Better than Mayberry

Small towns get a bad rap.

Remember Bruce Almighty? When Bruce visits the one town with the biggest chocolate chip cookie ever? That small town crowd had a tough time keeping their fingers out of their noses and getting out an intelligible word.

Happens all the time. Hollywood depicts small towners as country bumpkins—wearing overalls to the homecoming dance and carrying pitchforks on their daily errands.

Well, I’m here to tell you something.

Small towns rock.

I just spent a week in Danville, Ohio. Population 1000.  The high school graduation class has less than 50 kids in it. Everyone knows everyone, and the whole town comes out for a good football or basketball game.

I was in Danville because my father-in-law passed away last week. All of Brian’s family still lives in Ohio, so we came together to honor his dad’s life. Brian is one of seven siblings. Count spouses, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and half the town is family of one kind or another.

And they came out in droves.

They brought food.

They sent flowers.

They came through the receiving line and tearfully hugged each of the siblings. “I remember when your dad used to work real estate. We had a great time together.”

“He always took care of our family when we needed him,” said another who had carried insurance with him.

“I remember when you all were just little, “another said. “What a family!”

There’s history in a small town. History of families living, laughing, loving together.

There’s accountability in a small town. It’s not just one set of parents taking care of one set of kids. Everyone looks out for one another’s children and there are grown-up eyes wherever a child turns – whether they like it or not.

There’s honor in a small town. People are proud. They take care of each other. They serve when it’s needed.

There’s character in a small town. Quirky neighbors are indulged, star athletes and hard workers are celebrated. Everyone is a part.

My parents came over from Holland and settled in New Jersey, so all of my extended family lived across an ocean. I missed knowing grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I missed doing life together.

But this last week I watched aunts and uncles scooping up nieces and nephews. I saw babies with outstretched arms and grandmas with waiting hugs and kisses. I saw siblings who have raised kids together, nephews who shared a long history of personal jokes and friendships that started in kindergarten and continue to middle age.

So no matter how things might be depicted on TV, I think small towns are the bomb. And today I celebrate one in particular: Danville, Ohio and its 1000 residents. Kind, intelligent, generous people who look out for each other, work hard, love God and give of themselves.

Kudos to you, Danville.

I loved spending time with you.

Brian and his siblings: Deb, Brenda, Brian, Joe, Dave, Kirk, Andrea

With spouses and mom 🙂

Holding on, letting go

God gave her to me, so when she was itty bitty I held on tight. I swaddled her up and bundled her in. I fought off every bad thing that entered her world. I was supermom in a pair of faded jeans and bunny slippers.

My infant became a gurgly babe.

I held her close. I gave the evil eye to doctors with needles and fought off colds with Lysol wipes and that blue little sucky thing I lovingly referred to as the snotinator. I sang her songs and fed her pureed beets. I pinched her cheeks.

My baby became a little girl.

I had stern talks with bully wannabes and leapt laundry piles in a single bound. I initiated water fights at girl-time sleepovers and made up stories about purple lollipop-stealing monkeys just to hear my daughter’s beautiful belly laugh. I held on.

My little girl became a preteen.

As a single mom, God was our superhero. He swept in and made sure she had food on the table and even a cool bike to ride. He was the perfect father, revealing things in his love for Sam. “I can’t get away with anything,” she’d pout. “God tells you everything.” My grip was steady. Still holding on.

My preteen became a teen.

I fervently prayed and subtly held on to the strap in the truck as she learned how to drive. I tried to counsel her through boys and school. Sometimes I let go when I should have held on. Sometimes I held tight when I should have let go. Brian entered our world and he became a stable force of love. Holding on. Letting go. We walked her through together.

My teen became a grown-up.

Yesterday we stood on the second level of the airport walkway and watched Sam go through security. She looked capable. Competent. But I wanted to run down and push through all the people, “Wait, that’s my little girl! I have to hold on!” But I didn’t. I stood my ground with Brian and we waved and smiled as she went through security to board a plane to Sydney, Australia.

Sometimes holding on means letting go.

And trusting her to the One who gave her to me in the first place.

God, take good care of her please.

Amen

I’m a big kid now!

I still have lots of little girl in me.

I think I was 10 when I got my green banana seat bike with tassels on the handlebars and the flag hanging off the back.  I remember the wind on my face and the sheer exhilaration of flying down the hills near my house, tassels whistling as I rode.

I was the envy of the neighborhood.

I didn’t feel much different yesterday. For Christmas, my amazing hubby bought me a sports bike for my triathlon. Other Christmas gifts from family included the helmet, the fashionable sunglasses and the padded butt shorts.

This week we went to the bike shop to get the bike fitted. It was a warm day so when we came home, I decided to go for a ride. I’ve never clipped on to pedals before so I was way nervous about falling over.

Sam decided that she should pull out the camera to catch any mishaps on film.

I didn’t dare ride down to the park without practicing, so we put the bike in the back of the truck and drove there. I climbed out, walking like a penguin, toes stuck in the air so as not to ruin my cleats. Brian carried the bike to the sidewalk. Sam pulled out her humongo camera.

People were walking by and staring, some laughing under their breath.

I tried to walk on my heels and look cool.

I am a biker, I repeated to myself.

Brian set the bike on the path and I climbed on board. Sam clicked away. People were walking by.

I'm ready, I'm ready!

I felt ten years old again.

I clicked one foot in and pushed off, I clicked the other foot in. I started to ride and saw obstacles up ahead. A mom with a little boy on his own new bike. I rode by praying he wouldn’t swerve into my path. Mom pointed me out, “Look son, she has a big girl bike!”

I smiled. Oh yeah.

I dodged a dog and a person and a stroller. I started feeling more confident and pedaled harder. The wind was against my face, the sun on my back, the people smiling back at me.

I rounded the loop to come up on Sam and Brian. Sam started clicking some action shots as I came closer.

Wheeee!

I braked.

I unclicked my shoes.

I didn’t fall.

Brian smiled big. “Take another loop, babe.”

I pushed off and rounded the curve again. I was grinning like a school girl and I decided then and there that I’d like some tassels. Tassels on my sports bike. And maybe a flag. And a horn.

I’ll be the coolest chick doing that triathlon in August: tassels, horn and flag a wavin.

Sometimes 10 years old is just right.

I laugh in the face of fear! Ha!

So Sam and I were channel surfing the other night and came across the new Fear Factor. For those of you not familiar with it, you’re not missing anything. It’s basically a game show for really unique people who do crazy things to win lots of money. For one challenge, the people had to drink a bug latte—basically a warm drink made up of stinkbugs, flies and worms, with some curdled milk for that added touch of yum.

Sam asked me if I would be afraid to drink bugs for a lot of money. I waved her off. “Fear? I laugh in the face of fear! I’d guzzle those babies.”

She rolled her eyes, “Of course you would, Mom.”

She had me pegged. Not even for fifty grand.

We changed the channel.

Fear. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately—mainly because I’ve been revving up for this triathlon I told you about a few months ago. I registered. I bought cool triathlon books. I asked for triathlon gear for Christmas.

But when I envision the actual race, these are the pictures that come to mind:

I put on my ever-so-flattering wetsuit and inadvertently stand next to a race champion. Photojournalists start clicking photos and there I am in the background, unsightly bulges making front-page news.

Everyone jumps in the water and starts swimming the reservoir loop. I jump in and because my right arm is stronger, start turning left. My fellow triathletes complete the course and I end up in a mountain stream heading north.

I finish the swim and climb on my bike. I’m wearing those fancy bike shoes that clip into the pedals—only I can’t unclick them and I fall over to the side, tearing a whole in my fancy riding pants while knocking down and ticking off very serious and muscular triathlete women.

Or the officials head home before I finish the race and I get lost and eaten by a bear.

These are the kinds of fears that plague me.

Part of me was thinking I should maybe find a different goal, a kinder gentler pursuit like raising baby rabbits or starting a collection of teddy bears. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be the rugged athletic sort.

But the other part of me thinks this would be a very good stretch. Get me out of my comfort zone. Cause me to embrace my bold and adventurous side. Get me healthy as I pursue iron girl status.

I think my God is encouraging me along the same lines. While fear of drinking bugs is wise, fear of challenging myself is not. The same courage it will take for me to put on a wet suit will be a model as I encourage young women to be comfortable in their own skin. The same focus it will take for me to swim straight is the same laser focus I will need to finish this next book I’m working on. The same “I’m a serious athlete, don’t mess with me” biking tactics will give me the courage to stand for purity and faith when others are telling me I’m off my rocker. And the health that will come from this pursuit? Will give me a couple more decades to do the things God has called me to do.

Not a bad deal after all.

So I’ve decided that for a Birthday gift this year, I am going to give Jesus my fear. I don’t know what it will look like—maybe wrap up a stinkbug as a symbolic gesture? I’m sure He’d LOVE that.

And what about you my friends? What gift will you give him this year?

Time to put on my big-girl boots

We’ve become pros at picking out a Christmas tree from the Wal-Mart parking lot – check in the back of the lot, look for vibrant colors and pray for clearance tags… but this year our family decided to brave the frigid mountain air, the wild animals and the snowy pathways to cut down our very own live tree.

Oh yeah, baby.

I donned my rugged big girl boots (and my long underwear) and Brian, Sam and I climbed into the truck. We picked up our good friend Andrea and stopped by the permit office. The city wants you to cut down trees to help with fire control, but you have to get a permit and pay $10 per tree.

Brian went in and came back out smiling. Sam asked him what was so funny.

Well, Brian explained, the woman had given him a stern look and asked, “Do you have 4-wheel drive? Chains?”

Brian had laughed (his manly laugh, I’m sure). “No, 2-wheel drive truck with no chains.”

She had raised her eyebrows. “It’s bad up there. The roads are like this—“ she’d made a triangle shape with her hands, indicating lots and lots and lots of snow. “So you’ll probably slide off the road and get stuck.”

Brian told us every detail of the conversation with sheer little boy giddiness—nothing like some danger, ice and snow to make his day. “I told her she didn’t know what kind of driver I was… that we’d be just fine.”

Sam piped up from the back seat. “I don’t think you should have told Mom that conversation, Brian.”

He looked over at me and I plastered a grin over my look of wide-eyed fear. “Sliding into a ditch? Getting stuck? No problem. What’s Christmas without a little adventure?” I hoped no one would notice that my voice was several octaves higher than normal. I was really just trying to drown out the crazy woman inside my head: We’re going to die. We’re going to die. We’re going to find the perfect tree, cut it down, load it into the truck and then slide into a ditch and die. Oh yeah baby. Merry Christmas.

We stopped by Lowes to pick up a saw. Brian was on the phone, so I confidently picked out the biggest saw I could find. He shook his head as he pointed to a saw half it’s size and twice as thin.

Seriously? I mouthed.

He nodded.

We’ll be up there for days trying to cut down a tree with that thing, the crazy woman said in my head. Did you bring any food along? You’ll probably starve. Or freeze. Or freeze AND starve. That sounds like loads of holiday fun…

The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was heating up. I could see water on the sides of the roads as we cruised up into the foothills. Maybe it would all melt?  Oh Lord, let it all melt. We made our way higher and higher, to the area of the Christmas trees.

The roads were fine.

My mountain man’s driving was perfect.

The company was fabulous.

We found the most beautiful trees, and it took all of two seconds to cut them down with the saw Brian had picked out.

Two seconds.

We did it!

We didn’t starve. We didn’t freeze. We didn’t die.

I’m sure there’s a lesson for me to learn in all of this, so I’ll be sure to think on it. But for right now, there’s a cool mountain tree that needs decorating and a rugged mountain man that needs smooching.

And yes, I think we’ve found a new tradition.

Wow! Free stuff. Totally cool.

Yup, it’s true.

It’s my very first giveaway, and I’m so totally excited. I’m giving away one $30 iTunes gift card and three copies of a Guideposts devotional for new moms. Wait, don’t stop reading! You may not be a new mom, but I can predict one thing for your future: you will encounter a new mom somewhere along the way. Whether she’s your daughter, a friend, a young woman at a crisis pregnancy center – and  how handy to have this beautiful hardcover devotional to give to her!

Here’s what it looks like:

So what’s the catch? Nothing. Entering is free. And you can enter three times.

To enter once, click here to “like” my new Facebook page for the upcoming release of Pure Love, Pure Life, my purity book for teen girls. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teen girl, a grandmother, a dad or an uncle – it’s all about pulling together for the teens who are out there trying to live it.

To enter again, click here to sign up for my new Pure Love, Pure Life blog. I’ll begin posting soon and would love to build a readership. Please let any teen girls in your life know about it as well.

To enter the final time, follow me on Twitter at @ElsaKokColopy and @PureLoveLife.

Feel free to share this giveaway info on Facebook or Twitter, with any teens in your world, family, neighbors, mailmen, roofers, taxi drivers … you get the idea.

I will choose the winners from the people that sign up between today and Sunday at 5:00 p.m. MST.

Thanks for being part of my very first giveaway!

But what will you think of me?

Sometimes I care too much what people think.

This hiccup in my personality seems to come out most when I’m on a plane. And since I’ve been traveling a lot, I notice it all the more.

For example, I’ve been reading the Twilight series. I want to branch into writing some teen fiction, so I was curious about what exactly drew teens into the shimmery vampire/handsome werewolf world.

Well, as soon as a woman sat down next to me on my flight, I wanted to explain my reading material.

“I know you’re going to glance over and see what I’m reading,” I wanted to say, “but I just want you to know in advance that I’m not a grown woman with a crush on Edward Cullen. I’m doing research.”

“Don’t raise your eyebrows at me,” I’d add,  “I’m serious!”

So in order to avoid that awkward conversation, I was reading the book on my i-pad with a napkin casually balanced over the title of the book at the top of the page.

On another plane I was studying notes for an upcoming interview on purity. I was reading through the questions—several of them talked about sex (and yes, used the word). Several more talked about purity. A big burly man was sitting next to me. I caught him reading my stuff out of the corner of his eye, but when I turned to look in his direction—he quickly looked out the window, at the ceiling, anywhere but at me. I could almost feel him squeezing his body as far from mine as possible. Like at any moment I might look at him, bunch up my eyebrows, wag my finger and ask him what he’s been up to for the last few days.

Sigh.

I faced another situation in an airport in Raleigh, NC. I was sitting at a table in a sports grill type place. Brian’s birthday is coming up, so I was in the middle of working on a card for him. I knew this would be one of the only times I’d get to work on it, so I opened up my bag and pulled out my crayons, markers and colored pencils. Yes, I was making him a card. A very big and elaborate card that counted out fifty things that I love about him.

I put three things per page and colored, shaded, filled in all my cool lettering and fancy pictures.

A very business-type gentleman sat a few tables down.

“Oh,” he said, after glancing at my crafty-giftedness a time or two, “are you a teacher?”

I turned a few shades of red as I responded. “No, ummm…. I’m actually making a card for my husband.”

Making a card?”

I colored in my number 40 and shaded the words, “You are studly!” on my card.

“Yes.” I said. Without turning to him.

The waitress showed the same curiosity. “Are you an artist?”

“Ummm, no. I’m making a card for my husband’s 50th birthday.”

I could almost hear her thoughts. Hmmm… how… special.

I must have sat at the table for a few hours with various folks going by. I felt a little weird with all my crayons and markers scattered all around, but I continued to scribble, color, and draw away.

Actually, wait a second! You know what? I guess I don’t care too much what people think. Or at least the discomfort doesn’t stop me from doing stuff. Despite my embarrassment, I still read the vampire book. I still worked on the purity questions. I still sat in the middle of a busy restaurant and colored pictures for my husband like a giggly second grader.

Why?

I think its love. I love teens and want to know what captures their hearts. I love purity and want to share its amazing coolness with the world. And I love my husband, my hunka-hunka burning love and I don’t care who knows it.

I guess that’s our ultimate cure for pushing through all things uncomfortable, right? Love. Love makes us do crazy things.

So friends, what has love made you do lately?

Broken dimples

She walked up and placed her warm hands in my own.

I noticed her smile right away. Her dimples cratered out, one deeper than the other.

“Wow,” I said. “You have beautiful dimples!”

“Oh,” she said shyly. “This one’s not a dimple. It’s a scar from when he pushed me down the stairs.”

Oh.

My voice cracked and tears filled my eyes as I asked her how I could pray for her.

“I just want to be reunited with my family someday. I miss them.”

I bowed my head, God give me words.

I think I prayed for twenty women at that maximum security prison event in Topeka Friday night. Each one came to me with eyes full of tears, hearts so tender and broken.

Some would say that I held the hands of murderers, thieves and addicts. I would say I held the hands of moms, sisters and daughters. Most of them asked for prayer for those on the outside. “I have five children,” said one woman who looked no older than my daughter. “Please pray that I can pull my life together and be a mom to them.”

By the tenth woman, I had a hard time keeping it together.

So much pain in one room.

Please God, my heart cried, hear their prayers. Heal their hearts, rescue their children, bring hope and life where there is only despair and death.

My prayers seemed too small for the bigness of the hurt.  A drop of grace in a bucket of sorrow.

The woman with the broken dimple stiffened her wrist as I held her hands. She turned one to the side and I glanced down. A long jagged scar marked the inside of her arm.

Scars on the outside, scars on the inside.

I sit with tears in my eyes as I write this blog. I’m feeling a bit like all I did was place a tiny band-aid on their gaping wounds. I feel the weight of their hurt and know that there are thousands and thousands just like them all around this country, all around this world.

It makes me cry.

God, use those of us who are able, to scoop up the wounded and hurting. Show us how to love with all of our hearts. Maybe if we each extend a drop of grace, their buckets will fill to overflowing. Maybe if we each apply a tiny band-aid, we can bind up their wounds. Maybe if we each carry one soul into God’s throne room, He can wrap his arms around them there… and turn their broken dimples into joy.

Oh Lord, may it be so.

Not a Stalker, Just a Fan

I jumped up and down in my living room yesterday.

I screamed at the TV.

I clapped and hollered and nearly chest bumped my husband in my exuberance.

I never get that excited about NFL football. I occasionally watch college football, but only because my man loves Ohio State and I love my man.

So what made me go wild during the Broncos game?

Tim Tebow.

I heard a woman talking on the radio today. She said that while she was happily married, she is so taken by Tim Tebow that when she saw him in a store the other day, she stalked him all through the aisles.

I wouldn’t go that far. I like Tim, but my husband is the only one I’ll ever stalk.

I think I like Tim Tebow for the same reason I liked that guy on X-Factor who was doing his best to stay clean for his little boy. Tim seems to be the real deal—at least, I want him to be the real deal—a guy who walks the walk as he talks the talk.

Maybe I’m just hungry for a hero, for a public figure who loves Jesus and lives it out in his every day life.

Maybe a lot of us are hungry for that.

I read an article today. Gary Shelton of the Gazette, said: “In the end, however, you had to admit this about Tebow. There is something to the kid that goes beyond pretty spirals and staggering statistics. There is an energy to him, a spark, a rare collection of intangibles.”

That spark, that energy, it’s totally Jesus—and I’d bet a gazillion dollars Tim would say the same thing.

Some people are quick to call any football star a hero. And while I think it’s awesome that someone can take a hit or catch a spiraling ball while being run down by massive muscle bound guys, I don’t think that necessarily qualifies for hero status.

But I think standing for faith is heroic.

I think being kind and generous and hard-working (in the midst of harsh scrutiny) is heroic.

I think being aware of his role-model status and humbly reaching out to others – is heroic.

So I find myself cheering for Tim. I cheer for him during the game, but I also cheer for his life off the field.

I long for him to make it, to be one to stand for the long haul. To be the guy who inspires teenagers to be unabashed in their love for Jesus too. To be the man who stays pure and marries the woman of his dreams and has little baby Tims who will love Jesus too.

But you know what God seemed to whisper to my heart as I watched Tim and cheered his football while cheering his faith?

I felt like He reminded me that while it’s great to pray for Tim Tebow and to cheer on his heart for God, I have the same opportunity as Tim. Oh, not to run down a field or throw a spiral or barrel over burly men to score a touchdown (as totally fun as that would be), but I certainly have an opportunity to live my faith every day. To be one to stand strong. To live it out. To walk the walk, talk the talk, dance the dance.

To be the real deal.

We all have the opportunity. People are watching, people are cheering, people long for a hero – to see someone authentic and true.

Why not me? Why not you?

Dare I say it?

Go team!

Held me a Raccoon

I got to hold a baby human yesterday.

Ten little fingers, ten little toes. I was the first grown-up (other than Mom, Dad and nurses) to hold him. He was only 2.5 hours old.

And he didn’t even cry.

His name is Dominic, but he was nicknamed “Raccoon” in the womb. I think it’s the best nickname ever! I hope it sticks.  I can almost picture him as a young teenager (cool as can be) being summoned by his friends, “Hey, Raccoon!”

“Yeah?”

“I love your nickname!”

“Yeah. It’s cool.”

Sigh.

I fell in love with Raccoon yesterday. Such a miracle! I stared at his baby face and wondered about all the potential inside of him. I imagined seeds of strength and wisdom, creativity and play, humor and passion.

Raccoon

God did such good work in creating baby humans! And what potential in each one…

I don’t know how old you are today, but once upon a time, you were a baby human. There’s a good chance that people held you in their arms and with tears in their eyes, wondered at the miracle of your birth. They kissed your little nose and found you absolutely perfect.

And then there was your God. Even if your birth circumstances were tough, He was right there. He marveled at your form and patted himself on the back for how good you came out.

I did a fine job with that one, He thought to himself, I get better at this every year.

And inside of you were those seeds—seeds He planted himself.

Created by design to live for a purpose.

It’s inspiring, really. All that baby human potential bursting to come out…

All that hope lies inside you, you know. Seeds of strength, beauty, talent, wisdom, courage, passion, humor, creativity.

I remind myself of the same thing. And I remember that I need to keep pulling weeds to get about the business of sprouting.

Care to join me, fellow human?

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).