Monday, July 17, 2017

We All Have Those Days

It's taken me almost two weeks to write a post I've been planning for a month. Maybe it's because of the vulnerability of it. Maybe it's because I've been busy. Maybe it's because in the midst of going back to school, stepping down from a position and starting a new one, and just the craziness that family and life brings, I haven't put enough effort into my writing. Whatever it is, it's an excuse. I hate excuses. So I'm leaving the excuses behind, getting over my fear of being vulnerable and writing.

"December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy." 1941 was 49 years before I was born, but if we think about it, we all have those days which will live in infamy in our lives.

July 5th is a day which will live in infamy for me.

Let's go back in time to Thursday, July 4th, 2002. I was riding up to my grandparents' house for our normal festivities. My mom was driving, and my brother and dad were either already up there or coming up later. I don't even remember if my sister's were there, but I think some of my cousins were at least. As we were driving, my mom told me that Mama Rose had been diagnosed with lung cancer. She said that on Friday she was going to be going to the doctor for some tests and a treatment plan. I was scared, but honestly not too phased. I knew people died from cancer. But I also knew people are healed from cancer. We got there, played in the water, watched the fireworks over the lake, and started a campfire for smores. My grandma was extra tired that night, so she headed to bed earlier than the rest of us. You can probably see where this is going. My grandpa is not the quietest of men. Bless his heart, he tries. But when you can't hear well, it's hard to be quiet. I woke up at around 3AM to him running up the stairs to my mom and I (my dad and brother had to be back in Hoquiam for something so they weren't there) and frantic, loud whispers. "Connie, Mom is bleeding. You need to call 911." My mom did CPR on my grandma while on the phone with 911, and I went out to meet the paramedics at the end of the driveway, which seemed to take an eternity. Despite all efforts, my Mama Rose died on the morning of July 5, 2002.

Let's fast-forward 14 years. I am 26 years old, in a relationship, and planning to get married. I go to bed on the night of July 4th thinking that I'm worthless. Thinking that nothing I can do is good enough, yet knowing what needs to be done. On the morning of July 5th, I broke up with my boyfriend. I broke up with him because things weren't working. I couldn't have an opinion if it was different than his, I couldn't speak my mind, and I couldn't talk things out instead of just getting argued with, yelled at and hung up on. If you've ever felt like this, you know how hard it is to get out of it. You think that you'll never find anybody because you're not good enough for anybody else. You feel inferior. I will give him credit for not being intentional about this. He always told me he was a better friend than he was a boyfriend. And I believe him. He was looking for Perfection and I couldn't give him that. No one can. To say the least, I felt a lot of things that day. I felt like I didn't know what I was going to do, I felt scared, I felt relieved, and I was searching for light and searching for hope. And then I found it. Just when I was getting ready to leave everything that I loved for this man that I loved, I gave him up because I knew it was right. So I found this job, and I applied for it. Weeks went by, and I got a letter that said they had hired somebody else. I given it to God, but felt in my heart that I was the right person for that job. So it's hard. But it was just God telling me that it wasn't the time. He was telling me that I wasn't ready. I couldn't mentally and physically succeed at that job while still grieving the loss of a relationship.

July 5th, 2002 and July 5th, 2016 are both days that will live in infamy for me. Both of these days represent sadness. Both of these days represent loss. Both of these days I met with grieving and pain. But both of these days also bring me hope. They bring me joy. And they give me a story that will inspire and encourage others.

A lot of people remember the day that they were saved. The exact day. I don't know if I just don't pay enough attention, or if I'm a bad Christian. But, I don't remember a day. I remember events that led up to my salvation. And the day my grandma died is one of them. I have been going to church my entire life. I grew up in what I like to call a Christian-inspired home. We went to church on Easter and Christmas. We had a prayer that we said at dinner time, we had our Bibles, and we had those Alice Bible story books. And I think my brother had some of the boy version of the Bible story books. But we didn't live it all the time. When my brother got into high school, he started to go to youth group and young life. That's where I met Jeremy and April. I love them, and I could not wait to be in high school so that they could be my leaders. But my brother going to youth group and Young Life didn't inspire me to go to church. I would go to church with my friend Sonja, because her dad was the pastor. I would go to church when I went to visit my Grandma Barb. But I did not claim my faith as my own, and I didn't live my faith out. I didn't serve Jesus, and I loved him but I didn't show it. When my grandma died, I realized how short life is. How precious life is. How life can be taken in the blink of an eye, and we are never really prepared. In seventh grade, less than a year after my grandma died, my best friend's mom passed away of cancer. I had spent so much time at her house, that she was like another mom to me. And I loved her like one. As I thought about my grandma's death and my best friend's mom's death, life hit me hard. I realized that with the briefness of life on Earth, I can't live for myself. I needed something to live for. And I can't tell you how many times I had accepted the message when Jan preached it to me, or when Pastor Kent preached it to me, but it was now my own. I needed to start living for Jesus.


God always uses pain for good. After the flood, He gave a rainbow. After the crucifixion, He gave us The Resurrected Christ who promises us Eternal Life. After Mama Rose and Lisa passed away, He brought me into that Eternal Life. After my relationship ended, he gave me more hope, wisdom and direction. It has taken a while. It has been messy, and I was in a bad place for a while. But I wouldn't admit it to most people. I was too proud. Pride is a tricky thing. It's easy to have, and it's not easy to give up.

A year after the death of this relationship, on July 5th, 2017, I felt a flood of emotion. I remembered my grandma, and I remembered where I had hoped to be by that time. I got home from Charlie's, after not staying for fireworks, and started the process of going to bed. I also evaluated my heart. Where was I? How was I doing? It's important to evaluate your heart every now and then. Really, I should evaluate my heart everyday. I should, but I don't always. That night, as I began my evaluation, I realized what God had done in a year. I'm a completely different person. I have more confidence. More confidence in myself, more confidence in my ability, and we're confidence in my worth. I know I am worthy. Jesus died for me. He didn't have to, but He loved me enough to die for me. He thinks that I am worth something. He thinks that I am worth dying for. I have stuck up for myself this year. I have professed my ideas and my beliefs. I have made amazing friends, and also chosen to let some friends go. I realize that the people who really care will make an effort. And, that it's better to have fewer good friends than many acquaintances. I have made decisions for me. This is always hard for me. It goes back to that confidence and worth. But I know that I need to do things that are good for me. It's not out of selfishness, but it's out of self-love. Because I cannot be loved if I don't love myself. And let me tell you, I've learned to love myself better this year. I've learned to care for myself better this year. Just because I've learned it doesn't mean that I've always done it though. But I'm still growing there. I hired a personal trainer, I started to pursue my dream of planning weddings, I began to explore the place that I love the most and spend time with Jesus hiking. I decided to go back to school. I bought a new car. I made a hard decision to leave the kids and families that I love at the childcare to be with Charlie all summer, and make people's dream weddings a reality at my newest position.

Y'all, this last year has been a mess. It's been a Beautiful Mess. They were things that were hard. There were things that were really hard. And there are still things going on in my family and my life that make me want Jesus to come back so badly. But if I've learned anything this year, I know that Jesus created me to be an overcomer. He created me to learn through trials. He created to lean on him. He created me to show me how my story intertwines with His. And he is going to use that story to encourage and inspire others and bring people into His Glory. If I look back at my life, I wouldn't be where I'm at right now without July 5th, 2002 and 2016. I wouldn't have the faith I have. I wouldn't have the strength and confidence I have. So in the Beautiful Mess of hard stuff, I'm thankful for my God who sustains, protects and loves me.


Here's my encouragement to you:

1. Take a risk and do something that makes you happy.
2. Lean in to Jesus. Every. Single. Day.
3. Be you. Be proud of who you are. Don't be ashamed of who God made you to be. Don't be ashamed of your quirks. God gave them all to you. Embrace yourself.
4. "Spur one another on toward love and good deeds." Hebrews 10:24 is my daily reminder to be encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, and to shine for Jesus through my life.
5. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelt nails this one. Seriously. If you are in a friendship or a relationship where you feel inferior, it is not normal. Love yourself enough to recognize that something needs to change. Love the other person enough to tell them how they make you feel. Talk to someone. I'm always here for you.
6. As always, love fiercely and love boldly.




Sunday, March 5, 2017

Namaste

I have been practicing yoga consistently for two weeks now. I have been able to intentionally set a routine and stick to it. I go through my practice every morning before getting ready for work, and it helps me to concentrate on my focus and intention for that day. Some days, I end my day with a bedtime yoga practice. Ending my day with relieving my stress, stretching my muscles and calming my mind help me to have a much more restful night's sleep.

I have found that Yoga With Adriene has the best series of videos for me. She is very easy to follow and allows you the freedom to not only find what feels good by making the practice work for you and your ability, but she also encourages you to acknowledge thoughts that come to you as you go through your practice, instead of asking you to push the thoughts completely out of your mind.

My journey in the past two weeks has been amazing, and I have seen the benefits of it daily. In no particular order, I want to acknowledge and talk about these benefits.

More energy (prana): when I begin my day by waking up my muscles, I also am able to awake something in my brain. The body is an amazing thing. When you spend any amount of time on self care, you can feel the recharge and refuel from brain to toes.

Better sleep: I don't sleep much, and in general I don't sleep very soundly, but when I do yoga before bed, and allow myself to acknowledge, tackle, and in the end unwind my day, I am able to sleep better than I ever have. It relaxes me so well that some nights I can't even make it through the whole sequence without almost falling asleep.

Closer to God: I use my yoga time not only to improve my flexibility, acknowledge my day, or set my intention for the day, but also to connect with God by trusting Him to show me what my body is capable of. I use the time to praise Him for all He does for me daily and bring everything to Him while on my mat.

Better range of motion: every day, the practice gets easier for me. This shows me my improved flexibility and range of motion, but after only a week, my trainer also noticed a difference! Just a week! I love it.

More self-esteem and confidence: I find my confidence growing daily because I am allowing myself to spend time on self care and self love. This is something I am not usually very good at, so just 30 minutes a day has made a world of a difference.

Improved workouts: running is hard. Running is still hard, no matter how much I do yoga. But my stamina is better, my legs don't hurt as much, and I am feeling confident that I will be able to do that half marathon this summer. Yoga has also made me stronger, allowing me to push harder and challenge myself more in my weight training.

Less stress: I don't have less stressful events in my daily life, but I am able to deal with the stress in a more positive and effective way. Instead of my mind going to all the bad places when something comes up, I take it to Jesus, practice my breathing and allow myself to acknowledge my feelings in a healthy way.

I'm sure I could go on all day about how much yoga has improved my life these past two weeks. But I also want to acknowledge that yoga doesn't have to be perfect. It is about you finding your ability, meeting your body where it's at, and improving yourself on a daily basis. Some people do not have the ability to create most poses in yoga practice, and that's ok. Stretching (whether it's basic stretches for every day, yoga, pilates, chair yoga, bed yoga, or even just the awareness of breath) has the same benefits I have experienced in my practice. Pure Home and Body outlined 10 benefits of stretching as well: more flexibility, ability to manage stress, clearer thinking, pain management, improved body awareness, better sleep, injury prevention, happier, weight loss and improved balance and posture.

No matter what your ability is, I challenge you to join me. Find awareness with your body and practice some self love. Namaste.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Thank You, Dr. King

Today, as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, I encourage you to watch, read or listen to his speeches. Research his impact, his philosophy and his love for God. Reflect back, but look forward. What can you do to stand up for people in the divided country we are living in? What can you do to speak out when you see injustice? What can you do to love all people and fight for all people the way God loves all people? I'm grateful for my church. We talk about, recognize and celebrate diversity. My pastor encourages us to look at the value of a person's soul. And to love them. Yesterday he talked about Dr. King's legacy and encouraged us to fight for all people (because God loves all people) and we should be standing up against hatred. He reminded us that we, as the Church have the most power to heal the hatred.

Dr. King also talked about the church in Letter From Birmingham Jail:

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to
the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future.

Here is that letter, along with ten of his other speeches. This is another link, with a couple more speeches not in the first link. They are good. Go. Read. Reflect. Research. It's good.

From What Is Your Life's Blueprint:

Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.

Thank you, Dr. King.

Thank you for fighting for humans.

Thank you for inspiring me to stand up for people and against injustice.

Thank you for your words.

Thank you for your fight.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Another Trip Around The Sun

I went to the gym today to do my final workout of 2016. It was a trip. I don't know that I have ever seen that place packed with more people. Also, I was really excited because we got a new rowing machine, and even though it was full today, I can't wait to use it Monday! I have a love/hate relationship with going to the gym in January. I've written about this before, but I love to see how many new people join to fulfill their resolutions for the new year. But I hate to see the numbers become less and less as the year goes on. The gym is one of my favorite places to be. I love pushing myself to places I didn't think I could go. I would love to see all of the January newbies stay through December. That being said, I don't really care much for New Year resolutions. Don't get me wrong, I love making goals. But, for some reason, New Year resolutions seem to be less attainable goals. The last few years, I have picked a theme word or phrase for my year. I'll get to that. But before I do, I think that a new year is a good time to reflect on the past. Not to dwell or regret, but to smile, laugh, cringe and think about what the next year can look like. 

I'm really excited that my best friend agreed to join me on this one as a guest blogger. I kind of love her and you should too! Check her blog out at: Life In The Coffee Lane. (Also, yes, we definitely sent out Best-Friend Christmas cards. It's a new thing.)

10 Accomplishments (Alisa)
1. Speaking out for the things I’m passionate about
I’ve learned that it’s ok to not be silent about what I believe. I’m going to continue to speak out against the things that make my blood boil.
2. Doing things for me
I’ve done a better job of giving myself priority, of saying no to things I don’t need to do, and of choosing to get out there and do things for myself.
3. Beaver season tickets
Honestly my favorite purchase of 2016 – I can’t wait for next year!
4. Evaluating myself and my views about the world
This evaluation has been enlightening. I’ve finally come to realize where I stand politically, and have a new fire in my heart to speak out and stand up for humanity.
5. Graduating to preschool
This is far less stinky. Much fewer poopy diapers.
6. New family members
Not necessarily my accomplishment – but still fun to welcome Travis and Kaisha in to our crazy family. And also baby Skarlett. She just has no choice but to be a part of our family.
7. Hiring a personal trainer
Second best purchase of 2016 – I can’t wait to see the changes that happen this year!
8. Really thinking about and trying to live Jesus’ love for the world
Again – back to fighting for humanity – my goal is to love the way Jesus loves and to stick up for those who don’t have anyone to stick up for them.
9. Voting – even though I didn’t want to
Seriously a huge accomplishment. It took me two days, and I had to watch White Christmas to even get through my ballot.
10. Trusting God when I didn’t want to listen
This was the hardest accomplishment. That still, small voice inside. That’s a real thing. And worth it every time to listen to Him.
11. Rereading the Harry Potter series. Again. My yearly tradition (bonus)
Yes. Just so much yes.

10 Highlights (accomplishments, best memories) (Cori)
1. Moving to the west side in my own apartment
2. Being offered a leadership opportunity at work
3. Given more responsibility and trust at work
4. Rebuilding a relationship with cousins I had but on the back burner
5. Being a part of Norah’s life
6. Watching Miranda and Jordan become amazing parents to a beautiful baby girl
7. Finally understanding the importance of quality friends over quantity of friends
8. Gaining more confidence in myself and coming to terms that I like who I am and what I am doing with my life
9. Stepping outside of my comfort zone and making new friends
10. Having accomplished my goal of reading 75 books this year (nerd alert!)

10 Disappointments (Alisa)
Disclaimer: A lot of these disappointments are about my relationship with Marcus. I don't want you to think that he's not a good guy. He is. He's just not good for me.
1. Staying in an unhealthy relationship for so long, even though I knew it was unhealthy
Mostly I’m disappointed in myself because I could recognize that the relationship was unhealthy, but wouldn’t let myself get out of it earlier.
2. Losing sight of my joy
This also has to do with that unhealthy relationship. I wanted the future so badly that I let my joy dissipate little by little.
3. Letting others dictate my happiness and self-worth
See above – this relationship thing had a huge impact.
4. Losing focus on my time with Jesus
Again, see above.
5. Unwanted weight
I tried so hard for so long because Marcus wanted me to exercise a certain way that I gained some weight back once we broke up. That will change.
6. Letting someone else tell me how to feel my emotions
This was probably the biggest realization, and by far the biggest reason I broke up with Marcus. I was being told how to feel and experience my emotions. I was being told I couldn’t cry, because he didn’t want a “weak wife” one day. I started to try and change who I was and how I felt things, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I put a stop to that before it got worse.
7. Not watching the Sound of Music enough
I don’t know that I even watched it once in 2016. That may happen tonight.
8. Not going to Disneyland
It’s been 11 years. That’s WAY too long.
9. Not getting my acceptance letter to Hogwarts
This may sound like a joke to you, but it’s real. I’m still waiting. It’s just been held up in the Owlery for the past 15 years.
10. Not going skiing
I really would LOVE to ski again. Anyone want to plan a trip with me?

10 Disappointments (failures, missed opportunities) (Cori)
1. Applying and not getting into a doctorate program I was excited for
2. Saying goodbye to a cousin I loved dearly
3. Losing a friendship that had meant the world to me
4. Revealing I liked a person and not having that returned
5. Trying online dating and having two dates that did not turn out well
6. Saying goodbye to a supervisor that I cherished
7. Letting my stubbornness drive away a person I cared for
8. Being prejudice towards a new supervisor
9. Letting someone tell me I was not good enough and believing it
10. Using anger to fuel my need for acceptance

3 Game Changers (Alisa)
1. Marcus – relationship and breakup
I learned a lot. I loved hard. I changed too much. 2017 will be about finding myself again and learning how to love again in a healthy way.
2. The wedding
Not only did I gain a brother and a niece, I had a huge, impactful conversation with my dad that made me think about my relationship with Marcus (without him even knowing half of what the relationship looked like).
3. Humanity
It’s been a tough year for humanity – but it’s been a blessing to me to realize the impact I want to have for people.


3 Game Changers (unexpected events that shifted your priorities) (Cori)
1. A best friend finding someone else to rely on
2. A new opportunity at work that could boost my status in the field
3. Finding my God-given mission to help change myself

3 Things You Focused On (Alisa)
1. Relationships
Good and bad – I focused A LOT of attention on relationships.
2. The future
Marcus and I talked a lot about the future. We made plans. They didn’t happen. Once we broke up, I had to reevaluate that future. That’s about where I’m at going in to 2017.
3. Other people and their opinions
This was huge. Too huge for me. I need to remember that what other people think does not matter. All that matters is what God thinks and who He created me to be.

3 Things you Focused on (what you put most of your time into) (Cori)
1. Who I am
2. Being the best child and family therapist I can be
3. How to be more open and sharing what I am truly feeling, instead of hiding it and pretending I am okay

3 Things You Forgot (Alisa)
1. I forgot to rely on prayer as much as I should
I’ve started to change this again. I know my God is a God who hears and answers.
2. God made me to experience emotion the way I do on PURPOSE and for a purpose.
I’m a feeler. That’s how He made me and that’s how I’ll stay.
3. I don’t need to change for anyone.
Will I grow? Absolutely. I don’t want to be stagnant in my relationship with God. But I’m not going to change to get acceptance from anyone.

3 Things You Forgot (what you didn’t get around to) (Cori)
1. Saying sorry (help me out JB!)
2. To say goodbye
3. Trusting myself

Reflection (Alisa)
2016 was a year of lessons for me. It was a year to learn who I am, what I believe and to relearn the things I should be focusing on. I am thankful that I have grown through every thing that has happened this year, and especially thankful that God uses our pain to bring His peace and joy. I look forward to 2017 and a year of more growth, more opportunity and more change. Bring it on!

Reflection (how does this inform your plans for next year?) (Cori)
- For this next year I plan on applying to a different doctoral program with more confidence and understanding in what I am aiming for.
- Being able to be myself and not change to please others
- Feeling confident in the woman that God has made me and not hide that
- Knowing that people can change and that it is okay to talk about the pain it may cause
- Reminding myself that each day is a new adventure and that I have a support system that will love me and care for me every step of the way.

I decided I'm going to LEAP into 2017 this year. Leap is going to be my theme word. And because I'm me, leap is of course an acronym, and for all intents and purposes, LEAP is my New Year resolution. 
Love
Expectation
Adventure
Purpose

Love: First of all, I'm going to focus on loving God more than ever. I need to spend more time studying the Word, praying and focus my heart on Him every day. From that love for Him, I'm going to love myself more. I'm going to take time to do things I love. I'm going to look into options for my future, and I'm going to focus on the way I talk to myself about myself. By loving God more and loving myself more, I will be able to love people more fiercely and more boldly than ever. 2017 is going to be a year of bold, crazy, intense love. 

Expectation: I'm going to live with expectation. The expectation that my God answers prayers. The expectation that I can and will accomplish my goals and dreams. The expectation that I can get through trials and hurdles because I don't live by my own strength. The expectation that 2017 will be better than 2016. 

Adventure: I sure love adventure. I am looking forward to living an adventurous 2017. I don't know what that will look like exactly yet, but I'm guessing there will be more hikes, more spontaneous trips, and more meeting new people. Adventure is out there! Embrace and love the journey. 

Purpose: I am going to live my life on purpose, while pursuing the purpose God has for my life. I'm going to purposely seek out those who need love. I'm going to stand up for those who need standing up for. I'm going to purpose to be a better friend, daughter, granddaughter, sister and aunt. I'm going to live lifrom with purpose and with passion. I'm going to love with passion. I'm puprosely going to be active: physically, spiritually, mentally and in the way I stick to and live out the things I believe and am passionate about. 

So here we go, 2017, I'm leaping for you! 

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas Isn't Everyone's Favorite

I remember the moment I got the news. I was at work. I didn't have time to process what I was hearing. I couldn't grasp the reality and the magnitude of the tragedy. I gave all the kids extra hugs as I left on that chilly December day four years ago. I got in the car and turned on the radio, only to hear more about it. I made it about a quarter of a mile before I was struck with the reality of grief for families I didn't know.

When I got home, I turned on the Christmas tree lights and sat by the tree for a long time in disbelief and in grief. I prayed, I cried and I wrote in my journal. I found that journal today:

I began to realize that in times like these, people doubt God. They question Him. "Do you really care?" "If you were really here...how could you let this happen?" "How could a loving God let twenty children get murdered?" It is also in these times that God wants to grab us up into His arms, hold onto our faces and say, "I am here. I have been here throughout eternity and will continue into eternity. I have never left. You must understand, my heart hurts too. My heart is grieving with you. I am crying too, while my heart breaks. Let me hold you, wrap you in my arms so you can see how much I love you. Pray with me. I am sovereign. I am love. I need you to be love to these people. Show them how great I AM through the storm. I WILL make all things new. I WILL conquer. I WILL wipe away every tear, eliminate death. I WILL win. Remember, I have already won. Trust me, child. Trust me.
I just couldn't believe that eleven days before Christmas, twenty babies and six adult babies would be missing from their family's celebration because of one man's actions. As I spent some time in prayer and reflection today, I wrote the names of each victim on my coffee cup. It was my simple way to honor their memory, even four years later.

School shootings hit me hard. They always do. I work with kids so I just can't fathom the horrific scenario. But this one hit just a little harder, I think because most of the victims were so little. One of my biggest fears is losing my children. I know I don't have any children yet, but it is a deep deep desire of mine to one day be a mommy. I also have so many kids in my life that I just can't imagine the pain of losing any of those precious ones.

Christmas is my favorite. We get to celebrate the birth of Christ, we get to give gifts to those we love, and we get to be surrounded by our family and friends. But not everyone loves Christmas as much as I do, and not everyone looks forward to it. For a lot of people, Christmas brings grief, sorrow and pain. A lot of this pain is rooted in loss - divorce, death and abandonment. These things are real and they hurt. These are the things that Christ came for. He came to be with us in the times that we are hurt and grieving. He also promises in Revelation 21 that there will be a time when all our tears will be wiped away. There will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more hurt and suffering. He came so we can know this place by loving Him, and accepting His sacrifice. We owe Him everything, yet we don't have to pay anything. It's the perfect gift. We just get to be with Him in Heaven forever.

It's crazy to think about everything that happened just in 2016. I won't make a list of everything, but just highlight a few things heavy on my heart right now. I saw a picture on Facebook of someone's Christmas tree. They had taken the time to write down all of the names of officers and K-9s killed this year. It was sobering to see how full the tree was. As a daughter and sister of police officers, I love that idea as a way to honor and remember the fallen. Christmas is going to be hard for each and every one of those families. I also think about my friends who lost their son in January. This is the first Christmas since he passed. I think about my best friend who lost her cousin to cancer this year, and then about everyone (including my family) who has suffered loss because of cancer. I think of all the mamas who have lost babies to miscarriage, stillbirth and of those who have just lost their babies. I think of the families of those who have taken their own lives because they feel hopeless, lost and alone. I think about the people I love who are struggling every day with their mental health. I can't imagine how hard their Christmases will be. I think about the people living in the streets and how hard it must be, especially this time of year. I think about the division in our country and those who are suffering from oppression and those who are blinded to it. I pray that we, as a country, can find a way to unite, stand together, love and fight for everyone. Finally, I think of the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. I think of all those people who have suffered so much, and how Christmas will be hard for them. Reading the tweets makes it even more real and heart-wrenching.

As Christmas is only eleven days away, I can't help but reflect on the hard things, and pray for the people experiencing grief in this season. I urge you to be there for the people around you who you know are suffering, are in pain or are grieving. Help people. Even if you don't know them. Even if you don't have much to give. As Mrs. Lovett sings about in Sweeney Todd, "Times is hard." I get it. But even if you don't have much or anything to give, look for ways to help. It could be as simple as spreading the word, or as tangible as inviting a homeless person in for a meal and shower. Look for opportunities to make a positive impact on someone who is suffering.

Remember that Jesus is the reason we can celebrate and have joy this Christmas. Even in suffering, He is there. Even in grief, He is there. He came as a baby, lived a completely holy life, and paved the way for us to spend forever with Him by dying on the cross. If you want to know more about His perfect, never-ending love and sacrifice, I'd love to share more with you.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I'm With You.

I wore a safety pin today. One of my kids at school asked me about it. So I told him I am wearing it so people know I'm a safe person to talk to. A while later his friend noticed it and asked me. Instead of me having to be the one to explain, the first child said, "It's so people know she's safe to talk to." They are three and four. They get it. They get that people might not feel safe so they need to know who is ok to talk to, and who is going to stand with them.

I was humbled by this four year old responding to his friend so quickly and matter-of-factly. It was so sweet, but it also made me sad. We live in a world where children witness violence, hatred and discrimination every single day. Kids humble me because they not only see and understand more than we give them credit for, but they see and speak truth. They see good in people when the world seems to be falling apart. My prayer is that kids will always see the good in all people. No matter what. Period. End of story.

I am broken right now. I am shocked, saddened and infuriated by the rise in hate crimes. I am appalled by the division in our country in a time we need unity. And I'm proud of the people I know who are standing up for the marginalized, the abused, the hated - the same ones Jesus would be loving the heck out of if He were here walking with us today. Jesus talks about loving the poor. He talks about loving the oppressed. He broke social norms and used His power and His love to attract and to welcome the marginalized. He sat with the tax collectors and the prostitutes. He seeks and He saves those who are lost. He extends grace. He loves the unloved and the unlovable. One of my absolute favorite passages in the Bible is Matthew 25:31-46:

“31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

You guys, God isn't asking us to only support and be there for and love those who look exactly like us. He calls us to love all. To love the least of these. He calls us to love the ones who are deemed by society as unlovable. So that's what I will do. I am wearing a safety pin because Jesus asks me to love those who are cast out by society. I am wearing a safety pin because there are people who have never experienced the unimaginable, powerful, amazing love of Jesus because the Christians they have met are judgmental, and make them feel as if they are unwelcome and unwanted in the Kingdom God invites all who believe in Him to enter. I am wearing a safety pin so I can share the same Gospel I love and believe with everyone not necessarily only by the words I speak, but by the actions I take and the way that I love people wholeheartedly.

I can't stop there though. Wearing a safety pin is not enough.

I will speak up when I see discrimination. I will stand up for those being discriminated against. I won't tolerate it.

I will speak up when I see abuse. I will stand up for those being abused - emotionally, verbally, physically and sexually. I won't tolerate it.

I will speak up against hatred. I will stand up for those who are hated. I won't tolerate it.

I will speak up against the stigma surrounding mental health. I will stand up for those experiencing all different types of mental health struggles. I won't tolerate people disregarding the struggle.

I will be silent so that when you need to be heard, you have a safe place to talk. I refuse to laugh at you when you cry, brush it off as if it's no big deal, tell you to suck it up, but will cry with you, affirm your feelings, and ask you how I can support you. I will love you relentlessly.

I was born into white privilege. I probably will never understand exactly what you are going through. I am a Christian. I may not agree with everything you believe or think. I am straight. I may not agree with or live your lifestyle. But I will not judge you if you come to me. I will not make you feel like less than you are because of who you are. If my two little three and four year olds can get it, maybe some other people can too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hakuna Matata

I told my best friend and myself that I was not going to write about the election. But here I am, Election Day 2016, writing about the election. I've never really been that into politics. It wasn't really a topic at my house. My parents didn't tell us who they were voting for and I never usually even knew who was running. I liked it that way. Sometimes I get nostalgic and think about how much easier life was as a kid, with that Hakuna Matata mentality. I didn't have to worry about if I was voting for the right person, choosing the right health care or figuring out life after a heartbreaking breakups. All I had to worry about was what my Barbies were going to do after school and which book I was going to read next (this is still a daily struggle).

Election day seems like a good day to reflect on our country and our freedom. We live in a country where women are allowed to vote. I never want to take that for granted. I hold that right dear to my heart and even though I didn't like the two main options I am thankful also that we are not limited to two candidates. Is it likely that a third party candidate will be elected? No. But is it possible? Yes. As a woman living in America I will not skip out on an election just because I don't like two people because less than 100 years ago, I would have been considered ineligible.

My preschoolers and I talked about the election today and how wonderful it is that the election falls on the same week as Veterans Day. When I asked them what day it was, most of the answers were "Tuesday" "Thursday" or "Psalm 100:4" but a couple of them have been listening and one girl answered "the day we get a new president!" I know you all know this, but kids watch. As they watch, they learn. Is the behavior we have modeled for our kids during this election the behavior we want the future leaders of our country to exhibit? I guarantee that if I had young children right now, I would go out of my way to make sure that they didn't see the example that many have set. I would have made sure to keep the election talk at minimum while the kids were around and protect their precious ears from the malice and hate on both sides of the spectrum.

One of my strongest desires is to one day have a family and children of my own. I've thought a lot about their character, and the kind of children I want to raise. I want my children to be well rounded in their activities and interests. I never want to limit their minds. I never once want them to believe they can't do something. I never want to tell my child that their dream is too big or wrong. I want them to know that they are loved beyond all measure by me and by the God who created them.

Which is why, above everything else, I want my children to grow up knowing and trusting the Lord. I want His Spirit to fill them in all they say and do. Tomorrow I'm teaching at youth group. And not ironically, but because God works in amazing ways, part of what we will be doing is breaking down the Fruits of the Spirit, which happen to be the same character qualities I pray my children exhibit in their daily lives.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

As I pray these for my children, it looks like this:
Love: I pray they love others as Jesus loves them - wholly, without bounds, and that they love those who are deemed unlovable.
Joy: I pray that no matter what their lives bring, God's joy would overpower them through every trial.
Peace: I pray that they feel the peace that surpasses all understanding in every trial and in every high. I pray also that they become peacemakers and exhibit God's character through their lives.
Longsuffering: I hate praying for patience, because it means God is going to give us situations we will need to use it. But I pray that when those times come, my children remember their patient and loving Father and show the same grace to everyone who needs it.
Kindness: I pray my children are kind to everyone they meet, and never let differences divide them from loving and being kind.
Goodness: I pray my children choose to be good to glorify God, not themselves or even me as their mother.
Faithfulness: I pray my children are faithful to those they love, but mostly I pray they are faithful to the calling God has upon their lives.
Gentleness: I pray that my children would treat others with gentleness and be forgiving when it's so hard to forgive. I pray also they would remember that forgiveness is not diminishing the wrongdoing but taking power and control over it, and choosing to forgive as Christ forgave us.
Self-control: I pray for my children to have self-control when faced with anger, joy, sorrow and temptation.

Step back a minute and look at this list. Now think about this election season. How did we do?

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."

Love: Did you love everyone fiercely, even if they didn't agree with you?
Joy: When all is said and done, will you still have joy that you live in a free country where you have been given the right to vote? Even more, can you find joy in Christ, the Giver of joy?
Peace: Will you have peace if your candidate doesn't win? God gives us peace when things don't go our way because ultimately His plan is greater. Were you a peacemaker when the debates between friends got nasty?
Longsuffering: Were you patient when people said bad things about your candidate or did you lash out?
Kindness: Have you been kind in disagreement, or have you tried to prove you are right maliciously and without grace?
Goodness: Did you show the goodness of your heart or did evilness shine through?
Faithfulness: Did you vote true to your beliefs and were you faithful to your heart and what you believe about God in this election?
Gentleness: Were you gentle when others wouldn't relent?
Self-control: Did you have self-control when it came to the words you used against the candidates, their parties and their supporters?

No matter what the result of this election, I challenge and urge you to think about the character we want to model for our children. What kind of adults are we teaching them to be when we can't disagree peacefully? Ultimately, we are going to be ok. We can make it through the next four years. No matter what. But what we can't do in these next four years is show our children that it's ok to disagree maliciously, violently and hatefully. We can't show our children that the President determines the character in which we live our lives. But what we CAN do is unite. We can unite in purpose for a better America. We can unite in love for a more gracious America. We can unite in the way we stand up for people of all occupations, backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientations, developmental abilities and physical abilities. We can give our children an idea of what it truly means to love people despite the differences.

It's so easy to turn to fear when we don't know what the future holds. But I am absolutely confident in my God's sovereign ability to reign over every aspect of our lives. Yes, even our country. Bad leaders are not foreign to Him. I am absolutely confident that whoever will be leading this country for the next four years is not greater than our God. He has the ultimate power and He has a plan for His people. No matter who is elected President, when this is all over, Jesus will always be King. That's what I taught my kids today. I told them that we have the power to vote, and that we don't always win, but we really do win because we have Jesus. So hakuna matata. No more worrying about this. Let God be in control and reign. He is bigger and more powerful.

We ended our circle time by honoring our veterans and our freedom through singing God Bless the USA. I'm thankful to live in this country. I'm thankful for the power to vote. I'm thankful that I can share my heart without fear of being thrown in jail because I am a Christian. Most of all, I'm thankful for my freedom in Christ, that my identity is found and secure in Him, and that He holds my future.

"If tomorrow all the things were gone I'd worked for all my life
And I had to start again with just my children and my wife
I'd thank my lucky stars to be livin' here today
'Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away

And I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me
And I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA"

Never stop praying for our nation, and for whoever the next POTUS is. Never stop showing grace, love and mercy to everyone. Walk in the Spirit live in the Spirit, and let those fruits shine in your life.

"And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:24-26