Perspective

Twenty years today!

Today Andrew and I are celebrating our twentieth anniversary. Our plan: taking our youngest and her friend to see the live-action version of the movie Aladdin. While that doesn’t sound too romantic, it is a bit sweet since watching the cartoon version was one of our first real dates twenty-six years ago. Not only have I been married a really long time now, I’ve recently begun to realize that at forty-seven years old, I am smack dab in the middle of mid-life. If I live as long as my grandparents, I’ve got anywhere from thirty-two to fifty-four more years left. I am at the unique point of having enough time behind me to have a little perspective but enough time ahead to implement some of that perspective and see how it plays out.

The Past Perspective

I grew up in a conservative Christian church. I went to a Christian college. When I graduated, I moved to Ukraine to be a missionary/teacher. As I got to know Ukrainians, I began to hear their perspectives on things like how American politics affected their country. I learned that many people there did not like Ronald Reagan, who was a hero in the part of the US I came from and in my own family. I had hardly met anyone who did not like Reagan at that point in my life, but when I moved to Ukraine, I learned that many of people there blamed his policies for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the political chaos and extreme inflation that hit Ukraine as a result. I learned that the public sentiment toward Mikhael Gorbachev was also negative for the same reason, although people here in the US had favorable attitudes toward him.

Living in a different culture did not just lead me to question what I believed about my country, though. I attended church every week in aUkrainian church similar to my own in America, but as time went by, I noticed some differences. They took communion from one cup, which they passed from one person to the next. I often tried to sit near the front during a service when communion was served in an effort to get the cup when it was still fresh! Not only that, but they used wine in that cup, so I had my first taste of alcohol in church. This differed greatly from my church at home, which taught abstinence from alcohol so thoroughly that they used grape juice in communion. Many of the Ukrainian churches we worked with believed that women should cover their heads in worship, taking that cue from I Corinthians 11. (Look it up and ask yourself why we don’t practice this.)

Luba, my Ukrainian roommate and me. This photo was taken in 2011, so, no, I did not have that much gray hair in my 20’s…although I had quite a bit. And, of course, Luba never changes.

Change of Perspective

Experiences like these pushed me to question things I had always blindly accepted, both politically and spiritually. If these beautiful Christian people I loved believed it was acceptable to drink wine in church and expected women to cover their heads in worship, were they right? What exactly did the Bible teach about these things? More importantly, what was necessary for me to hold fast, and which of my beliefs could I loosen up on? What was cultural and what was essential? My beliefs had not been tested much until that point since I had surrounded myself with people who thought a lot like I did.

When I returned to the US, the same process happened in reverse. Suddenly, I was bombarded by teachings and opinions that seemed mired in American culture. I saw my own people slavishly following cultural norms instead of true Christian principles. To this day, I continue to hear vitriol disguised as piety, and I live perpetually amazed at how this can happen in Christian circles. I see politics mixed so intricately with faith that it becomes almost impossible to tell them apart. I hear independence and freedom preached to the extent that we forget the value of community and interdependence.

Essential Perspective

I have spent much of my adult life trying to discern what is cultural and what is Christian, whether in my own country or another. I have struggled to apply what I do think is essential. Most of all, I have struggled a great deal to love people who do not question their beliefs, people who do not see that their culturally-defined religion often is used to bludgeon those who differ.

What is essential? The very core of my answer I take from the mouth of Jesus himself, when an expert in the Jewish law asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).

I fear even typing this because I know there are some who will chalk me up as one of those mamby-pamby Christians who preaches all love and no truth. However, love is not mamby-pamby. It’s not weak. Love is not a cop-out. Love is fierce. Ask a mother who spends every day, all day sitting at the bedside of a chronically ill baby. Ask a dad whose girl is late for her curfew. Ask a husband whose wife struggles with debilitating depression or a wife whose husband dies unexpectedly. Love is strong; it fights; it holds on forever. Most importantly, it wants the very best for its beloved. That’s the love we need to have for Jesus and for others. That love drives the gospel. That love empowered Jesus to sacrifice everything, and that love can push us to examine our dearly held beliefs.

So on our twentieth anniversary, Andrew and I will take our thirteen-year-old “baby” to a movie and sit in comfy theater seats eating too-buttery popcorn. We will remember two much younger versions of ourselves who had much less defined perspectives on life and faith and the world and realize how we’ve grown since then and how far we still have to go. Maybe we will remember to let other people mature as well, to let them experience the love of God, the space to grow, the freedom to question, and the power that comes from the knowledge that they are loved.

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Mother’s Day

Seven years ago, these three were pretty cute on Easter morning.

A few weeks ago, a local organization, Papillion Parent, asked me to write an essay to read at a fundraiser they were hosting. The instructions simply said, ” to write [a] hilarious or heartfelt 3-5 min essay about motherhood and read it out loud at the event.” Last Sunday night was the night. Since Andrew and the kids went to Hannah’s final band concert/awards ceremony, I asked a couple of friends to go with me. We enjoyed an evening outside at a local hangout listening to moms writing about their different perspectives on parenting. I loved spending time with them and meeting other writers and moms from the area.

In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s the essay I wrote:

A Normal Mess

Before the birth of my first child, I showed a coworker an ultrasound picture and told her I’d decided to quit my job to stay home with the baby. She asked if I’d be doing any freelance work. I answered that I’d need to see how I felt about freelancing when things went back to normal. She laughed and said, “Honey, things are never going back to normal.”

Fifteen years and three kids later, I’m not even sure what “normal” is!

What did I expect motherhood to be? I’m pretty sure that whatever I may have thought it was going to be, it hasn’t really been that. When my husband kissed me goodbye and drove away the first day he went back to work after our daughter’s birth, I sat in a silent house holding a tiny stranger and listened to the sound of nothing. I felt overwhelmed. Somehow I adjusted, but it wasn’t without a struggle.

My daughter was born on New Year’s Eve, and I spent that entire first winter in the house, seeing few people, and crying at 6:30 am because I hadn’t slept and knew I had 12 more hours to care for her before I could put her to bed again. I stood in the living room, holding her and peering out the picture window in hopes of seeing the mailman’s footprints in the snow because that would mean I could check the mail. Maybe there’d be news from the outside world for me!  A hunting magazine or Field and Stream or ANYTHING would do! Or maybe even I’d get to talk to the actual mailman. Imagine that!

My second child, a boy, really didn’t talk until he was about two years old. I worried constantly that I wasn’t giving him enough opportunities to talk or wasn’t talking to him enough to teach him properly. Of course, when he started talking, he spoke in complete sentences. The first words I remember hearing from him were “I want to pinch your neck”. Guess we know what he was thinking all those months. Maybe he wanted to perfect his language skills in his head before trying them out!

After the birth of my third baby, I was so tired that I fell asleep sitting up in bed while holding her. I woke to the sound of her crying and the sight of her lying on the hardwood floor next to my bed. I had dropped my sweet newborn!  After a trip to Children’s Hospital, wandering around in the dark forever trying to find it while she slept, I felt reassured that she was fine, but I’ve never truly been the same since.

My understanding of “normal” has changed many times over the last decade and a half. I hear people tell moms to cherish those baby and toddler days and hold onto every moment, but I’m going to tell you that I have mostly been relieved when one stage passed and we could speed on to the next.  Now that they’re older, though, I love seeing my kids become interesting, funny and articulate people. I look forward to seeing them as adults. I can hardly keep up with their almost-adult schedules, but I love watching them live them.

This year they were still sweet on Easter morning!

As a mom of teenagers who is just about in the final stages of parenting children, I will say that these years are without a doubt my favorite so far. I can look at my son when I hear something funny and know he heard it, too, and we can laugh together at things that really are humorous. Not some I’m-laughing-because-I-don’t-want-him-to-know-his-knock-knock-joke-wasn’t-really-funny kind of funny, but a truly hilarious kind of humor. I can listen to my oldest daughter talk about her boyfriend and say “Oh yeah! Can you believe guys do that?” and really relate. And I can watch my youngest girl primp in front of a mirror and offer some outdated and unsolicited fashion advice. These are humans! And they’re interesting and fun, and finally I can start to see that putting them in time out twenty times one afternoon when they were three was worth the effort.

When they were very little, I worried all the time that something I was doing would ruin them forever. I wondered if I’d measure up as a mom, if my parenting would somehow scar them for life.

I have a confession about how much I needed reassurance when my kids were babies. I haven’t told anyone this. I don’t even think my husband knows it. I sometimes used to call the pharmacist in the 24-hour-pharmacy near our house in the middle of the night. I didn’t do it to chat, although at times that might have been nice. I often didn’t really have a medical question. I called for reassurance that how I was treating my children’s illnesses or what I was doing for them was good enough.  I only called a few times, but when I called he actually did give me reassuring advice. I wondered if he had a wife and kids at home and knew the uncertainty that parents of babies sometimes experience.  Or maybe he was really bored because hey—24-hour pharmacy in the middle of the night.

Somehow in the midst of all of the pressure and uncertainty of parenting young children, I began to come to peace with the fact that I was indeed messing them up. I also learned, though, that we’re all messed up and all parents do make pretty big mistakes of one kind or another. Maybe the real key isn’t raising kids without scars but teaching them how to heal.

I’m still figuring that one out, and my kids are still young enough that I haven’t seen how they’ll turn out yet. I know this, though: I do not know what normal is anymore, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got!