Kari's Blog

Worth a Second Look

Imagine for a second a child saying “Ewww,” to something they see on the plate in front of them.  Can’t you just see the scrunched up nose, the wrinkle between their eyes, and even them pushing back from the table a bit?  I can. And I can also imagine many of us coaching our kids to try something new before they make a decision about it. Some of us even implement things like a “thank you bite” or “try it Tuesday,” to encourage their kids to expand their food horizons.

As an adult, you might not verbally say, “Eww,” to something on your plate, especially if you are the one who makes your own meals.  Maybe you stick to what you know in the culinary realm, or maybe you embrace new flavors and cuisines with gusto.  

But whereas our visible reaction to new foods may be less apparent, consider for a second your reaction to opinions, choices, or lifestyles that are different than what you are used to or would consider, “good.”  Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t take much imagination to picture us scrunching up our noses or displaying our displeasure in other visible ways.

But what if instead of scrunching up our noses, we remembered the advice we give our kids to not judge something before we “taste” it.  I’m not advocating that you have to immerse yourself into every new thing that comes along, but what if, before we started to think of what was wrong with an opinion or experience that was new/different, we took the time to listen to the other person’s point of view or accepted that we all have different preferences?

There’s always been the temptation to stick with what we know and hunker down into our own camps, but when we do that, we can start to forget that the variety that is present in the people around us is actually a gift from God.  

Colossians 1:16-17 reminds us, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  

Maybe it’s just me, but to some extent I think we more readily celebrate diversity in the natural world more than we do in the people around us, especially those who don’t look, think, or act like we do.  But when we only give someone value when they agree with us or look like us, we are actually doing ourselves a disservice; we end up cutting ourselves off from the opportunity to learn something new, and as such, grow as the person God has created and called us to be. We may also miss out on what God might be up to in, and through, that person.

Not Fair? Thank God!

When I was a kid, one of my favorite cereals was KIX cereal. The commercial advertising KIX showed a young girl sitting at her kitchen table with two bowls in front of her, and another girl sitting nearby.  The girl then proceeded to count out the number of KIX she was putting in each bowl….1, 2, 3 for you…1, 2, 3 for me, and so on until their bowls were full.

I still think of this commercial every now and then, especially when the topic of fairness comes up, which is often in a house with young kids. It captures how most of us tend to define fairness; both girls end up getting the same amount; neither receives more or less than the other.

A sense of fairness seems to be ingrained in most of us- we don’t want to get slighted or to end up with less than we think we deserve in comparison with someone else. It usually isn’t too far along in life until we hear someone tell us, “Life’s not fair,” or something to that effect.  Even still, it’s not something many of us like to hear.

Yet when I was in college, my idea of fairness was overhauled when a special education instructor visited our education methods class.  During her presentation she challenged us to think differently about what is fair. “Fair isn’t giving each student the same thing,” she told us.  “Fair is giving each student what she or he needs.”   

That definition of fairness has stayed with me since, and, like the KIX commercial, often comes to mind.  It comes to mind in regards to raising our kids. It comes to mind when I volunteer in my kids’ classrooms.  And it comes to mind when I read the Bible as well.  

There are many stories in scripture where the characters are intent on things being fair and going the way they want them to.  Perhaps the best known of all is the story of the Prodigal Son, in the gospel of Luke. As you may recall, in that story, the younger of two sons demands his share of his father’s inheritance and then goes off and squanders it all.  When he’s run out of money, he comes back to his father, who embraces him even while he is still far off and celebrates by throwing a party.  

In response to his father’s gratuitousness, the older son is enraged.  “Here I’ve been working day in and day out, and you haven’t given me anything!” he rants.  To which the father replies, “Son, all that is mine is yours; you’ve had me near you day in and day out.  But your brother was lost, and now he’s found– that is reason for me to rejoice.” As both sons learn, their father’s ways are not their ways, but his ways are characterized by mercy and grace.  

It makes me grateful that our God is thus inclined as well.  Though we are hardwired to want things to be fair, I give thanks that the Lord our God doesn’t give us what is fair but rather goes above and beyond what we deserve and gives us not only what we need, but an abundance of mercy, grace, and love besides.

Something to Delight In

I love gardening.  Each year, I look forward to putting my vegetable seeds in and watching my perennials push through the ground.  I can often be found outside, crouching low and peering at the soil for signs of growth. I never tire of seeing the green shoots start popping up and find great joy in watching things blossom and grow.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the same thing with something that delights you.  For those who love to quilt, I’m guessing you rarely get tired of seeing a pattern come to life or looking at the beauty of what another quilter has created.  For the person who delights in birding, it is likely with joy that you anticipate the return of various species in the spring and fill their feeders to attract them.  

It’s such a gift that God gives us things to delight in and that bring us joy.  To me, it’s yet another example of the ways God provides for us and something we can be grateful for each day.  God wouldn’t have to do this, and yet, it shouldn’t surprise us that God would bless us in this way.  

After all, God is no stranger to the feeling of delight.  The creation story in Genesis tells us how God looked at what God had created and said, “It is good.”  And not only that, the Bible tells us that we were created for God’s pleasure (Rev 4:11). That means God delights in us.  It’s a pretty amazing thing when you think about it.  

No more do we have to wonder if God cares for us, if God is listening to our prayers, or worry about doing enough to please God.  It’s quite the opposite, actually– there is nothing God likes more than to be with us and hear from us. Just like how simply looking at my garden fills my heart with joy, that’s how God feels when God looks at us and when we lean on him.

At times, this can be hard for us to believe.  We know ourselves well, and, as someone I know once said, “We carry our faults, failures, and insecurities like a snail carries its shell.”  But because of the cross, we can rely on the fact that nothing will change how much God loves us and delights in us. In fact, through our adoption as God’s children, when God looks at us, he sees nothing less than what he sees when he looks at Jesus.

So the next time you find yourself doing something you enjoy and delight in, I hope you will take a moment and let the reality that God delights in you sink in.  rest in the assurance of God’s love. Think about how much it pleases God when we delight in the blessings that have been brought into our lives and rest in the assurance of God’s love for you.  I could be wrong, but I can’t help but think that doing so will fill you with a deep sense of contentment and peace.

Our Worth is Secure

The story I was reading with my kids led to a conversation about how some people make fun of others in order to make themselves feel better.  We talked about the fact that the reason this happens is often because the person making fun of the other either doesn’t feel good about him or herself or feels like they need to prove themselves in some way.  

It’s a pretty familiar scenario with kids, but we all know that it plays out among grown-ups as well.  Whenever I see this sort of behavior happening, it makes me think about the incredible pressure that most of us feel on a daily basis to live up to some sort of unrealistic ideal, as well as how focused on “me” we have become.  

More people than we may realize are cracking under this pressure, but without a healthy way to acknowledge it.  And to some extent, since we’ve also put so much emphasis on success and image as a society, we have lost our sense of how we are all connected and have made each other into a sort of commodity instead: something whose value is related to how much it gets you in return.  

If our worth is based on how good we are, how much we do, or how perfect our lives look on the exterior, then it is no wonder that we end up judging, criticizing, and demeaning others or putting others down in order to make ourselves feel better.  But this doesn’t have to be our reality, and it doesn’t have to be the norm.

There’s another truth we can live by, and that’s the fact that we are beloved, redeemed, and forgiven by God. This is where our worth comes from. We don’t have to have it all together; we don’t have to have all the answers. We belong to God, and God will give us what we need for today.

It’s so simple and yet it bears repeating: God is crazy about you.  You don’t have to prove anything or do anything to earn it. Of course, God is also crazy about the person you can’t stand.  But that’s the message of Jesus in a nutshell: Love came down- to set us all free from our entrapments and baggage and show us just how much we are loved.  

This love is meant to set us free. We don’t have to spend so much time worrying about how we measure up or securing our worth. Knowing who we are in Christ, we can turn outwards to show our neighbors this same abiding, enduring love. 

I can’t say for sure, but I have a hunch that doing so would drastically change how we interact with one another, for the better.  Yet it strikes me that perhaps the person we need to extend the fullness of God’s love to most is ourselves. After all, we can’t give what we don’t have.  

So, even during this time, when we need to practice social-distancing, let’s not be stingy in sharing this love with others, or from allowing it to fully enter our own lives.  Let’s be radical in the hospitality, grace, and forgiveness that we extend to others. In doing so, I believe we will prove to all those who may doubt that a love like this truly can change the world.

Permission Granted

Though many of us are familiar with Jesus’ command to “love others as we love ourselves,” we tend to put more emphasis on the first part than we do the second. In fact, somewhere along the line, we even started to think that this was the way things were supposed to be. But the reality is that if we don’t practice the second part, it’s pretty hard to do the first part the way God intends.

It’s like something I heard during a radio interview of someone whose work focused on serving others. During the interview, she was asked how she was able to do what she did, which was focused on serving others, without burning out. In response, she told the radio host, “I’ve learned that what is in the cup is for me. It’s the overflow that is for others.”

Although I had heard something like this in the past, when I heard it that day, I got to thinking about all the times I don’t put it into practice, and the many ways I rationalize doing so. Most of us, on any given day or week, have numerous demands that come our way. Even if many of the things are good, if we’re not careful, it can get to the point where these commitments and responsibilities to others eat up all our time and energy, leaving nothing left over for ourselves.

But as a friend recently reminded me, taking care of yourself and being good to yourself is really where everything else starts. It’s essential to all our other relationships. And what I realized I needed was to give myself permission to do what I needed in order to be well without feeling bad about it.

As a someone who is a care-giver and introvert, who manages a chronic disease, and who works in a profession where one is rarely ever truly “off,” taking care of myself and staying healthy sometimes feels like a lot of work. And quite frankly, it is. But I have learned the hard way that if I don’t take care of myself and tend to my own heart, I’m not much good to anyone.

In contrast, when I put priority on getting enough sleep and taking time to exercise and journal, I have a more centered outlook. As a result, I feel a whole lot better about myself and life overall.

What I’ve come to realize is that when I continue to give and give, without taking the time to put anything back in my cup, it doesn’t take long for me to get more than a little bit crabby. And when that happens, I’m not a very enjoyable person to be around at home or at work, and I don’t even particularly enjoy being with myself.

That’s what happened the other day when we had people visiting on a weekend that would otherwise have been family time for just the four of us. One of the people visiting wanted to go on a boat ride, another wanted to go to a nearby attraction. I had recently gone back to work after my sabbatical, and I was desperately in need of some quiet time to recharge.

But instead of acknowledging what I needed and taking time for it, I chose to try to make everyone else happy instead. I ended up being frustrated with myself, which came across as frustration with others, and at the end of the day it all felt like a bust. I couldn’t help but wonder how differently things would have gone if I would have simply been able to say, “I need to take some time for myself and will catch up with you all in an hour,” without feeling guilty about it.

That said, if you’re someone who always puts others first, or who gives up time for yourself because you feel guilty taking it, what I hope you’ll hear in these words is an invitation to cut yourself some slack and to give yourself permission to take the time and space you need to practice some self-care and put your own oxygen mask on first.

It may take some time to get used to, but what I think you’ll find is that self-care really isn’t a bonus, nor is it something we can only do when we have time for it. Rather, it’s necessary in order to be the wholehearted and present mom, wife, and friend that we desire to be. And not only that, when we take this time, we are modeling to our kids, and other young women who come after us, that it is not a weakness to need this time, nor is it an indulgence. On the contrary, taking it actually makes us stronger.

Unbalanced but Centered

There’s a small lake near our home that is home to many ducks, geese, and pelicans in the summer. In the winter, there’s a small area of water that remains open, and the ducks and geese huddle near there on the ice in order to survive. This image reminds me of a different approach to finding a manageable balance in life, an approach that is related to something I heard at a conference several years ago.

The conference was about how lead managing change and transition, and somewhere in his presentation, the presenter shared how important it was to be healthy as a leader in order to lead others effectively. What he said next, I’ll always remember. He said that, for him, the key wasn’t figuring out how to have a balanced life; it was staying centered in the midst of unbalance.

Since then, this phrase has resonated with me, and the ducks are a picture of what it looks like to stay centered in the midst of unbalance, to take time to be filled up with the life-giving water of Jesus in the midst of life’s challenges and responsibilities, knowing that my livelihood depends on it.

Between home, work, school, and everything in between, I’ve come to realize that a balanced life isn’t something I’m ever going to achieve. Seasons ebb and flow and phases come and go, but there will always be multiple demands and responsibilities to juggle. Like many moms, the feeling of never being fully caught up is constant, and the tension between caring for others as well as myself is always there.

However, though a perfectly balanced life isn’t very realistic and may never be possible, a centered life is. So, for me, the question isn’t, “When or how will I find the right balance?” but rather, “What do I need in order to stay centered?”

Over the years, this question has become more and more crucial. I’ve experienced the despair and angst of hitting rock bottom, but doing so has also helped me clarify what I need and to realize that taking the time to stay centered is something I can’t do without. To me, staying centered doesn’t mean that life will be easy, but it does mean that as we navigate the many pressures and demands that come our way, we’re better able to handle them with grace, compassion, and kindness.

There will always be plenty of voices in life trying to tell us who we should be, what we should do, and how we should look if we want to be successful, beautiful, even happy. There is no shortage of people trying to buy into what they say it means to be a good spouse, parent, and career-person. I know these voices don’t have the final say, and that my worth isn’t defined by how much or how well I do.

Yet when I don’t take the time I need to stay centered, it’s a lot harder to not fall into these traps. I start to question my instincts, feel anxious about not measuring up, and I give too much weight to the opinions of others. When this happens, I also struggle more with feelings of guilt about the time I’m away from home, about taking time to exercise, and sometimes even about asking my husband to run an errand.

But Jesus didn’t come into our lives to make us feel guilty, or inadequate, or to give us unrealistic ideals to live up to. Instead, he said that, “The enemy came to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10- 11). To counter the lies that we are not good enough, not doing enough, and that we should feel guilty when we take care of ourselves, I’ve come to find that taking time with God is not optional, but required. In fact, I believe it’s essential to being the person we are created and called to be.

There have been periods in my life as a working mom when I’ve let it slip, and when I’ve come close to losing my sense of self in the process. The truth I keep coming back to is that when I do take time to be with God, to listen to God’s word, and to simply breathe, I feel much more grounded and centered as a person. And as a result, I not only feel better about myself, I am also more present and at peace in all my other roles.

Over the years, I’ve learned that when I take the time to care for myself, I also feel more connected to the people I care about and positive about those relationships in general  In fact, despite how difficult it can sometimes be to find time to exercise, or fit in a date with Thomas, or take time away from my family to get together with friends, when I make time for these things, I am always reminded of how true it is that when we take time to care for ourselves in body and soul, we have more love and grace to share with others as well.

I’ve also learned, time and time again, that it’s only by spending time with the One who created us that we discover who we are.  That it’s is only by being filled up with God’s love that I can extend love and compassion to others. And that it’s only by listening to God’s still, small voice that I can stay true to who I am rather than be tossed about by the waves of other voices and demands in my life.  My hope and prayer as a pastor and writer is to help others discover this in their own lives as well, so that they too may experience the abundant life that Jesus promises.