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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dear Dad: A Father's Day Letter

Dear Dad,

I know you’ve heard this about a million times, but I love you.

You and I aren’t always great with words. Mostly because whenever we try, we end up crying and making feeble attempts to avoid eye contact. We are experts at feigned stoicism.

This year, I feel like you deserve more than a phone call and a random Facebook post. Because social media can’t possibly capture the depth of what you’ve done for me over the years.

You’ve literally been there for me from the beginning, and although we didn’t always agree, and I was a Dennis Rodman fan, you always managed to find the good in me. I have no idea how, but I’m starting to believe that you think I’m perfect. Thank you for overlooking years of selfishness, and snottiness, and normal kid behavior. Times four.  

It occurred to me this year, as I was sitting at a ball field on your birthday, that you had probably spent more than a few of your birthdays that way. Maybe one of us had a game, or you were coaching. Maybe it was hot, and you’d worked all day, too. But you were there; either coaching or cheering. You might have been wishing we’d just stayed home, or that we were eating at Bojack’s, but you showed up.

Dad, I don’t have a single memory of you ever complaining about doing “Dad Stuff.” You never pointed out the sacrifices you made for us, you just did it. I still have no idea the lengths you went to make sure three out of four kids were all in name brand athletic wear for each sport, every year. For a million years. Thanks for the Swoopes. I loved those shoes.

The best part about you, Dad, is that you’ve never let me get down on myself. Whenever I felt crummy, or inadequate, you always reminded me of my value as a person. I never felt like you didn’t love me, or accept who I was. You always encouraged me to chase my dreams. 

 I always felt safe with you. Sometimes, when I come home, I fight the urge to hold your hand while walking in the grocery store parking lot, because of the vivid memories I have of your efforts to hold mine for so many years. I also fight it because we’ve been mistaken for a married couple more than once. You’ve got swagger.

You are the best Grampy. You always manage to find a way to make the kids laugh. You feed them terrible, unhealthy food, and soda, and endless popsicles, and they will love you forever for it. They’ll be good grandparents because they have such a fun example.

You taught me to “go with the flow.” One of the best lessons I’ve learned when dealing with people. Sometimes it isn’t all about me and what I want. Sometimes other people have great ideas. Going with the flow has gotten me through some tough stuff.

You were a dad to my brothers. When you didn’t have to, you made three boys your own. You parented them through some hard things, and loved them like crazy. You coached their teams, stood on sidelines, and occasionally chewed out a ref. They’re your sons and my brothers, and together with mom, we’re a family. I love talking with the boys. We’re loud, and our hands fly everywhere, and we all have such different opinions; you just smile at us. I think you’re proud of how we turned out.

Most importantly, your unconditional love helped me understand who God is. The church talks a lot about Him being our Heavenly Father. Some of my friends have a hard time seeing God as a loving Father because they didn’t have one here on earth. I’m one of the lucky people who got a front row seat to a dad’s loving presence. So, it wasn’t a stretch for me to understand that God loves me no matter what. You did that! Thank you.

There should be more than one day to celebrate you, so I promise to say more nice stuff  from now on. You’re more than deserving.

Thank you for… well… everything.

I love you. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

33 Things I've Learned in 33 Years

Yesterday, I turned thirty-three years old. This is actually impossible, because I’m really about twenty-five, but the year on the calendar says 2015, so it must be true.

I’ve lived a somewhat weird and nomadic life following Joe all over the place, and doing pieces of my life in reverse order. And I’ve learned some stuff. Most of it is important, some is just hilarious. All of it is practical.

So here they are: Thirty-Three Things I’ve learned in Thirty-Three Years.

1.       Listen to your parents. They’ve already made the mistake you’re about to make, and they’re trying to save you from it.

2.       Be nice to your siblings. Eventually they become your friends.

3.       The worst family vacations become the most hilarious family stories.

4.       The boy you’re going to marry probably isn’t the boy you’re going to marry.

5.       Start saving for retirement the minute you start working. It’s hard to live the good life in the RV at the beach when you don’t have any money.

6.       Go to college before you have kids. Yes, you can do it after, but it’s less fun and ten times the work. I promise.

7.       Get married after college. Mostly for the same reasons as #6.  Also, it’s cool to be a little independent before you get married.

8.       Keep the same best friend you’ve had since junior high. If she loved you during your awkward stage, kept all your secrets, and cried with you when things didn’t go your way, she’ll be there when you need her for the big stuff. Also, you need someone to go through your dresser drawers and burn your journals in case you die suddenly. She is the only one who can be trusted.

9.       Sometimes you only have certain friends for a season. This doesn’t mean the friendship wasn’t real. Just that people evolve, and friendships do too.

10.   Sometimes the baby won’t sleep. Ever. I promise you’ll sleep again one day. Just maybe not this day.

11.   The first baby will make you feel like an amazing parent. The second one will leave you questioning your sanity. The third one will just make you laugh.  Probably because you’re tired from raising the first two.

12.   Try everything once. Including brussel sprouts and skydiving. You’ll be glad you did.

13.   When God tells you to do something, just do it. Even if you don’t think you can. He’ll equip you. If you don’t listen, you’re just making things harder on yourself.

14.   Do things that make you ridiculously uncomfortable. It stretches your faith, and you’ll be ready to tackle bigger things each time you put your trust in God.

15.   Take lots of pictures. Include yourself in some of them. Even if you think you look fat.

16.   The grass is only greener on the other side because it was planted over the septic tank and fertilized with B.S.

17.   The Pinterest Mom is crafty and precious. You are precious at something, too. Even if it isn’t making a wreath out of Q-tips, you’ve got talent, friend! Use it!

18.   Your Mother-In-Law is the best resource you have. She knows your husband’s favorite recipes, his likes and dislikes, and she knows his heart. Be kind to her. You married her baby.

19.   Let your parents and in-laws be grandparents. Unless it’s life-threatening, let them feed your kids popsicles, chicken nuggets, and Oreos for an entire visit. Grandparents are one of life’s treasures. A little spoiling by Grampy never hurt anybody.

20.   Take Jesus’ teaching seriously. Read the words He spoke and figure out what they mean to you. Live your life the way you think He would want you to, based on what you learned. Let your faith be yours. Your parents, pastor, and friends may help shape your faith, but you’re not truly living until you make it your own.

21.   Help people with no expectations about what they will or won’t do for you.

22.   Smile at the mom whose kids are throwing a fit in Target. She needs someone on her side because her children have clearly turned against her.  You should also go up front and buy her a Starbucks. She deserves it.

23.   Go against the grain a little. Not everything Jesus did was socially acceptable. You should be a bit of a rebel, too.

24.   Teach your kids how to cook and do laundry. Then you don’t have to, and you get praise for teaching your kids a valuable life skill. Don’t tell anyone you’re just being lazy.

25.   Encourage everyone. Even those who don’t seem to need it. People who seem like Rock Stars are often the ones we assume don’t need a cheerleader. Everyone needs a cheerleader.

26.   Smile at kids. Even the stinkers. You may be the only person who smiles at them that day.

27.   Call your parents. They need to know you’re alive. Remember, they’re the ones who kept you from running into the street. They may not be fully confident in your choices.

28.   Take time for yourself. Spouses and kids are awesome, but it’s okay to have a little bit of quiet, too.

29.   Clean your bedroom. Because nothing is less romantic than someone’s dirty underwear on the floor.

30.   Keep God first. All of your relationships and priorities sort of fall into place if you let Him lead you.

31.   Life is too short to skip cookies and pizza.

32.   Go to the doctor and get your check-up! Be healthy and don’t put off your colonoscopy or mammogram or whatever. Live to be a hundred so you make the news.

33.   Love people. All of them. And love them without conditions or expectations. This may hurt a little sometimes, but what you’ll leave behind is a legacy of care and kindness.

So, that’s my list! I wasn’t sure if I could come up with thirty-three pearls when I began, but I actually had to take some off. Friends, the brevity of life has hit me lately as I get a little older, and friends begin to face things I thought were years away. We have this one awesome life to live, and we have to give it our best shot.

Now, get out there and be amazing!

What would you add to the list? 


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Being Jesus

Hi Friends.

Election season is about to be upon us, and each day our Facebook walls and Twitter feeds are flooded with various political ads trashing one candidate or another. We see memes spewing hatred for people on government assistance, undocumented people living in our country, and gay people. None of these are remotely nice, not one is constructive, and many of them are shared by my Christian friends.

A few years ago, and again very recently, I was pointed to Jesus. Not just to the fact that He loves me, but that He also commanded me to love others (Matthew 22:39-40)—without some sort of weird conditions as a prerequisite for my approval. He commanded us to love. Not to spew hate (or even mild disgust) via social media, or from our mouths. If we’re truly going to do what Jesus commands, we need to stop spreading destructive and divisive junk, and start thinking about how we can build others up, love them, and hopefully lead them to Jesus. At the very least, point them in His direction.

What we don’t realize is when we say something hurtful or negative about a group of people, we’re affecting the way others look at Jesus. When we post a Bible verse, or claim the name of Jesus, then follow it up with something hateful, we’re negating the good things we say. And y’all, we need those good things to stand.

Last month, I wrote a piece called Represent. I feel extremely called to be a representative of Christ while I’m here on earth. I take Jesus’ life and death very seriously, and am doing my best to reflect His love to others. You know, “this little light of mine,” and all. It’s important to me that others see Jesus as kind and loving. If I, as His representative, am neither, how am I sending folks His way? I’m not. You guys, hell is a real place, and people will go there unless we, as Christ’s representatives, lovingly introduce Him to them.

So, how do we fix this? How do we make amends, dust ourselves off, and start looking like Jesus?

 First, we pray. Pray that our hearts are changed, and that we are good representatives of Christ.

Second, we read the Bible. Read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), read Jesus’ actual words (the red ones!), read what He did. KNOW FOR YOURSELF instead of letting other people tell you. It’s really cool when you do this. Trust me.

Then, you guys, we ACT.  We take what we know about Jesus and His commands, and we DO IT.

I think a good place to start is to begin speaking, posting (singing, whatever), and writing about who you’re for, not what you’re against. When did we ever win people over by shaming them? When was an atheist ever brought to Christ through defamation? When did posting a hateful meme about gay people ever turn a dude straight?  I’m willing to bet my good earrings on never.  What if Jesus was right? What if they’ll know us by our love? (John 13:35)

When He said help “the least of these,”(Matthew 25:40) I’m pretty sure He meant for us to do it. Feed people, clothe people, give them shoes, build relationships. Do SOMETHING. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. We’re all waiting for somebody to go first. Let it be you! I can’t even begin to express how blessed you’ll be when you begin to serve Him in this way.
Here’s a list of ways you can help financially or materially: (There are lots of these. I just picked some of my faves.)   Use your old jeans to make shoes for people in Uganda, as well as generate income for Sole Hope’s Ugandan employees. Sponsor a child’s needs: education, medication, housing. I’m reading Katie Davis’s book right now, and this ministry and its story are awesome.  This organization provides food for children worldwide. You can choose domestic or international sponsorship.

In-person ways:
Foster or adopt a child. There are approximately 153 MILLION orphans in the world right now.

Organize a 5K for a charity that helps with human trafficking.

Volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. You can Google this to find one in your area.

Make kits for homeless people, and take them to places where they’re hanging out.

Get to know your neighbors and spend time with them. Build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus. I promise this is okay. He likes it when you do this.

I realize not everyone is going to be able to do all of these things. But we can each do some of them, right? And none of them requires us to be negative and hurtful. They’re all things we can do for the people Jesus loves as much as He loves us. He died for them, too. Even the grouchy ones, the poor ones, and the unwed pregnant ones.

One last thing we can do is try our best to act like Jesus. Now, we aren’t perfect, we’re people; and people screw up. But that doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility we have to be the best possible reflection of Christ we can be. This means going against our nature and what society expects us to do. Following Christ means laying down who we are and being who Jesus is instead. (Luke 9:23-25)

Show kindness to someone others pass by.

Be nice to others, even when they rub you the wrong way.

Pray for people who don’t know Jesus. Pray for people you don’t even particularly like. (Matthew 5:44-46)
Resist the urge to retaliate when you’ve been wronged. (Matthew 5:39)

Don’t talk about people behind their backs.

Defend others when injustice occurs. (Micah 6:8)

Being like Christ, being His Church, isn’t easy. It takes sacrifice; you’ll get your hands dirty. But Jesus never seemed to mind being with people who were a little “less” than everyone else. He never asked any of the people he healed about their backgrounds. He just made them well, and sent them on their way. Friends, we can do that today! We can refuse to withhold our love from others due to their past (or current) sins, and we can treat them the way Jesus would if He were standing in front of them. I choose Jesus. Will you join me?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Micah 6:8 Part One- Act Justly

This is part one of a three part series on Micah 6:8.
He has shown you O mortal what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.

Act justly. Seek justice. Be JUST.

Many versions of Micah 6:8 use justice in various ways, but the root word never changes.


Webster’s defines the word justice like this:  the quality of being just, impartial, or fair.

Just, impartial, fair.

As a kid, some of my favorite words were “it’s not fair.” That particular phrase was thrown out any time I wasn’t getting my way, or when my brothers had more ice cream in their bowl than I did. Or when my dad made ME come home at midnight while all my friends got to stay out until 1:00 a.m. (Because my dad was smart.)  (Also, that may be the only inflexible rule he ever set.)

Fairness is something we concern ourselves with a lot as kids, because it is more easily measured when we’re young. We can look into ice cream bowls, or at the amount of chores we have to do compared to our siblings. But as we get older, fairness evolves. It looks different. It looks like justice.

Now that I’m (sort of) an adult, you would think that my worrying about what’s fair and what isn’t would kind of go away. Except, here’s the thing. It didn’t. It got worse.

You guys, I see injustice everywhere I look. Most of the time I’m thankful for my Justice Goggles (just go with it) because they help me see people and situations the way Jesus sees them.

Sometimes, I wish I could take them off.

Because nothing about this world is fair, and, as Christ followers, it is our job to point out injustice, and it is our job to fix it.

Yesterday, I viewed a video of an encounter between police and teenagers in McKinney, Texas, just a few hours from where I live.

Some of the details are still being worked out, as there are literally dozens of sides to the story.  What it boils down to are that teenagers from all backgrounds were at a pool party in a gated neighborhood (the host may or may not have had permission to be there), when police were called.

When the police arrived some of the kids scattered, and one officer in particular began to act in an erratic fashion, berating most of the teenagers there, but specifically minorities.

The officer, throughout the video, swears at black children, threatens them, and finally pulls a fourteen year old girl wearing a bikini to the ground by her hair before pinning her down with his knees while she cries for her mother. Her mouth is literally in the grass. The girl never made an attempt to assault the officer. The worst she did was say something snotty.

As the officer drags her to the ground, two other boys rush in that direction, most likely because they saw a young girl in a bathing suit being pulled to the ground. The officer draws his weapon on those teens, before being stopped by other officers. They later return with one of the boys in handcuffs.

Throughout the video, black children are screamed at to “get their asses home,” and to “get your ass on the ground.”  Meanwhile, the videographer, also a teenage partygoer, moves freely, walks near officers, and gets shots of most of the action. Eventually, the officer, who has shouted profanity at everyone on camera tells the videographer to “get your butt out of here.” The videographer is white.

Now, I’m not saying that these teenagers are completely innocent. They may have been in a place they weren’t supposed to be. They may have even been mouthy.

But when has it ever, EVER been okay to pull a teenage girl to the ground by her hair, simply because she mouthed off?  If I did this to my teenager for being bratty, that same officer could arrest me for abuse.

When is it okay to scream profanity at kids standing in the street? What responsible adult, charged with protecting our families, does this?

But wait! Before you start getting super mad at me, and calling me Cop Hater, let me tell you what else I saw.

In the beginning of the video, there is another officer on film. The officer speaks politely with some kids, obviously doing his best to calm what seemed to be a stressful situation. He showed kindness and respect, and was receiving the same in return.  I believe if every officer called that day had handled himself with the same care and grace, we wouldn’t have heard a thing out of McKinney. Everyone would have just gone home.

Sadly, the actions of one officer affected the public’s impression of the rest.

So, when I look at that video, I don’t see justice for anyone. I see kids being assaulted, and the work of an entire community of law enforcement officers being diminished because of the actions of one.  I see kids lose their dignity along with any sense that the police are there to protect them.  None of what happened in this is just. It’s not fair.

A lot of people will say this is or isn’t a black and white issue. That the officer was or wasn’t justified in his actions.  I just know what I saw, and what I saw wasn’t justice.

So, how do we fix it?

We listen to each other.  We listen to people who feel as though they have been wronged by a flawed criminal justice system. We hear their stories. We empathize. We share our misconceptions.

We also listen to the law enforcement community. We listen to the struggle and pressure that a job like that has to put on a person. We thank them for their bravery. We ask how we can help.

We can’t have real conversations if nobody is listening. So, we Christ followers need to take the lead in shutting up. It’s hard to hear others over the sound of our own voices.

Let’s take a minute to look at this from where Jesus sits. He doesn’t just see us as black and white people, He sees us as His brothers and sisters. You guys, we have to turn “Us” and “Them” into “We.” This isn’t just a black problem or just a white problem is this OUR PROBLEM. And it’s up to us to have the hard and necessary conversations it takes to understand where everyone is coming from.

Conversations where we’re less concerned with being “right” than we are about being like Jesus.

That’s where justice begins, friends. It begins when we, those of us who love Jesus and His people, take the time to understand one another, to care about one another, and to refuse to allow injustice to happen to any of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This isn’t just opinion, friends. It’s right there in the book.  We belong to each other, and we need to seek justice for one another.