How it’s SUPPOSED to Be

supposed to be

It’s never obvious but it’s there all the same—lingering expectations—the unstated kind.

And it starts from day one—at least it did in my marriage.

Because we all believe marriage is supposed to be…

(fill in the box)

We stand at the altar and unknowingly dump unspoken expectations all over one another.

And we  cloak our aspirations in pretty words and flowery promises.

The pictures don’t lie.

Tim(my husband) cried during the ceremony and my grin is the size of Texas.

Because we erroneously believed marriage was supposed to (fill all our sexual, emotional, and relational needs)

We solemnly read our vows –nervous giggles spilling from my lips and Tim furiously wiping his watery eyes.

We promised to put the other first (and lied).  The crowd coos and sighs.  Then, we make a commitment before God and our guests and say “I do”, sealing the deal with a swoon and a kiss.

Reality vs. Ideals

But what if instead of PROMISES to love and cherish one another, we showed up at the ceremony with our true expectations.

(Play along with me)

“Tim, I promise to freak out when you are late, all too often put the kids first, over-react if you don’t like my cooking, chide you about parenting teens, snap when you forget to say I look pretty after an hour getting ready for our date, and go into hysterics when you ignore me when I am sick or hurting because I have severe abandonment issues.”

Samantha, I promise to get irritable when I forget to eat, expect you to manage all the housework, put work and ministry first (all too often), and snap if you ignore me when you get too caught up in your work because I need your attention too.

It would certainly make for a more honest wedding day.

Real, honest, sometimes selfish and more often than not –patterned expectations of what a marital relation SHOULD be like (in our eyes)

From our family of origin and past relational wounds we each bring an overloaded bag of expectations based on past hurts.

And each of us subconsciously EXPECTs our marriage will look like this.

Yet when all hell breaks loose and feelings get hurt—when we end up in opposite corners instead of on the same team—why, oh why are we so surprised?

Getting Honest

The questions to ponder are this: Are we bound by generational brokenness to repeat the patterns of our past?  Is it possible to strive for a different type of relationship?

Expectations –good or bad are a powerful force in a relationship.  They can influence and sometimes even determine our future because our behavior propels us towards the very things we either hope for or fear.

Expectation Management

My husband Tim loves to explain EXPECTATIONS this way…

Many years ago a friend of his dragged him to see the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s.”  The movie was panned by critics and Tim expected it to be a total dud.

But instead of hating it, he thought it was hilarious—maybe not Oscar worthy, but laugh your butt expectation fun.

So, Tim decided this was a good plan—to manage his expectations by keeping them low.

In his mind it’s better to be pleasantly surprised than terribly disappointed.

And this is a great plan as long as he knows what they (the expectations) are.  But sometimes it takes intense reflection and work to know the deeper areas of our hearts—the expectations we carry without realizing it.

In marriage, like movies, it’s vital to be honest about your expectations (to the degree that we know them) for your relationship—because without transparency there is ONLY disappointment when the other person fails to meet your un-communicated needs.

Do you hate fighting and believe ALL conflict is bad?  Are you always waiting for the shoe to drop and disaster to strike because you lived through a divorce?  Do you believe marriage is a prison or a ball and chain holding you back from the good life?

Or do you believe marriage has its ups and downs and you are committed to seeing both through?

Don’t underestimate the power of these expectations.

But don’t overestimate their power either, because there’s a power that’s even greater than expectations: God can heal our brokenness and it’s usually through the comfort and arms of the spouse pissing you off the most.

Healing the Wounds

Yes, I did say YOUR spouse will be the one to help you heal.

But you have to choose the marriage.

Choosing to behave differently than your past is possible.

We don’t have to live lives as victims of the past.

John Townsend and Henri Cloud say this,

Those who blame external circumstances for their situation do not find what they want.  Those who work on themselves, take responsibility for dealing with their circumstances, and then take action, have success.”

Motivation moves towards personal responsibility.

Marriage experts agree that both before and after you marry; you must be intentional about growth in your relationship.

Tim and I are very open about seeking counseling in our marriage.  It is a non-negotiable with us.  It keeps us growing personally and relationally.  It also keeps the fires lit and the hope strong.

The best decision we have ever made is to invest in our marriage.

We have decided to learn everything we can about ourselves and each other, as well as practical tools to build our skills and strengths.

We study relationship books.

We go to relationship classes, support groups and seminars.

We take the time to do relationship inventories and assessments.

We found a good counselor.

And we are never above humbly asking for prayer and guidance when we hit the sticky spots.

We don’t have it all figured out—quite the opposite—but we are committed to the journey of figuring it out together.

If you expect to hit some rough patches but have intentionally equipped yourself and your relationship to handle them, you’ll be able to navigate anything that arises. You’ll also know what your resources are and be able to ask for appropriate help as needed. If you intend to learn more and more about yourself and your partner as years go by and follow up those intentions with action, your relationship will stay fresh and current. If you expect that the investment of time and energy in marriage pays off, and add intention to your expectations, you will do what is needed and required to develop a strong, healthy relationship.”

 

Resources: All-in-One Marriage Prep: 75 Experts Share Tips and Wisdom to Help You Get Ready Now, www.allinonemarriageprep.com

Why Mom’s Can’t Get Sick

Christmas 2014 13

“Are you sick?” my friend inquires.

“Yes,” I squeak out through strained vocal chords.

She gives me the look—hands on hip, waving a spatula with a baby on her hip and toddlers whizzing by her feet. “Mom’s aren’t allowed to get sick. You know that right?”

I weakly smile back and nod, gather my wads of snotty Kleenex and sneeze seven times in a row as she boots my coughing, snurfling self out the door so she doesn’t catch my bug.

I get it. I get it.  I am a mother of three with a husband and a dog.

My life verse is “Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you shall reap if you do not lose heart.

Mom’s can’t get sick because mommies take care of everyone else. But what happens when, despite mommies best intentions, her immune system fails her?

All week as I sniffle, my big kid’s joke I have Ebola. Ha Ha. Very funny.

Then my four year-old cries big gulpy tears after pre-school and comes to me in confusion because the kids at school say it’s the plague.

“Mommy, are we all going to die from Ebola?” my little one inquires.

I reassure her and tell my middle daughter to stop telling her it’s Bible Prophecy.

One week in and my cold/flu takes a turn for the worse. My head hurts so bad my teeth ache and my eyes crust over and seal shut. My fever soars and I can’t move my neck. My voice is gone.

So, on Sunday morning (with pastor hubby gone with a full day at church) my teen son drives me to urgent care. Kyle is gentle and sweet. He helps me get settled, laughs at the mask of shame the nurses’ force on me and takes selfies of the two us to post on Instagram.

The doctor says its bronchitis and a bad sinus infection. He prescribes antibiotics and quarantines me to home and bed for 36 hours. (Yippee! Doctor’s orders!)

My son drives me home, tucks me in bed with hot tea and commands me to rest, picks up my meds, goes grocery shopping, comes home, feeds and walks the dog, babysits both his sisters and makes us all lunch and dinner. He also somehow manages to get his middle sister to do the dishes, set the table, do a few loads of laundry and keep the house quiet for mom.

Seriously?

(My husband can’t do this magic)

That evening, over a dinner of homemade chicken soup and crusty rolls, Tim asks Kyle about his day.

“Well, this mom-sitting thing was real tough. I walked one day in her shoes and I am EXHAUSTED. All I did was work and work it never stopped. Boy mom, you do a lot”

Tim and I looked at each and fell over laughing—and then the kids laughed, because my laugh (without my voice) sounds like a dying animal.

And then we affirmed Kyle and the all kids for taking such good care of mama.

I am so proud of this kid and I honestly feel a sense of relief about aging with him around!

So, maybe moms aren’t allowed to get sick with toddlers in the house or even husbands in the house—because sometimes they are as much work as a kid(not mine of coarse!)

But I’ve learned if you train even one of your rug rats well–to be a nurturing and caring person, YOU can get sick when they turn 16!

In due season…you will reap!

Hang in there sick mama’s!

–Samantha

 

The Man Thing

Tim

They say women are complicated. And I agree—wholeheartedly—but I don’t think men are as simple as some suggest.

It’s not just sex, food and more sex that makes a man tick.

There’s something else I can’t put my finger on. All I know is that I don’t know what it is.

But it’s there—the man thing.

On Sunday, I sit in the back of a pre-marital class my husband runs waiting with the kids for him to wrap up so we can go to lunch.

Tim is moderating a talk on personality differences.

The speaker is Dr. Edward Mendez (my favorite counselor) but I wasn’t paying attention because I’ve heard this talk many times by now. (Sorry Buddy)

But then, Dr. Mendez speaks words I haven’t heard before.

“One of the most thrilling things I’ve ever heard from my wife other than “let’s get it on” is “I study you.”

What?

I stopped and held my breath. What does that mean?

“I study you…”

This is what excites a man?

To be studied?

For Dr. Mendez, this means his wife spends time trying to understand him–to know him, to research and delve deeply into his emotions and heart.

She cares enough to go the extra mile and understand his personality and what makes him tick.

Oh noooo…I think. This is way harder than sex and cooking.

I’m not so good at this part.

I’ve got some issues here.

My dad was, at times, a very difficult man to get along with as I grew up. And although he changed into a gentle guy at the end of his life, in the early years his explosive anger often shut me down into a turtle shell of self-protection.

And sadly, old wounds linger and seep into adulthood.

Sometimes, when my defense goes up, I retreat. I stop trying to know my husband and understand him. I hide in my turtle shell and refuse to come out.

And honestly (God forgive me) I don’t always believe the best about my man.

The next day Tim and I work on a project together. Its three days past deadline, but with our busy schedule and Homecoming high school drama we were left overwrought and without ANY margin this weekend. Finally we sit down and address it.

Tim was tense—short even—and snippy with me.

I am light-hearted for about an hour. Then I get weary of being nice to a grump.

And Everything in me wants to power up and launch back surly for surly.

But then I think about Dr. Mendez’s words and instead of moving to the defense, I carefully measure my words and watch him.

I stay neutral. I don’t retreat or engage. I study him like a history book.

Once we hit send on the project, a huge smile crosses over his face.

“Ahhh babe, Now I can relax and be with you,” Tim sighs.

His countenance changes—storm clouds to sunshine—and he picks up my hand and squeezes it.

And I realize his terse behavior isn’t about me at all—it’s about the task at hand.

Holy cow!!! I learn something new about this man.

What you see with Tim (his behavior) is not necessarily what’s going on under the surface.

This is super ironic because I’m tumultuous inside and calm as a cucumber on the outside.

We are polar opposites when it comes to expressing emotion.

It would be easy for me to write off my husband off as over-reactive (and honestly, easy for him to dismiss me as a non-emotive ice cube.)

But when I take the time to study him–to look closer and read his cues, I see another story.

I see a different personality than mine, certainly, but a man with good motives who loves and cherishes me but operates very differently.

It’s evening now. I lay beneath his feet by the sofa, reclining back. Tim plays with my hair for a solid hour as we watch the Patriots get whooped on by the Chiefs.

And despite the fact our fantasy football team (the amazing Ladera Lambyasoures) is losing because the Patriots defense is a bust, I purr like a happy kitten as Tim speaks my love language of affection.

This studying thing was a good investment because I’m pretty sure if I had been bitchy back, I wouldn’t have gotten the princess treatment later.

Maybe men are not so complicated.

Maybe all my man needs is sex, good food, more sex and a woman who truly seeks to KNOW him.

If only I could get this right more often!

Thanks Dr. Mendez…

–Samantha

How do you study your spouse or significant other?

The (married) Sex Challenge

Christmas 2013 1

July 2014

There’s an article traveling around social media. It’s one of those kinds of blogs—you know the sexy kind.

It catches my eye. I fervently look to the right, then to the left, then do the fast swivel to make sure no cameras are watching me… then I click.

It’s called “5 Reasons Why You Should Have Sex with Your Husband Every day.”

Offhand, I can think of way more reasons not to, but since Tim and I’ve been arguing lately and struggling to connect, I think maybe I should read it again.

I go back and re-read it slowly.

And then I mentally battle with it. This chick only has one kid and I have three. She’s young-30 and I’m 42 and freaking exhausted.

She’s probably a man.

Then one of my male friends sends me the article later that day.

It’s multiplying male propaganda.

The article is haunting me.

Now, admittedly, I’ve been a proponent of more vs. less sex in marriage. I speak on marriage and I even teach young couples that it’s good for a relationship.

In fact, I could have written the article

But that was before this year—before my heart broke.

……………..

July 6th, 2014 (from my journal and no God does not speak to me in an auditory voice)

God, are you trying to tell me something? Are you hinting that I need to have more sex with my husband? Because I don’t want to.

“Why?”

Tears roll down my face.

Our sex life took a hit when I watched both my parents die brutal deaths this year. I’m still in shock. I’m still reeling and I miss them like hell.

And honestly, I haven’t felt anything resembling horny in months.

It’s not that my husband isn’t sexy. He is. In fact, I am more attracted to him than ever.

It’s not him. It’s me. I’m the messed up one.

Some days it’s hard to get out of bed and brush my teeth much less get my jiggy on. I don’t feel sexy. I feel sad. And misunderstood. And alone.

And then I feel guilty for feeling depressed because I’m supposed to give all my worry and anxious thoughts to God. So then I end up feeling guilty and depressed and frigid.

Grief is NOT HOT. It’s just not.

But maybe there is something I’m missing in my marriage by keeping my husband at arm’s length.

When I’m sad or we argue the last thing I want to do make love.

But maybe it’s what I need?

July 10th, 2014

I decide to try the sex test to see what happens. I want to know if sex will not only reinvigorate my marriage but also help me grieve.

Week 1: I make an effort. Maybe not daily but at least every few days. I have to force it at first. I’m grumpy and I feel like a sham. I want to say, “Touch my boobs and you die.” But I don’t.

Result: My husband is smiling more. We argue less.

Week 2: He is gone on a work trip. I’m surprised how much I miss him. It catches me off guard, this wave of intense emotion. Then I get mad at him for leaving me alone with three kids. I waver back and forth between desire and pissed off(ness). When he returns home I demand a back rub and a good night of sleep before I let him back into my arms. Truth…reconnecting is wonderful.

Result: I actually feel a wee bit sexy. And when he holds me afterwards I cry hot tears of release. His arms are a refuge for my hurt. He seems happy. He’s walking around with a big goofy smile.

Week 4: Our sex life is regaining speed. Still trying for daily but it’s more like every other day. I am noticing my husband’s body more. He’s lost weight. He looks good. I think about him at work. I think about him a lot.

Result: We are much more connected. We hold hands, we snuggle and I feel loved. I’m talking more about my pain and processing it with him. It’s been five months now since the funerals and the tears are finally flowing. Geez…I’m such a stuffer but it’s coming out now.

Week 5: He’s gone again visiting his family in Seattle. We talk on the phone every day. I tear a muscle in my hip running. When he comes home we have to be careful because of my sore hip but we figure it out and yes…its fun!

Result: I’m generally not annoyed at my husband anymore. For a while, he took the brunt of my anger over the loss of my parents. I can see this now. We are communicating better and I’m getting the affection and empathy I wanted desperately but didn’t know how to ask for. Despite the fact that I’m a writer, I’m realizing I’m a suck communicator when it comes to my marriage.

Week 6: It’s a good week. I remember how much I love sex! I ask Tim to start praying with me daily again like we did when were dating. I feel God prompting me to lean into more than just physical intimacy but spiritual as well. Tim agrees and every day we cuddle up, hold hands and pray together.

Result: No more arguing. For a while, I thought the neighbors would turn us in for yelling at each other. Yes, our sex life is humming along, but more importantly our relationship is healing too as I accept my parent’s death. I wanted to blame him for being a jerk and not understanding my grief but I can clearly see much of it is me—pulling away—holding my heart at a distance. I wasn’t the only one hurt; he was hurt too by my withdrawal.

Week 7: Tim goes out of town for work. I think I might be pregnant? All of this sex has worked a little too good. We giggle and laugh and dream of another baby.

Result: The praying has sealed the deal! Every day we affirm each other, ask if we have done anything to offend, ask what we can do for each other and then ask how we can pray for one another. I have become bold in asking for affection. I tell him when he pisses me off and we clear the slate. Tim asks for sex more often and I’m more willing to please him because both our needs our being met.

Week 8: It doesn’t look like the pregnancy is good. After two weeks of hoping, it doesn’t work out. I’m too old for this (without medical intervention) and my uterus has cried uncle.

Result: Although I’m sad, I’m not spiraling. Tim and I are in a good place. We are praying daily. When I need a hug his arms are near. I have a posse of kids waiting for me in heaven and I hold onto that hope. We have make up for “no baby” sex. Now I’m the one smiling.

Sept 10, 2014

The intimacy I feared is the intimacy I crave.

I feel alive again. Not so sad. The depression is lifting. I’m grateful to have a husband to hold and children to love. I miss my parent’s but it’s not overwhelming me anymore. I think I can face the holidays with joy instead of dread.

And I imagine that’s what my parents would have wanted for me—to live and to love and to ENGAGE in life without guilt. And yes even in the sexual arena.

(that feels really weird to say)

Sex is a great way to connect a marriage. I just needed to take some of my own medicine.

I don’t believe any of us are prepared to cope with great trauma alone—but that’s exactly what we do when we isolate.

The truth is, I’m only alone if I choose to be. God gave me a wonderful and very human husband to grieve with. And the spirit in him ministers to me—if I allow him to.

Sometimes it just takes a stupid article for me to take the hint.

So, I dare you…to pray together and to love one another physically. A sort of (married) sex challenge!

Please don’t take the gift of marriage for granted.

Blessings,

–Samantha

Why you need to forget the “t”

105I have a confession.

I am still very attached to Mariners Mission Viejo Church—the church my husband and I planted four and a half years ago.

(My husband doesn’t work there anymore—he’s back pastoring at the main campus again)

But I miss it—the sounds, the smells, the AMAZING peeps.

When my husband is out of town, like he was this week, I take the kids and we sneak back in to our old home away from home and CHILLAX.  No pressure here.  I’m not the pastor’s wife–just Sam.

I also keep up with MMV.  I do a Bible Study here and read the Compass newsletter that lead Pastor Jeff Maguire sends out.

Last week, he made a comment at the end of his letter that had me in stitches.

Jeff was referencing how he responds to people when they ask how the service went on Sunday.

And in the newsletter he responds—if everything went well—“I was good.”

I stopped and read it again.

ok…

It’s not really something Jeff would say.  He’s a pretty humble guy.  More of a foot washing type than a kiss my butt kind of guy.

But he’s also ridiculously funny.

At a wedding once, an old lady asked me if he was a professional dancer or a comedienne.

“No Mam, that’s the pastor.”

Yep, he’s That FUNNY.

So, when I read his words, I figured he was being a bit of a smart ass.

But at service this week, he shared it was a typo.  What he meant to say was: “It was good.”

One little “t” makes all the difference between perceived arrogance and humility.

Seriously, I don’t even know how many people actually read the church newsletter.

But I imagine Jeff’s blood pressure probably shot up.

Because mine would have.

My people pleasing personality (that I rebel against with everything I’ve got) would be freaking out!

I would pray and beat my chest and wail, “Why God? Why?”

I would head to the beach and stick my head in the sand.  I’d be embarrassed.

At least for a day or two until everyone forgot my doofus move.

But I’ve thought about it some more and maybe saying “I was good” isn’t the worst thing ever.

What if it was ok to own that that our God does awesome things through us on occasion?

If the definition of true humility is: knowing who we are in light of Christ, then we must acknowledge that a Good God uses us (broken, lame, normal people) to accomplish his good works.

Marianne Williamson writes, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world…We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

Pastor Jeff, I think you are pretty good! Maybe, really good! In fact, I think most people would agree with me who go to MMV that you are a great pastor.

Not perfect, but pretty dang good.

So, don’t worry about the typo.

Maybe God simply wanted you to know how much he loves you.

Maybe he wants us to know its ok to be a little good.

Not “Good” like a Holy and Perfect God Good, but good because of God within us good.

Jeff, what if God was using you—as a catalyst perhaps—for the rest of us who are struggling and insecure about our gifts and image in light of God?

What if someone looked in the mirror because of your typo and said, “I could do something good for the Kingdom of God too.  I am an image bearer.  I won’t let my fear define me.  Maybe I have some good to offer the world if my faith is bigger than my insecurity!”

(I might be stretching here, but roll with my point)

So cheers to the typo. I think we all need to forget the “t” on occasion and remember who we really are.

A little good, a lot broken, and loved by a big God.

 

What if it was your last day?

125

Barbie dolls line the wine holder—a doll in each individual wine slot.

“Kolby, what’s going on with your dollies?  I count about nine blond heads, “Why are they all in the wine holder?  It’s kind of creepy.”

“Mommy they’re dead.  That’s their coffin,” my preschooler replies.

“Oh?

“They got hit by a car and they died,” she chirps, unmindful of my startled face.

Oh Boy.  I sit down and cuddle her close.  “Let’s talk about dyeing, ok baby?”

 

Big eyes probe mine; tiny hands cup my face and questions tumble out, so big for such a little girl.

I guess she overheard us talking.

Maybe this is a gift, but it’s a conversation I’d rather have because her pet goldfish died, not because it was almost us.

……….

It’s Saturday night and Pacific Coast Highway in Downtown Laguna is jammed—the rhythmic thump of drums spill from packed clubs, girls giggle, catcalls fly, and wave’s crash in the distance.

With the window open, I point and search for just the right joint to stop at and grab an appetizer to cap off our date night.  We want good food—foodie food—with flavor and intensity

“There,” I pointed, “let’s stop there at Mozambique.” I know the food won’t disappoint.

Tim glances over at the hopping restaurant I gesture to, and pulls off PCH .

But he swerves to the left instead of the right and makes an abrupt turn onto the ocean side of the street.

“Honey, what are you doing?  Now we have to cross PCH.”

Tim shrugs, “If it makes you feel better we can walk back to the light.”

So, we hike up a block to the light, push the walk button, wait for the light to change and step out into the street.

My heels catch a pothole and I hold on to Tim tight for balance.

Then I hear the roar—a car accelerates fast.  Pedal to the medal, tires flying down the hill gaining speed from the steep incline of the cliff.

It’s so dark.  Lights blur my eyes—the headlights of the car descend on us.  It’s like an avalanche.  There’s nowhere to go.

I picture my body hitting the windshield. It’s going to hurt.

Then the push.

Tim yells and shoves me as hard as he can—still within range of getting hit, but more likely to hit the edge of the car, bounce and crack my noggin rather than go under.

My legs wobble.  I fight not to fall.

Then the shrill honk of a car trying to warn the oblivious driver, blaring sound, tires screech.

The car slams on the brakes, from 70mph to stop.

And right on top of us, the car reels back, like an attacking animal reigned in.  We jump out of the way as the front bumper brushes my legs.

I wave my hands around and scream “You Jackwaggon. “

(I might have said another bad word too)

I’m full of piss and vinegar.  I want a fight.  I want to sink my heels deep into her flashy red sports car and make her pay. I want justice.

The driver waves her hand at us and takes off. No apology.  Nothing.

I wonder if she’s grateful she won’t serve time for vehicular manslaughter?

Tim takes my hand and leads me to the other side.

“Are you ok?  I didn’t know how to protect you.” His voice is raspy and thick.

I wrap myself like a child into his chest; gulp in familiar smell, big hands smooth my hair, and he whispers, “its ok.”

Then the tears come—relief, shock, and finally thankfulness.

Thank you Lord.

Thank you to the angel in the car who laid on the horn like a lighthouse keeper warning a ship about to hit the rocks.  You are our hero!

To my husband, who tossed me (mostly) out of the way in the sweetest attempt to save my legs, I adore you forever.

I’ve had some close calls with danger, but nothing like this one.

Not both of us together.  Not leaving all of my kids without a mom and a dad.

504

I’ve thought about it over the last week.  I’ve prayed and considered and reflected on our near brush with death or dismemberment, at the very least.

And I’m grateful I don’t have any unsettled matters—at least that I’m aware of.

I’m glad I say “I love you” and kiss my kids and hubby every chance I get.

I’m glad I get to do what I love.

And I trust my heart is right with God.

Not perfect, not even close, but right in the sense that I’m desperate to know him more and at peace that I will join him.

Dying isn’t the scariest thought for me these days—even scarier is living badly.

I don’t want to be so caught up in the rat race that I forget to follow my dreams or live a half-life of complacency.

I don’t want to take any of this for granted.

I want to know that what I do, as a mother, as a wife, and as a writer makes a difference in the Kingdom of God.

I want you to laugh and cry and think differently about a God who pursues you to the ends of the earth and loves you lavishly.

So, if I haven’t told you in a while, THANK YOU.  Thank you for being you!  Thanks for joining me and engaging with me and journeying with me.

Thanks for taking the time to read these words.  Thanks for making this life of mine rich and full of countless blessings.

And if I’ve pissed you off recently, let me know.

I can grovel.

We never know when our time is up.

And I sure am glad I get to have the dead Barbie conversation with my little girl and not someone else.  No matter how awkward and hard it was.

What if it was your last day?  What would you do differently?

 

 

A Time to Plant

379a0ba33d88ab0452aa49d3b30d8006

As soon as day breaks, I hear the pitter patter of little feet slide open the back door to head outside.

“Mama, daddy and I are going out to the garden,” Kolby whispers in my ear.

I love the way that word sounds—“garden”—it implies so much more than an ordinary backyard.

The ordinary backyard is what I’m most familiar with. A few rogue bushes the professional gardener maintains and no more. I’ve kept my backyard simple and streamlined because life is busy enough (or maybe I was just too busy to care?).

In all truth, I’ve struggled to even keep a house plant alive. Orchids flee when they see me coming. My thumb was nowhere near a shade of green—black perhaps?

And I’m not sure I cared very much. Our backyard wasn’t a place we often visited. Yes, we barbequed and yes, we were blessed with some lovely patio furniture—thanks to our generous neighbors—but it wasn’t an inviting place. It was a square box with a large expanse of wall—yawnable at best, the before version of any good makeover story and a perfect blank palette for an episode of Backyard Crashers.

I didn’t find rest there. In fact, I didn’t really go out there.

But I do now.

It started with a trip to Home Depot and then many more trips to nurseries and Lowes. Soon, we couldn’t stop planting. I found some Hello Kitty gloves for Kolby and mini tools for tiny hands. We bought roses and fruits, herbs and vegetables. The siren call to get our hands dirty and engage in the dance of soil, sun and water won us over.

And I’m learning far more than how to grow a jalepeno, I’m learning how to live differently.

Lessons from the garden:

1. Gardens nurse a broken spirit back to health

One of my favorite books as a kid was The Secret Garden. It’s about some children who discover a walled and locked garden, break in and learn to care for it. Through their efforts they bring it back to life. Not surprisingly, they too transform in the process—one child moves from a sickly and withdrawn orphan into a lively and engaged girl, another takes her first steps after a terrible accident paralyzed her and the father of the paralyzed girl finds redemption in the restoration of his lost wife’s passion—the garden.

The garden is a metaphor for God’s deliverance—from weeds of sickness and bitterness to roots of liberation.

And just like the book, our little garden is moving within us and changing our hearts too. It has become a place of healing and recovery. In the garden we find solace and respite. I am able to pray and release hot tears to water the soil with hope and anticipation of the beauty just under the surface.

We watch our plants grow, we do all we can to assist them (water, water, water)—but ultimately we surrender to God’s will and provision—the elements are his alone. We can coax the plants to grow but not control them. We can plant the seeds but ultimately God bears the fruit.

After a brutal season of turmoil, chaos and death, our garden is a symbol of new life—both tangible and spiritual and a reminder that despair is not the end of the story.

2. The Garden awakens Delight

The garden is a place of whimsy and toil, of watching our nine tomato plants sprout baby green fruit. It’s a place where we battle rats (six down) and fight for our strawberries, a daily adventure of nurturing and culling patience and finding enchantment in the smallest buds. It’s where glorious roses parade their blooms and show off displaying their vibrant colors—like a strutting peacock’s plume.

Food tastes better when you grow it. We savor the fruits of our labor. And I know it’s organic because I grew it! We ate cilantro with our carnitas tacos the other night and the smell of the fresh herbs made the whole house smell like a taco bar.

I also find myself connecting with my husband differently. The garden is a shared project—a journey we take together, separate from work and kids sports and hurried life. When he turns and lazily smiles at me, wiping away a sweaty and dirty brow, my tummy flutters with butterflies of desire. In the garden we can be our truest selves, working side by side as partners and friends.

3. The garden connects us to the seasons of life

Living in the land of constant summer—AKA Southern California—I forget that life is not a balmy 73 degrees every day. I forget that reality is far from the Disneyland suburbia I call home, filled with Real Housewives and athletic families in yoga pants. I become anesthetized to pain because life is pretty dang comfortable and I know how to play this game all too well.

My garden reminds me that to everything there is a season…a time to plant and a time to harvest (Ecc.3:2)

And even in Orange County—land of eternal sunshine—there is a time for pain and death. I will have to replant my tomatoes in the spring because they too will wither and die.

When I forget the rhythms God placed in my life to remind me of time, I lose track of my purpose and focus. I think it’s all about the here and now (and all about me) instead of harvesting a thankful spirit. I forget to prepare for the winter and store up during the summer bounty because I think the frost will never come. I focus too much on leaving a legacy or being “more” awesome instead of drinking in the bigness of God and simply enjoying the obscurity of following a far greater light than I could ever aspire too.

How about you? Is it your time to plant a garden?

“There is always music amongst the trees in the garden but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it”.—Minnie Aumonier

20140515-072702.jpg

Counting the Gifts

Christmas 2013 1bw

“I keep waiting for the phone call,” I whisper to my husband as we snuggle in bed early one morn, reluctant to get up, get going, and start the day

Tim rolls over and pulls me close to him, “What phone call?”

“You know the one where they tell me, ‘We don’t really think you’re ready to be out in public yet.”

“Who’s they?” he asks.

They are out there—the judgers.

Tim’s chest starts shaking, and my head, burrowed in his neck region—eyes cast downward—bobs up and down with his peals of laughter.

“Honey, no one is going to call you. They might think you’re a little sad and introspective, which is normal for your situation, but I don’t think they’ll pick up the phone and call you out on it.”

I pout, “You never know, they might.”

………………………….

Despite his words of encouragement, I feel this way on the tough days—vulnerable and raw—like my soul was scratched by a stubbly three-day-old beard.

I know it takes time—the grief cycle cannot be short-changed. But I can’t keep avoiding people until I decide I am normal again.

(Normal, meaning “not obviously sad”)

So I decide to sign for a women’s bible study and stop hiding from the “judger’s I conjure up in my mind.

I’m tentative in the group. I hold back at first, then talk too much. I cry. I tell them I just lost my mom. I tell them I just lost my dad. I hiccup. I’m a mess.

But no one calls and tells me not to come back, so I show up again.

We are reading Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts.”

The study is about living in Eucharist Deo—joy through thanksgiving.

I’m intimidated—one thousand gifts—that’s a lot of gratitude for a temporarily melancholy girl.

Can I make a list of that many gifts? My thanker might be a little beat up–cancer and atrophic brain disease have a way of doing that.

Can I open my eyes wide enough (in the midst of pain) to see that both the suffering and the blessings come from the same hand?

I pray against my inner skeptic and the creeping doubts whispering “this chick is nonsense” in my ear.

But I stay. I listen. I try not to laugh at the weird parts in the video (Ann is a wee bit eccentric) and I force myself to engage, stop rolling my eyes and open up.

Maybe she’s on to something?

So I start a gratitude list because that’s what my homework tells me to do.

Sam’s gifts

#1. I didn’t cry today

#2. Jasmine tea steaming in a mug when it’s 100 degrees outside with the air conditioner on. (another heat wave in So Cal)

The first 20 are hard. Then it flows.

It doesn’t take long—maybe a week or so? And something starts to change in my spirit. The seed of joy burrows in, roots deep, and waits for me to water it.

Time slows, just a tiny bit. Probably because I am forced to stop and notice the details.

#23. the blooming of my garden

#24. the hot sun warming my toes

#25. the abusive Santa Ana winds that make me spend more time in my garden watering. Oh shucks!

I notice I have to be EXTRA aware. More present. If I focus on the past too much or the future I miss the present—the gifts are right now.

#56. the tiny lizard running by my feet as I type on the porch

#57. the sounds of my husband puttering around the garden setting rat traps to protect our tomatoes.

#58. my daughter Faith slams the door—home from school. She will be out here soon, bugging me, asking if we can watch a Hallmark movie together—her favorite treat.

………….

Today at Starbucks, they remember my name.

I stare at my cup.

SAM

Three little letters that fill me with ridiculous joy.

SAM

They didn’t ask me for my name or my credit card. They just knew me and my drink.

#100. the SAM cup makes me RIDICULOUSLY happy.

It’s a gift.

I am known.

And I praise God who creates community. Even this microcosmic Starbucks community—this hodge podge crew of baristas and caffeine addicts that accept me and love me despite the fact that I usually hog the leather chair next to the outlet.

#127 My tall Americano with room

#128 My comfy chair that I share (almost never) with other Starbucks peeps

#129 The friendly dad’s with the local sports page in hand who root for my son on the football field and chat up sports with me.

All of these go on the list

starbucks-cup-del1212

………

I scroll through Facebook and all of a sudden there’s a picture of my dad staring back at me.

What?

A family friend posted a picture of him (from last year) posing with their daughter Emmy (whom my parent’s adored) at her graduation.

Dad’s smiling his dad smile. Emmy is in her her robe and honors swag looking gorgeous. My step-mom Fran is proud of this sweet girl who spent her high school years living with them. And they are so happy.

10176148_10203697927108100_7844365443101313091_n

It’s out of the blue. And whack, I am stunned with emotion.

The tears jump like crickets out of my eyes and wet the keyboard–plop, plop, plop.

I stop, I look, and I remember my daddy—all the joy and the love and yes, even the sorrow.

#201 …And I thank God for this gift even though it hurts.

Ok, Ann Voskamp, you got my attention.

684381

broken-FUL

800a855ddbed8071dd9ba6971c3e2be8

I’m in a Catalyst coma. 

Thoughts are running amok and drool escapes as I try to unpack all the wisdom dumped on me in the last two days.

Catalyst is one of those conferences that seriously messes with your brain. It provokes and convicts and makes me stop and think about EVERYTHING.

And in the quiet moments over the last few days, one word keeps running through my head.

broken-FUL

I guess it’s not really a word, but it’s what I hear.

broken-FUL

God whisper’s to me, “Sam you are BROKEN right now.  A little  beaten down, raw, and vulnerable…and yet you are more beautiful to me in this mess than in any perceived sense of strength or control you think you might have.  In your weakness I fill you with my presence.  So you are FULL of me.”

broken-FUL

And although I HATE suffering at the time, I’m truly beginning to see its ravishing beauty.

Suffering disrupts life as we know it and flips us off the hamster wheel of self-importance and busyness into a heap of wet fur and woodchips. 

Why the wet fur? 

Because our water bowl always gets knocked over when we fly off the wheel screaming bloody murder.   There’s ego and pride, control and image management hurling through the darkness.

All that spinning and craziness is a messy affair. 

But it’s in the mess where he does his best work, isn’t it?

I saw Jason Russell speak today at Catalyst and it reminded me of this truth loud and clear.

For those of you not familiar with him–Jason Russell is the director of Invisible Children–the most watched documentary in the world about the abduction of children who are used as child soldiers by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This film centers around a group of Ugandan children who traipse miles each and every night to places of refuge in order to avoid abduction by the LRA.

After Russell’s film went globally viral, (over 120 million views in 10 days)Russell experienced a mental breakdown. 

Basically, God threw him off the hamster wheel.

It was embarrassing.  His woodchips/wet fur mess moment involved his bare bum running through the street and a global audience just waiting to rip him to shreds.

Jason suffered.  Jason went down.  Jason’s celebrity status crashed and burned. 

But not only did Jason survive the ordeal, he’s now a better leader because of the suffering.

Today, two years later, Jason’s mantle is shrouded in humility, compassion and DEPENDENCE on God.  Jason knows the 28 year-old war in Uganda will end only when God decides it will end.  And it won’t be because Jason made the War Lord “Kony” famous.

I sat in my chair and thought about Jason.

“See,” God whispered.  “broken-FUL.”

Here is a man who had everything, lost everything, suffered and suffered some more, and is now empty-handed offering his everything to Jesus.

BROKEN.  BEAUTIFUL.  FULL OF GOD.

broken-FUL

And that’s my prayer tonight.  I’ve got nothing God.  I’m stripped.  Bare. Take my nothing and FILL me FULL of you.

Where is God in your mess?

 

 

 

 

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

%d bloggers like this: