No Church Ladies Here


Credit: Google Images

I had lunch with a new friend yesterday.

She and her family recently started attending our church and we are just in the early stages of getting to know each other.

At one point, she lowered her voice and her eyes and said, “I feel like a hypocrite walking into that church sometimes.”

When I asked why, she said, “Everybody there is so good. And I’m not.”

Oh honey. That is so NOT true!

Our pastor from our Florida days,  the incredibly gifted Tullian Tchvidjiian (here is a link to his sermons. Do yourself a favor and go watch some of them. His sermon series on the book of Romans was life-changing!), has taught me more than any other teacher about the miracle and wonder of God’s breathtaking and scandalous grace. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from him on this subject:

God only saves bad people because bad people are all that there are.”

I know one thing: I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.”

“God’s message to the worn out and weary is this: ‘God’s demand: Be righteous.
God’s Diagnosis: No one is righteous.
God’s deliverance: Jesus is our righteousness.”

Once this good news grips your heart, it changes everything. It frees you from having to be perfect. It frees you from having to hold it all together. 

Because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak.
Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose.
Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one.
Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary.
Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.

“Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. It is one way love.”

Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return.”

Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be regarded, right, rewarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves and validate ourselves.”

When you read those words, do you sense the wind of freedom blowing into your life?!

For so many years, I lived as if all of this Christian life depended on me. I constantly felt the need to do more, to try harder, to perform, to pretend to be be something I wasn’t. And in the end, it left me feeling empty and hypocritical.

But then Jesus opened my eyes to the freeing fact of His incredible grace and I have never been the same!

He has done for me what I could never do for myself. My identity is no longer in external things: the size of my bank account, my looks, my possessions, my career. Rather my identity is in who I am in in Him.  Among other things, I am unconditionally loved, fully forgiven, chosen, beloved, free. That makes all the difference.

 I am no longer bound to “shoulds” and “oughts.”

I have made the choice to accept the free gift of grace that He offered me at the cross. (I just read a fabulous quote about what Jesus did at the cross for us from author Mark Batterson: “Jesus said, ‘I’ll take the blame for everything you did wrong and give you the credit for everything I did right.”). 

Grace is a free gift to us but it cost Jesus everything He had to be able to give it to us. 

When you live in the light of that kind of love, your life is filled with a joy that circumstances cannot touch and a liberating freedom that no one can take away. 

I had no interest in playing the role of Church Lady with my new friend during our lunch. I was very honest about the fact that I am as much of a mess as anybody else. I have my own baggage and struggles and trials and heartaches. I told her that every single person she sees in church on Sunday morning is dealing with their own stuff. (As Tullian likes to say, we are all train wrecks in our own way).

 There is not one person who would willingly volunteer to have all their inmost thoughts displayed up on the screen for everyone to see. None of us are perfect. That’s why we need a Savior who is perfect on our behalf. 

We are all broken people living together in a broken world.

Years ago, I may have wanted to leave her with the impression that I had it all together. That is the last thing that I would ever do now. I described how I used to be. She expressed amazement and proceeded to rattle off a list of lovely words that she would use to describe me now.

I smiled wide and said honestly, “If any of those things are true, that is Jesus who you are seeing. That shows you the difference He has made in my life. I’m not the same person that I was anymore. You can’t walk with Him and stay the same.  In fact, to quote Patsy Clairmont, ‘Without Jesus, I’m not even nice!!'” :)

Very true.

The last thing my new friend needed was to leave that restaurant thinking how great Susan is. 

She needed to walk out of there thinking, “Wow, Susan is a mess. Susan is broken. But Jesus has met her right there in that brokenness and He is making her whole. He is giving her beauty for ashes. He is bringing redemption and restoration to a life that desperately needs it. He is taking a rebel and transforming her into someone who loves like He does.”

 She needed to leave that place marveling over the fact that it is the beauty of His grace alone  that has the power to set her free. 

Give that same gift to those who come across your path today.

Show them Jesus.

His love for us does not depend on our loveliness. It goes one way. As far as our sin may extend, the grace of our Father extends further.”

(All quotes taken from Tullian’s book One Way Love: Inexhaustable Grace For An Exhasuted World. I highly recommend this book).

 

 

 

 

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Over The Brick Wall


The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”–Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture.

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It was summer 2011.

My daughter Julia had decided earlier that year that she was ready to follow her big brother and leave homeschooling behind to enter the local high school as a freshman.

Years ago, her dad had taken her to see a volleyball game at the high school. She was 10 years old and remembered being totally enthralled by the game. Now that she was entering high school, she decided that she wanted to play.

Fortunately, we discovered that the volleyball coach was going to hold a  summer clinic on the local beach. This was good news for Julia. Most of the girls had been playing volleyball since 5th grade, but she had never played competitively before and had much to learn. And learn she did. What she lacked in skill, she made up for in pure heart. She dove, she ran, she hustled, she spiked. She soaked all that knowledge up until she she was ready for tryouts. She earned a place on the JV team and made tremendous progress by the end of the season.

The following year she made the JV team once more.

When her junior year rolled around, she had improved a lot and had high hopes of making the Varsity team.

It was not to be.

She was devastated.

Several girls (also juniors) quit the team in protest rather than play for the JV team for the third year in a row. It was outrageous to them that 4 freshmen made Varsity instead of them. However, everyone knows that this particular volleyball coach is only concerned about ability, not age. There were girls who played on JV all four year of their high school career. Everyone who was on Varsity earned their spot, whether they were 14 or 18.

These girls joined the cross country team in “defiance.” They thought that that would really “show” the coach who had denied them what they felt they deserved. All it showed the coach was that they were quitters.

But Julia refused to quit. After a good cry the night before, she walked into practice the next day with her head held high, determined to be the best player she could be. She went on to help her team have one of their best seasons ever and became a fierce middle hitter.

“I WILL make Varsity next year,” she told Doug and me as we drove home from the last game of the season.

She was true to her word. This past summer she worked out several times a week despite working full time at the local bookstore. When the first day of practice arrived, she was ready.

On the third day (when the teams would be announced after the morning practice), Julia came into my room and said she felt sick. “What if I don’t make it?” she asked, her blue eyes meeting mine, filled with trepidation.

“All you can do is your best,” I told her. “You’ve done the work. Go and play your heart out. Leave it all on the court.”

I watched her drive away with a lump in my throat. I think I wanted this more for her than she wanted it for herself.

“I MADE VARSITY!!!” came the  joyful text a few hours later.

As soon as she came home after her victory, I didn’t even wait until she came into the house. I sprinted out into the driveway to greet her. She ran into my arms and we jumped up and down, squealing with excitement.

I have never been so proud of my daughter. She had a goal and a dream and she never stopped reaching for it, even in the face of intense disappointment. She didn’t stay down. She didn’t give in to self-pity. She didn’t play the blame game.

She simply refused to take her eyes off the goal. She knew she had one more chance to achieve a dream and she did what it took to get there.

This gives me great hope for her future. We all know that life is full of disappointments and as a parent, you wonder how those inevitable moments will affect your child. I now know that when life gets tough for her, she will get tougher.

Julia’s perseverance over four long years inspires me to deal the same way with the disappointments in my own life. I am amazed by her courage and her grace under pressure.

It is a beautiful thing as a mom to be encouraged and motivated by your child.

I am so proud of my girl.

Here’s to a winning season!

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.”—Mary Radmacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Chapter


So, I didn’t cry when it was time to say goodbye.

I hugged my son in front of his dorm, told him I was proud of him and that I loved him, and took one last photo of him and his sister.

PA 2014-0043Then I watched him wave and walk through the front door of his dorm, disappearing into a sea of students and into a brand new life.

I remained dry-eyed during the 14 hour drive back home. I was feeling pretty good.

Then I walked into the house, saw Josh’s room…and sobbed for a solid hour before falling into an exhausted sleep.

I cried on and off for the next couple of days.

I’m not sure I like our new normal. I miss my boy.

Yet I am so happy for him. We had a lovely last few days together exploring his new home away from home.

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Mudge-0037It felt very surreal to Doug and me as we walked around the city where we both went to college, knowing that our son would be walking these same streets thirty years later. Full circle.

The days since we have been home have been so odd. The house has seemed strangely empty to me, despite the fact that my husband, my daughter, my mom and me all live here. And I am so grateful for the presence of each one of them.

However, I have come to discover that you don’t realize the depth and richness that a loved one provides to your daily life until they are gone. I was living daily with a combination of sweet, happy memories and some regrets of things I did or didn’t do while Josh lived with us. I wondered what kind of decisions he is going to make now that he is on his own. I am filled with more determination than ever to encourage young moms to enjoy that season of life because as the saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short.”

One morning, I found myself scanning Facebook and commented to a sweet friend who was struggling with the fact that her little boy was about to go to kindergarten. I told her that I was right there with her, just a little further down the road. In turn, she reminded me of something that Linda Anderson, the founder of the Mom To Mom program told us, “You are not releasing your child into a void. You are releasing them into the hands of God.”

That was just the reminder that I needed to silence the fears, the regrets, the “what-if’s?”.

It’s a new season. Granted, it is not one that I think anyone ever feels completely ready for, but I am in it and I intend to fully realize the blessings that it offers.

I have more photography jobs booked. I am looking forward to enjoying every minute of my daughter’s senior year of high school. I will be leading 2 Bible studies and continuing to serve as a mentor to the young moms at our church.

My son’s story is really just beginning, and a new chapter is being written in mine.

Bring it on. :)

 

 

 

 

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A Week of “Lasts”


(Note: I have absolutely no idea why certain words are highlighted and capitalized. That was not my doing).

So, it’s come down to this.

This is the last week that my son will live at home before he leaves for college.

Sometimes it’s the unexpected gifts of time together that are the most precious.

I popped my head into Josh’s room yesterday to say that I was taking a trip to the camera store. He brightened up and asked if he could go with me to get some photos developed.

Within the next few minutes, we were heading down the highway, windows open, and listening to his iPod. I was delighted that he chose to play the 80’s music that I raised him and his sister on. We sang with abandon as the  summer wind whipped through the car. I smiled as he stuck his head out the window like he used to do when he was a kid, the sun lighting up his red hair like a flame.

After getting our photos developed, we strolled along Main St and walked into our happy place: a bookstore. Then we went to lunch before heading home.

It was such a blessed time. We talked about everything and nothing…and we laughed. Once again, I marveled at how much alike he and I are…just like my dad and I were.

As we turned off the highway, tears sprang to my eyes and I was so relieved that my sunglasses hid them. I didn’t want tears to spoil the joy of the past couple hours.

When 18 years comes down to a few days, I’ve noticed that there are so many things I want to say, so much that I wanted to remind him of, a few tidbits of last minute advice to dispense. But the words die in my throat.

I’ve already said it all. After 18 years, for better or worse, the days of my formal parenting of my son are over. I’ve left it all on the field and he will do with all of that what he will. It’s out of my hands.

When we pulled into the driveway, I whispered a prayer of thanks for the gift of those past few hours with him.

There have already been so many lasts this week.

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Julia wanted to give her brother a surprise going away party, which happened on Sunday night. He didn’t suspect a thing and was totally stunned to walk into the house and find it full of most of his friends, all gathered for one last hurrah under our roof.Surprise Party 2014-0002
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Surprise Party 2014-0018Those kids who have practically lived at our house for the past four years will soon be scattering all over the country, both to college and the military. I won’t hear them call me “Mama Brown” anymore or come home to  a bunch of them hanging out in our kitchen while Josh whipped up one of his culinary masterpieces.

How does time go by so incredibly fast?!

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Last night, my brother took the kids camping at their favorite campground for the last time. The tradition began when we first moved here in the summer of 2007. Every August since then, they have rented a cabin and had adventures. Doug and I would drive out there to join them for a campfire and s’mores and we would all sit under the stars and the faint glow of the cheerful multi-colored camping lights and make memories.

When Jeff checked in, they had given away all the smaller cabins so he was given a deluxe one for the same price that slept 10 and had an enormous loft. He later texted me a photo of the kids up in the loft, looking over the edge with delighted expressions. And in those faces, they looked to me like the 10 and 11 year olds they were the first time Jeff had taken them there.

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Our pastor stopped by the house earlier today to give Josh a copy of his favorite devotional.  His heartfelt inscription on the inside cover made me cry. At the end, he wrote, “The Lord promises His Presence always. My prayer is that you will find time to stop, be still, and experience it. May the Lord bless you, Josh, in all your endeavors for Him. Pastor Steve.”

That will be my prayer for him too.

**********

I received a text a few minutes ago from my cousin’s wife. Both our boys graduated from high school in June and he, too, is going off to college soon.

I am very anxious about  T moving 45 minutes away,” she had written. ““How are you doing?”

The truth is, I am both happy and sad all at once.

I will miss my boy.

I in awe of how fast the time has gone.

I know that as flawed as a parent as I am, that I did my best.

I am proud of the young man Josh has become and I am excited to see what mark he will make on this world.

Most of all, I am beyond  grateful that Jesus will go with him and be there when I cannot.

“There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” —Graham Green

 

 

 

 

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Finding (And Offering) Mercy and Grace


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Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy for our failures and find grace to help in good time for every need (appropriate help, well-timed help, coming just when we need it).—Hebrews 4:16, Amplified version.

Those words hit me right between the eyes this morning.

As a Christ follower, I have been given the unspeakable privilege and honor of being able to approach God’s throne, assured of a warm and delighted welcome from my Savior. The wonder of it is that that welcome is not the result of sappy, sentimental feeling. On the contrary, that staggeringly gracious  welcome is the result of Jesus giving everything He has in order to redeem my life and make me eternally His.

He then bids me to freely give as I have freely received.  (What was a free gift for me came at infinite cost to Him). He asks me to love others as I have been loved by Him. (He gave no thought to Himself as He literally poured out His life on behalf of others).

So, this question hit me like a thunderbolt: “Do I extend the same mercy and grace to people who come to me?”

How can I not?!

But yet I so often don’t.

My face burns and my eyes well up with tears as memories of unloving thoughts and unkind words rear their ugly heads. I want those things for myself, yet I can still be so unwilling to offer them to the unlovely, the ungrateful, the unrepentant, the foolish. All things that I can still be if I am honest with myself.

In the original Greek, the word mercy means: “kindness, goodwill toward the miserable and the afflicted.” 

Grace (is there a more beautiful word?!) means: “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness, goodwill.”

I have received these things from Jesus without measure…full, abundant, free.

It is my prayer that as I go throughout this day, that I will remember the constant grace and mercy that He shows to me every single second of my life…and that I will extend those same beautiful gifts to everyone who crosses my path.

Join me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Tale Of The Tails


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The local high school prom was two months ago.

Our son Josh had long wanted to wear a pair of tails for this momentous event, but it was not to be. He was incredibly disappointed.

Fast forward to this morning when he and I walked into our local thrift shop just to look around.

As soon as we walked upstairs, it was as if the heavens opened up and shone a beam of light on a fabulous find: a jacket with tails!

As soon as Josh tried it on and realized it fit, he made a beeline for the checkout with a huge grin on his face.

“What are you going to do with it?” I, being the ever-practical mother, asked.

“Wear it to the first day of classes at college, of course!” was his reply.

I was speechless.

“And then on the second day of classes, I’ll just wear a T-shirt and jeans.” He grinned. “Keep ‘em guessing, you know.”

As I followed him out to the car, I found my voice and said, “Are you really going to do that?”

He gave me a look as he hung up the jacket in the back seat. “Do you really have to ask?”

I guess I didn’t, I thought as we drove home.

Josh has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. He is a true original, with no interest whatsoever in fitting into any particular mold. He is always perfectly himself, one of those rare people who know from an early age exactly who they are and make no apologies.

He taught himself to play every instrument he currently plays (saxophone, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, piano) and parlayed that into playing in four different bands and making the All-State band. He wrote his first novel when he was a sophomore in high school and published his first collection of short stories last year. He will get up in the middle of the night and find himself inspired to write a poem. He learned how to crochet and sold his scarves and hats for a profit. He runs 5K’s and lifts weights. He made a documentary about his senior class and the guidance department is going to show it to incoming freshmen as part of their orientation. He does hilarious impressions and can make people laugh until they cry.  He has photographed one wedding and been the videographer at another one. He is a New Hampshire scholar. He is fluent in French.  He is a loyal friend. He does not suffer fools. He has wickedly funny sense of humor and can be snarky at times. He was baptized at our church when he was 16 years old and he loves Jesus.

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Josh would no doubt agree that something Arnold Schwarzenegger said in his auto-biography: “What is the point of being on this Earth if you are going to be like everyone else?”

I am so proud of him. I am in awe of the fearless courage and joie-de-vivre with which he approaches life.

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I asked him if I could take his photo in the tails when we got home and he happily obliged, knowing this was too good an opportunity for his photographer mother to pass up.

True to form, he also sported bare feet, which is how he enjoys walking through his days.

He also loves his grandma, who was thrilled that he found his long-awaited tails. :)

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I sure am going to miss this boy when he leaves for college in three weeks.

And I wish I could be a fly on the wall during that first day of class.

 

 

 

 

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Why Not?


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Recently, my friend Janet suggested that I read a book called Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It is the first in a wildly popular series that is a unique combination of history, romance, intrigue, adventure, and even some science fiction (in the form of time travel).

I loved it.

I finished the 640 page  novel in two weeks and am already into the second book in the series.

I was intrigued by the author, so I checked out her YouTube channel and listened as she talked about her writing process. She shared that she had always wanted to write a novel since she was 8 years old.

Several years later, she just decided to begin. The time was hardly ideal: her husband had just started a new business, she had a full time job as a college professor, and her children were small.

She seized the one time of day where she had time and  quiet (which happened to be 12-4 in the morning) and she started to write with only a vague idea of a character. She had no expectation that anyone would ever see this work, but she was willing to try.

What I loved most about that story was that she did it!

She just didn’t talk about it; she just didn’t  think about it. She certainly didn’t wait for the perfect time to begin (is there really such a thing? I think not).

She simply took the first step toward her dream.

I find that so inspiring!

That day was different from all the rest because she took action…and that was the first day of the rest of her life. Eight books later, she is successful beyond her wildest imaginations.

But that isn’t truly the point.

The point is that she wasn’t afraid to attempt her dream.

We only get one turn on this planet.

What is your dream?

Will you let one more day go by without taking a step toward living it?

What do you have to lose?

Nobody else has your vision, your experiences, your unique way of seeing this world. If you don’t release what is on the inside, we will all miss out.  You have a creative voice! Decide to use it.

Try.

So what if it isn’t perfect? If you wait for perfection, you will never begin. Trust me, you will learn something valuable from every attempt.

Let no one else define you. Be who you are. You have been created in the image of God. In fact, He declares you to be His masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10).

Don’t get to the end of your life and be filled with regret for never chasing your dream.

Make the decision to take one step toward your dream today.

Who knows where that first step will lead you?!

“Don’t die with the music still in you.”—Wayne Dyer

 

 

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