When The Effort Outweighs The Error

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It’s 3:00 in the afternoon as we merge onto I5 headed home from a long day at school. My girl had burst into my classroom showcasing a proud smile and a perfect grade on her recent History test. It’s moments like these- seeing her joy over a school assignment- that  give me butterflies. I used to think only cute boys gave girls butterflies. I never imagined babies grown into high-schoolers could make a mom feel so undone. It’s not the perfect score that pleases me in this moment. It’s her perfect joy. She really does care about her work. She is putting in effort, reaping the benefits of her hard work, and she’s proud of it.

She decides the score deserves a stop for ice cream on the way home and I hesitate. I’m not quick to respond because I need to evaluate the situation. What message do I give her if we go for ice cream because she received a perfect grade? If she had tried just as hard and received a low A or even a C would I still take her out for ice cream? Would she even expect ice cream?

Does she understand how valuable her effort is? That red mark doesn’t always reflect the effort, but the effort- doesn’t it always reflect the heart?

As I’m weighing and contemplating something as simple as ice cream, she’s laughing and telling me all about myself. How she knew I wouldn’t go for it- why would I give her ice cream for something she should be doing anyway… or something like that. And I tell her that her reward for her hard work is the perfect grade. And that’s that.

Until I’m stopped in the hallway by my seventh grader, proudly displaying an almost perfect grade on his History report. He’s excited, she’s excited, and I’m throwing my hands in the air, defeated. Let’s go get ice-cream.

It’s early April here in Oregon, still cold according to my standards, but the sun is peeking off and on and we’ve counted less than nine full weeks until summer break. We are antsy for warm weather and this ice cream trip might make it all seem not so far away.

On the way we contemplate flavors and my son is hoping for cotton candy.  I can’t remember him ever not liking cotton candy. He orders gobs of it at the county fair each summer, buys it in little blue bags at the grocery story, and now he spots it among the dozen other frozen flavors.  He asks for two scoops and my girl spots one of her favorites, and mine- birthday cake. How do they do it? And who does it? Can I have that job- taste testing icy treats all day and deciding if they truly taste like a birthday cake? Would you really pay me to do that? As usual, I’m undecided, so I settle for a scoop of birthday cake and a scoop of salted caramel peanut.

Since my daughter hasn’t quite mastered driving and eating at the same time, I drive the rest of the way home and begin the merge onto I5. I’m halfway through my top scoop, the one that somehow tastes exactly like a birthday cake, when it hits me- what am I doing? I can’t remember what I said, but it was something like “oh no!” all dramatic like. The kids are arguing about discussing something, important and spiritual I’m sure, when they’re interrupted by my outcry. I’m not supposed to be eating this! I’m fasting today! All of a sudden my frozen treat, our tasty reward, has become the icy enemy. I’ve failed.

But then something happens and again my children are teaching me lessons. Lifting me out of defeat. Blowing encouragement into my deflated soul.

“It’s not like you did it on purpose, Mom. It’s not like God’s mad at you.”

 

“I know, but I’m mad at myself.”

As I’ve walked through the trials and hunger pangs of fasting and praying, I’ve learned much about myself. Ugly, selfish, frightening truths. And I’ve learned some things about God too.

He’s looking at my heart, which is made known by my effort. And those few successes and numerous failures don’t accurately reflect my heart’s desires. Ice cream is a eat-for-no-reason kind of food, but today it was a celebrate-and-rethink-fasting kind of treat.  It screamed- your abstaining from food isn’t what pleases me, rather your desire to sacrifice.

I’m teaching my children that the red letter doesn’t define them or reflect their hard work. I’m trying to show them their value is not in report cards and teacher comments. And I’m slowly learning along the way as well.

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 

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WRITER {Five Minute Friday}

WRITER

Writer

What is a writer?

Someone who shares pictures and feelings,

Experiences and emotion.

She doesn’t just write words. Empty.

A writer paints without colors and brushes

She orchestrates without instruments or notes.

A writer captures words

She’s moved by sentences and paragraphs

She doesn’t just experience books, she reads book reviews and conversations and cereal boxes

She gets lost in the words of others

And she gets lost in the words she creates

She has a story to tell and sometimes she doesn’t know what that story is

Or who the story is for

Maybe it’s for herself.

Maybe it’s for the world.

Until she sits before that blank page and her fingers hit those solid keys

And she slowly disappears.

She gets lost in her thoughts

And her thoughts are discovered

Somehow they unravel.

Somehow they release themselves, releasing her

Releasing a message she didn’t know was there.

And she can breathe.

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Five Minute Fridays with Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood

Five Minute Fridays with Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood

Linking up with Lisa-Jo and writing with a group of writers on this week’s prompt- WRITER (of course). Will you join us?

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar {Five Minute Friday}

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Here is my Five Minute attempt to empower you. This is my way of saying, “You, woman, You are beautiful, you are strong, you are capable, you are accepted, you are worthy, and you are created with purpose.”

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Can I just say you’re fabulous? Yes, I’m talking to you! I’m talking to the mom, the sister, the daughter, the friend. You, my lady are MIGHTY.

I learned something recently- God created us, women, in His image, yes. But you know what else? He gave us a special name. His name. Helper. I’m not a scholar and I’m still working on learning English, so I won’t attempt to explain literal meanings and translations, but here is what I think I know and I kindof found it profound- God made us mighty and marvelous and passed down His very name to us.

So it’s not the cooking and the cleaning that makes you Mighty Mom. It’s not even being a Mom, bearing a baby, or the bringing forth of life that makes you so Marvelous.

You are Mighty because He is the Almighty.

You see, our God, He counts the hairs on your head. Your head. He numbers your days and gathers your tears. Yours! He created a beautiful woman, because Adam just couldn’t do without, and He called her Helper.

As in “I will send them a Helper” kind of helper. Yes, as in the Holy Spirit kind of helper.

So as women, stepping up to the plate with bats that are far too heavy, we are swinging anyway. And sometimes we hit a homerun and sometimes we barely make it to first base. Sometimes we even strike out. The point is we are trying. We are women in the church and we are stepping up to do our parts.

And I’m not just referring to changing diapers and sweeping floors, or prepping meals and teaching Sunday School. I’m referring to all of those things, and more. I’m referring to women who work long, hard hours and come home to an empty nest. Women who are world changers, lovers of people, and passionate advocates. I’m looking at you, woman, and I’m hoping you can see how Mighty you are simply because you are you, God created you complete, and knit you to His satisfaction.

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And if that’s not empowering enough for you, please go here, and preorder Lisa-Jo’s book- surprised by motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being A Mom. And if you’re impatient like I am, go here and read the first three chapters for free!

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I’m linking up with Mighty Women and writing for Five Minutes on this week’s prompt- MIGHTY. Would you join us?

Five Minute Fridays with Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood

Five Minute Fridays with Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood

Finding Hope in Starfish and a Cramped Sports Car

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Where I live, in Southern Oregon, the nights are cold and the days are not much warmer. Winter seems endless, and Summer- well we long for it all year. And when it finally arrives, all ten weeks of it, we let off fireworks, fill too-small pools, and slow cook hot dogs on underused BBQ grills.

I’m a summer-kind-of-girl and I always joke that I wasn’t made for Oregon, but rather Arizona, or Mexico, or somewhere in the tropics. Surely the Lord needs missionaries in say, the Bahamas? I prefer flip flops, sunglasses, and pony tails. I want to read my Bible and talk to Jesus surrounded by white sand. Even just once?

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This past weekend was the start of our Spring Break. The sun came out and we all smiled. I insisted we go to the beach, and seriously, when it’s just an hour-and-a-half away (yes, we measure distance by time in these parts), you can never touch the sand too much. So we packed up the cooler, loaded the trunk of my ever shrinking mustang, and forced the teenagers into the back seat. Let’s go chase the sun, kids!

It felt urgent- now or never!

The forecast called for rain the next day. No, the forecast screamed rain for the next month! So this was our chance. But there’s this small voice within, the one trying to rationalize and assure a practical decision is made. It reminded me that this weather was just a tease, because April showers bring May flowers you know, and are you sure you want to put all that effort into a short day trip to the beach? When you’ll spend just as much time in the car as you would on the sand, and you know how windy our beaches are. Plus, the gas is expensive and your kids really aren’t into building sand castles or digging for China anymore.

It’s the same voice that questions so many other things, like why I bother planting daffodils or tulip bulbs when they last such a short time. Or why give the car a bath, you know it will rain tomorrow. Why do I bother dusting the wood stove soot blanketed walls, end tables, and electronics when it will all settle again in just a few short hours? Are you going to trouble yourself cleaning the dog slobber from the sliding glass door when he waits not even ten minutes to leave his mark again? And the kitty litter box- don’t even get me started.

Why bother?

My only answer is because the briefest moment of hope is found here. And we need hope. We need to see tulips bright in purple, red, and yellow shouting spring and reminding us of change. Even if next week we are clipping their dead stalks and wondering why it ends so quickly, we need the brief moment of expectation. We need to see crisp clear glass and feel rays of warmth break through, uninterrupted by dog drool and paw prints. Even for just ten short minutes.

Because hope deferred makes the heart grow sick.

And I’m learning to appreciate how fleeting it all is. My infatuation with the sun- would that longing be so intense if the sun weren’t so sparse? I don’t think so.

Bandon Oregon

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In some cases I find that to be true. I have an aunt who lived at the beach and rarely set foot on the sand. When you hear the waves from your kitchen window and smell the ocean in your sleep, what longing is left? In a land where tulips bloom year round and the sun never melts away the bitter cold of winter, is there a need for expectation?

When you’re birthed into the fertile green of Oregon, it takes five long months of dusty Mexican dirt to adjust your eyes and heart- to really see the lushness of your home.

Where would the wonder of Christmas morning be if we opened packages every day?

So we went to the beach. We drove the twisted highway snacking on Cheetos and licorice. We talked through family hopes and dreams,  past decisions, present obstacles, and future what-ifs. We debated over a controversial book my husband and I are reading. We were scrunched in tight and for a day I was grateful for that too-small sports car. I was grateful we were all so close and headed in the same direction, even just for a short day.

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And that day was incredibly fulfilling. How often can we say that? How often do we live and breathe and parent and not end it all with- if only, or I wish I would have… This day left none of that. This day was perfect. I’ve lived over twelve thousand days in my life, and very few of them ended in complete contentment. So I cherish the ones that do.

We heard the crashing waves, were surprised by the cold ocean between our toes, saw what must have been the most grotesque vitamin D lacking starfish worldwide, touched sea anemones, and watched baby fish go to battle over the remaining leg of a crab.

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In it all, we saw hope. And somehow that increased our faith because faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. We saw the substance of life under water. We saw evidence of things grander than books or documentaries can express.

This substance and evidence of things we can’t see by observing the things we can- that restores our hope. And hope, even brief hope makes the heart grow merry.

Joy Without Pretense or Imagined Perfectionism {Five Minute Friday}

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Like you, I wonder about that thing called joy. That little word some describe as an acronym- Jesus, Others, Yourself.

I wonder how to find it and how to share it.

I think it’s in the big house, the clean toilet, the fancy car, the stable bank account.

But I know I’ve seen it and it wasn’t in those places.

I saw it in a dry, dusty land where they swept their dirt and lived in metal structures no larger than my storage shed. I saw it when they flipped hot tortillas and served all they had. I saw it when my children made friends with darker skinned babies that spoke a foreign tongue, but laughed and played and understood one another anyway. I saw it when they shared who they were and what they had without any pretense or imagined perfectionism.

Not only have I seen joy, I’ve also felt it be sucked right out of a room. Right out of me, this temple of His. Like a nail piercing the rubber of a worn out and over traveled tire, and that air just spills out. Its left flat and useless.

Sometimes I feel like that tire. Sometimes I feel deflated and undone.* Sometimes I ask myself what is the point and what am I doing? Where am I going and who am I pleasing?

I shared a verse on social media yesterday, and then I received a private message. The version I chose to share was questionable. I knew it, and I shared it. Deliberate. I share lots of things on social media. And some of those things should be left in my own head, as quiet thoughts hidden and safe. But the problem is- sometimes I share them anyway.

And maybe the problem also is I don’t want to hide. I don’t want to play safe.

I want to write in a way that my ugly makes you more beautiful. And by keeping my thoughts veiled, by sharing only what is safe and accepted, I pull on a false beauty- like a stretched out wet suit, keeping all that ugly inside, and protecting myself from whatever you might spill out.

So I take risks. Too many of them, and still not enough. All wrong. But I’m learning. I’m learning what I can share- what I should share. What it is I have to give that might make you a little more brave and a lot more stunning. Because I want to think that when you peek into my messy efforts, you feel a little less alone in yours.

And when that happens, when you’re lying beside me all punctured and deflated, useless and used, I have the opportunity to blow a little bit of life back into your drained self. And what you probably don’t even realize is that you’re doing the same for me.

I think this is Joy.

Seeing one another all burnt up and worn bald. Held together by one tired thread. Recognizing ourselves in each other’s struggles, and coming together as one. Relating. Resonating. Identifying. Connecting. And Restoring.

Stripping that protection off, and jumping headfirst into the unknown. This letting the inside out and the outside in- Somehow joy is found there.

Paul said to fulfill his joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind, esteeming others better than ourselves. So I’m looking to your interests as I examine my own. And it’s a funny thing to find joy here.

To love you the way that Christ has loved me, this is where joy is found.- He loves me before I’ve put on make-up or brushed away the tangled knots. Before I remember Him in prayer or turn the pages of His perfect Word. When I neglect Him for a whole day, or week, or longer. When I yell at my kids and refuse to submit to my husband. When I misunderstand scripture and offer unsound wisdom. When I share a word on social media from the uninspired version. When I quote that author whose doctrine might not always hold true.

Jesus isn’t so quick to label me a heretic. Rather than pierce me so hard I’m deflated useless, He was pierced for me. Rather than accuse and belittle, He hears the allegations and all too true claims against me. Endless. Day after day. Night after night. (Revelation 12:10) He is my defender. He justifies and covers me because that’s what Love does. Love covers sin.

So I’m here with you. I’m making mistakes. I’m receiving criticism while striving to believe the corrections are motivated by love. I’m failing daily and hoping you’ll be gentle about it. And I’m looking at you, asking if you’ll be unbound, take that shield off, and risk being yourself. Risk letting it out and letting us in. That is where our joy becomes full. Full Joy.

*This is where my five minutes stopped, but I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and I hope you don’t mind me letting it loose, and spilling it out onto you.

Five Minute Fridays with Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood

Five Minute Fridays with Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood

Although I wrote longer than five minutes, I’ve joined Lisa-Jo and written on this week’s prompt- JOY.