Thursday, July 16, 2015

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” Emerson (Ralph Waldo, that is)

I've missed talking with you all. It's incredible to believe that summer is whipping right along and a full month has passed since I put pen to paper or rather clicks to the keyboard.

I've learned that I and my people like some structure and all the more so when school's out. I'm not an over-scheduler and certainly don't step into this role in summer (of all seasons), but with some simple math I concluded that in summer we have an average of thirteen and a half hours of wide awake time to fill. Though they are darling and hilarious and great fun, even a long-fused momma like me can lose her shizzle after the 37th inquiry of "What else can we do?" comes from the mouths of the darling babes before noon time. Bless. Camp Activities Director I am not.

So, for the past two summers I have reaped the goodness of the plentiful variety of Vacation Bible School programs for my children. There are more than a few things to love about living in the south, but one of my personal favorites is the amazing offering of fantastic and free VBS camps available to local kids all summer long. The churches absolutely count on members of the community (not just the congregation) coming to enjoy the programs. The schedules are set early in the spring and the resourceful parent can have their little nippers registered in a different camp every week from June to August if they so chose. I do not so choose, but I certainly do (unashamedly) send them to more than one (or two) camps each summer.

This year our calendar was a glistening masterpiece of color-coded schedules thanks to the Zionists, the Lutherans, the Baptists and the community church. And seriously, God bless the Zionists because their program runs from 8:30am-4:30pm with snacks and lunch included for three days and costs exactly zero dollars. Hand to the heavens! The other programs run from 9am-noon, but offer just enough time for the Reluctant Camp Activities Director (woman in the mirror) to have a moment or two of silence and some coffee dates with friends. Though the girls bemoaned the ongoing programming a time or two, I know they enjoyed having a mother who wasn't going ape-loony all the live-long day. And truthfully, we still had a daily allotment of nine or more hours of awake time together, but who's counting?

After I'd allowed them to be educated/indoctrinated by all manner of believers (denomination/schnemomination--it's free child care, people. For the love!), our schedule was set for family vacation. We had a trip on the books for months to go down to South Padre at the end of June. But when my aunt Judy passed away June 15 and her memorial was set for the weekend we planned to depart, we shifted things slightly so that I could fly to Wichita to join my family in celebrating her extraordinary life. I cannot begin to tell you how incredible the time was and I am honored to have been a part of it. I really want to write about my time there and I will at some point. I'm just so glad it worked for me to go.

When I returned, Dirk and the girls picked me up at the airport with bags packed with all of the necessities for vacation, and hearts full of all of the anticipation of uninterrupted time together. The respite at the beach absolutely did not disappoint. It was magical in many ways to see the strength and beauty in the consistent waves crashing onto the shore everyday. Dirk and I watched the girls ride the waves on boogie boards with new found confidence and agility now that they are both strong swimmers. Though we've taught them to have a great respect for the power of the ocean, it was wonderful to be in the water with them and enjoy it together rather than hold onto to them with a death grip for fear they'd float off to Mexico alone. Of course one of the true gems of a beach vacation is that the Camp Activity Director is not on duty. The ocean becomes the unmatched playmate.

I spent a lot of time just looking at Dirk and the girls in disbelief that they're mine. Like I kind of can't believe I get to keep them. Truly mothering along side of Dirk is just more than I ever could have imagined. I knew it would be a good gig but it's so fun to see new things that remind me that the three of them are  such extraordinary people.

More than once I had this feeling that was familiar to me but not in the company of my own family. You know how when you're around someone else's children who are really precious and fun and you hear them tell funny stories or make interesting conversation you just sit back and enjoy them. You just get to appreciate all of their unique contributions to the world because you don't have to do any of the heavy lifting--you're just there to appreciate them because nothing's required of you. That's how I felt around my girls countless times while we were at the beach. I mean, I got that I wasn't completely off duty and they required some parenting along the way, but it was just downright enjoyable. Wow, did that feel good to reap a harvest of ten years of tilling the soil. Treasured times.

We came home and had one day to unpack and launder everything and re-pack for our annual trip  to Minnesota. We left on the fourth of July and found ourselves in the absolute lap of luxury at the Mall of America's Blu hotel, thanks to our dear friend Kristin who serves as the Director of Convention Services and Catering there. Suffice it to say, we were all spoiled to the core by her VIP set up for us and reveled in every second of it.

I only wish we'd had more than one night there, but if it had to be just one night, Independence Day wasn't a bad choice. Watching the fireworks in a bug-free, traffic-less, air conditioned, private suite with gorgeous hors d'oeuvres isn't all bad, turns out.

We were also fortunate to gather with some dear friends we've loved for thirteen years and reunited Emerson with some of her very first friends in Minnesota with whom she still corresponds and counts as part of her closest circle of friends. Kelly and I noted how wonderful it was to see our girls pick up just where the left off the same way that we do. For some sad reason, I took not a single picture (worth posting!) from our time together. So instead I share a favorite snap from another occasion of these two dear girls who are like family to us, Kelly and Lauren.
Aren't they gorgeous? You don't even know. Kelly is the strongest woman I've ever met and I've met some warriors. She's absolutely unstoppable and has fought for her family with a fierce love and strength that is show-stopping. After more than a decade of shared life together, we have so many common memories and hilarious inside stories that one phrase can have us both in stitches. "Infinity scarf" is one of so many. She's one of earth's rare gems and I'm so glad she's in my life.
This beautiful love is a whisperer to all animals, a spirit of encouragement, a risk-taker, and precious friend to all. She is also my goddaughter and will always have a piece of my heart. When we left, she said to Kelly, "Only 364 more days until I see Emie again." That.heart.

From there we spent our time "Up North" as we call Northern Minnesota, was wonderful as well. The girls and I were lucky enough to spend one night in the cabin of some dear friends of ours who own a gorgeous home on one of Lake Vermilion's largest private islands accessible only by boat.

There are only eight cabins on the whole of it, so much of it is left un-tampered and absolutely stunning. You cannot imagine how quiet and calm it is there. If ever there was a writer's retreat, that would be it. But for our visit, we enjoyed Amy's famous sangria, a sunset pontoon cruise, wild caught salmon for dinner, and wonderful conversation. Ainsley fell in love (all over again) with Madeline and Sophie who have always been a tender-hearted and darling girls. Though Ainsley is much younger, the girls always made room for her in their times of play when we lived in Minnesota and their affections were not lost on my girl. Ainsley has been pining for new friendships and I think her heart reached new heights when she discovered the uniquely beautiful gift that reconnecting with true friends can be. She would not leave the girls' side for the entire visit. My heart was filled with such gratitude and hope in that setting for so many reasons.

The winters in Minnesota are extraordinary and heartless and long. It continues to astound me, that after months of  assault and abuse from unimaginably cold temperatures, ice, and snow, the grass always comes back just as green and bold as before. The trees' leaves fill out and the lake's waters open. It's so brave and generous of them to give it another go year after year. There's just nothing like a Minnesota summer to renew hope in a person. Though the girls sometimes ask to go north when it's snowing, I'm so thankful we get to go there at the time of year when everything is emboldened and colorful.

The remainder of our visit was spent with Dirk's parents who still live in his childhood home in a city just 100 miles south of the Canadian border. Visiting there always floods my heart with memories. It is where I had my first glimpse of Minnesota when Dirk drove me there from my home in California in 1999. We made that town our home for the first eighteen months of our marriage and there were more than a few occasions when I felt like I was in a foreign country. Now though, it's strangely familiar to me and I understand the quiet pulse of the lifestyle there better than I used to. It was slow when we lived there and has slowed even further since, but it's a wonderful place to come and rest and care for the people who carefully and wisely raised the man I love.

Now my little tribe is all here at home for a bit until I take off next week for my high school reunion. Thirty years have passed since I wore acid washed jeans and sprayed my hair with innumerable cans of Aqua Net. There are friends coming from all over the country to attend the event and I'm eager and a bit nervous to walk back into that part of my world again. Aside from the wardrobe and hair, I hardly recognize the girl who tossed her cap into the air in the warm afternoon sun of 1985. But I am so grateful to be going back changed, stronger, and more comfortable in my own well-worn skin than I ever was when it was taut and smooth.

I've heard it said that life brings you to unexpected places and love brings you home. I like that. I've called so many different places home over the years, and I don't know if there are more places yet to come, but I know this--wherever we land, we'll bring our best and all that we've gathered from each of the places we have lived and loved.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Love my People

There's something that feels like pure and plentiful bounty when someone outside of my family makes a decision to love my people. The same is true within family of course, but the relationship feels more expected somehow when bloodlines are shared. But when someone who (doesn't have to) has a pure love and delight for me and mine, well my heart can hardly contain the goodness of it.

Mary and I have been friends for 22 years. We now have a lifetime of shared history. Her presence and care for me is threaded through every bit of the tapestry of my adult life. But there's something I prize above all of our common memories, and that is the way she loves my girls and Dirk. She is as much a part of our family as she would be if we shared a mother. We used to be housemates but now nearly 2,000 miles separate us. Still, we make sure we know what's going on in one another's days through scheduled phone dates, spontaneous texts, and visits to one another's homes. We were fortunate enough to have her with us last week with us and miss her presence already.

She's that dream house guest who doesn't feel like a guest. The one who helps themselves to what they need and helps out all the while. She requires nothing and brings everything. After she was here a week, Dirk said to her "You bring such joy to us, and that's such a welcome thing." Isn't that what we all hope for? To bring joy wherever we unpack our suitcase in someone else's world? May it ever be.

This isn't just the way Mary travels. This is the way she lives her life. She has keen insight into all angles of a situation, but always speaks of the bright side. Her words leave me (and everyone in her company) better for having spent time with her. She lifts, restores, encourages, and brings hope, all while cracking you up with her quick wit and great humor. Proverbs says that what we say can mean life or death -- that words really do matter. I can attest to this truth after having my cup filled to over-flowing through life-giving words from my dearest friend.

During her visit we had the sumptuous pleasure of a day at the spa

and  an overnight (alone!) in the gorgeous Eilan Hotel and Resort,

lunches together, workouts at the gym, long chats, evening swims together with Dirk and the girls, but by far my favorite part of our week together was watching her love on and care for my daughters.

I have a little catch in my throat just typing the words. I cannot describe the delight this brings to my bones. To have someone so stellar in love and full living pour into my family-- well, that's just more than I could have ever hoped for in a gift. What makes it all the more beautiful to receive is that, much as I want it, it is not something I could readily ask for. We cannot really ask someone to love us well, and even if we did, we couldn't be sure they would be able to deliver. This kind of outpouring only comes from a willing heart --we cannot squeeze it out of someone, no matter how much we extend love to them.  But when it is freely given, I will drink up the unmerited favor of God delivered through the life of one of His darlings. Oh, how He loves me through my Mary.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Baby, you look brave


Many of you know that I'm a member of Jen Hatmaker's Launch Team for her book For the Love, set to release in early August. I cannot say enough good things about this practical, hilarious and wonderful  book. Getting to be an early reader has been a fantastic treat, but the community that has emerged from the group has been the most fun. There's so much more to say about it, and I will another time. But I will tell you that one of the sweetest benefits has been partnering with other aspiring writers and sharing ideas and encouragement.  bloggers within the group have invited those interested to submit posts on various topics an Guest Post on their blog. My new friend Kelly Johnson asked for submissions on the topic of bravery. I was all in and am thrilled to have the opportunity to share one of my posts on her wonderful blog.

Hope over to  Grace Notes to have a look and check out her lovely writing style and winsome heart.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Who you are when no one's looking

The girls' school offers an award every nine weeks. The Coyote Character Award is presented to one student from each class who exhibits outstanding character and leadership.

Ainsley has watched a few friends receive the award and though she celebrated with them, she very much wanted the award for herself. In explaining her longing she said to me, "Wouldn't you just be so proud of me?" I told her I was always proud of her and an award wouldn't make me any more so. "Yea, but wouldn't you be just extra proud of me then?" I told her it would be impossible for me to be any more proud, I love her for who she is and that's what makes me proud. She heard me but she didn't stop longing for that extra public affirmation. I mean like she sort of started an all out campaign for it. She asked me if I would ask her teacher for ideas on how she might reach her goal. Her teacher was gracious enough to tell me that she's always looking for leaders who do what they're supposed to do before being asked and helping others to clean up or helping them with their work. She also kindly told me that she had lots of wonderful students and basically, don't count on your kid getting it, gift giving Room Rep or not.  

Truth is, the girl does have plenty of character and is a character. (smile).  I wanted so much for her to be awarded not so much because she is the most character-laden Kindergartner in the school, but because she wanted it. She wanted to be recognized for something in front of her peers. This is something I cannot relate to at all, except for the times when I always relate to it. I mean, this is what I be seen. To be told by people I respect that I am good at what I do. I wanted my girl to have that same affirmation showered over her.

So the weeks went by and Ainsley gave it her best go. Over many family dinners she recounted the ways she'd put her things away before her teacher asked her to or how she'd helped a friend with their work. She felt she was well in the running for the award and so did we.

While chaperoning the Kinder Field Trip the other day I spotted one student behind a large group of kids. They were all in front of an enclosed area where the curator was sharing facts about a sea animal. But this little girl couldn't see anything but the backs of her classmates. Ainsley noticed that she was left behind and put her hand on the small of the child's back and parted the way between the other kids making a way for this girl to see the display. She proceeded to point out where the turtles were and how one was already sixty years old. How some of them live to be over one-hundred. She made sure this little one heard everything she had and didn't miss a thing. I was so proud and immediately looked for the teacher to see if she'd noticed. I knew she was just to my left so I felt it was a perfect moment for her to observe and file away in her invisible log this character filled moment. Can't deny this one. Coyote Character right there, baby!! But the teacher was looking the other way and onto some other students. She didn't see any of it. But isn't character who you are when no one's looking? Sure is.

At last the notice came from the school to invite us to come and see our daughter receive the Coyote Character Award. Proud moment. Except, it wasn't for Ainsley, it was for Emerson. Oh. At the very same instant I was both elated for Emerson and heartsick for Ainsley.

I thought of how I was going to tell Ainsley.  How would I explain that she wouldn't be getting the award this time but her sister (who has given this award zero seconds of thought) would be awarded instead. It's not that Emerson cancelled out Ainsley's chance since they're in different grades, but I was afraid it would translate this way in kindergarten logic. So, I followed the pattern that has proven me well over my almost decade tenure in motherhood, I avoided it. I said not one word. I pretended it wasn't really happening, and waited it out.

Yesterday was the award ceremony and even as the girls ventured off to school Ainsley still had no idea that Emerson was going to be awarded and she was not. There are separate award ceremonies for each grade, so I figured there was a good chance that the school day would wrap before Ainsley realized that Emerson was chosen. But I knew there was no way for her to get through the kindergarten ceremony without realizing she had not been chosen. The picture of her sitting with her legs criss-cross applesauce, blue eyes looking up to the teacher who would call out a name not her own made my heart sick. I love equity and fairness and good competition. But I have to tell you that I wouldn't have minded one bit if the teacher had given Ainsley the award as a little treat for me. A kind of "Hey, I noticed that Nordstrom gift card you arranged from the class. Those times you organized the parties. The stuff you cut out for me. For all of that I'm giving baby girl the desire of her heart." Teacher gifts and volunteer hours don't buy character awards for your kid, turns out. Of course I wouldn't want them to, except for maybe just this one time. (smile)

Ainsley has character, awarded or not. She's got it. And I could not possibly be more proud of her. We all long for affirmation and I'm learning that it's not wrong to want it as long as we remember we couldn't be anymore worthy of love and acceptance than we are right now. We needn't wait for it to believe the best in ourselves. But when it comes, when the awards are given, we will most definitely celebrate.

I have forthwith bequeathed Ainsley the Master of Ceremonies for the Coyote Character Award show we will be hosting right here at home. I plan to read the beautiful words Emerson's peers spoke over her and Ainsley plans to impart them to her with a little wand. And you know what? There's a moment that makes me proud of my Ainsley. Celebrating the success of someone else and truly being happy for them-- that's the true unveiling of the contents of our heart. 

In closing, I leave you with the words spoken over my precious Emerson Hope. I was proud before and remain so. But.these.words.

Just wow.

Our class chose Emerson to receive the Coyote Character Award. She is very deserving and we all couldn't agree more. Her classmates had many nice things to say about her that I would like to share. Emerson has been a great leader all year! She has always shown the 7 Habits. She is a leader in and out of the classroom. She is funny, nice, sweet, and encouraging. She has a big heart and loves to help and pray with people. I think Emerson deserves it because she really never says no to anyone. She is nice to everyone. She always listens to what you have to say. She always has a smile on her face. I know I can always count on Emerson. She is a smart, amazing, and beautiful classmate.

Mrs. P said, I am so lucky to have Emerson in my class this year. She cares so much about everyone and does everything with her whole heart. What a special gift!

We are so proud of your Emerson, and we are so glad you're in our class! Congratulations.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Donuts for Darlings

Summer birthdays mean not getting to bring treats to your classmates and postponed parties because everyone vacations on your big day. I realize these are First World problems, but when you're in the third grade, the struggle feels real:)

Since today is exactly two months before this little dolly turns ten, it seemed the perfect time to break out the sugar-laden goodness and bring enough for the whole class. Em's teacher willingly agreed to let me come in this afternoon and celebrate my girl.

Sometimes the love I have for my children is just too big to contain. Sometimes the gratitude I have in my heart for motherhood is enough to bring me to my knees. Seeing Emerson's dimples deep with delight brought all of that today. This is the stuff of Fairy Tale childhoods and youthful dreams. But I'm pretty sure mine was the fullest heart in that classroom today. I dreamt of moments like this when motherhood was out of my reach. I knew I wanted to do things like this for children of my own, I just never could have imagined how much I'd love loving them.
After school Emerson went on to a year-end party for the Fitness Club she's been a part of so it was just me and the Ainsley love walking to the car and heading home. When I asked her how her day was she told me it was "Great!" I asked what was great about it and she told me that she got to eat her school lunch on a plastic plate. She explained what a coup this was because she'd seen the elusive plates before but had never had the opportunity to eat from one. I have no idea why this seemed like the prize to win, but it did to Ainsley. Usually the cafeteria serves their meals on the hard resin divided trays that you immediately picture when you hear the word "cafeteria". But today, the staff didn't have enough time to wash them all in preparation for the earliest diners (the Kinders) so, plastic plates it was.
I just love that baby girl's entire day was made because her chicken tenders were served on a Solo plate. Sorry, Earth, but this disposable goodness rocked this girl's world today.
How good is it to be six?
I love this picture of Ainsley taken on Halloween. This was, of course, before she decided to change her costume and be a cat doctor. Not a vet, but rather a cat who is a physician. This is a real thing when you're six. Anything is possible when you're six and most especially, when you're Ainsley.
A fine cat doctor she made beside her sister the Candy Corn Maiden. May they always find beautiful things to celebrate and may they always be little girls (at least in their hearts).
*The pretty print in this post featuring the verse is available on Etsy. Take a look by clicking Here 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Best Pool Party Ever

So the lovelies are planning a party. This really isn't a newsflash, this is what we call Tuesday or any day around here. But this one is bigger than most since it's meant to celebrate the beginning of summer--the pinnacle of wonderful when you're a kid.

This is the first year that both girls' last day of school falls on the same day, so they plotted to plan the  
Best Pool Party Ever to celebrate.

They made invitations which included these little gems:

School's Done -- Pool's fun!!!
School's out! No homework-yay!
School's out, it's Time to Play!!!!!!!!

As you can readily see, they love exclamation points a lot and seeing them on their little invites does make me so happy too. They are so looking forward to the party and have planned snacks to serve and created a little online potluck sign-up for others to bring things to share. They've each made a list of friends to invite, which for Ainsley includes her entire class in case (in her precious words) "Someone would see me handing out an invitation and feel sad hearted that they weren't a part of it."

They're inviting teachers and parents, neighbors and dear friends. They have planned which pool toys to bring out and where to arrange the patio furniture.

But you know what they haven't once mentioned or showed any morsel of concern for?

How they're going to look in their swimsuits.


I mean, I get that they're young girls and haven't yet been burdened with food issues and body image concerns. But I do pray that they'll continue to wonder why in the world anyone would ever do otherwise. I hope they'll never worry about what they look like when the aim is to throw a great party. The chances that everyone (including us) has a good time and is comfortable (anywhere we go) increases dramatically when we are comfortable with ourselves. I think this goes well beyond being swimsuit ready, because, gravity. It's really so much more about feeling comfortable in our own skin and thinking of how we might bless those we welcome to our home and into our lives. 

I'm ready to follow their lead and approach summer with lots of excitement and lots of exclamation points!!!! It's so much better when we look forward (with great enthusiasm!!!!) to ways we can offer others a wonderful time and not once think about how we might be perceived along the way.

Here's to a summer filled with laughter, fun, celebrations, swimsuits, and cannonballs!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer's on the Way...Problem Solved!

Though I truly have savored the moments, I cannot help but be surprised (again) that another school year is coming to a close. I guess this one flew all the faster than those before since there was so much anticipation for it to begin. Such a momentous season when my Ainsley love headed off to Kindergarten.

We I had such fun with these pictures documenting the anticipation for the start of full-day everyday school.

We did eventually get some fun shots to document the season and I'm pretty sure bribery was involved.

Once Ainsley was off to school I did miss having wide open days when it was just the two of us. But I loved the new found independence she found there and I didn't mind my new found independence too much either. I loved the maturity in her that blossomed in a place where she was alone without me. But, of course, she was not alone at all. So much to glean from the experience of working shoulder to shoulder with other little people in her same stage of life.

I was lucky enough to get to sit in and watch it much of it unfold. As the Room Representative (how about that!), I had the keys to the kingdom and got to come into the classroom to snoop help whenever I wanted to.  I love Ainsley's teacher, a beautiful girl only twenty five years old. She's great at the job. She challenges the kids to do their best but isn't afraid of a little silliness and fun along the way. Ainsley's crazy about her and will miss her sorely when the year comes to an end.

As I watched her among her classmates, I saw a natural boss leader who surely seemed to have settled right into her own skin without any difficulty at all. I am just getting this myself and Kindergarten was a long time ago for me. She's not afraid to tell someone she'd prefer they not do something or to ask for what she wants. She's, um, direct. Yes, that's it. But she really is nice about it. It's extraordinary in its simplicity. Be nice. Be yourself. Speak up. Oh, to have learned this that early in life. Baby girl makes a momma proud.

And then there's the Emerson love. Fourth grade is on the horizon and that's just crazy talk. I remember fourth grade. I mean I remember so much about it. I remember Mrs. Forhan and her beautiful voice and her round plastic framed glasses. The Social Studies unit that I adored in which we were allowed to wear clothes from 1776. I remember proudly wearing my white pinafore and bonnet that my mom lovingly (or probably begrudgingly) sewed for me. She didn't love sewing but she sure loved me. Oh, that was a great year, and now my first born is off to enter her year in the fourth grade so much further along in being true to herself than I was at her age.

We went out to dinner just the two of us the other night -- me and Emerson and she was just fantastic company. She is such a love. Here is how she looked right across the table from me.

We just had such a good time. She's fun to talk to and I'm so grateful that she still likes talking to me. She does feel things so deeply. We got to talk a bit about how the gift of a tender heart, lovely though it is, can feel burdensome at times. She asked great questions and we discussed ways to lean in and pray for others rather than rush in to "fix" things. I surely know how this method really does unburden us and surely does such good for those we love. I left that evening a bit awed at how deep and wide her thoughts and feelings are -- she sure makes a momma proud.

In addition to cultivating and understanding her gifts, Emerson is equally excited to have taught herself her own version of cursive. Because, priorities. Long hand is something she took up on her own last year, and her version is actually pretty close to the real thing -- which is kind of how mine looks to this day:) Recently, her teacher introduced penmanship lessons in class. She's eager to learn proper form and often asks me to say a few words that she can write out at as practice. Last night I suggested that she write that I was glad she was home. I went on about my work and didn't notice that she was still writing long after the amount of time it should take to write just a few words. After she had finished, she came to me with this little pearl.

Friends, I just can't even. Her precious heart.

  The penmanship is a work in progress and capital letters haven't yet been introduced but here's what it says:

I'm so glad you're home. Because you're my favorite mom. And every time you see a problem, you fix it. So that's why you're my mom.

I love that this is how she sees me. I see a problem and I solve it. Boom. That is who I want to be. I know that when I walk this out well, the problem solver isn't me, but He who is in me. I cannot fix everything and make it better. But, if solving problems is about making hard things easier, putting broken things back together, making messy things beautiful, then I'll do that all day long. That's what moms do and I'm so proud to call the job my own.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Color my World

When I walk into the kitchen and see this, I just cannot take it. I cannot take how precious my Ainsley is with a paintbrush in her hand, a free-bird in flight. Without any help, she set up her own make-shift studio, donned a beret she found in the dress-up box, and channeled her inner Picasso. Sure, I lost a few years from my life when I considered what might have become of my kitchen table, floor, and walls when I saw that she had helped herself to the paint supplies. But I'm happy to report that everything looks just as lived in and sticky as it did before she set to work.

Know what I really love the most? That she just sat down to paint and didn't doubt her ability to make something beautiful. She hasn't always done this. With an artistic older sister in view, she has been know to compare her work to her sister's and feel like she's not measuring up. What I carefully remind her, in those moments of self-doubt, is that Emerson is three years ahead of her.  Comparing Kindergarten art to Third grade art isn't a fair contest. I remind her that Emie's had three years to learn new techniques and skills that she didn't have when she was in Kindergarten. I can teach this lesson without a blink, yet I'm guilty of the same unbalanced comparison in my own life.

Don't we all do this? We look at the success, the impact, the growth that someone is experiencing well into the process  and compare it to our own meager first steps. It's as though we're in Kindergarten and feel dismayed that we haven't yet mastered pre-algebra and long-division like our Third grade neighbor. When we've missed a really important truth--we are in Kindergarten and we are rocking it.
We have everything we need to create something beautiful right where we are. Let's be sure that we do.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jesus Loves the Jenners

Earlier this week I listened to Jen Hatmaker's amazing sermon on Jesus calling the twelve disciples. It was so good. In it I was reminded that we are often so glad to receive grace freely and yet we give it out so conditionally. Yes, Lord thank you for the grace you extend to me but let's be careful just doling it out to everyone because some of these people are really making a mess of it. A humbling reminder that none of us deserve it. The word grace actually means unmerited favor and yet sometimes we get a little pious and start to think we're more deserving than "those people". I hope I know better and hope that I'll do better.

In related news, my FB newsfeed was full this week of posts of links to an article comparing Kendall Kardashian to Sadie Robertson. I'm no master of TMZ or entertainment news but after one quick read it was easy to see that all of this conversation began over some challenge Kendall made on Twitter. Whatever its original intent, it was translated to be aimed at Sadie in a brawl over which of them would win the culture war and have the most influence over today's teens. A conservative reporter wrote an article in which she made a line by line argument for why parents of young girls should choose Sadie over Kendall as their daughter's role model. It went a little something like this: Kendall wears sleazy clothes while Sadie embraces modesty. Kendall wrote a book that failed while Sadie's had great success. Sadie loves Jesus and Kendall wore revealing clothes to church on Easter as a slap in the face to her view of Christianity (huh?). Sadie is sweet and Kendall is disgusting. Um, excuse me. I'm sure I didn't hear you correctly. You didn't mean that, right? You just forgot for one second that you are talking about children. These little whipper snappers are 17 year old souls. They weren't alive before 1998. How is it okay to slam a young one about like this with thoughtless words?

How many of us could have been held up as role models when we were teenagers? And as long as we're remembering that these girls are just kids can we talk about their parents for a sec? Sadie's had the advantage of God-fearing parents who have (as far as we can assume) taught her about God's abundant love for her and have lived their lives with arms wide open. Kendall's mother manages her career (insert face-palm) and her father wants to be a woman. Come on. Can we expect her to understand and embrace the love and acceptance of a Father God who's crazy about her? And before this starts to sound like a slam to Bruce Jenner, it so is not. I watched his interview with Diane Sawyer and was absolutely touched by his sincere and tender heart. His children from previous marriages appeared on the show and were nothing but lovely. I mean just beautifully supportive and respectful of their dad. His children from his marriage to Kris each added a word of love an support as well though they didn't appear on the show. It truly was inspiring and honestly displayed more authentic and selfless love than we see from most on the right who claim to follow the ways of Jesus.

Listen, I'm a social conservative, too. I don't want my girls to wear provocative clothes, be promiscuous, or follow much of anything that the Kardashians or Jenners are doing -- but you know what I want less? For them to spew hateful comments about anyone. Whether people believe what we do about who Jesus is has nothing to do with how much love we're going to extend their way. I'm a little confounded as to why some people who love Jesus feel they get a free pass to hate on people who don't share their beliefs. Jesus loved everyone and spent a good bit of time with people who lived their lives in direct opposition to what He taught.

One great truth from Jen's sermon was that when we're told to love mercy it's not just for ourselves--all that Jesus lived and died (and rose!) for was for every.single.soul. He desires that none should perish and so should we. I really do believe that most Christians would heartily and say, "Yes, of course! His love and grace is for everyone." Yet our actions and words are telling an entirely different story.

I think we've gotten a bit careless with our quest for the easy laugh and enjoyment of making some fun. We've decided that when people "just don't get it" they are fair game for insult and belittlement and we've let them entertain us by their absurdity. But this is a problem. A big problem. Our voices start to be tinged  (sometimes saturated) with hate and we've completely lost the ball  and lost an audience. No one wants to listen to us anymore because we sound like haters. Nothing trumps our call to love. Not someone's flamboyant image or revealing clothes or failed relationships. These things are only flashing lights and cries for love. For the authentic and eternal love that we know about and could extend to them if we weren't so busy laughing about them behind their backs.

I get that most of us aren't neighbors to the Kardashians, most of us won't rub shoulders with A-listers or politicians with whom we disagree. But we all have people in our sphere of influence who do things we disagree with and they in no way deserve to be the butt of our jokes. Let's love them. Let's quit making fun of them and in humility pray that they'll know how amazing it feels to be loved unconditionally--to not have to live life completely on the edge to feel a thrill.

I believe the best in people. I know people who shared this article likely did so because Sadie is darling and it's wildly encouraging to see someone so young live with such integrity. They just wanted to hold her standards high and I applaud this and would even join in that praise. But it speaks to an underlying trend of laughing at the world that just needs to change if we have any hope to be heard when we share the really, really good news.

I believe most of the time when we rib one another and crack up at the seventh marriage of a celebrity or snipe about the neckline of the dress of an actress we're often just making a joke all while forgetting something of utmost importance -- they are just doing the best they can with what they have. Life is hard. Really hard. And all the more so when you're navigating the choppy sea without a good guide. Our mocking their missteps is about as sensible as laughing when a blind person unknowingly walks right into a brick wall. It's not funny. They don't see it.

The cringe factor for the vocal representatives of the  "church" is seriously so high it's getting embarrassing. Let's get busy loving so they know Who we represent. If it's true that we'll be known as His followers by our love, then we've got some  'splainin' to do. We aren't so recognizable anymore, but we surely can be.

We can do better. We must do better. Let's just put down the pointing fingers and fold our hands in prayer. Pray for redemption for our own calloused hearts and for everyone to know the gracious, never-ending, ridiculous love that is showered upon our own unworthy hearts every single day.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We made it

We made it. Ticked off every single one of the “firsts” in this maiden year of grief after my mom died. We miss her terribly but it does feel good to have cleared this hurdle. It was such an honor for us to have been at her side at the end of her life. It is something I had always hoped I’d get to be there for, I just never wanted to experience it so soon. Ours was a long goodbye since we lost parts of her for several years before she passed. But in the end it really was a beautiful final farewell. I have never been more aware of the presence of God and His profound, touchable, eternal love than I was at the end of her life. It was nothing short of sacred.

We were so glad that her fight was over. The disease that gnarled
up her neuro-transmitters and all of our pathways to her for so many years was gone for good. For a second there death had no sting. We reveled in the unmistakable presence of God Himself. We nearly felt her spirit brush past us as she was led into the place she had sung about the whole of her life. Every inch of the room felt full with the company of angels guiding her home. I didn’t see anything, I didn’t hear anything, but I absolutely, most assuredly, felt something in the very marrow of my bones. The presence of holiness. Without plan or fabrication, I let out a little yelp and lifted my hands to the ceiling and said, “Praise God! She is home. Your servant is home!” I went on to speak directly to her while looking up at the chandelier in the dining room of my childhood home, “Mom, if you can see us, we’re all here. We love you and we’re so proud of you. You fought so hard. You lived so well. Go and rest. We’ll be there soon.” If I live to be one hundred and ten (and I hope I don’t because, mercy) I pray I won’t ever forget what that felt like—when heaven came to earth. But then there we were left behind without her. My dad, alone for the first time in 56 years. My sister, brother, and I like tiny kids in the department store lost without a mother.

I helped to plan for her funeral and delivered a eulogy and flew back to my home and family. Suddenly the daily routines, appointments and obligations seemed pointless and sort of mean. Life moving on as before seemed irreverent somehow when what I really wanted was for everything to just stop so I could numb out and stare off into the sky. Sometimes I did. I stared up into the glinty sun through the leafy trees and just had my mind blown. I mean how in the world was it possible that the woman who gave me life no longer had hers. Just how was this supposed to work? I truly could not grasp how the most constant presence – the most constant life I had known every single day of my life had been snuffed out. Though well-meaning friends told me “You’ll always have your mother,” the fact remained that she was unreachable and gone, as she had been in many ways for such a long time. I knew that, though she loved us all, even if given the choice, she wouldn’t come back to her life here if she could.

I was glad to know she wasn’t hurting anymore and had not a single ailment. I knew that her mind and clarity was restored, her body glorified. Oh, and her memory, it was hers again—no need for Memory Care when you’re dancing on gold streets with Jesus. Why would you ever look back then anyway? Living in the moment must come pretty easily in paradise. All of those pictures of her fully restored made me so thankful. But that wasn’t always enough to motivate me to keep moving along the path of life on this broken earth.

I let myself ache. Sometimes the hurt came from nowhere and seemed disconnected to her in a way. In truth I was grieving not only her life as it was but what her life could have been. Honestly, I grieved a good plenty for what my life could have been had I been given a mother (and my daughters a grandmother) fully alive and present through all of the seasons. Though the pain was sometimes raw and hard, I knew that feeling all of it meant that I was breathing in the riches parts of life. Experiencing depth of sentiment is the very best of it and where the authentic livelihood happens – where I always want to be.

In time I came to see that even when it hurt I could still reach out and reclaim the glory I had experienced at the end of her life. That undeniable presence of holy that I had felt—I learned that it’s mine for the taking I had only first noticed it when I was on vigil, quiet, waiting for the end of a life. But it was there all the time in the land of the living. I just had to quiet myself and seek out His company to experience it again and doing so breathed new life into me.

Now I take time to be with God and it’s profoundly different from the “Quiet Times” I used to check off my to-do list while my mind was often somewhere else. I seek Him out and talk to Him and I stop and listen without saying a word. I see now that He’s not like a father, He is the Father. His love is parent gold standard. He nurtures me in a profoundly intimate way that I never knew was possible before the loss of one of my earthly parents. I wish I’d have gone to Him for this kind of love sooner. He could have filled in a lot of gaps along the way. He’s so quick to give love and such a steady faithful gem of a Father God. I just never knew how to hang out with Him like this before. Maybe I never thought I needed to. But if this is the silver lining I was looking for beyond the trees into the shimmering sun, I’ll take it all day long.

Grief steals. We know this. It only shows up when something is lost or taken from us but the sweet surprise is that it can also give some awfully precious gifts. This loss gave me a new found appreciation for God’s presence in the brevity of my life. I drink deeply of the best of life now.  I sense the holy not only in my time hanging out with God but also in the smell of Ainsley’s tousled and sun-drenched hair, her sticky kisses, Emerson’s hilarious wit and laughter, Dirk “getting me” —these I sip and appreciate as precious gifts from my very good Father. I always knew He was there and loved me and sent His son so I could have abundant life (this side of heaven too) but I never really lived in the luxury of it. Now I can’t do anything other than treasure the divine moments masquerading as everyday events. My eyes have been opened and I am, at long last, fully alive.

This is perhaps the best and last gift my mom ever gave to me—the pathway to abundant living. As long as I have breath in these lungs I’m going to do enough living for the two of us. While she’s hanging out with Jesus face-to-face, I’ll be hanging out with Him right here. One day I’ll join the big party with her but I’m not going to wait until then to celebrate.



“The glory of God is best seen in a woman fully alive.”
Lynn Hybels If: Austin 2015