Friday, January 31, 2014

Dreams for Superhero Sons

Spiderman, Captain America, a Gladiator, and Knight are in their arsenal of costumes.

They have Batman and Superman pajamas and a Buzz Lightyear destroyer Nurf gun.

Wooden butter knifes from their picnic set become swords for epic bedroom battles. 

These boys of mine know how to slay dragons, shoot spider webs, defeat imaginary intruders, and have wrestling moves unbeatable by any villain.

If the oldest brother calls the younger one "Bad Guy" the Bad Guy brother may just burst into tears and start chasing the offender with flailing arms and screechy whines, yelling,
"I'm NOT a  Bad Guy, brudder. We bofe can be the Good Guys together!"
Though the sibling fussing and fighting that inevitably follows such an accusation and rebuttle often make me cringe with exhausted irritation, I really can't blame my three year old.

Because being the Good Guy is in his blood. 

Boys are created to be warriors, conquerors, knights in shining armor. They are designed to battle and problem-solve and overcome obstacles. They are providers, preservers, protectors.

But while my three sons dream of jumping off buildings and soaring through the sky, I have slightly different dreams for my little heroes.

I dream they will be the kind of heroes who are kind even when it's unpopular.

I dream they will tell the truth even when it's costly.

May they show their strength by choosing to show compassion and grace.

May they save the day by picking the unwanted kid to be his class-project partner.

I pray they will arm themselves with the truth of God's Word.

I pray they will stand out by standing up for what is right.

And, like the nylon-clad, cape-wearing superheros they adore, may my sons always be on the lookout for ways that they can help. May they be known for putting the needs of others above their own. May they be willing to risk it all for the sake of their calling. May they have humble hearts. And may their bravery, courage, and talent point others who might call them Hero to the Only One who truly deserves the name.

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This post if part of Lisa-Jo's heroic Five Minute Friday linkup. Today word-lovers around the web are all writing on Hero. Don't think you can write like this in five minutes? Yeah, me neither. But even though I flex the five minute "rule," I love this community and the encouragement it gives me to search my heart for stories and lessons I might not otherwise take the time to pen.

Five Minute Friday

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

When there is guilt in the grief

Three years ago yesterday my dad passed away.

It's amazing what three years can do.

My journey of grief looks so different today than it did during the initial shock of losing my 59-year-old father or throughout that first year of every first without him. First birthday, first Christmas, first anniversary of his death. Such difficult, painful milestones.

The waves of emotion use to come on suddenly, swift and strong. I felt totally unprepared for the torrent of tears that could take over a simple moment of watching my boys put together puzzles or seeing a pack of Necco Wafers at the pharmacy's candy counter. That first year my thoughts could be nowhere near my dad and yet if I was scrolling through contacts in my phone and came across his number I could quickly come undone.

But today, the seas of grief are kinder, gentler, like softly rolling swells. I may feel a pang of longing when I see Jude's sweet smile and think about how his grandfather never had the chance to meet this remarkable little boy. Or I can still get teary if Amazing Grace is in the slate of Sunday morning worship songs.

While the pain of losing my dad has faded, the guilt of my grief has also grown dim.

Yes, guilt.

And that's what is on my heart to share because that's the part that no one ever talks about.

You see, when I wrote the words for my dad's memorial service, I felt it was right to honor him by remembering the good. I wanted to celebrate his love for his daughters and the ways he did fatherhood well. It was heart-healing to recall the treasured moments my dad and I shared. And it was uplifting to share those treasures with all of you.

But that's not the whole story.

The rest of the story reads of a dad who was mostly unavailable. A dad who, while married to my mom, worked more than he raised his girls. After the divorce, a dad who loved showing up for the special events but didn't engage in the things of regular life.

Sporadic phone calls. Proud-of-me praise. Unpredictable anger.

Later in life the complexities of our relationship were accentuated by my dad's personal downward spiral. Laid off from a 20 year career. A second failed marriage. Business venture defeat. Deteriorating mental and physical health.

Not every factor was his fault. But naming blame doesn't always take away the pain. Whether my dad's demise was partly because of the deck he'd been dealt or primarily due to his own poor choices, the last five years of his life, especially, caused a significant stress on mine.

For many sad years my dad's life was marked by depression, addiction, despair. My sisters and I were the only ones there to try and help. So when crisis hit my dad and he landed in the hospital yet again, crisis would hit for us, too.

It was draining. No, draining doesn't really cover the toll that it all took.

And yet, in the last months of my Dad's life, after he had dwelled in the bottom of his life's deepest pit, he finally surrendered to God. Wealth, possessions, status, health...all gone.  Yes, finally he turned to the only source of life that he could never lose--relationship with his Savior Jesus.

Oh, how it strengthened my faith to see. To see answers to years of desperate prayers! To see that his life wasn't fixed but his heart was with the fixer, the Redeemer.

Yet, even so...

Even so, after my dad had passed, after the memorial was planned and his apartment was cleaned and his things were sorted and saved or sold, after the tasks of death were done, I was left with more than pain to keep me company.

I missed my dad. But I felt guilty for the missing. Guilty that I didn't miss him in life when days and weeks and months went by without a visit. In life he had often been a burden. So why should I be allowed to miss him in death?

Then there was the guilt for feeling relieved. I was actually thankful at times that we were spared from another episode in the hospital. Freed from another call that his finances had been flushed. Even thankful that I had escaped another dinner where he loudly smacked down a plate full of food that was surely damaging his diseased heart even more.

I was grieving the dad I lost and grieving the dad I never had.

I felt isolated in my grief from the start. (My friends loved me but not many of my 20-something peers had experienced the loss of a parent.) And this mix of emotions I didn't expect, couldn't explain, made me hide even further in my pain and guilt and shame.

But like my dad figured out before he breathed his last breath, there is one who always sees us, even in our hiding.

These last three years, I've learned that God can handle my emotions, even the ones I don't want to have. I've learned that not only can I rest in knowing my earthly father is living redeemed, free of his demons, but my Heavenly Father is doing a redeeming work in my life, too.

God won't change my childhood. I won't get back all the fatherly love, support, and nurturing I lacked. But those realities have shaped who I am. And there is no shame in wishing things had been different. I think God wishes they had been different for me, too.

But what do I get?

I get to live in this story. The story God is writing in my life.

The story where I'm learning that thankfulness and longing, relief and regret can coexist in one broken but rebuilding heart. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Encouragement

Salty tears ran down my cheeks and a huge grin spread across my face.

The smell of savory barbeque floated on the warm spring air.

A pedestrian passing by probably thought I was crazy--a crying, smiling girl with phone pressed tight against her ear.

But I couldn't help it. Waiting on the Firestone Grill patio for my tri-tip salad and my sister, I listened to a voicemail--not just a a voicemail--a message containing the most encouraging words my heart had ever heard.

Earlier that week I had the privilege of sharing what God was doing in my life with a group of women at my church. Several friends told me after that I did a wonderful job--words I appreciated hearing.

Now, another sweet friend had called to tell me the same. But more than acknowledging what I did, she affirmed who I was. Her voice reached through the recorded words and touched a deep place in my heart.

She was lavish with her praise. She used so many adjectives I started to giggle. Not for the sake of boosting my ego, but for the gift of seeing my soul.

Yes, one of the greatest gifts is being seen. Truly seen. And this dear friend gave this treasure abundantely.

Her words spoke truth in my life in a way that validated the very best parts of how God created me and spurred me on to live more fully out of the gifting he's given. Listening to her message made me feel loved. motivated. empowered.

Then my sister came back with a black tray of deliciousness, so I moved on to enjoying my meal.

But this gift of encouragement continued to stir my soul long after that first stream of awe and gratitude tears were wiped away. I feel silly admitting it, but I saved that voicemail and have listened to it many times over the last eight months.

That's the power of encouragement. Words that give life.

A couple months had now passed since I followed the automated prompt, pressed 9 for saved messages. Until this week. On Tuesday, for no real reason, I listened again to the most encouraging words I had ever heard. (Oh, I laugh, because God always knows the reason.) On Wednesday I was asked to share my story at a large event.

My heart pounded in excitement and fear.

Self-doubt threatened to choke my answer. 

But that's the power of encouragement: it. gives. courage.

I said yes.

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I'm writing with Lisa-Jo's Five Minute Friday community. We write for the sake of story, beauty, creativity, truth. The task is to write for 5 minutes flat on a single word prompt. In truth, I usually spend way more than five minutes. But whether it's 5 or 45, this exercise get's me writing, telling my story---God's story. And that's the best outcome for me.

Five Minute Friday

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Truth about Discontentment

It's sneaky.

It's sly.

It can slither, creep, crawl, or tip-toe right into your mind and then burrow deep within your heart. Before you even realize it, something pure and innocent can transform into something dark and ugly, while never changing out of its pretty package.

At least, that's how it happened to me.

That's how discontentment took root in my life again.

It surprised me. Shocked me.

I mean, how can something other than gratitude take hold of my heart when I've spent the last six months counting gifts and choosing joy?

But there in the middle of Target, between the florescent-lit aisles of picture frames and home decor accents, it hit me. And I had to admit it.

Out loud. To my husband. "I am discontent."

From the evidence of the last few weeks, he was quick to agree.

It started right after our move. We unpacked boxes and found new homes for dishes, toiletries, and clothes. My husband hung hooks by the front door and my calming lily canvas over the white chunky mantel.

As we found a place for everything in our new space, we saw a need for a few new things. A basket for shoes so we can attempt to keep the beautiful wood floors clean. Curtains to fit the long window in the boys' room. A welcome mat to wipe our feet.

Then the oven we inherited was broken so we invested in a stainless steel stove. And for the last eight and a half years we've crowded around a small hand-me-down's hand-me-down table, so we also put some Christmas money toward our first new dining room table--a purchase with a purpose--a heart for hospitality, future gatherings of family and friends.

And there was the adorable shelf my husband surprised me with. He knew I wanted something for the void on the bathroom wall and this was the perfect fit. Hooks for the boys' towels. A spot for some added decor. A shabby-chic finish. I loved it!

Oh, and maybe some place mats for the new table and mats for cold bathroom floors.

Nothing too extravagant. Not overly excessive.

But the problem wasn't in the things. The problem was in the seeing. My seeing.

Because I started to see only the holes.

A blank wall that needed art. A bare floor that needed a rug. An empty nook that needed an overstuffed chair. Each time I identified a hole in my house, I allowed one to fester in my heart.

The blessings I once saw faded another shade each time I focused on my longing, my lack. Soon all the pictures of thanks were too faint to see.

And going to amazing places like Home Goods and Target infected the wound further. At every turn I saw another basket or mail organizer or wall hanging or pillow or whatever other artfully-rusted, chalkboard paint-painted, burlap-embellished I-gotta-have-it accessory for my new house. "That would make this room so much more functional and that room so much more inviting," I thought to myself.

And while browsing didn't turn to buying, I was still selling myself out.

Letting my joy slip away.

Instead of keeping my eyes fixed on God's grace-gifts, I allowed greed and ingratitude to steal my focus. That wasn't my intention. But that is what happened.

And then I remembered the very words I chose to frame and perch on that new rustic shelf:

 Yes. My heart remembered, too.

The cure for discontentment? Giving thanks.

The antidote for ungratefulness? Gratitude.

And the echo of Ann's words from the storehouse of truth in my mind became a balm for this self-inflicted wound on my heart.
"You can have joy any moment you turn hidden greed for more into honest gratitude for now."
I can still have joy.

The truth is, discontentment snuck into my life even when I thought I was doing everything right. 

The truth is,  I don't have to stay in this discontented place. 

My attitude, my outlook--my choice.

Yes, instead I will choose gratitude. I will keep learning the secret of being content in any and every situation. (Yes, Paul says contentment is learned. So discontentment must be unlearned.)

I will do both by giving thanks.

Thanks for the hands that hung the shelf. Thanks for the silly smiles peering down at me. Thanks for a work of art, beauty, Truth. All clear pictures of God's gifts of grace.

Ahh, yes, and always thanksgiving for his Amazing Grace.

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Linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee for the first time to #TellHisStory.

Visit The Pleated Poppy to get this free Give Thanks printable...a beautiful, needed reminder for every heart.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What I'm Able to See

Some days it's easy.

The winter sun casting brilliant rays that illuminate a simple garden leaf, transforming something plain into spectacular.

The perfect curve of my middle boy's pouty cheeks. Cheeks that get all rosy flushed with bed-jumping joy or sleepy heat after a long snuggled nap.

The way steam rises up in swirly mist off my morning cup o' jo. The way the littlest one squeals in anticipation of our newest tickle game. The way my friend looks in my eyes because she really knows me.


I can see it all. See how each tender moment is an intentional gift. Given from God's heart to mine.

Our heater goes out and within minutes I've collected four space heaters from three sets of neighbors we just met. My biggest one is big-boy brave as he gets his five-year immunizations and he chooses to share his lollipop treat with his brother. Breath in. Breath out.

I can see.
"From the fullness of his grace we have received one blessing after another."  -John 1:16
 I can see the truth of God's Word in the realness of my life.

Some days.

And other days it's hard. There's a veil over my eyes, a low cloud, a thick fog. Piles of laundry and stacks of dishes are blocking my line of sight. The light of childhood delight has dimmed and all I can see is the disobedience. 



There are days I can only assume that all the God-gifts, all his grace, are hidden in the dusty corners of my house or in the disheveled toy boxes where nobody can find what they're looking for.

Some days it's hard. Today is one of those days. I'm having a hard time seeing God.

But I look back to his Word.
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." -2 Corinthians 4:18
And I'm thankful.

Thankful that my days aren't meant to be dependent on what I'm able to see.

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I'm writing with Lisa-Jo and the Five Minute Friday community. Today's word is See.
Five Minute Friday