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I Had a Dream

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Right before waking up this morning, I dreamt a friend and I were standing in the middle of a four-lane road with cars flying by in either direction. We were discussing the vital importance of practicing the act of writing for 20 minutes everyday, no matter what…

And then I woke up

Prior to waking up and prior to standing in the middle of the road, where I was, incidentally, holding a vintage typewriter under one arm, I had been at a beautiful gathering of writers and journalists who were sitting at tables together, sharing and listening. [Read more…]

Practicing His Presence: The Effects of the Wind

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Woolly sheep resting in a pasture under a bent pine atop Auckland, NZ. (photo: #loneviajera)

Right now all I can hear is a wind from the north raging and whistling the sweet tiny lake cabin where we are presently staying. I’m kind of surprised my youngest hasn’t run down and jumped into bed with me yet from the ruckus…a sign he really is exhausted playing as hard as a 5 year old does. The elements have a way of carving, forming, shaping, anything that’s in its path. I’ve stood cliff side at the ocean’s edge, dared the railing at the Grand Canyon, sat above the tree line atop the Andes as the sun beat down and the winds and height made it clear no life could live at the peak too long. And we wonder, wonder why all the suffering, why all the pain and erosion? We raise our fists to the sky, maybe to the God some don’t even believe in, but whose fault it surely is for all the agony, and no answers come, at least not ones some may care to hear. It’s amazing houses withstand northeasters, but more miraculous is the beating a tree may take day after day after day. And it’s a variety of trees, too, not just those rooted down deeply. On the shores of warm beaches spanning the globe, shallow rooted palms sustain gale force winds regularly. And some days they don’t. Some storms are weathered by all sorts of trees with all sorts of root systems on any given day. And then, one day, whether it was a storm or just the specific day and time established, it was the one, the one where the uprooting determined the final number of rings to be counted. Therefore I don’t wonder. Well, I do if we think of the word wonder in a way that conjures up awe and continued pursuit and a life of curiosity, but not “wonder” in a despairing way, because we are all only here as long as we are here. Only alive hearts feel the stretch, ache, and deep pain of being bent low in the path of the screaming wind. But the elasticity with which we are made, the brilliance and endurance with which we were created, resurrects us to our original design, rising tall, again, on our firm foundation.

(*This morning I only had 10 minutes to write, so often I just don’t because it doesn’t seem like enough time to finish a thought. But I followed the cheering and advice of my writer friends and put my butt in the chair (I stayed in bed and pulled the laptop in…) and sat with my eyes closed and my fingers on the keyboard, and this is what came of it. There are links to other posts I’ve written like this if you follow the tag: Practicing His Presence.)

Who is Invited to the Table?

A year ago when we sold our house and stuff and embarked on this journey as The Graveswolds, God put two words on my heart: GATHER and TABLE. I said, “Really, Lord!? You are teaching us about hospitality, but we don’t even have a house OR A TABLE?!”

And He said, “You don’t need those to experience hospitality. Wherever you go, gather around tables with friends and strangers and break bread. Share your hearts and listen to those gathered. Do this often. This is Kingdom Come. This is the work of peacemaking.”

I’m sorry I haven’t spoken up sooner, at least not in my writings or a more formal venue. I honestly thought my voice and heart didn’t matter on a scale other than loving others and practicing peacemaking in the day to day.

I’ve rethought that a bit…and my voice and heart matter big time, just as much as yours!

I’ve grappled with these feelings, and a deep down knowing, for likely my whole life. The last several years they have resurrected, and too many “coincidences” and gut feelings have “fallen into place.” When I was a kid growing up in Arizona, there were reminders everyday, but since life seemed peaceable, I wasn’t sure what to do with how I felt or the things I wondered. It just was what it was and life kept going…my life kept going, at least.

Specifically, these feelings resurfaced when I found myself in Auckland, New Zealand and Australia, last year on holiday, and again, just a few weeks ago. I walked the streets freely, my accent the only thing distinguishing me from the locals at first glance, and that, only if I used my voice. I sat stunned on a park bench one day, overlooking the bustle, watching the swells of people, diverse, colorful and living, thinking of tensions around the world and back home on American soil. And I can’t say it any other way as I thought,

“Holy shit! Some Europeans just went all over the whole freaking world and started ‘discovering’ other places to live, in spite of whoever lived there first…”

Not only that, they swung by Africa and other countries and continents to do a little “shopping” on their way there, for a “workforce” to make their dreams come true. What the what?! #$%^&*?

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A bumper sticker on the back of a car we saw while recently in Australia.

As a kid, celebrating Thanksgiving and learning about the earlier days of the “discovery of the New World” and the founding of the United States, my young heart wrestled with some key, un-ignorable logistics.

Wait…people were already here, so really, did Columbus ‘discover’ a New World?”

I remember a commercial with a Native American chief atop his beautiful horse, overlooking pollution, a tear streaming down his cheek, and my guts hurt. Every single day of high school, and then some, I drove across an Indian “Reservation,” past government-issued housing, to get from my custom home to classes and activities. I pondered, too, the very real possibility that maybe some of my German blood could have been traced to the brutally hateful side of things in the world wars, but hoped they had sheltered or helped, and seen the deception, instead of the devastating alternative. I wondered if any of my earlier Stateside relatives had befriended Natives or rallied for or against slavery in America’s history, or civil rights, which crowd they followed, or if they blazed trails of healing instead. I hoped distant relatives had loved well as much as it depended on them…

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Me, circa 1977, leaning against our house that was an old hunting lodge my parents remodeled, along the banks of the Maumee River in Ohio.

 

I am a vanilla white, mixed breed American girl, born and raised in the United States. From word of mouth, as well as DNA testing, my bloodline includes: German, French, Swiss, English, Irish, Scottish, early Egyptian Jew, and 2.67% caveman… (“23andme” is an interesting way to learn about genetics from a medical standpoint, as well as an historical one). These things don’t define me, but they are part of who I am today, no matter how far removed I am from them.

My family moved to Arizona in 1978 to be closer to relatives. Had my family personally removed the Natives from the Phoenix metro in order to move there? No. We didn’t. We simply moved into the neighborhood, just as we had on the riverbanks of Ohio where we found exquisite Native tools and arrowheads, and, as an adult, I’m aware of this now, mindful of this, conscious of the fragmented reality that my freedom to move about wherever I want, to vacation to the ends of the earth, to drive and fly here and there, have come at a cost.

I’m a peacemaker. Why were there battles in the first place? And if someone “won”, that means others lost, and I don’t really think we have “enemies” since our battle is not with flesh and blood, soooooo, what does that really entail? What happens to the “losers?” Is there a better way to do all this? Is anyone actually speaking to each other or are WE all just pulling weapons on one another, pointing fingers, erecting walls, or corralling people into segregated groups, heaping label after label after stereotypical label on each other?

One thing I know…we have hurt one another. WE. There is no “us” or “them” but WE. And WE belong to each other. WE are a family of humans who cannot choose the members. WE ARE FAMILY. But this God-breathed human family is hurting. We may not have family trees to point a finger at who the bad relatives were versus the good ones, but the human family has a common trunk in the Tree of Life and the breath of God, and somewhere in the Garden WE began distinguishing, deciding, and judging between each other rather than belonging to each other.

I’m from a mixed bag of a lot of history…none of us knows all the specifics on how our blood has been woven into this world’s pain. I know I’m not a racist, nor do I have ill will towards anyone, but the reality is, not knowing what to do about the broken system doesn’t bring healing if I don’t do anything at all. If I’m going to be completely honest with you and myself, I can hope and wish and pray all I want that my ancestors were trailblazers of peace, but here I am today, comfortable in society in 2015 while heartache abounds on every side, so there’s been a breakdown somewhere along the line.

It’s not a matter of pointing fingers…we all have logs in our own eyes. WE have ALL hurt someone at some point, just as WE have all been hurt. Instead, it’s simply saying, “I am sorry. And I forgive you. I’m responsible for my life and actions and how I see and treat others. Help me understand…will you please tell me your story?”

I think TODAY is as good a day as any to start trailblazing peace and love. It starts with US…you and me. WE must stop waiting on systems to clean up the messes of our ancestors, no matter the color of our skin or our dark histories. Our SOULS run deeper than systems. We each must take responsibility for loving others well. Our present state of being is not without context.

The quote at Hemingway's in Manly Bay, Australia, the night I met a friend for dinner.

The quote at Hemingway’s in Manly Bay, Australia, the night I met a friend for dinner.

Have you ever heard the statement, “Can’t we all just get along?” Some people don’t believe it’s possible, but WHAT IF we tried? “Getting along” doesn’t mean everyone is best friends or believes the same things or even shares all the same interests, but it does imply seeking the good of all people, as long as it depends on each of us. At a table, we are compelled to sit with others and look into another persons’ eyes, to really SEE them and HEAR them and seek to KNOW them.

In this beautiful, bustling, broken, and hectic world, I believe there’s been a breakdown in making peace over time. We are naive to believe ALL the Native Americans and ALL the Pilgrims sat around that first Thanksgiving table…or that just because the lunch counters didn’t have dividers anymore that all the white guys saddled up next to the black guys for biscuits and gravy…or that within our own families, certain relatives were ever even on the guest list. Perhaps mealtime got interrupted, was hurried, or became all about the food and not about who was gathered there to share stories and break bread?

I’m a simple girl…idealistic, but unabashedly hopeful. As long as it depends on me, God has given me a glimpse of my life’s work and it’s to live and breathe peacemaking, everyday. I don’t know all the details of how it will work or look, but Someone modeled Love for me many years ago and it looked a lot like gathering around tables, breaking bread, and sharing stories.

 

Maybe the basic act of breaking bread together again
is where everyday peacemaking must begin?”

Moses Wasn’t Worried About His Prostate…

…and other life concerns.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about Moses’ prostate, mostly, how it’s never really mentioned or addressed in scripture. And I was thinking about how aspects of media, social media, the internet, news, and television, have created a sense of “awareness” and even “community,” yet, at the same time, it’s so much awareness and connectedness, so much information, about everywhere and everyone, it borders overwhelming and spread too thin, raising the question, “What can I do?”

It’s SO much to take in, vast and expansive…so many exquisite stories, 7 billion approximately, and all hold beauty and tragedy, life and death, every one pertinent, worthy, valuable. Behind every story, way deep down, is a soul, hand-crafted and God-designed, we aren’t just stories on the news. While 7 billion individuals seems like a lot, seen as a whole, it’s just one…all part of one family, made up of many parts. (The part about how we can’t choose our family members is another post…)

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So, then I was thinking about how big a task Moses had in leading the Israelites out of Egypt, so he kind of needed to be focused on the thing at hand. See, at the time Moses was carrying out the task of leading the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt, he wasn’t scrolling Twitter or Facebook or World News, seeing all the other incredibly important causes or events around his country or on the other continents, or tweets about non-things like red cup outrage, or checking his calendar to make sure he was making his bi-annual prostate check-ups.

He just did the thing…the thing he was called to do.

Same with Joan of Arc, I mean, she changed the future and course of France from when she was 13 until she died at the stake at the age of 19, so hadn’t even qualified for a mammogram yet and likely hadn’t even had a PAP test…she wasn’t watching World News, distraught by the plights of peoples world wide, or even so crippled by the entirety of the war ravaging her country, but she just did the thing, right there, where she lived, within her community, and this little old 13 year old rocked history, unaware of the totality of it.

Then I was imagining all the amazing women I know and don’t know all over the world and picturing them with huge love in their hearts and God’s assurance of grace and might over their lives, and my heart swelled…

OH, the impact!

OH, the beauty!

OH, the power when women simply say, “Yes” and “Let’s do this…” and the ripple effects…oh, the ripple effects!

OH, the lasting effects of collaboration and focusing on THE THING! A THING! ONE THING!

These could be men, or boys, or girls, no matter the age, background, credentials, or training…but either way, seriously…the impact!

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And then I look at my phone, email, social media or have a doctor’s appointment about a lump, or think about water in other countries or stories of women, or glance at our family calendar, or remember I need to pack for an upcoming trip or send a note to a loved one or pray for 7 friends with cancer or friends fighting for their marriages or for adoptions or try to remember if today is a no-carb day or a free day or if I actually should fast or plan a date night to always stay engaged rather than “just married”…and there are so many real things that matter. So many. And all important.

…then I look in the mirror and see myself, alone with only my head and heart and hands, and get overwhelmed because the worst thing happens…paralysis…loss of feeling, action, direction, purpose. I have no illusions I’m Moses or Jesus or Santa or all the amazing women all over the world, so then I wonder what my point is, how I can make any sort of impact or difference in the world…like, why am I here and what is the point of me and there’s just so much pain to heal…

See, our battle isn’t against flesh and blood. The red cup thing that wasn’t really a thing, was actually, INDEED, a thing, because the truth is, it was a petty opportunity to distract HUMANS from THE THING of loving EACH OTHER, no matter what we believe. It was an attempt to get us pointing fingers instead of turning our palms up and offering a hand, reaching for one another. It was symbolic of all the things that can easily divert us from loving well, in spite of our messes. Until we stop delineating between who is more deserving of our rallying, our generosity, our listening ears, empathetic open arms, but mostly, God’s unconditional love, we are still missing it. Do I really believe every single one of the Israelites that Moses led out of slavery was nice and always behaving or someone I’d agree with on every issue? There’s no way, just like “God so loved the world that He sent His Son…” wasn’t just for the ones on their best behavior.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. In fact, the less I claim to know, the more free I feel to be faithful with the small thing right in front of me. However, that only comes when I’m not stuck in a rut of paralysis, looking around, some days wishing my “just do the thing” was an organized, structured, approved-of, sponsored, official “thing.”

I don’t think I’m called to any Moses-scale operations, but I, like you, am called to avoid the distractions and be mindful of the one thing it all boils down to: practicing extravagant, unconditional, day-to-day, for everybody, kind of LOVE.

(images courtesy of pixabay free photos)

It’s The Smallest Gestures

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Did you know that in South Dakota, USA, drivers on rural roads wave to one another? They greet each other on the approach, essentially saying, “Hello! I see you…have a good day!”

The gesture is friendly and reminds me how we are all connected and share a desire to belong. It reminds me how we are part of a bigger family, a big, beautiful, diverse one that’s messy and dysfunctional all at the same time.

I’ve adopted the wave even outside rural settings, kind of like a smile to a stranger on a sidewalk, or a simple “hi!” to a fellow human at the store. I even like to wink, so I hope someone doesn’t take it the wrong way…Anyway, it’s easy for me to be busy and focused, determined to cross off my “to-do” lists in an attempt to feel a sense of accomplishment on any given day. But this one-finger wave, or two on the days I’m coordinated, allows for connection and acknowledgement, on the road to wherever it is we are going. It’s more like, “Hello! I see you…I wish you well…Godspeed.”

Clearly I read a lot into things. My counselor says I am a “highly cognitive thinker”…it’s the empathizer and peacemaker in me, wanting to connect all the dots, making sense of the non-sensical, hoping there is a reason or purpose in the day to day, knowing deep down in my heart how much God is in love with every one of us…when we strip everything down and see each other as souls created in God’s image, kindness to a “stranger” driving by, someone we may never meet, may go farther than we might imagine with a simple flick of the wrist. Love can be spread in a zillion subtle ways.

The locals don’t wait to see if I know the wave or not, they just wave because it’s their practice, their nature…and as I “reply,” as modeled in the picture above, I’ve come to feel a sense of belonging…crazy how in a place that’s so freaking cold, I can feel warm and invited. 

“Christians” Need To Stop Talking

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Stop talking.

Stop talking.

Shhhhh.

Stop.

Zip. Shhhh, shhhh, shhhhhhh.

Please. Stop talking…

Stop boycotting stuff because people believe different things than you.
Stop quitting clubs and making your own clubs.
Stop telling others to boycott things you want to boycott so you won’t be alone in your stand against evil.
Stop using the word “Christian” while making blanket statements and actions for the rest of us.

Let’s read the book of Daniel.

Let’s all just stop talking and start implementing and practicing love…practicing empathy…putting into practice the lifestyle Jesus modeled…one that went something like: loving the whole world, no exceptions.

In the world, not of the world, but love the world.

“Love our neighbor…”

Stop talking about quitting Starbucks® because they ditched the dove for the holidays, because it’s not even a thing, and because we all know you aren’t going to, because, well, it’s your cliche schtick, so you can’t, anyway…plus, the lady in accounting at Caribou® corporate likes “Moonlight Path” by Bath and Body®, the guy in shipping at Gloria Jean’s® eats his guacamole with GMO corn chips from Tostitos®, the CEO’s assistant at Peet’s® is a lesbian who wears Avon® and incidentally has breast cancer, the guy in marketing at Lavazza® donates his time to freeing slaves in foreign countries where they worship idols, the social media girl from Dunkin’Donuts® always posts pictures of her cats and we all know real Christians like dogs because G-O-D and D-O-G, the people in the village where your beans were harvested practice voodoo, and then there’s the barista at Tim Hortons!® whose great, great, great, great, granddaddy started Macy’s® so you can’t watch the parade now, either…

Besides…are you kidding? “Red cup?” It’s kind of brilliant. Like, at a party, Red Cup™, get it? But that’s maybe the point? Maybe Solo® really should get some royalties for the inspiration?

“Love our neighbor…”

So, there aren’t any other options…unless, of course, you have one of those thing-a-ma-jiggers, oh…what are they? Let’s see, they are these things that make coffee for us right at home…oh, yeah, coffee makers. And there we can choose our very own mug…it’s crazy stuff. Oh, and, since none of the alternative coffee chains will suffice, all the money saved can be applied to a community service project or family mission trip, instead. But only get the coffee makers and beans and filters and mugs from, well, sources where you know every. single. one. of the beliefs of every employee.

Stop talking and read the book of Daniel and look at the life he lived.

We are all connected, we belong to each other, like 6 degrees from Kevin Bacon, but much more personal…and we need to learn how to get along and love, love, love.

“By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”

Listen, boycotting World Vision International and dropping the child sponsorship of 10,000 children in devastating living situations around the world because you differed on views about homosexuality speaks volumes…in fact, it’s so loud, the children and I can’t quite make out the message you were trying to send…except that “Christians” eat their own.

“By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”

There are 7 billion people on earth, all created in God’s image, uniquely designed for a display of His creative love and artistic work, some don’t believe this yet, but loving them well as Christ instructed will reveal it. There is no way we will ever all believe the exact same things about every single thing…so, I mean, that’s fine if you want to boycott such and such a company because of certain core values you don’t share and support other organizations with your monetary investment, but then it’s probable you’ll need to boycott every. single. organization and product on the face of the entire earth because if we get really into it, and dig deep enough, we may just discover that someone in accounting at your favorite “Christian” store has a cousin who is your barber’s sister’s husband’s best friend’s daughter and she said, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” to a patron at Starbucks the other day when she handed them their plain old red cuppa joe.

Seriously. Let’s stop talking.

And let’s start doing THE THING.

LOVING. LOVING EACH OTHER IS THE THING.

“By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”

 

LORD JESUS, PLEASE FIND US DOING THE THING…

Here Goes Nothing…

First of all, thank you guys for all the encouraging feedback, cheering me on to write. Don’t get me wrong. I love writing, but the practice of writing is something I’ve been out of for quite some time. This challenge came to me from some new friends in a blogging workshop I’m taking. There are no guidelines as to how content makes it onto a page each day, the gist of the exercise is just that: to exercise, to practice, to make writing daily intention. Today is my first day and my intention is to write each morning for that particular day, but I foresee some days when I may be able to write a few pieces or go through my drafted archives, clean things up a bit, and bring life to those. Honestly, I’m writing this paragraph just to get warmed up and I know it was boring to read.

I’m actually just typing stuff right now because, I kid you not, the moment I made my entry into the group official, my brain went blank.

Nothing. Nothing except writer’s block…deer in the headlights.

A friend from California texted me yesterday, asking about the challenge, mulling over if this is a good time to start the blog she’s always wanted to write. I told her how I had suddenly developed writer’s block.

“Write about writer’s block,” said the girl who’s been talking about starting a blog for years.

Then this is what the rest of our conversation looked like:

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So, apparently I may write about cults during this challenge, too, who knows?

It hit me last night that the last time I wrote for 31 days in a row, it was while our son, Noah, was in the hospital. I had a lot more time in my life to sit and ponder way back then…and some of the entries of the next 31 days were birthed even back then.

I almost quit this whole challenge and blogging thing altogether yesterday. I’m not kidding. I’ve thought about hanging it up for probably 5 of the last 9 years, not every day, but many times…more on that in another post…

Let me ask you this…Have you ever felt so passionately about something, but the details it would take to make the thing happen seem insurmountable and aren’t even part of your scope of capability, so you wonder if it’s worth the time and energy? For example, I have a couple of friends who are doctors who started their own practices. Their hearts and gifts to heal people are spot-on, totally God-given, but the paper work that goes along with owning their own businesses near suffocates them at times.

That’s how I’ve felt about blogging…I LOVE it! I fell in love with authentic, candid writing in the last thought of sacred place ever. Noah’s hospital room was the safest and most vulnerable space for my heart, yet it felt right and the words began to flow out of me. His life and death brought about a sort of resurrection to the kind of writing I had once loved before I BS’d my way through high school and college papers simply for grades.

The practice of writing became a rhythm and it felt wonderful, but I could have done that in a Word document or a journal.

But blogging? Oh, you guys, blogging was interactive, there were other people who would show up, share their guts, as well, say, “ME, TOO!” or “I totally disagree but would love to discuss…” and my heart would swell. It was LIVE and RAW and UNFILTERED and suddenly I realized the things that went through my mind and onto the screen also connected to the hearts of real people on literally every single continent. And for a middle child who loves it when everyone shows up and gets along, it was epically mind blowing! The problem is, even though people would comment and share a bit of their lives, I, true story, didn’t know how to reply to them unless via a personal email. There was no “reply” button back in the olden days of blog world, at least not the way mine had been set up initially. And it got overwhelming. One. Little. Button. Had so much power to discourage me.

I’m telling you, I’ve written on a blog for 9 years now, but I’ve never known HOW to blog.

Then blogs were lighting up everywhere and there were great places where people could gather and interact and show up to laugh and cry and encourage and challenge one another. It was cool and weird at the same time to be able to connect to breathing humans in other parts of the country and world. I mean, I was born in 1972…to connect with people we used to walk next door and knock and ask, “Can Stacey come out and play?” I was working and writing through my grief, finding healing with each word I’d crank out, but I started listening to lies in my head, like, “Well, Noah’s dead so no one’s going to want to read here anymore. There are plenty of awesome other women who are a ton more fun and encouraging on the Web right now…you’re too raw and brassy…opinionated and loud…” And, to be perfectly honest, it was a battle in both directions: it wasn’t the attention the blog drew, it was the potential interaction with souls all over the world, and I wanted to care for and nurture and encourage ALL OF THEM, but I mostly wanted to sit crossed legged on a couch side by side or fall on our faces together on the floor and cry, but tangibly. And on the other side, some people would email me or comment and say, “Adrienne, you haven’t written in a couple of days (*I had written several times a day for 5 1/2 months while Noah was hospitalized.) and I come here to your blog to read it as a devotional.”

So, in my stubbornness, I pulled away from writing regularly. Seriously. A healing outlet where I found oxygen again, I pulled away out of stubbornness because of a couple comments, meant to be encouraging, like, “Adrienne, thanks for all you’ve written here…it’s come to be a place of refuge and quiet for me every day.” That I instead read, “Adrienne, you need to be more consistent. I’m addicted to this reality show you are living and you are messing with my programming.”

Jacked, right? I know. Though there could have been truth in either interpretation.

So, what the heck am I trying to say in this way too long post and why am I doing this exercise of writing? Well, a friend on Facebook who was a student at the college where I used to work mentioned me in a comment one day. I clicked on her link and saw the beautiful Jen Hatmaker’s mug shot on the screen where she pitched, without kickbacks, a very convincing few paragraphs of how, “there’s room for everyone at the table, how if you’ve ever wanted to blog or have blogged but were clumsy at it, there was this workshop by this guy who was brilliant and a smarty-pants, a way to take the drudgery out of blogging by learning some key things which would pay the likely returns of JOY in the process”…or something to that effect.

And I cried. I cried and read every word on the first sample lesson.

What? Jen Hatmaker thinks there’s room for everyone? Even me?

But seriously, even more, I have said to Jason a zillion times, “Sweetheart, I just want to write. Is there such a thing as me just writing and the technical stuff took care of itself? Like, someone could just show me how to do the actual act of blogging and then I’d just be able to freaking do it!”

So, here I am. And I’m no longer believing the lies there isn’t room for me just because I may not fit a mold, because it’s one of my own soapboxes:

WE ALL HAVE A STORY AND THERE’S ROOM FOR ALL OF US.

A Series: Practicing His Presence

(I am working on listening to God, sitting with Him, closing my eyes and opening my heart to whatever I sense He is saying to me, and then hopefully putting into practice, if you will, the life He downloads into me. My series, “Practicing His Presence” comes from the title of a book called, “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite monk, who sought to be more mindfully aware of God’s presence in the day to day. Personally, the way I do it as it pertains to writing is set a timer for 5 minutes, sit with my eyes closed at the computer, and type whatever comes to my heart. A theme this year has been His Garden. Often times He’ll remind me of what occurred there and how Jesus renewed the kind of intimacy Adam and Eve had with God, one totally open and completely counter to the way modern practice of religion teaches. Here’s a glimpse of what came today…)

Breathe deep. Stop. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale again. Listen. Watch. Observe. Can you hear My voice? Each moment is a gift, something to open and delight in, to be aware of. I have given you good things. I said it was so. And I’ve modeled this for you, a lifestyle of creating GOOD wherever you go, with whomever you encounter, those I’ve entrusted into your care, those you know in your neighborhood, at work, those you see on the streets. Every single one. Share what you’ve learned from My example…give GOOD away at every opportunity. Make opportunities. Find them. Gather people and share the GOOD. Every person I’ve created in My image, though not everyone knows or believes this, lives it presently, nor gives out the GOOD I’ve created in them to give away. They’ve been overcome by discouragement, hurt at the hands and words of others, darkened by the darkness waiting to envelop any and all of you at any given moment. Your mission isn’t to wield your opinions or rules or religious regulations at one another. Your mission isn’t AT each other, it’s TO each other. Your mission is LOVE, GOOD news, Christ in ALL of you, the hope of glory. Give GOOD away. It’s been freely given to you. It’s not up to you to decide who receives it…I’ve decided that already, and it’s for everyone…so give it away to all you meet…and give GOOD to the one in the mirror, as well.

The Stories Behind the Buzz

Today I shaved my head. Let me rephrase that, first I put it into two high pig tails and let Emily and her best friend, Sunny the daughter of one of my dear friends, cut them off to donate. But the reason for the cut wasn’t to donate. Then we had a bit of fun, because when you cut two pig tails off, well, you get a really bad mullet…almost Pat Benatar, but not as rockin’. After the pseudo mullet-mohawk phase, the beautiful Bina, our babysitter and Em’s big sister from another mother, stepped in with the 1″ clip and cleaned it up around the sides so we could see what a sorta-pixie would look like. From there I let all three of the girls have their turn at trimming here and there, just cuz, why not? And finally, I went to town with the 1/8″ clip and loved every minute of it.

I sent this "before" to Jason who is in Taiwan right now for his job with World Vision. He fully supported my choice. Come to find out, he's always had a crush on Sinead O'Connor, so now I know why he was so supportive... ;)

I sent this “before” to Jason who is in Taiwan right now for his job with World Vision. He fully supported my choice. Come to find out, he’s always had a crush on Sinead O’Connor, so now I know why he was so supportive… ;)

IMG_1770

Here are the hair bandits after the first cuts.

Super bad rat tail, mullet type situation...post pig tail chopping.

Super bad rat tail, mullet type situation…post pig tail chopping.

 

Here we cleaned it up so I could be just like the beautiful bella Bina!

Here we cleaned it up so I could be just like the beautiful bella Bina!

T-shirt brought to you by "Chosen and Dearly Loved" a ministry for special needs.

T-shirt brought to you by “Chosen and Dearly Loved” a ministry for special needs.

 

It took me 20 minutes from shower, dry, brush teeth, do make-up, and get dressed this morning. Don't even think about telling my dad how his three daughters should have done this at age 13...it would have saved him hours of waiting and we would have been places on time. All that time I used to spend on my hair I'll now spend in prayer. A visual reminder to pray...

It took me 20 minutes from shower, dry, brush teeth, do make-up, and get dressed this morning. Don’t even think about telling my dad how his three daughters should have done this at age 13…it would have saved him hours of waiting and we would have been places on time. All that time I used to spend on my hair I’ll now spend in prayer. A visual reminder to pray…

For me it was a choice for empathy. For everyone I know who loses their hair because of caustic chemicals coursing through their veins, it’s an inconvenient and scary side effect on top of a disease on top of pain and discomfort and emotion and hope and bravery and courage and wonder if it will work.

Today on Facebook I posted that 4 of my friends are on chemo, but shortly thereafter, realized I was wrong and the number is 6, as I miscalculated. And those are my friends. Then there are my friends whose spouses are sick, whether with cancer or undiagnosed ailments and endless pain, unexplained, yet more real than ever.

And then let’s talk about our sweet friend’s whose daughter has to have her foot amputated or my friend whose daughter just had to be taken to Juvie or the friend whose husband just had his body crushed by a car in a bike accident or my friend whose son’s heart is broken and irreparable and so they wait and my friend whose son has 100’s of seizures each day or my friend whose son’s disability is ramping up because of puberty and he’s getting too strong for her and our dear friends whose son has been sick for over 5 months, in pain, every day, and my sweet new friend whose daughter has a terminal illness.

Then there is my Dad who misses our Mom every. single. day. Her picture is everywhere I look as we stay at what was their house, and my guts hurt for his guts, and for his heart…but that doesn’t even include the pain he has daily because he needs a new knee and his best friend isn’t here to hold his hand through it. And for my beautiful Mother-in-Love who has been brave and strong for 17 years a widow on a journey not meant to tread alone. And my friend who is a young widow as of December.

And I don’t care how “acceptable” a death is at a latter age, the company of orphaned daughters and sons I have met on this journey grows regularly and there isn’t a day that goes by that we wouldn’t each love another hour with our parent…just one more question, please tell me one more story…but they are buried along with a portion of our hearts.

And the news the other night aired the total fire destruction of an apartment of someone my family loves and prays for regularly.

And all the single parents and broken homes and busted up hearts and heart-wrenching addictions. The parents who are waiting and longing to adopt.

But that doesn’t include the bereaved parents who have joined the community of late, a community I’ve been part of for over 8 years now, like my sweet friend who is figuring out life with her family minus their heart-daughter after 6 beautiful years. And the friends who have welcomed a new life into theirs after the loss of their sweet handsome boy.

ALL THIS, and we haven’t even turned on the news to see and be aware of all that transpires worldwide…

On any given day, we all carry things in our hearts, some we share, others we hide and hold closely, all of them chisel at the walls we try to erect around our tender hearts because life is hard and maybe protecting seems like the safe and right thing to do.

But, on any given day, none of these things are meant to be faced alone. No, I am not going to have a port put in my chest and take chemo to show empathy to my friends who have cancer, but maybe we should? Maybe empathy is entering into the stories of others with both feet? Maybe we would be more tender with our enemies if we both were in the same hospital with our ill children, just down the hall, just trying to love well, realizing we have something in common?

I tell you what…Jesus wasn’t just a historical figure written about in a history book that lies dusty on a shelf somewhere. God was in LOVE with ALL of us and came here to show us how to love well, which included loving everyone, even the crustiest among us. He ate dinner with those “society” called down and outers, but the thing is, they looked a lot like me, and you, and that guy, and that lady over there. Each of us has a story and we all have hard things. If we don’t start living empathy, choosing it, getting uncomfortable and walking through hard things with one another, then those of us who call ourselves “Christians” are using His name in vain. Jesus came doing the opposite of the way of the world…He came loving selflessly, He spit in dirt and made mud and smeared it on a guy’s eye to heal him, He told us if we wanted to find our lives, we needed to lose them…He didn’t just ask us to believe, He asked us to follow Him….

John 1:9-14 in the Message says this:

“The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
*But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.”

*my emphasis added

I’ve ever only wanted to be who God created me to be. The months of Noah’s life gave me a glimpse. The weeks leading up to my Mom’s death opened the door a lot wider. Shaving my head in solidarity for friends and anyone and everyone going through hard things, well, let’s just say, I’ve never felt more free to be my true self, my child-of-God self, my most imperfect, messed up, forgiven and loved-self. And, I’ve never felt so free or more full of God’s purpose and beauty.

All the time I’ve spent doing my hair as I’ve been growing it out to “feel” pretty and sexy and fancy, well, with 1/8″ hair, I’ll have a bit more time to live intentionally. And that’s what the shave is about for me…a reminder to live a life of empathy, because we are all here, living hard stories.

And if anything, I know I’ll get ready faster than you tomorrow morning 😉

(More on John in another post…)

The 5 Minute Marriage

The other day Jason and I had our first 5 minute Stand Up meeting. The day prior, I didn’t know what a “Stand Up” , or Scrum, meeting, was. He, on the other hand, has known about, held, and attended these types of meetings at his places of employment over the years. He also facilitates group conversations, conference calls, team retreats, and regularly communicates with his bosses and teammates regarding his schedule.

Baby, now that we have 7 of these under our belts, Stand Up meetings are going to be part of our lifestyle, but with our own little twists and personal touches, like laughter, “the circle of trust”, and a smooch to close it out.

If I may be so bold to say, the 5 minute Stand Up meeting may quite possibly be the very thing that eradicates, or at least decreases, the growing divorce rate in the world. Sound far-fetched? Don’t be so quick to judge…instead, try it and see what happens.

How can you know what the other is thinking unless you ask?

How can you know what the other is thinking unless you ask?

Let’s rewind and give you a bit of history so you are able to see the bigger picture…

Jason and I have been married over 21 years now, and prior to that we dated for 2.5 years. We did a joke-of-a-premarital counseling book via my church, cross-country, with only one face-to-face session with an associate pastor who didn’t really know us from Adam. As lovers and best friends, we said, “we do” and jumped in with both feet, at the ripe age of 21. Over the years we’ve been in co-leadership positions together, received the same training, learned our mojo as a couple, tag-teaming our leadership styles, and really have had a pretty good go of it. We’ve read books about marriage and communication, applied some of the principles, gone to a weekend marriage retreat, mentored younger couples, practiced the “10 Second Kiss”, gone on date nights, and continued to hold hands. We have also remained friends, been in couple Bible studies, prayer, and accountability groups, and fostered and been part of beautiful friendship circles where we have dug (and continue to dig) into the true grit of one another’s stories, leaving very little unexposed.

We have also hurt each other’s hearts fiercely, me with words, gripping tightly to offenses, erecting heart walls, and pridefully thinking I can do certain things without his help…him with few to no words…which, in my heart and mind, speaks millions of potential messages.

I will admit I am a verbal (or written) processor. Jason is an internal processor. I am passionate and animated. He faithful and stoic. For anyone who knows us, it’s a joke that he speaks very few words in a day, so when he does, baby, you better perk up and listen. The truth is, for his job he speaks lots and lots and lots of words, but I’m not that girl that’s going to buy the line about him using them all up with his colleagues and so when he’s off work, he has nothing left to talk to me about, but just relishing in the comfort of home, my unconditional love, and down time.

One of my best friends asked after a year of knowing me if Jason was mute. I’m NOT kidding. So when she learned he could indeed speak, she wondered if he liked her or not, given he hadn’t spoken any words to her.

He talks to me. But there’s that part of marriage where we don’t want to have to draw or drag or nag something out of someone…or that part where we expect or think they should just know what we are thinking or what it is we want from them…

Don’t get me wrong, he and I talk, and he talks to his colleagues and his friends and family. But on any given day when we’re juggling homeschool, a famously curious preschooler, a career from home, searching for time in a day for me to get in some writing, and all the ins and outs of life in general, many marriages lack intentional communication. Some are great at regular date nights. We are. Ask our babysitter, Bina. But 2 hours, once a week or every other week, don’t make a marriage go round, and certainly don’t allow it to run deep. That’s just maintenance.

In December as we were driving cross-country for the holidays, this happened in the car:

Jason: (out of the blue, nonchalantly…) Hey, next weekend when we get to Denver we’re having breakfast with Gary Bruegman (a marriage counselor).
Me: (cool with it, not in a paranoid voice…) Ok. Why?
Jason: (casually, matter-of-fact…) Because you said you wanted to do some marriage counseling.
Me: (uhhhh….) Yeah, I’ve been saying that for 21 years, but, sure, I’ll take it…

No. It was not up to Jason to make the phone call. I could have made a phone call years ago. The funny thing is, we’ve already told Emily that as a pre-wedding and post-honeymoon gift, we are giving her and her husband a couple years worth of marriage counseling…to start out with great resources and a neutral third-party advocate, basically to learn how to hear one another. Emotions and feelings and passion run deep, but a couples’ first year and first fight can throw up some pretty powerful walls, and we want to encourage the art of conversation and communication, as well as quick and true forgiveness, for our children and the important people in their lives before they are too shut down to call a counselor…because when you call a counselor as a last resort, often the walls aren’t just walls but fortresses.

Jason and I have learned through trial and error and tears how to fight fair, not to diminish the other person, holding them dear in our hearts, even as we disagree. This wasn’t always the case. When Jason and I were dating and we’d disagree, I had to “win” the disagreement, he had to agree with me, and I needed to be right. Period. I had never learned it was okay to disagree. My parents disagreed behind closed doors, and as one of 3 daughters of a very protective father, his word was law. Set free into college as a young woman, it was my turn to exercise my definitive opinions and decisiveness.

It rocked my world to have a mature, educated man (Jason) say to me, “It’s okay to disagree. We can have differing views and opinions and still be okay. It doesn’t mean I’m the boss of you.”

Huh. Novel concept…

And believe me, we don’t see eye to eye on some things, but we respect one another in the process, hear the other’s perspective, try to honor one another in it, and no matter what, at the end of the day, we choose love above all else. We pray together before bed, always kiss good night, and have tried diligently to practice forgiving quickly. 21 years makes a habit.

But I digress…

So, then, as we were driving to breakfast to meet the marriage counselor (a gem of a man, our dear friends’ dad, and a wise soul who also does weekend intensives…one in which we’ll be participating), this transpired:

Jason: (casually, but deep down, a little sassy…) So, what do you want to talk to Gary about?
Me: (looking sideways, bratty, with a “don’t make me smack you” kind of look…) I don’t know. You’re the one who called him…

Then we both smirked and probably talked about the unknown and adventure of our vagabond lives….

You see, marriage counseling isn’t bad and it isn’t only for times of crisis. In fact, it’s an excellent tool to utilize WHILE you are still friends, still in love, still speaking, still having sex…profound, huh?

Gary didn’t tell us about the Stand Up meeting…in fact, Jason did. He put into words what I suggested, which was simply, “Hey, outside of us praying together and reading the Bible, can we just meet for 5 minutes each morning and give each other a run down of our days?!” But Gary did talk to us about the simple act of connecting through intentional communication…that many marriages have the physical part down, and even the spiritual part, but the emotional parts need tweaking, not separately, but the three working together as a whole.

A “Stand Up” meeting is simply done standing up, hence the name. The idea is to stay focused, on point, and simply check in with your team.

This little tool and intentional 5 minutes of our morning, and sometimes before bed as well, has been quite a gift to me, at least. I’ll see if I can get Jason to write his version and take on it, so as maybe to convince some guys out there that communicating with their wife or girlfriend isn’t the worst thing in the world…and is highly beneficial all around.

Stay tuned…