So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

badmoms.jpg

First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

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See You Soon!

bts

For many of my readers, back to school has already begun.  For me, it’s next week.  This means I have a week full of shopping, packing backpacks, open houses, and other errands.  So, I’ve taken this week and part of next week off as we get back into our school schedule.

For those who are dropping off their little ones for the very first time… I pray for your heart.  I pray for the safety of your children, that their minds will be filled with good information, and that they are spared from negative influences.  I pray they learn to stand up for themselves, their beliefs, and their dreams.

For those who are dropping off the last of their children for their first day of school, I encourage you as you enter this new phase of parenthood.  Whether you go back to work, volunteer at their school, start leading a weekday small group, or go back to school yourself…  this is going to be an exciting time for you.  I pray that you can embrace the changes coming your way, and lean on the Lord as you navigate this new path.

To my elementary school moms, I pray you enjoy this year of art and coloring pages… shoe box projects… repetitive math drills… field trips… and class parties.  There is a day this all comes to an end, so be present for as much as you can.  Go to the ceremonies, drop off the party supplies, bring the cupcakes, forgive them for their decisions to cut their own hair right before picture day or for putting the temporary tattoo right on their cheek Sunday night after bath time.  You’ll cherish these wacky photos and silly memories.

To my middle school parents… HOLD ON.  Just, seriously… hold on.  This is a rough few years.  It was middle school that brought me to meet with my Pastor’s wife because I didn’t know WHO this kid was that just suddenly showed up one morning.  It was at my first middle school orientation that I was handed a flyer that said… “No you’re not crazy, but your child is nuts.”   You will survive this time, as they are trying to figure out who they are.  They are going to want to do some crazy things, they are going to ask your permission… and sometimes not.  They are thinking in a different sphere… and I promise you… even they will look back on these years and wonder what they were thinking.  Pray a lot.  Learn to give permission on some things, so they don’t see you as the “No Machine”.  Pick your battles.  Pay attention.

To my high school families… wow.  High school is another world.  A new kid shows up, who one day looks like that middle schooler you picked up on the last day of school… and is now suddenly this person that looks almost like an adult.   You will have moments that take your breath away.  Then they get a job, find a relationship, start driving themselves, and you see them living the independence you have been preparing them for.  They are doing it, and some of them are doing it really well.  Which in and of itself is enough to take your breath away, to stop your heart, and choke you up with tears.  This is happening.  It’s part of HIS plan… and you have done a great job.  Keep praying, for your child… but also for the parents who find this is a year of struggle and pain.  There are those who despite a parent’s best effort have taken their own path and made some bad choices.  Keep those parents in your prayers.  Keep a home that is open and safe for children to land, even if they are not your own.  High school is the intersection of childhood and adulthood, and it’s as exciting and terrifying as it can be.  Keep your head, keep calm, and pray on.

To my senior year mommies… I feel your heart this year, as we enter those waters for the first time.  I am so proud of who she has become, where she is going, but my heart breaks daily as we learn to let go a little more.  I know what changes lie in the years ahead… and it brings tears to my eyes that would make Niagara Falls look like a slight drip.  So, I feel your hearts bursting… your arms reaching… your attempt to balance all of this.  Let’s just agree to pray for each other.  I’m praying for you and I covet your prayers.  This is going to be a fast year… faster than any of us want.  But, we’ll get through it together.

And finally, to my parents of college students… whether it is their first year or their last… THIS IS IT.  This is what you’ve prepared them for.  This is why they needed that independence… so we could let them go.  So… LET THEM GO.   And, let them know where they can always come back home to.  Pray for their studies, classes, friends, experiences, and decisions.  Allow them to make decisions about their future, don’t dictate it for them. It is time for these children to become the men and women God is calling them to be.  Celebrate their victories, be there for their failures.  Love them through it all.

Happy Back to School!

Beautification Proximation

paintedhouse

There is a phenomenon that is rarely discussed (but well known) when you live in the burbs, the zero lot line… small yard, everyone is super close to each other neighborhoods.  This is phenomenon is called the “Mowed Lawn Phenomenon”.   Many are impacted by it’s domino effect.

It starts simply, OCD neighbor mows his lawn as he does every Saturday at 8am.  His neighbor notices that OCD man is out there mowing as usual, and sees his nice and tidy yard.  Within a short amount of time, the neighbor also realizes that his lawn needs to be mowed as well.  By the end of the day, the lawn is mowed.  Mr. Works on Saturday comes home after a long day and sees the mowed lawns next to him.  He realizes it is also time to mow his own lawn, as it is looking pretty shabby.  On Sunday, after church, he mows his lawn.  This continues until the whole neighborhood has collectively mowed their lawn.

Until OCD neighbor mowed his lawn, no one realized how shabby their lawn looked.  In fact, even Mr. OCD may not have realized his lawn was shabby either.  He was mowing because that is part of his Saturday routine, whether the lawn needs it or not.  But certainly after mowing, Mr. OCD had a measure of satisfaction in how his yard now looked in comparison to his neighbors.

What I have begun to realize is that this is more than just a phenomenon related to mowed yards.  It’s really Beautification Proximation.  When a neighbor gets a new mailbox, suddenly we think “Hey, we probably need one too”.  Someone in the neighborhood starts a landscaping project?  By the next week the everyone in the neighborhood made a trip to Lowes.  Paint your house?  Let the painting parties begin.

My husband and I decided to paint our house this summer.  By my husband and I, I actually mean my husband… and I blame Dave Ramsey because my husband was holding out for a sale on the paint.  And of course, who paints during the SUMMER in Florida????  Which means paint was on sale trying to talk people into this nonsense.  But, I digress.

We decided to replace the lawn chairs that were in rough shape with some newer ones that fit the house theme better.  Our old ones went to the curb, we knew in less than 24 hours they would be picked up.  To my surprise a neighbor knocked on our door to ask about the chairs before just taking them.  He complimented us on how the house was coming together.  I thanked him.  He then pointed out that now his wife wants to paint their house.  I apologized.  We laughed a moment, and as I walked into the house I shouted to my husband…

“I told you it would happen….”

He replied, “What?   Someone already picked up the chairs?”

“Well, yes.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I told you that as soon as we were done painting the house… the neighbors would start.”

I saw it coming.  I knew that a fresh coat of paint was inspiring and motivating… just like new plants in the garden, cutting down old dying trees, and a freshly mowed lawn.  It is the nature of “Beautification Proximation”.

Which basically means when we are near something beautiful, we desire to be beautiful. When we are near something beautiful, new, repaired, or well conditioned… we are more apt to notice our own flaws, chipping paint, and overgrown gardens.  When we see others working hard to make something more beautiful, we are motivated to work hard too.  Which is why we are more committed to going to the gym when we have a friend to go with.  It’s why I painted a house in July… because my husband was out there working hard.

“Beautification Proximation” also shows up when we see something or someone change, and we too desire that change.   A sick person gets healthy, and we want to know how they did it… so that we can be healthy too.  A woman with a hard heart comes to Jesus, and those around her see that change in her… and they want that change for themselves.  When a neighborhood that has been neglected decides to hit the streets cleaning up trash, painting buildings, replacing broken signs, and fixing potholes in the street; we call it a “Neighborhood Beautification Project”.  This project on a main street is meant to inspire the surrounding streets and neighborhoods to do the same.

There is another “Beautification Proximation” that happens when we surround ourselves with people who are different than us.  People who have different life experiences, different backgrounds, different history, different trials and tribulations, different colors of skin, and their day to day lives are full of different interactions than our own.  The more we surround ourselves with the beauty in these differences, the more we change inside.  We see their beauty, created in the image of God.  We see the unfair treatment and injustice they face, despite being created in the image of God.  We can no longer cast our eyes aside and justify what happens in the world.  Instead, we are motivated to change.

When we recognize the beauty of others who are different than ourselves, when we see the trials they overcome, the smiles they wear in spite of fear/worry/anxiety… we want to be part of that beauty.   We begin to see the tatteredness of our own ways.  We become more aware of our careless words, privilege, and attitudes that are not honoring our brothers and sisters, WHO WERE MADE IN HIS IMAGE.  We begin a beautification project in our very soul, because of the proximation we are to beauty around us… because beauty comes from ashes too, when we rise up together and say NO MORE.

Beauty comes from having a heart that loves the Lord.. and to love the Lord, is to love His Word.. .and his Word tells us that we are to love one another.

Lord, create in me a clean heart Lord.  Give me the eyes to see your creation, in all of it’s glory, as you do.  So that in all things I see, I know that it is very good.  Give me a voice that speaks against anything that brings harm to your creation, and those whom you have created in your image.  Give me hands to help, feet to walk, eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart the loves. Amen.

The Uncomfortable Conversation

MBA

A few weeks ago, I was at The Gospel Coalition’s conference with a good friend.  Conferences are a great place for me to get away from the every day, and soak in the word and wisdom of those the Lord has gifted.  It usually becomes a place of introspection for me as well.  I was grateful to be there with a friend who was willing to talk freely about the topics rolling through my mind. I was also glad to be able to do the same for her.  We talked so openly and freely, and it was just a beautiful thing.  It also doesn’t mean that we agreed with each other on every point, or saw things from the same perspective.

We talked such authenticity, and with such vulnerability.  We were honest with each other, but even more so … we were honest with ourselves.  I know that we both walked away from that conference with a gain on perspective.  Something that has stuck with since the conference is a simple statement my friend made.  She said:  “We have to be willing to have the uncomfortable conversation.”

But what is the “uncomfortable conversation”?

It is any conversation that takes a measure of bravery to bring up.  It is the conversation where we establish healthy boundaries or put an end to toxic relationships.  It is the open an honest conversations we have about subjects that are not easy or controversial… whether it be about religion, personal relationships, or in light of more recent events  about race, gun control, and human rights.

Why is it so hard for us to have real meaningful conversations, even when they are difficult, uncomfortable, or awkward, with those who are close to us?    Is it not funny how easy we can take positions and debate controversial subjects online with complete strangers easier than with our own friends and family?  It is not strange that we can go off to another country to share the gospel, but we won’t share the gospel with those closest to us?

Why are so we guarded to those whom we love, and love us?  Do we fear the loss of that love and relationship?  And do we fear that loss more than telling truth about who we are and what we believe?

If we want to be people who are world changers, we must be willing to start a change in ourselves.  We must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations and that first conversation is going to be between God and ourselves.  We pray that God will reveal the planks we are carrying around in our own eyes, the sins that we are trying to hide, and the wrongs we have been responsible for.  We do this for confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.    We pray that the Lord would take away our spirit of fear, and replace it with a confidence in Him and His word.   We pray for courage to have the uncomfortable conversations, the ones where we need to own wrongs and apologize… and the ones where we need to confront those who have wronged us.

We also pray that the Lord would give us a voice for injustice, a voice for the voiceless, a heart and compassion for those who are marginalized, discriminated, and hurting.

Then we step out in faith to have a lot more uncomfortable conversations with the purpose of being part of the change we want to see in the world.

A Fixer of Things

MBA

Some people are just fixers.  It wasn’t until a very recent conversation that I realized how much I fall into that category.  I love solving problems.  I appreciate seeing something that once functioned poorly, now working effortlessly.   I have fixed the dishwasher, saving my husband from having one more thing to do when he gets home (or money in parts, replacement).  I have fixed organizations and systems, friends problems, etc.

I also realized this is something I have always been fairly good at doing.  In high school, I helped fix our dwindling Drama Club.  In college, I wrangled in a campus club that was off kilter.  In my career in retail sales, I would be moved from department to department & store to store, solving problems that others couldn’t.  I prided myself in my ability to see the problem, find the solution, and execute that solution in an expedited fashion that would save money.

I didn’t realize it, but my affinity for fixing things is quite like a hunter on the prowl.  He looks for his prey, I look for problems.  He locks eyes on his target, I come up with a plan.  He brings down his game with grace and precision, and I execute my solution effortlessly.  The hunter walks away with the satisfaction of a “good kill”, and I pat my back with the satisfaction of a “good job”.  However, we do not linger in that satisfaction.  Instead we already begin to set eyes on what comes next.

In recent years, big game hunters get a lot of heat on the internet.  The reason?  People don’t see the need for the hunt.  We have plenty of food in this country, so what reason could someone possibly have for wanting to kill big game animals?  They see it as unnecessary.  Not everything needs to be hunted down for the sake of hunting.

What finally hit me, as I was enjoying serious conversation with a very wise friend, was that not everything needs to be fixed for the sake of fixing things.  We have all heard that phrase:  “don’t fix what isn’t broken”.  Which is totally something that I deep down believe.  I’m not one for reinventing the wheel, or trying to make something better that is actually functioning well and doing it’s intended job.  That didn’t prevent me from being on the hunt to find something to fix.

After solving one problem, I needed somewhere else to put to use my gifts and talents.  I wasn’t content not having some sort of project to work on.  So, I would find my next target.  However, I’ve learned a new phrase:  “not everything that is broken wants or needs to be fixed”.  Even more convicting is the phrase: “not everything broken is supposed to be fixed by me”.  Let’s unpack those thoughts a bit.

Not Everything That is Broken WANTS to be Fixed:

This scenario often deals with people more than things or projects.  You may be watching a person spiral out of control, personally or professionally.  But, unless that person truly wants help any attempt to fix it is going to be pushed away.  We can talk until we are blue in the face, throw suggestions and solutions in their direction, but none of it will matter if they don’t want to hear it or change their lives.

A friend who is struggling through addiction, who has begun having an affair, who is blowing all of their money shopping, etc… are all REAL problems.  But if the person is not at a place to desire change, you can’t fix them.  And, it’s not our job to convict their spirit to desire those changes.  That is up to the Holy Spirit, which is a job that none of us are qualified for.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t pray for them, and even make ourselves available for when they are ready.  It does mean, however, that we are not going to beat a dead horse.  The more we push, when they are not ready, the more they are going to distance themselves.

Even in ministry work, if you see that the ministry is dysfunctional… but you are the only one that seems to have a problem with it…. then it may not want to be fixed.  You have to be willing to step back.  We must pray that the Lord would put His hands on the situation and bring about the desire for change or repair.

Not Everything That is Broken NEEDS to be Fixed:

Many years ago I was lamenting to my husband about a problem I was seeing in an organization that I was volunteering with.  I could see the writing on the wall, if these issues were not fixed the ministry was going to fold.  It broke my heart to see that happen, because I believed in the potential of their work.

My husband, in his wisdom, pointed out that perhaps God didn’t want it fixed?  Even though the work they were doing was good, it may not be Kingdom work.  If it’s not Kingdom work, then the Lord may have better use of those people and resources.  I had to be willing to let it die, so that something better could be born.

We can spend many hours super gluing a shattered plate back together.  Carefully piecing it together, using the best of our tools to get the job done, but the second it gets the slightest tap… it shatters back into pieces.  There are times where things are broken beyond repair, to spend so much time trying to fix it becomes a waste of our time, resources, and the gifts the Lord has given us.  We must seek God’s discernment on whether something is worth saving.  Just because we can save a ministry, program, church, event, etc… doesn’t mean we should.

There are times where a group or project is not functioning well, but getting the job done.  We can see the hundred ways it could run better, and even the greater potential that is being overlooked.  However, those who are overseeing it may not desire anything greater than what it is currently doing.  It may not need to be fixed, because the job is getting done and the details of the “how” are really not important.  We need to seek God’s wisdom in knowing when something doesn’t need to be fixed at all, or when it’s simply not my job to do it.

Not Everything That is Broken is MY JOB to Fix:

Quite some time ago, I was involved in a ministry project.  Each team member had a very distinct role, and I was fulfilling my part.  However, I was seeing that another portion of the project was struggling.  I offered my opinion to the person in charge.  It was dismissed.  I offered my help, I was turned down.  In my arrogance, I tried to assert myself more.  This resulted in a come to Jesus meeting, and I was the one invited.

The fellow leader was brutally honest with me.  “I know this isn’t coming along perfectly.  I know that you could do a better job.  If you want my job, just tell me.  Otherwise, I need you to let me do this my way. Right or wrong.”   She was absolutely right.  She never asked me to come in and fix it, she wasn’t even in denial that there were some problems. It simply wasn’t my job to fix it.  It was up to her, to do the job she was entrusted with.  I apologized immediately, and I learned a tough lesson.

What I find almost humorous about this, as I reflect, is that one of the things that gets on my nerves the quickest is…. unsolicited advice.  But, there I was… dishing it out.

Occasionally, everyone can see the problems in the organization or project.  You may have all the answers, but in simple terms… it’s not your job.  The Lord may have someone else who is going to work those problems out.  The Lord may need the ministry to stumble in your absence to draw attention to the bigger issues.  Or, the Lord may have a greater plan that what you can imagine down the road.  He may be trying to get you out of the way, so that He can do something beyond comprehension.

Because no matter how much you think you can do to fix the problems, hiccups, and hold backs… HE CAN DO GREATER.  We need to be in prayer that we would not only get out our own way, but even more so that we get out of God’s way.  Let Him do the work, open the doors, and work out the miracles.  All you need to figure out is if you are going along for the ride, or if He is directing your gifts and talents to another ministry.

In the end…  generally speaking… if something is broken and we have the capacity to fix it, we should.  This piece isn’t about standing back and doing nothing.  Instead, this piece is a reminder that all the things we can do need to be in surrender to God, His glory, and His plan.  If we seek Him before we act, we will understand our role.. to fix, to pray, to let go, or to step aside.

Avert Your Eyes

MBA

Women are a funny creation, I’d love to have a one on one conversation with the Creator of the World about how women work.  I want to know how much of our way of thinking, behavior, etc is just “how we are wired” and how much is a result of the fall.  How emotional did God really want for us to be?  How complicated were we intended to be?  When woman first bit that piece of fruit, why is it that her mind became a pile of yarn balls all unraveled and going in so many directions at once?  Why did men get the capacity to compartmentalize things and function so differently with thought and deed?  We both ate of the tree of knowledge, yet our brains work so entirely differently.  Why?

It is a mystery.

Interestingly enough, what also happened after woman bit that apple… she saw herself.  She felt shame and guilt.  And, she hid from God.  Until that moment, the Lord had blinders on her eyes.  She saw Him, she saw Adam, she knew her God given task and purpose.  When she bit of the apple, those blinders fell off.   “What if” entered the world.  “What if God didn’t say ….”.  “What if I take a bite…”.  “What if I didn’t hear God correctly…”.

What if.

Throughout the scriptures there are cries out to God to be seen.  See me, search me, do not cast your face from me, see your people, hear your people, help your people…

Eve hid from God.  Eve said… do not see me.  Do not find me.  Do not cast your gaze upon me.  Do not search me.   She didn’t want to be found in her shame and her guilt.

Avert your eyes.

But the Lord looked for them, he sought them out in their shame, held them accountable, and then as He always does… he made a way out.

I’ve known so many women who want to be seen.  They want their spouses to see them, instead of take them for granted.  They want their children to see them,  and consider them worthy of praise.  They want their parent to see them and apologize for past hurts.  They want their boss to see them and recognize their efforts.  They want their church to see them and welcome their gifts.  They want world to see them and say you add value and are worthy to know.

And yet, some of these same women will hide from those who see too much.   When a spouse gets too close, and they feel vulnerable… they push him away.  When the children begin to see through her perfect mom facade, she builds up taller walls and come up with new covers to her sin.  A parent who desires to fix the past will be kept at arms reach because of fear, we do not want to be hurt again.  Women don’t want their bosses to know how much they sacrificed for the job, because they fear it shows weakness vs. strength.  A woman  who wants the church to see her gift but hides the journey to faith that brought her there.  Women who want the world to see them, but only the parts they want to be seen.

Women are complicated creations.  By our design or as a result of our choices, we seem to have the ability to complicate our lives even more than they need to be.  We say we want authenticity in our friendships, but we do not want vulnerability.  We say that we want iron sharpens iron friendships, yet we do not understand that for iron to be strengthened it’s weaknesses must be exposed.  We would rather our friends look up at us as a model of inspiration versus walk with us through our valleys.  We put on a show, get a circle of friends, build relationships… always keeping our arms stretched out so that no one can get too close.

From a distance our cracks and fractures are not as noticeable.  From a distance we can put on a show and no one can see us reading from the cue cards.  From a distance our grand actions are easily seen but our slight of hand goes unnoticed.  From a distance we look holy and righteous, masking our sin and deprivation.  From a distance we appear to have it all together, all of the right answers, the perfect family… no one can see the brokenness behind our closed doors.

Social media has made the perfect playground for superficial relationships, because we can connect with hundreds and thousands of people… posting our perfectly thought out words, edited photographs, and stories spun to make our lives look like a highlight reel of perfection.  When those people began to infiltrate our real lives, and see how we really live… that facade can only last so long.  When they get too close and begin to the see the truth, we cut them out and replace them with someone new.  Cycling our “friends” in and out of our lives to protect the image we have created for ourselves.

We tackle authenticity from a place of mentor to mentee versus a mutual relationship of accountability.  We want others to be authentic with us, so that we can use our gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom, et’al to help them.   Yet we dare not expose the thorns in our sides, the planks in our eyes, and our sin to those whom we consider our closest friends.   When they come across them and call our attention to it, we are quick to dismiss it.  Quick to blame, and quick to create distance.  We speak truth in love, but I question how much love is really there.  We speak personal conviction as biblical mandate, standing on a soap box of righteousness that is filled with worms.  We are quick to label others sins and quantify them as more terrible than our own, so that when the time comes we can stop the friendship and feel no remorse.

Righteous indignation is easier than self retrospection.

So, we hide.  We hide from God under the guise that our sin is not as bad as others.  We tell ourselves that God is angrier about greater sins in the world, than this little thing I have done.  We hide from those who love us, because we fear that if they see us for who we really are they will leave… judge… or hold us accountable to change.  We hide from ourselves by focusing so much on how others have wronged or hurt us, that we can put our own sin on the back burner.

We want others to avert their eyes to us, while we look at them under a microscope.

Lord help us to be vulnerable with one another, to walk our roads not alone but in the company of our family of believers, let us not fear accountability, and help us to stop hiding from you.

The Art of Conversation

conversation

There are some people who simply love to talk, about anything and everything.  You either know one, or you are one.  I am one.  I love to talk coupled with a love of learning… I’m always ready to engage.  However, sometimes my love of conversation engagement will get me into hot water.   I definitely have subjects where my opinions are set & it would take a miracle to change my point of view.  On the other hand, I have subjects where I am happy to admit that I lack any real knowledge with an eagerness to learn.  Some days, admittedly I am not in the mood to talk at all (that’s my inner introvert saying ENOUGH with the gabby gabs!).  On most topics I will generally land somewhere in the middle.  I know a little, willing to learn more, and you may even change my opinion.

So, how do I end up getting myself in hot water?  At first, I really wasn’t sure.  I thought I was a good conversationalist.  I listen, ask questions, and share my perspective.  I may get animated but rarely overbearing.  I generally don’t try to force my opinion on someone, but would rather ask questions that will move them to think differently about the subject on their own.  If I can help someone learn or change their perspective, that is great.  But if not, it’s fine… let’s order up another coffee and move on to something else.  My feelings are not hurt if a conversation is going no where and you want to end it, or jump to something more interesting. 

I also consider myself a fairly open book, I think you can ask me just about anything and I’ll answer you.  As a whole, I don’t think I have ever received a question as someone passing judgement.  Nor, do I despise unsolicited advice.  In fact, the only time unsolicited advice gets me riled up is when you interrupt me before I can even share that I found a solution.  These are all attributes that I think make up a good conversationalist, and I expect those that I converse with to have these same attributes.

And that expectation lands me in hot water, over and over again.   What I realized is that the issue was not necessarily with me but instead the decline of true conversation.  We are losing the art of conversation and instead embracing the art of debate.  Listening shifted from being a tool for learning and into a tool for debate.  We don’t listen to learn or gain perspective, instead we listen to respond.  We are building up our argument as the person is talking versus allowing ourselves to really hear what they are trying to convey.  This is what I believe has led us to a place where we are talking in circles far more often than we should.

When we are talking in circles it means that both sides are unwilling to hear the other person and continue to make their points over and over again.  We want to be heard, but we are not willing to hear.

In my experiences this has led people into reading more into my statements or comments than there really is.  You see, I believe a question can be just that a question.  It can be rooted in curiosity, branching out for more clarity, or an attempt to glean some fruit of knowledge I lacked.  Some questions are for the sake of keeping the conversation going, even if we are not interested in it the topic, we are showing respect to the person talking.   I believe questions and conversations can exist free of judgment and intolerance.  Well, I believed that at one time.

I was worried at first it was just something that was happening in social media.  I mean, really, how much clarity can your statement have if you are limited to 140 characters?  As my husband points out, social media lacks the opportunity to read body language and hear vocal tones.  It is easy to misunderstand or misinterpret written conversation, questions, and intentions.  I recall a time where typing in all caps on the internet was considered yelling at a person.  Current generations don’t see it that way at all.  Just like social media, texting and emails present the same issues.

In recent years, however, I have begun to notice the art of conversation is being lost in face to face conversations.  We can blame it on the increasing levels of political correctness, or the fact that is seems like everyone is offended by something.  My nine year old had a friend over to play the other day, and I can assure you there were at least ten instances where I heard her friend state: “I am offended by that…” in one phrasing or another.

Simple questions, or even complex ones, are being perceived as personal attacks and judgement.  Conversation is shut down because instead of taking the time to answer questions, we become quick to accuse the person of some wrong doing, ignorance, or jump right into slander/name calling. 

A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with another mom.  She had some rules for her kids that were pretty strict.  One day, when I was at her home, I asked what I thought was a simple question out of curiosity.  It appeared she had decided to loosen up the reigns on one of her rules and I was curious about how she came to that decision.  Instead, she took my question as judgement on her parenting.  She answered my question, but there was a tension the rest of our visit. 

Only a few months ago I was attempting to engage on a hot button, controversial topic.  I stated a truth, from my perspective, which was that the topic didn’t particularly relate to my life experiences.  I shared however that I had friends who did experience this issue in their lives, and they can’t agree with each other on how it needs to be addressed.  I then followed my statement with the question:  “If those who are directly impacted by this topic can’t agree, how am I supposed to respond in support?”.   And that is when the eruption began of insults hurled at me, accusations, and other terrible things.  I retracted my question and slunk away from the topic.  There was not going to be any conversation in that arena.

Even just this past week, I asked a question about ministry service and leadership… and according to the people in the conversation I should expect Jesus to take my Christian Membership Card back any day now.  To even pose such a question and take an intellectual look at the scripture was some sort of indicator of witchcraft.  Yes, I was accused of witchcraft for asking a question, about biblical leadership, and using bible verses in my question. 

What I have found is that the lost art of conversation isn’t confined to one area.  It is lost in the written and the spoken word.  The art of conversation has been lost on subjects about day to day living, and in large platform forums.  The irony is that when whenever something big is happening, and we look to resolve it, someone always says that we need to “have a conversation” or that a particular incident has “started a conversation”.  But, I can’t help and wonder … has it?

Are we even capable of having real conversations anymore?  Can we discuss subjects with out taking things personally or as attacks on our character?  It is possible to navigate through the tough topics without assuming the person coming from the other side isn’t genuine or is incapable of understanding?  Can we talk without hurling accusations and talking down to others?  Can we disagree on a subject and yet respect each other?  Did we forget that we can understand another person’s position without actually agreeing with them?

Fortunately, I do have a handful of women that I can have conversations with.  I do miss being able to do it on a broader scale, because that is where I am most challenged about my own beliefs and opinions.  It is where I will learn the most, from others who have a different experience or education level than myself.  Maybe if we could restore the art of conversation, there would be a lot more understanding and a lot less being offended in the world.  Because, then we would be listening to understand instead of listening to argue.