What if it was your last day?

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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.

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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

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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

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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.”

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?

 

 

 

 

The PAUSE Button

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It’s tough to watch a show on TV with my husband hovering around.  Tim likes my full attention and he doesn’t particularly appreciate sharing our precious moments together with Downton Abbey or Property Brothers.  If I do partake of a little TV therapy in front of him, I’ve learned to make liberal use of the PAUSE button.

It’s mostly win/win.  I pause and listen to him chat about Seattle sports—and he feels heard—then I go back to my show until he interrupts me once again.

But sometimes I push PAUSE and don’t go back immediately.  Maybe a child wakes up or I get distracted.  I turn off the DVR and days pass before I have a moment to sit again. 

And I inevitably lose my place. 

I fast-forward and rewind.  I search and search for just the right spot to re-engage.  But I never really find it if I let too much time elapse. 

Even though the story is the same—it feels different somehow.

This imagery perfectly describes my life right now—a life interrupted. 

Maybe it resonates with you too?

Life suddenly hits the PAUSE button and we spin out of control.

For me, it’s been four months of messiness—relational and emotional and physical wounds to the soul.  I left normal like Dorothy in the whirlwind of the Wizard of OZ.

This week I said goodbye to my mom.  Four weeks ago I buried my dad.  Two funerals in a month—two terminal illnesses and four months of intense suffering and grief are finally over.

This chapter closed.  The PAUSE button lifted.  It’s time to exhale.  Dorothy is back in Kansas.

In some ways the brevity of the loss may be just sinking in, but on the other hand, the intense anxiety is washed away in the sweet release of death.  I never thought I would welcome this separation, but then again, I’ve never seen cancer close up.  I’ve never experienced what a brain on a crash course with atrophy looks like. 

I prayed so desperately to be with my dad when he passed and God granted me this wish.  But with my mom, in the final hours I couldn’t handle it.  Call me a wuss—I’ll own it.  As the shadow of death crossed her face, I fled to the safety of my husband’s arms—as if I could pretend it wasn’t real. 

Unfortunately, it was.  I was on the road driving back when she died. 

When I arrived at my mom’s house I sat by her side.  Even in death she was beautiful.  I found her red sequin slippers and ever so gently placed them on her feet.  I wanted her to be ready to meet the Grand Wizard—just in case she changed her mind in the last moments.  Just in case Jesus reached out for her hand and she took it.

I don’t know what to do with myself this week.  The vigils are over.  No more hospital visits, no more oncologists and neurologists and high security Alzheimer’s homes.  No more hospice and social workers and home health care workers. 

Where do I hit play again?  Where does the movie start when the entire landscape has changed?

Maybe your movie changed too?

Maybe you lost a child, got divorced or experienced the death of a dream?  Something within you died and your movie is radically altered.

And yet you hold on…

There is a part of you yearning for restoration, clinging to hope, and confident that someway God will build something glorious out of this tragedy.

I don’t always understand the mystery and bigness of God.  I don’t understand how he heals or rebuilds or reignites a flame of hope in the desperate. But I do know when I cry out and hold out my hands HE is there with me in the fire and the storm and even in death.

And he will direct this new film as I hit PLAY once more. The ending might change but the story is still beautiful.

Has your life been interrupted recently?

 

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

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).

The Awkward Baby Daddy

Once a month or so I head over to Mission Hills Church and teach a class to a group of unwed pregnant young women and the occasional baby daddy supporting them. I run into a cast of characters at Birthchoice but this week might have been the most memorable EVER.

In the front row sat a very pregnant and lovely young gal. Beside her was an older gentleman who resembled Santa Claus. The age gap between the two was close to forty years.

I almost asked if the man rubbing her shoulders and cooing support in her ear was her grandpa or father but I felt prompted to hold my tongue.

As I started the class I bantered with the girls and asked a few questions. When I got to these two, it didn’t take long before the story poured out.

Santa was the baby daddy.

And it wasn’t pretty.

The girl clearly had some mental disabilities attributed to an accident during her teen years where she had lingered in a coma for weeks. Although still able to comprehend, there was dullness behind her beautiful brown eyes. She struggled with social filters and boundaries.

And from a distance (without perspective) it looked like this man had taken advantage of a young mentally disabled girl.

My stomach dropped and I choked back the rising waves off revulsion behind my tongue.

But as I talked, I secretly watched the two and how he interacted with her. Surprisingly he was gentle and patient and kind. I saw true delight and care behind his eyes.

Huh?

And then all of a sudden Jacob came to mind –Jacob, the biblical patriarch who dealt a shady hand all his days. This is the man who stole a birthright from his brother Esau, finagled the best livestock from his father in law and took his wives and kids and hitched the first camel train out of town.

But then one night it all came crashing down and Jacob was forced to confront his brother and the past.

He spent a night near the river Jabbock (which means wrestle in Hebrew) and Jacob did exactly that –he wrestled with God. He came clean. He owned his past and persistently dealt with his junk until God allowed him to pass through. He came out on the other side wounded (with a lingering blow to the hip) but able to move into his future unencumbered.

And here was this man before me -a man with kids my age who had impregnated a young girl, who didn’t run for the hills.

He didn’t abandon her.

He didn’t encourage her to abort the baby.

I imagine he had to face some ANGRY parents and possibly law enforcement.

Instead he owned it.

He accompanied her to parenting classes, assembled a team of friends and family to assist her and stayed close by her side.

I saw a man wrestling with God.

His sin was painfully obvious. It was the eye-sore in the room. Even the young knocked up sixteen year old girls felt justified that their mistake certainly wasn’t as heinous as his.

And I was reminded that in God’s economy nothing is ever black or white. And grace and forgiveness and sacrificial love trump righteousness every time.

God gave me new eyes that night. I saw myself in this man and my own struggles with failure and brokenness. The Jabbock nights flashed before my eyes where I have confronted the past and wrested with my soul.

The nights where I have ripped open the shiny facades I hide behind to expose the real me within and acknowledge the deep crevices and prickly darkness to the one who knows my most secret sins.

I saw a man who courageously faced his grimy soul and sat before me humbled and refreshed.

Not many sixty-five year old men get to be new daddies. There was humor and pain as he shared his unfortunate tale.

And it made me smile.

I believe God brings families together in the most bizarre ways.

I believe he can restore relationship out of ashes.

And I believe he can build something new and wonderful out of a contrite grandpa/baby daddy holding the hand of his greatest source of brokenness and future blessing.

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Hint, Hint…

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A few weeks ago I started writing for a new client who runs a relationship bootcamp and does intensive couples coaching. 

At first I thought it was simply a good writing gig.  But now, after writing and researching numerous articles on marriage (and tips to improve relationships), I wonder if there isn’t some sort of grand scheme going on here behind the scenes.

Is the big man upstairs giving me subtle hints?

Jesus, are you trying to tell me I could use a little relational coaching myself?

Because in the last few weeks I’ve done a ton of research and it’s becoming increasingly clear I have a preschooler’s knowledge of building a healthy relationship.

Despite what you may believe, pastors and writers and ministry types don’t always have it all figured out.  We swamp through and muddle and muck up relationships too.

(But generally we get fired if our marriage tanks so we have more incentive than you to make it work)

Now I am certainly no expert.

I’ve been divorced.  I know there is no “happily ever after.” 

But I do believe marriage is worth every tear and argument and struggle.

I know the rewards are far greater than the tough moments.  I know there is crazy joy in the journey, delight in the dumbest moments, and glimpses of God through imperfect people trying to love and sacrifice for each other.

As much as I love my husband, I am not the best wife.  I honestly cry when I think of how badly I want to be better and the reality of who and what I am.

Broken. Selfish.  Human.  Capable of snarky quips and extreme disrespect.

But in that space I invite God to do a miracle; to somehow take my tiny little seed of faith and build something more beautiful than I can imagine.

A marriage.  Unity.  Family.  Interdependence. 

A strand of three chords not easily broken.

Here are the articles I wrote in the last few weeks for Relationship Help Centers.    Check out their website and look at the bootcamps for marrieds and singles. 

Because can’t we all use a little help in our relationships?

–Blessings,

Sam

How to Rekindle the Passion

In days of old, people accepted marriage would have its doldrums, but these days unhappiness is not an option. According to a survey conducted among 100 family lawyers –boredom and monotony are now the number one reasons for divorce.  Our expectation for marriage is that it will be fulfilling, vital and passionate.  But how do we keep the flames of passion strong? Lust initially propels us to the altar. It’s when endorphins surge through our brains and create a chemical cocktail that makes our beloved appear bigger than life. But what happens when these sexual opiates fade – as they inevitably will? This becomes the defining moment when a couple can choose whether or not they will continue to have passion in their relationship. Yes, passion is a choice. I can already hear you grumbling…”how am I supposed to feel something I don’t feel?”  Read More

#1 T­ool to make Marriage Last

If there was one thing –one tool to apply to your marriage today that would yield the biggest relational return, wouldn’t you want to own it? No matter what the cost, no matter what the effort…you would have to have it. But what if you already owned the tool? What if you simply forgot how to use it? According to SmartMarriages.com and leading marital relationship experts, you already have what it takes within you to build a foundation for a great marriage. In fact, you’ve probably used this tool before –back when you were dating. Back when you doted on and lingered over and filed away in your mental rolodex every single word your beloved uttered. So what is the MAGIC TOOL?  Read More

10 Tips to Fight Fair

When conflict erupts in a marriage –an inevitable part of all relationships, you can choose to draw closer to one another or barrel through, throw darts and damage the relationship. But unlike the old Pat Benetar song, love does not have to be a battleground.  Instead, the marriage relationship can be a safe place for reconciliation when differences arise. But it takes a little sweat equity and a sound plan. A clear-cut and pro-active approach to conflict sets the boundaries before the argument arises. Set the Rules Here are some “Rules” adapted from Ground Rules for Handling Conflict, John A. Larsen, PhD and “Rules for Fighting Fair” by Priscilla and Greg Hunt, PhD  Read More

 

Crazy Busy Love

Lake Arrowhead

My hubby and I arose early on Saturday morn, climbed in the car and drove a mere hour and fifteen minutes up the mountain into another world. 

We were the keynote speakers at the Radar Love Conference up in Lake Arrowhead –a mountain community so resplendent in the summer all I could think about was the movie “Dirty Dancing.”  For some reason, the lovely lake resort where Baby danced her socks off kept coming to mind.

Radar Love was a Southern California singles conference focused on finding love, how to love and God’s plan for love –all the easy stuff, right?

But what surprised me the most about our little getaway was how often in our crazy busy schedule my husband and I forget to take the time and effort to practice the very things we  preach on.

I’m sure none of you would never forget this “oh so simple” principle either?

There are always plenty of and GOOD reasons and justifications why we slack in our effort towards our spouse.

Here’s mine:  Tim and I have struggled through a tough season.  Circumstances beyond our control have buffeted our ship through stormy waves.  We have clung to each other, held on tightly to our kids and trusted God to see us through the squall.

And we have survived –yes, and we have grown closer –certainly, but there are also wounds and nicks to our heels that we have allowed to sneak into our marriage and quietly steal our smiles.

And sometimes we don’t even realize how much we miss each other. 

Without three kids distracting me, without teen angst and toddler meltdowns, no work stress and ministry challenges, without seminary weighing Tim down with a paper due every stinking day–we were left with nothing to do but speak to the group –something we adore doing together and focus ALL our attention on one another.

In the afternoon, relaxing in a beautiful cabin with endless views, I watched my husband practice his talk for the evening event.  And as he wove together a message of hope and practical dating application, I sat there on the comfy sofa and fell in love with my husband all over again.

I watched him tell hilarious schticky jokes and “cat” analogies that rolled me.  I took in his passion for single adults, clear calling from God to minister and bursting energy to do God’s will –and I let it roll over me and penetrate my heart. 

And once again, I was in awe of the man I call my own.

I remembered how funny and smart he is and I let go of my resentment for the seminary who steals my husband away from me.  I watched his hands waving around to enunciate his words and I thought of those same hands that care for me and hold me when I am scared.  I caught the twinkle in his eye when he looked at me with longing and I felt the same spark deep within me.

Later that afternoon, we had lunch on the lake and took the time to date. 

We walked hand in hand by the water, laid down on a dock in the sunshine side by side as the speed boats gently rocked the floating platform, and shared our hearts with one another.  We explored the little lakeside village, slurped down cappuccinos and met friends for an impromptu chat.

We spent the day giggling and loving and lingering –and it filled my low bucket to the brim with “Keller Love” (which is the best kind of love of all).

Even though I know better –I sometimes forget that one of the best investments I can make is in my marriage.  One night away in a cabin with my sweetheart is worth six months in counseling fees.  And certainly a week away would be even better.

Now, your idea of fun might not be preaching together –but for Tim and I who share this passion it was restorative.  Maybe you and your spouse love to scuba dive, or watch indie films or climb mountains.  Every couple is unique in their bonding method, love language and shared interests –but however you love, don’t stop making the time to do the little things.

Don’t let the JOY slip through your fingers.

My friend Nick Arnette (master emcee and comedienne extraordinaire) sent me this great article from Single Dad Laughing.  The author –Dan is twice divorced and shared a long list of all the things he wished he had done differently in his marriages -“16 Ways I Blew My Marriage.”

And it resonated with me because of the weekend I spent making the effort to love and ENJOY my husband.  As I read this blog, I mentally checked off all the things we got right in one tiny weekend. 

Love is a choice.

It takes concentrated effort, sacrifice and time.  It takes letting go of the walls we build around our hearts and letting God restore us so that we can fully give and receive love.  Love is NOT EASY but there are moments where despite our humanity –God reaches down and we get a glimpse of the divine.

I have a perma-smile when I think of this weekend and the time I spent with my husband. 

Because this is the man who makes my heart sing.

Do you need to sneak away for some intentional love time with your spouse?

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