Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blue Christmas

It snowed! Yay!!!

I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Snow is our thing. We may not have winning sports teams or ocean views or swanky ski resorts but we have snow. That's our claim to fame. We are Winterpeg - except almost we weren't.

This year has been unseasonably warm. Like mow your lawn in December warm. That NEVER happens here but it did. It was halfway through December and we could still see grass! How depressing! How unWinnipegish of us!

I've not felt very Christmassy this year. I've just not been 'into' it. I blamed it on the lack of snow. I wasn't excited to decorate. I couldn't care less about Christmas baking. I felt blah about most of our traditions. In fact, I didn't even wear Christmas socks but once or twice. All of this I blamed on the warm weather and green grass. I blamed and I believed it to be true.

I thought that once it snowed proper I'd feel Christmas. Well, it snowed and I'm still in a funk. Like, seriously. Whatever, man. Christmas, you suck. We're breaking up.

I actually do feel bad for being so bah-humbug. I also felt very alone in my holiday grouchiness - and this made me feel worse about the whole thing - until I had a little chat with a friend yesterday. We were at our kids' Christmas concert rehearsal and she leaned over and whispered, "I feel bad even saying this but I'm so not into Christmas this year. I know Jesus should be enough to make me feel joyful but … "

I exhaled as if I'd been holding my breath for weeks because I kind of had been. I felt elated, sad and at home all at once. This dear, precious friend is walking out a tough journey in her life. She is moving through each challenge with grace, dignity and joy. Every day I am in awe of her. Every single day. And yet, here she is, not feeling the feeling and feeling bad for it.

"He is enough. And you are a human being with real deal stuff. You are joyful just not happy. And that's okay." I said those words as much to myself as I did to her because I suddenly realized they're true. It's not the snow that has me down. It's life. It's missing my dad. Missing my house. Missing my people. Missing who I was while I try to recognize who I am. It's feeling All the Feels that have piled up this year. It's being a grown up. It's missing and loneliness and heartache. It has little to do with snow and everything to do with being a human being with a human heart.

I left the practice feeling less alone but no more Christmassy. On the way home, Joyboy and I stopped at the store for a few things. As we hopped over snow banks he said, "I know you really like the snow but I think all this must be hard for people in wheelchairs. Y'know, like that really independent guy at church. Today must be hard for him to get around."

"I do like the snow but you're right.  I was also thinking about homeless people today. This weather is really hard on them, too."

"Sometimes it's hard to be happy at Christmas, isn't it?  Especially when you really think about all the stuff people have to live with," he sighed and squeezed my hand. And in that moment, it felt like Christmas. It felt like love and care and understanding and kindness. It felt like comfort. It felt like Jesus was near. In our sadness and concern for others, it finally felt a little like Christmas.

I never used to understand people who had a hard time at Christmas. I didn't get how the Magic of Christmas wasn't big enough for some people. But I get it now. I get how sometimes it takes more than a happy carol and a good snowfall to break through All the Stuff. I get how a joy-filled person can not be as happy and as excited as they once were. I get how Jesus is enough and yet All the Feels are still there. I get how peace can reign where heart ache still exists. I get it.

So, I'm a little blue this Christmas - and that's okay. I will still laugh and make memories. I will still celebrate and cherish. I will still participate in our traditions and love all the moments with those I love. I will keep Christmas despite all of the other stuff. And I will not feel bad about all the other stuff - because Jesus is in that, too.

I will feel All the Feels because He is feeling those Feels with me. He does not abandon me or cast me aside in my heavy-heartedness. He holds me tight. So tight that I can feel His heartbeat next to mine. So close that His breath fills my lungs. So gently that my broken heart finally feels safe. So securely that I rest, the deep, healing rest of one who is well loved. For I am well loved this blue Christmas … as are you, Dear One!

"I've never quite loving you and I never will!"
~God, Jeremiah 31:3 (The Message)

Friday, December 4, 2015

In the Frame

I was missing for a while. I was missing for about 10 years, by my calculation. There were a few rare sightings of me during those years but for the most part I was missing. And I didn't even realize it at the time. I didn't know I was missing until I looked back. Until I opened the photo albums. That's when I discovered that I was missing.

Like most moms, I don't love having my picture taken and when my Wee Ones were wee I avoided the front side of the camera at all costs. I wasn't happy with my post-baby body. I rarely had time to do my hair or make-up and most of my clothes were far from trendy and barely clean. In those Survival Years, I hated seeing myself in pictures mostly because I didn't recognize myself and I was uncomfortable and slightly ashamed of the person I had become.

And then cancer showed up.

In November 2011 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 35. My kids were 11, 9 and 7 years old. We are all too young for this. Too young for cancer. Too young to confront my mortality but here it was and here we were.

The tumour was huge and growing fast. The word the doctor used was 'aggressive.' My life was being threatened from within and yet the only thing I could think about was how I had cancer and how cancer kills people and how there were no pictures of me. I had gone more than a decade doing everything I could to avoid the camera. There were almost no pictures of me with my kids, with Mr. Awesome, with my friends at this point. There was virtually no record of me actually participating in my own life. My vanity had kept me from capturing my joy, my love, my crazy on film and now it might all disappear.

My surgery was scheduled for December 19 so I planned a family photo shoot for the week before. We were oh-so-broke so I asked my mom to come with us on a drive through the city so she could help take pictures. I captured some incredibly precious moments of my kids interacting with each other because I love taking these kinds of pictures but I made sure to turn the camera over to my mom so I could be in the frame, too. The result was dozens of pictures of my family with me! They turned out beautiful! And surprisingly, I had fun in front of the camera. I loved showing my love in such a simple yet meaningful way. And the kids had fun seeing me having fun and being free.

Cancer died and I didn't. I lived - am living - and now I am intentional about capturing my life with me in it. There are pictures of me with my kids, my man and my friends. I don't only take the pictures but I post them, print them, frame them and celebrate them. I take goofy selfies with Crafty and cuddly close ups with Joyboy and I even force Dude to pose with me as often as I can. I take pictures of me and Mr. Awesome for no reason and for every reason. I get my friends in the frame, too. I smile, try to hide a few of my chins and hug tight the ones I love … including me.

A few years ago I wrote about my struggle with my body image (Falling in Love with Me) and today when I read that post I can't help but to feel proud of myself. I've come a long way. The more pictures I've allowed the more I have found to like about myself. There are certainly pics that end up in the delete folder but most of the snaps survive. What's more is that I can say something nice to myself about myself with each picture of me I see. I try to be as kind to me and I would be to you.

I have really nice eyes. I like my smile and my freckles have been my loyal companions for nearly four decades. I think its funny that my eyes nearly disappear when I laugh because of my ample cheeks. I like that I am tall enough to wear long tunics and sweaters but not too tall to feel good in heels. I like me. I like to see me with the people I love. I love that I get to live this one life the way I do with the people I do. I love that there are pictures to remind me, and to inform my children and future grandchildren, that I have a great life.

Lovelies, especially you moms of tinies, step into the frame. Cuddle up with your loves and snap a picture of two. Force your pals to join you in front of the camera. Snap some random pics of yourself with your folks. Leave a photo footprint of this life you love. Forget about your cow-licked hair, your half finished make-up and your 'extra padding' - just be bold, be lovely, be you and snap a picture or two this Christmas. And then share those pics! Use the hashtage #SRMIntheFrame to share your pics on social media with our blog-reading Lovelies.

More importantly, share these pics with the people in your world. Post them, print them, frame them, celebrate them.

Celebrate you!

The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Bit of Hoopla and Fanfare

Today is the one year anniversary of the release of my first book and it occurs to me that I've never really written about it here.

Finding Me in Him came out with very little hoopla and no fanfare. I received an email from my publisher announcing the release of my book on the day of my dad's funeral. In that moment my book, and the months of writing, editing and rewriting that went into it, didn't matter. All I wanted to do was sleep for a thousand years and then wake up to a world where cancer wasn't even a thing and I had lost nothing and no one to it. But a year out from that moment, I realize my poor little orphaned book deserves more. More than a rushed book launch party and a couple of radio interviews. It deserves to be shared with intention and enthusiasm. It deserves my attention and affection. It deserves to be celebrated. It deserves a some hoopla and fanfare.

This book is a gift. It was a gift to my soul as I wrote it and it continues to be a gift to my soul through comments from readers, conversations with friends and strangers and in the very words I wrote but still reread for encouragement and reminding. Recently, I blogged about Stones of Remembrance and in a sense this book is a collection of stones, of moments that I recognized God present in my life.

Finding Me in Him began as a letter I wrote to Dude. It was the January after the mastectomy surgery but I hadn't started chemotherapy yet. These were the in-between months, these were the couple of months that I was supposed to be able to participate in regular life stuff like driving the kids to school, volunteering in their classrooms and helping them with homework. These were supposed to be the easy months before the hard stuff started - or so I thought. Instead these months were the beginning of the Missing Months - the six months where I missed everyday, regular moments with the people I love most.

I was feeling sorry for myself and I was mad at cancer.

This is where I was when Dude crawled on to my bed after a rough day at school and confessed to me that he didn't know where he belonged in the world. He felt out of synch with his peers and more than a little bit lost. I held him for a bit and whispered, "me too, buddy" as I stroked his hair. After a while, Dude went to bed and I picked up a pen. I wrote these words,

The infinite God of the universe, the One who created the Heavens and the Earth, 
the One who breathed the world into existence, 
The One who is the beginning and the end thinks of you. He dreams of you. 
He desired you and so He created you! How marvelous is that?

I wrote these words and a thousand more. I started writing for Dude but by the time I put my pen down that night, I realized I had written a letter to myself, too. I wrote the things Dude needed to hear. I wrote the things I already knew but needed to hear again. I read and reread these words and life began again. I felt purpose and intention course though my body and I knew this stupid cancer wasn't going to win. I knew God thought about me, planned for me and meant for me to be here, on this planet, in this moment.

Then I wondered, what else did I know?

I started making a list of my favourite Bible verses and as I read each one again I was reminded of a time when God was so present in my life that I knew He saw me, knew me and loved me with an immeasurable love. And I wrote each memory down. Then more verses and more memories came. In the months I was going through chemotherapy and radiation this list of verses and random memories became pages and pages of stories in my journal. And then that journal became bones of a book.

Finding Me in Him is deeply personal to me and yet readers tell me its deeply personal to them, as well. This is so because the main character is deeply personal to the author and the reader. The main character isn't me, I'm the narrator. God is the main character. His love is the thing. His endless pursuit of my heart - of your heart - is the love story here.

This is a fabulous, beautiful book. It is. It is a gift to my heart and from my heart. And I'd love for you to read it. I'd love for you to share it with those you love and with random strangers. I'd love to hear about how my Stones of Remembrance are yours as well. These words were written to be shared.

In celebration of this one year anniversary I am giving away copies of Finding Me in Him to anyone who asks. From now until December 7, I will email a PDF copies of my book to any interested readers. All I ask for in exchange is a little feedback. Write a review on Amazon or Indigo, mention the book in a Facebook status, blog about it or Tweet a little something then email me the link. After January 7, I will chose a couple of readers who have emailed ( me their feedback to receive a signed copy of my book and maybe a little something extra.

Lovelies, I appreciate the moments you spend here in this space and the words you share with me through social media. You are precious to me … I just wanted you to know.

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.
~Norbet Platt

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Stones of Remembrance

Life is about living, about moving forward, about the next thing. We plan. We humans are planners. It's in our nature. We plan for what we're going to have for supper tomorrow, what appointments we have next week and where we want to go on vacation next year. We plan for the future. Our future. Our kids' future. All of the possibilities of the future. We plan, plan, plan. We look forward. We anticipate. It's what we do. But what about the past? All that has already happened? What do we do about that?

I recognize that this is a "for every mile of road there are two miles of ditch" conversation. I know some people get caught up in the past. They get stuck in a moment or happening of their past and they can't move forward. But that's not the case for most folks. Most folks, especially those of us in these middle-kid-raising-career-focused-marriage-growing-parent-caring-survival years of life, are so focused on What Comes Next that we rarely even think about what we have lived through already. But we ought to.

In the Old Testament of the Bible there is this crazy story about Joshua leading the Israelites across the River Jordan. The Israelites needed to cross the river so God told Joshua to tell the people to prepare themselves for a huge step of faith. Joshua did as he was instructed and God absolutely showed up. When the priests stepped foot in the river, God stopped up the water from flowing so all of millions of  Israelites could cross in and to safety.

Once they all reached the far side of the river, God wanted to be sure that the Israelites never forgot that He showed up for them that day. He wanted them to have a tangible reminder of that unbelievable occasion.  He wanted a monument to His faithfulness to be built - not because He needed the accolades but because He knew His children would eventually get so busy looking forward that they would forget the past. 

God wanted them, and their generations to come, to look at this monument and remember that He showed up for them that day - and that He would continue to show up for them everyday. So the people built a monument. They collected twelve stones - Stones of Remembrance - and they piled them beside the river to mark how far they had come and how much God loved them. They piled them there so they could look back and remember.

I think we don't collect enough stones in our life. We don't take the time to build monuments of remembrance to mark the places in our life that God has shown up and done something magnificent in us. We are so focused on What Comes Next and how we are going to problem solve our way into the future that we forget that God is and has always been so present with us. This intense forward focus makes us forget that worry and problem solving is not for us. It's God's job the work out the solutions that lie ahead. It's our job to trust and obey. Sometimes we need to pause and look back to see what God has already done and rest in the truth that He will show up for us again and again.

These are the thoughts that came to me when Sarah Bessy, author of Out of Sorts, issued an invitation to her launch team to participate in a blog link challenge. She gave us a writing prompt to work off of, I used to think ________ and now I think _______. 

In preparation for this post, I sat down and put pen to paper. I was looking for 'that one thing' that fit the challenge. That one thing that was the key to my metamorphosis but as I stared at the black sheet of paper before me I realized that there was no one thing. There were a thousand things that triggered, fuelled and sustained the continued growth and change in my life. 

I am different that who I used to be. Different than I was last week, last year or five years ago. I feel like I am constantly changing in connection with my relationship with Jesus. My faith grows but so do the list of questions. My confidence continues to blossom, my mind is sharper, my trust is deeper, my strength is bolder. I am more of me in Christ than I have ever been but its happened - and is happening - gradually, like summer turning to fall, one beautiful leaf at a time. The change of colour is so subtle that its hardly noticeable until one day when you look up and realize that the world is alive with colour in a new way. Suddenly, everything has changed and it's beautiful autumn and you can hardly remember what the world looked like before.  That's me. I'm autumn. I am full of colour and change and loss of what needed to go in preparation of the Thing that is growing deep within me. 

I am a gradual work in progress but if I take a moment and look back I can see my Stones in the road, my moments where God showed up and brought me to a place of safety. Let me collect some of my Stones here. Let me build a monument to remember. Let me show you how God has Been and will continue to Be. Let me remember.

*I used to think that though I couldn't earn God's love, I could prove to Him that I am a good investment but now I think that the truth of God's lavish love for me is proof enough that I am worthy.

*I used to think that being 'used by God' was the highest form of approval but now I think being chosen and loved by God, from the beginning of time, is the only approval I need.

*I used to think that my abilities qualified me to serve God but now I think God, in my weakness, is what makes me malleable and full of purpose.

*I used to think that church was the place we went to worship but now I think that The Church is all of us with our lives surrendered in every day acts of worship that look a whole lot like loving and serving and kindness and acceptance.

*I used to think that God was all about grand gestures but now I think God is far more into intimate, authentic, small moments.

*I used to think that any acknowledgement of my talents was pride but now I think God gave me gifts and talents to use for His Kingdom purposes and I get to celebrate that.

*I used to think that people not liking me was the worst thing ever but now I think not liking myself is worse.

These are some of my stones. Each stone has a story, a moment and a message. Each stone is full of intimate, heart breaking change. Each stone holds a truth that goes beyond words. Each stone is oh so precious and unique. And there are more of them, more stones waiting to be discovered. Stones that I am unearthing and polishing day by day. There are things I am still figuring out and moments and places where God is still at work. My monument is the cathedral of my soul. It's a work that will never be complete but with each passing year it becomes more evident, more beautiful and more fragile somehow. 

These are my Stones of Remembrance.

"And these stones shall be a memorial for the children of Israel forever."
~Joshua 4:7

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

All of the Questions. None of the Answers.

This has been a weird year. It's been challenging because of All the Happenings but it has also been challenging on a deeper, spiritual level. It's been a year of changes and surrender. Of letting go and grabbing hold. Of silence and of massive soul rewrites. And during this time - especially the last three months - I have been spending time in the silent margins of my world, asking God, not what comes next (as is my compulsive habit) but, who is next.

Maybe I've written about this before, I can't remember, but this has become the constant mantra in the back of my mind, the backdrop to every decision, every conversation. Who is next, Lord? Who do you want me to encounter? Who am I to be available for? And in this availability to Who I have learned the deep freedom that comes with being silent, of not having all the answers. This availability is so not about me and what I have to give. It's about God and the love He is. In these moments I try to listen more and talk less. I ask questions that open the conversation, I pray that these moments are sacred, safe spaces for people to share their heart. I pray that my words offer more encouragement than advice and point the Who to The One. I pray that Jesus will be evident in these random holy conversations.

This is so not normal for me. I've loved being a talker, one with more answers than questions. I've loved to talk about what is going on in my life but have forgotten far too often to ask others what is happening in their world. (disclaimer: I am still a work in progress and have the tendency to spew out too many words about me before I even consider asking about you - especially if you are a comfortable person to me. Sorry. Thank you for loving me through my awkward-self-ness). It is this 180 turn in how I relate to the world that has made me pause and reflect on what I put out into the world.

For more than a year, I have been making notes on The Next Book. I wrote about 5,000 words and a really fantastic outline. I felt like I had a really good handle on The Next Book and then all of a sudden I didn't. I don't know that there was a specific moment or incident that was the beginning of the unravelling of this book but I sit here with a pile of tangled yarn where a neatly begun masterpiece once was. I deleted the 5,000 words, tossed out the outline and scribbled over the title. I took an intentional hiatus from blogging and set aside some time to just BE with myself. Be with myself and read.

Actually, I think I blame reading for this tangled yarn that was once my neatly crafted self. I read things that completely undid me. I read things that challenged me, broke me, healed me and shook me. I read things that were exactly how I saw the world and things that brought me to a new place in the world. I read things that resonated with my soul and things that ripped my patched together theology from my hands, dismantled it and left me with only the purest pieces. I read things that utterly changed every part of me - chipping away at the rough edges while moulding and reshaping the best, truest parts of my soul.

Yep, reading is to blame.

So here's the deal. I'm going to start writing again. The Next Book has become The New Book and its imperfectly beautiful. It's everything I never knew I needed to say about the things that matter most to me. I'll blog too. I'm not sure what will come out of me here but I will be real and vulnerable because you are My People. You are here because there is something about these random words that you identify with. I will remember that. I will trust you. I will share with you. I will invite you to join me on this journey.

One of the first things I want to share is something I've read recently. It's Sarah Bessey's new book Out of Sorts that was released today. I am part of her launch team which means I got an advanced copy of this gem. Let me tell you, I devoured it in two days and have spent the past month going back and savouring it slowly. I will write reviews and more blog posts about this book in the coming weeks but for now I want to offer you this one line from the book that has turned my world upside down …

I hope we all live like we are loved.

It was this idea that propelled my wandering, wondering heart into this new space. If I really believed that I am loved - loved by my friends, loved by my family, loved by my husband, loved by my Jesus - how would that change how I interacted with the world? How would that change how I spoke? What I wrote about? How I love others? If I lived as if all this love was true, what would my life look like?

I have no answers for you. My well loved life is different from yours. Yours will occur in the spaces you dwell, with the people you love, in the community God has placed you. I can't describe your well loved life - only you can dream it for yourself. I just want you to ask yourself that question. What would your life, your relationships look like if you believed you are loved? How would you flourish in this well loved life? How would you love if you believed you are loved?

Ask. Ponder. Dream.

And live as though you are loved … because you are.

You are loved.
You are cherished.
You are treasured.
You are valued.
You are adored.
You are loved.
You are.

God is a lovesick parent over you.
~Jen Hatmaker

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Best Greeting

Happy Summer!

For those who know me well, you'll detect a bit of sarcasm in this greeting. I'm not a fan of summer. I don't like the heat, the bugs, the sun or the inevitable sunburn. I don't like going to the beach because it's sandy, it smells weird, its hot and there's too many people wearing too little fabric. Summer also means 73 (not that I'm counting) unscheduled, unstructured, uninterrupted days with The Wee Ones.


It was in this moment of preparing for (dreading?) the start of summer when I heard my pastor say a few words about how the early church was encouraged to greet one another. This got me thinking about those I love to see and those who I love to be seen by. I have a few friends who greet me in a way that makes me feel like a superstar. Their whole face lights up. They wave like lunatics with grins that fill their whole faces. Their eyes light up and they rush in for The Big Hug. Just their greeting alone fills my heart with so much goodness that I can't even.

Then there's those people who greet me like I'm something unpleasant that they've just discovered on the bottom of their shoe. I always feel like I'm inconveniencing those people by just drawing breath near them. I, instinctively, want to apologize rather than greet them. They may wince a smile and limply shake my hand but their whole aura screams their disdain and discomfort. I walk away from those encounters feeling like the world's biggest dork. Clearly, I'd rather be greeted by the first group I described, wouldn't you?

These thoughts tangled with my dread of The 73 Uninterrupted Days of Summer and suddenly I was asking myself a very uncomfortable question. Who gets your best greeting? My mind was instantly filled with those who greet me well (of course), those who I love and respect (naturally), those who are lovely to be with (absolutely) … those who are popular (okay), powerful (umm ..) and important (ouch). Then I asked, how do I greet those I live with verses those from the outside world? Does Mr. Awesome get The Best Greeting? Do the Wee Ones?

These questions - and answers - became very uncomfortable, very quickly. I didn't like the answers. I didn't like what the answers revealed about who is really important to me and who I just think is important. I didn't like that the truth is I often waste my best greeting on people who don't know me, like me or really matter to me and those who I really do love the most get half-hearted, lame greetings. I didn't like any of it. I don't like it.

I know that a greeting sets the tone for the encounter that follows. I know that a greeting communicates value, affection and respect. I know that the right greeting invites relationship and trust. I know that The Best Greeting offers a safe place where you are loved and accepted. So, why then don't I put more into my greetings?

Giving The Best Greeting is a risk. Its laying all your cards on the table, it's streaking through a stadium, it's opening your heart - wide and bare - and waiting to see if your greeting will be accepted and reciprocated. Giving The Best Greeting is terrifying and yet so freeing. I don't know why our culture feels that it's best to play it cool. I don't know how we got to this place of envying the aloof and non-committal. I want to live All-In. I want my kids to live, and love, that way too.

And I think the an All-In Life begins with The Best Greeting.

I remember when The Wee Ones were wee and how they'd all sit on the back of the couch, staring out the window as they waited for Mr. Awesome's big yellow work truck to pull on to our street at the end of the day. Chaos would erupt as he backed into the driveway. The kids would be tripping over each other to be the first one at the door. Often, Mr. Awesome wouldn't even be able to open the door all the way because of all the little bodies in the entrance. Dude would grab Mr. Awesome around the neck in a bear hug, Crafty would hold on to Mr. Awesome's leg, nearly tripping him up as he stumbled through the door. And Joyboy would launch himself through the air, fully trusting that the already bombarded Mr. Awesome would catch him. It was all love and hugs and shouts and laughing. Everyday. It was The Best Greeting.

Truthfully, Mr. Awesome still gets The Best Greeting from the kids even though they are now teens and tweens. He receives The Best Greeting because he always, ALWAYS, gives The Best Greeting to his family. No matter what his day has been, he enters our home with a smile on his face and his arms open to give and receive the love and comfort of his family. Mr. Awesome gives The Best Greeting to everyone. I seriously can't think of one encounter where he hasn't given a hug or firm handshake, where he hasn't smiled and said, 'nice to see you' and genuinely meant it. He never misses a chance to love well, to welcome, to make a friend. And I'm learning.

Mother Teresa once said, "It would be a shame if when we meet people all they get is us." She was talking about the need people have to know God and how our every encounter with people is an opportunity for them to know God a little better. How can I communicate God's infinite love if I can't even greet someone with joy and dignity? How can I love like Jesus f I can't even risk an enthusiastic hello? How will my kids know the unfailing love of God if their mom fails to welcome them home with affection?

Here's the thing, I don't think that The Best Greeting will cure the ails of the world but it's a good (and easy) place to start. It opens the door to friendship and understanding. It sets the tone of your home and your heart. It forces you to look outward. It makes you focus on others more than you focus on yourself. And giving The Best Greeting is like throwing a boomerang - it inevitably comes back to you.

Begin each day grateful, loving and passionate, spread love to all you encounter and greet them with a smile, the power of love and happiness is contagious so share more smiles, laughter, encouragement and joy to those around you.
~Rashida Rowe

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why Friending is Important

So, I have a fifteen year old. Let's just let that sink in for a moment.

I am the mother of a fifteen year old. A fifteen year old boy whose voice is deepening. A fifteen year old boy who has grown more than 8 inches in the past year. A fifteen year old boy who wears cravats and top hats, who showers regularly without argument, who uses hair products and cologne and who gets love notes from girls. Yes, that is the trauma of the situation. I can deal with the height, the sudden interest in hygiene and the voracious appetite but I can't handle the girls and the notes and the asking him out on dates.

Can't even!

But, at least I'm not alone on this one. I've been chatting with some pals who are in the same boat and a few who have paddled a little further down the river than I have. This has brought much comfort to my traumatized mother-heart but it's also brought a few head scratching moment … on both sides of the conversation, I think.

A couple of years ago I was talking with a pal whose daughter had just turned fourteen. I had heard through the middle school gossip grapevine that this girl had already dated two boys in grade 8 and was currently in a new relationship with the son of another friend. The girl's mom was lamenting this. She complained that she had told her daughter that she didn't want her to date yet but the girl just wouldn't listen. Another friend, who was coffeeing with us, just shrugged and said, "Kids will be kids. What can you do?"

Both moms agreed that there was nothing you can do when your teens want to date they will find a way to date. When I asked my friend with the dating daughter why she didn't want her fourteen year old to date yet she told me that she didn't want her daughter to get a 'reputation' … y'know (with a wink and a nod). Both moms tisked and chuckled. When we said good-bye a few minutes later, my friend grumbled about having to drive her daughter to her boyfriends house to hang out.


Okay. Really, what did I know? My oldest kid was only twelve, at the time, and had no more interest in girls than he did in wearing clean socks so, whatever. But seriously, this whole scenario seems off. Fast forward three years and now I'm the mom of a kid who is keenly aware of the female presence in his world and would love nothing more than to be the leading man in some girl's love story. But he's not. He's just friends. He's towing the company line and sticking to the rules - so far. But we have no expectation of him to do otherwise for the foreseeable future because he knows 'the why' to this standard.

I'm no parenting expert but I have learned a few things from some pals who have walked this road before me. One of my favourite parenting mentors told me that whatever rules or standards we set we better be able to explain The Why behind them if we wanted them to stick. Because we wanted our guidelines to stick we became very intentional about the the boundaries we set and why we set them - especially when it came to dating.

Our kids are not allowed to date. We won't even discuss the possibility of dating until they are at least sixteen. Here's The Why …

1. Teenage Brains are Only Half Baked. Teens go through tremendous change and growth during these key years - including their brains. Their ability to reason, problem solve and assess situations is an 'Under Construction' zone. For this reason alone we think it's a bad idea for people under construction to have that much access and influence on each other - never mind adding in the unpredictability of hormones and emotions.

2. Boys and Girls are Different. Duh, right? But seriously, until my kids understand how boys and girls are different, how they relate to each other in different ways, how their expectations in relationships are different they shouldn't take on the emotional responsibility of caring for another human being. In our home we talk about governing our emotions responsibly, communicating with respect and having realistic expectations on people. We talk about the difference in how men communicate and how women receive information and visa versa. We're different and until that is understood and respected it is better for everyone that we learn friendship first.

3. You Can't Take Back What's Already Been Given. And I'm not just talking sex, here. We talk to our kids a lot about WHO they are becoming - who they want to be, what kind of character they want to develop, what dreams they have for their future. We want them to have a strong sense of themselves before they enter a relationship. We want them to know who they are and what they stand for so the temptation to give important pieces of themselves away won't be so intense. We want them to be teens, to have friends and to share experiences with their peers. We want them to love deeply. To love people enough to respect them and treasure them as friends without looking for some kind of romantic attachment. We want them to value solid friendship above infatuation.

Our kids all understand this and they've seen how this works long term. There are several people in my life that I love deeply - and have loved for most of my life. At one point or another I may have had a crush on a couple of these guys but I came to love their friendship more than I desired a romantic attachment. And because of that these dudes have loved me and been part of my life for more than 25 years. These guys have all become friends with Mr. Awesome and are part of our extended heart family. My kids see true love in action through our friendships with these very special guys. And that's what I want for them.

I want my kids to have the people who they love the most in their lives for their whole lives. I want them to learn that friendship is the foundation to all lasting relationships. I want them to know the security of self-respect and dignity . I want them to be free to love with abandon because they know their heart is safe and in tact. I want them to Friend. I want them to Friend in groups and one to one. I want them to Friend deeply so that they learn to care about the whole of the other person and not just the pieces that serve them. I want them to Friend so they know safe, true love when they find it. I want them to be a good Friend as much as I want them to have a good Friend.

I'm not saying this is the only way to tackle the teen years but this is the way that makes sense to us - and so far it's working. Dude has had a few tough but respectful conversations with the girls who have asked him out and for the most part the girls are respecting his Friend requests. Some of them thought it was a brush off at first but as the weeks have passed Dude has continued to talk with them, laugh with them and learn about them. He is realizing how great it is to not feel the pressure to date yet have the option to have some pretty great people in his life.

And that's it. That's the why of Friending.

Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Courage to Know

I didn't want to know. I intentionally chose not to know. I changed the channel, turned the page and clicked passed anything that had the word. I knew enough to know that I didn't want to know, couldn't bear to know.


For months I've been living in a world of loss. Maybe for years. My dad died. My dad. It's been 25 weeks and it's just now sinking in that there is no remedy for this loss. This loss is oh so permanent. This loss is so huge none of us could bear it alone so we decided to move back to our hometown but that decision created more loss. Our home, our community, our friends, our church, our ministry. Lost. There has been gain and comfort and love but its the loss that stings and prickles around the edge of every moment just now and because of that I just couldn't bear to know.

Until tonight. Tonight I had the courage to know. The courage to click the link and read.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share about my life journey and my passion to fight human trafficking at a church just outside town. I spoke for a total of nearly two hours about our responsibility to educate ourselves, to pray and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Our responsibility to be real followers of Jesus and bring freedom and hope into the darkest places of this world. I'm grateful for that opportunity but my own words challenged and convicted me. I knew I needed to know. But I wanted to know gently. I wanted to be told with care and compassion. I wanted the real story, not the sensationalized media spots. That's how I wanted to know and that's what I got from Ann Voskamp.

If you've not read Ann's writing you should. She writes of things that touch the soul and lift the spirit. She speaks words of comfort as if God is dictating His heart to her as she writes - probably because He is. She writes with beauty and sincerity and hope. She is gentleness and affection. She is light and depth. And most importantly, she is an artful truth teller. And this morning she was telling the truth about That Thing I needed to know.

I'm not going to paraphrase or rewrite her story. Why would I when she has done it so well? I am going to encourage you to be courageous enough to know, to be brave enough to click the link and read for yourself the truth.

Ann went to Iraq. She sat with women and children and heard their stories. And then she came home and told them to us. She is a deliverer of a sacred message - be bold enough to hear and to know.

This is the link to one of her entries. There are more entries about this truth that I've not read yet. I will. I will read every word of this message Ann is brave enough, strong enough to carry. I will know but for now I will sit with this one message. For now I will think of the nine year old girls I know, of my thirteen year old daughter sleeping safe and peacefully just upstairs now and I will think of the girls - the hundreds, the thousands … the one - who know too much, who feel too much. I will think of them and pray.

I will pray as I never have before because now I know.

This could be us: Defy evil with love. Defy trafficking by trafficking hope.
~Ann Voskamp

Friday, May 1, 2015

Chasing Rainbow Unicorns

The biggest hurts and heartaches I've ever experienced have been within the walls of the church.

And so have the greatest healings.

I am a church girl through and through. I was the first baby born into a brand new church my teen-mom found her way to in the final months of her pregnancy. I gave my heart to Jesus in Sunday School when I was four years old along side my cousin with my aunt/Sunday School teacher guiding us along the way. I attended private Christian school, youth group and Bible camp. I went on short term mission trips, picketed abortion clinics and handed out sandwiches to the homeless. I have been a Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, passion play director, Bible Study facilitator, greeter, bookstore volunteer and - for a short time - a pastor.

I am a church girl through and through.

Along the way I have been over looked, judged, bullied, embarrassed, mocked, wrongly accused and shut out by the very people I counted on to include me and accept me. I was told that I didn't have the right skills, I associated with the wrong people, I cared about the wrong things, I wasn't cool enough, pretty enough, young enough - or I was too young, too edgy, too bold. I was too much and not enough at the same time.

I was hurt and angry and bitter. I was consumed by all the ways I was wrong and neglected the ways I was right, the people who were loving and good and the opportunities I had to just be me. I focused on my disappointment and began to judge the church - leadership, structures, programs and people - harshly. The more I judged the less I liked who I was but instead of dealing with me I blamed them.

I spent a lot of time dreaming of The Perfect Church. I imagined what it would look like, how it would feel to walk through those doors and be loved and accepted. I thought of the programs, structures, sermons and serving opportunities that would be full of life and joy. I dreamed of the perfect youth ministry and the perfect kids ministry and the perfect way to do baptisms and testimonies. I saw a place filled with laughter and love and sunshine and hearts and butterflies and rainbow unicorns!

Yeah - rainbow unicorns. That's what the perfect anything is. It's a completely unattainable notion that you will spend your life chasing without actually ever catching it. You will waste years of your life in this pursuit of a standard that is more of a vague idea than a real, tangible thing. You will sacrifice experiences, relationships and your own peace of mind in this fruitless quest for perfection. You will waste so much and lose so much. I know because I did.

I was looking for a perfect church, a perfect marriage, a perfect family and a perfect life. I hunted everywhere but I could never find it. Sometimes I would think I saw glimpses of perfection so I would chase after it hard but it was also to no avail. I was disgruntled and never content because I knew KNEW that somewhere out there was the perfect life I craved. I was sure that perfection would be found once we had that new house, or that friendship with that popular person, or a higher pay check, or a smaller pant size, or … or  …. or  … Wherever it was, it was always just outside my reach.

I lived like this for a lot of years - desperately discontent. Then cancer happened and things changed. I had a whole lot of time alone with myself and I discovered that I was lousy company. I was critical, angry, snarky and spent most of my time complaining - if not out loud, certainly in my head and heart. During that year of healing from cancer I also began to ask God to heal my heart. I specifically remember praying and asking God to break my heart for what broke His - and He did.

He broke my heart - and my pride. At the time we were living away from our hometown and had little to do with the church I grew up in. The distance from the place and people who had hurt me made it easier for me to feel like I was better, like I was over my bitterness and disappointment. I healed from cancer and in a lot of ways my heart healed too. I loved people more and I loved more people. I loved God more and I loved His Church better. I was aware of injustice more and was compelled to respond whenever and wherever I saw it. In this time I redefined what was 'perfect' and what was 'perfect' for me. I was living a practically perfect life - and I was okay with that.

It was in this practically perfect life that I was confronted with some unfinished business. When we decided to move back to our hometown I immediately said, in no uncertain terms, I would not WOULD NOT return to the church I had grown up in. I said that I had forgiven everyone but I had moved on. I'm not the person now that I was then so I don't want to go back. Nope. No way. Not going back.

So, we're now attending the church I grew up in. The church where I was hurt, disappointed and devastated. Yeah, that church. That imperfect, mess of a place. But here's the thing. I'm an imperfect, mess of a person but I'm changing - and so are they. No one there is the same either. All of us have changed. We have all learned and we have all grown. We are all trying to do better. None of us is perfect but we are perfect enough together.

I realized that I couldn't heal properly, forgive fully, as long as I was hiding out in some other church. I couldn't really let go of my bitterness as long as I held that church at arms length. For me, I needed to learn how to genuinely and warmly greet those who hurt me the most. I had to walk the halls with them, shake their hands and learn about their lives. I had to let them out of the box I put them in so I could step out of my own box. And you know what? Not one person has apologized to me or made amends. The same leaders who escorted me out of youth group are still there - and now they teach my children. The same pastor who misjudged me is still there - and now he is friendly with Mr. Awesome. The same person who looked at me like I was less than is still there - and they are still looking at me like I'm gum on the bottom of their shoe.

Not everyone changes at the same rate and at the same time. And some people really do never change and that's their loss. It's not up to me to prove to them how much they need to change or how much I have changed. My only responsibility is to live this practically perfect life as best I can and allow others the room and grace to live their practically perfect life, too.

The other thing I learned was that people very rarely intend to hurt one another. People usually do the best they can with what they know in any given situation. They make the best decisions they can in the moment and are usually surprised when they learn how deeply that have hurt someone. I know this to be true because it's been true for me. I do the best I can to live with kindness but sometimes I miss the mark, too.

So we are back at the church and finding our way again. I'm not looking for perfection. I am looking for community - but community is messy and complicated. I will probably get hurt and disappointed again and I will surely hurt and disappoint as well. I'm human. Humans are messy and imperfect and make mistakes at an alarming rate. I will have a messy marriage, I will raise messy kids, I will have messy friendships and I will attend a messy church and I'm totally good with that.

Just like rainbow unicorns, perfection isn't real but grace is. Grace is the antidote to mess. It's the buffer to relationships and its the fertilizer of our hearts. Grace is the real thing that I don't have to hunt or chase. Grace finds me where I am and if I allow it, if I relax into it, it will flow in and out of my life leaving a Perfect Enough life in it's wake.

The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: 'grace.'