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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/