Secrets, Mama, Secrets?

As a working mom, I have to admit it. The struggle of Working Mom Guilt is real. Some days, I put on my big girl shoes and conquer it, being the stern voice of reason and upholding family law side by side with my husband, parental gavels in hand. Most days, though, I sigh and, to the chagrin of my husband, feel myself crumbling around the corners. Bedtime, you guys, is my weakness.

Bedtime, in our home, is a long standing tradition of stories, songs, silliness and prayers. It is quiet snuggles, belly tickles and “Harry Potter” (or, if you are my 4 year old, “Harry Powder”). It is endless recitations of BJ Novak’s “The Book with No Pictures” and belly laughs when the grown up reader feigns realization that the book is just one giant prank on them! It is poetry and Captain Hook voices, as we once again gather around Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” to giggle our way through some silly poems about life, love and the pursuit of pancakes. In our home, and for this working mama, Bedtime is the one time of day where I have my children’s undivided attention and they know they have mine.

Each of our kiddos has their own tradition. For my son, it’s Ninja Kisses, where even after bedtime, Daddy sneaks back in “Ninja Style” for one last bedtime kiss, while my son giggles from the top bunk. He asks for one every night.

For my daughter, as is everything with this girl, she has paved her own path. My sweet girl and I are in a very special and sacred season of life right now. She sees me as not only Mommy, but also bestest girlfriend and coolest galpal in the history of ever! {Disclaimer: You guys, this season is a magical unicorn to me…I have no idea how long I’ll get this season for, but I’ll take it!}

As I tuck her in each night and she pulls me close for hugs and kisses, she grabs a handful of my hair to play with, turns my cheek close to hers  and says “Secrets, Mama? Secrets?” Based on how her day has gone, I almost always already know what her secrets will be. “I love Mama, and Daddy, and Bubba, and Mita and Chocolate!! Don’t Tell! Don’t Tell!” Then she turns and asks me, “What’s your secret, Mama?”, to which I typically respond ” I love coffee, and chocolate, and sleeping in! Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell!!”

I was reflecting on these special moments the other day and just praying one of those “Mama’s heart” kind of prayers – please, Father…Please let this girl always tell me her secrets. Please let her always keep her treasured feelings close with me and desire to keep me in her confidence. Today it’s who she loves and chocolate. In the days to come, I know her secrets may hold so much more than that. Please let her confidence in me and my advice to her be the words that help her grow in grace and knowledge of who you are!”

In that reflection, I was also reminded of how much our Father loves to hear our secrets. How much He must love it when we sit in the quiet with Him, when we draw ourselves nearer to Him and we whisper the precious depths of our hearts. Even as He knows them already, how much it must warm His heart that we still choose to draw Him close, look upon His face, and release our secrets to Him. How much more does He love it when we ask Him to share the secrets of His heart – What our Father holds closely – with us? How we crave not only for Him to know our secrets, but intimately seek out His? As cherished as these moments are between my daughter and I — how must he feel when I choose to share the same kind of moment with Him?

da192f9f481b89c8e2f6de403009cc6fMaybe you’re in a season of life with the Father where you share “secrets” all the time. Maybe it’s been a while since you allowed Him access to those dark corners of your heart, even though He knows you at your innermost anyway. Sometimes I find that sharing my secrets with my Heavenly Father, even when they are dark, dirty, or filled with the hurt and rage of just not understanding, allows me to see life more clearly. It means I’m not carrying this mess alone. It means there is a best friend to walk there beside me – on the days when it’s coffee and chocolate, and on the days when I’m scared.

What secrets have you put on lockdown? What have you been holding back sharing from the One who knows you most? Take a moment today, find your quiet space, and share some secrets with your Father. Seek His heart and listen to His voice share with you His own. Abide, rest and share the Mess.

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What Meets Us On the Other Side of Grief

As a teenager and young adult I loved the theater…like, obsessively loved theater.

Besides being in a number of productions, I would often fall head over heels in love with a soundtrack, singing each song by heart, long before ever seeing the show. My roommates and I would embrace our inner Elphabas and belt out “Defying Gravity” from Wicked before my hands ever clasped that precious Playbill in nervous anticipation of the stage show. I would transform into Eponine and a Nubian queen while singing the entirety of the Les Mis and Aida soundtracks while driving to and from college for home visits. Even now, you can find me throwing down some Hamilton with a fervor that might make Lin-Manuel Miranda consider me for his next Angelica…or Peggy…I mean, whatever works.

I have always loved losing myself in a character; falling so deeply into being them that I could live another life, even just for a few hours. Not that my own life was so terrible that I needed an escape, but it was just fun to forget for a bit. As an adult, the ability to escape and be “someone else” has proved to be pretty valuable. I have adapted the mastery of the mask in situations where I just have to push the emotions down and get through, either for the sake of my own sanity or someone else. When I have learned that the consequences of giving into one emotion might unhinge the piece as an entirety, I transform for the greater good to get the job done.

While I love the art of the character, and the relief of the escape in hiding behind my “mask”, especially when pushing through a hard professional day, the same skill may be to my own detriment personally…Because in moments when it matters, the facade is not as strong as I have lead you to believe. Sometimes, much like the stage and backdrops of a theater production, we are only designed to hold up for so long, before we need to be struck down and rebuilt again. Our curtains fade, our paint becomes worn, our costumes threadbare and patched.

My Dad loved the theater. I think I inherited my love of it from him. As a little girl, I remember his dancing me around the house, singing to me songs from South Pacific and the Fantastiks; his deep baritone voice making each character come to life before my eyes. As I’m continuing on my journey of discovery and rebuilding my heart after the passing of my dad, I’m learning several critical lessons.

Sometimes when we feel things so deeply, so powerfully, so profoundly, we turn ourselves off. We run in fear and throw on the mask of the character that is way more fun to be…the person that is doing great, instead of the one that is still tending to the raw, real pain of heartbreak. We close ourselves off emotionally rather than letting ourselves experience the full weight of the emotion. We lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that if we shut it off, if we “just get through it”, we will be ok. We know that if we give the emotion it’s full weight, it’s full range of feeling, to be completely and holistically felt at it’s depths without limits -without any restraint- the weight of it may crush us completely. We would implode to rubble, completely wrecked.

We know what our person looks like now – how to define it, manage it, protect it. We have no idea what vulnerable, new creation of ourselves awaits us on the other side of our personal hell. Instead of leaning into the concept of a new creation, we continue bearing the weight of an emotion unfulfilled -lying to ourselves that “No matter how much this hurts, it’s got to be better than what awaits us on the other side of this pain and grief”.

The other character has become exhausting. It’s getting harder and harder to put on. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about “being ok again…getting back to normal…getting back to me” in this whole messy process. And then it hit me…I am never going to get back to me again. That person is gone, forever changed in the aftermath of this experience. I haven’t shown the new person around much yet, because frankly, I’m afraid of her. As a student of theater, I loved learning each new character – what makes them tick. What little nuances would they say or do? I don’t understand this new character of ME yet. I’m still learning her vulnerabilities and her strengths…still learning what she is capable of.

What I am learning is, the more I allow myself to lean into everything I am feeling right now, what awaits me on the other side of grief is Grace. On the other side of Pain is Jesus. The new me is arising, like the phoenix through the fire…like beauty through the ashes, I am being made new, shaped and refined of stronger material than before. The less I portray the Me that is ok and the more I lean into the Me that is messy, the more I give God a chance to shape and heal my heart. I am open to relationships, conversations, and allowing myself moments of grace to both feel sad about what is no longer, but celebrate everything that was.

Vulnerability is scary…it’s certainly messy and it is no place I enjoy being. But, if I am going to continue healing through this Season of the Broken Crazy, I am going to have to be the hardest character I have ever been…I am going to have to be the authentic ME. I am going to have to allow myself to lean into these emotions I am feeling and discover the Grace that awaits me on the other side of grief.

An Honest Conversation About “How I’m Doing…”

I hate bad things. As one who is not good with dealing with negativity or confrontation, it’s pretty funny to watch me watch a movie or read a book. My husband will often make fun of me when the “bad things” happen in a movie we are watching – I cover my face with a blanket…I get up to get a snack…I suddenly have to go to the bathroom… I am not good at handling the bad things… the feelings of fear, worry and anxiety are so heavily embattled in the desire for good to win, even in fictional form.

As for myself, I have written and re-written this chapter of my life over and over again. Wishing I could change it. Wishing it was different. Wishing it was a different ending and that the “bad stuff” never happened…but it did… and I have had to deal with it…

I’ve spent the last 2 months processing some of the hardest, deepest, “bad stuff” i have ever had to process in my life…stuff I couldn’t just get up and get away from…stuff I have had to face head on, in a way that still leaves my head spinning.

A year ago, my dad was in an accident. He fought like a warrior to stay alive, to stay with us and to have some semblance of normal. I’m sorry to say that, on March 17th, he lost his battle.  It was, without a doubt, the single most vulnerable, most fragile and most messy chapter of my life’s story. 20160730_131951 - Copy

I remember the months we prayed so hard for healing. I remember the 2 steps forward he would take, only to be beaten down by ten steps backward. I remember the basic struggle for human normalcy on a regular basis – his entire independence lost in one accident. I remember his final days, spent by his bedside in anguish, watching him suffer and struggle and fight until the end. My dad was nothing if not a fighter.

I remember the night he passed as though an out of body experience, a dream I couldn’t escape from – so hard, so tragic and yet my soul begged to soak in every last moment with him. I remember him waking up in a panic, his mind gone but his eyes searching for loved ones to reassure him we were there. I remember holding his hand and singing to him the same song I sing to my children every night to put him to sleep, hoping it would bring him peace and comfort. If he no longer knew my name, maybe he would know my voice. He should…he was the first who taught it to sing.

I remember the drive home at 4 am after he passed. I had kept my radio on the local Christian station, desperately seeking some solace and comfort in the hope I had always known my entire life… and yet as I drove, hope could not break forth. As I pulled onto my {thankfully} empty exit, the song “Thy Will Be Done” came on the radio… and with a fury, the carefully constructed fortress of protection around my heart came crashing down. The facade of strength I had used to get my family through the last year crumbled around me… Tears of hot rage and anger came pouring down my face as I sat at that exit and screamed at my God.

Like a child, I raged against him, seething with every ounce of anger and confusion I felt, screaming and spiritually pounding my fists in his chest. The words spewed out of my soul before I could stop them…”Your WILL? YOUR WILL? If THIS is your will, I don’t want ANY of it. NOT ANYMORE. Your will was to remove a husband from his wife? a devoted Grandfather, who loved NOTHING more than being a grandfather, away from MY children who DESPERATELY loved him and needed him? You took a man who faithfully served you and and loved you his WHOLE life and you let him suffer and die this agonizing death. THIS IS YOUR WILL?! I….DONT…WANT… IT!”

I pulled into my driveway, still shaking with a mixture of rage and fear. Rage at the loss of my father. Fear of having to tell my 8 year old and my 3 year old that their beloved Papa was gone and he was never going to hug them again. I sat in the driveway of my house, while the arms of my heavenly Father wrapped around me, giving me the strength to walk through the front door.

In the days to come, the biggest question I received was “How are you doing?” and to be honest, I think I lied to a few of you…my apologies, but it was all I could do to get through the day. I should have shared my authentic heart with you, but for the protection of my heart, I couldn’t be that vulnerable. I wasn’t ready yet… I am now.

I am not OK. My heart is not OK. God and I are not OK.

It’s not that I’ve lost my faith or my belief in Him. I haven’t. I know who God is. I know what he is capable of. I know with all my heart and without a doubt that his Son came to die for me and save my soul. I know all of those core concepts.

I feel like I am in an argument  with my best friend and He has let me down.  I feel like there is a wall up between Him and I and we have to keep working at it from both sides to get it to come down.

Church has not been easy for me lately. If you know me, you know that singing and worshiping are how I connect with God. Music and lyrics and the spiritual connection of it all are some of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Leading worship and the expression of that experience has led me to some of the deepest connections I have felt with the Father.

Yet over the last two months, I opened my mouth to sing and nothing came out. I could feel a physical weight on my heart and body when I tried to sing. “You’re a good, good father?” I can’t sing that. “You’re the God of Miracles?” I must have missed that miraculous healing of my dad…the one that I prayed so hard for… All I could manage was to sit, and close my eyes, tears rolling down my face, and listen to the worship around me, my sweet husband giving me time, love and tissues, as I endured this process each week.

In the Sundays after Papa’s passing, I have literally dragged myself out the door, because I know that the last place I wanted to be was the one place I needed to be. I KNOW I’m in the wrong. I know God has a plan for this entire situation… but in my vulnerability and in my heart, I cannot see it. And I do not dare lift my voice to Him with praise that is not authentically in my heart. And I think He is OK with that… My God knows me better than that and I will not be fake with Him.

…and what does HE do? …He waits, ever so patiently, week after week. His Spirit, working away at my heart, whispering to my soul, reminding me of His love. Reminding me that, even though I have been “sucker punched by our fallen, Genesis 3 world” {to borrow a phrase from our pastor} He is still there, waiting for me in the quiet. He waits for me to forgive Him for breaking a promise that He never made to me…but one that my human heart holds Him fully responsible for.

I sang in church today for the first time in months. I don’t know how…but when we got to worship today, the weight on my chest was gone. It was as if his Spirit was just waiting for me to be ready…and so, with tears rolling, as they have for the weeks and weeks before, I finally let my walls crumble again and let Him back in. My voice trembled, small at first. My vocal chords hurt with a fire from lack of use…but the more I leaned into it, the more the pain faded and I could lose myself in worship again.

I looked out the window of my church on this gorgeous spring day, and I could almost picture my Papa smiling at me, leaning on his cane and saying “Welcome back baby girl. I knew you would find your way.”

So, how am I doing? My pain is not gone. My heart is not ok. But by leaning into it day by day, and remembering who I belong to, I will not be allowed to walk this chapter alone. I am holding my Father’s hand and I am finding my way again.

The Lucky Ones

As I listen to the hum of my dishwasher,  and looking out over the dinner I made and the laundry I washed,  I find myself sarcastically giggling and saying “happy international women’s day to me “.

I continue to laugh as I’m elbows deep in the sink full of soapy water thinking this wasn’t really how the world intended for me to spend “international women’s day”.

At that moment, however, I’m struck by another thought. No one has forced me to do these dishes. No one has forced me to make this dinner. And as much as I would love to be kicking back with my feet up, I kind of have this God-given desire to take care of these silly little buggers, {read as my adorable children,  and my sweet, goofy husband.}

I mean, let’s take this a step further. No one is forcing me to clean my house {except maybe some Pinterest-guilt}, no one is telling me what job I’m going to have or what clothes I’m going to wear. No one is telling me who I will or will not sleep with. No one is threatening me. No one is making me scared for my life. No one is making me feel inferior or like a possession,  because I choose not to allow them to do so.

And then it hits me, on today the “international women’s day” that I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to choose where I work, if I work, what I wear to my job. I have a husband who is not my lord and master, but my partner and helpmate, who I choose to allow the privilege of being the leader of our household,  because I was given the choice to believe in that doctrine and faith. No person forced my faith, my love, or my dreams upon me.

I realize that I am one of the lucky ones, because I do get to choose to be strong, and beautiful, and independent. I get to choose to raise my daughter believing and knowing in her heart that she can be anything she wants to be, and she can do and achieve anything she wants to achieve in this life.

I am one  of the lucky ones because I have the chance to raise my son to be a young man who honors and respects women. He gets to be the kind of young man who understands what love is, and understands how to treasure his spouse or his girlfriend. I am lucky because I was given the choice in who I fell in love with. And he gets to see his father and I walk through our marriage, in all its mess and all its beauty every single day.

So on today, international women’s day, I have never been more thankful for the privilege and freedom of “choices”…And for our sisters, both in our community and in our world, whose choices have been taken from them, hidden from them, or denied them altogether, the rest of us have a responsibility to lift them up, empower them, pray for them, give them voice and help them reach their dreams and goals.

 

Lessons In Loving Refugees

The year…1989. The movie…The Little Mermaid.

I remember all so clearly. We had just gone to see my very first movie in the theaters…ever! Still floating out of the theater on a cloud of romance and buttered popcorn, our family had stopped at McDonald’s to grab some dinner before heading home.

As I munched on  a cheeseburger and reminisced about mermaids, singing crabs, and styling my hair with a fork Dinglehopper, I noticed a couple of interesting guys come into the restaurant. I still remember to this day – they were the height of late 80’s fashion – giant combat boots, trench coats, chains everywhere, and the piece de resistance! Huge bright green mohawks pointing out in all directions. My parents looked at the punk guys and looked at my impressionable sister and I and told us in no uncertain terms “Don’t you ever bring boys like that home!” At the moment, I couldn’t tell if they were scared, joking or serious or a little bit of both, but I swore with all my 6 year old heart I would never do such a thing. My older sister, on the other hand, made no such promises.

Fast forward about 7 years..onto another pivotal moment…

As my sister entered her rocky teen years, she lived life by one creed – if there is a rule, you break it. And so, there should have been no surprise when, one evening, 2 of the strangest looking guys you would ever meet showed up at our house.

By then, fashion had evolved slightly from 80’s punk to 90’s goth. And so my parents, still dressed in their business best from long days at the office, found themselves face to face with my sister, standing proud in her defiance and Doc Maartens, next to a couple of guys dressed head to toe in trench coats, combat boots, flannel around their waist, guy-liner and one even had hair that ponytailed down his back…and she was stating that they were her friends…

My keen little sister mind jumped to action! OOOOOH! This was it! The moment she HAD brought “boys like THAT home..” I geared up from my front row seat on the couch to watch my father, a la Phil Banks, throw them out on their rears… to my 13 year old dismay, that didn’t happen. What did happen, however, has been one of the most impactful, shaping lessons to me as an adult, mother and friend.

I watched my parents exchange brief looks of apprehension, and then what my mother did next rocked me to my core. She got out two extra plates and filled them with meatloaf and au gratin potatoes. She sat them down at our table, smiled at them, and welcomed them to dinner. And in that moment, my parents created a culture of acceptance in our home, bonded with respect.

This was the culture that shaped my teenage years. Through pork chops and stuffing, through roast and potatoes, through hot dogs on a grill…one by one, my parents welcomed these “refugees” into our home. They made our home into a place of belonging.   Sometimes it was just dinner. Then dinner became days. Then days became nights, because a night on our couch was better than what was waiting for them at home.

I know that there had to be moments where my parents were nervous and scared. Especially in those moments where you had teenage boys sleeping in the living room down the hall from your impressionable daughters, hoping that you had earned enough of their respect to trust them. In spite of their fears and what if’s, by adding a plate they were living a calling.

By creating a home that was a place of belonging, they opened the doors to so much more than hungry teenagers – they opened the doors to discipleship, to coaching, to listening, to loving, to shaping, to guiding.

I feel like I have to bring you back to one central character in this story – that kid in the trenchcoat and guyliner with a ponytail? This man now lives as an adopted son to my parents. This guy spends holidays with our family, his children consider my parents grandparents. This “boy that you should never bring home” has spent several days at my father’s bedside as his health declines towards passing away. He takes the calls in the middle of the night from my mom and walks with us through this storm.

It’s been 15 years since we have seen many of those “refugees” and friends that flooded our home. And yet, with the news of my father’s rapidly declining health, who has been on the phone with my family? Who has sent messages of love, prayers and drove hours to hug him one last time? Our “refugees” remember  their way home.

For my parents, loving people has been their legacy – sometimes even to their own detriment. But if you have to have a legacy, let it be one of love.

I know there is a lot swirling in our news and social media about borders, walls, refugees and what to do.  When we stop looking at refugees as enemies and start looking at them as relationships, you live a legacy of love and not fear. You create a lasting impact, in spite of your apprehension. Your bravery allows others to walk in courage, and make the tough choices, one hungry heart at a time.

I don’t know the answer for every situation. But I do know where my extra plates are.

 

All the Lessons That We Like

Teaching children to pray is not for the faint of heart. If your littles are like mine, creating a cadence of prayer in their lives, especially at bedtime, is less of a spiritual experience and more of an elaborate exercise in stalling the impending doom of bedtime.

With my son, who always tended to be more logical, he grasped onto the idea of an almighty creator as one who could protect him – from bad guys, from bad behavior, from bad dreams, from bad choices, from bad friends…God, to my son, was his own personal bouncer – a strong guy there to have his back and bust a few kneecaps if needed. {I blame you, superhero shows…} As he grows and matures, his prayer relationship has become richer and deeper and has evolved beyond himself and to others in the world around him.

My sweet girl, on the other hand…at the age of 3, she still loves to dance the dance of the Bedtime Prayer Tango…a back and forth series of steps that first consists of talking about everyone she would like to pray for {in between asking for more stories, drinks and protesting she isn’t sleepy} and then finally getting around to having the prayer itself.

I often picture God, in all his glory, making a bowl of popcorn and sitting in for a spell when Kenzie Kate gets ready to pray, because it can be especially entertaining. Her prayers mark the circumference of whatever pops in her head – from the day’s adventures to that very moment, to sweet memories she is still holding onto in her little way.

She always prays for her Mita first, then on to Daddy, Bubba, Mommy, Papa, {giggles} Daddy again, Mommy again…Meemaw, Grandpa, Mimi, Gruncle Dave, {more giggles} Mickey, Minnie, Elsa, Anna, Goofy, Pluto, Elena, Kyon {we may have a small Disney obsession in our house} …then we become thankful for body parts…hair, noses, eyes, bellies, chins…{more giggles} BOOTIES and TOOTS!…

As I try, with every ounce of steely parenting reserve I have left, not to giggle with her and to keep her focused on this precious moment between her and her Heavenly Father, I do my best not to stifle her, because these are the sweet moments in which she is learning the art of just speaking her heart to God…and that is a lifetime behavior I never want to squash, just to wrap up our bedtime routine sooner.

But, wrap it up we eventually do, {after we have thanked God for the Snowpeople and strawberries, of course} And at the end of each prayer, Kenzie ends it the same way…

“…and we thank you God for all the lessons that we like…”

I have to smile every time I hear this in her prayers. Even though I know as we are teaching her to “thank God for all the lessons He teaches us…” that this is how her little mind is processing this phrase. I have to smile because, I wonder if even as adults, this is how we pray to God.

Thank you for all the lessons we like…but that other one, Lord…that one really sucked…That one where today was rotten – like a scene right out of Office Space…That one where nothing went right…That one where I lost my job and I still don’t understand why…that one where someone else got the promotion…the one where I had health issues…the one where someone I love struggles with mental or physical illness…that one where the person I voted for didn’t win…that one where I felt you calling me in a direction I didn’t want to go, but I did…That one that left my family feeling broken and lost and confused…that one where there was so much pain and suffering…That one where I couldn’t see why you would ask such a thing of me…

Those, Father, are NOT the lessons that we like. Those are not the lessons that we thank you for… only the lessons that we like…do you hear my prayer? Just wanted to be clear here…{*taps microphone*} Is this thing on?? ONLY THE LESSONS WE LIKE

But then, we know, as any good parent, He can’t only allow us to experience the lessons we like.

lesson2In those moments of my life, where I have felt God walking me through a lesson I did not like – the one where my marriage struggled, the one where my job was uncertain, the one where I could not see the future beyond the rubble in my life…those have been my moments of renewal…of refinement. Those are the moments He has placed me in the fire – molded, shaped and contoured me – rinsed me off and started again….and in some instances, it felt like the fire season went on forever… {I’m looking at you 2012 and 2016…}

And I learned in the midst of those messes, that had I stayed who I was, sitting in the mire and staring down at all the mess around me, I would never move forward, never stand up – brush myself off, wash off the ashes, polish the roughened and hardened edges until they gleamed brightly again. I would never become new.

And while I don’t believe that God, in His love for us, wants horrible things to happen to us, I think he allows them because it causes us to remember we are only human and need the hand of a Creator – polishing, refining, firing, remaking, unmaking.

I had the chance to hear Nichole Nordeman speak this fall at a Belong Tour, and she played a song that flows into this message and fills every painful crack for me. Read through the lyrics and think about the lessons and the mess you have walked through and may be walking through right now…

“The Unmaking”{ Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQkHD15J7HI  } 

“This is where the walls gave way
This is demolition day
All the debris and all this dust
What is left of what once was
Sorting through what goes and what should stay

Every stone I laid for you
As if you had asked me to
Monument to holy things
Empty talk and circling
Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

What happens now?
When all I’ve made is torn down
What happens next?
When all of you is all that’s left

This is the unmaking
Beauty and the breaking
Had to lose myself to find out who you are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking
This is the unmaking

The longer and the tighter that we move
Only makes it harder to let go
Love will not stay locked inside
A steeple or a tower high
Only when we’re broken are we whole

What happens now?
When all I’ve made is torn down
What happens next?
When all of you is all that’s left

This is the unmaking
Beauty and the breaking
Had to lose myself to find out who you are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking
This is the unmaking

I’ll gather the same stones where
Everything came crashing down
I’ll build you an altar there
On the same ground
Because what stood before
Was never yours

This is the unmaking
Beauty and the breaking
Had to lose myself to find out who you are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking
This is the unmaking
Oh this is the unmaking
Had to lose myself
To find out who you are”

 

Sometimes we have to pray the dangerous prayers and thank God for all the lessons that He teaches us, instead of just all the lessons that we like, because it is in those moments of Unmaking that we become better, faster, stronger, more capable, steadfast, more deeply rooted in our faith, and able to turn and see the insanely winding path He has allowed our lives to take has a purpose. 

In the midst of the mire, we face the mess…we stare down at it in all it’s {insert chosen profanity here if needed 🙂 } mucky mess, surrounding us – sucking us in. Some days, we want to do nothing more than give into it; allowing the pain to sink us further and further into itself. He wants us to look up for our rescue, our unmaking and our renewal.

lesson1Sweet friends, we cannot be rescued if we just keep looking down at ourselves and our own power. We have to look up to see his hands waiting to hold us.We have to look forward to keep taking steps to trudge out of the rubble that surrounds us. Even if the steps are baby ones. We share the victory of renewal with our Father…who teaches us all the lessons we like and so much more.

Sometimes, through the lessons we don’t like,  we have to first lose ourselves to truly find out who He is and who we are capable of being.

Wear your tragedies… your “lessons” not as shackles that weigh you down, but as the armor of victory from the battles you have overcome.

 

 

Dance Like Everybody’s Watching

When I grow up, I want to be my kids…

No, seriously, I do…

If you have ever had the distinct joy of going to the movies with my family, or just purely being in the same theater, you will understand why…

I think when we pile up our kids in the car and say “Let’s go see a movie”, their pure, exuberant joy doesn’t come from soda and popcorn {although that’s a plus}, it doesn’t come from huge comfy chairs or Twizzlers, or even the movie itself. It comes from when the movie is over and the credits start rolling. I know instantly, within seconds of that fun music starting, that two sets of warm, excited brown eyes will turn to me…two sets of smiles with their Daddy’s deep set dimples, two wiggly little bodies will ask me…

“Mama, can we go dance???”

My kids are FEARLESS, you guys… they have zero issues with,  at the end of a movie, running down to the front area just below the screen, in front of hundreds of people and shaking and dancing for all they are worth. And for them, it’s not just about the dance – it’s about how many instant friends can be made in the process. The more strangers turned buddies who come down and dance with them, the more successful their little after movie dance party can be.

And it’s not just their smooth moves I’m jealous of.

fearlessMy kids LOVE people – unashamedly, unhindered, sometimes recklessly, FEARLESSLY just love other people. My daughter may never know a stranger in her life. If she meets you, she WILL hug you -guaranteed.

My son came home from school last week with a behavior mark in his agenda. When we asked him what had happened he said “there was a new kid in our class and I wanted him to feel welcome and not alone or scared, so I just kept talking to him all day and I guess it was too much?”…My son got in trouble for being a friend, loving and welcoming with reckless abandon for any consequence.

Granted, as parents we did lead into the conversation of classroom rules, talking when you are supposed to and obeying your teacher, but when my husband and I left to discuss his punishment in private, my husband shrugged his shoulders at me and said “How on earth do I punish him for being a friend and showing so much kindness to another? I don’t know that I want to ever put out that kind of a fire.” {In the end, we just made him clean his room…it was a win-win for all! Muahaha!}

I have to wonder – when did we stop being fearless? When did we become afraid of the What if? What if I try to pray more? What if I try to be healthier? What if I prayed the really big, miraculous “I don’t care” kind of prayers. What if we remembered that God is the God of Miracles and we offer ourselves up in faith? What if what I actually told God I wanted in life actually happens? What if I actually do live out what He wants for me?

As I think about this year and about what God is asking of me, sometimes I don’t feel so fearless. Sometimes I feel small, scared, intimdated, insufficient for the task at hand. I hear the whispers of the enemy creep around my heart, reminding me how much I am not enough – how much I have failed at this before…whether it was my fitness goals, my relationship goals, my spiritual goals, or my professional goals. I’m reminded of year after year {thanks a lot, Timehop} where I have kicked off a year strong, only to be reminded I’m in the same places I started 365 days later. And why is that?

…Because I let the fear win… but I don’t want to be that girl anymore.

As a speaker, facilitator and writer, I follow a lot of blogs and articles… I keep seeing this similar theme pop up – “What is your word for 2017”. At first, I blew it off, like, “pssh…yeah, that’s super cute and trendy and all, but God’s not just going to miraculously GIVE me some word for this year…”…but then, as it usually happens between me and God, He gives a good chuckle, rolls up his sleeves and begins working in my life….and so for the first few weeks of this year, I have literally been met with this ONE single, solitary word in every challenge on my personal horizon this year. For every goal I desire to hit, every quietly whispered passionate dream, every prayer request on my heart for my family and I, … this one word is His response…

BRAVE.

Recently, I’ve been reading {and falling in love with} the book “Looking for Lovely” by Annie F. Downs. I came across this empowering quote –

God made you to be BRAVE… Just as God made you uniquely, your call to courage is unique as well. But believe me, it is a call. You are called to be BRAVE {Ok, God – I see what you did there…nicely done, again!} You are called to face whatever dragons come into your life and scale the mountains that show up in your view….and you must walk it bravely…You have to be brave to believe you are made on purpose…Am I enough? Yes, God made you on purpose...”

In this moment as I read {and re-read and underlined and starred} this section, it hit me – I am not Brave, because I fear my mess. I fear that my mess and my failures are what make me not enough…and I realized…I am afraid of everything, because I get in my own way. In reality – it is my unique struggles and “dragons” that make my life and my calling unique. It’s the battle of fighting those dragons that has the potential to bring myself closer to my goals and quite possibly, others closer to Christ as they are with me in my battles.

I have to I stop overthinking and I start just DO-ing. Start heading confidently in the direction of my passions and dreams, start seeking God’s will in my life through prayer, scripture and community with Him and others He has placed in my life – I can do these things. Step by {incredibly shaky} step. I am enough and I have been made on purpose – Messes and all. Mistakes and all. Lessons and ALL.

” …But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work…” – 2 Chronicles 15:7

” …they were continually devoting themselves – to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…” – Acts 2:42

And this is how I will be BRAVE this year. I will be strong, I will not lose courage. grunge image of a field I will share my mess with others and continually devote myself to learning and growing and achieving. I will lean into fellowship, even when it gets messy and I will use the roots of my community to hold me accountable to the things that I want for myself this year and to keep myself open to the things God has in store for me.
I will work to be fearless, and as my children have taught me, I will dance like everyone is watching…because you never know when your mess will be your strength.

What is your word for this season brave3
in your life? How can you lean into that word today?

 

 

Imperfectly Perfect Christ{Mess}

 

 

Fifteen.

That’s the number of selfies my family took to create the perfect Christmas card last year. I got everyone all dressed up, sat them in front of the fireplace and in between “Stop touching me!” and the cat’s rear end photobombing every 10 seconds… that, dear friends, is how we ended up with that magical, beautiful holiday moment of smiling in front of our glowing fireplace, stockings hung and a picture of love.

2 dozen. 

That’s the number of sugar cookies that I carefully, painstakingly hand rolled and cut into shapes of stars and gingerbread men and angels. Only to have 1 dozen survive the aftermath of legs falling off, wings being burnt, and other atrocities that shall not be named in the attempts of getting a toddler and a wiggly 7 year old to focus on frosting a cookie. 

As a wife and a mother, a panic attack sets in…Does that present have a big enough bow? Does that bow have a big enough flourish? and does my Secret Santa at work get the nice paper or the cheap paper? Do I have all the lists of what everyone wants prepared? Can I decorate my house with a flair that would make Martha Stewart turn as green as the Grinch and then some?

White Elephant…Ugly Sweater…Traditional Caroling…Have I accepted  every invitation possible?

But you never saw my fifteen failed attempts on Facebook. You never saw my pile of scrapped cookie rejects on the kitchen counter on Instagram. You never saw my panic at my lack of perfection. You saw exactly what I wanted to share – my great family photo and my sweet littles, frosting completely held together gingerbread men with their Papa. 

But then, when I hop online and see scroll after scroll of other friends and their perfect moments, my heart feels the clutch of jealousy – the pang of not being enough. We all struggle to have that  “picture perfect ” Christmas, those share-worthy moments, and then, all too soon, we find ourselves either caught up in the mess of not reaching status level perfection or find ourselves face to face, locked in battle with the Comparing Monster again. 

But may I tell you something – and lean in, this secret is juicy…

Christmas was never meant to be perfect.

You know, the first Christmas was messy too. But there weren’t White Elephants, or Snowmen that talked. There wasn’t even a single late night sale…But there was an event that you wouldn’t want to miss…

Let’s think back to the first Christmas, shall we? This Christmas was not adorned with  HDTV’s, dinnerware from Lenox, and decorated trees. This Christmas was not perfectly set, with fruitcake and namecards, and “Leg Lamps”. There were no “Ugly Wise Men Tunics” or “Dirty Shepherd’s” parties to worry about.

This Christmas was a much simpler affair…a much “messier” affair. The birth of Christ was probably the most messy situation of all.

Let’s set the stage – a sweet, young virgin bride telling her betrothed that she was “knocked up, spiritually speaking”.  An angel appears to this confused, bewildered and hurting man and asks that he not only had to accept it, but lead and guide them both. They begin their lives together, already working to shoulder this challenge in their relationship, but trusting that God has the best planned for them. 

Then, late one night, this newlywed husband traveled with his {very} pregnant wife on a donkey, his heart filled with the stress of being new father…coupled with a terrifying journey across mountains and out of the eyes of bandits. You arrive in a town, crowded to capacity, when your nervous bride, wide-eyed, tells you “I think it’s time”.

Even messier still, he hunts everywhere for a room for his beloved, and feeling the ultimate in #husbandfails, all he can find is a stable…pretty sure this is not where they had planned to stay on their first family vacation. This one, unlike your beautiful family heirloom nativity scenes that you place on the mantle of your home,  had real animals with smells and noises and…stuff…{yes, that stuff} all their own. 

This is the opportune, imperfect moment that the baby decides to enter our imperfect world. 

And yet, it became perfect, because HE was in the middle of it.messychristmas

This season was about salvation coming to the world and the depth of feeling – this overwhelming, life changing, mindblowing gratitude that left us so speechless that only Angels could sing it and Shepherds could kneel at the sight of it. This story was not left in scripture simply as a “warm fuzzy”moment…This was Jesus was guiding us to his perfect celebration!

In midst of this Mess, the message of Grace was born. In this chaos, the Savior of Love and Peace entered into the world. Through one sweet child, millions will know the message of salvation that He will bring.

The message of Christmas is messy enough. So why do we add the weight of our own mess to it?

Traditions are beautiful and should be treasured. The giving and receiving of gifts is wonderful. But these things should never take the place of the of celebration the gift that was given to save the world.

messychristmas2Is your Christmas going to be perfect? Not likely. If you’re like me, between the kids, the family, the traditions and the celebrations, it’s going to be pretty messy. But in the midst of that mess, don’t allow yourself to be brought down because the reality of what you experience doesn’t meet the picture of perfection in your mind {or on your Facebook feed.}

Celebrate this messy, beautiful holiday by the sweet moments and remember who is in the middle of our Perfectly Imperfect ChristMess. We celebrate it all because that baby came. 

 

 

Do For the Few What You Wish You Could Do For the Many

I have begun and edited and deleted and begun again on this topic so many times… praying, seeking and searching for the right words to say. Bear with me if I stumble… these words come from love.

In the aftermath of recent events in our nation, what was quite possibly the most disgusting, explosive, manipulative, displays of self-centeredness this generation has ever seen, I like many of you are floored…

What do I say next? Will I say the right thing? Will it be received as the right thing? Will it be taken out of context? Will dear and treasured friends, nursing raw emotions and valid fears hear my words and see the love from which they are rooted? The desire from which I seek to understand and likewise to be understood?

I’ve struggled over the last week even writing anything about the current mess our culture and our communities are in. It’s neither beautiful, nor glorious right now…but I do believe in this fundamental truth…God has the power to bring beauty from these ashes.

When I think about the depth of fear and pain that my friends, family and community are facing, valid fears they have expressed…their stories hurt my heart. Families of mixed races…Families with sweet, adopted littles, brown faces looking up at them, asking questions that children should never have to ask. Parents of these children, staying up late into the night, worrying about the futures of their children, solely based on their race. Friends and family who are police officers, who daily work the line and 24-36 hour shifts so that I and my family are safe, and whose loved ones also stay up late into the night, worried about futures of another kind.

What strikes me the most right now is the paralyzing fear with which most of us regard one another. We have been living the last several months on eggshells, afraid to extend olive branches of grace to one another for fear of what awaits us on the other side. Fear has sunk it’s razor sharp talons into every aspect of how we have regarded one another and it controls us to an alarming degree.

The moment that ignited my own fire to begin writing this post was spurned on by the smallest of moments that still haunts me now. I am a Caucasian woman living in the South. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at me that I have South American heritage, but I do. For all intents and purposes, when you look at me, you see just another “basic girl holding her Starbucks cup”.  I was at a gas station the other day and was stopping to fill up before work. It was the week after the election and I happened to pass a young African American girl leaving the gas station. The look on her face was only what I could describe as trepidation… fear… uncertainty… towards me… because of what our culture was communicating to her. So I did the best thing I could at the moment. I smiled, I said hi, I said Good Morning. Her face broke out into the warmest, loveliest smile. She responded back. We treated each other with respect and dignity as human beings.

When I think about all of the cruelty going on in the world right now, the racial intolerance, the hate language on all sides, it weighs me down. I know I can’t change it by myself. But then, I am reminded of the words of Mother Teresa who said “Do for the Few what you wish you could do for the Many…” So, for me, that is my mantra to get through this chapter of life.

My sphere of influence is small, but I have one… We all have one. And in that Sphere, I’m going to take every opportunity I can to show others around me, regardless of color, nationality, background and beliefs, the love and grace of Jesus…the dignity and respect he showed to others, even when they mocked him. I will smile, I will say good morning, I will engage in conversation. I will speak in love. I will open doors.  I will hug. I will welcome. I will have dialogue, not rooted in fear but in the desire to learn more and understand more.walk the mess

I will develop relationships and knowledge about the world around me.  I believe that it if Jesus wants to change a life and connect with a heart, He will do it through genuine, authentic relationships with others. He will do it through our broken bread, through our laughter, through our questions and our shared tears. He will do it through our invitations, our celebrations, our gatherings.

No one ever achieved lasting personal growth and development through fear. No one ever changed a heart by belittlement and abuse. The world at large has shown many people a disturbing face and called it Christianity. I would love a chance to set the record straight, even if for the small percentage of the world I encounter.

I will not need a safety pin for someone to know I am safe – I will live it out by my character and I will take the first step.

I can’t change the world. But I can change my world. Do for the Few what you wish you could do for the Many… you never know… Maybe your Few will start to do the same thing.

Lemonade Nights

I love family nights. Currently, my husband and I are blessed to be in the season of life where our kids still consider us to be incredibly cool and love hanging out with us. {I honestly have no idea why, but I’ll take it!} Once in a while, we love to do one on one special nights with each of our kiddos, especially after a long, hard fought goal was accomplished! For our son, it was his behavior at school. We had just passed 2 months of unbelievably good behavior, which, if you had told me in May of last year we would have, I would never have believed it. {Let’s just say, our son has NO trouble speaking his mind… I don’t know who he gets that from…} For their special night, each kid gets to choose dinner and an activity.

Our family loves the drive in… when I say loves I mean LOVES…as in, we purchase cars specifically based on their level of awesomeness for the drive in. The trunk of my SUV is permanently outfitted with a basket old comforters and pillows, and we have become experts at arranging them like a small castle of comfort on starry summer and fall nights. We strategize the best vantage point for optimal movie watching in the field. We bring bubbles and frisbees for before the movie starts and have a picnic of all the things we shouldn’t eat… #becausetheDriveIn. Kids from other cars …THAT WE DON’T EVEN KNOW…come over just to watch movies from our trunk… I’m not saying we’re the best…I’m just saying I don’t know who else is… 🙂 and so when given his choice, our son selected his favorite restaurant and an evening out at the Drive In. {cue parental fist pumping and spousal high fiving…I mean, what?? sure buddy, that’s a great idea…}

Except there was one hold up. We were having a small issue with a payment we were expecting to receive.

I checked the mailbox. Then I closed it and checked it again… Just like the walk of shame to the refrigerator, where we keep looking, but know without a doubt, what we are hoping for is not in there…I opened and shut my mailbox with a fury. It was NOT there. The payment we were counting on was not there!

Still, I had hope for the next day. Surely the next day, it would be there, as promised. In the spirit of hope and being positive, we made plans with our son to take his sister to the sitter’s and give him his own, well-deserved {after 2 months of great school behavior!} special night out.

All day at work, I was like a kid, anxiously awaiting summer break… come on 5pm! It’s THE DRIVE IN…when the time came for the mail, I called my husband to see if it arrived…he crushed me with the blow of “Nope.” CRUSHED…and then, to make matters worse, he recommended that we use the funds we have to be RESPONSIBLE…and make sure we have GROCERIES and GAS! Psshh! Who needs groceries and gas when you could go to the DRIVE IN… I mean, i could live on a large popcorn, some Twizzlers and soda for days, right???

With a sigh and a car ride home of grumbling and pouting, I went home and just for good measure, checked the mailbox again. {remember that whole refrigerator “walk of shame”? I think I’m starting to have that relationship with my mailbox}. We openly and honestly told our son what had happened and that we would have to postpone his special evening. He took it with such a measure of grace {that did NOT match what his mama was currently raging inside her heart}. I grumbled with my husband behind closed doors and he calmly asked me “What do you have to be this upset about? You’re letting this eat you up. It was a small thing in the big picture, babe” {WHOSE TEAM IS THIS GUY ON?!} ” Our bills are paid, our cars have gas and we have groceries…we are blessed. We’ll be fine” {OK MISTER ANNOYINGLY RIGHT}

I left the “traitor formerly known as Hubs” inside the house and stomped out to the patio in a huff and sat brooding in a patio chair. As I sat there, I could feel the Lord speaking to my heart…

“He’s right, you know…”lemonade3

{pouty face, pouty face} ” I know…”

“Have I not taken care of all your needs? have I not still been good to you? ”

“yeeeeeaaaahhhh…”

And at that moment I was reminded of my mom and a game we used to play….because the Lord is fun to use memories like that…mysterious ways and sense of humor, that One has…

 

Growing up, Dad was in sales and finance. When the economy was good, life was good. We had the nice clothes, the nice cars, the vacations…when the economy was bad and my parents either hadn’t saved or had run out of savings, things were tough. Goodwill clothes, penny pinching and no vacations for a few years. I remember my mom, always seeming to have this grace about it.

She was always honest with us about the situation, but she also never let those times get in the way of the joy of our childhood. I remember one time she and I went shopping and she set a rule that we had to only find things under $10. {A rule I try to keep to this day, thank you Target Clearance Rack!} Another time, she said we could go out for lunch, but we only had $5 dollars…how could we pull it off?  The scavenger hunt was afoot! And so, laughing and high fiving in the car, we ate our 2 McDonald’s cheeseburgers, 2 small fries and 2 cans of 50 cent soda we had found last minute in a machine in front of Kmart. Mom had a way of turning lemons into the sweetest lemonade.

And then I heard the still, soft voice of the Lord ask this Mama’s heart…”and You, sweet girl…be stronger than right now… be stronger than this small, momentary disappointment…you have endured much, much more than this…consider those precious Littles are watching you…how can you turn THIS into lemonade?”lemonade4

I could feel the spirit of my heart turn in that moment. I practically ran inside the house, the joy of a Lemonade Night overflowing in my heart…

I told each of my kiddos to grab every blanket and pillow they could. I popped a few big bags of microwave popcorn and we covered our living room in blankets and pillows. We turned off every light and lit a bunch of candles.  If we couldn’t get to the Drive In, there’s no reason why we couldn’t bring the magic of the Drive In to us! We popped in the Lion King {even though my son protested that he was “too old for it”} and quickly found our spirits renewed, singing along with every song, stealing all of sharing Daddy’s popcorn amidst the twinkling “starlight” of the candles  and celebrated the joy of “Family Night” once more. Not a dime was spent!

lemonadeI learned a few good lessons that night. 1. My husband does an amazing Rafiki impression. 2. You are never too old for the Lion King {as confessed by my 7 year old, “MOM! I was so WRONG! I loved it!”} and 3. Life is going to hand you lemons, big or small…simple or messy. It’s what we do with them in those moments that define who we are and who we will be to our children. Will my children tell the story of an angry, ranting mom who ruined everyone’s night? or will they, in their own futures, follow their grandmother’s legacy of “making Lemonade”. I sincerely hope it’s the second.

I know I’m not strong enough to turn every situation into Lemonade…I know it’s hard. But when I choose to seek joy in every situation, rather than allow myself to be brought down by matters beyond my control, then the Lord receives the victory in my joy.

What are your “Lemons”? How have you turned them into your own “Lemonade Nights?” How can we pray with you and for you as you walk through this growing season together?

lemonade5

Choosing joy takes bravery. It’s not easily won. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle, but hear this and take it to heart.. Choose joy friends, whenever possible. And keep choosing it.