Fake Strength, Real Weakness

In the mornings I watch my daughter, Esther carefully select the clothing that she will wear for the day.  In her head, she sees a fashion diva when picking out these outfits and she has the attitude to match.  However, regularly it is something crazy, such as a wild printed shirt under overall shorts with a sequined bow on them along with a skirt over the overall- shorts.  Then to top it off, a big bow or sequined cat ears, and a “braid’ that resembles something very different than any braid I have ever seen.  I love her sense of creativity but under no circumstances would her outfit match her level of confidence.  Now, she is six and I love her but I am not sure she is the fashion icon she sees herself as.  It is cute at six, however, I don’t believe that if I was to copy her style, that it would either be viewed as cute or fashionable.  We may not do this with clothing, but I do think we try to do this in different ways as adults, especially within the church

Within our own Christianity, we say that God meets us right where we are, yet somehow we find ourselves portraying a picture of how we want people to see us, and rarely is it reflective of a God that takes us mess and all.  We feel that in order to be a good representation of God, we have to be the finished product.  When we adopt this thinking, we hide all our flaws and only show our best self even if that isn’t a true reflection of who we are.  My daughter could care less when she picks out her outfits in the morning of what I think or anyone thinks, that is where she is at.  As she gets older she will learn what does and doesn’t match.  She will also become more self-aware.  The one thing we all have in common is our humanity, the fact that we all fall short. Hopefully, we are growing, we love showing everyone the areas we have already grown in but it is so much more difficult to show our shortcomings or what we are currently working on.  That takes vulnerability.  I believe vulnerability is a strength if we will allow it to be.  My vulnerability makes me more relatable and it also makes others feel safe.  There is no safety in shallow relationships. My best relationships are with those who have seen my worst and yet still believe in me, supported me, and have never pretended that I should aspire to be as put together as they are.  

We live in a world where people are masters of reading a room and figuring out who they need to be to gain the appeal of the room. We have a world where nobody knows who they actually are anymore because they are constantly fulfilling the needs of others rather than focusing on becoming a better me or more importantly who God intended me to be.  There is a very powerful lesson in coming to terms with the fact that not everyone will love you and there are people who can’t handle a messier or more authentic you.  Authenticity isn’t just your wonderful moments, it is also your fears, mistakes, and challenges.  We are all flawed, we all need grace and compassion. When no safe space exists it is easy to find ourselves isolated and full of anxiety.  I know this from my own experience.

There was an experience I had with a church leader several years ago, where I was being open and honest about the grief that I was experiencing.  The grieving process had started 4 months prior to this conversation. Anyone who has ever gone through grief knows that it is a process that looks different for everyone and does not have a specific time frame.  This church leader had pointed out that they could visibly see that I was sad and heartbroken and then they began to question how deep my roots were and if I was bearing good fruit.  That moment really shaped how I approached the next few years after.  It meant that I suffered in silence.  It didn’t stop my pain, it just meant I kept it to myself and learned to smile a bit more and act cheery even when I felt heartbroken.  There was no safety. To be honest, I didn’t even believe that what this specific leader had said, I just knew that they weren’t safe. At that moment I had hoped to find understanding and encouragement but instead was met with judgment.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Romans 12:15-16

I love Romans 12 because the whole passage is on genuine love and what that should look like in our own life.  Being a vulnerable leader means letting our guard down, it means allowing ourselves to have empathy.  Vulnerability means sacrificing our need to share our wisdom in order to listen and connect to what others are experiencing regardless of whether we are rejoicing with them or weeping with them.  We need to be with people where they are at, after all, that is what Jesus does has always done. 

As church leaders, we get it wrong.  We mess up, especially when we are dealing with things we don’t understand and have not experienced ourselves.  We need to feel comfortable in those moments to say, I have no idea, I have never been through that but…I know someone who has. For myself, I want to always eir on the side of grace and empathy. There have been many times as a leader where I have gotten this wrong, where I know that I thought I was doing the right thing but I have hurt someone. In those moments I want to have the humility enough to say, I am sorry, I handled that wrong.  As leaders, we need to be vulnerable.  We need to admit when we get it wrong, we need to be quick to say sorry.   We need to not be afraid of people we lead, seeing our faults. Again, our humanity is what connects us to each other.  Our highlight reel will only isolate us and those around us.  

My encouragement to you is, your own failures and weaknesses might be exactly what God wants to use, they may actually be the connection point to someone else finding freedom.  Haven’t you experienced healing because someone else has been vulnerable enough to share?  I know I have.  People are craving authenticity in a world where authenticity is lacking.  Choose to be someone people can connect to, someone who is confident regardless of their shortcomings because you know that God is bigger than your shortcomings. One of the most miraculous things about humanity is how we continue to thrive despite our weakness and insecurity because we recognize our need for God.

Choose Your Path!

Over the last month or so, there has been this phrase thrown around which I am sure you have heard, “the new normal.”  Everyone is talking about a “new normal” after quarantine; I have seen two different reactions to this idea.  People are either excited or fearful at the idea of a “new normal”. There is uncertainty about what the future holds and, for the most part, it is accompanied by concern or fear.  As you may know, if you have read my other posts, I value consistency and security, I don’t believe I am alone there.  Consistency is also essential for my children who have autism.  The pandemic plus moving states has been hard on my three kids, however, I do believe that when we get outside of our normal routine or there is an end to a season, there is an opportunity that comes with it.

We have an opportunity at this time to reevaluate our normal.  It is easy to reminisce about times before quarantine and it gives us so many things to be grateful for.  However, what about the portions that weren’t so wonderful?  Maybe, you actually didn’t enjoy the job you have been laid off from or furloughed.  Extra time with your kids might have revealed some areas you would like to adjust, so you can make the most with the time you have with your family.  Now is the time to reevaluate and make changes.   There is an opportunity to dream up what you would like your new normal to look like and to start taking action steps now.  When your routine has been turned upside down, you get to decide what your new schedule will look like.  If you want to change your diet and add in exercise, now’s the time to do it.  If you’re considering a change in career, maybe now’s the time to seriously consider it. Maybe you have been wanting to say no to some things because you overfilled your plate, this is the perfect time to change that. Whatever it may be, while everything is in limbo, now is the time to make major changes.

There have been season changes in my life that I have just let happen and then there are the ones I have taken charge of.   The seasons I have taken charge of have been seasons where I have thrived and felt the most growth in.  These are the seasons where my relationship with God has grown and my marriage has grown.  The seasons where I have either not had the energy to embrace or have just been frozen in fear, they have not been my most flourishing or rewarding seasons.  In fact, those seasons have been some of my most painful growth seasons. Those seasons are where I have learned some lessons the hard way.  

For those of us who know and love God, we know that our future is in God’s hand, we trust Him.  However, we all have seasons where we have had to walk out some heartbreaking experiences.  In order to go where God is taking us, we have had to walk through some deep valleys, not knowing when the end is coming.  Trusting God has not meant there won’t be any valleys or it will be easy or without pain.  Trusting God is knowing that the valley leads to a mountain, which leads to a mountain top that produces perspective.  Our time in the valley determines our growth and strength to climb the mountain which in turn produces the perspective we get when we reach the mountain top. The dreams we dream and steps we take in the valley determine the path we choose and the mountain we will climb. Choose your path!

In so many ways our world is in a valley right now.  The world is mourning the loss of family and friends, we are mourning lost jobs and not knowing how we are going to pay the mortgage and feed our children.  Amongst all the sorrow, fear, and uncertainty, we will begin to put one foot in front of the other and before you know it we will be climbing out of this valley.  Let’s begin to dream of what we want that mountain to look like.  Let’s make sure we like the path we are on, that it leads to a view or perspective we can be proud of.  Let me encourage you that great things will come out of this season because you have no choice but to reevaluate and to build upon the great things you had when it was normal.  

For myself, I am thinking through what I want for this next season and as cliche as it may sound, I want to invest more in relationships.  My friendships have taken a hit in this last season and I want to make sure that I put some energy and value into the people who mean the most to me.  We have just moved states so everything is different but as it may feel like we are starting over again, we are not.  We carry with us the wisdom, growth, and experiences we have had in our prior seasons with us.  Starting a new season doesn’t mean we erase our prior seasons but we can leave the not so good experiences and take all the good that we have experienced with us.   You can do the same in this season.  Here are some questions for you to ponder…

  • What are those things in your life that you would like to see change whether they be small changes or massive changes?  
  • Are there portions of your life, you are happy to let go of?  
  • Are there experiences or areas of your life you would like to take with you?  
  • Are you frozen in fear or are you taking steps?

As we keep our eyes set on God, we can be certain that we will find ourselves on a path that will lead to the right mountain. “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him;” – Psalm 37:23. So let’s do some dreaming, let’s give space for hope and anticipation for our next season.  A new normal does not have to be bad and full of fear and dread, it can also give room for new ideas and fresh outlooks. 

Scars Tell Stories

The most challenging part of parenting I have encountered so far is watching my children experience pain whether it is emotional or physical. When Moses was six weeks old, we learned that he had Craniosynostosis. His skull had fused while in utero which meant ultimately he would have a disfigured head and it would put pressure on his little developing brain. The solution was major surgery which would include cranial reconstructive surgery. The cranial reconstructive surgery would involve removing pieces of his skull and reshaping them as well as cutting little holes all over his scull to allow the brain to grow. Even though, the surgery sounded scary and painful, we knew it was what was best for Moses and never hesitated in our decision.

At eight months Moses underwent this incredibly painful surgery for an opportunity to have a better standard of life. The alternative was a shortened life-span, cranial-pressure that could cause severe headaches, blindness, and developmental delays. The surgery was a gift for Moses but it didn’t come without challenge. It required him to be brave and go through a painful recovery.

Moses’ surgery went perfect but it was painful for Tom and I to watch Moses’ recovery, he didn’t understand why his head hurt, why his eyes were swollen shut and why he was in a hospital bed hooked up to several different things. However, the surgery was a necessary pain so that he could have the abilities he has now. Craniosynostosis is part of his story.

We have used this part of Moses’ story to show him how brave he was and how his future was greatly impacted for the better through that surgery. The scar across his head acts as a reminder of how amazing it is that his life trajectory changed that day. Moses is incredibly smart, he excels in math, is inventive and has a long life ahead of him. We will forever be grateful for that surgery.

Teaching our kids that sometimes pain is necessary for growth, necessary for much-needed change and apart of life has been so important to us. There are painful times in life where we question the why behind what we go through. I often-times wonder if God is like Tom and me looking at our eight-month-old Moses who had no understanding of why we were allowing the doctors to cause him pain, he was unable to see affect it would have on his future. We didn’t enjoy watching our son go through the pain, it was heartbreaking but it was essential because we wanted the best for his future. We wanted Moses to become the Moses he was created to be. We allowed Moses to go through the pain of his surgery to avoid future pain that would have been more devastating.

We don’t always understand why God allows us to go through pain but we also do not have the big picture. Craniosynostosis wasn’t a punishment for Moses, neither was his surgery. However, he has greatly benefited from what caused him pain. He knows he is courageous and can do hard things. We learn through our experiences, what is inside of us. There are some really incredible strengths in us that we may not know exist until we are in a place where we have to use them.

We have incredible opportunities as parents to teach our children that life is not without pain and it most definitely isn’t always easy but they are brave and resilient. They can not only can get through painful times but they can actually come out of them stronger and grow in empathy and love. Sometimes there pain is essential to avoid future pain.

God doesn’t enjoy or relish in us being in pain. However, God has an incredible way of taking truly painful parts of our story and pulling out the good, even if that good seems so small. Whatever difficult and painful thing you are going through right now has the potential to bring out some incredible treasures within you that you didn’t know existed. It doesn’t minimize your pain and suffering but it gives bravery and courage to your story.

Just like Moses’ scar across his head, we have scars that tell a part of our story. What parts of your story can you now look back on and say I am____ (fill in the blank) and I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t have gone through that experience? Or, where can you say, I wouldn’t be who I am today without that part of my story? I most certainly can say that about many experiences. You may not be able to see any good that has come from your pain and that is ok. You may even want to scream at me while reading this, I’ve also been there. My hope for you is that one day, you will see the incredible strength and courage you have to get through it.

Small Victories Mean Big Celebrations

The most important and life-changing lesson my children have taught me is to stop and celebrate the small victories. When my three kids were diagnosed with autism, there were a lot of challenges and hurdles that we knew they would face and that we would face as a family. For a long time, I was overwhelmed every day by the day and its challenges. There are still days like that, where I feel so overwhelmed by life and all its uncertainties.

There are many things are very challenging, when you have children with autism. Going to a restaurant, I better have my running shoes on and bill paid at the beginning. If I want to take all three kids to the store by myself, yeah, that never happens. There are so many stories I can tell you about where it all went wrong, some highly embarrassing, some terrifying, some heartbreaking and some just flat out frustrating. However, I will save those for another time.

Perspective truly is vital to contentment and joy. By no means do I have this down. There are days where I am just sad or overwhelmed by the challenges of life and can’t seem to get myself to see anything good. However, I am learning that there is always something to be grateful for and always something to celebrate. There are so many highs and lows in life. Life can be unpredictable and can really throw difficult things in our way. Even amongst all of it, there are little moments along the way to celebrate. Some days it may be that you chose to get out of bed, or that you have a bed that offers you comfort and rest when it is too hard to get out of bed. When we celebrate the small victories in life, it doesn’t mean denial of your current season or that we don’t allow ourselves to grieve. Acknowledging the small victories gives us hope. Hope is important and vital to survival. Hope will get you through the most difficult of seasons.

When I began to celebrate the small victories in my kids, it was hard not to be grateful. My husband and I are so grateful for the community and team of therapists and educators we have around us. They have seen me on my darkest days and have encouraged me to see the accomplishments and growth my kids have made. These people are superstars in my life and have inspired me in so many ways. If you don’t have people around you that do this I would encourage you to read my last blog. These people are largely responsible for the victories we get to celebrate.

My oldest son, Elijah has known the Pledge of Allegiance by heart for years now and he could be heard around the house saying it and yelling a big ‘Amen!!!’ at the end. He is incredibly smart but doesn’t always see the value of sharing it with others. Recently, Elijah not only recited the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom for the school but also read out the announcements. Elijah saw value in reciting it in front of his peers, this was a victory in our books and was celebrated. Elijah rarely does what you ask just because you ask. Often, things need to incentivized and even then sometimes it just doesn’t happen. A couple of years ago I tried to get Elijah to have school lunches in hopes that maybe he might see his peers eating certain foods and try them himself. It was a fail, he is such a picky eater and there is no incentive big enough to get him to try new foods. This year, however, I decided to just mention to him in passing that if he sees something he wants he has lunch money on his card and he can try it. To be honest I wasn’t really expecting him to do it. He came home very excited to tell me that he had tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I have never been able to get him to try a PB&J. We celebrated. There was jumping, there were high fives and lots of praise! It may not seem like a big thing but it was a victory that gave me hope that one day maybe we will try to eat vegetables other than pickles. In those moments I could say to myself, he’s been reciting the pledge for years or it was just a PB&J, it wasn’t something healthy. However, it isn’t helpful to my children or me. These are all small victories that will lead to bigger victories and that fills me with hope.

If you are anything like me, you are hard on yourself and your worst critic. At the end of the day when that voice says you didn’t get everything on your list done, you can choose to celebrate what you did get done instead. If you are in a season of heartache, I have been there a few times myself and there were days the pain felt too much and I couldn’t see anything good and honestly sometimes didn’t want to. If that’s you, you will dance again. One moment at a time, one step at a time, you will get there. The victory in these seasons is that you survived another day when you didn’t think you could. For that you are courageous.

Cheerleaders and Critics

Last spring I signed the boys up for a soccer program that they have for children with special needs. The program is great, they teach them soccer skills and then at the last practice they play a game with the parents. The plan originally was for Tom, my husband to go with the boys and Esther and I were going to have some girl time every week. However, Tom ended up having to work, so I had to take the boys every week and Esther had to watch the boys practice.

I thought that Esther would be upset at the thought of not being able to play, but she wasn’t. Instead, she took a self-appointed position as the team cheerleader. She would stand on the side yelling, “give me an A, give me a P, give me an R, give me an E, go Elijah and Moses”. Esther may not have been able to spell or read, but it did not put a damper in her spirit. She was doing ‘cartwheels’ and leg kicks and everything. She could have been jealous that she wasn’t the one playing or she could have called out everything the boys weren’t doing but instead she chose to cheer them on. She wasn’t calling out where they lacked but she was calling out there potential to be superstar soccer players. I love my little girls’ spirit.

If we lived in a perfect world and were surrounded by people who cheered us on, we would truly believe the sky was our limit. We wouldn’t have any inhibitions. We would truly excel in our talents and gifting. However, we do not live in a world where everyone is cheering for us, there will always be critics. It has been said many times and in many different ways, that who we surround ourselves with will determine where we go. Sometimes we can control who we are surrounded by and then sometimes we just simply can’t. We need to identify who’s voices we hear the loudest. Sometimes the line can be a bit blurry of who are critics are and who are cheerleaders are.

One thing we do know about cheerleaders is that they cheer whether their team is winning or losing. It doesn’t matter if their team has a slim chance of bouncing back, cheerleaders call out the best in their team. After-all a cheerleader has seen their team at their best and knows what they are capable of. They know their strengths and they know their weaknesses. However, they are there to cheer on the best in there team.

If you are surrounded by critics, you will only see your shortcomings and you will avoid risk at all costs. After all, risk may lead to failure and failure may reveal your own weaknesses. Your weaknesses aren’t safe with critics. Critics like to focus on other’s weaknesses and rarely get to know your strengths or appreciate your strengths. Listening to critics will evoke fear and you will tend always lean towards the safe choice or stay put. Fear will also cause you to over-analyze your decision-making abilities.

However, cheerleaders will call out the potential that you may not even see in yourself. When you feel like giving up they are the ones reaching out to you and encouraging you, telly you that you’ve got this. Find those people who see the best in you, who will pull you up when you need to be pulled up and who will even push you when you need a bit of a push. Cheerleaders will remind you of your strengths when you feel like you have failed and push you to try again.

There are many seasons where I have felt overwhelmed by critics. One particular season comes to mind where I thought that the people I had surrounded myself with wanted the best for me, that there harsh words and critiques were there to help me. That may have even been there intent but it just left me feeling small, incapable and not enough. I wanted to be teachable and take in all the feedback because I wanted to be a better me. This individual had told me I was too loud, attention-seeking and prideful. So I felt I needed to be quiet, never talk too much or joke around in case it was perceived as attention-seeking and that I needed to fade into the background to become humble. This person also had convinced me that those who cared about me most were not good for me. I had eliminated all the cheerleaders in my life and had believed the very worst about myself.

Once I realized that this person’s voice needed to be removed from life, I made drastic life choices to ensure the voices in my life were positive voices and that they were people who genuinely wanted to see me do well in life. That season of life taught me to be very careful with who you allow to influence you. That season helped me evaluate myself and recognize the areas where I was at risk of being a critic.

Regularly, I ask myself am I a critic or a cheerleader to those around me. I know which one I want to be. Cheering people on will always cost more than being a critic. It takes patience, being supportive, and being there for the long haul. Oh, but when they win, you feel like you win too. Critics don’t plan for people to succeed, they plan for people to fail. Critics hone in on every mistake. We don’t cheer for people because they are perfect but because in spite of not being perfect, people do succeed.

Maybe you don’t feel like you fit into the role of player, critic, or cheerleader. Maybe you have sitting on the bench. I want to be the one to come along you and say it’s time to get up, you got this. You have what it takes. We might even fail, but we are going to fail together until we win! Everyone has there unique part to play. If you need to sit out on the bench for a bit to catch your breath or relax, that’s ok, just don’t stay there. The world needs you and what you have to bring.