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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mom-Fail

I often joke that I think part of the reason for my existence is to help others feel better about themselves. I am often a complete mess. I forget stuff, I double-book things, I certainly don't shower every day and I tend to drop my kids off at school while still wearing my pajamas.  And in the past years I've just started owning it. And every time I do, some other mama thanks me for making her feel better. So that makes me feel better. And then we all hold hands and sing kumbaya.

Ahem.

So I feel the need to tell y'all: I think I have now managed the BEST WORST Mom-Fail in the history of all my mom fails. In the world, possibly.

Allow me to set the scene:

My four year old is struggling a little lately with his behavior. Normal stuff - like doing the OPPOSITE of what he has just been told to do. Intentionally messing up his older siblings' stuff. You know how it goes.

He's also dramatic. Oh wait, I mean DRAMATIC. I think he has learned it from his older brother. And maybe there's a bit of drama in the Ethiopian genes as well.

So recently he intentionally ran his finger through his sister's drawing while the ink was still wet. And I'm all about some restorative discipline but I'm also human and I have three kids and I think I was trying to cook dinner and so in that moment I had no energy for one of those wonderful "let's work together to make it better" moments.

I sent him to time-out. And gave a little push to send him in the right direction.

And my wonderfully dramatic child throws himself to the floor. Screaming. Giant alligator tears.

At the exact same moment, my 8 year-old rolls his eyes and says, "he has to go to time-out for THAT?!?" Sass, people. Eight year old sass on top of four year old tantruming. Have I mentioned how much I am nailing this motherhood thing? Nailing it.

So in all my motherhood wisdom, I sent the 8 year old to go sit by himself in another room for being disrespectful.

At this point at least I did one smart thing: took care of the potential burning dinner on the stove while the boys sat. In time out. That parenting technique I no longer use (ha!) because those restorative discipline strategies work so much better. Failing parenthood but hey - at least we still eat!

And I gathered myself together, took some deep breaths (and a handful of chocolate chips) and calmed down. We always process together whenever any discipline has happened. So I talk with the 4 year old, make sure he understands why he had to sit in time out, he apologizes to his sister. All good.

I call the 8 year old over. He sits on my lap on the kitchen floor and says to me, "I just didn't like it when you hit Amani into the kitchen."

I'm shocked. We don't even spank in our house and my 8 year old believes I just hit my four year old (I told you - this four year old is seriously good at the DRAMA. Oscars, here we come.).

Have I ever mentioned that I talk with my hands a lot? Um... so my response to the 8 year old: "Oh my goodness... baby... Mommy would NEVER hit Amani into the kitchen!" To emphasize the "NEVER", my hands went out and into the air and ...smacked him right across his sweet face! And he has crazy chapped lips from all this winter air so his little already-split lip starts bleeding.

Y'all. In the moment of explaining to my child that "Baby, you know we do not hit! Mommy will never hit you or your siblings!" I actually smack him in the face! And make him bleed! Mom-fail of the year. Of the century. I thought I might sink into the floor right then and there.

You are welcome, universe. I think I can successfully make every mom on the planet feel better about herself with that one.

This parenthood thing requires a lot of self-forgiveness doesn't it? I'm still working on forgiving myself for that one.  And in case you were wondering, we did a LOT of snuggling after the face-smacking incident. And lots of chapstick. I think everyone's going to survive.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Color of Your Broken Pieces

For years, I didn't think I fit in to Women's Ministry. I would attend women's Bible studies and my thoughts didn't seem to align with the women with whom I sat. I would attend women's events with fabulously decorated tables and decor. Over-the-top beautiful settings. And I would sit at the table, uncomfortable, self-conscious, just waiting for the moment I knocked over my ginger-peach-sweet-tea-in-a-fancy-goblet.

Once I was asked to decorate a table at a Women's Event. You know, since I was a wife of one of the staff pastors at church. It's actually called "Festival of Tables." I wish I had pictures to show you. It's amazing, truly.  They gave me the theme of (drum roll please): Africa (insert pet-peeve about Africa being considered one big country)  Oh y'all, just imagine the mess: I owned four place mats; I think they were green. "Good," I thought, "Green. That can be African." So I brought them. And I had some random wooden African animals I'd brought home from Ethiopia for my kids. And a multi-colored wrap Rob bought me in Swaziland that I wear when I'm there (and I'm fairly certain a Swazi child peed on once). It was clean. I think. I put it all in a bag and arrived to set-up. Someone asked me, noticing my one bag, "Oh, do you need help for the rest of your stuff?" That was when I thought I might be in trouble. Women needed rolling carts to bring in everything they had for their tables.  I tossed my wrap on my assigned table, eyeing the women around me artfully arranging their table-scapes. I didn't know I was supposed to bring my own china, so used the church's plates (which were way nicer than anything I had at home anyway). Two places didn't have place mats. Some kind soul tried to help and encouraged me to "create some height" while handing me a small cardboard box. I plopped it in the middle of the table and stuck an elephant on it. I learned later it was supposed to be covered in some kind of linen and covered it in some of the church's napkins. You know, since I hadn't brought any napkins of my own. The table next to mine had a 5 foot-high centerpiece made of real flowers, matching china and embroidered place mats and napkins. And a personalized take-home treat for each guest matching the theme. Yup. Y'all, I didn't even sit at my own table! I hid out at a different one across the room, hoping no one would ask any questions. When it was over, I lingered, pretending to "chat" and then hid in the bathroom until other ladies had carefully dismantled their tables. Then I threw all my stuff in a bag and high-tailed it outta there. I probably don't need to tell you I wasn't invited to decorate a table the following year. I think the organizer knew that was an act of mercy, really.

I attended Bible studies about motherhood, about being a wife, about being a pastor's wife. And I always left feeling like a fish out of water. I wanted to believe God had a plan for me, but I could never find it in those beautifully decorated spaces where women discussed their roles as it related to their marriages. I thought it meant something about me. I wondered why I couldn't fit into the role God had put me in. Why don't I feel comfortable in all the ministry settings designed for women? Why does a doily send me into a tailspin? Why can't I play the piano and create beautiful spaces like all the other pastor's wives? What is wrong with me? Why don't my broken pieces fit?

So I stopped going. I realized it wasn't the place for me and it was too painful and exhausting to pretend all the time and bite my tongue. But over the years, I've found the places God has for me: I am at home at the homeless shelter; I have found groups of women with whom I feel safe being real; I can be me when I'm working on social justice issues and how that relates to following Jesus.  I discovered that people write books called "Jesus Feminist" and that God made me who I am and I don't have to mess with his design. My path isn't in the beautifully decorated spaces. And today that is just fine by me. I no longer worry about not fitting in. Because God has a place for me where my broken pieces fit. Even though those pieces aren't pink, pretty, or even coordinated.

This past weekend, I had the crazy honor of helping at the Connected in Hope table at a women's conference. Connected in Hope is an organization I believe in with my whole heart - they are helping the orphan issue in Ethiopia by helping mamas KEEP their children - providing the opportunity for sustainable, predictable incomes, and access to healthcare and education. Just amazing. And the icing on the cake?  Jen Hatmaker was going to be the speaker. I was SO excited.

As I walked in, I stopped dead in my tracks: the place was head-to-toe hot pink. Hot pink tulle draped from the ceiling, cascading down the stairs, tied in big bows in the center of tables. Black and white damask photo booths with ornate frames hanging on ribbons for photo ops. Tiny pink cupcakes on over-sized cake stands (artfully interspersed with chocolate brownies, of course). Hot pink couch with lacy pillows. Beautifully dressed women in perfect makeup walking around wearing monogrammed boots (For real. Maybe you already know about this? Monogrammed boots. This is a thing.).  This was the exact kind of event that made me feel so apart and alone years ago.

So clearly, I fit in just fine.

But instead of feeling inferior, I was happy. I looked around and saw the thousand women there and how comfortable they were in that setting. I thought about how much Jesus loved them. They did some kind of cheerleader-y dance in the morning session and I stood in the back, watching the participants clapping and singing along. (confession: I may have texted a few friends in search of some support. I had a teeny moment in which I thought I might sink through the floor. But, never fear, I persevered). I no longer need my broken pieces to be pink and I can celebrate the pink pieces of my sisters. I am not the woman this conference was designed for and I no longer worry about it.

Instead, the amazing part of the conference was hearing Pam Simpson speak about Connected in Hope; it was getting to proudly stand at the table and tell the story of my sisters in Ethiopia. It was having the honor of selling (and wearing) their beautiful scarves and jewelry - the amazing work that provides them the sustainable and predictable income they said they needed in order to break the cycle of poverty. My broken pieces fit just fine at the Connected in Hope table.

My broken pieces aren't pink. They are the red, green, yellow, and blue of the Ethiopian flag. They are the varied browns of the faces of the people I love in Swaziland. They are the dirty denim color of a donated pair of too-big jeans on a precious soul in the homeless shelter, they are the rainbow of the allies of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. My broken pieces aren't pretty or lacy or monogrammed. And I am a woman, designed by God, forever-learning to follow Jesus. I'm not a mistake.

I'm trying to learn that God loves me, no matter the color of my broken pieces, as much as he loves those hot-pink-pieced women. I know he does. I'm so thankful that he is proving it to me over and over again.

Are you a hot-pink-pieced sister? I love you. I love that you can go to those Women's Ministry events and connect with God. Are you an anything-but-hot-pink-pieced sister? I love you. And I'm so thankful to have discovered that you ladies are out there. I'm not alone with my hot-mess-colored pieces. God has a place for our broken pieces, sisters.

No matter the color of your broken pieces.... you can make a difference for a sister on the other side of the world. We can help fellow mamas, just like us.  I have yet to meet a mother who doesn't want the same things for her children: for them to be healthy, to have hope, for education. As a social worker, I have pretty high standards for organizations I support. Connected in Hope is getting it right. Take a minute and check them out here. Plus your broken pieces can look pretty fantastic in their awesome jewelry, scarves and bags. (ha. See what I did there?)

http://www.connectedinhope.org/



Our little team working the Connected in Hope tables

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If:Gathering


If you know me, you know I often struggle with "my own people." Every few months, I decide I am no longer going to call myself a "Christian"... mostly because of ways I see Christians acting in the mainstream media. Or politics. I love Jesus but there are days when I don't want to be aligned with people claiming to follow him. It's a problem, really. Especially when you are married to a pastor (!).

But this past weekend, I was reminded that those in mainstream media and politics aren't the only voices. They don't get to be the only ones representing Jesus. I was reminded that there are so many who call themselves Christians who are committed to beauty and empowerment and want to be used to bring peace and healing.

I had the honor to lead an If:Local again this year, a weekend conference for women. The conference itself takes place in Austin, TX but we live-stream it and have our own discussions/activities with our group.  Sixteen of us took off to Ocean Isle Beach and spent the weekend listening to the speakers, talking with one another, opening up, being honest and vulnerable and real. We left judgment and criticism way behind in Greensboro and focused on listening to each other, encouraging each other, building one another up. Time spent reconnecting to God, confessing our unbelief and doubts and struggles.

And I missed most of it.

My children lovingly shared the stomach bug with me just before I left. I was sick the entire time. I missed one of the speakers entirely and spent most of the rest of the weekend counting down the minutes until I could get back in bed, just praying I wouldn't throw up again. And praying no one else would get it and that I wouldn't be a distraction.

But you know what? The parts I was well enough to focus on were the parts that spoke the most to my soul.  There was a time when we were all called to get on our knees to repent for the state of our nation: to beg for forgiveness for our part in racism, modern-day slavery, and the mess that is our prison system/war-on-drugs and to pray that God would use us to heal our land. We were reminded that Christians should be leading the conversations about and doing the hard work of bridge-building between our races. That we should be the ones standing up, reaching out, and listening to others' experiences. I was reminded that, in the midst of everything, I am called to be "the next most-humblest version of myself." That in everything I do, I should strive to become more humble and think "what would the next, more-humble, version of me do?"

If God is real, then _______.  Then what? How do we live? If this God of ours is real, if he really wants to use us to redeem and restore this broken world of ours, what do we do? We had a chance to respond... to write what we felt God had for us to do next. I blurred these intentionally, but this is a pile of rocks full of BIG things. Actions of healing, of reaching out, of doing hard things.



There is a generation of women rising up, boldly running after God. We want to do the hard things: racial reconciliation, loving our neighbors more than we love ourselves, fighting slavery and sex-trafficking and homelessness and addiction and injustice. These are the words I want people to think of when they hear the word "Christian." I was reminded this weekend that I am not alone. That the face of Jesus is not confined to a political party, or to a vocal minority in the news. We were reminded this weekend that "God is not American." He has come for ALL of us, he is for ALL of us. He loves people, not causes. People, not political parties. God wants to restore and redeem PEOPLE. You. Me. And we can choose to be a part of that.

Me? I don't want to miss a minute.

Are you a local friend and want to know more? I purchased the download of all the speakers and plan to have folks over to watch/discuss in the coming weeks! Let me know if you want an invite! :)

 This post is part of a link-up with other blogs from women around the country/world who participated in If:Gathering. Check out the rest here: http://amyepatton.com/if-gathering-2015-ifstory/

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We can do MORE

photo credit: I first saw this posted by Spirit FM Morning Show

I'm seeing this image start to fill up my Facebook page today. It's really a beautiful movement. Some folks up North put scarves on trees with a note telling people to take them if they need them. And I've also now seen the idea take flight: there's an event here in my city to do the same.

I do think it is wonderful.

But it also makes me a little sad. You see, poverty isn't a resource-issue. We have enough food and enough wealth already here on the Earth (and right here in our very country) to accommodate all the people. The problem isn't that there isn't enough to go around. The problem is relational. Folks in poverty are often set-apart, set-aside.  We serve them through (sometimes dubious, sometimes great) programs when what is really life-changing is relationships.  These trees remind me that most people, even good-hearted, wonderful people, don't know anyone who is homeless. So the only way we know how to share a scarf is to tie it to a tree.

Please don't think I'm slamming this idea. I think it is absolutely wonderful and beautiful! And absolutely a step in the right direction.  But I think we can do MORE. What if we befriended people experiencing homelessness? Then not only would we be able to tie a scarf on the neck of someone who is cold, we'd know what they needed and be able to support them to take the next step OUT of homelessness.

I've seen this happen with my own eyeballs. I can think of several friends right this very moment who, right now, are just my regular friends. We comment on each other's FB statuses, meet for lunch, call each other on the phone. But when we met? They were people experiencing homelessness. And they needed friends. Programs are good. Friends who love you, who help you navigate those programs are crucial.  And, together with a fabulous group of folks that do homeless outreach in our city, I had the absolute honor to become a friend.  And then, by listening, I could see what barriers stood between them and being inside, being employed, being healthy. And you know what happened? Not only have I seen people get clean & sober, move out of homelessness, get jobs... but I gained FRIENDS. Fabulous people who I love and love me back. They have inspired me and taught me so much.

Did it cost me more? Yes. Did it take more time? Yes. But when I look at how Jesus worked with people, that is how he did it. He didn't say "give money to other people so that they can feed the hungry." He didn't say, "vote for programs that help prisoners." (not that those are bad things... please keep doing those things too!) He said "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me." Matt 25:35-40.

So are you moved by the scarf idea? Donate a scarf, tie one to a tree. You can be part of the tie a scarf event in Greensboro here.  Are you moved MORE? Donate a scarf and then do MORE. Volunteer with an organization in your city that works with people experiencing homelessness.  Are you in Greensboro? This week in our city, we have the crisis shelter open every night through Saturday. And then again for 10 more days in February and we DESPERATELY need volunteers. Come and be part of making sure that NO ONE sleeps outside on a bitter cold night and make a friend.

Sign up to take a shift at our Crisis Shelter here:
http://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0949aba622abff2-emergency1

And if you are in my area, here are a few places I suggest you check out if you want to get to know some of our homeless friends:

Church Under the Bridge: Dinner and a worship service every Saturday night
The Interactive Resource Center: Our day resource center for our homeless folks
Sunday morning breakfast: my church, missio dei, partners with a bunch of other churches to join Awaken City's Sunday morning breakfast to provide a hot breakfast every Sunday morning at Center City Park in Greensboro.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dead Babies and Laser Hair Removal

It happens every time.

I come home from a trip to Swaziland and am greeted enthusiastically with, "Welcome home! How was your trip?" It's called out across the parking lot as I walk my 4 year-old into preschool, said to me across the room full of parents in the parent room at my older kids' elementary school. Well-wishers being friendly, asking about my trip.

But I can't answer. Not honestly anyway.

Because what I want to say is that the child I visited in the overflowing pediatric malnutrition ward died two days later. He was one year old and weighed about 13 pounds. I want to answer that I saw women in labor standing by themselves in the hot sun outside the labor room because you aren't allowed to go in until you are crowning. I want to say that I just spent a week in a country where mothers often drop their newborn babies in pit latrines to die because that is a better option than watching them slowly starve to death. I want to say that I got to spend time with toddlers whose stories include being burned, left to die wrapped in plastic bags, some are HIV positive, others have been severely malnourished. I want to say that I saw overwhelming need and despair alongside hope.

But really, people are expecting me to say, "it was great, thanks!" and keep walking. Because they aren't really asking me to bear my soul in that moment.

I always have a hard time when I come home from Swaziland. I have a hard time reconciling my culture with the culture in developing countries anyway; it's just that much harder when I have just returned home.  And my first morning back I heard a commercial for laser hair removal on my way home from dropping the kids off at school.

I live in a country where we are encouraged to spend money using lasers to remove unwanted hair while babies on the other side of the ocean slowly starve to death.

Something is wrong.

But it doesn't have to be. That's where I see hope. I also know that just in my small circle of friends there are people fighting for justice, pushing against oppression, working to restore dignity and helping people meet their basic needs.  I know that there are big organizations working to make sure that children have access to food, clothing, and medical care. I know that people care.

We have a choice. God is working all around us. I will never understand how God works or why things are they way they are but I do believe this: God wants to use us to redeem the world. He wants to use us to end poverty, to end hunger, to fight addiction and oppression. And what an honor it is to be to be a part of change.

Do you want to be a part of hope in Swaziland? I'm going back in July. Come with me! You will never regret it.

My view from where I stayed on the farm at Project Canaan

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why I don't want the Easy Life

I'm headed to Swaziland in three days! Last Sunday, a week before my travel date, I knew I was headed into a crazy week. In addition to the normal preparations that go along with leaving the country (packing, figuring out stuff for the kids, etc), the weather forecast was calling for dangerously low temps. Since I help out with our local crisis shelter when the temps drop, I just knew this week would be over-the-top busy.

So Sunday night, I posted this on Facebook, mostly to remind myself:

Life is easier when you don't do things. It's easier not to volunteer, it's easier not to step out of your comfort zone, it's easier just to swim along. It's easier not to try to love the hard people. But you know what? I think there's less joy that way. So for me, I'll choose the harder path, the inconvenient one. Life is amazing and truly think the secret is to serve others. When life isn't all about me, I find joy so much more easily.

Because my life sure would be easier if I didn't do half the stuff I do. Or if I didn't care about half the stuff I care about.  I'm not saying that life would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy if I didn't spend time volunteering. Let's be honest here: I have three kids. Life is hectic on our best days

But if I didn't volunteer with our homeless folks, if I didn't travel to Swaziland to work with Heart for Africa, if I didn't care about poverty and oppression and social justice issues and giving a voice to the overlooked and if I said NO when opportunities arose to be a part of those things... what would my life look like?

Maybe we'd have more money and could have nicer things. My house would be cleaner, I'm sure of that. 

But I can tell you some things that wouldn't happen:

My oldest child wouldn't have (entirely unprompted) used his own money to buy warm coats for some of the homeless folks we know. My heart about exploded as I watched him at the cash register.

My middle kiddo wouldn't have written an essay for school about patience: about how hard it was for gay couples to be patient while waiting to be treated equally under the law. (and, because she's 6, about how hard it was for HER to be patient when we were standing outside the Register of Deeds waiting for a decision. ha).

I wouldn't have had the opportunity to search through a pile of donated gloves, looking for the warmest, biggest, toughest-looking ones for a homeless man who requested to be woken up this morning before 5 am so that he could get to work on time. He works outside and didn't have a pair of gloves. Talk about a lesson in work ethic.

I wouldn't have had a night filled with hugs, with "thank you ma'am"s, with jokes about air mattresses last night. Let me tell you, I would not have slept as well last night if I wasn't part of the Crisis Shelter team.

I wouldn't have a suitcase packed with clothes and things to bring to kids in Swaziland and a hard-earned plane ticket (many many hours of sewing and crafting bought me that ticket!) and an opportunity to be part of what God is doing in Swaziland.

I wouldn't know some of the most amazing people on this planet. Did you know I have a homeless friend who routinely gives away coats that I give him when he finds someone who has less than he does? And the more I serve, the more I am surrounded by people who blow me away.  Here I am, this mostly-stay-at-home, normal-person mama, surrounded by amazing people. I have a friend moving to Swaziland in two days, walking away from everything comfortable and known because she sees a need and said YES. I have a friend who is an amazingly successful, educated career woman who is changing her trajectory and going back to school again so that she can have the medical expertise she needs to work with the underserved populations in her city because she sees a need and says YES. I get to know people who look at what God is doing around them and jump in with both feet. They inspire me daily.

Friends, life is messy. It's hectic. We have more on our plates sometimes than we think we can handle. But I'll tell you something: adding something to your plate that benefits someone other than you is always a worthwhile addition. I am absolutely convinced that the secret to having an amazing life is find as many ways to serve others as you can. Let's say YES. God is doing big things all around us. Look around out and find out what it is. And jump in.

Love wins. And it flows in both directions. My life is not all sunshine and rainbows. Yesterday was beyond hectic and stressful. But my joy isn't shaken by stress or grief or frustration. The more I love others, the more I am filled up with love. Sappy? Maybe. But it's proving to be true time and time again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Are you weary?

Y'all, I'm weary. I'm weary of hate-filled internet comments and of having to explain that racism does indeed exist and that gay people can be Christians too.  I'm weary of keeping up with homework and school projects and trying to remember to send in the money for the Christmas gifts. I'm weary of grieving my dad and helping my kids grieve because Grandpa's not with us this Christmas.  I'm weary when I leave work and go home and cry because of all the hurt I've seen that comes from mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction. I'm weary of giant piles of laundry and messy kitchens.

I don't have it together. I rarely do. I'm the mom who reads the email about not sending in the project early just AFTER having sent the project in early. I'm the mom who has twice now shown up an hour early to pick up my child from preschool because I forgot that he had soccer.  I'm the mom who bought all the supplies two months ago to make wonderful homemade vanilla extract for Christmas presents... and still haven't made the vanilla. It takes 8 weeks to make. And I keep forgetting to move our $%& Elf on the Shelf.

In fact, just to keep things real, I posted this picture to FB today. Me, no makeup, displaying my various crafting- and clumsiness-related injuries.


But you know what? That is all okay. I don't have to have it together. Because this is the season that we celebrate redemption.  I don't claim to have all the answers to religion or God or how one "gets to heaven"... but I do believe this: God wants to restore us.  When I read the Bible about heaven, it looks like justice and peace and joy. No more drug addiction, no more hunger, no more homelessness, no more racism or sexism. No more mom-guilt, no more grieving. No more giant piles of laundry or bickering children. No more weariness.

And God uses us to bring that redemption about. We get to be part of ending racism and injustice. We can work to alleviate the pain of poverty and addiction.  This season, we celebrate the birth of a baby who came to restore and redeem, showing us exactly how we can live in ways that bring peace and hope to others. He showed us how to bring restoration to this broken world. And then sacrificed himself to restore all of us back to God, once and for all. What an amazing gift.

So I lay my weariness and all my failures at the feet of the God who created me, thankful that I get to be part of his plan to bring peace and hope. And if you are weary too, I invite you to join me. We don't have to have it all together and we don't have to have all the answers. But we do have the honor of being part of the solution. That alone brings me hope.

May we find real hope and peace in the celebration of the birth of Jesus, in the idea of God's active work to restore brokenness, and may we find rest in the fact that we don't ever need to be perfect. His love covers it all. Always has, always will.