I Love a Good Book

Those who know me, know I love a good story. I love to hear stories, to tell stories, to write stories, and to read stories. I think part of my love for country music is that most country songs tell a story. No singer tells a story like Garth Brooks, George Strait, or Reba. I miss the old days of music videos telling the story of the song; unlike the new trend of making a random, artistic video that has zero to do with the lyrics.

But I digress.

I love reading. Self help books and educational books are not usually my first pick but I do read them. My true love is a good story about someone’s life – a memoir, a fictional story, even a biography. But my greatest love is historical fiction. And because I often have people ask me for recommendations, I thought I would share some of my most recent joys. I read a lot of books over the last year. Quarantine certainly allowed me the time. These are just a few of the stand outs. I’m always happy to share more if you’re interested.

Last fall, a friend shared with me that someone gave her this book, and she couldn’t remember who it was. She had started reading and found the story incredibly moving and recommended it to me because she knows my love of story.

Dr. Edith Eva Eger is a world renowned psychologist and one of the few remaining survivors of The Holocaust. Edith was sent to Auschwitz at the age of sixteen and only hours after arriving, she watched as her parents were sent to the gas chambers.

Dr. Eger treats people suffering with traumatic stress issues and speaks around the world about the choices we all make to hold on or let go of anger. This book is her life story but it’s also an encouraging word. Dr. Eger’s words inspire us all to confront the stories in our own past – the stories we hold onto and the stories who have made us who we are today – and find freedom.

When I finished reading The Choice, I was led to this next book because I had heard so many good reviews. My mind was already wrapped around the horror of Auschwitz and I wanted to know more.

Heather Morris tells this beautiful story based on real life accounts of a young man, Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, plucked from the prisoners, and forced to tattoo identification numbers on the arm of incoming prisoners.

The story is full of heartbreaking tales of everyday life in a German death camp but reads more like a love story. I found myself rooting for Lale and Gita, the young woman who steals his heart, and wanting to believe their future would be one of love and prosperity, freedom, and chocolate – lots of chocolate.

Cilka was the best friend of Gita, and I was introduced to her in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. She received special treatment in Auschwitz for her beauty but, if you know anything about this evil, horrible place, you know that special treatment doesn’t mean you were not still treated like an animal.

Cilka did what she had to do to stay alive and, because of that, she survived the German death camp; only to be imprisoned in a Siberian camp after that. Cilka’s Journey brings to light the vibrancy and resiliency of the human spirit and made me question what I would do in her shoes. It made me think about women all over the world who fight against evil day after day and continue to wake up and choose to live.

Alina Dziak was a small child, living in Poland, totally oblivious to the Nazi invasion that was about to change her life forever.

Alice is a young, modern woman, juggling a child with special needs, a busy life, and a dying grandmother.

As Alice tries to uncover her grandmother’s past, we see the convergence of her life with Alina’s. We see old and new, past and present, devastation and reconciliation. It’s a story of love and loss, life and death. This is a beautifully written story that will stay with me for a long time.

Now, lest you think I only read WWII novels, I want to share this gem with you.

“Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First. 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level” is like sitting down with your best girlfriends, over nachos and margaritas, and telling stories from childhood. The author, Laura Tremaine, shares ten chapters of stories about her own life, personal, deep, funny, sad…real stories of who she is and how she came to this point in her life. But she doesn’t just stop at talking about herself. Laura, who I feel like I am on a first name basis with after reading her book, gives the reader a list of questions, at the end of each chapter, to ask your sisters, mom, girlfriends, daughters, or whoever you want know on a deeper level.

Reading is one of the great joys of my life but, in all honesty, I don’t always “read” the books I devour. I’m also a huge fan of listening to books. My point here is to say that however you take your stories – hardback, paperback, digital, or audio – I hope you will take time for yourself to enjoy a good story. Let it take you to a land you’ve never visited, to introduce you to a culture you’ve never experienced, and meet people you’ve never met. Let it open your mind, expand your thinking, and stretch your beliefs. Allow your heart to be touched, softened, warmed. Do it for you because you deserve to have something just for you.

Family Touchstones

Whew! 2020 was a crazy year!

I actually wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said or heard that phrase. I’m over it. I’m over the year, over the crazy, and over talking about it. I’m ready to move on.

There was a lot of grieving last year over the loss of normalcy, loss of traditions, loss of celebrations, loss of… everything. The grief was real. It actually still is real. I’m still grieving and I’m sure some of you are, too. I think somewhere in our hearts we were hoping 2021 would start, and we would realize 2020 had all been a blip. Like maybe the world had slid into some kind of alternate comic book universe, and we would slide back into place with the ball drop. Or maybe that was just me and I’ve been watching too many movies.

I have to say, we are only seven days into this year and so far, I am not impressed. If this was a free ten-day trial I would already be deleting my credit card information and cancelling. I have decided, however, to lay this year out ahead of me with some family touchstones. I don’t want to waste another year grieving what we missed doing.

I’m going to share some of these touchstones for you. They’re nothing radical, just family ideas and activities we can do together so when we reach the end of the year, we won’t feel like we missed out. Some of these are things we have been doing for many years and some are ideas I’ve only now decided to implement. Take what you like, add your own, share with your friends, or come up with your own list!

Creating touchstones doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, or any money at all. The idea is that you create moments of joy with your family. These moments can be called upon any time a little joy is needed! And most of these moments can happen any time, even during a world-wide pandemic. So when days seem crazy and nothing feels normal, you have moments of joy to reach for and remember that normal is relative – it’s joy that matters.

2020 In Hindsight

We had no clue.

They say that hindsight is 20/20 and I imagine we will forever remember 2020 as the year we wished we had seen coming. Or maybe not. If someone could have warned any of us of what was coming, I doubt we would have believed.

We cheered 2020 in by attending a Roaring Twenties New Year’s Eve party. We had no clue what we were welcoming into our lives.

Cherished Friends

I truly believe if you make it to the end of your life and can count more than one person as a friend who is as dear as family, you are truly blessed. We have a handful of those people in our lives, so it is really hard when jobs take them to live in far away lands – like Ohio. We were so sad for them to move but knew that God would keep our hearts bonded for life.

The year wasn’t all bad; we actually found lots of ways to experience joy. Before the world shut down, I got to be a part of our church’s women’s retreat. We spent a weekend in nature with beautiful friends learning how to slow down, to be still, and wait for God. None of us had any idea how much we would be using these skills in a matter of weeks!

Chuck and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary only days before the whole world shut down. We went to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, one of our favorites, for a night of fine dining.

Chuck shot a hole-in-one as a birthday gift to himself. He was so excited and I had the ball and photo framed for him.

COVID changed everything this year for everyone. We all had to learn how to work from home – the kids, Chuck, and me. We spread out in rooms across the house with our computers and made the best of it.

Palm Sunday and Easter hit us hard – like most of you, I’m sure – because we had never experienced isolation like that on a holiday.

Relaxing with good friends in
my home town.

By May, we were stir-crazy. We talked to our good friends in my home town and decided to make the trip north to visit. They were all living in a “quarantine bubble” together, so we felt like we were being safe. We stayed in a camper instead of staying at anyone’s house, and we grilled out, swam, boated, and watched some of the most beautiful sunsets God has ever painted in the sky. Chuck and I were both able to work remotely, so we could stay on top of things. That trip was so good for our souls and was a healing balm for our mental health. I am so glad we took the time and that our friends welcomed us.

Camp Lone Star

Texas opened up a bit in June and the kids were able to go to one of their favorite places on earth – Camp Lone Star. They spent the week swimming, hiking, completing high ropes courses, and learning about the peace that passes all understanding – God’s peace. Unfortunately, CLS was only able to offer two weeks of activities for campers. They were forced to shut down when some of their counselors tested positive for COVID.

Seth’s confirmation was postponed from May to August and the church did a special ceremony just for confirmands and their families. It was really nice and I’m so glad we were able to have it. So many ceremonies and dances and reunions and so on and so on had to be cancelled this year. After Seth and his classmates studied and learned for two years, it was a blessing to be able to celebrate the faith of their baptism in a public way.

We had high hopes for school to start in person, but alas, like much of 2020, everyone had to pivot. Fortunately, our school district did an amazing job of getting teachers online and getting students into virtual classrooms. Our kids did a few weeks online and then were able to transition to split learning; with virtual classes and face-to-face learning rotating ever other day. It was stressful for the kids, stressful for teachers and administrators, and stressful for parents. But again, I can’t sing the praises of our district enough. They did, and continue to do, everything they can to keep kids safe while they’re learning.

As we began to adjust to this new way of life, which we all pray is only temporary, we continue to seek time with the people we love. Any time we can have with family or friends feels brings a sense of appreciation like never before. Logically, we all know that we are not promised tomorrow, but living through a world-wide pandemic really changes the way we think about life.

We lost my granddaddy this year, not to COVID but to old age. He was 101 when he passed, and we had to postpone the funeral until a time when it would be safer for everyone to gather.

This loss, combined with the pandemic, made Thanksgiving feel so much more precious this year. We were blessed to be able to spend a long weekend with my family in our tradition of feasting outdoors in my cousin’s barn. It was so good to laugh and cry and share stories and recipes and feel “normal,” if only for a weekend.

And now, days before Christmas, I offer a blessing for my family, your family, and all the families of the world:

May God bless and keep you. May you know peace in your heart and your home. May you be blessed with health and surrounded by loved ones. May you know the love of our Savior, Jesus, and experience the joy and hope of a life lived with Him. May you offer grace to all you meet, knowing you can give it freely because of the unending grace poured over you by God.

Don’t Take It So Personally

Do you know about the enneagram? It’s sort of making waves across the internet and there are people acting as if it’s some sort of sorcery but in reality, it’s not new at all. It’s just new to us. There is actually a long history to this way of understanding your personality. Even in typing this, I am over-simplifying it. It’s more than a personality test. The enneagram helps you to understand your dominant personality type, both in strengths and weaknesses, and how you interact with others. It delves into the traits you had when you were born and who you have become after all of your life experiences. But again, I am over simplifying it. I would really encourage you to take a test and see for yourself.

I am a Four. According to The Enneagram Institute, “Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity. At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.”

One of the biggest personality “things” about Fours is the tendency to take everything personally. But taking things personally isn’t limited to Fours. Really, all of us have moments of taking life entirely too personally. I have found that when I do this, I can spiral into shame. And usually, it’s for no reason because the thing I took personally wasn’t about me at all.

So if you, like me, find yourself making things about you that are zero percent about you, you might need to do some of the work I have been doing to stop. And if you, like me, find that, after some thinking, you have been making things about you for a really long time, this is important work to get started on today.

The first thing, the thing you need to start with, is realizing that other people’s actions are rarely about you. If someone is rude, grouchy, sad, pulls out in front of you in traffic, ignores you in the grocery store…it’s not about you. You don’t know what their life is like. You don’t know the day they’ve had. You don’t know. But what I can assure you of is it’s almost never about you.

The second thing for people like us is that we often struggle with constructive criticism. When someone suggests you use a different tool or drive a different route, you may, like me, immediately think, “They hate me and think I am stupid.” But I would encourage you to take a minute, take a breath, and ask yourself why this person is offering you this criticism. Do they care about you and want to see you save time/energy/money? Do they need you to be a part of their team and see ways you could add value? Is there anything you could learn from what they have offered? If yes, take the advice and move on. If no, don’t take the advice and move on. It really is that simple.

The third thing is to realize you will never please all the people all the time. Marilyn Monroe said something like, “You could be the sweetest and juiciest peach in the whole world and someone will tell you they don’t like peaches.” It’s true – the phrase, at least. I don’t know for sure if Marilyn Monroe said it.

I love big hair. I know people who don’t. I don’t understand those people, but their opinion doesn’t mean that big hair is wrong. I often drink wine from a box. Some people think that’s gross. I think it’s cost-efficient. We can both be right. Or we can both be wrong. But the reality is, I can live my life and you can live yours, and we don’t have to live them the same way.

The fourth thing is very important. Sometimes, you need to get an outside perspective. You see, people like you and me, we can get trapped in our brains and start spiraling in our own thoughts. We stand in the shower and prepare comebacks to arguments that never happen. We build energy on words that never were said. We imagine scenarios playing out in multiple ways, so we can be prepared.

But the reality is, the other person is going on with their life. They are making sandwiches, going to the library, watching Netflix… and they have no idea you are obsessing about the thing. So when this happens, it’s good to get another opinion. Ask a friend. Or a different friend. Call your cousin. Tell your therapist. But look for someone who is willing to give you some truth.

The fifth thing is to remember you are not the sum of your past. You are not a total of your mistakes. You are not a collection of every piece of criticism you have ever received. In fact, most people don’t know about your mistakes. The majority of people do not remember the times you fell down. Your true friends will remember the times you soared.

And finally, you have to understand that your self-worth depends on you and not what people say about you. You are a child of God. You are a unique creation. You are a blessing. You were created with love by the Creator of the Universe. When you can learn to live in that knowledge and see yourself through that lens, you can begin to believe that no one on this earth gets to label you. You get to walk in the truth that no one’s opinion of you matters more than His. And you begin to learn that no boss, no coworker, no sibling, no family member, no friend, no neighbor, no test gets to define who you were created to be.

The Work He is Doing is Far More Spectacular When You See What He Started With

I have a bit of a rebellious spirit in me that occasionally gets me into trouble. It often causes me to speak before I think about the mood of the room or to let sarcasm seep into a conversation that requires more professionalism.

But that same spirit also allows me to be incredibly vulnerable because I have zero patience for pretentiousness. I can be an over-sharer because my feelings run deep and wide, and I don’t always see the need for societal rules that say we should keep our mouth shut. I struggle when people expect me to hide or not talk about parts of my life that they feel are shameful or inappropriate. This rebellion in me sometimes makes those people feel uncomfortable.

Most of the time, this way of being hurts no one. It can make my children walk far away from me, so no one realizes they belong to me, but that’s normal for teenagers, right? My husband occasionally kicks me under the table at dinner with his coworkers, but I always tone it down when that happens. I have never been someone who intentionally seeks to cause shock and awe; I am just someone who appreciates thoughtful honesty.

I never want my life to be something that turns people away from or off of Jesus. He has called me into a life of leadership and I don’t take that role lightly. I want to speak truth in love, listen well, and share the truth of God’s Word. I want those around me to feel welcomed and loved, accepted and heard, comfortable with who they are with no need to pretend. I would be so sad if I thought someone felt like they couldn’t be real with me; it would seriously break my heart! I try to model this realness in all my relationships, within reason. I, of course, don’t share my deepest, darkest secrets with everyone, but I also think most things aren’t as deep and dark as some might. So therein lies the rub.

There are people who are very uncomfortable with deep levels of vulnerability. There are people who feel like sharing is meant only for a precious few – and that’s okay! One of the greatest blessings about being in God’s family is that we are each unique. God gave us all different talents, abilities, and personalities; he never intended us to be robots!

On the flip side of my rebellious spirit, however, is a desire to please others. So while I may walk where I’m not supposed to walk or talk when I’m not supposed to talk, my soul feels crushed if I find out I’ve disappointed you or let you down.

This week someone who I hold an enormous amount of love and respect for, let me know they were incredibly disappointed with me. It was over a post I had made, with very little thought, on social media about a year that happened a long time ago and the music I enjoyed during that year. The music was not Godly. It wasn’t holy or pure or lovely and didn’t bring praise to God. But it was music that was sort of a battle cry for young women at the time when most of our generation was being told to be quiet and wait patiently for the older generation to hand us our role. It was vulgar and angry music and it felt very rebellious to an eighteen-year-old version of myself. The intention of the post was less about the music and more about me realizing all the things that happened that year, including that music, happened a long time ago. It was me, remembering a time in life that felt so big and weighted and is now but a memory.

But my post had brought offense and I felt the weight of that offense handed to me as shame. It felt hard and heavy in a week that already felt hard and heavy in a year that feels so hard and heavy I want to scream and cry and kick until it goes away. I allowed the words that were questioning my judgment, my character, and my ability to lead families to be spoken over me as fact instead of opinion. I immediately began to beat myself up and question the legitimacy of my life, choices and career. I allowed the enemy to use something intended to be a spiritual rebuke as shame. My head knows that shame never comes from Jesus, but my heart wasn’t hearing it.

This morning, however, God spoke to the deep places of my heart with an invitation of love.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28

I was reminded that I never have to perform for God. Because of Jesus, I am always acceptable in His sight. God doesn’t need me to look a certain way or pretend to be someone I am not in order to fulfill His plan. There is nothing I can ever do or say to make Him love me any more or any less than He does at this very moment in time.

This doesn’t mean I rebel against God’s laws or sin against Him freely and expect to live a blessed life. No, it means that when I am walking with God and doing all I can to follow His ways, I will receive the blessing that comes in relationship with Him! I can rest in knowing that I share this walk with Christ alone. When I try to walk for religion or church or man, I exhaust myself. Jesus calls me to walk with Him, so He can carry my burdens for me, and I don’t have to be bothered with putting on a show for others.

I always want to reflect who Jesus is, and I never want my life to cause anyone else to stumble. But in my life, Jesus is full of love and grace and mercy. In my life, Jesus loves me for the person our Father created me to be. It is much more freeing to take Christ’s attitude of gentle, humble service and love to a world that is as imperfect as I am than to try to be someone I am not and not know how to reach anyone. It is so much more satisfying to laugh and love and allow people to see the power of Christ working in me in real time than to pretend He put me on this earth already knowing how to follow Him with ease.

I am working every day to be more like Jesus. I struggle every day to allow Him to work a miracle of healing in me, overcoming my character-flaws, addictions, and sinful ways. And I will never hide the work God is doing in me for the shame of who I used to be. The beauty of the woman He is creating is far more spectacular when you see where I started, how many times I have fallen along the way, and the grace He generously pours over me when He calls me to His arms to rest for the day. My prayer is that my life, and all that God is doing in me, will always point to the richness and beauty of a relationship with Him.

I know there will be many days when I mess up. I know there will be times I run ahead, thinking my way is better or faster. I know I will stick my foot in my mouth, sing the wrong words to the wrong songs, and dance off beat. I will laugh too loud and be way too much for some. But I am never too much for my Lord. I am also thankful for a long list of people in the Bible who were louder and more embarrassing than me; people who God used to build His Kingdom despite themselves. I am thankful the path to eternity does not depend on me but has already been carved by Jesus. I am thankful He has put people in my life that remind me to stay on the path, remind me of His love, and remind me of how far He has brought me. I am thankful He never shames me but instead invites me to rest in His arms of love.

Healing From the House That Built Me

When I left my small home town at the tender age of nineteen, I all but tossed a match over my shoulder as I drove that UHaul out of town. I was leaving great friends, people who loved me, and a lifetime of memories, but I was also running from a path of destruction that had just about killed me.

I had spent my whole life there, short of the very first nine months, and it was pretty much all I knew, but I knew that if I stayed, I wouldn’t be able to uncover myself from the rubble of my family’s implosion. The heartache was too big, the damage spread too wide, and the ashes were too thick for my to see past. My dad had moved away and remarried, my mom was dead, and my depression was building a fort around me. I knew that it was impossible to run away from heartache but I knew I needed to start fresh and build something new on new land. I needed a new frontier to forge.

Chuck and I started our life in Texas because it was familiar to the both of us. I had spent at least a quarter of my life in East Texas, visiting my mom’s family, and he had spent his formative years in the Houston suburbs. It was a fresh start for both of us but not in completely new territory. His parents were here and their friends were here, he had some old friends who had stuck around or left and returned as he had. We settled in and started building a life together. We bought a house and had kids, and found our church family. We didn’t make a trip back to my hometown for eight years.

That first trip back was hard for me. I had two babies in tow, we wanted to see friends, and it was our ten-year high school reunion. The ten-year reunion is funny because half of the people have married and started families and the other half are still finding their way in the world – foot loose and fancy-free! We saw old friends, held each other’s babies, and went to Sunday Worship at my old church. We were in and out so fast that it didn’t feel real.

But over the years we started making trips back, not for specific parties or reunions, although those happened, but just to visit. We stayed with friends who had stayed in touch over the years. We would sit on back porches and watch the sun set together as our kids chased lightning bugs across the yard. We hiked trails and boated on the lake and started making new memories on old stomping grounds.

My heart made peace with my hometown and it became a place that welcomed me, evening beckoning me when I spent too much time away. Eventually, I reached a day when I had spent just as many years living away from my hometown as I had spent growing up there, and my heart began to whisper that it was time to make peace with my old house.

I lived in a handful of houses over the years of my youth, but there was one house that held the most memories. There was one house that we moved into as a family when I was only eight years old and didn’t move out of until we weren’t a family anymore. It was the house that was home to hundreds of slumber parties and games of flashlight tag. It was where I cried the first time a boy broke my heart and where every single Homecoming and Prom picture was taken. The yard contained years of live Christmas trees, my mom planted after the ground thawed each year, and we have many pictures of Easter Egg Hunts in the back yard. The road next to the house is where I learned to drive and it’s the house I returned to after leaving the hospital when I had my first car accident. It’s the place I think of when I think of my family and it’s the place where my family disintegrated.

Several years ago, Miranda Lambert released a song called “The House That Built Me.” Every time I heard that song I would sob. I’m not talking about tiny tears to dab from the corner of your eyes. Sob. Like, pull over the car because I’m going to have to go home and redo my makeup sob. Quit listening to country music until this song isn’t played anymore kind of sobbing. At first, I didn’t make the connection. I’m slow like that sometimes.

But after a few years of visiting my hometown and falling in love with it all over again, my heart started to whisper it was time to go walk the yard. We had driven by it over the years but I knew it was time to go back.

I didn’t want to seem like a stalker and, since we have a dear friend who is a State Trooper, I knew the stalker activity would not bode well for me. Instead, we reached out to the family who lives in the house and it turns they are the same family who bought the house from my parents so many years ago. They invited us to come over, pre-warning me that they had changed a few things over the years, which I, of course, knew from the drive-bys.

When we pulled up, and they met us in the drive, they were so kind and welcoming. They immediately began apologizing for the changes they’d made and I, of course, brushed that back. It has been their house for more than twenty years. They’ve raised their family there, building a lifetime of their own memories.

They graciously allowed us to walk the yard, and I was able to show my kids a towering pine tree I had planted when I was in the fourth grade. I had brought it home from an elementary school Arbor Day celebration. My mom helped me plant it, all the while assuring me it would not make it through the winter. But there it stood, strong and tall, defying the odds of almost thirty-five snowy winters.

Most of the yard had changed; they had added a pool and a beautiful deck and the old weeping willow had died. Some of the Christmas Trees hadn’t made it. The corn field behind the house had been turned into a neighborhood of houses holding families making memories of their own. The pasture across the street, where cows had roamed, was also a neighborhood, more proof that life just keeps moving and changing.

After we walked the yard, this sweet couple tenderly invited us to come inside. We enter through the garage, which had been an attached car port when I lived there, and through the entry way I had entered every day as a child. We walked into the family room, sunken from the rest of the house, and saw the long four steps up to the breakfast area and kitchen. Those steps hosted a good deal of slumber party games and dance picture photo ops over the years.

The Valentine Dance my freshman year. I’m in the middle of the front row.
Getting ready for Prom 1992

They had changed out the fireplace and hearth from wood burning to gas, something my mom always talked about doing and never got around to in our time there. They had also expanded the kitchen. But for the most part, the bones of my old house were still there.

It felt smaller, which I have learned happens when you grow up and visit childhood memories. And although there were many differences, I still felt the love and grace that had been present over the years. The laughter and joy from my past spilled over to the places of heartache and soothed old wounds. The slicing and gutting of my family falling apart and causing us to sell that house and go our separate ways sealed up. I felt God’s hand on my back, gently caressing me, reminding me that He is bigger than any heartache; He is capable of making beauty from ashes.

When I left my hometown I was still a teenager. I ran as far and as fast as I could, thinking the pain I felt would never allow me to go back. But over the years God has worked in ways I never would have expected. He has been working a healing from the inside out. He has connected my heart and soul with people and places that remind me, every time we connect, of His generosity and grace. God rarely works in ways I would have expected. He rarely does things according to the plans I suggest. But He always surprises me with an over-abundance of joy I never could have seen coming.

A Vision Board for 2020

The first time I ever heard someone talk about a vision board I thought they were part of some new-age looney cult. The idea of sitting at a table, cutting out pictures from a magazine, and gluing them to a poster board felt like something I did with friends when we were ten-years-old. And there was nothing about it that seemed rational for a grown woman.

And then one day, as I was sitting on the couch, laptop in lap, frantically pinning fall decor ideas to my Fall Pinterest Board, it occurred to me that I not only believed in vision boards but I had already created a ton of them.

I don’t always adhere to the ideas on my Pinterest Boards and I have created many boards for things that may or may not ever happen but I like to envision them happening. Some of them are just for dreaming and some of them help spark other ideas for me that also may or may not come to fruition.

I have boards dedicated to rooms in my house and I have boards dedicated to birthday cakes. I have boards dedicated to house plans and clothing and glittery eye shadow looks. I have boards to help me plan parties and boards that function as recipe books. I have lots of visions so I have lots of boards. And sometimes these boards help me transition from one season in life to another. Summer to Fall, Fall to Christmas, Christmas to Spring. Little Girl birthday parties to Sweet Sixteen parties, little boy bedrooms to teen boy rooms.

2020 has felt like a season all of its own. I mean, we started Spring Break in March and just went back to school last week but Summer Break was canceled in between. Now that school has started and Starbucks is starting to advertise for the Pumpkin Spice Latte, transitioning feels like something we should be doing but it’s hard to have a vision for what it’s going to look like. And the two tropical storms racing each other into the Gulf of Mexico makes coming up with a vision for what’s to come even harder and fuzzier.

Not knowing what’s coming is normal but it can certainly bring on some anxiety. Not that we ever know what’s around the next bend but in years that weren’t 2020, we at least felt we could plan ahead for things like Halloween parties or Thanksgiving. 2020 has let us down repeatedly when it comes to planning for parties and holidays.

Today I decided, however, to create my own vision board for what remains of this year. I’m going about it in the same way I have started other boards in the past. I started thinking about the mood I want, the colors, the theme, and looked for photos to support them. What are the sights I want to see? How do I want it to smell? Who do I want around me? I know I can’t force the rest of the year to turn out how I want but if I am intentional about how I spend my days, what I choose to look at, and surround myself with, I can create a mood to embrace whatever comes. I have to ask myself what situations make me feel peaceful and what activities help get me there. Are there textures, patterns, colors that I can surround myself with to soothe me? What are the scripture verses that remind me of God’s faithfulness?

Going into the rest of this year is nothing if not uncertain but it doesn’t have to be awful. Yes, the weather is getting hairy. Yes, we are still wearing masks. Yes, school is weird and not the way we’ve ever done it before. Yes, church is strange and new and not what we’ve ever expected of church. And yes, the politics in our nation have gone berzerk and turned angrier than they’ve ever been in the history of our country. But none of that should gain power over our sense of peace. None of it should get to wreck our lives. God is still on His throne and He has already been past 2020 and knows how it happens. So I’ve decided to make a vision of how I want it to go. I’m doing this with prayer and scripture and asking God to show me the steps to take. I’ll use words and photos and color swatches to create the vision and keep it before me. Jesus told us time and time again that worrying about the future and gave us a visual of God taking care of the flowers in the field and the birds of the air so I think this is kind of the same thing.

The Quickening Pace of Rage

Have you read much about Chernobyl? Or better yet, have you watched the HBO series Chernobyl? No one thought the nuclear power plant would ever blow up and, when it did, no one expected the damage to be what it was. It was huge. I learned about it in school but watching the HBO series allowed me to put some faces to the story. I love that about movies and television. Even when the story isn’t one hundred percent accurate or they’ve taken liberties with some details for the sake of entertainment, I still love it.

I was sitting at my desk today, dealing with all sorts of fires. Fires for work, fires for school, fires for health, fires, fires, fires. I got up to go get a glass of water and take a breath. As I crunched a piece of ice in my mouth, allowing the cold melt down the back of my throat, not only quenching my thirst but the fire within, I started thinking about Chernobyl. I started thinking about the people who knew there were problems before it blew, who knew there was a problem after it blew, and denied the problems all the while.

I reached out to friends today, asking them to pray for a handful of the fires I was dealing with. I was feeling stressed and worried and was doing my best to tick off each item. I was being kind and professional and behaving as I should with each issue yet I still felt like I could blow at any minute. The pressure was huge and now I was feeling guilty for the pressure. I had a sudden wave of guilt for even stressing about my life.

The little voices in my head whispered to me, as they are known to, “Who do you think you are? You don’t have real problems. You are a white suburban mom. Your kids are healthy. Your husband has a job. You have no right to complain about anything. Shut up.”

More ice. More crunching. It’s true. I live a very cush life. But does that mean I don’t have a right to feel my feelings?

I took a deep breath and prayed, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you, Oh Lord.” It was the prayer I used in the children’s message I recorded today. It’s a prayer I say frequently. So why was it now bringing tears to my eyes?

Because that’s where the world wants us to live right now, isn’t it? In fear. We are told to fear the virus, fear going back to school or church, fear going outdoors without a mask. We are told to fear the politicians, to fear the government, to fear the police. And if you have an opinion about anything, you learn to be afraid of sharing it because you may offend someone. And if you have a fear of anything, you have to be afraid to share it because someone may jump all over your fear and tell you why you do or do not deserve to have that fear based on the privilege you may or may not have experienced. It’s sort of like when Forest Gump went to Vietnam and his commander kept yelling, “GET DOWN! SHUT UP!” If you say something publicly or on social media and someone disagrees with you, there’s going to be an explosion. Someone is going to tell you to shut up.

What has our world come to that we can’t share what’s on our hearts? And why is it that if my problem is perceived to be smaller than yours, then I am whining? Or if you disagree with me then you must hate me and tell me I am stupid? When did we become so uncivilized? When did hate become so mainstream?

Please don’t comment and tell me it’s Trump’s fault. He is certainly not the picture of civility and charm but this is a problem that has been rising for a long time. It’s pre-Obama, too, so leave those comments alone. I don’t think this is political at its root. It’s been a slow boil, maybe since the dawn of time. And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe, as this world continues to turn, the sin in the world will get bigger and angrier. I suppose it’s possible that shame will feel deeper and worry will feel harder and all the things will burn at a quicker pace. I am praying that the quickening pace of rage in the human race means the clock is ticking closer and closer to the return of Jesus.

If I could wave a magic wand and fix a few things in this world, I would sprinkle a light dusting of empathy over all the people. And I would toss out handfuls of grace. And would give time-outs to people who yell and blow up online. Shaming would not be allowed. Ever. Ice cream trucks would be in every neighborhood and pass out goodies for free because when you’re having a bad day, a fudgesicle with your best friend usually makes it better. Families would sit down together to dinner and hold hands when they pray. And if you got stressed out, you could take a nap without fear of someone telling you you’re weak or lazy. When you cried because your day was a mess, there would always be someone there to give you a hug. And when the world told you to live in worry and fear, you wouldn’t do it; not out of shame of someone knowing you worried but because you would know that Jesus is bigger than your fear.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” -Jesus (Matthew 6: 25, 34)

Forward This to Five People if You Love Jesus

I know this is going to age me when I tell you this but here it goes. When my husband and I got married we did not own a computer. It wasn’t a thing yet. I mean, computers were a thing but not everyone had one. The Internet was still sort of new and exciting and computers were really expensive. Websites were static and a place where you would go to just see that a company existed.

You know what else we didn’t have? Cell phones. I know – we are practically dinosaurs. But I tell you this so you understand that passing memes wasn’t a thing. Texting jokes wasn’t a thing. There was no Facebook, no Instagram, and no Twitter. What we did have, however, were chain letters.

Shortly after we got married I received a letter from a woman I knew telling me about a really awesome way we could all get new kitchen towels. All you had to do was buy a towel and mail it to the first woman on the list and then mail a copy of the list to the next five women on the list. Or something like that. The idea was that you would only buy one towel but over the next month, you would receive fifty. Or five hundred. Or something like that. It was a long time ago. Long story short, I felt really compelled to participate because the woman who sent the letter to me was kind of a big deal at our church and I didn’t want to let her down and break the chain. So with money we didn’t have, I went to the store and bought a nice dish towel, a big envelope, and mailed the towel. I also bought a book of stamps, paid for copies of the letter at Kinkos, and mailed the letter to the women on the list. I then went home and waited for all my new kitchen towels to roll in.

They never came. Not one towel ever showed up at my house and I learned my first lesson in adult peer pressure.

Shortly after we got our first computer we got our first email account and I learned about email chain letters. They were the ones that said something like, “forward this email to fifty friends, including me, if you love Jesus.” That was a lot of pressure! I mean, what if the person who sent it to me doesn’t get it back and thinks I don’t love Jesus?!?!?!?!?!?!

Then social media came along and there were posts with pictures of angels and pictures of Jesus holding baby lambs and if you didn’t “like” it then something bad would happen to you within thirteen minutes. If you did, though, you would receive blessings untold and unnumbered.

I think most of us are past those sorts of posts now. And it’s been ages since I received a letter asking me to mail a gift to a list of women. But there is a new kind of pressure and it’s very specific to 2020 and it looks like this:

It’s a selfie of someone wearing a mask and the words underneath say something about the way we love our friends, family, neighbors, and the world around us is to stay home. And if we have to go out, we wear a mask.

Listen, I’m all for loving my people. And if the government says I have to choose between wearing a mask and receiving a fine, then I will wear a mask. COVID is a very real virus and people have died from contracting it. I’m not arguing that fact. I’m not arguing anything. Well, I guess I am. I am arguing against passive aggressive shaming. I am arguing against selfie shaming. I am arguing against short social media posts that make people feel like they are either pro-quarantine or they are pro-death of the elderly and babies. We’ve jumped hard into the “honk if you love Jesus” place where there are only two choices – those who love Jesus and those who don’t honk.

I think we can all agree that we don’t want people to die of COVID. No one wants that. President Trump doesn’t want people to die of COVID. Joe Biden doesn’t want people to die of COVID. No governor of any state wants people to die of COVID. All politicians are making decisions right now. Some are making decisions based on medical experts. Some are making decisions based on the economy. Some are making decisions based on what they think their constituents want. But screaming that any of them are making decisions because they want people to die is probably not helpful right now.

I am able to mostly work from home. My husband is also working from home. Some people cannot work from home. So posting that people who leave their house are irresponsible is probably not helpful right now. I am so thankful for the police and firefighters and doctors and nurses who are putting their lives on the line every day – not just during COVID but all the days. But during this time I am also very thankful for the people who are working in the grocery store and the bank. I am thankful for the people in the gas stations. I am thankful for the people in Whataburger. And I am extra thankful for the people working for delivery companies who deliver my groceries or dinner when I order those things so that I can stay home if I choose to do so. So to show my appreciation, I tip those people a little more than I normally would. And if I do leave my house, I make sure to smile extra big (with my whole face so my eyes show I’m smiling even though I’m wearing a mask) and I use kind and patient words with all of those people. I know that the service industry can be a thankless world on a good day but during a worldwide pandemic, it has to be extra hard. I want those people to have all of my appreciation.

But mostly, my frustration with the whole “this is how you love your neighbor” thing is that none of us know the road our neighbor is walking down. I don’t know my neighbors claustrophobia. I don’t know my neighbors breathing issues. I don’t know how many hours my neighbor has been wearing a mask today and the reason they’ve pulled it down for a brief moment. I don’t know if my neighbor (because on social media our “neighbors” are all over the world, right?) lives in a county with zero cases of COVID.

Listen, I’m all for following the rules. I’m all for being safe. I’m all for taking care of my family. And if I’m sick, I’m always going to make choices to prevent the spread of my sickness. And I pray that others are for the same things.

What I’m not for is shame. I’m not for telling people there is one way to love others. I’m not for someone telling me if I am not loving my neighbor in the exact same way they are. It seems to me that there were some people in the Bible who often criticized Jesus for not loving people “the right way.”

Maybe this sounds too extreme. Maybe I sound like I’ve gone off the rails. But here’s the thing – social media is one of the few ways we can be in touch with each other these days. We aren’t allowed to worship together. We aren’t allowed to hang out in big groups. So we stay in touch via social media. To me, it seems like now, more than ever, is the time to be offering grace.

Can we all assume that we don’t know what our coworker has going on in their house right now? Maybe we hold back our judgement towards other parents who aren’t controlling their children the way we wish they would. Or perhaps we could consider holding our tongue or our typing fingers when someone at the grocery store is too close to the next cart. Can we take a minute to take a breath when we see someone not following “the rules?” And when we take that breath maybe we step back a few extra feet so when we spew our self-righteousness we don’t spit on anyone.

A long time ago I watched a movie where a little rabbit taught me a very helpful phrase that went something like, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” and I took it to heart. And a guy I really love told me to love my neighbor as myself. I also took that to heart. So I do. I love my neighbor. And I love my neighbors neighbor. And most of that love involves me assuming that everyone is doing the very best they can in the moment. And none of it involves mailing a towel to five women.

Let’s Get Off the Roller Coaster

I loved roller coasters when I was growing up. I loved the clink-clink-clink of the cart as it slowly made its way up the highest hill of the ride. The anticipation of the fall was almost as good as the actual fall. And then the cart would get to the top and drop, full speed, to the lowest low of the ride. I would scream with both delight and terror and get back in line to ride it again.

I don’t like roller coasters anymore. I don’t like the feeling of being out of control. If my sponsor was reading this she would surely be rolling her eyes because she knows that I know how much I try to be in control of life when it’s simply not a reality for anyone. I can control my actions and reactions and nothing else. I still try though.

The hubs and I were listening to a Stephen King novel in the car a few days ago and the story was set in 2020. It was clearly written well before 2020 because the story told was in no way as terrifying as the real 2020. I saw a meme a while back that said something about 2020 being written by Stephen King and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. I have never felt a meme to be more accurate. I turned to the hubs and commented on the fact that the story we were listening to was far more believable that our actual lives right now.

The roller coaster of emotions, the ups and downs of fear, and the speed of how fast news changes. We were heartbroken at fires in Australia and then terrified of a virus with no cure and then enraged at social injustices. Add in a presidential campaign and we have a year of madness that is only half over.

My daughter and I were talking last week about how many people in her social media feed were angrily announcing to their world of followers that if “you” aren’t posting about racial equality or social injustice then “you” are uncaring and would swiftly be unfollowed. As if one Instagram post or Snapchat story could possibly sum up the totality of anyone’s heart.

I have felt so discouraged in the last few weeks. The hard lines drawn by all sides of every issue are so alienating. We are told you either agree or you are wrong. We have to be totally informed, totally involved, and totally wrapped up by every issue surrounding us. And were this not the kind of unprecedented year we are having, that might be an easier demand. But in a year that has clearly gone off the rails and so many people are hurt by so many issues, there is way too much hurt for any one person to carry.

This makes me wonder about our purpose as followers of Christ. I’m starting to believe that when Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world to share his love, he didn’t mean all the world at one time. He specifically instructed them to go to one place, then the next, then the next, dusting off their sandals when their love was not accepted or understood.

Twenty-four-hour news coverage lets us know about the heartache around the world at any given minute. We can know about fires in Australia and earthquakes in India in the same newscast. We can read about the unemployment rate in America and the starving children in Africa in the same article. And news produced this morning is old and out of date this afternoon.

Social media allows anyone and everyone to share their beliefs and with that, they can try to get you onboard or shame you for not jumping on fast enough. It just seems that maybe God didn’t design our hearts to know all the things at all times. We weren’t designed to process and handle the heartache of the entire world when we have not yet completed the work of processing our own.

It’s so easy for us to read all the news and form opinions and jump into fear-based action or to react with anger. We are told our “likes” matter and show we are in total alinement. We are encouraged to “share” in order to inform and make a difference. But I’m just not sure that typing some words on a screen and sending them into the universe is true compassion as God intended (Says the woman typing a blog post).

It feels like the energy spent online reading charts and graphs, listening to the news, and scrolling feeds can drain us of the compassion we need to be sharing with people face to face. And maybe because the government has forbidden us from being face to face for so long we have come to a false belief that online interaction would be a suitable replacement. It’s not.

There was a time told in the Bible when the people tried to build a tower that would reach heaven. They wanted to be as great as God himself. So God mixed their words and languages to make it nearly impossible for anyone to communicate efficiently with each other. Their tower plan failed. These days we are in feel sort of like that. Have we become so full of ourselves, thinking we have access to the best and latest information, that we know better than God? I don’t think any of us would be so bold to say those words out loud but it feels like we just might believe we are capable of some level of omniscience; that the technology we possess allows us to know all. And when we believe we know the most about any given topic, we tend to live as if we are better than those who know less than us. And when we believe we are better and know more, we listen to other ideas, other points of view, other hearts much less. It’s a total breakdown of compassion and empathy.

I have found myself on both sides of the breakdown lately, so trust me when I say I write this without the purpose of finger-wagging. I write it more as a confession. I also write it as a plea for everyone to take a deep breath, put their phones down, take a walk, go for a swim, pick some flowers, or have lunch with a friend. Hug someone. Hold someone’s hand. But most importantly, get off the roller coaster. It only runs when we stand in line, get in the cart, and strap ourselves in. If there are no riders, no one runs the ride.