Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sit By Me

My mercy-gifted heart was shredded this past week, watching intolerant people perpetuate a vicious, hopeless cycle. After the events that have happened so far this year, many of us feel isolated, unwelcome, and alone.

The only way this cycle gets broken is through seeing the humanity in each other and bridging the distance. As Pastor David Anderson says, "Distance demonizes."

In that spirit, I am inviting those of you who feel unwelcome and tattered to come sit by me. Whether in a virtual or literal sense, sit by me and share your life in a safe space.

If you're a ME TOO person instead of a NOT ME, sit by me.

If you're for fixing instead of breaking, sit by me.

If you're for friending instead of unfriending, sit by me.

If you're for solving instead of whining, sit by me.

If you're for learning instead of stagnation, sit by me.

If you're for singing instead of insulting, sit by me.

If you're for understanding instead of proving, sit by me.

If you're willing to let love outshout your fear, sit by me.

If you're committed to aggressive acts of forgiveness, sit by me.

If you want someone to remind you Whose you are, sit by me.

If you want someone to listen and you're willing to listen too, sit by me.

I am FOR vulnerability and mercy and safe grieving and wiping tears and cheering and championing and holding sacred space and hugging and hand holding and steadfast hope.

I stand AGAINST whining and shoulding and name calling and attacking and truth twisting and Chicklen-littling and fear panicking.

Can you say, "Me too!" with confidence and compassion? Then I have an open seat beside me, and you're invited to sit a spell.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

GOOD PEOPLE

If anything makes me want to run away to another country today, it isn’t the newly elected leaders: it’s the rest of you nincompoops who are acting like Chicken Little! But I’m not going to run, and I’m not going to freak out. I’m standing firmly rooted in truth.

I choose to cling to the basic truth I know about the world: PEOPLE ARE GOOD. And to reinforce that fact, I decided to spend the morning actively seeking out reminders of goodness.

I’m started by looking at my friend Sean’s Facebook wall. He’s been gone for 7 weeks now, and I’ve watched GOOD PEOPLE write letters to him and his family. I’ve listened to countless YouTube music videos people have posted to remember good times with their great friend.

Next, I moved on to the stories I know from authors like Bob Goff. This man has founded a movement of GOOD PEOPLE who are committed to love in action. I’m remembering stories I’ve read about Bob Goff’s whimsical view of the world, and the way he’s loved in the face of hate and recklessly given of himself when giving just didn’t make sense on the balance sheet.

Then I thought of another author I love, Glennon Doyle Melton. I read something she wrote yesterday, on election day: “WE BELONG TO EACH OTHER AND WE CAN DO HARD THINGS AND NO MATTER WHO WINS, LOVE WINS. We get to decide that. Let’s decide that. Let’s show up for each other. Let’s love. It’s the only thing that will heal us. And it's what will best define us this month.”

There's a phenomenon happening right now, this very day: an Election Recovery Party of sorts called Holiday Hands that Glennon is hosting through the TogetherRising website. I wasn’t quite sure what this is about until I started poking around the website.

It’s all GOOD PEOPLE, y’all!

But before you get all, "I don't have money to donate!" or "We already adopted a family for Christmas!" or blah, blah, blah... know that this event isn't simply about donating an "unwrapped gift in unisex sizes."

You need to click on the link, then click on "browse listings." It's like Craig's List for givers! You'll find people who are asking for help, ranging from people who want a letter saying they're worth loving to a family whose medical bills are capsizing them and they simply want a turkey dinner for the holidays.

You can write a letter, can't you? You can send a grocery gift card to a family, can't you?

Giving of yourself will always, always push the darkness aside.

Today, the day after one of the most painful elections, I’m hoping we can take the angst and energy we’re barfing on the Interwebs and direct it towards making a difference.

THIS is how we'll be "Better Together," y'all. THIS is how we'll "Make America Great Again." We'll do it one by one, human to human, without waiting for an elected official to show us how to give mercy and compassion.

Visit the Holiday Hands website, and spend some time reading through the requests and the responses. It will resuscitate your faith in GOOD PEOPLE and restore your hope in our future.

We can do hard things – heck, YOU can do hard things because you are a GOOD PEOPLE!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Parents Standing Firmly

I'll be honest with you: today was a hard day of parenting. Second chances were taken for granted. Scoldings felt like standoffs. And a moment of rejoicing with one child was bookended by disobedience of the other. I felt like quitting my Mommy Job, and walked out of the house feeling defeated and tempted to escape to Jamaica. (Don't worry, I eventually came back!)

Then we went to church tonight. I sat in the dark, listening to a team of musicians sing praise to my Father and remembered a few of the times I've been a disobedient child.

I was watching one of the men on stage as he sang, and my heart filled with gratitude that I have a place to reset my despondent heart. That's when I realized the dad of the singer was sitting right in front of me. And from where I was sitting, it looked like the son was standing on his father's shoulders. I know the dad personally and know he is one of the most upstanding, steadfast, faithful, and humble men I know.



I felt this moment was God's way of reminding me no child learns to stand on his own unless he's had a parent to show the way. Parents stand firmly so their children can stand taller. The worship leader on stage is the Christ-follower he is because his mother and father gave him the example of a life submitted to Christ.

I needed this reminder to stand firmly even when I want to throw in the towel as a mother. I needed to see that my faith matters even when a disobedient child makes me want to "lose my religion." I needed my Father to pick me up, brush me off, and set me back on His path again.

When I took a broader look around, I saw another set of my friends on the right side of me and their daughter sitting in the front row to my left. She was raising her hands and having some deep worship with God. I looked on stage again and saw the children of other friends of mine, and realized what a blessing they are to me too - and one of the reasons why is because their parents have poured and refilled them for years and years. I am thankful for parents who show me how to parent. And for my own parents, too.

Thank You God, for putting these people in my life tonight and using them to remind me to keep my eyes on the long goal of parenting. You are a good, good Father!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

10/25/96

When I grieve my brother Jackson's death on October 26, 1996, the painful memories find their genesis in the night before the 26th.

10/25/96 dealt me the first blow. It's the night my sister Mary called me after she visited Jackson in Augusta, Georgia for the last time

Dan and I lived in Kansas City and had friends over that night. We were eating chicken wings in our living room, laughing and having a great time. The phone rang and it was Mary on the line. I knew she had planned to visit Jackson that night, so I took the phone to my bedroom to talk privately with her and not disrupt dinner with our friends.

Mary's voice was tense and serious. She told me, "Poozie, you need to come home - sooner rather than later." I thought she was being overly dramatic.

I gave her excuses why I couldn't simply pick up right then and drive 12 hours to Augusta: I told her I had to work. And, besides, I already made plane reservations to fly down a week later to spend time with Jackson. His wife, Bonnie, had asked for caretakers to help so I bought tickets just the day before.

"Mary," I said, "I'm coming soon enough."

I went back to chicken wings and beer and laughing with my pals. I even have a photo of it; I kept it because my later regret wagged its finger at me in shame.

The next morning, Dan and I slept in. I worked weekend nights in my TV news job, so we were having a lazy morning before I started getting ready for work. I was just about to head to the bathroom to shower when the phone rang.

I answered it, and the words I heard shattered my world. It was Jackson's wife, Bonnie. She was crying and simply said, "He's gone."

Tonight, I type this story and still feel regret about the decision I made twenty years ago, right around this very moment.

I regret that my sister called and told me to hurry, and I placed my excuses in higher priority than my family.

I regret my naivete that made me believe the biggest lie I've ever bought: "There will always be more time."

I regret the chicken wings and the belly laughs I had while my brother lay dying.

Have you ever read the verse in Isaiah 61 that says God will bring beauty from ashes? This promise of God's has come to fruition in my life; God has redeemed the October 25ths of my past.

I can now say God was generous when He allowed the experience of 10/25/96, because He knew my regret from that night would change the days of my life yet to come.

God knew my "no" on 10/25/96 would echo for the rest of my life. What I learned that night was not to wait. When someone asks for help, 10/25/96 taught me to say yes. It taught me to show up and shore up the people who matter to me no matter the request or the excuses I so quickly rationalize.

God shaped a new core value in my character through my experience of 10/25/96: the value of NOW because later doesn't always come.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Letter to the McMullin Boys

Dear Ryan, Liam, Finn and Owen,

It's been exactly one month since you experienced the most defining moment of your lives so far. I say "so far" because I'm hoping it doesn't become THE defining moment of your life long-term; there is so much living ahead for each of you! I trust God's ability to bring beauty from ashes, and I am expectantly waiting to see how He'll continue to define and refine your lives.

But this letter isn't about what's to come, it's about what happened last month. It's about the death of your father, Sean.

One day - probably years from now - you'll read this letter. I am not sure what you'll remember from the days we laid your dad to rest, and I trust the people in your lives will be able to fill in gaps for you.

I asked your mom if I could be one of those people and write this letter to you, and she gave me permission to do so. She also gave me permission to take photos at your dad's visitation and funeral, knowing one day you might want to see the honor that surrounded your dad's farewell.

It has taken me a month to write this letter to you. I have been waiting for the shock to subside because I didn't want this letter to be about your dad's death. I want this letter to be about Sean's life; THAT is worth writing about! But, of course, I have to start with his death or, rather, the days we said our formal goodbyes to him.

Before I get much further, I'm going to ask your forgiveness. I know parts of this letter won't make sense, because I'm struggling to make sense of your dad's death. I should wait even longer to write this letter, but then it won't ever be written because I'll never make sense of Sean's death! I'd love for this letter to flow nicely, but it's going to be scattered and sloppy because the memories are so intense.

Boys, please know this before you read any further: your dad was so deeply loved. The loss we all felt when he died was more than an emotion. It was a physical presence. It's as if the Loss has become a person who pulled up a chair in each of our lives and has refused to budge no matter how desperately we've been ignoring it. Then Loss invited Shock to the table, and Grief became the hostess.

Everyone who knew and loved your dad has been walking around with these "companions" for a month now. I can see it when someone posts on Sean's Facebook page, telling a story about him or simply saying how much he is missed.

We can't shake the grief, because we can't shake the love either.

When I left your dad's visitation and funeral, I jotted notes in my phone because I knew I wanted to tell you about these days - one day in the future. Here are the things I don't want to forget:

On the day of your dad's visitation, hundreds of people showed up out of respect and love. There were so many people, we ran out of parking spots at the Stygar funeral home. There's an unused furniture store next door, so people started parking there and walking over. The parking lot is enormous but when I pulled up that night, it was already half full. Overflow was overflowing! I parked (illegally - it would have made your dad laugh) and hugged some friends in the parking lot. I looked at the fire trucks and the flag flying from the ladders, and started choking back tears. I've seen fire trucks and flags like this before, but never for a friend of mine.

Dan, Jackson, and I started walking towards the front doors of Stygar. The firefighters in their uniforms stood with each other, talking quietly. I wanted to pretend they were all friends of someone else, but I couldn't pretend once I recognized some of their faces. When I saw Nick Hercules in his uniform with Christina by his side, the reality of our shared loss unraveled us all.

In the lobby of Stygar, there were so many people it was hard to walk. The line of people who were waiting to speak to your mom and your dad's parents and siblings was so long, it wrapped around the perimeter of the funeral parlor.

In the middle of the hardest days of her life, your mom's grace was tangible and fierce. I watched her comfort the people who were supposed to be comforting her, the people who meant to give sympathy but instead received it. Your mom was wrecked, but she wasn't destroyed. I can't explain what it was like to be a witness to her dignity and strength.

Liam, every time a friend arrived at the visitation, you played host and made sure the friend got to see your dad and say hello/goodbye. You also wanted your buddies to see the firefighters who were standing guard over your dad. When you made sure your friends had greeted your dad, you carried on and went about the building in a way that showed your understanding and acceptance.

Ryan, I watched you become a leader for your brothers. You walked with courage through an experience no one could have prepared you for. For years now, your parents have been laying a foundation for your character. When your dad died, that character went from invisible to visible. We saw the heart of a boy who is becoming a man.

At the end of the visitation, everyone who was still there took a seat. You boys sat with your mom, waiting for the firefighters to file past the casket and salute your dad. In the silent waiting, Finn and Owen’s voices could be heard asking your mom things like, “Does Daddy like my picture?” and “Are we going to have fun tomorrow?” Everyone in the room fought back tears as best as we could, but it didn’t help because the firefighters’ goodbyes made the tears flow again. When that was finished, all of our hearts ached when Ryan grabbed Owen and Finn’s hands and led them to your dad’s casket. When Ryan and Finn turned to sit, Owen stayed. The entire room gasped, then sobbed, as we watched Owen salute the casket then make the sign of the cross before folding his hands into prayer. He stood like that for just a moment, then turned to join your family.

When the visitation was over and almost everyone had left the Stygar funeral home, I was standing with Nick and Kevin. One of the Stygar employees walked over to talk to us. She didn’t know your dad, but wanted to share the grief she felt being present during the visitation. Then she looked at Kevin and Nick, locked eyes with them, and thanked each of them for their service as firefighters. It touched me to see the way a stranger could feel the depth of love for your dad and take the time to share it with someone else.

The funeral was on Thursday. Your family met at Stygar to escort your dad to the church. One of the ladder trucks from your dad’s firehouse was draped in black, and all the other trucks followed behind it on the drive to St. Joseph’s.

As we drove closer to the church, the bells rang long and loud in his honor. The firefighters stationed at the firehouse across from St. Joseph’s stood on their driveway, saluting your dad.

Outside the church, firefighters stood at attention to welcome your dad and family.

I remember sitting in the back of the church, looking at the crowd of people gathered in respect for your dad. During his homily, Monsignor invited Owen and Finn to stand so he could tell them about a stained glass in the sanctuary. Owen and Finn, you stood on your seats and all I could see was your heads popping up above the crowd like prairie dogs.

When we left the church and drove to the cemetery, the funeral procession stretched for two miles.

Traffic came to a standstill. Some people even got out of their cars to stand on the side of the road to honor your dad’s service.

We passed another firehouse, and another team of firefighters stood in their driveway to pay their respects.

When we parked at the cemetery, Dan and I realized we parked by the bagpiper. He was preparing for the funeral, and I heard his warm-up notes before I even opened my car door.

During the burial ceremony, your dad’s partner from the firehouse (Kim) rang a bell three times. The tones went off and your dad’s last call was announced by the fire district dispatcher. We couldn’t stop crying.

When the ceremony was over and people started hugging and consoling each other, we didn’t quite know what to do next. It was like nobody wanted to leave, but we knew we couldn’t stay. After one of the firefighters alerted the other first responders that someone had fainted and an ambulance arrived, we all scattered. Some people said their last goodbyes, and some went on to the reception at the union hall.

Before Dan and I left, we watched your McMullin grandparents, aunts, and uncles as they went to your dad’s casket one more time. Your Casner aunts and uncle did, too.

Later that evening, I drove back to the cemetery to visit your dad’s grave. It isn’t far from my house, so it was the first of many visits for me. I sat by his grave to cry and think about his life and all the things I already missed about him: Adidas and karaoke and mix CDs and singing Eminem together and touring the firehouse and Smithwicks and St. Pat’s parades and Sigma Derby in Vegas and beach volleyball in Jamaica. I thought about one of my first memories from the beginning of our friendship, when your parents were the first people I shared our new pregnancy with. Even if I knew then that I would sit by your dad’s grave now, I wouldn’t change anything – except telling him I loved him more often and responding differently in the last texts we shared. When he texted, "Let's get together soon," I wish I had responded with more than, "Yeah, we should do that."

Sitting by the grave, I also thought back over the last six days since your dad died. So many new memories came to mind: the memory of your McMullin grandparents, aunts and uncles holding each other tightly and carrying one another's burdens. They allowed us to share their loss, graciously acknowledging Sean’s reach went beyond the roles of son and brother.

I thought about your Casner family showing their love through their presence. Your mom was never left alone, and every meal and bath and clothing item was handled by your uncles or aunts. Your cousins gladly took you under their wings, giving you a place of normalcy and safety.

I thought about how the loss of your dad affected our whole community. On Wednesday, Thursday and the following days, I noticed flags flying at half-staff at local schools, police stations and fire houses. When I passed the flags, my heart was heavy with a mixture of pride and sorrow: pride that I got to call Sean my friend and sorrow that I won’t get to hug him or laugh with him again this side of heaven.

I thought about you four boys. Over the past few days, all eyes were on you because the four of you are your father's legacies. You are the last - and lasting - gift he gave us. When we look at you, we see Sean. We see his eyes smiling after a good joke. We hear his voice in the way Ryan or Liam phrase their words. We see his lips when you smile, because you have the same light in your face that he did. Even now, it makes me ache to see the echo of your dad in you – but it makes me so tremendously happy, too. As you live, so does he.

There will be hard days, and there will be easy days. There will be days you feel like things have gotten “normal” again and you’ll be lulled into thinking the hard days are past you. And then somehow, things will feel hard again and you’ll remember life in two parts: life before and life after September 24, 2016.

You have a heavy load to shoulder, but I believe in you. You are Casner-McMullins, and your lineage is your best defense for the road ahead.

And even more than that? You have some deeply good-hearted people on your side, and I’m not talking only about your relatives. You have a community of first responders who want to take you under their wings. You have friends, neighbors, school alumni, church members, and random people your dad helped rescue during his career – people who want to help you succeed and are willing to carry your grief with you.

I am one of those people. Although my individual impact is very small in the grand scheme of people who support you, I’m praying for God to bind all our small hands together so we can carry you and your mom through these days.

Your dad's death took us all by surprise, and it reminded us to love deeper and better and more fully. Your mom told me you've been talking about keeping your eyes open for the helpers when tragedy happens, and I hope compassion and empathy help your eyes stay open through the coming years.

Never forget how loved you are, Finn. You have your dad’s wit and straight-shooting character, never mincing words and always “telling it like it is.” You made him laugh. A LOT!

Owen, I hope you never stop hearing your dad’s voice calling you “Owie.” Don’t forget the memories of him letting you sleep on his belly. You were his little guy, and he protected you and carried you close.

Liam, you are like your dad in the way you march to the beat of your own drum. You aren’t afraid to stand out, and you stick to your convictions. It’s like your dad listening to crazy music no one ever heard of or shopping at British clothing stores. He loved the unusual and unique, and you are so like him in that way.

Never stop seeing your dad’s smile in your eyes, Ryan. You are his first child, and firstborn sons get special blessings from their fathers. Your blessing is in the character your mom and dad handcrafted and labored over these last 12 years. He was always so proud of you.

Each of you are so loved and precious to countless people, including me.

I love you boys!
B-Beth

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sean-size Hole

Sean was a man full of life and laughter. He was a tender-hearted giver, and made a living serving others as a firefighter/EMT and in the CPR training business he owned. He was a loyal friend; it only takes a glance at his Facebook page to know he made everyone feel like his best friend. (Sean is the kind of guy who made friends with our resort’s activities director in Jamaica, and still kept in touch with him!) Sean was generous and lived sacrificially: he would give anything you asked for simply because you asked. He loved and lived well.

Aaannnd…

I need to stop this right here. Here’s the truth: I hate writing this in past tense, because my friend Sean died Saturday at age 46. I hate that I’m describing him by what he did instead of what he’s doing or has yet to do. I’ll never again be able to think of him in current terms, because he’s no longer here. His wife and his four sons don’t get to grow old and grow up with him, and they’ll only see his smile in fading photos.

And I’m sorry to complain or sound whiny, but fading photos can never capture the light that lived inside Sean McMullin. Photos are an empty substitute for a man who made us love him and laugh with him. I can’t make sense of his loss, although my mind keeps trying to shape and polish it in hopes of understanding it. It’s not working because it simply doesn’t make sense.

There’s a Sean-size hole in my heart, and the hearts of his wife, sons, and family: his parents, brother and sister. He has a slew of in-laws who adored him, and countless coworkers and friends – friends like me.

I loved Sean. I *still* love him. I wish I had told him that a lot more.


God, please be with the McMullins. Hold them close and comfort them. You keep track of our sorrows and collect our tears because You know they are precious, as the depth of our grief shadows the heights of our love. May we carry Sean’s memory so we can help his sons know who he was and remind them how loved they are. Show us how to love Beth and the boys well, and bear their burdens with them. Give us strength, God. And please take care of our friend now that he is Home with You. Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2016

15 Years and the Morning After

What do you do in the moments after the shock of a trauma have passed?

This morning, I think back to the day after our nation's terrible losses on 9/11. It was fifteen years ago, and that day lives in my memory as a feeling, not simply an event.

Time travel IS possible; all it takes is one photo to deliver me back to the shallow breathing and staggering disbelief of that morning. I still physically react to the photos of the airplanes hitting the Twin Towers, and the aftermath.

My memory is so intense, I feel 9/11 instead of simply recalling it: the crisp newly-autumn feel in the St. Louis air that day. The feeling that I forgot to breathe and needed to gasp in order to catch up with the four heartbeats that just pounded through my chest. The woozy waves of disgust that churned my stomach as I realized human beings willingly did this to other human beings. The tightened shoulders that intangibly grabbed the weight of grief for survivors who started posting photos of missing family and loved ones in New York City - and grief that dog-piled on when I realized two more planes were involved.

My mind raced, too: the topsy-turvy doubts because what I believed to be safe was called into question. The human instincts of fight or flight that took over as I swung between wanting to kick someone's tail and wanting to run to the arms of my family and neighbors so I could again feel the safety of community.

I was afraid. We were afraid.

Mercifully, 9/11 ended and the sun rose on the morning of September 12. As a nation, we weren't capable of comprehension yet. It would be months and, for some, years before we would reach that point. And to be honest, on yesterday's 15th anniversary, there were still pieces missing for me in the puzzle of comprehension.

What did we do between the trauma and the comprehension? How did we face the morning after?

I remember doing the same thing then that I find myself doing today: I watched and listened and felt and held and prayed and learned.

I was hungry for stories that would help me own the grief. And even though the grief was not a burden I wanted to carry, I knew turning from it would mean allowing evil to cozy up close to me.

This is why, fifteen years after the day after, I am still seeking stories. I want to feel the heaviness again, because I want to remember the feelings and not only the moments as detached events. Remembering the loss and the incredible compassion that came after it is how we fight back against the darkness and evil.

Our enemy wants us to forget how we felt fifteen years ago. Our enemy wants us to be numb to the pain; numbing equals a lack of feeling which equals inaction which - to our enemy - is just as good as getting permission to stir the chaos all over again.

NOT on my watch!

So, even fifteen years later, I seek and I feel and I pray and I learn. I hold space for sadness to come sit with me again, and I don't push it away prematurely.

This year, I invited sadness to come sit with my kids for the first time, too. This wasn't like in years past, when I glossed over the details to spare them pain. This year, we watched the videos of what happened on 9/11 and I retold them stories of sacrifice from Flight 93 and New York City and Washington, D.C.

Grief and remembering are intertwined like the arms I wrap around my kids at bedtime. I won't forget the losses of 9/11, and I won't stop spending my September 12s learning and seeking and listening and watching and telling.

If you would like to join me, here are just a few of the stories and tributes I'm watching and sharing with my kids:

  • This music video helps me remember the day's extreme evil and extreme goodness.
  • The Man in the Red Bandana tells the story of Welles Crowther and his heroism in the South tower or the World Trade Center.
  • Todd Beamer was one of the heroes of Flight 93. His oldest son is playing football at his dad's alma mater.

video
And here's a video of my own, taken last Friday at Art Hill in St. Louis, MO. A group called America's Heartland Remembers placed 6,783 flags with dog tags and photos to commemorate the military members who gave their lives in the war on terror since 9/11. The video shows the wind blowing through the flags and shaking the metal dog tags, each representing a life that ended too soon. The dead still speak, if we stop long enough to hear their echoes. #FlagsOfValor #HonorTheFallen

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September 7s

September 7th is a day that has the entirety of life embedded in it.

It is the day I celebrate the birth of the most important human being in my life, my husband Dan.

It is also the day I mourn the single most influential person in my life: my mother, who went Home on my husband's birthday.

Ever since 2004, September 7 has been full of conflict in my heart. I celebrate his presence and mourn her absence, which is the truest reality of ALL our lives as we live each day "in between."

On any given day, we ride the spectrum between highs and lows, joy and sorrow, dancing and mourning. I choose to face the September 7s of my life as a reminder of God's fulfilled promise in Isaiah 61:3, when He replaces despair with praise, mourning with joyous blessings, and ashes with crowns of beauty.

Happy Homecoming anniversary to my mom, and happy birthday to my best friend! Thank you both for giving me the best reminder of God's goodness.

God, thank You for the gifts of September 7!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Finding My Voice

Two nights ago, on the way home from youth group at church, Katie and I were the only ones in the car. We played our favorite worship songs and held a private concert for each other.

Katie knows I'm insecure about my singing voice. After one of the songs she said to me, "Mom, you are a really great singer. You don't think you are, but I love when you hit the high notes and sing!"

I wanted to remind her of the times I've been told I howl like a hound or the time when a recording artist stood beside me in church and told me I was *way* out of my range. But I didn't, because my 13-year-old daughter didn't need to hear reinforcement about my shortcomings.

She thinks I am a lovely singer, so it must be true. Right?

The truth is I don't have a spectacular voice, but I am very good at mimicking other singers. I have an ear for subtlety, and can hear the nuances of melody or the beat hidden behind the tempo. The drawback is I am musically uneducated, so I can't explain what I hear in language that someone else or a musician would understand. But I know how to copy someone else's style pretty darn well, thankyouverymuch.

The problem with this is that being a "mimicker" means I silence my own original voice or, worse, regurgitate someone else's voice instead of the voice of my life: the Voice of my Creator.

I don't want to be a mouthpiece for anyone else but Him. I want my words to echo His voice. I want to sing songs that sound like Him. I want to drink so deeply from his well that my breath smells like His refreshment.

It's a constant refinement process, making sure I'm keeping my eyes on my Master and following His lead. Especially when I'm scared of failing or looking like a fool.

Yesterday, I faced a BIG fear of mine. I went public with my website (www.HisEchoes.com) and published my first photo devotional.

Yes, these are the same photo devotionals I dreamed of turning into a book when I went to the She Speaks conference in 2015. Only now, the "book" isn't printed on paper you can keep on your nightstand or tuck in your backpack. It lives on the interwebs, and I'm pretty ecstatic with the work my friend Ashley did to make the website a reality.

The website is a huge part of me finding my voice. It's a line drawn in the sand, marking the spot where I stop singing like other people and echo what my Father speaks to me.

If I'm going to mimic anyone, let it be Him!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Skin Color and Shame

Last Friday was the end of a week where the news was all about two black men killed by police in separate cities. It was also the day after five Dallas police officers were killed during a protest of those shootings.

I was skimming Facebook and saw the first seconds of a video about how to act when a police officer pulls you over. It was Coffey Anderson, a black man, giving the information in the video. The video has since gone viral; it's likely you already saw it.

When Jackson saw it, he made a joke and said, "Everyone knows how to do that!"

So I reminded Jackson that he has white skin and probably doesn't have to fear what might happen if he were to ever be pulled over, while some people with darker skin might.

The only thing I've ever feared is paying a fine or the chance of increased insurance rates.

I explained some neighborhoods aren't as safe as ours and sometimes people are told not to trust police. And sometimes police get so overwhelmed by their jobs they turn to violence and hurt people. I told him how two men were killed this week and someone else turned their gun on police.

I told Jackson we live in a neighborhood where we aren't afraid and feel safe, but not everyone feels safe in their towns. Some people with darker skin are afraid or dislike people with lighter skin because that's all they've ever known or been told to do. And some people with lighter skin are afraid or dislike people with darker skin because that's all they've ever known or been told to do.

That's when Jackson responded, "I wish I wasn't part of a skin color that does bad things to other skin colors."

My breath caught in my throat.

I explained he should never be ashamed about the way God made him. God gave him a specific eye color and hair color and skin color, and we won't be ashamed about that; no one should ever be ashamed about that!

I went on to tell him, "If you wish people with other skin colors didn't feel so afraid, then make them your friends. Be the reason they aren't scared of white skin!" We can help each other learn and help each other have courage.

And then I had to walk into a different room to cry.

We think our kids are oblivious to what's been happening in our country from Ferguson to Baton Rouge, and I've personally tried to shield mine from the harder horrors. This conversation with Jackson helped me realize we - collectively, WE as in all of us - can't change what's happening if we don't start talking about it. And we need to start talking about it early, even at my son's young age of nine.

I barely know how to parent on a good day, when we're facing sibling spats and chore accountability. Throw in the biggies like sexting, online bullying, addictions, porn, human trafficking, sexual ambiguity, the war on ISIS, Trump vs. Clinton, and race relations (just to name a few), and I feel downright overwhelmed.

How on earth do I parent through the things facing Katie and Jackson? I have no idea what I'm doing and I'm pretty sure I'm royally messing things up.

But when my son tells me he's ashamed of his skin color, I know it's time to dig in deep.

God, help me be a parent who can talk through the hard stuff and lean on You through all my inadequacies. Remind me that staying silent is worse than my bumbling attempts at honest and grace-filled conversations. Please put wise friends and family in my and my kids' lives - people who can help me navigate parenting and also give my children counsel when I don't know how. Give me courage to speak up, speak truth, and ask questions - even when I run the risk of asking stupid questions and looking like an ignorant bumpkin. Thank You for modeling humility and sacrificial love by sending Your Son, Jesus, to pardon all of our messes. Please take my messes, including the parenting ones, and make a masterpiece of them. Amen!

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