Less naked jiggling, more good stories please

So we watched X Factor last night.

Aside from the half naked man that totally creeped us out, we liked it. In fact at the end of the show, they had a great story about a young guy who has been sober for 70 days. He sang his own rap song and when they interviewed him at the end, he talked about the three best days of his life:

  1. The day his son was born
  2. The day he got sober
  3. The day they put him through on X Factor

I always pretend not to cry when I watch TV, but as I looked from underneath my bangs at Mom and Sam, I could see tears in their eyes too.

Whew! I wasn’t alone.

I let a few spill over onto my cheeks.

There’s nothing like a good story.

In the midst of my tears I found myself fiercely hopeful for the guy: that he’d stay clean, that he’d be the dad he wants to be, that he’d succeed in his dreams.

Good from bad, life from death, hope from addiction.

This morning in my quiet time, I was reading about the Israelites. God was forever reminding them to remember. Remember what I’ve done. Remember where you’ve been. Remember what I saved you out of…

He commanded them to have festivals and parties and all out celebrations so they wouldn’t forget his goodness.

So I sat on the porch and I remembered.

I remembered when lies flowed as easy as the truth.

I remembered when addictions were more appealing than life.

I remembered when I hurt people I loved and didn’t care very much.

I also remember the way God loved me in the middle of that, how He sent people to be nice to me, to reach out to me, to provide for me when I didn’t deserve a single thing they did.

I remembered my own Egypt and how He, like a fiercely devoted lover, rescued me out of it.

When I think of how I’m different now, I know it’s not my own doing. I’ve tried to be better “tomorrow,” only to put that off one more day: “For sure, tomorrow I’ll be a totally good girl. Seriously!”

But tomorrow never came.

What changed me from the inside out, what continues to mold and shape me, is a love I can’t explain and don’t deserve. It’s a love that fashions and forms me as I sit in its presence. It’s a love that rescued me from Egypt and tells me to “Party on” as I remember that incredible work.

So blow up some balloons, hang some streamers, toot a horn, bake a cake, eat cookies and laugh until your belly hurts.

You’ve been rescued.

Or maybe you’re being rescued.

Whatever it looks like for you, take a moment to remember. After all, there’s nothing like a good story worth celebrating: Life from death, hope from despair, freedom from addiction.

Way better than naked jiggling – any day.

Thank you, Lord.

Some secrets are meant to be kept (Flashback Friday)

From January 21st, 2005

Sami and me about the time I wrote this story

Sami and I have a secret, sacred mother-daughter code. Anytime that we share
something with each other that we don’t want anyone else to know, we put up
our pinky fingers, lock them, do a little circular handshake and intone
“Mother-daughter sphere—promise?” This is to keep Sami from spilling out my
most embarrassing moments (which I spill out perfectly well on my own), and
it keeps Sami’s adventures from winding up in a magazine, book or blog (at least without her permission).

Sometimes, on rare occasions, I forget to use the code, thinking that some
things will just be assumed as private, personal information.

Not very smart.

So we went to Austin this last weekend. Brian, the man I’ve fallen in love
with, came along to sit under the spotlight and be interrogated by some more
family members. He did well. He played basketball with the boys, talked with
my niece and pulled out all the paperwork on his financial, medical and criminal history for my brother and his wife to peruse.

And still, I thought, he loves me.

The dating days 🙂

So back to the sphere. One evening we went bowling with the family. I took my turn, bowled the perfect strike and turned to see Sami talking to Brian. He was grinning. I was suddenly nervous.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Sami took her turn and Brian was still smiling.

“Talk to me, Brian.”

“Sami just informed me that I need to marry you in two months.”

I gulped. “She did?”

“She just wanted me to know that you would say yes if I asked you.”

I remembered the conversation. “Mom, would you say yes if Brian asked you to
marry him?”

“Yes.”

That was it. No pinkies in circular motion. No mother-daughter secret,
sacred code. What was I thinking? I tried to redeem the moment by putting on
my most mysterious and alluring look. I tried to bat my lashes. I went for the
I-will-say-yes-but-I-want-to-maintain-the-element-of-surprise attitude that
I once had going for me. I fluttered my lashes again.

Brian peered at me closely and asked if there was something in my eye.

I shook my head and smiled in my full-on embarrassed dimpled goofiness.

And still, I thought to myself, he loves me.

One Mom’s Fight Against Tuckuses and Ticks (Flashback Friday)

From March, 2006 (Sam was 14 – at 19, she now makes much better musical decisions!) :

Sam loves music. If she could, her headphones would be surgically implanted for her constant listening pleasure.

Unfortunately some of the music Sam enjoys falls way short of my this-is-so-not-good-for-you parental antennae. We’ll be in the car, flipping through stations and a popular song will come on. Sam will sing away as someone discusses someone else’s tuckus and his or her appreciation thereof. I’ll quickly turn the station to something I used to consider harmless, like country, only to discover lyrics about a naughty country boy checking his country girl for ticks. And it seems no matter where I turn, Sam knows the words.

She’s hearing it somewhere.

So I worry. And I find myself wanting to protect Sam from all the stuff that’s out there. When I really think about it (TV, music, movies, Internet), I’m tempted to lock her in her room, tutor her myself and only let her listen to K-Love and the Sound of Music soundtrack over and over and over (Although that Julie Andrews was a bit of a wild woman herself).

But then Sam went on a mission trip over Spring Break. She went to Gulfport, Mississippi and helped out some folks who didn’t have anything. She actually tore down a home . . . and loved every minute of it. She came back in tears, saying she hadn’t wanted to leave. Her heart was tender towards those she served and her heart was tender towards God. She lay in her bed that evening and asked God to help her stand firm spiritually. She wanted to be a light for him.

It brought tears to my eyes when she told me about it.

The next day, she didn’t even ask to flip through other stations when Brian drove her to school. She wanted to do life differently.

Of course, by the end of the week, I caught her singing about those darn ticks again . . . but those few days taught me something.

We can have rules and guidelines and boundaries in our home (and we do), but the thing that changes Sam’s heart, the thing that changes mine . . . is encountering God in real life situations. It’s all about falling in love with him and wanting to do life differently because of the love we’ve experienced. If life is all about the things we can’t do, it’s overwhelming. Because there’s SO MUCH we should avoid. But if life is about our time with
God – and the adventure, joy, life and hope we find as we love him and reach out to others… well, then, those silly songs, lousy movies and tempting distractions will lose their appeal.

Because He is so much more beautiful.

She paved the way

Here I sit, in Okinawa, Japan, and the truth is I should hate being here. Years ago my mom was imprisoned by the Japanese. From 6 to 10 years old, she was held captive on the island of Indonesia. She suffered deeply through those horrific years and then into adulthood as she relived the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares.

PTSD. Depression. Pain.

My mom could have gone bitter. I could have easily grown up in a home where the Japanese were demeaned and dishonored. I could have been hardened as my mom fought through difficult days and sleepless nights. So much so that the mere thought of going to Japan would only bring harsh feelings and deep resentment.

But it didn’t happen like that.

As a young mom, my mother fought for her healing. She pursued her God. She sought out counsel. She did the hard work of forgiving… and she didn’t give up when she faced a setback or two.

As a result I am here in Okinawa with great joy in my heart. I’ve had the chance to serve at the military base, but also to go out into the community and visit shops and restaurants. The Japanese are polite, gracious and honoring. I ache for their deep losses in the recent tragedies and this weekend joined others to petition God for their needs. I am drawn to these lovely people and only wish I could do more in this painful season.

I wouldn’t feel any of these things if my mom hadn’t paved the way to the cross – refusing to give in to her past wounds and the potential bitterness that lived there.

I’m so proud of her.

Me and Mom. She’s lovely, isn’t she?

Way to go, Mom. In your darkest moments, you probably didn’t realize the long-range impact of your choice to heal through forgiveness and grace – thanks for holding tight to our God and never, ever giving up.

I love you.

It’s not easy being a woman (flashback Friday)

November 21, 2003

Being a woman is hard, and the traps of womanhood snare me with greater and greater frequency. It all started with the whole eyebrow waxing thing. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. How would that look? One eyebrow to two, two eyebrows to one.

Way too confusing.

Then there came the panty hose, heels and even coloring my hair. These were fun things, little adventures into my girly world, but these seemingly innocent pursuits can turn on you. All of a sudden like.

Let me explain: my friend recently introduced me to fake nails. “They’re fun!” She said. “And they look good… and really, Elsa, they only take a minute to put on.”

So I sat on my bed, clipping and filing my fake nails. Strange, really, to hold a nail in your hand as you clip and file it. Then there’s the glue, strong enough to put airplanes back together. I read the instructions carefully. Put a touch on the nail; press the fake one on the real one. Paint. Be happy.

So I did.

The next morning I took a shower and three nails fell off. Apparently, you’re not allowed to shower once you put on fake nails.

I glued them back on.

Later I washed the dishes and another nail fell off.

Great. No dishes either. I glued it back on.

I put on my panty hose and poked ten lovely holes in a dashing formation. Which promptly caused ten galloping runs. Fine. I guess I just wish the panty hose onto my legs or ask the dog to help – as his claws are now shorter than mine.

Later on, I arrive at work and type. It sounds like I’m performing a drum solo on my keyboard. TAP, TAP, TAP. People gather around my cubicle and start swaying to the tune.

I growl at them and determine that I am done with the nails. I try to pull of the remaining fake ones and nearly pull off my real nail along with twelve layers of skin.

So now ten days later, I have seven nails on and three nails off.

Great. I’m a mutant.

I’ll probably die this way.

(Postscript: Nearly ten years later and I remain traumatized. I shudder walking through nail salons.)

Cute boys, worthy goals and lasting life tokens (Flashback Friday)

Well, after tallying all the results, organizing them, sifting them and analyzing the polls from this week, I’ve come to a huge decision:

I’m going to post whenever the stuff comes pouring out of my brain.

Actually, you really helped me come up with a plan. I’ll share once or twice a week and then every Friday will be Flashback Friday. As some of you know, I used to be a blogger by e-mail, sending out stories and snippets from my journey. On Fridays, I’ll share from those archives.

I appreciate you!

Here we go—from the summer of 2003:

August 15, 2003

The other morning Sami started middle school, 6th grade. Before she left I grabbed her hands. I asked if I could pray for her and she nodded. I prayed for her bus ride, her teachers, her friends and her schoolwork. At the end of my prayer, I looked up at her with tears in my eyes, so full was my heart.

“Mom,” she said, highly offended,  “you forgot to pray about the cute boys!”

“Oh,” I quickly bowed my head. “And dear Lord, please keep all the cute boys as far away from Sami as possible.”

“Mooooommmmmmm……”

August 23rd, 2003

I spent some time with one of my favorite people the other day, Emma Joy. She’s only 3 years old. She’s very smart and we have some of the best conversations. We were talking about her fourth birthday. “I’ll be able to swim all by myself… and jump.”

Yes, jump.

She jumped right then and there and solemnly informed me that she couldn’t jump very high as a 3 year old. “But when I’m 4, I’m going to jump much higher.”

I thought that was a worthy goal. And so, by the time I’m 35, I’m going to be able to jump. Not high, but much higher than a 34-year-old.

(Post note: I’m 42 and I still can’t jump. Although to be honest, I haven’t really tried lately. Hold on; let me check real quick… (pause, stand up, jump, hear an odd noise in my knee, sit down…) Uh, nope. Still can’t jump. Maybe when I’m 43.)

Reeses, Sam and me

September 2, 2003

Sami and I were driving back from Missouri late last night. Sami was feeling especially affectionate. The dog was settled between us and Sami reached over and pulled me towards her. (Yes, I was driving, but I kept my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road.  Yes, I am very safety conscious. Totally.) In between us our dog, Reeses, was pleasantly smashed.

“Mom,” she said, “I know what I want for my birthday. I want God to give you, me and Reeses Lasting Life Tokens. That way, we will all die at the same time and never have to be without each other.”

It kind of choked me up. Lasting Life tokens.

I thought some more. I guess He does do that. I guess He did do that. His Son.

“Oh Sami, we may not die at the same moment, but we do have tokens. Free passes. The entry into life together for always. We didn’t even have to pay anything for it. We just said yes.”

One Lasting Life Token please.

Oh thank you, Jesus…

Dance in your jammies (Part 2 to Look at me!)

Ok, so yesterday I talked about my deep need to know I matter, that I’m special to God, my family and at least a few thousand (OK, OK, 787) Facebook friends. I pooh-poohed thinking too much of the good things God has brought into my life or pondering too long on the things I’ve accomplished. There’s a flip side though. I don’t really want to be the person who berates herself either… “I’m just a slimy piece of Twinkie wrapper, a piece of dirt caught in the bottom of someone’s shoe, a smidge of mouse dropping in the corner of the garage… covered by dust… and a 12-year-old bag of fertilizer.”

No, that’s not going to work. If I think of myself as a no-good, rotten ne’er do well, then that’s exactly how I’m going to act.

So how do we do this thing?

Four things popped into my brain as I was thinking about it. One of those four had to do with pepperoni pizza, so we’ll forget that – but the other three thoughts stuck with me. They may not feel all connected, but it’s my blog so I get to break all literary rules that force me to keep it neat anyway.

So here we go:

I’m loved.

God loves me. He loved me when I used to sneak out of the church to smoke a cigarette and when I sat doing that radio broadcast with the big kahuna. He found me downright adorable when I was 3 years old, spunky at 16 and fondly persnickety at 42. He loves me because I’m his own. His girl. His daughter. That’s what defines me and thank God that’s the way it is. When I define myself by things I’ve done, it gets messy. It means when a book tanks, I tank. When 1000 friends de-friend me, I am a loser. It means if half of you unsubscribe from this blog because I don’t follow literary rules, I’m done.

But if God loves me and holds my “success,” then I’m safe. If my journey as a loved woman of God takes a few dark turns, I’m in good hands. If I make some strides in earthly success, it’s his deal. If I tank one day and shine the next, He’s got me.

Ah, the freedom in being defined by his love and not by my works!

But we should still dance in our jammies…

When we get things right, we should still celebrate. When we get noticed at work, when we share a chocolate bar (and we really don’t want to), when we love on our child even after he or she gets 27 speeding tickets in 19 days – we should take some time to boogie. David, in the Bible, knew how to celebrate. At one point he danced in the street in his linen ephod.  What’s a linen ephod? Think Fruit of the Loom, loincloth, tighty whitey. People were shocked, but He could care less, He loved his God and couldn’t contain the wild celebration of God’s goodness.

Now, I am not encouraging you to dance in your underwear. David was lucky. They didn’t have charges like “indecent exposure” back in his day.

Perhaps you could dance in your jammies instead. Although do avoid any main streets….

Listen, when good things come, celebrate. Dance, Smile, laugh. Go out to dinner. Treat yourself on ice cream. Do a jig in your jammies. Good things and our good God are worth celebrating!

One last quick thing – when we do that, live loved and dance for God’s goodness, we point the way to God.

Late one afternoon, I was looking over a lake. The sun was just setting. The rays created a pathway of light on the water. I traced its sparkling beauty from the shore to the setting sun. That jeweled pathway was pointing the way to the source of light.

That’s what we get to do. When we live loved and celebrate God and the good things He is doing in our lives, we point people to him. Like each shimmering wave on that lovely lake, we all sparkle together and point to the same source.

The cool thing? When we do that, others find him easier to spot… and ultimately, get to dance in their jammies too.

Look at me!

Look at me!

My longing to be noticed started off harmless enough. After all, I was the first girl born after a batch of boys. Look at my toes! Look at my dress! Look at how cute I am! John, on the left, was less than thrilled with me, but don’t you worry, I did what I could to win him over through my toddler years.

Just a few years later…

At 7 years old, I’d spin a hundred times. “Watch me, Mama, watch me!”

At 9, I’d climb a tree and cling to the branch. “Look at me, Dad! Look at how high I got!”

My parents were kind over the years. My brothers, not as much. “That’s nothing, you’re just a girl. I could climb higher than that.”  (They couldn’t, by the way. I was a superb tree climber.) But never mind that. For the most part, my little girl need to be noticed was met.

So now I’m a little older, a growing and mature believer in our God. I’ve learned that it’s not very polite to stand in front of a group and say “Look at me!” And I get that it would be weird for me to spin a hundred times in my living room and then turn to my husband, “Wasn’t that good? Wasn’t it, love?”

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, those little girl longings still surface.

Like when I recently filled out a marketing form for my publisher. They asked me how many friends I have on Facebook. I wrote, “1000-ish.”

 

Look at me!

Almost immediately it felt like the Holy Spirit cleared his throat over my shoulder.

 

Fine. (Erase, erase). “787 – but I’m working on it.”

I saw that little girl again when I was recently interviewed for a national radio broadcast. After the interview, someone took a picture of me with the big kahuna on one side and the lovely doctor co-host on the other. I received a letter (with the picture) a few days later.

 

Look at me!

I put the picture and letter up on the fridge.

I was tempted to invite over my neighbors, the newspaper boy and any random strangers meandering by our home. “Come on in, grab a bite to eat… no, really. Just open that refrigerator door and help yourself!”  Maybe I’d even tape up the door so they couldn’t actually open it, then they would be forced to ogle the prominent picture on the fridge. “Oh my goodness, Elsa, is that you with….”

“Oh, that silly old picture? I forgot it was there.”

Oh friends, what is wrong with me? Does a picture make me matter? Do 1000 friends make me more special then 787 friends? If that’s the case, what happens when I bump over the 2000 mark? Does God invite me up to heaven for a VIP dinner? Hand me a certificate and call me out in front of the crowd? “Goodness, Elsa, I was waiting for the moment you would cross 2000 friends on Facebook. Now you have truly arrived and can officially be my number one girl.”

Blech. Ugh. Gross.

So I sat in that awhile. Gave myself a good tongue-lashing for my little girl self-obsession.  And then God in his grace, reminded me that He has slowly been growing me up. He brought to mind the stories I talked about on that radio show… the tales of my most broken moments as a young single mom – how I made bad choices and hurt people I cared about. And then how I told the big kahuna and the kind doctor and that radio audience all about my God. I told them how He met me with his grace through loving older women. I talked about the sweet gifts He gave me in the midst of my poverty, pain and foolishness. I talked of how his love wooed me and drew me and set me free.

On that radio show, I got it: Look at HIM! Look at HIM!

And I imagine in that moment, God smiled. And nudged the nearest angel. “Ahhh, now see? Look at my girl..”

 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time (1 Peter 5:6).

P.S. I’d love to hear your comments… and just so you know, there’s a part two to this blog. Stay tuned. 🙂