Are You Who You Want to Be?

Conquering flower

About a month ago, I was driving home late one night by myself. Now if you are at a place in life where alone time is a common occurrence you might have just skipped blithely by that little prepositional phrase like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. So let me repeat it. I was in the car BY MYSELF. As a mom of 3 children under 5 this alone time thing is very rare. And so as any responsible adult who suddenly finds herself shed of her responsibilities, I was blaring the radio entirely too loud, the way the teenager that still lives trapped inside me likes her music. So on this night, this alone night, a song by the band Switchfoot from a few years ago happened to be playing on the radio and for some reason, though I’d heard the song before, the lyrics hit me in a fresh way. I haven’t stopped mulling them since. The song’s chorus is simple. It repeats this statement and question:

“This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; is it everything you dreamed,
when the world was younger and you had everything to lose?”

Of course, a question like this coming as you drive your mini-van, strewn with Cheerios and sippy cups, your shirt stained with baby’s sweet potato mash, on a drive out that is the first little bit of truly alone time you’ve had in a month because everyone in the family has been sick, sick, sick, is bound to make you stop and think. “Hmm… this mom-life I’m in the thick of, is it everything I dreamed?”

But it was the pronoun in the song that caught me off guard. The question isn’t are you “what” you want to be or are you “where” you want to be. The question isn’t: “Do you have all you wanted?” or “Are things going like you expected?” The question is: “Are you who you want to be?” It’s a question that gets to the heart of identity and character.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager and young adult, I spent a fair amount of time agonizing over the question of what I would do when I grew up. And yet, I don’t remember asking myself about “who” I wanted to be when I grew up—not in a way that would have elicited thoughts about what kind of character I wanted to possess. I had grandiose dreams of being on stage or being a writer. And I had more ordinary dreams of being a wife and a mother. But I don’t recall dreaming about becoming a woman of kindness, a woman whose first impulse is selflessness. I don’t remember dreaming about being a peacemaker or having that kind of deep joy in your heart that lets you smile even on the really rough days. I don’t remember dreaming about that, but I probably should have.

So I’ve been mulling this. And then this week and last, I’ve been making my way through a book called, “Expectant Parents” by Suzanne Gosselin. After reading my book, Waiting In Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, Gosselin, who formerly worked for Focus on the Family, wrote me last year to ask if she could interview me for her book. I was honored to share a little bit of my motherhood journey with her and her readers. And I’ve been delighted to see the final product in my hands. Gosselin has created a wonderful resource–a book that truly will help both moms and dads prepare not just their homes, but their hearts to welcome a precious little one.

So anyhow, I’m reading along in the book and I come across this chapter called “Roots” which is all about being the best parent you can be whether or not you’ve come from a strong family or a very broken one. And here, I stumble over these sentences where Gosselin is quoting Chrystal Evans Hurst: “Regardless of your situation—the pregnancy is earlier than planned, it’s unplanned, you’re by yourself, maybe you’re not with the guy—from this point forward you get to choose. You get to choose what kind of parent you’re going to be. You get to choose what kind of childhood you’re going to give your baby.”

And all I can think about as I put the book down is this: “This is your home, are you who you want to be?” My children will only get one childhood. They will only have one natural mother and father who shape their views of the world, of God, of love, and of who they are. This is their life; am I the mother I want to be?

Now of course, none of us will parent perfectly or even anywhere near it. But the fact that I will not be a perfect mother, doesn’t excuse me from striving to be the best mother I can possibly be for my children. As Hurst goes on to say in Gosselin’s book, “We create healthy kids by giving the best we can out of what we have to give.”

But this is what I think is so key: we spend way too much time thinking and worrying about the “what”, when the thing that is going to matter most of all for our kids is the “who”. Whether they learn to swim or ever hit a homerun, whether they read early or late, whether you move them cross country or stay close to home, whether illness strikes a blow at your family in a way you never imagined or a job-loss cripples your dreams—no matter the “what”, the “who” of you is what will be shaping them. And hopefully, as you shape them, loving them, however imperfectly, yet with all you have to give, you will also be pointing them to the much greater “Who”—the One whose nature never changes, the One who is perfect, and who will parent them perfectly even when you fail. This God we know as our loving Father.

Along with the haunting question posed in the Switchfoot song, “Are you who you want to be?” there’s also this warning and injunction, “Today is all you’ve got now. Today is all you’ll ever have. Don’t close your eyes.”

Everyone says it—you’ll blink and their childhood will be gone. So remember this: Today is your gift. Don’t close your eyes. Don’t miss it. Instead lean in. Worry less about the “what”; care more about the “who”. Be who God made you to be because God made you for them. They need you. They need God shining through you.

 

Hey, thanks for stopping by this little outpost of grace in a world that’s too weary. I hope you’ll stay awhile and be refreshed for the journey ahead. I write a lot about motherhood and have even written a book or two, which I hope may lead you or someone you know to walk just a bit closer with Jesus in this humbling journey they call life.  And if you’d like to hear more from me, I’d love to be one of those little voices of encouragement you look forward to finding in your inbox.

Less Than Picture Perfect

 

time out

It is the end of the day with my three little ones and I am spent. It hasn’t been a bad day, or even an unusual one for that matter. In fact, perhaps it is the very sameness of this day from the day which went before it which has me worn so thin.

So many words have left my mouth today: a litany of “Stop!”, “Don’t touch that!”, “Be careful!”, “Obey!”, “Listen.”, “Come here!”, “Be still,” and “Leave your brother alone.” Along with them comes a steady stream of reminders to say, “Please,” and “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, and “I forgive you.” There are reminders to pray, reminders to wash, reminders to share, reminders to brush, reminders to flush, reminders to show kindness, respect, and care. There is explaining, defining, and demonstrating. There are attempts at humor and times when the words come too hard or too soft.

And in case your days go blurry like mine with a dizzying torrent of no’s and stop’s and listen’s, let me just remind you that the fact that your days are full of words like these is not an indication that you are failing as a parent. But rather it is an indication that you are doing the hard business of training and instructing, correcting and paying attention to the details of raising small humans into (hopefully) responsible, loving, and generous adults one day.

Somehow, though, I think we all are surprised by the constancy of this need for discipline and training. We think we must be doing something wrong, or must have much more difficult children than so-and-so because our days are spent this way. When we come to the end of the day and we have had to reprimand them, repeat ourselves, and explain basic principles of decency and decorum, we feel at our wits’ end when really this is just the business of parenting.

Have we really been hoodwinked into expecting children to come out of the womb already kind and courteous, thoughtful and sensitive? Do we think somehow that doing the right thing and the hard thing (sharing, completing chores, stopping fun things to do challenging or laborious ones, leaving friends, listening to our body’s need for rest) should somehow come easily to them when it is often just as hard for us?

All of us are born bent and broken. And we don’t straighten out on our own. We need training, discipline and instruction. Change is not easy for any of us, and perhaps it is especially not easy for our little ones.

The point, and its simple, my friend, but worth re-stating: this constant need for discipline and instruction is the normal state of parenting affairs, especially when parenting very little ones. Don’t add to your burden by thinking you are failing, or that your children are, or that such repetitive need for instruction simply should not be. Our days are hard enough without unnecessary weights of guilt, inadequacy or shame.

Perhaps if we could stop thinking our days ought to be full of one pastel-filtered Instagram moment after another, we would be less ruffled by the normal childishness of our children. Perhaps if we could accept the rawness of our real moments, we’d find more satisfaction and less frustration in the importance of our roles in shaping that raw material into men and women of godly habits and character.

So don’t be flustered by your children’s misbehavior; seize the moment as an opportunity to explain what is right, good and true, as an opportunity to do the very hard but important job you’ve been called to do: parenting.

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For Those Who’ve Lost Themselves

afloat
There you are, mama, pacing the floor with a fussy baby. There you are on your knees sweeping up the stray rice and peas from beneath the high chair. There you are making silly voices for stories at bedtime, hushing a midnight terror, putting the pencil in a little hand the right way again, and tucking a tender note in a lunch box.

There’s no one watching, no paycheck coming, no accolades. You feel invisible and sometimes you feel lost. You feel like you’ve lost yourself, your identity, but you haven’t. You just have no one there to witness it in its flourishing: the compassion, the service, the creativity, the patience, the insight—all those things that make you you. They are there—they are just out of the public eye. You who are teacher, counselor, advocate, servant, strategic-thinker, and artist. You’ve lost yourself in a place where you are seldom thanked or acknowledged. But if you look more closely, you may see that there in that which seems menial and mundane, you have found yourself.

~*~

There you are, dear one, who is longing for motherhood. There you are serving in the nursery, tutoring a troubled child, opening up your home in hospitality, lovingly packing a shoebox for a faraway child at Christmas. There you are painting toenails with your nieces, lavishing hugs and kisses on a friend’s child, volunteering to be the middle school camp counselor.

There’s no one watching, no one who sees the ache for more. You feel invisible and overlooked. You wonder who you are because you are not where you always thought you would be. You wonder if you will ever be who you thought you were. You feel lost and afloat wondering who you are in the waiting without realizing you are already the woman you long to be. You too are a life-giver, a nurturer, an advocate and ally for the voiceless. Every child who comes into your path feels the joy of your delight in them. You may not be where you want to be, but there is no question about who you are. You are beautiful.

~*~

There you are, father working late into the night at a job that saps you. There you are on the floor wrestling with your boys when the weight of the world lies heavy on your shoulders. There you are in bumper to bumper traffic, working through your lunch hour to make it in time for little league. There you are roused out of bed on a Saturday to play matchbox cars. There you are having a tea party in a tiara with your baby-girl instead of watching the big game. There you are getting up too early, going to bed too late.

No one understands the constant pressure of the responsibilities you carry. You feel alone in the midst of constant motion. Whoever it is that you are feels submerged, lost under the heaviness of constantly caring for those under your charge. You wonder who you are anymore never realizing that you are leader, provider, and sustainer. You are light of your children’s world, comfort of your wife’s heart, and the braveheart who battles chaos to create a small haven of peace in a world of conflict.

~*~

There you are empty-nester pouring your wisdom into a new mom. There you are veteran visiting the wards of the wounded. There you are single-mom slugging through two jobs. There you are husband fighting to win back the heart of your wife. There you are mother of a prodigal praying her home. There you are teen sharing the lunch table with the outcast.

For all who’ve felt lost and un-noticed, for all who’ve wondered who they are, I whisper:

You find yourself in losing yourself. You find yourself in the midst of the mundane, in the simple service unobserved. It is in the quiet flourishing of gifts that go unheralded. Who are you? You are more than others see. You are the sum of your moments lived not for worldly accolades, but lived for the pure pleasure of God.

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Lean into Grace in 2014: Change the Way We Think About Change

contact Catherine Claire Larson

I don’t know about you, but this time of year stresses me out. We go from bowing our hearts at a manger cradle, embracing family, lavishing gifts on loved ones, and feasting to burying ourselves in guilt, resolving to do better, and flailing. Give me Christmas, please. Give me advent. Give me anything but this New Year’s I-Can-Do-It-If-I-Just-Try-Harder death trap. My throat’s constricting just thinking about it.

Lord knows, I want to do better. I want to be more, and in some ways less. I want that so very much. But I’ve been around this guilt-track one too many times to know that if change is happening in my life, it won’t be happening because I finally willed it enough. Change happens by the grace of God. Repeat: change happens by the grace of God.

I have tried to make change happen in my life through white-knuckling it. I’ve tried to make change happen in other peoples’ lives by loving them into it. I’ve tried to make change happen with schedules, regimens, and to-do lists. It doesn’t work.

Now hear me, I’m not saying we can or should be lazy, flippant, or haphazard in our pursuit of change. I’m not saying that schedules or to-do lists or scales or love or determination may not be advantageous in our pursuit of change. What I am saying is that they will never get you to change without the grace of God at your back.

Dear friend—dear self—please remember, nothing changes unless God fills the sails with the breath of His pleasure.

Do you want to live a life more pleasing to God? Good. Do you want to be more faithful in your time alone with Him? Good. Do you want your words to be full of grace and wisdom when you speak with your children or co-workers or neighbors? Good. Do you want to live a healthier life-style? Good. Do you want to dedicate your time to finally learning to play an instrument or picking up a new language? Good.

But if you have the audacity to think to attempt any of these things in your own strength, for your own purposes, apart from the grace of God, well friend, enjoy the rollercoaster. I’ll see you on the other side. Because when we attempt things, even good things, without even petitioning God about them, something’s bound to go haywire. You may end up rocking that resolution while totally neglecting other important aspects of what God has called you to do. You may flail when you run out of strength and despair of ever changing. Depression may ensue. You may nail the change but become arrogant and suffocating to be around in the process. Or you may, and I hope this is the case, end up on your knees before God asking Him if this change is one He wants for your life and if so if He’d be pleased to strengthen you with whatever it takes to make it.

So, dear ones, let’s just skip the roller-coaster, please. Can we instead both start 2014 off right? Can we start it on our knees? Can we start it by asking God what changes He wants to see in our lives? Would we be willing to listen—truly listen—to His answer? It may not be where we want to put our energies. Can we just go ahead and confess that in ourselves we are not enough to be better, but that we truly and desperately need help to change? Let’s get real; we desperately need help to even truly want to change. That’s better.

So God, here we are, a mess, at your feet, desiring (but not nearly strongly enough), the changes that will bring us more of your abundant life. Here we are, so blind to the changes we need the most. And here we are asking for your grace, leaning into it, falling. By your grace and only if it is for your glory, help us. Change us and empower us to change. Change the way we seek change.

 

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