Is It Really You?

My dear husband had a monumental birthday. One of those that requires great fuss and bother.

And embarrassment.

I wanted to have all six of our kids surprise him. John is rarely surprised by anything. He’s a tad bit suspicious, and I’ve never been truly successful at pulling off something astonishing.

Three of our children live at quite a distance from Orlando. Our son and his wife were already coming down for a wedding, and John was aware they’d be here, so he anticipated spending time with them.

Melody lives in Washington DC and Courtney in Denver. They would be the surprise.

It was the weekend of Isley’s big performance. Melody would arrive too late to attend, but Courtney would be here in plenty of time. The dilemma was how to pull off the surprise if we were waiting till we returned home for the grand reveal.

Melody came up with the idea of Courtney wearing a wig. Cover her blonde hair with a dark look.She added a hat for panache to complete her image.

John can be oblivious at times.

We arrived at the play, found our seats, and perused the program for pictures of Isley.

Courtney sat several rows in front of us, to the side, and John never once noticed her.

On the way home, we had the three oldest grands, who had been told to stall. They insisted on stopping for drinks before we got home–I thought John would figure that one out.

He’s sometimes unaware.

When we finally arrived at the house, the kids were all there, they’d decorated with balloons and streamers in black and silver, and the surprise was impressive. When Courtney popped up where she’d been hiding, she ripped off her wig and hat to the delight of all.

Often John misses those small details.

We’re all unobservant at times. We target what we feel is important, urgency drives our focus, and it’s easy to miss what’s right in front of us.

Or who is in front of us.

During our current reality, where distancing is still necessary, masks are needed, and hugging is prohibited, it’s easy to stay hidden. I can be that girl behind the mask until I’m alone, and the mask comes off.

Truly not me. But I question who I really am in the midst of our current circumstances.

I’m less tolerant of small talk and more desirous of deep and honest conversations. Limited interactions with people mean these moments with others have to count. I’m learning not to take everything said to me personally–everyone is in a disruptive time, and I can’t be aware of what’s happened or what they’re feeling in the moment.

I don’t want to ignore the people I care about because I’m tired or overwhelmed.

God is at work on my attitude and character–not things I’m always willing to work on. Masking–hiding behind an image–can be easy and convenient.

But is it right?

“Oh, people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

We choose. Hiding or doing the right thing.

It’s really a no-brainer.

A Star Is Born–Every Day

Drama is part of growing up. As children grow, emotions blossom and require expression. Some good ways, some not as constructive.

Isley has a flair for the dramatic. She’s involved with the theater program at her school, and the production she was in this past weekend provided her with her very first speaking role.

She had her own microphone. Her comment delighted me. “I’m the tenth most important person in the production; I have mic number ten.”

What made it memorable was the humor in her lines. She was the comic interlude, the one with the unexpected and entertaining responses. Her timing and delivery were impeccable.

It was a delight watching all the performers., a picture of mini-actors and actresses in training, with smiles and gestures bigger than life, voices full of emotion.

They all wanted to perform. And when the standing ovation came at the end, Isley glowed like she’d just won an Oscar.

The stage was full of facial light bulbs aglow with the adoration of the appreciative crowd.

It’s amazing how early we learn to perform, to seek the favor of others through what we do. Isley and her group of fellow actors practiced diligently for months for this performance, needing time to perfect the songs and dances at home.

We learn from a young age what is acceptable behavior which gains favor and affirmation and what attitudes and actions will bring speedy reprisals. We become attuned to what works for us, in our families, our environment, with those who people our stories.

We craft our behavior accordingly.

People everywhere have a need to belong, to be part of something greater than themselves even if it’s a small family unit. We learn to put on performances so that we may be chosen or preferred.

Even if it really isn’t us.

One of my favorite books of late is a children’s book called, “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy. His drawings are fanciful, but his words are wise and insightful.

The boy is speaking to the mole, concerned about so many things in life. “‘Sometimes I worry you’ll all realize I’m ordinary,’ said the boy. ‘Love doesn’t need you to be extraordinary,’ said the mole.”

The boy speaks what all of us feel at least some of the time in our lives. That who we are is ordinary and unworthy of being seen, known, or loved.

Real love doesn’t need us to be extraordinary. The only One who sees us clearly, knows us perfectly, and loves us without conditions is God.

We all want to love that way. And for certain people at certain times we are able to deliver that kind of unselfish compassion and care.

We don’t have the ability to sustain such love. We become angry with how we’re treated, disappointed with what someone says about us or to us, and our love diminishes–not because we’re ordinary but because we’re not inherently good.

God knows us and doesn’t need us to perform for Him. We don’t have to work ourselves into His favor for He doesn’t rate the acceptability of our actions.

He loves.

That kind of love doesn’t need us to be extraordinary.

Monument-All The Way

I’ve not had the chance to be much of a tourist. Much of my travels have been with work or visiting family. I’ve been to some wonderful places, but not purely for sightseeing.

Given the opportunity to see historic places will cause me to go a little out of my way. I’ve developed a love of history because I’m married to a history buff whose thinking has always been that if we don’t learn from the past, we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes.

While in Washington DC, my daughter and I were able to take her two kids to the Mall. Not shopping, but the one near the White House.Surrounded by the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the World War 2 Memorial made for a stunning panorama of memories made over time. Of people and places that have impacted our country.

These monuments reflect a cost of those affected by them. We live in a culture that chooses to move forward rather than look back; we need to learn from what was avoid problems we’ve already encountered.

History is the truth of the past. We’ve never done it all right; being human we’ve made mistakes at every turn, in every decade, with every person. That has never changed. People hurt people.

Monuments aren’t reflective of someone or something done perfectly. With every good and right decision made by countries, governments, leaders, there are many poor choices that affect people in harsh ways.

We won’t do it right this side of heaven. Those who strive for perfection will be disappointed.

Sloane asked me a question as we stood at the World War 2 memorial. “Why would you want to remember a war?”

I thought for a moment and answered, “It’s not the war that’s important to remember but the changes for good that it hopefully brought.”

Often, the actions that make the biggest difference are the ones with the greatest cost. it’s why we have memorials and monuments–not to highlight the hard and the hurtful, but to honor those who chose to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause. Their choices move us a little forward in improving who we are.

Even if it’s just a tiny step.

The cross of Christ was a monument that the Romans and Jewish leaders hoped would humiliate Jesus and remind others that He couldn’t possibly be who He said He was–the Son of God. Crosses reflected death of the worst kind, for the vilest of criminals, a humiliation that would end their lives in shame.

The empty cross is more than a monument to victory and life. Death couldn’t keep Jesus in the grave. He rose to give us life and hope.

Nobody wants to remember the ugliness of what was inflicted on Jesus at the end. We remember He died for a purpose–to offer us a way to have eternal life.

History is rarely pretty. It reflects our attempts to do right, to make changes for good, and realize that our changes often hurt others.

A true monument of history to hope, like the cross, is the reminder that good can come from pain. That hope can come from hurt.

How do you see it?

Is It As Easy As It Looks?

Having just spent some delightful time with Sloane, Ward and their mom, I came away with some reminders of family and living in real life.

What you think you see isn’t always what it appears to be.

These two siblings are close. Ward, two years younger, wants to be with Sloane and do everything she does.

At times Sloane relishes that closeness. She’s very caring toward her brother and often watches out for him.

These moments are idyllic; these are the times where others watch the two of them and marvel at their sweet relationship.

Until Ward disrupts her plan. Then she keeps him at a distance.

Not a response he enjoys. Or tolerates. Ward lets her and his mom know about his dissatisfaction with dropped shoulders and a genuine demeanor of sadness. At one point Ward wanted a book Sloane was reading, and he became cranky when she wouldn’t give it to him. She’s good about sharing; this time she didn’t want to do it.

Being a mom as well as a nana causes issues; there is a fine line between stepping in as a parent and being invited to speak as a grandparent. This was a time to keep my mouth shut, to allow my daughter to do what she needed to do for her children.

I watched as Melody dealt with her kids, with a gentle tenderness that comes from loving those two well. It didn’t matter that she’d been trying to do something else; she took the time to focus on them and kindly correct them for the how they could have made better choices.

They received their discipline well–that’s not always the case. Kids will be kids, and sometimes there’s a lot of kicking and screaming.

Not this time. Melody hugged them both, assured them of her love, and they then shared the book they both wanted.

There’s something very freeing about knowing you don’t have to earn someone’s favor to be loved. Often kids feel a sense of “I need to” in order for them to feel accepted by their parents. Or friends, teachers, or others.

We all tend to feel a sense of “I need to do something” in order to earn or keep someone else’s favor–someone we love, respect, or want to become closer to.

God never requires us to “do” for His favor. Once we are His, we live from a place of received favor, of being fully accepted and loved, even though He knows we’ll blow it consistently. That’s what grace is–a gift of favor because of what Jesus did for us that we don’t have to earn.

Every other faith/religion in the world is based on earning favor from God or a group of gods through actions. Jesus alone offers grace; He receives us freely and gifts us with His goodness which makes us fully acceptable to God.

No contingencies. No loopholes. Favor bathed in love.

Sloane and Ward don’t struggle with wondering if their mom or dad love them. They’re secure in their full acceptance, no matter what they do.

Full and free favor. In Jesus.

It’s easier than you think.

When Life Is Plain

I have the joy of being in Washington, DC to help my daughter with her kids while her husband is away.

Being at the capital in spring has always been a desire of mine. This is the season of the cherry blossoms.

With the wackiness of the weather, I missed their peak by a week.

Four-year-old Sloane’s response: “I don’t like those blossoms. They’re plain now. I don’t like plain. It’s boring.”

Her assessment is correct; what were beautiful pink blooms that at one time appeared like a pink tapestry over the Tidal Basin is now rather drab, white, faded and falling to the ground.

They’d been duped by Mother Nature. A warm spell encouraged the cherry blossoms to burst into bloom, but a cold snap shortened their life span.

Not the beauty I’d anticipated.

Sloane is a bit sassy and has a flair for the dramatic.

She also has a practical, contemplative side.

I told her I was sad these trees lost their color. She nodded and then added with unexpected wisdom, “Nana, you need to look at ALL the flowers and trees. There are beautiful colors all around. Just look. You’ll see.”

She was right. Spring has now come to the DC area, and the grounds are awash with brilliant colors from the tulips, daffodils, and many varieties of flowering trees in the area.

It is indeed beautiful.

Even though it wasn’t what I wanted.

It’s easy right now to become overwhelmed by what feels plain and boring. We’ve lived with restrictions for over a year, with disappointments piling up like so much dirty laundry. Missed graduations and proms. Weddings reduced to appropriate sizes for restrictions. Gatherings of friends and families limited by what the CDC says is right. Hospitals limiting visits of all kinds.

Sloane is right. We need to see beyond disappointment to what is around us.

We’ve been amazed by how we’ve had to pivot and work remotely–and many have flourished there. Others are finding ways to interact with people in unique ways. Creativity has forced us to think outside the box. Not wait for someone to hand us a solution but to be challenged to find one for ourselves.

God has granted each of us a wonderful sense of creativity, one many haven’t used for a long time because we let social media and technology do it for us. Too often we’ve become observers instead of participants in life.

Life is anything but plain and boring. It’s filled with individuals we can choose to get to know, opportunities to grow beyond our coziness and comfort zones, and possibilities that can make us each better people. Jesus gives us the capacity to dream, hope, and find renewed strength and joy in Him.

It’s easy to fall into a habit of dismal disappointment. Of constantly feeling let down, of never achieving what we thought we might.

God often uses our challenges, hurts, and despondency to redirect our paths and show us something new and different. To encourage us to move on.

Sloane is right. There is so much beauty, so many possibilities of good things, that all we need to do is look.

God will surprise you.