Maybe it’s time

In a few days I will have another birthday. I will take one step further into middle age. I will leave the year of 40 and enter the year of 41.

Birthdays aren’t really that big of deal any more, although I confess at one time they were. You reach a certain point where it all just seems silly, and big celebrations become needless. As long as I get my black forest cake from my favorite baker, I’m good.

But last year felt like a big deal. Turning 40 felt like a really big deal. So I decided to celebrate it, rather than dread it. Entering both my 20’s and my 30’s had seen big celebrations and major bucket-list items were checked-off with each. Forty was to be the same. I made a list of 40 things I wanted to accomplish. I even gave myself an additional four months, starting the list in January last year instead of on my actual birthday. But the truth is many of those items, maybe even the majority, went unchecked.

They are still on that list, staring me in the face, as I reconcile the fact that I will not be able to visit 10 more states, hike 25 more miles, squeeze in 30 more dates with my husband, or lose 40 pounds in the next four days.

It’s hard not to feel a sense of disappointment, like I let myself down. Forty was going to be a year of celebration and also a year of self-care. Care that I have woefully neglected for way too long. But it wasn’t.

I didn’t start that exercise routine, I didn’t run those 40 miles. I didn’t do those push-ups and I didn’t lose a single pound (in fact, I went in the opposite direction). I also didn’t go to bed earlier, cut back on TV and social media, or finish that writing project that’s been in my head for over a year.

I could tell you that I have some really good excuses for not accomplishing these things. And maybe I do. My husband had a stroke a few days after I turned 40. My son was diagnosed with two mental illnesses 3 months later. My grandmother moved to my town so I could help care for her 6 months after that, and a lot of other stuff happened in between.

My year of 40 became a year of caring for others, of which I don’t regret or wish away one single moment. I felt, and still do, privileged to be able to do the things that I have for the people I love. But somewhere along the way, despite a few positive starts (like finally getting that check-up and blood work done), I decided I had to trade my self care for the care of others. Self care for me became sleeping in on a Saturday because I was so exhausted from the week, and binge-watching The Crown and Outlander until 2 a.m. because once the house was quiet and no one needed me, I needed to escape to another world for a while. But it felt less like self-care and more like survival mode for much of the time.

So here I sit. The list still staring me in the face. And I have to make a choice: Do I wallow in the failure, the let-downs, the “should haves” and “could haves”? Do I only focus on the things I did accomplish (and there were quite a few of those) and say “to hell with the rest”? Or do I dare try to be brave enough to say, “This year! Forty-one is the year. I will get this self-care thing right,” and try again?

Honestly, I don’t know what to choose. But I think maybe I don’t have to pick just one. Maybe I can say “Good job on these 12 things you did do, Jelise. Cross them off the list and celebrate. But don’t give up on the things you haven’t finished yet. They’re still important. And you can learn from your mistakes and do better.”

That’s what I would say to one of my kids, isn’t it?

Maybe 41 is the year of self-grace and shortening the “to-do” list instead of adding to it. Maybe 41 is the year to say “less is more”. Maybe my 40’s are the time for slowing down and savoring what I already have; what’s already been accomplished. Maybe this decade doesn’t start with giant celebrations and major bucket-list items but ends with peace and contentment, knowing that each day was celebrated for the gift it is, and that I tried to love well. And maybe this season is when I finally choose self-care — not just once or in some big, bold way — but every day in small, meaningful ways that strengthen my body and nourish my soul.

Maybe it’s time.

I finally choose self-care. Not just once or in some big, bold way, but every day in small, meaningful ways that strengthen my body and nourish my soul.

This is Fifteen

Fifteen.

Today you turn fifteen and I’m feeling very emotional about it. I can’t say exactly why, only that some ages hit me harder than others. I remember crying the year you turned seven, for no particular reason except that seven seemed so much older than six and I felt like a season was coming to an end.

Today it’s feeling less like a season coming to an end and more like a new beginning. Like you are embarking on a journey that will lead you straight into a new world — one that you are inventing and crafting for yourself — and straight out of the comfort and safety of the world I created for you.

I finally understand why there are entire sub-groups of the population that celebrate Quinceañera when their daughters turn 15. In these Latin American countries and communities 15 is seen as an important coming of age for girls. Large parties are held to recognize her journey from childhood to maturity. And that’s what it feels like today. Like I am finally having to recognize and accept you have crossed the threshold from childhood to maturity and are walking quickly toward adulthood.

I realize that this didn’t happen overnight, but there’s something about 15 that feels like this journey has suddenly gone into warp speed. This past year has been full of so many moments reminding me that you are no longer a little girl. It’s almost like someone gave you a check-list of things to do to signify you are leaving behind childhood and you are rushing to cross-off every item.

First love. First driving lesson. First phone. First bank account. First broken heart.

You got your braces off. You started making a list of colleges you might want to attend. You are earning your own money through babysitting, pet-sitting, and tutoring jobs.

In two days you leave on your first missions trip. You are traveling out of the country…without me!! It will also be the first time you won’t be home for a major holiday (somehow I did not make that connection when I agreed to this trip all those months ago).

I know it’s just the beginning. A sign of things to come. There will be more trips, more stamps in your passport. More time behind the wheel of a car, and more planning for college and life after highschool. More holidays spent away from your family, more time spent with friends and on dates.

So much more.

But the truth is it’s not just all of the things you are doing that has me feeling this shift, this change in trajectory. It’s also the changes I see in you. Physical changes, of course: you’re stunning, no longer a child’s face, but a young woman’s smile. And those long, long legs! You are now as tall as I am and will likely surpass me soon.

More striking, though, are the changes to your personality. At the core, you are still you — goofy, adventurous, dramatic, loving, talented, fiercely loyal, strong, and smart. But these traits have evolved. I see how a recently-developed maturity overlays each of these and makes them something different. You are protective of your family, vocal about social injustice, devoted to your friends, generous with your time, serious about using your gifts, but also humble and willing to admit your mistakes and shortcomings, committed to doing better and being your best-self. I am often amazed by how self-aware you are, a trait I find lacking in many adults, and especially in teenagers and children.

The most significant part, though, is that while you are this woman-child walking boldly toward adulthood, growing more confident with each step, I see you pause every now and then and look back over your shoulder at me. Are you making sure I’m still there? Not wanting to leave me behind? Or saying, “come on, mom, keep up! I need you with me”? I’m not sure which. Maybe a little of both. But I can tell you that taking this journey with you is simultaneously the greatest joy of my life and also has me completely undone.

But then, that’s motherhood in a nutshell.

My beautiful girl

Happy birthday my darling girl.

 

 

Listen up men of the church: This is how we eradicate sexual discrimination and abuse

When I was 11 years old I remember hanging out in the arcade at the bowling alley and two men came up to me, leaned in closer than I felt comfortable, and told me how beautiful I was. They offered to pay for my video games and then asked me for a kiss.

When I was 13 years old I was molested by someone I trusted. Someone who was supposed to be a father figure to me.

When I was 14 years old a boy that I liked put his tongue down my throat and it scared me so much I ran to the bathroom and threw up.

By the time I was 15 I started getting cat-calls when I walked down city streets or past construction zones.

Each year, during highschool, I put on a little more weight, got a little bit heavier, until I started to become invisible to the guys around me. I hated being invisible, I hated being the fat friend, but it was better than the unwanted attention.

By the time I got to college the only time boys came to talk to me was to ask me about one of my pretty friends. My dating experience was pretty limited, so you can imagine my surprise when one day this boy followed me into the lady Foot Locker where I worked and asked me for my phone number. I was 19 years old and four years later I married that boy. I guess you can say I got pretty lucky that my first serious boyfriend turned out to be the one. I would definitely say that.

But my early interactions with men had left a lasting impact I couldn’t shake, and as I entered my adult years I had absolutely no idea how to be around men or how to have male friends. My husband and I had very few couple friends in our early years of married life. Most of his guy friendships he’d had from his single days fizzled out, and it seemed the few men I did come into contact with either completely ignored me or made me incredibly uncomfortable with their sexual comments and perverse jokes.

On the flip side I was also very sensitive about the dangers of male/ female friendships. I’d heard too many rumors, seen too many broken relationships. I felt incredibly uncomfortable with the single women who sought out friendships with my husband. Maybe because of this, I closed myself off to friendship, or put off a vibe that I wasn’t interested. Even the boyfriends and husband’s of my girlfriends seemed to only just tolerate, if barely acknowledge my presence.

In my mid twenties I had a male boss who I thought of as a friend for a while, but he told me that I would never be able to reach my career goals because I had chosen to be a wife and a mother instead. And then he sexually harassed another colleague.

By my late twenties I started to wonder if it was possible to have healthy male friendships at all. If I even knew what a healthy friendship with a guy looked like.

So much of my interaction with men left me feeling either invisible or objectified. I just wanted to be an equal. Appreciated for my wit, my intelligence, and my kindness.

Finally, in my mid-thirties I began to find the kinds of friendships I’d thought might be possible, but had mostly been elusive. Brotherly friendships with guys who let me be their equal. Not surprisingly, most of these friendships came through church.

In the last few years I, who never had brothers, suddenly found myself with 6 or 7 dear “brothers from another mother.” And it’s been the most amazing phenomenon for me. I never knew how much I was missing this type of friendship in my life until it happened.

My girlfriends, they are beautiful and fierce, and our relationships are sacred. My girlfriends are my heroes. But my guy friends lift me up in a different way. They are wonderfully blunt in their honesty, and I never worry if they’re just telling me what they think I want to hear. They put me in check when I’m over thinking or over stressed about something I should be giving over to God. And most of them are legit hilarious, and can handle some good-natured, sisterly ribbing like a boss.

But you want to know what else almost all of these guys have in common? They cherish their wives. I see it in how they look and speak of them. And because they love and honor the most important woman in their life, they are able to treat other women with kindness and respect.

And guys – listen up! Men of the church, I’m talking to you now: We need more of this.

Women need to be treated with compassion and reverence. We need to have men show us we matter because we are daughters of a King and sisters in Christ, not because of how we look, sound, or dress. We don’t want to be looked over and ignored because of our femininity anymore than we want to be objectified for it.

First and foremost, love and cherish your wives; we will love and honor our husbands. Let’s definitely safeguard our marriages and put smart boundaries in place.

But then, be a brother and a friend. The women in your church or community need that. Our sons and daughters need to see healthy relationships modeled for them. They are watching.

We can get this right.

We must get this right. It’s so important! If we show our children the right way, then the next generation can eradicate sexual abuse and discrimination.

Are you with me?

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:50

Photo credit: timsamoff Ignited via photopin (license)

My soul is crushed

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)

 

I had the privilege of teaching the message at our church this past Sunday. The message was on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I love this story.

Oh, I know that might sound strange. After all, it’s not an uplifting passage, like the Sermon on the Mount or one that demonstrates Jesus’s mighty power, like when he calmed the raging seas. In this passage our Savior is admitting how crushed his soul feels and praying to God to “take this cup from me”. (Matthew 26:39)

I believe it is probably the most vulnerable, raw example of Jesus’s humanness. And that’s precisely why I love this story so much.

I know what it feels like to have my soul crushed with grief. I know what it feels like to be on my knees, in complete agony, sobbing and sweating and crying out to God to take away the suffering. (Luke 22:44)

About 12 years ago my marriage hit a very difficult spot. I was pregnant with Daniel and Olivia at the time, Hannah was only two and I honestly thought my marriage was over and our growing little family would be forever fractured. I was so overwhelmed with despair and the crushing reality that my marriage, my life as I knew it with the only man I’d ever loved, was not what I thought it was; that our story was not going to end the way I had always planned and hoped for.

I remember one night lying on our bed just sobbing in the most ugly way you can imagine, barely able to breathe through the tears and it actually felt like I was being suffocated because the grief and despair was pressing in on me so much.

In that hour of desperation I cried out to God and prayed similar words to what Jesus prayed in the garden: “Dear God, please take away this pain. Take away my suffering.” And then I prayed, “Tell me what to do! Please tell me your will.”

And I heard God so clearly in that moment…and I think maybe we never hear him more clearly than when we are in this place of soul-crushing pain and despair…but He said to me: “Stay.”

Of course, I don’t know what Jesus heard when he was praying in the garden that night. But given that on the second and third time he prayed Jesus said: “If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done,” (Matthew 26:42) I believe Jesus heard God. I believe God confirmed what Jesus had to do. I believe God spoke to his heart and told him that his agony would be relieved, but only after he walked through the pain. He couldn’t go around it because God had a bigger plan, and Jesus’s death and crucifixion was the cornerstone of that plan. He was to become the “spotless lamb of God” to take upon the sins of the world. (John 1:9)

When I heard God that night telling me to stay, it was because He had a greater plan for my marriage, for me and my husband, and my children. It was greater than what I could see in that moment. We would have to go through months and years of struggle and pain before it was fully revealed. But now, today? I really can’t imagine my life having taken a different path.

Of course Jesus’s anguish was much greater than anything that we could ever imagine or even go through, and I don’t mean to belittle it by comparing it to my own struggles. But if you’ve ever been in a dark place, if you’ve had a season of extreme pain and brokenness, you know how hard it is. So we can take that and imagine how much deeper Jesus’s anguish would have been. Yet he submitted himself to God’s will. He trusted God to take the lead, even if it meant leading him directly to the most brutal, humiliating pain imaginable.

I think maybe we never hear God more clearly than when we are in a place of soul-crushing pain and despair.

Jesus prayed to God in Gethsemane, which was actually an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. Historians believe that there would have been olive oil presses in this place. In fact the Hebrew word for Gethsemane literally means “press of oil” (gat shemen).

While I was preparing for my teaching I did some research on how olive oil was made in Jesus’s time. The olives were placed in a large circular basin in which a great wheel-shaped millstone rolled in a circle crushing the olives — pit and all. The pulp was then collected in baskets, which were stacked several layers high in stone pits. A stone weight was placed on top of the baskets, and a heavy wooden beam, with one end in a hole in the wall nearby (often these presses were found in caves) was placed across the pile of baskets. Stone weights were hung from the beam, applying enormous pressure to the olives and squeezing the oil from the pulp. It was a multi-step process so that every bit of oil could be extracted and used.

[Here’s a great video if you want to learn more about this process].

The olive has to be crushed and then pressed with an enormous amount of pressure — multiple times — before it can produce oil.

Sometimes we have to be crushed before we can fully deny ourselves and rely wholly on God. Before we can fulfill God’s predestined plans. But we are never required to do it alone.

Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross before we could be saved, but God was with him in the garden and on the cross. (Luke 22:43, 23:44-46)

My marriage had to go through a period of brokenness to get to a better, stronger place, but God was with me and David in our darkest hours.

God is not in the business of giving us easy.

God is in the business of redemption.

What do we say to the parents?

Yesterday was a hard parenting day for me. In particular late last night I experienced something I’ve never dealt with before and hope to never deal with again. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say my son, who has depression and an anxiety disorder, went to a dark place and was almost swallowed up by it.

As I lay with him in my bed, helping him to calm his breathing and slow his tears, I whispered words of comfort and Truth in his ear. I told him because he had God in his heart, he would be protected. Then we prayed together. I prayed for God’s protection and strength to surround my son. Together we denounced any evil that might try to take over his thoughts or compromise his safety.

And friends, I believed — still believe — with my whole heart that those words I said, the prayer we prayed is true. I believe that God loves my son and will protect him and keep him safe.

But then this morning.

This morning I turn on the radio and hear the updated information from Florida. Seventeen dead.

And I think of the parents of those 17 children. Did they pray the same prayer?

Did they believe with all of their heart that God would protect their son or daughter and keep them safe?

I don’t know for sure, but I would bet some of them did, if not most. And I’m left wondering how we come to terms with the knowledge that 17 innocent lives, lives really just beginning, were taken?

I’ve grappled with that question all morning. Asking myself how I can have such great faith and trust that my son will be protected, while knowing children are dying every day in senseless, tragic ways.

I don’t really have an answer for that. You can call it blind faith. You can call it naivety. You can call it illogical or unfair. You can call it luck or privilege.

Call it what you will.

I guess if I had to choose one word to call it, it would be Hope.

I know deep down that every day is a gift. I have lost loved ones too soon. I have attended the funerals of children. I have sat in hospital rooms with my husband waiting for test results, wondering if we would both leave the hospital. I do know that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. None of us. Including my son or daughters.

I also know God loved us so very much He offered us free will and with that free will the devil schemes and takes advantage and sometimes, yes sometimes, he wins the battle. It can happen to any one of us. Any one of our children.

But yesterday I also watched friends and neighbors support my daughter and her efforts to raise money to go and do missions work in the Dominican Republic. I saw people loving on and caring for my Grandma. I had a conversation with a teacher who expressed such deep love for my child and my family it left me in tears. So while evil was attacking my son last night, hope was there, too.

While evil was taking lives in Florida and around the world, hope was there, too.

Hope sat with the teacher who hid students in a closet and kept them safe.

Hope sat with the police officers, first responders, and hospital staff that worked so diligently to evacuate and secure the school property, apprehend the gunman, and care for the wounded.

Hope sits with all of us who wipe our eyes, raise our fists, and shout “Enough!” While we rally together to stand-up and demand change from our elected officials.

Hope is there, even when we can’t see it or feel it.

 

For as much as I love words, I am surprisingly bad at knowing what to say in the face of tragedy, especially to those who have lost so deeply. I honestly don’t know what I could say to the parents of those 17 students or the 1,000s of other children who have lost their lives in senseless tragedies like this. I just don’t know that there is anything that could be said that would amount to more than wasted breath and empty words to their broken hearts.

But we can love them. We can hold in our arms the ones we know personally, and hold up the ones we don’t in prayer.

We can look at the photos and read the stories of their precious children and remember them.

We can refuse to forget, to move on, or to become numb.

We can demand change.

And yes, yes, I know it’s been said and heard so many times it’s beginning to sound trite. But I do believe in the power of prayer. And I believe we are not only fighting a physical war that requires more intervention, awareness, access to mental health care, and restricts access to firearms, but we are also fighting a spiritual battle. One that requires we get on our knees and pray for protection over our children, our neighbor’s children, our community’s children, our nation’s children. It requires we hold on to Hope and to each other.

Satan may have won the battle, but God will win the war.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24-25)

If you are wanting to take action to stop the senseless violence in America, but don’t know where to start, I encourage you to check out this website: https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/ organized and run by parents who know too well what it means to lose a child to gun violence.

 

 

 

photo credit: BONA LUMA There is Always Light via photopin (license)

 

Romans 8:38-39