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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High School Graduation

Tonight I feel seventeen.

Tomorrow is graduation day. One more project to go: for English, a self-expression slide show of my life—my people, my friends and classmates—set to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

We’ve been together a long time, but high school isn’t it. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. It’s here, and it’s out there, our next step.

If I searched high and low in my mom’s house, my old house, I might still find the old slide projector reel filled with images of me and my peers growing from elementary school through junior high and then high school. We took different paths through adolescence, so I had to work harder toward the end to gather pictures of the people with whom we began. Still, I found them. For a time, at least, I had them.

On my final day of high school, I blared my U2 cassette tape through the boom box speakers in synch with my slides, blasting the darkened theater with familiar sound. Even the classmates who knew us only for a stretch of that time appreciated what came before and after. We were. We were little, we were middles, we were grown. We made an impact.

My presentation ended the class period. Lights up, and we were free until we reassembled in graduation gear. For a few hours, we felt oddly untethered to anything and anyone. We knew it wasn’t entirely true, but we felt FREE.

We went home. We weren’t the same. We might even have been a little crazy. Girls did hair and make-up. Boys did…what? I’m not sure.

When we came back together we were uncomfortably not the same, dressed as we’d never been before. We had worn jeans and shorts and T-shirts and skirts and blouses and dresses and collared shirts–even ball gowns and tuxedos–but we had never before worn caps and gowns.

Here we are, about to be, graduates.

Halt.

Tonight, my son is the soon-to-be-graduate. He is eighteen. He has one last final to go, sadly not the feel-good presentation of my last day of high school, but a hard-core final with a graceless teacher who least likes him.

Still, this is his night, his weekend, his now and not yet.

Time is funny. So slow, so fast. How can my little Christmas elf baby be the six-foot-something rugby-tough-guy almost-graduate? The years have been long, and not long enough.

Tonight friends threw a graduation party for their son and his buddies, including our guy. We swapped stories with parents with whom we’ve walked short- and long-lengths of this journey. Oh, how these kids have extended the high school drama! Nothing like giving your parents heart attacks in the last few hours…

I drove home alone, the long way, on purpose. I rolled down the windows, cranked the stereo, punched the gas pedal. I let the wind rush through my hair, felt my skin energized by its chilling flow. I’m no longer seventeen, but I remember. My adult (responsible) Honda Civic is no match for my once-upon-a-time ’67 Mustang, my ultimate cool car. That long-ago night, I knew I had great friends and I also knew, poignantly, that those friendships could not last forever.

I see it. He feels the same, and everything in me aches: for what was, and what is, and what has been lost. And for this boy: for what is, and what will be, and what will be lost.

This is the beginning, and this is the end. And it will come around again.

Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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Learning to Let Him Go

norcalfootball2016

Today Teen drove away with friends to cheer on their high school football team in the state championship (Go, Campo Cougars!). Four hours away, in a city they’ve never visited. They’ll stay together in a hotel, arranged by another parent. They’ll return home tomorrow.

It makes me a little nervous, honestly. There will be plenty of adults at the game, but no chaperones at the hotel. A group of teenage boys staying alone overnight…what could go wrong?

But he’s a good kid. He turned 18 last week and he’s off to college in nine months where, obviously, he will have unprecedented freedom. I’ve got to start letting him go sometime.

My parents were overprotective of me and I respected them for it. And I still found a way to occasionally make questionable choices. So my instinct is to overprotect my kid, which he hates because he is way more wired for risk-taking than I am. All the more reason to overprotect, right?

I have to trust him. I have to demonstrate to him that I believe he is worthy of my trust. I have to trust that we’ve done the best job we could raising a responsible young adult. I have to trust that God is looking out for him.

Deep breath, mama. He’s gonna be fine.

Two years ago he asked to go to a rave. I’ve never been to a rave, but I’ve heard more than enough bad about them. He was so determined that I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t go regardless of our prohibition. So we put a range of protections around him, including logical consequences: an early morning bike ride with his uncle—an adventure to anticipate!—would be so much fun if he wasn’t hung over and terrible if he was, for example. He didn’t drink, and he enjoyed both concert and biking. We found a way to give him what he wanted and satisfy our parental concerns.

Two Halloweens ago, he told us he was going to a party about which we’d heard neighbors had contacted police in advance. We asked him not to go. We were with friends down the street when we heard the sirens. We walked to the house, texted Teen, to which he replied: “Busy.” Paramedics rolled out a stretcher with an intoxicated girl strapped to it. Teen walked next to her until she was in the rig, then turned back to talk to police and the home owner. We stood across the street and watched as our son held a mature discussion with adults.

Turns out he hadn’t had one sip to drink. Instead, when a girl arrived already drunk, he appointed himself her caretaker. He tried to get her to go home. When she refused, he parked her on a couch and got her water. When police, and then paramedics, arrived and she tried to fight them off, he convinced her to go with them peacefully.

Another night he returned from being out with friends and flopped on my bed. “Have I got a story!” he exclaimed. Teen was driving his friends when they witnessed a bad car accident. He pulled over to call 911 and see if he could help (good Eagle Scout!). Fortunately, no one was hurt, but both drivers were badly shaken. They emerged from their cars shouting at each other. Teen separated them. He then talked with each individually, calming them and waiting with them until police arrived. His friends sat in the car, disgruntled at Teen’s good deed-doing because he made them wait. Teen cared more about doing the right thing and less about what his ticked off friends thought.

He doesn’t always make good choices, of course, developing teen brain and all. One night he returned home later than we’d asked but still early, 10pm-ish. He didn’t say a lot, went to his room, and Guy assumed he’d gone to bed. Mom-suspicion sent me to check on him, where I found windows open (under closed curtains) and pillows under bedcovers, topped with stuffed lion mane on the pillow, a nice touch to simulate his own curly-coarse hair. I threw the lion at Guy (feeling betrayed that Teen used my lion-gift to deceive me—and frustrated that I was simultaneously impressed with his creativity) who immediately called him to Come. Home. NOW!

We heard the story over days, in a less-than-effective shouting match, then debate, and finally, calm and cool discussion. He’d left his hat in his friend’s car; the car was low on gas and Friend didn’t want to come back up our cul-de-sac; so Teen hopped out his window to meet him on the main road. Once out, Friend asked if he wanted to stay out, as he didn’t have to be home until 1am. They’d only gone a few blocks when Guy called and Friend was forced to waste gas driving Teen home again.

Meanwhile, I did my own research, asking friends with high schoolers about their curfews. I thought 10:30-11pm seemed reasonable; apparently, that’s early. The football guys (Teen started high school as Football Guy before giving his all to rugby) regularly stay out until 1am on Fridays/Saturdays. Teen didn’t approach the conversation well, but we weren’t listening well, either. We had to listen to his actions to learn to let go.

We’re learning. As a student, Teen’s primary job is learning. My primary job (not the paycheck, the vocation) is parent; I get to be a student of my children, fascinated by their unique temperaments, personalities, and strengths/weaknesses. I have a Master’s Degree focused on Adolescent and Family Ministries, and yet there’s no class on “Teen Ricketts.” Some days I don’t even want to learn to let him go, and yet I want to launch him well. This learning may come harder, yet it’s that much more important.

Thankful Thursday – Week of July 4th, 2016

Today didn’t go as planned. I had to work through, pray through, a few unanticipated and frustrating speed bumps before I could return to gratitude. Yet my issues are annoyances, mere splinters compared with the unanticipated life-demolishing road blocks others have experienced today, this week. My reasons for gratitude remain huge, while others grieve.

I don’t have many words today, and so I turn to pictures and others to speak.firework 2

lady liberty
BY TATO LAVIERA

for liberty, your day filled in splendor,
july fourth, new york harbor, nineteen eighty-six,
midnight sky, fireworks splashing,
heaven exploding
into radiant bouquets,
wall street a backdrop of centennial adulation,
computerized capital angling cameras
celebrating the international symbol of freedom
stretched across micro-chips,
awacs surveillance,
wall-to-wall people, sailing ships,
gliding armies ferried
in pursuit of happiness, constitution adoration,
packaged television channels for liberty,
immigrant illusions
celebrated in the name of democratic principles,
god bless america, land of the star
spangled banner
that we love,

 

but the symbol suffered
one hundred years of decay
climbing up to the spined crown,
the fractured torch hand,
the ruptured intestines,
palms blistered and calloused,
feet embroidered in rust,
centennial decay,
the lady’s eyes,
cataract filled, exposed
to sun and snow, a salty wind,
discolored verses staining her robe,

 

she needed re-molding, re-designing,
the decomposed body
now melted down for souvenirs,
lungs and limbs jailed
in scaffolding of ugly cubicles
incarcerating the body
as she prepared to receive
her twentieth-century transplant
paid for by pitching pennies,
hometown chicken barbecues,
marathons on america’s main streets.
she heard the speeches:
the president’s
the french and american partners,
the nation believed in her, rooted for the queen,
and lady liberty decided to reflect
on lincoln’s emancipatory resoluteness
on washington’s patriotism,
on jefferson’s lucidity,
on william jennings bryan’s socialism,
on woodrow wilson’s league of nations,
on roosevelt’s new deal,
on kennedy’s ecumenical postures,
and on martin luther king’s non-violence.firework 1
lady liberty decided to reflect
on lillian wald’s settlements,
on helen keller’s sixth sense,
on susan b. anthony’s suffrage movement,
on mother cabrini’s giving soul,
on harriet tubman’s stubborn pursuit of freedom.

 

just before she was touched,
just before she was dismantled,
lady liberty spoke,
she spoke for the principles,
for the preamble,
for the bill of rights,
and thirty-nine peaceful
presidential transitions,
and, just before she was touched,
lady liberty wanted to convey
her own resolutions,
her own bi-centennial goals,
so that in twenty eighty-six,
she would be smiling and she would be proud.
and then, just before she was touched,
and then, while she was being re-constructed,
and then, while she was being celebrated,
she spoke.

 

if you touch me, touch ALL of my people
who need attention and societal repair,
give the tired and the poor
the same attention, AMERICA,
touch us ALL with liberty,
touch us ALL with liberty.

 

hunger abounds, our soil is plentiful,
our technology advanced enough
to feed the world,
to feed humanity’s hunger . . .
but let’s celebrate not our wealth,
not our sophisticated defense,
not our scientific advancements,
not our intellectual adventures.
let us concentrate on our weaknesses,
on our societal needs,
for we will never be free
if indeed freedom is subjugated
to trampling upon people’s needs.

 

this is a warning,
my beloved america.firework 3
so touch me,
and in touching me
touch all our people.
do not single me out,
touch all our people,
touch all our people,
all our people
      our people
             people.

 

and then i shall truly enjoy
my day, filled in splendor,
july fourth, new york harbor,
nineteen eighty-six, midnight sky,
fireworks splashing,
heaven exploding
into radiant bouquets,
celebrating in the name of equality,
in the pursuit of happiness,
god bless america,
land of star
spangled banner
that we love.

What’s Your Dance Party?

I’ve been thinking about “YES!”yes

This word, “create,” requires saying Yes to life, to invitations, to play, and, sometimes worse, to those things that intimidate or downright scare me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for saying “NO!” as necessary. I believe in it. Oh baby, YES, we have to say NO! from time to time. My everyday hero, Jen Hatmaker, says: “People will take as much as you will give them, not because they are terrible humans, but because they only want this one slice of you. Plus, you’re probably good at their pet thing. But they don’t observe the scope of your life and all the other tricks on your beam. You can say no, and no one will die. God wants this freedom for us.” Sometimes we have to say No in order to say Yes to something more important. I’ve been thinking on that a lot lately, too.

But, YesGetting out of our comfort zone to live a full, exuberant, energetic, creative life, that requires Yes answers where No might be our instinct.

i-dare-me-clubI’ve been reading a book, I Dare Me!, about a middle-aged wowza-successful gal who felt stuck. To un-stick herself she created a list, with lots of help, of Firsts she could do every day of the year. She began with one of her biggest fears, swimming in the ocean, and so she took a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. I’m not afraid of the ocean, and still, Yikes! Some were way more do-able, like taking a new class at the gym, trying a new recipe and/or restaurant, even going without make-up for a day (and yet, she’s an on-air news anchor, so…). It’s inspirational. I don’t want to do many of the things she did, but I’m asking the big question: What could I do? It’s a Yes to life!

Yes is about letting go of what others think, of what you think, of who you should be or what you should do. It’s embracing the whole range, from silly to ridiculous to meaningful.

Today I said Yes, if only just for a few seconds.

At our moms’ group, a sweet gal shared her story of birthing three babies in rapid succession, and in that time two household moves, of post-partum depression that lasted too long, and from all of that, to Zumba. You read that right, Zumba!zumba-in-the-circuit-logo-2

Previously, I had only ever Zumba’d in the privacy of my own home, not-jiving to a library DVD. I tried a few days in a row, working on steps and rhythm, before I decided I have neither steps nor rhythm (my gals will attest: after a few late-night glasses of wine, I might be convinced otherwise, but we keep that to ourselves).

Zumba was the thing God used to heal this sweet mama. She loves to dance, and so when her youngest began sleeping through the night she first took one class, which led to three, which became a dare from her husband to become an instructor. And so she did! Through Zumba she left depression behind. She grew lighter and brighter and, along with her, so did her family. And today, so did 150 or so women at our church as she led us in a simple, just-for-us routine.

The friend behind me had dressed the part: yoga pants and tennis skirt. Me, not so much. I confessed (uh, she was standing behind me, it wasn’t gonna take long…): “I don’t dance.” Thank God, she replied (surprisingly!) in kind.Andy-Grammer-Keep-Your-Head-Up

The song was Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up.”

You gotta keep your head up, oh
And you can let your hair down…

Step side-to-side, I got it (sort of). Add hands and body, I began to lose it. I thought, No Way am I gonna shake my tush in this room, with windows to my side, friends and co-workers nearby, What Are We Doing???

Then I looked around. One hundred-plus women shimmied around the room, each with her own size, shape, and style. Our group founder, about five gals in front of me and about as close to 90 as I am to 50, wiggled and giggled with glee. The smile stretching across her face, the obvious joy-filled un-self-consciousness she was experiencing, it moved me.

I remembered to Dare Myself. To Say Yes (also one of the rules of improv – always say “Yes, and…” – which also means you are fully present in the moment, Not Overthinking).

I let go. I shook my hands, my hair, and my rear. It could not have been pretty, but it was free. I reveled in the beauty of the story we’d heard, of how one gal found her way back to herself through dance and movement.

I believe we were made to move, and we all move to a different beat. And I believe we all have a passion, each different from the others, something that brings us to life and energizes those nearby. The dance-mama found her jive in Zumba. Mine is writing – I get bright-eyed and energetic thinking about what I will write next. It’s not all joy; some of it is excruciating hard work, but it’s still worth it. It’s my passion.

What’s yours?

Salvation: Search & Rescue

Mother’s Day Sunday afternoon the neighbor’s cat caught a small bird, a sparrow, perhaps? Neighbor was able to rescue the terrified bird from the over-excited cat’s mouth – Have you ever seen a pet cat with a bird in its mouth? They’re funny about it, growl-y and amped, racing about but not injurous – and brought it to our house.

Which seems like an odd decision unless you know my family and the zoo we call “Home.” This is not the first time a bird has recovered in Teen’s room. He has a red shoe box that might as well by now be designated for this purpose. It contains an old worn-out soft dish towel in which he places the bird in need of shelter. He shuts the lid tight and leaves it alone, for hours at least, or until he hears fluttering.

No bird has ever died under Teen’s watch, mostly due to playful but not mean cats.

Mondays are my work-at-home days. As I soaked in silence, working hard and fast, I heard a Thump! from across the house. No one was home, so I had to get up and check.

In Teen’s room I found a red shoe box on its lid, our own cat batting at the side; she must have heard fluttering wings. And Teen must have been overly distracted to uncharacteristically forget about Bird in Box.

I shooed the cat away, grabbed the box, and ran outside. Well, not entirely accurate. As I snatched up the box, my first instinct was to open it and see if the bird was okay – first one cat, and then another… sheesh! Thankfully, I thought twice and did not open the box in the house because that would have been fun.

I ran outside and shut the slider behind me (no more cats in this game). I did not pause to grab a camera of any sort, a non-decision I regretted instantly as I lifted the lid.

This isn't our bird, but it works...

This isn’t our bird, but it works…

There sat God’s perfect creation of a bird, stunned by two cat attacks in less than 20 hours. It blinked at sunlight. It did not look at me. It sat so still that I considered whether I might have time to run inside for a camera, and then it took off for one of our large pine trees and I lost sight of it in the branches. It flew straight-line, not bird-limping, though I’m not sure I’d know what that would look like.

The bird embodied wholeness, perfection, freedom. My mom has always said she’d like to fly like a bird. I’m afraid of heights and prefer my feet on solid ground, though I admire the instinct to soar.

The bird did, the bird was, perfect Bird. Honestly, at first I felt exasperated that Teen had forgotten Bird, and then I felt elated – I got to release Bird, to watch healthy and whole Bird fly away to a hopefully much longer bird-life. This has not been my role in the family, to help hurting creatures. And now I get it in new ways, this desire to love God’s creatures in need of care. I am grateful.

In the same breath, I thanked God for my own creation, redemption, freedom. He created me; I am injured and He rescued me; He freed me to live in wholeness, to be the person He created me to be in the first place. I can soar with Bird, even with my feet on Solid Ground.

Connect
Reflect on a time when you or someone you know was involved in a search and rescue (official or unofficial). Who or what got lost, and what happened?

Study
Read aloud Ephesians 2:1-10.
Compare and contrast the “dead” life (vv. 1-3) with life with Christ (vv. 4-10).
How are “this world,” “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” and “the cravings of the flesh” spiritual forces in opposition to the Spirit of God?
Notice all the verbs where God is the subject. What does God do? What do we do?
Define “saved,” “grace” and “faith.”
For what reasons does God save us?

Live
How is your life different because of God’s great love for you?
How have you seen people try to earn salvation? When have you personally experienced this temptation?
Why do you think grace can be so hard to receive? To offer?
Read 1 John 4:10-12. How are love and grace related? What will you do to more freely extend God’s grace to others?
What good works do you think God has planned for you to do?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will live more fully into the reality of your salvation by God’s grace and that you will take every opportunity to extend God’s grace to others.