Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I’ve been awake for less than six hours today and I’ve so far complained about:

1. Having to wake the boys up for school
2. Reprimanding the boys for goofing off instead of packing up their backpacks 
3. Traffic on the way to school 
4. Not finding a seat at the coffee shop near an outlet so I can plug in my lap top 
5. It being too cold in said coffee shop

Rough life, huh? Poor me.

I went to a ladies’ lunch yesterday and the speaker reminded me that we all have problems, and if we think we don’t have problems, THAT is a problem.

I currently have friends who are going through some serious things:

1. A beautiful and spirited 26 year old battling breast cancer 
2. A loving and devoted father fighting for his children with an ex-wife who is making his life extremely difficult 
3. An exhausted couple keeping up with their very ill baby 
4. Three friends caring for their ailing parents 
5. Several friends with recurring and chronic health issues
6. A couple of friends fighting for their marriages 
7. Two families facing the loss of their businesses 
8. Two families dealing with serious legal battles

These are real problems. I have nothing worth complaining about.

This doesn’t mean my life is perfect. It means I need to keep perspective.

When I first moved here I worked for the customer service department of a large home builder. I was overworked and dealt with angry homeowners and their complaints all day, every day. I came home and vented to Jayson, annoyed and frustrated and edgy with negativity. He listened and listened and, one day, he’d had enough.

“Stop complaining,” he said. “It’s not getting you anywhere. If you’re this unhappy, do something about it or find another job.”

Do something about it. So I did. I wrote out a three-page business plan outlining my concerns, with suggestions for improvements. I met with my boss, and then with her boss. What resulted was that we hired two additional employees to alleviate my workload and I received a raise.

Gaining perspective can be difficult when you’re mired in your problems. Sometimes it takes a loved one to throw you a rope, pull you out, and help you step back to see the situation clearly and take stock of the good and bad of it all.

But perspective is not always enough. Yes, it can change your attitude and redirect your outlook, and that’s a helpful thing. It can make a real difference in how you deal with your situation. But it may not be enough.

Perspective should also impel you toward action. Things don’t just get better on their own. Problems don’t magically disappear by wishing them away.

1. Face the problem. This can be hard. Sometimes we’re in denial about the severity of our situation. Seek a trusted friend to talk things out and don’t be afraid to get dirty and vulnerable. Call it what it is and get it out there, as scary as that may be. 

2. Form a plan. How can you deal with this problem? What can you do right now to chip away at the mountain that seems to be in front of you? What tiny steps can you take to move toward a solution instead of running away from (or around) the problem? 

3. Find experts. Seek out people who can guide you through the problem, especially those who may have experienced the same situation and come out stronger. Ask for help; get advice; solicit tips, contacts, web sites – anything that will help you navigate the reality of what you are dealing with. Being informed can help you become less frightened of the unknown. 

4. Fellowship with friends. Surround yourself with support. Friends can encourage you and hold you accountable. They will be there to lift you up, cheer you on, and hold you up. They will check in with you, pray for you, and help you in practical ways (meals, pick up your kids, go to appointments with you, review your resume, etc.). They will help you keep going when you’re tired, frustrated and discouraged. 

5. Fortify your faith. Our problems tend to swallow us whole. They are scary and sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Sometimes the reality of the situation is that it will end badly. But our thoughts and views and projections are so limited by our finite minds. Our Savior knows our deepest fears. He has been right where we are. He understands our situation, and He knows how it will end. He can see beyond what we can see, and He is using our problems to draw us closer to Him. 

6. Find joy. This one is hard. Problems aren’t joyful. That perpetual pit in your stomach is not joyful. Your insomnia, ulcers, eczema, hair falling out, bills piling up, unemployment, sick parents or children, bankruptcy, broken marriage, totaled car, and burned down house are not joyful. But if you can still take a breath – there is hope. And in hope, joy can be found.

Life is not easy nor is it fair. Difficulties are a constant part of life and happy endings are not guaranteed. I encourage you to find perspective and take action toward tackling your problems. I want to help. May I pray for you? Meet with you? Listen to and encourage you? Help you find joy and gratitude? How about a hug? Or all of the above?

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Invincible Hope

18 years ago today, life as I knew it changed forever.

My mother took her last breath. The nurse took the tube out of her mouth, setting her swollen tongue aside. They unhooked all the wires from her. We said goodbye, and my father broke down over her bed.

I don’t know how I got home. There were 15 family members from out of town staying at our house. I slept in a chair that night.

We didn’t have a wake – she would have hated that. I dreaded the funeral. She hated funerals.
My  mother, Eugeny. She almost always had a smile on her face.
My mother had already experienced the death of her father, brother, sister and mother. She knew pain, suffering and death. Yet she chose to live life to the fullest, keeping a positive attitude and always smiling as if to spite the difficulties she had faced.

She believed that we should love and enjoy people when they are alive – not wait to show respect after they’re dead. What good is it then?

The first year without her was devastating. I cried every single day. Well meaning people asked how life was different, and reprimanded me for constantly crying. They had no idea.
She guided my hand and my life. Boston, late 70s.
I used to think that people who turned to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain were weak. As I eyed our liquor cabinet in the depths of my pain, I finally understood. But I turned to another source for help.

I prayed incessantly that first year. For myself, my sister, my father. I prayed for God to heal my broken heart. I realized that, although I was already a Christian, I had reached a fork in my faith. In my hurt and despair, I could turn TO God or turn AWAY from Him.

I chose to run to Him.

What could possibly compete with the safety of His embrace? The comfort of His words? The strength of His promises? The fullness of His hope?

…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain… (Revelation 21:4)

God’s word is true. The tears still came the second year, but not as often. And my smile returned. After two years, I finally came out of my fog of mourning.
She knew how to stand out in a crowd. NYC, December 1980
Today marks 18 years since my mother’s passing. A part of me died that day. My innocence left me. My identity was indelibly transformed. Yet my faith increased.

It still amazes me that I can smile. That, although my family and closest friends are 3,000 miles away and both of my parents are in heaven, I am content and my heart is full.

Tangible reminders are still difficult, even after 18 years. When I’m out somewhere and smell her perfume. When I’m looking through old papers and find one with her handwriting on it. When out of nowhere I hear her voice, or her laugh, in my mind. I won’t lie – I miss her terribly. But I know my longings will be fulfilled when we’re together again one day.
She loved being a mom and had fun doing it. Boston, early 80s
Today is just another day. My mother’s birthday brings back happy memories. Mother’s Day is when I can celebrate my mother-in-law. Every day is a day without her physical presence, but every day is a day when I remember that I am who I am because of her.

When my mother was in the hospital, my sister and I made her a poster with the following verse:

Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:31)

The Lord gives strength. I refuse to go through this life weary. My mother would not have wanted that for me or my sister. She would have suggested going for a walk or baking paklava instead. She always did have a sweet tooth.
Mommy and me. Kuwait, 1974
Suffering is unbearable. Death is inevitable. But hope? Hope is invincible.

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex

“You are a present for your husband to unwrap on your wedding night.”

This was the extent of the sex talk I received from my mother as a teenager. A sweet image, yes, but not super helpful in the practical sense.

I knew from going to youth group that premarital sex was wrong. I was taught (and still believe) that God designed sex for marriage and that is where it will be blessed.

There was really no further discussion about it – not at home and not at church. Being naturally extreme in my personality, that was all I needed to know. Premarital sex was wrong, so there would be no sex for me until my wedding night.

That leaves a GIANT elephant in the room: What about everything else? Is kissing okay? Touching? Heavy petting? Do other forms of sex count?

How far is too far?

I grew up in a pretty traditional home. My parents were fairly old-fashioned, especially my Dad. He didn’t believe in dating. He thought it best to proceed like they did in the old country (in his case, Syria):  hang out in groups and get to know “friends” that way. If you came across a boy who seemed to be a good match and who came from a good family, then you would get engaged. The engagement protected the girl’s reputation and implied intent to get serious; it wasn’t wise for girls to date around. That ring on the finger showed the girl’s family that the guy wasn’t there to mess with their daughter, but that he was intentional and future-minded. It was during the engagement period that the couple would then date and get to know each other.

This seemed backwards to me. What if it didn’t work out, I asked. My Dad told me that if it didn’t work out, they would call off the engagement. Apparently broken engagements did not have the same stigma as they do in the United States.

I wasn’t buying it. When I was 15 years old I told both of my parents that if I ever came home to find them having coffee with some random guy and his parents, I would turn around and walk out. This didn’t deter my father from trying to set me up. He once tried to convince me to meet a man of his choosing. I hadn’t heard of the guy, so I asked around. A friend told me that this guy had beaten his ex-fiancĂ©e. When I shared this with my father, he replied with, “But he’s a doctor!”

I realized I needed to navigate this path on my own.

I dated a little bit during the later years of high school; I had my first boyfriend at 16. I knew I didn’t want anything serious, which resulted in breaking some hearts through college. Why get serious if I wasn’t going to settle down? But dating was beneficial in several ways. I learned what types of guys I was and wasn’t compatible with; I learned what behavior was acceptable and what I wouldn’t tolerate; I learned to let a guy be chivalrous; I learned that being my dominant self didn’t always work in my favor; I learned that I wouldn’t cross my boundaries of no sex before marriage no matter how intense the situation.

This resulted in many years of willful repression. I’m not bitter or angry about that. It built the anticipation for my wedding night, when I knew my patience would pay off in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord. Secretly I thought that “I do” would be the magic switch that would release my inner sex kitten.

Things didn’t quite work out that way.

For several reasons, I didn’t have anyone I felt comfortable with speaking about first-time sex. I really didn’t know what to expect. The pressure was really high. It didn’t turn out like it was supposed to – at least in my own mind.

It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t the mind-shattering, fireworks-inducing, nirvana-approaching experience I had made it out to be in my imagination. Damn.

I don’t regret waiting. Not one bit. And I promise you that it got better (a lot better).

[Girls, if you want some real talk on real sex, please contact me. I have no filter. I love Jesus. I love you.]

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Closet Conversations

Sitting in church. Praying with friends. Hiking in nature. (I regularly do two out of these three things, by the way.)

These are considered spiritual moments – times when we feel God’s presence. Being around other Christians, worshiping, praying, enjoying the beauty of creation. Soaking in His presence, uplifting and encouraging each other, pushing our bodies’ physical limits.

But how often do we do these things? How often do we feel connected with God? Do we make a daily effort? Or is it our once-a-week “donation” to God when we spend an hour at His house Sunday morning and check it off our spiritual to do list?

Fortunately, if we know the Lord, we don’t have to go to Him. He’s not in some faraway office behind a locked door sitting at a big desk, accessible only through an assistant. (“Hi, you’ve reached God’s office. This is Peter; how may I help you?”)

He’s always with us.

And so spiritual moments can happen anytime, anywhere.

Sometimes we don’t want them, like when we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing. Sometimes we’re not ready for them, like when we’re busy but we know someone needs us. Sometimes we ignore them, because they make us uncomfortable, like when the Spirit prompts us to pray with someone right then and there – OUT LOUD.

And sometimes, they surprise us, in the best possible way. Spiritual moments, when we connect with God by connecting with others. When we carry out His desire of loving Him and loving our neighbor. When we relate to humanity in an unselfish way, outside of ourselves, outside of our comfort zone, getting our hands dirty for the benefit of someone else. When we give a smile, a dollar, a helping hand, an encouraging word, a good deed, an hour of time, an extension of our talents, a show of affection – something, anything, to convey our love for each other because He loved us first.

I have a spiritual moment in my closet every morning. What am I going to wear today? Is it decent? Is everything covered? Does my bra show? Is it too tight, too short, too revealing? Do I need a tank underneath, or a cardigan on top? Will I be comfortable? Will it draw unnecessary attention? Within 10 seconds I’ve had a conversation with God and my outfit is decided and, hopefully, He is pleased.

I’m not the most disciplined person. I’m definitely not a morning person who wakes up early for quiet time and devotions. I don’t only listen to Christian music. Sometimes I say bad words. I’m kind of the opposite of a Proverbs 31 woman, but I’m trying. I carry my Lord with me all day long – stealing away moments to talk with Him, pray to Him, sing to Him, and beg His forgiveness for my daily (hourly?) sins.

My spiritual moments happen all day long. What about you?

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.