Friday, August 21, 2009

The Day the Cuteness Died

Little kids know they're cute, and it doesn't take long for them to really get a handle on the sort of power with which their innate cuteness imbues them. Most kids know how to use the puppy dog eyes and the crocodile tears to their advantage, and many have a favorite aunt or uncle or friend-of-a-parent wrapped tightly and mercilessly around their tiny little finger. Cuteness is some powerful stuff.

Until it wears off.

My aunt Kathie, known to me as "Aunt Kas", used to adore me. She noogied me and hugged me and kissed me, and just generally ate me alive whenever we went to her house for the holidays. The routine was always the same; I'd run ahead of my mom to ring the doorbell next to the big French doors of her home, and I'd listen to Kelly the Collie barking and the sound of footsteps growing closer. Then, Aunt Kas would swing open the door and make an exaggeratedly surprised and delighted face, as if she hadn't known I was coming, and scoop me up into her arms as she exclaimed, always, "It's Jena Jo!"

That went on for about five or six years. For five or six years, on some level, I thought I was really something. I never thought I was particularly cute -- I had a goofy eye that wandered when I was tired and made me see double, and funky reddish hair that never seemed to stay neatly braided, and a perfectly normal little-kid body that always seemed, to me, a bit too round in the belly and butt -- but Aunt Kas did, and for those five or six years, I rather enjoyed it.

Then something snapped. I don't know what it was -- I don't recall growing a hump on my back or a third eye or breaking out in a contagious rash -- but after age six, the cuteness must have worn off. I distinctly remember the Christmas Eve when it happened. I stood there, at her big French doors, waiting to be swept off of my Mary Janes and called adorable. Instead, Aunt Kas opened the door, smiled a little, squeezed my shoulder with one hand and said, "Hi, Jen." That was it. That was all I got. I had lost my touch. The glamor of the Cute Life was gone, and I was just a six-year-old kid with a wandering eye and messy braids. Ho hum.

This sort of thing still happens to adults, unfortunately. Human beings have rather short attention spans, and it seems we fall in and out of attractions with the shifting of the breeze. Just this week, I read a friend's post about her boyfriend of three years who had decided she just didn't do it for him anymore. She just wasn't enough. Her appeal had worn off, as far as he was concerned. I have several friends whose spouses decided, after many years, that they wanted a change -- they had a taste for a different flavor, so to speak.

Ouch. No one like rejection -- neither the insecure six-year-old or the middle-aged exec who seems to live above the threshold of emotional fragility. We want to know that we are loved. Wanted. Desired. Adored. Appreciated. Valued. Cherished. And we want to know that our status as such is not subject to change. Unfortunately, few things in this life offer that sort of insurance policy.

"I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love..." (Romans 8:39, The Message)

There we go. There's something stable, something changeless and solid and unshakable. There's a love that isn't contingent upon my cuteness. I can't make myself endearing enough to earn it, and I can't become so ugly as to lose it. It is what it is, because God is who He is. Period.

Had I known this love when I was six years old, it might not have rocked my world so much when I outgrew my cuteness and lost the power I thought it had given me. And if you know it now, maybe you can rest in this same assurance: You are loved... and your status as the beloved is not subject to change.

Monday, August 17, 2009

We're All In This Together

At my church, whenever we have a baby or child dedication ceremony, we have made it our practice to say to the parents, as a congregation, "We promise to withhold any and all judgment of this child and his parents while he is being raised." That part always puts a little lump in my throat, to be honest.

As a single parent, I tend to be a little hard on myself, a little overly self-criticial of my mommy skills (and general competency). As a mom, I'm so far from perfect that I often feel guilty even wearing the title of 'mother.' My kid, likewise, is not a perfect kid. Fortunately, though, I've yet to meet a perfect child, and this brings me a little comfort.

He's a good kid -- mostly kind, definitely tender-hearted, smart and quick and precocious and funny as all get-out. He can also be mouthy, selfish, bullheaded, stubborn and strong-willed. (I know those last three basically mean the same thing, but if you'd ever met Jaden, you would know that he deserves all three adjectives). It seems the proverbial apple indeed does not fall far from the tree.

There is no one on this earth I love more than my child. There is also no one on this earth who so regularly and effectively threatens to compromise my sanity. And I don't always handle myself like an adult, quite frankly.

Last Friday, for example, is a day that will go down in history as one of my less-stellar mommy moments -- one of the rare occasions when my child screamed at me and I, the rational superior adult with the advantage of a more evolved and developed handle on impulse control, chose to just scream right back at him. It was not a moment I wanted any of you to know about, honestly.

And yet here I am writing about it. Why? Because I think we need to be real with one another about how hard this parenting gig really is. None of us have it all together. Not even those friends of mine whom I always tell myself are much better parents than I am.

Here's the cold, hard fact: kids are human beings. Kids have rules to follow (or, at least, they should; they need them, and secretly want them on some level). Kids can make choices. If we are doing our jobs as parents, the choices will have consequences, whether positive or negative, and we will let those consequences befall them. Kids have free will, from day one. And that means they will embarrass us at some point. And they will push our buttons. And they might even wear us down so far that we scream, even those of us who are self-declared "scream-free parents."

It hasn't happened to me often, but it has happened. And it might have even happened to you. And now that I've admitted it, you can, too. Even if only to yourself.

Look, parenting is hard. So let's choose to withhold judgment of one another and of one another's children. Let's do what we can to encourage one another and keep it real. We're all in this together.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tattling... in Jesus' Name

You know how it is when you have someone in your life who weighs heavy on your heart, whose face pops up on the post-it note of your brain whenever you stop to pray, your concern for whom can keep you up late at night? You know how it is when you have several someones in that same category? Yeah, me too.

So, late last night, I go to God, like usual, and I start blabbing about my friends. I tell Him everything He may be missing as He observes them from His lifeguard chair. I tell Him about their behaviors, their slip-ups, their desperate need for Him. I ask Him to please intervene, step up, DO something, for Pete's sake... um, in Jesus' name, of course.

I'm halfway through my spiritual rant, working up some good momentum, starting to "feel" like I'm really interceding in love, really making a difference, really getting through. God's gonna come through; He's gonna be on top of things now. Good thing I prayed. Right?

And then, almost audibly, I hear: "Shhhhhhhhhh."

Excuse me? I start in again. "Anyway, God, would you please get a hold of so-and-so, grab them by the heart and--"

Again: "Shhhhhhhhhhh."

What the... I'm praying here! I'm trying to be spiritual! And God is shushing me? But it was unmistakable. Every time I started in again to pray, I sensed it. It wasn't condemning (it never is, when it's really God)... in fact, it was reassuring. It was as if I could hear the spirit of God say, "I know, Jena. You're not telling me anything I don't already know. I've got this; I'm on it. You can sleep now."

I don't sense it when I am praying for someone's physical healing, as I have been for a pastor in our area. I don't sense it when I am praying for people who are being victimized or persecuted. I only sense it when I am tattling. It seems our parents were right; no one likes a tattletale. Not even God.

He knows what His kids are up to. That whole eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head thing, that we thought our mothers invented -- He's got that down. He sees all; nothing gets past Him. Nothing is beyond Him. No one hides from Him -- no one. (Sigh... not even me.)

So if you have those people in your life, weighing heavy on your heart, maybe you can take some comfort in my tale of tattling. Maybe if you listen for it, you'll hear it too: "Shhhhhhhh. I know. Rest."

I guess we might as well.