Effing the Whole Thing Up and Still Being Awesome

Elliott Erwitt New Rochell, NY, 1955 (busy mom)

Some girlfriends and I were sitting around the dining room table, drinks and appetizers scattered between us, ruminating as usual over love, life and relationships. And despite it being Girls’ Night, and despite our best efforts, the conversation inevitably steered itself toward our children. Toward motherhood. Toward parenting. To our fears and failures. Our triumphs and trials. Our daily insecurities of, as I like to say, “Effing the whole thing up.”

The conversation wore on and a common thread remained: Each one of us is hard at work trying to keep our kids from pain. We’re all trying desperately to keep our kids from screwing up. From making a mess. From making the same mistakes we did.

It’s scary. And tiring.

But more than that?

It’s impossible.

In her new book, Carry On, Warrior, Author, Blogger and Speaker Glennon Doyle Melton  (on whom I have an enormous girl and writing crush) says this:

My most important parenting job is that I teach my children how to deal with being human. Because most likely, that’s where they’re headed. No matter what I do, they’re headed toward being messed-up humans faster than three brakeless railroad cars.

There is really only one way to deal gracefully with being human and that is this: Forgive yourself. 

Oh. I love this. I want to frame this in my kitchen and stitch in on my pillowcase so that every time I’m tempted to think I could possibly ever possess enough power and persuasion to keep my kids from making mistakes and screwing up their lives, I pause. I pause to remind myself that while I’m responsible for healthy coaching and boundaries and discipline, there are, in fact, limits to my reach. As well there should be. We’re separate from our kids in the best of ways. It’s how we belong to ourselves and not our parents. It’s how we learn our own truth and feel our own feelings. Think our own thoughts. And really, become our own person. Big, messy mistakes and all.

And isn’t the struggle how we all learn to become?

[Side note~ I vividly remember being about 17 years old and actually shouting at my mom, “LET ME MAKE MY OWN MISTAKES AND LEARN FROM THEM!” Whew. Let me just say, make my own mistakes I did. Repeatedly. I did a very, very fine job making the mistakes I so brazenly declared I NEEDED TO MAKE. Jury’s still out on the whole “learning from them” part. Some things only become a WTF in hindsight.]

But as difficult as parenting can be, this I feel like I can do.

I can teach my kids to be human and to forgive themselves.

Every day. All the time. For the rest of forever.  And I’m learning it myself right now so that I can model it for them: Learning to be totally okay with the perfectly imperfectness of life.  Accepting that it’s messy. That I’m not always sure of myself, and I don’t always have it all together. And that’s okay. I’m carrying on anyway. And forgiving myself a thousand times a day because I’m human. Kids will learn to be gentle and gracious and compassionate to themselves when they watch how it’s done and then feel it extended to them.

Glennon goes on to say, “We have to forgive ourselves…and then oh my goodness…find ourselves sort of awesome, actually, considering the freaking circumstances.”

And so there it is. Considering the freaking circumstances, whether you got where you are today by your own fault or someone else’s, or just because life can be so damn hard, forgive yourself. You are exceptional at being human and even if you’re effing the whole thing up, you’re still actually sort of awesome. Forgive yourself and start all over again tomorrow.

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It’s Thursday and This is What I’m Reading: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

 

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“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either”


A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, chronicles the process of two movie producers working with author Donald Miller to turn his best-selling memoir, Blue Like Jazz, into a film. The producers keep looking for ways to make the movie more exciting, because the reality is, Don’s life is actually pretty boring and directionless. It’s missing the essential elements of a good story: Overcoming hardship and suffering, living with meaning and purpose. Miller goes on a quest to change his story. He finds his father, chases true love, and sets out for adventure– changing his life from boring reality to meaningful narrative.

The idea of our lives unfolding as a story is not a new concept. But with self-deprecating humor and deep vulnerability about his internal life, Miller strikes a completely fresh chord. His usual conversational tone is what makes this book so relatable and makes living a better story seem so doable.

One of my favorites parts of the book was when Don and a friend are having coffee. His  friend is lamenting over the troubles he and his wife are having with their teenage daughter and the poor dating choices she’s made. Don casually comments to his friend that his daughter needs a better story~

“He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used. In the absence of a family story, she’d chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence…”

The father goes on to make dramatic changes in their family story, taking them to Mexico to volunteer at an orphanage. It changes his daughter’s entire perspective on life. It gives her story the meaning it had been missing. “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”


If you only read one book this year (which is like, ridiculous and I’m so unhappy with you if that’s true), I want it to be A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. 

This is what I thought:

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives and I waste a lot of time waiting for “someday”.  Someday is a myth that keeps you on the sidelines of your life. Someday is never going to come. 
Living a better story starts now. Today. With whatever chapter I’m in. Today’s choices write tomorrow’s chapters.

This
is what I felt:

“A story is based on what people think is important, so when we live a story, we are telling people around us what we think is important.”

I’m afraid I’m telling the people around me that Target and clothes and coffee and beer and Pinterest are important.  And none of these things are bad, but they have no lasting meaning. They don’t provide purpose. I don’t want to be the Volvo guy. If a camera crew were to follow me around and document my days, they would keep asking, “When do we get to the part where you actually DO something? You already fixed your hair and curled your eyelashes. Your clothes are fine. You don’t need another purse. Your house looks cute. We’ve had all the coffee we can hold. WHEN ARE WE GOING TO DO SOMETHING? And put that damn book down. LET’S GO.”

You get the point.

“Once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”

This is what I’m going to do now:

“Here’s the truth about telling stories with your life. It’s going to sound like a great idea, and you’re going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you’re not going to want to do it. It’s like that with writing books, and it’s like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.”

I’m going to complete Storyline, which is a module that helps people map out their lives so that their daily schedule supports their life theme and priorities. In short, it helps people live a better story– the whole point of this gig. (Yes. It’s another Donald Miller thing. I really like the way this guy does life.)

I’m going to try to live more wholeheartedly and mindfully so that more of my time is being spent on things that matter. I’m going to set some specific goals for 2015– harder things that will keep adding more direction to my life and support the theme of my story. And whenever possible, I’m going to enlist my kids in it all, so that their own lives become intentionally written chapters– building blocks for epic life stories.


If we were to read about your life on the inside of a book jacket, what would it say? What’s your story about? If you’re not sure, then odds are, no one else knows either…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Not Hoping My Kids Love God

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My whole life I’ve always thought that loving God and raising my kids to love God was the highest form of moral and spiritual accomplishment. If I could just get myself and them to this head and heart space of loving God above all else, surely then we would live meaningful and happier lives.

But recently, in the middle of my own wrestling with faith and all things spiritual, I got to thinking, what if we all just learned to like God? You know, just get to know Him a little better and actually LIKE Him. And then see what happens after that?

It seems like when I’m commanded to do ANYTHING my natural inclination is to resist. I don’t think it’s all that different with love. I’ve perfected the art of loving someone without really liking them. We joke about it. You know the bumper sticker, “Jesus loves you. The rest of us think you’re an asshole.” Yeah. That. And He only loves you because He has to. He’s God. He loves everyone. The rest of us don’t really care for you. We care about you at the most minimal level so as to comply with the commandments. We tolerate you. We half-heartedly wish you well without really being invested in your well-being.

We teach our kids this same theology. Love God because we say so. Because the Bible says so. Love God because it’s the right thing to do. Love God because there might be scary consequences if you don’t. And by the way, do all this stuff He commands and expects of you. Because. We say so. This doesn’t really make God feel all that likable.



When I think about the people in my life that I
really like, I smile. Because they make me feel good about myself. They make me laugh. I love to spend time with them. I can count on them and I know they’ll always be there for me. They want what’s best for me. I trust them with my deepest thoughts and feelings. They know me. They hear me. They see me. The people I really like take good care of my heart.  They know I’m not perfect, but they keep coming back around because they see the value in me despite my shortcomings. I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. They already like me just as I am.

This is what I really believe God is like. I really like Him a lot more than I used to.

And I’m convinced He likes me, too.

Religion and faith can be so complicated and messy. Talk about humanity screwing something up beyond all recognition. Sometimes I think God must look down and just shake His head as if to say, “This is so far off from what I wanted for you guys.” In the book Love Does, by the legendary Bob Goff, he says this about keeping faith simple:

“…I see myself floating in a massive sea of God’s love. The circle of His grace and forgiveness is big enough and the line leading to Him is long enough that I don’t always need to be measuring latitude and longitude to find myself. It’s a pretty easy calculation each day actually…I just stay somewhere in that circle.”

This. This is a God I like. This is a God I think my kids would like and want to know and spend time with. I want them to know that liking God is easy. Sure the Bible commands us to love God with all of our hearts. And I absolutely want that for myself and for my kids. But the path to loving Him is liking Him. And that’s where I’m going to start.

It’s Thursday. And This is What I’m Reading: Take This Bread

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“Conversion isn’t, after all, a moment: It’s a process, and it keeps happening, with cycles of acceptance and resistance, epiphany and doubt.”


Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, by Sara Miles 

Raised an atheist, Sara Miles is a left-wing lesbian who traveled the world as a journalist, covering world revolutions. Early one morning, on what felt like a whim, she wandered into St. George’s Episcopalian Church in San Francisco, participated in their “Open Communion” service, and as she received the sacraments, had an outrageous life-altering encounter with Jesus– a Jesus she had thus far scorned and rejected. What happened in the years that followed left me equal parts fascinated, convicted and inspired.

“As I struggled with bread and wine and belief over the following year at St. Gregory’s, it stayed hard. I began to understand why so many people chose to be “born-again” and follow strict rules that would tell them what to do, once and for all. It was tempting to rely on a formula– “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior,” for example– that became itself a form of idolatry and kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the complicated flesh of others. It was tempting to proclaim yourself “saved” and go back to sleep. The faith I was finding was jagged and more difficult… It was about action…My first, questioning year at church ended with a question whose urgency would propel me into work I’d never imagined: Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?”

Miles had an answer to that. She went on a mission to start and run a weekly food pantry serving the poor and gritty community surrounding the church. Through it, she continually comes face to face with the best and worst of people, within the church walls and outside of them; daily wrestling with what it means to love, to serve, to co-exist and to know God.

“I was going to keep giving food away. What I glimpsed in the projects was the last thing I’d expected growing up: that because God was about feeding and being fed, religion could be a way not to separate people but to unite them…The sharing of food was an actual sacrament, one that resonated beyond the church and its regulations, and into a real experience of the divine. I wanted more.”

Page after page, chapter after chapter, as I read of her hunger to know God and her hunger to serve people, I slunk lower and lower into my seat. This woman. A few years ago, before my own faith shift, I would not have been able to read this book and see this woman for the inspiration and role model that she is to me now. I am embarrassed to say I would’ve judged her. I would’ve said no. Not her. Her lifestyle. Her history. (As if mine is so exemplary) The totally unorthodox and untraditional way she lives in every sense, relative to my White, suburban cage. Ouch. And now. I like her. More than I like myself. She’s going and doing. And I admire that.


“So many of the arguments between left- and right-wing Christians, fundamentalists and Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, seemed to hinge on the idea that their own sect had the correct practice, “the secret code,” that would save the followers and make God reward them. That was idolatry, as I saw it: magical thinking, pagan religion. I didn’t think God needed humans to practice religion at all: God didn’t need to be appeased by sacrifices or offerings or perfectly memorized quotations from the Bible spoken in the right order. God was not manageable.”

The idea that God is not manageable, not to be tamed; That perhaps there is no exact science to faith and belief… Well, I think I sighed audibly after reading that. I think the relief I have felt at discovering this was…is…palpable.

As I turned the last page of Take This Bread~

This is what I thought:

If you’re doing more judging than loving–

If you’re doing more talking than walking–

If you’re not somehow doing SOMETHING that makes a generous, soulful contribution into other people’s lives–

No one really gives a shit what you think about pre-destination and election. About post-trib or pre-trib. About free will. And quite frankly, I don’t think God does either.

“You have been greatly loved,” said a piece of the Gospel that had stuck with me. Go and do likewise. That seemed pretty damn clear. My only sense of “mission” now was to show others that they, too, could feed and touch and heal and love, without fear.”

Love people and do something about it. Period.

This is what I felt:

A little overwhelmed and embarrassed– a little silly– by how white, suburban, Evangelically, I have viewed God. I mean, really. There is a whole world out there whose experience with God is just as valid and real and authentic. I felt guilty and kinda dumb for thinking that the way I previously believed and lived was somehow better than Sara Miles and everything she represents.

This is what I’ll do:

Ok. The last few years have been rough. And I needed a break– from church, from service, from community, in many ways and on many levels. But as I move ahead in this new season of my life, this book has inspired me to find church again, to engage in community again, to be of service again.

“What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”

“Unity is a gospel imperative when we recognize that it opens us to change, to conversion: when we realize how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful, and those we think are stupid.”

I want to give back. I want to get involved again. I want to take up a cause. Be a part of social justice in some way. And this time, with my eyes and heart fully open and aware that the cost of relationships– of community– is part of the rent we pay for living here. And it’s worth it.

 “Christianity wasn’t an argument I could win, or even resolve. It wasn’t a thesis. It was a mystery that I was finally willing to swallow. I was loved by a big love. In the midst of suffering, of hunger, even of death. Alleluia. What was, finally, so hard about accepting that?”

Read this book. Even if you don’t connect with Christianity- or any faith at all, for that matter. Sara Miles has written a challenging and engaging story that has continued to help me redefine what I want my journey here on this earth, as a human being, to look like. I am loved by a big love. What’s so hard about that?

It’s Thursday. And This is What I’m Reading.

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Oh. You know. Just hugging a tree with a sign on it. Because BOOKS. Photo cred to J. Forman, whom when I shrieked, “STOP!” immediately backed up the car so I could get this shot.

I wish I had a record of all the books I’ve ever read. Like.every.single.book. Only a million times or so have I finished a book, closed it slowly after rereading the last page a few more times…and sighed. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted more. I wanted to know more, feel more, experience more. I wanted to step inside the book and somehow be part of it for just a little longer. And probably another million times I have closed a book and promptly cried myself to sleep, overcome with the emotion it stirred inside my soul. (I know. Super fun, right?)

Books have always been a steady companion to me. Gimme books over people any day of the week and twice on Sundays. More times than I care to count, I have sat down with a book to escape my life and thought, ‘I will just sit here. And be in this book. And read.’  And you know what? It helped. And okay, I get that it’s not always the BEST solution to life’s problems. But it’s not crack, either. Right? So there’s that.

Books have given me answers to questions I didn’t know I was asking. They’ve been my teacher and I have been their starving student. They’ve whispered to my heart and soul and helped me process things I was not even aware of. The world is so much bigger than what we get to experience in our Ground Hog Day lives. There are infinite thoughts I never would’ve thought. Feelings I never would’ve felt. Worlds I never would’ve imagined or understood. Perspectives this suburban-middle class-white girl never would’ve seen nor shifted- had I not first read them someplace else.

Books change my life every single day.

And so Real Life. Truthfully. will now have a weekly feature called,

“This is What I’m Reading”

I want it to inspire you to do a little more reading in your own life.

And then I hope you’ll tell me what YOU’RE reading.

{And also, now I will have a book catalogue.

Even though it’s about 35 years later than I would’ve liked.)

You guys. It doesn’t matter so much WHAT you’re reading– as long as you Just. Read. (I’m sort of lying- because I hate crappy, poorly written, sub par fiction. But. Still. If that’s your jam, keep reading.)

And besides, reading makes you smarter. And smarter is always better.

Next Thursday on This is What I’m Reading:

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, by Sara Miles

The Fault in Our Stars and Everything That’s Right With my Heart

I’m right in the middle of reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and it is achingly beautiful and tragic and painful and funny and everything in between. Every single time I pick up this damn book there is a lump in my throat and tears well in my eyes. It undoes me. It presses a bruise inside my heart. But like a million books before this one, I wallow in it and I drink it in like a person who is dying of thirst because somehow the pain resonates. I keep reading and I almost weirdly enjoy that emotional tidal wave that threatens. This morning as I snuck in another 10 minutes of reading with my coffee and pumpernickel toast and egg whites, I had the most personally profound thought: All of these tears–these frequent tears– these tears that so closely associate with pain and loss and heartbreak–do not mean I’m broken, as I have always suspected. As I have been led to believe. As I have been told. And that I have been ashamed of. They mean I’m human. And I feel. And I have a big, warm, sometimes complicated heart . And this is not a fault. It is actually quite a beautiful thing.

Like the rest of the human race, I have known tragedy. I have known heartbreak and heartache. I have known my own personal suffering and therefore tears come easily. But I have long said to myself, and more so recently, that this was some sort of indication of my brokenness. A defect of sorts. And I have been told this, as well. And while there may be some partial truth to this- that there are broken parts of me, isn’t this also the human condition? I don’t believe this makes me unique or special in any way–but I have now come to realize-neither does it make me defective.

And in fact, could it perhaps actually be a gift? Not like in a cliche way that makes you want to slap someone who refers to suffering as gift– but could this fragile, tender-to-the-touch heart of mine be a gift for myself and the people whose paths I cross, instead of a burden to bear? Because it means when I say I feel your pain, I really do. Because sometimes I can’t help cry when a friend is crying. Because compassion and kindness and empathy are important-and it hurts when they’re not extended generously and often and without judgement or measure.

And though I do feel life deeply and cry easily, I also laugh easily. And a lot. And did I say easily and a lot? Despite the fact that one of my favorite things to do is be by myself with a book that is undoing my heart and mind (I know, I know…I sound like a real party in a box), I’m actually a truly happy and optimistic person. Is it possible that the heartache makes the happiness easier to recognize and perhaps that much sweeter? “So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” (John Chbosky) But I do know this: I’m okay with it.

Hungry For More

Up until now, The Hunger Games in my life went something like this: It’s late. I’m laying in bed, I promised myself I would NOT eat another thing tonight. But now I’m hungry. And so the battle begins–To get up and get a snack or not to get up and get a snack? Last night my mental arch enemy was a Rice Krispy treat.
But now. Now I have literally just finished reading the REAL Hunger Games and I’m hooked. I’m a fan–and it’s surprising me a little bit. I read a lot. As in, probably a book a week. And normally, books that even hint of fantasy or science fiction would NEVER grace my nightstand. It’s just not a genre I enjoy. And on top of that, word on the street was that The Hunger Games were written towards and marketed towards a younger crowd–and this reminded me of Twilight. And I wanted to throw up in my mouth a little bit. I read Twilight. And I wish I could get those hours back. (Sorry-you’re reading Real Life. Truthfully. Remember? It’s true!)
The Hunger Games was riveting. It was a genuine page turner. Because I love to read so much, I normally “restrict” my reading hours to bedtime–but I found myself drawn back to the book all day long, thinking about the story and the characters and anxiously anticipating what would happen next. It did not disappoint.
But here’s the other really surprising part of The Hunger Games for me–in some of the circles I travel, there had been talk that this book was not great reading material for Christians. I honestly hate to even broach this topic because after reading the book (and I’m not certain that everyone involved in those conversations had), it’s a little embarrassing. From my humble and albeit limited perspective, the prevailing theme of The Hunger Games is the indomitable power of the Human Spirit. It is the triumph of good over evil. It is a showcase of our ability to endure horrific circumstances long after we think we’re able to. It is the glorious display of an incredibly strong and level-headed young female heroine. Unlike the Twilight series, Katniss Everdeen cares less about romancing her male counterparts and more about fighting for her life and not allowing the evil empire of government to change the essence of who she is. I don’t know about you, but that’s a story that’s worth my time. And although much has been made about the “kids killing kids” aspect of the story–that is not nearly the central theme the reader comes away with, nor a part of the story that is emphasized, dwelt upon, or championed.
I want my 14-year-old daughter to read this book, and my younger daughter when she’s of age. Not just for the brilliant and thrilling storyline, but for the inspiring and empowering role model of The Hunger Games’ rock star girl character. There has always been a shortage of these girls in our movies and our books and I want them to see her fierce ability to triumph over adversity. Unlike their mother, who caved and ate the last Rice Krispy treat.