Monthly Archives: June 2010

Breathing The Jesus Prayer

I met with my spiritual director, Debby, yesterday morning. Have I mentioned yet that she’s my hero? I have this amazing gift of becoming a weep machine every time I talk about anything that matters to me. So, in our few Tuesday mornings together, poor Debby has dealt with way more tears than any spiritual director probably signs up for.

Yesterday was less teary than our meeting two weeks ago. That’s probably because when I met with her last I was in the thick of prayerlessness, feeling like August’s sleep issues were thwarting my ability to connect with God. It’s the same lesson I’ve been learning over and over: My relationship with God doesn’t have to be determined by my son’s depth of need. Whether or not I’m satisfied with the amount of time I have alone in prayer or study, the lack of that early morning time doesn’t shoo the Lord out of my day. I have an unhealthy sense of God’s disappointment in me, which probably stems from all the times in youth group I internalized some nonbiblical guilt-sauce about how God was disappointed in me every morning I didn’t have a “quiet time.”

Yesterday morning as I started my time with Debby, we sat in silent prayer and I sensed God’s nearby hovering. The words that came to my mind? “The presence of the Lord is KIND.”

Kind. Not angry. Not disappointed in my failures as a mom or as a woman of prayer. But kind.

So, how do I begin to retrain my mind to actually believe in God’s kindness toward me? I need to pray. And I need to do it in a way that doesn’t require silence. Because Lord knows that if I’m lucky enough for the boy to sleep till 7 and disciplined enough to get out of bed before that, I still only have thirty minutes to pray in a silence. In order to be a praying mama, I need help.

Debby offered me a prayer I already know. It’s called The Jesus Prayer, its words taken mostly from Luke 18:13, when Jesus praises a tax collector who actually understands more about prayer than a showy religious leader. As the tax collector beats his breast in humility, he prays, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The Jesus Prayer, then, is this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Debby’s encouragement is that I simply begin to use those words as a moment by moment connection with God. As I wash the dishes: “Lord Jesus Christ…” As I walk up the hill with August: “Lord Jesus Christ.” Soon, she says, speaking those words to the Lord in my mind will become such a consistent act that the words will constantly be underneath what I’m saying or thinking or experiencing.

What I love most about this practice is a little addendum Debby learned from a friend who, as she gets to the word “sinner,” leaves it as a fill in the blank. In every moment I thought to pray these words yesterday, it was usually pretty clear what I was.

As I walked back from our long distance parking spot, thinking about how much I needed to accomplish in my writing time that afternoon, I prayed: “Have mercy on me, a worrier.”

As I nearly lost my temper with August and his new game of “scream at the top of your lungs while you run up and down the hallway!” I prayed: “Have mercy on me, I’m quick to anger.”

While we strollered over to Macy’s so I could return a couple of shirts, I realized that for a couple of blocks of walking, I’d been hankering after those new red and white striped Tom’s wedges in my mind. “Have mercy on me, I’m vain.”

The beauty of it is how exposed I feel in those short prayers and how in that exposure, I am clinging to mercy. This is God’s kindness. In the midst of recognizing my own reality, my own need for healing, I may just come out of those moments of prayer as an actual believer.

And that, my friends, is how prayer is going to beat up on my Crazy.

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It’s Thankful Tuesday Time!

We haven’t had a Thankful Tuesday list for too long, friends. So, I’m starting it out and you’re finishing it off. Ok?

  • My son is sleeping again! After lamenting about his sleep habits last week: which included round-offs out of the crib, angry screaming and near hyperventilation, I took the sleep book‘s advice and made a sign about our rules for bedtime (stay in bed, close your eyes, be very quiet, etc). I even drew some super cute pictures to go with each rule. Despite my son’s wrathful shredding of the rules into pieces not once, but twice, he has eventually come around. He’s sleeping like a champ and I’m proud of him.
  • This is embarrassing, but I’m thankful that Make It or Break It‘s new season just started last night. I can’t help that I’m obliged to watch gymnastics dramas. Don’t judge me.
  • My friend Josh just sent me this YouTube video and said it reminded him of me. I’m not sure how I feel about that but thankful is the emotion I’m striving for…
  • I’m thankful for simple things like the homemade thank you cards August and I made out of construction paper and crayons. Also I’m thankful for homemade birthday cake and laid back birthday parties.
  • I’m thankful that next week all three of us are heading to Texas to spend some quality time with my family.
  • “Staying Power” is an incredible poem every time my eyes catch the words. I’m thankful for its truth and I’m thankful it’s supposed to be fitting into my head this month.
  • 4th of July! Fireworks! Cakes with berries placed in the shape of a flag! Cheesy families all dressed in matching Old Navy flag shirts!
  • My husband’s new two-day-long obsession with feeding me Caesar salad with homemade croutons and dressing. (And I’m talking legit Caesar dressing: with anchovies and raw egg.) Are you kidding me? So good.
  • August’s newest phrase for everything that happens: “Idn’t dat funny, Mama? Idn’t dat funny?” No, sweetie, it’s not funny when your friend hits his head on the ground. (But I can’t stand how cute you are.)
  • Taking my husband,  favorite quilt, son and his new tee-ball stand and bat to the park.
  • I’m thankful I discovered Mary Karr on Twitter. It’s like having my own secret poetry fairy sending me little shiny gems all day.
  • I’m thankful there were enough quarters in the house yesterday for all seven loads of laundry. Yes, three people. Seven loads. Something is off.

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Remember

Yesterday, the sermon was about Communion and how it challenges us towards community, memory and hope. What I can’t get over is my pastor’s description of what it means to “remember.” As we looked at the passage of scripture in 1 Corinthians 11, he explained that when Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to take the bread and wine of The Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” of Christ, just as Jesus commanded, the definition of remembering is a bit more carnal than we may think at first.

In fact, if we were to look at the original Greek of the word, we would find its definition as being closer to the opposite of “dismember.” So what we’re doing when we eat the bread and drink the wine in the Lord’s Supper is less like recalling and more like fusing an appendage: sewing a lost arm back on to our body.

I love how physical that description is. I love thinking that when Jesus said to drink the wine in remembrance of him, he meant to drink it because he wants to sew us back together. I love the thought that it’s not just about my recalling what I believe, but the reality that in the sacrament I experience healing.

Psalm 105:8 says that God “remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.” The more I’m considering “remembering” today, the more I’m coming back to the thought that we can remember because God remembered us first, in the midst of our having separated ourselves from His body. Through Christ, he reattaches us to the place we’ve spent our lives longing to belong.

It’s Laundry/Grocery Monday! So, I’ve got to get to work, friends. But I’ll leave you with that small thought in hopes that you have some lovely reflections to add to the comments. Now, go fuse some missing limbs back on.

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Great is Thy Faithfulness

As I write this it is almost midnight, June 24th. Two years ago at this time, I was in the final stages of labor, after more than a day of working to get that baby out of me.

This morning, after his bath time, I watched him running through the house naked, that same body that tore out of me has now lost its chunky baby butt in favor of the skinny boy butt. Those fat thighs gained three inches in the past month, I swear. The kid’s a giant (Hohorst genes). And I feel continually shocked that the fuzzy memory I have of participating in August’s introduction to the world actually took place two years ago.

“What’s tomorrow, August?” Chris asked tonight when he got home.

“AUGUST TWO!” our little boy shouted.

He’s pumped for the first birthday he’s aware of. Last year, our boy turned one while he and I were at Young Life camp for the month of June. I spent the month running from costume to costume, working as part of the entertainment for the groups of kids that came in each week. August was in the care of my mom while Chris worked in Philadelphia, driving up for visits on the weekend. He couldn’t be there for August’s birthday. On the actual day we found a chance to pull all the staff and their families together for a round of “Happy Birthday” and some cupcakes. The miniature party was interrupted by one of the most beautiful rainbows I’ve ever seen, stretched out over the lake, shimmering. (The cynic in me says: Seriously? A rainbow? Are you seriously going to point it out as a gift from God? Yes, I don’t care what you say, my skeptical brain dweller, I saw a rainbow and it was beautiful. And it was a promise for my boy.)

That night I prayed for August in the midst of watching a lot of high school kids silently sort through the story they had heard that week: that they were loved unconditionally, that God wanted to rescue them from the brokenness in their lives. It was easy to pray for my baby as I watched them, knowing what I’ve seen in the lives of young people: the pressure, the feeling of worthlessness, the destructive choices. I prayed for who he would be, that he’d love well, that he’d be the kind of friend everyone searches for, that he would know his value is far deeper than what can be assigned by any person or accomplishment. I prayed he would know that the lavish, difficult, inconceivable love of Jesus Christ is real and is his to take.

Chris put August to bed tonight as I cleaned dishes and finished baking the cake for tomorrow’s party. But, after getting cozy in his covers, I was called in. A song was requested. I have my typical brain-stored-mix-tape of songs for the lullaby moments I’ve shared with August in these two years of babyhood. Most fall out of my mouth without thought. I decided long ago that I wanted August to know the sweet Invitation hymns of my Baptist childhood, so those are what I focus on. My favorites are “All to Jesus, I Surrender” and “Just As I Am.” Tonight, though, in the dark, with my near-two-year old snuggled under the cover of his blanky, I sang the first song that came to my mouth: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

As he eased off to sleepyland. I felt as though its words were incense rising from my chest on behalf of the boy I praised God for.

And then, its last verse:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

I’m sure by now you’re tired of my motherly ramblings. And mostly what I say here is that I need more “strength for today.” But, I don’t say enough about the “bright hope” I carry in my gut, that shining orb I hold on behalf of a life God somehow saw fit to place inside me.

So, while I chase August through the zoo tomorrow (his request) and prep for the picnic party tomorrow evening, I pray to hold his future in me with the glow of such a remarkable hope.

Happy birthday, August Henry.

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50/50?

Tonight I left Chris at home to feed, play with and put August to bed while I drove out to Oakland to help some friends pack their apartment. I came home to a kitchen that was cleaned (even the stove top sparkled!), bills that were a bit more organized, and some laundry still unfolded in the basket. (He’s wonderful but not perfect.)

Last year a friend of mine interviewed us as a couple about our “roles” for one of her classes. As I answered her questions, I was embarrassed at how traditional my marriage appeared on paper. How much to I clean versus Chris? 85/15.  How much time do I spend in child care compared to Chris? 90/10. Who earns all the money? Christopher. Who drives when we’re both in the car? Christopher. I could go on and on with every cliched women’s role that I accept and man’s role that he accepts, with the exception of his tendency to cook on days when he can get home early enough.

The truth is, we’ve made our decisions based on practicality. Does Chris notice when the toilet is dirty? No. Does he clean it to my specifications? No. Do I like to drive? Ever? No. Is the SAHM life perfectly suited to my personality? Yes (most of the time). Does Chris get home too late to cook August a healthy meal? Usually.

So there it is. We are not as 50/50 as we wish and I’ve had plenty of conversations with girlfriends who feel the same way, despite their full time job or belief in equality. At the end of the day, sometimes it’s just easier to have control of how your child is dressed or how often the shower is scrubbed.

Today I came across this article in Slate considering a recent survey that found dads fudging a little on their commitment to equal sharing of child rearing.  Though many claimed equality in the parenting demands they shared with their spouse, further research showed that the men were a little more hopeful than honest.

The article, “Why Do Dads Lie on Surveys About Fatherhood?” stresses that men as a subculture are still in a transitional period of coming to grips with what it means to work and care for children.  Interestingly enough, that sounds very similar to the struggle women have wrestled with for a few decades. It also describes a tendency in women to “encourage men to take on a task–dressing the kids, for example–but then criticize the way he does it. And when both partners are responsible for children and the household, they both want a say in every family decision–providing many more opportunities for conflict.”

What do you think? Is the sharing of tasks in your household resulting in more conflict? Are you struggling to give your spouse free reign in dressing your kid or keeping the bathroom clean? What does your marriage look like on paper and how do you feel about it?

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Adjusting

It’s been one week since we arrived home from a ten-day trip out east to see family and friends.

I don’t like coming home.

Of course, I like getting back into routine. I like being in my own home with my own stuff. I like the simplicity of non-vacation life.

What I don’t like is saying goodbye. I don’t like the shock of quietness in my little apartment with August all day. I don’t like the reminder that my relationships out here are little seedlings while my relationships where I’ve just been are strong and hearty. Mostly, I always get the post-vacation blues.

August gets them too. I made a major mama mistake last Tuesday morning, taking August to his drop off art class a mere ten hours after our plane landed. I was thinking: “This will be good for him to jump right back into normal life! Plus, all three times he’s gone, he’s loved it!”

August was thinking: “Where am I? Where’s my mama? Where’s my grandma? Where’s the airplane?” He panicked and cried all morning.

It’s surprising to me how difficult this adjustment has been for him and, therefore, me (anyone noticed how slow I am at getting posts up the past two weeks?). At his grandma’s house, he had a big boy bed, which resulted in his nightly sneaking into grandma’s bed, which she (of course, who can blame her?) gladly welcomed. So, we’re on week two of screaming matches at bedtime, the boy throwing himself out of the crib, and my reading all the parenting/sleep-issues books I can stand to read. (Which probably isn’t much. I don’t have much patience for practical reading.)

His early rising (4, 5, 6 am) is also getting a little old. Without my prayer time early mornings while he’s still sleeping, I’ve been feeling out of sorts. And, just as the adjustment is difficult for August, I can’t seem to figure out how to spend my day aware of the Lord when I skip that time of solitude.

Though I have little to offer you today in terms of spiritual encouragement, I have been learning to practice the Benedictine exercise of Lectio Divina. The practice is based around the idea of reading scripture with one’s heart instead of mind. It means that as I read I try to imagine my heart floating over the words like a metal detector, asking God to whisper “Beep beep beep!” in my ear when I come to a word he needs me to hear. And when I hear it, ask Him what He means, why this word is loud enough for me to notice.

Last week, while reading Psalm 15, I felt drawn to the very first verse: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? / Who shall dwell on your holy hill? “ (English Standard Version). The words “sojourn” and “dwell” kept rising above the rest on the page. Reading the ESV translation (which is known as a more exact translation of the original language, despite its choppiness) is a new thing for me. The NIV translation, which I’ve usually read, seems much more vague. It uses the words “dwell” then “live.” Since sojourning can be defined as temporarily residing, while dwelling suggests a more permanent stay, I felt that there had to be something to that distinction.

I’m not saying there was some magical moment of clarity, just a warmth that God had some encouragement for me in the midst of my lack of prayer and feelings of discouragement in bringing August back into his life in San Francisco. The warmth said this: There is a time where we sojourn in the Lord’s tent, when the spiritual balm is soothing and the presence of God is all encompassing. And there are times when all we can do is continue to dwell where we built our home long ago, on the hill of the Lord. On that hill we can know what we believe despite our doubts, we can pray despite our failures at depth and we can love our kids despite their full-time neediness.

So, Happy Thankful Tuesday. I’m thankful to be back home. I’m thankful for Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and the four-step plan I now have for getting that boy to stay in his crib. And I’m thankful that I worship a God who simply calls me to respond to His faithfulness, not the other way around.

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Julie Bowen and Our Bellies

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a link on Twitter to an article about a photo of actor Julie Bowen breastfeeding her twins. There was some fuss made about her desire to show the photo when she appeared on The View. The talk show made a decision not to display it, which had some breastfeeding advocates up in arms about our culture’s willingness to display breasts when it comes to sexuality but hide from them when breasts are actually being used for their intended purpose.

I was drawn to this story, first of all because to me Julie Bowen will always be Carol Vessey, the beautiful, unrequited love of Ed from the TV show of the same name in the early 2000s. Ahhh. Those nights of watching Ed in my Abilene apartment on an uncomfortable couch with Molly and a Papa John’s pizza. Cue nostalgic music.

I was also interested in seeing the photo (I’ll link to it here instead of posting so you can choose whether or not you want to look at it) because I love breastfeeding. I’m just one of those crunchy moms who breastfed as long as possible and then cried for days when I stopped. I just loved it. I didn’t just love how it connected me to my son in a way that no one else in the world could connect; I also loved how it connected me to the billions of women who ever lived on this earth and fed their children. In our modern life, we have changed everything about how we exist. Electricity, technology, fashion, food. Our lives look nothing like the lives of those who lived 300, 400 years ago. But, we all breastfeed the same way. Mouth to nipple.

Something I didn’t expect though, in seeing that photo, was the link on The Huffington Post’s site to Julie Bowen in a bikini. She is obviously fit. Her muscles are defined. She’s a tiny thing. And I, unlike all 124 people who commented, was grateful to see that her stomach was no fake Hollywood, post pregnancy belly. Her belly button is stretched, her skin is loose. In short, she’s the mother of three (including one year old twins) and it shows.

I read the comments in shock at the general hate readers had toward this woman’s body, as if she had done something sickening to them, as if she and her 120 pound frame were walking around bikini clad in order to cause massive in-mouth vomiting wherever she trod. Readers felt lied to by her small, clothing covered body on the TV show Modern Family. Whatever they had imagined of her, the reality was more than disappointing.

Glancing at those comments stung me. I know, I know. I’m not naive about our cultures obsession with body perfection  (meaning: skinny and taut at all costs, despite age or life situation). I know that our society is full of Kardashian watching, porn obsessed, image hungry IPad users. But really? Does my culture despise women that much?

Are we so afraid of women actually looking like their bodies have done something miraculous? Look, I’d love to have the flat belly I enjoyed at age 17 (it was downhill after that) and I’d love for my belly button to be its cute round former self. (Wide and wrinkly with a stretched piercing scar doesn’t do it for me.) But, look at what my body made! He’s a person. With a brain and emotions and an intense love for dinosaurs and shooting hoops.

And so I will honor this belly, which did not cooperate with the intensive two month Crossfit training I put it through last year, which will never snap back to its pre pregnancy tight-skinned glory. And I won’t apologize. I’m a thirty-year-old woman who has earned a stretched belly button.

And, friends, I hope that as I get older, I won’t complain about this body to my kids, that I will somehow be able to teach them that there is honor and joy in aging, that we earn the imperfections we carry with us just as we earn our scars and every memory attached to them. I hope I can teach them that boobs are not just sex symbols and that breast-feeding is not gross or embarrassing. I hope they believe that their value is larger and deeper than whatever 124 online commenters may have to say about their flaws.

This is a freakishly broken world. I hope we can live out an honest and authentic beauty in the midst of it.

Here’s to our bellies, ladies.

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