“Big Baby” by Michelle Jones

As I write this column from the upstairs bedroom of my brother’s San Francisco loft, an argument ensues downstairs.  Pilar Brielle and Landon Asher—my 9-month-old godchildren—want what they want, and apparently their parents are not giving it to them fast enough.

The twins are loud and insistent.  That is to be expected.  What’s hilarious to me are my brother Tim and his wife Denise trying to reason with them.  They speak in smooth, patronizing tones, the way a psychiatrist talks to a guy in a straight jacket.

“Pi-laarr?  Your bottle is almost ready, okay?”

“WHAAAAAAA!!!!”

“Landon… Landon?”

“WHAAAAAAAA!!!!”

Hearing the conversation in the babies’ heads, I imagine it goes something like this:

“Bla-blaah?  Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, blah?”

“I’M HUNGRY! YOU!  FOOD LADY!  BRING FOOD!”

“Blah-blah… Blah-blah?”

“HEY! I’M HUNGRY! GIANT MAN!  HELP FOOD LADY!  NOW!!”

This, uh, discussion goes on for a few minutes before the grownups abandon reasoning and scramble to shove bottles or baby food in where all the noise is coming out.  As soon as they do, there is blissful peace, punctuated by sweet sucking sounds.

The parents feel competent, heroic even.  They have stopped the babies from crying and righted the world, as they know it.  The babies let them bask in this illusion.  So do I.  It is obvious to me that the infants run this asylum.  Tim and Denise are staff—unpaid staff—working their tails off for a reward of catnaps and baby food stained clothes.

Later, between flipping Landon upside down and clapping with Pilar (clearly I was hired for my entertainment value), I marveled at how eagerly we all doted on them.  It seemed obvious at first.  You wait on babies because they’re needy, right?  Right.  And they let you because they know they’re needy, right?  Wrong.  Babies don’t know that they need you.  They know what they want.  Big difference.

Babies are haughty.  They are entitled superior little beings.  You will never hear a baby described as “humble.”  Humility appreciates its own smallness and understands its own helplessness.  Humility asks for—it doesn’t demand—what it wants.  Landon and Pilar are lots of cute, soft, sweet smelling (most of the time) things, but there is not a humble bone in their pudgy little bodies.

Jesus tells us to come to Him as a child not a baby.  It occurs to me that in some of my dealings with Him, I have come like Landon, grabbing and snatching what I want, or like Pilar, with an ear-splitting scream demanding it NOW!

Children are not babies.  Like babies, they are smaller than we are, and they do need a lot of help, but the difference is they know it.  They are aware that someone must take care of them lest they starve or go naked.  They wait to be picked up at school.  They call you mom and dad, not Sally and Dave or What’s-your-name.

Children don’t—as a rule—order their parents around fearlessly (unless somebody’s not doing their job).  They don’t expect to pay the gas bill because they know they have no responsibility in that area.

The difference between a baby and a child is in the attitude.  Babies are arrogant.  They demand that their needs are met and they don’t care how.  One hand with a bottle or a dry diaper is as good as another.  Children have learned to be confident.  They know what they want, but they also know where to go to get it.

A “good” child doesn’t accept a ride from a stranger.  She doesn’t expect an allowance from any grownup passing by with cash.  If he has a booboo that needs kissing, only one pair of lips will do.  When she brings a trophy home, nobody’s attagirl matters as much as mom’s or dad’s.

Come, as a child, not a baby.  Come.  Approach.  Move from where you are to get what you need from the One who is waiting for you with everything in His hand.  Come, don’t sit and pout, rant and rail, scream, accuse, put your hands on your hips, flip your wig, or storm off in a huff because you’re tired of waiting.  Come expecting, not snatching and grabbing.  Come to your Father, not a stranger, as a beloved son or daughter, not an orphan.

Landon can’t walk yet, and he’s not fond of crawling, but every day he waits for my brother—his daddy—to come home from work.  He listens for the key in the door, and when it opens, the sight is hysterical.  No matter what Landon is doing, he stops, drops to the floor, and scoots like a tadpole toward the “Hey Little Man!” coming from the giant man who rocks him to sleep every night.

He’s learning.  When I grow up, I want to be just like him.

Psalt For My Wounds #1 by Michelle Jones

Who am I that You should care?

Who am I that You should choose to share?

Who am I but Yours?

That is enough, and still it overruns my shore.

 

Who are You that every star is Your story?

Who are You that my ugliness is Your glory?

Who are You but everything I need?

That fills me, and still it gives me room for more.

 

Lord, I love You.

You are my ear and my song to You.

You stand alone between me and me wronging You.

If not for You…

 

Who are We that You lift and ground me?

Who are We that You’ve lost and found me?

Who are We but helplessly, hopefully, eternally together  in Love?

That consumes me, and wonder of wonders, it makes me whole.

2011 New Years REVOLUTION by Michelle Jones

2010 was a blur.  I remember bits and pieces of it, but not without the help of my journals.  If God were to ask me what I did with the 365 days He gave me, I’d have to tell him what He already knows: that I can’t account for many of them.  How does that happen?

We are fond of saying, “Goodness, the time went by so fast!”  In point of fact, we all got the same thing: a 60-second minute, a 24-hour day, a 7-day week, and a 52-week year.  Knowing that made celebrating the coming year a challenge for me at first.

I woke up New Years Eve morning obsessing about everything I left undone in 2010.  I had lost only 3 of the many unwanted pounds I packed into my clothes every day.  My second bedroom was one giant junk drawer. I could barely walk through it for all the magazines, boxes, and half-completed projects covering every inch of it. There were back taxes to do, and books to outline or write not to mention the books other people have written, which I had only begun to read.  Add to that my car needed washing, I owed my mother a phone call, and there were people coming over for dinner the next day, and I had not grocery shopped.

Thoughts of what I hadn’t finished gave way to disappointment at not being the woman I had planned to be.  Immediately I shifted into “resolution mode” in an attempt to correct everything that was wrong so I could feel better about myself.  I was full of ideas; gym membership, menus from foodnetwork.com, buy a paper shredder, make a reading schedule…

STOP!

Sometimes God whispers as He did for Elijah.  Other times he has to smack us upside the head.  Ask Paul.  I’m sure Damascus Road is never far from his mind.

God’s efforts to get our attention are usually directed by our focus.  He speaks softly when we’re already listening to Him.   When we’re going our own way, shouting out our own orders to the universe, our ears tuned to the sound of our own footsteps, the Lord can and will shout.  It’s His way of telling us that we have forgotten Who’s in charge…again.

I love it when He whispers.  It’s sweet.  I have to admit, however, that I’m not past needing a pop in the noggin every now and then.  New Years Eve was such an occasion.

The reason, He told me, 2010—and so many years before it—disappeared like vapor is because I wasn’t present for most of it.  I was so busy trying to correct the mistakes I made yesterday, so I could like myself more tomorrow, that I was missing the moments God had placed in my hands TODAY.

This brings me to my 2011 New Years Resolution:  I WILL MAKE NO MORE NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS.

The truth is resolutions are outside of my area of responsibility.  Every one I make is an attempt to fix my past or shape my future.  That is God’s job, not mine.  He works ALL of my past decisions—right, wrong, genius, or idiotic—together for my good, according to His future plans for me, which are also good.  Why am I minding His business with my busyness?

We are all prodigal progeny, trying to manage our futures in view of our past mistakes.  Like the original lost son, we sit in our various hog pens, surrounded by the ugly consequences of choices we made.  Resolutions are a way of making ourselves presentable and acceptable, when all the while, The Father is just waiting for us to come home.  The robe and ring are waiting.  There is food for our growling bellies—and a not just the moldy crust of bread we think we deserve, but a fatted calf!

God is not asking us to make another resolution, a declaration of what we will do. He wants us to show the world what He has already done in us.  He is looking for a REVOLUTION.

On New Years Eve I confessed that my resolution reflex is a passive-aggressive way of telling God I’m tired of waiting for Him to change my life.  He whispered back, “Do you ever think that I might be weary of waiting for My Life to change you?”

We are not quite two weeks into 2011 at the writing of this column, and there is a lot of “unfinished-ness” in my world.  More importantly, though, I am undone—fearfully, wonderfully, and imperfectly inhabiting my today, and leaving the rest to Him.

I am lost in the hand of The One who found me.  I stand weak in His awesome strength, a pile of beautiful ashes, unworthy and yet worth dying for.

I am HOME.

 

Are We There Yet? by Michelle Jones

Driving is one of those seemingly ordinary activities that, upon closer scrutiny, reveals the true nature of the person engaged in it.  Genuinely sweet, docile individuals rarely speed up when they see you trying to change lanes in front of them.  Bitter, angry people feel entitled to their road rage.  Then there are the impatient souls, who weave in and out of traffic or tailgate until you get out of their way.

My personality surfaces most when I have to follow someone, especially if we’re going somewhere I’ve never been, or going by a way that is unfamiliar to me.  That’s when I am reminded that, despite my belief in the sovereignty and omnipotence of God, I have control issues.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7 NIV)

I loved this passage.  Every time I read it, or heard someone preach on it, I felt like I had hit the spiritual lottery.  I get whatever I ask for, find whatever I look for, and have doors swing open to me whenever I knock?  All I have to do is follow Jesus?  Follow?  Follow… Hm…

Okay, I admit it.  Asking me to follow you anywhere in my car will test the authenticity of your spiritual fruit, longsuffering in particular.  I don’t just want to know where we’re going.  I would like you to give me the directions ahead of time in case we get separated.  I want your cell phone number so I can check with you if I’m the least bit uncomfortable about the route you’re taking.  And now that I have my iPad, I will plug our destination into my navigation application so I can refer to it while I’m “following” you, to see if you really know where you’re going.  If you don’t, not a problem.  I can get us back on track.

This, I discovered, was not unlike my behavior as a follower of Christ.  I was not always comfortable with Him leading me.  You see, I didn’t get a map ahead of time, and the route He has me on is not only unfamiliar.  At times it seems we’re moving in the opposite direction from everything I asked for, sought, and expected behind the door.

Walking with God is great in the beginning.  When we’re embarking on our journey with Him, everything is sparkling with anticipation and imagination.  We have words like “grace,” “power,” “freedom,” and “blessed” burning a hole in our pockets.  We’re ready to pull them out and use them in our asking, seeking, and knocking.

A few years and maybe some tears later, we realize that we were so focused on finding, receiving, and getting access, that we didn’t consider pesky little things like the methods, means, and motives of God.

He loves us, but we were made for His pleasure, not the other way around. He would not withhold any good thing from us.  He will place desires in our hearts, but be clear.  He is the King of Kings, not Burger King.  You will have what you asked for, but that is no guarantee that you will have it your way.

Ask for patience.  You will be given an opportunity to wait.  You want strength?  You will be given something heavy to lift.   Seek peace. You will find it in a storm.   Knock on the door marked Grace.  You will be humbled so you can receive what’s behind it.

Why does it have to be so hard?  Why can’t He just wave a hand and poof! I have compassion?  Why does He allow me to be hurt over and over again?  Couldn’t He just give Adam a wife without making him lonely first?  Can’t I come forth as gold without walking through the fire?  Must we follow Him through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land?

The truth is, we cannot say we trust God without experiencing challenges to that trust.  Am I really following you if I have a map, a phone, and a navigation system?  If we are His sheep, and we know His voice, shouldn’t we expect to encounter imposters?  There is no glory in overcoming if we haven’t “come over” anything.

Following Him means relying on Him, not walking in the same direction while relying on my own equipment and understanding.  Following Him means HE is my map and my navigator.  He is the One who decides when or if we speed up, slow down, or take a detour.  Following Him means I am faithful, not just lacking in opportunities to be unfaithful.

Following means asking without demanding guarantees, seeking without checking the map first, knocking without requiring updates and status reports.  It means letting Him be point A, point B, and every point in between.  It means turning over the wheel and enjoying the ride.

Are you there yet?

Of A Certain Age by Michelle Jones

I read once that potential makes good breakfast but lousy dessert.  Most of us believe that, don’t we?  Common sense tells us that fantasizing about who we could be is much sweeter than lamenting who we could have been.  The problem is common sense has never been a sensible judge of accomplishment or destiny, because we were created to be uncommon.

Let me be clear about something that may or may not encourage you to read further.  I believe there is a God; one supreme, amazing, spirit/person who imagined, planned, and fashioned all of everything except Himself, because He has always been.  His personality, His relationship to humankind, and His desires for us—as I understand it—are seen in the design of all of Creation.  Patterns repeat themselves over and over on earth and in the heavens, so much so that theories of big bangs fizzle not just in my religious mind, but my logical one.

That very belief brought me to an impasse recently as I looked back at what is likely more than half of my life.

Do you know what it’s like to watch time slip through your fingers like sand and wonder how much of the best parts of you are gone with it?  Have you ever choked on the ashes of dreams that can never be?  Is there a list somewhere—on paper or in your mind—of what you would do differently if you had known then what you know now?  Maybe you’re not hopeless, but do you hope less than you used to?

When we’re young and looking forward, our potential—and the plans we make to realize it—keep us energized.  In the run for our lives, they are simultaneously the wind at our backs and the prize we reach for.

But, somewhere along the way, responsibility supplants possibility in the contest for our attention, and our identity and the plans we once stood on with such confidence begin to wobble with the weight of our obligations.

We keep our balance by modifying and fine-tuning the plans to salvage what we can of our ideals about ourselves. We fall from self-made pedestals, a little bit with each change, adjustment, failure, loss, or tragedy until the ground gives way beneath us, and disappointment crashes into us from below.

The pain is real and we feel it enough to forget how good we felt dreaming not so long ago.  Which brings me to my impasse.

Lately I’ve been wondering when I stopped thinking my life was ahead of me and started viewing it from a rearview mirror.  When did I stop being ambitious and hopeful about what was in my heart?  When did it become resonable to decide that my destiny is less real than my disappointments?

Ants carry 600 times their weight.  Shouldn’t that show me endurance?  A caterpillar doesn’t wrestle in her chrysalis.  What does that tell me about patience?  A river keeps running over the rocks thrown into it, polishing them on its way to the ocean.  Is that not a glorious picture of perseverance, grace, and undying devotion?

Those patterns exist for a reason.  They are there for our benefit, to teach us something about how we are to live.  Why do we insist on existing beneath their example?

There is divine reason and purpose attached to me.  I was designed to succeed.  That truth is animate as long as I am.  Destiny does not have an expiration date.

So who are we to become?  Someone uniquely beautiful if snowflakes or butterflies are to be believed.  Perhaps someone as powerful, enduring, and life sustaining as the mighty Amazon.  Someone connected to a greater plan if we can discern anything from the very cells and systems of our own bodies.

I’m going to look forward as I advance on the latter years of my life, not wondering who I might become, but certain that who I am is enough to become whoever I was created to be.  I know now what I did not know then.  Why not do now what I could not do then?  Life happens.  It’s about time I returned the favor.

God Himself breathed life into me.  Isn’t it ironic that when I consider all He has done to show me that I have value in His world—when I look at everything He created to enjoy me and teach me how to enjoy Him—it takes my breath away.

The Eyes Have It by Michelle Jones

Sometimes life interrupts life, without warning or apology, and our expectations take a bit of a hit. We adjust and we survive.  Then there are those times when our own decisions—no matter how right or well intended—shatter our insides and cause huge chunks of tomorrow to suddenly disappear.  There is no adjusting then, only falling, into the pile of ashes that used to be our dreams.

This is the rest stop on the way to Beautiful.

My appointment with Dr. Christine Lee was still consuming my thoughts as I watched Adam and Grace exchange their wedding vows.  Sitting alone amongst the other guests, pieces of Now flitted by me like parade confetti, barely noticed, unclaimed, and then gone forever.  It’s hard to pay attention and die at the same time.

“I think you’ve made the wise decision,” Dr. Lee had told me.  “We’ll take out your uterus but leave the ovaries.”  She was sympathetic and knowledgeable, the kind of doctor you want when you’re finding out that what you’ve always counted on can never be.

I will never have children.

I had done the right thing.  There was no question in me about that.  It was a responsible and courageous decision, the return on an investment of focused study, prayer, and good counsel.

I will never give birth to a daughter or son.

Adam and Grace, newly Mr. and Mrs., breezed past my pew.  They appeared blissful and confident, a couple looking forward to everything awaiting them.  I was glad for them, and for a moment, I seized a piece of their joy and made it my own.

Later, at the reception, my friend Terri spotted me and waved me over to her table.  I didn’t see her husband Kent and presumed he was off somewhere kiddie wrangling two of their three children.  Terri was holding onto their youngest, a pretty doll-baby named Taylor.  I approached them kicking myself inside.  What was I thinking?  A happy mommy bouncing a happy infant on her knee was the last thing I needed.

“Hey, girl, and hey pretty girl.”  Instinctively I reached out to touch the baby.  I was not ready when she responded by reaching up for me with both arms.

I hesitated for just a second, and then I took Taylor from her mother, scared to look at her, scared to like her, scared that one smile from her would bring Never crashing down on me for the hundredth time in the past 24 hours.  I was so scared that the tears filling up my eyes would fall and never stop. Terri’s other two children walked up and she was temporarily occupied, confident Taylor was all right with me.  I wasn’t so sure I was all right with her.

That fragile emotional landscape where we are both undone and unseeing is a terrifying stretch to navigate.  We are raw, weak, and vulnerable; walking wounds wearing fake smile bandages.  Here, safe places are scarce, because well meaning words can cut as deeply as thoughtless ones, and pity is more often salt than salve to the heart exposed.

Taylor was fidgety so I stood up and swayed with her in my arms.  I sang and spoke softly into her ear as we slow danced.  It relaxed us both and we settled into each other like old friends.

I will never hold one of my own like this.

It was a huge fist punching a hole through the floor of my heart and my despair was suddenly bottomless. The only thing holding me together was sorrow and the tiny person breathing on my cheek.  I held onto my friend a little tighter.  She laid her head on my shoulder and I inhaled her sweet baby smell like my life depended on it.

I’m not sure when or why, but I stopped singing and began to share my pain with her.  She didn’t understand a word I was saying, but she didn’t seem to mind the transition.  She didn’t complain when a few of my tears fell into her fine curly hair.  Then, something quite remarkable happened.  Some of my sadness began to leave me.

I noticed it right away.  Taylor must have noticed it too because she lifted her head from my shoulder and tried to look directly into my wet eyes.  I shifted her a bit so we could face each other properly.

She stared more than looked, right through me it seemed.  I didn’t hide anything from her.  If she had cried, it would have destroyed me.  I was that breakable.  She didn’t cry.  She just stared.  So I stared back.

Her eyes were round and clear, so clear that I saw myself in them, like I was looking into two little mirrors.  It wasn’t normal.  I could actually see my facial expression.  I smiled, and I could see my teeth.

We are never left with only one way to see anything.  Rain is bad for a hairdo, but good for the earth.  Losing everything also means you have nothing to lose, so go for it, whatever “it” is.  Fear can paralyze you or present an opportunity to be courageous.  The depth of misery is also proof of our capacity for love.

Seeing myself in Taylor’s eyes taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life.  Because I do not have any children, all children have me.  I am free to belong to every one that I encounter.  For a moment, an hour, or a season, I am theirs.  My attention is theirs.  My smile is theirs.  My joy is theirs.

Oh, and before you ask Well Meaning and Piteous, I have not ruled out adoption, and I am open to marrying a man with children.  But those are issues for tomorrow.  Today, I have no children.  Today, there is nothing where my womb used to be.  Today, I cried as I wrote this.

But…

TODAY IS BEAUTIFUL.  Today, my body is empty, but my heart is full.  Today, I am available and accessible.  Today and every day, I am grateful for YOUR children.  Can you say the same?  Today, I am free to love.

Mind Over Mirror by Michelle Jones

Mirrors have no charm.  They are not in the business of mincing words or sparing feelings.  Spinach in your teeth, ketchup on your blouse, that booger you missed when you blew your nose; these are all things your friends and even strangers will pretend they don’t see, but the mirror will not hesitate to call you out for the slob you are.  There was a time I couldn’t go near one without it calling out something that was wrong with me.

Fat Girl!

Gray hair!

Surgery scar!

Get some sleep!

I used to think all mirrors were jerks, until photographs started yelling at me too.  Pretty soon, I didn’t even have to see my own image.  I could look at a woman in a magazine, on a television show, or clothes on a rack at Macy’s.  They were all telling me the same things:

You’re not small enough, pretty enough, young enough, rich enough, smart enough.

Your skin is flawed.

Your hands are not dainty.

Have you noticed that your breasts, which once pointed proudly at the horizon, are now focused on a point just beyond your toes?

I was secretly angry at the guys who were beside themselves about Halle, Tyra, Beyonce and others.  I was sick of designers who seemed to create their garments for stick women and not me.  I stopped trying on clothes at the store.  I didn’t like eating in front of people because I thought they were judging me with every morsel I put in my mouth.  (It didn’t matter that they weren’t, because I was doing enough judging on my own.)

One day it occurred to me that the mirror, the television, the photographs and magazines, all of them, had the same voice:  my voice. The mirror wasn’t the jerk.  I was.

Better lives don’t just come to us. They reveal themselves to us when we’re ready to live as we are and give up whining about who we are not.  Whining cheapens the privilege of drawing breath, robs us of our hope, and tells the world we serve a derelict God.  It is impossible to complain and say “Thank You” at the same time.  It is impossible to move forward, make corrections, or improve from where you are not.

Here’s the thing.  Sometimes we have to fight to have the life we want, not always, but sometimes.  Some of us have pounds to shed, others of us have businesses to grow, children to raise, or a degree to earn.  Whatever the case, the first “enemy” is always yourself, and your weapon is always the Truth.

If you had asked for help, not eaten so much, exercised, or gotten your degree, things would be different today. That’s a fact, not Truth. Truth is what IS, not what would have been.

You quit your job and might not find a better one in this economy.  You’re over 40 and may never marry or have children.  That is a possibility, not Truth. Truth is what IS, not what might be or even could be.

We move toward our desires by dealing with Truth and Truth only.  When we’re drowning in our complaints, Truth is the stone that rises up out of the sea for us to stand on.  Believing keeps us from sinking and leads us to more Truth and before we know it, we become men and women who walk on water.

I’m not married, I’m not Beyonce, and I’m not rich.  Those are facts.  The Truth is I’m a beautiful, brilliant woman.  My lines are more Autobahn than Route 66.  Perhaps one day I’ll meet a beautiful, brilliant man who can handle the curves.  The fact that I don’t know him today doesn’t dim my light.

My mirror still has no charm, but it is silent and I have learned to say “Thank You” for the body I have, the person I am, and the wisdom to take care of both. I have learned to hope for and work toward a better tomorrow from where I am, not where I’m not.

Where are you?

What You Don’t Know… by Michelle Jones

Contentment does not come naturally to us.  We’re not born with it.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  We’re born restless, greedy, ungrateful and unsatisfied.  We enter the world anxious, not hoping; angry that the life we now have is nothing like what we left or what we want.

We have to learn to be content, right alongside eating with a fork and riding a bike.  When was the last time you learned something?  I don’t mean studying a thing for the sake of knowing about it, but rather learning for the sake of evolving and growing because of it.

We wake up anxious and scared because we are focused on a life that might come to us. We wake up depressed if we are focused on the life we wish we had. We regret because we are trying to hold onto the life we could have had. The key to contentment is and has always been to learn in the life you have until you have a different life in which to learn.

If you’re challenged, learn endurance and patience. If you’re poor, learn humility and frugality. If it’s raining, learn what it means to be fruitful as opposed to productive, allowing change instead of forcing results.

In the winter, the trees are naked. They look dead and incapable of doing or giving much. But so much is going on IN them. Their lives continue and they make use of their moments until spring clothes them with flowers and leaves.

If you’re in winter, learn where your roots are and how deeply they run beneath the earth. Learn that nakedness doesn’t mean you have nothing. Learn that you are still alive and breathing, thinking and capable of loving others if you choose to. Learn that you are stronger than your circumstances, more than your history, destined for something greater than the world’s expectations or your parentage, and richer than what is in your pockets. Learn those things and be transformed by them.

If you’re tired, learn how to rest while you sleep, because you’ve learned to distinguish between burdens which belong to you and burdens which don’t. Learn to exercise your spirit by living what you know, not just what you feel. Learn that gratitude is not pretending that nothing is wrong, but a declaration that you have not been defeated by it.

The life you have is not the one you will always have.  But you can do more with your moments than let the clock consume them.  You can choose to be different when you leave them behind you and reach for tomorrow.

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