Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who Are We Really?

I was scrolling through my FaceBook feed the other day, when this little gem of a note popped up. Jaslyn is the daughter of some precious friends of ours and is nine years old.  Yes, I said nine years old! What she was able to give words to, most adults would struggle to even vaguely identify, which is why I guess my eyes filled up as I read it.

As I've witnessed time and time again with my own kiddos... we have something to learn from children.  Or somethings... like a bazillion somethings.  So, let's tune in and listen up because Jaslyn has something to say to us.  

Let me back up just a bit, first.  I was at a retreat in September on a mountain ranch and some friends asked us to begin thinking about who we really were.  They asked us to start to write an identity statement.  Uh...riiiight.  Just one sec while I go ahead and get nauseaus just thinking about it.  Most of us looked at each other with blank stares and then went into panic mode.  We adults decided the only mature thing to do was to run for the hills until we realized "Shoot.  We are IN the hills!"  

What is this marked discomfort we feel about our identities?  I have been thinking about it and I feel like we get deeply uncomfortable when confronted with who we really are, because deep down we believe who we are is what we do.  And what we do so very often is fail and disappoint and let people down and never measure up and... and...and...the list could go on forever. We never "do" enough, which we translate into meaning WE are never enough.  And this core belief that many of us carry through our lives, keeps us from being who we really are. Because who we really are, is loved.  Period.  It all starts there for us.  So when we fail to allow ourselves to recognize that one, oh so important truth, we begin the long, arduous journey of proving, comparing and ultimately destroying ourselves.

But look at Jaslyn - this kid gets what so many of us grown ups do not.  Was there even one thing she wrote that had anything to do with what she "did" other than "giving presents, love and gentleness?" This precious nine year old girls knows that who she is is not defined by what she does.  Side note here: she "gives gentleness"??!!  Are you kidding me?  AHHH! The beauty of that one statement alone!  And I bet you anything that she is gentle with herself too.  When was the last time you were gentle with yourself? When was the last time that you gave yourself some grace?  I think at some level, even if she doesn't recognize it, Jaslyn knows that to be gentle with others, she must first be gentle and kind with herself.  Yeah.  Let's just sit on that one for a month and see how our lives change.  

Take a look at the verbs she uses to describe herself.  She: 


Didn't she nail all the main elements of human nature with just those words??  She began with such poignant, beautiful adjectives to describe herself, then she ventured into what and who she loves.  I just find that so remarkable.  Before all the rest, she starts with love.  

And the first thing she feels? LOVED.  O, that "loved" would be our first thought about ourselves!

And what she needs?  People. 

People help point us towards who we truly are.  I bet you anything that without my friends Sean and Kathy (Jaslyn's parents) loving her, encouraging her and constantly affirming her character and gifts, that Jaslyn wouldn't have this understanding  of who she is.  We need people around us who breathe life and truth and love into us, so that we know who we truly are.  (Blog post on this topic forthcoming!)

Back to September... I begrudgingly started writing down who I am.  I've only made it through about five sentences so far.  The first three are probably the most important.  "I am Amy Savage.  My name literally means "beloved" and that is what I am. I could stop right there and that would be enough, but because I am beloved, I am also more."  I realized as I started to write out who I am, that God will never speak to us about our identity by who we are NOT.  He only affirms and calls out who we ARE.  Anytime, we hear voices that tell us who we aren't, we need to slap those mothers upside the head and kindly escort them out of the building.

There were a few women there that day in September who stood up on tables and with confident voices, powerfully spoke out their identity statement (some of them had taken years to compose).  I'll never forget as long as I live the sacredness of those moments.  Women who believed with everything in them that the beautiful things they were speaking about themselves were true and right.  They had discovered the beauty of living from the fullness of who they were.  

So many times we squelch who we really are in the name of humility.  But the most humble, beautiful thing we can do for ourselves and for the world around us is to be who we were created to be.  

So, who were you created to be?  Ask God to show you.  He will.  Let's not keep buying the lie that we are what we do - that just keeps us small and bound up.  I want to live freely and with great joy and gratefulness for who I am.  I want some day soon to stand up on a table unencumbered,  and belt out in my loudest voice the beauty of who I am. 

Thank you, Jaslyn, for reminding me just how powerful  and lovely it is to know who we are and live out of that space.  May you be blessed, dear girl, to live fully and with great joy, in the reality of who God has created you to be.  You are one incredible girl. Somehow, I don't think you'll forget it. And that is just awesome. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

God Is Always Good and We Are Always Loved

It was a year ago today that I laid flat on my stomach on the operating table and had my cancer removed from my upper back. I had no idea what the next year would hold for me, or for that matter, what the following few weeks would hold. Would the phone call be to say that they had gotten it all in surgery, or would it be that we didn't catch it early enough and it had spread to my lymph nodes?

You don't ever forget defining moments like that - the ones that bring into crystal clear focus just how much we are not in control. I thought of my children, my husband, my dreams for our lives and I thought of all the people who had been on that same table thinking those very same thoughts. We all think we are invincible, with nothing but time on our hands to do with as we please. Really, our lives are barely just a breath.

The phone call with the results came one agonizing week later. The nurse said the labs showed they got it all. No need for chemo or radiation - only doctor visits for the rest of my life. And just like that - I had my life handed right back to me.

I remember all the questions and the "what if's" from the time of diagnosis to the time of prognosis. There was just so much we did not know.

Here I sit one year later, and you know the funny thing? There is still just so much I don't know. While my health issues may be cleared up, there's a lot in my life that's not. I have a lot of questions about things that have happened as well as things that haven't happened yet.

My husband has frequently talked about learning to live in the question or the mystery. For a long time, I just chalked that kind of talk up to his philosophy degree. :) I didn't live in the question! Pftt... I was living my plan! Haha... don't you just love the illusion of control?!

But now I've come to realize that one of the most beautiful and freeing things about my faith in God is that I don't know very much at all. I have few answers, but the ones I do have keep me steady on my journey into the unknown. There was a time when not knowing where I was going next or not having an answer for issues of faith would have been totally unacceptable to me. Now, I find that there's no other place I'd rather be living than in the question. How boring would life be if I had all the answers ahead of time and felt like I knew all of God there was to know?

This life is an adventure, not a checklist. These days I'm leaning into all the question marks and am actually excited about them. The question marks are what teach more about just how much God loves us and just how much we can trust him.

I am thankful for my cancer scare. It jolted me back to reality and caused me to get really clear about the things that are important to me and how I spend my time. I often think about what my life would be like if the news I got after surgery was different. And you know what? I really do believe that while my voice may have been a bit more fragile, it still would have spoken the words "God is always good. And we are always loved." I'm so grateful today for a God who has been to all the dark places and knows how to travel them with us. We are just never, ever alone.

Monday, July 29, 2013

What I Learned Over Dinner With a Former Muslim Extremist

I consider myself to be an open person. I love diversity.  People from other cultures intrigue me and I have found all my interactions with people different than me to be beautiful and engaging.

That said, I did not expect to be sharing a meal with a former Muslim extremist who had terrorist ties this past Thursday evening.  Life has a way of surprising you.

Just some brief background here.  I don't talk much about the fact that I am co-owner of a company that works in leadership development.  But every year, my colleagues and I attend a leadership forum where people share creative ideas about how they are implementing different leadership practices in the corporate, private, educational, government and non-profit sectors.

This past week I sat in on a session that was led by Hanif Qadir, said former Muslim extremist.  

He told a bit of his story to start off the session.  He is a Muslim, born and raised in London.  Shortly after the war in Afghanistan began, he was recruited by a radical Muslim extremist group to come to Pakistan and Afghanistan and join in the fight against the enemy- namely, Americans.

Along with many others, he was upset about all of the killing of innocent people (new statistics that I researched personally show that 116,000 civilians have died in Afghanistan alone) - he wanted to help stop it.  On the streets of London he was approached by someone who played on his empathy towards his people who were dying and convinced him the only way to help was to go to the Middle East and join in the fight.  They twisted the words and context of the Koran, using his deep faith in Islam to persuade him that what they were doing was the only way.  It wasn't until later that a Muslim in Afghanistan urged him to see how the radical group he was working with was only causing more death and violence.  Indeed, his compassion for people's pain had been played upon and used to radicalize him and his faith.  He wanted out.  He was bold enough to go the extremists and tell them he wanted to leave and refused further participation.  In all reality they should have killed him, but he somehow managed to talk his way out and went back to London.

It was then that he realized what danger the Muslim youth on the streets of London were in.  Upon his return to England, Hanif and his brothers put all their resources and energy into reaching out to the vulnerable Muslim youth in London.  Many of them were being approached and told the same things that he had been told - that violence was the only way.  They were being radicalized.  With a Muslim population of well over 2 million people in London, Hanif realized what was at stake if the wrong people got a hold of the Muslim youth - many of whom were already involved in gang violence.  Hanif and his brothers founded The Active Change Foundation, a youth center, where they host discussions and workshops that encourage the kids to think for themselves and be able to identify radicalization tactics and see another way.  He started a youth leadership program, which gets kids off the streets and focuses on developing them in positive ways so that they can be voices for peace and change.  He is viewed by government officials as a leading counter terrorism expert, as he has the unique advantage of knowing the tactics extremist groups employ.

The work he does is dangerous.  There are many Muslims who don't support what he is doing.  He receives much hostility from within his own community.  His family has been attacked and threatened to the point that when Hanif goes out of town, a female police officer comes and stays with his family to protect them.  And yet, he believes enough in the importance of his work to press on despite this. You can watch Hanif explain his work and tell some of his story HERE.

So, that's a little background on Hanif.  Fast forward to Thursday night.

Thursday evening we had a dinner event that everyone from the conference attended.  I was sitting with my coworkers when I looked over in the corner of the room and noticed Hanif and Samuil (the 16 year old he had brought with him who is a part of the leadership program) sitting at the end of a large table by themselves.  (Side note: while they were at the end of the table together, there were actually quite a few other people at the table - conference attendees from Saudi Arabia, China and Nigeria.  What is it with Americans being afraid to bridge the international/cultural gap???!!!! It was literally a table of foreigners eating by themselves while we Americans went along our merry way.  Ugh.  Anyway, I digress.)

I left my coworkers and walked over to their table, asking if I could join them.  They warmly said yes.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous.  After all, what does a white, Christian woman say to a male, former Muslim Extremist???

We just talked - turns out we are both human beings. :)  He told me more about his work and the challenges that he faces.  He talked about their successes.  He talked about his family and his faith.  We talked about how our past shapes our future course.  We had much the same conversation that you or I would have had if we had sat down together over a meal.

I learned that we shared similar passions.  Both of us care about the younger generations.  Both of us want to ensure they grow up empowered to make good choices, which will ultimately help them change the world.  Both of our hearts are compassionate towards those who suffer.  Both of us are energized when unlikely sources unite to make a difference together.

I learned that I was holding views of Muslims in general that were wrong, as much as I didn't want to think I was.  There is fear in the unknown, and truth be told I haven't known many Muslims.  In America especially, the media shapes our opinions of Muslims - and not for the better. We are subtly and not so subtly taught to think that most Muslims are violent extremists and that is simply not true.

I learned that there is power in humility. As I sat there listening to Hanif and Samuil share I felt compelled to ask for their forgiveness.  So I did.  I told them that I was a Christian and that I realized many American Christians especially, have been perpetuating hate and judgment towards Muslims.  I told them that I didn't think Jesus was proud of that at all and that I believe He wants us all to have love for each other.  I'm quite sure that surprised him a good bit as he looked down at the table and said it wasn't necessary to apologize.  But I told him it was necessary.  It was necessary for me, anyway.

I learned that we've both experienced and propagated the worst of our respective religions.  He pursued violence as the only way and I pursued judgment, which in the end is a form of violence itself.  Just like him, I have had people twist and take out of context the words of the God I love until in the end, He looked nothing like who He really was.  I was sucked in and acted accordingly, under the thumb of a God I had to please and whom I could never do enough for.  While the damage Hanif inflicted may have had a physically violent bent, the damage I inflicted on people was hate and rejection.

I learned that until we set our fear and our differences aside, nothing will ever change in this world.  We have more in common with each other than we ever imagined.  The fact that I could find more similar shared experiences and feelings with a former Muslim extremist than I could differences is proof of that.  It took courage on both our parts. It took courage for Hanif to be drilled by Homeland Security on his way into the US to speak to us about the power of caring for others.  It took courage for him to stand before a room full of Americans committed to leading well, not knowing what they might be thinking about the things he was sharing.  And it took courage for me to walk across the room and spend an hour or so in conversation with someone I never dreamed I'd spend one second with.

I'm obviously still processing all of this in my head and I'm sure I will have more insights as time goes on, but I'm left with the thought that the world would be a different place if we all displayed more courage and humility... if we let down our walls that make us feel so secure and at times, superior.  What would the world look like if black and white, Muslim and Christian, Democrat and Republican could just let our guards down and see each other for who God has made us to be?  What would it look like to approach our differences with humility, rather than pride?  I think we'd find deep friendships and meaningful interactions with our fellow human beings who are different than us.

We allow our differences to define us.  Perhaps it's time we allow our commonalities to have a turn.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Building Something Good

"I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything's easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom." - Shauna Niequist

Well, now. If I were the shout "amen" type, I'd be shouting right now- probably loudly and repeatedly. I've been in a season where nothing has been easy lately. In fact, I have written and then promptly deleted four blog posts on here because it was too hard to convey what was going on in my heart and mind. I mean come on, I don't even really know what's going on in there half the time! So, I'm giving this a fifth go and we shall see if it sticks.

Back to the wise Ms. Shauna... I read those words of hers on a day when I felt like loss and emptiness and confusion were just giving way to more loss and emptiness and confusion. Because let's face it- we have those days too. Days when even though we want to believe that the hard stuff brings something good in the end, it sure doesn't seem like it is in the moment. But her words struck a chord in me.

The past few years have been downright HARD - in every area, really - especially recently. You can start to feel like you're alone in the struggle - that everyone else's life is easy peasy (whatever the heck peasy means). Then there are those few trusted friends whose eyes you can look into and just know that it hasn't been easy peasy for them either. I think if we just took the time to look a little deeper into each other's eyes more often, we'd find that our common ground is our struggle.

I was at the grocery store a few weeks ago checking out and a worn looking elderly gentleman got in line behind me in his little electric cart. I glanced over at him and smiled to which he replied with "Well, darlin, do you ever have a smile on you! You could light up a room!" Little did he know that moments before I flashed him that smile I was fighting back tears as I slid my check card through the machine. I thanked him and looked at him - I mean, REALLY looked at him. And you could see signs of the struggle written in his eyes and all over his face. What I wanted to really say was "Me too", not "thank you". As I pushed my groceries away with my kids in tow, I heard him say something to the cashier about how he was going to split his small purchase between two credit cards and how he hoped they'd work. Struggle. From the surface we can all seem so different, but it's the common occurrence of struggle at its core that connects us.

I'm grateful for those people who are willing to share their hard and gritty with the world. Because inevitably, they get to the other side of the hard and they tell you how something really good was built through the really hard. And you sigh with relief that it really does happen - that you do become stronger through your weakness, that you learn things you otherwise would never have learned that are going to serve you well in the future, and that you ultimately heal and move forward. So thank you, gritty sharers. The world needs more of you.

I'm through the raw, oozing, not sure what to do with myself part of the "hard" that has come my way lately. There were moments I wasn't sure I would ever pick myself up off the carpet, but here I am, sitting in a chair. :) It's easy to get lost in the emptiness and pain and wonder when the next "easy" stage is going to come. Or if it ever will. This morning I read something that resonated with me. It said "The next step will come, but you don't need to rush. Enjoy your life as it is - not as what it will be." And it reminded me that I'm building something good right now. Rather, God is building something good. It is hard, but it IS good. The struggle makes it good because it's fought for tooth and nail. Even though there's so much I don't understand, I catch glimpses of the goodness that's coming out of it, even now. And one day, maybe not as soon as I'd like, but one day - I will be the one to look someone else in the eyes and tell them that I got to the other side and that all the hard actually built something pretty darn beautiful. I will say "me too" and see them sigh with relief that they aren't alone in their struggle. Because none of us are, or at least we don't have to be.

Suffering is part of all our narratives, whether we will admit it or not. We are all born into the struggle, but we are meant to struggle through together. So, let down. Let someone in. Let someone take a long deep look in your eyes at what's going on with you. Don't walk the struggle out all alone. We were made to see something really good get built out of all the hard together.

And to that end, I'm going to hit "publish" and commit to not pressing delete this time. :)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

When it all falls apart

“We live in a dark world. Rain falls. Storms come. Lightening strikes. Your life can shatter. The roof can fall in. You can be damaged. As long as you live, you will have something to lose - little pieces of yourself. The people you love, the life choices you cherish - there is always something at risk, something dear. Some cause for fear. We can choose to surrender to that fear and let it rule our lives, or we can surrender to God all of those things we love and fear to lose, and then love fearlessly - undaunted.”
-Christine Caine

You know how you wait for something specific to happen for literally years?  With each passing day you hope beyond hope that the dream inside of you just might actually come to fruition.  It’s so good and so big you almost don’t let yourself really believe it might come to be in real life.  And yet, you anticipate it… it gets so close you can taste it, until one day it finally happens.  That amazing thing you felt for sure was too good to really unfold – it actually does.  Your heart explodes with the goodness of it all.  You go all in.  You invest your heart, your love, your time, your very essence into what has materialized somehow.  This dream, this passion – this thing you know that you know that you know God instilled deep down in your heart… it blossoms.  It becomes more beautiful than you even imagined it.  Life feels fuller.  This dream is not a dream any longer – it’s real.  It’s pulsing.  Life is bursting forth.  It’s happening in front of your very eyes.  It’s a part of your story and you are a part of it.  Its beauty is woven into the very fabric of who you are.  You are transformed because of it.

You can see where it is headed.  You are alive with even more possibility.  You live your dream, confident of where you are going.  And then one day, without even a whisper of warning, it disappears.  It’s ripped out of your life so quickly you don’t even know what hit you.  And you’re left reeling, numb.  How could this have happened??

What in the world are we to do with disappointment??  Actually, I think disappointment is too light a word.  What do we do with a heartbreak so deep it threatens to swallow us whole?  What do we do when it seems like our dream dies?

Jessica Davis writes in the book For Love’s Sake: “What did I feel like?  I felt like everything I had ever worked for was ripped into shreds, distorted, and broken beyond repair.  Suddenly the journey that I was on seemed more like a mean joke from God than a precious gift.  I remember feeling so angry toward God one day.  Why would He give me something so beautiful, a dream to change the world, and then sit back as it was snatched away?”

Um, yeah.  What she said.  That’s exactly what I've been feeling this week. 

Through the tears and the hurt and heartache, here’s what I’ve come to… all of us human beings are frail creatures.  We hurt each other even when we don’t mean to.  We fail.  We may even cause someone else’s dreams to come crashing down. But NONE of this changes who God is and what His heart towards us is.  And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we need to know – that even on the most excruciating days, through completely unexpected disappointments, we are loved by the One who matters most? 

Isaiah 54:10 says “For even if the mountains walk away and the hills fall to pieces, My love won’t walk away from you, My covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart.  The God who has compassion on you says so.”

I’m sure that many of you have things falling to absolute pieces in your lives right now.  People may have hurt you.  You may have had a dream implode before your very eyes.  Your health may be failing.  Your bank account may be empty.  Your marriage may not be what you long for it to be.  Your plans for having children may not be realized.  The list can go on and on. But God is there saying EVEN IF EVERYTHING FALLS TO PIECES, MY LOVE WON’T WALK AWAY FROM YOU.  And more than any dream, any passion, any desire I have – that love and peace God talks about in Isaiah 54 is what I want.  It’s worth sacrificing any desire or dream for.  Jessica goes on to write “When we give our lives to God, we lay down our rights.  We choose to exchange our dreams, hopes and promises for His.  The promises He gives us will NEVER disintegrate, but will remain.”

This morning I was reminded of Isaiah 63:9 which says “In all their affliction, He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them.  In His love and mercy, He redeemed them.  He lifted them up and carried them all of the days of old.”  The beauty of this struck me so profoundly this morning.  In my affliction, in whatever affliction you may be going through right now, the God of the universe is afflicted too.  He hurts because you hurt.  He’s God - He doesn't have to hurt with us and for us, but He  does because He loves us just that much.  Yet, notice that He doesn't leave us there in our affliction.  In His LOVE and MERCY, He redeems us.  He redeems our situations, our disappointments, our dead dreams.  And if today, you literally can’t think about taking another step because you are so worn out and discouraged, guess what? You don’t have to.  He says HE WILL LIFT YOU UP AND CARRY YOU.  And what was it that saved them?  His presence.  Simply knowing God is WITH us even in the middle of daunting circumstances or unbearable heartbreak – that experience of Him being with us is what carries us moment by moment. 

Ben and I were talking last night and he said “Amy, can you think of one painful, difficult circumstance when something fell apart and God didn't replace it with something better?”  And you know what?  I couldn't. In my 38 years, there hasn't been one.  Because that’s the kind of God I know - the kind of God who makes things not just better, but brand spanking new.  And people, “brand new” or “better” usually doesn't come the way we might expect it to, or dare I say, in the timing we want it.  That’s the beautifully frustrating thing about God – He operates outside our realm of understanding. 

Sometimes the replacing He does of the broken things in our lives is simply with Himself.  And friends, He is enough.
We might be watching for an exact replacement of whatever we lost, but God in His infinite love for us, gives us what we need.  And often, it comes in the form of a deeper experience with Him.  If, according to Isaiah 63:9, it’s His presence that saves us and rescues us from our affliction, then that’s what I want more of.  I will lay down my dreams and my rights so that I can know Him deeper – because He is so, so worth it.
So, all this to say, friends… if you are suffering through loss or desires or dreams that are unfulfilled – know that God is with you in your suffering.  Also know, in all the wrestling and struggle that comes from that, God is taking you somewhere.  It’s not over.  It wasn't all pointless.  You didn't put your heart out there for nothing.  He hasn't abandoned you or your dreams. 

I will shed my tears and mourn my loss, but I will do it knowing that what is to come will be more beautiful than what was (or wasn't). 

“This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden: the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited…I, the Lord, have rebuilt what was destroyed and replanted what was desolate.” – Ezekiel 36:35-36

Sunday, April 7, 2013


"My life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. Everyone’s life looks better on the internet than it does in real life. The Internet is partial truths—we get to decide what people see and what they don’t. That’s why it’s safer short term. And that’s why it’s much, much more dangerous long term.

Because community—the rich kind, the transforming kind, the valuable and difficult kind—doesn’t happen in partial truths and well-edited photo collections on Instagram. Community happens when we hear each other’s actual voices, when we enter one another’s actual homes, with actual messes, around actual tables telling stories that ramble on beyond 140 pithy characters."

Oh, heavens. I love/hate this. I love, love, love it because it reminds us where true community is found, and it isn't in the light of the computer screen you're looking at right now. I am guilty. Guilty of spending too much time looking at people's "partial-truth" internet lives while there is a whole world of living, breathing human beings out there hungry for companionship - myself included. Heck, I just have to look up and there are three little people sitting right across the table from me who call me mommy. So, I'd better be darn sure that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that THEY are what's important - THEY are my priority. Not this hunk of metal that "connects" me to the outside world.

And I hate this quote because I think it is so very true of many of us. Our "internet lives" look better than our real lives. Ouch. It made me go back to my Instagram account, my Facebook page, and this blog and ask myself what image of my life I'm putting out there to the world. We fear putting our "real" lives out there because what in the world would people think?! It gets back to my last post on wanting a community of people who are willing to just be who they are regardless of what people think. But more importantly, actually BEING a community of people who are safe for people to show up in with all their beauty and all their junk and just be loved.

We are really, really good at the beauty part. The harder, imperfect stuff?? Not so much. Here's the deal. Life is really beautiful. Beauty deserves and demands to be shared because of the sheer joy and pleasure it brings us as human beings. I won't ever stop posting beautiful pictures and happy moments, because that is a part of my life and it's real. Beauty happens, people!

So does imperfect. And hard. And unexpected. And just as much as the beautiful deserves and demands to be shared, so do the not so beautiful things. Because they also are real life. The truth is, that when I see people get real and share their not so beautiful stuff, it makes me breathe a little easier and know I'm not alone.  So, in an effort to be honest and authentic in representing the REAL life of Amy Savage, I give you my beautiful and imperfect - because together, they are the real truth.

Because sometimes...

The Easter cake really does look this beautiful.

And sometimes...

You drop your daughter's birthday cake outside on the deck, then proceed to pick up the two biggest pieces  you can find and shove cute candles in it in hopes she won't notice. Right.


 Your kids get all bloodied and bruised.

And sometimes...

They shine.  (Or whatever it is that Mr. T does).


You surprise your husband with a custom made gift on Valentine's Day.

And sometimes...

Three weeks later it is lost in piles of laundry and unpacked bags from a trip you returned from forever ago.


You really do get the cutest dog on the face of the planet.

And sometimes...

Your super cute dog manages to blow poop outside of his crate in the middle of the night.  


On one of the hardest days of your life, you post an insanely beautiful photo of your drive down the road so no one will ever know how much pain you are in.

And sometimes...

Your girls really do love each other that much and their hair really is that red in the sunset. 


You finally take that trip to Hawaii and you are forced to view the beach from your car with the window wipers on because it's pouring down rain and the waves are so big they could wash you away. 

And sometimes...

The rain disappears and you are able to take in the most amazing sunset while surfers head into the water to catch one more wave.  


You dye an Easter egg that miraculously matches your dress.

And sometimes...

You stumble across an incredibly awkward 4th grade photo in which you could have hatched the egg your daughter so beautifully dyed.


You can get so excited over a finished project that you forget...

It's the mess and process of renovating that meant the most.


Life is heart-wrenching and confusing.

But sometimes...

It's just THAT good.

So, here's to being honest about all the broken and the beautiful.  Life certainly isn't perfect, but its imperfections are gifts too.  Let's not be afraid to show them.

Monday, March 25, 2013


It was three Easters ago that I was sitting in the Amsterdam airport on my way to adopt my son in Ethiopia.  I was overwhelmed with the reality of my adoption by God as I flew through the clouds to adopt my own son.  I was acutely aware of fresh starts and how God makes all things new.  I was flying to my son.  MY SON.  My son, with all his mess.  All his imperfection.  All his beauty.  All his need. 

Need.  Don't you just cringe sometimes at the word?  Don't we just wish people would stop needing?  Don't we wish at our very core that we could just stop being so in need ourselves?  Why can't we just get ourselves together? Well, because we can't.  We can't. Oh, we want to.  We want to be able to put on a good face and present a solid front, and on our best days of pretending, we can. But don't we get tired of pretending?  Isn't our reality that we indeed are in need?  I feel it rise up within me so often... disgust that I can't just get my stuff together.  Because, let's face it - we look around and so many people seem to have their stuff together.  It makes us feel small.  Unworthy.  Guilty.  Ashamed.  

The reality is that the people who really have their stuff together are the people who have acknowledged that they don't.  

It took me a while to truly get that.  It took me an even longer while to be willing to recognize that all I really need is need. But man, that doesn't really seem to fly in our culture.  It's all about strength and self-reliance and our own power and prestige.  It's about what we can do for ourselves.  What a dis-service we are doing to each other.  Because at the end of the day, each one of us is somehow broken, hurting and so not together.  We are putting on a face of "I'm better than okay" and for what?  For what???? 

What if people were able to find a safe place to just lay all their junk out there - their hurts, their fears, their pain, their desires - and just be who they are?  What if we all lived authentically?  What if there was no more pretense?  What if we didn't give a rip about what other people thought about us? Is this even possible, people???? 

I really, really, really want it to be.  And I think it can.  But what it takes is a people who are willing to be honest about their need. Can we do that?  Can we suck it up and just put out there who we really are?  Can I tell you that I have so loved to be needed my entire life because it gives me a sense of worth, that I have come close to completely ruining my family?  Can I tell you that I don't even know how to have friends anymore because I don't trust myself to do it in a healthy way?  Can I tell you that I feel like I'm starting over in my relationship with God at the age of 38 because I have believed lies about who He is and how He looks at me for most of my life? And can I tell you that just being able to say these words liberates me and sets me free? 

We are a needy people.  And if we don't think we are, then we aren't being honest with ourselves and each other.  But I am learning... my need is a gift.  It is what draws me into a real, authentic, messy relationship with God.  It's what keeps me close to Him.  I freaking need Him every second of the day and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Because He takes our need and He meets us in those deep, dark places and He says "I am enough".  And you know what?? He really, really is.  

And I think that as our Father, He must just hope that we can humble ourselves and share our real, deep, dark with the people around us.  Because He's given us each other for a reason.  And it's not so that we can put on fake smiles and convince everyone that we live perfect lives.  It's so that we can be who we are, no matter what, and know that we are truly loved.  

Because that is what you and I are... truly loved.  No matter what. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

God Does What He Says

Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,

    and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
    give glory, you sons of Jacob;
    adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
    never looked the other way
    when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
    he has been right there, listening.

 Here in this great gathering for worship

    I have discovered this praise-life.
And I’ll do what I promised right here
    in front of the God-worshipers.
Down-and-outers sit at God’s table
    and eat their fill.
Everyone on the hunt for God
    is here, praising him.
“Live it up, from head to toe.
    Don’t ever quit!”

 From the four corners of the earth

    people are coming to their senses,
    are running back to God.
Long-lost families
    are falling on their faces before him.
God has taken charge;
    from now on he has the last word.

 All the power-mongers are before him

Along with those who never got it together

 Our children and their children

    will get in on this
As the word is passed along
    from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
    will hear the good news—
    that God does what he says.
- Psalm 22:22-31

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Better Together

There is one thing I know.  We are better together.  We really, really are.  We need each other.  We need each other's encouragement, strength, motivation and resources.  Alone, we can be like a crippled climber standing at the base of a mountain wondering how in the world we will ever make it up.  But together, we help each other.  We push each other out of our comfort zones.  We tell each other that yes, we can do this. Together.  

And together, we have done something beautiful for a community of 200 vulnerable children in Ethiopia.  

Back in December, I asked you all to join me in raising money to go towards new kitchen facilities for Hands for the Needy in Ethiopia.  And you did.  A lot of times, we don't get to see the direct impact of our resources and prayers.  But today, you do.  I share these pictures with you with an overwhelmingly grateful heart.  I am so thankful I am not alone in this.  I am so in awe that God has moved in hearts all over the U.S. to engage us in the cause of the oppressed and the vulnerable.  I am so, so amazed at what we can do together.  

Two years ago, I walked into Hands for the Needy and saw the cooks prepping food outside...

Sisters... can you imagine prepping meals in this environment?? And yet, it's what these women did tirelessly.

There was a small metal room where they kept their cooking supplies...

The cooks would spend hours (no exaggeration) hunched over on the ground chopping vegetables...

But now, because of you... they now have this...

Isn't it BEAUTIFUL?! This will be so much more efficient and sanitary for the cooks and the children.  Cooking for 210 kids will be so much easier with no more smoke inhalation from open fires.  I am beyond thrilled with what we have done together, friends!!  And it's all so that the sweet kiddos can enjoy healthy, nutritious meals every day...

When we look at global poverty issues, they are big, giant beasts that seem impossible to slay.  But one community at a time, we are making a difference.  These kids were eating out of the garbage dump just two years ago.  And look at them now.  Together, we can change the world.  We ARE changing the world.  Don't let anyone ever tell you that your help won't matter.  Because it does.  These kids are proof.  

I have an overflowing heart today and I wish I could thank each of you who donated in person.  You know who you are and I pray these photos will touch your heart and bolster your courage to continue to engage in helping these vulnerable children.  

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  From the bottom of my heart.  I know God has big plans for each of these kids and you are a part of making it happen.  How cool is that?! 

We are indeed, better together.  Always. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


"When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes.  I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.  I am trusting and suspicious.  I am honest and I still play games.  To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.  In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means.  My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it."

- Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blessing the Dust

A Blessing for Ash Wednesday...

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial -

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil
of this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge we bear. 

 - Jan Richardson

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

For the 27 Million

There are 27 million slaves in the world today, more than any other time in history. Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings, mainly for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor.  As the world's fastest growing criminal industry, it affects every nation across the globe. Every thirty seconds, someone is forced into this type of bondage - modern slavery. 

The average age of trafficking victims is 12 years old.  That is close to the age of my daughter. The thought of her being subjected to the horrors of abuse, repeated rape and starvation takes my breath away.  And that's why I sat with tears running down my face as I read the following story from Christine Caine's book, "Undaunted"...

One by one that March afternoon, the girls around me shared stories like Nadia's.  Most had been raised in impoverished, ex-communist Eastern European nations.  Each had come to Greece expecting legitimate employment.  All had brought with them dreams, hopes and aspirations to do something more with their lives than their own families had ever dreamed possible.  All of those tender, youthful dreams had been shattered beyond anyone's worst fears. 

What shook me the most was the realization that, for each of these young women I spoke to that day, there were hundreds of thousands of others still trapped in the sex slave trade with no way out - hundreds of thousands of women whose unspeakable pain remained shrouded in secrecy.  Silent.  

Then Mary from Nigeria told her story.  She and 59 other young women had come to Greece in a shipping container.  

"Wait," I interrupted.  "do you mean you were contained in a ship?" I thought I'd misunderstood, or that something had been lost in translation.  

Mary repeated: She and fifty-nine other young women were brought to Greece in a shipping container. Just like the one I had just had an estimate on from a moving company for shipping my household goods to our new home.  

When she and the fifty-nine other girls arrived at the port the day of their departure, they thought they were traveling to good-paying jobs in a land of opportunity.  Instead, they were greeted by hiring agents who said there were complications with the paperwork.  Either travel by container, the girls were told, or lose your deposits and any future opportunity to work abroad.  Either make the voyage in a shipping container or turn around and go home.  

"Our families had given everything they owned to pay for our passage," Mary said. So, one by one, bewildered and frightened, the girls entered the container.  When the last girl was inside, the door was slammed shut and they heard a lock snap into place.  They sat frozen in the darkness.  

"Then the bubble broke!  The bubble broke!" Mary exclaimed.  

"What bubble?"

The filter, she explained, that allowed oxygen to circulate in the container.  It stopped working, and the inside of the cramped box suddenly became not only lightless but airless as well. 

I gasped, imagining the oxygen being rapidly depleted, the heat building, the women gulping for air in complete darkness.  

The journey in the sealed container was gruesome.  Half the girls died from the lack of oxygen.  The other half, the stronger ones, were near death themselves.  They had nowhere to sit but in their own vomit and feces, since they were forced to relieve themselves on the container's floor.  When the men at port opened the container, Mary said, they recoiled, appalled by the smell of death, decay and excrement.  

One of the dead was Anna, Mary's best friend.  Anna had died an excruciating death, suffocating as if buried alive.  But Anna was real, Mary insisted to me that day.  Anna had existed.  And Anna must be remembered.  

The hiring agents preferred to forget.  More interested in quickly getting what they referred to as their "shipped goods" from the dockyard, they hustled the living to small apartments nearby, where, like Nadia, the girls were repeatedly raped and beaten.  

Before sunrise one morning, the girls were loaded into small rubber boats and taken across the Mediterranean Sea to a Greek island.  This was the first time they realized that the original voyage had not even taken them to Greece.  They had been brutalized in Turkey.  None of the agents' promises had been kept. 

In the boat, Mary felt a surge of hope: the Greek Coast Guard was doing a routine check that morning.  She hoped that, unlike the crew on the docks, the Coast guard could not be bribed to turn a blind eye.  Mary's captors showed signs of panic.  Though she was freezing, sleep and food deprived, broken and in shock, Mary's hope grew.  Rescue!  Justice!  Once caught, the traffickers would face a lengthy imprisonment.  And for that reason, these men would do anything to avoid being caught. 

They began throwing the girls overboard. 

Only five of the approximately thirty girls - those who had been strong enough to survive the deadly voyage in the shipping container - escaped drowning that day.  

Those five were hidden among their captors when the Coast Guard came aboard.  When they finally arrived in Athens, the girls were taken to a brothel, where the nightmare of the Turkish apartment was repeated.  Daily, Mary and the others were forced to participate in unspeakable encounters with dozens of men.  The horror continued for weeks or months - Mary couldn't tell.  But one day, anti-trafficking authorities, responding to a tip, raided the brothel.  Mary and the other girls were herded into the back of a police van.  They were given rest, food and water and peace. 

Though no longer in a physical prison, Mary remained silent, constantly tormented by recurring nightmares.  The daily horror may have ceased, but the pain screamed non-stop.  

As I read this, I literally felt ill.  I kept thinking of the scene in the movie "Amistad" where they chain all the weak and the sick slaves together and push them off the ship to drown. That happened SO long ago.  But this - this is happening NOW.  And it's happening in a world that has the power to stop it. An estimated 40,000 people are living IN SLAVERY in the United States, with an estimated 14,000-17,000 being trafficked in each year.  Both foreign nationals and U.S. Citizen victims have been identified in cities, suburbs and rural areas of ALL 50 states.  This isn't someone else's problem - it's ours.  

I love that of all the words Jesus could have read when he spoke from the temple for the first time, He read these:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners.

From the very beginning, God's heart has been for the captives and those held prisoner.  And as the hands and feet of God on the earth, our hearts had best be for them too.  This issue of human trafficking - it's big.  It's overwhelming. It's ridiculously complicated.  But, please, just do SOMETHING.  Christine Caine, who told the story above, had to look into the faces of the wide-eyed girls that had been rescued from trafficking and answer their question of "Why didn't you come sooner?"  Can you even imagine?  These young girls - just shells of who they once had been, wanting to know why their rescue didn't come sooner.  It makes my heart pound furiously.  We can't say it's because we didn't know.  We do know, as much as we wish we didn't sometimes.  What is stopping us from looking this giant beast in the face and saying "Enough.  I will not sit idly by."  Are we lazy?  Are we too busy?  Can you imagine looking into the eyes of those little girls and giving those pathetic excuses?  We ALL have a part to play, as human beings who believe in dignity and freedom.  

Below are several organizations that are involved in ending modern day slavery. Each one lists ways that you can be involved.  You can use your voice, your financial resources, your gifts, whatever platform you have to bring this issue to light.  I'd encourage you to also look into human trafficking task forces that might exist right in your home town.  You would be shocked at how normal, every day people like you and I are helping to both prevent and spot human trafficking in their own cities.  

This isn't a "cause", you guys.  This is people's lives we are talking about.  Little girls who should be playing with dolls are having their innocence ripped from them up to 40 times a day.  Boys, who should be kicking a soccer ball around are doing extreme manual labor in hot fields all day long.  Men and women, who never dreamed they'd end up in a forced labor situation deserve to go back to their families without fear.  These are the stories of 27 MILLION people.  Please don't just be moved.  Be moved enough to act.