Radical Simplicity and a Beautiful, Messy Life

10 Things I'm Not Going To Do This Christmas

This is my first sober Christmas in many years.  And it's already hard.  Change is hard.  Growing is hard.  Real life is hard.   I know you know this.

Normally Christmas is a season of to-do lists around here.  But normal wasn't working for me.  So as an act of radical self care, this year I am making a not to-do list.  Feel free to join me.

Here are 10 Things I am committing not to do this holiday season.

1. I am NOT putting lights on the house. Because I don't want to.

2. I am NOT sending out Christmas cards.  Which means I'm also not buying matching outfits for all the kids, spending an hour trying to get a picture where nobody is crying or blinking or picking their nose, and then spending hours choosing a card design, writing in cards, addressing envelopes and standing in line at the post office.  We did it last year, and we'll do it next year, I think every second year is a good compromise. 

3. I am NOT signing up for everything or attending every event.  Radical self care means balance.  It means saying no.  So my kids aren't in the church Christmas play, and we're choosing carefully what commitments we say yes to.  What if we celebrated the holidays by slowing down instead of adding more to our already hectic lives?

4. I am NOT baking cookies for everyone and their grandmother.  Having a cute bag of handmade sugar cookies for the mailman is a really nice gesture.  But not this year. 

5. I am NOT going to make all my gifts by hand.  Because if I was, the balanced and sane thing would have been to start back in June. So I'm going to buy gifts instead of staying up all night cursing at my sewing machine.  Trust me, this is best for everyone involved.

6. I am NOT going to try to be the world's best giver of gifts.  And not just because we are going to be paying for my stint in rehab for the next decade or so.  But because I don't need to buy the right to be in people's lives. They know that. I need to know it to. 

7. I am NOT going to make everything look picture perfect.  I'm laying down expectations and just letting things be.  So what if the Christmas tree decorations aren't perfectly placed or the mantle isn't perfectly decorated, or the gifts aren't dolled up in luscious matching ribbons?  Nobody looks back on their Christmas memories, disappointed in the holiday vignettes in the background. 

8. I am NOT going to create a pinterest-y advent calendar full of Christmas activities for the kids. Sure we will read Christmas stories and watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and drive around to look at holiday lights.  But not every day needs to be a production.  Keep it simple, right? 

9. I am NOT going to make a ridiculous list of households project to finish before our guests arrive on Christmas day.   Nobody cares if the paint needs touching up in the living room or if the baseboards need dusting.  Christmas day is not a deadline hurdling towards us with it's list of demands. 

10. I am NOT going to expect everything to be sing-songy and joyous.  Every year I set myself up for disappointment by wanting this time of year to be full of an absurd amount of peace and magic and joy.  But life is messy.  And that's okay.

Here's what I am going to do:
I'm going to drink good coffee and take hot baths.  I'm going to curl up and watch movies with my kids and sing Christmas carols off key in my kitchen and kiss my sweetheart under the big plastic mistletoe.  I am going to sweep floors and read books and write and swear and volunteer and cook and cry.  And I hereby give you permission to do the same. 

What is on you not to-do list this year?

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebooktwitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.

This Year Needs Advent, More than Ever

Advent Has begun.  Those four blessed weeks of anticipation for our Lord who steps into our darkness and loves us into the light.  I don't know about you, but I need advent this year.

For some people, 2016 has been good.  This post is not for them.

No. This is for the person who feels like 2016 has ripped them to shreds.  For the person who feels weak and mauled and sapped.  For the person weary of fighting the same battles, wrestling with the same struggles, facing the same ugly truths.  This is for the person who desperately sings "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel."

This year needs advent.  More so than Christmas itself, we need this sacred season of anticipation of a God who comes for us, a God who doesn't leave us forever in those dry and empty places.

I need 4 full weeks of slow and messy contemplation of a God who came to pick up my sin and carry it to the cross.  I need to be ever pointed back to the God who walked this earth, kicked up this dust, and cried our salty tears.  

We anticipate.  Not the coming of presents and food and candlelight carols (although those things are beautiful.) No, we anticipate a God who is coming back.  A God who rescues us from ourselves, who hears our heart cries and weeps with us. Emmanuel, God with us.

Friends, my prayer for you and me this advent season is that all sense of familiarity with these Chrismas truths would crumble away.  That we would see as if for the first time the miraculous beauty of a God King Baby in a manger, destined to die in our place.  That we would hear the carols with new ears, soak up the scriptures as if they have not become tired Christmas tales, and marvel at the hope that has come and is coming for us. May we stand in awe of a God who has felt this air in His lungs and this wind on His cheeks and this anguish in His heart.

And when the season feels empty, when the presents and the sparkles and the feasting feels heavy and foreign, that our hearts would grasp again onto our Saviour King who was born for us.

They say it is better to give than to receive, but Christmas at it's core is about receiving, isn't it?  A world that has received it's King, a broken and scarred humanity that has received it's salvation, desperate trampled hearts that receive hope. Oh, we need to receive in order to give. We are ever in need of receiving Him.

Friend, 2016 was hard.  And maybe better days aren't on the horizon yet.  I'm so sorry for the pain this year has brought you.  I'm sorry for the dis-ease and the hurt and the heart-ache and this bloody fallen world.  My hope for us both is that when we need it most our hearts will hear that gentle whisper, and we will grasp, as if for the first time, that Emmanuel has come. God is with us.

If this post touched your heart, will you share it?   And thank you so much for reading my words, I am honoured.

Decluttering is Great, But It Won't Bring You Peace

When I met my husband, everything I owned fit into one purple backpack. We lived for a time in his pick-up truck, camping out in Walmart parking lots, with minimal belongings.  And we were happy.

A couple years later the unfinished basement of our first home was filled with junk,  items we had kept just-in-case, gifts we had no intention of using, things we found at thrift stores and just-had-to-have.  Overwhelmed and unsatisfied by the things we had collected, we embarked on a journey to give away over half of our belongings.  We dug through drawers, emptied boxes and totes, sent piles of stuff off to charities. We fully embraced the less-is-more life.

And I believe strongly that a simpler, minimalist, less stuff-filled life is an act of worship in response to the gospel.  The same God who made provision for us today made our neighbour in His image. The God that gave us our daily bread instructed us to share it.

But at times, I confess, I looked for more from that simple lifestyle than it could provide.  When life felt chaotic and out of control, I would look around for things to purge.  I was too often trying to fix internal chaos by controlling my external environment.  It didn't work.

Friends, decluttering is great.  Living with less, giving generously, holding loosely to the things of this world, is a genuine response to the God who desires our hearts.  But it wont bring us peace.  It won't soothe our souls.  Because when it comes down to it, we are still relying on the quantity and quality of our belongings to make us whole.  And belongings, no matter how mass or sparse, cannot to that.

Whether we hoard items or give them away, the temptation can be the same - to put our faith in our own ability, our material world, our curation of the right set of belongings, to bring us peace.  It's still about stuff.   It is still setting our hopes and comfort on created things rather than the creator of all things. It is materialism, wrapped up in a sparser bow.  As long as our focus is on created things, we will miss the maker of all things who beckons us to himself.

Please friend, keep decluttering if you are so inclined. A simple life of few possessions is a great goal. Giving away our excess to those who can use and enjoy it? That is a beautiful way to practice love.  But if we are hoping to find peace in those empty corners of our home, trying to stir up some life changing magic by sorting through our stuff, we will be left disappointed and dissatisfied, time and time again.   Because nothing short of god can satisfy,  not full cupboards, nor empty ones.  Just God alone.

"Let's search; let's pray; let's get quiet.  Let's learn the wonder of silence. Let's learn the beauty, the secret of seeking after God.  With our Bible open before us and our knees bent, all alone in humility and penitence, let us cry, "Only God, Only God and God alone! Take the world, but give me Jesus!"  Will you do that? We need it in the church. We all need it.  May God grant it in Jesus Christ our Lord." -A.W. Tozer

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebooktwitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.

10 Reasons I Give to Panhandlers (and think you probably should too)

I've worked with homeless people through drop-in centers and street ministry and been homeless myself as a young woman. I've panhandled (quite successfully, actually) with a sign that said "kick a bum for a buck", eaten in soup kitchens, and heard the heart breaking stories of countless men, women, and youth living on the streets. And until a few years ago I didn't have an answer for whether or not to give to people who beg on the street.

I did give, often out of a sense of guilt or compassion, but I was never sure that it was the right thing to do.

One ordinarily hectic Sunday morning on the way to Starbucks to get our caffeine fix before church, rushing with our van load of children to arrive on time, yelling from the front seat for someone to put their shoes back on and to stop fighting over the hair brush we brought along because we never ever ever manage to get everybody's hair brushed before the frantic, barely shod rush out the front door, we saw a man with a sign asking for money and thought of stopping . My husband and I both thought of it. But we didn't. And that day in the service, which I am certain was very interesting, I didn't hear a word of what the pastor said because God was breaking my heart.
If I arrive at church on Sunday morning, wearing my most convincing soccer-mom-who-has-it-all-together outfit, with my slew of children all groomed nicely and a three dollar coffee in my hand, but failed to help the person in need along the way? I have really, really missed the point.

I bawled all the way home that day.

We've since committed to give something to every panhandler we see. Here's why:

1. Jesus says to give to those who ask of us. (Matthew 5:42) He doesn't say to give to those who deserve it, those who are trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, those who will spend it wisely, but just to give. Do we have to give just money? Of course not. We could give a meal, a gift card, a listening ear, hope, prayer, words of encouragement, warm socks, hand knitted gloves or a hot cup of coffee. But walking past without giving anything to somebody in need who is asking for help? Frankly? Scripturally it is just not an option.

2. It offers them some dignity. You and I get to decide what we have for lunch, whether to splurge on a latte or just get an ordinary coffee and save a few bucks. It is true that those in need can sometimes get a meal at drop-in centers and urban missions, but people deserve to be able to make independent decisions. I would love to afford someone a little bit of dignity today.

3. Meeting their perceived needs frees up time to meet their actual needs. I've heard the same argument countless times: "They are just going to spend the money on drugs". Maybe it is true. Some of them will. I did. But if this person is going to sit in the cold and wind and rain until they have enough money to not start detoxing in the street, then I am happy to help them meet that goal quicker so that they can go get themselves warm and fed and cared for.

4. Panhandling is hard work. There's nothing glamorous about sitting on the pavement and asking people for money. There's nothing fun about being spat on, kicked, ignored and sworn at by passersby. People who aren't in need don't subject themselves to this. If somebody is willing to subject themselves to the elements and the judgments of some human beings then I can certainly put a few bucks in their cup.

5. I don't want to miss the opportunity to feed Christ himself. This is the big one, right? Jesus tells us that when we serve the needy we do it for him. (Matthew 25:31-40) I would like to think I would never walk past Jesus, scared to make eye contact in case he asks something of me. But so many of us do it every single day. I would rather give to a thousand con artists than walk past one person truly in need and fail to help them. I don't want to be guilty of ignoring Jesus anymore.

6. It's humbling. Truth is, we only have our needs met because God has made it possible. The ability to work and earn income is a blessing from the hand of God. The fact that our own struggles and hurts and choices haven't left us on the sidewalk in desperate need is the grace of God in our lives and nothing else. Giving up a small portion of our income is a reminder that we would have nothing if it were not for the grace of God in our lives, which, honestly, is a reminder I need sometimes.

We are all in need. And most of us aren't willing to write our needs on a piece of cardboard and ask for help. I think people who do are stronger and braver than we realize.

7. I want my children to see me giving. I want them to see me excited to give and help. I want them to know that it is okay to look homeless people in the eye. I want them to know that we only have our needs met because God has made it so. When in doubt I want them to err on the side of giving.

8. Drop-in centers and homeless missions can be difficult places to be (and aren't always open). The other argument I hear often is that we shouldn't give to homeless people because there are community resources available to help them. And I love that those community resources exist and I don't want to be critical of the centers themselves because they are doing a good work the best they can. But so many individuals in need have been hurt, abused, or judged at these centers by other guests or the volunteers themselves that we can't assume that every person we see on the street could just go get a sandwich and a bowl of soup if they need it. Some of them can't, for very legitimate reasons.

Also, these often volunteer run programs aren't open 24/7. Being able to get a meal during very specific hours, 2 or even 5 days a week is better than nothing, but it isn't enough.

9. I would want people to give to me if I was in that position.  In fact, I did. If you were in such need that you were begging on a street corner, how would you like people to respond to you?

10. I never again want to arrive on time for church on Sunday morning with a Starbucks coffee in hand, and know that I drove past someone in need to make it happen. Never. The Lord broke my heart that day and I am so glad he did.

Friends, be free to give. Your hands brushing as you pass a five dollar bill to that man in need might be the only touch he receives all day. You might be the first person all morning to make eye contact with him, to smile at him. Your prayer for that homeless youth might be the first prayer ever silently spoken for her. Be free to give.

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. -1 John 3:17-18

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.

The Other F-Word: Why The Church Needs Feminism

I remember sitting in my livingroom with friends of friends who had come for dinner, trying to convince a woman who was studying to go into full time ministry that her role was at home caring for her husband and future children.   I cringe to think of it.  I cringe at the way I attempted to squash the holy spirit's leading in her life based on my own biases and upbringing.  I cringe at the way I callously used my own fear and misunderstanding to restrict a woman who was seeking the Lord with her whole heart.  I cringe to think of a time when I thought fit to tell God what he was allowed to ask from a life He'd redeemed. 

The books I read and my experiences among church people back then confirmed my patriarchal worldview.  I read toxic books about being a help-meet, that discouraged close female friendships and shamed women for wanting to be anything more than professional slipper fetchers.   

I started saying things like "the only thing I regret about my tattoos is that I didn't wait to ask my future husband.  It's his body too."  Completely dismissing my own history and experience, completely dismissing my own personhood.

And when I was at the home of a fellow Christian, and I leaned over to change my newborn baby's diaper, and a man 20 years my senior took the opportunity to look down my shirt to see my bra, when I was shamed and given a sweater to put on, I did.  I accepted the shame and put on a sweater and sweltered under a mini-sermon about good places to buy modest clothing.  Because my t-shirt was slutty and my body was wrong and men who look down women's shirts are A-OK. 

Friends, The church needs feminism.   The body of believers that God calls His Own needs to be advocating for the social, spiritual, political and economical equality of women to men. 

The church needs feminism because when I was at Bible College, one of the girls in my dorm got pregnant by one of the boys.  She said it was rape, he said it wasn't.  She was asked to leave, and he was asked to stop impregnating people.  

The church needs feminism because a teenage girl at a church I once attended was shamed for wearing pretty summery dresses because old men were ogling her and discussing her body.  Because it is more shameful for a young woman to dress in comfortable seasonal clothing than for elderly men to objectify a teenage girl.

The church needs feminism because that god-awful book about being a loyal help-meet and not having a personality or hobbies or friendships of our own is still being handed down to young women in our churches under the guise  of Biblical womanhood, is still available on Christian bookstore shelves. 

The church needs feminism because our bible study materials available for women speak more about laundry than they do theology.  Because young men are being taught to lead while young women are being taught to protect their purity. 

The church needs feminism because every damn summer we end up debating whether or not a Christian woman can wear a bikini, while Christian women across the world are doing bold and incredible work for the gospel, stepping into peoples lives and pains in practical and noble ways, preaching and affirming the gospel with their words and lives, but we don't trust them to dress themselves for the beach.

The church needs feminism because purity culture is just a rewiring of our society's hyper sexualization of women, still reducing a woman's value to little more than how she looks and dresses, by reframing it as modesty. 

The church needs feminism because the very word, with all it's radical implications of women being valuable people, equal to men, is still considered a bad word in some of our churches. 

We need feminism because I press publish on this post, fully expecting to receive hate mail.

Folks, Jesus was a feminist.  Jesus was powerfully wholeheartedly feminist.  His interactions with woman in the new testament radically interrupted the patriarchy and misogyny of that day and ours. 
  • He rebuked Martha, as she called for Mary to return to her socially right place in the kitchen, and encouraged Mary to continue to sit and learn, to pull up her seat as an equal and valid human being to the men surrounding her.
  • He advocated against slut shaming by returning our focus to our own sins, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." 
  • He sent his most precious and vital message through women, as it was women who first preached the most glorious sermon that Our Lord is Alive. 
No, this is not a God who lackadaisically accepted the misogyny of this world, but who countered and rebuked it over and over.

The church needs feminism, because the church needs the heart and truth of Christ.  And a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that jesus delivered to a broken hurting world, is that the lines we draw between ourselves are being erased by His kingdom.  That when we stand before God we are no longer male and female, jew or greek, slave or free, that our strivings to be worth more or less than the next person are over, that we are a treasured creation of the holy God, dressed in the righteousness of Christ, redeemed and made whole.  

Friends, the church needs feminism not because it's a nice ideology, but because we have an opportunity to raise up the next generation of women and men with the profound knowledge that they are capable of anything the Lord calls them to.  That their worth does not lie in their body or sexuality or even their attempts at purity, but in the magnificent substitution of Christ's perfect righteousness afforded to us by the cross. 

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.

For the Love of God, Please Be Awkward

Diverse pile of wood frames

I'm awkward.  I say they wrong things and laugh when I shouldn't and fall up stairs when everyone is watching.

Like the time I laughed awkwardly when a new friend told the story of his son falling into a fire. "It's not funny, Kelly. He could have died." I laugh when I'm nervous. 

Or the time I asked a mom of 8 beautiful girls if she was going to try for a boy and walked away knowing what an insensitive comment I'd made. As if her life is somehow less fulfilling and meaningful without a boy in the mix. 

Or the time a sweet family came over for dinner and I locked myself in the bedroom because hubby and I had just had a huge fight and I refused to come out before the tears stopped flowing. That couple became some of our dearest friends, in the way awkwardness and vulnerability brings people together.

I don't want things to be messy and awkward and uncomfortable. I don't like being lost for words and stammering and uncertain. I don't want to say the wrong thing or laugh at the wrong moment or bare my vulnerability in front of people.

But I crave community and companionship. I want connection. And friends, these things are found in the mess. These things are birthed in the awkwardness. 

I have friends who've suffered great losses, friends who've had to bury children and husbands. And they've all said the same thing: I'd rather you show up and be awkward than not show up at all.

This past year was messy for our family. I went to rehab. I spent time in a psychiatric unit. I got brought home by the police at 2am. It was messy and awkward and painful and embarrassing. And the friends that stepped into that pain to be present despite it all? Those people were a game changer.

You have your own mess.  The raw places that hurt to be touched but will never heal if not exposed to the sting of fresh air.  We all do.  We are all a mess.

Friends, for the love of God, Please be awkward. Step into that messy situation and risk being the person who doesn't know what to say.  Because when you do, you present this grieving world with your authentic self. The world needs the true you, the wounded, messy, puts-their-foot-in-their-mouth authentic you.

Friends, for the love of God, be awkward. Show up when your palms are sweaty and the world seems broken and everything inside you screams at the awkwardness of it all.  Because when you do you set others free to be their less than perfect, not-so-polished, rambling awkward selves.

Friend, for the love of God, be awkward.  Walk humbly into the lives of people whose realities seem so different and so other.  Because we are designed to need one another, not in our shiny happy perfect lives, but in the muck and mess of real life.

Oh, this is hard stuff.  Grief, sickness, trauma, pain, these are awkward, uncomfortable, thorny things.  And nobody has the words. Nobody marches their messy self up to another messy human and says all the right things. If they do, I'm certain it's divine intervention. No friends, life is awkward. And none of us have the right words. But we can be present. We can give pieces of ourselves. 

And when you open your mouth and the wrong words come out, know that your presence, in all the awkwardness and uncertainty, is the very balm you hoped your words would be.

Friend, step into the awkwardness.  Because that's where real life and community is.

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.

Radical Self Acceptance, In Itsy Bitsy Steps

I bought a writing desk, because I'm trying to make writing a priority and just sitting down to actually write is somehow the least obvious step in that endeavour.  I spent some time rearranging the dining room to lovingly place the desk in the bay window, I bought a lamp of course and a little bamboo box for my pens even though I write nearly everything, everything, on my laptop.  I made a little pile of reference books with the bindings turned away because books on writing tend to be painfully ugly books to display.  I spent some time deciding which side of the desk my fragrant fruit blossom votive candle in it's delicate coral glass jar, should go on.  Left? Right? I lift it to my nose several times to breathe in the sweet spring scent and chase away some misplaced guilt over having not lit the candle yet.  That first lighting of a candle is so aggressive.  It ruins it's perfection, its glossy smooth top becomes ragged and it's wick charred.  But if you don't light them their scent dwindles over time and they become covered in dust and dead fruit flies and a lost eyelash or two.  I make a mental note to light the candle, but not right now.  Right now I'm writing. 

The vignette that is my writing desk is missing something.  The pencil box is too plain.  I bring out my favourite art markers and write the word create across its smooth bamboo front in a calligraphy-esque font.  The R runs into the C wrong and now it looks like a G, and the whole pencil box now looks like a testament to my failure as a make-shift calligrapher, which until this moment didn't feel like an important part of my self identity, but clearly it is.   I obsess over this for a while, with my art pens, making it worse before finally settling on something that almost definitely says "create" and not "greate".  I set it back in it's position on my desk and try not to cringe at its imperfection.  Its good enough.  I'm good enough.

A house guest asks me a question and I snap back with "no questions while I'm at my writing desk" as if this is an obvious and ancient unbreakable rule even though the writing desk just arrived earlier today.  The house guest is gracious enough to not point out that I'm not even writing, I'm fiddling with markers on a bamboo pencil holder.  Mental note: apologize to house guest.

The bamboo pencil holder, in its short time on my desk, has become a metaphor for my writing life, and my life in general.  Less than perfect, because it was made by my messy imperfect trembling hands.  I ruminate on the areas of my life where i need to accept the imperfect.  Radical acceptance, accepting things as they are and not as they could or should or used to be.   Seeing without judging. 

Radical acceptance of this C that looks almost a little maybe like a G.   Choosing acceptance when the anxiety rises that I've ruined the cute bamboo box.  That I wasted the 16.99 I paid for it.  That I'm not good enough as an artist or a writer or an old creative soul.   Radically accepting that I put my mark on something and good or bad, it is there.  This is a place to start.  

And with practice I will be able to radically accept bigger things.  The deep off-center pit created as a candle burns down.  The charred wick that is always too long or too short. Maybe then the feral voices that tell me I am a failure as a mom, as a wife, as a human being. With practice I'll be able to radically accept the areas in life that I've touched and affected, in ways that are neither all good or all bad, but are one hundred percent what they are.   One day I will be able to radically accept me.   But first, the bamboo box.  

Note to self: Learn not to hate the bamboo box. And light the damn candle. 

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.

Oh Mama Who Feels Alone, You Aren't

I went to the dress rehearsal instead of the recital because I was leaving for rehab the next day. 

My little girls shifted anxiously in their tutus, waiting as each class ran through their routine twice, in anticipation of their big day. Tired dance teachers in worn sweats patiently gave stage directions and cue reminders and shouted directions at the lighting booth. Strong, confident young women (and some boys) took their turns lifting and leaping and pliĆ©-ing.

What stands out as I watched them is comradary and teamwork and body positivity as girls in many different shapes and sizes rocked their leotards to the beat of self assurance and acceptance

What stand out when I looked at the show roster is something else. A quick run down of the last names reveals which successful local businesses each girl's parents own. These are our city's mini elites. I am reminded that we don’t fit in here, that constricting sensation that I am not enough.

I knew I didn’t fit in the first time I sat in the parents waiting room, helping my girls with their ballet buns and tutus. I knew from the way the other parents talked about their boats and their cottages and their successful careers as this or that, the way the other parents corrected their children’s posture and form as they skipped off to their classes.  These people had their shit together.  I don't.

I sat and looked at the roster and wondered where I took a wrong turn. Surely these other parents aren’t charging dance lessons to their credit cards with little certainty they will ever pay it off.

Surely none of these moms are calculating whether or not they can dart out the back door and to the liquor store before their child's turn to mount the stage, resisting that urge because they need 72 hours of sobriety to enter rehab tomorrow.

Surely the other moms aren’t choking back tears in the dark auditorium because they are struck by the poignant juxtaposition of this beautiful organized example of strength and their own messy mucked up life.

Surely the other moms don’t go home from dress rehearsal to wade through addiction and mental illness, fear, debt, pain and resentments.

Except of course they do.

As they took the stage, I saw my daughters and their friends as if for the first time. Tiny on a large stage but grand under the stage lights in their colourful leotards. Bold and confident and self aware, I watched them float across the stage with a grace I am not accustomed to seeing in girls who at home get gum stuck in their hair or fall off a chair with little reason or warning. No, the girls on stage were not the ones I corralled out of the house that morning. They are different. Familiar strangers. Beings far too independent of myself to be the children I have born.

My hands were trembling and my head was spinning as I detoxed in my seat. I felt tragically unique, As if I was wearing my pain and dysfunction on my forehead for the world to see. But in that moment I was joined to a hundred different moms with a hundred different stories, choking back tears for a thousand different reasons, wishing for our kids the same things.

We all want to give our children a glimpse of their own strength, beauty and grace. We want them to see themselves, for a moment, through our eyes. To see themselves as strong and capable.  To feel the sense of accomplishment they've earned. 

We want to raise kids who can stand in their own truth and bend and sway to the music of life with dignity and purpose.
I watched as the other moms wiped tears from their eyes or grew big unrestrained grins as our daughters moved their bodies with a freedom and strength that dance affords them. Despite the disparity in the price of our handbags, or the struggles each family faces at home, we were united in that moment.  None of us were alone.

Whatever you are facing today, no matter how unique your challenge is or feels, you, Mama, are not alone.   You are connected to a vast network of broken messy women who long to love our children well, who fail every day, who keep trying to do the next right thing.  Our struggles look different, but we long for the same things. 

Oh Mama who feels alone, who feels like you don't measure up, who fears you've made too many wrong turns, please keep going. You aren't the only one. You aren't alone.

Encouraged?  Will you share this post to encourage some other mamas?  And take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram.  Thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured. 

I am Going to Ruin Christmas Again This Year, and That is Kind of the Point.

I love Christmas time. I thirst all year for the peace and community of the season. And every year I vow to keep Christmas simple, to keep the focus on Christ's birth and loving each other well. Then I proceed to buy too much stuff, over commit, obsess over wrapping paper, and snap wearily at my family for not cooperating with my unattainable visions of a perfect and peace-filled Christmas. I know I'm not the only one.

Every year we long for a season of peace and instead find ourselves in a whirlwind of to-do lists, debt, and unmet expectations. And when it is all over we sit back and wonder how it happened again, how did we nearly miss Christ in the midst of the very celebration of Him?

But in the ruining of it, in the missing the mark, don't we uncover the real beauty of Christ's Mass?

The notion that we would pick a day to celebrate the humble birth of our saviour King, establish a season of advent in which we anticipate Him, and then nearly miss Him completely in the hub-bub of gifts and flurry of activity? Friends, that is exactly why we need him in the first place. 

Isn't that the gospel?  That our own efforts fall short again and again. That we cannot make ourselves presentable to God?  And that in His goodness, in His love, He meets us there?  That He has made a way, not because of what we've done, but in despite of it?

So I will strive this Christmas season to celebrate in simple meaningful ways, to navigate the season with joy and gratitude and perspective. And I will fail and have to turn my heart back towards God.

But I trust that God will be present despite myself.  I will ruin Christmas, and God will redeem it. 

Friends, may the distractions of this season be a reminder of how desperately we need our Emmanuel, God With Us.  May we rejoice over the God who comes to us, who meets us in our failed strivings, and sets us free.

And maybe, just maybe, we will obsess less over the wrapping paper.

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As A Survivor of Sexual Assault, Trumps Presidency Hurts.

woman alone sexual assault survivor

Look, I'm Canadian. I've been trying not to care too much about this election. Not because it doesn't affect me, the american presidency affects the whole world. But because I had no say. And I'm trying to worry less about things I cannot control. God grant me the serenity and all that.

And I know this election was hard. There was no great candidate. Sometimes democracy feels a little like trying to decide which venereal disease you'd like to have for the next four years. I don't envy my American friends who had to go to the polls without much faith in either side.

But as a survivor of sexual assault, Trumps presidency hurts.

Sixty million people went to the polls last Tuesday and decided that a man who brags about sexual assault deserves the highest title in the land.

Sixty million people chose to elect a man who brags about using his power and authority to grab women by their genitals.

And 81% of evangelical Christians, my people, my brothers and sisters in Christ, decided that a man with multiple sexual assault allegations against him, who dismisses these things with a "boys will be boys" attitude, is an acceptable leader of their country.

And I've heard the arguments. That they weren't voting for trump, they were voting for the party. That they were voting for policies over personalities. That they were voting their conscience. And I have no desire to tell people that they voted wrong. But I can tell you how I feel, and I feel dismissed, demeaned and betrayed by the American public.

Friends, this matters. This matters to me because I was raped. This matters to me
because I am raising 5 daughters and a son in a world where rape is dismissed as locker room talk. This matters because the most conservative estimates state that 1 in 6 American women have been victims of sexual assault. This matters because two thirds of sexual assaults go unreported, often because victims feel unsafe and unheard. This matters to me because I have sixty million neighbours who consider sexual assault not to be a big enough deal to disqualify a man from the presidency.

With Brock Turners swim times still fresh in our minds, the message being sent is that it's okay for rich and powerful white men to commit sexual assault.

This is rape culture. And please don't tell me that rape culture isn't a thing. Don't tell me that our culture doesn't normalize and excuse sexual assault after a man who brags about his sex crimes has been awarded the most honorable job in the country. If rape wasn't normalized and excused in our culture, Trumps name never would have made it to the ballot.

It's too late for America to vote differently. But it's not too late to change how we think and talk about sexual assault in our society. It's not too late to start expecting our leaders to talk about women in a way that affirms our value and worth apart from our sexuality. It isn't too late to stop making excuses for grown men who commit heinous crimes. It isn't too late to create a society where victims feel safe to report what has happened to them.

 Friends, it isn't too late to end rape culture. For the sake of my daughters and my son, I choose to believe that it's not too late.

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He Leads Me into A Spacious Place

I was once part of a group meditation where the speaker asked us to envision a beach or a waterfront, and a wide open sky, to hear the sounds and smell the air and notice how the sky is big and vast enough for all of our thoughts and fears and pains. Together but alone each of us envisioned this spacious place where the was room for all of our thoughts and feelings and hurts, with all their complexities and contradictions.  There was room for us, and others, and life, just as we are.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
Psalm 18 vs 16-19

Life and fear and brokenness can often feel like a very small place, no? Tight and constricted we squirm under the weight of our struggles. Our hopes and hurts bump into each other as they frantically circulate in the small space we find ourselves. Time seems scant and our breath feels heavy and we feel that our troubles fill up every ounce of us.  Our hearts find themselves claustrophobic in our chests.

But the Lord brings us into a spacious place.

World events, personal struggles, life itself feels stifling.  We find ourselves in small places where the walls are closing in and we can't quite catch our breath, we are bound and our options seem few.   We ball up our fists and we sink low into ourselves.

But the Lord brings us into a spacious place.

Friends, I don't need to tell you what your tight spaces are.  You know. 

Addiction is a very tight space.
Illness is a very tight space.
Poverty, grief, loneliness and fear are tiny tiny spaces.

But God leads us into spacious places.

He draws us out of the deep waters where we are surrounded on every side by a pressure we cannot control. He moves us into spacious places where there is room for us and others and life and brokenness, where our hopes and fears have room to breathe. And He meets us there. 

He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

10 Ways to Support a Friend with Borderline Personality Disorder

Last winter my life fell to shit. I couldn’t function. My substance abuse and reckless behaviour escalated and began to frighten the people around me, and myself. After a short stay in my friendly neighbourhood psych ward I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD is a devastating mental illness characterized by intense and raw emotions, a frantic fear of abandonment, reckless and impulsive behaviour, and often self harm and suicidality.

For me, the diagnosis made a world of sense. All of a sudden the previous 15 years of my life made sense. I finally had an explanation for my pain, an observable reason for my chaotic behaviour. I could finally begin healing because we knew what was wrong. But my friends didn’t have that same aha! moment. They were left wondering how to love and support me, both in times of crisis and on ordinary grey days. This list is for them, and for anyone who loves someone living with BPD.

Each person's experiences with BPD is different, and I can only speak for myself about what will help me when I’m suffering, but there's a good chance that if a friend with BPD shared this article with you that these are ways they would like to be supported as well.

1. When I am discouraged, Remind me of past successes. I often cannot remember anything that doesn't coincide with my current feeling. If I am depressed I can’t remember ever feeling happy, If I’m anxious I can’t recall ever feeling safe. Be specific if you can, remind me that I've survived some pretty shitty stuff and I can survive this too.

2. Remind me that normal is relative. That I'm not a freak or hopeless. Anyone who has been through what I've been through and has the challenges I have would be struggling with whatever I am in this moment. So in that respect, my fears and feelings are perfectly normal.

3.Distract me. Tell me about the great new book you are reading or that great new man you are dating or what you ate for dinner last night. Remind me to journal or exercise or create something. When my thoughts and feelings are spinning out of control I sometimes need help refocusing that energy in a safer and healthier way.

4. Don't be afraid to ask me if I'm safe, if I have a plan to hurt or kill myself. Asking me point blank reminds me that it is safe to tell on myself. And that somebody cares whether I live or die.

If you fear for my safety, get a professional involved. I want to live, but I have moments where all I can see is a way out. If thinking about suicide turns into making plans, I cannot be alone until I’ve been assessed by a mental health professional.

5. Play up my successes and play down my crises. Nobody likes to be pegged as "attention seeking" but a very present temptation for me is to engage in risky behaviour so that people will come to my aid and tell me that I matter. So celebrate with me when my life is ticking along quietly with no big crisis. A quick text to say “hi” when nothing is wrong shows me that I don’t need to act out in order to be cared about.

6. Affirm and validate instead of criticizing and dismissing. When I feel abandoned or betrayed or vulnerable, my perception of the events is more powerful than the reality. Accept that I feel the way I do, acknowledge and validate those feelings. You don’t have to agree with my sometimes skewed understanding of the scenario in order to accept that my feelings about it are legitimate and genuine.

7. It's okay to set boundaries. If I'm texting or calling you too much, tell me. Preferably kindly and when I'm not in distress. Remember that my greatest fear is being abandoned by someone I think I need, so assure me that you aren't going anywhere and that you are setting these boundaries because it's what is best for both of us and our friendship.

8. Know that I don't mean to be clingy. Since I am sometimes unable to sooth my own difficult emotions and I have an ever changing sense of identity, I tend to attach myself to people who help me to feel safe and loved. I might latch on to you, don’t get weirded out. Understand that I don't consciously choose who I will latch on to, and I don’t want to be this way. Through therapy and practicing of new skills I will learn to be more independent. In the mean time, refer to tip #7.

9. Have normal conversations with me. My life right now is a whirlwind of appointments and meetings and self care, and it can be hard to relate to friends who are living with a more ordinary set of challenges and experiences. But please don’t let that stop you. I need to laugh and chat and feel like a regular part of the human race, to feel like I did before mental illness blew my life into fragments. A good chat over a cup of coffee can go a long way to making me feel like there is hope for a normal-ish life again someday.

10. Don’t give up on me. I know that when I hurt myself, it hurts those who love me. I know that I can be needy and clingy and irrational. And although I am making progress, some days I return to old habits of thinking and behaving. I start conflicts and push people away.  But those times that I am difficult to love are the times I need it most, so please continue to be patient with me.

Loving each other well is hard work, but it is a sacred work.   I am thankful for all the people engaged in the hard and sacred work of loving me when I am most unlovable.

It's Called Borderline Personality Disorder, And It Doesn't Define Me.

The doctors call it borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD. But if they can avoid it, they don’t call it anything at all. Borderline Personality Disorder is a heavy term, hard to digest, full of stigma and misunderstandings and pain. So if they can, they call it "this thing." You need to fight this thing. You need to learn skills to cope with this thing. You need to somehow find healing, despite this thing

Almost everyone agrees that borderline personality disorder is a bad name for it. It is a remnant of a time when all doctors knew by observation was that some people teetered on the brink between neurosis and psychosis, on that border, and it brought them immense difficulty. Even calling it a personality disorder is controversial to some. It sends the message that there is something innately wrong with my personality, something many of us with the illness are likely to agree to whether it's accurate or not.

For 31 years I've called it "me." My mess. My shit. My trauma. My complete and utter inability to pull myself together and act like an ordinary human being for more than a few months at a time. I knew I was impulsive, reckless. Sometimes it was funny, like the time my husband came home from the grocery store to find me tearing the porch apart because I wanted to see what it looked like without the railings. Other times it was risky and frightening and not at all humorous. But I thought I was just deeply broken. I didn't know I suffered from a mental illness. Not until those last days before my hospitalization and diagnosis.

My whole life I've referred to this disorder by it's symptoms. When I was 15 and held captive by shame, wearing long sleeves in the sweltering heat of summer, I called it cutting. When I was 17, drinking rum in bathroom stalls between classes, it was my alcoholism. There were times where it manifested as messed up romantic relationships, and I called it my fucked up love life. It was the paralyzing fear that people would leave me and the frantic need to keep them near. It was the rage that I choked back and turned inward. It was the crying on the kitchen floor while my husband tried desperately to understand what had set me off this time. It was the drugs and the running away, the suicidality and the self loathing, the constant attempts to reinvent myself because I didn’t know who I was.

My whole life I was the girl who would latch on to anything that might end this pain and I had no idea that there was a diagnosis for the ways I was wounded at my innermost self, that I needed help, and that there was hope.

So what do I call this thing? This illness that was formed in my most primary years by some dark combination of genetics and trauma and neglect. I can call it BPD in clinical settings, of course. At least until they settle on a better name for it. I can call it this thing. I can fight this thing. I can live with this thing. I won't give it the power to destroy me.

I could call it my tempest. The swirling, nauseating thoughts that swim circles around me, trying to pull me down in their undertow. The overpowering emotions that come on like a tidal wave and leave me gasping for breath and clawing for the surface with nothing to grab a hold of. I am working towards spending more time in calm waters, finding my footing in some more shallow places.

I could call it my Debris. The places in me that have been snapped by violent winds of abuse or withered away by neglect. The dead and dying parts that need to be snipped away to make room for new growth.

I could call it my brokenness. Like bones that need resetting and cells that need regrowth, my interior places need healing. And I need to give it time.

I don't want to identify with my diagnosis too much. I am growing, gaining insights, learning new ways to think and be. I tiptoe carefully along the line of letting this label explain my past without allowing it to define my future. Identifying with the diagnosis only in as much as it helps me to make progress.

I don't know what to call it. But I know this: I will no longer call it "me." My whole life I have looked for a way to identify myself, and I have too easily latched onto these symptoms, allowed them to tell my story for me, allowed them to write the narrative. But not today. I have borderline personality disorder. I have a tempest inside me that threatens to destroy everything good and right in my life. But I am not the tempest. I am not the debris. I am not the brokenness. I am a complex and vibrant human being, and I will fight this thing.

The World Has Enough Opinions, It Needs Our Stories

I sat across from an old friend in his basement office, with my clothes unwashed and my hair dreading on its own. Months earlier I had chosen homelessness. I felt alone and unlovable, depressed and disgraceful. My friend told me about a dark time in his own life, when he couldn't will himself to leave home. He told me about how he grew so depressed and anxious and despairing that he couldn't go out to buy toilet paper and began using dirty articles of clothing to wipe himself. And in this story I found a friend who, although the circumstances where different from my own, could relate to my pain. This friend asked me that day not to become a tragedy. And those words have followed me for more than a decade.

By sharing his story my friend was able to reach through my wounds and connect with me. By sharing not what he knew, but where he'd been, he was able to walk alongside me.

The world does not need my opinion. There are plenty of talking heads filling the air with their divisive noise and polarizing opinions. What the world needs is my story, and yours. Our experiences of pain and hope, fear and truth, love, life, and freedom .

I'm preaching to myself here, folks.  I am opinionated, bossy. I draft snarky rants about world events and get wrapped up in go-nowhere social media arguments.  And every time I tell someone what to think I end up regretting it.  Every. Damn. Time.

But when I share a piece of myself, open up my life's story to glean the truth and meaning and hope found inside? When I step out in courage to forget what I know and instead share who I am? I am never left regretting that.

We've all had instances where stories have changed us when opinions never could. Our opinions on parenting crumbled when faced with the real life joy and fear and pain of shepherding a little soul.  Or our opinions on a political issue was softened or strengthened when we looked into the eyes of the people affected by the policies and platforms.

Without our experiences, our struggles and fears and hopes and triumphs, our opinions only ever hurt and divide. But our stories unite us, they reveal what is common and true about the human spirit. Our stories draw us together in ways that opinions never can.

"What we have in common isn't an idea but stories.  And I cannot tell my story well unless I also hear your story."  -Jean Vanier