Monday, August 3, 2015

Question For You

"Right now, if you could be anywhere, doing anything, with anyone, where would you be, what would you be doing, and who would you be with?"

I used to ask this question a lot. You know me... I'm a lost cause when it comes to being a Possibilitarian. Questions that are loaded with possibility stretch me and call me out of complacency. They clean my perception filters of stuckness gunk and give me the grace-gift of gratitude. Entertaining possibilities lurches me forward into the romance of the present moment.

This morning, I was feeling overwhelmed with all the epic (truly epic, I promise I'm not using that word lightly) goals and "finish"lines for this month. And, that question came to mind.

Now, again, I must reiterate, the question isn't meant to provoke murmuring or complaining. Ugh. Talk about a possibility-eraser. There's just something whimsical and romantic about dreaming of what could be... that inevitably reveals the miracle right where I am.

One of my mentors gave me sage advice: Do all that you can with all that you already have. For me, dreaming outside the lines opens my eyes to the poetry of the present. Ah! So that's what I can do with (fill in what you already have) ________! It helps me re-purpose an otherwise ordinary moment into... well, dreamy.

So. To answer my own question...  (and then I'd love to hear your answer!)...

There's this quaint little hair salon in the Piazza di Santa Maria in the Trastevere Neighborhood in Rome. I would love to be at this corner salon getting my hair cut and colored by the owner Fabio or any one of his talented stylists.

Oh, by the way, there are two ways to consider possibilities: 1) based on a previous experience or something you read or heard about, and 2) something completely out of your imagination. (Think, Middle Earth and Sindarin language or phones that don't have buttons, antennas, or wires or... see what I mean?)

Anyway, today, on this particular morning, I'm more of a Reminiscent Possibilitarian than a Create-Something-New Possibilitarian.  

This morning, my hair looks like it did on the morning of June 5th, 2012.

On an otherwise ordinary day...

Visiting on the phone with my best friend, Amy, we discussed the possibility of the two of us meeting somewhere in the world to catch up and adventure together. A couple of months later, she flew up from Malawi, Africa and I flew down from Germany. We met in Rome, Italy.

Oh. my. heart. I'm telling you, my life plays out like a movie. (Yes, including "dark night of the soul" seasons that are just plain yucky. Still poetry. But yucky poetry.)

Anyway, back to the movie...

I swooned. We were in Italy. staying in an Abbey. ...with nuns who didn't speak English. And everywhere, terra cotta colors peel from the sides of buildings. Everything feels Medieval and Renaissance and art and romance. And I really, really wanted to hear Italian opera.

The first day we made our way over to the Trastevere neighborhood, the area "beyond the Tiber." With no set agenda, we meandered content. There on the corner, in Piazza di Santa Maria, (the square), Amy noticed a hair salon, took my arm, and insisted we'd take my husband up on his encouragement to pamper ourselves.

{whimsical sigh}

You know how the hairdresser always puts the drape over you, snaps it in back, and then as they run their fingers through your hair they ask, "What are we doing to your hair today?"

And... yes. Yes, I said it. The line I had wanted to say for oh-so-long. Waaaaaiiitt for it...

ohmyword, it was such a dreamy moment...

and, yes, as a matter of fact, I DID feel as though I was Audrey Hepburn!

I told Fabio, (yes, that's his name), to cut it "all off."

I mean, because surely it's exactly what princesses do when they're on a Roman Holiday!

Although we didn't talk too much with the gals as their English was limited, it was a treat to hear Fabio tell the business story of his salon, Hair Spa. Passionate and genuine, he went on to tell us about his wife and family, what he enjoyed about living in Rome, and where he recommended we visit while there. I'd definitely go back. Um... I have time this week... who wants to join me for a world-class hair stylist experience?

New hairstyles. Shared salad... with a large dollop of mozzarella. Outside seating. Coca-Cola. Such grace!

And that whole thing about seeing the miracle in the moment...

And the extravagant grace of traveling with a friend who shares a passion for people-watching, for listening. For noticing all the whimsical, poetic grace-gifts along the way...

For all the photos we captured, I noticed we didn't capture the moments where we laughed so hard that we had snot coming out our noses and tears streaming down our cheeks -- dripping from our chins! (Come to think of it, we may be posted on someone else's blog... "These two girls couldn't even breathe as they were in hysterics over who-knows-what.")

So... where would you be, what would you be doing, and who would you be with?

It's a question loaded with possibilities. It's a re-focusing question: are you doing all that you can with all that you have right now? Because... Grace satisfies with all that we need, to do all that we're called to do, in the present. And then...

Then, Grace invites us to dream and envision and step into the tension between now and what can be.

The question makes me think about the areas of my life where I have all that I need -- but I'm still holding back. To see where I need to pull triggers. To realize the power of an idea, the value of a friend insisting that we seize the moment.

In reality, I am ready for a new hairstyle. Mine is tired. I'm eagerly anticipating a change.

But then, this is the theme of our season. I'm anticipating change on many levels. In fact, I've laughed at myself a lot lately. Research shows it's better to make only one big change at a time.

I'm only changing... everything.

And you? It's your turn.

 *For the record, (and a shameless plug), I have to tell you that there's a world-class hair stylist/motivational coach/encourager/soul-nourisher on North Pines in Spokane Valley, Washington. Not only is Katrina a phenomenal hair stylist, but her passion is infectious.

You'll walk out inspired, motivated, and ready to take that next big step of faith. She's the one who taught me to put my feet on the floor each morning, stand up, and declare, "Reporting for duty, God." If you're looking for a great haircut and a little extra courage to get out of the boat... {For those of you living in the inland Northwest -- not traveling to Rome any time soon -- there's my little tip for ya!}

**By the way, I heard the most incredible, dreamy opera one morning while we were getting ready to go out for the day... I'll tell you about that, too...

Friday, July 31, 2015

Parenting Is Hard, Part 2

Please accept my sincerest apologies for implying in my last post that there's a one-size-fits-all, just follow this formula, and you, too can have children who grow up to be healthy, contributing citizens in the world. I didn't realize I stirred a pot until I received your emails filled with significant insights and questions and feedback. (It will take me a little while, but I intend to respond to every single email.) Thank you for courageously engaging in such a deeply personal topic...

I suppose if there were a "formula" I'd call it grace. Meaning, there is no formula. Only countless ways that God pours out His grace and... well, one of the most amazing grace gifts in our lives is the community that God has given us. That community...

Like the many, many days, (and nights), I dropped off my little ones at the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. This invaluable resource that serves the city of Spokane taught us that asking for help is a sign of strength (written in bold love on a sign inside their front doors). They loved and cared for our children and consistently found ways to equip us with tools for parenting and marriage... and healthy relationships in general. Both my husband and I entered into our marriage and family-life with poverty mindsets. Over the years, in spontaneous mentoring moments during drop off and pick up as well as an 18-week parenting class, we developed relationships with staff there who spoke abundance, life, encouragement and truth into our parenting journey. 

There were the moms at the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) program -- later changed to Adventures In Motherhood (AIM) -- at our home church. The once-a-month morning that I referred to as half-time in the locker room where I usually showed up feeling defeated, looking for motivation to play the second half. And how that group of moms banded together, supported, cheered, and prayed for each other so that by the time I left, well, I was re-energized, hopeful, strong to stay in the game. Yeah, Grace, for sure. 

We had our Life Group and Married Couples Night Out (MCNO) where we grew intimately aware of one another's -- and our children's -- quirks, temperaments, and habits. We valued candor and invited our friends to speak freely and honestly about blind spots in our lives. And all that truth-filled grace...

One time, our friends took all four of our children over night so that LeRoy and I could get away together. When we picked them up the next morning, our friends were exhausted. We thought it was just because we left four hyper, raucous children with them. Imagine my horror when the mom called me later to share a concern.

The evening before, after getting everyone's pajamas on, teeth brushed, and tucked into bed, her oldest ran to her, crying. After some investigation, it was discovered that one of my kiddos kept whispering threats on her child's life. Needless to say, her child was terrified and they didn't get much sleep. Well, that's charming. And when the thought crossed my mind that I might be raising an ax murderer... well, I'd be lost without the mentors who have helped me hash out and address issues throughout the years.

And there have been countless, countless times, whole seasons sometimes, when we cried out to God for a thread of hope. For an ounce of strength. For lifelines of Grace. I'll never forget the morning when, for reasons I cannot recall except that I had been battling depression for a long time, I decided that it'd be better if me and my children weren't here. I know that everyone has a "dark night of the soul" story, but even looking back on it now, it's chilling to know I entered a place so full of utter despair and hopelessness. 

But God. 

That morning, I "got my affairs in order." I cleaned my house, returned library books, and dropped a letter in the mailbox. I just had one last stop. I pulled up to my friend's house and ran up to her door to return something I'd borrowed.

And then what? If we’re being honest – and this is some pretty excruciating honesty here – you and I both know that I would probably have gone home, fed the children lunch, continued to muddle through. No one in half a right mind whose contemplated even a smidge of irrational behavior randomly stops by a friend’s house to reach out and say, “I’m stuck. Really, really stuck. As in, please remind me why it’s worth muddling through.”

While we know most people don’t do drastic things, it’s sobering to experience a flash of irrationality. To feel the depth of desperation that comes from losing a grip on that last proverbial thread of hope.

So I stopped by my friend’s house.

This is one of my people who warned me about "dropping by unannounced." That there was no telling what state she, her children, or her house would be found. All the better, I figured, my self-pity bracing for rejection which would justify wallowing deeper.

"Who is it?" she called from the other side of the door when I knocked. Then she barely cracked the door open when I told her it was me. Still in pajamas, her hair frizzed and going every which way, she squinted out at me.

"Here," I handed her the borrowed object, (a book maybe? an item of clothing one of my children borrowed from one her children?), "I just wanted to return this."

“What are you doing?” she asked me, still squinting.

As coolly as if I were telling her I was going grocery shopping, I told her I didn’t see the point in it all and that it’d be better if we weren’t here. (For reference, I now know that’s the totally lame way that someone who lacks boundaries, is bitter, and self-absorbed says, “I need a shoulder to cry on.” {sigh} …and then…)

As I turned to walk away… "Um, I think you'd better come in. I'll fix you a cup of tea." (Typing this all these many years later, I can still recall her voice, all solid grace, composed, determined. And I can’t stop the tears.) By the time I got all my children out of their car seats and we'd replaced her peaceful space with pandemonium, she had water boiling on the stove top. 

{Deep sigh of relief. Because, really… really. Spirit whispers into the depths of despair. And Grace is relentless and reckless and goes after. And in that moment when I thought I was so detached, I wasn’t.}

“Now, tell me what’s going on,” she said, pouring water over one tea bag and then another. She drizzled a teaspoon of honey and poured evaporated milk in each mug as she waited for me to talk.

And I’m telling you, these friendships… where grace lives. The transformative grace of presence. The wow-you’re-seriously-a-mess-and-I-love-you-justasyouare-in-the-emotional-wreckage-of-this-moment.

The presence of authentic community can be the grace that God uses to heal a downward spiraling soul.

It wasn’t just one cup of tea that suddenly pulled me from the muck of oppression and depression. But over the next months and years, the Grace of community, the presence of fellow sojourners – some ahead in the journey, some just a little ways behind – all those hands reaching back to help me and the ones reaching out to me for help…

“…you’ve got this. You’re not alone. Here, the path lends to relief over here. Hold my hand, don’t quit, it’s worth it.”

Grace that rolls into grace that gains strength until, suddenly I realize that I’m no longer holding onto anything but instead resting firmly in the grip of His Grace. And that I’ve been there… my children… and spouse… and all my heavy-weight agendas… for quite some time.

Heh. Yeah, for all my controlling and cajoling and fixing and fuming, Grace is this unseen yet totally tangible gift that will never, ever give up no matter how stubborn and selfish and prideful and determined I get. Grace is the pinnacle of Kindness that leads to repentance.

Those were some hard years. I stressed myself out. I took the long, painful route to learn healthy boundaries. And the control issues… ergh.

But God.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” (Ephesians 2:4)

All the moments when no amount of mucking can undo what Grace already accomplished and continues to accomplish. And all the rough edges and painful sharp corners… and how Love redeems the years the locusts have eaten… in all the quiet moments and the chaos and those gut-level-honest conversations over a cuppa grace.

I don’t presume to know what tomorrow holds. Whenever I get a compliment regarding my kiddos, I smile, say thank you… and add,

“They are doing really well.


This moment.”

Sometimes, I bite my tongue as my children and I exchange a knowing look. We know what earlier in the day was like. We know about the harsh words hurled and the heart-mending work that ensued.

We’ve endured some tough spots in our marriage and in our parenting. I know what it feels like to emerge on the other side, my heart bruised. Hopefully a little wiser.

To whisper desperate, “God, please hold tight. We’re trusting in the grip of your grace.”

Just this morning, I had a long conversation with mentors who have invested 18 years of time and money and energy into our family. He and his wife lovingly, gently, graciously shared some hard truths with us. Truths about where we’ve failed to train our children in some areas of character. They didn’t share in a shaming or even corrective tone, but in a way that was straightforward and insightful. Without causing us to feel judged, they shared direct.

The grace that characterizes these relationships – these conversations – is overwhelming. Amazing.

No matter how well things are going, we are all susceptible to sliding into a place where we find ourselves, our organizations, our families, fighting for survival. It’s a hard place. And it’s detrimental if we don’t humbly reach out and ask for help. Been there. I’m grateful that God pursues, often times His grace surrounding and strengthening us before we have the strength to reach out.

I know that I welcome the hard questions, the direct observations, the feedback. I’ve learned I’d much rather have the hard conversations, to confront ugly realities, and join forces with those in my community to solve problems than to let the whole thing go down in flames.

Yeah, there are plenty of moments in our family in which I find myself desperately encouraging the team, “Pull up! Pull up! Mayday! Mayday!” Careening toward disaster, my chest tight, I whisper the only prayer my breathing allows, “Help.”

Sometimes, our community provides a lifeline of grace many months or years earlier, shared around the dinner table when all is going well, not a notion of disaster in sight. In that space when we’re laughing together, lighthearted ideas tossed on the table when we innocently muse our ideas will be good advice for someone else. Definitely not us.

Then, blindsided. Except, somewhere in the recesses of our memory, there was that grace-gift thrown on the table for consideration. Thus was the case several months ago.

Tension and stress mounted as disrespectful attitudes and blatant dishonor went unchecked. By early afternoon, dishonor took on entitlement and self-absorption as we spiraled into an emotional tailspin. Suddenly, white-knuckled and praying desperately, I remembered one of those long-ago conversations around the table.

“What kind of a parent allows her child to act like a [jerk]?!” I yelled. (I didn’t use the word jerk. I used language I intentionally save so that it acts as a sort of defibrillator in critical moments.) “Who do you think you are to think that it’s okay to treat me or anyone for that matter with the kind of dishonor you’ve demonstrated today?”

I don’t share all these stories in an attempt to say that I know what you’re going through in your hard season. I don’t.

What I am saying, (because this is what grace-communities spoke over me)... you've got this. You're not alone.

I’ve walked beside friends who have gone (or are presently going) through their own “dark night of the soul.” Friends whose children have been suicidal, struggled with addictions, depression, and other heartbreaking trials. Their tenacious love for their child demonstrates extraordinary courage. I’ve seen them reach out for their lifelines, their community, which sometimes entails doctors and counselors and treatment facilities.

Your strength and faith and perseverance is a testimony. Just know it's okay to lean into grace. Necessary even. Because it’s the people in our lives who come alongside – sometimes inviting us in for a cup of grace – that help us through the hard.

Yeah, I dream of being a family that inspires others. A family that ministers God’s grace wherever we are. A family that leaves a legacy of faithfulness and love.

Don’t we all?

We know families like that. (God’s grace flowed through them, casting a lifeline to us during some hard, hard seasons.) They are life-giving, energizing, inspiring families that leave you feeling so loved, so covered in grace and mercy, that we’ve walked away awestruck, literally infused with courage. Even now, thinking of these families evokes audacity and vision.

It’s from these examples that I derive my passion for encouraging thriving marriages and whole families. In all their messiness and imperfection – in the midst of heartbreak – they’re still fighting to build a culture that cares deeply about people and works hard to build intimacy in relationships.

I want to fight for that, too. For community. A culture of authenticity and integrity that clings to God’s grace… and makes grace tangible. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Parenting Is Hard. Anyone?

We're dreaming crazy big around here. Perhaps that's what led me to my bed at 6:45 last night, overcome by mental and physical fatigue... why I barely remember my head touching the pillow. Ten and a half hours later, I awoke with my heart racing and my mind spinning. Oh God, I'm scared was my first thought as I lay there willing myself out from between the sheets this morning. 

Perhaps I could blame it on these four young adults being raised in our home. They're on fire. They're fearless. Innovative, creative, passionate... I'm trying desperately to keep up with them.

And regarding these four people, I have YOU to thank. I remember the day they sent us home from the hospital, our firstborn wrapped up and secured in his car seat. I recall the way the hospital personnel were sticklers about making sure we had a car seat that met regulations. That's it? I was horrified. Didn't they want to see what qualified me to train up a whole human being? Granted, would they have allowed me to leave the hospital with him if they knew how woefully unqualified I was?

Two of the most powerful words in the Bible: But God

He makes a way.  

I remember my mother-in-love telling me that parenting is one of those deeply personal subjects that most people aren't willing to let others speak into. Yet, I don't know where we'd be right now if an entire village had not come alongside us, educating my husband and I with grace and Truth and unconditional love, speaking knowledge and wisdom over our family.

I prayed for a tribe to help me raise our children. I knew the ancient African Proverb, It takes a village to raise a child. I believed it. Even Mary and Joseph had a community helping them raise the God-child. So connected and intimate were they with their community that on the return trip from Jerusalem they didn't realize Jesus was missing...

Thinking he was in their company [this is where I insert at least a thousand possible names in our community over the last 20 years], they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. ~ Luke 2:44

Here, let me give you an example of a compliment I received recently that I'd like to forward to you

"You know, my husband and I didn't want kids until we met your family. Now we want kids, but we want them to be like yours." 

Thank you... let me assure you that compliment goes to an incredibly large community. My friend continued, you'll have to let us know what you did to get the kind of kids you have. 

That's easy. I'll just introduce her to the tribe that has parented our children alongside us. To say that you've been our lifeline is a huge understatement. I'll tell her that it's critical that her and her husband allow people into their circle. No, that they invite people into their circle. And sometimes, (especially this), when she sees someone a stage or two ahead of them who has healthy, whole relationships with their children and others around them, that they passionately pursue a relationship with them. 

Take them to coffee. Invite them to dinner. Ask them questions. Listen to their counsel

And then take it a step further. Train your children to invite them over, ask questions, and listen to their counsel

On Tuesday, at Israel's [Mastermind] Book Study Group, we were on holy ground. These gals, ages 12 to 18 are a group of world changers. Israel started this group a month ago out of her passion to see her peers live with a sense of purpose and destiny. To grow in their leadership and influence. To make Jesus famous through their love to others. 

Together, they are spurring one another on in love and good works. I wish you could be a fly on the wall during their conversation. To witness their giggles of relief when they realize they all have insecurities... and then to hear them share vulnerable, their hearts laid open. To listen to their lists of what's not okay in the world and their passion to bring healing to the broken. It's a profound privilege to be able to soak in their inspiration.

And the parents of these gals... I haven't met most of them yet, but when I do... yeah, I'm inviting them over for dinner. I need to connect with other parents of world changers. With other families who are dreaming crazy big. I need to ask questions. I need to listen to their counsel. 

You know, we've been in the launch stage for the last couple of years with a 20-year old and an 18-year old (who moved back to the States three months before his 18th birthday). We're not very elegant in this season. Did I say very? I'm trying to make myself feel better by understating the mess. 

However, we're seeing massive vision and opportunity in this mess. Which is why we're excited. And scared. And we're beyond grateful for you. Thank you for dreaming with us. For speaking love and grace and Truth over us. For being our lifeline. For parenting alongside us.

Parents, and any children still living at home, we need to link arms. Let's go make Jesus famous together.

*Please hear my heart if you're a parent going through a messy season with your young adult (or young child)... it sucks. We've had some soul-crushing moments and heart-wrenching days. Weeks. Probably months, too, but I blocked them out because of the trauma. 

I'll say what you've most likely said to me at some point: Hang in there. This too shall pass. 

These relationships are worth it. And these servant-leaders growing up in our homes? They're counting on us to believe in them. To call out the greatness in them. And when we get stuck, when we can't "see the forest for the trees," let your community pour love and grace -- and vision -- into the moments.

God makes a way. You've got this, Mama. You have this, Dad.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Why I Read Weird Books to Improve My Parenting Skills

It wasn't long before I realized that reading parenting books only put limits on gaining invaluable parenting skills.

Today Israel and I were talking about all the books I read. (Again. Yes, this is an ongoing subject in our house. Though, slowly, I'm converting these five people in my world into readers. And I press on toward the high calling...) Somehow we got on the topic of what genre fills most of our shelves.

Interesting, while parenting books fill twice the number of shelves in our home, I've read mostly other genres over the past 20 years. Business and leadership. Self-help. Ministry. Military strategy. Books written by surgeons and doctors regarding the health industry. Philosophy. Autobiographies and biographies.

Of course, there's a plethora of fiction (delicious brain candy) sprinkled throughout -- though I have a long-standing policy that the fiction I read has to either 1) be on the reading list of the Book Club I'm in or 2) be recommended by a trusted source. smile.

Here's the thing, I've obsessed -- yes, I'm intentionally using that word -- over my mission of motherhood. This platform of parenthood in which I take the whole business of training and shaping the character of another human being -- yeah, it's not for the faint-hearted.

So, one of my dreams is to take the books I've read over the last 20 years and put them in condensed form.

It doesn't matter whether you're an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a receptionist, a real estate mogul, a pastor, the basic principles of leadership, performance, and success apply across the board.

Lest I leave you with the notion that we've figured this parenting thing out, let me assure you that we're very much in the trenches... we're simply inviting you to join us? As of this afternoon, we are working through several issues... yeah, I promise you, it's messy over here. But I have this burning passion for whole relationships, authentic connections, soul-deep intimacy. In marriages. In families. In friendships. In corporate settings.

In order to make this project as relevant and helpful as possible, I need your help.

  • What specific areas of (your job) parenting are your greatest challenges right now, (i.e. communication, culture, boundaries, honor, trust, etc)? 
  • If we could spend the afternoon together, what would you want to talk about? (I ask that one a lot, don't I? humble smile. I really, really want to spend the afternoon with you!) 
  • What are the most critical initiatives for your family over the next six months? 
  • When your children complain, what do they say? 
  • What do you expect of yourself this year? 
  • What does your family expect of you this year?  
Oh! To spend the afternoon with you! (The thought of it lights me up!) To discuss and brainstorm ideas, draw blueprints for implementation...