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.
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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….

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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

Good Men in the Making

Dear Daughters,

IMG_6117

12798861_10207855164450761_9099623931734186639_n‘Tis the season.
Piles of shoes heaped around our front door and some of them look gigantic.
A bunch of girls and dudes teetering toward adulthood all with in process frontal lobes.
From movie groups, to small groups, to friend groups.
From best buds, to boyfriends, to co-workers, to get-to-know-you-better acquaintances.
Ours has always been an open door policy and that’s the way I like it best.
More is always better around the kitchen table and we’re no strangers to cramming six in an apartment sized bedroom.
Dollyhouse, card games and homemade movie making have morphed into dialogue about worldview, culture, faith and relationships, seemingly overnight, and all of it energizes me.
Your girl friends and their drama, it entertains.
But it’s the dudes that fascinate me most.
Maybe because God didn’t write brothers into my story.
Or because your brother is missing in all our family pictures.
Whatever the reason, males add something special to the mix.

It’s been just about 23 years and 271 days, that I’ve been asking God to raise up a generation of good men. I’m hoping for an army of them but at the very least, our family needs 4. And those guys, they’re gonna be looking for travelling companions because “People are meant to go through life two by two. ‘Taint natural to be lonesome.” (Thornton Wilder, Our Town)

So what defines a good man, according to the Hope Webster dictionary 2018 edition?

Good men love God.
Good men are teachable.
Good men are truth tellers.
Good men are protectors.
Good men are self-controlled.
Good men are accountable.
Good men are respectful.
Good men are courageous.
Good men are chivalrous.
Good men are loyal.
Good men define leadership as being first to serve and ready to sacrifice.
Good men laugh…but also cry.
Good men listen…but also share.
Good men work hard… then play too.
Good men celebrate food, drink, wives of their youth, and all sorts of everyday blessings.
And it’s a bonus when they do it with a sense of humor to boot.

I didn’t realize it, but I originally prayed for a photo edited guy to be each of your life companions. It’s not that I wanted him to look perfect but I wanted him to be a dude with a flawless resume. A guy without the consequences of any stupid choices. A man without scars from previous relational wounds.
Honestly, I might have been mistaking him for Jesus and He’s not available.

Over time, I’ve let go of that mirage, naively well intentioned though it was, because a good man isn’t necessarily accurately identified by externals.
A perfect gpa might mean he’s smart, but it may also indicate that he’s arrogant or that his identity is rooted in performance.
One of those courtship dudes might commit to not kissing his girlfriend before marriage but imbibe privately on a cyber sexual addiction.
And the “clean cut” sort might look the part to please grandma but be disrespectful of your intellect, your feelings or your body.
Tattoos don’t predict character or lack thereof.
Hair length doesn’t indicate anything about spirituality.
And skin color is completely inconsequential to compatibility.

In its place, I’ve been learning to embrace the raw humanity of broken-beautiful, 3 dimensional boys who God’s writing into our family story. I’m making space for them to be in process. I’m valuing the lessons that can be learned by trial and error, the authenticity resulting from wrestling with God when His mercies have been sovereignly severe in their lives. Now, I appreciate guys who stumble clumsily into manhood with courage, humility, determination and resilience. The ones with a teachable spirit who get up and walk stronger, wiser and more humbly dependent on Jesus every time they trip and fall.

You girls have been stumbling your way into adulthood too, each nursing your own bumps and bruises, your own brand of broken. No, you’re not picture perfect either. You’re miracles of metamorphosis instead, growing into the likeness of Jesus and I’d say that makes you the best kind of beautiful.

DSCF4134Back in Texas, I planted a sapling in the back yard—a forest pansy redbud.  Remember how it struggled the first several years to assimilate into the soil? It looked pretty sickly most of the time and I wondered if it’d ever thrive. Sometimes an ice storm passed through and weighed down its tender branches. But over the years, it acclimated to native soil. It soaked up the sun’s chlorophyll and the rain nourished its roots. Even the perils contributed to its growth and eventually it matured into a healthy, strong specimen of a tree.

 

That’s you, Angela, Lily, Robyn and Starla, engaging the lifelong process of growing up in Christ.
And that’s the kind of guy times 4 that I’m asking God to tether you to in an enduring bond of intimate friendship.
All in good time…..
Amalgamated together with grace and courage and hope, transformational love will mature and kingdom impact multiply exponentially,
Just like the proliferation of my future grandchildren:)

“Dwell in Possibility,” says Emily Dickinson. And I do.
Anticipating His fresh mercies each new day as we wait to see how and with whom your futures unfold.

Love, Mama

Sovereignty and Love….and other Theological Tensions

God’s written some severe mercies into our family story.
That’s not to say we’re anything special or different than anybody else.
Trauma comes in at least as many flavors as Baskin-Robbins ice cream.
Loss is boxed into more varieties than you can find in the cereal aisle.
Pain intrudes like a nasty case of the stomach flu, leaving us squarely in the middle of a messy story.
These are the realities of life in a broken world.

And Christians, myself included, tend to conscribe to all sorts of theological straw men instead of working the steps of spiritual formation because it’s uncomfortable to sit quiet in the conundrum of God’s sovereignty and His love.
The prosperity gospel crowd “names and claims” health and wealth here and now on their terms like positive thinking will reconfigure God’s priority list for character over comfort.
The legalists thump Scripture verses supporting their simplistic solutions to complex problems to pretend there’s no paradox.
And the Pentecostals tend to expect God to respond to their requests like a vending machine. Faith in, selected product out.
Meanwhile, I’ve spent decades tousling God for control over my life and the lives of “my people”, tightly fisted, resisting His plot twists on our stories.
Gradually, however, I’m concluding, like Mr. Beaver in Narnia, that while Aslan “Isn’t quite safe, He is good.”

Honestly, I still can’t wrap my mind around the sheer mystery of God’s sovereignty but I believe that it’s in alignment with His heart and with that confidence, I live by faith.
I’m not embarrassed to trust God even though I don’t understand His ways. Faith is a gift and I’m not an Indian giver.
I’m getting more comfortable opening my hand to his sovereignty and responding to agonizing questions in life with,
“I don’t know why.”
Or, “I’m not sure I’ll be able to figure that out this side of heaven.”
Or, “I’m so sorry that happened.”
I’m demanding explanations less and sitting in silence more because processing the hardest parts of our stories, it’s like taking a cross-continental road trip.  And there aren’t any shortcuts really.
We can detour from the recommended route if we choose to, but it’ll come back to bite us in the derriere personally and relationally further down the road. Ultimately, we’ll realize, or we won’t, our desired destination can’t be arrived at without racking up the miles on a road marked suffering, with all of its potholes, riding shotgun with Jesus who’s already travelled the route before.

So how do we move forward on the transformative journey of engaging our stories with integrity so we can learn to love?
photo-20I plunked some such question down with a sigh to our mentor just this morning.
It’s not that I haven’t heard his answer before, or even that I’m not mud wrestling the process almost every day. It’s just that sometimes I need a refresher course like summer rain for thirsty ground, and he’s always there, pointing us back to Jesus when we want to kick our stories to the curb and hitch hike to Neverland instead.
Thanks, Bruce.

These musings, they’re only my scribblings. The speaker’s words, they’re the rare pearl of wisdom.
So, Bruce responds to me gently,
“Four words frame the path to spiritual transformation which is ultimately the path to genuine love: Accept. Enter. Remain. Embrace.”

Initially, it sounds a bit like a quick and dirty get-rich scheme, but actually, engaging this path feels experientially a lot more like weeding a garden. The fruit is produced only with commitment, endurance, perseverance, resilience and time.

Accept: On our own customized timeclock that’s sensitive to our developmental process, when we’re ready, God gives us the courage to acknowledge that He’s written or depending on your definition of sovereignty, at least allowed some things into our stories that are jolting, even devastating. We have been dealt unjust blows, often at the hands of others and the ones we expected to protect us from injury, including God, didn’t. We might prefer to pretend otherwise but that’s not true and ultimately, it’s the truth that sets us free.

Enter: Engaging the tragedy and hurt resulting from evil and the curse requires the marriage of a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and a posture of surrender. We can’t solve the storm in our hearts with any mental exercise routine. We have to let go of things, like the little box we keep God all neat and tidy in. We have to be more committed to discovering the truth than defending our definition of truth. We have to be willing to revisit our story like a rerun instead of re-interpreting it according to narrow theological constructs or our own warped rendering.
God isn’t afraid of participating in gnarly stories. After all, He arranged His own murder for the sake of rescuing the ones who’d murder Him.
“When you murder love, love loves you in your commitment to murder Him.”
Soak on that tongue twister for awhile….

Remain:  A deeper spiritual health realizes that pain is essential in spiritual formation, not in a masochistic way but in a transformative way. When we surrender our will toward suffering, we drastically reduce the despair of pain. Even though initially, pain relief motivates us, over time we accept that we don’t have to be “fixed” to be healthy. We might never be fully resolved about the aches in our hearts and that’s OK but we afford loss its greatest transformative value so that our pain is not wasted.

Embrace:  Somehow in this complex process, God changes our mind about what love is and re-arranges our story in our hearts so we want it because we can see that it’s the one God’s writing for us. Instead of shaking our fist, we sit and weep cathartic tears when we realize that God has been composing our memoir to look more like Jesus. And that frees us up to look in the mirror at ourselves with tenderness and see the broken-beautiful image He sees.
Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 7.09.59 PMWe’re a little like Kintsugi pottery where the artist breaks china vessels to epoxy them back together with gold laquer. The damage is incorporated into the aesthetic of the restored item and it becomes artistically “better than new”.
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Love is like that too. The Artisan’s masterpiece is shaped like a cross, a fragmented body exquisitively bonded with the blood of Jesus, and the resulting value of the work is priceless. That’s God’s model for love and it’s better than picture perfect, it’s broken beautiful.

Transferring that love from the vertical to the horizontal, it’s messy–messier than eating Chicago style popcorn. But, as we join ourselves to Jesus, He empowers us to pay forward the love we’ve received to the people in our stories and reveals to us what that should look like with each individual character.20151218_094849

I still have more questions than answers about the theological tension of God’s sovereignty and love. I’m saving them up for heaven when ironically, they probably won’t matter to me anymore at all. But for today and tomorrow and as many brief years as I am entrusted with this vaporous life, I keep breathing in His steadfast love and then I breathe out gratitude for His fresh new mercies, even the severe ones.
And in the end, I’m trusting that His faithfulness is indeed enough.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; 
Great is your faithfulness. -Lam. 3:22-23

One More Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irvin9 1

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

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

fullsizeoutput_893e

He stood by my side….

Irvin5 1

He walked me to my new life….

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

Fears and Cars and Winter Mama Drama

Every mother feels them, fears of things that go bump in the night.
Some more than others.
But it’s a universally recognized emotion.

A bunch of our worries are an absolute waste.
Imagined up circumstances, conjured from a hodge-podge mixture of sincere love,
And misguided intuition,
Hypersensitive instinct,
And our own variety of neurosis.
But we feel them right in the gut.
And our adrenalin soars to high heaven.

But some of our scares are actual calamities we’ve prayed against,
that get written into our kid’s stories anyway.
At first, they leave us dazed, like the surprise after a dog bites unprovoked.
Then, we pull up our big girl panties and walk brave even if we don’t feel it, because what else can a mama do?

It’s only Wednesday morning and I’ve already tasted both this week.

17522773_1837727426444186_7951100273181557731_nOn Sunday, the Lake, it blew a gale and dumped a boatload of snow on our little corner of the world. The plows couldn’t keep up and neither could we, shoveling our driveway. My girl, the one with the trusty Honda CR-V named Winston, skated off to church before 9. A few hours later, I followed behind and the roads felt like Rosa Parks Circle after the Zamboni resurfaces the rink. So, I texted my girl.
“It’s nasty out there. Be careful.”
No response.
Then, I phoned her, but immediately the call rolled over into voicemail.
Next, I looked her up on Find Friends and it reported her “Location Not Available,” which triggered my mama alert system. I heard sirens in my head, like the annoying ones the emergency broadcast system routinely tests.

I selected my usual seat, front right for worship, but by the time our pastor started preaching, I’d imagined a fatal car accident scenario, with her organs being harvested even before he finished reading Romans 1. I spent the next thirty minutes prematurely grieving my daughter’s demise.
Wondering how I’d face the rest of my tomorrows without that girl I’d lived with and loved on for the past 20 years.
Pondering what it would look like for our family to limp along after an amputation.
Questioning how to reconcile a vibrant life of love and service cut short on a blustery winter morning.IMG_1835

My theology teaches me that this life is a vapor, here a little while and then gone (James 4:14),   and I believe that our temporal bodies get an upgrade in the exchange, a heavenly set of clothes and a new address, next door to Jesus. In theory, it’s an extraordinary promotion but in reality, it means she’s absent from us. And that feels like a stab right through the heart.

I exited the sanctuary at the close of the service in a daze, scanned the crowds in the atrium and then spotted her, cozied up on a sofa socializing happily with friends. As I approached with a hug targeted for her neck, she commented non-chalantly, “By the way, mama, I turned off my phone today for a technology Sabbath. Just wanted you to know.”

And those two short sentences, they entirely rescripted my fantastical imaginary tragedy and I realized that my mama alert system, it misfired. Big time. So I breathed deep, whispered thanks to the one who gives every good gift, including Find Friends, and took on the rest of my day.

Two mornings later, just before grabbing my keys to drive off to work, I messaged my four faves a reminder of God’s abiding affection.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” says Romans 8:38-39.

IMG_6180Almost immediately that familiar ding, the one designated to my biggest girl, notified me of a reply.
“I was just in a bad accident.”
Those were the words in the bubble.
And suddenly, Sunday’s rendezvous into make-believe car accident drama turned real.
More texting followed and then silence.
The phone eventually rang and I heard her voice, shaken and sirens in the background.
The car, it rebelled on ice and threw a tantrum, drove itself across a snowy median into oncoming traffic and punched another car right in the gut.
Both vehicles got all busted up and left the ones inside tousled too.IMG_8657
Her dad and I, we jumped in our van, destination Chitown, because a parent never stops being a parent.
24 hours later, she’s nursing a mean case of whiplash and a few bruises but it’s only the replaceable that needs to be replaced. And on this morning, gratitude smothers fear and I am celebrating yet another episode in God’s story of rescue.IMG_5706

But the truth is, He doesn’t always rescue, at least not the way we wanted Him to and then our worst possible mama fears aren’t nightmares, they’re bona fide reality.
Terminal diseases.
Birth defects.
Sexual Assault.
Fatal or life altering accidents.
Stillbirth.
Teenage pregnancy.
Chronic pain.
Mental Illness.
Prison sentences.
Suicide.
A Crisis of faith.
Abusive relationships.
Divorce.

And we can’t change it or control it or fix it.IMG_5750

Those are the unexpected plot twists in our stories that shape the narrative most distinctly.
And it is in those parts of our journey that we wrestle with, yet ultimately find integrity and solace in Romans 8:28.

“For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

It’s rarely helpful when a sincere bible thumper reminds us of this popular verse. These sacred words own a unique redemptive power and mystery that is most effectively revealed over time and in the rhythm of His unexplainable presence and love that carries us through crisis with a supernatural mix of peace and tumult that can’t be explained to anyone who his Spirit doesn’t reside in.

And so, when we look back on all of the mama moments that have threatened to break our tender hearts,
The ones that have taken our breath away, Or made our hearts race,
The ones we prayed against, But God allowed anyway,
The ones that changed everything, For always,
We see His story of rescue there too.

The musing, it’s quiet and contemplative.
And sometimes it still brings tears to our eyes decades later when we revisit the most  agonizing memories.
But even the most acute pain was tempered by His mercies, fresh and new each morning.
And, when we do the math, they’ve always been more than enough.
So we move into today with all of its unknowns, actual and concocted, holding tightly to the hand of God, confident of more mercies.
And, come what may, that makes us
Just
So
Grateful.IMG_6207