Opening Night

When I was in high school, the musicals were a huge production and those who starred in them, or played any part at all, were like mini-celebrities in our small, rural community, where our school building was tucked in the midst of a cornfield. We performed to a packed gym, standing room only…for three nights. A dress rehearsal, opening night, and Saturday night. It was a given. Full house.

I remember well, standing behind the curtain, shaking with anticipation, refusing to look on the other side of the curtain. Nervousness. Sweaty palms. Dry throat. When I opened my mouth to speak, would I remember my lines? When I opened my mouth to sing, would I have a voice? Would my body betray me under the weight of the panic rising and the pressure of wondering if the months of preparation would hold up in the moment. One moment. Would my offering be worthy?

I overcame the panic, by reassuring myself that I was the character. It wasn’t me standing on that stage. It wasn’t my performance on the line. I disappeared under the costume. Covered safely beneath the makeup.

It was Minnie Faye, or Mrs. Banks, or Rosie.

Not Kelly.

It made the pressure tolerable.

Hiding there freed me to soar beyond the crippling limitations of stage fright.

Rewind further back to eighth grade. My memory is poor. So, I cannot tell you why this moment is crystal clear in my mind, as if it happened yesterday. Other than it was one of those significant memories the Lord saw fit to tuck away, knowing it would be relevant to the shaping of the future. Relevant to this moment, standing backstage, wondering if my offering would be worthy. Wondering if anyone would come. Wondering if my knees would buckle beneath the pressure.

We were riding the bus, which was a rare occurrence, being a town student who had always walked to school with friends. Perhaps we were on our way to a field trip to tour the high school. As we drove past the building, I looked over at my friend Nicki…the one to whom I could safely whisper all of my secret, sacred dreams…the one who held them close to her heart, safely, and never mocked the sacredness. I leaned in closer, and spoke one of my deepest “What ifs” aloud.

“What if I never become a writer?”


It was a faraway dream, like the ones I’ve heard boys whisper to and from carpool. Dreams of standing on the baseball field…or football field…or golf course. Crazy, farfetched dreams of making it to “the show.” Becoming a professional athlete. And, yet…I craved it at the time, being an author, as if it were something to be grasped. As if it were possible. Youth…the magical season of life, a time when crazy dreams seem attainable. A time, untainted by the death bed, the dashed hopes, the disappointments of the drudgery of everyday…the grim realities of missed opportunity and regret and not measuring up. A time where dreams come true and Santa just might be real.

In a flash, I traded one dream for another, when I told my mother I was pregnant the week before my graduation from high school. Teachers would be disappointed at the lost potential. Family members were disappointed. My mother was not, or if she was, she tucked it safely away. She knew about trading dreams. I knew instantly, that this dream was far more valuable than any other I had dared to hope for. The trade was not even a blink in my eye. I have no regrets. I knew from day one of being a mother, while life was still being knit together in my womb, that this treasure was far more precious than words on a page, than life on a stage, than any accolades or accomplishments the world could offer. The boy I held in my arms at the tender age of eighteen became my new dream. The sacredness of being his mother. Of creating a family, and maintaining that family. I learned to pray when my knees buckled under the weight of the responsibility. Being a mother was far more significant than any other title I could ever hold, any role I would perform. I didn’t look back.

We filled the years, with birthday parties, and Christmas mornings. We dreamed dreams of a quiver full of children and stood beside tiny graves instead…holding tightly to the one God gave us when we were young and fragile and growing up before our time. We traded our old dreams for new…again and again. Another miracle filled our arms, and we continued on with baseball games and golf tournaments, trading dreams, living life, washing dishes, shaping concrete (Tim…not me), realizing that cheering them on at the sideline was so much more than any dream we dared to grasp for ourselves.

And those in this small railroad town. Those who once filled the gymnasium to receive our humbled offering…prayed prayers for our little family, as we stumbled and held on.

When God said it was time to write the words again, to tell the story that I never dreamed of telling, a story I would never have asked to write, I obeyed. And, the words flowed from my heart like therapy. A healing elixir. For ten years, He shaped and molded, weaving the story through our lives, a tapestry of grief and joy. For ten years we continued on about the business of life, standing by more graves, cheering on the sidelines, blowing out birthday candles, fighting and making up, serving in ministry, building up a dream from our broken, standing on stages again…this time…not to perform…but to give a far more worthy offering. Not to please the audience before us…but to serve an audience of One. To give an offering of hope, redemption, grace, and salvation from the One who gave His life, that we may live.

One of the hardest things to do, was to declare the offering finished. Complete. Worthy.

How desperately, I still wanted to give a worthy offering. How much I wanted it to be perfect. And, yet, the book born of my labor, is gloriously imperfect. Just like life.

The day the books arrived in the mail, I tore open the package and dropped to my knees on the kitchen floor, tears dripping down my face as decades of emotion rose from the depths, emotion I cannot describe bursting forth, like an erupting volcano. It was like giving birth…the myriad of grief and healing, accomplishment, joy, defeat, victory, humbling broken and sweet redemption.

I longed to run across town with the book in my hand, bursting through the door of my mother’s house…to say that I was a writer. To show her my offering.

And, at the same time, I longed to quietly lay the offering at my heavenly Father’s feet, knowing full well that it wasn’t mine…and that any identity I had was not in being a writer, a mother, or anything else…but simply in being His.

And, in the wee hours of this night/morning, when I stand behind the curtain for this next opening night, quivering, knees threatening to buckle under the pressure, dry throat, sweaty palms…wondering if anyone will come…if my humble offering will be found worthy, it isn’t a character I hide behind, or a mask of makeup covering my face, reassuring me that it isn’t about me or my performance. It is the shelter of my Father’s wings I nestle safely under, it is in Him, where my identity finds solace.

If for a moment, I wonder if anyone will come to receive the most of my heart and my Jesus I know to give at my little book signing, or if I take a stage in front of an audience or church, I find comfort in knowing that my God doesn’t measure success the way that we do. He concerns Himself not with a full house, but with one heart at a time, receiving the love and grace He has to give. Each sacred conversation we’ve shared, from those who have stopped to buy my little book at SGM and told me a piece of their hearts…or their dreams…or those who give in various ways to support grieving hearts through SGM. Or those who have written to say how a word on a page spoke to your weary soul. That has already, for me…humbled and blessed my heart more than I can say…that has already shown this tiny offering to be a worthy one. And, not because of me…because of the Author of my life and the Perfecter of my faith…and yours. Because of our great God. From the moment I said, “I will” when God said, “Will you?” the victory was already won.

Of course, I would be blessed beyond words if many of you would come to the Deshler Library tonight (from 6-8pm) to show love and support, and let me sign a book for you. Even though I’m just a little nobody girl from Deshler, Ohio. And, my offering is small and imperfect. (Because let me just say, it is really frightening to put yourself out there…to pour out your heart with the most you have to give, and to wonder if anyone will come.) But know this…whether one of you comes or several, it matters and it is always worth it to have gone when God says to go…because one heart is worth it. Always.

Because in His eyes, our offering, no matter how small or imperfect, is worthy. Because He is the Planter and Nurturer of the dreams placed in your heart…of the abilities you are given for His glory. Because He is the Author of our lives…the Perfecter of our faith…the Redeemer of our souls…the Healer of our broken places.

Because the words I write to comfort a grieving heart are more valuable to Him than anything grand or mighty I may attempt to accomplish in the world’s eyes. Because the song I quietly sing in the hospital room over the tiny babies in the arms of their mother are perhaps more sacred to the One who sits on the throne than those I sing to a full house.

Because every heart…every life matters.

For more about the book, Sufficient Grace, click here.

Loose ends, Sawyer update, and Dreams of her…

I’m getting ready to go to the Women of Faith Conference in a little bit. Just to give you a little window into the willy-nilliness of my life, I’m still not packed. That’s just how I roll. And, at 5:52am, I’m not even going to apologize. I will say, though, that I do admire all of you who are organized and together. It’s a beautiful quality. Unfortunately, I am wired differently. I won’t say that isn’t a challenge for my very organized and structured husband at times…but God gives us both sufficient grace. He is faithful like that.

If you’re wondering who is claiming the ticket I announced was still available (through a series of twists and events) yesterday, you’ll just have to keep wondering. If all goes as planned, there will be some pictures to share….maybe even a plethora of pictures. And the mystery will be solved. I’m sure all two of you out there in blogland are just on the edge of your seats waiting to know who will come to Women of Faith with us! Don’t worry…all will soon be revealed. =)

I don’t know about all of you, but whenever I’m going somewhere, I feel like I have to tie up all the loose ends in my life before I go. (Not that it ever happens…it’s just what I want to happen!) As if being gone for less than 48 hours is going to cause some sort of irreparable havoc in my life. So, for some reason, while I am yet unpacked, just hours from our departure, it seems necessary to write a blog post. The craziness of the way my mind works…aye, aye, aye!

So…some bloggy loose ends…completely unrelated to one another…

If you’ve been praying for baby Sawyer, thank you so much. Please scroll down to previous posts if you don’t know Sawyer’s situation…just not feeling the Linky this morning. Yes, I’m aware that typing all these words to explain not linking is probably more work than clicking around to do the linking…again, how I roll. At least this morning.

Sawyer did have the procedure to close up the opening left from his open heart surgery, yesterday. The last update was the procedure was a success and one little hurdle in this situation of seemingly endless hurdles is behind him. Please continue to pray for this sweet baby and his family as he heals and faces the next hurdle. (His mama is one of my best friends.)

Speaking of best friends, I’m feeling a little Steel Magnolias-ish this morning. You know, what with getting ready to meet up with some women of faith in my life and worship with about 40,000 other women of faith. And, as I think of the beautiful women of faith I’m going to meet, thoughts inevitably drift to my own mother, a place my mind goes often in a day’s time.

I long to hear her sweet laugh and see her smile…the one that dances in her eyes and warms the whole room. I won’t lie. My mama was a feisty gal. And, she and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye. I’ll be the first to admit that I spent most of her life missing out on all the gifts she had to offer. God did redeem all that was broken between us in the last years of her life. But, I have many regrets over the gifts I missed…the gifts she offered the world. I know when someone leaves us, we often only hold on to the good. But as time goes by, I don’t see anything wrong with only seeing the good in those we love. Maybe, we should do it more with those who are still with us. I think I kind of like that, and I’m going to embrace it. Actually, I think it’s a biblical concept even…check out I Corinthians 13.

Anyway, I miss my mother with a missing that I cannot convey with words. Even when I dream of her, my missing comes out. The ache is so acutely with me that sometimes I am taken aback by it’s strength. My dreams of her have not always been a comfort. So much about the suffering at the end of her life remains unsettled in my psyche. And, I suppose it’s all trying to work itself out in dreamland where I can’t push it back down under the layers where I’d like it to stay. Dreams render you helpless like that.

I won’t get into details here about all of those dreams, but I do want to share about the last one. To tell you the truth, most of them I’d rather not relive.

One of the things I long for the most is to just stand in the kitchen with her, or the laundry room while she does ordinary things and we chat like mothers and daughters do. Many of you are mothers aching for your children. I share that ache with you…those dreams for all that could have been. This ache is different. It is for all that was and all that could have been. I never dream of my babies, although I wish I could. It seems it would be a comfort to feel them in my arms, even if just in dreamland.

So, I was delighted when in this dream, I was allowed to do one of the things I long for most. As always, there was a little bit of reality in the dream. The reality is that my mother’s house will be going up for sale soon. So, in dreamland, my stepfather was packing their things in the other room. I was in the kitchen feeling the usual weight in my chest. And, I looked up and saw her standing at the kitchen counter, wiping the crumbs. (She hated clutter and a crumby counter.) She was smiling and in no hurry at all.

“Mom, you’re here!” I ran to her and hugged her tight, something I did too rarely in real life. The questions followed of “where have you been” and “I’ve missed you” and “There’s so much going on”. Some part of me in the dream understands that she has been gone…that she has died, even as I’m talking to her. I didn’t dwell much on that this time. This time was different. I laughed with her in the kitchen, as they packed her life away in the other room. I laughed with her as she sat at the kitchen table laughing with her grandchildren and doing some craft. I laughed with her while she was in the laundry room. (She really had a thing about laundry. She hated to get behind and was meticulous about the way it was done. I did not inherit this trait, much to my family’s chagrin.)

In many of my dreams, there is little comfort as I work out all that I didn’t know was inside me. But, in this dream, as we stood in the kitchen and I prepared to apologize again, as if I could somehow have prevented all that happened, she put her hands on my shoulders, looked into my eyes and said the words I must be longing to hear…

“This is not your fault.”

She hugged me and I inhaled the smell of vanilla and Tide, drinking in the beauty of her face and the feel of her arms around me, knowing even in my dream state that our time was short. Peace settled in my heart and I awoke with her memory still hanging in the air. It felt as if I did spend time with her. And, I was grateful, even if it was only a dream. Oh, the glory that will be revealed one day when I’ll never have to wake up from that dream as we laugh with those we love in heaven’s glory.

O.K….now that I got that off my chest…I really do need to pack! We will be visiting hospitals in Columbus today to give them some information about Sufficient Grace. Please pray that God will open doors and that we will find favor and make the appropriate contacts. And, please pray for God’s protection and all the other loose ends as we march forth.

For now, I’m off to get my Women of Faith on!

Love to all…

—-

Faithful in the Little Things

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote was on my desk calendar a couple days ago. It really struck me and I’ve returned to it several times. There have been moments in my life when I have wondered what it would have been like if I had gone to college, received a teaching degree, or pursued my aspirations to take the stage acting and singing. I had many dreams to use my abilities for “greatness” when I was young. There was even a time before my days of teenage rebellion when I thought of becoming a missionary. Good grades came easy for me. I had a lot of talents and abilities…and what teachers would call “potential”.

Instead, I became a mother when I was eighteen years old, and my entire life changed. I was a young wife and mother, and realized that the ideas and plans I had for my life would have to be put away. My little boy needed me. So, I worked as a waitress to make ends meet and Tim worked at a metal spinning shop. We worked opposite shifts so that we wouldn’t have to leave Timothy with a babysitter and my mother took care of him during the couple hours our shifts overlapped.

I stayed home with Timothy and ran a home daycare for several years after the waitressing job. When Timothy was preschool age, I took a job at a local daycare and he went to work with me. When he went to kindergarten, I took a job at his elementary school as a teacher’s aide, monitoring study hall, recess, and later working as an English as a Second Language Tutor and Safety Patrol monitor. We had James, and I worked just a couple hours a day while James napped, and my mother stayed with him. Then, when mom was too sick to care for James, I stayed home for a couple years with him. I took some distance education classes, earning an associate degree in early childhood education, and started teaching preschool when James was four. When he went to kindergarten, I took a job (my current job) at the elementary school again…this time assisting special needs students.

I’m not a teacher, at least not the kind with a fancy degree. I never attended class on a college campus, never starred in a broadway play, and I’m not a missionary. At least not the kind that travels to exotic, remote places.

What I am is a mother, called to teach her children about Jesus, and love, family, and life. I didn’t go to college to learn to do this, but I looked to my own mother, and the mothers that surrounded me, filling me with their wisdom, love, and prayers along the way. While I don’t have the paper or the title, I teach children everyday…my own and others…how to read, how to share, how to be kind, how to show love, how to forgive, how to be considerate of others, and respectful. While working in a public school, I can’t always tell them about Jesus, but I can show Him to them with every act of love and kindness.

I have taken the stage…not on broadway, but at weddings and funerals, at churches, to sing… and at hospitals, to speak…not for my own greatness, glory, or gain. But for my Savior, my Comforter, my Redeemer…to act with the unspeakably humbling honor of being His hands and feet. With a message of hope for those whose hearts have been shattered, whose lives are torn into pieces, those who have been asked to say good-bye to their precious babies, I have taken the stage. My mission field is in this home, first…and for every grieving heart that crosses my path, second. I haven’t walked in the remote villages of Africa, but I have walked in the valley of the shadow of death…more than once. I have walked through the fires of sorrow…through the darkness that didn’t seem to have an end…through the relentless storms of pain and doubt. And I never walked alone. My Jesus walked with me through every fire, through the darkness, and through the storms. And He led me to the other side, where beauty and grace awaited us.

Why am I saying all of this? Because Jesus doesn’t require greatness in those who serve Him…at least, not greatness by the world’s standards. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according the the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 If you really read about some of the people God chose to further His kingdom, you will be amazed. You see, the more imperfect we servants are, the more glory is given to our God. Because, if He could use some of us (like, for instance…me!), He could use anyone! And that just shows His power even more.

So, if you’re longing for greatness, I just want to encourage you on this one thing…Serve the One who is truly great. Serve Him in the little things, and the big ones. Serve Him right where you are with what you’ve been given. In the things that no one sees, like keeping your home, praying for those you love…and those in need, changing the diapers, disciplining your children, loving your husband, organizing, setting aside your own plans, taking out the trash, encouraging a child, bending to tie one more shoe, smiling at a stranger. Be faithful in the little things. And, when you meet Him, He will say…”Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:21) And everything else will seem so small compared to the value of hearing those words.