Friday, March 28, 2014

For Celine Jenae

My little girl is 16 today.  I'm aware of how old this makes me sound but, my how time has flown!  Not very long ago she was this pig-tailed cutie:

Photo Credit: Kleopatra Giannake

I barely blinked and she has become this lovely, kind and wonderful young lady:

She truly has been a delight to Scotty and I.

I wrote this story for her several years agoHer middle name, Jenae, means God has been gracious.  I love that!  


For Celine Jenae

Celine Jenae was a sweet little girl with pale skin, a lovely smile, and freckles sprinkled on her nose and cheeks.  She was the kind of girl people liked to be around because she had a kind and gentle spirit.  Her mother and father loved her very much.  They called her “Buggie”, because they thought she was ‘as cute as a bug’.

When Celine was an infant her mother would stroke her soft cheek and sing to her about how special God made her and how much He loved her.  She told her precious baby girl that He was always with her, for God is gracious.  As momma and baby rocked, Celine Jenae would close her eyes and sleep peacefully all through the night.

Before long that precious baby learned to walk.  Her father would hold out his arms and gently say, “You can do it”, as the toddler clumsily wobbled towards him.  When she became tired she would reach up and say, “Hold you”.  Her father picked her up in his strong arms and brushed her soft brown hair out of her face as she placed her little head on his shoulder.  She often patted his back as she lay there.  Daddy’s little girl felt safe when he was near.

Soon daddy’s little girl grew into a precocious preschooler.  She loved to play dress-up and she especially loved going to ballet class.  Her parents thought she was the best ballerina ever!  She sang and twirled in her fluffy pink tutu throughout the house.  She felt like a princess.

Little miss ballerina felt grown up when it came time to go to school!  She worked very hard to color inside the lines and she clutched her fat pencil tightly with her tiny fingers as she carefully spelled her name.  She was so proud when she learned to read!  Her parents told her that she was very smart.  She believed it when her mother and father told her she was beautiful – even when she lost her front teeth!  She smiled that lovely smile and skipped off to play, ponytail bouncing from side to side. 

As their little girl grew older she learned that not everyone thought she was a beautiful princess.  Sometimes other kids would say mean things that hurt her feelings.  She began to wonder, did God really make me special?  But then her mother would hug her tightly and remind her that God loved her and was always with her, for He is gracious.  That night, a content little girl curled up in her bed with hands tucked beneath her head and slept peacefully.

Much too quickly that sweet little girl became a moody teenager with cute hair, stylish clothing and an attitude.  Often she didn’t feel smart or beautiful and would roll her eyes when her parents told her so.  She didn’t always make the right choices.  This caused her parents to worry.  Her mother prayed for her, asking God to remind her little girl how much He loved her and how special she was.  The Lord reminded her mother that Celine would be okay, for God is gracious.

As she became a young woman, Celine Jenae had to make a lot of choices.  What should she study in college?  What kind of job would she have?  Whom would she marry?  What did she believe about God?  She had to choose to believe that she was smart and beautiful for the movies and magazines told her otherwise.  Sometimes she wished to be that little girl rocking in her mother’s lap again.  She wished her dad would once more scoop her up in his strong arms when she was tired and frustrated.
Suddenly she remembered what her mother had taught her about God.  She began to talk to Him and He talked back.  He told her that she was His child and that He loved her more than she knew.  When she felt frustrated, He reached out His hands and gently said, “You can do it”.  When she was tired, He carried her and she knew she was safe.  God’s princess smiled her lovely smile and slept peacefully all through the night.

When the young woman with the kind and gentle spirit became a mother, she had a beautiful little girl with pale skin, a lovely smile, and freckles sprinkled on her nose and cheeks.  The mother rocked her little girl and sang to her about how special God made her and how much He loved her as she stroked the baby’s soft cheek.  She would tell her daughter that He is always with her, for Celine Jenae knew that God is gracious.

Happy 16th birthday, Celine Jenae!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In which I talk about Burpees, oozing skin rashes and hating my friends...

Scotty and I are working on Part 4 of "A Love Story".  Stay tuned!

My friend does Burpees just for fun.  She's teeny tiny, but when she lifts weights, there are a lot of round things on the bar.  She loves a good challenge.

I'm not like her.  I avoid Burpees.  I'm only gonna do them if I have to.  It's an accomplishment that I pull myself out of bed and show up to work out at all. And who needs another challenge in her life?  Not me. 

While she is knocking out the pull ups, I am struggling to reach the stupid bar.  But I just smile because I'm so happy for her.  I tell myself that I am so blessed to be inspired by her freakish dedication to Burpees.  She clearly outshines me in this area and I am encouraged to continue because she is so awesome!  No feelings of inadequacy here.

I have another friend (shocking, I know!) whose home is immaculate.  It's like walking into a hotel.  And she always looks nice.  Cute hair.  Cute shoes.  Cute purse.  Therefore her life must be perfect.  I hate her.

There's that one writer and that one runner and the witty one who makes everyone laugh - on purpose.  Are you noticing a trend yet?  There's the girl who is seeing her prayers answered left and right, which must mean I am not following the right formula.  The smart one is getting her Masters degree; the "spurt-tual" one knows the Greek meaning of every Bible verse and that momma friend finds a life lesson to teach her children in getting a hair cut.  A hair cut guys!

I have awesome friends who clearly only keep me around because they feel sorry for me on account of my glaring lack of adequacy. They are all that and therefore I am messy, lazy, frumpy, and weak.   So I quit.  I'm just not going to pray or write or run anymore. I just can't.  I can't be like them and so I am useless and I'd just rather not.  Because I hate feeling inadequate and making people laugh at me - not on purpose.

Comparison is like an, itchy, red, oozing skin rash.  It oozes into other areas of my life; my family, my job, our income, my church, blah, blah, blah.  Gross, huh.  I know.  It is an uncomfortable, ugly, repulsive disease and it's contagious.  Before I know it I'm wondering why my husband doesn't write me songs or cook gourmet meals.  He has never shown up on the door step (That's your cue, Etta) ...

...At laaast...

...looking hot in an expensive suit, feet crossed, slightly leaning against the wall with a rose in one hand, a tiny box with something shiny and expensive in his pocket, sly smile on his face, waiting to whisk me away for a walk in the rain where he will declare his love for me.  And have you seen those marriage proposal videos on YouTube??  O. Em. Gee! 

Record skreeches...

Who's to say that I see the whole story?  Since when did I receive the right to insert myself into someone else's story?  And if I do so, who's going to write mine?   I will never be like you and you can't be like me.  Disappointing, I know.  My crazy Burpee friend?  She doesn't enjoy running.  How is she even my friend?  We all know running is the superior form of exercise.  And my friend with the beautiful home?  She's in a different season than I am.  Her children are grown.  There are a million different reasons and ways that I will never be like you, no matter how much I would like to be.  We all have different experiences and perspectives and schedules and habits and situations.  It is absurd to try to fit all of that stuff into a mold that will make us be like somebody else.  What an exhausting an unnecessary way to live life!

Of course knowing all of this does not mean that I will never ever ever compare myself to someone again and maybe I will have to read what I've written here again, to remind myself. 

So here's to letting others inspire you, without comparing who and where you are with who and where they are.

And I was just kidding.  I don't hate my friend with the perfect life.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Love Story Part 3: And Then There Is God

Click here for part 1 and here for part 2.
Disappointment, regret and resentment were tearing our marriage apart.  And then, there is God...
I was 30 years old and my marriage seemed to be crumbling.  I didn't like my husband and my three closest friends had moved out of the area, all within a year of each other.  I was at a loss for direction of who I was and where I belonged.  I didn't like going to church alone so I started attending my parent's church with them.  I was desperate for a friend to confide in and I began to pray for one to help me navigate my way through the dark.

It was the Fourth of July weekend.  Out of the blue Scotty suggested we go to church.  To this day I don't know what prompted him to go.  ... Or maybe I do.  I called my mom and told her we were going to "our church" that day.  We were running late and since we hadn't been there for a while, we didn't know that the regular two-service schedule had been changed to just one service for the holiday weekend.  The thing about being late to church is that all of the seats in the back get taken up and you have to sit up front.  That was exactly the case this day.  To Scotty's dismay, the usher walked us up to the second pew and I was seated next to her - the friend I had been praying for.  I just didn't know it yet. We had met before.  She was in the same Sunday School class I used to attend.  I I liked her right away.  She was completely opposite of me - loud and fun. She laughed often - a loud, contagious kind of laugh.

I don't remember much about the service.  I sat there the whole time trying to muster up the courage to ask this lady I had spoken to just a few times, if I could call her sometime.  When the service ended she hugged me and asked how I had been.  "Fine." I lied.  Saying, "I'm a mess and I don't like my husband and all my friends moved away - will you be my new friend?" didn't seem to be appropriate, so I sheepishly asked her if perhaps we could exchange phone numbers.  That was the last time Scotty went to a church service with us.

The following week she and I met at a coffee and bagel shop.  We made small talk and then she leaned over and asked me,  "So, what's going on?"  She graciously listened as I poured my mess out on the table.  I would have scared me off, but she grabbed my hands and prayed with me and then with tears in her eyes she told me that she knew God had good things planned for me.  I wanted to believe her.  She asked me if I would be interested in doing a Bible study with her once a week.  I couldn't believe that she would be willing to invest her time in me that way! Of course I agreed!

Those Thursday afternoons were like water to my thirsty heart.  We met every week for several months.  We were studying the names of God.  We talked and prayed.  She did a lot of listening.  She was the most blunt and honest person I had ever met and she was not afraid to tell me the difficult things I needed to hear.  I was learning about God in a way I never had before - or maybe it had just never sunk in before.  I learned that God was not disappointed in me.  There was nothing I had to do to prove that I was worthy of His favor.  I did not have to earn His approval.  I finally started to believe what I had always heard - that God loved me more than I knew and had only good things to say about me.

While I was rediscovering who I was in God's eyes, there continued to be a chasm between me and Scotty.  I felt like I had to behave perfectly so that he would see God in me and come back to Him.  I worried constantly about my children and how they would view God as they grew up.  I could not accept my husband as an agnostic.  I felt like I was working so hard to be a good wife and to lead my children spiritually and I was. Just. So. Tired.  I resented Scotty for leaving the spiritual leadership of our family up to me. I shut him out - all I needed was my church family and friends anyway.  I was discovering the things I loved, like running and writing.  I ran a 1/2 marathon, went on a missions trip to Jamaica and spent as much time as possible away from home.  I wanted to be anywhere but home.
A person can only live under the cloud of discontent and anger for so long.  Something, somehow, had to give.  Scotty and I discussed the possibility of splitting up.  I couldn't imagine living in a constant state of resentment and regret for the rest of our lives.  I didn't want to grow into an angry and bitter woman.  I developed a five-year plan.  I would give myself permission to leave if something hadn't changed in five years, when our daughter graduated from high school.  I went back to school, taking one class per semester, hoping that in five years it would be enough.  I imagined different scenarios of how I would support myself if we divorced.  I almost wished Scotty would leave me so I wouldn't have to be the one to make the decision.

I've had just a few "God moments" in my life.  I'm not talking about the type of feeling you get like at a conference with a dynamic speaker, where hundreds of people are worshiping together.  Those experiences have been wonderful, but I can't say any of them were life changing.  I'm talking about a moment when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was reaching out to touch me.  It was a simple moment in my friend's living room.  I met God in a new way that day.  We were studying God as El Elyon, the Most High God; the Sovereign God who is in control.  Suddenly I knew - not just in my head - but I really knew - that the burden and the stress and worry I was carrying for Scotty and my children were not mine to carry.  God is a big, Sovereign, capable God and he had them in His hands.  It was like this quote from Helen Keller's autobiography describing the day she first understood that everything had a name:
 “... Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–-a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!  (Emphasis mine) There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”- Helen Keller
I wept as I was flooded with relief and I finally understood what it meant to lay my burdens at His feet.  I didn't have to work so hard.  I could stop worrying and striving.  God had this.  That moment became a reference point for me.

Slowly, the resentment started to fall away.  I wish I could say it happened over night, but it did not.  Instead of praying that God would change Scotty, I started to pray that God would change my mind about him.  I began to see how ugly I had been and I didn't like the person I had become.  I had shut Scotty out and treated him as if he didn't deserve me and the kids.  I began to realize that Scotty is still loveable.  And why did I feel such dislike toward him when I had friends who were not believers whom I loved dearly?  Why was I able to accept them and not him?

It was a daily process - some days better than others.  We went back to marriage counseling.  He joined me in a Financial Peace University class and we started working on our finances together.  He played his video games less and less.  Before I knew it, I started liking him again.  We began running together on Saturday mornings - a true miracle!  Those weekend runs and coffee on the patio afterwards became our "thing".  Somewhere along the way, each of us decided that we were going to work on our marriage.  He gave some.  I gave some.  It was a day by day - no, moment by moment decision to not be easily offended or to be kind rather than snarky.  I had become good at snarky.

I am grateful that our children did not see or understand what was going on between us during those bitter years.  Divorce is not part of their story.  I am thankful that Scotty stuck it through with me in my selfishness.  He is a good man, he is loveable, and I am blessed.  It all has been worth it.
You will hear from Scotty next week - you don't want to miss it!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Love Story Part 2: When He Doesn't Believe

I am so grateful for Scotty and the life we share.  I am amazed by God's grace and how He has brought us through some very dark times.  This is the second of four (or so) parts.  You can read the first part here
When I was a little girl I believed that I could do whatever I wanted when I grew up.  I always thought I would become a school teacher.  In sixth grade my best friend and I couldn't wait for the day when we would be college roommates.  By the time I reached high school, however, college did not seem to be an option for me.  I felt my calling was to be a pastor's wife.  I wanted to do something significant for God, and helping my future husband bring people to Him was going to be it.  It seemed that everything was falling into place when Scotty and I fell in love and got married. We believed that we were going to make a difference together.

In 2000 we made the heart-breaking decision to leave our church.  This is the church I was raised in; the church where we were married.  It was all I knew.  We were leaving people we loved and cared for.  We lost many friendships in the process.

Having no church home and few friends drew us closer as a couple.  Each other was all we had.  Scotty began going to Bible college.  We had long discussions about where we were headed as a family and about God and about church.  We were hurting and desperate for friendship, but it was one of the best seasons in terms of our marriage.  By now we had been married for seven years and had said and done things to hurt one another - deeply.  For now, those things faded into the background as we tried to regain our footing and move forward. 

We began attending another church, and although we were gun-shy about becoming overly involved, we felt like we had found a place to regroup and heal.  We were deeply affected and somewhat disillusioned after leaving our previous church, but we did our best to press onward.  Scotty finished school with a double major in religion and electronics.  We began  marriage counseling to address some of the un-dealt with issues and hurts we had caused one another.  I thought we were on our way to recovery and that we would be on our way back into ministry.  And then ...

Scotty told me he was agnostic.  He was not sure if he believed in God and was not interested in church.  I was shocked.  It's not like he became agnostic over night.  I just thought he was still dealing with issues over the whole leaving-the-church situation and that he would pull through.  I had been nagging him about why he wasn't praying more or why he wanted to skip church sometimes.  He wasn't leading at home enough or he wasn't studying enough.  He wasn't measuring up to my expectations.  Ugh.  I was like the proverbial annoying constant drip.  Instead of hiding in the corner of a rooftop,  he hid in a world of video games.  He would start as soon as he got home from work and play until one or two in the morning.  We drifted further and further apart.  Soon, I had little to no respect for him.

Everything I thought I was sure of had been pulled out from under me.  I worried about how we would raise our children.  Would they grow up confused because of our differing beliefs?  I was afraid Scotty would go crazy and run off on me.  Amazing how far our imaginations will go when we are afraid.  I felt gypped.  This was not the life I had signed up for. Maybe he wasn't the one I was supposed to marry after all.  The hurts from years before rose to the surface like scabs picked raw.  I was an emotional wreck.  I felt like I was going crazy.  One moment I would want him to hold me, and literally the next moment - as soon as he touched me - I wanted him as far from me as possible.  I couldn't even look at him.

I was in a full-on identity crisis and I blamed Scotty.  For the first time, I mourned my teen years and that I would never experience prom or high school graduation or living on my own.  I was angry at the church and the pastor who married us.  I was angry at my dad for allowing it.  I was mad at Scotty for stealing my childhood.  Who was I really?  What did I enjoy doing?  What did I really believe about God?  What could I have become?  What kind of man would I choose to marry if I could choose as an adult?  HOW DO I GET OUT OF THIS?  Sadness and anger were constant companions.  I went to sleep thinking about how I was cheated and woke up, head pounding, jaw aching from clenching my teeth in my sleep. 

I continued to attend church with a lump in my throat every time.  I dreaded getting the kids ready and going out the door alone.  It was lonely sitting by myself while the couples around me held hands as they worshiped. 

At that point my relationship with God could have been posted as 'it's complicated' on Facebook.  Two things kept me from walking away from God, my marriage and my life:  Taylor and Celine.  In the midst of all of my questioning and confusion I wanted them to have stability.  And leaving was the very opposite of that.  So I just went through the motions.  Church.  Grace before meals.  Bedtime prayers.  But I was so lost.  I just wanted to be me - whoever that was - and real - whatever that was.  I was desperately trying to claw my way out of the pit I had fallen in to.