Grace in the Now.

Self-grace escapes me. It alludes me 3 decades running.  And I find myself pondering the very painful difference between grace in philosophy and grace in practice. I wonder if I’ll ever figure out this loving yourself thing.

 

I know why the inner hatred is so easy to swallow, to nod along in agreement with. I know why it’s so easy to believe the lie, to embrace the negativity in our hearts.  It’s simply this: they aren’t lies at all. At it’s core, self-hatred is impregnated with kernels of truth.  That’s what makes them so slippery, so hard to hold onto, to combat against.

 

Beneath “I’m ugly” is the truth “I’m aging” or “My skin isn’t great”.

Beneath “I’m fat” is the truth “I’m out of shape” or “I’ve had children”.

Beneath “I’m lazy” is the truth “I’m not always productive with my time”.

Beneath “I’m a bad wife or mother” is the truth “Sometimes I mess up”.

 

Where do we find the balance? Where do we find the middle ground where we extend grace to ourselves while still addressing the importance of the root truths in our failures? How do we find joy and peace in the imperfectness of life while still taking steps for a better future?

 

Love Yourself In The Present

 

Life happens now – live and love in the present. If the past has taught me anything it’s that if I don’t embrace the blessings of my today, I won’t appreciate the blessings of my tomorrow.  I am never going to “arrive” this side of death.  I will continue to be imperfect until the day that I die.

 

I wasn’t happy with my body at 215 lbs.  But I also wasn’t happy with my body at 172 lbs.  Or 145 lbs.

 

I’m not happy with my parenting with 4 kids.  But I also wasn’t happy with my parenting with 2 kids. Or 1 kid.

 

If I don’t purposefully find the good in this day, it’ll be lost in tomorrow. Embrace the grace in today.

 

Know That You Are Loved

 

Sometimes I think I’m just beginning to understand the truth that God loves me and to understand the depth and compassion of that love.  I tentatively take the tired and canned phrases of grace and love off the shelf of my theology and shake out the contents to examine them more closely, hold them up to the light.

 

God loved me at 215 lbs.  He loved me with 1 kid and with 4.

 

I am treasured in my ignorance and my mistakes.  I am treasured.

 

I have read this fact.  But I’ve not owned it.

 

———————————–

I must love myself now. I must know that I am loved now. But I must also own my mistakes, apologize when necessary, and strive for a more mature and wise tomorrow.

 

Are you extending yourself grace in the now?

 

-Jessica

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child…

 

She’s being silly, as usual, that eleven-year-old of mine.  Not paying attention to what she’s doing.  Not fully aware of her surroundings.  And in a moment of childishness, she makes contact with a dear souvenir, knocking it to the floor, something that was once whole, now shattered.  A decorative plate picked up in our old, quaint German village, depicting a lovely view of the valley that it’s built on.  Not exactly something I can run to Pier 1 and replace.

 

I look down at the former plate, scattered across the hardwood, and look back up at her.  “That’s okay”, I say immediately.  “We can glue it back together”.  Then we gather the pieces, big and small, put them away safely, and go about our evening as if it had never happened.

 

At this point you’re probably thinking that I’m such a good mother, right?  That I’ve really got it all together and am probably better than you.  Ahem, sadly, that’s not the case.  But I do have a secret to my zen-like patience and poise.  Want to know what it is?  Shhhh, just between you and me …

 

My house was full of guests.  It’s easier to keep a rational perspective in place when you have a crowd of people watching you.

 

The painful truth is, had we been alone when tween silliness knocked that European memory off of the wall, the scene would not have played out so Disney.  I pride myself on not being a very sentimental person, but that’s the thing about the heat of a moment – it’s hot.   I probably would have berated her for being irresponsible, or at the very least been condescending and frustrated.

 

We’ve all heard the old saying “It takes a village to raise a child”.  People used to nod and relate to this statement because, after all, we all know raising people is hard work.

 

But in recent years a different, more witty, saying has been going around town (particularly with homeschool moms): “I’ve seen the village, and I don’t want it raising my children.”, we laugh.  We nod and relate to this statement, as well.

 

But there’s a balance that must be struck here.  We need to be careful that we’re not pulling away from community altogether, encasing ourselves in selfish bubbles of protection.  We were created for community.  We were created by God to live together. 

 

We do ourselves a disservice when we try to live independent of help.   Our nuclear families in America have been to our detriment, I believe.  God is pretty smart (in case you didn’t know) and he knew that we couldn’t do this thing easily on our own.  Yes, we have Him, of course, and if we were perfect souls that would be enough.  But my soul’s not perfect, y’all.

 

Maybe we should take this system of checks and balances that God designed for us more seriously.  If we are living daily in community with each other we are less likely to be overwhelmed, stressed, and depressed.  We are less likely to be impatient with our children, to yell, to lose our hold on grace.  We are more likely to serve, to sacrifice, to mentor, and to grow.

 

So, be mindful to invite people into your home and into your life in a way that’s real, in a way that’s sacrificial.  There will always be other things to fill our time with – jobs, errands, commitments.  But I challenge you to commit to community.  Make it a priority.

 

After all, you never know when the next plate is going to fall off the wall.  Might as well go ahead and get a support system in place. Maybe what “they” say has been true all along – it takes a village to raise a child.

 

-Jessica

Jessica And Her Coat Of Many Colors

 Galatians 5.1

A year or more ago I was miserable.  In a deep depression. Unable to even believe God was real anymore.

 

I had been swimming, drowning, in legalism for a couple of years.  Living in a spiritually oppressive environment.  Shackled to rules and unreasonable expectations.

 

The Bible Belt almost broke me.  A world where only hyper-conservative, right wing, classical homeschooling was the way of Christ and anything different is mocked and looked down upon.  Where Calvinism abolishes your ability to pray for your atheist friend.  Where wine is the devils drink. Where church attendance and belief in the right set of history saves you but no one even attempts to love and serve their neighbor.

 

Slowly, the bonds of slavery clanked tight around me feet, and then my heart, and then my tongue.

 

I couldn’t move in Christ.  I couldn’t think in Christ.  I couldn’t breathe in Christ.

 

I could only lay in bed at night, weeping and gnashing my teeth in the hedge of fire that had been created around me.  I felt nothing but guilt, all the time.  Nothing but inadequacy. Nothing but failure.  Every time I wasn’t perfectly loving to my children, every time I didn’t channel my inner Kirk Cameron and ask the lady at the drive thru window if she had ever told a lie …

 

I probably would have drowned there with that sea of legalism separating me from a loving God.

 

But then a miracle disguised as a disaster happened.  My proverbial brothers in Christ saw me grasping at grace and greatness and with jealousy in their heart they said,  “Here comes the dreamer!”

 

And then they threw me down a well.

 

I’m not going to lie, I sat there at the bottom of my well and cried a little.  But then I dusted myself off and recognized the opportunity that had been given me, the freedom to pursue truth with less barriers.  A few others quickly recognized that potential as well, and welcomed me to be in charge of a few things within their stain-glassed Body. I thought maybe I could find happiness in my Egypt.

 

But the honeymoon didn’t last.  I was less scared this time, less crippled by guilt, more willing to respectfully stand up for what I believed in.

 

Egyptians don’t like that.

 

And so I found myself unsupported again.  Thrown in proverbial jail, disconnected from the organization that I only wanted to help.

 

The green eyed monster is alive and well in Christ’s Church.

 

However, whatever my “enemies” intentions were, God used it for good. Because it wasn’t until I was completely free of mere rules taught by men that I could finally experience the glorious freedom found in Christ.

 

Now freedom is my anthem, my mantra.  Freedom, grace, and love.

 

It is for freedom that Christ set me free.  So I won’t let myself be burdened again by the yoke of religious slavery.

 

I found a lot of things within the four walls of church.  I found rules.  I found traditions.  I found oppression.  I found snobbery.  I found big-headedness.  And all of these things perfumed with the sickly sweet scent of good intentions.

 

But I never found Christ.

 

Sure, I found words about him, teachings about him.  But I never found Him.  His love and acceptance and freedom and Spirit.  Especially not his Spirit.

 

So that’s why I can’t truly be mad at my brothers, my jailers. Because in the end, they set me free.

 

 

 

How To Love People You Disagree With

How to love people who disagree with you.

 

Y’all, I don’t like disagreeing with people.  I am very anti-confrontational and always have been.  I am always going to be the one to simply back off and not engage if I realize I’m not going to break any ground in a conversation.  I don’t like to argue.  Really and truly I don’t.

 

Which means, btw, that if you and I have ever had a tense exchange, it means either A) I thought you might be open to hearing my side of what we didn’t agree on and B) I thought the subject matter important enough to contend for.

 

That being said, this past year has given me a lot of potential bitterness to chew on.  I didn’t realize it until recently when I was doing a sort of mental timeline, but 2011 sucked, y’all.  The conservative/traditional/bible belt knives were flying about all willy nilly, just looking for a back to sink into.  And we came out the other end with a few scars.

 

So what do I do to keep from being overcome with resentment?  Well first I, ahem, unsubscribe from people on facebook.  If your mouse hand causes you to sin, cut it off and all that.

 

But mostly, I just hold close to the knowledge that my adversaries truly think they’re right. And that helps me humanize them, sympathize with them.

 

My enemies aren’t actually my enemies. They’re just people, like me, following what they think to be true. My fight isn’t with them.  My fight isn’t against flesh and blood.

 

And you know what? Five years ago, I would have been my own enemy.  My “truths” were different back then.  Most of them weren’t actually “true”.  But I thought they were.  Jessica-five-years-ago would have disagreed on about every subject imaginable with Jessica-of-today.  Such is life.

 

We grow, we mature, we learn.

 

None of this is new.  None of this should be unexpected.

 

“I will send you the Advocate – the Spirit of truth.  He will come to you from the Father and will testify about me…I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith.  For you will be expelled from the synagogues and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. “*

 

People act out of a certainty that they are right.  Religious people act out of a certainty that they are doing what their God wants them to do.  Christian people act out of a certainty that they’re honoring their rubber bracelets.

 

Sadly, that doesn’t ensure that any of us are getting it right.  Sometimes we get it wrong.  Sometimes I get it wrong.  Sometimes my enemies get it wrong.

 

And that leaves me trying hard every day to remember that Jesus warned me about this and expected me not to abandon my faith anyway.  In the face of in-fighting and backstabbing and theological snobbery I try to sift the chaff of my religion and cling to the wheat.

 

So, I will find ways to love my enemies, to sympathize with them.  Because there must always be room for grace.  And, ya know, WWJD and stuff.

 

-Jessica

John 15:26-16:2

photo by serban enache

The Grace in Expecting Disappointment

expect people to disapoint you. then you won't be disappointed.

 

Expect People To Disappoint You.  Then You Won’t Be Disappointed.

 

This is the message that Joy In This Journey posted on facebook recently, asking our opinions, yae or nay.

 

It all kinds of invoked a response from me, so much so that I wrote a whole post about it.  Hop on over to Joy’s Site to see what I had to say:

 

Expect People To Disappoint

 

-Jessica

On Getting Older and Understanding Grace

praying for grace

 

My birthday is coming up this Friday (And if you want to get me a gift, you should totally click that “moving to Canada” button over there).  Ahem.  Anyway, I’ll be a whopping 29.  That’s right, go ahead and bemoan me for how very young I am.  I suppose, like all tortured, misunderstood souls (pffft) I’ve always felt a bit older than my calendar age.  Maybe it’s because I married in the 11th grade.  Maybe it’s because I had a baby at 17.  Maybe it’s because I became a grown up so much younger than most people so it feels like I should be practically middle-stinkin-aged by now.

 

Whatever the case, I feel like I should just be able to go ahead and claim 30-somethingism. After all, my other-half has already been in the club for a couple of years so that makes me an honorary member or something, right?

 

Why be so eager to join the old-lady club?  Because here’s the curious thing about 30 somethings that I’ve noticed: They are shout-from-the-roof-top sort of proponents of grace.  Jamie The Very Worst Missionary curses about it, Carlos Whittaker tattoos about it, Shaun Groves sings about it.  The People of the Second Chance ride it around town like a pimped out grace-mobile.

 

And I think I’ve figured it out, why 30 something’s are so in ever-gracin-love with grace:

 

They’ve been alive long enough to need it.

Or to really, truly realize they need it; to realize that we’re all just one dumb decision or reaction away from needing a get-out-of-jail-free card. Basically, they’ve lived long enough to make some whoppers of mistakes.  And making mistakes, particular ones that you swore you’d never make, ones that you previously judged other people harshly for, sends your self-righteous paradigm crashing to the ground like a modern day tower of lolspeak Babel.

 

So when you see or hear of others transgressing the same dumb crap, you’re more likely to put a consoling arm around their shoulder, than an accusing finger in their face.

 

Because, let’s be honest – life, and love, and the future, and God were so much more black and white back when we were babes.  When we were ignorantly vibrant young 18 or 20-somethings.  We thought we knew what we stood for and what we believed and what we deserved and what we’d never do.

 

And then life got gray.  God got gray.  The future got so gray we couldn’t navigate it even with our Holy Spirit fog lights on.  And we bumped into a lot of dumb, painful crap while we stumbled around in the dark.  We stubbed a lot of spiritual toes.

 

But when the fog finally let up, when the tornado of inexperience and assumptions finally released us – we could see again, and much more clearly, in fact.  We stepped out of our spiritual blindness like Dorothy into Oz.  Things weren’t as simple or as black and white anymore, but they were better.  Brighter.  Life, and God, and the future were suddenly in freaking technicolor.

 

And by that point we also generally had little people pitter pattering around us, dancing for our affections.  Or something.

 

Anyway.  Grace.  I get it.  And I get why 30-somethings get it.

 

And because I’m so graceful now, I promise to wait around patiently until you get it, too.  I’ll even have band-aids ready for your stubbed toes.

 

-Jessica

Finding Joy In The Bad Days

 finding joy in the rainy days

Have you ever had one of those terrible, no good, very bad days?

 

 

Three Year Old wouldn’t. stop. whining. at every body  through breakfast.

 

When I tried to leave for the store, he insisted on going with me instead of giving me that time alone.  It took 2 hours instead of 1.

 

I bought him a kids hot chocolate at the Starbucks inside the store.  He repeatedly spilled it on himself.

 

In the middle of shopping, he needed to number 2.  We went all the way across the store before finding out that the regular bathroom was closed.  We crossed the whole store again before finding an alternative one.

 

When I got to the check-out counter I realized my box of canned soda had been leaking through the whole store, leaving a vanilla cola trail in our wake.  I spilled it on my foot dislodging it from the cart.

 

Fitting all of my merchandise into the cart was an ingenious, masterful doing.  And a puzzle that no one could ever put back together.  Including the bag boy.  So it took 2 carts instead of 1 to transport it all the to the car.

 

The wind was blowing like crazy when we got outside, making it nearly impossible to push the cart through the parking lot.

 

By the time we started to load the two carts worth of food into the back of the car, it was raining.

 

 

And for some odd reason, through all of this, I was perfectly calm.  Thankful.  Appreciative.  Patient.  What could have been a terrible, awful, no good, very bad day ended up being … an endearing adventure. 

 

Thank you God for the days when I manage to grasp that little thing called grace. And this little thing called life.

 

-Jessica