On the Wilderness and Unexpected Grace

January 25, 2014 in Beth, But Seriously, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

Greg and I have arrived home from our stint on the Colorado River, and, as I mentioned, we were not kicked to death, even a little, by donkeys.

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I was kicked to death a little by my sleeping bag, but I learned, after grumbling secretly to myself for 3 nights about the design of my bag and basic things that any sleeping bag engineer should know — like the obvious fact that scratchy velcro tabs and pokey zipper pulls and strangley drawstrings would be more comfortable and less deadly on the outside of the bag — that it works better when you turn it right side out.

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Ah, well.

Live and learn, right?

Live and learn and be laughed at by your wilderness companions.

It’s all part of it.

It’s all part of it, and so are cold, dark nights, and zipping up tight, and huddling close for warmth, and finding it; and so is falling asleep, and waking sporadically to the small sounds of companions and creatures and the unexpected light of the moon; so are the star scapes, and the sunrises, and the slow thaw of ice in your kayak as you set off the next morning despite the cold because you trust the sun is coming. The slow thaw of ice in the vessel that will take you down river, propelled at times by the strength in your arms and your senses of direction and purpose, and at times carried by the current in straight lines and curves and swirls that sweep you where you wanted to go and where you didn’t want to go and where you didn’t know you wanted to go. 

Three months ago, I turned 40, and I celebrated here with you with 40 Days of Grace.

40 Days of talking about Sanctuary, and Radical Acts of Self Care, and Letting Those We Love Be Perfectly Themselves.

40 Days of Letting Failure Go.

40 Days of Kindness.

I didn’t know at the time that I wouldn’t be able to wrap it up.

That I wouldn’t be able to continue writing about it.

That I would need time to rest my soul and quiet my spirit and discover my discomfort and let myself be.

Because, you see, 40 Days of Grace had more grace to give me than I was prepared to receive. 

I am prepared, it turns out, to give grace to others. To upend the benefit of the doubt bucket and let it spill. To assume the best. To spread the news of Love and of Light. To be vulnerable and authentic and laugh at my foibles and unfold my flaws. 

But I am unprepared for surprise parties. And cards. And gifts. And attention. And eye contact. And being seen. It was a barrage of kindness, and my friends, Heidi and Grace, topped it off by giving me 40 gifts for 40 days.

Forty gifts for 40 days.

Something new every day. A scarf. A pillow. Earrings. Coffee. A note. A random act of kindness in my name. Chocolate. Socks. More.

It was… too much.

Too much attention.

Too much stuff.

Too expensive.

Too time-consuming.

Too extravagant.

Too generous.

Too much love.

Too undeserved.

And, at the core, I knew I’d never be able to reciprocate. I’d never be able to repay them. And it made me jittery and unsure, despite knowing they had no expectation of or desire for reciprocity.

I’d wait 3 or 4 days at a time, sometimes, to open my gifts, too overwhelmed to handle the task every day, and then, in a whirlwind of paper and envelopes, I’d rip through them all at once, like tearing off a bandaid.

Isn’t that silly? The inability to accept gifts? But there it is.

And then I’d sit with my stuff and cry. 

Sometimes I’d text a thank you.

And sometimes I’d say nothing at all. 

And then it occurred to me that this is what grace is. An extravagant, unmerited gift of love. And that this was my opportunity to accept it.

It was the well, shit moment of 40 Days of Grace.

Well, shit, I opened my mouth about grace, and then look what happened; I have to accept grace and not just give it. 

Well, shit.

Spiritual of me, yes?

Godly.

Mature.

But yes.

The gift of being extravagantly loved. The reluctance and feet-dragging and ultimate well, shit acceptance from me. This defines much of my relationship with God, as it turns out.

On Day 40, Heidi and Grace arrived with balloons. One for each of us. And we took them out to the fields behind my house and wrote prayers on slips of scrap paper with markers we found in Heidi’s car.

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I wrote in purple marker the lyrics to Nate Macy‘s song about grace. A prayer of grace for me. A prayer of grace for you.

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And then we sent our balloons up the sky. To God knows where. To litter the earth with our bits of mylar and ribbon and pieces of our hearts.

Grace’s Elmo balloon looked back at us for a long, long time, floating free.

So maybe you’ll understand the way I felt when I watched one of my paddling companions this week pull an Elmo balloon from the reeds on the side of Colorado River.

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And the way I held my breath ever so slightly.

And the way I released that breath with a quiet “oh” and a soft “thank you” and a happy “well, shit” whispered to the sky.

And the way my soul settled with the reminder of unexpected grace.

And the way I sang Grace to You — to you — the rest of way down the river. 

Grace To You "Grace To You by Nate Macy" "Grace To You"

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Thinking of you. And thinking of Grace. And of a Love extravagant and wild and free.

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You can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts here.

Grace to You by Nate Macy used with permission.

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Community Question: What Do You Do When You Want Faith and Can’t Find It?

November 19, 2013 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

I wasn’t going to write another serious piece today, because I wrote about the Ladder out of Depression yesterday, and who really needs to read another lyrical, sappy, heartfelt post so soon? NO ONE. No one is who. But then you all RUINED EVERYTHING. And by “everything,” I mean you ruined my plan to write about the One Main Difficulty in Sharing a Hotel Room With Friends, which, specifically, is Farting, because When? and How? and Windows That Don’t Open! And, frankly, I could’ve used the advice, folks, because I cannot for the life of me figure this one out, but nnnooooo…

You had to RUIN EVERYTHING by being the Very Best Momrades EVER to our friend Marian last night, sitting with her wherever you were and holding out your hands to her and helping All of Us feel Less Alone which completely DISTRACTED me from our planned discussion about natural gas and got me thinking about Loving Each Other, instead, and especially about a letter I received recently from a friend of this blog whom I shall call Not Nadia, in our tradition of Not Evan and Not Rebecca and Not Brooke and their questions about Joy and Inferiority and Failure… and now, Faith.

You have only yourselves to blame is what I’m saying, so buckle up.

Every once in a while, I get a letter from a friend of this blog that touches a tender place in my heart. Usually a place that’s been well worn or is still a little sore or takes me back to the desolation that was there before the consolation. This is one.

Dear Beth,

I have been reading your blog for about a year now, and it’s really impacted how I see a lot of things, but mostly how I think about faith and God.

I’ve been angry with God for a very long time, probably most of my life. At some point it just became easier to not believe at all, than reconcile all the awful things that happen every day with a loving and all powerful maker. But I can’t seem to have faith in anything anymore, and I’m so tired of feeling angry and helpless. I’ve made myself unlikeable and bitter because I can’t let go of how unfair it all seems.

When you write about faith, I can see that there is something more to it than a fairy tale to dampen the fear of death and justify the evils of the world. I want to believe that too, but I’m stuck in this cycle of disappointment and failure. I know I have to stop being so angry and trust that there is a much bigger game being played than what I can see, but I am scared of changing basically my whole worldview, even though my current view is dark and lonely.

Will you pray for me? I don’t even know where to begin, I just admire your faith and I would like to find something that makes me want to get up in the morning and take on challenges instead of constantly feeling angry and alone. I know you have a very full life, but I would very much appreciate if you could take a few seconds to ask for God to start to work in my life so I can be a better, happier person.

Thank you very much for reading,

Not Nadia

And yes. Yes, of course I’ll pray for you, Not Nadia, except that I’m very bad at prayer, or very good at prayer, depending on how you look at it, because as much as I love words – adore words, am enamored with words, am captivated by words – I most often pray without them, so I feel we should set our Prayer Expectations to YES, PRAYER, ABSOLUTELY, but Not Very Much “Dear Jesus, Help Not Nadia.”

Instead, Not Nadia, as the Quakers say, I will hold you in the Light, which, to be totally honest, is going to make some of my non-Quaker Christian friends want to vomit because saying I’ll “hold you in the Light” instead of  I’ll “pray for you in the name of Jesus Christ” sounds squidgy and scary and what’s this liberal, gooey Light nonsense, anyway?

Well, I’ll tell you; this Light Nonsense is the same thing to me as the Love Nonsense, which I keep blathering on about, both of which give me words for the core of God and of Jesus when the words “God” and “Jesus” are co-opted by petty politics or tiny theologies or asshat arguments. Light and Love* bring me back to the center – to the soul of my faith – when I’m lost in the stranglehold of weariness.

Here’s my main problem with my faith: I would like Jesus to be a Magic Wand for waving over the things of this world that trouble me – hatred, disease, disasters, poverty, the way my boobs keep sliding lower and lower through the years – and Jesus just never, ever is willing to play to my Magic Wand fantasies. Like, EVER. Which is SO ANNOYING because I’m pretty sure I could do LOADS of Good with a Magic Wand, Jesus, and, no offense, but your usual shtick about Learning to Love Our Neighbors and figuring out that Everyone is Our Neighbor takes too long and doesn’t always work all that well, in case you hadn’t noticed.

But when I discard my Magic Wand expectations – when I see that Jesus never promised to be one, and, in fact, reminds us over and over that that was hardly his point – and when I fall back into the reality that faith is Learning Love, I am less destitute. Less despairing. Less disappointed and disillusioned. Because in this life, Learning Love is all that’s asked of me.

Does this mean I’m not angry or afraid? Sadly, no. Or in less need of anti-depressants and therapy? Nope; ’cause there’s no Magic Wand, damn it!

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But clinging to Light and to Love does mean that when I’m sad or lonely or have a friend, Not Nadia, who’s suffering, I can stand in the deep, dark forest of my fear or my failure or my frustration, without any words at all, and cup that feeling or friend in my hands and hold us in Light which streams into the darkest places, and is even more brilliant to behold while the dust and the dirt still swirl around us.

And so I sit at my dusty desk on a misty, cold, gray day in Oregon, friend, and I hold you in the Light of Love. The Light of Love which is already at work in you, because you’re made in its very image.

xoxo,
Beth

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So, friends, what do you say to Not Nadia?

Community Question:
What do you do when you want faith but can’t find it? 

I know you already know this, but as this community grows, I wanted to remind us that we’re not here to try to convince Not Nadia to either have faith or to abandon it, nor to insist that our conclusions for ourselves must become Not Nadia’s conclusions. We are here to tell our own wild, weird and wonderful stories and, always, to LOVE each other, which are more powerful acts than we sometimes know. Like April wrote on our Facebook page just yesterday: “Honestly, ever since I heard from some of you amazing fellow mommas, I have been feeling so much better. Above water and even breathing 🙂 my whole family is grateful I’m sure; if nothing else, I know I am! I felt so loved and that seems so strange to receive that through blog comment-ers, but I love it :)”

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Sunrays in the Forest image credit dan via freedigitalimages.net

*Jesus is Light – John 8:12, God is Love – 1 John 4:8

Special thanks to my friends, Quaker and otherwise, who helped me source info on holding folks in the Light. This means you, Monica, Jere, Paula, Carol, Meghan, Phyllis, Julie, Nate, and Linda.

The Real Reason I Still Go to Church

November 7, 2013 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

“If Christians say stuff like that – that you’re teaching your kids to love what is evil – why do you even go to church?”

The question came on Halloween after I posted this on Facebook:

Someone asked me recently how I can justify participating in Halloween as a Christian. “Don’t you know you’re teaching your children to love what is evil?” he said.

And I’m not opposed to Christians sitting this one out or throwing open the doors of their churches for harvest parties and inviting their neighbors in. To each their own, I say, because we parents must follow our gut, and one answer isn’t right for everyone. It’s really not, and good for you for knowing what’s best for your family.

As for me, though, I don’t want to miss out on the magic because I feel to the marrow of my bones that we find that of Love there.

You see, I want to spend my night throwing my door open to the surprises that wait beyond it. To the monsters and to the fairies and to the great heroes and heroines of our day.

I want to see the Cat in the Hat walking hand-in-hand with the Queen of Hearts, and to see whole swarms of bumblebees and butterflies tripping over their wings and each other as they buzz and flit from house to house, following exactly the erratic and ridiculous path of their namesakes.

I want to giggle as Curious George walks right into my house as though he belongs here while I tell his parents, “It’s fine. It’s fine. I promise. We love this,” and they apologize for his enthusiasm, chasing him down the hall as he moves with super-speed on chubby legs.

I want to greet overwhelming crowds of the gory undead with smiles and treats and to wave at their parents who watch with vigilance from the street while they give their precious littles a chance to know their neighborhood; the kids as the Scare-ers, for once, instead of the Ones Who Need to Learn to Be Afraid. And I want to let my own children out in the community to run from stranger’s door to stranger’s door and to know that these houses around us are filled with more friends than strangers, after all.

I want to see the mean man with the nice dog who lives down the street smile this one time per year at the kids who always walk on his damn lawn.

And I want to see what old Earl will do this year to terrify the kids in his driveway.

I want to stop for a minute at the one house that provides hot cider for cold parents so I can say thank you.

And I want to watch my teens disarm the surly candy-givers who like to hate the kids who are Too Old for This Nonsense as my kids pull out the big guns — Halloween caroling, because my kids are weird weirdos who are weird — and I want to giggle as the disapproval turns, always, into handfuls of candy with “OK, fine, you guys. That was actually really cool.” Because it’s not just the kids who get to learn not to be afraid of others.

The truth is, I love Halloween because there’s just no other community holiday like it, where neighbors celebrate with unknown neighbors. And I wouldn’t have my family miss it for the world.

Happy Halloween!

Then came the question.

“If Christians say stuff like that – that you’re teaching your kids to love what is evil – why do you even go to church?”

And, well, fair question, I think. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things when people from different faiths and philosophiesyou know, ask each other stuff, because I believed Cookie Monster when he said, “Asking questions is good way to find out about things.” 

The problem, of course, with being asked questions is figuring out how to both answer them and honor them with the truest truths we know. Because the pat answers are the easiest, and the prefabricated, processed answers are the most concise – “I go to church because… JESUS” – but sometimes the truest truths don’t fit well inside the simple boxes.

I’ve thought about the answer to the Why do you even go to church? question. I’ve thought about it a lot, actually; for, like, 20 years as I attended church and took breaks and attended church again. I’ve talked in public about my faith before. Faith and doubt and learning to breathe. Faith and the freedom to be imperfectly me. Authenticity, asshattery, faith and fear. So it’ll be no surprise to you to learn that church is an ebb-and-flow process for me, like a friendship that waxes and wanes, drawn and pushed by mysterious tides.

The truth is, I’m not an easy sell when it comes to church. I don’t go because of social pressure. I don’t go because it’s part of the Christian rule book. And, yes, I go to church because of Jesus, but blah blah blah because I’m as likely to leave a church if it’s the clearer path toward Jesus’ Way of Love as I am to attend church to follow him. Simply marking the “I Attend Church” checkbox isn’t what I’m after. I’ll go where I can learn Love and live Love, be Love and do Love. Because Love and Grace and Discovering We’re All Neighbors are what Jesus is about, after all.

Last Tuesday, my phone crapped out.

Weird segue, I know. Bear with me.

Last Tuesday, my phone crapped out. Like, packed a bag and yelled, “YOU ASK TOO MUCH OF ME. I’M LEAVING,” on its way out the door in a huff, feet stomping, door slamming, before it had to come back because it forgot its car keys. Don’t you just hate it when a good dramatic exit is ruined? But it worked out for the best because I made us both coffee and we sat down and had a nice long chat about the ways we’ve been undermining each other for a while now, spiraling into habits that harmed each other. Namely, me overloading it with thousands of pictures and it passively-aggressively dragging its feet on Every Single Task in order to punish me.

In the end, I (read: Greg) downloaded all the pictures onto my computer and asked my phone to forgive me. We’re giving our relationship another shot; after all, my phone and I have been together a LONG time by current technological standards, and, although we’re both skeptical, we need to see if there’s something left to salvage.

As I was sorting the pictures on my computer, I had the Why DO I Go To Church? question running around the back of my head. And lo and behold, there was the answer. Staring me in the face. Again and again. In the pictures right in front of me. The ones I took at church over the past year with wanton disregard for the fact that it’s socially unacceptable to be snapping photos during worship.

What I found in the pictures was this:

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Church is where the fairies come with their green glitter wings and their straight-cut bangs and their poofy tulle tutus, colored pencils in hand and butterfly wand at the ready.

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Church is where we dress up fancy in our best lipstick and finest hair-dos, and where we kiss each other on the cheek and leave stains and spit behind and smile our crooked smiles which we forgot – again – to keep inside the lines.

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Church is where we bring our rainbow hats with our zebra manes.

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 And our mismatched shoes.

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Or no shoes at all because we’re on holy ground when we’re barefoot in the mess.

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And church is where we let the little children come to dance in the aisles as though worship is something real and physical and can’t be contained.

The real reason I still go to church is the same reason we trick-or-treat on Halloween. I still go to church because I don’t want to miss out on the magic, and I feel to the marrow of my bones that we find that of Love there.

Who do we let out? Who do we let in? We ask those questions in a hundred little ways a thousand times a day. I take my kids trick-or-treating in our community for the same reason I take them to church. Because I don’t want to miss out on the ways Love finds us and teaches us and opens our hearts to let people in. I don’t want to miss Robin Hood and his Merry Men on Halloween night, giving my little boys unreasonably large handfuls of candy and confidence. And I don’t want to miss the fairies at church. To enter the magic, though, I have to choose to let go of the misconceptions and prejudices that want to keep me out of the places where God dwells. Where Love lives. Where we meet our neighbors. Where we see the good in them. Where we learn to accept their gifts. And to think the best. And to see strange joy.

On Sunday, I told my kids to get dressed for church. My 7-year-old son came downstairs in one of his favorite dresses. I wondered whether I ought to make him change because of What People Might Think or, far worse, What People Might Say to him that could hurt him. But we’ve attended our church a very long time now, and people have always treated our family with tenderness and open arms, no matter how weird and wounded we are. So off we went, the Mama Bear in me trusting my church family to love my kids as I do. Trusting my church family to even enjoy that my kids are some of the wild things, the same as Grace and Love, Faith and Hope. Wild Things, every one.

I don’t go to church because I should. I can’t; I have neither the time nor the patience for the shoulds, and so I gave them up quite some time ago.

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”*

And so I let my child go, and I didn’t hinder him, because he is the stuff of heaven exactly how he is.

And do you know what my church family said to my son?

Not a single word different than when he shows up in his favorite jeans or in his kilt or in lipstick and a mohawk. Just, “Hi!” And, “We’re glad you’re here!” And, “Looking good, kid.”

Which was their reaction when my daughter used to go to church in her leopard costume.

“We’re glad you’re here!”

And their reaction when my son flipped off the entire congregation at the Christmas program.

“Looking good, kid.”

The truth is I don’t go to church because they have the Right Doctrine of Love. I go to church because they live it.

Church is where we let the little children come.

And where we learn that the magic is Real.

That the Mystery is all around us.

That Love has a name.

Church is where the Wild Things are.

And those are the real reasons I go to church.

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Other posts on faith:

Sanctuary
My Confession About Faith
5 Quick Questions About Faith
On the Importance of Mud
3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin
On Parenting, Faith and Doubt
On Resurrection and People Like Me Who Wreck Things
On the Magi and Jesus in the Mess
Were You Born in a Barn? Thoughts on Leaving Doors Open

*Matthew 19:14

On Grace, Waves and How to Look at Rocks

November 1, 2013 in BEGIN READING WITH THESE FAVORITES, Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

My friend Lynn lost her husband unexpectedly last year. She came home to find Jon unconscious. He died from a stroke a few hours later. And so Lynn has found herself at the crossroads. Again, really, because Lynn has lived enough of life to know that the paths we walk are winding, and we don’t always know what’s around the next bend.

Lynn went to the beach at the one year anniversary of Jon’s death. It was one of their favorite places to walk and to be, Jon sitting in the sun or the drizzle and Lynn wandering the shoreline to look for agates which catch the light, sending their little reflective signs like miniature survivors using a mirror to signal the search plane, waiting to be rescued and brought home and cherished.

This time, though, after a year of grief and uncertainty and upended by change, Lynn contemplated the ocean, standing still at its edge and watching the waves come in, again and again, like Grace which ebbs and flows and always returns with more gifts in its hands, cleansed and rubbed smooth, before it takes back the jagged bits, over and over.

She stood for a while to watch Grace and also to confess, because there’s a Right Way to do things, you know, a Standard for Christ’s followers we’ve been taught from the cradle, and Confession is that Way; the examination of our hearts, the lists of our sins, the humbling of our spirits, the requests for forgiveness. And so Lynn watched Grace bring the gray and black rocks to the surface. The rocks of her selfishness. The rocks of her pride. The rocks of her despair. The rocks of her fear, determined as she was to suss out the darkness and hand it over to Grace.

Which is when the Whisper came on the wind and into Lynn’s heart.

“What about the agates?” the Voice asked.

And Lynn thought, “What?” And, “Shhh.” And, “I’m busy Confessing over here. I’m focusing on the Sins. Be quiet.”

But the Whisper came again.

“But what about the agates, Lynn?”

And so Lynn reluctantly slowed her confession to listen.

photo 3 (36) “What about the agates?” said the Voice, gentle and sure and a lot like Love and, not shushed this time, the Voice went on. “Remember wandering by the waves to look for the agates? Walking next to the waves of Grace to watch for the bright bits to wash up? Well, I was just wondering… can we do that again? If you’re ready, I mean. Can we comb the beach to look for the gems? Can we let Grace unearth the beauty, too? Can we anticipate the light and the brilliance as it catches our eyes? Or must we stand here longer, letting Grace only unearth the dark? Tell me when you’re ready, Lynn. Tell me when you’re ready, and we’ll go walk the beach together.”

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I sat in the sun with Lynn the other day, because when the sun comes out in Oregon, that’s what we do. We bask in it. That’s even what my littlest ones call it. Basking. “I’m going to go bask now, Mom!” they yell on their way out the door before they slam it or leave it hospitably open for the flies.

So I sat in the sun with Lynn, basking while she told me her story, and we laughed and laughed and laughed cleansing laughs at the human condition which is our condition and at our temptation to watch for Grace to reveal only our darkness. Because this is what we do sometimes, isn’t it? We focus so much on doing things the Right Way, and on ridding ourselves of the dark, and on finding our shortcomings so we can tackle them and drown them and send them far, far away that we forget to listen for Joy. Or open ourselves to Love. Or watch for Beauty.

It’s OK, though.

It’s OK.

We’re trying so hard.

Every last one of us.

Trying so hard.

And the very Good News is that Love has a way of talking to us if we slow our self-flagellation long enough to listen. Because there is a still, small Voice on wind. And Grace ebbs and flows as steady as the waves, unearthing more treasure for us all the time.

 

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40DaysofGraceLogoYou can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.

5 Quick Questions on Parenting

October 29, 2013 in Beth, But Seriously, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

It’s time for a new edition of 5 Quick Questions.

This is my opportunity to get to know you better, and it’s one of the best things we do here because it turns out you are very good at truth-telling, friends. To those of you who used the last few volumes to delurk, it’s wonderful to meet you! And to those of you who’ve been around a while, mucking about in this space and putting your feet on the furniture? You’re always rad. Thank you.

As you may know, 5 Quick Questions can be anything from the inane What Is Your Family Booger Rule? to the more serious (and my absolute favorite because you were so deeply honest) Questions About Faith.

Today, though, I’d like to pick your parenting brains for the true, the ridiculous, and the laugh-out-loud funny.

And I have ulterior motives. I get to be on a parenting panel this week for a group of mamas with young kids. But I’ve learned over time that we are wiser together than I can ever be alone, and, while I may have one piece of the puzzle, it’s a much clearer picture when we all share our pieces. So I thought I’d ask you a few questions today that might be asked on Friday. Because if there’s one thing I’d like to give young moms, it’s more pieces of the puzzle, you know? More mamaraderie. More ways we’re in this together. More ways to find the magic in the mess and the laughter in this life. And I can do that much, much better if we work together.

OK?

OK.

Here we go.

ID-100400665 Quick Questions on Parenting

  1. If you could go back in time and whisper one thing to yourself when you were a parent of young ones, what would it be?
  2. What’s one change you’ve made in your parenting or your house or yourself that’s allowed you to breathe easier? 
  3. Comparison. Blerg. What’s your strategy for not comparing yourself to other moms or your kids to theirs? 
  4. What’s one of the funniest things your children ever did?
  5. But how do you keep your sense of humor during the tough patches of parenting?

And here are my answers:

  1. If you could go back in time and whisper one thing to yourself when you were a parent of young ones, what would it be? 

    It surprised me when I really thought about this to discover I wouldn’t whisper any of the things I didn’t know. Or tell Younger Me any of the things that would surprise me. I guess because I wouldn’t want to spoil my story, you know? I wouldn’t want to give away all the wonder or the discoveries or even the deep pain of having it all fall apart and the hard work of assembling this life. 

    I suppose I would hug me and burst into tears and make myself terribly uncomfortable by being emotionally demonstrative, but what I’d really want me to know is it’s going to be OK. I’m going to be OK. These tiny people I love are going to be OK. I mean, deeply OK. Not AWESOME. Not PERFECT. Really an utter mess some days. And still somehow OK. And enough. And even good. I’d tell myself that the feeling of inadequacy isn’t the same as being inadequate and that eventually I’ll learn the difference. I’d whisper that the little bit I can do at one time, the small person I can be, is enough. And is valuable. And is useful. And is deeply worthy of being loved and deeply able to give that love to others.

  2. What’s one change you’ve made in your parenting or your house or yourself that’s allowed you to breathe easier? 

    Learning to laugh at the chaos and the destruction. I know; I wish I had something profound to say, too, but there it is.

  3. Comparison. Blerg. What’s your strategy for not comparing yourself to other moms or your kids to theirs? 

    For me, I find that outing myself as a total raging mess helps. I know that seems counter-intuitive, but it helps me find my people, you know? Like, when I talk about having a less-than-perfect morning or about my dress unraveling in the parking lot, I find a lot of other moms who are willing to admit their own awesome, often ridiculous, messes. And that’s where we find our Village, I think; when we sit in the mud together. 

    As far as comparing my kids to other kids, well, that’s harder. We’ve struggled with everything from developmental delays to the more typical, um, attitude issues (*ahem* in myself and the kids), and I find when I’m comparing my kids to others, I’m usually trying rather desperately to process my own grief. Grief that things are harder for my kid than for typical kids. Grief that things are harder for me. So it helps for me to name that, you know? It helps me not to be bitter that things seem to go so swimmingly for other parents when I name my grief and allow myself to be sad.

  4. What’s one of the funniest things your children ever did? 

    Oh, geez. One? 

    I’m going to have to go with the time my kid punched another kid in the nuts but only because he cares about justice. Or the time my boys had a contest to see how high they could fill the bathtub with pee. Or the time they learned about the Archimedes Principle. Or the time they all took a dump under the front porch. Oooh! Or the time they got kicked out of the church Christmas program! Or the time they stayed in the program and flipped everyone off. Or… OK, I can’t possibly pick only one.

  5. But how do you keep your sense of humor during the tough patches of parenting? 

    Practice. Lots and lots of practice. 

    And having pretty literally All of My Stuff irretrievably wrecked. Like, past all repair. ‘Cause when there’s nothing left to ruin, it’s hard to maintain the mad.

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ID-10040066

Your turn. How do you answer these 5 Quick Questions? Remember, you don’t have to answer them all if you don’t want to; this is always challenge by choice. I can’t wait to see what you have to say.

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40DaysofGraceLogoYou can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.

Open Hand With Glove image credit Ambro via freedigitalimages.net

Parenting for the Win

October 26, 2013 in Beth, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

I’ve been parenting for the win a lot lately, and I just thought I’d share a couple things I’m doing exceptionally well so you can follow my example and better your parenting, too.

First, I accused my teenager of acting like a 5-year-old because she didn’t want to come out of her room for, you know, the whole weekend, so I was feeling rejected, hurt and powerless, and also the tiniest bit premenstrually enraged, and that’s always the best time to accuse others. That’s when she told me she was staying in her room because she was in a bad mood and didn’t want to take it out on others “since that’s what you say to do, Mom; if you can’t be kind, take some time alone until you can.”  

photo 2 (47)Ahhhh, crap.

And SHOOT.

This is also why I say to do what I say and not what I do. Because my ideas are WAY better than my execution, man.

So there was that for the parenting win.

And then my dad-in-law with his new bum shoulder needed some help moving boxes, and we happen to have a strapping 13 year old boy with excellent shoulders, a desperate need for activity and structure, and a frequently questionable work ethic. PERFECT. So Greg hollered down the stairs, “Hey, Ian?”

“What?” Ian hollered back, ’cause we’re one of those strict don’t-yell-in-the-house families.

“Grandpa’s gotta move some boxes toda…” and Greg didn’t even get through the sentence before that kid started yelling, “NOOOOOOOO! No! No! NOOOOOOOO!” And MAN that made me mad.

Spitting mad.

Minus the spitting because I’m not much of a spitter.

But brain-whirling mad, for sure.

I had so many thoughts in my brain, in fact, that they all backed up and I couldn’t figure out which one to yell first. Like, “Oh HELL no, kid. When someone in our family needs help, we do NOT start bellowing NO.” Or, “You get your little rear in gear right now, pal. And when you’re done helping Grandpa move boxes, I’ll give you some extra work so you can practice having a decent attitude about it.” Or, “GAH! WHY CAN’T YOU STOP BEING SUCH A TOTAL BUTT NUGGET?!”

You know, brain-whirling mad.

Which is when that same kid – the kid with expressive language disorder who takes some time to get his words out – finished his “NOOOOOOOO! No! No! NOOOOOOOO!” thought with, “NO! Grandpa should not do that! I’m strong. I go help him right now!”

Mm hm.

Misjudge your kids much, Beth?

Pffftttt.

In conclusion, I hate it when my children are more mature than me. It really bites, you know?

B

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Please feel free to join me this fine weekend and share your Parenting Wins, as well. Misery loves company. I swear.

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40DaysofGraceLogoYou can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.

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3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin

October 23, 2013 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

I can’t do it anymore.

I can’t Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin.

In fact, I haven’t done that for years.

I’m writing as a Jesus follower to fellow Christians here, and also to, oh, whoever else wants to listen in, fly-on-the-wall style, as I put down my fork at family dinner and stare at the table and wipe my mouth and swallow the lump in my throat and whisper, “Enough.”

And say a little louder, “Hey, guys? I don’t really buy what we’re selling.”

And sigh with a giant “ppffffttt” to be mature.

Because, enough already. It’s time to lose this phrase. For good.

But how shall we do it?

I know! Let’s turn it into a flea – a harmless little flea – and then we’ll put that flea in a box and then we’ll put that box inside another box, and we’ll mail that box to ourselves, and when it arrives? WE’LL SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER.

Yes?

Yes!

Oh. Not that easy?

SHOOT.

Alright, then. I’ll explain myself.

See, once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I believed in Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin as though it was the Gospel Truth. And the Word of God. And the Obvious Way to Love People while holding fiercely and unapologetically to the Path of Righteousness. To the Narrow Way.

But then I noticed that Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin had the opposite effect of what I intended. That, rather than feel loved, the folks at whom I was aiming it felt belittled. And judged. And hurt. And excluded.

So for a while, in good ideological, rule-following fashion, I tried to make that their problem.

I mean, knew I was being loving. It’s right there at the beginning of the phrase, for God’s sake: LOVE. So if they were intent on misinterpreting my love, was there really anything I could do about that?

But something about my friends’ hurt stuck in my heart and something about my insistent defensiveness caught there, too, and, although I tried, I couldn’t dislodge or ignore them. I kept imagining Jesus on the night before his crucifixion, on the night he was betrayed by one friend and abandoned by others, and I kept thinking about the way he used his time to give just one instruction: Love one another.1 That’s what Jesus felt was the Most Important Thing to drive home the night before his death. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

I kept wondering, when we say we Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin, do they know we are Christians by our love? And the answer I kept circling back to was No. A sad, aching Definitely Not. A certain No Way.

So I began to explore my increasing discomfort with Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin. To examine why I felt more and more ashamed when I held it as my rigid standard of love. To wonder where I was right and where I was wrong and where I needed to make amends. And to ask Love, which is God’s other name,7 to guide me.

And then, as always, Love changed everything, starting with my heart.

Along the way, I realized 3 things about Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin that made it impossible for me to parrot it any longer. Here they are:

3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin

1. Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin isn’t in the Bible. It’s a quote from St. Augustine, actually, “cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” which translates roughly to “with love for mankind and hatred of sins,” and it has morphed over the centuries from Augustine calling himself out and hating his own sins, which he describes in depth in his Confessions, into something we use to point fingers at others.

And although he and I don’t agree on everything, Tony Campolo spoke my heart when he said, “I’m always uptight when someone says, ‘You don’t understand. I love the sinner. I just hate his sin.’ And my response is: That’s interesting, because that’s the exact opposite of what Jesus says. Jesus never says, ‘Love the sinner but hate his sin. Jesus says, ‘Love the sinner and hate your own sin, and after you get rid of the sin in your own life, then you may begin talking about the sin in your brother or sister’s life.2‘”

2. “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” is made of 25% Love and 75% Sinner, Hate and Sin. And that ratio should tell us something. In fact, that ratio is the antithesis of Jesus’ life, Jesus’ words, Jesus’ actions, and Jesus’ friendships.

Does it really come as a surprise to us Christians that a phrase made of 1 Part Love and 3 Parts Sinner, Hate and Sin has failed rather spectacularly to deliver a love message? Because it’s not a love message, of course, despite what we tell ourselves. It’s a Standards message. A Moral Code message. And a big, giant BUT. We will love you, it says, BUT we will call you Sinner and watch you carefully to determine which of your actions are Sin so we can call you out and Hate those things.

Is it any wonder to us that the love message gets lost in there? Or that we’re missing the mark when we’re more concerned with holding people to a high moral standard than we are with loving them?

It’s OK, though, we say, because we call ourselves Sinners, too! See? We’re not saying we’re any less sinful. THAT’S THE JOY, we cry. That Christ has saved us from our sin. And don’t get me wrong, friends. I believe absolutely that I’m BOTH created in God’s own image,8 worthy of Divine Love just the way I am,9 AND that I sin. But here’s the problem. We act like the redemption message is predicated on being pulled out of the Sin Pit, and that it’s our job to make sure people understand they’re in the Pit, even if we have to pull them down and squash them into the mud for a while to make sure they get it. But what if we believe that the redemption message is predicated on Love? Divine Love. Selfless Love. Gracious Love. Love, love and only love? A Love so big and wild and free it embraces us as we are?

What if we, I don’t know, call people Beloved instead of Sinner? You know, as if we believe that “God SO LOVED the world He sent his son” instead of “God so despised sin…”

3. Jesus taught us to call people Neighbors,3 not Sinners.

Now, it’s not like Jesus was against name-calling or anything. He slung around Hypocrite, Fool and Brood of Vipers with the best of them.4  But I find it fascinating that Jesus reserved his name-calling for the religious community and never for the broken down or broken hearted. Never for the excluded. Never for the lonely. Never for the outcasts.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t tell us to love the sinner; Jesus tells us to love our neighbor.3 And then Jesus goes on to define our neighbors as those who are despised, rejected, excluded, ignored, and bullied.

Instead, time and time again, Jesus invites sinners to dinner,5 and accepts the offerings of prostitutes,6 and defends the most marginalized,3 and scatters the crowd that is intent on making the convicted woman pay for her sins.2

Now, at this point, some of you may be thinking, “But wait! The woman who was about to be stoned was told ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ but Jesus also told her to, ‘Go and sin no more.’ So what about that? What about repentance?” And, in fact, when I wrote recently about Sanctuary – about finding rest in little bits of Love that fall as steadily as rain but only hit us drop by drop – I received 4 separate messages from folks along these lines, all of whom noted this. “You’re not sharing the whole picture,” they wrote. “Jesus said to sin no more!”

And that’s true. That’s what happened.

[The crowd] said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. [The Law] commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus … said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” 2

And here’s what I think we Christians keep missing in this story:

Jesus defended the woman from the crowd. Dare I say it? Jesus defended the woman from us. The Righteous Stone Throwers. Jesus sent us away. And then Jesus – and only Jesus, without the crowd there at all – told her to sin no more. You know why? Because it’s Love’s job – and only Love’s job – to change people’s hearts. Jesus never – not even once – tells the crowd to tell the woman to go and sin no more. Because it’s not our job, folks.

At no time are we, the crowd, instructed to point out the woman’s sin.

At no time are we, the crowd, encouraged to exclude the woman.

At no time does Jesus beckon the crowd back and say, “I told her to sin no more, now you go tell people not to sin, too.”

The only instruction that we, the crowd, receive from Jesus is to examine our own lives for sin.

We usurp Love’s place and screw it all up when we pretend it’s our job to identify others’ sins and take it upon ourselves to tell them to knock it off.

the-good-samaritan-ferdinand-hodlerYou know what Jesus does tell the crowd over and over (and over and over) again? Throughout all of the Gospels? Jesus tells us to Love each other. To Love our neighbors. And that everyone is our neighbor.

This is no time for calling out sinners and sin. This is the time to call out Neighbor! And Friend! And to love on each other with extravagant grace. This is the time to create Sanctuary and to be the Good Samaritan who had no standards when he helped the man by the side of road.3 Just none. Except generosity and love.

And so, you see, it turns out I cannot love the sinner and hate the sin, because it’s not my job to root out either one in anyone’s life but my own. But I can become a home for Love, and I can Love my Neighbor, who, it turns out, is every single one of us.

And that is exactly what I plan to do.

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UPDATE: I’ve written an update to this essay. You can find it here.

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Alright, friends. What do you think? Is this on the mark? Or did I miss it by a mile? Agreements and disagreements welcome. I’d truly love to know your thoughts.

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40DaysofGraceLogoYou can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.

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1 John 13
2  John 8
3 Luke 10
 Matthew 23
5 Mark 2
6  Luke 7
1 John 4
8 Genesis 1
9 Romans 5, 8

Art Credit: The Good Samaritan by Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918)

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UPDATE: I’ve written an update to this essay. You can find it here.