Counting the Gifts

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“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

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………

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.

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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.

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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

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.

 

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

Plan B

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I love meeting young people who have a plan.  They have known since they were five years old they wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a mommy or a teacher. 

They are the PLAN A types.

My dad drilled this idea into my head starting in pre-school. 

“Sammy, what does PPMF mean?”

(imagine me as a three year-old with blond pigtails and a seventies smock with knee socks)

“Daddy, it means Piss Poor Planning Means Failure.” 

“That’s right honey, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Big wink and thumbs up dad!

But sometimes our plans and God’s plans collide.

I was the Type A kid on the mommyhood track.  I had a plan to marry, have kids and graduate from college in a certain timeframe.  In fact, I was 8 months pregnant when I graduated from UCLA.  I took my last final, came home and laid out my cap and gown and cute little maternity dress.  Then I worked on decorating my girly nursery.  I gently folded the delicate baby girl clothes I received at my first baby shower and placed them in my new baby chest of drawers. 

But instead of going to my graduation ceremony and party that weekend, I ended up in the hospital with a kidney infection and pre-term labor. 

During my fifth ultrasound of  my stay in the hospital, the tech looks over at me and says, you know what sex baby you are having right? 

I tell him yes, I am having a girl.  And he starts laughing. 

“Lady, I see a penis.” 

“The heck you do, I’m having a girl.” 

And he keeps laughing because the evidence is nonnegotiable

Plan B is my awesome amazing son Kyle Riley who was supposed to be Alexis Whitney.

We like to make plans and we want them to align with God’s plan. 

(It makes things so much easier when we are all on the same page, right?)

But how do we determine God’s will for our life?

How do we know what job we should take or what person we should marry or where we should live?  How do we know what kindergarten to put our kid in or what church to attend?

Questions like these get even harder when we think we are following God’s plan and then everything falls apart.  Maybe we misunderstood God or misinterpreted the signs. 

But it’s never really that simple. 

Knowing God’s will for your life is not a science.  There is no equation. 

No “I do this =and God does this for me.”  It’s often just a matter of trial and error. 

But I’ll let you in on the secret:  The answer to knowing God’s will is to KNOW GOD; because when you know God the questions change.

Chapter 16 of the Book of Acts tells an interesting story about Paul who is preparing to go to Asia to preach. 

He believes its God’s will and we all know Paul to be tight with God.  If anyone is going to get this right it’s going to be Paul.

But something is off.

Think about when you plan a mission trip.  You raise support, send out letters, plan, pray, plan, buy a ticket and get on an airplane.  And that’s modern times.

Paul had to raise support, wait until spring (because traveling in the Mediterranean in the winter is a recipe for death) and find a crew and a boat.  It was complicated and it involves a massive amount of prayer and planning.

Acts 16:6 tells us:

“Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.  So instead they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. 

So Paul heads for Asia and ends up in Troas?  That’s disheartening.  He thought he heard God but maybe not. 

Was he wrong?

You may remember a time you have hit a roadblock like that.

You got into a great college, but you can’t afford it.  You meet the perfect girl and then right before the wedding the relationship unravels.  You get the job you always wanted and then you hate it.

You were pretty sure you were going in the direction God wanted you to go in and then all of a sudden you are filled with doubt because it didn’t work out the way you expected.

So when the Bible says Paul was stopped by the Holy Spirit, it’s not exactly clear what that means.

We are never told how he was told not to go –was it a storm or a vision or a buddy who said, “Paul, I’m not feeling up to Asia.”

We just don’t know.  But then he ends up in Troas and he doesn’t know where to go next.

This comforts me.  I’ve been in that Troas place lots of times.  I thought I knew where God wanted me and then all of a sudden it’s Troas time.

Sometimes our God plan doesn’t work out.  Sometimes we end up with a blue nursery with circus animals instead of a pink one with daisy’s.

And then we hit Plan B and it’s hard and awkward and we are uncomfortable.

But if we sit around, complaining and second guessing Plan B, we miss something important along the way. 

Erwin McManus, one of my favorite authors and the pastor of Mosaic Church says when Plan B hits; part of the problem is that we ask the wrong question.

Paul doesn’t know the what, when and the where of his circumstances. He doesn’t know what he is supposed to be doing or if and when it will happen. 

But he does know the most important thing, he knows the why.

His purpose and his mission are to bring glory to God with his life.

Most of us though freak out about the other questions…

  • Where am I going to live?
  • Will this relationship work out?
  • Is this the right job for me?

We are so focused on the what, when, where and how that we forget about the “why”.

Pastor Pete Wilson suggests…”Often in life, the what, when and where are not going to turn out the way you want them to.  You don’t always get to choose, but you do get to choose the why.  You may not get to choose where you work, but you do get to choose why you work.    You may not get to choose what your future is going to be, but you do get to choose how you live.”

If you can keep your focus on the why, the other questions tend to sort themselves out.

Proverbs 16:9 reminds us:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps.

In this life, many of your questions will remain unanswered.  But through it all, God will never change.  This is why our faith must remain on his identity and not his activity.

Our task then is to do what we would do if we were confident God was with us.

Once we know our purpose and our mission, “who, what, when and where” become less important.

We become people who care more about the why.

Is there a situation in your life right now where understanding the why might change your perspective?

 

Cross references:

  1. Proverbs 16:9 : S ver 1; S Job 33:29; S Ps 90:12

 

Two Different Worlds

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Tim and I attend an inordinate amount of weddings –mainly because my hubby is a wedding pastor and teaches a pre-marital class. (And I would suggest because he is brilliant, hot and won’t mess up their pictures)

At one of our recent festivities we were seated at the “reserved” family table and enjoying dinner when one of the groomsmen brought over the family housekeeper and invited her to sit in an empty seat next to him. While the sweet housekeeper appeared flustered and awkward because she wasn’t dressed up, she did agree to join us and jumped up to grab the waiter for a plate.

As soon as the housekeeper walked over to the bar, the groomsmen quietly explained to our table that the housekeeper was sitting inside all alone and he wanted to include her because she was a part of the family. We all nodded and agreed it was a fabulous idea, except for his mother.

“She’s not invited son. She’s the help. I didn’t pay for her to eat with us,” the mother exclaimed in a loud and shrill voice.

I shrunk down in my chair in mortification.

Her son boldly stared his mother down. “It’s too late. I’ve invited her. Deal with it.”

The mother scowled and turned away. But a few minutes later she was back to telling us how involved she was at her church and yada, yada, yada…

And then I vomited in my mouth a little.

Because the damage of her remark lingered and it made me wonder how she viewed me –was I the lowly help too.

As the pastor’s wife, I wasn’t really an invited guest.

I looked down at the ground and chewed on my thoughts.

Do I judge like that? Do I discount people because of occupation or status?

While I hope not, I will fess up to feeling uncomfortable at Knott’s berry Farm the other day. I felt very fair-skinned and un-inked in a land of gang-type attire and attitude. I even saw toddlers with tattoos. I had to work hard to smile big and not retreat in fear.

And while nothing in me made me feel better or set apart, I did feel different and I know in awkward situations it’s easier to push away then lean in and embrace.

But as Christians that’s exactly what we need to do. We must stop trying to LOOK spiritual and BE spirit lead. We need to not only love our servants, we need to be servants. We are commanded to love our neighbor –even when they have unsupervised kids who randomly show up and stay too late, even when they party every Friday and Saturday night until 3:00am right outside your bedroom window, and even when they cuss you out on Social Media for a misunderstanding.

We need to embrace the uncomfortable.

So, although I didn’t confront the woman at the party because we don’t have that type of relationship, I wish I could have grabbed a cup of coffee with her and held her hand and looked her in the eyes and said…

I know this isn’t easy. I won’t pretend you will feel comfortable but let’s risk together.

Why don’t we invite the down-trodden in our life to the party? Let’s make room at our table for the poor and the quirky and the Mexican woman who has loved your kids and vacuumed up the dust-bunnies and scrubbed the stains out of your shirt. Let’s bless and love and love some more, even when it’s hard and even when people will raise their eyebrows.

–Sam

Bad at Goodbyes

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I’m not good at goodbyes.

Sometimes God has to light a fire under my butt to get me to move on.

The moment of truth hit me hard as I prayed and reflected at Catalyst ( a leadership conference) this week. 

I kept picturing a donkey with my face on it.  Over and over I heard references to Balaam’s Ass.

Could God be talking to me?  Was I the ass?

I knew, if I was brutally honest, I was operating like a stubborn mule about leaving our church to follow my husband to his new assignment.

For the last month, I have justified staying at the church we started in Mission Viejo instead of transitioning gracefully to my husband’s current position as singles and young couple’s pastor on the Irvine campus.

“It’s because of the kids.” I tell people (and lie to myself). 

But my last stand was starting to feel yucky.  Once the church in Mission Viejo announced Tim’s departure (four weeks ago) I should have packed my bags, followed my man and waved goodbye.

Instead, I stuck my heels in the sand.

And it’s confused people.  For the last few weeks, parishioners at MV have approached me quizzically, “I thought you left?” they ask.

And I answer sheepishly, “Well, uhhhh….(stutter more and stammer), you know, my husband did, but I’m staying with the kids who are sooooo connected.”

Blank stare.

I’m like the poster child for Sarah NOT following Abraham.

But this has nothing to do with Tim, who is my HERO, it’s about ME letting go of something I love.

Even though it couldn’t be clearer it’s time to move on.

This MV campus, the one we discovered after driving around every Saturday for six months in a car with two kids is doing just fine without us. 

It’s vibrant and sustainable and our part is over. 

But walking away from the church we have poured our lives and the deepest recesses of our hearts into isn’t easy. 

For two years my entire family lived and breathed this church.  From early morning until late at night our home became the church walls.  I labored 14 hours with Kolby at the church.  My kids did their homework and explored every nook and cranny of the cavernous building.  The church building was their playground, home base and their life. 

Five nights a week and six days, the five of us (along with the Alexander’s and the Ramsey’s) built a community of believers and volunteers.  We were the spiritual version of “SEAL Team 6”  fighting to build the walls of Jerusalem in Ladera Ranch. 

About one day a week, usually interrupted by a leaky church roof or some other crisis, we collapsed comatose on the sofa exhausted and ate pizza again–the diet of a church planter.

I worked three jobs during that time –thirty hours a week as an account manager for an IT company, twenty hours a week freelancing as a writer and another 20 hours at the church as the women’s pastor and assistant to my hubs. 

And as exhausting as that sounds, it was AWESOME.

We had a clearly defined mission and purpose that made every task worthwhile and a joy. 

I cleaned almost thirty toilets each week the first few months until we had budget for facilities. 

And I loved it –every stinky, challenging, conflict-ridden second.

Eventually the church stabilized, lead teachers were brought in and we were allowed to pull back and resume normal life.

But it’s never really normal after an experience like that. 

And maybe that’s what I miss the most and ultimately what I yearn for.

Adventure.  Purpose.  Meaning.

A journey so grand it’s IRRESTIBLE.

I didn’t go back to MV this weekend; I attended our new (old) church in Irvine and opened my heart and arms up for the next season.  I might have cried a little too and mourned the past as I simultaneously embraced the future.

And Like Isaiah I cried out, “Here I am God, use me (again).”

Because the crazy wild life of following God is worth every heartache and tear and even though I left a little part of my heart in MV, I can’t wait for the next mission impossible.

Have you ever struggled to let go of something you loved as God moves you into the next season? 

Courage is Not the Absence of Fear

courageI feel pretty confident as a writer –it comes naturally and it’s in my wheel house, but public speaking on the other hand, has been a long process over the last ten years of trial and error, practice and more practice and an unfailing trust that God has got my back even when I’m TERRIFIED.

I used to be one of “those” people they quote in statistics; you know the ones who would rather die than get on a stage and open their mouth?

Clearly God has a sense of humor about my current occupation as writer/speaker.

So, I’m finally to the point where I’m mostly comfortable up front and can laugh and joke and poke fun with the crowd, but I’m still learning how to handle the unexpected without getting my feathers flustered.

Like last Monday night at Frister’s when the powers of evil tried to take me out in the women’s restroom.

I pulled up to Yorba Linda Friend’s church a few minutes early and managed to get lost in the massive worship center before I located the area I was to speak for the young women’s group.  Then I searched for the bathroom. 

Not to be too graphic…but I had to tinkle –BAD.

Yep, I was doing the potty dance and when I finally located the long bay of restrooms I ran in with great relief. 

And since I had a really full bladder, I figured I had a minute or two to check the Twitter feed on my iPhone for the Boston Marathon bombings.

(No judgment please)

Within a few seconds, I was totally engrossed in the news and pictures and terrible sadness when all of a sudden the lights turned off.

And it was pitch black, darker than dark.  

I’m not kidding –it was the absence of all light.

No windows existed in the cavernous ladies restroom of the Friend’s Church and I couldn’t see an inch in front of me except for my trusty iPhone.

I managed to button up and stand, slightly panicked, when my tiny source of illumination and hope flickered out.

My iPhone died.

Seriously?

Now real panic set in.

I figured I was in one of those bathrooms where the lights are triggered by motion.  So I frantically waved my arms around like a crazy person.

BAD IDEA SAM.

This resulted in bone crushing pain to my right arm but still no light.

Clutching my arm and purse I finally got the lock open on the door, staggered out and crashed into the sink. 

As I howled in pain, jumped up and down and dropped more BAD words than the FRIENDS probably ever heard, the lights FINALLY turned back on.

I glanced in the mirror and groaned. 

There I stood, three minutes before go-time, with black mascara and tears streaming down my face, hair and clothes completely disheveled and an arm I couldn’t lift.

How was I supposed to pull this train-wreck together?  I was pretty sure my arm was fractured. 

And then I thought about the marathon runners in Boston who gave blood after running 26 miles and the rescue workers trudging on and the people fighting for their lives with blown off limbs.

And I knew the power of a God who raised Christ from the dead could get me through the next hour.

Seconds later I walked out of the bathroom from HELL and did the job God called me to do. 

Fast forward sixty minutes and now I’m praying with a young girl in tears convicted to end her life of promiscuity.  It was humbling and healing and so REDEMPTIVE.

And I thought about our responsibility as ministers and representatives of Christ.

My job is not to entertain or put on a show or dazzle with words. 

It’s really just to show up –real and wounded and raw. 

And somehow, in spite of all our fears and clutziness and epic bathroom debacles he uses the scared and the weakest of these to show HIS glory.

 

How does God show up in your weak moments? 

Twice Lost

lost: Unable to find one’s way: a lost child.

I was twenty-two years old the first time I lost my brother. Eighteen years later I have lost him again.

The first time he disappeared my parents left me in charge of the twelve-year-old squirt while they vacationed in Europe. I came home from college one Spring break to care for him and failed miserably in my first attempt at pseudo-parenting.

One afternoon he took off a skateboard to play with the neighbor kids and didn’t return for dinner. After searching door to door and calling all his friends, I finally contacted the police in desperation. Close to midnight, I stood in the darkness outside of my parent’s home and with tears and sobs and groans of utter despair -I begged for God’s mercy.

Something overtook me then–something holy and mystical –a presence of sweet and utter peace. And I knew God heard me.

Two hours later, after the police combed the neighborhood with dogs and helicopters, my brother was found. He had fallen asleep on the floor of the next door neighbor’s house in their third floor playroom. Somehow in the panic of the search and managing their own five children, my brother had slipped by unnoticed by the neighbor’s and only woke with the roar of helicopters.

I took my bargain with God seriously. The next day was Good Friday and I stood up at the altar call and officially sealed the deal with my Savior.

It’s almost twenty years later and in a weird twist of irony it’s Easter weekend again.

And once again my brother is lost.

It happened in the blink of an eye. He started using drugs. He lost his job and girlfriend. The highs became higher and the lows became lower.

On Palm Sunday my father called me from the hospital and choked out the horrific details.

In a violent and vicious drug rage, my brother attacked our parents and almost killed my step-mom. He was arrested for felony assault to elders and incarcerated.

My father, suffering from dementia tried to protect his wife and call 911 as he was forced to defend himself against his own son throwing blows at him.

I’ve never felt more helpless, shocked and honestly –ashamed. I wanted to hide and tell no one.

Good Friday came. And once again I stood and lifted my arms to God. When it came time to write out my sins, I sat there in my chair and scribbled one word –UNFORGIVENESS.

If my heart ever felt hardened to a human this was it. Love and hate intermingled with betrayal.

I dragged my feet up to the cross and slowly lifted the hammer to nail it in. And I forced myself to remember how much God has forgiven me through each thump of the hammer.

It’s been a long week of picking up the pieces of a family blown to bits by evil. My step-mom has multiple fractures in her shoulder and arm. She is bruised from her chest to the tips of her fingers. My father is dissalusioned, sad and scared. And even though the physical wounds are painful, the bruises to their spirit are far deeper.

To make matters worse, my brother was let out of jail on Thursday by an accidental clerical error. The charges had to be re-submitted. Once the warrant goes out he will have to be re-arrested. He was defiant upon release and showed no remorse. Although there is a restraining order, his instability doesn’t leave my family feeling secure.

In the meantime, he was spotted wandering through a trailer park high and incoherent.

Easter hit me like a ton of bricks.

The resurrection we celebrate on Easter morning means everything to the followers of Christ. We base our lives and hopes and beliefs on it.

But the resurrection means EVEN MORE to the wandering souls who reject him although they may not know or care; because in the worst of times there is always the possibility of hope and a return to the father.

Our God died for us while we were still sinners and he continues to pursue the lost until they are found. And even in trailer parks and prisons and to the ends of the earth, I believe God will pursue his lost son.

It’s not easy to share this story. It’s still raw and prickly, but I believe there are many families out there just like ours battling for their sons and daughters (and brother’s) hearts. The one thing I have learned by tentatively sharing and asking for prayer is that I am not alone in this. Please don’t isolate –reach out to your community and church for support. These tragedies are too big for you to handle alone. If your family member is suffering from an addiction and has turned abusive or violent, please find help.

–Samantha

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ Luke 15:22-24

 

Photo Source: google.com via Ashleigh on Pinterest

The Face Plant

It was one of those perfect winter days masquerading as spring.  The sun warmed my toes and a soft breeze tickled my ears.  The trees overhead swayed back and forth and in the distance I heard Kolby’s high pitched giggle as her little legs pumped high on the big kid swing. 

We were at one of our favorite parks in Old Town San Juan Capistrano.  We stopped for a glass of wine and a yummy appetizer at Sundried Tomato, picked up a latte at Hidden House Coffee, petted a few stinky llamas and alpacas at Zoomars and then headed to the park.

Daddy laughed along with Kolby’s screams of glee and pushed her higher and higher on the swing while I lounged on a wooden park bench in the sun.  My eyes got heavy and finally closed as I listened to the happy sounds of kids playing and the train off in the distance. 

Until I heard a high-pitched scream that woke me up fast.

I jumped up from the park bench and raced to the swings where little Kolby lay face down in the wood chips.  Her feet had dragged and with a violent smack she face-planted. 

I gently picked her up and blood poured out of her tiny nose.  It was her first big Boo-Boo.

Daddy and I cleaned up her face, checked for a broken nose and tried to cheer her up with a promise of ice cream.

Kolby’s blood and tears dried fast but daddy’s cheeks remained ashen. 

This little girl means the world to him. 

It reminded me of the first time my son Kyle took a spill, face planted and ripped open his lip after I encouraged him to try a big slide.  I felt like a tool for pushing my 12 month old to go big and take a risk before he was mature enough to tackle it.

But years later I recognize it was those very risks and  encouragement that allow my son to dream big.  Kyle might eat it when he tries new things and he might occasionally even fail but he believes in himself and fear does not define him.

Kolby  told us later on that night she would “never go on the big swing again.” 

Tim looked crushed.

Then I reminded my three-year old of how great she did on the big kid swing and how maybe in a few months when she grew a little bit bigger that it would be fun to try again.

She considered my words carefully and sighed big.  “Ok, mommy.  I will try again soon, but I need to eat more vegetables and grow before I try that scary swing again.”

Daddy and I nodded in agreement and affirmed her willingness to get back in the swing.

I love how with just a little encouragement Kolby turned her fear into a challenge to grow. 

(And I’m really thrilled how my eating vegetables brain-washing is sinking in)

I know there will be many more scrapes and bumps along the road for my youngest girl.  And I know my husband will have his heart wrenched a thousand more times as he watches his first (biological) daughter grow up.  

Their daddy/daughter love story reminds me of my own journey with God–a loving father and a scared little girl who sometimes winds up face down and bloodied in the wood chips.

But she gets back up because she is loved.  And next time she will swing even higher.

Have you taken any big risks lately? 

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