Sometimes, because my life feels so public, the perception of our family in the eyes of other people is either that we are perfect and have not had many struggles or that somehow my children (or Clay and I) were just naturally mature.
Nothing could be further from the truth. My children love just being home without anyone watching or expecting them to be "Clarksons," because even being a "Clarkson" is a false expectation in most people's mind. We are a normal family. I am a flawed person who plods along,
but my heart is for Jesus and He is all the good I have. And He renews my love and excitement for living life His way so often that I keep going... one day, one more quiet time at a time.
When I was speaking recently, I had several experiences that were similar. Several women told me the difficulties they had with me communicating so much about my ideals, as though I did not understand real life as a mom. I am also amazed at how free, sometimes, people can be to voice criticism online and to my face--I have been accused of being a hypocrite, arrogant, too liberal and too conservative. It is just part of my life in ministry, and I have come to accept it, because I know what I am really like in my home, and I have found peace there--and so have my sweet children.
I have had to learn not to pay attention to my good press or my bad press. I am really not that important.
Finding freedom and acceptance and assurance in Christ every day, all the time, has helped me to keep pursuing the ideals that I thought God wanted me to have as goals in my life, without regard to the outside voices or opinions that used to fill my mind and heart.
If , like the young women had suggested, I had expected perfection as a goal for my children, my marriage or my behavior, I know from the start I would be guaranteed failure.
What about, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"? Romans 3:23
"There is none righteous, no, not one." Romans 3:10
"He is mindful that we are but dust." Psalm 103:14
"Wretched man that I am. Who will set me free?" Paul wrote about himself in Romans 7.
But then this is where I live: Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. Romans 8:1
No illusions. God knows I am limited--but that is the spectacular news! He never expected me to be! I live by His life, by His grace, by His love and affirmation of my relationship to Him as my dear Father.
One mom said, "It is easy for Sally to make her home a life-giving place. But I live in a condominium."
I began to learn to be life-giving when I was living in a tiny 158-year old house (only 900 square feet) in Vienna, whose walls leaked rain when we had storms and where we had pigeons in the attic (one we named Walter)!
But it was there that one day, I looked out my window on a gray, drab apartment building that was eight stories high. All the windows were the same; old and dirty from the coal dust. But in one windowsill, someone had planted a flower box full of red geraniums. In a wall of gray, the beautiful flowers stood out like a flame.
I decided right then that I would be like that one apartment out of hundreds, or perhaps like the person who lived in the apartment--that no matter how small or old my home, I would bring life and beauty to it--that I would create life and color as God did.
Of course, I learned as I went. It was not House Beautiful, but Beauty In Our Home.
Putting a flower in a vase, lighting a candle amid the messes, playing music amid the moments of a noisy life.
Next came cooking and baking.
Learning came as I practiced. Some meals were a success. Some a failure. Some just not to the taste of my family. But feasts were important to reaching hearts. Celebration was the joy through which hard lessons and chores could be taught and learned. Hard to waste my time on unappreciative people! But this practicing and learning meant years of days of dirty dishes and pots and pans and bowls in the sink. Our home is always in the process of being in and out of messes.
I had not even thought about being a mom when I was a young single woman--hate to admit it, but it was true! I wanted to be in love and get married, but I was never one of those who longed for a baby. Eventually I got to that, but I had to learn how to love my children and my noisy home and all the demands. It was not natural to me--but I leaned into it and learned slowly but surely, because my heart was in His desire to have me create His life in my home. My heart followed what I thought was His will, and maturity and productivity came slowly but surely. It was like a blooming of my soul and work.
As one of my children said this week, "Mom, our days have never been easy and we have had no support systems and I don't know how we made it, but we have lots of great memories and a full, rich life."
I had to learn almost everything that I now do in my home on a regular basis. I have taught myself to cook, decorate, educate my children, how to become more mature in marriage; how to do chores and work (didn't grow up doing it!), how to nurse my babies--even when one doctor told me that I might cause my child brain damage because I had been sick with the flu when she was born, and she was a high risk baby. Moved seventeen times, had three asthmatics, three ocd kids, one with adhd, fires (one in Vienna), floods (3 in our house), etc. *smile*
In the midst of such a life, there are lots of ups and downs. Children are immature and a mess, teens are self-centered and self-absorbed; and all are sinful.
But, I pictured myself as being a redeemer, like Jesus was--bringing light in the darkness, moving along on the pathway of ideals and maturity one step at a time, while holding God's hand.
Same with my children. My goal was reaching their hearts with the love of God and showing them His reality, so that they could find His grace and truth every day. Now that is doable. All I have to do is love God every day.
Love Him, and show Him to my children. Since I am not expected by God to be perfect, I don't expect them to be either. No one likes to live in a place where guilt and condemnation for failure is a heavy weight of expectation every day.
If moms expect perfection, then their children will want to run far from them. If women think God wants them to be perfect, they will always live in guilt and defeat or eventually want to quit their ideals, because there will be no joy.
Now, I will admit that feeling inadequate is a mantle I am likely to wear many times, as I have always struggled with my "imperfect personality."
Seems from time to time I put my foot in my mouth. Frustration sometimes takes over. Always a deep desire for more time alone bubbles up and expresses itself through impatience.
But, I learned early to reject those lying voices. God knows my limitations, and He does not expect me to perform, but to live by faith in His grace.
Because I knew I needed and still need His patience, encouragement and forgiveness every day, I knew my children needed to live in a home of grace, just as I needed God's grace every day.
Consequently I learned that it is as I seek to celebrate life, live in grace, know his love, and appreciate His gentleness and compassion, that it grows in my heart. Whatever we water will indeed grow.
I have not always known how to walk this journey, but I have always had a hand to hold on to and wisdom to practice and apply.
This story I'm living is a journey: a turn at every juncture, a pathway of life--a long distance run. Not a perfect husband. Not a perfect wife. Not perfect devotionals or a perfect method of discipline. Not perfect children--
Just a grace walk.
Children with great, open hearts; best friends, loving, living, laughing, sharing, arguing, being petty and then getting back to the center one more time to do it all over again.
Alas, I must go to bed.
First, I am off to eat a chocolate chip cookie--even my diet and self-discipline aren't perfect--and though every year wish I could lose ten pounds in one week before the conferences, it just doesn't happen! Tomorrow I will do my exercise routine, again.
-`but I think after a demanding month, I am going to just enjoy myself, have a cuppa my favorite stuff, and rest ... and worry about losing weight another time!
Because the only way I have made it all these years, is not by being perfect, but by living every day, one more day in the sunshine of His grace and abiding, abundant love with a willing heart.