But Really? Where IS Neverland?

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
― Heraclitus

“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.”
― Henry Ward Beecher

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Do you remember when you were a kid and all you wanted was to just be old? Maybe not like wrinkly and eighty, but older. As in I-have-my-license-drive-a-car-do-cool-things-have-a-house-have-a-hot-husband-super-cute-kids-awesome-clothes-sweet-job-and-don’t-look-a-day-over-sixteen?

Please tell me I’m not the only one who every wished this.

But really. When I was a kid I thought about that all the time. I’d sit in my log and grass-thatched tee-pee hideout in my funny 1990-something clothes and think about what it would be like to be older. Life is always amazing in your day-dreams. And you can do anything… Be anything…

Weren’t those the days.

I can still see those sunsets of my childhood. Feel the bone-chilling cold of those rainy fall days, playing outside until it was dark and the moon began to rise. Remember what the sand felt like between my toes and in less than pleasant places that those little kid bathing suits just loved to capture so much sand in. I remember my imagination, my adventures, how I half lived outside. The pain of getting my finger caught between logs I was stacking as I built a forest hideout. Of carrying buckets of water to try to make a pretend well. Of hoarding miscellaneous pieces of wood to act as butter and bread in that outdoor pretend store…oh,those were the days.

In some ways I miss them. But in most ways I don’t.

And here I am now. Twenty-eight years old.

I was married when I was twenty. I had a sweet babe before I was twenty-five. Finally graduated (the first part of) college at the age of twenty-six. I’m now twenty-eight and I still don’t drive the car of my dreams. I’ve been married for seven and a half years and it just keeps getting better. Now there are two kids to spend my time with.

And I still think about what it will be like to be old.

I look at this picture and already notice all of the lines our faces didn’t have.

I’ll be thirty in two years. If I live to be ninety, one-third of my life will have passed by.

I used to be scared to get old. To grow up, live, and someday die.

But life doesn’t frighten me anymore.

As hard as it is to grow older, the easier it gets all the same.

What I didn’t know then, sitting in that hideout, holding on to my pocket-knife whittled stick sword and blue and gold painted shield, pretending to be a knight, or an elf, or some other amazing, immortal, half-mythical heroin was that… I would grow up to be all of those things and so much more (well, I still don’t have pointy ears so I guess I didn’t achieve elf status).

I am amazing.

I will live forever (but not on this earth).

And my life has a purpose.

I never thought I’d marry such a hottie (and what a story that was). I never thought I’d graduate college (never mind be working on my Master’s degree). I  never thought that I would be anything more than a stay-at-home-mom (but my work is my calling). I never knew how much I could love (until I had my children). I never knew my purpose (until faith opened my eyes and love became my anthem).

Yes, almost-thirty years has been full of life and learning, of finding and becoming.

And so, if one-third of my life is over, I have no regrets. And if two-thirds of my life remains, I will live with confidence.

Of course because it’s me so I’ll have to bring up Tolkien. Who of course completely nailed it when he wrote about going out of your door. There really is no telling where you might be swept off too (I certainly never expected to end up where I am at today). But wherever it is, and no matter how dangerous the getting there was, it’s going to be amazing. Because the going out of your door is the most difficult part of the journey…the part where you surrender it all and decide to follow The-Giver-of-Life and pursue the purpose that was created for you, and only you.

So thirty more years will likely bring several more lines.

But it will also bring so much more life.

And if in living I share the Love and purpose that I have found with whomever I can…well..

Well, that’s what it’s all about.

…We Do Not Lose Heart

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

– Edmund Burke

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
― Abraham Lincoln

A while ago I had the harrowing experience of attempting to debate justice and mercy. I hate debates. My blood rushes to my head, and I get sort of dizzy and I have a very difficult time collecting my thoughts and expressing my argument. This is made even worse by the fact that I take a very, very, very long time forming my opinions and thoughts on matters of life and this world; they sort of become a part of who I am. They form me and define me, and I feel so attacked and condemned when I don’t see eye to eye with someone. Then I get really angry and I just want to bash the offenders head against something and hope that I knock my view point into them.

But I am realistic. And I know that not everyone will feel the way I do. Though I wish they did sometimes.

I haven’t been able to get the conversation out of my head. It has bothered me so much so as to keep me up at night. I fear that we forget that we are all people. All imperfect people who are just trying to find our way in this world. And sometimes our faith causes us to feel better-than-you, and we use it as a reason for passing judgment.

And yet judgment has already been passed. And we too were found guilty.

I understand the need for justice. I’m a soon-to-be psychologist and I’ve read the research that tells us swift consequences are most effective, for children and adults alike.

But in issuing justice and the consequences thereof I just hope that we see people. That we really see them. That we really try to understand.

Maybe it’s just psychologist heart…the one that breaks when you learn that not everyone can fit into the mold that society has created. The one that aches for people when you see the evidence of how stressors in early childhood, experiences throughout the lifespan, and how poor choices from the important people in their life causes them to be different. And some of it, though so many Christians would like to deny it, some of it is biological too. It’s who they were made to be. Genetically inherited traits that put them at risk for so many of the things that fall outside of societies perfect box. Because when you were abused as a child, when your mother was never around, when your father did drugs, or you have a family history of mental illness (don’t try to tell me it’s just a lack of faith) your brain develops differently. DIFFERENTLY. They are not the same. And though it does not excuse their behavior, I wish that it would help people understand.

You are lucky.

That curfew your parents had for you…that’s nothing.

Remind them tobe subject to rulers and authorities. To obey. To be ready for every good work, to speak evil to no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward men appeared. not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:1-6

So is the justice we issue and the judgement we pass too harsh? I’m not here to debate that. I’m here to encourage you to use your authority and position which allows your to issue justice and pass judgement to see people. While you do what you feel is necessary, please, take a second and just consider who the person is and why they are the person that they are. Maybe they deserve a second chance. Maybe they deserve some extra support. Maybe they don’t. But they at least deserve to be seen, to be loved, and for goodness sake they deserve our prayers. We can’t just issue justice and pass them by.

We could have been them. In a different world. In a parallel dimension. In a new version of reality. Wherever and whenever, it could have been us.

I really don’t have all the answers about justice and mercy. I wish I did. But perhaps God does not intend for us to  know all things.

I do know though that God wants us to be like Him. And we were once foolish and disobedient, and yet God extended His mercy to us. So shouldn’t we extend mercy to others? To that parent of your student that blew off their parent teacher conference? To that kid in your class that got caught for using heroine. To that addict who backed into your car in the parking lot. And even to the drunk driver who hits and kills your loved one.

Idon’t think that extending love and mercy in any of these situations is easy. But I do think that God does call us to extend it. After all…who are we? Sinners just the same. In need of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness too. Only we know it, and they don’t. How much more so do our actions speak than our words?

But even I with all my heart is not so great at practicing what I preach. Though I feel I do a fairly good job at work extending mercy and trying to love, I know there is more that I can do.

Lately I have come to appreciate the people in this world that I see loving as He does and extending mercy and a second chance like God gave to us.

It’s really quite beautiful. And if you know what I know about people, the way experience causes them to develop, and you see the reasons for who they are…it can almost bring tears to  your eyes. It’s inspirational. And I wish I had the confidence to just take a chance with people.

My father-in-law does a pretty good job with this, I think. It might be the family joke that he hires anyone who is a felon, addict, thief or generally non-typical member of society;I personally think that it is awesome. I think that it is love and mercy in action. And it is God working through him.

I think that he sees people. And their potential to know the love of the father. He gives them a chance. And sometimes it doesn’t work out for him. But I guess you never know the seeds you have planted. And then sometimes it does. My father in law once hired a mechanic to work for him, and there was a whole history of those bad things that don’t fit into societies box. But hired he was nonetheless. I remember this mechanic, I don’t recall ever seeing him smile. But my father in law gave this guy a second chance, and the short version of the story is that the mechanic now knows the love of Christ. He knows the mercy and forgiveness. He has a hope and a future. We saw him when we went for ice cream with my in-laws a few weeks ago. It was the first time I ever remember seeing the guy smile. He told me that by the love and grace of God he was still able to keep his long hair.

Wow. Just wow.

I wish I could be half as awesome.

When we were camping my father in law told me about picking up a hitchhiker who disclosed to him he had just been at some sort of drug festival. Really, the man is just a magnet for these non-conformers. He gave the guy a ride and shared the gospel message with him.

I wish I was half as bold.

But really, it is inspiring and encouraging to see that there are Christians in this world who see people. Who see beneath the exterior of the-world-can’t-touch-me to the hurting soul in need of a Savior. And I just wish that more people would allow themselves to be half as used as my father in law allows himself to be.

Because people are worth it.

Ellie and Kreade, I’m so glad that you get to have a real life example of what it means and looks like to extend mercy and love to those who we might think deserve it least. Remember that not everyone is the same, we are all unique and have unique experiences that form us. Sometimes, people just need a bit more prayer and support. I pray that you will be as bold as your Pa, as as full of love and second chances. Don’t lose heart my children. Allow Him to work through you, and you will see miracles. Because you were worth His son giving His life on the cross. We all were. Let your ministry be seeing people, as He has seen us.

Therefore since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 Corinthians 4:1

Remembering Reality

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot

In the recent past, our Pastor has been including stories of the past and present persecuted church. If I’m being honest, I really have not enjoyed these parts of the sermon. I don’t know about your imagination, but when I hear these stories I pretty much insert myself as the “main character” and everyone important in my life into the “supporting roles.” This is all well-and-good when the tale has some sort of fairy-tale ending. But when the content includes the persecution of Christians, my stomach isn’t on quite-so-friendly terms with the story. And as a mother, when the stories include children it’s really almost too much…

But sometimes reality is too much. Nonetheless, it remains the same.

And I haven’t been able to get them out of my head.

I don’t generally watch the news. Well, I really NEVER watch the news. It’s much too depressing and negative for my taste. But now-a-days the news is not just on TV where it is easily turned off. It’s much harder to avoid the news stories that your friends share all over Facebook. And seriously, they have been all over Facebook. The horror is everywhere. The heartbreak is slammed into your face. The truth does not allow you to run and hide.

But we try. And it is so easy to lose ourselves in our comfortable little worlds.

A reality that is so very different than the ones that so many other Christians find themselves in. I sit in my house, warm and cozy while someone out there (Christian or not) sees their breath in the frigid air of whatever place they call home. I drive my car wherever I need and want to go while someone out there (Christian or not) is forced to walk to where they NEED to go, and maybe without any shoes. I have access to immense varieties of food while other have little or none. I am able to nurse my baby while other mothers are so starved themselves that they are unable to produce what their infant needs. I complain about having so much laundry while others wash their one and only garment in a dirty river somewhere so far away. I can sit in my children’s playroom (and actually have a playroom) surrounded by toys and play with my children while mothers across the world fear that they will be unable to protect their children’s lives. The comparisons are unending.

And here we sit, debating whether vaccines are blessings or curses. Arguing whether organic or non-organic is better. Judging the new people at church because of their “past”. Engrossed in who is dating who in the celebrity world. Obsessed by the stats of our favorite sports team. Surrounded by the latest technology, a world of TV shows, running water, toilets that flush. Comfort after comfort after comfort. Privilege followed by privilege followed by privilege. Yet we debate and demean each other over issues that- when you really think about- it seem so trivial. The state of the public school system…medical care and practices…government and politicians…whether or not Taylor Swift is all she cracks herself up to be…the latest and greatest toys…we wear all the best clothes and are obsessed with providing the “best” for our children.

We have houses and cars – independence found in our own piece of the world. We have safety – laws that protect and a large body of people that work to enforce those laws. Yet we complain about getting pulled over. We have convenience – grocery stores, gas stations, shopping malls. Yet we are frustrated when the line is long, or the organic variety is limited, or they don’t have your size. We are surrounded by so much. So much of everything that so many do not have.

And we keep on trying to run and hide from the truth. From reality.

The reality that all of the issues that you spend time and energy contemplating and pursuing, all of the things you take for granted or don’t remember to appreciate make you feel like nothing compared to the world.

The world that is full of suffering. Persecution. Christians…women, men, children…being killed, tortured, raped…Christians who do not have permanent homes. Christians who do not have cars. Christians that do not have access to “good” food. Christians that don’t have even a bit of what we have. They’re dying. Dying for goodness sakes…while I sit here sipping my coffee and writing this very sentence. Infants ripped from their mothers…husbands torn from their wives. Children…babies…

And I can’t even handle this thought.

Why?

Why them? Why not me?

And what if I were in their shoes? What if?

I can still see the video that our Pastor showed at church a while ago. A woman in some Middle Eastern country telling her story…her prayer. Through her prayers she felt God asking her to give up herself, and then her husband, and finally her children. To come to terms with the reality that it may be His will that their lives be taken. And through her prayer and discussion with those family members she did this…she answered God back with a yes. Even when offered the chance to be brought to safety, her family chose to stay.

I can’t imagine trying to explain to my child that God’s purpose for our lives might be that they be taken. Or choosing to stay when I had a way out.

But maybe you can’t really know what you would do unless you had lived through the experience yourself. There are some decisions and choices that can only be made after experience has brought you to that point.

And we are so fortunate that we aren’t being brought to that point.

But some people are. And it really is just so hard to understand why. Yet faith directs our questions to Him Who Knows All Things. And though we tend to complicate life and the answers we demand from God, sometimes the answer is really quite simple.

“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them- those who are mistreated- since you yourselves are in the body also.” Hebrews 13:3

For reasons only He can understand, some are purposed for persecution while others are purposed to pray.

And while the voices of the testimonies of these suffering Christians, and the challenge that their faith offers to me, and the horrors that I can’t get out of my mind fill my thoughts I can’t help but think of words penned by J.R.R. Tolkien (please don’t tease me, I promise it really does apply).

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. 

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us.” 

So as I hold my children tight, and enjoy the multitude of privileges around me I have decided that my time is meant to remember. To remember those who are mistreated. And to pray.

All At Once

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

― Corrie ten Boom

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Children of Húrin

It seems that so often in life it all comes at once. You think you have it all figured out and everything is going to go smoothly…and in the blink of an eye your well laid plans are lying in a thousand pieces before you. There can be so much fear in life. So much fear in uncertainty, in decisions, in each and every moment of the day. I admit that sometimes, no, most times I am swallowed up by this fear, this lack of trust in Him who knows it all, sees it all, and cares for all. It’s easy to say that we trust God; but do we really? We can say it, but how to we live it? I think that half the battle lies in acknowledging the fear, in admitting to ourselves that we doubt. And then it all comes down to how we live in the midst of our fear and doubt. I say the best thing to do is to face the fear head on, do the thing that scares you, make the uncertain choice, and all the while know the peace in your heart that He holds your life in His hand; trust your unknown future to a known God.

Since fear is such a huge and recurring theme in my life I can venture a guess that it will be something that Ellie will pick up on as she learns and grows. It is not, however, something that I want her to learn. I do not want her to learn to fear…and children learn so much by what they see. So now it’s up to me. If only for her I cannot allow fear to reign and take hold in my life. Instead of inspiring her to fear every day and life as a whole I want to inspire her to stand in the face of fear and life and hold fast to the knowledge that God holds her future in His hands. I also don’t want her to have unrealistic expectations. Fear does exist, fear is acceptable to feel, but it is not something that we should allow to control us. Instead of hiding my fear from Ellie, I aim to acknowledge it. But not just that, I aim to live my life in a way that faces fear and ultimately overcomes.

Aristotle said, “He who has overcome his fears will truly be free”. This is truth about life that I want Ellie to know. And will I continue to struggle with uncertainty, overwhelming circumstances, and fear? Of course! It’s not a one-time battle. One fear dismissed can open the door for another fear to manifest itself in a person’s life. But it is the struggle that builds character and confidence, and it is this struggle that Ellie will see; I can only pray that she will learn from me not to fear, but to overcome. And with God’s grace and peace she can; and I can too.

Adventures With Ellie

img_4375-edited.jpg I love this face. This picture captures the  joy and zeal for life that children have. To see the world through their eyes is such an adventure. I have always been inspired by adventure, although not the sort that I now know. Tales of heroism and great journeys across mythical lands was the stuff that I always dreamed of. And as much as I may wish it to be true, that simply is not LIFE. This is my life: working full-time as a preschool teacher, taking college courses online toward my psychology major, caring for my one year old sweet pea, being married to my prince charming, weeding gardens, moping floors, and probably the greatest adventure of all…grocery shopping! You never know what will happen at the zoo they call the grocery store! And is this any less of an adventure than the characters that grace Tolkien’s Middle Earth? Before I might have thought so, but now I know. The adventure is all around you. If you look, as my Ellie looks, you will see it. Life is an adventure.

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’
I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien