Meeting Miss Cookie in Dunkin' Donuts

I was having a date with my daughter Bethany in Dunkin' Donuts yesterday morning when these two elderly women approached us. We were minding our own business, but I could tell that they were drawn to Bethany's sweetness and youth. They looked to be having a date of their own: they were quite dressed up in the formal way that elderly women sometimes have. One woman was wearing high heels and pearls.They seemed lonely for family, yet happy for the togetherness of the date. I had overheard them earlier discussing belated phone calls from their children, asking them for updates about things that had happened months ago.

When they approached us, they asked us the normal questions: how old is Bethany, is she in school, what grade is she in, does she like school, what is her name? Once we started talking about names, one of the women told us that her name was Cookie, and she showed us how to sign her name in sign language. Then she disclosed something else about her name that I wasn't expecting: "My real name isn't actually Cookie, you know," she said. "I don't tell anyone my real name. It's ugly. It's an old fashioned name. It's ugly and nasty and I've always hated it since I was a little girl." 

At first I was taken aback. Then I thought..."Do I say something about what I really feel about what she just said??? Or do I just continue to speak to her on a surface level politely?" I decided to say what I felt, but kind of 'test the waters.' 

Here's what I said. I said: "You know, I think that that's what happens to all of us, in some area or another. A little lie sneaks in about the way we are when we're little girls, and it tries to tell us about the way we are. It could our name, or about the way our face looks, or about something about our body, or about our personality...that little lie sneaks in and tries to tell us that something about us is ugly, and not good. And then we think we should try to hide it away forever. But it's probably not that that part of us is so bad, or even ugly. We've just been so confused by the lie when we were little and the sad thing is, it affects us even until we're adults." 

She looked surprised by what I was saying, and this Miss Cookie said, "You know, you're probably right. One time, I saw this gorgeous woman." [I should give quick interjection to say that I don't subscribe to what Miss Cookie is saying by default- by saying that she saw a 'gorgeous woman' she's also by default saying that some women are 'gorgeous' are some are not. I do NOT agree. I think our culture has taught us a way of seeing and judging and analyzing beauty that is NOT the same way God assesses women and their beauty. I think that's another layer of how a lie creeps in when we're little and it dictates the way we think even as adults.] Anyway, she said, "I saw this gorgeous woman, and she had on this gorgeous black sweater, and it had my name written across the sweater boldly. She wasn't ashamed of my name at all. But I was." 

I told her, "Maybe it was a sign to you that your name- that part of who you are- isn't repulsive at all actually. It's actually beautiful. You just haven't had eyes to see it." She looked at me, with wishing, with eyes that were wanting to be hopeful eyes, but with eyes that had spent too many years of believing that lie, and said, "Maybe. But I'm 71 years old. I don't think I'm going to change now." As we parted ways, I said, "I hope this year is filled with more signs for you about your name." 

As you read that little interaction, you might feel, "Geez. Let the 71 year old lady use whatever name she wants to! You don't even know her!" And that is true. I went out on a ledge. I don't know her story. I don't know her. 

But I DO know ME. And I do know women and the pain we collectively carry as we have ALL believed parts of us (that are actually delightful and wonderful) are ugly, gross, shameful, and unfit for others to see or hear or know about. And I do know that we have an enemy that specializes in lies. He loves to steal and kill and destroy what is actually so valuable, precious, worthwhile, well-made, crafted and beautiful

So with all of that assurance and knowledge, I felt quite comfortable taking a risk with Miss Cookie to push her tiny bit as she shared a window into the pain she had carried for her whole life. She had believed that her name- a part of her that tells who she is, that distinguishes her uniqueness, that is a significant part of her identity- was ugly. And that is just so sad. Her name is a part of the glory of who she is...and for her whole life, it's been stolen. 

The other reason I felt quite comfortable pushing a tiny bit is because I have personally experience the liberation that comes when Jesus comes to a place that I've labeled as 'ugly' or 'shameful' or 'no one will love this about me,' and He calls me beautiful, wonderfully made, precious, crafted on purpose. There's nothing like that kind of love. 

May we all, including Miss Cookie, experience more of that kind of piercing love that results in liberating freedom.


What's True About Me: Part 1

I often lose sight of what is foundationally true of me. 

I often think, "Oh NO! Bad things are happening! Scary things are happening! My kids are falling apart! My husband is exhausted and overworked! Our family is a mess. My relationships are messy. This person is mad at me. I'm mad at this other person. This is all bad, bad, BAD!"

And I forget what has been promised to me, by the One who made me, who thought me up in the first place

He's promised that in all of these things that overwhelm me, every day, what I experience will be goodness and mercy, whether I have eyes to see it or not.

He's promised that He will never stop doing good to me: that He will use what seems like chaos to me, what seems bad to me, to work His healing and His redemption into my life. He will change me into something new.

He's promised that He is washing me through all of this, so that one day, He will present me as part of His bride, pure and radiant.

He's promised that nothing can separate me from His love: His love keeps coming, keeps pursuing me, keeps following me, keeps embracing me, no matter what my state is, how faithful I've been.

If you're like me...and you tend to might need to spend some time letting some of these promises wash over you again. 

I've compiled some songs that declare the strength of God's promises that don't stop because of circumstances or our performance. Maybe you're like me, and you need to take some time to stop your busy pace, and remember what's foundationally true about you. These songs help remind me. 



I Want To Be Right

I texted my friend this morning kind of a weird request. I asked her to do a favor for me that I knew was a little bit controlling, a little bit weird. I wanted her to just say, "Sure, Sarah, no problem. I'll do whatever you're asking." But she actually kind of hesitated about my request...and said, "Actually, I'm going to have to talk to you about this a little bit later."

And the anxiety started rising up in me.

'What does she think about me?'

'She's going to think that I'm doing something wrong.'

I started imagining what her hesitation was...and if I was wrong or right in my request. Analyzing if I could defend myself...or if I just should feel down on myself, that I'm bad, a bad person, that I did something bad.

After awhile of mulling all this over ('Am I good? Am I bad?') I tuned in to the anxiety churning around inside of me, and I turned on some music that would help turn my 'spiritual' eyes back up to God. I started remembering some of the things that I know are now true about me because of the Good News of what Jesus did for me by dying on the cross and rising again:

I don't have to be right anymore.

I don't have to justify myself by being right all the time, by never making a mistake, by being more together than other people, or always having the right answer.

I don't have to prove that I'm good enough; I don't have to have to impress anyone or gain anyone approval.

God is gracious. He made a way for me to be me: broken, a mess, often controlling and confused. And His way is that He sent Jesus to pay the price for my sin and He has given me Jesus' He can now be gracious to me. He is happy with me right where I am, and where He's taking me, who He's forming me into.

As I contemplated what the Gospel frees me up to not have to do anymore (be right all the time) and what it lets me be (just be enjoyed and loved and cherished by God as the mess that I am), I started realizing I think that when I'm corrected, it's a shameful thing. When I'm not right, it means I'm bad. I'm shamed. I should hide that part of me.

That's one of the biggest things that bothers me, that scares me, that angers me, that even enrages me, about how our culture deals with children. 


And, as a result, we teach them that making a mistake is shameful. Being in process is bad. Not being perfect is to be hidden. And we are a culture that collectively wishes we could eradicate our imperfections. You can see it everywhere, from our hatred of any fat on our bodies, to self-mutilation, to rampant perfectionism and hiding who we really are.

That's what I learned growing up. When I did something wrong, it was a shameful experience. I see it when my children are around other adults. It doesn't have to be a volatile or aggressive situation. My daughter was riding a little toy car the other day and she, on mistake, ran over a little toddler's toe with the car and several adults, without even thinking, even in tiny comments to her, spoke shame over her. It happens every single day, in every day interactions.

But the Father, GOD, isn't like that. He doesn't interact with us like that. He doesn't shame us for our messiness, for our sin. He is gracious. His discipline, His correction, is kind, is compassionate, is gentle, is good. His parenting is completely different than our culture's. His embrace is shame-free. We never have to prove we are good enough, or hide that we aren't. We can just be who we fully are, and know that we will be embraced and delighted in. 

That's the true Father's love...and that is what will give me rest as I wait to hear what made my friend hesitate about my request.


Running For More Than My Rear

I have two daughters. They’re both mine biologically. So that means I physically carried them both in my body...and my body carries the tell-tale signs of those two pregnancies. I don’t feel (or look) 16 anymore. 

After my second daughter was born, for a long time, I wasn’t happy with how much weight I had gained in the pregnancy and how much of it still remained on me after she was born...and crawling...and walking...and talking. And I’m going to confess something: I felt shame about that extra weight. 

I’ve been reading a couple of books recently by a woman named Brene Brown, who’s a researcher who became somewhat famous after doing a TED Talk  (a 20 minute talk on ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’) that went viral in 2010 about shame and vulnerability. She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Yep. That’s exactly what I felt about being a different size postpartum: unworthy of acceptance and belonging. I felt embarrassed in social situations, like everyone knew that I was failing at an ‘essential’ part of who I am. I felt not good enough.  

So guess what I did? I decided to do something about it. I jumped into an exercise routine. I started attempting to incorporate a lot more fruits and veggies into my diet. “Great!” you might say. In the past few months, though, I’ve realized that it’s not so great. 

I’m realizing something about the way I exercise that I want to share with you. I honestly don’t tend to exercise to be healthy and care for my body. I exercise to chisel myself into being good enough. I felt shame (remember? ‘not good enough for acceptance’) when I was at my ‘unacceptable’ limit of what I weighed. I thought my extra fat on my hips made me unworthy of love. So I started exercising as a means to prove my worth. As a way to save myself from the pain of not being accepted and loved. 

As a side note, do you know how I can tell what my motivations are about exercising? It’s how I feel, and what thoughts are going through my mind when I’m doing it, and how I view my body afterwards. When I’m running to mold my body back into shape so that I can prove my worth, I feel driven. I feel like I have to run harder, gofurther. Or I might feel prideful if I did a good run. I’ll think thoughts like, “This will really help how my body looks.” Or, as I’m running, “I’m literally running the fat on my rear end off right now.” I don’t feel gentle or kind or caring to myself. I feel more like, “Make it happen. Fix it. Prove it.” 

Wow. Talk about an internal striving for something much more than just taking care of my body. The exercise turns into a means of obtaining the ‘False Savior’ of being skinny and having a toned body. It promises me that I’ll have safety and status if I’m skinny. I won’t have to feel the pain of rejection or or the vulnerability of not belonging because it will save me. I’m using exercise to achieve something for me that it can’t. It can’t rescue me. 

Now that I’ve realized what’s been going on in my heart, I’ve been wondering what repentance would like. How would I practically turn away from ‘skinny’ being my hope for salvation?

My honest answer is that I’m not quite sure yet. I have some ideas. But I’ve grown up in this culture that’s told me my whole life these terrible lies that I have to be skinny to have worth, and that people who lose baby weight in the blink of an eye are better than those who don’t. I know the answer isn’t to eat whatever I want and to boycott lunges and squats for the rest of my life. It’s got to have something to do with my heart. Where deep inside, I reject our culture’s push and let God train me in a new way of thinking. And it’s got to have something to do with taking care of my body in a way that’s mentally and emotionally kind and gentle to myself. I focus on other benefits of exercise and eating right: the ‘therapy’ that running is for my thoughts and emotions, the enjoyment of moving my body and pushing it to work hard, the way my body feels better when I’ve eaten in a balanced way. 

I’ve heard people talk before about ‘eating for the glory of God,’ and I guess that would be the difference: to do even exercising and eating as an outflow of being already loved and accepted and belonging to God, instead of doing them as a means to secure my salvation among my peers. It’s like doing the exact same actions, but with a very different mentality. I definitely don’t have all the answers for what it can look like, but I’m hoping that God will continue to teach I run.