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.
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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.”

 

Human Dignity and Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grateful 2018

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving 2018

Birthday Blessings

The leaves have gone golden, a sure sign that it’s birthday week at the Websters. The flag hangs on the front porch announcing glad tidings.
My daughters keep growing up.
Just the way they’re supposed to.

In the next couple of days, one of them changes status and starts checking the adult box on all her official paperwork.
And the oldest, she’ll turn one year shy of a quarter of a century. Then, a few days later, we’ll drop her off at the airport. She’ll board an economy airline and fly far, far away until it’s almost next year’s birthday.

God added these ladies to our family a few days apart on the October calendar.
And, they’re more like each other than either of them realize, which might account for the rub sometimes; but,  I wouldn’t have it any other way.


They might be little, but they are fierce.
Fierce to speak in defense of what they believe to be true.
Fierce to love and protect their own.

And they are also tender.
Both Sensitive.
Caring.
Even fragile.

Uniquely distinctive too, each bringing their own grace and beauty to the world according to God’s master knitting and pearling their DNA and writing their individual stories.

When I sit down and page through the photo albums, my predominant sentiment is overwhelming gratitude.
I asked God to make me a mama. And these are 2 of the children He answered with.

Like a great big present pristinely wrapped, He gifted them to me.
And God said,
“Here you go. This is for you.
You get to be the one to put the Band-Aids on their owies.
You’ll lay next to them late at night and listen to their stories.
You’ll multiply kisses and hugs by 365.
You’ll teach them to read.
You’ll tell them about me when you sit and lie down, at home and on the road. And there’s going to be lots of on the road….
They’ll learn to talk to me because they hear you do it.
It’s your love that will give them a glimpse of mine.”

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetSo, I have loved each one with all that I am and all that I have. Oftentimes, it’s felt sadly deficient and profoundly flawed but somehow both because of and despite me, here they are, each beautiful image bearers of the power of the gospel.

And this is my birthday blessing to my girls, Robyn and Angela.

In the night, He is with you
At morning light, He is with You
Do not fear, for He is with you.
When I’m not here, He is with you.

Rest your eyes, He is with you.
I pray you find, He is with you.
When I let go, He is with you.
And I can know that He is with you.

You are mine for a moment.
But you are His. Forever His.
And in this life, I am holding You.
But in His arms you live.

I couldn’t love you more.
No, I couldn’t love you more.
No, I couldn’t love you more.
Oh, but somebody does, Jesus.

Somebody does, Jesus.
(I Couldn’t Love You More, Matt Hammitt)

Entrusted into my care for a season.
Grafted into my heart forever.
Grateful.

One More Step

I’m generally fashionably late.
So brace yourself for this shocker. My Father’s Day musings, they’re early.
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Last night, the baby and her new buddy stood out the back of the Grand Haven trolley on our inaugural ride of the season. After it circled the beach, we climbed the hill past the cemetery and she waved at Grandma and Grampsy, their boxes tucked under a mature pine a few hundred yards away.
And I thought about my dad.
Does a day ever go by when I don’t?
He was the most influential broken-beautiful man to touch my formative story.

My dad, they cut him clear round his shoulder blades in a C. I’d trace the scars with my finger tip when I was just a wee girl. Those C shaped scars, they shaped him. He and God got intimately acquainted quarantined in a tuberculosis sanitorium for three solid years. Those scars molded him into a man of prayer and a man of fear.
Scars are like that—two sided coins.
Prayer defined his daily rhythm and fear of loss, illness, hunger and risk, it held a vice grip on his spirit.Irvin2 1He spent so much energy worrying, he was stuck.
And passive.
And he grumbled.
And sometimes he lost his temper.
Those flaws, they hurt me. They left me with my own scars, not the kind you can trace though.
The truth is, all families are broken.

img_0998.jpgMy family was broken.
I don’t name it to shame my parents or blame them either.
I name it because the truth sets me free.
I name it so I can love my parents authentically for who they actually were, each with their own rumpled stories, rather than for who I pretend they were.
All young children re-create their family story to make it “right”. Developmentally, they have to. God didn’t equip their brains and emotions to process the pain of what’s real. So in their heads, they make their family normal and loving and OK, even if they aren’t. And they are loyal to the make-believe parents they’ve created. Maturing equips people to let go of photo shopped parents and engage the original image, with all of its blemishes.
When our affection is informed by truth, it can mature into real love instead.

fullsizeoutput_7cffMy family, it’s broken too.
I’ve brought my own baggage into my kids stories.
And so has their Daddy.
They’re growing up now, wandering through their own desert in Egypt trying to trade an image of parental love for the genuine article.

And the thing is, we’re all really just taking the next step, best as we know how,  learning to love each other in sincerity and with authenticity.
My dad did.
I do.
My kids are.

There’s a song. (There always is….)
Makes me think of my dad and our shared journey:fullsizeoutput_8946IMG_3925

I was maybe 12 months old, holding on couches, letting go.
Waving my arms, trying to walk in that old video.
You were reaching out your hands, telling me to take a chance.
You never left my side and never let me go and then you said to me…
One more step, one more try, any moment you will find,
Your falling less and standing more
Soon you’ll run on this kitchen floor.
It won’t be long just hold on, try your best.
One more step.

fullsizeoutput_8926Time flies like my heart that day, my whole world about to change.
I had my borrowed, had my blue and a boy had my heart.
You told me don’t forget the ring… try to soak in everything.
Standing by my side you whispered, “Look at where we are.”
One more step down this aisle I will cry and you will smile.
The little girl that once was mine,
I walk you now to your new life.
The future is as bright as your white dress.
One more step.

Irvin9 1

Always happens way too soon, doctor leaves a quiet room.
The first to find your voice you said, I’m ready to go.
You asked me what I thought it’s like, leaving this whole world behind.
Standing by your side I said, you already know.
One more step, blink your eyes and you’ll be home on the other side.
Running down the golden streets, you’ll hear a million angels sing.
One more kiss on earth is all that’s left.
Before the breath of heaven fills your chest.
You’ll finally see his face and find your rest.
One more step.    (One More Step, Linsday Mc Caul)

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My dad, he always reached out to catch me….

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He stood by my side….

Irvin5 1

He walked me to my new life….

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He just kept taking one more step…. Just like all of us parents do every day, utterly dependent on the fresh mercies of God that are always enough.
Eventually, his journey ended in the arms of Jesus. And I was holding his hand.
And thirteen years later, I still feel
So.
Incredibly.
Grateful.Irvin10 1

Jesus, the Ultimate Gentleman

Tonight, I found my voice.
While I shopped for groceries at Walmart, the sun went to bed painting the sky dusky navy blue. I exited the wrong doors, forgetting where I parked my van. It was in the pause, while I mentally mapped the parking lot that he spied my vulnerability. Like a vulture, His motorized cart swooped in, his gaze locked on the prey.
“Ma’am, “ he spoke invitationally, slightly pathetically, a well-rehearsed mantra.
I glanced over my shoulder at him, and that “Mother Bear” instinct, it surprisingly emerged to protect me.
“NO”, I literally yelled adding a hand gesture indicating that he better not move any closer into my space.
Suddenly he shed the victim card and angrily grunted back, “F_ _ _ you, lady” as he spit my direction and turned his cart around to scope out the next easy target.

The adrenalin surge that accompanied that one word, carried me confidently to my vehicle but when I positioned myself behind the wheel and reached for the door lock button, I found my hand slightly trembling.

Psychology explains the brain’s design to respond to danger this way: On a subconscious level, our amygdala sends alarm messages to all of our powerhouse hormones even before our rational mind can react to the perceived threat. This triggers automatic bodily responses we call Fight, Flight or Freeze.

My body’s default position typically re-sets on Freeze. Even after self-defense classes and carrying pepper spray on my key chain, fear turns me into a mute pillar of stone.
Except for tonight– when I found my voice.

Tonight, I boldly reject making excuses for the ill-treatment of women.
I reject justifying predatory behaviors.
I repudiate the way we do somersaults to upend the roles of victim and predator.
It’s not OK to intentionally pretend you can’t walk or you have a disability to make yourself appear vulnerable to a stranger. That’s deceitful.
It’s not OK to threaten a driver’s sense of safety by hovering in close to their window, staring at them while they wait at a stop light. That’s intimidation.
It’s not OK to target women at night or in vulnerable locations to beg for money.  That’s menacing.

And the panhandlers, those guys only make up a miniscule proportion of the population of males who exploit females.
There are also the guys who drug girls drinks to make folly with their bodies.
And the neighbor, friend, co-worker, or relative who’s distorted sense of sexuality results in harassment and voyeurism.
There’s the dreaded stranger, the one who’s warped lust for power ends in assault.
And let’s not forget the priests, pastors, camp counselors and other religious authorities who obliterate the trust of the females in their spiritual care through abuse.
Or the boyfriends and husbands who’s passive-aggressive approach imbibes on porn and objectifies women for their own cheap thrills.

And then, there’s Jesus.
The ultimate gentleman.

It’s Holy Week. Christians everywhere set apart this long weekend on the calendar every year so we can intentionally reflect on the passion of Jesus.
And the refreshing reality is that Jesus’ passion isn’t about getting,
Or taking,
Or manipulating,
Or exploiting.
He doesn’t need to power up,
Or victimize
And he never shames.

Jesus redefines passion and flips the world’s definition upside down through supreme self-sacrifice.
Jesus leadership style watches my back by surrendering His.
Literally.
That scourging Jesus took in my place, it came from a heavy whip designed with small lead balls attached to leather thongs. The first lashes cut through his dermis then into the subcutaneous tissues, breaking blood vessels and ultimately the veins in the underlying muscles until the skin on Jesus back hung in long ribbons leaving the entire area an unrecognizable gnarly mass of torn, bleeding flesh. Half fainting from blood loss, a guard pressed long thorns hard into His scalp and He carried a heavy cross to the hill of Golgotha where they drove wrought iron nails through His feet and wrists positioning Him upright on a cross in a perfected posture of ultimate torment so that His muscles would quickly cramp and prevent his ability to take breaths. As His tortured lungs filled with fluid, His heart went into shock and  ultimately ruptured.*JesusSaves

And in the midst of His own unfathomable suffering,
He’s concerned about the safekeeping of that woman in His life, his own dear Mama.
“Take care of her for me,” Jesus tells His buddy John.

That’s our Jesus.
He knows.
He protects.
He cares.
He loves.
He’s truthful.
And trustworthy.
And perfectly good.
He doesn’t dismiss our fears.
And he doesn’t excuse harm and violence against us.

It’s a comfort to know that in a broken down world where our sense of security is commonly threatened, that Jesus fights for us.
That we can flee to His strong arms and freeze right there, held  tightly in His nail scarred hands.
And that’s just one of the reasons this Friday is a Good Friday.

 

Postscript:  In case you think I’m man-bashing, stay tuned for my next post on Other Good Men in the Making. Male image bearers of Christ abound and I’m grateful.

*Physician’s Medical Description of Crucifixion

What Jesus Wants for Christmas

 

IMG_8272We wandered around the tree farm with a savvy seven year old sales rep helping us choose a Frasier fir to take home and decorate in our living room. And it’s our year of the perfect Christmas tree.
Except for the melody of the windchimes on the porch and the harmonizing snores coming from the next room, there’s a sacred hush this midnight hour with the pooch at my feet. And I savor the holy moment. The twinkling white lights wrapped around the towering trunk mesmorize, but it’s the Little People nativity set lovingly arranged by “the baby” and placed front and center on the tree skirt, that’s where my gaze rests. Because once the pretty packages are all ripped open, the real gift of Christmas is still the birth of Jesus.fullsizeoutput_7e71

And every Christian family personalizes that birthday celebration with their own set of traditions.
We started ours the Christmas our “big girl” turned two. Together, we baked a homemade birthday cake and hosted a party for Him. The illusive became tangible through the lens of childlike faith as we took Jesus to the park and had a play date. Then we came home, stripped out of our snowsuits and drank hot chocolate with bright pink cheeks. We colored pictures representing time, treasure and talents and wrapped them up in sparkly paper only to excitedly help Jesus rip them open moments later.

 

 

Traditions morph over time matching age and stage and a few decades later, we have a memory book full of images capturing the joy and delight of Jesus birthday celebrations every annum. There have been advent wreathes and Christmas concerts and cookie exchanges. Some years the girls donned angel costumes for divine delivery of homemade treats to shut ins and fire fighters. And we spent many a Christmas day singing and playing carols for the elderly and the homeless and serving dinner at local shelters. The nativity story came alive for the masses in our original puppetry production. And Jesus’ collection of single edition prints created by our amateur artists expanded exponentially over the years. Later, we started to save our coins all year long to gift Jesus with chickens and TB medication, Bibles and tuition. “When you do it for the least of these, you do it for me,” Jesus said. So, we huddled around the computer as Daddy transacted our purchases online. The activities varied with each passing year, but the birthday boy, Jesus, has always taken center stage of the festivities on December 25 and we’ve tried to give Him the gifts He likes best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, I’ve been wondering what it would look like to lavish Jesus with what He wants most.

IMG_3465We’ll all be together on His birthday, a menagerie of adult people and a couple of teenagers too. All but one of us has jobs now. We can comfortably throw some bucks into a pot and gift Jesus with a cow or a goat or maybe contribute to a fresh water well. That would be easy. But somehow, easy feels cheap. And God’s not a cheapskate and He doesn’t seem like a big fan of easy either. At least that’s my conclusion after reading through the gospels. Christmas cost God everything and ultimately His plan was so hard, the Son submissively pleaded with the Father to pursue another way, a plan B if it was possible. But it wasn’t.

And I wonder if maybe the greatest gift we could give Jesus is to pay forward the gift He already gave us—unconditional love wrapped inside of sacrificial grace.
And maybe the best place to practice that would be in the context of our family.

We’ve taken some significant relational hits this year. Truth be told, maybe it’s been more like a jarring handful of years, or even a bumpy decade, and for some of us a rough quarter of a century plus a few.
And honestly, what else could we expect?
Far as the curse is found, we’re all busted up image bearers.
Each of us wants to be trusted, respected, heard and accepted but we aren’t so eager to reciprocate the favor.

And not only are we severally anemic about loving the ones God placed up close and personal in our story, the whole wide world is hemorrhaging from racism and terrorism, war and violence and there really isn’t anything new under the sun. Just like the folks two thousand plus years ago, we all desperately need a Savior.DSCF8047

Next to Lent, the most somber season on the liturgical Christian calendar is Advent. Advent is about waiting and hoping. Especially during those four weeks of December leading up to the 25th, that persistent ache of our fallenness groans for fixing, healing, relief. Like a mother breathing through the pain of each contraction but focused on her goal, we wait in anticipation for God to do what He promised–to rescue us from ourselves and the heavy burden of sin we carry on our tired shoulders. And every Christmas morning, we celebrate that because of Jesus birth there is hope for peace on earth and good will toward men and women and children of every race, socio-economic status, political persuasion and religious affiliation. There’s even hope for peace and good will in our own little tribe of 6._MG_4880

And I wonder what it would be like for us to intentionally love each other wholeheartedly as we wait for the unlovely things about the other to be transformed?
And what if we were more passionate about a personal makeover and less scrutinizing of the superficial imperfections of our sisters or daughters or parents?
What would it cost to relinquish our own interpretations of reality and make allowance for someone else’s perspective?
A lot more than a cow or a goat, that’s for sure.

IMG_3403We’d have to stand down from our determination to be right and acknowledge when we’re wrong.
We’d have to say “I’m sorry.” Often.
And we’d have to forgive.
We’d have to let go of our pride,
And our anger,
Our grudges,
And our demands.
And embrace the healing properties of serving,
And respecting,
And laughing with each other and at ourselves.

This Christmas, here’s the gift I want to give Jesus.
I want to lean into His miracle of metamorphosis in me,
To embrace the hope that He’s transforming my peeps too,
And commit to love them graciously regardless –where they’re at, no strings attached- trusting His fresh mercies, new each morning are always enough.

Happy Birthday, dear Jesus. Happy Birthday to You!IMG_0122

Sweet Lives for Jesus

I wake up to happy music. Mandisa claims that “It’s a good morning” and sometimes I need to listen two or three times before I believe it enough to get up. I roll out of bed more cautiously than I used to. Some of my joints feel like they need to be oiled. Then I hobble to the bathroom to start my morning. While each day is fresh and new with it’s own surprising mercies, there’s also a lot of rote repetition. Generally, I like my life and when I don’t, I’m learning to choose to be grateful for it anyway. Still, it’s a grind. Day after day turns into decades of feeding, clothing, taxiing and cleaning up messes for my family. It’s kingdom work but in my reflective moments I wonder if I am really shaping a legacy.

Nicole Noordeman ponders this question in her song called, Legacy.
I wanna leave a legacy.
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things?
I wanna leave an offering.
A child of mercy & grace who blessed Your name unapologetically,
And leave that kind of legacy.

As I cut up the vegetables for salad and drive my kid to dog obedience class, as I clean my toilet and weed my garden, I’m always on the look out for ways to make the daily holy. And I have found that traditions are a venue for infusing meaning into the routines and rhythms of life. And fall traditions are my favorite.

I grew up celebrating Halloween. My mama sat down at her sewing machine and worked magic transforming me into a clown, a nurse, even a housewife. I gobbled up my trick or treat candy except for the tootsie rolls, which I gifted my mom as a thank you. I never understood those annoying children who ate three pieces of candy each day until Christmas. I had a friend like that and I stole a handful of his candy when he wasn’t looking. That’s how seriously addicted to sugar I am.

When I turned teenager, I watched a few horror movies but never when I was babysitting and I even paid money to walk through rusty old semi trailers recycled into spook houses with friends.

But when God made me a mama, I mused differently about holidays.
Halloween is a holiday worthy of every parent’s prayerful consideration and ours led to celebrating All Saints Day on November 1 instead.

Rather than transforming our kids into superheroes for a night, we spend the entire month of October immersing ourselves in the stories of real live superheroes of the faith, finding inspiration through reading about their calling, courage and commitment. Sometimes their stories feel a little like walking through a spook house, they’re so scary and occasionally they end like a horror movie, gruesomely violent. But we invite them to shape our perspective. We honor their Kingdom contributions through humble acts of daily obedience to God, choices rooted in conviction, passion and faith.

On October 1, the kids customize their brown paper candy bags with a few markers and some cute stickers.
Over the years, we’ve beefed up our family library but we started out with the 4 Volume set of Heroes of the Faith by Dave and Neta Jackson and it’s become a timeless favorite. Every night at dinner, we read a story from the book and then ask the same question. It’s not a trick and there’s always a treat for the correct answer.
“Who lived a sweet life for Jesus?” we inquire.
They delightedly call out the name of the brave soul we’ve just read about. Then we pass around the candy container, which excludes all tootsie rolls, bubble gum and dum-dums. They choose a piece for their bag and a piece to eat.dscf6835dscf6833The routine lasts a month and culminates on All Saints Day, when they claim their bags and take their candy to their rooms. Some of the girls, like their mama, devour it at record speed. I find wrappers under beds, next to trash cans and in their pockets. The others remind me of the neighbor boy and I’m tempted to steal their candy too.

Over time, October’s became our favorite month to parent. The kids treat each other better as they absorb the broken-beautiful stories of the saints and apply them to soft hearts.

As they mature, the tradition morphs. I pull books off our shelves, adding them to a basket where I keep seasonal reading.
(See our personal book list at the bottom of this post.)
We offer the kids money or extra candy in exchange for additional independent reading as well.
One year, they asked to pool the money they earned to buy Bibles for China. Another year they wrote their own book, a compilation of short stories and poems about saints including discussion questions.

Now that we’re all abstract thinkers, the conversations about our heroes sound different than they used to. Lately, we’ve been reading about Hudson Taylor and contemplating his conviction regarding exclusively asking God for money. We wonder how stressful that was for his wife who died young and seemingly malnourished.
“Why do 99.9 percent of missionaries have sad stories of somebody dying?” Our twelve year old baby queries and her sis responds, “Because real life isn’t Disney.”
Profound.
We muse aloud about real life and the ways that one person’s story affects another.
And that reminds us that our stories have influence too.

My story, mama of four girls, it matters. Smack dab in the middle of the daily, I choose intentionally to make God the main character of everybody’s story, in every season and in every holiday. And that’s a worthwhile legacy.

Books that have delighted us over the years:
YWAM Christian Heroes Then and Now series
YWAM Heroes for Young Readers series
YWAM International Adventure Series
Ten Girls series, Irene Howat
Ten Boys series, Irene Howat
Daughters of the Faith series, Wendy Lawton
Trailblazers series, Christian Focus
Torchbearers series, Christian Focus
History Lives series, Christian Focus