Going and Growing

You've got to GO through it to GROW through it


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Welcome Home Prodigal Me

Welcome home, prodigal self. There’s a story in the Bible about a son who took off with all of the blessings his dad gave him. His brother was really jealous because he stayed behind as the responsible one. The prodigal, however, took off and had a great time, but ultimately rendering himself broke, hungry and without adequate shelter.

He came to the end of himself. He made the brave decision to go home. As the story is told, the father saw him coming back from out in the distance and decided to throw a party.

Many of us have been the prodigal in our own lives and have had a tendency to punish ourselves time and time again without ceasing. We drive us to the end of ourselves. Then, in a very narcissistic but self-imposing way we cry why is my life such crap? How did I get here? Is it ever going to get better?

How about this. What if, you saw yourself, your prodigal self that is, off in the distance and you decided to throw yourself a party. Just as the biblical version tells it. Pull out the fine red robe, the signet ring, the fatted calf! All of it! Because you know what? When you’ve been to the end of yourself and you survive it – it’s worth a party.

The journey to the center of our birth, as my prior January post explains, is a long and sometimes treacherous road. It very rarely goes as planned and for most of us, there are lots of bumps and bruises (and maybe a few stitches and broken bones) along the way. So, when you make it back, you’ve earned a celebration.

What if I have no one to greet me, you think? YOU are there, are you not? That’s the only greeting you really need. After all, no one knows the details of the journey quite like you.

Listen, all I’m suggesting is that you treat yourself like the royalty you ARE, instead of adopting the idea of what you think you ought to be. Every one of us is a diamond in the rough. The number of cuts in a diamond determines the glisten. Well, there are never going to be enough “cuts” to make what you perceive, but the “cuts” you do have, the one’s that make you shine like the gem you are, you already have them. Every last one, you earned them. Along your road, remember?

Anyone who says they are not a prodigal, or has not had a prodigal experience is a liar.  Or an alien. Part of being a human being is coming to the end of yourself at certain times in life. Then, having to figure out how to get back on track and move forward.

Let’s talk a minute about the prodigal’s brother. He wasn’t perfect either. Jealousy is not handsome (or pretty, ladies). It is possible part of the reason you had a prodigal moment is because of rejection or neglect. Maybe you got the short end of a sharp stick. It happens. We’re all prodigals. We’re all humans (not aliens). So, when you turn to go back home, if you’re met with a negative Nate or Nellie, just walk on by.

The robe is yours to wear, the signet ring is your size and is yours to wear. The fatted calf has been prepared with sides and desserts, in your honor. Eat, drink and celebrate. You made it back. Now, shine on you crazy diamond.


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Journey To the Center of My Birth

Happy New Year! For some 2016 has been declared as the turn-around year. For others, it will be a year of traveling in the same direction, only deeper, and perhaps at a faster clip. And, that may or may not be a good thing. Time will tell.

For me, I’m hoping for a bit of both actually. You see, for me, 2016 is going to be a year of great change. And it won’t all be good change. Or will it? Change is one of the only guarantees in the Universe. We can embrace it, reject it, rail against it, work in harmony with it, question it or just observe it. Whatever we choose to do, change is inevitable. In Ecclesiastes 3:4, the Bible talks about a time for all things under the sun. I believe this is true and I also believe that not all change is looked upon as welcomed. For part of this year, I will have that attitude I expect.

We are each on a private journey to discover who we are, in the midst of where we are. Where we are physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. We must learn to look upon this journey as a necessity rather than a burden, even when the journey is through a dry and weary land. Being a human being is the most excruciating journey we will ever encounter. This is a strong statement and I admit that. But, selah (from Hebrew, meaning, “pause and think on this”). If we are a people whose belief and trust are in something or someone bigger than us, then we are sure to resonate with that infamous lyric so eloquently stated by Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.” Believers in God will undoubtedly admit that there are times we wonder where the hell God is in a particular situation. When we can’t see the forest through the trees. Sometimes we can’t even see the trees. But God has clearer vision. That’s where our hope lies.

The journey to the center of our birth is a requirement for all of us, to figure out where we came from, where we are and more decidedly, where we want to go. In 2016 many of us will travel through fire to get to our next place. For some, a smooth sail down a quiet stream will be in store. Others will be led into a desert and will likely feel the cracked ground beneath their feet and wonder again, where the hell is God? But, have no lingering fear. Notice, I said lingering. Fear is inevitable, even with the good changes that will come our way.

I think it’s fair to say change and fear live in tandem.

(I know you’ve heard of the fear of failure. But, have you heard of the fear of success?)

One important adoption for the coming year of change will be to acquire some type of calming discipline. For some yoga, others running or extreme sports will be needed. Yet for others, prayer and meditation. (Oops! I accidentally typed medication….I corrected the typo, but realized that for some it may very well include medication…and if that’s what it takes, that’s okay too, under a doctor’s supervision of course.) The important thing here is that the journey to the center of your birth will require from you the hardest part of the journey…a decision.

A few years ago a great philosopher gave me some life changing advice (okay, it was my older brother actually). He said, “Everyone else has an opinion, you have a decision.”

Here I am again this year looking at some continuing big-life changes. As I recalled that advice, I believe it is still powerful and still true. My decisions may only make sense to me. Your decisions may only make sense to you. To others they may look like delusion or risky. That’s their opinion. I have to decide what it takes for me to be able to travel my journey (and so do you).

As you look over your new 2016 calendar, you’re only about seven days or so in. You’ve got about another 355 days or so of change waiting for you. So what’s it going to be? Embrace? Reject? Question? Rail? Walk in harmony? Observe? You decide. Let the naysayers and haters have their opinions. Let the loved ones and supporters have their opinions. There’s nothing you can do about what they think of your circumstance or your decision to act (or not).

They have an opinion. YOU HAVE A DECISION.

I’d love to tell you to stand tall and face your fears! To roar like a lion! To fight, fight fight! But, the best advice might just be to shut the hell up and let time pass. To cry and lick your wounds in private. To pray and just keep hoping in a brighter day. See, I just have an opinion too. I also have a decision, and it’s no less scary than yours. Being a writer doesn’t grant me any special passes, only a vessel to talk about my life on a public platform, and hope that another beautiful human is somehow inspired.

The journey to the center of your birth never ends. The journey started before you left the womb and it will continue until you return to the Dust. If you don’t have the moxie to be brave today, don’t fret. Bravery is a relative term (the magazines and media will tell you otherwise though). If you need to retreat today, please do. If you need to run and rage, do so (just don’t hurt anyone else in the process). If you need to stand up for yourself, stand. If you need to sit quietly, sit. There is a time and a season for everything under the sun. Just remember, it’s your journey to the center of your birth. We all have an opinion and we all have a decision. Do what your Spirit calls you to do. Be well. Be loved. Love.

Be the most authentic version of you you can be today. Don’t lose hope in a brighter tomorrow though. Hope is a vital supply needed for the journey. Find your hope, keep your hope. It’s our birthright.


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The Journey

As I drive down the interstate toward Knoxville, I am caught in my thoughts about the inbound traffic directly to my left.

As the cars have piled up, four lanes wide and going on eight or nine miles now, I began to think about what those people think about as they poke along the highway.

The interesting thing is as the newcomers approach the traffic jam, they have no idea of what is in store in front of them. I on the other hand, know full well what is in store for them, because I just spent the last several minutes driving past it. Multiple accidents, police lights, wrecker trucks and lots of people pulled over  every which way.

That got me thinking about life. My life.  Your life.

We don’t know what is ahead of us, but yet we join the traffic in an effort to move forward in our life toward our destination.  We don’t know how long it will take us to get there. And we don’t know any of the future barriers that could try and get in the way of us reaching our destination.

It doesn’t stop us though. We still get in the car, put on our seatbelt, crank up the music and drive. We do it every single day. We wake up with hopes and dreams about what is in store for our day today.

We don’t know any more about our journey today then we knew yesterday. Well, that’s not entirely so. Yesterday is behind us and we can now see the good decisions and the poor decisions that we made that may or may not contribute to today’s journey. That’s part of the human experience. Journeying out, venturing into unknown territory.

Risk is involved and there is no way to get away from it.

That leaves us largely dependent upon our society around us. There is no way to get away from that either; however, it is our responsibility to decide what avenues to take.

Boundary setting is one such avenue. A healthy set of boundaries about what is allowable and what is not will help us determine what type of decision we want to make on our journey today.

And just like the people driving in inbound traffic, we are on a journey of outbound traffic. The journey is still ahead. The signs are posted. The choices are there. It is up to us to put our foot on the pedal and drive. If we take a wrong turn, turn around. If we can’t turn around, we can get off at the next exit.

In either instance, we will have multiple opportunities to change the course of our day.

Enjoy the ride, life is about the journey.


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Me or My Mask, the Beat Goes On

So, it’s Halloween! Last night I went to a trunk-or-treat at a local church. Thankfully we got there early! By the time we left the people were wrapped around the building. And I’m not kidding. There were costumes of all kinds. Kids and grown-ups alike. Before we left I read up on the activity and found that no scary costumes were allowed. That’s fine because there’s plenty of scary stuff in the world without having to make up additional stuff. Right!?! Anyway, now it’s the morning after and I’ve been looking over the pictures we took. The one of my husband with the clown, well, that one will live on in history! We had one taken with Batman and there was another of a man whose costume was himself sitting on the shoulders of a bear. Very witty and quite impressive, as far as homemade costumes go.

This morning my grandson was looking at the picture of us and Batman. He said, “Look, I’m a REAL vampire! My eyes are red!” (He’s 5 so he doesn’t know about red eye.) But he does know about costumes and masks and the fact that they are only pretend. Not real. He does understand that when we have a costume or a mask on that there is a “real me” under or behind it. What he doesn’t know [yet] is that for many people, a costume or a mask is a way of life. Yes. It’s true. For many of us in this crazy world, we don’t feel safe enough in our circles to be our authentic self.

In the past week alone I have had conversations with people affected by discrimination, bigotry, judgementalism, hate and just plain unkindness. What’s the deal? The deal is we are ALL hurting. There’s not a person on earth who has not been hurt and caused hurt. If you think you are absolved of this dirty deed, think again. We ALL have the capacity to inflict harm. Even children. This week my friend who has spent several years in prison told me that he is sad because life passed him by while he was gone. The truth is, life didn’t pass him by and he wasn’t gone. He lived all those days out, just not how he would have liked. The beat goes on. I spend time in a middle school working with youth in an after-school enrichment program. This particular day the program was over and our group, along with the other groups, were waiting for the the parents and bus driver to arrive. One of my students was minding his own business when another student approached him and poked him, called him some names (which he then repeated to the ten or so kids standing around them), laughed and turned away. This went on for about three minutes, back and forth. My student, a tall somewhat heavy young man (for his age) didn’t voice a reply. Instead, as I watched his face he flinched, multiple times. I began to count the flinches…1,2,3,4. Every time the other boy poked him physically or verbally [my] youth flinched. I silently yelled out, “Don’t take that sh@#!” The beat goes on.

Yesterday I participated in a conference entitled Adolescent Sexual Responsibility. It was very informative. I deepened my knowledge of sexual violence in the youth population, LGBTQ issues (of which I am an active advocate in the mission field), parental responsibility and advocacy resources for teens and families. The event kicked off with a youth advisory panel during which youth were very forthcoming about how they wish to interact with adults. They gave us keen insights about their knowledge and experience of sex, conflict and responsibility. They affirmed that they DO in fact value the input of their parents, teachers and caretakers……”so don’t give up!”…..they told us. I remember saying they same things as a youth. I wanted my parents to know what I knew and what I still needed to learn [contrary to how I may have behaved at the time]. What I experienced most is that today’s youth are a wise and talented bunch and they have wonderful additions to impart to our world. If we [adults] will just take the time to stop and notice them. Then take the next step to hear them. Then, to LISTEN to them. The beat goes on.

Back to the costumes and masks. Which face do you wear every day? Is it the face that requires a bunch of makeup to cover up the scars of hurt and pain from your past or present? Or do you let it be shown, the real you. The you that has experience in this world. No matter how scary it is sometimes, you have much to give to the world by way of your life’s experience. Age is NOT a factor. What outfit do you don? Do you dress up in costumes that only reflect the you you want people to see? Do you dress in clothes that create a fantasy life? Or, do you dress in “plain clothes”? The clothes that suit you? The clothes that reflect who you are INSIDE and OUT, clothes that tell the world you have some age and some miles, clothes that represent a person of vibrant color and detail. Our lives are a tapestry. With each life lesson, hurt, pain, success, failure, party, grief, accomplishment and good deed, we color our world and the world of those around us. When we release our colors into the world, the world absorbs them and the painting is changed.

Today, after you collect your candy, or rob your kid’s candy bucket, after you attend the party and enjoy the music, take off your costume. Take off your mask. Remember that party and candy is just a way to pass the time. Put your beautiful face back on , don YOUR own clothes and color your world with the people, events, causes and things that matter to YOU most. It’s YOUR life. The most beautiful mask to wear is NO mask at all. The beat goes on.


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Nice To Meet You, Authentic-Self

Nice To Meet You, Authentic Self.

Sitting in a coffee shop recently, I watched as people passed me by. I wondered if they lived the life they would like to live, or the life others expected them to live.  How often do we curtail our own desires and self-expectations to fit the mold that we’ve allowed others to place in front of us?

This question becomes more and more important to me, as I myself, have decided to journey in search of my authentic- self. It’s only in my own decision,  have I come to realize my children need to choose their own path; and I need to allow them to. I’ve done my job.  I’ve given them tools and rules to live by. They should have become, now that they are grown, guidelines. But so often I think we parents have an expectation that the tools and rules equate to coulds and shoulds.

Are you offended when your grown children make decisions that are contrary to “how you raised them”? It’s only in the second half of my life, second marriage and second chance to be my authentic-self that I admit I’m that child. I did what was expected of me, as a child, young adult, wife and mother. But rarely was I my authentic- self. Was my life a lie? No. It was sincere. There’s a difference. I sincerely loved my parents, my first husband and my children. I loved my friends and my job. But, if I’m honest, they chose me, I didn’t always willingly choose them. Wait. That may need some explaining. Yes, I chose my husband by virtue of our wedding. Yes, I chose my children, by virtue of my birthing and raising them. I’m talking about how I lived my life during those years. I forfeited my own authentic-self; my hopes and dreams, my goals, my wants and needs. It’s a very costly life, that non-authentic self.

I’ve made the most wonderful friend in the past few months. My friend lived his life doing all the same things I did – what was expected of us. I’ve learned it was just as costly for him. I’m glad to see she is now living her authentic-self life. Our changes are not easy, staggering and polarizing sometimes. But, necessary nonetheless. Very few people from the old life understand the requirement to declare authenticity, and we don’t all declare it. Some fortunate souls make the transition gently and over time. Their metamorphosis is celebrated. For a great many of us though it is shattering to our non-authentic world.

I read an article recently about the suicide of college students at Penn State. The strive to perfection is depleting and harmful. As a Christian, I can assure you, we will never reach it. We were not created to, actually. There is only One who succeeded. For the rest of us, we were created to live life as our authentic-self, the life gifted to us by our Creator, and through partnership with him, we attain ‘life more abundantly’.

I’ve met a great many people in the last few years who, by sheer requirement to continue breathing, have declared war on their non-authentic- self. It feels like war too, as societal expectations help to keep troops armored down with weapons.  I have a quote that has traveled in and out of my life for the past decade:

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
–Samuel Johnson

How little we know the power of this quote as we follow the path laid before us. It is only when we get to the end of that path and realize we are not there. The body that arrives is oftentimes the shell of our authentic-self, the innards are of another being.  Change must come.  Our very life depends on it. Otherwise, we leave this world, often by suicide, and the space in which we once stood is filled with grief and void.

As I reach, scratch and claw my way through the muck and mire in the pond of my old non-authentic- self, I see light and life awaiting me on the other side. The harder I swim, strangely the more strength I gain. Yes, I lose a bit of weight along the way. This weight represents the expectations put on me, either by myself or by others. There is no shame in letting go, regardless of how it feels. Swim, swim, swim. Harder, with more veracity. Your life awaits you. Don’t spend one more day in fins that no longer fit. Declare life to your authentic- self, no matter the cost. Surely there is a cost, you will pay it now, or pay it later. Make safe decisions. Get help from trusted sources when needed. But always, always, listen to your inner voice. When it stops yelling, talking, whispering or squeaking you will expire. Your inner voice is your authentic self.  It may take some time, some rest, some partnership along your path, but as long as there is breath in your body, your authentic-self rents a room in your being. Our non-authentic-self rents a room also, work to keep it a broom closet.


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Vernacular. Respect It, Don’t Correct It

I heard myself telling a coworker about some particular phrases a loved one uses. Every time I hear the phrase something in me twinges. Not because it is offensive, but because it is not what Webster would define as proper English. We, my coworker and I, were discussing vernacular in general and what peculiarities exist within an individual’s world view.

She told me a quick story about her dad’s favorite restaurant; it’s a Mexican place down the road called Sopapillias (soap-a-peeyahs). But, she explained, every time her dad wants to go there he says, “Hey, let’s go eat at ‘soppa-pillas’ (sop-a-pill-as)”. My friend just chuckles under her breath. Her dad is old, so she says it’s cute. We exchanged a few more vernacular faux pas and had a good giggle between ourselves. After the very short conversation, I had a very long thought. In my experience, to hear [what I perceive to be] a skewed version of a word catches me off guard and I sometimes think to myself, don’t they know how to say this correctly? I wonder if I told them the proper way to pronounce this if they would be offended. The more I thought about this, the more troubled in myself I became.

Somewhere in my mind it occurred to me that a person’s phrases are theirs, not mine. Proper English is a relative term. English is, after all, a bastard language. Not much comes up under “proper English” upon a quick google search. In America, we use slang a lot. Our slang is a reflection of our culture, our nature and our nurture. Where someone was geographically raised, the family dynamic in which they were raised and the environment of their community, all play a large role in acquiring their vernacular (i.e. slang). Life is also lived out in the story of our slang. In this instance, when I read between the lines of what I perceive to be improper English, I find that my loved one has seen, heard and experienced things I will never encounter. Much can be learned about life and culture by listening to stories. Stories are how we love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s how we learn to become a more intimate society.

In a continuous effort to live, love and laugh in our lives, we also must learn to respect each other in such a way that allows for the freedom to be different. Imagine a world where everything was a shade of blue. No red. No yellow. No black. No white. Just, blue. Eventually, we would run out of questions to ask. Eventually, we would run out of new things to learn. It is only through the lens of variety that we are able to see our differences and our similarities.

When applying this thought to vernacular, imagine a world where everyone spoke English, with only a northeastern accent. Bostonian to be specific (since it’s my home town…go Sox!). Seriously though, imagine a world where we all spoke that way. There wouldn’t be any “Hey, Y’all!” in the South or “Eh?” in the Midwest. There would be nothing to talk about after a while. No comedy, which we all use as a way to cover up the fact that sometimes we don’t understand what someone’s saying. Eventually, we’d understand each other perfectly and there would be no need to ask any more questions. Eventually, we would know all there is to know, and have nothing new to learn about a person.

We can say that it is only through the lens of vernacular that we are able to see our differences and our similarities. We can say that it is only through the language of vernacular that we are able to learn patience and kindness, and gain wisdom and understanding about culture and society and family and tradition. These social outlets are how we express ourselves and how we [again], learn to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Vernacular, whether understood or not, must be respected. It requires no correction. It desires acknowledgement and appreciation. It encourages friendship and intimacy. It is a catalyst for new beginnings and it challenges us to be a better, more enriched, more knowledgeable version of yesterday’s self.

So, the next time you hear what you perceive to be a grammatical faux pas, and are tempted to correct it, stop and appreciate the moment. For, it is in that very moment you have the opportunity to love unconditionally.


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Line Leader

So you want to follow me? Do you know where I’m going? Maybe I want to follow you. Where are you going? Either way, get ready for an adventure.

Being a Line Leader is a huge responsibility. In preschool a line leader is somewhat of a celebrity, at least for a day. But what about those of us who have advanced well beyond the years of preschool. Perhaps we are parents, or maybe we are in management at our jobs. Or, maybe a pastor in a faith community. Every day we go through our day we are a Line Leader in some capacity, if only at the traffic light. To be a good line leader, you’ll need three things: 1) A destination, 2) A map of the journey there, 3) All of the necessary equipment for the trip.

Let’s break it down. First a destination. As a line leader, everyone is expected to follow me, that is, behind me. Now, if no one inquires where we are going I could easily have a group of very misled people. Also, as a line leader I have control and opportunity over my fold. From their perspective, they offer me trust [that I’m going to lead them to a good place] and encouragement in the event that I get weary on our way. Some Line Leaders may enjoy the silent sheep, how very dangerous for that sheep. How easily you will be mistreated and misled ….. As a good Line Leader I will have at least two others to probe me with questions and hold me accountable for my choices. Lest in my poor leading I negatively infect rather than positively effect. If you are in line, who are you in line behind? Where are you being led to? Do you know? Do you care? You have responsibility to know. And to care. Ahead of time. If not, then you forfeit the right to cry about your destination when you arrive. Get to know your Line Leader.

Second, as an effective Line Leader, I’ll take the responsibility to map our journey ahead of time. Preschoolers know three things for sure. They know how to get to the bathroom, the snack table and the playground. There is a specific direction required to arrive at each destination. So many public figures are Line Leaders and they have not taken the time to map the journey. Or, maybe they have mapped it right straight back to their bank account. But, what about the account of people’s lives? Far more volatile than one’s bank account. As a Line Leader I must, and I repeat must, realize that mapping the journey is a critical step toward ensuring my safety and the safety of my fold (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually). Hence, my need for those two others who ask questions and hold me accountable. Being a Line Leader is no easy task. There is a human element. What happens when I make a bad move? Well, Moses had a bunch of ticked off people. Out in the hot desert, hungry and whining. Thank goodness for Aaron, or he’d ‘ave sunk. How many public ministers I can think of today whose ministries have gotten dangerously big. So big, that when they stumble they take thousands of people down with them. As followers of the Line Leader people, WE have a responsibility to know where we’re headed and the basic plan of how we’re gonna get there! (Otherwise, remember, we lose our crying rights when we all fall down).

Finally, as a Line Leader I am tasked with the responsibility of packing for the trip. Some preschool leaders get to carry a flag, to signify their leadership. As an adult Line Leader, my flag is my dignity and integrity. And let me tell you, they will shine like a beacon as long as I’m on top. When I fall watch out! Not only will the light go out, but I will withdraw so you can’t see me (a human defense mechanism). As a follower, think about that. When my Line-Leader-light goes out, how will you see where you’re going? You see, as a Line Leader, I’ve only been given the role for a short period of time (relatively speaking). The reality is I’m human just as the rest of my group. I make mistakes, sometimes horrendous mistakes. If I don’t have the necessary equipment, which is my plan, my integrity, my moral compass, and my ethics in my satchel, then shame on you [followers] for getting in line behind me. (And by the way, you can’t buy ethics, no matter how many conferences or classes your pay for; either you have them or you don’t. A conference will just you up on Best Practices).

People, seriously, think about it. We all fall short. We all stumble. We all fall.

In life we are only Line Leader for a day, and some may never get the opportunity, because of social caste. Those of us in front have a huge responsibility to be kind, equitable, responsible and accountable. We have a responsibility to make a well thought out plan ahead of the journey. If there are changes along the way, fine, reassess, but always with the group in mind. The very day we begin to lie, cheat and scheme is the first day of the end of our leadership. If you are in line, great, we need supporters. Don’t follow blindly. Ask questions, hold your leader accountable. Stand up and be counted. If you choose not to, and it is your choice – no one can choose for you – you will forfeit your right to cry if you end up where you don’t want to be. Then, your journey back may be much longer than you planned.

Choose to be your own Line Leader. Just know people are watching and waiting. And we are all human.