Fostering Refugees – The Stigma that Scared Me

A few months ago, at the height of reports showing kids being separated from their parents at the border, Pete and I came across an opportunity that immediately felt like a calling. We were encouraged to apply for a license that would allow us to foster these children until they are reunited with their parents or sponsor family, and we both were immediately on board. Since we submitted our application we have completed 15 hours of in-person training, approximately 22 hours of on-line Foster Parent College training, and amounts of paperwork that exceeded all reasonable expectations.

Last night we finished laying our hearts and our home on the line for a 4-hour foster home inspection and family interview.

Things that went well:

  1. We’re now one step closer to offering a temporary home to the kids separated from their parents at the border. My heart is singing!
  2. Our house is cleaner, safer, and more organized than it has ever been before. Good luck opening any of our cabinets ever again. If you need surgery, we have a platinum 250 person first aid kit that will SAVE YOUR LIFE! If you’re on fire, head on over and we’ll extinguish it immediately!
  3. Pete and I feel closer as a couple after exploring our past, present, and future, our strengths and weakness, and our hopes and dreams for 4 hours with a complete stranger.

Things that could’ve gone better:

  1. We could’ve done without the live scorpion on Isaac’s bedroom curtain during the SAFETY inspection!
  2. Could’ve done without our Jack Russell fishing through the case workers purse to eat her hair clip.
  3. When I answered that we had no weapons, Isaac could’ve forgotten (just like I had) that I have a Samurai sword from a leadership conference many years ago. #compassionatesamurai
  4. Isaac and Sonoma could NOT have played their new giggle-inducing game, which consists of them repeating the words, “you’re a bad mommy, you’re a bad daddy.” #kidsarehilarious
  5. Isaac could’ve avoided using EVERY innocent toy as a weapon of some sorts. The Minnie Mouse blow dryer turned full pistol last night!

We know we’re on the right path and answering a calling as none of this feels burdensome. We are thrilled for the next step and to minister love to these kids at a time of such trauma and fear and loss. #allgodschildren

Last night was also the first time we made our decision public by posting on social media. Until last night the only people we had shared with were immediate family and those we asked to be our references.

Since my post last night I have had quite a few people reach out wondering when we made this decision. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I hadn’t made our decision public until now.

The first reason I haven’t been openly sharing this decision is because I didn’t want it to look like or feel like we were seeking accolades. I knew a lot of our friends would be excited for us and I didn’t want our decision to move forward, when the movement got tough, to be influenced by the desire to please others or make others proud. I truly felt like this was a calling from the beginning and I didn’t want to be motivated or feel pressured by external sources.

Secondly, and sadly, I have been tentative to share our decision because of the negative reactions I feared we would receive from some. Due to the polarized climate we currently live in I was worried that our commitment to foster kids that have been separated from their parents at the border would require us to defend ourselves. I have heard so much hateful rhetoric throughout the year that paints immigrants as nonhuman and undeserving of love and kindness, compassion and grace. I could barely stomach the idea that our decision may be received with this level of vitriol…or any level of disappointment whatsoever. I was preparing myself for conversations with people I love and care about that would strip away my respect for them. I was arming up for debates on what “kind” of child “deserves” help. I was expecting heartbreaking backlash from at least a few people in our lives and I was afraid of how our relationships would weather the storm. But, the truth is…once an issue is made personal, hearts often soften. Once there’s a face we can touch, and a hand we can hold, putting a voice to a highly debated and sensitive issue, the dynamics begin to shift. Civility is often restored when the matter in question lands in our own backyard.

We have received an outpouring of love and support since my post last night and although it appears that some are more excited about our decision than others, there hasn’t been any nastiness or uncomfortable pushback. I must admit that I didn’t give the benefit of the doubt and for that I’m sorry. I hope our decision will help bring a name and a face to the debate around the border. I hope our decision will humanize this issue versus politicize it. I hope our decision will remind us and others of the inherent value of all people regardless of ethnicity, country of origin, race, color, religion, etc. I hope and pray our decision will be heart changing and maybe even life saving for all of us who are a part of this process.

A Daughter’s Response to an Ageless Father

My dad wrote the authentic and vulnerable poem below about his experience with aging and his hope in the Lord. I’m thankful that he gave me permission to share his poem on my blog. I’ve added a poem I wrote to him in response that he hasn’t yet seen. Dad, your influence reaches far and wide and my love for you is boundless. Thank you for allowing me to share your words with others…thank you for your courage in being open about how it feels to grow older. I learn so  much from you and mom every day!

Shrinking Man

Possibilities and dreams
the world was full of them it seemed.
Now my options fading fast,
life much smaller than my past,
Shrinking man.

Lovely wife and precious kids
Love my God for all he did,
Still feel his love as time flies past
But it remains a fact, alas
Shrinking man.

Influence fades as we get old,
Once sought for wisdom, now just told,
Powerlessness seems to creep in slow,
A mocking sense it brings of woe,
Shrinking man.

So on HIM I fix my gaze,
As my person fades away,
A day will come when I shall die,
And then I’ll see the reason why,
The process isn’t bad you see,
It’s just the path to victory.
With joy I’ll rest in His embrace,
Forever I’ll behold His face
Thanking Him eternally
That I will no longer be,
Shrinking man.

– Ron Little (my dad)


Larger Than Life – A Legacy of Love

My dad, my rock, my shield, my strength
grows bigger in my eyes, not weak
His heart expands, his wisdom grows
to soak it in, I draw close

In his eyes and in his deeds
God’s growing love is what I see
Each day, each year that passes by
his courage builds before my eyes

He shares his doubts, his fears, his pain
with an open heart he faces change
a vulnerable glimpse he offers us
a friend, a father, a man I trust

I’ve watched my dad grow in the Lord
evolve and change moving forward
a human life with sin and grace
reminding me I have a place

So, to my dad I want to say
as your “person fades away”
who you are to me remains
the many who taught me how to pray
A day will come when you will die
and I’ll always know the reason why
you loved the Lord with so much might
encouraged me to keep my sight
on the One of love and light
You will never be small to me
You will only be more free

– your daughter

Bad Luck, Beautiful Blessings

Before you read my blog about bad luck, you must know that when I originally posted it on Facebook, it was deleted by their algorithm because “it looked like spam.” Thank you Facebook for really driving the point home about my inherent lack of luck. I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony! I responded to their “Support” Message indicating that my blog was not spam and they restored my post several days later. Naturally, I had to edit my blog to include these series of events. Life makes me laugh.

 

I have often wondered if my mother gave birth to me under a ladder, with a black cat resting on her belly, while the OBGYN spilled salt and held a cracked mirror to capture the visual of my beautiful birth. I am not the person you take to Vegas if you hope to win. I AM the person you take to Vegas if you need someone to laugh at. I’m the one who falls off the riser during a choir concert, breaks her arm in an alumni game, sleeps through a college final, gives the wrong date for the house party, gives the wrong address for the house party, suffers a computer crash and loses the 18-page term paper that’s due the next day, gets pulled over as a suspect for a car wash burglary, gets busted at a concert for taking a picture of the band while everyone else is consuming illegal drugs, has her blog post about bad luck deleted by Facebook’s algorithm (yes this just happened), and starts desensitization therapy for a life-limiting bug phobia while contracting lice the same week. I am that person!

As I grow older and reminisce on my last 37 (or so) years, and how I ended up where I am now, a mom of 2 precious children, with a husband I adore, and a job I enjoy more often than not, I can’t help but acknowledge that I’ve never been a lucky person, but I’ve always been blessed. I have travelled through many painful moments, life-altering circumstances, and dark seasons, yet in every one of them I have witnessed blessings that illustrate divine intervention in my life over and over again. I could write a book of these events, but let me start with one.

I was in graduate school for my Master’s in Social Work with a clear goal to work for Hospice of the Valley (HOV) and to eventually become independently licensed so that I could open up my own private practice. It was my second year and I was fortunate enough to have a connection at Hospice of the Valley. Generally, a master’s level student who interned for HOV was hired to work for them after graduation, so I was thrilled to have a colleague who put me in touch with the Director.

During this busy season I was also in the midst of a divorce and struggling to keep school, a full-time job, and my sanity on the up-swing. Naturally, this was the optimal time for a beastly toothache…the kind that can’t tolerate the cool air that comes with breathing in (AKA surviving). Like most “normal” people, I have a serious disdain for dentists and needles. I went weeks with a throbbing face before I finally gave in and made an appointment to see the sadistic and evil tooth monster. In the interim, I had gratefully run across an old prescription of Darvocet that my ex-husband left in our cabinet, and would take a pill every once in a while so that I could eat (AKA surviving). As I anxiously awaited the dental appointment, I attended school, went to work, and pursued my internship opportunity.

Amidst the daily chaos, I received a call from the Director of HOV to schedule an interview, and I was thrilled. The interview went well and she asked when I could start. I was ready to begin immediately, so she enrolled me in training and I went in for my fingerprinting and drug test as soon as possible. The following week I attended training and fell in love with everything about the company’s philosophy, vision, and mission. Then, the unthinkable (and I literally mean, this did NOT cross my mind for a second) happened.

I was driving home from work when I received a call from the lab. After brief introductions, the friendly man on the phone asked, “do you have a prescription for Darvocet?” I couldn’t see straight as I realized what I had done. My mind was screaming, “this cannot be happening!” I told the lab technician that I had taken my ex-husbands Darvocet a few times for a terrible toothache and that I even had a dentist appointment the following week for a suspected root canal. For a brief moment I actually thought I could talk him into bending the rules for me because it was, after all, an innocent mistake and I had been in a lot of pain and I’m a good person, and he should unquestionably know all of this without ever having met me! Certainly I can make him believe all my good intentions, because this couldn’t be happening to my dream…my career…my 5 year plan!! Let’s get real folks! I was applying for an internship where I would be working with exorbitant amounts of controlled substances every day, so of course my urinalysis was reported as “dirty” and my dreams to work for HOV disappeared with 1 phone call. I will never forget the crushing feeling. I pulled my car over as I was sobbing too hard to safely drive, and I called the friend who had put her reputation on the line to refer me. I slobbered on my phone. I blubbered. I ugly cried and hit my steering wheel and hated myself with fervor. “How could I be so stupid?! How did I not even THINK about this possibility. How was I getting a higher education and still capable of being such a complete and utter clueless moron!?” I truly believed I had destroyed my chances of being in the profession I had been called to and I was beside myself with grief. I had lost my dream.

But, God had a redemption story in mind. From this incredibly disappointing crossroads, I ended up searching for a profession outside my comfort zone. I began a job I NEVER would have considered before, and that job ended up uncovering gifts I didn’t know I had and a passion I thought had burned out long ago. From this unexpected turn of events I was set on a path I never could’ve found nor even looked for on my own, and I was challenged to grow in leaps and bounds and supported in ways that made me feel stronger and more capable than I had ever felt in my life. I can look back now and see that my strengths would not have been utilized in direct practice and my emotional health would’ve been at risk in a hospice environment. What I thought was one of my biggest failures, the most unlucky of events, the curse of my salty birth, turned out to be one of God’s biggest triumphs as he showed me that He always has a plan and His plan is always good. Divine intervention has brought me to where I am today in many ways. This is just one of countless moments where God has steered the ship of my life to a place I could never have navigated. God used the illegal (although innocent) use of controlled substances to change the course of my life for the better. Thanks God! You’re hilarious!

What I’ve observed over and over in my life is that a lack of luck is not a curse. A lack of luck opens the door wide open for God to step in and forge his will in my life. For every trial there is blessing. For every pile of ashes there is beauty.

Thank God I failed my drug test!

 

Grief Keeps Giving. Grace Keeps Saving.

Burt, it’s April and I miss you.

I love celebrating your life but I hate that I have to.

It’s hard to describe the shadows that creep in late at night, while I lay awake unguarded. The harrowing memories that plague my tired mind. It starts before I even consciously realize that we’ve slipped into April. It’s as if everything shifts. The air is thicker, the mood cloudier, the dreams lonelier, the heart heavier, the words insufficient. Like clockwork the grief creeps forward, relentlessly gaining intensity with each passing second. It’s difficult to explain the trembling in my voice that appears this time of year. I may have told a thousand stories that included your name, but in April I can’t even silently think of you without tears welling up in my worn out eyes. It’s as if the valiant effort my mind put forth all year to shrink that permanent hole in my life was all in vain…completely upended as the hole burrows deeper and wider overnight. I am flooded with the realness, the pain, the emptiness that comes with no longer having you here. It’s as if I’m flung back to that day 5 years ago and I have suddenly forgotten how to cope…forgotten the miles I’ve traveled in healing…forgotten how to live with the sorrow that visits always uninvited.

There are no words to adequately describe the aching I feel in my spirit to see you again…hear your laugh, hug your neck, listen to your stories, tell you mine, introduce you to your darling niece and nephews. There’s no stopping the flow of tears as I imagine how much you would love these precious little ones that have been born since you departed, and how much they would love you back. Just last night I read The Book With No Pictures to Isaac, the nephew you kissed on the knee as you passed in the stars. I couldn’t help but imagine the hilarious voices you would’ve invented while reading this book and how much he would’ve relished in your time together. I try to do it justice, to make you proud, to give Isaac a glimpse of the joy and silliness you brought into our lives. I give it my all even while fighting back the quiver in my voice.

I love that your legacy lives on in your family and friends, but I hate that you left a legacy so soon.

Your birthday is in April.

The last time I saw your smiling face and heard your voice was in April, on Easter Sunday, when we announced that I was pregnant.The last letter you wrote me arrived in April. It was red ink, with capital letters, in your beautiful architectural hand writing, clearly expressing your excitement that your baby sister was going to be a mom. You passionately described the unconditional love that comes with parenthood. This letter…the last letter you wrote to me still explodes with adoration for your beautiful girls.

Then there is May.

You left us in May. The last text message you sent the family was on May 11th, the same day you died. While we were celebrating dad’s 70th birthday, you were being greeted by Jesus. The call I will never forget came the morning of May 12th. It was Mother’s Day…it was a day of mere survival because the unthinkable had happened…you had not survived. We delivered your eulogy on the 21st day of May.

I hate these anniversaries.

Every year, for 2 months I feel myself receding into the shadows where words are meager and bitterness clings to the tip of my tongue. I’m tempted to numb the vivid memories of this trauma with hollow distractions and senseless behaviors. For 2 months a year I spend sleepless nights soaking my pillow with tears of regret, anxiety, anger, fear, heartbreak. For 2 months a year I can no longer fight off the visuals of your death, your viewing, your casket being lowered into the ground, your daughters faces as I drove them to the cemetery. For 2 months a year I’m reminded of the agony I felt completing menial daily tasks after you passed. I’m reminded of the first time I showered after your death and how I despised myself for any sense of relief I felt as the warm water poured over me. I couldn’t shake the guilt that came with knowing that you lost your life in a bitter cold river and now I was allowing this same hijacker of life…this water…rain over me as a source of comfort, washing away my tears. For 2 months a year I think back to that time I couldn’t bare to use punctuation because it felt too final. As if the energy it took to end a sentence was more than I could muster. For 2 months a year the dam breaks wide open and I can’t fight back the sobs or run from the gripping sadness.

Then, the strangest and most unexpected gift is given. Somewhere in the middle of those 2 months I find solace because you ALWAYS show up. You show up in a dream that someone shares with me. You show up in a Bob Marley song that’s playing in a random boutique I step foot in for the first time. You show up in a memory I had forgotten about. You show up in a picture I’ve never seen. You show up in a story I’ve never heard. You show up in a beautiful building that I instantly imagine you creating. You show up in a whisper reminding me that I must not take a moment for granted. I feel you standing beside me. You dare me to self-reflect on my attitude, my complaints, my propensity to take the blessings around me for granted. I picture your smiling face and imagine all I would give to prevent you from taking that hike by yourself…I imagine how many more breaths you could’ve had…should’ve had…and I’m convinced once again that I must use my time and the gift of life wisely and in honor of you. You show up during those 2 months to confirm once again that God’s grace is sufficient for me and His power is made perfect in my weakness.

It is during these wearisome months that it becomes crystal clear how God uses each heart wrenching moment to remind me of the preciousness of life. Every year, by His grace, I experience supernatural strength and peace to push through the months of tears and the nights laying awake thinking of you and what I would sacrifice to have you with us again. He comforts me in my most vulnerable time of need and assures me that one day we will meet again and it will be a reunion more beautiful than I could ever imagine. He joins me in my grief and assures me that my grief is not without hope. This year He gave me a song on Easter Sunday and it consumed my soul as I sang from the depths of my mourning heart, “death where is your sting?!” As I sang, with my arms reached high I imagined you with open arms ready to embrace me when it’s my time to journey home. He draws me into Him and I feel close to you again.

Burt, it’s April and I feel you near.

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Burton James Little

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – 1 Pete 5:10

 

I Just Can’t With This Meme

You guys.

I can’t with this meme.

IMG_7504_meme

God “allows” violence in our schools as much as He “allows” sin in our hearts, disease in our body, natural disasters on our planet, tragedy in our lives. We live in a broken world. This place…this place is earth. This place is temporary. Death is the only sure thing in this place.

God’s goodness and grace are not swayed by our decisions.

God’s grace doesn’t come in levels based on our capacity to win His approval. God is not doling out certain amounts of grace based on our ability to please Him. The Kingdom of God is not an institution based on merit. God doesn’t use sticks and carrots. We are not earning His grace…He has already given it to us at Christ’s expense. 

God is not deciding who He will save or love. He already decided that His love was for everyone when He gave His son to save the whole world. God loves without boundaries and desires salvation for every one without prejudice. God is not punishing anyone. He is not turning His back on His creation. There is nothing we can do to earn more love from God and there’s nothing we can do that would cause Him to love us less.

God is love. GOD IS LOVE! And, if God is love and His love is limitless, then He most certainly is NOT “allowing” His precious creation to be murdered because of lack of prayer in school.

Also, if you believe that God is limited in His omniscient presence because someone said He’s not “allowed,” then we believe in a very different God. My God is NEVER powerless! He doesn’t restrain the outreach of His Spirit based on human laws or behavior.  He is ALL and everywhere and everything. He is ever-present! He is in countries that don’t allow Christians and He is in schools that don’t allow prayer. He is not bound by our limitations!

The brokenness we encounter in our life is the result of sin entering the world. God is NOT requiring a ransom of murdered children to atone for our removal of prayer from schools!! Even if removing prayer from school was a sin, the truth is that the power of sin was defeated when Jesus rose from the grave! 

He gave His son for our redemption but He does not force our hands with manipulation, bribery, or abuse. He does not pour riches on us when we choose to believe nor does He threaten us, disappear, or withhold His love when we have no faith. God is not deciding if my behavior today warrants a punishment or a blessing. He doesn’t sit idly by scoffing while our children die. That is not my God. He does not point fingers and say, “I told you so.” He is not answering our cries by responding that He can’t show up or be with us unless we’ve done all the right things, made all the right choices, prayed all the right prayers. God is merciful and He mourns with us as we endure an imperfect journey in this imperfect place.

I imagine non-Christians seeing this meme and immediately thinking, “what a limited God you believe in. What an unkind, uncaring, brutal God you worship.” I want everyone to know that my God’s love is bigger than laws. My God stops at nothing to show His mercy and grace and love. My God is not controlled or constrained by earthly governance.

This is who I believe God is and I won’t allow Him to be misrepresented. He saved me and He saves me every day. When the image of God is distorted I just can’t remain silent. He is love and His love cannot be silenced, disallowed, or removed by humankind.

Thank you Lord for being unshakeable, unmovable, and steadfast in your love no matter the time, place, or condition of our hearts!

Grace Y’all

I need grace y’all! (Nashville emphasis)

I was with my co-worker in Nashville for a conference and we were making the best of it. We were consuming All. The. Food. We were delighting in the music, the people, and the adorable boutiques.

My wallet was beginning to feel exploited as we wandered towards a stylish store named Hey Rooster. It was one of those stand-alone stores that is so cute and creative that my automatic assumption is, “there’s no way I’ll be able to afford a thing in here, but I’m going to enter with my head held high in the clouds while I dream of a day where I can purchase every precious item that catches my eye.” As we neared the entrance, my co-worker said, “you know we won’t be able to afford a thing in this place,” at which I carelessly replied, “anytime there’s only 3 things in a store I’m well aware that it’s out of my league.” It was an obvious exaggeration to make the point that this shop was too charming for me and my dilapidated wallet. It was a remark I would soon regret.

Once inside, the woman behind the counter asked, “what did you say? Something about only having 3 items in the store?” My first response was to laugh and explain how niche’ stores are typically too expensive for my blood, but how I still love to browse because they fill me with inspiration and help me aspire to a day where I won’t feel the need to joke about boutique shopping. I quickly realized that she did not find my wisecrack humorous and quite the opposite, she was deeply offended. I can’t recall all that was said, as I began to burn with shame and sadness realizing how my statement had hurt her. She commented that she wasn’t just an employee but the owner and that even the person behind the counter deserves to be treated with dignity. She pointed out that her peanut butter may be more expensive than the peanut butter at a chain store, but that her peanut butter was of a quality unsurpassed. I agreed whole-heartedly and quickly apologized for my insensitive sarcasm. I told her that her store was lovely and she continued to explain to me the quantity of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into building and running a small business. I repeated how sorry I was and that my intent was not to offend.

As I browsed her merchandise I internally hammered myself. How could I be so inconsiderate? How could I be so impolite? I have a sister-in-law who is a small business owner and I have the utmost respect for entrepreneurs. I know the struggle and the heart and the endless hard work it takes to do what this young passionate woman was doing. How could I make her feel like this? I was in pure self-disgust and disgrace mode as I brought an adorable book to the counter to purchase for my son. As she handed me the bag I said again, “I’m really sorry.”

She replied, “I can’t give you prices like you get at all those chain stores you’ve been shopping at (gesturing to the bags in my hand), but I can give quality and I deserve to be treated with respect too.”

The moment I was outside with my co-worker I began to cry. I was devastated that my words had caused someone to feel belittled. Never in a million years had I expected to make someone feel disrespected or unappreciated. I wanted this small business owner to understand that my comment was about my own financial insecurities and had nothing to do with her abilities or her store. I wanted her to know how much I respected and admired her skill. I wanted her to know me and assume the best. It was tearing my heart out that I had hurt a stranger and she would never know that I’m not the person she had decided I was.

My co-worker, being the lovely friend she is, assured me that I wasn’t in the wrong and that the store owner had been inappropriately accusatory. My response was to imagine that the store-owner’s friends would most likely console her in a similar way when she told the story from her side. Clearly, we were interpreting the exchange from a one-sided place and so was she. She did not know me, my heart, or my intentions and nor did we know hers. As much as I wanted her to believe the best about me and my intentions, I would need to do the same for her in order to break the cycle of shame. It was in that moment that I realized:

WE ALL NEED GRACE!

It’s true that my intentions were not mean-spirited and when I realized how my words had been translated I was quick to apologize. Anyone who knows me well would probably conclude that the store owner had been unfair. It’s also true that there was no benefit to me being angry with her. I have no idea what she was facing that day, what news about her business she may have just received, what review she may have just read, what negative voices she fights off, what insecurities she lives with each day. Anyone who knows her well might likely conclude that I am an unaware, tone-deaf and selfish woman who needed to learn a lesson. The truth is that in that moment we both needed grace. In that moment neither of us needed to be berated. In that moment we both required grace for each other and ourselves. In that moment “shame on you” and “shame on me” was an unhelpful dialogue and monologue.

Many times in my life I’ve chosen to point the finger at another person in order to avoid the pain of my own mistake OR I’ve carried my mistake like a cross that weighs me down with self-condemnation, but not this time. This time I felt the deep need to release the burden and embrace the truth that all people make mistakes and at the same time can be beautiful, kind, loving, forgiven, and SHAMELESS people!

There is no redemption in pointing fingers at others or chastising ourselves. There is no healing in blaming or taking blame. There is no honor in heaping shame on another or drowning in it ourselves.

GRACE Y’ALL…WE NEED IT!!!

I would like to bless the beautiful woman who owns the store Hey Rooster. Please consider ‘Paying Grace Forward’ and check out her delightful store at: https://www.heyrooster.com

“$h*!-hole!” The Day I Cussed at My Parents

The President said some bad words this week. I said some bad words once…

I was 11. I walked through our front door after school and there was no mistaking that something was about to go down. Both of my parents were sitting on the couch staring at me. They invited me to sit with them and I knew this was not a friendly offer, but rather the beginning of the end. I had no way of predicting that what was about to occur would change the way I spoke forever.

My parents explained that someone (who I will refer to as a tattle-tale) had shared with them the “choice” words I had learned and begun using at school. They claimed to know every obscene word I had spoken and their disappointment was palpable. Then, befell the most humiliating punishment I have ever received. They required that I say out loud every swear word I had ever uttered.

I thought I would throw up.

I had never heard anyone in my home swear. My dad was a pastor of a small home church with strict rules around taking the Lord’s name in vain and my mom is quite literally the most wholesome woman you’ve ever met. I think it’s possible that the only time my mother has used foul language is when she didn’t know it was foul language.  

I cried and cried.

They waited.

After what felt like an eternity I started with things like, “A-hole” and “the S-word.” My dad responded by asking me if I had only used the abbreviated versions or if I had said the whole word? He reminded me that the expectation was to say to them exactly what I had said outside our home. No cheating. They were not about to make this easy on me.

I don’t know how much time passed while I sobbed and choked on the ugly words I had so flippantly used on the 6th grade playground, but I know that in those moments I realized that the people I respected and admired most in my life deserved better than a daughter who resorted to 4-letter words just to fit in at school. I realized that to be true to myself I needed to speak in a way that represented my heart and who I was regardless of my surroundings. I realized there was a reason I could barely cough up these words in front of my parents…because this language was unlovely and they were the most loving people I knew….because this language was base and I held them in high regard…because this language was dishonorable and I wanted nothing more than to honor my parents…because this language brought no beauty, no peace, no joy and I wanted all of those things for my family, my friends, and myself.  

To this day I don’t know how, but I made it through the embarrassing list. My parents forgave me and then, my dad added a lesson that sticks with me today. He said, “If the only way you can describe something is by using profanity, then others might come to conclude that your vocabulary and intelligence are limited.” Such a big dose of truth for a pre-adolescent!

The lesson I learned that day changed the way I spoke.  An expletive didn’t escape my lips for years! At 11 years old I stopped using this language because it didn’t line up with my heart or my parent’s rules. Naturally, as I grew older I also began to see the importance of context and tone. It didn’t take long for me to realize that how I used my words was more important than the words themselves. The truth is that every now and then I break my parent’s rules (sorry mom and dad). In fact I burned my finger on a casserole dish this morning and was relieved that the kids were at school when the physical pain expressed itself through my mouth as an unfiltered exclamation point. However, that sour word I used to describe the pyrex dish is not a word I would use in a context that requires sensitivity and love. Because of that lesson 27 years ago, I strive to hold a standard of language that represents who I am, who I want to be, and what lives in my heart. I strive to use words that emphasize love and beauty. I strive to honor those around me and the Lord I serve. I strive to consider how my words affect those around me. I strive to use words that bring life and build relationship, give respect and bring value, lift up and include. And of course I strive to make my parents proud.    

If an 11 year-old was capable of learning this, certainly the President of the United States could as well?

Dear Christians, Jesus is Calling Us!

I believe with all of my heart that in this time of exceptional polarization and heightened vitriol, Jesus is moving in powerful ways, and as He moves, He is calling us to be His hands and feet in a radical and reconciliatory way! He’s calling us to be a river of grace amidst the stones of judgement, a bridge of love amidst the firestorm of rage, a breath of truth amidst the suffocating lies, a blanket of peace amidst the whirlwind of fear, a testament to His unfailing mercy and goodness, a light in the darkness, a shelter in the storm. God’s will for our lives is to love like Jesus. 2018 presents a fresh opportunity to cling to the promises of our Father and release the grip we may have on our political ideologies and religious doctrine. If we love Christ then we are called to love like Christ! I believe The Lord’s heart aches when He witnesses believers showing anything but the love of the Lord to those outside their tribe, their nation, their race, their political party, their religion. I’ve shattered my own heart with actions and words that did not honor and glorify God. I’ve engaged in outrage and I have had to ask for forgiveness. In 2017 I felt a distance between my heart and the hearts of other Christians that I have never felt before, and with that, came loneliness and confusion. Last year reminded me over and over that we must look to Him and ask for His heart so that we may show His magnificent love His monumental way. It is always the right time to stand up for what is lovely, cast off ugliness, and hold firm to His message of love and grace for every one of His creations. Christians, if we believe we were created in His image and He is Love, then we must be prepared to love without borders or judgement…we must be prepared to show a love that is all inclusive and accepting…we must be prepared to vulnerably and persistently seek reconciliation with those who look, think, live, speak, pray, vote differently than us… we must be prepared to be a supernatural example of what His love and grace looks like in a broken world full of broken people. In order to be a visible reflection of Christ’s image we must allow Him to transplant our heart with His. I believe the Lord yearns for tenderness in our hearts, discernment on our tongues, softness in our speech, selflessness in our actions, and an approach to others that comes from no other place but a place of love. I believe there is no better time than now, in 2018, to open our hearts to those across the street, over the fence, on the other side of the aisle, and beyond the borders of faith and country. I believe The Lord yearns for us to fellowship with one another, break bread and draw close. My prayer is that a strengthened connection will loosen our judgements and quiet our hearts. My prayer is that we will reach across the table to hold hands, heal hurts, and spread joy. My prayer is that we will let go of our talking points and learn to love his ENTIRE creation as He does. My prayer is that we will put Him before all else so that we may consistently represent His gospel and be a light to the world. My prayer is that we will learn to see and treat others as The Lord does and that we will silence the untruths that attempt to misrepresent what we believe and who we live for. My prayer is that Christians will be an example of Jesus’s love in all circumstances to all people.

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.” 01 John 3:18

In 2018, what would it look like to be Love? What would it sound like to be Love? What would it feel like to be Love? Christians, how can we align our actions, our words, our hearts, our daily lives with the love of Jesus? How can we communicate the kindness of Jesus and confirm to his entire creation that we want to share life’s burdens even when our struggles differ?

What was Jesus’s relationship with the poor? How did he care for the impoverished? Were there pre-requisites to His giving? Did Jesus measure a person’s work ethic before he fed them? How can we think and talk about those who have been stricken by poverty in a way that shows the love of Jesus?

When the word “lazy” is used to refer to a human being (a creation and image of God) on welfare does it heap shame on a person who has been struggling with shame for years maybe a lifetime? Is this a word that brings healing or does it create new wounds and rip open old ones? Do we talk about those who are suffering from a place that sounds hard-hearted and unloving, judgmental and unkind or from a place that represents The Love of Jesus? Is it possible that only God sees and intimately knows what another person has endured in their lifetime or what they presently face on a daily basis? Could it be that if we knew a person’s story and what they’ve lived through we would be amazed at their resiliency and that they’ve even survived?

Taking it one step further, is it possible that what we think about a person’s “story” should have nothing to do with how open we are to give?

Could Jesus be calling us to stop judging and to JUST LOVE?

Through my work in Medicaid as a medical social worker for 15 years, I know of thousands of people who were living comfortable lives and then suffered a terrible tragedy that stole their independence, their livelihood, their physical and emotional wellness, and sometimes even the lives of their loved ones. I also know those whose tragedy started when they were born into a home that provided no safety, no love, and no promises of happiness…born into a life I cannot even being to imagine enduring. Even with this knowledge, is it our responsibility to deem whether or not the reasons behind a person’s circumstance are “sad enough” or “make sense?” Are we called to judge whether or not someone is deserving of relief or rescue according to our criteria?

Matthew 25:35-40 says, “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

When we consider how we will give, it may do our spirit well to remember that no inherent worth comes with money or hard work…our worthiness comes from the grace of God. Those who live comfortably are no more worthy of God’s love than those who struggle day to day to survive on little to nothing. Jesus gave in love, and so must we.

We are called to love not judge. We are called to pour out God’s grace not blame and shame. We are called to connect and build relationship and join others in their pain with an open and giving heart. We are called to open our arms not point or wag our finger. We don’t need to understand the why or the how behind a person’s circumstance before adopting a loving and giving heart towards them. We don’t need details to press in, break bread, connect, love.  Christian’s, let us love without condition…let us give without judgment…let us include without limits…let us love like Jesus.

What was Jesus’s relationship with the oppressed, the stigmatized, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised? How can we avoid complacency and a silence so loud it deafens those who have also been muted?  As Christians, should we be careful not to insinuate that, “if I’m not affected it doesn’t matter?”

My truth is that I live a life of privilege, most of which I was born into, that is not affected by most governmental decisions. Health care, immigration, welfare, gay rights, civil rights, etc. are not issues that directly affect my daily life or well-being. I have never had to fight for benefits tied to who I love; I’ve never had to wonder how my children will receive health care or fear that I could lose my livelihood with a vote. I have never had to escape a dangerous country clinging to my children while begging the Lord to keep them alive. I have never had to worry how someone might treat me because of the color of my skin.

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Psalm 9:9

Can we dismiss, minimize, or trivialize the concerns of our fellow human beings and still be an example of love and grace? Could it be that if it weighs on their hearts, it weighs on the heart of The Lord, and it should weigh on ours as well? I believe Jesus would always choose people over policy. This is not a call to protest or to rail against people we don’t agree with. Anger is not from The Lord, but a heart to advocate for others and a spirit of kindness are. As servants of Jesus, a willingness to “be with” and “judge not” would serve Him, others, and us well. He was not a political man but a lover of men and He loves and cares for those who are hurting regardless of the cause.

“…If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday…” Isaiah 58:6-11

Would Jesus disregard those who call for justice and equality or would he listen to the breaking of their hearts and offer love and healing? Does God yearn to transform our hearts in a way that brings reconciliation and healing, love and forgiveness? Could we ask for the heart and ears of Jesus and listen to the message behind those who are hurting without judgment, jumping to conclusions, and justifying offense?  Christians, I believe we can embrace truth and avoid perpetuating false dichotomies or taking up political, personal, and or religious offense so quickly that we dismiss a need for change or miss an opportunity to love. Jesus spent time with, identified with, individually ministered to and released the oppressed and I pray that He will help us do the same.

How would Jesus respond to those who have been victimized by sexual misconduct? What is the heart of God for those identifying with #metoo? Does God’s heart break with each new breaking story? Does he mourn for his sons and daughters who have suffered in secrecy and shame for so long? Does he weep with them?

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to heal wounds and restore what has been stolen.

I am a part of this movement and I don’t know of a woman in my life that isn’t. I’ve been harassed, humiliated, and forced upon by men in a way that has shamed me and changed the way I see myself in the mirror, and it happens to people all over the world without any political motivations. Certainly we must be responsible in our investigations of each claim, but we must also be responsible in our responses to the brave and vulnerable victims who come forward. Christ does not desire for his sons and daughters to drown in secrecy and shame because they are too frightened to come forward due to political, professional, and/or personal maliciousness. Christ desires freedom and restoration and that can only occur in the light. I believe it is important to treat the #metoo movement as an opportunity for supernatural healing on both sides and this will mean we have to lay our judgement and knee-jerk reactions aside. This movement is an anguished cry from so many men and women who have been horrifically mistreated and abused and it is an opportunity for Christians to come forward with love and acceptance.

How would Jesus respond to those who have been accused of sexual misconduct? Does God consider their political ideologies or their hearts? Are we being a holy representation of God when we brush the sin under the rug? Are we being a holy representation of God when we condemn the accused? Making excuses for the sin or the sinner fuels the fire and re-injures those who have been victimized by the sin, but we also don’t have The Lord’s permission to judge and condemn. We are called to be agents of intercession and how we view the perpetrator should not change based on political party, faith, culture, etc. The ministry of Christ is to intercede before the throne of God for the sinner in the hopes that he will respond to the voice of God. Regardless of a person’s politics, religion, race, ethnicity, history, etc. Jesus wants to set them free of their perversion, make them whole, forgive their sin and bring them home to Him.

John 3:17-19 states, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Truth will set the sinner free and shining light into the darkness is the function of the Holy Spirit.

We must consistently speak truth, offer grace, forgive, and love if we wish to exemplify the Kingdom of God.  Christ spilled His blood for every sinner and only God can shine a light into a dark heart and set it free.  As one of my favorite authors, Paul David Tripp wrote, “grace moves toward wrong, not to condemn, but to rescue restore, help and forgive.” Transformation and healing are possible for perpetrators and victims and we are called to believe this and pray for this regardless of party affiliation or identification of faith.

How much does Jesus love his creation…his entire creation? Does he weep for refugees and immigrants who flee their country of origin to escape brutality and negligence in their country of origin? Would he encourage us to make decisions about his creation from a place of fear or a place of love?

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:18-19

If I sit and imagine I live in a country where my children’s lives are at risk every single day, a country where my children have seen dead bodies before they’ve seen a playground, a country where torture is commonplace and the sound of music is replaced with the hissing of missiles and the rhythm of explosions, I become physically ill. If I imagine having children in a place where the government leaves my kids starving or allows gangs the freedom to kidnap my family members, I see myself doing ANYTHING (regardless of legality) to save my children’s lives. Can we imagine if these were our starving children, our bloodied brothers, our sobbing mothers? What would we be willing to do?

Of course there have to be safety measures. Of course there have to be laws, but again Jesus calls us to LOVE…and love over fear. He doesn’t call us to only love Americans or law-abiding citizens or those who speak English or those who share our same values or culture…he calls us to love everybody…every person…every human he created and he created all of us. God didn’t create countries or borders…He created people…human beings…all equal in His eyes. How does God see his creation? Is it possible that the way we sometimes speak about other human beings saddens our loving God who sees His creation as a lovely and lovable whole? Does He desire for us to avoid the use of dehumanizing language so that we will make decisions that consider others as a creation of God?

Christians, I believe we must talk about and treat immigrants (legal or not) as if they’re God’s creation, because that IS who they are…they are our brothers and sisters! They are not “the other.” They are not “those people” or “them.” They are US!!! They are God’s!

What is Jesus’s heart towards those we struggle to love? Does God have criteria on who is deserving of His sacrificial love or does He offer love to His entire creation without condition? For those of us who have struggled with discouragement, fear, offense, anxiety, and possibly outrage this past year, are we willing to release the negativity we have invited into our hearts and minds to seek a replacement of supernatural peace and joy that can only come from The One who loves perfectly? Can we stand up for what’s right, defend the oppressed, love the outcasts, lift up the down trodden all while asking Jesus to protect our hearts from anger and judgment, un-forgiveness and despair? I know that I cannot summon a loving heart towards every person, but God can. My human abilities have not allowed me to reach a place where I can forgive everyone, but Jesus forgives and so I continue to pray for His heart.

Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), and to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]?” And so, in 2018, I am committed to diligently practicing loving-kindness and setting aside my ego.

I openly admit that I struggled last year with balancing my desire to be a refuge to the hurting while also showing love to those I believed (right or wrong) were causing the hurt, but I was convicted when I read these words from Paul Tripp:

“Lost children need compassion. It doesn’t make any sense to get mad at somebody who is lost. It doesn’t make any sense to make it a matter of personal offense against you. It doesn’t make any sense to condemn a lost person with words or throw a punishment at them and walk away. Lost people need understanding and compassion.”

I’m lost a lot! I need compassion and understanding! I believe I can have compassion for the most difficult of people IF God imparts His love and grace into my heart. This is not something I can do on my own, but I do desire a softer heart towards those that offend and disappoint, and all humans do, including me. I desire an ability to forgive.  I desire a freedom from outrage and an ability to stand for compassion for all…even those I don’t believe have earned it. But, who has earned it? Who does deserve it? I have done nothing to deserve the Lord’s unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness, so I ask you reader to also have compassion for me when I offend and disappoint.

I want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do what The Lord instructed in Luke 6:27-28, “But to you who are listening I say, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I cannot do these things without divine intervention, so I continue to seek the Lord’s heart through prayer and fellowship with other Christ followers who believe in His message of unconditional love and grace for all. His power is made perfect in our weakness, so as we face hardships I pray our hearts will find rest knowing that when we are weak He makes us strong.

In an age of echo chambers and confirmation bias I am praying that in 2018 God will break the chains of political ideology and dogmatic theology so that we can be Ambassadors of His Love…a safe haven for all of creation…a warm and tender place of good news.

I pray from Psalm 51: “Create in me (us) a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (us).”

Amen.

 

 

 

Unconventional Gratitude

As I was falling asleep last night and thinking of all the traditional things I give thanks for (my health, my work, my family’s health, my kids, my home, my friends, Gods many blessings in my life, etc.) I began to wonder if I could find a spirit of gratitude for the things I usually coin as inconveniences or pain points in my life. I pulled together this quick list (some silly, some serious) of things I wouldn’t have been thankful for at first glance, but that have added value to my life in big and small ways.  

I’m thankful for a messy house

  • We have a home
  • We have healthy children who love to play in said home
  • We have toys for our healthy children to leave scattered around said home

 I’m thankful for all the jobs I didn’t get or that didn’t fit

  • I kept searching and praying until I found a job I loved with people I love even more

 I’m thankful God helped me find a wonderful therapist and the right anti-depressant

  • God gives us tools and I use them. I don’t think much more needs to be said 😊

 I’m thankful for our destructive, loud, shedding, jumpy, dirty Jack Russell Terrier

  • He sniffs out scorpions. That is all. 

 I’m thankful for traffic

  • Traffic allows me more time to listen to my favorite podcasts, which add light to my life

 I’m thankful for President Trump (go with me here)

  • I have pressed into The Lord to find supernatural joy, grace, love, forgiveness, and peace more times this year than I’ve ever done before and my relationship with The Lord has grown tenfold as a result
  • I pray more
  • I’m reminded that I’m not in control
  • I have learned and continue to learn how to have hard conversations with people I love while remaining respectful, kind, and open
  • I have seen women more empowered and I pray this is the beginning of a cultural shift that my son and daughter will benefit from

 I’m thankful that divorce is never the end of God’s plan for love in our lives

  • I am now married to my soulmate and not a day goes by that I don’t consider how blessed I am to have found him
  • I have 2 beautiful children with my soulmate and I cannot imagine life without them

I’m thankful for the lessons God taught me as he delivered me from the cage of crippling fear

  • Freedom isn’t easy but it’s worth it
  • It’s important to share our story because it could plant the seed that encourages others to face their fears with faith and hope
  • A spirit of fear is not from The Lord
  • God can break chains
  • Vulnerability is courage
  • Standing in hope for someone else may be all they have to hold onto

 I’m thankful for the lessons God taught me through debilitating pain and the inability to care for my first child for the first 3 months of his life

  • I am never in control
  • I must humble myself and ask for help when I need it
  • Books, articles, social media, and scientific research do not have all the answers regarding how to raise a child
  • LOVE is the greatest commandment and LOVE saves
  • God is faithful and never leaves me alone
  • There is beauty and blessings to be seen in the most difficult trials
  • Massage is crucial and should be covered by health insurance
  • God will give us the strength to move through what this broken world delivers
  • A meal goes a long way and prayer goes even further
  • Hope can mean the difference between life and death

 I’m thankful for the lessons God taught me through the untimely and unexpected death of my brother

  • Laughter can co-exist with tears and joy can live alongside grief
  • Saying “I love you” prevents regret
  • Again, I’m not in control
  • Again, A meal goes a long way and prayer goes even further
  • Empathy is necessary
  • Reaching out even when I don’t know what to say or do can lead to deep and beautiful friendships 
  • Crying with someone lifts their burdens even if for just a moment
  • Sometimes there are no words and that’s ok
  • Touch gives strength
  • Those who are mourning need us long after everything seems normal

It turns out that there’s more to be grateful for than the obvious and traditional blessings. I pray that the next trial I face (and there will be many) I will be filled with hope as I remember that beauty rises from ashes, character is refined in fire, light chases darkness away, and blessings can be found during and on the other side of every situation no matter how difficult.  

 Happy Thanksgiving (even for the unconventional) Day!!!

Constellation Baby

To my dear son Isaac Burton,

You met him once in the vastness of heaven and space. His arms reaching for you, no longer stiff, no longer cold. The cosmos faded as he watched you draw near. His eyes smiled, no longer grey, no longer lifeless.

He waited for you in the stars and held you close as you journeyed through the constellations.

He whispered his love for you and kissed you gently before you entered the life from which he had just departed. He shared his ocean blue eyes and startling smile with you – those eyes and that smile that he inconceivably left by the Ty River. You touched his soul, swallowed his essence, embraced his light, and then you EXPLODED into our world.

You met our grief with healing and beauty and powerful, overwhelming life. Your first breath was a cooling and beautiful fog over our scalding trauma – a cleansing of our hearts that had festered with loss and bled with each shattering tear. Your ocean blue eyes opened and we saw him gazing back, searing hope into our souls, connecting life and loss in a circle of complete unity. Both of you permanently branded into our lives forever. Your smile illuminated the room as if he were there, holding us together in his starlight. Your vivacious cry was his voice assuring us that we can hurt and still heal. We can shudder with grief and still laugh. We can die and still live in the hearts of those who loved us and those we meet in heaven’s stars.

In Loving Memory of my brother, Burton James