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,

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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.

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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….

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He stood by my side….

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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

This is Why I don’t drink Alcohol

There’s a reason I don’t drink alcohol.
Anyone who can eat an entire bag of Trolli sour gummy worms against their better judgement on the car ride home from the grocery store, has a serious problem with self-control or an addiction to sugar or maybe both.
And I’m not talking about an isolated incident once upon a time.
My blood sugars spiked just last night as I polished off the gummy worms about 6 hours before my 2 am freezer raid which emptied a pint sized container of Graeter’s ice cream right down into my tum-tum.

I wonder how many hundreds, no, thousands of times I’ve driven to the store not sure what I’d buy but intent on securing a sugar fix.

 

Way back when I was a girl, I’d lift change off my parent’s nightstand and ride my bike to the drug store for a Butterfingers candy bar. In my teens, it was cinnamon pinwheels and ice cream sandwiches consumed in mass quantities instead. Then I went to college where buffet style dining offered me any combination of ice cream, cookies and brownies at every meal with a nice cold pop to wash it all down with.

As I’ve matured, my tastes have become more sophisticated, and with the exception of sour gummy worms and Skittles, it’d be fair to call me a sweets snob now. I snub what I don’t want, but if I’m craving it, I dare you to stop me from eating it.

IMG_6995Robyn, she tries. God bless her.
“Mommers, you said you weren’t going to eat any sweets this week.”
“Remember your diet. You’ve made really good progress. Don’t blow it now.”
“Think about your pants, mommy. You hate it when they feel tight. Don’t eat that. You’ll regret it.”
And then when she’s fed up, she changes tactics.
“OK, go ahead and eat it then. I don’t care if your stomach pooches. Just don’t blame me when you get on the scale. I tried to help you and you NEVER listen to me.”

Sometimes, my conscience gets the better of me and I ask my hubs or one of the kids to hide the Dove chocolate caramels or the Lindor truffles. Then, later, I whine and offer a lame explanation about why I deserve to get them back and make pie crust promises about parceling out the remaining pieces in the bag. But generally, I get caught red handed eating something I’ve said I shouldn’t or wouldn’t instead and end up feeling like a 3 year old with her hand in the cookie jar. Ashamed.

By God’s grace, I don’t have diabetes yet but I do have a dentist appointment on Wednesday to get a cavity filled and I’ve been warned that it’s so deep it might require a root canal. If it does, well, that’s my bad. As the only adage says, “You reap what you sow.”

Anyone who’s an addict or lived up close and personal with one will resonate with my little vignettes, and when I take a long and thoughtful look in the mirror, it’s like I see flashing yellow lights on the periphery of my image warning me of my vulnerability to other potentially addictive habits as well. Like alcoholism.

It just so happens that I’ve got a long list of generational garbage resulting from alcohol abuse. And it stinks. Men who got mean and angry under the influence. Marriages broken under its bondage. Vocations sabotaged. Health compromised. Pre-mature death.
And honestly, it’s not just my kin. Everywhere I look there’s carnage from the misuse of alcohol. Innocent lives cut short by intoxicated drivers. Promising futures traded for jail time. Financial resources squandered at the liquor store. Violence. Rape. Neglect. Abuse.

While I hang in crowds where people generally drink responsibly, at least publicly, enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or the communal experience of a shared craft beer at a brewery, I know a long list of people, including Christians, who have remorsefully shared their private struggle to control alcohol consumption. For them, a stroll down the liquor aisle at the grocery store feels a lot like my own experience surveying the fine chocolate a few rows away.

From my vantage point, the Bible is the authoritative instruction book on life’s lessons for dummies and I don’t believe that it teaches that consuming alcoholic beverages is sin; however, all addictions are sin, evidence of our brokenness manifested uniquely in our person and through our story.

Chocolate, booze, nicotine, pain killers, porn, street drugs, exercise, caffeine, sex, or whatever else we might be in bondage to, it all ultimately disses God. At a basal level it says, “I want something other than you, God, to cope with my ache and make me feel good. You really aren’t enough.”

Some addictions have a higher cost ratio than others though. My sweets addiction, it costs me in dental work and blood sugar spikes. And it costs my family some living expense money but, unlike alcohol, nobody is at risk of me hauling off and slugging them because of its influence, or passing out incapacitated unable to meet my obligations. I don’t jeopardize the safety of other image bearers driving on the roads. And it doesn’t take away my sensibilities or inhibitions. Eating sugar is not destroying my family.

Whatever we’re getting our short-term fix from though leaves us longer-term shamed because addiction’s a hungry monster, never satisfied, always wanting more. And so we do battle inside, good against evil. And every fresh, new morning, we have to choose whether or not we’ll feed or starve the monster. Addictions are multifaceted and complex, sometimes linked to genetic wiring or chemical imbalances. And our habits bore superhighways along the neural pathways in the brain. Nevertheless, we are not left powerless against addictions. We make choices and when we interrupt the pattern of addiction repeatedly, we form new neural pathways according to God’s amazing design. And every fresh, new morning, His mercies are enough to empower us to resist our addictions and abundant enough to lavish us with unconditional love even when we fail.

IMG_7958So for me, it just feels like a no brainer. Alcohol and I, we’re not right for each other. And this holiday season, I’m pulling out my plastic wine glasses from the Dollar Store and stocking up on my sparkling grape juices in all of the specialty varieties at $2.98 a bottle. And you can just call me Little Miss Teetotaler, thank you very much.

Sweet Lives for Jesus

I wake up to happy music. Mandisa claims that “It’s a good morning” and sometimes I need to listen two or three times before I believe it enough to get up. I roll out of bed more cautiously than I used to. Some of my joints feel like they need to be oiled. Then I hobble to the bathroom to start my morning. While each day is fresh and new with it’s own surprising mercies, there’s also a lot of rote repetition. Generally, I like my life and when I don’t, I’m learning to choose to be grateful for it anyway. Still, it’s a grind. Day after day turns into decades of feeding, clothing, taxiing and cleaning up messes for my family. It’s kingdom work but in my reflective moments I wonder if I am really shaping a legacy.

Nicole Noordeman ponders this question in her song called, Legacy.
I wanna leave a legacy.
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things?
I wanna leave an offering.
A child of mercy & grace who blessed Your name unapologetically,
And leave that kind of legacy.

As I cut up the vegetables for salad and drive my kid to dog obedience class, as I clean my toilet and weed my garden, I’m always on the look out for ways to make the daily holy. And I have found that traditions are a venue for infusing meaning into the routines and rhythms of life. And fall traditions are my favorite.

I grew up celebrating Halloween. My mama sat down at her sewing machine and worked magic transforming me into a clown, a nurse, even a housewife. I gobbled up my trick or treat candy except for the tootsie rolls, which I gifted my mom as a thank you. I never understood those annoying children who ate three pieces of candy each day until Christmas. I had a friend like that and I stole a handful of his candy when he wasn’t looking. That’s how seriously addicted to sugar I am.

When I turned teenager, I watched a few horror movies but never when I was babysitting and I even paid money to walk through rusty old semi trailers recycled into spook houses with friends.

But when God made me a mama, I mused differently about holidays.
Halloween is a holiday worthy of every parent’s prayerful consideration and ours led to celebrating All Saints Day on November 1 instead.

Rather than transforming our kids into superheroes for a night, we spend the entire month of October immersing ourselves in the stories of real live superheroes of the faith, finding inspiration through reading about their calling, courage and commitment. Sometimes their stories feel a little like walking through a spook house, they’re so scary and occasionally they end like a horror movie, gruesomely violent. But we invite them to shape our perspective. We honor their Kingdom contributions through humble acts of daily obedience to God, choices rooted in conviction, passion and faith.

On October 1, the kids customize their brown paper candy bags with a few markers and some cute stickers.
Over the years, we’ve beefed up our family library but we started out with the 4 Volume set of Heroes of the Faith by Dave and Neta Jackson and it’s become a timeless favorite. Every night at dinner, we read a story from the book and then ask the same question. It’s not a trick and there’s always a treat for the correct answer.
“Who lived a sweet life for Jesus?” we inquire.
They delightedly call out the name of the brave soul we’ve just read about. Then we pass around the candy container, which excludes all tootsie rolls, bubble gum and dum-dums. They choose a piece for their bag and a piece to eat.dscf6835dscf6833The routine lasts a month and culminates on All Saints Day, when they claim their bags and take their candy to their rooms. Some of the girls, like their mama, devour it at record speed. I find wrappers under beds, next to trash cans and in their pockets. The others remind me of the neighbor boy and I’m tempted to steal their candy too.

Over time, October’s became our favorite month to parent. The kids treat each other better as they absorb the broken-beautiful stories of the saints and apply them to soft hearts.

As they mature, the tradition morphs. I pull books off our shelves, adding them to a basket where I keep seasonal reading.
(See our personal book list at the bottom of this post.)
We offer the kids money or extra candy in exchange for additional independent reading as well.
One year, they asked to pool the money they earned to buy Bibles for China. Another year they wrote their own book, a compilation of short stories and poems about saints including discussion questions.

Now that we’re all abstract thinkers, the conversations about our heroes sound different than they used to. Lately, we’ve been reading about Hudson Taylor and contemplating his conviction regarding exclusively asking God for money. We wonder how stressful that was for his wife who died young and seemingly malnourished.
“Why do 99.9 percent of missionaries have sad stories of somebody dying?” Our twelve year old baby queries and her sis responds, “Because real life isn’t Disney.”
Profound.
We muse aloud about real life and the ways that one person’s story affects another.
And that reminds us that our stories have influence too.

My story, mama of four girls, it matters. Smack dab in the middle of the daily, I choose intentionally to make God the main character of everybody’s story, in every season and in every holiday. And that’s a worthwhile legacy.

Books that have delighted us over the years:
YWAM Christian Heroes Then and Now series
YWAM Heroes for Young Readers series
YWAM International Adventure Series
Ten Girls series, Irene Howat
Ten Boys series, Irene Howat
Daughters of the Faith series, Wendy Lawton
Trailblazers series, Christian Focus
Torchbearers series, Christian Focus
History Lives series, Christian Focus

A Lifetime’s not too long to live as Friends

 

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you.
You have to go to them sometimes.” ― (Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne)

I was 18 when God wrote Scotland into my story.
A punk first year college kid, I sat listening to speakers talk about the whole wide world needing Jesus and inviting me on a grand adventure.
Who could resist that combo?
Not me.
So the following summer I boarded a jet plane at Detroit metro and landed at Gatwick Scotland 13 hours later.
And the next 7 weeks, they plot twisted my story– for always.

My assignment was to organize and teach Vacation Bible School. But life is always more multi-faceted than task. And as we do the job God sets before us, He multiplies it so that it matters beyond the scope of productivity. I performed my duties that summer, but the real Kingdom impact was in the cross-cultural relationships formed.

God tattoed an affection for that beautiful place and it’s people right smack dab over my heart.
And in His providence, a friendship was preserved.


Handwritten letters with postage stamps crossed the ocean in bubble wrapped envelopes with personal playlists recorded onto homemade cassette tapes.
And then there were annual phone calls around Christmastime to bridge the gap.
We both got married and introduced each other to the ones we love best, expanding the bond of friendship.
Then 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 trips back and forth passed between us, hospitality given and received. Until we were all in over our heads raising children, establishing careers, doing life these past seventeen years.

Thanks to the USPS and the Royal Mail, brown paper packages continued arriving on our doorsteps. And our kids all grew up reading each other’s favorite storybooks, assembling geographical puzzles of foreign lands and eating plenty of shortbread biscuits. Then Skype opened up a whole new way to connect between families until finally, last year, we dreamed big, imagining trip number 8 in 2017.

And a few weeks ago, my biggest girl, the all-grown-up one, and I, we boarded a Dreamliner and puddle jumped the Atlantic overnight, off on another grand adventure.IMG_5907IMG_5929

Next thing you know, we sat in their cozy Scottish home feasting on the nourishment of food and friendship, plus a good cup of tea.  And he pulled out the original archaic cassette tape, the first one I sent in a bubble wrapped envelope.
And it actually still worked!
Christian contemporary classics like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, I introduced him to them. And that music, it served as a compass pointing due north at God’s truth and love right there in the middle of his teenage story. And as I listened to those golden oldies, I felt the tears stinging right behind my eyes because when you’re about half a century plus one and reflecting back on all of the broken-beautiful of your story, it’s a gift of grace to be reminded that your life has made a difference.

IMG_0270

IMG_1420So we spent a week making new memories together, all five of us.
Savoring the moments.
Sharing an abundance of laughter.
And that 14 year old DJ who doubled as a first aid expert, well, don’t go on a road trip without one of those.

My oldest, the daughter-friend, we hiked up hills and stared down valleys.
We trekked up in sunshine and down in rain.
We walked over bridges and built them at the same time.
She shared in my story and we dreamed of what hers might yet be.IMG_5779


And that fire, the same one God lit under my metal chair at missionary conference in 1985, He fanned the spark inside her too.
Her mind is synced with God’s truth.
Her soul is secure in God’s love.
Her feet are shod with the gospel of peace.
And her heart is set on adventure.IMG_5746IMG_2622
And there’s a thrill to the mystery of all that’s yet undiscovered because God doesn’t write any bad stories. None of the words are wasted and there aren’t any blank pages at the end of our book when He calls us home.

When we packed up our suitcases at the end of the week, memories were our favorite souvenirs. Then she and I, we walked toward airport security to catch our return flight, passports in hand and he called out, “Don’t make it another seventeen years or you’ll be 68.”
And I smiled as I set my shoes in a plastic bin to pass through x-ray screening because
A lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.

Firsts, Lasts and Everything in Between

IMG_5572She’s officially a teenager. The baby, that is.
And more than ever, I’m realizing how quickly hellos turn into goodbyes.
Especially in parenting.
Sometimes I noticed.
Other times, it was as elusive as my breath on a crisp, fall evening.

I don’t remember the last time one of my girls got buckled into their seat in the grocery cart and I bought them a donut while I shopped.
Or when I handed them the final penny to ride Sandy the pony at Meijer.
When did I change the last poopy diaper or applaud them for going potty in the toilet?
And when did they get too big to carry piggyback or on my left hip?
I can’t recall when they served me the final gourmet meal of plastic peas and a rubber hamburger.
Or outgrew the princess costumes.
I don’t remember which home movie was their final production.
And what the sermon was about the last time they leaned against my shoulder, breathed long and went limp.

 

Last year on this day, my “little” and I drove 2 hours due north for our pre-puberty overnight adventure. And the grand finale, it’s now in the archives too.

I remember the first time I planned this exclusive trip.  I had no map.  My mama, bless her heart, her radar didn’t detect the storm called adolescence. She wasn’t tracking with my physical, emotional and relational turbulence. I wanted to be more intentional with my girls, offering GPS services toward destination “Womanhood”.
So I studied a curriculum, carefully selected an adorable little B and B an hour away, prayed with my husband and tucked an invitation partially under my daughter’s pillow.
She packed her suitcase, giddy with excitement.
That night, she and I ate dinner at a sit-down restaurant, nestled into plush terrycloth robes and watched a movie together eating soft, homemade cookies and drinking milk in wine glasses. The next morning we savored a gourmet breakfast on china listening to soft classical music.

Tucked in with the feminine pampering was an objective.
To prepare her for adolescence.
Our first lesson started with a puzzle in a Ziploc bag and 10 minutes to put it together.  She had no box cover and struggled.
The take away?  You’ll have better success navigating your teenage years with a guide and God provides one primarily through His Word and your parents. They’re your box cover.

The instructional CD’s we listened to warned her of the importance of choosing friends selectively and the dangers of peer pressure.

Another session detailed how her body would morph from girl to woman and how a boy physically transforms into a man.

I described the holy union of a man and his wife, explaining that any substitute is a cheap counterfeit according to God. “It’s a jump off a dangerous cliff,” I said, encouraging her to stay as far away from the edge as possible. Especially at 13.

This rite of passage was as unique each time as the child experiencing it.

 

 

Last fall, it was my baby’s turn. I knew it was time.  Just a few weeks before, she’d sobbed, “I can’t think of any exciting adventures for my dollyhouse family anymore.” Escaping to the innocence of imaginary play eludes as reality invades. And her mind and body are obviously in sync.IMG_2139

So I scheduled our special get-away. Instead of a B and B, I reserved a room at an indoor water park hotel because Lord knows this child has been gypped out of play time with Mama. I packed my trusty curriculum but when we arrived at the hotel, she was wildly excited to ride the waves instead, so I shelved it for later that night and threw on my swimsuit to join her. It’s exactly 57 steps up to the waterslide. We dragged our raft to the top and rode down double. Multiple times.

Tubing along the lazy river,  I was quietly conversing with God, words that only He could hear. “I’m insecure. My confidence is in the tank and I don’t know how to do this parenting thing right.”
Sigh.
“What  does this girl need from me to be ready for what’s next in her story?” I inquired reflectively. And the lull of the gentle current relaxed me, attuning me to hear God’s tender reassurance. “You’ve got this,” He whispered gently. “Instead of focusing on what’s next, why not celebrate what has been. After all, you can’t relive any chapter of your story and neither can she so you might as well delight in what you have today.” And I suddenly realized that one of the best ways to face the future is to recount the gifts of the past and savor the present.  And what better way to prepare for adolescence than to celebrate childhood with an outrageously fun play date.

 

So I climbed those 57 steps 28 more times and we competed at water basketball, and then the obstacle course. And after a chatty, chicken fingers dinner at the hotel restaurant in yoga pants and tshirts, we sat by a roaring fire in the lobby for storytime. Then, we went back to our room and remembered the goodness of God throughout her girlhood and anticipated adolescence with confidence that God can be trusted with that chapter too.

We rehearsed together a long list of friends and a bounty of shared memories.
I affirmed her good choices, her trustworthiness and resistance to peer pressure so far.
I let go of cautionary advice and allowed myself to wonder with her at God’s miraculous design for relationships, bodies, marriage and reproduction instead.
I chucked the curriculum and trusted my gut.

sisters 15Younger me thought that parenting was more formulaic.  Sincere love multiplied by affirmation and open, honest communication added to enriching opportunities,  individualized educational plans, sound doctrine, disciplined training and protective warnings, that produces a healthy kid–physically, emotionally and spiritually.
To older me, it looks a lot more like a crapshoot.
You bring the very best cards you’ve got to play to the table and set them down with as much courage and confidence as you can muster. Then humbly and prayerfully, you trust that God knew what He was doing when he made you these kids mom, brokenness and all.
You pace yourself because this isn’t like a game of Spoons. It’s more like a Monopoly marathon where a single role of the dice can leave your broke and busted.
You take risks that extend beyond your comfort zone.
You own the ways you cheat and manipulate for a win and be the first one to apologize.
You pay close attention to each player’s turns and don’t miss strategic moves with your focus on your electronic device instead.sisters 17

And mostly, you release to God all of the firsts, lasts and everything in between.
Then you watch with baited breath,
Resilient hope,
Childlike curiosity,
And steadfast confidence in His fresh mercies, new each morning to see what God will do.
In your story.
And in theirs.