Cure for PMS (Perfect Mother Syndrome)

The other day, I zipped out for what I thought would be a quick trip to the grocery store.  It happened right there in the dairy aisle in front of the yogurt.  A toddler lost it, maybe, because his mother refused to buy the yogurt with the neon sprinkles.  Whatever the reason for the melt down, the little guy ramped up the octaves full tilt.  The young mother employed diplomacy to try to get her tyke to relent.  This young mother’s other two children chimed in with whining complaints of being bored and hating the grocery store.  I live in a small, rural farming community and the grocery store often serves a dual purpose: visiting with neighbors while grabbing the goods on my list.  I recognized the young mom from around town, which probably packed on another layer of humiliation for her.

The young mother and I made eye contact.  Her eyes expressed a fear that every mother on earth has felt, “I am really not sure I know what I am doing; I am not even sure I am any good at this mothering bit. Just before the first tear trickled down her cheek, I told her that I’ve been there.  I assured her that after decades of mothering, there are days when I am transported back to that place of motherhood insecurity.

After a few minutes, I watched her wheel the car-shaped cart, with two of her kids jutting out of the windows and one still screaming, down the aisle, and out of sight.

There are no perfect mothers.  But how are we to grasp that reality living in a culture where such a high premium is placed on perfection?  Perfect job, perfect weight, perfect marriage, perfect teeth, perfect, perfect, perfect…  Women easily transfer that benchmark of perfection to motherhood.  There isn’t a surgery that exists to create a perfect mother.  A woman might possess a chiseled nose thanks to cosmetic surgery or maintain the physique sculpted by a personal trainer yet remain at a loss as to how to fix perfect mother syndrome (PMS).

Most of us arrive at motherhood clueless.  We inhale the top-rated books on how to survive motherhood or how to avoid the temptation of unleashing the tiger mom within us.  What happens when real life steps outside of the pages of the book and mothers are dealing with temper tantrums in the library, kids with learning challenges, sibling spats, or teens that make wrong choices? Yes, motherhood requires sacrificial love without any guarantees that all will have a storybook ending.  If we think it is anything less than sacrificial love, we are fooling ourselves. motherhood - blessing & sacrifice

Mary, the mother of Jesus, entered motherhood in less than ideal circumstances.  Mary, a poor, village peasant girl is chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world.  She willingly accepted the challenges that motherhood brought her way.  God chose Mary, an imperfect girl, to be the mother to history’s only perfect child.  From the human side, Jesus lived in a home managed by an imperfect couple.

Like many of us, Mary arrived to motherhood inexperienced and apprehensive. If the Son of God can be born to a flawed mother and reared in an imperfect home, why do women subject themselves to a standard of perfectionism in motherhood? Mary serves as the blue print to the grace bestowed upon mothers.

The cure for perfect mother syndrome is to spend more time strengthening our character which will influence the way we mother our children. Motherhood is a calling not a choice or preference: Regardless of how some of us came to be a mother, God through divine sovereignty chose and selected us to be a mother.  Celebrate that fact. There isn’t another mother who arrived to motherhood in a more unusual and shocking way than Mary. After her shocking news from an angel (again shocking), she then embraced the gift and even endured social chastisement from her community because of the pregnancy.

Pray for a meek and quiet spirit:  Daily, I need to acknowledge my need and dependence on God for the task of motherhood which I’ve been called. Seek to create a humble and nurturing environment, not a perfect one: Clay Trumbull, Christian author and spokesmen and dedicated to the evangelism of children offers a suggestion for parents in his 1890 classic book, Hints on Child Training, the atmosphere of the home must be full of pure oxygen of love to God and love to man.  It must be neither too hot in its intensity of social activities, nor too cold in its expression of family affection, but balmy and refreshing in its uniform temperature of household living and being.  It must be gentle and peaceful in its manner and movement of sympathetic interaction.

Along with Joseph, Mary gave Jesus a home, which although it was most unpretentious, was yet the only home He knew in the days of His flesh. Because of the character of Mary, we feel that her home was permeated with mutual trust and love and sympathetic understanding.

Saturate yourself and your children with the promises of God, true perfection: The instruction manual for imperfect mothers is already written, the Bible.  Mary used the scriptures of the Old Testament as she brought Jesus up in their simple, village home. We aren’t called to be perfect mothers, just like we aren’t expected to have the perfect house or perfect body.  We are expected to listen for the voice of God so that we hear Him when he calls us to do really difficult jobs like being a mother.  


Be Ready with Your Answer

“No man is an island, entire of itself” muses the poet John Donne. The opening line from the poem reminds me of an island in the middle portion of the Chesapeake Bay then dangles southward from the Eastern Shore of Maryland into the waters of Virginia. Our farm is a three-hour car ride and then a fifty minute boat ride from that island. I don’t visit this Tidewater wonder as much as I would like. The busyness of life gets in the way, but my heart stretches across the Bay to the Tangier Sound and on the island where generations of my kinsfolk called home.

Twenty years ago, Hollywood found the peaceful little island. Scouts for Warner Brothers throttled their glitzy vessel into the quaint harbor and docked their glam boat next to weather-beaten work boats. Film industry executives perused the island with the intent of making it a location for a romantic movie starring box office legend, Paul Newman. A few months later, Newman charted a boat and arrived on Tangier to see the place for himself. By the time Newman and his crew from Tinseltown arrived on Tangier, island council members reviewed the movie script and voted “not to permit the filming of the movie unless parts of it were revised.”

Know what you stand for and when opposition or challenge knocks at your door, be ready with your answer.

Photo courtesy of Neil Kaye, Tangier Island History Museum and Virginia Taylor

Allowing the movie to be filmed on the island would be an enormous economic boost to the humble island which was in need of a few modern-day upgrades. The council believed that some of the scenes in the movie conflicted with the moral convictions of most of the islanders, therefore possibly undermining what they “have stood for all these years.”

“It’s a dry island” as the locals say. In other words, alcohol is prohibited on the island. It’s been that way for centuries. The issue isn’t about the fact that restaurants on the island don’t serve alcohol or that tourists are discouraged from exercising a “bring your own bottle” policy. The deeper issue is conviction and Hollywood or Paul Newman couldn’t change that.

The Mayor met Goliath on a dock instead of a Philistine camp. Goliath brought the promise of riches and the hope of fame, but the Mayor retorted that “based on our religious values, we felt the movie was in conflict with the way we live.”

Tangier Aerial

Photo by Sheridan Alexander

Newman expressed disappointment about the rejection of filming the movie on the island. To Newman, “it’s a sad thing that the movie isn’t taking place on Tangier; it’s the ideal location.”

I suppose on the night the council members voted on the movie, echoes of Psalms 49 resounded through the town hall, “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him.”

Hollywood, the culture giant that ever so stealthily tries to dominate our world, creeps into our lives and before we realize it changes us along the way. This time, though, the giant couldn’t tempt or tantalize the inhabitants of an island that has been long referred to as “no man’s land.”

What will you say when the Temptress or the Giant come to call? Be ready with your answer because it’s not a matter of if they find you; it’s a matter of when they find you.

Parents equip your children and yourself to be ready with the answer when faced with a circumstance that challenges or compromises convictions in turn for temporal comforts and desires of this world.

The islanders wrangled with the Hollywood decision together, not alone and not necessarily in agreement with one another. In the end, declining Hollywood’s offer sent the message that the people care more about preserving their moral integrity and maintaining a moral standard means more than seeing the name of where you live in the credits of a movie most of the islanders wouldn’t even pay to see.

Tangier Church

Photo by Aubrey Bodine


This world is not our home.

Don’t allow a Giant to chip away at your biblical standards or cause a compromise. Fortify your defense.

Teach and talk about the courage of some of the hallmarks of the faith like, like Joshua, who refused to cower when he spotted the giants just over the hill and Daniel who sternly refused the culinary choices on King Darius’ menu. Their faith superseded fear or ridicule.

Build an alliance with a friend who will strengthen you and stand firm on biblical truths. The friend may not necessarily share the same convictions as you, but the foundation and measure for truth is the same.

Rules (legalism) and Convictions are not the same, so don’t confuse the two.

Pray for the wisdom of a serpent and the gentleness of a dove, Paul Miller writes,  “Jesus calls us to be wary, yet confident in our heavenly Father. We are to combine a robust trust in the Good Shepherd with a vigilance about the presence of evil in our own hearts and in the hearts of others.”

It’s true no man is an island, no one needs to go at life alone. Making that stand sometimes requires the support of community, a prayer group, a trusted friend, a spouse. Before Jesus started his ministry, he grabbed twelve followers and they hit the gospel road together. Jesus showed his band of brothers that if they intended to keep the gospel growing they needed one another, and they needed to love one another.

Let’s face it, the likelihood of Hollywood knocking on our door is slim. The likelihood that Compromise will tap on our heart is undeniably high. Just ask Judas, member of Jesus’ inner circle, who cared more about his fortune than he did God.

When you hear the tap. tap, tap of Compromise on your heart, be ready with your answer.

Letting Go (Part II) – What’s All the Fighting For?

My new catch phrase is Letting Go.  My slogan may not have the adhesive power to stick around like  Apple’s iconic slogan Think Different. Chances are my slogan would never appear as a sleek #hashtag on social media platforms (#lettinggo).  Webster won’t need to add my phrase TGILG (this girl is letting go, nah) to the urban dictionary along with acronymic giants like YOLO.  I am glad about that because the sobering truth is that pop culture and social media steer society into a labyrinth of “me” centeredness. This prevailing self-absorbed attitude that “it’s all about me,” locks us into the “me” maze leading us down a path of endless relational conflict. 

Throughout my journey as a believer, I’ve learned that dealing with relational conflict requires that I let go of my self-absorbed expectations and see the relationship from an eternal perspective.  My heavenly Father perpetually prepares the soil of my heart for redemptive opportunities. Relational conflict is one way that He prunes my self-centered heart . He pulls and yanks at the stubborn weeds of my arrogance and pride so that I won’t be strangled by them.  
As I progress on this path of Christ following, I have come to view conflict in relationships as a chance for growth and sanctification.  Trust me, it hasn’t come easy. Christian Counselor and author Timothy Lane offers the reminder that “God,who is sovereign, loving, and wise, sends people in our lives so that he might work in us in ways that can only happen in conflict,” ( here’s the pulling and yanking). When faced with conflict in a relationship, I am learning to ask myself what is going on in my heart that I feel the need to remain in conflict with this person rather than pursue them like Jesus would (ouch, the pulling and yanking again).
The book of James offers insight and practical application when dealing with relational conflict. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?James asks.


I’ve actually asked this very question to my kids (but not as eloquently as James) when I’ve stepped in to mediate a sibling squabble.  The famous fallback, ineffective, yet, highly used question every parent asks, “Who started the argument?” trills from my tongue like a songbird. The problem remains that I didn’t take the question to the next level which drives home the point James is making in chapter four: it’s not who started the conflict that matters. Finding out what is going on in the heart of those in conflict is what matters most. Sinful motives, according to James, lurk in the corners of relational conflict.
James presses harder on the heart, “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” Example: conflict erupts with husband because he did not react the way one expects him to react in a particular situation (cough, cough, speaking from experience). 
How do I handle a season of icy relational conflict that leaves me emotionally battered and bruised?
Buried beneath relational conflict “my passions and cravings are at war within me.”  What is it that I am craving: satisfaction, approval, cooperation, control, security, comfort? My list of unfulfilled cravings unravels as the dark side of my arrogant heart is revealed.
The wisdom of God’s Word has the remedy for my conflict: “Humble myself before the Lord, and he will lift me up.”  Conflict is no longer about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about reconciling with God regarding my self-exaltation.
My new tactic of defense during relational conflict: repent and seek reconciliation. 
During this season of letting go, God’s grace and kindness have taught me to handle relational conflict differently. Conflict, now, forces me to retreat rather than attack.  Retreat not because of defeat but to pray to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.  I must repent for my selfish motive(s), plural here, oh yes, because I often come with more than one selfish motive even in a single conflict. As I follow the wisdom in James, I ask God to direct my path which forces me to let go of my selfish sense of entitlement.
It’s about where my heart is throughout the battle.  Do I pursue the person with whom I am in conflict with a holy love? Most of the time: no. There will be times when reconciliation in relational conflict is not possible right away.  That in itself is another form of letting go and allowing God to work deeper in me or in the heart of the other person.
The upside of this journey is that Jesus didn’t call me to his join his family because I am a flawless, pulled together emotionally perfect addition to His family tree.  It’s rather the opposite.  I am undeserved of His love. I need Him. The beauty of redemption is that I don’t need to figure out a way to climb his family tree; he grafted me into his lineage by way of a crude tree carved into the shape of a cross and planted on Calvary.  The day that tree was planted on the hill, the earth shook and the skies opened and when he tapped my critical, impatient, manipulative, quarreling heart his blood was exchanged for mine.  It’s scandalous to think that Jesus would adopt me into his family knowing that I come fully loaded with issues and flaws that suck life out of His garden rather than add life to it.
So many seasons have come and gone since my heart first yielded to Christ. During this season, I learned to recognize that relational conflict stems from my selfish cravings. Conflict will continue to find me; there’s no hiding from it, minimizing it, or avoiding it.  When conflict smacks me in the face, I will no longer devise a plan of verbal attack or icy disconnect; instead, I will retreat to pray and ask God to reveal the true motives of my heart. 

  •  see the relationship from an eternal perspective
  • embrace the pruning
  • conflict offers opportunities for growth and sanctification
  • get to the heart of the conflict
  • let go of the cravings 
  • realign your heart to His

The Letting Go (Part 1)

For me fall represents the season of change; the season of letting go.  The arrival of autumn in our speck of the world begins when the Canada geese fly above the fields in their captivating formation and honk to signify their arrival.  Their long, arduous flight from the north causes them to lay-over in our Mid-Atlantic cornfields until the next stretch of their journey begins.

The Monarchs, too, make portions of our garden their summer home but only long enough to morph into a new creature and migrate to their new South of the Border home. 

Our field crops, which started as minute seeds in the chill of the spring, irrigated and nurtured through the sweltering heat of the July sun now stand tall and ready for the fall harvest.  The combine clips the crops and runs the harvest through the auger filling the grain truck; we are blessed in the harvest.  The cycle is complete.

Change surrounds us.

My six year old and I are reading E.B White’s beloved novel Charlotte’s Web (I refuse to categorize it as a children’s novel because this grown up girl loves the book). For the sake of his young readers (and the grown up ones too), White weaves with words a delicate explanation regarding the passing of time.  The passing of time often brings about change and change requires a measure of letting go. 
The novel details the passing from one season to another. The letting go of summer brings about a sad change for the crickets on Zuckerman’s Pennsylvania farm.  The crickets croon their somber melody because the season of warmth and sunshine is ending; they dread the change, as do most of us, especially children:

 The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song.  ‘Summer is over and gone,’ they sang.  ‘Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying’.
“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year—the days when summer is changing into fall—-the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.”

Change and letting go ought to come as no surprise to me as a follower of Christ. The moment I yielded to Christ I changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).  Even so, I still treat change as an uninvited guest who shows up on my porch when my house looks like Hurricane Ida swept through, and I haven’t a clue what I am having for dinner (do I even have enough clean plates?).

By now, as a follower of Christ when I feel change coming about, I ought to belt out a tune of worship rather than one of melancholy.  My tune ought to sound something like this:

(Click above to listen and be blessed )
Hillsong Worship
We recently hatched Monarch butterflies.  After gently capturing the caterpillars, we created a habitat so that the creature could thrive and go through the stages of metamorphosis in captivity. Weeks of watching the caterpillar endure the God intended changes brought heightened anticipation, would a butterfly really emerge safely from the paper thin chrysalis?  More days followed as the chrysalis hung loosely from the container and it almost seemed impossible in such a cramped, seemingly unsuitable position that such a miracle could take place.  We calculated what we thought would be the hour of emergence. We moved the container to the kitchen table; after all this time, we were going to witness this moment in nature.  Within forty five minutes of setting the container on the table, without anyone watching, the Monarch broke out of its temporary dwelling and rested its soft wings on a branch.  After several hours, the wings hardened and we opened the hatch to let the butterfly go.
The Letting Go of Children
And so it is with my children; my husband and I created a safe, nurturing environment filled with unconditional love and respect.  And what seemed like overnight, my children morph into adults, and it is then that the letting go begins.  Years before, heart strings began to stretch; a bit like walking hand in hand with a child and she pulls ahead without actually letting go.  Her hand clasped in mine, the two of us strolling along, her looking back knowing that I am just footsteps behind. Releasing her is like the Monarch whose wings are ready for that first flight. Letting go can take them to far- away places where the Lord cleared a spot in an impoverished country full of children who hunger for the Bread of Life and the Living Water.
Hannah’s sacred example in I Samuel serves me well, but she is a tough act to follow.  As a mother, I labor and toil in the raising of my children for the glory of the Lord; yet, the season has come when I begin to prepare my heart to let another go so that she can follow her calling.
Like Hannah, the weaning has come. Throughout the seasons of motherhood, my husband and I partnered with the Lord in plowing the soil of the hearts of my children; oftentimes, we labored to break through fallow, hard encrusted soil so that when the seed was sown it landed on fertile ground.  Every stage of motherhood brings new challenges to the soil, some seasons called for pushing the plow to the ground so hard that our hands blistered with emotional fatigue and our heart ached with discouragement.  Then the season to let go and let God do his sovereign work came so quickly, too quickly, now that I look back. 
In some areas of my life, I am still trying to welcome the uninvited guest named “letting go.”

There are moments when I am still letting go of the children that I never had the chance to embrace.  Miscarriage has its own set of rules for letting go.  It’s a gut-wrenching, savage-like pain that wraps its tendrils around the heart and tries to suffocate any chance of hope.  For me, the letting go of despair and anguish took the passing of several seasons before I realized Jesus knew how badly it hurt.  The Son of God when near death asked His Father, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).  Finally, late one fall a time came when I no longer felt like I was falling from a cliff into the abyss, but I found myself falling into the arms of God.  Gradually I rappelled back to solid ground where I could once again lift up holy hand and worship the One, True God.  

“If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used we stunt the growth of the soul. What God gives us is not necessarily “ours” but only ours to offer back to him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of, if we want to be our true selves.
 “If God gave it to me,” we say, “its mine. I can do what I want with it.” No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of – if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory.”  Elisabeth Elliot

Autumn will end and the snow will dust the bleak fields.  The barren, frozen pasture will be an unwelcome sight to my sheep.  Temperatures will drop and the water in the troughs will freeze.  We all wait for spring.  Each season brings a new perspective and new growth in the life of a Christian.  Fall brought a letting go, and with that came a sense of freedom in knowing that Jesus has it all in control.

On Sons and Monarchs

 I knew it would happen, but not this fast, not this abruptly.  The metamorphosis from boy to man rocks a mother’s world.  I no longer find childhood remnants of our walks to the pond and back in the pockets of his jeans.  These days all I find are tattered gas receipts and scribbled notes for side jobs—swatches of manhood.

I remember years ago when my son’s feet dangled from the, too, tall kitchen chair, his untied shoe laces drooped to the floor— this image of boyhood was fleeting.  Knowing even back then, seventeen short years ago, as a young, inexperienced mom that I needed to sear that image into my memory bank of his boyhood because one day he would be taller than me and our talk of fish and frogs would change to jobs, colleges, and cars. I carefully captured every fragment of childhood I could knowing that I would need those recollections of his boyhood to cling to when the pulling away began.

 A son’s gradual, yet, inevitable pulling away from boyhood to embrace the calling of manhood leaves a bittersweet singe on a mother’s heart. 

Often the pulling away doesn’t happen neatly; it can get ugly and messy.  Words can sting a mother’s  heart like torrents of icy rain on exposed cheeks.  Those harsh moments, I’ve learned, are opportunities for grace.

I, reluctantly, release the boy to become the man he was created to be.  Picture mom not digging but heals entrenched in the soil clinging to his shirt-tail kind of reluctance.
It’s monarch season in our part of the world. We visited a friend yesterday who maintains an exquisite, lush habitat for Monarchs.  After romping through Tithonia and Tropical milkweed, we gently captured a trio of caterpillars to hatch. We toted them home in the cage bought for Hermit crabs that didn’t quite, well, how shall I say this delicately, adapt to their new environment.  We watch these relentless feast-ers bulge themselves with milkweed.  No matter how many books we read about the habits of these soon to be winged creatures, to observe the process validates the theory that we are created for a specific, Higher purpose.

Before migrating into the world, a son, like a Monarch, must undergo a metamorphosis from boy to man so that he can fulfill God’s intended purpose for his life. When the time comes for that son of yours to morph from boy to man, mothers remember that we are participating in a glorious,  partnership with God. I am being painfully honest, loving sons only to let them go— hurts.  A glimpse of this raising up and releasing is quietly tucked between the pages of I Samuel, and I pray that I am at least half as gallant and obedient as Hannah when she presents Eli to serve the Lord.

  “If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used we stunt the growth of the soul. What God gives us is not necessarily “ours” but only ours to offer back to him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of, if we want to be our true selves.

 “If God gave it to me,” we say, “its mine. I can do what I want with it.” No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of – if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory.”  Elisabeth Elliot

As I watch these Monarchs in captivity change, my anticipation heightens with every new phase, same goes for the changes I see in my son.  When the Monarch chrysalis thins enough to reveal the caterpillar to butterfly, a level of relief sets in, I know that the transformation is just about complete.

My son’s transformation from boy to man isn’t complete yet, but not too far away.

We have time to finish our assignment: to raise a Godly protector (physical and spiritual) and provider (physical and spiritual). 

Soon enough, our Monarchs will hatch and there will be a waiting phase as the wings harden and strengthen for the inevitable take off…the migration.  Like Monarchs, sending my son into the world too soon, expecting him to fly before he is equipped to do so, makes him vulnerable and prone to sinking rather than soaring.

I know my son would much rather be compared to a fierce Bengal tiger rather than a delicate Monarch, but that’s the tricky part of raising sons, helping them balance tenacity and toughness while preserving and maintaining a tenderness that wraps like tendrils around his heart.  It’s the lionhearted and lamb-like combination that makes a Godly man.

It’s been almost a week since our Monarch caterpillars transformed into a jade green chrysalis.   Inside the casing dramatic changes occur.  Within a few days, there will be visible signs of the new creature as the outline of the ebony and orange wings press against the transparent protective shell.  Home has changed.

Mothers of daughters, as you pray for the future mate of your girl, pray that she desires a man with a Godly vision; a man who not only knows his purpose in this world but pursues it.

During the boy to man metamorphosis remember:

  • Maturity (spiritual, emotional) dictates readiness not a specific age. It is the wise hunter-warrior who reaches into his quiver and pulls out an arrow with perfect fletchings and a razor sharp tip. He releases that arrow confident that it will strike the target.  If the arrow is not battle ready, the arrow remains in the quiver.  The same goes for sons, begin the tender-warrior training as a shoe lace dangling toddler so that when the pulling away begins, you are confident he will become the lionhearted, lamb-like man you prayed for. 
  • Letting Go Does NOT Mean Giving Up.   When times get tough and the angst of becoming a man erupts and causes conflict, find a quiet corner to cry and when the last tear falls, brush yourself off, and get back to being mom. He needs you.
  • Prayer is Your Most Valuable Tool.   You talk to your son but the pulling away has created a crevice between mother and son.  Don’t press the panic button.  “Mature Christians are keenly aware that they can’t raise their kids. It’s a no-brainer. Even if they are perfect parents, they still can’t get inside their kid’s hearts. THAT’S WHY STRONG CHRISTIANS PRAY MORE.” Paul Miller.  Once he finds his footing, the crevice closes to a sliver.

    If Miley Cyrus Were My Daughter

    We are a TV-less household, so I learned about Miley’s vulgar antics (warning: photos of event are graphic) while at the pediatrician’s office waiting for my son.  Thank goodness he wasn’t present to hear the details of the shocking event most tweeted about since the Superbowl.   My feelings regarding her performance vacillated between outrage and sadness.  This morning the pendulum of emotions rests on just sadness for her.

    I have four daughters of my own, so I know a little bit about raising daughters.  I also have two sons who will some day marry some one’s daughter, so there is much discussion in our household about being the prince who provides and protects girls.  If Miley Cyrus were my daughter or my future daughter-in-law, I would offer her a cup of tea (like I do with my daughters prior to a serious conversation) and suggest we talk on the porch.  The conversation might go something like this:

    You are loved by a heavenly Father far more than you are loved by the fickle fans that wave their hands to you in shallow, fly-by-night admiration.  Reach your hands up to Him and not out to them.  He will never leave you, but one lousy performance and fame will send you on your way with heckles and jeers.  Fame is fleeting. Salvation is eternal.

    There is no need to sacrifice your dignity and innocence on stage.  Jesus already made the most scandalous sacrifice in one night.  You will NEVER out do Him.

    Girls around the world fight for their dignity as they are sold into slavery, bartered into child marriages, and forced into prostitution; yet, you exploit the freedom in which those girls are literally dying for.  Every time you shed your clothing for an applaud, a tweet, a photograph, you are really condoning the human peril of those girls who think the only way out of their circumstance is to set fire to their body as a means of escape.  You, on the other hand, have choices; you’re just making the wrong ones. You have freedom; you just forgot the sacrifice that it took to get that freedom.

    You are fighting for your famous life and you haven’t figured out, yet, that you can’t save yourself.  In effort to retain your fame, you do the outrageous, forgetting that there is nothing new under the sun.  Put your clothes back on, stop sticking your tongue out like a rebellious toddler, and use your talent to benefit womanhood instead of demeaning it.  Madonna, the singer, songwriter, performer, pulled the same antics twenty five years ago and she’s still wandering around in the fog of fame trying to define the meaning of life.  The meaning of life is defined by a crudely made wooden cross and some shoddy nails.  Kant, Kierkegaard , and a host of others tried to strip that definition from history; but their efforts were in vain.  He still reigns as King.

    Forgive your parents for forging your path to destruction.  Forgiveness is cleansing; it cleans the heart and the mind from the monsters of your past.  Once you experience the fresh water of forgiveness, trust me, you’ll want to tell all your friends in LA.  Call it the well-ness experience I encourage you to read the rest of the story in the Great Book.

    Clean out your closet of those skeletons that trick you into thinking that exploiting yourself brings happiness.  While you are cleaning out your closet, use some of your wealth to purchase a new wardrobe.  Modesty is empowering.  If you want to be a radical role model then try modesty.

    You’ve got beauty and brains, so please start using them to improve the world rather than contributing to the moral, faithless decay of it.  Go down in history as being the beauty and brains that contributed greatly to a world in deep need of compassion.

    My daughters and I will not hurl criticism your way.  Rather, we will pray that your emptiness is filled with a desire for righteousness, and that one day soon you will wake up and embrace the authentic, freedom found in a humble obedience to God— that is the truly liberated woman.

    What My Friend’s Cancer Taught Me

    No quite awake, just before that first cup of morning coffee, I hastily picked up my Bible and a folded piece of paper floated to the floor.  Curiously, I unfolded the paper to see an old prayer request sheet from my Bible study.  As I glanced down the list, I noticed my friend Susan’s name on the list.  Her name appeared on the prayer sheet because she had slipped into a coma.  All went down hill so quickly. Earlier this summer, my friend Susan lost her battle with cancer.  Finding this piece of paper, evoked thoughts about Susan’s illness that I believe she wanted all who knew her to take seriously.

    As I typed out the title for this post, a surge of guilt ran through my head and came to a screeching halt at my heart.  How could I benefit from my friend’s suffering?  

     It was just what Susan wanted. (earlier post about Susan’s battle)

    It all goes back to a year or so ago when the cancer crouched silently like a ravenous leopard waiting for it’s victim to weaken.  A fall trip to the zoo served as the opportunity for Susan to impart soothing words of wisdom that would forever alter my approach to motherhood.

    Adjacent to the zoo pavilion where we lunched, an old fashioned carousel attracted the attention of our younger children.  Trying to be frugal, I instantly denied my kids request for a ride on the carousel. 

    It was at that very moment that Susan gently shared her wisdom.

    “Come on, we are going to ride this carousel,” she chided.

    Susan looked me square in the eye and said, “I see this ride as an experience with my kids, a chance to build a memory.”

    She went on to say, “And I don’t know how many more of these memory building opportunities I have left, so I am going to grab as many as I can right now.”


    She was right; she had less than a year’s worth.

    That day we did more than ride a carousel; we built a memory.  Susan is gone now, but her children have pocketfuls of memories to pull from when those unspeakable moments of missing her overwhelm their hearts.


       Memory makers can be made in the simple, mundane every day. Avoid the frenetic, exotic, or expensive. Baking cupcakes, cleaning a bathroom together, simple, take-it-for-granted tasks that with a twist in perspective can create something to look back on. 


              Keep it simple, there’s a difference between pacifying whims and wants and building a memory: the impulsive request for a toy or a walk in the woods.


              Susan was a photographer; she toted a camera everywhere.  She captured the moment by snapping the memory into a photo.  Record memories somehow.  Journal them, share the details of the memory with someone, but get it down.  Nestle the memory somewhere, so that when the nest is empty you can cradle the memory in your hand or your head and happily reminisce about the occasion that produced that broad, beaming smile reflected in the picture or described on the paper.

    Today, I look back and realize that Susan’s words of wisdom weren’t necessarily a Susan-thing but a God-thing.  Susan had a message that she wanted to spread like wildfire.  I got the message. Thank you Susan.


    Letter to a Church Friend

    Dear Church Friend,

         I’ve noticed for the past several weeks that your seat in church remains empty.  You don’t really know my family and I well; we sit across the sanctuary from you. A few months ago you shared with the congregation about your struggles with addiction and how God, through a series of tragedies, brought you to church. What you said took guts. We know your parents and loved ones helped you through those dark moments of your recovery, but God must have tethered you to his wrist and pulled you along much like the gentle shepherd halters his sheep through the pasture out of the blinding, blazing sun, and guides them to the water-filled trough where all they need to do is drink.

    Your seat is empty because you are back in rehab.  So this letter, church friend, reaches across the miles to extend a handful of encouragement and to let you know that God loves messy people.  It’s His expertise. I am a bit of a mess myself, honestly, aren’t we all?  It’s through our messiness that we soon realize how much we need and depend upon Him.  Until we are knee deep in trouble, we won’t succumb to the free grace waiting for us.  Not much in this world is free, so taking something without feeling the need to repay something back seems like stealing.  Grace, though, is different.  Our debt for messiness was pre-paid for us on that scandalous night when the earth shook and the rocks split.

    I bet you didn’t know that the lady who sits a few rows in front of you, the mother of three, poured out her untidiness a year or so ago.  She filled the  caverns of her heart with booze.  She shared with us, how for years, she smuggled scotch to her kids’ soccer games by pouring it into her three year old’s juice cup. No one noticed that she got stoned on the sideline sipping scotch and not apple juice—not until she drove home after a game one evening and slammed her SUV into a guard rail. She was a thirsty woman but chose the wrong drink to satiate her emptiness. She traded her alcoholism for Truth.

    Three years ago, the young girl to the left of the pulpit, the one that sits attentively three rows from the front, found out she was pregnant by her abusive boyfriend. At first she thought he would come around knowing that she was expecting.  Evil doesn’t work that way, she soon learned.  She went into a clinic for a late term abortion but came out still pregnant and clutching a pamphlet about Jesus. She made the right choice. You’ve probably passed her three year old in the hallway; she’s the cute, curly haired blonde with freckles. Two lives were saved through that messiness.

    The simply dressed man that greets you every week at the church door was a former millionaire.  He lost everything in the recession.  I often passed his estate on the way to church.  He and his wife gallivanted to exotic places that I only read about in National Geographic.  After every tropical jaunt, he and his family would return to church tan, well rested, and full of thrilling adventure stories. The recession hit and their business bottomed out. When he and his family showed up at church nearly destitute, fellow believers stuffed his pockets with rent money and shared the gospel until his heart brimmed to overflowing. Now they rent a modest rancher and do stay-cations. He has time to attend Bible study and conduct family devotions.  He got bit by the greed-serpent and the venom ran through his whole family. Jesus always kicks the serpent’s butt. 

    The Assistant Pastor’s wife sends her best.  I mentioned to her that I planned to scratch out a letter to you.  Her cancer remains.  I watched her during worship  this week.  She tilts her scarf covered head and then stretches her hands  heavenward; her face beams with joy.  Their six children, all lined up in a row, exude happiness in the face of this trial. This chemo-filled, yet still radiant woman finds hope in her messiness, and she refuses to litter her hope with regret or anger.  Her tattered Bible tells me where she finds her hope. I know what you’re thinking church friend, that this mother of six did not cause her messiness.  You are so right.  She told me once that she uses her cancer as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.  She emphatically claims that she must show her kids and others that her cancer is a golden opportunity to show that Christ is worth more than life. 

    When Jesus journeyed this earth, he chose to encounter people with scrambled, messed up lives.  He didn’t just meet up with them, do his miracle, and scurry away.  He often waited with them by a well or listened to their story in the middle of a busy town.  To put a modern spin on Jesus: He would meet you at Starbucks for coffee or stand at the corner of Broadway and 34th and listen to your story while a myriad of humanity passes by and the only person in the world who matters is you.

    Perfection, my church friend, is unattainable. There aren’t perfect people. When you return, look around and realize that the sanctuary is filled with imperfect, messy people who exposed their deep, inner hurts to the One who heals, not condemns. This time sell yourself out completely to the one person who unseals darkness and pain— whose well never runs dry and whose grace never fails. Sanctuary seats are filled with people who exchanged adultery for faith, materialism for faith, atheism for faith, the list trickles on.  We bear consequences from our messy splattered lives, but the true beauty is that once we come to a heart-drenched saving faith in Christ we no longer clean up the mess alone. 

    Keep these wise words, written by English writer and preacher John Bunyan, close at hand:

     “Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think… It is wounding work, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving… Where there is grafting there will always be a cutting, the graft must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back or there will be no sap from root to branch. And this, I say, must be done by a wound, by a cut.” 

    Let God do his grafting on you.

    Many who occupy a seat in our church experienced the wounding work of the heart, the breaking of the heart, and then the glorious grafting.  There are no Pharisees among us.  You will not be judged. When God forgives a messy sinner, the realization of such bountiful forgiveness means the potential for great love. Jesus pursues messy sinners and meets us at wells, at dinner parties, on bustling streets, and, yes, even in rehab.

    He tethered you once to his wrist, now don’t let go this time.  Follow Him into the pasture where immeasurable forgiveness and fathomless love await.

    My family continues to pray for you friend. I look forward to glancing across the sanctuary to see you back in your seat, grafted. 

    Grace and Peace,
    Your Church Friend

    (Letter written to any broken, hurt church friend in America)
    All stories are fiction