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?

A Little Bit of Fabulous

Becky Pic 9A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.

-Coco Chanel

When I was about Kolby’s age—three or maybe four—a man approached my mother and I at a restaurant. He was well attired—dark hair slicked back, expensive suit and rather dashing to boot. He got down on one knee and said to me in a thick and husky accent, “Do you know your mommy is the most beautiful woman in the entire world?”

I nodded yes and he proceeded to ask my mother out on a date. My mom declined, but her smile was wide like a Cheshire cat. She sent the handsome dark haired man away and leaned over to me after he left.

Then she whispered words of wisdom into my tiny ear, “Samantha, Italian men are flatterers. Don’t believe anything they say.”

I giggled and nodded, but secretly, I knew the man was right.

Nobody else’s mommy looked like mine. She wore beautiful clothes and jewelry and looked like a glamorous movie star. Other mommies drove mini-vans and had baby vomit stains on them. My mommy zipped around in a yellow corvette and wore cobalt blue leather pants.

I was pretty sure my mom was special.

Growing up, I saw my mom through child’s eyes—a rather myopic view that changed as I grew older. As a little kid, she seemed bigger than life and I treasured the time I spent with her. She worked hard and often had a second job, so our hours together were very precious.

Recently, she confessed to me that one of her biggest regrets was teaching me to read so young, because once I mastered the words I didn’t need her anymore. I was off in my own world devouring books instead of cuddling next to her at bedtime.

But this love of books was something we both shared. On Thursday nights when my step-dad was off playing poker we had a ritual of going to a French bakery and then to the bookstore where we picked out juicy new reads. We had lots of little special Seal Beach rituals—brunch on Sundays downtown, chocolate croissants at the Swiss Bakery, Char-o-Chicken nights and Ruby’s on the pier were always a treat.

We spent many happy days shopping. My mom was the master shopper and picked up clothes, antiques and textile on a dime. We spent so many hours at South Coast Plaza they knew us by name. To this day, my husband says I have mall GPS . He can thank my mom for that gift. I would take a book and hide under the racks. I knew every bench in every store where she would try on one outfit after the next. We would arrive home limping and crash in heaps on the sofa from exhaustion.

My mom’s closet was my playground. It was a part of her and I felt connected to her there. I would hide in there as a kid when I felt scared or alone. I would try on clothes and hats and scarves pretend to be a princess or one of my favorite characters in a book. And she would laugh at my get-ups and eventually lock me out of her closet by the time I was a teenager.

I found myself in there last week, staring at her clothes, remembering the way she put things together and crying as I breathed in her smell.

We had different personalities. I was more introverted and a bookworm, she was a social butterfly. I was more conservative—she liked to take risks with fashion. I was a dreamer—she more pragmatic. And yet, despite our differences we rarely argued. Our home was always peaceful and serene.

I’ll never forget when I bought her a workout outfit as a young teen. It was a unitard with neon cutout straps in the back. When she walked in the door after working out my mouth dropped open. She had it on backward and the neon straps were barely covering her ripped abs and bust. I, of course, was horrified and told her she couldn’t wear it like that. She laughed at me and said she liked it like that. And she continued to taunt me by wearing it backward for years.

That was my mom.

But as I grew older, I began to notice different things about her. During the last four months as she battled pancreatic cancer I saw a different woman than I knew as a tot.

First, she knew how to make the ordinary things extraordinary. She celebrated the smallest things in life. If she was going to have a snack it was on china and crystal. If she left the house, she was ready for the paparazzi because she always looked gorgeous. She made the holidays into an art form and the most intimate dinner parties into an event. Her home became her show piece and every object and every arrangement has her fingerprint on it. She was extremely thoughtful and if you showed up for Christmas your gift would always be perfect for you—even if she barely knew you.

Second, I saw the connection she had with my step-dad and it was different than most marriages. These two truly put each other first. They were best friends and playmates, dance partners, travel buddies, and lovers. They say the grass is greener where you water it. If that’s true, then my mom kept her sprinklers running constantly because her lawn was a brilliant green. Few people are married over 30 years and are still giddy with romance and yet my mom and Herman had an intimacy that I hope to model in my own marriage. My mom taught me by her actions how beautiful a relationship can be if you put in the extra effort.

Last, as the end drew near, and in the final months I began to see the impact my mom made in the lives of the people around her. She was so well loved—in fact her friends in Indiana held a service at the same time as her funeral in California.

She was truly adored by the friends she taught with, zumba’s with, volunteered with at the art museum and by everyone she met. I have never seen an outpouring of affection like I did with my mom. She had hundreds of visitors in the last few months. There were always people staying in the home and there was always someone knocking on the door.

I believe it’s because my mom had a tremendous gift of hospitality. She was an inviter and she welcomed everyone into her beautiful world. She was the ultimate hostess and she cooked and prepared for days to offer her gifts of food and presentation to her friends. She loved to serve people in her way—with grace and beauty, good food and good wine.

She also never burned any bridges. Even if someone ticked her off she covered it with a smile. I liked that about her. There was very little relational drama with her. She got along with everyone. And even in the end, she didn’t complain much. It just wasn’t her style.

I think of my mom as a work of art—like a sculpture defying the ages. She did life her way and on her own terms. She was strong—with a backbone of steel and the cardiovascular endurance of a twelve year old from forty years of step classes and spin. She was the epitome of elegance and when she walked in the room people stopped and watched her. It wasn’t just her beauty—although that was part of it—but it was something about her. She commanded space. My mom had a charisma all her own.

Her favorite color was cobalt blue and it’s all I’ve been wearing the last week. Before she died, she told me to rent a U-Haul to take all her clothes home with me. I’m hoping it won’t come to that, but then again, this woman had clothes in abundance. She expressed herself through fashion.

I do know that every time I wear one of her dresses and it draws admiration, every time I write a story that moves someone to tears and whenever my home is open and hospitable and the food and wine are flowing freely—my mom’s spirit is still alive and kicking.

I believe my mom’s legacy is beauty and elegance with a perfect twist of fabulous.

Becky Ann Parsons 1945-2014

Becky Pic 12

Different But The Same

graduation

It’s a big week in the Keller home.  Soon one of us will be a Master!

(No not a Jedi, but close…)

My husband Tim graduates this week from Talbot Seminary with an MA in Theology.  It’s been six years of late nights, endless papers, and many many nights with no daddy at dinner. (Wah Wah Wah)

When Tim walks on Friday afternoon-in his black cap and gown decorated with honors-it will be a glorious sight to behold.  I am proud beyond words (and yes, a wee bit weary, can I say that too?).

My husband stood at the top of the stairs this morning and mentioned he felt guilty for celebrating.  With everything going on with my parents right now he felt lousy throwing a party and making a fuss.  And more than anything he wished they could be there by his side.

But I interupted him and said “Stop, don’t go there”

“Tim, we will celebrate you.” 

We will celebrate the good in spite of the bad. I will clap and whoop and holler “Keller” super loud and obnoxiously (in honor of your friend Bill who passed away) and I will laugh when people squirm in their seats.

I will wear a big cheesy grin (and maybe your favorite color orange) because of this awesome achievement. 

We did it!  (And yes I take a little credit for the degree because it takes a family and oh yeah, I edited a few papers…)

I will raise my glass of wine (or two) and toast to your accomplishment.  I will laugh and be happy, and for a time allow myself to just be Tim’s wife and not a grieving daughter.

We will celebrate you with gusto, baby!

I don’t know that I used to think this way.  I used to have good days and bad days. It was all so black and white.  But, life changed in the blink of an eye.  Everything has intensified, as if my world went from black and white to pops of vibrant color and shades of midnight.

I see differently now–HD versus a grainy screen.

I pass through a windy stretch of mountains when I drive home from visting my parents–one through the Ortega and the other from Beaumont into Moreno Valley.  Both passes are breathtaking by day but treacherous at night. I’m always a little scared driving through but the reward is worth the fear and I promise myself a Starbucks on the other side.

I’ve clocked more than my fair share of miles recently traveling back and forth to oncologists and nuerolgists.  These vists are always depressing with no cures and more bad news.  Often I’ll cry and let it all go on the road but I wipe up my tears before the mountains come. 

I know I need to focus.  As the darkness decends my sight must be all the more keener.  I have to watch out for the semi-trucks and stupid deer and obstacles in the road–all things I can see in the light, but the night distrorts and plays tricks with.

It’s true of the mountain pass and true of our lives right now.

My mom put it this way about her cancer, “everything’s the same, but everything’s different.”

And she’s right. 

Which is why I want my husband to revel in the moment and celebrate.  To not look behind or beyond but just to enjoy the fruits of his hard work. 

Because the image of Tim in his cap and gown on his big day just might be the thing to help me find my smile and my way home through the mountains on a gloomy evening.

He’ll be a Master now, kinda the same…but different.

Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re My Only Hope!

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“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” –Princess Leih

My favorite tales always begin with a crisis moment where the protagonist is forced to turn in a new direction.

Going back is no longer an option.

Remember Luke Skywalker in Star Wars?—the mystery of a lovely Princess and a spunky R2 unit whisper of adventure and a different life. Luke wants to pursue, but he is held back by fear and obligation, that is until his aunt and uncle’s farm blows up.

A good story is like that.

We want to live a grand adventure, free and spontaneous, but the safety net of reality stems us in—until one day our security (our job or a relationship or our health) explodes and our only option is to travel to new and dark places.

Places we don’t want to go.

Scary Places. Places that reveal our brokenness. Places of testing and places of redemption.

The road behind us is gone. And despite our cries out to God of unbearable grief and terror, there is only the road before us.

I am at that crossroads.

And like Luke, I’m unsure of this journey ahead. I want to live a grand story and run towards what God has for me—but this cup of suffering isn’t what I had in mind.

On Thursday, I met with my dad’s neurologist and received the news no one wants to hear. “Prepare for the end. We don’t know how long. His brain is shrinking and atrophying rapidly all the way around.”

Insert a bad word. Insert gut-wrenching sadness.

My dad tried to accept the words. His disease–Picks–now makes it hard for him to get out his thoughts coherently, but I knew what he was saying.

“It’s ok. God knows. I hope I lived a good life.”

We went to Chili’s. I held my daddy’s hand. We had a margarita. We laughed the jittery laughs of shock and wiped up the tears silently creeping out of our nose.

This weekend was hard. Greif is like that. One minute you are fine and the next—blubbering over a song or a stupid USC flag. For my dad’s sake, I hope my Bruins lose this year. Just this once. Just to make my daddy gloat and smile.

But Monday was the final explosion. It was the no going back moment.

I got the call.

They found a large mass on my mom’s pancreas. They said the two words you never want to hear—Pancreas and Cancer.

And now we wait for biopsies and treatment plans and a new journey into a place of unknown.

And so I am crying out like the desperate princess watching her planet blow up, “Help me Jesus, You’re my only hope.”

My parents are not old.

They are brilliant and strong and beautiful. I am not ready to lose them. I am greedy for their care, their protection, their covering. My mom and dad are supposed to help pick out my Faith’s formal dress, and be at graduations and Kyle’s Varsity football games and recitals where little Kolby wears a halo and sings about Baby Jesus.

There is so much life I want to share.

I feel robbed.

As a Christian—as a speaker and writer, as someone who is supposed to encourage and motivate people to draw closer to Christ—I want to be better at this. But I’m not.

I feel like a fraud. I don’t have any pat answers.

I’m supposed to put on the happy face and smile and say it’s ok. Praise Jesus. Hallelujah.

But I don’t feel that way. I’m DEVESTATED. I want my mommy and my daddy. Here. Now. I want my blankie, and my teddy and to suck my thumb with a vengeance until everything is put back together right.

I don’t believe life is fair. Suffering sucks. Death was never meant to be.

But what I cling to is that God sees. He hears. He comforts. He is close. I don’t have to fear this journey. I have an eternal home where death is a merely a blip until I see my loved ones again. They might beat me there, but God provides a way though the pain and to this Jesus I lay down my life.

I also have an enemy who is out to steal and kill and destroy—who delights in crushing hope and joy. I’ve got two middle fingers pointed in his direction. (Sorry church people, I’m a little raw right now)

But I refuse to let him distract me from sharing the one thing that can never be taken away from me–and that’s Jesus.

And so I can choose to pick up my feet and march forward or I can linger in this wooing darkness—suffering, stalled, and bitter. I can ask “why” all day long and get pissed and hold on to a pain I was never meant to carry.

Or, I start a new story. I trust. I praise. I hope for miracles. I choose a double fisted faith despite the outcome. I get out of bed tomorrow and believe somehow, some way, some good will come out of this trial.

And I learn to use a light saber while blind folded—apparently I will need this skill where I am going.

If you know my mom, I’ve started a Caring Bridge site for her. Click here to visit.

Jr. High Boys and the I Love Boobies Campaign

Article first published as Jr. High Boys and the I Love Boobies Campaign on Technorati.

My twelve year old son has recently become an advocate for breast cancer awareness.  Who knew he was so compassionate about fighting cancer? He even wore a pink armband in his last football game.  And though I am excited that I can actually find him on the football field in a dog pile, his obsession with NFL.com/pink raises some big red flags for this mama.  Now call me naive….but I wonder if his sudden interest has any connection to do with the “I Love Boobies” campaign?
In a brilliant marketing scheme, capitalizing on our hyper sexualized culture, the keep a Breast Foundation folks have certainly generated publicity, but at what cost? Is an adolescent boy with raging hormones their intended audience?  Because, quite frankly, his parents hold the checkbook and it’s only pissing me off, not helping their cause.  There are plenty of non-profits legitimately raising funds for breast cancer research that I am more apt to support versus the ones exploiting boobs for cash. 
Why this campaign smells like a rat:

 
• It’s Offensive

 
First of all, our national obsession with artificially enhanced breasts has absolutely nothing to do with a cancer victim fighting to save her life.  While Heidi Montag may be the epitome of the Girls Gone Wild mentality, having boobs the size of a beach ball doesn’t evoke a lot of sympathy to a woman facing death and a double mastectomy.  If anything, it trivializes the devastation to both her breasts and the disease itself.  If I saw an infant wearing an I Love Boobies t-shirt, I might be more prone to levity, but on a pimply teen, it’s just plain offensive. This campaign objectifies a woman as a sexual object instead of a human being battling a serious illness.
Tracy Clark-Flory put it this way. “When death is truly knocking at your door — and I’m not talking about early, uncertain cases — most aren’t thinking about how much they love their breasts, they’re thinking about how much they love not being dead. They’re thinking: Chop those things off, now.”
• What’s the real message?

 
I also have two daughters at home and I can only speculate what this message conveys to them?  Do we love hurting women or just their mammary offering to society? What is the worth of a woman… her contribution to society or her bra size? And, what’s next? Do we allow our girls to run around in Juicy sweats with “I Love Colons” plastered on their little bottoms? How about an “I Love Balls” t-shirt?  Does this really heighten awareness or advance perversity masquerading as a worthy cause?
• What are the Consequences?

 
And for those that minimize this, I would argue that the battle for our sons to protect them from a lifetime addiction to pornography starts here. During the most impressionable age of sexual identification, this is another area of compromise alluring to our children.
Ron Hogan at PopFi stated, “Maybe some kids are just wearing these bands because they say “boobies” on them. But “who cares?” The bracelets are getting out an important message. Besides, students are exposed to “much worse things than breast-themed bracelets” at school every day.
Who Cares?  I do!  And while we can’t protect our children from everything, schools do try and limit their exposure to harmful behaviors. I would argue that the very same reasons why schools outlaw guns, sexual harassment, bullying, and gay bashing also motivate them to ban these bracelets from the playground.  Why would it ever be beneficial to degrade a woman fighting cancer?
Breast cancer is destructive in its own right.  Exploiting our kids in the interest of propagating an ad campaign doesn’t further the cause.So, even though I love breasts, particurally cancer free ones…I won’t be buying any of their bracelets for my pree-teen son to show my support

Read more: http://technorati.com/lifestyle/family/article/jr-high-boys-and-the-i/page-2/#ixzz132PETejm

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