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.

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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.

Frozen Parody & Dads Who Sing About It.

This article was first posted on The Huffington Post about our friends and neighbors who made this fun viral video. Enjoy and check out more Dad Dudes videos on their YouTube channel

Ryan O’Quinn and Todd Wilkerson live in suburban Los Angeles with their wives and children, and, like many parents across the country, Disney’s Frozen has taken over their lives. Between them, their families purchased close to 30 tickets for about eight different in-theater viewings of Disney’s hit animated movie. Now that the DVD is out, all bets are off as to how many times this movie will play in their minivans or living rooms for the rest of their lives.

 

As they cleverly sing:

 “...because I know that I will never get these songs out of my head. Because they’ll be singing them forever, long after I am dead...”

Ryan shared that 8 of every 10 birthday parties his preschool daughter has attended this year have been Frozen-themed. After sitting around riffing about this Frozen frenzy, O’Quinn and Wilkerson — family friends as well as comedic actors — decided to put together a fun video with Director, Matt Reitmeyer, that has been viewed this weekend by 2 million people, many are likely sympathetic parents, looking for a good laugh.

Ryan went to college with the Oscar-Winning writer of Frozen, Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Ryan and Kristen hadn’t connected since their days as undergrads at William & Mary College, but when she saw the parody, she posted it to her social media outlets with much approval. Kristen Anderson-Lopez says that she loves the video and considers it an homage to the feature film.

Our Engagement Story

At the beginning of June, David and I were up in the Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez area for our friend Monica & Jeff’s 40th Birthday celebration. Early Saturday morning, we drove up the coast to the Bacara Resort where we boarded a shuttle that took us around wine country for the day. In my opinion, David was acting strange. I didn’t know why but he just seemed jumpy and he would disappear and walk off with people. I was perplexed, wondering what this was about. I never ever even for a minute suspected that he was excited and showing my engagement ring to 16 people one by one and telling them of his plan to propose that afternoon.

I was getting more and more tired as the day and wine wore on. The food at lunch was great, but filling. All I wanted when we got back to the Bacara was to take a nap. I was counting every minute I’d have between our wine tasting adventure and the dinner reservation, calculating how much sleep and how much shower/prep time I could fit in.

David, of course, had other plans for our afternoon. He kept asking me to go for a walk, and I kept refusing him explaining that a nap was my first priority. We had been using our Fitbit pedometers and trying to walk a lot each day, so I thought that this was simply a request to get a workout in before dinner. I wasn’t interested and with each time he asked to go for a walk, no matter how creative his approach, I shut him down. It went something like this:

David: “Hey honey, when we get back to the hotel, I’d love for us to take a walk on the beach.”

Me: “No, I don’t want to. I want to take a nap. I’m so tired.”

David: “Just 10 minutes on the beach? Come on honey, it’d mean a lot to me.”

Me: “Why don’t you go for a walk. I’m going to take a nap. I don’t mind if you without me.”

David: “No, I want you to come with me.”

Me: “Seriously, what is the deal!? I really want to take a nap. I’m going to melt down if I don’t rest and I only have an hour to recharge.”

David: “Okay, fine.”

Poor guy. Here we are in a beautiful spot right on the water and his simple and sweet request to go for a walk was last thing that I was willing to do. Not to mention, he’s now announced his plan to propose on the beach to 12 people who are expecting to celebrate with us over dinner (In case you’re wondering, he had asked our birthday friends a week prior if they thought it would be okay and they were thrilled to share the weekend with our engagement.)

I took a nap. I took a long shower. David texted with my friend for help trying to get me out of the room, who texted me about coming downstairs for a “group photo.” I ignored my phone and all texts coming in. I wasn’t going to let anything get between me and my nap.

As we walked across the parking lot on our way to meet the group for dinner, David said “Kristie, we need to go look at the sunset over this beach. I heard that it’s one of the best sunset spots in the area.”

Reluctant, afraid we’d be late, I gave in and followed him. He’d been so insistent about looking at the beach, I was tired of fighting against him. I walked out, looked at the beach, and said something like “cool” and “there’s the beach, babe! Pretty.” (not one of my proudest moments)

When I turned around, David was on his knee. I gasped, covered my hands over my open and gaping mouth. I said, “Oh honey, WHAT!!? Seriously!!? OH no!! I’m sorry!!! The walk…”

David said, “Kristie will you marry me?”

I kept apolgizing and saying “Is this happening!!? How did you get the ring so fast?? I’m so confused…”

He said, “Just say ‘yes’!”

Happily, tearfully, joyfully, wholeheartedly I said “yes.”

Within moments, we were standing in the hotel lobby and I was amidst 12 squealing people, taking pictures. I couldn’t grasp in my post-nap-groggy-head what had just happened. We went back and celebrated with our friends over a beautiful dinner in Santa Barbara at Bouchon. I tried to let it sink in, “I was engaged…” I was so extremely tired that I felt out of my body. I was overwhelmed by the crowd and knew that my tears didn’t look happy, even though getting engaged to David was absolutely what I wanted and had been waiting for for a few months. For a few reasons, I just didn’t think that it was happening this particular weekend.

I was tired and moody. I had imagined a quieter moment. Here I was with my friends, my man, my favorite place, at a gorgeous resort on the beach…it should have been perfect, but I needed a nap. I’m kinda glad the story is imperfect, because it is funnier and more authentic to our lives. Don’t get me wrong, if we could both rewind that day, I would have cheerfully gone for a walk as David requested. If David could rewind it, he would have waited for another time when I was less tired. We’ve concluded this: it’s about being engaged, not getting engaged. In our prom princess culture, we’ve built up impractical ideas that romance is always flawless and perfect. There are flawless and perfect moments, but I find they’re usually the ones that come to us unplanned. Some engagement stories go off perfectly like the movies, others simply don’t. As I’ve shared honestly our story with some of my friends I’ve heard the real version of their engagements too. In the past I’d heard the polished up version, “on the beach at sunset!” which in one story translated to, “I had heels on and did not want to walk on the beach, there were kids and people everywhere, it was awkward and he had been fighting because he was acting strange all day…we weren’t in sync and I didn’t realize he was just super anxious…” as one friend candidly shared.

Love isn’t tidy, it isn’t easy, and it isn’t perfect…it’s real, deep and wonderful. We’re becoming new versions of ourselves and also accepting who we already are. If I told you the story in person you’d laugh at me for not going on a walk and you’d cheer for David, feeling the angst of his frustration and persistence as he longed to coach me away from a nap and onto the beach. We’d roll our eyes at how stubborn we can be and you’d probably tell me about a time you regretted not “going with the flow.” That’s how the conversation has gone with so many of my friends in the last few months.

The next day, in a quiet moment, David re-propsed to me. He told me all the reasons that he loves me and is grateful that we’ve found each other. It was beautiful and teary and just between us. That was the moment when I really felt engaged. While I liked sharing the news with our friends, doing so right away caused me to feel super overwhelmed. We’re learning about ourselves and learning about each other, just as love does. Love is made perfect when it’s combined with a deep and abiding grace.

 

Red Hot Cheerleaders: Interview with Chad Smith

These were moments that will go down in pop culture history: On the tonight show with Jimmy Fallon, doppelgängers Will Ferrell and Chad Smith finally met in person. As if it was a flashback to the school talent show: they met for a drum off. Will Ferrell “won” and was awarded the “golden cowbell award” for his efforts. I got to connect with my friend Chad Smith, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, after the show to get his take on this hilarious event and what it all ends up meaning to him and hopefully for kids around the country who need arts education brought back to their schools.

Kristie Christie: How often are you stopped and asked if you’re Will Farrell? 

Chad Smith: You know, it’s mostly I would say at airports and sporting events. Those seem to be the places that people think I’m Will and not Chad.

I’m very prepared for it and I am happy to take pictures with people, it’s easier than explaining that I’m actually in a rock band. I told Will, “I’m really nice to your fans and I hope you appreciate that.”

Will said, “Yeah well, when your fans come to me I charge $20 if they want a pic with me as Chad Smith.”

The show was funny last night because (when we were interviewed before the drum off) right before we walked out on stage, he said “why don’t you be me and I’ll be you when Jimmy asks the questions.” so all of that was improv and off the cuff. He just makes it up as he goes. It’s hilarious.

Kristie: Yeah, I don’t know how you kept a (mostly) straight face. Are you a fan of his? Does he make you laugh? 

Chad: Yeah I think he’s a very very funny man. I enjoy his sense of humor and I am hoping that this will really help this whole look-a-like thing. Now we were seen together, so now we can settle that once and for all, who is who. Or— it may fuel the fire and this will go on forever.

I might have people coming up to me for the rest of time saying: “You’re really funny. You’re great in Stepbrothers,” or whatever.

It was a good time and Jimmy is very up for all of that and even letting the band goof around with us. He loves competition, so this is right up his alley. I really enjoyed it and I want to thank him for putting this on. It was a great.

Kristie: Any plans for a Funny or Die episode? 

Chad: I don’t know…this might take on a whole new life of its own. We’ll see!  It was so funny and a little creepy when he came out wearing my same clothes. Will said there is a guy that works for him that also looks like us, so he suggested we start a look-a-like band…pretty funny.

Kristie: What did you and Will talk about backstage?

Chad: Not too much. He got there kind of late, so we didn’t really have a lot of time to talk. He was very friendly and I enjoyed having the time to hang out with him. We’d never met. Fred Armisen and some others came downstairs, I guess they work in that building too, and so there was a lot of people kinda looking at us, standing around waiting for us to do something and it was just kinda weird.

Kristie: I didn’t realize that you’d never met each other before!?

Chad: We’ve spoken on the phone, but we’ve actually never met. We were both like, from the eyes up we look a lot alike, but I’ve got a big round potato nose and he has a straight nordic-like nose. We’re kind of the same size and funny looking so I get why people think we’re each other, for sure.

Kristie: What did you think of Will’s drumming ability? 

 

Chad: Ummm not good. I must say. I think we all can say he pulled it off way better on the show than in rehearsal. You gotta hit the drums, you know? In rehearsal it was awful…but he did better once the cameras were rolling. I like the creative way that they shot it. It’s his banter in between that always wins. I think I thought he played a little better than he did. I was disappointed. He had to use the cow bell to win. It was fixed. I was robbed, but it’s ok. I’m not going to have sour grapes about it.

Kristie: Ha! Yeah, it was really fun to watch. You guys are both good sports. I wanted to ask you about your charity, Little Kids Rock:

Chad: Yeah, great: Little Kids Rock gives musical instruments and gets teachers into schools. I think every kid in America, has the RIGHT to have music and arts in their school. That’s the first thing that’s cut when budgets are slashed, and it’s just wrong. I mean, that’s where I got my start. I learned how to be a drummer all the way through in the public schools. I played in all the band classes. I think it’s really really important. I want to shine a light on what’s going on in our country when we remove arts from schools, it’s just terrible.

Last week we were in Washington and got to meet President Barack Obama, and introduce my 9-year-old son, Cole to him.

 

I’m on the Presidents Committee for the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) and I have adopted an underperforming school outside of Monterey, California called Greenfield School. This is all a part of the Turnaround Arts Program. I’m going to go in and drum and get them excited. I am hoping to go in and give them some hope. I’m happy to do it, and the Turnaround Program has been happening for years and all 8 schools have been very successful. It helps schools: attendance is better, graduation rates go up, parents get involved, there’s all these great things that happen. Lawmakers see this and allocate money to arts programs, something I believe in so much. It’s about re-instilling school confidence and self-esteem for the children of these schools.

Kristie: Was there someone influential in your life as you were growing up, inspiring you to use your gift? 

Chad: Oh yes, in Jr. High it was Mr. Wayne Tilton. He was quite the task master and was hard on me in a way I needed that in that point in my life. I was a bit of a rebel and he was good at keeping me on the path of hard work. That’s the thing, there’s no short cut. You have to put the work in. I don’t know where he is now, but he was a mentor for me at Bloomfield Hills Junior High School, just outside of Detroit where I grew up.

And so our drum off was fun, but if it can raise money and awareness for schools that need to bring back the arts, then that’s what its about for me.

Unexpected Beauty.

Can poverty be beautiful? The vibrant houses painted dark orange, pink and bright turquoise blue, the stunning mountains, the people, the stories, the hope in their eyes because Compassion is empowering their community change from the inside out? Yes. I believe in the simplicity and ache of poverty…I see beauty, abundant beauty.

But yes, the ache of poverty was there too. The prayer requests for food, for housing, stories of rape and trafficking…all present and part of the story. But in this tangled up thorny life that my new friends live I found dignity and hope. These bad behaviors---rape, child brides, trafficking-- are not allowed to be normative here in the community Compassion is transforming. Justice is done by calling something right and another thing wrong. Often in communities where poverty reigns the chaos of darkness rules. But here I heard a story of justice---the woman who runs the compassion center told us they put a girl’s cousin is put into jail for raping her…because that’s not okay. She said, "finally, we are making sure that people know that you may not have sex with children." I saw hope in her eyes as she told us about taking this 9 year old girl to the hospital, getting her psychiatric care for this trauma and helping to ensure this sexual violation doesn’t become something she expects to be normal. When a child is sponsored they protect her or him from the vulnerability of being trafficked or used again and again---because someone has their name written down, and because someone is loving this child. Justice is beautiful. 

I can’t tell you every moment of my day today the moments are all too rich and saturated with meaning to gloss over. I will piece it out day by day. I will share pieces as I process them. It might take me years to process what I've just seen. 

Today we drove an hour in the bus to get to the base of the mountain. Two men met us with pick up trucks and we were asked to climb into the back to make the rest of our journey. We were heading to the community of Las Montanitas, deep into the hills up dirt roads to a colorful village of primitive houses where coffee farmers live and grow coffee beans. Their coffee plants have a bacteria (not sure if the right word translated to english here—-maybe be a disease), so they are now facing extreme poverty as the coffee they promise in order to gather loans to buy food, is not a commodity they can sell. They have technicians and new plants. They are earnest to change the story, but right now, life is hard.

As we walked up, the woman who runs the Compassion center was dressed in her best pink dress. She had a hat on. She looked like she was dressed for Easter Sunday. Never before have people like us come to visit their village because it is both far and dangerous to reach. The village women had prepared fruit on beautiful platters for our arrival, and ham and cheese sandwiches. As I walked around the corner I spied more women boiling chickens. This would be our lunch. I wanted to cry as I felt their kindness flood my soul.

Their best clothes, their best foods, their space prepared for our visit. We were told it is Dominican culture to treat guests with such extravagant hospitality, and I wondered, why is it that those with the least seem to be the ones who give the most? They don’t give out of obligation but out of depth and heart and passion. Their smiles wide, hearts open, and their lives authentically told: “We have hope, but we have need.”

After fruit and sandwiches and warm introductions with hugs, we went to see their coffee farm. They showed us each stage of the process. As we walked to where they are growing their new coffee plants, I walked by the most extravagant pink rose bush. The roses growing wildly, large and full. I took a moment, I sniffed the rose deeply. I am not kidding you, the rose had the most fragrant smell I have ever known. It smelled a bit like lemon and rose and gardenia. Without words, I smiled and motioned about the rose to the woman, and so she picked it for me. I was startled by her generosity and wanted to tell her no, but the translator told me to simply receive it. I shared it with everyone…and we all agreed it was unique. See, here in the midst of ache and hardship: beauty. gratitude. abundance. generosity.

We planted some coffee trees and the kids all came down. There are 350 kids enrolled in the compassion program that this church hosts. 100 of the kids, well dressed in their very best, came to greet us and go have their snack. Their big wide eyes and smiles, so much life and hope bounding in each step. It was a stark contrast to the desperation I saw out the bus window as we drove the road up to this town. You can tell the work this church does makes all the difference. The work you and I are doing with Compassion is making a difference, this is true. More true than I ever ever could have known until I saw it with my own eyes. This work is actually transforming communities, lifting children out of poverty and change the story of whole communities.

“Is there crime?” one of my new friend asked the pastor.

“No, not really. We are a community. We take care of each other.” said the pastor.

Shalom community, the way we were intended to live.

Oh there is so much more I could tell…and I’m sure I will. But for now, this is where I will conclude and go to bed.

We visited a family in their home and saw what a day in their life is like. Then, it started to rain. Not Southern California rain. Monsoon rain. Muddy river roads rain. All 12 of us piled into two small Toyota pick up trucks, and in the torrential rain, drove down the mountain. There was some yoga breathing. There was some closing our eyes until it was over…but we got to the paved road and breathed a sigh of great relief and nervous laughter.

I thanked the man who drove us and the translator told me that he said “It is my pleasure to serve.”

And that is the thing. I want to be growing in hospitality, generosity, and I want my life to be marked by the words, “It’s my pleasure to serve.”

Beauty in the midst of great poverty? I guess so. Absolutely.

Anytime the dignity of a human is restored and they stop being invisible in a harsh world, this is beauty I can barely begin to find words for. It’s the kingdom’s beauty, the kind of reality I want to know and experience more and more and more.

 

Heaven Is For Real: Interview with Todd Burpo

I had the opportunity to talk with Todd Burpo, author of the New York Times bestselling book Heaven is for Real. He is the father of Colton, the 4-year-old who while in the hospital for several days due to a burst appendix, went to heaven. The details of his experience have caused many skeptics to believe in the authenticity of Colton’s experience and given many a hope that heaven is real. Some of those details include: meeting the girl his parents lost to a miscarriage years before, his great-grandfather, “Pop,” who he had never met or known, and even played with Jesus’ horse with rainbow hair.

During our conversation today, I asked him these questions:

Kristie Christie: How close does the movie come to matching the book? Are there things that aren’t true, or can we trust this story when we watch the film?

Todd Burpo: Hollywood had to make some changes just due to length and style, but the story is actually very true to the book. Hollywood knew that there was a fan base connected to this book (a NYT Bestseller) and that wouldn’t be happy if the film departed from the facts of the book. You are going to see a movie that is very close to the experience I had 11 years ago when my son started to tell these stories. The good news is, if you like the movie, there’s more details and depth to find the book!

“Colton knew things that no 4-year-old could have known, things no Sunday School teacher would have taught him. If you read the book you’ll see. I would encourage everyone to go see the movie and read the book, before you say anything.”

My wife and I have a hard time watching this film, because this is the story of several of our most painful moments and experiences in life. My wife, who has had to walk out of the theater many times because it’s just too overwhelming to watch these personal moments again, says this is a “no mascara” movie. I’ve only made it through watching the film once in seven times without crying. It’s a tough film for us to watch.

We’ve been excited that some of the harshest atheist film critics have been encouraging other atheists to go and see this film, because it will make you think. That makes me excited, I want people to rethink their closed ideas and open up to the truth that Heaven is a real place.

KC: Yes, it’s always good to reevaluate our beliefs and rethink them. I’m also sorry for what your family has been through.

TB: I’m just glad we’re on the other side of it and got to come home with our son.

KC: Yes. I’m sure you are. You’ve been through a lot. Todd, how old is Colton now?

TB: He is 14, almost 15.

KC: I know that there are key details that have caused you to believe Colton’s story, but there are critics out there who suggest that over the years Colton might have enjoyed the attention and favor that he received and could have unintentionally mixed fact with fiction or fantasy and continued to create a story. A good story. What is your response to critics out there.

TB: The critics haven’t read the book. If they’re honest, they’d know that their critique is unfounded because they haven’t read the book and seen the way what we as a normal family struggled through these facts. The truth is people don’t understand small town life. We have 2000 witnesses to all these details in our life, we simply couldn’t have made it up. City people just don’t understand small town life and how it works. Colton knew things that no 4 year old could have known, things no Sunday School teacher would have taught him. If you read the book you’ll see. I would encourage everyone to go see the movie or read the book before you say anything.
This is not a christian film with a whitewashed easy story where everything turns out fine and life is easy. This is our real life. It’s not fiction at all, this is real and I want people to know that and be given hope. We’re prepared to take heat. We know that comes when you make a movie and step out in this way, but I’d say to critics, before you make your judgement, go see it and understand our story.

“Heaven feels like home. Like coming back from a long trip and getting back to the place that you belong.”

KC: So, I’m curious. As you’ve lived this unique journey, what facts have stood out the most. What does heaven look like? I think most people are curious about the process after we die, what is that like according to Colton?

TB: Well, there are lot more details in the book but Colton says that heaven is full of God’s love. You just feel it. It just is. You don’t have to talk about it. We also have bodies that are in our prime, 20s and 30s, not the tired 70 year old aged bodies we end up with here.

He’s also identified the only picture of Jesus that is accurate, you’ll see that in the film. He says he prays to the face of Jesus that he met and I’ve been kind of jealous (he says with a laugh). He also understands the trinity, that God is three persons, in a way that is normally hard for us to understand. It makes more sense when a child explains it to you, because he’s seen the trinity. Colton knows everyone wants to know that, yes, there are animals in heaven and he got to play with lions and really liked playing with Jesus’ horse that had rainbow hair. You can’t play with lions here, so that’ll be an interesting experience when we go to heaven! There is a lot of color in heaven.
Heaven feels like home. Like coming back from a long trip and getting back to the place that you belong. Heaven is a place of love and color and familiarity. 

What if heaven is real? The sincerity of Todd Burpo’s story is evident. Whether you believe Colton’s experience or not, it’s a compelling story with details that have caused unbelieving cynics to consider they might just be wrong and consider, Heaven might be for real.

 

10 Things Jesus Wasn't.

This piece was originally posted here on The Good Men Project where it received over 13K shares on Facebook. 

In honor of Easter Sunday, let’s set the record straight on 10 things Jesus did not do and was not:

1. Jesus did not come to set up a new religion and rule system to make people feel bad about themselves.

In fact, Jesus continually challenged the religious institutions. Jesus set up a new reality, the Kingdom of God, and the kingdom is all about love, community and restoration with God…not religion. Religion has a way of separating us from God, Jesus is interested in reconciling our picture of and connection to God.  If you’ve found church (and some churches are like this) to be a place of rules and religion, Jesus wouldn’t like it either.

2. Jesus did not say much about homosexuality, dating, or sex.

The church in the last century has talked a lot about dating, sex, and homosexuality. Sure sexuality is a very important topic and part of each one of us. The Bible does talk about sexual ethics, but Bible is not as explicit as many christians think when it comes to details of the do’s and don’ts. The truth is, modern christianity has created a sexual religion of rules and interpretations of the vague (but strong) sexual ethics found in the Bible. The Bible isn’t co-signing your bad behavior, but we find a bit more grey area than some would like to admit or believe. We are charged with looking at what we do have in scripture and interpreting them into our modern culture and context. The things the New Testament is crystal clear about: be committed to one person, love the other men and women in your life like brothers and sisters…not like hundreds of lovers, don’t cheat on your husband/wife, don’t molest children, don’t rape each other, don’t use people for your own pleasure…the things Paul and Jesus were talking about are actually things that our mass culture agrees with. Don’t use people, treat them with respect. Sex is a bonding soul connection, and you don’t want to connect your soul to 1000s of people, so be discerning. The rest is interpretation. Interpretation doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means it’s up to us to carefully look at.

3. Jesus did not come to make us rich.

The prosperity gospel has been gaining traction again in the last several years. I suppose it makes sense in a down economy that the theological culture shifts towards God as financial savior. It’s not new, but it’s also not true. Jesus isn’t Santa Claus. Jesus is a restorer, savior, friend, ally, care-taker, truth-teller, and the truth is…he doesn’t hand out Range Rovers and mansions as good behavior prizes. If you think this is the gospel, you’ve totally 100% missed the boat. You might get a Range Rover. You might get to live in a mansion. That’s not the point. The point is, Jesus didn’t set up a good behavior-merit system, but a forgiveness-grace system. God does provide. God does reward. I’m not saying he doesn’t— I just don’t expect God to be Santa Claus because that means the poor didn’t work hard enough and someone else did or something, and that’s just the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

4. Jesus was not just a nice guy who didn’t judge.

Have you heard the story of Jesus in the temple? He turned the tables over and was pretty pissed off because the religious people were manipulating what was sacred. Jesus had strong words to say. He had no patience for injustice, and he called a spade a spade. You see, to have mercy…you have to have justice…and that means there is right and a wrong. Jesus wasn’t afraid to bring light into dark spaces and call something bad and something else good. For example: oppressing people=bad, loving each other=good. Next time you hear someone say “Jesus didn’t judge” think again. What Jesus asked you not to do was to judge the people around you before you took care of your own side of the street. Over and over, he calls us to self-examine and do the soul-tending work of filling ourselves up with more love and light rather than careless, hurtful, sin.

Jesus turns cultural norms and beliefs on their head and begins a movement with men and women.

5. Jesus was not best friends with perfect religious people.

Jesus had dinner with Zaccheaus. He was the worst. The “I’m-a-really-good-person” people were frustrated. They thought they’d earned a dinner meeting with Jesus, surely, more than this “loser.” Jesus intentionally connected with the people society had turned their back on and called outcasts. He was overturning the whole system of rules and cultural mandates…and this is one key reason he was really making people mad. What systems do you think need some backwards thinking today? Where would Jesus turn tables over in our lives?

6. Jesus did not hunt for easter eggs.

Ha. You knew this already. I just thought it was a fun one throw in to mix it up. Easter eggs are fun, but they weren’t a tradition at the Last Supper. While some will point to its origin in a pagan practice many centuries ago, I think this redemptive celebration/holiday is perfectly capable of restoring the meaning of eggs. Eggs are a conduit of new life bursting forth into the world. As Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” and it is. Eternal life actually starts now, bursting forth living this loving, gracious, truthful, paradigm-shifting way is what followers of Jesus are to live into, not wait for.

7. Jesus did not tell women they were less than men.

Women weren’t trusted to be eyewitnesses in court because the culture had deemed women as too unreliable. As we read the Easter story in the Bible, you’ll see that women were the first to hear the news and share it with the others. Here again, Jesus turns cultural norms and beliefs on their head and begins a movement with men and women. The restoration of all humans means that men and women are all valuable.

8. Jesus did not like white people more than brown people.

The modern christian missionary movement often has us picturing white people going to places where there are brown or black people in order to fix them and tell them that the way they are living is all wrong and needs to change. The truth is, Jesus was a brown man who started a movement to unite people of all races, creeds, socio economic status, and gender. Love unites and restores humanity. Jesus came to love and restore a human tribe.

9. Jesus is not the school principal on the playground or cop on the freeway.

Jesus did talk about right and wrong…but he didn’t come to set up rules to make us feel worthless. He lived life in a way that came to let us know that no matter what we do, we can not cause God to love us more or less. God’s love does not rely upon our behavior. God’s love is unconditional. God is not a cosmic cop waiting to see you make a mistake so He can write you a ticket. God is with you in your life, helping you, whispering love and help and care over your days.

10. Jesus does not say that you’re totally worthless. 

Did someone tell you you’re not good enough? Did you begin believing that you would have to be really good in order to be loved? It happens to most of us. This “do enough good things and you’ll earn someone’s love” is the opposite of Easter. Easter is this message: “No matter what I do, I will never earn reconnection with God, so God has made the reconnection and restoration happen for me.” The truth is, you’re loved, you’re seen, you’re not worthless. You’re valuable. You’re precious. Easter is about making sure you know that.

There’s a verse after the famous John 3:16 that gets lost a lot of the time, and I think it’s just as important:

John 3:17  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Easter is about restoration, and Jesus came to tell us that God wants to restore each of us and reconnect us to the divine relationship we were created for.

 

The Hang Out vs. The Date

This article was first featured on the Darling Magazine website. 

One Friday night, after a three hour dinner date at a nice local restaurant, I discovered that the man who’d taken me out, paid for dinner, walked me to my car and said, “we’ll do it again very soon,” actually meant to text someone else, but texted me on accident.

The conversation went like this:

Him: “You up?”
Me: “Yes.”
Him: “Wanna chat?”
Me: “Sure.”

And then he called and explained that he meant to text the girl he was dating.

Girl he is dating? Come again? Didn’t I just have three and a half hours of great, intimate conversation? Didn’t we just share about philosophy of relationships, creative projects, spirituality, and a thousand other fun details about the deeper sides of our lives? I hadn’t manufactured it, “the spark” was alive and well all night.

With a great amount of audacity he said, “Sorry, I look forward to hanging out again soon!”

I repeated that last part to myself: Hanging out?

The words fell on my ears with all kinds of crashing disappointment. I liked him, and despite this moment on the phone, I knew he was a good guy. Receiving his texts to another woman moments after our date had ended made me feel like a girl dressed up for prom, only to look out the window to see her date pin a corsage on the girl next-door.

Before I got off of the phone with him I said, “Hold on. So, what did you consider tonight’s dinner?”

He explained, “Well, right now I’m dating this lady, but she’s only separated from her husband, so I want to see where it goes. Maybe once that is done we could date, but for the sake of definition, yes, I guess we better call ourselves ‘just friends,’ though I know there’s undeniably chemistry between us. I don’t mean to be coy.”

With that, I felt like he had seated me in the waiting room of a horribly boring doctor’s office, never to call my name, but only to tease me with a tropical fish tank, outdated tabloids, and old love songs playing over the speakers. He wanted to keep me there, just in case.

Yet, I will not sit in the waiting room. It’s a waste of my time. I will live my life. I will keep walking forward.

When is a date a date? Was I over-thinking a perfectly good male-female friendship and trying to fit it into a category of my desire rather than its intent? While girls and guys can be epidemically guilty of fantasy dating, it was not the case that night. It was fair for me to assume that it was a date because, that is what it was. His use of ambiguity put my heart in a vulnerable spot. Had he done that intentionally? Probably not. Maybe. However, living without intention does not make you innocent of hurting others.

After years of dating, I’ve learned that as hard as it is, clarity in communication seems to be the best way to take care of yourself in a world full of vague dates. Vague dates are an epidemic, but they can be stopped by honesty and clear boundaries.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate the spaces between dates and “hangouts.”

Be intentional: Be present in the moment and try not to project too far into the future. You know what I mean, if you’re on a first date …don’t pick out your wedding dress just yet. Emotional intimacy is just that. You can get hurt if you share too much too fast. Take into account that you are worth taking the time to get to know, and so is he.

Communicate: With gentleness, inquire and clarify what a date means to him. Try this: “I enjoyed spending time with you and I have been wondering if you consider this a date?” Or, use humor when he asks you to dinner and say,“Oh you want to take me on a date? (wink) That’d be fun!” Your confidence and clarity will be cute and his reaction will tell you a lot.

Dont be too serious too fast: I think this is often why guys keep things ambiguous, they’re afraid you’re going to go buy some bridal magazines on the way home and start naming your kids. Take it for what it is: a date is a date … try to stay present in the now.

Mean your kisses: Be careful with the connections you make with your body. Keep it classy and avoid just “hooking up” with a man. Your physical body is deeply connected to your spiritual and emotional self; hold onto that connection and don’t give it away just because someone buys you dinner.

Image via Tesia of Listen & Breathe