A prayer of gratitude for my dad

Lord, Over these last few weeks, I’ve barely been able to pray. My brain can’t seem to form words, but I feel Your love cradling me. I’m tired—so tired that the word “tired” doesn’t seem to touch it. I’m sad—so sad that I’m practically beyond tears. But somehow my heart sings because I got to ...

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Over these last few weeks, I’ve barely been able to pray. My brain can’t seem to form words, but I feel Your love cradling me.

I’m tired—so tired that the word “tired” doesn’t seem to touch it.

I’m sad—so sad that I’m practically beyond tears.

But somehow my heart sings because I got to have him as my dad.

I got to hold his hand when we crossed streets or walked around art fairs or when I sat beside his hospital bed.

I got to share his red hair and freckles and calves that are bigger and sturdier than any girl ever wants them to be.

I got to stand beside him at art shows, listening to him brag on me to his fans when they asked if any of his talent rubbed off on me. And I got to hear his wonder after reading my first book, opening the door to conversations we’d never had before.

I got to have him criticize my paintings—because, let’s face it, no one could outshine him. But I also got to watch him discuss his mistakes, see how he took them and cropped or painted over or lifted the paint or added a fence or found a way to make the mistake beautiful. And when that didn’t work, I saw him put them in a drawer so he could try again another day.

I got to witness the way he walked to the studio in the back yard after breakfast because he couldn’t wait to paint again. And watch him load his golf clubs when he didn’t feel like it—or when it was just too pretty of a day not to golf.

I got to hear his critique of my softball skills, ride behind him on a three-wheeler and snowmobile until I could drive them myself, sort through old art school projects in his attic, and abscond with his discarded typography books and art supplies. I got to ride home from art fairs listening to him reminisce about the 40-some years that came before, when people lined up and bought paintings from the back of his van before he could even unload. I heard about him painting all night after selling out the first day so that he would have something to sell on the second day.

I got to watch the way he loved Mom in her last days, the way he would hold her hand to steady her as they walked together. The way that, even when the toxins in her brain turned her mean, he’d wait until she was sleeping and walk by and kiss the top of her head when no one was looking.

I got to eat countless lunches with him (lunch combo #3 or a steakburger with cheese, pickles and mustard), talking through whatever he felt like talking about. I got to walk across the driveway to eat dinner with him and Kerry’s family, fortunate that because we live in the “complex,” he got to visit us both at the same time. We drank wine and talked, always something more to talk about—or not, but either way, feeling comfortable enough to simply relax together. I got to hear in detail all of his health complaints, the small and annoying ones, and yet when it got really bad, his complaints seemed to decrease. I got to hear how his pain level was always the same—“it really hurts, probably a four or five,” and “not bad, probably just a four or five”—and smile across the bed at Kerry as we reached for the next dose of medicine.

I got to watch as he drove an hour to return the extra change a server gave him at dinner the night before. I got to listen as he found reasons to praise the oncologist who gave him the bad news, and the aide who helped bathe him, and the nurses and therapists who came in—always, even in his pain, commenting on something good that they did. And meaning it. And I got to know that generosity was one of his defining marks.

I got to see the way he opened his arms to our friends who wanted to have a dad like him. And I got to see the loyalty of his friends, the character of the men he chose to let into his life, and the tears shed by some of these big, strong, masculine men as they said goodbye.

I got to fill his water glass and hold his straw, set my alarm to give him his meds through the night, and lie there at night, silently crying for him as the medications gave him hallucinations. But I also got to sit beside him, rubbing his arm, his hand gripping mine, as we talked about what he dreamed, knowing he was comforted simply by my presence.

I got to be one of only two people in this world who could say about him, “You probably know my dad,” expecting to hear nothing but good stories about him. And I got to be proud of that, to let myself be defined by who I belonged to.

And now, even though he is no longer here with us, I still get to be proud. I still get to be the person he and Mom made me to be.

So, Lord, I thank You for this. For all of this. For all of the ways my life was enriched by my dad. By the fact that he always made me feel loved, always made me feel special, never left me wondering.

Dad helped me see what unconditional love looked like because he modeled the kind of love You have for me.

I don’t really want to let myself think about what I lost. I don’t want to face that he is really no longer here. I know it, but I haven’t let myself really, really go there yet. Maybe it’s denial, but maybe it’s also the fact that I want to dwell in this place of gratitude.

When Mom died, I was making a list of things I was thankful for, trying to make myself truly feel it and falling woefully short. But when Dad died, I wasn’t looking, and I saw it anyway.

And I don’t want to over-examine that. I don’t want to rationalize away this feeling that it is well with my soul. Because the truth is, it IS well.

I want to remain in this attitude of thankfulness. I want to thank You, Lord, for every single thing, for all the ways my dad made me the person I am, and for all the moments we got to share. Please help cushion my slow return to the regularly-paced world, to the meetings and work and appointments and to-dos that fill page after page. Give me strength to take care of the business aspects of my loss, but even more, help me to not collapse under the emotional aspects of it.

Thank You, God, for showing me after losing Mom that even if I don’t like the outcome, You are still good. You are still there. You still love me, and You still hear me. Thank You for revealing to me that a bad thing does not even begin to cancel out the good of who You are.

Even when I’m sad, You are a sustaining God. Even when I’m lonely, You are a loving and compassionate God. Even when I feel alone, You are my God. Even when I lose such a good, strong, talented, kind and loving dad, You remain. And You will never leave my side.

Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Missing my dad

Robert Vernon O’Dell stepped into the next life on Sunday, July 9, surrounded by family and dear friends. He was born on June 4, 1938 in Decatur, IL to William and Luella O’Dell. After graduating from Warrensburg-Latham High School, he enlisted in the US Army, where he was a member of the President’s Honor Guard ...

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Robert Vernon O’Dell stepped into the next life on Sunday, July 9, surrounded by family and dear friends.

He was born on June 4, 1938 in Decatur, IL to William and Luella O’Dell. After graduating from Warrensburg-Latham High School, he enlisted in the US Army, where he was a member of the President’s Honor Guard in Washington, DC. He then attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where he studied with Irving Shapiro and was inspired by the paintings of Andrew Wyeth.

He married Ann Smullen on September 15, 1962, as far as their parents knew (but really eloped on April 4). Ann passed away in 2011. Their two children, Kelly (Tim) Stanley and Kerry (Doug) Dunham, and five grandchildren (Katie, Anna, and Bobby Stanley; Reilly and Luke Dunham), survive. He is also survived by his sisters, Jean (Bill) Barnes and Vicki Hill, both of Decatur, IL.

Rob first worked as a commercial artist, exhibiting his watercolors at weekend art fairs. As he had more and more success (sometimes selling out the first day and then painting all night to have more to sell the next day), he realized he might be able to make a career of painting. In 1968, Rob and Ann settled into an old family farmhouse outside of Ladoga, IN, where he began painting full time.

In Rob’s art, there is nothing contrived or artificial. Rob found beauty in the seemingly quiet rural life, in the slight rises and dips of the Midwestern landscape, in the nuances of color in an evening sky or in the patterns of light and shadow in a garden. His work reflects the way he lived his life—simply, honestly, quietly, and joyfully—and helped others see the world the way he did.

When asked how long it took him to paint a particular scene, he loved to say “3 hours and 30 years” (which eventually morphed into 40 and then 50 years). He never stopped improving his craft, and his watercolors have been exhibited and shown in galleries and private collections all over the world. His turn-of-the-century studio/gallery was decorated with award ribbons from the Watercolor Society of Indiana, Hoosier Salon, Indiana Artists Club, and more. In 1995, he was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash.

When he wasn’t painting, he loved to golf, watch IU basketball, attend his grandchildren’s sporting events, and teach workshops. He was blessed to find love again with a lifelong friend, Rita Jerger. He spent the past five years enjoying life with her in Bonita Springs, FL.

A man’s character is evident in the caliber of people he surrounds himself with, and Rob inspired great loyalty and deep friendships. His artistic talent, while remarkable, is nothing compared to his gift for making people feel valued, appreciated, and loved.

Celebration of life services will be held on Saturday, July 15 at the First United Methodist Church in Crawfordsville, IN. Friends and family can call from 12-3 pm, with a memorial service at 3. A private interment service will be at Ladoga Cemetery at a later date.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Art League Fund of the Montgomery County Community Foundation (PO Box 334 Crawfordsville, IN 47933) to help provide scholarships to students with artistic ability.

When God speaks to you—using your very own words

I know what I know… until that moment when I don’t. And in those moments that I no longer know, God often speaks loudest. When I write about my faith, I search the deepest parts of my soul for the purest of truths, the most true of the true things I know. I don’t write ...

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I know what I know… until that moment when I don’t. And in those moments that I no longer know, God often speaks loudest.

When I write about my faith, I search the deepest parts of my soul for the purest of truths, the most true of the true things I know. I don’t write it if I don’t feel it, believe it, know it, and can back it up. And often, the writing comes easy. Not always, but the best words I write are the ones that seem to come from someplace else, the ones that pour out onto the page.

I truly believe what I say. I try to live out my faith with authenticity. I don’t hesitate to admit my failures and hypocrisies. When I struggle, I say so. And yet, I still have times when what I’m living through is too much, when my faith wavers, when anger or doubt surfaces, when I know in my head what to do but my heart feels broken. When it feels as though God has abandoned me, or forgotten me, or just never cared about me in the first place.

My family is facing something now that is devastatingly hard. Heartbreaking and earth-shattering. We’re just at the very beginning of it all, and it will get harder. I don’t mean to be secretive—I will share it all soon—but that’s not what this post is about.

The day after this new journey began, I opened my email to find that a post I’d written nearly a month earlier for a site I contribute to had just gone live. When I wrote it, I knew it to be true. When I uploaded the post, I was certain that I understood and believed and had lived it out.

But then, suddenly, I found that I didn’t know anything anymore. My world was rocked in a whole new way, and I was sitting outside, journal in my lap, trying to figure out how to pray, how to face this, how to have the strength to get through.

That’s when I decided to check my email—because clearly prayer wasn’t working for me. And I came face to face with my own words:

Prayer is the way our souls find peace. It is the one place we can find rest. We can take it with us. We can lean on it and allow it to help us stand strong and firm. We can let prayer soothe our anxieties, declutter our minds, and keep us focused on the big picture—keeping our eyes on Christ. Even if you can’t find the time you think you need to pray.

Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated or involved or time-consuming. Think of it as a radio playing in the background. If you can keep the lines of communication open, you will discover that you feel calmer, you remain more centered, and life feels a little less crazy.

People often ask me how they can know when God speaks to them. Whenever I talk about a time in which I believe I heard clearly from God, I see the baffled looks and quizzical expressions. I watch people try to believe me—and I see when they just really aren’t sure. (And that is okay.)

God speaks in a lot of ways—through the Bible, when a scripture opens up inside your mind and you can dive down deeper and deeper into it, wading through layers of meaning and insight.

He speaks through the words of a song, when the radio plays just the right one for exactly that moment in time.

He speaks through the wisdom of friends, the messages of pastors, the blogs of writers, the questions and insights of children. He speaks through secular music and books, through nature and sunsets and science.

He speaks through email or snail mail, sending just the right message through just the right person at just the right time.

He speaks into our spirits, gently placing simple but profound truths into our souls.

He speaks through articles and podcasts, revealing answers to questions we’ve only recently formulated in our minds. Like the time I asked a friend a question about God that I didn’t understand, and I came home to find a link to a podcast in an email newsletter… something made me click on it, and this man (a well-known pastor who I tend to disagree with about a lot of things) gave the first and only direct answer I had ever heard to my question.

And when I’m really lucky, He speaks to me through my own words. Words I barely remember writing, ones that didn’t seem particularly profound or weighty at the time.

So yesterday morning, I read the post I myself had written, and as I remembered what I already knew, tears flowed. My answer was prepared before I even asked the question. Because God knows what’s going to happen. He already knows what I need, and it has been prepared and provided well in advance.

Nothing surprises God. Not the situation you’re going through. Not the way you will react. Not your doubts or anger or fear or rage or heartbreak.

Lord, I am in awe of You.

Lord, I am grateful for You.

I love the way You work, the way You speak, the way You listen.

And even though the news is still devastating, and circumstances have not changed, my heart rejoices.

Because whatever happens, Lord, I celebrate You. The One who knows. The One who speaks. The One who remembers when I do not.

The One who remains faithful, even when I do not.

Prayer for the mom without a mom

I wrote this last year, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I wanted to share it again. Love to all of you who can relate, and praying that you can find the joy again. xo Dear Lord, Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one ...

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I wrote this last year, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I wanted to share it again. Love to all of you who can relate, and praying that you can find the joy again. xo

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.


#HonorAllMoms—and May prayer prompt calendar

Today’s post is written by Sarah Philpott, an online friend of mine who posted here once before. When I held a prayer prompt calendar contest, Sarah approached me about designing a calendar for the month of May to recognize all the women for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness rather than the expected joy. I was completely ...

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Today’s post is written by Sarah Philpott, an online friend of mine who posted here once before. When I held a prayer prompt calendar contest, Sarah approached me about designing a calendar for the month of May to recognize all the women for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness rather than the expected joy. I was completely on board, because after I lost my own mom, I’d had a similar experience. I’d rather cry and go off on my own than “celebrate” on that day—even though I have three kids who I love with all my heart. Sometimes the pain overshadows the joy. And sometimes, people aren’t in a position to feel joy because the reminder of their loss is too great.

I’ll stop talking now so you can hear from Sarah, but don’t forget to download the prayer prompt calendar here or on her website.

Mother’s Day was celebrated in a big way where I grew up. As a child, I’d sit alongside my family in the slick wooden pew and gaze at the fetching flower arrangements crowding the floor of our sanctuary.  Roses, peonies, and spring blooms sat ready to be awarded to the ladies of my small Southern Baptist church.

Ms. Nita, smartly dressed in a pastel dress and a Sunday-go-to-church hat, always seemed to be in charge of the program. After we sang from the hymnal, the kids were beckoned to retrieve a bundle of roses from a basket and encouraged to hand the blooms to beaming mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. After the hugs ended, Ms. Nita took to the center stage and said, “Would all Mothers please stand?”

My mother and grandmother would rise and stand amongst the females of my community. It was like a battalion of matriarchs. Then, the ceremony of awards began. We’d quickly find out who was the oldest mom, who was the youngest mom, and who was the mom with the most children. This tradition of honoring mothers is still one of my fondest memories of my childhood.

But it wasn’t until I was an adult, sitting in church on Mother’s Day fresh from the heartache of my first miscarriage, that I realized how many women actually had hurting hearts on Mother’s Day.

I sat recollecting my childhood and recalled how at my old church the mother with the most living children was awarded one of the biggest and most beautiful bouquets.  The congregation always erupted in applause for this dear soul who had her hands full.

But now, with a babe in Heaven and one in the church nursery, it struck me as an odd banner of honor. I realized that beneath smiles many women silently mourn on Mother’s Day. I instantly thought of my mother-in-law. She has five children. But only three are living. Jesse died at the age of two and Lauren at the age of twenty. Then I thought of my mother. She has three children. But only two of us are living. A gravestone in the church cemetery only marks one tiny soul, who was stillborn. Then the face of a friend, who wanted nothing more to be a mother, came to mind.  Infertility had robbed her of the chance of becoming a mother and finances had prevented her from adopting. She too hurt on this special day. It made me realize that these sweet women—and those just like them who had endured the death of their own children or a dream that never came true, were women who also deserved an extra special bouquet.

My grief opened my eyes to the invisible grief that many women bear on Mother’s Day. We often forget these brave women, don’t we?

But we shouldn’t.

Mother’s Day is still one of my favorite days of the year, and it should be celebrated with unbridled jubilation, breakfast in bed, and homemade cards.

And I love how, at Ms. Nita’s gentle encouragement, my childhood church always collectively gave a big applause to mothers.  Mothers should receive a standing ovation.

But we should expand our celebration of Mother’s Day by showering love and support to all mothers—including those who view Mother’s Day as a stark reminder of what doesn’t exist. Each year, in the United States alone, 1 in 160 deliveries end in stillbirth, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, 3,500 babies under the age of 1 die, and 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. Let’s stand in solidarity as individuals and as the church to #HonorAllMoms this Mother’s Day.

Let’s also set aside the month of May to pray and encourage all sorts of women—those who have a baby to hold in their arms, those who do not; those who wanted to be a mom but never got to be, and those who were placed into that role by circumstance; children who have lost their moms and moms who have lost their children.

I think Ms. Nita would want all these special women to have a beautiful bloom.

“After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world.” Christian Dior

SARAH PHILPOTT, PhD lives in Tennessee on a sprawling cattle farm where she raises her two mischievous children (and one little baby!) and is farmwife to her high-school sweetheart. An award-winning writer, Sarah has contributed to academic books, scholarly journals, and outlets such as the Huffington Post. Her book, Loved Baby: 31 Devotions for Helping you Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss, will be published in October 2017 by Broadstreet Publishing. Sarah is a lover of coffee (black), rocking chairs, the outdoors, and Hemingway. Visit allamericanmom.net where she writes about life on the farm and cherishing life in joy and sorrow.


Church and the power of a shared story

One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What ...

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One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What the other women observed became part of my repertoire, and my observations became part of theirs. Now I can take these ideas and absorb them, hold them close, make them part of my story — weave them into the fabric of who I am.

There are a million reasons I could give for getting involved in a church — not because you have to be in church to have faith or practice it, but because it is the ideal place to learn from other people who are, at least in theory, trying to live out the faith we share. No, the people there won’t be perfect. They most likely will fail miserably, as we all do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. It also doesn’t mean you have to go early for Sunday school or sign up for all the Bible studies — although you can. It just means that it’s a good place to observe. Open your eyes. Listen. Talk. Share. Ask questions. See how someone clings to God in the darker moments of her life — or notice how she doesn’t — and watch how that changes her. Don’t hide your secrets. If you want to have a perfect little life on Facebook, be my guest. But somewhere in your life find people with whom you can be real.

Because it is in the sharing, in the seeing, that you find the knowing. And it is the knowing that strengthens you and develops a faith that is lasting. When you look through the eyes of faith and notice how God works, it will change what you see when no amount of money-juggling will prevent overdraft fees. It will help you distinguish Him when your nephew responds again to the siren song of his addiction, or your child fails another class, or a herniated disk cancels your golf vacation. It will help comfort you when the biopsy shows that you really did spend too much time in the sun or that there’s no getting around it, you have to seriously change your diet because your health has hit critical stages. No matter how much you love chocolate. Or salt. Or bacon. He will guide you when your reputation tanks, or your investments do, or when the tanker jackknives on the interstate and kills a four-year-old child. It will sustain you when you can’t please a boss or seem to make a smart decision or salvage your marriage. It’s not dependent on you — because the Bible tells us, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NLT)

Sweet and precious Lord, help us not to overlook the gifts you’ve given us, the ones surrounding us in the pews at church (or surrounding us in life, if we don’t go to church). Teach me, Lord, to see You, honor You, pay attention to You. Grant me Your unfathomable peace. And thank You for putting people in my life to walk alongside me. Help me learn from them, no matter what I’m going through. Amen.

P.S. If you don’t go to church, please don’t think I’m criticizing you. We each have to find our own way and our own place and I’m glad that my blog is part of your spiritual life. In fact, I wrote an article called Should You Feel Shame for Missing Church?, and the short answer is no :-). But I have been forever changed—in a good way—by the people at my church and I know the powerful things that can happen when you find a church to call home.

How to speak out—without losing all of your friends

Full disclosure: I am wary of offering this advice (for lack of a better word) because I am far from perfect, and I am afraid someone will show me examples of all the times I’ve failed to follow my own guidelines. Offering opinions is a difficult thing to do, especially now with the heightened emotions ...

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Full disclosure: I am wary of offering this advice (for lack of a better word) because I am far from perfect, and I am afraid someone will show me examples of all the times I’ve failed to follow my own guidelines. Offering opinions is a difficult thing to do, especially now with the heightened emotions and the overall weariness people feel for politics and current events. But if you follow me on social media, you probably know that I keep speaking out.

I’ve probably inadvertently offended people along the way, in spite of my good intentions. Through it all, though, I have followed some pretty strict guidelines for my own behavior. I have intentionally worked to keep my comments aboveboard and kind, and I think it is paying off. I keep hearing from people who thank me because even though I disagree with them, I do so with kindness. People have told me thanks for being brave enough to say things they’re afraid to. For not backing down but not being mean. I’ve even been praised for showing restraint. Well, the last one might be a stretch, but I do feel passionately about things and I’m not afraid to speak up when I feel the whole truth isn’t being told—it’s not so much about changing people’s minds as it is that I don’t want people to be unaware, blindly aligning themselves with a position based on in accuracies. Or ignoring a critical component that could change their point of view.

So, keeping in mind that I have certainly failed at times, and that there are other ways to accomplish the same goals, I thought I’d share some of my personal guidelines with you.

Always start with empathy. There is likely a reason for someone’s passion—maybe their child had an abortion and then couldn’t have children, and they mourn the loss of grandchildren, so the idea of someone being pro-choice is abhorrent to them. Maybe someone was sexually abused and they’ll never stop fighting for people to stop blaming the victim. Perhaps they have a friend who is at risk of deportation, and although she came to this country illegally, they don’t want to see her family’s lives disrupted because of the good they’ve also done here. Try to figure out, when possible, what’s below the surface, and give people the benefit of the doubt that they have reason for their passion. Always acknowledge the validity of someone else’s perspective, if you can, or at least their right to believe what they believe. (This means not adding a dig like “you can believe lies if you want.”)

Find common ground. In order to come to a mutual conclusion, we must build it on the same foundation. Granted, that isn’t always possible. But chances are we agree on something. For instance, one day I talked to a super-conservative friend of mine about politics. He and I have always good-naturedly disagreed on all things political. But when I started asking questions—why does this matter to you, how do you think we should accomplish that—I discovered that in most cases we agree on the desired result. We simply disagree on things like whether it’s already being accomplished or not, or who should pay for it, or which way we lean regarding when we’ve done enough and when we’ve enabled less-than-ideal behavior. Seeing that helps me understand his perspective, which makes it feel less personal and offensive. Even if I still disagree.

Say we, not you. This isn’t always appropriate, but if I say, “You don’t pray as often as you should,” it’s an accusation. If I say, “We don’t pray as often as we should,” I’ve included myself, and it becomes more of an observation than a condemnation, bringing people along with me rather than separating myself from them. As I said in the previous point, look for commonalities, not differences. When you can start there—using we, not you—you’re in a good spot.

Stick to the issues. I’ve watched—and I’m sure you have, too—countless arguments online, which quickly devolve from “I see it differently” to “that’s what’s wrong with people like you” to “you are ignorant and stupid.” And from there it just gets uglier and uglier. When someone is attacked or called names, sparks are going to fly. Don’t get derailed. If you’re discussing one thing, stick to that one thing and don’t bring up what someone said or did twenty years ago or every single thing they’ve ever done wrong. It hurts your argument and ensures that they won’t listen.

Know what you want to speak about, what is off-limits, and when to speak. I’m not afraid to say so when a political position does not match the way I read the Bible. I won’t hesitate to offer an alternative point of view when I think I have a fact or insight that might help another. But when I read earlier comments on a post and see that people are getting ugly, or when the conversation turns to something controversial that I’m not comfortable taking a public stance on, I let it go. I try hard not to simply add fuel to the fire. If I don’t have something new to say, I may not say anything. If I know a person’s friends will start a big firestorm in response to my comment, I might send an explanation in a private message to someone who gets me. There may not be a need to say those same words to everyone. However, there have been times when I defended someone, fully aware that what I said would not change the mind of the original poster but might influence others who read it. (Don’t deceive yourself—people are reading. And watching. And wanting to see the best from those of us who call ourselves Christians, even if they’re not Christians. They often don’t see it; what we say and do matters more than you know.)

Don’t stereotype. See the point above about sticking to the issues. When you tell someone they’re part of a bigger group and then say that group is ignorant (or racist or sexist or whatever it is), you’ll offend that individual. I know from personal experience that it’s hard not to take these comments personally, whether they’re meant that way or not. So just remember that when you lump everyone into one category, you’re denying the truth that there are countless nuances of belief and feelings and that there are other factors you may not have considered—which makes it an unfair assessment. It kind of pains me to say this J… but not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or misogynist. It took me a while to figure this out (I offer a blanket apology to all Trump supporters for this) because those were aspects that I could not see past. My first instinct was to think that because the racist or sexist comments and actions didn’t turn them against him, they must be for that. But the reality is, in many cases, there was something about Hillary they couldn’t get past or else they simply believe more in the traditional Republican platform. Every person’s opinion is a result of numerous value judgments (which issues they are passionate about—and why), so everyone will come to a different conclusion. It doesn’t make them bad people.

If you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t keep arguing when you haven’t read the article in question or you are basing your opinions on someone else’s comments—or you truly just don’t know details. The quickest way to defuse an argument is to say, “I wasn’t aware of that,” or, “I know my logic may not make sense to you, but based on what I know, this is where I land.” Lots of the anger out there stems from people professing great insights when it’s clear to others that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Along the same lines, recognize flaws in your arguments or in the actions of fellow supporters. Admitting that there are aspects of an issue you do not support—or that the behavior of others supporting your cause doesn’t line up with what you believe—doesn’t undermine your position but makes it more credible. And opens the door for others to think, hey, maybe I can support this after all. (For instance, I’m a Christian, but some behavior I see feels inconsistent with Christian values. If I refuse to acknowledge that, non-Christians may judge all of Christianity—and me—and not want any part of it. If I admit that I, too, see what is obvious to them, and do it with the least amount of judgment possible, I’m showing people that you don’t have to take the whole package. You can love Christ without doing ___ (fill-in-the-blank). Because the reality I want people to see is that the authentic Jesus, and genuine faith, are so good that it’s worth fighting for—even if the way others do it isn’t always perfect.)

Know that it won’t always be easy and you won’t always be popular. I act like it’s simple, but it’s not. Every comment I make requires careful consideration—and prayer, and wisdom, and discernment. I don’t want to upset people, nor do I like to be attacked. As hard as I try not to, I often take things personally. It hurts and it’s not fun. But when I can look back at my own behavior and feel relatively confident that it is consistent with my personal ethics, that it is done with respect and kindness, and that I have spent my time on issues and positions that are important to me, I see that as a win.

You may have found different ways to navigate these waters. I would love to hear them. I love stories about lessening the divide between people, about bridges that help people cross an intimidating chasm. I love seeing how God can be revealed in surprising places, how relationships can be strengthened through respect, and how we can love each other better through understanding and empathy. I want to maintain the right to speak my opinion and not cause others to feel silenced.

I just want us all to be friends :-). If you’re still reading this, we must be—so thank you.

You, my child, are my favorite!

I have one younger sister, Kerry. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes me laugh, and depending on how I feel that day, I give him ...

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I have one younger sister, Kerry. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes me laugh, and depending on how I feel that day, I give him a different answer. We both know he thinks both of us are pretty and smart. My dad has found a way to always let us know we’re special to him. If you would ask Kerry, she’d claim she’s his favorite. I, of course, know better. (Because I’m pretty and smart.)

One night, when my friend Sandee and I were talking, she said, “Don’t you ever, sometimes, imagine that you are God’s favorite—just for that moment?” At the time, I couldn’t say that I did. I wasn’t important enough. I didn’t know Him well enough. The only thing I knew was that I was jealous. I didn’t even know I wanted that special distinction until I heard her talk about it.

And yet, in spite of my actual qualifications, God looks at me and says, “Is this the pretty one or the smart one? The faithful one or the prodigal? The one who’s with Me all the time or the one who just found her way back?” And whatever the answer, it doesn’t matter. He already knows. He holds out His arms in welcome and says, “You, My child, are My favorite.”

How can that be? It makes no sense to us, particularly as women who are conditioned to compare ourselves to others (usually finding ourselves lacking in the ways we measure up). We’re too fat, too short, too insecure. We’ve become conditioned to expect the reward to be commensurate with our abilities. If we’re talented, we will succeed. If we’re pretty, we will find a man.

It’s a short step to apply that concept to “if we’re faithful, God will like us.”

God wants us to be more like Him, but He takes us just as we are—and multiplies what we have into something more. I love color and words and design. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than hearing people’s stories about God, but I’m an introvert. So God has filled my life with clients who have become friends and provided opportunities to talk about Him. He’s used my love of design and writing to allow me to tell people about Him without having to stand in front of crowds on a stage. Of course, He’s given me opportunities to do that, too, because He sees potential even when I do not.

Romans 12:6-8 says, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

See? He doesn’t want to make you into something you’re not. He wants to make you into the most-fully-you possible. Don’t shy away from that. Figure out what you’re good at, what you love, what you need, and embrace it. It is only when we fully express ourselves, pouring it all out for Him, that we become fully alive. When we operate from that place, God becomes visible. Removes obstacles. Relieves fears. Opens doors.

And shows Himself to be more than we ever hoped.

Pray with me? Heavenly Father, as we’re starting a new year, help us embrace who we are—who You made us to be. Let us relinquish control and let You lead. Help us to humble ourselves and step back to let You shine. You can take what meager things we have to offer and make something spectacular. You’re the one who can change lives—but we pray that You will use us as instruments of that change. Thank You for the individual, personal, unique gifts You have given to each of us; help us remember that they’re all gifts from You, and one person’s gifts aren’t better than another’s. Let us be content in the way You made us and know You love us just as we are. Help us to love others with the kind of unconditional, generous love You show us. And let us believe that we are all that You say we are. That we are pretty, and smart. That we are loved. That we are yours. No matter what we do or don’t do, no matter how outstanding or inadequate our abilities are.

Together, Lord, we will do amazing things. Thank You for letting me walk with You. Amen.

This is an excerpt from my book, Designed to Pray, with a new prayer added. 

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.

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