Grateful 2019

Webster-Thanksgiving-02Leftovers are crammed in the refrigerator,
The dishwasher running its third load,
One by one, everybody’s heading to bed except for the one working all through the night at the hospital,
            And me– the night owl.

IMG_7823Our 1,000 piece puzzle lays on the coffee table fully assembled.
So many doors of opportunity today for
Teamwork
Cooperation
Flexibility
Hospitality
And most of all Gratitude.

We walked through them all together, by God’s grace.
It wasn’t just Starla’s exquisite napkin folding,
Or Robyn and Brennan’s braided challah bread,
Lily’s sweet potato casserole,
Angela’s tabouleh salad,
Grandma’s homemade stuffing,
Brian’s perfectly cooked turkey,
Or even the flawless whipped potatoes,
Not to mention the amazing homemade pecan pies.

IMG_3677I treasured the walk on the White Pine trail recounting the personal ways we experienced God’s fresh mercies all the days of the last year,
Reading Psalm 100 around the feast table in English, Arabic and Spanish,
Team charades,
A cozy fire,
And a re-run of our family classic, Love Comes Softly.

I guess the shirts say it all.
Thanks be to God.

This Is Us This Thanksgiving

IMG_6472Word of the street said I’d like NBC’s “This is Us”.
Season 1 is already buried 6 feet under the newest episodes but I’m a latecomer to all things television land. Seriously, we haven’t had TV channels at our house—ever- so if I watch something, it’s either got to be Amazon prime free, a DVD from the library or an occasional splurge on Redbox.

My kid thought I’d really connect with the relational grit of the show and my “almost kid” said his mom watched it so when clocks turned back an hour making bedtime feel like immediately after dinner, my winter hygge found the perfect vice.

I gotta be honest. So far, I have a love-hate relationship with the show and I’m only halfway through the first season. I feel myself getting attached to the characters even though it bothers me that the vibe feels kind of like a soap opera at night. Me, I have a boatload of baggage connected with daytime soaps.

When I was growing up, my mom’s TV viewing preferences can only be described as super selective.
No murder mysteries.
No violence or police drama.
Definitely no westerns.
And absolutely no night time romance dramas that might get racy.
The weird thing is that she rarely missed an episode of All My Children and General Hospital and I watched right alongside her. She’d jump up out of her comfy chair like a hot potato to stand in front of the television set during sex scenes, which happened about every 15 minutes. Honestly, now that I’m an adult, I wonder how anybody has as much time for sex in real life as the main characters in daytime television always seemed to have. Anyway, I guess my mom thought that if she told me it was wrong, according to the Bible, to have sex outside of marriage and gave me a visual cue that sex is bad by covering up the TV, she’d done her due diligence. Thing is, I must have seen hundreds if not thousands of the first few tantalizing seconds of a bedroom scene or just the tail end of a cuddling couple after their explosion of irresistible passion, people using each other to get a quick fix as modus operendi. It impacted my perceptions about what sex must be like and how it must feel. Negatively. And it wasn’t just the sex part of soaps that left an impression, the whole relational dynamic between characters can only be characterized at best as capital D dysfunctional. The communication strategies for dealing with conflict were a)contrived b)unrealistic and c)not healthy . Sadly, they provided a poor model of relating to my younger self.

So, when I say that some things about This is Us trigger my soap opera memories, that’s the back story explaining the “hate” part.

What I love about This is Us isn’t limited to the endearing characters I’ve started attaching to,  it’s the messy family story, the sincere but broken love between them, that draws me in. I really resonate with it.

Here’s the synopsis of the last couple of episodes I’ve watched. The family gathers from the four winds to celebrate Thanksgiving together, ready to repeat all of their unique, time-honored traditions. But when a bratty girlfriend accompanies an insecure adult son, a resented step father replaces a deceased dad, a long-lost, biological father with terminal cancer becomes a plus one next to the adopted kid and the obese grown up daughter announces her plans for bariatric surgery, things get, well, complicated… And here’s the most complex plot twist. Turns out that the matriarch of the story, the adoptive mom, Rebecca, actually knew who and where her son’s biological father was these past 36 years but withheld that information from him. And that is the spark that ignites a relational explosion around the Pearson family Thanksgiving dinner table.

At that moment in the show, it’s easy to judge the mom for dodging and hiding this life altering information from her curious child. But when you replay the flashbacks to her kids growing up years and take a few relaxing, deep breaths, I expect you’d also be able to spot a mama who offered her most lavish love, faithfully, over a lifetime to the 3 kids she raised, one poopy diaper, sack lunch, football game, dinner prep and laundry load at a time. You might observe a mama who proactively sought to resource each of her children according to their giftedness. You’d probably notice that she put her own aspirations on hold for the sake of nurturing her kids dreams. Maybe you’d detect how skillfully she balanced firm and gentle when navigating petty sibling squabbles and other constant drama. You might perceive her humility and teachable posture regarding raising a kid who’s race was different than hers. And you’d definitely see a woman who laughed even when she felt like crying.  A woman who offered her kids a healthy model of what it looks like for 2 married people to be on each other’s team.
That same mama, she also got afraid of losing what she loves most. Every mama’s been there. Mama love puts you right in the eye of fear’s storm and fear takes you places you don’t want to go and rarely end well. And at this point in the story, mama Rebecca finds her head on the relational chopping block as a result of responding out of fear.

It’s almost Thanksgiving in real.
This year, our family, we’ll all be together again, plus the one who’s soon to officially join the clan and the people we choose to call family even though technically, they aren’t.fullsizeoutput_b0f5

And we’ve got our own time honored traditions starting with the annual gratitude walk, including family pictures wearing our matching screen printed shirts. Then there’s a grateful jar on the coffee table, getting filled up with scribbled on pieces of paper listing random everyday blessings. We’ll read through them at our feast. We’ll eat Webster favorites like sweet potato soufflé, homemade stuffing and pecan pie with fancy folded cloth napkins followed by games, puzzles or a cozy fire and a family-friendly movie whose preview features our very own homemade music video, a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness to us since this time last year.

IMG_4837 2I wait for this day all year long because what could possibly be better that intentionally celebrating another year worth of fresh mercies while dining with the ones that God’s written into our story. When our better selves show up at the table, it’s a delight to watch the animated conversations, the dramatic facial expressions, to hear the sound of people talking over each other using lots and lots of words, telling stories, asking questions, hearing answers, all of it spilling out with a smattering of political ideology, some random theological musings and even a few corny puns.

Thing is, just like with the Pearsons, we’ll each bring our own personal and relational baggage to our table too.
Our insecurities and fears,
The roles we play with each other on autopilot,
Some misperceptions about the motives of the person sitting next to us,
A weird mixture of pride and shame,
And a few self-justified grudges for good measure.

Nobody feels how high the stakes are like mamas do. They’re profoundly aware that their whole, idyllic plan to seize the day can relationally unravel with a single tone, a condescending smirk, a particular expression. You know, the communication triggers everyone is hyper-attuned for, the ones that prompt some people to self-protectively shut down their hearts and provoke others to defensively attack. And unless God shows up at Thanksgiving, things’ll go south in a heartbeat.

The good news is that He will. The One who assigned us our families knew just who we needed to learn about love and commitment and forgiveness with and He’s going to be right there at our table cheering each of us on, challenging us to bring our honest self to dinner with humility, curiosity and a sincere desire to understand each other better.

So, mamas, resist fear because fear sabotages the impact of our best love.
Be realistic. Savor the moments and don’t expect them all to be picture perfect.
Choose to embrace your family’s unique brand of in-process, broken-beautiful.fullsizeoutput_7cff

And if your Thanksgiving holiday derails,
Thank God anyway because at least you a have a family to struggle with.
Lean hard on Jesus who extends compassion for your disappointment and a shoulder for you to cry on.
And eventually, pull yourself back up by the bootstraps and commit to try again next year.

Because, here’s the thing.
Family is the learning laboratory for incubating grace. And family loyalty never expires. And family never gives up on each other. Ever.
And besides that, tomorrow is a new day to start compiling new lists and taking new pictures and making new memories because in a blink of an eye, next year’s Thanksgiving will be the feature page on our calendars, another year of mercies fresh and new each morning.
Abundant.
Lavish.
Generous.
And always enough.

When Helping Hurts

IMG_1133Even with a fully developed frontal lobe, sometimes I can’t explain why I’ve done what I’ve done.
I have a friend who’s an addict. She drinks hard liquor. Mass consumption. And its impact on her life is as devastating as a spring tornado moving through Oklahoma.

She called me about 9:00 on a Thursday night.
“Could I get a ride to the store?,” she asked.
Not long before, she’d crashed her car under the influence so I knew she was minus a set of wheels and I’m a night owl anyway.
“Sure,” I replied. “Be there in 10 minutes.”

I’m softer than a stuffed Teddy and it gets me into trouble sometimes. This was one of those times….

I thought I had the information I needed, but I was wrong. I thought we’d agreed on a plan, but she was setting me up. I bought the bait and swallowed it hook, line and sinker. By the time I dropped her back off at her apartment, she had secured enough liquor to drink herself unconscious and I found myself taking a long look in the rearview mirror reflecting on my mistakes. Here’s what I saw through the lens of retrospect.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO PAY ATTENTION TO CLUES THAT SOMETHING IS AMISS.
I’m a tee tottler. The bottle’s caused so much devastation in my family tree, drinking’s a gamble I’m not willing to take. And since I don’t typically mingle alongside the inebriated, I’m somewhat naive, but it shouldn’t take a super sleuth to note these clues:
• An unusual request
• Uninhibited story telling
• Slow or slurred speech
• An unsteady gait
• Trouble buckling a seat belt
• Glassy Eyes
• Excessive Tears

SOMETIMES HELPING ACTUALLY HURTS. Compassion does not equal competence in complex psychological and physiological issues. related to addiction and mental health. Simplistic optimism can ultimately cause harm.

LOVE MUST BE TOUGH: Remember parenting toddlers? Their inhibitory control mehanisms are immature which results in high levels of chaos. They feel safest and healthiest with consistent, reliabile, boundaries. Same is true with addicts. While “love hopes all things” futuristically, love must also be realistic in the present, assume that patterns will likely repeat themselves with addiction and set up sound border protection.

IT TAKES A COMMUNICATING VILLAGE: The support team, which often consists of family members, close friends, counselors and justice system representatives, should be communicating. Protecting privacy is secondary to working together off the same playbook in order to provide consistent care.

ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES AND SOMETIMES THEY EFFECT INNOCENT PEOPLE. That fresh new bottle of hard liquor wrapped inside a paper bag was enough to drink herself into a oblivion or to put her at risk of going out on the road and crashing into an innocent person or family. Thankfully on my watch she did the prior, but last month, it was a car wreck minus a fatality.

I messed up big time and gave myself a well deserved proverbial spanking. Here’s the thing though, when we try to love and serve the people God puts in our lives, we’re bound to have some oopsies. The good news is that God can redeem anything, salvaging and repurposing it according to His will.

GOD CAN ACCOMPLISH GOOD EVEN AMIDST OUR MISTAKES.
• While I blew it, no one was injured.
• With her inhibitions compromised, I got to hear more of her story and that helps me to understanding her pain better.
• The Holy Spirit provided words, just as He promises and I spoke truth and love into her self-loathing like an oasis in the desert.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PRAYER: God loves, cares, hears, intervenes and responds. While prayer isn’t a mathematical equation and answers aren’t dispensed like a vending machine, I know that God can and does deliver us from any and every kind of bondage according to His will when we ask.

So, my text to her after I get home goes like this:
“The Lord is a very present help in trouble…. Know that I love you and I’m praying for you. And, I won’t ever resource you to buy alcohol again.”

When she gets past her hangover, she responds “Thank You”. And I know she’s grateful for all of it—the love, the prayer and the line in the sand.
The beautiful thing is that every day, on repeat, God offers you, me, her, His mercies. They’re never day old and you can’t preplan them in advance for tomorrow, but there’s plenty for today, fresh and new. Always enough.

The Confusing Journey of Family Love

*this post originally published on foreverymom on September 12, 2019

We were sitting in the chapel pew at the New Student Dedication Service when the college president spoke these words, “Parents”, followed by a pregnant pause, “today is a game changer.” And that’s when I started to cry.
I didn’t intend to.
My kid is a commuter, still coming home to her cozy bed every night. It’s just that the words he said were so shockingly true. I didn’t know it when I waved goodbye and drove away the first time, but now I do. Nothing’s ever been the same since.

We all do the best we can post-gamer changer day. My friends, the ones who launched their firsts just a few weeks ago, they’ve each wandered into the maze of the unknown with their own brands of courage.
I keep telling them that it’s OK to grieve…. and it is.
I assure them they’re going to make it through this…. and they will.
I say that they have sweet surprises to anticipate in the next chapter…. and they do.
I remind them that they have a future and a hope…. and it’s the truth.

But if I’m dead honest, this whole deal of navigating relationships with young adult children is hard. Dog hard.
It’s also painful, so stock up on band-aids because you’re going to get some owies.
And it’s super confusing too…
For everybody.

It’s confusing for young adult children who are trying to figure out their unique identity apart from their family.
It’s complicated to sort through the effects of their parents’ sincere but imperfect love.
And it’s disconcerting as they compare their family of origin to all the seemingly shiny, new relationships they establish.

It’s confusing for parents too…
It’s contradictory how we still pay bills but can’t secure information about charges due to privacy laws.
It’s baffling how we can’t imagine what it’s like to not miss our kid, to turn totally nostalgic every time we walk past the Meijer penny pony or cook their favorite meal then eat it with their seat at the table empty, and they don’t miss us back.
It’s jarring to have our merits as parents judged primarily by our perceived mistakes instead of our efforts, investments and sacrifices.
And most perplexing of all, is our son or daughter’s definition of dialogue. It’s important to them to feel heard and validated as they share their perspectives on their evolving convictions but as soon as we say anything they don’t want to hear, the conversation is derailed.

Growing Pains….
It’s right there, in the name…..
For them.
For us.
For me.

If I tell my friends the whole truth, I’d say I’m not sure you ever get over that severing from the detachment that feels like a never-ending second childbirth. If you do, I’m not there yet.
Just like them, I’m still leaning hard into the Father’s love to give definition to my worth, to give hope to my future, to stamp validation on my past and to reorient my calling to whatever He has for me next. And so, fellow-mama, all I know to do is the same thing I did yesterday, the same thing I will do tomorrow morning when my alarm starts playing Steffany Gretzinger’s Morning Song.
Get up.
Embrace His fresh mercies for a new day. Even the severe ones.
And say thank you, because all good gifts, past, present and future, come from the gracious hand of our loving Father who can be entrusted with all of this confusion.

On Being 52

It felt like turning a corner onto a dark, unmarked alley. Really, that’s how it was turning 50. But I had no choice. The sun just keeps circling the earth and it wouldn’t stop for me. That was 3 years ago. A few weeks ago, I flipped the page onto chapter 53 and chapter 52 turned out to be one of my favorites. As I’ve corralled the courage to seize the days, the days have invited me into the most delightful adventures.
My daughter, Angela, affixes pictures, postcards and other paraphernalia up in her room with an artsy flair, calling it her wall of happiness.
Mine’s a cyber-wall of gratitude instead, attached to year 52.
Here’s a sneak peek.

1) It started with that cute little wisteria plant Robyn’s boyfriend, Brennan, grew from a cutting and gifted me with these words “Happy Birthday, Hope”. A foreshadowing of a year of growth.
2) Our family vacation at the little red cottage on the lake with a jet ski. One of my favorite vacations in the history of ever.fullsizeoutput_90d9
3) Flying back to Dallas with Lily . Sometimes we’ll do just about anything to put another hug around a person’s neck when we know it might be our last.


4) ) My stash of cheap but somewhat trendy reading glasses. If I’ve got to be blind, might as well do it in style.
5) An international explore with Angela. Road tripping it to Canada, co-writing a blog post and getting lost in Algonquin National Park.IMG_1027
6) As is our family tradition on graduation year, I sewed Robyn’s t-shirt quilt and now she’s covered with love.IMG_7056
7) My California coast bucket list check off with Brian. A cooper mini convertible and 50 miles of hiking to commemorate 30 years of journeying alongside each other through life.


8) The new, modern-day Little Women. Every toxin in my body got wept out during that movie. The Christmas dinner scene. That is my family in our finest hour.
9) Safety for Robyn when she was rear ended. It was just a car and cars can be replaced.
10) A new AWD vehicle. No more parking at the bottom of the driveway all winter.
11) Hiking in Colorado with Starla. 4 days of Rocky Mountain highs and a sacred search for the best hot chocolate.


12) Connectivity with Angela while she was in Africa. My love runs deep for Whatsapp, Facetime, Instagram and Find Friends.


13) New flooring and other renovations, thanks to Brian. Hello vinyl plank, Goodbye mangy carpet.IMG_5691
14) Extras around the dinner table. I love setting one more place and 2 or 3 are even better.
15) Reconnecting with Seth. Sometimes God wraps up His gifts in the most unlikely packages–slippery roads, a car accident, a taco dinner, a warm cozy bed and an extra vehicle.
16) Sleeping at Last Enneagram Songs and Podcasts. Ryan O’Neal, he’s a musical genius and an all around great dude. Loved listening with Lily.
17) God’s provision of counselors and mentors and doctors for all of our issues. And Lord knows, we’ve got issues….
18) Passion DC and Senior Sneak in the Smokies. So honored to mentor this next generation of young adults.IMG_3382
19) Growing things simply to enjoy their beauty.


20) Josh Harris’ documentary, “I survived I kissed dating goodbye”. The family dialogue that resulted was important.
21) Graci’s surprise 18thbirthday party. Love celebrating her life.
And all these teenagers, they’re super cool and they keep me young.


22) Homemade corn sacks kept everybody comfy warm. Brennan and Robyn’s cottage industry happened here on the little old Kenmore sewing machine.
23) Jogging 5K on the Cornerstone University track. Didn’t know if I had it in me but I do.
24) My people, the ones who just keep taking another lap with me, one year after another. Don’t know where I’d be without them.
25) Hole in my Heart Podcasts. Matt and Laurie and Steve, their gospel centered approach to sexuality has informed my ignorance on all things LGTBQ. 5 star recommendation.
26) Coffee Dates. Lavender earl grey tea lattes with this one are my favorite.IMG_3631
27) Wednesday night Happy Hour with these lovelies. Non-alcoholic Rose’ and real life Q and A at it’s finest.IMG_1485
28) Good Reads: 1) Girl Wash your Face by Rachel Hollis, 2) You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan, 3) A War of Loves by David Bennett  4) Christians, Muslims and Jesus by Carl Medearis 5) Secrets of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
29) A normal mammogram. Celebrating another year I didn’t have to fight that monster.
30) An unremarkable routine colonoscopy too.
31) Spring break destination Tennessee. That 80’s pop karaoke session on Liz’s screen porch was unforgettable.IMG_4487
32) Omar’s birth. Proud Auntie, that’s me.IMG_4264
33) A best-of Dallas family road warrior weekend. Celebrating all our favorite people and places in 64 hours.


34) PCPC hymn sing in recognition of Lynda Fray’s ministry to families for God’s glory through children’s choirs. I’m pretty sure heaven sounds like that did.


35) Best performance of Les Miserables ever. Robyn and Brennan, WOW!


36) Starla’s going to be in Koinonia Players drama team next year. Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do and if it means camping out at 5:00 a.m. to get a spot in class.  well, so be it.
37) God’s angels protecting Brennan. That fall, it could have been so much worse than a couple of fractured vertebrae.
38) Lily’s college graduation. So proud and amazed at what she has done and what she has become.IMG_5071
39) Robyn’s high school graduation. When you’re a homeschooling mom, their celebration is yours too.IMG_3099
40) Attending Potter’s House High School graduation of my Syrian friends. Rarely have I seen such unity and diversity in the name of Christ.IMG_5360
41) My personal Style, Color and Shape consultation, thanks to my daughters, because a girl needs all the help she can get.
42) Lily’s NCLEX licensing test passed. She’s “officially” a nurse.
43) Robyn’s phlebotomy job. She’s wanted to poke people ever since “that really nice lady” at Spectrum kept poking her, a bunch of years ago and look what God did–provided full time, paid, on the job training all summer long.
44) Brennan’s job in surgical support services. This job, it’s legit.
45) Weekly beach trips all summer long. Continuing the tradition.


46) My Michigan address. All year long…


47) My blog article published on ForEveryMom. Sharing the mama love.
48) Our first family camping trip in 16 years. Tents, air mattresses, sleeping bags, hammocks, s’mores and an overnight thunderstorm. We did it all!


49) Lily’s nursing job at Spectrum Blodgett. A journey of prayer and perseverance has taken her to this place to serve on this healing team.
50) Angela safely returned from Africa. From 4875 to 154 miles away, she’s got an awesome new apartment, an amazing new roommate and an exciting new job.


51) My Rockford Cheese Shop discovery. How did I live before Stilton Mango Ginger cheese?


52) And a whole lot of long prayer walks…. (to the tune of And a Partridge in a Pear Tree).

So many mercies, one day after another, enough to carry me all away around the sun to 53. Thanks be to God!

To The Mama Who’s Launching Her First

*this post originally published on foreverymom.com, August 22, 2019.mg_9952I’m starting to see the Facebook posts. Parents sending kids off to college.
Helping them decorate their dorm room.
Reflecting on how quickly 18 years went.
They all read something like this: “I’m going to miss you like crazy but I’m so excited and hopeful for your future.” And that is the paradox. Both statements are completely true.

Two of my people are launching their first. One characterizes this year as “the dark night of the soul”. Another developed an ulcer over the summer. For the mamas and daddies who are eternal optimists by temperment or naturally compartmentalize emotions, we celebrate with you that this transition doesn’t feel like suffering. Really, we do. But for all the rest of us mommies, this is a gut wrenching, nauseating experience. And we think we’re the only one who’s ever felt this emotionally flattened. And we tend to condemn ourselves because we can’t seem to pick ourselves up and brush ourselves off and be OK yesterday. Here’s the thing, mama. I want you to know that you are not alone in this. I’m proof positive that there is a long and formidable cloud of witnesses who have journeyed this road before you and survived. Thrived even. And we are cheering you on.

I know, you’re looking at the calendar, counting down the days. Wondering how you’ll make it through….
Remember when you were nine months pregnant with that same kid? You didn’t know how you’d survive childbirth either, but you also knew there was no choice but to pull down your big girl panties and somehow deliver a baby. And you did.
You weren’t sure how you’d live with a little person 24/7, but you did.
And now that little person’s turned big and you’re not sure how you’ll live in the daily without them either, but you will.

Remember that classic story about the family who goes on a bear hunt. I know it by heart and so do you.  “Going on a bear hunt, Going to catch a big one, What a beautiful day! We’re not scared. Uh-oh, grass… a river… mud… a forest… a snowstorm… You can’t go under it. You can’t go over it. You’ve got to go through it.”And that is the cold hard reality about launching our children: There is no other way than through it.

Here are some things that have helped me on my journey. Maybe they’ll help you too:
1) Clean like a crazy woman after they leave. (I’m talking deep clean, spring clean, whole house reorganization.)
2) Exercise (when you can get yourself out of bed).
3) Once you get your appetite back, don’t indulge the empty space in your life with food. You’ll feel worse when you start packing on the pounds.
4) Share your tears. Unload them on a good friend. And don’t waste your emotional energy on self-condemnation for grieving your loss. Your Father, He’s collecting them in his bottle, delighting in a sweet offering of deep love.
5) Invest in your relationships with your other kiddos in intentional ways.DSCF6843
6) Develop a previously untried spiritual rhythm or discipline that connects you daily with God and PRAY at all times, for all your people, about everything, and always start with “Thank You”  because gratitude refocuses your attention from your struggle to His faithfulness.

And here’s a bonus tidbit of advice. If you’re a natural born melancholy, imbibe on your “Mom Music” Spotify playlist with extreme moderation.

Truth. That moment you give your last hug and drive away or wave as they do, it will indelibly etch itself on your soul, leaving you wondering if even dementia could take it away.
It’s never the same after that. Autonomy tends to have a voracious appetite.
But in time, you will find a new normal and it will be sweet.
You can walk this journey. You can.
Hold tightly to the hand of God and see the surprising new places He takes you. Let Him carry you through the treacherous terrain and you will experience new facets of His tender strength. God’s fresh mercies won’t leave when your kid walks out the door. They’re still surprising and new and enough– abundant even, for this day and all the days yet to be written in your story.

Bad Advice for Parents with Teenage Daughters

What a difference a day can make.
Yesterday it was the inspiring strawberry patch mamas.
Today, the beer-drinking, trash-talking, beach dad.

Lake levels are up 2+ feet this year so the beach is crowded. We stake out our little postage stamp parcel and set down our blanket and beach chair. It’s not just the rhythm of the waves and the squawking of the seagulls, I’m hearing the conversations around me in stereo too.

Right behind us, there’s a nice little family. Daddy walks hand in hand with his princess. She’s maybe 2, dripping wet and giggling with excitement at her swimming adventure. Mama follows behind, moving slower, carrying a bowling ball in her belly. They dry off and position themselves on their beach towels to enjoy a snack. There’s a whole posse of 50-something couples at 2:00, lounging behind them, cold beers in their cupholders, waxing eloquent on baseball, stock portfolios and the best restaurants in Chicago. One of those loud mouthed dudes notices the quiet family eating their fruit snacks and feels compelled to advise little princess’ daddy on how to raise daughters.

He seems to think he’s both incredibly smart and extremely witty. His conversation starter is classic.
“Just wait until she’s a teenager.”
That’s encouraging!
“Here’s what you need to do. Show her date your gun cabinet and tell him you’re not afraid to use them.”He went on an on ad nauseum about guns and boyfriends and a comprehensive strategy for establishing a solid power differential with any guy his daughter likes, seemingly convinced that made him a successful father.

I chewed my gum vigorously to keep my mouth busy so that I wouldn’t turn around and interrupt Mr. Know-It-All’s monologue and tell that naive young dad, “Don’t be that kind of jerk!”

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve made our own laundry list of parenting “oopsies”, but thankfully, not this one.

I get it. Teenage guys who are crushing on our daughters scare the bejeebies out of us. Truth. We know how gullible our girls can be and we don’t want them to get hurt. For dads like the beach dude, powering up at the gun cabinet might give them an illusion of control but ultimately that strategy backfires. So, my thought is, pick your battles shrewdly when your daughter’s heart, safety and sexual integrity are at stake. Think of it like a game of rock, paper, scissors. Your gun is not going to beat your kid’s affection. And it isn’t going to give you any opportunity for relational influence in her boo’s life either.fullsizeoutput_90d3

Maybe there’s a better way….
If a guy is important to our daughter, shouldn’t he matter to us too?
What if we embraced our opportunity to impact our daughter’s BF’s life for good through our words and by our example?
What if we help him cast a vision for becoming a young man of honor and responsibility and integrity?
Our role might be super small and incredibly time limited or we could be laying a foundation for a long term relationship with the man our kid covenants to share her life with. Whichever it is, I’d hate to squander my opportunity to invest well in his story.

Here’s are some universal truths about human nature:
-We generally aspire toward other’s expectations of us. If you treat somebody like he’s a thug, why should he act any differently? Affirming a person’s strengths and assuring him of your confidence is motivational.

– Respect is a widespread core need. If that’s how you want to be treated, why wouldn’t he? Which would you respond better to, a passive aggressive lecture including a tour of a father’s gun cabinet; or, a conversation with a girl’s dad where he expresses genuine interest in you as a person, where he asks reflective questions about why you like his daughter and what your plan is for treating her with care and respect when you’re together?

-Fear tactics and micromanaging behaviors don’t conform the motivation of a person’s heart. In your daughter’s dating relationship, you can’t set up a rule playbook that doesn’t have loopholes, or chaperone your kid and her boyfriend 100% of the time, even if you’re the Duggars. Another way to support sexual boundaries between your daughter and her boyfriend might be to encourage them to hang out with you, eat dinner around your table, watch movies in your family room, talk until curfew on your porch swing, and that ain’t going to happen if you’re intimidating, threatening or playing the bully.

Everybody has their own style of relating, customized for their family. Here’s a snapshot of how these convictions have played out in ours. My husband was gone on an extended business trip and our girl wanted to go somewhere with a guy she liked.
“He’ll have to talk to me first before driving you anywhere.” I told her.
“You’ve got to have “the talk” with my mom before I can go,”I heard her tell him on the phone.
We met in the park where I dropped her off that afternoon. He sat across from me at a picnic table and our conversation went something like this:
“Generally, I only let my kids ride with other teenagers that I know and trust. I don’t know you very well yet, but my daughter tells me you’re responsible, cautious and loyal. I’ve decided that based on my daughter’s character reference and your driving record I will let her ride with you as long as we’re on the same page about rules for safe driving. Here’s what I’m expecting of you:
I expect you to obey traffic laws, including the speed limit.
I expect you to focus on driving without the distraction of your phone.
I expect you to drive sober.
Are we agreed on those expectations?”
“Yes, I’ll do my best to drive safely with her,”he responded sincerely.
“Great. I believe that you will. Take care of my precious cargo and have a great time!”

And he has—both driven safely and had a great time. Since then, he’s become a “regular” around our house, one of the pack. Our relationship has been built on mutual respect and we’ve dialogued about all sorts of interesting, controversial and deep topics. My gut tells me that if we’d employed scare tactics at the starting gate, the relational dynamic would look really different and we’d all have missed out on something valuable.

So, back to the guy on the beach. I sat quiet like I was minding my own business. But inside, I admit it, I was giving that dad a piece of my mind.
“Grow up, dude.”
“Oh, and I’ll pass on your semi-intoxicated parenting advice, too, but thanks anyway.”

Disclaimer: Disregard everything I just said if your daughter’s guy is a creeper, a stalker, a predator, someone who’s physically, sexually or emotionally harming her, or someone who doesn’t demonstrate any foreseeable potential, because that’s different and requires a more assertively protective response.

Strawberry Patch Parenting

*This post originally published on foreverymom.com, July 9, 2019.

DSCF4761It’s strawberry picking season and the fields are loaded with big, red, juicy berries. We always go to the same farm. It’s tradition. We target a cloudy morning before 10 to minimize the misery index. Those career fruit pickers, you gotta respect them. This job isn’t for the faint of heart and the pay stinks.
We do it for fun though. We pick around 30 pounds of berries and then wash and slice and cook and freeze for, pretty much, a full day. The resulting rows of bright red jam that line the countertop, they’re picture perfect.DSCF8708

When I pick berries, my mind wanders. I find myself listening in to the conversations around me. Always, and I do mean always, there’s a bunch of moms and kids picking nearby and fruit picking with young children, it’s a wild adventure.

This year, it was little redhead Henry, his big sister and their mama who captured my attention. We all arrived about the same time. That’s how we ended up in rows near each other. Little Henry looked about 4. His mama told her kiddos to pick the red berries, the ones without brown decay or bird beak burrowed holes. She showed them a berry that was only partially ripe and explained how they were looking for the ones that were red all over. She no sooner squatted in position than little Henry started tossing berries down the row. Maybe they were berries that didn’t qualify as worthy of a place in his take home box. I don’t know. I’ve never understood the mind of a 4 year old boy, but somehow, berry tossing made sense to Henry or at least felt fun. Calmly, Henry’s mama redirected him.
“Henry, we don’t throw berries, we pick them and put them in our box, please.”
About 2 seconds later, Henry wandered over to the next row and randomly started picking berries off another lady’s assigned patch. Thankfully, she was a grandma, compassionate regarding the hazards of fruit picking with pre-schoolers. Henry’s mama intervened again.
“Henry, you’re going to have to give your berries to that lady if you keep picking in her row. Come over here by us and we’ll pick berries together to take home.”
Henry meandered closer to his big sister and started eating every berry he picked. Mom noticed after she glanced up at him, having had a few uninterrupted moments to pick berries herself.
“Henry, how about if we wait to eat the berries until we go home and wash them. Let’s put berries in our box instead.”
And this routine continued on loop. Throwing. Wandering. Eating. Meanwhile, Henry’s bigger sister, squatted over the berries focused on contributing to the family’s take home box. Thank heavens for big sisters!

The little girl picking on the row to our opposite side was adventuring with her mama and grandparents. This little princess was a whiner and that is a scenario I’m intimately acquainted with. Every few seconds she’d narrate her feelings.
“I’m hot.”
“This is too hard.”
“I want to go home.”
Her Mama wanted a picture, one where everybody smiles for about a half a second to remember the morning the way she imagined it rather than the way it actually is. But Little Princess isn’t having it and Papa’s answer to their fruit picking “FAIL” is predictable.
“Want me to take you to the car and we’ll have some candy, honey?”
Honestly, before judging Papa, in a practical sense his suggestion works. Mama gets a few minutes to pick like a crazy woman while grandpa keeps little princess happy and safe.

These mamas, they’re my heroes. Both of them, in their own unique ways.
Little Princess’ mama, she was shrewd. Bringing grandparents, that is the supreme solution to the problem of productivity when fruit picking with young children.
And Henry’s mama, she’s awesome. She realizes that everything doesn’t need to be an authority struggle. A wise and self-confident parent picks their battles carefully, sensitive to age and stage. In my book, she ordered her loves appropriately with relationship first and productivity second.

Let’s be honest, what mama hasn’t gone berry picking with their tribe of young ‘uns and felt frustrated? Angry? Embarrassed? Disappointed? And maybe what we felt somehow slipped out in what we said or even what we did to our kids right there in the berry field. We mamas, we get in a tiz about so many things.
Obviously, when we go berry picking, we want to come home with berries, but hear my heart for you, young mamas. Do not sacrifice relationship on the altar of productivity. In the long haul, how you pick trumps how much you pick.
And here’s another thing: Do not sacrifice relationship on the altar of image. In the end, who really cares if the other mamas around you make judgements about your parenting, about your kids’ obedience or lack thereof. You’re not ultimately parenting for their approval. God’s the one you want to impress and lucky for you, he’s your biggest cheerleader. Follow His example and fight for grace. What kind of Jesus do you want to acquaint your kid with? What kind of Jesus do you know? Is he a demanding, finger pointing perfectionist? My Jesus is slow to anger and abounding in love . He doesn’t treat me like my sins deserve, whether they be blatant disregard for his instructions or careless distraction from his guidance and His compassions are new and fresh each morning. And that’s what I’ve wanted to image about our heavenly parent to my kids. Is obedience important? Yes. God tells us to train them in it, but when we are careless about distinguishing between teachable moments, understanding developmental norms and struggling with personal insecurities, we Inadvertently end up shaming our children. Young mama, trust me. Hindsight is 20/20. You don’t want to do that.

Here’s the thing, regardless of how little Henry’s mama responds to him as he lackadaisically picks berries, whether she lavishes him with kindness or shames him with demands and criticisms, eventually he’ll grow up and be able to pick strawberries competently. He’ll probably even take his own kiddos to the patch hoping to create at least a few decent Kodak moments. And when he does, he’ll either feel a nagging ache of shame hiding in the shadows of his soul or he’ll remember with delight his own experience accompanying his mama to the berry patch. You choose. Which one do you want to pass on to the ones you love best?

Henry’s family left the field at about the same time we did. His mama’s box weighed in at 6 pounds of berries. Meanwhile, our squad of 4 picked 29.5 pounds. She won’t be able to make jam or freeze berries for winter but her bowl of berries on the kitchen counter will look mighty sweet and taste even sweeter because of the kindness and grace that sourced them.

God bless, little Henry.
Actually, God bless little Henry’s mama.
She inspires me.
Convicts me.
Encourages me.
May she feel your smile today, God, because she looked like Jesus.IMG_5782

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.

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.
IMG_5072
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….