On Monkeys, Adam, Eve and Jesus

For the past few years, I've had the honor of calling Nicole Unice a friend. Her influence and encouragement have profoundly shaped my perspective, bringing me back to cross again and again. In 2012, she released She's Got Issues and on April 1, she released Start Here with David Dwight, our senior pastor and yet another incredibly significant influence for our entire family. Many thanks to Nicole for stopping by today to chat with us about what it looks like to start a conversation with Jesus.

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It was late on a Saturday night and we were sitting at a bar. There were six of us crowded around, and conversation drifted, the men talking among themselves while the women turned to the normal topics, of marriage and mothering and work. And then she turned to me pointedly and told me about a recent conversation with her kids, about monkeys and people and evolution, and she confessed that she didn’t get it. And maybe it was because of the wine or the time of night, but she spit it out. “If the museum display says we come from monkeys, then who the (bleep) are Adam and Eve?”

That conversation is just one of many I’ve had in my ministry life, over French fries with middle school girls, over coffee with college students, and even over the crowded noise of a bar. As human beings, we’ve all been wired to pursue purpose, to satisfy the inner ache in us that wants to find real, true, full life. And I’ve become convinced that everyone has questions, no matter how far they may seem from finding God. Even if you’ve been following Jesus for years, we can find ourselves asking some of the same questions—who are we? How did we get here? What gives life meaning? It’s in these questions that we can find a common language with our friends who don’t yet know Jesus. It’s in the yearning of our own hearts that we find passion to help others find their way.

I have a friend who once taught that faith is like a treadmill. We all get on the treadmill and can be moving at different speeds and distances—but no matter where we are on the treadmill, at one point, we all have to hit the “start” button. As believers in Christ, we’ve all hit the start button—crossed over from death to life. Some of our friends might be standing on the treadmill but need to be encouraged to start. Hitting the start means going from nothing to something—even if we doubt, even if we have questions, even if we aren’t 100% sure—we can still hit “start”.

After Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman about the water—and life—she was thirsty for, she immediately went back to her town to tell everyone she knew about meeting Jesus. Did she have it all figured out? Would she have called herself a “Christian”? I have no idea—but I do know what the Bible says—“many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). Before she even knew what was happening, she had hit the start button, because she started talking to Jesus and started talking about Jesus.

We can encourage our friends that they don’t have to have it all figured out before they join our bible study, come to church, or start praying. They can just hit start and we can trust that Christ will meet them there. My friend who wanted to talk evolution on that Saturday night is still seeking. And I hope I’ll be one who can help her press start, trusting that God is the author of our hearts and our faith, and He is always working to draw us to Himself.

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NicoleUnice_Webshot1_highres-1024x682Nicole Unice is on the ministry staff at Hope Church and co-author of “Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus.” Find out more at http://nicoleunice.com or http://StartHereBook.com.

What I Wish I Had Known As a New Mom

9627-young mom and newborn_edited.630w.tn-2A nurse stood at the foot of my hospital bed and smiled. “Are you ready to go home today?” I looked at her, felt every ounce of the nine-pound baby sleeping in my arms, and fought back tears as I pushed out a short, “Yeah. Absolutely.” Over the next hour, we received discharge instructions from a pediatrician, my midwife and the nurse - when to call, what to look for, what’s normal and what’s a problem, how much bleeding is too much bleeding, how often to feed and how to know if he’s getting enough, and a number to call when we eventually began to panic. We sat on the bed and held our son; and for an entire hour, I tried not to cry.

Everyone left, my husband went to drop bags off at the car, and as I rested in a chair cradling a squishy baby boy, I cried for the first time since his birth. Through quiet tears, I leaned down and whispered, “I’m sorry. I promise, we’ll be okay.”

Motherhood is unlike anything else I have known. It is beautiful, terrifying, empowering, humbling, and transformative. In that one little moment leaving the hospital, I felt love, fear, guilt and joy all at once. Everyone told me that grace abounds and that I needed to just give myself plenty of room to adjust, but showering ourselves with grace is difficult. What does it actually look like in a world of dirty diapers, leaky milk, postpartum bellies, unpredictable hormones, and maddening insomnia?

Could I walk back and sit across from myself in that hospital room, I’d want to paint a picture of what grace looks like as a new mother. (continue reading at iBelieve.com)

For The One We Lost

We talk about becoming a parent when a baby is born. We say things like, "You will be a great dad!" Or "Are you ready to be parents in a few months?" It's not true though. We become parents the moment we know there is a baby. The second that stick shows two pink lines, we are parents. Our brains switch into a new mode. For my friends who have adopted, I would imagine they share a similar experience related to the first time they saw a picture of their sweet child - or maybe even just knowing he or she was out there waiting to be found by them. For me, this has come with the knowledge of a pregnancy. We pray for that baby. Worry about its health. Dream over its future. Imagine the new personality and life it will bring into our world. We begin to sacrifice immediately, cutting expenses, giving up habits, changing our diets, rearranging our lives to make room for this new person that we already love just because they exist.

Yes, I am quite sure that we become parents the moment we are aware of our child's being.

This happened for me on May 25, 2010 when I learned I was pregnant with the oldest one. On September 6, 2012, my mind shifted into a mother-of-two role when those little lines told me the youngest was coming. And then it happened again, on February 15, 2014, when we learned that we were expecting a wonderful, welcomed surprise - baby Joyner #3.

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We laughed a lot. I freaked out and cried a little. We rearranged our plans. I knew I was a mother of three - two on the outside, one on the inside. For the last month, we told our family and friends the news as we saw them around. We adjusted plans for finances and looked for more space. And we tossed around a few different ways to tell everyone publicly using the first ultrasound, an appointment we were scheduled for yesterday, just under 10 weeks along in the pregnancy. We imagined we would be telling everyone last night.

Instead, my midwife told me in a gentle, compassionate voice, "I can't find a heartbeat." She said it looked like I was a little further along than we had suspected. And this probably happened in the last day or two. I could see my baby on that screen...a faint outline of arms, a precious round head, and a perfect little torso. I stared at the picture and knew this was as close as I was going to get to seeing his or her face and I cried. I could imagine a nose and eyes that might be similar to our boys. I wondered about the features that would be different. All I wanted to do was hold that baby and tell him or her it was okay. And I would miss them.

Tomorrow, we'll go into the hospital and when we leave, our baby will not be with us. Friends, I don't know how to do this next part. I don't know how to be pregnant, to feel sick everyday, to make plans and dreams, to no longer fit comfortably in my jeans, to share excitement with our three-year-old, and then to just not be pregnant anymore. I understand postpartum. I don't understand adjusting back to normal without a baby in my arms.

I've debated a lot about if I would write at all, and when to speak or what to say if I did. Here's what I've come to. Each of my children has been celebrated. We have proudly displayed their pictures and announced their being to the world. As a proud mama of three, I want my friends and family to know about this sweet little one. I want to celebrate this life and the love we have for this child of ours. I know the process looks different for everyone. This is just what's most natural for me.

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We grieve because this baby, this unique and beautiful person, was already so dearly loved and adored. To those that have poured out prayers, tears, letters, and phone calls - we are deeply grateful and encouraged by each of you. Thank you. The closer we get to tomorrow, the heavier this sadness becomes. We covet your prayers in the morning and in the days ahead. Thank you for circling around us and loving us so well.

As friends have heard about our loss, many have shared with us their experiences with the children they never held, or for some, those they held only a short while. Their words remind us that we are not alone, that this sadness will ease, and that its okay to always see ourselves as the parents of one who is not with us on this side of heaven.

BJ and I have dreams of a big family and I believe more little faces will fill our home in the years to come. But we will also remember this precious baby and stay forever grateful for the life that they lived. We are the parents of three now. Two here with us and one in the arms of the Creator. Perhaps the most surprising emotion I'm experiencing is gratitude. Even though it ended with a loss, I wouldn't change being pregnant for those weeks. Had I known this would be the end, I wouldn't go back and take it away. I'm grateful to have been this one's mama, a title I will proudly carry for the rest of my life.

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you." Psalm 139:13-18

One of the Most Damaging Attitudes in Our Churches

cynicism It was an attitude I learned in Church, and I used to believe it was a strength.

I thought I was simply a critical thinker, full of constructive insights. My husband and I shared a “gift for reflection” and spun many conversations around what we considered to be compelling observations about what the Church and other people were doing wrong and what they could do better. Never mind the fact that our tips were not actually being presented to those we believed would benefit from them. At least we saw the problems, right?

But with time, the satisfaction of hearing ourselves talk began to fade and a nauseating feeling settled in its place. No matter how positive a light we tried to cast it in, we were filling up on bitterness and tasting the result.

Subtly, without even realizing it, we had become cynics. And the toxic effect could be felt in our marriage, our relationships and our ability to communicate Christ’s love for the world.

Join me at RELEVANT Magazine to continue reading...

5 Questions to Ask Before Posting to Social Media

social_media_questions This is a featured article I wrote for RELEVANT Magazine.

I was a freshman in college when Facebook came out and I distinctly remember thinking, “why would I need this? I have AOL Instant Messenger and MySpace!”

Well, times have changed. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram (and a slew of other sites I’m not cool enough to know about) have simultaneously brought us closer together and driven us further apart. With the exception of a few universally offensive statements or pictures, it’s a rule-free zone where we can interact with society while accepting minimal personal responsibility for the implications of what we do.

In absence of guidelines for healthy and polite social media etiquette, we are left to determine our own boundaries for navigating the seemingly endless opportunities available to us.

Before we snap one more picture of our hot chocolate topped with a foam leaf, perhaps we would benefit from a brief pause—an extra 30 seconds to ask five simple questions might suggest it’s time to unplug, or at least reconsider when and how we use social media:

1. Am I seeking Approval?

If you’ve taken an introductory psychology class, you’ve probably heard of B.F. Skinner and operant conditioning. Skinner suggested that we learn behaviors through reinforcement.

When I seek validation through something I post and that little red flag starts popping up to notify me of each person giving me attention, it’s an addictive reward. And it works. I feel better, so I keep coming back for more. The next time I need to feel approval, I’ll return to the source that poured it out last time, and the cycle of reinforcement continues.

What are the bigger needs asking to be met here? Maybe it’s a desire for community. Perhaps it stems from unresolved conflict with someone I love. Or maybe I just thrive on pleasing people and hearing their praise. If your interaction with the internet is driven by a need for approval, consider healthier ways to address this issue and choose to stop reinforcing the unhealthy ones.

2. Am I boasting?

There’s sharing excitement and then there’s bragging. Truthfully, we each know which camp we fall in.

When the Apostle Paul described what it meant to love others, he specifically mentioned that love does not boast. That post isn’t “just a picture” or “just a tweet,” it’s an opportunity to love others in a way that reflects Jesus. Or it’s an opportunity to show them something quite different, something that looks nothing like Christ.

Examine your motivations and walk away before using social media as the adult version of show-and-tell.

3. Am I discontent?

Are you looking for something “better”? If so, walk away. Nothing you will read, write or see is going to solve this one.

Instead, ask yourself why you are discontent and address those needs. When we view social media from a lens of discontentment, whatever we find will be colored with bitterness and ungratefulness. Their lives will begin to look brighter than ours, while our lives will take on a sense of lacking.

Let us not forget—their world is as ordinary as ours and our life is as exciting as theirs. Do you believe that in your core? If not, take a break. Deactivate your account for a couple months. Create space to reevaluate and look for answers in the places you’ll actually find them. Stop asking the virtual world to solve dissatisfaction with the physical one.

4. Is this a moment to protect?

When my son crawls into my lap, he doesn’t want me to take his picture and shoot it across Facebook. He doesn’t care who else thinks I have a cute kid. He just wants me to hold him and see him. To feel his soft, chunky arms and to focus on the way his eyelashes move when he blinks.

When we interrupt lunch with a friend in order to quote her on Twitter, we invite hundreds of people into a conversation that could have been sacred; and we miss the sweet memories that may have formed had her words remained simply between the two of us.

Not every great moment needs to be shared. In fact, some of the best times are most enjoyed privately. If we suspend the present in an attempt to capture its beauty in 140 characters or less, we sacrifice our experience of the moment itself. We also rob each other of something that has been lost in our digital age—keeping a handful of memories between us and those we are closest to, or even just between us and God.

5. Is it kind?

Let’s return to Paul and his call to love. “Love is patient. Love is kind.”

Our culture tells us it’s our right to comment on everything, regardless of whether it was addressed to us and without consideration for how it might affect others.

We’ve replaced face-to-face confrontation with sharp comments and mocking memes. We write demeaning tweets addressed to celebrities or openly criticize individuals we have never met, hiding behind the convenience that they cannot directly defend themselves and nobody is putting our personal lives on display for public criticism.

We have been given covered space from which to throw grenades, without requiring us to take responsibility for the weight of our words, their effect on other people and their reflection on the Church. Jesus said the world would recognize us by our love. What messages are we sending?

A Better Way

Social Media seems to be built around the idea that it can infiltrate nearly every part of our lives. And if we let it, that’s exactly what will happen. We are the ones who say when its reach becomes unhealthy.

As children, our parents laid out rules for our protection and as adults we took on the task of caring for our own well being and personal growth. It’s our job to set boundaries and ask tough questions, tending to the bigger picture of our relationships and the way our actions reflect Christ’s love for this world.

It’s worth noting that these are questions we ask of ourselves, not criteria for interpreting and evaluating others. We cannot know their hearts anymore than they can know ours.

Let us pause and give ourselves an honest moment to reflect—bringing discernment, love and wisdom to each picture and word we share.

"It's Not Me, It's Them" - The Lie Keeping Us From Community

8828-friends coffee laughing_edited.630w.tnI can recall, with nearly perfect clarity, the first time I experienced a broken relationship. The scene unfolded on a kindergarten playground. My friend approached me at the beginning of recess and said something witty like; “I’m not your friend anymore. I saw you talking to so-and-so. I’ll never talk to you again.” Apparently, I was only allowed to communicate with her, a rule nobody mentioned on the first day of class. She walked away and I cried. The sting of that loss was unlike anything I had known prior.

Relationships are tender and tricky beasts. We need them and our hearts ache in their absence, but the protocol for establishing and maintaining them is often less than clear. Occasionally, problems arise due to the actions of one person, as seen above; but often, both parties are involved in the fallout. Many of us have experienced the pain of being ostracized within a group of people, but when that situation repeats itself in new contexts, we have to ask ourselves if there might be a pattern to our story. Perhaps it is time to stop listing the reasons other have let us down, and instead give an honest appraisal of our own contributions...(continue reading at iBelieve.com)

Signing Up to Take Out the Trash

man-taking-the-garbage-outAt the heart of every thriving church, you will find a dedicated team of volunteers who come alongside the staff and give sacrificially so that life can happen. When I picture volunteer support in the local church, I see an iceberg. The visible portion of an iceberg is also the smallest portion, while the base of its power can be found below the water. Similarly, many of the vital support roles in the church are less visible, or at least less glamorous, but each is critically important. They are the jobs where nobody notices when you do them, but everyone notices when they are not getting done....(join me at iBelieve.com for the rest of the article and more thoughts on serving our local churches)

The Unfiltered Picture We Already Live In

By now, I hope you are getting a sense of how I roll here. On other sites, I cover a variety of topics...parenting, marriage, faith and then some. But this place is a bit sacred to me. I tend to process out loud here and many of the posts you'll find are coming out of current thoughts and conversations. The more I write elsewhere, the more this feels like home. I've been chewing on some questions today, which of course have brought back to this screen. How can I feel envious of someone I haven't seen in years (if even at all)? How can a picture, taken on someone's phone, make me feel that I am missing something? How can discontentment rise out of something as small as a facebook status?

I have three rules while using Pinterest: 1) Start from a place of contentment, otherwise stay away. 2) Just because she can do it (and wants to do it), doesn't mean I have to 3) Don't forget about all the things that can't be seen in that delicately balanced little picture. Truthfully, these rules should be applied to interaction with all forms of media.

It used to be that only magazines had airbrushed, filtered photos. I now have the ability to take a picture of the dumpster behind my apartment and make it look like a work of art using a couple built in tricks on my phone. Family pictures were once taken on a simple camera with film to be developed. However they came out, that's how they were. No edits or retakes. Hiring a professional meant throwing together some matching outfits and heading to the Sear's studio on a Saturday.

Don't misunderstand. I LOVE the choices we have now. If I could hire a professional photographer to follow my family around every Friday, I would without hesitation. The ability to capture the best moments in a single frame is a gift! Those quick breaks in the chaos when everyone is happy and present...each picture represents such memories. So please hear me when I say that they are good, but my mind can use them to play tricks on me. It's not about what other people post...it's about how I process what they say. Because when I see the pictures and read the updates, I tend to forget the things I cannot see.

Allow me to demonstrate. Here is a picture of my boys as we left for Thanksgiving lunch. Happy. Clean. Laughing. Clothed.

ImageDo you know how many pictures I took to get ONE where they were both smiling and somewhat looking at me? And let's just talk about the ten minutes I chased my son around the apartment trying to dry his hair while he screamed "no mommy! no!"...

Image 2Perhaps your newsfeed has been flooded with beautiful shots of savory meals and colorful tables. Let us not forget that this is what the kitchen looks like behind all those pictures (photo taken of my sink AFTER two loads of dishes)...

Image 1I don't post pictures at 4:00 AM when I've already been up three times with my six month old who, yes, still doesn't sleep through the night. I don't post pictures of me doing the ugly cry in the car when I think about my boys growing up. I don't post facebook statuses from the bathroom as I rush to clean the toilet because our friends arrived for dinner and I remember that someone else will actually being using it.

The pictures...the tweets...the status updates...they don't always give us the sharp taste of dirty realness in everyone else's lives. If we think beyond what we can see, we might reinterpret some common posts...

"Major dinner fail = pizza with my love!" could also read, "house smells like burnt flesh and I cried while throwing away $30 worth of groceries." 

"Snuggled up with kids watching Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving by the fire!" could be followed up with, "kids quit after 10 minutes...they are now chasing each other and screaming...husband and I are fighting about who should put them to bed."

Picture of an ultrasound next to a pregnant belly could easily carry the caption, "14 weeks...you think I'm glowing? That's sweat because I just finished throwing up."

We know this is reality, but occasionally, we forget that everyone else is living in the same reality as us. And when we forget how real everyone else's lives actually are, we become disillusioned with our own stories. Somehow our lives begin to feel unusually ordinary, and we may buy into this idea that others are living a pinterest board life we dream of but cannot attain. As if they exist in some sort of instagram utopia, while we scrape by in a world of dirty dishes, backed up toilets, and uncooperative children. And from this place, we become discontent.

We are all living in the same unfiltered picture; full of earth, tears, sweat, pain, joy, fear, and mystery. Their life is just as gritty and bland as yours. And your life is just as beautiful, complex and exciting as theirs. 

To my friends reading along, I'd like to introduce you to Katie...

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Katie and Josh were married last fall. Only half way through their first year of marriage, Katie was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. She is currently at risk of losing her health insurance in less than two weeks; without which she cannot continue treatment. I cannot adequately express to you how deep of an injustice I believe this is, but I can contribute what little help I have to offer. Together, let's get involved in Katie and Josh's story through the following steps...

1. Read their story posted below.

2. Pray for full and complete healing.

3. Donate something. Anything! $10, $50, $100, $1000. Only you know what you are able to give. Prayers are powerful, but please don't stop there. Any gift you have to give will help as they fight to keep her insurance and tackle the pile of medical bills they are now facing.

4. Tell your friends. Post their donation page on your facebook wall. Email it out to your office. Re-post this blog on your wordpress page. Let's rally behind Katie and Josh as they fight together.

Thank you now for each way you choose to help these dear friends!

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(taken from Katie's donation page)

Katie and her husband, Josh, were living the blissful newlywed life when they received the tragic news that Katie has severe adrenocortical carcinoma, a rare and extremely aggressive form of cancer. Although the odds were stacked against her, Katie decided from day one to fight the illness with the utmost bravery and strength. She dove straight into a grueling treatment plan filled with chemotherapy and a variety of other medications, all of which started to take a serious toll on her body within a matter of days. Between the cancer and the side effects of treatment, Katie's physical condition deteriorated rapidly. 

For the first couple months, Katie fought through her debilitating condition and insisted on working at her job as much as possible. When doctors and loved ones encouraged her to stay home, she remained adamant that she would continue working. Eventually, however, the cancer made it impossible for Katie to continue working and she was forced to take time away in order to give her body the rest it desperately needed.

At first, Katie was told she would remain employed and that she would not have to worry about losing her insurance coverage (which covers the experimental treatment she is currently undergoing). However, Katie found out recently that she has been let go from her job. As a result, Katie's insurance coverage will run out at the end of November unless she is able to afford the cost of maintaining her plan.

Katie's current health insurance plan is vital in her fight against cancer. But with a sea of medical bills already piled high, she and Josh are going to have a hard time coming up with the funds needed for maintaining Katie's insurance. Without health insurance, paying for Katie's treatment would be next to impossible.

Please help make it possible for Katie to afford her health insurance and medical expenses. No donation is too small and every little bit is helpful. Katie is fighting every day to stay alive. Let's ease her burden by doing what we can to ensure her the best treatment possible. Thank you in advance for your support!

How it works: All donations go directly to Katie and Josh as soon as the donation is made. They receive the donation in full.

Choosing Silence

james-1-19-ipad-christian-wallpaper-bible-lock-screen-439x324I was mad. Fueled and ready to debate. All I needed was to get alone with BJ so that I could relay the way I saw it and why I needed him to compromise. But first I had a lunch meeting to get through, which wasn't going to be easy given the riveting speech I was mentally preparing. As the lettuce wraps arrived at our table, I confided in my friend. I asked her to help me see it differently. Her advice was unexpected. "What if you didn't say anything?" "Hmmm." (direct quote of my response). "What if this time, you were just his cheerleader? And you decided to not say anything negative for a little while? Just see what happens." I called BJ after the lunch and told him that I didn't want to argue. I told him that I loved him and trusted him. In the weeks since that conversation, I've noticed an interesting change. In the beginning, I was frustrated. Wound up. Then I wasn't. And then I was peaceful. My feelings towards our disagreement have actually changed. I noted recently that I am genuinely on his side...and I don't think I would have come to that place if I hadn't taken the time to be silent.

I'm a talker. The people who know me well just laughed and said something along the lines of "you think?!" Not speaking, especially when I am emotional, is a far stretch beyond my natural inclinations. It is also an important discipline; and it is for the health of my relationships.

When I choose to not speak, I pick up a few things I had been missing...

I hear what I'm actually saying. Three years ago, BJ and I felt convicted about how often we were critical. We had justified our comments because they were "constructive"...you know,  frequently discussing how something else could have been more efficient, the reasons behind someone's behavior, etc. We weren't helping anyone. We were just puffing ourselves up. There are appropriate times for those observations, but we sensed that they were occurring too often. "Let's agree to not say anything critical for at least a month." This was especially difficult because we were in the middle of a season of American Idol - and we're musicians. Suddenly we became aware of how often we spoke this way. It was unsettling and the realization changed us. We'll slip back into old habits at times, but that period of silence made us listen to what we were actually saying so that we recognize it today.

I discover the beliefs behind the words. When I chose to reserve any negative comments related to the story I told you earlier, I was able to hear my thoughts play out...and they revealed the motives and beliefs behind my emotions. That understanding was truly constructive. We need to be people who speak up, share our feelings and are honest when we've been hurt or we disagree. I realize that for some people, those are difficult things to do. But some of us don't have a hard time with that. In fact, for people like me, we can easily share everything, all the time, without running it through a filter to determine if it is best to speak - or at least to speak in this moment. Waiting gives us time to listen closer...and to hear the words that aren't being said. The thoughts we didn't know we had.

I realize that I was wrong. Sometimes the wait clarifies our thoughts and enables us to better express our original feelings. Sometimes the wait gives us the space and perspective to realize we need to change those original feelings. If you asked me today about the situation I mentioned above, I would tell you, with complete honesty, that I do not feel the way I did on that day. I see it differently now and I'm grateful for the words I did not say...words I would not have been able to take back.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. -Proverbs 18:2

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger... -James 1:19

Words are big deal to me. They can communicate, inspire, hurt...and for me, they tend to come quickly. But that intentional moment of silence...reserving what could be said...adjusts my heart and eventually gives me the words I really mean. The words I'll be proud of later.

What I Can't See

Whim Dec 008"You don't have to put up a fight. You don't have to always be right. Let me take some of the punches for you tonight. Listen to me now. I need to let you know. You don't have to go it alone...Sometimes you can't make it on your own." -U2

I was familiar with the saying "it takes a village to raise a child" before having kids, but it wasn't until those early months with my firstborn that I understood what it really meant.  I was drowning and without that village, survival felt questionable. A swift cure for any delusions of being perfect or all-knowing is the birth of a child. To say it can be humbling is putting it gently. I needed other women to tell me what to do when my baby screamed all day long. I needed them to laugh with an "I've been there" smile when I talked about all my clothes smelling like regurgitated milk. I needed my mom to go to the store and pick up the handful of prescriptions I was given at the hospital. I needed her hands to hold my baby while I napped. I needed BJ to help me shower because for the first few days, I could barely stand. I needed the dozens of women who brought us dinners...and the girlfriends who brought me lunch. I needed my friends to text me messages of encouragement on the day BJ went back to work and all I could do was cry. I needed people to tell me it was going to get easier, because I couldn't see it. I couldn't see the day he would sleep more than 45 minutes at a time. I couldn't see the moment he'd call me "mama". I couldn't imagine the first time I'd ask him what was wrong and he'd actually tell me. I couldn't see the afternoon I'd pack away his baby clothes and cry as I taped the box shut. They could. And I needed them.

We need people. Even the most introverted among us needs the support, experience, perspective and practical help of other people. Sometimes we forget that though and we tend to act as if we are an island unto ourselves. Maybe we feel ashamed to ask for or accept help. Perhaps we worry about becoming a burden. Or in some cases, maybe we are just too stickin' prideful.

I had lunch with a friend today. She arrived early and caught me off guard as I hung up the phone after a difficult conversation. I debated whether or not to bring it up, and ultimately decided that I needed help seeing it differently. Her experience gives her perspective. That perspective allows her to see things that I simply cannot yet see on my own. That perspective changed everything about my attitude.

Don't make decisions in a vacuum. Be discerning about who gets to speak into your life, but then let those chosen voices love you well. Let them support you. Let them warn you. Let them advise you. Ask for help. And when it's offered, graciously say thank you. Seek perspective from those with more experience. Listen to their stories. Consider their insight. 

"Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end, you will be counted among the wise." -Proverbs 19:20

"The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice." -Proverbs 12:15

From this place, I am excited to announce a new series of guest posts coming to A Conscious Life. We will have the opportunity to hear from a variety women, men and couples about what they would go back and tell themselves with the perspective they have gained over time. I'm sure we will find ourselves in many of their stories, with their voices echoing our own struggles and doubts. I am also confident that I will be encouraged, challenged and inspired by what they have to say. Hopefully you will too! To be kept up-to-date with the posts as they roll in, follow us via email or like the facebook page. And keep an eye out for an opportunity to submit your own perspective story. More details on that coming soon!

I Want It and I Want It Now!

taken from one of my favorite psych studies. if you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and search "the marshmallow test" This post represents an ongoing conversation between BJ and me. Maybe you can relate to pieces of it, maybe it's not a struggle for you like it is for us. The idea is simple, but the change is requiring intentional work. I'm always a little leery of posts where someone says "here are the 10-steps my family went through to change X and now we've arrived". I just don't think it usually works that way. Change seems to happen on a continuum that always leaves room to grow. So this is a picture of our movement along that continuum.

Boredom used to look different. When BJ and I started dating, smart phones didn't exist. If we were out and had a question, we had to wait until we got home to look up the answer. If we forgot about it by then, it probably wasn't worth our time anyhow. If we had a fun story to share, we would tell our friends when we actually saw them. Or we had the sweet pleasure of keeping it between us. There was no digital shrine to go back and see how many people liked what we had to say. There was a time when my only computer was a desktop upstairs. I could either spend time with the people I loved OR I could be on the computer. I could not do both simultaneously.

Flash forward to 2010. I wait in the car while he runs into Trader Joe's. I ask him to leave his iPhone so I can “check stuff”. Making it sound like something I have to do makes me feel better about scrolling through email and facebook in the five minutes it will take him to buy bananas. In the short drive to Target (and by short, I literally mean crossing from one side of the street to the other), I check the weather and look up some meaningless pop culture news. We share a laugh over something we see in the store. He tweets it out and I post it to facebook while we wait to pay. I’ll check back every 20 minutes or so to see how many people “liked” our story. That night, somehow we will manage to watch TV, "talk" and surf the internet...at the same time.

We didn’t suddenly develop a hunger for instant gratification when he got an iPhone or we acquired laptops, it just became easier to feed our addiction to having what we want as soon as we want it. In reality, we weren't actually getting what we wanted. We were just getting something to fill the space.

BJ sold his iPhone six months ago and while our desire for immediate satisfaction didn't go away, we did become more aware of it. Without a 4-inch internet hub in our back pocket, the drive for "give it to me now" can be seen in our quick retrieval of the computer as soon as we get a break, the number of times we visit particular websites in a given day with the hope that a new story will be posted, the incessant need to communicate with everyone all the time, and our inability to tell Netflix "no, we aren't going to watch another episode of Friday Night Lights tonight...even if Tim Riggins has been devastatingly misunderstood. Again."

The longer I sit with this awareness of myself, the more it makes me uncomfortable; so I’m addressing it in these four arenas…

Approval: I’m pretty sure if you googled “needs immediate feedback”, my picture would appear in the top right corner of your screen. At least it should. Under my headshot you might find this description “Cara Joyner: seeks immediate feedback and approval in order to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of insecurity and uncertainty found in prolonged silence.” When facebook added the ability to "like" and comment on statuses, it was like giving candy to a toddler. I couldn't get enough. Pressing into this place with a goal of change has meant taking a big step back from social media. Over the course of our marriage, this has also meant allowing BJ to retire from the weary job of immediate-evaluater and constant-pat-on-the-backer. Those spots have been vacant in recent years.

Entertainment: The take away from this one is pretty simple. Watch less TV and read more books. Not online articles. Not blogs. Books.

Information: One of my favorite commercials of 2012 was a Toyota commercial with a hipster girl lamenting over her parents' social life. They nailed a few generational traits with her character. In the beginning she says, "I read an article...well, I read the majority of an article." Love it. Pretty much sums it up for a lot of us. Finish the article even after getting the "basic idea". Just because I have a question and the means for finding the answer, that doesn't mean I need to or should search for it right away. If I read the news in the morning, I can wait to look at it again tonight or even tomorrow. If something huge happens, I'll hear about it.

Communication: In the first week BJ and I were dating, he stopped me mid-sentence and said, "you know, we don't have to talk all the time. It's okay if we just sit here and don't say anything." I love that man. Sometimes it really is better to wait and say it later. Or not at all. BJ and I have found one of the most difficult lessons in our marriage is to be able to shelve a serious conversation until morning, once we are rested and less emotional. We are learning to say "I love you", go to bed and deal with it when the sun comes up.

Just because we can fill a space, doesn't mean we should. It's a work in progress, something we are talking about in our marriage and examining how it shapes our family. We have a long way to go between here and where we'd like to be, but it's already clear that with each step away from the desire to instantly satisfy...and with each step towards a more patient center...time slows, anxiety dissipates, and our minds are free to think about much bigger things.

Silence is good and stillness a treasure. Don't waste them.

I See You Looking At Me

We are currently on our first vacation in three years. It's also our first vacation since having children. I no longer spend hours reading on the beach, but right now I am sitting on a porch overlooking the ocean while both my babies nap. It's a new type of vacation. Not less, just new. I'm grateful. We took the boys down to the beach this morning and I noticed a familiar look from the older couples around us. It's a look that says "we've been there" and "I miss those days." I watched the woman to my right interact with her husband. Some of you may recall how I processed a few of my postpartum insecurities recently. Those thoughts fresh in my mind, I glanced down at my still wrinkly and stretched out belly and then looked on with admiration towards the woman to my right. I think it's safe to assume that she also carried her babies at one point, and now they are grown. She's alternating between reading a book and napping with her feet in the water, something I used to do and something I'll do again one day. She and her husband smile at us with that look.

My eyes wander behind the couple and land on three teenagers sitting with their parents. I grew up on this beach and seeing them brings back memories of me trying to "tan" and hoping to catch the attention of some teenage boys nearby. That was always unlikely though, given the close proximity my loving father maintained....all. week. long.

I watch the teenage girl sitting next to me and remember what it felt like to come on vacation with my parents and sister. Time meant nothing as I stretched out under the sun from breakfast to dinner. I watch them and realize that I am giving them the same look.

When women smile at me juggling two kids in the grocery store...when couples stop and laugh because Ian is cheering for ice-cream...when they shout out a quick "how old?" to us while passing by...they aren't thinking, "Man, those kids are exhausted." I'm pretty sure they are thinking "I remember that"..."I wish I could sit with my babies for lunch today"..."I wouldn't trade places with her, but I do miss that."

I was recently struck by this thought as I noticed smiles from several women while I tried to feed the oldest one at a restaurant. I knew they were remembering meals with their kids. And it made me settle. I stopped rushing through lunch and planning out the rest of my day.  I just sat with my sweet boy, allowing him to take his time. And when I let go, I found that I enjoyed that meal tremendously. I loved even the smallest details and I wasn't in a hurry to leave. My patience increased and my tone softened.

Since then, I have been left with thoughts about embracing our lives and holding them with open hands. It is from this place that I hope to offer encouragement. We don't know what we don't know. Once we move past our present circumstances, we will always view them differently. So embrace it now. Be grateful for it now. Don't wish it away.

It's nothing profound and it's been said before. I can name at least three country songs with the exact same message. But sometimes it bears repeating so that we don't forget.

If you are younger, wishing to be older and on your own, be still. Be grateful. Your day of independence will come and with it a new set of adventures and challenges. You'll never be in this place again, so enjoy it while you're here.

If you are single, longing to be married, I'm not going to tell you to not be frustrated or "your day will come". I would never want to belittle your story with such a trite statement. What I will say is this, there are freedoms and experiences you can enjoy now that will change when you are married. So embrace those places.

If you are tired from life with tiny people, I hope I can remind you to embrace the long days and the little moments. They only come around once, so let's welcome them while we can. Even in exhaustion.

I don't know anything about the next stages of life, but I'm guessing the message is still the same. Where ever we are, there is always someone further down the road who knows a lot more than we do. And it seems that they will always tell us to slow down, be grateful, and enjoy the moments we are fortunate enough to be experiencing today.

"Hidden Years"

This post has been swirling around in my head for a month. So many words I want to say.  Yesterday I sat down to write it. I have now spent the last 24 hours coming back and forth to my computer, staring at the blinking cursor on a completely white screen. How do I start talking about something that I am currently walking though? How do I write about something that I have so little perspective on outside of my present experiences? It's easier to look back later and offer some reflection on what I learned in the trenches. It's an entirely different process to look around in the mud and the rain and speak to the beautiful and challenging moments that abound. Following a blog I had posted last month, my friend Christy sent me a note of encouragement. We wrote back and forth and I confided in her some of the challenges I find in this season of life. She responded with "Hang in there...these are some of your 'hidden years.'"

I could not come up with a better description of how this season sometimes feels.

My mind rotates a series of thoughts that seem to conflict with each other...bringing me back to a sense that it is about balance. I don't want to wish away these years by holding my breath until my children are grown and able to be more independent. This is a precious time and I want to cherish it.  I'm terrified that one day I'll wake up and realize the season has passed. I also don't want to slip into a hole of believing I can't be plugged into the world during this time, only to emerge two decades later and find that I no longer have interests and projects that are my own. It's amazing how I can feel so completely overwhelmed by the demands of the day, never reaching a place where everything is "done"...and at the same time I feel a yearning for activity. How is that even possible when I spend 15-16 hours a day chasing around a toddler who has more energy in a single moment than BJ and I can manage in an entire week?

These are years of waiting. They are years of great exhaustion. They are years of beautiful laughter and new discoveries. These are years of around the clock noise and work. And yet they are years of silence. These are years of learned, tested and relearned patience. Years of sacrifice and commitment. These are years of learning to do work that may never be seen. Years of learning to be okay with that. These are years where everyone sees me when my child is running out of my reach or screaming out of frustration. Years when no one sees me in that special moment when he quietly and politely obeys at home. These are years of watching my children explore the world for the first time. Years of me exploring it again through their eyes. Years of spending days running errands without makeup or showers. And years of somehow getting all cleaned up early in the morning on the days when I don't actually see anyone. These years often feel hidden.

And all of that is okay. I can honestly say that I am at peace with it. Being at peace with something doesn't mean it is no longer difficult. And admitting that something is difficult does not mean I don't appreciate, love and see the beauty in it. I'm about to give birth for the second time. Labor is difficult and painful. I wish I could skip the hard part, but I can't. And even though I'm honest that it is hard, I'm at peace going into it again. Even though the process is at times incredibly painful, the end result is more beautiful than I could express with words.

These years are also preparation years...preparing me for stories I cannot yet see. Seasons of stillness in the midst of chaos that I am sure are shaping me for the future.

Inter-mixed with other writings that I have planned for this space, I hope to keep coming back to this idea of hidden years during the season of life with small children...what it looks like...how we can be intentional about life and community within it...and learning to embrace the present, even when we embrace it through tears.

When Angry Neighbors Come Knocking

hand-knocking-at-doorWhen I think of meeting the neighbors, some very cliche TV scenes come to mind...a woman tapping on the door with a plate of cookies in tow, kids playing in the street while the movers unpack the van and their parents shake hands over a white fence...you know...the scenes from Desperate Housewives when someone new came to the lane and then we found out they had a body in the freezer. What I don't normally think about is an enraged Latina woman knocking on my door to tell me my son is keeping her kids awake.  Unfortunately, this is how I met our next door neighbor yesterday.  As I've churned over the conversation for the past 24 hours, I have come to an unsettling conclusion - I wish I had responded differently.

I steer clear of this type of situation.  When there is an uncomfortable conversation to be had with a stranger, I typically let BJ take the lead while I slip into the back room and wait it out.  It isn't that I'm uncomfortable with confrontation...I am actually quiet confident when it comes to conflict.  It is that I am shamefully worried about other people being upset with me.  And in this situation, that fear kept me from loving my neighbor well.

She brought a teenage boy with her to translate, which was a bit of a relief because after she would speak with strong, passionate frustration, he would look at the ground and mutter out something along the lines of  "so if the noise is coming from here, could you just please stop. please."  I don't speak Spanish, but I know that isn't what she said.

We haven't worried too much about the noise Ian makes because the neighbors below us make a tremendous amount of noise as late as 11:30 at night.  We figured any little rumble a toddler could stir up wouldn't even be noticed.  What we failed to consider was the fact that his room shares a wall with the apartment next door...and the other side of that wall is apparently her children's bedroom.  So when he "plays drums" by taking a plastic bowling pin to the shelf on this shared wall, it creates a hammering sound in their apartment.  We had no idea this was going on.

So there I was, standing in the doorway with wide eyes listening and watching as an upset mother spoke to me through a teenage boy.  And all I could think was "settle this down so she likes you".  WHAT?!  A secondary thought running through my head was "this isn't fair...we make less noise than anyone else in this building and I am the one getting yelled at.  It isn't fair."

I apologized profusely and promised it would stop immediately, but I also suggested that the noise could have been coming from other apartments in addition to ours.  I looked at her when she was talking, but not when I was apologizing...and certainly not when I was hinting that maybe we weren't the only culprits.  With a little time to process, I wish I handled that situation differently.  As strong as her tone was, everything about her body language said that she was incredibly uncomfortable to be talking with me.  It seemed that I made her uncomfortable, which was even worse.  She also looked exhausted.  The way she spoke about her kids gave me the impression that she is likely raising them on her own, a challenge I cannot even begin to relate to.  I am sure that the noise coming from our apartment was just one small thing on a much larger list she is dealing with currently.  It just turned out to be the tipping point in her day.

If I could go back to the doorway yesterday, I would not make a single excuse.  I would not suggest the noise was coming from somewhere else.  And I would not look at the teenager while addressing the mother.  Instead, I would turn my whole body to face her, look her in the eye and tell her how sincerely sorry I am.  I would also introduce myself and ask for her name, so that when I see her in the future I can offer a personal hello.  She would be my primary concern, rather than focusing on how uncomfortable it made me.  I hope that I would display compassion and that my apology would feel sincere.

I cannot change the situation now, but I will let it shape the way I approach those moments in the future.  Because when I'm so busy worrying about what strangers think of me, I cannot love them well.

Watering My Own Yard

(This post is now three years old, but it was one of the most personally meaningful for me. The thoughts that began here changed my heart. Maybe our stories are similar, which is why I share it today.)

............

Originally posted June 2010

While scrolling through Twitter last week, I came across a quote that rocked my world.  In talking about marriages, pastor Rick Warren said...

“The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it.”

19 words.  That's it.  But I haven't been able to get those 19 words out of my head in over a week.

I know that marriages take work, but I often forget how much work is required for other areas of my life (such as rest, my relationship with God, my relationships with other people, the way I spend my time and money, etc). Instead, I am so quick to assume that the grass is greener in someone else’s life.

If you ask my parents, they will likely tell you that I have always been this way. Growing up, I was only content as long as I didn’t see something that looked better. As soon as I found something that appeared "greener", I worked to achieve or become whatever it was. The same is true today.

Driving to work this morning, I thought about how little time I spend doing the things I say I want to do (such as writing. sitting and listening to music, reading, and other things that equal life-giving rest). In this particular moment, I was also listening to Sara Groves (shocking, I know). From my perspective, she embodies peacefulness more than any other person I know. I made a mental list of the things I want to do, reflected on how unhappy I am that I so rarely do them, and was then jealous of the peaceful surrender that she seems to live in.

As soon as the thought entered my head I could almost audibly hear God say, “Well, do something about it. Water your own yard.” He didn’t say, “It’s ok Cara. You’re very busy and responsible. Let me rub your back and you just tell me about all the big important things you do and how you have no time for anything else.” Instead, He told me to do something about it. He told me to stop whining and start watering my own grass.

It’s not that I can’t read a book, sit and listen to music, or write a blog on a regular basis. I choose not to. I choose not to every time I choose to play on BJ’s iPhone, stay up watching TV, or find some other method of empty distraction. And I’ll be honest, I would love to believe that I just can’t do any of those things. The truth is that I can do all of those things, but it will require that I choose to give up other things.

It’s so much easier to believe that the grass is greener somewhere else. Then we never have to deal with our own yards.