Pay It Backwards

Hey sweet Mamas – I’m paraphrasing my favorite author here – “The day you delivered your sweet little bundles, you brought them into a crazy world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen to them. Do not be afraid.” – thought borrowed from Frederick Buechner.

Other human beings will hurt us. We will hurt some of them. The question is what to do with the pain. Of course, there are different levels of pain. What I’m thinking about today is the small-to-moderate variety of human-on-human hurt. And with the start of the school year, my mind is also on my kids.

My middle kid, 8th grade girl, got my attention yesterday. I asked her if she had any particular hopes or goals for 8th grade. She said, “I would like to be more focused and present in class, but really, I just want to try to be kind to 7th graders because I wish 8th graders had been more kind to me last year.”

We hear a lot about paying it forward, but she wants to flip pain on its head and pay it backwards. What a sweet picture of redemption.

I’ve watched the same thing with my senior. He experienced a ton of rejection from 5th grade through last year. Now most of the kids who dished that our are gone, and he seems intent on making sure every kid he comes in contact with feels accepted and respected. He is investing time and energy encouraging younger tennis players, to help their hearts as well as their tennis game.

Our hearts are drawn to redemption stories. We eat up redemption movies. It is because we all understand brokenness. The thought that we could be mended, that relationships could be healed, goes to the very depths of us.

But to live a redemption story means that you must experience pain.

Brutal Redemption

This is not intended to be a brag session on my kids. Don’t worry – we have plenty of whining, door slamming, and eye rolling around here. And I have cried myself to sleep many a night knowing my kids were in pain because of social rejection.

But what an awesome thing to help our kids consider how they can take rejection, flip it around, and pay the beauty of redemption back to younger kids. This works for me, too. I had a lot of internal pain and anxiety during my years with babies and toddlers. Now, years later, how do I flip that around and give back to the Moms who are in that season now?

What does this look like for you?



A Short Poem for My Fellow Writers

Water Will Have Its Way

I aimed to be real and wild and free and bold

No secret is worth this prison stay

I emerged to find there was no one to know

No one to hear what I needed to say

So I climbed back into my safe little hole

Built a stronger dam to keep the waters at bay

But the water erodes from inside my soul

And the water will have its way


Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde

Go with your gut. Follow your heart. Trust your feelings — right? If I lived according to my Twitter feed – absolutely! But where would that really take me?

We all have occasional (or more than occasional) splits between our “thinking truth” and our “feeling truth”. For example, my thinking truth about a serial killer is that he or she is a broken human, still made in the image of God, with the gift of complete grace extended and waiting his or her acceptance. My feeling truth is a little more human. Being alone in a room with them would make me feel scared and probably sickened.

Or consider an extended family holiday dinner. You arrive in thinking mode. This is my family. I love them. We are all grownups now. And then, one snide political comment later, you and your brother are exchanging nasty sarcastic remarks reminiscent of your teenage trauma years. What the heck? Do you and your family love each other or not?

So which one reveals our real personal truth – thinking response or feeling response? I used to believe that feeling brain always held the trump card as it exposes what is true in our core. I still believe that our feeling responses can be useful and telling, but many times those responses tell only of our baser selves – not the self we desire to be – not the self we are growing into.

When we are hit with unexpected emotional chaos, it triggers our fight or flight response. In our house, that usually means he fights and I fly. It dredges up the ancient remnants we thought we finally buried deep enough. Both fight and flight responses are equally self-centered, with the understandable, innate goal of self preservation. These reactions are legit and reflect a real part of us, but they only tell a fraction of the story.

I am now convinced there is more merit or truth to the “thinking” responses. During an emotional storm, grace gives the benefit of the doubt to me and to others. Feelings come and go. People can change. Most of us are changing, or at least we desperately want to be. Making judgments about one’s character in the middle of a fight or flight moment is unlikely to promote healing and reconciliation when things settle down.

Thinking response zone is where my beliefs rest the majority of the time. At this stage of life, it is my chosen, mindful truths that serve as a steady compass. I have learned the hard way that although my emotions sometimes help and inform, they can also distract and destroy. They should be regarded with great caution, especially in the middle of life’s chaos.

When emotions calm, my mind can step back and acknowledge that the hurt caused by feeling responses is a part of reality, and this reflection is important. It brings humility, reminds me of my weak spots, helps me be vulnerable, and prods me to reconsider the trigger circumstance in a healthier way.

Because I continue to have patterns of self-destructive feeling responses – usually set off by haunting insecurities –  I need to pay attention and possibly make some different choices about the way I am living. But I would never want to make those choices out of fear or shame.  I want to make decisions about my priorities and my family based on the true and better me I am growing into.

On the days when my feelings and thoughts are as mismatched as the socks from my latest load of laundry, I can choose to lay both sides down at the feet of my steadfast God and trust in something far bigger than any part of myself.

steadfast love

Look ‘Em in the Eyes

Intentional Acts of Kindness

We have all heard of “pay it forward” and “random acts of kindness”, and participating in this is a blessing – for the receiver, and even more for the giver. I’m all for it and try to find ways to take part in the fun.

However, I started doing something a couple years ago that has had a bigger impact on my life – and hopefully on the lives of others. It is an activity that leads to thoughtful, focused, and intentional acts of kindness.

This is what I decided – I would look purposefully into the eyes of people I interacted with. That’s it – one tiny thing. But it turns out it wasn’t so tiny because our eyes hold oceans of information and emotions, and it is hard to hold someone’s gaze without taking some of that in.


Making eye contact has a way of throwing fast, busy connections, like checking out at the grocery store, into slow motion. You cannot do this when you are blabbing on your phone or checking Facebook. It has made me put the blasted thing away when I’m about to engage – especially with people who are serving me.

My choice has led to fascinating conversations and some meaningful exchanges of kindness. Sometimes I have been the beneficiary. People amaze me.

Intentional acts of kindness have a lasting impact because they match the deepest needs of the receiver with the best of what the giver has to offer.

Would you be willing to make this commitment? Maybe you already have. If you have or if you do, let me know about your experiences – and pass on the challenge.

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.” -Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

Sermon Superstars


The external beauty of Saint Maio’s Chapel in Colorado reminds me of the beautiful hearts inside many churches around the world – pointing us to God’s love, grace, and mercy week after week, encouraging us to give that love, grace, and mercy to each other.

Sitting in church this past Sunday, I contemplated the enormous task that our pastor took on every time he stood on that stage.

In English, we use approximately 100-120 words per minute of speech. Being conservative, allowing for dramatic pauses, scripture reading, and hopefully some laughter every now and then, let’s assume our pastors write 100 words for every minute of a sermon.

So, 30 minutes – around 3,000 words. 45 minutes – around 4,500 words.

Every single week, we expect them to come up with all these words – and not just any words. They must be true, engaging, interesting, educating, grace-giving, and new. And they should all fit together in some sort of format that is likely to help people remember them – at least remember something.

“To be effective the preacher’s message must be alive; it must alarm, arouse, challenge; it must be God’s present voice to a particular people.” – A.W. Tozer (piece of cake, right?)

That always seemed hard, but since I’ve been writing my little 600-1000 word blog posts, it seems close to impossible to succeed at this task week in and week out.

Let’s look at it another way – the average 240 page non-fiction book has approximately 70,000 words. So, if you teach for 45 minutes each week, you essentially write a book every 15 sermons.  If you teach 80% of Sundays, you write and then speak enough words to fill almost 3 complete books every single year. 

That is daunting. It gives me a vast appreciation for the tireless efforts of the men and women who serve us in this way.

So thank you Steve Bradley, Scot Pollok, Jane Pope, Peggy Lesch, Dian Sustek, Dave Anderson, Len Woods, Dicky Love, and many others who have taught me faithfully through the years. I am grateful.

Thank your pastor today, and remember these numbers the next time you start to critique their sermon.

Drama at the Dentist

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Things can pile up on you. Somewhere in the background you know it, but you are slammed right into the next thing, so you don’t have time to consider how big the pile is. Next thing you know, you are bawling at the dentist office because your insurance might not pay for the little procedure – a procedure you can afford. And the office staff is so worried about you they all agree it will be done for free.

Just make her stop crying.

Oh my good gracious! I hate being foolish, and then I hate being prideful about being foolish every once in awhile. I want to be patient and good and wise and kind. All the time. I don’t want to be the poor crazy lady.

Of course, that’s surface me talking. What deep me wants is to be the kind of person David Brooks describes so well in his book The Road to Character (highly recommend):

“They just seem delighted by the flawed people around them… They make you feel funnier and smarter when you speak with them.”

Yes, yes, yes. I do hope that is how people feel when they are around me.

Back to my tears –  there’s no excuse for my stress when there are 9 year olds being prostituted in Rio, Syrian refugees starving in the desert, floods, sad friends and cancer. There’s so much real bad stuff.

But this is a sneaky lie, and we need to give ourselves a dadgum break. We all have stress triggers that flip us into crazy-land whether we like it or not.

For me, it can be money stuff – highlighting my insecurity about being “just a stay-at-home-mom”. That’s such a funny thing to call myself. I WISH I got to stay at home. Lordy me, I’m on the go way too much doing this Mom thing for zero dollars a month.

Another trigger is feeling dumb and having people unhappy with me because I was dumb. I prefer to be smart. This is why I write instead of doing live podcasting. I get to edit. 

AND… I also have some shame stress triggers, too. Like… if they only knew what I did when I was 10 – and 17 and 23 and 38 and 41, or… if they could only read my fragile mind right now… back to the people-pleasing thing. Please like me.

What’s my point? It’s OK to be nutty because you are tired, your first kid’s a senior, Donald Trump is running for President OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, your A/C is busted and it’s 102 outside, or dental work – any dental work.

Don’t compare. Just talk to someone, cry, be a fool and then say you are sorry, eat some chocolate, have some wine, go for a run, or write a blog post.

And back to the dentist office – my foolery and subsequent humility endeared me so much to the dental assistant that we ended up in this deep, trusting conversation about her life and loves, her hopes and fears. And that would never have happened if I hadn’t acted like a real, broken human. So, there you go. You never know – and you might get something for free.

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The Counterweight of Thankfulness

This might be a bit of a stretch, but after watching the opening night of our country’s convention season, I need to reach for something. I was downright distraught by the hate and fear. But I know from experience that the counterweight to distress for me is thankfulness. Here are 10 things I am thankful for today.

  1. Nice humans. I rarely encounter mean people. In fact, I go through the day fascinated by the people I get to interact with, the stories I intersect.  I think it’s probably 10-1, nice to mean. Maybe 10-3 if you have to count people while they are driving – pretty good odds either way.  

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    I met this lovely bride-to-be in an antique store. She is showing me her future wedding dress made out of 4 table cloths from the store! I felt so privileged to be there that moment to see her face.

  2. Refinement. The most beautiful stories I know come from the ashes of some great fire – souls refined by hard times, failure, abuse, poverty. So, when we are having  a hard time, we can have hope – not only that we will survive, but also that we might be refined in ways we  never have imagined.IMG_4533
  3. Young people. The next generation makes me excited. My kids, my nieces and nephews, all of their friends, the kids bagging my groceries. Seriously, I am impressed by so many of them lately. What a world they are coming into! What stories they will tell!kids
  4. Dogs. Need I say more? I am comforted and licked and pawed constantly by 2 rescue dogs who love me unconditionally, like they know they were rescued. Being that I am but  a scraggly, rescue human, I am thankful for the reminder.Gumbo
  5. Mentors. I have 3 people in my life right now that I consider my mentors, whether they like it or not. I think I’ll write more about this later. But, for now – if you don’t have a mentor, go get you one. It works best if you are also paying it back the other direction to younger people in your own life.
  6. Science. Because of fast computers, far-reaching satellites, and super-smart humans, our knowledge in so many fields is exploding. These discoveries make me feel mind-blown about a BIG, creative God. They also expose that we are barely scraping the surface of discovery, and we should be humble.IMG_1586
  7. Netflix. Last night, after the disgraceful “benediction” that was more of a malediction (look it up:)), I just couldn’t take it. Thankfully, all I had to do was push one little button on my smart T.V. remote and I was whisked away into the land of quality T.V. where I had multiple binge-worthy selections to take me away from the chaos. Sometimes distraction is the best! I used that method all the time when I had toddlers. Not very effective with teenagers.Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 11.44.10 AM
  8. Heat. I’ve made a decision that every time I walk outside and begin melting that I am filing the feeling away so that when I am in Colorado in 2 weeks I will be 10 times more thankful for the opportunity to be there. I love you, Texas!IMG_2198
  9. Friends. Starting right in my own home with Bret and my kids and working out from there, I have some of the best friends on the planet. I am amazed again and again that people of this caliber are willing to be friends with quirky little me. 


    Double thankful that some of my best friends are also my sibs.

  10. Politics. Yep, I am even thankful for the very thing that brings me despair today. We have a system that is almost as free as we are – so free that it can make HUGE errors in judgment, free enough that we often flop around in the muck and have to learn from terrible mistakes. Kind of like me! But that same freedom that has allowed me to screw things up also allows me to LOVE and say what I think and walk in the woods and go to church. We can’t have it both ways, and looking around at the world, we shouldn’t want it any other way. It will be OK. There is Someone bigger than the President of the United States that has a handle on things.


    Yes, Jeb, we are all bewildered.

There’s my little list – what’s yours?

Happy Birthday Mr. Buechner

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I realized this week that I have several Buechner books out on loan.:)

My favorite author celebrates his 90th year of life today. This post is going to be longer than my usual posts, but you can handle it – and by “you”, I mean my parents and my fellow Frederick Buechner fans.

It might be sensationalized media coverage, but it seems that darkness often has the last say these days. This world is fragile and violent and scary, but darkness is not the end of the story!

“The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”The Final Beast.

I should just stop typing. What is left to say? And yet, there are other passages I love just as much, so I must go on.

I get a sense when reading Mr. Buechner that the jarringly personal struggle is close – either in his very own heart or the hearts of ones he knows intimately. There are passages that make me squirm because they are harsh and raw and expose parts of me that nobody knows. And then I realize he wrote them because everybody knows if they are honest, because they are about all of us. We all have squirmy parts. Maybe we suppress them. Maybe life has not yet pried up that particular rock. Maybe we keep life so boring and orderly that the rocks cannot be pried. 

One of Buechner’s characters that grabbed me the most was Kenzie from The Storm. At the end of the book, he sits and writes “I’m sorry” over and over again in every language he “has a smattering of”. I cried over that passage, wanting to tell this poor soul that he was terribly, wholly forgiven. And then I realized that the poor soul was actually my own, and I was crying over me, and I was trying to grasp the fact that I was the one forgiven.

But how this truth slips away on the slimy walls of shame and pride, so I never fully hold it. I ask for the same forgiveness again and again. And I ask God to convince me again of what I have known in moments to be true – that I am more healed than I know – that somehow, someday, complete healing will come and I will be able to rest.

Buechner shows us The Story – it is everywhere. It is in the plants, the sky, the water, the spider’s web, our own hearts, and in all the crazy people around us. It is in human torment and joy and ineptitude and discovery. It is easier to see it in the broken people – maybe all their cracks allow us to see some element of that divine image that is all covered up in the polished people. Maybe that is why Jesus hung out with the hooligans – all their cracks gave him somewhere to pour in all that love.

I try to participate in The Story in my own small way because when I sit on the sidelines I can feel the fading of my soul. This passage from Secrets in the Dark gave words to that fading feeling for me:

“Not to help find some way to feed the children who are starving to death is to have some precious part of who we are starve to death with them. Not to give  of ourselves to the human beings we know who may be starving not for food but for what we have in our hearts to nourish them with  is to be, ourselves, diminished and crippled as human beings.”

What if a whole bunch of people on this planet grabbed hold of that truth? What kind of place would this be?!

I don’t know if I’ll write the book or books that seem to swirl around inside me somewhere. I find them now in bits and fragments that don’t fit together yet. But if I do write the book – and as I continue to write my little posts – I will never pretend. I will have to tell The Story as it shows itself to me. I will honor my fellow humans in all of their glorious and complicated brokenness. If I cannot add honesty, grace, compassion and kindness with my words, then I do not want to write.

So thank you, Frederick Buechner, for setting the mark high. My life, for one, is deeply changed.

Beautiful, Terrible

Again from Secrets in the Dark:  “The final secret, I think is this, that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been to the wilderness with us.”

This is what I believe – at least all the days I am able to believe. It was reading Buechner’s books that first gave me peace about unbelief, that let me know that my sometimes lengthy moments of doubt do not undo the long periods of belief. That is my wilderness, and God does not desert me there. In fact, it is often the place where I am mysteriously renewed.

At the end of my earthly days, these are the words that I hope to say to my children and my friends, “If I loved him with less than all my heart, soul, mind, I loved him with at least as much of them as I had left for loving anything.” Amen.

Supermarket Mayhem and Master Mamas

Dear sweet young Mama from the Kroger line –

Mercy me, you’ve got your hands full – full with your middle baby – one of three – with a wild tuft of white-blonde hair and the Snow White princess dress she obviously lives in. I wonder if you give her Benadryl once a week just so you can pry it off and wash it in the the middle of the night.

Your words to me, “I don’t get out much.” Yeah – I didn’t either. It’s particularly wearing on a woman’s soul not to get out much, to be removed from both adult conversation and the quiet of nature. And then you do get out and 90 percent of the words you utter are “I’m” and “sorry”  as your little tornado does her thing before and behind you.

I wish I knew who your were so I could send this to you – because I guarantee we had a vastly different perspective about those furious five minutes in the check-out line. My fascinating middle one is a young woman now. My firstborn is about to fly the nest.


When your little girl was grabbing every candy bar within her reach, tearing the corners of the wrappers and deciding which one to secretly stow in your purse, you were mortified. I watched in wonder and thought, “Dang – that kid must have a high I.Q. I wonder when they will decide to test her for G/T”. If she’s like mine, she’ll be “gifted with a glitch”, but that will make her far more interesting.

When she wandered away from you as you fumbled to pay for your groceries – don’t worry, I had your back – she had this look of pure joy as she picked up every single Disney coloring book with her sticky fingers (candy quest!). Fancy fonts and color and art captured her spirit. This child is going to create; I know it. All you knew is that you had to pay an additional $5.95 for her favorite one – the one that was now missing its front cover.

Then… the hissy fit of the year! Oh my gosh – can she please be in my band when she grows up? A natural performer. Spinning in circles on her back avoiding your reaching hands like a little ninja. Impressive! You saw a stubborn, willful, difficult girl. I saw strength. I saw a baby who will one day be a young woman who will know who she is and what she stands for. I saw a future leader.

And I wish you could have seen, in the midst of your horrific embarrassment, the grace that surrounded you. You were in front of ME! Me, who prayed for your tender, tired heart, who silently blessed your precious hellion, who remembered the years when I “didn’t get out much”.

And then the precious cashier! He wanted to dump the entire stupid candy display in your cart, free of charge, and give you a big high-five on the way out (no wonder Moms don’t get out much – they make the check-out area a freaking nightmare). He didn’t quite know what to do with your baby, but he was full of compassion, not an ounce of judgment.

You were beautiful, full of patience. No yelling, no swatting. You just wanted to hit the rewind button and leave mini Snow White at home! The milk and eggs (and candy bars and coloring books) could have waited.

What you don’t know is that you also gave us a brief moment to practice patience and find our laughter and try our best to bless you in the midst of the chaos. We got a glimpse of a promising future that your current vantage point can’t give you quite yet.

You are a Master Mama, and your baby will shine. I know it! I can’t give you a hug because I don’t know who the heck you are. But for anyone reading this that knows one of these Master Moms in the thick of it, hunt her down and hold her tight. Chase her crazy Snow White or Ninja Turtle for as long as you can handle, and let her take a nap – or a shower.

Some people freak out about the whole “it takes a village” idea, but the strongest future-grownups require more supervision than 1 or 2 humans can possibly give. One day, in a vastly different phase of life, a young Mama may very well look at your strong, beautiful young woman of a daughter and ask, “What is the secret?” And you can say with humble triumph,

“The standard ingredients are love, grace, and mercy. The secret ingredient is pain. The pain is the reflection pool for the other 3, so that not an ounce of the good stuff goes to waste.”

As for today – I pray for you – I will call you Master Mama – I pray you will continue to be surrounded by merciful moments of grace, even when you are too tired to notice. Hang in there and try to keep her safe. The future is much closer than you realize.

Night Sky Liturgy


Night Sky Liturgy

I gazed upon the blood red moon

Hung bravely in planet shadow

Imaginations long grown fallow

The prophets of fear cry our doom

Words of desecration strewn

I brace my soul from their bellow

For though my deepest self may know

Lies oft repeated confound the truth

Spring free from the bitter minds

Grabbing power in others’ misery

Search fiercely for another kind

Whose hearts embrace the mystery

Poison words will make us blind

Tune fast to night sky liturgy