And so we pull

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When did we become so uptight, I wonder. Have we always been this way? Has life always been a game of cautious breathing and ballet dancing around issues. Have relationships always been a game of balancing appropriate topics of conversations with the danger zone of politics, religion, and The Voice. I wonder.

In America, and perhaps other parts of the world that I can't speak for, we've become extremists. The very thing we hate. And I'm speaking to myself here, because my natural bend bows towards the extreme; the rash; the compulsive; the obnoxiously bold. I understand it, because I experience it firsthand so often. This need to be heard and understood and accepted as I am, it stars with that. It starts with picking up my end of the tug-o-war rope and digging my heels in, and determining to stand firm and strong and not be dragged into the mud. I will not be weak. The problem is, in a game such as this, the goal is never to stand still, but rather to gain ground.

And so we pull.

We pull, and we pull, and we pull, until we find ourselves creeping backwards. And in the process we either pull our opposition along with us, dragging them through the mud and into the surrender of like-mindedness, or else they let go of the rope and break away for good.

It's only after the rope breaks that we look down at the burns on our hands and our clean boots that never touched the mud, and we wonder what started it all. We think back to the conversation that sparked the war and realize that it was something so silly. I didn't like the tone in their voice when they said, This. And I just know they were being sarcastic when they said, That. How dare they. How could they. Why don't they just.

It's frustrating and viscous and I hate that I engage as often as I do. How often I have felt that compulsion to get my point across, and just ask me how many times I have come away from the war feeling like I have accomplished something. How many times have I debated to the point that someone has actually seen my point and abandoned their own. How many times have I argued anyone into a better understanding of who I am, what I think, and how the two converged.

Ask me, how many times I have pulled someone through the mud and improved their life in the process.

The answer, to all of the above, is zero.

In fact, when I think about the conversations I have had in my life that have had the greatest impacton both me and the other personthey all have one thing in common: peace.

I was at peace. They were at peace.

My agenda was left at the curb, my defense was on break, and my mind was open. It has been the conversations I approached not with an attitude of, "What can I bring to this," but rather, "What can I gain." Those were the productive moments. And they weren't conversations that were sparked out of disagreement or offense, but just two people sitting down with a desire to learn one another. And these were the moments that left me feeling stronger.

Of course they stung a little. That happens. Anytime we let ourselves get away from our comfort zones and we dare to be stretched, it's awkward and uncomfortable. But it is both of those things in the very best way.

So why do I do so little of the productive, and so much of the other? I can't figure this out. Not of myself or of anyone else. When I am sitting alongside my husband in our little house, feeling so at ease, it's in those moments that I vow to never again pick up that rope. It seems so silly then. And now, as I write this and lay it out so simply and clearly. I feel like I can forever avoid the whole thing. I have nothing to prove, there is nothing worth arguing, there is no situation that ever demands such ferocity that my face will turn red and I will scream with clenched fists at another human being, even if my own certainty demands that I am right. I don't need that in my life.

But I know it will happen again. I'm not perfect, and I will again struggle against that meekness I so wish I had. Maybe I'll get it someday, but for now I'm going to celebrate the baby steps. When I don't turn into a rage monster over someone's Facebook status, and I don't fly off the handle when someone digs at my political opinions. I will consider it a success if I can make it through one day at a time without engaging in the unecessary. And if I fail when I fail, I'll do as The Hulk does, and I'll set back my "Days without incident" counter to 1, and begin again.

I don't really know why I'm writing this, since I never blog anymore. But my house is quiet, my mood is peaceful, and I guess I just had something to say. And really, I can't think of a better motive to write than that I just wanted to.

That is all.



I'll be just fine.

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I thought I would share something a little different this morning. Today is my little boy's birthday, he turns four. Two weeks ago my other little guy turned five, and just around the corner Baby Girl will be three. So, needless to say, Momma is stuck in the "it's going by too fast" zone. I was going through their baby books the other day and I found this poem I wrote when Asher (four year old) had just taken his first steps. I've had a good cry over it this morning and thought it was only fair if others cried too, so this is for all of the overly-emotional mothers out there. Grab your babies and hug them until they plead with you to stop.

There it was, right then, did you see that Dear?
Just one, his first, but not his last I fear,
That tiny foot met the ground, and took a step,
But why did my heart fall, when it should have leapt?

One small step, more will follow soon,
His goal today, a dinosaur, but tomorrow the moon,
Let me jot that down, the date and time,
No Dear, don’t worry, I’ll be just fine.

There it was, right then, did you see My Love?
Our son, he caught it; out from his glove!
You both worked so hard, and practice made right,
He’s won the game, he’s a champion tonight!

One victory perhaps, but more will come,
Greatness follows the bond of a father & son,
But he’ll always remember this one, this time,
No Dear, don’t worry, I’ll be just fine.

There he is, right there, you see Sweetheart?
Our boy, on that stage.  So strong.  So smart.
In his cap and gown, diploma in hand,
Not our boy, you’re right, he’s now a man.

One phase is complete, but there is more still ahead,
College, wife, children perhaps; more tears I’m sure to shed,
But my heart will not forget today, or this moment in time,
No Dear, don’t worry, I’ll be just fine.

There he goes, right now, I know you’re watching Dear,
Our baby, down that aisle, with his bride so near,
Such a beautiful service, such a beautiful start,
To their lives together, and to our lives apart.

One chapter is opening, but nothing has closed,
My baby he will always be, I hope he always knows,
He’s frozen in my heart and mind, at each moment in time,
No Dear, don’t worry, I’ll be just fine.


My Super Sinful Lifestyle.

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Hi my name is Nikki, and I am addicted to food.

There it is, I said it. And you know they say that admitting you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery, I hope that's true. They say accountability is key, and announcing your problem publicly and inviting in help will greatly increase your odds of conquering your addiction. I don't know who the heck "they" is, but I hope they're right. Because I'm realizing now, for the first time with true clarity, that this is more than a struggle with heath, weight, and body image, this is a struggle with sin.

Gluttony. The big "G". That word we never hear preached against from behind a pulpit. We never discuss it in our small groups or confess it during prayer time. For a lot of reasons I think we're afraid to touch this one. We're afraid, I'm sure, that the obviously overweight people in the room will feel like they're being called out for their sin. We're afraid that people will become uncomfortable with the mention of a sin that so many of us struggle with. Because we know that this isn't a sin that is known only to people who pack a few extra pounds, it is one that we have all been guilty of on occasion, if only during Thanksgiving lunch. And how awkward would it be to listen to a 30 minute sermon on Sunday morning about making our bellies our gods and then skip off to Sunday lunch with the pastor? Surely we should avoid such things.

How much worse for us to preach against it, confess it, pray about it, or simply acknowledge it as sin, and then realize that it's a fifth Sunday. And what do we do on fifth Sunday? Well we fellowship! And what goes hand-in-hand with fellowship (at least in a Baptist church)? Food! Baptists love their food and fellowship, as long as there is no dancing or secular music that is. Certainly we wouldn't want to preach something that would interfere with our sweet fellowship time.

It's a real problem, isn't it? How do we address a sin that is clearly spelled out in scripture as sin, without making those who struggle with it uncomfortable? Without hurting feelings or offending sensibilities?

The problem is, we don't seem to show equal concern for the psyche of the sinner when the sin at hand is, let's just say for the sake of discussion, sexual immorality. If a openly gay couples walks through the doors of a church, and a morbidly obese couple comes in right behind them, our reaction to both should be the same, should it not? We should tear out the pages in our bibles that condemn their super sinful lifestyles, and we should shove those torn pages down their throat, right?

Oh wait, no that's not right. That's not what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to love them. We're supposed to treat them the same way we would the respectable looking, physically fit, heterosexual couple who may appear to be perfect but we know have a heaping pile of sin of their own because, well BECAUSE WE ALL DO! And maybe they don't wear it on their sleeve or around their waist, but we know it's in their life, so to all of these we show the same things. Grace. Love. Mercy. That's what they should experience when they're in the presence of Christians.

Grace. Love. Mercy.

And how about...just a little...compassion?

Everywhere I turn right now I am being met with one word: story. We all have a story. It clings to our heels, everywhere we go we take it with us, adding to it with every step. It's a funny thing, our story, it is impossible to understand how a person got to the place they're in without meandering down the road that they have come down. When you begin to stop and listen to a person's story, it's a bit like watching the pieces of a puzzle click together. You start to understand parts of that person's character, their views, their struggles, their passions. Their hopes and dreams, their insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. You understand who they are, because you have taken the time to learn about what they have come through. It's a beautiful thing, and I think it just might be the key to loving the way Jesus called us to love. Loving people for who they are, where they are, without agenda.

When we do that, when we truly discover a person's story, and we start to love that person, this thing called compassion kicks in. And compassion  has a way of snuffing out judgement. It does something to that speck in your brother's eye, it transforms it from the glaringly despicable, into something reflective. And in it you no longer see the filth of that brother's sin but instead, the reflection of your own. You can't see his speck because you are finally aware of your log.

And I think that maybe, just maybe, that's the way it's supposed to work. I'm glad that I have never been called to face church discipline because of my addiction to food. I am so thankful that when I stuffed my face at church banquets, filling up my plate and going back for seconds (and maybe thirds) no one stopped the festivities to request prayer for my struggles. How relieved I was every time I leaned back in my chair, belly so full I thought I might vomit, and no one came by to lay hands on me and cast out the nasty food demons that were overtaking me.

What a comfort to know that I would never be forced to stand before the congregation and fess up to my own super sinful lifestyle.

But at the same time, how frustrated I am by that double standard. I'm not asking for you to agree with me here, but simply to ponder these things. While your belly is full and your refrigerator is stocked, think about it. I can tell you this, something has clicked in my brain over this issue. My twenty year battle with food suddenly seems less about the measurement of my waist and more about the idea of my body being a temple, a temple that is less defiled by the ink on my skin than the junk I put in my belly. It is less about obtaining an ideal figure and more about modeling for my children a healthy relationship with food, where we eat to live rather than living to eat.

And so, as always, a challenge. Just think about it. Flip through the concordance in the back of your bible and read the verses dealing with food and gluttony. Read them, and consider them as seriously as you would a verse on homosexuality or adultery. And then, just for giggles, check out a few others words: greed, money, covetousness, envy, gossip, slander.

I hope you find the results as humbling as I did.

The ugly girl at the city pool.

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I took my kids to the city pool the other day. We were visiting my mom for the weekend. We had twelve hours to fill on Saturday, and no matter how hard we tried we couldn't come up with a good substitute for the pool. And so we went.

There are several things that I expect when I go to a public pool. I have never been a candidate for a swim suit photo shoot, but certainly there were times when I came closer than today. The thought of squeezing my post-baby body into an unforgiving lycra suit is about as exciting as a poached egg. In fact, if it weren't for the sake of my kids I would probably avoid it all together.

So we went, and as I was saying, I had these expectations. I expected to be uncomfortable. I knew that in those thirty seconds between removing my cover-up and getting myself neck deep in the water (which isn't easy when you're in the 2 foot deep kiddie pool) I would be uncomfortable. I expected to be motivated. I knew that there were sure to be a few of the super mom's in bikini's with no stretch marks or boob-saggage out at the pool, which is always good motivation to get back in the gym. And I expected to have a moment of clarity where I said to myself, "Screw it, I'm here to have fun with my kids, and that's what I'm going to do."

What I didn't expect was to be the ugly girl at the city pool. But I was.

See, I didn't like the pool's policy on floaties. You know, those little things the kids wear on their arms when they're learning to swim? I didn't like that my kids weren't allow to wear them in the pool, and I really didn't like the posted explanation implying that I might leave my kids to be solely supervised by a thin piece of rubber with some air in it. And so I did that incredibly rational thing that I see so often, I let the sixteen year old girl at the desk (who has absolutely no control over policy-making) know just how stupid I thought that was. And while I didn't make a scene or use profanity, I was rude, and I was ugly.

For the hour and half that followed, while my kids swam and played, I was overcome by that ugliness. I was embarrassed, and dreading the time when I would have to walk back by her to leave. I tried to tell myself that it wasn't that big of a deal, everyone had moments when they gave voice to their frustrations, even silly ones. I see it every day, people who get crunk with the girl who takes their order at McDonald's because the prices have gone up or the McRib is off the menu, and while the decisions are being made way up at the top of the totem pole, she's the face on the ground that gets the heat. We all do it, right? So why couldn't I shake it off?

As I left I hung my head and passed by her, hoping she had somehow forgotten my face. I wondered if she had been replaying it in her head as I often did after irritating interactions with people. I wondered if she was imagining what it would have felt like to lean over that desk and punch me in the face. I wondered if she had been having a good morning up until that point, or if that was just another negative added to the stinking pile that was becoming a bad day. I wondered if customers who challenged the policies made her hate her job. I wondered, if I had wounded her.

I got ten steps out of the gate when I turned around and went back to the desk to apologize to her. She had tears in her eyes when she thanked me. We commiserated for a minute about the "joys" of working with the public and how the customer really isn't always right, in fact most of the time the customer is an idiot. She laughed and I told her that I understood the policy, in fact the more I had pondered it while being whipped around the lazy river holding three wiggling kids in bulky life vests, the more I understood and appreciated it. I left, still feeling like a schmuck, but at least a schmuck who had acknowledged her schmuckiness and hopefully mended some of its damage.

But still a schmuck.

And I wondered, through the rest of the day and into the night, I wondered about that girl's story. I knew all of the dominoes in my own life that had fallen before the final one tipped and pushed that ugly girl out of me. I knew my own back story, but I didn't know hers. And it occurred to me how very reckless I had been. How reckless we all are, every day, when we allow ourselves to act out of impulse and emotion. I wondered what kind of wake I had left, all the times I have responded with a snide remark or a harsh criticism where silence would have been better suited. I wondered how many people I have left reeling with frustration, replaying conversations in their heads and wishing they had told me off instead of taking the high road. I wondered how many strangers had looked at me and seen only an ugly girl with a mean spirit. I wondered how many opportunities I had squandered, trading in kindness and instead giving vent to my self-indulgence.

I put off writing this until today, hoping I could avoid it and just sit on it, learning my own lesson quietly rather than sharing it with the world. But the prompting would not go away and I knew I needed to confess it, and with that confession to issue a challenge.

A challenge to end our recklessness.

Occupying a pew on Sunday morning does no good if we echo it with harsh words spoken to our waitress over lunch. Posting a dozen scriptures a day on our Facebook pages is absolutely empty if we sandwich them with slanderous posts about people we disagree with politically. Dropping a bag of groceries at the food pantry is a ridiculous gesture when we pass silent judgement on every person we pass on our way out.

Wanting to save the world is futile, if I can't even show kindness to the girl at the city pool.

We are reckless, arrogant fools, if we think we are entitled to anything in this life. If we think we have a right to express our distaste just because something isn't how we think it should be. Just because someone dares to inconvenience us, or fails to cater to our preference. We are ugly. And I don't know about you, but I am painfully aware of that ugliness, and I am going to fight it. As much as it hurts, as embarrassing as it is, I pray I am never again blind to that ugly side of myself. I want to be aware of her, I want to know what triggers her, and I want to fight her with everything I've got. Because while she is getting her panties twisted over silly things like floaties, there is true injustice happening all around her. It is time to re-focus.

Join me?

No longer strangers, now once again.

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They were strangers. Every one of them. Sitting in their cushioned pews, buttoned all the way to the top, ties tied tight, legs crossed. And there I was, with a dress that was too short and weird hair. I was conscious of it every second, and convinced that it was the foremost thought on every mind in the room. I had failed to recognize appropriate decorum for Sunday morning services, and this lot of strangers had surely noticed.

My collar itched. I could neither tighten nor loosen it to satisfy the itch. Just the presence of my neck and the fabric so close to it, in that room, with those strangers, it created a discomfort that was insatiable. Every time I dragged my fingernails across the stubborn spot I felt sure every eye in the room, from pulpit to back pew, was aware of it.

I didn't want to be there. That much was clear. I had no bible, and no idea what they were talking about, only a sense that they were as curious about me as I was of them, for reasons I couldn't explain. Maybe because my dress was so short, and my hair was so weird. Or maybe because I had yawned thirteen times before the singing was even over. Strangers noticed these things. Especially strangers in small rooms filled with pews and hymnals. They don't miss much.

It was a slow start. I didn't make it easy, for sure. Several years of back and forth, round and round, dukes up and ready to fight before I surrendered and let them love me. And they did. They really did. I felt it every time I walked in. Sitting on those pews, the colors had changed and so had I, slowly morphing into something new and unrecognizable. And they noticed. With every changing shade, they noticed. The swollen eyes from a bad day or week or month, and me sitting down cautiously, avoiding eye contact and hoping to hide it, even then they would see. Every one in the room, they would see and respond with care and tenderness. Those strangers. Except, that wasn't right anymore. No longer strangers. They had become my own. My family.

Then they noticed the smile. How things changed and the upswing of life began, they were equally as attentive to the good as they had so faithfully been through the bad. When Spring came and the flowers began to bloom, they noticed. They saw the ring and rejoiced with me, and then the swollen belly, how we cried and prayed and planned together. They noticed and they celebrated me, because I was theirs. And I realized one day that I loved them, too. More than I ever knew was possible, I loved them because they were my own. My flesh and blood family. Not strangers. Not anymore.

There was a honeymoon phase I guess. Gliding across the smooth water, no waves or ripples. So much to be enamored with. We agreed on everything then and couldn't have imagined anything else. We just laughed and loved and encouraged, and felt certain that things would always be just so. But it wasn't so. I don't remember when the tide first came in and the fade began, by the time I took notice it had surrounded me. It was a struggle again. First against myself, then the battled turned upward and I warred with God. I screamed and wrestled, and for a while I thought I hated him for what was happening. Why wouldn't he stop it, why was he allowing it, why could he not just leave things alone.

It started with doubts dared to be spoken. I began to fidget again, sitting in those seats, stirring uneasily. Surely everyone noticed. Surely they felt it the same way they had felt the good times when things had been so easy. We were so intertwined, so connected, they must have known. It was hard to face. The truth I mean, it was hard to face the truth. I was conscious of it every second, I wore it on my face, in the lines that had begun to settle across my forehead. No matter how hard I tried to relax they were still there, stretching across the skin like a line across a map. I wore it in the threads of my clothes and the strange hue of my hair. I wore it in every forced smile and muffled scream. I wore it, and they must have noticed.

I didn't belong anymore. Still connected by love and blood and a desire to be a part, but no longer fitting. Like a piece of glass shattered across the rocks, meant to be together, but no longer melded onto the whole. The common ground that had bonded us was no longer there. Now unity meant all hands on deck, resolved to clench tightly around one another, never letting go. Holding on, not because it was easy, but because we wanted it and it was worth the fight. Not because every little fragment fit perfectly together, but because we loved in spite of the chips and breaks between us. But someone let go. Someone gave up the fight. Perhaps it was me. Perhaps I should have dug my heels in deeper and resolved to fight harder. To cling even when the shards cut me and I began to bleed. Or maybe my approach to the fight was all wrong. Maybe I should have sat down, shut up, pulled up my heels and become the meek and gentle woman my flesh rebels so strongly against. Either way, the battle was lost. And it hurt. On all sides, it hurt. A void was being left behind, unfilled and wanting, and the warmth of the body that had surrounded me was gone.

It is still gone. Months later, and we still drift along searching for a new spot. Re-learning the ways in a new place, surrounded yet again by strangers in someone else's home. Wondering what the heck they're talking about and feeling certain that everyone in the room is acutely aware of my awkwardness. I don't want to be there. Surely they notice. The strain across my forehead, the deepening lines as I force my eyes to follow along. Everyone must see. The tears that well up in my eyes as I look around the room at so many foreign faces, remembering my family. Imagining that they are there, in their same spots. I miss them. With every fiber in my being, from the skin of my teeth to the web of my toes, I miss them. The hugs and sighs and arguments, from the comforting to the frustrating, my heart aches for those people. No longer stranger, now once again. The home we shared is just down the road, I see them gather there, and yet I feel like they are a world away from me. I feel alone in a room full of people. Surely, this new set of strangers must notice.

And yet, maybe they don't. I'm not theirs. Not yet at least, and perhaps never. My heart is somewhere else, that much is clear. I am just a body in a chair longing to be at home again, somewhere. Just a wanderer on a road forcing myself one step forward. Once again, just a stranger.