Why You Should Cross the Border

Sometimes it’s good to get out into the world and cross some borders. This summer our family drove to Canada–from Georgia–for our vacation. We crossed several state borders along the way, but, of course, the big one was the border into Canada, where we dared to leave our homeland behind, if only for a few days.

And so I’ve been thinking about borders recently. Borders are handy and necessary. We use them to define ourselves, to distinguish between Us and Them. We are Here and do things this way. They are over There and do things differently. Even in nonconformity, our borders define us: although I am Here, I am unique and do this instead. We draw our borders all around. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it sure is exciting to cross over now and then.

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When we crossed into Canada in early July, we had to show proper identification. Border crossing does not change our identity; it just lets us explore and appreciate more of the world. In the best case, it enables us to get to know Them better, to appreciate There in a personal way, to make connections beyond our usual realm, and to see the world through Their eyes.

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Border crossing helps you to examine your assumptions and make new discoveries. In Quebec we learned that a plate of french fries covered with cheese curds and a delectable gravy (a dish called poutine) could be heaven. We also discovered some unique signs appropriate for a place where winter reigns, though they seemed funny to We who live in the land of summer. We found that the simple act of driving can take a challenging turn as the traffic signs converted to French only, and used symbols that were strange to us. Crossing borders keeps you on your toes in exciting, surprising ways.

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I love to travel, especially far away. It makes me feel alive and filled with wonder. And our summer trip to Canada was amazing. I recommend traveling as much as possible.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to travel as much as I would like. But, whether traveling or not, there are always borders to cross if we just look for them. I’m not saying necessarily to eliminate borders, as they can be good and useful. But maybe we can consider where borders can, or should, be crossed–if only temporarily–and then watch our world expand.

Where have we drawn lines between Us and Them? Can we reach out and see the world from their perspective for a while? Not that we should all be the same (how dull would that be?), but that we should gain appreciation for our differences and our commonality.

There’s a great, big, wonderful world out there. Go out and explore. And if you can’t go far, then explore where you are.

 

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A Tale of Two Mothers, A Tale of Redemption

With the approach of Mother’s Day, I have been thinking about mothers and the role they play in our lives. Mothers are life-givers, and everyone has one. Some of us, like me, have two. One gave me life, bringing me into this world, while the second gave me a life, encouraging me to grow and flourish and become. Both are important, though obviously in different ways.

Sometimes people like to paint adoption as a wonderful, rosy situation. The poor, unwanted child gets the needed family while the unfortunate, childless couple gets the longed-for child. Sure, there are variations, but that’s the main theme. And mostly it is truly wonderful. Yet underneath the surface there is no denying the brokenness that required adoption as a solution in the first place.

Broken relationships, broken plans, broken hopes.

This is not how it was supposed to be, right? We can feel it in our hearts when the world goes awry, and something that should have been good and pure and whole has been broken.

The world is broken.

But more than a practical solution or a pretty fix, adoption is a story of redemption. Two separate broken stories are bound together as a family, something new and whole and good. It is a second chance, a new start, a gift of grace.

The truth is, though, we are all broken regardless of how many moms we have. Broken. Every one of us. So maybe, if we’re all broken and in this together, you might think it doesn’t matter. It’s clearly not special to be broken. Look at us. That’s just how we are. Big deal.

But it matters, and the big deal is that there is hope in the midst of our brokenness. There is One Who Restores, One Who Redeems. One who picks up all our broken pieces and makes us whole, like we’re meant to be, like we long to be.

Love pursues us.

Like new parents consumed with unquenchable love, God the Father loves us madly. He loves us so much that Jesus was broken to make us whole. And He freely offers adoption to all who believe. The God of Second Chances takes us wandering orphans, and makes us heirs of His kingdom, making us new and whole.

This Mother’s Day I am thankful for two moms, two adoptions, and one amazing life.

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How to find meaning in the Sprint store

It was a necessary evil, my visit to the Sprint store today. My cell phone has been on the fritz for weeks, and it had to be dealt with. Visits to Sprint are never quick, and when the guy told me he was “at a loss” as to what was wrong, I gave up my dreams of getting out of there any time soon.

To pass the time, I perused the newest phones and accessories, watched cars drive by, and couldn’t help but overhear other people’s conversations. There were three rows of seats that formed a triangle around a large center pillar adorned with large monitors facing each direction. No reception today apparently as they stared blankly back at us. I sat in one of the seats anyway, and looked around. I realized should have brought a book.

Other customers came and went. Lucky them. I waited, receiving periodic updates from the Sprint guy troubleshooting my phone. His coworker chatted so long and about such personal details with another young woman that I wondered if they were actually friends. Sprint girl is probably just really open like that.

An older man sat, eyes closed mostly, looking weary and holding his cane, while his wife discussed her issue with my Sprint guy (as he waited for my phone to respond). I guessed they were on disability. A little girl sat next to the man, eating a snack, and then hopped down from the seat. Soon she began circling around the large center pillar, and I watched.

When the girl noticed me watching, I smiled and she smiled back. Before long she would stop in front of me and play peekaboo for a moment before continuing around. After a while, she was chatting with me, smiling, and hopping up and down as she held onto the seat next to me. She was three, like the number of cell phones lined up near us, she pointed out. The remains of her snack decorated her cheeks as she pointed out cars driving by, showed me her pink flip flops, counted to four, and hopped. The young woman chatting at the counter heard our chatter and turned to smile. The older man and his wife paid no attention.

So there we were, in a cell phone store, surrounded by some of the best in distraction technology, both of us waiting without a gadget or screen. For a short while our two very different worlds intersected, and we made a happy connection. And I was reminded that this is what we are made for – connection, relationship, real life. It can be so easy to hide behind our portable technology, like it’s important, rather than taking some time to talk to someone. The ads promise to make us more connected, most connected, with cell phones, tablets, apps, and more. But it’s a lie they sell for a profit. When we lose real connectedness, we lose humanness.

Sure it’s risky to talk to actual people, especially ones you don’t know. They might be weird or crazy or think you are. It could be really uncomfortable, especially for the introverts among us (like me). But a part of me thinks it just might be worth the risk. A part of me dares to think that it’s healthy and good. That maybe this is the kind of thing that our culture is so sorely lacking. That maybe if more people talked to each other, people from all different realms and realities, instead of talking about each other, then maybe – maybe – we could all get along better.

When the wife finished up her business, the older couple called the girl, and they headed out of the store. The couple walked slowly like they carried a great weight, while the child bounced carefree. As they made their way past the large windows, my little friend smiled and waved, and I did the same. And the couple paid no attention at all.

 

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When you’re expecting football and get saltmarsh instead

Yesterday, as the sun was setting and football fans were gearing up for the Super Bowl and watching incredibly expensive commercials, our family was driving home from visiting my parents in South Carolina. Our trusty old minivan started having some problems, as indicated by the variety of warning lights that lit up the dashboard. We were hoping to make it home, or at least to a nice place to stop and call for help. But there on Highway 17, in the midst of saltmarshes and billboards, within sight of the Talmadge Bridge, all the gauges stopped working, and we coasted to a stop on the one little patch of concrete on the shoulder of the road.

My call to AAA started out a bit comical as I tried to describe our exact location. No crossroads nearby. No businesses except we were kind of between two “adult” dance clubs, but they were quite a distance away. We were near a billboard for machine guns, which surprised me as I read it. And another billboard for a car dealership. Other than that, it was saltmarsh.

Jasmine the Friendly AAA Woman finally was able to pinpoint our location, but the not-so-friendly computer would not accept the remoteness of this place where we were just thankful, and a little surprised, to have cell phone service. After consulting with her supervisor and keeping me on hold for an incredibly long time, Jasmine announced a tow truck had been alerted and would call me soon.

When Chris the Tow Truck Driver called, he had some random address for us, but I was able to explain where we were, and he was on his way. In the meantime, Jon called his brother, Karl, who was on his way with a friend, leaving the Super Bowl behind to pick up our family.

By this time, darkness had settled over the marsh and the highway, punctuated by headlights of cars rushing by. Will grumbled a little about missing the Super Bowl. Anna noticed the stars. The windows fogged over as it grew colder outside.

Karl and his friend, Al, arrived, and soon the kids and I were on our way home, having to leave Jon with the van to wait for the tow truck. By the time we got home, Jon was riding in the tow truck, taking the van to the shop. I dropped the kids off at Grandma’s house, and drove Jon’s car to go meet him.

The special surprise for the evening was that our truck, which had been borrowed for a few weeks, was suddenly returned to town, and Jon and I were able to pick it up on our way home. So we will not be down to one vehicle while our minivan is in the shop, which makes life so much easier.

Although the evening didn’t go as we had expected, and we missed half of the Super Bowl (a big deal to some of us), we can see God’s protection and provision in so many ways. Safety. That little patch of concrete. Cell phone service in a remote location. People able to leave what they were doing to come help us. Our third vehicle being returned just when we needed it most.

We made it safe and sound to a tv in time for the half-time show (though I don’t see what was so wonderful about Beyoncé, but whatever). It was a big, colorful, flashy, exciting show to be sure. But even better, to me, was the quiet, sure, steady presence of God with our family that night on the highway between the marshes.

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Be like butterflies

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Recently there was a monarch chrysalis on our garbage can just before trash day. Concerned about its fate with the garbage truck, Jon and I carefully removed it, clipped it to an office clip, and taped the clip to hang down from the top of our butterfly habitat in our house. A chrysalis is pretty delicate so we were not sure if this butterfly would live or not, but we hoped for the best.

A few days later, there was a butterfly in the habitat, clinging to the empty chrysalis. It was a male, flexing his wings to prepare for flight. And I did something I had not done before. I decided to release it by myself. Alone, with no kids. Just me and this butterfly rescued from garbage truck disaster.

Releasing butterflies has always been a team event in our family, complete with kids, excitement, attempts at photos, and figuring out whose turn it is to release the butterfly. This time it was so simple.

We went outside to the patio where Mr. Monarch fluttered his excitement as I unzipped the habitat top. Politely, he stepped onto my finger. I lifted him out, and away he flew. Up, up, up. Circling and gliding and fluttering.

He seemed joyful, exuberant as he flew. It occurred to me that this was his very first flight. And I wondered what a thrill it must be for a lowly caterpillar to awake from its chrysalis sleep to fly for the first time.

To fly.

This previously creeping, crawling, leaf-eating bug. Now a beautiful, delicate, flying creature embarking on an epic journey, soaring above the plants he had once munched.

I watched him fly all the way to a high branch of a pine tree where I presume he sat for a while as monarchs often like to do upon release. And I wondered how I had missed it before, the joy of first flight. But I saw it this time – the start of the journey, the deep joy of doing the long-awaited thing you were created for. My heart soared with my monarch friend, sharing in his joy, wishing him well.

I want to be like that. Transformed to soar, bold and brave in freedom, compelled to move forward into my purpose. Joy-filled for my part in history, regardless of the risk. Not content with a small and safe and sheltered life. Flying free and strong on my epic adventure.

May we all be like butterflies.

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Making the most of the season

I always have lofty plans for Advent, full of ideas for making this time as peaceful, reflective, and worshipful as I think it should be. “Silent Night” beckons me to carve out some quiet to consider the weightiness of the incarnation. Maybe sit in the dark by the light of the Christmas tree and ponder the miracle. Maybe light Advent candles and share in family devotions each evening.

And yet, even if I manage to arrange moments of quiet reflection, I find that Christmas rushes in before I feel ready. Life is so busy, often more so at this time of the year. Even our times of stillness can feel rushed, like just another item on the holiday checklist. So many plans and preparations, activities and obligations. I feel cheated, guilty, like I should have done more to savor the time, to quiet my heart, to be reverent.

But here’s the thing. Jesus didn’t slip peacefully into a worshipful, reverent, silent world. He didn’t wait until we were ready. Jesus burst into our messy, busy, crowded world. He came, not floating peacefully down from the heavens clothed in white, but through the struggle and mess of childbirth. Surely there were also some peaceful moments to rest and reflect, but the world He came to was not a place of peace, and He didn’t mind coming anyway. In fact, that’s why He came. He came to our world, and the wretched, violent, desperate mess we have made of it, on a rescue mission.

We shake our heads at the stories of mass shootings, terrorists, poverty, injustice, and other dark acts of darkened hearts. Some shake their fists at a God who would allow it to be. And God would shake us loose from these chains of sin through His Son, our Rescuer. He has a plan for this mess, and we see it now in His Christmas arrival and later in His Easter victory. God does not sit by unconcerned about the state of our world. It grieves Him enough that He sent His own Son to restore us, to bring true peace. He is the Light in the darkness, the Hope answer for our despairing questions.

So if I haven’t set up the Advent calendar yet or made an Advent wreath and I can’t manage to make time for daily Advent devotions with the kids like I want to, it’s still okay. He is here with us in the midst of our challenges and schedules and failures. He comes to us anyway, right where we are, penetrating our mess. It is great when we can be still, and we definitely need that at times, but God is still God in our busyness and stress and struggle.

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A thankful, giving, disappointing Christmas

So here we are in Advent, preparing for the coming Christmas… the coming festivities, parties, gifts, and sparkle. And the babe in the manger who came on that silent night can be easily overshadowed by the bells and bustle.

American culture makes this time into a sort of game, a competition, another leg of the Rat Race. No sooner are our bellies full of turkey thankfulness than the starting gun rings out and the race begins. Who will get the best deals, the earliest deals, the coolest toys and gadgets? Who will have bragging rights come Christmas day, inspiring the envy of their friends because of their cool stuff? Oh, yeah, and happy birthday, Jesus… and did you see my super, new, best thing?

This Christmas one-upmanship has a powerful effect on kids. They see the commercials, and hear people talking. They want and want and want. They quickly learn, in this great land of opportunity and plenty, that they do not have enough. Most have not yet learned the truth that they will never have enough unless they learn contentment. So if they don’t get that prized item, they can take it pretty hard, especially if their friends enjoy bragging about what they got.

Instead of the generosity of giving, much on display is the selfishness of getting. The main job of Santa is, after all, to bring kids what they want (although he is strangely biased toward the more well-off kids).

In the name of Christmas we can reinforce selfishness, continually asking kids (and adults) what they want for Christmas. “What do you want for Christmas?” “What will you get for Christmas?” It puts all the focus on themselves. What if we start asking what they will give, what we will give? “What will you give for Christmas this year?” “What are you excited to give?” Are we prepared to be thankful regardless of what we get?

God gave… that’s how Christmas started. He gave first, and He is our example to follow. He set the standard. But the focus can easily shift to getting rather than giving, and while the two are different sides of the same coin, the emphasis is important.

We can give gifts from a store, gifts of time, homemade gifts, gifts of experiences, gifts of togetherness. Teaching our kids to value them all can be a challenge. But words have power, and as we begin to change how we talk about Christmas, along with what we emphasize, the focus can begin to shift.

Maybe I haven’t done the best job so far of teaching my kids to be joyful givers. I think when kids are really young, sometimes we do not expect much from them, but as they grow we need to require more and raise the bar. Everyone has talents and time that they can give even if they have no money to buy presents. We need to encourage kids to be givers.

My kids have high expectations and hopes for this Christmas, just like every year. But they also know without a doubt that they will not be getting everything they want. (I tell them this to make it clear.) I am sure they will be disappointed because some friend gets a new cell phone or those expensive sneakers they will outgrow in six months or some other wonderful, amazing thing that my kids did not get.

And that will be fine. It’s okay to be disappointed. Sometimes it’s even good. Disappointment can lead to growth and maturity, and that, while maybe not appreciated at the time, is a great gift itself.

So, as we head toward Christmas this Advent season, let’s bring along our Thanksgiving thankfulness, look for ways to give joyfully to others, and graciously accept disappointment. Let’s give out of a fullness of love, following the Father’s example, and letting that Rat Race run right on by. That kind of Christmas honors the God who stooped low to love us.

And if you see my kids around, feel free to ask them what they are giving for Christmas.

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When the “worst camping trip ever” wasn’t at all

Happy to find a three-day weekend in October and hankering for autumn leaves and cool temperatures, our family headed north recently to Oconee State Park in the mountains of South Carolina for camping adventure. Following the “be prepared” scouting motto, we filled our minivan with all the essentials… tent, sleeping bags and pads, clothes, food, camp kitchen, and so on. Sure, we could have left the full size pillows at home and maybe brought fewer clothes or a smaller cooler, but we had room, especially with the backpack on the back of the van. Sure, we were heading to a hike-in tent camp site, but the ranger assured us the walk was not very far to the site. No problem.

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Setting up camp on Saturday was delayed a few hours as we waited for the rain to stop, which it did around 4:00 in the afternoon. That’s when we set out down the trail with our wagon filled and arms loaded with as much as we could carry in one trip. That’s when we discovered that our camp site was about a quarter of a mile over gravel, and then narrow root and leaf, trail. That’s when we realized we should have gone more minimalist with this trip. It took at least three more trips to lug all our “essentials” to our site. We vowed to work towards “bring only what you can carry” camping and making the kids practice with backpacks.

As we unpacked our goods, we discovered that our van backpack was not actually waterproof after all. Water-resistant, perhaps. But driving through significant rainfall successfully soaked two sleeping bags and various articles of clothing, prompting Anna to declare this “the worst camping trip ever.”

But no worries! Since we had not packed “minimalist,” we had an extra sleeping bag and blankets. And many of the clothes were not wet. And besides, the kids had packed too much and didn’t need it all anyway. Things could only get better.

And they did. Granted, we hit a few other snags along the way. Like how our tent was too big for the designated site so it extended right up to the fire pit, which was strangely close to the tent area to begin with, causing us to have to improvise our fire. Or how the entire campsite was on a hill so we felt like we were rolling into each other all night. Or how we could still hear those loud campers across the lake ignoring the camp quiet hours around midnight. Or how some of us were cold…

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But there were the mountains. The sweet smell of decaying leaves on the forest floor. The cool fresh air. And we were there in the midst of it. Living and breathing, absorbing it into ourselves, storing it up, hoping it could last long enough. And the colors and the coolness, the elevation and beauty were like the face of God to me. Smiling, gracious, kind in His caring for us. It is a gift to be able to tramp through the crunchy mountain trails, to chase the raccoon from our leftovers, to witness the growth of a small purple mushroom, to find a beaver had visited during the night to claim a small tree.

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We hiked the trails, marveled at waterfalls, drove the twisty roads, fed some trout, and ate some apples at the orchard down the road. It was a grand time after all, immersing us in another place and another season from the usual.

And the blue sky. And the sun on the autumn leaves. And the trees reaching toward heaven. And the five of us rambling over mountains, thoroughly enjoying our “worst camping trip ever.”

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Scrambled eggs, anyone?

My son, Will, is a go-getter. The second-born of our children (but the firstborn male), he is competitive and driven toward superlatives like “best” and “fastest” and “biggest.” He has decided he will be rich when he grows up, and has looked into the cost of cargo ships because he thinks it would be cool to convert one and live on it. So, in his nine years of life, he has come up with various ideas for making money.

Recently, Will looked at me with a sparkle in his eyes and said, “I know how I can make some money. I’ll sell eggs.” No, we don’t have chickens in case you’re wondering.

My blank stare encouraged him to continue. “Scrambled, of course,” he added.

He went on to explain his plan of setting up a table at the end of our driveway where he could take people’s orders and then run inside the house to cook their scrambled eggs while they wait. Who needs a lemonade stand when you can have a scrambled egg stand? This idea is surely inspired by my son’s newfound skill of cooking scrambled eggs, which he thinks are the best. He is quite proud of his new ability, and apparently wants to share it with the world (at a profit!).

And while I have my doubts about the viability of the scrambled egg stand business model on our quiet neighborhood circle, I give the boy credit for coming up with ideas and imagining possibilities. And I walk the line between grounding him in reality and encouraging him to dream and imagine and create. Who knows what he will come up with? He just might hit on a big idea one day that could change the world.

In the meantime we have scrambled eggs, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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How to Win an Inn

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There’s an inn to be won for $150 and 200 words. The transfer of real estate by essay contest is becoming a bit of a trend around the country, and the most recent example to catch our family’s attention is a lovely inn located in a cozy town in coastal Maine. I imagine the delicious wild Maine blueberry pancakes for breakfast, the friendly visitors, rocky shoreline, small town community, stunning scenery, and long, exceptionally long, winters.

And I wonder how does one win an inn? Out of 7,500 essays, what does it take to be the top pick? What can you pack into 200 words to convince the innkeeper you are worthy? Is she looking for credentials? A resume? Passion? Writing skills? Originality? If I write that I’ve always wanted to run an inn, does that make me enthusiastic and hopeful or just like 6,000 other innkeeper wannabes? Is it even worth saying, or is it a waste of precious words?

Maybe luck is the best you can hope for. Maybe a certain number of essays make the short list due to their likeability. But probably a whole lot of essays are just fine, so some are chosen and others discarded by sheer chance or whim. It’s kind of like the lottery, only with much better odds. And, after all, somebody’s going to win (unless there are not enough entries, in which case the deal is off and money is returned).

Though we have not decided to enter the contest, our whole family is excited just by the idea of winning the inn. After visiting Maine on vacation a year ago, our three kids think it would be great to live there. True, we visited for about a week in the summer with near-perfect weather, and had a lot of fun. Which is not at all comparable to living there year-round running an inn, but nevertheless… they are ready to pack up and move.

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It’s odd to me that our children are so eager to move away. When I was 12 years old, my family decided to make a big move, and I could not understand why we would ever move away from home. Home was a place back then, tucked in the context of extended family and history. It’s not so much that way anymore as our society has become so much more mobile. Most of our kids’ cousins live far away, only coming for visits from time to time. And we have had plenty of friends move away over the years, so why shouldn’t we move away, too? There is something to be said for being the one to leave rather than the one always left behind.

Will, who is nine, has another reason to want to move. He is sure that if we pack up all our belongings he will finally find his lost Gameboy. Never mind that he hasn’t wanted to play with it in ages until recently. Or that he has some issues with putting his toys where they belong. There is something to be said for being organized enough that you don’t have to rely on a major move to find your stuff. But enough of that… no need to launch into lecture mode.

But wouldn’t it be something if we were to win the inn? How exciting and terrifying and life-changing! It would perfectly turn our world upside down, which is sometimes what we need, or maybe what we crave, even secretly. A change big and bold and dramatic. Crazy enough to shake loose the cobwebs of complacency and comfort, to raise questions and eyebrows. Some might call it folly. Others might call it a fresh start. I would call it an adventure.

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