this:  I was moved by this loving gesture and I was thankful to have witnessed their moment.  It reminded me that in the midst of a largely disconnected world, connection is possible and it is beautiful.  No matter how ordinary your life may appear, if you are valued by another, you will stand out in a crowd.

I have a quote on my fridge that reads, “at the end of the day, all that matters is who is in your life”.   Being loved, even by one other person on this earth, is extraordinary.

(Originally posted in 2009)

Taking the Initiative

Do you ever feel like you would be forgotten or overlooked if you didn’t initiate community?  I often do.  Whether it is assembling a group for some sort of social gathering or planning a family function it seems that I am always at the helm.  I am trying to decide what that is all about?  I suspect it may be partly a control issue and partly due to my organizational strengths but I think there is more to it.

I know I’m an extrovert and I thrive on social interaction.  I also recognize that relationships are a huge priority in my life.  But every now and then I wonder what would happen if I just stopped calling, stopped planning and stopped assembling.  Would things still get organized?  Would there be family birthdays or friendly get-togethers?  Would I ever see my friends? Would someone call me without me calling them first (other than my mother)?

I’m not convinced and that upsets me.  Why should it matter if I seem to initiate the contact?  I’m a doer.  That’s what I do.  But sometimes I feel like I am flying solo on this one and I wish someone else would pilot the plane so I could just come along for the ride.

I think it is about being appreciated and affirmed.  Sometimes it is nice just to be a guest and to leave the details in someone else’s hands.  We all need to feel like someone decided to make us part of their lives and that it was entirely their idea.  It is nice not to be the initiator once in a while and to still have a gathering or a celebration to attend.

Don’t read between the lines too much or start into your psychoanalysis just yet.  I don’t need a major intervention.  It’s was just a slump and though Dr. Seuss reminds us that sometimes, “unslumping yourself is not easily done,” God is faithful and he knows what we need.

In the midst of my internal rant (ultimately about my selfishness and my lack of perspective), my friends called out of the blue and invited our family to dinner on a whim.  That’s grace.

I could probably count the number of times this has happened on one hand.  It’s rare that we receive an invite like this from someone other than our immediate family.    And this time, it was an answer to prayer.  It was God’s way of using someone else to say, “you matter, be encouraged.”

It is so easy to become discouraged and to listen to Satan’s lies.  It is so easy to begin to believe that you don’t matter and that no one would notice if you somehow just disappeared.  The truth is, we lose perspective when we are wallowing in self-pity.  We tend to accentuate the negative instead of being thankful for the community God has provided.  Besides, we are the community that God has provided.

We have always had a steady stream of people in and out of our doors.  And sometimes we do need a break from the influx.  Sometimes it does feel like we are the only ones reaching out.  But is the fact that I am tired of initiating a reason to stop providing opportunities for meaningful connection?

Certainly not.  The thing is, it’s not actually about me.  God can look after what I need.  I matter to Him.  I have an opportunity to show others that they matter to Him too.  I can do that by taking the initiative.

Maybe I need to clear my schedule and make a few calls.

(Originally posted in 2009)

Wanting to be Second Place

 

On occasion, Wesley and Gwyneth attend a story time program at the local library.  Last October, the kids made a “fall centerpiece” (a bunch of twigs, sticking out of Playdoh in the centre of a dried up bagel) to enter into the craft competition at the fall fair.

The day of the fair, they raced to find the display table that housed their masterpieces in the arena.  As part of their campaign for self-esteem the “judges” of the handicrafts awarded all the preschoolers a shiny red first place ribbon.

Immediately, Gwyneth was thrilled to see her name in lights.  She posed with a big grin to commemorate the occasion.  Wesley, on the other hand, broke down in tears.  Shocked by his response, we asked him to tell us what was wrong:

“Everyone is number one, I want to be number two!”

Well, what do you say to that (suppressing the urge to inappropriately comment about the “potty humour” in that statement)?

Like the insightful parents we are, we proceeded to snap Wesley’s photo to capture the memory of his first entry in the fall fair.  Not so much a smile as a scowl on his face.

Wesley’s reaction was not what I expected and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this perspective is shocking simply because it is not the norm. In our society, it is very rare, that someone actually wants to be in second place.

I’m sure Wesley didn’t intend his comment to produce some sort of deep spiritual awakening.  In fact, I still have no idea why the red ribbon upset him so much.  But his response was, in a way, counter-cultural.  In a world that seems to praise those at the top of the heap, it rarely celebrates those who choose an inferior position.

Whether it was because he wanted to be different or because he legitimately was happier with the number two, I may never know.  But I think that I’d like to be content with second place if it means that I am willing to give up the limelight for someone else.  If it means that I am willing to celebrate another person’s success.  If it means that I have a servant’s heart.

I might even need to give up my first place ribbons in order to accomplish more meaningful things in this world.

I have a vague recollection of some guy talking about how the last will be first.

Maybe He was onto something.

(Originally posted in 2009)

Stay and Snuggle

 

Sitting on my lap, one lazy afternoon, Gwyneth said, “I love you mommy”.

I wondered what was going on in her little two-year-old mind.

“What do you think it means to love someone?” I asked.

“It means to stay…and snuggle.”

I have never forgotten her definition of love.  Sometimes we make love so complicated.  We confuse it with things like lust and infatuation.  The word itself poses a problem:  we use it to express our excitement about a new lip gloss but we also use it to describe our undying devotion to our mates.  It does seem like quite the discrepancy.

Maybe we do throw the word around too much.  Maybe we are careless with our declarations of love.  Maybe we don’t mean it when we say it.  Maybe we don’t say it at all.

On this particular day, I was reminded that in the purest sense, love involves staying power.  Gwyneth knew as a two-year-old that security is the foundation of love.  It is when people feel safe that they can begin to experience true love.  When we doubt the constancy of our relationships we find ourselves guarded and hesitant, unable to fully allow access to our deepest selves.  When we are confident in someone’s loyalty, we can freely give and receive love.

There is a pattern in our culture that says that love is disposable.  You don’t have to look too far to see a broken marriage or an abandoned child.  This throwaway mindset perpetuates the lie that we should follow our feelings and dismiss those we “loved” on a whim.

I don’t think this is working.  There is so much brokenness because of faithlessness and distrust.  People don’t know how to love through commitment and, as a result, they keep looking for the next relationship to feed an emotional high.  Unfortunately, their misguided sensibilities and their lack of staying power leave many wounded hearts, including their own.

I think Gwyneth felt secure in my love for her at that moment.  As her mother, I always want her to be convinced of my love.  No matter what, I’m staying.  The snuggles are just a perk.

(originally posted in 2009)