The Ministry of Netflix

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I’m not sure when the panic set in that our time together was running out but it was probably sometime last year.

My daughter is a sophomore in high school.

I know it sounds cliché but I don’t know where the time has gone.

Those two+ years that she never slept through the night.

The sixteen months of breastfeeding.

The strong-willed tantrums — hers and mine — that prevailed through the preschool years.

The five years of homeschooling her.

Each stage felt like it would last forever and now I’m looking back and wondering if a thief snuck into our life and robbed us of a few years when we weren’t looking.

When the panic showed up, I became overwhelmed with all I still wanted to teach her and show her and share with her. I felt like I hadn’t been a good steward of my time with her for so many years.

And now?

She’s fifteen. And her life is full. And there’s not much time.

When last school-year began to wind down and I started envisioning some loose hopes for our break, I had just one summer goal for the two of us:

Relationship.

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Just be with her. No agenda. No plan to sneak in a Bible lesson after I’d buttered her up with a grande milkshake masquerading as a coffee drink from Starbucks.

That may sound obvious and simple to you. Why would I try and make our time together more complicated than it needed to be?

Because overcomplicating simple things is totally my specialty. And it’s often fueled by fear, the illusion of control, and regret.

As a Christian mom, I haven’t “discipled” her like I’ve wanted to. We never got through all of the catechism and memory work because, honestly, it made us fight. And it stressed us out. I only have so many battles in me per day. As a family, we’ve been hit or miss with lots of the stuff Christian families are “supposed” to do, like regular family devotions and meaningful discussion around the dinner table every night.

It’s not that I don’t think these disciplines are important and useful. We’re still trying to figure out ways to ground our family with our faith in a way that works for us and it has looked different in each season. But for all sorts of reasons — some valid and some not — we haven’t been super systematic and consistent over the years. #guilt

Instead, we’ve simply tried to love them with the love of Jesus and use the opportunities that everyday life presents as a springboard to talk about truth.

Still, I had this low-grade panic and Christian parent guilt following me around and I felt like I had to DO SOMETHING. You might think I employed some amped-up plan to squeeze in All The Things I could over the summer. {In the past, I’ve been known to turn my panic into indoctrination, steamrolling my children with righteous intentionality.}

It’s summer and you’re 15 and we’re running out of time! Let’s read through the Bible in 3 months, memorize a verse together each week, and discuss a coming-of-age topic every Friday through a Biblical World and Life View.”

We did none of the above.

Had I tried to descend on my teenage daughter with all of that, she would have done the same thing I would have done at that age — “Um, no thanks. And have you seen my phone charger?” #eyerollemojifordays

Teenage Marian had this inner resistance to anything that felt forced, contrived, preachy or self-righteous. Grown-up Marian is pretty much the same way.

So why on earth have I resorted to these tactics with my own kids?!?

Again, I’m gonna go with fear. And probably comparison. Plus a hefty dose of so many “shoulds” that have lodged themselves into my mind over the years.

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I can hear the critics now. And by critics, I also include my own naive mom-voice even 5 years ago: “You have to be the parent, Marian. Kids don’t always want what’s good for them, like having to eat their veggies, but this is part of training them up in the way they should go.”

And while that is true, I’m no longer dealing with a toddler. I’m dealing with a child who is 2 1/2 years away from legal adulthood. There are things I still want to teach her, but I began to realize that all the knowledge and training in the world will fall on deaf ears without relationship.

Enter Netflix.

As Summer embraced us with her lazy ways and long days, I had one supreme goal:

Spend as much time with this girl as possible, doing things that we both love. No hidden motives. No forced conversations. 

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Teenagers can sniff out an agenda a mile away. This is frustrating but weirdly freeing! Because it means you can just relax and enjoy the show.

And that’s literally what we did.

We burned through four seasons of LOST, two seasons of Friday Night Lights, and jumped back into Gilmore Girls.

We went shopping.

We ate dinner together on the sofa.

We yelled at characters when they made stupid decisions and cried together when they died.

We laughed our faces off at Sawyer’s nicknames for people and rolled our eyes at Lyla Garrity because hashtag sheisoannoying.

It was one of the best summers I’ve ever had.

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As we began to settle in to our summer routine of Netflix, followed by more Netflix, a funny thing happened. She began to talk. About real stuff. The kind of stuff that’s deep and honest. And I wasn’t the one who started the conversations.

This is still happening. And it feels like magic.

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Spending time with her in seemingly superficial ways opened up the door to meaningful, substantial dialogue. That part wasn’t even the goal, but it’s been the sweetest gift ever. All these months later, we’re still watching our shows and hanging out on the sofa. And because our relational roots have grown deeper, I’ve earned the privilege of being able to speak into her life and even teach her in ways that she’ll actually receive.

At one point over the summer, she mentioned that she wasn’t as excited about going to a sleepover because it would mean we couldn’t watch our shows together. What?!?

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me I was making it too hard?

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There is this one thing about relationship that I should probably tell you though.

It costs something.

It will cost you time, energy, and productivity. Relationship can never be measured with or grounded in efficiency. It might cost you money, advancement, and being a person of influence in your community or larger world.

For me, it means that my summer wasn’t super productive from a writing or home improvement standpoint.

It means that I don’t read as much as I want to.

It means that I probably spend too much money on Frappuccinos, cute t-shirts, and scented candles.

It means that I stay up later to watch something or talk, even though I’m tired and want to go to bed at 9:00.

It means that I sometimes feel inexplicably sad when she’s off with her friends, even though this too is as it should be.

It means that for now, I say no to most invitations for good things like leading a Bible study or doing ministry that others can see because I have to protect my availability and relational energy.

It means that I’ve said no to pursuing my own work in the exact way that I’d hoped to because I have this quickly passing season and I don’t want to miss it.

I won’t lie. Sometimes these costs are hard to swallow. I’m independent, creative, aspirational and also an introvert. I like productivity, efficiency, influence, and being my myself.

One-on-one relationship feels the opposite of all those things. But I can already tell you that it’s totally worth it.

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I’m not sure when parenting became a fear-driven list of shoulds instead of loving relationship. But let’s start over, shall we? Let’s do this with grace, freedom, and common sense.

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Maybe for you it’s not the Ministry of Netflix. Maybe it’s the Ministry of Legos or the Ministry of Read-Aloud time. Perhaps it’s The Ministry of Golf {my husband’s and boys’ personal favorite}, The Ministry of Playstation, The Ministry of Manicures, or The Ministry of Baking Together.

You get to choose.

If you’re a parent of littles or bigs, I hope this post encourages you to embrace the possibility of a simpler way.

While training and systems and passing on one’s faith and traditions all matter, I’m learning that relationship is the fertile soil in which those good seeds can grow.

For so long, I was trying to plant seeds in hard, resistant soil that hadn’t been cultivated.

While I wish I’d understood this truth sooner, I don’t believe it’s ever too late to stop, say I’m sorry, and begin again.

 

 

The winner of Falling Free is….

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Tamara Gonzalez

Yay Tamara! I’ll email you and get your address.

And if you don’t know what this is all about, read this post to get the scoop and to learn how the broken + beautiful lives of others help us live a more compassionate story. Thanks to all who entered the giveaway and if you didn’t win, go grab a copy for yourself and let me know what you think!


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How a 92-Year-Old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of My Right-Now Work

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From January through May I hustled. I got serious about writing. I wrote a series I loved on living in the tension between our right-now lives and our hoped-for work. I set goals and checked important things off the list.

And then summer came. Summer — with her billowy, welcoming arms.

She showed up. My hustle shut down. It was really the best thing for everyone. I let myself be lazy. I let my kids be lazy. We watched Netflix and went swimming and ate lunch whenever we felt like it. I wrote a little bit but mostly I set down the pen and paper and simply received my own summer life. 

I allowed the thoughts to come to the surface and percolate without feeling the pressure to write them down and make sense of them all. And when I did write, I didn’t feel the need to share my words with the world. I steeped in the realities of my right-now life and reflected on the lives of those who have gone before me.The dearly departed whispered things through the summer air and I listened.

I’m still listening.

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For as long as I can remember I have lived in a tug-of-war between vocation and station. By “vocation” I mean career work — teaching, curating, program development, writing — the work I have trained for and been paid actual money to carry out. By “station” I mean my place in life — my roles as wife, mom, and primary keeper of all things home.

For as long as I can remember I have desperately wanted both — a family and meaningful work.

For as long as I can remember I have worried that I wouldn’t be able to have both, that I would have to choose.

And I have. I have made hard choices and I haven’t made them perfectly.

I am still making hard choices.

Back in May, I lost both of my grandparents, Papa and Gigi. After 73 years of marriage, they left this earth just 5 days apart. I realize I’m lucky to have had them as long as I did. At the age of 43, I still had grandparents!

My three siblings and I were their only grandchildren. The four of us decided that I would be the one to compile the grandkids’ thoughts and stories to share at both services. This is what happens when you’re the big sister and you happen to be a writer.

I wrote my Papa’s remembrance in no time. He was a lifelong leader, a WW2 veteran, a teacher, a pastor, and a stand-in father for the fatherless of his community. His funeral service was TWO HOURS because there was so much to say about his life. His service, his vocation, his many roles — they were all lived so publicly. His life touched countless lives. Most of his contemporaries had already passed so I was shocked to see how many people showed up to honor him. His service was standing room only.

Just five days later, I sat down to write my Gigi’s remembrance. I spent hours on it, sobbing through the whole thing and struggling to get the words just right.

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I was a wreck but not because of the grief.

I was a wreck because it was only after her death that I could see her life for what it was.

And it arrested me. It still is.

Here’s an excerpt from what I shared at her service:

Because of her great love – for her Lord, her husband, and her family – she chose, over and over again, to receive a life that perhaps, sometimes, went against the nature of who she was. It’s the one thing I can’t stop thinking about this week.

We don’t elevate this sort of sacrifice much anymore because it flies against our modern sensibilities. We don’t elevate this unyielding devotion to spouse and children and home because women can do so much more than that. And it’s true. We can. Yet she did not choose the path of personal ambition. Instead, she made her family and her home her life’s work.

And because of all that she did, those in her care were able to do all that they did.

I consider myself a modern woman. I have meaningful work in addition to my roles as wife and mother. And while there’s nothing wrong with my other pursuits, reflecting on my Gigi’s life stopped me dead in my tracks. It reoriented me in ways I didn’t realize I needed. She nourished her family with her food and her care. She made a house a true home. She never stopped pouring herself out for her family.

I regret that so many things about her life crystallized in my own mind and heart only now that she’s gone. God has begun to deeply stir some change within me as I consider this woman who poured herself out as a living sacrifice in daily, ordinary ways. She didn’t see her work as menial.

Because she valued those in her care, she valued the tasks required to care for them.

I find this profoundly beautiful and it’s inspired me to embrace certain things I wouldn’t have chosen, to pour out that which I can offer first to my own family, while I still have the opportunity, and to meet Jesus in the daily-ness of laundry and cooking and repetition.

Her life was its own unique liturgy, one that ministers to me even more now that she’s gone.

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It’s only 9:57 on a Monday morning. Here’s what the day has looked like thus far.

  • Got up at an ungodly hour to run with one child who decided to start running! Before school! While it’s still dark!
  • Came home and cooked breakfast because Mondays are hard and breakfast sandwiches make it better.
  • Cleaned out a gross lunchbox and filled it with fresh food to get my high-schooler through her long day of school and after-school practice.
  • Coached one child through a near panic attack.
  • Carried a too-heavy backpack to the minivan and arranged the various to-go beverages in the cup-holders.
  • Kissed my youngest on the head as my husband whisked him off to the elementary school.
  • Prayed out loud and desperately in the minivan because it felt like an extra Monday-ish Monday.
  • Drove one kid to middle school and the other to high school.
  • Set out the chicken for dinner.
  • Made a grocery list even though I was there yesterday. And also the day before.
  • E-mailed the coaches.
  • Spent an hour on the phone with customer service. They shipped my child’s jeans to the wrong address.
  • Completed some paperwork for my actual job.
  • Hauled the trash and recycling to the curb.
  • Ignored the dishes in the sink and the housework all around me because there is work to be done at my computer.
  • Phoned the pediatrician for a new prescription.

 

No one told me that motherhood and homekeeping would be this sexy.

I don’t write out that list to be impressive or to elicit sympathy. Many of you are doing the same sort of gig.

By the time last May rolled around, even though I’d written thousands of words about embracing your right-now life even as you pursue your hoped-for work, I was actually knee deep in resenting my right-then life. I just didn’t realize it. I was complaining, quite a lot if you ask my husband, about the dailyness of dinner and the burden of laundry and the relentlessness of errands.

My family had the distinct impression that they were in the way of what I really wanted to be doing.

I cannot even type that sentence without weeping. These realizations and reckonings have been more painful than I can tell you.

Ever so slowly I had become so zeroed in on my big important goals and my unique gifts and my “right” to run hard after the things that make me come alive, I had neglected the ones who I love more than life itself.

And that’s why I could barely type out my Gigi’s remembrance. It was a watershed moment for me. I went to my husband in tears the night before her funeral, asking him to forgive me —

For the ways I had made the everyday all about me.

For the elevation of my own work over my own people. 

For the ways I had communicated resentment for all the menial tasks that make a family go ’round.

For the ways I had tried to outsource motherhood.

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I have much to say on this topic because this “vocation / station” tension has been a steady struggle for decades, since I was a girl actually. I have zero things figured out. Because I do still believe that it’s fruitful to pursue the things that are life-giving to us as individuals — whether it’s work or painting or training for a marathon or, in my case, writing.

Only you {and your people} can know when a good desire has become an over-desire. Only you {and your people} can determine your pursuits in any given season. I don’t believe there’s ever perfect balance; it will always be trial and error and I will forever be begging for wisdom and grace. It looks different for all of us.

I can only speak for myself but I know, without a doubt, that I had trampled over the needs of others in the pursuit of my own goals. This reckoning has been messy. As a deeply aspirational person, it brings me literal pain to let go.

But I had to accept that while you can outsource your housework and meals and carpooling, you cannot outsource relationship.

Something changed inside of me when I wrote my Gigi’s story. The life she lived is still reorienting me in ways I didn’t realize I needed. It’s been painful but I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I go back time and again to those words I wrote down three months ago.

Because she valued those in her care, she valued the tasks required to care for them.

This has become a mantra for me, words on which I meditate as I dump crumbs from lunch boxes and do the glamorous work of thawing chicken.

After a stint of my boys doing their own laundry for months and failing miserably, I reclaimed the task for now and they are feeling ten shades of loved right now.

With my high school daughter’s schedule and stress level, I told her I’ll make her lunch each morning. Not because she can’t but because I can do these things for her. It’s an intense season of her young life and this is an easy way I can love her and lighten her load.

Nothing has changed since my less-than-enthusiastic attitude in May. If anything my responsibilities at home have increased. But I see it all through a difference lens and it can now feel empowering and affirming instead of denigrating.

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Keeping a home, taking care of others, meeting physical and emotional needs ’round the clock — the everyday isn’t fancy or pin-worthy. You may be killing it as a mom one day and stress-eating Swiss Cake Rolls behind a locked bathroom door the next. You don’t do any of it for the money, the hours, the acclaim, or the gratitude.

I began this post three weeks ago. With so many other tasks before me, I struggled to find the time and energy to finish it. But I need these words today more than I needed them when I began.

As I love those around me through mundane tasks, as I supply their needs day after day, I’m trusting that the God who knows me better than I know myself will supply what I need too. It may not come in the form of a book or finished creative work. It may not come in the form of super successful kids whose academic, athletic, or artistic accolades affirm my sacrifice. It may not even come with me getting any better at running this crazy home and caring for the people in it.

I don’t have any guarantees and neither do you.

But I do have right now and the lens through which I choose to see it. This means I’m more shocked than anyone by the contentment that sometimes comes over me now as I wash the dishes. {Emphasis on “sometimes.”}

This reorienting — it feels like a gift from God. A God who turned himself into a human baby, who turned Galilean water into fine wine, who turned a meager lunch into a feast for thousands.

How ironic that my gifts and longings — the ones He gave me — somehow feel out of his jurisdiction. I realize how small I make God and how big I make myself. How I walk by sight instead of by faith when it’s supposed to be the opposite.

Our God is a God of design and also redesign. I trust him with the “ways I’m wired” but do I trust him with the ways He may want to re-wire me?

I trust him with the divinely inspired work but do I trust him with the divinely interrupted work?

I love these words by Emily Freeman:

Our specific offerings reveal the unique version of our worship, not for the glory of us, but to the glory of God and for the benefit of others.  

From A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live

 

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Yes, our specific offerings do reveal the unique version of our worship. And this is beginning to feel more like art and less like drudgery.

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So to all the weary parents struggling with the dailyness of, well, everything —

To the ones desperately searching for work / life balance —

To those who are changing diapers or running carpool when you’d rather be teaching a class or writing a book —

Know that when you’re feeding and clothing bodies, you’re also caring for souls.

Know that when you pour out your life in thankless ways every day, you are making those around you rich. 

Know that seasons are meant to be received, not rejected.

Know that if you need to set aside some of your own aspirations for a time, you’re creating a spacious place for the souls around you to flourish.

Don’t lose heart or lose hope. This, my friends, is good and sacred work.

In the same way that others trust you to meet their needs, you can trust that the God who created you, who loves you, and who cares for you will also meet yours.

 


I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

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Overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids? Curious about the most important questions to ask? I have a FREE resource created just for you.

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What I Learned This Summer

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When I can, I love to dish about what I’ve learned at the end of each month. The Let’s Share What We Learned posts are hosted by Emily Freeman as a “monthly community link-up to share the fascinating, ridiculous, sacred, or small.” I haven’t done this since way back in October and I’ve missed it.

This month we’re invited to share what we learned over the whole Summer. Don’t worry, mine isn’t an exhaustive list. That’s because the heat of the southern summer and having all my people in the house 24/ 7 makes me dumb and I can barely remember what I’ve learned. To be honest, I am barely coherent by August 15th, but the kids go back to school tomorrow hashtag praise hands.

If you’d like to join in, just head over to Emily’s and link up.

In no particular order, here are 6 things I’ve learned this summer.

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1. A change of scenery is good for the soul.

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We didn’t do any fancy vacations, just our typical treks to the beach with my family and to my husband’s home-place in Michigan. We did, however, drive a different route through the midwest to Iowa, where we attended a my husband’s grandmother’s funeral and spent a couple of days with family we rarely see.

I couldn’t stop staring out the window and snapping photos of corn fields. Though we logged 2,300 miles in 8 days, getting out of my little town and inhaling a different part of the country was like a reset button for my soul. I forget how much this homebody craves a change of place.

 

2. The space bar on my computer works as a pause button when I’m watching Netflix.

My 15 year old showed me this, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. {More on the “Ministry of Netflix” in a later post.}

 

3. I DO have a “book type.”

I didn’t do tons of reading this summer like I’d hoped. But I’ve done lots of thinking about books and wrote this post on my 5 favorite literary novels of all time.

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Writing about my favorite literary novels showed me a pattern I’d never seen before and now I’m curious to know if my other favorite categories of books will have a pattern too.

 

4. We didn’t all have spectacular, enviable summers. Even though social media seems to convince us otherwise.

Way back in June I wrote about how to receive your own summer life. That’s because summer can sure mess with my inner peace. Even though our family’s summer is coming to an end, it’s easy to look back and see all of the things we didn’t do, all of the good intentions that gathered dust on a shelf, all of the awesomeness other families enjoyed while my kids partook of too much screen time.

Even at summer’s end, I’m still wrestling a little bit. And judging from the comments and e-mails from that post, I learned that I’m not the only one who struggles.

Here’s what I’m still learning the hard way. You can spend your seconds turned minutes turned years wishing for a life that isn’t yours, making yourself and everyone else miserable in the process. Or you can choose to receive the beauty, provision, and even heartache of your actual life. I have a million things to be grateful for. I simply forget. And so do you.

 

5. What happens in August, stays in August.

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Yesterday I sent all of my kids to eat lunch on the porch because, even though I love them with all my heart, I just couldn’t handle the noise of them being people. And this was after I had already been to church and my heart was full of Jesus.

I texted with a friend last week and she confessed that she’d made her kids eat cereal on the deck that morning because she couldn’t deal with the noise of their spoons scraping against the bowls. She also visited the grocery store bakery three days in a row and ate cookie sandwiches in the parking lot just to get some peace and alone time.

This was the first summer in a long time that I wasn’t ready for school to start. I enjoyed my kids and our lazy schedules more than any summer ever. And then August showed up. August turns easy, laid-back, summer-loving Marian into Crazy-Person Marian. All of a sudden, I am smothered by the humans who live in my home and dreaming of ways to escape. I become the worst version of myself.

So if you too find yourself banishing your offspring because their breathing is too loud, I won’t tell. It’s just August coming around again and turning us into lunatics. Repeat this mantra, “What happens in August, stays in August.” Your self-esteem, sanity, and goodwill toward men will return in October.

 

6. Y’all are stressed about how to educate your kids.

I recently unveiled this little gift I’d been working on for a while.

school made simple freebie header

I got some of the sweetest e-mails from parents who are overwhelmed by the decision, parents who are switching from homeschool to public school, parents who know that their particular decision is for the best right now but it’s not what they’d planned or hoped for. So many of you are struggling with a low-grade grief or overwhelm over this issue of school.

Maybe this describes you. For years it definitely described me.

If you need a pep talk so that you can walk with more freedom and peace along whatever educational path your family has chosen {either by design or default}, this little resource is for you.

Click here to get yours! 


 

I’m curious, what did you learn this summer?

You can find me in the comments section, on the blog’s Facebook page, or on Twitter. We can also hang out on Instagram!

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