It’s a gift… several of them, in fact

A friend messaged me the other night and said she was stuck. She wished she had some ideas for some hard-to-buy-for people on her list, and (in her words) I’m “so good at that”… and because I recognize that I do love to find quirky, unusual gifts, I decided to throw together a compilation of ...

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A friend messaged me the other night and said she was stuck. She wished she had some ideas for some hard-to-buy-for people on her list, and (in her words) I’m “so good at that”… and because I recognize that I do love to find quirky, unusual gifts, I decided to throw together a compilation of totally random gift ideas. Maybe this will help you if you’re struggling to find gifts you’re excited to give. I know it’s kind of late, but hey, I never claimed to be totally organized. Just partially.

Disclaimer: some of these gifts are custom orders, so I’m not sure if (in every case) if there’s enough time to have these things made. But if not, they’ll tell you so, and you can save the ideas for later.

Jewelry. Etsy is the answer for many questions. Pretty much anything that can be handmade is available there—so many beautiful options, but I particularly like the jewelry.

  • Get custom pendants or leather bracelets in luscious colors with your words stamped onto metal plates. I made some necklaces with the word “pray” (stamped upside down) on a little metal disk and put them on leather cords. I ordered bracelets for my prayer group with a phrase that amuses us. Here are just a few links to some random examples, but there are thousands of good options—for both custom ones and for initials, inspirational phrases, and so forth.   link 1   link 2   link 3
  • These leather cuff bracelets are really cool—I actually ordered from this shop. The leather is soft and scrumptious (at least in the color I got). I had a word stamped on it that’s a private joke, just for fun.
  • Signals catalog has a Lucky Penny necklace. Tell someone how lucky you are to have them in your life, and choose a year to commemorate a birth, anniversary, or event. One of my all-time favorite gifts is a dime from my mom’s birth year that one of her closest friends got for my sister and me after we lost Mom. I love to wear it. And this reminds me of that idea.
  • Longitude and latitude necklace or bracelet—you can find the exact location of a special place (where you met, where you were engaged or married, where someone was born, etc.) and then have it engraved onto jewelry. Can be very romantic (or sweet) and very cool. There are a million options out there, but here is a link to one of them.

If you’re not sure what custom word or phrase you would pick for someone, choose from preselected ideas. They can still be very meaningful.

Food. You can’t go wrong with food, but maybe you’re tired of giving regular gift cards.

  • This site offers customized food plans (and you can choose options like gluten-free). They give you a 20-item shopping list that contains everything you need for the week. We haven’t used it but my daughter found it and it looks like a good thing. Might be good for a health-conscious (or time-starved) person on your list.
  • A client recently sent me a gift from Blue Apron—I got to pick the meals of my choice (prepaid and preselected), and the ingredients and instructions will arrive in a refrigerated case on a designated date. I can prepare them at home, but I’ll already have everything I need. It was easy to complete my order and it all looks delicious, but I won’t know for sure until the 21st :-).

Have someone who loves clothes (and/or needs clothes but hates to shop) but you would never dare buy for them?

  • Try StitchFix. You fill out your style and fit preferences, along with preferred price ranges, and a stylist selects items according to your profile. They ship five items (shirts, sweaters, pants, outerwear, accessories, shoes, dresses, bags, jewelry—you can specify any categories you’re not interested in, as well as how dressy you are). You can even tell them if you need an item for a specific event and provide a Pinterest board to show your stylist your preferred styles. If you keep none, you are charged a $20 styling fee, and provided with a postage-prepaid envelope you can drop into the mail. If you keep all five items, you receive a 25% discount, or you can pick and choose. I’ve been so impressed with the quality and style—and everything fits! If you use this link and sign up for a fix, I’ll get a $25 account credit. You could purchase a gift certificate for someone to use towards their first fix. And they offer clothing for both women and men.

Get personal—search for people’s names and see what you find.

  • I have found eBay to be a great source for these things. I’ve framed a book of matches from Hotel O’Dell for my mom, bought O’Dell Brewing Company beer glasses for my dad, bought books with people’s names in the title, framed an old bill of sale for a company with a cool logo and the same name as my brother-in-law’s family, and bought my husband a craft beer label featuring the Stanley Hotel, which provided the inspiration for one of my husband’s favorite Stephen King books. It can be fun to look and see what you find. Search by first names, last names, and locations. Even if it seems kind of random, people will know you went to an effort to find a gift tailored to them individually—and they’ll know it wasn’t something you picked up at the last minute.
  • Walk through an antique mall… pick up an old motor oil can, sign, or license plate for a car lover. Or an antique postcard of a site someone has visited on vacation (maybe it’s the honeymoon destination of a couple who recently married). Pick out your own set of antique postcards for all the major holidays, and give them to someone with a small frame so they can display the relevant cards year-round (this is fun; I used to have a set I displayed and I’ve given them as gifts). Buy sheet music for an old song with the name of a friend in the title. Pick up an old battered vinyl album cover for a music lover (there are sources online to buy frames that fit).

For the listmaker or writer or organized person in your life (this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen lately):

  • Mod Notebooks – these journals include the cost of having the entire journal digitized and searchable through an app. I LOVE THESE.
  • These notebooks are customizable (you choose paper patterns, covers, etc.)—but there are lots of options for custom notebooks and journals out there.
  • A new journal, a set of colored gel pens, and a link to how to set up a bullet journal.
  • When my book released, a friend gave me a small leather journal in which she’d written some of the things people had said about my book. She told me to write down the comments and emails and things I received so I could have a record of all the lives I touched. I don’t know about that J… but it’s a cool idea. Might be a good idea for a gratitude journal (suggest that someone write 3-5 things a day for which they are grateful), and you can write the recipient’s name on page 1. Could also be a gift for a parent of young kids, as a place to jot down the funny things their children say.

Help someone else—make a donation in someone’s name.

  • We sponsor a child through Compassion International, but they and World Vision (and others) offer all kinds of ways to help people, from digging wells to helping women learn skills and start businesses, to buying animals as a source of food and income.
  • Make it more fun to open—if it’s an organization that provides water or drills wells, include a water bottle. If they will provide chickens or other animals, include a small, appropriate stuffed animal or toy.
  • You can also choose a local organization like a food pantry or shelter or rehab facility. Give the recipient a can or box of food with a note taped to it about how you/they helped feed the needy. Alternately, if there’s an inspirational book that has helped you, consider donating several of them to a local cancer center with a note inside saying they are welcome to take the book home if they want it, and that you’re praying for whoever picks up the book.
  • Or buy products from organizations that help give people a hand so that they can provide for themselves. A woman I met this year has a company called Girl Set Free. And there are lots of other places from which you can order and feel good about using ethically sourced or sustainable products.
  • I love these—they’re called Giving Keys and they’re all about paying it forward. The keys are made into jewelry and have a word stamped on them (things like Brave, Create, Dream, Fearless, Inspire, Strength, Hope, Let it Go). Give a word to someone to help them embrace it or to give them strength to face a difficult time. Then, when they are ready, they can pass it on to someone else who needs it.

Gifts based on things people enjoy:

  • What are their hobbies? Look for address labels with images from that hobby, team, sport. Or start a charm bracelet (sterling silver isn’t as expensive) with a charm that represents an event or favorite hobby.
  • For the wine lover—wine is always good, but this is something a little different, a wine barrel or whiskey barrel lazy susan
  • Have grandchildren’s names embroidered on a pillow.
  • Get a photo pillow made with an image of a favorite pet, a family reunion group photo, or just a great shot that you’ve taken.
  • For someone who spends a couple months in another place (like my mother-in-law, who spends some time in Florida every year): have business cards made with summer and winter addresses on different sides. You can choose from pre-designed templates on sites like vistaprint.com and overnightprints.com.
  • For the homebody (or a family that doesn’t get to go to theaters often), a movie basket (a couple DVDs, microwave popcorn and/or flavoring).
  • Tea lover? How about a tea set (flavors of tea plus a little tea bag plate or infuser and mug). Coffee lover? Get them a small, personal-sized French press.
  • For the traveler: Packing cubes, portable charger, power bank for cell phone.
  • For the creative: Sketchbook or journal, book of writing prompts, adult coloring books with markers, Wreck This Journal
  • For someone with multiple phones/iPads/devices—multi-device charging station
  • For the pet lover: get a friendship collar (it’s a bracelet that matches a colorful new collar for the pet)
  • An 8-roll washi tape dispenser with lots of colorful tape (just because it’s fun)—I have this one and love it

Great catalog sites if you just want to browse:

Also, museum gift shops are wonderful places to buy unique gifts—even if you don’t go inside and look around. You can also find them online—here’s IMA, MOMA, the Met, and Chicago Art Institute.

Turn it into a gift basket. Whenever you want to make a gift feel a little more special, pair it with a related item or two. Is the novel about a chef? Add a whisk and apron or a set of recipe cards. Are you giving someone a gift card? Find an ornament or small toy related to the card and wrap it up with the card beside it. Buy an inexpensive but reusable shopping bag or find a bargain on a tote bag and use that to hold the gift instead of a traditional gift bag, and then the bag becomes part of the gift too. Add pens or markers with a journal or book and it becomes a set. Include a pair of pretty cloth napkins with a ceramic bowl or put gourmet hot chocolate packets in the mug. I’m sure there are better examples than these, but my brain won’t produce them right now :-).

Books (specific novels, etc. with different themes) — of course, these are always a good choice. But I need a couple more days to compile a list of favorites by category, so look for that soon. In the meantime, though, I’ll leave you with one thought: Did you know you can buy and gift a specific book digitally (not just give a gift card, but actually pay for a specific title)? If your recipient doesn’t live nearby, or if they like the lack of physical clutter in their lives, this might be a good choice.

So, there you have it. A totally random, oddball selection of things I like. If you have any unusual or signature-type gift items (or sources) you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to hear about them!

 

Seeing you, being seen, and seeing Him

My friend Tami and I are very different, although we’ve been close friends for years. We are on different ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But the other day I met her for lunch and ended up pouring out my heart—how I feel, what emotions have come to the surface lately, ...

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My friend Tami and I are very different, although we’ve been close friends for years. We are on different ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But the other day I met her for lunch and ended up pouring out my heart—how I feel, what emotions have come to the surface lately, and so on. I told her these things knowing she had different opinions, and she shared a little about where she’s coming from. We could do this because we were in a safe place—we both knew we were loved, differences and all, and we trusted each other to listen with an open heart.

It was a really healing moment for me. A reminder that differences don’t have to divide us.

One thing Tami and I have always had in common is we hate to be misunderstood. If you want to be mad at me, fine, but only if you’re basing it on the things I actually did or what I actually meant. We can’t rest until we’ve corrected mistaken impressions.

A big insight I’ve had lately is along those same lines: We all want to be seen and know that we’re heard.

[I promise this isn’t about the election… bear with me. REALLY. I promise. It has a God point and doesn’t take a stand about sides!]

I’ve heard analysts say that many thousands of people who supported our President-elect voted in large part because they felt like he understood their plight and was on their side. They supported him because for years they’ve felt overlooked by our government and media and now they feel as though they have finally been seen.

On the other hand, many who are disappointed about the results think that the people who voted the other way do not care about people of different colors, religions, sexual persuasions, and so on. And they want to be sure people understand the implications of that and what it means for the people who feel as though they’ve been overlooked.

See? Not politics.

It’s about being seen.

As I’ve been praying and thinking and talking and wrestling with my emotions and beliefs lately, I’ve landed here: Am I putting my money where my mouth is? Am I living the life and faith I believe we’re directed to live? I won’t go into all of those questions and ramifications—unless you have several hours to spare, you can thank me for that. But one of the conclusions I’ve reached is just what I said earlier. People want to be seen and understood. It’s a basic, driving force in human existence.

And it’s something we can affect, no matter who’s at the helm of this country.

In Psalm 139, David says:

“O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6, NLT

Today, I’d like to suggest three basic steps towards healing, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Because the truth is we’re all on the same side. God’s banner over us is love. And it’s over all of us—people of all varieties and backgrounds and persuasions.

1) Spend time with God and be open about your conflicts, turmoil, confusion, anger, joy, frustration with acquaintances… whatever you’re feeling. Because He already knows you, and He created us to live in relationship. We grow closer to God when we share with Him who we are. Healing happens when we get real with God, and time in His presence can bring clarity and peace.

2) Seek out time with a trusted friend. You certainly don’t have to talk politics. Share your life. Let yourself feel safe and understood. God created us to live in relationship, and healing often takes place in community, rarely alone.

3) Reach out to someone today and let them know they are seen. It doesn’t require a personal or controversial discussion—simply pay attention to the people around you. Praise your child for a small act of kindness. Kiss your husband on the cheek and thank him for taking out the trash. Compliment the server at a restaurant for her efficiency. Tell a stranger you like her sense of style.

One person at a time, we can begin to change our understanding, to recognize the beliefs that drive a person. We can make a difference one life, one moment, one baby step at a time. And over time, as this kindness and generosity of spirit spreads, maybe—just maybe—it will impact the toxic environment in which we live.

Because people will be seen. And in the process, they will see the love that drives us, and it will point them to the God who inspires us.

Dear Precious Lord, help us today. Soften our hearts toward others. Increase our compassion. Enlighten our understanding. Thank You for seeing us and knowing us. Thank You for caring. Thank You for being our safe place to turn. You are mighty and altogether lovely—and I want to show You to others through the way I care for them. Help me. Teach me. Go with me. Amen.

Maybe this is a good place to start

  Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the ...

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Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the first place.

Since hearing someone else’s story always changes my understanding, I’m sharing mine with you. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are whining and pouting and just like to be mad. But there are lots and lots of other people who, I think, feel much like I do. Our rights may not be compromised, but we see that those of others might be, and we feel the pain on their behalf.

If anything unusual happened during these past few months, it is that people went public with their thoughts and opinions and our social media environment helps remove social filters. Which should be good. We want honesty and authenticity, right? Except that in so many cases the thoughts and opinions exposed were ugly. Downright hateful and mean and insulting.

(I know this goes both ways, although among my friends, I’ve seen next to nothing of the sort coming from the liberals and tons of bashing from the conservatives—but many of the conservatives I know tell me that all the liberals are hateful and violent. And that’s exactly my point. When we make broad generalizations, we’re insulting actual, specific individuals. Most of us are not extremists, and general statements like that are, quite simply, not fair. And I’m genuinely sorry I didn’t realize that sooner.)

Am I happy with the outcome? No. I accept that Donald Trump will be my President, and I will try to give him a chance. But my political disappointment is no more extreme than that of a conservative when Obama was elected. About half the time, simply because of the way democracy works, we will all be disappointed. No big deal.

Am I grieving? Yes. But the reason is not because “my” candidate lost the election.

It is not because Donald Trump was elected. It’s because grief is sometimes the appropriate response when something is lost. It’s right to feel sad when you see wrongs and injustices.

These past few months, we all witnessed new levels of hatred and division, name-calling and bullying. As I watched the results pour in on Tuesday night, I started to cry because I realized that the conclusion of the election will not conclude the problem.

We’ve seen too much to go back. We’ve seen who we are—as a country, as different political groups, as a Church. Maybe Trump didn’t cause the ugliness in individual people but he inherently, by his own words, gave permission to people to speak out. They felt comfortable letting others see parts of themselves they would have once kept hidden. And now millions more feel acute rejection—because even if, as a Trump supporter, you’re not hateful or bigoted, Trump’s victory seems to many to be an endorsement of those traits.

When people are hurting, we—as Christians—should feel empathy and sorrow. It’s not sadness about Democrats “not getting our way.” It’s about having compassion for the millions of hurting people who need to know that even though Trump won, we believe they have value. We see them.

Here’s just a little bit of what else we’ve seen.

  • Many people—who are anything other than straight, white, middle class Christians—are feeling justifiable fear. Countless individuals are being taunted, facing hatred, and experiencing violent backlash simply because of their ancestry or a stereotype.
  • Millions of women are victims of sexual abuse, and many men simply cannot understand what mainstream acceptance of sexism and abuse does to a woman’s soul.
  • Not all Christians believe the same things—or if we do, we choose to live out our ideologies very differently.
  • Many Christians (and to be fair, probably many other religions, too) feel threatened by those who believe differently.
  • Nobody likes to be stereotyped; we want to be evaluated on our individual merits and behaviors, not someone’s opinion about a group we belong to.
  • Our actions have a real impact on others’ perceptions of who we are—especially as Christians, who are called to show God to the world. People (within and outside of the Church) are questioning if Christianity is all they thought it was, and if our God is worth following if His followers act this way.
  • Minorities and differences are not as accepted as we thought.
  • Thousands (probably millions) have spent their lifetimes feeling ignored, so when Trump made them feel seen, they responded to him. At the same time, countless others feel unseen now because of the number of votes for a platform seemingly opposed to their beliefs or lifestyles.
  • Because so many voted “against” rather than “for”—we know that negative emotions like dislike and distrust are extremely powerful motivators.

These issues aren’t about politics but basic human decency—the lack of it and the necessity for more of it. Now that we know, it’s not as simple as just “dropping it” and moving on.

This could be a really good thing. It could. When something is hidden, it can’t be addressed. Hidden things hold a dark kind of power over us.

But now we can change.

So, as a liberal, am I packing my bags and leaving the country? No. I won’t deny that in the midst of my emotions, I didn’t wish I could. But I don’t usually run from a problem, even if I could. So instead I’m spending time with trusted friends who make me feel safe to be me. I’m talking to God and trying to come to terms with our new reality. I’m praying for insight and direction and inspiration.

And I’m hoping—fervently, passionately hoping—that this will be the start of something amazing. That this will not be an era of hate, but that people will pull together to find the good. That we will work together to help people who aren’t just like us feel they belong. That we will learn to look beyond our own experience and be aware of someone else’s.

Recently, we’ve focused on our differences, but if we look harder, I believe we can find more to bring us together. And if we believe what our faith teaches us, we all have work to do.

  • As Christians, we have to forgive—not because it’s our gut response or because we’re feeling magnanimous but because we were first forgiven by Christ.
  • We have to love others—because we were loved first with an extravagant love whose depths we cannot begin to fathom.
  • We must stop judging because God is the righteous judge. We must stop casting stones because we are not without our own sin.
  • We need to accept others, because Jesus turned no one away. God’s love is freely offered to everyone.

But it’s not all hard stuff.

  • We get to hope because God alone brings hope into impossible situations.
  • We get to remember that these trials in our world are nothing for a God who is not limited by place or time or circumstance. No need is beyond his capacity for repair or his ability to procure.

We do know this, right? Then let’s act like we believe it. Let’s build genuine relationships with all types of people and not be afraid of that which is different. Let’s attempt to understand where those we disagree with are coming from. Let’s not get bogged down by despair but let’s do find more, better ways to extend kindness and generosity with sincerity and grace. Let’s show God’s love in more genuine ways. Let’s acknowledge that the Church will never be perfect because it’s made up of imperfect individuals—but that doesn’t mean we can’t be better.

It’s not all on us as a country or community, though. We each have our own personal work to do—getting to know God better, seeking Him sooner and more often. Turning from selfishness and ignorance toward the light of His understanding. Putting our trust in God, who never fails us. (He may do things we don’t like, but He doesn’t fail us.)

So even though I am mourning and hurting, and even though I’ve been insulted and am disappointed in others, and even though I’m overwhelmed with despair, I will keep trying to do what’s right. Because I know that someone else’s misbehavior doesn’t justify my own. Lashing out to hurt someone else doesn’t heal the wound they inflicted on me.

I have to believe that mankind is better than the examples I’ve seen lately. I have to trust that every insult directed at (pick one) liberals/Democrats/Christians/women isn’t a personal attack. I have to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when I don’t want to, even when it would be easier to skip church or cancel lunch with a friend or unfriend someone on Facebook. I have to be all right with knowing that lots of people don’t understand me and never will.

And it’s okay. Because in the end, I don’t have control over anyone else. I can only be responsible for myself, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to hold grudges and be bogged down by despair. I want to be better. I want to let other people know they matter. And I want to be able to look God in the face and hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

I want His best. I want Him. I want to be quick to embrace and slow to take offense. I want to live true to my faith and convictions. I want to see that in you and I want to develop that in myself. And that, my friends, is something that goes way beyond politics and elections, and it provides a solid start on a place in which we can agree. I hope you’ll join me there.

Prayer for my teenage boy

My 15-year-old son goes back to school tomorrow, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how weird it is to see him growing up. So I thought I’d share this prayer with you today. Lord, when people told me there is something special about the relationship between a mom and her son, they were right. But ...

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My 15-year-old son goes back to school tomorrow, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how weird it is to see him growing up. So I thought I’d share this prayer with you today.


Lord, when people told me there is something special about the relationship between a mom and her son, they were right. But as much as I adore this boy, I admit that there are times I have absolutely no understanding of him. He’s like an alien creature inhabiting my world.

When I go to wake him up, I marvel at the way that this child of mine stretches completely across the entire mattress. When he talks, I’m amazed at how deep his voice is. When girls flirt with him, it makes me laugh. He’s still my baby, that little boy that pulled my neck towards him to hold my face in his chubby hands and kiss me. The one who threw temper tantrums and hid behind furniture. The one who played with Legos while singing adorably mispronounced song lyrics.

But yet… he’s almost 6 feet tall. He’s stinky and has whiskers and hairy legs. He’s never without a phone in his hand—unless he’s playing video games or sports—and he takes 400,000 selfies a day for SnapChat and can’t talk about anything but cars. One minute he hugs me and the next he wants nothing to do with me. He still needs his mama but he wants his dad to teach him how to be a man. He needs direction but wants independence. There’s a part of him that is still soft inside, still vulnerable, still tender, but he fights that because it’s not what he thinks a man is supposed to be.

Lord, help me to be the kind of mom he needs me to be. Let me be his safe place to be himself, without any pretense. Let me be the source of unconditional love and fierce mama-bear protection. Let me always be the one he holds doors for. Thank you for letting me be the person who gets the way his brain works, who knows what will make him laugh, who is willing to set him up for all of his sarcastic responses and nerdy jokes. But help me to hold him to a high standard (and still show him love if he doesn’t live up to that). Help me let him know his value without inflating his ego.

But more than that, Lord, help him to embrace becoming the man You want him to be. Never stop talking to him, whispering to him to make smart choices and be true to who he is. Help him choose his friends wisely, and surround him with people who bring out the best in him, who challenge him to work harder and be more kind and generous. Let him shoot high when he sets goals, and help him to learn from his mistakes but have the perseverance to try again. Let him know that he doesn’t have to hide his brain to be popular. Help him to be funny without ever being mean. Teach him to gauge his worth in You and not care about his relative popularity among his peers.

Hold tight to him, Lord. Give him the courage to put You first. To let others see how much he loves You. To go to You first for advice and direction. To stand up and be a man and to look at Jesus as his ultimate role model. Whatever he does in this life, let his love for You be clear to others, and let his service to You be done gladly and passionately. Keep him centered, Lord. Because You are the rock. Of his salvation and of mine. You are the anchor that holds us all in place. You are the source of our strength. You are our hope and our redeemer. And You are able to do all things. There’s no one else I could trust with him (or with my girls).

You are my everything. And my greatest prayer for him is that You will become his everything, too. Amen.

My Summer Prayer

Dear Lord, As You—and anyone who has ever talked to me for more than five minutes—know, summers are a struggle for me. I’m certain I sound like a terrible mom when I say that. And maybe I am a terrible mom. I don’t know. I’m just being real. I’m used to having some space to ...

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Dear Lord,

As You—and anyone who has ever talked to me for more than five minutes—know, summers are a struggle for me. I’m certain I sound like a terrible mom when I say that. And maybe I am a terrible mom. I don’t know. I’m just being real.

I’m used to having some space to myself at home—a desk that I clear in the mornings and which remains clear unless I clutter it again. I’m used to being able to sit all day without turning on a TV so that I can work, to let my thoughts and ideas incubate in the silence. It’s not like I’m sitting on the couch eating bon-bons. But this quiet space is where I create. I’m used to juggling appointments and errands and the items on my to-do list with limited restrictions, which normally center on drop-off and pick-up times at school.

But now there are bodies in my house. People talking, sitcoms on television, questions about what’s for lunch and can I go here and oh-no-I-forgot-I-need-to-be-there-in-five-minutes!

My kids are older now: more self-sufficient, less demanding of my attention. So really, this summer is going to be different than those in the past. But this feeling of dread I associate with summer remains in me still.

So, Lord, I am asking for Your help.

With each drive to the school for basketball or soccer or conditioning or summer PE, let me not feel inconvenienced, but instead let me enjoy the time with my son while he’s still too young to drive himself. Let me marvel at his changes, enjoy his music, listen to his off-the-wall insights.

When I sit outside, let me soak in the sunlight and relax my mind, rather than thinking about all those other things I should be doing. There’s enough time to think about those while I’m actually doing them, and the added stress doesn’t help anyone.

When there’s nothing to eat and everyone’s hungry, let me notice the blessing of abundant food and the luxury of turning up our noses at leftovers. Let me remember what a privilege it is to have these people in my home, and let me teach them how to be more self-sufficient.

When I can’t walk through the living room because of the clutter, when on each trip through the house I gather armloads of empty cups, when I trip over the piles of shoes by the back door, and when I’m overwhelmed by the piles of laundry, let me stop and take a deep breath. Let me trust You to keep my mind free of the clutter I’m experiencing physically. Impress on me the awareness that this is not a trial. This is not a bad thing. This is all here because we have a home and a family and a full life.

Help me, every morning, to set my sights on You. To filter my thoughts through Your word. To lean on You for strength. To turn to You for calm. To rely on You for provision. To revel in Your nearness. To see summer as a time of beauty, a season of abundance, a time of joy. Help me equate sunshine with Your glorious light. To see the lushness of the landscape as a reminder of Your extravagant grace. To wake each morning with a sense of peace, and to end each day satisfied and grateful and knowing that I accomplished exactly what You put before me to do that day.

In short, let summer be what every other day of my life should be—and can be—with You.

Amen.

Prayer for the mom without a mom

Dear Lord, Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer. It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels ...

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Dear Lord,

Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer.

It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels like my mom should be. When, even after several years, I feel lost… adrift… permanently damaged, even as I go about my days. I’m not depressed. But I miss her. I feel perpetually lonely without her.

On a day like today, all I can think about is what my mom did for me. How she—even through her criticisms—was my unconditional place. My biggest supporter and strongest cheerleader. How she saw what was bad, misguided, or just plain wrong in my actions—and didn’t hesitate to say so—because she believed I was capable of so much more. Because she thought I was so much better than that.

I wonder now—when I rebelled, did it hurt her the way my own kids hurt me?

Did she stand firm in her opinions anyway, simply because there was no other choice? Because she had to be the mom she knew I needed, rather than the one I thought I wanted?

Did she lie awake at night, wondering if she was doing right by her kids?

Did she fume all day when I yelled at her unjustly?

And even so, did she defend me, instinctively, against any and all criticisms?

Did she mourn over her inability to protect me from people who would hurt me, injure my opinion of myself, break my heart?

I’m certain she did. As a teen, I was oblivious to that. As a parent myself, I now understand her better. Lord, You gave me wonderful mom, and I’m so grateful. And You’ve blessed me with remarkable, amazing children. So why do I feel more like crying than rejoicing?

Because I fully recognize all that I lost. All that she was to me. All that a mom should be to her child. And I’m afraid I can’t live up. I’m afraid I’ve already failed irreparably. I’m afraid my kids will never understand the depths of my love for them. My desperation to shield them from all that could harm them. My unlimited hopes and aspirations for them. They may never understand how deeply I feel the things that hurt them. Or how much I believe in them.

Maybe they’ll get it when they have children of their own.

Maybe someday they’ll cling to You when they realize they don’t have control over their own kids’ lives. Maybe they’ll live in awe of a God who loves us with a Father’s love. Maybe they’ll understand that we are forever connected, whether we’re both on this earth or not. Maybe they’ll grasp the reality that parenting well involves huge risk. It involves making unpopular decisions and hard choices and knowing that we can’t fix everything. It requires being hands-off sometimes when our instincts tell us to cling tight. It consists of a love so great that it isn’t changed by circumstances, actions, achievements—or by disappointments or failures. Our hearts are forever tethered to each other.

Lord, as I write this, I feel my heart loosening. My gratitude welling up. My sadness is still there but not bringing me down… instead, it’s lifting up my head, directing my sight towards You. Because I do have reasons to celebrate. Reasons so much greater than flowers and gifts or the perfect card.

I have You. And I had her (and will always have her, even if she’s not here). And I have my kids.

And I do have joy… in spite of the sadness. But on this day, with Your help, I will let joy prevail. Thank You, Lord.

Amen.

Slowing down and paying attention

Poor me. All I’ve talked about for weeks is my elbow. I’ve spent the last week with my right arm immobilized in a brace. Most of the time has been spent half-snoozing, system full of pain-killers. Mindless Netflix episodes. A couple frivolous books. Trying not to criticize my husband for not doing all of my ...

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Poor me. All I’ve talked about for weeks is my elbow. I’ve spent the last week with my right arm immobilized in a brace. Most of the time has been spent half-snoozing, system full of pain-killers. Mindless Netflix episodes. A couple frivolous books. Trying not to criticize my husband for not doing all of my usual tasks exactly the way I would do them. Eating isn’t even much fun when it’s all about getting enough in your stomach to keep the meds from making you nauseous, and having someone else cut your food, and then shakily balancing food on an awkwardly grasped fork, hoping to end up with more in my mouth than tumbling down the front of my shirt.

Several friends, upon hearing about my injury, asked if it’s my writing hand. Yes. But I spend so much time typing that I didn’t think it would bother me much in that respect. Oh, what we take for granted. Signing a check or charge slip. Jotting new activities and kids’ sports practices on the calendar. Writing quick reminders on post-it notes. Grocery lists. Addressing an envelope. Filling in the answers in my Bible study book. Scribbling insights in the margins of books I’m reading. I typically spend lots of time with a pen in hand. A Tul medium point blue gel pen, to be precise. I love filling pages of any kind with my handwriting, smooth and glob-free thanks to my trusty pens.

But I jot things down because I can’t remember everything and there’s always so much to remember. Maybe I need to slow down and simply remember.

Interestingly enough, I just now got an email notifying me that a blog post of mine just went live on Devotional Diva, a site I’m excited to be writing for. Prayer for the Overwhelmed. The words I wrote weeks ago minister to me now. Huh. Funny how that happens.

I have no doubt that God is trying to teach me something. Slow me down and teach me to lean on Him in new ways. The first of these lessons I’ve already seen.

Friends — people I think a lot of but don’t know well — have sent me cards. Actually stopped what they’re doing after seeing my posts on Facebook, and sent me cards. I’ve gotten texts and gifts and food.

Apparently, there are still a lot of loving and thoughtful people in this world. People so much kinder than I am.

Friends with chronic conditions have shared their tips and encouragement. A woman with so many more health issues than I have has sent up prayers and offered advice for how to lean into the pain and not fight the body’s natural response. More people than I can believe have empathized, mentioning the time they had arm/shoulder/hand/knee surgery. (Where was I? How did I not notice or remember? Am I really so self-focused?) One friend has been without a voice for two weeks, unable to work — and yet SHE sends ME a get well bag of goodies. My sister tells me about the people from her work and church who ask about me. (On a side note, the people at C’ville’s First United Methodist Church and all the staff at Spencer Dermatology are among the nicest people I know.)

But the most humbling moment came when my friend Sherry walked into church Sunday. She has several serious medical issues and recently fell, hard, further injuring her already painful, messed-up back. She came into church, leaning on a cane, grimacing from the effort. Yet she threw her arm around me, hugged me, and said she’s been praying for me and worrying about how I’m doing.

She. Has been worried. About me.

I think that when we’re hurting, when we are facing a big change (whether tragic or emotional or physical), our natural response is to close in. Our world gets smaller. The pain defines us and gives us blinders to everything else.

But the people who make a difference are those who uncurl themselves, who come out of their circle of pain to reach out to others. Those who are not defined by their circumstances. Those who use their experiences to embody their compassion for others. Those who understand that even in pain, even in sorrow and hardship, God reigns. He never leaves. He’s not angry and punishing them. He loves and soothes and comforts and forgives and teaches and reveals and enlightens.

He reminds us that no matter how lonely we might feel, we are not alone.

We are not forsaken. We should not despair. We should, quite simply, love.

LORD, don’t let me waste this time. Don’t let me fill it with mindless noise and fail to hear Your voice. If I have to slow down, let this time have a new kind of value. Let my mind slow and my soul learn to wait. Remind me to listen. And teach me this kind of generosity of spirit. Help me love like You would. Amen.


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Luckily, I prepared the April prayer calendar before my surgery so it’s here and ready to go!

 

Time to stop being a control freak

Recently, on a night when I was hosting my book club, my husband walked in to the living room and started gathering our dirty dessert plates. I started off by rolling my eyes—of course he wants to take credit for being this great husband. By the time everyone left, the kitchen was clean, and I ...

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Recently, on a night when I was hosting my book club, my husband walked in to the living room and started gathering our dirty dessert plates. I started off by rolling my eyes—of course he wants to take credit for being this great husband. By the time everyone left, the kitchen was clean, and I climbed into bed, furious.

As I sat there, I started wondering why this made me so angry. Was it about him getting “credit” for what he did? Was he showing off?

No. I was mad because I could have done the dishes. I was going to. And every time Tim does something like this, I take it as a rebuke. I read into his attitude anger, disgust—the conviction that he had to step up because I didn’t fulfill my obligations.

And then I thought about Tim. And realized there was no way that’s what he meant. He was probably just trying to be helpful. Not criticizing my lack of action.

OK, so maybe hormones played into this a bit. But still, even taking that into account, I knew I was out of line. (And for the record, I apologized.)

A couple weeks later, my daughter called me, nearly in tears. She was back at college, and she needed to find her black dress, and she had seen it that day, but couldn’t find it now. She had already looked through all her clothes. She was frustrated, didn’t like any of my suggestions, and took it out on me.

There may have been some stress and hormones going on here, too (hers and mine). But I hung up the phone, upset, ranting in my mind. I wasn’t there. What was I supposed to do? And why did I feel like such a failure? How could the fact the she lost a dress make me feel as though I had personally failed her?

These two moments keep coming back to my mind. So I’ve been examining them, examining myself, wondering what they say about me.

The simple answer? That I’m a control freak.

When my kids or husband call me that, it makes me angry. Because someone has to make sure things get done. Someone has to pay attention to the big picture, and be sure that the details are handled, too. If not me, then who?

What I’ve discovered in the past 22 years of parenting is that it’s a whole lot harder to fix something after it’s done wrong (or too late) than it is to just do it myself.

But what has that taught my kids? To lean on me and not do it themselves.

What has that taught my husband? That he can’t win, and it’s not worth it to try to help.

What has it done for me? Raised my blood pressure, primarily. The things it has done are not good. It’s exacerbated my stress, added to my too-long to-do list, kept me from getting enough sleep, made it hard for me to relax, and strained my relationships. The people in my life have to be frustrated with me, and I’m tired of feeling like I have to pick up the slack.

So I’m done.

No, I’m not running away. But my mantra this past couple weeks has been “Don’t do it.” Forget Nike. I need to design a new logo with this much-more-catchy tagline: DON’T DO IT.

When my son had a paper due recently, I nudged him all day. And evening. And night. To keep moving. To hurry up. I drove him crazy—and justified that he needed someone to prod him because he wasn’t moving fast enough. It’s entirely possible that some steam may have escaped out of my ears. And even though I’m certain he thinks I was being controlling, I nagged much less than I wanted to, and I didn’t sit down with him and try to help.

I’ll call that a win. Even if he didn’t finish the paper until almost 1 am.

When my husband finished loading the dishwasher without me asking, I didn’t go in and say, “I was gonna do that.” Instead, I finished reading a chapter of my book as I sipped on my coffee.

The fact that these are ridiculous examples just goes to show how skewed my thinking had become.

I want control. I want to make sure things work. I want to accomplish stuff, check things off my list. I want to achieve, excel, succeed. I want to be the best. Do the most. I want to make it happen.

But I cannot control everything. I wrote a little about that last week, and I’m still trying to learn this lesson.

I have tried to do too much, and in the long run, it hasn’t helped anyone. Least of all, myself.

So I find myself saying no. Not out loud, necessarily. But just telling myself—OK, shouting loudly in my head to be heard above the chaos that reigns in there—NO. Don’t do it. Don’t volunteer. Don’t take over. Don’t worry if it’s not done just the way you want it.

Do not control everything.

Because it’s impossible, and it only leads to more frustration, more feelings of being inadequate, more failures. And because it’s not my job. It’s God’s. The Only One who can bring change. Who can impose order.

The One whose job I need to stop taking.

Calling all SuperMoms. Especially those who aren’t [giveaway]

Today is the release day for my friend Becky Kopitzke‘s book, The Super Mom Myth: Conquering the Dirty Villains of Motherhood. I got to read it early, and I loved it. Even though I’m kind of tired of everything related to being a mom. Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. And you never ...

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Today is the release day for my friend Becky Kopitzke‘s book, The Super Mom Myth: Conquering the Dirty Villains of Motherhood.

I got to read it early, and I loved it. Even though I’m kind of tired of everything related to being a mom. Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. And you never stop being a mom. But I am past the “kid” stage so I wasn’t sure how I would relate, even though I knew I would love what Becky had to say, because she’s awesome like that.

But I loved it. Here is my official review:

As a mother of three, I am sick of all the messes, whining and complaining (mine, not my kids’). I try not to worry about all the ways that I have failed in this holy role God granted me. But in The SuperMom Myth, Becky Kopitzke pairs her stories with God’s words and wisdom to soothe, convict, and repair my tired, tattered soul. She somehow climbed into my head and heard my excuses, justification, insecurity, and guilt—and helped me leave them behind. She is real and relatable, and did I mention funny? Her gentle answers reveal Biblical truths and fresh insights that every mom needs to hear. She points us all to the only Superhero who is infallible, reminding us that, by ourselves, cape or not, we can’t save the day. I’ll gladly serve as faithful sidekick to the One who can.

If you still have children at home, you should read this. If you know someone who has children at home, you might consider this as a Christmas gift. It’s a fun read—the material has depth, but you never feel like you’re having to slog through. It’s in bite-sized pieces. And it’s real and loaded with wisdom and truth. It’s the book I wish I’d had when my kids were younger and I was struggling with learning how to juggle the craziness that is life. You can order it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or wherever books are sold.

I like this book so much that I’ll tell you what: Leave a comment below before Saturday, December 5 and you will be entered into a drawing for a free copy. My treat :-).

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The best way to love someone? Through prayer.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6, NIV When you sit down to draw a still life, you have to be careful to maintain a consistent position. If you get up to stretch and sit down a few inches ...

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6, NIV

When you sit down to draw a still life, you have to be careful to maintain a consistent position. If you get up to stretch and sit down a few inches to the right, the scene will look different. The spaces between objects will have changed, relative proportions shifted. Lines moving away from you will be at different angles. Even if you’re not an artist, you’ve probably seen this is another way. When your family poses for a Christmas photo in front of the tree, it might look as though it’s growing out of your son’s head. But if you shift a couple feet to one side, that is no longer the case. Because you found a new perspective.

When I decided to keep a prayer journal for one month (from Thanksgiving through Christmas) for my friend Peggy, I knew it would be a meaningful gift. But I didn’t realize it would be a gift to me, too.

Peggy’s life intersects mine in so many ways. She and her husband pastor our church. Our children are about the same ages, and we grew up attending the same school together for most of our lives. When I went forward, wanting to be baptized, in sixth grade, it was during Peggy’s slumber party (she’d taken us to her church’s revival). When I later found my church and discovered what it meant to have an intimate relationship with Jesus, I learned much of it from watching her.

Peggy helped me discover the power of prayer. So often we tell people we’ll pray and promptly forget, though. I wanted a tangible record of my commitment to pray for her.

So I chose a small journal and sat down every day to write out my prayers. I prayed for a different aspect of her life each day—her children, husband, ministry, leadership, faith life, friendships, extended family, work, finances, and health.

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When I intentionally prayed for Peggy and her family, asking for God’s protection and intervention, guidance and leadership, I got a new glimpse into Peggy’s life—her faith, her struggles—that I hadn’t seen before. In turn, I found a renewed sense of gratitude for her gifts—her joy, her welcoming kindness, her fun-loving personality. A greater respect for the weights she carries and for the responsibility of her position. A new awe for the strength of her character and the depths of her faith. And it made me a better friend.

Amazing things happen when we pray. God draws nearer. Rough edges are made smooth. Hardened hearts are softened. It was easy to pray for Peggy because I already cared about her. It may not be as easy to pray for someone you don’t particularly like—someone who hurt you, makes snide comments, lies, cheats, or can’t be trusted. But here’s the hard truth about Christianity: we’re called to embrace the teachings and practices of Jesus, and that isn’t easy.

Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). To pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6).

But not just any old prayers will do. We’re to pray with thanksgiving.

Lucky for us, prayer and gratitude go hand in hand.

Pray for your enemy (or rival, or the person who offended you on Facebook) and you will discover that there’s more than one side to every story. Pray for the wife of a man you’re attracted to, and before long, you have one more good reason to avoid getting too close to him. Pray for the boss who sets a negative tone in the workplace and you might find yourself shouldering some of the emotional load he carries; your newfound compassion may change the dynamic of your relationship. Ask God to show you ways to give and you may realize your financial situation isn’t as dire as you thought.

The greatest gift you can offer to someone is your heartfelt prayer. Along the way, you will begin to see that, whatever your view, God is there.

And gratitude will bubble up. No matter where you are sitting.

(First published on the Tyndale blog, November 17, 2015.)

 

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