Lauren Casper »

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Forced family fun. That’s what we called it when my siblings and I were growing up and my parents dragged us all over kingdom come to create memories. Whether we were climbing miles up a mountain to swim in a lake created by a melted glacier, or touring yet another Civil War battlefield in the pouring rain — we were going to do it together and by golly we’d like it!

There wasn’t much that deterred my parents from these family adventures, and it’s become a bit of a running joke between me and my siblings. Like the week we went camping in Gettysburg during what can only be described as a summer monsoon. Literally all the other campers packed up their tents and left within the first day or two of rain. But not us.

Never mind the fact that it was so wet we couldn’t get a fire started, everything we owned was soaked, and we had to huddle in a tent playing cards while Dad tried to cook hot dogs on the camping stove under a canopy made from a recently purchased poncho. No – the Boyer’s don’t let a little rain stop them. (I know this, because my Dad reminded us every hour.)

That mantra was drilled into me throughout my childhood – rain or shine, we press on…

Finish reading at the (in)courage website! 

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A few years ago we invited some relatively new friends over to our home for for the first time. Within five minutes of being in my home my friend asked me jokingly, “Where’s all your stuff?” We had a laugh and John and I exchanged a glance as I explained that I really don’t like clutter. (John is a pack-rat and I’ve thrown away more than one trunkful of his junk things in my purging sprees. Hence the look.)

I’ve been leaning toward a minimalist lifestyle for awhile now. I crave the simplicity, contentment, and freedom that comes with living happily with less. I also love the neat, clutter-free home environment a minimalist life brings. So I read the blogs and pin the pins and look around my home and my life and consider how I might make this work in my little world.

I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and got a lot of good ideas from it. One of the things Marie Kondo recommends in her book is asking yourself why you want to “tidy” as she calls it. And when you answer that ask yourself why again and again and again until you have a really specific vision of what you hope your life could be after adopting a minimalist lifestyle. She suggests that the ultimate answer is happiness and I suppose that’s true. I also think it goes deeper than that.

After journaling my own thoughts and answers to “why?” I realized that, for me, it’s more about peace, freedom, and contentment. I have so much more peace of mind when stuff isn’t cluttering up my world. I feel free to open my doors to others when I’m not embarrassed by a mess. And living simply breeds contentment. What I’ve learned, though, is that living simply isn’t confined to material things and/or my home. A minimalist lifestyle applies to other areas of life, too.

Recently I watched a Ted Talk by Dr. Cal Newport titled “Quit Social Media” and I felt a familiar longing in my heart. His theory is that social media is addictive and can be an unnecessary waste of time. I’ve certainly seen that play out in my own life as I spend more time than I planned mindlessly scrolling my social channels. But there’s one platform in particular that’s been a burden to me. Twitter.

I was talking on the phone with my friend and fellow author/blogger, Becky, the other night. We brainstormed different ideas and shared our future goals and hopes. As we were winding down the social media part of our brainstorming session I said to Becky, “Facebook is where my community really is. Instagram is where I just post a bunch of picture of my kids… and I’m still trying to figure out twitter. I still don’t get it!” Becky laughed and agreed on the twitter front and we moved on. But I couldn’t get that part of the conversation out of my mind.

I’ve been on twitter for almost three years and I still don’t get it? Something isn’t working. Not only that, but it’s largely been a burden. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo’s method includes physically touching every item in your home to see if it “sparks joy” in you. If not, it gets discarded. It occurred to me that I could apply this method to social media and see what happened.

I logged onto Instagram, checked my notifications, and scrolled my feed for five minutes. Yes, this is something that brings joy and contentment. I feel inspired by creative friends, and mostly follow other moms, so I enjoy seeing cute pictures of their children. And it’s a joy to document the fun moments my little family makes as well. I logged onto Facebook and went to my public page: joy. Someone shared that a particular post helped them through a tough time. Another commented on a video I created that it helped her not feel alone. This is why I write. I’m not a how-to girl… I’m a me too girl. I love interacting with others who can raise their hands and say, “Yes! Me too!”  and Facebook is where that happens most for me. Then I logged onto twitter…

UGH.

Instead of joy I found a stream of angry rants, passive aggressive arguments, and a continual back and forth. I suppose I’m not following the right people, but then again maybe that’s what twitter has become? This week brought another “blow up” within the Christian community and my shoulders tensed as I felt weight bearing down on me. Nope. Twitter isn’t fun and it isn’t giving me peace, freedom, and contentment: it’s making me want to quit everything.

So instead I just quit twitter. I couldn’t ever quite figure out my place there, anyway, and it dawned on me that perhaps that’s because I don’t have one. And that’s okay! Not everything is for us. Some of us thrive in a twitter environment and some of us don’t. I have a limited number of minutes in my day and its time I stop wasting any of them on something that is just one massive bummer for me.

I left my profile up with a link to my book and my website so that if any of the outlets I write for tweet about me, readers can find my website or book. But I’ve unfollowed everyone to keep a clear feed and logged off. My mind already feels clearer, my load lighter, and my day freed… because (for me) twitter was clutter. Just one more step in my journey toward minimalism.

Is there something weighing you down and cluttering your mind? Is it time to pull an Elsa and let it go? (I know, I’m sorry. I had to.)

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It was in a crowded courtyard nestled in the middle of a compound on a quiet street in Addis Ababa, the capitol city of Ethiopia, that we first heard our son’s name spoken in his native language. As I knelt down and pulled him into my arms, nestling his head against my chest, I heard the nearby nanny’s croon, “Mareto!” in the way we might say, “awwww!” It was soft and sweet. The r was rolled in a way that turned the eh sound into an ah. There was love and affection oozing from her lips and it was absolutely beautiful.

When we started the adoption process just over a year before I wanted to name the baby we weren’t yet matched with. I wanted a way to feel close to the son who would be ours and help it all feel real. So after much debate and deliberation we settled on “Tucker” and began telling friends and family. There was so much about adoption, as amazing and beautiful and incredible as it is, that set us apart from our pregnant friends. Naming our baby felt like a way to have some say in a process that felt largely out of our control.

But then we met Mareto. We heard that first call across the courtyard while holding his small body close and looking into his enormous brown eyes. For the rest of the week we heard his name sung out from the people working at his little transition home. The nurse who was trying to coax a smile from him during a checkup would say it with a laugh in her voice. The nannies would call from across the room with tenderness. By the end of the week Mareto wasn’t just a name, it was a term of endearment.

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A few days after meeting Mareto we had the honor of sitting with his birth mom to answer her questions and ask our own. One particular question had been at the forefront of my mind, and when the moment was right, I asked her, “Does the name Mareto have any special meaning?” She simply smiled at me and said, “Peace.”

Later in the day I sat upstairs in the green baby room rocking my son next to his cradle on the floor. He gripped my fingers while I held his bottle and we knew. This little boy was not Tucker and he never had been. He was Mareto. He always had been and he always would be.

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Today his name is sung out through the walls our home. It’s in the giggles of his little sister, in the affection of grandparents, and the love of mom and dad. It’s shouted on the playground by friends and rings out in the halls of his school.

And sometimes, when I’m watching him build Legos or colors quietly, I’ll think back to six years ago and I’ll hear the sing-song voices of those nannies in the loud courtyard in Ethiopia. I’ll hear the gentle roll of the “r” and I’ll remember the look in his birth mother’s eyes as she said, “Peace.” Mareto was named with love and careful consideration. It fits every bit of who he is and who he’s becoming.

Overwhelming peace had flooded my heart the day we first met him. Our son’s name is Mareto. He is the boy whose name means peace and he could never be anything else.

This is my most recent post for the TODAY Show Parents team. If you loved it, head on over here and give it a vote up! 
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awards ceremony

The elementary school gym floor was full of children grades 2 through Kindergarten, and in the bleachers sat their family members. We came in and took our place among them, quickly locating our son who was sitting cross legged with his classmates, twiddling with the cord of his noise cancelling headphones. A minute later he spotted us and broke out into a grin. We waved and gave him a big thumbs-up.

The awards ceremony continued on from second grade to first, and finally down to the kindergarten classes. When M’s teacher made her way to the microphone I straightened up, camera ready. She started with the attendance awards (one that we had no hope of receiving this year due to medication changes, doctor appointments, and an unfortunate case of the stomach flu) and then moved on to the academic awards. And then she called his name…

For excellence in reading!”

We erupted into cheers – clapping, and whooping. Some of the families around us chuckled and grinned. Then my husband shouted, “Yea M!!!” so loudly that I jumped a bit in my seat before laughing and a few of the teachers on the gym floor turned around to see who was making all that racket. His teacher laughed, his speech therapist pumped her fist in the air.

Yes, we are that family at the school assemblies.

We’re the ones showing up 30 minutes early to get a good seat at the preschool Christmas concert. And when the kids come out to the risers, if we find we can’t see our daughter we move seats so we can. Mid song. We’re the ones who whoop and holler when our son gets an award for effort or reading. We grin like fools at the end of the year program and I cry at the faux graduation ceremonies. We’re the ones other families either love or hate.

I think sometimes families like ours are misunderstood, so I thought I’d share some insider information as to why we’re one of those families. There are two reasons…

First, we almost missed out on all of it. We tried to have a baby for years. We struggled and cried and hoped and prayed and we lost a lot. We had two miscarriages. Two lives that never got to be lived out here. Two little people who never got to go to Preschool or have a Kindergarten graduation or sing “I’m bringing home a baby bumblebee” on the risers. In church, I watched from the back pew as the children sang their VBS songs and shared what they learned in Sunday School. I held back tears as I wondered if I would ever have a person up there smiling and waving back at me… making me laugh as they mix up the words or forget the motions.

After all those years of infertility and loss we finally made our way down the path of adoption. And suddenly those little moments were given back to us, two little lives were joined with ours and we were given another chance at the “little” things. But the thing is – they aren’t little to us anymore and we don’t take them for granted. Because we almost missed out on all of it.

Second, my kids have overcome so much to be here. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that both of my children had an extremely rough start to life. That they are both alive is a miracle, truly. That they have made it as far as they have is a testament to their strength, resilience, and the grace of God. They have worked so hard for every single accomplishment. Kindergarten wasn’t easy for my son, but he stuck with it day after day after day. Reading was a particular challenge for him, and he wanted to quit but he didn’t. We just can’t take it for granted because they are fighters and they almost missed out on all of it, too.

Behind our cheers and tears and over-exuberance is something you might not have expected… it’s years of tears and heartache and struggle and suffering. It’s days spent comforting and encouraging and hoping. It’s nights spent wiping away tears and calming fears – sometimes from their bedroom floors and sometimes from the chair next to a hospital bed. It’s waking up each morning a little tired from the day before but preparing to meet the challenges ahead. There’s a whole lot of hard hiding behind the whoops and hollers of elementary school assemblies. We struggle hard so we celebrate harder.

But don’t worry – we’re cheering for your kids, too! We’re whispering to ourselves about the little girl in the ringlets and tu-tu, “Oh look at that cutie!” We’re genuinely excited for the first grader who got an extra special award and we know his parents are beaming somewhere in the bleachers. We try to be considerate of others and limit our metaphorical cowbell to when our child’s name is called so we don’t drown out the next kid’s name. We snap pictures of our friend’s kids from our good seats and make sure they get copies. We’re proud and happy for you, too.

We’re just elated that we get to share the bleachers with you, because for a long time we didn’t think there’d ever be a spot for us.

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Maretos-eyes-4Sleep is hard for our son. In a few months he will turn seven and we can count on one hand the number of times he’s slept through the night. I can count with no hands the number of times he’s been able to fall asleep without either myself or John next to him, reassuring him that we are there: zero.

The other night we were about halfway through our normal routine. Books had been read, medicine administered, songs sung, and we were laying in the dark quietly. Out of the blue M turned on his side and said something new…

“It’s okay, Mommy. You can go downstairs; I can go to sleep by myself now.”

I stared at him in shock. “Are you sure? You can’t get up and play or turn on the light, you know.” He reassured me and after a kiss and hug I left his room. This can’t be real, I thought. And it wasn’t. Because about three minutes later I heard foot steps and the bedroom door creak open. I met him as he was halfway down the stairs with a flashlight in his hand.

“I got scared.” He said. “What should I do if I’m scared?” He asked. “You come get me,” I said.

I want my children to know that they can always come get me. If they’re scared I want them to come to me, if they’re sad, if they’re lonely, if they’re uncertain, if they’re nervous, if they’re mad, and when they don’t know what to do… I want them to come to me.

I want them to know what to expect. I want them to expect that I will wrap my arms around them and pull them in tight for a big bear hug. I want them to know we will sit like that for as long as they need me. That I won’t be the one to let go first. That I’ll never get tired of holding them and comforting them.

I want them to expect me to listen to their fears, heartaches, disappointments, and worries. I want them to know I’ll talk to them about it all and share what nights were like when I was a little girl. I’ll smile at the wonder in their eyes – that they can’t believe I was small once, too, and I got scared lying alone in the dark, too.

I want them to be assured that I won’t ever roll my eyes, or make them feel small or stupid or ridiculous. Because the truth is this: I still get scared. Some of those little fears I had when I was five years old have shifted into the much bigger fears of a mid-thirties mother. I still lay afraid in the dark sometimes. And the truth is, that it brings me a lot of comfort when a little one pads down the steps late at night and climbs in next to me to be held for a little while.

The world is big and scary and often overwhelming. It’s also filled with beauty and light and joy and love. Together we can make it through the hard things by holding onto one another and pointing out the rainbows through the rain. Or making shadow animals on the wall with our flashlight. Or singing a song to the tune of their old baby mobile. Or just holding hands in the quiet. I want my children to know I won’t ever make them face hard things alone. We’ll still face the hard, yes, but we’ll do it together.

I want my children to know without a shadow of a doubt: If I am here, I will be with them. Whenever they want me, we’ll face the dark together. That’s how we’ll make it through hard nights. That’s what we’ll do when we’re scared.

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A couple months ago I woke up in a sweat at about 4am. My heart was pounding and my thoughts were racing with all the things I was doing wrong as a mom. It’s a familiar feeling for this mom who is figuring out parenting while also battling anxiety. This time I was unusually focused in my worries that typically bounce all over the place and never settle on any one thing. This time, in my 4am grog, my thoughts were all landing on one specific thing – the screens that were running my house. But this time was different.

This time I couldn’t turn off that inner voice telling me something was wrong. It wasn’t really a feeling of guilt in my gut lying to me and trying to convince me I am a terrible mom. No, it was conviction and it was nudging me to acknowledge what I knew was true: my kids were spending too much time in front of screens and it was hurting our family.

Instead of being greeted with sleepy smiles and silly chatter in the morning I woke up to, “Where’s your phone?” Rather than stories about recess and class and friends and art work, I picked up the kids from school and heard, “Can I have your phone?” Meals were rushed through because a movie had been paused to come to the table and the kids were eager to return to it.

Attitudes were affected and the kids were bickering more than usual – over which movie to watch, whose turn it was to play with my phone, and who had the volume up too loud. Whining was at an all time high. So was anger and frustration.

Instead of playing “I Spy” or singing along to the radio or listening to “Polar Bear, Polar Bear” on audiobook, road trips consisted of faces staring into glowing blue boxes – only interrupted by exasperated cries when the battery died. Those glowing rectangles had become a place of rest and refuge and escape, and not just for the kids.

I found myself staring at my own phone until my eye lids drooped and I set it on the nightstand before falling asleep, only to reach over upon waking up in the morning to check any notifications before starting my day. When anxiety hit in the 4am hour, I would reach for my phone to distract me until the panic passed. Instead of including my kids in dinner prep I handed them the iPad or turned on the television so I could work uninterrupted.

The screens were occupying too central a role in our home and it was changing our family interactions.

As a mom whose main mantra chants “connection, connection, connection!” I’m disappointed in myself. But I’ve learned to tell the difference between guilt that condemns and conviction that guides. I’ve learned to speak truth to the former and listen to the latter.

So I listened to what conviction was telling me and I knew it was time to get rid of the screens. Not because they are evil. Not because our way of doing things is the best way for everyone. But because they were hindering the health of our family and taking them out of our lives is what’s best for us.

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It’s been a couple months and in that time my children haven’t touched an iPhone or an iPad. Their television time is limited to an hour per day and has to be done before dinner time or it doesn’t happen. I deleted any midnight games (candy crush) off my phone and only left the apps I use to communicate with my people.

The first few days were tough, I won’t lie. But we kept in mind the reason we made these changes: our family values of kindness, community, connection, creativity, imagination, education, and heart/mind/physical health were at risk.

A week later I wrote down a few reflections on the fruits of going screen-free. The kids were splashing in a tub filled to the brim with Elmo bubble bath and warm water. The oven was preheating and so I could pop in a frozen pizza. John hid in our bedroom trying to finish writing the next day’s sermon.

That day we had eaten chocolate chip cookies, built a rocket that fueled by vinegar and baking soda (which turned out to be a colossal fail, but brought a ton of laughs), and strung beads on shoelaces to make “family hug bracelets.” (Trolls, anyone?)

We played 4 games of Candy Land, 3 games of Chutes & Ladders, and built a Lincoln Log village. M and I watched and rated a Barbie Fashion Show A put on for us. Then I read a few chapters of a new book while the kids watched an episode of Diego.

The previous week had looked pretty close to the same and the weeks following continued the pattern. We painted butterfly refrigerator magnets and rocks to hide in our community. Friends came over to play out back while us parents ate a fresh batch of naan. We went to story-time at our local library and A “wrote” her first book. M made a space ship out of legos and they spent two hours making mud pies in the backyard the other day. We go to the pool and the playground and walk the dog.

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It’s not perfect, but it’s working. Attitudes and sleeping habits have improved. Creativity and imagination are increasing. And most importantly, our connection and communication is growing and strengthening.

There are still moments when I think screens would make life easier. For instance, the nine-hour road trip we recently took as a family would have been far more enjoyable with some phones in the back. But as chaotic as it was, hearing “Are we there yet?” and “What state are we in now?” brought back memories from my own childhood and made me laugh. And nothing could stop my smile when I heard A pipe up from her car seat, “Let’s play I Spy Something Red!”

Dinner takes twice as long to cook, the cleaning the house is like brushing your teeth while eating oreos, and getting work done in these summer months has been… challenging. Sometimes I wonder if I’m adhering too strictly to this “screen-free” thing. And perhaps I am, but the change in my family has been worth it, so for now it’s what we’re sticking with because it works for us.

What works for you and your family might look different. But if something is waking you up at 4am, and it sounds more like conviction than guilt, try listening and see if it might be showing you to try something new in your home.

 

** This is not a prescription for all families! I understand and agree that technology has many good uses and I am grateful for it. If screens are helping your family and using them meshes with the values and the mission of your home, wonderful! You do you and I’ll do me and we can all be friends! :)

 

 

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One evening I made brownies after the kids were long in bed. I have a sweet tooth, and John and I had decided to enjoy warm fudge brownies fresh out of the oven while we watched a movie. Before we went to bed I sealed the brownie pan with tin foil and hid it in the top shelf of the pantry, so the kids wouldn’t find it and beg for brownies for breakfast. I should have known better. The next morning M came downstairs as usual and sat on the couch with his toys and juice. I watched as he sniffed the air, looked at me, and said, “I smell chocolate.” The next thing I knew he was walking to the kitchen, climbing on the counter, and opening the pantry door. He reached up and pulled down the pan of brownies. How in the world had he smelled them all the way from the living room?

M pays attention to all the little things in life. He sees and smells everything. It might be my t-shirt or the back of a stranger’s hand or the muffins baking in the oven. No matter how awkward or inappropriate, this attention to detail has made for some really unexpected moments, and some equally beautiful moments.

Like when we were walking through the woods and he stooped to pick up a rock that was shaped like a heart, or noticed the falling tree was bent over like the arch of a rainbow. Or how delighted he is that the back of a CD makes the colors of a rainbow and that my wedding ring will splash light over the wall when the sun hits it just right. M sees all these small, beautiful, seemingly insignificant things, and he loves them.

I get too wrapped up in the big things a lot of the time. I forget to stop and appreciate the little things. I worry about bills, or school decisions, and I miss the beauty that is happening right in my living room or at my kitchen table or right outside my window. I think about later today and tomorrow and ten years from now so much that my focus isn’t on the right now. I don’t see the things that are right in front of me in plain sight. I look past them to the “what-ifs.” But we get just one trip around the world, and we don’t want to waste it.

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Can I confess something to you? A few weeks ago I wasn’t excited about summer break at all. The thought of my kids out of school for nearly three months had me panicking before the last day of school even arrived. I started thinking about my own to-do list: the manuscript I need to finish, the two new projects I’m working on, and the speaking, traveling, and writing that is filling up my calendar. But then I remembered last summer.

Last summer my daughter was covered in bandages from a big surgery that kicked off our summer break. Then two weeks later I had my own major surgery and was laid up until the very end of summer break. When the kids started school and I looked back over our twelve weeks I felt cheated – summer felt wasted. We hadn’t been able to do all the fun things I wanted to do because half our family was recovering from very serious surgeries. This year is different. This year it might not be surgeries that eat up our summer break – it might be my to-do list.

I think back to that sobering truth that we only get one trip around the world. And most of us only get eighteen summers with our children home with us. So I made a different to-do list. Our family summer bucket list. And with that one simple act, my perspective shifted and I am now so looking forward to this summer with my kids at home.

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Taking my cues from my son, I kept our bucket list fairly simple because it’s the little things that bring joy and delight and beauty to our lives. I also kept it reasonable (36 activities + 12 weeks of summer = 3 activities per week.) No need to go from doing nothing to doing everything and ruining summer by adding too much stress and pressure!

Last, I made a scrapbook to go with our bucket list. I can take a single photo while we’re enjoying each activity then tape it on the page and jot down a silly, fun, or sweet memory from that specific activity. When summer ends we’ll have a special scrapbook to look back on all the memories we made together as a family.

notebookmockupIf you want to join our family, I made these two resources: our summer bucket list + the family summer scrapbook template available to you too – click here to download yours for free!!

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We passed a slope of grass covered with rows of flags, placed there the day before. Each row had a number, a label, to identity what those flags stood for… who those flags stood for. The kids asked from the backseat…

“What are all those flags there for, Mom?”

“Memorial Day.” I answered. “What’s that?” They asked, as faces began to pop into my mind of friends who died in the desert at what should have been the start of the rest of their life, not the end.

I didn’t want to tell my children. I don’t want them to know about war yet. I want to preserve their youthful innocence for as long as I can. But the question was asked and it isn’t my job to shield them from truth. My job is to answer the tough questions and walk with them through the hard truths of this world. It’s my job to prepare them for reality, not keep them suspended in fantasy.

I want to raise children who see the world in all it’s broken beauty, who reach out to help, and serve, and even sacrifice for their neighbors. And so we approach Memorial Day with that same outlook.

The broken of this world is that evil exists and war is truly horrific. The beauty is that good men and women outnumber the evil and, throughout history, have been willing to die so that others might live.

So that’s how I answer my children. Memorial Day is a day we set aside to remember the men and women who have died so that we might live. It’s the day we honor the broken beauty of their sacrifice.

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My husband is giving the prayer at a local Memorial Day ceremony and asked me to read it over beforehand. I read this portion with my children this morning…

 We ask, oh God, for your Spirit of comfort to draw especially close in these moments to the families who have lost loved ones in sacrifice for our freedom.  It is these sacrifices and selfless acts of love for the people of this nation that we honor.  This morning, we remember them. 

 This morning, we remember the fathers and mothers who have left children behind.  We remember the husbands and wives who have left spouses behind.  We remember the brothers and sisters who have left siblings behind.  We remember the sons and daughters who left parents behind.

 God, we remember the truth that there is no greater love than the kind of love displayed by our service members in laying down their lives for the sake of their friends – their families, their neighbors, their fellow man. 

 We pray that their memory might live on in our own lives and hearts, as we seek to emulate their honor, courage, selfless sacrifice, and love.  So bless the memory of those we gather to reflect upon.  May we reflect upon their sacrifice and duty, remember their devotion to our nation, and call attention to their selfless acts of greatest love in a manner that brings you honor and glory.

Amen.

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I was eleven years old when two terrorist blew up the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995. I grew up in a home without a television and I don’t remember the radio playing much. It was mostly Raffi CD’s, James Taylor, Carol King, and a few of my Dad’s Led Zepplin tracks mixed in. My siblings and I learned about current events from my parents and in terms we could understand and digest.

So when I went to school April 20th I was shocked to hear my classmates saying words like “bomb” and “bloody” and “blown up” as they talked about buildings and trucks and babies. Finally, our teacher decided to have a classroom conversation instead allowing a room of fifth graders to continue one upping each others stories about what they had seen and heard on the television the night before. So she invited us to raise our hands and share what we were thinking and feeling.

I listened to my peers for a few minutes and felt my hands get clammy and my blood run cold. My heart pounded in my chest and I wanted to close my eyes and ears to all that was being said around me. I left my seat and walked up to my teacher and asked to leave the room. She sent me to the nurse’s office and they called my mother.

When my mom arrived at school I climbed into the passenger seat of our new Windstar minivan and we sat silently for a few minutes. Then I asked my mom what happened and she told me plainly, but without all the graphic descriptions my classmates had used. Then we sat for a bit longer as I digested terror for the first time in my life. I couldn’t do it. I was horrified and frightened. So my mom said, “We can pray. Do you want to?” I nodded.

I don’t remember the pray or how I felt after. I just know that stuck with me. When terror became real to me, and I couldn’t process it and fear ran through my veins, my mom came to me and we prayed.

Four years later my dad was deployed and two teenagers shot up Columbine High School.  I was a freshman in High School and once again that feeling of horror washed over me as I tried to close my eyes and ears to the news. I didn’t call home, but I wanted to. I didn’t sit in the school parking lot to pray with my mom. This time I went looking for my older sister in the halls of our High School. I just wanted to be near her while I tried to make sense of it… I couldn’t.

This too familiar scene has played out over and over again. Senseless violence and acts of terror crash down on innocent families who were simply living their daily lives one moment and in the next are either dead, maimed, wounded, or forever traumatized. And we watch it, helpless and confused from our televisions, computer screens, and smart phones. Terrorism does exactly what it intends – injects fear into the hearts of the world. I am not immune and I cannot make sense of it because it doesn’t make sense.

But I have learned this: we don’t have to pretend we’re not afraid because fear is nothing to be ashamed of. I just do for me and my family what felt necessary and right when I was a frightened child in the passenger seat of my parent’s minivan…

I seek out my people and move closer to them. My daughter left her room multiple times last night because she needed water, then a snack, then one more story, then she had a bad dream. And what would usually frustrate me brought comfort. I wanted to be close, to snuggle her, to gather her to me.

We pray. What, I don’t always know. “Jesus be near.”  Or simply, “Help.”

We repeat the cycle together because there are no shortcuts or easy answers to how we respond to terror. But I want my children to know that when they are afraid they can come to me and look to God. That their fear will never be belittled by their mother or turned away by their Creator. That their confusion is normal and that as long as I’m able I will continue to gather them close and utter heartbroken prayers with them.

Last night I watched my twitter feed explode with images of children smiling for the camera and words that didn’t match. Things like, “This is my sister. She was at the arena and she isn’t answering the phone. Please share until we find her.” Over and over and over these messages poured out for sisters and friends and sons and cousins. And I felt the panic and terror and trauma of each one.

As I held my daughter to me I prayed, “Help. Help them find each other.” Because right now that’s all I want for every family with a loved one who was at the arena in Manchester. I want them to be united with their people.

But twenty two families won’t be united this side of heaven. All I have for this senseless, evil fact is the broken cry, “Jesus be near.” 

I don’t thank God it’s them instead of me – I grieve and wish it hadn’t been any of us.

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I don’t know how I thought I’d feel when this week finally arrived. I’ve been waiting for it for what feels like forever. I’ve dreamed and hoped and waited and worked and reworked and now the day has finally arrived.

It’s Okay About It is the product of more two years of love-filled labor. Today it is sitting on shelves in bookstores and arriving in your mailboxes and being held in hands from coast to coast. It’s overwhelming in the best way.

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Today I am celebrating in extraordinary and ordinary ways. Today I wake up earlier than my tired body wants to. I groggily pad out to the kitchen and take long sips of freshly brewed coffee. I sat with the kids at the breakfast table and wonder for the 183rd time at the level of energy and exuberance they radiate at 6:30am. The dog chased a squirrel up a tree and then run inside to slurp up breakfast bits that have fallen “on accident” from the table.

It’s all so ordinary and normal. It’s the typical start to a Tuesday with a preschooler and kindergartner. Except today isn’t typical. Today waiting for me on that table was beautiful orange and blue flowers and balloons from my husband. And today after the flurry of packing lunch boxes, wrestling clothes onto wiggly bodies, tying shoes onto feet that don’t want to remain still for more than a nanosecond, and then finally getting out the door… after dropping the kids off at their schools with three or four kisses and a few enthusiastic waves we’ll do something extraordinary.

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My husband and I will drive to a bookstore.

We’ll step in side and find the shelf that will have a handful of little blue and orange books lined up with my name on the binding. Oh my goodness. I will not be cool or calm or collected. I will be giddy, or maybe I’ll cry. I will have ALL THE FEELINGS! And we’ll just keep celebrating all throughout the day because my book is finally launched out into the world.

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We’ll be celebrating online, too, and I’d love to have you join me today! This book wouldn’t be here without you, dear readers, and I am so grateful for each and every one of you. Here are a few ways you can join in the online celebration of the launch of It’s Okay About It

  • Head on over to your local bookstore and snap a picture of you with the book. Post it on social media and let me know where you took the picture. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #ItsOkayAboutIt so I can find your post! While you’re there, grab a copy for yourself or a friend!
  • Did you pre-order a copy! Share when your happy mail arrives by posting a picture of you with your brand new book! And of course, hashtag #ItOkayAboutIt
  • Tell me where you find inspiration and encouragement in daily life. This can be a whole blog post, a few lines on twitter, Facebook, or instagram… anything you want it to be! Just don’t forget to mention that we’re celebrating the launch of It’s Okay About It and use the hashtag #ItsOkayAboutIt so I can find you!
  • Got a better idea? YAY! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

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Thank you so much for all your love and support… and mostly, for READING!!! I wrote this book for you and I can’t wait for you to read it!

(And head on over to my Facebook page for a video of my kids helping me open my box of books… and their expressions of disappointment that they weren’t books by Mo Willems. They keep me humble, that’s for sure!) 😉

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