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On Being Authentic

“Hi, I’m Barb. I’ve been married 45 years to Bob. We have 4 kids, one of them’s a doctor, and 7 grandkids. The youngest one is starting 1st grade this year.”

“I’m Sarah. I’ve been married 25 years to Mark. We have 2 kids. The youngest one started college this year, and we’re so excited!”

And so it went around the room. All 18 women, in their 50’s to their 80’s, introduced themselves in this same manner. I was stunned. I now know about their husbands, including some of their names and professions, their kids, and their grandkids, along with various details about names, ages, accomplishments and milestones. What I don’t know is anything about any of these women. I don’t know if they’ve had careers, hobbies, or accomplishments. I don’t know what they like or what they don’t like. I know nothing about them as human beings, except that they are wives and mothers.

As I sat and listened I realize this is not a phenomenon unique to this group of women. I think these roles are so overwhelming and all encompassing that it’s natural, at least to a certain extent. However, I don’t want to be that. I don’t want my friends to be that. In the topical discussion that followed the introductions, I learned little things here and there about some of the other women,  including two of them that have careers. I only learned that because they had to leave as soon as the meeting was done to go to work. What??? Why did you not say that before? What do you do? Are you a doctor? Do you sell Avon? Are you writing the next great American novel? Why do I not know this???

What if we all decided to draw a line in the sand? To stand up and say, “As of today, I’m me. I have accomplishments and dreams. They include a marriage [or not, as the case may be], and great kids and grandkids, but they also include…” Do you think we might have less loneliness? Do you think we might have less depression? Do you think the church might start looking more like The Church? I do. If I knew how, I’d start a campaign. A campaign to help people see themselves as more than their relationships, more than the accomplishments of their family. A campaign to help people reclaim their own identity and accomplishments.

What do you think? Are you brave enough to stick your neck out and introduce yourself as you really are? As who you really are? I think it’s time you try.

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How to Save a Country

As we are being daily bombarded with the latest antics of people who think they are qualified to be our next president, I’ve about had enough. It’s months before anyone gets a chance to cast a vote, and I’m over it already. This has led me to consider how we could improve the whole system, making it less tedious to live through and possibly even give us a better president in the end.

I propose we hold our politicians (and politician wanna-bes) to the same standards to which we hold our children. Get caught name calling? Go to time out. When you think you understand what you did wrong, come tell us about it and we’ll give you another chance. Continue the behavior and the consequences will get worse, ultimately ending with you being expelled from the group. Get caught passing notes when you’re supposed to be doing your work? Go to time out. When you think you understand what you did wrong, come tell us and you may get another chance. Lie about not having passed notes, or blaming others for the notes? Sorry, you’re in time out for a very long time, and will probably get expelled. Blame others for things you have done? Time out. Lying about what you have said or done? Time out. Tell the truth and act in a civilized manner? You get a gold star and possibly our vote.

I think this might work. What do you think?

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More Kisses

Last week started with a personal disappointment. Not life altering, but still… However, less than 24 hours later God sent me yet another kiss.

A couple years ago my son got me hooked on soccer. I have two favorite teams: Sporting KC and Chelsea. (I’m allowed to favorites because they are in different leagues. I’m sure that’s an official rule!) The afternoon after the disappointment I got a call from Brian. He asked if we had plans for the next evening, and I said, “No, why?” He said, “You wanna see some futbol?” I said, “Well, I guess so…” No, I tell a lie. I believe I said “Heck yeah!” Then he told me it was the International Champions Cup, being played in DC between Barcelona and Chelsea. Double heck yeah! I asked how much it was going to cost us, and he said, “Nothing.” Someone had bought some tickets for the game then decided not to use them, so they were giving them away. Hot dog!

The fun magnified when I found out where the seats were. I took a couple pictures. This is the section we were sitting in: 

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Yep. The  seats were so good they are in the “Dream Seats” section. Here’s a pic of how great the seats were:

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So, yeah. The week started with a disappointment, and God turned it around. Did we have to see a match? No. Did we have to see Chelsea? Nope. Did we want to? Oh, yeah… And God knew. It was a whisper in my heart, that I never spoke out loud, because what’s the realistic chance of me getting to see an English soccer team play? With God, all things are possible. Thanks for the kisses, Lord. And if it’s OK to ask, keep ’em comin’!

A bonus photo: this is how I felt the whole night.

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Kisses from God- Part 2, in which I am reminded He loves me

Brian wasn’t the only one that got Kisses from God while we were in Alaska. I got several, as well. (You can read about Brian’s here if you missed it.)

In order to understand my kisses from God, you have to know a little about me. I’m a photographer.  It’s about more than having a camera and knowing how to use it; it’s about experiencing life in pictures, to the point of thinking in pictures at times. While most people are distracted and pulled out of an event when they taking pictures, I am actually more immersed. I’m watching for that one, defining moment among everything that’s happening. Where is that one vignette in the midst of all the activity that best captures the feel of the moment? When is that one split second when something happens that captures the glory, fun, or whatever, of what is going on around me? I take photographs not just to record, but to remember and to communicate to others that aren’t there to experience it all first hand. This matters to my story, because without knowing this what happened to me won’t sound like much. It may not anyway, but trust me; to my heart, these moments were huge.

The first kiss from God came while we were at Hubbard Glacier. The cruise ship pulled into Disenchantment Bay and pulled as close as it safely could to the glacier and parked for a while so everyone had a chance to stare in amazement at the splendor. And stare we did. I of course stared mostly through my camera lens. I had mentioned to God that I’d love to see the glacier calve, something we didn’t see on our last trip. This time I was looking through my camera’s viewfinder, clicking like a crazy person, when all of a sudden, right there through my lens, I saw movement. A huge chunk of ice, about 250 feet tall, broke free and tumbled into the bay! I clicked like an even crazier person and managed to capture five or six photos of the event. During our short time there, we saw the glacier calve repeatedly in several different places, and I was able to capture a couple different sequences with my camera. My little photographer heart was soaring!

The next day we were in Juneau, and I got to fulfill a lifelong dream: to stand on the blue ice of a glacier. It was a three hour expedition that included several short helicopter flights, a dog sled adventure, and a walkabout on the icy surface of Herbert Glacier. My photographer heart was concerned because we weren’t allowed to take any bags with us. That means I had to strategically stuff extra batteries and cards, along with my wallet and other necessities in my pockets and hope for the best. Changing batteries and cards is not a big deal, except in the cold, with cold fingers, while whizzing across the snow on a dog sled, digging things out of your pockets, or wedged into a tiny helicopter… Yeah, could be interesting. In spite of my usual clicking like a crazy person (see above), both battery and card made it through the expedition. We had just returned to the airport and were waiting for the shuttle to take us back to the dock, and I started reviewing my photos on the back of my camera. I had only looked at about 10 images when my camera went dead. I started to cry. My battery lasted.  As in, there was JUST ENOUGH power to get me through. If it had died on the glacier, or in the helicopter, meh, it happens. It’s a pain, but it happens. But God kept that little battery running, making my expedition simple and carefree. For me. Because He loves me. That my friends, is a kiss.

The final kiss (at least that I’m going to write about here) happened in Hoonah, Alaska, the site of our whale expedition. As usual, I was (say it all together now!) clicking like a crazy person. I got photos of sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles, and whales, whales, whales. For three hours I clicked. The captain announced we had to return to the dock soon, so we would wait just a couple more minutes to see one final surfacing of the whales. This was the closest encounter we had yet with the beasts; they were close enough we could see the scratches and scars on their skin. Then, with a flick of their tail they disappeared for the final time and the captain returned to the wheel to head back to the marina. I looked down at my camera, and saw a flashing message on the LCD screen: CF CARD FULL. Yep. The card held exactly the number of photos I took of the wildlife! The EXACT number! A coincidence? Meh. I say a kiss from God.

So what do I believe God was saying through these kisses? These little things that I could have lived without: things that wouldn’t have destroyed the trip had they not happened? “I love you, daughter. I enjoy they way you experience My creation through your art. Go for it!” My heart is singing, and I still get a big goofy grin every time I think about all this. Little things that mean so much. He loves me. He really loves me.

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Happy Birthday, Mattie Sam

Four years ago today I had one of those milestone birthdays generally celebrated in a big way, making big memories. I don’t remember what presents I got, or what my birthday dinner was. I only remember one thing: the phone call saying Matthias Samuel was about to enter the world. I spent the rest of the day checking my phone every five minutes to see if he had arrived. Much to my disappointment, he waited two hours past midnight to make his appearance, but I decided to claim him as my birthday buddy anyway.

Mattie was born with Down syndrome, which we knew he would be, but he also had a heart condition, as well as some other physical complications. He got an infection when he was four days old which almost took his life, and that was just the beginning. We almost lost him so many times during his first year that I lost track. Through it all, Mattie was busy being Mattie. This boy had a smile that melted the hardest of hearts. You know at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch’s heart grew three times its size? That’s what Mattie did for us. Two months ago, on August 21, 2014, Mattie Sam met Jesus face to face. It was sudden, and it was a shock. We are still reeling from it, in fact.

There are those who say Mattie should not have been born because he was sick. Did he suffer? Yes. But guess what? He also loved. He loved and was loved. He had joy, he gave joy. He learned, he teased, he grew, he inspired. Through social media thousands saw the pictures Mattie’s mom posted of him daily and grew to love him. I’ve heard many people say when they had a bad day they’d log on to Facebook just to look through pictures of Mattie until they felt better. That was our little Miracle Mattie. Through it all, he was a trooper.

His parents are also troopers. Life with Mattie was hard: really hard. But if you ask them they will say that yes, it was worth it. Yes, if they had to choose, they would choose to do it all again, a million times over. His siblings, ranging from the age of 7 to 23 also say it was worth it. HE was worth it. Yes, life with Mattie was hard, but life with Mattie was also beautiful.

We all wish we had more time with Mattie, but we are grateful for the time we did have. Just like Mattie, we learned, we loved, we grew. We’ll see him again someday when it’s our turn to meet Jesus face to face. Until then, we remember, and we celebrate. Happy birthday, Mattie Sam!

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(The above photo is Mattie at the age of two. His mom wrote a beautiful book explaining tracheotomies to help the many children who were following Mattie’s life understand what that thing on his neck was. The book has been used to inform and prepare many families across the country)

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It’s Adam Week!!!

In case the photo didn’t give it away, this week Adam graduated from International House of Prayer University. To celebrate his achievement, I have declared this week Adam Week. All week I’ll be sharing memories of him as he grew from a 7 lb 10 1/2 oz baby to the tall, strong man he is.

A logical place to start is with his basic personality. He would be the first to tell you he’s “quirky”, and proud of it. He has always been one of a kind: a true color outside the box kind of guy. When he was little, I’d ask him “Do you want peanut butter, or grilled cheese” and his answer would be, “Bologna!” You have to understand, it wasn’t because he loved bologna that much, but rather, he wanted to make a decision outside the boundaries given. While that could be frustrating as his mom, it has proven to serve him well as he charts his course through life. It also makes it ironic, or maybe totally predictable, that he was a member of the one and only class that will ever graduate from the Social Justice Program at the school. (Several months ago it was decided this particular curriculum would be folded into another program.) Leave it to Adam to choose a study program that no one else (outside of his 9 classmates) will ever be able to take!

And while we’re at it, here’s Adam as that adorable 7 lb. 10 1/2 oz. baby boy:

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Stone Soup Babies

It’s common knowledge that there are many children who have no permanent home and no “forever family”. Worldwide the estimates are in the millions. In the United States, numbers run upwards of 100,000. Like many Christians, I want to be part of the solution for these little ones, but have found it a daunting task to figure out how to help. The need is so big, and what we are equipped to do seems so small. While costs vary widely, the average range for an adoption in the U.S. is about $20,000-$40,000.

In the last week, I witnessed a financial “miracle” which enabled a family to do an emergency adoption. There was no wealthy benefactor that paid for the adoption; there were 182 heroes. These people gave anywhere from $5-$1200, with about half of them giving less than $30. All together, it was enough to fully ransom this little life, saving him from a life potentially spent in foster homes. Watching the Facebook updates posted by the amazing Tracie Loux over the course of a week, and seeing just how quickly we all could find money when properly motivated was amazing. (Click to visit Tracie’s personal blog here , and click here to see her adoption blog, where you can find information on newborns needing familes.)

All this got me thinking. Sure, $40,000 is a ton of money, but if we all consistently did a small part, we could make a major difference. For instance, the community at the Intertnational House of Prayer in Kansas City is made up of about 4000 people. This  includes IHOP-KC staff, IHOPU students, and FCF congregants. Sure, the missionaries don’t have piles of money, and the students don’t either. But, I’m guessing nearly everyone would find an extra $10 a month to throw in the adoption pot. Do you realize, if all 4000 of us gave $10 a month that would be $40,000, or one adoption a month fully paid for? When you add in the fact that some adoptions are closer to $20,000, just this one community could fully fund anywhere from 12-24 adoptions a year!

I realize that when you’re living on a tight budget even $10 can be a stretch, but think of it this way: The following are all about $10. Make one of these sacrifices in your monthly budget, and you could be part of a couple dozen kids having homes this year.

Things that cost about $10

a trip to Chipotle
two trips to Starbucks
a movie ticket
a sale price pizza
an everyday Tshirt
a cheap seat at a Royals (or other team) game
a car wash (with wax)
1/3 of getting highlights in your hair
1/2 a pedicure

Things $10 is less than

a  CD
 a bargain video game
a cheap haircut
a DVD
a trip to the zoo
a monthly gym membership
a shirt from American Eagle

So, what do you say? Can you spare a pizza to give a kid a home?

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