Monday, February 22, 2016

Fear and Pink Hair

"Mommy!  You got you hair pink!"

Not I missed you!  Not I love you!  The first thing Little Man said as he and his daddy returned from a guys' weekend away was not an expression of emotion, but a commentary on what was visibly different about me since the time he left home on Friday.  A number of people at church Sunday morning made comments about the pink as well. 

I'm super self-conscious and wish no one would notice or draw attention to it.  What???  If she didn't want people to notice or say anything, why in the world did she dye her hair pink?  And by pink I mean hot pink.  And by hot pink I mean magenta - that's what the box of dye at the salon said. 

I did it because I am afraid...

We all have fears.  Some people freeze when faced with speaking in front of a crowd.  Others start shaking at the thought of things like rock climbing, ropes courses or sky diving. Still others tremble in the face of change - new jobs, moving far away from home, letting go of outlived traditions.  There's fear of the unknown, fear of natural disasters, fear of bad things happening to our loved ones and even fears of specific numbers and days of the week.  I'm not sure it's possible to compose an exhaustive list of everything we are afraid of.

Back in September, when God first told me it was time to get serious about writing, fear paralyzed me.  I gave Him my top 100 reasons why I couldn't.  What happened next? The Holy Spirit whispered, "Dye your hair pink."  By then it was October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, so I reasoned I could pull it off because lots of women do it.  But to do so, even under the guise of a good cause, meant facing some major fear. 

What if I hated it?
What if it took forever to grow out?
What if it really looked awful?
What if my family and friends hated it?
What if people smiled to my face, then walked away talking about me?
What if strangers in public places laughed at me?

"What if?"  Maybe the most frightening question ever asked.  I ask it a lot.  I'm scared a lot.  Often to the point of paralysis.  Especially when I know God is calling me out of my comfort zone for His purposes, because I know without a doubt that:
  1. It always involves something I don't feel qualified or equipped to do
  2. It usually requires me to face whatever my greatest fear is at that moment
  3. It typically attracts the attention of the evil one
During my last bout of fear, when God called me to stop dreaming about writing and put my fingers to the keyboard, I wanted to pull a Jonah and head as far away from Nineveh as possible (that example comes to mind because, ironically, I read that chapter from The Jesus Storybook Bible to Toby last night).  Like Jonah, I landed in the belly of the big fish (the hair salon) getting a pink strip dyed into my hair (agreeing to go back to Nineveh if the fish would barf me up already) and facing my fear head on (getting to the business of serious writing) - you see the parallels, right?  What happened?  Some people liked my pink hair, some didn't.  I thought it wasn't bad.  Six weeks later all traces of it had washed away and I felt silly for being so scared.

That one small act served to remind me of what I already know, but regularly forget - God is faithful.  What does He require of me?  To stop being afraid.  To trust Him.  To be obedient to His call.  To forget about what others think.  To step out of the boat.  To fix my eyes on Him.  To walk on the water straight into His arms.  

Remember last week's post?  God is love...

"There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear..."
I John 4:18

It sure does!  And that's how getting past being afraid of a strip of magenta hair helped me push through my fear of standing up on my wobbly writer's knees and take the first step to what is now my eighth consecutive week of blog posting (something I never thought I'd do and it still terrifies me).

I know what you're thinking now; I can hear the wheels turning in your minds as you punch your calculators.  If she dyed her hair in October, but her son and church family just recently commented on it, the time frame doesn't add up...  Yep, you guessed it - I did it again, only this time the magenta strip is wider, heavier, and on both sides of my head.  You see, God doesn't let me remain comfortable very long; not if I truly want to follow Him.  And I do.  He's pushing me out again.  And I'm asking a lot of "What if's."  And I'm afraid.  Cue the Spirit's whisper, "Time to dye the hair again!"

So any time you see me and I have funky-colored hair, feel free to make these assumptions:
  • God is moving in her life
  • She's afraid
  • It was time to tackle the fear
What are you afraid of?
Is God nudging you toward something uncomfortable?
Want me to go to the salon with you?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Here One Minute, Gone The Next

Last Friday morning I was fumbling around the house trying to get Little Man and myself dressed so we could run some errands.  The phone rang, and as I paused to chat with a friend I noticed the first flurries. I figured it would only last a few minutes, then be over.  But the intensity increased and the flakes got bigger, and for the next two hours the biggest, fluffiest snow rained down torrentially until more than an inch covered the ground.  I chucked my plans for the morning, poured another cup of coffee, and situated myself onto the couch, perched in front of a window, wrapped in a blanket; Little Man grabbed Mickey Mouse and his sippy cup and positioned his chair directly in front of the storm door as if to have a front row seat - separately, yet together we enjoyed every second of mother nature's morning movie!

It was beautiful.  Soothing.  Peaceful.  

Less than two hours after the last flake fell, however, there was virtually no evidence that the white stuff had been there at all.  

It was gone.  Melted.  Dried. 

Since then I've been in a contemplative mood, thinking about how Friday's unexpected snow is really a picture of life.  Yes, we experience longer seasons (the elementary years, the teen years, the college years, the single years, the married years, the raising kids years, the empty nest years, the retirement years), but in the midst of those seasons, the moments of life happen:
  • snuggling a sleeping baby
  • breathtaking sunsets
  • family game nights
  • slumber parties
  • laughing so hard you snort
  • late night, deep conversations
  • holding hands at the movies
  • graduations
  • weddings
  • great vacations
  • surprise drop-by visitors
  • snow storms
Moments that we wish would last longer.  Times we wish we could recapture.  They might have lasted a few minutes, several days, a couple of months, or even years.  But they all have something in common - that feeling of being here one minute, and gone the next.

I'm not gonna lie - I was sad that the snow didn't hang around long enough for a back yard romp with a devilishly handsome two year old.  But maybe the gift wasn't the snow.  Maybe the gift was giving myself permission to quit with the plans and the busyness and be still long enough to enjoy the beauty of the moment before it was gone.

I guess I never pegged Dr. Seuss as a philosopher, but I do think he's onto something here. Whether it's a temporary, short-lived sadness or a deeper, more profound grief; both produce longing that is rooted in love.  Longing for more beautiful snowfalls or sunsets. Aching for more relationship like the connection forged while talking over cold pizza at 2 a.m.  Yearning for people and places whose time in your life has been fulfilled and they are no longer with you. These pinings of our souls are only possible because love is present in our lives in some shape, fashion or form.  And love comes from God.  That's reason enough to smile.

"God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him...
We love because he first loved us."
I John 5:16,19

Monday, February 8, 2016

Love Notes & Apologies

I am sentimental.

When I resigned my teaching job seven years ago, I faced the arduous task of cleaning out 18 years of a career that had accumulated in my classroom. Boxes, file folders, cabinets - all filled with mementos of a dream that became a reality. If a student gave it to me, I kept it. Photographs, letters, notes, and the occasional essay or quiz - each one of them meaningful to me in some way.  Given that we live a tiny house, bringing it all home wasn't an option, so week after week my 'keep' pile went through yet another purging. Eventually I whittled it all down to a medium sized cardboard box that, in my best estimation, represents the highlights of a long and memorable chapter of my life. 

Once upon a time, during my single years, my tiny house provided ample space to hoard a lifetime of cards, notes, and letters from family and friends, but as more people moved in - first Collins, then Toby -  the more keepsakes had to move out.  You might as well pluck my fingernails off one by one as make me part with these treasures (I still cry every time I look at a piece of paper with my grandmother's handwriting on it).   

Nothing will ever take the place of a handwritten note or letter. 

Handwriting communicates to the recipient that the giver spent something way more precious than money; he spent time. Time to pick out a card or a pretty piece of stationery. Time to think of just the words to say to convey a heartfelt message. Time to put pen to paper using a totally unique font that cannot be found on any computer or smart phone.

Have you figured out where I'm going with this? Sure you have! I'm a pack-rat (errr, sentimental woman), in love with a handsome man who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that my love language is best spoken in the tongue of his penmanship. our life of tight budgets and even tighter living spaces, there isn't room for buying cards for every occasion (birthday, anniversary, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, just because, etc.), much less a place for the boxes required to store them all (because I won't throw them away) until the day comes that my grandchildren are helping my son clean out my 'estate' while commenting, "Why in the world did MeeMaw keep all this junk? I guess digital files didn't exist way back in her time. Didn't she know piles of paper attract bugs and are kindling for a house fire?

In our quest to conserve money and space, yet still love each other with handwritten words, Collins and I decided a couple of years ago that we would start a new tradition. Each of us picked out and purchased a blank journal book for the other, wrote a love letter in it, then we exchanged them as gifts on Toby's first Christmas. The journals are kept in our respective night stand drawers. On his birthday, our anniversary, when I have a special quote to share, when I need to say I'm sorry, or just because I feel like it, I sneak Collins' journal out, spill the contents of my heart onto its pages, then lay it on his pillow, signaling to him that a new entry is waiting to be read. He follows the same ritual for me. When there are no more blank pages, it's time to purchase a new journal.

Originally the books were intended to replace cards and other keepsakes, but they quickly took on a life of their own. They have become the place where we pour out our souls to each other, not just for Valentine's Day or Christmas, but whenever our hearts are full and running over for each other.  And not always full in a happy, starry-eyed, head-over-heels in love kind of way, but also when they're full of brokenness and pain over the way we've wronged each other at times. 

For now our journals are intensely personal and private. But one day we plan to share them. Our prayer is that their contents will not be shocking because we will have lived our lives in such a way that Toby will have always seen us demonstrate for him how to love and forgive each other well.  We pray that what he sees both publicly and privately are parents who hug, kiss, hold hands, and giggle as well as shed tears, forgive grievances, and restore relationship on a daily basis - certainly not perfectly, and probably not as often as we should, yet consistently. When the time comes that he is ready to meet the woman God has prepared especially for him at the altar, we will offer him and his bride a peek at our love notes and apologies - a glimpse of what it looks like when two woefully sinful people, covered by God's unfailing grace and mercy, commit to marriage. Who knows? Maybe they will write their own books that they will someday pair with ours to share with my grandbabies, who will, in turn, do the same and create a legacy of love for generations to come. Who knows?

Monday, February 1, 2016


One year ago today she blew into our lives like a breath of fresh air.  Our campus pastor introduced us on a Sunday after worship.  A week later we met for lunch.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Collins and I were looking for ways to get more involved with the new church we were settling into, so we signed up for the Adopt-A-Student program that pairs local college students with church families.  She was returning from a semester and interim abroad and was looking for a family and a place to be her home away from home.  We were matched 'randomly' (like anything the Holy Spirit does is ever random).

It took less than ten minutes of conversation to realize that she could appreciate my husband's brand of humor, that she was the perfect big sister for my little man, and that she and I were kindred spirits in ways that only God could orchestrate.  Just like that she was part of our family, filling a space we didn't know was there until she was situated into it.  She fit so seamlessly and so easily it was like she'd always been here.

Over the past year she and Collins have reveled in their mutual appreciation for American cultural eccentricities.  His love of sports has rubbed off on her to the point that it was him she texted at 11 p.m. one night back in July to report that she had just spent time on the treadmill next to Michael Oher and had chatted with him as though they'd known each other forever.  She's taught him the finer points of being 'granola.'  He playfully abuses her for being vegan, and she laughs at his worst jokes.

She and I have shared a million laughs and tears.  We've over-analyzed ourselves, each other, and the world around us.  We've prayed and studied Scripture together.  We've come to understand that we can be exactly alike in some ways, yet polar opposites in others.  We both love the Spanish language.  She's weathered my passionate tirades over injustice and she humors me with texts and phone calls when she's traveling alone so I won't worry.  I've helped her navigate the pitfalls of busyness and learn the value of managing her schedule so it doesn't manage her.  I ask her hard questions and she asks them right back.  She keeps food in my freezer and helps herself to my kitchen.  I don't worry about straightening the house or changing out of my pj's when she's coming over.

Together Collins and I have properly indoctrinated her with our love of Les Miserables.  And, courtesy of our excellent instruction, she plays a mean round of 'Hand & Foot.'  She's crashed on our couch and traveled with us too.  She's been our house sitter and texted pictures of a snake in our yard that she refused to remove.  Collins and I have demonstrated for her regularly how to have heated discussions on everything from sports to religion to finances to academics.  We've been nosy and intruded on pretty much every area of her life, yet she invites us in, making herself an open book.  

While Collins and I have both enjoyed and reaped the benefits of having her as our 'adopted' daughter, in our estimation the most important relationship she has with anyone in our family is the one she has forged with our son.  When we met her little man was just over 18 months old and very attached to us, crying at even the shortest separation.  But not with her. She made such a point to be attentive to him at our first lunch that he hugged her and wanted her to carry him out of the restaurant that day.  Toby is a priority to her every time she is in our home and she purposely focuses some of her of attention on him.  She's not above getting down in the dirt to play with him as well as patiently reading a seemingly endless number of books to him.  Every time we pass her dorm when we are on the Wofford campus he never fails to point it out stating that's her house.  He can't stop asking when she's going to arrive if he knows she's coming, and he won't stop questioning where she went and when she's coming back when she leaves.  She offers to babysit, not so much to give Collins and me some time away, but more so because she wants to be intentional in spending time with him.  His face lights up when he sees her at church as he runs to her with outstretched arms.  

In a few short months she will graduate and follow the next path that God has laid out for her.  We probably won't see her or talk to her as much as we are accustomed to and that will take some adjustment.  But she will forever be a part of our family.  God hand-picked her and delivered her into our lives at a time when we needed all that she had to offer.  I think she would say the same about us.  

It's hard to believe it has been a year, yet at the same time we can't really remember life without her.  But that's how it is with your children isn't it?  A child comes into your life whether by biological birth or adoption or any other means, and love consumes you so wholly and completely that you don't know how you survived without them and can't imagine a life from that moment on that doesn't include them.  

On the day you arrived our hearts were filled to overflowing and a missing piece of our lives fell into place.  We are forever changed for the better because you have been here.  We love you as though we were our own and we thank God for the gift of you, McKensie!