The Confusing Journey of Family Love

*this post originally published on foreverymom on September 12, 2019

We were sitting in the chapel pew at the New Student Dedication Service when the college president spoke these words, “Parents”, followed by a pregnant pause, “today is a game changer.” And that’s when I started to cry.
I didn’t intend to.
My kid is a commuter, still coming home to her cozy bed every night. It’s just that the words he said were so shockingly true. I didn’t know it when I waved goodbye and drove away the first time, but now I do. Nothing’s ever been the same since.

We all do the best we can post-gamer changer day. My friends, the ones who launched their firsts just a few weeks ago, they’ve each wandered into the maze of the unknown with their own brands of courage.
I keep telling them that it’s OK to grieve…. and it is.
I assure them they’re going to make it through this…. and they will.
I say that they have sweet surprises to anticipate in the next chapter…. and they do.
I remind them that they have a future and a hope…. and it’s the truth.

But if I’m dead honest, this whole deal of navigating relationships with young adult children is hard. Dog hard.
It’s also painful, so stock up on band-aids because you’re going to get some owies.
And it’s super confusing too…
For everybody.

It’s confusing for young adult children who are trying to figure out their unique identity apart from their family.
It’s complicated to sort through the effects of their parents’ sincere but imperfect love.
And it’s disconcerting as they compare their family of origin to all the seemingly shiny, new relationships they establish.

It’s confusing for parents too…
It’s contradictory how we still pay bills but can’t secure information about charges due to privacy laws.
It’s baffling how we can’t imagine what it’s like to not miss our kid, to turn totally nostalgic every time we walk past the Meijer penny pony or cook their favorite meal then eat it with their seat at the table empty, and they don’t miss us back.
It’s jarring to have our merits as parents judged primarily by our perceived mistakes instead of our efforts, investments and sacrifices.
And most perplexing of all, is our son or daughter’s definition of dialogue. It’s important to them to feel heard and validated as they share their perspectives on their evolving convictions but as soon as we say anything they don’t want to hear, the conversation is derailed.

Growing Pains….
It’s right there, in the name…..
For them.
For us.
For me.

If I tell my friends the whole truth, I’d say I’m not sure you ever get over that severing from the detachment that feels like a never-ending second childbirth. If you do, I’m not there yet.
Just like them, I’m still leaning hard into the Father’s love to give definition to my worth, to give hope to my future, to stamp validation on my past and to reorient my calling to whatever He has for me next. And so, fellow-mama, all I know to do is the same thing I did yesterday, the same thing I will do tomorrow morning when my alarm starts playing Steffany Gretzinger’s Morning Song.
Get up.
Embrace His fresh mercies for a new day. Even the severe ones.
And say thank you, because all good gifts, past, present and future, come from the gracious hand of our loving Father who can be entrusted with all of this confusion.

On Being 52

It felt like turning a corner onto a dark, unmarked alley. Really, that’s how it was turning 50. But I had no choice. The sun just keeps circling the earth and it wouldn’t stop for me. That was 3 years ago. A few weeks ago, I flipped the page onto chapter 53 and chapter 52 turned out to be one of my favorites. As I’ve corralled the courage to seize the days, the days have invited me into the most delightful adventures.
My daughter, Angela, affixes pictures, postcards and other paraphernalia up in her room with an artsy flair, calling it her wall of happiness.
Mine’s a cyber-wall of gratitude instead, attached to year 52.
Here’s a sneak peek.

1) It started with that cute little wisteria plant Robyn’s boyfriend, Brennan, grew from a cutting and gifted me with these words “Happy Birthday, Hope”. A foreshadowing of a year of growth.
2) Our family vacation at the little red cottage on the lake with a jet ski. One of my favorite vacations in the history of ever.fullsizeoutput_90d9
3) Flying back to Dallas with Lily . Sometimes we’ll do just about anything to put another hug around a person’s neck when we know it might be our last.


4) ) My stash of cheap but somewhat trendy reading glasses. If I’ve got to be blind, might as well do it in style.
5) An international explore with Angela. Road tripping it to Canada, co-writing a blog post and getting lost in Algonquin National Park.IMG_1027
6) As is our family tradition on graduation year, I sewed Robyn’s t-shirt quilt and now she’s covered with love.IMG_7056
7) My California coast bucket list check off with Brian. A cooper mini convertible and 50 miles of hiking to commemorate 30 years of journeying alongside each other through life.


8) The new, modern-day Little Women. Every toxin in my body got wept out during that movie. The Christmas dinner scene. That is my family in our finest hour.
9) Safety for Robyn when she was rear ended. It was just a car and cars can be replaced.
10) A new AWD vehicle. No more parking at the bottom of the driveway all winter.
11) Hiking in Colorado with Starla. 4 days of Rocky Mountain highs and a sacred search for the best hot chocolate.


12) Connectivity with Angela while she was in Africa. My love runs deep for Whatsapp, Facetime, Instagram and Find Friends.


13) New flooring and other renovations, thanks to Brian. Hello vinyl plank, Goodbye mangy carpet.IMG_5691
14) Extras around the dinner table. I love setting one more place and 2 or 3 are even better.
15) Reconnecting with Seth. Sometimes God wraps up His gifts in the most unlikely packages–slippery roads, a car accident, a taco dinner, a warm cozy bed and an extra vehicle.
16) Sleeping at Last Enneagram Songs and Podcasts. Ryan O’Neal, he’s a musical genius and an all around great dude. Loved listening with Lily.
17) God’s provision of counselors and mentors and doctors for all of our issues. And Lord knows, we’ve got issues….
18) Passion DC and Senior Sneak in the Smokies. So honored to mentor this next generation of young adults.IMG_3382
19) Growing things simply to enjoy their beauty.


20) Josh Harris’ documentary, “I survived I kissed dating goodbye”. The family dialogue that resulted was important.
21) Graci’s surprise 18thbirthday party. Love celebrating her life.
And all these teenagers, they’re super cool and they keep me young.


22) Homemade corn sacks kept everybody comfy warm. Brennan and Robyn’s cottage industry happened here on the little old Kenmore sewing machine.
23) Jogging 5K on the Cornerstone University track. Didn’t know if I had it in me but I do.
24) My people, the ones who just keep taking another lap with me, one year after another. Don’t know where I’d be without them.
25) Hole in my Heart Podcasts. Matt and Laurie and Steve, their gospel centered approach to sexuality has informed my ignorance on all things LGTBQ. 5 star recommendation.
26) Coffee Dates. Lavender earl grey tea lattes with this one are my favorite.IMG_3631
27) Wednesday night Happy Hour with these lovelies. Non-alcoholic Rose’ and real life Q and A at it’s finest.IMG_1485
28) Good Reads: 1) Girl Wash your Face by Rachel Hollis, 2) You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan, 3) A War of Loves by David Bennett  4) Christians, Muslims and Jesus by Carl Medearis 5) Secrets of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
29) A normal mammogram. Celebrating another year I didn’t have to fight that monster.
30) An unremarkable routine colonoscopy too.
31) Spring break destination Tennessee. That 80’s pop karaoke session on Liz’s screen porch was unforgettable.IMG_4487
32) Omar’s birth. Proud Auntie, that’s me.IMG_4264
33) A best-of Dallas family road warrior weekend. Celebrating all our favorite people and places in 64 hours.


34) PCPC hymn sing in recognition of Lynda Fray’s ministry to families for God’s glory through children’s choirs. I’m pretty sure heaven sounds like that did.


35) Best performance of Les Miserables ever. Robyn and Brennan, WOW!


36) Starla’s going to be in Koinonia Players drama team next year. Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do and if it means camping out at 5:00 a.m. to get a spot in class.  well, so be it.
37) God’s angels protecting Brennan. That fall, it could have been so much worse than a couple of fractured vertebrae.
38) Lily’s college graduation. So proud and amazed at what she has done and what she has become.IMG_5071
39) Robyn’s high school graduation. When you’re a homeschooling mom, their celebration is yours too.IMG_3099
40) Attending Potter’s House High School graduation of my Syrian friends. Rarely have I seen such unity and diversity in the name of Christ.IMG_5360
41) My personal Style, Color and Shape consultation, thanks to my daughters, because a girl needs all the help she can get.
42) Lily’s NCLEX licensing test passed. She’s “officially” a nurse.
43) Robyn’s phlebotomy job. She’s wanted to poke people ever since “that really nice lady” at Spectrum kept poking her, a bunch of years ago and look what God did–provided full time, paid, on the job training all summer long.
44) Brennan’s job in surgical support services. This job, it’s legit.
45) Weekly beach trips all summer long. Continuing the tradition.


46) My Michigan address. All year long…


47) My blog article published on ForEveryMom. Sharing the mama love.
48) Our first family camping trip in 16 years. Tents, air mattresses, sleeping bags, hammocks, s’mores and an overnight thunderstorm. We did it all!


49) Lily’s nursing job at Spectrum Blodgett. A journey of prayer and perseverance has taken her to this place to serve on this healing team.
50) Angela safely returned from Africa. From 4875 to 154 miles away, she’s got an awesome new apartment, an amazing new roommate and an exciting new job.


51) My Rockford Cheese Shop discovery. How did I live before Stilton Mango Ginger cheese?


52) And a whole lot of long prayer walks…. (to the tune of And a Partridge in a Pear Tree).

So many mercies, one day after another, enough to carry me all away around the sun to 53. Thanks be to God!

To The Mama Who’s Launching Her First

*this post originally published on foreverymom.com, August 22, 2019.mg_9952I’m starting to see the Facebook posts. Parents sending kids off to college.
Helping them decorate their dorm room.
Reflecting on how quickly 18 years went.
They all read something like this: “I’m going to miss you like crazy but I’m so excited and hopeful for your future.” And that is the paradox. Both statements are completely true.

Two of my people are launching their first. One characterizes this year as “the dark night of the soul”. Another developed an ulcer over the summer. For the mamas and daddies who are eternal optimists by temperment or naturally compartmentalize emotions, we celebrate with you that this transition doesn’t feel like suffering. Really, we do. But for all the rest of us mommies, this is a gut wrenching, nauseating experience. And we think we’re the only one who’s ever felt this emotionally flattened. And we tend to condemn ourselves because we can’t seem to pick ourselves up and brush ourselves off and be OK yesterday. Here’s the thing, mama. I want you to know that you are not alone in this. I’m proof positive that there is a long and formidable cloud of witnesses who have journeyed this road before you and survived. Thrived even. And we are cheering you on.

I know, you’re looking at the calendar, counting down the days. Wondering how you’ll make it through….
Remember when you were nine months pregnant with that same kid? You didn’t know how you’d survive childbirth either, but you also knew there was no choice but to pull down your big girl panties and somehow deliver a baby. And you did.
You weren’t sure how you’d live with a little person 24/7, but you did.
And now that little person’s turned big and you’re not sure how you’ll live in the daily without them either, but you will.

Remember that classic story about the family who goes on a bear hunt. I know it by heart and so do you.  “Going on a bear hunt, Going to catch a big one, What a beautiful day! We’re not scared. Uh-oh, grass… a river… mud… a forest… a snowstorm… You can’t go under it. You can’t go over it. You’ve got to go through it.”And that is the cold hard reality about launching our children: There is no other way than through it.

Here are some things that have helped me on my journey. Maybe they’ll help you too:
1) Clean like a crazy woman after they leave. (I’m talking deep clean, spring clean, whole house reorganization.)
2) Exercise (when you can get yourself out of bed).
3) Once you get your appetite back, don’t indulge the empty space in your life with food. You’ll feel worse when you start packing on the pounds.
4) Share your tears. Unload them on a good friend. And don’t waste your emotional energy on self-condemnation for grieving your loss. Your Father, He’s collecting them in his bottle, delighting in a sweet offering of deep love.
5) Invest in your relationships with your other kiddos in intentional ways.DSCF6843
6) Develop a previously untried spiritual rhythm or discipline that connects you daily with God and PRAY at all times, for all your people, about everything, and always start with “Thank You”  because gratitude refocuses your attention from your struggle to His faithfulness.

And here’s a bonus tidbit of advice. If you’re a natural born melancholy, imbibe on your “Mom Music” Spotify playlist with extreme moderation.

Truth. That moment you give your last hug and drive away or wave as they do, it will indelibly etch itself on your soul, leaving you wondering if even dementia could take it away.
It’s never the same after that. Autonomy tends to have a voracious appetite.
But in time, you will find a new normal and it will be sweet.
You can walk this journey. You can.
Hold tightly to the hand of God and see the surprising new places He takes you. Let Him carry you through the treacherous terrain and you will experience new facets of His tender strength. God’s fresh mercies won’t leave when your kid walks out the door. They’re still surprising and new and enough– abundant even, for this day and all the days yet to be written in your story.

Bad Advice for Parents with Teenage Daughters

What a difference a day can make.
Yesterday it was the inspiring strawberry patch mamas.
Today, the beer-drinking, trash-talking, beach dad.

Lake levels are up 2+ feet this year so the beach is crowded. We stake out our little postage stamp parcel and set down our blanket and beach chair. It’s not just the rhythm of the waves and the squawking of the seagulls, I’m hearing the conversations around me in stereo too.

Right behind us, there’s a nice little family. Daddy walks hand in hand with his princess. She’s maybe 2, dripping wet and giggling with excitement at her swimming adventure. Mama follows behind, moving slower, carrying a bowling ball in her belly. They dry off and position themselves on their beach towels to enjoy a snack. There’s a whole posse of 50-something couples at 2:00, lounging behind them, cold beers in their cupholders, waxing eloquent on baseball, stock portfolios and the best restaurants in Chicago. One of those loud mouthed dudes notices the quiet family eating their fruit snacks and feels compelled to advise little princess’ daddy on how to raise daughters.

He seems to think he’s both incredibly smart and extremely witty. His conversation starter is classic.
“Just wait until she’s a teenager.”
That’s encouraging!
“Here’s what you need to do. Show her date your gun cabinet and tell him you’re not afraid to use them.”He went on an on ad nauseum about guns and boyfriends and a comprehensive strategy for establishing a solid power differential with any guy his daughter likes, seemingly convinced that made him a successful father.

I chewed my gum vigorously to keep my mouth busy so that I wouldn’t turn around and interrupt Mr. Know-It-All’s monologue and tell that naive young dad, “Don’t be that kind of jerk!”

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve made our own laundry list of parenting “oopsies”, but thankfully, not this one.

I get it. Teenage guys who are crushing on our daughters scare the bejeebies out of us. Truth. We know how gullible our girls can be and we don’t want them to get hurt. For dads like the beach dude, powering up at the gun cabinet might give them an illusion of control but ultimately that strategy backfires. So, my thought is, pick your battles shrewdly when your daughter’s heart, safety and sexual integrity are at stake. Think of it like a game of rock, paper, scissors. Your gun is not going to beat your kid’s affection. And it isn’t going to give you any opportunity for relational influence in her boo’s life either.fullsizeoutput_90d3

Maybe there’s a better way….
If a guy is important to our daughter, shouldn’t he matter to us too?
What if we embraced our opportunity to impact our daughter’s BF’s life for good through our words and by our example?
What if we help him cast a vision for becoming a young man of honor and responsibility and integrity?
Our role might be super small and incredibly time limited or we could be laying a foundation for a long term relationship with the man our kid covenants to share her life with. Whichever it is, I’d hate to squander my opportunity to invest well in his story.

Here’s are some universal truths about human nature:
-We generally aspire toward other’s expectations of us. If you treat somebody like he’s a thug, why should he act any differently? Affirming a person’s strengths and assuring him of your confidence is motivational.

– Respect is a widespread core need. If that’s how you want to be treated, why wouldn’t he? Which would you respond better to, a passive aggressive lecture including a tour of a father’s gun cabinet; or, a conversation with a girl’s dad where he expresses genuine interest in you as a person, where he asks reflective questions about why you like his daughter and what your plan is for treating her with care and respect when you’re together?

-Fear tactics and micromanaging behaviors don’t conform the motivation of a person’s heart. In your daughter’s dating relationship, you can’t set up a rule playbook that doesn’t have loopholes, or chaperone your kid and her boyfriend 100% of the time, even if you’re the Duggars. Another way to support sexual boundaries between your daughter and her boyfriend might be to encourage them to hang out with you, eat dinner around your table, watch movies in your family room, talk until curfew on your porch swing, and that ain’t going to happen if you’re intimidating, threatening or playing the bully.

Everybody has their own style of relating, customized for their family. Here’s a snapshot of how these convictions have played out in ours. My husband was gone on an extended business trip and our girl wanted to go somewhere with a guy she liked.
“He’ll have to talk to me first before driving you anywhere.” I told her.
“You’ve got to have “the talk” with my mom before I can go,”I heard her tell him on the phone.
We met in the park where I dropped her off that afternoon. He sat across from me at a picnic table and our conversation went something like this:
“Generally, I only let my kids ride with other teenagers that I know and trust. I don’t know you very well yet, but my daughter tells me you’re responsible, cautious and loyal. I’ve decided that based on my daughter’s character reference and your driving record I will let her ride with you as long as we’re on the same page about rules for safe driving. Here’s what I’m expecting of you:
I expect you to obey traffic laws, including the speed limit.
I expect you to focus on driving without the distraction of your phone.
I expect you to drive sober.
Are we agreed on those expectations?”
“Yes, I’ll do my best to drive safely with her,”he responded sincerely.
“Great. I believe that you will. Take care of my precious cargo and have a great time!”

And he has—both driven safely and had a great time. Since then, he’s become a “regular” around our house, one of the pack. Our relationship has been built on mutual respect and we’ve dialogued about all sorts of interesting, controversial and deep topics. My gut tells me that if we’d employed scare tactics at the starting gate, the relational dynamic would look really different and we’d all have missed out on something valuable.

So, back to the guy on the beach. I sat quiet like I was minding my own business. But inside, I admit it, I was giving that dad a piece of my mind.
“Grow up, dude.”
“Oh, and I’ll pass on your semi-intoxicated parenting advice, too, but thanks anyway.”

Disclaimer: Disregard everything I just said if your daughter’s guy is a creeper, a stalker, a predator, someone who’s physically, sexually or emotionally harming her, or someone who doesn’t demonstrate any foreseeable potential, because that’s different and requires a more assertively protective response.

Strawberry Patch Parenting

*This post originally published on foreverymom.com, July 9, 2019.

DSCF4761It’s strawberry picking season and the fields are loaded with big, red, juicy berries. We always go to the same farm. It’s tradition. We target a cloudy morning before 10 to minimize the misery index. Those career fruit pickers, you gotta respect them. This job isn’t for the faint of heart and the pay stinks.
We do it for fun though. We pick around 30 pounds of berries and then wash and slice and cook and freeze for, pretty much, a full day. The resulting rows of bright red jam that line the countertop, they’re picture perfect.DSCF8708

When I pick berries, my mind wanders. I find myself listening in to the conversations around me. Always, and I do mean always, there’s a bunch of moms and kids picking nearby and fruit picking with young children, it’s a wild adventure.

This year, it was little redhead Henry, his big sister and their mama who captured my attention. We all arrived about the same time. That’s how we ended up in rows near each other. Little Henry looked about 4. His mama told her kiddos to pick the red berries, the ones without brown decay or bird beak burrowed holes. She showed them a berry that was only partially ripe and explained how they were looking for the ones that were red all over. She no sooner squatted in position than little Henry started tossing berries down the row. Maybe they were berries that didn’t qualify as worthy of a place in his take home box. I don’t know. I’ve never understood the mind of a 4 year old boy, but somehow, berry tossing made sense to Henry or at least felt fun. Calmly, Henry’s mama redirected him.
“Henry, we don’t throw berries, we pick them and put them in our box, please.”
About 2 seconds later, Henry wandered over to the next row and randomly started picking berries off another lady’s assigned patch. Thankfully, she was a grandma, compassionate regarding the hazards of fruit picking with pre-schoolers. Henry’s mama intervened again.
“Henry, you’re going to have to give your berries to that lady if you keep picking in her row. Come over here by us and we’ll pick berries together to take home.”
Henry meandered closer to his big sister and started eating every berry he picked. Mom noticed after she glanced up at him, having had a few uninterrupted moments to pick berries herself.
“Henry, how about if we wait to eat the berries until we go home and wash them. Let’s put berries in our box instead.”
And this routine continued on loop. Throwing. Wandering. Eating. Meanwhile, Henry’s bigger sister, squatted over the berries focused on contributing to the family’s take home box. Thank heavens for big sisters!

The little girl picking on the row to our opposite side was adventuring with her mama and grandparents. This little princess was a whiner and that is a scenario I’m intimately acquainted with. Every few seconds she’d narrate her feelings.
“I’m hot.”
“This is too hard.”
“I want to go home.”
Her Mama wanted a picture, one where everybody smiles for about a half a second to remember the morning the way she imagined it rather than the way it actually is. But Little Princess isn’t having it and Papa’s answer to their fruit picking “FAIL” is predictable.
“Want me to take you to the car and we’ll have some candy, honey?”
Honestly, before judging Papa, in a practical sense his suggestion works. Mama gets a few minutes to pick like a crazy woman while grandpa keeps little princess happy and safe.

These mamas, they’re my heroes. Both of them, in their own unique ways.
Little Princess’ mama, she was shrewd. Bringing grandparents, that is the supreme solution to the problem of productivity when fruit picking with young children.
And Henry’s mama, she’s awesome. She realizes that everything doesn’t need to be an authority struggle. A wise and self-confident parent picks their battles carefully, sensitive to age and stage. In my book, she ordered her loves appropriately with relationship first and productivity second.

Let’s be honest, what mama hasn’t gone berry picking with their tribe of young ‘uns and felt frustrated? Angry? Embarrassed? Disappointed? And maybe what we felt somehow slipped out in what we said or even what we did to our kids right there in the berry field. We mamas, we get in a tiz about so many things.
Obviously, when we go berry picking, we want to come home with berries, but hear my heart for you, young mamas. Do not sacrifice relationship on the altar of productivity. In the long haul, how you pick trumps how much you pick.
And here’s another thing: Do not sacrifice relationship on the altar of image. In the end, who really cares if the other mamas around you make judgements about your parenting, about your kids’ obedience or lack thereof. You’re not ultimately parenting for their approval. God’s the one you want to impress and lucky for you, he’s your biggest cheerleader. Follow His example and fight for grace. What kind of Jesus do you want to acquaint your kid with? What kind of Jesus do you know? Is he a demanding, finger pointing perfectionist? My Jesus is slow to anger and abounding in love . He doesn’t treat me like my sins deserve, whether they be blatant disregard for his instructions or careless distraction from his guidance and His compassions are new and fresh each morning. And that’s what I’ve wanted to image about our heavenly parent to my kids. Is obedience important? Yes. God tells us to train them in it, but when we are careless about distinguishing between teachable moments, understanding developmental norms and struggling with personal insecurities, we Inadvertently end up shaming our children. Young mama, trust me. Hindsight is 20/20. You don’t want to do that.

Here’s the thing, regardless of how little Henry’s mama responds to him as he lackadaisically picks berries, whether she lavishes him with kindness or shames him with demands and criticisms, eventually he’ll grow up and be able to pick strawberries competently. He’ll probably even take his own kiddos to the patch hoping to create at least a few decent Kodak moments. And when he does, he’ll either feel a nagging ache of shame hiding in the shadows of his soul or he’ll remember with delight his own experience accompanying his mama to the berry patch. You choose. Which one do you want to pass on to the ones you love best?

Henry’s family left the field at about the same time we did. His mama’s box weighed in at 6 pounds of berries. Meanwhile, our squad of 4 picked 29.5 pounds. She won’t be able to make jam or freeze berries for winter but her bowl of berries on the kitchen counter will look mighty sweet and taste even sweeter because of the kindness and grace that sourced them.

God bless, little Henry.
Actually, God bless little Henry’s mama.
She inspires me.
Convicts me.
Encourages me.
May she feel your smile today, God, because she looked like Jesus.IMG_5782

Souvenirs

We packed her up again this weekend. In the past 5 years she’s moved between home, 2 dorm rooms, 2 college flats, 2 grown up apartments, several housesitting gigs and a fair amount of begging and borrowing couches and beds from hospitable friends.
God’s written her story with transiency in almost every chapter and this time she’s about to move far, far away.
4,875 miles to be exact.IMG_0749

This apartment–it was my favorite.
I think I made 13 trips here this year and grateful I could.
There was move in day and a couple of sibling visits, our adventure to Scotland together that departed from O’Hare. A mama-daughter weekend at the Nutcracker by the Joffrey Ballet, a winter zoo adventure and then multiple trips related to her car crash. After that, she got bronchitis and I kept her company while she convalesced. We hosted our buddy from Scotland at her place and wrapped up the year by taking a day excursion to the city with two of her sisters plus one.
Now, we’re packing it up and leaving the keys.
There’s her wall of happiness.
Her bookshelf—of which she claims every single acquisition has a story.
There are the dishes passed down from Grandma.
And Grampsy’s twin bed frame.
Her great-aunt’s old kitchen table with the chair cushions I reupholstered.
And lots of chocolate I’ve given her that she says she forgot about. How is that even possible?
I guess she forgot about the vitamins, the probiotics and the frozen food I left too.IMG_7644

It’s been a big year for her.
She needed a restart, a vision for a beautiful future after the closure of a significantly defining relationship.
She pulled up her big girl pants and made courageous choices to forge a path, one next step after another toward  brighter tomorrows.
She opted to immerse herself in contemplative prayer and form new spiritual rhythms.
She taught herself additional skills to add breadth to her project palette at work.
She connected with new friends.
She travelled to Europe twice in addition to  jetsetting around the US.
She mentored and chaliced and volunteered.
She even ran in a 5K fundraiser. You go girl!

And that brings us right here to this moment, to this sharp turn on her life map.
Destination Africa.
She’s admittedly addicted to passport stamps and plans to add several to her book this next year.

Summer 2019 project #6—Tidy up my writing files.
It’s like opening my Christmas decoration bins and finding nice things I forgot I had.
Ironically, I came across the entry written above. I typed it in almost a year ago.
And today, she’s packing up again. About to make another move. This time it’s just two suitcases after you add the gifts and mementos. She left with only one and tucked her computer, the work horse for her volunteer commitment, between a bunch of loose fitting long sleeved shirts and below the knee skirts. Hardly a fashionable wardrobe by American standards. Next week, she’ll board a plane that she swears will depart on North African time resulting in a missed connection in Europe. After two weeks of gallivanting around Britain with her best buds, she’ll fly home.
“God willing” or “In’shallah” in Arabic, as she says.

As I type, the tears involuntarily hide in the corners of my eyes. The last time I put a hug around her neck, we stood in O’Hare airport and she walked away from me. Toward the gate. I waved and cried– quiet, private drops falling down my cheeks like a leaky faucet. In 19 more days, she’ll walk toward me instead and I expect that I’ll need more tissues then too. I wonder, will she kiss the ground or hug me first? She says she intends to do both.IMG_1836

Unpacking.  It’ll be so much more complicated than laundering her clothes, moving in to the next apartment, starting a new job, and dispersing her souvenirs.
It took courage to move to Africa, to live in another culture with a foreign language and  a different religion.
And it required an extra measure of fresh daily mercies to fight anxiety and homesickness,
Invisible protections by God’s angels to jaywalk across streets with confident determination ignoring catcalls from the locals while dodging traffic, not to mention navigating public transportation safely alone.
And nothing other than supernatural strength got her out of bed each morning to the sound of roosters crowing and the Adhan echoing across the city in order to teach a classroom full of international students, none of whom share her native language, while tackling an 800 page peace curriculum design project under a hard deadline.
Her experience also invited her to wonder and delight in seaside landscapes and blue keyhole doors, fresh bread and homemade hummus, learning Arabic and new Muslim friends. She took hikes and rode a camel in the Sahara. She slept in a cave and visited ancient historic ruins.

There was a fair amount of bitter and a whole lot of sweet, a broad brush stroke of emotions and experiences anchored in the love and faithfulness of God, which makes for the most multi-dimensional life, really.

Now, she’s coming home.
And that will take courage too.
Courage to start new in old places. Courage to pursue ethnically and religiously diverse relationships where she’s in the majority.
And she’ll be needing an abundance of fresh mercies to process cross-cultural reentry, adjust to Amercian cost of living and to love her family for who we are instead of who she wants us to be.
Continued on duty angels to protect her as she navigates life in the burbs of Chicagoland.
Supernatural strength to get up and live in the mundane grind—every single day.
And she’ll be invited to wonder afresh at the country that authorized her passport, the one she checks the “citizen” box next to. To appreciate the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy here, the equal rights and opportunities for women. To exercise communal faith and worship at church in a language she understands without security guards posted nearby for surveillance.
To delight in Chick Fil A and gallons of fresh, cold milk, in lazy summer swimsuit beach days and shopping at superstores. To meander through the aisles of bookstores or libraries and drive her Subaru with the sunroof wide open.

I remember the first time I held her in my arms.
She was 9 lbs. 1 oz. and 21 inches long.


The love– it defied description or explanation. If you’re a parent, you get it, but kids, they just don’t.
I had no idea what the terrain would look like travelling this journey of life in her squad.
And with every single daughter, the path has been individually contoured.
All of us, we’ve been on our own uniquely courageous adventure._DSC0421 copy

I’m writing my list, checking it twice. Picking up her favorite chocolate. Planning a purchase at  the local cheese shop. Got her a few cute clothes to bridge the gap until she can shop. Scheduled a quick family vaca to Mackinac Island. Opening up my schedule to be available for de-briefing and hearing her stories of memories straight out of Africa while she’s right here in Pure Michigan.
And hoping we make a boatload of our own.
Because really, memories are the best souvenirs.

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

It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” so says Dickens. I wonder if he penned these words staring down his 50thbirthday. I approached mine less eloquently, like a tantruming 2 year old struggling to manage a storm of emotions and not exactly sure why, except that the arbitrary number in the next tens column  was staring me down. I’m now 2 ½ years in and sorting out the truth and lies I’ve believed about aging.
It’s true. The mirror gets more adversarial everyday. Everything just keeps getting wrinklier.
And saggier.
And gnarlier.
And wirier.
And thicker.
And achier.
It’s a full scale assault on my vanity.
But, a more mature friend confided a few years back that her 50’s were her favorite decade and I’m starting to understand why. Family demands are different now. My kids cut their own meat, cook their own food and do their own laundry. Most of them drive themselves where they need to go and one of my kids even lives on the different continent than I do. While I’m tempted to romanticize the “good old days” when I was changing diapers and picking up a playroom perpetually, the reality is that I’m in a stage of life that creates space for me to explore new opportunities and expand my circle of influence. And, I’m not as much of a hot mess as I used to be anymore either thanks to menopause. While there’s still a rare volcanic eruption, mostly my emotional magma flows under the surface with an overflow occasionally slipping through a fissure down my cheeks. The combination of experience and depth and maturity produces fertile ground for soul work. I’m assessing my motives more, processing core needs, dealing with insecurities, recognizing when I manipulate for acceptance and love. Both in my inner world and the part everybody sees, I’m seizing the days because they are ticking closer to eternity and I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the best part of aging is moving closer to sharing an address with Jesus.

I haven’t always felt this way. Like eating pecan pie, anticipation for heaven has been an acquired taste. I’ve just consumed what may be the most transformationally significant read in my 50’s. It’s Francis and Lisa Chan’s, You and Me Forever.   One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp most profoundly shaped my 40’s. Ann’s words mentored me toward a habit of gratitude and over time, that reshaped my spiritual journey. While the Chan’s book is technically considered a marriage resource, I’d agree with an Amazon reviewer who says it’s “a manifesto of daily discipleship in light of eternity.” It focuses the reader’s attention on participating in God’s mission and stewarding this life as an investment in the next one. No good works gospel here. Our eternal habitation isn’t in question if we’ve received the gift of God’s forgiveness and mercy. It’s just that when we tether the Word of God with holy imagination, and true worship with a passion for imaging the heart of God to a hurting world, it rearranges our priorities so that nothing is more vital to us at the end of this temporary life with this temporary marriage and this temporary family than how we devoted ourselves to showcasing God’s love through our time, talents, and treasures.IMG_3929

So, today, I’m walking and jogging at the indoor track at Cornerstone University, my alma mater. This is where the dirt of adulthood first got under my fingernails. Here is where God started to transform me from an anxious teenager riddled with fears and anxieties into a functionally competent adult. In this place, I earned an educational degree, found a husband and gained a lifelong friend. God brought me back here a handful of years later as a faculty spouse and I paid forward the hospitality and love I received as a student until we moved away again. Even after relocating to the southwest, we migrated back to Grand Rapids every summer and lived in campus housing. Our kids made memories here chasing Canada geese on their bikes, tracking a killdeer’s nest in the grass and frequenting the children’s section of the university library. And 13 years after a moving truck hauled all our earthly possessions down south, we brought them back home to Grand Rapids and our two middles enrolled in classes at this university making me a CU mom. This place, it’s holy ground for me.

And so, I come here 3-4 times a week to wrestle in prayer and jog with Jesus. This is where I fight for gratitude, true humility and my identity in Christ. This is where I vent and plead and lament. This is where I talk and listen. God hears it all as I circle the laps practicing the spiritual discipline of prayerIMG_3918

IMG_3915Then, I jog. Honestly, I look ridiculous next to all those buff 20-something athletes who whizz by me on the track, but I’ve matured enough to squelch the shame and substitute it with gratitude instead. Here I am at 52 and God and I, we’re jogging buddies. He’s happy to go my pace and He enjoys us being together. It’s like we each get an ear bud and set our pace to my current favorite exercise tune, This is Living, by Hillsong. The beat’s perfect, the message inspires and I set it on auto loop.

I’m training and on the alert for whatever Jesus has for me next.
And I’m excited for it.
Shocker. Maybe his plans will even include a 5K race.
Here’s the thing, we’re all in process. None of us are going to be who we’re going to be at 20 or 30 or even 40 and I like to think there’s still plenty of metamorphosis ahead at 52. While there are some ways I’m very similar to who I was back in my teeny-bopper days, in others, I’m hardly recognizable. And there’s zero percent chance I could have ever predicted how I’d live out my journey from there to here.

Our stories unfold a chapter at a time, just as they ought to. I muse about my own daughters. Beautiful as they are—mind, body and soul- they are not yet who they will be either.  They have so much still to grasp about the length and width and depth and height of the love of Christ, so much grace to give and receive, so much healing to experience, so much story yet to be written and this life is just the prequel. Like diamonds in the rough, their facets are being chiseled, every part cut in proportion to the others so the light will pass through and sparkle brilliantly.

In this marathon of life, God coaches us on how the race looks through the lens of eternity. Hebrews 12 tells us:

….since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us,  keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.

And so we live Hebrews 12 mile after mile until we run across the finish line and hear the words of our Father calling victory:
“Well done, good and faithful servant….Come and share in my happiness.” (Matt. 25: 21-23)
And that’s going to be a really good day!

Dear Joshua Harris,

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 3.17.02 PMDear Josh Harris,
I recently watched your documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in which you described the process whereby you decided to withdraw your book from the publishing market.
You look different than you did 20+ years ago when you crafted a treatise about courtship, marriage and sex.
A bit more weathered, a lot less hair.
Life does that. Grappling long and hard with deep truths over time, it leaves us with tangible evidence that we’re getting older.
I think you were 21 when you wrote your book. Since then, you got married,  lost your dear mother to cancer, shepherded a large community of believers, raised kids, made an international move and who knows what else. …
That’s a lot of miles on the proverbial car.
And the road trip of life has a tendency to expand not just our view of the world but also our self-understanding. And, that challenges us to reconsider, well, lots of things….I’ve been doing it too.

I’m a mom of 4 daughters, 3 grown now. If you asked them what my cardinal virtue for choosing a life partner is (after aligning themselves with another Christ follower), hands down they’d all tell you the same answer.
“Find someone teachable.”
In my “book”, there’s no more crucial quality to assess in a candidate for husband.
A teachable man listens well, owns sin, leads in repentance and sets the tone for the entire family by his authenticity and humility.
I see that posture in you. Thank you, Josh, for your excellent example.

I guess I feel an affinity to you. Your family was an iconic example of successful homeschooling back in the day and us homeschoolers, we stick together.
Christian homeschooling parents, like all humans, make choices with mixed motives but generally speaking, our intentions are to help our kids thrive according to God’s design and to shepherd that process in an environment that also provides an extra layer of protection from harm and regret. We tend to be the high achieving, worrying types. I’d love to see a psychological study on homeschooling moms. I bet they’d find us to be off the chart Enneagram 6’s. People who are always threat forecasting, wired to love by protecting.

Maybe that was part of the appeal of your book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Enneagram 6’s want to be proactive guardians for our loved ones and your premises felt like a safeguard from hurt and a free pass to relational utopia for our children. Like a means to an end.

Truth is, I owe  you an apology as well.
I failed as a parent to discern responsibly when I read your book. You were obviously a smart guy, a good kid, a sincere young man when you authored I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but you did not yet have enough life experience to pass along expert widsom on relationships or sexuality. Marriage is complex. Anyone who’s graduated out of the newlywed stage ought to have realized that human brokenness rarely fits perfectly in a neatly wrapped package.
I gave your words more weight than I should have and I’m sorry.

I also want to apologize to my kids, especially my oldest.  In God’s sovereignty, He made her the guinea pig of the family. Ultimately, the undesireable effects of being the test-trial case will only be salved by Jesus but I want her to know– all of them to know -that I realize that my training on relationships and sexuality has not been as life giving as the shepherding that I had in my heart to offer.
Sexuality was presented more like a mathematical formula and less like mystery.
Purity got shortchanged into a pass or fail grade rather than a journey of walking with Jesus in daily dependence. Allowing Him to transform your thoughts, desires and actions increasingly and over time into His own image.
Relational risk factors were elevated while potential relational learning was undervalued.
Guys lost their three dimensionality and my girls ended up afraid of them.
We didn’t make space for the impact of sexual harm on children, like it wouldn’t be a thing for our kids if we just did everything else “right” and that was naieve.
But, the truth is, that God can be trusted with our hurts, disappointments and failures personally and in the context of relationships. That’s where He does His best redemptive work no matter how messy it’s been or gets._DSC0421 copy

Secondly, I apology to my kids because they have not seen a blueprint for marriage in our example.
I, personally, have struggled to turn the other cheek.
To forgive lavishly. Repeatedly.
To be slow to anger.
To guard my tongue.
To choose kindness.
And patience.
To be generous with my affection.
They already know this but it deserves repeating anyway, actions speak louder than words and a model of a mutually life giving marriage is far more valuable than quibbling about courting versus dating, kissing or waiting.

Toward the end of your documentary, you say this:

“When I first started this journey, I think I was looking for a simple answer. Was my book good or bad? Right or wrong? But I’ve come to realize that life isn’t that simple. I think that’s the mistake I made when I first wrote the book. I was looking for an easy, simple answer but life is full of contradictions.
My book hurt people. My book helped people and the tension with both of those things being true, I think reflects the  complexity of reality.
My thinking has changed since I wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I think that it’s premise is flawed. I don’t agree with a lot of my own book. But whether you agree with me today or you agree with what I wrote 20 years ago, I hope that you will think for yourself and I hope that you will engage with people who’s stories are different than yours, people who disagree with you. I hope you will take the time to listen to them. Listening to people has changed me.
I want to say to anyone who was hurt by my book that I’m so sorry. I know that’s coming too late. I know that doesn’t really change anything for you but I never meant to harm you and I hope that somehow me going back and evaluating all this and owning up to mistakes in my book will somehow help you on your journey. You know, I used to be so afraid of getting something wrong but I’m not afraid anymore. You can change your mind about things. You can make mistakes, and honestly there’s something really freeing about just saying “I was wrong.””

I resonate with that and would personalize it to my daughters like this:
Angela, Lily, Robyn and Starla,
When God made me your parent, I wanted to do things right so your life would be good and sweet. It was a short sighted objective. Now I know that parenting isn’t formulaic and life is full of paradox. As your mom, my training and influence especially about your sexuality have both harmed and blessed you. I’ve learned a lot about God and myself because He wrote you into my story.
Maturing is, in part, learning to admit when we’re wrong or misguided and having the courage to change our minds. I’ve valuded our dialogue and benefitted from listening to you. My opinions on all sorts of things have morphed and changed over time because God’s growing me up too. I’m sorry for the ways my sin has hurt you. I can’t take back the impact but I hope it helps to hear me own it._DSC0377 copy

I love the ending of the documentary. All of the participants together at a wedding banquet eating, drinking, talking and laughing together.

Here’s what my feast would look like. My husband, and daughters, and all of the other people God’s put in our lives to share the journey, we’d sit together around the table, and I’d borrow your concluding words as the blessing:

“The great narrative of the Bible starts with a couple who lose their way and cut themselves off from God but the story of God’s redeeming love ends with a wedding; but it’s not a wedding for people with no regrets, no hurts. It’s not about an individual man and woman who find perfect romance. It’s a wedding that symbolizing God bringing everyone home. Inviting us all to his table and making this possible by his sacrificial love.
None of us are good enough. None of us deserve it and yet we’re all invited. It’s a feast. A party for people who might have given up on themselves. Who’ve failed, and hurt themselves and others and yet somehow God fixes and renews what is broken.
There are no ghosts at the feast. No lingering regrets.
Only  a community of fully alive, fully human, fully redeemed men and women who are loved and healed and find their purity alone in Jesus.”

Peace and rest to you this advent season, Josh Harris.
Hope Webster

My Circle of Influence

IMG_2149Tomorrow, I’ll be hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Today, I’m ticking off the mile markers slogging through Iowa and Nebraska. No offense to the people who call these states home. Where would we be without farm rich regions whose crops are now shriveled up stalks mostly plowed over by their caretakers, the soil prepared for a winter rest.

The Baby, she’s munching on Goldfish crackers, nursing a tummy ache and periodically wondering aloud how I talked her into this. I’m almost always to blame for our family adventures. It’s my Enneagram 7 wing.

As one field after another whizzes past my passenger window, I’m praying for my people in the downtime. Thanking God for all of His fresh mercies and telling Him my laundry list of concerns. I’m threat forecasting with Him like a true Enneagram 6. Imagining all kinds of possible calamities and struggles that warrant His special attention and asking Him to do what He always does, hold my people in His arms, close to His heart.

I’m trying to discipline my mind to practice a life principle my friend Matt keeps reminding us of most Sundays. On the big screen, the visual of 2 concentric circles shows the inner one representing our Circle of Influence and the outer one our Circle of Concern. He assigns us to personalize the circles. Make a list of what we’re concerned about and what we can actually influence. Then, he challenges us to channel our energy, focus and resources on the stuff God’s actually given us the opportunity to impact.IMG_2420

It’s easy-peasy for me to transfer this principle to politics. I pray for our world, our nation, our leaders and I voted a couple of weeks ago because I consider it an act of responsible citizenship, though I approached the booth with relative detach. I know I have a vote but it’s just 1 vote and in the larger scheme of things, my 1 vote has very little sway on the results of an election. I simply can’t mold political outcomes according to my values so I don’t spend much time spinning my wheels in the bureaucratic grind anymore.
When it comes to people and relationships– real, live, personal dynamics, that’s where I wrestle with ordering my Circle of Concern and my Circle of Influence most.IMG_2131

I have a kid who currently lives 4875 miles away from me on another continent. I’ll be honest. She is my first thought every morning as I wake up. I speculate about what she’s doing. I check to see if a text message arrived in the night. I wonder if she’s eaten anything. If she’s safe. If she’s warm. And I start to pray, taking all my concerns to Jesus who knows exactly what her condition is at any given moment. It’s a beautiful rhythm we share, my Father and I. Somehow my thoughts get translated into prayers that only God understands.IMG_2585.JPG-2

Ideally, the word “Amen” re-focuses my attention to my husband and 3 daughters, the ones who share my roof. To start, they need clean socks and underwear. And after that, there’s chauffering and tutoring, organizing and cleaning, cooking and dishes, talking and listening, instructing and encouraging. Add to it my nieces, a handful of kindred spirits, my church fam, my very own small group of Little Women that I drink sparkling grape juice with every Wednesday night, my international buddies, my kid’s friends and a plus one too. Then there are all of those divine appointments with people and in places that only God could have scheduled. This is the stuff of my daily life. This is my circle of influence. And this is where I am learning to invest larger chunks of my physical, emotional and spiritual vigor. If I’m going to feel concerned, worried even, and let’s be honest, I am, then best to channel that energy where I can actually have impact.IMG_2564.JPG

And so I am increasingly embracing the day at hand, and the people God’s put in it. For the next few days, that’s primarily my Little. As she and I enjoy the jaw dropping beauty of mountain vistas, I will practice disciplining myself not to be distracted or interrupted by worry about all manner of catastrophe in the lives of my people back home and the one on the other side of the world because I can’t impact those scenarios.
I can’t protect.
I can’t help.
I can’t rescue.
And so, instead, I will tie up the laces on my hiking boots, grab my poles and drive to the trailheads where I’ll walk and talk with my Baby as we climb. Then we’ll drink gourmet hot chocolate at local coffee shops, seizing the day together, each with the one who God’s put in our circle of influence. And on this pre-Thanksgiving weekend, we’ll practice gratitude for His mercies, fresh and new, abundant for today. Generous for this year. And lavish over a whole lifetime.IMG_2167