Monday, November 11, 2019


A couple of times a year our preacher gets a Sunday off and occasionally he asks me to fill in for him!  I consider these opportunities to be "gifts."  Speaking at church stretches me outside my norm but it gives me a captive audience for a few minutes while I share with them a little about my Jesus!  Yesterday was no different. Writing the kind of message that takes 10-15 minutes to deliver requires significant thought, listening, waiting, thinking, waiting some more, wondering if I'm going the right direction, waiting and finally transferring it from my brain to the written form so I can get the thoughts out of my mouth on Sunday morning.  I have gained a new respect for Heath-the mental and emotional energy that it requires is almost draining but then you have that high, that rush if you will, when you finally share what has been "tormenting" you.  I've never shared my written message but with this one, I had so many signs pointing me toward this message I feel it's only right that I share it here.  Please keep in mind the following is not perfection-gaps were filled in by the his spirit and the words that actually came from my mouth yesterday.  I hope though that when you read it, you'll get it. { YH-WH } As I am sitting here in the quiet before the rush this morning, I can not only feel his presence as I breathe, I can hear my breath whisper his sacred name.

This week on Facebook, a friend posed the question: what do you do for self care? I gave an answer as did several of her friends.  What do you do when you need a little self TLC? The answers varied from a shower to the beach, walking outside to some Ben & Jerry’s.  I bet if Heath were here he’d probably think a really tough workout of the day at crossfit-that definitely wouldn’t be self care for me! But one of her friends hit the nail on the head…”self care is whatever makes you feel good, feel happy, brings you joy and fills your cup.”  Could there really be a one size fits all self care solution? We’ll come back to this in a bit….
Hebrew Tattoos
Many of you know I love the Hebrew language.  I was working on this message and kept coming across the Hebrew word “ruach” which can mean wind, breath or spirit and appears 389 times in the Old Testament. Scrolling through Instagram last night and Gabriel Wolff who is the artist who designed my Hebrew tattoo just posted his latest-ruach.  When we listen, even with our eyes, there are signs when we’re on the right path.
Humans are designed by God to breathe.  Really! In Genesis 2:7 we’re told that “God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.” Throughout the rest of the Bible, breath is often equated with life itself with many allusions to God as the giver of breath.  Let’s try a little experiment to see how important breath is. I’ll count to 3, we’ll all take a deep breath and hold it….one, two, huuuuuuuh, three! Didn’t work too well, did it? We are vulnerable and completely dependent on God-without BREATH we would die in just a few minutes. Breathing is a vital system, necessary to sustain us.
There is a prophesy found in Ezekiel, chapter 37: (I used the Message because I loved the way it sounded in my head. When you read this silently to yourself, don't read the numbers. Imagine Ezekiel receiving this prophesy from God, feel what he felt when God grabbed him and was set down among the bones. Use separate voices for God and Exekiel...when I read aloud, it was a "dramatic" reading with hand gestures, loud voices, quivering voices and excitement!)
1-2 God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.
3 He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Master God, only you know that.”
4 He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”
5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach tendons to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”
7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Tendons formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.
9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”
10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.
11 Then God said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they’re saying: ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us.’
12-14 “Therefore, prophesy. Tell them, ‘God, the Master, says: I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive—O my people! Then I’ll take you straight to the land of Israel. When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you’ll realize that I am God. I’ll breathe my life into you and you’ll live. Then I’ll lead you straight back to your land and you’ll realize that I am God. I’ve said it and I’ll do it. God’s Decree.’”

Dry bones were shown to Ezekiel but in reality they still had flesh They were weary, they had been sent into exile and left there.  They felt that God had abandoned them. Even though his judgements on Israel were stern, in this instance 70 years in exile-he is equally gracious.  Through Ezekiel he reminds his covenant people that he will bring them out of exile and back to Israel with renewed life that will be seen clearly as a gift from the Lord of the universe. 
How many times do find ourselves in a self imposed exile? We forget the very breath of life that was graciously given to us? We stay “busy” running ourselves to the point of exhaustion.  Our days fly by in a blur as one month fades into another year…we begin to have physical signs of our deprivation-our head hurts, our feet hurt, we aren’t eating like we should. Anxiety, depression are both on the rise and we look to our doctor for the magic pill to help us center ourselves, lower our blood pressure, erase the bad cholesterol when what we really need is to do is hear his voice… ”I AM GOD, I’ll do it. I’ll breathe my life into you and you will live.”
People of the Jewish faith are forbidden to pronounce the sacred name of God.  His real name is BEYOND pronunciation, unless you consider breathing a pronunciation.  So, it makes profound sense for at least one of the names of the real God to be not a Hebrew word, nor a word in Egyptian, or Latin, or Greek, or Arabic, or Sanskrit, or English - not in any single language but in all of them, or in some form of expression that both underlies and transcends language: just breathing, which all humans  do.  
Scott Erickson
Occasionally things you see on social media can have a positive lasting impact on your life.  Earlier this year an event showed up as something I might be interested in on Facebook. It was called “Say YES”  a liturgy of not giving up on yourself. My initial reaction was to ignore it but it appeared again…again I dismissed it.  When it showed up a third time, I googled this Scott Erickson guy and I found that I really needed to say YES. Earlier this week I had no idea what I would be speaking to you about today but I knew the right words would come.  When I saw this artwork from Scott on Thursday I exclaimed “I found it!” So please, close your eyes while I read his words continue to breathe deeply in and out and see if you can “hear” the sacred name of God---
You cannot be separate from God.

Our word God is rooted in ancient definitions of the Divine. All of humanity has wrestled his Holy Mystery. The Hebrews themselves, who struggled even mentioning any Name for this Mystery, used the sound YHWH to describe the I Am Who I Am. .

“YAH”. “WEH”. The very Name is our breathing. The very name of the Holy creator is the ongoing breath of every living thingYour life is sustained by elements you are not in control of. You do not make your heart pump. You do not make your lungs breathe. Your great mistake is to believe that your connection to life is up to you. All you must do is rest in the providence of unconscious sustainability.

You can not be separate from God. Your very breath is evidence of this.... whether you believe in God or not.

Receive the Holy Presence found in your own breathing. 
When you can hear his name as you breathe, you have given yourself the ultimate gift of self care.  It’s definitely one size fits all, it’s free, it’s plentiful, you can do it anywhere and when you concentrate on it you deepen your connection with God.  
I heard last time I filled in for Heath some of you gave him a hard time because I usually give a message with a small token.  I am a very tactile person-so when I have a token to remember a message by I hear the message again and again when I see or touch the item.  A few years ago I was coming home from one of my many trips to Oklahoma and found a “thumbprint” prayer token. Yesterday afternoon, Ted, Melissa and I took some time to play with clay, roll it in to balls and pray over it as we squished it into these tokens on the kneeling rails.  While our wonderful music team shares their talents with us, please come forward like we do for communion and select a thumbprint prayer token to help you remember that when Jesus appeared to his disciples, John recorded the event by writing, “He breathed on them and said, ‘receive the holy spirit.’”  Come, breathe….

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"Alvin" my friend

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't love rainbows.  Even though I'll be 50 in a few months the childlike excitement comes right back every time I see one in the sky! Magic, wonder, awe, hope, trust, promises and smiles simply because of a little light refraction; the reminder of a promise made long ago by a faithful God. 

As a teen, I was a member of the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls-an organization for the daughters and granddaughters of Master Masons and their friends.  I loved being part of this group of young ladies who served the community, had memory work that centered around scripture and made friendships to last a lifetime.  We wore dresses to our meetings with legs never crossed above the ankle and wore formal dresses for things like officer installation, initiation and dances with the Demolay!  I loved all things rainbow.

I've shared with you all before how my first memory of having a "gay" friend was in high school when a friend turned around in class and quickly told me she was gay.  I still consider her one of my dearest friends, I value her and the memories we share more and more the older I get.  Little did I know that day in the mid-1980's that the symbol of the rainbow I hold so close to my heart would become the widely known symbol for gay pride.  The first flag was dyed by hand and stitched together in 1978 for the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco.  A fun fact of irony-a San Francisco flag company began selling surplus Rainbow Girl flags that day...

From the King James Version of the Holy Bible:
Genesis 9:14-16 King James Version (KJV)14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.
 Every living creature of all flesh

Take a moment and let that sink in.

The other day I heard someone mention how sad it made them that the meaning of the rainbow had been changed from the bible, going on to imply almost a disgust for the LBGT community.  I happened to be sporting my 2019 Pride Converse (black Converse, rainbow sole and shoe strings).  I literally had no response, I love this person-we're friends; but still my heart hurt.  All I could do was whisper to myself, "I do set my bow in the clouds for every living creature...I do set my bow in the cloud for every living creature..." over and over again.  It really began to sink in no one "took" the rainbow from the bible.  No one changed the meaning.  The rainbow is for every living creature-man/woman, gay/straight, black/white-all the shades in between!  Each and every creature of all flesh has the promise from God that we are loved and will never be destroyed by flood because of our wrong doing or sin.

Another fun fact-my friend from high school married her sweeheart, Julie and together they adopted three incredible kids; their daughter is a Rainbow Girl and I love that she is learning the same love and promises that I learned many years ago!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

the Forgiver

"Forgiveness is balm for the soul of the wronged.  It is something deeply personal."

I was raised in the church being told to turn the other cheek and a constant reminder that Christ made the ultimate gift of forgiveness by giving his life.  Both are grand means of forgiveness but I think there was a little more to the story than just turning the other cheek.  Forgiveness isn't a little thing, it isn't something you just do in passing (insert Oprah here giving away forgiveness on one of her shows-"you're forgiven and you're forgiven and you get forgiveness, here's more forgiveness....more and more forgiving until the entire audience is jumping up and down because they received it and everyone is magically a perfect person.) That's not how it works!  That's not how forgiveness is meant to be.

The ultimate sacrifice by Jesus for our forgiveness worked because he is part of the Holy Trinity and they have a kind of super power. They have a relationship with every single person who has ever roamed this earth, they covet a relationship back; the forgiveness from that sacrificial act was deeply personal and genuine for each of us-it wasn't just a simple blanket I'm forgiving everyone of everything.  Although I didn't have a name the day he died on the cross, he knew I was to be.  He knew I was to be an imperfect, flawed human who would need forgiving time and time and time and time again.

It's taken me a lot of years to really get a handle on the super power of forgiveness.  I'd absolutely love it if everyone could understand it.  (Maybe Marvel or Quentin Tarantino will read my blog and create a movie about it-the Forgiver, sounds ominous but I can almost hear it in a James Earl Jones or Samuel Jackson voice being announced from the big screen.  Of course it would have to be played by Denzel.) Until a few years ago, I thought forgiveness was a burden to bear, something I had to do if I were to be a "good Christian."  All the sermons about forgiving others because Christ forgave you.  That's just wrong!  Jesus didn't die on that cross just beause his daddy told him to, it was so much deeper. >a very personal, quiet plea, "father forgive them."< I hope as I teach our children about forgiveness they'll get the real understanding.

Forgiveness is deeply personal.  I think it ranks right up there with making love to your partner and giving birth to your children.  When we hold on to a wrong, it's like an ulcer, a splinter, or even arthritis.  We bury our feelings for a while, deep down inside because we're hurt and angry-they wronged me-how dare they do that to me?!?!?!  We bury it and almost forget about it then we see their name on Facebook or maybe run in to them at the store or church and all of a sudden your psyche is screaching all over again.  You feel your cool begin to bubble because they wronged you.  They have no idea, they're living the life and maybe even laughing with their friends.  You continue to seethe and probably even wonder what gives them the right to enjoy their life when they've been so horrible to you.  Let me tell you,!!!!  They probably don't even remember what they did to you and if they do remember they may even think YOU'RE at fault. {take a deep breath here}

Forgive them. Just let-it-go. {exhale here} When you let it go, you are free.  When you let it go, there is no pain to return to.  When you let it go, you can enjoy your life without fear of drudging up the pain of the past.

Notice, I said YOU are free.  I didn't say it erases what they did wrong.  I didn't say you have to be best friends with them in the land of lollipops and rainbows.  I didn't say you have to rush and tell them so you can be friends again.  The trick here is YOU have the power when you forgive.

We're human we like to hold on to the pain because it's ours.  Jesus showed us the ultimate liberation of forgiveness.  He grumbled to his dad-take this cup from me.  The burden of showing love was huge, it required dying but in doing so he showed us that if he can forgive the worst humanity has to offer than surely we can forgive the ones who have wronged us.  Let me be clear here because this is where it gets a little tricky-forgiveness doesn't mean the sin never happened, it doesnt mean you are "okay" with what has happened; it means you recognize you were wronged the forgiveness happens in your heart and you feel free.  Sometimes forgiveness comes easy, especially for the little things but the big ones may take time and that's okay.  I actually think that when forgiveness takes weeks, months or even years it's even more significant because the shalom you feel in the long run is the most soothing balm to your soul.

Personal story here...once upon a time I had a friend.  I thought we were really good friends!  The kind of friends whose kids have sleepovers, the kind of friends who bring meals when the other is sick, friends who worshipped and prayed together.  Something happened-we were no longer friends.  I have no idea what went wrong but I felt attacked (I was verbally and um visually I guess you could say).  Now I'm no saint, I reacted like a human-I didn't want this person around my child any longer and I'm sure my smart mouth said words to others about the situation they shouldn't have.  After some significant time had passed I was in my garden and I could almost hear the voice of God saying, "seriously Dana, you've been forgiven by me of some pretty big things why don't you let this go?  Forgive her." I let go and I said the words, "you are forgiven" she never heard them but she doesn't have to.  The cold dark spot I was holding inside and letting fester disappeared.  I never told her, it's been years now and I'm okay.  Forgiving her didn't even hurt, I just had to let it go...the pain wasn't mine, it was hers.  Sadly I don't think she has had the same experience.  I've seen her several times and my heart aches for her.  I've smiled, even said hello but I can see in her eyes the look of one who carries her burden heavy-whatever went wrong, whatever I need to be forgiven of, she holds on to it like some kind of prize.

My Angel 2 has had to do more than her fair share of forgiving this year, I know she is a better person for it.  Watching her hurt when pain has been doled out by someone like they're generous with the Halloween candy has been heart wrenching for me as a parent.  You know, hurt me-hurt my kid?  The proverbial cock has crowed multiple times but I know my girl more importantly I trust her.  We have the kind of relationship where she knows she can be honest and real with me without fear.  This last round may take a bit for her to release but I'm confident she will be able to say with sincerity, "you are forgiven" and when she does, she wins.

*A special thanks to Heath Bradley, pastor at Living Waters Methodist Church in Centerton for teaching me about forgiveness so I don't have to carry those "time bombs" of pain around with me all the time!!!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Toil or Torment

This morning I read Genesis chapters 1-3 like I've done dozens of times in my 49 years. Today I read it slow, with intent; to quote a favorite movie line, "I sucked the marrow" from it.  I finally got to the part about the consequences and I looked down at the notes near the end of chapter three, something caught my eye. It spoke of the painful toil that mankind would be subject to because of our decision then it went on to quote Wesley, "humanity was only sent to a place of toil, not to a place of torment."  I suddenly heard the the chorus of angels in my head and it all clicked.

TOIL (hard work) 
 TORMENT  (severe mental/physical suffering)

My heart has felt a heavy sadness the last few months.  I feel a disappointment with humanity and I'm really struggling to find the light.  As a child raised in the 70's and 80's the main form of  instant communication was verbal, the spoken word. You were most often face to face with the one you were speaking with.  Regardless of how you felt about societal and political issues I never saw or heard anything more than a slightly elevated conversation that ended with the persons still friends.  Strangers didn't chime in (with hate) because they weren't there but now my heart aches with the vicious attack of words on people via social media.

Recently we had some flash flooding here in Arkansas.  A woman was caught up in the swiftly moving water and her car was filling.  Sadly emergency services did not arrive in time and the woman drowned. The recording of their conversation, and the mistakes made by the operator, has gone viral on the national level and the comments make me think of the angry crowd screaming, "Crucify...CRUCIFY...CRUCIFY!!!" when Pontius Pilot presided over the trial of Jesus.  It really doesn't matter what the headline of the hour is because the treatment is the same. I feel so much empathy for them, a few sound bites or a video clip of a moment and lives are ruined.  An angry society has become the judge and jury passing verdict on every story. The damage is done regardless of the outcome of the judicial system. We, the crowd, aren't following God's example of an appropriate consequence-toil we are tormenting causing mental suffering.

President Trump does or says something half the population disagrees with and suddenly the airwaves and social media streams are filled with scalding hate, his followers retaliate with hatred-the next day the cycle continues.  Walmart decides to no longer carry handgun ammunition and the people are divided.  The NRA is found to be "at fault" in San Francisco-both sides shouting their opinions with no discussion, only anger.  Let's take all the guns away-no we need more guns! You're either pro-life or you want to kill the babies.  I shouldn't even mention the refugee crisis debate. White people are to blame, no maybe the Mexicans, nope the Blacks, the Muslim...let's point our fingers at anyone who isn't like us or disagrees on this topic (whatever the topic)...society doesn't seem to be content to voice their opinions and have an educated discussion they only want to express negativity based on the soundbyte they hear over and over or the headline of the article they didn't read.  Again, spewing torment-no consequences, no learning simply keeping their anger on a simmer all of the time.  What ever happened to talking about it, working through an issue and both sides giving a little to come up with a reasonable compromise. The anger, the hate, it only serves to divide and make it worse because someone will always be the loser.
Click below to read an article from the Anti-Defamation League on Cyber Hate

God could have scrapped humanity that day he came in and found Adam and Eve in their fig leaves.  He could've started over again and again and again until we remained perfect clones of him with no free will.  Instead he gives us the freedom to make decisions and have opinions.  No two people are the same.  No two people agree 100% of the time on 100% of the issues!  It's just NOT possible.

If you're one of the people spewing your point of view, unalbe to discuss or consider compromise I challenge you to go back and read Genesis 1-3.  Read it several times, let that compassion that was shown to humanity sink in.  Do you have compassion?  Real compassion, the kind that is willing to look at something from all angles and work together for good (toil) or are you so focused on your way that you don't care who gets hurt (tormented)?  I'm tempted to stick my head in the sand and ignore all topics facing our society but that really isn't the answer either.  My sister was afraid about bringing a child into this world way back in 1988, she called my Dad for wisdom and his words have stuck with me, "if the good ones don't have children, the world will never get better."  People, if you claim to be a christian, one of the "good ones," then it is your responsibility to lead the way with compassion, understanding, listening and maybe changing a little from your "perfect" viewpoint so we can all work together and mend the hate.  Have a discussion!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Smoke & Mirrors

Smoke & mirrors, trickery & deception...Facebook. All ways to distort or blur the facts, something that is intended to make you believe something is being done or true when it's not.
The most unflattering picture of me-ever!
 I was attempting to take a picture of
Ted & the dogs, my camera was
the wrong way!
I'd never share this on
Facebook...or would I?

If Facebook is supposed to be full of our family and friends why aren't we authentic and genuine?  Yesterday, I was a last minute invite to the American Heart Association Go Red Luncheon.  While that may not be a big deal to most people it was HUGE for me.  I'm calendar driven and I rarely do things on impulse.   But for years I've seen pictures of people I know in attendance and my inner teenager really wanted to go hang out with the cool kids so of course I said yes. I immediately knew what I'd wear and headed out the door like a love sick teenager!

It was an expo, geared to all things for womens heart health!  Heart disease is the #1 killer of women!!!  Here we were, adult women who like hungry,  greedy for more-more-more, I've got the galloping gimmees kids in the Bernstein Bears book-we picked up a bag and made the rounds to the tables.  Scribbling our names and numbers in hopes of winning a massage,  a yoga mat or some exercise equipment.  With false eyelashes and bright red lipstick in place we gathered pieces of chocolate,  stress squeezies  and other freebies that left me wondering why will we (society collectively) pick anything up for free???  Even things we'll never need or use? By the way a HUGE thank you to the sponsors yesterday, anything I don't use will be taken to the Women's Crisis Center in Rogers.

But I digress.  At the 15th Anniversary Go Red for Women luncheon I was blessed to hear Dr. Phil.  (Yes, I just typed that-never would I have ever imagined I'd be typing that I was blessed by Dr. Phil.) He spoke of how one year from today, he could GUARANTEE that our life would be better OR worse...our choice.  He then touched on something are you doing with your life today what you want to be doing or are you doing it because it's what you did yesterday?  Were you doing what you did yesterday because it's what you did the day before...not beause it's what you choose to do but because you've accepted it-not what you want to do or what you're meant to do but you do it because it's just what you do??  We generate the results in life that we believe we deserve-so if we feel we're not worthy or have a low self esteem, we generate results that go along with it AND we model it for our kids and they'll accept a "less than" life.  He spoke of the image we want to convey and how we should dress it, live it, own it.  (While wearing my funky red glasses, an exciting red dress, leggings and my 2019 Pride Converse with rainbow lades, I felt that my outside was very accurately portraying my inside.)  Again, we all make a statement and we teach others how to treat us based on that statement.  What do you believe you deserve?  If you're damaged then you need to fix it, the statement you show (consciously or subconsciously) is VERY cleary to other people.

Smoke and mirrors.
Trickery and deception.

We're all guilty.  Even when we're not conscious of our attempts to deceive our friends and family we're doing it!  We post about our victories, our personal wins.  We share about our kids high score or winning soccer goal while leaving out the hours spent arguing about studying or the tutor that costs as much as a mortgage or how much we hate spending hours at the soccer field, or maybe our kid hates it too but we keep on because it's what we are supposed to do.  We want to give the appearance of living a flawless life with no struggles but life is just not that way!!!

Yesterday I felt good about myself, really good.  I thought to myself-I should take a picture of myself because it would make a great new profile picture.  Yes.  I was actually planning a Facebook profile picture in my mind and how fabulous I'd look.  Then I saw the picture taken with my friend at a photo-op set up at the event.  It was a great picture all right-I definitely look like I've given birth to three children and not been to the gym in way too long...if ever.  There it was on Facebook for all to see in all my glory! HA!  Jokes on ya'll...I didn't beat myself up.  I looked at that picture and saw a mom who did give birth to three of the best kids you can imagine (they fight, they are sometimes mean to each other but they also forgive on another freely and generously.)  I see my favorite glasses and my Converse that are my little symbol that "I love you" just the way you are. I see my slightly ecclectic, whimsical self. a woman who loves deeply and genuinely.  A woman who sometimes feels like her world is swirling down the proverbial toilet because she is terrified that her future holds demons that can't be slain and that she's not a good enough wife, mom, daughter or friend.  A woman who sometimes cries in her bathroom, and at night in the dark when everyone else is asleep but by golly give me a few and I'll wear that mask with a smile.

I came away yesterday wondering, really-really wondering what do people see?  What image do I portray?  My real image-not the smoke & mirrors, no trickery or deception, no Facebook perfection.  Who am I?

Am I strong, confident and capable or am I just frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed?  
Am I kind, loving and generous or am I just selfish, cynical and superior?
Is my life and family perfect? Are we actually flawed beyond belief?

Every one of those things is true, just not all at the same time.  Some days I'm broken beyond belief, we all have demons from our past or even present that creep up and bite us when we least suspect it.  I can be generous but I can also be selfish.  My family is perfect for ME but we are actually flawed (we all are you know).  I know who I want to be, I want you to know the real me.  I want you to know the real me, I'm going to use that awful selfie for my profile picture you know why?  BECAUSE IT IS ME! Perfectly imperfect, able to laugh at myself and allow you to laugh at me.  Laugh with me, cry with me, walk beside me, be real with me and I'll be real with you-we can put down the smoke and mirrors because none of us are perfect.  In one year, May 22, 2020 my life is going to be better.  I'm going to make choices to send me that direction and I'm going to QUIT doing what I did yesterday just because it's what I've always done.  I'm moving forward one crazy blessed step at a time.  Thank you Jessica for inviting me to table 54!  Thank you Debbie Alsup, Paris Presents for sponsoring the table where I was seated-it may be small to some but going yesterday was a thing I've wanted to do for years; you've got a wonderful tribe of co-workers and friends (Lisa, Missy and Kathleen)!
I actually did look pretty good yesterday!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

My Girls

We attend a small church who has tried on different occasions to have a youth group but there just weren't enough to consistently show up and it always failed.  Melissa wanted more.  She felt a strong desire to be part of a group of youth who gathered to worship, share happies & crappies, fellowship, become friends, pray for one another and love Jesus.  Wow, that sounds a little cheesie when I type it but that is honestly what she was hungry for.  (Isn't it interesting that left to her own desires it was to seek the fellowship with the "religious kids" and a deeper relationship with God???  What if every human had the ability to tap in to their "divine" needs, would they too be drawn to Him???  Bu-u-u-u-ut....that's another blog altogether.)

Like other parents, I dutifully attend the parent session at the beginning of the school year.  I then spent a year listening to her come home on Wednesday nights talking about her small group.  Honestly there were times I was frustrated because it seemed some weeks their time was just talking and not really getting to a lesson or scripture.  I wondered what the point was and the question, "is this just a waste of time" crossed my mind more than once. Guess what?!?!?!  Those nights they didn't get to a scripture or lesson, they were learning something just as valuable. They were building trust, relationships, forming bonds with their friends and learning to pray for one another! Those things will hopefully be there for the rest of their lives AND they were doing this in the best house ever-God's house surrounded with a multitude of prayers that have been filling the space for generations.  Wow, definitely NOT a waste of time!

*A quick Pomegranate AKA Squirrel moment...*

I'm what one might call a person of "spiritual fluidity."  I was born and raised a Methodist, all 49 years of my life, you could say I'm a card carrying member.  Confirmation class when I was in the sixth grade piqued my curiousity about other religions and how we all fit together.  None of us are purists you know, Jesus wasn't the first christian.  He never said GO BE A CHRISTIAN. He simply said, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.  Follow me; learn from my stories of how to be a better human, a loving member of your community NOT make rules about how you have to act, worship and believe.  Love your neighbor just like you love yourself, forgive others like I forgive you-be kind, be helpful, be nice. I don't believe any one organized religion is 100% correct in their intrepretation of the bible or the stories contained in it. I don't believe there is a single perfect person roaming this earth today nor has there been with the exception of Jesus.

After Mel's first year when I attended the obligatory year beginning parent meeting, I was asked if I would consider helping on Wednesday nights.  All the alarms went off in my head-I'm a homeschool mom and I don't really *like* other kids.  I really wasn't interested in being with a bunch of hormonal, over dramatic, petty and somewhat obnoxious teenagers but like so many times God had different ideas.  After much prayer and litteral wrestling with the answer I kept getting I hesitantly said yes.  Me, Dana Hope...I said yes to meeting weekly with a group of teenage girls, 7th & 8th graders you know the ones full of drama and boy problems, trying to find their place in the world, arguing with their parents and full of so much love they are about to burst at their proverbial seams.  These girls quickly became "my girls."  I know, I know...I have three daughters, I have girls but they are my daughters.  Each of my Wednesday night ladies are and will forever be My Girls.

My first year I was full of ambition and I would work hard to find things to fill our time.  We learned about the strong women in the bible-Ruth & Naomi, Esther, Mary & Martha, Puah & Shiphrah and of course, Sarah.  At the end of the year, the girls selected stories and parables-voted on the ones we would learn about and we did.  It was a great year but a lot of work.  I spent hours each week preparing and not nearly as much time as I wanted praying for those girls.  When it came time for year two, my personal life had changed a litte and I knew I wouldn't have the hours each week to research and study so I asked for some curriculum and the Lord, through Brooke-youth pastor, provided exactly what I needed!!!

Two years of material that would cover the bible in three lesson topics.  From the first sample, I was thrilled with it and knew it would be perfect. My 8th graders and Allison moved on to high school and a new crop of 7th graders moved in.  We had a new classroom and brand new couches, a television I could cast video clips to but best of all a new group of young ladies who were eager to become...each and every class a teacher has is special to them. I know I'm particularly emotional this morning because these girls are so fresh on my heart and next Wednesday is the last time we will gather as our Wednesday night group.  These girls have fed me, my faith, my belief, my relationship with God more than I ever thought possible.  Each week we all share things, sometimes something as important as cellulite or the cheer girls being particularly "cheery."  Other times someone will ask timidly, this will stay with just us, right???  And it always does.  Our room is a safe place, no words or thoughts are off limits because I am a firm believer that they all have a place and time if addressed properly and used appropriately.  (If you doubt my belief on words just ask a certain someone who let the f*bomb fly inappropriately during class and another who referred to someone appropriately as sh!tty.)

Sometimes I feel like a secret holder.  Sometimes I feel like a gift giver.  Sometimes we don't get to a lesson at all.  Sometimes I read a poem.  We've imagined flowers, we've learned about love, friendships, doughnuts, chocolate...I've encouraged them to talk to their parents and give them the gift of talking to them.  I've even heard about relationships bloom where hate once grew.  I've watched girls come in with problems, work through them and grow.  I've seen the bonds of their friendships strengthen not just within the walls of our classroom but at home and at school (even when someone slips on the food in the cafeteria or hates bandanas).  I've heard them encourage one another when they're nervous about a grade, performance, competition or presentation.  I've seen them support one another and share with me places they have gone together-even their walks from school to the church!  I hear them congratulate one another on jobs well done and be there for one another when something goes wrong.

Last night something new happened.  I was speechless. Those of you who know me understand the rarity of that ever happening.  We were sharing how our weeks had gone-happies & crappies, glads & sads, joys & concerns-we often refer to them in different ways when Brooke peeked her head in the door.  She told me to close my eyes, put down my pen and hold out my hands. She told me that I "love hard" and the girls love me back-they wanted to do something for me.  I opened my eyes to find a Converse box, colorful writing on the lid.  As my eyes teared up and I focused, I could see the names of my girls and several scriptures.  I removed the lid to see the sidewall text showing through the tissue paper FIERCE FEARLESS FEMALE I pull back the paper to see pastel tie dye and gold eyelets then the real kicker...Be Salt my favorite scripture and phrase I always tell the girls when they're going somewhere with friends, 4-H or church!  Speechless.

Never would I have ever-even in my wildest thoughts-would I have imagined that I could love someone elses kids as "hard" as I love My Girls.  We've caught glimpses together of Genesis-Revelation, shared our *hopes*dreams*fears*, wondered in awe at Gods creation, Jesus' sacrifice, learned to forgive ourselves and others together.  When I was a kid in the 70's my Mom faithfully taught a high school Sunday school class every week, she lovingly recalls stories about many of them; a few even stay in touch.  My hope, my prayer is that these girls, My Girls, will know a few things for certain and remember for the rest of their lives:
  • Jesus loves you-just like you are because you are a wonderful, dynamic, unique masterpiece straight from his Dad!  When you ask for forgiveness (and really mean it), he forgives you as far as the EAST is from the WEST.  He doesn't hold on to it and remember it, grumble over it or hold it against you.
  • Dana loves you unconditionally, you can never mess up bad enough that I won't.  You may annoy me but I'll forgive you every time.  You can talk to me about anything, I won't judge you; your secret is safe with me as long as you're not harming yourself or someone else.  I encourage you to ALWAYS keep communication open with your parents, seek out their advice because they love you.
  • Each one of you have created a very specific mark on who I am (whether your fingerprint is above my head each night when I sleep or not).  
  • Forgive freely, you'll feel better in the long run.  Just because you forgive someone doesn't mean you have to maintain a friendship or relationship with them.   Holding onto a grudge when someone wrongs you only festers in your heart, spoils your life and affects you.  Forgiveness is about you, your heart, your mental health and well being-not theirs. 
  • Lastly, love and respect yourself--always!  
Before we close in prayer, I ask for requests and I pray for them; they pray for me and for one another.  In case they ever forget, this is how it goes:

God thank you for bringing these
 wonderful, dynamic, unique masterpieces
here this week...
Help us remember through the week that we 
are His hands & feet, 

PS Brooke, I'm all in for 7th & 8th grade girls next year-if you'll have me.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The other side of the fence

Dear Backdoor Neighbors,

We bought our home in August 2000. It was brand new with sodded yard, no trees, no fence; it was truly a blank slate.  Year by year we painted our vision of the place we would raise our children-home.  Our first year, we added a sturdy 6' stockade fence so kids could play without worry and to help shape how, in our minds eye, our large yard would become our own private oasis.  We added a landscape curb in the front for a flower bed, trees, eventually had the small patio expanded into a huge one and added a storage barn.  The kids have a swingset, Handsome a 300 gallon stock pond of fish and lillies and me I have a huge fenced raised bed garden, lilacs, wisteria, crepe myrtles and even an elderberry bush.  Slowly but surely this home and the yard that surrounds it have woven the story of our lives.  Our yard has grown rich with memories of our family, friends and even a few furry animals.

We've seen houses built, neighbors come and go but one has particularly touched our hearts.  We call him Bean.  As a homeschool family we are home most days.  Having a dog, a few ladies (what Jessica calls her pet hens) and a fish pond we are in the backyard several times a day.  We knew you had a dog-about the same age as Rosie.  We've watched him grow from a little puppy to the big dog he is today.  Not much attention was paid to this dog until he started jumping. When Jessica would go out to visit her ladies or play with Rosie he would jump and peek over the fence as if he wanted to come over.  She would always talk to him and he would have the hugest smile.  Eventually he would run to the fence and jump to say hi when we opened the back door.  Jess started calling him "Bean" because he looked like a jumping bean!  Now the story really begins, the dog behind our house now had a name and just like that, Bean became family.

When one of us walks out the door, he would jump and we cheerfully say, "Hello Bean!"  After Rosie goes out the last time each night we say "Goodnight Bean!"  Eventually that one picket, nearing 19 years of age, became loose.  An old pool ladder was drug to the fence so the girls could stand on it and scratch his head.  Bean is a real lover of head scratches!  Months flew by and Bean continued to jump and we fell more in love with his adorable self.  A few weeks ago that loose picket fell to the ground.  I'm not sure who was the most excited-Bean, Rosie or us! Being a responsible neighbor, I put one of my garden hog wire panels by the fence so Rosie couldn't go into your yard.  The two dogs stick their heads through and seem to almost "hug" one another.  When Rosie heads out the door, she heads straight to that gap in the fence to say hello to her friend, Bean.

I'm not sure if you've noticed the tennis ball or sticks near your deck but those came from Jessica.  When she plays fetch with Rosie, Bean begs to join in the fun.  She has gotten in the habit of grabbing something to throw at the same time for both dogs.  We have a flashlight that has a red pointer light that Jess sometimes plays laser chase with Rosie after dark.  She realized Bean was trying to get it so she stood on the ladder and pointed it around the grass in your yard-Bean looked like a puppy chasing the light.

I guess you could say we have fallen in love with a dog that's not ours.  We were on the verge of tears when a "For Sale" sign was placed in front of Beans home.  Our hearts cried at the thought of Bean going away.  We started to joke within our family that perhaps Bean could just stay and live with us.  The kids friends (all the way to Montana) have met Bean and love him.  Then yesterday the real tragedy struck, a giant SOLD sign was added.  We actually put a chair by the picket and were loving on Bean when Handsome said, "just go ask them...."

It took me a while to work up the courage.  I mean seriously, how strange is it to go up to a neighbors door that you really don't know and profess your love for their dog.  Hand in hand, Jessica and I walked around the block; we marched up to the door and rang the bell....knocked on the door....but no one was home.  We felt defeated, would we ever work up the courage to ring their bell again?  Would we be too late?

I spent some time on the swing that hangs from our Earth Day 2001 Loblolly twigs which now tower 25+ feet tall in our back yard.  I'm scrolling through pictures I had just taken; they always say a picture is worth a thousand words so here.  Here are the thousands of words we'd like to say-we don't know what you call this sweet face but we call him Bean. My kids, my Handsome husband and I are going to be lost when he moves.  So if there is a chance that he doesn't fit with your new home or if you'd like to start fresh with a new puppy we're here for you.  We'll be glad to love Bean forever more.

With much love,
Your Backdoor Neighbors

☆☆Tissue Alert☆☆
Years ago I saw a movie called "Serendipity" and I became a lover of that word!! It turns out our love for Bean is very serendipitous.
Beans owner tearfully conveyed that they couldn't give him what he needed and had been looking for him a home. He will now be residing at Hopes_Home_for_Wayward_Pets (you can follow our pet family on Instagram). He will meet Dr. Hooper on Monday at 2 and will be royally snipped on Wednesday. Please whisper a prayer or blessing that he adapts quickly- he's a lady (chicken) chaser.