Category Archives: following christ

When Destruction is Part of Life

This year we’ve put the garden in the front yard. I got a bit of a late start on it, though, and didn’t want to take the time, or the expense, to till. Dad did a little research and we decided that spraying down the grass with vinegar then covering it with dirt would have to suffice.

Coming to this decision was not as simple as it sounds.

After hosing down our 16×4 plot of grass with vinegar we pinned down a plastic tarp. Our hope was that the sun and vinegar would work together to kill off the grass.

Then came the dirt.

Who knew that there were so many types of dirt to buy?

I stood at Lowe’s fretting over which bags. The cheapest? Definitely not the most expensive ones. Compost? Fertilizer? I felt so silly trying to figure out which bags

In the end I decided on the next to cheapest dirt I could find. It said ‘natural’, but when Spencer and I got it home and cut a bag open it smelled anything but natural. It smelled like death.

Except, I guess death is natural.

We spread it out over the dying grass, each of us taking turns with the garden rake. I loved the way that dark, rich dirt looked when we poured it out. I felt quite proud of our little patch. Every morning Spencer and I would come out and dig through a little patch to check on the death of the grass. Most of it was white and wilted, unable to withstand the weight of the dirt.

A few persnickety pieces of the green stuff continue to poke through the surface, though, and have to be  pulled. I’ve got to be diligent.

Whenever I am busy in the garden parables come to mind. It’s easy to see why Jesus taught in parables. Working with my hands, being part of creation, always makes me think on the teachings of Christ. It feeds my hunger for deep thinking. I examine God’s divine nature, think on his goodness, and am so grateful for tomato plants.

The parables seem all at once simple and tricky.

That dirt and grass, though, they were teaching me something. The lesson has just taken a few weeks to catch up to me.

 

 


 

I’m learning about Jeremiah with some friends, a few certain women, over the summer. I tend to skip over the prophets because they seem so …troubled.

Jeremiah is one of my husband’s favorites, though, so I decided to give him a go. It turns out he’s one of Eugene Peterson’s, too. I found a great study by Peterson that we’ve been using. It’s called Excellence: Run with the Horses.  Immediately we noticed that Jeremiah is kind of a downer.  In fact he’s known as the ‘weeping prophet’.

Rightfully so, since he had the unfortunate task of announcing Israel’s impending destruction.

As the Lord helped Jeremiah reach an understanding with his role in his people’s future God said these words to him:

Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. ~ Jeremiah 31:28 

 

There it was, my comfort, those words I highlighted in green.

Maybe your comfort, too?

God doesn’t destroy because it’s in his power. Our Creator always has a plan to build and to plant.

This gives me relief (and hope)  because no matter what devastation my life suffers, the Lord is always working a plan to build and plant.

It’s like after a forest fire there’s the opportunity for regrowth.

Destruction feels brutal and non-recoverable. Even when you know with your brain that you will make it through a Hard Time, your soul is dying a death that will leave you changed.

In a sense, you won’t recover because you will be a different you on the other side of grief.  As I read parts of Jeremiah I recognize the echo of the story of my life, too. He has certainly been overseeing the destruction of my earthly kingdoms which had been set up in the artifices of career, finances, church, and material things.

When we left the ministry we didn’t realize we were walking away from a worldly domain of our own making.

I didn’t realize how dependent I was on our plan for Lee’s career for security or my possessions for my identity. Losing those things put us on shaky ground for a little bit. Recovering from that self-imposed destruction has been life changing for all of us. I’d say we all feel more certain of God’s place in our lives and less certain of the world’s demands – not a bad place to be. 

Not everything about our old life was bad, but not everything was God-directed, either.  

 


 

Spraying that vinegar all over the grass felt wrong, but we knew it needed to be done.

It’s not always that easy with our lives, though, is it? Often the destruction is against our will. I’ve been there, too, where every fiber of your being is begging for the devastation to stop.  I know what it’s like to wake in the middle of the night feeling fine when the sudden knowledge of your loss settles on your chest and replaces your even breathing with gasps. It’s as though while you’re asleep your body stops remembering the wound and then, upon waking, it all comes back.

I know that kind of pain, too.

Destruction of our earthly kingdoms is not without discomfort, even misery,  but God will use it for a purpose, too. He will oversee building and planting and renewal.

He will make all things new.

 

 

I look at this garden knowing that it will bear fruit soon. I barely remember the patch of dead grass underneath it all.

That’s the amazing thing about being rebuilt. The old stuff becomes a building ground for the different stuff, the new stuff. I can’t say better stuff, though, because I know people who have lost more than jobs and bookcases. Losing people, be it babies in the womb or aged dear ones, is not the same as losing stuff. Life is always better with those we love. The part of life that comes after them can’t be better…only different, and new. 

New growth will always come after devastation. I believe that.

The first year after we left ministry felt like slow drowning. We paddled and paddled and still went under. We failed at finding a church, finding friends, finding a job. We lost our momentum and gave into the waves – and it seems that’s when we got to shore.

Sometimes you just have to give in to the devastation without knowing where it will take you. The miracle is that with some work, with some tender care, you’ll be looking at fullness again. Your old life will be under the surface offering up little aches and pains every now and then, but also giving you solid planting ground. 

My life, my family’s lives, each look very different than they did 2 years ago. I cannot believe how full we are with community, church, and each other. The loneliness and heartache of 24 months ago seems so distant. Every now and then, though, it comes back through and I remember that God is still working that plan.

 

 

If you’re suffering under devastation, big or small, self-imposed or accidental, you’re not alone. You’re loved and cherished.

You will be made new. 

Be brave in the devastation.

 

 

 

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Community Matters

A couple of days a month I drive to a house in a rougher section of town. I have friends who meet me there, some I know and some  are strangers to me.  We have coffee together, maybe share a meal . Sometimes we do art together. Sometimes my friends just sleep on couches  or the floor. Sometimes my friends need fresh clothes and a toothbrush. Sometimes my friends need hugs.

My friends have worked the streets. They may be addicted to drugs, or alcohol. They may be experiencing homelessness.

I volunteer with an organization called Natalie’s Sisters, a ministry devoted to showing the love of Christ to women who have been sexually exploited, either on the streets or in clubs. The Natalie’s Sisters drop-in center gives women a respite, a place to go  where they are safe and free from judgement. Food and clothing are available, as are other services to  help them.

My first experience with the group was meal drop off. I rode with two other women and a police officer to deliver meals to women on the street.

Poverty was not new to me and I knew about sex trafficking.

I had never seen it in action, though. I had never seen women getting into a car  and driving off to conduct their business. I had never seen a person so strung out on heroin that they could barely form sentences. I had never seen women so thankful to be treated with dignity.

When I came home, after that first night, to my warm house and full pantry and healthy children I cried. Hot, angry tears left my cheeks wet. It’s so confusing that a different world is only a few miles from my house. Suddenly everywhere seemed dark and dangerous. I wondered what happened in my own neighborhood that I didn’t know about.

I wondered how I can have so much while others have so little. 

I wondered how I would sleep knowing that my new friends might not be safe.

I wondered a lot of things.

I’ve only been volunteering for six or seven months but I am so changed. I have learned so much. Examining my preconceived notions of what it meant to be on the streets, what I thought prostitution looked like, was hard but important.

Pretty Woman is not how it is, in case you were wondering.

On of my first full days spent at the center I just sat back listening to some of the ladies chat with each other. We were making bracelets together outside. The sky was blue, the clouds white and puffy. From far away the noise was just women talking, laughing. Up close their words punched my gut.

Their lives were not safe. Some of them had lost their children. Some had been stabbed, others slapped and hit. Some needed to find a place to sleep for the night.

Still, they had room in their lives for  laughter. They made room to be caring. They took the time to  hug and ask each other to stay safe.

They have community.

I think that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned from Natalie’s Sisters. Community matters. Having people who listen, and have your back, people who will make things with you, and share a meal with you. That’s community. That’s important.

 

Community is essential, in fact, to being human.

Natalie’s Sisters is a bridge between communities that are separated only by social constructs.  Natalie’s Sisters is Jacob’s well.

Jesus met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, breaking all the rules of Jewish culture. He sat at the well and offered her Living Water, so that she would never thirst again. The woman listened to him, shocked that he knew her sin. That used to be the part that got me, too. The disciples were shocked to discover the two of them in conversation.

This is my favorite New Testament story. There is so much happening here. It is not that Jesus knows her sin that is important. No, the important kernel here is that Jesus knows her. He knows the authentic her.  He knows each of us, the real us. That’s what’s important. 

 

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” ~John 4: 23-24, The Message 

 

One of my favorite writers, Shannan Martin, shared on her blog about this, the importance of being known. Her life was forever changed when she learned the names of people previously only theorized about. She knew about them as a concept,  in the context of improving the lives of those stuck in poverty.

Shannan learned that poverty, when given names, can’t be looked as something to be fixed and she filled her blog up with words that left me hungry and knowing something new. Poverty needs relationship, shared meals,  and yoked shoulders. That’s where we’ll see change. (Go read her stuff. She’s amazing.)

I’m learning the same thing. My friends have names, they have beautiful faces, and unspoken dreams. Putting a list of shoulds and have-to’s on them won’t work because their system is broken. Their personal system is broken, and the government system they have to work within is broken.

I don’t know why there are the gaps that there are, no matter how much I read it about it. I don’t understand addiction, sexual trauma, or why change is so slow. I don’t know why it’s not just about providing money and food, but it’s not. 

 

What I have learned is this: the more time I  spend with my new friends the less space there is between us.

 

After these months I’m comfortable knowing that it’s not my job to fix their lives. I’m called to know them. I’m called to be their sister and love them just where they’re at. I love them addicted and strung out, and I love them clean and sober. I celebrate the triumphs in their lives whether it’s jeans that fit or the choice to go to detox.

Their lives matter just as they are.

What I can see is that my time at Natalie’s Sisters is changing me from the inside out, too. I see that I am becoming Jacob’s well, not just visiting. I am allowing myself to be a space where cultural barriers are broken, a place that Living Water can be offered from. I am becoming more like Jesus, able to see people for their authentic selves. I’m not seeing addicted people, homeless people, or bad people; I’m just seeing people.

See, you can’t be in relationship with people and not be different. I no longer avoid people pretending not to see them. I look them in the eye because being known is more important than food or water. I believe that.

Today I am convicted to pray to become Jacob’s well. I want to be a place where others can meet Jesus, drink of the Living Water, and never thirst.

I think it’s key to remember that the woman at the well didn’t leave believing. She left wondering. She also left cognizant of the Truth that she was known.  I believe that her questions caused her to seek answers. She went back to her village with her questions, but I also have no doubt that she was changed from what she now held in her heart.

Her heart held the treasure that she was known by the Creator of the universe, the Maker of all things good.

What is better than that?

My heart holds a new truth, too. I know that it doesn’t matter if people walk away from me believing. I used to think I was a failing Christian if I couldn’t convert non-believers. I know that it’s important that they walk away wondering, seeking answers. It’s important that they know  that I see them for who they are, their true self, and that I love them. 

That’s it.

Jesus will take care of the rest.

 

Be brave, misfits.

May you find Jacob’s well today.

 

Sunday Thoughts

It’s a rainy Sunday here in Kentucky.

Perfect for staying in bed and spending lots of time with my thoughts. I find myself thinking a lot about God’s goodness,  his grace. I ponder how he loves completely even in the midst of this broken not-quite-right world.

Some days I find it difficult to reconcile.

A few weeks ago at house church we talked about struggle and what our struggle means in light of Christ’s struggle on the cross. I often compare my first-world struggles to those of people in war-torn, far away places like Aleppo or Nigeria. It fills me with shame that I lament the loss of a secure future when there are people starving to death. My worries over pension plans and 401K’s feel selfish, and I suppose that they are.

In American culture, though, that’s the thing, We work for security for ourselves and our children, and before we know it that’s where we’re putting our hope.

At least that’s how it is for me.

We’ve been hoping and praying for a new job for Lee. One that will fulfill his purpose and provide for our security. He suffered a blow this week when he found out that a position he had been working toward was given to someone else. He didn’t suffer alone. I hadn’t realized how much hope I had put in that job. It was going to save us, I just knew it.

In my sadness I often rail against the Lord. He can take it and I sure can dish it out. Then he always comes in with these quiet, convicting comebacks that leave my heart pierced. 

He told me, and I know it’s true, that we’ve been putting our hope in a new job, in more money. He talks to me in a quiet voice so that I have to listen. This annoys me. I like shouting and billboards and neon signs. Quiet requires quiet.

I think that’s his tactic.

Jesus is the best at behavior management.

He reminded me quietly, gently that my hope is in God. Period. That’s it.

 

“God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.”   ~ Psalm 46: 1-2

 

Struggle is part of this world. In fact, Jesus promises us trouble. It’s how we respond to that trouble that makes the difference. 

We can’t deny struggle. That only delays the inevitable pain from it. We can’t make it too big, either. Giving struggle more attention than necessary causes it to grow larger than it really is.

Acceptance is the only way to go. Accept the struggle we’re each in, whatever it is. Then, knowing that the God of hope is with you, keep going. 

I know that sounds all footprints-in-the-sand, but Truth is Truth.

God doesn’t want me to feel ashamed of my response to struggle, either. He knows me, he knows how I work and he’s okay with it. He knows that each thing I move through softens me, makes me more like Jesus. He is patient and good and doesn’t push me along.

My walk with Christ does not need to be fraught with tension. There is no condemnation from Christ. If I’m feeling that I know it’s time to seek him and his answers.

He is teaching me so much about resting in him, knowing him, and trusting him. It isn’t the way I thought it would look at all.

Not long ago I fell back to my old way of thinking. The way that said I was in my position because of how God felt about me.

Believing that my circumstance are a reflection of how God feels about me is lie of the enemy.

That is not true. Where I am at physically, emotionally, or mentally or not an affliction that God has put on me. Yes, he allows me to move through difficult stuff. That’s life here on earth, though.

How God feels about me won’t change my situation. God’s feelings for me, should I choose to recognize them, will only change how I respond to my situation. 

The trap of the theology that God gives to those who deserve it is deep. If I believe that I am in my difficult situation because of something I have done, something I deserve, then what about those starving people in Africa? The children of Aleppo? The innocents caught in horrible places in my own city? What is that they have done to deserve their fate?

Nothing.

We were born where we were born and God loves us each the same.

He loves the people in Aleppo, Africa, cooperate America, brothels, and prisons. He loves everyone the same. It isn’t God’s love that’s confusing for me, it is the world that’s muddled. I get that mixed up sometimes.

There is no earning his grace, he just gives it.

There is no gaining God’s favor, it just is.

It’s all there for the taking waiting for our response.

Our pain is real, the battle will always be there. It will take different forms and shapes for every unique individual. Struggle will always be a commonality between us human beings.

Grace is bigger. Goodness is bigger. Love is bigger.

I like that commonality even more.

It is the Truth that God is bigger than all of the wars we wage that allowed Corrie ten Boom, Anne Frank, Dietrich Bonhoeffer to write words hope from dark places. It’s that Truth that pushes us to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and smile at a stranger. Those acts are responses to struggle AND the Light of Christ.

Maybe we need that combo?

Maybe struggle forces us to dig deeper?

Perhaps my struggle for security coupled with the Light of Christ is what allows me to my hope in eternal security. 

There is no shame in weeping or gnashing of the teeth. I believe that’s necessary.

How I respond inwardly to struggle though, there’s where it gets me.

Do I turn to God for answers or towards the  world? 

The big question, among the many,  I am asking myself today is this:

When people see me do they see my struggle or do they see Jesus?

More importantly, when the people I live with see me which do they see?

That last one gives me something to build my week on.

 

Those are my Sunday thoughts, the ones I caught before the rain went away. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions, too, or maybe you’d share your own Sunday thoughts?

 

Be brave, misfits.

Ask the hard questions.

Then wait for the quiet answers.

 

 

 

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Home Again

Our family traveled a lot when I was a kid. We took short trips, long trips, and sometimes just day trips. I loved going, seeing new places, but also knowing that we shared the same sky, the same moon no matter where we were. I can sleep so well in a car, probably because of all that traveling. One of my favorite memories is lying in the back our big yellow van, my head against the wall so that I could see out of the window above my head. I would sleep that way, only waking when when we slowed down to turn into our neighborhood.

The big hill that leads to our house is lined with trees and streetlights and is as comforting to me as home. I would open my sleepy eyes and know exactly where we were, which neighbor’s house we were passing. As we pulled into the drive my parents would chant, “Home again, home again jiggity jig!” Even today I feel myself relax as I drive up that street.

It’s funny to me that I never wanted to move away from home. I mean, I wanted my own apartment as I got older,  but I never thought about living in another city. After Lee and I had been married for a couple of years a job opportunity came up that would require us to move. Every cell in my body wanted to stay in Lexington but I knew that Lee needed this.

So, we moved to Knoxville, Tennessee.

The first few months there were scary and lonely. Driving in Knoxville terrified me, and I learned lots of back roads to avoid the interstates and heavy trafficked roads. Because the radio in my old black Volvo didn’t work I had to sing loudly to distract my babies and myself from my panic at sharing the road with so many trucks. Old hymns, Mary Poppins, and Queen make up the soundtrack of those days.

Moving made me brave.

I was able to travel I-75 because I knew that home was at the other end. Going to visit my parents gave me courage. On the return trip knowing that Lee, our house, and our little life were all waiting for me made my goodbyes less bittersweet. It’s funny how fears abate when you have people waiting for you. They give you mission.

We moved three more times, twice two new town, and each place I fell in love with. I enjoyed learning the history of our new town, local favorites, and hidden treasures. I stopped thinking of Lexington as home and more as the place that I grew up. Two years ago when we moved back I couldn’t help but contemplate home, and what that means.

I was reminded of all the coming-of-age novels I read where the main character moves back home and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. I always wondered what it was like to move back home after redefining yourself in another place.. No one knows what you were like in high school, or about your brothers, or what you and your best friends like to do. You don’t run into people you know at the store, at least at first, and you can switch hairdressers easily. Everything is new, and that can include you.

Moving back home, though, was so different than I thought it would be. Living in my childhood home, roaming the streets of my neighborhood with my own children, is much more grounding than I had imagined. On our daily walks we step onto the same corner that was the meeting spot of the neighborhood kids. Even though someone else lives there the house across the street is still ‘the Leggett’s house’ to me and my parents.

My handwriting, in permanent marker, is in the closet of the bedroom my girls now share. My boys’ swing set is where me and my brothers played for hours. Neighbors who knew me from childhood stop me and we condense our lives into a ten minute chat. We wave goodbye, filled with memories of a picturesque past.

Moving back to the town where I took off my training wheels for the first time, where I learned to drive, and where I got my heart broken for the first time made me brave again. While a new place can give you the freedom to be someone a little different it can also sweep you up into a current that’s not your own. We’ve had some heavy stuff happen, which caused the shoulds and have-to’s to become even more weighted.

Sometimes you just keep functioning and don’t realize how big of an influence fear has become.

Moving home gave me the space to face that. Moving home gave me space to find my courage again, to remember that no matter what happens in my life I have a place within me that houses my ten year-old self. The me that knows riding down a hill with no hands is possible, the me that doesn’t care about skinned knees or climbing too high will always be there, waiting. Fearlessness that reins freely in our youth isn’t grown out of. Rather, it is covered up under the guise of maturity  and responsibility, making us think we’re grown ups.

Audacity is always waiting for it’s moment to shine, though.

Coming home made me feel that again. Watching my youngest learn to ride his bike with only two wheels on the same sidewalk I did unleashed it. I’m probably not going to ride my bike with no hands today, but my heart is lighter, more able to be in the world.

Life is short but fear makes it shorter.

Today courage means filling my life with relationship that make my life messy, embracing inconvenience and taking heart in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world. Pushing through the uneasiness that comes from going against the grain of this life is not always easy but my days feel longer when fear is not in charge.

God knew that I needed the shelter of home to find my courage again. It’s not about the place, or the house, or the neighborhood, either. Those things are nice but home is something inside, a notion that dwells within. It’s about being able to remember who Christ says I am, and for me that’s easiest to do when I think about who I was as a kid. I wasn’t weighed down by shoulds and have-to’s and didn’t hold back my love.

I am home, again.

Home again.

Jiggity jig.

 

 

I’m curious; how do you find home? Is it a place or a time? Does home make you brave, too?

 

The Reality of Christmas

We made a quick trip to visit dear friends on Thursday, two days before Christmas Eve. It seemed irresponsible to do that, but we don’t visit family and I miss the hustle and bustle of packing and going. So we went and it was fun, and one more memory with my kids’ almost-cousins is catalogued on my phone.

I love traveling.I especially love traveling with my family. Lee couldn’t get off work so I had to navigate the highways on my own. My 18 year old daughter, Kiley, was the co-pilot calling out directions, talking me down when my voice got screechy.

I’m not a fan of heavy traffic.

Photo Credit: KW BOY Flickr via Compfight cc

Kiley said she didn’t feel very Christmas-y, and I could only listen, because some years are like that. She admitted that her sister told her that it was probably because she’s older now, almost 19. I agreed that was probably part of the problem. I thought back to the year I was 18, maybe 19, and recalled that on Christmas morning I didn’t have the excited pit in my stomach, or the urge to jump out of bed at 5 a.m. I think that was year that I had a cross-stitch to finish and was up until 3 a.m.

I also remember that I received a wide-brimmed felt hat from Santa, which I loved. It had a beautiful purple silk flower pinned to it. I wore that hat a lot that winter.  However, sitting on the floor playing with a felt hat doesn’t have the same draw as sitting on the floor tinkering with the Glamour Gals Cruise Ship. Not the same thing at all.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun, and that cross-stitch I nearly went blind completing hangs in my parent’s room today. I enjoyed watching my brothers with their loot. They were 15 and 11 so still got toys. For me, though, the sparkle was missing. Not even my memories of those early adult years  are glitter-covered.

I didn’t feel very Christmas-y.

Lee and I married and had babies and still Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. We were stuck under Should’s and Have-To’s and and spent a lot of time trying to please others. We didn’t have a lot of money, either, and I sometimes had the feeling that we weren’t doing enough. I may have even felt shame over a few of the gifts that we gave family members. The message of the Little Drummer Boy was lost to me.

Then I met Jesus.

I used to scoff at people who claimed to be ‘saved’ thinking that they were a little goofy – in a quaint way, of course. I loved the ritual of putting up the tree, hanging decorations, visiting Santa at the mall, and wrapping the gifts. I still love it. Going to Christmas Eve service at 11 p.m. with Dad became a ritual, too, one that I looked forward to and picked out a new dress for.  When we turned all the lights out in the church, singing Silent Night with no help from the organ, passing the flame from candle to candle until the sanctuary was well lit always gave me goose bumps.

Those things may  seem like empty rituals, remnants of liturgy without meaning behind them to a non-believer. My encounter with Christ, though, brought all of those things together like puzzle pieces that had been scattered, just waiting for their moment to come together forming the word HOPE.

 

Getting to know Jesus revealed to me His glory, revealed to me the Reality of Christmas.

Christmas isn’t a feeling, and it’s not a time of year.

Christmas is a fact.

Our God loves us so much that He came to us in the most vulnerable way; as a baby.

Christmas is vulnerable.

Our God loves us so much that he came to have relationship with me, with you, with everyone, no matter what they look like, smell like, or act like.

Christmas is relationship.

Our God loves us so much that he supernaturally interceded on our behalf, freeing us from the law and binding us to grace forever. He didn’t come to live the good life, he came to live THE life, and then give it away painfully, freely for us. He never planned on celebrating anything in his life, certainly not his birthday. His Christmas wish was that we would be free from sin. Our Christmas miracle is Jesus.

Christmas is supernatural.

Photo Credit: Design_Ex Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Once I was exposed to the Reality of Christmas the sparkle was back.

For the most part. Every now and then I can get bogged down with expectations for the most wonderful time of the year. The should’s and have-to’s creep back up on me and my calendar can swallow me whole. That’s when I have to make like a Shepherd and follow that Star. I have to be intentional about putting Jesus first, remember His reality, and allowing all the other stuff to fall into place. It’s all just stuff in the end.

Still, the Reality of Christmas has changed me from the inside out. I may not look sparkly but I sure feel it. These days I rarely sleep on Christmas Eve, that excited pit in my stomach and unstoppable grin keeping me company through the night. (Coffee is my Christmas miracle, too) It is so fun to give gifts to my people. Watching them open their little presents always makes me reflect on how our Lord must feel when we accept His gift.

I know that Christmas does not only come in December.  Some of my favorite Christmas gifts have come in the other months. Heck, I know that Jesus wasn’t born in December, but I understand why the early church opted to remember the Light of the World’s entrance during the darkest month of the year. Symbolism is not empty if you know what it means. 

Sometimes I can get a little bogged down in wondering and worrying that the culture has a hold on Christmas. I read the books and blogs the Facebook meme’s demanding that we save Christmas.

I’m just not sure Christmas needs saving because you can’t change reality.

The Great I Am will always be.

So I choose to be part of His Story. I choose to know His light even in my dark. I choose to be awestruck by His goodness and mercy even while horror takes place in the world. I choose twinkly lights and sparkly paper because it cheers the dreary, gray days. I choose traditions and rituals that remind me of the King of my heart and His bold move to save us. 


Not every Christmas will feel holy.

That’s a reality, too.

Some Decembers will find us sad, out of sorts, in the hospital, or without family to love us. While Christmas may not always feel holy, the Holy One is always with us – no matter what we look like, smell like, or act like. The Reality of Christmas means that we get to reflect on Him every day, all the time. There are no mess-up’s with Jesus.

I pray that tonight, on Christmas Eve, you can find one candle to light, one song to sing.

Photo Credit: m.rsjoberg Flickr via Compfight cc

 

May Christmas be real to you, today, tomorrow, and all the days that come.

May you be real, vulnerable, and have loving relationship in your life, and may God’s supernatural love be tangible in your life.

Be brave, misfits, and Merry Christmas.

Accidental Mentor

Sometimes I feel bad when I hear parents complaining about their teenagers, like I should join in. I have nothing to complain about, though.

I’m not saying it’s not difficult to parent kids in their teenage years. It is, and it isn’t. It’s complicated. The tension between keeping them close versus  pushing them forward is real. I want to protect them but I also want them to experience life. As a homeschoolerI have to be much more intentional in encouraging them to be in the world, always with the prayer that they not be of the world.

The public library could easily be the only place we go, but that’s not doing them any favors.

I want my kids to be in situations  that will push them, force them to know themselves, and maybe even make them uncomfortable. Lee and I have worked very hard at having the kind of relationship with the kids that allows them to share the hard stuff, and most of the time they do. I find it easy to talk with my teens. I share my heart, they share theirs. I have never believed that they have to think the way I think or believe what I believe. I hope they follow Jesus, but it is not a requirement. I encourage them to explore deep truths for themselves, praying for them to find friends who are godly, and mentors who have admirable character traits.

The fact is I love spending time with my teenagers.

Still haven't mastered the art of the selfie.
Still haven’t mastered the art of the selfie.

A few years ago, when my children were emerging teens, I realized that I was not so much parenting my kids as mentoring them. I have our years in youth ministry to thank for that.

Twelve or thirteen years ago, when we fell into youth ministry, I did not like the company of teenagers, especially when they were in a large group. It brought back junior high feelings of inadequacy. I felt I never had the right clothes or shoes, or fit in anywhere. I had flashbacks of walking into the school cafeteria for lunch and looking for a seat. Ugh. I can’t even go there.

Those youth group kids, though, they broke down those memories and dove straight into my heart. I fell in love with their over-honest ways, their answer-seeking questions, and the effort they put into growing up. Those youth group kids drove me completely crazy while winning my friendship. I figured out that they didn’t want me to be cool, or to impress them. They liked me just like I was; a young mom who was a little lonely, and really uncertain, but also eager to learn about the ways of Christ.

So we learned about him, and his ways, together.

Sometimes things were easy and I didn’t mind when youth stopped by wanting a peanut butter jelly sandwich, or just to hang out while I did the mom thing. They might even play with the kids or help me run errands. Other times kids from youth group would stop by and it would feel inconvenient to me, like one more irritation in my already irritating day. I wasn’t so great at saying no, though. Plus, life is always a little easier with company.

I’m so glad I allowed room for the interruptions. There is not one time I regret having a kid come into my home. In fact, I learned to find relief in the young people who became my friends. There were a handful of young women, in particular, who came to me the world to me. These young people became like family during a period of time when my life was not easy, and I’ll always been grateful to them.

That’s how I became an accidental mentor.

I didn’t know it at the time but these young people were teaching me how to mentor my own kids. Somewhere between 10 and 12 you transition from parenting to mentoring. You cannot force an adult-sized child to brush their teeth, shower, do their homework, get their chores done, or go to sleep – nor do I believe you should. I have high expectations for them, though, and the natural consequences of not doing the things they are required to do are the best teachers at this age. Real consequences are far more effective than any punishment I could come up with. (A huge shout out to Dr. Kevin Leman for all of his awesome books on parenting. (affiliate link) I love his Have a New Teenager by Friday, if you’re looking for some help.)

I love coaching my people in their teenage years.

It’s so exciting watching from the sidelines as they develop their own life skills, deepen their sense of self, and form relationships that will hopefully last a long time. This can be the hard part, though. It can be tempting to jump in and rescue them from themselves or bad choices or both. This is where prayer and faith come in for me – and hopefully for them, too. This is also where mentoring skills come in handy. Because I’ve helped other young people walk through decision-making I feel like it’s easier for me to act as observer in my own children’s lives as they get older. I’m learning how to ask questions rather than make demands, and how to wait on them to figure out what’s best rather than force them to do what I think is right.

Mentoring means accepting that the life your child lives will look different than the one you imagined. Mentoring means making room for your child to be their own person. Making mistakes is how I figured out some of the best stuff about myself and I want to leave room in their lives for them to do the same thing. Mentoring means not groaning when they say, “I think I might not go to college” or “I really want to major in music theater” or “I’m moving to England as soon as I turn 18”. No eye rolling, no laughing, or pointing out how out of the realm of possibility any of those things are.

Mentoring means supporting in success and failure.

I had to learn to face my fears of my kids failing. I remembered when some of the kids in youth group had huge blunders. While those moments were painful for them those experiences were also a huge catalyst for growth. That’s important to remember.

I’ve learned to get comfortable with phrases  like, “You know what’s best for your life” or “You have good judgement, I trust you”.  Young people know when you don’t feel they are capable of something. If I find myself wanting to step in for my kids, help them with a task, I have to remind myself of the message I’m sending when I do that. That’s not to say I don’t step in occasionally; I do. There are times it’s been necessary because I want them to feel supported not abandoned.

Mentoring means helping your kid find their dreams, no matter what those dreams are.

Part of the job as mentor is to help your child hone in on their skills and passions. Not many people know what they want to do with the rest of their life when they turn 18. I have to remind my kids of that all the time, and I think this is a major advantage in homeschooling. They don’t have to know their college plans by their freshman year of high school. We are able to explore their interests in a variety of ways, meet other adults who do things that are unlike anything my husband and I do, and experiment with jobs in a low key manner.  I don’t think college is essential, and I certainly don’t think it has to be completed in four years between the ages of 18 and 21.

It is not easy, choosing this way. It would be much easier if I forced them into my way, made them learn from my mistakes. Our relationship would suffer, though, and that is a thought that I cannot stand. Years ago I chose relationship with my children over success in school. I told them their grades would never be as important as our relationship, and I meant it. What’s cool is that neither suffered; they each succeed in their own way in school and we still have a great relationship. We have rocky times, too, encounter stuff that we have to work through, but our foundation is solid.

Never sacrifice your relationship with your child on the altar of success.

It is not worth it. Who cares if they’re ahead in three subjects if they don’t know where they stand with you?

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Next week I’ll talk about how to connect with your teenagers, as well as some of the unexpected joys that come with having teenage children.

Be brave, misfits and embrace the adolescents in your life. 

 

 

 

 

The Sun Will Come Out…

A couple of months ago I fell for the hype that the media is stirring up. I found myself unable to sleep with the worry of who would be our next president. I was doing research, i.e. falling into the rabbit hole that is the internet, which only deepened my uncertainty.

One day, or maybe slowly over a few days, I quit caring so much. I think it started with looking into immigrating to Ireland. Don’t judge, it’s where my people are from. From there I got hooked on Ireland travel vlogs and videos explaining the different accents. Those videos inspired me to start planning a family to trip to the Emerald Isle in 2019, which led me to the realization that the world is going to keep spinning regardless of what joker is voted in as president.

Ireland, for your viewing pleasure:

 

Photo Credit: Crash Test Mike Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Crash Test Mike Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Gustav Bergman Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Gustav Bergman Flickr via Compfight cc

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Don’t you feel better already?

I use Tapestry of Grace in our homeschool, a unit study curriculum focusing on history and encompassing classical studies. I can’t say enough awesome things about this curriculum, my favorite being the perspective that ultimately the events of history will unfold as they will bringing God’s perfect plan into action. No matter how bad things look, historically speaking, the will of God is being worked. His plan uses difficult circumstances to deepen our faith, spur us into action, and grow the Church.

So I calmed the heck down about it all and applied my favorite quote that can be applied to everything:

If you can’t make it better, 

you can laugh at it  ~ Erma Bombeck

I know people are passionate about all that’s going on right now. Some of that passion is not misplaced. Some of it,though, is hoopla brought on by too much time on the internet or television or talk radio. If you think about it, though, there is so much to laugh at this election cycle.

Here’s some other things that you can do to help get through the next 48 hours:

  • Read this from PBS News  or this from one of my favorite blogs, The Art of Simple. These are both survival guides that add some much needed levity.
  • Watch some Bad Lip Reading videos. If at least one of those doesn’t have you crying and/or peeing your pants something inside you is broken. I’m not kidding. Go to the doctor if you don’t find these funny.
  • If you find yourself getting so mad that you are unfriending people on social media…it’s probably time to take a break from social media. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind at this point, and it’s doubtful that anyone is going to change your mind. Hitting share in an attempt to shock others into sharing your opinion isn’t going to further any healthy discussion.
  • Take a moment to get out in the world and talk to people. Don’t talk about the election for Pete’s sake, just talk to them. Say hello to strangers, ask the person checking you out at the grocery how they are, chat with the person behind you at the coffee shop.
  • Sit at a park and watch kids play, taking special notice of how they work stuff out. I believe we’ve still retained the ability to do the same thing as adults.
  • As a Christian it’s important that I know who’s Lord of my Life. My friend David Wu preached a great sermon reminding me that loving your neighbor, even one with conflicting political views, is a simple task when Jesus reigns in every area of my life.
  • Remember that tomorrow will come, and that the day after the election we will have to look one another in the face. We’re not all going to be happy, and some of us may feel scared, and most of us will be tender. Let’s remember that and practice kindness in the coming weeks.
  • Put this song on repeat.

 

Ultimately, the sun will come out tomorrow. Yes, that’s a Little Orphan Annie quote, because I’m an optimist. Knowing that the sun WILL come out no matter who will be taking office reminds me of who is in charge. That is more awesome than anything else happening in our world at this time.

Photo Credit: Infomastern Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Infomastern Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: scott1346 Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: scott1346 Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Be kind to one another, misfits. Sometimes that’s the bravest act of all.

 

 

 

 

 

On Forgiveness

Since walking away from shoulds and have-to’s this year, I have to say my life feels a lot lighter, a lot less complicated.

One thing that’s been plaguing me, though, is bitterness.

Something about being 40 causes me to ruminate, but if I’m truthful it’s always  been something I’m good at. I think the kids being older has given me more time to process the last 20 years of my life or so. While I don’t find I’m filled with regret, it recently dawned on me that my heart had become unforgiving toward some people and situations in my life.

I got to spend 24 hours away with a friend this weekend, a friend I haven’t seen in over a year, and it was wonderful. I had a 90 minute drive to myself with a lot of quiet (and a little loud singing)  to let my thoughts roll around.

I caught myself reliving some of my most painful memories and wishing that some of that pain could be bounced back onto those who hurt me and mine.

Ah, I thought, there it is. The thorn that’s been keeping my heart from moving forward is called bitterness and I’ve been unknowingly feeding it over the years.

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I have a strong sense of justice, but like Jonah I forget that God’s ways are merciful, that his desire is to his bring us all into relationship with him, even the worst of the worst.  I should be thankful that I don’t receive his justice rather than pondering the justice I feel others deserve.

I’m sure there’s a thing or two about that in the Bible.

 


 

We both arrived at the Inn we were staying at, after exploring all 14 rooms decided we needed to eat.  Shanna still has little ones, three under 4, plus  three others from 7 to 15. Her large number of children combined with my four means  we can swap funny stories and parenting tips fairly evenly.  We discussed kids, homeschooling, husbands, politics, and religion.  I’ve always loved talking to Shanna because we can talk about Deep Things but never lose sight of the only thing that matters: our faith in Christ.

Everyone should have friends like this woman, and I’m grateful to have her, and several others, in my life.

After we finished our meal and a desert we didn’t really like I confessed that I had a forgiveness problem. I confessed that I wanted to write mean letters to people who had caused pain in my life and let them know I thought they were douche bags.

Is douche bag a dirty word?

I think it might be.

It turns out that Shanna had recently listened to a sermon on forgiveness.

“Forgiveness means that you can see that person and treat them as if they did nothing wrong,” she told me. I nodded because I understood, not because I thought that would be an easy task.

I told her of how hurt I was by people who I had mistaken as friends, who I had invested in, only to have them choose malicious actions. Something terrible happened to our family ten years ago, something that cost us what felt like everything. While we continued to move forward my heart was still broken,  and every negative event that came after stacked up on top of that crack, even sinking into it, deepening the fissure. I didn’t realize I was only stacking up the hurtful moments.

Even after all this time recounting the events that unfolded caused me pain, deep pain, and a rash of hives.

“But think about it,” Shanna said, “You’re hurting more than they are. You’re thinking about it and they probably don’t. They’ve moved on.”

Our conversation took us other places, then we were tired and ready to go back to our room so we could climb into bed and talk more, which we did.

 


 

In the minutes before I fall asleep I always pray, and thank God for getting through the day. As I lay there that night, after our conversation on forgiveness, I asked God to help me find grace and mercy for those who had hurt my family, and for a reprieve from the bitterness. I asked him to help me forgive.

And that was it.

I fell asleep quickly and I woke up with a much lighter heart.

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Seems that it is as easy as that. Turning away rather than turning towards the painful moments in my life is all it took. My shoulders didn’t feel heavy and I was no longer stacking stuff up on top of hurt.

Here’s the rub: I can go back to that old way any time I’d like; if I CHOOSE to. The decision is mine. I can tend the root of bitterness or I can cut it away and plant something more life giving, like grace and mercy. It’s muscle memory, really, and I’m retraining my brain muscle. Every time I encounter acerbic thoughts I must turn away. Every single time.

My shield of faith is taking a few knocks, to be sure.

In my own strength I could not defeat my vengeful thoughts, but allowing Christ to do the work for me, with me, gets the job done. It’s only been four days but I’m reveling in the beauty of forgiveness, of letting myself move away from the trap of of the past.

The thing that has surprised me the most was how ungrateful I had become. I thought I had long ago conquered that beast. I thought I had figured out a thing or two. I think it’s like this: sometimes pain is a companion. I treated my hurt like a badge of honor, like I’d really been through something.

I had accidentally begun to downplay all the really awesome people God had put in my life and I was making idols of the ones who had not been so awesome.

So I’m starting a Gratitude Project.

I’m going to let people know how much they mean to me. I’ll write handwritten notes, Facebook messages and e-mails. Today I took a deep breath and thanked someone in person for what they meant to me,  and that little act unwound something that had been binding up my heart. It was so good I can’t wait to do it again.

I’ll keep you posted as I go, and maybe you’d like to join in as well? 

Projects are always better with friends.

 

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Something Different

Our house church  has taken to meeting at parks around the city. The kids have room to roam and their noise doesn’t bother us, and we are all able to enjoy being outside together. Even in the summer the heat dies down enough in the evening that it’s been pleasant.

Photo Credit: .: mike | MKvip Beauty :. via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: .: mike | MKvip Beauty :. via Compfight cc

Last night gave the first hint of fall headed our way. A few of the women were shivering in the breeze, and some of the little kids were snuggling together in a hammock. It’s been dry here in central Kentucky and some of the leaves have just given up, turned brown, and fallen off their assigned branches. The crickets were noisy, as were the crows, and  the air had the smell of September.

The whole world seemed to be saying, “Change is coming.”

Change is always happening, whether we are aware of it or not. The world, our lives, the universe, it’s all in constant motion. We don’t necessarily feel it, and we don’t always embrace it.

Sometimes I want to stomp my foot and shout, “This is not how I planned it! This is not what was promised!”

I know that  I know the truth: God’s design will be more suitable for me than mine; prayers that seem unanswered are because God has something better for us; I’m becoming something different than I thought. Yada, yada, yada. I get it, I really do.

Knowing the truth and feeling the truth are two different things for me, though.

That’s a pretty constant battle in my life. My feelings are big, so very big, and often get in the way of what I know. Sometimes knowing something, even  with deep understanding, feels hollow.

That little nugget, though, that God has something better for me, and for you, (always) is so incredibly true.

I looked around my church family last night and let myself feel wonder that God has placed such spectacular humans in my life, in the life of my family. Because of them I’m able to remember friends that I miss, church families we had to say goodbye to, and not feel pain. Our lives have similarities and differences that allow us to mesh in a way that promotes growth. It is certainly better than I could have wanted for myself.

This church we have looks completely different than what I wanted for us two years ago, but it’s exactly what we need. We sing hymns, share where God is moving in our lives, scripture that got us thinking, struggles we encounter, and the good God-given moments, too. We’re still figuring things out and searching what God desires from our group.

It is so good.

This house church thing has gotten me out from the under the should and have-to’s that can plague me. It’s gotten me to ask questions and seek answers, to examine my heart and listen to God. It’s gotten me to wonder about Jesus and seek him out. It’s also allowed me to accept the changes God has brought into our lives with grace, if not understanding.

More than anything I am learning to embrace where I am at, learn to thrive in my present rather than lament the past or fret over the future. I am learning that my transformation is not always apparent to me because my life looks different to me than it does to God.

He doesn’t see me in 24 hour increments.

No, He sees the whole me; the beginning and the end. He knows the what and it’s my job to live the how. It’s so 70’s of me to say this, but it really is about the journey.

Nothing in your life is going to look the way you think it should. No matter how old you are you need to figure that out. Go ahead and dream, put the work in, there’s nothing wrong with that, but be prepared to allow that dream to be edited because how you live will always be more important than what you want your life to look like from the outside.

Life is just going to look the way that it is.

Messy, beautiful, complicated, amazing, broken, full, and everything in between.

My version of simple living is obviously not the same as God’s version of simple living.

Not much in my life looks the way I thought it would when I reached 40-something.

And that’s okay.

It’s not my job to worry about the what in my life.

I only have to work on the how of living.

What that looks like from the outside doesn’t really matter.

 

What if We’re All Special?

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  2 Corinthians: 4:7

 

 


I love that this guy doesn’t care if people stare.

Well, he does care, but not when he’s doing something like sitting in a giant chair in the middle of a home and gardens expo, because then it’s fun to have people stare. He loves to be told he’s cute, or sweet, or awesome, or whatever. Who doesn’t like to be told those things, right?

 

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My brother, Erik.

 

Sometimes his total lack of humility gets on my nerves.

Just being honest.

As his older sister I feel that’s something I’m entitled to.

Most of the time, though, I admire his audacity.

Erik is rarely afraid to ask for what he wants.

The crazy thing is people often let him do whatever thing he wants to do. Oh, you want to play guitar with the live band downtown? Sure, come on up, buddy! Oh, you want a free t-shirt from this or that restaurant? No problem! Take two.

That stuff happens all. the. time.

It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, and it’s sweet. I love it. I love it because it shows me, and him, and whoever is with Erik, that people are made of mostly really good stuff. People have been kind to my brother in the most unexpected, genuine ways. Gruff men, cranky women, people who normally would just bustle on by will stop what they’re doing and go out of their way to extend grace to Erik because he is developmentally disabled. He’s different and it shows.

Erik is special.

But…

What if we’re all special?

What if we each have things that we deal with on a daily basis that make functioning in life difficult?

Maybe it’s not everyday, the way it is for my brother, but I’m guessing that you’re like me and sometimes life feels like more than you can handle.

What if we were each willing to extend grace to one another based on the knowledge that we are all delayed in some way?

Working a puzzle at Christmas.
Working a puzzle at Christmas. p.s. I tried to crop it. Sorry.

There is something not quite right with each of us. We are each broken in some way that impedes our functioning. Some of us have to pretend that they are not damaged in order to move through the world, but that doesn’t change the reality. Some of us are too hurt to pretend but we think no one cares so we don’t say anything, we just keep on going.

I think my biggest takeaway from having Erik in my life is that because of knowing him, knowing his specialness, I am able to recognize the specialness in other people. Am I always gracious? No, I am not, not even with Erik. Especially not with Erik.

It’s a goal.

As a Chrsitian I believe that we each have unique, divine purpose. I wonder if Erik, and all the amazing special people like him, have the same purpose: to force us ‘average’ folk to recognize specialness, because once you learn to appreciate it it one person you start to see it everywhere. There’s no going back, no undoing it, once you  let go of the notion that some of us humans are whole.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I want people like Erik to continue to have loads of grace and attention and gifts heaped on them. There is much life that they will miss out on. Their lives will never be truly free because they will always be dependent on someone else in one way or another. I think people like Erik should win the Brave Misfit award because they had no say in living life differently. It just happened to them.

I don’t want to minimize the significance of a life lived with a severe developmental disability, either. There are days that I cry while dreaming of Erik without injury, or what it would be like to grab a beer with my brother or for my kids to have an uncle who could take them to Kings Island just because he wanted to.

What I’m saying is that I think we’re all way more alike than we are different. That while the people labeled special have more apparent hindrances we are each hindered by something.

What I want, what I think would be a game-changer, is if we each woke up to the special brokenness in one another.

What would that look like? Would we be kinder, more generous?

I think so.

After I spend time with Erik and his exceptional friends I am filled with a lightness I cannot describe, a joy that I think comes from being seen in a special way. Erik’s friends are kind, and they make me feel exceptional when I’m with them. 

My favorite recent encounter was a few weeks ago when I stopped at Erik’s work, Full Circle Supports (if you need trophies, engraving, or screen printing in the Lexington, KY area look them up!).  One of the ladies working there came out as he was showing me around (again) and got really close to me.  She stopped herself at the last second from actually touching me.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I thought you were someone I knew.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I told her, because it really didn’t bother me.

“You look like a lady from my church. A lady who gives me hugs every time she sees me,” the woman told me. Her glasses made her eyes look really big and  her grin was infectious.

“Well,” I said, “I like to give people hugs. Would you like me to hug you?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, and then we hugged. It was simple.

That’s something I love about Erik’s people. They can ask for what they need if we’ll just listen. More importantly, Erik and people like him, make me feel special because they see me and my brokenness and they meet me halfway with their brokenness and they ask for hugs or high fives or gift me with shy smiles. There’s no pomp and circumstance involved. None. It’s beautiful and easy.

Being special is the best.

 

I think we’re all special.

 

I think you’re special.

So let’s go out into the world as our limited, broken selves and extend grace to our fellow limited, broken humans.

 

Be brave, misfits, and be special.