Love Looks Like …

Love does win. But I see a lot more questions than answers about what that means, what love looks like, and what loses when it wins. Most days I don’t have answers to most of the questions. But there are five days a year that I can tell you exactly what love looks like. And exactly how it wins.

It’s probably fair to say that the week I spend each year as a part of Royal Family Kids Camp is my favorite-worst-week of the year. You guys, it’s exhausting. And my body reminds me of that with each moment I awake in a camp-bunk-bed (notice I said moment, not morning, because someone did not exactly sleep soundly). It’s hot and dusty and endless hours without quiet. Oh and there’s that pesky little thing of confronting child abuse. I will tell you, there is nothing fiercer in this life than looking into the eyes of a ten year old who has been intentionally abandoned by his mother, or a six year old who awakes each night to the terror of her mother’s recent death, or the stiff upper lip of an eight year old who has learned how to live on defense as it seems the whole world plays against him. But I will also tell you that there is nothing more enchanting than seeing those eyes start to believe they are treasured, and those dreams beginning to feel safe, and faith that someone out there actually has your back.

It’s only five days. But it’s five days of knowing exactly what love looks like.

Love looks like … Preparation. Anticipation.

A hundred+ volunteers gather a day before a single camper sets foot on camp. To prepare. To anticipate. To color. To decorate. To set the stage.

One of my absolute favorite moments of all is when the counselors and staff gather on the lawns just as the camper buses are about to arrive. Signs with each campers’ name are held close in the hands of their counselor. The cheers and the hollers that go out as the bus rounds the corner chokes me up big time. Every. Time.

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Because love prepares. Love anticipates. Love is so dang excited to meet you.

And so it is with Jesus. He who prepares a place for us (1 John 14:3), who prepares a table before me in thIMG_9852e presence of my enemies (Ps. 23:5). This year, I got to help set up the tea party table. Anything whimsical will do. Throughout the week, I know that each camper will don a silly dress-up costume and talk with a British accent, and we will say “when in doubt, pinkies out” more times than I can count.

Their enemies – both the ones inside and the ones that are waiting for them at “home” – don’t go away. But still I set the table. And I see my God in this. Preparing tables for me in the midst of my enemies. And moreso, preparing a Kingdom. One that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Love looks like … Anger. Wrath.

Surprised? Me too. See, I’ve read “the love passage”. I know that it’s patient and kind and long-suffering. But it’s also angry. Not forever (Jeremiah 3:12), but I gotta say that I kind of like a love that can get angry.

Some people express their anger towards inanimate objects. I may or may not have uttered words of scorn and hatred towards my computer, slow internet connections, bad phone reception, and general technology this week, only to realize that really I wasn’t angry about any of those things, but about the unbelievably helpless feeling one has when an eight-year-old wears a diaper to bed.

Love gets angry. Thank God. Literally. Because you know what, I like a God who says his wrath is poured out against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. I know there are a lot of debates about what’s ungodly and unrighteous. But those debates expire in the face of child abuse.

I’m also grateful that wrath isn’t our destiny. Two years ago, I spent months and months wrapped up in anger. Deep, intense, bitter anger. Coming from deep, intense hurt. I was confused, fearful, and felt tossed away and discarded from a place that had felt safe. You guessed it: from a Church. You guys, I’ve never known such disorienting anger before.

Months later, I stepped foot back in that same Church. I would have said my anger had dissipated. A little, at least. The minute I crossed the threshold, I knew it hadn’t. And all I wanted was to be right about it. To be allowed to be angry. To hold my arms tight across my chest and say “nuh-uh, we aren’t going to be friends.” And I really didn’t want to hear one more Christian-ese-quote about getting better instead of bitter. See, I expected God to say what I had heard a lot of Christians say. He didn’t. Instead, He said, “Me too. I’m angry too.” He says that, you know, when one of His kids has been hurt. He gets real mad.

But then a Pastor took the stage and started talking about the Cross. How the wrath of God, while right, while righteous (yesssss, I’m listening … I know all about righteous wrath), was collected and poured out at the Cross. And you know, I feel real good about that when I’m shielded by that Cross as anger or frustration is cast at me. But when I’m doing the hurling, when the insults are on the tip of my tongue and the rotten fruit is in my grasp, it’s real hard to think of Christ’s cross shielding them.

Feeling that anger, giving space to all the feels, even the uncomfortable ones, is a big part of understanding God’s heart. Towards us, for us, and with us. A God who is fierce enough to get angry. But also gracious enough to collect all of the world’s wrath and let it break HIM instead of us.

Love looks like … Celebration.

One time we got a puppy. You can read more about that here. She’s taught me a lot about celebrating. Because, see, when you spend thousands of dollars on a dog’s knee surgery, and then months recovering not only from the surgery itself but also being “that girl” who sacrificed her credit card at the vet’s altar, when you’ve sat in the vet’s office judging all those that came in wearing matching scarves with their cat (not a joke) and carrying dogs on purple pillows (also not a joke) only to realize that the only thing separating you from them is one degree of crazy … well, when that becomes part of your story, so does celebration. Because dang it, every time this pup runs after a ball or chases me down the beach, I celebrate. I celebrate the heck out of every step she takes. I know how much they cost.

So at camp, there’s this thing we call “The Variety Show”. Think talent show, but intentionally substitute the word ‘variety’. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some real talent too, but mostly variety. Any camper can get up on stage and do any act they want. Tell a joke. Sing a song. Build a human-pyramid. Every camper is encouraged to participate. None is required to.

Our job is simple. To celebrate. And I’m talking scream-like-a-banchee-whoop-and-holler when someone hits the last note of their song no matter how off key it was. And we mean it. Because it’s not about the act. It’s about the actor. It’s about saying “You, YES YOU, are worth jumping up and down like a crazy person for.” If you’ve ever heard the song ‘Undignified’, you may have, like me, thought it rather ironic that most churches sing it in a very dignified manner, carefully enunciating each syllable of “I will be-come ev-en more un-dig-ni-fied than this.” My God, I sure hope so.

But at camp, we really do get undignified. Nothing makes your heart swell faster than watching grown men (most of whom wear business suits 51 weeks out of the year) get up and dance to the tunes of a ten-year-old “rock band.” Nothing.

I can’t help but wonder whether it’s what God means when He says He will “rejoice over you with gladness … and exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)

Because love celebrates. Love celebrates because love knows what it costs. Love celebrates because it’s not about the talent, but the variety.

And Love looks like … more.

There’s always more. I mean, really, I can’t tell you how much I love the people who spend five days each year of their own vacation time and their own money to come and give it away here. It’s not just family for the kids. These volunteers are also my family. I would fight for them. And I don’t even know most of their last names.

Still, it’s just five days. And as much as I love what can be accomplished in that wee week, I leave every year with that tug that there’s more. And it looks so very different for everyone. I’ve shared before about the statistics that moved me out of my seat and broke my hard candy shell. Those still move me. I mean, really, I’d love to put this camp out of business. And really, that’s so very doable. Not easy, but doable. I think this generation could be the one to end the world’s orphan crisis. Or at least severely disarm it. The orphaned population is at the root of just about every social justice issue that haunts us.

At camp we give out pins, little “badges” for the kids to collect as they do activities like ziplining, swimming, hiking, etc. Little mementos to say “yeah, you did that.” One of the pins is a ‘good deed pin’, a way for their selfless good deeds to be acknowledged and rewarded, everything from showing kindness to a younger camper to busing the table for one of the senior volunteers. It’s unscripted, and the good deeds abound.

But this, this orphan care crisis is not about good deeds. It’s not about collecting badges and pins. For the Christian, it should forever and foremost be an outflow of God’s heartbeat, His DNA, because He describes Himself as an adoptive father. One who has cared for orphans. Us. You and me. God says He gives us the “spirit of adoption” so that we can call him Daddy. We are rescued in order to rescue. Anything else is just empty and dumb. And will last about as long as a good deed pin.

And “rescue” takes all kinds of shape and form. There’s no automatic prescription and there are great minds and hearts around the world debating the best ways to help without hurting. So I don’t know what it looks like for each one of us. But I know that love looks like more. There’s more to give. And there’s oh so much more to receive.

Operation Wide Open Spaces

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Operation Wide Open Spaces:

Step one: Wake up.

Step two: Realize some wide open spaces are missing in your life.

Step three: Pack your bags.

Step four: Enter “Montana” in the GPS.

Now some of you crazies might believe in a bit more *planning*. Me too. But last Monday morning, the open road called our name. We decided to throw our hands up and say “here!”

With tired and cramped souls coming off a whirlwind week of change, we had our bags packed and our car loaded within two hours of waking up.

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And of course the ever-insistent-don’t-you-dare-leave-me-home Abby was snuggled at my feet.

I love me some wide open spaces, but I’ve been living with some narrow margins.

With “Montana” entered in the GPS, my lungs breathed a little deeper with every mile we drew closer. With every new vista, my soul savored, as one taking a bite of a delectable meal that is at once brand new and yet familiar.

Now let’s be clear. I’m not generally a road trip kind of girl. I find them very inefficient, really. And I’m a girl who likes to have a destination. This is true both on the road and in life.

But I’m also a girl who’s learning to be inefficient. And learning to take detours and side roads. Who’s learning to get out and walk in the rain when traffic backs up at the entrance to Yellowstone. Who’s breathing deep of wide open spaces, both on the road and in life.

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This past week brought a new wide open space in front of me in the form of an unexpected job change (more on that later). And wide open spaces are wild.

They have dangerous things like bears and snakes and moose and bison.IMG_6969IMG_6946

And some of the greatest dangers are the ones you know are there but can’t see (ahem, Wolves).

But those wild spaces are also free, and beautiful, and seemingly endless. They speak to a crowded soul, whispering hints that big horizons are not only for mountains and rivers and prairies, but for us too.

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This girl needed a little bit of Wyoming and Montana to make it’s way into her crowded-California heart. My soul needed time. And space. For the talking and the not-talking, the hiking and the sitting, the searching and finding and the searching and not finding and the silence and the big sky and the trees and the rivers and the rocking chairs and the naps and the river floats and the dancing in the downpours.

This space – this glorious, wide, vast, diverse, and (seemingly) endless space, is reminding me, daring me, to think bigger, dream bigger, explore bigger. But also simpler.

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The thing about wide open spaces is that we all need them. Somewhere, somehow. And it’s a rare week that you get to throw your bag in the car and go find twenty million acres of open space. This week reminded me that I need to find/make/create/ALLOW wide open spaces to exist in my every day. Self-care and all. So trendy right now. So nearly cliché. So essential.

Space. In my day. On my calendar. To be inefficient. To be unplanned. It honestly scares me. Which is how I know I really need it.
What about you? When’s the last time you made space for … space? And how do you find it in the midst of your every-day?

Friday’s Rain (Week 5)

While I didn’t intentionally time this last week of Friday’s Rain to coincide with Memorial Day Weekend, I sure think it’s fitting.

Memorial Day is a time of remembrance – of both the losses and the victories. So too is this last week of the Study.

Writing Friday’s Rain has been a tremendous gift – and not a wee bit of a sacrifice – my husband gets big points in the sharing department! Week 5 is now live for download here. The downloads will remain active for a limited time. Thanks to all who have participated in this initial e-launch – stay tuned for more news of Friday’s Rain this fall!

FRIDAY’S RAIN: revealing what grief washes away [new E-Bible-Study]

Friday's Rain Card - Choose Joy 2015 copy FRIDAY’S RAIN: revealing what grief washes away

Week 1 of 5 is now available as a free download HERE. Each Sunday for the next four weeks I’ll be releasing the next week’s study – email subscribers will receive it DIRECTLY in their Inbox. SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL HERE

I’d love to know about your journey through this E-Study. Post thoughts, comments or questions here on this site or via Facebook or Instagram.

Standing in the storm with you,

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Are you one-in-a-_________? Me too.

Being one brings pain. Being one-of-a brings power.

A few weeks ago I talked my man into taking a day trip up to LA to enter the Newsies lottery for day-of tickets at the Pantages. And by talked into I mean I said “hey you wanna do this?” and he said “yeah”. I know, I’m really very convincing.

We got in line right on time (rule-follower here), and they said they’d be lottery-ing (is that a word?) 26 tickets. Several of us started counting. There were about 26 of us in line. Boom.

But then all these other people started showing up. Not on time. I’m just sayin’. By the time they called tickets, there were a lot more than 26 entries. Sigh. Our chances were now about 1 in 5.

About halfway through the call-outs, I hear my name.

It was a good day to be one in five.

Here’s my cheesy smile to prove it.

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And really, being one-in-a-___________ is awesome when you’re winning something.

But there are other days that one-in-a-_________ is a punch in the gut. I’m one in eight women experiencing infertility. One in about eighty experiencing infertility without any explanation.

As National Infertility Awareness week ends, I find it no small coincidence that this very morning I’ll be in a room filled with brave stories at the Choose Joy conference, sharing both smiles and tears. There’s something fiercely powerful about bringing a bunch of one-in-a’s into the same room together.

And the awareness doesn’t end with a week. Having my own one-of-a story has made me all the more aware of the many other one-of-a stories being lived out around me …

… like a nine-year-old cancer warrior with rare genetic disorder that makes him susceptible to recurring cancer – chances are one in about 1.4 million.

… like having an in-utero test to tell you whether your baby has Down’s syndrome because other factors make the chances about one in forty.

… like a cancer that’s so rare it doesn’t even have a name and is only fatal when combined with another rare condition, both of which your husband had – chances are one in a million. Squared.

The thing about being a one-of-a is that you feel so utterly alone when the diagnosis is handed down. And you are. I mean, no one else has ever been you, facing this specific circumstance at this time in history.

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But I think we tend to focus on the “I’m one” and miss the “of-a” part. That’s the powerful part. That’s the part that tells you that you. are. not. alone. That’s the part can happen over a simple cup of coffee or over instagram or at a gathering or anywhere in between. Just last night, as a Choose Joy speaker shared her story of infertility, bringing us laughter as the ridiculousness of hormones and the pee sticks and the what-not is a shared experience in the room, a woman turned around to her husband and mouthed “see, I’m normal.

Isn’t that exactly what we need to hear when we find out we are one-in-a-________? See, I’m normal. I’m one-of-a-new-normal.

So sister, whether you’re one-in-a-handful or one-in-a-million, you. are. not. alone. Find your people. Find your “of-a”. They need you just as much as you need them.

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But did she get happy again?

She’s got angel’s hair. You know the kind. So blonde it’s almost white. With an angel’s face to match.

She’s four. And precocious. She already carries a fierce stubbornness that is going to make her a challenging teen but amazing woman. She’s in her question-asking stage – you know the one. Why this? How that? I know some of the answers, but not all.

As we sat together and watched Up, she narrated. He likes balloons, she’d say with a grin. Her giggle was infectious as the love story of Carl and Ellie unfolded.Up_ellie_and_carl

When they started painting the nursery, she turned to me with a conspiratorious smile and half-whispered she’s going to have a baby.

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I then saw her head go sideways when the next scene shows Ellie sobbing in the doctor’s office: why is shy crying?

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Ah, this answer I know. She’s really sad because she isn’t going to have a baby like she thought, I answered. Why can’t she have a baby? Well, not everyone gets to. She let that answer sit – I could see that it was brand new information for her brain.

But did she get happy again?

Yes. Yes she did.

How? Well, she had a different adventure.

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Contended, Charlie snuggled in, took a deep sigh, as if the breath she’d been holding had depended on how I answered that question.

The rest of the movie continued question-free. But as I snuggled my arms around this fierce-wee-angel-girl, I too took a deep sigh, knowing that in that moment I wasn’t only answering for Ellie, but for me.

It’s National Infertility Awareness week again. I’ve written a lot already about the grief of infertility, giving voice to some of the unique aspects of this type of loss, especially as your hopes, your faith, your marriage and your friendships are all affected when a pee stick becomes your companion.

This year I want to dedicate a few posts “from the other side”. Not the other side of infertility. That will always be a part of my story. Even if I get pregnant someday. And yes, also if I adopt someday.

I mean the other side of “trying”. The other side of the ugly tears. The other side of the doubt and crippling fear. Sometimes it’s tricky to share about grief and it’s honest depths because it’s easy to leave people feeling like you’re perpetually in that state. And it’s equally tricky to share about “the other side” because there are people that like to pretend that the ugly never happened. May we never be pretenders, my friends.

Because the reality is this: “the other side” has parts that are stronger, parts that are still tender, and even parts that are actually, well, awesome.

If you’re grieving, be it through infertility or another sacred loss, you will have a different adventure than the one you’d hoped for. I don’t know what that is. And I DO know what it’s like to want to punch someone in the face when they use those words to “console” you. I also know that grief is a window, not a wall. That if Ellie hadn’t sat in her tears, hadn’t sat in her backyard to grieve the future she was losing, then her “adventure book” would have had an undertone of unresolved resentment and not even three hundred colorful balloons could have redeemed the movie. But she did sit through it.

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So when her different-and-not-at-all-what-she-expected-adventure continued, she was ready for it. She found her happy ending by being honest in her sad beginning.

So this week, in honor of the “You are Not Alone” theme set out by Resolve.org, I want to share that not only are you not alone, but you are not doomed.

Did she get happy again? Yes, yes she did. She had a different adventure.

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P.S. Next week I’ll be releasing an E-Bible Study: Friday’s Rain: revealing what grief washes away. It’s a journey alongside four characters in Scripture, journeying through their grief. I know God has a lot to say to us about loss and grief, whichever “side” of it you’re on. Subscribe here to receive download link.

P.S.S. If you want to know more about the basics of infertility as a disease, click here. Or about NIAW, here.

Bikes, Boys, & Ballads

IMG_8319Bikes, Boys & Ballads. I learned about them all from my Dad. And this week was a treat few daughters get, filled with all three.

Last week Dad and I boarded a plane to Georgia with a few simple goals in mind.

First the bikes. These are never on the official to-do list. But they’re also never officially off of them. Bikes are my happy place, and I guess I inherited that from dear old Dad. There’s really not a town/city/river we see that doesn’t sound more fun to explore by bike. Twelve years ago we took this same trip to see the same friends, except we went by road instead of air. Dad and I loaded up my Toyota Tacoma (may she rest in peace) with, that’s right, our bicycles. We cycled in every state between California and Georgia. And let me be clear: we are not cyclists. We are just two kids who like to ride bikes and feel the wind in our hair. So, on this trip we made good on that at Tybee Island and in Atlanta. Travel tip: ride Tybee Island at low tide. Especially sunrise.

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And check out Atlanta’s Beltline – a fun student project that is replacing old railway tracks with a paved walkway/bikeway for connecting urban neighborhoods undergoing renewal. Think NY highline. Except in Atlanta. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Now for the boys. On that roadtrip of yester-year, we had lots of talks about boys. Well, a boy. See, there was this one boy that loved me and I wasn’t sure whether I loved him back. Now, neither of us knew that. No one had said “the L word”. We hadn’t even really dated. But Dad knew. And Dad prodded. And Dad helped me see. He was right about it all. I just celebrated my ten-year anniversary with the boy we talked about on that trip.

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On this trip, another boy was ever close to our minds and hearts. Our framily (friends that are really family) had tragedy strike their story in December,when their vibrant twenty-two year old son/brother was struck and killed while crossing a crosswalk one foggy night. Our heads and hearts still can’t wrap around the idea that Andrew is no longer here. That his smile has faded from this world all the while undoubtedly brilliant in the next.

IMG_8316And the ballads. Oh the ballads. I don’t think there’s much better than a southern rain storm ala guitar music. I grew up on Eric Clapton, Kenny Rogers, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Both Dad and our friend, Bill, have voices that are as soothing as the water coming down, and deep enough to match the thunder rolls. My favorite night of this trip was out in Savannah overlooking the marshes. Also, screened-in-porches are quite possibly the best thing ever. A gentle thunder storm graced the horizon as the evening turned to night. Guitar music filled the air as Dad and Bill took turns strumming through their memories. We bounced from hymn to rock-song to ballad and back again. Singing lines and humming verses where we could. Our hosts were generous with the red wine and the frogs and crickets were generous with their harmonies. It was one for the books.

Georgia, you charmed us with your true southern hospitality. Thanks for the memories, both old and new.

Ground control to Major Tom

Does life ever feel like it’s just begging for your attention? Trying to repeat something to you over and over? And as you strain your heart and ears to listen, you’re surprised to hear Sean Penn’s voice? No one else? Just me?

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

It was a very-zen-Sean-Penn who caught up with me to deliver a message from ground control as I was sitting on a plane. International flights are where I get to catch up on movie watching. I could watch five in a row without pushing the “there’s-something-else-I-should-be-doing” button. I opted for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I hadn’t yet cozied up with this world-travelling movie even though it seemed like a natural go-to for this girl. I think that’s why I didn’t watch it. It was too predictable. Sometimes I avoid wander-lust movies because they just stir me up and make me want to sell everything in exchange for endless world airfare.

But on that day, I was en route home from the (truly) best trip I’ve ever taken with my husband. We had just celebrated our ten-year anniversary ala Europe. So I was feeling rather zen myself. I was heart-full of wandering and happy to be on my way home to the house I haven’t yet auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The very-zen-Sean-Penn plays a photographer, and when he has an elusive snow-leopard in his camera sight, perfectly aligned, Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) asks him when he’s going to snap the picture.

Sometimes I don’t, says Sean.

Sometimes it’s just for me.

The plane stayed straight, but my heart lurched. I’m not a photographer, but I am a writer. So words are my pictures, and I’d been feeling an increasing pressure to “snap every picture”.

A lot of this sense of pressure came out of a Writer’s conference I attended earlier this year, to explore taking this writing thing to a new level. To see if something personal might translate into something public. I heard lots of great advice. What-to-do-to-become-a-writer. Or I should say, a published writer. Two very different things.

See, it’s one thing to identify yourself as a writer as part of who you are. That requires liking words.

It’s an entirely different thing to pursue publishing. That requires being a marketer. And when you dab your toe into that world, words like “platform”, “audience”, “followers”, etc. start dominating too many of the conversations.

Blogging is strongly encouraged. I’m still not sure what I think about blogging (as confessed in a blog post – cue irony), mostly because I’m a book girl. Books are, to me, like a long conversation over coffee, and blogs are more like a quick hello at the grocery store. I’d rather read (and write) a book.

There are other platform tools too. I won’t go into them here. Because they’re not the point. The point is that the very-zen-Sean-Penn caught me up short, and made me realize I’d been operating under many “should-do-this-moments” in the world of social media and blogging, and I needed to practice saying sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I don’t snap the picture, write the hashtag, post the blog. Sometimes it’s just for me.

And let me tell you, it’s been my favorite summer. I’ve seen more sunsets than I’ve posted on Instagram. I’ve been in more conversations than I’ve captured ala blog post. I’ve seen more friends than I’ve tagged on Facebook. I’ve held my husband’s hand more than I’ve held my phone.

I needed a summer filled with sometimes I don’t so I could choose the sometimes I do moments.

The very-zen-Sean-Penn reminded me that life is about experiencing, not performing. Do you need to hear that today, too?

Is there anything you need to … don’t?

Surprising the Brain

White BucketThe Brain Bucket. I’m told that’s a thing. I’m told that by a guy named Jon Acuff, who makes me laugh enough to believe that everything he says is true.

So the Brain Bucket. He said our brains are wired in such a way that when we see or hear something we’ve come across before, we Bucket it. “Yep, been/seen/heard that before.” And we continue on with other distractions.

This. Is. So. Me. I used to drive professors crazy because once my brain got something, it placed it in the bucket and was done with them and their teaching. I was known for playing solitaire in the back of the room (back in the days of dinosaurs when the internet was not in every classroom and solitaire was all I had). And it really wasn’t out of disrespect, it was just because my brain wanted to move on to something else once the brain bucket was full of that topic. You can imagine how much my husband loves this feature whenever he’s sharing his heart with me.

So, says Jon, getting past the Brain-Bucket-tune-out for things like spiritual lessons and lifetime truths requires a way to “surprise the brain”. Keep things interesting. Introduce an old truth in a new way.

Backs of books? Hate ‘em. Movie trailers? No, please. I want to be surprised.

So a few Sundays ago – one of those gloriously leisurely mornings – we lounged our way through YouTube videos and MY BRAIN GOT SURPRISED.

Oh my gosh. Oh my GOSH.

Exhibit A: Holy vocal pipes.

Chills, right? I mean, I was crying. CRYING. See, everyone’s brain – including mine, and most definitely Simon Cowell’s, had Brain-Bucketed this guy. Heavy guy shows up on stage wearing sweat pants and floppy hair. Sure, go ahead and wow us. He’s shy and nervous and you can just feel yourself bracing for the mockery. The crowd is snickering already. He’s been Brain-Bucketed as someone who does not have talent. And then he puts the microphone to his mouth. And the room is literally blown away. The power. The MAJESTY of this guy’s voice. Are you kidding me!? HE just did THAT!? Everyone’s Brain got Surprised. Ah-maz-ing.

Exhibit B: Am I allowed to, umm, laugh?

A boy with cerebral palsy. And he thinks he’s a comedian. And his parents have brought him here to audition. It’s cute. And heart warming. But you can almost feel yourself cringe as you hope he might be good but you’re pretty sure he won’t be. I mean, let’s just hope that Simon isn’t too mean to the sweet handicapped boy, right? He’s been Brain-Bucketed in the sympathy bucket, but there’s no bucket for “funny handicapped kid”.

And then he comes out on stage – to a vicious audience that has just destroyed the auditioner that came before him. Rightfully so, but still brutal. The cringe-factor in your heart intensifies.

But his first joke is funny. You dare to chuckle. His next line is even funnier than the last. Hey, this kid may be onto something. By the time his audition is done, everyone – including Simon – has a general laugh in their heart because The Handicapped Kid is Really Funny. Their brains got surprised.

Exhibit 3: Shadows aren’t just for puppets.

Yes, total coincidence that this post is dedicated exclusively to Britain having Talent. This is not a sponsored post.

But the shadows. HELLO!? How are they doing that with their bodies!? I mean, I know how they’re doing that – it’s light and dark and there’s a screen, blah blah blah. But my brain has no bucket for people making a shadow picture with their bodies like this. The beauty, the drama, the ELEPHANT.

YouTube is a playground for brain surprises.

Life is a playground for brain surprises. When I don’t relegate someone – including myself – to a predesigned brain-bucket, but am ready to hear or experience something new, I can actually have fun on life’s playground.

Now don’t get me wrong – not all surprises are good. Last year I had two brain-surprises collide in on me all at once. I was sitting at a conference having just learned that my husband had been fired. From a Church. I had no Brain-Bucket for that. There was no scandal, no job performance issue or moral failing to lead this Church to fire my husband, so my Brain was trying to process this whole new idea, and I have to confess that my dominant concern was expiring health insurance benefits.

Lost in my own health insurance woes, I was vaguely aware of something being set up on stage. A microphone and a chair and a guitar. And then a guy came out on stage. With no arms. No. Arms. This fact will be important in about one sentence.

He sat down and began to play Amazing Grace. With his feet. On the guitar. Beautifully. Not a modified-for-the-feet version of Amazing Grace, but a fully strummed, gorgeous rendition of this hymn. No. Brain. Bucket.

I had no way to explain to my brain that a guy was playing the guitar with no arms.

His story was then shared – he was born in Eastern Europe, where no arms was seen as a curse. Not only on him, but on his family and anyone who touched him. The result: He was turned over to an orphanage, but received virtually no touch, no cuddling, no attention beyond the absolute basic essentials of food and water. At eight months old, his medical file had not only his date of birth, but also his anticipated date of death. He was languishing, his body too weak to survive for long. He had been Brain-Bucketed as the cursed child with no arms and no future.

But a couple here in the United States got word of his file. They applied to adopt him. They were told they were crazy, that he’d probably die before they got him home and most assuredly thereafter. Still, they surprised everyone’s brains by saying “we want him.”

At age 8, his mom saw that he loved music. So she bought him a drumset and hired a drum teacher. This is the part of the story where, as her friend, I would have lovingly reminded her that HER SON HAD NO ARMS. So drums might be, you know, not as practical as, say, a set of headphones to feed his musical interest. My Brain has no Bucket for buying drumsticks for a boy who doesn’t have fingers to hold them! Thankfully hers did.

Because he thrived. He now plays eight different instruments, all of which traditionally require oh, you know, ARMS. It kind of put my health-insurance woes in perspective. It was still a hard year to rally from a job loss and the pain of separating from your home church, but I can’t tell you how many times my mind went back to that boy on stage. Playing Amazing Grace. With his feet.

He surprised my brain. His mom surprised my brain. Life surprises my brain. 

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get really comfortable with my set of brain-buckets and everything fitting within “what I already know”, but really, really I’d far rather live a life that my brain has to catch up to.