What balance means…

I was eight or nine when I first started feeling responsible for those silly, ridiculous things. Maybe even younger than that even. Which is not to say that I wasn’t perfectionist from the very start.

My mother tells me that she once caught me picking up miniscule pieces of white lint off our red industrial carpeting on the basement staircase. Back at the old house in Melvern Square. When she asked me why I was doing that, I replied impatiently, “Someone has to do it.”

From childhood, I felt the compulsive desire to smooth out wrinkles in blanket covers, straighten sofa cushions, wipe up any remaining water from the sink taps. Eliminate crumbs from the counter. I was that girl whose bedroom was immaculate. Who dusted and vacuumed before I entered junior high. I was that child who rearranged her books alphabetically. For fun. Who made a nightly cleaning circuit course as a means of calming herself down. Because order meant security. Chaos was too unpredictable.

And then, somewhere between those teenage years and when adult life begins, the wheels fell off the wagon. The pendulum swung. And all that I felt compelled to be became null and void. I couldn’t have cared less. I lost that urge towards responsibility and conscientiousness. And I was quite a while returning to my familiar, comfortable place of being orderly.

Sometimes the return home enables a person to find a happy medium. And sometimes one swings back and goes farther to one extreme than they’ve ever gone before.

My pendulum just never seemed to adhere to that motto that moderation is the key to happiness. Rather, the motto I’ve lived by most of my life has been one founded on the ideals of diligence, thoroughness and strict fastidiousness.

Sounds fun, huh?

While for some people, balance means more discipline and precision in their life- a calling back to routine, schedules and practice, for others like myself, it means a releasing from the crippling chains of habit and custom. It means allowing oneself to experience freedom and pleasure and liberty. It means that these dear ones like myself must allow themselves to let go. Cut loose. Give up control.

Such a difficult thing to do when you’ve never done it any other way.
Over the past few years, I have been talking to myself through my writing- through this blog. It’s a conversation I have with myself that I let the rest of the ‘world’ in on. Although it is really for me, it’s also for US. Because I believe that there are other people out there having different conversations with themselves and sometimes it helps to know you’re not in this alone.

Some of those conversations are about goals. Some are about habits. Some are about relationships. Some are about harmful lifestyles. Some conversations are about things we’re doing right. But by and large, our self-talk is often about things we are finding fault with, within. Things we loathe about ourselves. Things we wish to change.

Wouldn’t it be life-altering and freeing if these inner conversations could be positive? What if they were affirmative? What if they built us up rather than tore us down? What if they were encouraging?

My tendency, if left to my own desires and curious ways would be to tell myself that I am never doing enough. It has been the self talk I have heard in my head since I was old enough to remember. And it is what I choose to change this year by focusing on a more balanced lifestyle.

For me, balance does mean some discipline. But more than anything, it means release. I chose five areas of my life to work on and become more balanced in those areas. Those five areas are spiritual (meditation and prayer), physical (exercise) and mental (play and self-awareness and perspective); the reason I chose them is because in each area, my tendency would be to self-talk myself out of doing them. Over the years this fact has been blindingly obvious.

Given any spare or free time, I will tell myself to do laundry rather than read a book, meditate on Scripture or pray. Given a window of opportunity, I will often say to myself that there is supper to prepare or children to look after rather than exercise. Given the opportunity to be responsible or be playful, 9.99 percent of the time, I would choose sensibility.

Given freedom of thought to see life as brutal pain or exquisite beauty, my natural tendency is see ‘life as pain.’ Life is just too hard to be beautiful, is it not? And as for perspective, it’s glass half full for this gal most of the time.
Left to my own devices, my self-talk would leave me a sad and bitter woman. It would make for a very miserable, pitiful existence.

So for me, restoring balance to my life has been to release myself from the bondage that is my own tendency to live life fully driven, goal-oriented, focused and resolute.

Thus at this season in my life it is in my own best interest to let the pendulum swing a little farther away from my compulsive self toward a freer, less-restricted me.

Balance certainly will mean different things to different people. For me, it means giving myself permission to make mistakes. Allowing myself to have fun. Letting go. Embracing freedom. Which is not to say that doing these things all the time and in every situation would bring balance. But knowing myself as I do, making these five a practice will be easier said than done. And when I see the day that all five of my purposeful intentions have been realized, then I will feel the need to examine my intentions and perhaps swing the pendulum yet again.

All this to say that my balance is different than your balance.  And so the story goes.  Which leaves me with the question: what does balance mean to you?

What I purpose for this new year…

Minus 37 with the wind chill factor. That one hour school delay affording the buses an extra hour off for idling- it should have been the ticket, really. There I was. Bleary-eyed from a night of restless sleep- worried over deadlines to come, papers to write, classes to teach and examinations to prepare for, jarred awake at 5:30 a.m. And I could have had that extra hour of precious sleep, but who’s to know that early? That one sweet hour would be given like a gift?

My brain, like the weather, on permanent freeze status. One never knows what a day might bring.

For who was I to know that I would pick up a small tube of Optimyixin antibiotic solution and think it was model cement glue and that I would proceed to try and fix daughter’s broken snowflake earring with it- and then pleased with that endeavour: also attempt to right a broken headband flower that had also fallen off in the tug and pull that is our morning hair-do sessions with the same. Who was I to know? I thought it was a little sticky. The earring is still sitting there on the shelf- fully medicated and fully slicked.

And how was I to know that I would find myself with two gold dangley earrings pulled neatly through one ear lobe? So that I would sound for all the world like an old cowbell while looking like a woman who hadn’t seen a mirror in quite a while…. How was I to know? I truly hadn’t (seen the mirror, for quite some time).

And then. Lint all over my new pants (to which, I took long strips of packing tape which I then used as a make-fix lint remover, all while standing discreetly behind the kindergarten shoe cubby- only to have inquiring little minds ask me what the tape was for and why was I doing THAT)?

It was that kind of day.

A day that drives me to consider that one key word for me at the dawning new year- BALANCE.

A need for- a craving for: balance. A desire to live life in balance. That state of reasonable equilibrium wherein one is poised in between sanity and insanity in perfect steadiness. That’s what I need this year. A place to settle. A place to fall.

When my world seems just a little too off kilter, when the boat rocks me too hard one way and then another, I needs come back to that place I find my center. My niche. My sense of peace. My source of hope. My fulcrum.
When the world seems perpetually to be lobbing me one hardball after another, in the good name and spirit of family and community, faith and common brotherhood. In the name of all good things, there still must be a balance.

For if not, I will inevitably totter off the deep edge and be swallowed alive.

I am not much for New Years resolutions, although we did for fun state one each around the table, our first meal of the New Year. Rather than resolve, I choose to purpose my intentions. And in so doing, I hope that I will not set myself up for failure.

Here are a few ways in which I hope to carve out a sweet slice of balance for myself this new year of 2014:
1.) I am making more time in the morning for Scripture reading. For prayer and quiet, reflective meditation on that which I have been portioned. That quiet time in the morning is mine in which to think. To ponder and consider. To both speak and listen. To be spiritually fed.
2.) I am taking the time to exercise- even when I don’t feel that drive to get up and go. Just for the fun of it. Just for the fresh air and wind. Just for that cold slap on my cheeks. Husband and I- in an ironic twist on the tale Gifts of the Magi each bought for the other something akin to the same. He bought for me a pass to the local ski park for both skiis and snowshoes (minus the equipment) while I bought for him the double pair of snowshoes. Neither knew what the other was up to. A meeting of the minds.
3.) I am making more time to play. And I confess, I am not that playful by nature. My daughter commented to me just the other day that I never play with her, to which I immediately felt defensive: of course I play! But truly playfulness is the spirit in which you set out to do that pleasure or novelty of which you are endeavouring; and to that end, I must admit that I am not always very playful. So, I am purposing to play more, by which I mean experience life more so in a spirit of wonder and playfulness.
4.) And I want to see the beauty in my world. This world: it is filled with so much darkness- so many shadows and grey lines. Overshadowed by so very many of those dark, heavy, black clouds. And when I focus on all that which is misery and sadness and heartache and bitterness and evil, I no longer see the beauty. But life is still so beautiful. In spite of its darkness. And there is much beauty to be found, even in pain. The beauty of a jagged line- a scar. Beauty of a smudge. A trace left behind. A crooked smile. There is beauty to be found in tears, even in sorrow. And yes, beauty can rise up strong even from crumbled ashes and decay. Life may not be pretty or appealing from every angle, but it can be beautiful from the perspective of the viewer who chooses to see light instead of darkness.
5.) And of greatest significance: I want to live for what is worthwhile- for that which lasts. For that which matters. What is the pursuit of the soul that is lasting? That does not fade? That rewards back seventy-fold for the endeavour? For we can pursue many things and many places in this life and still find ourselves wanting. True balance can only be found in perfect rest. Rest equal to peace of the soul-kind. A peace that passes understanding, that always satisfies. That is never exhausted and is in plentiful supply.

Whether I am using my moments to be a mother or using my moments to be a teacher or a wife. Whether I am using time so as to better myself- or so as to better others, it all boils down to choice. Am I fully here in this moment or am I somewhere else? Am I living for what matters? Is all well with my soul?

These things are the driving impetus to my life: my faith and trust in a God who lives, my precious family and my focus (my purpose in the here and now). And it takes all three to be wholly who I was meant to be.

I start the van at the end of the day, engine rattles to life in spite of itself. She wants a bit of time to warm her jets, but I have places to go and people to feed. We head for home. And I feel my body unwinding- I feel the balance even in the midst of quiet imperfection.

Why I don’t support Shaming…among other bad spiritual tactics.

There is a problem with the church today- a problem that runs deep and wide and long.  It’s created a chasm actually and an exodus. It’s a problem sourced by a history of church practices and traditions that serve to verify its authenticity as real and overt.  It’s a problem all right.  And that problem is shaming, specifically the shaming of people, both Christian and otherwise.  Shaming them into becoming better Christians (or at the very least, A Christian).  Shaming them for their sins.  Shaming them for their choices.  Shaming them for not living up to a certain standard.  Shaming them for not upholding expectations.  Shaming people for reasons even I can’t conjure up.  Shaming in the name of faith and religion.  Shaming for the sake of shaming. Friends, shaming people into making choices or following up on decisions or acting on their conscience or into living for Jesus is no way for the church to conduct its mandate.

I recently read an article by the Naked Pastor that was written in regards to a hoax that has been circulating around the Internet.  The hoax is about the fictional pastor Jeremiah Steepek who dresses up as a homeless man and then attends the church he will be pastoring, prior to ever showing face to the congregation formally.  In the said hoax, Pastor Steepek goes around trying to connect with various parishioners, failing to get anyone to talk to him, let alone help him with his troubles.  At the end of his charade, he reveals himself to be their new pastor from the pulpit and proceeds to shame the congregation into crying and feeling horrible for their actions toward him.  You can read more about it here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/07/why-i-wouldnt-attend-pastor-steepeks-church/

At first when I read the article, I personified the pastor as the homeless man.  I saw the ‘homeless man’ as the story.  What I identified with was the problem we have in our society of not seeing people as God sees them: beautiful and precious and lovely.  A work of God made even in His own image.

But after considering a wise friend of mine’s perspective, another angle emerged.  And that angle was the shaming that occurred in that church as a fall out of the rejection some of the congregation had towards this pastor-cum-homeless person.

The author of the above article, David Hayward, says this:

The church’s number one tool to get what it wants is shame. I have been the victim of shaming so many times I can’t even count. I have used it so many times I can’t even count. When I think back on the times I’ve been shamed I get angry. When I think back on the times I’ve used it I feel remorse. It’s the church’s primary language. We grow up with it in our families, our schools, our jobs and our churches. Shame is used against us every single day of our lives so persistently and sometimes so subtly that we don’t even realize it anymore.

Shame is a motivator, but not permanently, and not in significant and meaningful ways. It gets something done now, but it destroys hope and character in the long term. Love is the best motivator. If it isn’t out of love, then it’s not a healthy motivation.

            I am a teacher of kindergarten students.  There are many times in the day when my students disappoint me for reasons based on the fact that they are four and five year olds.  They are busy.  They don’t always pay attention to everything I say.  And sometimes they outwardly ignore it.  If I was to use shaming as an instructional tactic, not only would I be out of a job, I would permanently damage these children in ways I cannot even word right in an article of this length.  I would destroy the goodwill I have set as a foundation of our classroom interactions and I would undermine my role with them as a nurturing support in the place of their parents.  As a teacher, I am mindful to always err on the side of gentleness when dealing with students.  Do I do it one hundred percent of the time?  No.  But it is the underlying goal in my mind as I go about my day.  To create an atmosphere of respect, understanding and possibility- always working within a Vygotskian theoretical framework that promotes positive, achievable growth.  Here’s Vygotsky’s mantra: “Show me what you can do, and then I’ll help you get a little better at it.”

Would that the church as an establishment would follow a little advice of this themselves.

What we need as a Church is to see God for who He really is, not for the interpretations we have of Him.  God is a Father- a perfect, loving, understanding, gracious, accepting, committed father unlike this world has ever known.  When I think of myself as a parent, I know that each day I get up in the morning I give my best self to my four precious children.  I don’t wake up dreaming of ways to shame them into following what I want them to do.  I don’t dream up ways of how I am going to coerce them into doing what I say.  And I don’t try to conjure up as many ideas as I can for how I can make their lives miserable.  I strive to not be that parent.

No.  I love them. I admire them.  I am proud of them.  And I would die for them if need be.

And so would God.  So did He.

And if we can see God that way- as Love personified, than we ought also to see his people- The Church in the same manner.  We must see the church as God sees them.  For the church is His Beloved.  They are his Bride.  He loves us i ways we can not even begin to understand.  And as a Father, we are His children.  The depths and heigths of that great love and mercy and grace and compassion for us can never, ever be underestimated. 

It is time we started loving people the way God does.

There is a beautiful passage of scripture that we recite often at weddings about love.  But friends, this passage ought to be the pulse of our hearts as Christians.  I Corinthians 13 :4- 8

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

That’s God’s kind of love.

So why do we as the backbone of the church still see Him as One who wants to make our lives miserable?  Why must the church backbone be the primary voice behind this message?  And why can’t we stop using shame as our primary motivational tool to motivate people and start living the love we know God is?

What the world needs now…

What the world needs now is truth-tellers.  Shamelessly spreading the word- that the new normal is flawed, imperfect living done in the real world.  Transparent style.

What the world needs now is empathy.   Compassion spreaders intent on understanding people and their complicated stories.  Covering the world with a blanket of caring kindness.  So that compassion is more prevalent than indifference.  So that warmth and sincerity become the standard method of interpersonal dealings.

What the world needs now is authenticity.  Genuine, honest discussion free of stereotypes, labels and subjectivity.  We are all different, that is a given.  But isn’t it high time we started treating each other with heartfelt  concern and respectful consideration?  People matter- all of us.

What the world needs now is brokenness.    People willing to let go of pride.    Freed to embrace humility.  To embrace Gratitude.  Grace.  Love.

People freed so as to have faith in Hope.  To have faith in something bigger than themselves.

What the world needs now is the purest example of that Faith come to Life.

We need a saviour.  Salvation through the daily dying to self and living to Life.  Putting away that which encumbers and clinging to that which enables.  Resisting all those things which drag us down.

Choosing joy over despair.  Choosing truth over lies.  Choosing life over death.

Choosing to live the best life we were meant to live.  Living each and every moment, but not concerning ourselves with the details.  Just concerning ourselves with the living.

What the world needs now is an alternative to what is driving us into these caverns of despair.  We need an option that is unconventional.  Something bigger and better than we’ve been offered in the past.

And we might not find what we’ve been searching for in a book.  Or in a classroom.  Or in a church, a speaker or a platform.  Or in charisma and personality.  It might be hard to find.

Or it just might be right under our noses.

Because none of those things I’ve listed above are permanent.    Are fixtures.  These things are fluid structures at best.  Books will fail.  Classrooms will fail.  Churches will undoubtedly fail, as will the vivid personalities associated with such.  People will fail.

We must find that Elusive Something in an Other-Worldy place.  Because the here and now isn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The answer begins with a whisper.  Is heard softly through that still small Voice that speaks to the deepest, darkest places of the soul.  That Voice which reminds us- we were purposed and destined to being when He breathed us to life.  When He Spoke and the earth shuddered.

For we are loved.

We are so deeply loved.

And we are exactly whom we were meant to be- frail, fragile, imperfect people.  Damaged, but not destroyed.  Beautiful, in spite of imperfection  and flaws.  Designed with a soul that craves for more.   We are never full, but we are not empty.  For we are just as the Father intended, complete with all our failings.  And so utterly loved.   Wholly and entirely, with every fiber of being.

He loves us- just as we are.  And we are enough.

Wings to Soar…

Blues turn to pinks and greys as we arrive home at dusk to four brave soldiers. The Fearless Foursome, courageously holding down the fort. Waiting the seasoned warriors’ return. Valiantly. And awaiting the report from the front lines. Ready to move into position upon the signal. Ready to pull things together to make the plan work. Whatever it took.

Ready.

It was a day of the unexpected. The unplanned, uninvited kind of unexpected. And thank the Good Lord we don’t know what lies ahead.

Our hearts would fail us.

We’re not always ready for surprises. And sometimes we just want to avoid them. We want to stop and lie face to the ground. Just because we can. Because we think we have to. Because it’s too hard.

Life is hard.

In the real world, where the big people work and play. We whom call ourselves adults. Here, it is our job to just keep going. We do this. Because we have to. We.have.to. That’s the way it’s meant to be. And we make ourselves move. Forward, step by careful step. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s hard. Even if it is so very hard. Because we’re the strong ones. The wise ones. We’re the adults. And adults are supposed to be responsible. Mature. Capable. Able to look after things. And capable of keeping things moving along. Because inwardly we intuit that moving is progress. And progress is good. At least that’s what it appears to be. On the surface.

Or so we’ve been told.

Do you remember what it was like to be five years old? Foot-loose and fancy-free? Remember when you were able to put your tiny shoe down and stomp it real hard? And say ‘no’ just because? Remember when you could lay on the floor kicking and screaming? Crying simply because it was your party and you could cry if you want to?
Remember what it felt like to be someone else’s responsibility? Back when we were untamed? Uninhibited? Living in the make-believe world of childhood?

A place of seemingly limitless opportunity.

And even as adults, sometimes we want to do this. Let it all go. For freedom’s sake. We want the liberty that accompanies release of responsibility. That sets us free from obligation. From the chains of duty and commitment. It just seems greener on the flip side, that side that lies directly opposite of adulthood.

Because life is hard.

And someone has to hold it all together.

But then again. There is a reason we hold. We are called to uphold. There’s a reason. It’s because we know. WE KNOW: that to hold is to embrace meaning. To have a higher purpose. To deliberately choose something even though it be hard. Because we can do hard things. Through Him. By Him. And for Him.

We can.
And when we do, when we embrace life and all its glory. It’s trials and painful difficulties- and we lean in hard to that which pushes us the most. And we move into the pain. Into the turmoil. And we don’t recoil. It is then that we are freed from those obligations that enslave us. That we are released from our chains. It is then that we are given wings to fly.

Given wings that hold us as we soar.

Isaiah 41: 30-31

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.  But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

More Than I Can Imagine…

I was dreading it.  One more obligation.  One more thing to do.  And although I believe the mantra ‘we can do hard things’, there are times when I just want an easy thing.  One.easy.thing.   Amidst all the hard things in life.  All those things that pull me eight ways to Sunday.

And as I sat there thinking self-defeating thoughts, mentally beating myself up again for all my inadequacies and inabilities.   God just lifted it.  The cloud.  He lifted it.  Physically- as if before my very eyes.    As if a torrent of rain had been falling and quite by sudden, a sunburst had appeared.  For the storm was over.  And I knew.

God doesn’t call us into a spirit of fear.  Of guilt.  Of hopelessness.

He calls us to empowerment.  To love and capability.  And He isn’t standing over us shouting out orders, reminding us again and again of all our failings.  Of all the ways in which we haven’t added up.

And He isn’t trying to dream up more hard things for me to do.

He’s there to do the hard things for me.

He is there to ease the load.  Lighten the weight.  He is there to take me as I am, where I am.  As is.  And love me all the more for my weakness.

And He’s there to do more.  So much more.  Than I could ever begin to imagine.

On living the life we were born for…

We were born for this.  This journey, this life adventure.  This journey on which we travel in and out of days and weeks and months and years.   In and out of seasons.    We were born for this quest.   Were born for the highs and lows, the twists and turns.   The bends.  The forks in the road.   Were born for travelling up hill and down.  We were born for the good times and the bad times.

We were born for the ride.

And it is a ride.  At times a roller-coaster.  At times a meander.  And at more times than I would like to admit: a tedious crawl- face to the ground.

I’ve always liked to think that my exciting, real life is going to happen sometime soon.  Like maybe today.  Or tomorrow.  Or sometime in the not-so-far-away future.  Because this business of crawling: of living in reality.   Of working 9-5, of making meals, of chauffeuring, of settling spats amongst children.  Of living the daily grind.  This business is for the birds, really.  And it cannot possibly be what I was born for.

I was born for more.

And the real life I am so desperately waiting for looks more like this: quiet mornings sipping coffee. Uninterrupted writing time.   Long, invigorating walks.   Deep, meaningful conversations.    Face-time with my spouse.   My head stuck in a good book.  Exotic travel.    Rewarding humanitarian work.  Service to country and fellow human beings: brothers and sisters both here and abroad.

And to cap it all off, maybe just a little more time to follow my dreams.  In other words, time to pursue what I have always believed I was born for: something more.

Something more than crawling.

And there are times I wonder, “Why this?”  Why the noise and confusion and chaos and trouble and hurt and heartache and pain and sacrifice?   It wasn’t part of the dream.

Or was it?

To be sure, life is a ride.  A ride full of fearful unknowns and weary treks as much as it is a ride full of adventure.  And so it is that I will hold to the belief that I was born for the trip in its entirety.  And although the ride is not what I always envisioned the real journey to look like-this stuff of everyday living slows my travelling down.  It is this- the stuff of everyday living that has truly taught me the most.  About self.  About others.  And about God.  About life.

I was born for this.  Was born for mothering.  For teaching.   For service.   I was born to live this life that I am living now.

I was born to these callings.  Was born for such a time as this, for such a time as now.  For such a time as are a mother’s hours: 24/7, 365 days a year.  And added to that, I was born for teaching five days a week, from 9-4.    Was born for such a time as even more than those boxed-in hours.  For late nights at the computer and early mornings, my hands busy folding laundry.

I was born for this.  For these crazy moments spent slogging away.

But I was also born for this: I was born to be that friendly, cheerful face by the classroom doors- greeting children of all ages with a welcoming smile.  A warm hug.  An inquiring question.  A thoughtful comment or two.  Was born to hold chubby little hands, to look intently into blue-eyed baby faces.  To hear sweet and innocent stories.  To hear stories not so simple, of lives more complicated than my own.  To hear stories told that bring me to my knees, that haunt me in my waking hours.   Stories that propel me to advocate for change.

I was born for this too.  For opening up milk cartons.  Cutting yogurt packages into a slit at the top.  Passing out pizza slices.   Issuing band-aids.  Umpteen-dozen band-aids each and every day.  I was born to look at ‘owies’- with a professional’s eye.

Was born to read books- piles and piles of glorious books.  To read them with expression, passion and joie de vivre!  To saturate the room with them.  To buy them by the dozen!  To relish children’s laughter as I read favorites again and again.

I was born for even this.

I was born to find joy in everyday pleasures.  To find joy in the mundane, the ordinary.  Joy.  In reciting the alphabet, counting to twenty and playing with play-doh.  In watching the weather and growing bean plants and using scented markers.  In playing with puppets and using brand-new crayons.  In practicing piano.  In bouncing balls.

I was born for all this.

Was born to fight for the underdog, to defend the rights of the under-privileged.  To hear the hard stories and not turn away.  To look into hearts and ask difficult questions.  To put a face to the data.

I was born for this.  What joy!

I was born to do hard things.  To make tough calls.  To follow through.  To see a story through to its ending.  To never give up.

To always hope.  To always protect.  To always believe.

I was born for this.  For all of this.

I was born to not go down quietly.  To be a loud voice, if need be.  To shout it from the roof-tops or whisper it in the quiet of a room.  I was born for even this.

I was born to be a builder of blocks, a builder of lives.  A mender of hearts- a champion of dreams.

I was born to be a mother.  Was born to teach.  To be the teacher and the learner.  To make room in my heart.  Always enough room for one more.  And true.  It has not always been the easiest space I’ve ever inhabited, nor has it always been the most pleasant.  It is exhausting work- all of it.  But these acts of service have been the most rewarding of my journey thus far.  The most worthwhile.  Because the joy I have found in giving and receiving love, in knowing and in learning about people and the world we live in.  In understanding the stories connected to the lives.   This privilege. It is unmatched in nearly any other act of service I have ever done.  And these acts of unconditional love in service to the four precious children I have borne as well as the caring and compassion I freely give to the children I have found room for in my heart.  Whom I teach inside classroom walls.  Whom teach me that life is more.  So much more.  These lives, these stories are what make the ride worthwhile.

It’s about the people.  It’s about humanity.  And it’s about the children.

Because I was born for much, not the least of which- to nurture, love and care.  I was born to do the grueling work of care-giving as much as I was born to inspire, challenge and motivate.  And above all, I was born to give back.  For in my life I have been given much.  And so much is required.

I was born for this, this life I am living.   I was born for all of it.

39 ways to have a Beautiful Life

39 ways to have a Beautiful Life…in celebration of my 39th birthday.

1. Breathe.  Inhale fresh air from the great outdoors.  Stop to smell the tree blossoms, pick a daisy, watch a bird in flight.  Stay in the moment, slowing down enough to enjoy the simple things in life.

2. Jump.  Jump on a trampoline, a bed or a pile of laundry.  Jumping is what kids do to have fun.  Take the hint.

3. Smile.  Practice in the mirror, if need be.  Then try it out on at least two other people.  See if it really is contagious.

4. Rest. Sit back and relax in a chair that reclines.  Then close your eyes and wait for it: that sigh of contentment.

5. Read.  Preferably something that provokes you, lifts you, challenges you, entertains you, inspires you or encourages you.  But if you are not in the mood for any of that, read Facebook statuses.  They’ll do in a pinch.

6. Cook.  By yourself, with a friend, with your spouse, with your children, with your students.  Try it.  It will either make you hungrier or take away any and all impulses you might have had for binge eating.  Especially when you cook with a five-year old finger-licker/nose-picker.

7. Walk.  Go for long walks.  By yourself, this will be rejuvenating.  With a friend, it will be motivating.

8. Work.  Work hard at what you do.  Give it 100 % while you are at it.  Then, when you are done the task, leave it alone.  And go play.

9. Play.  Play harder than you work.  Life is about more than just going through the motions.  Enjoy the moments that matter most to you.

10. Choose joy.  It is part attitude, part emotion and part choice.  If you choose joy, you are two-thirds of the way there already.

11. Have faith.  It can move mountains.  It’s pretty good at molehills too.

12. Treat yourself.  Buy something just because.  Then use it.  A lot.

13. Love.  Love quietly, love loudly.  Love anyway.

14. Express yourself.  Through written word, verbal  exchange or digital text.  Tell someone who cares.  And tell them often.

15. Exercise.   Set goals and achieve them.  Then set new goals.  Keep at it.  And make it doable.

16. Photograph much.  Use your camera to capture your life.  A picture is actually worth more than 1000 words.  If you look close enough.

17. Travel.  Go on that trip, vacation, voyage.  Visit those places that you’ve always dreamed about.

18. Kiss often.  Kiss a lover, a friend, a father, a mother, a child.   Kiss a stuffed animal, when all else fails.  And on St. Paddy’s Day, kiss someone who is Irish.

19.  Pursue your wildest dreams.  Chase them down like a relentless hound after a fox.  Don’t let them get away.  Spend your life following them.  And relish the feeling when you finally see them realized.

20. Pray.  God listens.  He hears.  I know.  I’ve heard his Voice in a thousand different situations.

21. Step outside your comfort zone.  Do something that challenges you.  Something that makes you uncomfortable even as it makes you grow as a person.  Use  this opportunity as a springboard to help another person do the same.

22. Talk to a child.  Children know stuff adults have long forgotten.  Kids can remind you what really matters.  When all is said and done.

23. Learn something new every day.  And ask yourself, “What did I learn today?”  Don’t take ‘nothing’ as an answer.  You know better than that.

24. Re-connect with a long-lost friend.  Write then a letter, an e-mail , a Facebook message.  Tell them how much their friendship has meant to you over the years.

25.  Mean what you say and say what you mean.  Don’t be obscure.  Or vague.  Unless you are at a formal dinner party with people you don’t know.  In which, ignore everything I just said.

26. Laugh.  Often.  Heartily.  Loud.  Enthusiatically.  So, so good for the body.  Instant muscle relaxer.

27.  Forgive.  Seventy-times seven.

28. Get a hobby.  You’ll need it for when you retire.  Might as well start trying out the more expensive options while you still have the money to finance it.

29. Let go of the past.  That was then.  This is now.  Live in the day you are given.  And let tomorrow take care of itself.  But that’s another point all together.

30. Embrace you imperfections.  You aren’t perfect.  Neither is anyone else.  You know that.  So do they.  Let’s get on with what really matters: making the most of what we’ve got to work with.  Short of Botox, what you see is what you get.  (Until tomorrow when you wake up with a huge zit.)

31. Appreciate the little things in life.  They are what matter sometimes most of all.  Appreciate the little things that other people do for you.  Sometimes they are the game changers.  The moments in life when the tide turns and the perspectives change.

32. Join a club.  A committee, a group, class.  Be part of something bigger.  Not because you are paid to do it.  But because you want to.

33.  Compliment others.  Make much of the people in your life.  Tell the people around you how awesome you think they are.  Because they are.  Awesome.

34. Seek. Search for something greater to fill the void than material possessions.  Than earthly gains.  That stuff will only last for so long.  And then the search will begin again.  Fill that void with what really matters.  With Whom really matters.  And find out how the search leads to a deeper understandings of what really satisfies.

35. Have birthday parties every year.  Celebrate life.  Each year you are alive is cause for fireworks.  You made it!  To another year!  You’re still here!  How great is that!

36. Make new friends, new connections and new networks.  While there is nothing quite like an old friend, you’ll never know what new friend is on their way to becoming that soon-to-be old friend unless you meet them today.  Get talking!

37. Enjoy as many moments of your life as is humanly possible.  If there are only two moments each day, milk those two moments for all they are worth.  They are precious moments.  Even if they are rare.  If you are fortunate to have more than two, than pass the love around.  Other people could benefit from your positive outlook on life.

38. Love your neighbor as yourself.  Be empathic.  Be compassionate.  Caring.  Kind.  Merciful.  Do unto others.  Even when they don’t return the favor.  But don’t be surprised when your life starts setting a new kind of standard for the rest of the world.

39. Love God with all your heart and soul and strength.  All else pales in comparison.

Arms Outstretched and Hands Raised

Last night was kind of the crowning glory for me.  A moment in time when I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole.  And to be sure.  I have had my fair share of awkward moments.  Moments when my truly funny life has imitated fiction.  Watch me in action for about five minutes and you could probably catch me doing something just a little left of center.   We fools are probably why they formed channels like TLC.   We’re just a little bit on the special side.

Adorable, but special nonetheless.

So I guess it could be said- there have been one too many times in my insanely crazy real life when real life has imitated art.  As long as you understand that the art I am talking about is a very entertaining (albeit low-budget) television reality show.  (Shout out to the Duggars… love you guys!!)

But physically mistaking my friend’s husband for my own has got to be a low point of the week thus far.  Even for me.   I made contact with the poor guy’s shoulder…!  Yes, it could’ve been worse.  Thank the Lord for that.  And yet.  This embarrassing faux pas has got even me wondering: what next?  How am I going to top that one?  If only…I hadn’t been rubbing his shoulder…if only I had caught myself before making contact.  If only Brian and half of West Price had not witnessed the event….   If only.  So much embarrassment could have been saved.  But nevertheless.  The ‘if only’ is not what happened.  Obviously.  And here I am to tell the tale.

What next?  Can there be any lower levels to reach?    I am already lying face down at the bottom of the barrel.

So it wouldn’t be surprising to any of you, now would it, that I was again late for work this morning.  I should just shoot myself and call it a draw.  This is becoming a habitual rite of passage for me, transitioning from my home self to my professional self.  I feel like one of those old time coal engines that take their good ole’ time warming up.  And when they reach full steam, look out.  They cannot be stopped.

This morning was the usual busy morning.  Rushing, meltdowns, fights over clothing.

Yadda, yadda.  The works.

But what was different this morning was I had actually convinced myself that I would be on time today.  (Stop laughing, fellow co-workers.)  I felt like I really had a fighting chance of arriving at work before the expected check-in preliminaries, for a lovely change.  Everything was seemingly lined up in my favor.  I had an extra hour today to play with, an extra hour within which to arrive.  So it should naturally follow, if ‘one’ had so much extra time on their hands that ‘one’ would thus arrive at work at the very least, before their first meeting of the day.

Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.  And it should be noted: I am ‘one’ gal who has always been the exception to the rule.

So.  Since I did not arrive on time… but instead arrived late (5-7 minutes late, to be exact…but who’s counting), and since I missed the introductory staff meeting, as well as my first grade level meeting (very small short meeting)… I was extremely disappointed in myself.  Frustrated would be another choice word.  And so it was.   That I spent the majority of the morning berating myself and beating myself up for my ineptitude and uselessness.  Telling myself I was incompetent and a total let-down to my profession.  What.a.jerk.    (And this is just my day job.  Don’t get me started on the other slack areas of my life….)

About half-way through the morning, I made a trek up to the office.  Sheepishly looking around to see who was watching, all the while wondering if I would ever be able to arrive ANYWHERE, ever again…on time.   And so, I decided to unload all my feelings and frustrations on the very capable and caring shoulders of our amazing secretary.  And as I proceeded to tell her the very many ways in which I felt I was unable to live up to my expectations of myself (not to mention the expectations everyone else probably had of me), the conversation took a turn.  It swerved away from me apologizing over and over again for all the failures in my life and instead started heading in a direction I like to call ‘forgiveness’.  Grace.  Acceptance.  Toward a place where a body can say to themselves,

“You know what?  You’re not perfect, girlfriend, and you never will be.  So why don’t you start forgiving yourself your failures and start concentrating on what you’re doing right.  And while you’re at it, start learning to say NO.  YOU ARE TIRED, girlfriend!  You need to cut yourself some slack!  If you drop a few of the balls you have in the air, nobody is going to be the worse for the wear.  Stop trying to live up to everyone’s expectations and start setting some limits for yourself.  And while you’re at it, do something nice for yourself this weekend.  Get a coffee just for the fun of it.  Buy something pretty.  Read a book.  Go for a drive.  Call up some friends.  Laugh.  Love.  Live.  YOU DESERVE IT!!!”

And I don’t know about you, but I kinda like the view from that place- from GRACE.  From Forgiveness.  From self-acceptance.  Because it is so freeing when you tell yourself that you’re okay.  Just the way you are.

And I tell you all this because?

I don’t want to hide my life behind a facade pretending to be something I am not.  I am exactly what you read: a bumbling fool most of the time, but for the other twenty-five percent of the time, I am a girl who is learning to love herself.  Flaws and all.  And I think that when we take down the walls that hide our true selves from public view, we come to discover…we are all essentially alike.  We have insecurities, flaws, un-met expectations of ourselves.  We do embarrassing things.  We mess up.  We live crazy lives.  We are a work in progress.  And if we can share with each other a small portion of ourselves, it might encourage us all to live life as if we had no secrets.

And life stripped of all that baggage- those feelings of inadequacy and failure and incompetence and disappointment, is SO MUCH BETTER than hiding behind a false barrier.

We need to live life in view.  Maybe not as in full view as I do (I have pretty much no pride left- my dirty laundry is hanging out for all the world to see baby.  And those hip-hugging puppies are not pretty, let me tell you.)  But let’s be serious: we are so very much the same and we can learn so much from one another when we come out from our hiding places.  When we live our lives with arms outstretched and hands lifted.  And we stop hiding who we truly are.

Love wins!!!

I guess you could say that Florida is in the Bible belt.   And for sure you could say that I am in the middle of a Christian retirement community, as I am travelling with my parents.  (And they are attending a Christian conference at a mid-sized Christian conference and Resort Center here in north-western Florida.)  So I guess you could say that nothing really should surprise me.  I AM in the Bible belt, right?  What you see is what you get.

But something did surprise me today.  And it just about took the wind out from beneath my sails.

I had set out for a mid-morning walk around the grounds.  Actually, I was on my way to the pool.  And I decided to take the scenic route through the residential area in which we are staying.  The houses were small and quaint and most had palm trees out front, which I admired.  There were some pretty flowers, and I guess you could say I was in la-la land for the most part.  Brain on cruise control.  (I am on vacay, peeps!) So, I was coming up to some houses, one of which had a fairly large sign affixed to the front, which made me mildly curious. And I turned to read the sign.  And here’s what I read:

“…be sure your sin will find you out.”

That’s right.  Be sure your sin will find you out.  (And….’have a nice day why don’tcha, while you’re at it’.)

I am going to have to apologize in advance for this post.  Because I am so very, very wrought with feeling and emotion right now.  And I feel COMPELLED to write the deepest, most secret feelings I have within my being.  About God.  About church.  About Christians.  About Christianity.

Because like it or lump it.  Christians have failed me.  Have failed US.  The church…the body of believers that represent the Bible and Christ and Christianity…have failed. And miserably.

And I want to start this essay with an apology:

For anyone who has ever read a sign such as I did this morning, I want to offer you love for hate, healing for disappointment and hope for despair.  Because the Jesus I know would never let those words be the first impression He would leave with you.  The Jesus I know is not like that.

For anyone who has ever been hurt by the spiteful, angry words of an ill-meaning Christian, I apologize.  I offer up my own heart to truly say, from its very depths, that that is not what a Christian is meant to be.

For anyone who has ever thought that Christianity is about rules over freedom, hate over love, disappointment over joy, turmoil over peace, negativity over positivity.  I offer myself as the FACE of that apology.  I am sorry for what other Christians have done to you in the name of the Bible.  In the name of Jesus.

For we have been a disgrace to the beauty of Jesus’ precious name. And I am truly sorry for the hurt, the pain, the misery that has been heaped upon you in the name of what is RIGHT and TRUE.

For.    And this is a BIGGIE.   There go I, but for the GRACE, and the MERCY, and the COMPASSION, and the FORGIVENESS, and the endless, limitless LOVE of God.  There go I.  Pointing fingers.  There go I.  Calling names.  There go I.  Pointing out faults.  There go I.  Thinking I am better.  There go I.  Thinking I am worthy because of my faith.   There go I.  Thinking that anything I could EVER do on my own would ever be enough.  There go I.  Telling you what an awful, horrible sinner you are. There go I.  But for the grace of God.  And it is His grace that has shown me that this is NOT what my job as a Christian is.  To point out the faults of others.  I’ve got enough on my plate, thank-you very much, to be worried about you and all you’ve got going on.  My life is far from perfect.  But that’s okay.  Because I am a beautiful, messy work in process.  And God never asked me to be my fellow brother or sister’s keeper.

Pointing fingers at others is not the job of a Christian, people.  I have four pointing back at me, and that’s enough to keep me pretty, darn busy.

So again, I’ll say it.  From my heart and soul, I am sorry if I have ever hurt you with ill-advised words of counsel.  I want to be a different kind of Christian than all that jazz.  That crazy stuff is not for me.

And this much more…I know what it feels like to be hurt by the church.  I know what it feels like to resent the church.  I know what it is to feel wounded by the church.   To be hurt by that body of believers who call themselves the Church.  And, but for the Love of God, His Compassion and Mercy, I would still be in that miserable mess of thinking I am not enough.  Not worthy.

That is not Christianity, folks.  And if it is, then it is a gigantic FAIL.

Because the Jesus I know cannot often be recognized in the face of our present-day Church.  How very sad.  Because we cannot truly understand who we are until we understand who Jesus is, for our encounter with him, this “faceless” figure, defines what it means to be human.(excerpt from Has Christianity Failed You?, Ravi Zacharias)

This, my friend is Jesus:

No one was half so compassionate…, yet no one spoke such red-hot, scorching words….A bruised reed he would not break.  His whole life was LOVE, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell.  He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism he has all of our self-styled realists soundly beaten.  He was a servant of all, washing the disciples’ feet, yet masterfully he strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in his eyes.

He saved others, yet at the last, himself he did not save.  There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts that confront us in the gospels.  The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality. (excerpt from “Has Christianity Failed You?”, Ravi Zacharias)

And yet.  In all of this, the Jesus I know, that same Jesus intimately knows just what a breaking heart needs, knows what hurt and pain can do to a soul.  Knows what a mess we all are in without the endless, limitless LOVE of the Father.

And Jesus’ message was one of LOVE.  Love trumps everything.  EVERYTHING!!!!  Love wins, folks.  Period.

For God is love.  And if we cannot feel the love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, what compels us to faith?  To grace?  What is the point?  Why believe?  There are better things out there, better institutions, better clubs to which one can cling or join than the alternative, those that spout messages of condemnation and hate.

But for God’s love, for His healing touch, the balm that soothes the soul after sorrow upon sorrow.  And believe you me, I have had my fair share of hurt and pain at the hand of those who call themselves Christ followers, I again say it:

Forgive us.  I pray we know not what we do.  And in the name of Jesus, let this humble, messed-up example of a Christian, let ME…with the grace of God and through His mercy and tender love, show you.  There is another kind of Christian  out there than what you’ve known.  Than what you’ve experienced.

And for now.  Indeed, for always.  Abide for me and for you, these three: FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.  And as God has loved me, so do I with God’s grace, want to deeply love others too.  And to ever let my life song sing this song of hope and love.  From the depth of my being.

Love wins.