Friday, June 9, 2017

The Other Side of Fear

Image result for everything you ever want is on the other side of fear
Image courtesy of Google

I recently started taking swimming lessons with my kids.

Yes, that's right. Not taking my kids TO swimming lessons or watching them swim AT lessons. I’m actually learning to swim right alongside them.

Me. With my kids. Who are 5 years old and 7 years old.

If that sounds like it might be a tad bit embarrassing - you're right - it is! I mean, one minute our instructor is teaching my little ones to blow bubbles in the pool and bob their heads underwater. And the next – she’s teaching me how to get from Point A to Point B in the same pool without dying. I am quite literally a full-grown adult who doesn’t really know how to keep herself afloat.

During our first lesson my instructor said she wanted to teach me how to breathe. I won’t lie – I almost asked her to clarify, because I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly. I KNEW how to breathe. Swimming was what I needed – breathing I had been doing just fine for years. However - she being the teacher, and me being the adult taking swimming lessons with her kids – I decided I should just comply.

She told me to inhale deeply, submerge my entire head in the water, blow out for three strokes, come back up to the surface with another deep inhale, and then repeat. Easy, I thought. Until I did it, and it was hard.

My timing was completely off. While I was under water, I ran out of air well before I could swim the full three strokes, but then again – who could even COUNT to three when I had to focus on breathing?! Then, when I came back up for my inhale, I panicked and ended up gasping for air and swallowing a bunch of water instead.

It was a mess. And I thought, “Whaddya know? Maybe I DO need to learn how to breathe after all.”

She halted our lesson right there, explaining that we just needed to get back to the basics. She took me through some exercises that taught me the ins and outs of breathing (so to speak). She said that when I inhaled and exhaled, I would really need to inhale and exhale. Like truly, GENUINELY inhale and exhale. Because if I didn’t – if I didn’t completely fill my lungs with air and then completely empty it all out -  my breathing would feel rushed, forced and compromised. It would feel like I was hyperventilating!

She also assured me that, while the timing and counting of breaths and strokes may have seemed like a lot to do at once …. with enough practice … all of it would eventually just CLICK and come naturally to me. I wouldn’t even have to think about it – it’d be like walking, or riding a bike or – yes – breathing.

Now, here’s where adult swimming lessons becomes a metaphor for LIFE.

Life gets so complicated sometimes. By me. I complicate life. And sometimes, I just need to slow down and re-learn the things I thought I’d always known how to do. Sometimes I just need to get back to the basics. The simple rhythm of taking it all in – fully – and then letting it go – completely. At one point in my existence, this may have come more naturally to me. But then things got more complicated. Growing up and responsibilities and marriage and children and families and struggles and fears and anxieties that I never realized I even had. They started taking over – DOMINATING – and, quite frankly, I panicked through so much of it. I had forgotten a lot of what I thought I knew to be true and solid and trustworthy ... which left me flailing, struggling, choking, gasping for air and wondering ... WHAT HAPPENED? Why was this all so hard all of a sudden??!

I was a grown adult, struggling to keep herself afloat.

But here I am. I am learning. Again. I'm learning that faith – like breathing - takes work and it takes practice. You can forget what it’s like to feel that sweet release and FREEDOM of stepping out in faith - but you can also find it again. 

You can. As old or as “too late” as it may feel – it’s really never too late for any of us to learn. 

During my last lesson, my teacher asked me to join her in the deep end to practice treading water. I used to HATE the deep end when I was little, and I still kind of hate it. But I followed her and watched as she showed me how to kick my legs like egg beaters and wave my arms in and out to tread above the surface. And then she casually asked me to get out of the water and  jump in. As in, jump in the DEEP END.

We went back and forth about this for a bit. I asked important questions like, “What? Jump? Off the edge? Now? Me?” and she kept answering with annoying responses like “Yes. You. Now. Go.”

So I climbed up that ladder, out of the pool and onto the cold, slippery edge. I had flashbacks of when I was little and would stand at the end of the diving board, digging my bare feet into the coarse platform – watching as my instructor below tried to coax me into jumping. The world seemed so much bigger back then and I felt small and unable to make that leap. I hardly ever jumped off the diving board as a kid – no matter how hard my instructors, friends and parents tried to get me to. ONE TIME, someone who I won’t name (but she is one of my two parents) CLIMBED UP the diving board in her civilian clothes and PUSHED me off herself! But that is a blog for another time.

Fast forward to present time.

I stood at the edge of the deep end and made a mental decision that I was just going to do it. I was going to jump. And I must’ve known in my heart that my instructor wouldn’t let me die and that I could trust in the fact that everything I knew told me that I would rise back up to the surface – even if it didn’t feel natural or if I had doubts. Even if I was scared. I seemed to know in my gut that it would be fine. I had faith … and that felt good.

And …. lo and behold I jumped in, relaxed my body and felt it RISE UP. I rose straight up to the top by doing nothing expect believing I would. And as soon as my head came out of the water, my legs instinctively began kicking like eggs beaters and my arms waved and I kept myself afloat.

Whaddya know? All this time. I am a grown adult who can keep herself afloat. 

There’s a saying: everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. I know fear is natural and in so many cases, it's even helpful. We learn things through our fears. We grow. Sometimes we're protected by our fears. They are normal and they make us human.

But, oh, how I want to live more on that "other side." The side where I can participate in life with more intention and confidence and freedom and faith. The side where anxiety is not the master, where I can stand toe to toe with fear, where the inside of my mind more accurately matches the inside of my heart.

I am not there yet. But I feel farther along on my journey – alive with joy and free of so much that I’ve complicated this beautiful, simple life with. Through my struggles and fears, my eternal “Lifeguard on Duty” (the swimming metaphors will not die) has pulled me out and restored me time and time again. Faithfully. He does that. The Lord rescues me EVEN when I don’t ask Him to or believe that He can. He is good and gracious and pursuing and loving and FAITHFUL like that. And He teaches me … with loving patience ... what this amazing world on the other side of fear is all about. He shows me glimpses of its richness and abundance and allows me to inhale the fresh, alluring air of freedom and He KEEPS THE DOOR OPEN for me to enter, to visit, to live and to breathe there – even for just one more second than I did the day before. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Breaking Bad (Habits)

For years, Luke and I have been working diligently with Caleb on his pesky, persistent habit of biting his bottom lip. FOR YEARS.

To Caleb, I refer to it as a “habit.” However, in my own mind, I’ve unquestionably deemed it a BAD habit. It’s something he’s been doing on the regular since he was a wee, curly-haired toddler with a crooked walk and limited vocabulary. I thought for sure he’d outgrow it quickly, but here we are – he’s almost six years old, and he’s still an active bottom lip biter. I get frustrated and annoyed when I consider the road that this little habit may be paving for us in the future. I think of the overbite that he’s slowly but surely bound to develop, and the years of endless orthodontic visits and astronomical bills ahead of us.

Of course I want to put a stop to it. Of course I want him to quit. Like today.

It seems like we’ve tried virtually everything. Promises of treats and Legos and even a dog if he can keep his bottom lip out for an extended period of time. As much as he wants those things – I mean REALLY wants those things – these promises and rewards haven’t been enough.

Some days I think, is he even really trying that hard to quit? Other days, I can SEE how difficult it is for him. I mean, this practice is ingrained in him. It's second nature by now - as routine and familiar as scratching an itch or blinking his eyes. This is where the parenting role gets a little fuzzy for me – that blurry, nebulous line between, “Push him harder!” and “Give him a break – he’s only human.”

The other night Caleb was on couch, right before bedtime, snuggling under a soft blanket. Like usual, he slowly brought his top teeth over his lower lip and, also like usual, I promptly said, “Bottom lip mister!” which has become our familiar, three-word command to ask him to stop.

However, instead of just releasing his bottom lip and going about his business, Caleb seemed particularly discouraged. His eyes drew toward the ground as he sighed and said, “I’m never going to get a dog, am I?”

I was thrown, almost offended. I didn’t want him to give up just like that – to so easily accept defeat.

I said, “Don’t say that, Caleb. You CAN do it. Every time you feel the urge to bite your lip – just stop yourself.”

“Okay, mom,” he replied. “But it’s hard. I remember, then I get too comfortable and I forget again.”

If I were Oprah, I’d say this was my “AH-HA moment.” His candid, 6 year-old reasoning hit me like a ton of bricks. Or three tons. 

I stopped talking and gently ushered him over to me. He laid his little head in my lap and I said, “I know, Caleb. It’s really hard.”  

He knows what he’s supposed to do, but then he gets a little too comfortable and finds himself quickly forgetting.

I get you, buddy.

No matter how young or old, we know what it’s like to have a bad habit. And we know hard those habits are to quit. We KNOW.

Even as adults, we hold on to our habits - good or bad, harmful or innocuous – we hold on to them because habits are meant to be held. For a long time. They are warm blankets that securely envelope us, and we long to remain under them. Covered, snug and safe. We gravitate toward them because they are familiar and practiced – they instantly reward us with sights, sounds and sensations that assure our anxious minds that we have control in this unpredictable, crazy world. Habits are our predictable. Our friendly face. Our cozy.

We know the good reasons for stopping a bad habit, but sometimes it’s just not enough. Because you know what's even more compelling than our good reasons? Comfort. So we tell ourselves, "maybe tomorrow, I'll stop." And then tomorrow becomes a week, a month, a year ... 

Ours worlds have been carefully redesigned by human hands to ensure we have access to all things easy and comfortable. And while comfort can be good and helpful, it can also be that barrier restrains us, that holds us back, that prevents us from advancing, learning and growing. Comfort can introduce itself to us as a nice change of pace or luxury, but then quickly morph into an endless hole in which we hide for “just a little while longer” to escape the real, the difficult and the uneasy.

Comfort is alluring. It’s intoxicating. And it’s available to us for the taking.

A couple glasses of wine to calm your nervous mind. A pint of ice cream to mend your broken heart. A perfectly safe Facebook relationship to replace your harder, real-life, three-dimensional one. Material possessions so shiny and bright to numb your gut-wrenching pain.

We are filling holes. Swapping pain for pleasure. And who can blame us, really? It's so easy.

Whatever you call it – a habit, a vice, a security blanket, a fallback – we have them. And we can’t just wish them away. We can’t be woo’d by marshmallows or treats or toys to stop. When we repeatedly use these comforts to fill us up, we find that they are no longer things we chose. They somehow seep into our bones and become a part of us. They become our second skin.

A shaky hand that instinctively reaches for a bottle. An empty heart that inhales food fill it up. An anxious mind that hides behind a computer screen. A fearful soul who mindlessly shops and spends to feed a starving heart.

Caleb is trying not to bite his bottom lip. As he struggles and succeeds and experiences setbacks I need to remind myself that there IS victory in trying. There is hope in his honest expression that comfort is nice and change is challenging. His honesty is refreshing and precious and valuable. I pray that he keeps it well into adulthood. I pray that he acknowledges the difficulties in trying, but that he KEEPS TRYING. That’s boldness. That is victory. At 6 years old, my Caleb is already a bold and victorious little man. I should tell him that more. 

Breaking bad habits, escaping our comfort zones, CHANGING – it’s all a part of the human experience. It’s necessary. We aren’t just called to aimlessly do what we’ve always been doing just because it’s what we do. We aren’t called to fill our hearts and minds with whatever makes us feel good or calms us down or satisfies us at the time. We are called to walk the sometimes uncomfortable, painful bumpy road toward true sustenance, fulfillment, peace and Truth. Which means, we may have to break up with familiar, shed cozy and bid farewell to routine.  

Is it even worth it? I think so, because .. WHAT IF? What if ... outside of the thick walls and secure shelters we build for ourselves, exists a far better, safer place than we could ever imagine? What if ... beyond our self-made boundaries, is a beautiful, fulfilling world just waiting for us - the real us - big, gaping holes in our souls and all. 

And about those holes? What if we don't have to fill them ourselves? What if that was never our job? What if we could rest? 

Yes. What if we could actually sit down, give up and REST? 

What if we let God do His work? 

That seems worth it to me. Here's to the boldness and victory in trying.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

heart condition.

Image result for grateful heart

A funny thing happens to Kenzie when she prays. She transforms from her normal fun-loving, silly self into this fierce little warrior child. She squeezes her brown eyes shut, clasps her little hands together tightly and says:

“Thank you Jesus for this PERFECT weather. Thank you.”

(Even if it rained all day.)

She continues, “Thank you Jesus for Mama and Daddy. Thank you. And thank you Jesus for our food and our homes. Thank you.”

She goes on and on. And on. Her voice is steady and resolute and her gratefulness is resounding. I find myself whispering “Amen!” as she guides me through her beautiful expression of  thanksgiving. When she speaks her thankfulness - it is so rich, so pure – it spills right out of her and pours straight into me.

I used to think I was pretty good at being thankful, but the truth is, I’m not. I can be optimistic, have a positive attitude and "look on the bright" side, but  as I've learned, that doesn't mean I have a grateful heart. Because I can do all those things - ALL those things - and still be living a very ungrateful life.  

I have this bad habit of comparing myself to other people, and then getting angry at God about it. Let’s take, for example, Carrie Underwood. Why did God give her SO much favor? I mean, seriously. He made her beautiful and graceful and famous and gave her the voice of an angel. He made ME with an overbite, crazy hair and a voice that sounds like that seagull from the Little Mermaid.

Or Joanna Gaines. She lives this beautiful, rustic farm life prancing around wheat fields, and she’s the best decorator and has FOUR kids and teaches them to sew and grow their own food and stuff.  I don’t even know where to start on the comparisons here, but I’ll just say I don’t sew or grow food.

And I often wonder, "What were you THINKING, God You should have distributed Your resources more wisely. Or at least more fairly. Maybe make Carrie a little less pretty if she gets to have the voice of an angel. Or if Joanna gets to be that talented, at least make her not such an incredible mom."

Sounds like the thoughts of a thankful person, right?

There is a lot of “ick” in my heart. A LOT of it.  This past year, God decided to shake things up a little to reveal just how messy it was inside of there. He tipped me over, emptied me out and let me take a good, hard look at what has truly been living and breeding inside of me. A lot resentment. A lot of discontent. A lot of fear. And a glaring absence of gratefulness.

With His help, we are slowly picking up the pieces. We are working on healing the parts that are broken, strengthening the parts that are damaged and restoring the parts I’ve lost somewhere along the way.

It has been a lot like cleaning out a closet. No one wants to clean out their closet. It's a daunting task to even THINK about starting, and then once you muster up the motivation to do it, it’s painful. You see your mess everywhere, as huge piles on the floor, and you have to decide what to keep and what to let go of. It’s HARD to make those decisions, even when you know that some things just don't belong there anymore. But when it’s all said and done, you feel refreshed and renewed. You feel lighter. You are able to put things back together and see how much better it looks inside.

Reorganizing my insides has been tough, but the process has generated SO much encouragement in my life. And that encouragement has led to a chronic thankfulness I've never known before.

Someone recently told me that the definition of encouragement is literally  “pouring courage” into something. YES! That’s how I feel. I’ve been emptied out (ouch), but not without the promise that I’ll be filled back up with something better. I am in the process being filled - filled up by God, His people, my people, our people – I’ve had all sorts of courage poured into me.

Today, I am thankful for the ability to look fear directly in the eye. We never used to make eye contact. There is still a long way to go and much to be hashed out between us, but I am no longer controlled by it. I am thankful and encouraged.  

I am thankful that I get to be myself. “Myself” is nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for; in fact, God WANTS me to be myself. Whoa. I have a name and a calling and a plan and a purpose for my life. And it's legit for me - not anyone else. I am thankful and encouraged.

I am thankful that I get to live a BIG life. We all get to. Because life is hard and complicated – no matter who you are. It’s unfair for me to assume that people have it better than me and it’s unfair to overlook that many, many people have it much worse. We are all fighting our own battles and doing important things that impact the people around us. Every life is full of purpose no matter how small or inconsequential we sometimes feel. I am thankful and encouraged.

I am thankful that encouragement is meant to be shared. God made us FOR each other. There’s something holy about being held when you need to be held, but then rising to your feet and holding others when they need it, too. We are meant to be vulnerable and real and honest with each other because not only does it heal us, but it helps to heal others, too. Beautiful, God.  I am thankful and encouraged.

And speaking of His people, my people, our people – what givers of courage I have in my life. People who are honest and loving and intentional and forgiving and so very brave themselves. Because boy does it take courage to meet people where they are – especially if where they are is in a dark scary unknown alley with a very narrow path toward the exit. My people have done that for me. They’ve met me. My family, my friends – new and old alike - I am constantly filled by them.

It’s not about ignoring my sorrows or pretending there isn’t much to grieve in this world. Especially in these times (HELLO!). But what I’m realizing is that thankfulness is not just a reaction to what we are given or not given. Thankfulness is a heart condition. It’s a power that is always inside us and within reach. We can activate it when we speak words of gratitude, when we encourage others, and when we accept the hope that is for ALL of us, no matter WHO we are, WHERE we’re from or WHAT this life has thrown our way. His promises and faithfulness are for all to receive. And when we take that action- when we actually reach out and GRAB onto His good gifts, we can’t help but say - and really truly mean - “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

the struggle is real.

Every morning, a secret, unknown battle wages between my daughter and me. Actually, it’s only a secret if you don’t live in my house. Those who live there, know.

It begins a little something like this: I tell Kenzie to go pick out something to wear, and she'll return with a blue shirt with flowers all over it and purple leggings with hearts all over them. And she’ll say innocently, “Mommy, how about this?”

I’ll sigh, brace myself and say, “Cute, Kenz. But that’s maybe a little too much going on for one outfit. It doesn’t really match.”

And she’ll counter, “Yes it does. Seeeeeee … flowers and hearts. It matches.”

I’ll tell her to keep the shirt but swap the leggings for any other pair in her dresser – as long as they are in the same color family as her shirt and aren't outrageous.

She’ll sigh, trudge back into her room – rejected leggings in hand – and reemerge proudly. With a sequined tutu.

I’ll take a deep breath and explain that a tutu is neither a pair of leggings nor "non-outrageous" and she’ll look up at me with her big brown eyes and plead, “But mo-om, I LOVE this. It matches. SEEEEE.”

No, I don’t see.

Soon, it becomes time for me to enter her bedroom. We begin intense negotiations on a shirt and pant combo and suddenly, somehow, every article of clothing is sprawled out on her floor and someone is crying. We eventually manage to get her into an outfit that I don't love, but at least it's over. Until she plucks a fuchsia sweater with sparkly jewels around the collar out of her closet and says, “I’ll just put this over my shirt.” I bite my tongue. She might be dressed for a Vegas show rather than a day at Preschool, but, I let it go.

And the scenario above is BEST CASE. Worst case, we are in a hurry, I pick something out myself (GASP) and she looks quietly at the ground, then back up me, and says the five words I dread in life, “I don’t like that mama.”

What do you mean you don’t like it, I say. It’s so cute and with these pants and these shoes – ADORABLE. Come on, put it on.

“But mooooommm …”

And, oh what follows. The explanations I’ve heard.

Those sleeves are too long. Those buttons are not my favorite. This zipper is too bright. My toes feel weird in these shoes.  

And, my all-time favorite, “This shirt is too sad.”

Too SAD? Sad?  I’ll show you sad.

The outcome is always unpredictable. Sometimes she gives in and walks out of the door looking like a respectable 4 year-old. Sometimes she’s dressed for a Christmas pageant and it’s August and we’re going to the park. Some days I’ll firmly insist and she’ll defiantly refuse and we’ll both end up throwing a fit (except hers are overt and loud and involve consequences, and mine are more internal and involve silent swear words). We’ve had many a time out, many a lost privilege, many a lost mind over the morning’s outfit.

My friends tell me they can relate. They say, pick your battles. And I try. It’s just asking a lot. She has ALL this cute stuff that I dream of dressing her in, and she just wants to wear everything at inappropriate times and in inappropriate ways. I mean, whyyyyy will she not wear her cute, stylish demin vest? The one I die for and matches with just about anything? Instead, she’d rather wear an over-sized poncho with a huge white snowflake on it. Still in August.  I cannot handle it.

And yet. I choose to pick these clothing battles with her, time and time again. I stand my ground far more than I give in. I’ve said, you HAVE to wear these boots in the rain and this sweater when it’s chilly and you cannot wear a Princess Jasmine costume to church. 

She is headstrong. For sure. I can let A LOT of things go with her because, you know, I have to survive in life and leave the house. You want the pink plate, not the purple one? Sure! You want to walk instead of ride in the cart? Of course! You want an apple instead of a banana? No problem! You will only play Go Fish with me if I show you all my cards and let you win? Why not?!!

But her outfits. The everyday struggle that happens so early every morning. THAT's the battle I pick? WHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

It may stem from my childhood.

In middle school, my process for getting ready was so ridiculous – I’ll never forget it. I’d write down everything I wore each day, from top to bottom, in a little journal - just to make sure I was mixing it up and not repeating outfits too frequently. I was NOT the most stylish girl at all, but how I looked and what I wore mattered to me. That was certain.

But as I think about it more deeply, since I’m no diva and don’t have a particular passion for fashion – why did my clothes matter SO much to me? So much so that I’d lay my outfits out every night, make sure everything was precisely right and then log them in my journal? Why did I care what the tags said on the inside of my shirts or that my purse displayed a certain brand? Why was it all so important to me?

I think my answer is because they were important to me. Everyone else. The people who would be seeing me. I didn’t want to look bad in front of them. I never had a particular desire to stand out, but I was all about fitting in. Being cool. Keeping up with the trends. I clothed myself in whatever would protect me from judgment or ridicule – whatever would not set me apart as different or weird – whatever would allow me to pass for a nice, acceptable person. I rarely felt attractive, and since I couldn’t really do anything to change my physical appearance, I knew I had to take control over how I dressed and presented myself.

These days, I’m not the best dresser. I don’t care about wearing the right clothes or the right brands and I certainly don’t log my outfits in a journal. I’ve grown out of that particular insecurity. But I still care very much about my appearance. I still sometimes feel unattractive and out of place. I still try to make myself up or dress in ways that will solicit the least amount of criticism, attention or judgement. I still like to blend, to fit in rather than stand out in any way – good or bad. But the older I get, I am seeing how harmful and counterproductive this can be. For me, it's a survival tactic. A protection. A way to neither be too lousy or too great. A way to be "just right" and perfectly safe.

I think of Kenzie and her crazy outfits and I wonder why I care so much. Is it because I want to teach her to listen to her mother? To deal with disappointment? To follow orders? To match?

I wonder if I was ever like her. I wonder if 4-year-old me used to wear what felt good and comfortable and pretty to ME at the moment. I wonder if I used to never worry about how people looked at me or what they thought of me. I wonder if I ever just wanted to wear pink flowers with red and white hearts or tennis shoes with a pageant dress or a random snowflake sweater in the middle of summer. Back before I cared about labels and fitting in and staying safe and being just like everyone else.

When do we start becoming so aware of all the superfluous, superficial stuff? When does that happen?

These silly little battles that I have with my girl tell me that she is stubborn and headstrong. And that she doesn’t care about the basic laws of fashion.

But they also tell me that she's already unlocked a little secret in life: We are MEANT to stand out.

And I love her for that. I envy her for that.  She doesn’t know about status and judgements and insecurities and images and perceptions and fitting in or not fitting in or any of that stuff. She doesn’t care what she looks like, AND she also doesn’t care what anyone else looks like. She loves who she is and she loves others for who they are. 

Please let THAT be her world. Please let that never change. 

As difficult as it may make my life, I hope she always sticks up for what’s in her gut. I hope she always stays true to who she is and makes no apologies about it. Unless I tell her to apologize. And then she better, otherwise no ipad.  

I hope she pursues what makes her feel alive and fulfilled, regardless of whether it's lucrative or popular. I hope she questions authority and asks, why not? Why not a pageant dress in the park? Who said you can’t swing in sequins? What's so wrong with dressing like an Eskimo in the middle of summer?

All I know is that my girl is beautiful and it comes from every unique quality that shines so brightly inside of her. And all I wish is for her to strive to keep the fire inside of her roaring strong so she can show others, no matter who they are and where they fit, that they are beautiful, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

first days.

Some people looovee the first day of school. New backpacks, fresh pencils, the crisp, fall air.

Not me. I’ve never liked it.

I remember my own first days. The nights before I’d lay in bed, tossing and turning with huge knots in my stomach. My worries were like, “Who will be in my class?” “Who will I sit with at lunch?” “Should I really wear that shirt?” “Will I do something completely humiliating that ruins my life?”

The day itself was always met with nervousness, uncertainty, reluctance and a certain amount of fear. On the outside I looked fine, but on the inside, waves of anxiety were crashing through me and threatening to break the surface.

Now I get to re-live first days of school through my children. And they are still pretty hard for me. Partly because I remember how I nervous I felt myself on my own first days, and partly because watching them grow up and move on to another grade, another year, another stage in life is just plain hard.

I nearly fell apart the first days I had to drop the kids off at daycare. They were just babies. But they were fine. They were safe in the arms of their teachers, cooing and crying and playing and eating. I was a crazy person. I was a puddle on the floor. I couldn’t believe I was just handing them off. My worries those days were like “Is this the right thing?” “Will they be okay?” “No one loves them like I do, how can I just leave them?” “What kind of mom just leaves them?”

The first time I handed Caleb off to his teacher, I practically ran out of the daycare. I fled the building, sought refuge in my car, shut the door, and let the tears fall. I think it was even raining, which was perfect. Drenched and soggy is how I felt. I just rested my head on the steering wheel like a pillow and sat in the jarring silence. Missing him.

It felt a lot like actual, physical pain. My heart was silently imploding. In slow motion. Like one of those carefully planned building demolitions. You know it’s going to happen, but it’s all so massive and messy. You feel so unprepared, unsafe and undone.

And you think it’s over, but it’s not. Because then there’s the first day of Kindergarten. That day, I worried, “Isn’t he too little for this?” “Will he make friends?” “Will he change in ways I won’t like?” “Whyyyyy is he growing up so faaaaast?” 

I didn’t even feel like I was entitled to be sad. After all, I'd been taking him to daycare for years. I was used to the early mornings, the new teachers the hard goodbyes. I wasn’t just leaving him for the first time. SO WHY WAS IT STILL SO DANG HARD?? I tried to minimize my big emotions by thinking “you’ve been here before; this is no big deal.” It was true - I had done this before. I was a seasoned child-leaver.

But it was a big deal. It’s all a big deal. 

Taking care of these little people is the most important job, calling and role we’ve ever had. We love them with a fierce, crazy, protective love. And a first day in a new class, new grade, new year can feel like an assault on that. It's a fresh, flashy reminder that we are less in control that we ever were.

We are nervous because we know ourselves how it felt so be so full of questions and worries and anticipation that it ties your stomach in knots. And we are sad because we are being asked yet again to loosen the ties that bind them to us – to release them further than we ever have before. And we want them close. Always, we want them close. If we had the choice and made up the rules of life, we’d probably choose to protect them forever and never let them go. Ever. We’d keep them tucked safely under our arms listening to gospel music and watching PBS for life. And allow only the nicest, most generous people in their vicinity.

Who will give them the nudges and winks at just the right moments? Who will remind them to wear their jackets at recess? Who will scratch their backs and stroke their heads just the way they like it? Who, if not us?

Oh yeah. Other people. Other lovely, trained, experienced, nurturing, smart and caring people. But still not us. And it’s the “not us” that’s like a stick of dynamite to the chest.

Just a few days ago, Caleb had his first day of FIRST GRADE and Kenzie had her first day of Pre-K at a new school and everything inside me felt like it was crumbling all over again. I dropped the kids off and watched as other moms and dads walked with their heads hung low, wiping away tears, hugging other parents, laughing and rejoicing. There was no minimizing or diminishing of feelings. I joined in freely with them all – the stay at home moms, the full-time workers, the part-time workers – we all were the same as we collectively worried, “Do they have everything they need?” “Will people be kind?” “How will they handle success?” “How will they handle failure?” 

And our kids looked back at us nervously. Maybe they had the same worries we did. Or maybe their worries were something like, “Is my mom ever going to leave?” “Really, is she going to just stand there outside of the door looking at me?” “Is she really taking another picture?” “She knows she’s supposed to leave now, right?”

When I think back to those first days, it’s really easy to remember the heartbreak.  It’s harder to remember what happens AFTER the heartbreak. So I have to remind myself; I have to add this reality back into the narrative:  

I stop crying. I pick my head up. I dab my eyes, turn the key and reverse out of that parking space.  And I feel relief. Relief that it is over, that we got through it and that we are still alive. 

My heart only FEELS like it has been demolished, but it is actually still beating steadily.  It might be stronger than ever. God is here with me. He has my back. He told me we could do this, and He came through. He is covering me now. He is so good. He is covering me – in ways that assure me that He is also covering them in their little classrooms away from me. I can no longer feel the worries in my head screaming at me. They aren’t gone altogether, but, the sound of my beating heart is louder.

As it turns out, first days are good for us, too. They grow us, they change us, they move us forward like we are supposed to. Like they are supposed to.

I have this ever-present, insane desire to want to keep my children tucked safely under my arm. Or to go back in time to when they were just babies, when everything felt safe, close-by, golden and warm. 

Let’s go back to that. Just for a day or a minute. 

We don’t get to do that. And that's why we mourn with our joy and lament with our excitement every year we lead them into a new classroom and then walk out the door. That’s why we cry in our cars. We cry until we remember that our hearts will not crumble beyond repair. We remember that faith will seep slowly into our skin and fill us up with just enough strength to dry our faces, thank Jesus and turn the key.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

10 years and life to go.

For our tenth anniversary Luke and I decided to take a trip to California, but really, we just wanted to escape somewhere - anywhere - on plane, outside of the state. WITHOUT KIDS.

Can I just say what a good call that was? And we won’t wait 10 years until we do it again. No way. This could be an annual thing. Or a twice a year thing. Or maybe more. Whatever it takes.

I love my kids. I totally do. But the moment we left the house at 5 a.m. and headed for the airport – I felt it. The lack of questions, the lack of whining, the lack of hunger, the lack of anticipating the next need, the lack of voices, the lack of noise. All was calm; all was bright.

I FREAK OUT when I'm flying, and yet when we climbed above the clouds and soared at whatever thousand feet, I felt light and lifted. I let the sun's golden rays shine through my little window and warm my face. And I felt heaven draw in even closer to me.

I so looked forward to sleeping in every morning, and yet I couldn’t wait to wake up each day with the sun and discover something new. The hustle and bustle of L.A., the gorgeous blue waves crashing onto the soft Laguna shore, the surfer beach where my in-laws first met, or the cute little Mediterranean restaurant in West Hollywood that made me feel like I was in the middle of Santorini

I love my husband very much. Yet this trip, I also really liked him. Like in an "oh-yeah-you-are-my-best-friend" sort of way. It's easy to forget sometimes as you are making lunches, reading bedtime stories and refereeing arguments how much you truly miss just the two of you. I remembered. I remembered how fun it is to talk casually over lunch, to stroll hand in hand down a windy road, to belt out off-key tunes with the windows rolled down in the car, to laugh uncontrollably at ourselves and dream about how our family might look next year and the year after that.

I saw beauty. I really saw it. Like it soaked into my skin and saturated my insides. I couldn’t get enough.

I was awake, Alive, with a capital “A.” I felt it increasingly as wave upon gracious wave would crescendo and crash against my dry, thirsty heart. And I drank it all in; I savored it. I had waited a long time to feel this, and I SAVORED it.

No doubt, this 10 years felt more like a beginning than even year one. The beginning of living life at a different altitude, with wider eyes and with a heart that is no longer severely parched. The years before have been both overwhelmingly good and unbelievably hard. I will carefully study those chapters. I will look back with nostalgia, relief, remorse and joy. I will gather up every page, every word, every heartache, every lesson, every breathtaking moment and keep it all somewhere safe - somewhere very close to me.

And, with tremendous faith, I will turn the page.

I will boldly and thankfully step into the rest of our story. Because what's ahead is already a miracle - an undeniable and real showing of grace. So many possibilities. So much to look forward to. So much hope. 

The water is really that blue and the sun is really that bright.

10 years down and a whole, new life to go.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

40 Things I LOVE About My Sister.

40.  She is the best gift-giver. She will take a looooong time to pick out the perfect gift, but it’s all worth it in the end because it will be, indeed, perfect. AND. She is the best present wrapper; she makes the packaging almost better than the gift itself.

39. She has an infectious smile and laugh and they definitely light up a room.

38.  She has the softest skin that I love to creepily stroke from time to time, and she always smells good (just don’t steal her scent).

37.  She once found us the worst hotel in New York City, and my parents hated it so much that they upgraded us to the Marriot in Times Square the next night (win-win).

36.  She is one INCREDIBLE aunty. Seriously. I think my kids like her more than they like me.

35.  She has a heart for the underdog, the victim and the oppressed. Her compassion is beyond inspiring.

34.  She knows probably every word of the Bible, yet has taught me the most about what it means to have a simple, “childlike” faith.

33.  She has gotten over her fear of affection and doesn’t hyperventilate so much after I try to hug her.

32.  She is a great debater. Good luck to those who go up against her. She knows her stuff and she’s convincing.

31.  She let me sit at her lunch table when I was the new kid at school and had no friends. And she only rubs it in my face like four times a year.

30.  In middle school, she made me a sign inspired by a Full House episode that says, “Guys come and go, but sisters are forever.” I had it in my room until I moved out. Because of a guy.

29.  She is like the teacher that Michelle Pfieffer played in “Dangerous Minds” and I always hear “Gangsta’s Paradise” playing faintly in the background every time she gives me a pep talk.

28.  She was my sidekick on two incredible, life-changing trips to India.

27.  She let me live with her for a month in Washington, DC after I graduated from college and had no direction in life. We had fun.

26.  She thought I was the most annoying little sister when we were little because I’d always get her in trouble. But she also did a lot of stuff worthy of getting in trouble for. To my credit.

25.  She forgave me after our hugest fight over a Brian McKnight tape back in the early 90s. Didn’t think we’d survive that one.

24.  She is the most popular in any crowd and she doesn’t even know it. Ever since we were little, I knew she had that special something that made people comfortable and made them flock to her. She is that person everyone wants to be around.

23. She used to squeeze my sides and tell me my obliques would leak.

22. She took me on the adventure of a lifetime: two weeks traveling through Europe with just a backpack, baguette and jar of Nutella. It was magical. She pushes me to expand my horizons, and because of her, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things in this world.

21. She used to sing songs from Sound of Music or the Little Mermaid in the shower every morning at the top of her lungs.

20. While other kids in school got in trouble, she went to journalism camp.

19. She is a great singer and artist and is super creative, which is not fair because I did not get those genes at all. AT ALL.

18. She is an AMAZING writer. I’m always just like, whoa, whoa, WHOAA!

17. She has a book recommendation for EVERYTHING. I’m not kidding. Name a topic and she’ll give you a book title and author (and 9 times out of 10, she will order it for you from Amazon and have it shipped out to you the next day).

16. She once put a drink on a random girl’s head, the drink spilled, then she got mad at the GIRL for giving her a bad look. (????)

15. She volunteers Lisa and I for the most random things. Mostly church things and going on runs with her clients.

14. She is the worst liar. The WORST. (As in she can’t lie, not that she lies a lot).

13. She was my first example of seeing someone have a dream, work for it and see it through to fruition.

12. She is steadfast and resolute in so many things that matter.

11. She is truly both the sweetest, friendliest person and the toughest, most capable person.

10.  She has chased after someone at a train station on a bike while ringing the bell on her basket.

9.   She has forgotten to pick me up nearly three dozen times when I was a poor helpless child, but it’s impossible to stay mad at her.

8.   She worked for a real newspaper in high school and had her own column called “Bina’s Beat.”

7.   She felt oppression at a young age by cops who pulled her over for speeding. Because she was speeding.

6.   She did a radio interview on KUBE 93 about racism. It was poignant.

5.   She is the hostess with the mostess. Everyone is welcome at her house, always. And they are always made to feel welcomed, loved and important. She has the gift for hospitality.

4.   She is the best role model God could give me growing up. She is strong, confident, humble, full of faith, love, and passion. She is a dreamer and a follow-througher and a seize the day-er of life. I truly do not think I would have made it through my youth without her wisdom, example, encouragement, truth-telling, tough love, just plain love, friendship and laughter.  When it comes to sisters, I got the best of the best.

3.  She sees love through from start to finish. She fights for people and for what they are meant to become. She’ll not only fight for them in court in front of a judge, but she’ll take them home, pray for them, loan them her car, have them over for dinner,and  introduce them to her family so it feels like they have one too.  People are so important to her. She loves in such a beautiful way.

2. She is a risk taker. Whether it’s moving across the country for school, believing in someone despite the odds, traveling the world, studying abroad, working for a nonprofit, changing her career path, following her dreams, standing up for truth, voicing an unpopular opinion or pursuing her passion. She doesn’t just settle for the status quo in life. I believe this comes from her faith in God, her belief in HIS ability to get things done and make things right, and her insanely deep desire to make this life count.

1. She fills this major, much-needed space in this world that only she can fill with her sweetness, smile, strength, smarts, sense of humor and sincerity. She also fills that much smaller, but still JUST as needed Bina-shaped space in individual people’s lives. I’ve seen it time and time again. People go to her with questions, with problems, for advice, for a listening ear. She is a source of fun, laughter and comic relief. There is only one Bina and we are all blessed people to know her, love her and get to do life with her. But me especially. I get to be her sister, which means that many, MANY times for ALL OF MY LIFE I’ve gotten her attention, her ceaseless prayers, her listening ear, her wisdom, her honesty, her vulnerability, her graciousness, her silliness, her friendship and her love. It’s that love that I’m most thankful for, because she truly loves like no other. To say, I’m thankful for her is an understatement. To say I love her doesn’t even express it. To say she blesses my life, so many lives and this world, is the absolute truth and comes from my heart.

Thank you for living a full, honest and loving life, Beans. Thank you letting me be a part of your passions and adventures. Thanks for being my best friend since the day I was born. May this day, this year, this decade and this season of life lead you to places that bring you great joy and fulfill the deepest desires of your heart. I want the best for you sister, and I love you so much!!

Happy 40th, Beans. #goshortyitsyour40