Saturday, November 28, 2015


Monday, November 16, 2015

How to kill any relationship with expectations

Whether we realize it or not, each of us enters relationships with a set of expectations. This is true of friends, spouses, coworkers, neighbors and our children. These expectations have the ability to sabotage our relational health and leave us we huge wells of disappointment. They also have the power to crush those around us.

There are four types of expectations I've identified as being prevalent in my own life. Joe was given first read and he wants me to clarify that this list contains the busted expectations and that there can be good ones that are aligned and met.

Unrealistic Expectations
The clearest example of this in my own life is the expectation that my boys will behave in a public space past their bedtime. This is completely unrealistic. They are tired, most likely hungry, and simply cannot hold it together. If I expect to have an adult conversation with a friend in these circumstances, it is almost guaranteed that I will be interrupted during each sentence I try to speak. For me to then get angry when the kids fail to meet this expectation is unfair to them. Several other unrealistic expectations are that friends know when they are needed without being told, that a spouse will fill all our emotional needs or fill the same roles that our own parents did, that a parent will never be hurt by our words, that all our friends will share our political positions, that an employee can achieve 70 hours of work in a 40 hour work week, that others will always notice and praise us for the work we do, etc. When everyone is disappointing us, maybe we need to reassess our expectations and determine if they are realistic.

Uncompromising Expectations
Admittedly, uncompromising expectations are sometimes essential for boundaries and well-being. For example, "no means no" isn't something we should budge on. However there are other expectations that are actually rooted in preferences that may not be shared by the people we place them on. Sometimes our preferences collide with the preferences of those we love, and we have to be willing to determine what's best for the good of everyone. We can't always be autonomous. An example early in my own marriage was some fairly intense conflict Joe and I has over the cleanliness of our house. I create messes, piles and chaos, he cannot peacefully dwell in the midst of clutter. My expectation was that he would love me for me and accept my mess. His expectation was that if I loved him, I would never leave out any piles and help maintain a healthy environment for him. Neither of these were completely unrealistic. Eventually, we learned to compromise both our expectations and our actions. I still struggle with clutter creation, and he still gets frustrated by the mess, but we've both changed patterns and carry weights in order to ease the expectations we place on each other. I try to respect our communal spaces, not have multiple rooms with multiple ongoing projects, and he daily cleans up tons of messes that aren't his own and has shown an abundance of patience during times when I explode.

Unspoken Expectations
Here's another marriage example. When we had our first baby, I expected that on the weekends my husband would shift into doing 50% of the care-giving, including diapers. I never told him this, but I expected it. This didn't happen. He was completely exhausted from long work weeks and expected rest. Don't get me wrong, he did about 110% of the cleaning and cooking, but he could not smell a dirty diaper if it were in front of his face -- or at least he pretended not to. I finally blew a gasket and declared that I was fine if life and my duties carried on as normal on weekends, but I just needed to know what to expect. I didn't want to wait around for him to notice and change the diaper while the baby developed a rash just to give him the chance to step up and do it. My own unspoken expectations up to this point were making me bitter, but once they were spoken and realigned, I could handle it. We also can do this to friends when we have a set of hoops that friends must jump through if they love us. Is it a text quota? Is it a certain threshold of quality time? Do you even know what your expectations are? Sometimes our expectations are unspoken because we are unaware that they even exist. However, if you go and look at your disappointments, chances are you can pinpoint an expectation that wasn't met in each case. Also in this category are the expectations that we falsely represent. We say one thing yet really mean another. Maybe we do this because we are embarrassed by what we want. Maybe we think the other person will read between the lines. A key to communication is making sure the message sent is the message received.

Assumed Expectations
This was a nasty one that is similar to how we can project our feelings onto another person. Hypothetically, you have a friend with a seemingly perfect marriage or dating relationship. You feel insecure, and she essentially becomes your unicorn. You measure everything you do to what she does. You then assume that your own partner idealizes her and her marriage as well and expects you to be the same way. In your failure to live up to that unicorn relationship, you imagine that your partner is disappointed with you. Maybe you do this as a mom. Maybe you assume your boss expects you to perform just like the coworker that you consider to be a creative genius. This is a lie. We are all individuals, our relationships are unique, and we should not try to chase an unattainable ideal that may not be a reality. I've done this in just about every category of relationships. Worst yet, I've assumed God had a set of expectations of me, and I've allowed those to distance me from Him.

So that's basically it. We all have expectations, and they aren't all bad. But we have to realize that they are our own and it's up to us to figure out that they are there and either adjust them, communicate them and root them out when they are lies.

"Well this was unexpected..."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Journey of Love

It may have been senior year of college, the timing seems right, when I was walking down one of the sidewalks of main campus, probably around Riddick or Mann Halls and the words, "You care more about knowing my will than you care about knowing Me," were heavy on my heart. I won't go so far as to claim I heard the voice of God, but this conviction was crystal clear. I had been mulling over which path to take -- law school, a counseling program, missions work, creative writing school, or stay in engineering. I wanted direction. I wanted to know what to do with my life, and based on my prayer life, the only use I had for God was for Him to point me on the right path.

But what if the right path has nothing to do with our careers or hobbies? What if the right path is a soul journey in which our hearts find their way to the center of God's heart? What if all the others are simply the sights and sounds and tastes we experience along that journey, and what if our careers and friends are the avenues God gives us to express joy and love as we get to know Him more deeply and show Him to the world around us? Would that not revolutionize how we interact within our spheres of influence?

This idea feels dismissive of the time we invest in education, attaining skills, building connections with people, but I don't think it dismisses us from engaging in our world or from hard work. We have a God that labors to love us and pursue us. Jesus poured out his life, walked miles on his journeys so his path would intersect with people desperate for his healing. He validated and dignified people on the fringes by sitting with them in conversation. He fed, healed, and wept with people.

Pursuing a journey into the heart of Jesus doesn't deny the physical, but it draws out the deep spiritual meaning in all we do. It breathes life into these shells of lives we sometimes suspect we are living. Those in an endless rat race can look around and see the other rats and begin to point them towards the completely free, endless, delicious cheeses from Jesus. Those who feel like wasted talent as they wipe bottoms, do laundry and prepare food can look at Jesus who washed feet and fed fish and bread to thousands who may not have even thanked him. The journey is love that transforms everything. It doesn't dismiss us from the hard parts, but gives us a reason to continue through them.

Two Springs ago I was completely convinced that I was inadequate in nearly all areas of life. I felt like a fraud, I felt there was no eternal value to my job, and I was disappointed. More than anything, I was paralyzed by the apparent meaninglessness of it all. I dreaded the potential forty years of these emotions ahead of me. It turned out I was suffering from some pretty extreme anxiety, but these emotions that bubbled up didn't invent themselves. They were unconfronted whispers of lies that, in a time of weakness and a season of chaos, rose up and became my truth.

I was meant to be someone who did great things. I was smart and hadn't used my gifts. I had cashed out on a call to something adventurous for a simple, American hybrid urban-suburban life. My faith was nothing more than Sunday homage to a faith tradition. God had given up on me.

These were lies. Such powerful lies! They filled me with fear, guilt and shame. But God had not given up on me.

I now take medication for the anxiety, but medication can only mask those feelings. I have to do daily battle with those lies by drawing near to God. He makes it okay that I am small. He makes it okay that I haven't published research or produced something great with my academic skills. He makes it okay that I'm not the most stellar wife and mother. I am okay being small. I am okay being insignificant in the eyes of the world yet treasured by Him.

My approach to daily interactions is often prefaced by a simple prayer of, "Show me whom I am supposed to love." It happened yesterday at jury duty. I listened to a woman's great disappointment. I don't think love has to be a full gospel presentation upon first meeting. Love is listening, dignifying, being kind. It is caring with the affection of Jesus so that his or her heart is primed and thirsty for more. Love is encouraging students. Love is doing menial tasks for your child's teacher. Love is changing the coffee filter in the office. Love is letting that journey towards the center of Jesus's heart wash over and around and through you so that everyone else in your proximity gets wet.

This lifts up the soul like nothing else. We were made by love and for love, and when we love through Him, we find our purpose. All else are the details.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Pottery Update

Somehow I allowed a lot of time to pass after last using my wheel. It's not that I was officially taking a break, but with the kids being home in the summer and then adjusting to having both in school and figuring out how much time to spend volunteering there, working on my fall class (I teach distance graduate engineering courses), and trying to catch up on the neglected house projects, I let the pottery fall to the side. Time was an issue but so was a messy garage. Even if I had made the time to create, I wouldn't have been able to use the space.

Now the studio has been cleaned and rearranged, and I've started back throwing. There is a show coming up on December 3, and that is the only show I've signed up for this season. So I'm going simple - back to cylinders. I love simple forms, and it doesn't get much more basic than a cylinder in pottery. This stack of cylinders is a combination of mugs and succulent planters... or utensil holders. I sometimes leave the potential use up to the customer's imagination. Right now they are all white and blue. The dining room is filled with plants right now, so some will definitely end up as windowsill gardens.

The other plan is to have some ornaments for sale at the show. I will head to Pullen Arts Center and knock out a day or two of slab work later this week. I've got tons of cookie cutters and am debating what words to have on the ornaments this year.

That's all for now! I will add progress shots in a later post.

Heavy swirl plate
Collection of cookie cutters
Wine glass stolen from the kitchen
Molds and bats
Work space

Saturday, October 10, 2015

If cats could talk...

"Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. She said, 'I want to pick something you'll be able to wear again.' Hrmph."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Guns and Grit

Aka "sander selfie".

I started a new project this week, which was spurred on by moving around furniture. I'm really hoping gray spray paint will stick to this lightly sanded white paint, because I don't have the guns or grit to fully strip this cabinet that we picked up from the flea market several years ago. It seems the cabinet has been rehabbed at least once before. The current (dirty, chipping and smelly) white is just too punchy for the rest of the room. I took off the doors Monday, sanded Tuesday, and left it sitting in the driveway Wednesday. When it comes to house projects, I don't have the best follow through. The cabinet is old enough that the standard hole spacing for pulls has changed from 2.5" to 3", so I'll likely have to shop around some reuse places or fill and drill holes for new pulls. I'm not sure what to do for the hinges either. Ideally those will will replaced and get new holes since some of the old screws weren't installed straight. Those doors still need sanding as well. 

Dirty paint and pulls have got to go!

Glass doors are off!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Am I doing this right?

When I was a brand new mama, I spent the first six months seeking answers from google, online forums and a friend who was a couple months ahead of me and had read far more parenting books than myself. I struggled to have confidence in the job I was doing. The strength of opinions coming at me from all sides undermined what little confidence I had in my abilities to be a good mom. Other than other panicked mothers on baby forums posting pictures of odd rashes and five-minute play by plays of their baby's fevers, I came across very few parents who would, in a place of vulnerability, offer up that they too questioned their own choices and longed for a little validation. Parents instead came off so confidently when they shared their decisions (like a school, or a meal plan, how they discipline,or a diapering method) and could likely rattle off a list of justifications for their decision. This was overwhelming. When my first son was around six months old, a switch finally flipped and I quit comparing my mothering to others' and started to trust my instincts. Eventually, my mantra became, "Is the baby alive? Is he fed? Is the booty clean and dry? Yes? Then you are doing a fine job." Babies were fairly simple. Meet their basic needs and snuggle as much as possible.

Now, several years down the road, I struggle with new choices and similar insecurities. I find myself trying to develop a list of justifications for the choices I make, and I'm not sure whom I am trying to convince that I'm doing this right. There are still those basic needs, and we never start or end a day without some snuggling, but there is a lot more in the middle. Opportunity. Practice. Deep spiritual conversations. Discussions about ethics. Reconciliation after fights. Supporting growing independence yet demanding obedience. Nurturing and pushing forward. Honoring commitments. Re-assessing privileges. Personal pursuits and family time. In each of these areas, I'm trying to figure out when I need to be soft, and when I need to be hard. When I need to be a stone that sharpens a knife, and when I need to be a salve that eases the pain of a wound. When I need to send out, and when I need to draw us in.

We take things slowly. I keep feeling the pressure to push push push, try try try, and worry that there is some opportunity/camp/lessons/special test that I've failed to provide them. And maybe I have, but childhood is barreling by us, and soon they will be young men. So for now, we lean into family. One sport at time. One after-school club. Not so many play dates. Not every single church meeting. No banking on any particular talent as the ticket to anyone's future or thinking progress reports define the child. We work on defining love and encouraging character. We talk about how the love they show their friends may be the only picture of Jesus's love some of their friends see. We talk about their friends' behavior or hurtful actions and try to understand what may have motivated them and figure out how we can better live with them. We admit when we've been jerks. I pray they don't fall into my personal trappings. I keep telling myself I need to get them more dental floss. I try to not be emotionally manipulative or check out, but I am and I do and I come back for extra snuggles.

Am I doing this right?

I will fail, over and over.

Are you doing this right?

There are no forums, no friends, no family that can satisfy that question we all carry to the grave.

It's why often my prayers aren't requests but simply acts of surrender.

"God, I give you this child. See my open hands? He is yours. I trust that You love him more than I ever could. I need Your mercy. He needs Your mercy. You are my confidence."

From Hebrews 4:
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."


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