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.

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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….

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.