Launch

Kyle(8of53)I busy myself with tasks to avoid the inevitable–my son is leaving for college in less than an hour. I press down the knot of tears just waiting to spring up from my aching heart and will myself into composure.

“Not now. Don’t meltdown now.” I chant as my fight song.

I wade through heaps of clothes by my son’s door headed for Goodwill as he clears out his room. A wool beanie with a cheery pom catches my eye. The hat boasts “D1 Bound” across the side. Kyle was 15 when he bought the beanie in Las Vegas at a football tournament. He was full of nerve and pluck back then–bent on playing Division 1 football in college in spite of the odds.

I pick up the hat and hold it close, breathing in his boyish man smell. Oh no, not this one. This hat is going nowhere. This hat is a symbol of my kid’s tenacity. It might as well be his old bib or binky as tightly as I’m clutching it.

I carry the hat into my bedroom and find Kyle sprawled out on my bed cradling his baby sister in his arms and whispering affirmations softly to her. My heart drops. Oh Jesus, don’t let me forget this moment. He catches my eye and my heart splinters all the more. How is my son such a beast on the turf and yet so tender with the people he loves?

Last night at dinner, Kyle stopped me mid-whirl as I doled out seconds and thirds of steak and potatoes–his favorite meal–and he held me.

Tight.

He forced me to just be with him. And in the stillness of the hug I broke and wept.  My son beamed a wide grin that lit up the room, because if he knows only one thing from his mama, he is loved. My tears confirm this simple truth.

Honestly, I cry all the time in this phase of life.

Babies were incredibly hard, but letting go of those babies is a whole different kind of torture. It’s searing and disruptive. It chases you down at Trader Joe’s when you reach for the kids favorite food and then stop yourself mid-reach.

Because they don’t need it anymore.

Because they will have their own shopping cart now. Because in the blink of an eye they grew up.

And you stand in Trader Joe’s dying a small death and clutch at your chest as tears prick at your eyes, stab at your heart and drip, drip, drip on the floor. And people look at you weird.

And you are like, “shut up, my son is leaving for college tomorrow and I’m losing my spit right here next to the jasmine rice.”

This journey of goodbye for us is a little harsher than most.  It’s more like the military mom. Most kids return for breaks and summer when they go off to college. But with football it’s different. It’s a job. My kid receives only a few weeks off a year and this next season playing for the WolfPack will stretch out for for six long months with no breaks.

That’s a long time in a a mama’s world.

I try to remind myself that his leaving is a blessing! He got a full ride and saved me a fortune. I am so proud of his hard work. I will see my boy on ABC and ESPN. And then I look at the bratwurst he loves and fall to pieces again.

I know my son will return different. Living on his own in an apartment, paying bills and juggling football and college–it will grow him up. He will be forced to discover new discipline and self-reliability. And while I celebrate this transformation and launch, I grieve the treasured years that will never return.  

I think about playing Winnie the Pooh tea-party with my golden haired toddler and using our best British voices to learn manners. I recall his chubby little arms wrapped around me when he scraped his knees (which he did all the time and it’s why his nickname is Boo.) I think of the endless books we read together, his non-stop mischief and energy, the never-ending stinky football pads, practices and games, all the road trips and vacations, skiing along side his snowboard racing down the mountain, and his constant non-stop smile. Kyle is an easygoing, affectionate, unusually bright and determined kid. He is a natural born leader and a lover of people. Not only do I adore my son and revel in the young man God created him to be, I like him as a person. He’s just cool. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with him?

Why do I do this to myself? Can I go to college too?

Finally it’s go time. We carry his bags down to the his truck with the monster Nevada sticker on it and load his life in it one bag at a time. We take pictures and selfies. We hug. We pray as a family and we cry torrents and torrents of tears.

But although Kyle is sad to say goodbye, there is excitement simmering under the surface knowing this new adventure is upon him and it’s exhilarating and terrifying and awesome. I sense his restlessness to hit the road and readiness to move on. And so I finish my last mama duty for this incredibly rewarding season of growing up my boy. I give him him a tight squeeze and then…

…I let go. 

 

Is That a Demon On Your Shoulder?

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One of THOSE Days

Birds chirp loudly. The sun assaults my face. Not asleep, but not yet awake, I imagine throwing rocks at the birds.

Wait..what? I like birds. What’s wrong with me? I turn my head and wince. My throat aches, my ear pounds and my head feels heavy and hurty.

Grumpy assaults me and I feel like I got hit by a tequila bottle. It must be the flu. I stumble down the stairs and reach for the coffee pot and Advil.

My daughter Faith wanders downstairs. “Mom, you have to take me to school now, Camille has a volleyball tournament so my ride fell through.”

I look at the clock and growl. I have twenty minutes to get ready for work. Twenty minutes to get two kids out the door in uniforms with packed lunches and backpacks filled with the appropriate gear for the day’s activities. Tim has already left for work and my man/child college student with classes that don’t start until 9:00 am is still snoring. The dog looks at me and sighs.

“I know buddy. No walk. No foot snuggle. This blows cupcakes.”

I gulp my coffee and burn my already sore throat.

Somehow we make it out the door. Faith asks to drive. I say “yes”  reluctantly. Driving my recently permitted daughter stresses me out. She’s not a bad driver, I mean sometimes we run lights and stuff, but really, it’s all the other idiots on the road I worry about.  I smile and nod yes, trying to find the nice mom hiding behind the bear.

I look at my phone and tune out as she drives. It helps with the terror.

After we arrive at the high school I take over and drive Kolby to Krispy Kreme. We load up on donuts and head to her school. I ask her not to eat in the car because we are still dealing with the red crayon marks and Capri Sun stains artistically displayed across the back seat. Did I mention I have only made three car payments on this car?

We park the car and head for the playground. Kolby finds a friend to play with and I head for the bench to rest my sick and weary behind. Along the way a high-spirited game of dodgeball interrupts. A large boy lunges for the ball but plows into me instead. I stumble and sprawl onto the asphalt.

“Sorry mam.” He looks at me with big eyes. I smile weakly, pick myself up, wipe off the dirt covering my nice work pants, then limp over to the bench. I think about suing but decide he probably has a small allowance.

All I want to do is sit. I hurt everywhere. The bench hums a siren song and I blissfully sigh and plop down. But relief does not come. Instead I feel wet. Maybe it’s because I am sitting in a huge puddle.

Bad words head for my mouth. If it wasn’t a Christian school I might erupt.

The END of the Rope

I head to work alternating between weak laughter and snotty hiccup tears.

Then a reminder  pops up on my phone. “Speak at Divorce Care tonight.”

Of course! I forgot. How silly of me.

I am supposed to share words of encouragement and motivate others towards Jesus and healing tonight. I mean I haven’t showered, my voice is hoarse and my ass is a train wreck. I think I’ve got it covered.

No!!!!! I can’t do this. I just want to go back to bed and crank up my electric blanket.

And then I remember the topic of conversation the other night at my pastor’s wives group–“How do you deal with Spiritual Warfare?”

I recall my awkward response. For some weird reason I get totally nervous at these gatherings and act like a weenie because I’m painfully uncomfortable when it comes to spiritual measuring sticks–either real or imagined.

Is That a Demon on Your Shoulder?

The truth is spiritual warfare is one of those weird terms in the church world that people throw around casually. Some folks believe every bad thing that happens is demonic.

Out of toilet paper? It’s probably the demons who used it up. Car broke down? Demons. Broke? Demons. It probably has nothing to do with your spending habits.

While I don’t ascribe every bad thing in the world to Satan, I can say (with all certainty) that I do notice a difference before big events and occasions where God is impacting lives that bizarre stuff happens to pastors and their families. Things like random misunderstandings, arguments, illness, assaults of insecurity and doubt. The week before Christmas and Easter is usually pretty tough to get through.

And when I’m actually in tune enough to identify a spiritual warfare attack, I know it’s time to start praying and ask for others to do so as well.

And this is when the epiphany cracks through my thick skull.

Hey Sam…this is that spiritual warfare moment.

The illness, the puddle, the accident on the playground, the ruined work pants–all coinciding on the day when we head over to talk to a group of people whose hearts have been ravaged by divorce. Hearts who are grasping for a shred of hope to hang on.

Maybe calling and canceling is a terrible idea.

I remember back to when I was sitting in Divorce Care after my ex-husband walked out on me and how much it meant for me to have people pour into my wounded heart and take the time to invest in my healing.

This crap day isn’t some cosmic accident designed to piss me off. It’s a calculated plan to steal my joy, keep me self-absorbed and completely ineffective for the Kingdom of God.

So I close my eyes and pray.

I am no wordsmith when I pray. I don’t quote scripture or use big words. It’s often just grunts and tears.

I whisper a simple thanks. I am grateful that even when I am defeated, whiny and pathetic, I am still loved. I plead for protection and for God to use me in spite of myself.

And the relief finally comes, not from a magical cure or less messy circumstances, but from a loving father who gives me the strength to push through.

Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you will reap if you do not lose heart.

Keller, I had a Crazy Dream

Poker-Titl.jpg (500×334)“Keller, I had a crazy dream. I dreamed we got the old poker gang back together,” Dan shared with my hubby Tim.

Don’t you just love crazy ideas?

It seemed an impossible feat. Over the last ten years the group of single thirty somethings (now forty somethings) had moved and married, divorced and proliferated, faced health challenges, job transitions and relational crisis–basically the gritty basics of life assaulting us.

My husband shook his head in disbelief, but his wide grin revealed his excitement at the possibility of reconnecting with old friends.

“Yeah, let’s do it! Tim replied.

Dan worked hard to pull the event off and surprisingly it seemed to all fall into place until the house he rented for the party flooded at the eleventh hour.

Seriously?

Opportunity or Disaster?

Just as I was walking out the door to take Kolby to an audition the call came in. “Keller, we need a place to hold the party.”

I looked at my husband and sighed. I knew the answer immediately. “Offer up your house Sam,” God nudged at my heart.

Come again? My dirty messy house. The one that overwhelms me and reminds me of my failure to balance work, kids, endless sports, ministry, and a husband who fills our house to the brim with his knack for thrifty bargain hunting.

I look around and see clumps of dog hair in the corners, textbooks and laptops everywhere, Lego’s, Emoji’s and American Girl chaos in competition for biggest disaster area. I know the toilet in the guest bathroom looks like a pack of truckers stopped by and the dishes are piled high.

And my heart aches because my house is like a snapshot of my soul–me at the end of my rope, reaching out for rescue like a small child with arms held high. Hold me Jesus. I’m struggling to wade through this wonderful, exhausting, roller-coaster life.

Choosing The Best Mess

“Let’s do it here.” I say.

“No, I’ll look at the clubhouse.” Tim pipes back.

I know my husband will fight me tooth and nail because my heart is acting cranky again and I’m supposed to be on a diet of low stress–whatever that means because I clearly suck at it.

I immediately start stuffing clutter in cabinets as if  tidiness can hide my brokenness. And then I just stop and release, “Ok God, I get it. Messy is Ok.”

My husband protests and I bark back, “Just have the party here. It makes sense. God gave us this house to bless others. Just clean up a little, please?”

My husband gives me the crazy look, but I know this crazy is the right crazy.

Letting Go

I grab my little girl and we hit the road for a two hour drive, extended by an additional thirty minutes after my GPS sends me in the wrong direction. After I quietly berate my phone, I settle down and pray, reminding myself that in the big picture relationships matter more than a clean house and being on time in LA is a suggestion.

After the audition (which my baby nailed), I call to check in with Tim who is happily hosting the party–my darling extrovert in his element.

And I feel a sense of peace and strangely enough, rest. Not because my life is anymore less chaotic but because God revealed himself to me in the center of the mess.

A Message

When we arrive home later that evening, the roar of laughter hits my ears as I open the car door in the driveway. I open the front door and am enveloped in hugs. No one cares about the floors or the toys. I see beautiful faces and I am so glad I said “Yes.”

But then I sense something more–an undercurrent of restoration. Things are happening. Strained relationships are mending. Friends who let time elapse too long bond again. The old jokes and ridiculous names they call one another are music to the soul.

I sense the bigness of what’s going on. I’m just an observer but even I know this is more than a party, it’s a redemptive offering. I can’t believe they all showed up. I can’t believe a crazy dream led to this night.

I retire early and fall asleep with the party still in full swing, snuggled up next to my little girl, content in the sounds of laughter and revelry downstairs knowing that old friends are making new memories and hearts are full. 
What crazy dream do you need to say yes to?

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If 6 Year Old’s Could Vote

dsc_0236We are on our way to an audition in Burbank for Kolby—a three hour drive for a three minute interview. Then we get to drive home. Oh joy!

Needless to say, my kid and I have long conversations.

 “Mommy, who are you going to vote for?”

I look in the rearview mirror at my six-year-old and chuckle. Oh boy, this is a big question. I decide to remain neutral. I am Switzerland. I determine I will not taint my kid with nasty politics.

“Well, mommy is not sure yet, sweetheart. I guess I’m not super excited about either candidate and that leaves me in an awkward place.” I smile and feign peace.

Inside I scream, “Dang it, I am a freaking Republican without an advocate, a leaf blowing in the wind of uncertainty. I’m so scared!!!!!

Kolby thinks hard, “Well Mommy, how are going to decide?”

Deep breath, “Well, ultimately, I have to follow my beliefs and determine which candidate best represents my interests and those things I am passionate about.”

Kolby pauses then belts out, “If I could vote I would be a Trump Girl!”

My mouth falls open. “Huh?”

“Yes it’s true. I think Hillary believes in mermaids and I don’t anymore. Its true Mommy, I believe mermaids are fake. You said it’s about what we believe Mommy, right? I think believing in mermaids is a deal breaker!”

I try to keep the car on the road and not die laughing.

My GPS makes a sudden detour and we exit off the freeway in East LA by Dodgers Stadium. Tears are running down my face and I’m wheezing from holding in my giggles, then Kolby shrieks and points.

“Mommy, lock the doors there a clown in the road!”

On the off-ramp of the 5 freeway stands a clown—a bulbous nosed, red haired clown who is juggling. He looks terrifying.

Fortunately, there are no woods nearby to drag us off into and kill us.

Ok Clown Dude, I understand it’s been a bad year for you guys with everything going on in Charleston and all, but this really isn’t the right place and time to build clown support.

And then I think about Trump and Hillary, mermaids, the media and the stupid clown and it all swirls into a cacophony of confusion. My head hurts and I want this circus to be over.

In a few short days the election is upon us. Here are my thoughts:

Please go vote. I don’t care who you land on. Vote for Him. Vote for Her. Write in a candidate if you must. Just get out there and engage. Never forget that voting is a privilege and people died for our freedom so we can bitch and moan about a less than thrilling election.

The candidates may both stink (in my opinion) but I feel fortunate and so grateful to live in a place where I have the opportunity to choose. And when in doubt on all those props in CA, use Kolby’s logic–vote “yes” for kids, vets and puppies. Vote “no” on everything else.

Now Get Out There and Vote!

—Samantha (still undecided)

Don’t Waste Your Sadness

thaon6ih86I’m at Starbucks and see a catchy orange flier on the pin board for a walk to end Alzheimer’s. I stop mid-pour on the creamer and wince.

Deep inside I ache. But I’m intrigued.

I reach up to tear off a little strip of the paper to register and swipe at suddenly damp cheeks.

I know Alzheimer’s. Oh yeah, I know you.

It started in our family years and years ago and it ended on a Christmas day three years ago–not so merry and not so bright.

Pretty much every memory I have of my grandmother is colored by this disease, I don’t really remember her without it—it was a twenty year journey.

But my dad is another story. It felt like twenty minutes. Alzheimer’s hit hard and it hit fast.

Now I love Christmas. Who doesn’t?

I can still picture myself as a kid peering up at the sky on Christmas Eve as waves crashed on the beach nearby, searching desperately for Santa’s sleigh—hoping that jolly and rosy cheeked man could find his way to Surf City despite our serious lack of winter and fake plastic reindeers on the lawns. My dad would laugh at my earnestness and point to an airplane or something bright in the sky to get me to look.

I think of my own babies bundled up in their Christmas jammies putting out almond milk and cookies (is Santa dairy free too mama?) and laughing uproariously at the Hazel the Elf’s affinity for joy rides in the Barbie Corvette leaving a trail of Starburst wrappers in her dust.

Christmas, to me, is a blissful hodge-podge of cherished memories I treasure to no end. But I also remember the Christmas morning three years ago when I answered the call that changed everything.

My dad—suffering from Picks Disease (an aggressive form of Alzheimer’s) had lapsed into a state of paranoia, grabbed a butcher knife and forced my step-mom and brother into a corner believing they were intruders. I was expecting to hear “Merry Christmas Sweetheart. We are running a little behind for Christmas dinner because we ran into traffic on the Ortega Pass”

Instead screams and terror filled the air. My step-mom threw the phone at my dad and he answered in a voice I didn’t know—a crazed shadow of the well-respected doctor and community leader I grew up with.

Somehow I talked him into believing I had called the police department and the real intruders were getting away. Only Jesus knows the spiritual battle and the tears streaming down my face as I talked my dad out of attacking his wife and son.  But mercy interrupted. He redirected his focus and they got the knife away.

I begged my step-mom to call the police for her own safety but she wasn’t about to let my dad be taken away to some awful place for the mentally ill and locked up on Christmas Day. Needless to say they canceled out on Christmas dinner, got him to take his meds and eventually he calmed down into the sweet and docile man we knew and loved.

But the next day the story didn’t have a happy ending. Only six weeks out from the Picks diagnosis, my dad’s brain began to atrophy at an alarming rate, sending him back into a state of paranoia. He locked the bedroom door screaming about robbers and thieves chasing him and proceeded to jump off the second story balcony.

Yes, that’s right he jumped. It’s not something we talk about much because it was so traumatic. My beautiful mother was also losing her battle to pancreatic cancer at the time. Those days are a blur of shock and sorrow.

People often ask me if my dad tried to commit suicide because of his condition, but no, his mind simply tricked him. Paranoia is powerful and as his brain shut down, the delusions were very real to him.

My husband and I were at Burlington Coat Factory returning a Christmas gift when we got the call that he had jumped and hit the concrete patio. We dropped our bags and raced to the hospital where his mangled leg and body lay stretched on a gurney. I squeezed his hand and tried to calm down his disorientation and confusion. It was the last day I would ever talk coherently to my dad, as they wheeled him into a surgery he never really came back from. He looked in my eyes and said “I love You, Sam.”

A few weeks later he died from his massive injuries. I can’t imagine the hell my poor step-mom went through that day—but I’m guessing Christmas strikes a chord with her too.

But I believe this sadness is not meant to be wasted. There is always something we can do, a light we can shine to help someone else through the darkness or a word of encouragement.

Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease. There are no “survivors.”

But there are a few gifts—you just have to look hard to find them—namely the people who step up and care for their spouse and parents and loved ones. I have a million stories of my grandmother battling this disease and all her crazy antics, from running away and beating us with her purse to her own threats against caretakers, and yet I also watched my parents patiently care for her.

Last week I watched my friend’s mom carefully spoon feed her own ailing mother in a wheelchair at her granddaughter’s birthday party. Her gentleness was a sacred offering and beautiful to behold amidst a background of shrieking kids and a world focused on themselves.

I watched my darling step-father and uncles care for their dad who suffered from dementia. He died after getting severely burned in the shower because he got confused over the hot and cold faucet.

Oh this disease is merciless.

But these caretakers are the real and quiet hero’s, giving up so much to put someone else’s needs before their own. I am in awe of their decision to radically love and self-sacrifice on a daily basis.

Alzheimer’s ravages families.

Currently, there is NO known treatment or cure for Picks, the type of Alzheimer’s my dad had. Once it’s diagnosed you are lucky to get five years ultimately ending up with 24-hour care as your brain starts shutting down communication and basic functions.

I don’t know if this disease is a part of my future or not but, regardless, it is a part of my story.

In a few weeks I will walk on the same beach I used to look up into the night sky on Christmas Eve and search desperately for Santa’s sleigh. But this time I will look up at the blue sky and think of my heavenly family. I will walk for my dad, my grandmother, my step-grandfather and for life.

Please help me in changing the story for so many other families who will travel down this terrible road.

In the next few weeks the Orange County Walk4Alz is taking place. 100% of the money raised goes into research and support for families battling this disease. The walk is free but you are encouraged to donate. If you raise $50, you get a free t-shirt. That’s pretty cool!

Come join me…

–Samantha

 

To Register click here.

When, where and what time are the walks in Orange County?

Huntington Beach Walk – Saturday, November 5th – Contact Us • Registration at 7:30 AM. • Opening Ceremony at 8:30 AM. • Walk begins at 9:00 AM (rain or shine!). • Plan to arrive early to register, park and enjoy vendor village! • Parking: Complimentary transportation from First Christian Church of Huntington Beach (1207 Main St., Huntington Beach, CA 92648) to the Walk location will be provided. • Additional Parking: State Beach parking lot between 1st St. and Beach Blvd., is $15. Metered parking is available along PCH & Beach Blvd. Angel Stadium Anaheim Walk – Saturday, November 12th – Contact Us • Registration at 7:30 AM. • Opening Ceremony at 8:30 AM. • Walk begins at 9:00 AM (rain or shine!). • Plan to arrive early to register, park and enjoy vendor village! • Parking: Please enter the Stadium off of Gene Autry Way. Attendants will guide you to complimentary parking upon entry to parking lot. What are the distances of the walks?

2 miles.

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Never Say Never

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I stood outside on the patio at church on a Sunday a few months ago, and vehemently stated, “I will never volunteer in kid’s ministry again.”

My eyes filled with tears as frustration coursed through my body. Now “NEVER” is a bold statement for a ministry wife who is expected to serve with a smile, but at the time I meant it. I was done. My bucket—empty!

It’s not that I don’t like munchkins—I love kids—but a bad experience with a parent got under my skin and it messed with me. A new parent not familiar with our childcare system lost his claim tag to pick up his kid. If you’ve ever been to Chuck E Cheese or Ikea you know the concept—basically you drop off the kid, get a tag, and pick up the kid with the proper check in ticket. This alleviates child abduction by a non-custodial parent and no one but you takes home your precious little angel (or monster) depending on your parenting paradigm.

Anyway the guy lost his claim tag and I very nicely asked him to get another one. I had a large class of kids and I obviously couldn’t leave them, so I pointed him in the right direction to the kiosk. He refused and then got in my face, whipped out his ID and demanded I give his kid back. Again, I calmly refused to hand over the package. So he yelled a little louder, clinched his fist and puffed up like he was going to smack me. Fortunately my fearless teenage daughter walked up at just the right moment and hustled him out of my face to help him get a new tag. Faith—you are my hero!

Somehow I managed to get all the kids back to their parents without losing my spit. Then I staggered outside and broke down in a defeated heap. How did teaching first-graders about Jesus almost turn into a beat-down of Sam?

After a few days of venting, processing and praying with my husband I remembered a few important things about the plans I make for myself and the “NEVERS” I so casually throw out:

Oh Yeah…I’m not in Control

In a perfect world we would all play along with my Sunday school agenda and everyone would play nice. The kids would put their toys away at the end of class (instead of chucking blocks at each other) and recite their Bible verse to their parents on the way home to make me look good. Oh, and those very same parents’ would thank me profusely for watching their kids for free while they got to sit in an air-conditioned church and relax. And then the unicorns would dance and we could all eat the Crispy Crèmes and stay skinny because my perfect little world doesn’t exist on this planet.

On any given Sunday, the kids are messy and squirrely and demanding. If a few listen to the lesson and learn the verse I do a happy dance. Some of the parents are chill (thank you!) but there are those who wait impatiently in line and hate the claim check process because—darn it—they have brunch to get to.

But I am not in control and honestly I don’t want to be. I believe God knows every detail and is in every detail of these Sunday morning adventures. But when I lean on my own understanding instead of surrendering to the chaos I struggle. I operate out of fear instead of faith and nose dive into anxiety.

The truth is that it’s in the messiest moments that God does his best work.  I have no idea what good was in the crazy encounter with the scary guy—but I can rest in the hope that a plan beyond my own was at work.

Your Ministry is Where the Greatest Need Is

I love it when people say they will NEVER completely surrender control to God because then he might send them to Africa to work as a missionary—so they give God 90% over and hold back the rest. I get it—it’s scary to cede over the reins for some crazy “God calling,” but that’s where I think most people have a warped idea of what ministry is. True ministry is simply identifying a pressing need in front of you and getting your butt off the sofa to help out. Ministry can be raising babies with purpose, loving a broken spouse and investing in a marriage or relationship. It can be as small as caring for a neighbor or as big as boarding a plane and taking on the social injustice God impresses on your heart. It might be Africa but it’s probably more likely something right in front of your nose.

I’ve done lots of different things in ministry—some big and some small—but right now, the need in our growing church is for helpers in children’s ministry. Ladera Ranch is the Disneyland of suburban Orange County and we have a plethora of parents that reproduce more than the average American family. So, from a church perspective that means we have more kids than most churches our size do and we need extra leaders to help guide these tiny tots to Jesus.

And if you think, “Yeah, whatever Sam, I would still Never help out with kids.” You might be surprised at what God can do with your Never.

“Never” Might Be the Opportunity You Need

Once upon a time I said I would NEVER marry a pastor. You might not know it wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. I didn’t want to live in a ministry fish bowl with people judging me all the time. I wrestled with God over it. Sure I loved God but it was the 90% thing holding me back. I wanted to marry a rich guy with a yacht who would hand over the credit card and sail away often, letting me raise my babies in peace. But God had a different plan. My life looks very different than what I thought it would be. It may not be fancy but it’s exactly what I need.

I have a wonderful husband who is up in my grill at all times, who simultaneously drives me crazy and makes me laugh—bringing endless joy to my life. Our love is messy and complicated and more than I could ask for or imagine. My silly NEVER was God’s BEST.

And Sunday School? I went back the next week to drop off my kid and the teacher wasn’t there so I felt compelled to step in and help. It was initially nothing more than pure obligation and a desire to do something alongside my teenage daughter who is a faithful volunteer.

Then I signed up for more because somewhere along the way my heart got ripped open wide and raw by these stinking little kids and I was hooked. Yes, they are exhausting, but these kids are also glimpses into God’s Kingdom—into an innocence and wonder we lose as life beats us up.

One of the little boys in my class has autism. He’s named after an angel and I don’t know what fairy dust he sprinkles over me but I am mush around him. This child has taught me to slow down and go easy on the transitions. When we switch rooms for worship and lessons he clings to my hand and trembles. Then I give him a gentle hand squeeze and he takes a deep breath and leans in to the scary. Somehow we get each other—I don’t like transitions either. I also have laser focus and get overwhelmed sometimes. Maybe I see myself in his eyes?

Another sweet girl has cancer and her bald head and joyful spirit are a sacred offering to the class. She is fragile and yet powerful—a six year old and who lives in the present—not the “shoulds” or “have to’s”, not the “hurry ups,”just the now. She teaches me to BE. I want to hold her and weep all at the same time and yet I see the haunting gift that God wields through this child to those around her and I am wrecked and taken to a Holy place in this classroom I said Never to.

Now I don’t EVER want to leave…

What are the NEVERS You need to lean into?

Why Does Worship Make Me Weep?

addae72cbcda519e176fdeefe33bb53cIt’s Sunday afternoon. I’m walking up my driveway to the door when my friend drives up.  She pokes her head out of her behemoth SUV, “Sam, are you just getting back from church?”

“Yep,” I nod.  I don’t remember seeing her.  “I missed you,”

Her eyes fill with tears.  “I just couldn’t do it today. Every time I go, I cry during worship.  Why is that?” she whispers.

I know her story and it’s a tough one–she struggles with real hurt from a brutal childhood.

“Maybe it’s because Jesus wants to get into your sad places and heal them?”

“Maybe,” she says with a weak smile and drives off to the gym.

I understand where she’s at.  Sometimes the gym and hot yoga is a little less intimidating than a room full of people when you lose your spit–when emotions bursts out from deep within your soul and you snort out years of backed up tears.

And for those of us who try to be strong ALL THE TIME, we take it to a new level.

I’ve been the girl who’s dropped to her feet and wept in abandon during worship. And yeah…it’s awkward after. Folks…Please ignore the mascara streaming down my cheeks and the tattoo on my head marked “FRAGILE.”

But, sometimes I couldn’t help myself–it was simply a spontaneous combustion of the Holy Spirit and my heart. So I let it rip.

Here is my much longer answer (than my driveway version) to my friend’s great question of “why do we cry in worship?”

Deep Sorrow and Anguish

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” 1 Samuel 1:10

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.” Psalm 61:1

Sometimes, our circumstances overwhelm us. When death strikes and we lose a loved one, when dreams die, when infertility robs us of a dream.  When financial burdens pound us or our children turn against us– the difficulties and challenges in our lives seem gi-freaking-enormous.

But when we turn to God, we know on an innate level that He is bigger than our pain. We know He will listen and that He won’t condemn us or pass blame. Instead, He looks at us with eyes of love and mercy. We trust that we can cry out to Him freely because He knows the desires of our hearts like no other. Praise and worship songs remind us that although we can’t see Him, we can sense the nearness of the Spirit and he is SO CLOSE.

When we surrender to worship we are submitting to God.  We let go of trying to master and control our little world (and doing a really poor job of it) and instead praise the one who is truly managing it.

Worship prompts our spirits to cry out to the Father 

If you think you are alone in wanting to let loose a torrent of tears, you aren’t. John 11:35 says “Jesus Wept.”

The scriptures suggest we were created to cry out when words are too tough to manage. The real question is what is triggering the pain behind the tears? Where do we need healing and prayer?

Sorrow and Repentance

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Cor. 7:10

Sometimes when we sing we are reminded of that thing we did the other day that was pretty jacked up. Maybe we need to make amends with our spouse, change a bad habit, or move in a different direction entirely. Worship reminds us of how loving God is and it also reminds us of how broken we are. Basically, it’s that whole “sin” thing and somehow singing to God shines a magnifying light on our yucky parts.

Joy

“Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” Psalm 100:2

Often my tears are simply because I am filled with joy. Think of the movie Footloose! Yep, that’s me whooping it up because I am alive and can still move!  (Although my kids might disagree)

I have a loving Father in Heaven and it makes me want to sing and (gasp) sometimes even dance! When I reflect on my relationships and my life filled overflowing with blessings I am overwhelmed with God’s goodness.

So no matter why you cry at church, it’s ok. Come and cry and rest and just be.

Church is the one place you should feel safe. And if you don’t feel safe, then go find a place that allows you to be you.

Raw. Fragile. Loved.

–Samantha

 

 

 

The Trouble with Money

church_money_250w_tn

Tim and I have a new pact–to keep our mouths shut about money.
No, it’s not because we have a bragging issue. We aren’t out living large, pimping our rides or promoting a highfalutin flashy lifestyle, our problem is the exact opposite. We’ve become somewhat obsessed it seems in justifying our modest OC life style.

Somewhere along the way we bought the lie that operating in the space of “just a little bit” poorer than our neighbors is how people want their pastors to live.

If you work in ministry there is a silent but overtly loud expectation of living  below average. God forbid anyone think the church actually pays their minister’s enough money to live in the community we actually minister to.

It wasn’t so bad when we were first married and lived in a condo, but when we moved to suburbia and bought a home in a nice neighborhood, both of us felt heavy burden from the moment we invited people in–this insidious pressure to justify and play down anything nice that we have.

Six years ago we bought a big screen TV. (Crazy huh?) It was a joint Christmas and anniversary gift to each other. I still remember writing the check out to my husband because it hurt a little. But that TV hurt more than my checkbook, that TV generated a storm of snarky comments.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I guess the church must be doing pretty well with our tithe money if  you can afford that kind of picture”…and so on and so forth.

I think that’s when it first started–the first seed of angst and an OBLIGATION to explain our every dollar and sense to the world and even our family.
Oh, our new car?  That’s a gift. From God via our parents. Private school? Scholarships and more help from grandparents. Hawaii? A relative’s miles and grandpas time share. Oh my clothes?–thrift store.
Recently we sat at a restaurant with some old friends from out of town and I heard the two of us play that same old sad record again–mustering up the correct blend of  pastoral downtrodden humility.
But this time it made me a little sick.
Maybe it’s because they weren’t from around here and I had fresh ears to hear? But something deep within me just said “enough!”

Why, do I need to justify what we have?  I work. I’m not collecting disability, social security  or living on the backs of others. We aren’t in a religious organization that takes five offerings in one service–in fact we don’t even take an offering, we have boxes in the back if you feel like giving. We live in a modest home and my husband works six days a week, hustles like crazy to work extra performing weddings and is paid fairly for his time and energy.

And we are grateful. Enough said. EVER.

If my purpose is to give God the glory for his provision, then Amen and Amen, but the truth, is I don’t believe God loves me any more or less based on my financial success. So, yes, I thank God for my blessings–the entirety of them and  I thank God for his sustenance and provision, but I will not be trite or falsely humble about money anymore.

Instead,  I want to be known more for my generosity, not my stinginess, poverty or fear of having enough. I want to be known for trusting God when circumstances are volatile and I can’t see over the waves of fear.  I want to be known for my faith, however small and mustard seed-like it is as I point people towards God and trusting him.

I never thought I had a money problem because I don’t have a ton of money, but I realized I was just as caught up in the rat race justifying all the reasons why I wasn’t playing the game.
I think it’s time for us to put down the pious act and simply BE.

Wow. That feels good.

The truth is we live in an expensive place (like so many of you) and it’s not easy. Sometimes we struggle, sometimes we breathe a little easier, but often than not we live in the tension of the middle ground. Personally, I’m not shooting for a rich and indulgent lifestyle but I do hope for enough to avoid desperation. My goal is to save more than spend, pay cash vs charge and have enough to use our money as a tool to make a difference in the world–even if it’s small.

So if I hop back on the justification train about anything financial, gently (so gently) please tell me to zip it.  If I can’t afford something I’ll be honest, but I’m not explaining the math to you.

Maybe our money troubles aren’t so big after all, maybe the trouble with money is our broken thinking about it.

–Samantha

How old is “too old?”

Have you ever wondered how old is “too old” for this or that sport or profession?
Is Tom Brady past his prime in the NFL? How about his wife Giselle? Is she still young-ish enough to super model? What is the expiration date on youth? How far, how long, how much can we push within the parameters of age and time? Because there is always a consequence for going to far–like I learned a few months ago.

The nonsense all started at one of Kolby’s modeling gigs back in December. She was working her little tail off posing in adorable flower girl dresses.
The photographer turns to me and asks if I still model.
“Come again?” I laugh.
Just for the record, I am SERIOUSLY not attempting false modesty. I was stunned because I am 43 and freaking old for THIS kind of funny business.
He asks again.
“Uhhh…it’s been a long time. I calculate the years. About 5 years since I’ve gotten paid for anything (a Cosmeticare  gig where I played the doctor…not the hot young thing) and sixteen years since I’ve walked a runway. At some point, just like Peyton Manning, I decided to hang up the cleats and drink beer (or heels and skinny margaritas in my case).
“I have a client you would be perfect for.”
What size? I ask incredulously thinking my jeans are already too tight after the pre-holiday festivities.”
“Missy”
“You sure it’s not Old Missy?” I shoot back.
He chuckles. “No it’s just missy. Size 4-6.”
I think to myself that “6” is a far more doable number than “4.”  “4” seems like a slim person who works out consistently. “4” is a summer number and it’s winter, in case he didn’t notice.
“Let me take a few shots,” he pleads.
I hesitate and then acquiesce. He hands me some casual wear outfits and I try them on and come back out.
I feel awkward. I remember the face angles, but the body stuff is awkward. My old body was lithe and lean at  5’9 and a size 2. Now I wear Spanx and invest in sturdy bra’s that protect my back from damage. And to make matters worse, I’m shrinking. Last time I measured I was a quarter of an inch shorter!
The photographer says he’ll contact me. I weakly wave goodbye and we head home battling the awesome LA traffic. On the drive back, little Kolby asks me what I was doing trying on the outfits.
“Ummm, well the photographer thought mommy might be a good fit for a client.” I say.
“Mommy, aren’t models supposed to be young like me?”
“Yes, but sometimes they have old ones, like nice old cars or horses. Old people wear clothes too honey. It’s called classic.”
She looks confused. I am too.
On Christmas Eve I get a text. I have booked the job. The reality is too scary to grasp. I try not to think about it because I  don’t want to go on a diet. Ten days before the shoot in late Jan, I finally suck it up and go carb free for ten really crappy days.
In case you don’t know: Carbs=happy. No carbs=grumpy.
Cranky mommy shows up. My kids prefer squishy mommy over skinny mommy. I prefer the personality of squishy and the body of skinny–but I guess that’s too much to ask for at this advanced age.
I lose 5 lbs. Whee Hee! It might be all water but I feel so light and free.
Jess and Jane 2
The shoot is fun. The clothes remind me of Chico’s and the designer is a sweetheart. She styles and styles. We are both working hard. I have 100 changes. And in any size- that’s a heck of a lot. Clearly, they are getting their money out of this old horse.
I collect my money and bat my fake lashes applied by the makeup artist who made me feel like a dream. (She thought I was 35)
The compliments make me feel giddy, but by evening they have worn off and I am ready to eat my entire arm.
The next morning I go on vacation to Las Vegas to celebrate my dear friend’s birthday. Over the next five days of indulgence and daily buffets I regain the 5lbs and another 2 more for good measure.
Oops!
But it was so worth it! I loved every minute of being with my friends and enjoying this beautiful crazy life.
And that’s when it hit me. I like squishy mommy better. A healthy, strong and happy mommy who always battles the last 5 lbs. Yeah, I like that girl.
Yes, the striving and modeling was cool–for about a minute, but I was starving and pissy and not myself. I was too stressed! Image management just isn’t my thing anymore. It took a long time for me to accept myself and appreciate the totality of being real–the good and bad, imperfect and quirky, and who wants to lose that hard fought for gift to look good for society’s jacked up standards anyway?
Joy is not measured by my size or how good I look for my age, joy is measured by the depth of my relationships.
Don’t get me wrong, I still like feeling pretty–like every girl does–but the race to nowhere to look “hot” is way overrated.  We all get old in the end. It’s a guaranteed losing game whether we are botoxed or not. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to look good, because I’m sure our husbands appreciate our efforts, but obsessing over our looks like a reality housewife is broken thinking. Whether I like it or not, I am almost 44 and trying to look 35 is EXHAUSTING even for just 10 days.
(No judgment here on cosmetic fillers or enhancements, if it helps you feel more confident or look refreshed that’s totally cool, but please go easy and don’t erase the laugh lines of a life well lived)
A friend messaged me today and saw me on the cover of the catalogue for Jess & Jane.
Jess and Jane cover
It’s bittersweet to see the images five months later, after a failed pregnancy and now trying to get back in shape again, not skinny shape but just somewhere in the range of normal.
And even though I wish they could have picked a shot where I wore something more figure flattering, certainly I have more grace looking backwards.  Why was I so hard on myself? Oh perspective, you are so illusive.
I’m still glad I did the shoot, because it was a good reminder, once again, of the things that really matter.
Yes, this mama is once again happily retired.
–Samantha
Jess and Jane 3

Squishy Mommy

The Sweet Side of Mom Fails

Christmas 2014 12I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I nail this mama stuff and other times, not so much.

After almost seventeen years of mothering, I wish I could say the successes stand out in my mind more than the epic catastrophes, but it doesn’t really work that way. Mom Guilt has a way of following us around, clinging tighter than the muffin top I have to lose every spring.

What I do know is that my kids are far less harsh on me than I am.

What they see is a mom who tries.

They see a blur of love, interrupted here and there by random blips of unmet expectations; maybe a harsh tone or a disappointment. But overall, the grace my kids give me is a gift I need to give myself this Mother’s Day.

Maybe you need some mama grace too. What I’m discovering is that behind most of my #MOMFAILS is a sweet surprise, but I have to be open to receive the gift.

In every disaster, there is a treasure waiting to be found. Here are a few of my more recent ones…

MOMFAIL #1   Mother’s Tea

“Excuse me, I need to speak with you about the Mother’s Day Tea for kindergarten,” I whispered under my breath to my daughter’s teacher.

The teacher stopped and swiveled, “What’s up?”

“I have a work conflict. It’s an event I’m in charge of at the exact same day and time. I feel awful but I don’t want to jeopardize my job. Is there some alternative form of celebration for the mom’s who miss this event?”

“I’m so sorry, ………(insert longest pause ever) but I don’t know because I’ve never had a mother miss this special day before.”

And this is where I tumble head first into the hole of #MOMFAIL

Never, ever, like ever?  I’m the first mom in all of Christian school history to miss this important day. Wow. Ok. I suck. I’m the worst ever.

A few days later I burst into tears on the school playground when I share with the other moms–you know, the ones ALL going to the event. They pat me on the back and love me despite my inability to balance work and kids,

For a week I torture myself.

Then I decide to reclaim my holiday, dang it! I pull out of my funk and make a plan. I will stop piling on the layers and layers of smothering guilt and take back my day from these unrealistic expectations of being a perfect Pinterest whole foods 100% available mom.

I finally put off telling my tell my kid and I break the news to her. She is sad, and so am I. We cry together and hold one another. And then after we dry the tears, we plan a special day where we will play hooky from school and work and life and simply be together. Grandma will go to her classroom party and I will do my job that helps to pay our mortgage so we can live in the home we both love.

A few weeks later, I am laying on the grass next to a bubbling fountain with my darling child snuggled up to me, the very same one I tragically disappointed. We are reading a book of inspirational quotes, eating a grand picnic of fried chicken and brownies and relaxing together looking at the clouds. We spend the morning at the pool, get smoothies, have our nails done and lavish  attention all over each other.

And I wouldn’t have had this delicious moment without the other disaster. This #MOMFAIL had a happy ending. Maybe not the ending I thought I wanted, but a beautiful connecting day only God could orchestrate.

 MOMFAIL #2   I have no hobby

My teenage daughter and I are driving. She is eating some handmade awesomeness another mom conjured up in her organic whole food kitchen.

I try some.  “It’s good,” I comment.

Then we pull up to the school and a J Serra mom walks by the car in her super awesome yoga outfit. My daughter mentions that’s her friend’s mom who is obsessed with Yoga. “She can bend like a twig, mom.”

“That’s cool,” I reply.

“Mom, what are you obsessed with?” my daughter asks slyly, knowing full well I have no hobby. Yes, I work out a little, cook modestly, read some, and watch one show a week, but I don’t really have a hobby. I am HOBBY-LESS.

I know this is a trick question and I have no trick answer.

“I guess you kids are my hobby.” I say with a shrug feeling like a loser.

“Awww, Mom, I like that hobby best of all!” And then my strong independent teenage girl smiles and gives me a big squishy hug.

And I am so freaking blessed!

MOMFAIL #3  My Kid Isn’t Going Away to a Fancy College

After a year of applications, standardized tests from hell, and calls from recruiters every night, my son finally decided on his dream school.

He had 11 offers and 4 walk-ons from Division 1 to D3 for football. I am so proud of my boy.

They were great schools.

And then when he tries to accept his dream school offer we hit a road block. The iron clad offer fell through. The school over-committed and bumped my kid. After signing day. After we turned down offers from other schools.

And although I won’t list the name of this college (thanks for breaking my kids heart you jack wagon defensive coordinator in the central CA area), it was a horrible experience.

So we scrambled and tried to put back together options, but some things you just can’t put back together–hopes and dreams that shatter.

After a grueling decision, my son decided to stay local and play football for a great Jr. College.

But this was not in my plan. It felt like a massive failure. When Amherst and Dartmouth and the University of Chicago call every week, this disappointment HURT MY EGO.

And I was forced to surrender once again.

After I got over myself, I realized my son was happy with his decision–vibrant even. The burden he carried so heavily on his shoulders lifted. Maybe he wasn’t ready to go away yet. Maybe I wasn’t ready for him to go either. And now I get another year (or two) with my beloved kid.

Maybe to the world of prep schools it was a #MOMFAIL, but I found tremendous joy in letting go of my own impossible expectations.

Happy Mother’s Day! May it be filled with GRACE and open arms to the failures that make us better!

–Samantha

If you are looking for a fun way to connect with your son, consider the Mother Son Brunch at J Serra!

 

 

 

 

 

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