God Is Bigger

Today, I ended an eight year love affair.

With 65 women.

I’ve had the privilege of leading these women in Bible study, every Thursday morning, for four of these last eight years.

And today, we closed that chapter of my life, together, amidst much hooting and howling, coffee and Quiche, tears and hugs.

As Sweetman and I prepare to move our family on to a church that is closer to where we live, I’ve been focused on closing out my time with these women.

These are truly my peeps. They are the girls who, from 25 to 85, totally get me. And love me anyway.  They not only love on me, but on each other, and on their community.  We dig into God’s Word like starving children, each week, and pray with a love so fierce that it can bring us to tears.  We also drink coffee (or tea).  A lot.  And laugh… even more!

They made me wear this this morning, for crying out loud:

WOW_Shirt_2013

Y’all, it was H.A.R.D. to give a heartfelt goodbye talk in this!

It could have been an incredibly stressful week, but it wasn’t.

I’ve been focusing on the fact that God is bigger. He is bigger than a sad goodbye or a new Hello.  He’s bigger than any unsteady emotions or uncertain futures.  He’s bigger than a depression that threatens to creep in and steal joy.

God. Is. Bigger.

And I am resting in that today.

Yes, indeedy.

The Iris of My Eye

Do you have an Iris?

Probably.

No two are alike, you know.

Here is mine:

My_Iris10

The (in)courage webcast, this weekend, included much talk of Mentors; both being one, and having one.

My mentor is my friend.  And her name is Iris.  She is creating a legacy that is born of a desire to live for God.  I want to honor her today, by sharing her, a bit, with you.

My Iris is infused with joy. She has a twinkle in her eye and a laugh like a giddy little schoolgirl.  Her hair is a different color almost every time I see her, and the woman wears accessories with the panache` of a runway model.  She knows her limitations, and has learned well how and when to use the word “no”.  She wears wisdom well.  Grace and humility adorn her.  Her heart is strong in the Lord. And her arms are always open to me.

And that?  That is just scratching the surface of this funny, compassionate, and adorably short woman,  I assure you.

My_Iris8

“Isn’t it such a privilege to serve the Lord? It’s such an honor, isn’t it? We get blessed in just so many ways when we do, don’t we?” These are all standard refrains from my Iris.

The more time I spend with this woman, hearing her stories and seeing her delight in life, the more my own appetite is whetted to pursue God in every area of my own life. She has logged countless hours at the feet of Jesus. And the Godly wisdom and counsel she has readily available, because of that time, is precious to all who are blessed by it.

“God gives us children and they are our mission field.   We are blessed to be able to spend time with our children. It’s a crucial time for them – this time that you have at home with them.”, she often reminds me.  When I’m weary of the daily, I can count on her to swoop in with her encouragement to just keep relying on God’s strength, not my own.

She never follows these positive reminders with “Don’t ever forget that!”. And, she doesn’t begin them with “You really should…!”.  No, no. She never chides.

My Iris only encourages.  And mightily.

“I think what you’re doing now – putting your children first, is the right thing.” Each time I consider embarking on a new adventure, this woman, who has been down many of these same roads before, challenges me to consider what I will be giving up for it.  And, more importantly, she asks me what God might be whispering in my ear about it? “Have you prayed? I will pray for you about this.”, she will say.

I’ve been mistaken for one of her daughters more times than I can count. It makes me smile each and every time.

I say she’s my sister.  And, indeed, she is.

What’s more, the legacy she will eventually leave, is one of a woman who loves well and often.  Who laughs at all the days to come.  Who joys in the very moment she’s been given.  Who lives life with zest and enthusiasm for each new challenge. A woman for whom the word adventure is an intimate friend and who is well acquainted with The One who has given her every breath.

I am deeply honored to be mentored by my sweet Iris.  Any legacy I am creating is shaped, in large part, by her influence in my life.

“We’ll keep you in our prayers.”, she ends every conversation with.

And I’ll be keeping you in mine, sweet Iris.

Yes indeedy.

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Alpacas, Gerbils, and Community – Oh My!

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:20

inRL_Flowers

Did you know that Alpacas spit?  Maybe you were already privy to that information, but I always thought they were far too cultured for that.  Apparently, while they won’t spit at you, they will indeed spit out into the great beyond to share their disdain for something that you might be trying to introduce them to. Like, say… a harness for the first time.

And, did you know that there are Gerbil Rescuers? Oh, yes. There. Are. You know how you can bring home “two male gerbils” and 2 weeks later you awake to miraculously find that there are approximately 23 more are in the cage now, too?  There are kind folks who will swoop right in and help you make that right.

I learned these things, and so much more, from these beautiful new friends that I made at the inRL Meetup that took place at my home this weekend.

inRL2013

I wrote here, back in March, that I had taken the leap and signed up for the (in)courage inRL (that’s in real life) meetups that were going to be taking place this past weekend, around the world. And not only did I sign up to attend, but also to host at my home. (‘Cuz I’m just extroverted like that).  I wrangled a sweet friend with Mad Decorating Skills to come help me in that area because God so clearly neglected to give me that particular skill set.  True story. (And that would be the beautiful lady on the far right up there!)

My friends, if you didn’t get a chance to make one of these this year?  Put it on your calendar for next year. NOW!  It was amazingly refreshing and uplifting and encouraging. And I have pictures to prove it, of course.

But first, I must show you how I started the morning.  I put on my brand spankin’ new white inRL t-shirt, and proceeded to get lipstick right on the front of it.  Lipstick that is, apparently, immune to any sort of stain stick. Trust me – we tried a few different ones.  I took it as a reminder, from the God that provided this opportunity for community, to Keep It Real.  Amen?

inRL_Stained_Shirt

As each new woman walked in, I reminded myself to breathe and to just brightly say, “Welcome!”, instead of rushing to explain what was staining the front of my t-shirt.

And do you know what was amazing?  No one noticed.

Do you want to know what else was amazing?  These women!  Not a single one was at the same stage of life as me.  Not a single one had a child with Autism.  There were two without any children at all. (Although, we’re all counting the Alpacas as children after our conversation!) We were all at various places in our faith journeys, in our work lives, and relationships.

We may not have been a large group, but God brought five women together to learn about what community can feel like -with all the pain and joy it brings with it – in real life.

And it was so good.  So. Very. Good.

With the icebreaker over and the gabbing winding down, we gathered around the screen to watch the webcast on Staying in Community. There were so many heads nodding throughout, that I thought heads were going to fall right off of bodies! Such wisdom was conveyed during the telling of these genuine and heartfelt stories during the webcast.  A few of my favorites were the following:

  • “We all need to be told it isn’t too late to make it beautiful.” –Angie Smith
  • “…we walk around and pick up a few of each other’s shards to add to a few of our own. Because that is what good friends do.  Become safe places to break wide open and share the shards of our mess.” – Kristen Strong
  • “The thing that wounds us is often the thing that God will walk us through again to heal us.” – Mary DeMuth
  • “Sometimes when we stay, it’s because our testimony isn’t about us at all- it’s entirely about Him.” _-TeriLynne Underwood
  • “You need imperfect people in your life to perfect your practice of love.” –Ann Voskamp

These were just a few of the many many thoughts I tucked into my heart during this webcast!

The talk of mentors had my head spinning for the rest of the day. I didn’t write down who said, “Mentors are like anchors. They ground us when things get rough.”  I chewed on that for hours!  And Marina Bromley spoke of the importance of being real: “One of the best gifts you can give to a mentee is to not be perfect – but perfectly open.”  Oh. My. Soul! Don’t we all just crave someone to be real with us?  Someone who will let us be ourselves and not turn us away when we botch it up and good? Who will call us to the carpet when we’re turning away purposefully?  And love on us when we aren’t?

Are you feeling like you missed a great opportunity?  Don’t! If you missed it, I do believe it will be made available later on, in DVD format. I’m going to tell you straight up to run and get yourself a copy, when it does! You will be so thankful.  And encouraged.  Who doesn’t want that?  Who doesn’t need that?

This is one event that I plan to take part in forevermore.  It did my heart and soul good to know that I was part of a larger community of women who are trusting in God to see us through every stage of life. And that we’re better… together.

Yes, indeedy!

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You Too?

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by C.S. Lewis.  He was so wise.  He said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

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Isn’t this the truth?

We write of our pain in the midst of our relationship woes, or the joy in our once-in-a-lifetime moments, and we find suddenly that there are others who have walked this same road.  Share this same pain, or joy, or confusion, or desire to get it right.

It was that – the desire to get it right, that drew me to Jen.  We were about as different as different could be on the outside.  But, we were both fresh out of college with our Teaching Degrees clenched tightly in our fists, ready to strike out and become the  Best Teacher Ever! And then, reality set in.  We quickly realized that we would need to do a little ladder climbing to get that coveted Classroom Teacher position.

We were teacher aides in classrooms next to each other.  We bore the same burdens of caring for the particular student in the elementary classroom’s we’d each been assigned to, as well as providing the support that the classroom teacher needed to carry out his or her duties for the other 24 students in the room.  The days seemed overly long at times.  The wait for our own title of “Classroom Teacher” seemed to stretch out even farther.

But, in the lunchroom, over my can of Spaghettios with franks and devil dog, and her neatly made sandwich and apple, we bonded.  She laughed as I regaled her with stories of the day’s goings on.  I listened intently as she rattled off a list of lessons she daily learned.  And we re-fueled each other with our camaraderie for the last half of each day.

But when we really hit the deep layer of our friendship was when she invited me to her Bible Study.

Not long after that, we became more than friends.  We became sisters.  Bonded not only by vocation, but by our heart’s home.

Jen moved on to a private school.  I moved on to “Classroom Teacher”.  Then Jen moved on to assistant Headmaster.  I moved on to Educational Director at a non-profit.

I married and she was my Maid-of-Honor.

We still spilled stories of laughable moments and lessons learned.  And leaned on each other for support and encouragement.

She married.

I had my first child.

We still shared and encouraged and bolstered one another’s spirits.

And then, she moved on… to another state.  Far, far away.

Too far, friend!

I live my life now in the Post-Jen-Era.  I still get that needed encouragement or share that silly moment that makes us both laugh or cringe.

We just do it long-distance.

You too?

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I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker and the beautiful community of writers for her Five Minute Friday writing prompt. Click the button below to add your own thoughts on “Friend”, or to read what it brought to mind for others.  

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Wanna Get Away?

Right about the time that I reached into the very last box of Devil Dogs only to realize I was down to the final two…

And The Colds came back with a vengeance…

And someone named Rube Goldberg began interjecting himself into our peaceful homework routine…

And the mailbox got obliterated…

mailbox_death

That’s about the time I began to lose my mind.

Forget about the 2 loaves and 5 fishes multiplying. What about the 2 loads of clean laundry I just put away that have suddenly multiplied into 4 more loads I need to do? I do not like that kind of math. Oh no I don’t!

Whatever is a mama to do? Because a simple Calgon bath isn’t gonna take me away, y’all. (And if you don’t get that reference? That’s okay, we can still be friends.)

I’ll tell you what this mama started to do.  I started planning how I could get out of Dodge.

And I found a way to do it for free!  Yup, free.

Well, sort of.

The wonderful team of women over at (in)courage are inviting you (yes, you!) to their second annual (in)RL Virtual Beach House Retreat on April 26th and 27th. (That stands for In Real Life, in case you were wondering.)  With other women longing for a little spring get away, just like you! All you have to do is click here to find the community of (in)couragers meeting closest to you and register. Women in over 400 locations around the world are offering to host this virtual retreat from their homes or churches, or are choosing to meet up at restaurants or parks. From Jacksonville to Joplin to Japan, there’s sure to be an (in)RL meet-up near you.

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And me?  Well, I am hosting one of these meet-ups here, at my home.

“Um, she does realize this means she’s not going anywhere, right?”, you might be wondering.

Why, yes! Yes, I do.

You see, my Sweetman?  He’s da bomb diggety (And I don’t care that I’m the only one still using that phrase.  It’s fun. I like it.)  He offered to take the kids to the grandparent’s house that Friday night and stay until Sunday.

And even I realize what that means.  2 WHOLE DAYS TO MYSELF!  I apologize for the yelling.  I’m just so excited! I get to hang out with women longing to connect and drink hot chocolate without having to share the marshmallows and not worry about the laundry being sneaky and multiplying behind my back.  And doesn’t that just sound so… Awesome!!??

Ya with me now?

I promise, with this year’s theme of “The Challenge to Stay in Community”, we all have much to learn and share.  And celebrate! Isn’t this entire Spring season about celebrating the one Victory that makes community such a beautiful thing in the first place?

So, even if you don’t know a soul in the community group meeting nearest you, GO!  Run to register! Make some new friends with other women who are longing to get away and refresh their souls. You can find out more on the FAQ link or Register to host or Register to attend, here.

Have I piqued your interest?  I surely hope so.  And if you are the husband, brother, father, or loved one of a woman who could use some encouraging?  Send her over to (in)courage to find out more!  She’ll thank you. Promise.

And, if you live in New England, use one of the social media buttons to the right to contact me, and I’d be happy to share my meet-up info.  I’d love to meet some of you in real life. Oh, yes indeedy!

 

Of Hairspray and Friendship

Friend-O-Mine

 

When Dionne Warwick thought up the lyrics to the song “That’s What Friends Are For”, I’m pretty sure that she was thinking about hairspray. And I don’t mean the Musical.

 

I have a Sweetfriend who lives down the street; and I think she’s the “Awesome Sauce”, as they say.  Truly. I call her Sparkles and she calls me Sunshine.  She’s one of those friends that teaches you how to love lip gloss again at 40-something, tells other people that she can’t ever imagine you getting mad at anybody (HA!), and is too busy getting the most out of life to bother with any Mama Drama.  She wears sparkly earrings with her yoga pants and shares the link for that cozy, but darling, sweater she was wearing yesterday, so that you can get one too.

 

Sparkles would tell you that I’m the bomb because, recently, when she was out of dish-washing sponges and asked if I had one to spare, I sent one down;a half of one, to be exact.  When she asked where I bought those cute little sponges, I told her Tar-jay. Then, I explained that to get more use out of them, and to get into more of the little cracks and crevices with my “cleaning”, *cough, cough*, I cut them in half.  She thought that was ”brilliant”.

 

I, however, am pretty sure that she’s brilliant, because she has taught me to “always pad the playdate!”, layer on the bling to make anything, even yoga pants, look dressed up, and to remember that “exhausted kids are more often than not, happy kids”.

 

Recently, at the bus stop, we had this conversation:

 

Sparkles – “Wow! Your hair looks awesome!”

Me – “Thanks!  I am trying to, you know… style it.  I actually pulled out a curling iron this morning for the first time in, oh… 2 decades.  But enjoy it.  It will fall out in about 7 minutes.”

Sparkles – “You just need some hairspray.  And don’t be afraid to really lay it on.”

Me – “Oh, okay.  I haven’t used hairspray in… well… ever.; but… I don’t want it to look stiff.  Yours always looks so bouncy!”

Sparkles – “Trust me, just good old [drugstore brand] hairspray does great!”

 

At this point, the bus came.  And every dad within a footfall field’s radius of our conversation was never happier to smell bus fumes.

 

After arriving back home, I received this text:

 

Hairspray_Text

 

I went to my door and found Ralphie (her Elf on the Shelf) hugging, oh-so-tightly, a bottle of hairspray.  (Apparently, Ralphie stopped by to help more than just our elf, Jack, that day. What a compassionate elf…).

 

And the best part of all? It worked! The hairspray worked! And I didn’t even have to stand out on the front porch to spray it.

 

Now that’s what friends are for. Indeed!

 

Should I Be Concerned?

That these are the sorts of things that Sweet Friends kept dropping off for Birthday presents?  Anyone care to come over and help me share in the “bounty”?  For the love of my waistband, please?

 

I omitted the other 2 boxes of Devil Dogs that arrived. No need to be excessive…

 

I’m thankful for the beautiful friendship that each one of these gifts represent.  And I’m doubly blessed by the fact that they love me despite the fact that these are the types of gifts I treasure.  Along with their friendship, of course.  Because, to say I just treasure Devil Dogs and White Wine would be rude.

 

I would also like to add that I am quite thankful that my Sweetman did not see fit to include the number of candles on the cake that would be necessary to accurately capture my age.  The Fire Department also wishes to thank him.  Oh, yes indeedy, they surely do!

 

Have a wonderful weekend Sweet Friends!

The Best Friend Ever

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

Henri Nouwen

I was reminded, recently, that when we spend time with Jesus, he reminds us who we really are.  (Thank you, Dolly!)

 

And I thought to myself, “It’s true! He’s, like, the best friend ever!”.

 

Sadly, it’s true.  I did, indeed, use the word “like” in my head as I had this thought.  For this, I am sorry.  I grew up in sunny south Florida on the beach.  Some stereotypes you can’t shake with a stick.

 

As I thought about this more, I realized that like all best friends, they long for us to just “hang” with them.  And, that the more we do hang with them, the more we get to know about them.  And, the more we get to know about them, the more we usually find that we like about them.  And, ultimately, the more time we spend together, the more alike we become.  (This is starting to sound suspiciously like a children’s book about a house that some child, named Jack, built.)

 

What attracts me to Jesus Christ is who He is.  I like who He was, who He is, and who He always will be.

 

I like that He showed kindness to those that didn’t deserve it, to those that never received it, and to those for whom society simply wouldn’t take the time to show it.

 

There are friends in my circle who tell me that, surely, I’m some sort of saint for showing “so-and-so” much more kindness than ‘they ever could’.

 

But, I can’t take all of the credit for that.  In fact, I can’t take any of the credit.

 

I’m copying my Best Friend.

 

I like that He didn’t lie.  He spoke the truth about The Truth, didn’t let half-truths stand, and got angry when others weren’t telling it in His presence.

 

Despite the fact that I have absolutely no connection to Dr. Phil, I often, do indeed, “tell it like it is”.

 

But I can’t take credit for that, either.

 

I’m copying my Best Friend.

 

It is my genuine hope that I continue to copy Him.  In fact, lately, I’m praying a whole heckuva lot more of Him and a whole heckuva lot less of me, please.

 

Besides which, in the words of Sally Field, “He likes me. He really really likes me!”

 

And that?  That makes him The Best Friend Ever.

 

Totally.

Duct Tape and Margaritas

That’s all you need folks.  Truly. If, that is, you want to take a Hip Hop class with your girlfriends. A class in which you learn to do some massively cool Krumping and such.  I suggest having a margarita before the dancing lesson (it makes you more limber, you know?).  I also suggest applying duct tape to necessary body parts before dancing. For some, this necessity is of utmost importance. If, that is, you don’t want your “girls” to be hovering near your knees when finished.  However, the duct tape can also be used over the mouth of the friend that is guffawing so hard AT your meager Krumping attempts that she wets herself.  Not that that would happen. But, you know, just in case.

And how did I come to find this out?  At a 5-year-old’s birthday party.  Yup.  I’ve got the sore back to prove it.  The adults were “invited” to join in as some dude named “Mr. Chris” sang hip hop and krump-y versions of songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”.   And a Very Jerseylicious (I do believe it said that right across that back of her pants?) Dance Instructor showed us how to do things like “Chest Pops”.  And by “us”, I mean the adults.  The 4 and 5 year old set already had that down. Not. Even. Kidding.

Now, I’ve got no “game” in the dance department.  My moves are about as vanilla and un-coordinated as possible.  It’s sad but true.  However, I do love me a good laugh. Plus, it’s a bonus to have so many friends around you that if you throw your back out, you’ll have help getting back out to the car.  So, I jumped right in and busted a couple of moves.  Because, if nothing else, it provided an awesome laugh or ten.  Yes indeedy!  Sometimes, duct tape and margaritas, however, should be required.

The Gospeling Hippotonomous

Got that? Good. We’re done here.

 

No?  Let me break it down for you.  Children misinterpret words all the time. If you’ve buzzed around here at all, you know that my children are particularly good at this.  Today was a case in point.

 

In the bathtub tonight, Sweetgirl informed me that she wanted to play with her “hippotonomous”.  What’s that now?  She further confused me by asking where her “hippomamatous” was.  I handed over the hippopotamus with eyes clenched shut and hoped for the best.  It all worked out…

 

On a very serious note… Sweetboy’s Autism isn’t evident outwardly.  It’s in the inward moments, the safety of his home and the love contained within our walls, that most anyone would be able to observe him engaging in Autistic behaviors.  Once in a while, though, he encounters a situation out in public that, as processed later on at home, reveals the depths to which his amazing brain will go to work through something. We encountered that today as he wrapped up a week of two different camp experiences.  One, earlier this week, was okay. The other, today’s experience, was traumatic.  But, for an entirely different reason than I ever could have, ever would have, imagined.

 

I picked Sweetboy and a friend up from camp and asked how it went. Friend enthusiastically plugged camp.  Sweetboy was oddly silent.  His usual response to any question asking for his thoughts on a particular experience is to arrange his thumb and forefinger into the “I squish your head” action and say, “I kinda sort liked it.” (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go ask The Google about “The Kids in the Hall”.  I won’t wait, though, because you’ll be laughing till you pee.  And if you already know what I’m talking about, I heart you.)

 

At that moment, though, I got absolutely nothing from him.  And I wondered about it. But I let him be.  And he played happily with Friend at home for the next hour.  We went to drop off Friend and then visit with other friends for a short while.  We didn’t arrive back home until dinner time, but as soon as we walked in the door of our house, Sweetboy asked if I could just go upstairs and snuggle with him on his bed.  Just him and me.  He never has to ask me twice.

 

As we snuggled, he started crying. You see, it would seem that today, at camp, there was a child there with Down’s Syndrome. A child that he didn’t know and wasn’t expecting.  As he began to cry and recount the day, Sweetboy explained that this boy was older and bigger than him and that he really “creeped me out, mama.”  People, my heart is breaking for my child.  He works so hard to make faces fit into neatly structured frames he has constructed in his mind.  Frames that don’t change.  Frames that help him make sense of facial expressions and people. And he knows that there are children whose faces don’t neatly fit into the frames he’s constructed for people’s faces – but, this?  This unexpected, unstructured face?  He struggled to make sense of the child’s place in his neatly ordered world.  It was at this point that he said, “He’s not like J (our friend with Down’s).  I like J.  He’s not like him. And it just creeped me out. And that makes me feel bad inside.”  And he cried.  And I cried with him.  And for him. Then, I just hugged him.  And hoped the hug would mop up the tears.

 

Let me interject here with two things which I need to state before we go on.  One, we have very dear friends that have a child with Down’s Syndrome.  We eat meals with them, play with them; they are in our lives.  Two, Sweetboy has been exposed to lots of other children with multiple disabilities through his years of therapies and integrated classroom experiences.  He’s either never noticed the differences or he’s not been affected by them. Today, he was.

 

And then, almost like the breath of God blowing away our tears, there was this. As he cried, he explained that he didn’t want to tell Other Friend how he felt when he was there because, “It would be gospeling…”.  I was about to correct him when he added, “and I know I shouldn’t gospel.”  Sweet Moses! I giggled.  He balked.  I asked him if he meant “gossip”.  We all know he meant gossip, right? Then he laughed.  And all was right with his world again.

 

Oh, sweet child… Sometimes, there is no answer.  But, a gospeling hippotonomous will do the trick in a pinch. Oh, yes indeed.