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

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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

Fear and Peace… and other Theological Tensions

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Romans 8:15

We’re singing it together,
“I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”

Arms posture north toward heaven, like little children reaching for Daddy, inviting Him to swoop them up into His arms, exchanging their weakness for His strength, trading their fear for His peace.
And I scan the sanctuary.
There are at least 1,000 lives in this gigantic room.
1,000 plus stories.
And I know some of them, at least a little.

There’s the lady wearing a head scarf. She’s facing down a monster named cancer and the nine year old girl holding her hand, she needs her mama.
And there’s the kid whose parents are in the process of an ugly divorce. His home feels like a war zone.
I see the guy who got pink slipped last month, he doesn’t have an emergency fund but has a baby in diapers.
And there are the girls whose coach videotaped them in the locker room undressing, violating their trust.
I scan past a mama who tried her best to protect her kids but their relative exploited their innocence and left them walking wounded.
And the heartbroken twenty-something across the sanctuary, her boyfriend made a bunch of empty promises then bailed. She’s wondering if anyone will ever love her for the long haul.
I glance over at the dad whose son is deployed in the middle east, risking his life for the sake of freedom.
And the middle-aged couple, empty nesters, trying to reconcile the constant quiet in their home.
There’s a widower a few rows up who’s aching because of the empty seat on his right .
And the seasoned citizen sitting two rows behind me who looked in the mirror this morning and didn’t recognize her reflection.
My friend’s seat right up in the front row, it’s empty today. Her dad suffered a massive stroke yesterday and Hospice is making him comfortable.
Directly to my left, there’s the family who left everything and fled the brutality of their ruthless dictator.
On my right, there are folks who serve under the radar in places where ISIS beheads Christians.
I notice the boy who gets bullied at school.
And a teenager who’s followed around by security at the grocery store because of his dark chocolate skin.
And there’s a whole row of adolescents sitting up front, trying to look confident while fighting the demons of insecurity.
Finally, my gaze rests long on the young mom who’s aged a few years in the last month. The baby she gave birth too, his heartbeat was still. 20 years ago, I was her.

It’s one thing to claim your status and position as child of God when life is going your way.
“Everybody trusts God on a good day with $20 in their pocket.” (Season of Gray)
It’s another thing when all hell is breaking loose around and within.

Worship songs aren’t a comprehensive theology but they can fill designated spots in our theological jigsaw puzzle. They focus our attention on specific aspects of the character of God and plumb our perspective when it’s skewed. In this case, it’s the paradoxical intermingling of fear and peace.

This song I’m singing, it doesn’t claim that I’ll never feel fear.
Or that they won’t.
Fear still buzzes around annoyingly like a hungry mosquito at dusk, attracted to some more than others.
For a Christian, peace isn’t the antithesis of fear, it’s not living in bondage to it. Because God is our Daddy, fear’s vice grip on our souls is loosened. Our inheritance guarantees us a future and a hope so we can experience transcending peace even as we just keep slapping at our pesky mosquitoes.

Some of us are more vulnerable to attack so God offers repellents. His Word is more effective than deep woods DEET, but we may benefit from mastering some relaxation exercises too.
Or taking advantage of some awesome medicine that balances adrenal function,
Or even connecting with a counselor who can help us re-route neural superhighways that are programmed to Destination Fear.
And sometimes, we just need a good friend to verbally process with and share a few cathartic tears.

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Fast forward from my church sanctuary to today. The bugs are biting.
Her suitcases are packed and ready to load into the van. My big girl, she’s leaving–flying off into the sunset, to the other side of the world with her “varied field of hopes and fears, excitements and sensations, courageously going forth into it’s expanse, seeking knowledge of life amidst it’s perils” (loosely quoted Charlotte Bronte). And I’m caught in the conundrum of fear and peace, all intermingled with the salt of a few tender teardrops.
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And this song, I hear it in the periphery.
“I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”
It’s a declaration of victory because ultimately peace wins.
And I humbly respond with, “Thanks be to God”.

(Part 2 of 4 on my musings about theological tensions. Previously posted: Sovereignty and Love…and other Theological Tensions)

Birthday Blessings

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Dear Daughters, It’s OK to Fail

IMG_6882Dear Daughters,
IMG_5477There’s a red carpet of leaves under the big maple tree in the front yard, hard evidence that the season is changing.
Here’s what I want you to know as you transition into autumn.
It’s OK to fail.
It really is.
I understand that you’re going to make mistakes, even stupid ones.
You have my permission to be immature. You’re young.
I expect that some of your choices will be impulsive. Unwise even.

IMG_7708It sounds like a strange back to school message from a parent but you already put so much pressure on yourselves to excel, you just don’t need any more from me.
Truth is, I am your cheerleader.
Even if you utterly blow it.
Somehow, you have not always felt that from me though.
Instead, you have felt afraid of my displeasure.
Afraid to disappoint.
Afraid to fail.

IMG_0153I get it. There’s a disconnect because I just don’t live it very well sometimes even though it is the posture of my heart. Take last night for example, we sat down to watch a family movie at your enthusiastic recommendation. 20 minutes in, I didn’t consider it very family friendly and I gave you a mini-lecture in front of someone who matters to you. And you felt mortified. Sure, I knocked on your bedroom door later that night and apologized for too many words spoken insensitively, and I appreciate your willingness to forgive me, but your heart can’t help but feel self-protective after an interaction like that and Satan capitalizes on those kinds of experiences to fortify shame. I’m sorry.

IMG_2805Moms struggle to know when and how much to speak into your learning curves, at least this one does. It’s not love to not speak truth and it’s not love to only be a truth teller. Living together graciously when we see things differently it’s both an art and a science. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope, and so do you. Maybe we could hold a parachute for each other to soften the falls we each take managing our risks.

05 ChristmasI remember the days when I held your chubby little hands in mine, desperate to shelter and protect you from all varieties of harm and threat and loss.  I understand better now that good and evil, joy and sorrow, success and failure, delight and pain all serve their redemptive purpose on this side of eternity and God uses the conundrum of it to grow you up in your faith, just like He’s done with me.

IMG_4837 2Here’s the thing…
We’re family. When one hurts. Everybody hurts.
Our choices impact each other.
So, I can’t guarantee that I won’t need time to process the pain of some of your choices and their consequences.
Or that I’ll never call you out on stuff when I think I should.
I might even cry. No, let’s be honest. I WILL cry…..

But I am for you.
And better yet, so is God.
He redeems failure.
And His mercies to His children, they are always fresh and new each morning.
So as you finish up junior high with all of its drama,
And as you wander through the transition between high school and college,
As you complete your degree and push on toward adulting,
And as you move across the world to explore your passions,
I can’t bandage up your owies anymore, but your mistakes won’t change my love for you.
Neither will your failures.
I’m on the sidelines cheering you on, applauding your courage to risk
And try,
And sometimes to fail.

_MG_5672It’s an honor to call you mine,
Mama

Summer Snapshots

IMG_0618The traces of summer, they’re vanishing, replaced by school buses, football scores and crimson leaves littering my front lawn.
Fall creates new rhythms that escort us all the way around the sun to next year’s summer and one of my favorite weekly routines is Wednesday night high school small group. In advance of our inaugural meeting, I texted the girls: “Choose a handful of pictures to share what’s been memorable about your summer.”

When it was my turn, I started swiping.
First off, came our summer kick off hike to Sleeping Bear dunes with the new guy on the block.


Then, our yellow rose of Texas, made her weeklong appearance, a time honored annual tradition.


Right after that, we celebrated my strong, tender, funny, smart, pretty, talented, determined and incredibly resilient niece, Mercedes’, high school graduation.IMG_7892
Followed by the boy with the British accent who flew across the sea in a dreamliner and endeared himself to the whole fam with his wit, charm and text chatting expertise.


We played tourist in Chicago one last time before loading up the big girl’s earthly belongings and carting them back home as she transitions between chapters in her story.


After that, we took a family vacation to remember in the little red cottage on Big Star Lake and I rode on a jet ski every single day.

 


The next week, I flew to Dallas to visit one of my besties.IMG_0746
And then, I flipped the page on the calendar to September and took one last ride in my floatie on a perfect, cloudless beach day because, really, every summer begins and ends with Lake Michigan, doesn’t it?fullsizeoutput_9245

I guess I’d call this my e-brag book but what really makes me swell with pride is the way I watched my girls flex their muscles at fear and risk stepping out of their comfort zones.
I’d label 2018  an official Summer of Courage.

The baby, she faced off fears with her own personal trainer named Daddy. That led to adventure courses and mud runs, cliff jumping, roller coaster riding and so much more. In the end, her West Virginia trip T-shirt and her neon colored bracelets were far more than clothing and accessories, they became trophies of bravery.


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The next one, she took a headlong leap into dating 101, trading her dogmatic commitment to self-protection for the risk of trust and began to learn some fundamental lessons about relationships and share some pretty awesome memories with her special buddy.


The introverted one, she packed her bags, left the security of her safe zone and flew away twice. First, to Mexico where she participated in cutting and sewing on people instead of textiles. And she loved it. Later, she travelled back to Dallas, and that, dear reader, was no small act of valor.

 


The big girl, she challenged herself to risk failure in the small stuff to beef up her risk threshold before moving overseas. In the process, she learned to dance, play pool, go on carnival rides, paddle board and water ski.fullsizeoutput_9113

And me, I just kept trying to cheer them all on.
And that was enough….

In our small group, after we scrolled through everybody’s pictures, we decided to go to Goodwill and buy fancy wine glasses for 99 cents each. Every time we meet, we’ll fill them with sparkling grape juice and other non-alcoholic concoctions and call our time together “Happy Hour” because when we glance back through the rearview mirror and see the goodness of God in this past summer, we confidently anticipate his fresh, mercies for every day from now until the next one.
And that’s something to be happy about.IMG_0966

Once Upon A Vacation…

IMG_6333Once upon a time….a mommy dreamt of a family vacation.
She imagined everybody together and enjoying it–talking, laughing, even shedding a few tears for the sake of the melancholy amongst them. Authenticity ranked high on this mama’s list of relational priorities and her mind worked overtime trying to create intentional ways to promote engagement.

IMG_6455The biggest girl in the family, it’d been a handful of years since she’d moved on to her own place, in her own city, with her own life. And the rest of the fam, they’d acclimated to a new normal, learning to embrace the beauty in every season. Then, mission and calling collided with wander-lust  and the biggest girl decided  to go on an explore even farther away—to other continents.

That’s when the mama said, “THIS SUMMER we’re taking a family vacation.”
And when that mama put her mind to something….well,  just ask the daddy, she’s unstoppable.
So, she texted her people.
“What would a great vacation look like for you?”

One girl responded saying she’d like to cook amazing meals for the fam. And the mama told that girl she’s her favorite child.
Another one wanted to star gaze under dark, clear skies.
The big girl wanted to go hiking.
And the other kid, she wanted a good spot to chill in her hammock.
Daddy, he hoped for time to relax and just be together.
And the mommers, she wanted to ride on a jet ski.IMG_0634

With a wish list in hand, that Mommers, she set out to plan the perfect family vacation.
Working on a shoestring budget after braces and college bills bit the chunk out of the financial pie labeled trips, she prayed. “God, your mercies, they are new and fresh every morning. They always have been. They always will be. This summer, I’d be so grateful if they’d include a family vacation.”

Then, she started investigating potential adventures and discovered that one of her church sisters had a gem of a cottage nestled snuggly on an inland lake just a hop, skip and a jump away from home. That sister, she shared her little jewel with the mama dreaming of a family vacation and they put the date on the calendar—late August, just before the sunflowers wave goodbye to summer.IMG_0442

Lavish menus were created, then a grocery shopping intensive. Everybody packed their swimsuits and their sweatshirts and they drove north, their favorite direction, for just over an hour and parked their van behind a little 2 bedroom, red brick cabin with a wall of windows facing the beach.

They spent the best part of a week together. All of them, plus a few more of their favorite peeps, floating in and out of their vacation adventures.

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And they ate like a king and queens, the baby cooking 5 star breakfasts as the extroverted smoke detector alerted them to morning with a friendly greeting. And the one donning the chef’s apron, she prepared time intensive entrees and elaborate deserts.

The water lapped onto the shore invitationally and the mama, she hopped onto the jet ski with her biggest girl, their hair blowing wild, zipping around the lake, autonomously together.


That same girl, she set her mind to learning to water ski. She said, ”If you’re planning to move to foreign countries, you’ve got to practice conquering small challenges to remind yourself you can do the big one.” And she did.IMG_0406
Two of the girls got dragged around behind a speed boat in an oversized tube, banging their bodies against the waves and loving it.IMG_6479
The hammock girl, she leisurely paddled her way around the whole lake with her special buddy, in no hurry to get anywhere, supremely content to savor the moment.


The baby, she borrowed a substantial stack of library books and systematically read through each and every one.IMG_0579
Her daddy, he chopped wood and built fires. He took everybody on boat rides. And just like the old days, he read aloud a family classic, “Home to Harmony” by Phillip Gulley.
They revived the lost art of singing together a family hymn, Abide with Me.
And He did, and He does, and He always will.

They worshipped on Sunday morning in God’s sanctuary of water and sand, recounting His faithfulness in summer, anticipating His surprising mercies for fall, and casting all their cares on Jesus who’s the only one with strong enough arms to carry them through all the seasons.

And as they sat around by the firepit on the beach at night, they used their star apps to identify constellations. And sometimes, they snuggled under blankets on the dock watching for Perseid meteors and listening to fish jump and waves lap up against the shore.
And they weren’t disappointed.

And when it was time to leave, to go back to the real world, they prayed a blessing over the little red cabin and the people who would yet recharge within its walls.IMG_6331 2

Then they drove home to embrace life in its most elemental, paradoxical daily form, reminding themselves that everyday is the day that the Lord has made and if they’re watching for them, there will always be mercies to rejoice in.

Like all good tales woven and spun, there are morals to the story like:
1) Jet skis are awesome.
2) Everybody’s best adventure is a one of a kind original.
3) Learning to relax takes practice.
4) There’s always room for a few more in the family pack.
5) And generosity’s ripple effects are exponential.

But THE moral of THIS story is:
Sometimes the best vacations aren’t about going far away, they’re about being with the ones closest to you.IMG_6327