I Tried To Be An Extrovert


As the ninth of ten children, I watched my older siblings leave home every two years for college and return with more friends, memories, stories, and life than they seemed to have left home with.  It was as though college, or leaving home, was this collection of essential relational building blocks and memory making that seemed to lead to greater things.  I saw them collect identities, friendships, lessons, and futures with smiles on their faces and enthusiasm in their hearts.  Unknowingly, I took notes in my mind about what success in life and relationships looked like according to what I saw in them.  Granted, I was a child. But to me, it looked like fun and laughter, it was so incredibly appealing.  It looked like energy and parties and presence in abundance.  It looked like everything a person could ever want to collect and I found myself wanting what they seemed to have.

So upon graduation from high school, I set aside the identity I had always felt safe in.  I stopped hiding behind a soccer ball and a camera; I was determined to become a person people called when they wanted to have fun.  I literally set out to be the life of the party.  Late nights, loud interactions, drinking, and constant efforts to love and be loved became the stuff inside my schedule.  It was a not so masterful performance fueled by insecurities and a desire to belong.  A performance I could maintain for a handful of hours before returning home and crying myself to sleep in exhaustion, emptiness, and loneliness.  I would spend countless hours and nights surrounded by people who I genuinely loved and enjoyed but who I did not necessarily feel connected with or to.  I’ve learned that in those years my real self was being ignored, was unknown, dishonored, and without a platform to even exist because I was feverishly attempting to live a life that was completely incongruent with who I was created to be.  I was diligently providing a space for the self I thought I was supposed to be, the self I had seen others be, the self I thought would lead to connection, happiness, success, relationships, and eventually God.  Ironically, I learned that being close to the creator was almost impossible when you actively deny what He has created inside of you.  Which is why my love for Him, for others, and for myself was so trivial, shallow, and manufactured at that time in my life.

When I began to both realize and embrace that I was not created to be the extrovert I was trying so hard to be, God’s truth began to take root in me for who He uniquely did create me to be.  I began to see more of Him when I learned how to embrace His creation inside of me.  I am a person who loves solitude, deep connection with a few people, faith, and the introverted activities of writing, art, and photography.  Allowing myself to consider that these traits were not wrong, bad, or lesser than was a somewhat long and painful process of honoring God and facing my own pride and judgments regarding what were desirable qualities in human beings.  I had to let go of the need to be loved by others so that I could understand I was already loved by the God who made me.

The truth is, I am really not that comfortable in settings traditionally known as “fun.”  I can carry my own because I was born into a crowd, but it is not my preferred venue of living.  I’m not the life of any party that I know of, unless you meet another introvert who considers deep emotionally connecting conversation a place where streamers can be hung and confetti can be thrown.  I am, however, comfortable in people’s pain.  I can sit in the muck and mire of grief, confusion, hurt, anger, depression, doubt, and hopelessness and God comes alive in me in those places like He never could have with my extroverted false self.  I limited Him.  I denied who He was in me by trying to be somebody I am not.  He, when I live authentically, allows truth to be felt and heard when lies are being believed.  He increases hope with His presence when I am willing to just be present with others in their pain.  He reveals Himself to me when I take the time for solitude and silence.  Our creator continues to create anew when we surrender to His original and intended design.  When we deny how He created us and others, we make it impossible for new and beautiful things in us, around us, and through us to be made or remade.

Loving our God is to love all that He created.  Embracing and loving ourselves is to embrace the one who made us.  Embracing others is our opportunity to love Him more fully, as well as to extend His immense affections to another human soul.  Our ability to do this, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is in direct proportion to how much I allow my God to wrap His arms around me and convince me that all He created within me is absolutely lovable.  If I am able to do this, then I have what I need to turn and wrap my arms around someone else so that He can convince them as well.


The Holy Ground Of Friendship

I was, at most, a casual bystander when I began to witness one of the most beautiful displays of friendship I have ever seen.  Greeta and Jami had been friends since childhood and now both were pregnant with boys, due on the same day.  Conversations assured the strengthening of their own bond as they planned to raise their sons together, as friends.  I had not known either of them long and did not know either of them well; I was merely a witness of what was about to unfold.  I met Greeta after she found out that she would, in fact, not be allowed to raise her son because of the terminal prognosis her doctors gave.  He would only live for hours, if he lived at all.  Her resolve was quick and ran amazingly deep; she would love him for as long as she was given.  It turns out that was only 8 hours after his birth.  Jami's pregnancy, on the other hand, would result in the birth of a beautiful and healthy baby boy.  A drastic difference in the plans the two had been discussing, a shattering of all those fantastic fantasies of fun.  A complete and total disruption of the idealic scenario they had created and longed for.  Instead of walking the same path for years as they raised their children together, it seemed that a crossroads was forcing them to go different directions.  Jami was getting well-organized for all of the normal things that come with bringing home a new baby, something that Greeta might certainly be envious of or understandably resentful about.  Conversely, Greeta was bulldozed over with loss and was preparing for a long road of grief, something that Jami had no familiarity with and likely would want to avoid, as many might counsel her to do.     
In my experience, this is where most friendships fall apart.  Not because of a lack of love; these two loved each other deeply.  Many relationships end when there is still significant affection left to be given and shared. Relationships like this unfortunately end because we are not skilled at being in someone else's reality when it is different from our own.  They end because we don't access grace and we are not intentional when things are difficult.  The majority of us prefer swimming in the warm waters of comfortable emotions and similar circumstance in order to keep our friendships intact.  The difference between what Greeta and Jami had planned and what had in reality occurred seemed too drastic to put into words.  Impossible, it would seem, to move through it together while remaining present in each others lives.  It's often easier to allow these kind of differences to create distance and let the relationship fade into a memory with nobody to blame other than life's tragic turns.  It wouldn't have been the first relationship lost at the crossroads of "I don't know what to say," and "I don't know what to do."  Nobody would have blamed either of them, I'm sure.  And yet, what I witnessed between these two friends has forever changed my heart and life regarding love in the differences.  They figured it out so beautifully that I needed to try and put words to it.  
Imagine a new mom stepping out of her elation and euphoria after childbirth just enough to go sit with her friend in massive and overwhelming grief because she just lost what you got to bring home.  Jami chose to be present with Greeta in a way that honored her grief.  She could have stayed home in the joy of her new nursery, holding her baby and relishing the gift of health knowing we are not promised such.  Instead, she showed up for her friend in ways that nobody else could have.  She showed up with a knowing of how things were supposed to have been, because she was living the reality of how things were supposed to have been.  Without knowing what to do or what to say, Jami beautifully bridged the gap between gratitude and grief simply but profoundly by just being there.  Present.  With her friend.  Later, she was brave enough through streams of tears to ask Greeta to be the primary care-giver for her son when it was time for her to return to work.  An uncertain, delicate, and potentially damaging conversation that she was willing to have in order to invite her friend to share in the blessing of life.  Most people avoid these difficult emotional conversations, especially when outcomes are uncertain, yet Jami took a risk and said the words.  A verbal willingness to wade through the muck and the mire of pain, discomfort, and uncertainty in order to find the solid ground of friendship instead of allowing it to get lost in the unspoken and the assumed. 
Imagine with me if you will a grieving mom who has just experienced the birth and death of her own son and yet cradles, asks for, and loves her friend's baby within days of her own loss.  Greeta likely didn't have a lot of words, a lot of energy, or a lot of gratitude but she was present with Jami in her joy, genuinely grateful for what her friend was experiencing though it was the very thing that was so tragically taken from her.  While I imagine resentment and bitterness were vying for a place in her thoughts, she was able to welcome into her home, her life, and her heart a healthy baby boy that was not her own.  She embraced the reality that Jami was given what she was denied with such genuine love that it created a pathway between their hearts.  She allowed herself to sit in the beauty and joy of new life with her friend when death and grief were still her companions.  Present.  With her friend.  She somehow managed to keep resentment and bitterness away so that she too could bridge the gap and allow their friendship to grow and to continue.  She not only became the primary care-giver when Jami returned to work, but she loved that baby in ways that only she was able.  She loved that baby through her grief, despite her grief, and because of her grief. A love so rooted in grace that it formed an amazing bond between these two families.  
I was not a witness to the details, the conversations, or the silences during the years this journey has taken.  I did not see the tears or hear the words, but I have been just close enough to understand that between these two freinds exists holy ground. A space between them where there is honor for both realities, protection of both hearts, and each holds the other in the highest emotional regard in a space of absolute affection. Holy and sacred, yet tangible. There is an intentionality of love between them that is compelling.  There is a respect and an inclusion that is beautiful.  There is a holy grace that allows both women to exist so beautifully and so fully that neither had to give up what they were experiencing to maintain the friendship they both desired.  Holy ground.  Holy, because they created something beautiful from that which is so often destructive.  Holy, because they chose presence in the midst of pain.  Holy, because they saw past themselves just enough to embrace and honor one another.  Holy, because moving between them is a love that can only be seen as the hand and the heart of God.  And I have been honored to be a witness to it.  

Hey Christians – If It’s Easy, It’s Not Love!



There is a love that reaches into the mire of my life and the messiness of my heart, and it rescues me.  It is a love that comes from a savior who is the basis of a redemptive story that has left me forever changed.  A savior that did not allow my pain, my sin, my mistakes, or my pride to keep me from His love.  He stepped into those things with me, and took them on himself so that I could experience His presence.  His is a love that was willing to get messy to rescue me.  Not just once, but daily.  A love that doesn't require me to change in order to receive it, but invites me to change because I am blessed enough to already have it. 

I have also been given that kind of love by a few people who have been willing to step into the arena of my ugliness, my sin, my struggles, and my brokenness and love me in spite of those things that make me rather unlovable.  If we are Christ followers, those are the marching orders we have been given.  Love.  No qualifiers. No measuring sticks of who deserves it and who doesn't.  No inquiry about whether or not I feel like it or agree.  Love.   No limit.  No end.  No excuses.  Love, like Jesus did.  That's our directive.  (1 John 3:11, John 13:34, Leviticus 19:18, 1 Peter 4:8, Romans 13:8, 1 John 3:18, 1 John 4: 12-13, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Ephesians 4:2-3, 1 Peter 3:8-9.) 

I have been disappointed through the years to see what happens to this love when fellow followers of Jesus disappoint us.  When people who we believe know better, should do better, we are quick to limit our love, our grace, and our acceptance.  When those preaching from the pulpit aren't living it on the pavement, we frequently do the opposite of what we have been asked to do.  Yet, what we've been asked to do is the very thing that will set us apart.  "They will know us, by our love." John 13:35  Too often, what I have seen us do is leave our own wounded on the side of the road in the name of self-righteous religion.  We do not extend love well to our fellow pew sitter when we believe they have disrespected the pew they sit in.  Judgment jumps in where justice and mercy are supposed to reside.  Gossip quickly replaces grace as if grace was never an acquaintance of ours to begin with.  We wrap ourselves in the guessing of someone else's pain, sin, crime, and difficulty by asking other stunned believers "What in the world happened?"  Pettiness leaves no room for actual prayer and we get side tracked by the mess in the arena instead of rescuing the warrior who needs to be reminded that they are loved, in spite of the mess that surrounds them.      

"What in the world happened?",  is a great question, a natural question, and even a healing question when it is asked from the right heart to the right person.  If you loved them, spoke to them, did life with them before you received the news about their falling, their failing, their mistake, their crime, their loss, etc… then you have an opportunity to be Jesus directly to them.  When you have the rapport to step into the arena of someone else's tragedy and approach them with an open heart and say "What in the world happened?", while you embrace them with love, you are an agent of Jesus'.  That's what He did for you.  You just facilitated a process necessary for that person to return to the redemptive arms of a grace filled savior.  You just provided them an opportunity to shed light on their own shame so they don't have to drown in it's darkness.  You just did what we have been called to do!  If you did not have this kind of rapport in the person's life before the tragedy, then now is not the time to obtain it and "what in the world happened?" is not your question to ask them.  Keep in mind that asking others "what in the world happened?" will only be helpful if you do so with a prayerful heart and a grace-filled intention to help.    

Have you reached out to the one who was in your Bible study who just got a DUI conviction?  You know that person in your church community who was in treatement for depression and tried to take their own life, have you asked them what it's like to have those kind of thoughts?  Have you sent any type of support to your friend whose mug shot was on the evening news?  Have you prayed for or spoken to the pastor who had an affair?  Or for the woman in the church he had it with?  Have you lovingly encouraged the youth worker who is neglecting his own family?  Have you had a heart to heart with the put together mom who works childcare at church and allegedly embezzled money from her employer?  Have you considered ways you can be supportive to any and all of the children who might be caught in the crossfire of these situations?  Have you put your arms around your friend who just can't tell their spouse that they cheated?  Or are you, like many of us, lost in the audacity of the information, the details, and the scandel and unable to remember that you too have needed redemption from audacities as well?

Never once when I return to the loving arms of my Jesus after poorly representing Him have I felt that He is condoning my selfish, sinfilled choices by loving me.  I am clear that He is possibly repulsed and certainly saddened when I miss the mark.  Not once when I have had a Christ follower crawl into the mire with me did I believe they were okay with what I had done/said/been.  When we extend that same love and grace to our fellow believers, they know we are not condoning what they have done.  Chances are good they know exactly how most of us feel; we've gotten good at that message.  What they might not know is that we are willing to take our marching orders from a Holy God seriously and step into the arena and love them as we have been loved.  


  "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13:35

New Years Goals? Just Say “No!”

new-years-resolutionsIt is goal setting season! The New Year comes with clean slates, fresh starts, and a desire to change things that no other single global event does. I'm a fan! Always have been. I've learned that one of the biggest secrets to saying "Yes" to a goal is learning how to say a wholehearted "No!" We cannot say a successful "Yes" to our goals while also saying "Yes" to the distractions that keep us from them.  A "No" must exist in our hearts and on our lips if a "Yes" will ever be realized in our lives!  And these "No's" are not easy ones, which is why most New Years goals have long since been forgotten by February.  
Want to say "Yes" to getting out of debt?  Then you better be well versed in frequently and consistently saying "No" to yourself, your spouse, your friends, and your kids.  And those "No's" will be said to some things that you really want or even think you need. But if you are serious about the "Yes's", then the "No's" have to be equally as determined.  
Have you been trying to gain more margin in your schedule so you are less hurried, less stressed, and less stretched in 100 different directions?  Are you wanting to say a wholehearted "Yes" to things like peace, rest, extra time, breathing deeper, not being rushed, or having time to yourself? Then be ready to fire an arsenal of "No's" at some good things you would also like to be doing and experiencing.  Be ready to forgo that fun thing, that last minute thing, that don't have time but want to make time thing.  And be ready to say "No" to some well meaning people who are certainly going to "need" you to do some things for them, for the church, for the school, or for the family. Difficult "No's" lead to very rewarding and achieved "Yes's!"  
Working to lose weight, stop smoking, eat healthier, or stop drinking so you can say "Yes" to better health?  I recommend a hearty ability to say "No" in several different languages and very early in the timeline to achieve these goals. Not going to the restaurant at all makes it easier to say "No" to the temptations that exist on the menu, as well as the portions delivered. Not purchasing the next pack of cigarettes makes it impossible to smoke them. Common sense? Perhaps! But frequent and early "No's" make for really good exercising of the "No" muscle, so achieving those "Yes" results is that much more likely.  
Are you wanting to prioritize a relationship or two? Maybe spend more time with family or friends? Or strengthen your marriage? There will be any number of things that will compete with your time and rob you of these better more fulfilling relationships. Learning to recognize those distractions and say "No" to them is the key to deeper and better relationships. Some of those distractions will even be important events, occasions, or people. Saying "No" to important things so you can experience more important things is the gift that exists on the other side of a well said, "No."
I encourage you to say "Yes" to a few goals this year, but choose those goals wisely by asking yourself,"What am I willing and ready to say a wholehearted 'No' to?"       

Let Me Be Real

Nativity Scene

We see you on tables and on lawns in the cold,
     in colors of red, blue, green and gold. 
Mary's babe in swaddling cape, 
     quiet wonder on her face. 
Mary, you look so serene, 
     far to pretty, much to clean.  
We might think we know you well,
     but if we listened what stories would you tell?  
Of the dirt, the dust, the fear and shame,
     the questions and every burning labor pain.
How many friends did you lose from your life? 
     oh, the grief when he no longer wanted you as his wife!  
As we turn to walk away,
     if we listen we can hear you say…
"I am real.  Don't turn me into a story, a legend or a myth.  
     Let me be real and I'll show you how to love like this. 
To love in spite of being afraid,
     to love not considering the price you must pay.  
To love when it might not be what you feel.  
     If you dare —- Let me be real!"
Looking back at that manger, shepherds bending to the ground,
     no royal entrance to be found.  
Joseph, you look so strong, so brave and true. 
     but do we really know what it was like to be you?
How many sleepless nights found you desperate and afraid?  
     How you must have grieved the plans that you had made. 
How many questions did your mind, your heart ask?
     How many times did you doubt you were up for this task?
As we turn to walk away,
     If we listen we can hear you say….
"I am real.  Don't turn me into a legend, story or a myth. 
     Let me be real and I'll show you how to love like this.
To love in a way that doesn't have to understand. 
     To love in a way that helps another person stand.  
To love even in spite of potential shame.  
     To love when you might rather find someone to blame."
And the manger draws our attention again,
    Where lays that baby filled with our sin.  
Oh Jesus, so tiny, we cannot fathom the road you will walk.  
     The king of kings flogged, spit upon and mocked.  
Grace to give and yet denied.  
     Came for love but crucified.  
Laying in a cradle filled with straw.
     Born to die.  For one.  For all.  
As we turn to walk away,
     If we listen we can hear you say…
"I am real.  Don't turn me into a story, a legend, or a myth.  
     Let me be real and I'll show you how to love like this.  
 To love like you are unaware that life comes with so much pain, 
     To love not for self but for another's gain.  
To love in a way that makes a difference for mankind.  
     To feed and clothe the poor and give sight to the blind."
If you see us as a myth or seasonal decor, 
     our lives are meaningless and our love is no more.  
But if you believe and allow us to be real, 
     our Creator still lives and our love can still heal.  
So live unaware December comes with such hurry and hustle, 
     celebrate Christmas without headache and bustle.  
Because a baby came not in art, story or play.  
     But as a savior for every minute, in every hour, every day.  

The Choice I Am Certain Of In This Election


These candidates will be on the Presidential ballot for the United States 2016 election.
Hillary Clinton (D) 
Donald Trump (R)
Gary Johnson (L) 
Jill Stein (G) – on the ballot in 40+ states
Presidential candidates who have made more than 15 percent of general election ballots:
Darrell Lane Castle (Constitution Party)
Rocky De La Fuenta (Reform Party)
Evan McMullin (Independent)
Gloria Estel La Riva (Party for Socialism and Liberation) 

I've voted for every party there is to vote for, depending on the reason I'm going to the poll. I've been a registered Independent for more than two decades; mostly because I recognized long ago that the two primary parties in our country compete against each other more than they work for the American people. I have never considered voting solely to win. I vote to speak. My vote is my voice. Contrary to what others are saying in this election, win or lose – my voice matters. Your voice matters. My vote in this election however, won't be able to say everything I'd like to say. 

If competition is encouraged for healthy commerce in our country, it should also be encouraged for a healthy democracy. If multiple choices make our industries sharper, more innovative, more attentive, and more responsible, then so it should be with our government. The two party system, which seems more committed to their platforms than to their people, could use a good healthy threat of competition so that we change the way we are doing things. With several of our last administrations, the Commander in Chief has been, for all practical purposes, ineffective because it appears to me that our Congress and/or our Senate are busy fighting political agendas, lobby agendas, or for their own job security, NOT for the American people. They do one of two things – they fight for what they want or they fight against what the other side wants. They show little willingness to work as "our team" and seem to give exactly ZERO consideration to how any of it will affect the people who put them in office, pay their salaries, and are most effected by their decisions.  

Have you been told this election NOT to vote your conscience? Well for some of us, that's like asking us not to breathe. I want my vote to say that my conscience matters. That although there is no ideal candidate, there is reason to follow your own moral compass, ethical beliefs, and general code of human conduct and decency when you cast your name in support of somebody else. Obviously we do not have a line item veto on any person we befriend, marry, or vote for.  But like many of you, I want more choices. I want better choices than what seems to be in front of us this election. I've heard one too many times, "I don't like him but at least he's not her." or "I can't stand him so I guess I'll vote for her." You've heard it too, I'm sure. Lesser of two evils, blah, blah, blah, … 

I want out of the tornado of insults this two party political environment has created.  I want to see our leaders discuss issues in a manner worthy of adult conversation and debate protocol instead of political rhetoric and mudslinging like junior high kids on the playground or scorned lovers in divorce court. Wouldn't it be nice if we allowed Independent candidates, Green party candidates, Reform party candidates, Constitution party candidates, and Libertarian candidates to participate in the debates, if for no other reason than to concentrate on the issues, the state of our country and the plans that different people and platforms have to move forward? Big money, bad media, and elite politics have decided that bickering about audio tapes and e-mails is a better way to run our country and it's election than allowing actual people with actual ideas to enter into the discussions and get enough air time for us to actually get to know anybody else.  And so we've only allowed two people on the playground to bully each other and lie to the bitter end, just to see who can bully and lie best. Meanwhile, my country is at stake!

This is NOT the best we can do America. I want to hear from everybody. I don't care about big money, political elite opinions or what is best for just me. I care about ALL of us. I want more options. I don't always get what I want so I must come to terms with the reality that these are the options we have. As a therapist, I speak frequently to people about choices. When you don't like any of your choices it makes you feel as though you have no choice. Yet I have been taught and continue to re-teach that we ALWAYS have a choice. ALWAYS. So I will choose in November even if it is a half-hearted choice at best. I will mark my ballot while simultaneously wondering if it is the right choice. Then I will choose to trust. Not our government, our President, our systems or even my fellow voters. I will trust in a God who continues to love, provide, protect, and grow me when I'm not even certain of my own choices.  And it is the choice to trust Him that brings me great certainty.  


88 Reasons Why I Love Her

Today, my sweet mother turns 88 years old. Most people I couldn't come up with 88 reasons why I love them.  For her I could have come up with 8,000.  But in honor of her birthday – here are the first 88!   Happy Birthday Mom!!
1. Life may not be fair but this women is.  Down to the sprinkles on our cupcakes whenever measurable we all got the same amount.  
2. She has NEVER allowed any of her children to talk poorly to her about any of her other children.  "Don't talk to me about my kids – go work it out yourselves."  
3. She loves her God with everything in her.  
4.  Every Christmas at her house there are still 10 stockings hung and filled for her children.  
5.  Every Christmas at her house there are still 37 stockings hung and filled for her grandchildren.  
6.  If you are a friend or family member a card arrives in your mailbox on your birthday.  Without fail.  
7.  She cares about people even if she has never met them.  
8.  She loves and cusses at her OSU Cowboys.  
9.  For 17 plus years she drove to the parking lot of an abortion clinic in Tulsa and just prayed.  For all the hearts involved she prayed.  
10.  When I was 8 years old and wanted to play soccer there wasn't anybody to coach so they told us we couldn't have a team.  She bought a book, a ball, some cones and a whistle.  We had a team.  
11.  She has danced on some tables while her children stand by holding her purse.    
12.  She doesn't like injustice for any person. 
13.  When she first meets people she doesn't say, "It's nice to meet you."  She says, "I'm glad to know you."  And she is!
14.  She still cooks dinner for "the seniors" at church.  
15.  She befriends her children's friends.  
16.  She spends a lot of time in prayer.  
17.  At 80 years old she rode a horse with my daughter on her 1st birthday.  
18.  She calls to check on her kids, grandkids and friends frequently.  
19.  She still updates the appearance of her home routinely.  
20.  She raises really kind and considerate men.  
21.  She initiates the change she desires to see in the world.  
22.  Recently she received an award of recognition at her church.  She was embarrassed for getting an award for doing what she says she is supposed to be doing anyway.  
23.  She laughs at herself.  
24.  She knows how to show up for people when it's hard.  
25.  She fights for her independence.  
26.  When the boys were growing up she took the alligators off of Izod socks and sewed them onto dime store shirts.  
27.  She doesn't allow people to go through things alone.  
28.  She still visits shut-ins weekly.  
29.  She has always prioritized friendship.  
30.  She makes a point to know her grandchildren and attend their activities.  
31.  She hates exercise.  
32.  She has always tried different creative outlets and activities.  
33.  She recently told me that she has never lost a friendship except to death.  
34.  She consistently believes the best about people and the world.    
35.  If you've ever hurt one of her children she probably holds a bit of a grudge.  She may not want to but she does.  
36.  She has been present for all but one of her grandchildren's births.  She was late for the first one.  Keep in mind however that she had a 3 year old and 6 year old as well as 4 other kids of her own still at home.  
37.  She has literally held in her arms both of her parents, our friend Dave Wilkins, her husband and all three of her siblings as they passed away from this life.  
38.  She loves to accomplish things.  
39.  She is proud of her country even when she doesn't understand or agree with it's government.  
40.  She finds peace in being outside and the sound of running water.  
41.  She likes to see new things, experience new places and meet new people.  
42.  She has always said that she doesn't look back and has no regrets.  
43.  Her family is not just a priority to her.  We have been her purpose, her passion, and her vocation.
44.  Like Jesus in the parable, if there is one of us astray she will go after the one in prayer, with love until we return to the flock.  
45.  Even when she doesn't understand our endeavors she has always supported them.  
46.  When we tease her about having a favorite she always responds, "I don't have a favorite.  I don't like any of you."  
47.  She lives out every single conviction she has to the fullest degree.  
48.  She doesn't expect anything from you that she isn't willing to do herself.  
49.  When students at Oklahoma A&M were asked to attend a meeting regarding black people being admitted for education she attended in wholehearted support.    
50.  She broke off an engagement with another man to date my daddy.  
51.  She stood next to me at my wedding as my Matron of Honor.    
52.  She has never pretended to be anything other than exactly who God created her to be.  
53.  She can read with and to my daughter for hours and hours and hours.  
54.  She loves every one of her grandchildren as if they are the only one.  
55.  She and her sisters would laugh and laugh and laugh.  For hours they would laugh with and at each other.  
56.  She experiences blessings and loss with such grace that you might find yourself envying her strength.  
57.  She is humble.  So humble you realize she has no idea how really amazing she is.  
58.  She will still put me in my place or correct me if she sees it as needed or necessary.  
59.  I prefer her company on most occasions, for any reason, no matter what I'm feeling.  
60.  She is fun to tease.  
61.  She loves her children's spouses as though they were her own.  
62.  She is both classy and comfortable.  
63.  She will honk and shake her finger at you if she catches you littering.  
64.  Because I was still single I received an Easter basket until I was 38 years old.  
65.  She came and stayed a week when I had Marie.  I cried like a baby when she left.  I was 40.  
66.  In 2001 I decided to go to Ireland and run a marathon.  She and Daddy decided they should be at the finish line.  They were.
67.  She let me wear her wedding dress!
68.  Every year we call each other at the first sign of snow because we both love it.  One year I was out of the country and she saved a snowball in the freezer until I got home.  
69.  She is big on manners and taught them well.  
70.  She likes both adventure and stability.  
71.  She feels strongly about the right things  
72.  I've never seen her act as though anybody is better than her.   
73.  I've never seen her act as though anybody is beneath her.  
74.  I've never seen any evidence that she cares much about what other people think of her.  

75.  I had a minor surgery this year and she came to stay with me for a few days to help with recovery.  I woke up from a nap to find her outside picking up limbs in my yard.  

76.  She calls God her best friend.  

77.  She knows where all of the good things in her life have come from and not for one minute does she believe it has anything to do with her work or her efforts.  

78.  She always gives people the benefit of the doubt.  

79.  She creates special memories on purpose because she wants people to know that they matter to her.  

80.  She is really tough and rarely complains. 

81.  She listens more than she talks.  

82.  She has allowed each of her children the freedom to become who they were created to be not who she wanted or needed them to be.  

83.  If we are performing, playing a sport, getting an award or having an event she is sitting front and center in full support.  Even today.

84.  She decorates every nook and cranny of her house for Christmas.  

85.  Every year she still has each of us over for our birthdays and cooks our favorite childhood meal.  

86.  Every Monday and Wednesday when I get off of work she talks to me for my entire 45 minute drive home.  

87.  Her prayers for me are I believe, the primary catalyst for ALL of the amazing things I experience in my life.       

88.  Throughout my life, nobody has loved me with the same intentional passion and absolute determined purpose than the woman I get to call "Mom."    

What I hope my daughter tells her therapist

IMG_4117 (2)Just as I don't believe seeing an accountant for my taxes, a tire guy for my flat or a doctor for my illness as a mark of personal failure, I also don't believe seeing a therapist is a sign of personal detriment or lack of fortitude. Maybe because I am a therapist but some of the healthiest most well rounded people I know got that way because they were willing to face their life and take ownership of their response to it through a difficult therapeutic process with somebody. Lets be honest; that's all therapy is: figuring out the best response to your life and circumstance so you can still be the person you wanted to be in the first place.  Which is why I hope my daughter ends up in either a good therapists office or has some good quality therapeutic friendships that help her get there.  And because that's my hope this is my message to her. 
My Dear Sweet Girl,
For me, the phone call to make the appointment and sitting in the waiting room was the hardest part. I'm not sure what the hardest part will be for you but I hope you allow trusted people even professionals into your business so that they can tell you a truth you might not have considered or accept you in a way you didn't know you needed accepting. I pray that you share your brokenness and insecurities so that you will know what it feels like to be loved in spite of them. When you do please remember these 3 things. 
Talk about your dad and I and anybody else who had an authoritative role in your life. I pray you have ZERO fear in saying "they did the best they could but they could have done better." It is not disrespectful or throwing anybody under the bus to reveal that we didn't always know what we were doing. You don't have to protect us from the reality we helped to create for you. If it needs to be said, please say it! "My moms impatience sent a message that causes me to struggle." Or "My dads silence spoke volumes and I'm not sure it was all good." or "Somebody who was supposed to love and protect me took advantage of their role in my life." or "Somebody who had a role in my life squandered it and didn't love me the way I needed them to." Whatever it is, no matter who it involves, if you need to work through it then don't hesitate to say it. We live in a broken and sinful world and although we will never knowingly harm you or allow anybody else to do so, we recognize that you will get hurt. Just like we all have, you will receive messages and internalize things that you will likely need to sort through later.  My hope is that you will be brave enough to do so. 
Secondly, whatever you do in this process of becoming you, be self responsible!  Know that even if there are people who cause you harm that ultimately you are the only one who can change your life.  At the end of the day, no matter the relationship or circumstance it's up to you how you are and who you are in it.  A good friend or therapist can help you maneuver through this process in a way that leaves you empowered vs. deflated but you have to be the one to do the work. You might not have a choice how someone treats you but you have a choice how long you allow it to continue. You won't have a choice the words people speak to you or about you but you have a choice how you let those words affect you. You can't control whose affections and admiration you obtain but you have absolute control over how much their approval matters to your life. You, my sweet girl and only you have complete say in how much you like yourself, honor yourself and care for yourself which has infinitely more benefit than the approval or affections of anybody else. Your therapist, your friend, your mother can't fix things for you; nobody can. Be willing to do the work of emotionally untangling the messages life hands you. Although blame might seem natural and justified it will leave you powerless and unhappy. Being self responsible for how you interpret the world and the messages it sends you will allow you a freedom that makes impossible things possible. 
Lastly, I hope you will tell and live the truth. Your truth. Truth, as scripture reminds us really does 'set us free'. If you are afraid, admit it. If you are confused, concerned or sad, be it. If you don't know, say "I don't know." You don't have to explain away unpleasant or unpopular feelings. Don't be more concerned with how you appear to be doing than how you are actually doing. Your heart has infinitely more value than your countenance, treat it as such. If you are falling apart find those people you trust and fall apart. If you are grieving go to that shoulder that provides a soft place for you and grieve. If you are elated go to those hearts who celebrate your victories and throw the confetti. Your heart feels ALL of those things for a reason, give them their place in your journey. Accepting where and who you are at any given time is the first step to getting anywhere different. Doing it in the presence of somebody you trust allows you to experience exactly what God created us to experience, the fellowship and acceptance of being loved in the truth with accountability. Please don't deny yourself the very thing God wants you for!

All This!

Having one child was NOT an option. As the ninth of ten children myself, I viewed it as mean. You can't have one kid and put him/her in front of my husband and I. "This is all you get, kid." We just aren't that much fun. It would be a cruel, terrible thing to do to a child. So we discussed every option during our pre-marital counseling that would keep us from bringing one child into the boring, awful existence of having us as his/her parents. We discussed adoption, fostering, having four (the number I wanted), and having two (the number he was more comfortable with). We talked about the number of years we would wait to start and the number of years that would be optimal between them. So we agreed, at least two and no more than four. They would be the gifts that we gave to them, each other. 
I suppose that's what pre-marital counseling is for, to discuss things in theory. As though you have some control over your life, your partner, and your circumstances. To talk about ideals and expectations. It's important, but it's not definitive by any stretch. Life has a way of happening in spite of our plans and people have a way of changing because of those happenings. As soon as we got married, the happenings started happening and the people (us) started changing. 
My husband began to doubt his stability and his ability to provide for us financially. He had already changed jobs multiple times in our short marriage. He is an extremely hard worker, but hadn't found his niche. I was ready for babies, lots of them! He was ready to wait longer than we initially agreed. Somehow I convinced him and we got pregnant on track with our initial plan. Pregnancy for me was glorious. I'd never felt more certain of what I wanted or what I was doing. He'd never felt less certain. I was getting excited about our family and he was getting distant. To add to the emotional roller coaster, both of our daddies died in the first two years of our marriage. His, when I was pregnant. There is something about your daddy dying that changes you.
We gave birth to Marie six weeks after we buried his father. My emotions and my circumstances were like a pin-ball in a machine. I shot from grief to elation to confusion and loneliness faster than I could feel or identify them. I was a new mom and I felt lost. He was an uncertain dad who just lost his best friend and whose only comfort was in the role of providing for us financially, so he stayed gone. He didn't know what else he had to offer. The first 2 years of my daughter's life are an emotional blur for me. In grief, in daily existence and in parenting her we worked together separately. Separately together. Few words. Fewer connections and even fewer plans for the future that we'd agreed upon. 
"She needs a sibling," I would remind him. He said he couldn't. Said, he wouldn't. I cried. I prayed. I pleaded with God to change his heart. "Lord, you can't put a child in front of us and say this is all you get!" We aren't enough. So many times as I begged my heavenly father, I received the same silence I got from my husband. Nothing. No words. No explanations. No promises. No emotion. I became more disillusioned in both relationships. I became more depressed and more confused. I cried holding my baby, believing that I was failing her. Knowing that I was not providing for her the greatest gift I could give her in this life. The greatest gift I had been given in my life. The tears fell almost daily, from my face to hers. I told her I was sorry and promised her I would keep trying. My depression deepened. The anger towards my husband grew. We rarely spoke about what our life had become; he wasn't interested in that discussion and I was incapable of having it without venomous words and poor motives. So we moved through life in virtual silence. It was deafening.  
I had well meaning friends telling me, "Just get pregnant and he will have to deal with it." Even in the throws of my anger towards him, that never registered as sound marital advice. I wanted him to change his mind. I wanted him to consider my feelings. I wanted him to think about our daughter. I wanted him to be on board and I knew if he wasn't it would only make things worse. There was no evidence, however, that he was or was not thinking about, praying about, or considering any of these things. There was only silence. So I continued to pray. I fought with God because my husband wouldn't fight with me.  I became angry at a loving God who I was certain had led me into the trap of this marriage. An emotionless, communication-less marriage with one child. One. The only option that wasn't an option had become my reality. One. One kid. Well, guess what kid? "This is all you get!" Your dad and I, who have been derailed by life, loss, and each other, that's all you get. And so I cried. 
My screaming crying fit to God continued as I made my case known, as though He was unaware of what I was experiencing. "This is all she gets Lord? This can't be all she gets, it isn't fair," I sobbed. "You have to change his mind. You have to convince his heart. Help us, Lord." All of the sudden, after two years of crying, begging, and pleading with God, my perspective changed. In one sobbing moment, like a whirlwind it changed. I was no longer Marie looking at us saying "This is all you get." Like a camera in a movie, the perspective swirled around and I was now me looking at Marie. As I looked into the eyes of my amazing two year old, in the clearest non-audible voice you can imagine, I heard "You get all this!" Looking into that precious, precocious, rambunctious, beautiful, drooling face I heard; "You get all of this and it is as complete and as whole as you will allow it to be." My crying stopped.   
At that moment I felt peace for the first time in years. At that moment I didn't understand my husband but I also didn't hate him. At that moment I realized that God is bigger than our lives and bigger than our plans for them. I understood that God doesn't just exist in our circumstances, but He exists in spite of our circumstances. He doesn't have to change our lives in order to be found in them. He is big enough for my husband's doubt, even if it doesn't change. He is large enough to handle my grief, even if it never goes away. He can heal the disappointment of our marriage and teach us how to re-build in spite of the brokenness that exists. He can bridge the gap between us even if, perhaps especially if, we can't.  
My little family of three is complete. It's as whole as I allow it to be. I will always grieve that Marie has no siblings, I just will. It will likely be the longest regret of my life, but it has also been one of the greatest lessons. I know that God loves her more than I do. So what I believe she is missing from lack of siblings, He will give her in abundance in other ways. He will fill the gap that I see. He will create in her a personality and character that is beautifully complete in Him. He will orchestrate experiences that will shape her and mold her into exactly who He needs for her to be. God knows that our family is not a mistake, it is not partial, lacking, or limping. He sees us as whole, complete, and His. It serves me well to see things the way He does. 
In His goodness, He has also provided the grace and love that our marriage was unable to cultivate itself. He led us through the grief in a way that we didn't completely lose each other. He brought grace into the silence and love into the distance that we managed to create. He has allowed us to find each other again not without the wounds but in spite of them. Circumstances don't always change in the manner we desire them to, but His grace is not dependent on our circumstances. His love is powerful enough to meet us in the midst of whatever mess we have created. It was hearts that needed changing not circumstances. After all, "We get ALL this and its as whole and perfect as I will allow it to be!"