The Bucket List

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The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity – Dorothy Parker

Twice a week, for the entire summer, my girls and I drove to the meca of cheer land–OC All Stars–for Faith’s J Serra JV high school practice.

And twice a week, for an hour and a half, little Kolby and I tried to kill time.  We hit up all the chick magnets within the near vicinity–Target, Old Navy, more Target–and then ran out of money.  Eventually we found ourselves back in the giant gymnasium, bored out of our gourd, with no air, forced to listen to a repeating cacophony of Demi Levato, while breathing in the stench of a thousand sweaty girls.

One day, during the endless cheer torture, I had an idea.  I asked Kolby if she wanted to go on a little date with me to Starbucks and write a bucket list of fun things to do over the summer.

“Does Starbucks have air-conditioning mama?” she inquired.

“Yep and chocolate milk.”

“Let’s go!” Kolby proclaimed.

Once we arrived, we ordered drinks and found some barstools.  I pulled out the notes feature on my phone and we got down to business.  I explained the premise of a bucket list and how it worked.  I also explained how sometimes people make these when they are sick or dying, but ours was a list for savoring the goodness of summer.

And, oh by the way, my very last summer with my son at home before he starts college and Kolby starting kinder…tear, sob, hiccup, deep sigh.

Kolby’s and Mommy’s Bucket List 2015

Play in Sprinklers

Water Balloon Fight

Farmers Market

Bubbles, bubbles, and bubbles

Watch Outdoor Movie

IMG_2291Beach

Duffy Boat ride

Flying Kites

Merry go round

Fishing

American Girl Store

Ladera Ranch Bucket Park

Pool and more pool

Ballet Lessons

Aquarium

Sleep in a Hotel

Climbing Trees

Camping

IMG_2154Guitar Lessons

Paddle Boarding

Movie-Inside Out

Vacation Bible School

Mini-Cheer Camp

Mani/Pedi’s

Go to a Play

Make Cookies

Roller Skate

Bowling

Get Ice Cream

Scavenger Hunt

Lemonade Stand

IMG_2295Hang out in a Bookstore

Mother Daughter photo shoot

Go to Jewel Mountain with Daddy (ask Siri for directions)

Finger Paint

Make Mud Pies

Pick Berries

River Rafting

………………….

3 months later

Here’s what I learned after checking off the items one by one.  We completed all but 4!

1. It’s not really about the list–the bucket list is simply an excuse to be together in companionship and relationship. 

 2. The little  things were just as fun as the big-ticket items.  The lemonade stand was a comical riot!  Girls vs boys with the boys terrorizing the girls via go-carts and trying to derail their business.  Girls still won!  Yee haw!

3. Setting intentional time aside to have fun speaks my kids love language.  It shows I am willing to invest all of me in her interests.

4. One on one time matters!  Ironically, the best part of the bucket list was simply making the bucket list week after week at Starbucks.  The twice-weekly date with the most adorable girl in Starbucks was a kick.  Every second basking in her goldilocks and giggles with a grande Americano in hand is a treat for this mama.  Normally she competes for my attention with two other siblings and a daddy.  This time I was all hers.

5.Savor Every Minute!  I have become so wistful and nostalgic as I prepare to release my son into adulthood.  It’s made me deeply appreciate the last days of little with my youngest child, the long days of teenager with my middle daughter and every sacred minute with my boy-man before he launches off to grown-up land.  I can’t stop the clock but I can sure make the most of my days.

Do you need to make a bucket list with someone special?

 And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years – Abraham Lincoln

Into the Hole of Stage Parent Shame

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Over the tips of skyscrapers and a slight OC haze, little Kolby spots the artificial snow of Matterhorn Mountain, “Mommy, is that Disneyland?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” I reply.

“Mommy, I need, I want, I muuuuuust to go to Disneyland. I’m the only kid in the world who’s never been.”

I look in the rearview mirror at her peaked little face and feel a minor prick of guilt. For a year, I took her older siblings (who are now teens) to the happiest place on earth every single stinking weekend with our mega access passes—which is why I now avoid the place like the plague.

(And just for the record, the measles outbreak gave me another good reason to put it off)

Kolby’s bow shaped mouth turns downward and then tightens into a pout. I tread lightly with my response because she’s not feeling well and EVERYTHING is irritating her.

I think hard. We are on our way up to an audition in LA for a commercial for a kids shoe company. I am doing pulling out every trick in my wheelhouse to transform a grumpy and feverish five-year-old into a friendly and outgoing kid actor/model.

But my lullabies and packed cooler full of organic Cheetos and chocolate almond milk are not cutting it in light of her Mickey Mouse depletion.

“Baby, let’s try and book a job this summer and then maybe we can go to Disneyland. It’s pretty expensive.”

Kolby nods. “Ok, I just have to be happy at the audition, right?”

“Yep, just do your best darling.”

The car goes silent. She leans back in her car seat and closes her eyes. The rest of the drive we play “I Spy” and find letters on license plates.

We drive into West Hollywood and I navigate through the crowded roads to the casting agency. Of course there’s no parking—because I always wanted to make a sick child walk a mile to wait in a crowded room for another hour.

I spot a Starbucks and we head around the corner to prep. Inside the store bathroom I change her into a little white floral dress and brush out her long golden locks. On top of her head I gently place a flower crown and sigh with delight.

Her attitude might be a wee bit sour but she looks like a dream.

I grab a drink and we head back over to the audition.

It’s the usual scene—about 50 kids with nannies and handlers and clueless grandpas juggling headshots, iPads and combs. Kolby starts talking with another little girl and I make a mental note of the room.

They are lining up the kids down a hallway. Some go in with parents and some without.   When Kolby’s name is called the lady in charge says the casting agents want to see the kids alone.

What? ALONE?

Many bad words come to mind.

Kolby’s eyes grow big and teary. She grabs my leg.

“I don’t want to go in there alone, mommy.” Big tears threaten to slide down her face.

She sets off the other kids in line.

It’s a group MELTDOWN worthy of an Oscar.

Now no one wants to go in alone. The lady glares at me.

The door opens and I grab little Kolby’s hand and push past her.

We walk into a mini American Idol type setting. There are three scowling casting directors behind a table. A hip but harried photographer motions for her to stand in front of a backdrop.

I give her a little encouraging pat and she walks over.

“What’s your name?” the lumber-sexual photographer inquires.

(Oh great, he’s got a beard. My kid is terrified of men with beards)

My little lamb looks at the ground and whispers, “Kolby.”

“Kolby, can you smile for me. I’m going to take a few pictures.”

And my dear child who is generally my biggest ham forces a pained grin that looks far more like disgust than joy.

I want to crawl in a hole.

“Can you give me a big smile?” he cajoles.

Kolby tries again. Now she looks constipated.

“Can you jump?” he asks.

Kolby looks at him and lets out an exaggerated sigh. Her body language screams, I don’t feel well and my mommy dragged me here and now you want me to freaking jump.

I can see the future teenager seed rooting.

She gives a half-hearted leap.

I crawl deeper into the hole of stage-parent shame.

The photographer grabs the shoes and asks her to try them on. She slips them onto her feet.

“Do you like the shoes?”

Kolby pauses. “Not really, they are too big.”

Her tone is pure annoyance.

The casting elite illuminati give me the look—the “You’re wasting our time look and I grab her hand and we shuffle out.”

She smiles the second we leave,

“How did I do Mommy? Can I go to Disneyland now?”

“No baby, I said we needed to book the job first remember? Anyway, you weren’t very friendly sweetheart.

And my five year-old turns on me and yells loudly down the street, “Other kids don’t have to get a job and go to work to go to Disneyland. Anyway, you told me not to talk to strangers and they were scary!”

And I am left both ashamed and stumped at her pre-school logic.

The two buff men heading into the gym in front of us choke up and try not to laugh, but I can hear their snickers and eyes on me as I duck into the car.

And I know it’s one of those mom moments. Make it or break it time.

I feel pulled between caring for my kid’s emotional wellbeing and teaching life lessons to a small person who may not have the ability to hear me in this moment.

How do I explain to my kid that I’m trying to fund her college tuition with her ridiculous cuteness? How do I teach her the value of a hard work ethic and the beauty of delayed gratification as she saves towards a goal? And most of all, how do I teach her to do hard things even when she feels like quitting?

And I realize while those are all things I want to teach her, this is NOT that moment.

I pick her up and cuddle her. “Today was tough. I’m proud of you for trying even though you were sick. Next time if you smile and act friendly even when you are scared mommy will give you $5 to save for Disney.”

I think some more.

“And if mommy introduces you to the person, then they aren’t strangers and it’s ok to be nice.”

She puts her little arms around me and we both sniffle and cling to one another.

Over the next few weeks Kolby works hard on introductions. She learns to say, “Nice to meet you” and hold out her hand for a firm shake.

She practices smiling and posing. We play the casting director game and take turns asking questions.

A month later Kolby books her first modeling gig.

When I share the news with her she screams, “I can’t believe it! Mommy, we are going to Disneyland!”

And I am humbled. The lesson I tried to force she learned all on her own.

This time I will be proud to wear the Mickey ears because I know how hard we both worked to get them.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 42

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Truth–every time Taylor Swift’s song “22” comes on, I crank up my radio, sway in my seat, drive a little faster and sing along with gusto.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22 42.”

Yep, I change the words…mainly because it rhymes, it’s fun and I’m 42. Except now I’m not 42–today’s my birthday, now I’m 43.

I guess I need a new song.

My son gives me a card this morning and it says “Happy 29th for the 15th time!”   It’s supposed to be funny, but I secretly wince.  How come 29 + 15 sounds old too?

So here are my thoughts on 43…

1.  It SOUNDS worse than it is.  It’s actually not that bad.  Last week, I traveled with my son.  He looks far older than his 16 years–probably about 20ish.  I could pass on a good day for mid to late 30’s.  After, multiple days of people assuming we were a couple, I felt like a total perv, I told my son I was getting a t-shirt that says, “I’m the mom (not a cougar)”

2. Ok, I do miss the energy of youth (and maybe my perkier parts)…but that’s about it.  A few wrinkles seems a small price to pay for all the benefits of maturity.

3.  I have time now to enjoy my life.  When the big kids were small, when I was a single working mom, when we started the church and I was trying to get my writing going…all I did was hustle, hustle, hustle.  There was constant rushing and scrambling.  Now–I can relax a little bit and appreciate all those years of wiping snotty noses and working late.

4.  I treasure the wisdom I’ve gained over the years.  You couldn’t pay me to go back to my twenties.  All the emotions and turmoil of youth fade in light of parenting all the emotions and turmoil of my own teens.

5.  I’m getting way more nostalgic.  I used to set goals for myself for every birthday.  Each year was a litmus test of  accomplishments–the great grading scale of the American Dream.  Graduate college. Get married by 25.  Have babies by 30.  Finish masters degree.  Start church.  Develop ministry.  Blog.  Write book by 40. Start women’s ministry. Run marathon.

Boy have things changed…

I forgot to include divorce, and career change and loss–and all the tragedy and circumstances that mold and shape us into people of depth and character.  I never finished my graduate degree and I never ran that marathon, and truthfully, I could care less.

My yearly round-up is much simpler now.

I thank God I get to crawl into a toddler bed every night with my little girl and read her favorite books and growl and do all the voices of her favorite monsters and animals.  I thank God for letting me go back East last week on an Ivy League football recruiting trip with my son.  I will never forget laughing our butts off on the mountain roads of Vermont as we almost floated away in a hurricane in a rental car.  I thank God for my lovely daughter Faith who will be a cheerleader next year in high school (just like her mama) and has the sweetest most loving spirit in the world.  I thank God for my second marriage to a beautiful man, for the glorious redemption of having a family again and the ability to write and do what I love.  I look at the people around me and pinch myself for the blessing of friends and neighbors and family.

I guess 43 is filled with perspective.

Here’s mine–Each day is a gift.  

Fortunately, Taylor Swift is now 23–maybe we can get a new rhyme for 43?

What’s your perspective on middle age?

 

A Dad’s Best Investment

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About a year ago my husband Tim came home from a soccer meeting bubbling over with plans to join an Adventure Princess tribe with our youngest daughter Kolby.

(FYI…Adventure Princess used to be known as Indian Princess, but apparently “Indian” is politically incorrect now)

All I know is that it’s a daddy daughter group that includes games, monthly meetings, harbor cruises, camping and money invested in the process of all these grand adventures.

I confess I was INITIALLY excited for them, until I saw the schedule of trips and the fees—then a part of me felt slightly resistant and maybe a little jealous.

Where’s my eight trips a year?  Can I spend the same amount of money bonding with our other kids?  Faith and I like to shop—just saying.

So my husband embarks on this new endeavor with Kolby and they join the “Wolfpack” circle.  The first meeting they return home with purple sweatshirts and patches, crafts and fringed vests.  Kolby acquires the ability to howl and Tim seems to truly enjoy time with the other wolf dudes.

Kolby is now known as “Sparkling Unicorn Princess” and Tim is “SOARING FALCON.”

They camp, they bond and I take it all in—mildly skeptical.

It doesn’t help that a friend tells me some gossipy things about the Ladera dads and their excuse to get away and party after the kids go to sleep.  In general, I try not to listen to second-hand-info, but because it’s a group I’m NOT invited to, the juicy tidbits create a little more distrust in my spirit.

I grill my husband when he returns from his first trip but he assures me all is well.

Hmmmmm…

Unfortunately, halfway through the year my husband has emergency spine surgery and the Wolfpack activity is put on hold until daddy recovers.

And now it’s June, and the last meeting of the year. But Tim is out of town on a football trip with my son Kyle, so the pack leader suggests I bring little Kolby to the meeting.

Come again?

The Wolf Dudes want me to bring my five-year-old girl to a pool party meeting with men?

Now I’m really feeling VERY AWKWARD but my baby girl wants to go so I acquiesce.  I bring Faith with me as backup and a good book.  I wear a modest bathing suit and put on my pastor’s wife game face–the “no funny business” one.

I show up at the pool leery.  I have visions of Animal House with the little girls in a corner doings crafts while the dad’s deal cards.

But to my surprise, the first thing I see is a big jolly guy with a huge smile in a neon orange shirt schlepping water toys down to the pool with two adorable little girls.

He introduces himself as the leader and invites me to join them.  This man is like Santa—he’s so good-natured and affable.  The girls run shrieking for the pool and the leader guy jumps in and plays water games with ten little girls attached to him for the next hour.  The other dads stand around quietly talking and catching up.

There is no alcohol.  No crazy stuff.  No strippers.  Just pizza and maybe a little too much sugar with the brownies, juice and otter pops—but that’s the extent of the shenanigans.

After the pool games wrap up, the men and girls gather in a circle and each child introduces herself and her dad and they share a small story.  It’s hard for some kids, but the dad’s encourage and guide them.  I help Kolby and although she is the youngest in the group she is brave and speaks up in a small sweet voice.

Then the girls run off and play—jacked up on sugar—and the dad’s talk “ADULT BUSINESS.”

“OK.  Now it’s coming, I think.  I tense up.  This is the juicy stuff my neighbor warned me of.

Except what happens next is the dad’s get serious about planning the next camping trip.  They talk food and grills and the architecture of sailboats and sandcastles.

And I am left in my seat for a very long hour—both humbled and ashamed—as I watch these kind good men take the time to invest in their daughters and create lasting memories.  

Yes-these man boys are a little competitive and some of the wild stories of paddle board races and stormy nights scare me because of my over-protective mama bear tendencies—but I also know that a little rough and tumble adventure with a dad is what every little girl needs to feel loved and cherished and empowered to believe she can make it in the world all on her own.

I sit in my seat and pray—and ask God to forgive me for judging that which I have no understanding of.  I confess how easy it is to listen to the “bad things” instead of “believing the best” about people.  And a tear runs down my face as I think about my husband and his desire to father and love our children to the best of his ability.

Boy, I can be a real schmuck sometimes—God help me!

Kolby and I Face Timed Daddy that evening night and told him about the meeting.  I apologized for my doubts.  Of coarse, my sweet husband forgave me and I could see his relief that I was now a supporter instead of a skeptic.

Ok, so I was wrong.  (BIG GULP)

The Wolfpack rocks.  And today my husband is camping with our little girl while I write this.  On the sand, with a hurt back–probably dirty and cold.  And those two monkeys are probably loving every minute of it.

As Father’s Day approaches, and I desperately miss my own dad in heaven now, I think about how important the love of a father is.

I think about my own distrust towards men and how is husband is changing my heart AND MY DAUGHTERS one deposit of love at a time.

And I am grateful.

–Samantha

What could you do to create lasting memories with your child?

Spiritual Band-Aids

Band-aid My hands move fast, busy about the kitchen.  I cut, prep and toss bits and pieces of veggies and spices into the pan to make chili.  Frank Sinatra croons on the radio and I strain to hear Kolby’s giggle on the swing out on the front porch.  Faith is doing her homework in the next room and Kyle is about to arrive home any minute after football practice.

It’s my normal fast-paced evening as I pull double-duty with three kids while daddy works late.

Suddenly, something red catches my eye on the bowl in my hand.  It’s a bright crimson, almost like strawberry juice—a smear of blood perhaps?

I stop in my tracks.  I slow down and peer closely now.

I gasp.  The red is everywhere.

Panic rises up in my throat.  I think of dead bunnies from Fatal Attraction, psychos and ex-boyfriends.

Why is there blood all over my kitchen?

The white cabinets have streaks of sticky red on the doors on the cabinet pulls.  The china plates on the table are hit.  The fridge and the dishwasher and the cabinets all reveal stains of red.

I look down at my feet and gasp.  Red splotches leave a trail from the stove to the table and back again.  Ooooh gross…I’m walking in it.

The calm side of my brain finally takes over.

“Ok, Sam, assess the damage.  Where is it coming from,” I tell myself.

(I also look for the knives in case I need a weapon)

Am I hurt?  I don’t feel anything.

I do a body check and notice my left hand is covered in blood.

WHAT?

How did I miss that?

I run my hands under cool water and the gash appears on my index finger.  It’s deep and bleeding profusely. I grab a paper towel and make a Viva tourniquet, putting strong pressure on it.

Finally, finally…the pain comes—an intense throb, then sting and the relief of knowing there wasn’t a stalker hiding behind my cupboard.

About an hour later, after dinner, it stops bleeding and I’m able to bandage the wound.

……

My finger boo-boo is constantly on my mind—probably because I’m typing with a bandaged finger, but mostly because I am shocked that I was so oblivious to an injury on my body.

It seems a little crazy; here I am I imagining scenarios that had nothing to do with reality.  I walk around and drip, drop, drip blood and yet assume it’s something beyond me and my person because I didn’t feel the sting.

And then I think of how often I do the same thing in other areas— in matters of the heart—not physical, but spiritual wounds.  Someone hurts me and I either ignore or avoid the pain.  I gloss over it and pretend it’s no big deal—until it starts seeping out in other areas.

I get sick or I withhold from the person who hurt me.  I get defensive or shut down my heart in self-protection.

The wound finds a way of making itself known even when we don’t acknowledge the pain.

……

My husband and I sit in the counselor’s office and we talk about an issue.  It’s maybe my least favorite thing in the world to talk about but my husband digs in.

I’m uncomfortable.  I squirm in my seat.  I hate pulling out this muck from my soul.  I stall and stutter and finally he pushes hard enough and I blurt out, “It’s because you said this “thing” on our honeymoon and it made me feel ashamed.”

Bamm.  The words are out there.

The counselor looks at me wide eyed.  Tim shakes his head in shock.

“I’m so sorry,” he says.  “I had no idea.”

And suddenly I’m back in the kitchen and I’ve found the wound.  Only it’s been years and years of marriage that I’ve been seeping out the blood.

Now I’m ashamed even more for unconsciously holding onto my pain like a prized medal to beat my husband up with.

And as my husband apologizes and holds me as I cry, I finally rip off the spiritual band-aid and start to heal.

……

It’s been seven years of marriage for Tim and me—seven years of figuring this “uniting into one” stuff out.

Can I just say it’s hard?  Clearly marriage is not for the uncommunicative or the martyr—both attributes I exhibit at my worst.

But the more we dig into the cues and wounds of old—the more we can find our triggers and how to move past or avoid them altogether.

Two steps forward—one step back. A daily dance of beauty and intimacy as selfishness hovers nearby just waiting to intrude.

……

I meet a young woman at a party.  She is bitter over a divorce. 

Her words are harsh, “I married potential, I divorced reality.”

I’m shocked at first, but if I’m honest I recognize myself in her.

I have the potential—with God—to be all that he created me to be.  And I have the potential—in my own strength—to fail miserably

I will never get it all right.  But I pray my husband can see both—the good and bad—and love me in spite of it, choosing every single day to stay on the same team and believe the best about one another even when we act our worst.  

……

I know so many of you are hurting and in pain.  You are in the storm.

The blood is all over the kitchen.

And I’ve been there with you.  I’ve walked through the hell of divorce.  It’s a relational death like no other.

But I’ll tell you a secret.  It won’t be easier on the other side.  You will still take “you” into the next relationship.

And if “you” are anything like me, you still need some fixin up and hard edges polished.

Band-aids need to be ripped off so you can heal and be the best you.

I know it’s hard work. And it means letting go and forgiving beyond yourself.

But I believe God won’t leave you in the mess if you are willing to do the hard work and find the wounds.

Christine Caine puts it this way, “On the other side of every disappointment is a God appointment.”

And sometimes the greatest pain is simply a mercy in disguise.

–Samantha

Where have you stuck a band-aid on a wound in your relationship that needs healing?

 

How to Get Your Teen To Do Hard Stuff

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This might sound a little unconventional–but hear me out.

After three years of begging and pleading and threatening–we have finally found the key to behavior modification with our kid.

Five bucks a day.

Yep, five bucks a day–that’s what it takes to change a habit in my teenage son.

Every day he does the thing I want him to do–which is stretch his hips–and I reward him.

So why the money?

Because, quite frankly, NOTHING else was working.

My son, as many of you know, is an elite athlete.  And don’t get me wrong, Kyle is fast, but he could be even faster.  Even a tiny gain (2/10 of a second) can mean a big deal in football.  Speed equals explosiveness and open hips give him the the ability to change directions fast.  As a linebacker it’s crucial.

It also means less injuries, because a flexible person is bendy and when they get hit hard–they bend.

But Kyle could not, would not be forced into doing anything.  This is what they call a TEENAGER.  And it’s so fun as a parent trying to work with a belligerent donkey.

We were stumped…

A few weeks ago, my husband heard the author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, at a church conference talking about the formation of new habits.  He came home with the book and the information excited to try it out.

So we gamely played along and let Kyle be our first case study in the Keller home.

According to Duhigg, the key to habit change is to:

1. Make it easy to do the thing (for example, set out the yoga mat for him to stretch the night before)

2. Have an instant positive reward ($5 deposit into his high school checking)

Truthfully, Tim and I were doubtful.  Kyle already burns the midnight oil and trains relentlessly along with studying into the wee hours of the night.  It was just “one more thing” we were harping on him to do.  He already stretches every day and now we were asking him to do more.

Kyle, like all of us, wants to have good habits.  His intent is good but he just needed a kick in the pants and a reason that didn’t suck to go above and beyond the ordinary.

I’m here to give the praise of Mr. Duhigg, because his system worked.

Every day our kid gets up 15 minutes early and stretches.  And every day I deposit the money in his bank account.

For all those parents thinking I don’t have an extra $150 to give my kid a month, the reward doesn’t have to be financial.  It just has to be something small and easy to give immediately.

For my five year old it could be reading her favorite book for the hundredth time for five minutes or playing Barbies.

But for us and with this kid, the money made sense. Now that our son can drive, we probably spend that amount on him anyway because he’s always asking for money for gas or to hit Starbucks and Chick-Filet.

According to Duhigg, the best habit changers in the study group were were runners who allowed themselves a small piece of chocolate after each run.  It was an immediate and tangible reward. And for those people who love chocolate…very effective!

The people who wanted to gain a running habit laid out their running shoes the night before and rewarded themselves immediately after.

And presto…new habit formed.

I for one, can’t wait to see all the things we can accomplish with our kids as we put this system to work.

And honestly, I also can’t wait to see all the things I accomplish, because sometimes, I need a kick in the pants too!

(And a little glass of a good Cabernet or a tasty chocolate sounds like a lovely reward to me)

–Samantha

Letting God out of the Box

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Why do I limit God? 

My husband and I sit in a café and discuss buying a car.

Tim is the type of guy who becomes an expert on something before he pulls the trigger.  So by this point, he can now tell me the make, model and location of every top-rated used car under 10k in the OC area.

We’ve narrowed it down to two options—one is new and one is used.  The new car is a 2015 Hyundai Elantra and it’s AWESOME and has all the bells and whistles we “po’ ministry folk” are unaccustomed to.  It’s a deal beyond a deal but it’s also out of our budget.

The used car is well, ummm…used.  It has great gas mileage and it’s a 2006 Prius and more fiscally responsible—meaning we can afford it. it’s also good for the environment—right?

(did I mention the new car has a back-up camera, so cool!)

“What would our friend’s do?” My husband Tim asks.

“”Well we can’t compare ourselves to our neighbors because we make about a third of their incomes.”  I reply.

“Ok, who do we compare ourselves to then?” Tim responds.

“We compare ourselves to the Ramsay’s.  John is a pastor.  Deanna is a singer/speaker and works part time.  That’s an appropriate comparison.”

Tim looks at me wide eyed.  “Yeah, but Deanna won a car on the Ellen Show.”

I nod.  “Yeah, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us.”

We hold hands.  Our tummies churn and we contemplate our finances.

……

This whole car business started because of a few numbers.

  1. 366,000

A big number, certainly, It’s also the amount of miles shared between our two aging but faithful SUV’s.

  1. 16 ½

That’s how many years my son has been alive.  Not so big—but a big kid milestone.  In two short weeks, my almost senior boy/man gets his license and like any teenage boy, Kyle is ready to roll

So we start a search for an another automobile that get’s more than the whopping 12 mpg of our 2004 Expedition or the 15 mpg of my newer 2006 Xterra.

The budget is limited.  We have some money saved—enough for another really crappy car—but we also have mounting expenses from Tim’s hospital bills (spine injury and subsequent surgery), three kids this year in private school and college looming. Truthfully, it’s a tad overwhelming.

Tim finds some cars online and we debate each one’s merits like it’s a resolution in the UN.

Tim’s sweet father, upon hearing our car predicament, offers us a large chunk of change.  We are thrilled and so blessed to be cared for so lavishly!

Now we had enough to get a NEWER used car.  (And yes, for all those wondering, we could have financed a newer car but are committed to keeping our overhead low rather than raising it)

Through the car ministry at our church we are put in touch with the owner of the Hyundai dealership in Tustin.   After a great phone conversation, he invites us to his dealership and we test drive a used Elantra and with a little prompting from the salesman a new one.

(ok, it’s not like he had to push real hard)

With the tremendous discount the owner of the dealership offers us (did I mention he is a generous volunteer at our main campus?), the new car is only 3 thousand more than the used car, but still, 6 thousand more than our budget.  They are going above and beyond to bless us.  The discount is even more than employees get.

Now what do we do? Do we justify spending more because it’s a great deal?

We go and sit in the 2015 model and pray, lifting this car dealio up to God. The people in the dealership probably think we are Jesus dorks—whatever.  We close our eyes, hold hands and talk to God.  We surrender up the decision and go to lunch.

…………..

Back at the cafe we make the painful choice to let the shiny new car go.  It stings a little because it’s SO AWESOME, but we probably shouldn’t have been shopping in the lot we couldn’t afford to begin with.

I leave the restaurant and call my step-dad.  He asks what I was doing at the dealership.  I tell him about the two cars and how we have decided to stay within our budget, honor our financial goals to lower our overhead, and be responsible with the precious gift Tim’s father has given us.

“Why, don’t I give you the money?  Six thousand–I’ll just give it to you.” My step-dad offers happily.

Silent tears stream down my face.  “I wasn’t asking for money.”

“I know honey, he replies.  “I love you.  It’s a gift.”

And I think back to my own words.  “That kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us,” And like Peter I am blown away at my doubts and God’s provision.

The next day we return to the dealership and climb in the new car before we write the check to take it home.  As the ignition fires up a song blasts through the car.

God in my living, there in my breathing
God in my waking, God in my sleeping
God in my resting, there in my working
God in my thinking, God in my speaking

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

God in my hoping, there in my dreaming
God in my watching, God in my waiting
God in my laughing, there in my weeping
God in my hurting, God in my healing

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
You are everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
Be my everything

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

God in my hoping, there in my dreaming
God in my watching, God in my waiting
God in my laughing, there in my weeping
God in my hurting, God in my healing

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
You are everything

You are everything, You are everything
You are everything, You are everything
Jesus, everything, Jesus, everything
Jesus, everything, Jesus everything

We look at each other in amazement.  “You think God is trying to tell us something,” I weakly laugh swiping away at the tears running down my cheeks.

Back inside the dealership, Tim asks the salesman, “Did you turn it to a Christian station because you know I’m a pastor?”

The salesman replies, “No, generally the boys in the back play the thump-thump music when they get the cars ready.”

We give each other the look—the “OMG, I’m freaking out inside look.”

I call my step-dad on the way home and tell him the story.

“I’m a part of an answered prayer?” he says.

“Yep, you are.” I whisper.

“Huh.”

I can picture his bemused grin over the phone.

Later I thank God in my prayers.

And I think about the love of a father—Tim’s father who blessed us, my step-dad who surprised us so generously, and our Father God who blew us away with this gift.

We didn’t ask.  We didn’t beg.  We aren’t worthier than any other person out there.  But God through our parents gifted us anyway.

Everything.  He is my Everything.

One day later we sit in church and the last song of the service sounds familiar.

God in my living, there in my breathing
God in my waking, God in my sleeping
God in my resting, there in my working
God in my thinking, God in my speaking

Coincidence?—I don’t think so…

–Samantha

Push ’em Out!

 

Christmas 2014 8Once a week I get my butt kicked.

Officially—it’s called “Bootcamp”—but, seriously…it’s an hour and a half of pure hell and I can think of many names more appropriate (and inappropriate) for this insanity.

The rules are this: Lunge, squat, jump (try not to cry or chum) and never put the weights down.  Finish the class! In the back of my mind I count the minutes off in incremental segments and dream about throwing my weights at the instructor.

I’m almost…almost, to the point where I’m considering adding in a second torture session a week—now that I can walk by Wednesday, a vast improvement of the groaning cowboy shuffle I displayed until Saturdays in weeks past.

It Pays to be a Winner

My trainer is Meghan.  She is very mean in the best of ways.

Sometimes when I get out of the shower and see myself naked I decide I might like her a teeny tiny little bit because my abs are emerging from a long winters rest, but mostly I hate her.

It’s a complicated relationship.

I saw a cross on her ankle and told her my husband was a pastor and that we started the church around the corner.  I thought I might get a little extra grace.

Class went an extra fifteen minutes that day.  Now, I avoid all eye-contact.

“It May, or May Not, Pay to be a Winner”

Yes, bootcamp sucks—WAAAH WAAH!

But then my son comes home and mentions he’s been invited to a Leadership Retreat for a selected few members of his football team.  He says it involves military drills and I have to dry-clean his suit.

Ok.

Last Friday after school Kyle changed into his freshly pressed suit and tie and joined his team for Mass.  The boys were then bussed over to Marbella Country Club for a nice dinner.  They returned to the school and climbed into their sleeping bags.  Lights out at 11:00pm.

At 2:00am the boys were awakened to a blasting Bose speaker spewing out unpleasant military chants.  In minutes, they were dressed in a t-shirt with their last name and SEAL cargo pants.

The boys boarded a bus and were driven down to the beach in Encinatas.  It was 33 degrees when they were dumped off on the coast in the middle of the night.  For the next nine hours they were put through NAVY  SEAL training.  They swam, ran, carried logs, sandbags and each other for endless miles, in the dark, in the dirt, all the while getting hosed in the face and freezing—that is until the sun came out and then they were burning up.

‘We’re Not Going to Stop Until We Get at Least One Quitter”

Some of the boys puked.  Others cried.  At one point or another they all lost it.

“Nothing Lasts Forever”

My son Kyle had quarter finals this last week.  He studied every night until past midnight.  He also had a bad cold.  The kid was run down going in to this gig and yet somehow he pushed through every mental and physical barrier imaginable.  Not bad for a sixteen-year-old!

“You Don’t Have to Like It, You Just Have to Do It’

He also kept a smile on his face for most of the time—except for when he was paired with three skinny receivers and they dumped a log fully on his shoulders.  He might have frowned then.

“It’s All Mind Over Matter, If I Don’t Mind, Then it Doesn’t Matter”

Kyle came out on the other side—sunburned, sand burned, nipples chafed and unable to eat for almost twenty-four hours.  He now has bronchitis and double pink eye.  The doctor found sand deep in his ears.

‘On Your Backs, on Your Bellies, on Your Backs, on Your Bellies. Feet!”

But he made it.  And he says he’s glad he did it.  It taught him something valuable about himself.

He can do hard things—and survive.

My little weekly boot camp pales in comparison to the hell Kyle endured last weekend–but it’s hard for me.

Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

My dad used to say, “keep on, keeping on.” Same thing–less profound

Am I willing to do the hard stuff?  Am I willing to endure more than I think I can in order to grasp hold of the extraordinary intangibles of a life well lived: courage, endurance and fortitude—characteristics that will set me apart from the pack.

‘There Are Two Ways to Do Something … the Right Way, and Again’

Often, I’m forced into the hard.  It’s not something I usually sign up for.

But what about when I’m invited to do something bigger and more strenuous than I believe is possible?  Something God sized…

Do I say yes?

Kyle’s training made me think about the hard things I’m not forced into but invited into.

The little nudges from God to tackle really big things—the whispers to take a big risk, or fall down and get back up again.  The knot in the back of my throat saying to engage, speak up, forgive, or step up.

I believe the best things in life aren’t easy—which is why only a few experience the view from the top.  80% of SEAL training volunteers don’t make it over the course of six months.

Most people quit.

I refuse to be one of them.

I don’t think God invites us to live a comfortable life—he’s asking us (like Kyle) to get sand in our ears and get messy.

‘Anybody Want to Quit?”

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy PauschThe Last Lecture

What hard thing has God put before you right now? 

This is the training Kyle went through–although not his school. J Serra’s video is not yet available.

 

Sources: 10 Inspirational SEAL Quotes

The Day I Met Jesus–Why it’s a Must Read

The day I Met

A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting the author Mary DeMuth at a writers conference.  I confess I was a bit nervous–I mean, she’s kind of a big deal in the Christian world.

I was already a fan–her books are beautiful and raw, with words woven together like tapestry–but Mary put me right at ease with her humble and loving spirit.

Fast forward to now: A few weeks ago, Mary sent me a copy of her latest book co-authored with Frank Viola–The Day I Met Jesus.  It’s the stories of five women from the Bible turned into narrative.

And don’t we all love a good story?

The book came at a time when my own family has been clinging to our faith and crying out for Jesus in a tumultuous and stormy season.  My husband’s back injury, nerve damage and subsequent spine surgery have been challenging, to say the least.  I’m not complaining, OK, maybe a little…but it’s been really, really hard over here. (Tear, tear, hiccup…tear)

And I have been on my knees clinging to hope.  Reading these stories resonated in my own parallel struggles.  In the dark moments, I too, am the broken woman waiting for the stones to be thrown and looking to Christ for mercy.

(Not adulterous…just broken)

But I think we can all find ourselves in these women.

Until March 17th Mary and Frank are giving away 7 bonuses to those who purchase the book from Parable.com and I wanted to share this with you because I love it and I’m guessing you will too!

I’ve included their interview here if you want to learn more about the book.

–Samantha  (And please keep up the prayers.  We deeply appreciate all your support!  Tim has a long way to go in recovery.  We are praying for full restoration of the nerves in his leg)

Interview with Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth on The Day I Met Jesus
Why did you write this book?

Frank: Back in 2007, I got an idea to create a new genre of Christian literature. I call that genre biblical narrative. The new genre would contain autobiographical fiction closely based on the Scriptural narratives and faithful to first-century history. It would also contain a nonfiction section that practically applies the narratives to our lives. Finally, it would include a discussion guide so that readers could better digest and apply the content to their lives.  It was my first book in this genre. In it, Lazarus tells the story of when Jesus came to His hometown Bethany and all the amazing things that took place there.  It is the second book in this genre.

I wanted it to tell the story of five women whom Jesus encountered, allowing each woman tell their own story. I also wanted to draw out practical lessons and critical insights from each narrative. Because I am not a woman, I couldn’t do justice to the stories on my own, so I asked the top female Christian fiction writer of our time — Mary DeMuth — to coauthor it with me.

Mary: I wrote it because I love stories, and I felt that some of these encounters with Jesus didn’t get the air time they deserved. By doing careful research and weaving more of a story arc into the five women and encounter, I hope to show people that the characters of the New Testament are actual, breathing people with stress and dysfunction and hopes just like us. Frank pioneered the idea of this book, so all credit goes to him for imagining it. I’m grateful he asked me to be a part.

Tell the story of how you two came to coauthor it.

Mary: Frank approached me about writing the fiction side of The Day I Met Jesus after he found out I wrote fiction as well as nonfiction.

Frank: When I began to think about a female coauthor for the project, I wanted it to be someone who (1) writes fiction (2) is a remarkable writer, and (3) believes in the classic tenets of the Christian faith (Jesus is divine and human, He rose again from the dead, Jesus is Lord and Savior of the world, etc.) As I investigated authors who fit the bill, I quickly thought of folks like Francine Rivers and Karen Kingsbury. But then I discovered that Mary DeMuth wrote fiction. I had known that she was a non-fiction writer, but had no idea that she could “switch hit.”

I also discovered that she was an outstanding writer of fiction as she was of nonfiction. (I regard Mary to be the Mickey Mantle of Christian literature — she has enormous power from both sides!) So Mary ended up being the only name on my “short list.” You feature five women from the Gospels. Why pick women in particular as your subjects?

Frank: Some of the most gripping, instructive, inspiring stories in the Gospels involve women. The longest recorded conversation that Jesus ever had was with a woman. And some of the most amazing things He said and did related to women. So I thought that a book in which some of these women told their own stories about Jesus would not only bring the Gospels to life in our minds, but it would also bring Jesus alive in our hearts.

Mary: Women had significant, personal encounters with Jesus, a fact that we sometimes miss, particularly since so many stories revolve around the 12 disciples(who were men). I love that we’re elevating these stories, helping people re-imagine just how radical it was that Jesus so beautifully interacted with these women.

Which one is your favorite and why?

Mary: For me, it’s hard to say. I love them all in different ways. This week, I’ll say it’s Mary of Bethany. She didn’t have a blatant “need” for Jesus. She was just downright faithful and often misunderstood. I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Frank: Mary of Bethany is my all-time favorite disciple of Jesus. This came home to me when I wrote God’s Favorite Place on Earth. (Mary was the sister of Lazarus, so she gets ample airtime in that book.)I love Mary because she knew Jesus better than most, anticipating His reactions and even His impending death. She also paid the price for loving Him, for she was falsely accused by both her sister and the other disciples (on two different occasions), mostly out of jealousy. In both situations, Mary embraced the spirit of the Lamb, refusing to defend herself. But Jesus Himself rose to her defense on both occasions. He also gave her an enduring honor that He gave no one else. would someone want to read the book?

Frank: If someone wants a good story to get tied up into . . . or if they want to see the Bible come to life in a compelling way . . . or if they want to experience Jesus Christ anew and afresh . . . or if they want to identify with people who were far worse off than they are, and see what Jesus did for them . . . or if they want to be given hope and encouragement in their situation . . . or if they are lacking love for the Lord and want that love to be rekindled . . . or if they want new motivation and fresh inspiration to follow Jesus more closely . . . or if they want to increase their faith and expectation in the Lord, they’ll want to read The Day I Met Jesus.

Mary: Someone would want to read it because it’s truly unique. It’s biblical narrative, but in short story form, but it doesn’t end there. After you’ve been absorbed into a page-turning story, Frank exegetes the wisdom from each encounter and helps you apply it to your life.ll us about the course upplements the book.

Frank: The Day I Met Jesus Master Course is designed for those who wish to delve deeper into the themes set forth in the book. It includes a workbook and 20 audio messages delivered by Mary and I. In addition, it includes 8 bonus eBooks from Mary and I. It also includes a closed forum where people can access us both directly for Q&A and dialogue. People can check it out at The Day I Met Jesus.Parable.com.

Frank: They’ll get these 7 exclusive bonuses. 1. An exclusive audio interview where Mary and I give a behind-the-scenes look at all the facets of the book. The interview covers where the idea of the book came from, why we wrote the book, what it was like collaborating, the hardest part about writing it, and much more. 2. Mary’s Book Beautiful Battle in Kindle & Nook. 2. Mary’s Book Beautiful Battle in Kindle & Nook. 3. My Book, Rethinking Spiritual Growth in PDF, Kindle, and Nook. 4. A never-before-released audio conference message entitled “A Woman Inside of a Man.” 5. Mary’s Book What To Do After People Poop on You in PDF. 6. A never-before-released audio conference message entitled “He’s Not Ashamed to Call Them Brothers and Sisters.” 7. A 15% discount off The Day I Met Jesus Master Course. Click here to order The Day I Met Jesus from Parable before March 17th and get your 7 exclusive bonuses.

The One Thing You Need to Give Up For Lent

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What the Rhema?

They call it Rhema—those really bizarre tingles down your spine you get when you go to church and it’s like the pastor is speaking directly to you.

You look around, casually wiping the sweat from your brow and mildly freak out.  Seriously, did the dude read your journal?  Does everyone know this is your message?

No…they don’t.

But it’s a real thing—a God thing.

It’s Rhema.  When the spoken word of God penetrates into your soul and moves stuff around in you uncomfortably.

You get convicted.  Inspired.  Repentent,

Rhema.

And Rhema happened this week to me.

The sermon was on judgment and forgiveness.

Oh, wait my favorite topic. Not.

Un-forgive-ness

It coincides with an occurrence in my life where I’ve been asked to forgive something big–a debt incurred against me of a large magnitude.  

Did I say it was big?  Yeah.  BIG.

And I’m sorry I can’t be clearer.  I really hate it when people are vague, but to protect those I love, I’m asking for grace on this part.

Anyway, I alone can forgive this penalty.

Hot tears of sadness fell from my eyes when I was asked for mercy—because the truth is I want a little vengeance or at the very least control of the situation.

“Are you freaking kidding me?”  I thought.

Flashes of hurt washed over me.  I considered the fear, the uncertainty and the overwhelming burden I carried for years regarding this matter.

And a part of me revels in the fact that the consequence for this sin is too big to ever repay.

Too bad sucka… you messed with the wrong girl.

I sit in church on Sunday.  I’m not even at my church; I’m at a different one.  It’s like God is following me.

Forgiveness.  Judgement.  Hello Sam?

Na, na, na, na na…I can’t hear you Jesus.  Not listening.

And then God whispers, will you forgive this person like I forgive you?

More tears.

No God…it’s too much.

And then I think of MY too much.

How much I’ve been granted mercy.  Not once, not twice but seventy-times seven.

God promises to forgive my past, present and future sin.  I’m covered for the crummy stuff I will say tomorrow (which I inevitably will) and the hurt I will cause to others because I’m human and fantastically flawed.

What about my debt to God and others that is big to ever repay?

Letting Go

My husband shared a true story with me not too long ago about a guy he knows.

Let’s call him Todd—truthfully I don’t even remember his real name and Todd if I’ve jacked up your story, please forgive me.  It’s an analogy based on truth.  Don’t judge me buddy.

Todd was difficult at best.  He struggled to maintain relationships.  He had a harsh and brittle spirit, was generally demanding and rather unpleasant to be around.

Ever heard of that saying—hurt people hurt people?

Well, at some point, Todd got hurt and everyone else was going to pay for it.

Todd, like many of us, internalized his pain and unforgiveness and became a bitter hard shell of the person God created him to be.

One day Todd was struck down by a widow-maker heart attack.  For a short period of time Todd was clinically dead.

During the time of his non-responsiveness Todd recalls he was lifted up to heaven and then straight out of the pit of hell a chain came flying up and wrapped around his ankle pulling him down.  He heard a voice say, “You do not offer the forgiveness I’ve shared with you.” God identified individuals that he had not forgiven throughout his life.

And Todd cried and begged for a second chance.

Todd woke up from his unconscious state after a quadruple bypass surgery and turned his life into a radical testimony of grace and forgiveness.  He went to each person and exacted forgiveness to each one, releasing his bitterness. My husband says his personality is now radiant, like pure sunshine.  Todd has transformed into a loving, warm and caring person.  Todd chose to allow forgiveness to transform his life and he gives all the glory to God.

I imagine the next time Todd dies—the flight up will be easier.

I thought deeply about Todd’s story this week.

I want to be like Todd.  And hopefully, I won’t have to have a near-death experience to understand this radical type of forgiveness, but I do believe I will have to spiritually die to self—once again.

(Oh Whoop-de doo! Does this Christian thing ever get easier?)

I use the mental imagery I read about in a book on controlling anxiety.

I imagine myself walking up to a waterfall with a heavy bag of burdens.  They are like boulders I carry around.  I pry open the sack and pull out self-righteousness, then hold it out onto the streaming water and let it wash away.  I hold out vengeance, then anger and bitterness.  And I drop them one by one into the raging waters.

I leave it all in the waters of the spirit in a symbolic language of release and redemption.

And the hurt washes away in the waters as I am stretched…open…wide.  Ravaged by my own indebtedness to my Savior and convicted of my own sin.

How can I not let go of this debt?  How can I truly follow Christ if I am not willing to extend the mercy given to me?

It’s the Lenton season.  Will you join me in ridding your heart of unforgiveness? I can’t think of anything more important than this one thing  holding us back from living  abundant and joy filled lives.

I know it’s hard.  And I am in this with you.  We get hurt and we hold onto the pain tightly like a prize to validate our identity—but God has a better way.

The truth is forgiveness sets me (and you) free—not the one who hurt us.

–Sam

Will you pray for me this week?  My darling husband Tim is having spine surgery on Wed the 25th of Feb.  Please lift him up!  

And please let me know how I can pray for you?

 

Matthew 6:14-15New International Version (NIV)

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

 

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