Unraveled (Friend Post Friday #3)

I’m beyond thrilled for you to meet my friend Sharon Butler who is this month’s “Friend Poster”.  I’d introduce her myself, but I can’t beat her own beautifully spoken bio…so the rest is Sharon:
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These days, I am the wife of a crazy redheaded lumberjack, the mother of seven amazing kids, a homeschool mom, a blogger at www.PureReligionIs.com, an anti-human trafficking activist, and a compassionate entrepreneur. 

I’ve been a writer as long as I could write. The downstairs bathroom was my childhood office and the toilet lid was my desk. I found quiet and solitude there, perfect for my childhood writing. As a teen, I processed fears, beliefs, joy, and all my strange ideas in my beanbag chair writing-lab. 

By college, I was a misfit journalism and ministry student who wanted to change the world, but I started to doubt myself and God’s plan for me. I stumbled, doing things my way for the next several years. Then one day, God took it all. He wrecked the life I had built, and led me through years of wilderness while He shaped me, carved me, humbled me, and began to prepare me to do it all His way. 

I wear a lot of hats, but of this I am sure: that no matter how much or how little I know, God chooses the weak, so He can use even me. Whatever I do, I do for His glory. May that be always evident in all I do.

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UNRAVELED– by Sharon Butler

No Strings Attached

If life is like a tapestry, you can imagine how it might unravel. A loose thread here, a tug, a yank, a pull. Before you know it, you’re just a mess of string, unattached.

The unraveling comes in those hard times that shake us to our core, circumstances that seem to wreck our lives. I presume we all have them, but we don’t always know what to do with them, do we? In the midst of a crisis, we may not see the whole tapestry—only the pull that’s causing the destruction.

My unraveling season was the spring and summer of 2008. It almost seems surreal as I think back to this time of my life. It lives in my mind in mere flashes of scenes – disconnected from each other, but yet, held together by the tiny thread that unraveled me with each tug.

It was the family vacation when I first suspected my husband’s affair. He was on the phone with work way too much, and missing our time at the beach house. When we returned home, I asked him to cut back on his time with her, because something didn’t seem right; but instead, he said, no and walked out the door. That’s how I found out that there was an actual problem, and it was not just paranoia.

It was the day my boss, friend and mentor told me she had cancer, and I felt that knot tighten in my throat. I didn’t dare burden her with my troubles. Then later, she asked for my help crafting a ‘positive’ message about her illness to the staff, while she was losing her hair and growing thin and frail.

It was the day my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, right before she and I should have been leaving for our first vacation alone. I knew our lives would never be the same again.

It was the day I secretly hoped her Diabetes would bring him back to us, but it didn’t. It was the day he asked for a divorce. It was the day my boss died and my world was wrecked.

That was it. My life unraveled. I was undone—a mere pile of thread tangled up on the floor.

Before that, my life had been a string of people, places and events that connected me to the world, a tapestry of experiences, hopes and dreams; but after, my life was punctuated by nightmares, tears, and far too many unknowns. It was a mess, with no meaning, no pattern left.

My marriage was over, my job was in question, my daughter was chronically ill. And I was alone, with no strings to anything, except my sick baby girl. I had lost my framework — my goals, my dreams, my career, and my partner. I stood there like a blind man in the middle of a room trying to feel for a reference point.

For weeks, I cried as I walked to work. I would pull myself together long enough to look reasonably professional, and cry again on my way home. Occasionally, I’d turn off my office lights, sit under the desk and cry. She, my former boss, would have understood. I would always clean myself up outside the front door of my house, and be sure to walk in with a smile to see my daughter at the end of each day. I’d lie on the floor and let her crawl on me because that’s all I had energy for.

I grieved. I mourned. And then one day, I knew I had to make a decision. I could continue grieving, or I could make a new life, put some of those threads back together, no matter how messy. The tears may not have stopped just because I said so. I still cry nine years later as I recall that time, all the loss. But I began carefully crafting a life for myself–something different to set my eyes on for the future.

First goal: Find me.

After years of marriage to a man I began dating in college, I had given up so many of my own personal dreams and desires, and even elements of my personality, that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’d moved for him twice, helped put him through medical school, and lived as a single parent, effectively. So the first goal was to uncover who I was. Do I like to dance? I have no idea! Let’s take a Salsa class! What kind of music do I like? Who knows anymore! Let’s go hear some bands.

Second goal: Be brave.

All those things that scared me? I now had a drive to overcome those fears, to try new things, to stretch myself. I had to become brave. I made my list of fears and determined to overcome them with personal challenges. Afraid of swimming with creatures? Snorkeling in the ocean will cure that! Scared of guns? Well, that means its time to learn to shoot.

Third goal: Dream.

For all those years of marriage, I had put my own dreams on hold. I pushed them back into the dark corners of the closets. Now, as I struggled to untangle that thread, I didn’t know what to use it for. What was it I wanted? What was it I loved? What was it I felt called to do?

Dreaming is scary. It’s dangerous and risky. What if I dream it and can’t achieve it? At the time, I was so scared, I manufactured false dreams—dreams I was willing to walk away from easily. And I did. But years later, God restored my true dreams of old—the dreams I had dreamed my whole life—the dreams of helping hurting people, dreams of writing, dreams of family and faith and ministry.

Even though I forgot who I was, forgot how to be brave and forgot my dreams, God never did. He held the plans for the tapestry of my life all along. I had made some poor design choices and ended up with a tangled up life, so as it unraveled around me, God saw opportunity—a chance to re-weave my life into what He intended all along.

“Baby Seal Black” Emotions

It seems it’s been a long week.

I’m seriously contemplating painting my whole house black.

Oh, but that’s not a depression-induced choice, it’s just I’ve been looking at my finger-smudged, crayon sullied walls and I’m wondering what color might absorb some of that mess.

Still, the mess is a  bit depressing… the mess that never seems to go away.

So is the chronic illness that’s squatting here in my backyard without my say-so.  The calls to insurance and doctor and…wait, who the heck was I calling again?  (By the way, I’d really love to call up my insurance sometime and tell them, “Alright, for my OWN purposes please know I’m recording this message.  And by the way, I’d love to verify YOUR date of birth and address so I know where to send a birthday greeting, or hate mail, or whatever.”)

It’s the having my parents visit from out-of-state and wishing they could have been here when I wasn’t sick and grumpy.  Its comforting my little girl when she’s anticipating missing her Nana and Papa before they’ve even left.  Long distance family is hard, and being together family is messy, and we don’t really know how to do either well sometimes.

It’s having a wonderful husband who works hard for our family, which sometimes means long hours.  And I can’t remember the last week of “normal” hours frankly, so Netflix and I have standing dates…if I can get the kids to bed, anyway.

It’s a week where I spoke at church feeling so confident and excited about what God was doing.  Hallelujah!  Then three days later I found myself in an all-out wrestle match with that same God and can’t quite figure out which end is up for now, but I know I’m still in it.  The mess. The wrestle.

I’m desperately searching for the ever elusive pause button or “reset” or that infuriating Staples “Easy” button. (Which is a myth, people. I hate to be the one to tell you. Although I haven’t ruled out its existence in parallel universes yet.)

But the week’s not quite over.

And that’s why this week I’m grateful for tomorrow.  Because tomorrow is a Friend-post Friday.

 My friend Sharon is sharing, and she has some really great insight to offer.  No, not an “easy” button to fix all problems, but maybe something close to a pause button, to give me fresh perspective on the hard times.  I hope you check back in tomorrow to be encouraged too!

In the meantime…I’m going to look up some darker paint colors…I’m not sure if “Baby Seal Black” is dark enough, but it sounds more exciting than basic “Black”.  Ah, well…I’ve got a tough decision ahead of me.

 

Mother’s Day Confessions

Hi, I’m a mother…and I make mistakes.

My pastor spoke briefly today on the Proverbs 31 woman.  If you haven’t heard of her, she basically embodies all the wonderful and ideal qualities a wife or mother could ever possess: she’s waking up early, running her own business, taking care of the family, and respected by everyone.  I believe the modern day equivalent would be the woman who rises with the sun for yoga, sends her kids out to the bus with a smile and organic hand-made lunches, is blowing up the Etsy world with her crocheted masterpieces, runs the PTO and grows her own vegetables while ending world hunger in her spare time.

She’s not even a real person (I enjoy telling myself this) but she does have some admirable, emulate-able qualities.  If you’re into that.

Anyway, when my pastor started talking about how she’s not lazy, I leaned over to my husband with a little guilty grin and said, “Sorry, Babe, you didn’t marry the Proverbs 31 woman.”

I wish I could say that “lazy” was my only deviation from perfection, but I’ve got plenty of mistakes.  When I first started celebrating Mother’s Day I felt like I earned the break- the recognition.

“I DO work hard.  I AM up all the time.  I’m making my own milk, for crying out loud.”

But lately I’ve become more and more aware of my flaws.  I’ve started joking about writing down all the ways my kids will need therapy because of me- because when you screw up your kid, the least you could do is give their future therapist a convenient list of how their issues started.

Parenting is hard, and sometimes I feel like I’m being celebrated for something that I’m not quite sure I’m succeeding at.

I feel like supermom when I see my kid’s PJ shirt in the drawer and miraculously remember seeing the bottom half in the dryer.  But five minutes later when I go to call my son, I have to go through 5 names before I get the right one.  And some of those names aren’t even boy names.

Sometimes I’m too tired to clean, and sometimes I’m just too lazy.  Maybe most of the time?  Sometimes I stare at the computer screen instead of looking into their sweet eyes long enough.  Other times I drop what I’m doing to dance with them to pandora songs.

Some days I really savor tucking them into bed and relish the hugs, the silly stories, the window into their souls.  Other times I seem to act like my kids are race cars and I’m the pitstop worker and my job is go from teeth brushing to lights out in record time.   Teeth! Potty! Book!  That book is too long, get a different one!  No more water, you’ll hydrate in the morning!  Love you!  Aaaaand….time!”

Some days I find patience I didn’t know existed when my kid dumps water all over the table on purpose or sneezes in my face.  Other times, I freak-out yell at my kids for tapping their finger repetitively, as though finger-tapping were right up there with mass-murder.

Some days I reassure my kids that I’ll never leave them and I love them no matter what, and the next I’m threatening to take away everything of theirs that is not physically attached to the house.

And I’m currently sitting here without my kids typing this in a Starbucks enjoying myself, yet simultaneously feeling like I shouldn’t quite be enjoying this break so much.  Maybe I’m getting a little too good at hiding from parenting lately.  I don’t know much, but I’m positive I’m a mess.

But maybe Mother’s Day is a time to embrace the triumphs as well as the mess.  Maybe motherhood isn’t about success as much as process- I’m still learning.  Still growing.  I’m making mistakes and good choices and some days I don’t know which of those is winning out.

I’ll never stop loving them, those three unpredictable gifts, and yet even as I parent them in their messes I’ll continue to make my own that they’ll have to deal with- learn from.  And the humbling grace of parenting is that they will teach me even as I teach them. They will forgive me as many times as I forgive them.  We will shape each other and be shaped and trip and fall and rise up together.

Hi, I’m a mother.  And I make mistakes.  That’s part of my process to embrace, and thankfully I’m not done yet.

Saving Our Kids (and Ourselves) From the More We Don’t Need

We navigated through the crowded woodland-themed lobby towards the canopied exit.  As we pushed the double doors open, fresh air filled our lungs and though the warm spring sun was fading, we caught  whimsical glimpses of its reflection on birds flying high above.

We exhaled.  The kids climbed a giant wolf-rock that was probably fake for all I know.  A fellow vacationer wrapped up her cigarette break and thoughtfully asked if we wanted her to take our family picture.  Where were we again?

That moment was like a reality-check-pause in our mini vacation to Great Wolf Lodge recently.  It’s really the perfect all-in-one place to take a young family.  You unload your light luggage and walk into a child’s dream: face painting, crafts, and balloon shapes, capped with a giant woodland character display.  And that’s just the lobby.  Whimsy is included in check-in, where you receive fuzzy wolf ears for all and head up to your hotel room.

There, the kids get to explore their mini wolf cave, complete with bunkbeds and wall mounted TV.  They even threw in some bottled water for free this time.

But that’s not really why you’re there…because the whole place is part indoor water park, part indoor ropes course with an arcade, spa, and mini restaurants.  Since the waterpark passes are included in your stay, this is the true highlight of the trip, and the big kids ooh’d about the wave-pool while the three year old mastered the mini-slides in his goofy, irrepressible way.  

Then we’d move to another area in the water park and my seven year old crossed a rope-over-water obstacle course while the boys floated in the lazy river or gleefully avoided the giant dumping water bucket.

Pure bliss, right?

Mostly.

But I haven’t told you about the fantastic water pass wrist bands, which were probably invented by a genius who loses things a lot.  The adult wrist band is your room key (*everyone freaks out and faints in amazement!*)…and you can conveniently use it at ANY of the Lodge’s on site locations to buy…well, anything: food, spa, arcade, even the Dunkin’ Donuts on premises.  Hallelujah, it’s convenience on steroids.  Except its alarmingly less convenient than we’d think.

We happened to have $50 free resort credit loaded on our card, so we used the wrist bands for purchases till that was used up.  But since my mind doesn’t know how to truly vacation from all thoughts probing, theological or otherwise, I started to actually be troubled by the stupid room-charge wrist bands. Because as easy as it is to swipe a credit card mindlessly to pay for things (which I often do), at the tap of a wrist band and a quick signature I could be on my merry way, hardly thinking about the total I was accruing.

Maybe it was the chlorine saturated artificial humidity or maybe it was my over-analytical brain but as I sat watching people walk through the water park area with their Wolf Lodge Pizzas and appetizers, I started picturing everyone with some dollar sign over their head.  I’m picturing invisible running tallies for that thick cut pepperoni, spa splurges, arcade binge, and plush wolf souvenirs.

I’m not even a math person which certainly didn’t help my sense of panic.

But back to my point, if I can find it somewhere in all the fake dollar signs and magical forest creatures: I don’t think it’s wrong to splurge sometimes to enjoy ourselves, to relax as a family, to embrace something fun and whimsical.  (Side note: Our family was blessed to go, and had a blast.)

Great Wolf Lodge is one of those places where you have absolutely everything you need to be happy, but you’re subtly surrounded by the idea that you could be MORE content if you spent MORE.  You can’t convince me it’s not intentional that you have to pass the arcade, spa, wizard wands and bubble blowers to get from the lobby to the waterpark, and it wasn’t lost on our children.

You have the whole amazing water park and THEN some, but as I’m not the first to point out, discontent is good business.  If someone can insert just a hint of discontent, we’re likely to buy into it in a literal sense.

And then we’re surrounded by vacationers who are spending it up with THEIR adorable kids, some of whom have themed wolf pajamas, spa glazed hands or collectible wolf coins (3 for  only $10!).  And there’s a part of all of us parents that feels like maybe we’re not giving our kids the best- the most fun- the world that they deserve.

But what if the “more” is not what we need?  What if the more is actually squelching something beautiful in our kids…in ourselves?  What if the more is actually feeding our discontent which feeds our more…which…well, you get it.

And I realized that the resort we were staying at was like a microcosm of real life.  Vacations are meant for a little splurge.  But our real world works a lot like that resort: I have really good things that many people don’t have.  I have a beautiful family, comfortable home, food and coffee and entertainment pretty much at my fingertips.  It’s my flipping waterpark bliss.

But I’m dazzled by the arcade and spa of my world, whether furniture or wardrobe or latte or must-have for my children.  And am I really any happier for all my spending and stacking of things?  Are my kids?  In reality, our more is suffocating us and overflowing in giveaway bags and trash cans.  It’s coming out our drawers, filling up the floor of my car with empty coffee cups and yet my mind screams for…more.

And I realized I need a moment, just like at the water park, where I intentionally force myself away from the crowd, out those materialistic doors into….the fresh air of a REAL Kingdom that is built on truth, love, and hope.  It’s a Kingdom that doesn’t run on our currency or pinterest wish list, that isn’t driven by profit or prestige.  It’s a place where the Bible says “I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1) and God says that everything He has is ours already (Luke 15:31).  It’s not a magical unicorn place free from hardships on earth, and yet it’s a place where we can find strength to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11-13).

It’s the place where I find that something eternal is growing in the midst of precisely the less that I thought I could never be happy with.  He literally makes my less more.

What are the things that draw me out those doors, back into that Kingdom perspective when I’m struggling with discontent?  Is it listening to others who don’t have what I do?  Is it realizing that while I’ve regretted plenty of purchases, I’ve almost never regretted giving money and things away?  Is it saying no to myself sometimes to realize my heart’s capacity to be content in Christ with less?

No matter what, I believe God is telling me I’m missing something in my excess.  (And trust me, I have a lot of it.)

If you’re looking for your own key to enter the perspective of that Kingdom, I’ve made a printable sheet of mini-contentment challenges for you and your family.  Print out a few and stick them in your wallet, car, fridge, or wherever.  Try a few of mine or use the blank card for you or your kids to write their own.

And if you end up with a cool story to share, or you have other ideas for being content, please comment!

CONTENTMENTCARDS 

*If you don’t want to download, I’ve listed the Contentment Card Suggestions Below:

  • Give Away One Thing a Day for a Week (Be Creative!)
  • Choose to Say “NO” To Yourself Once This Week (When it’s HARD).
  • Do Something As A Family That is FREE But Fills Your Soul.
  • Thank God for something when you feel discontent.
  • Make a List of Things You GAVE AWAY that made you HAPPIER.
  • Send Your Kids on a “Thankful Hunt”: Let them make a list or a Picture.
  • Take a break from Facebook, Pinterest or Social Media that feeds your need for more.

 

 

 

We Are the Collective (Friend Post Friday #2)

I’m excited to introduce you to my brother, Ben Martin, the second author in my monthly “Friend Post Fridays” series.  Ben may be the youngest of the four of us kids, but he daily inspires me in his simplicity of living, his desire to truly listen and engage with those around him, and his big heart and humor.  Ben doesn’t just talk, he DOES.  When he’s not traveling, he’s working hard, being WITH people (all in), or maybe writing music.  You can check out more of his music on his Youtube Channel.  He doesn’t settle for status quo, and he doesn’t want us to either- so I hope you are challenged by his blog today.  


“We Are the Collective” by Ben Martin

What is in a name but just what we have limited it to be? The infrastructure of our mind is more advanced than we let on, more than we can understand. One must think outside the box as it were, but thinking outside the box has become a box in and of itself. There’s no such thing as hipsters. We act like by complete choice we do what we do, and wear what we wear, but there is an extreme influence present that affects all of us whether we’d like to admit it or not. I hesitate to even say the “S” word because it could just be placed in another box, shipped off by an amazon drone to a part of your brain that doesn’t pay a mind to what it thinks it has heard before. Maybe this topic has been introduced previously, but how can that negate the importance? And, if we choose not to listen to this, what is IT that we are listening too? Even when you zone out or drive zombie-like to work, we are listening. We are watching. We are absorbing something. Sometimes our sub-conscious is accepting things all the time without us realizing. We see something or read an article and it makes sense only because we’ve SEEN it. It has made itself visible to us. New ideas didn’t begin until someone said what if we did it THIS way, or what if the world was not flat, but in fact round. Let us look at what is around us and make an accurate judgement.

Maybe I should just come out and say it…..society. There, it’s done. Don’t judge me. Instead, think about how real it is and how it affects you. Do you feel this affect is positive or negative, maybe both? Do you find yourself questioning much of what you do? Are you easily swayed by others opinions? Have you been raised a certain way that in turn makes you think a certain way? How should we define the word society? These are questions I like to ask just for us to get a better view of where we stand. You may have a vision of where you’d like to stand, but that does not always match up with the facts. I would love to be on a beach in Tahiti right now, but If I pull up the gps on my phone it shows me what I already know, that I am sitting in a hobbit hole in Connecticut on a cold winter night with snow coming in a few hours. It’s the truth. Not something you hear every day. I wonder the legitimacy of most news articles and people on television that like to paint a picture. Who’s to say that last article you read about such and such a leader did terrible things was created on false facts just to stir up trouble, to get us angry and emotional. Well, it works. We have a feeling and we run with it. It’s easy to keep a fire going once there’s a few hot coals. With this, the truth becomes almost trivial and only a word to get us believing whatever is put forth.

There is a depth to each person’s soul where at some point they’re asking “why?”. They are asking the deep questions of life. Advertisements and television and news have discovered THIS truth, and used it in such a way to get what they want. If they get us to a point where we no longer think but just do, we are perfect products of our society and aren’t exercising one of our biggest gifts, which is the ability to think and question. A mistake for us would be to equate average living with something somehow entirely separate from what society would tell us ‘average living’ should look like. I am impacted by society just as much as the next guy, and isn’t that the point? We try to distinguish and separate and individualize ourselves, but how is that not interconnected with a collaborative source of people all trying to do the same thing. There’s no such thing as hipsters.

Please don’t write this post off as a purely negative attack looking to point out where you’re all wrong and lost and controlled unknowingly. The fact is, those statements might have some truth, but my purpose behind the glass is to evaluate how everything around us is affecting us, and how it can be both positive and negative, and how we might respond to these effects. It comes easy for me to write overarching ideas and themes, to outline an issue or introduce a doctrine, but it becomes more difficult when getting down to specifics. Therefore, it is my job as the writer to give examples and pull from experiences and point to events and occurrences. It’s true, just as society is an integral force in influencing the general public, I too am looking to influence you and uncover what otherwise might remain buried. Most of what society and television touch upon resides on the surface level in which the ground we walk can even become foreign if we’re not constantly digging. What makes up the dirt, the soil, the minerals, the roots, the magma, the stuff we tread on the daily commute? We know much less than our superhero pop-culture news reports might have us believe.

Personally, I pay very little attention to the news. The only time I know what’s going on around in the world is when I hear it from a friend or co-worker. I haven’t invested in keeping up with current affairs because I tell myself it’s all gobblesmack. Yes, gobblesmack. But this is the world I live in and I am affected by what happens around me. To go further, am I not exercising my fullest potential when I choose hiding over acknowledgement that there are important things going on right now and I play a part? Do we play a part? Do we believe that what we do matters? Some people refuse to vote because they know they’re one vote really won’t make a difference. I haven’t even registered to vote yet in however many years of eligibility. To me I didn’t think much of it, and I felt more just in doing nothing. But that’s part of the problem, when we disassociate or do not recognize ourselves as part of the collective, we will more easily skip out on action. What if we could put a name to society? Or how we would like it to be? What does that look like? We can invest in each other’s lives. Invest in people from all cultures to grow and gain a better perspective. To experience love in all its forms and hate as well, but to embrace emotions and beliefs and both joy and sorrow that comes from this.

Since we’re so good at putting names to things, why not call society what you believe it to be and then do something about it. Take part. Take action. Help people. Find your purpose. Share what you’ve be given and receive what others have to give. Dig deeper. Appreciate what you have. Keep asking questions because God knows we’ll never figure it all out. Look for what you believe to be issues or unhealthy, and take simple steps to change that. We must acknowledge that we’re not always right, but the beauty of this collective is the uniqueness each one of us brings. Don’t lose hope when things are not going the way you wanted them to. Life is confusing and much less linear than we perceive. We are moving towards something whether we like to admit it or not, and whether we take part is up to us. But we ARE a part of this so called society, for better or worse, and we’ve got stuff to do. The only way I can be confident in challenging others is if I also am challenging myself. I am eager to discover where I fit into this puzzle and ultimately coming to a place outside of myself where I discover true meaning and purpose and connections. Together we stand…

Gender Offender?: A Letter to My Kids and the Church

Don’t ask me how I jumped from Netflix banter to this.  Ah well.

I recently read in a Time Magazine article what I’d basically known already- that more and more people are challenging not only traditional views of gender roles, but redefining gender identity itself while simultaneously expanding definitions of sexual preference.  (There’s a mouthful.)  There are now literally hundreds of ways to describe your basic identity to the world.

Grab the remote and pause while I make one thing clear: this blog post will not be about hate or defining morals.  I’m writing as a mother who has put all her crazy hope in Jesus, yet struggles with the chasm between church and the world that “God so loved.”

I’m surrounded by these gender and sexuality issues lately and I’m never short on thoughts, in case you haven’t noticed.  But I’m hoping these letters give you a window into what’s most on my heart.
To my three children
, who will certainly grow up in a different world than I did, let me tell you what I hope for you.  I hope, first,that you will never believe that you can be or do or say anything that makes me love you less.  Trust me when I say that no matter what identity you believe about yourself, your identity will always be loved, Loved, LOVED.  There’s no escaping that, so don’t weary yourself running from me, please.  And as much as I crazy love you, I believe the God who made you and died for you will never find you less lovable either.  May your ultimate identity be His. Loved. Child.  No strings attached.

Second, I want to warn you about labels.  Your whole life people will label you: some good things, some negative.  Smart, dumb, fat, skinny, too girly, not good enough, goody-two-shoes, quiet, loud, silly, and on and on.  The world will tell you what you’re good at, and what you’re failing at.  Who you should be, what you should study in college.  And at the end of the day you’re probably going to want to tell everyone to shut up and let you define yourself.  I don’t know, but maybe you’ll feel boxed in by gender or sexuality labels as well.

Whatever the labels, let me tell you this: If you’re looking for the perfect label to set you free and make you feel like you belong, you’ll probably never find it.  I’m not even saying your label will be wrong, but if what you’re really looking for is validation for your worth, it won’t change with your label.  Your worth is tied into your identity, yes, but your most fundamental identity is “loved” and, Sweetie, there’s no greater worth for us clay pots than to be loved by the Potter that dreamt us up.  And that goes for the people you might want to label too- you can never label anyone else’s worth up or down, so please don’t try.

And if you must label yourself, never let that label divide you from others who “aren’t”.  We get ourselves into a lot of hate and mess this way.

I hope you’re stunningly “you”,that you walk in confidence and purpose, and that you care more about how you can love and serve the world than whether the world validates or negates your labels. Because if I haven’t said it enough, we all just need the label of “loved”.

And that’s where I’ll end…with all my love,

~Mom

Now, to the church,

not only my own in a tiny pocket in CT, but to the larger church out there, I have a few words for you.  For us, really, because God help me, I’m not where I should be.  I believe in a Jesus who came not for the healthy but for the sick- and to be honest I think we forget that He was including everyone in the “sick” category, but we like to make distinctions.  It seems Jesus was more baffled by the stubborn “righteous” than those that the religious turned away, and in His love He died for everyone, regardless of age, race, gender…or any labels we might find ourselves under.

I believe we want to accept everyone, but let’s face it we’re awkward at best and cruel at worst.  In our fear of “condoning” what we don’t understand, we elevate moral standards over a love that covers thick.  If we’re afraid to engage with any person with beliefs we don’t understand or agree with, we simply draw a deeper and deeper line between us and them.  In fact, we often perpetuate the idea that it’s only OK to “come as you are” if you plan to change who you are in the very near future.  This is damaging to those within the church, even, who are afraid to be exposed as flawed and vulnerable.  (Except we all are.)

And if we’re pointing fingers at the sheer number of new labels people are identifying with, perhaps we should point that finger back at ourselves: I was shocked to read recently that there are thousands of Protestant church denominations.  Even if the estimates are high, the truth is that as the church has “progressed” we’ve actually become more fragmented by disagreements than united under God.  The bottom line is that we know better than anyone that it’s easier to divide and relabel ourselves to find value and identity with those who think similarly than to live in the messy tension of community with people who don’t always agree.

But what if we were called to be just that?  The messy tension of a community of people who don’t always agree…but surrender our right to be right to the greater work of God’s Grace and Love.  Maybe that sounds oversimplified and watered down…but its also possible we complicate simple things.

Can we be that messy church?  If Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, can we at least look people in the eyes and recognize the glint of the image of God in them?  Can we at least listen?

Thanks for listening to me, anyway.

Sincerely,

Carrye (Major Work-in-Progress, but LOVED)

 

 

How to Pick a Netflix Movie

Does choosing a Netflix movie make you feel like this?

If you can relate, hopefully this guide takes a weight off your cinema-inclined mind.

Step 1) Ask yourself, “Who will be watching this film?” If you’re watching by yourself, skip to step 2.  If you’re watching with others, read on: There’s nothing worse than picking out the perfect film for yourself, only to find that those in your viewing party are vehemently against romantic time-period movies, for instance, or are allergic to Tom Selleck.  Avoid these major conflicts by knowing your audience and including them in the decision making process.

Step 2) What genre would be appropriate? If you’re watching alone, to choose your genre simply add your standard genre preference + your current state of mind.  If you prefer romantic comedies normally and you’re feeling romantic….well, the choice is just obvious.  However, you may typically gravitate towards violent action movies, but find yourself in a fragile state of mind after hitting a squirrel on the way home from work, and thus opt for a comedy (with no woodland creatures).

If you’re watching with a group, note that no one will by 100% happy.  You might hit an unexpected 70%+ satisfaction rate (like in the case of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) but you’re aiming closer to 55% enjoyment/ person.

The key is to know everyone’s preferred genre, rule out the extreme outliers, and make a decision based on whoever’s turn it is to compromise.  (In our house, I have more get-out-of-compromise cards than my husband because, frankly, he’s nicer.)  So for instance, if I prefer romantic comedies and my husband prefers sci-fi/fantasy, we can eliminate strictly romance or sci-fi movies, and find something with elements of both.  Thus we could land on my choice, Stardust,  or Ironman, if I’m feeling like I owe him…or it’s his birthday.

Step 3) Find a Movie that You Know You Like, and Check the “More Like This” Tab This is the easiest way to possibly find a movie that you might sort of like.

On the pros side:

  1. You narrow your massive genre search to a handful of potential winners.
  2.  One of those might be a real gem.

On the cons side:

  1. You don’t know if the movie is actually similar to the one you watched or, say, just happens to have the same actor in it. (Sandra Bullock is great, but While You Were Sleeping is very different than Hope Floats.)
  2. You might have tried this trick too many times, and have watched all the “More Like This” options that look remotely watchable.  For shame.
  3. You’ll potentially experience the massive panic attack that comes with comparing a new movie to an old favorite.  (These attacks can be ameliorated by watching new movies with friends.  Or wine and chocolate.  Or popcorn.  Ideally all of the above.)
  4. Occasionally you get bizarre suggestions that make you question the whole “more like this” system: For instance, if you’ve watched Grease, Grease 2 is a logical suggestion.  But you’re also encouraged to watch Twilight, which I think you’ll find has a slightly less bubbly musical feel to it.

If you land on a keeper, move to step 5.  If you’re stuck on a few possibilities go to step 4.

Step 4) Read Reviews for Select Movies This step is actually not helpful and should be ignored.  Why?  Because the people reviewing the movies are inevitably not you and their qualifications for “good” movies are probably just different than yours wrong. If I had a nickel for every 5-star review that made me NOT want to watch a movie, I’d be able to afford going to the movies instead of Netflix.  For instance, I’m not against “wholesome” movies, but if the wholesome actors are so bad that I’m getting stress-sweats watching them, the movie is simply not 5-star material.  You’ll probably find a better movie by closing your eyes and randomly stabbing a choice on the screen with your finger.

Step 5) Use Your Tie-Breakers If you’re struggling to narrow down a movie based on steps 3 and 4 alone, try these standard tie-breakers:

  1. Choose based on the length of the film (Hint: The longer you take picking out your Netflix movie, the shorter the movie you’ll want to watch)
  2. Choose based on Netflix’s new ambiguous “%match” guess for your movie preferences. Note that if you and someone else in your family both use the same Netflix profile, your results may be skewed.  For instance, I’m not really sure how they score a movie match for someone who ostensibly liked Stranger Things and Christmas Kiss.
  3. Choose by actor preference.
  4. OR (my personal favorite) pick two that you definitely think you’d like, and in a moment of panic which we’ll call spontaneity, irrationally abandon both and choose a random third option instead.

Step 6) Watch the First 3 Minutes of Your Selected Movie  Even for the noncommittal, watching 3-minutes of anything probably won’t kill you right away.

However, stop watching the movie immediately if any of the following occurs:

  1. After 3 minutes, the opening credits are still rolling
  2. The acting is giving you stress-sweats (See Step 4)
  3. You didn’t realize the movie was English sub-titles only and you have the multi-tasking ability of a rock.
  4. The plot is so corny that you find yourself dry-heaving.
  5. You can’t stomach the __________ (fill in the blank with your deal-breaker.)

If you can’t continue your film, repeat steps 3-5 until you’re satisfied or skip to step 8.

Step 7) Enjoy the Rest of Your Film- Probably Congratulations!  You’ve already invested 40 minutes in this film before it ever started, so let’s hope it is worth it.

Step 8) Give Up on Netflix for the Night What can I say? Once in a blue moon you’ll find a Netflix golden nugget that makes you believe you can find true bliss every time…but that’s a myth, like Elvis being alive or “delicious” low-fat sour cream.  Accept it.  And possibly blog out your frustration.

 

 

Of Bear Meat Bacon and Spring

It’s been too long since I posted, but I assume you’ve all been caught up in that little thing called Spring that so distracts and inspires us that we’re prone to ask, “Facebook…hm…what’s that again?”

Anyway, between the warm weather and the dangerous coffee levels, I’m suddenly motivated to do all the things, like start writing a new book, create my dream pinterest writing nook,

deep Spring clean my house, and bake birthday and Easter treats.  

“Um…Hello Chocolate!  And you brought your friend, Peanut Butter? Please come in!”

Speaking of treats and Easter, I’ll share a completely random story with you about our family Easter ride to my in-laws’ house.  Somehow the topic of pigs and bacon came up and my seven year old daughter lamented from the back seat that, even though she loved bacon,she wished we didn’t have to kill pigs for it.  When I asked her how she would prefer to get bacon meat, she said we could kill bears for bacon.  (I think in her head bears are slightly more sinister than the pigs she has met, and are therefore better candidates for killing off.)

My six year old son quickly chimed in, “No, You have to kill the right thing!”  (Translation: Bear meat may not be a suitable bacon substitute.)

Then the three year old, not to be left out, piped up, “Bear Meat, Ew!” (Except he said it more like, beh mee, eww!)

My ever ethically sensitive daughter capped the conversation by trying to rationalize the killing of the bear; She’d invite him to help her pick berries, and if he proved to be a lazy bum slacker, she’d employ a jaguar or panther or some other wildcat to take him out.  I’m surprised sloth is so far up there on her list of unforgivable sins, given her pitiful reaction whenever I ask her to clean at home.

Anyway, where were we?  Right, Spring and doing all the things.  I’m excited to share a couple opportunities with you if you’re feeling creative and inspired yourself!

First of all, I’m running a free Non-fiction Writer’s Workshop on Saturday, May 6th, 9:30-noon, hosted at Kainos Life Ministries in East Hampton, CT.

I’ll be working through the 101 of how to explore your unique voice and audience, as well as give simple tips to improve and share your work!  You absolutely don’t need any experience- this is just an opportunity to step out and meet others with a passion to write, and hopefully grow in confidence and direction while you’re at it!  If you’re feeling adventurous, click HERE TO REGISTER and get more details! There are also several other creative workshops to sign up for if writing isn’t your thing!

Second, I have people lined up through June, but I’m still looking for more of you to share your stories as part of my Friend-Post Fridays Blog Experiment!  Every 4th Friday I’m posting a guest blog entry written by friends and family; I believe there’s something powerful in speaking our stories, and really listening to others around us.

The sky is the limit- if you missed my first Friend-Post, you can check out what my cousin shared about his experience with PTSD, but your post can be anything from your thoughts on bear-meat-bacon to potty training, to how you adopted or what your passion in life is!  If you’re interested or even have questions, send me a message and I’d love to connect with you.

And make sure you check out next week’s Friend-Post written by my own brother, Ben!  

Finally, because I’m feeling super-ambitious, I wanted to let you know about my plan to launch an online study of my book Gray Faith over summer vacation!

For 8 weeks, I’ll be posting a weekly video on my facebook page and hope you’ll post your thoughts and interact with each other as we go!  Stay tuned for the official June launch date, and if you’re interested spread the word and grab a discounted paperback or kindle version so you’re ready to start!

That’s all for now, thanks for stopping in!  And if I you got distracted somewhere in the middle of the bear story by the Springy outdoors…I completely understand.

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!

 

A War for Peace (Friend Post Friday #1)

I’m excited to introduce you to my cousin and very first Friend-Post-Friday author, Lee Waters.  Growing up mostly in New England, we only got to see extended family once a year; but Lee stands out as a thoughtful, peaceful soul in a sea of cousins, surrounded by big-laughing uncles, aunts (pronounced “Ants”) compulsively comparing cousin genetic similarities.

We’re all grown up now and just this past year I finally got to meet Lee’s amazing wife, Judy!  The two live in Georgia where Judy teaches and they both run Waters Art Studio.  Their photography and art reflect their travel, their style, and incredible creativity.  In fact, you can’t talk to them without being inspired to go create or restore something- it’s simply who they are.  I’m in awe of their work.

Lee was one of the first people I asked to share, after reading his vulnerable story.  I know this wasn’t something easy for him to share, but I know his deepest desire is that it reaches and liberates those of you who may feel a similar pain.  I’m so grateful that he shared, and hope you are moved or pass his words along to those who may need his message.


A War for Peace

A painful transparency for the sake of others

By Lee Waters

I am coming forward publicly for what I feel is necessary. This is not for myself but rather I offer what is hopefully some measure of help or service to others. Otherwise, giving such an account would certainly not be of personal interest. Life is far to short to sit on something that can be of value to others. I am tired of seeing others languish in silence, struggle for answers, or needlessly die.

For over a decade I’ve been struggling through life seemingly in every aspect. Approximately three years ago everything fell apart whether physically, spiritually, or mentally. Everything ceased to function. One day I found myself in the local Veteran’s Affairs clinic being treated for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). (PS. I’m not going to give my military history pertaining to this, so please don’t make inquiries of me or my family.)

After the service I never really adapted back home. I tried to do the “normal” things i.e. college, jobs, the old home town, old friends, relationships, church, etc. Everything was as I left it, but small…..way too small. Life was way to slow, unstructured, and certainly no level of comradery and deep friendships once known. Nothing attempted had meaning, I certainly did not fit in this old life anymore.

Later, I found myself in government contract work. Working in a post 9/11 Uncle Sam atmosphere brought back a semblance of OPTEMPO lifestyle and sense of danger depending on the day. In hind sight, I suppose I was covering up old wounds with anything that would make me feel alive or perhaps fast enough that I didn’t have to feel. But as contracts go, they came to an end. A few years later, when that state of existence ceased, so did I.

Thusly, revealing my war. Fighting an enemy I can’t see, on a battleground where there is not a lot of intel. One can call for support but command doesn’t know the exact plan of attack or understand all of the parameters.

No matter the war, engagement, or experience, somehow and bafflingly so, the malevolent effects are the same. “Different stories, same war” is a phrase often heard. To the unknowing and assuming eye all is well, yet underneath a 24/7 brawl for survival ensues.

What I discuss next as a veteran is hard to bring to light or explain. Hopefully, and the purpose of all this is not only for a fellow veteran, but also for those in close relationships with the effected and what life looks like. Disclaimer, I don’t have all the answers. I’m living minute by minute most days in this hell of a journey. This will be raw and ugly. So please save any judgement for some place elsewhere. Again, this is purely to offer what I have and if by some chance it’s a help, than this exercise in exposing what I really don’t want to will be worth it.

When one has pulled themselves up by the bootstraps from trauma to trauma, event from event, next thing to the next, something has to give. Equate it to an engine. If one never places oil in the reservoir, eventually the engine will seize. Thusly, a costly chain of events will occur in the car. Sounds simple! Just take the time to add oil! Well, somehow it’s much much more complicated than that.

Getting counseling, prescribed medications, treatments, all have a valuable place and are necessary. Yet there is more that is needed. A quick “end all” healing solution, or the expectations of such to help with the torment eludes many. Ergo, many self medicate with drugs, alcohol, vices, and even suicide to end the incessant agony. On the other end of the spectrum, activities that are dangerous are attempts to feel again. For instance, a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado I feel at peace in. I’m apt to go as close to or experience the fury and as a photographer I want to capture it. Maybe I want to bottle it up that way and save it for later. Now I know that those events cause pain and uncontrollable damage. Believe me when I say I care deep down. Yet the onset of lightning, thunder, or whiteout blizzard conditions elicit a sense of feeling and belonging. The wilder the better. I can rest there. It’s the quiet that is deafening to me. I am hyper vigilant again. I often dread sleep yet I know that I need it desperately. I don’t want to go through another nightmare, wind up in a pool of sweat, or wake up screaming with my chest about to explode.

Day to day life tends to be very calculated. Places like Walmart, crowded places, large church settings are a no go. Too many people, too much vigilance, subconsciously scanning for threats or running scenarios, all of which are sensory overload on a good day. Restaurants and coffee shops i can somewhat ease in to so long as my back is not turned to the crowd. Not being situationally aware at all times is not an option.

So back to the car analogy and someone says “just add oil!” Or in these cases “you don’t have to be this way now! You’re home! You can stop it if you choose to!” First of all please never say that to someone going through this! You can rest assure that if it were that easy it would be done by now. The mind knows the right answers yet the rest of the being won’t follow through. What lies deeper is a whole other story.

Jumpiness, irritability, reclusiveness, depression, exhaustion, feeling misunderstood, feeling like a cancer to anyone especially family, embarrassment, numbness, an all or nothing attitude, everything black and white, are just some of the things I battle. Again, putting these things on paper in a clear moment is one thing, but when it’s time to take care in these areas is a whole other ball of wax. Day to day is Russian roulette.

So why am I being so painfully honest about all of this? Somehow knowing the things that are part of the territory with PTSD is a relief. Especially to loved ones. My wife and family have made lots of allowances and adjustments to be there for me. And I’m sure more than I realize. It breaks my heart that they have to. I lament that reality. Yet, I am ever so great full for them. Especially my wife Judy. Many are not blessed with a family support unit like this and I don’t take it for granted. Those who don’t travel the treacherous road alone.

Now for a brief moment of levity and truth all in one. Fellas, find you a tough Irish gal. You will have found your pot of gold with her. But seriously, I owe much to my bride and I do not take it lightly.

To wit, I am publicly taking the moment to tell my family and most of all my wife Judy, thank you. I love you more than words can express.

I went to a songwriting retreat back in 2014. Nashville songwriters came to Chattanooga to help veterans put memories, stories, etc. on paper and watch them get turned into music. I will discuss that program later, I want to make a point here. A few months after the retreat, we had a reunion gathering for the veterans involved in the program. This time Judy got to meet the people I was involved with. When Judy saw the common visage on the faces of the veterans and respective family members things became tangible for her. Seeing the tiredness, the fight, the love, support, survival, and a signature look in the eyes of a vet no matter the age or whatever they were involved in, made sense and brought relief. She was not the only one going through this story as a spouse. She was not alone.

I’m going to wrap this up with a summation and reiterate what I’m attempting to say. I don’t have the answers to this. What I am offering some information on some of what veterans with PTSD and families who care for them encounter. And maybe you’re reading this and have questions about your struggles or someone else’s struggles. Please go for help. Media and culture have created a stigma in which anyone with PTSD is a mark of weakness. Rather I submit to you as encouragement, if you’re fighting with this, I say you’re stronger than most. You are fighting and surviving an enemy that would force many to yield. I’m in the throws of my battle. Trying to build a business, and seemingly living in the VA. I’m learning. So is my family. Pray for us. Pray for the veterans. 22 veterans losing the battle everyday is a disturbing number that doesn’t seem to change. Some of us are home but can’t come home on the inside. By God’s grace someday. Offer support, not judgement of what you think you understand. That can be damaging at best. Please don’t pepper someone with questions. Just be there.. don’t avoid even if you don’t understand. Remember the veterans have been and always will be sheep dogs. Always watching out for you.

Thank you for your time in reading this. It means a lot if you did. God bless my country and the men and women who have and are donning the nation’s uniform.

Ps. As aforementioned, I spoke of the program I was involved with. It is called Operation Song Chattanooga. Nashville songwriters Steve Dean and Don Goodman come down every week and help veterans write music as therapy. Do you know the song “Ol Red” sung by Blake Shelton or “Angels Among Us” sung by Alabama? That’s Don. Or one of the most played songs on country radio “Watching You” sung by Rodney Atkins? That’s Steve. These folks care deeply and get not one penny in this 501C3. I am honored to be a part of the program and now work along side them. I have written a song with Steve and Don for my wife who loves me and stays by my side. It’s about how much I love her. “I thank God that you love me.” Once the songs are written, professional cuts of the songs are put on an album and given to the veterans.

If you know someone in the Chattanooga, Murfreesboro, or Nashville areas that can benefit from a program like this, please contact us. Check out Operation Song Chattanooga on Facebook. Follow them and pass the word along. It’s powerful therapy in a family atmosphere. Check it out please.

(Post written by Lee Waters)