Expect Love & Bad Advice.

They told me I’d meet my husband when I least expected it. “They” were all the people. All the married, older, younger, hopeful, yearning-for-me-to-meet-him people. 

I found over the years that ‘least expecting' the person you want to meet the most is a horrible mind game to play. Getting dressed in your best to “put yourself out there” and simultaneously trick yourself into apathy: please. 

Please just stop. 

I’m not going to 'least expect' anything of the sort. Nor am I going to go to every party, outing, or grocery store shopping trip expecting it to be the night I meet my soulmate. Enough. 

Single people, can I get an amen? 

It’s such weird advice that is usually accompanied by “When I met my husband at the age of 19 1/2 I’d been waiting so long, and I just wasn’t sure I’d ever...” 

And then I met my husband on a Tuesday night when I was living my life in jeans and a ratty sweatshirt with 2nd-day old hair. 

Before you croon at me with a “seeee I told youuuu…” let me assert to you the reality of things that were going on inside of my head.

True. I was not expecting to meet him that night. I was planning on having happy hour with Tim Jones. My wonderful friend. And that’s what I did, and then I also met a hunky, engaging, fascinating, you-feel-like-my-people Indian man named David Christie. 

It sounds like I'm proving your old wive’s tales by just mentioning this—but do you know what I think? 

Rather than not caring or looking or pretending to look-but-not-care in a grand inauthentic mind game: I was living. 

Fully. Deeply. Abundantly. Contentedly.

I’d taken a long road trip by myself to the tip top of California a few months earlier. I drove through redwood trees listening to Morten Lauridsen choral music and Joni Mitchell and Ray Lamontagne (In that order and on repeat. It would’ve made you nuts.) I literally let my hair down, wore an orange sundress and took photos of rivers with my camera. Lots and lots of rivers and trees. One afternoon I looked up at the sky somewhere between Eurkea and Sonoma and surrendered all my angst about being single to God. I made some peace with my truth. If I could script out a conversation with God and how I imagine him to have answered me in English: 

“Hey, God, I want to get married someday. But it feels like...” 

“Yup, I know. You’ve been quite clear on this one...” 

“Sweet. Glad we’re clear. Do what you can. I know the world is screwed up, including the people--including me, so I get it. Seriously. Thank you for everything. I’ll be okay no matter what.”

“I got you. No matter what.”

“Cool. Let’s drive.” 

And like a child in a big backyard of wonder, I started savoring every bit of my life. 

In the worrying about things and whether I was good enough, I had lost track of freedom.

I experienced my life become vibrant again from the inside out. I made up a word for this: re-vibrant. Revibrant. It's like revival and vibrant smooshed together. If you like it, you can use it, too. 

Instead of continuing to believe that finding someone to love was a problem of scarcity, I began considering that life was abundant and so were all the possibilities. 

I also stopped pretending: I wanted to meet a man that I could marry. No shame in that. No more "least expecting" for the good love I wanted for my life.

I was inspired by this thought that crossed my mind a few weeks before I met David: 

If human beings are the most exquisite and creative beings on this planet—then two humans coming together and creating a life together was one of the most creative things I could imagine. I began growing curious about who I might build my life with. Not if, when, specifically who, or where——but in a philosophical sense I began to dream about what two lives together could be. Not perfection, fantasy, or fiction—but the real thing of love.

I wasn’t looking "for a husband.” I began looking for David. I was seeing him, not a role he could fill—a vacant job description I had open in my life. One is honoring; the other can be objectifying. 

And when my feet stood before him a few weeks later on our first dates, I feared I had found the most creative, vibrant, wide-eyed adventure I was invited to live. That adventure is a life together. Not just marriage—but our lives, our uniqueness intertwined to be something full and brimming with potential. And if you’re like me at all—newness is both thrilling and terrifying.

But bravely, after some prayer and pondering, we stepped forward into life together.

Least expected? Yes. After dating for what felt like longer than hoped for, I stopped assuming I’d get married. I stopped hoping, dreaming, or expecting at all.

And so whether it’s a job, a calling, a spouse, a child, a friend, or a place to live—I know this: FEAR steals our HOPE, but LOVE gives us LIFE. And the source of all LOVE invites us to revive the vibrancy that has gotten lost along the way in all the pain and broken promises. We are created for LOVE. Whatever vessel or container love comes to you---savor it. Sit across the table, look into the eyes of a friend, a lover, a child, a stranger and connect to the most creative art on this earth: a human soul.

And I think THEY are full of you-know-what: it's just fine to expect love to come. You're worthy, so you don't have to feel desperate at all.

The Fear of Being Left Alone.

We drove all the way to Disneyland on a weekday. Mom and dad were off of work, and we were dressed and ready for a magical day. I was four years old.

CLOSED.

"What!? When is Disneyland closed? That’s so odd. Did you call ahead? Oh, shoot. Kids, I’m so sorry….”

Tears erupted in the backseat of the chocolate-colored Chevy Nova. Car seats remained intact and seat belts buckled as we had to drive the hour back home from Anaheim to Burbank. In an instant, our day took a hard u-turn from magical to mundane.

My mom and dad tried to make it better: “We can go anywhere else! What do you want to do? I’m so sorry guys; we’ll come back again soon when it’s open. The beach? The park?”

I announced, “I want to go to the Glendale Galleria.” 

The Glendale Galleria was our local shopping mall.

My parents looked at me like I had misspoken. 

Like Disneyland, the Glendale Galleria had crowds of people, an Orange Julius and noise and music and sensory overload. I think I may have had hopes for a consolation toy, too.

They indulged me. Off we went to the land of Hot Dog on a Stick, the Popcorn Palace and one of the first Disney Stores. And Mervyn's. Anyone miss Mervyn's?

But over the years the Galleria became a place of anxiety as well. 

The adults would say, “Hold my hand, I don’t want to lose track of you.”

And my goodness, I didn’t want to be 'lost track of' either. What did that even mean?

Over the loudspeaker, I imagined them saying, “We’re looking for the parents of a lost little girl in front of JCPenny." 

Isn’t it perplexing how our greatest fears and our wildest freedom can exist in parallel moments? On the one hand, I loved this place! For me, it was the runner-up to Disneyland. And on the other, I have vivid memories of feeling worried about being abandoned and left with the mall security guards.

Do you fear loneliness that may not ever come true? How much time do you waste worrying?

The fear of impending aloneness is the kind of fear that keeps us running away from freedom. It keeps us checking and performing and obsessing. We want to make sure we're seen, noticed.

I want to stop wasting my life on worry.

I’ve found one thing to be true: the One who made us "stays at the mall" to find us. God isn't far away but knows our name, our details, and never left us for a moment. He's "walking around the mall" calling your name, waiting for us to stand still long enough so He can find you. I think sometimes we have to hold still long enough to feel how afraid we are of loneliness. That's where I found freedom: when I faced all the fears that were killing me on the inside.

Be still and know that we’re never alone, and we’re forever loved. 

Self-Confidence Lessons

Burbank High School in the 10th grade, I walked up to my teacher with the Scantron filled out. It’d only been 10 minutes of the Algebra 2 Final Exam, and she wrinkled her brow. 

“Excuse me? You’re already done?!”

“Yes, I decided to use this time to study for my English Final. I did the math, and even if I got 100% on this final, I’m still going to fail this semester of your class.” 

“Wow. Okay.” She shook her head in disbelief and looked down at my paper filled in nicely, but randomly: A, D, C, B, B…and so on. Needless to say, I had not “shown my work” on the attached papers. But she couldn’t argue with my logic.

"Kristie, you could've gotten an "A" in my class. I'm so disappointed..." 

She had to get the last word. I didn't like her much, so her disappointment only stung like a mosquito on a summer day by the pool. I had chosen my fun, and I was at peace.

You see, my seat was in the back next to the window that looked out over the street. Next to me in the adjacent desks were three boys that I was far more entertained by than learning what in the world a “parabola” had to do with anything. If the boys weren’t cute or funny---or (*gasp*) absent, I'd stare out the window looking at the trees and the Kmart sign across the street. I knew I should care, but it was too late. I had a crush on three hunky boys, and now Algebra sounded like someone was speaking Japanese to me. I was not bilingual.

Next stop was my school counselor to figure out what to do with the 3rd period in my schedule. I’d re-take Algebra 2 next year but needed a filler. Typing, perhaps? Underwater basketweaving? Not a thing. 

"You know, we need a T.A. in this office. You could do that?" she offered. 

"Sure. Let's do it." It sounded easy, and I liked the counselors. 

I learned quickly that my new 3rd-period job was simple: I was a professional hall pass deliverer. I was tasked to deliver small pink and yellow slips of paper with the names of students who needed to come to the office. (I'm explaining this for the youngins because I'm sure now they just text your Apple Watch or something) I walked with these papers to all the ends of the earth—or the school campus-- which was expansive, or at least very poorly laid out. 

So here’s the whole point of what I’m telling you: 

I think being the Counseling Office T.A. was one of the best things that ever happened to me. 

At first, I was so nervous to walk into the classrooms with call slips. I was anxious about walking through the hallway visible to classes of seniors who would look at me as I walked the empty halls. The popular girls, the mean kids, the football team; I was terrified of their opinion of me. My greatest fear: that I’d be judged, mocked, and dismissed.

But it didn’t matter how scared I was. This was my new job and I was not going to get an “F” in Counseling Office T.A. work. I’d had my first “F,” and I was hoping to make it my last. 

So I faked it. I walked with confidence. I made eye contact with the teacher. I averted my eyes from the classroom of students. 

A few weeks later, I started to smile and scan the room of the students that I felt the most intimidated to approach. With butterflies filling my stomach clear up to my throat, I walked into the Auto Shop and handed the hall passes to that teacher. In front of all the boys. I survived. They even flirted with me a little. Phew.

I got to see the entire school, and I had to face my fear every single day. 

I learned that what I feared the most, was imaginary. And if it was real? If rejection was ever real, it was marginal. 

Every once in a while I'll walk into a room of strangers and feel the butterflies, the fears, the awkward-Kristie-ness rise up. And then I stand tall, I smile, and I remember that I'm okay. 

And one thing I know to be true: everyone else is generally thinking about whether you like them or not. We hold such great power in our eye contact, our smile, and our seeing of one another. Don't be afraid. It's probably imaginary.

You're uniquely wonderful just the way you are.

Let Go of Your Shame Stories.

Isn't shame a paralyzing thing? I had avoided the dentist's office for a few years. I was so afraid of the look in my dentist's eyes---the "what were you thinking!?" shaming look. And yes, I had a dentist who could ever so subtly do that thing women can do with raised eyebrows, a tone of voice, and fake reassurance: "Well, you're here now. I guess we'll do our best..." Then I imagined that she would peer over her glasses like a mean librarian, letting out a deep and exasperated sigh. 

And since I'm creating more and more good space in my life, I decided on something elementary and obvious: I needed a new dentist. 

Today was "new-dentist-face-the-music-day." I was nervous. I bit all my nails. (Which I realize is also a problem for your teeth because I had to check the box on the intake forms that I occasionally bite my nails. Shoot!) The staff was kind and professional. The office was soothing, and only a few blocks from my house. When the doctor came into the room I found all the authenticity I could muster to say, "I know I should have come sooner, I've had a lot going on and I was nervous and..." He stopped me. He smiled. He said, "Kristie, it's just a tooth. We'll fix it. There are just bigger things in life. This is just a tooth." 

Isn't that sweet? 

Is there something in your life you need to hear that about? 

It's just a ______________. We'll fix it. There are bigger things! 

Relax. Be loved. Let go of your shame story!

When they scheduled a follow-up appointment, I said, "Great! I'll look forward to it." And the front office gals laughed and said, "Are you sure? You're looking forward to a filling?!" And I am. Because taking excellent care of myself is important and sometimes that looks like a cup of tea before bed, and at others, it looks like breaking up with your dentist to find a nice one who makes you feel human. Shame is a liar, and you are worth more than the story that tells you that you're a total screw up. And maybe like me, you just need a new dentist or a new perspective.

I'm Not Good At Hip Hop.

Twenty-three years old and living in Toluca Lake: I joined a cool gym. Not the kind if gym your grandma goes to for water aerobics, but the type that is more like a nightclub with the lights on. (My church at the time was also like this, but that's another story.) I had to drive over the hill to Hollywood to get there, but I justified the drive as the cost of admission to plunge into the depths of LA-cool. I was simultaneously intimidated and dazzled to step foot on the gym floor. You know, the same way snotty hair salons can make you feel for walking through their doors with your normal-person hair. You get the picture. It was a scene. 

I read the schedule of classes with my roommate: ”Cardio Hip Hop.” We thought it sounded fun. I was in show choir, and she had been a cheerleader, ”we got this.” 

Upon arriving at the Prom Queen of all gyms, I surveyed our classmates. I quickly realized that I was not at the Burbank YMCA anymore and perhaps this is where pros work out. Pro dancers. Like real hip-hop dancers. I stood in the back, couldn't keep up and felt anxiety flood my body. I was transported to middle school when I was a five-foot-nine-inch-tall 11-year-old who could barely walk up a flight of stairs without scraping a knee.

My friend, who was following along with the class just fine, looked at me and read my mail. In either a grand act of solidarity or self-preservation she quickly smiled and said: ”let's go!” We ran out of the glass room 30 minutes before the class was over to seek refuge in the locker room. The hip-hop teacher shouted after us, ”Oh you were doing just fine! Don't leave!” I waved and mouthed ”have to go, sorry!” before the tears of embarrassment could start to flow. 

And so a few days later I reviewed this whole event with a therapist I was seeing. I explained the anxiety, the flashback to middle school, the whole thing. I wanted to get to the bottom of the emotional reasons I froze in cardio hip hop class. ”Why can’t I seem to hip hop well?!!” 

Without missing a beat, the good doctor asked, ”Do you want to know what I think?” 

”Yes, of course,” I waited in silence for her expert and studied analysis. 

”I think you’re good at so many things, but you're not good at Cardio Hip Hop. There is nothing wrong with you.”

Stunned and relieved, I rested more deeply into the cushions of her office couch. We both burst out laughing. Relief and grace: We don’t have to do it all well or perfectly.

”You're not good at hip-hop” (and its so so true, folks) has become a line I've written on post-its stuck to mirrors and computer screens as a daily reminder to live authentically. Don’t try to pretend to be something that’s just not “you.”

Step out of your comfort zone, absolutely. But don’t step outside of being “you.”

We are all given different gifts, and that's the way it’s supposed to be. Our uniqueness binds us together in an essential community because we have to lean on others. 

What a simple and profound relief.

Perhaps you're great at hip hop. I'm happy for you, and I’ll cheer you on from the elliptical machine.

Privacy, Identity, and Dressing up as Hollywood Barbie.

The first time I saw an Angelyne billboard I was driving through Hollywood in 1996. It also happened to be the year I got my driver’s license. There is no coincidence here—I took my car over the hill from Burbank, California where I grew up to explore Hollywood as often as possible. I turned to my friend in the seat next to mine and asked, "Who's that?!" 

She said, "Oh, that's Angelyne. She buys billboard space and has made herself famous." 

"Wait. So, she's famous, and she isn't like an actress or a model or something?"

"I think I heard she did a porno. But, no. She's just famous because she's making it so," my friend flatly shared. 

"That's odd," I said, not knowing how the Internet would change this phenomenon entirely. People magazine filled with those who are famous simply because they are famous.

A few weeks later while at mother’s day brunch with my family, I came face to face with this iconic woman in the restroom. Imagine how startled I was to see the lady in the billboard in real life while washing my hands in the side-by-side sinks. I kept glancing into the mirror trying to take in the oddity of her appearance. Growing up in Burbank, I’d seen a lot of the eccentric ways people express themselves—but this was new. Here in front of me was an older woman dolled up head to toe with the presumed goal to look just like Barbie. As Angelyne made her way out of the restaurant to her pink Corvette parked out front, my family stared. Grandma said with her thick Texas-transplant-accent, "well, I'll be darned..." Our leering wonder seemed to be just the kind of attention that Angelyne was after. 

I’ve seen Angelyne in Trader Joe's and driving through Malibu and all over town in the years since my first sighting in Burbank. Like everyone, I’ve wondered what her personal story is—a city full of people trying to be seen and filmed, I’ve assumed the story wasn’t unique to many transplants coming to Hollywood for fame. The quest to be seen and significant is not new, but my question has always been: will Angelyne be loved and seen? 

This week a story broke in the Hollywood Reporter unveiling the identity of this woman Angelenos have wondered about for so long. The story reveals that she is the child of Polish immigrants, survivors of the Holocaust coming to Los Angeles to start a new life—she grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She’s a valley girl—just like me. The story read a bit like "See, I told you she's a fraud. She's just ordinary." But I wondered at the indelible ink of the trauma her parents experienced in concentration camps and how this impacted their daughter, Robyn's childhood—now, Angelyne. Follow up stories share that Angelyne is a bit unnerved by the mask being ripped from her face, showing us her high school yearbook photo. As much as I liked reading the answers to my questions, it caused me to wonder if it's any of our business. I’ve been thinking about two things: privacy and identity. 

When we objectify ourselves by masking our identity behind false masks and stories—true love—the kind of love we all need, has a hard time breaking through to the most authentic part of ourselves.
But when someone rips the mask away from our face too soon, without our consent—it is traumatic. Angelyne isn’t hurting anyone with her pink Corvette and attention seeking behavior. I wonder if the facts are as important as her privacy?

I had done enough online dating before I met my husband to know that we live in a generation of so much facade. What you see online or even in person is not always the real story. If Instagram filters have taught me anything, it's that sometimes the image we take doesn’t tell the whole story either—a filter can express a layer of feeling over a picture and give a depiction of how the moment you’re capturing might look and feel. 

Masks tell a story even as they hide the truth. I hope that this story of Angelyne can be a great conversation starter for parents who want to talk to their children about identity and the story they’re telling through social media. What do you tell the world about who you are? Does it matter or make you more valuable if hundreds and thousands and millions of people notice, or are each one of us valuable whether we have social media tribes or fans watching?

I put on darker eyeliner when my thoughts feel deeper. I don’t always mean to, but it happens, and I am aware of it. What story am I telling through the way I express my identity in clothing and makeup and style? What do I want the world to know about me by the choices I make and the story I tell? I haven’t changed my name or lied about the facts—with me, generally what you see is what you get. However, I value my privacy and that of others. It’s not something I want to hand out to the world—all the little stories that make me Kristie. I believe that our stories are ours to tell. Privacy is important.

There’s one thing I know—we can only truly feel loved when we are seen and known. Who do you allow to know you—flaws and beauty and uniqueness? 

I hope that Angelyne’s friend knows her whole story. I hope there are nights when she takes off the makeup and sits on the couch with him and tells him all her deepest truths. But if she doesn’t? I suppose that’s up to her, isn’t it? 

Identity and privacy. How much do you let people see? Who knows your details? And, do we all need to mind our own business a little more often? I think my grandma would say so, and her generation had something we can learn. She'd say, "Oh, let them be. They aren't hurting you anyway." 

Yours, Mine & Ours

This is an article I wrote for White Magazine in Australia. It's written for men and women as they enter marriage---but I have taken my own advice a few times reading this and thought I'd share it here with all of you, too. I decided to leave a few of the edits they made that were a little "aussie English" because it's fun. Tire you'll see is "tyre." Pretend I have an australian accent---just for this post. So fun. ;) 


Imagine two meteors zooming through the atmosphere and one day they meet in the middle of the universe. Two fiery balls of energy, life and direction who decide that instead
of continuing in their own directions they’d like to come together and be a planet. A happy, beautiful, thriving planet, of course. The intersection of the two meteors is exciting, intense and good—but as you can imagine, becoming one entity will be no easy feat. This is often the way I have described our first few years of marriage.

We wrestled through every decision that would integrate our lives. We loved life together, and we had also created independent lives on our own for years and years that we also enjoyed. We knew the way we liked things, the places we liked to bank, shop, live and who we spent our time with.

Coming together as one was not without its conflict, tears and confusion. The good news? Day by day we’ve created quite a happy planet to live on. Together. It took time, patience and a lot of communication but we’ve found our way into a rhythm that is our safe place to live together: home.

David and I met and married within a year. Our connection and relationship moved fast and we were in our mid-thirties and were ready to live our lives together. As soon as we were engaged, I was eager to register for glasses and cake plates and all the lovely kinds of gifts I’d given 200 of my closest friends at their wedding showers over the last decade. My turn … wait … our turn. This is where my journey towards interdependence began. Independence had been my strength as I created a life on my own as a single woman. I’d purchased a home, chosen a career and changed every light bulb or tyre all on my own. There wasn’t really anyone weighing in on the decisions I made—I had the freedom to choose and create almost every aspect of my life. Now, sharing my life with David would mean things would shift and change. I had another person to consider and had (and still have) some growing to do.

I remember standing in a home store in front of a display of 50 different silverware patterns. I imagined our future children eating off of these forks. I considered years and years of dinner parties and holidays with beautiful linens on our table and carefully placed forks, knives and spoons lined up next to a shiny white plate. Choosing our silverware pattern suddenly felt like such a huge decision. I turned to David with expectation: “Which one do you like best?” I searched for approval and direction. He said, “Honestly, I don’t care. I trust you.” I was annoyed by what I perceived as his apathy. Finally, through my prodding and insistence he picked a favourite pattern. Just as soon as his finger began to point towards the shiny fork, spoon and knife I said “Oh, not that one.” I’m sure you can imagine how frustrating this was for him. He didn’t actually care. He likes my style and choices. I wanted him to care, so he made the effort to have a preference and I instantly shot it down. He gave me a frustrated look. You know the look—the kind that lets you know that you’ve crossed the line and pushed him over the patience threshold.

My desire to include him in the wedding planning process was strong. I didn’t want to be the kind of girl that charged beyond her partner and planned her own “personal princess prom”. I wanted the wedding to reflect us, not just me.

What I learned through the process was that there are simply things he will defer to me on, and others I will defer to his judgement. There will be many decisions we choose to make together. Deciding how to approach a decision, big and small, is sometimes easier said than done.

I suppose that these are the little things: fork patterns, the colours for your wedding, or even which restaurant you choose for dinner.

“Don’t miss this important truth: the little decisions create a pathway into the bigger ones. Think of them as training wheels on the marriage bike.”

Learning how to communicate about decision making can be tough work, but it’s good work. You’ll get there if you keep working towards finding a smooth rhythm in your relationship, but it can be awkward at first.

Here are a few things I want to suggest as you learn to make decisions together:


Listen and be curious 

If you can learn to listen and ask questions, you’ll get to the heart of your partner’s preferences, motivations and viewpoint. Don’t interpret right away what you naturally intuit to be true. Be curious and discover the heart of the matter before you move forward together.

Keep calm and communicate 

Let your words be true and clear. No-one likes to play a guessing game about what you really mean to say. Passive aggression in the name of people pleasing can be a great barrier in the way of good communication. Be calm, patient, and clear. If you need a moment to figure out what you’re thinking and feeling—take that moment to process and return to the conversation. Take turns communicating and listening until you feel you’ve both been well understood.

Decide how much you care 

In the case of the forks and spoons—David didn’t care which one we registered for. He wasn’t apathetic, he trusted my judgement. Learn to let go when it’s not important to you, especially if your partner has a gift in this area or a strong opinion. There will be many more
decisions that you’ll make together. Don’t fight every battle. Decide how important something is and then proceed together.

Seek out mentors and friends

Welcome a few trusted friends into your life to be a sounding board and mentor. Without breaking the trust of your spouse, it can be good to have wise women to lean on as you grow in marriage. Seek out women who have healthy, thriving marriages as a place to learn strategies and best practices. No two marriages are the same, but there are challenges common to most of us. Why not learn from someone further along on the relationship road? Mentors and friends can be a great resource as you navigate the tough stuff.

Understand your conflict and personality styles Decision making can be a place ripe for conflict. When you feel hurt or frustration well up in your heart, learn about how you each naturally react. The more you learn about what makes your spouse who they are, the better you will be to love them and communicate well.

Christmas Movie "Believe" Teaches Empathy to its Family-Friendly Audience

America needs more empathy.

em-pa-thy

noun

"the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Another way to define empathy? It’s the act of putting ourselves in the shoes of someone else. Empathy takes effort. After enduring a divided political season many hope to repair the relational rifts caused by righteous rebukes, debates, and ‘unfriendings.’ What's my encouragement? Grow your empathy. I’m often asked, "can empathy be grown in a person or are they just born with it?" Good news: the empathy center in the brain can be activated by our behavior. Empathy can grow.

It’s no secret that the United States is in need of some ‘uniting.' For many this past year seats at the table have been empty as conflict has not yet found its way to a resolution. How do we preserve the most important values that make us “one nation under God, indivisible…” and still take a stand for what we believe in?  Perhaps it’s time for some light-hearted laughter and good conversation. Maybe time to take your family to the movies for a good story as told by the makers of the film, Believe. 

This holiday season’s release of Believe written and directed by Billy Dickson, offers an invitation to flex our empathy muscles. Believe is about the intersection between rich and poor, good and bad, young and old, business owner and employee. You'll find a Christmas movie full of many twists and heart-warming turns. A cast of ordinary small-town heroes come together to overcome what might seem impossible. The goal? Overcome financial ruin, red tape, fires, and near death experiences to put on the community’s beloved Christmas Festival. Do they succeed? You’ll have to see for yourself. I’ll give you a hint to the essentials: joy, connection, community, truth, and of course—belief.

Leadpages

There is good news for families heading to theaters for a holiday movie: Believe is a movie that an 8-year old and 88-year-old can attend together, a welcome treat in a long list of R-rated holiday releases. Ryan O'Quinn, who plays the lead character in the film, has said in multiple interviews that he wants to make the kind of films parents want to take their kids to, because he is one. Best known to comedy audiences from various sit-coms, viral videos and standup venues, he delivers a powerful career-making turn as the lead in the film. His standout performance of an every man type that goes on a journey to discover what family, faith and truth are all about, is not to be missed. O'Quinn's range of emotion along with solid, natural delivery proves that he can carry a film, regardless of genre. 

Believe is full of many unlikely connections, starring a relationship between the white middle-aged business owner and a joyful black child living in small-town poverty. Matthew Peyton (O’Quinn) is rescued from a fire by C.J. (Issac Ryan Brown, ABC's Blackish). Because of their serendipitous relationship, the story unfolds as an invitation to have hope when it seems all hope is lost. 

As Matthew is nursed to health by C.J. and his mother in their humble home, his empathy grows by literally stepping into the life of this family who lives much differently than he does. As unemployed and homeless citizens come to know Peyton and his kindness, their understanding for his experience grows. Here empathy and connection build new bridges. Together they unite to overcome evil and set the record straight. 

 Issac Ryan Brown and Ryan O'Quinn

Issac Ryan Brown and Ryan O'Quinn

This is a faith-based Christian film at its heart, but the message is not heavy-handed as one might expect. Any plea to “believe” is broad, allowing space for your interpretation: belief in positive possibility, goodness, triumph over adversity, and in God’s help and provision. At times C.J.'s plea to simply "believe!” feels too simplistic, pointing to naive faith and hope for his magical dreams to come true. If you listen closely, a balance comes out through honest dialogue between the characters. For the child in the film belief is literal—he wants to be the angel Gabriel in the town pageant and supposes that if he believes, it will come true. Inspired by the earnest plea of a child, the adult characters in the film discuss that our belief will lead to a better outcome, but not always the literal manifestation of our willing and wishing. 

Whether through film, television, or literature a good storyteller invites us to change, to bend and understand a new perspective. In this story the relationships themselves cause transformation. Believe can be a launching point into deeper conversation for your family of movie-goers, too. As the story resolves on the screen, we learn that assumptions and impressions don’t tell the whole story. Without truly knowing the details and experiences of others, we lack the kind of understanding that curiosity and friendship can provide. 

Here are a few conversation starters to help your family or group have a great conversation after the movie. 

Do you believe that empathy has the power to activate unity? Believe is a sentimental Christmas film that shows us it can be done.

Chicago Cubs Family Ben & Julianna Zobrist Teach Major League Values

When Chicago Cubs second baseman, Ben Zobrist, went two for three during game two of the 2016 Major League Baseball World Series, he made it look easy. And when his wife, Julianna, takes the platform to sing God Bless America during game four, her voice is so beautiful that she'll make it seem like it required no effort at all.

For this dynamic and talented power couple, these successes haven't come without hard work and perseverance. In a sit-down interview with Julianna, we explored how they are actively working to instill values in their children so they will emerge into confident young adults able to live their dreams.

Julianna Zobrist is a well-loved singer-songwriter, author and speaker who recently released her full-length studio album "Shatterproof." Ben Zobrist has a very successful career in Major League Baseball, most recently playing in the last two World Series games with the Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs. They are committed to traveling together even though their careers require them to be on the road 8 months out of the year. Juggling two professional careers and three young children is no small feat for this couple, but they make it work in order to live their dreams.

"It's a deliberate decision to expose them to the needs and concerns of others. Our lives can be extremely consuming due to our schedule-- and this keeps our priorities straight."

Growing gratitude and empathy in their children is a priority for the Zobrists. They are intentional to grow these qualities in order to minimize entitlement. "It can be an uphill battle sometimes-- I hear a lot 'But they get to... and they have...' For us, it's been important to maintain a life that extends beyond baseball and money and our professional success. Our faith is very important to us, and we want to help our kids grow to have unshakable faith in the God who loves them and matters most."

1. Show.

Julianna shared that they don't want their kids to think that they woke up one day and had these exciting careers, "We worked hard to get where we are and continue to work hard each and every day." One way that they make sure their kids know that life isn't all play and no work is to intentionally have their children attend and observe practices, not just games and performances. "Our kids are there to see Ben practice and they sit through my sound checks and watch me write and create. They see it all."

2. Pray.

Putting their values into practice, they pray together at breakfast every morning. They do this because they believe in the power of prayer, but also like to be connected to the needs of others. Julianna shared that they maintain long list of people to pray for--family, friends, leaders, and missionaries. Each morning they pray for five people on the list. When natural disasters or catastrophic events take place in culture, they also pray with their kids for the people impacted. "We need that as much as our kids do. It's a deliberate decision to expose them to the needs and concerns of others. Our lives can be extremely consuming due to our schedule-- and this keeps our priorities straight," Julianna shared.

3. Experience.

The Zobrists also believe in exposing their children to shaping experiences. Broadening their view of the world grows empathy and an appreciation for diversity. They recently took their children on a trip to the Dominican Republic to spend time caring for children in orphanages there. "Our kids met children who don't have families to care for them. We want them to have an up close and personal view of the real lives people live and inspire them to care for others."

4. Model.

Julianna explained that another way she grows empathy in her kids is to be empathetic herself. She shared candidly that one of her kids struggles every time they leave home for a trip. While these changes in schedule never phase Julianna or the others, she understands that her daughter isn't the same. This difference isn't bad, it's a good part of who she is and her uniqueness. Instead of getting mad or frustrated with her daughter's struggle before departure-- she began setting aside 15 minutes to connect with her before they walk out the door. "I help her by going over the schedule, and reminding her that all her toys and our house will be here when she gets home in a few days. When I started doing this and not seeing her behavior as defiant or inconvenient, it changed everything. I really believe that it's my responsibility to know each of my children and not be emotionally lazy. It takes more work--but I believe it has made me a better mom to be empathetic to their individual needs."

5. Inspire.

The Zobrists want their kids to be confident and secure, free to become who they are created to be.  In fact, they have a special word to describe this self-confidence which happens to be the name of Julianna's studio album, "Shatterproof."

She explains, "Shatterproof is not living in fear of one another. The whole concept was birthed out of a story about a kindergartener in my life. She was getting bullied on the playground. The bullying went like this: One day she's beautiful, one day she's not. She ended up walking on eggshells every day. I wrote her the song "Shatterproof" and told her, 'Don't let this 5 year old boy determine who you are.'

I want to inspire every person to be authentic to who they are and not be bullied into sameness or conformity because it makes others more comfortable." She believes that we all can model being "shatterproof" by not being this bully and living confidently and securely in our own identity.

Julianna's shares where she finds her identity and security, "My confidence is found in who God says I am. Yes, I'm a christian in a very secular world. My life looks different than other people--and I embrace the freedom to be uniquely who I am." And Julianna and the whole Zobrist family hope you will too.

Julianna's full-length studio album "Shatterproof" is available on iTunes. Ben and Julianna's book "Double Play" is available on Amazon.

Five Favorite Podcasts

I do a lot of driving because it's the nature of my work and because let's face it---I live in Los Angeles and driving is just part of the deal here. My drives, long or short, have become even better because of two new additions to my life. The first reason is that in the last year I bought an electric-hybrid Ford C-Max. Here's why it's been amazing: 500 miles per tank of gas, front row parking when there is a charging station and carpool lane access even when I'm all by myself. The second reason is that I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to podcasts. It all started with the Serial podcast---I listened to all of them and when they were done started looking for more great content. Once I understood how the whole podcast downloading/subscribing process worked, I have been hooked. If you're yet to figure it out, here is a good online tutorial that will help you master the (simple) process of getting podcasts up and running on your phone. 

I try to keep my list of podcasts minimal, like I do everything in my life. I’m not one for clutter or keeping anything nearby “just in case.” I have narrowed my list down to these five favorites. Check them out, subscribe, and I hope these add a lot of inspiration and positivity to your life. 

Here's what's so cool about podcasts---you have the ability to create your own stream of self-selected media. Podcasts allow us to continue to learn and grow---and drive around and do errands. Just the the other day my husband and I had a long drive and listened to a few of these. As we drove and listened, I'd pause the podcast and we'd talk about an idea sparked by something we had just heard.

Check these out and if you have another that you think I should add to my list---leave it in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you. 

1. The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes

Lewis interviews inspiring people and motivates his audience live a great life. I love listening to him interview so many culture shapers from unique perspectives. I still have so many episodes to listen to because there are over 300---I'm making my way through the archives and enjoying the new content as well. Lewis is an LA-based NYT Bestselling author who has had great success as an entrepreneur (read: I study everything he does) and is a former pro-athlete. Yes, I wish we could be friends in real life---of course I feel that way about all of these podcasters. His book is called The School of Greatness: A Real World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy

Click to listen to Lewis' podcast

2. The Tim Ferriss Show

Tim Ferris is the author of the NYT Bestselling books: The Four Hour Workweek and The Four Hour Body. He's known for doing crazy experiencments on himself. He interviews an eclectic group of experts in a variety of fields and helps unpack the reasons behind their success. I love listening these long-form interviews that don't follow a set formula---always interesting. I listen to one of his podcasts throughout the week and enjoy his authentic, candid and cool style. 

Click to listen to this podcast.

3. Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield

Amy's my girl---err---I mean, my guru..something like that. I feel like I know Amy because she's such a great teacher and so accessible to her audience. I have purchased one of her online training products, "Courses that Convert," and continue to listen to every bit of wisdom she espouses on her podcast and through her webinars. If you're someone who is new to online marketing or old hat---she is a thought leader in this arena that you'll want to learn from.

Click to listen to this podcast.

4. This is Your Life with Michael Hyatt

Michael Hyatt was the former CEO of Thomas Nelson publishing who is an online mentor to so many, including me. I'm a member of his "Platform University" group which I happily pay for each month because it's really been helpful for my business. This podcast isn't all platform building---but more "life building." His co-host Michele Cushatt is one of my favorite people who has been my public speaking coach over the years. Michael has several books on the NYT Bestselling list that he's written---but here is his latest: Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want

Link to this podcast.

5. Rhett Smith Podcast

Rhett Smith is really someone I do know in real life---and I totally respect they way he approaches just about every issue. I recommend his podcast to many people because if you're looking to live a great life and have healthy relationships---he teaches so many good tools and ideas here. Rhett is a Marriage & Family Therapist that I originally met when we both worked at Bel Air Presbyterian Church. I've listened to hours and hours of his content and it's all very good. Rhett's book, The Anxious Christian: How God Can Use Your Anxiety for Good, is well loved and a great resource.

Check out Rhett's podcast.

Photo credit: auralasia

A Tribute, Remembering Ginny.

I just found out that Ginny Parrish died. I was sitting in a busy Jewish deli near our house, eating berries and working on work tasks on my computer when my phone rang. The room was full and noisy, but I cupped my hear to my phone because it was mom. She told me the news, her voice choked on the words. I was stoic. I said the things that are true, “Good, I’m glad she’s out of pain. Glad that her suffering didn’t last longer.” I knew my emotionless, rational response was not the kind of connection my mom wanted in that moment—but I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t connect to the grief, the loss, the celebration of Ginny’s life and the weight of all she has meant to me. I had to stay removed. I had to kept working, I was waiting for David to be done with a presentation in the other room.

Ginny was one of the most sincere, authentic, fun, full-of-life women I've ever known. I could talk to her about anything and I have learned more about Jesus from watching her life than I'll ever be able to repay. She was my Children's Pastor when I was a child growing up at the First Presbyterian Church of Burbank. When she moved a few hours away, I still visited her every so often. In the last few months, she suffered. Cancer that filled her 92-year-old body and she ended up in hospice. I visited her for the last time a few weeks ago and said all I needed her to hear in a letter I'd sent.  As I left, I knew it was goodbye---but who wants to face that? She looked me deep in the eyes, kissed me on the cheek and said she loved me. A deep unshakable love I could trust. 

Now I’m home. I’m alone. I’m thinking and feeling it all while I prepare for a weekend retreat I’m speaking at up at Forest Home. The wind is blowing in the trees outside and I’m wondering, “What is Ginny’s first day in heaven like?” I bet it’s breathtaking. I imagine her getting the whole picture—the one she had faith her whole life that she would someday see. I can only imagine the crowd waiting for her on the other side of the River of Life. I’m clicking through pictures of her on Facebook and still pushing the tears away. I don’t want to be alone when I cry, I tell myself. I’ll wait. 

But then a memory comes. 2007. Two weeks after the fire at Malibu Presbyterian Church, the one that burned it to the ground. Someone anonymously paid for me to go to a retreat in the mountains—a welcome getaway. These people, whoever they were, knew I needed the retreat and refreshment after one of the most traumatic events I’ve ever gone through in my life.

I was wrestling with the big questions you do when your world gets turned upside-down. Laying under the trees by the lake up at the camp, Forest Home, I’d grown up going to every single summer I felt safe to do some wrestling and letting go. I looked up at the sycamore leaves, blowing in the cool autumn wind and wondered, "Why do you do the things you do? Why do you do them the way that you do?” How is it that a cute church burns to the ground and the houses nearby are spared? Today it was the church, but other days it has been my questions about the deaths of children, suicides of teenagers, and sudden accidents that take the lives of really amazing people. I’ve learned that this kind of pain is a mystery.  I don’t understand why sometimes we experience a "near miss"—but other times it seems as though God turns his head, not preventing a thing. Laying under the trees, contemplating the fire and the loss of this place, my office and my normal, I wondered if God could hear me. My normal had been forever rocked and I was unthawing from a few weeks of shock as I tried to grasp what my new life was going to look like for the next many years.

Suddenly I had this impulse, an “I should go to the bookstore” nudge. I love to shop and I also have a tough time sitting still for very long. In my quiet to-myself-prayer I said, “Lord, I’m here. I’ll stay here.” And then as clear as day I knew that this nudge wasn’t my “let’s go buy books and things and see people!!” impulse but one that was a deeper, divine---a nudge. I got up, climbed in my car and drove over to the other side of the camp property where the bookstore was. I felt a little dazed, wondering and doubting if this was really God or conjecture in the midst of all of my doubt and wondering. I walked into the bookstore and there she was: Ginny Parrish. Sitting there in the bookstore with her darling husband, Dick. You see, this is one of my miracles.

I was so alone, so weary, so in need of comfort and reassurance that God was still God even when life felt rather unraveled. Sitting beside the fireplace on a small plaid couch was my Children’s Pastor. She was the one who had sorted glue and supplies for my Sunday School classes, the one who had tenderly told me how much God loved me and the one who’d taught me to love and pray for the people around the world who lived in poverty. I really can’t think of anyone able to comfort as well as these two people in this particular moment. How in the world it all fit together that they were there the same weekend in the mountains at this special place is pure divine mystery. Here, at Forest Home, I’d learned what God felt like—and God showed me again by surprising me with this perfectly timed meeting.

This is probably the only woman in my life who would also understand who I am in an intimate, deep, “only-those-who-have-known-you-as-a-child” way and understand the job I was doing. Ginny had walked so many of the same steps on this road I was walking. Her son-in-law has been a pastor at the same church in Malibu years ago AND she had spent decades at my childhood church in Burbank. She knew the whole story and I didn't even have to say a word. 

Being a Children’s Pastor is a job that is more than Sunday School and glue and lesson plans—if you do it right it is one of being a stable support for families as they walk the days and years of childhood with their kids. I’d been the “calm in the storm” presence for a few weeks and as I stared down the road at several years more of this role—I was not thrilled or honored or excited that God had picked me. I was tired just thinking about it. Maybe I was even a little mad at God for picking me. 

I sat down on the couch next to them. Family. Here we were. I didn’t even get the words out, “What are you doing here…” and she warmly said, “Oh, there you are. I’ve been praying for you and I thought I might see you.” 

How did she know this? I was startled, in a bit of shock aware now with confidence that the "nudge" while I was under the tree moments ago was not in my head---but an invitation to something so perfect, so sweet. Only by the Spirit of God who filled up every square inch of this lady’s little body---only God could have given her this sense of things. Ginny was so close to the deeper reality that this wasn’t even a surprise but all part of the conversation she'd been having with God. I smiled. Tears in my eyes. Here, God’s evidence to me that He is in fact always with me in the tough times—even when I don’t understand the “whys" and “hows" of life. God is with us—always providing in the deepest, surest reassurance that He loves us. No matter what. 

She invited me to sit down. Sitting across from her, I looked deep into her sparkling eyes and she told me some stories about when I was young and she was leading the Children’s Ministry at Burbank Pres. Her tone was serious and clear, warning me of the kinds of things to expect in such a crisis and how to equip myself to walk through each week with confidence. She told me to get to church early to pray and to be looking with my heart for the deeper realities in my midst. We talked for a while and she laid her hands on mine and prayed for me. Her peaceful presence became the gift I needed---filled with the “Oh, we’re so sorry. We are with you,” comfort and love I needed.

Maybe God is invisible, but when He loves me in these ways I see Him. God loves us down to the details, throwing "surprise parties" at camp when we need them most. God becomes visible because He takes up residence in the bodies and souls of those who invite Him to---I just have to have new eyes to truly see.

And so the tears are here now as I hear that she has passed away from this life to the next. How do you honor the life of someone so precious, wise, and extraordinary? This woman prayed for me every single day, a gift I'll never even begin to grasp. Today I feel a sense of the passing of the torch. It’s my turn to intentionally pray for children in my life, to encourage them, sacrifice for them and to know God with so much confidence that He can use me to be in the right place at the right time and not be surprised by it. I know that when she went to heaven, she was not surprised when she met Jesus. She already knew him and He said, “Oh, there you are.” and smiled. A warm welcome home. 

 

Worry for Breakfast

When I wake up each morning the first thing I usually do is reach over to my nightstand for my phone. It doesn’t matter if it is 5am or 7am—I instinctively do this information check: CNN, NBC Los Angeles, Facebook, Gmail, other email accounts, Instagram. It doesn’t take me long, but first thing in the morning it feels like I need to check all these places---just in case. With the way things have been going in our world---I find myself frequently gasping at the news and whispering to my husband, “Honey, guess what!!!?…” and I fill us in on the latest tragedy in the news that has transpired while we have been sleeping. 

I try to go back to sleep—but my dreams and thoughts are too filled with pictures I just saw on the news feed—or just a preoccupied awareness of how much I need to get done because I checked my email before the sun had time to rise. 

If your morning routine looks any bit like mine, you’ll empathize. If not, well, good for you. I have to be honest with you---I’m tired of the marching beat of the culture. We're served worry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every headline seems to entice us to click and aims to serve us up just a little more fear. The other thing I’m weary of is my own inability to push away from the table and create something different for my life—a different narrative and routine. I realize, no one is forcing me to wake up to my phone and the millions of reasons we have to be afraid of living our lives. I am the only one truly responsible for the way I respond to the world around me. 

Easter Sunday I sat around a table eating lunch with some friends and the matriarch of the bunch said, “You know, this year was the first year that I sat through church and thought…” I interjected, “me too.” She didn’t even need to finish her sentence. I knew what she was referring too. The first year that we’d both thought through just how the scene would go down if an active shooter or suicide bomber decided that our Easter Worship service was just the place to make an extremist statement. 

I know I’m not alone. Fear fills the air. Whether you’re afraid of the election, the state of the world, or which public place to avoid—it’s hard to live in peace in a culture that profits off of fear. 

But with all that is going on, isn’t being a little afraid only responsible? Natural? Maybe. There do seem to be new things to be afraid of every day. The thing is, I know that an abundant full life is not full of fear—but of freedom. And freedom is what we celebrate and yearn for. Peace. Freedom. Liberty.

Peace doesn’t just come in the absence of fear—but often the most tenacious and peaceful people have learned how to be free even when the world around them tells a different story. 

As a Christian, I am challenged by the 365 times “Do not be afraid” appears in the Bible. Is it possible to be trusting, peaceful, even hopeful---- and live without fear in our modern culture? 

I’m determined to push against even my own addictions to having my phone next to me—and to the 24/7 news feed and alarmist media stories. Truth is, the constant, infinite Facebook info is also too much. I need more space. More time to exhale and clear my mind and think about my life and how I'm living it. If I want to make a positive impact in the world, I can not fill my mind and body with negativity all day long. It just doesn't work that way. 

After waking up from a night full of blankets pulled to my side of the bed and nightmares of terrorists and anger and a personification of the events around the world—I decided it was time to change. It was time to delete some apps, to quiet my phone and soon I hope to charge it somewhere away from my first reach. I want a book, a cup of tea, and a candle next to me. I know my best days start when I am focused on all the lovely things.

After 5 hours without Facebook dinging on my phone I returned home and you know what? No one needed a single thing from me and there was nothing I could do about all the bad things in the world accept be the very best version of me—and that, my friends, might just change the world. 

3 Tools to Develop Your Family's Heart for Social Justice

Several years ago I had the greatest job: I was a Children’s Pastor at a church in Malibu, California. As I got to know the families in the community, I learned that they had one thing in common: they all wanted to raise kids who served those in need and were grateful for all that they had.

Many were worried that because their kids had all their basic needs met (and more) that they would grow up and be entitled and ungrateful. I realized quickly that simply telling kids about the poor wasn’t going to be enough – we’d need to have experiences that would allow us to learn together and grow in compassion.

Learning that leaves a lasting impression happens through life-changing experiences. I wondered out loud and to myself about how I could give my kids at church an experience that would allow them to step into the story of another person – specifically those who live in poverty. We began by asking the question, “what is enough?” in a culture that teaches us to strive and thirst for “more.”

The thing is, whether you live in Malibu or Indiana, Mexico or India, we all need to know that we are loved and that God has a plan and purpose for our lives. We have so much in common. We all experience wealth and poverty in some form: material, spiritual, emotional or intellectual.

In order to help children grow in compassion, we can activate their vivid imaginations and give them the tools they need to be empathetic world-changers. I knew that many of the kids I worked with would someday shape their culture as their generation emerged into adulthood, and I felt commissioned to do all I could to prepare them to follow Jesus and live a life of service and generosity. Values are formed early in life, and I believe our role as adults is to create experiences that will inspire children to see the world through God’s eyes.

If you’re like me, you’re on the lookout for hands-on experiences to help children explore God’s bigger world. Here are three great resources available to help develop a heart for social justice in the next generation:

Compassion Pinterest Boards

 

If you’re looking for a way to take your sponsorship relationship to the next level or learn more about the developing world, our Pinterest boards are a great resource. Families often ask me what they can send the children they sponsor in the mail. Look no further! You’ll find dozens of creative letter ideas here. You’ll also find boards that collect resources to help you learn about the developing countries in which we work and the issues they face, including amazing stories from the children and churches we work with.

Step Into My Shoes Family Kit

 

If you haven’t introduced yourself to Step Into My Shoes, I highly recommend that you do. When you order this discipleship tool for your family or church, it will guide you through four transformational steps. Your family will have the opportunity to learn from Pastor Tom’s family in Uganda about what it is like to live life alongside them. Through hands-on experiential activities you’ll find all you need to have meaningful conversations about God’s bigger world and heart. When we see the world through God’s eyes, it changes our perspective of what we think “enough” is – and this is the central focus of the Step Into My Shoes journey.

Explorer Magazine

Kids love to get mail, and they’ll love getting an Explorer Magazine because it’s created specifically for them. Explorer Magazine is our award-winning free quarterly magazine packed with devotions, crafts, recipes and ideas to help kids grow in compassion and heart for our brothers and sisters who live in poverty. Bonus: kids will love to read this full-color magazine and it won’t feel like homework!

 

On Forgiving Myself

I was mouthy the other night.

I said too much.

My opinions were flying out of my mouth so quickly that I knew, totally knew, that I would want to grab the words back as I reflected on the conversation later that night. I even said so to the people I was with, “Oh man, I’m going to regret saying all of this…”

They laughed it off, enjoying my candid and somewhat humorous explanations of the way I felt about this or that. They told me not to worry about it one single bit.

But the next morning, I did feel badly. I have been trying to get up in the morning to journal and read the Bible before I start my day. I light a candle, I make some tea, I sit in my white chair and get quiet. It’s like working out…when I do it…it puts my day in the right direction.

In the quiet morning with my tea and my candle I felt ashamed.

I wrote for a while in my journal my confession and apologies. I asked for some help reigning in my words. I felt really silly and exposed. I tried to remember the words of Brennan Manning the day before in Ragamuffin Gospel (which I’m finally reading and you should too). I tried to remember that I’m an imperfect ragamuffin, making mistakes daily and in need of grace.

But should I breeze past this feeling of shame and rush to the relief of grace?

Does God want me to kind of sit in my room and think about it for a few minutes?

Can’t I confess it and move on? Can’t this process be quick and easy?

Probably not. I don’t know. I wondered…

I wrote the question to God in my journal:  “How long do you want me to feel bad about this? How long shall I let the shame sit with me?” I flinched inside wanting the answer to be “Oh don’t worry about it. Let it go. I forgive you.”

The answer came quickly. I read through Isaiah 43. There’s a part I love…a part in verses 18-21 that has been a word for me in seasons of change in my life. I read past it though to a place that spoke to me today. It read:

You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices. Isaiah 43:22

I thought about this and how the sacrifices and offerings, before Jesus became the sacrifice, were for atonement. I considered why it was that God wanted His people to respect Him enough to obey Him and to care deeply for their offering to Him.

It was clear to me as I read on, that it is the repositioning of our hearts that He is most concerned with.

God isn’t interested in my groveling and feeling shame: I am forgiven.

God is concerned with the renewing of my heart. God knows I need to go through a process in order to find relief. Sometimes that means I need to sit with my shame for a moment and realize how lame I was the night before spouting off my thoughts in a careless way. I want my words to be valuable, but I will sometimes resort to my way of making them cheap and easy. It’s a bummer, but I know it will happen again.

I am grateful for this process of confession and renewal. A process that we shortchange when we just kind of say “oh i’m forgiven, I guess I don’t need to say sorry.”

And we do.

“Sorry” is something I’m not always good at, but I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to say it out loud when I do something wrong. I need to go through the process in order to find true freedom and release.

I don’t like to feel ashamed. I’d much rather feel perfect. My feeling of perfection denies my humanity though, and my need for my Redeemer to come near to me and turn my heart in the right direction…again.

So in reverence and in intimacy, a beautiful paradox, I turn to the God of the Universe who also meets with me for tea in my white chair each morning and lets me “say sorry” and wrestle with the messiness of my soul.

Photo credit here.

Can I Try On Your Shoes?

This piece was first posted on the Compassion International Blog and was given the honor of being named in the Top 5 posts of 2015 on their site.  

From the time you woke up this morning, how many steps did it take you for your first sip of clean water? For some of us it was less than 20 or perhaps less than 10? Many in the developing world spend hours finding water—-and hope that the water they find will be safe. 

I understood global poverty for the first time when I encountered a village in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. I was there with a team of other Compassion Artists & Speakers invited to experience the Compassion center thriving in a small village church. I stood on a dirt road among generous people outside their small colorful homes. I looked on as they talked together, their eyes vibrant with joy, cooking chickens for our lunch and carefully arranging cut fruit on a platter as though preparing an exquisite feast.  The communal life they live is rich with kindness and love. For this community, their needs were being met by their local church in partnership with sponsors around the world. Even as they faced the real challenges of poverty—-they lived as though they had enough. It was here that I learned that the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, but enough

I find myself in shopping malls and stores filling my cart with things I probably don’t really need.  While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with wanting these things—-the problem comes when I believe I am entitled to everything that Amazon or Target has to offer me. I find myself insatiably curious about the newest greatest thing—-always hungry for more. I’m reminded that Jesus said I’ll never be full in the truest way if I think my hope can be purchased at the Apple Store. 

How much is enough? What happens when our thirst for more gathers momentum and seems never to find its end? Do we replace our understanding of what we need with the things we want—-and lose touch with gratitude and contentment in our search for more?

A recent study published by Sarah Konrath, while at the University of Michigan, shows in her research that empathy as a behavior and value has declined by 40% in college students today when compared to students just 20 years ago. I believe the more empathetic a person is, the less entitled they are. When we begin to view all of life as a gift—-we can start to experience true fulfillment. 

We are in need of the kind of real connections that help us build empathy and step outside of our shoes and into the shoes of another. Children need to be taught good core values as they develop and learn to care for others. 

In response to this great need, Compassion International, in collaboration with the Fuller Youth Institute, created Step Into My Shoes™.  Step Into My Shoes allows each of us to have a hands-on experience with poverty without leaving home—-no passport required.

I came upon Step Into My Shoes™ when I got home from the Dominican Republic and hoped to help families grow in their understanding of what enough was. After working with wealthy children in American churches most of my life, this became more than a passion— but a mission. I see first hand every day how disconnection, loneliness and entitlement are often the root cause of the levels of anxiety and apathy found in this generation. “How much is enough?” is the very question that we need to ask—-and that is the question this resource asks.

Children in developed countries grow up in families who experience a variety of economic realities. Whether rich, poor or in between, if you measure our lives against a global economy—- the western world is rich. Rich in opportunity, education, services, and clean water. Through hands on, multi-sensory activities, discussion and experiences—-families journey together through the stories of those we rarely encounter: a family living in extreme poverty. I’m sure you can imagine, when I found Step Into My Shoes I became their cheerleader long before my role was official.

Step Into My Shoes is a movement that involves you and I. Consider this an invitation into something great—-take the first step by going to www.stepintomyshoes.org so you can begin the journey with those you love. Our brothers and sisters who find themselves living in poverty have transformed my thirst for more—-we need them as much as they need us.

Did You Hear What You Just Said?

This piece was originally featured on Darling Magazine. 

I can still remember standing in line for dinner at summer camp. My best friend and I had just met six other teenage strangers who we would share a cabin with. As our counselor had asked us to do, we’d gone around the circle to share our name and a few details with each other.

Standing in line for salad and lasagna I said rather brazenly, “Oh my gosh, how annoying was that girl sitting next to you!? Ugh. I can tell she wants to be our best friend, but no thanks. Couldn’t they find another cabin for her?”

I laughed, we agreed — and then I turned around.

There stood the girl, frozen and horrified. The very girl I had just judged and dismissed. She heard everything; I could tell by the tears in her eyes and the look on her face. I was mortified. Humiliated. I wanted to crawl under the salad bar or lie my way out of the reality, but there was no where to go, nowhere to hide. My words had just done the ripping thing that words can so easily do and I wanted to rewind the tape. I learned a very valuable lesson that night and spent the whole week trying to heal the wound I’d created.

Our words hold incredible power. With our words, we can bless someone and we can also rip them apart, devaluing and dismissing their humanity. We have the power to advocate, to build up, to tell the truth, yet also to tear down, to judge, to withhold accuracy and to create something altogether not true, a lie.

Today communication moves quickly. It’s disposable and quick; seldom much thought or consideration can be given to the weight of what our words can mean to one another. Regardless of their speed or intention, we are still responsible for every word that crosses our lips. The more reflection and intention we can give to our words, the more often the words we say will have the power to heal rather than hurt — to bless and not curse.

Here are five actions to take so that you can use your words well and avoid the disaster that results when we say things that wound each other:

1. Think before you speak.
It’s not enough to always say, “I didn’t mean to…” because the truth is, we need to be careful about the words we say and how they impact those around us. Take a second, a time out, a moment — and think about what you want to say.

You’ll change the course of your relationships if you are more thoughtful about the way you respond. Usually, the cruelest words we say come out of our mouths in the heat of a moment. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re speaking to and consider how they’ll hear your words before saying them.

2. Tell people what you see.
We can be great encouragers with our words. Every person wants to be seen for his or her shining moments and great qualities. Reflect to someone, as though your words are a mirror, and show him or her through your words what you see. Tell them you’re grateful, share what you love about them, and build others up with the things you say.

The more reflection and intention we can give to our words, the more often the words we say will have the power to heal rather than hurt …

3. Write letters and cards.
The written word can also be a powerful way to use your words. Writing a card or letter allows the recipient to read it over and over, pouring over the kindness and truths you give to them. Words are often better than any gift you may give. Don’t store up your kind thoughts — share them freely.

4. Speak up for those who need a voice.
Advocating for those who don’t have a voice and for those who need hope and help is another great way to use your words. If there is a cause or mission you care about or a person who is in your community that often goes unseen or unloved, be the person who does the unexpected. Commit to speaking up for the underdog. Imagine the power of your words and their ability to literally change the lives of the people living around you each day. Your voice and words can create lasting change, activating a new pathway for the way others see who they are, see each other and vision the possibilities for what their life could be. You’ll be glad you said something when you see the positive impact your words can have.

5. Say you’re sorry when you mess up.
We are all going to say things we regret. It’s part of life. When we’ve hurt someone else, we have the opportunity to do the brave and good thing and say we’re sorry. Often saying sorry is hard — but it’s got a great bit of power as well. Words full of kindness, humility and forgiveness heal us and return us to each other so that our relationships are rich and full of love.

How have you experienced both the hurting and healing sides of words?

Image via Michael Giroux

Returning to Freedom.

I don’t know when it was that I lost my freedom—I know it was a collection of moments and pain all strung together that hurt and pushed me further inside of my body, as though hiding from a storm. I used to love sunshine and bathing suits and laying on blankets in the grass underneath our nectarine tree in the backyard of our Lamer Street house in Burbank, California.

I know that I lost some freedom when some people I loved died all of a sudden. I never want people to die or leave—I have this deep desire inside of me that wishes everything would just stay happy and the same. Later as I approached 5th grade I started to grow boobs and thighs and feel like something was wrong or too much about my body. I think that whole preteen thing just scared me to death. In fact, I know it did. Deodorant, bras, periods, bodies changing—ugh. I wanted nothing more than to hit rewind and cut off these curves and find my way back to long summer afternoons and watercolored paintings at the kitchen table. Childhood and womanhood seemed in opposition to each other—and I wanted the former more than the later because I wasn’t done being a kid when all that change rushed in. You see, there were several reasons I lost that daily freedom—the delightful, relaxed, not-a-care-in-the-world freedom.

I began this journey a few years ago, finding my way home. Perhaps I’ll always be on this road—I suspect that’s the truth. Not to Lamer Street where I grew up, but home in the deepest sense—the deepest parts of me.

I have struggled for so long to find freedom from the terribly mean things that were going on inside of my head. Mean things that would make me cry, and hide, and maybe even decide to starve or punish my body with extreme exercise or none at all. I have one of those voices in my head that is very cruel—especially when I’m tired or drained and haven’t taken time to restore and nap. When I get too busy pleasing and tending to everyone else—I often forget to take care of little ole me.

Truth is, I got really busy helping everyone else. I worked at church taking care of families and creating events and week long camps for them to come to. I set the tables with paint and hung streamers from the ceiling. It was pretty magical. We had so much fun together. I got to be witness to hundreds of childhoods—what pure delight. I wanted to give them the gift of whimsy and refuge—I wanted to say so deeply “You are loved! Don’t you worry about a thing!”

Perhaps I was also trying to find my way home by making space for it for someone else by expressing the very truest things I knew to be good and real in this life. I suppose that’s lovely—but it never works in the way it’s supposed to. You’re supposed to be like a cup overflowing with life and authenticity if you want to be “home”—but I was overflowing with responsibility and worry. These things are too heavy to hold.

And so this summer does feel like “home”…oh, I could cry telling you about it. It’s like a journey back to that 3rd grade girl in a bathing suit who is free to tell the truth and love her life.

I’ve been laying under trees and dreaming about my life, taking trips to the farmer’s market to buy beautiful food and trying out new recipes. I’ve cried tears as I process through this journey coming home—because there’s pain in walking the roads we’ve left behind so long ago. There is grief in realizing all you have lost and release when we let the tears come pouring out. There is grief—-but there is sweet freedom in knowing that you can feel it all. It’s all going to be okay.

This summer a woman asked me a great question. I love great questions, don’t you? She said, “What gets in the way of doing the things that bring you life?” 

My eyes felt wide with possibility as I considered what this meant—and I’m still exploring the answer. To break it down:

What is it that gives you life? (I’m making a list!)

And what is in the way?

I’m taking care of my whole self, I get to enjoy quiet mornings, finally clean out my closets and paint our bathroom, doing home projects, finding sponsors for the sweetest children in the world, planting flowers out in front, and I even have my watercolor paints out on the table…ready for some quiet time to create.

I dare you to join me, open up your “closets” and come home to you—the truest “you” that’s ever lived.

I believe we learn about that truest self when we identify the things that fill us up. What brings you life? Make your list…and I’ll make mine and let’s share them here tomorrow. 

May your summertime be a time when you step more fully into the freedom you deserve and have been made for. You are loved. We all are.

Are you hungry to return to the freedom you’ve left behind?

Photo Credit: flickr: Christine

 

How Should We Tell The Santa Story?

This piece was originally posted on Yahoo Parenting and The Good Men Project

I snuck into the bathroom while she was still taking a shower. I didn’t want my younger brother to hear what I was about to ask her. My mom was getting ready for work, but I was on a mission to resolve a nagging question that’d been spinning in my head for days. I can still remember what it felt like when I sat down, with my legs folded, on the small blue bathroom rug that lay across the cold tile floor. I was scared and vulnerable, afraid for what the answer to my question might shatter and reveal.

Above the sound of the shower and muffling of the cloudy, fogged-up glass door I shouted nervously: “Mom, I need to ask you something…”

She shouted back, “What? Honey, I can’t hear you! Can you wait until I’m out of the shower?”

Without an ounce of restraint I blurted out, “Mommy, is Santa real?”

Suddenly the water turned off, she reached for her towel and stepped onto the blue bathroom rug with me. Her eyes were wide, kind, and a little bit sad. She heard the worry in my voice, revealing that I already had discovered the answer to the question on a playdate last Sunday afternoon. There in our little  hallway bathroom, she confirmed the kind of info that would inevitably change my childhood forever. I learned that the jolly red North Pole-dwelling toy maker was actually my mom shopping at Costco and Toys-R-Us for toys and treats to fill my stocking.

What a sham, I thought. What a facade. I felt lied to and was depressed, as I considered this a loss. Life for the next several years without Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny was frustrating. Holidays lost a bit of their luster, and loosing a tooth? Who cares. Instead, I was preoccupied with trying to discern what and whom I could trust and what might be another fantasy constructed by adults “so that kids could have fun."

I mused how nice it would be if God were real, but what if he wasn’t? Perhaps it was all too good to be true. I shouldn’t risk it again, should I? I tried to disassosiate the connection I found between God and Santa, truth and fiction, but it was not all that easy at first. Jesus, God and Santa= Christmas. If one was out, were the others too?

Still, my mom had been right when she said that Santa had been a story told to add whimsey and magic to my childhood. I had enjoyed believing in Santa, it was a good run while it lasted. I spent the next several years trying to protect my younger brother from losing his belief too. I frantically muted brazen TV commercials advertizing “stocking stuffers” for K-Mart. I worried he’d connect the dots: if the elves were making toys at the North Pole, why did Burbank, California need to sell stocking stuffers?

Strangely, I still wouldn’t trade in my fun years with Santa to eliminate the doubt discovering his true identity had caused. Discerning fact from fantasy is a part of child development, it was the all the outright lies about Santa that I could have done without.

I’ve reflected on this dilemma often as an adult: Santa or no Santa? I’ve moved from one conviction to the other, but landed somewhere in the middle. Which way is the best way to raise children so that they can trust, but also enjoy the whimsey and imagination of childhood? Does the current Santa narrative have to remain the story going forward? Or can we create a more authentic story, so that our children will trust us, while still preserving this tradition of holiday whimsey?

Here are a few tips for keeping Santa in good perspective, preserving trust and fun:

1. Don’t Lie.

You don’t have to lie to your children and proclaim false certainty so that they will believe in Santa. Tell the story as a legend passed down about a very kind man. You can go into great detail and read stories about him, but continue to regard Santa as the subject of a great story. When your kids ask you direct questions, answer what they are asking. St. Nicholas was a real man, so there is a way to still honor the spirit of giving and Christmas, which reflects the gift Christians believe God gave the world by sending Jesus to earth.

When your kids ask, “Does Santa live at the North Pole?” you can easily say “I have heard some people say he lives on the North Pole, but I’ve never seen his house myself so I am not sure. Where do you think he lives?” Consider that as a child ages, they will learn more of the story and eventually see the whole picture. The big picture will reveal the way parents have kept the spirit of St. Nick alive by giving children gifts on Christmas Day.

2. Don’t Hold On Too Tight

Be careful not to invent a great lie in effort to preserve this fun tradition for your own enjoyment. I’ve often heard parents say about their 5th grader, “I wasn’t ready for them to stop believing in Santa yet!” When your child begins to ask doubting questions, prepare yourself to show the bigger picture to your child. Every parent knows that it’s essential that their child trusts them. Building their certianity in a lie is much worse than leading them on a journey towards discovery of who the real St. Nick was.

To discover what they’re asking, ask curious questions. Keep asking questions until you understand what is at the heart of what they want to know before you launch into an answer. Questions like, “What do you think?” or “What would you like to know?” can help guide you through all kinds of tough questions with your kids. Lead them from general questions into exploring their specific curiosities.

Trust is one of the most important components of any relationship, especially for a parent and child. Put your child first and tell them the whole story once they become ready to know if the fictional Santa story is real. You’ll make this small sacrifice for the health of your relationship.

3. Promote the Values of Saint Nicholas

Santa is a good guy. He’s a hero. Everyone loves getting just the gift they asked for, right? Though I find his merit system a bit too unforgiving, he still hooked me up with a whole lot of cool toys I really, really wanted when I was a kid. The story of Saint Nicholas is one you’ll want to familiarize yourself with. In short, St. Nicholas was a real man from an affluent home in the third century. He was very generous, giving all he had to the poor by secretly gifting things that met the needs of those around him. The values of St. Nick are worth emulating and integrating into our modern lives.

Once the story of Santa is revealed, use this story as a transition towards a new way to participate in the “Santa” fun. Ask them: “Whose need can we meet? What gift can we give in secret that would change someone’s day around?”

4. Don’t Compare Santa to God

Santa’s reputation for being omnicient and tracking our good and bad behavior can be a bit too “god-like” for my taste. I would encourage you not to make a paralell between God and Santa and to downplay the teaching of my least favorite Christmas song:

“He knows when you are sleeping,

he knows when you’re awake!

He knows when you’ve been bad or good

so be good for goodness sake.

..you better watch out you better not cry…”

For Christians, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Jesus’ life is characterized by forgiveness. I find it fascinating that this part of the Santa story counters the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus is believed to be a gift of grace, not merit. Our behavior isn’t rewarded by Jesus, Jesus comes to earth because our behavior is in need of redemption that God wants to provide. In studying the spirit of St. Nick I learned that he was extending the spirit of the message of Jesus, grace and forgiveness, with his unexpected gifts. It can grow confusing and inaccurate for a child to think that God is like Santa, waiting for them to mess up so he can give them coal instead of a gift. The story of Christmas is much more loving than this, make generosity, forgiveness and giving your main theme.

Also, If your child asks you if Santa’s real, “even though we can’t see him,” don’t do as I’ve heard some parents boast, saying “We can’t see God, but we believe in him. Santa is the same.” God is not Santa, Santa is not God. Holding onto this distinction will go a long was as you value the process of building trust with your child.

The man in a jolly red suit at the mall does not have to be the enemy of trust, nor is he the “true meaning of christmas” as some have come to profess. Charting a course for a new way to celebrate Santa in your home will build trust, celebrate generousity and still allow the imagination and whimsy of childhood to be found alive and well this holiday season.

By recreating a healthier narrative for the Santa story, we might just pass along a new and better tradition for generations to come.