Category Archives: Family

Decluttering From Church

I’m sure it’s the trial of many, many parents of kids in church.  They come home with reams of paper announcements about special events and wonderful, fun happenings.  If they’re involved in anything musical, there are stacks of CDs, built gradually over the years, often two or three a year – special programs and VBS.  Multiply that by multiple children, and that stack can be pretty impressive.

My “crafty stuff” board on Pinterest has new additions – things to do with old CDs.  Some of the ideas are incredibly gorgeous, but I know my schedule won’t allow the time to do them.  My teen and I loved the CD mosaic arts – tables, flower pots, and frames.  In fact, I’m thinking if there’s any way I could whip up some of these crafts in time for my next selling event.  Let’s see…  Two children times six years times average 2 weeks of Vacation Bible School each year, plus 2 children’s programs each year…  I could probably mosaic an entire wall of our living room at this point!

pic of CDs

About what this pile of children’s CDs looks like after a combined 15 years of programs.

Our children are getting to take part in a really fun event this coming week.  Our children’s minister emailed out the flyer for it a couple of weeks ago.  I loved that!  It’s right there in my email until it’s in the past, and it’s so easy to plug those dates into my digital calendar.  Best yet, no paper!  Churches love distributing paper.  In fact, I’ve been offered paper copies of that digital file four times since I received it.  You wouldn’t believe the “you must be the antichrist!” looks I received from some people when I declined it!  When I get paper flyers, I end up having to deal with them later – sort and recycle.  It’s kind of the same with paper bills, which only our utility company sends anymore; all the rest are electronic.  That’s great for me, because less paper means less waste.  Even paper recycling requires fossil fuel to process.  We’re trying our best to eliminate waste in our lives and our environment and working to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.  This is a huge part of our family’s environmental ethic as we live it out in our stewardship of God’s creation.

Stacks of CDs and full-color printed flyers that will likely get trashed or recycled…  I look at all this stuff and I look around at our community and can’t help but think, Is this really the best use of our church’s resources?  Posting flyers around the children’s center, an announcement in the bulletin, and an email would more than cover it, I think.  Could the paper/copies line item on that segment of the budget flip to some sort of family crafting event where we make stuff with all those CDs?  Could those be sold to create a scholarship fund for children to go to mission camp?  (I’m just brainstorming here.)  Or maybe that money could go towards one of the fab children’s’ charities we help support in our area.  The potential to create from the clutter is significant.

Take a look at my Crafty board and tell me what you think of the ideas I’ve pinned.  What ideas would you add?  Oh look!  What to do with CDs and 1000+ fish extender gifts.  I think I have time til our next cruise to come up with something brilliant between the two of those.


It’s Just Too Much!

The emails and announcements are beginning to roll in.  VBS at our church is this particular week in June.  The previous week is VBS at my parents’ church.  My younger has already determined that she wants to attend at my parents’ church, because afterward, Grandma will take her to the park and Grandpa will take her fishing.  There may also be ice cream and shopping in there somewhere.

Yet, our own children’s minister will expect her to be present at VBS at our church, and that VBS will likely be the exact same theme as that at our local church – and my little one LOVES that church’s minister.  What all these VBS directors see:  An opportunity for children to come and learn about Jesus and biblical truths through Bible stories, activities, games, crafts, and songs.

For this momma, though, it gets to be way too much!  Don’t get me wrong:  My daughter loves going to VBS.  She has fun and is such a social bug that being around other kids just compounds the fun for her.  Yet, she’s exhausted every afternoon, and with back-to-back VBSes, halfway through the second week, she’ll be tired and cranky, and her behavior will be tanking abysmally.  She is an extrovert and an empath, so being around people drains her emotionally.  The problem is, she doesn’t yet know this about herself, so she doesn’t realize she needs downtime to give herself a chance to recover.  This, then, becomes a battle as I struggle to convince her to take some alone time in her room.

The fun times are great for her, but she often complains she doesn’t learn much.  A pastor friend of mine once said of my daughter when she was six, “She’s smart.  She gives good answers in Sunday school, and not just catechism answers, either.”  When our Bible discussions deal with why Jesus was angry with the moneychangers at the Temple and how Jesus turns the status quo on its head and then how we, too, can do that, a simple story about Joshua or David isn’t going to excite her a whole lot.  Noah filled an ark with animals, but what about the cursing of Ham?  Balaam got mad at his donkey, but when will the lessons cover how boldly he refused a king’s request that he curse the Israelites and, in fact, blessed them, speaking the words of God?

The pressure will be on, with various people mentioning VBS right in front of my child, leaving me the choice of either saying, “No, you can’t go” or being the “bad guy” who tells her she needs to spend some peaceful time in her room.  When our summer break is only 6-7 weeks long (and that often feels way too short), the rush and hustle of 3 weeks of VBS is anathema to enjoying the cognitive and physical downtime that is a huge part of break.  So, please, give us parents a break.  For parents who work, I often hear how getting kids to a morning VBS and picking them up puts a strain on their work days.  For us parents who work from home, these hours can be either the blessing of a few hours to work with no kids, or they can be time wasted that we need to be working.  They’re mornings of getting everyone up and out the door when the kids would really rather be sleeping in.

So this year, I’m going to do what I feel is best for my child.  By the time VBS rolls around, she’ll be newly baptized.  In our household, talking about Jesus, the Bible, our faith, living the Christian life, etc., aren’t 180-school-day activities.  They’re not something that happens at church on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and five mornings in the summer.  They’re daily things.  They’re examples, questions, discussions, and applications.  These are things they learn as we go about our daily life.  Two non-consecutive Vacation Bible Schools is fine, but I’m not going to force her to endure two straight weeks of hustle.  After all, she doesn’t have but so much time to be a child.  And if I’m insisting she attend all these VBSes because other people want her to, what message is that sending to her?


Where My Loyalties Lie

In the beginning, God created men and women in God’s image.  That’s according to Genesis 1, anyway.  In Genesis 2, a slightly different account, we’re told that God formed the man out of the dust of the ground, then God made the animals.  However, from these animals, no suitable helpmate was available to Adam.  So, short version, God created the woman.

This man and this woman were created to be in relationship with God.  Second to that, the man and the woman were created to be in relationship with each other.  They were family.  Out of this relationship, they had children; the Bible records the names of three boys, though I surmise that that’s not an exhaustive list.  The first couple multiplied and expanded their family.

Skip down several generations and about ten chapters, and we meet Abram.  Abram was an old man of 75, married to Sarai, and they were unfortunately childless.  God called Abram into covenant, a covenant which would extend to all of Abram’s descendents.  Abram and Sarai received new names and the promise of a child.  This small family grew – and would grow exponentially.

Three more generations, and the family of Abraham has grown exponentially, with his son Isaac bringing two sons, and Jacob having twelve sons and a daughter.  For his faithfulness, he received a new name:  Israel.  They acknowledged “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but otherwise, this god had no name.  The descendants of Jacob would be called in Hebrew ben-Y’isra’el, which means literally, “the sons of Israel,” but which refers to all descendants of Jacob.

Four hundred years went by.  The Israelites had moved from Canaan to Goshen, a fertile land under the purview of Egypt.  There they grew and flourished to the point where the Pharoah considered them a viable threat and enslaved them.  Four hundred years of just acknowledging the god of their fathers.  They worshiped at altars, but there was no true worshiping assembly.

After the Exodus, the Lord delivered through Moses detailed how-to instructions for worship, including everything from when, what, and how much to sacrifice.  The sacrifices were all given in gratitude for what the Lord had done, not as a bribe to make God do what they wanted God to do.  (This was different from the pagan deity worship practices.)  Even through the desert wanderings, the Israelites didn’t worship as a community as we understand it, but what is clear is that they are still a huge family – all descended from one ancestor – with separate, individual tribal, clan, and family units.

It would be another millennium (plus a few hundred years) before the church as we know it was established.  The church as a mash-up of people from different backgrounds, different families, and different beliefs wouldn’t emerge until the first century A.D.

The church is a vital part of the believer’s life, and corporate worship is a beautiful part of that life.  I feel bereft of something if I miss more than one Sunday of worship.  However, true to the original design, we were created first to be with God, and second to be in our families.  Someone from our church tried to lay a guilt-trip on me for skipping something at church in order to take my daughters home so they could have dinner with their waiting dad – and so we could be together as a family for the first time that entire day.  We were not created to be a part of an institution; we were created to be a part of our families.

And the church is an institution.  Early in our marriage, Peter and I both spent many Sunday afternoons helping out at our small church and engaged in various local ministry projects.  The problem was, between my two jobs and his job, we barely had any time together the other six days of the week.  We thought we were being “holy” by spending all this time at church, but in reality, we were damaging one of the best gifts God had given us and were failing to be good stewards of that gift.

When someone wants people – whether individuals, parts of families, or whole families – to give up family time for time at church, then the church starts taking on cult-like qualities.  Cults desire their members to sacrifice family loyalty for loyalty to the cult and the leader.  I refuse to go there.  If I have a choice between being home with all my family or at church with just part of it, then I’ll choose to be with my whole family every.  Single.  Time.  Sunday mornings are the exception; if Hubby is sick, then I’m perfectly fine taking the girls to church without him, and vice versa if I’m sick.  But any other time…  At the end of a long day of working and teaching, when all I want is to complete the 35-minute drive home, hug my hubby, and eat dinner, then no.  My first loyalty is to God.  My second loyalty is to my family.  Everything else comes after that.

Futbol is Family

The notification comes as you’re walking out of the hair salon:  “Alyssa came home from school with strep.”  Immediately, your mind snaps away from the glorious feel of your new cut-n-style to the reality of that night’s soccer game.  OK…, you think. That brings us down to 6.  We can do 5+1 with no subs.  Rough, but doable.  Thankfully, it’s not a terribly hot day.

It’s 5:45 and you arrive at the fields for warm-ups and drills before the game.  You’re walking to the field when you’re intercepted by another player’s older brother, a baseballer.  He informs you that his younger sister had come for the game but got sick and went home.  Now the cuss words start flipping through your mind.  The absolute minimum you can have and still play is five, and that’s what you’re looking at.  And they’re going to have to play the entire game, no subs, no choice.

Your coaching assistant has let you know she’s pushing it to get there and she’ll have to leave early.  She’s not happy about it, but it’s outside of both your controls and your older daughter is happy to stand in as assistant – not that you really need one.  She says, “I don’t know what to do as assistant,” to which you flippantly reply, “Help if someone gets hurt, cheer, and make sure I don’t cuss.  Loudly.”  Then the ref shows up, and you’re beginning to wonder if you’ll make it through this game without drawing a card.  He’s young, inexperienced, and has more desire than skill.

You confer with the other team’s coach and ask if he’s willing to go 4+1 or if you should reschedule.  Since everyone is out there already, you decide to go ahead and play.  The game goes well.  It’s not a total shut-out.  Your five players are incredible, and you switch them around between goalie, offense, and defense in order to give your hardest runners a bit of a respite.  By the fourth quarter, they’re dragging, you know they’re dragging, and it breaks your heart to have to run them this hard.  They’re strong of spirit, though, and they keep pounding through.

The sweetness of the ball in the goal

At one point during the game, your spouse side-line coaches your daughter to “cover 9,” referring to a player on the other team.  She’s in front of said player and can’t read her number on the back of her jersey.  You know her as the other coach’s daughter and a former teammate of your child’s from last season, so you call her by name.  Your daughter sees the other girl and starts chatting her up.  Oy…  Like defending on a corner kick is the optimal time to catch up with old teammates.  Then again, distraction is an excellent defensive strategy.

The ref is as frustrating as ever, though he has improved some.  Beside you, your teen daughter keeps asking, “Can I cuss, yet?”  “No,” you respond.  So she just mutters, “Period.  Period.  Period” over and over.  It’s her G-rated version of “bloody hell”; you just let it go.  Your team takes hits; one of your goalies takes a ball to the face with enough force to make him cry.  Leather slamming against chilled skin is enough to make anyone cry.  Your daughter’s arm gets cleated accidentally by a teammate.  You want to throttle the ref for calling tripping on one of your players (coincidentally, your child) when the player had tripped over his own feet – a particular skill he practices much throughout the game.  From that point on, it’s like this much bigger boy has it in for your daughter.  You grit your teeth, but amidst the irritation is the reality that this is soccer (a very physical game), and that he must feel threatened by your little soccer diva, so a vein of pride creeps through, because, hey, she’s good.  By the time the game ends, your older daughter says, “If you won’t email the president about how bad he is, I will!”

The game ends, and by the time the last whistle sounds, you’re pretty sure that, if there were superlatives given to coaches, you’d win “Most Likely to Draw a Red Card.”  But once more, you’ve successfully filtered; successfully held on to your temper; and poured out some serious pride on your tired, battered, happy team.

Your team is scheduled for a game for the next day.  Your daughter takes an herbal bath and sleeps hard through the night.  The day dawns grey, and this is the first time you’ve ever wished for a rain-out.  Your team gathers before the game and runs through a few drills before lining up for the ref’s check.  You’re delighted to see that it’s another young ref, but one who does a good job.  You’re still at 4+1 fielding with no subs, though the little girl who’d gotten sick the evening before is feeling better, per a text from her mom.  You have no idea how this is going to go.  Your team is still recovering from the night before; thankfully, there’s another cool day for them.

You take the field.  Earlier in the week, you’d been at the fields working with one little girl, and this led to a half-field pick-up game in which other girls joined you.  One of them is on the team you’re playing today, and she gives you a big smile.  She’d been a sweet, shy flower when you first met, but she’s a fierce little dynamo on the field.  Dang, little soccer divas are cute!

The game begins, and your team gives it its all.  You make an allusion to Star Wars to your assistant; she comes back with Harry Potter.  Laughing, you comment about what geeks you are.  Your team draws first blood, and their team quickly brings it to a tie.  It’s an awesome game!  The ref misses a few calls, but it’s little stuff and balanced.  You notice one of the other team’s players is delivering some high kicks, and about the third time he nearly takes off a player’s head without the ref calling it, you bring him to the ref’s attention – very discreetly.  You, again, swap players between offense, defense, and the box, doing everything you can to maximize their strengths while giving them slower playing zones in which to rest.

Your daughter is hustling, and she and a little boy on the team have developed this super-sweet combo; they move like they’ve been playing soccer together forever, and they intuitively work together extremely well.  You haven’t spoken to his mom, yet, but you really, really hope he stays with soccer and will be on your team again next season – and every season until the two age out.  All throughout the game, they set up combos which lead to some goals.  You work an offensive strategy you pulled out of your butt at the previous week’s game – which worked beautifully – and you hear a parent from the other team say, “Good hustle, number 5!”  The thing is, the other team doesn’t have their #5 on the field; she was complementing your #5.  Do I even need to mention that this is your child?  Soccer is family.

The other team has a player who’s a few years older than any of the other kids.  A slightly built boy, he is on the autism spectrum with minimal soccer skills.  But he’s happy to be out there, and he just loves to play.  The other coach has him on defense, and you’re proud of and happy for him when he gets his foot on the ball and breaks up some plays; he’s improved.  If he gets the opportunity to drive the ball and go for the goal, your offense will become a little bit slow, your defense will soften, and your goalie will just miss nipping the ball.  You see, giving this boy the opportunity to score will be well worth whatever your team has to sacrifice for that point.  In debriefing after the game, you’ll have the opportunity to impress upon these 6- and 7-year-olds about kindness and compassion, and the all-important lesson that the point is to have fun.  It is, after all, simply rec league soccer.

It’s somewhere in the second quarter.  One of your players obviously hasn’t recovered from the previous night and is barely moving.  She finally engages, breaks up a play, then gives a little roar of “Girl power!”  It’s delightful!

Third quarter comes.  The teams swap points back and forth.  You’ve identified the other team’s weak points and coach your players to exploit those without shame.  Your daughter has the ball and is driving to the goal.  She kicks, and as soon as the ball leaves her foot, the referee blows the whistle, signaling the end of the quarter.  The ball is technically still alive, and it sails past the goalie into the net.  You’re whooping and hollering with joy and pride, because it’s her first goal of the season, and it was perfectly executed.  She’s beaming, too, and you pick her up for a little proud-parent spin.

Fourth quarter…  The score is once more tied, this time at 5-all.  The other team is driving towards the goal, delivers a strong kick, and your defender’s head gets in the way of the ball before it goes out of bounds.  Your player is still standing, but the ref is on it and stops play while your assistant and you do a quick neurological check.  You don’t like that the ref gives the other team the throw-in since your player was the one getting hurt, but you concede that it’s a fair call.  Reluctantly.  Your team regains possession of the ball and scores one last time, bringing the score to 6-5 and giving your team the win – their first win of the season.

You’re yelling with your team, you’re giving out hugs and high fives and cheering.  A part of you will worry later that you were maybe celebrating too much, that you perhaps were being a bad sport, but truth is, in those brief moments, the other team doesn’t even exist for you.  This isn’t a celebration that they lost; this is a celebration of pulling out a win under the most unlikely circumstances, against seemingly unbeatable odds, at the end of a really good game against a strong opponent.  It takes an incredible team to have played like they did, but it takes an extraordinary team to pull off such a win.

You take a moment to thank the ref for the good job he did as you line up for the handshake.  You are facing the shy-flower-turned-soccer-diva, smiling at each other as you begin the walk.  Then the rest of the celebration happens.  You congratulate your team on a job well done, and secretly you think to yourself that you’ll have two players back the next game if all goes as planned.  Yet, if you’ve learned nothing else this season, it’s that not everything goes as planned.  One of your players could only cheer from the sidelines for this game, but she comes over to join in the celebration.  You hug her, welcome her back, and tell her she was a part of this win.  You remind them of the next practice and, as it’s the day before Mother’s Day, you tell them to ask their dads to help them wash their uniforms.  Jahaziel, a sweet Hispanic boy and one of your goalies, tells you he already knows how to do his laundry.  He’ll make someone a good husband one day, and your esteem of his parents ratchets up another notch.  You drop the word about an end-of-season party to the kids, and you’ll work out the planning with the parents in the coming week.  You take a few to talk to Jacob’s parents, advising them on a plan of care in case he’s suffered a mild concussion; it involves Tylenol for headache, ER if he starts throwing up, and keeping him awake for at least four hours.

Now it’s time for your other daughter’s game.  You take your place on the bleachers and prepare to watch.  As you catch the end of their drills, you wonder why the coach takes so much time doing goal-kicking drills when only a third of the team will ever be in the position to drive for the goal, anyway.  Sure, it gives the goalie practice, but this team needs more passing work.  You’ve noticed their sense of “team” has eroded some since early in the season, and their heavy-footed kickers are more likely to score field goals through the uprights behind the net than points in the goal box.  Unfortunately, despite many pleas and petitions to the league’s management and the refs, they won’t let the teams nab a quick three points when that happens.

Oh, now this is interesting.  Both of the refs from your games are on the opposing team, and they’re excellent players.  Your daughter’s a defender, and you wonder if she’s caught on to the fact that the ref who’d irritated her so badly the night before is a striker on the other team.  You know that, if she can just break up one of his drives, she’ll feel like the universe has been realigned and all will be right.  Sadly, it doesn’t happen, just from lack of opportunity.  And miracle of miracles, you see that the frustrating ref actually can follow a ball.  You hear a comment that your team gave it more in their game than your older daughter’s team of teens did in theirs, and you can’t help but agree.  The ref in your second game is goalie in this one, and even though it’s his first season reffing, you think he does a better job than these more experienced refs – and there are three at this level.  Although your daughter plays well, a win isn’t to be for them this week.  It’s time to go home.

In the midst of your time at the fields, you’ve dealt with the administrative aspects of coaching, texted the moms of the sick kids to find out how they’re doing, done all the in-game-coaching things, and loved up on your team.  You’ve cheered your other daughter’s team throughout their game and looked over to see your younger daughter playing in a pick-up game involving players from three levels.  You’ve chatted up another team parent; she’ll be on the opposite side next week.  You’ve felt anger at the bad ref anew when you found out he let play continue in the day’s first game, despite a downed, crying player.  You took a few to talk to one of your friends – an opposing coach.  And you’ve talked to former players and former team parents, because soccer is family.

Then Mother’s Day dawns.  Actually, it’d dawned two hours ago, but you’d woken up in the wee dark hours of the morning thinking about your amazing team and gone back to sleep.  Two texts await you, one from your coaching assistant, the other from another player’s mom, both wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day.  The player who’d taken the ball to the face is fine, the one who’d taken a ball to the head has a slight headache, but nothing worse.  You reply to their texts, returning the wishes, and then post such wishes to the whole team.  This is the first time this has ever happened to you.  This year, more than any other, you truly feel that soccer is family.  Or, to put it more alliteratively, football is family.

Doing it Daily – All Over Again

There’s this beautiful song by Train called “Marry Me.”  Perhaps you’ve heard it.  Although it was released in 2009, it was 2013 before I heard it for the first time.

I love the line, “Marry me, today and every day.”  We get married (hopefully just once), and we have that one wedding where we make promises to each other in front of an officiant, God, family, and friends.  There’s music, there are flowers, there’s cake, maybe dancing, and it’s a glorious affair with people looking tres belle and tres beau.  Afterwards comes the honeymoon, a delightful period of romance and spending time together as husband and wife in a great location.

But what happens after the couple comes home, unpacks, and gets back to the day-to-day business of being a married couple every single day in the real world – a world without the flowers, the music, the cake, the honeymoon?  Unlike the pink-edged cream rose I have growing in front of my house, marriages don’t thrive on neglect.  They need daily attention and devotion, as do spouses.

This has to be intentional, though.  We can’t give our marriages our attention today and come back to it in a week-and-a-half.  My husband and I have a routine.  I don’t mind drinking day-old coffee.  Sure, I prefer it fresh, but I’d rather not waste it.  On Saturdays, I pour myself the day-old cup and make fresh for him; on Sundays, he gives himself the old cup and makes fresh for me.  This weekend, though, he did something different for me.  I woke up yesterday and poured the old coffee into my cup before making the fresh pot.  When I went back to the kitchen a little while later, my coffee was missing.  The cup was still there, but it was empty.  My husband had poured the day-old coffee into his cup.  He did that this morning, too.  It’s a tiny little act of service (my love language), but it made a huge impact.  Likewise, each day, I tell him something great I’ve observed about him or something perhaps that the girls have remarked on.  The key isn’t about being flashy or loud in the affirmations, it’s simply about being consistent.  As a result of these little acts – just small little things – we have grown closer and we have become more solid as a couple.

Discipleship requires just as much intentional daily attention.  Jesus says in Luke that if we’re going to follow him, we must take up our crosses daily and follow him.  As this call to the spiritual discipline of evangelism fell on my ears, as we read the corporate prayer of confession in church this morning, it hit me that I really don’t do as much as I’m supposed to.  I don’t  enter into a time of confession of my sins on a daily basis.  I also take the Gospel for granted.  I know it.  I’ve read it (multiple times), studied it, taught it, and preached it.  In fact, because I know it so well, the story isn’t fresh and new, this Good News more something I might meet with the excitement of my tax refund showing up than with joy that rivals fireworks, because, people, this is GOOD NEWS!  The BEST news!  It’s not exclusive, judgemental, or condemning.  This gift is for EVERYone, and I’ll open my arms wide and share it with absolutely everyone.

God loves us, has loved us from the beginning of time.  In fact, God loves us so much that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ and came down to earth to suffer the just punishment for our sins.  And when we accept this free gift of grace, we have eternal life.  No, it’s not physical immortality; our flesh will still age and die.  It’s spiritual immortality – our souls uniting with God in Heaven.  This is the good news.

And each and every day, I need to remember this good news, remember how it’s impacted my life, remember what it has called me to do with it, remember to share it.  Every day, I need to be intentional about devoting myself anew to the Lord, just as I do my husband, and publicly sharing my love for God, just as I publicly share my love for my husband.

Share your story.  Share the good news this week – how God has worked in your life.


Bidding a not-so-fond farewell to 2016

I’m not going to whine about and harp on all the celebrity deaths this year.  While some were timely (Gene Wilder) and some were tragically early (Prince and a bunch of others); and my girls and I will miss Alan Rickman’s smooth, deep voice <3, the truth is, I didn’t know any of them personally, so their deaths aren’t as painful to me.

Between January and July, we attended six funeral or memorial services, including our private graveside service as we buried Miss Kitty, a sweetheart of a torti and the first cat my husband and I adopted after we married.  Not including Kitty, the mean age of those who died was 60 – way too young.  My grandmother died Memorial Day weekend; she was 90.  I thought maybe we were done with death for the year, but no.  A lovely saint at church died on Christmas Day at the age of 93, and the 34-year-old son of a dear friend of mine died in a snowboarding accident two days before Christmas.

Last New Year’s Eve, my car was in the shop and my knee was in a brace.  I despaired of ever even being able to walk without a limp, let alone kneel for any reason.  This year, while I’m painfully aware of how vulnerable my knee is to injury, it’s pretty much back to normal and I’m looking forward to hitting the soccer field again.

My husband got laid off in July.  Thankfully, we had months of notice, during which time he created a plan to start his own business.  It was tense; the lay-off date kept changing, so we never knew month-to-month or even week-to-week when he’d be getting his last paycheck.  We wanted the wait to be over already, but then again, we knew him starting a business as I was deep in my rebrand would be awful.  In June, I rebranded my business.  I don’t know what happened or why, but my web developer/friend dropped out of existence, leaving my new website undone and me absolutely at a loss as to the coding.  I haven’t heard from him since.  We weren’t in conflict at all, and we’d always worked together well.  I miss him.

In September, after months of tension, it came time to bid a tearful adieu to a significant relationship.  I was devastated, and I’m still not completely over it.  This came on the heels of the worst betrayal of my life – worse even than that time when my supposed best friend in high school slept with my crush.  Three deaths over the summer and a bitter, heartbreaking betrayal…  I guess some people just can’t handle being present for the hard parts of life – or they don’t like having to take a back seat to in-my-face crises.

I’m not making resolutions; I’m honestly not at a point where I can think that far ahead.  I started a diet/exercise program in early October that’s showing some good results, and I’m going to keep working that.  I have a plan for growing my business with execution happening now.

All I wanted was to get to the end of the year with my loving husband and our precious daughters well, happy, and healthy.  I’m pushing a cold out of my body, but it’ll be OK, because that’s such a minor thing in the grand scheme of things.  And those I cherish the most are here with me – safe, healthy, and happy.  We’re anticipating 2017 to be a much better year with great new promise.

Happy New Year to us all!

Reflections on #NCCPilgrimage16

This week, my 13-year-old, Mary, shares her thoughts and reflections on this year’s Pilgrimage, a weekend-long worship extravaganza for United Methodist youths. 

I had been looking forward to Pilgrimage 2016 since last year, when I went to Pilgrimage 2015.  The youth conference was only for United Methodist youth and was located in Fayetteville, North Carolina at Crown Coliseum.  The youth could bring friends, which almost all the youth in my small church youth group did happily last year.  We arrived in high spirits and had a joyous time singing and worshipping together with 5,000+ United Methodist youth from all over North Carolina in one place, youth of different colors, languages, and pasts.  I learned that we all made “Pilgrimage clothespins,” which were plain, wooden clothespins with inspirational messages on the sides.  We would then clip them onto the clothing of other people and merge into the crowd, knowing later they would read it and it would make them smile.  Getting clipped was an amazing thing, reading at night encouraging and uplifting messages of hope, love, and God.

This year, I began to count down the days until Pilgrimage 2016.  I was excited, as was my entire youth group.  This year, we didn’t bring friends and instead of a hotel we stayed in a camp.  We were looking forward to arriving at the coliseum for a life-changing experience, as we had last year.  I spent half the summer making Pilgrimage clips, painting them in bright colors and putting brilliant life quotes and Bible verses on the sides.  My buddy and I passed out a few of our clips Friday night, feeling grand knowing we made people smile.

Saturday morning, again, my buddy and I passed out clips, giving away my remaining twelve.  We sat down, ready for the hope of an amazing second session of Pilgrimage.  Instead, we were told that if we had a Pilgrimage clip on our being we would be immediately sent home.  The speaker of this year’s Pilgrimage sessions dished out hate at the clips.  Everyone was told to throw away their clips at the trashcans near the entrances; whether or not everyone did and instead risked their time pocketing the clips, I don’t know.

That evening, when we arrived at the coliseum, the cheerful atmosphere was missing from the entire building.  Everyone was more subdued than normal, not much chattering was going on, everyone in almost a thoughtful silence.  Passing out those clips was tradition, and in fact, taking that away angered many adults.  The knowledge of not being able to do that anymore took out half the joy in Pilgrimage, because with those clips, you knew you’d make someone smile.  We all took our seats half an hour before the third session started.  Once it had begun, one of the Pilgrimage coordinators went onstage and explained why we couldn’t have the clothespins.  A few Hispanic, Latino, and Asian youth groups had gotten bullying pins that said, “I love Trump!” on one side and “Build that wall!” on the other.  One of the chaperones from a Hispanic youth group – Stacy – got up and took the stage.

The beginning of Stacy’s speech was good, explaining how she felt unwanted because of harassing clips her youth group had received and stares that greeted her the day before.  She made mention of how she’d grown up being bullied and understanding how it felt to be an outsider.  In school, she had to teach herself English, because her family didn’t know the language.  During recess, when everyone was playing dodgeball, people would say, “Get out that Mexican girl!  Get her out so she could return to where she came from!”

She explained how hurt she felt as she walked into the coliseum when people were looking at them as if to say, What are you doing here?  You don’t belong here.  However, then she started to make comments, such as how “the message of the red hat and the message of the wall is not the message of the gospel.”  A few youth that greeted her were wearing red Make America Great Again hats, which she found offensive.  “The message of the red hat was not a message of inclusion and welcome; it was a message of disinclusion (sic) and discrimination.”  More of the speech told us that the hat represented a person whose message was unwelcome and discriminatory toward women, Latino, African American, and Hispanic people as well as others.  “And this is not the message of the gospel,” Stacy told the many thousand youth listening.  “So today, we wanted to tell you, if you really believe that the Holy Spirit is here, if you really want to welcome the Holy Spirit, then take off your red hats.”

Being a true American citizen, she had a right to say that.  The freedom of speech is still true, no matter where you are.  But many of us believe that she was speaking to the wrong people.  Here we were, in a place supposed to be a destination to learn more about God and worship together, only the chaperones able to vote, getting politics in our faces.  It seemed as if all us Caucasians were labeled as Trump supporters and racists, even though there were only a few people at fault.  We were labeled as haters towards anyone who is darker colored, and I know that that is not the truth about most of the youth present that night.

See, as Christians, we are supposed to be loving towards everyone, not just people with the same skin tone as us.  Stacy judged us in her own stereotypes, taking the little she knew from the few minutes they stayed the first night and running and accusing all of us of being like that, when I know that loads of youth groups there would’ve welcomed her in.  She tried to blame us all for something only a few people did.  You don’t know the past of the youth who wore those hats.  No one in our youth group saw them.  They might have been using them as warmth, given that inside the coliseum was still really cold.  They might not have had much money, so since it was cold around the coliseum and outside, that one hat may have been the only one in their family.  We never know what the inside story about people are until we get to know them, but we often don’t take time to and instead make snap decisions.  Stacy was willing to tell us about her back story, but she didn’t take time to know the stories of others.  We as people have our own opinions, and if we want to wear a hat with our opinions on it, why should we be stopped?  What Stacy did was right in the respect that she did have freedom of speech, but wrong in many respects.

1) Wrong place, wrong time.  She should not have thrown politics into the matter.  She started off strong, but she quickly fell.

2) How many of us youth could vote?  That’s right, next to none.  Again, she shouldn’t have put in politics.

3) She didn’t respect the fact that we all have our own opinions.  Instead, she made a bigger issue out of it all.

4) She labeled us all incorrectly instead of just the people with the hats.  She labeled us all as haters and Trump supporters, not Christian people who would welcome everyone gladly.

I was grateful when our livid youth leader said that we were leaving after the speech was over.  We decided that since the Pilgrimage pins were taken from us, we would make up some and return to church the next day where we knew we’d be accepted lovingly so we could clip these pins on people.  We were up bright and early Sunday morning to get on the road, and we had fun clipping others.  I have made up my mind that every time I visit that church, I’m going to clip a handful of people.  I can also do it at general places such as grocery stores, restaurants, and gatherings.  I can spread love easily through a simple clip.

On a closing note, I believe that our image of what the weekend was going to be was different from God’s plan.  I was really grateful that we returned to church early, because we made many people smile with the joy we shared and the enthusiasm we brought with us at the sheer idea of returning.  Our pastor was absolutely livid, something I’ve never seen before in my life, and she explained that what happened should not have and that there was no place for it in a church setting.  Everyone went out of their way to show us some extra love after the horrible time we’d just had.  We all learned things from that experience, but the most important of them all was just how it feels to be labeled as one thing when only a few people were the cause.  Such as how Hispanic people are all being labeled as illegal, lazy, and/or drug dealers, when I know many who are perfectly legal, have great jobs, and hate the idea of drugs.  We think that Muslims are in support of ISIS, and that Blacks are associated with gangs and ‘hoods.  But really, it’s not true.  There are White gangs as well, and yet we never want to look at them.  What we don’t want to realize is that there are actually only a few immigrants who are illegal, and yet we want to say that every one of them is here illegally and subject to deportation.


The Compassion of a Child

I’m sitting in my home along the SE US coast, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pay us a visit.  Am I worried?  Not particularly, though I did feel a strong sense that we needed to do more to prepare for this storm than we typically do for others.  We’re prepared to this point, though we’ll have a bit more to do come Thursday and Friday.  Worst case scenario, we pack the kids and the cats into two cars and head west; the cars are fueled sufficiently.

This morning as the girls and I tracked the storm, we saw that some people weren’t so lucky.  As we pulled up the tracking map online, we saw that at that moment, the storm was right over Haiti and eastern Cuba, with a course dead-straight to the Bahamas.  While this is devastating for all these island peoples in the Caribbean, our hearts really went out to the Haitians.  It’s like they can’t catch a break!

So we prayed.  Then H, my seven-year-old who’s diligently saving up for a pink sparkly boat about the size of a massive cruise ship, started outlining her plan for rescuing people in such situations.  This plan involves using her boat to take them to safety on her own private island, complete with three hospitals, just to make sure everyone gets the care they need.  (I guess she’d need more than one island, so she’d have options depending on which direction the storms are going.)

As the pink sparkly boat is still quite a ways off, H spontaneously thought about what she could do now.  Her solution?  She wants to donate some of her shoes and clothes to children in Haiti who’ll lose everything in this storm.  I immediately grabbed my phone and texted the children’s minister at church, asking if there’s any reception for those sorts of donations.  No, but there are organizations, like Hope Changes Everything, who already have boots on the ground and need money to supply the Haitians with exactly what they need, be it clothes, food, or housing.  (That link will take you right to their site, and you can donate there.)

Our minister suggested a yard sale.  Truthfully, I don’t relish the idea of putting together a yard sale, but the weather will be good again, and there are a lot of things we can get rid of for this cause.  While I don’t look forward to the work and administration of doing this, I’m excited, because this is something H can lead off on.

I am understandably so proud of my daughter for having a heart that wants to reach out to people who have been so devastated by this storm.  More, though, is how she’s overcoming her own fears of the storm in thinking about others.  All morning, we talked together about what we need to do to make sure our home and property are ready for the storm.  I presented it as, “We need to be prepared, but we’re gonna be OK.  Worrying won’t change the storm at all.”  Still, though…  She is seven, and she’s not so thrilled with regular ol’ thunderstorms, let alone a hurricane due for a direct hit.  Once she started thinking about how to help others, she forgot to be afraid.

H is such a good teacher, even reminding her pastor momma about some truths that are easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

  • We need a change in perspective sometimes.  Things look challenging for us this coming weekend, but they’re much worse for thousands upon thousands of other people who have no evacuation routes and limited resources.
  • When we’re afraid, it helps to think about others and become unafraid.  I find it also helps remembering who controls the storm.
  • What we have can be used to serve other people.  This girl has plans for her life, plans that involve a good deal of education and helping vulnerable creatures.  Yet, her heart remains for people and desiring to help them.

The Bible tells us so many things about children.  “A little child shall lead them.”  “You must have the faith of a child.”  And the Psalmist writes, “From the lips of infants and children, You have ordained praise.”  We oh, so busy adults need to stop sometimes and listen.  The still small voice of God I’m hearing this week isn’t coming from a gentle breath of wind, but from the lips of a little girl.

The Sacred God-Moment

This week has been insane for our family.  Last Saturday, my husband’s mentor, friend, and supervisor, Lenny, died after a brief battle with cancer.  Sunday night, I got the call that my grandmother had died.  Lenny’s funeral was an hour-and-a-half away on Tuesday, and Grandmother’s was 3 hours away today.  I feel like I’ve spent most of the week on the interstate.  Naps were missed, the emotional energy was high, we didn’t sleep great.  We’re completely wiped out by this point and savoring the idea of a weekend of rest.

As we came home from Lenny’s funeral Tuesday night, this amazing vertical rainbow appeared in the sky.

Fascinating vertical rainbow in the sky Tuesday night

Fascinating vertical rainbow in the sky Tuesday night

We were awed, as we’d never seen a vertical rainbow before.  Taking a look in the rear view mirror revealed a gorgeous sunset (sorry, no picture of that).  It felt like God was hugging us.

Then, this evening we were returning home from my Grandmother’s memorial service.  I was driving, and I was tired.  Traffic for the first 25 miles had been hellacious, with normal Friday-summer-afternoon-eastbound-traffic meeting the Construction Zone from Hell for 8.5 miles.  I was sustaining on a frappe and determination, watching cars, attending to the light traffic and the road, enjoying my Jim Brickman play list.  My eyes rose to the sky ahead, and there right in front of me was a rainbow.  I pointed it out to my family so they could enjoy it, too.  It was faint, but there, and we eventually were able to make out the other end of it.

Around this time, I took a peek at my phone to see which selection was playing.  It was “Sacred Moment,” and I recognized the tune as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”  Wow.  Just…  Wow.  The rainbow.  That symbol of God’s promise never again to destroy the world by flood.  And God has kept this promise.  If God keeps this promise, would not God also keep the other promises he’s given us?  My cousin Mark read the words of Jesus from John 14 today:  “I go to prepare a place for you.”  I looked at that rainbow and listened to that tune and thought, This is God’s promise, fulfilled for us in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  This rainbow served as a reminder that God keeps God’s promises – all of them.  I seized the holy teachable moment and took the opportunity to talk to my girls about it.  My younger one said, “It’s like the promise for Great-Grandmother.”  Yes!  Yes, it is.  And that promise is for us, too.

I haven’t cried for Grandmother.  She’d been sick since February and psychologically ready to die for over a year.  But I could cry over the magnitude of God’s promises and how they have been fulfilled for her.  She’s with Grandpa again, turning 67 years of marriage on Earth into an eternity of marriage in Heaven.

Helping Children Soar

Yesterday, we got to church for our weekly groups early enough that my younger daughter had much-loved time to play on the playground.  She wanted me to support her across the monkey bars.  WOW, did that test how well my knee rehab is going!  (Quite strong and stable, given that I was standing and walking backwards on loose beach-type sand holding 45 pounds.)  My daughter loves to swing, and, sure enough, she hopped on the swing, asked me to push her, and informed me, “I want to go high!”

I pulled her back and gave her the initial pushes.  As every parent knows, though, when you’re pushing a child on the swings, there’s not but so high a parent can push their child.  The parent can start them, but then the child has to pump her legs, and truly, her height is completely up to her at this point.  The child pumps and rises, eventually getting to the point where the chains start to go slack and she can see over the bar at the top.  She can lean back in the swing, letting her hair flow back and down in the breeze, or the more adventurous can decide to jump out of the swing at this point (with hopefully no broken bones).  The point is, though, once the child takes responsibility for her own swinging altitude, she can then choose what to do with it.

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On her way to the sky

As I stood with my daughter, watching her swing, I thought about a situation a friend is going through with his daughter.  The daughter’s mom think she’s “keeping her safe” by doing everything for her, way more than a near-teen needs to have done.  As a result, this young lady is lazy and slack about her self-care, especially pertaining to her medical needs.  You see, this mom doesn’t know that it’s time to stop pushing and time to trust her daughter to pump her legs.

Watching a child getting crazy-high on the swings is a bit heart-stopping:  Will she fall?  Will the chain mysteriously snap?  What happens if she loses her grip?  Answer:  She’ll get hurt, but likely survive.  In the meantime, there are squeals and giggles carried on the wind, fading and growing with the Doppler effect as she goes back and forth.  There’s the memories of exhilaration of being a girl on the swing, feeling that “oh my gosh!” as you remember seeing the chains go slack and feeling like you were so high.  And you realize, you just can’t take that away from her, because this child will likely never fall out of a swing, but she’ll experience a million moments of soaring thrills as her legs pump her higher and higher and higher and she leans back to feel the wind in her hair.

Sure, a child is safer being kept close under mother’s protective wing, but she’ll also never learn what she can do on her own.  That child will swing as long as she’s in mom’s reach, but she’ll never soar if mom won’t let go of her.  Sadly, the child will never learn she actually can soar.  As parents, there has to come a time when we let go of our children, trusting them to hang onto the chains, but only as long as they want to.  This is the only way we will empower our children to rise up to be all that they possibly can be.