ending and beginning.

Have you ever had that sense, deep within, that a soft, yet strong wind is beginning to blow in a different direction? It’s like there’s a feeling inside of you that something is shifting, getting ready to alter your path. Not a full 180 turn, just a slight right, pointing your focus and intent and passion to its new course, its new place to grow and give and serve.

For me, that shift began in April at the ETC Conference. I had this gut conviction and invitation to live differently, both in my home and in my world outside of my home. At first, I knew this was mostly about my daughter – about being with her and for her, mentoring her, enjoying her. Not because I hadn’t been, but because I wanted to…more. See, she starts Kindergarten in one month, which means life as I know it with her, with my first born, will come to a close. I want to end the “at home” years with a bang, with gratitude, with presence. And so, we will make an extravagant bucket list for the month of August, one that I know will consist of all things girl-y and princess-y and eating out and silliness and feeling special and everything-we-can’t-do-with-a-toddler-brother. We’re both pretty pumped.

This swirling inside me kept moving and evolving. There was more to come, to change. And then there was this moment when my spirit felt this release, this permission, to take a pause from working for a while. A break that would allow my spirit to rest and refresh from “giving” as a counselor. And in that moment, I just knew that this was part of the next curve, the addition to the next season. And it felt right. Perfectly right.

As a counselor, you offer yourself, your entire presence, to others, for others. (Hmmm…maybe I should write a book on this!) For the past 10 years, the counseling space has taught me how to listen to the voice and story and heart of others in a way that allows people to feel heard and seen and known. I’ve loved this. I’ve felt so honored to “hold” the stories and tension and conflict and deep hearts of people, with them, and then speak truth into the vulnerable places and remind them of who they are. It’s taught me how to receive someone’s trust. It’s taught me how to trust…to believe in another person’s capability, in their goodness. What a profound gift! Yet, as a mom of two little ones spending my days giving, giving, giving, at times it has felt weighty, almost like I’m giving too much to too many people, and there’s only so much one can give before they lose their best self and then those closest to them suffer. And so, it feels like the right time to let go of serving people, in this way, at least for now. It feels like I’ve received an invitation from above to let go and release my role in that protected and special space. It’s a hard decision. It’s hard to step away from offering myself in this way, and to be totally honest, to relinquish being needed and valued in this way. (It always feels good to be needed and valued, right?) But as my story has historically written itself out, the hardest decisions have always become the best decisions – for me, for those close to me – and in some mysterious and profound way, has drawn me closer to God’s heart. Actually, I think it’s always been about the process of listening and discerning and trusting more than the actual decision. Grateful for these opportunities to grow and transform and lean…on Him.

So today, I’ll enter that sacred space one more time, offering who I am, listening to the human heart, inviting it to become familiar with the voice within, the voice above, inviting it to believe in what it was created for…more wholeness, more freedom, more hope, more life…and then what it means and looks like to offer that kind of self to the relationships around them. And, like every other week, I’ll walk away feeling blown away and humbled by how God uses that space…for them, for me, for Him.

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And then I’ll play…with her.

And then I’ll write…and offer my words and heart and story in new ways.

And then I’ll speak…and offer my voice to a different world, a different set of ears.

And then I’ll trust…that He who began a good work in me will continue to guide me and use me and change me and blanket me with his love and protection and grace.

Here we go. Can. Not. Wait.

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to create.

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There are a few things I love, a few things I get really pumped and passionate and even precise about: people, words, food, the human heart. I love to indulge in all of these, and had for many years, left it up to others to bring these essential things to my life.

Until I needed them.

Until I was desperate for them.

Until the belief in myself that I could actually find and create and cultivate these things in my life was birthed.

I’m still discovering my capability, but I’m learning, I’m leaning…into all of these things. And it’s good. So, so, good. My ability to love and write and cook and listen…they’re growing. Some of it comes from looking deep within at the soulful places, some of it comes from allowing my heart to soar and shine.

We were created to create, to express God’s beauty and glory and heart to the world. It’s one of the ways that we image him. That thing we create, that stunningly beautiful and needed thing is something unique and distinct that rises out from the core of our being.

But, we have to find it. We have to tap into it. We have to feel it. We have to believe in it.

No…we don’t have to. We get to.

We get to express who we are, what we find meaningful and moving and valuable…and find a way to express that to the world – as a gift, not out of duty or obligation. It’s then when we can offer that thing without needing approval or acceptance or praise. It’s then when we know that we were created for something more than meeting other people’s expectations. It’s then when it becomes a free expression of the work God has done in us, and called out of us. It’s then when the sacrifice that goes into creating that thing becomes an act of love.

For the past 10 years, the place that I’ve had the opportunity to “create” has been in a counseling space. Me sitting with one or two other people for an hour at a time. It’s sacred. It’s healing. For them. For me. I’ve had this profound invitation to step into other people’s lives and join them right where they’re at…in their ache and disappointment and fragility and fear, in their questions and doubts and despair and longing, in their learning and stretching and moving and becoming…more of who they are, more of who they were created to be. It’s taken a lot of practice to learn how to listen, really listen, to not only their words and ideas and assumptions and hurt, but to their heart. And then, together, navigate through the murky, hidden, unknown and shameful places…and find light, truth, clarity, healing, freedom…Jesus. Ahhhh! It blows me away that this is my job. It blows me away how God initiates and restores and reconciles and redeems in that space, and how I get to play a role in the process. It’s holy ground and I’m so, so grateful to serve the men and women I meet with in this unique way.

It just so happens that my “artistic form” has been creating a space for the human heart to be heard and affirmed and expressed. But, isn’t that what all art does? Invite the human heart to feel and show itself and tell its story? Well then, can’t we all be artists? Aren’t we all capable of inviting out the very place that true art comes from? So maybe, the process of creating our own unique art, and allowing others and ourselves to become a part of it, could actually transform each person – the maker and the consumer.

May you know how good and valuable and capable and loveable you are, your heart is. And then, find ways to splash and scatter and swipe and mold and paste and sing and strum what’s inside you…to the world.

NOTE: Photograph by Sarah Carter, a true creator and artist. You can find her unique work here. She was a guest on this blog back in November during National Adoption Month, sharing about her “waiting heart.”

what was. what is. what is to come.

house6-13 001(2) It’s been five years since our first child entered our home, our world, our hearts. So much has changed – some expected, some surprising. There have been thrilling changes. There have been hard changes. Sometimes I find myself wondering who I am, who I’ve become. There are days that I feel as if I’ve completely lost who I was – the really good parts, the really desirable parts – since I’ve become a mom. I haven’t always wanted to let go of the roles or groups or schedules or activities or people who I was connected to, before kids.

But, I have. I’ve had to.

For me. For her.

It’s been easy to ruminate about what “was” and what “isn’t.” It’s felt natural to focus on the loss, what I didn’t want to let go of. But I’m learning, there is just as much good in what “is”…unfolding, developing, maturing…around me, in me. I want to be here, in this moment and in this season.

Change…it certainly is life-changing.

I have some friends who just had a baby – change that impacts the way they view human life and the beauty and brokenness of the world.

I have a friend whose divorce just finalized – change that impacts her role and identity and security.

I have a friend who just found out his wife has cancer – change that impacts every thought of love and companionship and his future.

I have friends whose sister-in-law just passed away – change that impacts each family member and how they step into the world and experience hope and despair, suffering and redemption.

I have a friend who just moved to a different job, a new state – change that impacts friendships and family and finances.

I have a friend whose father is remarrying two years after her mom passed away – change that impacts family dynamics and rules and rituals.

I have a friend who just adopted a child from China – change that impacts the rhythm of the home, marriage, children.

Each person, each scenario initiates finding and defining a new self – who they are in the reality of their new world. It will most likely, at times, feel uncertain and scary and hard. They might even try to grasp at the past, fighting to keep what they’ve known, resisting the new invitation and role and responsibility and tension. But what I’ve found, is that resistance only leads to suffering. It’s in the accepting that brings freedom and perspective and hope…that something fresh and good and purposeful can be birthed.

Maybe change isn’t as much about losing yourself, who you were, as it is about redefining yourself, who you are – taking all that you had become and allowing it to blend in with who you are becoming…a wiser, more compassionate, more mature, more secure, more alive, more whole self.

God’s in the business of recycling and re-purposing…because there’s a bigger, better story he’s writing – a story that needs all of who we are to show up – the parts that we’ve lost, the parts that we’re finding.

Let’s be the kind of people who give ourselves permission to release who we once were so that we are able to receive what’s right in front of us.

Let’s be the kind of people who remember where we’ve been and allow that to be a part of remaking who we are…now, in this moment.

Change…may it call out the best parts.

a grandma…in waiting.

Let me introduce you to Linda Lyzenga. She’s a friend, a mentor, a kindred spirit. I love the courage she possesses…to find more of herself, more of others, more of God. This is such a sweet post. I love that she is allowing the process of becoming a grandma to call out her deep heart, the best parts of who she is. Grateful for how she is choosing to step into her role, now AND when the baby comes, with grace and understanding and intention and acceptance. What a gift she will be to this baby. I’m confident that she will be a grandma who delights in her, nurtures her, reminds her of how good she is…even if it is from afar.

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Congratulations are in order! I’m going to be a grandma. Every where I go these days I see young moms with babies and I want to peek at each little one and then share the good news – I’m going to be a grandma. I am the expectant one. Anticipation is high. They’re going to have a baby girl in April. I can hardly wait; other grandmas that I know say there’s nothing like it. Oh, just wait, they say. Lucky you! First one? You’re going to love it!! *Sigh* Did I say that I’m going to be a grandma? Congratulate me!

Now tell me how to navigate being a long distance grandma. I don’t want to be a long distance grandma. I don’t want to be thought of as the grandma who lives far away. I want to be a grandma that’s available at the drop of a hat. I want to take care of baby girl when her mommy has to go back to work. I want to be there for all those monumental firsts. I want to experience… I want… I want… Oh, I sound like a two-year-old. There are moments some day’s of an almost desperate sense of separation – of longing, loss and loneliness.

Most days I’m fine. It’s not like they moved away yesterday. It’s over ten years ago that younger daughter left home for her great adventure. Off she went – leaving all that was familiar here in Western Michigan to go to a university in Southern California. I thought she’d be back. But then, she got the job; and then, she met the guy. They’ve been married over five years now.

When her sister flew the coup to make a fresh start in Northern Florida, I was left decidedly as an empty nester. I couldn’t be more proud of both my girls. I’m truly happy for the life that is theirs. My girls are not coming home. They both live far, far away. People often say, “That must be hard.” Some days I must admit – it IS hard. Most days, though, there is a special grace that soothes my heart. On any given day when I miss them, I think of how we’ve been able to keep in touch. In fact, is it possible that we’re closer now than we ever were? When the geographical distance seems too great, I imagine how it was when children from past generations left home – never to be seen again after having moved to places far and away. Long distance telephone calls were reserved for strict emergencies. Other communication was relegated to snail mail – a delivery of old news. Today there’s ease in communication with free minutes and cell phones. Email. Facebook. Skype. Packages sent UPS. Special little notes sent in the mail. We’ve had a really good track record of cross country trips and have found a good rhythm of making it work. For this I’m beyond grateful!

But now that I’m going to be a grandma something has shifted in my perspective. Self compassion and self awareness invite me to process why I’m feeling deprived and despairing when this grandchild hasn’t even arrived on the scene yet.

What’s going on?

It’s the anticipated face to face moments that I’ll miss out on. The hoped for shared experiences that simply will not be. Precious memories with that teeny tiny new born seem to be waiting in some kind of vacuum.

More than that, I realize that it’s the fear of not being known – of being missed.

With this realization distilled and clarified, I realize that I have a choice. I can choose to view this new relationship from a vacant place of distance and scarcity of intimate face to face time. Or, I can choose to step into my new role from a place of abundance and gratitude.

With generosity and creativity I can be known as a loving grandma – fully present; engaging – even from a distance – with intention and creativity.

Celebrate with me – I’m going to be a grandma!

Linda is passionate about wholeness and healing and finds her sweet spot in the role of Spiritual Director. Married with two adult daughters, who have flown the coup – far from Western Michigan where they grew up, she’s home alone with her husband of 39 years. Though a life long learner, Linda never had opportunity to go to college until recently and is now working on getting her Associate Degree with hopes to finish it before her husband retires next year and they take off – visiting their kids and exploring the country in their RV. Meanwhile, she enjoys yoga, baking, reading, writing, and hiking. You can know more about Linda through her blog.

finding him. finding her. finding us.

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He strolled down the school halls like he owned the school. His dark brown hair, wavy mullet to follow, gave the perfect “I am too sexy” look. My eyes were drawn to those black, denim pegged pants, thinking he was the coolest male ever. He was the rebel, the joker, the teaser, the pleaser. And there I was, the new girl, the home-schooled girl, the girl in mauve glasses carrying her flute and wearing her matching navy blue and green whale sweater and turtleneck.

cdwed 001pic 20He flirted with me.

I giggled.

He smiled at me.

I thought he liked me.

He didn’t like me back.

So, I became friends with his sister.

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A decade later, we started dating.

Four and half years later, we got married.

Nine years later, we’re still saying, “I DO.”

We laugh, we play, we cuddle, we talk, we fight, we shut down, we retreat, we apologize, we forgive, we repair, we soften…and then we do it all over again and again and again.

We’ve worked hard. We’re still working. We’re still learning. We’re still discovering…ourselves, one another, what we signed up for.

When we started this, when we started, “ us,” we had no clue what really came with, “I DO.” No clue at all.

Choosing a mate can be exciting and daunting, exhilarating and scary. For many of us, we have this deep desire to spend the rest of our lives with someone – someone who we get to share our entire life with. I mean seriously, the benefits are amazing – companionship, intimacy, fun, protection, advocacy, love, belonging. The list could go on forever! Yet, we all know the statistics on divorce, the breakdowns, the fractures, the splits. We get it. Staying together in this world, this culture, it’s hard. Really hard. When we say, “I DO,” we don’t ever think it’s going to be us. We don’t ever want to be one of those statistics. We don’t ever want to be the main character on the next Bachelor/Bachelorette show because our love didn’t make it.

So, how do we choose? Well?

To stay connected, we have to know how to connect.

To experience trust, we have to know how to cultivate trust.

To offer love, we have had to feel loved.

To work through the disappointment, we’ve had to learn what to do with it.

To find a mate, we have to have found ourselves.

The dopamine only lasts for a certain amount of time. Yes, the “commitment” hormones kick in, but we have to choose to do the work.

I hope you have practice choosing…connection, respect, trust, love, forgiveness, humility, integrity, sacrifice, grace, perseverance.

I hope you know who you are – the good parts, the hard parts.

I hope you know who God says you are.

And then, have the practice of offering who you are to the world.

Because then, I think you’ll know when that same kind of person steps into your world.

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Celebrating the love within you, around you, how it shines through you.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

entering in.

So happy to introduce to you Tona Ottinger, an adoptive mama, an adoption advocate, a woman who seeks the beauty and hope in the world around her. I met her in my ever growing circle of adoption and have grown to love her heart for Jesus and her heart for what it means to parent the heart of her children. I’m confident you will be encouraged and inspired by what she has to share about “entering in” to the brokenness and beauty of story.

I like happy endings and packages wrapped in pretty bows. I like predictability and I grapple for control. I avoid pain whenever possible, trying instead to look on the bright side and think the best of everyone and all situations.

But that is not life. That is not relationships and it is certainly not reality. It is not living in the moment. When I choose to live in the moment, my heart is pushed to be honest. I am faced with a fallen and broken world, with shattered hopes and hurting people. I am forced to see the fractured pieces of lives affected by sin, evil, and suffering, including my own. The present is where my feelings are and where I should live. It is also where I hear the voice of the Lord and experience His presence and His peace that truly does surpass all understanding. He speaks, reveals, heals, and redeems in the present moment.

When we live in the moment, we are open and vulnerable to both pain and healing, to both fear and peace, to both sadness and joy, and to both loss and hope. When I focus too much on the past I get stuck. When I long too much for the future I am either paralyzed with fear of the unknown or lost in fairytale day dreaming about all the possible “what ifs.” But, I am not living with the joy and freedom of being present.

As a mom of four precious children through the gift of adoption, I have come to see that my children live in the present. Yes, they are affected greatly by the reality of their past and the loss, pain, and fear that weaves its hand through their stories. They are often very fearful of the future, but the healing they so desperately need happens moment by moment as we walk throughout our days. They are living and healing inthe moment.

They are longing for someone to cling to. Someone to trust. Someone to put their hope in and someone who will love them unconditionally, ultimately as Christ loves us. This is a tall order for a weak and fallen human to fulfill. I fail often. I make mistakes, and I am far from perfect. So I cling to His lavish grace. I need the same things they need from Him. So we are on a journey together. But that journey is lived taking one step as a time in the present moment. Where we all need grace, healing, trust, and compassion from our heavenly Father.

As their mom, I must be willing to enter into their pain and watch God heal and work. As much as I want to control, protect and rescue them, that is not what God has called me to do. That is His job. Please do not misunderstand me; I take very seriously the role that God has ordained for me and my husband within our children’s stories. We have the divine privilege of walking with them on their healing journey. God created the human heart and mind to operate inrelationship. That is where healing and hope reside. But, I cannot force this process and I must cling to Him as I wait.

Henry Nouwen says this about compassion:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

We are all broken and in that brokenness is the place where God’s redemptive hand creates great beauty. There can only be healing where there was pain. Peace can rush into the place that fear once took residence.

As God knits our families together through adoption, we are given a divine invitation to enter into our children’s lives with compassion and hope.

The human heart is sacred ground. There is power in sharing our stories and lives with one another. God created us as beings that are to live in community, with one another. We are, after all, made in Hisimage; the image of a triune God – One God in three persons. Relationship, community, family, life on life; this is how God created us to function. Together.

As an adoptive family we stand amazed that God in his infinite sovereignty searched the globe over and chose the 6 of us to live life together. None of us are related by birth or blood. None of us share an ounce of DNA, but we are a family.

We are a picture of his creative hand.

We are living life together.

We are loving deeply.

We are hoping in Him.

A song that speaks to Tona’s heart: Beautiful Things by Gungor

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Tona Ottinger has been married to Mark for 15 years and they live in Tennessee, where Mark serves as the Pastor to Families at Fellowship Memphis. They have four blessings through adoption. Camden(12yrs) – came home from South Korea at 10 months old. Mia (11yrs) – was adopted domestically at birth. Mallie (9yrs) – was adopted from Hong Kong at the age of 3yrs. Dax (8yrs) – was adopted domestically at 4 months old. They are passionate about special needs adoptions as well as compassionately walking with their children through their stories. Together they head up a city-wide ministry that resources and supports adoptive and foster families, as well as several projects that support the local foster care system. The Ottingers are parent trainers for Empowered to Connect. Tona is passionate about living a hope-filled life of abiding in Christ and being fully known and loved by Him. You can follow Tona on her blog.

 

living wide. awake.

children know how to live awake The annoying beep, the “Wake Up Boo!” song, the iPhone trill, the crying baby…whatever it is your sleeping ears hear in the morning, you know it’s time to wake up, get moving, begin your day. For me, someone who loves her sleep and who is not the least bit a morning person, I dread that time – that time when you don’t choose to wake up, but rather feel forcedto wake up. I long to roll over, keep my eyes shut, curl up my legs, and shut the world out. It feels better that way.

Summertime…getting up is so much easier when the sun is shining, the schedules are more flexible, the obligations are minimal. But, as routines and agendas and deadlines roll around, like they do as the autumn air sweeps in, it can be a bit more challenging, feel a bit more daunting. School has started, homework’s gotten assigned, sports clamor for our attention, music lessons have begun, volunteer projects are calling, and work…the ever demanding daily necessity that brings home the bacon.

Autumn…a time when we’re in full swing; the hustle and bustle that requires organization and order and cooperation by all.

So, how can we step into this season, this autumn, with a sense of groundedness, connectedness (to ourselves and others), and sanity? How can we prevent the million things swirling around us from tempting us to get knocked off our feet and away from those we find most important, most valuable? How can we remain open to finding God, in both the seen and hidden places, where he wants to surprise us with more of himself?

Well, here are some places, some spaces, we could start from:

First, maybe you need to ask yourself, “How much do I want it?” We have to have something alive in us that wants the BEST – for ourselves, for our children, for our partners, for our teammates, for our colleagues, for our friends. I find that many people have lost the belief that living out of their best self is worth pursuing, worth doing. Sometimes, crazy schedules can keep us from having to address what’s inside of us, within our families, between our marriages. It’s kinda like this secret, yet publically acceptable, narcotic that can allow us to keep functioning, yet all the while, numbs us out. And then, we miss out. And, maybe even worse, the world misses out on us. The world needs you. The people around you need you. We don’t want the distracted, exhausted you, we want the alive and vibrant and true you. So, do you want your best self? Do you want othersto experience your best self? Maybe the first step before stepping into your schedule is finding you.

We gotta lay out the calendar. Our world has a lot of good experiences to offer and we have to make choices – choices that will bring out the best in us, in the people around us. Choices that bring value and life to our souls. We have a calendar on our fridge. It helps us visually organize our lives. We start with the most important and non-optional obligations…family time, date nights, guy/girl nights, daddy/mommy time, fun time, and then we fill in the optional options. Our over-arching themes are consistency, fluidity and flexibility – a rhythm that can sustain and complement the family that we are, in this season. As “really good” invitations arrive, like sports and classes and playdates and fun stuff – the extra stuff – we look at our week and month and make an effort to discern which additions would potentially disrupt our rhythm, and which additions are doable because it could enhance our short-term and long-term well being. We have to (get to) make choices of what to step into, commit to, based on our needs and abilities.

Have you ever thought about asking God what he wants to do in you each season, each semester, each year? I deeply believe that he longs for our spirit to be at rest. He didn’t create us to be machines, the energizer bunny, or people who jump through hoops trying to make everyone happy. He designed us with strengths and gifts to offer the world his love, through us, not to run ourselves ragged in an attempt to be the “good” Christian, the perfect parent, the over-achiever. He wants us to lean into our lives in ways that we can know more of him and in ways that allow us to be known byhim. Living stressed and over-committed and anxious will only move us away from our original design.

So, step back, get perspective, and take some time to evaluate you, your schedule, your ability. For some, living God’s best may mean stepping away from some really good and fun and stimulating opportunities. For others, it may mean stepping intoopportunities that will engage you in what’s good and fun and stimulating. Whichever way you choose to move, may it be in a way that allows you to live your life fully awake, so when your alarm goes off in the morning, you can trust that what you’ve committed to or signed up for is worth doing, and worth doing well.

Life…it’s not something we have to do, but get to experience.

“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. ”  (Henry David Thoreau)

A little reminder from Pure Michigan