Monday, November 22, 2010

Openness Closes the Gap

Lately, I've been reflecting about the relationships in my life.  I've been asking myself about the purpose of each one.  When I have a difficult time answering that question, I know I have some thinking to do.  One thing I've been thinking is that without openness in relationships, they can become stale and unfruitful.  Without openness there is little ability to relate to one another.  Without truly relating to another person, what is the point of the relationship anyway?  I don't mean to imply that you should bear your heart and soul to everyone you meet or with whom you have relationship.  Nor do I mean to suggest that every single thought or feeling needs to be discussed.  I guess what I am talking about is a level of empathy that allows you to meet someone else at their place of need.  This goes both ways in relationships.  We all have needs.  We cannot possibly meet every need of another person (especially those needs that only God can meet) but we should be able to connect with people!  If we are not making this connection--a true and meaningful connection--we are not experiencing a fruitful relationship.  This is when the relationship becomes stale. 

That brings me back to openness.  Without it, it is rarely possible to develop and sustain meaningful relationships.  I also think that without openness, it is difficult to help someone else in his journey.  Without some level of openness about our own journey, it is unlikely that others will consider turning to us in a time of storm.  For me personally, I want to be someone that my friends and loved ones can turn to (should they have need) in a time of storm.  Again, not to replace the kind of help and healing that only God can provide, but to be love with skin on to another person.  Openness can really close the gap.  Openness can go a long way to help another person feel that he is not alone. 

I recently spent some time in conversation with a fellow mom of young children.  I know our time together did much for me, but I think it encouraged her also.  We were discussing a couple of issues concerning our children.  One was fairly comical.  She told me that sometimes at the breakfast table with her children, they get so easily bothered by one sibling or another looking at them.  She told me how her children will sometimes form makeshift barricades with their cereal boxes so that no one will look at them while they are eating breakfast.  The childishness of this amused me, but the story (and her openness to share a morning frustration) really encouraged me.  Why, you may ask?  Well, some of my children also have a problem with morning grumpiness.  They fuss at each other, bicker at the table, and at least several times a week one of them is complaining about someone looking at him.  Too often, I blame myself for these childish behaviors and become discouraged.  I question where I've gone so wrong that my children bicker so easily over such small things.  She shared another story about how recently her children were arguing so much in the car that she told them all not to talk any more for the remainder of the car ride.  She said a common frustration that her children share is when one wants to tell a story to another and the other one won't respond to the story-teller.  Oh, how I can relate!  Bickering...childish behavior.  Once again, when this occurs, I often blame myself because I am assuming that other families don't share these specific struggles.  (If we don't see certain things, we don't know that they occur.)  This friend's children are kind, gentle, and very well-behaved.  I would have never suspected that she experienced some of these daily struggles just as I do.  Her openness made me feel a bit less alone in these parenting struggles.  (Here I could easily digress as to how silly and naive I am to believe that I am the only mother facing certain struggles....but I won't...for now!)

I appreciate this friend because she is always open with me, as I am with her.  By no means do we enter into pity-parties wherein we complain about the woes of parenting; we are simply open and honest in our conversations.  She has never tried to wear a mask around me or put on a performance of perfectionism.  I have a high regard for her, but it's certainly not because I think she's doing everything perfectly!  It's how she relates to me.  And, before we were as close as we are now, I recognized this about her.  When I faced a challenging struggle that was seemingly overwhelming, I confided in this friend.  She encouraged me!  By that time, I knew well enough that she was a friend who didn't consider herself stronger or better than another because she never shared her struggles.  She lives her life with integrity but is unafraid to be relate to another person. 

Not too long ago, I saw a few comments made on a social website by an old high school friend of mine.  She and I have corresponded via email several times in which we've shared about our families, our children, our values and beliefs.  The few comments I saw were in relation to some very difficult struggles with one of her youngsters.  I sent an encouraging word but it wasn't enough.  The more I thought about her and prayed for her that day, the more I thought about some of my own past experiences with my young children.  I felt so impressed to write her a much longer, more detailed letter of encouragement.  I took the time to detail to her the events, my interactions, how I felt afterward, and what I've since learned.  I knew, while writing, that the most important message I wanted her to read was about how I felt.  Sometimes we go through experiences that seem so discouraging and insurmountable.  It's amazing what can happen when we are open and honest about that with another person facing something similar.  It closes the gap!  She wrote me a return letter with a heartfelt "thank you" saying that God must have known she needed that encouragement--and how deeply she appreciated it.  So glad I took the time!  So glad I chose to show my scars to someone!

Opportunities are all around us to close the gap.  How wonderful it is when we realize that we are not alone in our struggles.  Much easier to share the victories.  Much easier to always smile and pass the moments in small-talk.  But there is little purpose here.  There's a huge gap between myself and another person when I don't take a moment to listen--to really hear her heart--and share in her life.  It's fairly easy to find others to celebrate with us.  But, at the heart of the matter, who is there to get in the trenches with you?  Who are you helping out of the trenches?  You are not succumbing to negativism because you relate to another person--because you share your struggles.  You are showing another (and reminding yourself) that you are human!  You are learning, struggling, conquering, failing, overcoming, slipping, and growing.  There is a balance!  We don't do anyone a favor when we act as if we have it all together!  No one is helped by this.  When I started this blog, the one goal that was so important to me was:  to be honest, vulnerable, and transparent.  Do I want to encourage?  Absolutely!  Do I attempt to be positive and uplifting?  Absolutely!  But, I refuse to believe I can help anyone in this world without revealing the humanness of my journey as well.  We all have a story to tell!  We each have a way we can relate.  We all have the ability to listen, to truly hear the heart of a friend.  As parents, we want to do that for our children as well.  Let's be love with skin on.  Let's show some empathy!  Let's use genuine openness to close the gap!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Peace In My Own Footsteps

I wish I could do what she does.  All of her children are well-behaved most of the time.  They get along so well and they never seem to have a temper.  I know it's because of the person she is.  I wish I could be like her as a mom.  She is so gentle and kind and almost always soft-spoken towards her children.  She loves her children and sees the best in them so effortlessly.  I wish I could figure out how to be like her.

Okay, thoughts like these and many others often cross my mind.  I have a real problem!  I find myself comparing myself with other women--other moms--and spending time wondering how I can be more as they are.  It is really unfair!  It is unfair to me, my children, these other women, and my Creator.  I am far from perfect as a mom, but I am the kind of mom that God made me to be, regardless of how I compare to others.  How can I instill in my children the conviction that they are created in the image of God, and that He made them unique and complete, if I myself struggle to believe this?  I must learn to celebrate these other women--how alike or different they are from me--and I must learn to celebrate who I am!  I need to learn to have peace in my own footsteps! 

There is a mom who is a super socialite.  She's the hostess with the most-est!  She hosts Valentine's parties at her house with children running everywhere.  She bakes cookies and doesn't fret about how clean and perfect the house is when it's time to party.  She organizes get-togethers and outings with other moms on a regular basis.  This mom is not me to have peace in my own footsteps!

There is a mom who continually plans fun activities for her children.  She bikes with them, hikes with them,  roller blades with them, and searches for bugs with them.  This mom is not me to have peace in my own footsteps!  There is a mom who is always doing craft projects with her children.  She finger-paints with them, glues with them, and gets out the playdoh every day.  This mom is not me to have peace in my own footsteps!  I know a mom who hosts play dates every other day.  She makes sure her children always have social activities to look forward to and she invites friends over whenever her children ask.  She signs her children up for every sport and class they show any interest in.  This mom is not me to have peace in my own footsteps!

I know a mom who is unafraid to ask for help.  She frequently sees the need for her own time and she asks for it without hesitation.  This mom is not me!  I know a mom who reads to her children constantly.  She only feeds them organic food.  She plans weekly library trips and rarely turns on a cartoon.  This mom is not me!  I know a mom who schedules professional pictures every three months for each of her children, without fail.  She is on top of schedules and never misses an appointment.  This mom is not me!  I know a kind-hearted mom who always includes other moms.  She is absolutely never "clique-ish" and she is always willing to make a new friend.  I am not this mom.  I can celebrate her inclusive spirit; I can learn from her ways, but I am not her.  I can thank God for the goodness in each of these other moms and I can encourage their gifts--their ways--but I am not them.  Help me to have peace in my own footsteps!

How unfair to only see the good in others and not recognize my own strengths.  How unfair to convince myself that these other moms have figured out the magical, mysterious formula to being great moms just because they have strengths where I struggle.  Maybe, just maybe, they struggle where I am strong.  Maybe they can learn something from me just as I can learn something from them.  Maybe it really does take a village to raise a child and that's because we are stronger when we learn from other people.  Maybe, as moms, we need to celebrate the strengths in other moms and offer support in the areas that need strengthened.  Maybe I can be an even better mom today if I learn to have peace in my own footsteps!

There is a mom I know who prays continually for her family and for her friends.  She is not particularly crafty, but she has kept up fairly well with her children's baby books.  She sings, dances, and laughs with her children.  She may not bake homemade cakes for every birthday or bring homemade cookies to preschool, but she sits down to breakfast with her children and talks to them about the Lord and loving other people.  Her house may not be perfectly clean, but her kitchen is rarely a wipe-out and there is almost always fresh fruit for her family.  I know a mom who reads to her children, prays with them, and gives them hugs every day.  This mom is me!  I may not be crazy about playdoh or play dates, but I am crazy about my children!  There may be smudges on our storm door, but there will always be love and laughter in our home.  I am certainly not perfect, but I am doing the best I  I am learning, growing, and changing every day.  Most importantly, I am learning to remind myself that I am the mom God intended for these four precious jewels and I am learning to have peace in my own footsteps!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

So Many Hopes and Dreams

So many prayers for my children are continually running through my head.  So many hopes and dreams.  Not necessarily dreams of success, but dreams of peace, joy, love (and more love), grace, and mercy.  I hope and pray that they will stay close with each other; this life can be so tough and we need our loved ones.  Life can chew us up and spit us out.  When that happens, we need the comfort and safety of those who have loved us for so long.  True, we find family in many different places, but God has given us a family from the beginning.  I watch my children play, work, eat, and build together.  I see them fight and then forgive and I envision that this will always be so.  Let them always love each other.  Let them always be there for each other.  Help them learn to forgive one another because there will always be a need to do so.  There are some friends who are truly like brothers and sisters to us and that is a wonderful gift, but I long for my children to be friends also!  Let them remember that a true friend loves at all times! 
I hope that they can learn how to extend grace and mercy to one another.  I am well aware of how often we let others down.  We disappoint those with whom we are so close, those who we love--sometimes without even realizing this.  We fall down, make poor choices, forget what we were taught, forget to extend the love, grace, and mercy that we ourselves so desperately need.  Let my children never become so full of themselves that they forget to extend love, especially when it is undeserved.  Let my children see in others--in one another--the God who loved them so much that he breathed life into their physical bodies.  Let them never forget that we rarely deserve the love we are so freely given; it's a gift and we are responsible to give it back.

I hope that my children will grow to see beauty all around them...because it's there!  I hope that they will approach life with curiosity, creativity, laughter, and vitality.  Life holds so many possibilities.  Allow my children to see the potential in their own lives and the lives of each person they encounter.  You never know when you may meet your best friend, see the most breath-taking sunset, make the deal of lifetime, or encounter an opportunity that changes everything.  I pray that my children will awaken each day of their lives fully aware that opportunities are all around and that they come in many forms.  Sometimes our greatest triumphs are born out of our weakest moments or worst nightmares.  No matter what life throws at my children, I pray that they will learn to live free from regrets.  I hope that they learn to release failures, forgiving themselves.
I hope that they experience love, joy, and laughter.  Laughter truly is such a medicine for our soul.  Some of my most tender and difficult struggles in life have been lightened by true joy and laughter.  We are never promised, in this life, to be without pain or struggle.  If we find those with whom we can laugh and experience true love and joy, we have found a treasure.  In every season of my childrens' lives, I pray that they have the closeness of friends and loved ones with whom they can laugh.  May they learn to love life!  May they learn to embrace the storms of life just as much as they welcome the joys.  I truly hope that my children will always know how to play.  How much more wonderful is this life when we can find ways to play and gulp it up!  Let them find joy in the simple pleasures and delights; let them learn to be content at all times.

The Mom in me, who loves my children so purely and so deeply, could go on and on and on.  And I the privacy of my own thoughts, dreams, and prayer times.  No one can love your children better than you.  There is a reason they were placed in your care.  Never doubt this.  While reading a fiction book earlier this week, I stumbled across a truth that spoke volumes to me.  No matter where we go or what we do, we are connected to our children.  This fictional character--a mom--looked around the room full of strangers where she was, alone, and noted, "These people here, they looked at her and thought she was alone, she whose children were with her even in her dreams."  That is what it's like to be a mom.  We are never truly alone.  We are never apart from our children.  Our hopes, dreams, and prayers for them are the purest ones because God entrusted us with their precious lives...for a time.

(quote from Erica Bauermeister)