Colin Kaepernick Is Yesterday’s News

If you are one of the 2.5 billion people logging on to social media every day, you have heard about the current debate over Colin Kaepernick and Nike. As you scroll your newsfeed, Colin’s face appears again and again. Everyone has an opinion. Good. Bad. Hero. Villain. Maybe you are burning your Nikes or maybe you are rushing out to buy new ones.

The truth is, this is an old debate. Racial tension is as much a part of the fabric of our country as the American Flag.

The face changes, but the issue remains. Today it is Colin Kaepernick, yesterday it was Jesse Owens.

I am not here to convince you I am right. I am not here to prove you are wrong. Everyone else is already busy doing that.

I am here to ask you to listen.

Let me tell you a story.

When I sent the manuscript for OKAYEST MOM to my publisher, I thought I had turned in a complete book. Then my editor, Adrienne Ingrum, asked for 10,000 more words. She wanted me to write an entirely new chapter dedicated to the topic of race. She said, “You touch on racial issues, but you kind of dance around the edges. I want you to dig a little deeper.”

ADRIENNE INGRUM, Senior Editor at Hachette Book Group

I was nervous. I am a white woman raising black children. I am still in the process of learning and unlearning many things about race. Adrienne is African-American. What was she going to think about my opinions? Would I be able to do justice to this complex issue? Would I offend her with my ignorance or my feigned enlightenment? I wrote Chapter 17, titled the chapter COLORED, and sent it to Adrienne with trembling fingers.

After reading my entire manuscript, the actual entire manuscript, Adrienne wrote a letter. Here is an excerpt:

International, cross-racial adoption is controversial. As early as 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers issued a position statement on transracial adoption declaring the organization “has taken a vehement stand against the placement of black children in white homes for any reason.” During my two visits to Ethiopia, I saw many white families at hotels and the Addis Ababa airport cuddling beautiful, big-eyed brown babies. I noticed they received both approving stares and disapproving glares. In conversations with Ethiopians about the topic, I heard ambiguity. All of this controversy swirled in my mind as I began to read Natalie Gwyn’s story.

[Gwyn’s] account offered a perspective that had never dawned on me, even though I’m a rabid Jesus follower. She was not a privileged-perfect white woman who had plenty of household help and a savior complex for starving children. Reading Natalie’s story lifted the adoption controversy above the politics and black culture rhetoric (which usually tends to be my view). OKAYEST MOM placed international, cross-racial adoption in the realm of God, of callings. After reading OKAYEST MOM, I viewed motherhood by adoption as a spiritual thing.

I cried when I read Adrienne’s letter. I had shared my thoughts/opinions/heart with her, she responded by sharing her thoughts/opinions/heart with me, and we both listened as the other talked. We have since discussed Trump, the closing of Ethiopia’s borders to adoption, and the use of the word “Colored.”

Discussed. We both talked. We both listened. Back and forth. A conversation.

Sharing our stories, listening to each other, building relationship; these are the things that will move our country towards unity.

Racial unrest. Rioting. Gay marriage. Gun control. Abortion. Trump. Starbucks. Nike. The NFL. Vaccinations. There is no end to the number of issues trying to divide us. These are all important topics and we need to have conversations about them, but yelling at each other isn’t going to get us anywhere.

I urge you to approach each other with compassion. Lace your words with kindness. Maybe you are right. And then again, maybe you are wrong. Of course I would like to think my opinion is the truth, but what if it isn’t?

As a Jesus-follower, my words can either point people towards my Savior or turn them away. I would hate to lose the opportunity to talk to someone about something as important as ETERNITY because I was too busy being angry about (insert current hot-button issue).

So…let us talk. And let us listen. But most importantly, let us love.

The world doesn’t need another social media post full of hate for the other side.

The world needs more respect for differing viewpoints.

The world needs more listeners.

The world needs more relationships that look like this.

If I want the world to be less hateful, I need to be more loving.

Blessings!

 

 

 

Order Natalie Gwyn’s new book OKAYEST MOM here.

 

DO YOU PEE WHEN YOU LAUGH? Okayest Moms Unite!

I hate dress-up days! Spirit week, wacky hair day, school colors…they all drive me crazy. My goodness, do we have to celebrate every minor holiday with a costume? For Dr. Seuss Week my son was supposed to wear the following:

MONDAY: crazy socks

TUESDAY: wear green

WEDNESDAY: mixed up day

THURSDAY: pajama day

FRIDAY: school spirit

You guys, I can barely get my kids out the door with their hair combed and two shoes on their feet. Why you dogging me like this?

For Spirit Week we had five days in a row of costumes! The school lovingly chose a different theme for elementary, middle and high school. Six children, five days, fifteen different themes, thirty different costumes.

I freaking love Spirit Week.

My third grader recently took part in a little school play. He played a pig in Charlotte’s Web. Not THE pig, Wilbur. No, just an ordinary, no-name pig. One of Wilbur’s friends.

The night before his play, I found a pink marker and colored this costume for him.

Look at his crazy eyes. He is simply overwhelmed by the magnificence of his costume.

I drove him to school in his pig costume and then hustled in to find a seat for the show. Through the door walks one of his cast-mates. A fellow barnyard animal. This is the costume her mom somehow managed to throw together.

Why you tryna make me look bad, Goose Mom? Maybe you should dial it back a little.

Surprisingly, when it was time for the Spring Musical, I was not asked to join the costume committee. Goose Mom, however, not only joined the committee, she made all of the hats from scratch.

Do you SEE those hats? They are works of art. I mean, if you are into that kind of thing. Of course, Goose Mom has crazy eyes, too. I’m sure it’s from too much glue-gun action.

My kids asked me to take them to the amusement park. It was cold and I was tired, but I said yes. When we got there, I offered to hold everyone’s belongings while they rode the roller coasters. This is me having fun with my children.

Good times, good times.

I wore this shirt when I picked up my kids from school.

Did I mention my children attend a private Christian school? One of my children almost died from embarrassment. “Mom, that is like you are wearing a shirt that says ‘I SIN!’

Oh, honey. Don’t we all?

Because I don’t waste my energy on silly things like costumes and roller coasters, I have somehow managed to find the time to write a book.

This book is about learning to be okay with being okay. It is the story of God’s grace shining through my own broken places. It is all of our stories, your story and mine, our very lives proof that God uses ordinary moms to do extraordinary things every single day.

If you struggle to use your inside voice when yelling talking to your children, this book might be for you.

If your children occasionally forget to wear underwear, this book might be for you.

If the dog licks up the spilled milk and you call it “cleaning the kitchen floor,” this book might be for you.

If you pee when you laugh (or run, sneeze, jump, or tie your shoes), this book might be for you.

If you have ever driven away and left a child behind, this book might be for you.

If you count yourself to be one of the world’s okayest moms, this book is definitely for you.

Please join me in proudly claiming your okayishness! Order OKAYEST MOM by clicking one of these images:

Blessings,

Your Scars Are Beautiful

The woman on my right was painted with tattoos. A ring pierced her nose, her bottom lip, and her brow. Her dark hair swung forward over her eyes.

Even for all of this, the first thing I noticed was her arms.

Raised lines ran across her like prison bars. They started at her shoulder and continued to her fingertips. It was obvious that several of the scars were thicker than the others. These must have been the places she cut deeper, pressing in not to numb the pain but to end it.

The tank top she wore left little to the imagination. She was exposing herself for all the world to see. No, not her cleavage. Her pain.

As the waiter refilled our coffee cups, the young woman began talking. She spoke of a childhood of abuse. A lifetime of trauma. A protector who didn’t do his job but instead preyed upon the innocent. She spoke of her addictions: to substances, to denial, to the feeling that would wash over her when she held a razor blade in her hands.

She spoke freely, hiding nothing, holding her hands out before her with the gift of her scars and her story.

As she spoke, the woman across from us listened intently. She nodded her graying head slowly, her kind eyes accentuated by laugh-lines. If ever there were two such different women having lunch together, I have not heard of it.

Suddenly, the grandmother reached her hand across the table and placed it lovingly on the arm of the young lady next to me. She began to gently rub her fingers back and forth, tracing the scars.

“Honey,” she said, “The fact that you are not wearing long sleeves to cover these up tells me so much about you. You are not trying to hide your scars from the world. These scars are so beautiful. They are beautiful because they are a part of you. They are a part of your story. Thank you for sharing them with us.”

She called her scars beautiful. And they were.

It felt holy, that moment at the lunch table. It was a table surrounded by women from vastly different backgrounds, each of us with different struggles and different stories. But in that moment we were all the same. We all carried scars that had been declared beautiful.

What courage it took for that young woman to bare her pain for everyone to see.

What courage it took for that grandmother to reach into the pain and call it beautiful.

What courage it takes for each one of us to share our scars with each other.

I love this quote from Iyanla Vanzant. The heart of what she is saying is true. Your story is a healing agent for you and for others. However, I would add one caveat.

The healing power is not contained within your story. The healing power belongs to God and He allows it to flow through your story.

When God first asked me to write my story, I said no.

Of course, when God first asked me to adopt, I said no then too.

I have a history of stubbornness. Thankfully, God has a history of patience and He leads me gently.

When my husband mentioned the idea of writing a book, my gut reaction was fear. I prayed about it for an entire year before I sat down with my laptop and started working.

Through the writing of my story, my heart experienced great healing. I was able to hold up all the shattered pieces of my life and examine them under the light of God’s love. I was able to see the miraculous ways He used my broken places as an avenue for His glory.

As Liz Curtis Higgs said to that lunch table full of writers, speakers, and doubters (I was sitting firmly in the last category), “Honey, if God has taught you a lesson, you need to share it with others. It is not yours to keep. It is yours to give away.”

I encourage you, friends: give your story away. It doesn’t need to be told to the whole world (although this might be the audience you choose), but it does need to be told. Your story is a gift of great value.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is my story. It contains all of my messed-up, run-down, worn-out places. It talks of brokenness and redemption, trauma and triumph, joy in the midst of pain. It speaks of laughter and healing and how God uses misfits in the most unlikely of ways. You might just recognize yourself in these words.

I have poured years and tears into these pages and I have mixed feelings as OKAYEST MOM makes its way out into the world. I am excited to finally place it into your hands. I am nervous about how the tender parts will be received.

But I am resting in this: God first asked me to live this story, then He asked me to tell it. I have done my best to do both.

If you would like to join me, OKAYEST MOM is available for pre-order. Simply click one of these links and my story will show up in your mailbox on June 26, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, friends. You make me brave.

Blessings,

 

The Adoption Exclusion: This Is Why I Don’t Adopt

“I would adopt, but my job is really demanding.” she said. “I can’t take care of any more kids. I can barely handle the ones I already got!”

I nodded my head. “Yes, kids sure do take a lot of time.” I said with a smile. “I am really busy. But I am also really happy.”

I turned my eyes back to the basketball court where my children were playing. They chased each other around the blacktop, taking wild shots and laughing when they missed the basket completely.

I was sitting on the sidelines, enjoying the warmth of the sun and a few minutes of relaxation between homework and dinner. My kids had been begging for weeks to go to the park. I finally gave in and agreed to “Thirty minutes. No longer!”

Another mom sat beside me and we struck up a conversation. When she learned that the entire team on the blacktop belonged to me, I got the usual response. “Six kids! You sure do have your hands full.”

I laughed and we talked about the busyness of raising children. Then she hit me with her Adoption Exclusion. “I would adopt, but…..”

I have heard many versions of the Adoption Exclusion over the past five years.

“I would adopt, but we don’t have enough money.”

“I would adopt, but my husband isn’t onboard with the idea.”

“I would adopt, but I am too busy.”

I have heard Adoption Exclusions from friends, strangers, the bank teller, even my auto mechanic. People see my large, transracial family and often feel the need to explain why their family does not look the same. They want me to know they are proud supporters of the adoption movement, while at the same time explaining why they can’t participate themselves.

No matter the details of the individual story, every person who has an Adoption Exclusion falls into one of three categories.

CATEGORY ONE: YOU ARE NOT CALLED TO ADOPT

There are many reasons you should not adopt. As I explained in one of my most popular posts, we are each playing different notes in a grand symphony composed by God. We need to learn how to interpret our own musical score. Why would we play the part written for another? If we all played the same note, the world would never hear the beautiful music God’s people are capable of producing.  If you play your notes and I play mine, together we can create a masterpiece.

God has given us each different gifts. Maybe you are called to be a pastor, or a lawyer, or a garbage man. Maybe He wants you to serve in the soup kitchen or on the worship team or in your very own neighborhood. Wherever you are called, go there. Whatever gifts you have been given, use them to the best of your ability. Stay in your lane and don’t apologize for it.

CATEGORY TWO: YOU ARE CALLED TO ADOPT BUT NOT AT THIS TIME

I recently attended a formal dinner event and was seated next to the CEO of a large company. He travels often to multiple job sites. He sits on several boards. He is raising three children who are all busy with sports and extra-curricular activities. We were chatting about our lives and he asked what I do. I told him I am a mother, a fitness instructor, and an author. I was excited to share that my first book will be published soon. He looked at me and said, “I have always wanted to write a book. I know exactly what it will be about. In fact, I have already written the first three chapters. But every time I sit down to work on it, I have to stop and take care of one of my other responsibilities. I don’t know that I will ever finish writing it.”

I said, “Don’t give up your dream so easily. It sounds like this might not be the right season for you to write a book. The good news is that seasons change. Another season is always just over the horizon.”

Are you one of the many people who knows you are called to adopt, but this is not your season? Maybe you are saving money to fund your adoption. Maybe your biological children have health issues and currently require all of your attention. Maybe you need to finish your schooling or launching your business or spearheading a new ministry.

Maybe your spouse does not hear the same calling on your lives. This is VERY important. God is not going to call only one of you. You are a team. Before you start down the rocky road of adoption, you must be in 100% agreement with your spouse. If one of you is being pulled along reluctantly, there will be room for blame when the going gets tough. And it is going to get tough. Guaranteed.

Maybe — and this is the most important reason of all — maybe your children are not available for adoption at this moment. Wait upon the Lord. He will let you know when the time is right. He will choose the perfect season, the season when you and your children are ready for each other.

CATEGORY THREE: YOU ARE CALLED TO ADOPT BUT YOU ARE TRYING TO IGNORE THAT CALL

The most popular Adoption Exclusion is: I would adopt, but I don’t have enough money.

Either you are called to adopt or you are not. Don’t use money as an excuse to run away from your calling. Don’t say “someday” if you are hoping someday never comes.

If God is asking you to adopt, He will provide a way. He will never ask you to do something without giving you the resources to do it.

After we decided to follow God on this adoption journey, we opened our spreadsheet and pulled out a calculator and tried to figure out how we were going to pay for the adventure. We knew adopting a sibling set of four older children from another country would cost somewhere around $30,000. On crunching the numbers, we quickly realized we weren’t going to be able to afford it. For some reason, we didn’t have an extra $30,000 laying around.

But we were already committed. We had signed the paperwork and started the home studies.

We said yes to God and then God provided.

We obeyed. He provided. A very specific order of events. Because sometimes faith is the victory.

 

God provided through an unsolicited love offering from our church. He provided through our friends and family. He provided not only the $30,000 we owed to our adoption agency, but also enough money for us to live in Ethiopia for several months while we fought for our oldest daughter.

God isn’t stingy. He’s not carefully measuring out a little bit of blessing for this person and just enough to get by for that one. He’s not short on resources. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He gives gifts that “are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light” (James 1:17).

If you are trying to ignore the call of adoption on your life, if you use the word “someday” to mean “when my finances (life, schedule, heart, etc.) are ready,” let me tell you something.

You will never be ready.

On your own, you will never be ready for the refining fire of adoption to consume your life. But God is ready enough for the both of you.

 

So get on with it! Answer the call. God is waiting to take this journey with you.

Blessings!

Jesus Wouldn’t Say No

“But Jesus wouldn’t say no,” my daughter said from the kitchen table.

My head whipped around so fast I almost spit out my coffee.

“Jesus would ABSOLUTELY say no.” I said with vehemence. “Everyone has the right to say no.”

“But I don’t want to be mean.”

“I understand that, honey. You don’t have to be mean, but saying no isn’t mean. You should NEVER feel pressured to go anywhere you don’t want to go.”

“Okay, fine. I will tell them I don’t want to go. What should I say? What is the Christian way to say no?”

“THE CHRISTIAN WAY?!?! Like this: ‘No, thank you. I can’t go with you to ____________________ .’ You can be a Christian, be kind to others, and still be in charge of your body.”

My words resonated between us. Partly because I was speaking so passionately that my voice seemed to echo off the walls, and partly because of the importance of what we were discussing. Did she hear me? Did she really hear me? I was desperate for her to hear this message.

“Honey, do you understand what I am saying?” I asked in a calmer voice. “This is important. Girls can be kind, and love Jesus, and treat others the way He would want us to treat them, AND STILL SAY NO. We can say no to going somewhere we don’t want to go, we can say no to talking about something we don’t want to talk about, we can say no to anyone invading our personal space. You are in charge.”

I turned and looked at my other two daughters who were quietly doing their homework. “Do you girls hear me?” I asked.

They nodded and looked at me with big eyes.

“This is what we were talking about the other day,” I said as I sat down next to my daughters. “When you told me about that person who liked to give you hugs? You said it made you uncomfortable but you didn’t want to hurt their feelings? Same thing. You tell them, ‘Please stop hugging me. It makes me uncomfortable.’ If their feelings get hurt, that’s okay. We don’t need to protect their feelings as much as we need to protect your body.”

“Okay, Mom. We understand.” my daughter said in her exasperated-teenager-voice.

I am not sure she does understand. I am not sure any of them do. That is why we must have this conversation over and over again. My daughters are innocent and they are growing up in a world that wants to exploit this innocence. It is my job to prepare them to fight for themselves. I don’t want them to strive to be good girls. I want them to be God girls.

• Victorious (1 Cor. 15:57)

Blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3)

More than a conquerer (Romans 8:37)

• Fellow citizens with the saints (Eph. 2:19)

Daughters, you are not less than anyone, no matter what the world tries to tell you.

“Have I ever told you about the time I was on a school field trip in 8th grade?” I asked as I looked around the table. “Our entire class had gone to San Francisco for the day. We were driving home in a chartered bus, one of those big ones with the oversized chairs. It was late at night. A lot of people were asleep. The driver had turned the lights out so it was dark. I tried to make myself comfortable by leaning against the window. I was dozing off and on. Maybe I was asleep or maybe I was in that dreamy in-between state, but all of a sudden I felt someone’s hand on my leg.”

“I kind of froze. I didn’t move. I wasn’t really sure what was happening. Then the hand started rubbing. I realized it was the boy who was sitting next to me. He wasn’t my boyfriend. We weren’t even really friends. In fact, he was kind of a trouble-maker and I didn’t like to hang out with him. Anyway, he put his hand on my leg, way down here by my knee. Then he started rubbing. I kept leaning against the window, pretending to be asleep, and hoping he would move his hand. He kept rubbing. Then his hand started to move higher on my leg, just a little bit at a time. I kept my eyes closed and started praying he would go away. His hand kept moving higher and higher. I felt all panicky inside. You know that fluttery feeling in your stomach? My heart was beating really fast. I felt like I might cry. His hand kept creeping higher and higher on my leg. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I didn’t want to make him mad. So I just sat there. Finally, his hand got all the way up to here. The edge of his finger was touching my private areas. I was silent on the outside but on the inside my thoughts were screaming. Say something. No, don’t. Just lay here and be quiet. Sit up and move his hand. No, just let him touch you. Stop him!”

“Girls, I was too worried about being nice. I was too worried about being a good girl. I was too worried about everything else and not worried enough about protecting my body. But, I finally did it. I opened my eyes and I sat up and I whispered, ‘Move your hand. One of the teachers might see us and we will get in trouble.’ Even though I had finally found the courage to stop him, I still wasn’t able to take ownership of it. I tried to blame the teachers. And do you know what? That was okay! It worked! He stopped! The rest of the bus ride home he completely ignored me.”

“Mooooooooom! That’s awkward.” my girls moaned as they gathered up their school supplies. “Why do you always tell us embarrassing stories like that?”

Why do I tell you embarrassing stories like that? To equip you. To give you the weapons you will need to fight for your body. This world is a battle ground. Women are often treated like spoils of war. We are not a prize to be won. We are not a conquest. We are warriors and we must act like it.

Why do I tell you embarrassing stories like that? Because, sadly, I have far too many stories like this to share. I hope you will never have the same kinds of stories to share with your daughters. These are my #metoo stories and maybe they can protect you from having your own hashtag baggage weighing you down.

Why do I tell you embarrassing stories like that? So you can learn from my past. So you can prepare for your future. I want you to understand that you can say no as many times as you need to. Say no. Say no. Say no.

Why do I tell you embarrassing stories like that? So you understand that Jesus was not only a Lamb, He was also a Lion. You are a Daughter of the King and you are a Conquerer through Christ. You are a princess and you are a priest. You have been given strength instead of weakness (2 Cor. 12:10). Use your strength, girls. Be strong and courageous.

Why do I tell you embarrassing stories like that? Because I love you.

Blessings!

 

Gratitude: How To Salvage A Thanksgiving Day Disaster

My house smelled like rotten eggs. Spoiled milk. Dirty socks. I emptied the trash, disinfected the countertops, and lit a pumpkin-scented candle, but I could not get rid of the stench. I sniffed and I scrubbed and I desperately searched for the origin. I was hosting Thanksgiving dinner in less than two hours and I did not want to serve it in a house that smelled like dog poop.

I was determined to impress my guests. The table was set. The salads and sweet potatoes were prepped and ready. The children had been scrubbed and pressed and laid out to dry. The turkey was almost done. Every detail was attended to.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I scoured the internet for the perfect turkey recipe. Discarding one after another, I finally found the recipe I was looking for. I could already envision my new holiday tradition: a slow-roasted turkey.

The website promised a “moist, delicious, holiday turkey. The perfect centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table.” The photos looked impressive, golden brown skin lightly sprinkled with herbs and spices, smiling guests gathered around expectantly.

I bought the biggest turkey I could find. I was feeding my entire family: a multitude of children, one husband, two in-laws, seventeen assorted cousins, and a few random nuts who are somehow related to me.

Step One: Clean and stuff turkey.

Step Two: Rub outside of turkey with a mixture of butter, spices, and herbs.

Step Three: Place turkey inside 500 degree oven. Cook for one hour.

Step Four: Turn oven off. DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR. Allow turkey to slow-cook in oven overnight while you sleep.

Step Five: Two hours before your meal, turn oven on to lowest setting. Allow turkey to warm until meal time.

Step Six: Place delicious, slow-roasted turkey as centerpiece on Thanksgiving table.

I carefully followed the instructions. My perfect turkey was less than two hours away from being the centerpiece to my perfect Thanksgiving. If only I could vanquish this God-awful smell from my holiday festivities.

“Honey! I think there must be a dead rodent in the wall. Or maybe under the sink. Could it be in the pantry? We have to find it and get rid of it before our guests arrive. I don’t want my perfect Thanksgiving to smell like a dead animal!”

My husband began pulling things out from under the sink. He opened cupboards and cabinets, searching for a dead body. I unloaded the bottom shelves of the pantry. Sacks of rice, bags of potatoes, various pots and pans, dishwasher detergent and cleaning supplies were piled haphazardly on the kitchen floor. The kids soon joined the fun, emptying one drawer after another onto the counter tops. It was like a hideous Thanksgiving version of hide and seek.

After thirty minutes of Hide and Seek Hell I had had enough. “Stop! Stop!” I yelled, waving my hands in the air. “There’s no time for this. Everybody put everything back where you got it. I am running to the store for some air freshener. Maybe that will help.”

In my heart of hearts I knew it would not help, but I was desperate.

“Honey, will you check on the turkey?” I asked as I searched through the piles of misplaced cupboard contents for my car keys. “It should be ready to come out of the oven soon. I will be right back.”

My husband obediently put on his oven mitts and opened the oven door.

An overwhelming wave of dead-animal-stench washed over me.

“Oh no! Do you smell that? The dead rodent must be in the oven! My turkey is ruined!” I wailed as I pushed my husband out of the way and reached in to pull out my perfect centerpiece.

I gagged as I set my darling turkey on the counter. “How did that happen? A rat must have crawled into the oven yesterday.”

“There is no dead rat, dear.” My husband said kindly. “That smell is coming from your turkey.”

Horrified, I realized he was right. I leaned closer and took a cautious sniff. The inside of my nostrils burned and I heard a retching sound emanating from the back of my throat.

“What in the world? Why does my turkey smell like that? I must have gotten a rotten turkey from the store!”

“Where and when did you get it?” my husband asked. “We should take it back and demand a refund.”

“I got it fresh yesterday afternoon! I washed it, stuffed it, and it was in the oven by dinner time last night.”

“Wait a minute. You have been cooking this turkey since last night?”

“Yes! I put it in yesterday and let it sit in the oven all night with the door closed.”

“You let a turkey sit in the oven all night with the door closed?” my husband asked incredulously. “Why would you do that?”

“I was following a special recipe! I did everything EXACTLY as they said!”

My husband shook his head sadly as he lovingly picked up my turkey from the counter. “Sweetheart. You didn’t buy a rotten turkey. You bought a perfectly good turkey and then you rotted it overnight in the oven.”

I watched in horror as he dumped my turkey in the trash can. “Wait! Maybe it is not entirely ruined! There could be some parts that are still edible.”

“No. There are no parts that are edible unless you are planning on poisoning your family.” My husband tied the drawstrings on the trash bag and hefted it up. “This has to go to the outside trash can. It smells too bad to stay in here.” And then he carried my perfect Thanksgiving turkey as far away from the house as possible.

Into the trash can went my hopes and dreams for the perfect Thanksgiving. I looked at the clock and realized I now had one hour until my guests would arrive. Snatching my car keys from the disaster in my kitchen, I dashed out the door. There was only one way to salvage this mess. I drove to the only store open on Thanksgiving Day and grabbed the three biggest turkey rolls I could find. I had never eaten a turkey roll before, but have since learned they are the glorified salami log of the turkey world.

I rushed home to warm up my glorified salami in the rodent-free oven. My children had returned all of the items to various cupboards and drawers, although not the correct ones, of course. I would spend the next several weeks searching for misplaced kitchen utensils. The stench had mostly dissipated by the time the guests arrived. The scent of the pumpkin candle and the steam from the salami-turkey managed to cover the slight dead-animal smell still in the air.

When everyone was seated, I placed the ugly, odd-shaped, tannish-colored, turkey roll on a beautiful platter. As we bowed our heads and prayed, giving thanks for our many blessings, I realized that despite the salami-turkey taking center stage, I still had everything I could ever want at that table.

Moral of the story? Not everything you read on the internet is true. Some of it is made up by people who think it would be funny to ruin your Thanksgiving. Well, the joke is on you, suckas! You didn’t ruin my Thanksgiving at all. It was actually my crazy Uncle Leo who ruined Thanksgiving by discussing politics at the dinner table.

**Disclaimer: Crazy Uncle Leo is a fictitious character/pseudonym to protect me from additional familial discord.

Actual moral of the story? You do not have to have the perfect turkey, the perfect meal, or the perfect family to give thanks. You simply have to have gratitude.

“Gratitude unlocks the fulness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie, author, journalist

Blessings!

I SURVIVED THE 80’S, THIS HAIRCUT, AND HOMELESS PEOPLE LIVING IN MY BROTHER’S BEDROOM

When I was eight years old my parents invited three homeless people to live in my brother’s bedroom: a middle aged man, his subdued and timid wife, and their sick infant daughter. These people taught me more than my parents bargained for.

My family had gone on a camping trip. We slept in a tent under the stars in the middle of the Redwood Forest. This is where we met Gilbert.

Gilbert had been living at the campground for several months. He didn’t have a tent. He didn’t have a reserved site. He simply slept in the forest, used the public restrooms, and dug through the overflowing trash cans.

As we set up camp that first night, Gilbert shuffled by in his worn out shoes and threadbare jacket. My parents waved.

The second night they invited him to sit at our campfire. He disappeared into the woods and reappeared moments later with his wife and infant daughter in tow. The baby coughed and fussed while we visited. When the campfire burned low, Gilbert and his family moved away into the darkness.

The third night my parents invited them to eat dinner with us. We drove into town and bought some medicine for the baby girl. My parents gave them the medicine, a bottle of formula, and clean diapers. They told them Jesus loved them.

When we packed up our belongings on the fourth day, Gilbert and his little family came home with us.

My brother and sister and I were appalled. (AS MOST NORMAL PEOPLE WOULD BE, PARENTS. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?) Where would they sleep? How would we fit in the car for the drive home? This was in the 80’s, before those pesky seat belt laws were passed, so my parents made a “bed” in the back of the station wagon between the camping gear and the wheel well. My brother was the child lucky enough to be chosen to ride home in style. My sister and I had to squeeze onto the bench seat next to our new friends. In close proximity like that, it was impossible to escape the stench of dry urine and unwashed body parts. I tried hard not to stare at Gilbert’s matted beard and bloodshot eyes. I also tried not to breathe too deeply through my nose.

Gilbert and his little family moved into my brother’s room. My brother moved into the room my sister and I shared. My parents began working on his hygiene, his health, and his heart. They gave him a bar of soap and pointed him towards the bathroom. They drove him downtown and found a barber willing to cut through the knots in his hair. They fed him three square meals a day. They took him to Salvation Army and bought him a few articles of clothing. They said they would help him find a job. They told him Jesus loved him.

Gilbert scoured the newspaper ads, circling one job opportunity after another. He asked to borrow our car for a day so he could look for work. Of course my parents said yes. (WHAT IN THE WORLD, PARENTS?) He loaded up his little family and waved as he drove away.

I know you are wondering if we ever saw our station wagon again. We were wondering the very same thing. I am happy to report Gilbert drove home late that evening. We watched from the living room window as he parked our car in the driveway where it belonged. Then he tumbled out of the car, tripped over the curb, and lurched his way to our front door, drunk as a skunk.

My parents asked him where he had been. (PARENTS…WASN’T IT OBVIOUS?)

Gilbert had a very reasonable explanation. A local church was advertising for a new gardener. Gilbert applied for the job. During the interview the pastor offered him a beer.

What his lie lacked in believability it made up for in originality. A church. A pastor. A beer. The only thing that could have made it more interesting was if the Virgin Mary herself carried the beer into the sanctuary on a platter made of gold.

My parents told him Jesus loved him. And they told him he was not allowed to borrow our car again.

Gilbert “looked for work” for many days. It is amazing how many interviewers handed out beer in those days.

Every night, after my brother and sister and I finished our homework and after Gilbert finished another unsuccessful day of job hunting, we would gather around the dinner table. My sister refused to sit next to Gilbert. Even though he had access to soap and hot water, he tended to revert back to his old ways. He reeked of body odor and stale beer. In between his slurred words and foul smell, my parents told him Jesus loved him.

After dinner we watched Knight Rider and played with Lite Brights, sprawled across the shag carpet in our living room, the heat from the wood stove magnifying Gilbert’s aroma.

Coincidentally, this is the same wood stove in which my mother burned our naked barbies while we stood by in horror, but that’s a story for another day.

This cycle of job interviews, drunken dinners, and uncomfortable evenings repeated itself again and again until one Tuesday night my parents issued an ultimatum. They told Gilbert he had until the end of the week to find a new place to stay. They had done all they could for him.

To show his gratitude for our hospitality Gilbert went outside, unzipped his pants, and peed in our driveway right next to the car he was no longer allowed to drive. Then he gathered up his little family and stormed out of the house, alcohol fumes trailing angrily from his body.

My parents calmly cleaned up the urine, washed the dirty bedding, moved my brother back into his own room, and told us Jesus loved Gilbert.

EXHIBIT A: The Unfortunate Haircut

It is important to realize this all happened in the 1980’s. Times were different back then. Please see Exhibit A above entitled The Unfortunate Haircut. My parents chose this hair style for me. It is a cross between the bowl cut and a mullet. Let’s call it The Bullet. The Bullet causes me to question my parent’s decision making abilities.

Other questionable decisions of the 80’s: Children were allowed to ride in the back of station wagons without seat belts. Mothers nursed while driving. People smoked cigarettes in school cafeterias. Al Gore had not yet invented the internet and so my parents were unable to google “dangers of inviting strange homeless men to live with you.” Even so…PARENTS, HAD YOU LOST YOUR MINDS?

I recently called and asked my mother that very question. She said, “We were young and idealistic. But now we are old and crotchety and we know better.”

Am I suggesting we all invite a strange homeless man to sleep in our children’s bedroom? Absolutely not. I am thankful I am still alive to tell the story of Gilbert. He is somewhat of a legend in our family. Even thirty-something years later, I remember the lessons he taught me.

1. Don’t drink at job interviews.

Every night Gilbert would regale us with tales of his job interviews, the problems with the employer, and the crazy reasons they would not hire him. His stories were always accompanied by the smell of alcohol on his breath. The only thing I could figure is that drinking at interviews is frowned upon by prospective employers.

2. Snakes live in the sewer and can slither up through toilets.

Gilbert taught me this on his second day in our home. He pointed at the toilet bowl and very somberly explained that I should always check before sitting down. He said if you take too long in the bathroom, snakes will rise up from the depths and bite your butt. It had happened to him before and he still had the scar to prove it. Thankfully, he did not show me his scar. I was scared to go to the bathroom for years, peeing as fast as humanly possible and then jumping up to look beneath me. (The truth is, sometimes when I stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night I still check the toilet bowl before I sit down.)

3. You can not care for a man’s soul without also caring for his body. 

If my parents had simply told Gilbert “Jesus loves you” and ignored his sick baby girl, his empty stomach, and his filthy body, their words would have seemed hollow and insincere. Maybe (OF COURSE) they didn’t have to invite him to live in my brother’s bedroom. This is up for debate (NO IT IS NOT). But in so doing they taught their children an important lesson: words without actions are meaningless. We can go around telling people we love them until we are blue in the face, but unless our behavior proves it to be true, they won’t hear us.

My parents showed me this over and over throughout my life. When they fed the schizophrenic man who wandered our neighborhood. When they gave their bed to a houseguest and chose to sleep on the couch. When they served at the soup kitchen.

This is what love looks like, they showed me. This is what love feels like. This is what love does.

Love is a verb.

I want my life to exemplify this kind of active love.

May we all love the Gilberts of the world a little bit harder, a little bit stronger, and a whole lot safer than my parents.

Blessings!

 

 

5 Summer Survival Tips For The Mom Who Is About To Lose Her Ever-Loving Mind

It was 11:00 on the first day of summer break when I heard the words, “I’m bored.”

Eleven o’clock in the morning! On the very first day of summer! My kids had only been awake for a handful of hours when they managed to utter those dreaded words. The words that cause mothers everywhere to lose their ever-loving minds.

Of course I responded with the tried and true momism: “If you tell me you are bored, I will find something for you to do.” (This phrase must be uttered in a voice that sends chills down your children’s spines. It works best when accompanied by laser beam eyeballs, one finger pointing at a mound of dirty dishes and the other at the overflowing laundry basket.)

I love summertime. I really do. I love sleeping in and going to the lake and watching movies in our pajamas at noon. I love not having the pressure of homework weighing down our evenings. I love the ability to spend loooooooong hours with my children.

But sometimes I feel like I might lose my mind.

Having six children home all day long means I can never find a quiet minute alone to write, or answer emails, or pee. Summer break means instead of the regular meal schedule….

 

We have the bottomless pit meal schedule….

The summer meal schedule is designed to keep me in the kitchen all the live long day. It also guarantees there is never a clean dish in the house. Speaking of dishes, I only have six children so why at the end of every day are there five thousand three hundred seventeen dirty cups lining the countertops?

To help ensure my survival and the survival of our species, I have put together a list of my Top 5 Summer Survival Tips. We have made it this far, fellow parenting heroes. We are more than halfway through summer break. Let’s finish strong.

Survival Tip #1 – Give Them A Schedule

Summertime is about freedom and flexibility, but we can still provide some kind of routine. Children thrive on structure. It doesn’t have to be military-esque. We need just enough schedule to keep our sanity. Even though it is summer, I still enforce a loose bedtime. Around here the summer bedtime is 10:30ish. Sometimes we stay up late to finish a movie. Sometimes we have sleepovers and stay up all night. My oldest knows he is the last one to go to bed so his bedtime is usually closer to 11:30. Despite the variations, everyone understands that around 10:30 on most nights I will be sending them off to brush their teeth and wash their face. Having a loose bedtime cuts down on the daily arguments about how late they should be allowed to stay up.

I also have a meal schedule. I hate rummaging through bare pantries and empty vegetable drawers at five o’clock, trying to figure out what to feed my starving children. It helps me to have a dinner menu planned out for the week. I make my menu every Sunday and grocery shop every Monday. Having a dinner schedule also provides security for my children. Coming from a history of hunger and malnourishment, they tend to worry about their next meal. I hang the menu in a prominent place to provide reassurance that I will in fact feed them, as I have fed them every night for as long as they have known me. This also helps to eliminate the oft-repeated and delirium-producing question, “What’s for dinner?”

Survival Tip #2 – Give Them Chores

I know, I know. This does not sound like summertime fun. I am not saying my children enjoy chores. They complain just enough to let me know they don’t appreciate it. But they don’t whine too much. If my kids give me a hard time about doing one chore, I have them do two chores instead. They have learned to keep their whining to a minimum.

We do chores all year long, not only during the summer, but having children home all day means there is more mess to clean and more hands to help clean it. I can’t do it all alone and I shouldn’t have to. Every single day my children help with something around the house. Taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, folding the laundry, feeding the dogs. These kinds of chores often take less than ten minutes to complete, but they teach life skills. I want to raise my children to be fully capable adults and this includes being able to do their own laundry and clean their own toilets. You are welcome, future spouses.

Survival Tip #3 – Have Fun With Them

I am not here to entertain my children all day long. They need to be able to entertain themselves. However, I am here to have fun with my children. I don’t sit back and watch my children participate in all of the fun activities, I join them. I don’t want to miss out on summertime memories.

Plan a lake day, put on your swimsuit, and jump in the water. Go on a bike ride. Take them bowling and show them how you throw a gutter ball. Walk down to the corner store, get an ice cream cone, and lick it while it melts sticky on your fingers. Stay up too late and watch a movie. Pull out the board games and sit down to play with them.

We have done all of these things this summer and I do not regret even one of them. I don’t want to be on the sidelines of my children’s memories, I want to be smack-dab in the middle.

Survival Tip #4 – Read

A good book is like a good friend, you can spend hours together and it will seem like only minutes. Find the good books. Give them to your children. Enlarge their world.

Four of my children are avid readers. It is easy to walk into any bookstore or library and find a stack of books they are eager to dive into. Two of my children struggle to read. It takes more work on my part to find a book they are willing to spend time with. I take the subjects/people/sports they enjoy in real life and look for books related to this topic. My daughter loves to play soccer. I found some biographies on professional women soccer players. She devoured them. My youngest loves superheroes and anything related to science. He is smart and inquisitive and asks a million questions, but he doesn’t enjoy reading. Here are some books I found to tempt him with.

While your children are reading, you might be able to enjoy a good book yourself. Here are my top three picks, the books I most enjoyed reading this summer. You guys, these books were AMAZING. I highly recommend adding them to your summer reading list.

Photo Cred: my daughter Leah.
Bonus tip: allow your children to be involved with your projects. Create opportunities for them to work alongside you. They will feel valued.

Survival Tip #5 – Sprinkle Grace All Over It

Here’s the truth: I struggle with mom-guilt. My children are finally old enough to stay home alone but I feel guilty when I leave them too often. I work outside the home three mornings a week. I also have an editor who appreciates it if I meet my deadlines. Add to that grocery shopping, running errands, taking children to appointments, etc. Life is busy and I find myself feeling guilty that I am not spending enough time with my children.

Sprinkle grace all over that.

I worry I allow my children to spend too much time on electronics. I have loose boundaries on screen time, but the boundaries are fluid and change depending on my schedule. If I am working, they get more time. If I am home, they get less. If I am tired, cranky, and close to loosing my mind, they get more time. If I am well-rested, caffeinated, and ready to play, they get less. If I read an article about online predators, the dangers of social media with teens, or how computer screens are scientifically proven to rot your brains, I unplug everyone forever (or until my next article is due and I am faced with the reality of working from home.)

Sprinkle grace all over that.

Our summers are going to be loud and busy. Our kids are going to have fun and they are going to get bored. We are going to enjoy the lazy summer mornings and we are going to count down the days until school starts again.

Sprinkle grace all over it and enjoy the beautiful chaos of summer.

Blessings!

When You Hear The N-Word at Church

Warning: contains explicit language.

My daughter’s words dropped heavy in the air between us.

She pulled the comforter up over her head so I wouldn’t be able to see her. She hid her face from me while she cried.

I sat on the edge of her bed and drew a deep breath, the nasty words echoing in my mind. I tried to push down the anger that tightened the back of my throat as I gathered my thoughts. How should I respond?

I had known something was wrong as soon as she got in the car after youth group. Her sisters and brothers were chattering away in the back seat, but she turned her face to the window and stared quietly into the dark. She was withdrawn during the ride home and then escaped quickly to her bedroom.

I managed the chaos of our nightly bedtime routine and when I finally had everyone else settled and tucked in, I climbed the stairs to her bedroom.

It took another twenty minutes to convince her to tell me what was wrong.

“Erin* (not her real name) and I were walking through the parking lot before youth group. I told her I liked the shiny black car parked in front of the church and she said to me, ‘Oh. Not that car. It is nigger colored.’ Then she kind of covered her mouth with her hand, giggled a little bit and said, ‘Oops. Sorry.’ But I don’t think she really was sorry.”

The comment had pierced my daughter’s heart and festered there for the rest of the night. By the time she got home and climbed into bed, she couldn’t contain the hurt anymore. She didn’t understand why her friend would say this to her.

I rubbed her back and talked about ignorance. I told her those kinds of words are a reflection of the person who says them, not the person who hears them. I reminded her we don’t find our identity in what other people think about us, but in the One who created us.

But nothing I said really mattered in that moment. She needed some time to process her feelings and a little extra love from her mother while she did it.

When she cried herself out, I kissed her beautiful coffee-colored cheek and said her prayers. I walked softly out of the room, afraid to shatter her still-fragile feelings.

I thought about calling Erin’s mother. I know her well. She is my friend. She would be horrified if she knew Erin said that word to my daughter. She would sit her down immediately and have a serious talk with her.

Then I thought, Why has she not already had this talk? Why has she not discussed the vile meaning and devastating implications of this word? Why has she not impressed upon her children the importance of never using this word, even in jest?

There is the possibility that she did talk about all of those things and still her daughter chose to use that word. But there is also the possibility that this is a conversation she has never considered having with her children.

Have you?

When you talked to your children about their behavior — about coarse language, profanity, or bullying — did you discuss the n-word? Did you single it out and explain its origins? Did you talk about the dark underbelly of our country’s history? Did you tell your children that this particular word is not the same as other curse words? This word wields more power. It carries the weight of hundreds of years of slavery and institutionalized racism.

Dictionary.com says The term nigger is now probably the most offensive word in English. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. A contemptuous term used to refer to a person of any racial or ethnic origin regarded as contemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc.”

It is not a word white parents like to discuss with our children. It makes us uncomfortable. We don’t know how to deal with the feelings associated with it: feelings of guilt and shame, feelings of unease surrounding racial tensions we don’t fully understand. We worry we might further perpetuate racial divides. We wonder if we can properly address the topic. We don’t know what is okay to say and what is not.

Why do some people whisper the word “black” and cut their eyes to me when we discuss my children’s heritage?

Not because they are racist.

But because they don’t know if it is proper for them to use this terminology.

Why did the lady standing behind me in line at the department store say to her friend, “I don’t know what to call them anymore. They don’t want to be called African American because they are not from Africa. What word should I use when I talk about them?”

I almost turned around and said, “People. Human. Brother. Sister. Friend. Take your pick. There are plenty of appropriate words to use.” But I held my tongue and stood facing forward, thankful my children were not with me to hear.

Of course, if my children were with me, she never would have had this conversation with her friend. She felt free to say these things because none of our African American brothers and sisters were nearby.

Parents, we must take it upon ourselves to teach our children. Ignoring the racial tension in our country is not going to make it disappear. Feeling uncomfortable about discussing it does not give us a free pass. Let’s accept the challenge of training up the next generation to be better than we are.

I will lay it out for you.

African American? Okay.

Black? Okay.

Nigger? NOT OKAY.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the complexities surrounding this issue. I know there are nuanced layers to the word and its history. Many steps need to be taken to begin to heal the racial tensions in our country.

Let me tell you step one.

Talk to your children. Tell them about that word. If they don’t understand it, they might feel free to use it. Not because they are racist, but because they are ignorant. And the fault for their ignorance will rest squarely on your shoulders.

I am not claiming to be an expert on this topic. This is not a comprehensive discussion on all things race-related. In fact, I am probably getting some things wrong and ruffling some feathers while I do it. But at least I am talking about it. I am trying my best. I am willing to make a misstep if it means I am moving in the right direction.

Let me finish with this: My daughter is going to meet people who think less of her because of her skin color. She is going to have to fight harder to be granted the same privileges my white children will be automatically afforded. She is going to hear this nasty word again in her life.

Please do your best to ensure it is not coming from the mouth of your child.

Thank you.

I Would Rather Be Stupid Than Fat

The girls stood at the finish line and laughed at me.

“Look at her stomach. It jiggles like jello.”

“I can hear her fat screaming for help.”

“Thunder thighs! Ugh. If I had her legs I would never wear shorts.”

My face burned with embarrassment as I pretended I couldn’t hear their taunts. I finished my lap and quickly escaped to the locker room.

I dreaded PE. Every day it was the same. The constant teasing about my weight never got any easier to deal with. I developed strategies for changing out of eyesight, often hiding in the bathroom stall and waiting until the other girls left. I started wearing baggy sweatshirts to school, even on the hottest of days, hoping to hide my body and my shame.

Seventh grade was a hard year for me. A new city. A new school. Three months of homelessness. Bullying. It was the year of the urine-soaked shoes and the lack of toilet paper (read the story here). Food became my comfort. I ate to make myself feel better about life. Cookies and ice cream were my friends when I didn’t have any others. The girls at school made me the target of their teenage angst and I was lonely.

Thirteen year old girls know how to use their words like weapons.

So do thirty year old women. But by this age, the weapons are most often directed at ourselves.

Our society is obsessed with the thin ideal. We are constantly being fed the message that thin equals happy and healthy and smart. Thin is what we should all be striving for. It is the pinnacle of success.

We swallow this message and it fuels a fat phobia.

We are afraid of being fat.

A recent study found that 50% of females between the ages of 18 and 25 would rather be hit by a truck than be fat.

They would rather be HIT BY A TRUCK.

Two thirds of these women would rather be mean or stupid than fat.

Why do we believe fat is the worst thing we could possibly be?

19 years old. Six months before my wedding.

When I was twenty years old I was obese. By the time I was twenty-one I had lost 75 pounds and became a fitness instructor. When I was twenty-four I had a newborn baby in my arms and extra weight on my frame. Over the years my size has fluctuated.

I have been fat. I have been thin. I have been somewhere in between.

As I journeyed through all of my shapes and sizes, I searched for self acceptance. It was hard work. I had to learn how to speak kindly to myself. I realized my worth doesn’t come from the number on the scale or the size of my pants.

It comes from within.

I still struggle with wishing my stomach didn’t jiggle. I still find myself criticizing the size of my butt. I still hear those voices from seventh grade telling me I am fat.

And then I remind myself that I am healthy. I am strong. I am happy.

I try to focus on the voices that matter.

My children telling me they love me.

My husband telling me I am beautiful.

My God telling me I am worthy.

Being a fitness instructor has allowed me the opportunity to meet many people. It is the best part of my job. I love the new friends I make. The relationships we create. The chance to intersect lives with someone I might not have otherwise ever known. I want to help them realize their goals. The number one reason people join a gym is to lose weight. This is okay. It is a valid goal. But it should not be the only goal.

These people, my new friends, come from all backgrounds. All professions. All demographics. I have the great privilege of being entrusted with one hour of their life three times a week. I want to use this hour wisely.

I want to focus on becoming MORE, not on becoming less.

MORE confident.

MORE powerful.

MORE accepting of ourselves and others.

I don’t want them to spend an hour with me as a punishment, but as a reward.

I want to help people focus on their whole person, to become healthy in body and soul.

If I can do this, I have done my job.

I am turning forty this year. It seems a milestone of some sort. A milestone of self acceptance.

My forty year old butt is smaller than my twenty year old butt. It is bigger than my thirty year old butt. It is a happy and healthy butt. I am thankful it is mine.

Blessings!