Author Archives: missynicholas

Love is Like a Cardio Workout

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This week I will celebrate 9 years of being married. 9 years, that's it. We are not even out of grade school yet in this union. So I'm still learning a lot about love. It's by far the hardest thing I've ever done. Webster defines love as "a feeling of strong or constant affection." I'd personally like to get Webster in a room to talk about the feelings I have experienced that were often strong and constant but were in fact NOT affection. Webster, you lied! The Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia lie too for the record. One of them includes the phrase, "deep euphoric affection." If that doesn't set us up for failure I'm not sure what does.  
 
Our definitions have basically relegated love to a feeling. If I feel love, then it must be love. If it meets my needs, I will call it love. We've somehow managed to do the same with God's definition of love even though it doesn't contain the same words or sentiment. Most people know 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 "Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy,…" we read it like a poem. A fantastic piece of beautiful literature. We put soft music behind it and orate during our weddings, anniversaries or vow renewals…"love does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self seeking,…"  We calligraphy it to print on programs to hand out to our loved ones, we crosstitch it and frame it in our homes…."Love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs."  It's on the coffee mug we hold in the morning and the bookmark we use at night. We've turned it into a piece of decor, a greeting card and a t-shirt…"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes and always perseveres."  
 
I'm not sure if you caught it but those are ALL hard things to do. And NOWHERE in God's definition does it indicate that it matters how I feel or if I want to. His own love story involves thorns, nails, a heavy cross, a pleading to take this cup away and death. It involved turning his back on his own Son so that He could open his arms to ungrateful, selfish, sin-filled US. Why is it that we believe our love stories would be floating clouds, blooming flowers, unicorns, and endless encounters of celebrating our feelings? He gives us a definitive definition that doesn't depend. Like 2+2=4. In math, it doesn't matter what you are adding, doesn't matter how you feel about it, doesn't depend on what you need the outcome to be; 2+2=4. Every time. No matter what. He gets that it is going to go against how we feel and what our circumstances are so He gave us a definition that has absolutely nothing to do with our feelings. Instead He gives us a checklist of behavior. 
 
Which means love is patient. Every time. Doesn't depend. He tells us to be kind because, well we aren't. He instructs us not to be rude because, well we are. And just as we are getting ready to unleash the list of all the ways we have been hurt and that our anger is justified, He includes that love keeps no record of wrongs and is not easily angered.  Aaahhhh! Surely I'm not the only one who has daily interactions that makes this definition difficult. The spouse who doesn't have you on their radar, the friend who only calls when they need something or has stopped calling altogether. The child who won't obey, the boss who won't notice, the family member who blames everything on everybody else, the neighbor who is selfish and the person in customer service who doesn't care that you are a customer and wouldn't recognize service if it hit them in the face.  Yet, I am to love them. To be patient, to be kind, to not be rude, to not think only of myself and how they can serve me but to honor them. And I am to do it right there in the midst of not feeling loved, noticed, respected or honored in return. That makes me want to throw the 1 Corinthians 13 coffee mug and break it into a million pieces.      
 
We romanticize love in our culture. To the point of doing ourselves and each other a disservice when we think that love is an easy, calligraphied choice that flows freely from those who feel it. When it isn't we give up, call it quits, and move on to the next best feeling. I submit to you that these verses are not included in scripture to warm the cockles of our hearts. This is a difficult directive breathed down from the thrown of God and expected to be lived out by those who follow Him. If it has a soundtrack it should be the theme to Rocky or something that reminds you that you are going to sweat. You won't find this verse hanging in my home just like you won't find my workout routine or the protocol for my root canal prettied up and posted in a frame. I find this to be difficult and important stuff not art! He says this is how they will know us. This definition, this heavy lifting, growing, stretching, instruction is, if we walk it out, what sets us apart. John 13:35: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
 
So when we are patient, it points to Him. When we are kind whether we want to be or not, it points to Him. When we take down the scoreboard in our relationships and simply love, it speaks of Him. When we honor others, it honors Him. When we don't care what's in it for us we look more like Him. When we aren't focused on the outcome of the relationship but instead the outpouring of our own hearts it mirrors Him. It is how they will know us. It is a directive from a perfect God asking us to be empty vessels and channel how He feels about others in a way that draws them to Him. It has never been and never will be about us or our feelings. Not in our marriages, not in our friendships, not with our kids, not in the marketplace, the workplace or the church. It's ALL about Him. I am to love because of His love for me. He is patient, He is kind, He isn't easily angered and He keeps no record of wrongs. Love is not just something we find or that is given to us. Love is something we become, that we allow Him to be in us, And THAT kind of love…"never fails"
 
 

Nothing says “Happy Birthday Jesus” like…

I don't laugh at pain. If I'm forced to watch an episode of American's Funniest Home Videos I wince through the majority of it. I don't participate in practical jokes and laughing at the expense of someone else's potential discomfort is not a laugh I want to have. I want to die inside for others when I see they are embarrassed. It's just how I'm wired. I really wish I wasn't. But I am. That being said, I LOVE screaming Santa pics.  I mean – I LOVE THEM!  

Nothing says, "Happy Birthday Jesus" like taking your toddler to sit on the lap of a sweaty hairy stranger and expecting them to smile! Nothing! I mean we hesitate allowing Aunt Virginia access to the kids because she is questionable but we line up and pay for the traumatic stranger experience with Santa. And we stand a short distance away taunting our child with the safety of our arms but we don't rescue them until the shot is snapped.

Since I am a therapist, I will tell you that never in the history of my practice or in conversations with colleagues has any person walked in the door (or even mentioned in passing during a session) the trauma of the Santa experience. There isn't a class for it during therapy training and there is no diagnosis in the manual that includes it. So I say "get the shot"! 

Oh!  That shot!

That priceless, precious, painful shot!   I LOVE THEM!  Here's ours.  

Please share yours on our Facebook page!

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Somebody Has To Pay!

PunishmentThe news and social media has been flooded recently with responses that "Somebody has to pay" for all of the horrific things going wrong in our world today.  We so desperately want somebody to pay for the pain, the loss, the stupidity, the evil, and the unanswered questions that exist in our world today that we can be found in various tones, for many different reasons, and in a variety vernacular screaming "SOMEBODY HAS TO PAY!" And it doesn't matter what side of the story we are on – we want SOMEBODY to pay.  
 
We want justice for the school officer who lost his job because of the disrespectful school girl who wouldn't do what she was told. Or we want justice for the minor school girl who was physically assaulted by the school officer who couldn't control himself. Depending on how you interpreted that situation from South Carolina recently you may have wanted SOMEBODY to pay. And if some people in your life are on the opposite side of the issue then we begin to make them the enemy as well. As if their opinion created the situation and therefore they should pay too. 
 
Those who want to close our borders to Syrian refugees are being seen as paranoid, fearful, non-compassionate, hateful people who are going to get us killed. Those who talk about welcoming refugees are seen as stupid, bleeding heart, rose colored glasses people who are going to get us killed. We've turned on each other. Isn't it possible that there is right-ness in both opinions, both motives, both intents?  Is it possible that neither is wholly right or wrong? 
 
Why is it that if we disagree, we are enemies? We have turned on each other based on a few polarizing topics. You can become an enemy to your fellow American simply based on how you feel about the President, Congress, guns, confederate flags, hoodies, police brutality, or Starbucks coffee cups for goodness sakes. Is this really what we want to do, create new enemies of each other? Does somebody really have to pay for these differences?   
 
In my own state recently a young lady drove her car through a police barricade and into a crowd of people watching a homecoming parade. Perhaps during the pinnacle of innocent activity, while waving flags and clapping hands, 4 people were killed and numerous severely injured. I have read hundreds of articles, news story responses and had many conversations about this. Many people want her to pay for what she did. Most don't care if she was drugged, drunk, deranged, depressed, diabetic, or disillusioned they just want her to pay. I've read some comments from people who believe her parents should pay for not getting her the help she needed. Her boss should pay for sending her home incapacitated instead of getting her help. Her boyfriend should pay if he knew how poorly she was doing. SOMEBODY needs to pay. Somebody has to be the enemy in tragedy, right?  
 
If I may be so bold as to say that there is NO payment that will bring the 2 year old baby killed at the parade back. There is no balance that can be addressed to un-do explosions that already occurred in Paris last week. Nothing changes the fact that those families are forever different and experiencing grief. There is no jail sentence long enough to reverse the atrocities of terrorism, illness, stupidity, or hate. The death sentence won't touch what has already happened. You can take away guns and people find alternative ways to kill. You can close borders and people find alternative ways in. You can prohibit violence and REALLY bad things still happen. But that doesn't mean we have to create an enemy amongst ourselves and make SOMEBODY pay.   
 
If we are Christ followers, disciples of Jesus, then we are called to be at peace with all people to the best of our ability. Romans 12:18.  Why then are we turning on each other based on a few topics that divide us? Why are we making those topics more important than the price that has already been paid? SOMEBODY has paid for ALL of these things that we want changed! We don't need to settle the debt of our disagreements we just need to receive the payment that has already been given us. In full, it's been paid.
 
He paid for the grief, the flashbacks, the nightmares of every person who witnessed that car crashing into innocent victims. He paid for the deaths and the losses. He also paid for the mistake of the driver. His payment covers whatever the reason is that those people died that day. No matter what caused her to do it, PAID. He has paid for the refugee who is cold, crying, alone, young, old, strong, weak and He wants a better life for them. He has also paid for the terrorist posing as a refugee who is angry, evil, confused and filled with hate and He wants a better life for them. He loves the person who doesn't want to open their country to refugees as much as he loves the ones who do. He loves those whom you consider afraid and he loves those whom you deem stupid. He paid for the free choice of the guy waving his confederate flag and he paid for the free choice of the person who opposes it.  He loves us so much that he died knowing we were uniquely different. He died knowing we would disagree. Yet He asks us to agree on His love and His grace and be at peace with each other. 
 
If you have ever made the choice to receive this payment of Jesus' grace in your life, I encourage you to consider that it is something we are to constantly receive. Not a one time decision but a daily submission. An ongoing choice to not go looking for new debt or new enemies. An ongoing choice to lay my life down and pick His up. A constant renewal of seeking what His grace and love looks like in our lives, our speech, our habits, our hangups and our decisions. His payment was rooted in love and steeped in grace. It didn't demand that I pay for my own sins, mistakes or shortcomings. Who am I then to insist that somebody else pay for theirs?    
 

       

 

Is Virginity Really THAT Important?

When my book Letters to Love was released it became public knowledge that when I married at 38 years old, I was in fact a virgin. For whatever reason that information created some questions from readers. The question that I found most interesting was: "Now that you've been married a few years, do you think saving yourself sexually for marriage was really that important?"  Isn't that a great question!! Was it really that important?  My answer?  No, it wasn't!  And Yes, it was!
 
My answer is "no" because I do not see it as the secret weapon to a problem free marriage.  It is not, in my opinion, the single decision before that makes all things great later. It doesn't assure sexual success or satisfaction. It isn't necessarily indicative of more intimacy or connection. The purity I may have brought to our sex life was not the definition of my worth as a wife or a woman. I brought plenty of impurities in other areas and a vast amount of un-godliness in other ways. Sometimes we, as Christians, can place so much importance on the legalism of subjects like pre-marital sex that we begin to believe that our righteousness and worth hinges on the definitive category we fall into instead of the grace that God extends to hearts that receive it.  My choice to remain a virgin until marriage did not guarantee a life of joyful intimacy and sex in my marriage anymore than someone else is disqualified from joyful intimacy and sex because they had sex before they were married. Neither does it make me more loved by the creator and savior of the world. I am not in better standing with God because of my pre-marital sexual status. God's grace and love is bigger than our virginity or lack of it.  So whether it has been given away, kept, or stolen from us, it doesn't matter – NONE of us is separated from the love of God that is in Christ.  Romans 8: 38-39. 
 
My decision to remain sexually pure before marriage was one that I made early and often in my life. At first it was 2 parts commitment to God and 3 parts commitment to not disappointing my mother, with a healthy dose of absolute fear thrown in for good measure. Those reasons remained the same for 20 years but managed to change in priority and intensity as I came to understand relationships, men, God, faith, and myself. As those reasons changed I discovered how faithful God proved to be in his love for me and how dangerous it was for me to limit his love to my ability or inability to earn it by keeping the rules. When I realized that God's love for me isn't doled out as a reward for when I am able to be good but instead is doled out without measure so that I'll desire to do good – well, that was transformative for me.  It actually made the boundaries of saying "no" to sex less important (and less the goal) but easier to have and easier to say.  The goal became honoring a God who already honored and loved me so my boundaries were now being set to protect a love I already had instead of attempting to earn a love I really wanted.       
 
Although I don't believe it is the secret weapon to marital success or the primary building block to a life of faith, God tells us that sexual purity is important and I must concur and also answer, "yes" to this question.  At 38 years old, naked, clueless and just on the other side of that which was potentially mortifying, scary, and vulnerable instead I found safe arms to fumble, fail and learn in. Although I could have chosen to fumble, fail and learn earlier with somebody else I did it in the same arms that I intend to find myself in day after day and night after night until I am feeble and old where I will find them still. The security that thought and feeling produces for me is immeasurable. His arms. Only his arms. Only him. After getting to know each other in lots of other ways. After A LOT of other firsts: First time he sat on the same side of the booth with me, first time he complimented me, first time we met each other's families, first time he saw me sad and said the right thing, first time he told me I was beautiful, first time we fought, first time he dressed up to take me out, first time we prayed together, first time to cry with and for each other, first time to hold hands, first time to kiss, first time to say "I love you"… After all of those firsts! After the ceremony. After the legal piece of paper. After the celebrations and toasts. After the 19 months of seeing that he was going to still be here tomorrow. After all of that security and safety was tested, nakedness seemed the next best step. And OH! How it was!  From my book, Letters to Love: 
 
The wedding night. A first. My first. Our first. Years of wondering and hearing the opinion and experiences of others melted away as he touched me. Somehow it never felt as awkward as I imagined it would. Where he touched, warmth followed. We became a choreographed dance of fumbling finesse and graceful guessing, a naive knowing that would grow as we grew. Together, he and I.    
 
Almost 9 years later, I can say that nobody else is ever on my mind when I am with my husband. I might be thinking about the amount of laundry I need to do but I am never thinking about the dirty laundry from my past. What might have been considered a boring single life has actually benefited my married life. I have nobody to compare him to. My mind is with him and my heart is for him. I believe because of this we have avoided some relational hurdles. In my professional practice as a therapist it is often previous relationships that can produce doubt, fear and insecurities in our current partners. I have certainly avoided some personal hurdles as well. I bring no guilt or shame to our sexual relationship. I don't feel used, dirty or damaged. I felt uncertain and insecure mind you, but I think that was a good trade off. 
 
I discovered early in the marriage that my lack of experience was actually a benefit for us too. Besides getting to be my only teacher and my only partner which is something we both love, I am able to give him something he didn't even realize he needed. My husband has been deeply betrayed by most significant women in his life. They were not who they said they would be. They were not who he needed them to be. This created both trust issues and relational barriers for him that ran deeper than he ever realized. Because I was faithful to him for 20 years before I ever met him, I am able to give him the gift of trusting me. He doesn't fear that I will be unfaithful to him because I wasn't before I knew him. He doesn't doubt my word, my motive or my choices because they honored him before they were about him. This provides the same safety and security to him that he provided for me when he was willing to wait until marrying me, even though I would not be his first. This kind of relational trust and safety cultivates a loving acceptance that is as rooted in grace as Christ's love for us. Isn't that what marriage is supposed to be? About grace. About love. About acceptance, security and trust. About faith in our God and about honoring him and each other. That's what matters in marriage isn't it? Not which box you check in the pre-marital sex column.              
 

This Christians Take On The Supreme Court Decision

Supreme CourtI've been asked by several friends to write about this issue. I don't want to. Well, I don't want to add to the current firestorm that exists because this is such a polarizing topic. That's what I don't want. I would however like to write something that is helpful to those who are looking to make sense out of what they believe is a Christian nation making what appears to be such a non Christian decision. Here is my attempt:
 
First of all I think it is important to understand that marriage is both a spiritual entity and a legal entity. We must realize that not all heterosexual marriages are spiritual ones. Just because a union appears to be honored by God doesn't mean it is God honoring. Yet those unions, because they are heterosexual, remain legal ones. With those legal unions there are social benefits, tax benefits, parenting benefits, health insurance benefits, death and dying benefits, financial benefits, etc… The rights that come with heterosexual marriage (spiritual or not, God honoring or not) are never removed or questioned. Yet the rights of same sex couples have historically been removed because people of faith believe them not to be spiritually honoring to God. Is it possible that we can disagree with somebody's lifestyle and choices and not remove their rights as people? Can we let people have legal marriages if they are not spiritual ones? For the record we already do. Is it possible to truly have a separation of church and state? As stated by many, it's a slippery slope. But it's a slippery slope either way. We live in a fallen world. By definition we were warned that it would be slippery. 
 
Our country was founded on the right to choose the Christian faith. Which means we must also extend the right to deny the Christian faith. That's what the word "choice" means. Why are we trying to legislate Jesus? God himself didn't legislate Jesus. God said, 
"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!" Deuteronomy 30:19
Essentially God is saying "Here is life and here is death. Oh, please choose life!" But he doesn't dictate that we choose life. He doesn't remove his love for us or from us based on what we choose. In fact he meets us where we are in whatever our choice and continues to say "I love you". He makes it clear which one is better for us and then says, please choose life, the consequences of the other are great and because I love you I want you to choose life and blessing not death and cursing. Then he waits.  Sometimes years. It is my deepest desire that all people would choose him. When his love is really experienced I believe the only reasonable response to it is to submit my life and heart to him.  I want to tell people about that transformative love.  That love feeds the hungry, it gives orphans families, it takes care of widows, it prays for the sick and hurting, it houses the homeless, it helps the disenfranchised and it continues to love those who do not choose it, respond to it or believe in it.  As Christians I think we should do everything in our power to love people to Christ but I don't think we can legislate him if God didn't.     
 
For those of you who can't get passed the sinfulness of same sex marriage I will ask you to consider: When is the last time you sinned and because of that sin you couldn't visit the person you loved the most in the hospital? When is the last time you sinned and you had to call your accountant to change your tax exemptions? Would the sin of lying, gluttony, greed, gossip or adultery keep you from adopting a child, getting a job, having health insurance or obtaining an inheritance from your partner? All other things being equal it would not. When is the last time that your sin was a legislative topic? Why is our government expected to distribute the consequences of what we consider sinful in same sex marriage but we would never stand for the removal of our rights according to our sins? Isn't our government's job to assure that people have the same rights no matter what they choose to believe spiritually? The government is not the church nor do we want it to be. We are the church.         
 
We as Christians are spending an awful lot of effort and energy defending our position. It seems we are placing more value on being right than being The Good News. Eternally speaking we are an unthreatened people. Yet when our truth is challenged we respond defensively as though the kingdom we've inherited can be shaken. It cannot. God remains on the throne. His truth is unchanging no matter who believes it to be truth. His love is unfailing even when it is not valued or received. Many Christians have bought into the lie that connecting with people on their terms is somehow compromising, even though it's exactly what Christ did for each of us. If we were not too beneath Christ, who died for us while we were still choosing sin, then how dare we take a position of superiority over any other human being. He came to me when I was denying him and loved me before I chose him. He came to me when I was questioning truth and he loved me before I made any decision to honor him. He loved me in the brokenness of my sin and the disgustingness of my choices. Then he waited and he waited and he waited while I was choosing otherwise he was actively loving me. Jesus doesn't need us to stick up for him! He needs us to be like him, to look like him, to talk like him and to love people like he loved them. Love is why he came. It's who he is. And love has won infinitely more people to him than theology, dogma or legislation. 

The Royal Ball

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My invitation to the Royal Ball came from an excited 6 year old. On a $10 budget at The Dollar Tree she managed to decorate a table fit for a Queen. Unfortunately, the Queen in this case was a tired mom who really just wanted to throw dinner on the table. And the King? A dad who was going to have to make significant effort to get off of work to make it to the ball. She was so excited. All day! It was difficult not to be excited too. So, we played along. She picked out a skirt and fancy shoes for me and helped Dad with a tie when he walked in the door. We just looked at each other and smiled because even the least fun people on the planet would have indulged this excited ball planner. So we did. 

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It was absolutely pure imaginative fun. Which is not something the King and Queen in this house do so readily. When the table setting began and she wanted to cut up pieces of ribbon to decorate all I could think of was the mess. When Dad was asked that morning to get home on time I'm sure he thought, "If only it were that easy." I didn't want to get out fancy stemware and vases. But we played along. I prepared an extremely plain meal because let's face it, even being called "The Royal Cooker" didn't change the fact that I was cooking it. Dad walked in the door as close to on-time as he possibly could manage and the ball commenced. With a royal announcement from a party blower and a song played from a plastic dollar store flute, we sat down to enjoy. Fancy glasses, fancy decor, fancy talk and fancy music all picked out by the royal ringleader.  A proud 6 year old who was enjoying her creation. Mom in a skirt and heels and Dad with his make shift tie thrown over his work shirt sitting at a table draped with hand made confetti, glittery battery operated candles and plastic flowers in a crystal vase. It was awesome! Absolutely priceless. Because it was hers. Her idea. Her execution. Her priorities. Her heart. Her. Undeniably, her.   

I don't know if you readily turn mundane days into fantastic occasions but I recommend it. Prioritize other people's ideas and desires over your own. Even if those other people are 6 years old and make messes. Perhaps, especially if they are 6 years old and make messes. The memories are worth it. The smiles are worth it. And if you really think about it, isn't everyday worthy of it's own ball?   

 

Dear Teacher, Because Of You…

IMG_9913In just a few days this household will experience the end of it's first full year of school. Kindergarten will be in the history books. 9 short months ago I cried all the way home after dropping an eager, curious, nervous 5 year old at the sidewalk of her future. (Pictured to the left) Since then I have been on that sidewalk every morning. Sometimes with a 5 year old who couldn't wait to get inside and sometimes with one I had to bribe to go inside. Many emotions and discussion occured on that sidewalk and then I would send her inside to you. 
 
I am well aware that mine is not the only child who comes to you with all of those fears, excitements, insecurities, stories, tired mornings, and endless questions about endless things. I cannot fathom or imagine the amount of stimulus you experience or the level of attention that is expected of you from each child who, quite frankly, believes you to be the smartest person on the planet. I am, however, certain that you managed that classroom in a way that my daughter's little heart felt safe. When she was concerned about her performance or keeping up, you instilled confidence. When her work did not measure up, you helped her believe that she did. When she felt left out by her classmates, she always expressed feeling accepted by you. On countless occasions she spoke of you with the kind of affection that anybody would love to be attached to. And I know that there are 20 others in her class who feel the same sense of safety, security, affirmation, and affection from you and towards you. That's what makes you gifted beyond words at what you do. In fact every member of the staff I have encountered at this school is exceptional. You recognize the part you play in the foundation of their education, their self-esteem, and their lives and you do not take that part for granted. You give to each one as if they were the only one. I know that there are classrooms that do not contain such teachers. I know that there are parents who are experiencing a different outcome than we are. I do not know you well but I see in my child the results of the choices you made long before you ever met her. You made a choice to be an educator who loved her job and her students no matter the obstacles, challenges, or shortcoming that attempt to keep you from doing so.  
 
You aren't just teaching, you are building lives. You aren't just concerned about curriculum, you are focused on hearts. Your goal isn't getting them through your class successfully, it's getting them through life successfully. You do not measure your worth by your paycheck but instead the deposits you make in those little hearts. You don't care about them liking you as much as you care about them liking themselves and each other. You are a gift and a treasure, valuable beyond your own comprehension and possibly your own comfort. Not because you work in the classroom, but because of who you choose to be in spite of the classroom. You deserve higher pay, higher praise, and more help but you excel anyway.
 
Because of you kids learn confidence, conflict resolution, and how to be a better friend. Because of you kids believe in hard work, fun, and the importance of getting along. Because of your patience children don't give up. Because of you kids know that they are valuable, capable, and important. Because of you hearts are strengthened and lives are changed. Somehow you realize that you aren't just partnering with the school in education or partnering with parents in raising kids. You have an understanding that you are partnering with God in molding hearts and lives that will effect a generation. Because of you they become people who take responsibility, show compassion, and make a difference: even at 5 years old. Because of you this family is grateful. You opened your classroom and your heart to our most valuable blessing and you cherished her as we do. Because of you this community is stronger. You had 21 kids whose families were all effected by your love this year. Because of you this world is a better place. Because year after year you choose to love when they come in from the sidewalk.  
 
 

Oh To Be Childlike!

IMG_2583Having a six year old girl has reminded me over and over of the beauty of being childlike. Not childish mind you, but child-like. There is a difference. Childish is that selfish desire to stuff ourselves with all that brings us happiness. As adults we spend a considerable amount of time and energy being childish in the pursuit of happiness. Adults pursue happiness at a breakneck speed that is blinding as if joy is racing us to the finish line and it is our job to catch it. Children don't do this. Childlike, is the recognition that everything around us was created to bring us joy. Watch them! They sing for the joy of singing and laugh even if nothing is funny. They have no need to pursue something that already exists. They do not tire themselves seeking something that is within their grasp. They don't go anywhere to obtain joy. They see strangers as potential friends and cardboard boxes as hours of entertainment.  

You remember, don't you? We ran not to burn calories but because we burned with a passion to experience the joy of running. We climbed trees because they were there. We fought off sleep for fear we might miss something and we visited neighbors just because they were neighbors. We were ashamed to do wrong, because, well, it was wrong! We got scared and we weren't afraid to admit it. We had funerals for goldfish and birds because we somehow recognized the value of life and the grief of losing it. We asked questions when we didn't understand and we prayed wonderfully direct prayers to a God whom we never doubted was listening. We loved without fear. We trusted someone enough to jump off of something tall into awaiting arms. Although we might have been afraid, we pursued life with enthusiasm knowing that Band-Aids and Mom would put us back together if we happened to fall down.  

Before we stifled the splendor of life, we relished its possibilities. Before we softened thrill into a sentiment, we were the children who felt it, pursued it and lived it. We were the children that we must become again. We believed in the endless potential of our own gifts and we only questioned our abilities if we were forced to do so. We saw our limitations but were never defined by them. We didn't see weeds we saw wishes. We smiled often, shared freely and dreamed about growing up in a world that was filled with endless possibilities. Few of us, I have realized, have been able to carry this childlike zeal into our adult lives. Perhaps it isn't respectable to believe in yourself or laugh just because you enjoy existing. Maybe it isn't responsible to rest, play, run, work and give ourselves over to faith.  And so, in our respectable responsibility, we miss out on the very joy that could be blanketing our existence.  I do it. I'm respectable and responsible and much of the time, no damn fun. 

I lose sight of the joy. In fact, I have recently lost sight of it. It's a funk I find myself in periodically. I get busy. I get distracted. I am melancholy on my best days and I struggle with depression and loneliness. Those things don't show up and remind me of my potential for joy and laughter. They don't come with their neon signs pointing to all that is good and happy in life. Depression and loneliness show up and they rob me of my 'give-a-rip' and remind me of how much I should doubt myself and be afraid of screwing stuff up. They help me think of all of the people who aren't meeting my needs and they magnify the hopelessness that creeps into my heart and mind. Conversely, they are masterful at blinding me from the joyous gifts that wait for me everyday to open them. In fact, they sometimes convince me that those gifts aren't gifts at all. So I miss the joy, the gifts, the living. Children don't do this. They might get distracted BY joy but they don't get distracted FROM it. 

I want to be childlike. I want to be a woman who pursues the passions within me and the beauty around me. I want to climb the occasional tree, hike by the stream and visit neighbors just because they are neighbors. I want to give to others with the excitement of a child and I want to love laughing more than anything else. I want strangers to eventually become my friends. I want to care less about my to-do list and more about my fellow man. I want to never question that God is listening when I so fervently, passionately and honestly go before Him, unfiltered. I want to believe that I am capable of anything and never allow fear to be the catalyst for my decisions. I want to see the risk of falling but also the possibility of flying. I want to acknowledge my limitations but refuse to be defined by them. I want to! I want to seek delight and desire joy. I want to choose life. I want to choose love even when it might not be returned to me. I want to fight that which steals the fervor I wish most of us had never lost. I want to do it even when I'm afraid. I want to seek out the Band-Aids when I fall and trust that when I jump, loving arms still wait to catch me!

 

Immanuel, God with us?

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"Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, "God with us."  — Matthew 1:23
 
This week Christians celebrate the birth of Christ.  A reminder that God came to dwell among us.  If you are anything like me you might look around and wonder about God actually being "with us".  Turn on the news and you might find it difficult to see Him.  Violence, poverty, hate and the senseless loss of lives fill our headlines daily.  Or look into your own life and wonder where He is.  Have you asked for a mate and you are still sleeping alone?  Or is the mate you chose no longer choosing you?  Does the doctor's prognosis still resonate in your mind?  Or the taste of the chemo still linger in the back of your throat?  Have you asked for a child and your womb is still barren?  Or perhaps worse, have you had to bury the child you were given way too soon?  If God is with us then why isn't He doing something about all of this?  If He is "God with us" then where is He?  Where is He in the midst of our everyday struggles and our monumental pain?  Where?
 
Is He watching from a distance?  Is he some benevolent and calm observer waiting for me to do everything well or something right so that He can give me a reprieve from my difficulties?  Is He a tyrant ruler punishing me with pain, loss and loneliness because I haven't figured it all out?  Is He a leader who stands at the finish line and watches me as I stumble towards His voice because I cannot always tell the direction He is summoning me from?  Where are you, God?  Why does scripture specifically tell us that His name is translated "God with us" if He is so difficult to find?  Ahhh, perhaps that is why!  Maybe, He is encouraging us to consider that it will not always be easy to remember that He is with us.  But in fact He wants us to remember that He is with us. God – with us. 
 
From the glorious surroundings of heaven He came to the repugnant conditions of Earth.  He is here.  Look in the manger, the one with manure around it, He isn't in the castle, He is in the stable.  From hearing the praise of heavenly hosts He came to suffer the ridicule of thankless men.  Look there!  He is the one being screamed at and abused, that's Him with the nails and the cross.  From the safety of His Father's side to the impending fate of His human life, He came to suffer.  He is in this life, this pain with us!  From the rightful seat of His heavenly throne to the undeserved cradle of a cattle trough.  He knows about need.  He is a savior who was born into a family with little means.  He knows about feelings.  He wept, He got angry, He laughed and He felt lonely.  He hurt for His friends and longed for His family.  He bled, He cried, He had no place to lay His head and He was betrayed by those He trusted.  He knows how we feel!
 
No matter the concerns of your heart today – He has not forgotten you.  He has not left you.  He has not forsaken you.  He continues to be "God with us".  We must however realize that He is in the pain not in the absence of it.  He is NOT the destination.  He is the journey.  He is in the questions not just the answers.  He is in the manure, the mire, the blood and the betrayal.  He is in the battle as much as He is in the victory.  He is in the tears as much as He is in the smiles.  He came not only to die for us but to live with us.  Not in a perfect pain free world but in a world that tortured even Him.  In the abuse, in the lack, in the confusion, in the betrayal, in the grief, in the loss, in the cancer, in the addiction, He is there.  He is the grace and the love if we allow Him to be.  He is with us.  This week as we celebrate His presence, look for Him. He is unmistakably among us.  His life is the gift that brings peace to our soul, purpose to our hearts and value to our lives if we choose to LET HIM BE IMMANUEL.  God with us. 
 
 
 
 

 

I Don’t Promote Sororities

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I was a sorority girl. Since membership is for life I should say I AM a sorority girl. If you know me, that might be a difficult visual for you. I didn't fit the stereotype when I went to college. I was a socially awkward tom-boy athlete who felt like I was entirely too young, immature and inexperienced to be in the midst of those "women". If you were to analyze it today, I still don't fit the stereotype. I'm not fancy, wealthy, girly, dramatic, socially secure or beautiful by most standards. In my 29 years of membership I have learned that the stereotype only means something if you allow it to. The truth is, we were all insecure, questioning, searching, figuring out and maneuvering our way into adulthood as best we knew how. During that time, they extended to me the same thing I extended to them; friendship, acceptance and support.
 
I never felt as though I had to be anything other than what I was, while in the sorority. Yet if I wanted to make changes I didn't feel judged, discouraged or ostracized if it didn't look like what others were doing. We were all changing, growing, becoming different yet we were somehow doing it together. Differently together. Together differently. Friendship, acceptance and support became the cornerstone of my experience with a sorority. When I struggled with depression my Sophomore year in college I had a "sister" who would hold my hand while I cried myself to sleep many nights. She didn't understand but she remained. Friendship. Acceptance. Support. When I had no idea what to wear on a date, closets all over the house readily flew open with options. Friendship. Acceptance. Support. Those 4 years brought me more stability and security than that scared and insecure 17 year old who showed up on the first day possibly could have imagined. For 25 years friendship, acceptance and support has remained a cornerstone in those relationships.  
 
When one of our "sisters" who had two young children was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer I saw an outpouring of friendship, acceptance and support that was astounding.  She did treatments in Houston though she lived in Oklahoma.  She wanted her husband to be able to stay with the kids to keep things as normal for them as possible.  All of us had families, jobs, and/or other responsibilities but for the 6 weeks she lived in Houston she was never alone. Not once. She didn't travel alone, she didn't stay alone and she didn't do treatments alone. Not one single treatment did she do without support, friendship and acceptance. It was not exclusively "sisters" who did this but it never has been. Not even in college. There are always great efforts made to know and accept the other people in our "sisters" lives. Friendship. Acceptance. Support. It's much more inclusive than the stereotype would lead you to believe. 
 
I've been given more than one job in my life because of a "sister". In order that I wouldn't have a lapse in my health insurance I actually had a sister create a job in her company so that I could get medical treatment. Long after it's fun and frequent to attend your friends weddings, at age 38 I had more than 30 "sisters" there to celebrate mine. 6 months later there were 17 of them at my father's funeral to support me in my grief. One year ago when my book, Letters To Love was published I had a "sister" at every single one of my book signings sitting with me from beginning to end and not once did I ask them to do so.  These friends are present. On purpose. We have sat in hospital rooms, waiting rooms, courthouses, funeral homes, and therapy offices together. Not because we always agree with or understand but because we were friends offering acceptance and support. Not because it's easy but because we care. I am different because of these women but not because they needed me to be different for their stereotype. I'm different because that's what happens when you are loved and accepted.  
 
So when I say I don't promote sororities, it's true, I don't. I promote friendships. Whether you find them on an athletic field, a dorm floor, a student organization, a church activity, a Bible study, a neighborhood or a work environment it doesn't matter. I promote acceptance and support. I value not giving up on people. I promote being committed especially when people are different than you are. I honor showing up for each other not because it's easy or convenient but because it makes a difference. I encourage the kind of relationships where you allow others to write on the pages of your life over and over and over again.  I recognize that these kind of relationships take time, effort, intention, grace, patience and sacrifice.  So I salute that very hot day in August of 1986 when I met "my sisters" and wouldn't trade being a sorority girl for anything.  But what I cherish most is what they have taught me about friendship, acceptance and support everyday since that one.       
      
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