Growing up with a single working mom who drank too much, I spent lots of weekends with my grandparents.  They drove several hours each way to pick me up, take me back to their house in St. Louis.  Grandpa taught me how to ride a bike, fly a kite, flip pancakes.  Some of my favorite memories of our time together included parties at the home of cousins living in the suburbs.

Their little house on a hill, filled to the brim with kids, toys, Kool-Aid and cackling screams of joy from the basement playroom put reality on my childhood fantasy. To live in a home with a stay-at-home mom, white collar dad and siblings to play dolls.

I just didn’t want my life to be so quiet, isolated.  As a latch key kid whose best friend was the television, I hungered for community.

My Aunt Patti epitomized the kind of mom I dreamt I would be someday.  That perfect characterization of the classic Kool-Aid mom represented in commercials during the 1970’s.  (Oh wow, that ages me.) 

A mom that remains joyfully patient as kids throw food, smudge mud across the white carpet.  I can still remember her loving hugs, the way her eyes narrow to a slit, dimples well deep when she smiles. 

While she carries baby number five on her hip, she talks about her charity work, volunteerism at the kid’s school and hospital down the street.  All the while, looking like a model amidst the mayhem.  At least that is how I remember it.

Years later, at the funeral of my grandma, I met up with Aunt Patti’s oldest daughter Amy.  Told her how much I always loved her mom, secretly wished she could be my mom.  Amy turned to me in a solemn stare and said, “She was the Kook-Aid mom for everyone else but her own kids.”

Well, my bubble burst.

Amy and I see her mother through the lens of our own experience and circumstances.  God used Aunt Patti as a role model in my life, but it is easier to idolize someone while standing outside of their story, looking in.

It would be the first of many hard, life lessons about false perceptions that come from judging others by what we see on the outside.  Wishing our lives could fit into their ideal, while missing the opportunity to live fully right where we are.

Occasionally, I still veer off course.  Watch families in church interact and feel empty.  Then I realize that those feelings don’t come from my Father’s whispers to my heart.  They come from a place of deceitful belief.  The lie that true belonging comes from a place somewhere outside of the one who spilled blood for me.

That’s why Jesus said not to covet and why all the commandments are summed up in the one command: Love your neighbor as yourself (Romans 13:9).  Because when I look at your life and wish it were mine, I am not loving myself . . . .  you . . . . God.

Thankful for who you are today.