broken-FUL

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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.”

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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?

 

 

 

 

my kind of Crazy

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The honky-tonk music spilled out of the car as my son opened the door. It was one of those “my dog died, the fields dried up and I lost my favorite boot in a pile of cow dung” kind of songs.

Kyle reached for the radio to turn the station before he settled in to his seat.

“Don’t change the channel,” I grunted.

My son glanced at me with concern, “Why, mom? It’s totally depressing.”

“I’m trying to cry.”

“Huh? Kyle shot me a confused look.

“My pipes are clogged. I have a huge lump in my chest and I need to get rid of it. I think its PTSD.”

My son nodded carefully—a wise sage at fifteen, “Good idea mom.”

As we pulled up to the bay of lockers at his high school, Kyle climbed out the car and hollered like a drill sergeant at my open window, “I expect some tears when I get back young lady! Cry! Cry! Cry!

But instead of weeping a gurgled “waaahhhhh” sound of laughter and constipated tears tumbled out of me.

Other people cry pretty. Why do I sound like a broken doorbell?

I’ve always been a little afraid of emotion. I don’t seem to control it well. It’s much easier for me to write my tears than actually cry them.

When I do cry, it’s usually a colossal mess. Tears I’ve stuffed for a solid year (or two) suddenly reach their breaking point and boil over like hot lava. And once I start, it takes ages to settle down. I whimper and mew and mew some more.

It’s best to not go there.

But emotion not expressed seeps out. And under trauma—like I’m experiencing right now with losing both my parent’s—it finds a way to escape. And this escape takes strange forms—like anxiety attacks in grocery stores.

I know this because last week I freaked out in Trader Joe’s. (And maybe I did it yesterday too)

All of a sudden I felt like a lost little kid with no mommy in sight. My blood pressure sky-rocketed and I could feel the tsunami of tears pressing in on my throat.

I clutched the cart and held on for dear life.

I honestly wanted to curl up in a ball and howl in the wine section of Trader Joe’s.

So, I did the only thing I could think of. I took three deep breaths, prayed and called a friend.

But she didn’t pick up.

So I dialed my husband in desperation.

“Tim, I’m losing my (insert bad word) in Trader Joe’s. Talk me off the cliff.”

And so my sweet husband talked and talked like a 911 operators, and somehow, someway, I made it out of the store and to the safety of my car where I could shake and hiccup in peace.

I Googled “anxiety attack” when I got home.

Apparently, I’m repressing emotions.

Really?

I think it’s ironic how our culture affirms the opposite. I keep getting kudos for being “so strong.” Where do we get this idea that strength is devoid of emotion?

I need to be a puddle for a while. The stone face is not doing me any favors.

Like everyone else in Orange County, I look fine on the outside and the inside is a mess.

I’m sort of an anxiety ball that bounces around and functions because I have three kids and a husband. I read my scriptures; I take long walks and pray for the pain to go away. But most days I just wish I could curl up on the sofa under a cozy blanket, crank up the AC, light a fire (sorry East Coast friends) and an arsenal of candles and watch HGTV for a solid week(or two).

As I’ve shared my little “panic attack” moment with a few friends, I’ve heard similar stories. After my friend’s mom died, she freaked out in grocery stores for a solid year. Another friend said her mom experienced something similar after her dad died.

Who knew this was normal? Maybe I’m not the only one out there doing “whoo whoo whoo” labor breathing in Trader Joes to calm down?

Yesterday, I made it out of the store on my own. The checker gave me a few weird looks—probably because I was shaking violently and struggled to swipe my card, but I survived.

And sometimes getting past trauma is just that—surviving until we find our smile again.

And finding someone else who understands your kind of crazy.

–Samantha

Dance, Daddy, Dance…

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When I was a little girl my dad would put me up on the table and say, “Dance, Sammy, dance!”

And the two of us would dance like maniacs. 

Not too long ago I caught him doing the same thing with my youngest daughter Kolby.  And she giggled and cracked up as she watched her Papa Ken dance like a big goof with all his heart.

If you ask little Kolby, “Who’s your best friend?  She will say, with no hesitation, “Papa Ken!”

Because she knows whose got her back.

……

As a little girl, it was obvious to me that my dad was different than the other daddies.  He got up earlier and he worked later.  He was ambitious, the proverbial Type A personality who drilled into me the importance of the P words!—Perseverance, Persistence and PPMF (Piss Poor Planning Means Failure). 

He was movie star handsome, charming and extremely loyal.  He was a good provider and strong leader.  He was also a bit of a brat (and that’s putting it nicely).

But in the last ten years—slowly at first and then rapidly—my dad changed dramatically.  Oh, he still had all the great qualities that made him a successful doctor and man, but he added to that the inner qualities that set great men apart from the rest—humility, patience, kindness and gentleness. 

If you asked him what the difference was, he would have said God changed his heart.  Many people will say this but my dad lived it out.

Where there was once darkness now there was light. 

I talked to my dad almost every day –although in the last six months because of his brain disease he would forget and say “I miss talking to you Sammy, and I would laugh because we’d talked for an hour that very morning. 

And during our talks he would remind me of our special stories—which usually meant some form of torment for me. 

One of his favorite tales was skiing at Park City Utah.  I was six years old and my step-mom Fran was stranded back in the hotel room with a broken tail-bone—probably relieved to get a break from the slopes with my hard driving daddy. 

We ascended to the toughest run on the mountain.  It was a triple black diamond run with “ski at your own risk” signs and “possible death warnings.”

A group of about twenty men stood at the tip of the cornice and peered over the edge which dropped straight down.  An arctic wind whipped up icy swirls taunting the timid.It was a 30 feet drop to hit the snow. 

Some men were brave and gathered enough courage to jump, but most turned around and went back to the lift with their tail between their legs.

I was terrified and pleaded to return to the lift.

My dad looked at me and said very firmly, ‘You don’t have to ski down, but you will walk. And it’s a long way back to the hotel.”

I glared at him and a deep well of anger churned in my belly. 

And indignation launched me right off the cliff. 

The entire crowd started cheering for the little girl who took the mountain.  My dad said that once he recovered from the shock, he then had to catch up with me—because I didn’t slow down to wait for him.

This same story out played over and over again throughout our lives.  He dared, or teased, and I took the bait.  It’s why I went to UCLA to spite his USC and it’s why I had a chip on my shoulder all those years to prove that a girl was just as good as a boy.

Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, because it drove me to achieve, but in the end it didn’t matter–in the end I had nothing left to prove.

Once my dad changed, the chip on my shoulder turned to mush. 

I knew without a doubt that he simply loved me for who I was, not for what I accomplished, or the things I accumulated, just unconditionally.

And his love was life changing to a grown up woman with a little girl’s heart still seeking the love and approval of a father.

Some people never realize what they have until it’s gone.  Not my dad.  In the last few years Ken not only recognized his many blessings but he became a huge blessing to those around him.

On Thanksgiving Day this year, my dad said at the dinner table he was most grateful for his relationship with God.  I prayed for fifteen years to hear my dad say those words. 

If I had been honest, which I wasn’t because I am protective of my tears and didn’t want to cry like a baby over the turkey, I would have said, “I am most grateful for finally having the relationship of my dreams with my dad.” 

It might have taken 38 years—but the last few years made up for a lifetime.

On the night my daddy died, I sat and read to him.  He squeezed my hand as I read this verse from Eccles. 3.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

It was right at a time to dance that I got the squeeze.  I jumped up and I kissed his forehead and he raised his eyebrow.

(Pretty good for being in a coma)

They say it’s not how you start a race that matters; it’s how you finish it. 

I believe Jesus is now holding my dad’s hand and putting him in a place of honor.  He is saying well done, my good and faithful servant. 

And I can hear the sound of a million angels singing.

And my dad is dancing on the table like a big goof.

When Your Teen Dates

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No parent knows what their kid will be like once they get into a relationship.

I certainly didn’t.

I hoped my son Kyle would be respectful, but after a series of Jr. High texting relationships which lasted well into high school, I wasn’t sure if any girl would move pass the social media realm and penetrate his heart for more than a ten minute crush.

But I was wrong.

My son has been in a relationship with his girlfriend Grace for about four months.  A few weeks ago they made it official and now they even have their own Instagram hashtag–#Gryle

This is serious people.

Now, my poor son has been the recipient of years of dating advice from his parents.  It’s what we write, speak and blog about.  And Kyle could probably regurgitate our shtick back to us in his sleep.

But I never knew if he truly listened—I mean really heard us—and internalized our message on dating differently.

Fortunately, I have been surprised on a million levels.

First of all, Kyle picked well.  Grace is not only lovely on the outside but on the inside as well.  She is intelligent, light-hearted, and family oriented.  She loves God, respects people and is a fiercely competitive athlete—something they both share.  She’s nice to animals, little sisters and mothers and I think this bodes well for her future.

And I really love her mom to boot.  Could it get any better?

Kyle and Grace have boundaries around school, sports and their own pursuits.  They encourage one another and push each other to excel.  It’s bizarrely mature.  And although they text each other it’s not an all day affair.  It’s after the home work is put away and the workouts are done, or a quick shout-out on the way home from school.

(I counsel thirty-five year olds who haven’t figured this out yet)

Next, Kyle treats Grace like gold. He cherishes her and respects her.  He is interested in her well-being on all levels—not just making out and hanging out (although they do those things a lot too).  But, Kyle cares about her as a person and not as a thing.  And Grace reciprocates.  It is mutual affection based on respect and appreciation.

And here is where I am deeply humbled.

Was I a part of this?  I know it’s a culmination of dad and mom and step-parents and mentors, but in a world where men treat women like objects, my son, despite being assaulted by porn and Victoria’s Secret and the onslaught of an over-sexualized culture is choosing to be different.

I know he will make many mistakes going forward (on top of those in the past) but watching him treat a woman with dignity makes my heart soar!

Especially because at that age I let men treat me badly.  I didn’t understand I was worth more.  My son’s behavior  is redemptive for me as a woman and I thank God for his grace and mercy.

(Now we just have to make sure Faith and Kolby don’t carouse with douche-bags who treat them poorly)

The biggest issue I have is that this whole experience is so wonderful I don’t want it to ever end.

I’ll dream and pray none the less—maybe high school sweethearts can still make it in our crazy world?

–Samantha

 

Just as an update on my parents and a BIG THANKS to all who are praying.  My mom is on hospice now at home.  She has stopped chemo and all treatment for her pancreatic cancer.  We are enjoying the time she has left and pouring out our love on her in abundance.  Most of my days are now spent at their home in La Quinta trying to capture her smile and elegance and etch it into my memory forever.  My step-dad is doing a beautiful job of caring for her, along with family and friends, and hospice is a God-send.

My dad is at a secure Alzheimer’s facility in Beaumont.  He is recovering from three surgeries after he jumped off a ten-foot balcony at Christmas from paranoia due to his brain disease.  Mentally, he is pretty much gone and it’s heart-breaking.  He thought my step-mom was Santa the other day.  Physically, he is still having some complications from the broken back, compound fracture of the tibia and fibula and shattered ankle.  The pin has come loose from the ankle and the hole from the pin is infected.  Please pray for healing and comfort as we journey down this very difficult road with him.  I miss him desperately! 

Bear Hunt

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“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…” and in a split second the year 2014 ushered in.  I sighed and squeezed Tim’s hand as he leaned over and kissed me gently.  Our neighborhood ricocheted with cheers and the shrill blare of tinny paper horns. 

Normally, when the ball drops, I am jubilant.  I lift my glass and toast to a new year of life and love and adventure.  But this year, as I watched the ball drop and the confetti swirl, I felt a tickle of dread slithering up my back.

Anxiety doesn’t rest well on my narrow shoulders—I’d rather smile and live in the land of denial and lightheartedness.  If I could only push rewind on the clock and go back about six months to the days of summer bliss—before the tempest hit. I’d fork over my entire piggy bank for just one day of my old normal.

I sing a little ditty in the shower.  My husband quizzically looks at me.  “Sam, why are you singing about bear hunts?”

I guess it’s because I can’t get the song out of my head. So, I hum some more.

“We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re gonna catch a big one.  We’re not scared.”

This little refrain is my new theme song.   It makes me feel brave when life is overwhelming.  The bear represents my fears and I’m Katnis Everdeen hunting them down.  Even when I’m quaking in my boots, I do it afraid.  I chase the bear.  If God is with me, then what bear can stop me?

In the story, the family (a mom and dad and three tots) encounter a series of obstacles while chasing a large and scary bear.

Their journey is difficult and they do everything they can to avoid the roadblocks—the raging river, the perilous mountains and the roaring blizzard.  But there is no way around the storms.

‘Oh no,” they say.  “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, I guess we have to go through it.”

This is me in 2014.  I’m on a bear hunt.  I can’t gloss over it, or avoid it. I can’t stuff the emotions or hide from the inevitable, I must go through it.

I returned to my office last week—quiet and subdued, more melancholy than my normally chipper demeanor.

“How was your holiday Sam?” my co-worker inquired.

 “Well, my dad cornered my brother and step-mom on Christmas day and beat them with a bed post.  I spent an hour on the phone trying to talk him out of killing them.”

Pause.  Friend opens his mouth in horror.

The next day my father jumped off a balcony believing bad guys were chasing him.  It wasn’t suicide, it was paranoia—it’s evil twin.

I was in Burlington Coat Factory when I got the call–a broken back, compound fracture of the tibia and fibia, and a shattered ankle.  Three surgeries scheduled. 

I remember my dad saying only a few weeks ago, “At least I’m not in physical pain like your mom is with the pancreatic cancer.  She suffers brutally, Sammy, I’m just turning into a nutcase.”

I think it’s a toss-up now who’s in the most pain.  At least, my dad is psychotic–maybe his pain is numbed by brain atrophy? 

Christmas was a blur of beautiful and sacred moments with my mom–trying on dresses and twirling before her, watching the kids open presents, and having a Christmas meal on the sofa like a picnic because she was too weak to sit at the table.  Every minute with her, I pack into a mental scrapbook of treasures–knowing this is my last Christmas with her and cherishing every look, tear, and whisper of love.

There were many visits to the hospital to visit my dad.  It was gut-wrenching.  For a week his eyes were locked shut, his mouth open under labored breathing.  When he woke, he cried out in terror and punched nurses believing they were trying to hurt him.  The nurses retaliated by drugging him back into unconsciousness. 

I don’t blame them.  I would do the same with a random crazy guy, but it’s different when the crazy guy is your daddy. 

The family in the story finally finds the bear in a dark ominous cave.  They accidentally wake the beast and he roars a terrible roar and shows his sharp teeth. The family runs like hell back through the raging storm, the treacherous mountains and the wild river.

Finally they arrive home and lock the door.  They hide in a bedroom and hold one another close and sing, “We went on a bear hunt and we caught a big one.  We’re not scared.”  And they laugh in the nervous jittery laugh of those who have survived their worst fears and looked the demon in the eye.

And so when I answered my friend at work, I laughed this same jittery laugh and thought of the bear chasing me. 

While I’ve never been afraid to confront my fears, it seems like now my worst nightmares are chasing me.  The fear of being alone—orphaned without the safety net of my parent’s covering, the fear of watching a loved one suffer (much less two at the same time) and the fear of letting go and confronting death.

And like the family in the story, I can’t escape.  The pain is present no matter where I go and it doesn’t get any better avoiding it.

I have to face the mountains, the river and the storm. 

And one day, I imagine I’ll make my way home again and hide under the covers and look back in wonder that this journey didn’t kill me.  It feels like it should.  But it didn’t.

The bear hunt will be behind me. And I’ll be different because of it.

 

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.

The Family Discussion

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“Mom, Dad, we have something we want to discuss with you.”

My husband and I looked at each other in apprehension.  It’s always a little scary when your three kids—even the toddler—band together for a “family discussion.”

My oldest son Kyle took the lead, “You said if mom didn’t get pregnant by Christmas, we could get a puppy.”

The girls nodded their head in agreement and three-year-old Kolby chimed in with a chant, “puppy, puppy, puppy!”

I exhaled a big whoosh of exasperation, delighted at my children’s tenacity and complete frustration at my old and rusty uterus. 

The kids are right.  We’ve tried and tried and it’s time to own up and pay our puppy dues.

I really do want my kids to get their dream dog.  I also really want one more baby.  I guess I want both.

I don’t want to throw in the towel yet (I’ve still got a month) but my biological clock seems to have stalled and stuck—it’s been two years and two miscarriages—so unless we explore infertility, I am more likely picking up dog poop in the near future than changing diapers.

(Insert a melancholy tune)

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this breathtaking sadness at hanging up the cleats in the baby making department. 

I see women all the time who have one or two kids and are so adamant they are DONE. 

While I respect their resolve, I’ve never had that feeling stick.  Not even once! 

No timer dinged loudly in my brain or heart.  The only thing holding me back from the Brangelina adoption of a mini-tribe is money. 

As far as I concerned, the more (munchkins) the merrier.

When I hear people complain about their kids I cover my ears.  Yes, these little (and big) suckers drive me bazonkers, but it’s a beautiful chaos. 

Call me crazy, but I just want more.  More kisses, more cuddles, more baseball games and tutu’s, more giggles and yes…even more teenage angst. 

Children are life—ravishing reminders of God’s blessing and love in a world of chaos. 

Maybe my thinking is broken.  Maybe it’s letting go of control?  I don’t know.  It’s just hard to watch the baby years come to a halt. 

Maybe I’m afraid of who I am when I don’t have a passel of children around to distract me.  Before I had kids, I was a little lonely.  I was a (mostly) only child with a large age gap between myself and my half-brother.  A large family fills that gap. 

The laughter, the noise, the energy…I love it.

Tim and I told the kids we would seriously consider our prior agreement. 

I also told them to ignore any strange noises from our bedroom. 

 “EEEEWWWWWW!!!!! Gross!” yelled my middle schooler.  Kyle just smirked.

(This is one way to guarantee you will never have sex, because kids are smarter.  Kyle simply stays up until 1:00am doing homework, Kolby and Faith wake up at 5:00am since the time change and just for good measure, Kolby also wakes up in the middle of the night to go potty)

We have to be sneaky in this house.

And we just might need to call a handyman to repair the broken fence on our dog run (just in case).

AAAHHH! My Son Brought a Girl Home!

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I saw lots of adorable scarecrows costumes this Halloween—dainty Dorothy’s with a Toto peeping from a basket spilling over with candy—and of course, spooky green witches—but not once did I encounter my favorite character—the cowardly lion.

In all honesty, I believe it’s the costume that best represents us all—a fearful people—raging and roaring in image management as we tremble in our boots and hope no one see through us.

We have moments of glory where we roar our terrible roars and knash our terrible teeth, and then reality rears its ugly head and we go back to worrying about the bills and our health, Obamacare and North Korea, our marriages, teenagers, and a million other concerns.

Fear steals our joy and anxiety makes tyrants of all, but courage—glorious courage—when it breaks through—shines like the light of a million stars.

I saw a glimpse of a courageous little lion stepping out of her comfort zone and into bravery the other night.

On Halloween evening, a friend of Kyle’s—a specific Girl friend stopped by the house to meet us.  The beautiful young lady, accompanied by a friend and her mom, walked up to the door and introduced herself.

Grace and Kyle—while not officially dating—have a strong fondness for each other.  I can see the sparkle in her eyes when she looks at my son.  At the Varsity football games, when they call his name over the loud-speaker for a tackle, she squeals with delight.  She wears his number #34 proudly on her cheek and she even dressed in one of old jerseys for Halloween. 

They are sweet together—it’s high emotion and furious texting and the blood racing tingles of high school romance. 

And to their benefit, these two are trying to navigate the space of family, church, age-appropriateness and really liking each other in a God honoring way

So what was so scary to Grace?  Apparently us. 

Meeting the parent’s—the scary dating experts—the pastor and the blogger—the mom of her crush—were all just terrifying to the poor girl.

I can’t imagine how awkward it was for her.  I was dressed as a saloon girl and Tim was a cowboy.  Our porch was covered in candles, strobe lights, pumpkins, bats and thumping ghoulie tunes.  Kids and neighbors poured over our walkway. 

It was funny way to meet the first girl he’s ever brought home—strangely formal, bizarre, and so endearing.

But I knew if Kyle was making the effort to include us we’d better pay attention.

And so little Grace—the competitive gymnast with the strawberry blond hair—bucked up, put on her big girl pants and braved the parents. 

Although I don’t know her very well and I’m not sure I’m ready for dating, I like how Grace operates. 

Fear does not define her.  She moved at the scary ‘meet the parents “moment with quaking feet and a fluttering heart, (our son told us this all later) but the point is she moved.  She planted those feet on our porch and stuck out her hand with a smile.

Grace defined her circumstances instead of letting her fear (or circumstances) define her.

The cowardly lion ends up learning courage because there is something MORE important enough in his life than the fear to make it worth the frightening journey.

And it makes this mama smile to think my son was the important thing that motivated her to be brave. 

Is there something scary or overwhelming in your life where you need an extra dose of courage?

10 Things Happy People Do Better

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On the cork pin-board at my Happy Place (AKA Starbucks), I noticed a sign –10 Things Happy People Do Differently.

So, I took a picture of it, and elaborated.  Because, although I have the eternal joy of the Lord, a few tips on happy never hurt. 

Here is what Happy People Do better:

1.  They Express Gratitude

When you are grateful for what you have, what you have appreciates in value.  My Sr. Pastor Kenton Beshore puts it this way, “Who is the man who is more content –a man with five kids or the man with none?  The answer is: The man with five kids, because he doesn’t want any more.”

If you aren’t happy now, you won’t be happy in the land of “IF ONLY…”

2. They Cultivate Optimism

Be the exact opposite of Bella in Twilight.  If Edward bails on you, recognize that Jacob is JUST as hot(although nowhere near close to my husband) and move on with your life. 

Expect good things to happen and keep your chin up during trying times.  Focus on the big picture, focus your eyes on Jesus, pray hard, and think positive.

3.  They Avoid Social Comparison

I love this!  Ladies, this means sometimes we might need to take a hiatus from Pinterest, Facebook, or Insta (as my kids call it), if we can’t stop the overwhelming feelings of “craft” inadequacy, or “travel” envy, or whatever your issue is…

Remember, MOST people only post their awesome stuff (or occasionally) the really bad stuff going on in their life.  All you get is  a snippet of their top 10%.  The rest of their life is lived in the 80% of normalcy.  Don’t compare your normal to their awesome.  It’s not apples to apples.  Also, I read some statistic recently, that said people lie all the time on social media. Don’t fall for the lie and don’t lie to look better.

Just be You!

4.  They Practice Random Acts of Kindness 

Helping people always makes you feel better.  One great way is to pay for the person’s drink behind you in line at Starbucks! 

5.  They Nurture Relationships

Happy people have friends.  Find a buddy.

6.  They Develop Healthy Coping Strategies

It helps to have healthy ways to deal with stress in your arsenal, before you lose it at Happy Hour and turn into Sloppy Sue. I made a Coping List a long time ago when I was a single mom (a word that says it all). 

Some of my “go to” ways of dealing with stress are: Taking a walk, hitting the gym, praying, pouring it all out into a journal, calling a girlfriend, reading, watching Little Bear with my toddler, drinking a cup of hot tea, and (now that I’m married) asking my husband to tell me ten times in ten different ways why he loves me.

7.  They Forgive

Holding onto anger and unforgiveness only hurts you.

8.  They Live “In the moment”

Put your phone down.  Interact fully with people.  Give your conversation or task all your attention. Be present.

9.  They Savor Special Moments

Now that you are focused on the moment, try not to hurry or rush through them.  Take mental snapshots of special moments and let yourself FEEL joy.

10.  They Commit to Goals

What do you want to do?  What’s stopping you?  Find a way to work towards what brings you joy.  For me, it’s writing, serving my family and glorifying God.  If I can do one or all of those things each day, it’s a pretty good day.

What makes you happy?

The Bench

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I clock a lot of hours on the bench at my kid’s gymnastics studio.  Not surprisingly, I hear more conversations than I would like to.  I’m not nosy, but I am female, so even though I try not to eavesdrop, sometimes it’s difficult to close my ears.

I’ve seen a lot of single dads at the gym lately.  You can always tell when there are drop offs between a tense mom and dad, usually in the middle of a divorce, and the gym is their neutral turnover zone.

Bags are exchanged.  Homework explained.  Guilt-trips are delicately laced with instructions.

Little kids wave goodbye to mommy or daddy and try and put on a brave face before their peers and coach.  Little tears escape, brushed away in an effort to be a “big girl.”

Shoulders are slumped.  Sadness exudes.  Defeat hangs like a dense fog.

I notice an air of confusion on many of the recently single parents.  It’s as if they wear a large sticker on their forehead reading “Why didn’t this divorce make me happier?”

One of these sad guys plopped himself down next to me the other day.  He looked well put together, effortlessly stylish –clearly he had money and confidence –and yet something was wanting.

Another man walked by and inquired how he was doing –and out the story spilled.

His wife left him for another man.  But not just any man –it was his best friend.  She is demanding $10k a month for her expenses.  She also left him with her daughter whom he was now raising.  They were married all of thirteen months.

Through his anger and liberal use of f-bombs, I heard heart-wrenching and desperately raw pain.

I tried to fade into the wall.  I didn’t want to hear it.  It brought back emotions and days I don’t want to remember.

I watched his little girl do a handstand and wave and blow kisses, trying to make him smile.  She could tell her daddy was hurting.

And it reminded me how every person I meet has a story. 

That even the uber-attractive and wealthy folks pulling out of the kiddie gym in a Ferrari are often dying on the inside. 

EVERY interaction and EVERY encounter I make is important to someone.  Each day I have the opportunity to bring life or death, joy or pain, comfort or more sorrow to an already suffering soul.

I was recently told by a pharmaceutical rep that our CVS Pharmacy in Ladera Ranch has the highest revenue in the nation of prescription anti-depressants. 

This means my community of beautiful wisteria clad homes, hard bodies, families with 2.3 kids, and happy smiley faces is secretly drowning in a disease of sorrow hidden behind image management.

I tried not to be intrusive, but as I left, I looked the man in the eye and acknowledged his pain.  He weakly smiled back and went on his way.

And I am brought to my knees, crying out to God for this hurting man, for my hurting community, and for a world where hope is holding on by a thin thread.

If you are one of those struggling today, please let me encourage you to hold on.  Reach out and let someone know you need help.  You can’t do life alone.  We need each other.  We need Jesus with skin on.  We need people.

God reveals himself and comforts us through those who have walked in our shoes and previously traveled down the dark roads. 

You aren’t alone.

Hang on my friends.  Hang on…

–Samantha

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