Pride and the virtual fall

My kids got me hooked on Dragonvale.

If you’re not as loaded with technology as we are, Dragonvale is an app game where you build your own dragon zoo, breeding new species and decorating the park in hopes of earning more money for visitors.

This is not a quality game. There’s a big push to make in-app purchases and use social media, not to mention the questions that come up around “breeding.” They learn nothing in this game. And now I’m unlearning with them. Feel free to follow in my footsteps.

No, really. Feel free to follow in my footsteps.

Technology has been a big topic of conversation in the house lately. M is in a school with a 1:1 iPad program from 3rd grade up. A program I have fought against every step of the way. A program which continues to go forward.

We finally got him his ipad, turned on all the restrictions, and sent him to school. He came home, day after day, unable to do the things asked because of these restrictions. We took it to the principal, who we nailed to the wall: “Are you saying you have a system where my eight year old needs access to Google in order to do his class work?” Yes, that’s exactly what he was saying. And if we didn’t like the school we chose, we were welcome to go to another one.

Except we weren’t the ones who chose it.

God directed us to our home. God laid public school on our hearts. And despite my ipad-loathing prayers, God continues to keep us in the system.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Walking humbly–by accepting the path God is leading you on without pushing your own agenda.

Okay, so I needed to take myself down a notch. If God wanted us here, there’s a reason. My pride was keeping me from seeing it, keeping me from acting justly or loving mercy.

Maybe I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I shouldn’t fight so much until I do.

I’m not saying I should be a doormat. But I was so quick to take up my arms that I KNOW I wasn’t acting justly or loving mercy. I wasn’t even interested in walking where God led, humbly or otherwise.

As a consequence, I was missing the good. God is good, all the time, even when I see anything but.

Take Dragonvale. On the surface, there was nothing good. My heart overflowed with guilt for encouraging my children to play. But then I stepped back. With my agenda out of the way, I started seeing the good.

The kids were getting to teach me something, and getting self esteem from that. We could talk about different aspects of the game, building bonds of communication. Even things like in-app purchases and social media (which are disabled for them) brought conversations about how apps work, how media works, and how careful and critical we need to be. Yes, I’m a grown woman playing Dragonvale. But I’m also a mom who isn’t above getting down on the virtual floor with my kids. A mom willing to see that there might be good I’m too busy protesting to notice.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living. (Psalms 27:13)

Even in Dragonvale, iPads, and everything in between. That’s not to say the battle’s over–God demands that we have standards for our children, and that we defend what’s right. But before I battle again, I’m retreating. I’m praying, I’m giving thanks, I’m clothing myself in humility. Because I have a feeling that my poor son being in the prinicipal’s office, singled out and unable to do his work, wasn’t the result of my acting justly or loving mercy. When I battle again, I want to know the Lord is on my side, so that I may see the good and share it as well.

Be the bridge

As I waited with K for her teacher her to lead her class into school, I felt the tug of small hands on my legs. I looked down to find a wee one–two-ish, perhaps–looking just as startled.

The mom called him over and I laughed. “All the legs look the same from that angle.”

“Oh, I wish my legs were like yours,” said the mom.

This struck me as funny for two reasons. First, of all the blessed body parts I’d gift to another woman, my legs wouldn’t be one of them. I’ve come to accept them–their muscular nature, their structure, their cellulite–but I don’t love them like I love my hourglass figure or red hair or delicate wrists. To hear someone else longing for what I discount was strange.

But this led to the second thought: you’ve already got legs like mine.

They’re strong enough to run after small children, to take you up and down play structures. They’re flawed, or rather, they’ve got their own character. They’re unique to you, enough so that it only took a second for that child to realize that he didn’t want these legs. Not because they weren’t perfect, but because they weren’t part of you.

I wish we could see our common bonds more, instead of focusing on our differences. Yes, that mom trains for triathlons and you don’t. But you both have hobbies that you love. That woman is happy without children while you’ve got a carful–but you both enjoy the fullness of lives, however different they may be. No matter what the divide is–homeschool versus public, organic versus processed, all natural versus epidural–we are women making it work.

The next time you’re tempted to start a mommy war, take a look at your enemy. She’s got something in common with you, I can guarantee it. Let it build a bridge instead of a wall, that we may run this race in support instead of competition.

In the arms of a good hug

I woke to a small presence at the side of my bed–3:46 a.m. In silence, I slipped from the sheets and took K by the hand. We snuck back to her bed and she climbed in.

“Can you please give me an extra hug and a kiss?” she said with the utmost of clarity and politeness.

I held her close, her tiny arms wrapped around me, then took her little head in my hands and planted a solid kiss on the center of her forehead. She settled back between the sheets and I returned to my bed and that was the end of it.

In the morning, I asked her what had brought her to my room. “I just needed that extra hug and kiss. I don’t know why.”

There was something, surely. Something little, something nagging, something that unsettled her, something I could settle.

A parent’s love is a powerful thing. In the midst of the struggles of parenting, navigating their constantly growing independence, there is always that love. Unconditional. Reassuring. It tells them, whether they know what’s wrong or not, that something is there for them, backing them up. That they are important, valued, recognized. Loved, truly and deeply.

This is our Father’s love also, even more unconditional and powerful that our love for our own children. Perfect love, which we can strive for but never fully achieve.

We wake, we struggle, we fall. I fail to come to God, often because I think I can or should handle it myself, often because I don’t know what I’d be coming for.

We don’t need a reason. Sometimes we just need love.

God is waiting. God is never asleep. God is closer even than my bedroom to K’s.

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19)

So when that’s hard, when anything and everything and nothing is hard, let him love.

K slept two hours later than usual that morning. I like to the reassurance I gave her led to such rest. If I came to God, if I let him love me like that, would I be rested like that as well? Would I have as much energy as she did, brilliantly awake and cheerful?

Love is a powerful thing.

Faith for all

It was nothing, and it was everything.

It was a goofy voice that grated on me in the pre-school rush. It was a sock that wouldn’t fit quite right, and the tears that followed. It was a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls that no one ate because anything else is better than my cinnamon rolls. It was Legos on the floor and books on the table and ponies on the hall.

I know it’s nothing. I know it’s life, a life lived full and abundant. But telling myself that feels like telling a pot of heating water not to boil. Get it hot enough and it will boil no matter how you shout at it that everything is going to be fine.

Then everything’s not fine. I’m snapping and K cries harder as I throw the offending sock in the trash. M looks crestfallen as I remind him for the umpteenth time that I will boil over (too late) upon whiny voice. I’ve scalded everyone in a few seconds time, including myself. How could I hurt them, these sweet precious gifts of God? When I knew it was coming, when I love them and Jesus so much, when I want nothing more to be the very best mother/person I can be?

In the midst of my self-flagellation, the verse comes to me: being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6). Only I don’t feel like a good work. I feel like pieces of crap cobbled together to the burden of my family and the disappointment of my Lord.

I realize that’s not true. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel like that anyway. I repeat the verse in my head, trying to force myself into confidence because I don’t want to add “ignores scriptural truths” to my list of charges. And when it I shove it back at God, angry, He’s so very gentle.

Have a little faith.

And before I can protest–before I can begin the ardent defense of my faith, He continues:

Have a little faith in yourself.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

I don’t see it, not right now. But I am a good work, and God is continuing to do good work in and through me. Believing that’s true, that’s part of my faith.

See, we mostly quantify faith as “believing in God,” in His truths, promises, sacrifice and resurrection. But faith, biblically defined, is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. In God, in others, in ourselves. It is believing, in the face of a most messed up morning, that we are indeed good works, pressing on toward completion. That we are capable of something different, something more. That through God all things are possible.

I have immense faith in God. But in myself? Not so much. Maybe it’s time I spread that faith around.

Hey Jealousy

I recently picked K up from a friend’s house, practically had to drag her from the premises.

“Her house is so fun. I wish I lived at her house,” announced K.

“I know,” I said evenly. It’s not the first time she’s said something like this, and I don’t blame her. Other people’s houses always seem like more fun: new toys, new snacks, no clean up, no homework. I bet even I’m fun like that to their friends–I know, maybe sadly, that I’m on my best no cranky, no temper behavior when their friends are over.

But then she continued: “I wish she was my mom.”

My heart ripped in two, and despite all those logical reasons listed above, a jealousy rose in the gap. How could she want someone else? Hadn’t I given up everything to be there for her and her brother? Hadn’t I offered them all that they needed, and most of what they wanted? Hadn’t it been I who took her over there in the first place?

I spent the rest of the night in a miserable depression, unsure of where I’d gone wrong. Slowly the pain passed. I accepted her feelings, and she made a remarkable effort to understand mine. I also considered the other mom (of course, it had to be that mom) and how present she was for her kids, and it spurred me to be extra present for my kids. Good things rose from the incident.

But several weeks later, I’m finally understanding the best thing about it: in that moment, I had a glimpse of God.

“Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14)

God has given us everything–including grace, the Holy Spirit, and His only son–and yet how often are we enticed by the world? How often do we wonder what it would be like to live another’s life? When I think of how my heart broke, I understand in a very small sense, what God must feel when we put other things before Him. The jealous nature of God suddenly doesn’t seem so menacing, but rather so full of love for us, as I am for my daughter. No matter the excuses for her feelings and my reactions, at the very base of them lies a love so unspeakably strong that anything in the middle of it feels like a rending of my soul.

This is the love of Christ for us.

Barbies, appreciated seasonally (thank goodness)

For Christmas, we gave K all of the Barbies with which my sister and I once played. (I know: Barbies. Sigh. I get the problems with Barbies. I get them. And we chose to give them to K anyway. May God have mercy on my soul.) There were a lot of Barbies, and clothes, and tiny pink and purple accessories. As I opened up the box and sorted through them, so many memories came flooding back. Everything about them was familiar in a strange and far-off way, as though I remembered them without actually remembering them.

The crazy thing was that they were almost all dressed in some fashion, as though they had been right in the middle of play when they’d been packed away. What really happened was that there was some time–some very last time–when I played with these Barbies. They put on their fancy outfits (most of which were sewn by my grandmother and way more appropriate) and rode around on their horse and then they were dropped in lieu of homework or dinner or maybe, by that age, a phone call. And never picked up again.

These transitions make me sad, to look around at the giant Lego collection or the art boxes and realize that someday, they will be played with for the very last time. And what’s more troubling is that the time will pass without me noticing it, only to be recognized when I realized the [blank] hasn’t been played with for six months or a year. Everything in the house feels so alive right now, and the thought of it dying could break me.

Instead, I try to lighten my load by focusing on the seasonality God created within us: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Yes, the Lego/Big Bear/Barbie season will pass. Yes, that’s a moment I can already be assured I’ll miss, like the last time I rocked a child to sleep or the last time I spoon fed them yogurt. But the beauty of the passing of a season is that one close marks the opening of something else. Soccer tournaments. Giggling with girlfriends. A first kiss. Barbies ended, but something amazing surely began in its place, and just as I cannot anticipate the endings, I will be surprised also by the beginnings.

And after the season passed,  my mom packed those Barbies up, dressed up and all, and put them in a box. Many seasons later, I opened the box and redressed the naked ones (naked Barbies just make them seem wrong) and passed them along for another season. Joy revisited, seasonally.

Complicated cookery

K has become my resident kitchen assistant, helping me prepare all sorts of things, so when I went to make a batch of her favorite chocolate chip muffins, I suggested that she take over and I would be the assistant. Everyone was thrilled!

And then we started cooking.

Not that K wasn’t capable. She could read the recipe, find the ingredients, and measure everything out with reasonable accuracy. But cooking with someone else suddenly made me realize that in my quest to perfect my recipes, I’d made things a bit…complicated.

“Okay, we need 1/2 cup sugar, but I actually use brown sugar because it makes the muffins taste more like a cookie. But not all brown sugar. Just some. Now for the flour: it says 2 cups, but I use mostly whole wheat. Mostly, but not all. And a little bit of vanilla, even though that’s not on here. And you want to stir it just until it’s moist, like moving around the edges and making sure to get to the bottom but not too fast that it spills or mixes too much.”

She was patient with me, and I tried so hard to let it be her thing. But this recipe, which started out with just five simple ingredients, morphed into a complicated list of alterations and corrections. Great muffins, no doubt, but how much better were they than the simple muffins? And at what cost?

“And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matthew 18:3)

My sweet K wanted to make her own muffins. She wanted to follow the instructions on the little card. She wanted to stop with five simple ingredients, stir them however, throw them in a pan, and enjoy what came out. She didn’t care if they weren’t as brown sugary as a cookie, or moister crumbed, or higher on the fiber. She cared that she had muffins, and that she’d made them herself.

It’s in my nature to over think things. But in explaining a “simple” recipe to K, I realized how complicated I make things, often in the sake of perfection. And in meditating on this verse, I wonder if moving closer to “perfect” is moving me farther from the childlike simplicity God desires. Seek. Find. Ask. Do. Love. Without the strings attached, without the complicated nuances with which only adults seem to be preoccupied.

As I start this week, I pray that I really choose the simple over the complicated whenever possible, seeing things as a child might. Simple is sweet, beautiful, and amazing. No wonder God wants us to enjoy it.