Sex Talks and Other Crucial Conversations

fullsizeoutput_9377IMG_1013We took a hiking trip and wrote a blog post together.
A celebration of—
Autumn.
Her birthday.
God’s faithfulness, past, present and future.

Angela picked the spot—Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. The paintings she’d studied in her art history course at Wheaton lured her in for the real experience.

We hopped in her trusty Suburu with the awesome sunroof and heated seats, passports in hand and headed out on our international adventure. It’s not our first gig and hopefully not our last either.

We counted our trips—just the 2 of us.
The first one was 11 years ago, when she turned 13. I tucked an invitation on her pillow. Wide eyed with excitement, she packed her bag and we headed west of the metroplex for an overnight excursion at a Bed and Breakfast in Granbury to dialogue about adolescence and growing up.
Sooner than I could have imagined, there were 3 separate marathon college visit trips.
And our service week in Haiti.
Last October, we travelled to England and Scotland together.
And now, here we are in Canada.

We’re no strangers to road trips. We know the drill. Bring plenty of snacks and water bottles. Don’t forget to download some podcasts, our favorite Spotify playlists and intermingle them both with spontaneous conversation.
I love dialoguing with Angela, always have. As soon as her mouth formed words, she wondered aloud about things, asked a bazillion questions, pensively formulated ideas and analyzed thoughts, her mental cogs always turning.
This trip, we reminisced about the one we took together on the cusp of adolescence and how it impacted her teenage years and beyond.

Like many evangelical Christian families, we adopted select concepts and resources anchored in the purity movement. Personally, I’d not been shepherded through my own adolescence. I’d never received parental guidance regarding sexuality. When I came into marriage, sex fairly blindsided me except for what I’d seen on the silver screen. I wanted to be sure not to do a generational repeat with my daughters. Without a model in my own story, I didn’t have the confidence to trust myself and the Spirit’s words through me with their sexual training. I thought the evangelical experts on the family must know best.
So,
-We read our little girls books like “The Princess and the Kiss” which elevated a kiss as interchangeable with sex in defining purity.
-A curriculum called Passport to Purity guided our process for presenting the topics of peer pressure, dating, sex and the distinct differences between boys and girls in puberty.
-We contemplated “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and the Rebelution’s “Modesty Survey” though we never embraced them explicitly.

Other related resources and ideas in this tradition include:
-Purity rings, though we never gave them to our girls.
-Then there was the umbrella model (Angela’s nemesis), especially popular with the Gothard crowd, which taught that a woman should always be under the protection of a man. First, her father holds her umbrella, i.e. micromanages her life, then he passes off the job off to her husband. In this model, there is no space for a woman to hold her own umbrella at any age.
-And there’s the jean skirt people who generally steer women toward home-making programs after high school redirecting them away from college lest they be indoctrinated by feminism or become kingdom contributors in vocations supplementary to wife and mother.

Through the rear view mirror, I’ve concluded that many of the above parts and pieces can be counterproductive to a healthy perspective on sexuality. It was on my overnight adventure with my youngest that I shelved the curriculum and trusted my gut instead. I wrote about that experience here for anyone who wants to understand my parental journey better: https://hopewebster.com/2017/09/28/firsts-lasts-and-everything-in-between/
Just wish I’d done it sooner.  About 9 years sooner…..

IMG_1074Driving through Canada, Angela recounted her experience like this:

The Passport to Purity curriculum covered a whole host of issues that normal American adolescents might encounter, but I was not a normal adolescent. I was a sheltered homeschooler with a desperate desire to please God and a paralyzing fear of disappointing people.

The rhetoric was fear based—intended to scare me out of making choices that could potentially harm me. The  deep-voiced dude on the cassette tape explained all the ways I could destroy my  life while I completed accompanying activity pages.

He talked about peer pressure and how I could ruin my future if I chose the wrong friends. He made boys sound like sex crazed animals that would lust after me perpetually if I wasn’t modest enough. And he must not have done a very good job explaining sex, because afterwards I still thought people literally slept together. Slept.
 Innocently I asked you, “You mean, they’re not asleep when they do that?”
“That’s an important question. I’m glad you asked,” you said, before verifying that sex is indeed conducted wide awake.”

“There was one activity page that I remember quite vividly—it’s an image of a cliff. In the diagram, the edge of the cliff represents sexual intercourse. Next to the cliff was a list of activities including hand-holding, kissing, kissing while touching each other’s private areas, undressing, and others I can’t quite remember.  The voice on the tape explained my assignment to arrange the items in the list in order of closeness to the edge of the cliff. Then I had to draw a personal boundary line. The line would be my protection from falling off the cliff.
Sensing that proximity to the cliff’s edge was disastrous, I drew my line as far away from the cliff as possible. Innocent little me who had no male friends from the beginning of middle school to the end of high school had no clue how to process this diagram. I basically came away with the idea that any expression of affection that gives me pleasure is dangerous, negative and potentially catastrophic because it moves me down a slippery slope towards the cataclysmic drop off.”

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Then, a little levity to cut through the intensity—we diverged to joking about the curriculum’s discussion of menstruation. It was the only thing the curriculum recommended celebrating.
Angela remarked, “More than the slippery slope, you know what I think really ought to be feared? It’s your menstrual cycle. I just don’t get it—they suggested that we go out to ice cream to celebrate my first cycle.” I agreed, “My take on periods is that the best time to go out to ice cream and celebrate is when you hit menopause.”

She finished recounting her most poignant memories of the curriculum then transitioned to analyzing its impact and how it assimilated into her worldview.

“It’s all scare tactics. The entire thing is meant to scare you out of making any stupid decisions.
This narrative makes reason the highest virtue. If something feels good, it’s impacting your reason adversely, therefore it must be wrong. If I enjoy it, it must be a step toward the cliff.
And here’s the truth—the cliff is a man-made construct.
God didn’t say that a kiss is the thing you’re saving for marriage. He said to save sex. I don’t think it does us a service to draw extra lines as if they are on par with God’s instructions. That’s what the Pharisees are famous for.

When you add a bunch of extra rules, your body becomes a liability instead of a gift. Guys become 2 dimensional and their designed complexity gets minimized. Girls get scared of them and struggle with a false sense of guilt for the way a guy looks at them or responds to their body based on the outfit they choose. Expressions of affection become negative things because they’re a slippery slope toward a lethal fall.

This model reduces relational risk to something dangerous only, and to be avoided at all costs. But some risks are worth taking even when they don’t turn out the way you wanted. Anytime you enter into a relationship with another person, you choose to take a risk because you think they are worth it and the relationship is worth it to you. And in a good risk, you both end up feeling honored by what you shared even when it’s over. There’s no shame in giving your heart away.

I don’t find a fear based approach to dating and sex to be helpful. I think it’s way more helpful to focus on Imago Dei and the indwelling presence of Christ.
Think about the Weight of Glory. In his essay Lewis says,“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
If that’s the person you’re in a relationship with, then the way you treat him is a reflection of the way you treat Christ. Because of Jesus, you treat his body and your body with the respect and honor that Jesus asked you to show.

Not being sexually intimate with someone you’re not married to is ultimately something you’re doing for Jesus, not for yourself, and not even for the person who may or may not be your spouse someday.
Jesus gave his life for you and you owe him everything. So if he asks you to do something with your body, you honor what he asks. Period.
That’s it.
Bottom line.”

About that time, she took a long, deep breath.
And I looked over at her admiringly.
What a privilege it’s been to be her mom.
She’s an amazingly beautiful person who is understanding God’s love and grace more deeply these days, as am I.
Both of us, we’re being transformed into His image.

If I got a do-over to when she was 13, it’d sound different.

From the vantage point of life experience, I recognize her words in my own story. When we convolute the gift of sex so directly with shame and fear, women come into marriage afraid, self-protective, mistrusting and we struggle to feel freedom to embrace the beauty of sex after marriage because a finger wagging “no-no” set up shop in our souls.  At least, that’s what it’s been like for me.

I’ve always answered my kids questions as honestly as I know how, before, during and after Passport to Purity. No matter what the topic, we’ve batted it around. We talk about everything. I just wish I’d have had more God confidence– that as His image bearer, He could be trusted to lead me over time, by His spirit through intentional dialogue to communicate whatever He wanted me to say without a boxed curriculum.IMG_1072

And, I wish I’d trusted God’s indwelling in my children’s lives more. I wish that I’d intentionally affirmed their soft hearts to know Him better and by default to love Him more and let that relationship fortify their conviction that He can be trusted with their sexual journey and their plan to work that out.IMG_1113

I wish I’d been a better cheerleader for the innocent and exciting delights of exchanging affection in word and deed rather than blanketing it in fear and condemnation.

Truth is, I haven’t done the mom thing perfectly.
She hasn’t done the kids thing perfectly either.
And our perspectives don’t always intersect.
But there we were together, a few days ago.
At the trail head.

 

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The sign said Caution: Cliff Ahead.
So, we hiked it side by side, along the rim of the cliff.
We could have fallen over the edge if we weren’t discerning. The cliff was dangerous, but it was so much more than that. It was also beautiful.

And that’s the moral of the story: The best life is lived in the tension of the risk and the beauty, holding tightly to the hand of God…even though you’ll likely get a bit scuffed up along the way.

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Pondering our Mortality this Ash Wednesday

Contemplating your own demise.
If you do it well, it will make you happy.
So says the NY Times.
It’s an interesting narrative and what better time to embrace it then Ash Wedensday, the church holiday marking the beginning of the season of Lent.
As those cinders smear across my forehead vertically then horizontally, I am reminded that it’s not just from dust I was formed, it is to dust I will return.

I’ll be honest.
I don’t want to live so long that my arthritic fingers can’t pick up a spoon and I need to have my behind wiped for me, or worse yet, I go potty in a “brief”.
And I don’t prefer to lie in bed all day staring up at geometrical patterns in the ceiling tile all the dark, gloomy days of a Michigan winter while fighting off bed sores.
I’m not excited about eating pureed food or drinking Ensure for nutrition.
And it hurts me to think of forgetting my children’s names or not recognizing my husband.img_3915
Don’t even get me started on wrinkly skin that hangs off the bones like a turkey’s neck. It’s fine on other people but I cringe at the thought of being remembered looking like that. Already at 50, I can’t reconcile the girl inside with the reflection in the mirror. The shell is morphing while the soul remains youthful.

I wonder what God accomplishes through aging. It wasn’t His original design but He can redeem anything.
Perhaps as our autonomy is compromised, reliance can be cultivated in it’s place,
And as our voice is diminished, our opinions regarded as obsolete, we are postured for greater humility,
As validation through status and accomplishments get exposed as fool’s gold, our identity in Christ can authenticate,
And as we lose the relationships we’ve loved best, space is created to receive His affection,
As our appetite for the world’s enticements diminish, an attachment to heaven may emerge,
And as we can do less we are positioned to pray more.
The endgame ultimately poses us for greater trust.
And therein are the mercies.ladybugs-2

Honestly, I’d prefer to choose the conclusion of my story.
And I don’t want to die with a long to-do list.
Or before I raise my Littlest.
I’d like to read books to my grandchildren all cuddled up in an oversized chair too, if it’s up to me.
But ultimately, God writes our final chapter, concluding the temporal and commencing the eternal.
And the ones left behind compose the epilogue.

It starts with a memorial amalgamating honor and closure in the paradox of celebration and grief.
Make mine personal.
Read God’s words about timing and seasons.
Sing about His faithfulness.
Reflect on my journey and the people He caused to cross my path. Recount the beautiful ways lives touched each other.
Give dignity to my unique identity as His image bearer, acknowledging strengths, talents and abilities but honestly admit my weaknesses too. Fear and insecurity dogged me this side of the river.
And laugh at my strange idiosyncrasies like the way I paint one fingernail as a trial and leave it that way for months.
And how I sneeze uncontrollably when my right eyebrow gets plucked.
And my tendency to bring stray people and puppies home and try to adopt them into the family.
Cry muddled up tears of joy and sorrow for the broken beautiful of our imperfect stories all intermingled.
Eat together and savor the sweetness of food and friendship.

And afterwards, let death be your tutor.
Contemplate the brevity of life,
The momentous impact of extending forgiveness,
The compelling freedom in apologizing,
The pressing call to invest your time eternally,
The significant blessing of loving words rolling freely off your tongue.

You see, Life is a gift and death re-wraps it in new paper and repurposes it in the hearts of those we have loved through memory and legacy.

If you attend to another with care and curiosity because you saw that in me,
If you hug long and squeeze hard because you felt loved and secure when I did,
If you welcome your tears and invite others to share theirs,
If you adopt the posture of a lifelong learner,
If you merge bold, crazy dreams with determination and creativity,
If you write your stories then tell them to your children,
If prayer is your daily rhythm,
If in some way, I directed your attention to Jesus,
Well, that is a beautiful life.
And that is an abundance of mercy.
You know, I think the NY Times is right after all. If you do it well, contemplating your own death will make you happy.dscf5760

Lewis Meets the Lion

Be Happy!   The last card has been played and it’s the ace of hearts.–Jesus

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Every night this week, the routine’s been the same. We slip on our cotton tent dresses, tie them at the waist, cover our heads with scarves and rush out the door. It’s been fourteen years since I played a biblical character in our church’s traditional Easter drama. Last time, I held one little girl in my arms, with another grasping the left side of my robe and the biggest one close on my right. The “baby” was a beautiful surprise yet to be discovered.
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We waved our palm branches shouting “Hosanna” to Jesus who smiled lovingly at the mass of children reaching for him and held the tiniest ones in his arms. More than a decade later, the story of Jesus remains unchanged but the contemporary narrative that parallels the gospel account switches out every annum to highlight a person with a God shaped hole in their heart that gets filled at the cross.
This year, the modern figure features CS Lewis, author, philosopher and storyteller extraordinaire.

I can’t count how many times we’ve read his Chronicles of Narnia or listened to the audiobooks. I can hear the British reader in my sleep. And I remember the year we lived in the story when Lily and Robyn were cast as Susan and Lucy in the play based on the book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.


This fantasy story, a brainchild of Lewis imagination, describes a group of siblings who embark on a magical journey through a clothes wardrobe into a mystical land called Narnia where the evil but deceitfully charming and beautiful White Witch has cast a spell on the land making it always winter but never Christmas. She dupes one of the siblings called Edmund and he becomes enchanted after eating some of her candy. He betrays his siblings for treats and the witch’s promise of power, unaware that she intends to kill him in order to interrupt an ancient prophecy foretelling an end to her rule.
Enter Aslan, the great lion and hero of the story. He is the real king of Narnia. And he is good. He privately arranges an exchange with the White Witch and trades places with Edmund. A life for a life. And so the witch giddy with evil delight, convinced that murdering Aslan cements her reign forever, binds her victim, lays him on a stone table and stabs him in the heart.
She has forgotten, however, that the spell will be broken if an innocent victim sacrifices life on behalf of another. As Narnia melts to spring, she remembers. Aslan resurrects and the children fight together against the witch’s minions in a battle for the sake of Aslan’s kingship. Ultimately evil gets defeated and Aslan entrusts the rule of His kingdom to the children until he returns to Narnia.

Lewis’ personal story has LOSS written large all over it with a Sharpie.
At only eight years old, he lost his mother to cancer and was sent to boarding school by his devastated father.
World War 1 bombarded Europe during his teen years so he shipped off to war, where he lost his entire platoon in battle and his best friend to a bullet.
Later, his father died unexpectedly still unreconciled to Lewis.
He married late in life. Found a kindred spirit in his wife, Joy, and four years later ravenous cancer snatched her away too.
Death dogged him.
Abandonment shaped him.
Loneliness pummeled him.
Brilliant. Yes.
Successful. Yes.
Respected. Yes.
But broken, emptied and reluctant to believe in a God bigger than his pain.

He carried his own little White Witch around on his shoulder whispering lies into his pain at his most vulnerable moments.
If God is all loving and caring, why would he do this to you?
You’re alone.
No one is coming to save you.

I commiserate with Lewis.
I have my own little demons dancing around in my head.
My story of rescue is different than his.
A compliant, fearful child, my Sunday School teacher’s description of hell petrified me so I repeated her spoon fed words as if salvation was a mathematical equation, the sum equaling a quick fix for a scary eternal problem. I repeated that mantra countless times like a kid practicing math facts just to be sure I wouldn’t forget them.
Then as concrete reasoning turned abstract, I realized that the God who makes a nice room for me in his Grand Hotel wants more than my reservation. He actually intends to accompany me all the way to my destination. He offers his services as tour guide for the journey too. But there’s a catch. He gets to decide the route, my arrival time and all the stops along the way.
And that’s been the rub because while I want his companionship, I don’t like his GPS system.
And so like Lewis, I struggle to trust Him, to concur with his plans for me, to let Him log my travel journal because I think I can write a better one.

In Act Two of the Easter drama, Jesus comes before political leader, Pontius Pilate. The Jewish religious bigwigs called Pharisees have made false accusations to shame and disparage him. They are frustrated by his unconventional leadership style, intimidated by his popularity and offended because he won’t fit into their box so they just want to get rid of him.
I’m in the scene where the angry crowd shouts “Crucify Him!” But I find that my mouth is full of cotton ever time I attempt to yell out the words. And the tears swell in the corners of my eyes and then overflow.

It’s not that I’m too spiritual to act the part.
Rather, I’m faced with my duplicity.
And it’s overwhelming.
I am the mocking, jeering, haughty spectator at the crucifixion and the weeping, humbled, grateful one too.
And the tension of the paradox disturbs me.

Truth is, I want my way but my way isn’t fully aligned with Jesus way this side of heaven.
So my own little witch feeds me a steady diet of lies every day questioning His goodness, His trustworthiness.
And the lies are unrelenting, like a song on repeat.
Even if you don’t like it, it gets stuck in your head.
And I complain to God,
“I don’t like your plan.”
“This isn’t the way I imagined my life.”
“Why won’t you do what I ask?”
“You disappoint me.”
And it’s really no different than yelling “Crucify Him”.

Fickly, like a pinball ricocheting off the posts, my soul alternates between complaints and gratitude. In my broken hallelujah moments, I glimpse the God-man stripped, bloodied, tormented and dying. His cross says I am held in His arms and carried close to his heart. I see lavish love in His nail scars. My fist opens and I transfer my life map into the wounded hands of my most ardent pursuer. There, humility meets holiness in worship.

After the crucifixion scene in the drama, Jesus exits the tomb to a peel of thunder and the roar of a Lion. He walks over to little boy Lewis, then young man Lewis and finally to older Lewis. With each Lewis, he places an arm around him and looks tenderly into his hurting eyes.
And like Lewis, I see myself
A little girl with irrational fears and excessive anxieties,
And a teenager who had no idea what to do with her losses,
That young wife disillusioned about love- and disappointed,
An insecure mom second guessing her skill and stamina,
The friend fearing rejection and abandonment,
And when I lean into the tender embrace of Jesus I hear Him whisper, Peace. Be Still.

I recently saw a facebook prompt that invited me to “Write the Happiest Story in 4 Words”.
So on this Easter Sunday, mine goes like this:
She embraced God’s love.

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So Much Paradox This Side of Eternity

Sometimes life flies over you like a B-17 bomber, the sirens go off, and something or someone you always counted on is suddenly gone.  (Angela Webster)

My daughter Angela is one of my favorite bloggers. (Her blog is linked to the article title below.)  She writes. She photographs. And she designs. Spring break brought her home to us so we celebrated early Grampsy’s sweet life and heavenly birthday over heaping bowls of oversized ice cream sundaes in his honor. While scrolling through her posts, I found this treasure in her archives written two years ago.
It so beautifully describes the tender and mutually adoring relationship she shared with my dad and how his death shattered her pink and blue childhood illusion of the world and happily ever after.  Life and death- so much paradox on this side of eternity.

Baby Blue and Powder Pink
by Angela Webstergrampsyangela

He would crouch down on the floor beside me, pinching the plastic four-inch grandpa doll between his thumb and forefinger. They resembled one another—the doll and the man—both clad in a powdery blue button down shirts and khakis, both gray-crowned and gangly. The doll, however, had a mustache. My grandpa did not.

“Goodbye, see you later,” I would wave enthusiastically on behalf of the mommy and daddy dolls before helping them into the ridiculous blue and pink minivan. For some strange reason, the Loving-Family dollhouse artists fixated on baby blue and powder pink. With the parents out for the evening, the grandpa doll and his granddaughter were free. Usually, they meandered down the imaginary street to the imaginary ice cream shop where the grandpa doll bought his granddaughter an imaginary treat. While she licked her vanilla ice cream cone, my grandpa and I would munch on cheerios and he would tell me stories about the Great Depression. Then, our dolls walked to the park. With my help, the granddaughter would situate herself on the single swing and the grandpa—shaking in between my grandpa’s fingers—would push her back and forth.

Eventually, the girl and her grandpa would wander back to the pink and blue three-story house and take a nap. The parents would return and all would be well. In the shelter of the pink and blue mansion, every ending was a happy one.

But houses aren’t really pink and blue.

It’s strange to think that Fisher-Price—the company that produced my dollhouse and plasticized my fairytales—also manufactured ammunition crates and repair parts for fighter planes in World War II. Somewhere in Germany, there was a real house and a loving family sleeping inside when the air raid sirens startled them out of their dreams. If they were lucky, they scrambled down into the bomb shelter in time. When they came out, the house was gone.

Maybe fairy-tales only exist in plastic.

Sometimes life flies over you like a B-17 bomber, the sirens go off, and something or someone you always counted on is suddenly gone.

It’s been over a decade since my grandpa and I played doll-house. Today, the Loving-Family grandpa doll rests peacefully in a cardboard box in an upstairs closet, the eternal smile and mustache still stamped across his face. Old, but never older.

My grandpa died of a heart attack nine years ago.

Strengthening my Spine

mg_8896Dread. It was written all over her face.
And I’d only mentioned Lent.
“You’re on your own this year, Mom,” Robyn replied boldly.
Then Brian offered, “How about if we go to Starbucks once a week during Lent and talk about the significance of Easter?”
Big smile.
“That I will do!” she responded.

Meanwhile, as the chocolate fest from Valentine’s week winds down, my own Easter preparation takes shape.
And again this year, I find myself worshipping at the altar of sugar and I am ashamed of myself and this illicit relationship.
My husband disappointes me? Pie or cake is the answer.
I can’t fix my children’s problems? I turn to chocolate.
Blaming, shaming self-talk? Warm, soft cookies right out of the oven.
Relief from the repetitive cycle of my mundane life? Brownies with ice cream is a favorite.
Anxiety? Pure unadulterated candy.
And for desperate situations, Graeter’s ice cream with chocolate chunks is the answer to my most insurmountable problems.

There’s something really warped about going to sugar for comfort instead of Jesus.
Proof of my brokenness.
Words from the pulpit echo in my mind. “The Father seeks broken people to worship Him in spirit and truth.”
That would be me.
Lent invites me to go to God, to look hard into His gentle strength, to talk to Him when I’d rather just consume sweets.

Here I am whining about my struggle with sugar and simultaneously 21 Coptic Christians are beheaded. Even before the Lenten season started, they made their decision about how to worship in spirit and in truth. They took the cross of Christ seriously and died for the hope Easter offers.
Ann Voskamp said, “Love without a Cross has no backbone.”
Jesus loves with backbone.
And the more my eyes are focused on His Cross, the more I am prepared to live a better story of sacrifice, discipline and dependence.
During Lent, I strengthen my spine.
I cry, “God save me from myself.”
And I do it every time I say “no” to what I want, which is sugar and “yes” to what I need, which is a Savior.
And He responds gently saying, “Come to Me.”
And I am filled with gratitude that He understands my frailty.
He is compassionate toward my weakness.
He smiles about my victory over that candy bar I walked past in the check out aisle.
He savors the conversation He and I had about it as I struggled with temptation.

Bottom line is–I’m pathetic. Really. I am.
The good news is–He loves me anyway.

Our Double Life

DSCF6607It was our grand finale—a trip to Ludington where a dozen delighted kids frolicked on the beach sculpting castles, playing cards, jumping over waves, lounging on floaties and having splashing contests while four moms in lounge chairs enjoyed easy conversation. We cooked hotdogs for dinner sitting in a circle around the campfire and finished off with s’mores before racing to the beach to watch the sunset and dune jump.DSCF6637DSCF6621DSCF6667 mg_6193The sun waved “goodbye” in a blaze of color, as if acknowledging the magnificence of friendships forged over time and shared experiences and we knew it was our turn to do the same–again. There were so many hugs—the little boys resisted. The mamas squeezed hard and long and so did Lily. Tears erupted from turbulent soul volcanoes. “Goodbyes” called from cracking voices through open windows followed by “See you in 9 months,” and “I love you guys,” called out Christine with a “Back to You” returned.

Then there was just the beach and the dunes for miles as darkness descended. Minutes passed quietly except for an occasional involuntary sob. I wondered how to band aid the gaping wound our children were bleeding tears about. What does a mama do with all these tears, especially when you know it was your choices that caused them. I did the only thing I know to do when I don’t know what else to do—pray.

“Hey guys,” I spoke compassionately. “I know we’re hurting. The tears tell us that we love large and we’re loved back– and that’s a gift. The downside of the gift is that it hurts to say goodbye.”

Sigh….. Pause……

“So, let’s take a few minutes to cry it out and then how about if we try shifting our focus away from ourselves and onto those friends we just spent a beautiful day with.” “How about if we pray for each of our friends individually? They have their own stuff to deal with too and we could talk to God about it for them.”
“OK,” Starla responded agreeably.

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And over the next 25 minutes, all 16 of those dear people who hold our hearts were brought before the throne of the only One who can fix all this brokenness.

And when we said “Amen”, I suggested we play music.
Robyn chimed in, “I don’t want to hear anything sad.”
So we turned on Jason Gray singing:

…..Every step along the way,
I know You’ll never leave my side.
Whatever the season I can say,
These are the best days of my life…..

And we just kept driving away from the beach.
Just like we just kept driving away from Wheaton College on Sunday.
And just like we drove away from our cousins house yesterday.
And just like we’ll drive past the “Pure Michigan” sign on Saturday– all the way to Dallas to our other life.

The music felt like white noise in the background of my internal banter.
“How did we get here?” I asked myself. “And more importantly, how to do we get out?” I wondered….

I reflected 12 years back.

Like all sincere Christian parents we weighed our options prayerfully when we considered relocation, seeking wise council and did what seemed prudent. Nobody intentionally sets out to break their children’s hearts repeatedly. We were utterly ignorant about the long term implications of our decisions.

When we first drove away, we knew we couldn’t sever ourselves from our northern life completely in good conscience, even if we’d wanted to–which we didn’t. The Bible has something to say about respecting parents and reciprocating the care they blessed us with when their health goes South. So, we came back north to take care of family and that is what jump started our double life—school years in Texas and summers in Michigan.

To some people, it seems almost idyllic—winters where it’s warm and summers where it’s cool. While I appreciate upbeat optimism and grasp for it at times, that assessment is highly simplistic. It might be alluringly exciting for sanguines, but God didn’t wire us that way, and our double life makes us feel alive right in the pit of our stomach.

So what do we do when we can’t find a way to change the trajectory? And there’s no place to seemingly to make a U-turn….

That’s the million-dollar question we can’t seem to escape. We all ask it within our own particular messy stories….

And so we lament—groanings that only God understands.
And we try not to project ahead how many more times He might ask us to do a repeat because we don’t think we have even one more in us.
And tonight in the wee hours, the questions swirling feel a lot like jazz music that doesn’t resolve and leaves you aching with its dissonance.

img_5494-1But all of life is not the dead of night. I hear the girls whispering animatedly in the next room recounting to each other their sweet stories of summer–holding on to the memories in the retelling so they don’t slip like beach sand through their fingers.

Soon, they will drift off to sleep as will I.

And tomorrow, we will all wake up to God’s faithful, tender, mercies that are fresh and new for the day.
We’ll open our hand to accept His.
And trust He’ll take it just as He always has.
And we’ll turn the music up loud and on repeat as we pack up all those Rubbermaid plastic bins and sing,

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…..Every step along the way,
I know You’ll never leave my side.
Whatever the season I can say,
These are the best days of my life…..

Easter’s Gardening Miracle

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We lined up the plastic containers and poured premium potting soil with fertilizer in each one. Then Starla gently set 1 seed in each container and covered it with a layer of dirt. Each seed was dormant—lifeless, dead. She watered them dutifully all week and on Easter weekend, they sprouted. One after another the fresh, new green shoots erupted through the soil alive and growing. How kind of God to give us a gardening miracle on Easter weekend. It’s not just our sunflower seeds that have come alive. Jesus is alive. On Easter Sunday we celebrate our future and our hope. We give thanks that we have not received what we deserve and we have received what we didn’t deserve. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for everything—

A time to plant and a time to harvest…… 

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

Today is a time to harvest, to laugh, to dance because

lent is over and  He is Risen indeed. Hallelujah!

 

Countdown to Easter

by Robyn
by Robyn

It feels so good to see light at the end of the tunnel. So far, I’ve survived 42 days of boring food and clothes, but in 5 more days it will be Easter. I love the feeling of anticipation (and I’m definitely feeling it now), but I’m afraid that I’m so excited for sugar and pretty clothes that I might miss the importance of Good Friday or even Resurrection Day. I mean, will I be happy because Christ has risen, or because I can eat chocolate and wear a beautiful dress? Back in pre-school and pretty much all the way up to elementary school, all of my Sunday school teachers around this time of year would tell us that Easter isn’t about chocolate bunnies or colored eggs, but about Jesus and His victory over sin and death. My family never did Easter baskets or egg hunts, so I always thought it was funny how some people actually got more excited about these things than they did about Jesus. But, I guess those aren’t the only things that can distract us from Jesus…..

To try to keep focus on what is really important, my family celebrates with a variety of traditions. We go to church several times– to Maundy Thursday service which commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus, Good Friday service which acknowledges Jesus crucifixion, and of course, church on Resurrection Sunday. Easter starts with an all church breakfast. Here at home, Mommy and I continue reading together through Matthew following the Easter story and praying for help from God to finish well. At dinner time, we’ve been singing a Lenten and Easter hymn together for the past 6 weeks and just added our Easter egg devotions.

Maybe Starla understands Holy week better than I do…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHtZ_5yBUmM

 

 

Accessible God

 

The phone started singing to me—“I love you, you love me, that makes us so happy….”. It’s my own personal ring tone designated for family recorded by my youngest two sweethearts. I checked caller ID and smiled because it was my grown up sweetheart connecting across the miles. She told me about her trek to the city, first by train then by foot. Motivated by curiosity and an assignment, she and a couple of friends explored a Latin Catholic mass up close and personal. What surprised her most was the separation of “the holy” from the people. “Inaccessible God,” she called it. I hung up the phone, went to my gratitude journal and wrote #223—Accessible God. I reflected thankfully that not only can I connect with Him through nature, His word, His people and a direct line anytime, anywhere through prayer, Accessible God actually lives inside me and communicates in part through my conscience.

Lately, He’s been talking to me about integrity in the “bigs” and the” littles”.

“Big”, as in big bucks …. Our family dog had dental surgery in February. It’s amazing how much easier she is to love now that her breath doesn’t smell like the sewer. On the day of her procedure, the computers at the vet were having a bad hair day. They weren’t able to process my credit card so they took my information the old fashioned way with pen and paper. When I didn’t see the charge on my bill the following month, I wondered…. Briefly I felt a little like a lottery winner and then that Accessible God who lives inside me asked, “What is integrity?” I rationalized that I did my part in this transaction and it’s not my fault they didn’t process my payment. I explained to Him how I could put those funds to good use in other ways. Then I said, just let me think about this awhile. Accessible God reminded me what I tell my kids—that the conscience is a gift sent to protect us from harm. It speaks quietly but if we listen and respond, we will begin to hear it more distinctly with greater volume.   But if we ignore it repeatedly, it becomes so quiet; we can’t really even hear it anymore. And that is a dangerous way to live. God and I had this conversation around midnight just as I was nodding off to dreamland. My final thought was “OK. I’ll go to the vet office tomorrow and resubmit my credit card.” So, I did and the receptionist thanked me for being honest and charged me $484.

And I walked out poorer but richer.

The “littles” are all those 100’s of decisions over Lent about eating and drinking. While I haven’t had even a morsel of chocolate, drinks have been my downfall more than once. I said that I would drink water only—preferably tasteless bottled over Dallas city, but that’s a topic for another time…. Plain old water is just so unsatisfying. In desperation one day I scoured the grocery store’s “gourmet” water varieties looking for something with carbonation minus sweetener. I thought I’d found it because even though there was a long list of words meaning ingredients that are harmful, none of them looked like a sugar substitute or derivative. I purchased it, took a drink and found out I was wrong so dumped it down the sink. Later I noticed my favorite water substitute, ICE, in a new flavor—watermelon-strawberry. I just chose not to resist. I bought it and drank it. Twice. I would have done it a third time save Robyn’s intervention. Our exchange went like this:

Me: “I sure would like a flavored water today.”

Robyn: “Mommy, we said no sweetened drinks.”

Me: “Would it really be so bad if I got a flavored water? After all, it’s got 0 calories and no sugar. Whatever they put in it, isn’t technically sugar.”

Robyn: “Well, I’ll leave it to your conscience to decide if you should drink that water.”

Good answer Robyn! Thankful for my accountability partner and my Accessible God that says I love you even when you blow it.

Historically when I fast from sugar, I lose weight. While that isn’t the objective during Lent, I was honest up front and said that my motives are convoluted. Eating boring lower calorie food that doesn’t even taste very good ought to result in shedding pounds. But, it’s not. Which reinforces what the mirror already tells me. I am past my prime—physically speaking. Midlife has arrived and my metabolism is getting lazy. This, friends, has no quick fix. It’s not a temporary condition. It’s every bit as real as my gray hair and equally undesirable.   So, I lament to God the curse. Aging. The body wearing out and getting fat, the wrinkles, the gray hair, the reading glasses, the aching back…. Accessible God listens and reminds me that He will never leave me. (Even when I am old and gray, you will not forsake me. Psalm 71:18)

That girl on the phone who went to mass told me she walked to the beach afterwards and greeted our friend Lake Michigan. And there He was, Accessible God. She saw Him in the turquoise colored water shimmering in the spring sunlight. She heard him in the rhythmic pounding of the waves against the pier. He was saying: Nothing can separate us from (His) love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from (His) love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

I find it everywhere I look. The significance of these 40+ days of Lent. That reminder of the way God’s love is revealed in Jesus Christ first on the cross and then in the empty tomb.

And I write #224: Nothing can separate me from the love of God.

Half-Time: Lent

 

Fall spectator sports rule.

I’m watching a replay of Friday night football in my mind’s eye. All five senses engaged.   I smell the crisp, cool Midwestern air intermingled with the aroma of caramel apples and popcorn. Our frosty breath white against the black night.. Standing outside the chain link fence with my dad, blinding floodlights illuminating the field, we watch the game. Admission fees aren’t accounted for in the family budget so this is our creative alternative. And the view is perfect. So is the company.

Fast-forward to college and my life intersects with the Bible scholar. He’s not only smart, he’s got strong, muscular legs and plays skillfully in uniform. Then, soccer becomes my spectator sport of choice. Rain, shine, snow or sleet, I’m in the stands watching my guy run, pass, slide tackle and head the ball.   I’d almost forgotten the thrill of those fast paced, nail biting games until I sat in the stands last fall with Angela—25 years later. We arrived late—just before half time. Doesn’t really matter if you miss the first part though. The second half is what counts. That’s what determines a win or a loss. Half time sets the trajectory. Teams tweak strategies and recharge to finish well.

So here we are, Robyn and I. Just past half time on this Lenten season and reflecting on the first 3+ weeks….Assessing, re-evaluating, and recommitting to finish strong.

Starting with our Lenten wardrobe minimization plan, I’d have to say that I’m actually kind of liking it. There is a learning curve, like strategically laundering clothes so that we’re not stuck running around in our unmentionables.

And I do feel a little bit “blah” in my grey and black color scheme every day.

The families in my music classes have to be wondering about me. Not only have they seen me in the same outfit for 4 weeks straight, but the week before that, I snagged my knit shirt on a broken plastic container of rhythm instruments and tore a large L shaped rip at the base of my rib cage. And if that’s not embarrassing enough, I didn’t even realize it until after class was over. Humbling….

We did overlook a couple of things in our strategic planning session, like Robyn’s choir dress code and had to make an allowance for that.

And we needed a jacket earlier in Lent.

Bottom line half time assessment is that “Less is More”. Minimal self-assessment. Less self focus.   And no piles of clothes tried on and rejected, heaped in a pile on my closet floor.  I’m amazed at how little I need. I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time shopping for clothes. And even though I’m affectionately referred to as a “bargain queen” around these parts, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve wasted a lot of money in the process.

When God said He’d clothe me, He didn’t commit to providing a closet overflowing in fashionable attire. And while I have a substantial wardrobe—another expression of His generous abundance- it’s all pretty much overkill. I think it’s time to share the bounty.

While we subtracted clothes from our wardrobe, we added Bible reading and praying together 5 mornings a week. Lovin’ it. Sitting together in the oversized chair in my room, it’s prime cuddling, one on one time with Robyn. She’s sleepy. Sometimes, so am I. Depends how many nights in a row I’ve been burning the 2 a.m. oil. We read today in Matthew about farming—plants and soil. Talked about how the plants reveal the health of the soil. The externals reveal what’s going on unseen. We asked ourselves what we’re doing to nourish the soil in our lives so that we produce what God intended for us. We wondered aloud about people we’ve seen whose spiritual plant died prematurely. Then we prayed for them and for us. I like praying together, lifting up our day to the Lord. Confronting the reality that we need Him.

It’s half time on our Lenten journey—adding and subtracting part 1.

And really, Robyn’s fashion statement says it all.

“Life is good”…..because God is good.

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