Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Beginnings and Endings

We spent the day last Wednesday in Tuscaloosa at The University of Alabama. 

This was our second college visit. The first one, to a much smaller school, didn't capture you quite the way this one did. Truth be told, you were already sold on UA before we ever arrived. I watched you walk around campus with the same eyes I watched you take your first steps with, seeing the excitement and determination in your own. You are more than ready for this new beginning. This trip was really more for me than it was for you. This was the beginning of letting go for me.

I'm not ready for this beginning because I'm not ready for the other beginning's ending. 

From the day you were born, I've been living beginnings and endings with you. First words and firsts steps ushering you out of babyhood into the toddler years. Each day another step towards independence. Preschool and kindergarten preparing you for elementary school. All bringing new adventures and new friends. We navigated the middle school years and entered high school. You've always had a strong sense of direction and a conviction to do the right thing. For yourself and for others. I've watched you forge friendships that will stay with you the rest of your life. And in this, your senior year, I've watched you embrace and fully live this experience. You are ready for this chapter to end with graduation and the next to begin with enrollment into college. I've seen glimpses of the man you are becoming and couldn't be more proud of you.

I'm not ready for this beginning because I'm not ready for the other beginning's ending.

But there's nothing I can do to stop it...not that I really want to. How do you adequately prepare for endings and new beginnings? I've done it several times before, yet it's not any easier. I have no words of wisdom, no words of comfort for this mama's heart. With each son, it's been a different kind of journey. 

Your journey began on this day, November 17, 1997, a little after five in the afternoon. You're 18 today. Where in the world have the years gone? How can we be here? Wasn't it just yesterday that I was rocking you to sleep? Chasing after this adorable little boy. My baby boy.

Today marks a milestone for you. You stand on the edge of your greatest adventure. I still want to chase you, to guide you on this path. That job is done for the most part. It's time for me to let go and let you embark on your new beginning. My prayer for you is that it's everything you want it to be and more. My hope is that I've helped equip you to continue with the same integrity and conviction that you show every day. It's time for you to shine. 

Happy Birthday, Cameron! I'm so proud of you and I love you more than you could know...

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Christ and a Cup

I wrote a short blurb on my Fb page addressing the video going around about the new holiday Starbucks cups and got so much positive feedback from it that I decided to go ahead flesh out my thoughts in an actual blog post.

Photo courtesy of Starbucks

We've all seen the video being posted and shared on Fb about Starbucks by Josh Feuerstein. I won’t add a link to it as I am not going to perpetuate a message I disagree with. In it he denounces Starbucks for taking Christ out of Christmas by issuing plain cups for the 2015 holiday season. I didn't watch the video until yesterday because I figured I knew what he was going to say. I wasn't surprised by its content. And I couldn’t let it go without saying anything.

He basically says that Starbucks is waging war against Christians and Christmas because the cups carry no Christmas images. Please note that in previous seasons, their cups never had any Christian symbolism. The images were always strictly secular holiday illustrations. 

If a company's cup takes down Christianity and can take Christ out of Christmas because it doesn't feature a snowman or a reindeer on its cup, then this is not a Christ I want to serve. 

Instead of having and perpetuating a defiant, militant attitude, let's actually be Christ-like this season. Buy your coffee at Starbucks if that's your thing. Treat the barista with dignity and respect. Wish them Merry Christmas and I don't know, maybe give them a really nice tip. You know, because it's Christmas!

Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks Vice President of Design and Content 
explains this year's choice of cup. 
"In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cup designs. This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

I think this is really beautiful. Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Not everyone celebrates Christmas like we do. Not everyone knows Christ.

For some of us it is simply a holiday. An excuse to be off of work and out of school. A time to tolerate family and endure the endless facade of joy and happiness that everyone touts during this time of year. And truth be told, for a lot of us, it is simply a facade. For some of us, depression is a real and heavy burden we carry. Especially during the holidays. For some of us, we don’t know how we will have Christmas dinner or gifts for our children under our tree. Or more importantly, a reliable vehicle or a roof over our heads. Sometimes, even as Christians, we need to see Christ. Because sometimes the weight of this life has pushed all hope aside.

There are so many more things to worry about than whether or not our coffee cup has a damn snowman on it!

If we truly want to keep Christ in Christmas then lets be the embodiment of Christ to all of those we come in contact with. Be genuinely kind. Give up your seat. Pay for someone’s lunch, or if you have the means, someone’s groceries. Give from the abundance that has been given to you. 

You don’t know when you will encounter someone who needs to see Christ. Who is desperate for Him. Not defiance and militance wrapped up in self-righteousness. 

This is not the Christ of Christmas. The Christ of sacrifice. The Christ that came as the embodiment of love and grace.

"Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." John 13:35 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Gift of Grace

Audra Grace

Today is your birthday. You turned 11 this morning at 8:37am. I remember that morning like it was yesterday. I was nervous and afraid as they wheeled me into the ER for the surgery that would usher you into the world. It was a day of firsts. My first c-section delivering my first girl in what would begin a lifetime of firsts. First times, that ironically, would also be last times, as you are our youngest. 

You have been, and I'm sure you will continue to be, my greatest teacher. 

The night before you started pre-k, I told you I was going to be sad that you wouldn't be with me all day. You came back later and said, "Mama, I have lots of princesses you can play with so you won't have to cry while I'm gone." You went right into class that next day, never looking back. I, on the other hand, was the only one in tears. That afternoon when we picked you up, we asked if you missed us. You said, "No, I was too busy!"  While it broke my mama heart, I was so proud of you. 

Don't lose that sense of self and independence. 

Several years ago, while watching American Idol, one of the contestants dedicated a song to his sister who was cut in an earlier round. You were sobbing by the end of it saying, "that was so nice, his singing that for his sister." 

Don't lose that tenderness. Don't let anyone tell you it is weakness. 

When you were 7 you broke your arm, the first time, in two places and never really cried or let it bother you. You practiced writing with your left hand so you could do your school work by yourself. Surgeries, broken bones, stitches; the various scars you carry are a testament to your resilience and ability to grab life and live it to the fullest. Resilience and strength you have acquired growing up with 4 older brothers. 

Don't lose that strength. Don't let anyone tell you a girl can't or shouldn't be strong.

When there is girl drama, and oh my goodness we saw that as early as 3, you just let it roll off your back. And now, at this age, when it kicks into high gear, you continue to handle it gracefully. While we as women can be our greatest advocates, we can also be our worst enemies. Stick up for your sisters. Support them. Be happy for them. Cry with them. Always be for them!

Don't let someone else's pettiness or jealousy define who you are. They are not worth it

You have a body and you are beautiful. How you clothe yourself is not an invitation but simply a form of self-expression. It is uniquely yours and you have the freedom to celebrate who you are. You are not an object. You are not responsible for the thoughts and actions of others.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  
You have a voice. Don't be afraid to use it. Don't let anyone tell you that because you are a woman you can't be heard or your opinions have no value. You can do and be anything you want to. Reach for the stars. You are a child of the King. He created you for His purpose. 

Don't let anyone make you less than that. 

You are strong and fiercely independent. You are kind, compassionate and tender hearted. All good things that will serve you well into adulthood. 

Today we celebrate you. You are loved and cherished. I am amazed everyday by who you are becoming. You are the gift that saved my life and already, at 11, you are the person I want to be when I grow up. 

Today I am thankful for Grace...the undeserved gift that you are. 

You are the child of barren years; the child of laughter. 
The gift given in a love rekindled. You are a living reminder of hope. 
That beauty can made from ashes and all things can be made new. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall Isn't Always Beautiful

The cooler temperatures are taking their toll on the view in my backyard. This foliage was so dense just a couple of weeks ago that you couldn't see through it at all. So many changes so quickly. That roofline you see sports dormer windows that I'm sure I'll be able to see into when the lights are on. I'm sure that they will also be able to see into my windows when my lights are on. 

I'm not sure what these particular trees are but they aren't falling gracefully. The leaves are a sticky grey brown, making quite a mess of my backyard. They stick to us, to the dog, and subsequently are tracked into the house. I can never seem to stay on top of the mess they are creating. I look around at my floors and think, "what's the point?"

I know when we typically think of fall, we think of beautiful colors and leaves gracefully floating on cool breezes. But sometimes the fall isn't at all graceful or beautiful. Sometimes it's sticky and grey and brown. And we drag that mess into our tidy lives and spend so much time picking up after ourselves while never really making any headway. Trying to hide the messes that we actually are so that everything looks as we think it should. Or as we think everyone expects it to be. But who are we kidding? That mess sticks to us; there's no getting away from it unscathed. 

What would happen if we let our guard down and actually embraced the mess? Turned the lights on and actually let someone take a good hard look inside. Let someone help us pick up the pieces falling down around us or pull those sticky, ugly grey brown leaves out of our hair. While they may get a little dirty as well, we may find that we aren't the only ones with messes that need to be shared. 

It won't be too long before those trees are bare. And if I care to take the time to look, I will be able to see in those windows. Will I have the courage to turn my lights on and invite others to look into my messiness? Will I have the courage to really look into theirs? To be willing to sit with them in the midst of whatever is falling around them. To maybe get a little dirty picking the leaves out of someone's hair. 

Yes, we need the falls in our lives to make room for new and beautiful things. The dying is inevitable. We need to have the courage to let go. As difficult as it may be, we need to trust that sometimes we have to be laid bare in order to be made new. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Walking With the Wounded in the Days of Indiscretion

The following is an edited post from the archives. In light of recent events and the subsequent fall-out I thought it would be a good idea to revisit these thoughts regarding infidelity. If this is part of your journey, know that you are not alone...

Vows spoken before God, cast aside and broken. Hearts bleeding, ravaged by deception. Broken pieces. Scattered. Remnants of what was once a lifetime together. So long ago, yet felt so strongly still. Those broken pieces fashioned into a life, only a shadow of what was meant to be. The hearts left behind almost unrecognizable beneath the scars.

Scars that push trust just out of reach, feeding jealousy and selfishness. Scars that distort the present, questioning motives, causing fear and anger to flourish. Scars that twist words, turning promises into lies that continue the destruction began a lifetime ago. Scars that always doubt the love that's here and now.

The scars of infidelity are the scars I bear. Betrayed or betrayer, it doesn't really matter. Both carry their own set of hurts and feelings of failure. Those are the wounds that left their mark all those years ago.

Maybe you bear some of those same scars.

Maybe you were the one betrayed by someone you loved and trusted. Someone you promised your heart to. Maybe you never saw it coming or perhaps you watched the slow spiral into the abyss and felt powerless to stop it. And now, in the eyes you loved, lies and deception stare back at you.

Maybe you were the one who betrayed the love and trust given to you. You were the one to make those devastating choices. You're the one who's had to live with the hurt and disappointment reflected back at you in the eyes of the one who loves you. Or possibly, even more destructive, the shame that stares back at you every time you look in the mirror.

We all know too well the things that have marked us.

This is the moment that grace can quietly step in. Grace that will take all of the ugliness and broken pieces and make them beautiful again. This doesn't necessarily mean that relationships will be healed and restored. If you are in the midst of having things fall apart around you, know that love wins in the end. There is redemption and restoration available for you. For your heart. Grace waits patiently with arms open wide. Grace is always ready to gently gather the shattered pieces of your heart and make something new.

And in these days of indiscretion, we all have the unique opportunity to extend grace and compassion to someone who is bleeding out. Betrayed or betrayer. 

Don't view their situation through the lens of self righteousness. Don't be so quick to jump on the bandwagon of blame. Don't revel in throwing your stones of condemnation. It doesn't benefit anyone in the aftermath of this storm.

The person betrayed is not a failure; is not less than because of another's choices. The betrayer doesn't need to be reminded of their failings. The shame they carry is a crushing weight all its own. We shouldn't be the ones to tip the scales.

This is our moment to be their safe place. To simply be there for them. If you have walked this road, share your story with them. Let them know they aren't alone. That they will survive. That it's okay to feel all the things. Anger. Grief. Shame. Sorrow. Shock. Disbelief. They will feel all of this and more. They will feel as if their entire life has become one cruel joke after another. They won't know who or what to believe. They will have lost all trust in themselves.

When the tears won't stop, cry with them. Don't let them down. Don't allow them to give up. Hold them up when they can no longer stand on their own. Take those first difficult steps out of the wilderness with them. This is where we find holy ground. This is where we find healing; balm for our wounds. There is a sacredness in knowing we aren't alone.

Let's be the ones who walk with the wounded.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

But for the Simple Act of Stepping Out

"No act of beauty is senseless, for the beautiful is never absurd.
Nothing is more meaningful than beauty."
Dallas Willard

I came across this quote three or four days ago. Something about it struck a chord and I made a point to write it down. I had no idea at the time when or even if I would use it for anything. I only knew that it spoke to me.

A couple of days later I was having an especially difficult day. One of those days that are so hard I simply wanted to crawl away and hide. Every choice was the wrong choice. Every word was a harsh word. Every action was perceived as an attack. And, despite my best intentions, some of them were. I am my own and everyone else's worst enemy at times. I came away feeling like everyone would be better off without me...

Later, I was sitting in my favorite chair trying to lose myself in a book and not having a whole lot of success. The TV was on for background noise. I couldn't face my own thoughts. I didn't want to re-live the events of the day. I couldn't escape them though. It was a hi-lite reel of some of my worst moments on endless loop. I couldn't even whisper the simplest of prayers. I felt so unworthy to do so. 

But God...

As I sat there, I noticed the light in the room begin to change. I normally love that time of the day. My Instagram account is a testament to that! I was doing my best to stay focused on my reading but the change in tone and light won me over. At first golden and pale; then deepening into rich ambers and then fiery reds.

No act of beauty is senseless...

I got up and stepped outside onto my front porch. The beauty unfolding before me so quickly would have been lost to the coming darkness. But for the simple act of stepping out. There was a whisper on the breeze...

You are needed.

You are beautiful.

You are worthy.

You are loved.

And much like the colors changing in front of me, that whisper took my breath away. Every inadequacy, every hurt that caused me to lash out earlier, slipped away like the sun. In that moment, I saw my worth reflected in the beauty of that sunset.

...for the beautiful is never absurd.

I found a reminder of grace in that beauty. A reminder that God steps in when we feel the least deserving and creates something beautiful out of the chaos in our lives. He clears away the haze that robs the light of its brilliance allowing us to embrace the beauty unfolding within. Those reminders are all around us if we will take the time to look for them. So easily missed but for the simple act of stepping out.

Nothing is more meaningful than beauty.

Step out and accept the grace that is offered. Embrace the beauty of that simple whisper on the breeze...

You are needed. You are beautiful. You are worthy. You are loved.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

On This Day - You Are Not Alone

This is a repost from a year ago. We are in the middle of some unexpected chaos that has totally turned our world upside down. When I read this again, I needed it in the worst way possible. I figured if I did, someone else may need it also. 

Maybe that person is you...

There have been moments filled not with joy and hope, but with hurt and despair. Those not filled with peace and love, but with bitterness and loneliness. I know for some of you, that's where you find yourselves as you read this. You are simply going through the motions because that's what friends and family expect. You don't want, nor do you have the energy to let anyone know just how empty you feel. And that's okay. It's okay to feel all the things. It's okay to simply lean into the moment.

I want to let you in on a little secret. The pressure is off. I know exactly how you feel...

I know what it's like to be mistreated by the church. Stripped of a position simply for being a woman. To be lied to by the very ministers you worked so closely with and who you trusted.

I know the heartbreak of never seeing the faces of children that were long waited for. Never counting tiny fingers and toes. Never taking in the scent of my newborn's breath on my cheek.

I know what it's like to be made to feel less than because I've had to rely on government assistance in order to put food on our table.

I know what it's like to get an early morning phone call from a hospital chaplain, "your son is here, he's been in an accident." And then to spend the rest of the day with emergency room physicians as they talk about chest tubes and open heart surgery.

I know what it's like to be paralyzed by fear awaiting MRI results and subsequently, pathology reports for my daughter.

I know what it's like to be afraid and confused because I've screwed up and hurt people I've cared about. Left standing alone and hopeless in the shattered pieces of what God intended.

I know what it's like to live with fractured relationships. Knowing that distance is the best option but longing for restoration.

I know the devastation of betrayal. When the person you trusted with your heart, the one you vowed to love before God, has chosen someone else. When the feel of someone else's skin under their fingertips is what they long for.

I also know that there is always hope...

When we feel abandoned and forsaken. Hopeless and alone. When we are drowning in the ocean of tears we have cried and the hurt threatens to swallow us up. When we feel like we just can't take another breath...God with us.

And that hope came in our weakness to experience everything as we would. To know what it's like to be cold and hungry. To be hurt and disappointed. To be lonely. To weep over loss. To ultimately be betrayed.

Hope came. Immanuel, God with us. God with you. Sitting with you in the middle of whatever mess you find yourself in. He knows. He's there to wrap you in arms that are bigger than everything else happening at this particular place and time in your life.

You are not alone. 

He is Grace for every moment. 

I am with you always...
Matthew 28:20