Then Comes the But

Someone I love dearly was trying to compliment me some days ago. It started out so well, “Your hair looks really nice today, but…” Now, I’ve learned to really hear the first part of what he says, because that’s where the gold is. The second part is where he sometimes loses sight of his original intention.

But usually, it looks like you just came out of the barn, which is kind of true I guess…”

I laughed a little, and shrugged, “I just brushed it. Which I do everyday.”

“Yeah, yeah, it looks nice but…

Another but…

“you should brush it more often.”

Why does there have to be a but after a compliment? I heard once that everything you say after “but” is all someone hears/absorbs. When I heard that message (I think at church, but I could be mistaken) I purposed in my heart to listen different. Instead of letting the but hurt my feelings, I decided to really hear the first part and let the rest of it slide like water off a duck’s back.

Most of the time, it works.

As I listened to my Dad with his compliment-but routine, I just kind of laughed to myself. He’s been communicating like that for years. The but part used to hurt my heart badly and I never caught what came before. I’m thankful that has changed.

I then thought about how I communicate with my kids, and whether or not I insert a but at the end of every nice thing I try to say. No way, right?

“Thanks for taking out the trash but next time…”

“You did good on that assignment, but…

“Thanks for washing the dishes, but…

“Look you got yourself dressed! But…

“Thank you for getting up on time, but…

“You’ve been really responsible today, but…

I love you and I see you and I see you’re trying but you are just not quite meeting my expectations. You just fall short. Just try a little more. Give a little more. Do a little more.

What kind of mental/emotional/achievement economy am I setting up here? One where they just can’t quite reach the bar labeled The Standard? Where they are always just a little bit lacking?

Goodness, that is not my intention. That’s the trouble with intention vs. action though – sometimes we have to examine where our actions have split at a fork in the road and are betraying our intentions – because it was easy, we just didn’t think about it, we are trying to offer helpful advice, or a myriad of other reasons. Our actions don’t always easily line up with our intentions. Sometimes we have to really focus on the gap between and draw our actions in to match what our intentions really are.

So I do the same thing to my kids, what about my husband?

“I appreciate how hard you work but…

“Thanks for taking care of the yard but…

“Thanks for bringing me home a treat but…

It’s a pervasive little word that really does cancel out the nice thing you are trying to say. So this week, I’m going to focus on eliminating the but in my words. I’m going to try to offer genuine praise and appreciation, without telling anyone how they could do better next time. I don’t want to create an achievement economy that says there is never enough you can do in a day/week/month.

Until next time,
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A Prayer to Share:

Dear God,

Adding a but after the things we say really cancels out the good we started out with. Please help us develop the ability to put the but aside. To offer genuine praise and encouragement to those around us. Help us to focus on building up and not tearing down – and reveal to us and in us the little things that we may not think matter, but that really do.

In Jesus’ Sweet name, Amen.

What She Shouldn’t Have to Know

I’m always trying to make things with the kids. Today, we made homemade pretzels – 20190227_154206.jpginspired by a friend’s post a few days ago. They turned out yummy and we got to have a little science lesson about how the crust on a pretzel turns brown. (We didn’t quite get ours as brown as “normal” but they turned out tasty and browner than bread.)

We were all twisting dough into shapes and having a blast with it, competing to see who could make the most pretzel-y looking pretzel, when my sweet 6-year-old tapped me on the arm.

“Mom, look, look what I made. It’s one of those…” She blanked.

“Like a Chiari ribbon?” I tried to fill in.

“No, for hanging yourself,” Sadness in her expression, she pointed at it.

I was frozen in the thickness in the air, staring at her ribbon-pretzel, and I swallowed hard.

Her sweet big brother chimed in, “Yeah, suicide awareness!” and smiled big at her, so she could smile too.

“If we had the right colors, we could paint it. Purple and teal, right Momma?”

I nodded, “We sure could baby girl.”

She let me know she wasn’t going to cook it that way, because she wanted to make an ‘R’ and she went back to the work before her.

And I begged God to keep my legs beneath me and my tears at bay as I worked with the dough in my hands. You see, we have these conversations so often in our home, about suicide, and suicide awareness. We have to, as we nearly lost one of our kids to suicide. I am typically the one that starts them – which means I pick the time and the setting and I get to pep talk myself into the moment. This one caught me off guard. She shouldn’t have to know about this just yet. Sure, sure, in a few years. But she is 6 years old.

But we do know. We all know and we can’t erase or ignore what we know, what we’ve seen, what we’ve walked through. Thank God we haven’t walked through it alone. Thank God we’ve always had a hand to hold, His faithful peace and presence, and friends to love on us.

I often have to remind myself of the hard things I’ve been through in the past, and how those very hard things have shaped who I am, and how those things become part of my personal statement about who I am becoming. Sometimes the hard things require some undoing and unlearning and new learning to reach for who I am becoming. But sometimes they are just part of the story.

Looking back on hard moments in my life, I see how short-lived most of them were. I also see how faithful God is to use our deepest pain for His greatest glory. It’s not always easy, and it’s not usually the way I would have chosen, but His ways are higher than mine, and I surrender to His purposes and plans.

She shouldn’t have to know. But she does. And since she does, I’m going to teach to her look for God in the hardest moments, and to wait expectantly for the good things He will do in and through a hard situation. Not just her, of course. But each of the precious children God picked for me.

Tomorrow, I’ll pull her into my lap and hold her close. I’ll talk to her about the ribbon she made and what it means to her. I’ll apologize for my quiet response and held back tears. I’ll tell her how those moments can sneak up on a Mommy and we don’t always know what to do with them. And we’ll talk about how much we love each other, and how much Jesus loves us. And we’ll talk about her brother and how much we love him, and how much Jesus loves him. And she’ll put me on the spot with some really hard questions, that she asks a lot, often. Some of them I can answer. Some of them, I cannot answer.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or just not feeling safe, you can call 1-800-273-8255 and talk to someone who is willing to help you through.

Until Next Time,

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Is it Hard for You?

As so often happens, a semi-long ride in the car prompted lots of talk amongst my little people and I. I’m learning these windows of opportunity to really talk to them and more importantly, to listen, are fleeting and few. I try to be present for the moments and conversations as they happen. (Keyword is TRY. Sometimes I miss it.)

As you all know, our feed store adventure came to an end and now I’m home with the kids – which has been fantastic so far. We’ve been doing just as I hoped – getting our school grove back, making a little progress on the house, and working on lots of outside farm projects. The end of the feed store sparked a lot of conversations. The one I’m going to tell you about was probably the hardest one for me.

I’ve learned that my kids have to see me vulnerable, not getting it all right, not having all of the answers. Or more importantly, they see those things and they need to hear that I see it too, that I accept it, and that I’m not pretending to be more than I am. If I can be real, and real with them, maybe I can impart the courage to be real to them. Maybe.

As he usual, Isaiah asks the hardest questions. He started out with, “Mom…Mom… Do you think the new owners will do better with the feed store than us?”

You mean than me, right son? The words I thought but didn’t dare say, they took a lot of ownership in the feed store. But at the end of the day, it was up to me to run it “right”.

“Yes, I do.” I replied. Eyes on the road ahead, don’t look in the rear view mirror. Don’t encourage wherever this is leading.

“What do you think they’ll do better?”

It boils down to consistency, and I wish that had been my answer, but I said, “Everything,” with a shrug, “probably everything, kiddo. They’ll keep the store stocked and they won’t let someone work there that doesn’t show up on time. The store will be open, clean, stocked. And rightfully so, they should do better than I did.” And quieter. A lot quieter. No baby crying in the high chair, kids running with show sticks and screaming, and 12-year-old sales pitches.

The car fell silent, and I’ll be honest, my thoughts were starting to get to me. The failures. The things I could have done better. The things I should have done better. Could have. Should have. Would have. Somewhere in that mess of thoughts, I heard the sweet voice of my boy again, “Mom?”

“Hmm?” I finally glanced in the mirror, meeting big, inquisitive eyes.

“Is it hard for you?”

“What?” I asked.

“Is it hard for you, knowing they will do better than us?”

Why doesn’t the team that helps you give birth to a child also hand you a book or pamphlet that prepares you for the fact that your kids will kind of gut you, while expecting your honest, vulnerable answers, but needing you to shoulder your trials with grown up strength – especially when you most want to curl up and let someone else make the decisions and take on the responsibilities? Why, in this moment, when everything is still raw, fresh, and I’m still kind of crossing my fingers that I did the right thing, does my son need to know if it’s hard to know they’ll do better? Is he asking me if I know that I failed?

“So hard, Isaiah. It is so hard knowing they’ll do better. And good. I want them to do better, because getting the feed store was an honor to me. I felt like the torch of something historical and long-standing had been passed to me, to our family. I wanted to carry it well, but the truth is, I didn’t. I tried. But too many things out of our control happened after we got the store and I just never could quite get my act together. I wanted to run it as wonderfully as the new family is going to, as wonderfully as the family before us did. But I can’t honestly say that I did as well as I hoped. And all of this is hard. Except for the part that I know I’ll be home with you guys, and we’ll have great adventures and we will build things and grow things and learn things.”

His voice sounded weepy, and his big blue eyes had tears welled in them, “It’s hard for me too, Mom. I wanted the feed store to go right, too. I liked owning a feed store.”

I didn’t realize how much ownership my kids, especially my two boys, took in the feed store endeavor until we let it go. I wanted that – in fact, when we first took over, I did very specific things to make them feel like it was theirs too. This was their adventure, too. They were part of making it what it was.

It wasn’t until after everyone was in bed, and I was left alone to my thoughts, that I could pick out that truth. I definitely felt the sense of loss and the things that didn’t go well were at the forefront of my mind. I may not have done well in all the things I wanted to, but my kids learned a lot. They took part in the adventure, they took part in the dreaming, and they are also learning that sometimes we let go of something good, to make room for something better.

Being home with them is definitely something better in my book. So yes, it was hard to let go, it was hard to let go to someone who is going to make the store everything I couldn’t, and I think these kinds of things are always hard in life. But when we do a hard thing for the right reasons, it makes the hard thing bearable.

If you’re facing a hard decision, make sure you choose the best, not just the good option. And look for the right reasons that make the hard thing bearable.

Until next time,
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