Feeling Not So Empowered to Empower to Connect

I know that Spring Break was a few weeks ago, but I am just now recovering from it. The first half was really pretty good.  We went with some families up to Beaver Creek and skied for a few days at BC and Vail and the kids did mostly well and I was just happy to be on a pair of skis again.  I didn’t know if I would ever ski again.  I felt semi cool and very upper class, as I rubbed ski poles with the rich and famous.  I felt pretty put together and our family was holding it all together quite well.  

 How did we not lose anybody on the mountain?  You should've seen the hill when they would all just go down at the same time.  So cute!!!!!!
How did we not lose anybody on the mountain?  You should’ve seen the hill when they would all just go down at the same time.  So cute!!!!!!
 Pretending we are rich, in Beaver Creek.
Pretending we are rich, in Beaver Creek.

 

THEN . . . we came home.  Tony went to work and I was in the house with five kids who had kept it together for the past four days. Sometimes, having five kids that have all had significant trauma in their lives, under one roof, is like living in a group home for foster kids. One in particular, is having quite a time, therefore, I am having quite a time and that is the understatement of the year.  

I took Spencer to soccer practice at Memorial Park that week and brought the girls over to the playground on the far side of the lake.  If you live in Colorado Springs, you know, you are not in the Broadmoor anymore.  It is basically the opposite of Beaver Creek.  Yet, I felt at home there for those minutes.  There were pit pulls tugging on leashes, young mom’s talking about their dead beat boyfriends, there were cars parked there with doors half way off . . . you get the picture. All I felt like I needed to do to fit in, was make my little Anthropolgie shirt into a midriff somehow, throw a wad of gum in my mouth and start talking about how my life looks nothing like I thought it would.  I could whine and complain all I wanted and nobody would think it would be out of place.   

So, sit down with me at a bench at Memorial Park and hear me whine. I heard whispers and statements about how step parenting is the hardest thing people have ever done in their lives, but I HAD NO IDEA!  I have parented an adopted child from trauma, but I have never parented a child that is not mine, that I see only on days when they do not have school, that is from trauma, and is often times unkind to his brothers and sisters (that means MY KIDS) and has little to no respect for me and puts on a very different face for his dad (MY HUSBAND). Good Golly!  I repeat . . .NO IDEA!  NO CLUE!

I went to some of the Empowered to Connect conference, again, this year, but this time with our little boy in mind, also. Not that I don’t still need reminders about Macie, but my attention was not fully on her, for once.  It’s easy to forget she is from trauma, sometimes, when we are in a season of sweetness.

I asked Macie to show me her “Swedish Fish” for the picture and this is what she did!!!!!!  She’s so funny!
  THIS IS WHAT I MEANT. :)
THIS IS WHAT I MEANT. 🙂

However, it’s impossible to forget, our little boy, is from trauma, when we are in a season of not so sweetness.  Actually, that is not true at all.  In the midst of every little bit of disrespect or unkindness, it is way too easy to forget that he is from trauma and continues to live in the middle of trauma, in my humble opinion.  

The Empowered to Connect camp suggests that when a child from trauma is misbehaving, they are not willfully disobeying.  They are working out their history.  You have to SEE past the behavior and figure out how that child is hurting and give them a sense of safety and a voice. No amount of consequences or time outs will achieve that goal.  What really keeps coming to my mind from one of the speakers is, when there is misbehavior, you are saying to yourself, “I’m coming, baby, what do you need?”  and you go to that child as if they are an infant who is crying, no matter if they are 3 or 13.  They need help to regulate and that is our job.  It sounds SO EASY right now, but at the first eye roll or altercation with a sibling, my heart rate goes up and my thoughts are nowhere near, “what do you need, sweet little hurting baby boy.”  Oh Jesus, give me your heart. 

The good news/bad news about all this is that, we have them only on days when they don’t have school. So, we get a lot of breaks during the school year, but then, any amount of stability or routine or efforts to create a safe place, (and our little boy is far from seeing me as safe right now and I’m not even saying it is not justified) is all undone when they leave. So progress seems so impossible. And, let’s face it, while I tried so hard to employ the ETC principles over spring break, it just just felt too hard (whine, whine, whine).  After DAY ONE, Tony said he’d take our little boy to work with him and I didn’t refute.  It left me feeling past empty, alone (because Tony never gets the same behavior), misunderstood, defeated and in a position to protect the other kids, not to care for the one who is hurting the most. Oh Jesus, give me your heart.  

(BTW-the position our family is in, is not near as dire as what some families are going through with their children from hard places.  However, this is new territory, as I don’t feel empowered to empower to connect, and all my views are possibly skewed as I find it easier and way more natural to gravitate towards protecting the others verses connecting with the one).

  EASTER 2016
EASTER 2016

There is a LOT of wrestling in my heart going on with this little boy.  Do I really invest love, patience, self control, time, care, my heart into him?  (“Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  Matthew 25:45)  Ugh!  Will all of it be undone, because of other factors?  How do I let go and stop obsessing over desperately wanting to protect the other kids?  How can Tony and I come together concerning our little boy, instead of being divided?  (Probably some of you are thinking, “why don’t you start by not writing a post like this!”)  What FEARS are dictating my thoughts and actions?  AND, last but not least, what is the Lord saying about all of this? Below are some overarching themes the Lord is telling me.  But I’m telling Him, that this summer, he is going to have to get a little more practical and a little more minute by minute. I think He’ll be there for me!  Oh, Jesus, give me your heart.

The truth is:

“The Lord WILL equip me for what I need, each day.”

“Jesus loves the little children.  He loves all five of them and can protect them way better than I ever could.”  (I am having a VERY VERY VERY VERY hard time moving this from belief to faith/action).

“The heart of Jesus is redemption, order, peace, joy, love. He desires these things for our family.”

Christina’s Take:

When I take my eyes off of the gritty, difficult details of the whole situation and pretend I am flying high over your family here is what I see: 

I see a mom and dad who love their kids very much. They are walking on a dimly lit path so naturally both of them will have moments when they stumble and get very tired on this long journey. But I also see lots of love and lots of light. I just love it when you cry out to Jesus for His heart. That is powerful. And it shows me that there is always, always, always, always…. 

HOPE.  

Megan’s Take:

Oh my gosh, girls!! What could I possibly have to add after all that? The emotions are raw, the perspective is honest and unwavering hope is a non-negotiable. The key is that this young child is hurting (as are many others in your home). While that truth doesn’t necessarily make the hard moments any easier, it’s a total game changer when you go back to the drawing board for fortification. Trauma takes its toll on the heartiest of folks and the casualties can be so hard to bear. But the good news is that somehow, in God’s economy, we can actually rewire our brains with consistent love, firm boundaries and bridges of trust. This is what Karyn Purvis (may she rest in peace) spent her whole career researching!I KNOW it can be so, so hard! But the rewards will be so, so good. I have a kid in my house right now that is choosing to believe negative thoughts and I am reminded how important it is to speak words of truth and life over them all!!

If you have a little time, check out this video by Dr. Caroline Leaf on how we can actually build a new way of thinking. AMAZING!!

What’s Your Portion?

I have a serious case of “fixer-itis.” Perhaps many of you can relate.

This chronic condition plagues me every time I see people in pain or struggling or in need of help. Turns out being equal parts first-born and people-pleaser can often be a deadly combination. Sometimes mess feels super uncomfy and I just want to fix things! Not necessarily the broken sunglasses rattling around in my car (much to my husband’s chagrin), but life. Ain’t nobody got time for the struggle bus. 

Dictionary.com describes a “fixer” as someone “who arranges matters in advance through bribery or influence.” I’m not so sure about the bribery part, but I wouldn’t put it past me. (The slang definition of fixer is “a person who sells narcotics to addicts.” I’ll try to avoid that. But, hey, Colorado.)

As far as “fixing” goes, I have an insatiable need to jump in and help when I sense trouble. I want to figure out how to solve someone’s problem or at least connect them with someone who can. While this sort of thing is not entirely bad, I mean, God created us to be in community, to help each other as “the body of Christ” and all, it can morph into micro-managing, enabling and the like. Not pretty. And, by and large, not helpful.

Yes, I’m meant to play my part. The problem comes when I try to play all the parts. Even and especially parts that aren’t mine to play. Lone ranger style.

So what’s a well-meaning girl to do?

Two-words: Portion Size.

I love this analogy mainly because I LOVE food. Pretty much any and all foods. (Except olives. Blech.) I despise having to watch what I eat. Dieting is super no fun. Especially now that I’m, ahem, over forty. Metabolism. Lame. But the fact is, I cannot down three pieces of pizza at midnight like I used to do in college without some serious backlash.

 @lettersbyhandandheart -- Oh, that Marvin Harrell!
@lettersbyhandandheart — Oh, that Marvin Harrell!

Yes, I can and do relish pizza (praise the Lord!), but I need to watch my portions in order to stay healthy.

Same goes for helping people. Yes, I can help people (and they can help me), but I need to figure out my proper role in any given situation. Because, listen, if I start to take over other people’s portions (roles), I not only heap un-health on myself and start functioning outside my lane, I also deprive others of the joy and blessing of functioning in their lanes. 

This concept of discerning “portion-size” erupted like Mt. St. Helens when Holly’s first husband, Dave, died. Holly’s life turned upside down in a single moment and her state of grief and shock was at an all-time high. She could hardly function and needed folks to surround her in nearly every possible way. And rightly so. There were so many possible entry points. She needed meals, financial advice, moral support, prayer warriors, help with the kids, someone to walk the dog — you name it, she needed it. 

Was one person meant to do all of these things alone? Absolutely not. We all needed to figure out our distinct roles in Holly’s life. Where one woman could whip up a piping hot plate of chicken parm to aptly feed Holly and the kids, another could clean her house and still another could stay the night so they wouldn’t be alone. It was teamwork and community in action.

About a month after Dave died, a group of us got together at a friend’s house to meet with a counselor. Not only was Holly struggling in the midst of her intense grief (or “greath” as she calls it), but the rest of us were reeling as well. We felt so helpless! What could we do to alleviate even a fraction of the pain? 

That night, the counselor said something I will never forget.

It’s been a few years, so I can’t quote her verbatim, but the gist was something like this, she said each of us would need to figure out how to play our God-given roles. We must each embrace the portion God designed specifically for us. One could cook. One could hug. One could pray. One could tend to the kids. The best plan would be all of us working together in wholistic community. 

Unfortunately, however, there were some things Holly would have to do alone. I hated that part. This was her journey. And we had ours. And Jesus was on the throne! Nestled deep in the cornerstone of each of our souls is a place only Jesus can fill. None of us are meant to be God for each other. Yes, He uses us in each other’s lives, but we are not ever meant to replace dependency on Him. 

The “personalized portion” dilemma surfaced again when Christina’s dad died a couple of years ago. I remember setting up the meal calendar and realizing all the spots were filled and my name was not on the list. I wanted to bring her a meal because, isn’t that what you DO when someone is in need?? Not to mention, what would others think when they didn’t see my name on the list? (Again, Megan, ain’t nobody got time for that!! Get over yourself.)

I tried to apologize to Christina for not bringing her a meal and she came right back at me with another profound point. She said, “Megan, lots of people can bring me food. That is not what I need from you. I need your availability and friendship.” Now THAT I could do. 

Please don’t mishear me — providing meals for people is SUCH A BLESSING!! When we brought Kelel & Senait home from Ethiopia, my friend Anne had to DOUBLE the amount of spots on the food calendar because I was still a hot mess after the first round. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that when we bring someone food or drink it’s as if we are doing it unto Him. But He ALSO says the same about inviting in strangers, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick and visiting the prisoner. 

Are each of us meant to do ALL of these things? At various times, certainly! But all at once? I don’t think so. 

 @lettersbyhandandheart
@lettersbyhandandheart

The body of Christ is made all the more beautiful when we ask the Holy Spirit for discernment and direction in our daily lives. When we stay in our lane and fill the role made just for us. 

How will we know our portion?? I would suggest the answer will be accompanied by supernatural peace. It might not make sense to everyone else and you may even feel like you’re letting people down, but it checks out in your spirit. Your calling may not be “easy,” but it will most definitely be right. Listen to that still small voice. He is our guide to abundant life!

The Message translation says it like this, 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Have you ever been tempted to fill a role that might not be yours to fill? How do you know if it’s “ill-fitting” and what could you/should you do about it?

Christina’s Take:

Living freely and lightly – holy buckets, man…those are the keys to the Kingdom, aren’t they!?! I know it’s simple but really knowing your portion means knowing what IS NOT your portion. And that is lighter and more free. But we so often wade into territory that isn’t ours for the sake of being “helpful” or for fear someone else “won’t do it as well.” If we learned to stay in our lanes…we’d all be better off. AND so ends my mixing of many metaphors.

I love the concept that Bob Goff (he is interviewed about it here) has made famous that we ought to “quit something every Thursday.” SO AMAZING! Take from this post-surgery, weary, recovering, fragile, little soul – we really do not have to do all of the things we do, people. 

Holly’s Take:

First off, thanks, guys, for going to counseling to handle me.  I take a lot of work. However, I can say, you all did wonderfully.  I have always said that it was an amazing thing to watch and be a part of . . . the way everyone’s gifts were so unique and so needed and so delivered at just the right moment. Who could single-handedly walk someone through big events in life, like the death of a child or spouse, cancer, a house burning down, etc. . . ???

I love the idea of asking, “what is my portion?”  Right now, I am asking that question in relation to step parenting.  I’m not sure I have found the role God has made for me in those relationships, because there is not a lot of peace there. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live freely and lightly in the step parenting realm. That feels impossible . . . but I know it is not.  

 

 

 

 

How I Missed March

It all started with a twinge.

A little sharp pain and an instant loss of appetite.

Then some days of a supposed stomach bug, an ER visit and then some surgery and six days in the hospital.

That’s how I seem to have missed out on the entire month of March.

It turns out the statute of limitations on c-section scar tissue potentially cutting off your small intestine just doesn’t exist….no matter that I had my last c-section for sweet baby Audrey 11 and a half years ago.

These detours in life are valuable….right?

Tell me they are.

Do they teach us persistence? I hope so.

Remind us of the fragility of life? Probably.

I want this unexpected, unwelcome interruption to have SOME benefit.

Snail’s Pace

As I slowly recover from the prolonged illness followed by the surgery, I sometimes feel like a little snail on the sidewalk of a major city. I don’t worry about being stepped on. I just realize that life’s pace DOES NOT subside. It is fascinating to watch all the people keep doing all the things that beg for their attention at a merciless rate.

And before long I’ll be right back in that race but I’ve learned a few things about the beauty of a day with absolutely nothing in it.

Family and Friends

I can’t even…without tearing up…describe what a rallying effort went into caring for me and helping me have a quick recovery. Prayer, meals, visits, flowers, walks, texts, calls, cards – oh! I just cannot do this life without them and they know that.

Spring Break Ruled

Marvin, Jack and Audrey literally went from looking forward to a weeklong trip for Spring Break to essentially the exact opposite. Marvin worked a little bit during Spring Break but essentially Jack and Audrey and I left the house 2 times TOTAL during the week since I couldn’t drive and they were solidly committed to taking care of me.

Listen to me: This is a gift of time, selflessness and energy I will NEVER get over.

And I could never describe what each action shown to me meant. But I am pretty sure that as they all trailed out the door this Monday to work and school, we all kind of felt some sorrow that this luxurious home-bound gift of time together was over. Goodness.

Yes just sweet goodness. Can’t describe it any other way.

And goodness mixed with the relief that maybe this health crisis is passing and we can all hop onto that busy highway of life again.

I ran across this old quote from Anne Lamott that just sort of matches my heart as I slowly pull out of this speed bump:

“It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. but then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’ And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

Amen and Amen.

I have two questions for you:

What would convince you that more time in your life with NO PLANS and NO STRUCTURE is worth pursuing in your routine?

How do YOU react to curve balls, detours and the unpredicted hiccups in your life?

Megan’s Take: 

Talk about writing in pencill!! You are seriously one of the strongest women I know. Must be those Hungarian roots. Smile. I am moved by your reflection here. I prefer to keep curve balls and detours far from my vernacular. Although, I suppose it’s precisely these things that tell us what we’re really made of. And that’s always enlightening (for better or for worse). The question is, what do we do if we recognize something inside ourselves that is less than desirable?  I do love surrounding myself with people like you — people who can keep faith and perspective even in the toughest circumstances. Plus, you don’t look half bad with a plastic tube up your nose. My favorite part is when you told the intake staff that you’d really “prefer not to be admitted.” That’s gold. Love you, girl!! God speed in your recovery. Enjoy the pace. And take something of what you’ve learned into the next season. That will be a testimony to all of us.

Holly’s Take: 

How do I react to curveballs???  Depends on the day.  If I’m in the middle of the mess, I have no perspective whatsoever.  If I have the time to get off the busy highway and consider the truths of life and Jesus, I can muster enough thoughts to pull myself out of the mire and act like a mature adult. I now know that there will never be a stretch of life that was as care free as my first 30 years. But now, as life hands us aging parents, difficulties with children, various surgeries, blending families, etc. . . I feel like the quest is now finding peace in the storm.  Learning how to trust, for reals, that God is with us and for us and for our kids and for friends and for our parents, is so much harder than I thought, now that hard things are here.  However, if we could find that kind of permanent peace, wouldn’t life feel so different? I suppose it takes the random surgery, the death of someone close to you, the realities of hard in life to continue to learn to surrender our control over circumstances, put off worry entirely and accept the peace that only God can provide.

My Need for Control . . . Part Deux

My last post was an admittance of sorts about how maybe I have a little problem with control. When it comes to me and Spencer, Leah and Macie, I don’t want anyone telling me what to do . . . even my husband.  In this post, I was going to further explain how we are both letting go of our control and how much more amazing our marriage is for it.  

I’ve been in this amazing Bible study lately by Priscilla Shirer that talks about The Armor of God. It’s one of those topics that when I talk out loud about it, it almost sounds like an episode of Days of Our Lives, (you know that old storyline with John and Marlana being possessed, etc. . . ) Talking about spiritual battles is just so not mainstream America, whereas in many countries and cultures in the world, the spiritual world is just as real as the tangible.

I hate to get all churchy, but it does say in Ephesians 6, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” So . . .  do I really believe that???????????  It doesn’t feel like my struggles are in the heavenly realms.  It feels like they are right here in my marriage and in blending this family and in physical health, etc. . . .  But if the struggle is really against the powers of this dark world, then the weapons I am trying to use are not going to work.

My weapon of choice is my words. I am someone who takes about a millisecond to process and a micro millisecond to respond to my processing. Words fly out of my mouth long before I think about the damage that can occur. So, there for a few weeks, I was getting pretty good at laying down my choice weapon and picking up a weapon that can be used in a spiritual battle.  It seriously seemed like a miracle each time I would choose not to defend myself or choose not to attack, but just pray or search for the actual truth in each situation. I mean, sometimes I would leave a conversation feeling like I was choking on words that I just wanted to spew out, but by morning, they were all gone.  Or even on occasion, Tony would call me and apologize for something he said.  Or, even more shocking to me, was when I realized I might be the one with the off perspective and I would have not seen it had I spewed my initial response.   

Photo by SIphotography/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by SIphotography/iStock / Getty Images

However, if Tony were reading this now, he’d probably be dying of laughter, because I haven’t been as good at it lately. Naturally, as soon as I posted something about how I’m doing such a A+ job of changing, the heat gets turned up and I want my old weapon back.  It reminds me of a day, way way back in my 20’s. One of my dearest friends, Kate, was attempting to give her out of town brother a good old fashioned Colorado experience, by means of going four wheeling with me and a friend (who actually knows how to four wheel drive). The driver was not going to take some pansy road that day.  Instead, he took us to some icy cliff and I’m not exaggerating (because I would never do that).  As the ice on the “road” got worse and the cliff on the side got steeper, we thought it would be best to turn around.  Seeing as how the road was not more than a glorified bike path, we had to basically do a u-turn heading up the icy mountain. As the jeep started heading up, Kate broke out into a, for reals prayer, for our safety and survival. But as the Jeep started to slide towards the cliff, she anxiously yelled, “Never mind!  Let me out!” And there we have it.  That is me.    

I can trust when it is seems like it is working, but as the intensity grows, my faith flounders and I want to fight the battle my way, the most tangible way, and with the most immediate results.  I also wonder if it’s almost like I felt like I was the one who was getting so good at it.  I didn’t need to be in prayer as much, because I was getting this keep your mouth shut thing down.  I was laying down my weapon of choice that is just so comfy and easy for me to swing around and fight with, but I wasn’t picking up the weapon that was useful and difficult to trust. It sure takes a lot of faith, to live this way.  

That is another thing that I am learning in this study.  I’m not sure how I missed this for four decades, but faith is applying what we believe. I mean, surely I knew that before. It’s not just believing that God is real and that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. It is believing that prayer is more powerful than my words in a battle for control. I actually have very little faith, if I refuse to stop slinging my words around.  

Megan’s Take:

Recently, at the IF:Gathering conference, Jennie Allen said something that rocked my world and has convicted me in so many ways. She said, “When you have nothing to protect and nothing to prove you are unstoppable.” #majormicdrop

I feel like those words cut straight to the struggle you’re talking about, Holly. A struggle we ALL deal with to one degree or another, I’m sure of it. When I’m tempted to spew ugliness I’m fairly certain it’s because I want to protect and prove my reputation, my image, my sanity, my worth, my place — you name it!  BELIEVE ME, I don’t always get it right (not only is my husband laughing, but he’s contributing a hearty “Amen!”) but when I do, when I take the time to slow down and look at life through the compassionate, loving eyes of Jesus, the peace that comes ultimately controls me. I’m definitely still learning, but as I do, my heart rests so much easier. I feel your pain, sister. Carry on, prayer warrior!!!!

Christina’s Take: 

Relationships, man. They are THE most difficult and THE most necessary part of life. I see you so in love with Tony even though not every conversation is a walk in the park. There’s beauty and there’s pain and the 2 hold hands.

I am moved by the way you seem to be working this out right in front of our eyes with successes and failures both accounted for.

The ability to just be quiet in the midst of feeling something SO strongly, especially for women, is important. Sometimes I could seriously chew a hole through the inside of my cheek because I am trying to keep my mouth shut. Other times I can see all the casualties of my mis-used power laying all around me. This little moment to just NOT talk can give us time to breathe deeply and it might give us a millisecond of perspective we need. Women have a unique power within the home over the atmosphere. I think you’re aware of that and marching towards a lot of success and atmosphere-change. 

Holly’s Take:

I can barely post this in any good conscience after the morning I have had.  The whole morning I knew I would post this, so I was trying so hard to practice what I preach.  I did not win the good fight this morning.  I picked up my words weapon and it was not pretty.  I’m pretty sure Satan knew I was going to post this.  Call me crazy, which it kind of is, but I seriously think it is true.  You can pray for our family this weekend.  This blending families is no joke, people.  

Why are Christians Backing Donald POTUS Trump??

WHAT IN THE SAM H—E—DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS IS GOING ON HERE??

You guys, let me add my voice to the cacophony of chatter and say I am legitimately flummoxed. I absolutely cannot make sense of the fact that a guy like Donald Trump actually has a shot at being our next POTUS.

I just keep thinking somebody’s going to pinch me and I’ll wake up. That somehow this is all a crazy dream and we’ve entered the Twilight Zone or Bizzarro World or at the very least, the end times. Perhaps Jesus is tying his shoes as we speak.

Who are all the folks backing this guy? And why do I not know any of you?!

Or do I actually know you and you’re hiding in the proverbial political closet because you can imagine the incredulous, judgmental look that would ambush my face the instant you come clean?

I read article after article and watch video after video absolutely lambasting the guy — and yet — his popularity only grows. And not only does it grow, but it is popping up like pimples on a 15-year-old’s face among “Evangelical Christian” voters. Apparently straw polls would throw me into that category. 

I am telling you straw poll people, whoever you are, that I am not ever, ever, as long as I live voting for Donald Trump for president. And yes, I am a Christian.

My inner dialogue channels Wayne’s World as I type.

I’m all, “Donald Trump CANNOT be the next President of the United States!”

Garth’s all, “Dude, he’s presa-liscious.”

I’m like, “No way!”

Wayne’s like, “Waaay!!”

How is it that Christians raked Bill Clinton over the coals for how things went down with Monica Lewinsky (pardon the pun) and yet there is a large faction of folks that would back Donald Trump for the same office?

This morning I heard a story on public radio that suggested the reason he’s gaining such support among Evangelical Christians is because that group of people wants a “strong leader.” Okay, sure. A strong leader would be good. But not an authoritarian bigot! 

You know, the more I think about it, it seems like Satan would like nothing more than to divide the body of Christ in this way. For some time now, I’ve sensed a shift in the spiritual atmosphere and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re on the cusp of revival. People are hungry for something real. Something eternal and unconditional and full of ever-loving grace. At least I am!

I’m hungry for a world that looks like the one Jesus talked about, one that takes care of the poor and the oppressed, the alien, orphan and widow. A world that doesn’t “belong” to us because it BELONGS TO GOD!

What better way to divide such a powerful movement of the Spirit than to throw someone like Donald Trump into the political arena? After all, doesn’t he represent the classic “American Dream”, me-first mentality? He does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants in order to get WHAT he wants.

May I suggest, instead of looking for a “radical” voice against the establishment (which Trump supporters purport him to be), mightn’t we look for someone who establishes a voice of radical reconciliation and love? Who that might be I’m not entirely sure, but it sure as heck is not Mr Trump. 

I can’t help but think of the Old Testament, when the people cried out to God for a King, a judge, anyone who could lead them! And God honored their request.

I just hope He doesn’t honor “ours”….

Christina’s Take: 

Every morning I glance at the headlines and feel as puzzled as you, Megan, that this guy keeps tearin’ it up in state after state. In each of the 85,000 debates (I’m exaggerating…but only a little) Trump seems to talk the loudest, promise the most, provide the least amount of detail, and “alpha-male” circles around the others. maybe it’s leadership the people crave, maybe it’s an outsider folks long for. Whatever it is, this is no fluke anymore.

I’m tempted to write in Captain America on my ballot and just see what happens…it’s been that kind of election year! 

Holly’s Take:

I keep waiting for someone to say, “Just Kidding!” about the whole thing.  The whole level of debate between these candidates, excluding John Kasich, seemed to belong on a 7th grade, back of the building, school yard. Unbelievable.  I keep thinking, SURELY, some news will shake out that will for reals weed this clown out of here, but none of it even matters.  When I picture him in the oval office, I can only picture him pretending to be president, but not actually being president.  And I hope I’m not in the category of evangelical, if there is going to now be some connection between evangelicals and Trump.  I mean, I know Jesus loves him and maybe I could even love him, but I CAN NOT understand why on this green earth he has so many supporters.  Surely, surely, surely, there will be some twist coming that will prevent him from taking office.  

Eaten Alive; How To Survive this Life

In December 2014, millions of viewers watched as snake expert Paul Rosolie put on a modern-day suit of armor for the purpose of being ingested by an Amazonian anaconda. It all went just about as badly as possible, really. The Discovery Channel may have sunk to a new low when they promised the intrigue of a person being eaten by a snake and perhaps surviving it live television (here’s the link – you’re welcome).

 Photo by aletsix/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by aletsix/iStock / Getty Images

They looked for the snake, couldn’t find it, settled for a smaller anaconda and then about three quarters of the way through the show, fed poor Mr. Rosolie to the snake. The snake squeezed him for a few minutes until Rosolie cried “uncle” saying the pressure of the snakes’ jaw on his suit was just a little too much for him.

I mean he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer so feeding himself to a snake was his first wrong turn but….when the chips were down, this guy and his little suit of armor, totally bailed!

And I think the same thing happens to us in life when we are being consumed by it without the right tools for getting through it. Too big a snake and too little armor.

I have this crazy memory of when my dad was ill almost exactly 2 years ago. One night late after a day of lots of testing and no answers, the doctor called my cell phone. (It’s 9PM on a Friday night and my dad’s doctor is calling – not the best sign.) He wanted to unpack all that was so clear on the scans…cancer…stage 4…months, not years left…all that pain and all those health questions….answered.

And I felt like I was the only one in the whole wide world with the information. I was overwhelmed…reeling. But you wanna know what else I felt?:

The weight and the size of this revelation was WAY TOO BIG for me

WAY TOO BIG to manage,

WAY TOO BIG to control,

WAY TOO BIG to handle.

WAY TOO BIG

so I just sat.

 Photo by Zoonar/P.Jilek/Zoonar / Getty Images
Photo by Zoonar/P.Jilek/Zoonar / Getty Images

I thanked God for the answer even though the answer contained tragedy.

And for the next few days as we walked through the process of my dad dying, I was very…well….worshipful…

When I told this story to Megan she thought of the opening lines to a song we love:

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

At some point in life, we must reckon with this quiet, powerful, moment in time when nothing we’ve tried worked…when we’ve exhausted all your own efforts.

Are we prepared for moments like this?

Do we have a suit of armor that will help us withstand the pressure and the pain of life? 

We have lots of ways to go. Lots of potential answers…right?

We can go get drunk. We can go shopping. We can obsess over our computers or phones so that we don’t think about things that hurt.

Lots and lots of options….but most are like weak suits of armor that will make us “tap out” under pressure.

As I was helping my mom get into the car on that dark and fateful day I realized I had forgotten my coat inside the house. This is a regular occurrence but a not-so-regular day – the day she would visit her husband in the hospice unit – hours before he would pass from this earth.

So I went back into the house to retrieve my coat on that chilly March day. I unlocked the door to the house, made my way inside, looked around for a few minutes and finally found it. And as I was coming back out to the car, I could hear the sound before I ever even opened the car door.

It was a familiar sound, A LOVELY SOUND but it was jarring to my senses nonetheless….

It was my mom singing.

She sang Great is Thy Faithfulness at the top of her lungs…

…in the car, waiting for her daughter so we could go to see her dying husband.

….”I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed.”

What a thing to sing on a day like that.

 Photo by whitehoune/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by whitehoune/iStock / Getty Images

I think her years and years of faith and belief in Jesus prepared her for this dark day. Armor that would prove purposeful when the pressure was on.

You see, it is SO valuable to choose what you believe and use it. The years and years that we have to learn, hash out and investigate our faith will have the benefit of giving us true armor to rely on in the difficult times.

But don’t let me be the only voice here….did you watch that guy get eaten by a snake on the Discovery channel?  Did it cause you to ponder the existential question of whether you’re prepared for life’s challenges? What’s life like for you right now? Are you feeling like your armor is holding up? 

Holly’s Take:

What struck me about this post is something I’ve thought a lot about lately.  It’s easier to let go of control of the big things in life, rather than the day to day little things.  It’s like you said, “The weight and the size of this revelation was WAY TOO BIG for me.”  It’s like we can’t even begin to wrap our little paws around the gigantic stuff in life.  We can’t even muster the energy to try.  We already know it’s too big and so we surrender, right off the bat, and ask the Lord to help a sister out. Of course, we never know what form that help will come in, but there is some relief in knowing that there is nowhere else to turn.    

Megan’s Take:

So, funny thing. I actually just wrote a whole super eloquent, blow-you-away response. But then it inadvertently got deleted. Computer’s fault. Not mine. I’m sure. Anyway!!! I hop back on to reconstruct aforementioned response and wouldn’t you know Holly has hopped on and basically said the exact same thing! So — what she said. 🙂

But really. It’s true. In some bizzarro way it seems like the big, huge, overwhelming moments of life usher us to the foot of the cross quicker than the mundane, boring, annoying ones. The question is, once we release our stuff at the cross do we try to “take it back” with worry and anxiety or do we push into the presence of the Lord in holy worship? And I have watched you ladies model this for me in some blow-your-socks off ways. Christina, you worshipped at the news of your father’s impending death. Your mom, singing her guts out on her way to see him. And, Holly, you stood and raised your hands in an act of unabashed worship at Dave’s funeral. Powerful, inspiring, encouraging moments — the lot of them. I only pray I can do the same when that day comes….

Me??? Controlling??? Not a chance!

My last post ended with stating that I felt like I am entering a season of learning and that has certainly been the case!  

As it turns out, when you go to counseling, you hear some things that you might not want to hear.  Things like, “you are not perfect.”  Maybe those exact words were not said, but it felt like it. Tony and I went to see a counselor that has a heart for grief and blended families.  He has lived a similar story as ours, but is much further down the road.  

Here is a little tidbit I picked up along the way (I won’t even charge you for this second hand counseling session).  When something traumatic happens or there is a lot of pain with life not going how “it is supposed to,” we can start leaning towards the following four categories.  1) Don’t Trust  2) Don’t Feel  3) Don’t Talk  4) Control and Manipulate to get Our Needs Met.  If conflicts arise in relationships, then probably, the conflict is falling under one of these four biggies.  (It’s like I’ve never adopted a kid from trauma and this is new news or something???)

It was pretty easy to cross off two of the categories.  I do plenty of feeling and talking.  I can dip into the distrust area, but generally speaking, I’m a truster.  That only leaves “control and manipulation.”  Now, I have never been accused of being controlling.  I have never thought of myself as needing control. Ever!  But I have never lived post back surgery, post husband’s death, post difficult adoption or mid blending families. So, when the counselor said, that there is a control battle ensuing, my first thought was, “YES!  Finally, someone is going to tell Tony to quit trying to control me.”  However, the counselor went on to say that when there is a control battle, both are equalling needing control.  The only problem with that, I thought, was that I simply don’t have that problem, but I KNOW SOMEONE WHO DOES! 

I mean, I never try to tell Tony what to do. Just don’t tell me what to do, and I’ll be good.  And I mean, not a whisper about how I should try to pick up my clothes off the floor.  Not an inference about how my car should be kept cleaner.  Not a word about what our schedule should look like. Not an opinion about what paint colors to use in our new house and for the love of all that is pure and holy, not a single, solitary peep about how I should discipline MY kids!!!  Basically, not a word about anything that I want control over and we’re good to go here!  It’s not that hard.  

I think that coming out of all of the stuff I have gone through the past four years, I have lived into the lie that I am only better for it.  I have a stronger faith, more compassion, more purpose, more layers.  (It’s like I’m a contestant on The Bachelor that think’s more of my good points, rather than just the truth of who I am.  I won’t name any names from this season, but you probably know who I mean if you are watching).  It never really occurred to me that I also grew to need more control, in this world that was so out of control for me for a few years.  

I’m not trying to talk myself down here, at all.  I just want to see my strengths and weaknesses in the light of truth and know that I am loved anyway.  

So, as with anything . . . it is a process.  I can’t just decide to not need so much control.  There has to be a different attack here.  Which I will most likely talk about in my next post, or this one would get too long.  I can tell you, that I am excited about how life is changing and becoming lighter.  And when it gets heavy, it is because I’m attacking this beast with the wrong (yet most comfortable and easy to use) weapons. 

 Don't we look like we'd never have any problems?  I sure do love this guy, though.  
Don’t we look like we’d never have any problems?  I sure do love this guy, though.  

Megan’s Take: Oh, sweet friend. I LOVE your process of elimination on “issues after trauma.” Certainly not these things, probably not that one, I guess MAYBE?? this one? Ah, kindred spirits we are. Unfortunately, I think some of those issues manifest in lots of us even if we haven’t experienced deep trauma. Not me, of course, but other people. The ones I nudge in church b/c the sermon I’m hearing is precisely FOR THEM! (In fact, I hope they’re taking notes, but if not, I’ll be happy to take care of that for them.) I am very proud of you guys for doing the hard work of seeing a counselor and “attacking” some of these things and for the transparency in sharing them with the rest of us so we don’t feel so alone.  PS — I hope I wasn’t too controlling the other day when I very honestly shared my opinion about paint colors and how to ‘properly’ hang pictures. Tony, you know I was joking. Kind of. (Wink.)

Christina’s Take: 

I wonder if Tony has a little grin on his face after reading this post.  We all know that it takes two to tango, but I do love how you have exposed yourself as the one who wasn’t willing to admit your control issues. It is something I need to emulate, for sure!

Malachi 2 talks about the Refiner’s fire that produces silver and gold. I think that’s what marriage can be BUT IT IS SO DIFFICULT! And the fire is HOT! And I’m JUST FINE the way I am! AARGH!

Nope – clearly I found little to relate to in this post…..but I’m sure you’re helping lots of control freaks out there. 😬

Is Your Child Ready for Social Media?

“If you want to be on social media, you have to be ready to handle both the joy and the pain.”

15-year-old Reese Nilsen talking to his 12-year-old sister

Upon seeing the book, Right Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital World (great book, by the way!) sitting on the kitchen counter:

“Mom didn’t experience social media growing up so she has to read a book about how to parent us.” 

— Same kid

Listen, I post stuff on social media ALL THE TIME. I’m a major offender of wasting time or promoting myself or connecting with others. However you spin it, I am on it. Instagram. Twitter. Even and especially Facebook. (Apparently FB is only for us old-timers over the age of 35. Periscope and Snap Chat still allude me, but then again, I’m over 35.)

Over the course of time, in my very unscientific, personal research, I’ve come to the realization that certain topics garner various amounts of “likes” or hearts or whatever the symbol is for “Don’t worry, girl. I see you and I’m giving you a virtual fist bump.”

Depending on what you post, you may experience a dip or a spike in “likes.” For instance, cute pics of kids doing funny things, graduations, proms or anniversaries. Easy money. Lots of likes. Photos of what you made for dinner. Meh. A few loyal souls may throw you a bone. Posts with political or religious quotes? Forget about it. Only the very bold attach their names to such things. 

There is one topic, however, that BLEW UP my Facebook feed recently and it went a little something like this:

Let me just say, y’all did NOT stay silent on that.

Dozens of you said virtually the exact same thing, “HOLD FAST. Don’t cave.” Several of you said your kids can’t have smart phones until 8th grade or even high school. Only ONE person said to go ahead and get her one — with expectations and rules to go with it of course. 

So my question is this — If so many people (at least the ones I’m friends with on FB) said to wait, is that what they are actually doing with their kids or are folks in the “wait” camp just the most vocal**? I didn’t see any people (save one or two) whose kids under thirteen do have smart phones jump on in defense of that decision. One person even said their kids have to be sixteen before getting a phone. I commend you — that is some serious resolve! (**Of course, lots of you talked about the cost. I’m not even going to dive into that today because that’s another post and then some!!)

While we haven’t activated a smart phone for her just because she came home in tears (my old one is literally sitting, inactive in our home office), it has sparked a TON of really good conversation and processing about smart phones and social media.

(Caveat: Before I go any further, I need to say I do not hate social media. I actually really like it for many reasons. I also do not hate technology. I love smart phones and apps and things that enhance our lives. I’m not bashing any of this, I’m simply trying to process how and when and the like.) 

This may not be the blog post you want, but it’s the one that needs to come out of me so here goes…

1.  I know there are kids around the world who don’t have clean drinking water or a roof over their heads. Believe me, I know. My kids have all they could need and more. I realize we are talking about a serious luxury item, but it’s still damned hard to see your kids crying when they feel left out. And these days, if you don’t have a smart phone in your back pocket, ready to pull out at the first hint of boredom (to include, but not limited to, carpools, the school cafeteria, hanging out on the couch, waiting for your ride, while watching TV, virtually everywhere) you’re likely to feel left out because it seems EVERYONE ELSE is looking at their phones, watching videos, taking selfies, playing games, texting emojis and you’re just not. You have nothing in your hand which leaves you staring off into space wondering what everyone thinks is so funny.

2.  I learned a lot about what teens like by reading this article. Of the 60 teens they interviewed, most got their first smartphone at age 11. So, those of you that commented on my FB post, whose pre-teens or teens don’t have smart phones, are actually in the minority. If you are a 12-year-old in the United States of America, chances are you and most of your friends have smart phones. But handing kids smart phones at such a young age, while extremely handy and functional, is a lot like giving candy to a baby. The more they taste, the more they want. 

3.  And, honestly, I GET IT!! I am 42-years-old and I can hardly go 5 minutes without wanting to pick up my phone and “check” email, Facebook, texts, etc. Why?? Because I’m bored, it’s a habit, what if I miss something important and potentially — because I’m addicted. In fact, this is exactly what I’m giving up for Lent. No, I’m not ditching social media entirely. Mostly because I know that I can’t sustain that for longer than 40 days. I’m actually hoping to replace my bad habit of picking up my phone first thing in the morning and checking it right before I go to bed. I want to give God the first and last moments of my day. Of course I want to give him my whole life. Yes. But I’m realizing I’m not really giving Him my “first fruits” — the best, most intimate parts of me. I want to fill the beginning and end of my day with Him. Not everyone else. I’m committing to not look at my phone for the first and last hour of my day. His word before the world’s word. Might seem pitiful to some, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one who may find this to be a problem. Who hasn’t spent lingered longer in the bathroom scrolling through Facebook? Come on, now.

4.  Back to the quote at the top of the page. I was blown away by this simple, yet sophisticated advice from my oldest to his younger sister when she asked when she might be able to have an Instagram account. Social media (a.k.a. 24/7 connection) can be extremely fun and a great way for people to connect, but the two-headed dragon can also open Pandora’s box. In an effort to flesh this out for her, Reese said to Brynn, “How would you feel if you are scrolling through Instagram and you see your friends posting selfies from the movie theater and you weren’t invited?” She gave a silent nod, knowing exactly what he meant. And that’s just a common, run of the mill example. There is a 100% chance something like this WILL happen. That doesn’t even account for any signs of bullying or inappropriate activity that is bound to rear its ugly head. It’s as simple as that. Is your child ready to handle both the joy and the pain (and I would add, increasingly adult content) of social media?

5.  Perhaps a better question is, are YOU as a parent ready to help your child navigate this beautifully complicated world?  Because, once the train is set in motion, it only gains speed. Our role as parents is to help kids learn how to process and navigate social media in healthy ways. Rules, boundaries, internal processing of what we are reading and seeing… In order to do so, it’s best if we have mastered that ourselves.

6.  When it comes to social media usage, boys and girls are different. They just are. Boys play games and razz each other. They’re probably more likely to want to look up “adult” content. Girls post selfies and text each other like there’s no tomorrow. Girls are also more likely to be down right mean, hiding behind the social media veil. Reese said, “Mom, you should see our school lunchroom. Probably half of the boys pull out their phones to play games or something, but I’m telling you, ALL of the girls are on their phones the whole time!” Ugh. 

7.  IDENTITY!! This is the mother of all factors. Adolescence is a time of deep soul-searching and identity formation. Our identities (no matter what our age) should be grounded in truth. Not perceived truth. Social media is a snapshot. One side of a coin. A two-dimensional version of someone’s life. That conversation should be paramount as we walk kids down this road.

As you can see, I could probably write about this for a long time. I’ll spare you more precious hours in your day. I think a lot of this boils down to knowing your child. Not rocket science, but I believe it’s at the crux of this whole issue. Like determining any other responsibilities and privileges, one size does not fit all.

At the end of the day, the digital world isn’t going anywhere. It’s here to stay and that can be a very good thing. But it also comes with a heck of a lot potential complications and, as far as teenagers are concerned, there’s really nothing new under the sun.

Group Participation!!! I would LOVE to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this subject?? What have you done well in regards to parenting teens & social media? Where have you made major mistakes and how did you course correct? (This really is one area where I’m guessing we continually ‘write in pencil.’)

Holly’s Take:

No!  No to all of it!  I can’t stand technology for kids today and I have no filter when it comes to it. My kids are still fairly young (7-11), so I know my tune will change one of these days, but for now, it’s easy.  NO!  I mean, I’m a 41 year old mom, who isn’t dealing with bullying or feeling left out or porn, for crying out loud, and I still feel gross after being too attached to my phone. Smartphones and everything on them are convenient, but not life giving.  Maybe in moderation, but I don’t have that kind of discipline most of the time, so what would make me think tweens and teens would?  I have to leave my phone at home if I go to the park to play with my kids.  That’s ridiculous that I don’t have more self control and my brain is fairly fully developed . . . I think???  After Dave died, Spencer, who was 6 at the time, started getting into video games and I thought it was a good escape.  It didn’t take long to realize that the sweetest boy on earth became a DRAGON after screen time. So, I nixed that and have never looked back. During the week, there is no screen time (except a show Tony watches with the kids each Monday, while I teach piano).  If there is time on the weekends, we’ll let the boys play xbox (which I don’t like) or make iMovies.  I think our house is full of imagination and creativity.  Macie brought with her from Ethiopia an imagination as big as the ocean, and I think it is because she didn’t have TV, video games or toys.  I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible.  I wonder when I will look back on this post and laugh, because I’m making it sound so black and white????  P.S. – I think that when my kids are as mature as Reese, I’ll be open to the idea of not being quite the technology Nazi that I am right now..

Christina’s Take: 

I have a million things to say but the one thing that I don’t see that either of you have written about yet is that it is OKAY to make mistakes as a parent.

My husband and I have definitely made black-and-white decisions and definitely changed those black-and-white decisions. And we’ve lived in the grey only to realize we should have been more black and white (i.e.; buying Grand Theft Auto for our teenager and then changing our minds and taking the game back). And I do not regret that.

I think when the chips are down, you focus on the fact the you are having an open dialogue with your kids about the whole situation. When we’re having hard conversations about accountability with Jack (16 years old) I hold on to the fact that, even though he isn’t happy, at least he knows we love him enough to hash it out.

The beauty of these hard conversations with our kids and with other parents lies in the fact that we are in sticky, messy relationships with each other working things out….

….one Super Mario character at a time.

Dinner with Mom; a moment in her quirky, compelling life

She’s wide-eyed and naïve but wise.

She’s impulsive and compulsive but has a steady gaze.

She’s childlike and her soul is chiseled with the wit of age.

She’s legally blind but more than sighted.

She’s win-at-trivial-pursuit brilliant yet simple and unknowing about relational nuance.

She’s part Rain-man, part Queen Elizabeth.

She’s Tasmanian devil and Bambi in equal parts. . So many contradictions.

So much to try to anticipate and know in one little feeble body.

one of her paintings…this one is called “Green Aspens”

I catch sight of her as I enter the dimly lit, drab dining hall. She is the one leaning forward against the table with her statuesque physique to try and say something louder so the hard-of-hearing gentleman across from her can hear what she is saying. “I’M SEVENTY FOUR, I SAID! DID YOU HEAR THAT? I SAID I’M SEVENTY FOUR YEARS OLD, MY BIRTHDAY IS IN AUGUST!

I don’t mean for her to see me. I’m just planning to set her glasses down near her dinner menu so she has what she needs but doesn’t make a fuss over her daughter with her new friends. And then I hear it: “oooooooh~! There she is! My baby girl. Give me a kiss! Have you all met my daughter?

And that’s when the gentlemen across from her has finally developed the presence of mind to respond to her earlier comment about her age: “I’m 68. I’m old enough.” To which she retorts,”THERE IS NO WAY ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH THAT YOU ARE 68 YEARS OLD. YOU’RE 88 IF YOU’RE A DAY. DO YOU HAVE YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE? WHAT YEAR WERE YOU BORN?...” she continues to pepper him with question after question of inquisitive age exploration.

 Mountainscape
Mountainscape

She is the youngest one in the dining hall. She is the sharpest one in the dining hall. She tends to “work the room” at dinner which just happens to be the only meal of the day she’ll eat in the dining hall, preferring instead to have a pizza delivered, to go out, or to just eat a small granola bar in her room while drinking a glass of Rose’.  She is a wonder.

Years and miles are not the things responsible for her being in the assisted living residence. Rather, being widowed and handicapped from a stroke are the culprits to her new dwelling situation. She is sure she’s smarter, more vibrant, cooler, more sparkly and busier than anyone in that room. And by most counts, she’s right.

 Old church
Old church

As spoons clink on institutional dishware, a sign of old people eating soft food, she continues to press this gentleman. She doesn’t realize that she is running laps around him proverbially in this conversation. He is working to hear, develop a response and say something and during that pause, she has said 2 or 3 more things. It’s confusing. It’s humorous though.

The other 2 at her table; Jay the retired truck driver who smiles all the time even when no one can understand a single word he’s saying, and Sadie; the supposed heir to the barbed wire fence company fortune out of Fort Worth. Jay and Sadie can’t keep up with her rapid fire questioning either and they watch with a gleam in their eye as I tip-toe backwards out of view of my mother so as to depart unnoticed or forgotten in lieu of more important matters that are more front-of-mind to her. …like, her dinner partner’s falsified age…

“…TOMORROW NIGHT AT DINNER MAKE SURE AND BRING YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE! I WANT TO SEE FOR MYSELF!!…”

Megan’s Take:  

Oh, I just LOVE the snapshots of your sweet, snappy Mama!! What great insight into her world. She lives in the tension between being utterly dependent in body and fiercely independent of mind. And her artwork is fantastic! I actually popped in for a quick visit the other day with Monet and we asked if she ever sells her paintings. Without hesitation she said, “No! But you can buy a beautiful high resolution canvas print if you’d like.” I smiled. You go, girl. And you, my friend, are a very good daughter! It is no surprise to me that she is beyond proud to introduce you. You could be Miss America, you know….. 🙂 

Holly’s Take: 

You know . . . back in the day, your mom was not, “my very good friend’s mom,” like she is now.  She was my Bible study leader all throughout my single years. For about six years, I spent almost every Thursday night at her (and your dad’s) house for dinner and the building of my own faith.  Not my parents faith, but my own. She was truly one of my most influential mentors in my life.  I have a hard time reconciling the person she was, with the person she is, now.  I am so far removed from her compared to you, so I can’t imagine what that journey is like for you! Whenever, I see her now, my flesh wants the old Barbara.  Yet, the new Barbara has so much to teach me in a different way. I actually do love that she paints now. Her stroke has birthed something new inside of her that may never have discovered otherwise.  That is an easy one to see, but I know there are a lot more.  There are new Barbarisms, that would never have been uncovered without this stroke. What is the plan here, God?  I admire the way you walk this journey, Christina  (and Barbara).  What a rough road, that does not lead back to normal. Yet, we all trust with you and for you, that there is much unseen and seen, that God is doing. I can say, in every way, that pre stroke and post stroke, Barbara, has ALWAYS pointed me to Jesus. Now . . . it is just in a very different way.   

The Bi-Polar Express

  

 If you know my story, then you’ll know why this season is so full of polar opposites.  Deep joy and deep grief.  Working out the past and looking to the future.  Passionate gratitude and desperate loss of control.  The list goes on.

Starting around the week of Thanksgiving, it was like a big giant cloud started to setting in around me.  Before me was the seemingly impossible task of openly walking though the third anniversary of Dave’s death, while being married.  About a tenth of me wanted to just skip right into the middle of January.  But then I’d have to skip Christmas and I am so desperately grateful for Jesus coming to earth, that I couldn’t imagine missing the anticipation of December 25th.

With this haze, a couple of hard conversations between Tony and me ensued.  Along with that haze, came a picture of Indian Jones, where he has to cross a deep canyon by just taking a step into thin air and as he takes that step of faith, a firm bridge appears.  I just knew that God would make a way through this season.  I’ve gotta tell you, though, it didn’t feel like a sturdy rock bridge.  It felt like a stringy rope bridge with a lot of missing planks.  

The day we decorated for Christmas is a good example of riding the Bipolar Express.  All seven of us had a great time picking out a tree to decorate.  We brought the tree home, put on some Christmas music, strung on some lights, and opened up the first box of Christmas decorations. Right on top was the box of ornaments, many of which were Dave’s that his mom collected for him through his childhood.  

Here we go.  How do I handle this?  How do I still honor Dave and give him space in our family, while trying to make new traditions and form a new family?  What is the balance to strike here?  Who can do this well?  All of the music in the background seemed to change to a minor key.  So, we divided up all of Dave’s ornaments between Leah, Macie and Spencer and they chose a couple of their favorites to put on the tree.  That seemed to be a decent compromise?  However, when it was bedtime that night, tears for Dave were being caught in Spencer’s pillow. And that was not the only time that Spencer has found himself in a wave of grief this season.  There are no compromises that can fix those tears. They just are. Then they pass. 

Next thing you know, we are having the best day our family of seven has ever had. It was just a regular day, but it was filled with laughter, decorating cookies, goofing around, and the house just felt so full, in every sense of the word.   

Then there were talks of December 21st (the anniversary of Dave’s death). How I will handle that?  Will Tony and Braden and Evan be a part of it?  Will it just be Spencer, Leah and Macie and me?  I think as time passes these questions will feel less complicated, but for now . . . it is new territory. In the end, it was just me and the Aldridge kids going to the Broadmoor to see the giant gingerbread house, get a chocolate from the candy shop and read memories of Dave that people wrote at his funeral. (Thanks to all of you who wrote a little something. We loved reading your memories of him).  It was more of a rich night, than a sad night, for which I was very grateful. Going to the Broadmoor at Christmas time was a tradition that Dave started a couple years before he died.  Sidebar. The night after he died, we went to the Broadmoor. Of course, I was insane at that point and had not one idea what I was doing and neither did anybody else, for that matter. That night, it felt so important for me to carry on this tradition and to try and make life as normal as possible. I also remember my car keys being taken away from me that night after trying to find my way from my house to the Broadmoor.  I think I made a 15 minute trip into a 45 minute trip. I just COULD NOT remember to turn!  It is somehow kinda funny now, but it sure wasn’t then. 

Then the actual day of the 21st came and it was beautiful. It was a great day.  And phew . . . we made it past that.  However, there were days that followed that were so difficult.  It’s like we all held our feelings together leading up to the 21st, but afterwards, they just began to leak out. Of course, this is right over Christmas, where expectations are high on everyones part and traditions are held tightly, and emotions just seem to take on a life of their own . . .  at least for me. 

Needless to say, the bipolar express was chugging along. Some amazing moments, some deep hurts, some treasured memories, laughter, tears, cousins, ice skating, arguing, grandparents, plane rides, Radio City Music Hall, chickens, great food, Christmas Eve service and CHRISTMAS.

 

 And then. . . . . . . . . . . . . . the space after Christmas, with no distractions, and no anticipation and no plans and no work. That was a hard week. Ugh! 

It was actual Christmas that was keeping me sane Through this entire season (which is debatable I’m sure). Christmas means soooooooo much more, when life feels messy. Jesus wasn’t born to make sure the perfect in life, stays perfect. I kept going back to this blog post from my most, very, especially, scholarly, intelligent, gentle and thoughtful friend (not that the rest of you aren’t all those things). It is definitely worth a read, as well as the one before it. They both carried me through this season.  I know I should at least summarize them, so here it goes. The fullness in a masterpiece is the beauty and the ugly all in the same frame and Jesus came to earth to die and rise again, in order to bring that fullness to completion. Boom – there you have it.  Guess you don’t need to read those.  Just kidding . . . you really should, especially if you are facing difficult times.  

So, now on to the New Year.  As everyone knows, the calendar flipping a page, doesn’t mean that everything is all different now. However, I feel like we’ve gotten off the bipolar express and the sense I have for this new year, is that it will be a year of LEARNING.  I have a strange thirst to learn right now and I think I rather like it!

Christina’s Take :

Bipolar express…it paints such a good picture. I felt it, too, when I would find time with you. Some moments so perfectly “Christmas” and others that were more bumpy than that. 

I think it’s a gracious mercy-thing that we don’t know the future. Being centered and present in the “now” is the big work. Letting tomorrow take care of itself because it has enough troubles of its own…isn’t easy!  

I love hearing your most beautiful heart in this season. 

Megan’s Take: 

This one is most definitely all the feels. I suppose that’s the inherent definition of the “bipolar express.” You have lots of different people feeling lots of different things at any given moment. May God’s grace continue to guide you as you row in these murky waters. However, you said it best, Holly! This is a new year. While we all are still emotional human beings we can hold on to hope because Jesus is on the throne. He wasn’t born to “make sure the perfect in life stays perfect” rather He came to give us joy and life abundant — in spite of and in the midst of whatever journey our trains are on.