Thursday, April 21, 2011

Nail Clippers and the Joys of Failing

I would consider myself a pretty relaxed parent (besides the constant washing of my child's hands, and reading labels on toys to make sure the plastic is BPA free, and still not allowing food, formula, bottles, or pacifiers in her mouth) but there is one thing that sends me into a mild panic attack.

clipping Hope's fingernails.

And because she is growing at the rate of Great Dane puppy, nail clipping is not a once every 10 day excursion.

It's multiple times a week.

So, as I look at her nails getting longer and longer, I have this mental battle within me. "Maybe I should wait...but they're collecting dirt....maybe it's not such a big deal...but she'll scratch herself in the face with them." And finally I give in and get out the nail clippers.

The first time I clipped her nails, I had Matt hold her when I did it. Here's the deal. Babies are small. Thus, they have REALLY small fingernails. It's a really tedious job. It is sort of like that game Operation I used to play as a kid, except instead of getting a red blinking nose when you make the wrong move, you get a screaming baby.

Babies definitely have different cries. There's the "I'm frustrated" cry, and then there's "I'm tired" cry. But then there is the, "I am in pain" cry. And that cry is by far, THE most pitiful cry in the entire world. It makes you want to curl up in fetal position and just give up.

So, you can guess what happened the first time I clipped baby Hope's nails. I got through 9 of them safely. The last nail, the left thumb. She was sleeping like a baby (obviously) and I thought I had it, but it took me about 1.35 milliseconds to realize that something had gone TERRIBLY wrong.

Her eyes shot open and she let out this pitiful cry of agony. I hurt my own child. So now, of course, this sends me into hysterics. So here is poor Matt, trying to console not only Hope, but me as well. It was a mess.

Eventually after Matt telling me about 20 times that I was not the worst mother in the world and that Hope in fact did not hold an everlasting grudge against me, I was able to continue with life.

All too soon, nail clipping came again...and again...

Okay, at 16 weeks, it's a bit easier. I clip her nails when she is on the toilet (yes, my 4 month old uses the toilet; she's been doing it from around 6 weeks), and when I feel like I can only get a good angle on 4 of the 10 fingers, I just let it be. My obsessive compulsive self just has to take a backseat and let go of the fact that my child has 6 super long nails and 4 short nails.

And as with EVERY STINKIN THING in the world of parenting, there is a lesson learned. For me, the lesson is that I am not a perfect parent. Sometimes we mess up when we're clipping fingernails. Sometimes, when we're putting children into car seats, we accidentally bump their heads on the car door frame (yes this has happened too, and yes my child cried, and yes the car guard looked at me like I was the most irresponsible parent in the entire universe).

But it's not going to end there.

When she's 3 or 4 it will be a careless word towards her.

When she is 5, it will be a frustrated look towards her when all she really needs is patience.

When she's a teenager, it will be suspicion when what she needs is confidence and belief.

Being a Christian is so much more real to me now than it ever was before Hope was born. Before she was born, I perceived that I didn't really need God because 9 times out of 10, I created a pretty good life for myself. Sure, I had a relationship with Him. I liked Him. I had no qualms with Him. I believed He was real (it just made sense). And I needed Him in theory.

But I didn't really need Him.

In these early stages of the journey of parenthood, it's more than obvious that I'm not going to be receiving the perfect parent award. And so daily, I have to throw myself at the feet of God and beg Him for mercy and beg Him to work through me. I am utterly dependent on Him to raise my daughter.

I am SO thankful that I don't have this parenting thing down. And I pray that I never deceive myself into thinking that I do. I hope every child I have is so unique and different to the previous ones, so that I can never rely on my own understanding in the world of parenting.

Because in my true neediness for Christ, I've seen Him show up in ways I've never experienced before.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Help! I go to a mediocre church!

Well, I don't really go to a mediocre church. I actually really enjoy my church [I'm not paid to say that], and I really do enjoy waking up and seeing what Southpoint Church has on the cards each morning.

But let's be honest, it's REALLY easy to slip into the mentality that your ministry or your church of your small group or your bible study or WHATEVER just isn't doing it for you.

And then maybe you voice this to your spouse, or your roomie, or whoever will listen to your commentary on how the music was a bit pitchy today or so-and-so is actually just such a know-it-all and you just wish that they weren't in your group anymore or the pastor sort of did a prooftext today and technically that verse was out of context and blah blah blah.

And then it just sort of just becomes this wildfire of complaining and everyone thinks that by complaining the world will be a better place.

I was talking to some friends the other day, and we decided that there definitely IS a place for constructive criticism (I'm not advocating walking around with rose colored glasses when your church is about to implode on itself), but in my case, I tend to criticize for the sake of...well...criticizing.

It's sort of like when you get a tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (Phish Food flavor for me) and in certain contexts it would be good to have like a couple of spoonfuls, but you actually just end up sitting there, scooping it into your mouth, bite after bite, until the pint is empty. Then you want to vomit everywhere and you realize, that wasn't a really gratifying decision, but it seemed fun at the time. That's sort of how criticism goes in my life.

I read this quote the other day by A.W. Tozer in the classic "The Pursuit of God" (which everyone in the whole world should read) and it sort of sums up in my mind what makes a great church. And the thing that I realized was that great churches and great small groups and great ministries don't start with the program; they start with the people.

Tozer says the following:
"Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the "us" of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish "I". Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become "unity" conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole Church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and higher life."

Wow. It's simple. It's obvious. And yet, it's SO difficult for me to internalize.

So when I wonder, why is [insert Christian event here] so mediocre? I'm going to ask myself first and foremost, "Is it because my relationship with Christ is just...mediocre?"

Second (and secondmost?) I'm going to start to pray for the PEOPLE instead of the program. Imagine if you had a small group of people who were all tuned to God in their private lives...what would that group look like? Or on a bigger scale, what would a church or a ministry look like if everyone was tuned in to God on a regular basis?

I don't actually know what it would look like, but I think it would be a pretty spectacular sight.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I'm So Sorry

Dear Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and people I don't even know:

I owe you an apology. It's long overdue.

I'm sorry for the way I've talked about you. Chances are, if you are in my close circle of friends or family, I've cast judgement on some decision you've made in the past couple of weeks, and I've probably shared that commentary with my husband in some other circle of friends of which you are not a part. That way, it won't get back to you.

You may have frustrated me recently, but you wouldn't have known it. I would have just smiled and then mouthed off about you either to God, to myself, or to some other friend who won't tell you. Rather than going to you and sharing how I feel, I'd rather just keep the frustration inside because I'm too cowardly to talk to you and be transparent. Rather than believing the best about you when do something upsetting, I am suspicious of your character. Maybe I've shown you that I'm slightly upset by being passive-aggressive, but I probably would deny that there was a problem even if you asked.

If you are a friend from the past or an acquaintance, I pass judgement on you, too. I look at your pictures on Facebook or hear stories through the grapevine and offer a commentary to my close friends about how stupid you are or how I would have done things differently, using your failures to elevate myself and prove to others that I'm better than you.

I've probably told your secret to someone, even if it was just my husband or my mom. Even though my better judgement tells me to keep my mouth shut, I ignore it more often than not. If I haven't told your secrets, it's not because I am a faithful friend, it's probably just because over time, I forgot what you told me in the first place.

To those of you I don't know, I read the news and I pass judgement on you and I talk about your incompetence. I look at the beggar on the street and first assume that he probably deserved to be where he was. I maybe even use my theology to justify what I'm saying and feeling. Maybe there's truth to what I'm saying about you, and maybe there would even be value to speaking that truth in certain contexts, but I mostly speak these "truths" with the hope that people will think I'm articulate, smart, or witty. I use your demise for my own gain.

Of course, I usually pass all of this off as venting or sharing prayer requests or philosophizing. That's how I live with myself every day. I've created a carefully woven paradigm that allows for me to perpetuate the way I speak about you and feel minimal conviction that how I speak is even wrong in the first place.

I just want you to know that I'm sorry. Not only am I sorry, but I am ready to strip my mind and heart of this way of living and thinking and speaking.

I wish I could say that I am turning a new leaf and that is that, but the truth is, I will revert back to my old paradigm. I will talk about you again behind your back. I will cast judgement on your decisions. I will use your own mistakes and failures to elevate myself even if it means dragging your name through the mud. I'm pretty clever and have learned by now how to make sure that none of what I say gets back to you, and I'm too much of a coward to admit to you when I do mess up.

But I am trying.

So when we're sitting together over a latte or talking over Skype or chatting after church in a big group of friends, and when I begin to revert to this way of speaking, just gently nudge me and remind me of what it is that I'm REALLY doing. I'm not just sharing the latest news; I'm not just sharing genuine heartfelt concern for others; I'm not just venting; I'm casting the first stone; I'm removing the piece of sawdust from the eyes of my friends before I remove the plank from my own eye.

And it may be hard for you to remind me. It may feel awkward. You may be younger than me and it may feel strange to bring this to my attention. God forbid, you may be interested in hearing this nugget of information that I'm about to share with you and ready to proverbially stone the person with me. But think about the wellbeing of the people that I'm about to slay with my words, and remind me of my potential sin for their sake. Because tomorrow you may be the person that I target with harsh words, and you'd want want the person listening to me to stop me before I even begin.

Thanks for listening.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3: 7-12

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Theology and Childbirth?

I once heard a rumor that Katie Holmes wasn't allowed to scream during childbirth because it was against her and Tom Cruise's religion...

I don't know if that is true, but if it is true, and if I were Katie Holmes, I'd be in big big trouble.  

Apparently there is such thing as a painless childbirth.  Mine wasn't one of those.  I experienced a lot of pain, both during and after the birth itself.  Now, granted, a lot of that pain was what I'd label "manageable".  Some people look at me in disbelief at the fact that I was in labor for 16 hours sans medication.  I can't really toot my own horn over that fact.  The first 14 hours were very much manageable and simply could be controlled with a mind over matter mentality (it reminded me a lot of my years as a dancer.  There were plenty of times where I didn't get that lambs wool in my pointe shoe just right and suffered the consequences of my toes scraping against the side of my shoe as I balanced my 120 lbs on top of it.  Alas, the show must go on, despite bloody, blistery toes...that's mind over matter for you.).  

But...those last two hours were unprecedented pain in my book.  Mind over matter went out the window at that point and it just became survival mode.  I mean, I seriously thought it would never end.  I felt like I was at the end of my rope and that I just couldn't go on.  

When all was said and done and Hope was here with us on the outside, my thoughts immediately gravitated towards the spiritual aspect of childbirth.  The Bible talks about childbirth and uses it to paint a picture for its readers.  Now, don't ask me how Paul was fully acquainted with the pains of birthing children when he wrote this, but now that I've experienced it first hand, the following verses take on a fresh perspective for me.  

...that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies...

There's very few times where life is painless.  There always seems to be something, doesn't there?  You can call it life, you can call it bad karma, or anything else you'd like.  I call it sin.  We live in a broken world run by broken people.  We can literally feel in our bones (more often than not) that something just isn't right.  And like childbirth, we try to numb the pain (but talk to any mother who has had a medicated birth, and she won't tell you that it was painless, either).  No matter how hard we try, we can't get away from the pain.  We'll never be able to numb it enough, ignore it enough, or tell ourselves enough that it's just mind over matter.  At some point in our lives, we'll sit where I sat in those last 2 hours, wondering if the pain will ever end.  

I think that's why this picture in the Bible is so encouraging now being on the other side of birth.  Because I know...the pain does end.  And when it ends, nothing else matters.  

You see, the beauty of childbirth, which can't often be said for other painful experiences in life, is that the reward after the pain is instantaneous.  I sit in pain for 2 hours, wondering if I will survive, and then a miracle is placed on my chest.  I forget the pain and it's all a dream.  My life that was completely entrenched in this pain is but a vapor, and my new life with this beautiful gift is here.  

I imagine that is what it will be like when we meet Jesus.  The pain in our lives, in our bodies, and in our souls will be like a dream.  It won't matter anymore.  The pain that so often defines our lives, the pain that we spend so much time trying to drown or numb or ignore will mean nothing anymore.  

So...what have I learned from all of this? 

I don't want to spend my life trying to numb the pain life will inevitably bring.  I don't want to try and drown it out with money or entertainment or stature.  It's not worth it because I know that while it's not as immediate as the gift of a child, there is a great miracle waiting on the other side of this life.  

Rather, what I want to do with my life is embrace the fact that there is pain and trust that God has given me the grace to endure it.  

My pain is gone and my reward is here...Hope.  But maybe if you're reading this, the pain of life is still here and there's no light at the end of the tunnel.  If you're of the persuasion that there's anything to who Jesus said he was, then I hope you remember that there is a miracle waiting for you, and it very well may not come in this lifetime, but when it does come, all that pain will be but a distant memory.