Jumping on Bandwagons: My One Word for 2017

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wonderI got a Fitbit for Christmas and I am having such fun with it.

Since I strapped it on my wrist, I have logged over 73,000 steps, primarily in my house. The most entertaining thing about the Fitbit so far has been the reaction of my elderly dog, Dobby. For those of you unfamiliar with a Fitbit, you can set up the watch-like receiver to notify you at the end of each hour when you have not achieved your hourly step minimum. What this looks like at my house is me jumping out of my chair once an hour and marching around in circles with my dog following behind me wondering where we are going.

Because he is 14 years old and I am young and spry, I often catch up to him as we round a corner. And then, because he is mostly deaf, I startle him. Occasionally, he takes a shortcut through the kitchen and takes the lead.

My husband and I find this endlessly amusing. Clearly, it is time for all of us to go back to work because Dobby is confused and exhausted.

In addition to using a Fitbit to get my butt moving, I am also jumping on another popular bandwagon this January. For the last couple of years, I have joined many of you in choosing one word to be my “theme” word for the year. One proponent of the One Word calls it the “un-resolution” and says:

Our resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person we’re tired of being rather than who God wants us to become. Plus, resolutions can be “broken,” leaving no room for the process of growth. What if our hopes for the year ahead centered instead on who God wants us to become, and the transformation process?

In 2016, my word was Brave: no surprise to those of you who read my blog regularly. Brave was my goal, my focus, the object of my passion and curiosity. Throughout the year, personally and professionally, I considered what it might mean to be brave and what, if anything, my faith in God had to do with it. In moments of choice, I viewed my options through the lense of the word Brave.

Brave served me well, but now it is time for a new word.

For 2017, the word I choose to embrace and explore is Wonder, Continue reading

Top Posts of 2016

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top-5-posts-of-2016As I sit here today pondering the highs and lows of 2016 for me, my loved ones and our country, I am grateful for the presence of this online community in my life. This blog has continued to collect new readers from all over the world and I am grateful for every single one of your nearly 13,000 visits. Over 1,100 of you have agreed to an email notification when I post and 545 of you are part of our Facebook community. I am humbled you keep showing up and joining me here.

I published 57 posts this year and many of you were gracious enough to share your favorites with your friends. Because of your generosity and the way this community continues to gather new friends, I hope to have some extremely exciting news to share with you in the new year about an opportunity to share my writing more widely. Stay tuned!

As has been my tradition, I thought I would take a moment on this final day of 2016 to look back over some of our favorite “conversations” here at Grace Notes.

Top 5 Posts of 2016

1.How to Be a (Mostly) Awesome College Mom Just in time for my older daughter’s graduation from college this past May, I shared a few thoughts on the essential tools I believe all college parents need. Apparently, my somewhat irreverent observations resonated with a few of you, as this was my most widely read and shared post this year. This post was also my first picked up by Huffington Post and shared from that larger platform.

2. Our Journey Back: My Teenage Daughter’s Battle with Anxiety  I am not the only writer in our family. My younger daughter, a brilliant and fearless writer (who I hope to be more like when I grow up,) began talking about her battle with anxiety in her writing this year. Because of her commitment to encourage others, she allowed me to tell our story here as well. Our journey back to health resonated with many of you and both Brooke and I have had the privilege of continuing the conversation offline with families who were comforted to discover they were not alone in their struggles. Continue reading

When You Really Need a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

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isaiah-9-6On the first Sunday of Advent in 2008, we received a call that my father had finally lost his battle with alcoholism. The next week or so, as we drove back and forth to North Carolina to make funeral arrangements, I struggled with a swirl of emotions: grief, loss, and sadness mixed with anger and regret. Here I was in the midst of this fresh loss right smack in the middle of the Christmas season and everything felt raw.

Christmas was hard that year.

That year, I found particular comfort in the familiar words from Isaiah 9 we read and sing so often during the Christmas season. That year, I clung to these words like never before.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9: 2, 6

Wonderful Counselor
While professional counselors can be an important part of our support system during difficult times in our life, this version of the word “counselor” means much more. In this context, the word counselor would be better translated as “extraordinary strategist,” more like someone with the capacity for planning a winning military strategy than a therapist.

Jesus is a “strategist” that is more wonderful than we can comprehend or understand because he sees the big picture that I cannot. Those times in my life when I don’t know where to turn, when I am confused, troubled or looking for answers, I can experience Jesus as my wonderful counselor. As I seek his wisdom, the answer may come as that still small voice in my spirit, in the wise words of a friend, in the discovery of the perfect scripture, or perhaps just enough strength to endure a situation where the answer is still unknown to me. With that gift of wisdom or insight, comes the incomprehensible realization that I am never alone.

Almighty God
There are times in our lives when our circumstances are just too big, too scary, too overwhelming to face. Continue reading

Growing Up Versus Being a Grown-Up

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grownupWhen I was in my forties, I asked my mom, who was in her sixties, “Mom, at what age did you finally feel like a real grown up?”

“I’ll let you know,” she said. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

I thought being a grown-up would be a little less–I don’t know–messy. I thought it would be a little less haphazard–fewer stops and starts, a bit more consistency. I guess I thought I would have it a little (okay, a lot) more together, and be a bit closer to the perfect ideal I had in mind when I was younger.

After fifty-two years of research on the subject and with a firm grasp of the obvious, I am beginning to understand that I will not be able to achieve anything close to perfection in this lifetime. Perhaps perfection isn’t exactly the right word, but the more I think about the things that keep me stuck, the more I realize I have secretly harbored an unrealistic vision of what being a grown-up looks like. I expected a certain completeness, a sense of having arrived at the final version of me. I had hoped to achieve a clarity of calling; the right balance of work and play; healthy relationships with food, my body, my family, my friends, my money, my colleagues, the church, and God. Check, check, check. All done! Yay team!

The trouble begins when I interpret anything less than this ideal as failure.

It doesn’t help that everyone else seems to have figured out how to be a grown-up. Whether I’m at my kids’ school, at work, or on social media, examples of the perfect woman appear to abound. Everyone else seems to have found a way to do it all and make it look easy. From Pinterest-worthy birthday parties and elaborately designed gift baskets for the charity auction to well-behaved children changing the world, there are no shortage of reminders of the ways our performance doesn’t quite measure up. If only we could balance all the demands on our attention as seamlessly as our friends appear to on Facebook!

And don’t get me started on the pressure of pulling off the perfect Christmas! Will this year be the year we finally do the family Advent devotions? Does it still count if my children are now twenty and twenty-two?

When I make my goal a vision of perfection or being “complete,” the inevitable mistakes and detours of life become the enemy, and feelings of failure are the result. When I compare my real life to someone else’s online highlight reel, I always come up short. My perceived failures define me, and I am never, ever enough.

Here is what I am discovering: every single one of us is making it up as we go along. That friend who seems to have it all together is just as scared and unsure as I am. The person who seems to have all the answers has struggles and challenges I just don’t see. The older I get, the more comfortable I have become with the knowledge that I will never “arrive”–and neither will anyone else. We are all in process, all still learning, all still growing towards the people God has created us to be. When I believe other women have it all together in a way I don’t yet, I perpetuate the myth of perfection and feed the culture of competition and comparison that keeps us hiding from one another.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hiding.

So I am choosing a different way…

Read the rest of this post on The Glorious Table

Lament and the Spiritual Practice of Hope

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and-what-does-the-lord-require-of-you-to-act-justly-and-to-love-mercy-and-to-walk-humblya-with-your-godDisclaimer: this is a long post, but please don’t read it if you are only going to read the first paragraph. I ask you to bear with me and read the whole thing or don’t read it at all. I have rewritten this post over and over for five days and I offer it to you today as my imperfect offering. Right or wrong, this is where I am today.

Lament: a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.

Like many of you, my dear readers, I am heartbroken about the election. I never, ever thought it was possible our country would elect Donald Trump to be our next president. More than my worries about the next four years, which are considerable, it feels right now that the triumph of his candidacy signals the death of decency and kindness in our country. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny and hate seem to have been given a pass. In our distaste for what some derisively call “political correctness,” we have collectively decided we prefer someone who says out loud the things our parents taught us were unacceptable in polite society.

Whether you agree with them or not, people I know and love are fearful they no longer have a place in Trump country because of his statements about immigrants and minorities. Women who have suffered from sexual assault feel victimized all over again because of his vulgar comments. His reactive temperament worries many as we look toward him being the Diplomat and Commander-in-Chief. Real people are hurting as a result of real words that have come out of his mouth, not just once but repeatedly. As a Christian, I feel compelled to stand with those who are still grieving and fearful and I honor their need to express their lament. This was not an ordinary election.

Yet, in just a few weeks, President-Elect Trump will be sworn into office. In spite of the hurt and outrage, he will be our president, the leader of the free world, and our representative with foreign leaders around the globe.

I also stand by this belief: regardless of who is in the White House, God still reigns. 

So what does it mean to be part of the solution going forward? Where do we go from here? How do people of faith respond in the face of so much brokenness, animosity and division? How do we heal our country?

Perhaps these words from the prophet Micah can give us direction:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.  
Micah 6:8

Act justly.

Our God is still the God of the underdog, the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. Every book of the bible testifies to that truth. In whatever capacity we perceive injustice, people of faith have always been called to speak the truth to power. We are called to love, not just in word, but with action. We fight injustice with our votes, with our voice, with our resources and with our presence. We show up every single day with people who are being treated with disrespect. We feed hungry people and we speak up for the voiceless. We keep our baptismal vows to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We are not victims and we are not powerless. We have a voice and we have a choice about how to behave now with our fellow citizens. I choose hope and I choose kindness.

Let me be clear, because we interpret what it means to fight for justice differently, no political party has all the answers. No matter who we voted for on Tuesday, we can all agree racism or sexism in any form is wrong. Every day, we ask ourselves the question “what am I willing to do TODAY to act justly and stand in solidarity with those who may be being treated unfairly?”

I attended a program at my church on Saturday and was inspired by a message about “hope as spiritual practice” from Wesley Seminary professor Dr. Veronice Miles.

To live with hope as a spiritual practice is to say yes to God’s yes for creation and for our lives by availing ourselves to God’s ongoing work of fashioning a just and humane world for all people and for the earth as our shared home. It is to actively love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves; to willfully and intentionally engage in the work of transformation so that wholeness and wellbeing will become the normative expression of human existence.

Dr. Miles went on to say that Practices of Hope might include the following:

  • Compassion
  • Boundary Crossing
  • Hospitality
  • Extravagant Love
  • Intercessory Prayer
  • Truth Telling
  • Righteous Indignation
  • Lament
  • Contestation
  • Protest

Love mercy.

In spite of our differences, I believe most of us want the best for our country. Most Trump supporter are not racists, most Christians are not right wing extremists, and most Hillary supporters are not godless, liberal elitists. I have a group of five women who I talk to most every day, my writing sisters with whom I exchange writing critiques, parenting advice, and spiritual encouragement. They are funny, smart, compassionate, kind, powerful women. We all love Jesus and yearn for the world to look more like the Kingdom He envisioned in the Gospels. We live in five different states, spread out throughout the country. Some of us voted for Secretary Clinton and some of us voted for Mr. Trump. All of us found his rhetoric offensive and wrong. While we may disagree on how to spend our vote, I do not question any of their motives. We all believe we must continue to fight hate, racism, misogyny and other forms of injustice, even if we don’t agree on the political path to get there. I know them and I know their hearts. Knowing them allows me to understand others who voted differently from me. I am wasting energy best used elsewhere when I shoot arrows of blame and condemnation at those who disagree with me politically.

Walk humbly with my God 

We had an election prayer service on the night before the election at my church. At the end of the service, we had the opportunity to sign up for a thirty minute time slot on Wednesday to pray for our president-elect, no matter what happened. Feeling spiritually smug and certain I would be praying for Hilary Clinton, I signed up for the 2:30 – 3:00 slot.

When Wednesday dawned with the unwelcome news, I remembered my promise. To be completely honest, I began praying closer to 2:45 and even then I mostly fussed at God for letting this happen, reminding Him of all the horrible things Donald Trump has said and done. I tattled on Donald Trump to God and then tearfully and begrudgingly asked God to help him be a good president and to heal the brokenness in our country. I also asked God to make me brave enough to be part of the solution going forward.

I have prayed for Donald Trump every day since then.

Holding strong convictions and operating from a place of humility is difficult. The voices on both sides are loud, angry and convinced they are right. This election is a direct result of our arrogance and our failure to listen to one another and I am as guilty as anyone. I have struggled for almost a week to write this post because it has been difficult to set aside my righteous indignation- or at least what I believe to be righteous.

Yet, I have found glimmers of hope in the last few days. I worship at a church where all voices are welcome and heard, supporters of both candidates, members of both parties. We are sisters and brothers. Humility requires listening, both to God and to each other. Walking humbly with my God requires a daily commitment to the practices of my faith and a daily commitment to be a voice of hope, love, reconciliation and justice. It is simple, but it is not easy.

Perhaps this election is an opportunity. An opportunity for darkness to be exposed and the light to shine on aspects of our society which need healing. An opportunity to be the Church of Jesus in a more loving and compassionate way. An opportunity to get off the sidelines and participate more fully in the process of reconciliation and justice in our society. An opportunity to be braver, listen more deeply and love better.

Your words of lament are welcome here, but I also want to hear your plans for the future. What is your commitment going forward? How will you be part of the solution? What gives you hope?

 

 

Conversations That Matter

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“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.” ~Margaret Wheatley

We looked around the room, eyeing each other nervously, the twenty of us strangers at a weekend training course. Some of us attempted to make awkward conversation with the people on either side of us. We carefully broached the usual questions regarding where we lived, what we do, and the always safe topic of weather.

Our group leader called us to attention, then invited us to stand up, wander around the room, and introduce ourselves to one another by asking this question:

“What is your dream for your life?”

Moving from one person to the next, I stammered through my response the first few times but grew increasingly confident as I marveled at how many of us had similar dreams.

As I traveled around the room, I began adding depth to my response. I discovered kindred spirits and a receptive audience. As we all grew more comfortable, the energy and feeling of connection in the room was palpable. With the ice effectively broken, our leader laughed as he struggled to quiet us and move on to the next activity.

Talking about our dreams is not something most of us routinely do, in spite of our inherent desire to know and be known. Although we may hunger for it, true connection is often difficult in our busy everyday lives. We hurry past one another with a cursory how-do-you-do and an obligatory fine-thank-you as we move on to the next item on our to-do lists.

How often do we begin a conversation with a deep question? And if we do, how well do we listen to the response?

One way we can have conversations that really matter is by asking powerful questions. Asking open-ended questions lets the people in our lives know we are truly interested in who they are, what they think, and how they are feeling. Closed-ended questions, questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no response, shut down conversation and limit insight. Open-ended questions invite connection and sharing.

Thoughtful questions like the following communicate our desire to truly listen:

  • What did you like most about that experience?
  • What are you hoping will happen?
  • How did that make you feel?

If we are brave enough to ask better questions, we also must be willing to do the hard work of listening well to the answers. Good listening requires intentionality, patience, and practice. As a naturally loquacious person…

Continue reading the rest of this devotion at The Glorious Table.