Friday, December 20, 2013

Emmanuel Is A Gift For Every Day

I have a million and one things to do today but I can't help it, I had to write out what I am feeling right now. Here we are, getting ready to travel for the holidays. I should be meticulously going over my to do list and packing and wrapping and plenty more. However, I just need to write some things out. I am filled with joy and I just can't keep it to myself.

Today, I helped my husband file a grant application for my children's school. He works for a company that every year offers grants to employees that volunteer locally in schools of up to $3000 for schools. Last year we helped a Cedar Rapids school receive funds for iPads and after school enrichment programs. This year we are applying for a grant for the Mount Vernon Elementary School. The funds will go towards new library books that the school is in great need of replacing. We will find out in February if the grant is approved but I am just so excited that we are in a position that we can help bless our community. It could be the book lover in me but giving $3000 in books really feels like Christmas!

It isn't just what is happening in our own home. This week I have been constantly reminded of all the blessings that God gives to us. We celebrated Oliver's 5th birthday yesterday but it is more than just that. I see blessings filling up the hearts of family and friend around me. I see reasons for joy everywhere.

My Facebook feed keeps lighting up with people sharing about carolers singing at their doorstep and strangers doing random acts of kindness. It is friends sharing how they donated to Toys for Tots. It is a group of moms helping another mom that needs help this Christmas. It is a picture of the Angel Tree at our church literally overflowing with Christmas gifts for children here in our city. These are just "small" things that have such a big impact on our communities.  When we give even the smallest of gifts, we give something more.

Earlier this month a friend shared that her adoption of two children from Ghana is going through. They have been on this journey to adopt for quite a long time. They have been through their fair share of challenges with many ups and downs. However, their hearts kept calling them to keep going forward. This week the visas for their children were finally approved. Even more of a blessing, they will fly home just two days before Christmas. It is the story of a real Christmas miracle. What a blessing to witness this miracle. Two children now have a loving home, all because they opened their hearts to God.

For over a year another friend has been battling lead in her home. Her son has lead poisoning and it has been a struggle for their family to manage. This fall their youngest child was also diagnosed with high lead levels. It was a blow to their family. However, with the support of friends they were able to push through and get some resources for her family. Friends and family and people from both Cedar Rapids and around the world have been pooling together through Lead Safe America Foundation to help. They now have enough funds for their family move into a temporary residence. Their family has been a blessing to hundreds of families here in Cedar Rapids. I love that our community is giving back to them when they need the love and support the most. I love that our community is selflessly supporting each other when we need each other. This is love.

So often we get busy during this season of the year. So often our lives stay too busy all year long. So often good news gets drowned out by all the bad things in life. These prove to me that good things still happen.

The reason for the season is not presents. The reason is Christ came to us many years ago as God's gift to us. God came to be with us. Emmanuel. God is with us. To witness these acts of giving and be a part of it, it gives me something more. It is life changing. It is transforming. To experience this is a real Christmas blessing.

These things are so encouraging to me. The empower me. They show me that the spirit of God is with us. That God is present in our lives. God is alive when we give to others. These are gifts of peace, joy, hope and the greatest gift of all: LOVE.

Christmas can be every day, because every day is an opportunity to give. Christmas is not December 25th. Christmas is forever. Every day is Christmas.

Give Peace.
Share Joy.
Be Hope.
Most of all, LOVE.

Every day. All the time. Forever.

Monday, December 16, 2013


There is something about this month that just pushes my buttons and challenges me. It is not just the holidays. My middle child Oliver celebrates his birthday every December. Between that and all of the mushy gushy Hallmark, Cheerio and Coca Cola commercials my emotions are running wild. There is just not enough tissues to go around folks.

This year Oliver turned five. For some reason five is just hard. It pops up and feels like a big surprise.

Let me tell you about why 5 is wonderful. Five is:

  • Painting
  • Cutting with scissors
  • Legos Legos Legos
  • Snuggling in PJs
  • Reading Dr. Seuss and Curious George
  • Learning your alphabet
  • Writing your name
  • Building forts
  • Being fascinated by bubbles and fireworks
  • Singing songs
  • Love of animals and nature
  • Cheesy knock knock jokes
  • Laughter over silly things

Five isn't easy either. Five is also:

  • Not sharing with your sister
  • Or your brother
  • Wardrobe battles
  • Stubbornness
  • Temper tantrums over the.smallest.thing.ever
  • Not uh. Uh huh. Not uh. Uh huh...
  • Insisting on using the ninja turtles plate
  • One more drink of water
  • I don't want to

Five is being newly independent and wanting to do it all.
However, they still sometimes hold your hand. Sometimes they even admit they want your help. Best of all, they still think you are the cooler than any superhero and better than any toy all the money in the world can buy. Most of the time.

When they turn five they are almost ready for kindergarten and suddenly it feels like they will be off to their first prom. Then you blink and they are off to college or to their first job. Sounds dramatic but that is how five feels. Nothing slows them down. All you want is for time to stand still.

We celebrated Oliver's birthday early this year. We had a little sledding party with a lot of fun.

We had little mugs of hot cocoa and chocolates and marshmallows and candy canes for goodie bags. All the kids took one home to warm up after our fun in the snow.

I made simple little hot cocoa cupcakes. They turned out great, and of course I dropped a full tray of them on the floor. Twice actually. About two hours before the party. Good thing I made extras. Also, it was good that no one was home when this happened. Mommy was not happy. I *possibly* let out some words that shall not be written in this blog.

We decorated with little paper snowflakes that the kids made earlier in the week. It was our fun craft for the week. Making snowflakes with three kids means not a single one is alike.

The kids decorated cookies and had hot cocoa in-between sledding runs. There were lots of sprinkles on my floor. There probably are some still there actually.

Everyone went home. I caught my breath finally. After all the cake and presents and after all of our fun I realized he was going to be 5.

I just want five to stay. I want it to last a little longer. My kids sometimes frustrate me and leave me exhausted. I love them though no matter what.

If there is anything I want to remember about five it is all simple & fun things we do. Fun is not elaborate. It doesn't cost a bunch of money. It is simple moments where we just spend time together. Usually at home together.

I want more of that for five.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Family Matter. People Matter: When the Holidays Become Something More

Three years ago my holidays looked different. A lot different.

For several years I worked in retail at our local mall. I worked to help pay my way through college while raising our young family. It wasn't particularly hard work or labor. I actually really loved my job most of the time. I worked primarily in children's clothing stores. As a parent I found it to be fun and rewarding to help other families shop for their kid. Sure there was the occasional bad day, but mostly it was a good job. That is, it was a good job for most of the year.

My job always became stressful and overwhelming around the holidays. It wasn't just that my hours doubled. It wasn't that I couldn't ever get weekends off because my employer didn't let anyone request time off. It wasn't the lack of parking spaces. It wasn't the crowded mall. It wasn't that our customers were suddenly grouchy, agitated and unfriendly. It wasn't the stress and the strain of the holidays. It wasn't all the frenzied preparation and never enough time to get it all done. It was how people didn't matter.

I remember one December morning with vividness. It was December 19th, 2009. My son's 1st birthday. It was also the day of my college graduation. I would get to finally walk with my class with my family watching. However, I had to work that day.  I had been assured I would have special permission to have the day off but no I had to work. Two things to celebrate, and I was working. What should have been a joyful day for our family turned into extra stress as I rushed from graduation ceremony to birthday party to my job. It was a hard. All this family to celebrate with us and I had to leave. I headed to work and as soon as I pulled out of the driveway I was in tears. I went to work, having to smile my way through it even when customers were rude (because of course it was my fault that we didn't have what they needed for their perfect Christmas gift). All I wanted to do was tuck my sweet boy in bed that night. To rock him to sleep to sweet dreams and kiss his forehead and stroke his soft cheek. To spend time with those people that mattered the most and had traveled just to be with me. To share stories, a moment with them. My parents, my siblings, my husband's family. Close family friends. The ones that mattered.

Time passed. I swore never again it would happen. My boss assured me it was a mistake, it wouldn't happen again.

The following year it was November. My husband's grandma was dying and we knew her time was close. As she was the last living grandparent, his family wanted to gather with her one last time. We wanted to be together for one last moment. Thanksgiving weekend was that time. Being a part time manager in retail I found myself unable to leave because of Black Friday. I fought with my company to be there with our family. One of the compromises they offered to me was that I could work in a store where I was going out of state instead. I ended up leaving the company over it. It was the single biggest factor in my leaving my job. The only regret I have is that I didn't leave sooner.

Today, my holidays look different. I have made a choice to spend my holidays with family. We gather every Turkey Day to be together. My husband's family are all Detroit Lions fans. That pretty much guarantees we will be watching football together. I come from a family of Green Bay Packers fans. This year we play each other on Thanksgiving Day. Lord have mercy on us all! In all seriousness though this is what we gather around and do. We play cards and board games. We get caught up in good conversation. We catch up with relatives over good food and drinks. We love on the kids and babies. We laugh at grandpa's goofy jokes and devour grandma's delicious pie. Oh how I love my grandma's banana cream pie and raspberry pie. Her cheesecake isn't too bad either.

Christmas is when we vacation with family. We retreat to the family condo in Colorado. It is our getaway. A place we escape to. We have snowball fights. We go sledding. We go skiing. We spend hours chatting at the hot tub with people from all over the globe. We have moonlit walks through the mountains and we admire how the lights sparkle and dance on the reflection of ice and snow. The smell of pine needles. The smell of fresh baked cookies. The mess of frosting and sprinkles everywhere. We attend the candlelit Christmas service up at the chapel. We sing Silent Night outside the church doors with strangers we have never met before. We eat pizza for dinner. We share laughs and drink hot spiced wine. More laughter. Someone decides it is great idea to sing Christmas songs. We laugh some more. The ice sculptures delight and the ice skaters dance round and round. The kids break out the nerf guns and the living room is transformed into a war zone of sofa cushions as cover and plush pillows as our shield. We build forts. We take long naps after a late big breakfast.

These are the memories I cherish. It is these experiences with my loved ones that bring me joy. This is what is important! The time that I share with people I love.

I don't expect everyone to have a holiday that looks like mine. I know everyone has their own traditions. But there is one thing I am thankful that working in retail taught me. I cannot share it enough. Family matter. People matter. When our lives get so bent and stretched thin that what matters is no longer in focus, people suffer. Our relationships suffer when we choose to not put people first.

Last year it hit me hard seeing these banners placed up high in the sanctuary of our church. The holidays are a time to share love, peace, and hope with others. These are the things that show people that they matter. This is what all relationships need. What all people need.

Sometimes our lives get so tangled up in the busyness of the holidays that we forget this. We forget what is important. Time blurs and it becomes a holidaze. It is really easy in this world. I saw it before working in retail. People chasing after things. Thanksgiving overshadowed by Christmas. Maybe it is the buy buy buy attitude surrounding Christmas. Maybe it is the pressure to prepare everything perfectly. Maybe it is the chase to give the perfect gift. Maybe it is the rush to get the best deal at midnight on Black Friday. Maybe we think we can buy our happiness with a credit card. Maybe going into debt for Christmas presents makes us feel like we can have it all.

Buying things. Buying items. Having stuff. A full shopping cart at Target or Wal-mart or anywhere else. Those things will never leave us fulfilled. Paychecks even will not make us happy.

It makes me wonder. Are we really buying gifts? Or are we buying into the idea that these gifts are what matter?

Are we consumers are we the ones being consumed?

These are questions that changed me.

Something changed in me when I started making an effort to put people first. I stopped looking at Christmas as something to give and receive. It changed how we celebrate Thanksgiving. It changed how we celebrate Christmas. It changed how we live. There are seven things that I do different.
  1. I don't shop on Thanksgiving or on Black Friday. My conscience won't let me do it. I can't do it. Not knowing that there are other people out there who want to be with family. No matter what the deal is it is not worth the time away from family. I don't want to be a part of that.
  2. When I do shop during the holidays I make a special effort to be extra kind. I smile. I say please and thank you. I wish them well, I make conversation. I tip extra. I forgive mistakes. I go out of my way to be polite not just to staff but even other shoppers. I always show this kind of respect but during the holidays when things get busy I feel it is even more important to remember that people matter.
  3. I try to be very conscientious about my gift giving, especially with my kids. I don't want for them to grow up thinking that Christmas is about presents. It is about presence. My kids do receive gifts from us but we plan out their gifts so it is simple and it doesn't take away from the real meaning of Christmas. We want for them understand that Christmas is about God's love and Christ in our lives. We want for them to cherish time with family. Not just during the holidays. All year long.
  4. We give to charities locally. Our favorite thing is to support a child through an Angel Tree. I actually get more excited shopping for a child in our community than my own kids! This year I also helped give through Operation Christmas Child and my children will be giving used toys to Families Helping Families. We give at offerings in our church to help with missions around the world that we believe in.
  5. We countdown the days to Christmas with several family activities. We donate hats and gloves. We go caroling. We set up our nativity. We read Christmas stories together. We make hot cocoa and have a Christmas movie party. We make ornaments and homemade gifts. We want to experience things with our kids.
  6. We try to shop locally and support people in our hometown whenever possible. I started my Christmas shopping this year by shopping at a craft fair. I bought the cutest handmade gifts from people that attend my church and live in my community. When the boys had a book fair at school I picked some books they really wanted. It is the little things like these that I feel are important.
The 7th and single biggest change is just spending time together. Life has taught me to value, to celebrate, this time with others. I choose to spend my holidays in this way because it shows people that they matter. This is how I share love, hope, and peace with others. This is the message we all need. We all deserve these blessings. Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Agnostic or Athiest. Whatever you are. We all need to to share love, peace, and hope a little bit more.

We have been so blessed these last years. I can't explain why these changes are so rewarding. When you show people that they matter, you realize it all matters. Every day. Every kind act. Every person is important. The holidays are not about gifts. They are about something more.

"What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” -Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Life is a gift

I remember the first time I found a gray hair. It was a few years ago. It was a big surprise and I wasn't ready to admit I was you know...older. It made me panic.

Call it vanity but I fought with that hair. I wrestled with it. I was not ready to admit that I wouldn't always be young. I didn't accept it as beautiful. I was not ready to face the idea that I would one day grow old and face death. That gray hair was ugly because it was stealing time. Each day that passed was one less day I had to live.

I ended up chasing more days and seeking more time. My life became a rush. One constant blur of me trying to squeeze out whatever I could. I had to get the most out of life. What I had was not enough. I was fighting time. Any obstacles I would conquer no matter the cost. I wanted to do it all.

I’m late, I’m late for  A very important date. No time to say hello, good-bye,  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late I’m late and when I wave,  I lose the time I save. My fuzzy ears and whiskers  Took me too much time to shave. I run and then I hop, hop, hop,  I wish that I could fly. There’s danger if I dare to  Stop and here’s a reason why: I’m over-due, I’m in a rabbit stew.  Can’t even say good-bye, hello, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.
~ The White Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland

Everywhere I went I was like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. I was late. Rush rush rush. Always somewhere to be. Something to do. Never did I think to slow down.

This way of life started to pour into my relationships. Into my marriage. Into my parenting. My friendships. Our schedule was overloaded, I was tired. Trying to do it all. We would rush out the door, irritated with each other. Never really appreciating each other.

The thing about fighting time is you can't win. Chasing time makes it escape faster. Time slips away, you are older and you haven't learned anything. Nothing changes. You end up out of breath. Overwhelmed. Our society encourages this, tells us it is normal. All part of life. Being busy is encouraged. People would ask me how I was and what I had been up to. I would reply, "Busy, just been busy."

I was attempting to seize the day. Carpe Diem!

The thing is, living life so busy sometimes makes you forget the important things. In the rush for more time you lose time. You could say aging forced me to face the idea of death. This challenged me. What ended up happening was something I can't really explain.

Somewhere along the way my idea of life changed. Each day is a gift. Each wrinkle and each stray little gray hair is beautiful. Each stretch mark on my belly. They represent so much of my life. They represent so many blessings. The stretch marks are love scars of my three children. The wrinkles tell the seasons of my life. My changing hair mark the change in me.

"I watch the hands move grace on the clock face. I'm growing older. These children growing up. But time is not running out. This day is not a sieve, losing time. With each passing minute, each passing year, there's the deepening awareness that I am filling, gaining time. We stand on the brink of eternity."  --Ann Voskamp

Every day that I grow older is sacred. Aging marks the passing of time in my life. Days are blessings that count out all of my life. They sing out my life song. They are beauty. They are wisdom. They are understanding.

Every day is a gift waiting to be unwrapped. I unwrap it slowly and enjoy time. Every day is a step towards more time. Each day fills my life with joy. I am not chasing time. There is fullness in this moment, in the time that I have been blessed with.

“The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present.” --Alice Morse Earle

I don't fight time anymore. I embrace it. I cherish it. I don't feel the need to capture as much time as possible. Time is a gift. Time is a blessing when I am fully present. When I slow down I have more than enough time.

When I slow down life is different. Time almost stops. A conversation with a friend becomes life changing. Playtime with my kids becomes revolutionary. A sunset on fall leaves is awe inspiring. Joys big and small become priceless. Trials have perspective that make their burden lighter. My soul feels different. Full.

All is well. All is good.

It changes me. Transforms me.

Today I have a few more gray hairs. I have a few more wrinkles. When I look in the mirror they make me smile. They are beautiful. When I see my reflection I am reminded. I am reminded to slow down. To actually live life instead of chasing it. When I remember to live this way everything about life is different.

Life is a gift.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Enough with the Excuses

 Today I want to talk about something I think we have all got to stop. Excuses.

Enough with the excuses I say.

I do it all time. I'm sorry, I was late because <insert a random stunt child 1 2 or 3 pulled>. I'm sorry, I forgot because I got distracted by a phone call. I'm sorry, I got stuck in traffic.

I read a funny blog post about a mom explaining why she is running late. I laughed because it is so true. It is something I am all too familiar with.

If I wrote down every single excuse for why we're late or where something went wrong I would have a very lengthy book. Every day.

I think we do enough explaining. It is kind of exhausting. I'm tired of having to explain myself everywhere I go. It is such a burden. It is like carrying around heavy rocks wherever I go. I don't want people to think the wrong things or get the wrong impression of us as a family. You know, because that thing called life sometimes gets in the way of our lives.

I say enough. Can we stop expecting excuses from each other? Can we stop feeling like we have to explain ourselves? Can I?

I have been very blessed in my life with awesome friends and family. The ones that really get me, they don't expect me to explain myself every time I mess up. If I show up late, they are just excited to see me. If I lose a birthday invitation, they don't think twice about my habit of being unorganized. If my child acts up, they don't make me recite my parenting strategies to explain why my child isn't perfect. These people don't judge me when I make mistakes. If I mess up, they laugh with me.

When I am with people like this, I feel safe. They don't expect me to explain myself. They don't expect me to have it all together. They know I am not perfect. They know I am human and I am figuring out this life thing one lesson at a time. Bad habits and all they love me. How uplifting it is to have people like this in our lives! It is a real treasure to have friends like this in my life. I just breathe a little easier in their presence.

Isn't that a lot like grace? Before I even ask for it. Before I try to explain myself. They offer me grace.

God offers me that kind of grace. Here I am. Here I stand not perfect. I mess up. More than I should. Yet I am still forgiven. No hoops to jump through. I don't have to earn it. It is just there. For me. For you. For everyone. Freely given in love. Unconditional.

God knows my trials. He knows my story, my excuses. Jesus knew what he was dying for on the cross. People really are not all that different from 2000 years ago. Sure we have our smart phones, cars, and fancy running water now. Despite these changes, what I struggle with today is not all that different from people in the bible.

John 8:7 NIV “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

In the temple when the woman adulterer was brought forward to Jesus he taught us two things. The first was it is not our place to judge another person's sins because we all are sinners. The second was that he lived and died for us to save us. He could have condemned this woman right there in front of all. Instead he offered her grace.

I have joked with friends on more than one occasion that in a different time or place I would be stoned to death. There is just no way I can be quiet & submissive. Ever. I would cause trouble. I break rules. Not even on purpose most of the time. Crazy little rebel that I am. A Christian rebel even. I will wear that label.

Being a Christian--believing in real grace--drops all of those stones. Truly it does. If I choose to believe in a Jesus that offers grace, I need to offer that grace to those around me as well. To everyone.

I literally mean everyone. It is going to be like Oprah giving away cars. And you get grace, and you get grace, and you get grace! We all get grace!!!

So I am telling you right now. If you are tired of having to explain yourself. If you need a safe place. I want to be that safe place. No more stones. No more excuses. No more explanations. No expectations.

Just friendship. Just love. Just understanding. Just grace.

I'm not perfect. My grace will look kind of messy compared to what God has to offer. I'm probably going to mess up. I mean, of course I will. But I'm going to try. Try to offer grace.

No excuses. I promise. I'm leaving the stones behind.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Falling into Thankfulness

Fall is in full swing right now. We had our first snow early this week. Leaves everywhere are turning different shades of red, orange, yellow and brown. The wind whips them up high in the and they spin around and around. The crisp cold air is refreshing to breathe. Where before drops of dew danced on blades of grass every morning they now are sprinkled with tiny crystals of frost. A warm cup of tea or a freshly poured coffee mug melts the coldness out of my fingers each day. It is beautiful, I am thankful for fall.

I sip and I think, usually skipping breakfast until my brain is awake again. Kids run around, sometimes my coffee gets cold because we are busy. There is no time to slowly enjoy my little moment of happiness. Too many spills to wipe up, lost mittens or hats to find, or little arguments to settle. Sigh. Mornings are not exactly easy here. Six little feet run up and down the stairs and around our little home and I only have two. It is exhausting. Sometimes it is overwhelming. The busyness swallows me up like rushing water in a river. Maybe that is what drowning feels like?

And yet I can still breathe. My lungs still work. Somehow we get through it. A couple of tears hidden maybe here or there, but we make it. Sometimes there is yelling or tantrums. Slightly scarred or rattled, but off we go. To school, to work, to the store. To wherever life demands we go. Hi-ho.

It is enough to make me laugh with insanity sometimes. They say laughter is the best medicine. When you drop a glass bowl and shards go everywhere. All because in your rush you were clumsy. You laugh when your kids leave sticky paint foot prints on the couch, the doormat, and the front door. All because you had this great idea to let them paint but didn't specify right outside the front door. When you lose your keys and you were supposed to leave 5 minutes ago. You laugh. A big belly laugh. All of these happened yesterday. I am not making this up.

 It makes it hard to be thankful when busyness fills our lives.

A wise woman (one with more experience and years under her belt than I have) once told me that I shouldn't assume after kids things get less busy. Oh how I was disappointed, I hoped one day I wouldn't be busy. She explained to me that with children gone there are jobs to be done, relatives to visit, friends to help, retirement to focus on, and places to see. Life never slowed down. Life is always busy.

She was right. No matter what I do life will happen. Things break. Messes happen. Things are lost. It will make you forget what is important. Ever since then I have made it a priority to not let being busy change me, to be my excuse. I'm not going to let "busyness" take over my life and keep me from seeing the good around me, from being the good around me.

Something I decided many years ago was to always find the positive. I'm a generally optimistic person by nature. I have found that if I can find one good thing every day I am happier. Finding one happy moment or thing in my day fills me with so much gratitude that it changes my perspective. It is like power food for the soul, it keeps fueling me to keep going. It changes my relationships, my attitude and fills me up.

Being thankful or having gratitude for all the good things in our life could quite possibly be a key to living a happier and purpose driven life. "Psychological research suggests that happiness is more related to being grateful for what we already have," writes William F. Doverspike, Ph.D of the Georgia Psychological Association.  There are even studies that show gratitude is good for your health. Over 26 studies and counting, show how being thankful can really impact our lives.

Finding these little blessings and being thankful for them draw us closer to God. When Jesus broke bread with his disciples at the Last Supper he gave thanks to God. In his final hours before death he chose to thank God.

Luke 22:19
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

When we appreciate the good things around us we are choosing to see the good of God's creation. Bad things happen, messy life happens, suffering happens. However, there are also good things that fill this world with joy. Big or small, they matter. Sometimes being thankful even shows us how to love each other. When we know what matters, what we would be thankful for, we are better able to serve others around us.

Today as I was nearly 3/4 of the way through writing this post, the family across the street from us lost their dog. Their little girl plays with our boys all the time. She is adorable, wild and fun just like any little girl in first grade. She was really hurt today and couldn't stop crying. I watched my kids and the other neighbor kids try to make her feel better. They already know how to be a blessing, how to give her something to be thankful for, how to just be there for their friend. We played board games, watched youtube videos, and baked cookies together. We even shared stories of what we felt like when we lost a pet and picked the last flowers of the year to put on their dog's grave. She told me her mom who died of cancer is with her dog now. I think she felt a little better after that. I couldn't help but give her a hug.

Every day I make a list of what I'm thankful for. Daily. Sometimes more than once in a day even. I don't have have to write it down, I just mentally note what I have been blessed with. No matter what I am feeling, no matter how bad my day is, no matter who let me down or made me angry or sad. I'm thankful for this I tell myself.

Today, I'm thankful for cold coffee. Thankful for those six little feet. The ones that kicked my tummy before they were born and grew up to kick soccer balls around the yard and sometimes in the house. Thankful for those hands that make messes but always want my hugs. Thankful for the gift of motherhood. For friendship, for neighbors. Thankful that we have a home that we can fill up with memories. Thankful for my husband that works really hard to make not just our needs possible but our dreams possible too. Thankful for supportive friends, teachers and mentors in my life that have been a blessing to me and shaped me into the person, the story, that I am now. Thankful for a God that has blessed me with more than enough.

What are you thankful for today? Find a blessing in your life and be thankful for it.

Want to read more about gratitude?

Gratitude: A Key to Happiness by William F. Doverspike, Ph.D.

The Science of Gratitude: More Benefits Than Expected; 26 Studies and Counting by Amit Amin

The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier by Ocean Robbins

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Every once in a while life throws you something that you were not expecting.

It could be something wonderful. Finding out you are expecting after years of trying. Watching your child graduate from college or get married. A new neighbor that becomes your best friend. All feels well with the world when such unexpected joy fills our lives.

However, sometimes our lives are full of other (not so happy) occasions. These are the painful moments that shock us deep into our bone. The loss of a child or a loved one unexpectedly. Losing your job in a layoff and wondering how you will care for your family. Watching your home be destroyed by a flood or fire. It hurts. You don't get it. It makes you angry.

Life is full of twists and turns. Good and bad --both all part of a journey. You never really know where you will end up. Sometimes it starts to feel like a ride you would rather not be on. Hurt and pain start to make us feel like the ride is broken. If we are all honest we have probably thought to ourselves, hey who is in charge here?

It becomes really hard to trust that God has a plan. I admit sometimes I don't trust it. I praise him on Sunday but by Monday I am already doubting. I'm not the first one either. Countless people before me have struggled to grasp and to understand. Faithful yet flawed, each with their own story. The Bible is full of people just like me. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. You know how it goes. God created the world. It was GOOD. But Adam & Eve still wanted more and they ate the apple. At it's core, the reason was they didn't trust God. They wanted more.

Humanity is kind of like that. I am like that. Yes you heard me. I am a Christian that admits I sometimes doubt God. I admit I would do some things different. I have myself have been hurt and I also have watched countless relatives, friends, and strangers struggle through terrible hardships. I have seen marriages break apart in divorce and families shattered to pieces. I have seen women bury their children in tiny little graves. I have watched friends battle illness and barely hang onto the lives they once had. I have watched countries go to war (sometimes with themselves) over greed or senseless pride.

Can you blame me? For wanting to end THAT.

I am reminded of the song Imagine by John Lennon. A world in bliss. People without religion or war induced suffering and where all people live together in harmony because they are the same. It seems a dream, so simple and yet so impossibly perfect.

I once had someone ask me WHY is there all of this suffering? Why divorce? Why pain? Why all the bad stuff. Talk about a loaded question. We sat atop a mountain, several of us after a sunset and wondered why our world is full of suffering.

You know what I said? I said sometimes life just SUCKS. That was my answer. Some people will tell you it is God's will, that this was supposed to happen. Some people will even say everything happens for a reason. Maybe they are right but you know what I am not about to go looking for that reason. It is out of my ability to understand.

Here is what I do know. God loved us and he thinks we are good. He loved us so much that he manifested that love in Jesus who lived and walked among us and died on the cross. Even after we rejected this love, we were still forgiven.

Stop and think about that. Jesus, God's son, died for us even though we doubted it all. We didn't trust. We didn't understand. Or maybe we even think we understand it so well we should write the book of rules too. Jesus was able to look past all of that. He looked past our flaws. He saw something good in us obviously or he wouldn't have died for us. He saw our souls as invaluable. Worth saving.

In the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp she writes about how our soul is like a bucket with little holes that leak and yearn to be filled. She writes,
"That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave...But how? How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places?"

There are terrible unexplainable things in this world. There is a lot of hurt. I will never understand it. The more I try to have all the answers the less I actually understand. I am not in control. I don't get to write my own story. That is a hard thing to accept.

I think Jesus and God know that about us. We each have our own struggle to face. Each a journey that is different and unique. A battle in our heart and soul that happens every day. God doesn't want for us to hurt and to suffer. God created the world to be good and for us to be in communion together with one another--with Him.

It is for this reason that Jesus calls on us to be good neighbors to each other. To love one another. The Golden rule to love thy neighbor as one would love thyself.

Matthew 7:12 (NIV) Says,
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

I'm not a scholar. I'm won't even say I get it all "right." I can't quote scripture perfectly and I am not a theology expert. But I do know that we are meant to lift one another up and love each other. Without love this world just feels so empty, and our souls like buckets start to empty and dry up.

Jesus loved us so much he died for us. It is God's love affair with our soul. A real love story. Despite not trusting, God still loves us. God is so forgiving and his love is so unconditional and pure that he constantly seeks to fill up our souls with grace. He offers this grace to all of us.

I'm not the first person to struggle to understand, to fully accept God and his plan. Me, I admit I would do things different. I think not enough Christians admit this. I'm not God though. I'm just me. Like most people my story is not yet finished.

I am like a book unwritten. Each day is a blank page and a new chapter awaits me. Dwelling on what happened in my past does not change anything and worrying about how my story ends doesn't help me focus on what is happening right now. The story of my life is beautiful, yet raw and full of of ink stains and imperfections. I will never understand or comprehend what my life is until it is finished.

That is my flaw--our flaw as humans-- the heart of why trusting God is not easy. To be well with God and fill our soul with his grace despite all the bad. It is not an easy thing.

Today I pray not to understand. I pray for trust. I pray to be content and to listen even in bad times. I seek to praise you God through all the good and the bad. There is suffering in this world but I know that you my God love all people. I pray to overcome suffering and to try and see things with wisdom and grace that only You can offer me. I pray I can love my neighbors. I pray that I will seek not to hurt others around me but instead offer love. God, your love affair is for all people no matter what their journey has been. Your love is for all of us--including me.