The Girls in my Compass

Women’s History Month has me thinking. Thinking about all the women in my family, and their stories. Thinking about women I’ve never met but who I admire. Thinking about how some women detest the word feminist, even though those women wouldn’t be voting today if it weren’t for the first publicly-acknowledged feminists. And thinking about how the people in our lives shape who we are, sometimes positively by showing us the way and sometimes negatively and ultimately showing us what’s not the way.

I have always been drawn to strong women – the women in my family are strong, and without actively thinking about what I’ve done I’ve filled my life with gal pals who are all strong and I tend to focus on female candidates in the workplace who are strong. The women in my life have served as my compass my entire adult life. My true north.

Some of my family compass.

My Mama was bold in a time when it was more fashionable for women to be quiet and submissive, she worked while my Papa was fighting in WWII, she organized voting in her small town on election days, and she spent countless years leading church efforts to support people in her community. My great Aunt Jean worked at the local courthouse way before women in the daily workforce was generally accepted, back in the 1940s. I used to think because those women were set in their ways about some things that they were old-fashioned, but really nothing could be further from the truth. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve thought carefully about who they were as people – not just who they were in relation to me. These were women who were not afraid to stand up for themselves, they were women with opinions, they were women of faith, and they were women who didn’t just think about doing but who actually did. They were the perfect matriarchs to raise a family full of girls.

It frustrates me that in 2019 there are women who scowl at the word feminist. We don’t all have to agree on abortion in order to agree that jobs should be held by the best qualified people and that leadership at any company and in any country can proportionately reflect the constituency of that company or country. I don’t think men and women can all do all the same things, but I do think they should have the same chances to participate and excel in any arena.

It also frustrates me that even in 2019 so many of the qualities that I admire in women and men are looked at as positives when found in men but as negatives when found in women. Confidence. Strength. Belonging. Assertiveness. Courage. A sense of self-worth. A person who uses their voice and who advocates…If a woman stands up for herself or her family, or if she sets a boundary, she might be judged as being bitchy or controlling or entitled. As part of the same event or meeting or conversation a man does the same thing and his boundary or his confidence is not only looked upon as positive but is actually expected in order for him to appear manly.

And finally, it really frustrates me that the majority of the people I see scowling at the word feminism and scowling at women who are confident are other women. I’ve worked and worshipped and learned with thousands of men and women in my adult life, and I think if I lined up the people who I have seen hold women back or harshly judge women of strength, more than half of the people in that line would be women.

Why is that? My initial reaction when I think about that line of people is why are women so hard on women? But I think perhaps the more important question is why is anyone in that line – what do the people in that line have in common?

And the answer, I think, is insecurity. When you’re insecure, male or female, every one and every thing is a potential threat. And when people feel threatened or at risk, they will sometimes do anything possible to assert control in some area in hopes it will enable them to hide their weakness in another. The bottom line is that a confident and capable person is someone who can see and possibly expose another’s insecurity or weakness.

There is not a single person on this planet who doesn’t feel insecure in some area or areas – even if they are unwilling to admit it. That’s human and that’s OK. What’s not OK is the many many many people who will devote their time and energy into trying to make a colleague or candidate look bad instead of working to make themselves better, who will devote time and energy into trying to break others down instead of working to build themselves, and who will devote time and energy into blaming others for their bad decisions and misfortunes instead of acknowledging their own failures or shortcomings and actually working to fix themselves. And whether it’s in the business world or in our personal worlds, the time and energy we spend focused on others instead of ourselves is really what ultimately keeps us stagnant and holds us back.

I have very big shoes to fill. One of my most important jobs is to shepherd two little girls into womanhood showing them what the women before and around me exhibited – thoughtfulness and kindness and empathy, confidence to lead, tenacity to ask for or demand or secure what they or their children need, bravery to sometimes stand alone without the accolades or approval of others, willingness to advocate for others who cannot advocate for themselves, and vulnerability to have faith. And I somehow have to do that while they are constantly bombarded with contrary images and examples – mean girls, selfie mavens, women who sleep with their boss, women who support misogynistic behaviors, people who can’t see past self.

One of my favorite feminists, who happens to be male and sometimes vote Republican, said something this week that stuck with me: “It doesn’t matter if people know WHO I am. It matters what lesson they learn from me.”

It matters what people learn from me. How I live matters because it is a constant lesson for my daughters.

That’s crazy and scary because I’m still learning with a very long way to go while little people are learning from me. How does that make sense?! It seems like the process would work better if adults did all the learning and then deposited that learning in kids after it was all gathered. When I was a kid, in my mind my Mama and my Aunt Jean were finished products, not works in progress. But 45-year-old me now knows that can’t have been true – they were clearly learning new things at the same time I was learning from them. They’re in heaven now but I still think about what they would say and do in my shoes, which not only means they are still a part of my compass but also that they are a part of the compass my girls will use. And that really makes me smile and gives me hope.

I’m a person who looks for signs. Maybe it’s superstitious and maybe it’s slightly crazy or maybe I’m just a heretic, but I’ve always thought that God sometimes reveals things to us – “talks” to us – through signs, and that the people who have passed before us – our great cloud of witnesses – encourage us and speak to us through signs. This week, walking through an antique store, I came across this little Studebaker stool.

My great Aunt Jean and Uncle Dale loved and collected old cars, and when we were children my cousins and I rode in her blue Studebaker in small-town parades in Ohio. Maybe you could say I noticed the stool because I’d been thinking a lot about her recently, but you might also say it was Aunt Jean’s way of encouraging me, reminding me she’s still close.

I know she’s smiling down on us this morning, especially her Little Bit. Last night Audrey and I were up late and goofing off and then disorganized and then ate too much dessert and then exhausted. Way past bedtime we fell asleep within seconds of laying down, without saying our prayers. Not a shining Mommy example. This morning Audrey woke up as she normally does – she has no fogginess or process of waking up and pulling herself together for the day. She simply wakes up at 110%. She spoke clearly and her first thought was a complete sentence.

Audrey: Mommy, we forgot to say prayers last night.

me: Yes, we did.

Audrey: Let’s say them now.

I am a part of my daughters’ compass, but they are also a part of mine.

Miracles, Little by Little

I love this picture.

I love our girl tree in the front yard. She is majestic and awesome and beautiful.

I love that she marks the birth of every season as well as the death of every season. Sometimes she surprises us. Literally overnight, just when we think we cannot take any more of the old season, we walk outside in the morning and she shows us the sign of something new.

I love that my daughters love her, and that she brings them joy. Last week, Audrey squealed with delight as we left the house for the bus stop – she was the first to notice our tree’s spring blooms.

At the end of a very long week, I sat down to load the photos from my phone onto my desktop and really looked at this snapshot. My favorite thing about it is that you can still see a winter tree in the shadows of her spring blooms.

You can still see the shadows of winter even though spring is blooming.

It has me thinking about life’s miracles. We rarely wake up one day and find ourselves miraculously healed of a disease, or free from a prison or a bad situation or a burden. I think because what we expect of the word miracle is that it involves a loud booming announcement or a jolt that we feel throughout our body, we often miss that a miracle is what is occurring or what has occurred. We think because we need a doctor or meds that that’s not a miracle – but doctors and nurses and medicine are ways in which miracles can happen in our world. Or we think because our change or healing took time that somehow we are responsible for making it happen, or that maybe we just got lucky and things worked out.

But often, I think, miracles happen little by little – over time. And maybe because we fail to see or think about the little steps and changes over time we don’t really recognize what’s happening.

If you know anyone who’s battled cancer, you likely think of the day an MRI or some test result came back as the day they were cancer-free. But really that test showed healing and change that had already happened. That test was the proof of the miracle that already happened. It happened little by little, over time, as cell after cell was fixed or killed.

The woman with the issue of blood, a tale of healing in the bible, might seem like a miraculous instantaneous event. But really weren’t there years of steps leading up to that moment when she encountered Jesus? Weren’t there maybe years of days and moments where her faith was challenged and she had to persevere, and her faith grew little by little – the faith that was required for her miracle? Jesus said to her, “…your faith has healed you.”

That brings me back to the photo of my tree, where you can still see the shadows of winter behind spring’s blooms. The blooms are so little right now that her shadow shows only winter. You have to look closely to see her few blooms. You have to really look to see her miracle in progress. Little by little, each day, she has more blooms. Little by little, each day, the shadows of winter diminish. And when I walk out of my house a couple weeks from now and see my beautiful tree in full bloom, that will not be the day of her miracle. The miracle of her rebirth was little by little over days and months.

“The deep roots never doubt spring will come.” Marty Rubin

Melancholy Mom Notes to My Girls

When you are sad or hurting it breaks my heart. I would rather feel the pain of someone smashing a limb of my own than watch you struggle. Watching you struggle and knowing the reason why fills me with sadness and regret. And it motivates me to do absolutely everything possible to make the remainder of your childhood as great and as carefree as possible. To get you any help and to tap any source to see you genuinely smile and feel peace.

I will do anything to help you grow into responsible and caring and successful adults, and that includes setting boundaries for you and having rules for you and even enforcing consequences for you when those rules are broken. It’s my job, my most important job, to help you see how to be good people and to help you want to be good people.

I want more than anything for you to trust people. To believe firmly that the vast majority of people are good. And instead of focusing on the havoc that selfishness in people can wreak, I want you to focus on the best of people that you have seen – the people who have rallied around you and loved you and supported you and prayed for you.

I want you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what love is and what love isn’t. I want you to know that you know, deep down in your gut. Things may get confusing as you explore relationships of your own, and when you’re confused I hope you will seek the counsel of the right friends and adults. Just as you would choose a cardiologist for a physical heart problem, choose people who have loved with honor and integrity and selflessness for an emotional heart problem.

I hope you two rely on each other always, even when you’re mad at each other or in different places in your life. You are each the only other person in the whole world who has experienced love and heartbreak and disappointment and resilience together during this time. You can keep each other grounded, you can keep each other honest, and you can support each other as no one else can. Commit yourselves to letting each other say anything, and to forgiving each other no matter what.

I understand that in great part you will learn from your parents how to be a parent. I really, really, really hope I am a good enough example, but I know with absolute certainty that I fall short. A lot short. I commit to always doing my best to be honest with myself about the good and bad, to allowing you to be honest with me about the good and bad, and to trying to do better.

No matter what, I want you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will always prioritize you and choose you over anything and anyone and everything and everyone.

I will always choose you.

I will always choose you.

I will always choose you.

I will always, always, always choose you.

No one, including and especially me, will ever be more important than you.

Love you my girlys.

Climb, Brave Girl

Many years ago now, I was on an airplane that had some sort of electrical issue during takeoff. Heat and smoke spread a bit up through the cabin and created a panic (probably mostly in me). At this point, I can’t remember if it was a short in a heating component or an AC unit or something, but what I do distinctly remember is that as I started to process my surroundings this one thought kept running through my head over and over and over again.

Why are we getting further from the ground?

Why are we getting FURTHER from the ground?

WHY are we getting further from the ground?

WHY ARE WE GETTING FURTHER FROM THE GROUND?!

I just could not wrap my head around why the pilot would continue to climb when there was danger. Didn’t he know there was smoke? Smoke clearly meant there was an issue. I mean, there had to be some little alarm going off up in the cockpit, right? Some annoying noise or blinky light that indicated something was amiss. Smoke indicates fire. And fire means we’re all dead. This is not a scenario with a water landing where I could maybe figure out how to use my seat as a flotation device and *maybe* be the one person in 100 that survives and gets their own lifetime movie. This is fire, and there’s no safety seat for that. Why were we climbing further from the ground?

The answer was likely the pilot knew it was a containable issue. Fix the unit, send around the drink cart, everyone will be fine. (At least I hope that’s the case – the thought that the pilot knew nothing and just kept obliviously flying is not really an acceptable possibility for the me that regularly flies.)

But in all sorts of instances, climbing up is a positive game-changer. Pilots climb higher so that they can fly above turbulence. Eagles climb so that they can see and hunt their food, which is sometimes a mile away on the ground or underwater. Leopards will climb trees to rest and eat above ranting hyenas. Zacchaeus climbed a tree so he could take in a view other than a noisy crowd and so he could see Jesus.

Looking up and going up, instead of looking around and wandering around, is the way out or the way to something better. Golfers hate when their balls land “in the rough” because the taller grass makes play harder – they use a special club to hit the ball up and out of it. At work we say things like “you’re in the weeds,” because we want our peers to stop getting stuck in small details – what we mean is we want them to think bigger than themselves and their current situation as they consider solutions to problems.

The common theme is easy: change comes when we stop looking around at the view of our noisy, weedy, hungry, rough, turbulent, whiny, combative and confusing surroundings and we instead decide to pursue up. Even if we can’t see what we immediately need, just like a pilot who trusts that sunshine is above the rain clouds, we raise our head above the rough and the weeds and the crowd and the hyenas, and we look in the direction we’re going – UP – and we climb in that direction.

Up is the way to peace, the way to the food we need to survive, the way to see things differently, and the way to salvation.

Sometimes you need to go higher to see things as they really are. The world is pretty big and the higher we climb above the mud and the muck and the selfishness of our own lives, the more we realize that we are a very tiny minuscule part of the world. And that each day and each hour and each setback and each horrible person and each car that cuts us off in traffic is really just a very tiny minuscule small part of our lives.

When we’re in the storm or the weeds or the rough or the crowd, we can’t even see all the things contributing to our situation. We can’t see all of our surroundings. We can’t see how big the storm is. We can’t see how close our salvation may actually be.

We don’t have real fuller perspective until we go high. And you know what else happens once we go high? It’s not just perspective that we gain. It’s speed. Planes travel faster at higher altitudes. Our fuller perspective allows us to more quickly understand what’s happening and why, and it allows us to progress more quickly toward the healing or salvation or food or peace that we need.

I used to be scared to fly. When I say scared, I really mean terrified. Like, heart beating 130 times per minute, cold sweat, picturing my airplane crashing into the ground in a big ball of fire afraid to fly. I-needed-Xanax-to-fly scared to fly.

I have no idea when exactly that fear disappeared or why that fear is gone. Maybe because I had no choice but to fly regularly regardless of my fear. Maybe because I started trusting my Pilot more. But one day several years ago I found myself not dreading flying, and then on another day I found myself actually enjoying it. I can even sleep on an airplane now and it’s absolutely awesome to enjoy a nap while someone else does all the work to get me where I need to be.

I mostly write or read now when I fly. It’s uninterrupted quiet time, and I don’t get much of that. As I look down at the clouds below me, I am so thankful to be exactly where I am, flying in a beautiful colorful sky. And I am so thankful for the knowledge that the stormy rain, the rough, the crowd, the hyenas, the weeds, and the turbulence are all small from up here, and I can see those things for what they are. They’re all really just noise, designed to steal my peace. It’s my job to hold on to my peace and to stay on course, and from way up here I am reminded that the individual stormy raindrops falling below the clouds I just climbed through are really insignificant in the big scheme of things. Most of those raindrops won’t matter five minutes from now, some won’t matter five months from now, and almost none of them will matter five years from now.

I just needed to get further from the ground to get that perspective.

Know Who You Are, Brave Girl

Somehow the teenage years are here and I feel woefully unprepared. Woefully unprepared to navigate all that these years come with. Woefully unprepared to help her navigate all that these years come with.

I realize this child lives in my home and I have planned a birthday celebration for her every year for the last *almost* 14 years. And so it seems like I’ve had ample time to prepare for her to be in relationships of her own, but this responsibility has really snuck up on me. If I’d thought about it carefully in advance, I might have prepared one long talk about how to behave and how others should behave, but I didn’t think of it in time – I didn’t think of it before I was in the middle of what I realized after-the-fact was actually one of many quick conversations about things that are really, really important. Things that need time to be discussed. Things that need to percolate, in my brain prior and in hers after.

Because how your child treats people and how people should treat them is actually just a pretty small part of what you have to cover. I’d forgotten in the thirty-ish years since I was a teenager how much of our growth and learning actually comes by watching and “experiencing” the stuff that happens to and with our friends. Remember how it felt to be 13, 14, 15, 16 when everything that happened to your friends, whether it was good or bad or happy or sad, was soooo big and it felt like it was also happening to you even though it was sometimes just happening to one of your friends? It’s like we all group-experience a few years of our life.

While kids are in elementary school, parents have the luxury of knowing most, if not all, of the kids their children are spending ample time with. But that changes as they get get older and suddenly you’re answering questions that really aren’t about what’s happening to your child, but about what might be happening to Tiffany from Spanish class.

  1. The first challenge is that you have no context – you know nothing about Tiffany’s life, her parents, her friends, anything.
  2. The second challenge is that even though something may be happening with Tiffany, young people feel the things happening to their friends really deeply and they don’t always separate themselves from it.
  3. The third challenge is that your child may never have had an experience like Tiffany’s but this is her first exposure to whatever it is and so she is going to learn a lot from it one way or another – so helping her process exactly what might be happening and why is important because it will shape her future relationships and her unconscious bias for possibly the remainder of her life.
  4. And the fourth challenge is that as a parent you are always missing part of the story because your child, who is learning, is missing large details when they tell you things – things that adults would ask or focus on, but she doesn’t even know are important yet.

THIS. IS. SO. HARD.

And you know what happens as you are mulling over your advice and wondering if you covered all you should have and you’re realizing all the other things you should have said or asked or focused on? You find yourself suddenly terrified that Tiffany doesn’t really exist, and this might actually be your child that had the question but they’re afraid to tell you.

THIS. IS. SO. HARD.

I now need so much more than the old “Don’t forget who you are and whose you are.” I need to cover so much more than the typical sex and drugs and alcohol talks we all give our kids.

I’ve been keeping a mental list and an actual list in my phone. Multiple lists actually. A list of things we’ve talked about and a list of things to talk about and a list of things I need to go back and touch base on when the time is right. If I could just get out my phone and review my lists when it’s time to have these talks, things would be so much simpler.

My lists may seem neurotic but one of the benefits to seeing what you’ve “written” down over time is that there are almost always a handful of bigger common themes. I don’t think my teenager is going to sit through a list of 37 things to remember while she and her friends are navigating first relationships. But maybe I can get her through a top 5…

YOU ARE WORTHY. You are worthy just because. Because you’re human. You are likable and loveable, but you are not and will not ever be liked by everybody. It’s OK that some people aren’t your thing and that you aren’t their thing. That has nothing to do with your worth and value, and everything to do with the fact that we weren’t made to all like each other. We need to coexist peacefully – in middle school and all around the earth – and that happens when we understand that all people have worth, and we should treat them with respect as we want to be treated.

DON’T LOSE YOU. You are whole all by yourself. You are not ever a half. You may be introduced in relation to someone to provide context, but you are not someone in relation to another person – who you are is not Tiffany’s friend or Thomas’ girlfriend. You have dreams and goals, and anyone you’re with should have their own dreams and goals. When you find someone who truly cares about you and who you truly care about, in friendships or romantic relationships, you will cheer each other on as you work toward all of those dreams and goals. Some relationships and friendships will end, and when they do your whole self keeps journeying forward because you have held on to the truth that you are not half.

BE YOU, NOT SOMEONE ELSE. Be authentic. Feel how you’re feeling, speak truthfully, like things you like and don’t like things you don’t. Don’t act or be or feel a way for others. When you like someone who doesn’t like you back, trying to make yourself likeable to them is a trap. That’s called acting, and if you start to act like someone else you will have to keep acting to maintain that relationship. Acting will always result in a final scene. You need to find your people, the people who you love and who love you, when you are your real self. Everybody’s real self is a little all over the place sometimes, so don’t expect consistency. Your people will always love you, even and especially on the days when you haven’t washed your hair and you’ve been a total crappy-pants.

CHOOSE YOUR GIRLS. Choose who your girls are wisely, and then choose them every time. You are all imperfect, but you stick together. A group of girls will make each other happy and mad and sad, and they will cry and shout because of each other. Even so, when you go out together you are a unit and you are responsible for one another – you all make sure the others are safe and not forgetting who they are. Be very careful about choosing a boy over your girls – you probably shouldn’t have some one(s) around you if you feel you’re in a situation demanding that. Your girls will be your girls throughout many romantic relationships and life-stage friendships. When one of you is mistreated, and this will happen, believe her. Believe her.

BE ACCOUNTABLE. The way you behave is 100 percent about you. The way others behave is 100 percent about them. You are responsible for how you behave and you will make mistakes. When you behave badly or make a poor choice, there are consequences and you have to suffer through those. When you mistreat someone, you need to own that. However, you also need to fully understand what is not your part. You live in a world of girls and boys and men and women who sometimes try to make females responsible for things they are not, and you need to be aware when that bias and manipulation are in action. The way you dress is never the reason someone touches. Something you did or didn’t do is never the reason someone hits. Something you did or didn’t do is never the reason someone cheats. When people blame-shift or victim-blame, recognize it for what it is and call it out. Any female who victim-blames other girls should not be in your group of girls.

Are those 5 really enough? I didn’t even say have fun (but not too much fun). Or, you have decades of adulting ahead so just embrace this time of learning. And x behavior is unhealthy but y behavior is OK. Don’t let your feelings or your fears override logic. You won’t like who you are if you allow yourself to sacrifice your values for your feelings. And you need to recognize the differences between first loves and for-now loves and forever loves. And it goes on and on and on. And suddenly my original list of 37 things is getting even bigger.

Parenting sometimes feels like I’m tripping up stair after stair, just righting myself from not properly landing on one step while having to take the next step. The only step on which I know my feet are both firmly planted on this topic is this one: If you know who you are and stay true to that, you will be just fine.

Know who you are, brave girl.

You. Are. Beloved.

What is Love, Actually?

This is easy: it’s something about Hugh Grant.

Just kidding. I don’t really think it’s Hugh Grant, but at the same time I’m not sure I have the ability to help children understand the answer to that question – at least as it relates to big people being in true love. It’s a subject I’ve been mulling over for the better part of a year, and it brings up an even scarier set of questions all related to this one:

Can children really understand what love is in the absence of good examples?

Of all the things I have mourned as part of the divorce process, the thing I have mourned more than all else combined is the impact on my girls. Adults are big people and equipped to survive crappy things. Strong people pick themselves up, take time to address what’s broken, and move forward. But children don’t have all the coping skills and life perspective to rely on when crappy things happen. They mainly rely on adults to guide them, and relying on the guidance of divorced parents is OK in terms of learning how to get back on a bike after a fall or advice about a bad grade. But can children understand what love is when surrounded by adults who don’t display love properly, or at all?

My gut reaction: oh, heck no.

But that’s absolutely incorrect, and I am certain of it not because of what I’ve read or because of what a psychologist says or because of the encouragement of people who mean well but will tell me what I want to hear to make me feel better momentarily. I am certain of it because of a conversation with my daughter.

Just a few months into our family changes I was a bit horrified to find that my girls were talking to me about me dating. Not only was that not at all the space I was in, I didn’t want them to think that you always need to have a person in your life or you just replace one person with another. So I focused our discussions toward a couple of key things:

1. People do not need a partner to have a wonderful life.

2. There’s no reason to fear being alone. You don’t find real happiness in others and you don’t date or marry someone to feel whole – you can and should be whole all by yourself.

What I didn’t realize until I talked to a helper is that the girls were really just conveying they wanted me to be happy. That they thought if I fell in love I would be happy. And that’s sweet, but it’s also scary because I want my girls to not equate happiness with other people. I want them to love themselves and know God loves them and feel so loved and secure all on their own that they never feel they must have a partner – yet they will embrace one if they find and want one. But how could they know what love really is when all they’ve witnessed close up is a relationship that ended in an unexpected virtual propane explosion and then a relationship between two people who were/are not faithful in their marriages.

How could the girls possibly know, and how could they possibly learn, what love really is? How could I even begin to teach them?

My first thought was I could point out examples of good people they know who’ve gotten it right. Of course no two people are perfect and no marriage is all about a sweet love story, but I found myself saying “You see them? They work hard at it and are dedicated to each other and they got it right.” But that didn’t seem like enough. What if that relationship ended up not working out? What if a year from now one of those seemingly good people that everyone thinks is such a devoted spouse and successful human turns out to secretly be someone else entirely? It wasn’t going to be enough to show them good examples.

My second idea was to point out what love isn’t. This could be a really seriously long list – but boiled down, it’s actually pretty simple: if shame or dishonor is in any way a component of a relationship, that’s not love. If you feel any shame about the person standing next to you, that’s not love. If you’re with someone who has dishonored or mistreated you or you’ve dishonored or mistreated them, that’s not love.

Next was talking about the words “I love you.” Plenty of adult people are in relationships and say “I love you,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean they even know what love is. It might just mean they know how to speak words – maybe they love the idea of love or the idea of love with someone specifically, but they could have no idea how to actually love properly. Anyone who says “I love you” but dishonors you when you’re not around does not love you – they are lying to you or themself or both. Anyone who says “I love you” but dishonors your children does not understand what love really is. Love is always going to be a good bit about faith and trust and selflessness and respect – lack of faith or trust or selflessness or respect smells like like or convenience, not love. Don’t just say words: say words only when you are sure what they mean and you actually mean them.

Step four in this process was to say and actually mean that I believe in love. Because if I don’t believe in love, how can I really expect my children to have healthy views and feelings about love? Step four took some time, but I got there. And the moment I realized I still believe in love was coincidentally the moment when my daughter spoke words that showed me she knows some of what love is really all about.

We were sitting in church, and a few pews in front of us were A+K. And my daughter leaned over and whispered to me, “Did you see him put his arm around her? You need that.” I gave her side eye – I’m fine by myself, thank you. Mom, you need to be with someone who will go to church with us. And I realized in our discussions about it she saw so much more than just a warm body with an arm to lean against. It was two people with shared values, two people who work together to meet commitments, two people who prioritize family, two people who support one another, two people whose lives have not always been easy, two people who are not perfect, two people who worship together, two people who clearly love and are proud of each other.

The girls can understand and experience love regardless of their parents’ examples. I had forgotten for a while that the girls have the perfect example of true love and they’ve been learning about it since they were babies right in that very building with the pews. We – me, you, them – are so loved that we were given clear instructions for love and a clear definition of love that we can always use as a benchmark whenever we’re confused.

1 Corinthians 13 New Life Version (NLV)

Love does not give up. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love does not put itself up as being important. Love has no pride.

Love does not do the wrong thing. Love never thinks of itself. Love does not get angry. Love does not remember the suffering that comes from being hurt by someone.

Love is not happy with sin. Love is happy with the truth.

Love takes everything that comes without giving up. Love believes all things. Love hopes for all things. Love keeps on in all things.

Love never comes to an end.

One of my favorite movies is Love Actually. I’ve watched it a ridiculous number of times over the years, mostly because Hugh Grant is bloody swoonworthy. Little Sam has always been my favorite. He’s so sad and grumpy and so forlorn and so scared and yet still a bit hopeful. And he’s young and had so much tragedy that you really, really want his first love to work out – more than any of the other story lines, you want Sam’s to have a sweet and happy ending. For the first time, in a recent re-viewing, I realized that Sam has a parent who is somewhat like me – a parent who wants his child to believe in love and to take the risk, because ultimately it’s so worth it.

Watch: Sam has a problem.

Watch: Sam has a plan.

Watch: Sam gets his kiss.

Love Actually is a group of relationship stories, some about love and some not. Just like the stories of people in all of our lives. In different viewings at different times, I always seem to focus on a different line as THE most interesting one. My viewings the last year or so had me focusing on Karen, who warned her husband about that woman at the office. But when I caught it midway recently, flipping channels, I remembered how much I rooted for Sam the first time I watched the film. His story has always been my favorite. I love this line specifically, which you should be able to say with pride in some variation at decade one and decade two and decade five about the person you love to the other people in your life that you love: “She’s the coolest girl (guy) in school.” Actual love grows and gets better with age.

Now click here, or below, to watch Hugh Grant dance.

Don’t Hide Half, Brave Girl

One of the fastest ways to make me angry is to tell me half. “My room is clean now” sounds great, but it’s really only half if you’ve shoved a bunch of candy wrappers under the bed. “She hit me” is only half if she was pinched first. “This car would be cheaper than the one you have now” is only half if the new car comes with no warranty and requires more expensive gas.

Just tell me the truth already. Because half is not truth. Truth is always whole.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately. What makes people happy, does everyone have a right to be happy, is it wrong to be happy when people we love are not, is it weird to be happy when your life has a big problem in it? Is hope the key to happiness? Or faith? Love? Xanax?

I’ve decided that people who say happiness is a choice are right, but they are really only telling you half. The key to happiness is not in any choice in something external – it’s not in love, not in the achievement of a goal, not in a person, and not even in a faith of some sort. Anyone can choose a mate or a puppy or a bottle or a cause or a church. But none of these things, these choices, will ever be enough to get you to happy. And that’s because the real key to happiness, I am convinced, is 100 percent internal – it’s in learning to like yourself, it’s in living in a way such that you can like yourself, and then in simply owning who you are.

If we are honest with ourselves about who we are, and if we like ourselves when we’re alone with ourselves, we can be happy. And if we can be ourselves no matter who’s around and no matter where we are, we can be happy. But if who we are is different based on who we’re around, one of two things is true: either we don’t know who we are yet, or we are well aware of who we are and we don’t want others to see that person. It’s when we speak half or live half – only showing a part of ourselves in hopes others will like us – that prevents us from being wholly happy.

We must stop living half. And we must stop half-telling our story.

If we tell people we need forgiveness for hurting others because we struggle with an addiction or a disease, but in private we don’t seek professional help to help ourselves…we’re telling half.

If we only show people the pictures where our hair is in place and our house is clean…that’s half.

The thing about our halves is that we may be hiding them from others, but we’re not hiding them from ourselves. We know we’re showing half – and if we’re at all good people, we can’t really get to happy by showing half. The halves that we hide because we’re ashamed of them or because we think they make us the most unworthy or the most bad will actually lose their power over us when we own them. It’s in our transparency, in our ability to reject the urge to only show half, that we find the freedom to be happy.

Real humans have a whole story, and in every one of those stories the human is imperfect and/or their life has something wrong with it.

This weekend I watched a group of young people tell my seven year old they missed her at an event a while back. Her face fell and her entire countenance changed. Her confidence was gone in an instant, and that’s because she remembered why we missed it – she doesn’t have a traditional family anymore and that’s been a very tough reality for her to accept. And just as I was about to smooth things over, she blurted out that her Dad doesn’t live with us anymore and he has a different life. I could not have been more proud that she spoke a truth that hurts her deeply. And two seconds later my heart burst with gratitude as I watched a teenager reply, “Yeah, my Dad, too. But I’m still gonna be a doctor. What are you going to be?”

I realized in that moment – the moment where I almost spoke half to smooth things over, which would have cheated my daughter of a wonderful moment – that not only does our transparency about our whole self and our whole life allow us to free ourselves of a bondage, it also allows us to see that others are like us. If we don’t share our whole selves we can’t possibly feel the grace and love others have to offer us. If we live and speak only half, we’re essentially cheating ourselves of our ability to heal.

I’m determined not to live and speak half – not just because I’m not smart enough to keep up with all the omissions, but because I want to spend my life doing stuff other than hiding and pretending.

So…I go to church and yet I sometimes drop F bombs (especially when in traffic). I’m a Mom who doesn’t like to cook and I’m a Mom who embraces restaurants. I will not hide that from bus stop Moms who are good cooks. I’m a Christian who has gotten so angry that I have shouted that I hate people and that I can’t wait to attend their funerals. When my pastor asked how I was doing later that day and I said “fine,” that was half. Because while I am actually a good bit more than fine at this point, there’s still a shameful, angry truth – a half – that I hide.

A few months ago, I was wandering around an antique store and I came across a couple shelves of old books. To my surprise and complete delight, I found an old copy of one of my favorite books: The Scarlet Letter. I read it the first time in high school, loving the story but thinking it was outdated and didn’t really apply to life now. That was more than 25 years ago, and I’ve found The Scarlet Letter speaks to me today more than ever. While I’d love to see some people have to wear a scarlet A upon their chest, that wouldn’t send a message most people around them don’t already suspect. The timeless message is this: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

I’m not bewildered about who I am. I know I’m a person who doesn’t really wish harm on others and that loves people and that does her best to live the right way and that is a Christian…but still, that’s just half. I’m a Christian who has a heart that has hate and anger in it, and that’s not a half of which I’m proud.

But you know what? That’s my whole.