The Choice I Am Certain Of In This Election


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

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

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

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

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

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


91 Reasons Why I Love Her

Today, my sweet mother turns 91 years old. Most people I couldn’t come up with 91 reasons why I love them.  For her I could have come up with 9,000.  But in honor of her birthday – here are the first 91!   Happy Birthday Mom!!

1. Life may not be fair but this women is.  Down to the sprinkles on our cupcakes whenever measurable we all got the same amount.  

2. She has NEVER allowed any of her children to talk poorly to her about any of her other children.  “Don’t talk to me about my kids – go work it out yourselves.”  

3. She loves her God with everything in her.  

4.  Every Christmas at her house there are still 10 stockings hung and filled for her children.  

5.  Every Christmas at her house there are still 37 stockings hung and filled for her grandchildren.  

6.  If you are a friend or family member a card arrives in your mailbox on your birthday.  Without fail.  

7.  She cares about people even if she has never met them.  

8.  She loves and cusses at her OSU Cowboys.  

9.  For 17 plus years she drove to the parking lot of an abortion clinic in Tulsa and just prayed.  For all the hearts involved she prayed.  

10.  When I was 8 years old and wanted to play soccer there wasn’t anybody to coach so they told us we couldn’t have a team.  She bought a book, a ball, some cones and a whistle.  We had a team.  

11.  At OSU Mom’s weekends, she danced on tables while her children stood by holding her purse.    

12.  She doesn’t like injustice for any person. 

13.  When she first meets people she doesn’t say, “It’s nice to meet you.”  She says, “I’m glad to know you.”  And she means it!

14.  She still cooks dinner for “the seniors” at church.  

15.  She befriends her children’s friends.  

16.  She spends a lot of time in prayer.  

17.  At 80 years old she rode a horse with my daughter on her 1st birthday.  

18.  She calls to check on her kids, grandkids and friends frequently.  

19.  She updates the appearance of her home routinely.  

20.  She raises really kind and considerate men.  

21.  She initiates the change she desires to see in the world.  

22.  Recently she received an award of recognition at her church.  She was embarrassed for getting an award for doing what she says she is supposed to be doing anyway.  

23.  She laughs at herself.  

24.  She knows how to show up for people when it’s hard.  

25.  She fights for her independence.  Sometimes more than she should.    

26.  When the boys were growing up she took the alligators off of Izod socks and sewed them onto dime store shirts.  

27.  She doesn’t allow people to go through things alone.  

28.  She still visits shut-ins weekly.  

29.  She has always prioritized her friendships.  

30.  She makes a point to know her grandchildren and attend their activities.  

31.  She hates exercise.  

32.  She has always tried different creative outlets and activities.  

33.  She recently told me that she has never lost a friendship except to death.  

34.  She consistently believes the best about people and the world.    

35.  If you’ve ever hurt one of her children she probably holds a bit of a grudge.  She may not want to but she does.  

36.  She has been present for all but one of her grandchildren’s births.  She was late for the first one.  Keep in mind however that she had a 3 year old and 6 year old as well as 4 other kids of her own still at home.  

37.  She has literally held in her arms both of her parents, our friend Dave Wilkins, her husband and all three of her siblings as they passed away from this life.  

38.  She loves to accomplish and learn things.  

39.  She is proud of her country even when she doesn’t understand or agree with it’s government.  

40.  She finds peace in being outside and loves the sound of running water.  

41.  She likes to see new things, experience new places and meet new people.  

42.  She has always said that she doesn’t look back and has no regrets.  

43.  Her family is not just a priority to her.  We have been her purpose, her passion, and her vocation.

44.  Like Jesus in the parable, if there is one of us astray she will go after that one in prayer, with love until we return to the flock.  

45.  Even when she doesn’t understand our endeavors she has always supported them.  

46.  When we tease her about having a favorite she always responds, “I don’t have a favorite.  I don’t like any of you.”  

47.  She lives out every single conviction she has to the fullest degree.  

48.  She doesn’t expect anything from you that she isn’t willing to do herself.  

49.  When students at Oklahoma A&M were asked to attend a meeting regarding black people being admitted for education she attended in wholehearted support.    

50.  She broke up with another man to date my daddy.  

51.  She stood next to me at my wedding as my Matron of Honor.    

52.  She has never pretended to be anything other than exactly who God created her to be.  

53.  She can read with and to my daughter for hours and hours and hours.  

54.  She loves every one of her grandchildren as if they are the only one.  

55.  She and her sisters would laugh and laugh and laugh.  For hours they would laugh with and at each other.  

56.  She experiences blessings and loss with such grace that you might find yourself envying her strength.  

57.  She is humble.  So humble you realize she has no idea how really amazing she is.  

58.  She will still put me in my place or correct me if she sees it as needed or necessary.  

59.  I prefer her company on most occasions, for any reason, no matter what I’m feeling.  

60.  She is fun to tease.  

61.  She loves and treats her children’s spouses as though they were her own.  

62.  She is both classy and comfortable.  

63.  She will honk and shake her finger at you if she catches you littering.  

64.  Because I was still single I received an Easter basket until I was 38 years old.  

65.  She came and stayed a week when I had Marie.  I cried like a baby when she left.  I was forty.   

66.  In 2001 I decided to go to Ireland and run a marathon.  She and Daddy decided they should be at the finish line.  They were.

67.  She let me wear her wedding dress!

68.  Every year we call each other at the first sign of snow because we both love it.  One year I was out of the country and she saved a snowball in the freezer until I got home.  

69.  She is big on manners and taught them well.  

70.  She likes both adventure and stability.  

71.  She feels strongly about the right things  

72.  I’ve never seen her act as though anybody is better than her.   

73.  I’ve never seen her act as though anybody is beneath her.  

74.  I’ve never seen any evidence that she cares much about what other people think of her.  

75.  I had a minor surgery a few years ago and she came to stay with me for a few days to help with recovery.  I woke up from a nap to find her, at 88 years old, outside picking up limbs in my yard.  

76.  She calls God her best friend.  

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

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

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

80.  She is really tough and rarely complains. 

81.  She listens more than she talks.  

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

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

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

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

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

87.  When she had her hip replaced in her 80’s she worked diligently to get back to a place where she could physically care for herself and others. 

88.  She recently went to a friends funeral an hour early so that she could get the closest parking spot and work her way up the churches many steps to be on time. 

89.  When her house caught on fire this year and she had to move from a home she had lived in for 57 years.  She never once mentioned what she had lost.  Only what she had gained.   

90.  The 4 boys who rescued her from that fire are now on her mind, on her daily prayer list, and in her heart as her own.        

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

What I hope my daughter tells her therapist

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

All This!

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

The Adventure

It was the most afraid I've ever been.  I was halfway through a first time appointment with a teenage client and his mom.  They had lots to be concerned about. I was in full people helper mode. Six thirty in the evening. Nobody else left in the office, very few people still in the five story building. My seven o'clock appointment would be in the waiting room soon. Before that however, I would experience the longest twenty-five minutes of my life.  
The knock on the waiting room door was loud and rare. So rare that I ignored it the first time. My new client was expressing a desire to end his life and his mother was looking to me to do something, anything, to change his mind. As he spoke, her eyes begged, "Please make my son want to live his life again."  The next knock was louder, longer. As though somebody was coming through the wall. I apologized and told them I'd be right back. It was six-forty p.m. when I left the room.  
When I got to the waiting room I found our former office manager, who still worked downstairs in the building. She looked concerned, apologized, and said, "You need to call Jerrad right now." Jerrad is my husband, who as far as I knew was at home with our twenty-two month old daughter.  Except now, because he is the least reactive person I know, I knew he wasn't. I didn't return to my office. I stepped around to the receptionist area and called him. He answered the phone with the words, "I can't find her."  
Marie is our first and only child. She was a footling breech at birth, which basically means she was standing up inside of me so the doctor had to go in and get her. She hadn't sat down since. She is active. Very active! And now she was gone! My husband ,who is usually so calm it's maddening, was in a panic. He is also completely night blind. It was December at dusk. They had been playing outside and he turned around for a few minutes and she was gone. I immediately pictured our creek, our pond, livestock, ravines, woods, darkness, cold, and the highway that is not far from our property. "She is gone," he repeated. I told him to call all the neighbors, stop people on the road, and go to the bar on the highway and get anybody to help. "Get more eyes. Eyes that can see at night. Anybody. Everybody." We hung up the phone.  
I had seconds to make a decision. I could leave the mama in my office with her kid who was suicidal and race forty-five minutes home to help my husband find our daughter, or I could stay. I could stay and do the work that has been entrusted to me and give this family twenty more minutes of guidance while desperately hoping for different news at seven, when I would absolutely head home if she wasn't found. It was six forty-three when I sat back down in my office. Three minutes I'd been gone. I said nothing about the information that I had received during the interruption and simply apologized again. I was as present as I could be while I was busy in my mind battling fear and trying to find faith. 
I had waited forty years to be a mom and in that moment I found myself whispering to God "I know this can't be how it ends."  I have to think that the mom in my office was whispering the same thing about her child. "I know this can't be how it ends." Her son was communicating horrific and tragic thoughts. The visuals that came into my mind while I sat there listening were equally as horrifying and tragic. My baby is lost! Then it struck me that she couldn't find her child either. Although he was right in front of us, he was lost too. I prayed that while I was attempting to be part of her search party, somebody, anybody, was joining my husband in his. Six forty-four, six forty-eight, six fifty-one, the clock in my office had never moved so slowly. I had my daughter dead and rescued in more scenarios than you can possibly imagine in those minutes. All the while I was attempting to be attentive. My actual attention was with my lost toddler who was an hour from my arms. My ongoing plea with God was that He please have her in His. Six fifty-four, six fifty-six, six fifty-eight….my anxiety grew as I imagined what my next phone call with Jerrad would be. I knew I was three minutes from a conversation that could change my life, my entire existence. My next conversation with my husband could alter my heart and test my faith more than anybody ever wants their faith tested. 
I rescheduled my new client and told them that I thought I could be helpful, though in that moment I knew that might not be true. Two minutes after seven. I apologized to my seven o'clock client for running late and told him that I needed a minute or two before we could get started. I stepped into my office with the full realization of how many different directions my life could go with this one phone call. We've all had those moments. The ones that when they come they either leave you with a huge, deep emotional relief or they take every breath of air you ever thought about breathing. I was about to experience one of those moments and I dreaded it. 
When I hung up the phone at six forty-three and went back to my office, Jerrad continued to call every neighbor he had a phone number for. He reached two men who live at opposite ends of our road. When he said, "Please help me I've lost my baby," they both jumped in their pickups and headed toward our house. My strong, immensely capable husband had found his limit. He couldn't see four feet in front of him and his baby girl was lost alone by herself on fifty acres of land. Or worse, not on our property at all and in the woods, on the road, or headed toward the highway. Nightmare. He was living a nightmare. The kind of nightmare where you scream but nothing comes out, or run and your legs don't work. A helpless nightmare. 
At three after seven when I called him back, he answered with the words, "I have her." Oh, Sweet Jesus! My moment got to be one of deep breathing relief! It easily could have gone the other way. I breathed so gratefully deep it might as well have been the only breath I'd ever taken. "Thank you, Lord," I muttered. Jerrad concurred. Our neighbor found her in our pasture a half mile from our house. I made him cookies the next day. I'll give him a kidney or bone marrow if he ever needs them. Thankfully, Marie didn't know she was lost. She had followed her puppy on an adventure. For forty-five minutes she had been lost and didn't know it. Playing. Happily playing in the dark with her dog. Her parents were the only ones traumatized on this day. Traumatized and changed. Because that's what trauma does, it changes us. 
We held her and each other a little tighter after that. We watched her more closely and loved her more intentionally. The way you do after you have thoughts that you might never get to do it again. I love her more mindfully now. When life gets busy and I'm not paying the attention I should, I've asked God to remind me that I could always be one second away from one of those moments, When He does, I hold her longer to express how thankful I am to not be in one now. I am reminded that so many people actually are in one now. I breathe deeper, I watch her play longer, I kiss her face more tenderly, and I don't wipe the muddy fingerprints off the window. I value the little stuff when He reminds me to do so. I rest in the only comfort I have as a parent which is knowing that no matter where she is in proximity to my arms, she will always and forever be in the the embrace of His.  

Love is Like a Cardio Workout

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.  

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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.