Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hello, Love

[January 18, 2009...
...After a late-afternoon stroll along the West Pier... Fingal, Ireland... next to the Howth Train Station...]

We only duck inside the pub to wait out the driving rain. And wait for the next train, not due for another 36 minutes.

And you know those apps you can download and then listen to the pre-recorded cacophony of a coffee shop or cafeteria at lunch time? Is there one with a jazzy nightclub ambiance, too? Well, sort of like that. But not.

Sultry warmth embraces us as we step across the threshold. A few people nod and smile at us as they tip back a gulp of dark ale. Wood pops and crackles in a brick fireplace at the end of the room.

And it takes you back a bit... when all your senses are enveloped by lyrical dialogue and the aromas of wool and old wood and a hint of stew simmering on the stove. It gives pause because it's all really real, but it feels as though you've stumbled onto the set of a movie.

Every seat is taken and there's a gentleman leaning against the brick wall at the end of the bar. He crosses his foot over the other as he chuckles loudly with the man sitting on a stool nearby.

LeRoy and the children wait near the doorway. I'm supposed to peek around the corner to see if there are any empty seats, but I'm so utterly caught up in the romance of the moment that I nearly forget my errand. A waitress carrying two empty pint-sized glasses on a tray stops to ask how she can help. We're looking for hot drinks to warm up while we wait for our train, I tell her.

"Ah!" she nods. "Order at the bar, Love. The tables are for ordering food."

They do this, you know. In England and Ireland. They call complete strangers Love.

And why not? Why don't we all call each other Love? After all, it's the very character of Whose Image we're made in.

And why not let it be the expectation... of ourselves... of others?

To see through Love's eyes...

Hey, Brandon, tell us more? Let me get you a warm-up on your coffee while you share that journey... the one in which you sang lyrics, asking Love to give you His eyes to see the things you kept missing... *

yeh, I'm listening. Cuz all this... these moments in which I'm enraptured by the ambient candlelight and lilting accents and filled with love for humanity... cuz, really, it's not that hard to love when you're called Love... right?

Come to think of it, sitting here in my office, 1,334 kilometers from the charm of that seaside village, a pile of papers on my desk, and a cranky radiator that only heats halfway, it's still easy to love. Our lives are brimming with people who love audaciously, far out of their comfort zones. Some of them bear wounds that would easily justify any bitterness or resentment. And yet...

They operate out of deep conviction, a solidarity as they follow the One Who calls them Beloved.

I'm with you, Brandon. Pleading with Spirit not to let me grow indifferent to the broken-hearted.

So, I'll keep taking my cue from the strangers who call me Love.

And the friends around me who love deeply and profoundly -- the ones who have a way of causing you to feel like you're the most important person in the world when you walk in the room.

And from the One Who declares that I shall be called Hephzibah -- My delight is in Her.**

Hello, Love.

*Reference taken from Brandon Heath's song, Give Me Your Eyes.
"Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see"

**Isaiah 62:4

Counting blessings...
290. A whole blessed afternoon alone with my beloved...

291. ...while the children help teach a belay class at the climbing wall.

292. The breakfast of fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, and orange juice that LeRoy made for our family this morning.

293. The grace gift that Israel gave our family... how she stayed up past midnight cleaning a kitchen that was left a disaster from "eating and running."

294. Getting to hear LeRoy's insights, passion, and inspiration from the book he's reading, The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken.

295. Seeing a friend at Dance Blast who I haven't shared life with in way too long and exchanging a snippet of newsy chit chat with the foreshadowing of a longer visit later.

296. Israel's comment, "I just love those children in that family! The older brother is so kind to his baby sister! I really want to get to know their parents better."

Friday, September 4, 2015


From a blog I started last year... wrote one post... and then never returned (except once in April when I went back and edited the post I wrote when I started the blog originally):

One letter. Word. Sentence. The tumbling and rolling into a lyrical life.  
Create a story.

Your story. 
Breathe in. Exhale. 
I can hear the ticking of the clock. The seconds rolling into minutes until they all tumble into the stack we call a day. 
The fibers of my being are comfortable. I live in Average Land where life is convenient, entertaining, secure. It's recliner chair cozy. 
And for all this, I'm grateful. Beyond grateful. So much so that I could simply curl up with my cup of tea and a good book and wile away the hours. Is this livin' the dream? I think it is. 
As I type this, my family is still asleep. For this moment at least, the universe revolves around me. 
So I sit down at the laptop, pull up my inbox on the screen, and there... there's something about an earthquake? They're asking for help. For relief. 
It is reported that thousands are expected dead. The devastation came while  we ate dinner with friends last night and I lamented that the spaghetti turned out a bit dry because the ratio of pasta to sauce went awry. And I apologized for not having a salad to serve with the meal. 
365 days. The annual reports and goals and all that we have to resolve in the span of 525,600 minutes. 
Comfortable is not the same as fulfilled. The game changes if we want to go to that level of living.  
It's no longer a recliner chair mentality. It'll require something more. A lot of something more. 
The words and sentences change. The story tells differently. The world tilts on it's axis and my breath catches while my feet find their footing in the shift from comfortable to stepping into the tension.

Originally posted on 365 Days to Health and Wealth. Ha! A blog I started in Autumn of 2014... approximately 365 days ago. And then I got scared. So I frittered away the seconds while playing small. Safe.

Bah, humbug to change and breaking out of bondage and challenging the status quo. It's too hard, I told myself, settling back in my recliner with my hot fudge ice cream and books about other's lives.

Earthquakes shake and wild fires rage. Time and cadence usher in Independence Day fireworks. Customers stand in line for a minimum of two hours at the newly opened Southern chicken restaurant here on the military base. The movie Ant-Man grossed over $57 million in it's opening weekend. They're always looking for more volunteers in the nursery and school age room at church every weekend. Back-to-school sales start (where I meant to pick up packs of lined paper for 11 cents...). And the latest movie by the Kendrick brothers, War Room, brought in over $11 million its opening weekend.

Random. Like the boy pedaling his bicycle hard in the African heat, carrying cases of Coca-Cola from the city out to the villages in the Bush. This while in a conversation about women who die during childbirth because it's too far to walk to the nearest clinic.

And it can all get a bit daunting. So I second guess a 365-Day project of surrender because it most likely means the hard work of discipline and consistency. Of training on the days I'm not in the mood. And it holds all the possibility of vulnerability. Transparency. And all those other ideals I would much rather talk about than live out.

We're dreaming big ridiculous dreams around here. But I tell ya what, the risks and challenges and obstacles...

Is it just me? Or does everyone get afraid when chasing after dreams that are entirely possible?

Like today when I had a meltdown smack dab in the middle of a rather productive writing stint. On an awesome 4-day track record of saying no to unhealthy and yes to premium fuel for my body. When suddenly I went on some irrational binge to waste time and make chocolate chip cookies, eating cookie dough by the spoonfuls. Yeah, that there.

I read this morning where Jesus tells Simon Peter to let down the nets. Except, Simon and his buddies were out fishing all night and... well, I should just let him tell it himself, "'Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.'" (emphasis mine)

They did.

Caught so many fish that they called to their friends to bring their boat and help haul in the catch.

Both boats started to sink under the weight of the fish.

When they got back to shore... "So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him." (Luke 5:1-11)

I relate to Simon Peter's little explanation where he implies that it's ridiculous to let down the nets. I can hear the weariness in his voice. After all, who can blame him? They toiled all night and caught nothing.

Lord, they're saying it's thousands who've been affected by the earthquake. It's more trendy to wait in line for chicken and watch movies based on fantastical protagonists. And besides, I'm only one person. What can I possibly do to improve living conditions in developing countries? And the people right here in my little sphere of influence? Heh. They're good. They'll let me know if something comes up.


And I can hear Mary's voice, "Do whatever He says," as the party-goers are unaware that the wine has just run out, but the best is yet to come.

Fulfillment comes at a cost.


There's more.

No more Recliner Chair "faith."

In theory, I'm a risk-taker. Time to experiment with those theories. Though the boats were laden with fish, they didn't sink. "...when they had brought their boats to land..."

     "...they forsook all..."

beep - - - beep... (I hear the trace of a flat line getting it's beat back...)

          "...and followed Him." beep-beep-beep...

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.