Monday, February 2, 2015

To: The Middle Ground

Call it what you want - - the middle ground; the perfect balance; healthy boundaries; a little of this and a little of that; a delicate combination.  It seems these expressions are tossed out in conversations as the ultimate resolution – about tons of different subjects - with minimal directions attached… as if the very words hold the answer.  You can have a mountain of insecurities, questions, or thoughts, and once one of these sayings gets dropped, game over.  Conversation done.  Wait, what?

Am I missing something here? 

Disciplining children.  Well, you want them to know their boundaries, respect you as authority, but not stifle their personalities or break their spirit. There’s a delicate balance in parenting. Okay, well, what does that actually look like?

Working.  Make sure you’re doing something with purpose, give your all, go above and beyond, but don’t neglect your family or lose sight of your priorities.  You have to find the healthy combination.  Hmm…so, is that like 50 hours a week? 

Relationships.  Be a listener, be dependable, love your neighbor as yourself but don’t let others take advantage of you or treat you as a doormat.  Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.  Okay, so, as long as you don’t expect too much from me, you can be my friend…   

Money.  Be responsible in your saving, start setting aside for retirement now, make a budget, use the cash system but understand it all belongs to the Lord, and you should be willing to give it away freely.  There’s a middle ground in how hard you work for money without holding onto it too tightly. I don’t even know here

Parenting.  These little people are your responsibilities, raise them right, they’re your first priority but don’t let them dictate your schedule or rule the house.  It’s a little blend of love and discipline.  Sorry, little one, I’m in charge here, and I don’t really feel like making breakfast today, so…

I could go on and on here with examples.  Where’s the answer?  Where’s this sacred Middle Ground everyone speaks of?  Sometimes I feel like it’s a unicorn that’s hiding at the end of the rainbow, that only a few lucky souls ever find. Well, folks, I hate to break it to you, but I’ve searched high and low and discovered: it doesn’t really exist. 

That’s right.  I’m calling the bluff.  I’m peeling back the curtain.  I’m letting the cat out of the bag.  These haphazard phrases that get tossed into conversations as acceptable, logical, and helpful should come with a warning sign, for with it comes several strings attached.

You see, this Middle Ground is actually different for every person.  We are a human race made up of millions of different personality types, billions of strengths and weaknesses, an infinite number of schedules, demands, family dynamics, and endless amounts of experiences and goals.  Everybody’s Middle Ground is different.  “A little of this” for me may be “a lot of that” for you…  So, again, we’re going in circles.  We’re skirting around the answer.  We’re lost in the shades of gray we create for ourselves. 

So, the question isn’t about a Middle Ground, it’s about where you’re going, because while the Middle Ground sounds like a great answer, it sounds like somewhere you can get stuck.  We want to find Middle Ground, but we won’t want to stay there forever because life around us is always changing, evolving… The Middle Ground I come to as I parent my toddler through tempter tantrums today probably won’t be the same one I tread when she’s a teenager wanting to car date, right?  Stakes will change, circumstances will vary – so where does that leave us?  Again, you have to ask yourself, what’s the destination?  Where am I going?  What’s my main goal here? 

And, if you don’t know that, my friend, no “balance” in your life will ever make sense.  No boundaries you set will ever feel helpful.  Shalom will be impossible to experience when nothing in your grasp is stable or consistent. 

So, when we feel like we’re at that place where this sacred Middle Ground is the missing ingredient to an otherwise peaceful existence, we need to look no further than the ultimate human being.  The One who lived a perfect life for thirty four years, then died so that we could freely emulate him.  He came to be an example.  He came to show us how to hold tight to something that doesn’t waver.  He taught us how to lean into Him when areas of our life run us ragged. 

God in the Flesh.  The Word Incarnate.  Emmanuel.  God with Us.  Jesus.  He didn’t come to just hang out and spread cheer or offer some helpful phrases to be painted on the canvas in your living room.  He came to relate.  To empathize.  To bear the cross.  To run the race.  To walk the walk and talk the talk. 

He didn’t come to Earth so that we would wander aimlessly in search of some ambiguous advice that we hope works, he came to show us how to live.  We don’t need to search for this Middle Ground, we need to find Jesus.

You’ve read every parenting book, talked to your friends with older kids, but have you prayed specifically about your child?  Maybe you don’t need to combine the current parenting techniques, maybe you need to understand and confess the children you’re raising really aren’t yours – they belong to God.  They were created in His image, not yours. 

You have a friend that constantly needs advice or is in a bad mood.  You feel drained.  Do you set boundaries because she brings you down or are you just annoyed by her? Did Christ feel put out by those who needed a Savior?  Would he roll his eyes when someone brought up the same thing again and again?  No, his source of love flowed from his Father, so he didn’t run dry on grace or understanding.  Do you need to set boundaries for that friend or do you need to love others with a love that doesn’t depend on your mood, circumstances, or feelings?

Your kids are growing fast, but you spend all your extra time at the office.  What’s the harm in that – you’re supporting their lifestyle, their future?  You want to give them opportunities you never had, but do they know you?  Even God knew that relationship would be the most influential in making an impact, so he left his “office” to spend time with his kids. 

So, while I don’t think the Middle Ground actually exists, I do think it should be a trigger for us.  When we find ourselves in search of this Middle Ground, let’s not search for a formula that fits our schedule, our wants, or our budget, let’s ask ourselves, Where is Christ in this?  Because, unlike the other variables in our life, He will not change. 

Have we reflected on His words, His ministry, or His life as we do this soul searching? If not, we’re minimizing his sacrifice and dwarfing his influence; 
we’re taking for granted one of the most miraculous events in all of history and forgetting that He. Was. Here. 

He ate, slept, bathed, spoke, walked – He was human.  Just like us.  So, don’t fret over the Middle Ground, don’t lose sleep as it seems to be some hypothetical place you can’t reach, instead search for Him, for He always was, always will be, and always is Right There.

He was human, just like us, so that we could be Just Like Him.  And, that, my friends, will always offer more solid footing than any Middle Ground. 

From:  Paige

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To: My Two Year Old

That’s right.  Molly Jean turned TWO years old last week.  Two.  2.  Dos.  II. 

No matter how I say it or type it, I still can’t believe it. 

In one instance, I want to say, “Wow, where has the time gone?”  And, in the next breath, I think, “Really?  She’s only two?” 

When They say “the days go slow and the years go fast”, I’d say they’ve hit that nail on the head.  Big Time.

On one hand it feels like just yesterday we brought her home from the hospital. 

Then, on the other hand, it doesn’t.  It feels like we’ve had two solid years of diapers, nursing, sleep cycle changes, solid foods, crawling, weaning, teething, walking, leg splints, traveling with a baby, running, scraped knees, busted lips, meltdowns, giggles, books, toys, all things Frozen, sippy cups, moodiness, twirling, swinging, and talking. (Phew.) 

Yes, it has gone by sooo fast. 

But not really. 

See, it’s a constant dichotomy.      

And, it’s tricky to parent in such circumstances. 

On one hand, I want to capture every single moment on camera.  I want to celebrate every cute expression, be present for each new word, soak in all of your sweetness, and be able to write a novel about all the small things that make you Molly Jean Langford. 

Then, on the other hand, I’m just your parent.  Not a stalker or a crazed fan. 

I’ve been charged to raise, teach, guide, and love you.  Not worship you. 

I’ve only been your mother for two years, but I can already see how these great ironies of parenthood are present everywhere.

I want you to grow up feeling loved, safe, and valued, but I don’t want you to become a mini deity in our home or feel entitled to anything.

I want to provide you with an environment to grow, learn, and achieve your dreams, but I don’t want you to take it for granted or let it go by the waste side.

I want you to come to me when you have questions, concerns, or thoughts about life, but I don’t want to be your best friend (until after you’re 18) or your crutch.

I want to show up at every extracurricular activity you have, but I don’t want us to be consumed by your busy schedule or calendar.   

I want you to love others and make lasting friendships, but I don’t want you to depend on people for your joy or security. 

I want to encourage you to follow your heart and chase your dreams, but I want you to understand that it involves hard work and perseverance. 

I want you to try new things and press forward, but I don’t want you to think that excludes making mistakes or experiencing failure.

I want to give you every opportunity you desire, but I don’t want you to not know how to cope when things get hard or don’t go your way.

I pray that you are successful in life, but I don’t want it to be by the world’s standards.

I’ll be honest.  When I read this list of my hopes and dreams for you, I can panic.  I can take the selfish approach and think:  How am I going to teach you all of these things?  Chances are my life – words, actions, attitude - won’t always align with these desires I have for you. 

Some days I will fall short.  Some days I will be cranky.  Some days I will be so consumed by a schedule, we’ll feel like little hamsters on that pinwheel toy.  There will be times when I snap at you, embarrass you, give lame advice, annoy you, or have to miss something of yours.  I don’t have all the answers now, and I imagine it’ll remain that way for a long, long time.     

 But, that’s because I’m your parent.  Not your Savior. 

I’m your guardian.  Not your Creator.

I’m your mother.  Not your Lord.

I can give you a good life.  Not Eternal Life. 

I want you to experience joy, freedom, peace, adventure, and love in this life, but as your parent, I have to remember, I am not the source or foundation for any of these. 

I won’t be able to do anything perfect.  I will miss the mark daily.  But if I learn how to do one thing well as your mom, I pray it’s the ability to point to Christ. 

There will be times when I’m tired, unsure, under qualified, hurt, confused, or ill equipped, but I hope through all those obstacles, you still see my eyes raised, my hands open, and my knees to the ground. 

I can give you all of my love.  I can give you all of my support.  I can give you all of my time, energy, devotion, and resources.  Everything I have is yours.  But it won’t save you.  It won’t redeem you.  And, it doesn’t identify you. 

I held you as you took your first breaths.  I cuddled you on my chest as your umbilical cord was cut.  I kissed you and cried while your squishy, sticky, and bloody little body wiggled and wailed against me.  Those beautiful memories are mine, and my perspective on life has greatly altered since that moment. 

You are my family, and that old saying has never rung more true: blood is thicker than water.  I will battle for you, defend you, stand up for you, and fight for you.  I would give my life up for you. 

But the blood He shed for you is thicker than anything I can offer. 

I am your mother, but you are His daughter. 

And, the greatest gift I can give you is to remember that in all I do. 

From every mundane activity to the most pivotal moments in your life, I pray I see you first as a Daughter of the King. 

With that perspective, I am looking forward to the years ahead.  The training wheels, first days of school, junior high, Driver’s Ed, Prom.  They will all be seasons that we experience alongside of you with excitement and nostalgia, but for now, we will enjoy your third year. 

We’ll listen for your new words.  We will embark on potty training, and maybe even a “big girl” bed.   We may find out about those “Terrible Two’s”, and we’ll learn more about your personality as it blossoms. 

Yes, parenting is full of ironies and paradoxes, but that’s the beauty of it.  If it was simple and formulaic, we’d forget we can’t do it on our own.  If it was easy, we wouldn’t need grace for all of our shortcomings.  If it was a walk in the park, I’d claim you as my own prize.  My work of art.  My doing.  My masterpiece.  When, really, you’re His, His, His. 

Yes, I have dreams, desires, prayers, and hopes for you in this life, but they’re all secondary to you knowing and loving Him.  Because, while our hearts ache for how much we love you, He loved you so much that He gave His one and only Son for you. 

So, no matter how broken or imperfect we are, we point.  No matter how prideful or humbled we feel, we point. 

We point to Christ because your two years were written in His book before any of them came to be. 

We love you so much, Molly Jean, that we point. 

All you need to do is look up.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl. 

From:  Paige (Mama)