Friday, May 30, 2014

Mundane and Mediocre

I've been working through these thoughts in my head for the better part of...well, most of my adult life. I'm not even sure I'm going to post this.

 In my head, I called it "Mediocre for Jesus." But then I thought people might get the wrong idea about what I meant. So then I shelved it. But the idea itches at me even now.

So, let's start by clarifying right up front what I don't mean. I unequivocally believe that we are to Love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. We are to do all things with excellence. We are to do all for the glory of God the Father. We are to be hold or cold (meaning, USEFUL) and not lukewarm (without purpose). In these things, there is no room for mediocrity.

A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to spend 2 precious hours with John Mark Reynolds, my dear friend and mentor from college. Though I've known him 15 years, I'm quite certain I'd never spent 2 uninterrupted hours getting to talk to him and his lovely wife. He's busy and in-demand, and always moving. John Mark is one of those world changer people. The people you're just better for knowing. The type of person you know will have many ripple effects for generations. And I am blessed to call him friend.

Naturally, he's surrounded by other world changers. I met him in a program he founded, designed to groom world-changers. The opportunity I had to spend with this precious couple happened precisely because he was here in Arizona to fundraise for another world-changer we know, and his Classical School.

So, you can imagine how awkward it feels to be the follow-up act to time with the world-changer. "So, what are you and Todd up to Jen?" We've stayed in touch over the years since I moved away so the question wasn't completely without an already-existent general knowledge of the answer. So rather than tell them what they already knew about being a mom and helping my husband run a body shop, I answered, "Well, we're trying to practice contentment in our mediocrity." They both looked at me, and I saw in their faces that they were looking for words to challenge what they thought was self-deprecation with some sort encouragement. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I'll clarify for you what I clarified immediately for them: this is not a self-esteem problem. I'm not looking for someone to give me a pep talk or to tell me I'm not mediocre.

What I mean is, I will probably never be a big-W World changer. I'll never be famous. My talent is not exceptional. Most of my strongest traits are my negative ones. On the "klout" score scale of life, I'll always fall squarely on the side of average.

And that's ok.

I think we've been deceived by this notion of "Go big or go home." Bigger is always better. Always. I think a lot of us spend a lot of time wishing we were bigger*, better, and more influential. (*Except for in the waistline, where I think we all want to be a little smaller, can I get an 'Amen?'"). I think this longing, left unchecked, leads to great discontentment, sadness, broken relationship, grief, depression, and distraction from our goal of loving our God and loving our neighbor.

We're told to "follow our dreams" but when those dreams don't pan out, or don't explode the way we think they should, we're left feeling lost and hopeless. The businessman is perceived as less "on fire for God" and less impactful in the kingdom than the bushwhacker. Churches get swept up in playing the numbers game, judging their impact and godliness by the size of their congregation and its pocketbook. We write songs that probably shouldn't be written just because they sound good and will go "big" in radio play. We race to our facebooks and our latest blog posts to see how many likes and comments we have. We want to be the mom in the playgroup with the most well-behaved child, or the most-influential blog, or the greatest-kept parenting secret that will change everyone's life when we share it with them. We end marriages when every moment of every day is not filled with 'epic' love. We can't send $100 so we don't send $10. We hold contests and award shows and autographs. We tout that these are the measure of success and the goal to which we should aspire.

We're searching for a significance among the created that we don't realize we have already in the eyes of the Creator.

The reality is that we can't all go big. For every Billy Graham, there are thousands of men leading their little flocks faithfully each week. Shepherd anyway. For every best-seller, there are millions of unfinished manuscripts. Write anyway. For every grammy winning voice, there is an abundance of noise-makers. Sing anyway. For every epic-love story, there are countless quite ordinary love stories. Love anyway. For every super mom, there are many of us average moms. Mom anyway. Do it all with as much excellence and faithfulness as is in you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Rather take our ball and go home, I propose that we try to excel in our obscurity. Let us do our jobs well. Let us love our families well. Let us love our neighbors well. Let us write, and pray, and cook, and sing, and dance, and work, and parent, and love in all our average-ness, for the glory of the God who created us to do those things. Be excellent at being a good neighbor, friend, sibling, employee, parent, child, roommate, customer, passenger, stranger, juror, voter, passerby, witness, coach, teacher, mentor.  Be excellent at loving, and learning, and obeying, and worshiping, and praying, and forgiving. You probably won't change the big-W world. But it's ok to change just your world. I put forward that it is a worthwhile, God-honoring thing to be excellent at being average.

The Holy Spirit at work within us is the same as the one at work in the world-changers. Our triune God is Big and Uncontainable and Excellent. And He works on stages both large and small.

I find no fault in the world-changers who genuinely are equipped and called to go Big. My life will forever be better because of the Reynolds family, and Christendom will be better for them too. Rejoice and celebrate with those who do the big things. Equip and encourage them if you can. It's a good and noble thing to want your sphere of influence for God's glory to be as large as possible. And indeed it is a dishonorable thing to squander your talents and to neglect a call of God on your life to do more than you are, whether it is big or small Where I find the problem is when those who don't go-Big buy into the lie that we've missed some sort of mark or failed some sort of test of usefulness in God's kingdom.

I feel like this is all rather cliche. It's true, this is no great revelation. Even these thoughts are mediocre. But I admit that I am one who falls prey to the temptation to be significant. All around me, I see the Devil using it to distract and weigh down God's children. And he wouldn't use it if it didn't work.

So, I remind myself to be excellently, radically average for Jesus and to be content in this beautifully little life He has for me.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day, Mom' Night Out, Only Child-ness, and more

Thanks for the reception back to blogging!

I went last night to see the movie "Moms' Night Out." The premise is that an overworked mommy of young kids decides, with her husband's encouragement, to take a night off to go out and have fun with her friends. Through a series of completely unbelievable circumstances, all H-E-double hockey sticks breaks loose and the rest of the movie is spent laughing as they bumble their way through trying to unwind the chaos.

 It's a Christian film, which I honestly, generally don't like, on account that they're usually poorly produced, poorly acted, overly preachy, and patently cliche. And I can't even say that this movie isn't those things. Hands down it IS better than all of its sister movies from the same group (the folks who brought us Fireproof, Facing the Giants, etc). Maybe it's because I'm a mom of a young child and I empathize with her exhaustion. But overall, I enjoyed this movie very much, and would recommend it.

Sort of spoilerish note--my mom was put off by the trailer because she thought the missing baby story line would be stressful. The baby is never missing or in any danger. The moms don't know where the baby is but the audience does, and he's safe.  The movie is purely comedic, not stress at all.

The movie has your to-be-expected "hang in there" encouragements for moms in the trenches. If you're looking to be surprised, this isn't the film for you. If you want to enjoy some laughter and maybe be encouraged, you'll probably enjoy this.

But as I was sitting there watching this, I was struggling through some things I feel often as the mom of an only child. This mom is completely overwhelmed. The kids are always running in different directions. Once she gets one under control, another one is making trouble somewhere else.

I have it pretty good. Matthew is a pretty good kid, who is usually obedient, who sleeps well, and who still takes naps.  Therefore, sometimes I feel like I don't have the right to get to the point of exhaustion or frazzle that moms with two, three, four or whatever kids get to.  I find myself feeling like I haven't earned the badge yet that gets me into the mom society.

And some of those feelings are good. I don't think it is good to let ourselves get to the point of overload and frazzle, and I think only the Lord can keep us from that.  So I think it's good that I am cautioned by those feelings.  But sometimes, motherhood is hard, and I find it hard to ask for help because most everyone else has a heavier work load in that department than I do. I only have one child. How hard can it be? If it is hard, am I doing something wrong? So I wrestle with that.

A lot of that probably comes from still feeling pretty unresolved about only having one child this side of Heaven. Lately, those feelings have been more raw than usual.  I see Matthew playing with other kids and he's so social and I want so desperately for him to have a sibling and it kills me that I can't give that to him. Three friends announced pregnancies this week, which brought that rawness to the surface. I'm discovering all over again how hard grief is and how much it can surprise you. I'm sure the proximity to Mother's Day compounds it, too. Even with a child, Mother's Day is hard. Not as hard as it was, but still hard.

I remember all those times I judged parents struggling with secondary infertility with secret thoughts of, "at least you have one!"  And it's good to remind myself of that. As far as WHO my child is, I am the most blessed mom in the world.  Matthew really is amazing. And I never want him to feel like he isn't good enough to satisfy my need and want to parent. But so much of my need and desire is on Matthew's behalf, as much as on my own.

I struggle through the same old thoughts. If children are a heritage from the Lord, a reward for the righteous, then what are we doing to exclude ourselves from that pronouncement and how can we fix it? On the other hand, God designed my husband the way he did from birth, before he committed any sin. He made Him that way for a reason and God doesn't make mistakes. Why do I still find myself wondering if God really loves me when I know, earnestly and empirically, that He does? Choosing to believe Truth in spite of my feelings is hard, and exhausting.  It's a deliberate placement of one foot in front of the other, toward the cross, away from pity and doubt.  I am thankful that I can cast this on Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

I ache tonight too for everyone struggling with Mother's Day. If you've lost your mom, or a child, or both, or if you long to be a mom but are not, I am so sorry. Nothing can make this day easier and I wish it could. I'm sorry. I hurt for you, and I pray for you.  I pray that you will feel comfort today.

The Pastor who married us, who himself is childless, wrote this today:
For those who have a tough time on Mother's Day, you are right to want things to be as they ought. Do not feel guilty for wanting it, gently disregard the words of those who don't understand, know that others do, and receive a measure of peace that surpasses all understanding.


The people we adopted Matthew from asked if they could visit Matthew. I've been praying and seeking counsel and examining my heart. Nothing challenges whether true forgiveness is in your heart more than being asked to make yourself vulnerable again to people who hurt you.  Adding parenting to the mix adds another element to it because it's not just me I'm putting in that position. I want so desperately to do the right thing by the Lord, and the right thing by Matthew, and the right thing by them, and the right thing for our family, and it's just paralyzing to make a decision as to what that is. No matter what decision we make, something could go wrong, something could upset the apple cart again, something could impact Matthew in a way different than we wish it would. I am thankful that God's grace is sufficient for me and that His power is made perfect in my weakness, that He knows the plans He has for us, that He loves us, that He will never leave us or forsake us, that He will give us wisdom if we ask, and that He has forgiven us and removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. Figuring out how to live that way, to demonstrate that extravagant grace and love to your child and to everyone else, is a faith-building journey. I don't have it figured out, even a little bit. But God does. Lord, give us ears to hear!