The Prodigal Father

My pastor recently preached a sermon about the parable of The Prodigal Son and I have been chafing ever since.  She suggested that maybe the story was not about the wasteful spending and reticent behavior of the son, but that of the father.

Apparently, the word prodigal doesn’t mean all the things I always assumed it means.  It means wasteful, extravagant, lavish.  Not ‘returning from making bad choices’ or ‘regretful and sorry’ or ‘ready to receive deserved punishment, good and humble’.

Nadia (those of you who wince at the idea of a female pastor can just call her Pastrix Bolz-Weber) suggested that we focus on the lavish ways the father spent love and resources and take a lesson from that.  The older son is the character that makes the story hard for me.  He’s doing all the ‘right’ things and ‘good’ things and then throws a fit when the father celebrates the return of the younger son.  It’s easy for me to accept that we should celebrate the returned sheep, the returned son, the lost souls coming home.  But when the father tells the older son ‘all I have is yours’ I want to stop reading.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always enjoyed a science classroom, or because I grew up very outside the church, or because I don’t care to learn the social game and hierarchy within ‘normal’ churches, but I spend a lot of time around people who’ve been really hurt by church people.  People who are now actively rejecting church and even sometimes poking it with a stick because they’re trying to regain their sense of power.

So when I read this story, I see my friends in the young son, and the mean church people in the older son. I see people who said that people like my husband and I aren’t welcome in the denomination he grew up in.  People who say that my friends shouldn’t have access to the grace of God if they don’t understand and believe the right things.  People who say that my friends need to make the first move, when it’s church people who started the fight (and sometimes ended the relationship too).

And I don’t like hearing that the father in this story, or my Father in heaven, is going to give all that he has to these people who are hurting my friends.  And doing it in the name of God!  Ah!  It’s like saying Michael Pearl gets to pass through those pearly gates and that I’m going to have to play nice with him.  !!!

But I don’t have to check my pastor’s facts to know that she’s right.  I don’t need a dictionary to check her definition of prodigal, I don’t need to even crack my bible to know that she’s not misrepresenting the story.  The Holy Spirit does live within me, and sometimes when words pass through my ears and into my heart, the Holy Spirit does the stadium wave.  There’s no mistaking that feeling.  I can tell when I’ve heard Truth – even when it’s Truth I don’t like.  And so I’ve been changing the subject whenever my inner dialog goes back to this.  Suddenly being oh-so-happy to think hard about loading the dishwasher or signing a loud song with my girls or find some other activity that will engage my brain *just* enough to block out the knocking of an idea that makes my stomach turn.

The people who throw a tantrum about ‘welfare moms’ getting food stamps or having more children, the people who claim that the local university is trying to tear apart the church, the people who vote Republican after being GIVEN nearly everything in life -and don’t even see the irony!- they all get the same heaps and mounds of love and grace as everyone else.  Same as my friends.  Same as me.

The reason it hurts is not because I’m jealous.  It hurts because I’m judging them.  I want to see them held accountable for the ways they’ve hurt my friends and they ways they’ve hurt me.  I want to see them cry real crocodile tears for all the times they’ve made other people cry for feeling not good enough for God.  And I don’t know if any of that is going to happen.

At some point, it’s not about revenge anymore.  Not even the revenge I was pretty sure God was going to lay down on them.  It’s not about payment or punishment or even just knowing the repercussions of their words and actions.  It’s about accepting grace.  For myself.  And the inherent (and more fair than I have been able to admit) spreading of that wealthy love on everyone.  To everyone.  Even the Mean Girls (or, more traditionally in the church, Mean Boys).  

I don’t think I could have gotten that lesson without the parenting that I practice.  I am fully against demanding punishment or retribution from my children, because I believe their sins are paid for.  And extending the grace of God to them has familiarized me with the concept in a way that makes me now aware of its extension to the adults I judge as guilty too.  If I am going to pray without ceasing about anything, it’s about that.  Learning to extend that grace, forgive them, forgive myself, and live in a way that reflects the gift I’ve been given and not the gift I want withheld from them.  

It’s the only way I can be authentic.  Or honest.  Or face God in the morning.  I can’t love God when I’m absolutely refusing to live a life in response to salvation.  It doesn’t compute.  Even though I feel like I’m standing up for the oppressed and the marginalized and the lost sheep, I’m acting like that older son.  I’m stomping my foot all mad throwing a tantrum.  There is a fine line between advocacy and damnation.  I know it’s there, but I don’t seem to have any idea where it is.

And that is why I don’t like that sermon.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Battle of Allegiance with the AP Community

So someone said she was distancing herself from the AP community after much rudeness and shaming and frustration.

And somebody else responded that mothers who believe in AP principles should stay to show other moms that the AP community is more than the loud extremist voices.

It’s an old, common story.  Look, in every group of people you’re going to find some people who are angry and self-righteous and way too focused on tell all the other people where they went wrong.  Welcome to middle school, high school, college, and beyond.  Welcome to humanity.  And I often do stay involved with a community despite the behaviors of certain people (Christianity being the prime example).  But mother hood is an extraordinary time.  Trying to develop habits that will impact the course of your child’s life is not to be underestimated.  Community is both of utmost importance and a place of real risk.  Someone who undermines what you’re doing or trying to do can have a huge impact on your outcomes.  We’re vulnerable, we mothers of young kids.  Anytime someone tries to change their behaviors or habits (or institute entirely new behaviors after a major transition like becoming a parent) they are more impressionable to peer pressure.

If you struggle to stay on track when you’re in the company of certain people, change your crowd.  By all means.  Your journey as  a parent is infinitely more important than your obligation to the AP world.  If the AP community wants to thrive (and it does, and I believe it will) then it is going to have to learn how to play nice.  But leaving harsh and critical people doesn’t mean isolating yourself.  It means finding the other not-nutjobs and hanging with them.  We need support.  Not just as mothers but as people.  We’re social creatures – herd animals.

For every internet community that is angry and hurtful there is another herd of animals who are less inclined to rip your throat out.  They’re out there.  And as more people leave the angry mob for groups a little more inclined to practice what they preach (i.e. showing the kindness and grace the extend to their kids to adults online as well) the face of the AP community will change.  People will hear the loud and angry voices, but if we stop polarizing ourselves people will also see the rest of the community too.

This isn’t a black and white choice.  There is no official membership to The AP Club.  You don’t have to choose between bullies and your duties to The Club.  Just move your voice, your face, and your presence to a group that better demonstrates what you believe in.  You’ll thrive better, serve better, and experience a lot less stress.

[The problem with my argument is that the most strident voices on the internet are also people who spend the most time on the internet.  Some of them are going to pop up wherever you go.  I highly recommend Facebook's block feature for dealing with those people.  ;)]

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The gift of a willful child

Sometimes I watch other parents with their kids and wonder at how docile they are.  Some kids just . . . obey.  It’s entrancing.

 

And I want to ask “HOW did you DO that?” as if their child’s personality is somehow the doing and making of the parent.  But let’s all say this together: My child is not my report card.

 

There is no intangible parent figure going to rain down punishment on me for my child having a bad day.  God is not going to hold me accountable for their behavior or compliance.  That’s part of the beauty of Christianity.  It’s one of the few religions where I answer directly to God and not through or to anyone else.  There IS accountability, but always and only processed through grace.

 

So anyway, when I’m standing there gazing at some beautiful little child coloring quietly while the parent finishes a conversation (or cup of coffee, or sermon, or whatever) and my child is literally running circles around me quizzing me on baptism (or elephants or trains or why the temperature drops when the sun goes down) I often find myself questioning their parenting to mask my questioning of my own parenting.  I alternate between wondering what the other parent must be doing right and what they must be doing wrong. I mean, you must beat them or something right? And maybe all my flailing attempts to be kind, gentle, respectful, and all the rest are really fruitless and going to mess up both the kids, my family, my marriage and society.

 

But I know my kids.  I know them especially well because I see so much of myself in my daughter.  My parents tried to lay down the law.  They were the dictators, I was to be obedient.  If I did X, I would be spanked.  If I did not do X, I would be spanked.  Do as your told.  All of that.  You know what?  It got my parents no where.  It destroyed our relationship and did major destruction in my head.  But in the end, that abuse becomes a sick, weird silver lining because I KNOW that will not help my daughters.  I know that they are too smart, too strong, too passionate, and too beautiful to be broken down by my own insecurities.  I could spank them in an effort to look in control to other parents, but my girls would only fight harder.  And in the end, they’re the ones in control of that relationship.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if you are in a power struggle with a 2 year old you have already lost that battle.

 

What’s more I know God does not give these qualities out to just anyone.  Not all people have this perseverance, this genius, this glow.  My girls are destined for something incredible.  I can see it in the gifts they’ve been given.  Breaking those gifts tries to usurp God’s authority in their lives and does nothing for any of us involved.

 

So I’ll answer the questions about baptism and elephants and trains and why the temperature drops when the sun goes down.  And I’ll run in circles with them and chase them when they dash off in the store.  I’ll get them exercise so they can finally rest and go to the library to find answers to all of their questions.  I’ll respect them physically, emotionally, and spiritually and respect God by doing so.  It’s obedience to God.  God loved me enough to give me these children, and I will not defy him by destroying these gifts.

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My newest venture: Press Pause Photography

We haven’t been properly introduced

Here in Denver I’ve started taking pictures of and for some really amazing people.  Over the last several months I’ve been stitching together a photography business, which ends up being significantly more complicated to do legally than one might anticipate.  I suppose I could just skip the tax man and legal obligations, a lot of beginning photogs do, but that’s not really my style.

Anyway, I would really appreciate if you would follow the link above and leave me some love.  Starting a business is a big thing, and it feels a bit vulnerable to open myself up like this.  I’d love some support.

Plus, that’s the place to be if you want to see pretty pictures, meet awesome people in denver, get tips for staying sane in a life with kids, and see what’s up in the mile high city.  <3

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How to make an awesome peg board

peg board

I’ve been wanting to give my kids a peg board for a long time.  But I thought the pegs would need to be bolts, which seemed like terrible toys, and I wasn’t looking forward to wandering around a hardware store looking for alternatives.  Plus, the peg boards I’d seen used rubber bands, and I was pretty sure my kids would learn how to snap each other hard enough to leave welts by the end of the first day.  As it turns out, putting this together probably took less than 30 minutes, cost like $15, is totally safe, and I think I love it more than my kids.  Plus, it stores under the couch.  Awesome.

peg flowers

The peg board was hard to find with the directions from the guy at the door of the store, but the people who work in the lumber side of the store knew exactly what it was, where it was, and how to connect me with it.  Then, someone showed me these awesome wooden pegs.  They’re the 1/4″ size, and they are easy enough to slide in and out that both my little ones can put the pegs anywhere they want.  (Peg board was $6.48 and the pegs were $2-something I think)

Then I ran to JoAnn’s and got the fabric loops that we all used to make pot holders on a plastic loom.  Remember that?  We all did that weird craft, even though no one on earth has ever actually needed MORE potholders, and the weird fabric would probably have melted if used.  But they’re perfect for this because they don’t snap like rubber bands, and can’t possibly leave a welt on someone.  The box does identify them as a choking hazard though, so maybe feed your kid before hand and limit how many you let your kid shove down her throat.  Okay?  Good.  (These were about $6)
So when we get the board out, the girls spend the first 5 minutes methodically putting each peg in the perfect spot.  Then they look everywhere to be sure they haven’t missed any pegs, and eventually I show them the fabric bands.  Which are bracelets and grass and trees and flowers and playgrounds and homes and sharks and monsters.  (So far.)  Guys, my kids even like putting all this away.  This activity is THE BEST!  The tactile sensations and fine motor skills are enthralling and getting to stuff it all under the couch just makes their little days.

Getting time to sip my coffee on the couch while the kids play peacefully on the floor?  That makes MY day.  I hope this activity makes your day too.

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A Giveaway!

I’m doing a giveaway on my business page, and I thought you all might be interested since it’s a novel by a Christian author.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

A longer write up is on my (almost done) business blog: Press Pause Photography

 

Good luck!

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What do I say to them?

My Facebook newsfeed tells me that Mr. Rogers had this to say about tragedy:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

 

I don’t know if that quote is really his, but I believe the sentiment is true.  So many of my non-Christian friends are crying out today – toward Your God, as they call him.  Wanting to know why My God didn’t stop this.  Wanting to know what kind of God allows this.  There are passages that talk about the answers to those questions, but I don’t think that’s what my friends are looking for.

Unfortunately, what I want to tell them might even hurt them more.  I want to tell them that God allows this out of love.  Which sounds callous and cruel and would get me flagged off of Facebook in no time.  But what good are acts of kindness if they are not acts of free will?  God’s love for us allows us to make decisions about our actions.  God’s love in us and through us brings us to a place of loving each other.

Free will is the means which God allows this to happen.  He allows us to make choices about our actions.  It’s a hot topic, and many Christians believe there is no free will, or that it is limited, and that good only comes from God, not from the individual.  “I can do nothing but from God.”  I don’t know about that.  I believe we do make choices, and the spectrum of choices ranges from a shooting in an elementary school to risking your life protecting your students from a madman.

ABC reported that a first grade teacher barricaded her students into the bathroom.  Would her actions have meant anything if she had no choice in them?  Whether you believe God did this through her or that she did this herself, God allowed that course of action too.

When you choose to spend more time with your kids tonight than on Facebook, that act of love matters.  It means something.  When you choose to stay a little longer at bedtime, that act of love matters.  When you choose to make a special breakfast tomorrow morning, that act of love matters.  Your choices, to treasure your children, even if prompted by tragedy, matter.  They matter and they mean something because God has loved you and given you the chance to make these choices.

 

I believe there is more good in the world.  I believe more people are good, do good, and try to do good.  I believe more people think about the good, and look for the good, and assume the good.

 

In the end, Love Wins.  In the end, the greatest of all things is always Love.

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