Should Is a Bully

should is a bully

For too many years, the bully of “should” beat me down.

I had a list a mile of long of all the things I “should” do in order to be a good student, a good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, a good cook, a good housekeeper, a good citizen and, of course, a good Christian.

I just finished a book called Taming Your Gremlin. It isn’t really a Christian book but it was mentioned by my pastor, and I was intrigued. When I came to the chapter about how to be a “Perfectly Pleasant” person, I wondered why I hadn’t written the book.

There’s this list, this ridiculously long and impossible list, of all the “shoulds” for being a perfectly pleasant person.

I had a list this long and more. It’s scary to see it in print.

The “shoulds” that I piled upon my own shoulders got heavier and heavier until I reached a point where I was unable to keep going.

In her memoir, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about how she learned to keep Sabbath after she quit full-time pastoral ministry. “I would read for pleasure and I would prepare simple food, but any activity prefaced by ought, should, or must in my mind was automatically disqualified.”

“Should” is a cruel, unfeeling taskmaster. It’s a mean bully that sees no reason to give rest to the weary.

I picture my own “should monster,” — my inner gremlin — as a mash-up of Sue Sylvester (the malicious, cut-throat coach of Glee fame) and Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid.

She’s vicious and harsh and she doesn’t back down. She’s an evil voice stealer (like Ursula) and a slavedriver (like Sue). Nothing is ever good enough to please her. She barks out orders of “should,” “must,” and “ought to” all day long. And she doesn’t quit once the sun goes down. Her nastiest tactic by far is to hurl “should have”s at my tired soul like poison darts.

I’ve listened to her far too long.

inner gremlin

For years I tried to be proactive in battling my inner gremlin. I worked diligently to “renew my mind” by replacing all the negative thoughts with positive ones, and by memorizing lots of scripture.

Those strategies were good. It’s important to know the truth — God’s truth — when it comes to knowing what to believe.

But it still didn’t stop the nagging voice inside, that voice always letting me know what I “should” be doing.

The Gremlin book revealed to me a revolutionary approach, one I hadn’t even considered. I’m not supposed to go all-out attack on my gremlin. I don’t need to engage her in hand-to-hand combat. I’ve been warned not to grapple with her.

I just need to notice that she’s there.

The meddling voice that reminds me of all the “shoulds” is just that. . . a meddling voice. And I have a choice to ignore it. I can hear all the “shoulds” and still choose to do what I want to do in that moment. I don’t have to feel guilty about all the things my Gremlin tells me I “should” be doing.

Guilt is just another form of “should.”

Guilt isn’t something that God ever wanted us carrying around like a heavy sack of potatoes. If he wanted us weighed down with guilt, He never would have sent Jesus to lift the load.

I’m not designed to live a life driven by “shoulds.”  I’m made to live free and true. So are you.

When’s the last time you thought about all the things you should be doing? Or maybe about the things you should NOT be doing.

I think it’s high time “should” got eliminated from our vocabularies.

  • Do something because you want to.
  • Do something because it’s the right thing to do.
  • Do something because you feel led or called to do it.
  • Do something because you enjoy it.

Be yourself and live your life and be willing to risk making mistakes.

But don’t live with the constant guilt trip of “should.” Learn to recognize that voice for what it is — your gremlin, the little devil on your shoulder, the voice of Satan himself — doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s a voice that wants to trip you up.

Don’t let it win.

Don’t let “should” get the better of you.


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Healing from Church Wounds

healing from church wounds

My Daddy passed his strong work ethic down to me.  We are busy people, Daddy and I, always efficient and hard-working.  We’ve both been known to go in to work while running a fever or nursing a cold.  Of course, the underlying current in both of us is a pride that says, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” It drives our loved ones crazy.

I’ve never let discomfort, illness, tiredness, or even pregnancy slow me down if I could help it.  (Although in 10th grade I once skipped driver’s ed because of a bad hair day.)

God pretty much has to knock me flat on my back (or give me a really bad hair day) if he wants me to quit.

I once said my motto was “never sit down.”  And I really meant it. 

Seems so sophomoric to me now as a middle-aged woman.

One time, my Daddy came over to build a wooden arbor above our patio.  He was in his no-nonsense, hard-working mode, sweating up a storm and barking commands as he worked.  At one point, he haphazardly laid his drill on top of the ladder. A few minutes later, I bumped into the ladder by mistake. The drill fell onto my leg at just the right angle to stab me in the shin with the drill bit. When we picked up the drill, the bit was broken off which made me think it must be buried in my leg somewhere! It hurt like crazy.  I couldn’t walk.  I hobbled into the house and treated the wound to stop the bleeding.  There was no drill bit embedded in my leg, thank goodness, but the pain was deep and excruciating. I struggled not to cry.

But as soon as I slapped a bandaid on the wound,  Daddy was back at it and expecting me to get back to work.  I pushed through and obeyed his orders. I acted strong.  I’m not afraid of pain.

My leg was sore for weeks.  Someone told me later that puncture wounds are, by nature, intensely painful.  It didn’t look that bad.  I’ve had superficial scrapes that appeared much worse.  But the pain went deep, down to the bone.

Healing from Church Wounds

That’s what church once did to me. Church left me with a puncture wound.

I thought it was superficial.  A scrape that would scab over and heal quickly.  But it wasn’t and it didn’t.

My church wound was a low hemorrhage, a bruise bone-deep that is still taking its sweet time to get well.  It may not look like much on the surface, but the spot is still tender.

For more than two years, I was one of the walking wounded at church, constantly fighting back tears and screams and big ugly sobs. I held myself together and forced a smile, even though I was shattered inside. I blamed myself, shamed myself, chided myself to get my act together. But the facade I created was just a bandaid and it couldn’t contain the injury.

I read a post a while back about the five stages of church grief.  I can relate.  Now that I’m involved in another church congregation, I think I’m finally working my way into stage five, acceptance. But it’s been a long, crooked road.

The scars will always exist, even after the wound is completely healed. Scars to remind me where I’ve come from. Scars to change me for the better. Scars to remind me Who my Healer is.

61cce1aac144bf998f3d83528fc7846c Image via Pinterest

Have you ever been wounded by those you counted dear? Family, friends, or a church that felt like home? Those hurts can cut deepest.

I know how you feel. You aren’t alone, even though it may feel like it. There is a Healer who wants to mend your broken heart, to bind up your wounds and hold you close until you can walk again. He is Jesus and He’s as close as the mention of His name.

Cry to Him and let Him begin to heal your deepest wounds.

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For further reading, see “When Church Hurts” by Shawna at Not the Former Things


When You Wonder If Life Is Worth It

wonder if life is worth it

Ever feel like throwing in the towel? Like giving up on life?

Ever feel like there’s no point trying anymore because of your failures or your brokenness?

Ever feel like you’re at the bottom of a pit and there’s no way out, at least not that you can see? No light at the end of the tunnel?

My daughter’s choir sang a text during their concert this evening that made me think of you.

Yes, you.

  • You who doesn’t see any reason to go on.
  • You who are going through the motions, but always wondering if there’s more to life than this.
  • You who don’t think you can stand another second of the mundane, boring routine. The day in and day out. The rut that seems to have you trapped in its clutches.

Is life really even worth it?

Life Has Loveliness to Sell

In the middle of wondering if there is any meaning to it all, ponder the words to the poem, “Barter,” by Sara Teasdale:

Life has loveliness to sell,
      All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
      Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.


Life has loveliness to sell,
      Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
      Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.


Spend all you have for loveliness,
      Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
      Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

–Sara Teasdale

When You Wonder If Life Is Worth It

Life does indeed have loveliness to sell. Sometimes it costs everything. But the point of the poem is this: it’s worth the barter.

I know a God-incarnate-man who gave everything. He bartered it all. Traded power and perfection for a rugged cross and a crown of thorns. Swapped the purest peace for the burden of shame and guilt. Surrendered a throne to become a foot-washing servant.


For the beauty of children’s faces? For the conversations and quiet moments spent with loved ones? For the celebration of special days and routine days alike? For the gratitude in a healed woman’s eyes? For the infinite grains of sand and the white-capped waves of the sea and the sound of crashing thunder? For the faith and the trust and the love of passionate followers?

Why did He make such a barter? Why did Jesus spend all He had and never count the cost?

I’ll tell you why.

He did it for you. Because you’re worth it. Really and truly.


Photo from The Jesus Storybook Bible

Yours is the life that has loveliness to sell and Jesus splurged on you. He didn’t think twice about paying the cost. Because when it came to you, the loveliness was more than worth it. 

There is beauty all around and about and in you. Yes. IN.

  • I don’t know how to make you see it.
  • I don’t know the right words to convince you.
  • I can’t force you to believe.

But I will shout it from this cyber mountaintop as long as I have air in my lungs and strength in my fingertips.

You are loved.

The God who made the stars loves you. And that makes you so very lovely. 

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The One Surefire Way to Not Screw Up Your Kids


only way to not screw up your kids

I was a great mom before I had kids.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was bound and determined to be the best mom ever. My kids would be perfect — smart, beautiful, obedient, and always well-behaved because, well, they would have the perfect mom.

And so I prepared. I read all the books and did all the research. But I didn’t even get out of infancy stage before discovering how many discrepancies there were between child rearing methods.

At one point Eric threatened to set fire to all the parenting books. I couldn’t decide whether to pick my baby up every time he cried or let him cry it out. Whether to swear off pacifiers and bottles or use them. Whether to nurse on demand or put my baby on a schedule.

And I didn’t even have a baby yet!

When my firstborn was just a few months old,  I already felt like a failure.

I wasn’t the mom I thought I’d be. Things weren’t like the breezy romantic dream that I’d imagined motherhood to be. By the time my child was two, I was sure I’d already screwed him up for life.

Add three more kids to the mix and my dreams of perfect parenting died a little more each day.

I was still reading, researching, trying new methods and learning all I could about how to be the best parent I could be. But every day I messed up. Still do.

I yell. I say things I don’t mean. I get angry. I forget important things and fail to keep promises. I get tired and don’t follow through. I make empty threats.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still doing lots of good things. I’ve even finally reached a point (well past 40) where I actually believe I’m a good mother.

But I’m also pretty sure that at some point in their lives, my kids are gonna need some therapy so they can work through all my parenting mistakes.


Most days I feel like I’m screwing up my kids.

I think the majority of good parents probably feel the same way. At least I hope I’m not the only one.

How to Not Screw Up Your Kids

A couple of weeks ago we were watching Parenthood (my favorite TV drama), and the character Julia — who is separated from her husband, Joel —  was talking to her Dad (Zeek Braverman, played by Craig T. Nelson) about raising kids.

The scene went like this:

Zeek: So, how are you doing, kid?

Julia: Oh, just doing what I do. Ruining my kids’ lives.

Zeek: Parents screw their kids up, that’s just the way it is, honey. It’s been that way since time began I think. It doesn’t matter. . . married, divorced, whatever. You’re gonna screw ‘em up. It’s the nature of it, you know. So don’t think you’re so special. Honey, the only way not to screw ‘em up is not to have ‘em. What a shame that would be.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Nobody’s perfect, which means there won’t ever be any perfect parents, or perfect kids. All of us need therapy. We all have issues. It’s the nature of things here in this broken world.

But to not live, to not experience all that life has to offer, to not squeeze every drop out of the days we’re given, well, that would be a shame.

Life’s gonna be messy and dysfunctional and hard to manage. I’m going to make mistakes — as a parent and as a person — no matter how hard I try to do things right.

So will you.

But the fear of screwing things up doesn’t need to keep us waiting on the sidelines. There’s no good in being a wallflower in this dance we call life. The whole point is to get out there and dance, do whatever it is you’re meant to do, and know going into it that you’re gonna make a mess.

If you’re raising kids, I can guarantee that at some point you’re gonna screw them up. . . at least a little.

Just make sure that you’re also loving them, teaching them, enjoying them, experiencing real life with them.

As the tagline of this blog says, “Life’s a song that’s meant to be sung.” That’s the whole reason I started writing. I want to spread the message that you need to be living your life – the way God intended when He made you. With joy and gusto and passion — and yes, even making mistakes along the way.

The only way to not mess up is to never live.

And in the words of Zeek Braverman, “What a shame that would be.”

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If you’d like to see the entire episode of Parenthood, you can check it out here. The scene between Julia and Zeek takes place about 12 minutes from the end. It is true TV greatness.



Why Church Is a Burden for Special Needs Parents {And What You Can Do About It}

church burden special needs

The children’s minister at the church had already told us that he couldn’t come to Sunday School without one of us there. In a phone call several months prior, she informed me that my husband or I would have to accompany my little boy if we wanted him to attend. Since Eric taught Sunday School, that left the job to me.

During the summertime, a friend’s daughter volunteered to step into my place. She worked beautifully with Travis and we were blessed and relieved to continue our normal Sunday routine. But now she was back at college for the fall, and I was going to have to step in and attend kids’ Sunday School so that my child would be allowed in.

Months later I was asked by church staff if this was offensive. Would a parent of a special needs child feel offended at being asked to attend Sunday school with their child as a condition of that child being allowed to attend?

Without hesitation I replied “YES.” An emphatic yes.

Why Church Is a Burden for Special Needs Parents

Here’s why: parents of disabled kids struggle more on a daily basis than parents of non-special needs kids. I feel qualified to make such a bold statement because I am the parent of both. Dealing with special needs is extremely hard, stressful and challenging. Making it to church on a Sunday morning is exponentially more difficult than what other families go through. The stress level of mothers of special needs kids has been compared to that of combat soldiers. Church is a burden for special needs parents. They NEED a break. Church on Sunday morning needs to be, if nothing else, a respite. A time when they can have an hour — just one hour! — to fellowship with other adults; to relax and drink a cup of coffee; to focus on their own spiritual walk; to get away from the constant state of alertness that accompanies raising a special needs child. 

I was prepared to go to my son’s Sunday School class, but I didn’t want to go. My emotions were running high. I was sad and stressed and needed support that I wasn’t getting.

We showed up and I let the teacher know I’d be staying. ”You don’t need to,” he said. “We’ve got it covered.”

“But, but,”  I stammered. . . “the minister said we needed to stay. She said one of us was required to stay.”

The teacher looked at me and my husband. He was kind and his eyes were soft. He was sincere. ”It’s okay,” he said. ” You can go to Sunday School. It’s not a problem.” He smiled. “It’s not ever gonna be a problem.”

Tears welled up in my eyes because in his words, in his simple statement, I felt the presence of the Lord Jesus in that room as clearly as I’ve ever felt anything. My son’s teacher was awash in the love of the Holy Spirit and it came through in his face, his words, his demeanor, his attitude.

It wasn’t going to be a problem.

You see, Travis was treated like a problem since age 5. Every time we had a new teacher or a new challenge, concerned individuals would approach me (the mother–why is it always the mother?) wanting to know how to handle the inevitable problems that would follow in Travis’ wake.

I have to admit that even I approached my own son this way. I didn’t in the beginning, but experience made me shell-shocked and gun-shy. I assumed the best way to ward off bad experiences was to come in with guns loaded, ready to shoot down enemies and arguments, armed with an answer for every possible scenario. Carrying all that ammunition took its toll on me. Combat soldier indeed.


I learned to see my own son as a problem.

But our new Sunday School teacher never viewed him that way. He didn’t see Travis as a problem. He saw him as a child.

As we stood there, I couldn’t help noticing the love and warmth all over the man’s face, not only for my little boy, but for us, his parents. I was shaken to the core. It was okay for me to expect to be loved.

This man loved us, he loved our little boy, he loved and trusted God. And it was okay for me to expect that.

You see, I’d gone into it before with expectations of being loved. I’d assumed that things would be all right, that there wouldn’t be any glitches that couldn’t be worked through, because I was so assured that the people involved loved my son and my family. But I was mistaken.

What I found out was just how conditional love can be. Sure, people loved my family — as long as we fit into their idea of what “lovable” looks like. But Travis at that age just didn’t. So they didn’t love us. And they seemed appalled that we should expect otherwise.

I grew to be ashamed of expecting love. I was made to feel that it was something wrong on my part. That I should know better than to expect love and acceptance when my family couldn’t get our act together.

The most hurtful part was how everyone wanted my daughter so much. She was a teacher’s dream — her behavior, her intelligence, her talent, her kindness, her sweet attitude. It was as though they could make up for the lack of love for her twin by reminding me of all of Sara’s good qualities.

My daughter is wonderful. I already knew that. Of course I was pleased to hear their accolades. But how could praise for her and disdain for my son come from the same mouth?

  • When these two babies had spent every moment since conception, side by side, formed in the same womb at the same time?
  • When they were and are as close as two children could ever be?
  • When every parenting mistake or success I had with them was done simultaneously?

How could people not see the hypocrisy in their behavior?

I’m several years removed from it now and I wish I could go back to the mother I was and gently lead her away from that atmosphere of condemnation and guilt. She did not deserve such treatment, and yet she was not strong enough at the time to recognize it. She suffered the blame, willingly received the blows on behalf of the little boy she called her own.

I allowed others to shame me, to blame me, to point fingers and put me in my place. I allowed them to exclude my son and my family, to judge and to mistreat.


photo credit: jazbeck via photopin cc

I should’ve left much sooner. It was all so very complicated.

Instead of sharing my burdens, some church people threw more bundles on my back. They loaded me down with their expectations and condemnation. I buckled under the weight of their judgments and their righteousness and when I stumbled, they would kick me to goad me back into submission beneath their yoke of rules.

It was unkind.

It was NOT Christian or Christ-like.

It almost broke me.

But it did not. Praise be to God, it did not.

What You Can Do About It

Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar. May I offer a gentle word of encouragement? You are NOT overstepping your boundaries by expecting your child to be loved and accepted in church. It is NOT too much to ask. If others are heaping more burdens on you than you can bear, it might be time to look for a different fellowship.

Or perhaps special needs is not your particular battle in life. But maybe you know a family who deals with the issue. Would you be willing to put aside your preconceptions and welcome them into your life and your church? Would you be willing to love the way my son’s Sunday School teacher did? Would you offer to view such a family as people who deserve love and not as a problem to solve?

We really can change for the better. Change happens one child, one family, one smile, one kind word at a time.

You can be the one.

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The Important Thing to Remember About Failure

The thing to remember about failure

She leaves artistic droppings all over the house, a trail of her creative process — like crazy animal footprints or Hansel and his breadcrumbs. Her creative thoughts leave evidence everywhere. It drives me crazy.

A strand of colored yarn here, little paper scraps there, stickers on every surface. A map drawn in pencil, a marker without its cap, the empty place where the scissors should be, the sticky residue of glue. And always the glitter. Aaargh. . . the glitter!

I love that my daughter is creative. Her mind constantly oozes with artistic vision. She takes my castoffs and creates masterpieces that her brain dreams up. Unwanted scraps that I toss out, she uses to make things.

I once read a magazine article about a lady who makes art from her dryer lint.

My daughter is like that. She can make art out of anything.

And she’s always had this mindset that not knowing how to do something won’t stop her.

She made a purse when she was 8, all by herself with no instruction from me, other than the rudimentary needle and thread skills I’d  taught her. She didn’t ask for help or advice. She simply bounded downstairs with a patchily sewn purse hanging on her shoulder and a proud announcement of “Look what I made!”

The mess bothers me.

Her room looks like Hobby Lobby threw up in there.  Search for “pack rat” in the dictionary and you’ll see her beaming smile. The domain she calls her own is like some kind of bohemian arts and crafts fair — with strands of ribbon and fabric and paper and hand drawn accents adorning every square inch.

There is no way I could sleep in that room. The sensory overload would keep me up all night.

But she loves it.

And I can’t help but think of this whole idea of creating, and how we were made to make art. Of how the very first glimpse we get of God in the book of Genesis is as Creator, and how if He was Creator then, what makes us think He’s any different now? A Creator — an artist — is never content to stop making art. A Creator is by definition, one who creates. Present tense, not past.

My daughter can’t walk by a pretty scrap of paper or a piece of fabric or a tossed out cupcake liner without imagining it in a new way, with a new purpose, as a means of beautifying the world. Everything is lovely to her. She takes the castoffs and makes art.

creator by definition

Is this not what our God does? Does He not take the broken pieces, the ashes of our mistakes and regrets and failures — and make beautiful art of them? Does he not form them into something more lovely than we could dream up because our minds are always set on order and organization and His is more intent on beauty and redemption?

The things I think are relegated to the junkyard are the things he keeps pulling out and rebuilding, refurbishing, refinishing. Recreating.

There is nothing He can’t make beautiful.

There is nothing that the great Creator can’t make into art, the truest expression of His love.

What part of your life is castoff? Are you living with regrets of past mistakes and failures? Are you certain that your life can’t be redeemed because of the bad things you’ve done?

Well, that’s where you’d be wrong. Beauty from ashes is God’s specialty. Just like my daughter, He delights in castoffs.

He makes the most precious art from our mistakes and our failures.

Give him your broken pieces, dear one. Stand back and prepare to be amazed as He recreates your failures into a beautiful masterpiece.

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