Celebrating Mom

So today is my mom’s 74th birthday. I know she reads my blog so she will probably be very embarassed that I am writing this, but how can I not?

I can honestly say I am blessed to have a mom like her. I know that many other women out there, young and old alike, cannot say that. She wasn’t perfect of course – because no mom is – but as the years go by I understand just how strong a woman she has been all these years in spite of the tough stuff of life.

As a family growing up, we moved every few years since my dad was in the Army. So often in fact, that when my mom finished a table top quilt recently, I was counting the houses on it for fun and realized that I had moved almost as many times as there were houses! Mom was always the champion of “the next adventure” – finding the scout groups or sports groups in the next community, getting to know the schools and teachers, and being momma bear when she needed to be. I wouldn’t have known what she was actively doing was making sure we felt safe at home, but we did. We always knew she had our back and that we were well loved.

How hard it was for her to leave the community she had just gotten used to was lost on me as a kid, but she always helped get us connected. She always held hope in what was next, was a voice of encouragement when we hit rough spots, and a model of what it meant to serve her family.

What I have loved most is watching her “grow up” over the course of my adult life. She always believed in God, but came alive to who Jesus was and the sweetness of a relationship with Him when I was in college. Talk about falling in love. Everything about her breathes the love of Jesus. People know it when they see her, when they eat the cookies she eagerly bakes, the quilts she has prayed over and she gifts, and the way she eagerly invites folks into her life.

I appreciate her continued willingness to learn – whether it was about how to think about a current social issue or to understand a portion of scripture that seemed troublesome. Now, as my dad ages, she has a whole new set of things to learn. I know its hard, and I can’t save her from it. … but she is grappling with because she must. Every step of it is bathed in prayer and in love, and it shows. What is cool to see too, is how their community, both in church and in their neighborhood, get to see the gift of my mom too – and they love her as much as I do!

Her life represents so much of what I see in Proverbs 31, especially the way the late Rachel Held Evans talks about it in her book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”. She speaks of Prov 31 more as a blessing for difficult things that woman tackle, with great strength. Mom has done that – all her life. It has brought laughter and tears, good times and difficult ones – but she has come out still laughing and finding joy like a little child. It’s absolutely beautiful.

I am blessed to be her daughter, and I can only hope my own daughters (and those that call me “mom” that I didn’t biologically give birth to) are blessed by my life as I have been blessed by hers!

“A woman of valor and bravery, who can find? She is far more valueable than rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, not harm, all the days of her life…” — Prov 31:10-12

Eschet Chayil mom… I love you!

5am lessons

The other morning I joined a new friend in a 5:15 am workout. It has been a LONG time since I have gotten up that early to work out now that I live in the mountain time zone and work for an east coast company. I am a morning person sure, but when my calls start at 6 or 6:30 am, I generally do not really want to get up that much earlier. When I do, it’s time to read, reflect, and connect with the God that knows me. I had resolved for a while that my workouts had to be in the afternoons, evenings.. and that early morning workouts needed to be left in the past.

I think I forgot what it feels like.

We pulled into a parking lot, grabbed our weights and mats from the back of my friend’s car, and found an empty space two rows away. The parking lot lights and the moon, still full, brought light to the pitch blackness. I could hardly see the trainer, but I could hear her, already excited and greeting everyone as they joined. My friend was amazed at how many were out that early. I just chuckled.

For the next hour, we ran and lifted, did crunches and lunges and every other thing the trainer had posted on the workout board. My friend kept track of what we had to do next, being more familiar with the specific elements, and then when we ran laps, we talked and shared. She had been doing this for over 2 years now as something to help her through a very difficult thing in her life, a thing that was now past and gone and nearly forgotten. She spoke about it with ease now. Being a new friend, I was still getting to know her… but it was one of those moments when people open up and share – and it was a holy moment in the middle of a workout, of all places. I just listened.

My time in the gym and mountain biking had certainly helped keep me in shape, but as I expected, the workout pushed me in a way that I hadn’t been pushed in a while. It was good. For the first time, I was ok not trying to keep pace with everyone and just keeping up with what I could do (I had to stop trying to keep up with 20 year olds about 5 years ago. I figured that was ok… LOL).

I came home wide awake, hungry and feeling alive.

The only thing I could think as I fell to my knees before starting the rest of my day was this:

Thank you

Even here you lead me, don’t you? You take my hand and lead me to life

Thank you for reminding me who I am

Thank you for people pursuing ME

Thank you for another trusting me with their story, that I get to be a witness to what was a difficult time in their journey – but I get to see them after the fight, after the struggle, and see how beautiful a person they still are, how their faith has survived and even thrived. I needed to see that somehow

It dawned on me that in some way I have let the cynical voices run around in my head for a longer time than I expected, trying to appease them or answer them or somehow logically satisfy them. Voices that question the reality of God, the witness and lives of imperfect people trying to follow Jesus. Many of the challenges are valid and need to be wrestled with, but I have assumed that in asking, these cynics walk away… and its been hard to know I can’t change their mind, so I carry a burden as if I need to do the fixing.

Do you ever find yourself doing that?

I know Jesus talks about leaving the 99 to find the one wandering, but when they are real sheep you can’t just pick them up and carry them around your neck. People aren’t always that convinced. And yet, I will not – I cannot stop being the voice that reminds them of the lavish love of God, the heart that won’t let them go, that One that sees every tear they have cried and knows every wound they have suffered, every limp and every scar and still screams YOU ARE MINE AND I LOVE YOU MORE THAN YOU WILL EVER KNOW!

(spoiler: There isn’t always a timeline that someone is ready to hear that and actually believe it). Be ready to wait. Patiently.

I’ll be honest…. It is a constant battle for me to do this. When we were dating, Trung (now my husband) would ask me: are you patient? I always thought I was, but his question echoes so often in my head now. I’m not so sure that I am as patient as I thought I was. Imagine that!

The truth? I have to be willing to let the faith of someone else actually rest in the hands of the One with whom they are wrestling.

So my friends – today that is my challenge to you. Can you let go some of what you are holding so tightly.. with your kids, your friends, your relatives.. and believe that God actually can work to reach them in more ways than you could ever imagine? Can you walk beside them in love, even if its’ hard?

That is the work of love, my friends… and not everyone will understand that walk – but we must, mustn’t we? Hope is not absent, it has not failed, and it will always, always come in the most unexpected places.

Finding Family

My family, we have this crazy tradition. Jon and I started it when we were dating, and it has only continued as the years went by. The general rule is this: If you spend Easter with us, you are going to end up having blue lips, and you are going to have your picture taken!

Who knew that malted milk ball easter eggs could be so fun??

This year, I flew back to see my family in Virginia, and Jon and the girls celebrated Easter together in Colorado. I must say, I went in stealth mode, because although we have tons of friends back in Richmond, I really needed family time. (So if you wonder why I didn’t call you…. please forgive me. I will catch you next time. I promise).

Coming back from that trip, I realized again how absolutely blessed I am to have such close family. I know not everyone does. I don’t take it for granted either. But given the time in life that have entered, things are changing for me too, and so is what my family looks like, especially with both girls going their own direction! That plus finding new friends out here, I have been doing a lot of thinking on what family means, and how we define family for ourselves.

If I am honest, because I have always had such a close nuclear family, I am not sure I really understood it when people said they created family out of whoever was close to them and they trusted. Not to sound shallow – we had friends that were like family back in Illinois – sure! But I mean – they all had core families too. So it was like a secondary family in some ways.

Out here, I have had the privilege of being invited into the world of some 20-somethings, and I watch them with wonder. They are away from their core family, starting out on their own, going through their own trials and hardships of getting started – and they are family for each other. It’s really quite beautiful. And yes I know this is what we do as people – right? We look for those we can trust, people we can be ourselves with and who will be there for us when we need them. We build relationships with others, and many times our friends can become closer to us than our biological family – sometimes due purely to time in life or geographical location – and sometimes due to broken places in family that make it too hard to be together.

This last part – this is where my mind wanders to a verse kind of stuck in the middle of a bunch of random throughts in Psalm 68:6

God sets the lonely in families” (NIV)

The actual Hebrew is ” God [yashab] sits down, dwells with, sets a [bayith] home, place, family with the [yachiyd] solitary ones (aka…lonely ones)”

Sit and think about that a minute.

That is HUGE.

Why? Because it says God is right there with you when you are lonely. It means his heart is to create a space for you when you are, a space that has people, a space that feels SAFE…. one that represents family for you: the good kind where you are loved for who you are, where you are wanted and welcomed. The way it should be.

Now, depending on whether or not you LIKE this idea – the desire God has to sit down with you in your loneliness and provide for you in it – may or may not sound good to you. I hope you can see it’s good. But even when He does, even when you see people around you welcoming you in, hanging out with you, pursuing you – it’s up to YOU to be willing to LET them be family for you.

That, my friend, can be a challenge, can’t it?

Sometimes its just easier to put up walls and circle the wagons and say you don’t need them, that you can do this life by yourself. Just you and God, you got this.

Are you so sure about that?

I know I’m learning a lot about that now. God was pretty clear with me that I needed to get connected out here, and I am still learning to lean on the people I have met that tell me to call them when I need something. I realize I am still hesitant to let them be my “family”.

But like I tell them, I don’t really have a choice. I need them. I plan on being here a long time, and yep, building from scratch is hard, but I need family out here. So I’m taking the risk to believe that for what I have seen of them, they are trustworthy. I’m choosing to believe that God is meeting me in my loneliness and providing people that will be a family to me.

How about you?

My challenge to you today is to take stock of who God has put around you. I know there are probably hurts from the past (or present) that seem too surmountable. Why risk relationship again when all they are going to do is let you down? Maybe you have been burned too many times, or maybe you have given up hope. It’s never too late.

Yes, its risky. I can’t promise anything about how people will react. We’re all imperfect and we all have our scars. But I can promise that if you take stock and find there aren’t many you can call family….. if you ask God to open your eyes to see who can be that for you…. and keep seeking… you will find the clarity you need. Then take the risk to believe that yes, you are worth bringing all that you are to your new “family” 🙂