Look What You Made Me Do

Like millions of others, my daughters anticipated the new song by Taylor Swift and they weren’t disappointed. While most critics have bashed Look What You Made Me Do, millions of fans have helped Swift break streaming, download, and video view records and it’s predicted the song will hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart next month.

I like the song. Maybe it’s easy for me to like it because my girls literally grew up with Taylor Swift. Every single one of her songs has been played over and over and over in our house, on the computer, in the car, or on their phones. Wherever they could be played, TS songs were played. So in a way, I grew up as a mom with Taylor Swift. From Teardrops on My Guitar to Look What You Made Me Do is a lot of growing.

As I listen to Look What You Made Me Do, I’m reminded of a time as a young woman when I had the same attitude as the one played out in the song. After some heartbreaks I vowed I would never be hurt again. I didn’t trust others and kept everyone at arm’s length. I was strong and independent and ready to take on the world.

Like Taylor, “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time.” Only my heart became harder and harder because with every hurt a wall was built around my heart. Another hurt, another wall. Walls of sarcasm and suspicion. Walls of bitterness, pride and stony ambition.

But the thing about walls around our hearts is they don’t work. Not if we want love and joy and peace. Walls keep these away.

So what do I tell my young daughter when she’s betrayed by a friend? Or when someone calls her a name? What do I do when I’m lied to? Or ignored? Or uninvited?

I can tell my daughter to treat those who mistreated her the same way. I can tell her to ignore them and never talk to them again. I can snub those who ignore me and unfriend those who no longer welcome me.

But there is a better way. I’ll be kind to them. I’ll smile and speak when I see them. And I’ll forgive them. I’ll tell my daughters to do the same. Forgiveness may be a process and one I have to work hard at but it’s the only way to do it if I want to love and live well.

And I will tell my daughters to fight to keep their hearts soft. “Become wiser. Don’t give in to what you want to do at first. Don’t let this song or all the others like it become the anthem of your lives. Don’t give in to how the world says to treat those who hurt you. Instead, be kind and brave . And forgive them.”

 Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.     Proverbs 4:23 NIV

While lessons learned should make us wiser, they shouldn’t make us harder. Hearts are meant to be soft and without walls. That’s the only way we learn to love. That’s how we give it and get it. That’s how we learn to trust. That’s how we learn to forgive and become compassionate and kind.

Maybe smarter in the nick of time. But not harder.

Photo by Gabriele Diwald on Unsplash

Keeping the Promises

Laughter floated in the air as food was prepared and decorations set. Flowers filled the entry ways, overflowed from vases on the mantel, tables and all around our home. Friends and family gathered yesterday to shower my daughter with blessings as she prepares to enter this new season of life and celebrate the upcoming marriage to her fiance. What a joyous time it was. We saw faces we hadn’t seen in years. Some came from far away, others from down the road. My sweet aunt who was married to her love for 74 years was there. Some newly marrieds and some who will be someday came too.

Along with lots of wonderful gifts for her home, our friends and family brought their love and blessings with them. My friend told us a beautiful story and shared some things she wish she’d known as a young bride. Then I prayed for my daughter.

It didn’t take long for me to settle on what to pray for her in her marriage. Her father and I celebrated 23 years of marriage the day before her shower so I was thinking of our story as I was thinking about how to pray.

Twenty three years ago in a small wedding chapel in Tennessee we vowed to love each other.

We promised to love each other when times were good and when they weren’t. To love each other in times of sickness and wellness, during feast or famine, and highs and lows.

We laugh now at the kids we were then because we thought we had it figured out. Now we know we still don’t have it figured out.

But we’re learning. We’re growing together, loving each other, and getting better and better at it. We’re keeping the promises.

We’ve experienced abundant joy and faced tragedy; enjoyed many blessings and walked through painful seasons. And we’ve done it for 23 years.

We’re better because of each other and for each other.

I began the prayer for my daughter with Ephesians 4:32. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

It’s not the typical marriage verse but I know from 23 years that when my husband and I are practicing this, we’re doing well. When we’re not following it, things aren’t as good as they can be.

I prayed for her the same things I ask for myself:

“Father, thank You that we can come to You with confidence and know You hear us. Thank You for our friends and family gathered here to celebrate our daughter’s life. And thank You for the divine gift of marriage.

Father, You promise to give us all we need to do what You’ve called us to do. Draw her near to You. May she look to You for guidance and wisdom as she grows into the woman You’ve called her to be.

You call us to kind actions and words but Your desire is not that we just do kind acts but that our hearts are tender which leads to kindness. God, keep her heart tender. Let her eyes be fixed on You and may she remember Your kindness and extravagant love toward her.

Give her a wholehearted love for You, Father. Because as her love for You grows, so will the love for her husband.”

And we all said, “Amen.”

“Love is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit, reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.”   C.S. Lewis

photo by Markie Pearson Photography

Extravagant

The New Kid

The day I turned 12 years old, my family moved from our small town in Alabama to a big town in Tennessee. I lived in an unfamiliar house in a peculiar neighborhood and all my friends were too far away. A few weeks later I walked into my new school wearing a new dress because that was the rule. Girls wore dresses and boys wore collared, button-down shirts tucked in their pants. I never had these rules before and this made everything feel even stranger.

My classes went well though. I was late to Mrs. Bradshaw’s 7th grade English class because I had trouble finding the classroom. I listened intently to the teachers and was eager to learn, especially Tennessee History. Then there was lunch. I hadn’t thought about dreading it until I stood in line waiting for the glob of potatoes to fill the square on the top left corner of my tray. As I finished going through the line, I glanced around to see the entire lunchroom.

I stood there. Awkwardly. In a dress I hated. With a hideous hair cut. Holding a lunch I didn’t want to eat in a place I didn’t want to be.  IMG_5631

But like every new or uncomfortable situation I’ve been in since then, I made it through and here I am to tell the story.

We’ve all been there. Maybe not in the 7th grade with your hair cut too short wearing a plaid dress, but you’ve been the new kid or employee in training. The first-timer in an obstacle race, a freshman at college, the rookie gym member, or a newcomer to a writer’s conference…….feeling out of place, unsure and less than.

When we’re new to something we ask questions. That’s how we grow from not knowing to knowing. Is this seat taken? Which way to the math and science building? How can I strengthen my back muscles? Where do I get my timing chip? What do I say to the literary agent?

So we learn where to go and what to say and the next day or the next time it’s easier…..we’re not as unsure. We do that over and over and without even thinking about it we know what we’re doing and we’re confident in it. We’re winning the races, or killing our workouts at the gym, acing the college classes, or writing a book.

Changing circumstances, new experiences, and different environments are normal parts of our lives. Some of them we choose. Others we never would.

The best way to handle any of them: moment to moment, one foot in front of the other, with an open heart and a willingness to learn all we can. We’ll do it well sometimes. Other times we’ll fall flat on our faces. But it’s good either way if we’ve learned something, made a friend, solved a problem or faced a fear.

The more we do this, the better we get at it. We remember how we conquered the awkwardness and insecurity and it gives us courage to try other things. We welcome new opportunities. We’re not afraid to ask hard questions and we go against the flow when needed. We’re willing to be different and we don’t mind walking through difficult circumstances. Sometimes we even choose it because it’s the right thing to do.

But we do it with lots of grace and always thinking of others along the way because that’s the point. All of it means nothing……our learning, our serving, our working, our creating……..it means nothing if we’re not loving others.

I wish I could tell you who I sat with at lunch that day. Maybe I found out we had to sit with our homeroom class. Maybe someone called me over to sit with them. I do remember making lots of friends in 7th grade but I don’t remember anything from my Tennessee History class.

Let’s not forget how it feels to be the new kid and let’s make a newbie feel a little more comfortable when given the chance.

“Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”     Matthew 11:29-30 (MSG)

 

Love It or List It

In my last post, I wrote about the different kinds of lists we have. Whether they’re written down on paper or just floating around in our heads, we all have them. Our daily tasks and weekend projects. Our work assignments, the household chores, yard work, and the bucket list. The things we have to do and the things we want to do.

I love lists. I’ve been a listmaker since I could write my ABCs. They help me remember and keep me focused. And then, of course, there’s the ultimate joy of crossing off the things that are done.

Lists are good, but we can’t be bound by them. Our lists can’t be our driving force.

The main thing about our lists is not the doing, but the loving of the people around us while we’re getting them done. Love is the point. Loving the people God gave you or the people He gave you to. Loving those you’ve known for years and the ones you’ll meet next week. Loving your family and co-workers and friends. And the nice neighbors across the street and the ones two houses down you wish weren’t your neighbors. Loving your kid’s good teachers and the ones jaded from years of teaching.

Love compels us. Loving everyone who comes in and out of our lives. Even the most brief encounter is an opportunity to show love in some way.

Life is not the lists we make, no matter how grand the lists. If at the end of my life I’ve accomplished every single thing on my bucket list but have no one to share it with, it means nothing. The joy comes with shared experiences and memories. Not checking off the items. 

Let us make our lists, especially the ones of the places we want to see and the dreams we want fulfilled. And let’s pursue those things. Just not at the expense of the most important thing – the people in our lives.

Enjoy them. Share with them. Love them.

Because at the end of our lives, it won’t matter what we’ve crossed off our lists. What will matter is how well we’ve loved the people in our lives.

 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

 

 

Share Your Story

Each of us has a tale to tell if we would only tell it.
Frederick Buechner

Your story matters. Your little stories, your big ones, the whole story of your life so far.

We learn about ourselves and others and the world through stories. They change us and connect us. Stories deepen our understanding of one another. Stories help us see what really matters…..past what we wear, our age, and the color of our skin. Past what we fix up and try to hide. Stories help us see the heart. A friend recently wrote, “Stories push us to grace.”

But I’m not talking about our Instagram stories, or any of the ones we post to social media. I’m talking about sharing your life. Your life is a story and a collection of thousands of stories and your stories are best told within relationships.

I’m talking about the kind of stories shared with a group of friends over lunch. The face to face kind you share with your teenager because he’s struggling with his faith. Listening to a story that makes you laugh so hard your face hurts. Sharing the stories of triumph or fear, tragedy and faith, joy, failure, hope and love. And especially the stories that bring tears to our eyes.

So no matter how you do it, keep up with your stories. Write them out in a journal. Share them with those you’re close to. Type them out on a blog, whether you publish it or not. Because it’s important to keep track of our stories. Our real stories. The messy ones we prefer no one to know. The ones about living inside ourselves and those that make us uncomfortable.

We keep track of our stories so we don’t forget who we are. So we remember what we’ve seen and felt and lived through. Because when your friend goes through the same thing, you can be there, sharing your story, and making your friend feel less alone. Or you sit there and say nothing at all because you remember the times it was all you needed.

Keeping track of our stories help us remember those things. If we lose track of our stories, we lose the ability to connect with people in the most essential way – heart to heart. We forget how to be with people and try to fix them instead. We forget compassion and empathy.

We forget how it feels.

Jesus was a storyteller and ever compassionate. He was weary and thirsty when he met a woman from Samaria. The woman was an outsider, looked down upon by those around her because of her lifestyle, but Jesus didn’t treat her any differently than he treated anyone else. Possibly for the first time in her life, she didn’t feel shamed. Jesus told her everything she ever did. She was seen and understood and known. The woman was so heartened by this she went into town to tell the story.

She didn’t wait until all her problems were solved or her circumstances changed. She shared Jesus with others right in the midst of her messy, complicated life.

God uses the stories of our lives. The happy times, the messy ones, the ones that almost killed us, and even the ones we think can’t be used. All for His glory.

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,……. John 4:39  ESV

Share your lives. Tell your stories. Live like it matters.

With a Friend

With a friend…..

You can be yourself, but if you’re not she notices.

You can share the deepest parts of you.

Sad or mad or glad. It’s all the same to her because she loves you no matter what.

She knows your story and you know hers.

With her, it’s okay to not be okay.

She listens because she cares.

She’ll let you be scared but help you be brave.

Your laugh makes her laugh. Her tears break your heart.

It always feels like yesterday even when it’s been a while.

She makes you better because she lifts you up.

It’s easy with her because she loves you just the way you are, whenever you are.

And you do the same.

My friends have walked with me through the happiest and darkest of days.

A friend taught me to listen because I watched her listen.

One of them taught me how to give a good hug. Another how to make the best homemade bread you’ve ever tasted.

One taught me how to lead and follow, one how to forgive again and again.

And some have given me the confidence to do what I thought I could never do.

That’s what friends do.

I’m better because I have the best kind of friends.

Friend

Passed Down

I have a place in my home where old things are displayed. Worn books, my grandmother’s hurricane lamp, Dad’s horsehair drafting brush, eye glasses and a pipe, my other grandmother’s woven hand fan, and black and white photographs from long ago. All of it sits on an old wooden chest built by my great-grandfather.

Things passed down from one generation to the next. Reminders of who came before and how they lived. Connections with the people who, for better or worse, loved and taught the ones who loved and taught me.

But the most important things passed down to me aren’t books and photos or wooden chests.

“If you don’t know where you’re from, you’ll have a hard time saying where you’re going.”
― Wendell Berry

Pedigree

I’m Like Them

“We misunderstand God altogether if we think He deals coarsely with our souls.”
Henry Drummond

My journey through Lent this week has given me new thoughts on old stories. The stories were part of the daily devotions from Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. I revisited the story of Jesus driving the merchants out of the temple for buying and selling there.

Am I like the merchants?

I reread the story of Thomas who declared that “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” John 20:25

Am I like Thomas?

The story of Peter is another one. Not only did Peter fall asleep in the garden when Jesus asked he and his other friends to keep watch but he denied he knew him. Peter turned his back on the very One he confessed as the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Am I like Peter?

Yes. I’m like them.

How many times have I tried trading with God….tried to get something from God in exchange for my faith or good deeds? “Look what I’m doing God. I’m serving and giving and studying. I’m working hard for You. Now bless me. Make my life comfortable and give me what I want.”

I’ve been the one not believing….not trusting until I can see. “Show me Lord, then I’ll trust You.”

My denial doesn’t look the same as Peter’s but I’ve turned my back on the One who loves me with an everlasting love. By not following Him. By not loving others. By withholding forgiveness. By causing others to feel less than.

But God doesn’t deal coarsely with our souls.

God is kind when He reminds me that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9

God is patient when I have doubts and fears. As Jesus did for Thomas, in His mercy He will give me the “grace of interior vision, the gift of the opening of the heart, and of its surrender.”

God is tender with me when I’ve turned my back. It was Jesus who turned to look at Peter as he was denying him for the third time. (Luke 22:61) There wasn’t judgment in Jesus’ eyes. There was love.

And I am thankful for His kindness.

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”  Romans 2:4

For more thoughts on our Lenten journey visit my friend, Joy, at her website A Life-Giving Moment.

Confess

Against the Odds

My parents’ story is an “against the odds” kind of story. They were like the rest of us, trying to make it the best they knew how. Learning to make a life, raise kids, work their jobs, and have fun while doing it. They got it right sometimes but they got it wrong other times.

I don’t hold the wrong parts against them.

We’re all learning as we go. Not one of us has it all figured out. Still we wake up each day, try again, and maybe do better than we did yesterday. But we don’t give up and we don’t give in to the idea that it will never change or that we’ll never learn. We keep at it. Sure we go through trials, we have pain and sorrow and bad things happen. But by the grace of God we make do with what we’ve learned so far.

And we forgive. Then our hearts are softened and all of the sudden we realize we see people differently. Even the ones that caused the pain.

Because you love people better when your heart is softer. And you’re better prepared for the next thing life throws at you. You’ve learned how to weep and laugh and do it with those who are weeping and laughing.

And at the end of your days, someone will say your story is an “against the odds” kind of story.

It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, and sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools-friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty-and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.

                                                                              Anne Lamott

Abrupt