Living the Great American Dream

It was 1986. The guy trying to win my heart took me to a quaint little donut shop for apple turnovers one Saturday morning. That was the start of our beautiful relationship with Robinette’s, a multi-generational family owned fruit farm. One turnover multiplied into many over the next few years. Poor college kids, we didn’t always have enough money to buy donuts come the weekend, but when we did, we’d cuddle into the corner picnic table near the fireplace and plan out our picture perfect future together._MG_5475

About the mid-90’s, that same guy and I, we started taking our first baby to Robinette’s for donuts. Pretty soon, the kids and donut purchases both grew exponentially.
I can’t remember the first year we climbed the ladders into the cherry trees with our metal buckets to hear ka-plink, ka-plank, ka-plunk, but it turned into a family tradition every year come 4th of July week.IMG_5455DSCF4274DSCF9390DSCF8754
When our nomadic life landed us at Kuyper College apartments for the summer, we felt giddy at the thought of living next door to Robinette’s. We unloaded our Grand Rapids or Bust Chevy Astro van, and headed over to the Apple Haus to celebrate._MG_5478

Jim and Bethel served as both the patriarch and matriarch of the family business and the host and hostess for the farm. You’d find Jim tending the flowers he planted in the whiskey barrels out front, shining up his Model A truck right next to the 1884 farmhouse they lived in on the property or chatting with customers about interesting places and people he’d met all over the world. Bethel worked behind the counter serving customers and leading school groups visiting on field trips.
For more than 100 years, and 5 generations, this farm has been a family affair. Jim and Bethel’s sons, their wives and grandkids all work the farm too. Now, they are the ones adding innovations to grow their small business and make a family friendly impact on our community.

When Jim heard we were neighbors for the summer, he invited us to be back door guests. “Why don’t you just walk through the orchard to come over for donuts?” He offered. And so we did. We marked the years, the kids growing up like the apple sapplings planted in neat rows. There were 10 summers that we meandered back and forth, through the orchard, arriving about the time the apple trees first blossomed pink and leaving just as the first crop got picked, bagged and ready for purchase. And all our friends tagged along. We could have won a popularity contest in those days. Everybody wanted to come over to the Websters’ place to walk to Robinette’s. The kids ate donuts on the porch swing while us mamas chatted at a picnic table. Then, they’d play tag on the shady lawn over and around the mammoth, mature trees. Those were the golden hours of the best summers ever!

Fast forward that decade and our oldest needed a summer job to help pay for college, so she started selling donuts behind the counter instead of buying them. A few years later, the next kid needed work too and she served food at the lunch counter. Then, the third kid was trying to boost her savings account and landed her first job supervising the bounce pillow while drinking cider slushies. Exclusive employee perks. Then last year, the baby’s first paycheck came from guess where? Robinette’s.

We’re still regulars at the Apple Haus. Always on the lookout for the day olds. Stocking up on honeycrisp apples all fall. But last year, I could tell Jim wasn’t designing the flower arrangements in the whiskey barrels anymore. I didn’t see he and Bethel around the shop. Then, this May, right around the time the apple blossoms burst into bloom, I heard the sad news of Jim’s passing and a few weeks later, Bethel too, departed this life for eternity.

4th of July week rolled around in the weirdest year ever. COVID robbed us of our time-honored traditions—parading in Ada in the morning and fireworks at Reeds Lake at night. Late spring freezes stole Robinette’s cherry crop. Record high water levels on the Lake snatched away significant portions of our beaches and there’s a constant churning of unrest. Peaked unemployment levels erode individuals and families’ financial stability. Suspicion of anybody who coughs is fueling fear and paranoia about sickness and dying. Exposed injustice has amped up racial tension to boiling over, resulting in retributive vandalism and violence. And it’s another polarizing presidential election year.

It’s easy to pick apart what’s going wrong in America about now but there’s also a bunch of stuff going right.
Which brings me back around to Robinette’s.
Robinette’s represents quintessential Americana at it’s very best! America has been and still is a place where families can work hard- real hard, extremely, perseveringly hard– to build a life, a business, and a civic impact for good.

When the donut and cider line extends down Four Mile Road come Fall, it’s not just about donuts and cider.
It’s about tradition.
It’s about the simple pleasures of food and drink and family and friends and nature.
It’s where people come to delight in the goodness of all that God makes grow.
It’s a celebration of another year that’s come and gone leaving its unique fingerprint on each of our stories.
It’s a new batch of photos marking time and memories with people we love best.DSCF9399

In this rugged individualist culture, the Robinette’s are family rugged. Year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation, they steward their land, their resources and their business with integrity. And they do it together.
So this 4th of July, as I celebrated the birthday of the good ole’ USA, I reflected on the sweet lives of Jim and Bethel Robinette. If I weren’t a tea totaler, I’d raise a glass of Barzilla’s Brew in their honor…but I am, so I guess I’ll settle for an apple cider slushy. “Here’s to Jim and Bethel and all the Robinette’s before and after them. Your great American Dream inspires me!”

Mama’s Brag Book

IMG_5176I don’t think it’s a thing anymore but when I was a baby, my mom had a brag book. The words were engraved right on the hard cover with square slots for pictures with white borders around them tucked inside plastic sleeves.

A brag book might sound kind of arrogant these days, but it’s not. From the moment the 2 lines on a pregnancy test turn pink until the birthday celebrating your kid’s legal emancipation and beyond, both of you, separately and together are living a seismic adventure. And if you survive with your sanity reasonably intact and a digital album of the golden-most moments to scroll through on your iphone, call it a big win.

I’m super proud of my kids. I admit it. The ones I birthed and the one God added through the bond of love. They’re in-process, for sure, but then, so am I. And, there’s lots to affirm, especially about these two. So I’m celebrating Robyn and Brennan and their May wedding–2020’s greatest adventure so far.IMG_5005IMG_4637

How did that sweet little freckle faced kid grow up to be so stunningly beautiful?
And his eyes…they’re amazing!

Robyn, she came wired a compelling communicator–speaking, writing, drawing, creating music at the keyboard. It’s all in her head, like a gift ready to be shared at any given moment.
And Brennan, he’s creative, quality minded and resourceful. Those rings they exchanged— he crafted them out of gold he unearthed metal detecting. Then he found a small town craftsman and participated in the process of melting down, casting the gold and setting the stone.


All those candles, the centerpieces on our dinner party table, the kids melted down 100 pounds of soy wax in empty Pringles cans on our kitchen counter one cylinder at a time. The orbs illumined our smiling faces as we recounted the goodness of God in their stories and toasted to their shared future.


And I just gotta say, the bridal bouquet Brennan arranged was pretty sweet too!IMG_4626

That son I love, she’s safe with him. He’s loyal. He’s committed. And he’s been intentional about building a foundation of care and trust, one solid brick at a time.
And the daughter I love, she swims out in the deep end where you can’t touch bottom but you touch the depths of God. And she caught a vision of God’s heart for her man and invited him to join her. Now, she’s his biggest cheerleader. IMG_5194IMG_5229

Their relationship, it hasn’t been a linear path but they are learning that Plan B, C or D isn’t necessarily less than Plan A, it’s just different.

They’re content with the simple gift of everyday companionship.

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They’re taking care of their bodies with life giving routines–Eating home cooked meals. Exercising. Resting.
Before the birds sing their dawn chorus, my kids, both frontline workers, drag themselves out of bed, pour a cup of coffee into their thermal mugs labelled “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and head out to the hospital to offer skilled, compassionate care to sick people.
They’ve checked all the boxes that apply on Dave Ramsey’s baby steps to Financial Peace and are off to a great start with their budget.
Their cozy apartment is becoming a welcoming place of hospitality.
And most importantly, they want their lives to image Jesus so they’re establishing regular rhythms to pursue that goal together.IMG_4893

COVID-19 hi-jacked their original wedding plan but God’s mercies were extravagant on May 13 and by the time our two families stood together on the dunes of Lake Michigan witnessing their vows, we all felt pretty overwhelmed with gratitude for a day that just couldn’t have been any more amazing!IMG_4834IMG_4933

So, here’s to my kids. ……..
I’m proud to be their mama.IMG_4982IMG_4944IMG_5035

COVID Quarantine Mercies

Sometimes mercies arrive in the most unlikely packages.
Usually they come like the mail, every day around 1:00, the familiar squeak of a white truck’s brakes in front of the box,
Or transported by the trademark all-in-brown UPS guy.
Occasionally they appear as a delivery from the florist’s refrigerated van, a pretty bouquet with a card saying “Just Because”.
And then, there’s the guy who pulls up your driveway with no identifiable credentials and drops off something you weren’t expecting and didn’t order and you’re not sure if you want it, especially from a stranger.IMG_9860

Mercies are like that. Unpredictably lavish, everyday reliable and unexpectedly severe.

I’m reclining under the shade of a tree this start of summer afternoon, songbirds substituting for Spotify, breeze gently dancing through the branches keeping me cool, comfy chair too. Everthing’s picture perfect except that I’m swatting at unrelenting bloodsucking mosquitoes who are making a meal out of mine.

And that’s life.

I’ve always told my girls:
People are a mixed bag—beautiful but broken image bearers of their Designer.
Nature is majestic—full of grandeur- and at the same time all creation groans.
Our bodies are miraculously resilient while also incredibly fragile.

So, too the conundrum with mercies. At times, they’re profoundly better than we hoped. Gifts greater than what we dared to ask for. But sometimes, they weren’t on our list and we’d prefer to return them but we can’t. So much of the angst in life is set to rest when we learn to trust the whole spectrum of God’s mysterious graces and this season of COVID-19 pandemonium offers us unprecedented opportunities to practice.
Here’s what that’s looked like in our story the last 14 days of this year of Coronavirus.

I’ve got 3 kids who work in health care, reporting to the hospital day after day. We figured we’d all eventually get infected through them but so far we’ve just gotten free donuts for healthcare workers instead. Thanks God and Krispie Kreme too.

Robyn’s wedding took a direct hit from COVID-19. Plan A turned into Play Y by May 13. And I won’t lie, the lead up was rough—for all of us. But the day unfolded all sunshine. And one of  the bestest fresh mercies of the morning was the family friend who rescued us from our hair emergency. One by one, right there in our living room, she spent hours curling and pinning and braiding and clipping. And just like an assembly line, we stepped out of her chair all beautiful. We rode to the beach in our borrowed Ford RV chariot. The Lake glistening all diamond-like calm and the dunes warm on our bare shoulders and toes as covenant promises were exchanged. Then we celebrated together around a cozy candlelit outdoor table for 13 with pasta and cookie cake, finishing out the festivities with sparklers, confetti poppers and long hugs.

Two mornings later, my phone went ding while I was shopping at the grocery store.
That same sweet friend, texted saying, “My sister got tested for COVID last night and the results came back positive. I’m getting her symptoms and the CDC says it’s likely our family has it. I’ll be tested today. I’m so sorry but I wanted you to know.”

So, I messaged my family with the news.
“Oh wonderful!”
“I wanted to go home this weekend!”
“You mean I can’t volunteer to serve at drive-in church on Sunday?”
“Oh dear!” came the replies.

It wasn’t long until her follow up text confirmed, “I’m positive too.”

The ones who planned on a secluded honeymoon in the mountains went anyway.
Our nurse tested negative then went back to work.
The aspiring author just cleaned her room to make her creative studio more comfortable to write in during the quarantine rest.
And the one who wanted to go home to Chicago, but couldn’t on account of her conscience, got slightly cranky—only very temporarily though. Family time is great, but in moderation. At least that’s her perspective.

We formulated a plan, the four of us sleeping under this roof anyway.
We’ve all been exposed so we’re in this together, baby! 2 whole weeks of self-quarantine.
No Meijer. No Target. No Aldi. No Flowerland.
But, Yes to the trails. Yes to the beach.  And yes to the sunshine.
And the Chicago-girl and I, we made a pact.
Let’s not squander the time together, we agreed. Let’s redeem it. And we have.

May 15:
Caring friends start texting.
Ding. “Take plenty of Vitamin C and D and sit in the sunshine. Also, drink a glass of red wine everyday.”  “Why?” I ask. “There’s something in the grape, and the alcohol is like hand sanitizer for your stomach.” OK….
Ding. “Drink a lot of hot and orange juice.”
Another Ding. “Gargle and hot tea.”
Is there a pattern here?….

May 16:
Today’s best quotables:
“If I breathe on Teddy maybe he’ll get COVID and then I can get back at him for biting me last week.” (Lily)
“Life is really wow!” (Hope)

May 17:
Lily tested negative. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry. If we’re going to be stuck here for 2 weeks, we’d kind of like to get it over with and come out the other side with antibodies.

May 18: Got up at 10:30 today. That’s a 30 minute gain from yesterday. I’ve decided I’m going to give myself 1 full week to be entirely useless after the wedding and if I’m symptom free after that, I’m going to kick myself in the butt and get productive again.

May 19:
Daily fruit smoothie blended in the trusty Vitamix and doused in whip cream for everybody in the fam. Check.
2 mile jog. Check.
Switch out winter and summer clothes. Check.
I went to bed before midnight. Shocker.

May 20:
Second shower I’ve taken since the wedding.
Played Harry Potter Clue. Love is the only explanation.
Practiced a dance tutorial on YouTube for exercise.
Stayed up too late binge watching Netflix, heard a funny noise coming from the basement. I discovered a broken water line flooding the storage room. Caught it fast and an hour later, we’d cleaned up the mess and gone to bed. Murphy’s law mixed with fresh mercy. Isn’t that how life goes?

May 21:
My decks looks like a tulip festival. And when I peek through its floorboards I see a robin’s nest carefully constructed, strategically tucked under the wooden supports and housing 4 little blue eggs. Mama robin hovers nearby to protect her babies, hoping they’ll grow into healthy, autonomous birds. I get that.

May 22:
Watering and weeding. Every single day.
I cleaned out the room of the one who’s not coming back to it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go over it. Gotta go through it. And it’s hard….
Ruminating on the words of a new book I’m reading: “Your child has caused you pain as well, but as the parent, you do not get the freedom to bleed all over your child. You have real grief but your child is not the recipient of your grief.”  Ouch, that hurts! I’ve hemorrhaged all over my kids.

May 23:
Taking on the paperwork pile.
Started making my next T-shirt quilt.
Cancellations, refunds. No vacation to Prince Edward Island and the Lake of Shining Waters or Green Gables. Have I said it before? This year ranks low on my favorites list.
But, the kids buy me a 2 week subscription of Hello Fresh for dinner. Oh happy day!

May 24:
A quick trip to the lakeshore with Ang. First stop, the cemetery. Time for my annual meet and greet with mom and dad. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I didn’t have to talk to a tombstone. Next stop, the beach. The lapping waves lullaby me  and I nap in the sunshine. It’s fun to be together.
Tailgating picnic for 5 at Kuyper College on the big hill. Peace. Joy.
Then, the honeymooners return with stories of their adventures.

 

May 25:
Church in our oversized chair. Angela and I share her consecrated bread.
Sorting through memories–purging, organizing, saving. This time she relinquished her dowry—a seashell collection- the brunt of our family joke about the  junk she’ll bring into a marriage someday.
Hot day. Maranatha at sunset—climbed to the prayer tower. Plenty to pray about. Not a prettier place to meet with Jesus.


The tear ducts overflowing tonight. Can’t seem to turn the faucet off. So much transition.

May 26:
Not a morning person. Tried to jog first thing. Another hot day. Fail. 1.2 miles and I quit. Well, actually I collapsed.
More sorting. This time it’s school books. 2 categories: 1) Save for the grandkids. 2) Don’t save for the grandkids.


Holiday dinner. All the kids around the table. Dragged up an old family joke from the archives. “What do we call a fairy who doesn’t take a bath?” –“A stinkerbell.” I really, really miss those days!
Watched Emma (2020) though I never could stay focused on a Jane Austen flick. Their lives are so boring.

May 27:
Tomorrow we get out of jail.
I’m starting to think about life post-quarantine.
Finding our new normal, just the 3 of us.
Dumping a colossal donation off at Goodwill.
Crossing the border into Indiana to go to Kohl’s later this week.
And now, because it’s time, Angela, she’ll load up her car, wave out the sunroof and go “Zoooom”….

These days, the ones God sovereignly surprised me with, they’ve actually been a treasure.
He protected our bodies from illness.
He provided a temporary diversion, a few weeks to rest and recharge before I face off the reality of yet another empty bedroom with all of its nostalgia.
And, He posited Angela and I in a training plan to strengthening our relational muscles through repetitions of love, respect and understanding and it turned out to be a great workout.
We stewarded our time responsibly.
We took a lot of walks.
We practiced being kind.
We gave each other space.
We listened to music. Arabic. Gaelic. German. Pop. Even CCM.
We Facetimed friends across the ocean and across town.
We watched movies– though my suggestions are always too sad, she says.
We talked about things that matter in the great big cosmos and in each of our own little worlds.
We cooked curry and baked scones and ate lots of homemade ice cream. She drank about a half dozen gallons of milk but neither of us imbibed any wine.
We went to the beach and watched the sunset together there too.
Lots of great memories to carry into a fresh, new summer. So many mercies.IMG_9644

And so, quarantine life turned into one of my favorite parts of this otherwise not-favorite year. God’s Plan B for the weeks post-wedding, turned out to be better than my plan A.
And I just feel really, really grateful.

In Honor of MLK Jr.’s Dream

IMG_0333 2Ebeneezer Baptist. That’s the red brick church I walked to from downtown Atlanta one icy, cold afternoon two winters ago. In the peace plaza next to the building, there’s an eternal flame. Facing the Georgia marble tomb where MLK Jr. and his bride, Coretta, are laid to rest, we defrosted our fingers in its warmth.

It’s a national holiday. Government offices are closed. There won’t be any mail delivered to my box.
And today, I’m reflecting on MLK Jr.’s dream.
It’s a good dream.
It’s actually a great dream.
It’s God’s dream.

It’s a dream of white-skinned people and black-skinned people sitting down at a table together to share food and friendship.
It’s a dream of justice and freedom from discrimination for all Americans in every state of the union.
It’s a dream of black youth being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
And it’s a dream of unified revelation of the glory of the Lord to all people.

The whole palette of colors God created are all equally beautiful to Him.
Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.

Whenever any of His creative masterpieces are treated as inferior or demeaned, when injustice and violence is perpetrated against them, God is the first one to cry. And whatever breaks his heart, should break ours too.

So, I have a tradition. In recognition of this holiday, I always try to watch a movie that sensitizes me with the suffering of slavery, segregation and discrimination because
I don’t want to overlook the degradation that black people experience.
I don’t want to diminish the trauma in African American people’s stories.
I don’t want to forget the courage and sacrifices made for the sake of equal rights and freedoms.
Instead, I want to listen sensitively to the concerns of minority populations.
I want to contribute to peace and harmony between races.
I want to embrace a holy vision of liberty and justice for all.

The dream—it won’t be fully realized before heaven, but I look forward to the day when all God’s children join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we’re free at last.”

BONUS: My top 10 impact movies on this issue.
Selma
Ruby Bridges
Harriet
The Help
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Loving
42
Hidden Figures
Woodlawn
Just Mercy

Happy Epiphany

IMG_8280They saw him and they worshipped him. They opened their treasures and presented them to him. Matthew 2:11

There were 3 of them, at least that’s how it’s always depicted in nativity scenes.
This gig, it’s just mother-daughter.

I didn’t pack for a journey that would last months, maybe years.
I left with a carry on and a backpack.

I didn’t cross the desert on a camel with the night sky as my map.
I boarded a plane, then rented a Volkswagen with Bluetooth GPS guidance and a perfect Spotify playlist of choral anthems, rich in Scripture, just like the girls used to sing.

I didn’t camp under the stars.
My mother in law loaned us a Wyndham timeshare in Sedona, Arizona with a 102 degree hot tub, perfect for admiring Orion’s belt.

I didn’t hover over the baby Jesus manger today. Not like the magi did.
But I saw him, gazing out over the canyon rim. And I, too, wondered at the miracle of such mysteriously lavish mercy and grace.IMG_7254

I didn’t offer him costly perfumes or precious metals.
But I presented Him with my sincerest worship. And so did she.
Each in our own ways, because we are both unique image-bearers on our own spiritual journeys. And today, we were traveling together.
Hers was a quiet expedition, transpiring in private places deep inside her soul and tethered to her worn, blue, leather Bible, a journal and pen she carried in her backpack.
Mine was more like a spring bubbling up at unsuspecting moments, leaking out the tear ducts and babbling from the mouth. The words all nuanced versions of “What kind of amazing God created all this?”
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We walked the rim together for several miles then attached our Krampons to our hiking boots and headed down the canyon. The snow only added to the splendor but made the switchback ridge trail icy and dangerous. It was 101 flights down a winding path to Ooh-Aah Point, every twist and turn, a new panoramic slice of gorgeousness.

I was almost to the scenic vista when I took my first fall. The provision that kept me from slipping caused me to stumble—twice. The first time, my micro-spikes caught on a rock and I went forward on my left side right into the mud. My personal off-duty nurse checked my wrist, verified that I could move my fingers and tried to dust off some of the dirt. I was shaken for a bit. I’ve never tumbled downhill a few feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon but the angels softened and directed my blow and I continued on lavished in grace.IMG_8262

There’s a reason they call it Ooh-Aah Point but no words to explain it, so, we took pictures to try and capture the grandeur even though the scale is all wrong. They’re a dim reflection of what’s real. Then, we each sat quietly for a while just savoring. And in my head, I was hearing the deep, resonant voice of George Beverly Shea bellowing out that old hymn, How Great Thou Art, like poetry:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder.
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur,
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee.
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee.
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Eventually, we had to leave, to climb back up the canyon. The trek uphill was an entirely different kind of challenge. My spike snagged a stone again and this time, I went down on my right side before I reached the rim.

Worship is like that hike….
Falling on our faces, repeatedly.
Humbled by our sin and our human frailty.
It’s in the prostrate position that we best contrast our weakness to His strength.
Our dirty clothes to His pure holiness.
Our limited understanding with His omniscience.
Our finiteness to His eternality.
Our self-serving, temporal affections with His sacrificial and enduring love.

It’s exhilarating to worship in the rush of awe and wonder that comes from your first gaze on the Canyon from the edge of the rim.
But, on the ground, in the mud, we’re pillowed in His fresh mercies too.
And God celebrates both forms of honor.IMG_7304

It’s the beginning of a new decade and I got to spend my first Sabbath rest of this year in the sun-saturated, breathtaking beauty called the Grand Canyon.
And on this gift-giving holiday called Epiphany, I gave Jesus the gift of praise.
And He gave me the gift of hope.
Eternal hope.
Hope that when the curse of sin that mars the original design of creation is broken, God will restore it to its original glory.
This Canyon,
This whole world.
And even me.IMG_7326

I bow my knee to receive this gift Lord Jesus with gratitude.
Thanks Be To God.

Grateful 2019

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

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

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

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

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

This Is Us This Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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