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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why Cancer Never Wins

I always thought about "Dad's fight with cancer." And oh how he battled it; both physically and emotionally. He had the most amazing positive attitude, all the way to the end. I think that was his best weapon in his fight.

In the end, cancer is the reason he died. But I can't bring myself to say he lost his battle with cancer. It's just not true. Cancer has stolen my future joys with my dad, but there are so many things his cancer could never touch.

Cancer never wins.

Cancer can't steal my memories. It can't undo love.

Cancer can't take away lessons taught, hands held, hugs given, kisses, grins, and thumbs-ups.

Cancer can't steal a spirit, or destroy an attitude.

Cancer can't touch all the imprints of my dad in my life: his traits in his children, the traits in all of his grandkids, the relationship he had with my husband, the way I know something of him will show up when my brother has kids one day.

Cancer can't take away all the amazing ways people have shown their support over the past few days.  It can't erase the sweet emails and messages from Dad's friends and family, sharing their favorite memories, reminding me of funny stories.

Cancer can't undo the way my brother and I stick together, sharing the burden, laughing over Dad's inability to send a talk-to-text message with correctly spelled words.

Cancer never wins. Dad didn't lose this fight.

I realized this because of all the emails, texts, phone calls and facebook messages I've gotten since Dad passed away.  Thank you, friends, so much. Your prayers have given me strength and peace. I never thought I'd make it through saying my final goodbye and going through his things.  Your words of encouragement have brought me comfort. All the favorite shared memories have made me smile. He was loved. We are loved. Thank you. Because of you, cancer didn't win.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dear Dad

I've mentioned my dad in passing a bit on this blog over the years. I haven't posted much about his fight with cancer though because I felt like it wasn't my story to share.  And when I wrote about Dad on my post, Namaste, I had him read it first and asked his permission to share.

But this time this post is for Dad. You see, Dad's been fighting cancer for years. And in between cancer recurrences, he's battled a stroke, a heart-attack, and two major falls (one of which probably should have killed him). His sister calls him the "Cat Man" because it has always seemed as if he truly had 9 lives. I've joked that I didn't even get alarmed anymore when I'd get the call about the latest health issue with Dad, because my tough-as-nails New Englander father would always power through.

Dad passed away yesterday. I actually wrote this the day before he died, two days before I planned to fly up to Boston to bring him home with me so he could spend his final days with us in NC. I had planned to post it before his death. I am so sad I missed my chance. And I haven't changed the wording. Partly because I can't get through reading it again to make any changes.

Dear Dad,

I know we'll have some kind of celebration of life event for you. And I'm sure I'd like to say something at it. But I'm your emotional child; the one who cries at commercials for things like hamburgers. So I'm not sure if it will happen. And I'd rather tell you now what I would want to say on that day anyway.

When I became a parent, I finally understood the joy that comes in watching your kids grow up. I expected that I'd learn what that was like. What I didn't know I would learn was the joy in watching your parents become grandparents. Watching my children fall in love with you has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. The kids think you hung the moon. And seeing you dote on them, play with them, wrestle with them on the floor and get their "sweet meat" like you did to us as kids has filled me with memories that will keep me smiling for a long time. They adore you. You have taught them well what the love of a grandpa looks like. Thank you.

And I love our friendship. It took us forever to get to where we are. I know I wasn't the easiest kid and I think you know you weren't the easiest dad. But we've both gotten healthier and I am so thankful for our relationship now. I know you are proud of me, though I walked a path you wouldn't have chosen for me. I hope you know that your pride means a lot. I've never doubted that you were proud, even when you don't understand my decisions. Thank you.

I joke with my friends that I was so wary of turning into my mom as an adult that I accidentally turned into my dad! From you I learned my work ethic, my desire to make this world a better place, my passion for helping others.  You made me work on the assembly line at your factory when I was a kid and had me help the mentally-challenged adults in the day program that you arranged for them. I had no idea back then that you were teaching me both the value of hard work and the importance of serving others all at the same time. Thank you.

I also joke that the spoon collection you handed down to me is my curse. I can never travel without worrying about finding a souvenir spoon.  But you knew I'd be the child who inherited your love of travel. You let me travel to Germany when I was only sixteen and took me to Mexico and St. Maarten and because of those broad horizons, I've now left pieces of my heart in countries all over the world.  You let me go and instilled in me the belief that I could do it. Thank you.

I could have used a little less of your independence and stubbornness, but I imagine I got those from you too.  So, um, thanks.

I love you, Dad. So much. It is so hard for me to let you go. I had planned on so many more adventures, so many more conversations. The kids will miss your presence so much.  I will miss you.  You will not be forgotten. I see you in my brother, in my kids. One of your grandkids doesn't even share your genes and I see you in him.  You love has cemented your place in their hearts, in their demeanor.  I pray that you go in peace knowing how much you are loved, not just by your family but by the Creator of this whole universe. The one who blessed me with you as a father. God only gives good gifts. I'm thankful you were one of mine, even with our ups and downs, Dad. I mean that.

We don't know how much time we're looking at now, do we? I'm still hoping for months but I know I'm not in charge. It doesn't matter. We love you today, tomorrow and for forever.

Love,
   Kirstin

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The 10 Minute Summer


Summer is ALMOST here! My kids have one week of school left but my mind is already in summer-mode. We made it! Hallelujah, thank you, Jesus!

And this summer, I'm bringing back some of my favorite "10 minute" strategies. I thought I'd share them with y'all!

1. The 10 Minute Clean-Up: This is a modified version of the Fly Lady's 15 minute declutter. Our family rule is that we do movie nights on Friday nights but only if the kids' rooms are clean. They get a little overwhelmed on Friday afternoons when they see all they have to do to get ready! So we are implementing a 10 minute family clean-up time every night just before bedtime. In the summer, adding 10 minutes to our bedtime routine won't be a huge deal, and hopefully it will help all of us stay on top of summer clutter (me included!)

2. The 10 Minute Check-in: My husband and I used to do this regularly and have gotten out of the habit of it. So this summer I'm bringing it back! It's just a 10 minute check-in with your spouse/partner/significant other every night (or morning for you crazy morning-people). You can even set a timer if you have other stuff at night you know you need to get to. The important thing is making it happen regularly.  It doesn't mean you have to bear your soul every night; it's just a time you set aside to chat for 10 minutes.  It's amazing how much a little 10 minute connection every day can keep your marriage running smoothly, especially if you are touching or sitting close together while you chat. I don't know about y'all, but I can go a whole day without really connecting with my husband when our lives get crazy. Those little 10 minutes at night can be really precious.

3. The 10 Minute "Drop Everything" Password: I have a tendency to work on a craft or sewing project over the summer when the kids are around (or, ahem, get sucked into Facebook). Not that that's bad, but I hate ignoring the kids when they are home with me. I don't know how many more summers I have left when they'll want to hang out with me!  And I can always spare 10 minutes!  The kids and I are going to work on a code word they can use (they can each pick their own). When my child says his/her code word, I will drop what I'm doing, set the timer for 10 minutes, and give that child my undivided attention. They can use their word once a day! With three kids, I figure this will help me give each of them some quality time alone with me too! We might even do something cool like decorate a clothes pin or wooden circle they can hand to me instead of using a password. I'm still thinkin' on this one! Let me know if you have any great ideas!

4. The 10 Minute Jumping Jacks -  No worries, you don't do jumping jacks for 10 minutes! This is something our Tae Kwon Do Master taught us. For every 10 minutes of video game time, we stop the game and do 1 minute of jumping jacks.  Confession: I usually make only the kids do the jacks but my goal this summer is to join in. You'd be surprised how hard 60 seconds of jumping jacks can be!  We do this regularly and it helps in a couple ways: 1 - you get some physical activity in with video game time and 2 - it gives your kids a quick disconnect from the game. I think that disconnect minute is good for their little brains 'cause, you know, I really hate video games. There, I said it.

5. The 10 Minute Mommy Crown: I got this idea from my 1st grader's teacher this year. She has a workshop time during which she wears a crown. When she is wearing the crown, students are not allowed to interrupt her. That way she can work in small groups and give the children she's with her undivided attention.  I'm planning to modify this. I need to find a crown! But I'm going to tell the kids that if I'm wearing my crown, it means they may not interrupt me (except for emergencies). And I'll set the timer for 10 minutes so I don't get sucked into something like Facebook and waste my precious 10 minutes. :)  This strategy is to give me 10 minutes on days when I really need it. And just like my kids with their 10 Minute "Drop Everything" Password, I get to use my crown once a day.

What about y'all? Any 10 minute strategies you want to share?

Happy Summer, everyone! Oh I'm so happy!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

You matter... but not too much

Dear Sweet Children of Mine,

Can I tell y'all something? You matter. You matter a lot.

But at the same time, you don't matter MORE than others. You just don't. Your preferences, your ideas, your opinions - we promise to value them, to raise you to feel empowered to share them, to feel confident in them.  But we will never teach you that what YOU want, what YOU think is more important than what someone else wants or thinks.

My prayer is that you will grow up to learn that true joy is found when life is not all about you.

We live in a world where selfishness is a virtue: "Watch out for #1!" You will have friends whose parents do everything in their power to make life better for their child, regardless of the effect it will have on you and the rest of your friends.  Our culture's business practices are about making more money for the people at the top, even if it hurts the workers.  You will be celebrated: you'll probably get a trophy for every sport you participate in, you'll have graduations for all the steps along the way of your elementary school career, adults will tell you that you did a great job, even when you didn't.

Not all of those things are terrible. But when you add it all up, there are a lot of things in our culture that could give you the impression that you are more important than someone else. I want you to know how deeply you are loved, how much you matter, but we hope to never tip the balance so that you think you are better than your friends.  Jesus loves you deeply, just as he loves them deeply.

We want to teach you to grow up to be great.

But there's a catch. You see, Jesus changed the definition of "great."  He said, "the last shall be first."  After living a life of sacrifice, of serving others, he told his disciples that they will do even greater things than he did.  Jesus showed us how a life of serving, one that is not all about us, is the key to greatness. Want to become great? Live like Jesus did: serve, sacrifice, love others.

So that's why we will do weird things. You might find out we've requested that you be in the class with a child who doesn't always make the best choices instead of just your best friends. We'll require that you finish out your season of whatever sport or activity you committed to.  You probably won't be involved in every single activity that's offered to you.  Our financial budget won't have quite as much for extras because of our commitment to missionaries and organizations working for justice.  You'll be dragged out of bed early Sunday mornings to join us to serve breakfast to our homeless friends.  Your dad will probably always have a 2nd job because he is committed to pastor a church with a budget where half of all that comes in as tithes must go back out - our church will never spend more on ourselves than we do on serving others.

So, dear children, the world does not revolve around you. It just doesn't. But we promise you'll find joy if you seek it in that realization.

Love,
   Mom and Dad

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dear Mamas Who Own Phones:

So, there was this powerful open letter to the "mom on the iPhone" and I totally identified. I've been that mom who has spent too much time on the computer and on my phone and I admit I've totally missed moments to cheer on my kids, to make them feel important. In fact, I'm reading Hands Free Mama along with two dear friends and it's been pretty awesome.

But now there is backlash: the open letter "dear mom telling me to get off my phone." It resonates with me too. Sometimes I need to check out of a situation to save my sanity. Or sometimes a family member is sick and I need to check my phone or I'm using my phone to check on a different child, one who isn't with me at the moment. Or, you know, texting my husband asking him to pick up milk because I forgot. Again. Someone watching me at the park could assume I've checked out and don't care about my kids and that's hurtful.

Can we stop it? Mamas, we have so many things against us already! Mommy-guilt waits for me around every corner and I can find it all by myself.  I need all you other mamas to build me up, to have my back when I'm struggling so that I have the strength to do the same for you.

So here's my letter:

Dear Mamas Who Own Phones (whether you are looking at them or have them zipped up tight in your purse):

You love those kids. I can tell by the way you look at them, even when you are exasperated. You wouldn't be upset by their behavior if you didn't care.  I also noticed you pushing your child for approximately 117 minutes on the swing.  You are doing a great job. Keep it up. I'm with you. We need to stick together. Need to check your phone for a minute for something important? I'll keep an eye on your kiddo for you. Need to check it for a moment of sanity? No problem. I have to do that too sometimes. And thanks for doing the same for me when I check my phone. I appreciate that time you didn't let my kid eat that rock.

Moms who stay home? Awesome. It is HARD. No adult conversation, you can't go to the bathroom by yourself. No sick days. Pouring yourself into your kids all day, every day. What a sacrifice. Whew. Rock on.

Moms who work? Awesome. It is HARD. You balance so much on your plate and on top of it all are providing your kids (and mine) with an amazing example of what women can do. What a sacrifice. No wonder you are tired. Rock on.

Organic, cloth-diaper, make-everything-yourself mama? Awesome. Thanks for keeping some chemicals out of our environment - that's better for all of us.  Thank you.

Buy everything from the store mama? Awesome. You are putting some money into our economy and that time you saved by not having to make everything yourself can be used in some awesome ways. Thank you. (and I bet you had more time to read to your kids on the day I was making laundry detergent.)

Room moms? Oh I'm so thankful for you. You were blessed with organizational skills and you keep the classroom afloat. Our teachers get appreciated because of you but you share the glory with all of us.  You make all of us look good.

Barely get your kids to school on time mom? Yup, it's hard. Sometimes success needs to be defined by making it through the day.  Rock on - you've got this. You got them to school. They had shoes and socks on. Consider that a win!

Mamas who got their bodies back? Rock that bikini, mama! You probably worked hard to get those abs back. We're all secretly jealous. Or maybe you didn't have to work that hard... now we are really jealous. Your workout regimen probably helps keep you sane, too! You go with your healthy self!

Mamas who didn't? Oh sisters, I've learned so much about what it means to be beautiful. The physical scars my body bears because I've had children are part of my story. Including that adoption-weight I gained during my late-night-adoption-blog-reading-junk-food-eating days.  Nope, I will not be rocking a bikini at the pool this summer. Or ever. Maybe we could work harder and get our bodies back but we don't want to. No excuses needed if right now, just for you, your time is better spent somewhere other than the gym. It's all good.

Our lives don't need to look the same for us to be great moms. What works for my kids isn't necessarily going to work for yours. And what helps me keep my sanity might not be what works to help you keep yours. But if we stick together, we don't have to waste our precious time on Mommy Wars. We don't have time for it anyway, right?

Love,
   Kirstin


Monday, April 28, 2014

Namaste

I've always been enchanted by the word "Namaste."  I've heard several descriptions of what it means, but it's my understanding that it's an acknowledgment of divinity in another person. Like, "the God in me greets the God in you."

And I've been thinking a lot lately about Genesis 1:27: "God created mankind in his own image."  Mankind. That means all of us. That means we are all "image-bearers." Every single person you encounter as you walk across this planet bears the image of God.  Wow.

What an honor. God made everything: plants, trees, animals, fish, bugs, rocks. But none of it was created in his image except us. That's amazing. And I think there's a hint in there for how we are supposed to treat each other. Every person I meet bears the image of God. I need to treat them as such. Honor is due, dignity should be preserved; there is God in each of us.

That's why "Namaste" is so appealing to me. It's such a beautiful reminder of how precious each and every person is. That each and every person is important, valued, amazing. Each of us carries a bit of the divine.

I want to live out Namaste. I want everything I do to honor those around me. To honor God, both him directly and the reflection of him I see in others.  This affects how I treat people, how I think about them. If I truly believe every single person bears God's image, it helps me treat others with dignity, not to treat anyone as my enemy. It certainly helps me love them like Jesus loves them.

And I think this is how sparks catch.  We hosted our Stand with Me movie showing last week. It was amazing. I was so humbled by how many people showed up, by how many people left with tears in their eyes and by the stories I heard in the days that followed of conversations people had and how they are choosing to take action.  The God in the people who attended the movie recognized the God in the kids who are being enslaved, in the men and women born into bonded slavery. When we see people in their dignity, we can connect with them. My movie-goers chose to love. Namaste.

But what about those who are different from me? There are the folks that my culture says are "less worthy." How about the working poor? People experiencing homelessness? Drug addicts? Criminals?  If I believe what God has said, that he made all of us in his image doesn't that change the perception? Can we find God in the face of the person holding the sign on the street? Absolutely. My patients at work are often going through detox to get off of life-destroying drugs and alcohol. I can absolutely see God in them sometimes.

And how about those who oppose me? People who tell me I'm wrong - either about God or about the things I write about on this blog? The folks who tell me I must not really love Jesus because I have the wrong ideas about politics.  Yup - God created them in his image too. I can find God in them too. And I am bound to treat them in a way that honors that God in them. It hurts both of us if I don't. It hurts Jesus when I don't.

You know who I've seen God in a lot over the past few years? My dad. He's been fighting cancer for what feels like forever. He's not even sure he believes in God but I sure see God in him. The man's medical history reads like an encyclopedia of everything that can go wrong with the human body (including accidents like having an industrial copier fall on him and push him down the stairs!) yet he faces every obstacle with an amazing positive attitude. He's told we don't know how much longer he has, yet he still does 45 minutes on his elliptical machine, just because he still can.  In the midst of his struggles I see him helping others, I see him working all day long to wrap up loose ends so that my brother and I won't have to deal with stuff after the cancer takes him.  He once signed up for extra testing that will never benefit him, driving an hour and a half into Boston over and over just so that someone else can benefit from research studies. He worked on voice-recognition computer programming after his stroke because he wanted others to be able to make the same progress he did.  He sends "thank you notes" to his entire team of doctors and staff.  Namaste.

Imagine how this world could be different if we truly embraced Namaste. What if we lived in a way that proves we believe Genesis 1:27, that we actually think that every single person we encounter bears the image of God and not only deserves dignity and love but has the capacity to teach us something? I imagine that must be what heaven is like.

Namaste, my friends. I see God in you. It's what makes you amazing, powerful, honorable, dignified. My prayer today is that you will not only see God in those around you, but in yourself. You are an image bearer of the God who created the universe. How incredible.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sad Easter...

Confession: I cried in the middle of the Easter aisle at Walgreens yesterday.

Yup - the lovely spring colors, the sweet bunnies, the beautiful baskets. And I got all teary and had to run out of there.

Why? Because I live in a really screwed up country. Here, just a few short weeks ago, Christians raised up an army of protest against World Vision when they changed their employment policy to include the hiring of gay Christians.  There was an outrage: people pulled their sponsorships, organizations threatened to pull funding.  World Vision had no choice but to cave if they wanted to continue to help children.

My tears weren't because of that, however (at least not yesterday).  I was sad and upset because that same group of folks are going to flock en-mass to stores over the next week and buy up lots of lovely chocolate to put in Easter baskets for their children to celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection. Arguably, the most important holiday in the Christian faith. And those chocolate bunnies? Made from cocoa beans harvested by slaves. Most likely child slaves.

Where is the outrage? Why is the Christian community not up in arms over this? Why aren't we storming the gates at Hershey's telling them we will no longer support their use of child slavery? The companies know about it (you can read more here and find some links).

Y'all. I am wrecked over this. Wrecked.  I can honestly tell you I haven't been able to buy a bar of chocolate that wasn't fair-trade (or responsibly-sourced) in years. I can't do it. I love twix and kit kats. Love 'em. And sometimes I look longingly at them in the checkout aisle. But then I remember where they came from. I can't do it.

If the thought of two women getting married makes you more upset than the thought of children trafficked, stolen from their families, and forced to work hard manual labor day after day SOMETHING IS WRONG. 

I know lots of people don't know. That's why I spread the word.  But you know what? Christians were awfully quick to spread the word about World Vision's decision. Articles were posted, shared, tweeted all over the place. Radio stations talked about it on the air.  I KNOW that some of the folks who were so quick to share that info also know about what's going on with our chocolate.  Why aren't we raising our voices together to bring peace, to fight for the oppressed, to work for the least of these?

Easter is the celebration of life. Jesus said he came to give us life, life to the full, abundantly (John 10:10).  He stepped out of heaven, lived among us, and sacrificed himself to reconcile us back to God. And then as if that wasn't enough, defeated death and rose again.  My life with Jesus is exactly that: abundant, joyful, peaceful, amazing.  How ironic that the Easter celebration of life is one of times of the year when we make our largest chocolate purchases from companies who use child slavery.

Imagine how you put your child to bed the night before Easter. You read a book, make sure they've gotten their teeth brushed, tuck them in, maybe even lie down for a snuggle. You pray together, then you turn on the music, turn on the nightlight. Make sure everything is just so.  Contrast that with the life of the child who had to harvest those cocoa beans: thin blanket (if any), no parents to tuck them in, fresh bruises from a beating from not working hard enough, no books (no education!).  Is this how we want to celebrate Easter?

We can band together - use our voices for good! What if we shared the message about how our purchases for Easter can bring life instead of chains? What if we refuse to indulge in luxuries that require oppression to create?

Before you buy your Easter candy, please check the labels! If it says "Fair-Trade," you are all set! Or look for the words "responsibly-sourced" or "ethically-sourced." If you can't find those, organic chocolate is the next best choice.

Where can you find it? EarthFare is a great place. I got my kiddos some chocolate Easter Bunnies there.  Some grocery stores carry chocolate bars too - look in the candy aisle.  If you can't find anything else, I believe Dove Dark Chocolate (dark only), is sustainably-sourced.

"But that ruins our tradition," I hear you say. "My kids so look forward to their Cadbury Eggs every year" or "that fair-trade stuff doesn't come in cute Easter packaging."  Can you say that out loud to yourself again? When we focus on that stuff, we are saying our preferences are more important than a child's freedom. Make a new tradition. Kids are resilient. Tell your kids that Jesus loves them AND he loves the children who were forced to harvest the chocolate. Heck, tell them the Easter Bunny just realized what he's been doing and he's decided he's only bringing your family fair-trade chocolate. Whatever.  My kids are aware of the child-slavery issue and they've told me that they don't want to eat chocolate made by kids just like them who don't get to go to school or see their parents ever again.  Give your kids a chance to shine!

"But that fair-trade chocolate stuff is so much more expensive." I hear you, too.  But you know what? The other stuff is cheap because it was harvested by kids who were trafficked and aren't being paid. Easter baskets are a luxury. If you have to spend more on the chocolate, buy less chocolate. Or tone down on the other "presents" in the Easter Baskets (when did Easter become Christmas-take-two, by the way?).

Y'all, there are zero good reasons I can come up with for why we would buy regular chocolate this Easter. Please join me and have a sweet, sweet Easter this year!

And... one more plug for the movie we are hosting... want to know more about ways our purchases might be inadvertently supporting slavery or unsustainable work conditions world-wide? And about what we can do about it? Come see Stand with Me with us on April 21st! Tickets must be purchased HERE