Faith Transforms Me, Sometimes.

My motto these days is to do the next thing — what’s straight ahead of me.  In life, in faith, in parenting.

The next home task, the next creative project, the next scriptural study challenge — I choose to do this because I don’t know what else to do.  So I do the next thing.  I say yes to requests and a chance to help those in my immediate life.  I want to be useful.  This is tale about something l learned while trying to be helpful to a friend and be a good mom.

I should know to welcome an imminent challenge  when I write about parenting.  And I should also know by now that when I get intentional about any aspect of life, experiences come up that cause my “great” ideas to suddenly seem anemic held up to the light of day, real life.

One of my kids came home today particularly ornery.

Nothing I said was good enough. Or correct. Or useful.  Finally when I had had enough I stormed off angry saying: “I don’t know why I bother to say anything around here.” (I know who’s the kid, right?) The more I thought about it, the madder I got.  I was steaming, white hot mad and before I knew it, even slamming doors.

Fuming I went downstairs to fold their laundry.  I decided if that’s the way she wants it fine.  What if I simply refused to talk to her anymore? …. for a while, for a good long while.  I’m thinking, yeah, I will pass information along via her brothers.  That way I could make my point (which was that she doesn’t listen to my sage advice) and still get things accomplished.

Before long she came creeping downstairs.  Still seething in my plans for my “cold-war” campaign, even though I knew that my plan would never work.  Beyond the plain immaturity of the idea, it just wasn’t kind.  And if anything, I try to always be kind.

“I’m sorry I don’t believe in Jesus” she says inaudibly. “Not right now.”

“What?” I asked breaking my short-lived resolve.  In this moment, when a child says something like that, at least a thousand thoughts run chaotically through your head within the space of milliseconds. You’re dizzy from the swirl of emotion.  Still, in these kinds of parenting moments, my main thought is stay calm.

I remind myself: Do not say anything you cannot take back!   You cannot let on that you’re freaking out … no!  It is not like the whole world is sinking.

How she even knows what she accepts as true is decidedly up for consideration.  She is just a child. Stay calm.

She came home saying she didn’t want to go to church anymore.  What was the point? Then, as well as now in this moment, I mostly listened.  I said something vaguely like: “We just want you to continue going, so that you know what you’re choosing.”

I’m kicking myself.  The last time we had this conversation I totally choked.  Later, as I was telling Tom it was all so clear to him what he would have said.  And with hindsight it was clearer to me as well.  I should have been ready for this one, but instead of that I’m hyperventilating inside about MY BABY is rejecting my faith!  (Perhaps only mothers know what I’m talking about here.)  Yes, I’ve talked about this before, but I just can’t believe that at fourteen she’s already rejecting the Church, and by that I mean big C church.  “I already know everything I need to know” she had said.  And I think that was somewhere in the vicinity of when I stormed out of the room earlier.

“I’m sorry that I don’t believe in Jesus” she repeats.  “Not right now.” And I looked her square in the eyes. And shrugged.  Obviously I’m no Billy Graham.  There will be no coercing from me.  No broad explanations or great appeals for faith.  I know that I understood less than nothing about spiritual things when I was her age, not really.  I really couldn’t grasp the concept of substitutionary atonement at all. If someone had tried to convince me of it, I would have written them off completely.

I believe that one comes to an understanding of the truth of scriptures slowly, and a huge part of that is seeing others whose lives are utterly transformed by Jesus Christ.  This is one reason I had so much trouble with my personal faith for more than two decades—I didn’t see people around me transformed.  (Blame the Methodists and Presbyterians?)

So, I looked her straight in the eye. And shrugged, as I turned back to folding.

Later, I decided that I wanted her to come with me as I delivered soup to some sick friends.   This is it!  (I’m thinking I’m pretty brilliant.)  She will see the feet of faith—the good deed, out of my love of my friends that makes me want to do kind things for others.  This is it!

So with her  mumbling loudly and her iPod blaring, with great drama and complaining, she got into my car as I put the Tupperware of soup on the floor between her feet.

After several questionings about why she had to come, we arrive.  I reached toward her. She reached to hand me the soup, grabbing the handles of a grocery bag – and bam!  Soup splattered everywhere.  “Fuck! ” (Yes, that’s an exact quote)I yell: ” How could this have happened?!!”  I fumed loudly glancing up at the house.  Stomping around the end of the car, I see that there is soup top to bottom in my beautiful (if dirty) Honda—with a large portion of the soup on the floor, irretrievable.  It was a colossal mess!

Again, we find me furious.

Ironically what I had intended to be an example of my benevolence turned into me a fuming and cussing, even accusing her, in my mortification!

Then a light bulb went off. 

This isn’t about the “good deed” or about the soup spilling all over my car and daughter.  And though I was tempted to blame her for the spill, it wasn’t even her fault.

This is about how  I choose to handle it, right now.  This is about me being transformed by Jesus.

Self-conscious about the half empty Tupperware, dripping with soup, I sheepishly rang the doorbell and delivered my soup.  Then I went to the car and calmly drove home.  At home, after collecting my thoughts, I told her “You don’t need to feel badly about this because it wasn’t your fault!”  If anything, I should have warned her that it might be messy or risky to pick up.

So we cleaned up the car together, which was a lot like cleaning up vomit we both agreed, only it smelled really yummy.  It was good soup.  And we had another little disagreement.  This time about whether “Drinking until you vomit” was the same as just social drinking.  (Do I know a thing or two about that?) Still, she walked away from me into the house, sheeshing me about acting like an expert and saying that I was “wrong that I didn’t trust her ideas.”  And I, once again, I was left alone fuming and wondering.

Now if she can just make the connection.  If only I can too, more often be transformed.

Yes, faith transforms me, sometimes.


But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Cor 3:18

(I am) Under Construction: I Believe in the God who keeps time and has a long view that I cannot comprehend

daughter & dad

I am grieving my father’s absence today.

I miss him terribly. (This is true, even while it is also true that I was afraid of him all my life.)  He was my father and I loved him.  He was wise and could be gentle and kind.

Yesterday while reflecting on where I have come from, I realized that my perceptions of what I see as my “successful” years are a direct result of my Dad’s view of the world and his active presence in my life.

The way he viewed one’s personal value was that it comes directly from one’s significant contribution to the world, the “great” things you would do for God. 

This has messed me up.

I went to work for my Dad soon after college.  I wanted to be near him, to come to know the man who others seemed to revere so highly.  As a child, I missed out on a lot of time with my father because of he was constantly working and frequently traveled.  I thought that this was a way to be close to him.

Those years working for him at InterVarsity and on Urbana conventions were full, busy and challenging.  I learned a lot of good things:  the value of being a hard worker, of doing things excellently, of receiving correction, of trying things even when not an expert (basically taking risks!), and the value of pursing your passions.

I also learned some things about myself — one is good, that I loved hard work.

But I also came to believe that work could fill the empty spaces in my soul – places of loneliness, need for relevance and love, and the insidious fear of being a failure.

All of my life it was those people who served others, who worked hard, who accomplished many things, who were pioneers in their ideas and accomplishments, who challenged the status quo, who took risks, who “made a difference” – those were the people admired by my father! 

And that is what I learned to do and believe mattered most.

Growing up the things that were okay to sacrifice were family, friendship, and knowing and accountable relationships.   I even saw that it was okay to not live up to the great character qualities aspired to in Scripture, if you meant well or asked forgiveness afterward.  Growing up in a missionary family it was made clear to us that you should be willing to work for less, less money as missionaries and nothing in terms of payment for my mother, who worked for the mission but received no monetary compensation.  And we learned that God would always provide.  We lacked for nothing materially growing up.

Dad was driven to do many “important things” and I admired him for this, even as I missed having a daddy in my life.   It is only as an adult that I accepted the power and impact of being driven on one’s priorities, relationships and family for the worse.

When I left work to be at-home, I had become my father — driven, passionate, crazy busy and “weary from well-doing,” as well as lonely and constantly fearing failure.  No matter what I accomplished, I was unsatisfied and rarely felt good about it or myself.   It just made sense to leave, if I was that unhappy at work.  We had three children in diapers and a budding teenager, my stepdaughter, at home. When I quit I was a mess and didn’t know it!

I am now grateful to have learned, after more than ten years at-home, that there is more to life than what you do but even now, even yesterday the devilish ideas return saying that I am nothing without what I am doing, and it better be something significant!  Accomplishments are heady things and degrees boost the ego, but they do not offer one the solid, sweet confidence that comes from knowing who you are in the Lord – beloved, fully known and loved.  I thought that my father would love me more if I was able to do more!  He had spent his whole life driven by this need as well.

This was what I knew “You are loved, more lovable, when you are doing important things.”

It was in November, 02, that I got the call that my dad was sick – he’d been having what they thought were TIAs, losing the ability to speak in mid sentence.  Through some connections, my parents always had connections, Dad got in quickly to see a brain specialist who made the diagnosis of cancer.  It was tumors in his brain.

The first of December found us in Colorado, with brain surgery on.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the only time, in the months that he was sick, that Dad would allow a conversation about his possible death.  He could sometimes be a pragmatic man.  Going into surgery held risks and a conversation needed to occur with his children just in case something went wrong.  

I wish I had known that this was the only time he would allow such a conversation.  I still have so many questions, things that remain unspoken, proper goodbyes, … 

But that was his way … He lived absolutes and when he came out of surgery alive, he believed that God would heal him and more importantly that he would return to work.  “God still had plans for him, things Dad was to do.  It was unacceptable, lacking faith to be quite honest, to talk of his possible death.”

And so he and I went to tea.  It was a conversation that changed my life.  For the first time, I knew I could say whatever needed saying.  I was admittedly terrified!  He could be volatile and capricious.  And later, in a conversation with my sister he proved how much so.  This was partly due to the tumors changing him but he was erratic and mean many times over the years, which made it hard to trust in the benevolent moments.

At great personal risk, I told my father how his actions throughout my life had hurt me — his anger, his raging, his criticism, his absence had injured me. And this was his reply.  Yes, regret and he sought my immediate forgiveness.  (It was a transaction for him, forgiveness.  One asks.  One receives.  End of story.)

But he also said something that struck me as strange , a non sequitur, which I have reflected on many times since. It was new information.  He said, “I didn’t know how to be a parent.  I felt incompetent.  But I was good at doing work …  accomplished, affirmed and admired. And so that’s what I did, I worked. “

Yes, I felt that growing up.  Both that being a parent was not his priority though I didn’t know why.  And that what you do was a way to feel good about yourself.  And I also did that for many years and when work became untenable, even the accomplishments weren’t enough, would not fill the hole in my heart and made me feel like there was continuously more I need to do.  Have.  Accomplish.  Take on.  Achieve.   And so I quit.

I was unprepared for the full stop! Of all of a sudden, not being significant in the world’s eyes.  And what I had done in the past was irrelevant.  

And it wasn’t that being a parent was too hard but rather that I didn’t believe in its value.  In many ways still don’t.  I mean intellectually I do know the value of parenting, but I cannot seem to convince my heart and soul.

This is the root of my discomfort with being at home.  My depression came on very soon after.   I wasn’t happy but not because of being at-home, or being a mother, or even because I no longer had “a job” to make me feel important or worthwhile.

I had never been that happy.  I was only now coming to a place of acknowledging that reality.

I had a very good friend and mentor years ago, Pete Hammond, that wrote this wisdom:

“Being a sinner means having the terrible ability to misuse every good thing!  That ability to misuse includes relationships, possessions, passions and pleasures, citizenship privileges and rights, freedoms, work and jobs, family, etc.  Thanks be to God that Christ offered to help us break this terrible pattern on the cross.” – Pete Hammond, Re:Learning Family.

The good news is that though I am broken and lost, I have hope.  Paul progressed in his transformation, he said,

“Christ died for our sins … I am the least of all the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle. … But, by the grace of God, I am what I am, and this grace toward me has not been in vain.”

“I know that nothing good dwells within me… Wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue me?… Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“I, too, had reason for confidence in the flesh (religion, ethnicity, family, profession, temperament, citizenship) … but I have come to regard these as loss… and regard them as rubbish… I want to know Christ.” 

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the greatest.  For that reason I received mercy…making me an example … To God be the glory for ever and ever!”

Transformation seems to take time.  I have to trust in God who keeps time and has a long view that I cannot know, comprehend, but I can believe in.  Looking at Paul, he was also growing in his understanding of himself from being a dangerous pre-Christian to becoming a mature and humble leader.  Paul changed.  In his life, I find hope!   He was being changed, he was “under construction” and when he said “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”(In 1 Cor. 4:16, 11:11 and Phil 3:17, 4:9) I understand what he meant!  Not that he was perfect, but that Christ was still transforming him.

I long for a day when I will have arrived to full maturity and not have days like yesterday when I sink into depression.

I pray for the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in life.

For serenity and healing, I pray.  And I believe that Christ is still transforming me.


SOME DAY: A poem about Siblings (Not) Getting Along

Some Day

Some day I won’t have to ask the question: Why do siblings war?

This I know.

Tattered hearts are the consequence.

It is said by some that soon you will be the best of friends.  And so I listen

from the next room, and wonder and think

it is said so assuredly, but that slippery truth isn’t now,

only some day.  You know what I think?

Some day, if you are lucky, you will long to share breakfast with your brother

and he’ll live miles away.  Or he may be

distracted, distressed or in a disagreement with you.

Life seems to get in the way

of some day.   As for today,

as you kick and scream on the couch demanding

your own way

I can only listen from the other room and pray, for some day.

Written October 28, 2009

I Am Destruction

I wake with the familiar headache.
Deeply tired.  My bones in protest.
Emotions already chafing; dazzling, fluorescent, raw. Ablaze.
Coffee the first panacea of the day.
Sip by sip, its power over me if not to heal, then to awaken.

Slowly flooded by familiar disappointment.
Weary, I begin to See myself.
I am Destruction.
I am Broken Promises
wielding their power.
The surge of rage,  justified.
It hurts.
My body adjusting to an awareness
of this old enemy within.
Destruction’s impact yet unknown.
Fury toward the innocent who contribute to the chaos
of my life and toward, the hell inside.

by Melody Harrison Hanson

My father was addicted to his rage – he admitted that to me at the end of his life. He wielded it over our family in pathological ways that nearly destroyed my Mother, and at times I feel it in me to either consume me or destroy me. I fear, more than anything, the legacy of that rage in my life.  More than alcoholism, more than depression or even debilitating insecurity. Rage is the ultimate nemesis. The curse he left for the next generation; for me.

Music Makes Kids Smart

The policies of George W. have forced many cuts to local school budgets over the last eight years.

One cut  we have felt is that 4th graders at our elementary school can no longer learn a string instrument until 5th and they may cut the Strings Program all together.

Emma is in fifth. Since third grade she’s taken the standardized tests required by George W, which tell us what we already knew, she’s extremely intelligent.

Someone should tell old Dubya, that study after study has shown that learning music can make kids smarter.

When your child learns to play a musical instrument, not only does he learn how to make tunes, but he also enhances other capabilities of his brain as well:

* A 10 year study involving 25,000 students show that music-making improves test scores in standardized tests, as well as in reading proficiency exams (Source: James Catterall, UCLA, 1997).
* High school music students score higher on the math and verbal portion of SAT, compared to their peers (Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by Music Educators Conference, 2001).
* The IQ’s of young students who had nine months of weekly training in piano or voice rose nearly three points more than their untrained peers (Study by E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, 2004.)
* Piano students can understand mathematical and scientific concepts more readily. Children who received piano training performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring proportional reasoning – ratios, fractions, proportions, and thinking in space and time (Neurological Research, 1997).
* Pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly in students who were given a 3-year piano instruction (Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi study presented at the meeting of the Music Educators National Conference, Phoenix, AZ, 1998).
* Music students received more academic honors and awards than non-music students. These music students also have more A and B grades compared to non-music students (National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 First Follow-Up, U.S. Department of Education).
* More music majors who applied for medical school were admitted compared to those in other majors including English, biology, chemistry and math. (“The Comparative Academic Abilites of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University,” Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480; “The Case for Music in Schools”, Phi Delta Kappan, 1994)

Other research also linked music making with increased language discrimination and development, improved school grades, and better-adjusted social behavior.  Why does this happen? What is at work here?  and why is George Dubya making decisions that force cutting music programs around the country?

Why Dubya, why???