out of africa

Am I making a fool of myself? The question frequently haunts me when I am writing or talking with people.

But my belief in the beautiful, mysterious good that happens when people are vulnerable with one another always wins over my need to save face.

So I jumped off the cliff and dove headlong into the conversation.

Even still, this felt riskier than usual. I wasn’t just sharing my feelings or my experiences. In fact, I was completely void of experience in this area. And they were drenched in it.

The girls I was talking to were from Malawi, Africa. They were here on an internship with an organization I am a part of.

Confession time. I long to go to Africa someday. Badly. In a way that tells me I will go to Africa. But I hardly ever talk about it. I don’t know the how or the when but my gut tells me it will come about in just the right way, at just the right time.

Can they tell how much I want to know them? Can they see how much I long to go to the place where they are from? Can they sense my hope to get just a sliver, a crumb of Africa inside of me through them?

All these questions raced through my head as I chatted with the young women.

I think Africa has something to offer the world. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it is something mysterious and invaluable. And I spilled to these girls what I have believed for a long time but until then had never told a soul.

I believe there is a spirit in Africa. A facet of the Spirit of God uniquely and abundantly thriving in Africa. The spirit of Africa. And I think this spirit gets inside the people who go there. And it changes them. I’ve seen it. 

The girls ask me how this spirit makes people different. I can tell they know what I am talking about but they want to hear me say it. Suddenly I was aware of the throbbing in my chest and the heat of blood in my cheeks.

What if I am getting this all wrong? What if I offend them? This is their homeland I am talking about.

But slowly I find the words. I think this spirit helps people see what is important in life. I think this spirit of Africa frees people. It frees them into life. “Does that make sense?” I ask them. I think I might be speaking gibberish.

Yes. I can feel their hearts affirm with their words. They see it too. I am not crazy. Now I have spoken it and I have seen them agree with it. And now the ache inside of me has grown bigger and stronger and even more painful than before.

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discernment

I don’t truly grasp the concept. If I am terribly honest with myself, I will admit I don’t really want to. I would prefer formulas. Rules. Distinct black and white. Abundantly clear clarity. I would like to do away with life’s murkiness.

Tell me who the safe people are in this world and how I can distinguish them from the unsafe ones. Is there a mark on their cheek? Do they wear certain clothes? Could everyone just walk around carrying signs?

But no. This is something that requires discernment. Learning as I go. Listening to my intuitive side.

And quite frankly my intuition often feels underdeveloped. Only in the last two or three years did I learn I even have an intuitive side. Or that it could be helpful to me in any way. That little voice. That sense of something without tangible proof.

So I am continually baffled.

But of course, life has been doing what life tends to do and presenting me with opportunities to practice and learn this foreign concept of discernment. Making choices or understanding people or situations in the current moment without needing to label or put them in boxes where I will keep them forever.

Allowing for mystery and fluidity beyond what I see while still working with the reality of where I find myself in the current moment.

Acknowledging that sometimes discernment happens in a moment and more often it requires a process.

And I have been doing what humans tend to do and making mistakes and feeling awkward and discouraged in my learning process.

But I also believe in the midst of this, God has been showing me his gentleness and tenderness toward me. Even when the learning curve of life feels steep and painful.

And he wants me to know that he loves me in the midst of it all.

So he gives me sons who pick up on my tension and hurt feelings from others as I learn the hard way (by experience – yuck!) and give me extra hugs and kisses and tender looks and sweet shoulder rubs. And I think my heart might explode. When did they develop such a capacity for compassion?

And he gives me friends who remind me of truth and encourage me and listen and listen and listen and give me hugs. Friends who don’t put people in boxes just to make me feel better but who help me understand the complexities of life and walk with me as I struggle with all of it.

And of course he gives me a husband who provides comic relief while he communicates his unending loyalty to me with his over the top protective comments.

And he gives me this sense that he is with me. That he is for me. That he loves me. And that he is in fact helping me learn this thing called discernment. 

a needed love


He was the source of nurture at my house. He tucked me in and rubbed my back. “Tickly light please, Daddy.” He said prayers with me even though I am not sure if he knew whether or not he believed in them. When I had bad dreams, I found myself on his side of the bed, snuggling up to him to calm down.

He was also the one who came to check on us after the very loud fight when they threatened to leave one another but didn’t. “Are you guys okay? Were you scared? No one is leaving.”

And he was the one who left me a note on the night he had to leave when I was in high school. “I didn’t want things to end up like this. I will always be here for you.”

My last two years of high school I lived out of my car, moving every two weeks from one parent to the other. I never quite knew where all my clothes were. I suppose it should not have been a surprise when I drove out of town for a wedding not realizing I left my dress behind. He drove an hour and a half and dropped it off to me, hugged me, told me to have fun and then got back in the car and drove and hour and a half home. No shame, no guilt. Just love.

Then there were a few years of crazy between us. More people came into the mix and things got complex. I got damaged in the process. We all did.

I know it hurt him when I asked for space last year. I wasn’t trying to punish him or be childish and angry. I was falling apart and I needed my therapist and some time. He worried. The whole time. And it took a lot longer than I thought it would.

But now that time is over, and I hear something new in his voice when I call. Gratitude. He seems so much more aware of being glad to hear from me. He takes time to ask questions and really listen.

His love continues to keep me sane. I have always had this gut sense for what a loving parent feels like, but my mind likes to tell me that I am a terrible child, undeserving of such love, foolish and unreasonable for desiring it.

So I need the reminder that he is and the unearned love that he gives.

Desperately.

purging

The day had been a bit of a struggle. Who likes cleaning out the garage? Maybe I would if I ended up with an empty garage in the end. But life with a family of five is a far cry from the simplicity of college when the whole of my possessions fit in my four-door hatch back red Chevy Nova.

But we had made it through. The toys stowed away in the garage for getting rid of served the purpose of keeping the kids occupied while I sorted and sorted and sorted. At least they kept them busy when they weren’t fighting over them.

I must admit; I was doing pretty well all things considered. That is until I started cooking dinner. I could feel myself tighten. I began grumbling in my head. Irritation and resentment started to grit against my soul the way sand does on the ride home from the beach.

I won’t lie. Hormones were involved. I’ve started wondering if PMS is known to get worse after bearing children.

Either way, by the time I got in the car after dinner to drop off a few bags of clothes at a friend’s house, I was thinking what a fortunate thing it was that I would be away from humanity for a few moments, alone in the cocoon of my minivan. Fortunate for everyone involved, that is.

I turned on some of my favorite music and my shoulders released their suction from my ears. I started to talk to God. It was a little awkward. It’s been a little awkward between us ever since my therapy. Not distant per say, just different. I’ll leave it at that.

I was talking to God about some big philosophical things I have been wrestling with lately. Things I don’t have answers to. Things I am not sure anyone has answers to. There were some awkward silences.

And then, somewhere on the drive home, it happened. I didn’t hear a voice or have some large epiphany or see the answers to my questions mysteriously appear in the stars. I sensed that I was loved.

In the midst of my questions and awkwardness and wrestling I knew that I was loved even still. Because I don’t earn love by having all the answers or not asking questions or having appropriate hormone levels or a lack of internal tension.

Love is not earned. This is a truth I cannot be reminded of enough.

the face

What do I say to a face like this? These puppy dog eyes, red and splotchy from tears with hot cocoa stains around the mouth for finishing touches. The fact that he is about the most adorable child God ever created works in his favor almost all of the time.

My former self would have known just what to do when face to face with this forlorn little boy. I would have forced the older brother who wanted to play by himself to play with this child. We must sacrifice everything – including our very selves – in honor of being nice. I don’t care if you want a moment alone. Can’t you see this face?

But I am not my former self anymore, even though parts of her tug on my heartstrings from time to time. So while it kills me to look at this deliciously pathetic face, as a mom of three I also respect that everyone needs time alone now and then.

I had been listening and after quite some time playing nicely with someone less than half his age, the older brother had requested said time alone respectfully. And I haven’t heard a lot of respectfully around here lately. The three-year-old stormed off to his room where he proceeded to weep bitterly with angry sobs.

I followed him in and scooped my snuggliest child into my arms. He was offering his love and adoration for his older brother in the form of intense desire to be together, doing what his world revolves around, playing. And he was rejected. And it hurt.

And I have to admit, I was a little at a loss of what to do. It is fair to need some alone time. It is also fair to be hurt when someone doesn’t want to play with you, even when they are not being mean about it. How can I help my children understand boundaries, respect, and love? There was no simple answer here, so I sat holding my youngest son and felt the tension of the situation for a while.

Sometimes people’s boundaries are not what we would like them to be, but that does not give us the right to make their choices for them. Even when we are the mom. And it’s hard.

I was encouraged that after some snuggles for one and some time alone for the other, the boys figured out for themselves how to play together again. At least for about another five minutes. Then I got to see this face again.

What situations have you faced lately that don’t have clear cut solutions?

grace-rain

Today I get to listen to rain. In truth, this isn’t really rain. It’s more of a mist. But in San Diego, rain is a rarity so when the ground is wet, I pretend the mist is actually rain. Today my husband even turned on some of that music with nature sounds in the background…..so rain it is.

And all of this is a nice switch from all of the children-rubbing-each-other-the-wrong-way sounds I have been listening to as of late. We have been ushering in a new era in our family’s life. I recently realized that my kids in all of their kid-ness don’t really know what to do with all of it. So they cope in the best way they can…by bugging each other.

And so I have been quiet around my family lately because I have not wanted to add my two cents of irritation on top of the generous amount that is already in play. And in my quiet, I have been thinking about listening.

I think listening is a form of grace. There are lots of “rules” to good listening, and I am certainly not against them. Those rules have helped me a lot over the years. And good communication requires more than listening alone. But if I leave the rules behind for a while and think solely about the element of listening, I find it awfully beautiful.

Listening says I see that you are pouring a piece of yourself out and I am going to try and catch it. I am not going to try and change direction of what you are spewing, and I may choose to stand out of the way enough so all that gushing doesn’t drench me, but I will stay here and try to take in the fountain that is you. I am going to let you be exactly and humanly who you are in this moment. I am going to notice you. I am going to consider you.

And 9 times out of 10, that is a really big deal to whomever you give that listening gift of grace to. But I have noticed that sometimes the person talking doesn’t really want to be listened to at all. They just want to talk. Or they just want their way. Or they don’t really know what they want at all. And I think that is very very human. And it might be because they have lived their whole life with no idea what listening truly is. But I don’t really know what to do with it because in those cases whatever I have to offer will not be enough.

Kind of like when I was a new mom with a screaming baby and I wanted God to make my baby stop screaming and make me peaceful inside. But instead he loved me. I did not think his love was nearly enough at the time.

And those 1 out of 10 are the times when I especially see listening as an expression of grace. And it is not easy. Or for the faint of heart. I suppose grace never is.

P.S. Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me that all this rain is going to make my weeds grow back again.

thin skin and haircuts

Sometimes a haircut is not just a haircut.

As a mom, taking time out for me is not one of my strengths. Like everyone else, I look at other moms and think they have the balance between taking care of children and taking care of themselves all figured out. They seem to not have any trouble or guilt when they take time away for themselves. I see how much better they are for it. And yet, I often don’t realize I need a moment away until I am beyond the point of no return and in a puddle of tears on the phone to my husband. Yesterday was one of those days.

The night before, my husband and I had to work out a conflict between us and although it showed great growth in our relationship, conflict tends to take a lot out of me. Then I got some attitude from my pre-adolescent son which was really not that big of a deal but came directly on the heals of the husband conflict-resolution business and my skin was thinner than usual. I mentioned my lack of appreciation for my son’s attitude to him with a little attitude of my own, afterwards internally chiding myself as I had him. Now my skin was even thinner.

The next day I woke up to discover another reason for my thin skin. Monthly hormonal surge. With my thin skin and raging hormones I had a normal day getting the kids out the door to school. Sometimes I secretly think everyone in my family lives to frustrate me.

My youngest son had a “feast” at his preschool and not having actually read the email that came from the school, in my head I had assumed it would be around snack time, leaving me plenty of time to get to my haircut appointment I got because someone else had canceled which was groovy for me since I had not had my hair cut in over six months and I was going crazy. But when I got to preschool I soon learned that the feast and the hair appointment were scheduled to happen simultaneously. Fantastic.

As I drove away to purchase a new garbage can that we were now responsible for replacing even though it was the claws from the city’s garbage truck that had obliterated the old one, half of me told me I was a selfish beast and the other half reminded me of a truth. The truth is that just when I am feeling as I was at that moment – like everyone needs more of me than I have to give and I am going to suffocate if I don’t get a moment away and do something for myself and yet I feel like the worst mom in the world for missing something like my son’s preschool feast even though my friend was happy to stand-in as his surrogate mom that day – that is usually when I need the moment away the most. Unfortunately, the two halves of me continued to wage war leaving me as collateral damage. Eventually my tortured soul and I arrived at my hair appointment.

Afterwards, I felt like I could breathe. My friend who cuts my hair reminded me that my three year old son was not going to remember that I was not at his feast a week from now. That was actually quite helpful to hear.

As I drove back to the preschool with my shorter hair and lungs that felt like they could actually take in air, I realized that sometimes a haircut is not just a haircut. It is a small victory in the battle of loving my family and loving me at the same time. I don’t know why those two activities seem mutually exclusive, but in my life they seem to only co-exist in the most delicate of tensions. It was a reminder that I am not God and I do not have to be God for my children, as much as I occasionally convince myself otherwise. I can be human. I can need. I can get a haircut. And the world does not fall apart. And I might just come back with normal skin again.