Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This is what Mom's do....

I wouldn't call myself a helicopter parent.

In fact, I err more on the side of not wanting to upset the team, the school, the professionals, vs. raising cane on behalf of my sons.

I don't need my children to be the all star athlete (thank goodness, because they can't run without tripping), I don't need them to be straight A students (please don't be smarter than me!) & I don't need them to be the most popular (Actually, please don't be. That's too much unhealthy pressure!)

What do I want for my children then? 

I want to figure out who they are & give them every damn opportunity to be bold, confident and brave in those areas! (And perhaps I want to infuse their lives with a bit of my own selfish passions like love of adventure & a heart for Jesus.)

In the past month my inner mama-bear has been tested.

We walked into a new school system with two months to go in the school year. It was quickly brought to my attention that my son is "behind his peers" and "it's on [me] to catch him up." I was less quickly given options, assistance, & direction. It really was ON me. 

At eight years old, my second grader is scholastically passionate and seemingly statistically average. What do I say to that? BE passionate, son! I don't care what grade you get; I care that you try your hardest, I care that your eyes light up when you imagine seeing the Statue of Liberty in person, I light up when you spew facts you learned in class or ask questions we have to look up answers for together. THAT is success to this mom. 

I have NO problem with my son having a deficit or area of improvement. I don't expect, need, or anticipate perfection, but if there IS an issue, I will do whatever I can to give my children a leg up, to bring their head to the surface, to throw them a life raft, and/or to provide them with opportunity. When my son's teacher told me he was behind I asked: what can I do, where can I go & how can I help? But instead of answers I got: google it.

I started to feel crazy! How far behind is he? How much help does he need? What kind of help does he need?

I've been conflicted. I excused the teacher's distance with "it's the end of the school year....it must be frustrating to get a new student from a different state..." and I began to own what was "on me" to help him with. I began chasing down avenues for myself. I would not raise cane, it's my fault we are the inconvenience...

This is what Mom's do, right? We worry. We love so big our hearts explode and our brains are never off. How can we BE everything our children need while still being our selves and honoring our marriages as the priority?

To make a long story short, I had NO idea where to turn, I had my son assessed at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes. As a mom, I needed to know how behind was my son? Was the teacher not teaching or was my child drowning (in her one week time with him). What I got was peace of mind. My son wasn't behind at all! He was ahead of his current grade level in his ability to comprehend and every piece that is involved with that. I cried. And then I got angry. I was furious I had spent weeks worried and wondering if I had missed something these last few years of his schooling. I was livid his teacher hadn't given me resources, hadn't offered to teach him what her classrooms processes are, I was angry at her.

When the kids were in bed & my husband was asleep, I sobbed until 2am. I mourned the work of our cross state move, the frustration with the school system, the exhaustion I felt emotionally. I praised God that I had answers, I had gotten help from friends, that I now knew what to do. I unloaded all of my feelings and questions and doubts and thanks that had been stuffed so tightly in but I now had permission to move past.

This is what Mom's do, right? We worry. We love so big our hearts explode and our brains are never off. This is what we do. We lay our hearts down at each morning drop off, pick them back up at each afternoon pick up, question our sanity, practice-practice-practice patience, strive to balance scholastic expectation with normal childhood needs along with sharing our faith, answering their questions, and providing them with a healthy family. This is what we do. And the job never ends, but if we're lucky, we know we aren't alone. I know I'm not alone. I've got a merciful God who reminds me to show that teacher mercy, to forgive, a God who asks me to lay my burdens at His feet even when I think they're mine to cling to, and a God who lets me weep & in the weeping shows me He loves ME just like I love my boys.

This is what Mom's do. 


Thursday, May 12, 2016

my sister's gift of grace to me on her wedding day

I am the oldest of three children and while I have siblings,  I was raised like an only child. For many reasons, I grew up alone. 

People always told me that some day my siblings would be friends. I never once had reason to believe them. It always felt like it was me and then them. 

I got married when I was 23. I was a baby. There were wedding choices I made because at 23 I didn't see any other way. I eloped & to this day, I wouldn't change it. 

My baby sister got married this past weekend and for some reason, she chose me as her maid of honor.

There are things her wedding taught me that I had no idea I would learn, grace I received that I had no idea to anticipate. 

To quote my MoH speech, my sister & I are as different as night & day. 
She is Nordstrom while I am Marshall's.
She is fresh fruit while I am a snickers bar. 
She is a bull dog and I am cat. 
But, regardless of who we are, we are sisters. 

No one as been where I have been more than she has. 
No one gets our broken, healing story like she does. 
No one has survived the wreckage with me like she has. 

When I was first married, people loved to indirectly (& directly) give credit to my husband for saving me. He was the good people saw in me. Those who had watched my life from a close distance weren't able to see how far I had had to come to choose him. The courage and strength it took me is also my sister's.  She chose someone who loves her. Ultimately, that comes down to her; she saw her own worth first.  You can't choose what's best for you, what's healthiest, without knowing you yourself are worth it & deserving. For that I am so proud of her

My sister had every freedom, every reason, not to choose me to be her maid of honor; nothing except blood obligated her, yet she picked me. 

Post wedding I can't help but wonder, was she afraid I wouldn't come through on my duties? Did she have any doubts with her choice?  If she had freedom, would she have picked me all over again?


Here's what I learned from watching her navigate HER beautiful wedding day, she picked me on purpose & it was her choice. 

Like I said, my sister is a bulldog in the most loyal and strong of ways. You can't tell her to do something, she does it because she wants to. Why it didn't dawn on me that picking me wasn't excluded from that is beyond me. 

My sister showed strength and determination over her wedding day that I ran from. I have a persistent inability to honor my dreams & worry about others, cater to others, self sacrifice. That all meant that MY wedding day meant I had to run. My sister? She honored her dreams, her husband's wishes, included respect of all of her parents & stayed the course. She stayed. She dealt with whining, fits, expectations, immaturity, generosity, ALL of it. It wasn't easy, and she stayed the course. 

So there came her wedding day after months of planning & navigating problems. My sister stood in the face of anxiety when expectations didn't meet reality and while she asked for space from everyone else, she invited me in.  I was the one with her in the moments leading up to her vows, standing to gather her bouquet, and scooping up her dress for bathroom runs & helping her change for her honeymoon getaway. What right did I have to experience that with my sister? Honestly? None. What my baby sister did was show me grace. She trusted me to love her, serve her, and know how to be the calm she needed. 

I've been her sister for 30 years. I can shamefully assure you May 7th was the first day I had ever served her selflessly & whole heartedly. May 7th was the first time I loved on her the way I love on those nearest & dearest to me in their times of need. 

So, Sister, thank you for showing me grace. Thank you for choosing me, trusting me, inviting me in to your moment to let me love you the way I've always wanted to, to serve you in the way you deserve a sister to serve you, to intimately witness your courage & strength, and above all, to truly be your sister.  I am so deeply proud of you. 

Oh, & just so you know, "I could never love anyone as I love my sister." -Jo March. 


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

BE STILL

There have been only a couple of times I have had words stir on my heart without rest or understanding & recently was one of them.  


While I have known who Jesus is for my whole life, I didn't realize He was "mine" until I was twenty-two. For years I had lived on the borrowed understanding of His grace, love & mercy from my mom not quite understanding I could have something of my own with Him; not even knowing I was missing it until it became so real & personal that it changed my entire life.  At fourteen He made it clear He was protecting me, covering me, & walking ahead of me but I was too injured & broken to know how to take Him in; He waited. 

BE STILL; These words started circulating my existence in the every day a few months ago. I would feel them stir in me when I was frazzled, I'd scroll social media and the verse would appear multiple times a day, several times a week; BE STILL was permeating my vision. 

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

There was an aspect of this message that I understood because of my relationship with Jesus, I was being asked to
  • TRUST in Jesus
  • WAIT on Him
  • Be PATIENT 
but I didn't know what I was being asked to be still for or why

I thought I had it nailed, "Ok, God. I can do this with You. I know you're merciful & good. I know You make plans to prosper me. I know that what is meant for evil, You work for Your good. I know You have NEVER failed me, You have ALWAYS loved me & provided for me. I got this."

It became clear that the BE STILL was that our family's life was about to change.

Jesus was providing an opportunity for our family that we hadn't faced before. In 10 years we have experienced much job loss but never the opportunity to advance & choose to move into a new position because we were pursued, wanted, or needed. 

It's here my relationship, my SELF, my FAITH was challenged. 

I poured myself into bible journaling, podcasts, & the aggressive pursuit of His word in order to draw me closer to understanding what He wanted me to.  I had all the tools in my faith-arsenal to BE STILL, trust & wait. I had the gumption to exercise ASKING Jesus for BIG, BOLD, UNBELIEVABLE things and TRUSTING He WOULD make them happen. My failure, as it turns out, wasn't in the the ask, however, it was in that I unknowingly said "in MY timing, EXACTLY as I'm asking."

I found myself crushed. More than that actually, I removed myself from that table with Jesus & I decided to lay face down on the couch giving Him the cold shoulder. 

Why?

He asked me to wait LONGER than I had been prepared to. He had a plan that was BETTER than what I was asking for, yet, because I was so locked into MY specifics, I felt like the opportunity wasn't blessed or ordained. What I wanted was for it to be EASY, for the story to be a TESTIMONY & it seemed like it was just a test; a chance for me to eat a slice of humble faith pie. 

It has been an incredibly overwhelming "moment" I've been having with God. Until this past Sunday, sitting at church, I couldn't let myself off the hook for my failure. While I KNEW God forgave me, I couldn't forgive myself. The enemy had me caught in my own net with lies on repeat: I failed my Father, & I embarrassed myself before Jesus.

But here's what TRUTH says:

  • "You are God of forgiveness, always ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and full of love & mercy." Nehemiah 9:17
  • "You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy." Micah 7:18
  • "God is merciful & quick to forgive" Isaiah 55:7
I didn't FEEL forgiven & my guilt removed me from closeness with my Father. I cannot tell you how achingly lonely the prison has been. I couldn't unlock the gate. I stared off into the distance of something I knew I had but I wasn't released -- I was holding on but Jesus had already given me the freedom.  God forgives immediately & completely. 

BE STILL. I see the other side now. I didn't pass that test but it has become a new testimony. 

**for a wonderful message called MERCY FORGIVES, click here**





Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jesus was at the park today...

Today was a beautiful day.

We chased down memories like they were fleeting,
owned moments like they were gifts,
captured time like it was ours to keep forever.

mylipsinstitches.blogspot.com

Today was a day that strangers cried & prayed.

What IF this moment was your last?

It could be.

-----

Today was a day I have no words for.

We walked up from the river after skipping rocks, collecting sticks, embracing the sounds of a lapping river and stumbled into a family's nightmare at it's beginning.

A woman collapsed at the park surrounded by her family.
My son was in shock not wanting to leave, not wanting to stay; 
I looked at him in the eyes, knelt before him & said, "lets pray."

I reminded him,
"Sweetie, do you know what God PROMISES?
That if two or more are gathered in his name, He is here!
We are praying for that family right now & He is among us."

Our prayers came to a close and a small group of teens behind us joined hands,
"We should pray"
a sweet girl's voice said.

The scene became chaotic.
Compressions began.
An elderly man on a bench was leaning on his grandson & blowing into his hanky.
He could do nothing for the woman he loved.

----

I've replayed it all in my head for hours.
The way things unfolded in the great divide of heaven and earth.
I wouldn't normally take a photo like this - I still have reservations - but I've never seen anything like this either.

mylipsinstitches.blogspot.com


A group of total strangers surrounded the man sobbing on the bench, encased him, and began to pray as one (on the right).
It was like heaven & it's glory opened and glowed above the loss the world was experiencing but the gain heaven was welcoming in  (on the left).

Jesus was at the park today.
Right where we stood.

----

Today was a beautiful day.

We chased down memories like they were that are fleeting,
owned moments like they were that are gifts,
captured time like it was ours to keep forever because it's temporary.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Season of Awakening

I started September fresh. Yes, the kids were back in school, but I had made some intentional decisions to make room for what mattered most by removing some of the things that mattered least. He is working in that space I have given Him.

I have realized this is a new season for me & it is a Season of Awakening. I'm not filling every nook and cranny of my time with to-do's but instead with just-be's. I find myself standing at times staring in all directions, "What should I do now?" And with those questions, there are choices: rest, read, be productive, play, invest in relationships, sow into others, meet with Me's; I have the freedom to choose and enjoy each one. I am not wrapped up in have-to's, idol obligation, self-striving, or insignificant distraction, but living in the the gift of now. 

I wish I could recap this last 8 hours of this day in a way that bled truth so vulnerable; so vulnerable you'd share in my heavy eyes but know my full heart that comes only from His love. I fear it may be impossible but I will try. 

It was 7:10am and I felt a gentle shake on my back.  Face planted firmly in the warmth of our bed, I bemoaned morning coming so quickly. I threw my legs over the bed, rubbed my eyes, & swooped my sweater over my shoulders, "Get in gear, Allegra, we're behind for a Monday morning with minions who need breakfast before school," I thought groggily. 

Cheerios. Coffee. Pack Lunches. Shoes on. Backpacks remembered. Out the door. 

7:49am, "Bye, baby, I love you!" I said as I cranked my head to the back seat. I say it because I mean it AND because I want to see my second graders face stare back silently saying, "moooommmm!!!"

I was looking forward to this day! I was thankful for this day. Just give me a cup of coffee and I would KNOW I meant that. 

9:00am, prepare for the dramatic drop off of my pre-schooler. He does not like letting me go. He cries and clings like those who know him wouldn't even believe. My baby.

"Oh, I'm SO lucky to be his mama. I'm so thankful Jesus that I get to be the one who takes him to school and picks him up. Thank you," I pray internally as his tears wet my neck. 

9:18am, I'm on the way to meet my Monday Mama for we are going to indulge in coffee and a mall hour. The sun is high, the leaves on the trees are starting to shift from granny smith to fuji & I turn the worship music on because there's nothing I want more than just to praise this morning:

I need you like the rain 
Come to me and sing again 
I long for your love so much 
I've wanted your pure touch

You are beautiful, beautiful 
You are beautiful, beautiful 
So beautiful, beautiful
I find my right hand reaching up as my left hand holds the wheel: half in heaven, half at the wheel. I lose myself in that worship moment not caring who drives behind or ahead of me wondering if I'm crazy. This moment is mine to be with Jesus & all I want to do is sing each word like I am before Him; He has given me this day, this life, and I am going to thank him for it. I am awakened to His mercy & grace.

11:03am I have found two pairs of pants that fit me in amazing ways & I'm shuffling the GAP sale section with my nearest telling her, "Jesus is REALLY showing me things," not even paying attention to the fact others can hear me. (The conversation is genuine but my volume may have been fueled by caffeine.)

11:30am ....need....deep, aching need creeps in. The smack of real life that steals your breath, makes you incompetent at knowing how to use your phone jolts me. I need HIM & I need him NOW.


I can lose myself in the worship song that starts to play...
Call my name
And I will answer 
All you need
It's here inside my arms
Just breathe
And you'll be safe and sound with me

I hear Ben Rector's song in my mind:
This isn't easy
This isn't clear
And you don't need Jesus
Til you're here
Then confusion and the doubts you had
Up and walk away


I tell Jesus, "I KNOW you! You had me dig my well today so when I was thirsty this afternoon I would KNOW. I would remember I NEED you, God, to love the gifts and mourn the hurt. Thank you for being my Father who loves me, holds me, lifts me up, walks ahead, supports behind, cheers me on, tells me when I'm wrong," and brings me to His chest. 

This season....be with me always....

3:23pm I am tired but I know truth. I am waiting but I know goodness. I'm writing to Jesus: I love you. NOTHING changes You. Thank You. 

The Season of Awakening

Housefires says it best for today: 

Oh, I've heard a thousand stories of
what they think you're like
but I've heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night You tell me that you're pleased and that I'm never alone You're a Good, Good Father It's who you are
I'm waiting Jesus & you know what for. As I wait, I thank you for friends who show up, love that reigns true, & the truth that it is only You who can fix the unfixable. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dear Starbucks....

Dear Starbucks, 

This is a story most mom's can tell, but do they?!
I'm writing on behalf of the decaffeinated, the play-date-dream-broken, & the bereaved.
I'm writing for all the moms who have planned the out-of-the-box play date, 
the women who imagined the perfect scenario playing out beside their fellow veteran(s),
& the moms who are constantly reminded of what perfect parents we were....before children.

Like most golden play dates, it begins with YOU, Starbucks.
You're the goal...the reward...nay, you give us purpose, reason & fulfillment just with ONE little cup & one emerald green straw.
Starbucks, this story is for you.

So the story starts like this...

It was a cool, crisp morning in Lake Oswego.
Leila and I were looking forward to sitting river side on the Willamette (damnit!)
The dream included a picnic blanket, beach towels, & shovels
(or kitchen spoons since we're the ultra creative type).
It had been weeks since we had seen each other & the kids kept saying (read: begging relentlessly) to play.
Why NOT try a new park, a new place to roam, an adventure?

We showed up to a serene setting.

We set up camp & threw the spoons to the kids and released them to begin creating clean, organized river dirt castles.

Oh, sweet divinity!
Leila & I would now....finally...warm our hands & bellies with liquid gold: lattes!
Grande, Skinny Vanilla, Lattes! 
(By the way, thank you, Starbucks, for making it such a great drink to order. 
"SKINNY Vanilla latte for Allegra!" the barista shouts over the fans & I'm all too confident & happy to claim it: "That's right! That's MY Skinny drink....and my cake pop...)

This is when things get good.

The kids aren't staying on the river bed...they're quickly approaching the river.
No, wait, they're IN the river.
($&!* . Oh, well. WE have Starbucks!)

Then...the unthinkable!
That cute little, old, pink haired lady with the knee brace & clearly too-much-for-her wet river soaked dog come screaming through OUR imperfectly perfect Mom Moment!

Grande SKINNY lattes & hot chocolate are E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E
Wet river mud has caked not only us but the blanket, the beach towels, and our bodies.
Our jaws drop.
The dog is not just taking a single pass through our space but multiple.
Multiple jumpy, dirty, barky, gross passes through OUR mom moment.
It seems we now have nothing to live for.

Our children are disgusting (more so than before)
Our coffee is gone!
>>>OUR SKINNY VANILLA LATTES ARE GONE!<<<<

That's not just our fuel but it was our hard saved pennies!
That ONE thing that gets to be ours...that one SWEET, expensive, indulgent treat...
it's GONE along with our money.

We are now left with
no apology
confirmed dislike of domesticated pets
no coffee
dirty kids
& we are convinced we are on "Boiling Point"

Oh, Starbucks...you are the reason we manage & the devastation when the cup goes forcibly dry.
You save us from our worst selves...until someone else strips us of our moment.
We may never recover.
(Well, until we save up for the next cup.)

With Love,
Allegra & Leila


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Am I There Yet?

The freeway went on for miles. It's amazing how enjoyable a road trip can be without a million stops for the bathroom & sans, "Are we there yet?" on repeat. Two empty car seats in the back & as many Starbucks drive thru's as we could stomach on a 6 hour drive. Just the two of us. 

"So, what exactly are we going to do?" He asked me from the driver seat. The sun beat down on my bare feat bugging him as they rested on the dash. 

"Well I have the schedule, but I don't really know what to expect," I replied. 

The husband & I were headed to Northern California to meet up with my grandparents & directors of a board called New Day for Children.

I come from a personal background that consists of a passion for the voiceless. It lead me to major in Women's Studies and pursue volunteer work with Women's Shelters and the like. I saw what New Day was about & accepted my Grandparent's offer to be on site with them. 

Away from the office and the daily grind,  my husband had the head & heart space to hear what we were doing. I read to him as the miles ticked by:
New Day for Children has taken a multi-faceted approach to meet the unique needs of the girls rescued, combining shelter, education and therapy to help heal mind, body and spirit. We provide education, restorative care and therapeutic services to girls’ ages 10-18 who have been victimized by Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Our goal is to care for the girls and help them recapture their childhoods, while building their self- esteem and confidence.
We heard the words, we gasped at the stories, we broke the silence of our own thoughts with made up games: "What would you do if you won this week's mega million?" (This is a game I love to play with my best friend, too).

We arrived in the brown, dry face of Northern California early that evening to stretch our legs & eat dinner with my Grandparents before a day ahead coming face to face with the strongest girls I have ever. ever. met.

There's something that happens for me in the wake of knowing I am about to have my heart changed forever; I go numb. It's as if the anticipation of the unforeseen trumps all of my ability to imagine. 

I lay awake that night with the TV tuning out my thoughts just enough to hear only my mind's thundering whispers. Since March of this year, God has been working in me and with me on some pending questions: what on earth was my over priced education all about? Why do I have a passion for the problem of the voiceless if it's one that scares my husband? How am I supposed to use that soft spot in my heart for His kingdom as a mom and a wife? And then there were the questions I wasn't....I am not...ready to ask still because I know how my Father works. He is good and He is merciful. He waits for me to make the ask & when I overcome my own fear, He answers. 

---------

Morning broke & my stomach growled. I battled the blackout curtains & my sweet husband,

"Just five more minutes," I begged.

I needed five more minutes to pretend that I had any speck of understanding of these girls pasts. I needed five minutes to buckle before Jesus, 

"Father, you KNOW me. You KNOW what I'm doing right now. I'm shutting it off to survive what will break my heart. Help me see these girls not for their broken past but for their daunting ability to survive the unsurvivable!"

---------

The ride into the undisclosed location was informative. We asked questions of the Founding Directors about the girls, their current home, & the program.  Our days plan included lunch with the girls in the mess hall, a tour of the grounds, & dinner in town with the girls {*Which is a really, really big treat for them}. Somewhere in there I would have the chance to teach them how to do Jamberry Nails. 

I imagined our visit must make the girls feel like fish.  There they are swimming in a fish bowl with spectators eyeing them building the glass partition of normal life deeper between them & the outside world. I wanted....I needed....to bring that wall down. I could not bring myself to stare as an outsider. I wanted them to know they could just be.

Those girls changed my heart. I choked down the knot in my throat the whole day. There was the unspoken between us that Nails & being a girl overrode; they weren't broken to me, they were like me. They laughed with each other, asked me which nail wraps would be best, were right at my side asking me to help them, asking about my life, asking one to do their hair and another to fix their eyebrows, 

"Do these shoes look good with these jeans?" one asked

"Oh, sorry!" one apologized as her braids hit me in the face as she turned.

"Don't be sorry! I'm jealous your hair is that long," I laughed back. 

I was as familiar as the chairs they sat on that day. Needed yet unnoticed. Thank you, Jesus. 

---------


I haven't known how to process everything I still feel. The knot is still sitting in my throat taunting me, "LET IT OUT". But I'm not there yet. 

One of the most fascinating things that one of the Director's shared with me was this, 
We encourage the girls to find one person in the program they trust to tell their story too. Other than that, they keep their past as a part of their therapy and their life in the program focused on feeling again, even if it's anger, and building the courage to hope and dream for their future
As I sat with a dear friend today over coffee processing how God works, what He calls us each into, & what we are supposed to do with that,  I thought again about that statement and wondered:

WHO WOULD I BE IF I stopped worrying about people needing to know where my feet have walked? 
WHO WOULD I BE IF I just allowed myself to rest in what I say Jesus has done: renewed & reawakened me.
WHO WOULD I BE IF I just focused on living out my present & my future. 

WHO WOULD I TELL PEOPLE I AM if I couldn't tell them who I was?

---------

For more information on New Day for Children 
or to donate to their efforts
click