trust.

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I just returned from a little trip to Dallas, a little Tex-Mex food, a little speaking, a little fun with friends, and a whole lot of vulnerability practice. Loved it all. (Well, maybe not the crying in front of hundreds of people part.) It was worth it. It was worth finding more of myself so that I could offer more of myself to the gracious audience at the Tapestry Conference – a ministry and team who I have developed such a respect and admiration for the ways in which they are serving the adoption and foster care world. I want to live by them, laugh with them and enjoy them EVERY day! I continue to find healing by being in relationship with them. Deeply grateful for the opportunity to be hosted by such fine Texans, both this year and last.

This time when I spoke, I revealed all the ways and reasons why it’s really hard for an adopted person to trust…people, God. I shared how awful it feels when people leave, fall passive – physically and/or emotionally. And then, how when that happens, the human heart is left fearful of people and wandering – by itself, unprotected and without direction. How does/why would, a heart trust when it begins believing so early that it needs to navigate life and relationships and its feelings…alone?

How does a heart learn how to sink and soar when it has no place, no one, to explore from and return to?

And then, because you can’t leave hundreds of people in despair during a keynote, I shifted my focus from sharing all the ways that I had labored so hard in order to not need people, to how it was only in my awakening to the reality that I actually needed Jesus more than people when my process of learning to trust could begin.

The lies I’ve believed are being named.

The truth of how God sees me is being heard.

The veils my heart have worn for so long are being removed.

And then compassion…God’s compassion, his “rachum.” Oh, how it’s pouring over me. Oh, how it’s beginning to settle in me. The kind of compassion that was designed to flow like a mother’s love to her baby, in the womb – the very space a child is most vulnerable. That’s what I’ve needed. That’s what I’ve longed for. That’s what we all were created for – to be loved like that. To sit in that tender space that rests between us and God…and receive…perfect love, the kind of love that drives out fear. To allow a holy and sacred exchange to happen…of giving, of receiving…so that trust can emerge. And then, offer that kind of space in our relationships, with one another, to our children.

Trust begins with a holy and sacred exchange.

Parents – we need you. We need honest, vulnerable, forgiving, restorative relationships where our healing has a place to work itself out. You are the people I believe God is calling to be a part of your children’s healing. God will do his part. All you have to focus on is your part. And here’s your part…practice entering into the tender and intimate space that God has created between you and him. Practice spending time with your advocate. Practice listening to what he is whispering to you, what he is speaking over you. Practice spending time without your veils. Practice being loved, so that you can be love. Allow the holy and sacred exchange to happen. And in doing so, I believe that in that space, you will begin understanding what trust truly is. And then, because you know what that space feels like and because you know how good it feels there, you will begin realizing that perhaps trust is nothing that can be proven or earned. It’s only something that will happen when a space is created for love to be experienced. And then, create that kind of space for your children, invite them in. Show them how loved they are. Maybe as our children witness our belief, our trust in God, it could pave the pathway for their belief, their trust, to form and deepen with that kind of God, in that kind of love.

Maybe all of this good movement forward, this progression in the parent-child world, is directly related to the extent in which we as the parents, we as the advocates, allow ourselves to be on a healing journey too. We get to model God’s love – how deep and wide it is – and the mystery and beauty that he is, and who we need, to experience trust.

Maybe, trust transforms. All of us.

You create the space. Let God do the healing.

With much love and gratitude for not only the ways you are “listening” to your children, but also “leaning in.”

 

I DO x 10.

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October 3, 2013

Dear Lover (said in the very best SNL “hot tub lovers” accent),

Ten years ago today we walked down that aisle, ready for commitment and companionship, intimacy and trust. We held hands and kissed and said, “I DO.” We believed that God had brought us together – that wild, rebellious, adventurous guy and that independent, sweet, obedient girl – who defied the culture around us and dated and waited well through our late twenties. We felt mature. We felt ready. We were happy. We were about to take a leap into marriage bliss, into our future, into forever, together. That day, our day, was unique and classy and beautiful. Nothing extravagant, just simple and meaningful. Just perfectly us.

And here we are, a decade later, still together – still skipping and fumbling and wandering and wondering, still learning to cherish and honor, still learning to fall…in love. We haven’t “arrived.” We’re still traveling. I’m so, so grateful for how our love story keeps moving and shifting and becoming…truer, deeper, wider.

Here’s what I know today, that I didn’t know 3,650 days ago:

I know a lot more about what comes with commitment. It’s in the “staying” – when hot, angry words fly around, when wrong and reactive responses come spewing out, when a cold shoulder gets shoved in a face, when the heart shuts off and takes a hike, when money and property and home-owning don’t go as planned, when romance and adventure fizzle and flop, when negative family patterns and personalities flare up, when ideas and ideals get squashed, when children call out the worst in you. These are the war zones, where the battles take place, when we want to quit. They’re brutal. They’re ugly. We’ve stepped on some killer land mines. Yet, we’re here. We both keep showing up. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes God only knows how we’ve made it back to one other. But we did. We’ve stayed.

I know a lot more about what comes with companionship. It’s in the “playing” – together, and with others. Something really good happens when we take the time to be alone, to be adults, to be friends. We’ve always talked and listened and processed – in the car, on the phone, in restaurants, in the living room, on vacations. We talk about what matters and what doesn’t matter. We keep making each other laugh…hard. We explore and discover, we re-visit and reminisce. Your “bads” are my “goods.” My “goods” are your “bads.” You introduce me to your world of boats and beer and wide open country – of peace. I introduce you to my world of mindfulness and moscato and big cities – of adventure. And then we invite others into our world – people who laugh with us (maybe at us) and play with us and who feel comfortable with us. We’re totally “people” people who love to laugh and eat and play. These have remained essentials in our marriage.

I know a lot more about what comes with intimacy. It’s in the “sharing” – openly, honestly, graciously. We were both intellectually reflective people back in the beginning, but neither of us knew much about what it really meant to connect, emotionally. Neither of us had many positive, lasting experiences being vulnerable, with ourselves, with others. This didn’t set us up well. But I’ve been learning…what it means to put your whole self on the table and allow it to be heard, received, pushed back on, embraced. I’m learning what it means to get mad and sad and scared, what it means to soar. And then, what to do with all of that, how to “be” with all of that, how to respond to all of that. I’m learning to see more of what’s inside me. I’m learning to see more of what’s inside you. Sometimes I might not like what I see, but I’m wanting, I’m choosing, to see the remarkable and the perfectly OK parts…in both of us – with openness, with honesty, with grace.

I know a lot more about what comes with trust. It’s in the “believing” – in one another’s goodness. It’s easy to think someone’s trustworthy when the endorphins rage and the romance stays. But, now we know how easily the endorphins fade and the romance can drift away. I (kind of) thought I trusted people, especially you, wholeheartedly. Winds up I didn’t. Now I know, I trusted mostly myself. Winds up that doesn’t work, at least in marriage. Somewhere I learned that someone is trustworthy only if they never hurt you. Which means, somewhere I learned that people aren’t human. But, they are. You are. I am. We’re learning what it means to repair the ruptures, start over, re-do – with respect, with acceptance, with forgiveness. We’re learning how to be human, together. We’re learning this new of way of believing…in one another.

So I guess that over the past ten years, I’ve been learning what you sign up for when you say, “I DO.” It’s not about getting hitched and wearing some bling and building a house and growing onions and cranking out darling Korean/Norwegian babies. It’s not about the picture of the perfectly posed wedding couple, smiling, admiring one another. It’s about what’s IN them – in us – and how God wants to use what’s happened BEHIND each of us to create something redemptive THROUGH us, together, FORWARDS. It’s about building and breaking and re-building. It’s about staying and playing and sharing and believing. It’s about love – learning what it means and feels like and looks like from above. And then, offering that kind of love in ways that free you, free me, so that we can create something sacred and true, together, that gives an even a fuller picture of LOVE himself…to one another, to the world.

I’m quite certain, that’s what we signed up for that day. Let’s keep leaning and living into THAT love story!

I’m in this, with you.

Happy I DO x 10, Baby!

I love you…still…always.

With much love and gratitude for where we are, right now…

Carissa

PS – I still love that I married someone with big eyes for my babies!

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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!

oh, how he loves…ALL of us.

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“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

It’s a song many of us sang throughout our childhood. The words come easily, the tune, naturally. We sang it. We believed it. We believed that Jesus loved everyone. But, did we learn to love everyone? Did we practice loving everyone? Do we? Now?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 84 this year. Many Americans and non-Americans remember his “I Have a Dream” speech. These words come easily. Yet, the courage and acceptance that is needed to live out his anthem, doesn’t always come naturally.

When I read his speech through more grown up eyes and ears and mind and heart, the phrases and words stand out to me in different ways, new ways, simpler ways.

This is a speech about a person’s dignity, not just about a person’s skin color.

This is a speech about a person’s well being, not just about sharing a meal together or holding hands.

This is a speech about a person’s soul, not just about fighting for equal rights.

This is a speech about having the opportunity to bring forth life…in us, in a nation.

This is a speech about what God dreams for his world.

Dr. King’s speech was profound and stunning and inspiring and dramatic in its day, but there’s something even more profound and stunning and inspiring and dramatic in his speech for us, today.

We live in a time where seemingly there is more fear and insecurity and shame and pride and anger and despair and suffering than ever. “Slavery” was supposed to have ended in 1965, right? So why do so many people today still feel enslaved, held back, unseen, dismissed, discriminated against, judged? For some, yes, their reach for freedom is thwarted by institutional power and policies, but really, when it comes down to it, aren’t these feelings perpetuated, knowingly and unknowingly, by people – their words, their jokes, their smirks, their bumper stickers, their t-shirt logos, their Facebook posts, their sermons, their handbook rules?

Our values, our beliefs, our faith…they pour out of us, sometimes without even a thought or intent. We live in a nation that is “for” freedom and justice. Yet, our actions often times send the opposite message. We want people to value what we value, believe what we believe, be what we want them to be. Life would sure feel easier if they did. But, that’s not real life. We aren’t all alike. We all step into this world from different places, stories that have shaped us and made us who we are today. There are so many categories we put people in, are put in. They keep us separate, distant, disconnected. Boxes and categories and labels don’t produce freedom. They don’t sustain justice. They don’t create together-ness. They don’t promote equality.

So, we have a choice. We have a responsibility. We have an opportunity…to love…everyone.

May we feel a sense of “urgency” in our own homes, in our own towns, in our own country, to create in our own small ways, an environment, a space where people feel welcome, seen, heard, accepted, free…free to walk with dignity and goodness.

May we “refuse to believe” that bitterness or hatred or violence is a means to a just end.

May we face the injustice and unrighteousness and wickedness with “soul force.”

May we have the “discipline” to fight for people’s well being and humanity.

May we come to believe that “…their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And…that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

May we, “not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

May we, “…be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together knowing that we will be free one day.”

Because, “…if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

No matter what skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, income or weight…“all men and woman are created equal.”

Jesus loves all the children of the world.

Note: Words and phrases in quotations come directly from Dr. King’s speech.

You can read Dr. King’s speech here.

You can read 2 other racism-related posts here and here.

 

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.

 

on adoption…

Adoption November…national adoption month.

November…a month that recognizes and honors ALL the stories, ALL the people, connected to adoption.

I’m excited to have two guest bloggers this month share their journey in the adoption process, how this process has and is transforming who they are, and one friend who will give some really helpful and profound insight into understanding God’s voice and intention to what it means to “care for the orphan.”

Also, during the month of October, I had some beautiful adoptive moms read, Before You Were Mine – a book that my coauthor and I wrote a few years back. They have all written reviews of the book that I look forward to sharing with you in an attempt to help other parents capture their children’s birth stories in a Lifebook in honest and creative and intentional ways. I’m grateful for how these women were open to understanding the gift a Lifebook can be for their children in remembering where they’ve come from, the road they’ve traveled to get to their home, their “forever” family. I’m humbled by the way God allowed the message of the book to really soak in.

So, however you are connected to adoption, may you continue to step towards those lives in affirming ways, reminding adoptees of who they are…wanted, needed, loved, worth fighting for.

Adoptees…may you be reminded of how deep and wide the love of God pierces to your innermost soul. May you know how much you matter and the amazing gift you are to those around you, to this world.

Adoptive parents…may you be reminded of how capable you are to nurture and nourish the hearts and minds and bodies of the children you have invited into your home. May God continue to equip and empower you as you lean on him and as you allow the process of adoption to heal the deep parts of you, the deep hearts of your children.

Our stories – the beauty and the brokenness…they are meant to be shared and honored and redeemed, bearing witness to how good God is.

“Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray

 

racism: part 1

The way we look…it’s so hard not to judge, be critical of, what we look like. It’s like we have this sense, this feeling, deep down, that what we image to the world isn’t good enough. Our hair and eyes and nose and lips, our arms and waist and legs and hips…they’re all created in the image of God, right? Then why, why, why do we forever spend time wishing they clung to our bodies differently, more beautifully, like the ones we see behind storefront glass and billboards and TV? Is there someone somewhere with the ultimate body and skin type and height out there, or up there, sending us subliminal messages about who’s in and who’s out?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had people ask me, “What are you?” Weird. Awkward. Rude. Ignorant? I always knew that what they were searching for is to know what ethnicity my features reflected. So, I would always respond with, “I’m Korean.” I’ll totally admit that there were a few feisty times that I responded with, “What are you? I’m a person, a girl.” I loved catching people off guard. The random comments continued as people willingly shared with me how I reminded them of other Asian people and told me which of my features mirrored the Japanese, Chinese or Koreans. And then, there was that one time, when someone I had just met asked me if I knew a Korean girl in Michigan, and as I naively tried to connect how I knew her, he said, “Oh, I just thought that you would know her because she’s Korean too.” Seriously…that happened. And then, I have lots of stories about people assuming that I know karate or kung fu and telling me what good English I speak. I’ve always thanked them and let them know I’ve been working on it for 30+ years. And then, there have been those shocking times when good intentioned people have said, “Well, at least you’re not full blown Korean.” I guess to look more Asian would be a bad thing.

It’s been tiring to have people question and comment on and evaluate my appearance…all because I look different than they do.

Funny how we live in a country that’s so interested, so naïve, and in some places, so homogeneous that we think a person of color is so rare that we would feel the need to ask him/her, “What are you?”

I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve felt hurt, and even angry.

And then, I began learning how America found herself in these shoes. These shiny, better shoes that shouted privilege and power for almost 350 years (Did you know that the first slaves were brought to America in 1619?). For some, knowingly. For others, ignorantly. And, just for the record, I’ve been in these shoes. I’ve misused my privilege, my power. But now, years later, I hope to use my experience, my privilege, my face, my voice…for good.

So, like most growth and change and paradigm shifts, it began with awareness…awareness of what moments with people, with people of color, were significant, were defining, which meant that most likely, I had some emotion attached to that experience.

For me, my first memories of people of color involved experiences like, “Lock your doors. We’re going through the bad part of town.” Or, seeing a black man sitting on a curb, passed out, dirty, poor. Or, seeing an Asian woman aggressively and angrily shouting words that sounded like a mix between Chinese and English to a cook in a kitchen. Or, a Mexican family in the heat of the night all piled on a porch with all their kids running through the streets, unattended and wild. Or, an Arab man with a keffiyeh on his head walking mysteriously through the mall. And, even sometimes, on the TV, on the news, when time after time a person of color is being highlighted for a crime that he may or may not have committed. I remember these moments. My world? It consisted of almost all White people. The people of color I saw were distant, helpless, stuck out, bad.

Images: they’re vivid and piercing and sustaining.

Words: they’re descriptive and powerful and stick.

What was shown to us, what was told to us, what we experienced…it lingers.

What we see, what we say, what we do…it shapes us. It shapes how we view others…”them.”

Did you know that by age 3 there is already an awareness of racial difference? And by age 10, 90% of attitudes towards other ethnicities are set? That’s either a lot of significant emotional experiences with people of color or a few really powerful ones. Whatever way you look at it, the human mind and heart get shaped, deeply, by the experiences we have with people of color. If we’ve had more negative experiences with people of color than positive experiences, we will need other powerful experiences to change the power of those first memories.

For me in my journey, this shift began with listening…listening to stories shared by people of color – their hurt, their suffering, their pain, the misunderstanding, the violence, the injustice, the inequality – and believing them. It’s been reading books like Healing Racism in America by Nathan Rutstein. It’s been watching films like, Ethnic Notions (California Newsreel) and Shadow of Hate (Charles Guggenheim) and Blue Eyed (California Newsreel) and Color of Fear (Stir Fry Productions) and Crash (Paul Haggis). It’s been attending Institutes for Healing Racism. It’s been understanding more of how God calls us to love…everyone, no matter what color skin they may wear. These experiences have all been a part of my awareness, my learning, my recovery…of seeing people as human, not less than human. And, at the same time, hearing my own voice (and God’s voice) tell myself that what I look like is good, is beautiful, is enough. And somehow, in gracious ways, asking for others to see me, my Asian features, as needed, as human.

Perhaps we could start the conversation with, “Who are you?” instead of “What are you?”

So, if you find yourself stepping into a culture that values sameness, may your heart begin to value different-ness. I have this belief, this hope, that stepping into different experiences and crowds and cultures and parts of town could bring us perspective, relationship, love, wholeness…more of Jesus.

Because when I think about Jesus having a dinner party, I’m pretty sure that there would be a place at the table for everyone.

 

life at four. a letter from her mama.

In honor of what makes Mother’s Day so sweet…

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Dear Skyla,

Happy 4th birthday to my favorite little girl. A girl who I delight in, adore, and calls out the best in me. I write this with a deep sense of gratitude for the life God breathes in you and the role I get to play in it. I think back to the years we were trying to conceive and who would have known it would be this good, this honorable, this splendid, this transformative.

Skyla Rae, you’re a girl who grabs onto life with both cautiousness and boldness.You’re a helper and initiator, filled with ideas and intent. You’re simple and straightforward, yet diligently charm my heart with your words and smile and eyes. Your spirit is tender and your mind is sharp. Your love for me melts me. The love I have for you, it changes me. I love all the ways that you remind me of who Jesus is and all the ways that being a mommy to you draws me to him. His wild love for you and the ways you express that love bear witness to how good he is. I feel him chasing after me through you. Stunning.

In the most honest and honoring way, I can say that this year with all its joy and love, has been a really hard year. Whatever “they” say about “the terrible two’s” (and perhaps three’s), I’ve often times found myself swimming in whatever these years are defined by. It’s felt like you’ve been in this process of finding who you are…your charm, your boundaries, your capability, your strength, your endurance, your voice. I have this understanding that the place all this comes from isn’t “bad,” but really, just part of being human…figuring out your place in this world, in our home. But for me, the mama that parents you every day, it can easily feel like determined push back…on every thing. From your clothes and shoes and hair and where the most comfortable place for you to sit on the couch is, to your choice in food and sippy cups and volume on the TV. There is no hesitation whatsoever in telling us what you want or how you feel. Oh, the “good girl” in me feels stretched each time. And then, God reminds me that you’re just learning, that you’re only three, that it’s about how I respond…to your strength, your growing need for autonomy, your figuring out how capable and loveable you are. So, I try to gather myself and breathe, inhale some perspective, and step into each little episode offering what I’ve learned, what I’ve discovered your little spirit needs, and who I’ve become. My mistakes, my imperfections…yup, they’re clearly evident. The ways I can “miss” you, over-correct you, over-compensate…they enter in at any given moment. But my heart for you is to offer you the consistency and structure and nurture and connection that I believe you need, that you were created for. My prayer is to be the kind of mommy that while teaching you about the world, how to step into the world, to also be a place, a person, who you feel safe running to as you offer yourself to the world.

My heart soars when I watch you with your daddy, you’re favorite man. The way you laugh when he “plays rough” is authentic and pure, fearless and sweet. I giggle when I see you come alive with Zane and the sweet little smile I catch you giving him when I look in the rear view mirror. I totally get sucked in to singing and dancing and laughing and hiding and seeking with the two of you. We have so much fun together! You teach him how to talk, splash, draw, brush his teeth, and about Micky Mouse and Curious George…how good each of these things are, how essential each of these things are. You’re learning to share…your toys, your space, your parents, your time. You offer him so much of yourself. You’re the perfect sister for him.

You’ve leaped into this little girl phase with all the energy and life that brought you to three. Your “firsts” of chewing gum, flying in a plane, saying “bye” to diapers, riding the merry-go-round by yourself, visiting the dentist, venturing to the “windy city” and Disney World, taking gymnastic and swimming lessons, navigating your way on the computer, riding a bike, your first sleepover…they all represent the unstoppable growth and the way you represent your exit from being a little toddler to your entrance of being a little girl.

Totally loved.

Utterly adored.

Pure delight.

Here’s to birthday #4…all that has passed, and all that is to come.

Love you girl!

Love, Mommy

A song that helps me remember and honor my mom as I make memories with my little girl“How Could I Ask For More” (Cindy Morgan)

 

panties.

So there are probably a ton of images that come to mind when you see or hear the word, “panties.” Let’s face it, most women (I would argue all women) have different kinds of undergarments. We have the ones we wear when we’re feeling sexy and beautiful and special. Let’s call those panties. And then, there are the other ones – the ones we call our “underwear.” These are what we tend to wear when we just want to feel comfortable and cozy and practical, and perhaps maybe when we’re feeling a bit bloated.  Yup, there are big decisions to make when considering what kind of undergarment to wear.

Well, this is about my panties…

I love that my daughter wants to be like her Mama. Everyday I catch her doing something that I know she caught from me. Sometimes those things are cute and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes it’s a bit scary to see how much I influence her little eyes and ears. I shall keep some of the scary, non-mentionables for later. Come on over and sit on my deck and I’ll tell you the best stories!

The morning was normal. She was two. I was getting dressed for the day in our bedroom. I walked into my closet for a quick, “What shall I wear today?” moment. It was like five seconds later and I turned around and there she was…my little girl frolicking around in my panty drawer. And on her “boom-boom” (feminine/cute word for “derrière”) were about ten pairs of my panties, each one hiked up to her waist, one over the other. It was like she thought she was on “A Minute to Win It” and the game was to see how many panties she could put on. Oh, my lands! How in the world did she get that many panties around her waist in that amount of time? (Secretly I loved that she raided the panty drawer and not the underwear drawer because that would have been way too boring.)

I laughed out loud. I smiled and then just stood there watching her go about her business.

I wanted to redirect.
I wanted to correct.
I wanted to teach.

Everything inside of me wanted to say something like, “Oh, Sweetie! We don’t get into mommy’s panty drawer. That’s for mommy. Let’s find something else to play with.” You know, kind of in that, “We really shouldn’t do that”/distracting kind of tone. But, for some reason, that’s not what came out (Praise Jesus!). After watching the entertainment for a bit, I miraculously and surprisingly responded with, “Oh, honey! You look way too cute! You like mommy’s pretties?” She looked at me, gave me the biggest smile, and then walked over to the full length mirror to look at herself – to check out her beauty, just like her Mama.

The power of influence. It’s amazing. It can be invigorating and scary, intimidating and heavy. When we’re in a position of power, we must remember the powerless. We can mis-use our power. We can mis-use our influence. Or, we can use our power and influence to bring life, awareness, change, advocacy, voice…to those without.

We can choose to step into it and hold it and share it.

She’s watching me. She’s always watching me. Sometimes I want to tell her to turn away or to cover her ears. I don’t want her to pick up the bad habits and tones and words and behaviors. I want to keep her pure and innocent and even a bit naive. Because I know what happens when the world shows up in ways that are hurtful and scary and unjust and hateful. There are moments during the day that I don’t want an audience. I just want to be human. There’s that secret part of me that doesn’t always feel like being responsible for my actions. I just want to be lazy.

Feels pretty human to say that.

But maybe, that’s the best kind of mommy I can be…human. Wonderfully and uniquely and undeniably human. Because for me, that’s what I want my little girl to know – that it’s OK to be human. It’s OK to make mistakes and mess up and throw tantrums (sometimes) and get mad. I want to give her permission to do that. And then, somehow with the divine help from above, teach her and show her what to do with her humanness. And then, consistently and graciously and lovingly remind her that there’s nothing she could do or say to make me love her less. Nothing.

So, as I teach my little girl about femininity and beauty and how to know if and when to wear panties versus underwear, I hope she grows up believing that no matter what she’s wearing or doing, or where she’s hiding or exploring, or how hard she’s kicking and screaming, that she’s loveable…inside and out.

Because I’m convinced that that’s what my God believes about me.

 

on being a friend…

I remember that day when my phone rang. I was in the midst of cooking and entertaining and busy with children. The voice on the other side…it was sad. My friend’s mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. In that moment, I knew I needed to pause the life that I was standing in and join hers. I listened. She cried. I asked questions. She explained. My heart sunk with hers as the prognosis was undetermined and the treatment seemed so long and hard and painful. It was one of those moments when you just knew there were no perfect words to utter. You just had to be…fully present.

I remember that day when my phone rang. My friend had called to tell me that she was expecting her first baby. She was soaring! Her dreaming and anticipation of how her world would change began. She was on top of the world and wanted to shout from the mountaintops, “I’m going to be a mommy!” I shouted with her and told her how elated I was for her. Her joy was overflowing and I wanted to be a part of her excitement. She needed me to celebrate with her…this baby’s life, her journey, her heart.

Being in a relationship means there are moments when you are able to step into someone else’s experience and moments when you long for someone else to step into yours. We give. We take. We offer. We receive. It’s what comes with being friends.

So, what makes friendships so challenging? Why do they hurt? Why do they end? Why do we find ourselves thinking about our relationships so much?

As I thought about writing this post, I wanted to write from the perspective as if I would be writing to my little girl…about the experiences of both joy and heartache that I’ve learned from my own friendships. I know I can’t rescue her from what is hard and hurtful, but I can model what I’ve learned. I so wish I could protect her from relational pain..but, I can’t. It’s not my job. But I can offer a word of encouragement and truth and hope. So, here are a few things I’ve come to believe about relationships…

Friendships have seasons. Just like the temperature outside changes throughout the year, our friendships evolve and transform. As experiences come and go, the way they change us and the way we respond to them impacts our relationships. Life can be both energizing and draining – on us and on our relationships. Sometimes, the expected events change our relationships (marriage, school, geography, career,  babies, etc.). Sometimes, the unexpected events change our relationships (loss, crisis, illness, etc.). Both change how we interact with people…especially those who are close to us. Change will happen indeed. It’s in those seasons of change that we have the choice to “step towards” or “step away from” the people in our life. The relationship with a particular friend may deepen or diminish or even come to a close, and that’s OK. I hope we can learn what it means to “release” that person or “embrace” that person in new ways, depending on how life reveals itself. And then…have the grace to accept how that friendship changes.

“When people walk away from you, let them go. Your destiny is never tied to anyone who leaves you, and it doesn’t mean they are bad people. It just means that their part in your story is over.”

Fight for what is good. I love the people in my life who understand and believe in fighting for what’s good and true in a relationship. Yet, the motivation to pursue can wane, especially when disappointment surfaces. I hate to say it, but disappointment will happen when two humans are in relationship. There will be moments when one of us feels hurt or offended or upset or “missed.” This is life. It’s in these times of tension that can make us bitter or better. I choose to believe that stepping into the tension and the unknown and the awkwardness can change us…for the better. But, we have to be willing to face our fear and insecurity and trust that who we are is someone that offers strength and empathy and acceptance, and that how the other person responds doesn’t define us. We have to be willing to keep believing in the other person’s goodness…even when we get hurt. We honor ourselves and our friend by being honest about what is hard. It’s then that we have the opportunity to offer are true selves…our BEST selves. Believing that good can come from working through disappointment will allow our relationships to deepen and grow. And the kind of friendships that emerge out of working through conflict will be a gift…to both people.

“Peace…it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

We all long to be needed. I know from experience that it feels good to be needed. Whatever it is that we are good at is what we hope the other person appreciates. This looks different for everyone. Maybe it’s being a mom or a caretaker or your wisdom or your stability or your compassion or your creativity or your fun or your availability or your insight or your ideas or your hope. Whatever it may be, it feels so good to know that the other person needs what you’re good at. But, what happens when that person no longer needs what you have been giving? That doesn’t feel good. All of a sudden you don’t feel wanted. It changes your relationship. Maybe that person found someone else to fill her needs. Maybe that person’s life circumstances changed what they needed. We may try to fix the circumstances or try changing who we are or begin analyzing why or become aggressive or fall passive. None of these responses are helpful and actually become really tiring. We can choose to take it personally and make it about us, or we can be confident of what we have to offer and believe that God will use our gifting in another way. So, as much as it satisfies us to feel needed, what if we focused more on what we gave…expecting nothing in return. We give because the reward is in how the giving changes us.

“First we were loved. Now we love.” (1 John 4:19b)

So, whether you find yourself stepping into someone else’s life or someone else stepping yours, may you know that you have access to the Creator of the universe, equipping and empowering you to know how to respond in your relationships. My hope is that we can allow our hearts to be joined with the people who fill our lives, whether that is a moment of celebration or heartache.

The people around you are a gift. May you receive and celebrate and affirm what they have to offer.

You are a gift to the people around you. May you offer yourself in honest and beautiful ways…expecting nothing in return.