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.
 
 
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Missy-Palooza!

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It started when I was single.  I have a propensity for loneliness and a history of depression. When my birthday rolled around both had the potential to get the best of me.  I have a friend who broke into my house at 5:30am on the morning of my birthday for 3 or 4 years in a row with bagels and singing. She celebrated me! Because of her intentional presence on that day an idea was born. Why should I wait for somebody else to celebrate my life? Why can't I plan for the same joy she was producing? Why should I get caught in the cycle of dreading my birthday, hiding my actual age and feeling sorry for myself when people didn't acknowledge the day I was brought into this world?  After all, I had A LOT for which I was grateful every other day of the year.  So began, Missy-Palooza!!  The week long (or longer if necessary) celebration of all that has made my life so amazing.  
 
Call it selfish if you must but at least hear me out.  I plan lunches and coffee with friends who have chosen to do life with me, often bringing them gifts to thank them for making my life so wonderful.  I always schedule time with my mother where she prepares my favorite meal and readily tells the story of what it was like to bring a baby girl home to that house filled with boys.  I take off work a day or two that week and go for walks, ride a horse, paint a picture or schedule a massage.  If it's a BIG milestone birthday I may even plan a trip!  I have a date night with my husband planned by me to assure that I will enjoy our time together. I sometimes call my brothers and say, "Hey, call me right back will you?"  When they do, I answer "Oh!  It's so sweet of you to call on my birthday!" I sleep a little later and I breathe a little deeper.  I spend more time with my God, my family and my friends because to me that is celebration.  And I do it because I believe my life, (our lives!) are worth celebrating and being thankful for.  Even though that number keeps getting bigger and my face and body are starting to rebel I have much for which to be on my knees grateful for.  Who says only children can throw parties and invite their friends to celebrate? I will continue to plan my week of letting others know how grateful I am to be here.  In some ways, it's a 'thank you note' to the One who allows me this blessing.    
 

 

The Gift I’ve Never Spoken Of

We did what all girlfriends do when it's that time.  We talked about being pregnant together, raising our babies as friends and siphoning from each other the gifts we saw in each other to make parenting easier.  We had been friends for years.  Despite our age difference and the fact that we had little in common we genuinely did life together.  We spent long hours talking, challenging each other to grow, to become, to be. Late night phone calls, tearful pleas for advice and prayers for comfort were not uncommon. It was a friendship that was both challenging and safe and those can be rare.  Then we found ourselves in a place that life doesn't prepare you for.  A place where friendships are often lost.    
 
I was 40 years old and pregnant for the first time. She was 30 and had just had a miscarriage. Not at all what we had talked about, planned for or dreamed of. We wanted to be doing the joyous part of life together. Suddenly there were parts of life that weren't so joyous. She wanted to be happy for me and couldn't. Not completely. I wanted to be sitting with her in grief but couldn't. Not completely. We tip-toed around each others feelings going through the motions and making attempts to be there for each other. She came to one of my baby showers and left before everybody got there. Her way of saying, "I'm excited for you."  My way of saying, "I know this is hard, please take care of you." I listened to her cry on the other end of the phone while resting my hand on a very pregnant stomach. It was difficult. Painful. Sad. For both of us. She shared in my joy as much as she was capable but I was always aware of her pain.  I shared in her grief as much as I was able but she was always aware of my elation. I was an acute reminder of the miracle that she had lost. She was a reminder to me of how fragile my experience really was.    
 
This is where I think we let many of our friendships go.  When it's this difficult and there are no words. When it's painful and there are no explanations. When you can't express your feelings and the only common ground we have is that we are both human. It's easier sometimes to let go. I prayed for her. Frequently. I missed her during this time of celebration in my life. I have a deep belief that through her tears she was also praying for me. Maybe even missing me in her grief. We've never talked about it. While we were in it we didn't really know how. In the years since, I'm not sure we have needed to. In my opinion we survived it because of one amazingly courageous act. A gift to me that I've never told anybody about. I'm not sure I've even thanked her for it. Until this writing, six years later, I must admit that I haven't been able to put it into words.  It was a gift to our friendship that I will never forget.  
 
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Because of my age I was considered high risk and saw the doctor frequently. I had an above average number of tests run. There were a few minor complications but nothing that caused a great deal of concern. Just enough concern however that complete peace always seemed out of reach. No matter how hard I tried to rest in the miraculous I was constantly reminded of the fragility.  I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms, sometimes accompanied by my mother but usually alone.  It seemed unnecessary for my husband to take off work so frequently to just wait. So I sat. Sometimes worried. Sometimes lonely. Sometimes afraid. She knew. One day I believe she sensed in my voice the fear, the concern and the apprehension of the hours I was about to spend in the waiting room. I didn't tell her. I would never have done that. Minutes after I arrived at my appointment she walked into the waiting room handed me a cup of coffee and sat down. I don't remember words. Only soft silent tears from both of us. We didn't even look at each other that I remember. She came to sit next to me. That was her gift. Her amazingly complicated and simple gift to me. All I could think about was the pain in her heart that she had ignored so that she could be there.  I cried for the pain she felt. I cried for the loss she had. Mostly, I cried for the amazing gift of friendship she was extending to me at that moment. I think we both knew we were on holy ground. That's why I don't remember any words. We sat there, drank coffee, rested in the knowing of having each other and cried.    
 

The Gift I Didn’t Know I Needed

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I went to lunch this week with an acquaintance in hopes of making a new friend.  I've needed something in a friendship that I can't really identify.  More time?  Different time?  More depth?  More vulnerability?  Someone to challenge me?  Someone to not challenge me but be with me in the midst of challenges?  Something, but I'm not sure what it is.  I just know that there is a hole.  A missing piece that I haven't known how to fill because honestly I don't even know what it is.  I just know that it's there. I have GREAT friends.  Among the best, but the ones who have historically provided what I believe I'm missing are no longer as geographically accessible.  Life changes that way doesn't it?  
 
I moved.  Almost 8 years ago.  (I've never been on the fast track to many things if you are wondering why I'm just now addressing this need.) In my desperation to connect with other woman and gain some semblance of belonging I phoned all of the big churches in town to find a women's Bible study.  I found one!  That was 5 years ago. I've met some amazing women.  I've done some incredible studies.  I've made friends.  I've cultivated relationships with people who I know care about me and my family.  I still need more.  I just can't identify what it is.  So I have prayed that God will either meet the need, fill the hole, take away the "lonely" or bring me to a place of understanding my own soul well enough that I know what to do next.  Meanwhile, I go through the motions of what I believe it is that I need.  
 
I don't put myself "out there" easily in relationships.  I'm an introvert.  I'm overly cautious.  And as my husband has convinced me I am just independent and competent enough that I give off exactly ZERO indication that I need anything from anybody.  Yet I do.  To the core of my being, I do.  So during the lunch I mentioned previously, I'm sitting and going through the motions of making a potential new friend.  Cautiously hopeful.  Nervously optimistic.  Again attempting to address this hole, this need that I don't know what to call or how to meet.  Her phone rings.  Nothing new that happens all the time.  She doesn't answer it.  That's new.  The conversation is good.  Easy even.  She gets a call or two and a few text messages in the course of our time together.  Each time she glances down to assure it isn't her children and continues her  conversation with me.  She is attentive.  She is funny.  She is smart.  I'm enjoying our time.  When I commented about her not answering her phone she quickly responded, "I set aside this time to spend with you."  At that moment something happened in my heart.  Right there inbetween bites of salad I felt it both physically and emotionally.  It was real and it was powerful.  
 
Those words.  The gift of those words were like a neon sign pointing to what the need was in my heart.  Those words identified the hole.  "I set aside this time to spend with you."  Intentional on purpose relationship that mattered enough to put down the distractions that our culture sees as so important.  Time spent not in passing or busyness but specifically for the goal of friendship.  Not completing a task, not helping each other with kids, not attending a function…  The means and the end were the same – each other!  Outside of to-do lists and ministry and work and children and everything else we manage to cram into our days it is hearts!  Beautiful, fantastic, precious, unique hearts.  One at a time.  One on one. The burning passion I have had since I can remember.  To know, to love and to encourage the hearts of others.  And she just communicated that she was here to get to know mine. How have I missed it?  It's my deepest need and I have been settling for that which scratches the surface.  I've been denying my own soul the fuel it needs to live and wondering all the while why I don't feel alive!        

 

Letting Go A Little At A Time

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As of 8:30 this morning I have joined the ranks of mothers who are gradually releasing their children into the world. Into their own lives. As she walked into her first day of kindergarten I realized that gone are the days where she spends the majority of her time with me.  7+ hours a day she will now be surrounded by people I don't know.  She will be introduced to words, ideas and feelings that I no longer orchestrate or filter.  Most of you already know the feelings that I am experiencing as you have done this many times over.  You have released your kids into kindergarten, junior high, summer camp, mission trips and sleepovers with friends.  You have watched them drive away on their first date and you have driven away from their dorm rooms where they will no longer come home to you every afternoon.  Some of you have watched them being wheeled away into surgery or chemo treatment.  We gradually release them into those milestones where mama's arms are not in reach and we are left anxiously awaiting for our arms to be filled with them again.  Whether we get to do that at 3:30 this afternoon, in the recovery room, on a phone call, a weekend visit, after their deployment or over Christmas break….our arms await.  And a long wait that can be for mamas and daddies who just want their babies to be ok.        
 
Isn't the very goal of parenting to work ourselves out of the job?  To get them to the point where they can stand on their own?  It's a hard concept to grasp when one is in the throws of wanting to protect them from all that could be harmful, painful or difficult.  When all you want to do is to go sit in their kindergarten class or live in an RV in the dorm parking lot it's hard to think of anything else.  But it's part of the job description to extend the bungee cord so that they can develop a strong sense of self.  So it is with tears and pain that I gave her more cord today.  Not because she isn't ready but perhaps because I don't want her to be.  I know the world can be difficult.  It's not as safe as mama's arms.  I know that her life will include confusion, pain, frustration and heartache.  Even in kindergarten.  It's not my job to shield her from those things and keep her in my arms forever.  Instead it's my job to help her manage them in a way that strengthens her and prepares her to be all that God created for her to be.  So today there is a shift in my role.  I'm releasing her just a little.  
 
Instead of protecting her and assuring that she experiences no pain I will be ready to sit with her in that which she finds painful.  Instead of orchestrating only helpful positive lessons I will be ready as she maneuvers through that which is confusing or negative.  I will help her consider how others might be feeling when she is consumed with her own hurt.  I will remind her that she is smart no matter what the homework paper says at the top.  I will hold her when there are no words.  I will encourage her to be courageous in everything she attempts especially when she is afraid.  I will build her up when others knock her down.  I will laugh and play and involve myself in her world as much as I can without hindering her growth.  I will help her reach out, be kind and make a difference in the hearts of others even in kindergarten.  When she wants to know why kids can be mean and hurt her feelings I will do my best to explain why we should love them anyway.  I will teach her to take responsibility for that which she wants to be different and help her to do something to make it so.  I will pray fervently for her friends, her teachers, her influences, her faith and her heart.  And every afternoon at 3:30 I will wait for that bungee cord to snap back to me where I will embrace her and fill her with all the love and truth that I can.  I will remind her that the world will try to change her but that she was created to change her world.  I will fill her up so that she can go out and fill up others.  I will remind her of her source and her strength which is available when I am not.  And on days like today I will seek Him more than usual.  Tearfully seek Him.  And I will be grateful that even though she leaves my embrace she is NEVER out of His.