the time is now…..

 

The past few days have brought this strange numbness….like I don’t fit wherever I am.  Partially because I never do but it seems more intense lately. Finally I was reminded yesterday that I am in the “between first and third world” transition phase as I am leaving for Haiti in a few days. One would think I would sense when this is coming on because I have been doing this for almost 10 years but it always seems to creep up on me.

I was unloading the dishwasher and my RaceTrac cup caught my eye. I literally looked at it and said in my head, “I will miss you, RaceTrac cup.” WTH???  As I prepare to leave I subconsciously say good bye to ice and air conditioning and it takes me a little while to wean myself from all the conveniences. I am human too. I am not beyond getting my panties in a  wad when I have to clean out my bowl in the bunkhouse in Haiti with a paper towel and hand sanitizer for the hundredth time because water is too important to waste on such things.  I don’t count the days to no shower,  sweat to the point I carry a washcloth with me so my glasses don’t slide down my nose (don’t judge), and sliding on muddy rocks in a long skirt and cursing my “hiking boots” because they aren’t doing a dang thing for me in the middle of a downpour on top of a slippery foot path.  Crackers and canned chicken are not my faves (although Chick-fil-A sauce does wonders for most foods) and I also miss my comfortable car, legitimate roads, and my washing machine. But not enough to stay home. Never enough to stay home.

We are a society of comfort and conveniences. We thrive off quick and easy. But what about the rest of the world? The world where clean water is nonexistent and a pair of shoes is a luxury.

 

I know when we started to go to Haiti there was this lingering question in the minds of the people in the village which was very simple…..”WHY would she leave her comfort to come here?”  At first I had to figure that question out for myself. I wanted to be there for the right reasons and a motivation that is not centered around some philanthropic do-gooder mentality.  And here is my conclusion…..I go because I am called. We are ALL called to somewhere other than our own families and our own little circles. The other reason is a bit selfish but it is because the people in Haiti have something extraordinary that I lack and I just want to be around them because  of it.

Constantly people say to me, “We forget how blessed we are in America” and I always have this uneasy feeling like there was something inherently wrong with that statement. Yes we have drive thrus and electricity. We have faucets and milk in the fridge. But we also have meth and porn. We live very isolated lives from those around us because we need to keep up with the materialistic world we live in. We have free schools yet  most don’t appreciate them anyway. We have a lot of stuff but we remain unsettled most of the time because there is always something more to be attained or accomplished. We know a lot of people but often feel disconnected because of our busyness and  our own selfishness.

And then there is entitlement.  The feeling so many have that the government owes them something. Government assistance should lead to gratitude and humility but most of the time it only breeds dependence and arrogance.  Something needs to change here is the USA. We are not as “blessed” as we want to think we are. There is a huge need for change in our country.  Addiction, crime and sexual exploitation are taking over and most of us don’t even know it is happening.

Being “blessed” to me is doing life with people I love who have learned the value of hard work under the worst conditions. It means spending time together under an avocado tree talking about education and the need for rain so the crops will grow. It means watching children come to school after a 2 hour walk with no mud on their shoes and no victim mentality in their step.  Those are the moments that most bless me. I can deal with frizzy hair and unending mud all day long to get a piece of that.

What keeps us from answering the call? Fear. Comfort. Denial.

The time is now. We have so many opportunities all around us to be avenues of change but it does not happen in our sheltered little worlds and our consumer driven families.  It happens when we put the conveniences aside and embrace the uncomfortable…..what is gained is always greater in those times than what is lost. Relationships win over Netflix and Keurigs.

We were created to be in community. And not our mono ethnic cliques or hobby driven circles.  But the kind of community that stretches us. Makes us wrestle with our prejudices and our self seeking motives. Doing life with people who don’t make us look good to other people and who won’t feed into our egos.

Go answer the call.  Give til you have nothing left. You will come alive.

 

Darkness cannot destroy me….

I wanted to get a tattoo that said “WARRIOR” but I decided that it might seem a little too Gladiator or  Braveheart which was NOT what I was going for. In fact, my husband would testify that those are the best movies ever and I would safely say they are awful.

When it comes down to it, here is what I am working with:

I get angry.  I am determined. I am not content to sit and watch the darkness creep in.

I have a creed I live by that goes something like this:

I will fight with those who are in the battle of overcoming. I will walk with those committed to the cause of finding their own freedom. I will not engage with people who want me to work harder at their lives than they do.

If we love by those standards the expectations are set and it simplifies life greatly.

I think of darkness in this way. You know that early morning fog that comes on you while you are driving on the interstate? At first it seems manageable but suddenly you realize you cannot see just feet in front of you? By the time you are in it that deep you don’t know what cars are around you and how long it will be before you get out of it because you are blinded by the fog.  You don’t know how you got there and you aren’t sure how long you will be stuck in it. That is how I see darkness.

When we walk in the light we can easily avoid dealing with the darkness most of the time. We can numb the reality of our own brokenness. We can shop, drink too much, watch tv, scroll through Facebook and never once think about our “stuff.” I know because I do it  too.

How can we give what we don’t have?

So if we are virtually unaware of our own issues of greed, selfishness, pride, lack of faith….we cannot possibly be available for anyone else in their time of need. Think about it- when you are going through something, do you call the person who lives in their own little box- insulated and protected with little insight? Of course not. You call the one who will get real and enter into that pain with you. I am not saying it is easy to do. It is so hard. It is exhausting. It is an opportunity to die to self which is almost impossible for us sometimes. But we are called to push through and dig deep and step into the pain alongside someone else.

I know how difficult it is. Last October I went to Haiti a week after the devastating hurricane. Crops and homes were completely destroyed. People were desperate for shelter and food. I was only there a brief time but what I saw changed me. I came home discouraged, undone. I went into a numb phase that I am barely pulling out of. I remember seeing my friend Courtney right after I got back and she told me she would pray that I could do the next thing.  At that point I was not even sure what that was. It took me a while to figure it out. I decided I did not want to go back to Haiti and have to face that kind of loss ever again. But I leave in a  few days and will have to face my fear of what I will see and how guilty I will feel that we have not done more. Everything in me says run and God says go. So it is a done deal.

When we say YES to God and  reach out to love people well, we make ourselves vulnerable….and then the potential to get hurt is pretty high. Ok let’s face it- pain is inevitable. We get our feelings hurt, we are misunderstood, and we are rejected. That is just reality. So who in their right mind would continue to try? It seems almost crazy to keep going back into the hurt and opening ourselves  up. But….there is a reason. And it’s an amazing reason. It is called fulfilling our PURPOSE. And it will make us come alive.

The “me” a few years ago would have taken about 5 seconds of being misunderstood and tapped out. Run as far away as possible and then be too hurt to put myself back out there.

The “me” now has a totally different understanding. I know without question that I do not serve man. If I did I would be crushed. Done. And the wall around my heart would get thicker and if anyone tried to look in to find me they would see me curled up in the corner. Meanwhile, I would justify why I got that way and begin to insulate my life more and more because that is what people in pain do- they run from anything else that will hurt them.

At least once a day someone asks me WHAT I do or WHY I do it. It really is simple. It is what the Bible calls us to do.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17

It is not my job to fix anything. God just says to show up and He is sufficient.

We recently took someone into our home, converted my office into a bedroom, threw a baby shower and made her a part of our family. After some time, she began to heap accusations on me that could not even possibly be true and the end of that arrangement came. How did I deal with that? People ask me all the time.  It is  like when Jesus hung on the cross and pronounced “It is finished.” We have to know with our boundaries in place when our role is finished and be ok with it. We cannot carry another person’s brokenness and when it gets to that point we have to lay it down. We can walk with them but  we cannot protect them from the demons that haunt them and their unwillingness to go deep and battle them.

I remind myself that I am not in the business of transforming people and change takes time.

We all want the story of the stripper who loves Jesus and never struggles again or the student who lives in poverty in the third world and makes it to law school. The reality is that those changes come over time, the obstacles are enormous, and learning an entirely new way of life is never easy.

I have watched women struggle and often return to their old ways. Back to the abusive boyfriends and back to the drugs.

I have watched children in Haiti excel in school one year and fail the next. I have seen healthy people get deathly ill with no explanation. I have seen parents pull their teenaged boys out of school to work the farm and we lose them forever.

Most people ask, “Isn’t that discouraging?” and the answer is a resounding YES but it is not an opportunity to quit. See….I am a fighter. A scrapper. I am not ok with injustice and I can’t tolerate people being victimized. I cannot sit and watch darkness take over even the smallest amount of light. The Jesus I serve calls me to be brave. In Creole it is Ou dwe brave- be brave. I live by those words.

In Matthew 25, God talks about the sheep and the goats. All week I have been telling God, “I don’t to be a goat!” This is what Jesus says to the goats (those who did not give to those in need):

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

YIKES!!

So here is the good news…..

There is hope! The Ashleys, the Ambers, the Veronicas. The Willems, the Vilias, the Jelins. God working in the moments when no one is looking. God providing when it all seems hopeless.  The decision to go to school in Haiti when they have not eaten for a day or two. The choice to not darken the door of a strip club and allow men to be abusive to make a few bucks.

As long as there is darkness, we will be called to it.

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We have the light. Light in a lit room is not needed.  Face your own brokenness. Dig deep.  You will come alive. And God will give you opportunities to love people and you will never be the same.

 

The Plate, the Healing and the Peace

The home in Willow, NY has been in my paternal family for 5 generations. Five. 5. Yes, five. Since I was a little girl it has been a place of memories, respite, and family connection. I remember throughout my childhood watching my grandmother cooking at the stove wearing her pearl earrings, Lily skirt and apron and thinking I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She was sophisticated and warm, not conceited and stuffy. I loved her parties and outings and of course her dinners on the warmed Blue Willow plates. The plates from England that proudly displayed the willow tree which symbolized for us the home in Willow, NY.

So many memories….I can go back in time and immediately feel like I am sitting there  eating grapefruit halves with the little spoons with the sharp edges and watching my grandfather section out each piece and eat it with his toast and marmalade jelly.  They were the only ones on my father’s side of the family who made me feel safe. Loved. Protected.When they died I lost a really important connection.  My father and I had never been close and my memories were less than favorable  but I tried to have some kind of a relationship with him over the years.  Kenny (my husband) and I started going to Willow when we were newlyweds and  continued to visit during the the summers.  We enjoyed so many walks along the creek and drives through the Catskill Mountains. Fresh mountain air. A home full of heritage and a place that connected me to my grandparents and those before them.

As our children were growing up, they all made memories in Willow as well. Tubing, catching snakes, playing in the field, planting flowers….it was their favorite place to go every summer. Throughout elementary school our 2 older children wrote essays and papers about Willow any time they could  fit it into a writing prompt. My oldest son wrote a heart filled paper in high school about his summer memories that brought his teacher to tears. To them it was the most amazing place on earth.

My father never really interacted with us on these trips and when he did he was often condescending and lashed out but for the sake of the good memories, I tried to smooth things over and ignore the harshness.

One trip years ago I could no longer overlook how he treated us and there was a painful discussion where he looked at me and said, “I don’t even feel like you are my daughter.”  I fell on the ground into the fetal position and have very few memories of that night except getting up and running down a dark road sobbing while my husband ran behind me.

The next day we left the house where we had put down deep roots and never went back. I fell into a deep depression after that trip and began intensive counseling. I had so much healing to do. So much baggage and brokenness. At times I felt the pain would never go away….that it would fester inside me forever. But with a lot of prayer and counsel,  the darkness began to lift and a slow process of mending began. It finally started to feel less like a life sentence and more like a part of my story that was making me stronger, braver, and more compassionate toward other people.

Fast forward to 3 months ago….. I was at a yard sale and a man was selling the same Blue Willow plates I remembered from all those summers ago. The price was right and I bought them. I put them on a shelf in the garage and glanced at them occasionally and usually was flooded with feelings of heartbreak and loss. I could not even bring them in the house because of the painful reminder of the fractured family tree. Even though I had healed a lot, the wounds had left scars and they had left lingering pain.

A few weeks ago I finally picked one of the plates off the shelf as I was headed to Madison for a Light Breaks Through conference. I decided to use one for a demonstration. I honestly wasn’t entirely sure how I would work it in to my talk but my friend had suggested  that I could make the plates into a mosaic so it had me thinking about the mosaic of our lives. While I was speaking at the conference  about the pain and loss I had experienced, I threw the plate down and watched it shatter into many pieces. There was a kind of freedom watching the plate break- as it represented so much hurt and a letting go of what once was.


…our lives may have shattered pieces but when put together they can make the most beautiful mosaic. The pieces will still be broken and the edges sharp. They can never be made back into the original piece but they can be arranged into something that is uniquely stunning.

So when I got home from the conference I took those broken pieces and made my first mosaic. Pieces of the plate, glass beads and grout and a wonderful friend to guide me through the process.  I could feel God healing me from the inside out. I just prayed that I could make peace with the pieces. Could be ok with the reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few days later I picked up my mosaic from my friend and I was so proud! I sat it in the kitchen and  before I knew it  I had knocked it over and it broke into even more pieces all over the floor. The broken pieces of the mosaic were broken still. WHAT? The look on my husband’s face when it happened was priceless. His eyes widened and he immediately said, “ARE YOU OK?” And I was. God had already been working. The symbolism of the pieces no longer defined me or my emotions. The work had been done in the creating.

A few days after the dropping of the mosaic I was at another yard sale (my total happy place picking through other people’s throw aways) and found a box and on top was a Blue Willow plate made into a clock. Underneath it was an entire set of Willow dishes neatly wrapped one by one. I unveiled the first one and wrapped it back up as quickly as possible and headed to put it in my pile of yard sale goodies. I was so ecstatic and walking so fast the lady stopped me because she thought I was stealing them.

My reaction to the dishes this time was total nostalgia. Great memories of hammocks and fireflies. My kids swimming in the creeks and having my friend Kristen and her family over for hat parties and collecting rocks.  God had done the work. I was becoming more free from the pain and the rejection. The dishes now remind me of freshly snapped green beans and my grandmother’s plates of cookies.

  

 

 

 

 

 

The plates are currently in the dishwasher and heading to my shelves. They will be eaten on until my precious family breaks them all and I find another set at a yard sale.  God is setting me free.  I find joy again- embracing the good memories while I realize how I was changed for the better by the harsh edges of the broken places and the loss and grief I have felt.

There is a bush we have that grows flowers that change colors over 3 days. The first day is brilliant purple and then the next is lavender and finally white.  I went to the back porch to write when I noticed the bush and was amazed by the symbolism.

The original  plate and the pieces of the past.  The brilliant purple of the flowers represents the beginning. The process has started.

The mosaic pieces are the beginning of the healing and the bright purple is fading into lavender.

The new plate and the purifying that God has done. White. Cleansing.

There will be more hurt and disappointment but now I will approach it differently. I will be able to come at it  knowing I am not defined by the rejection and the abandonment.

Only God. Only with loved ones around me supporting me while it took place. Only with a therapist who walked with through my darkest days. Only with a husband who has listened to years of sadness and gallons of tears shed.  Only with children who miss Willow terribly but have come to understand.

Maybe we will get to go back one day. Maybe there will be restoration and relationship. Maybe there will be change. That would be amazing…..but I have to say no matter what…..it is well with my soul.

 

 

 

 

Connection

2016 had a lot of moments where I felt like this flamingo….like my color had lots its vibrancy and I just needed to stick my head in my feathers and pretend life wasn’t as hard as it actually was.

Having my second born graduate high school, my 16 year old start driving and working, and my youngest become a teenager felt like walls were closing in on me.  No more taco nights, canned biscuits, and my less-than-famous crock pot specialties. Curfews, girlfriends, and the lack of control were a huge shock to this momma. And at times I did not do well with it. I probably could have qualified for some Ricky Lake episodes if there were cameras up in here. I don’t let go easily and change scares me. There were times I wept over the Buzz Lightyear costume and Cooper’s Mr. Truffles stuffed Easter egg because I just wanted one more day to snuggle and answer all those questions that seemed so exhausting when we were in that stage.

As soon as all that started to happen, opportunities to serve in other capacities began to appear before me. It was a great distraction to help other people when my children were becoming so independent. I welcomed the escape from the loneliness of living with children who didn’t need me very often.

In the process of reaching out and loving women, I began to see there was a  distinction between being a “friend” and being a “resource.” I started to find myself being a resource to almost everyone I was with and had very little time to be a friend.  While it was happening, I felt part of me dying….my soul desperately missed connection but it had been so long that I wondered if I had come into a new normal.

The time with “my people” (friends) all but vanished and I found myself very alone. I was still surrounded by people but I had missed the time where I had mutual interactions- give and take friendships that feed my soul.  A few weeks ago it really hit me that I had found myself giving and giving and I was becoming depleted. As soon as I recognized it, it was time for change. I walked away from a lot of the ways I was volunteering. God arrested my heart and the word I kept hearing was “discipleship.” Helping women one on one walk in faith and having those people who pour into my life too. That is what I feel like this new season holds. Being intentional. Present. And steadfast.

After one night of me crying myself to sleep, Kenny must have talked to the kids and the next day my 16 year old came in and said, “I know we don’t act like it, Mom, but we need you around here.”  My spirit was revived to hear these words.

Today I got an annual pass to Busch Gardens to have an activity I can do with my 13 year old. I hate theme parks and especially ones where the safari costs extra?!?!? But nonetheless, it gives me a way to be with my youngest who still thinks I am pretty fun.  As we sat eating a snack, I asked him what kind of girl he thought he would marry. He thought on it….hesitated and said, “Not to be weird or anything but I would like to marry someone who is kinda like you.” My heart soared. Maybe I got some things right as a mom.

I know there are so many ways I don’t get things right. I know I miss God. I just want to be able to see it, be humble and willing to change ME.  Dying to my own pride and need to be needed is a battle. My heart yearns for connection but sometimes it is my last priority. Not this year. I miss my people. But I am back.

My address at Zoe’s Journey graduation

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To all the recovering addicts:

We are here tonight to honor all the graduates and also encourage those who are on their way to graduation. Addiction has taken almost everything from you but by the grace of God you are sitting here tonight. Most of you should not even be alive. You have fought hard to get where you are and the fight is far from over. Every day is a battle- I know because you tell me. The struggle to learn to live sober seems virtually impossible some days and far from worth it on others. You are some of the strongest women I have ever met. You have fought in the face of adversity for most of your lives. Most of you did not have an easy life prior to becoming an addict….but you know you cannot stay the victim of your circumstances. You need recovery and we need you to stay clean.

I have told many of you that the world needs you sober. Often I get blank stares. Why would the world need me, you ask. Because your life matters. You are capable of helping someone else change her life because of your sobriety. Look around this room…..who do you see who is affected by you being sober? And are those same people just as affected when you are using? Addiction does not affect just you. It impacts all of us. And most deeply it changes your children.

As I see each of you fight every day to stay clean, it makes me stronger. I have found a deeper part of me by knowing you. You challenge me to keep it real, be on my toes, and realize that my brokenness is just as messed up as yours. I need Jesus just like you. I need to surrender just like you. I need to stay humble just like you. And I need you just as much as you need me. I cannot imagine my life without you. Thank you for being you. Keep fighting. Don’t give in to the enemy of addiction. You have everything to lose. This life is fleeting. Go be awesome. Go impact the world for good. Go love those you have hurt. Make peace with your enemies. Be light.

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To the friends and family of the graduates from Zoes Journey:

I am sure if we added up the hurt in this room it would be overwhelming. Disappointment, frustration, regret, fear, hurt, etc. I can imagine that there are very deep wounds. But what I can tell you is this….today is one more step in the direction of a healthy, productive life for these women. They have worked so hard to get where they are. Some have fallen hard and picked up and carried on. Some have really found themselves through this journey. Others are still seeking but I see great progress.

I know your pain from the past is real but i hope that after tonight you will either start or continue to forgive. Your loved ones need you. You can ask any one of these women- I am all about boundaries….I fully believe that you should use them when you need to…..but to the one sitting here who can’t let the past go and is holding onto the hurt. Maybe today is when you lay it down and move on…..and then you will be able to give second chances and make peace. I pray that for you.

To the family and friends who are here today….you are a testimony to me of your commitment to one or more of these beautiful women. I know their hearts grieve for what you have been through as a result of their actions. They share that part of their heart freely because it is a burden they have carried for a very long time. But you are here today. Maybe fully engaged or maybe as a skeptic. Not knowing if this time it is for good. All I can say is that the one in your life who you are here to support needs you. Needs to hear you say “well done.” Needs you to listen and not judge. Needs you to be present even when you want to be in denial. I pray that there are many years ahead of healthy memories. I pray that you will allow God to mend the broken places. I pray that tonight you can hug your loved one and tell her how proud you are of her. Her recovery has been really difficult. It has meant so much change so fast. She needs you desperately now more than ever. Thank you for being here for her. I know how much she appreciates it.

Maybe you are graduating and your family isn’t here because they could not make it. Call them up and thank them for being there for you. Then some of you don’t have family who is supportive because they have their own issues or the road has been too hard. For you that is where God brings people into your life to be that family. He brings friends, mentors, sponsors, and then people like us sitting here who just want to walk beside you. With no strings attached. No agenda. Just to love you. Because love is an action and love does.

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To the church at large: 

The moms in this room who are graduating need you. And they need you to love them and not judge them. Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that adults in our lives did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs at a very young age.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When someone gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into cocaine at 14 because it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms like the ones sitting in this room are scared to reach out to you. They feel that their mess is worse than yours. But they need your support. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them cannot afford it).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addiction, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

We are a generation who has something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.

Moms, it is time…..

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As moms, we need each other.

We need each other when our kids are sitting quietly eating their ice cream while we talk to the insurance company for the 20th time in a day. We also need each other when our kids are running the aisles at Marshall’s farting and burping, calling each other butt faces. Either way….we need each other.

Today I watched a phenomenon….a mom giving birth to kittens. A feral mom we picked up last night and delivered her litter this morning. Hmmmm…..talk about not being ready for the delivery. I hadn’t even named her and she had now blessed my favorite blanket with afterbirth. That experience will bond a human and a cat very quickly. I have witnessed my share of kitty births but today’s was a huge awakening for me.

The mama kitty ( who my 5th grade vet techs named Amber)  had her first baby under my bed while I was in the other room drinking my morning coffee this morning. She did not pick the cozy nest I had made for her and she certainly was not deterred by the wads of dust bunnies in her newly made birthing center. As I dragged her out from under the bed with placentas and umbilical cords still hanging on, there was a kitten in a sack that she had not opened.  The kitten was struggling to breathe on his own but Amber was not tending to him. I broke open the sack, called my fellow doula, Kim, and rubbed it vigorously to try to revive him. Meanwhile, Amber was not eating the placentas or licking the other babies the way I know she was supposed to. My other new found doula friend, Mary Lucia, proceeded to suction one of the babies’ mouths because Amber was not able to keep up with the eating, nursing, licking, and birthing. No judgement here- I just pushed mine out and it did not require I eat something that looks like someone’s liver….and do it 4 times. Ewwwww…..

In my panic, I was frustrated with Amber that she was not doing what “all the other kitty moms were doing.” Didn’t she take childbirth classes? Didn’t she know it’s unacceptable to give birth under a dusty bed? Didn’t she know that neglecting the sick baby and not give it a chance was inexcusable?

Well, Amber came from a home of cat hoarders and lived outside in a neighborhood for a long time before a sweet lady decided to feed her and care for her until she found a home. Amber did not have a place to relax until 5:00 yesterday. She probably was plain tired of running from coyotes and male cats trying to hit her up and giving birth to these babies just felt like one more exhausting task. So after she had them all she curled up on the bookshelf and fell asleep. She needed a nap and she needed me to put them on her to nurse because she wasn’t ready for that part quite yet.

And in the 24 hours we have had her, she screeched all last night when she could not see me so I slept on the floor beside her so she felt safe. Since the babies have been born, when I reach out to pet her she puts her paw on top of my hand and falls asleep- she can rest knowing someone is there. She has needy moments of wanting her belly rubbed and head scratched, while my other cats were all too busy being moms to want attention for themselves. She still wants to be held and loved so she knows it is going to be ok.

How many moms do you know like Amber? Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that our parents did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs BY THEIR PARENTS.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When a mom gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into her mom’s cocaine supply at 14 because they are dealers and it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms, like my cat Amber, are children themselves. Desperate for attention and acceptance. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them have never eaten at a restaurant where the menu is not on the wall).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym). Or at the gym  or Target (no explanation needed).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addicition, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

So many moms out there never had a mom and if they did she sucked really bad. We are a generation of moms who have something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.

Pain, Purpose, and Compassion

 

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Today I have struggled. Struggled with my own insecurities.  Struggled with mean, insensitive remarks from a stranger. Struggled with missing my best friend because we are always busy. Struggled with watching my friends deal with deep pain and hurts. Struggled with a friend who lost her dad. Struggled with feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. So what did I do? Cry all afternoon. Cried by myself and cried with four different people.  I was only awake for 14 hours. How so much pain and suffering?

Why tears?

I am one of those people who often cries at the sight of someone else’s tears. I guess it does not do wonders to make the person feel better when they have to offer ME a tissue. Now keep in mind I live in the land of boys and men….who don’t cry often. We do have the occasional moments of emotion but not like my estrogen infested self.

One of my sons literally walked in my room today while I was curled up in the fetal position boohooing, carried on an entire conversation with me about where one of the cats was, and walked out. REALLY?? No clue.  The others just look at me with a glazed over, what-do-I-do-now expression of helplessness. As baffled as they are about me, I am not sure what to do with dry ice exploding, lizard torturing, snake handling slobs so I guess we are even. Somehow in the crazy world, we make it work. I decided that when they are being crazy I can hide in the bathroom and pretend I know nothing and they can eat a cheeseburger when I am crying at a commercial and we can carry on. Disclaimer: I have very sensitive boys when I let them in on something  sad and tragic and they are very compassionate…but when it is a case of I-am-crying-because-of-the-state-of-the-world they really don’t have a category and I would rather cry into my blanket than explain what I don’t even understand for myself.

So as I try to make some kind of sense about my highly emotional self,  I seek Scripture.

“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”

Romans 12:15-16

First God says to embrace our friends’ happiness. That is the easy part. We all want to be around the people whose lives are going well. But what about the friends struggling, wandering, falling, and grieving? The friends who needs love from us when we don’t know if we have it to give? God says, “Share tears when they’re down.” Sometimes we have to engage in a cry fest together and we can’t even determine what are tears for us and what are for the other person.  That is the heart of God-sharing our burdens one to another and to Him.

The next part of that verse that tells us to get along with each other and “don’t be stuck-up.” What is worse than sharing your burdens with someone who acts as if she has it all together? It is horrible! And if I make the mistake of doing it once I certainly don’t do it twice. If we are not in tune with our own brokenness people avoid us and are fake around us. And a lot of people are good with that. Let’s face it- most people don’t want to hear other people’s problems because it might actually remind them that they have problems too. So relationships are then shallow and superficial so that emotions are not felt and both people lose out in that “friendship.”

“Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” That sounds like my new tattoo. But seriously. It is such good, rich words! I am not a theologian and I don’t know any of the Bible in Greek (except the Greek alphabet from being in a sorority) but I do know this:

Make friends with nobodies. Don’t be the great somebody.

Now that I can do. Don’t need a concordance or a theology class to go love somebody who is broken and hurting. I know how to do that because I am broken and hurting.  A lot. If I don’t know my own pain how can I know someone else’s? And the part about not being the great somebody….I think that means we need to stop thinking that we are the answer to people’s problems.  Jesus is. As we lead people to the cross, we lead them to healing. Divine healing.

So this week I may be a slobbering, hot mess and if you are too….call me. We can be real and honest together. If you want a put together friend with all the answers….don’t call me. You will just be disappointed. When we all realize we are broken and learn to love because of it, NOT in spite of it…we will share kindness like we are made of it. I think I stole that from Bob Goff but it’s ok because LOVE DOES.

Pain into purpose and then always comes compassion.

 

The Process of Stripping

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In the past five years,  everything about me has changed (most significantly in the past two). Some have called it “mid life crisis” but since it is not a crisis, it was “transition.”  I have been called a hoarder, crazy cat lady, insane, and often given no words because people are speechless. I really don’t seek out these descriptions or even like them; however, they are all true.

It has really been a process of stripping. Stripping me of insecurities, Feelings of inferiority. Fear of being a nobody. Enslaved to other people’s standards.

My whole life I wanted to fit in, but my whole life I didn’t want to fit in. I wasn’t “in” and I wasn’t “out.” I knew that I did not fit. I was not categorizable. In high school I tried everything on for size and it was either too baggy or too snug. I struggled with who I was. I went to college unprepared for the other students with sorority pedigrees, limitless credit cards paid by daddy, and extravagant semester long debutante engagements in their hometowns. I knew that did not fit. My senior year I became a Christian and was semi-invited into that crowd but I was too late to the game for those who had been friends all four years of college. I knew that did not fit. I returned home from college and worked as a nanny to a little boy I adored while all my Vanderbilt classmates were either getting master’s degrees or corporate positions. I avoided the calls from the alumni association asking me for my updated career information for their records.

I knew I did not fit.

Then I got married to Kenny who was like no one I had ever dated. We really did not experience anything similar growing up but I was intrigued by how genuine he was. I had decided I needed to find out who I was and whether he fit into my not-yet-determined persona. That was a daunting task!  So I had one major test that I felt determined if he was the one…..Kenny drove a beat up car with issues. MAJOR issues. I loved it. The ceiling hung down so it was pinned up with push pins and every time he went in reverse and switched to drive it let out a horrible sound. Like “EEEEEKKKKKKK!!!!!!” There was no pretending it did not happen-you just had to wait for it and laugh. I thought it was hilarious but Kenny did not find it all funny. So the test was to see if he would drive it down to the Yacht Club when we went to play tennis. If he was too ashamed to drive it there, I was out. If he was confident enough to own the sounds, the exhaust and the overall ghettoness of it, then I was in. I guess you know he passed that test.

When we got married we lived in a one bedroom duplex for $300 a month and even that rent was stretching us. He was a middle school youth pastor and I was a preschool teacher. We barely made rent every month but I was the most content I had been in years…..but still had no clue who I was. Still searching. Living in a very poor neighborhood with regular robberies and gun shots going off and also joining the Junior League and serving hors d’ouevres at the elite museum gatherings when I could barely buy groceries for myself- trying them both on for size. Again neither one fit…..but Kenny was with me through all of it and I learned to draw strength through his confidence because I did not own it for myself.

As a mom at 28, 30, and 34 and then adopting at 38, I suddenly had a house full of boys….and I loved them, cherished them, and adored them but NEWS FLASH….I was not one of them. I did not like mud fights or wrestling or know the rules of baseball. I did not fit. That does not mean I did not enjoy motherhood or find purpose in being their mom but it was one more reminder that I was not like them in a lot of ways. Sometimes I felt like an outsider to the world of boys. I prayed so hard for a girl to come into our lives and even our first dog and cat were boys. Seriously??

I always wanted to be just enough- not too much or not too little. Not too loud or too quiet. Not too thin or too heavy. Not too overbearing or too laid back. I wanted to be JUST RIGHT. And I never was….so I kept trying.

Kenny has been in ministry since we started dating- so that is the 23 years we have been together. Youth pastor, church planter, seminary student, associate pastor…..and I have been his wife. For those who did not know me then, I was a great follower. NO LIE. When he took a new job in a church, I trusted him wholeheartedly that it was what was best for our family and I went. And I loved it. I still had no idea who I was. Did I want to be in the big, beautiful church or the small community of believers where we barely got paid? I had no idea and I did not want to figure it out so I went where Kenny was called and I made myself at home wherever we were. Those were amazing years for us but I still was so confused as to who I was created to be.

In all the years I have been on my own, my house has been predictable. I would buy a beautiful new picture from Kirkland’s to hang in my living room only to find out four of my friends had the same picture. I wanted everything clean, undamaged, and picture perfect. My kids, my house, and my life needed to fit in a pretty box with a big bow because that is where I felt safe. When things were not in order, I fell apart. Even when we moved into a 50 year old home, I wanted to tear out anything that looked old and make it new. I had no appreciation for anything that did not come out of a box from Lowe’s.

I always envied the hippy girls in college who pulled it off beautifully. I wanted to be the girl who went out without makeup. I admired the moms who felt that they could be a mess. I longed to be someone who had confidence and did not take everything personally. But it just did not come. I waited for something magical….I waited a long time.

My forties hit me and I started to feel free. I realized that time was short and I needed to figure myself out. Kenny graduated from seminary and I had been telling him that was going to be my chance to figure out ME. I had no idea where to start but eventually I realized I loved to write, take pictures, talk to people and walk with them through hard times, and I wanted to be a voice for those who have been forced into silence.  But what does that all mean? I was NOT a writer. I was NOT a photographer. I was NOT a mentor. I was just ME. But suddenly being me started to feel a little bit like it fit. And as I sought God and His path of healing for wounds I had carried my whole life, the burden became a little lighter. My identity began to form around who God had created me to be…..not who I had been told I was my whole life. I began to feel free. Alive. Whole. But God still had some stripping to do….

As a little girl, I distinctly remember telling people I wanted to be a garbage picker when I grew up. WHO says THAT? Apparently I did…..but it never fit into my life plan so I never thought anything of it. I learned when I was no longer that little girl that other people’s garbage by the side of the road is gross and dirty so why would anyone pick it??

Over the past five years, I have started to slow down and admire other people’s junk on the side of the road. I have plopped my kids in a chair down the street to save it until I could come back with the truck. I have stopped right outside Lakeland High School to get a table and been yelled at by my high schooler to PLEASE leave the junk just this once (and that one time I did). I started to think other people’s throw aways were pretty cool. I wasn’t always sure what to do with what I found because I was still stuck in the shiny, new stuff but I was intrigued. I wanted to put an old chair in the middle of my floor but…..no. Too risky. I wanted to hang my own photography in my house but I settled for professional prints because they were safe. I wanted to write my own story but other people’s words were much easier to hide behind.

Then a few years ago I wrote my story (still being written and I will one day write a book). Then I started a nonprofit with a close friend of mine that means I speak at women’s encounters about my own faith journey and my own brokenness. Then I quit my job to work full time for CPI Haiti and not have an hourly salary to depend on.  I began to see myself emerging and it did open my eyes to who I was becoming but there were still gaping holes of insecurity in the fiber of who I was.

Then I decided that I wanted to pierce my nose and get a tattoo. Who does that in their forties? Apparently I do. I began to feel free. No longer confined to what I thought others would think was acceptable for me. I decided I could do something even if I was the only one who liked it. . Of course this has little to do with actual ink and piercings and everything to do with who I was becoming.

I suddenly became obsessed with yard sales. Getting other people’s castaways. I started shopping on half price Wednesdays at Salvation Army for all of our clothes. I no longer needed new with tags and nice, neat aisles to walk down. I found great pleasure in trying on other people’s donated clothing and walking out without spending more than $10. Saturdays I got up at 6 AM while everyone was sleeping and hit as many yard sales as I could- looking for anything to take to Haiti or to give away. I still had to tell people I was obviously not shopping for myself when I went to their nice homes and they gave me funny looks that I was one of “those people.” Still could not own my personal love for yard sales- it was just what a good nonprofit person does for needy children.

Then this year I had a breakthrough of sorts. I hung the photography I had taken in Haiti in Mitchell’s (after periodic breakdowns that my work would be seen and judged by others for a whole month) and survived. Survival was not a given at that point. Then Alison and Amber asked me to do the artwork for an event called Red Tent. Also terrifying. My hidden insecurities started oozing out everywhere and I felt exposed. I was in this event with a bunch of hipster, cool artsy people and the ink of my tattoo was still fresh and I was still figuring it all out.  I wanted to own ME but ME was still morphing. So I just started to take portraits for the artwork of the event. And I felt alive. I needed to make frames and I stressed about it for over a month. I could not afford anything fancy and for the Mitchell’s pictures I did them all brown because that was safe. This time they wanted COLOR- fun colors. NOOOOOOO……I don’t know how to paint, do fun, make it work. And then I met one of the most spectacular people EVER….Kimberly. She agreed to help me paint fun, colorful frames. I was so nervous that day. I showed up with no confidence that I could do it. And she showed me that holding a can of hot pink spray paint could be life changing. Why? Because you can make something that looks amazing- even if it is only amazing to you. And if you make a mistake? You paint over it. Nothing is final and everything is a work in progress.

I went to Ace Hardware that night and bought cans and cans of paint…..I also got glaze, sandpaper, brushes, etc. and I went back the next day to learn more. And the next day. Before I knew it my entire back porch was covered in tarps, paint supplies and old, thrown away frames. I had fallen in love with creating something beautiful out of something not worth looking at. I felt free. Free to create. I came home and made a sign that has a quote by Henri Matisse that says, “Creativity takes courage.” And that day I gained courage.

And then I discovered my love for anything old and started going to yard sales because I am ok being one of those crazies who fights traffic and talks you down from $2 to $1 for something I think is a treasure. I get the eye rolls from the family for the “junk” I bring home but I see the potential that will come with some polish and some love. It took a lot of polish and love for me to emerge and I guess I see that same potential in old silver and splintered wood.

One yard sale day I bought a beat up old patio table that was not selling so they practically gave it to me. As we left I told Cooper that it was my favorite piece of furniture I had ever bought. He said, “Mom, you like old stuff, don’t you? I think it is because it tells a story.” YES! I had never realized it until my 12 year old figured it out for me. I love old because it tells a story. I see the jar and I wonder who used it to can peaches and where they were living and how it got to me.  So much more interesting than a new jar from Target that was made 3 weeks ago.

Mid life is INCREDIBLE. A time of discovery. Freedom. And most of all acceptance for who God knew I was going to be when He put it in my heart to be a “garbage picker.” It does not get better than that.