On Risking and Dreaming: 9 Things I Have Learned from Writing a Book

“What do you do?”  is a highly typical straight-out-of-the-gates question when we meet new people, right?  Easy for some to answer, but as a stay-at-home Mom I always flounder a little when crafting my response.  

I usually bobble just a tad and weigh my potential response because, in my opinion, I have a couple of choices:  I can fly under the radar and say, “Well, I don’t work ‘outside the home’ but I volunteer at church and school and shuttle my kids all over God’s green earth!  Ha. Ha. Ha.” 

That answer seems to resonate with just about everyone.  But in all honesty, it’s not the sum total of “what I do.” 

The other, more vulnerable, heart-beating-out-of-my-chest kind of answer is one that includes the former with one slight addition,  “I write a blog with a couple of my best buddies and — I’m actually publishing a book!”

That last one tends to stop them in their tracks. “Oh!  A book?” they say under raised eyebrows. “Tell me about that…”

Gulp.  Once I admit I’m publishing a book, the investigative floodgates swing wide open. The time spent on this journey over the last year-and-a-half or so has led me to evaluate the decision to undergo such an endeavor and truly uncover the real reasons WHY I do WHAT I do.  

(You can read about some of my book writing journey on my original “Team Nilsen” blog — here, here, & here).

All told, writing a book has been as exciting as it has felt like pulling my fingernails off one at a time. The manuscript in it’s most edited draft sits with a self-publishing company right now.  A proofreader is currently crossing t’s, dotting i’s, and graciously cleaning up any egregious grammatical errors.  If all goes well, I could launch this puppy sometime this summer!  Rest assured I’ll be letting you know of every opportunity you’d ever want (or not!) about how you too can can be the proud owner of  “A Beautiful Exchange: Living the Story You Were Made For” when it comes out.

But for now, I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned so far (because I KNOW there will be many more along the way):

 My very fancy office space...
My very fancy office space…

1. Moms have dreams too. Most of my hours are spent loving, raising, hugging, nurturing and — let’s be honest — losing my cool with my four sweet cherubs.  But underneath it all, embracing motherhood has been kind of a rocky journey for me (which actually makes for some pretty intense writing in my book).  I feel more “myself” when I take the time to pursue my own dreams/passions in the midst of it all.  Going after this dream of writing a book has given me new excitement for life and, by extension, appreciate my kids more in this season of active mothering. It has prompted me to cheer them on in their passions even more because I am loving living mine.

2. If you want something badly enough or believe in it strongly enough, sometimes you’re the one that needs to make it happen.  Don’t get me wrong — I whole-heartedly believe in the “anointed call of God.”  Sometimes it feels like God just snaps His fingers and everything falls into place, but more often than not, He gives us creative license and responsibility to follow through on the passions he wove deep into our DNA.  The writing of this book grew out of a profound desire to share the testimony of God’s goodness with a greater audience.  I don’t have a “huge platform” on social media. No one is “asking me” to write this book (outside of a handful of good friends and family), but I knew I NEEDED to write it nevertheless. The first bold move was to actually take a step in that direction whether or not is was popular or made any logical sense.  I knew God was asking me to trust Him on this one so, by faith, I typed one word after another after another…

3. A whole book equals a whole lotta words.  Apparently around 80% of people say they’d like to write a book.  Only about 20% ever do. Now I know why. Take a deep breath before diving in. A whole book is a lot of water to tread. That’s about all I have to say about that.  I’m “worded” out.

4. Vulnerability is a necessary “evil”. Writing a book about your own story (warts and all) is a super vulnerable undertaking. When you ask others to critique and examine your writing (which is, by all accounts, an extension of your heart) it feels risky.  In this book, I’ve laid my heart on the table for people to do with it what they will. Some will hold and cherish it while others may stomp on it. I have no control over other people’s reactions, so I’ve had to look to God as the ultimate definer of my primary identity — which is to say, I am His child, telling His story.  Baring my soul for all to see is a little frightening, but it makes for (hopefully!) some much better writing.  Let the chips fall where they may.

5. Reading/editing your own words for the umpteen millionth time is — how do you say — BRUTAL. Words are slippery creatures and they often take on a life of their own as they morph and blur on the page.  Something may “sing” in my head but presents completely ludicrous on paper.  Crafting sentences and ideas that “make sense” to someone else, not to mention the cherry-on-top of being encouraging, inspiring or calling someone to action is seriously tricky business.  After a while you simply CANNOT think of another way to say the thing. It. Just. Is. So. There.  At times I felt like a second-grader all over again.  And then, and then, and then… (Apparently that gets a little boring).

6. I need to practice what I preach. It’s one thing to TELL my kids they can do anything they set their mind to and a whole other thing to SHOW them. At the ripe old age of forty and some change, I’m actually showing them…

7. Asking for help can only make it better.  Sometimes it’s just easier to adopt a toddler mentality and figure I’ll “do it myself.”  But honestly, that’s just asking for a whole world of hurt.  This is my story and no one can tell it like I can, but asking other people for honest critique sure can help me tell it better.  It is highly humbling to throw your written work on the table for someone else to slash/burn, but in the end it really does produce a better crop.

8. At some point, the book is baked.  I think most writers or artists of any kind can relate to the idea of severely beating your work to death. Tinkering and word-smithing becomes a comfortable way of life.  It’s easier to hide behind the “it’s-almost-ready-just-a-little-more” approach and super scary to let the thing sink or swim as is.  There is a certain anxiety in releasing my work to the public at large, but at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to birth the “baby” and let it fly.

9. Never underestimate the power of a champion. Though I hate to admit it, I think Better Midler was right!  Having someone who is the “wind beneath your wings” is a vital part of taking a risk and actually seeing something through.  The idea of writing a book scared the every living daylights out of me, but my AMAZING husband and supportive kids have backed me 110%.  Their encouragement and interest has kept me moving forward even when I wanted to throw in the towel and just sign up for another committee.   I only pray I can be this kind of champion for them and anyone else God may bring my way. 

What kinds of risks have you taken lately towards a particular dream?  And what have you learned?  I would love to learn from you as well!

Christina’s Take:

Risks I’ve taken lately: talked to my boss about expanding my professional horizons.  

What I’ve learned: we don’t lose ANYTHING by hiding our dreams, never pursuing them. 

Megan – such good wisdom for anyone about really persevering to the thing they dream about. I am most struck by your writing about the need to be vulnerable. So hard! So good! It’s truly part of rich, true life. None of this milk toast, lukewarm, hedge-your-bets business.  

Thanks for stepping out and being willing to write about this worthwhile but risky-to-the-heart endeavor.

Holly’s Take:

My heart literally started beating faster and faster as I read this.  Nobody is asking me to write a book either, but I feel the push, the pull, the enormous task before me.  My thoughts are always wandering towards book titles, chapter topics and book signings . . . just kidding about that last one.  If fact, I’ve barely just started the process – I’m so excited!!!!!

I’ve seen you sacrifice time spent in other arenas to make this book happen.  I admire that discipline.  I love how you craft your words, like in the entire number 5 section of this post.  

I, also, resonate with teaching your kids to risk and to try something, simply because you feel like it, (provided it is legal and a wise a choice).  Those kinds of lessons, most likely go much deeper than the little lectures we give them about brushing their teeth twice a day.   

 

Why This Matters to Moms; ISIS Edition

ISIS

This is no potential friend or even a little bit of fun. And furthermore, these 4 little letters strike fear in my cowardly heart.

What is ISIS, though? Why do we keep hearing about it? We can hardly avoid it. Ah, but wait…If we just close our brains and numb ourselves with the kitty cats and the celebrity drama of our newsfeed, pretty soon we’re blinded to important realities.

If we know nothing, we have no responsibility. Things are simpler, easier, cleaner.

We call B.S. on that.

Let’s peek out from behind our blinders regarding the chaotic dynamics ever-shifting in the Middle East and Europe. Let’s engage, interact, know.

READY?

HERE WE GO…

What is ISIS, anyway?

ISIS is a Sunni Muslim group whose aim is to follow prophecy to the apocalypse. They wave black flags.

What does “Sunni” mean?

Sunni’s and Shiites are branches of the Islamic faith. They have had at least 1400 years of conflict between them based on who took over when the Prophet Mohammed died in the 600’s B.C (hint: it was the Sunni’s).

How did ISIS start?

Last summer, a caliphate was formed (a religious group claiming that adherence is the only way to salvation) with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its head, or caliph. A caliphate forming is a huge deal, people. It triggers the start of all kinds of Muslim prophecy towards the end of the world.

A caliphate (a group of people in allegiance to caliph Baghdadi) is commanded by prophecy to wage war and to not ever stop until the end of the world. If they do anything less than this, they lapse into sin and their caliphate becomes invalid. The means by which they plan to accomplish this goal are medieval (think crucifixion, slavery, genocide, torture).

Is ISIS basically just another Al Qaeda?

Let’s put it this way; ISIS thinks Al Qaeda is way too loose with its rules and regs even though they’re both Sunni. The experts we’ve read say that ISIS is an unusual Muslim group because they seem to be holding the line on said rules and regs. This “purity” lends credibility to their group.

What does ISIS think of Jesus?

They like him a lot. He’s their number 2 guy (the Prophet Mohammed is number 1). In fact, ISIS thinks Jesus will ultimately help them achieve supreme victory in the end.

Christians must submit to the caliphate by coming under its authority and paying a tax.  A Muslim is considered apostate (and worthy of death) by participating in modern-day activity like running for office, wearing Western clothes, selling drugs/alcohol, men shaving their beards.

Are you saying Muslims are in more danger than Christians?

Don’t get us wrong, Christians have been beheaded and persecuted as ISIS has risen in its’ power. But Christians are not the only target. Rather, ANY group that is not willing to align themselves with ISIS’ interpretation of the Koran are to be dealt with.

Why should we care?

The good ol’ U.S. of A. has LOTS of oil interests in that region. These kinds of conflict affect the things made with oil (examples: crayons, hair color, DVD’s, ice cube trays, gas for your mini-van all require oil).

AND

Many in the Middle East are being persecuted. If we value human life, this is something to which we should pay attention. When Jesus was walking the earth, you would find him with the marginalized. If you ignored the plight of “the least of these” you would never have seen Him. And the same is true this very day. If we’re looking for Jesus, He is where the poorest, most persecuted are. 

Bottom Line?

There is a toxic potion being shared by millions of people in the Middle East: without a healthy economy, without jobs, without proper education, without healthcare and a without a working government, men and women are seeking meaning and purpose.

This potion leads people to become attracted to radical groups like ISIS that will give them focus in life, even if that life is a terribly brutal one. Better to be part of a big, exciting, apocalyptic narrative than to scrounge around year after year just to survive a dead-end life.

There is a generation of children and young adults who will succumb to joining some type of radical Islamic group so they can live a bigger story than the one they are living currently.

How can we pray?

We came upon a profound comment underneath one of the articles that seemed to sum it up. Don F. in Portland wrote:

“…Peace will come to the Middle East when Shiites and Sunnis love their children more than they hate the other sect…”

I know these parents love their children – no one is suggesting they don’t. And I became well acquainted with the fact that these conflicts are very complex. But I DO see that love is the trump card here. Let’s pray for that.

The Bible tells us that when our mind is on the Lord, peace in our hearts will prevail (Isaiah 26:3). And John 16:33 tells us that Jesus’ desire is for us to be whole and at peace even though there is trouble in this world –  fear isn’t necessary. 

Maybe part of walking in faith is taking Him at His Word.  Can we lean on Him when sorting out the worst evil in the world and still have peace? The answer is: YES we can.

What can we do?

If you’re willing to take off the blinders along with us, you may feel an impulse to do something that matters for the situation. When you see a situation more clearly, it’s natural to consider how you can AFFECT this situation in any helpful way. But it’s not like we can organize a 5k and YAY!…everyone is okay over in the middle east.  So what is there for us to do? How can we act?

Here are a few organizations that are doing relevant, “boots on the ground” work with the marginalized people in the wake of all the chaos:

The big two that are consistently finding ways into these areas are Compassion International and World Vision. They each have their own emphasis but are both big, connected, and effective. 

Here are a couple of ideas you may not have considered: 

The Iraqi Children Foundation assists “the families and communities of Iraq by mobilizing a life-changing “Surge of Love” for millions of children orphaned by violence in Iraq.”

The Quilliam Foundation claims to be “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank set up to address the unique challenges of citizenship, identity and belonging in a globalized world.” 

BOTTOM LINE? 

We think awareness coupled with action puts us squarely in the center of a rich life in Christ. With knowledge we have the chance to pray and act — especially once we take our blinders off to really SEE. 

What are you pretending not to really SEE?  We’d love to hear from you…

There are resources we used for this post here, here, here, & here.

Megan’s Take:

First off, Christina, I am so proud of you for bravely tackling this post!  If I am the only one that reads this I think it’s worth it. Really!  The big, black letters of the acronym alone makes me want to change the channel or switch my newsfeed.  The persecution and horror of this group is so intense.  BUT — that doesn’t mean my fleshly response is right.  In fact, as you point out, it is counter to the filter Jesus asks me to look through.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10).  I love your line, “If we are looking for Jesus, He is where the poorest, most persecuted are.”  This situation is excrutiatingly complicated at best.  Thank you for the encouragement to press into God’s heart on this issue, relying on God’s ultimate victory for good and not for evil and for providing tangible avenues we can partner with to truly make a difference.  If it matters to HIM, it should matter to me.

Holly’s Take:

After reading this, I kind of want to unread it.  The complexity of all the situations in the Middle East, is what hit me the hardest.  With this kind of religious complexity,  my first reaction is, “there is nothing I can do . . . I sure hope this never affects me.”  I am asking myself, is there anything wrong with my reaction?  Is it OK to not do anything?  Do I only have to do something if I feel like God is impressing it on my heart and what on earth could I really do?  But what if everyone has the same reaction as I do?  Will anything change, over there?  Would my quiet little prayers ever invade the loud terror over there?  I don’t feel like it.  But something is stirring in my heart.  Will I investigate that stirring or not?  I don’t know, to be honest.  

 

Tackling The Tough Topics; Why This Matters To Moms

Trust us, we’re not the experts.

We say that a little “tongue in cheek” because when it comes to the news we think experts are great and all, but too practiced and precise.  Sometimes we don’t know whether those talking heads are really helping us discern anything or if they’re just parrots reading the news with no regard for how you and I could use this information (reminds us of Evan in Bruce Almighty: “The White House reception committee greeted the Prime Ribroast Minister and…I like-a-do da cha-cha” Well said, Mr. Anchor.)

We “Writing In Pencil” gals have felt challenged to look at some of the deeper, more complex issues of our time (see Megan’s poetry posted during Easter).  After all, issues like what happened in Ferguson and countries like Iran are confusing…and oh by the way, there’s conflict – lots of it. And life has enough of that already, eh? Why would we try to tackle harder subjects? Why not leave it up to the Wolf Blitzers and the Rachel Maddows of the world?

We’ve been thinking about it and we see a pattern: Less knowledge of sticky topics makes those topics easy to ignore. When we see parts of the Bible (like Ephesians 4:15 and 2 Timothy 2:15) that tell us to find and hold the Truth without shame, we can’t ignore it and we don’t think you should either.

We’ll call these segments:  “Why This Matters To Moms”

So we’re buckling down, digging in, sharpening our pencils and asking questions YOU might ask (ie; what the heck is ISIS?). We aren’t afraid to ask a dumb question or two (ie; What does Sunni or Shiite even mean?) and we might even do a little discerning (ie; What can we DO about this?).

So where do we start?

We’ll start with ISIS. <gulp>

So trust us BECAUSE we’re not the experts…but merely semi-willing learners. We hope you’ll take a minute to read it. This stuff’s important. Roll your sleeves up with us and seek to KNOW a few more things about this crazy world.  In a couple of days, we’ll post the first piece. Maybe do a little research on your own so we can all compare notes. We’re in this together.

Megan’s Take: Oh man, oh-man-o-shevitz! (Apparently that is a kosher wine, by the way and I may need stiff drink of it right about now.) I can’t decide if I’m excited we’re thinking of entering into such tricky territory or completely terrified!  But more than anything, I don’t want to be the type of people who stick our head in the sand, our fingers in our ears and pretend like none of this is actually happening.  Yes, we’re Moms — volunteering, going to work, raising kids and shuttling carpool.  But we’re also Jesus-lovers and global citizens of this great big world — God’s world.  We care about those around us and pray desperate prayers that God would shine light in the darkest of places. So — here we go!  Christina has DEFINITELY taken one for the team getting us started with a biggie.  You will be blessed by her research/writing.  You will also walk away informed and challenged in a “Writing in Pencil” kind of way.  And PLEASE, we would LOVE to hear from you!! Do you agree with our assessments?  Heartily disagree?  Healthy dialogue and discussion is also super important to us.  We value your voice.  Don’t be shy!  We are blessed by your words to us as well….

Holly’s Take:

Before my husband died, I started growing quite cynical about Sunday morning church.  The hundreds of people in their Sunday best, their families sitting in rows, and their excitement about Jesus pretty dulled.  After Dave died, it was a whole different view.  Church people (as well as so many others) hung up their dresses, put away their ties and put on their gifts.  The church outside of the building went into action and now I’ll never see the church the same way.  But I fear that others will.  I don’t want to be a part of the illusion that churchy people only care that they look like they’ve got it together (not that I’ve probably ever really looked like that, myself), but I want to be a part of a movement that says, I love, because Jesus loved me first.  I want to care about what Jesus cared about and there is not one single doubt in my mind that Jesus’s heart is for those who are suffering at the hands of ISIS, the poor, the fatherless, the persecuted, the hurting.  I can say with confidence that as the three of us have just barely started to scratch the surface of these issues, my heart has already become more tender to it.  I haven’t sent money or headed to the Middle East to fight on the front lines, yet, but as I learn more, I think my heart is becoming more aligned with what Jesus cares about?  

What Does Easter Look Like on Monday?

February 17, 2015

I sit at my kitchen table, holding a cup of coffee warm to the touch.  I look out a double-paned window and see fresh fallen snow.  The sun gleams bright on the blanket of white.  

And yet.  All I can see is red.  Crimson blood flowing hot and sticky into the vast expanse of a dark ocean.  Men in orange, tiny crosses tattoed on their wrists, kneeling on wet sand, beheaded by men in black.  These “men of the cross” carry resolute faith to their dying breath. Their eyes are full of a holy love the men in black cannot yet see.  The eyes of the cross exposed.  The eyes of hatred and evil cowardly hide behind wrapped tight masks.  The photo portrays a moment frozen in time, but I imagine the horror.  My heart races and I feel helpless for these innocent men, heart-broken for their loved ones.  Secretly glad it isn’t me.

March 30, 2015

I shuttle rapidly growing boys back and forth to the orthodontist on a Monday afternoon.  The fourth grader doesn’t mind missing band, but begs me to get him back for recess.  My eighth grader (ironically the third of my four children to undergo the “brace-face” procedure) doesn’t mind missing a few classes, or really the entire afternoon.  Fearing social suicide, he needs at least a day to prepare himself for the onslaught of relentless junior high scrutiny. 

While I dutifully wait out each appointment, I scroll through Facebook.  I intended to “get some things done,” but since I didn’t give up Facebook or Instagram for Lent, social media becomes the drug of choice.  

I see photos of families “spring-breaking” on the ski slopes or (more enviously) at the beach, adorably coiffed kids celebrating birthdays, friends on mission trips and reviews of latest reads.  I scroll through pictures and “like” at my leisure.  Easy-reading at its best.  There are other posts, however, that don’t sit so whimsically nonchalant.  Words and photos that, if I choose to loiter, hook my emotions as I sit in the sterile waiting room. 

I see a friend I re-connected with at a high school reunion struck by insufferable grief as she buries her 21-year-old son.  I see a dear childhood friend carrying life within her for the very first time at the age of 42.  Tragic death and miraculous life, all in one newsfeed.  The shock of utter sadness for one, bursts of glorious joy for the other. 

How does one hold this tension on a Monday afternoon?

My mind harkens back to the day on the beach.  The one when the Coptic Christians uttered the word, “Jesus” as they breathed their last and I realize, yet again, there is absolutely no human remedy for such profound emotion.  There is no bank big enough, no invention flashy enough, no technology tele-porting enough to catapult us up or around or over such places.  At some level must walk through them.  For that, there is only the cross.  

A symbol hewn from the roughest of wood holds both life and death in its perpendicular proportions.  A weekend, three-days, that’s all it took for ugliest of sin to be thrown into the pit of hell and for heaven to split wide-open and pour out overflowing grace and mercy, free for the taking to all who hunger for such things.  

This weekend, millions of Christ-followers from around the world will come together to celebrate Easter.  For some that looks like a ham and asparagus and a plastic Easter egg hunt, for others it looks like Brahms Requiem on Thursday, watching The Passion of the Christ on Friday and sunrise service on Sunday. 

No matter how you choose to celebrate (or not) this weekend, the real question is, “What does Easter look like on Monday?”  After the family goes home, the nice dishes put away and the kids’ chocolate bunnies are eaten down to the tail.  When you’re sitting in the dentist’s office, or in your cubicle, or coordinating carpool.

What does faith look like in those regular, ordinary moments?  How does it become new and real and fresh like it was just the day before?  Might I suggest we take another look at the cross?  And the best part is — this doesn’t have to be sterile or stagnant or dull.  It can be a combination of so many life-giving things!!

— a first-look at the morning sunrise — a brisk walk with worship music blasting in your ears — settling into your favorite chair and zeroing in on a passage of Scripture — a hug from a loved one — coffee with a friend — an exercise class — giving someone a cup of water in Jesus’ name — you name it!  The love of the cross is embedded in the fabric of this world, in who we are and the world God created.  We only need eyes to see and ears to hear — of the spiritual kind.

Andrew Murray, suggests our “first and chief need is fellowship with God…To this end, let your first act in your devotion be a setting yourself still before God.  In prayer, or worship, everything depends upon God taking the chief place.  I must bow quietly before Him in humble faith and adoration, speaking thus within my heart: ‘God is. God is near.  God is love, longing to communicate Himself to me.  God the Almighty One, Who works all in all, is even now waiting to work in me, and make Himself known.”

Yes and amen!  What on earth are we waiting for…?

How do you refresh and renew your faith in the midst of the mundane?  Or perhaps harder still, in the most confusing and confounding places in life?

 Christina’s Take:

Sometimes it feels like life is long and marathon-ish and other times, (like when my baby boy is all of the sudden a 5’11” Freshman in high school) life feels hyper-fast and that I’m missing so much.

I love how your words wind and bend just like our lives do – just like faith does. We need Easter. It doesn’t have to be the day to eat/buy/consume or just a day to break out the floral pantsuit. 😬

Truly, it can re-shape & re-soften our hearts for living True life – both the mundane and the intense.

Happy Easter, all! He is risen!

Holly’s Take:

There are a lot of different themes in this post.  From the darkness and evil of ISIS, to peoples’ daily celebrations and woes, to remembering Easter and all that comes with it, to remembering Easter, right on past Easter.  For me in this very moment, I am realizing that I am letting myself feel the impact of Good Friday (even after being a Christian forever, I still, embarrassingly, have to check to see if Good Friday is the day Jesus died . . . it is, BTW).  It is not because I’m picturing Jesus dying on the cross or anything like that, but it’s because I have had such an amazingly difficult time with my adopted daughter this week.  She has now been home three years, and just when you think, it’s time to celebrate the progress we have made, it turns into the most discouraging week with her ever and I fear an unending uphill battle.  And then at 4:35 this morning, after waking early and perseverating for an hour on how to strike the balance of showing love, but enforcing meaningful consequences, all while feeling defeated with her, I remembered Jesus.  He will carry our burdens.  And I fell back asleep.  After awaking, I don’t feel a lightness to my situation with Macie, but I feel a brokenness.  A tenderness.  A somberness.  And maybe I just want to stay here for a day . . .  to remember why we need Easter . . . . because it’s coming.  

 

 

Maybe Some Potholes are Good For the Soul

There is a lot to be excited about in getting married again!  Living life with somebody, having somebody to help raise kids, having two people with a license to drive, having somebody to cook and clean for me (just kidding), family vacations, finding a place where God wants us to serve together, family dinners, building a chicken coop and raising chickens, somebody knowing you so well and visa versa.  I’m excited . . . and a touch terrified.  There are the regular scary things to think about, like having to talk to someone first about making decisions, someone who might disagree with me from time to time and then the biggie . . . becoming a step family.  

Like most members of a step family, I never, ever, ever in six trillion years, thought I’d be a part of one.  And a fairly complicated one, at that.  I suppose they are all complicated, right?    

I’ve mentioned this years ago, but I’m not one to read “What to Expect, When You’re Expecting,” because as soon as I read the words, “while in your 6th month of pregnancy, watch for a pain on the left side of your abdomen,” I will, most definitely and immediately, have a concerning pain on the left side of my abdomen.  I, also, never read attachment books before we adopted Macie. I’m not saying this is the responsible road to take, but I just never want to know what could go wrong, because then I either live myself right into that problem or I would worry about it.

However, my M.O. is a changin’ on this new step family chapter.  I feel completely ill equipped to make everything OK in this situation.  I really, super, a whole lot, dislike the fact that these boys are divided between two homes, two systems, two lives and two loves.  There are just no good solutions to this kind of division. I’m not OK with it, but I have no control over it, so I could either walk away, or I could continually return to deep gratefulness, that Jesus WILL do something here.  That is His specialty!

Like I said, my M.O. is changing, so instead of sticking my head in the sand and crossing my fingers in hopes that everything will go swimmingly well with blending a family that is in constant flux, I am trying to learn a little something from the experts. I have been listening to a series called, “The Smart Stepfamily,” by Ron L. Deal, and it is giving me such hope, (along with some alarm, here and there).  

My greatest hope is found the second talk when Ron said that he attempted to find the perfect model family in the Bible.  To my surprise, there isn’t a single, cute, little two parent, 3 kid, no problem, house in the suburbs family, that God highlights in the Bible.  Instead the Bible is full of these stories:  

-Abraham, who I assumed was always a stand up guy, because there is a kids song about him, (which will probably be in your head now, too) sleeps with his wife’s servant, upon her encouragement, since she was having some fertility problems.  What?  Genesis 16

-Lot’s daughters get him drunk and then sleep with him.  What? – Genesis 19 (That feels uncomfortable to even write).

-Rebecca is a controlling wife and Isaac is pretty passive and she attempts to control her sons, Jacob and Esau, who, not surprisingly turn out to be a mess. Jacob ended up having to leave the family and connect with some more of his extended dysfunctional family members.  What?  – Genesis 25-35

Then there is Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and that whole ordeal. What? Genesis 37.  

You’ve also got my favorite story in the Bible, Ruth, (the whole book of Ruth) who is a widow and who was from the tribe of Moab, who was from Lot’s little trist with his daughters. She married Boaz,  and they had Obed.  Obed and his wife had Jesse and Jesse was the father of David. 

That’s where things become a little more familiar.  Jesus is from the line of David and all these other people.  I’m leaving out many others, of course.  

The point is . . .  all these CRAZY, non-tidy families, are the family of promise.  It is so humbling that God uses such untidiness, such unfaithfulness, to accomplish our salvation.  I can honestly say, none of this crossed my mind when I had a simpler, normal family.  There is no question in my mind that I am not up to this challenge of creating a step family.  It is overwhelming, it is walking into hard, but it is exciting.  I think I could only say that, because I have no choice, but to continually allow Jesus to equip me and Tony.  To pray and fight, but to also give this burden to Jesus.  To trust that Jesus loves Evan, Braden, Spencer, Leah and Macie, so much. We have a unique advantage here.  We KNOW we can’t make this OK and we know we can’t do this on our own. We can see so much of the fallout of sin and death in our kids, but we KNOW God can and will redeem it.     

 It’s like a little picture of salvation.  We KNOW we can’t attain it ourselves.  We can do a lot and we can try really hard, but we are powerless without the grace of Jesus.  I pray that my grace for every member of our step family grows a lot, and I pray that the messiness of our soon to be combined family will be met with so much grace. I know I’ll need so much grace, when I fail to give grace. I am not a good grace giver, despite the amount I have received.   I pray so hard for the grace of Jesus in our home.       

A group of us were talking last night about some of this, my friend, Monet (in the words of another friend, Christy), summed it up nicely, (in a very loosely quoted manner),  “If we don’t have any potholes in our lives, then there are not as many places for God to fill us.” 

Christina’s Take:

The picture just above this is killing me. Leah! She looks so “le miserable.” Oh my word. And Tony looks so optimistic! I am wondering if you put this picture in last ON PURPOSE because at any given time your whole family of promise will not feel the same way as one another about this new endeavor together.

But the picture you paint in this post of how faith really is about needing a Savior is so brilliantly expressed. I think the last few years of your life have been a pretty good boot camp for this new place of needing grace yourself and being ready to accept it from each member of your family.

Maybe the pothole is essential to show off who the pothole filler is. I’m sure there’s a cuter way to put that. For now, as I sit here on Spring Break in my PJ’s with my coffee enjoying your challenge to step into the “messy places,” I feel a little bit more at ease that you’re ready to step into that in the days ahead, too. 

Megan’s Take:

This story is such a representation of FAITH in ACTION.  There is absolutely no way to predict how all this will end.  And, in some ways isn’t that precisely the point?  Real control over any part of our story is only an illusion — a counterfeit truth.  The real truth — as you’ve said — is that God is the ultimate salve, the perfect filler of our souls.  If we live under the illusion that we “have it all together” that certainly doesn’t give the Lord much space to “do His thang,” now does it?  And He is, indeed, doing what He does best in all of you!  His love is manifesting in each one of your souls and filling those deep down, hard-to-reach places with His grace and love.  Y’all are a motley little tapestry of His love!  I, for one, am completely blessed by you all.  Your story invites me to continue digging into my own — with authenticity, vulnerability and (hopefully!) a ton of grace.  xoxo

 

 

The Little Guy; How Small Is Big and Odds Are Beaten

I remember it like it was yesterday (or 17 years ago – faded things are prettier, right?).

I was a newlywed and my husband walked into our apartment one March afternoon to find me watching March Madness, ironing curtains, and sobbing. He looked at me, looked at the ironing board, looked at the TV and just carefully walked on. I was watching one of those squishy underdog stories that the sports networks compile on purpose to manipulate tear ducts into activating.

(side note: Poor husbands! What do they do with the unexplained crying?)

But everyone loves an underdog, am I right? Why do they take such chances? Where do they get the nerve to risk big things? How is their self esteem not shredded?

Malcolm Gladwell says in his book titled “David and Goliath; Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” that we misunderstand the underdog. He asks questions like:

When does a disability leave someone better off?

Why are the childhoods of people at the top of one profession after another marked by deprivation and struggle?

When is a traumatic childhood a good thing?

Enter Pastor Lee:

On June 19, 2011 the Los Angeles Times published an article by John M. Glionna, titled:

South Korean Pastor tends unwanted flock

In the article the story is told of South Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak and his heroic efforts to embrace and protect the most vulnerable members of society. The story is most noteable perhaps for the fact that Pastor Lee has installed a drop box.

“The drop box is attached to the side of his home in a ragged working-class neighborhood. It is lined with a soft pink and blue blanket, and has a bell that rings when the little door is opened.“

(Why a bell?)

“Because this depository isn’t for books, it’s for babies — and not just any infants; these children are the unwanted ones, a burden many parents find too terrible to bear.

One is deaf, blind and paralyzed; another has a tiny misshapen head. There’s a baby with Down syndrome, another with cerebral palsy, still another who is quadriplegic, with permanent brain damage.

But to Pastor Lee Jong-rak, they are all perfect. And they have found a home here at the ad hoc orphanage he runs with his wife and small staff. It is the only private center for disabled children in South Korea.” (a country of 50 million people)

What do you do when the odds are against you,

when there’s no way in,

when you’re the little guy?

Case in point: Pastor Lee in South Korea –  Mega-underdog, man.

Since 1998, Lee, now 61, has LISTENED FOR THE BELL. “He has taken in hundreds of children — raised them, loved them, sent them to school. He has changed their diapers, tended to their cries in the middle of the night. Today, he has 15 wards: the youngest a 2-month-old, the oldest 18. South Korean government officials have ordered him to remove the drop box.”

He fights the odds (everyday) to provide those with no shot, a chance at life at purpose at hope.

 

I’ve been studying Gideon out of Judges 6 and 7 lately for some teaching I did recently. Talk about a  brother who is an underdog of epic proportions! This little dude, you guys!

Gideon prevails in comically ridiculous circumstances. Like that time when he dropped a jar and a trumpet on the ground and the Midianite army (thousands strong) screamed and ran away. #ridic

Do YOU sometimes feel like you’re holding a trumpet, a jar and no army to speak of? 

Maybe you have health issues and doctor after doctor after homeopath after chiropractor has sent you on your way with solutions that SOLVED NOTHING.

Maybe you have too much month left at the end of your money EVERY MONTH and you can’t seem to find a way to work it all out.

Maybe you have a BIG DREAM and the odds seem stacked against you ever realizing its fruition.

What’s YOUR plight? What are you up against? Or maybe you’re avoiding something altogether – just pretending it doesn’t exist – so you don’t have to face it. I’m with ya. I’m chief among avoiders.

Underdogs stand at the edge of a battlefield. Do they drive into the battle, head down, with fierce determination or do they cower in the corner hoping not to be seen? The choice is real. I’m positive I’ve done more cowering than battling. But I’ll tell you which of those choices has me reaching for my Kleenex and vowing to be a better person while watching March Madness…

“Pastor Lee’s motivation for running the orphanage is painfully personal. Twenty-five years ago, Lee’s wife, Chun-ja, gave birth to a baby so disfigured Lee kept the boy from her for a month until he could figure out a way to tell her the unthinkable, explaining only that the child had a serious illness and was rushed to another hospital.

The baby was born with cerebral palsy. A mammoth cyst on his head choked off the blood flow, slowly rendering him brain-damaged. Doctors gave him months to live.

Today he lies on a bed in Lee’s home, his legs splayed at impossible angles, his feet turned back inward. Eyeing the room impassively, he occasionally lets out a snort or sigh, as his parents regularly vacuum his saliva through a tracheal hole in his throat. They call him Eun-man, which means full of God’s grace.”

God is meeting you at the battle ground and He’s taking the battle out of your hands….just like with Pastor Lee, just like with Gideon, just like with every tearjerker of a sports segment that trumpets the strength of the little guy.

Anne Lamott says in her book Stitches: “Wise ones taught me that being of service, an ally to the lonely and suffering, a big-girl helper to underdogs, was my best shot at happiness.” Oh to really GET this!

Things I know for sure:

In God’s economy, small is big.

And (if you let Him) the plight of the underdog is used to bring God glory.

(insert Sportscenter March Madness theme song in your mind here).

How do you feel like an underdog right now?

Who needs you to notice that the odds are against them?

Links about all things “underdog” here, here and here.

Megan’s Take:

Oh, man.  Underdog stories!  They’re totally the best.  Why are we so captivated by their stories? Perhaps it’s because underdogs exemplify the fact that anything is possible.  And, if anything is possible, there is always hope.  Hollywood doesn’t make movies about the big giant becoming an even bigger giant.  Nobody wants that.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely and nobody cheers for that.  But the little guy?  If he has a chance we all have a chance. “Remember the Titans,” “Hoosiers,” “Rudy,” “The Blind Side”  — these are all tear jerkers for a reason — we see something of ourselves in them.  We wonder if we’re good enough and smart enough and, gosh darn it, do people really like us?  Can God really use us?  Seeing “The Drop Box” movie with you, Christina, was such an amazing experience.  And this wasn’t Hollywood — this was the real, honest-to-goodness true-grit documentary.  Pastor Lee is living out the gospel in a way that is humbling, convicting and inspiring.  His son, Eun-Man, was born a true underdog — and yet — his life is changing the world!  Not the least of which is the director of the movie, himself (Brian Ivie) who came to faith in Christ WHILE filming the movie.  Thank you for constantly pointing us back to the ONE who orchestrates it all.  

Holly’s Take:

You asked, “How do you feel like an underdog right now?  I have a few answers.  I feel like an underdog when it comes to anything physical.  I used to run, play volleyball, ski, throw a frisbee, toss a ball, and even bend down to pick up an item off the floor without concern.  Everything is different since back surgery.  Tony was talking about how he and some of my friends are signed up to run a half marathon and I started crying.  Not because I actually would want to do that, but because I don’t even have that option to decide anymore.  My active lifestyle was a huge part of who I was.  Needless to say, Gideon’s underdog story has impacted me quite a bit lately.  Gideon was basically a wimpy, little, fella, who God chose to use to defeat one of the Israelites most menacing and enduring enemies. I feel like a wimpy, little gal who is constantly frustrated by my new limitations (real or perceived?). But what I’m trying to learn through Gideon is that my weakness, is the key to God’s strength.  Without the key of weakness, we rarely experience God’s strength.      

“While We Wait” — A Lenten Battle-Cry

While we wait…

 

A battle rages on

For the sake of the world 

And the outcome of our fate.

 

That seems so dramatic, does it not?

Like a “Lord of the Rings” trailer spot.

We laugh, roll our eyes and chuckle slightly,

But deep down we know we shouldn’t take it so lightly.

 

While we wait…

 

A mother cries and a child dies,

A soldier falters and a government spies.

One person wins and another loses,

Girl walks down the street hiding her bruises.

 

Can’t take the time…

She’s fine, we reason

 “Too much going on” in this crazy season

We’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed, 

Why should we take care of someone else’s need?

 

The barista fills another order, 

While desperate children await safe passage at the border.

Tens of thousands of kids pile in 

And we greet them with a mocking grin.

 

“You don’t belong here — go home!” we shout,

Wishing someone would just kick them out.

 

 That plan seems somehow easier and yet, 

This country was built on the immigrant. 

On the backs of ones attempting to flee 

The chokehold of religious tyranny.

 

Let’s not forget the ones dragged here in slavery…

 

We slam the door, there’s no room in the inn,

But what about him and her —  Or her and him?

For the love, we just can’t win.

 

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Damned if you will and damned if you won’t.

“Holding onto the Light” — Colleen Briggs*

While we wait…

 

 Traffickers lurk and terrorists plot,

Babies are dropped in a metal box. 

 

Hey — I’m just one person, trying to live a dream, 

Surely you’ll understand if i don’t stand and scream.

 

A man, fat and happy, slaps his Hancock on a bill, 

Does anyone care?  Will anyone fill — 

The seat on the bus that represents change? 

The one, in memoriam, baring Rosa Parks’ name?

 

She climbed onto a bus, tired and weary.

She wouldn’t take “no” or placate status quo.

Did she know her actions would start a movement of succession

Or did she simply refuse to bow to injustice and oppression?

 

While we wait…

 

A battle ignites of cataclysmic proportion, 

A war for the souls of each widow and orphan.

The world keeps spinning on its axis of one, 

Yet we operate fractured and blinded by the sun.

 

We drink the Kool-Aid this world has to offer — 

Thinking somehow a corner office and a room with a view, 

Will satisfy the souls of the faithful few.

 

Come on, now — is it so bad, 

To want our kids to have a better life than we had?

We watch and applaud as they jump through hoops,

Having no idea we’re misguiding young troops. 

In the name of all things noble and wise, 

We hand the baton to a generation in disguise. 

 

While we wait…

 

The whole earth groans, 

In the pangs of childbirth,

 Rattling dry bones.

 

While we wait… 

 

A pregnant teen is turned away, 

Seeking shelter amidst dung and hay.

A man hangs unbroken on a cross, 

Battered and beaten, signifying a loss.

 

While we wait… 

 

Time does not  —

It marches to the beat of a militant clock.

Three days stretch into eternal doom,

What good is it to believe in a corpse in a tomb?

 

We hoped for a better future, a better life, 

Just look what that got us — nothing but strife.

We sprung one foot forward and fell right back

In step with a world fading to black.

 

But wait…

do you see it — on the horizon?

 

The inky edge of the darkest night

Promises the faintest hope of light

Ebony brightens to a paler hue, 

Bursts of color start to break through! 

“Hope Relentlessly” —  Colleen Briggs*

While we wait…

 

 A thousand years are like a day, 

God, in His mercy keeps His return at bay.

He could come down in the blink of an eye, 

 Unleashing judgment on everything under the sky.

Until the day we hear the sounds,

We know His grace still abounds.

 

While we wait…

 

We must not lose

Meeting together as some might choose.

We must, in fact, meet all the more

To hasten the day when love settles the score.

 

While we wait…

 

Let’s stop all the fuss,

And, for goodness sake,

Take our seats on the bus.

“And the Lord will be king over all the earth.  On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.”  Zechariah 14:9

 

Christina’s Take:

I am humbled by this. It’s beautiful poetry, Megan, for starters….humble #1. But humble #2 is this theme of apathy you are pointing out in me, in us, in we. BJ Novak said this the other day in an interview: “…the gap between our very major and admirable instinct to help people and the very minor part of our life that it is. I think there’s got to be a great way to harness the enormous charitable instinct within people that can be easily manipulated if you are sitting this close to someone and almost evaporates once you’re more than ten feet away….” 

May Lent be a time for us to examine where we turn a blind eye and then absolutely celebrate that it is for freedom that we have been set free through Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:1)

 

Holly’s Take:

Growing up, I remember it snowing on Easter.  I remember searching for candy eggs and finding one hidden from the year before.  I remember Gunny Sac dresses and I remember celebrating Easter, but I don’t remember observing the weeks before Easter.  I have come to appreciate looking at all the ugly, hard, impossible, darkness of this world. Appreciate can’t be the right word there, because how could you appreciate looking at ISIS or all the other yuck in this poem.  But not turning a blind eye, opens up such a greater picture of our need for God in this world and in our lives. Last year, at the Maundy Thursday service at my church, Christina and I sat through the sorrowful service, but in closing, the congregation sang, “Amazing Grace.”  I will never, ever, forget it.  I have never heard such passion in singing voices and never seen our stoic church, so collectively moved to tears, over the precious gift of God’s grace for us and our world.  I love this poem.  It is like the lenten season itself, because it stays in the waiting for so long, but He is coming!

 

PS* — The lovely artwork paired with this poem is compliments of the indubitably talented, Colleen Briggs!  You can find more about her story and view (and even purchase!) her artwork at www.colleenbriggs.com  She writes a wonderfully beautiful blog titled, “Fragments of Light.”

How to Help, When You Have No Idea What Just Happened and What To Do?

Recently, I have come across a number of friends that I run into on about a yearly basis, in Costco, or at Chik-Fil-A, etc. . . . It has been in those moments, when I tell these people who I rarely see, that I am tying the old knot again.   So, many things go through my mind in these conversations,  but the consistent thought is, how did I get here, from where I was two years ago???  

 Dave's Memorial Service
Dave’s Memorial Service
 I forget how little my kids were when their daddy died.
I forget how little my kids were when their daddy died.
 Just a Good picture of Dave's college friends, at his memorial, that i wanted to add.
Just a Good picture of Dave’s college friends, at his memorial, that i wanted to add.

Two years ago, I was still pretty much wavering between a looney or catatonic state of being. I was still wondering if I would have to go back to work full time, still wondering how it was possible that Dave died, still wondering how I could ever do this, still wondering how any, run of the mill shopper, was supposed to figure out WIC checks??? BUT NOW, I am here!  Ready and excited to become Mrs. Holly Walls (It really rolls off the tongue . . . maybe too easily).  

But the question of how did I get here, to a place where I feel healthy and thoroughly excited  to get married this soon after, has got me revisiting the past and mulling over the tangible (and intangible) things that got me here.  I really feel like my friends and even acquaintances should be writing this post, because it is like they all took an online class intensive on how to walk friends through the long, hard, tunnel of grief.  

On way too many occasions, I get the questions, “What should I do?  My friend just lost their spouse.  How can I help them?”  So, I will attempt to share the things that people did for me that have helped bring me to the place I am now.  Of course, it could be so different for everybody, but these are the things that stick out a couple years later. 

Cards, particularly with a story about the one who died. (Thanks everyone)

Contributions to the Memorial Fund – Literally, a day doesn’t go by that I am not grateful that I didn’t have to go back to work full time and that my family could still do things like go skiing and swim at our pool, in addition to paying for back surgery!  (Thanks everyone)

Healthy Foods and Snacks – I ate nothing, but dark chocolate and cuties for the first two weeks, but then branched out into soups and homemade granola for the next couple weeks.  It was a gift to be able to give my own body and my kids healthy food.  It felt like I was doing something right, even though, I wasn’t doing anything.  (Thanks everyone)

Massages – These were hugely important!  It was a time that I felt like I could physically get rid of some of the grief, with little effort on my part.  (Thanks Kathy)

A House-Cleaner – My cleaner does the sheets!!!!!!!!  (Notice that is present tense) I’m sure my kids and I would be sleeping in rotten, smelly, filth if people had not arranged for her to come. I, of course, have her do the sheets, due to limitations on my back, not my strong aversion to trying to fold fitted sheets or replace sheets on beds.  (Thanks Kelly)

A Babysitter – Friends helped me find a babysitter that would come on a consistent basis.  She still comes most Sundays and Thursdays.  This one is HUGE!  That way, I could still go to Bible Study and also have a night to catch up with friends, and most importantly, I don’t have to be on bedtime duty every single night of my life.  Bedtime is easier now, but when the girls were both four and Spencer was six, I was drained before the bedtime dance even began.  (Thanks Beth)

Friends helped set up appointments with financial planners and lawyers – Getting those people squared away, gave me so so so so so so so much peace of mind.  (Thanks Dave’s friends, Michael, and Aaron)

Friends helped figure out health insurance – My kids and I ended up on state run health insurance, which was necessary, initially, because I went many months without knowing if I would get survivor benefits or not.  I now pay for private insurance, but it is a huge expense, as many of you know. However, it is a relief to be off of government run health insurance.  I always hated giving my state cards and felt like I had to explain my whole life situation to everyone I gave it to.  Going from private insurance to state run insurance, was always a big reminder for me, that life didn’t go as I had planned.  People who contributed to Dave’s Memorial Fund, continue to help me pay for health insurance.  I only say all this, to encourage you friends of grief-walker-throughers, to help with all this.  It is something that felt overwhelming to me, for sure. (Thanks Bauman’s, Loretta, and everyone)

Gifts are a tricky one. If you feel led to give something, then absolutely do, but try to give something with meaning, or else it becomes another thing that you have to find a spot for in your already untidy house.  (I hope that didn’t sound ungrateful). Some of the gifts that I treasured were, a Lisa Leonard necklace, with a “D” and a heart on it.   Daddy Buddies a friend sewed for the kids made out of their daddy’s shirts. A quilt made out of Dave’s shirts.  Personalized pool towels (it always felt like we were bringing a little bit of Dave with us to the pool).  A book called, “The Book of Us,” which guides you through writing the story of you and your spouse.  Money to put together of photo book of all of Dave’s pictures was also a wonderful gift. (Thanks Lynsie, Brenda, Dumans, Surya, Aunt Sally, Tessa, Bear Valley Mops group and everyone)

 There used to be a jewel on their too, but in true holly form, I lost it. 
There used to be a jewel on their too, but in true holly form, I lost it. 

Prayer – I could LITERALLY feel prayers helping me make it from one day to the next. (Thanks everyone)

Facebook messages – Often times I would get them months after he died, late at night, and they were just what I needed. (Thanks everyone)

And don’t underestimate the power of a new hair cut and new clothes in these times.  The most fun fair stylist in the world offered to cut my hair for free when she heard my story.  Two of her clients the day Dave died were the nurse who called to deliver the news that fateful morning and another friend from church.  If I felt like I looked good on the outside, I actually felt a little better on the inside.  Maybe that is shallow, but it made a difference for me.  So, a trip to a nice mall with some cash in hand would be a good gift (at least for a girl) for someone who is in mid grief.  (Thanks Marijah) 

One thing that is not tangible, but my friends did well, was reading my cues, and reacting appropriately.  One thing that is difficult to navigate, is when people come to you with this face. . . .

Sometimes, you are just not in that, poor me, state.  All of the sudden, you feel like you have to match where they expect you to be.  A better greeting, is to just say, “It is good to see you.”  And, of course, steer clear of,  “How are you?”   That one is impossible.  You feel heartless if you say “fine,” but you feel like a Debbie Downer if you say, “I’m terrible,” every time.  A much better question is, “How are you doing, today?”  It is exponentially easier to answer than, how are you? Even if you say, “how are you?” you can save yourself and the hurting one, just by tacking on a last minute, “today.”   

While I’m on the topic, my friends were great at sharing in my emotions, letting me cry, letting me laugh, letting me escape reality, and letting me sit right in the middle of it.  They were up for whatever.  One thing, they also did well, was to speak truth.  Sometimes, I needed to hear the straight up truth of Jesus.  (No platitudes, though – you are endangering your life, if you throw out trite little sayings, to someone whose spouse just died.)  I didn’t always need people to wallow with me.  Sometimes, I needed someone to pull me out.   This takes an amazing amount of discernment, so asking for the Holy Spirit help out is probably what a lot of my friends did, when they weren’t sure what to do.  BTW – Well done, friends and acquaintances . . . I don’t think anybody gave me any platitudes!  

Well, I could go on and on, but like I said earlier, these are the things that stick out on this day, a little over two years later.  This list doesn’t even mention all the ways people helped make Dave’s funeral and reception unique, his birthday celebration unique, etc. . . Wow! Just writing this makes me feel so thankful that I am here and not there.  That was a brutal time.  I’m glad I wrote this, because I’ve been a little whiney about being trapped inside from snow last week, this cold I’ve got, and all the details of planning a wedding, as a non type A person.  In between nose blowings, I just couldn’t be more grateful for how everyone has helped to bring me from there to here.    

I hope that not many of you have to refer to this list, but on the off chance you do, know that whatever you do, you WILL be making a difference!!!!!  There is no question about that!

Christina’s Take:

Why are these tears dropping onto my keyboard? Why am I weepy Wanda up in here? It could be one of a few different options:

1) I’m about to start my period

2) I am too tired in the middle of a busy week

3) This blog post feels like a big, deep breath at the end of a marathon. I am not saying the hard has passed. But somehow this feels like a retrospective post…and I can’t believe it either; the time that has passed, the days you have traveled through, the faith you have held so close.

4) And most of all – I am so deeply moved by ALL OF THE PEOPLE you mention that cooked, babysat, cleaned, plotted, listened, laughed, gave, cried, prayed.

You are loved, Holly Sue Bonnell Aldridge Soon-To-Be-Walls! By me and sososososo many.

p.s. Still chuckling at what an old friend of ours wrote in an email: “Please tell me that others find themselves humming, ‘Deck the Walls with boughs of Holly, FALALALALALALALALA!’

Megan’s Take:

This post is a long one, but it is OH-SO-GOOD!  If you are still reading, you’re a real “Writing in Pencil” all-star! 🙂  I won’t take up too much of your time except to say, “Ditto, what she said!”  These girls are the absolute best.  The authentic raw love and emotion packaged in the above sentiments is the real, God’s honest truth.  Walking with someone through crisis/grief is never easy.  In fact, it’s often awkward and difficult at best.  But, entering into the “mess” will bless you to no end because that’s where you’ll find the heart of God.  I love that all the practical, real-world tips Holly gives run the ENTIRE GAMUT of gifts, talents, resources and expertise.  No one person can do all this for someone.  It really does take village!!  One question we often asked ourselves was, “God, what do you have for ME to do today?”  In these circumstances it’s so easy to compare yourself to others and often feel like your efforts are coming up short.  Even though Holly would be the first to admit her emotions were all over the map, she really did make it easy for her tribe to take care of her because she was SO RECEPTIVE to the love and to the help.  She never made any of us feel like we didn’t belong or were doing something “wrong” or what someone else did was “better.”  This testimony is an amazing one — and as we can see here — only just beginning!!  Can’t wait to see what God continues to do in and through your beautiful family. 

If God is Real, What Does That Mean for Our City? For Yours…? (#ifgathering)

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of that city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

— Jeremiah 29:5-7, ESV

When, Annie Lobert, former prostitute and founder of the ministry “Hookers for Jesus,” got up and testified of God’s radical, life-changing love in her life, I knew the IF:Gathering wasn’t going to be your Mama’s average church tea.  She didn’t tout easy answers or cliche platitudes — just passionate love for a God who could sweep in and absolutely change your life.  I didn’t know what to expect from the rest of the conference, but there was no doubt — I was hooked.  

As Jennie AllenJen Hatmaker, Christine Caine and a host of others took the stage, any residual doubt dissolved, birthing a sense of community its place.  There were actually other women out there with the same kind of spiritual hunger pangs that I had.  There was a generation of women who desired to drop all the charading, parading and pontificating and replace such hollow actions with authentic, passionate, grace-filled love.  

This group gathered with the express intent of equipping and unleashing “the next generation of women to live out their purpose.”  That felt like water to my weary soul.

The icing on the cake?  IF’s tantalizing tagline:  “If God is real, then what…?”  Such profound (and convicting) ramifications if we actually seek to put legs on that one.

IF’s momentum is attracting more than just those whose skin has not yet known the affects of “the fall.” Women of all shapes and sizes, ages and ethnicities are coming together for one reason — to seek Jesus and unleash His Kingdom here on earth.  A Kingdom of healing and reconciliation, understanding and relationship, respect and love.  

What could that mean for our city, our neighborhoods?

 #if:local 2014
#if:local 2014

Apparently we ‘Writing in Pencil’ gals live in what’s “affectionately” known as the Christian capital of the the nation.  The Christian Mecca, if you will.  In fact, in a 2005 report, National Public Radio described Colorado Springs as a “booming city that’s home to more than 100 evangelical Christian organizations.”  And that was 10 years ago.  You’d think we would have this community thing nailed.  

In the piece titled, “Mecca for Evangelical Christians,” NPR went on to interview a high profile local Pastor who claimed that Colorado Springs was, “ripe for a spiritual transformation.”  (I’m sure those of you who already considered yourselves “spiritual” loved that declaration.)

Sadly, the news story narrowed its focus from anticipated “spiritual transformation” to the one thing that has divided Christians and non-Christians alike for centuries:  Politics.  The article closed with these words, “Evangelical leaders promise that in the coming years they’ll be even more active in politics.  And Colorado Springs will be a base from which the evangelical movement launches initiatives that affect civic life across the country.” 

Oh how I wish those words brought me comfort.  After all, I believe in Jesus.  And I live in Colorado Springs.  Why wouldn’t I want to rush to the polls to launch evangelicals into office?  I mean, if civic life depends on it and all.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Christ-followers can absolutely change the world.  But let’s be clear — it is God, not man, that does the changing.  “IF” we understand and live under this holy hierarchy, well then, my friends, we might just stand a fighting chance — which once again begs the question, IF God is real — then what does that mean for me?  For you?  For us?  How could belief in a real God result in radical, community changing action?

The second-annual “IF:Gathering” aired last month.  We did not watch it live, but plan to play the digital download March 6 & 7 at First Pres, Colorado Springs.  Yep — right here in the Christian Mecca, because we believe God is the God of our city — and yours.  And He wants to redeem what’s been lost through division and strife — to restore the years the locusts have eaten.

God desires to reach hearts and break down barriers in every person, in every city around the world.  Not by marching in, guns a-blazing, but by the sheer love and power of the Holy Spirit.  We do not need to defend Him, but we do need to represent Him.  He does not need us, but He will use us to make all this real — in the words of Jen Hatmaker, to bring real hope, real healing, real intervention and real love.  

Are you in?

“When you truly feel God’s love, you cannot be selfish” — Annie Lobert

Perhaps I need to just start there…

If you live in or around Colorado Springs, we would love for you to join us as we seek what God might have for us in this next season!  You can find more information and register for the event by clicking here.

Have you heard of the “IF:Gathering?”  Have you ever seen it live or watched online?  If so, we would love to hear from you!  How has this experience impacted your faith journey, your actions within your sphere of influence or your city?

 

Holly’s Take:

I can’t wait to hear what the IF speakers are going to throw down this year.  I am continually challenged by the idea that we little church people need to be doing more than attending church and coming across like we’ve got it together.  I will be the first to admit that I can become a pretty complacent pew sitter and I’m, for sure, one who wraps myself around other spiritually like minded people a lot of the time.  Would it be an overgeneralization to say that most Christians do?  I listened to a podcast of Christine Caine’s (one of the IF speakers) the other day and heard these words as if God was speaking:

I need my church to be light in the midst of darkness, not to run away from the darkness and to create an artificial subculture and avoid the world that I’ve called you to reach. But I’ve asked you step into the world and not be of it. Don’t have the same value system as the world, don’t have the same priorities as the world, don’t have the same pursuits of the world, but be in it and bring light in the midst of darkness, because we have a world that is dying, we have a world that is desperate for the church to step out of it’s safety zone.

Christians in America often times just want to make the church a little brighter instead of trying to bring light to dark places.  I do it, without a doubt.  I’m hoping to hear at this conference more challenges to the way I should really be living, IF God is really real.  Because, as Christine Caine says,  “God did not send his son to die on the cross to make us Christians a little nicer.”  Here is one last thought.  What if there is someone who has made many poor choices, and she stands in her prison cell for one last night, and asks, herself, “If God is real, then what?”  Then she proclaims in her heart that God is real and she steps out into her next chapter and is changed.  Then on the other side of town, someone has lived a safe little Christian life, like I have, and asks, “If God is real, then what?”  And in her heart she proclaims that God is real and she steps out into her next chapter and is changed.  Is either of those changes greater than the other?  

Christina’s Take

The scripture you lead with, Megan, is so powerful! Jeremiah 29 encourages the very thing you write about: anyone who aligns themselves with Jesus must not be insular and protect their own haven where no ideas are challenged. Instead they must serve the city, have a broad outlook that is FOR the city. IF: Gathering feels like the place for those ideas to be greenhoused into something real for the 719.

IF: Gathering is the spearhead of a movement that “craves the uncomfortable…will wrestle with hard questions and not know all the answers…will invest in one another and represent the Church to a generation that needs God.” I’m so in – both for me and for my city. Come to 2 hours of it, or come for all of it – but do come – we need to do this together.

 

 

 

Sandwiched; Peace in a New Place

I try to keep the tone of my voice soft when I answer all the questions:  “How’s your mom doing? What does the future look like for her? Is she managing well at the new place? Does she miss your dad?” I keep my voice soft because how can I really know the answers? So I do my best to be patient, not freak out, and answer. all. the. questions.

 My mom and Rose (her true caregiver)  - two peas in a pod
My mom and Rose (her true caregiver)  – two peas in a pod

Mind you, it’s not that all the questions bother me. I love how surrounded she is by people who love her. These people are part of this story of hers as it unfolds. It’s just that I sometimes sound more resolute than I feel.

I’m sad about all the events of the past few years; (the massive stroke that affected the entire left side of my mom’s body, her ensuing coma, life-support, brain damage, the slow slow daily march toward recovery, and the loss of her husband to a quick and surprising cancer.)

I’m sad for her, but if I’m honest <cringe>, I’m most sorrowful for myself, my siblings. Caregiving would never have been listed as one of my strengths, bedside manner never my forte. And I’m sadder still that I am doomed to the task of examining my motives for every helpful action, every work of service. Am I helping so I can be a good daughter or to feel better about myself? In truth it’s a mix of motives and desires  – some pure and some full of…well…myself.

This is part of being in that sandwich generation, enviable label that it is, which simply refers to those who take care of an aging loved one while still taking care of children in the home. Generation X is now the predominant demographic in the sandwich generation. Here’s a good article about it. As my siblings and I navigate this role of parenting both kids and parent, the goal is to be sensitive to all of it – to ascertain the overlap in concentric circles between what she needs and what she wants, what my kids need and what they want. This takes lots of conversation, plenty of intuition, loads of nuance and above all, an active prayer life that guides the whole deal.

I was listening to a podcast today that stunned me. Bo Stern is a mom, a wife, daughter and employee (everything we all are) but she is navigating that darkly lit path of ALS. Her husband is in his last year, perhaps, of struggling with this terrible disease. As she speaks about this swirl of illness, decline, and load of care – she speaks with a calm, soft, voice, too. In the podcast, she utters bomb dropping thoughts like this:

“God doesn’t work everything out, but He won’t waste anything. And so, hard things in good people’s lives will never be wasted. They’ll never go to waste. They’ll always be used for His glory and not our joy. They just always will.”

AND:

“…the stuff that really is God’s favor comes in our deepest moment, our darkest time, when we see an angle of His character we’ve never seen before, because we only need Him as much as we need Him. And I really need Him.”

Oh my.

Do you hear it?

It’s the sound of peace…

And the only way she got to that peace is via trial in the midst of a living, breathing, I-talk-to-you-everyday kind of communion with Jesus. 

What does that mean for you and me? Because mark my words, when difficult things happen in our lives, well-meaning, lovely people are going to ask you all the questions. What do you say? How do you react?

In that moment, you have a choice to make. Are you going to let the questions rattle you? Jar you into wonder and worry? Or are you going to tap into that peace? The peace that doesn’t understand, doesn’t know the answers, but knows nothing’s going to waste? Lean into that place of release….it will help you react in love and tenderness.  But feel free to stomp your feet and have a tantrum or two first. It’s okay.

Just so this whole thing isn’t uber sad and gloomy, can I just tell you that Assisted Living dynamics are AMAZING?! It’s like college all over again but with more arthritis. Like when Mom’s “man-friend” comes a-calling every day so that he can have a “special hug.” Bless it. And the fact that Mom has developed a new affinity for sweets (particularly oatmeal cookies and Rocky Road ice cream). And you have never seen more intense competition than these folks using a flyswatter to wack a ballon across the room in their weekly Flyswatter Volleyball tournament! Are we at summer camp with boy crushes and snack shacks? NOPE! (But sometimes I can’t tell the difference).

AND thanks to all the lovelies that ask all the questions…want to know…don’t shy away from hearing about mom’s new normal life.. What a gracious gift you offer: willing to step into the hard. I will never stop being grateful for that – I’ll SHOUT that one from the mountain top.

Megan’s Take:  Christina, I love the raw portrait you paint of the complicated nature of the place in which you find yourself.  I am not currently “sandwiched” in this way.  (I do salivate over sandwiches in general, but that’s probably beside the point!)  I understand the diverse demands of raising kids, but I can only imagine how it must feel to simultaneously “parent up” and “parent down.”  When I met you, your Mom was the most graceful solid spiritual rock and BFF in your life. When all that changed in an instant, I watched your world crumble before your very eyes.  My heart ached for you.  I wished I could “do” something to make it all better.  Believe me when I say you have have navigated all of this with deftness of heart. You continue to model grace in the moment.  I’m not saying all your moments are rainbows and roses, I’m saying you are always looking up, looking out and looking in.  Meaning:  You have kept your eyes on the Lord and others the whole time.  And eventually, when the dust settled, you looked inward to figure out how to take care of yourself in the process as well.  You have “gone before” me in this journey, and selfishly, I am grateful because I believe you are a fantastic role model!  And BB’s new found affinity for all things sugar has given me a great idea… 😉 

 

Holly’s Take: Sometimes it still catches me off guard to hear you talk to your mom, because you talk slower, louder, gentler . . . just different.   Your new tone always reminds me of the reality of your situation.  In this new normal, you are such a rock star of a daughter to your mom.  You treat her with so much dignity.  You refrain from enabling her, in order to boost your importance or belittle hers.  But what a tricky balance.  You always highlight and celebrate the moments where the true BB shines through, yet you are able to enjoy the new little Barbara-isms that crop up.  You goal tend all the concerns from the outside with a direct, yet gentle fashion  . . . or at least direct.  What a hard balance.  Now, all you have left to do, is remember how to feel when you are raking leaves in the backyard, instead of handling the next crisis situation.  Here’s to a lot of mundane moments of pulling weeds and emptying the dishwasher!