A season of second guessing

This is the back of our tree as the ornament side is leaning against the wall because it will not stay standing any longer. It's been that kind of week.

       It’s been this kind of week.

 

With Christmas just days away, we have definitely reached that time where I start rethinking everything I’ve done. Have I done enough? Did we do too little? Did we do too much? Should I have done this? Should I have done that? What about…? And the list goes on and on.

It has been especially rough this year with Hope 2.0. It’s worked differently that it has in the past. Instead of people helping others directly, all but one of the helps has sent me a donation and then I have decided how to use it to do the most good. This wasn’t the original idea, but it has worked out. I’ve really enjoyed it, and when I look towards next year, I’m going to think about this format and how to best make it work.

I’ve read the stories people told and I’ve looked at what we have to give and have tried to figure out the best way to help the most people. I feel such a responsibility to be a good steward especially with the money others have given. What would they want me to do with it? What would they see as the most good? And let me tell you, it has been hard.

I made a plan and sent out emails to families. I learned kids’ names and what kind of toys they like. I learned what stores were close to people and how we could do the most good. I learned about families needing food. I heard about people being desperate for help, not qualifying for government assistance or just being too late for most charities. For example, to be a part of the Salvation Army’s Christmas assistance, you have to register in the beginning of October.

And maybe that’s what so great about what we have done here. These are the people who fell between the cracks. Maybe in October, it looked like they wouldn’t need any assistance for Christmas but by the time December rolls around everything has changed. I know how fast life can change. I’ve heard about illness and hospital stays and deaths in families. I sent a package to a family living at a hotel because they have nowhere else to go.

I made decisions that were hard but felt right. I sent the emails and made promises that had to be kept. I spent the money I was sent and felt really good because we had helped everyone that asked for help. We sent gifts and stockings filled with surprises to 7 little kids with the sender’s name as Santa. And then I got a notification that there were new comments on the blog.

Three new families needing help. Okay, I might be able to do a little more. And then over the weekend two more requests came in. A single dad, a grandma, families who had taken in nieces and nephews who needed a safe place to live. People asking for winter coats and food.

Let’s be real honest. Saturday night I sat and cried. I felt guilty for the people I hadn’t been able to help. I felt guilty that maybe I had done too much for the first group we helped. I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to do enough for anyone. And then my husband reminded me that I had done enough, that I can’t save everyone. I can’t help everyone. And it sucks but it’s true. And considering this is all done on faith with hope, I was feeling pretty low and hopeless Saturday night.

God works in mysterious and wondrous ways. Sometimes I can picture him looking at us, at me, shaking his head with a little smile the way a parent would and saying, “Oh, ye of little faith.” Sunday night I got a message on Facebook from someone who couldn’t have known how I was second guessing all my decisions. They told me they wanted to help. And their help is enough to do something for everyone who hasn’t received help yet. It’s enough to fill the gap that I couldn’t fill.

And while I still wish I could do more, I also know that God provides. The week between the first needs and the first helps was so hard for me. Everyday I had to say to myself that it was still early. That people would help. People would give. It would be okay. And people have given and it is going to be okay.

With 4 days until Christmas, I’m going to try to stop second guessing every decision I’ve made. I am going to slow down and relax and enjoy the time I have with my family. I’m going to be grateful for everyone who helped me make this Christmas a little easier for some families. I’m going to be thankful for what we have and what we have done. I’m going to stop wondering if I did enough. I’m going to be joyful when I get messages from people we have helped and stop worrying if it was enough when they tell me it was so much and how excited they are when packages arrive. I’m going to take great joy in the message from the mom who tells me how much her daughter is going to love what we sent and how excited she will be Christmas morning.

Stop second guessing yourself.

Thank you to everyone who has supported Hope 2.0 and me this year.

Merry Christmas!

A Cheerful Giver

*Originally printed in The Hometown Treasure 2016 Countdown to Christmas*

As we move closer and closer to Christmas, people become more generous. Or maybe it’s just that there are more opportunities to give. There are food drives and donation boxes and red buckets everywhere you look.  There are opportunities like Shop with a Cop and Operation Christmas Child Shoebox.

My husband and I are raising two little boys. Living in a world filled with entitlement, we are trying to raise them to be givers, to earn what they have and give when they can. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” We are trying to raise cheerful givers.

One of the ways they love to give is by putting money in the red buckets. They love the ringing bells, and I know this time of year, I had better have money ready for them if we are heading to the store. The boys want to give on the way in the store and on the way out. They want to stop and talk to the bell ringers. They want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If we head into a store and the red bucket isn’t on the stand, it makes them mad. How can they give if the bucket isn’t there?

Another way we are teaching them to give is going through their toys and donating some of them. They boys have an abundance of toys and at least once a year we go through them. Some of the toys get put up for a later time, some get thrown away, and some go into our donation pile. The first time I let the boys help sort through the toys to get rid of some, they were 5 and 3 years old. I will never forget that day. They asked who the toys were for that we were giving away. When I told them that there were kids out there who don’t have a lot of toys to play with or may not get presents for Christmas, they were shocked. My oldest picked up one of his favorite trucks and told me it was for the little boy who wouldn’t have any presents for Christmas.

That same year, we were asked to ring the bells for the Salvation Army red buckets. We were on our way to Wal-Mart for our turn when I decided I should explain to the boys once again what we were doing and why. I told them how they needed to remember to say “thank you” and “Merry Christmas” to the people who put money in the bucket. I told the boys that the money was not for us to keep. We were just helping. They wanted to know what the money was for so I told them it was to help buy food and presents for people who needed help.

It was one thing for the boys to hear that some kids don’t get presents for Christmas, but it was completely different for them to hear that some kids don’t have food. They didn’t understand that there are people out there who are hungry and don’t have food. They asked if we could stop and buy pizza for the hungry people. It was such an obvious thing to them. If people are hungry, we should feed them.

I think about my boys and the way they love to give and then I think about the way we adults look at giving. How many times have we looked at those red buckets and groaned? We pull the couple of coins out of our pocket and toss it in. Or we look away and walk as fast as we can past the bell ringers. Or we go through our closers and pull out the clothes that are about to fall apart or are so outdated that no one would ever want them and put those into our donation bag, but hang on to the nicest stuff even if it is 2 sizes too small and we’re never going to wear it again. How many times do we give not with a cheerful heart but with a sign or a groan or a roll of our eyes?

I think about that first Christmas. God gave us His best. He gave us His Son. And it wasn’t with a shrug or a groan. God didn’t think He was too busy to give to us that year that maybe next year He’d have the time. God didn’t look at us and say, “I’m just going to hang on to this because I know what those people will do with My Gift.” God didn’t look at the earth and shake His head and walk away. God looked at the world and loved us so much that He gave us the best that He had, the most He could give.

As we head through this Christmas season, as you hear the ringing bells and see the donation boxes, remember the way God gave to us on the first Christmas. Even if the only thing you have to give is a smile, give with a cheerful heart.

 

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Another great way to give is with our Hope 2.0. We have helped many people but new needs are still coming in. Please help me bring some hope and Christmas cheer to people who really need it.

Hope 2.0 Update

I thought I would give everyone an update on what’s going on with Hope for the Holidays 2.0. Things are moving very slowly, and I find myself needing a big dose of hope. The first time I did this, it got shared a lot. People saw the post and helped. This year feels different. People aren’t seeing the post even if they wanted to help.

I have shared and shared and shared the Hope post until I think my friends and family must be getting super annoyed with how many times it is showing up on their news feeds. And then I learn things like I had shared it 4 times before my best friend saw it. There are several people who I know I can count on to read and share no matter what I write, and they never saw it (or have just stopped sharing and liking my words.) I’ve shared in a couple of groups with very little response even when I’ve just been asking for prayer and nothing else.

It all makes me very nervous and scared and leavings me needing my own hope. I have to take a moment and remember that everything I do here is a giant leap of faith. I remember that I said we were going to move, help and be brave. I need to remember the brave part. I remember that God has a plan and I truly believe that the needs posted here will be filled.

And then I climb in bed at night, and it’s dark out, and I lay awake thinking about all this. I think about all the people who have posted about having a need. I think about how it seems Facebook is hiding my posts from people. I think about how I’m failing these people who need someone to care about them and to help them. I think about how I am not in a position where I can help everyone who comments with a need. I can help, and I will help, but I cannot do it all by myself.

So far we have 7 families in need. And no families that are giving. And in the daylight, I remember that God does not set us up to fail. I believe that there will be givers, and we all need to have patience while this works out.

I would ask that if you are reading these words you would share them on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else you would like. This only works if people know about it. Also, if you haven’t liked my Facebook page, you can find it here. I am doing 25 days of Christmas songs there right now and will also post updates as they come.

To end this post on a slightly happier note, we took the boys to see Santa. Thanks to Misti Yoder Photography, LLC for the awesome photos.

They were both very excited to get to see Santa.

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Cameron whispered into Santa’s ear what he wanted for Christmas so no one else could here. I’m hoping he asked for a little Christmas magic because we could use some over here right now.

 

Move. Help. Be Brave: Hope for the Holidays 2.0

It’s that time of year again. The Christmas season has officially started, and even though this year we have a couple extra days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it gets here so fast the older I get.

In my last post I talked about doing Hope for the Holidays again this year, and here is it. THE OFFICIAL POST.

Some back story on what we are doing here. I have been part of a community project of strangers helping strangers this time of year since 2011. It was amazing that first year when there was no planning or thinking about it. A stranger said something to another stranger about how hard Christmas was going to be and spontaneous giving began and exploded.

It was a little strange the way it all got started. People started telling their stories about empty bank accounts, losing jobs, parents and children who were sick. There were stories about kids old enough to understand that there just wasn’t any money for presents under the tree. There were stories about kids young enough that they wouldn’t know that there should be presents under the tree. There were stories about the empty corner where the tree should be, but that year there wasn’t going to even be a tree. People told how they struggle every week just to put food on their tables. People told how they have a job that covers the bills, but just the bills, and they weren’t even sure how they would put gas in the car to get to the job. As hard as it was to spill their guts, people shared their honest and hard truths to strangers.

And then there was the amazing people who could help. People with a little extra they could give. People who didn’t have children to buy for that wanted to help others be able to shop for their children. People who had never worried about how they were going to put food on the table and wanted to take that burden away from someone else. People who didn’t have money for gift cards but did have winter coats their children had grown out of and sent them to the mom struggling to buy her child a coat. There were people who the only extra they had was yarn and knitting needles, but they created hats, and scarves and mittens for kids that needed them. People gave with the faith that the stories were true and the hope that they could ease someone else’s burden just a little.

The next couple of years in happened again, with thought and planning, and it was good, too. Two years ago, the blogger who started it all had taken a break from blogging and couldn’t host it, so I took her idea, softened up the language a little, and brought it over here.

Two years ago, Hope for the Holiday’s didn’t help as many people as WANA ever did, but it was so awesome. From my small town in middle America, I was able get help to families as far away as Alaska. It was strangers helping strangers, giving a little bit of hope to those who may be feeling hopeless. I hope it moved everyone involved as much as it did me. You can read the post for the original Hope for the Holidays here.

Last year, WANA was back for its final year and I was struggling emotionally so I stepped back and just let it run over there. This past summer MODG shut her blog down completely. She was done and ready to walk away from her corner of the internet. And while I am sad that she isn’t writing anymore, I’m happy to be hosting Hope again this year.

I think especially after the extremely rough political season we just went through we all could use a little hope this year. Hope that not everyone is selfish or greedy or mean. Hope that there are people out there who care about other people. Hope that people are genuinely good and kind. Hope that people do want to reach out and help others when they can. So over here we are going to MOVE. HELP. and BE BRAVE.

So how is this all going to work?

The only way this works is if those who need some help, tell their stories, and those who can help, give. To ask for help please leave a comment below. Tell your story as much as you can. Be honest. Share what is going on and the specific help you are needing. At the top of your comment put *IN NEED* so it is easily spotted as a need. Tell your story and include your email address so people can contact you to help.

Here is an example of what a need should look like:

*IN NEED*

I’m stay at home mom and my husband has been out of work for several months. He just got a new job, but we are still trying to catch up from the time we were without income. We have two small boys, ages 8 and 6. They love trucks and dinosaurs and are so excited about Christmas, but I just don’t know if there will be anything under the tree. We are stretched so thin right now, sometimes I’m not sure after bills how we are going to put food on the table. We have family that would help, but they can’t afford to take care of us and we feel so guilty having to ask. If someone could just help a little bit it would mean so much to all of us. My email address is myname AT Hotmail DOT com.

That should give you an idea of the information to give. Feel free to give as much information as you are comfortable giving. Be sure to include your email address so people who want to help can contact you. If you leave it the way I did in the example, it is less likely spammers will find you. Once you have posted a need, please be patient.

For those who are wanting to GIVE, please reply to the comment on here so I can see that someone is helping. I will watch for those needs that get missed as more comments come in, but I won’t know who had received help, if you don’t leave a comment below.

Some important additional information. When leaving a comment, you do not have to use your real name. If you would like to be anonymous on this blog, you can be. Please include your real email address in the box for it because only I can see that and it gives me a way to contact you if I need to. Also, please check the box to be noticed of additional comments so you will know when someone has replied to you.

So here we go. This whole thing runs on faith and love.

MOVE. HELP. BE BRAVE.

A crazy year

This has been a crazy year. It has felt that we have gone nonstop and the only times we’ve had to slow down is when we’ve been sick. Trust me, it’s not restful when we are sick. And the craziest part of all of it is if you ask what we’ve been doing I’m not sure what all we have been doing.

One of the more exciting things that has happened is I was asked to write an article for a local publication. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing it is to be asked to write something for print. It’s the first time my words will be in print. I am so amazed that someone believes my words are good enough for print, and at the same it makes me want to throw up if I think about it too much.

The article I wrote was for a countdown to Christmas special. I was given 5 days to write it and told it could be about anything Christmas related. I thought about it. I brainstormed. I wrote paragraph after paragraph and then deleted it all to start over again. I finally put together what felt like an okay group of words the day it was due.

I ended up writing about giving. I took some of the ideas and thoughts I’ve shared here before about raising boys with giving hearts. I talked about how sometimes we giving grudgingly and how thankful I am that God doesn’t give to us that way. I talked about how easy it would have been for God to look at us, roll His eyes, and keep His Son with Him rather than sending Jesus to Earth.

While I was writing, I thought about the giving we do personally and the giving we did here 2 years ago with Hope for the Holidays. It was a great experience for me and hopefully everyone else involved. People came to the blog and told their stories about needing some hope and others, strangers, gave from their hearts and gave hope where they could. The idea of strangers helping strangers came from another blogger who I loved. I followed her journey from martinis to diaper genies and was a part of the first 3 years she helped hook people with needs together. What would have been the fourth year, MODG, the blogger, had stopped blogging for personal reasons. I saw a need and did my best to fill it.

Last year MODG was back, and I had a hard year. With Grandpa dying, I just didn’t have it in me to do Hope for the Holidays. And that has carried through with how I have neglected the blog this year. I’m better, I think. I’m hoping enough time has passed that I can start writing again. I have thoughts and ideas I want to share again.

So while I was writing the article, I was thinking about this space and writing again, of how I have all these words inside me that I need to get out. I thought about Hope for the Holidays and how this summer MODG blogged once last time and told us she was done. I thought about the people we helped 2 years ago. I thought about hosting Hope for the Holidays again this year.

I went back and forth on it. I havent been blogging like I should. How do I come back and immediately ask those readers I still have to help me help strangers? Yes, I’m going to do it. No, it’s too much. I can’t do it. Yes. No. I went back and forth. I know I have people who will share my words, but will people still give? I struggled thinking about it.

While I was having an internal debate, God spoke in an amazing way. I got an email from the contact page here. Someone who followed MODG, who needs help, who saw 2 years ago I helped, emailed me. And then because she wasnt sure the email went through, she posted a comment on the original Hope for the Holidays post. If that wasnt enough for me to decide to go for it again this year, there was a second comment from another person. She also needs help this year and wondered if I was going to help.

I was on the fence and God said, “MOVE.” I wasnt sure and God said, “HELP.” I was scared and God said, “BE BRAVE.” So I’m going to move. I’m going to help. I’m going to be brave. And im going to count on you guys, my super awesome readers, for help. Between Thanksgiving and December 1st, Hope for the Holidays 2 is starting. And it can only be successful if I can count on you. Move, help, be brave with me. And thank you for hanging on with me while I have been unable to write.

I didn’t know we were family

It’s been a rough year around here. And those of you who follow me (thank you so much!), I’m sure you’ve noticed I haven’t been posting nearly as often as I used to. This last year my emotions have been so raw it’s hard to write and on top of that I am extremely empathetic. If you hurt, I hurt. Even if I don’t know you and I see you cry, it’s a safe bet I’ll be crying, too.

A few weeks ago, Facebook came out with a new feature. It wasn’t the thumbs down button we have all been asking for, but it was five (I think) different choices on top of the “like” button. And I am a child of the 90s, I am (on the upper edge) in the generation that was just young enough to get Facebook and MySpace and live journal (if you know how I can get my hands on my live journal these days I’d love to have those words!), but old enough to not ruin my life on social media.

All of these extra options on Facebook seemed so silly to me when they came out. All we asked for was a thumbs down. And I’m old enough, I don’t even know what all those faces stand for. I know that there is a heart for love (over like?) and a laughing out loud one and a sad one. I’m not sure what the other faces are for.

That sad face. The one with the tears and when you press on it, it says sad. That is the face I have used the most these last few days. Well, let’s be honest. These last 24 hours have been the saddest. I can’t even count the times I’ve pressed that sad face today.

We all love in groups. You have those closest to you and then like a ripple when you through a stone in the water your love expands. And you love every ripple, but maybe you love that first ripple more than the fifth or maybe you love all those ripples and can’t even tell the difference between them. I have always known who is in my first ripple. My first ripple is full of all the people who cried with me when Grandpa John died. It is family and friends who should be family.

That first ripple is all I did (could) focus on when Grandpa died. Those were the people who hurt with me. Those were the people who understood what he meant to me. Those were the ones that clung to me as I grieved.

Today I learned about the other rings. Those people who joked around with me. Those people who bought me a drink when we were hanging out. Those people who served me a drink or two too many and then walked me home because they love me and need me to be safe, and I’m safe with them.  Those people who get a kick out of me when I’m not at my best. Those people who aren’t blood but are better and closer to me than some that are blood.

Today we lost a mother. And while I am so close with her husband and son (they are some of my favorite people), I am not blood. And maybe it sounds bad to say, but before today I didn’t know we were family. I didn’t know how much I loved them. I didn’t know how much they meant to me and how much their pain would hurt me.

Oh my goodness. That’s not what I meant. Or maybe it is. I have this group of people, and I have known for a long time that I love them. What I didn’t know before today was how much I loved them. I always thought it was like anyone loves their friends, (although I have little experience with this as well. I have one forever friend (I’m looking at you, Cassidy!). And then today, my friends lost their mother, I thought they were fifth ripple friends, and then I learned they really are first or second ripple friends.

Now, biologically she was only the mother to one of my friends. However, by love she was the mother to most of the people who I am friends with today. I think of that group of kids that were around when I was young. They called my mom Ratmom because there were so many that loved her. Shirley was the Ratmom of my new group of friends.

There are people who lost their mom young, there are people who never knew their mom, there are people whose mom just gave up on them. And Shirley was there for all of them. It didn’t matter if you needed a mom as a child or as an adult, Shirley would be your mom. It didn’t even matter if you thought you didn’t need a mom. If Shirley thought you needed a mom, you got one in her.  And tonight, so many more than she birthed are mourning the loss of their mom.

Tonight I had the chance to look at all these “kids” in a different light. This is my family. I didn’t know before tonight how much I loved every single one of these people. We all come from different places and backgrounds, but when you put us all in the same room, you can’t tell a difference. This is family.

Maybe in this family, I am the third cousin twice removed. But I’m still family. And they are still family. And I would do anything to keep them from the pain they are feeling tonight. But what I can do is laugh with them, and cry with them. We can tell stories and talk nonsense. We will come up with a plan to take care of Dad (this is so familiar and again I am so grateful Grandma has us to ground her).

It seems so silly, but I didn’t know this was family until today. I had no idea how much I loved these people until the pain was knocking on our door. When we (because I know my husband feels it more than I do) say, “is there anything we can do?” What we mean is, cry on our shoulder. Let us buy you a beer. Just know we hurt so much and aren’t blood but wish there was anything we could do. And then remember that the one thing I knew about Shirley was that blood didn’t matter at all.

Those that are family, those that love us, those that we love, remember that every tear you cry, we cry with you. We feel every pain. And maybe it doesn’t make your pain less, but where she is now, there is no pain.

Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled away.

There is something that bothers me a lot when we talk about Easter or when I hear songs about the resurrection. It’s a little thing, a small detail that most people probably don’t even hear. But when we talk about Easter and use this certain phrasing it changes the story.

One of my favorite Christian songs is Glorious Day by Counting Crowns.  They use this phrasing in their song. “One day the grave could conceal Him no longer, one day the stone rolled away from the door. Then He arose over death He had conquered.” Did you hear it? Honestly its just one little word. THEN He arose.

Nope. That’s not how it works. Jesus did not need the stone rolled away so He could leave the tomb. When you use the word then it sounds like Jesus couldn’t leave the tomb unless someone opened the door. We believe He was born to a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead three days later, but He needed the stone moved so He could get out of the tomb?

Maybe it’s silly how much this one word affects me, but, to me, this changes the story. It opens up room for so much doubt. How could Jesus be the Son of God if He needed the stone moved? He performed miracles but was trapped in the tomb until the stone was moved? Was He trapped in there until an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven and rolled the stone away? (Matthew 28:2)

No. Jesus wasn’t in the tomb when the angel moved the stone. Matthew 28:5-8 says, “But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.'”

The stone was not rolled away so Jesus could come out. Jesus was long gone from the tomb when the stone was rolled away. He was already on His way. He is alive. The stone was rolled away so that we may go in. It was moved so we  could see that the tomb was empty, so we could see the folded cloth and know that Jesus is not there. The stone was moved for us.

The stone was rolled away and we found an empty tomb, not Jesus waiting to get out.

Do you hear the difference that one word makes in the story? Death was already conquered. Jesus had already arose. God had already won, long before the stone was moved. The stone was moved so those who needed to see the empty grave could see it.

I’m not sure why the story gets told as if the stone was rolled away first. Maybe in the songs it just flows nicer that way. Maybe people don’t even realize the way they are phrasing it. Maybe I’m the only one in the whole world who hears it that way. (Although I’m guessing you’ll hear it now even if you never have in the past.) Maybe it shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it does bother me.

Jesus rose from the dead and THEN the stone was rolled away from the tomb. Not the other way around.

 

Super Duper Tuesday

It’s Super Tuesday in the United States. During election season, this is the day that the most states vote in the primary elections and tends to set the tone for the rest of the election season. It is very hard, if not impossible to come out of Super Tuesday without winning several states and continue on to win your party’s nomination. Today is an important political day.

I love politics. I listen to talk radio. I watch the shows. I read as many of the articles as I can stomach. I follow this stuff closely. Today is a big day for me even though my state isn’t voting today. In fact, if I could find someone willing to entertain my husband and children this evening so I can watch the election coverage on TV, Facebook and Twitter that would be super awesome. Since that probably won’t happen, I’ll be watching as much coverage as I can without my family losing their minds.

I like to talk politics. I like to argue politics. I have always been a conservative, both socially and fiscally. I am against big government. Until the last 6-10 years, I have considered myself a republican. However, as I have grown and paid more and more attention to the state of the world around us, I no longer consider myself a republican. Technically, I am probably an independent, but I lean hard to the Libertarian party. Because while I am very conservative in my personal beliefs, I honestly don’t give a crap what you want to do as long as it doesn’t affect my personal freedoms. I want the government to leave me alone and I want you to leave me alone.

So I’ve been watching this election cycle closely. I am amazed by the direction both political parties are going. I made up my mind about my vote more than a year ago (before people even began announcing that they would run). I have known for a while who I would like to see as the next president. And while I have made my decisions, there have been other candidates come and go that I could consider voting for. And there are some candidates that I would never vote for.

In the past I have normally voted straight republican, but that has changed. In our last state election, I voted for the libertarian candidate over the republican (who I know) because of the votes cast at the state capital. I have contact several of the people claiming to represent me because I will not vote for them again. You can not just assume you have my vote. I have actually contacted the democrat senator for my state on more than one occasion to thank him for at least doing what he said he was going to do, even when I don’t agree with what he is doing. At least I know where he stands on the issues.

There is one thing that I can guarantee you this election cycle. When it is my turn to vote, I will not cast a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump. I also will not stay home on election day. I will vote third-party. I will write in a candidate to vote for. I am tired of accepting someone who I can not stomach. I am not going to hold my nose and cast my vote.

I have prayed more over this election than any other in my lifetime. I truly believe this is the election that will decide whether the United States stands or falls. I have prayed that God would give us not the leader that we deserve but the leader that would bring us back to the path of righteousness. I pray that we will not vote with hate or fear or anger but that we would vote with love. That we would vote with a love for our nation and a love for God.

If you live in a Super Tuesday state, please vote today. But before you go to the polls, please pray. And know that there are people out there praying for you, too. I pray that the right person comes out on top tonight. I pray that God’s will be done. I pray that goodness and righteousness win out over name calling and lies and backroom deals.

A letter to Grandma for Her Birthday

Dear Grandma,

I can’t even to begin to imagine how hard these last few months have been for you. From the first hospital visit to today, your whole life has changed. Grandpa was your rock, and I can’t imagine anything that would be harder for you than losing him.

I’ve watched you this last year. I’ve seen the strength you gave him when you had no strength left because you knew he needed those last moments, we needed those last moments before he went to the Father. I know the nights you didn’t sleep because he didn’t sleep. I know that even when he did sleep you laid awake to keep watch over him.

I know how you struggle today to fill your time because he was your time. I know how alone you feel because he was your other half. I know that you never imagined a life without him because he was your life.

And I sat at your table this week. And you watched the boys play their games and we talked about life and everything that had happened in the week since we had seen you. And we even talked about Grandpa a little. Not in any big or hard ways, but just in the natural way he came up in conversation, in how he would react to the world around us. Or how we all think of him every time Purdue plays basketball. (Oh my goodness, he would be madder than my husband in how they have been playing!)

I’m not sure why, but this has been a hard week for me. I miss Grandpa so much right now, maybe even more than the week he died. He was always there to talk to, and sometimes when we talk I imagine how he would react to it. And if I’m struggling this much this week, I can’t even imagine how hard things are for you.

I love Grandpa so much, but I know you love him even more than I can imagine. I can’t imagine losing my husband after 11 years of marriage, and I know that’s only a drop in the bucket after 60. I wish I could tell you how to move on, how to breath in and breath out every day. I wish I could tell you what to do to make each day easier. I wish there was a way I could make each day easier.

And I know (and I know you know) there is a reason God called Grandpa home and left you here with us. And not that I would pick him over you, I’m just selfish enough to want you both here with me now. It makes me want to scream out that it isn’t fair. And we all know that isn’t the way life works. We all have a story to tell and God doesn’t call us home until our story is done, no matter how long or short the story is.

Sunday is your 80th birthday. Maybe that is why Grandpa being gone hurts so much this week. I can just see him trying to convince you that you needed a party and 80 candles on a cake. I can see him rejoicing that God gave us all one more year with you.

And maybe that’s where we all need to be right now. Yes, it hurts so much. Yes, we will continue to cry and miss Grandpa, but his story was told. Your story isn’t finished and we need to continue to tell it. And I thank God for every additional day I have with you, that my boys have with you because your story isn’t finished. And while I didn’t believe, even after he was sick, that Grandpa’s story was coming to an end, I am so thankful for every day we had with him. And I know you are, too.

So know that while you are struggling through this time of change, we are struggling with you. And know that while you are learning how to live without Grandpa, we are too. I know it’s not the same. I know as much as I hurt, you must hurt 1,000 times more. But also know that your story isn’t finished. God still has work for you to do here on earth.

This may be the least happiest birthday letter ever written. And this is probably your least happiest birthday ever. And while we celebrate God giving us another year with you, it’s okay to have tears for the year He didn’t give us with Grandpa.

I’m sorry this letter isn’t more cheery, but I don’t think cheer is what any of us have to give right now. Maybe for your 81st birthday we can be cheery. I love you very, very much. Happy Birthday, Grandma.

 

This is my story

I realize it’s not Wednesday. But even if it was Wednesday, it’s been so long since I’ve done a Worship Wednesday post, it would probably confuse you all. But it’s not Wednesday, it’s Friday. And this Friday, I’m listening to music waiting for my husband to get home from the store and one of my current favorite Christian songs comes on, Big Daddy Weave’s My Story.

This song speaks to me so much. I grew up in a Christian home. There was never a time when we didn’t go to church. There was never a time when I didn’t believe in God, or know that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God who came to earth as a man, who lived a perfect life, died on the cross for ME, and arose three days later. This has always been true for me.

And then I’m around people talking about their story, and they all have this big AHA moment where suddenly they understood and believed and knew Jesus came for them. And then I feel like I am less. Everyone is sharing their salvation story, and I just sit there uncomfortable hoping no one is looking at me. I don’t have this big story. I do not have a single moment in my life where I remember anything but believing in Jesus. Does this make me less?

I grew up in the church. We always, ALWAYS, went to church. If you spent the night at our house, you went to church on Sunday morning, too. There were no ifs, ands or buts about it (unless you snuck out at the crack of dawn. I’m looking at you, Joey). We went on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights until we changed churches and then we went on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. We were always in church. And if something happened with the church we were currently attending, we immediately were in another church. Church, God and Jesus are just something that has always been a part of me.

I hear people tell these stories, and I am so moved by them. They were in this horrible place and God spoke to them and they found Jesus and I rejoice with them. These are amazing stories. And then I am terrified they will ask me mine. And then what do I say? I’ve always believed? I’ve never doubted the presence of God?

Don’t get me wrong. I have made mistakes. I have made my own gigantic, horrible, terrible mistakes. But even in the midst of those mistakes, I knew God; I knew Jesus. While I was making my mistakes, there was never a moment when I doubted the presence of God. And while my mistakes may have taken me away from God, I knew that He had never left me.

What kind of story is that? What kind of testimony is it to say you always knew Him? There are days this makes me feel less, less Christian, less devoted, just less. And how ridiculous is that? Shouldn’t always knowing Him be more or equal to? But still I feel less.

My middle brother was the first of the three of us that were baptize. I remember so clearly as a teenager my brother saying he wanted to be baptized again because the first time he was baptized we were attending a Church of Christ where they have communion every Sunday and my brother really wanted to be able to have communion because every one else was. I remember my teenage brother with his amazing story being baptized again. (I am not saying that he ever doubted God or Jesus, just so we are clear.) I remember watching him being dunked into that water and being so proud of the choice he was making. I remember being jealous that he had this moment of clarity and a story he could tell. Isn’t that silly?

I know not having an amazing story doesn’t make me less. It doesn’t lessen my worth in my Father’s eyes. It’s such a silly human thing that I’m sure comes from Satan. And maybe that’s why this song means so much to me.

To tell you my story is to tell of Him.

My story (or lack thereof) doesn’t make me less. It doesn’t make me more. It makes me me. We all have different stories. We all come to Him in different places. Do you know what is important? It’s not the story. It’s that we come to Him.

So if you ask me my story, I will tell you a story of when Life overcame the grave. I will tell you of when justice was served but when mercy won. Let me tell you of the grace that is greater than all of my sin (and boy have I sinned.). Can I tell you about the kindness of Jesus which is more than any of us can imagine? This is my story. This is my song.