Their Bunny Might Have Died

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I played basketball one year in high school. For some reason we practiced in the morning before school, and one morning I was late by about twenty minutes. 

The details are shaky, but somewhere in the middle of gathering two groggy toddlers and getting everything ready to shuttle me to practice, my mom or I found our rabbit outside shaking uncontrollably. Thunder was laying on the little cement path from the house to the garage, his body convulsing and his heart racing. 

We sat there with him until his shaking stopped and he was dead. Then I went to practice.

I ran in and joined the line for lay-up drills. It took a few minutes for the coach to realize I was there, but when he did, he laid into me. After what felt like a thrashing, he stopped to ask me why I was late.

My composure, completely intact until that point, crackled like cheap paint. Tears leaked and I wanted to disappear. I squeaked out “My rabbit died,” and proceeded to cry like a teenage girl. Which, in my defense, I was.

That poor coach. 

He had every right to hold me accountable for being late, but I suspect, had he known the reason first, I would have gotten less of a thrashing and more of an "I'm sorry you had a rough morning, glad you showed up anyway."

So I say this to myself sometimes. I say this when I'm steaming, when I'm offended, when I'm triggered. "Their bunny might have died." 

Or something worse. Or a string of things. Or a lifetime of things. They might need an "I'm sorry you had a rough morning," or "a rough day," or "a rough year." They might need a nod, human to human, an indication someone understands, someone sees them. They might need someone to be glad they showed up and they're walking and talking and breathing and functioning, even if it's just barely.

I'm glad you showed up, human people who hate my driving, and honestly, I don't blame you.

I'm glad you showed up, guy who is rude to the teenager taking your fast food order. I'm glad you showed up and I'm glad you're eating and I hope it gets better.

I'm glad you showed up, lady who bossed my kid in the store. I'm not thrilled we ran into you, but I'm glad you showed up for the day.

And I'm glad you showed up, person reading this. I'm sorry it's been rough and I hope it gets better, but for now, keep showing up.

Dear Mom, Thank You

How My Mom Made My Birthmark A Blessing

When I was 2 weeks old you discovered that my face would not be the same as the other kids. By the time I was 6 months old, my birthmark was the first thing people noticed and the cause of stares and calls to CPS. Yet not once as a child do I remember feeling as if my face - my differences - mattered much. 

Even as an adolescent and a young adult, my insecurities in my appearance paled in comparison to many of my peers. While I was self-conscious about my mark, my value was rooted deeply in other things. That is thanks to you. 

You gave me the confidence to stand at the front of classes as a new student and explain my mark - to allow the other kids to ask questions. You taught me how people make fun of what they fear and they fear what they don't know and I had the power to help them to know. 

You taught me how the fastest way to make a person regret an unkind word or action is to respond with sincere kindness and generosity. I'm sure I was pointed at, stared at, commented about, and teased, but I recall almost none of it. I know that at times you must have shielded me from it, and took the hurt onto yourself. 

Thank you. 

And whatever you didn't deflect - none of it left a lasting mark because I knew that my mark was only a part of my face. You told me it had purpose - it gave me the kind of compassion and vision which can't be learned. 

This mark could have moulded me into someone timid, insecure, and weak. But you didn't let it. You were so young and I'm sure you were scared. Now that I'm a mom too, I imagine you felt like you were messing it all up. 

You weren't. 

You loved me the best that you could and your best was exactly what I needed. Thank you. Happy Birthday Mom.

My Unfinished Painting & My Unfinished Faith Race

How This Half-Done Painting Reminded Me To Keep My Eyes On The Race

This is the background of a painting I’m working on. It’s meant to be a background, a foundation, a first layer. I started this piece with unbridled excitement. It’s experimental, it’s a leap, it’s not like anything I’ve done before, and I couldn’t wait to see it finished. 

But something happened over the last couple of days, as I waited for it to be ready for the next layer. I became fond of the background. I became comfortable with it. I started to wonder if I couldn’t, maybe, just leave it the way it is.

It has a simple complexity to it. It reminds me of both the ocean and the sky depending on when I look at it. 

I like it the way it is.

Instead of excitement over the finished project, today I felt fear over losing what I have now. Even though it was ready for the next step – I left it as is.

But tonight, I turned my eyes back to the plan, back to the reason I began this painting. I started to dream again. I started to envision the next layers, to get excited about the original vision. Tomorrow, I'll start work on the next layer. 
* * *
I have purpose in this life. A race. A mission. 

But sometimes I stop and I survey and I see how far I’ve come and I become fond of this place, this season. 

I become comfortable. 

Comfortable with my community, comfortable with my family, comfortable with my routines, comfortable with my habits. I forget the race. I forget the mission. I let fear freeze me. 

I take my eyes off of eternity and dwell on the temporal. And when my focus is here and now, the excitement is drowned in fear.

I have to turn my eyes back to the plan. I have to dream again, to envision the next layers of the journey, to get excited about the mission.

The difference between the painting and my walk with God is this painting could end up total garbage. I could hate it. I could regret the moment I turned my eyes back to the plan.

But I won’t regret turning my eyes back to eternity. I won’t regret adding layer upon layer of surrender. I won’t regret any loss or failure or pain associated with the mission. I don’t know how the finished product will look, but I know it will be a masterpiece.

As for the painting, we’ll see.

Lord, Make Me Beautiful

God made us to desire beauty, to desire being around it, to desire being it, but maybe we are confused about what beauty means.

 Father, make me beautiful.

This has been my one of my prayers for a few years now.. And I will keep praying it. I want to be beautiful.  I think we all do.

We were made to be beautiful, attractive - a light to the world - and something inside of us knows this and craves it.

But something distorts our perception of beauty.  We label and sort and pick and choose and select some humans to be beautiful and some to be ugly.  Our labels and our sorting are like revolving doors, never stopping, and those who try to keep up only run in circles.  

As a race, us humans can't seem to land on which things are "beautiful" and which are not. Is my butt supposed to be flat or round?  Strong nose, or straight, or thin? Big eyes or small?  Don't get me started on eyebrows.

Us human people - we desire beauty, but our standard for what fits the definition is ever-changing.  

Why?

I think it's because the thing we want - that elusive thing - it is not something we can define in human terms.

I think it's because beauty is something far more mysterious and holy than smooth skin and long eye lashes.  Beauty is God in us. It is light in us.  It is love in us. Beauty grows, it doesn't fade.

I bet you know someone who avoids smiling in pictures because smiling brings out the little lines around her eyes.  Someone who hides something beautiful - a smile, a laugh - in an attempt to be more "beautiful."

How often do we cover up beauty while trying to be "beautiful?"

It's maddening.

The striving, the spending, the comparing - futile.  It is all part of an empty game we are destined to lose.  It's a waste of our dang time.

I will get old.  I will get saggy.  Soon enough, no amount of money will be able to transform this body into something "beautiful."

But I don't have to play this game.

Why chase "beauty" when I can have beauty?  And so I pray.  I don't know what beauty is exactly, but I know it is good, I know it is God's thing, and I know He can give it.  I have tried to land on a definition, but I can't find it.  Maybe you have a definition, but honestly, I think your definition will fall short. I think beauty is a Kingdom thing, something we can't quite understand. Not yet, anyway.

So I pray, "Make me beautiful."

We'll see how He answers. 

(Photo Credit: My Mom :)  And I chose this picture, despite it's terrible quality, because it shows me in glasses - which is when I feel the least "beautiful," AND simultaneously shows me in the place on earth I love the most, with some of my favorite people, happy as a dang clam.)

Waiting For Ai

Passing By The Thing You Want And Trusting God Has Something Better

When Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land and they were defeating the cities in the area - clearing out the neighborhood so that Israel wouldn't be corrupted by the inhabitants - they first went to Jericho. God specifically told them not to take ANYTHING from Jericho.   They were supposed to burn the whole place down and take nothing for themselves.

One man didn't listen.  He took silver and gold and a cloak, and Israel paid for his mistake. When they went against the next city, Ai, they were ran off and they lost 36 of their men.  When the sneaky man with the loot from Jericho was found out, his family paid - the whole family and everything that belonged to the man was destroyed.  Harsh.

Once he was gone, God led them to defeat Ai.

And then something weird happened.  God told them that they could take the livestock and the spoil of the city as plunder.

They were forbidden from taking from Jericho, but invited to take from Ai.

A bible scholar, or a historian, or maybe even someone who paid more attention while reading the story might be able to tell you what the difference was between the two cities.  They might understand why taking from Jericho was dangerous and taking from Ai was okay.

But really, it doesn't matter for me right now.  I needed to see this story in a new light.  I needed to see how sometimes God asks you to give something up - to pass by silver and gold and fancy clothes.  Sometimes He says "Give that up" or "Pass that by" or "Let that go" with no explanation - no promise of something specific He would give in return.  He doesn't say "Destroy everything in Jericho, I'll let you take what you want from Ai,"  He just says, "Destroy everything in Jericho."

Mrs. Bible scholar/Historian/Person who pays more attention might correct me, but I'm thinking the plunder from Ai was even better.  I bet that if they had known what they were about to receive, passing by Jericho would have been a breeze.   But they didn't know.  What they did know is this: God was taking pretty good care of them.  These are the people who ate manna in the desert and quail when they whined about the boring manna, they saw Joshua part the Jordan, they had JUST seen the walls of Jericho fall because they walked around it and made some noise.  They knew God is awesome.  They knew God can do anything.  But that one guy just could not trust that God had something better, so he slipped some trinkets and a jacket into his coat.

I just passed by something.  I lingered beside it knowing God was saying no.  I attempted a negotiation - "I won't take the whole thing God, how about this little piece of gold, maybe the silver, and how about this coat - I'll never find another one like this - maybe just the coat Lord?"  But I had my marching orders - don't take anything.

So I didn't.

And that's pretty scary.  But I have my own stories of manna and quail and parting waters and thick walls falling.  He is trustworthy.  All of the time.  And if He says to leave the coat and Jewels in Jericho, I'm leaving them.

I'm leaving them, and I'm waiting for Ai.

What To Do When You're Being Scolded

HOW TO HAVE GRACE FOR YOUSELF

HOW TO HAVE GRACE FOR YOUSELF

It was worse than yelling - it was a mean whisper, spewed through clenched teeth. 

I knew it was bad as it left my tongue, but I couldn't reel it in so I watched helplessly as it struck him - as he hid his head behind his leg. 

I tried and botched an apology. 

"I did it because you . . .," is what I told him. 

"You deserved it," is what he heard. And his face stayed behind his leg. 

I am mean, I thought. I'm a bully, I thought. I'm the worst, I thought.

So I took a breath and I tried again.

"That was really mean - the way I said that. I bet it really hurt your feelings. It would hurt my feelings if someone talked to me that way." Pause. A nod from the backseat. "I'm so so sorry. Can you forgive me?"

He said he would, and he lifted his head, and he asked for his burrito. 

He seemed to be over it, because he is loving and forgiving and seven. But I wasn't over it.

I scolded myself, worse than yelling, mean whispers spewed at my own soul through clenched teeth. Until a quiet thought stopped me. 

"It's been a hard couple of days. Your feelings are hurt - anyone's feelings would be hurt. I'm so sorry. Can you forgive you? Can you let this go?"

I decided I could, and I lifted my head, and I reached for a taco. 

*Yes, know better. Yes, do better. Also, know you're not perfect. Also, have grace for your own mistakes. If it helps, picture yourself as a child before you scold and whisper and spew at you ♥*

What A Homeless Man Taught Me About Abiding In Christ

What A Homeless Man Taught Me About Abiding In Christ

"Hello."  I said.  "I'm Stevie, what's your name?"

He responded timidly, looking up at me like a child lost from his parents, mumbling his name.  I didn't understand.

"What was that?"

"Joey*."  He said.  "I'm Joey."

I smiled and he smiled back - sort of.  I won't pretend to know his life, but he smiled like someone who hadn't felt real joy - produced a real smile - in a long time.

And I was glad I stopped to talk to Joey.

I said a silent prayer of thanks.  Thank you for tugging my heart when I drove by him earlier.  Thank you for keeping him here until I was able to come back with some money.  Thank you for leading me to come to him, to squat down where he sat, dejected, and speak to him.  

My ugly plan was to hand him some money out of the window, but this - this was better - this felt right - this felt like Kindgdom space - and I love being in Kingdom space.

"What do you need Joey?"

"A place to stay."  He said.

I wish I could capture in words the tone of his voice, the inflection, the emotion. Again, he reminded me of a lost child.

And I loved him.

As soon as I loved him, my heart broke.  He had nowhere to sleep.  I pictured him from earlier, when I first drove by.  He was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, a small bag next to him, staring into space.  

He had no sign asking for money or food or work - he was just sitting.  The same state I found him in 30 minutes later, still just sitting.

"I wish I could help you with that." I said. "I really do, but I can't.  I can give you this."  I handed him twenty dollars, wishing I pulled out more.  His eyes grew three times wider.

"Really?  You mean it?"  Again like a child.  My chest tightened. I hated the small amount. "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you."  He started to tear up.

"Can I pray for you?"  I asked.

"Oh please, yes, please." He sobbed, already bowing his head.

I put my hand on his shoulder and he put his hand on my knee and I prayed.

"My mom is up there." He said while I prayed. "My mom is up there.  She is watching over me."

So I thanked God for keeping Joey's mom, and I prayed that God would give Joey a place to live, and I prayed that the twenty dollars would be multiplied - that my little offering would call down a monsoon of blessings on him.

"And that I would be able to take care of myself."  He interrupted.

So I prayed for that too.

He sobbed quietly and squeezed my knee harder and harder as I prayed.  Later I would think this should have felt strange, at least a little uncomfortable, but it didn't.  We were in Kingdom space.

I prayed it all, in Jesus' name, and Joey said "yes" and "amen" and I kept my hand on his shoulder, rubbing - wishing I could rub some of the pain away.

"It was really nice to meet you Joey."

He nodded, his shoulders racking with quiet sobs.

"Can I kiss you?" He asked.

I leaned forward and he kissed my cheek.  It wasn't weird or awkward - we were in kingdom space.

As I drove away, I could see him in the rear view mirror, head bowed, shoulders bouncing.

"What were you talking to that guy about?" Asked my four year old from the back seat.

"We were praying."

"Why is he crying?" He asked.

I told him what I knew about Joey and we prayed for him again - me and B.  We prayed for him tonight before bed, and I think we will pray for my new friend for a long time.

But there was a moment, driving away, where I hated myself.  A moment where I hated the person who could connect with a broken stranger and drive away, leaving him better off by only twenty dollars.  

I would drop my child at school, go to work, pick him up, have a nice dinner with friends, and settle into my warm condo with a cup of tea and maybe some TV to end the night.  Yes, I would think about Joey - probably for a long time - and I would pray for him, but a fat lot of good that will do him.  

He was sad.  Unbearably sad.  And I drove away.  I suck.  This world sucks.

I spent a moment deep in self-hatred before I remembered something.  I have one job.  Abide in Him. Abide in Him, and Kingdom space will come.  This world sucks - I'm not wrong - but it's not my job to fix it.  The pain and suffering of this world is not on my shoulders.  "Save the world" is not on my to-do list.  I don't save - I point to the one who does.

Today, abiding in him meant stopping to talk to Joey. And I'm so glad it did.

 *Name Changed

How To Know If You Did The Right Thing

How To Know If You Did The Right Thing

I saved a boy from drowning once.  Well, I helped.  And then I regretted it. 

I was seven, maybe eight.  It was a campground pool, and it was my cousin’s birthday. The memory is a weird one, one of those trauma-seared memories, with certain parts vivid, like a movie replaying in my mind, and other parts missing entirely.

I remember jumping into the pool, I remember my older cousin – the one with the birthday – jumping in too, I remember swimming toward the center of the pool to meet him, I remember giggling, I remember him asking if I’d seen his friend Jared* because he’d come out of the locker room before him, I remember a strange feeling in my stomach, I remember us looking at each other and then, together, looking down.

I remember seeing Jared kind of standing at the bottom of the pool, lifeless.  He had on goggles, which later seemed so strange – he knew we were going swimming, he brought trunks and goggles, he left the locker room early and jumped into the deep end of the pool.  He did these things knowing he couldn’t swim.  

My cousin and I dove down immediately, grabbing his arms and pulling.  I was a strong swimmer, but Jared was a few years older, a lot bigger, and total dead weight.  I came up for air once, then dove back down to help my cousin bring him up.  

I don’t remember yelling for help, but one of us must have.  And I don’t remember where she came from – if she was there the whole time, or if she came in response to our screams – but there was a nurse.

I remember CPR and puking and an ambulance and the ICU and then a boy who lived. And I remember I helped.  

I was proud of the moment.  I retold the story many times over two and a half decades.  I saved a life, helped anyway.  I was just a little kid, but I got to be a part of a big thing.  I did a good thing, I thought.  I did the right thing, I thought.

BUT

Last year I found out Jared is in jail and won’t ever get out.  He grew up to do something so heinous I won’t describe it here. 

Did I still do a good thing?  Did I still do the right thing?

I know the answer to this.  It’s the same as when I reflect on my time in Iraq, and it’s the same as my response when naysayers ask what that homeless guy is going to do with my money.

I don’t know. 

I don’t know the end result of every action I take.  I don’t know if the good thing I do today will result in a bad thing ten years from now, and I don’t know if that bad thing will somehow turn into some amazing and miraculous thing 100 years from now.  

I don’t know. But I know the one who does.  

It is not my job to label things as “good” or “right,” and thank God because I have no idea. My job is to follow closely, to abide, to learn His voice, and to listen like my legacy depends on it.  My life is not about amassing a collection of “good” and “right” things to earn salvation – it is simply about following the one who already earned it for me. 

Invisible Courage Is Still Courage

Invisible Courage Is Still Courage

There are women who would rather run into a burning building than throw out their make-up.

There are men who would gladly go to war if the option was paired against sitting eyeball to eyeball with another person and exposing their brokenness.

If you are terrified of something and you do it anyway, you are courageous. Period  

Courage is born of action in the face of fear.  When the fear is the most paralyzing, when the resistance is strongest, this is where your act of courage can move the largest mountains. The fear doesn't have to be rational, everyone doesn't need to agree it's scary - If you are terrified of something and you do it anyway, you are courageous. Period  

Those brave people who run into burning buildings, who stand up and speak up while others sit in silence, who armor up and go to war - they are the ones we usually label "courageous."  And they are. Just not the only ones.

What if we measured courage differently?  What if our celebrations of courage were as diverse as our experiences of fear?

May we have eyes to see the courage in others so we can call them out, acknowledge, encourage, and maybe throw the occasional party.

Give You

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*Originally posted on Instagram in January, 2018*

Yesterday, The B (my seven year old) wanted to give money to a homeless lady while we were stopped at a light. 


He saw her crutches and the snow falling and wanted to give her something. When I said I had no cash, he rooted around in the back and came up with a couple coins. “We can give her these!” But I shot him down. It might just be insulting. She’d hop over in her crutches in the snow and we’d hand her 35cents? It wasn’t enough. And it was a lot of trouble to go through to get it to her. Blah blah blah. 


The light was green by the time I shut up long enough for the seven year old to say “but we can just tell her it’s all we have and that we wish we could give more.” So, we could tell her the truth. Interesting concept. And maybe the gesture alone was worth something. Maybe 35 cents added to what she had would have given her enough for a warm drink. 
We drove through the light giving nothing, but I apologized and talked about it with B and I’m still thinking about it today.

I’m thinking about us, who think what we have to give is not good enough. 
And I’m thinking of the people who miss out on so much because they need what we have.