Souvenirs

We packed her up again this weekend. In the past 5 years she’s moved between home, 2 dorm rooms, 2 college flats, 2 grown up apartments, several housesitting gigs and a fair amount of begging and borrowing couches and beds from hospitable friends.
God’s written her story with transiency in almost every chapter and this time she’s about to move far, far away.
4,875 miles to be exact.IMG_0749

This apartment–it was my favorite.
I think I made 13 trips here this year and grateful I could.
There was move in day and a couple of sibling visits, our adventure to Scotland together that departed from O’Hare. A mama-daughter weekend at the Nutcracker by the Joffrey Ballet, a winter zoo adventure and then multiple trips related to her car crash. After that, she got bronchitis and I kept her company while she convalesced. We hosted our buddy from Scotland at her place and wrapped up the year by taking a day excursion to the city with two of her sisters plus one.
Now, we’re packing it up and leaving the keys.
There’s her wall of happiness.
Her bookshelf—of which she claims every single acquisition has a story.
There are the dishes passed down from Grandma.
And Grampsy’s twin bed frame.
Her great-aunt’s old kitchen table with the chair cushions I reupholstered.
And lots of chocolate I’ve given her that she says she forgot about. How is that even possible?
I guess she forgot about the vitamins, the probiotics and the frozen food I left too.IMG_7644

It’s been a big year for her.
She needed a restart, a vision for a beautiful future after the closure of a significantly defining relationship.
She pulled up her big girl pants and made courageous choices to forge a path, one next step after another toward  brighter tomorrows.
She opted to immerse herself in contemplative prayer and form new spiritual rhythms.
She taught herself additional skills to add breadth to her project palette at work.
She connected with new friends.
She travelled to Europe twice in addition to  jetsetting around the US.
She mentored and chaliced and volunteered.
She even ran in a 5K fundraiser. You go girl!

And that brings us right here to this moment, to this sharp turn on her life map.
Destination Africa.
She’s admittedly addicted to passport stamps and plans to add several to her book this next year.

Summer 2019 project #6—Tidy up my writing files.
It’s like opening my Christmas decoration bins and finding nice things I forgot I had.
Ironically, I came across the entry written above. I typed it in almost a year ago.
And today, she’s packing up again. About to make another move. This time it’s just two suitcases after you add the gifts and mementos. She left with only one and tucked her computer, the work horse for her volunteer commitment, between a bunch of loose fitting long sleeved shirts and below the knee skirts. Hardly a fashionable wardrobe by American standards. Next week, she’ll board a plane that she swears will depart on North African time resulting in a missed connection in Europe. After two weeks of gallivanting around Britain with her best buds, she’ll fly home.
“God willing” or “In’shallah” in Arabic, as she says.

As I type, the tears involuntarily hide in the corners of my eyes. The last time I put a hug around her neck, we stood in O’Hare airport and she walked away from me. Toward the gate. I waved and cried– quiet, private drops falling down my cheeks like a leaky faucet. In 19 more days, she’ll walk toward me instead and I expect that I’ll need more tissues then too. I wonder, will she kiss the ground or hug me first? She says she intends to do both.IMG_1836

Unpacking.  It’ll be so much more complicated than laundering her clothes, moving in to the next apartment, starting a new job, and dispersing her souvenirs.
It took courage to move to Africa, to live in another culture with a foreign language and  a different religion.
And it required an extra measure of fresh daily mercies to fight anxiety and homesickness,
Invisible protections by God’s angels to jaywalk across streets with confident determination ignoring catcalls from the locals while dodging traffic, not to mention navigating public transportation safely alone.
And nothing other than supernatural strength got her out of bed each morning to the sound of roosters crowing and the Adhan echoing across the city in order to teach a classroom full of international students, none of whom share her native language, while tackling an 800 page peace curriculum design project under a hard deadline.
Her experience also invited her to wonder and delight in seaside landscapes and blue keyhole doors, fresh bread and homemade hummus, learning Arabic and new Muslim friends. She took hikes and rode a camel in the Sahara. She slept in a cave and visited ancient historic ruins.

There was a fair amount of bitter and a whole lot of sweet, a broad brush stroke of emotions and experiences anchored in the love and faithfulness of God, which makes for the most multi-dimensional life, really.

Now, she’s coming home.
And that will take courage too.
Courage to start new in old places. Courage to pursue ethnically and religiously diverse relationships where she’s in the majority.
And she’ll be needing an abundance of fresh mercies to process cross-cultural reentry, adjust to Amercian cost of living and to love her family for who we are instead of who she wants us to be.
Continued on duty angels to protect her as she navigates life in the burbs of Chicagoland.
Supernatural strength to get up and live in the mundane grind—every single day.
And she’ll be invited to wonder afresh at the country that authorized her passport, the one she checks the “citizen” box next to. To appreciate the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy here, the equal rights and opportunities for women. To exercise communal faith and worship at church in a language she understands without security guards posted nearby for surveillance.
To delight in Chick Fil A and gallons of fresh, cold milk, in lazy summer swimsuit beach days and shopping at superstores. To meander through the aisles of bookstores or libraries and drive her Subaru with the sunroof wide open.

I remember the first time I held her in my arms.
She was 9 lbs. 1 oz. and 21 inches long.


The love– it defied description or explanation. If you’re a parent, you get it, but kids, they just don’t.
I had no idea what the terrain would look like travelling this journey of life in her squad.
And with every single daughter, the path has been individually contoured.
All of us, we’ve been on our own uniquely courageous adventure._DSC0421 copy

I’m writing my list, checking it twice. Picking up her favorite chocolate. Planning a purchase at  the local cheese shop. Got her a few cute clothes to bridge the gap until she can shop. Scheduled a quick family vaca to Mackinac Island. Opening up my schedule to be available for de-briefing and hearing her stories of memories straight out of Africa while she’s right here in Pure Michigan.
And hoping we make a boatload of our own.
Because really, memories are the best souvenirs.

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Back Home

People ask me what it’s like to come back home after a baker’s dozen years away.
“Is it really as great as you thought it would be?”
Well, that probably depends on when you ask me. I admit that about the time I’ve shoveled the driveway twice with temps in negative numbers and it’s just after noon, I feel slightly cranky. And honestly, about mid-March, I’m chompin’ at the bit for a beach vacation somewhere far, far away. But those moments, they’re fleeting. The weather isn’t, but the feelings are. When you’re a native Michigander, you’re wired to be tough, and even after 26 dark, grey, depressing days in a row, you know that the beach days, they’re coming. You grasp your sunny memories for dear life and anticipate the coming year’s 100 days of summer. That’s what carries you through. It takes you all the way to flipping the calendar page to June.
And what do you know, that just happens to be today…..

IMG_5362My rhododendron is crazy blooming.
I’m picking fresh asparagus every day.
My garden’s planted and waiting for God’s magic to make it grow.
Cool breeze blows in the windows.
I’m driving a car with its sunroof open and wearing my flip flops.
School’s out.
Weekly beach trips are in.
And it’s just 35 days until my big girl lands in the good ‘ole USA.

For 13 trips around the sun, we lived in the southwest most of the year but every summer, we packed up our van and headed home. We bunked the fam in a two bedroom apartment on a cozy, little, college campus and glam-camped. We cried when we drove past the Welcome to Michigan sign both directions, happy tears and sad ones. Those years, the hellos and goodbyes, they got complicated. It’s not that there wasn’t beauty in our Dallas life, it just wasn’t home.
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So in honor of summer and her greatly anticipated return,
Here’s my video tribute to Michigan summers with a shout out to God because He’s the one who wrote them into our story.
Our memories, they really are the best souvenirs….

Graduations and Other Everyday Mercies

IMG_5082It happened.
2 of them zipped up their robes and walked across a stage to receive a very important piece of paper.

Lily spoke words of commitment to the calling of vocational health care. 20 years old and a debt free, card carrying nurse. Yeah, I’m proud and even more than that, grateful. Not for a moment do I forget that everything she’s achieved comes directly by way of God’s lavish, every day graces.

Robyn, she’s now a legal adult with a high school diploma and 32 college credits to jumpstart her next step. At her graduation ceremony, we blessed our girl with these words then handed off her diploma, evidence that she’s achieved a solid educational foundation and my efforts at homeschooling were not in vain.

What do you say to your kids to send them on to their own life? It’s been different for every single one of them.
Here’s what we want Robyn to remember.

Robyn, 18 years ago God wrote you into our family story and now here we are almost 2 decades later with countless shared memories and holy moments.
It’s passed so quickly.
Not a day goes by that we don’t thank God for choosing us to be your parents.
There is so much good, so much being redeemed, so much potential in you, Robyn.

Here’s what we want you to know at this milestone called graduation:

You are loved, unconditionally.
God loves you.
Enough to write it in His own blood.
His grace wasn’t cheap and can’t be undone in your life.
No matter what.
And as a bonus, we love you too.

You belong.
You belong to God. He’s chosen you to be His and nothing can separate you from Him.
You belong in Christian community because you have much to give and receive from your brothers and sisters in Christ.
You belong with us. Your family cherishes you.

You bring delight.
You generously share your hugs, music, art and acting.
Your words have power and impact because you are bold to speak truth and tenderly express love.
You are growing up to be humble and brave and real and you bless others with your compassion, courage, loyalty and strength.

Your life has purpose.
God’s original design in you is intentional.
His sovereignty in your story can be trusted.
He has excellent plans for your temperament and your talents.
We are confident that your life will add to the beauty of this world and the people you intersect on your journey because your life displays the glory of God.

Tonight, as we exchange these words and this diploma something ends.
The future holds so much mystery.
None of us know exactly what’s ahead, but you do not journey alone. Your God will never leave you and your dad and I will be on the sidelines watching your story unfold, cheering you on.
In the sage words of CS Lewis, in one of our all time favorite read alouds, the Chronicles of Narnia,
“Have courage, dear heart.”

And let new adventures begin.fullsizeoutput_9c47

The festivities ended with a donut reception and the next morning’s new adventures included a job interview, because that’s real life, right?

The author of Ecclesiastes, who mostly sounds like a distant relative of Eeyore, says: There’s a time for everything—
Living and dying,
Working and playing,
Laughing and crying,
Dancing and grieving,
Sowing and reaping,
Demolishing and reconstructing,
Speaking and being quiet,
Starting and finishing….

That’s what’s happening now.
Finishing = High School/College.
Starting = Adulthood/Career.
And so, Robyn and Lily, your diplomas and degrees are awesome but your status as daughters of the King, well, there’s no match for that door of opportunity.
And in everything- past, present and future– God’s mercies just keep showing up, fresh and new in the lives  of his children. Every. Single. Day.
Enough.
Excessive even.
And that’s the real cause for celebration.
IMG_5089

On Being a Mom

DSCF3883That frigid, cold, dumpin’-down snow, January morning—the one where I stood in the checkout line at Meijer with a prescription,
The one where I found that I’d forgotten my money when I unzipped my wallet, and Selma, the cashier, loaned me the $5 copay to complete my purchase,
That was my starting block for being a mom.
I’d wanted to be a mom for a couple of years.
Tried.
But every month my dreams got slapped in the face. And I went to the floral section of my local home improvement store and bought myself another African Violet for comfort. I had a long line of violets on my sofa table, stones on my altar of lament to the Lord.
Exactly 2 weeks later, I took a pregnancy test and the line turned pink. I kid you not. That test is in a zip lock bag in my hope chest today.
My husband and I went out for a celebratory dinner and then to a bookstore to buy a baby name book because, finally, I was a mommy and he was a daddy and all our dreams were coming true.DSCF7085

Sometimes dreams look distinctly different in the imagination that they are in reality. At first, you think labor pains are bad.  Oh sister, those birth pains, they are only momentary and fleeting. There’s no turning back after that and the real gritty truth of motherhood is it’s dog hard. Way harder than my idyllic, little self imagined. I signed up for this. The blowouts, the roll of toilet paper thrown into the poopy toilet, the permanent marker masterpieces on walls, the tantrums in the grocery stores, the dishes that never end, the laundry pile that’s never folded, the tattling, the bleeding owies, the fevers, the sleep shortages, the adult conversation deprivation and the perpetual mess.  I admit, I thought that part was challenging. Bless my dear, naive, sweet soul. The stakes only get higher. I promise you. And those “I love you mommy. You’re the best.” stick picture drawings, they’re time-limited editions.
The truth is that this job, it’s worn me out.
This job, it’s broken my heart.
This  job, it’s caused me to question my sanity.
This job, it’s made me feel like a wholesale failure.

And one day, every single one of your kids grows up enough to eventually realize that you are a piece of work. Mama friends, your soul holes, your missteps, your sin tendencies, your blind spots, they all get exposed and if you’ve made space for your kids to struggle authentically, it can get messy. They’ll tell you about the ways your sincere but broken love has hurt them rather than blessed them and even though they bring their own  misperceptions and immaturity to the table, you’ll recognize yourself in some of their critiques. You gave everything to do good in their lives, but seemingly it hasn’t been good enough. That’s when Satan pounces, labelling your mothering REJECT and FAILURE. More days than I can count, I’ve been tempted to pull the covers over my head and quit giving it my best because does it really matter anyway? Do I really matter anyway? Does my love really matter anyway? Those are the questions I ask on the rainy days of my soul. And those are the days I must remind myself of Jesus’ excruciatingly painful death for the sake of His kiddos–His oblivious, self-focused, ungrateful, unreciprocating children, of which I am one. And in my lowest moments, I have a comforter who understands my pain. I have a God who I can cry out to with all of the raw, uncensored, lamenting complaints buried in the most insecure cracks and crevices of my heart. Heck, he’ll even take my groans when I can’t string the words together. He knows what it’s like to be a parent and he is not going to abandon me on this journey. And because of His example, I won’t quit either.

And here’s another truth. There’s not 1 second, of 1 minute of one day of one month of one year in all of the 25 since that blustery January morning in 1994 that I would ever have traded mothering the four girls God gifted me with. Here’s why.
Because as much as the hard is SO hard and the heartbreak is SO heartbreaking and the stress is SO stressful,
The joy is SO joyful and the delight is SO delightful, the beauty is SO beautiful, the good is SO great, and the love is all the way to the to the farthest constellation and back._DSC0421 copy

I’ve been scrolling through my iphoto archives lately. With two graduates this month, I’m swimming in nostalgia.
So many shared memories…
So many holy moments…
So many stories written together…
and lots of them are good,
and all of them are ours.Isabelle & Websters r

A few years, the girls pampered me with an at home spa treatment on Mother’s Day. The deluxe package—a face mask, a foot massage, and a complete manicure and pedicure. Afterwards, I looked good.
This is not one of those years— no spa treatment and I don’t look very good either. So, what do I want this Mother’s Day, one of them wonders.
Probably the same thing many mothers want.
Time.
To Talk.
Together.
To know my love has mattered to them.
And that they love me back.IMG_6207

We cuddled up on the couch in front of the computer, where  we facetimed the one in Africa, and reminisced. Dragged up a bunch of treasures from command central.

“Remember the night the police knocked on our door. Daddy opened it. Mommy held baby Starla, with the rest of us peeking around her legs at those scary uniformed men?” We’d been playing pretend. “Is everything OK here?” the officer asked. “A call came in to 911 from your address and on the other end of the line the dispatcher heard moaning and groaning, like someone was hurt.” That was the night we’d been playing obstetrician and delivering mama’s baby. I guess we didn’t realize she was laying on our cordless phone, and during one of her contractions, her elbow hit the emergency number.”_mg_3895

“What about the time mama took me on an overnight trip to that fancy bed and breakfast to talk about growing up and sex. We sat in the back yard hot tub for hours and then both got fungal rashes the next day. That was so disgusting!”DSCF8700

“Guys, we’ll never forget when our alternator died on our trip to Florida. We spent the night in our cold van right across the street from an adult bookstore with its neon purple sign flashing all night X-rated. Then, the next morning, we went to trucker’s chapel in the back of an old semi in the gas station parking lot.”mother's day

You just can’t make this stuff up.

There were moonlit swims at the neighborhood pool, home grown circuses, heavenly angel programs at the assisted living center on Christmas mornings. And we can’t forget the entrepreneurial  endeavors like Websters’ Full Cakes, custom order cookie baking,  doggie poop clean up service, Gospel Mission Global Ministries, co-authorship of a devotional about heroes of the faith and Digital Designs by Angela. We recalled beach days and coffee dates, story times and after dinner hymn sings, a liturgical funeral for the family dog, Taylor Swift sing alongs and long conversations late into the night.mg_6321

After remembering, we gave the day a wrap by praying for each other– the jobs, the friends, the relationships, the transitions…
And I got a triple portion of prayer because I’m a real fixer-upper.

This vocation, this calling, this privilege, this responsibility, it’s amazing.
There’s no other name more precious than Mommy, Mama, Mommers or Mom.
And there’s no other legacy more worthy of investing our lives in._MG_2539

Here’s the ultimate truth, mamas.
Getting up every morning without giving up, it matters.
And those beautiful lives your kids are living, the confidence to live them was inspired by your support.
Your sacrifices resulted in their opportunities to thrive.
The lavish love you modeled for them, they’re passing it on to others.
So, even if your kids aren’t telling you, you have to tell yourself.
Your life matters. Your love matters.
And don’t take my word for it, gaze into the smile of Jesus today.
Yeah, mama, He’s directing it at you.
And me too.
Hear him say it.
“Thanks for being faithful.”
“Thanks for persevering.”
“Well done.”
And that, my friends, is the final word on your mothering.DSC_0962

Random Acts of Kindness

Livin’ Large in Texas. I reserved the “Manager’s Special” rental car for my business trip and when the customer service rep handed me my contract and pointed toward a Dodge Ram Hemi 1500 double cab, I was like, “Woe…. this is a first.”

It’s springtime in Dallas, the most wonderful time of the year, if my opinion matters. I’ve been back twice in the last month. Both times it’s been lush and green, temps in the mid 70’s. Four weeks ago, the wisteria hung heavy on the vine and the bluebonnets were just peeking out to say hello. Today, the bush roses are blooming and tropical succulents with long, flowering stalks line the median on 75 heading into downtown. It’s eerie strange, this feeling I have driving around with a bird’s eye view behind the wheel of that monster machine. The traffic here always grates on my nerves. Brings out my ugly. But I’m also feeling sentimental, even slightly nostalgic.

I’m thinking about all of the new mercies already today and it’s only 7:15 in the morning–the fresh mercies every day and year that my story’s been written in Dallas. I’m thinking about all of the people who’ve turned my frown upside down with their random acts of kindness.  And not just here, actually, but everywhere God’s written my story.

Right at the top of the list are Randy and Jan, our old Sachse neighbors, well…. sort of neighbors. We lived almost a mile apart but since everything’s so big in Texas, I think you can call people who live a mile away neighbors. These guys specialize in hospitality. I slept cozy in their extra room just last night like I do every time I make a whirlwind trip back. Brian, their place is his second home when he’s teaching live. Not only do they house him and feed him, they make him feel like family when his is exactly 917 miles away.

As I drive past my old bank, I think about my favorite teller ever, Ibrahim. I’ll never forget the morning I went to the drive through window that first lonely year after our move down South. He grinned big at me and extended a warm personal greeting even before I gave him my ID. “Hi Hope.” Those were his words and they made me cry.  EVERY SINGLE TIME after that, for 13 years,  he called me by name. I hear him with his international accent in my head right now and catch myself smiling at the thought.

I glanced out the passengers side window a few minutes ago, right where my absolute favorite pictures in the history of ever were taken. Angela had just turned officially teenager. Lily wore her first pair of glasses. Robyn’s adult teeth were coming in with a mind of their own and Starla was all baby-girl. My multi-talented, nurse/professional photographer, friend, Danielle, phoned me one Sunday afternoon. “Hey Hope. It’s a beautiful day and the bluebonnets are stunning. Just for the heck of it, I’d love to do a photo shoot with some pretty girls. How about yours?” Well, that day still lives on, framed and centered on my feature wall.  Thanks, Danielle.wall photo 27 copysisters 15

As gratitude multiplies, I think further back into the archives, January 1994 to be exact. Back in the olden days, Meijer didn’t take credit cards. Seriously. It was the kind of day you picture when you say the word Winter. Super cold. Very snowy. And I was running late for work. I had to pick up a prescription—a very important and time sensitive prescription. When the cashier with the nametag, Selma, asked for my $5 copay, I found my wallet entirely empty. I’d forgotten to grab cash. The look on my face must have been more pitiful than a Bassett Hound because she said to me. “Honey, don’t you worry about it. I’ve got $5 right here. You just pay me back some other day when you’re shopping again.” Well, 3 weeks later, our pregnancy test read positive, thanks be to God and that prescription Selma loaned me the money for. After that, I never went through anybody else’s check out lane except Selmas and she and I, we were buds.

And the Meijer stories, they never end…. My love for Meijer is weird. There’s a guy who works at the Plainfield Ave. store who I fondly refer to as Perpetually Perky Bruce. I don’t know how many hundreds of times he’s called out to me and everyone else in the parking lot in THE MOST cheerful tone of voice ever, while corralling carts in the most miserable weather, ”Have a good day!” Listen, if Bruce can have a good day under the circumstance, so can I. During the polar vortex a few months ago, I asked him, “How long have you been working here?”
“30 years and lovin’ it,” he responded.
Just saying, that kind of attitude inspires me.

Then there was Shirley, we go back even further than 1994. She and I got matched as mentoring partners right after Brian and I bought our first house. Shirley beamed with pride over her extraordinary flower garden. My experience growing things was limited to keeping a couple of houseplants barely alive. Shirley’s mission was to convince me that I wanted to be a master gardener too, so one spring day she invited me out to her house, walked me around her garden describing each plant as personally as if it might be her child. She asked me which ones I liked best and then she started chopping right through the middle, dividing the plants in two and digging up ½ for me. We took them back to my house and helped me tuck them tenderly into my own yard. And that was the beautiful beginning of a hobby that’s both delighted me for 25 years and provided the cheapest therapy ever.

Fast forward to this very week and Mary comes to mind.  Mary works days at our local Chick Fil A. Every company needs a Mary. This lady, she speaks so kindly and smiles so authentically that you wish she could be your best friend. I wouldn’t call myself a regular, at least not as regular as I wish I was, but I do get Robyn a breakfast burrito there at least once a month after her physical therapy sessions and Mary always takes our order. This time, after I ordered the food, she said, “Your name’s Hope, right?” I think my jaw about dropped to the floor. How many hundreds, no thousands of customers does Mary serve in the course of any given week and she remembered me. “How do you remember my name?” I asked. “Well, I can’t always remember everyone but when I pray, I ask God to help me remember people’s names,” she replied. When I grow up, I wanna be Mary.

I’m back to the airport now and you know the song that’s on loop in my head? It’s sacrilegiously playing like background music to my grateful holy moments. Yup, it’s Taylor Swift singing Picture to Burn. It’s on one of my kid’s Spotify break-up playlists. Another one sings it like a fan girl on those rare, random, late nights when she’s both overly tired and in a good mood.
“I hate that stupid old pick up truck you never let me drive……”
Honestly, it doesn’t even fit because I am driving a truck and it’s neither stupid or old.
I guess my repertoire for songs about trucks is pretty limited.
Whatever.
Bottom line is that Life is Good and I am Blessed. I’m heading back to Michigan, first stop Chicago, then a puddle jump across my lake and landing where I love best—HOME sweet home.

Sometimes, there’s no other way than through it: Holy Week Reflections

Holy Week is over. Yesterday, I cleaned my local Walgreen’s out of all their remaining Russell Stover coconut nests. On clearance, mind you, at .39 a piece. And in the post sugar rush, I’m reflecting back on the holiday and my own spiritual journey through it.

Our church reenacts Jesus story of relentless love every year. I sat in on the dress rehearsal watching my girls participate in the Easter Drama last Wednesday. Truth is, I needed my attention to be redirected away from home renovations. As is our custom, at all the most inopportune times, we’ve been burning the midnight oil for days now painting and re-carpeting our house. Honestly, I was so tired during the show, at one point, I dozed off in the middle of the Last Supper. I woke up just as Jesus and his besties were entering the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus scoping out a quiet place to pray. Knowing He needed to connect with his Father to garner strength to face the cross, he asked his buds, “Will you be with me in this?” (That’s my paraphrase.) Not that they could really do anything to change anything but even Jesus wanted to know that some other fleshy, warm blooded ally was sitting vigil too. None of us want to suffer alone. I get that.IMG_4531

Most church-going people know what happened next. In all of the artistic renderings of the scene, Jesus leans against a rock lamenting. The dread and fear register off the charts such that Jesus physically sweats blood. It’s a thing, really. The medical term that describes the symptom is hematohidrosis. It happens when individuals suffer from an extreme level of stress that causes their blood vessels to dilate and rupture seeping into the sweat glands. Meanwhile, his buddies are painted into the background peacefully sawing logs.

Next comes Good Friday–at least that’s what everybody calls it, though frankly, I can’t identify anything about death by crucifixion that’s remotely Good. When you fast forward 72 hours, it all turns out great for us but jumping ahead to the happy ending before sitting long and deep in the events of Maundy Thursday and Holy Friday feels dismissive to Jesus suffering, disrespectful to His agony and devaluing to His personal cost.Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 12.14.00 AM

This year, I found myself rehearsing the Gethsemane scene on loop. It’s like I heard Jesus saying to me,
“Hey, Hope, would you sit with me in my suffering?”
“Will you reflect on why I suffered?”
“Could I reveal to you my personal love?”
He didn’t demand or threaten.
He didn’t guilt trip.
It was just that still small voice inviting me to watch and pray.
So, I decided to do what I always do when I need an up-close and personal meeting with God, I go to the beach.
Maybe one of the reasons I never felt truly at home in Dallas is because I couldn’t meet up with Jesus at Lake Michigan.
Sunday afternoon was sweet. Sweatshirt weather.

I walked south into the cool breeze, barely beyond the reach of the gently lapping waves, wondering what it would have felt like to walk in Jesus sandals.
There was the betrayal–Judas.
Getting “ditched”, as Starla calls it– Peter.
The false accusations– the Pharisees and Saducees.
The injustice– Herod and Pilate.
The humiliation– the soldiers.
Mocking– the crowd.
And the physical pain…. Hands and feet nailed to a cross.
I got my finger slammed in the car door once. It wasn’t nearly as bad as childbirth but it kept me up all night from the throbbing.
And not being able to breathe.
Closest thing I’ve felt to being winded is when I get panic attacks or go jogging.
And even though He technically could’ve changed the situation, the mysterious paradox of the Christian faith is that he also couldn’t.
It’s like having to deliver a stillborn baby or facing chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
There’s no other way than through it.

After what seemed like walking halfway to Grand Haven from Hoffmaster Park, I told Jesus,
“I’m so grateful for what you’ve done for me– but I know it’s not grateful enough.”
“I really love you– but honestly, I don’t love you the way you deserve to be loved.”
Truth is, I’m caught in the now and the not yet. It’s as if I’m peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday I’m going to see him in his completeness, face-to-face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now. (A loose paraphrase of 1 Cor. 13:12)

And here was His gentle response, right there on the beach.
“Thank you for being with me today, for sitting in my story and holding it with care.”

You know, we call God, in all of His Trinitarian forms, our Father, our Brother, our Bridegroom. Point is, when we’re His, He’s family. We’re family. And oftentimes we take family for granted. I throw up my popcorn prayers to God like He’s the penny pony at Meijer—put in a cent and get a ride. Honestly, more than I’d like to admit, my default is to connect by asking Him for a bunch of things or telling him a bunch of things or expecting Him to help me with a bunch of things while totally missing the blessed relational reciprocity that comes from listening to and learning from His story too.IMG_0069
This Easter Sunday, I listened.
And I heard it from the shore birds flying overhead, “My love is high.”
And as I squinted toward the horizon where sky and water meet, He whispered, “My love is wide.”
As far ahead as my eye could see, it was only sand and clusters of beach grass hemmed in between water and still mostly naked trees. I picked up a dried out stalk and wrote it on the beach, “My love is long.”
And the waves, something like a belly laugh, from the bottom of the sea sang the song of the “deep, deep love of Jesus”.
Sometimes, there’s not a conclusion to a story. There’s just sitting quiet in a holy moment and whispering “Thanks be to God.”

 

It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” so says Dickens. I wonder if he penned these words staring down his 50thbirthday. I approached mine less eloquently, like a tantruming 2 year old struggling to manage a storm of emotions and not exactly sure why, except that the arbitrary number in the next tens column  was staring me down. I’m now 2 ½ years in and sorting out the truth and lies I’ve believed about aging.
It’s true. The mirror gets more adversarial everyday. Everything just keeps getting wrinklier.
And saggier.
And gnarlier.
And wirier.
And thicker.
And achier.
It’s a full scale assault on my vanity.
But, a more mature friend confided a few years back that her 50’s were her favorite decade and I’m starting to understand why. Family demands are different now. My kids cut their own meat, cook their own food and do their own laundry. Most of them drive themselves where they need to go and one of my kids even lives on the different continent than I do. While I’m tempted to romanticize the “good old days” when I was changing diapers and picking up a playroom perpetually, the reality is that I’m in a stage of life that creates space for me to explore new opportunities and expand my circle of influence. And, I’m not as much of a hot mess as I used to be anymore either thanks to menopause. While there’s still a rare volcanic eruption, mostly my emotional magma flows under the surface with an overflow occasionally slipping through a fissure down my cheeks. The combination of experience and depth and maturity produces fertile ground for soul work. I’m assessing my motives more, processing core needs, dealing with insecurities, recognizing when I manipulate for acceptance and love. Both in my inner world and the part everybody sees, I’m seizing the days because they are ticking closer to eternity and I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the best part of aging is moving closer to sharing an address with Jesus.

I haven’t always felt this way. Like eating pecan pie, anticipation for heaven has been an acquired taste. I’ve just consumed what may be the most transformationally significant read in my 50’s. It’s Francis and Lisa Chan’s, You and Me Forever.   One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp most profoundly shaped my 40’s. Ann’s words mentored me toward a habit of gratitude and over time, that reshaped my spiritual journey. While the Chan’s book is technically considered a marriage resource, I’d agree with an Amazon reviewer who says it’s “a manifesto of daily discipleship in light of eternity.” It focuses the reader’s attention on participating in God’s mission and stewarding this life as an investment in the next one. No good works gospel here. Our eternal habitation isn’t in question if we’ve received the gift of God’s forgiveness and mercy. It’s just that when we tether the Word of God with holy imagination, and true worship with a passion for imaging the heart of God to a hurting world, it rearranges our priorities so that nothing is more vital to us at the end of this temporary life with this temporary marriage and this temporary family than how we devoted ourselves to showcasing God’s love through our time, talents, and treasures.IMG_3929

So, today, I’m walking and jogging at the indoor track at Cornerstone University, my alma mater. This is where the dirt of adulthood first got under my fingernails. Here is where God started to transform me from an anxious teenager riddled with fears and anxieties into a functionally competent adult. In this place, I earned an educational degree, found a husband and gained a lifelong friend. God brought me back here a handful of years later as a faculty spouse and I paid forward the hospitality and love I received as a student until we moved away again. Even after relocating to the southwest, we migrated back to Grand Rapids every summer and lived in campus housing. Our kids made memories here chasing Canada geese on their bikes, tracking a killdeer’s nest in the grass and frequenting the children’s section of the university library. And 13 years after a moving truck hauled all our earthly possessions down south, we brought them back home to Grand Rapids and our two middles enrolled in classes at this university making me a CU mom. This place, it’s holy ground for me.

And so, I come here 3-4 times a week to wrestle in prayer and jog with Jesus. This is where I fight for gratitude, true humility and my identity in Christ. This is where I vent and plead and lament. This is where I talk and listen. God hears it all as I circle the laps practicing the spiritual discipline of prayerIMG_3918

IMG_3915Then, I jog. Honestly, I look ridiculous next to all those buff 20-something athletes who whizz by me on the track, but I’ve matured enough to squelch the shame and substitute it with gratitude instead. Here I am at 52 and God and I, we’re jogging buddies. He’s happy to go my pace and He enjoys us being together. It’s like we each get an ear bud and set our pace to my current favorite exercise tune, This is Living, by Hillsong. The beat’s perfect, the message inspires and I set it on auto loop.

I’m training and on the alert for whatever Jesus has for me next.
And I’m excited for it.
Shocker. Maybe his plans will even include a 5K race.
Here’s the thing, we’re all in process. None of us are going to be who we’re going to be at 20 or 30 or even 40 and I like to think there’s still plenty of metamorphosis ahead at 52. While there are some ways I’m very similar to who I was back in my teeny-bopper days, in others, I’m hardly recognizable. And there’s zero percent chance I could have ever predicted how I’d live out my journey from there to here.

Our stories unfold a chapter at a time, just as they ought to. I muse about my own daughters. Beautiful as they are—mind, body and soul- they are not yet who they will be either.  They have so much still to grasp about the length and width and depth and height of the love of Christ, so much grace to give and receive, so much healing to experience, so much story yet to be written and this life is just the prequel. Like diamonds in the rough, their facets are being chiseled, every part cut in proportion to the others so the light will pass through and sparkle brilliantly.

In this marathon of life, God coaches us on how the race looks through the lens of eternity. Hebrews 12 tells us:

….since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us,  keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.

And so we live Hebrews 12 mile after mile until we run across the finish line and hear the words of our Father calling victory:
“Well done, good and faithful servant….Come and share in my happiness.” (Matt. 25: 21-23)
And that’s going to be a really good day!

Human Dignity and Love

Just a few weeks ago, before the snow dump which morphed into a polar vortex and encored with a double ice storm leaving a whole bunch of people, including us, with no electricity, heat, or running water for 36 hours, there were two dates smashed up next to each other on the calendar both focused on human dignity.

The third Sunday in January, our pastor affirmed the sanctity of the tiniest lives, the unborn people being knit together in their mothers’ wombs and the next day my mailbox sat empty, the stock market went quiet and public offices closed their doors to commemorate the sacrifice of MLK Jr. and the dignity of all the black skinned image bearers of our Creator who share the same inalienable rights as every other epidermal variation. Truth is, each person representing every race, age, demographic and sexual orientation is stamped by God as innately valuable and deeply loved.fullsizeoutput_9bb3

Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 10.54.24 PMAs I tidied up my Mac book desktop this wintry night, I uncovered some rough scratchings I’d typed up about hazing and its presence on my daughter’s college campus. The story is old news now, dating back to spring of 2016. Since then, several football players pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and a confidential settlement with the victim has been negotiated following a legal action against Wheaton College and select students. I’m chewing the cud belatedly and redigesting God’s pronouncement of worth on humankind and the struggle to steward that gift responsibly. So, here goes my conglomeration of jotted down thoughts on the topic spanning Fall 2017-Winter 2019.

….As a Wheaton College mom to a recent graduate, I’ll admit it, I’m tired. Tired of the negative national news coverage, tired of misinformation and propaganda. I’m tired of media attacks on evangelicalism. Just do a google search of Wheaton College scandals and it feels a little like reading Frank Peretti’s novel, “This Present Darkness.” There’s no doubt in my mind that spiritual warfare is wrecking havoc at Wheaton College.

We sent our kid there because that’s where God led her. No doubt about it. We looked at a dozen other schools but it was Wheaton she connected with even before her first campus visit. She’d read dozens of missionary stories as a girl, including Jim Elliot’s published journal. She’d reasoned that if Wheaton College was good enough for her hero of the faith, that made it good enough for her too.angela wheaton copy

The day she got her scholarship award in the mail, we literally jumped up and down for joy. My husband and I, we saved and scrimped. She worked. God even provided, ironically, one summer  through a seasonal waitress-bartending job and she’s a teetotaler. Go figure.

Over the next 3.5 years, she embraced her adventure, taking classes with some amazing professors, knowledgeable, caring, gifted people who invested in her life. And she forged incredible friendships that have gone the distance. She owned her faith and metamorphized into an autonomous adult. All of the boxes checked.IMG_0149

IMG_0348Though I’m grateful for Wheaton College, I admit that I often scratch my head bewilderedly. You see, Wheaton stands front and center on the firing line of secular society because of its prominence as one of the most respected christian higher education institutions in the country. It’s an easy target for shooting practice on political and social hot buttons and this particular scandal plastered across newsfeeds accusing a handful of football players of kidnapping a student, assaulting him then dumping him half naked in a local park, it’s an easy feeding frenzy.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-wheaton-college-hazing-lawsuit-20180315-story.html
https://www.christianpost.com/news/wheaton-college-football-players-plead-guilty-avoid-felonies-in-hazing-scandal.html

Many universities including Wheaton have initiation traditions, annually repeated activities that are attached to the school’s culture and community. My daughter says that they’re meant to be crazy and strange and fun and “everybody’s generally cool with them”; however, when “fun” morphs into insensitive, derogatory, humiliating words and actions, it earns the label “bullying” and “hazing”  instead. And neither of these is OK, especially for Christ followers.

The Wheaton students I’ve known are over achievers, academically excellent, careful thinkers, community servants who aren’t inclined to live on the wild side; however, football players everywhere are notoriously stereotyped as conceited jocks who think they’re too cool for rules and unfortunately, these particular Wheaton guys have given that image some traction.

Here’s the thing, truth is we’ve all made some pointlessly impulsive and insensitive choices we’re not proud of after the fact, decisions that demeaned and devalued others. Research indicates that especially for males, the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until post-college age. Even after that, maturing is a lifelong journey for all of us. It’s our tendency to sweep our foolishness under the rug or ignore its impact, though sometimes our better self compel us to apologize.  But what if the consequences for our choices result in justly deserved disciplinary action and if we end up committing a crime, there’s no easy out? While our legal system may do its job painfully slowly, due process runs its course eventually. And so, these guys are going to have to pay for their folly, big time.

In addition to community service and an 8-10 page paper, they lost time on the field,  ended up with a criminal record and a hefty $50K pay off to the victim in a civil suit. I’m guessing that all of those big, burly dudes wake up many mornings a few years later tempted to cry like babies because the consequences of their dumb prank stink. And while I might be tempted to sit piously in judgement of sports jocks, I find myself ruminating on the ways I’ve trashed the canvas of God’s image in others too. Sometimes intentionally, but usually more subtly, thoughtlessly even.

I hang up on a telemarketer,
Or unleash my frustration on a customer service representative after I’ve been on hold,
I speak derogatory words about the driver who cut me off,
And look away from a homeless person holding a sign at a traffic light,
I diminish a person’s reputation with gossip,
Or roll my eyes at my husband because he annoys me,
And too often, I devalue my daughter’s contributions to a conversation by interrupting and half-hearted attention.
I, too, am a perpetrator of harm and that realization leaves me with an ache–  a bit like the one I’m guessing those Wheaton guys wake up with every morning.

But I’m not just a perpetrator. Sometimes I end up on the receiving end of others relational recklessness too. I could generate a laundry list of ways my personhood has been devalued and so could you. Honestly, that’s a gnawing pang too.

I wonder how God manages all this human brokenness?  It’s entirely contrary to His original design. While the apex of His creation just keeps attacking each other’s human dignity, how does He meet out compassion and love, justice and mercy faithfully day after month after year? Honestly, I can’t even wrap my mind around it. But somehow, His fresh mercies just keep looping every new morning, always enough. And right here in the middle of our mess he declares,
“I love you.”
“Mistakes and all.”
“Failures and all.”
“I’m right here with you as you experience the guilt, the shame, and the consequences of mistreating others.”
“And I’ll walk with you through the pain of being roughed up too.”

It’s almost Valentine’s Day now, our official holiday celebrating love. We’ll give each other chocolate and cards and kisses. And that’ll feel nice for about a minute… until we hurt each other again. And as we sit in the aftermath of our disillusionment, here are the Words we will need to hear.

This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.      I John 4:10

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 12.14.00 AMThe most lavish expression of human dignity is this:  That God valued us so much, He gave our punishment to His son in order to bridge the relational gap between our sin and His holiness. That’s how worth it we are to Him. So, if you’re looking for an example to follow on how to treat others, look no further than Jesus and pay it forward.

 

Dear Joshua Harris,

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 3.17.02 PMDear Josh Harris,
I recently watched your documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in which you described the process whereby you decided to withdraw your book from the publishing market.
You look different than you did 20+ years ago when you crafted a treatise about courtship, marriage and sex.
A bit more weathered, a lot less hair.
Life does that. Grappling long and hard with deep truths over time, it leaves us with tangible evidence that we’re getting older.
I think you were 21 when you wrote your book. Since then, you got married,  lost your dear mother to cancer, shepherded a large community of believers, raised kids, made an international move and who knows what else. …
That’s a lot of miles on the proverbial car.
And the road trip of life has a tendency to expand not just our view of the world but also our self-understanding. And, that challenges us to reconsider, well, lots of things….I’ve been doing it too.

I’m a mom of 4 daughters, 3 grown now. If you asked them what my cardinal virtue for choosing a life partner is (after aligning themselves with another Christ follower), hands down they’d all tell you the same answer.
“Find someone teachable.”
In my “book”, there’s no more crucial quality to assess in a candidate for husband.
A teachable man listens well, owns sin, leads in repentance and sets the tone for the entire family by his authenticity and humility.
I see that posture in you. Thank you, Josh, for your excellent example.

I guess I feel an affinity to you. Your family was an iconic example of successful homeschooling back in the day and us homeschoolers, we stick together.
Christian homeschooling parents, like all humans, make choices with mixed motives but generally speaking, our intentions are to help our kids thrive according to God’s design and to shepherd that process in an environment that also provides an extra layer of protection from harm and regret. We tend to be the high achieving, worrying types. I’d love to see a psychological study on homeschooling moms. I bet they’d find us to be off the chart Enneagram 6’s. People who are always threat forecasting, wired to love by protecting.

Maybe that was part of the appeal of your book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Enneagram 6’s want to be proactive guardians for our loved ones and your premises felt like a safeguard from hurt and a free pass to relational utopia for our children. Like a means to an end.

Truth is, I owe  you an apology as well.
I failed as a parent to discern responsibly when I read your book. You were obviously a smart guy, a good kid, a sincere young man when you authored I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but you did not yet have enough life experience to pass along expert widsom on relationships or sexuality. Marriage is complex. Anyone who’s graduated out of the newlywed stage ought to have realized that human brokenness rarely fits perfectly in a neatly wrapped package.
I gave your words more weight than I should have and I’m sorry.

I also want to apologize to my kids, especially my oldest.  In God’s sovereignty, He made her the guinea pig of the family. Ultimately, the undesireable effects of being the test-trial case will only be salved by Jesus but I want her to know– all of them to know -that I realize that my training on relationships and sexuality has not been as life giving as the shepherding that I had in my heart to offer.
Sexuality was presented more like a mathematical formula and less like mystery.
Purity got shortchanged into a pass or fail grade rather than a journey of walking with Jesus in daily dependence. Allowing Him to transform your thoughts, desires and actions increasingly and over time into His own image.
Relational risk factors were elevated while potential relational learning was undervalued.
Guys lost their three dimensionality and my girls ended up afraid of them.
We didn’t make space for the impact of sexual harm on children, like it wouldn’t be a thing for our kids if we just did everything else “right” and that was naieve.
But, the truth is, that God can be trusted with our hurts, disappointments and failures personally and in the context of relationships. That’s where He does His best redemptive work no matter how messy it’s been or gets._DSC0421 copy

Secondly, I apology to my kids because they have not seen a blueprint for marriage in our example.
I, personally, have struggled to turn the other cheek.
To forgive lavishly. Repeatedly.
To be slow to anger.
To guard my tongue.
To choose kindness.
And patience.
To be generous with my affection.
They already know this but it deserves repeating anyway, actions speak louder than words and a model of a mutually life giving marriage is far more valuable than quibbling about courting versus dating, kissing or waiting.

Toward the end of your documentary, you say this:

“When I first started this journey, I think I was looking for a simple answer. Was my book good or bad? Right or wrong? But I’ve come to realize that life isn’t that simple. I think that’s the mistake I made when I first wrote the book. I was looking for an easy, simple answer but life is full of contradictions.
My book hurt people. My book helped people and the tension with both of those things being true, I think reflects the  complexity of reality.
My thinking has changed since I wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I think that it’s premise is flawed. I don’t agree with a lot of my own book. But whether you agree with me today or you agree with what I wrote 20 years ago, I hope that you will think for yourself and I hope that you will engage with people who’s stories are different than yours, people who disagree with you. I hope you will take the time to listen to them. Listening to people has changed me.
I want to say to anyone who was hurt by my book that I’m so sorry. I know that’s coming too late. I know that doesn’t really change anything for you but I never meant to harm you and I hope that somehow me going back and evaluating all this and owning up to mistakes in my book will somehow help you on your journey. You know, I used to be so afraid of getting something wrong but I’m not afraid anymore. You can change your mind about things. You can make mistakes, and honestly there’s something really freeing about just saying “I was wrong.””

I resonate with that and would personalize it to my daughters like this:
Angela, Lily, Robyn and Starla,
When God made me your parent, I wanted to do things right so your life would be good and sweet. It was a short sighted objective. Now I know that parenting isn’t formulaic and life is full of paradox. As your mom, my training and influence especially about your sexuality have both harmed and blessed you. I’ve learned a lot about God and myself because He wrote you into my story.
Maturing is, in part, learning to admit when we’re wrong or misguided and having the courage to change our minds. I’ve valuded our dialogue and benefitted from listening to you. My opinions on all sorts of things have morphed and changed over time because God’s growing me up too. I’m sorry for the ways my sin has hurt you. I can’t take back the impact but I hope it helps to hear me own it._DSC0377 copy

I love the ending of the documentary. All of the participants together at a wedding banquet eating, drinking, talking and laughing together.

Here’s what my feast would look like. My husband, and daughters, and all of the other people God’s put in our lives to share the journey, we’d sit together around the table, and I’d borrow your concluding words as the blessing:

“The great narrative of the Bible starts with a couple who lose their way and cut themselves off from God but the story of God’s redeeming love ends with a wedding; but it’s not a wedding for people with no regrets, no hurts. It’s not about an individual man and woman who find perfect romance. It’s a wedding that symbolizing God bringing everyone home. Inviting us all to his table and making this possible by his sacrificial love.
None of us are good enough. None of us deserve it and yet we’re all invited. It’s a feast. A party for people who might have given up on themselves. Who’ve failed, and hurt themselves and others and yet somehow God fixes and renews what is broken.
There are no ghosts at the feast. No lingering regrets.
Only  a community of fully alive, fully human, fully redeemed men and women who are loved and healed and find their purity alone in Jesus.”

Peace and rest to you this advent season, Josh Harris.
Hope Webster

Grateful 2018

Happy Thanksgiving to Me.
It’s my favorite holiday of the year.
So simple—food, friendship and family all woven together with the fiber of gratitude to the One who’s given us every good gift. Fresh mercies each new day.

I’ve  loved our traditions, morphing with age and stage of our kiddos.
They’re all amongst my most beautiful family memories.
This year, we’re down one so there’s no family t-shirts or pictures to swap out for my Facebook cover photo but we’ll still take our gratitude walk, and feast on our turkey and pecan pie in good company.
And thanks to what’sapp, we’ll talk to the one missing at the table who’s far, far away.IMG_6333

My current, favorite musician, Ryan (from Sleeping at Last), just spread the joy of the holiday season with his new cover song, “When We’re Together”. I know it’s meant for Christmas but since Thanksgiving’s my holiday and the lyrics are perfect, please, humor me….

And to all you people in my video and the ones who aren’t but you’re my faves, thanks for being in our tribe, for enriching our lives with your presence. For making memories with us. For loving us and letting us love you back.
Grateful.

Thanksgiving 2018