When trying to decide what to post today, I went through my files looking for things I’d written previously, but had not yet posted on my blog. I found several lists of “things about me,” likely a response to some Facebook challenge in the early days of social media when I actually accepted such challenges. Anyway, I sifted through the different lists and compiled a new one. Here are 23 things about me. Do we have anything in common?
So. Do we have anything in common? Comment below to let me know.
I’ve gotten inordinately distracted by this year’s presidential campaign. I’ve always been interested in politics, so it’s not surprising that I’m following the election news. But this year, there’s not as much campaign news as there is petty filth and drivel. The offensive nature of the 2016 US election is very literally making me sick.
I messaged my sister to commiserate. Here’s a snippit of that conversation (condensed for the purpose of this post).
ME: I'm so upset about this dadgum election. I think way too much about it.
MY SISTER: Take a break. I had to.
ME: It makes me so mad. My stomach is upset; I feel like I’m about to cry over it all the time. It is just so upsetting! The fact that the people of this nation are drawn to the theatrics and that other candidates are picking up such tacky behavior . . . I can't stand it.
MY SISTER: Aileen. You know that you have to stop.
ME: How do you get away from it though? It’s on the news, on Twitter, everywhere.
MY SISTER: It wraps you up in pain and renders you impotent.
MY SISTER: You can't be involved in politics the way you want to if you are in this much pain. Do some sort of news blackout. Not a long time. A day? Could you do that?
ME: Yes probably. I have to do something to get it out of my head. This is seriously sickening.
MY SISTER: You are no good in this state.
ME: But I’d rather do something to improve the national mood. To make this better.
MY SISTER: YOU do help. All the time. Don't lose yourself in it. You really, really can help. The WORLD.
Her words got me thinking. See, I was going to post about my frustrations and concerns regarding the negativity swirling around the country. But as we were chatting, I realized that everything I have to say on this has already been said, reworded, and said again. People who will listen, have. Those who won’t, aren’t going to change their thoughts because of my opinion. So what to do?
I heard a quote on NPR’s Politics Podcast this week that seems appropriate here:
Never wrestle with a hog because you’ll both get dirty and the hog will like it.
So I’m staying out of this nasty mess. And instead of adding to a fight that is already spewing filth on anyone who gets near it, I’m going to keep trying to put some good into the world.
What about you? What good thing will you add to your world this week?
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior:
Ask yourself what you want people to do for you;
then grab the initiative and do it for them!”
Luke 6:31 The Message
In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday, 7-22-2015, I'm writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here's number 11, to my sister-in-law, Kim.
It’s your 50th birthday: a perfect time for me to tell you just how much I appreciate you and the qualities you bring to our family.
You were the last in-law to join us, setting our count to eight once and for all. (Well, eight plus eight now, but still . . . .) You’ve been a Mitchell for over two decades, or forever; I’m not sure. It seems like our family has always included you.
Kim, I love how you love us. It’s clear to everyone: your devotion to your family-in-laws has nothing to do with marital obligation. You love each of us with visceral faithfulness. You are all-in, 100%, wholly committed to our clan and we all know it. Thank you Kim, for loving us in that full-throttle Kim way. I so appreciate that about you.
Your gifts, so different than mine, amaze and humble me. Your no nonsense efficiency with the details of life is such a blessing to our whole family. Thank you for prioritizing life’s particulars; by the time I realize the minutiae exists, you’ve already resolved it. Thank you.
Kim, I've never doubted that you loved my parents as your very own. Your love for them is clear with every interaction you have with them. I mean it when I say I NEVER worry about them. I don't because I know you are right down the street, a phone call and a 30 second drive away. So many times over the past several years, this reality has proved, if not life-saving, then at least anxiety relieving. But in the last 12 months, having you so close to our parents has kept me from lying awake at night, consumed with worry. I remember the first time I spoke with you after we learned the extent of Mother’s surgical needs. Your response, honest and immediate: “I wish I could do it for her.” And I knew you did. That’s how much you love her. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.
Of course, living a two-minute walk from our parents means that you get an influx of company at least twice a year. Anyone else might be at the very least annoyed when we descend on your hospitality and invade your space. But if having an extra 8-10 people at your house is an imposition, I’ve never known it. And the thing is, it’s not just that I feel welcome; it’s more than that. It’s like you have been waiting for us and are delighted we’ve arrived. “Would you like a beverage?” you say as you hand me an ice-cold Diet Dew. Thank you Kim, for always wanting us around.
Thank you for your passion for family, your zest for life, and your steadfast loyalty to those you love. I am so grateful for you, and so thankful to God for the gift of you. I love you Kim and wish you the happiest of birthdays.
In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday, 7-22-2015, I'm writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here's number 10, to my firstborn niece, Rachel.
I always knew I wanted children, that was a given. But I couldn’t imagine being ready for that responsibility. We’d been married just under four years when you were born and we were definitely enjoying our freedom. Weekend trips, spur of the moment adventures, it was hard for me to imagine setting that aside for a couple of decades to raise a child.
And then you, my first niece, were born.
It was six weeks until I could get my hands on you. Six long weeks of you growing and changing that I missed. But finally, finally, I got you in my arms. I can still feel your tiny form, just big enough for your head to rest on my knees, your legs tucking in at my waist. I remember touching your brand new skin, inhaling your newborn scent. (Surely that is the aroma that flows from Heaven’s Gate.) Magnificence.
And that’s when I knew.
The epiphany came sometime between me reaching for you, and you looking up at me. In that very moment, it all became clear to me and I knew I would gladly give up any fleeting worldly pleasures for the joy of parenting.
Three years later—give or take a few months—-my first child was born. Oh how delighted you were. As far as I can tell, you’ve never stopped being enthralled with your Trellace--your "twin cousin." I’m so thankful that you love each other as you do.
I’m so proud of you sweet girl. You have grown into such a beautiful young woman, pursuing your dreams and, of course, making your own mistakes. I wish there was a better, easier way to grow up; I’d prefer you never had to have a bad day, much less learn a difficult lesson. But you’re doing it. You’re making it on your own, finding your own way. And I couldn’t love you more, or be more proud of who you are.
God gave you to our family, that’s true. And I do thank God for the gift of you. But you let me into your heart. You let me love you and you have loved me back. Thank you, beloved girl. Thank you.
I love you so my Rachel. Today on your birthday, I celebrate you, thanking God for your life, and thanking you for sharing it so generously with me.
I love my Rachel!
I've seen lots of memes lately that say something like, "I just love meetings that last twice as long as they should, says no one ever." So here you go: my very own "Says No One Ever," statements.
That's what I've never heard. What about you? What can you add to this list?
I'm turning 50 this week. I'm pretty thankful that I get to see this milestone birthday since I have known far too many who didn't get to have this privilege. So, to celebrate, I plan to write 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. I'll write most to friends and family, but also a few to institutions (like Gardner-Webb University Divinity School and Oakley Elementary School), a few to people I've never met (like Bob Newhart who makes me laugh out loud), and even some to people who have already passed on (like Beth Daniels). And yep, I'll post them here. Or at least most of them anyway.
So I invite you to join me on a journey of gratitude. 50 weeks, 50 notes. You're welcome to ride along with me just as an interested observer, or maybe you want to take your own journey of thanksgiving. Share with me who you want to thank and how you go about doing so. Maybe you're not a writer. No problem. Phone calls, visits, artwork . . . there are all kinds of ways to express our appreciation for the gifts we have been given in life.
Let's get started then; we've got some thanking to do!
The workers building a retaining wall at my house had only talked to my husband and hadn’t yet met me. That particular day, I’d been gone when they arrived and got back after they were hard at it. The foreman saw me pull up and waited for me to get out of the car.
“Hey there!” he greeted me, “You Jay’s wife?”
“Well,” I told him, getting the groceries out of the car, “I’m his first wife.” I walked on towards the house.
“Um,” the man clearly wanted an end to the awkward silence, but couldn’t seem to form any actual words.
“I’m also his only wife,” I said, as the poor fella started breathing again. It’s one of my favorite gags. I introduce my husband as my former boyfriend, my ex-fiancé, or as in this case, my first husband. (I make my own fun.)
Indeed, back in the late eighties, I finished my bachelor’s degree and married my college sweetheart. Coincidently, so did my roommate and my two closest girlfriends. Today, more than two decades later, all four of us are still happily married. Talk about non-traditional marriage: according to today’s statistics—at least two of our four couples should be divorced by now.
No matter what Americans believe about marriage, surely we can all agree that the rapid dissolution of so many families is alarming. I know a number of couples who have suffered divorce and listen, they all have valid reasons: chronic unemployment on the part of one spouse or the other, affairs, addictions, and just plain irreconcilable differences. Without question, marriages often fail despite the determined efforts of one or even both of the partners. And sometimes, marriages should be terminated long before they are: I’m talking about abuse here—physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional. Seriously, if you are in an abusive relationship, get out immediately. You and your children will be better living in a shelter than with an abuser. No exceptions.
But back to my college friends & me. What has held our marriages together?
One could argue that church-going is one thing. All four of us go as couples with our children to church on Sunday mornings and every other time the doors are open. But you know what? So do a lot of other couples who have faced divorce. Going to church is important, but it doesn’t guarantee a long-lasting marriage. The divorce statistics for couples in Sunday school are the same as for those who skip it.
All eight of us are hard workers. Among us are three teachers, a couple of business people, an engineer, a scientist, and a minister (who also happens to write compelling blog posts). But none of us would be considered wealthy by American standards. In fact, each of our families have been through lean years in which one of the two spouses was laid off, under-employed, or in school for further education. Financial distress is often cited as the primary cause of divorce, yet our relationships have persisted through such troubles.
Not that it’s been easy; none of us would be the millennium version of Ozzy and Harriet or Mike and Carol Brady. No, our marriages have included real-life frustrations; plenty of times it would have seemed easier to give up. So why didn’t we? I don’t know all the reasons, but I know one.
See, while the divorce statistic is the same for church-goers and party-goers, church-going does not equal faith. In all four of our marriages, we’ve either found or sustained a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, despite our struggles (or maybe due to those difficulties), we’ve all grown closer to God. All eight of us have aspired as individuals, as spouses, and as family members, to know God better and to be more like Christ. All eight of us have also failed resoundingly many times; but we’ve managed, by grace, to return to the path of spiritual formation, even when detours have distracted us from our objectives.
Marriage. You can hardly check a news feed without stumbling upon some so-called wisdom about it. Too bad Jesus isn’t on social media. If he were, he might say something like, “Strive first for the kingdom of God & his righteousness, & all these things will be given to you as well.” #Matt6:33NRSV #lovealwayswins.
*This piece was first published on June 29, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.
This was first published on the cover of my church's newsletter, May 2015 edition. Want to know more about my church? Check out our website at www.fbcwvl.org.
When I was at Gardner-Webb Divinity School (a school--by the way--that has always been friendly to women in ministry), I took a number of assessments intended to gauge my proficiency for various aspects of ministry. I took so many that after a while, they became tedious and frustrating. One of them seemed particularly unnecessary for me personally. The instrument was intended to discern whether or not I would be one of those pastors who put her congregation before her own family. Of course this is certainly a legitimate question to consider, but I was confident I had this one in the bag. Just as I suspected, the results indicated that I was highly unlikely to sacrifice my husband and children for my ministry—no matter how much I loved my church family.
That was then.
It’s a lot harder now that my three children are spread from Asheville to DC to Greensboro and I have a ministry position I love. I often want very much to be in two places at once. I want to hear my son play organ at his church in Greensboro and I want to lead children’s activities at my own church. I want to attend a band concert that meets at the same time as a small group meeting at church. And it’s hard enough with just my own kids; add beloved nieces and nephews, and I start seriously researching self-cloning methods!
Mostly, I think I stay pretty balanced. I miss some meetings here and some concerts there; it works out. But planning for the month of May, it’s been particularly challenging for me to meet the needs of my family without feeling like I’m neglecting my ministry here. See, my younger daughter has a weekend retreat Memorial Day weekend. It’s a big deal for her. I’ve gone for the last three years and have planned to go this year. The only problem is that the very next weekend, my niece is graduating from high school in Baltimore. Attending both of these milestone moments will mean I have to miss two Sunday mornings in a row. I can’t stand that! So even though I know the right thing is to be present at each of these events, I’m sad that I can’t also be worshipping with my church family.
Priorities aren’t always clear-cut are they? And even when the answer is obvious, the solution isn’t always pain-free. My daddy always says, “With everything of value, comes some sacrifice.” When I strive to be the wife and mother I am called to be while also being the minister God called me to be, I feel that sacrifice most acutely. But then, these are the things of greatest value to me: honoring God in my home and in my ministry.
To God be the Glory!
Because she was a big-girl, she didn't need Mommy to walk her into the classroom. She preferred, instead, to ride in Daddy's car with her older brother and sister. Moments after they pulled away, I wrote this piece about the angst of parenting: letting go. I thought a re-run was appropriate on this her 17th birthday.
The last few weeks, everything has been about Margaret: the new clothes, the new shoes, the perfect lunchbox and backpack. I’ve smiled and encouraged. I’ve been positive and reassuring. Yep, kindergarten is a good thing and I am truly excited for Margaret.
So today is the day. She has climbed into the back seat with her two older siblings, thrilled to be riding to school with Daddy and the big kids.
“No more pictures Mommy! I’m ready to go!”
And she is ready.
“Have a great day!” I shout as I wave goodbye to the car that has already started down the road.
My voice breaks and I turn to go inside. I move in slow motion, distracted by a physical pain I can’t place. I stop, trying to find the source of the sting. Awareness dawns. It’s this moment. It’s this moment when white knuckles unclench and heart strings snap. Dull and pulsing, sharp and piercing: it’s surreal. I make my way inside to the familiar.
The moments before this one have been wonderful. I loved having babies. I loved the late night feedings. I loved the terrible twos. (I called them the terrific twos.) I loved preschool. I loved the cute things my children said in their innocence, like Margaret insisting she would “stay her shoes on.” I loved that. I loved the way my little ones laughed—at anything. I loved the spontaneous hugs. I loved the dependence.
In the infant days, people often said with a note of annoyance, “Margaret is such a Mommy’s girl. She won’t go to anyone else.” I’d smile and say, contentedly, “Yeah. . .I know. . .” I loved that. The preschool years have been delightful. I don’t want them to end.
Before today, I tried to think of a way to slow things down. I could delay her going to kindergarten a year. I could homeschool. But, in the end, I realized that no matter what I did, these years would still be over; she would still be five years old; she would still be growing up.
So here I am alone, in a quiet, empty house, trying to put words to this ache. But maybe I can’t. Perhaps when the heart takes over the brain, the feeling just won’t be expressed. “This,” the heart says, “this you must feel. You cannot write it or say it, touch it or mold it. You must be here, inside this broken place to understand it.”
Oh puh-lease. Already I challenge myself. Aren’t you over-sentimentalizing again? Maybe. I don’t know. I just know that my words, always so faithful to me, fail me now. And I know that my heart hurts so much that surely it must be broken in there.
I wonder how the healing will take place. Will the skin of one area of my life bridge the gap and connect with the skin of another? And will this healing leave some evidence of itself? I hope so. I want something from this rich, precious time of my life to remain visible. I want a scar.
So I gather photos and artwork, mementoes that once I had little ones. These who are now so independent, were once not so much so. I did the right thing! I remind myself. They are independent; they are confident. Still, I want my heart to show that it isn’t easy to do the right thing. I want the scar.
I decided a long time ago that I could either have company when my house is messy, or not have company. So one Wednesday when my youngest (leader in her high school marching band’s saxophone section) announced that she wanted to have the section come over on Friday night before the football game, I was far more concerned with what they would eat than with how my house looked.
Still, I wasn’t totally indifferent about the house’s condition. There are a dozen or so saxophones and many of them had never been to my house. I figured some of them had parents who are far better at the details of life than I am. I straightened up, cleaned the bathroom, swept the floors: that kind of thing. But there was still a lot that could have been done. A lot.
They arrived, I welcomed them with soft drinks, snacks, and pizza, chatted briefly with them, and then disappeared for most of their visit. The first chance I got to speak to Margaret about it was on Saturday morning.
“Hey Margaret, sorry I didn’t get to vacuum downstairs or anything before your friends arrived.
“Oh it was fine. When we were coming in, I said, ‘Sorry about the house,’ but then I opened the door and said, ‘hey wait, this isn’t too bad . . . for us. It’s usually a lot worse.’”
“Great. Lovely. Thanks for that Margaret. I’m sure they all went home telling their parents, ‘Poor Margaret has to live in squalor. Thank you mom, dad, for keeping our house so nice and tidy.’”
“Pfft,” Margaret blew off my comment. “Actually they all loved you. They were talking about how great you are. One of them said, ‘Margaret, your mom is just the coolest!’”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call a payday. As parents, we do a whole lot for which we will never receive any credit at all. Plus we are all flawed and we mess up regularly. But every now and then—during school programs, at concerts, or as we observe our kids with their friends and with other adults—we get a payday. We have a moment when we know without a doubt, despite our countless failures, somewhere along the line we have done something right. And those moments? They are absolutely priceless.
I’d love to hear about your favorite parenting payday! Comment below and tell me all about it!