On Sandwiches, Paper Cranes and Floatation Devices

Always start and end with gratitude.
That’s the bread in life’s best sandwich.

So, I’m grateful because
None of my kids live overseas this spring, stuck halfway around the world with second rate medical care.
Six weeks ago, I was double dosing on Naproxen to manage shoulder pain and now I’m raking my yard.
Most of my tribe is still getting their paychecks.
An early spring’s given me some elbow room outdoors during Michigan’s extended stay-at-home orders.
There’s an abundance of left over Russell Stover Easter candy available at Walgreens 50% off.
And, we have plenty of toilet paper!

But, truth is, I’m not loving this sandwich.
The stuff in the middle, it doesn’t taste very good!
And so far, this year gets a failing grade on my favorites list.
Not because of a single catastrophic event.
It’s aches and pains,
Conflict,
Disappointments,
Transitions,
And so many losses…

Which brings me to this very moment.
She’s stripped most of the decorations off the wall—the pressed leaves and calligraphy quotes, the string of Christmas lights that drapes around her window, the banner with her name on the door. The bed’s moving over to her new home tomorrow.
This space, it’s been a safe haven for my girl.
A sanctuary.

I was the one who told her, “You’re ready to fly.” And she is.
But her room feels naked with just the paper cranes, wing spans spread, hanging off fishing line from her ceiling.
And my grief’s exposed.
I’m crouched in the corner ugly-crying, wondering what happened to all that Kleenex my husband stockpiled for the pandemic.

2014 was my first launch.
And nothing prepared me for that kind of hard!
I dropped my kid off at college and drove 900 miles due South.
It felt like death though somehow, I survived.
We figured out how to live as 5 instead of 6.
And now, we’re transitioning to 4.
And in a couple of weeks, we’ll be 3.

For almost 22 years I’ve called this one to dinner every single night.
And I’m wearing at least 15 pounds worth of her famous chocolate chip cookies on my derriere.
Over these two plus decades, I’ve been a student of her expressions and moods.
I know all her favorite treats and what’s likely to bring a smile on a bad day.
I’ve prayed with her over every test.
I’ve watched her performances, applauded her accomplishments.
We’ve worked alongside each other and we’ve played together too.
I’ve hugged her and disciplined her.
Lectured and challenged her.
It’s been a long time since I laid next to her telling bedtime stories and singing lullabies as she drifted off to dreamland but it’s been comforting to know we’re sleeping under the safe roof anyway.

So, I told her today, “Try to remember the beautiful stuff most.”
I wish it was all beautiful!
Every moment of these approximately 8000 days.
But, it’s not.

I’m not a perfect parent. And her dad isn’t either.
She’s not a perfect kid. And neither are her sisters.

That reality tends to spiral me  into would-a, should-a, could-a…real fast.
To give myself a few hard swats with a 5 gallon paint stick.
And that’s the messy middle of my unappetizing sandwich.

But the bread of gratitude sustains me.
And so I intentionally recount the faithfulness of God in this kid’s story.
Last year about now, she had 50 bucks in the bank and her trusty Honda CRV named Winston. She graduated with her BSN a year early.
Then, she passed her NCLEX on her first try and God provided a full-time hospital nursing position.
She continued to live at home opting for free room and board, bedtime hugs included, so she could stockpile her savings.
And now, she bought her first home—a condo- just 11 minutes from the mama who’s crying on her bedroom floor tonight.fullsizeoutput_baab

The same loving Heavenly Father who’s written this chapter of her story, can He not be entrusted with the next one too?
And how about mine?

It sounds cliché but it’s not.
In this sink or swim world, the rhythm of gratitude, rehearsing His fresh mercies, acknowledging His faithfulness, that’s the floatation device that keeps me from drowning.

I pick up my hardcover copy of the Book, the one my Mama and Daddy gave me before I packed up my things and left an empty pink upstairs bedroom behind.
Here’s what it says:
He’s counting my tears and putting them in his bottle.
And my bottle, it matters to him.
He considers it tenderly.
It represents the love and investment I’ve made in my daughter’s life and He delights in the broken beautiful mama I’ve been to her.
He chose me for the task and celebrates that I’ve been faithful.
And he sympathizes with the loss I feel as she leaves our humble abode.
Those tears, He’ll use them to water the seeds of change and growth that are yet to be written into both of our stories.

Right outside the window where the paper cranes hang off the fishing wire, I planted a bunch of lily bulbs last Indian summer when mama’s intuition whispered the secret.
In time, they’ll bloom into an intoxicating mixture of fragrance and beauty.
I can’t see them yet.
They’re buried under the weight of the dirt. But what I have sown, He will make grow.
And with that confidence, I hope and wait with anticipation.IMG_9382

All is Well and All Will be Well

IMG_8544I hiked solo around Bell Rock on the last clear, blue-sky winter day of this vacation adventure.
God and I needed some connect time before re-entry into my real life. You know, the one with the nagging daily grind. The chronic relational struggles. The never-ending chores. And so much drama…
I miss the rest of my family and appreciate my home but it’s been pretty sweet not to wash a single dish over the last 5 days.
I haven’t picked up after anybody either.
And absolutely no cooking. None. Whole Foods Market deli, baby. We’ve been eating fine.

Thankfully, my challenges are pretty ordinary. Minor trials. First world problems, for sure.
I’m happy to report that none of my kids is held hostage by crazy terrorists,
We’re not fleeing from our lives with only the possessions we can carry on our backs,
Not a single family member is fighting stage 4 cancer, or any cancer for that matter,
None of have been washed out into Lake Michigan by a riptide or a 12 foot wave,
And as a bonus, neither Lily or I fell off any cliffs on this vacation either.

I spent 4 blissful days willing my fears and concerns out of sight, out of mind. Until this hike. And then, I knew they had to be faced again.
8.5 miles later, God and I finished our 3 hour conversation.
I used words. He spoke through creation.
At one point, I sat on a rock along a dry creek bed for a break and a couple of old codgers passed me, asking if I was doing mindful meditation.
“I’m eating a tangerine,” I replied, but what I should have told them, instead, is that I’m praying. Because that’s what I was doing. Casting all my cares on Him–my cares about Brian and Angela and Lily and Robyn and Brennan and Starla–because He cares about us. He cares deeply about our fears, our pain, our struggles, our disappointments, our questions, our doubts, our challenges and our confusion. He cares about the barriers in our relationships too.
He counts our tears and puts them in His bottle.
He knows just how many hairs are on our head even after we’ve just brushed it.
He is slow to anger and abounding in love.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve.
He never has and never will leave or forsake us.
And nothing can separate us from His love.
His plans are to give us a future and a hope.
And His mercies are new every morning, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
We are Chosen. Rescued. Adopted. Beloved.

After Bell Rock, I had one more place to visit, the final check mark on my bucket list for this trip. All the locals said, “You can’t miss seeing Chapel of the Holy Cross.” So, I drove to the base of the hill that the church was constructed into, then walked up to its back entrance. You can see through it before you even open the doors because its designed with floor to ceiling windows on both ends. There’s an imposing 33-foot crucifix sculpture of Jesus, bronze glistening off the sun’s rays, its backdrop, the red rocks of Sedona. I knelt at the bench in the front row, right behind the 3 day candles you can light for $5 and whispered the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus looked compassionately down from the cross, right at me.

On the first hike of my vacation, I worshipped baby Jesus celebrating the mystery of the incarnation.
And on my last hike, I’m gazing at Jesus body broken for me and wondering at the miracle of redemption.
And both realities remind me anew that All is Well and All will be Well.
Breathe it in. All is Well.
Exhale. All will be Well.
Repeat. Over and over.
Maybe I am doing mindful meditation after all…IMG_8408

It’s time. I’m packing my carry on. I’ll board my plane and, Lord willing, get back to the real life God’s called me to, with the people he’s privileged me to take my journey with, in about 9 hours. Ready to serve and desiring to love a bit more like the Jesus I’ve encountered in Arizona.

Welcome to my World

I’m an Enneagram Six.
Self-help reading junkies like me probably know what that means. If not, the Enneagram categorizes people into 9 different personality types explaining the distinctive ways we humans are wired to conceptualize the world and manage our emotions. It’s a tool for self-understanding, relational growth and spiritual transformation.
I’m not just kinda Six, I’m textbook Six. It’s like somebody snuck inside my head, analyzed my inner world and then wrote about me.

An Enneagram Six lives with ongoing notions of concern, always on the alert to establish stability, safety and security for themselves and the people they love through threat forecasting and worst case scenario contingency planning. The looping internal monologue of a Six goes something like this. I want to take care of those I love so they’ll know they’re loved and secure and safe so I am going to go through every unsafe scenario I can imagine and if I can think these through, if I can contingency plan out of them, then I’m actually going to make them OK and I’ll make myself OK, in fact, I’ll make the world OK. (Chris Heuertz, Sleeping At Last Podcast episode 15)

Sixes are often unaware of how overactively their minds are working 24/7 and an unhealthy Six can get stuck on the hamster wheel of fear. But at their best, Sixes are loyal guardians and valiant protectors.

Webster-Thanksgiving-24Let’s get personal. This is what it’s like to be me.
As I write, I’m sitting in Chicago Midway airport waiting to board my flight to Dallas. I’m travelling the departure leg with my hubs, which means we’re both on the same airplane and if it crashes, our kids will be orphans. Maybe that’s not the first thought you have when you board a plane with your husband but it is mine.
So, last week, I sorted through our fire safe box to put our important documents in order in case we die. I googled sample wills in the state of Michigan and spent hours crafting an updated document to replace the outdated information on my previous instructions for our girls. Then, I drove to the bank to get it notarized, only to find out they don’t do that anymore, so I texted some friends a weird request for their witness signatures on my hand crafted will and got the job done by 9:30 pm last night.
Then, I talked to the grown-up kid who’ll be responsible for our minor, expounding on all the details in my document just to be sure there won’t be any confusion about my intentions, just in case.
I texted the one in Chicago and told her I love her because it’s possible that I won’t get another chance.
When they were littler, I used to write each of the girls letters every time I travelled just to be sure they’d have proof of my love in case I didn’t come back, as if decades of devotion and service, somehow, hasn’t communicated my heart.

And when I packed for this trip, or any trip, I’m always the one with the biggest suitcase. The longest packing list. The most frustrating pile of must-haves to ever be packed into and on top of an 8 passenger van. Just ask my husband.
Here’s the thing, how can I go somewhere unprepared for every possible contingency?
Warm weather? Cold weather? The forecast can change you know.
Medicines for headaches and back aches and tummy aches because who knows which kid will complain about what. And we might need the Neosporin and band-aids too because accidents are exactly that. You can’t predict that you won’t have them and you’ll want to be prepared if you do.

Then there’s my mental prayer list for air travel
and car travel
and even train travel.

Some of my requests are transferrable between modes of transportation but there are also unique potential dangers associated with each. So for air travel I ask God to oversee the TSA employees and give them success in identifying any terrorists boarding the plane.
God, Help the pilots not to be sick or hung over or distracted or inexperienced.
Bring any mechanical problems to light before this plane flies and give the mechanics the skill to fix them.
Help the air traffic controllers to be alert and accurate in their instructions for take off and landing.
Discernment, God. That’s what I’m asking for all the human decisions involved in this flight.
And those Canada geese, keep them away from flying into the propellers.
Intervene with the weather and help us to find airspace that’s not turbulent…

For a road trip, thank God there’s accuweather.com. I can and do check and recheck the hourly forecast at every major city along our route just to be prepared. Then I pray and ask God to keep everybody in their lane.
To prevent us from colliding with drivers under the influence or distracted.
That I can stay awake behind the wheel.
For roads to be free of dangerous debris or collisions with deer.
To protect us from slipping off the highway when there’s a wintry mix….

Trains, praying against derailment is definitely at the front of the line….

And just in case I didn’t think to alert God to every possible undesirable scenario, I always cover all potential oversights with an umbrella policy, requesting that He send his angels to surround us as we travel.

Truth. I’ve just given you a sneek-peak into my inner domain.
When you multiply that kind of hypervigilance exponentially over a lifetime, welcome to my world.
My personal and family issues–medical, relational, vocational, spiritual, marital and parenting- are overwhelming. Unrelenting. Exhausting. At least that’s how it often feels to me.
If mental gymnastics were an Olympic sport, I’d make a great competitor for the gold.

Take parenting, for example. I remember when loving my girls by protecting them from harm translated into baby monitors, car seats, electrical plug covers, gates at the top of the stairs and a complete kitchen reno to remove every trace of lead based paint in our kitchen cupboards.
Later, it morphed into sheltering them from the mean, bullying, bratty, other people’s children and the Christian faith undermining, hedonistic influence of traditional school. Everybody knows that homeschooling is the answer for that. Then, they started choosing friends outside the family and peer pressure came onto the radar screen so we made our home a desirable place to play and hang out because if they’re here, we have a better chance to monitor and supervise their activities, right? So, we chose a home in a convenient location, and the one before that, with a neighborhood pool. We increased the grocery budget for more snacks and extras around the dinner table, added easy care flooring and craiglist furniture for all those popcorn and movie night spills. A large screen TV hasn’t hurt either.
Then, the kids started driving. Well actually, their friends got their licenses first because a bonus birthday equals an extra year of maturing and another 100 hours of behind the wheel practice with dad too. Surely that statistically minimizes the risk of a life altering accident or at least delays the possibility. Cars with airbags and all wheel-drive moved up on the priority list too, as did the need for a carefully crafted conversation with anybody the girls buckled into the passenger seat next to.
Next came dating and there is literally no end to the threat forecasting scenarios a Six can create related to young love and its potential heartbreak. In the past six years, my nightly sleep log averages have diminished by several hours and my prayer muscles flexed to bulging buff.

There’s been shepherding our girls to understand the deep, deep love of Jesus and their need for it.
Educating them all the way through their high school diplomas.
Navigating the minefield of hormonal dramatics, depression and anxiety.
Chronic Illness.
Trauma and its aftermath.
Launching them into college and career.
Moving them into their first apartment.
Waving goodbye at the airport as they board a plane to travel and live in places that require a passport.
And now, one of them is planning a wedding. Getting married. And even though I totally love the one God’s adding to the family, the learning curve on parenting through this transition has been steep. Real steep.

Problem is, the way I’m wired to show love can also create relational barriers with the ones who mean the most to me. While projecting worse case scenarios and contingency plans to avoid undesirable consequences all happens in my contained gray space, the pre-emptive choices, the decisive resulting actions, even the subconscious but visibly apparent facial expressions I wear, can end up feeling like control rather than love. And my radar isn’t limited to tangible threats, it’s highly attuned to interpersonal communication triggers too. Expressions, tones, gestures, word choices, I’m hyper-analyzing them all for relational risk and potential breakdown. That kind of relational intensity can feel overwhelming to the people on the receiving end.

All my life it’s been like this. I just can’t turn it off.
Before you write me off as a candidate for the local psychiatric hospital, you should know that Enneagram research identifies Sixes as the most common of all types. There are a lot of us out there in society, somewhere on the continuum of growth between unhealthy and healthy. And thankfully, by God’s grace, I am moving along that path like a turtle, slowly, steadily inching closer toward greater wholeness with each passing year.

As with each of the other types, being a 6 isn’t a liability. It’s an asset.
Sixes by design are some of the most generous, self sacrificing, life givers in society. Enneagram experts say,
“Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible and trustworthy. They are excellent troubleshooters and the threat forecasters of humanity. They know what’s going to go wrong before it goes wrong. Yes, sometimes they can overreact and think themselves into some pretty angsty corners but if they’re grounded and have grown in self-trust, they’re usually right and you better listen to them. (Chris Heuertz, The Sleeping At Last podcast episode 15)”

And as I replay in my mind the ways my vigilance has served, contributed and protected my people, I can acknowledge it as a gift too.
My intentionality has created life giving family rhythms and traditions.
My scrupulous preplanning saves money and time and hassle.
My attention to detail helps avoid overlooking something important.
And my intuitive hypersensitivity has, at times, protected the ones I love from evil and danger.
My commitment to honest communication when relationships have small fissures can avert devastating long term relational consequences.
I ask helpful and introspective questions because I’ve already thought about a person’s backstory and the layers behind their words.
I’m a safe person for people to share their secrets with because I value the risk of trust.
I contribute a voice and perspective that balances impulsivity and its undesirable consequences.
I serve faithfully because I realize that life is a marathon and looking ahead to the end motivates me to persevere.
I live gratefully because I’m so hyper-aware of all the things that could go wrong that I have a deep appreciation for everything that goes right instead and gratitude is contagious.
And more that anything else, I pray. And not just crazy-person prayers, deep, groaning, faithful prayers because I know feel the weight of how desperately we all need Jesus as the ultimate protector.

My inner world isn’t entirely all doom and gloom. There’s a multifacetedness to each of our essences. A complimentary, secondary type that Enneagram calls a wing. Mine’s the Seven. Sevens are enthusiastic, playful and always looking for the next adventure. And that’s me too. My Seven wing serves as a balance to my Sixness and gives me tangible opportunities to express my courage. I’m leaning into it more deeply the faster my clock ticks. Last week, aging took another bite out of me. My newest official diagnosis is Osteopenia and my Six-self already threat forecasts a future broken hip. Thing is, I’m not hunkering down to try to protect myself from that possibility. Rather, I’m planning another hiking adventure with my newly financially independent daughter, who just happens to be a nurse, in case I do break my hip. We’re travelling together to the red rocks of Arizona and the south rim of the Grand Canyon in January.
And Lord knows, I need a vacation.

Here’s the thing. What a six really longs to hear from somebody in their life is,
“It must be so difficult to have those scary thoughts buzzing around in your head all the time.”
“I imagine you feel exhausted.”
“I really appreciate that you love me so much you’ve got my back in ways I wouldn’t even imagine I might need.”
But that’s not generally how this gig works.

Today, I disciplined myself to write a list. A comprehensive list of all my fears related to something important in my life. Pages and pages of fears each intervowen with threat forecasting everything from petty inconveniences to life altering consequences.
The weight of that list is crushing me except that I hear my Father say,
“I made you and I didn’t make any mistakes in the process.
There’s so much good you contribute to people’s lives by being protective. I love that about you.

You’ve also experienced a heck of a lot of relational pain because you got stuck on the hamster wheel.
I know you are completely exhausted!
Exhale deeply.
Give that list to me and come lie down in my lap.”
 
 “I’ll try,” I say, “but it’s so hard to give it up. Somehow, I’m even afraid to give up my fears.”
“I know,” Daddy responds.
“It’s OK. Just do the best you can.”

And in this moment, I am. Doing the best I can to separate myself from my list, to climb into the embrace of my Father’s strong, tender lap. Casting all my anxieties on Him because He cares for me.

My Scottish friend came to visit us one summer and didn’t bring his camera. I asked why and he said he’d decided to Savor the Moment. That’s what I’m trying to do, right now, as best as a Six can.

My Christmas tree lights are twinkling, the candles are lit and the Future of Forestry sings melodically, “Let Us Find Our Rest In Thee.” And that’s what I really need this Advent season.

In case you want to learn more about The Enneagram, here are my favorite resources.
Sleeping At Last Enneagram Series Podcasts with Ryan O’Neal and Chris Heuertz:
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-sleeping-at-last-podcast/id1270570754
Episodes 4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18
 
The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
https://www.theroadbacktoyou.com
 
The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile
https://www.amazon.com/Path-Between-Us-Enneagram-Relationships/dp/0830846425/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?ie=UTF8&qid=1523373604&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=the+path+between+us&psc=1
 

When Helping Hurts

IMG_1133Even with a fully developed frontal lobe, sometimes I can’t explain why I’ve done what I’ve done.
I have a friend who’s an addict. She drinks hard liquor. Mass consumption. And its impact on her life is as devastating as a spring tornado moving through Oklahoma.

She called me about 9:00 on a Thursday night.
“Could I get a ride to the store?,” she asked.
Not long before, she’d crashed her car under the influence so I knew she was minus a set of wheels and I’m a night owl anyway.
“Sure,” I replied. “Be there in 10 minutes.”

I’m softer than a stuffed Teddy and it gets me into trouble sometimes. This was one of those times….

I thought I had the information I needed, but I was wrong. I thought we’d agreed on a plan, but she was setting me up. I bought the bait and swallowed it hook, line and sinker. By the time I dropped her back off at her apartment, she had secured enough liquor to drink herself unconscious and I found myself taking a long look in the rearview mirror reflecting on my mistakes. Here’s what I saw through the lens of retrospect.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO PAY ATTENTION TO CLUES THAT SOMETHING IS AMISS.
I’m a tee tottler. The bottle’s caused so much devastation in my family tree, drinking’s a gamble I’m not willing to take. And since I don’t typically mingle alongside the inebriated, I’m somewhat naive, but it shouldn’t take a super sleuth to note these clues:
• An unusual request
• Uninhibited story telling
• Slow or slurred speech
• An unsteady gait
• Trouble buckling a seat belt
• Glassy Eyes
• Excessive Tears

SOMETIMES HELPING ACTUALLY HURTS. Compassion does not equal competence in complex psychological and physiological issues. related to addiction and mental health. Simplistic optimism can ultimately cause harm.

LOVE MUST BE TOUGH: Remember parenting toddlers? Their inhibitory control mehanisms are immature which results in high levels of chaos. They feel safest and healthiest with consistent, reliabile, boundaries. Same is true with addicts. While “love hopes all things” futuristically, love must also be realistic in the present, assume that patterns will likely repeat themselves with addiction and set up sound border protection.

IT TAKES A COMMUNICATING VILLAGE: The support team, which often consists of family members, close friends, counselors and justice system representatives, should be communicating. Protecting privacy is secondary to working together off the same playbook in order to provide consistent care.

ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES AND SOMETIMES THEY EFFECT INNOCENT PEOPLE. That fresh new bottle of hard liquor wrapped inside a paper bag was enough to drink herself into a oblivion or to put her at risk of going out on the road and crashing into an innocent person or family. Thankfully on my watch she did the prior, but last month, it was a car wreck minus a fatality.

I messed up big time and gave myself a well deserved proverbial spanking. Here’s the thing though, when we try to love and serve the people God puts in our lives, we’re bound to have some oopsies. The good news is that God can redeem anything, salvaging and repurposing it according to His will.

GOD CAN ACCOMPLISH GOOD EVEN AMIDST OUR MISTAKES.
• While I blew it, no one was injured.
• With her inhibitions compromised, I got to hear more of her story and that helps me to understanding her pain better.
• The Holy Spirit provided words, just as He promises and I spoke truth and love into her self-loathing like an oasis in the desert.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PRAYER: God loves, cares, hears, intervenes and responds. While prayer isn’t a mathematical equation and answers aren’t dispensed like a vending machine, I know that God can and does deliver us from any and every kind of bondage according to His will when we ask.

So, my text to her after I get home goes like this:
“The Lord is a very present help in trouble…. Know that I love you and I’m praying for you. And, I won’t ever resource you to buy alcohol again.”

When she gets past her hangover, she responds “Thank You”. And I know she’s grateful for all of it—the love, the prayer and the line in the sand.
The beautiful thing is that every day, on repeat, God offers you, me, her, His mercies. They’re never day old and you can’t preplan them in advance for tomorrow, but there’s plenty for today, fresh and new. Always enough.

Back Home

People ask me what it’s like to come back home after a baker’s dozen years away.
“Is it really as great as you thought it would be?”
Well, that probably depends on when you ask me. I admit that about the time I’ve shoveled the driveway twice with temps in negative numbers and it’s just after noon, I feel slightly cranky. And honestly, about mid-March, I’m chompin’ at the bit for a beach vacation somewhere far, far away. But those moments, they’re fleeting. The weather isn’t, but the feelings are. When you’re a native Michigander, you’re wired to be tough, and even after 26 dark, grey, depressing days in a row, you know that the beach days, they’re coming. You grasp your sunny memories for dear life and anticipate the coming year’s 100 days of summer. That’s what carries you through. It takes you all the way to flipping the calendar page to June.
And what do you know, that just happens to be today…..

IMG_5362My rhododendron is crazy blooming.
I’m picking fresh asparagus every day.
My garden’s planted and waiting for God’s magic to make it grow.
Cool breeze blows in the windows.
I’m driving a car with its sunroof open and wearing my flip flops.
School’s out.
Weekly beach trips are in.
And it’s just 35 days until my big girl lands in the good ‘ole USA.

For 13 trips around the sun, we lived in the southwest most of the year but every summer, we packed up our van and headed home. We bunked the fam in a two bedroom apartment on a cozy, little, college campus and glam-camped. We cried when we drove past the Welcome to Michigan sign both directions, happy tears and sad ones. Those years, the hellos and goodbyes, they got complicated. It’s not that there wasn’t beauty in our Dallas life, it just wasn’t home.
IMG_5072
So in honor of summer and her greatly anticipated return,
Here’s my video tribute to Michigan summers with a shout out to God because He’s the one who wrote them into our story.
Our memories, they really are the best souvenirs….

Random Acts of Kindness

Livin’ Large in Texas. I reserved the “Manager’s Special” rental car for my business trip and when the customer service rep handed me my contract and pointed toward a Dodge Ram Hemi 1500 double cab, I was like, “Woe…. this is a first.”

It’s springtime in Dallas, the most wonderful time of the year, if my opinion matters. I’ve been back twice in the last month. Both times it’s been lush and green, temps in the mid 70’s. Four weeks ago, the wisteria hung heavy on the vine and the bluebonnets were just peeking out to say hello. Today, the bush roses are blooming and tropical succulents with long, flowering stalks line the median on 75 heading into downtown. It’s eerie strange, this feeling I have driving around with a bird’s eye view behind the wheel of that monster machine. The traffic here always grates on my nerves. Brings out my ugly. But I’m also feeling sentimental, even slightly nostalgic.

I’m thinking about all of the new mercies already today and it’s only 7:15 in the morning–the fresh mercies every day and year that my story’s been written in Dallas. I’m thinking about all of the people who’ve turned my frown upside down with their random acts of kindness.  And not just here, actually, but everywhere God’s written my story.

Right at the top of the list are Randy and Jan, our old Sachse neighbors, well…. sort of neighbors. We lived almost a mile apart but since everything’s so big in Texas, I think you can call people who live a mile away neighbors. These guys specialize in hospitality. I slept cozy in their extra room just last night like I do every time I make a whirlwind trip back. Brian, their place is his second home when he’s teaching live. Not only do they house him and feed him, they make him feel like family when his is exactly 917 miles away.

As I drive past my old bank, I think about my favorite teller ever, Ibrahim. I’ll never forget the morning I went to the drive through window that first lonely year after our move down South. He grinned big at me and extended a warm personal greeting even before I gave him my ID. “Hi Hope.” Those were his words and they made me cry.  EVERY SINGLE TIME after that, for 13 years,  he called me by name. I hear him with his international accent in my head right now and catch myself smiling at the thought.

I glanced out the passengers side window a few minutes ago, right where my absolute favorite pictures in the history of ever were taken. Angela had just turned officially teenager. Lily wore her first pair of glasses. Robyn’s adult teeth were coming in with a mind of their own and Starla was all baby-girl. My multi-talented, nurse/professional photographer, friend, Danielle, phoned me one Sunday afternoon. “Hey Hope. It’s a beautiful day and the bluebonnets are stunning. Just for the heck of it, I’d love to do a photo shoot with some pretty girls. How about yours?” Well, that day still lives on, framed and centered on my feature wall.  Thanks, Danielle.wall photo 27 copysisters 15

As gratitude multiplies, I think further back into the archives, January 1994 to be exact. Back in the olden days, Meijer didn’t take credit cards. Seriously. It was the kind of day you picture when you say the word Winter. Super cold. Very snowy. And I was running late for work. I had to pick up a prescription—a very important and time sensitive prescription. When the cashier with the nametag, Selma, asked for my $5 copay, I found my wallet entirely empty. I’d forgotten to grab cash. The look on my face must have been more pitiful than a Bassett Hound because she said to me. “Honey, don’t you worry about it. I’ve got $5 right here. You just pay me back some other day when you’re shopping again.” Well, 3 weeks later, our pregnancy test read positive, thanks be to God and that prescription Selma loaned me the money for. After that, I never went through anybody else’s check out lane except Selmas and she and I, we were buds.

And the Meijer stories, they never end…. My love for Meijer is weird. There’s a guy who works at the Plainfield Ave. store who I fondly refer to as Perpetually Perky Bruce. I don’t know how many hundreds of times he’s called out to me and everyone else in the parking lot in THE MOST cheerful tone of voice ever, while corralling carts in the most miserable weather, ”Have a good day!” Listen, if Bruce can have a good day under the circumstance, so can I. During the polar vortex a few months ago, I asked him, “How long have you been working here?”
“30 years and lovin’ it,” he responded.
Just saying, that kind of attitude inspires me.

Then there was Shirley, we go back even further than 1994. She and I got matched as mentoring partners right after Brian and I bought our first house. Shirley beamed with pride over her extraordinary flower garden. My experience growing things was limited to keeping a couple of houseplants barely alive. Shirley’s mission was to convince me that I wanted to be a master gardener too, so one spring day she invited me out to her house, walked me around her garden describing each plant as personally as if it might be her child. She asked me which ones I liked best and then she started chopping right through the middle, dividing the plants in two and digging up ½ for me. We took them back to my house and helped me tuck them tenderly into my own yard. And that was the beautiful beginning of a hobby that’s both delighted me for 25 years and provided the cheapest therapy ever.

Fast forward to this very week and Mary comes to mind.  Mary works days at our local Chick Fil A. Every company needs a Mary. This lady, she speaks so kindly and smiles so authentically that you wish she could be your best friend. I wouldn’t call myself a regular, at least not as regular as I wish I was, but I do get Robyn a breakfast burrito there at least once a month after her physical therapy sessions and Mary always takes our order. This time, after I ordered the food, she said, “Your name’s Hope, right?” I think my jaw about dropped to the floor. How many hundreds, no thousands of customers does Mary serve in the course of any given week and she remembered me. “How do you remember my name?” I asked. “Well, I can’t always remember everyone but when I pray, I ask God to help me remember people’s names,” she replied. When I grow up, I wanna be Mary.

I’m back to the airport now and you know the song that’s on loop in my head? It’s sacrilegiously playing like background music to my grateful holy moments. Yup, it’s Taylor Swift singing Picture to Burn. It’s on one of my kid’s Spotify break-up playlists. Another one sings it like a fan girl on those rare, random, late nights when she’s both overly tired and in a good mood.
“I hate that stupid old pick up truck you never let me drive……”
Honestly, it doesn’t even fit because I am driving a truck and it’s neither stupid or old.
I guess my repertoire for songs about trucks is pretty limited.
Whatever.
Bottom line is that Life is Good and I am Blessed. I’m heading back to Michigan, first stop Chicago, then a puddle jump across my lake and landing where I love best—HOME sweet home.

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!

Teach Us to Number our Days

I boarded a plane on a stormy August morning two weeks ago yesterday. Peering out the window from seat 13A, the rain droplets formed artistic patterns dripping down the fiberglass. The girl on the other side of me dripped too. Daylight just peeked up over the horizon as we ascended to 36,000 feet. After some turbulence through dense cloud formations, the rising sun kissed the new morning, a reminder of that day’s fresh mercies.

The plane landed and for the next 60 hours, Lynda and I, we celebrated together the beauty of friendship, the gift of life and the privilege of serving one another. It was 16 years ago this very week, our lives intersected and I can’t even imagine who I would be or where I would be now had my life not melded with hers.

She phoned me in July. “I have a brain tumor”. Those were her words. I felt like somebody punched me in the gut as she calmly explained her medical condition and proposed treatment. Since then, her life, her plans and her future, they’ve all been rearranged.fullsizeoutput_918c

So, I went to Dallas because I needed to hug her and tell her I love her face to face. And as a bonus, we got a few more conversations, another chicken caesar salad at LaMadeleine and one more Wednesday night together at PCPC to add to our memory bank. That sacred space has spiritually anchored each of our lives uniquely. It’s the music- the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs– that’s what I heard even in its sanctuary’s holy hush. And so did my girl. Lynda, she’s mentored my daughters in worship and me in life.  And now, she is teaching each of us new and deep realities about physical suffering.

I’m back home, processing our visit in retrospect. And here is my take away, a variant of Job’s own declaration:

Cancer gives, and cancer takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Cancer’s earned a bad reputation because of its long list of undesirables, but nothing touched by the curse is beyond God’s redemptive signature. And for those who can recognize his fingerprint, they see His goodness in it too. My friend, she does.

What can cancer give?
-Uninhibited generosity of affection and words of love
-A re-ordering of priorities
-Perspective on the brevity of life
-Greater intentionality with family
-Expansion of kingdom influence to new people in new places
-An invitation to reminisce
-A free expression of laughter and tears
-Training in trust
-Dependence on God
-Undescribeable peace

What can cancer take away?
-Clarity and connection between thoughts and their vocal expression
-Rapid recall of words
-Mobility and independence
-Vocation
-Health
-Ultimately, life

What’s it like to bless the name of the Lord with a terminal diagnosis?
For my friend, it’s a posture of kneeling gratefully, bowing humbly and resting peacefully. And it sounds like this:
“I’m happy.”
“My life has been wonderful.”
“God has taken such good care of me.”
And, “Jesus is enough. He’s always enough.”

These phrases, they roll off her tongue as naturally as an anthem would. Proof positive that if you sing God’s word long enough, it soaks into your soul more organically than any diagnosis and fights the enemy, who attacks the body, with surgical precision.

Doctors know statistics and administer treatment plans but only God sovereignly ordains the twists and turns in every individual life and how He reveals Himself through suffering, waiting, healing, and even dying, it’s pure mystery.

The paradox of our humanity is that birth and death are double sided coins with broken and beautiful both at each end of the spectrum. As image bearers of the divine, even the curse can’t dismantle the holiness in either experience.
And for everything in-between, we petition God:

“Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.” (Psalm 90:12)

And this new morning, I revisit God’s invitation to live intentionally and invest for eternity because of the faithful mentoring of my friend.
That is today’s fresh mercy.
And it’s enough.
Always enough.IMG_0746

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

Celebrating 18,993 Days

IMG_0672Butterflies dance around in my stomach every time I walk into the Comprehensive Breast Center. As I park my car, I throw out popcorn prayers.
I’m asking God for a little more time to love.
I’m asking God to let this cup called breast cancer pass me by one more year.
I finish with “Not my will but yours be done.” Then, “Amen”. So be it.

The nurse calls for me, Hope Webster, and I don the pink gown that ties in the front and wait silently in a room full of women, all wearing our uniforms, waiting to be exposed, squeezed and imaged.
And I wonder how many of these ladies might be branded squarely across their chests with a capital “C”.
And I realize that I could be one of them.
As I reflect on the complex interweaving of stories that results from any cancer diagnosis, the patient is the main character, but there are so many other characters too—physicians and hospital staff, other patients, spouses, children, parents, friends. And in God’s sovereignty, whatever that means, He’s completing a mega jigsaw puzzle with all of humanity, each person contributing their piece to the whole and all interconnected.

After the deed is done, I’m told to anticipate results by mail or call tomorrow.
And I remember the times my letter arrived and notified me that my results warranted additional testing.
And the times it didn’t. That’s the letter I’m hoping for this week.

I always detour into the chapel to meditate on the icon of the crucifix on my way out.
Jesus asked to have the cup of suffering pass from Him too but ultimately surrendered His life to the will of His Father. He knew that His piece in the cosmic puzzle fit bulls-eye center and the picture could never be completed without it.
And so I sit contemplatively, gazing at the image of His body. Open handed, he entrusted His life into His Father’s plan.
I image Him every time I board an airplane and extend my hand on my lap, quietly offering it to God to take in His.
And I do it every time I wave to my girls’ backing down the driveway behind the wheel out of range from my care and protection.
I’m doing it right here and now before the radiologist reads this year’s 3-D mammogram. “Not my will but Yours be done,” I whisper again. And then I wait.IMG_0458
Until tomorrow.
And then I call.
“Your mammogram results are unremarkable with no masses identified.”
That’s the official word and it’s today’s fresh mercy.
I smile wide as I inform my fam that I dodged the bullet of breast cancer another year, thanks be to God.

I’m turning 52 this week and I’m walking on a Lake Michigan beach this perfect, almost 80 degree summer day. The breeze blows my hair back, away from my face. Wildly, the lake talks and the seagulls answer. My tribe is lounging on a beach blanket.
I’m mesmerized by the waves, their chaotically methodical crashing over each other, it’s hypnotic. Today, I notice the moments just before the water somersaults on top of itself. There’s a building up of tension under the surface that requires a release, a breaking free.IMG_0028

On the Enneagram classification of essence and personality, I’m a Six. I’m wired to threat forecast about potential harm, to protect the ones I love best. And I’ve been hypervigilant on the job. Everyday. Always. And the pressure of the anxiety, the fear and the self-protection, it’s felt a lot like that undercurrent, just before it erupts. And on this day, each pounding breaker seems to shout “FREE”.
And I realize that I am living….well…. “free”-er too.
Maybe it’s maturity, the silver lining of growing older.
Or the absence of cyclical hormonal swings post menopause.
Perhaps it’s the anxiety medication I’ve been taking for many years.
It might be that I’m anchoring myself more to my inner courage as I embrace my identity in Christ.
Whatever is responsible, in this moment, I am feeling peace and it’s such a RELIEF.
“God” I whisper gratefully “if this day was my last, it would be enough.”

IMG_5854And my mind meanders through memories. I’m watching a homemade iMovie in my head, with snippets of relationships and experiences stored away in my mental library shelves. And my holdings are as many as the grains of sand under my feet. Some are beautiful. Others are severe mercies. I’m glad that my shoes are off as the waves lap against my toes because I know I’m standing on holy ground.

Just a few weeks ago, my friend, one of my besties, she called me with her diagnosis. Cancer with a capital C. Like a slap in the face, that word, it took my breath away. I tried not to cry since she wasn’t. I could hear peace in her voice, real and authentic, proof positive of that day’s mercies.  I listened as she mused about her life, her husband, her 4 children, and her 7 grandchildren. “They all love Jesus. It’s enough. He’s enough. He is always enough.” She spoke it like a benediction. And this afternoon at the beach, her blessing has settled deeply over me too.DSCF8899

I’m reflecting on the gift of life today, that fragile yet tenacious privilege to move and breathe and think and feel, to live and love in and amongst the people and places God’s  set me these 52 times 365 days. Every fresh morning, all 18993 of them, the mercies have been new. And as I celebrate another year of multiplied goodness, extreme faithfulness and excessive abundance, it’s enough because He is enough.

And so my chapter 51 concludes like this:
Thanks be to God, I’m grateful.IMG_1069