Encourage Challenge!

For my birthday this past month, I dressed up 80’s style and enjoyed a murder mystery party with a bunch of friends.  It was a bizarre mix of wandering fake accents, stuffed mushrooms, sweat bands and the realization that my natural hair volume doesn’t really belong in this decade.

I fear if I give you any more details or pictures I’ll incriminate myself, and I wasn’t even the murder.

But on top of being willing to dress up and be whimsical with me, my friends gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received:

The inspirational packaging is nothing compared to the inside.  My friends and family wrote me letters and labeled the different envelops for different occasions that might come up in my life.

From an envelop for when I’m bored, to an envelop for when I want to strangle someone, they pretty much have me covered.  I’ve been trying so hard to wait and savor my envelopes over weeks and months, but I’m telling you…this box is like knowing you have a bunch of chocolate hidden in your house.  (Actually, one of the envelops did have chocolate in it.)

The other day I had to go to my doctor, and seriously, does anyone jump up and down about that?  I packed a few envelopes to bring with me just in case, and just the knowing I had encouragement waiting on the other side of that appointment gave me joy.

This is a box of life, and humor, and compassion, and yes chocolate.

And this box challenges me too.  Because I realize that the worth of a letter, a well-timed bit of humor, and certainly a bar of chocolate, are lifters and soothers of our souls.  Could I be this kind of friend to others? Could I take even a moment each day to find someone around me to build up?

I can’t actually begin to count the number of amazing friends that have impacted my life.  You have been encouragers, meal bringers, supporters, deep-thoughts-discussers, coffee-joiners, breakfast buddies, How-I-Met-Your-Mother and FRIENDS watchers, character sharpeners, prayer-lifters, tear driers, road signs to keep me on track when I’m lost.  You friends have loved me well and loved me tangibly.

THANK YOU isn’t big enough.

And my challenge to myself, and my challenge to you is this:  Pick 3 people this week to encourage.  Send a letter, write a text, tell someone you appreciate them next time you see them…for the love, send them a really good chocolate bar.  Maybe start a list of people to encourage and make it a fun game.  Maybe it turns into a habit…but start small.

The action of love written out, spoken over, given freely, can carry us so much farther than we’d imagine.

Post or comment if you’re up for the challenge, or if you have a cool story of encouragement to share!


Jazz Flute Freedom

Agawam, MA, circa 1997- the monumental moment when I chose to play flute in the middle school band.  My teacher seemed to think I was a natural, and my parents splurged to purchase that elegant silvery beauty.

“Blow into the flute like you’re trying to spit rice.”  (A fine analogy, for those who are accustomed to rice spitting.  Is this some kind of carnival game most people are familiar with?)

But I played well, in all my fifth grade zeal, when I actually took the time to practice.  Here’s a roughly fifth grade picture to bring you into better focus.

And then came the announcement that jazz band would be starting up…but it turns out flutists weren’t invited.  If you played any brass instrument, or maybe a sax or trombone- you were good to go.  But a flute…well…that simply wasn’t jazz material.

My memory is fuzzy, but I must have vented my disappointment to my classroom teacher.  He was one of my favorites- a balding red-headed Jewish man who spent Friday afternoons pulling out his guitar and singing us songs like “One Tin Soldier” and “Why Must I be a Teenager in Love”.  One day he pulled me aside, oozing optimism, to tell me the name of a popular jazz flutist- I think he even wrote it down for me.  What was his point?  “Just because there’s not a spot for you as a ‘jazz flutist’ in the fifth grade band, doesn’t mean you can’t be one.”  (Of course this was long before I watched the ultimate Jazz Flutist, Ron Burgundy. 😉 )

Jazz is a music defined not by instrument but by soul- flute or trumpet…doesn’t matter…what you breathe into that instrument makes all the difference.

I’ve been thinking more and more about women’s equality- something I grew up thinking we had all but achieved.  I’m realizing there’s a vast chasm between where we are and true equality, and unfortunately the Church has helped perpetuate that chasm.  I should clarify..I’m not oppressed in my church- far from it- in fact it is here in my church that I’m finally learning to become freer.  But I believe there’s more.

Here’s what I’m beginning to see: gender equality isn’t merely about equal rights or opportunities for women.  No.  It’s a journey to remember Eden and restore the value of a women alongside of men.  It’s a desire to understand how men (God’s creation/instrument) and women (also God’s creation/instrument) were made to work together in harmony.  It’s a quest to know that the Spirit or breath of God in me, in this instrument, is no different from the Spirit or breath of God in a masculine instrument.  It’s the BREATH that matters.

It’s the growing belief that embracing my full identity as a co-heir with Christ is not selfish- it’s not simply about my liberation, but the freedom of many.  For as I rise- free- I no longer limit the call, the influence, the plan that God may have for me.  None of us can know the awesome scope of adventure God has for us if we’re limiting ourselves based on human traditions and values.  (Or the fifth grade band teacher, as it were.)

As each of us, men and women alike, are freed from restraints of brokenness and human tradition, we rise free to liberate others.  People say that “hurt people, hurt people” but as Christina Cleveland said once, “Free people, free people.”  Liberated people, liberate people.  You can’t walk in the full liberation of the cross of Christ without impacting those around you.

And that liberation is abundant.

You are as free as God says you are- and if Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death, from the curse of the Garden, then you are free indeed.  Walk boldly in your freedom because your influence is not determined by a title, by what other “creations” define for you, but by your identity in God and the good works He’s prepared in advance for you.

What do you need to be freed from to walk forward boldly into what God may be calling you to?  Invite God to simply breathe into you as His instrument and create the soulful notes that only He can.  Then ask yourself, “As I walk free, who am I meant to liberate?”

Further reading:

Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Romans 8:1-2: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.

Hebrews 2:10-11: In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

Acts 2:17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’

(New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)



Wait. Remain. Rest.

Why has it taken me so long to post in the new year?  I could blame it on all the transition around me, a post for another time, but the truth is I’ve simply been a bit stuck.  Kind of in a funk.  2016 felt like such a big year for me, finally publishing my first book, being asked to speak on multiple occasions, and attending my first writer’s conference.  Then 2017 rolled around, a blank canvas…and perhaps for the first time in my life I saw that empty calendar as a threat instead of a challenge.

Instead of my imagination soaring through endless possibilities I looked at my baby steps of “success” last year and wondered, “What if that was it?  What if that was my season of living bold, my grand hurrah, and now God is saying, ‘Hey, Kid, really great effort back there.  That was your season.  So, yeeeaaah….I guess we’ll be in touch…(*awkward cough*)’ ” 

I’m hearing and I’m reading a great blog here and an inspiring message there about going and doing what God wants and having spiritual goals and it all sounds so wonderful…but I’m wrestling.  I’m not seeing the plan; I want to “go” but I feel a bit reckless without a map.  I’m not so much afraid that I’m bringing my baggage from 2016 with me into the future, I’m afraid my best self is stuck back there.  And I can yell pretty loud, but I’m just not sure I can get that me to follow me alllll the way to now.

And suddenly I’m keenly aware of everyone else around me who seems to be running wild and free with their dreams, like those pictures of jubilant youth scampering with abandon through open fields of wheat or daisies or…OK I’m not great with plant names I’ll just stop before I embarrass myself.






Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever have that suspicion that you’re missing out on something vague and distant that you don’t even know how to get to?  Whether it’s weight loss or financial planning or a dream job or a more organized house…someone else has figured it out, but you’re not sure how to?

So where do you put your foot first?  (Out of bed helps, anyway.)

And I feel like God is whispering into my stubbornness… “Come back to me…rest…just enjoy being with me, your first love.  If you find your full satisfaction in ME then you’ll never have a reason to be dissatisfied.  No circumstance or success or failure can define your significance because you are simply Mine. Be strong, and take heart, and wait on me.  Just where do you think you’re running on your little hamster wheel?  Remain in me, because outside of me you’ll only find striving with empty results, but even the little you do in me will bear fruit.  I’m not finished with you yet…and whatever plans I have for you I will continue to accomplish. Do you trust me enough to stay close and obey?”

Wait. Remain. Rest.  Although they’re not my favorite, my Christmas tree reminded me why I desperately need those words.  See, my tree this year just wasn’t very full at the bottom.  Lots of gaps. Awkward and off-putting.  So I thought I’d just shove some of the extra branches we’d cut off into the tree stand to fill out the base.  My husband suggested we twist tie them on to the other branches, which worked wonderfully…and I basked in my DIY tree-hack bliss.  Until I noticed a few weeks later how my lower branches were looking a bit sparser than the others. Hm…

My hacked branches were no longer attached to the tree, no longer getting any water from the trunk.  They were dying quickly and shedding needles at an upsetting rate.  And yet this is the picture of what happens to me when I try to hop off the Vine and do my own thing, seek my own dream or glory apart from Him.  When I become more focused on how significant my life and dreams appear than on the One who alone breathes life and significance into me…I fall apart.

But if I Rest. Wait. Remain.  They don’t sound like the most productive words for the new year, but if everything we do, every dream we pursue, every passion we act boldly on flows out of those words…then watch out because the Kingdom is advancing.  I believe God is not done with us yet!


Psalm 27:14: Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

John 15:4 NIV  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Isaiah 30:15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“’In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.'”

Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”







Community is a Pain

Guys- I’m going to make an honest confession here:  I’m not sure I like community.  Do I need it?  Yes.  Does it sound wonderful in theory?  Uh-huh.  Community looks cute on TV- like on that show “Extreme Home Makeover”.   All the neighbors and friends rally around a struggling family and show up to support them- the construction people come and give them a home that meets all their needs- and then that bus rolls away and there are tears of joy, and smiles all around, and sometimes even a cute puppy in the background for good measure.  Ahhh…community.  And then…click…I turn it off, and I get to pretend that community ends that way- that it’s always happy, feel good, tears of joy, a bus of blessing.

But real community is kind of…messy, unsettling, annoying, hard work.  Community is like what happens when you try to bake anything with children- it’s going to take longer, there’s going to be arguing, and you’re going to get a whole bunch of flour all over the place.015

Turns out I don’t want the flour all over the place.  I’m a bit of a control freak.  I like to plan my things on my time.  I don’t like waiting.  I’m not particularly good at knowing how to let people help me.  I prefer to be in the driver’s seat, literally, which is why I didn’t let my older brother drive at all on a 16 hour drive to see my parents.  (I didn’t say I was proud of it.)

And why should I ever be vulnerable ever?  Whose bright idea was it to make that a prerequisite for healthy community?  And depending on how honest I’m being, I’d tell you I’m between 68-100% positive that my heart is massively selfish and I struggle to really love anyone and everyone.  Case in point- I maaaaay have told my husband the other day that I was trying to “not seem selfish” but also “do what I want”.  (Like swinging alone for instance.)newport 3

I don’t usually say it out loud, but I think that’s an ongoing undercurrent in my heart, an undertow that threatens to suck me in and drown me in the self-absorption I thought was in my best interest.

Turns out community is really great till it’s inconvenient to me.  Community is fantastic until it means someone has to see my messy side- my needy side- the yelling, irritable, keeping-record-of-wrongs me.  Guys, I can win a complaining contest without breaking a sweat, and as an avid talker I find it easier to gab than listen, easier to use my mouth to complain about something than my hands to work towards fixing it.  Community requires that I use my hands and feet for more than just myself.  Community asks me to let someone else help me up when my pride would rather hide and nurse my struggles by myself.

Community is beautiful till I realize that everyone else is a mess too and it’s not like we’re all getting more and more perfect at a steady rate.  Oh no.  The deeper in we get, the more likely we are to step on an emotional landmine of some kind, more likely to find hurt and more depths of our selfishness and yet…and yet I marvel at how my heart aches for community all the same.  I marvel at how even the sandpaper of community is actually refining me, sanding me a bit smoother.  At least, I’d like to think I’m a bit less likely to give you a sliver today than I was five years ago.

I was made for being with people.  My church family might be the best example of that for me…It offers me hope and love, the faintest picture of what I believe heaven must be like.  I’m surrounded by friends who I know will laugh and cry with me, keep me in check when I’m being a word I can’t use in polite company, and challenge me to grow and love more deeply through their own love.

Yeah.  Community is such a pain.  But it’s the kind of pain that keeps me alive, keeps me from being numb, keeps me from dying in a selfish stupor.

What about you?  Do you struggle with community?  How have you kept your heart vulnerable towards others?  How have you learned to give up your own selfishness?  I’d love to hear because I so struggle with this myself!




Beauty in the Season

We were running late. I should know by now that running late to anywhere with three kids spells trouble. We were halfway to our destination when I heard a pitiful whine from my six year old daughter in the back seat:
“We forgot my tambourine! And my ballet shoes!”
She recently joined an informal worship dance class. Half the kids just wear socks, and they always have an extra tambourine on hand. I told my daughter these things reassuringly…she wouldn’t be reassured.
Her drama escalated so that by the time we arrived, she didn’t even want to participate in dance at all. Oh and, conveniently, her loose tooth started bothering her for the first time all day.
“What if I jump and it hurts more? This isn’t the kind of dance I want to be in,” she complained, though she normally loves her class.
But I had lugged my three kids out of the car, and her friends were relying on her to do her part in the upcoming performance, so I encouraged her to stay. I even told her I’d wait to leave until she felt comfortable.
But my two year old had other plans. As soon as I put him down he ran to the water dispenser, happily helping himself to a drink. He just kept refilling, water dripping everywhere, so I sat on the floor ready to block him whenever he made another lunge for the water. At this point we were making a scene in the middle of practice.
Just when I was getting to my breaking point, he dashed in the opposite direction, accidentally colliding with the dance instructor as she twirled towards him with her tambourine. Yes, my son was clocked by a worship instrument.
I scooped up my wailing toddler, gave the other moms a helpless look, and walked back out of dance class with two out of three kids bawling.
Sound familiar?
Some moments in life are so exasperatingly out of our control: The mortifying fifteen minutes at the library when your kid won’t stop screaming; the days when your medical condition flairs up and it’s all you can do to survive the day; the times when you feel rejected by your spouse or friends.
How do we keep these things in perspective?
I had this zany idea this past leap day to make a time capsule to open with the kids next leap year. How on earth am I going to keep track of a blessed time capsule for four years when I lose something daily?

Still, the kids enjoyed drawing about what they were like now and what they’d be doing in four years as 10, 9, and 6 year olds. I joined in the fun by including a postcard to my future self. I listed exciting things like my daughter starting t-ball and my goal of publishing a book. But I also wrote about some challenges, like my youngest son’s speech delay, and my husband’s stressful work deadline.
I realized that each thing on my card is part of a season. And I wondered how each of these joys and obstacles would seem after four years of hindsight and change.  How would my perspective on the challenges of today change through the lens of the future?  Would I see today for what it really is…a unique season with a unique purpose?
Ecclesastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (NIV)
If you’re like me, sometimes seasons feel suffocating or empty. Maybe you’re in the throes of raising young kids, watching work deadlines pile up, or struggling through relationships. Or maybe you’re just tired from winter and you’re so ready for the steady warmth of spring.
We may want to skip this season and go straight to the next, but we’d be missing out. Because a few verses later, in Ecclesiastes 3:11, we read: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
Rest assured God is working in your present moment, no matter what it feels like. There’s something beautiful God is unfolding, whether we see it in four years or in the Kingdom to come. Don’t give up. Please hold on to see the beauty, and remember you’re not alone.

Use it or Lose it?

Clearly it has been awhile since my last post…although with good reason, and I can’t wait to share the whole story of us potentially adopting a baby.  But not today.  (Cheer up, I’ll have so much time to edit that story you will be thankful I had to delay writing it.)  

But today I’ve been thinking about living life to the fullest.  I feel somewhat hypocritical typing this right now; I’ve been feeling a little bit more drawn to security and comfort lately than to living recklessly abandoned to Jesus.  So let’s just say this post is really just a note-to-self.  Hm.  Maybe I’ll stick it on my fridge.
Anyway.  One day I bought a kids stepping stool online because my kids couldn’t reach our sink to wash their hands by themselves.  I’m sure some moms so love any chance to cuddle with their child that they would be thrilled by the prospect of frequently scooping their child up to help them reach the sink.  Not this Mom.  It was annoying.  Although I told myself the real reason for the stool was to foster healthy independence in my kids.  When the “box of independence” arrived I found a promotional single pack of laundry detergent included with kids stool.  Apparently it is some kind of detergent/softener all-in-one gel capsule and you just pop it in with the laundry and go on your way.  Maybe your hands don’t get sticky or it takes less time to use?  Either way, it somehow seems exciting to use!
But I was talking to a friend recently and admitted that I’ve had this single detergent gel pack for over a year now and still haven’t used it.  And she said she’s the same way, which of course gave me a reason to hope that I’m not crazy.  It  just seems so exciting- so convenient- so novel- but there is just one.  So I feel like I’m saving it for something special.  But a special load of laundry?  That is hard to qualify.  It certainly wouldn’t be a sock and underwear load- maybe Easter outfits?  Or to pep up our regular-Joe clothes should we ever get a chance to meet the President?  
But really- I think I just don’t want to use it because it will be gone once I do.  Right now I can enjoy the idea of it any time I want.  I can think about how wonderful it will be on that one load I do use it on.  
Sadly- it has absolutely no value sitting on my shelf.  And truth be told, it would be better used on my sock and underwear load that to melt on my shelf and never be used.  (Eh, I assume it melts.)
I think I live my life like that sometimes.  I think I am full of all of this potential.  There are a million and two things I want to do with my life- I soar with hopes for changing the world, loving people well every day, being an intentional and  patient mother to my kids, eradicating poverty and child trafficking, and bringing justice and equality to those who are oppressed and unable to fight for themselves.  
I have all these dreams but I’m content sometimes to let them sit there on my shelf.  And instead of running and jumping into those massive dreams, I guess I’m afraid or overwhelmed- and I’m so afraid I don’t always even live truly alive in the little things.  The daily things.  The washing of socks things.  What if I try to use my life and fail?  What if I spend my potential and it doesn’t add up to what I thought it would?
Mark 8:35
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  

It sounds upside down, but if I hold tightly to my life afraid to spend it on what matters- if I hope to just ride through life enjoying what little security or comfort I can control- or if I tell myself I won’t act until I find juuuuust the right thing to spend my life on- then in the end I’ve done a lot of waiting.  I’ve lost a life, and gained nothing.  So maybe today I’ll use my one-use gel detergent…  what about you?
(Side note: that the kids stool was not as tall as I had hoped and after all that I had to send it back.)

I’ll Never Regret…

I’ll never regret giving up money that goes to sponsor a child in an impoverished community- even if giving only makes me realize how much more is needed.  
I’ll never regret holding my tongue in an argument and compromising, even if I feel entitled to be mad.
I’ll never regret spending time with my extended family, even if it means I have to drive to Alabama and back to see them.
I’ll never regret writing a note to encourage someone, even if I never hear that they got it.  
I’ll never regret advocating for those who can’t speak for themselves- even if I don’t always know how to do it.
I’ll never regret letting my kids get messy while being creative, even if it means some cute clothes bite the dust.
I’ll never regret buying a friend coffee to cheer them up, even if I sometimes regret the money spent on my own coffee addiction.
I’ll never regret vacation time with my/Jeff’s family, even when I forget to bring Scrabble.
I’ll never regret being honest with others, even if I’m not always brave enough to be.
I’ll never regret letting a stranger share their life with me, even if they are quite talkative and I’m with them at the airport for hours waiting for a plane.
I’ll never regret spending 15 minutes on the floor playing legos with my son, even if it means dinner is later.
I’ll never regret getting close to friends- even if it means we witness each others messiness.
I’ll never regret ignoring the clock for a few minutes more to hear all my daughter’s important and deep musings while I tuck her into bed- even if it means I miss a tv show or two.  
I’ll never regret trying something that I’ve always wanted to do, even if I fail.  
I’ll never regret doing what I feel God wants me to- even if it doesn’t land me where I expected.

Youth is wasted…

George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.”  Of course “young” is not as narrow a group as we’d like to think.  Sure, teens get a bad rap for being a head-strong, reckless, live-for-today kind of people.  Heck, we’ve now got scientific data about the incomplete development of this cortex or that lobe of the teen brain, which further solidifies the idea that young people are risk-takers…not able to make good choices about their long term future.  (I actually read that the brain is not fully developed till age 25.  “At What Age is the Human Brain Fully Developed?”  Whew…glad to be past that mark- maybe this explains the age requirements for car rentals?)

Anyway, even with scientific evidence, I’m sure it is hard to pinpoint exactly when each of us moves beyond the thought process of “youth” and into more “mature” thinking.  More long-term thinking.  (My husband jokes that he stopped taking risks at age 12.)  And although many of us become less inclined to take crazy risks as we get older, is there really any specific age that makes us think differently about life?  About what we want to do with it?  And what is it that changes us?

If I may state the obvious- an older person thinks he has less time to live than a younger person, and therefore values his time differently.  At the end we are thinking more and more about what we did with our life- the legacy we can leave- whether our impact on the world, big or small, was positive or negative.
M are more likely to be bold and take risks- it’s just that the risks they take are calculated differently.  Through a different lens.  With the mindset that life is going to end anyway, and there are some things that are worth dying for today.  And with a focus and intensity that makes them think, “If only I had my younger years back, how much more I would do- could I do?”

Of course we can’t have our years back- but we can have our years forward.  We can use well the time we have left- but it is so easy to squander time when it seems to stretch in front of you forever.  I mean, if I knew I had a month left to live I believe I’d be present with people- out doing and loving- I doubt I’d be cruising facebook and checking my email the way I currently do.  That’s why I so desperately need the wisdom of this verse:

Psalm 90:12- 12 

Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I think as we grow there are things that naturally occur that help to number our days.  And while there are some positive things that remind us of our age, (celebrating a graduation, marriage, child, etc.) I’d say many of the things in life that “teach us to number our days” are life’s difficulties.  Aside from the daily wear we see in the mirror, we tend to start struggling with health issues- we see mass tragedies and the deaths of those who were “too young”- we wrestle with the loss of a relationship, home, job.  We rarely appreciate these things because they make us feel vulnerable, weak, and out of control.  But as I look at the things I’ve struggled with in my life, I wonder if they aren’t the very things God uses most to remind me that life is short.

And we can try to ignore death by prolonging the look and feel of youth- by upgrading our faces, dressing the part, trying to recreate the romance of youth.  But ultimately doesn’t it just leave us disillusioned?  Ultimately don’t we still end up in the same place- and with less to show for it?

In a perfect twist, to face mortality head on is not to be obsessed with death, but to actually LIVE to the fullest measure possible.