21 Things I Love About Brennan in Honor of his 21st Birthday

After the adrenalin rush of celebrating Brennan’s birthday eve with dumpster diving and a late night swim at Lily’s pool and hot tub, I’m reflecting today on his story interconnected with ours. He’s one of us now—with all of its good, bad and ugly- and I’m so glad he is! Here’s what I love about Brennan.

1) He’s funny. Literally, other than his wife, none of the rest of us can pull off a timely joke successfully.

2) He’s responsible. From the first conversation about driving Robyn places to his get up everyday work ethic, he does what he needs to do.

3) He’s resourceful. From Goodwill super shopping to dumpster diving and metal detecting, he repurposes things better than anyone else I know.

4) He’s creative. In so many ways—like crafting candles from soy wax and pringles cans and making Robyn’s ring out of gold he found metal detecting.

5) He’s a gentle soul. His voice is soothing. He’s sensitive and his manner makes you feel safe when you’re with him.

6) He’s fun. He just is. If he’s around, everything’s better.

7) He cares about God’s creation. From picking up turtles and helping them cross the street to tending trees he grows from cuttings or seeds, he honors what he’s been assigned to steward.

8) He’s sincere in His faith. In all of its highs and lows and its moments of clarity and confusion, he loves Jesus.

9) He loves going to the beach like I do, which makes him a kindred spirit.

10) He’s teachable. He reads, ask questions, takes classes or watches Youtube videos to learn important stuff he wants to know and understand.

11) He’s versatile and flexible. He enjoys lots of things. He’s good at a wide variety of tasks.

12) He’s cool. His vibe is eclectic but he and Robyn are definitely the coolest people in our family.

13) He’s nice. Everybody likes Brennan. He talks to them and treats them kindly.

14) He repairs relational conflict. Brennan gives and receives forgiveness and moves forward.

15) He is a man of integrity. He tries to live honestly and be trustworthy in his personal choices even when it costs him.

16) He’s financially responsible beyond his years. 

17) He’s totally Robyn’s match. I think I could see it from the very beginning and I love that he loves her so well.

18) He likes good music and shares it with me.

19) He’s adventurous. I appreciate how he embraces my crazy ideas.

20) He wants to hike at as many national parks as he can and so do I.

21) He gets excited about finding a great deal or getting things free.

I always wanted a son and maybe someday, there’ll be 4, but today, I’m really grateful for Brennan. He makes my life sweeter and it’s an honor to be his second mom.

What About the Pandemic of Child Sexual Abuse and the Church?

I’ve never written anything more important than this 151st post.

An old adage says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Nowhere is this more true than in cases of child sexual abuse perpetrated in Christian communities.

Case in point. Currently, the Upper Midwest diocese of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) finds themselves in the vortex of a sexual abuse scandal involving children. The abuse was initially disclosed by a mom named Cherin, on behalf of her 9 year old daughter in May 2019. First, she told her parish priest and the news moved up the food chain to the diocese Bishop a short time later. Neither church leader reported the allegations to law enforcement. The accused perpetrator, Mark Rivera, served at 2 Illinois parishes for more than two decades in leadership positions that gave him access to children. The date, 2019, matters because it’s 2021 now and until this spring, the Bishop made no public congregational acknowledgement of the accusations against Mr. Rivera and the possibility that there are other survivors suffering silently in their seats. The structure matters because it exemplifies the widespread ignorance of church leaders on multiple hierarchical levels regarding abuse prevention, responding to disclosure, reporting requirements and after care for survivors and their families. And, this unfortunately is not the only diocese in the ACNA to be embroiled in mismanaged sexual harassment and abuse scandals in recent years.

I write this post as an outsider looking in. My church community is not connected to the ACNA, but I am also an insider looking out because the ACNA is part of my broader Christian family and what is happening there is an institutional protestant church pandemic.

I’m a 50-something mom whose four amazing daughters are almost all launched so I started grad school this past year, simultaneously enrolling in Diagnosis and Treatment of Trauma Disorders and Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.  PTSD, a disorder commonly suffered by child sexual abuse survivors, was the common denominator in both. What I understand better now compels me to write because when you know, you can’t un-know anymore.

But let’s start here.
You don’t know what you don’t know.

This applies to the average person warming the pew and the ones whose bios and headshots are posted on an organization’s website. Both, unfortunately are anemically informed in epidemic proportions about the most basic facts, statistics and predictable, preventable patterns associated with child sexual abuse and its aftermath, which results in failure to protect and care for the little children Jesus loves. 

Here’s a working definition and 3 basic statistics from the CDC and the Department of Justice .

Sexual abuse is any tricked, forced, manipulated or coerced sexual activity for the pleasure of the abuser. Abuse can be physical, verbal or visual.

  • 1 out of 4 females and 1 out 6 males will experience sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18.
  • 90% of the child sexual abuse problem is perpetrated by preferential offenders whose victims know and trust their abusers.
  • When a child discloses abuse, 96-99% of the time, they are telling the truth. Abuse actually occurred. 

Do you feel the weight of those statistics?
If not, sit soberly and consider them until you do.

That 9 year old girl whose mom, Cherin, disclosed abuse to her priest in 2019, she and the Bishop have both submitted written public statements recently, 2 years afterwards. You can follow the he saidshe said storylines in blue. 

Read it for yourself.
Really. 
Do.

It’s a textbook case of a mishandled church sexual abuse scandal. 

Where did the church get this wrong?
And what might it have looked like to get it right?

Starting with prevention. How might this tragedy have been avoided had all provincial denominational leaders, church staff, volunteers and parents been trained in the facts and misconceptions about sexual abuse, abuser characteristics, the grooming process, common grooming behaviors and reporting requirements? What if the church had a safety system in place based on this awareness education? In my seminary class, 4 students enrolled. Count them on one hand—a mom, a social worker, a retiring police officer and a staff pastor. Classes on Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse are an anomaly in seminaries, so I applaud my school for offering it; however, they can do better. It is an egregious oversight for any accrediting educational institution to launch graduates into Christian ministry without training them in prevention, reporting and victim-centric aftercare. 

If these church leaders had been trained, they would have realized that not only are 96+% disclosures true, they would also have understood that predators not only groom children, they also groom caretakers and gate keepers of children so that barriers of protection are removed and they have easy access to their victims. Predators, they don’t look like predators. They’re typically charming and distinguish themselves in their communities over time by appearing responsible, trustworthy and helpful. Usually, they’re married and have children. That’s why it’s so shocking when accusations start to surface.

And here’s the thing, accusations will almost always be plural. Once one brave soul finds his or her voice, a symphony of singers will join the somber song. Typically, by the time a predatory offender reaches the legal system, if the truth be told, he’s averaged 150 victims if he prefers boys and 52 if he prefers girls.

And if that 9 year old girl’s church leaders would have been educated in the neurobiology of trauma, they would have realized that when a child finds their voice, that doesn’t mean that she can articulate a cohesive narrative or consistently recount details of her abuse. By God’s design, it is normal for memories to be fragmented and even absent from conscious recollection in order for the victim to be able to bear their trauma. The child’s account would not have been evaluated for accuracy but assumed to be true because 96+% of children’s disclosures of abuse are the truth.

If the parish priest and his posse of church leaders, including the Diocese attorney would have understood mandatory reporting laws, they would have conjoined their legal and moral responsibility to immediately report any reasonable cause to suspect abuse perpetrated by an adult on a minor to CPS or local law enforcement. Instead, churches often want to take reports of abuse to committee to internally investigate first. Sometimes they fear that they will unjustly besmirch the reputation of the accused.

Other times, they are motivated to do so based on innate mistrust of CPS and the legal system, thinking they can adjudicate a more just resolution internally. 

Some churches think of sexual abuse as primarily sin and therefore consider themselves to be the most appropriate setting to address their spiritual process of repentance, forgiveness and restoration. 

And, it’s not uncommon for churches to negotiate deals with offenders to leave their community of faith quietly, believing they are protecting the reputation of Jesus from public scandal or at least protecting the name and renown of their own institution.

All of these options, however, bypass the law, and mandatory reporters are increasingly being held culpable for endangerment of children and criminally prosecuted themselves. 

Once Mr. Rivera was arrested, if his parish and Diocese understood trauma they would have realized that the church can’t provide support for both the victim and the accused predator—that includes his family, who also, sadly, suffer because of their spouse/parent’s crime. The church would have opted for a victim-centered response plan which prioritizes the safety and well-being of the victim and her family, starting with ensuring a protective and supportive community of faith for them to continue worshiping in. Mr. Rivera’s family would need to go so 9 year old girl’s family could stay. Then, because leadership understands that 96+% of children’s disclosures are true, they would promptly and publicly fully disclose the allegations to their congregations and invite the voices of others who have been harmed to be heard. With unanimity, leadership would communicate that abuse matters and commit to becoming a place that protects and defends those who have been harmed.

This approach not only invites voiceless victims who feel ashamed, threatened or fear that they won’t be believed to risk sharing their stories, it also speaks volumes to the individuals who are watching the process unfold and are themselves adult abuse survivors, or married to one or love someone who has been. There is incredible, widespread, redemptive opportunity in the aftermath of abuse if a community of faith gets this right. Unfortunately, the Upper Midwest Diocese of the ACNA didn’t.

Rather than retrying victims in the court of public opinion, as was the 9 year old girl’s family experience, if they got this right, the church would begin the long, holy journey of communal suffering alongside victims instead. 

They would grieve with and for their victims.
They would listen without judging them for their anger and sadness.
The would support them the best they know how, ensuring that they have the resources they need to start to heal. 
And they wouldn’t just say that these things would happen, they’d actually happen.

Tragically, the clock can’t be turned back and the harm can’t be undone for the 9 year old girl, but we cannot and must not continue to get this wrong because when we do and children’s formative experiences in faith communities are sexually violating, barriers to understanding God’s character and receiving His love result. 
And Jesus has something to say about that in Matthew 18:6. 

If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea. 

We can; however, learn from the mistakes the ACNA and so many others have made. Going forward, as a unified community of Christ followers, our banner of love can proclaim that we will no longer be blind, deaf and dumb to the pandemic of sexual abuse. Today, we will begin to make our churches places of safety, hope and healing. 
May it be so.

(All data and statistics credited to Ministry Safe, legal professionals who are sexual abuse experts and whose mission is to prevent child sexual abuse in ministry contexts.)

Land That I Love

It’s on my bucket list—to run in an organized 5K race. And I want it to be connected to a cause that’s personally meaningful to me.

I’ve trained.

Tested my stamina on various routes. 

And I almost mustered the courage to register for a race over 4th of July weekend. 

Then I found out that my daughter’s friend was participating and he planned to finish in 17 min. That changed everything! I’m way too insecure to have a 16 year old boy charge past me and wave on his way to the finish line while I’m huffing and puffing on the first half of the course.

So, it’s not a bucket list cross off yet– not until I do the deed with the crowds, in the morning, regardless of the heat, and in spite of my anxiety. But, I did identify a creative alternative so I could at least pencil in my check off.

I like to jog at night. I pretty much prefer doing everything at night… so at around 11:30 on 4th of July eve, I tied my seafoam colored running shoes, put on my reflective vest with flashing lights, stretched my calf muscles, turned on my exercise playlist and took to the road. By then, there were just occasional loud popping-sizzling fireworks sounds like the last kernels of popcorn in a pan on the stove. The moon, a waning crescent, left the sky otherwise pitch black. I could barely see the next step in front of me, but I know this route. It’s become my friend. Over and over again, I’ve coerced my body out onto the pavement and told it to move and breathe, so even in the witching hours, I know where the drains are, where the pavement is tilted and in my neighborhood, the road belongs to me.

And so, I jogged in the holiday 2021 on my own personal 5K run–just me and Jesus because he’s the only one I jog with. It took me a lot more than 17 minutes but that’s OK. I’m not a 16 year old boy. I’m me and I’m doing my best. 

As I jogged, I reflected on my life lived out as a citizen in this country–something I consider worth celebrating. 

Here is where I jog on paved roads and groomed rail trails. It may not seem like a big deal but I’ve been to places where the norm was potholes big enough to make my dad cuss.

My feet and my knees and my back and my shoulders and my heart and my lungs are all able to work together to propel me forward because when I’ve been sick, I’ve received excellent health care and because of masks and vaccines combined with the mysterious grace of God, I didn’t die of COVID. 

This is where I’ve lived out my story and in a lot of ways, it’s been a really cush place to do it in. I’m the majority culture, white European descent, with all its privileges and benefits. 

I have a flushing toilet, clean drinking water, a Meijer grocery store, which in my humble opinion, is preferable to Walmart. 

I’ve seen red rocks, mountain ranges, rainforests, oceans, urban metroplexes and sweeping farmlands with amber waves of grain. 

I live in the best state for me with the greatest lake ever less than an hour away. 

My children have received an excellent education and we had choices about what that would be.

We are free to read what we like, to learn what we can, to speak what we want to say and to worship as we see fit. 

In my city, immigrants from the Netherlands and all over Europe are neighbors to refugees from Syria and the Congo, creating a menagerie of eclectic diversity.

And every year that I’ve staked my space on the sidewalk at the local 4th of July parade, I’ve consumed snowcones and cotton candy while kids on every side of me fill their plastic Meijer bags with candy.

I’m proud to be an American and grateful for a multitude of fresh new mercies morning after morning. And, I am disappointed, even ashamed, of its personal, communal and political toxicity past and present.

This country—it’s a mixed bag. We have much to celebrate and much to grieve. 

Should its goodness be diminished? No way! 

Should its faults be ignored? Absolutely not!

This global planet orbiting around the sun and all of its inhabitants simultaneously bear both a reflection of God and the contaminate of sin. Until God restores all that’s been broken to its original glory, living with this co-mingling of good and evil is an inevitable reality and attempts to sweep our imperfections under the rug in order to preserve a photo-shopped image of greatness is an illusion—a slight of the hand, a trick of they eye.

Being a citizen of this country is a lot like being a member of a family. Every family’s story is ugly-beautiful. The healthiest family owns it all, not just the posed snapshot where everyone wears khakis and a white shirt, their skin tan, feet bare, toes in the sand, smiling. That picture genuinely represents a moment, a glimpse, a slice out of the whole. But those same parents may have gone to war hours earlier about the cost of the photo shoot and on the drive there, the kids elbowed each other in a power struggle from the back seat then blamed the innocent sibling who was minding her own business when their frustrated parent yelled impatiently at them to “Cut it out back there,” and threatened to take away the ice cream cone promised as a carrot for their cooperation. And that photo, it doesn’t show the wounds in their hearts from systemic patterns of shaming each other, the feelings of isolation because their parents are more engaged with their phones than attuning to their children, the competition between siblings for “favorite” child status. That picture doesn’t show how they look in the cold, dark dead of winter and it doesn’t tell what the walls in their home could speak. 

Same is true of our nation’s birthday. It’s commemorates what’s pretty, what’s good, what we appreciate. It’s not about the domestic unrest, the injustice, the discrimination, the violence we enact against each other and our failure to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. But both realities are woven into the fiber of life in America.

David French says, we love our country “not because it is always great—or even always good- but because it is our home. Its citizens are our neighbors. It is our national family. As with any family, loving our family means knowing our family. And yes, that means telling our full story, the good, the back and the ugly. It means hearing from admirers and critics alike. We should approach our national history with this sense of curiosity and security. You won’t make me hate my home. You can, however, motivate me to preserve what is pristine and repair what is broken. You can make me proud of the beauty and sorry for the injustice.”

And that kind of genuine curiosity can transfer beyond the purview of our national identity to a spirit of inquiry about our neighbors, our families and even ourselves. And that’s a cause I’d jog a marathon for.

Learning To Let You Go

June 22nd  2021 my email box dinged with an official letter from Governor Gretchen Whittmer declaring it Mask Emancipation Day in Michigan. “Today is a day that we have all been waiting for, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and move forward together,” she said. 

I have absolutely no idea to what extent wearing masks was effective for containing the germ or necessary for reducing the spread of COVID, but this I do know. My Lily, she donned her Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) hundreds, probably thousands of times, before entering COVID positive patients rooms to treat their illness. But even with her most vigilant care, she watched helplessly as one after another of her patients died. So, I wore my mask for Lily– to recognize her care, to acknowledge her trauma and to honor the value of the lives that were cut short by this superbug. 

This coming out of sorts– returning to some kind of normal- on the other side of the COVID crisis- begs the question, “What is normal anymore?“

Is it normal to dispute whether or not violence is taking place when we watch one human being use his body to apply pressure to the windpipe of another, at the very least, contributing to death?

Is it normal for people to take out their communal frustrations by setting police cars on fire? Vandalizing and looting private businesses? Or storming the nation’s capital building?

Is it normal for neighbors and friends to put up relational fences between each other because they didn’t choose the same political candidate or agree about social distancing? 

Is it normal for Christians to claim they’d be willing to die for the love of Jesus but refuse to wear a mask for the love of their neighbor?

Will it be normal, going forward, for the government to randomly pay its citizens hard, cold cash to bolster the economy and if so, where will that money come from?

Will standard practice for car purchases require preorders due to manufacturing shortages? And will binge buying toilet paper for fear of future scarcity continue to be a thing?

Will bidding wars and multiple offers for tens of thousand of dollars over the asking price be the new norm for the real estate market? And will it really continue to cost at least 200K for a 2 bedroom fixer upper in Hometown, USA? 

Will restaurants operate with reduced seating and limited menus due to staff shortages for the foreseeable future? And will Chick Fil A provide only carry out dining forever?

Will the new normal include livestreaming church on Sunday morning in your cozy jammies? 

And mass online education?

Will weddings trend toward small, simple celebrations?

Will social anxiety become status quo for children turning adults because of the trauma they’ve experienced connected to COVID isolation? 

And, the most pressing question of all just might be, what’s normal about 3 people at a dinner table that’s designed to seat at least 6?

I miss what isn’t anymore…and I don’t want this normal! 

And I definitely don’t want the normal of a table set for 3 turning into 2, which is what I have to anticipate.

For sure, the family wedding and condo purchase in 2020 were significant events in my story but the struggle is less about where the girls now sleep at night or how many open beds I’ve got at my house and more about the morphing roles and relationships connected with the messy middle of their individuating and my letting go.

Mamas experience this process differently than their kids do. My kids are mostly focused on beginnings and all of the options that their card carrying adult status offers them, but for me, something I value is ending or at the very least changing significantly and transition comes hard. My default is always to fret and forecast the worst. Relational clouds with heavy rains– forever. That’s the superhighway my neural connections self-drive. But here’s an idea. What if as soon as I recognize the road I’m on, I interrupt the automatic GPS guidance system in my brain with self-regulating deep breaths, I apply the brakes, flip on the turn signal and exit onto scenic highway M22 where the extended forecast reads mostly sunny and 75

What if rather than fixating on our relational barriers, misunderstandings and disagreements, my attention pivots toward creating artifacts of beauty between us, one adult to another? And what if I lived into that vision with courage and confidence and hope? That’s a relationally life giving paradigm shift! What if I can learn to receive their hurts about the ways I have harmed them without being sucked into a vortex of self-abasement? What if I humbly listen to their perceptions of where I got things wrong without grasping for immediate repair? What if I just own my sin and mistakes as their mom and rest in the confidence that God can and will companion them in their process? What if I entrust their present and future to Him and release all claims on how He will write their story and what kind of role I will play in it? And what if I embrace the beautiful moments of common and profound connection between us as a gift without the greedy expectation that they all should be beautiful? 

This past year everybody’s been travelling on a pioneer path shaped by a worldwide pandemic and I’ve been on a steep personal learning curve of my own.

In grad school, I’ve been learning about theology and counseling and the beautifully complex interconnections between the spirit, the brain and the body.

At my job at the hospital I’m learning about the resiliency and fragility we hold in our bodies and how to contribute to a care giving team.

But the journey of discovery that been most compelling to me, is watching my girls increasingly grow into their own unique identities and supporting them on those journeys. And in that process, I’m learning to let them go….

Where Does My Help Come From?

I lift up my eyes to the mountains–Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121

I’m mesmerized by Mt. Rainier! So enamored, I’ve been driving erratically, scanning all directions for just a glimpse at every stopped traffic light. Truth. So totally distracted by the view, I failed to stop behind the car in front of me and my fancy-shmansy Subaru Outback rental car’s safety navigation system slammed on its brakes independent of me, protecting us from smashing into its rear end. I’ve never felt attached to a mountain and even though I know it’s an inanimate object— it has my heart. 

Here’s the thing about Rainier. I haven’t actually seen the whole thing yet and I have exactly zero decent pictures to prove I saw it at all. The locals say that if the drizzly dinge blows through, I’ll view it in all its glory but so far it’s been veiled behind a puffy cloud right near the tip-tip-top.

Rainier is gargantuan—a 14er surrounded by respectable mountains ranges like the Cascades to its north, St. Helen’s to its south and the Olympic Mountains to the west. I’ve hiked their foothills and I promise you, they’re significant, but next to Rainier they look like midgets on the horizon. 

Rainier stands alone. Visible from all around the Sound, it plays hide and seek. You turn a corner, the fog lifts and it jumps out in front of you squealing “peek a boo”, and you want to giggle like a toddler for the sheer delight of it.

About 5,000 technical climbers summit Rainier each year, like “King–or Queen- of the Hill” for a few golden moments, peons sharing in its glory, but nary the amateur hiker whose best ecstasy comes from getting acquainted with its midsection when the roads are passable and the risk of avalanche low. 

And, Rainier is an episodically active volcano which makes its intrigue all the more mysterious. Under 54 feet of snow, molten lava mostly rests, an unpredictable eruption risk. Like Lewis’ description of Aslan in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, Rainier isn’t safe, but it’s good. 

Rainier can’t be harnessed or caught or conquered. It can’t be described or even fully encountered. Any picture I paint using words is woefully inferior to the live experience but for starters imagine my mouth- gaped-open-awe at the first glimpse of this creative genius of God. Indeed, His works declare His glory! He used a star to lead the wise men to baby Jesus and it’s Rainier that’s giving me a fresh glimpse of His help.

Scrolling back through the archives of my story, August 1996 was when God’s words about where to look when I’m desperate for help gained a lot of traction. I found myself lying in a hospital bed on Blodgett 4th floor, IV line taped to my forehand, Pitocin pumping through my veins. Only a few hours prior, the ultrasound tech had slathered my tummy up with warm gel and rolled her probe all over my belly, but that staticky, rhythmic “bong, bong, bong” was nowhere to be found, leaving only the blaring sound of silence. My tiny boy died inside my cocoon, leaving me incapable of waking up out of the nightmare of a stillbirth. During the next 12 hours of labor, Brian read this passage aloud to me. 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains–Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber;indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.  Psalm 121

Over and over, he spoke the Words, my muscles cramping, me whimpering as I breathed through each contraction. Sometimes, there’s no other way than through “it”, whatever “it” is and in those moments, thinking about the mountains reminds me that big, strong, creator Jesus can help me when I cannot help myself.

That has not been my only mountain moment. Scanning through the archives of my memories, like choppy, amateur, home movies, there are other moments, other trials, other challenges, other heartaches, bigger, stronger and harder than my capacity to endure. Cheesy as it may sound, Jesus has always been my Mt. Rainier. 

The One I’m on the lookout for at every page turn on a 365 day calendar.  

The One I’m acquainted with at His base but whose very essence is shrouded in incredible, unfathomable mystery that I cannot fully know, explain or fathom. 

The One who’s not going to be conquered or destroyed or changed by human exploits or circumstances. 

The One who sits enthroned, immovable, omniprescent, inviting me to glimpse His glory, to marvel at what He’s made and how it represents something about who He is and how He loves.

Several years ago, I took up a challenge to look for tangible signs in creation of God’s love for me in the shapes of hearts. On a particularly steep switchback up Rattlesnake Ledge in the Southern Cascades, I spotted a rock, embedded in the muddy trail—a heart. God’s tangible reminder that I am loved. 

He loves me in all the moments that I don’t think I can survive and I’m not sure I want to. 

He loves me in all the moments that I wish would last forever. 

He loves me when I try hard and excel. 

He loves me when I offer my best effort but fail miserably. 

And, He loves me when I’m too tired, too discouraged or too lazy to keep trying. 

He loves me even when I don’t feel loved or even lovable.  

Memories are always my favorite souvenirs and I’m stuffing my mental suitcase full of excellent adventures to take with me from my vacation in Seattle. 

Like the moment the car rental customer service rep revealed our pre-paid “mystery” vehicle as a 12 passenger van. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I replied, and even through my mask, he correctly identified my look of horror and swapped it out for that Subaru Outback with a sunroof and the all-important safety navigation system.

I’ll remember kayaking and paddle boarding on Tapps Lake, chatting in the hot tub, lights dancing on the water after dark. 

Playing King dominos umpteen times without a single win.

Driving through rainforests with mature trees growing toward heaven and up mountains straight through the clouds.

Walking and talking ascending and descending each trail, one switchback after another– raincoats…. or not. And how the sun peeked out, and the clouds evaporated just as we summited the top of Hurricane Hill.

I’ll cherish being close to some of the ones I love best for 6 solid days and celebrating exactly 23 years since Lily made her live debut into the world.

I don’t think I’m going to capture a good photo of Rainier except for the one etched into my memory, and that’s mercy enough.

The 12 Stories of Christmas

Dear Jesus,

It’s almost your birthday again.
The day we celebrate that God got dressed in mortal flesh.
Humbly, controversially, miraculously, you entered the scene of the human story as one of us.
In the most vulnerable way.
Without regard for social rank or convention.
Under the most unlikely circumstances.
You are the protagonist in an epic story that changed everyone everywhere for all time.

Each year, I try to decipher your unorthodox redemptive plan.
But it never gets more sensible or logical.
I find no satisfactory explanation except for unfathomable love and underserved mercy.
Thank you!

Here, in my little world, this year’s festivities look different and I miss our dog-eared traditions…. every single beautiful one.
So much has changed on the home front.
The cookie ingredients are stocked but nothing’s baked.
The felt tree waits for the ornaments to be attached on its Velcro tabs.
The nativity puzzles sit stacked in their boxes.
And the Christmas book bin’s gone out of circulation.

None of my little girls is thumbing through the holdings, piling up their favorites and beckoning me to the oversized chair with “Mommy, read to me” anymore.
It’s quiet here. Too quiet.

Magnetized to the book bin, I sort through the collection and make a small pile of our besties. What I wouldn’t give right this nano-second to be a time traveler, to pile my 4 little princesses on top of and around me delighting in the simple pleasure of sharing stories together.DSCF7085

Then, I have an idea!
How about if I read the stories again? Aloud.
And send them out through the internet to all the places each of my girls call home.
That way, they’ve got them when they need them.
And, we both know, some gray-blue day, they’re going to need them.

So in honor of your birthday, Jesus,
And dedicated to the girls you entrusted into my care,
Here’s my present, given sincerely with gratitude.

Happy Birthday dear Jesus. Happy Birthday to you!
 
The 12 Stories of Christmas
#1 The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey

#2 My Birthday, Jesus Birthday

#3 The King of the Stable

Enough.

Our Thanksgiving festivities survived the pandemic and this year’s celebration of gratitude, it was a grand adventure.

From chopping, stirring and peeling together around the table on Thanksgiving eve,
To crafting cookie cutter cinnamon ornaments,
And potting amaryllis bulbs for all four households,
Brennan squeaked out a victory in the finals of the whipped cream game.
And thanks to Meredith, Lily’s roomie, my photo memories are now archived onto iCloud.4DA4E08F-2C70-4759-A8EF-C920BBCE960D

The best of all traditions is our gratitude walk. The inaugural year that I enthusiastically unveiled this idea almost a decade ago, it met with strong opposition. We’re talking weeping, scowling, foot stomping dissent. But, we’ve persevered, and that meandering walk along the White Pine trail where we recounted the blessings uniquely attached to each of our stories last Thursday, it was nothing less than worship.
Then came the annual family video reveal.
And our banquet, it was perfect right down to the non-lumpy mashed potatoes.

The fall decorations, they’re tucked away in Rubbermaid bins.
The puzzle isn’t quite finished yet but we’ve polished off the Thanksgiving left overs.
We cut down the perfect Frasier fir Christmas tree according to Starla’s specifications. “It must be majestic.” It’s accessorized for the occasion and tucked cozy in the corner right next to the fireplace.

We did it. Boxes all ticked.
2020—it hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to but after a turbulent year, God brought us together on that day postured for gratitude, recounting our blessings with and for each other.
Another year of mercies, fresh and new each morning.
Abundant.
Generous.
Enough.

The Next Right Thing

Our family add-on, the resident plant expert, he’s got a greenhouse tucked behind our garage, a secret little incubator for growing bonsai trees, succulents and other arborist specialties. One year, on my birthday, he walked through the front door with a baby wisteria tucked tenderly into its cozy, little pot. For me. That’s when I knew he was a kindred spirit.IMG_0167

Come winter, I tucked my wisteria on a corner shelf in the garage because he told me to. After a while, the leaves made a puddle around the planter exposing a bare-naked twig in pebbly soil.

I took a picture and texted him with a sad faced emoji. “Did I kill it?” I queried.
“If the leaves fall, it doesn’t mean the plant is dying,” he responded confidently. “It’s just part of the life cycle.” Truly Profound.

Fast forward to 2020–a year of Shedding. Uncovering. Stripping down to a stick in a pot. And sometimes, I wonder if it belongs in the bin.
The pandemic.
The relational disconnection.
The change.
The losses.
The quiet.
It’s Jarring. Discordant. Like looking at the world without my reading glasses and everything’s fuzzy.

Last year, Christmas Eve morning, I cuddled into a heated recliner seat watching Frozen 2 at the theater with my tribe. Who would have guessed Disney could be prophetic? Depressed, Anna sings,

I’ve seen dark before but not like this.
This is cold. This is empty. This is numb.
The life I knew is over. The lights are out.
Hello darkness, I’m ready to succumb.
I follow you around, I always have, but you’ve gone to a place I cannot find.
This grief has a gravity that pulls me down.
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind.
You are lost. Hope is gone but you must go on.  And do the next right thing.

Like Anna, I wake up these days feeling uncertain too. And I’ll be honest, I generally don’t really want to rise and shine. But I kick the covers off my night-sweaty body, sometimes as early as 5:00 and ask myself the same question every morning–the one I learned from an animated princess. Go figure. God works in mysterious ways.
“God, what is the next right thing?”
He replies gently.

Take care of your body.
OK.
So I jog, not because I love it. I don’t. It feels like death climbing the hill up the street but afterwards I’m grounded and energized.
I try to drink more water and eat less sugar.
And I hike when and where I can.

Take care of your mind.
OK.
So, I read more books and I enroll in a graduate degree program because after 26 years of educating my children, maybe it’s time to interweave my own life learning with a formal plan of study.

Take care of your emotions.
OK.
So, I get a job because I need to find an identity that gives my contributions to the world a monetary value too.
I keep writing in my locked journal document, catharsis at the keyboard.
From time to time, I unload on faithful friends who listen long and give me a safe space to feel what I feel.
And I grow things in my garden that are beautiful and make me happy.

Take care of your spirit.
OK.
So, I go on long prayer walks and give everyone and everything to God.
I read His words to me and other people’s words about living their stories yoked to His greater one.
And I add meditation, posturing my body to receive what God gives– quietly, breathing deeply.

Love and serve your family.
OK.
So I plod along with all the dailies—the dishes, the laundry, the housekeeping, the transportation, the grocery shopping.
And I keep stepping into opportunities to fortify each one to walk their own unique journeys.

Love and serve other people.
OK.
So, I volunteer because I can and I want to contribute to ministries that salve the wounds of hurting people.
And I mentor, because even though I’m a piece of work, my compassion is sincere.

Then, at the end of each day, I pamper my arthritic shoulder with an ice pack, shape my pillow around my neck for just the right amount of support and go to sleep in peace because God’s got me. I’m safe in His hands.
And every day, one day at a time, I just keep breaking it down to this next breath, this next step, this next choice, to do the next right thing.

And about now, gearing up for a long, gloomy Michigan winter after a lingeringly bleak pandemic year I tell myself what my kid said– “If the leaves fall, it doesn’t mean the plant is dying.”

And Thanksgiving, it’s a big, bold, brazen megaphone pronouncing this reality;

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning.
Great is His faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23
.

I carry a lot of hopes into this holiday. Every year.
I want the food to be amazing.
The conversation animated and engaging.
I’d like to finish the puzzle without the dog eating any of the pieces.
I wouldn’t mind winning the whipped cream game.
And Lord knows, I want a good family picture wearing our gratitude shirts.
But when I dig a little deeper, what I’m really hoping is that we’ll come together postured for gratitude, attuned to God’s mercies, counting our blessings. Naming them one by one. Thankful we get to share them with each other. All day long.
And, really, that’s more than enough.

Election Day Mercies

I gotta admit, I was a lot more excited to find that Meijer re-opened the express self-checkout lanes for cash paying customers today than I was to vote. No more ugly orange signs announcing a coin shortage at my favorite store. It’s the little things really.

And, if that wasn’t mercy enough, and it was, Indian summer weighed in all sunshine and 62 in early November. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

I’m grateful for my 1 vote. Really I am. I just wish that the 2 primary contenders better represented the dignity of this great land that I love. But here’s the thing, at the end of the day, or maybe tomorrow, Biden or Trump will be elected President for 4 years. Biden’s already got 8 under his belt as White House sidekick and Trump’s been in the driver’s seat for 4. Nobody says it like it is better than the Teacher.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Here’s the thing. We’ve survived the leadership of both of these political hacks before and we’ll survive again.  So I’m going to sleep in peace because this election, it’s momentary. I know who the real King is and He’s got my vote forever. 

Good night.

Round 2: Donald Trump and My First Teenage Boyfriend

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Alexander. He woke up one morning and everything went wrong! Gum in his hair, didn’t get a window seat on the way to school, fights with his friends, no desert in his lunch, had to get a cavity filled and his mom served lima beans for dinner. Remember that story? By the end of the book, you’d like to gently pat him on the back, telling him it might have been better to pull the covers over his head and stayed in bed all day. But it’s too late. I’d be inclined to slap the same title on this political season—actually maybe the whole year—on steroids. We’re down to single digits for the upcoming election and early voters are proudly donning their “I Voted” sticker for selfies on social media. Ughhh…. I’ll be glad when it’s over. But then we’ll have to endure the morning after and it doesn’t take an Enneagram Six to be able to threat forecast the rhetoric. Like a couple of kids playing Candy Land after somebody wins, the loser candidate will accuse, “You’re a cheater!” while the other retorts “I am not.” Until mom breaks up the kafuffle. And the sad thing is, both sides have their own posse of toddler-like tantrum throwers in the ready to pitch a full-blown fit. On the bright side, at least my mailbox won’t be cluttered with political propaganda anymore. My recycling bin won’t have to be emptied as often and I can quit blocking the callers blowing up my phone with automated messages incessantly mining for voting data.   

I’m not very political. I’m disillusioned with the way it brings out the worst in people. But I have friends who are immigrants. One more year and they’ll be card carrying naturalized citizens. I sat in their backyard six feet apart awhile back. “We’re so excited to vote!” they declared, a broad smile spreading across their faces. “We’ve never been able to do that before.” Wow! I can’t even wrap my brain around that reality. I guess it’s easy to take my rights for granted when I haven’t had to flee for my life under dictatorial rule. This privilege to participate in the process, it’s a mercy and my vote, it matters.  

4 years ago pre-election, I wrote a blog post entitled Donald Trump and my first Teenage Boyfriend. Honestly, I kind of forgot what I said in it until I pulled it up on my phone this week and reread it aloud to the cute kid in the picture, now my 16 year-old daughter, who found it hilariously entertaining. Here’s the thing, I need to make a retraction. In the post, I asserted that Trump was sweet-talking republicans, specifically evangelicals, wooing them with their litmus test issue to get their votes, intending a mean break up after he got what he wanted. That’s not what happened and I humbly recant on that point. You could legitimately make him poster boy for the pro-life agenda. You could paint a 30-story high mural with the headshot of President DT on one of his casino towers and say “Thank You, President Trump for being pro-life.”  I’ve seen murals like that on Trump Tower in Atlantic City. It’s just that rather than a headshot of Trump, a half-nude woman with a sad smile and creepy eyes, you know, the kind you see on I-94 billboards going into Chicago, the ones advertising a “gentleman’s” club or a cheap XXX rated shop, that’s what adorned Trump’s entrepreneurial empire instead.  

1 term into the presidency, Donald Trump has a rah-rah cheering section amongst many prominent evangelical Christians for championing the lives of the unborn. Problem is, that the unborn are not the only people who should be treated with human dignity. I can feel the gasps as I type. Before writing me off as a liberal who’s about to denounce my faith in Jesus and go over to the dark side, hear me out. I’m a pro-lifer. I was one of those sign toting, perimeter praying abortion clinic protesters in my 20’s. I’ve never voted for any presidential candidate who does not claim to value the life of the unborn. You can read more about that here: Politics and Bad Hair.  

God cares about ALL human dignity. Created by His design, his love extends to every demographic which includes but is not limited to people whose skin color is pigmented differently than our majority culture, seasoned citizens who are infirmed and vulnerable, human beings who are immigrants—either legal or illegal, children who were born rather than aborted into poverty, instability and danger, males and females who feel confused about their gender and disoriented about their sexuality, and girls turned women victimized by sexual perversion, harassment and assault.   

While Trump has championed the pro-life agenda, he’s decimated the dignity of many other image bearing creations before and after his election to the office of President. Just scroll back through his twitter feed over time or watch his TV appearances on Youtube. He’s regularly crass, careless and compassionless with his words and he takes verbal shots at anyone who crosses him faster than a semi-automatic weapon can unload a round of ammunition. His mouth is a like a cesspool and if that’s not repugnant enough, he’s a sexual predator too. Reports of fondling, grabbing, gawking, forcing his mouth and his penis in places that they aren’t invited are as copious as his real estate holdings. His first wife even accused him of rape. To bottom feeder Howard Stern, Trump boasts about his voyeuristic strategy of using his position of power as a pageant owner to intentionally walk in on and take advantage of naked contestants in their dressing room. And on Access Hollywood tape, he gloats about behaviors that are blatantly sexual harassment at the very least. Meanwhile, in a Business Insider article dated September 17, 2020, 26 women made accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump that substantiate his own admissions and he both denies the allegations and threatens to sue the victims for crimes he publicly boasted about committing. What kind of psychopathology is that? Narcissism maybe? 

With the nature of predatory people and the way they tend toward excessive narcissism, anything that challenges the perpetrator’s grandiose opinion of him or herself is an invitation to a fight. Some perpetrators launch public character assassination campaigns against their victims, while other are litigious, threatening legal and economic ruin to any who would come forward.

We Too: How the Church can respond Redemptively to the Sexual abuse Crisis, Mary De Muth

I’ve heard people defend Trump claiming his victimization of women is in the past. Let bygones be bygones, they assert. Maybe even slap some cheap and easy forgiveness into the mix for good measure. Others take a boys will be boys approach. Some choose to overlook his character flaws because they support his policies. To those individuals, I say, it’s a free country and we all get our own vote. 

My blog represents just me. And I can not stand before God, before my daughters or before my gender with a vote that disregards the human dignity of women. I will not make excuses for a perpetrators behavior. I will not disregard sexual trauma. I will not multiply disgrace on victims who’ve already endured the shame of exploitation. I will not communicate a double standard to the world that makes exceptions for perversions of God’s design for sexual integrity in order to achieve political expediency.

The lives of the unborn, they matter. And I won’t vote for someone who isn’t committed to protecting them. The dignity of girls and women matters too. God says it does. And I won’t vote for a sexual predator. That is my political manifesto.  

In this land of milk and honey where we enjoy Wisconsin dairy frozen custard, Colorado 14ers, all things Apple, Pure Michigan freshwater lakes and Chicago Pizza, surely, we can do better than this. Neither of these candidates represents the great nation that we actually are. With my 1 vote, I get a choice and it’s not just a choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. I can choose whoever I consider a worthy candidate for the office of President of the United States of America. 1 vote. No more. No less. Fair enough.