Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On Living Life to the Fullest

Today is my 42nd birthday.

Oh, to be 27 again!

But only in body. Because in mind I was a complete mess. You don't realize it at the time. At 27 you think you've actually got it all together. It isn't until perspective aging provides that you realize you were about as stable as a kaleidoscope.

Sure, 27 was full of fun times. Less responsibilities, more recklessness. A whole lot of gotta live life to the fullest!

But there's something about maturing. Something about tackling another decade - or almost two - something about surviving friendship shifts and parent-teacher conferences and grief and incredible joy that allows you to finally realize that life isn't as simple as just whooping it up to live life to the fullest.

It's more about living life fully with others.

It's more about learning life fully through others.

And it's all about loving life fully through all its tragic moments. 

Living life to the fullest used to mean drinking on the boat every day of the summer because you might die tomorrow and you don't want to waste a second missing out on the fun.

Living life to the fullest now means reaching out with compassion to those that need it because you now understand you contain the capacity to be a change maker in our world and doing anything less is short changing your own life.

Living life to the fullest used to mean trying to get that cute guy you've always had a crush on to go home with you - never mind he's already in a relationship; for some unknown reason you have something to prove.

Living life to the fullest now means realizing you were placed in this particular place and in this particular time to build others up, not tear people down. It isn't a competition; we're all on the same team - and behaving toward others as anything less than respectful is short changing who you were called to be.

Living life to the fullest used to mean concerts every chance you got, spring break follies (even though you graduated college years ago) and going to work hung over because you refuse to start acting like an old fuddy-duddy.

Living life to the fullest now means seeing if you're a bone marrow match and donating blood because it isn't fair that a little girl gets cancer. It's gathering your friends to repaint an elderly widow's house on the nicest weekend of the summer and not even minding that you missed out on that concert because you realize there will always be another concert - but the opportunity to impact someone's life positively is fleeting.

Living life to the fullest used to mean who the hell cares! Life is short!

Living life to the fullest now means finally understanding that what is truly fleeting are the moments we have to spread joy to others. And we choose to spend our time making the world a better place for others, not trampling on others while we race to please ourselves.

Oh, 42. There will always be doubts. There will always be questions. And there will, unfortunately, always be mistakes. But you keep living life to the fullest the right way, and 42 will be a fine, fine year.

And for all you young ones out there - don't worry if you don't understand what I'm saying. Life has a way of teaching you exactly what you need to know when you need it. One way or another. Trust me.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Awkwardness of Idle Chit Chat

A couple weeks ago I was at church sitting by myself in the middle of the pew minding  my own business because I prefer to mind my own business. But mostly because when I'm out in public it's kind of way too overwhelming for me when there are lots of human beings that I do not know surrounding me who run the risk of attempting to communicate with me. I call these people 'strangers' because I feel strange when people I don't know try to talk to me.

I don't know why it's easier for me to stand in front of a thousand people baring my soul than it is to spend twenty six painful seconds commenting about the height of corn to someone I've never seen before, it just is. It's how I'm wired. (And for sake of context I live in Wisconsin. Corn is a very important topic to us here.)

Anyway, I'm sitting peacefully by myself - in the middle - away from all other human contact - when I become aware that a stranger has sat at the end of the pew. Immediately I thought crap. Because now I was going to have to shake hands when it came time for that ridiculous meet and great portion of the service. 

Here were the thoughts going on in my head at that moment:

What if my hands are sweaty?

What if my hands are cold?

What if she says Good Morning and then when it's my turn to say Good Morning back to her I accidentally spit on her?

What if she assumes I'm new here? Do I tell her how long I've been coming here? I can't do that; it'll make her feel awkward and then I'll feel awkward and then we'll just sit and stare at each other wondering who makes the next move.

What if she's a hand lingerer? You know, those people that shake your hand but then hold on to it for a few uncomfortable seconds longer than is necessary and you're just wondering what the heck is happening and why some stranger won't let go of your flesh which makes your hand sweat even more?

What if she comments on how sweaty my hand is? Or worse - just wipes hers off on the side of her dress the second she dismounts the shake?

I think I'm having a heart attack.

Is it hot in here? 

I should really go.

But that would be even more awkward because it's rude to get up and move the second someone else sits down and I would hate it if someone did that to me.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'd love it if someone did that to me! I'd have the whole row to myself and wouldn't have to shake hands.

Maybe I could just slowly slide down to the floor and roll out under the pew...


And this was all in the first three seconds of the woman sitting down. 

My absolute worst fear was realized when she turned to me and started speaking. 

As if I knew her.

But maybe I did.

I don't know. I suck at remembering who people are.

So, as her mouth is moving I'm sitting there in shock thinking:

Do I know her? I don't know her? Why is she talking to me? Does she think I'm someone else? Oh my goodness. She thinks I'm somebody else. This is going to be painfully embarrassing when she realizes I am not who she thinks I am. But maybe I did meet her? I swear I don't even recognize this person. I would make a horrible witness. The police would ask 'have you ever met this person before' and I'd have to say 'I have no idea; my brain doesn't work the way other brains work.' Why does she keep talking? I don't even understand the words she's saying to me. Is she speaking English? What language is that? 

And by that time her mouth stopped moving and she's looking at me. And I recognized that look. It's the one that says THIS IS THE POINT IN CASUAL CONVERSATION WHERE YOU RESPOND TO WHAT WAS JUST SAID.

Except I can't respond to what was just said because my social anxieties DROWN OUT WHATEVER WAS BEING SAID.

And that starts a whole other round of self-speak:

Oh no. Oh no! Oh no no no no no! It's my turn. She is expecting me to say something. Or react. Or nod. Or what? What?! What do I do? What does she want me to do? Do I have to answer a question? Do I say something about the weather? I know! I'll pretend I'm deaf. That's it. That's what I'll do. I'll shrug my shoulders and shake my head while pointing to my ears.... except.... what if she knows sign language. I bet she knows sign language. And then she'll know I'm not really deaf and then I'll simply die of embarrassment right here in the church. I read a book once where the lady's husband died in church. Right during the sermon. He kind of just leaned over on her and she thought he had fallen asleep so she jerked her shoulder up to wake him except he wasn't sleeping, he was dead, only she didn't know that until after his body fell forward and he hit his head on the back of  the pew in front of them. That would actually be a nice place to die, in church. Except it would really depend on the sermon. Because who wants to die during a sermon on hell and how awful it is. Now that would be awkward. "I don't know, the preacher was talking about the descent into hell and she just went and keeled over." Actually, that's pretty funny. That would make a great Saturday Night Live skit.... "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at the coming! - CLUNK!" Oh man. Don't laugh. Do not laugh. For one, it is not that funny. Thinking about dying in church during a sermon about going to hell is actually weird and strange and normal people do not think about things like that. And, two, this stranger is still waiting for a response. You cannot respond with something random like dying in church. What is wrong with you?!

By this time the stranger realizes I'm socially inept and will usually turn away. Or I will and pretend I am a statue who doesn't understand English. Because I can acknowledge when it's time to accept defeat. And also when I need a break before I hyperventilate.

I guess the reason I'm telling you all this is because not everyone is blessed with the ease to make idle chit-chat with people they've never met before. For some it's actually excruciatingly painful. And it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with how we're wired. And we're painfully aware of that, too. 

So, be gentle. Don't be so quick to pass judgement or write someone off because they're not able to casually converse with you. Don't assume they're stuck up; they might just be stuck.

And if you know someone like me and you still really want to try to talk with them, here's a hint:

Start with, "You don't know me - I just really wanted to say hi to you" and then STOP and WAIT PATIENTLY because our minds need to catch up. Here is someone who wants to talk to me, I still don't understand why, but I now know I do not know them. You'll know we've caught up when we can appropriately respond with an (albeit awkward) "Oh. *nervous chuckle* Okay. Well. Hi?" And then you can move on to the next step.... "My name is Jane Doe.... "

Think of it as someone taking their first steps in physical therapy. We aren't going to take off running with you. First we need to stand up and get steady on our feet. Then we take one step. And then another. It's slow moving. 

Because once we get to know you, you won't get us to shut up.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Mango Tree Church

On my last visit to Haiti, I met a man who loved Jesus. He sat under the shade of a mango tree talking about many miracles and graces this God of the Bible bestowed upon His people. How this precious God still does so today.

Soon, people stopped to listen.

The people of the village were poor. They went without food for their bellies and shoes for their feet. They lived too many in a single dwelling with tired eyes and tired souls.



But they listened. 

The man continued to speak.

He heard God telling him to build a church. Build it here. In this place where God's people had nothing.

So he did.

This is that church:


Held together with twigs and thatch, holding together the hearts of God's people. It stands under the mango tree. A house of truth. A house of hope.

The pastor greets us. It has been a long time, he says, his thick calloused hands reaching out to us, but God has been good to bring us back. We hug tight his heart, his love, feeling every bone, his skin keeps his body together. I wonder when he last ate. 


We have come with supplies for his people. Bags of rice and beans, button down dress shirts and ties for the men, dresses for little girls.

But he doesn't even consider the heavy bags we are hauling on this hot afternoon in July.

He talks about how good God is. He tells us how his neighbors have hope. He tells us that 70 people gather every service. Seventy starving people feeding on God's truth. He tells us they do not have enough to eat and yet God always gives enough at just the right time.

They are eating the manna daily. Not knowing what will come, when or how much - but trusting God will not lose sight of them. God has been so good to them, he says. God has been so good.

They held a worship service on New Year's Eve.

Word spread.

Over 300 people from all over gathered at the tiny thatch church under the mango tree to hear about this God they heard whispered about on the streets in town.

They stayed for hours. They prayed for hours.

A revival under the mango tree.

The pastor praises God! Only the Almighty could bring 300 strangers together.


Inside we look closer. The dirt floor more magnificent than any marble laid, knowing the weathered hands that swept the dust for his Lord must be blessed. 

We look at the church pews. How long they saved to purchase the wood and nails. If you walked into a church and these were its pews, would you stay? 

Wilfrid, the man in the blue shirt, begins to speak. Their greatest need is to fix the roof. The rain comes through, drenching the worshipers as they sing and pray. Rain will not keep them away. But the tarps, the good tarps - the ones that can withstand better the torrential downpours and the whipping winds of the storms - they are expensive. Too much money to spend when your neighbors have no food.

The tarps are $61 US dollars each. They really want four, he says, but they pray for just two. It will take forever.

Sixty one dollars for a tarp to keep the rain out on a tiny thatch church. I spent more than that going to dinner and the movies. I hang my head and press my shoe into the dirt.

We ask what the next greatest need is for the church building. Oh, wood would be good, but, no. He shakes his head. To think about wood is frivolous. I ask, just for fun how much would you need? 10 pieces of wood. But they are $20 US a piece. He could never think of getting $200 to spend on wood for the church. Besides, the people are starving. There is no food.


We walk along and talk some more. We learn that the pastor's son is a smart man. He has one more year of schooling to complete in order to graduate high school. This grown adult man dreams of one day finishing his schooling. Of earning his certificate. But there is tuition (since Haiti has no public school system) and the required uniforms and the books and papers and pencils. $400 US is needed for the school year. How could he dream of earning and incredible amount like four hundred dollars - and then spending it foolishly on school, when all around him people go hungry.

They must be fed. Their bodies and their souls. The priority is the people. They must hear about God so they learn about His love, His hope, His forgiveness, and His mercies and grace.

They do not spend time on what they do not have. They do not dwell on what is without.

We walk through the village. At the first house we come to we meet a woman with the greatest smile. We ask her what her greatest struggle is, what can we pray for? She answers not for prayers for herself but rather prayers for her mother. Her compassion and selflessness overwhelms me.

I have so much to learn from these people.

I think of what I spend on my car. On my groceries. I think about my list of wants: an L-shaped couch comfortable to lounge on, sturdy enough to withstand an active 5-year old; a trip to Nashville with my friends that includes good food and a decent hotel room with a hot shower and plenty of pillows on the bed. I think about what I paid the last time I got my hair colored, cut and styled.

All they want is a tarp.

The good kind.

For $61 US Dollars.






Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Broken House

I'm leaving for Haiti Monday morning. I cannot begin to explain how excited my soul is to get there. I need Haiti. I crave the Haitian air, the sun that's brighter than any sun I've ever seen in Wisconsin and the jostling of traffic and bodies criss-crossing in Port au Prince as we try to leave the city. I need the cadence of the Creole language, the slow rhythm of feet on gravel in rural villages, straight spines and soulful eyes overflowing with a wisdom of experience that reminds me I am just a small drop in this incredibly huge world.

I had my bags packed by Friday afternoon. Everything ready except the clock on the wall.

So I spent the rest of yesterday and all of today passing the time. I Read for hours under the shade of an oak tree. Mowed the lawn. Went to church and sang extra loud. I did laundry, swept floors and vacuumed carpets. Then I did more laundry. I emptied garbage cans and washed counters. And I started to look, really look at the walls that surrounded me.

I have lived in this house for 8 years. I walked in giddy with anticipation of my new adventure. At the time I could see past the flaws and straight into what was sure to be. The old windows without screens, rendering them useless in the spring and summer months, would be replaced. The uneven concrete stoop (which was really nothing more than a poorly poured concrete slab, too small for a person to actually stand on while they attempted to open the door) would be poured new and bigger, allowing for a rocking chair and potted plant. The exterior lights that seem to drain a light bulb in a week's time would be properly repaired and replaced with a cottage style fixture. The peel-and-stick linoleum squares in the kitchen, chipped in the corners and stained beyond repair would be replaced with a beautiful flooring that would show off the soon-to-be freshly painted cabinets.

Except it's been 8 years. And there are more missing screens than we started with and two of the windows don't even close all the way. Weeds as tall as me sprout up through the concrete stoop. And the cracks in the sidewalk. At both the front entrance and the side. The exterior is still always dark. And the floor in the kitchen has gotten worse.

Add to that the years the dog was here: eating the trim around the sliding patio door; clawing, scratching and destroying the garage door. And the bathroom door. And the door in the bedroom from that one time someone shut the door and forgot the dog was in there.

We haven't had running water in the bathroom sinks for two years. For two years I've walked out of the bathroom, down the hall and into the kitchen to wash my hands. I've washed my face, brushed my teeth, put in and taken out my contacts in the kitchen longer than I ever thought would happen.

Half the time the furnace doesn't work. The refrigerator is an old garage cast off that has been on its last legs for seven years. The sun room is anything but sunny, what with the lights not working and the paneling removed and the tile chipped and ruined. It was a tired room 8 years ago. Now it's simply decrepit and depressing, not to mention slightly dangerous.

The truth is, no one ever made this house a priority. It has never been invested in. Never been slowly improved upon. Simply used and ignored. Taken for granted. The ceiling light over the dining room table stopped working years ago. It's never been a priority to invest in fixing it. There's never been a priority to fix anything once it was obvious that it was broken.

If there was a choice between a $50 restaurant dinner or putting $50 aside to fix the light, we chose eating every time. We always chose the fun over the necessary. We always chose to ignore the broken and instead focus on what made us happy.

And that's all fine and dandy until you open your eyes 8 years later and wonder how the house you live in became so crappy. So dysfunctional. So absolutely broken beyond repair.

And while I suppose it could be fixed - it's so... well... much to fix it.

The quick and easy maintenance won't suffice anymore. We ignored it all until it moved into the 'demolition and replace with new' stage. Not interested in investing when we should have - when we could have - fixed it, we're now left wondering if it's even worth trying to fix at all.

The process is too costly. Too inconvenient. Too long. Too stressful.

Now, there are things about this house that are nice. I'm sure there are, although it's getting more and more difficult for me to see them these days. But when you have a house as broken as ours, in order to fix it properly you have to rip everything out, take it down to the studs, get rid of the stuff that's cracked and broken... and with that goes the good and nice things, too.

In order to get to the great, you have to allow the good to be destroyed with the bad.

Toss it all out into the dumpster and trust that what is put slowly back up will be better than what was there before.

Often times when people get to this stage of a house they share opposing views. One begs and pleads and cries and tries to convince the other over and over and over that the house is worth it. Flaws and all, our house is worth investing in! They can see how taking this wall down here and putting in new flooring and pairing it with a soft yellow with white wainscotting over there would open up the room and give it a less depressing, cavernous look....

.... but the other person can't see the worth of going through all that trouble. Instead, all they see is the hard work and money that will go into fixing it. They focus on the sacrifice. Less dinners out, they think. We'll be a slave to these walls, they say. And so, to them, it's simply not worth the trouble. The sacrifice, the investing, the dust from the drywall and the weekends spent doing manual labor trying to keep costs down. No, it's simply just not worth it.

Because while one person sees the hard work paying off in the end with something they can say they did together, the other doesn't want to bother with trying to fix it. They just want to move into someplace new and start over.

Relationships are a lot like houses.

If you don't put the investment in right away to try to fix the small problems, don't be surprised when they become huge problems and the only choices are put in the hard work to demolish and start building over from scratch, or move on.


I need Haiti. I need to be surrounded by hope and laughter and music. I need children laughing and playing and asking hard questions. I need to be hugged and remembered and smiled at. I need to feel appreciated and wanted. And then I need to learn. Because every single time I go to Haiti I learn more from them than they do from me. Every single time.

Monday. I go Monday...

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Preparing of Hearts

I can't call Avery's death a tragedy. How she died, yes, absolutely. But that she died? I can't. I just can't.

Avery loved God in a way I never understood when she was alive. She lived for Him. And, while she certainly loved me like crazy, I can't help but think she saw me more as her foster mom. The earthly mama-heart loving her like my own while the ultimate goal was reuniting her with her real father: God in Heaven.

She lived her earthly life with the sole purpose - and soul purpose - to ensure one day she would go home to live with her Lord and Savior. And she did just that. How could I think it was tragic that she made it safely home into her Daddy's arms? 

But even knowing that.... man, it's hard, you know? To be, well, to be here when she's not.

I miss her every single second of every single day and unless you've gone through such heavy loss you won't understand how it is entirely possible to stand around a kitchen with friends joking and laughing about making dip and how you were named while half of you aches with a sorrow and grief so strong it threatens to steal your soul.

It's confusing and hard to make sense of, so I try not to focus on that part. Instead I try to think about how God can prepare a heart without us even knowing that's what He's up to.

After Avery's death I realized the multitude of ways God prepared our hearts for her departure. Different things she had said and done. The way she was able to spend one on one time with every one of her dear friends and siblings before her departure. The scripture she quoted and explained. The letters she wrote and the declarations she made. 

She was so happy in those days before her passing. More so, she was at peace. A peace that kind of unnerved me, if I was being honest. It's like those last days of a long vacation when you know it's coming to a close, when you sit back a little longer and just reflect on the fun you had, the memories you made. And you think, yes, this was good. But I can't wait to get home. 

It's almost like she knew.

And most certainly, God knew. Because He was so busy preparing our hearts.

I went to a concert the other day. Jon Troast has played at a couple events we've had in Avery's honor. He opened for Jamie Grace, played at Avery's birthday celebration and performed on this amazing historic boat when we announced AVERYday Ministries was committed to building a house in Haiti as a way to continue Avery's passion and dreams. I'm a big fan of Jon and you should be, too.

His concerts are always full of laughter and this incredible way he has to make profound statements in the most lighthearted, easy way. His music has thought and feeling and depth, while mostly being upbeat and dance-able - not to mention easy to sing along with. I always walk away feeling like I would have missed something important if I hadn't attended.

But I wasn't expecting this.

Jon turned to the audience and told us that recently his youngest brother passed away suddenly and very unexpectedly. A week earlier, not knowing any of this was about to occur - he sat down and wrote this song.... now, you tell me God doesn't love us enough to prepare our hearts well.