Thankful Thursday – Summer Quiet

Kids are at camp this week. I should be tearing it up, cleaning all the nooks and crannies, (re)organizing, school prepping.

But I’m not. I’m working (mostly from home). I’m exercising and reading. I’m procrastinating on the shoulds. I’m enjoying time with my Guy and myself.

I’m thankful for the sunflowers Tween chose at the market last week, still hanging on this week and adding a sunny burst of joy to our kitchen.

I’m thankful for OPI nail polish, and especially my new OPI Red purchased on sale at TJ Maxx. It’s a delicious raspberry red, perfect for summer (the Amazon link makes it look way more orange-red).

I’m thankful for my rose bushes, and the magical appearance they take on covered in morning dew drops.

I’m thankful for new-to-me books feeding my soul:
The Broken Way, by Ann Voskamp, teaching me to be the GIFT (Give It Forward Today)
With, by Skye Jethani, asking me to ponder anew my view of God and how I live my relationship with Him

And Guy, loving our family through service and taking advantage of the hot weather to steam the year out of our sand-colored carpets. Life is good!

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The Struggle is Real

This summer our church has been doing a deep dive into the wisdom of Proverbs. Earlier this week some of us gathered to study this passage from Proverbs 30:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

When I entered the room, I thought our topic was contentment, or integrity. The more we dialed down, the more uncomfortable I became.

I have a love-hate relationship with money. Mostly hate. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want a huge house or fancy cars. I just want enough. I want to not want.

I enjoyed a comfortable childhood. We had enough and then some. We had a swimming pool. We attended sleep-away summer camps. We could travel (my dad was a captain with Pan Am). My parents paid for my private college education.

My children don’t experience similar luxury and yet our needs are more than met. We have a comfortable home in a beautiful neighborhood near friends we love. Every time I flip through our photo albums, I feel overwhelming gratitude for God’s good provisions.

Still, money above all is the bugaboo that wakes me in the night, the hardest area of life for me to trust God.

So here’s the story:

The week Teen turned nine years old, our church held its first Mission Market, an opportunity to purchase for your loved ones non-traditional Christmas gifts (for example, socks and underwear for orphans) that benefit our mission partners. Teen wandered in on his own and found a picture of a boy his age who needed support to attend school in the Dominican Republic. Something about this boy’s face stirred Teen’s heart. They both played soccer. He said, “I found my brother.”

At the time, I couldn’t afford to buy a drugstore lipstick. But how could we deny our son a chance to learn the value of giving? He offered to take on extra chores to ‘earn’ the monthly cost of supporting this boy he’d never met. We haven’t missed a month’s support in nine years.

Six years ago we were asked to participate in a Thanksgiving trip to the DR where we could meet this boy. I thought money would be the deal breaker but, through the generosity of others, all four of us participated in a trip that forever changed our family.

This week Guy is leading a group of 20 (mostly teens) on another trip to the DR. I asked him if he’d considered inviting Teen. Both he and ‘his brother’ have now graduated high school; Teen is off to college while his brother has gone to work to support his family. This might be their last opportunity to connect. Guy responded that we didn’t have the money: end of conversation.

Of course we don’t have the money. We will soon take on a lose-my-mind loan to cover out-of-state college tuition. But something in me couldn’t let go of the idea that our kiddo needed to go on this trip. I brought it up again: “Money makes me bananas, so I shouldn’t be the one pushing this, except I can’t not… If we’re already trusting God for this massive college loan, how can we not trust God for the funds for this potentially life-changing experience?”

We asked, and Teen jumped: YES he wanted to go! Some of his best friends are on the trip. He wants to see his brother. And he wants to meet the little guy our family will support now that Teen’s brother has graduated.

We wrote a letter, inviting people to support Teen in prayer and finances. The money came in, in some cases from people we didn’t expect. And before that, in fact, the very week we made the decision in faith to register Teen for the trip, he received a small college scholarship—which felt exactly like confirmation from God that we had listened well.

Who is the Lord? The God who provides.
Lord, help me to trust…

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Do a Good Turn Daily

My friend Tracy works for an in-town start-up company-charity called Sydney Paige. Founder Courtney Brockmeyer left the corporate world to spend more time with her darling daughters, Sydney and Paige, to indulge her passion for education, and to model for her daughters how one person can make a difference.

Sydney Paige is like TOMS shoes: buy one-give one. I buy a pair of TOMS shoes for me, they donate a pair to someone in need. You buy a Sydney Paige backpack for your child, and they donate an identical backpack to a child in need. All good!

Tracy emailed that they needed volunteers to pack backpacks for homeless children in San Francisco. Kids in our area are always adding to their volunteer hours, and parents appreciate opportunities to teach our children solid hands-on lessons about using our time and actions to do good, be better, and love others.

I mentioned it to Tween; he replied, “Yah, maybe…” (he is loving long summer days of video games and bike riding and swimming with friends…). His Scout patrol leader made it a requirement, so we both signed up.

We arrived at Courtney’s garage to walls of boxes and volunteers hiding behind each corner. Our first task: to write notes of encouragement that would be stuffed along with age-appropriate school supplies in each backpack. Tracy explained: “Some of these kids aren’t told they are loved. Some have parents who think school is a waste of time. We get to tell them they can do it, that school is important and so are they.” Tears!

On index cards in brightly colored markers, we wrote encouragement like:
Shoot for the stars
Reach for your dreams
You can do hard things
Keep going!
(Tween wrote our fav): My love for you is bigger than the ocean and stronger than the waves

We opened boxes of backpacks, took them out of the plastic, and unzipped the main pocket. We assembled color-coordinated stacks of school supplies, and then we stuffed. For an hour and a half, we worked diligently until additional volunteers arrived to take our place.

My initially-reluctant Tween hugged Tracy and said, “This was SO great! Call my mom anytime you need help. Seriously. I’ll help anytime.”

In the car he said, “I kinda feel bad about leaving.” I almost turned the car around. Instead we had a heart-moving conversation about volunteering and new opportunities he might pursue this school year.

Two days later we received another plea: 12,000 backpacks were arriving at the warehouse ten days early. Could we help?

We spread the word: Tween had one available friend and Teen had three. Eight of us showed up at the warehouse to rearrange boxes to create space, unpack supplies, and write more notes. We would have given more time, but three of our eight were leaving that afternoon for nine days of work at a Kids Alive International orphanage in the Dominican Republic; their travel schedule made for a narrow window of opportunity.

We volunteered because helping others is the right thing to do. Because we want to teach our kids that a little effort goes a long way in the world. Because our kids brought other kids and the good multiplies. Because our kids are Scouts and, as the Scout slogan says: “Do a good turn daily!” It wasn’t hard, though it wasn’t necessarily convenient, either. Still, it was important.

We helped Sydney Paige and, in turn, Sydney Paige donated 24 backpacks to Kids Alive. This isn’t always the way the world works, but it should be. Good comes from good. Invest your time wisely. Do a good turn daily.

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Freedom

Happy Independence Day!

One of my favorite Bible verses comes from Galatians 5:1…

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Honest: I don’t appreciate anything near the truth of those few words. I don’t think most of us truly understand and live our freedom, even those of us who have been set free by Christ.

To the contrary, I believe most of us take it for granted. I do.

Freedom, especially freedom found in Christ, does not mean freedom to do whatever I want. It does not mean I can do or say anything, without regard for others. It does not mean I can be selfish, seeking good only for me and mine. It does not mean I can hoard home, money, possessions for my use. It does not mean I can waste my time, or spend frivolously, or pursue success at any cost. It does not mean I can wield power over others.

Thank God He also promises no condemnation if I use my “freedom” in those ways. But that’s not what Christ intended when He died to set us free.

Freedom means I am free to love God and love others. I am free from sin, free from selfish pursuit, to instead pursue Christ and live His purpose for my life. I am free to receive each day, each moment, each breath, as a gift. I am free to see my life and my place in this world as a present to unwrap carefully and enjoy thoroughly. I am free to see even those things that look like obstacles, hardships, or hell-on-earth as somehow part of His divine plan, and I am free to continue to seek His face as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

I am free to use all the time He’s given me, the things He has put under my stewardship, the personality, inclinations, and talents He has bestowed upon me–all these things I am free to use for His glory. Any power He has blessed me with I am free to use to empower others. I am free to act on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves. I am free to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. I am free to love those who have forgotten or sadly never learned how to love themselves.

On any given day, I don’t use my freedom well. And so I pray: “Jesus Christ, thank you for your gift of freedom. Help me to live freely and to work on behalf of the freedom of others. Amen.”

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Thankful Thursday – Celebrate

Oh, friends, what a week!

Thursday to Thursday, I’m not sure there is any adequate way to sum it up, but let’s try this: joy, and grief, and joy… In all, celebrate.

One week ago we were in the final hours of the school year, during which both kids managed to drag out the drama and just about drive their mama over the edge. All is well, thank God, but all became well in those final hours. Sheesh!

Celebration commenced. Baccalaureate services and parties led to graduation and graduation parties. Teen graduated–hooray and hallelujah, amen! WOO HOO!

Honestly, I cried on and off (with greater and lesser degrees of humiliation) Wednesday-Thursday. Maybe I was cried out by Friday, but I made it through graduation tear-free. Perhaps it was the ear-to-ear smile Teen wore beginning to end. Or his willingness to at least quickly allow a hug or give me a quick peck on the cheek. I saw his happiness, his pride, his joy. It overflowed.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day of “summer,” this late-sleeper woke up early and ready for yoga. When asked to choose my intention, the first word that popped to mind was “release,” which I immediately rejected: “release” held way too much possibility for full-on sob-fest! So I very carefully selected, “Celebrate.”

Yes. I can celebrate. Let’s celebrate: graduation, growth, summer, new adventures on the horizon, life lived and life ongoing.

This week we have joyfully celebrated graduations, and we have–with tremendous sadness and loss–celebrated lives well lived. Tucked between graduation parties, we attended a memorial service for an amazing man, a Navy Admiral, a gentleman who poured his life into his country, his family, his church, his business, and the Boy Scout troop in which each of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Troop in which my boys also participate: one has Eagled; another is on track. My boys attended the memorial service in Class A uniform, and each reported feeling impressed by the military salute (what American doesn’t bow low for a military gun salute?), the pastor’s heartfelt message, and their Scoutmaster Emeritus’s tribute to one of his best buddies, a friend of 30+ years. This man’s son and family have been our longtime dear friends. It was our honor to honor his life with them.

Monday we celebrated the first “school day” of summer, and the Bay Area whooped it up for the NBA win of our team, the Golden State Warriors. If you knew me in my SoCal life, this surprises you; but go on, be surprised at what raising two boys in the Bay Area can do for a mama’s respect for basketball!

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my beloved Mor-Mor’s (mother’s mother) heaven-home-going. I miss her like crazy; anyone who ever met her feels the same. When my dad was flying Pan Am jets and my dear mom was working, little Mor was it: on duty, making cookies, wooden-spooning naughty bottoms, keeping all of us–and friends–in line.

Yesterday, I read these verses in Proverbs (14:10, 13):
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Grief and joy. They coexist in the heart. Sometimes we lean more fully to one or the other, while on occasion, they lean heavily together. Brene Brown wrote (coincidentally, of her own daughter’s recent high school graduation): “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away. The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief. Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow. Both are strong. Both are true.”

We celebrated Teen and his peers who have achieved a milestone in their yet-young lives. We celebrated the well-lived long lives of my friend’s dad and my grandma.

We celebrated the Warriors’ win. And last night we (belatedly) celebrated Tween’s 13th birthday and (early) celebrated Father’s Day with dinner and a movie [Wonder Woman, highly recommend!].

Life goes on. In each day, in daily life, we embrace emotional fullness: breath, movement, work, rest, feelings, enjoyment, mourning. Yesterday I felt like my sweet Mor-Mor moved through the day with me: through waking kids, work stuff, kid and family stuff, and family night out. I felt like she smiled down us, like she would have approved, if she could have been here to do so, that we ‘celebrated’ her departure by celebrating the lives we live in the moment.

Here’s to life, and to fully living in the moment all of this beautiful life that deserves celebrating!

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24 Years and Counting

Today we celebrate 24 years of marriage.

We met at 17, started dating at 20, got engaged at 22, and married at 23.

We have now been married more than half our lives.

In that time, we have lived in seven homes in three counties in one state. We have worked at nine jobs, including four churches, three of which we both served professionally. We have raised two incredible sons.

I can’t begin to quantify how many sermons he’s preached or articles I’ve written. How many camps, retreats, or mission trips we’ve organized. How many Bible lessons we’ve taught, or cups of coffee we’ve shared with people we love. Nor how many weddings he’s officiated.

For obvious reasons, the weddings are on my mind today. Some would say we got lucky, that marrying so young could have gone badly. We know some for whom that was the case. Thankfully, not us, and thankfully, we’ve learned a few things about marriage in this half of life.

JOY is contagious.
Jesus, Others, You. It may be cliché, but it is also the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God, and love others as yourself. From before our beginning as a couple, we committed to love God first and foremost. We recognized our love for one another as His gift, to nurture with an outpouring of His love for us as individuals and as a couple. We put church and activities that would help us grow in love with God and each other first on our calendar, careful not to let other activities compete (at least not regularly) for space in our lives that belonged to God.

Remember why you fell in love.
Romance is sappy, staring-deeply-into-eyes fun. But romance ebbs and flows. Sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and actively remember those qualities about your spouse that weakened your knees: his sense of humor or the way his hug wrapped you up and made you feel safe or the laughs you shared playing board games.

Invest time.
Regularly. Ideally, daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally. Shared time is the investment you make often in order to have something to draw on when you need it most. Daily could be as little as a fifteen-minute check-in chat after work. Weekly might be a walk around the block, a date night, a Sunday lunch. Monthly or seasonally, depending on your life stage and/or budget, might be a splurge date or an overnight get-away.

Grow.
Everything that has life grows. Or it dies. So you might as well be clear up front: I’m not going to get in a rut. Each of you will grow, learn, and change, and your relationship will need to flex in order to accommodate your individual growth. It’s a good thing, and it will make you more interesting. Just be sure to grow in complimentary directions.

Experiences over stuff.
Make memories, not collections. We’re all drowning in stuff and spend way too many hours of our lives managing all the stuff: cleaning, dusting, moving it from one place to another, reorganizing, decluttering, (re)gifting. Instead, we need more shared time together, more laughter and play and memory-making that in the long run will require no more work than sharing stories with family and friends for generations.

Talk. A lot.
Be honest. No topic too sacred, nothing off-limits. Communication is the basic building block you stack over and over and over in order to build a shared life. You have to talk in order to avoid and resolve conflict, which will do its best to topple all the hard-placed blocks. Learn to speak graciously, to honor each other with your words by building each other up, lavishing encouragement, being his/her #1 fan. Keep criticism to a minimum.

Play.
Marriage can be a lot of work if you don’t balance it with some just-because fun. What did you do on dates pre-marriage? Do more of that. See movies. Eat meals out, or cook meals in. Go to museums, take classes, and develop new hobbies. Enjoy the big beautiful world on a hike. Take a trip—even a day trip—to somewhere new, or visit your old stomping grounds. Enjoy each other’s company.

Play for the same team.
Think of your marriage as a team: What does winning look like? What position(s) do you play? How can you work together rather than against each other? Stop trying to keep individual score (I took the trash out last week… Yah, but I emptied the dishwasher this morning) and figure out how to complement each other’s strengths and shore up each other’s weaknesses.

Forgive.
Most of us misunderstand forgiveness. We think it means claiming that whatever the offense, it didn’t matter. To the contrary, forgiveness means the offense absolutely mattered, but I will choose to live with the consequences so we can both move on. Forgiveness involves addressing the conflict honestly and then agreeing to new boundaries to prevent further hurt, including agreeing not to bring it up again. It is hard, necessary work for any substantial relationship.

Keep it simple.
Don’t put off date night until you have the sitter and the reservation at the fancy-schmancy A-list restaurant. Put the kids to bed early, order pizza, and put in a DVD if you have to. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself, your spouse, your kids, your kids’ schools or teachers or coaches, your neighbors… Don’t make life harder than it will be already. Keep your priorities straight, and keep it simple.

Your spouse won’t meet all your needs.
No one person will satisfy all your needs. Adulting requires that you meet more than a few of your own needs, and sometimes that involves sucking it up when you feel dissatisfied. Also, cultivate friends you can talk to and play with when your spouse isn’t available. Just remember: they don’t come first in your heart’s priorities.

Serve one another in love.
Every time Guy officiates at a wedding I hear him say: “Marriage is not 50-50. Marriage is 100-100. Marriage is both partners all in for the sake of the relationship. I give everything I am, and she gives everything she is, and together we make one whole.”

I admit, service is not my strong suit. Sometimes I notice myself feeling more than a little annoyed at all the mundane tasks I do that seem to go unnoticed. At those times I remind myself that our marriage is built on mutual service. Some days it takes a lot of service on my part; other days, he will pick up all the slack. It’s a give-and-take, both of us intending to give more than we take.

Today we have followed our own advice. After shuffling the kids out the door and off to school, we began our day in a yoga class together, a new-to-us practice that grounds us in health and wellness and community with our friends and neighbors. We each did our individual work, then ran errands together for the sake of our family. We both participated in chores and dinner prep. The kids have homework, so we made a simple dinner: a big Greek salad, whole wheat pita bread and hummus, corn on the cob, with cherries for dessert. We opened a nicer-than-usual bottle of wine—a Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc—from a winery we have visited for special occasions with loved ones. We sip from glasses that belonged to Guy’s grandparents, engraved with the initial and name I adopted 24 years ago today.

Here’s to 24 years, and many, many more!

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