Let’s Not Say That Anymore (Pretty Please?)

Ok, time for honesty. You know how there are all these phrases that we use? Ones we should really stop using? Exhibit A: “Doing life together”. Didn’t we all agree to not use that phrase anymore? If you still use that it’s probably because you are over 50 and think that the “youngsters” speak in phrases like this. We stopped saying “doing life together” years ago. We just couldn’t bare to tell you. The embarrassment factor and all.

Exhibit B: I want to see your “doing life together” and raise you a “keeping it real”.

“Hey, I’m just keeping it real!” Let’s not say that anymore either. Please. I cringe every time someone says, “just keeping it real over here!”

Let’s be honest, we normally say this when:

  1. We are fake all other times. Stop that. Being fake and false is exhausting and who wants to be so tired?
  2. We have just overshared in a hilarious and awkward way. Don’t stop that. I love it when people overshare. If you are that way, let’s have coffee! No need to tag on “just keeping it real” though.
  3. We struggle with authenticity.

Let’s sit a little in number three.

That authenticity thing, it’s so subtle. Everything we say and reveal, we wonder how it compares to others. One day, “Just ran 5 miles, baked paleo cookies and ironed my husbands underwear… really nothing at all.” Next day, “Here’s a picture of my kitchen, yes, we are living in this pig sty… just keeping it real folks!”

A few things bother me about this. First, is this what it means to be real and transparent these days? “I’ve got dirty dishes”. If dirty dishes is your “keeping it real”, I definitely want your life.

It’s funny to me that in the midst of all this “keeping it real” we are still controlling what we reveal. We “keep it real” with just enough finesse to actually make us look better (compared to others). “Oh gosh, she’s even witty and honest when her home is a mess… love her!”

Control is the enemy of authenticity.
Comparison is the enemy of authenticity.

I read a confession the other day,

“I struggle with feeling like I can’t quite figure out how other women seem to do it all”.

It is a struggle, isn’t it? We endlessly compare and thus control what we do and don’t reveal. Being falsely modest when we succeed, witty and humorous when we reveal a small misstep. We are constantly comparing and controlling, praying we don’t fail to measure up to the perceived standard.

People get mad about everyone being “fake” on Facebook. Why does that bother us? Are we comparing ourselves to them? If they want to share their good news on Facebook and bad news in person, what’s it to you? That actually sounds pretty healthy to me.

Honestly, I think it bothers us because we are comparing ourselves to them. In our view, we can’t keep up with what we perceive is their perfect life.

How much longer will we believe this lie that anyone is keeping it together? The Christian life begins with falling down in a confession of failures and brokenness. The core of the Gospel is that no one has got their crap together, we all are in imperfect. We are all stumbling towards Jesus who brings mercy, grace and rest… three things that we desperately need. I personally alternate between awkward and desperate in my stumble towards grace and help.

“Keeping it real” does not need to be an occasional #hashtag. If I see only people’s success and not their struggle, failure and fights with their kids then I assume someone else get’s the privilege of seeing those glorious moments. Someone else gets to gently say, “let your children live to see another day, walls can be re-painted”. Someone else get’s to say, “call the counsellor and I’ll babysit for you and your husband tonight”. Another friend get’s to challenge our tendency hide our weaknesses and struggle.

We don’t need to remind people that we are “keeping it real”. As if anyone’s life is perfect or pain free. It’s not and it won’t be. That’s true for all of us, whether we see it or not.

Photo Credit: misselejane

The Pharisee’s Guide to Parenting

The following two mundane moments are so revealing in my parenting journey. Both happened the day that we had parent-teacher meetings at my boys’ school. The first teacher looked at us and said, “Your son is so well mannered, so well behaved, whatever you are doing, keep doing it!” Ah, the deep pleasure of parenting arrogance overflowed in my life. I’m surprised I didn’t pull out a recording device and ask her to repeat it in to the little microphone. Well behaved! Well mannered! Keep it up, you are parent of the year! Just think of all those rude children causing havoc in the classroom… not my child, not under my watch.

The second meeting just deepened my Pharisaic heart. The teacher looked at his report card and said, “What a smart child you have, I honestly can’t say anything he should be doing differently, he just consistently improves and achieves to a high standard”. I’m surprised my pride could fit through the door as I walked out. I was floating on cloud nine of outward behaviour, outward accomplishment and outward manners.

Compare this to a situation I had afterwards. Now, I’ve documented my to-be-unamed son’s expertise in lying. Garett has a problem and its been a work in progress.

It was the end of the school day. As he walked out off the school grounds with me I said, “Did you give my note to your teacher?” “Yes I did Mom.” he smoothly replied. “Well, what did she say?” Without skipping a beat he said, “She will think about it and reply to you on Monday.”

Innocent conversation. Except my husband found the “note to the teacher” in his school bag over the weekend. And when confronted he admitted that the whole and entire conversation was a lie. He never gave her the note and “what the teacher said” was entirely made up.

You know what? When someone asked me how my day was I replied, “Rough! What a day, Garett lied to my face and we are trying to figure out what to do about it.”

Do you see what just happened there? Let me write it as a math equation.

Desired behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = Good parenting day.

Undesired outward behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = bad parenting day.

This isn’t the Jesus guide to parenting. Jesus shows to us parenting of the Kingdom.

Jesus seemed to revel in the moments of failure. When failure happened it’s like Jesus was given a treat. The exposure of failure and sin was to Jesus as a blank canvas was to Michelangelo.

Think of Peter. Peter covered up his black heart at the last supper (Who me? Never!) Jesus jumped right in there with Peter and didn’t sulk and say, “Have I taught you nothing?!” In fact he promised Peter it was about to get really bad! I imagine Jesus rolling up his sleeves at that moment and saying, “Great, now we’ve got something to work with, Peter!”

Jesus was seeking out the messy and sin-prone children. He could work with that. He couldn’t work with hiders, cover-up artists and those with a facade of outward behaviour, accomplishments and manners. The Pharisees, the perfect ones did not appeal to Jesus. The failures, misfits and mess-makers were right were Jesus wanted to be.

The only difference between the messes and the pharisees was one was socially acceptable and one was not. The inward heart was quite possibly the same. Jesus didn’t get too excited with outward success. He got very excited with outward failure.

Do I do that? Do I get excited when my I catch my child in a lie? Do I think, “Wonderful, now we’ve gotten to the good stuff!” I should.

If I make parenting about my reputation or my pride, then I can’t parent well.
If I make parenting about outward accomplishments and not inward heart change, I will not parent well.
If I make parenting about minimising problems and keeping life calm, I will not parent well.

Jesus never changed course when people said, “Look at your disciples, what bunch of failures!” He didn’t get defensive or hopeless. Jesus was going for the heart change and that takes time. It takes outward lies and sins to be exposed. It takes disciples fighting and threatening violence. It takes bad days when everything is going wrong.

Those are the teachable moments. That is when all the good stuff happens.

We all want grace and mercy for our children without them actually needing grace and mercy. Let me not be afraid to see clearly their need for grace and mercy. Let me not make it about myself and my parenting failures but rather about Jesus and his hope for them.

Parenting pharisees feel defeated by the failures, messes and disobedience. Jesus saw it an opportunity for the truth of the need to meet the answer of grace and new life.

Outward accomplishment is good. Outward success should be rejoiced in. But Jesus went for the heart and so should we. The quickest way there is the mess and moments of failure.

When my children succeed outwardly I rejoice. But I don’t let it blind me that all is necessarily fine. I want their hearts like Jesus wants mine. Lord, let it be so.

Immigrants, Orphans and Jesus

My maternal grandparents were immigrants from Norway. My Grandma Edie would enthrall me with the story of her first sighting of American soil. As a young girl, she peaked through the window of the ship and there stood the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, New York City.

When Grandma Edie and Grandpa John fought around my sister and I, often they would do it in Norwegian so we couldn’t understand what they were saying! My grandmother made fish-balls and lutefisk and lefse. The town they lived in was full of Norwegian immigrants and it’s official motto is still officially, “Little Norway”.

Being surrounded by so many Norwegians brought the inevitable Swedish jokes. I just thought it was like an old high-school rivalry. I didn’t know why Norwegians and Swedes teased each-other, it’s just what we did. In fact, my Grandfather posted a sign at the top of his drive-way that said, “Norwegians Only! No Swedes Allowed!” Little did I know that this rivalry came out of a deep-rooted history. But, it was all good fun for the family in those times.

The last two weeks I’ve thought a lot about my precious grandparents. I was always acutely aware we were a Norwegian-American family. But, there was so much I never knew to ask them. They were immigrants. The family didn’t know english when they came, I know that. But what else? What was it like to be foreigners in a strange land?

The reason I thought of this was because I’ve been surrounded by a whole new set of “foreigners” here in South Africa. My husband and I bought a house and we are doing a few renovations this month before we move in. We’ve had the privilege of hiring a number of men from Malawi to help us with some of the work.

In talking with them, they’ve told us stories of living in a country where they are not always wanted or welcome. Just this morning I dealt with a situation where Victor and Dave (two of these men from Malawi) shared how they felt targeted for bad treatment in our area. I’m a foreigner here too. People often make fun of my accent or make known to me their distaste for America. But I’m not unwanted like them… that is the painful truth.

My home country, the United States, is consumed with this same word, “immigrant”. The headlines are filled with a conversation America is having on the presence of immigrants in her land.

In fact it seems everywhere I looked this week, immigrants or immigration was being talked about.

This is what brings me to my Grandpa John and Grandma Edie and my un-asked questions. What was it like for them to be an “immigrant”? How were they treated? Did people target them for ill-treatment? Did they get accused of stealing jobs? Did people make fun of the way they spoke English? Were they refused service because they couldn’t yet speak english? What was it like to walk their journey and be the outsider?

Each day these past two weeks I would make Victor and Dave (and others) their lunch. Each morning I would bring them tea as they got the day started. I contemplated what they would like for a tea break and lunch. What was my obligation to provide for them? God dropped a thought in my mind the first day, “Remember Lindsey, the majority of the time in scripture, immigrant or foreigner is mentioned with two other groups… orphan and widow.”

This wasn’t a new thought to me. I actually read through the Bible one year and circled the word “immigrant” or “foreigner” every time it was mentioned. I was shocked. God see’s immigrants the same way as widows and orphans. Not as weak, not to be pitied… but they are vulnerable and deserve a special place of honour and care in the Christian community.

So every time I made mid-morning tea and lunches I thought, “What would I make if a widow was eating this? What would I want provided if it was for an orphan?” I let that guide me. I then realised, “What would I make if it was my Grandpa John and Grandma Edie”? This was once them and their parents. They were once the immigrant worker.

I wonder if people gave my great-grandparents the worst mid-morning tea and and the cheapest lunches. I wonder if they even fed them anything at all? I wonder if they paid them a fair wage?

Then I thought of Jesus. Not his heart or his values. I thought of his life. Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus fleeing to the foreign land of Egypt. I wonder if people made fun of the way Joseph and Mary spoke the local language. I wonder what sort of lunches Joseph’s boss made him… or if he even fed him at all?

Foreigners, exiles, aliens, immigrants. Let us not forget that these people’s names are always mentioned in the same breath as orphans and widows in God’s living word. “The alien, the orphan and the widow”… the trinity of the vulnerable.

Let us remember that these precious people are somebodies parents, grandparents and great-grandparents… they were once mine. Let us not forget they have other names: Dave, Victor, Grandpa John, Grandma Edie, Joseph, Mary… Jesus.

When you make lunch, mention their status, read headlines about them or have to summon the patience to truly listen as they stumble along in broken English… is your heart shaped by God’s heart for these precious people? Would you speak of an orphan and widow in the same way as the immigrant? Would you post Facebook memes about orphans and widows the same as we do of immigrants? Would you post a sign in your restaurant that said, “Orphan who doesn’t speak English? No Service!”

Immigrants, orphans and widows… God’s precious people. Full of dignity and value even if it’s not always recognized by those who profess the name of our own Egyptian-immigrant saviour, Jesus Christ.