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.  

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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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Live So They’ll Clap

 

My name is Sariel. Commissioned by the Lord himself I was instructed to go assist another saint in transitioning to this side. Contrary to what is often believed, the soul is quite capable of finding its way home. Returning to The Creator is the most natural reflex saints have. Angels like me are sent as companions for the journey and often utilized to help them say "goodbye." As that is the difficult part in death. I was chosen for this transition because I am the angel that specializes in big numbers. This gentleman would be leaving a crowd of people who didn't want to see him go and would be greeted by a crowd who were anxious to see him again. With many friends and extended family, Tom also had a devoted wife, ten children, nine in-laws and twenty-six grandchildren who spanned two decades.     
 
"Tom, my name is Sariel. I'm here to walk home with you."
"Then call me Doc" he said, as if he thought we should be on closer terms.  
"Did you know that I have ten kids?" he asked.  
"I did." I responded. "As a matter of fact I escorted three of them to you myself." 
"I hope I remembered to thank you?" he questioned.  
I assured him that he had. He was not a man of many words but was certainly known both here and in the celestial realm for having a grateful heart.  
 
It was a Wednesday when I greeted him. I wanted to tell him that beginning tomorrow he would no longer be able to respond to them. He would, however, stay to listen for a few more days before we would leave.   
"It's okay," he told me. "They know what I will no longer be able to tell them."  
 
His wife, who we refer to in Heaven as 'the faithful one', had been sent an angel of her own years ago. That's what The Lord does for his faithful ones. His children were all there, hours after I arrived, when Tom took a turn for the worse. They gathered in the same room that they had run to in the middle of the night when they were scared little ones. They assumed their unspoken roles and fell into their unrehearsed rhythm. They each stood at the post of 'whatever it takes' while systematically falling into the reality of their sadness and grief. They came and left the room in a tag team of strength and weakness that was beautifully painful and painfully beautiful. For three days they kneeled around his bed, wanting desperately to hear his voice and realized slowly and with great sadness that it was gone.  That unassuming, quiet voice of direction, love, and strength was gone.  So they began to speak to him.
 
"Daddy, do you remember when you took us fishing?" Kelly trailed off in tears.  
"Or what about the tennis lessons Dad?" Pat continued.  
"I remember you frying chicken on Sundays after church." Mike added.
"Boy Scout meetings" Johnny chimed in.  
"Ball games. You were always there. Coaching and cheering." Jimmy said.  
"Working cattle was never much work with you." Ryan recalled.
 
"Teaching us to water ski at the cabin", "Camp outs", "OSU football games," and "Teaching us to drive" were also mentioned as they reminisced about time they had spent with the man who had given them so much of himself. The stories flowed as if they had all happened yesterday, and the feelings of family, love, and togetherness were palpable in the air. It went on for three days.  They continued with memories, stories, laughter, tears and gratitudes. The faithful one laid there with her head on his shoulder, listening, praying and hoping. She hadn't moved in hours and had no intention of doing so. She would spend his final days exactly where she had spent the majority of her years: At his side. There were times of silence broken with more stories, comments, prayers, and scripture being read. Four or five of them laid on the bed with their parents while several were on the floor and in the recliner. Everybody in one room. They were there for each other as much as they were there for him. It was a room filled with absolute love, adoration, and immense sorrow. I hovered above as The Lord instructed to provide them His peace and His comfort. 
 
"So much attention." I said to him. He smiled and shrugged, as if to tell me that this was the only attention that had ever really mattered to him. 
 
They continued to operate in a symphony of strengths and weakness' meeting the needs of each other as well as Tom and the faithful one. There had been no assignments, no direction, no voting, and no manual. They each operated from a knowing of themselves and a deep knowing and belief in each other. Surrounding him and wondering how much longer they would be given. Not wanting to miss a single opportunity to love or appreciate him, they continued to talk. 
 
"Thanks for everything you taught us Dad about living life well." the oldest began.  
"Thanks for staying to walk me down the isle this year Daddy." The youngest daughter choked as she recounted the thirty eight years he waited and the steps they took together only a few months before.  
"Thanks for the things you did for us, with us, and in spite of us." the other daughter whispered tearfully, knowing that most men do not choose such greatness. 
"For your patience," the faithful one chimed in.
"For your kindness and generosity to everybody you ever came across." Tim profoundly uttered. 
For giving us the love of Dave," Tom sobbingly said, "because it changed me." 
 
They all sensed that the time was drawing closer. The two sons-in-law, John and Jerrad, were both there standing behind Tom's daughters, supportive and sorrowful. John who had been called Tom's 'best buddy' for years, had been part of this family longer than the four youngest children. He tearfully left the room after saying "I love you, Doc." Jimmy followed him. They hugged for a long time outside the room and returned together. Jerrad, although new to the family, had a sense of both loss and love as he stood quietly in the corner and wept. Two of Tom's daughters-in-law were there as well. It was difficult for any of them to stay away as they all had admiration for him. Liz and Kara, however, were able to get away to be a part of the homecoming. They stood in the doorway, quieter than Tom's children but right there with this man who had always assured them they were as much a part of the family as anybody.
 
"He has gifted us with this time" someone announced.
"He's teaching us how to die with dignity just like he taught us to live." Pat commented.  
"Not much longer, Doc." I told him. And at that his breathing became more labored. He never wanted to leave when his family was together.  
"It's okay Daddy." Kelly sobbed.  
"Please Daddy, let go." Karen cried. 
The labored breathing lasted for hours. They each tried to assure him that they would be okay, though none of them felt like they actually would. The only thing more painful to them than being without him was watching the pain he was now experiencing. For so many years Tom had been the one to hold them up and to help them through their pain, always putting them before himself. But on this day it was their turn. And so they lamented. 
 
"Please Dad. Please." Ryan pleaded.
"Let go, Daddy." Tim wept. 
Jimmy, who was resting his forehead on Tom's whispered, "We will take care of Mom, Daddy, I promise. It's okay." 
Johnny began to pray, "Thank you, Father, for the years You gave us with him and all that he is to us. Help us to remember what he taught us. Lord, give us the strength to let him go and the grace to be able to move on without him. Make the pain stop and help him come to you in peace." 
As an answer to that prayer, it was then that I reached through the realms of time and eternity and I touched their hearts. Jimmy stood and pointed at the youngest daughter, who had been at the foot of the bed crying, and motioned for her to trade places with him.  
When she reached the head of the bed Missy's painful sobbing had stopped and with a graceful peace she began to sing.
"Jesus loves me this I know…."
Tom's breath gradually slowed.
"Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelu…" she continued in a soft melody. 
The pain ceased and the peace that he had always known on this earth rested upon him just before he entered eternity. With the name of Jesus their Savior, in the form of a song sung in tremble, I took his hand and escorted him to this side. 
 
After he had left them we watched together as they each lined up, kissed his head and told him that they loved him. Tom saw the sadness in their eyes but no longer recognized that emotion in any way he could define. He looked at me puzzled as I explained to him that he now lives in a place where the glory of God is so immense that sadness cannot be fathomed. With that, we turned and approached the other crowd that had been waiting for Tom. As he walked without limit and without pain the clapping began. Behind us, his family had lined the sidewalk as his body was wheeled out of the home. On either side of that concrete walk they stood in sadness and respect. They clapped for this man who had lived his life so well. And ahead, his loved ones lined a sidewalk made of gold to greet him in joy and respect for a life well served. He walked. They clapped. In unison the clapping from both sides of time resonated for this man who spent his life in simple service and profound love. 
 
It is a rare honor to take this walk and to witness the peace and faith felt on both sides as a soul such as Tom's passes over. The family lining the concrete and the family lining the gold knew that the legacy Tom left behind was as tender and beautiful as it was solid and sustainable. And so they clapped.
 
 
 clapping hands