Sex Talks and Other Crucial Conversations

fullsizeoutput_9377IMG_1013We took a hiking trip and wrote a blog post together.
A celebration of—
Autumn.
Her birthday.
God’s faithfulness, past, present and future.

Angela picked the spot—Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. The paintings she’d studied in her art history course at Wheaton lured her in for the real experience.

We hopped in her trusty Suburu with the awesome sunroof and heated seats, passports in hand and headed out on our international adventure. It’s not our first gig and hopefully not our last either.

We counted our trips—just the 2 of us.
The first one was 11 years ago, when she turned 13. I tucked an invitation on her pillow. Wide eyed with excitement, she packed her bag and we headed west of the metroplex for an overnight excursion at a Bed and Breakfast in Granbury to dialogue about adolescence and growing up.
Sooner than I could have imagined, there were 3 separate marathon college visit trips.
And our service week in Haiti.
Last October, we travelled to England and Scotland together.
And now, here we are in Canada.

We’re no strangers to road trips. We know the drill. Bring plenty of snacks and water bottles. Don’t forget to download some podcasts, our favorite Spotify playlists and intermingle them both with spontaneous conversation.
I love dialoguing with Angela, always have. As soon as her mouth formed words, she wondered aloud about things, asked a bazillion questions, pensively formulated ideas and analyzed thoughts, her mental cogs always turning.
This trip, we reminisced about the one we took together on the cusp of adolescence and how it impacted her teenage years and beyond.

Like many evangelical Christian families, we adopted select concepts and resources anchored in the purity movement. Personally, I’d not been shepherded through my own adolescence. I’d never received parental guidance regarding sexuality. When I came into marriage, sex fairly blindsided me except for what I’d seen on the silver screen. I wanted to be sure not to do a generational repeat with my daughters. Without a model in my own story, I didn’t have the confidence to trust myself and the Spirit’s words through me with their sexual training. I thought the evangelical experts on the family must know best.
So,
-We read our little girls books like “The Princess and the Kiss” which elevated a kiss as interchangeable with sex in defining purity.
-A curriculum called Passport to Purity guided our process for presenting the topics of peer pressure, dating, sex and the distinct differences between boys and girls in puberty.
-We contemplated “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and the Rebelution’s “Modesty Survey” though we never embraced them explicitly.

Other related resources and ideas in this tradition include:
-Purity rings, though we never gave them to our girls.
-Then there was the umbrella model (Angela’s nemesis), especially popular with the Gothard crowd, which taught that a woman should always be under the protection of a man. First, her father holds her umbrella, i.e. micromanages her life, then he passes off the job off to her husband. In this model, there is no space for a woman to hold her own umbrella at any age.
-And there’s the jean skirt people who generally steer women toward home-making programs after high school redirecting them away from college lest they be indoctrinated by feminism or become kingdom contributors in vocations supplementary to wife and mother.

Through the rear view mirror, I’ve concluded that many of the above parts and pieces can be counterproductive to a healthy perspective on sexuality. It was on my overnight adventure with my youngest that I shelved the curriculum and trusted my gut instead. I wrote about that experience here for anyone who wants to understand my parental journey better: https://hopewebster.com/2017/09/28/firsts-lasts-and-everything-in-between/
Just wish I’d done it sooner.  About 9 years sooner…..

IMG_1074Driving through Canada, Angela recounted her experience like this:

The Passport to Purity curriculum covered a whole host of issues that normal American adolescents might encounter, but I was not a normal adolescent. I was a sheltered homeschooler with a desperate desire to please God and a paralyzing fear of disappointing people.

The rhetoric was fear based—intended to scare me out of making choices that could potentially harm me. The  deep-voiced dude on the cassette tape explained all the ways I could destroy my  life while I completed accompanying activity pages.

He talked about peer pressure and how I could ruin my future if I chose the wrong friends. He made boys sound like sex crazed animals that would lust after me perpetually if I wasn’t modest enough. And he must not have done a very good job explaining sex, because afterwards I still thought people literally slept together. Slept.
 Innocently I asked you, “You mean, they’re not asleep when they do that?”
“That’s an important question. I’m glad you asked,” you said, before verifying that sex is indeed conducted wide awake.”

“There was one activity page that I remember quite vividly—it’s an image of a cliff. In the diagram, the edge of the cliff represents sexual intercourse. Next to the cliff was a list of activities including hand-holding, kissing, kissing while touching each other’s private areas, undressing, and others I can’t quite remember.  The voice on the tape explained my assignment to arrange the items in the list in order of closeness to the edge of the cliff. Then I had to draw a personal boundary line. The line would be my protection from falling off the cliff.
Sensing that proximity to the cliff’s edge was disastrous, I drew my line as far away from the cliff as possible. Innocent little me who had no male friends from the beginning of middle school to the end of high school had no clue how to process this diagram. I basically came away with the idea that any expression of affection that gives me pleasure is dangerous, negative and potentially catastrophic because it moves me down a slippery slope towards the cataclysmic drop off.”

img_8663.jpg

Then, a little levity to cut through the intensity—we diverged to joking about the curriculum’s discussion of menstruation. It was the only thing the curriculum recommended celebrating.
Angela remarked, “More than the slippery slope, you know what I think really ought to be feared? It’s your menstrual cycle. I just don’t get it—they suggested that we go out to ice cream to celebrate my first cycle.” I agreed, “My take on periods is that the best time to go out to ice cream and celebrate is when you hit menopause.”

She finished recounting her most poignant memories of the curriculum then transitioned to analyzing its impact and how it assimilated into her worldview.

“It’s all scare tactics. The entire thing is meant to scare you out of making any stupid decisions.
This narrative makes reason the highest virtue. If something feels good, it’s impacting your reason adversely, therefore it must be wrong. If I enjoy it, it must be a step toward the cliff.
And here’s the truth—the cliff is a man-made construct.
God didn’t say that a kiss is the thing you’re saving for marriage. He said to save sex. I don’t think it does us a service to draw extra lines as if they are on par with God’s instructions. That’s what the Pharisees are famous for.

When you add a bunch of extra rules, your body becomes a liability instead of a gift. Guys become 2 dimensional and their designed complexity gets minimized. Girls get scared of them and struggle with a false sense of guilt for the way a guy looks at them or responds to their body based on the outfit they choose. Expressions of affection become negative things because they’re a slippery slope toward a lethal fall.

This model reduces relational risk to something dangerous only, and to be avoided at all costs. But some risks are worth taking even when they don’t turn out the way you wanted. Anytime you enter into a relationship with another person, you choose to take a risk because you think they are worth it and the relationship is worth it to you. And in a good risk, you both end up feeling honored by what you shared even when it’s over. There’s no shame in giving your heart away.

I don’t find a fear based approach to dating and sex to be helpful. I think it’s way more helpful to focus on Imago Dei and the indwelling presence of Christ.
Think about the Weight of Glory. In his essay Lewis says,“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
If that’s the person you’re in a relationship with, then the way you treat him is a reflection of the way you treat Christ. Because of Jesus, you treat his body and your body with the respect and honor that Jesus asked you to show.

Not being sexually intimate with someone you’re not married to is ultimately something you’re doing for Jesus, not for yourself, and not even for the person who may or may not be your spouse someday.
Jesus gave his life for you and you owe him everything. So if he asks you to do something with your body, you honor what he asks. Period.
That’s it.
Bottom line.”

About that time, she took a long, deep breath.
And I looked over at her admiringly.
What a privilege it’s been to be her mom.
She’s an amazingly beautiful person who is understanding God’s love and grace more deeply these days, as am I.
Both of us, we’re being transformed into His image.

If I got a do-over to when she was 13, it’d sound different.

From the vantage point of life experience, I recognize her words in my own story. When we convolute the gift of sex so directly with shame and fear, women come into marriage afraid, self-protective, mistrusting and we struggle to feel freedom to embrace the beauty of sex after marriage because a finger wagging “no-no” set up shop in our souls.  At least, that’s what it’s been like for me.

I’ve always answered my kids questions as honestly as I know how, before, during and after Passport to Purity. No matter what the topic, we’ve batted it around. We talk about everything. I just wish I’d have had more God confidence– that as His image bearer, He could be trusted to lead me over time, by His spirit through intentional dialogue to communicate whatever He wanted me to say without a boxed curriculum.IMG_1072

And, I wish I’d trusted God’s indwelling in my children’s lives more. I wish that I’d intentionally affirmed their soft hearts to know Him better and by default to love Him more and let that relationship fortify their conviction that He can be trusted with their sexual journey and their plan to work that out.IMG_1113

I wish I’d been a better cheerleader for the innocent and exciting delights of exchanging affection in word and deed rather than blanketing it in fear and condemnation.

Truth is, I haven’t done the mom thing perfectly.
She hasn’t done the kids thing perfectly either.
And our perspectives don’t always intersect.
But there we were together, a few days ago.
At the trail head.

 

img_8652.jpg

The sign said Caution: Cliff Ahead.
So, we hiked it side by side, along the rim of the cliff.
We could have fallen over the edge if we weren’t discerning. The cliff was dangerous, but it was so much more than that. It was also beautiful.

And that’s the moral of the story: The best life is lived in the tension of the risk and the beauty, holding tightly to the hand of God…even though you’ll likely get a bit scuffed up along the way.

IMG_1027

 

Advertisements

Dear Daughters, It’s OK to Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_MG_5672It’s an honor to call you mine,
Mama

Summer Snapshots

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

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


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


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


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


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

 


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

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

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


IMG_0338
The next one, she took a headlong leap into dating 101, trading her dogmatic commitment to self-protection for the risk of trust and began to learn some fundamental lessons about relationships and share some pretty awesome memories with her special buddy.


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

 


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

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

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

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.

IMG_0588
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”.
IMG_6868
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.
IMG_0963

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)

DSCF2462

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….

fullsizeoutput_8940

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

Jesus, the Ultimate Gentleman

Tonight, I found my voice.
While I shopped for groceries at Walmart, the sun went to bed painting the sky dusky navy blue. I exited the wrong doors, forgetting where I parked my van. It was in the pause, while I mentally mapped the parking lot that he spied my vulnerability. Like a vulture, His motorized cart swooped in, his gaze locked on the prey.
“Ma’am, “ he spoke invitationally, slightly pathetically, a well-rehearsed mantra.
I glanced over my shoulder at him, and that “Mother Bear” instinct, it surprisingly emerged to protect me.
“NO”, I literally yelled adding a hand gesture indicating that he better not move any closer into my space.
Suddenly he shed the victim card and angrily grunted back, “F_ _ _ you, lady” as he spit my direction and turned his cart around to scope out the next easy target.

The adrenalin surge that accompanied that one word, carried me confidently to my vehicle but when I positioned myself behind the wheel and reached for the door lock button, I found my hand slightly trembling.

Psychology explains the brain’s design to respond to danger this way: On a subconscious level, our amygdala sends alarm messages to all of our powerhouse hormones even before our rational mind can react to the perceived threat. This triggers automatic bodily responses we call Fight, Flight or Freeze.

My body’s default position typically re-sets on Freeze. Even after self-defense classes and carrying pepper spray on my key chain, fear turns me into a mute pillar of stone.
Except for tonight– when I found my voice.

Tonight, I boldly reject making excuses for the ill-treatment of women.
I reject justifying predatory behaviors.
I repudiate the way we do somersaults to upend the roles of victim and predator.
It’s not OK to intentionally pretend you can’t walk or you have a disability to make yourself appear vulnerable to a stranger. That’s deceitful.
It’s not OK to threaten a driver’s sense of safety by hovering in close to their window, staring at them while they wait at a stop light. That’s intimidation.
It’s not OK to target women at night or in vulnerable locations to beg for money.  That’s menacing.

And the panhandlers, those guys only make up a miniscule proportion of the population of males who exploit females.
There are also the guys who drug girls drinks to make folly with their bodies.
And the neighbor, friend, co-worker, or relative who’s distorted sense of sexuality results in harassment and voyeurism.
There’s the dreaded stranger, the one who’s warped lust for power ends in assault.
And let’s not forget the priests, pastors, camp counselors and other religious authorities who obliterate the trust of the females in their spiritual care through abuse.
Or the boyfriends and husbands who’s passive-aggressive approach imbibes on porn and objectifies women for their own cheap thrills.

And then, there’s Jesus.
The ultimate gentleman.

It’s Holy Week. Christians everywhere set apart this long weekend on the calendar every year so we can intentionally reflect on the passion of Jesus.
And the refreshing reality is that Jesus’ passion isn’t about getting,
Or taking,
Or manipulating,
Or exploiting.
He doesn’t need to power up,
Or victimize
And he never shames.

Jesus redefines passion and flips the world’s definition upside down through supreme self-sacrifice.
Jesus leadership style watches my back by surrendering His.
Literally.
That scourging Jesus took in my place, it came from a heavy whip designed with small lead balls attached to leather thongs. The first lashes cut through his dermis then into the subcutaneous tissues, breaking blood vessels and ultimately the veins in the underlying muscles until the skin on Jesus back hung in long ribbons leaving the entire area an unrecognizable gnarly mass of torn, bleeding flesh. Half fainting from blood loss, a guard pressed long thorns hard into His scalp and He carried a heavy cross to the hill of Golgotha where they drove wrought iron nails through His feet and wrists positioning Him upright on a cross in a perfected posture of ultimate torment so that His muscles would quickly cramp and prevent his ability to take breaths. As His tortured lungs filled with fluid, His heart went into shock and  ultimately ruptured.*JesusSaves

And in the midst of His own unfathomable suffering,
He’s concerned about the safekeeping of that woman in His life, his own dear Mama.
“Take care of her for me,” Jesus tells His buddy John.

That’s our Jesus.
He knows.
He protects.
He cares.
He loves.
He’s truthful.
And trustworthy.
And perfectly good.
He doesn’t dismiss our fears.
And he doesn’t excuse harm and violence against us.

It’s a comfort to know that in a broken down world where our sense of security is commonly threatened, that Jesus fights for us.
That we can flee to His strong arms and freeze right there, held  tightly in His nail scarred hands.
And that’s just one of the reasons this Friday is a Good Friday.

 

Postscript:  In case you think I’m man-bashing, stay tuned for my next post on Other Good Men in the Making. Male image bearers of Christ abound and I’m grateful.

*Physician’s Medical Description of Crucifixion