I Want a Do-Over…I Think…Maybe Not

(Originally posted 6/30/2014)

One of my daughters-in-law recently asked me what I thought was important to teach their kids, which surprised me because she knows I’ve made a LOT of parenting mistakes. It’s something that always comes to mind for me on Mother’s Day and other random days when I am particularly vulnerable to my darker side. That said, I suppose I would be an expert on what not to do! I often wish I could have a do-over. A chance to enact that age-old expression, “if I knew then what I know now”.

So, how would I parent differently if I had it to do over? First, it’s possible, but very difficult, to instill in your children what has not been instilled in you. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” doesn’t work. Neither does my all-time favorite, “Because I said so.”

The reality that children learn by our example more than anything else sometimes catches us off-guard, often in uncomfortable places: in front of friends, the pastor, or a new neighbor. We blush with embarrassment and exclaim, “Johnny, where did you hear that?” Then, here it comes, “From you, mommy!”  We often fail miserably to live out the values we want to impart to our children, and you can be sure they’re watching and taking notes.

So, there are six values (in no particular order) and one HUGE command that come to mind for me, none of which, I might add, were modeled to me as a child.

Generosity:

If we were all honest, we would admit that we embrace some degree of selfishness. Like, I don’t know…

Hiding in the bathroom with the last piece of pie from last night’s dinner. Knowing full well it was your husband’s favorite pie. AND it was more like two pieces! AND you told him it was all gone!

Holding onto that favorite can’t-live-without-it sweater when packing up a box of clothes for the hurricane victims in Haiti – never mind that it doesn’t even fit you anymore. They really wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. And you’re giving them all this other stuff that’s clean and doesn’t have holes or stains. Okay, maybe it is your dear dead grandmother’s stuff from ten years ago, but it’s still usable.

Ignoring the bills in your wallet and digging in the bottom of your pocket for meager change to hand out the window of your moving car to the homeless guy on the corner, and feeling pretty good about it because the three people in front of you drove right past him. You may have even offered him a blessing as you drove away.

Is that the kind of “generosity” our kids see in us? Will they respond to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in the same way? How giving and selfless do we want them to be? Like us – or like Jesus? I would hope you would say, “like Jesus”, which begs the question, am I like Jesus?

The challenge becomes: How generous are we willing to be the next time we are given the opportunity to give to or serve others? Enough that it hurts a little bit?

Here’s a recent experience I had:

I recently encountered this homeless man on the Katy Trail one morning. I greeted him kindly as I ran past him – because I’m a runner, not out of fear – okay, FINE – it was both.

When I was returning, I saw another man standing next to his bike talking to him. When I passed them, I couldn’t help but think about how I had avoided him, excusing it as a safety measure on my part. After all, the trail was secluded, and no one else was around at the time.

However, when I got home, I enlisted my husband to help me pack some food and water and take it to him. We found him trying to fish with a string and a hook and talked with him for a while before he went on his way. I’m pretty sure I did all that out of guilt and felt the Holy Spirit’s nudging when I tried to get past him on the trail that morning. (Look at the picture and how he didn’t want to get close to me. I can only guess why because I have no way of knowing, but I think about it every time I see it.)

The point is, as I am continually reminded, it isn’t enough to throw a few coins from the safety of your car. Your brother or sister needs touch. They need the love that says you care. They need to see and feel the tender love of Christ. Have you heard the expression, “You may be the only Christ a person meets”? Think about that.

Forgiveness:

This is probably the hardest one of all, especially if what you are teaching your children to forgive seems unforgivable to you. But how do they know? Have you taught them that? Did you tell them you don’t visit Uncle Jim because he did something awful to you, and you can’t stand him? Do you talk about the neighbor you hate or the friend you don’t see anymore because of some grievance you have against them? Then one day, your daughter comes home from school and tells you she hates her once best friend for whatever reason, and you tell her that it’s not nice to hate?

Countless times I said to my kids, “Hate’s a strong word. We don’t use that word”, while for years, I hated my mother and others who abused me. I am gradually learning to forgive those who hurt me deeply and to seek forgiveness from those I hurt in the past, and sometimes still do. We need to realize and teach them, that you can’t truly forgive without the grace of God.

Compassion:

God could have kept Jesus safely at home, sparing both Son and Father the agony they’d soon be suffering. But those who had been cast aside by society desperately needed Jesus up close and personal. The woman who came to the well after all the other women had shunned her. The leper who’d been sent into a lonely, humiliating exile. The adulterous woman, shamed and frightened, standing half-naked before a self-righteous crowd eager to stone her. All of them, and so many more, needed Jesus’ loving touch, which the world rejects because it’s beneath them.

As we grow into the people God created us to be, made in his likeness, we must accept the call to share that love with others – not as a burden, but as a blessing. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart….” (Matthew 11:29).

We are all undeserving, yet we receive God’s compassion and mercy unconditionally. He calls us to reach out to others in the same way. The world would have us believe that it’s dangerous to reach out to others, especially strangers. But, as Mother Theresa says, “Do it anyway”.

Here’s an important question to reflect on: Could you or I have compassion for someone in need if no one was watching?

Of course, the Pope knows everyone is watching him, and this picture makes a lovely photo op. But, I think few people doubt Pope Francis’ empathy and compassion. It is truly genuine, and we know it.

Someone snapped a picture of Officer Larry DePrimo after he bought boots and thermal socks for a homeless man. He didn’t do it because someone was watching or because he would gain anything for himself. He did it because he cared. Plain and simple.

Acceptance:

Our kids are often more accepting of others than we are. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for us, but it is. We can’t accept the jerk next door that spews profanity at everything from his crabgrass to the mail carrier to his wife…and you, of course. I can find something wrong with everyone I know, myself included, if I’m honest, because the list of the things that make me the mess that I am is very long.

Think about the time your shitty old neighbor moved. You hope against hope the new ones will be different. They seem normal. Then they do something stupid by your standards, and suddenly, they become an instant ass; the honeymoon is over, and you want to take back that “Welcome to the neighborhood” plate of cookies.

If we could only grasp these profound words of Richard Rohr, “Once we have learned to discern the real and disguised nature of both good and evil, we recognize that everything is broken and fallen, weak and poor—while still being the dwelling place of God….That creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18). In this, you may have been given the greatest recipe for happiness for the rest of your life.” 

Humility:

“Love does not get puffed up” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Puffed-up love, or pride, is always turned inward. I know all about pride because I once made an almost effortless transition from self-hatred to self-love. Not the self-love God refers to in Mark 12:31. The self-love I’m talking about hides within the ego and thrives on a superior self-image. That’s not what God had in mind when he modeled humility in the life and death of Jesus. He became “the least of these”.

Would I do this? Would my child?

Trust:

This has always been a huge one for me.

Are you trustworthy? Because if you are not, it stands to reason that you will not trust others and find yourself cynical of their motives. Do your children trust you?

I learned very early about trust. Once, I hid the key to our bathroom because I wanted a safe place to run to when my mother had one of her frequent angry fits. Soon after that, while my brother and I were playing, I cursed, and he ran home to tell our mother. I ran past him, flew into the house, and locked myself in my safe place. There was a pounding on the door.

“Linda, open the door.”

“No. You’ll hit me!”

“I said open the door!”

“Promise you won’t hit me.”

“Open the g@#*^ door, or I’ll climb in the window!”

“Promise you won’t hit me!”

“Okay, I promise. Now open the door!”

Trusting her – after all, she was my mother, right? – I opened the door. She beat me until I fell into the bathtub and continued beating me until she was convinced I had learned my lesson. Well, I did learn a lesson that day: don’t trust anyone. It was a lesson that would stay with me for many years. I instantly determined that no one would hurt me like that ever again.

Why is it that we’ll trust people who have no interest whatsoever in us or our well-being, yet we can’t seem to trust the One who died for us? How many of your four-hundred Facebook “friends” care about your salvation? Do you think they care that you struggle? Do you think for a moment they wonder how you’re doing? “Gee, that’s a shame about Linda’s brush with hell” – yawn.

Though I kept God at arm’s length for a long time, gradually, he got through to my hardened heart. Gradually I began the process of turning loose of those things that – truth be told – I never had control of anyway. Finally, I was beginning to trust that he might just be wiser than me.

As I have grown closer to God, I have come to hear his voice more clearly, trust his guidance more readily, and wait a bit more patiently when he is silent. Yet, what is critical to understand in all of this is that I still fall short. Just when I believe I have overcome my defensive attitude, someone pushes my button and sets me off. And the insecure Linda I try to keep locked up is revealed. Busted!

So, there are the six virtues I wish I had learned as a child from loving, virtuous parents. They are the virtues I should have modeled to my own kids. They never saw it then; I hope and pray they and my grandkids do now.

 When we fail – and we do, as will our kids – discouragement will become our constant companion if we do not accept the fact that we will never be perfect, and neither will they. Because I could not believe that in the past, I felt I was continually failing God when I couldn’t control or discipline myself, my husband, my kids, or the dog. But, as shocking as it may seem, the greatest commandment is not, “Get your act together, stupid!”

And as for our children, sure, we want them to grow up with moral fortitude and integrity, but we also have to accept that it might not happen the way we envision it. There are no guarantees. That adorable baby you start off with could end up different than you had dreamed.

God has lent us our children. They don’t belong to us, they belong to him, and he wants them back in the same “condition” we received them. Of course, he knows we aren’t the only ones influencing their behavior. He does not hold us accountable for the possibility that others may lead them astray. I’m sure there were people in my earlier years (I’m thinking of some of my teachers) who wouldn’t have given me a snowball’s chance in hell of staying out of jail! Well….

The days of raising my children have long passed, and lest I forget, they’re quick to remind me of that fact. But if I did have it to do over, I would have first learned to love them unconditionally because of God’s unreserved love for me. I would have accepted them as the individuals they were created by God to be, faults and all because that is how God created and accepts me. And I would not have felt such a need to control the hell out of them!

That brings us to my final thought: that ONE HUGE COMMAND which Jesus left to his disciples and us.

The GREATEST of these…is…

Drum roll, please….

LOVE – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” If the basis of all we do as parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors is to love as we are called to, our children will be just fine.

Grandma…Really! Should You be Doing That?

French photographer Sacha Goldberger’s 91-year-old grandmother, Frederika, aka Super Mamika. CREDIT: Sacha Goldberger

Cellulite and shrinking bladders.

We’ve been thinner, and we’ve been fatter.

Aches and pains; always have to pee.

Adjusting to new hips and knees.

No trophies sitting on the shelf,

Just accolades we give ourselves.

Paltry savings in the bank.

Is this God’s dirty little prank?

No. It’s merely a perception that we have the power to change.

The age of seventy-four is magical for me. I can’t contain myself when I consider all the experiences I have grown through. Fierce rejections, false truths, exquisite God-moments, giggly grandkids, and cherished relationships that have endured my messiness and painful childhood memories, all washed over by grace.

I have embraced a calling that gives meaning and purpose to it all. I can barely believe this is my life! My once insignificant story has blossomed into something holy and beautiful that makes me want to sing! If only I could sing.

Many, at this point, feel they have made an irreparable mess of their lives. Yet, it seems easier to continue the incessant navel-gazing than to allow God to gaze into their hardened hearts and change their lives.

And if we weren’t beating ourselves up enough, the world also tells us that we have outlived our usefulness. We are sucking valuable air and resources that would better serve the younger and more “productive.” We should simply lie down and die already.

But for others, grace has led us through much self-reflection, releasing a false self we so easily embraced, finally leading us to the necessary letting go. We have stopped fighting against it. With new found courage, we have sought out forgiveness from those we have hurt and offer forgiveness to our offenders.

We have no one to impress and no status to protect. Our once false reliance on all that is worldly has been exposed. It pales in comparison to the treasure of relationships, beginning with God.  As long as we are still breathing (you are still breathing, aren’t you?), we can leave a legacy of love in the hearts of those we share this journey with.

But wait. Look around you. Are you reveling in that grace-filled stage of your life alone? If so, someone is missing. If you are here and those who continue to suffer are over there, you have probably forgotten your purpose! (Mark 12:30-31). Every day brings a new opportunity for us to step onto the path of someone else’s journey to wholeness and healing. And please do it with great joy and enthusiasm!  

1 Peter 3:15 tells us, “… always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you….” News flash! No one is even going to ask if we are not living differently than the rest of the world if we spew cynicism from every pore of our wrinkled and aging bodies.

Joy is loving out loud!

I believe young people, in particular, need to hear that there really is Good News! But they don’t want to hear it from a bunch of grumpy old people.

You may ask, “With the world in such a mess, why shouldn’t we be cynical?” Well, I’ll tell you why. Cynicism is the devil’s tool for keeping non-believers away from salvation’s door. “Look,” says the non-believer, “those Christians are just as miserable as we are – maybe more so with all those thou-shalt-nots to contend with. If we’re going to be miserable, we’ll do it on our terms. Thank you very much.”

The quality that draws people to Christianity isn’t gloom and doom. Instead, it’s deep-down joy, even in the midst of trials and struggles. Joy causes the lonely and suffering to peer up from their pit of despair and ask, “Why are you so cheerful? What do you know that we don’t?” 

 Here are a couple of frightening statistics to consider: 1) seventy percent of Christian youths abandon their faith during college years and never return to it  (LifeWay Research), and 2) suicide is the third-leading cause of death among ten to twenty-four-year-olds (CDC). In both instances, we need to ask ourselves why. And more importantly, what have we done to convince these young people that Christ isn’t worth following, that joy isn’t worth seeking, that life isn’t worth living? When they look at us, what do they see?

Do they see this? I can’t imagine anyone skipping joyously into the second half of life if this was all we had to offer; aches and pains and life’s dreadful stains. Just shoot me!

Or do they see this? 

Now, this is a different story! No, that picture was not photoshopped. That was my husband, who loved being silly with the grandkids. Okay, maybe it’s a bit extreme for some folks, but I think it’s hysterical, and our grandkids LOVED it. Since his passing, they now have beautiful memories of him. I kind of wish I would have done it now. But I don’t think it would have been as funny. Anyway, my claim to fame was “the running game” and the “tickle monster” – and I participated in them with great gusto!

What this country needs are radicals who will stay that way regardless of the creeping years.”  ~John Fischer

So go find someone to love on. Maybe even a teenager. Really! From many years of being a Youth Minister, I can tell you that teens are not as scary as you might think. I decided to “retire” from that ministry because I thought I was too old. Someone younger would be better suited to the job and relate better to them.

On the contrary, I found that being able to care about teens is not determined by age; it’s determined by how much we care. That’s all they want, someone to care and offer them hope and encouragement. They long for someone to help them reach within themselves to find that child who may have been lost to society but is NEVER lost to the God who created them. I know. I’ve been there. What about you?

Here are some things I have learned about life. Some the hard way:

  1. Failure is never final, and love is never wasted.         
  2. Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you the way you have hurt me.
  3. Eat dessert first.
  4. I would look stupid in skinny jeans even if I could fit into them – which I can’t.
  5. Pride is overrated – laugh at yourself – often.
  6. That jerk in your day-to-day life is trying to teach you something – pay attention.
  7. Surrender is a daily act of courage, risk, and trust.
  8. Be silly! We don’t have enough silliness in this world.
  9. Leave your little corner of the world better than you found it.

Words of wisdom from Richard Rohr: “The Jesus way is to embrace our wounds and accept them as the price of the journey. We can choose to carry our wounds with dignity until the time comes when we forget why they were so important or debilitating, to begin with. I think we carry our wounds until the end; they do not fully go away but keep us humble, patient, and more open to trust and intimacy. The healing lies in the fact that those same wounds no longer defeat us or cause us to harm ourselves or others.”

And finally, a quote that should conjure up an “oh crap” moment for all of us: 

“Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do”  Gian Carlo Menotti

Good Grief

Last year, an unwelcome course correction arrived at my doorstep with the sudden passing of my husband. My life came to a screeching halt as I faced the stark reality of being thrust into the unknown and the numbing emptiness that followed.

I unwillingly became a part of a club with no guidelines, rules, or secret handshake. I was signed up without permission, and I can’t “cancel at any time”. 

The blessings that came from a forty-seven-year marriage were overshadowed for most of this past year by regrets over things said or done, the if only’s, and lost opportunities. I thought that dark cloud would not dissipate. It totally sucked.

I needed someone to complain to.  Ahhhhh, God. I could complain to God. I’m so good at that. But the last time I tried, it went something like this:

Me dialing the number I found on the Internet…

The message in response:

                Dial 1 to leave a message of gratitude.

                Dial 2 to leave a complaint. You will be prompted to whine, grovel and beg. (FYI, this box is not monitored.)

How in the world did I fool myself into believing that my life would just keep plugging along with only a few potholes here and bumps in the road there until I drifted unceremoniously into eternity? I was lulled into believing that the way my life was would not change drastically or without some kind of damn warning.

Wrinkles and gray hair warn you. They don’t just show up one fine morning. Instead, they tiptoe in without much fanfare giving you plenty of time to disguise them before your next high school reunion. The aches and pains of aging sneak around your joints like a ninja, which mercifully eases you into the acceptance that your running days are over.

For as long as I can remember, each day of my life seemed to blend into the next. Birthdays piling one on top of another were no more thought-provoking than a trash can filling up. Any thought of purpose or meaning was often left unaddressed until tomorrow, next week, or…. 

I think life’s subtle changes are meant as a wake-up call. But they’re too subtle for me. They need to scream loudly into my failure to act before it’s too late…but…oh yeah…pride helped me ignore the fact that I probably needed a hearing aid. Until now – until this.

Then, just as suddenly as I was knee-jerked into widowhood, the dark cloud lifted to reveal God’s promise to turn my mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11).

Being thrust into the pain of loss must become the catalyst for change, for the hope that there is more to this life. Or why do we even bother? Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light”. Jesus came along and spent his life showing us how to live abundantly in that light despite the darkness.

Then one morning, God spoke into my broken heart, “This is your new reality, Linda. You’re still here. You are surrounded by my love, the love of an amazing family, and supportive, loving friends. Now get up, dust yourself off, and do what you were created to do. Because if you haven’t learned anything else this past year, you surely have realized that this one precious life you have is short. Quit wasting it!  Roll up your pity party mat and GO!”

I will leave you with two of the most powerful quotes that have helped me move beyond my sorrow:

Gian Carlo Menotti wants us to let this sink in, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”

John Shelby Spong tells us, “It is to live not frightened by death, but rather called by the reality of death to go into our humanity so deeply and so passionately that even death is transcended.”

Jesus – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Have you ever regifted something your Aunt Ethel gave you for Christmas that you have absolutely no use for, which she probably got last year from her tasteless brother? Come on, you know you have. We probably all have. It’s okay. Regifting is in scripture, you know. John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. 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 have a new appreciation for those words this year.

We have been decorating for the last three weeks for Christmas, and we’re not finished. I’m not even sure what Christmas will look like, but my anticipation this year has taken on a deeper meaning. It’s not the expectation of the sweet, non-threatening “baby” Jesus arriving. It’s about the Jesus, who seems to have gotten lost among us, especially this year.

We have all been witnessing our world collapse into chaos: the anger, violence, and hatred brought about by Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement, economic collapse, natural disasters, and the elections. That’s a LOT to deal with in such a short time. And watching the steady stream of sucky news isn’t helping. Some may wonder if Christmas is even worth the hassle, or anticipate more violence, or obsessively shop and decorate just to dull the senses.  But, as I prepare for this season, I have imagined a better scenario.

As one who has fallen away from the “Institutional Church” with all its trappings of dogma and rules and birthday cake for baby Jesus, I seem to be left with the stripped-down version of the meaning of Christmas. Perhaps I can see much better, like the blind man Jesus healed. I’m not sure if Jesus would have “physically” healed his blindness. He certainly could have. But, more importantly, I think of it as compassion revealing itself. I believe the tender touch of Jesus changed that man others rejected and cast aside. Maybe he felt his worth and innate dignity for the first time in his life. If you have ever “experienced” Jesus’ tender touch, you know what I’m talking about. But there’s more, and this is where it gets uncomfortable. Jesus expected him, as he does us, to not cling to that love he was shown, but to reach out to others and share it. It’s not a commodity to horde like the last roll of toilet paper on the shelf; it’s a gift to be given away. I have come to see this Christmas as an opportunity like no other to do just that.

God wants my excitement and anticipation to result in action. He is telling me, all of us really, “That’s great you’re excited. Now go do something about it!” Offer kindness and compassion to those who suffer: The elderly who are alone, millions of children in America that go to bed hungry, the neglected and abused. Check on your neighbor. Offer a smile and kind words to everyone you meet. Quit hating and judging others. Quit whining and complaining about what you don’t have, feel gratitude for what you do have, and then find a way to share it.

When we are called to “give till it hurts”, that’s not referring to outlandish presents under the tree that are often not even appreciated. It’s about offering love back to God and others with all your heart and soul. (Matt. 22:37) That’s how we can more meaningfully celebrate Christ in our midst!

Here’s one of my favorite “Christmas-like” songs. Try not to get it stuck in your head!