The Kindness Podcast Episode 10: Helper’s High

Several years ago, when I was first beginning to write on the topic of kindness, I got a speaking request.

A group wanted me to come and talk about the health benefits of kindness. It seems this should have been right smack dab in my realm of knowledge, but it wasn’t. I knew what kindness had done for me, but I didn’t know what it had done for others. So I hit the internet.

I couldn’t believe what I found… nearly nothing. No research on the effects of kindness in our lives. It was an unstudied topic.

In less than a decade, our world has awakened to the powerful force of kindness and it’s been studied in magnitude. We now know about the chemicals that are released into our bodies and even how to craft situations that will fire off these hormones.

But back when I was looking, all I found were two studies on volunteering — one done by the federal government and another done by a man named Allan Luks.

Mr. Luks had written a book about his research in the 1990s called The Healing Power of Doing Good. It sits on my shelf still today, because the findings remain true.

Before I headed off to that very scary first speech, I took a long shot and decided to email Mr. Luks and ask if perhaps there was an arena of research that I was missing. He wrote me back just a few hours later. No, this is still primarily unchartered territory. Researchers haven’t caught on to the power of kindness.

I was so touched that this very busy pioneer of social change would take the time to respond to my email. I bought his book, absorbed every word and started telling people about the amazing work that kindness can do in a body and the man who coined the phrase “Helper’s High.”

Allan Luks is still blazing trails in the political and social scene, but just like way back when, he agreed to pause for a moment to talk. He shares his original ideas on volunteerism and what he knows now about kindness.

You can listen on itunes, google play or NPR.

Week 50 Memory Verse: I’m not that important

She’s not really going to do it, is she?

The woman in the BMW was edging closer and closer toward the front of my car.

Columbus, lunch hour, Christmas shopping chaos. It was complete gridlock and this woman was holding up 6 cars behind her as she insisted on sneaking between my car and the one in front of me in order to turn into a parking lot that had another entrance 50 feet down the lane. I had no where to go and neither did the car in front of me because BMW Lady was creating a standstill.

I wanted to get mad at her. I really did. I wanted to roll down my window and tell her she was a crazy so-and-so. I wanted to give her the bird.

I wanted to, but then I remembered.

Just last week, I was tired. I was sapped of emotional and physical energy. I was on my way to record five podcast interviews and I desperately needed a large peppermint mocha to make that happen.

Our Uptown parking is tough. No way, no how was I going to find a spot anywhere near the coffee shop. I only needed one teeny tiny spot for like 4 minutes. I was desperate.

That’s when I got the brilliant idea to pull into a spot marked “Business Loading Zone.”

There were 3 of those spots in a row and I knew if I pulled way up, it would leave plenty of room in the off chance that a big delivery truck pulled up in the 4 minutes I was in the coffee shop.

Feeling a touch guilty and a teensy bit worried that I might get towed, I ran into the coffee shop. My gut sank when I saw the 5 people already waiting in line. This is not going to take 4 minutes.

I should’ve turned around right there and scrapped the whole idea, but I was beaten down. I needed a warm, sweet treat more than I needed air in that moment.

So I stuck it out and 15 minutes later walked back to my car.

I immediately looked at the windshield. No ticket. Thank you Jesus.

As my mittened hand took the handle of the car, I heard a gruff voice come up behind me.

“Ma’am. Did you not see the big red sign attached to this meter?”

It was the parking attendant. She was trying very hard not to yell at me, but it wasn’t working, and I immediately felt like the size of a small lump of coal.

I had no good excuse. I was busted for arrogantly thinking my needs came above the needs of the rest of the community.

And I was on my way to record my kindness podcast. Ugh. How can I be so close to getting it right and so far at the same time?

I apologized to the parking attendant. We didn’t exactly leave as friends, but she didn’t give me a ticket.

The rest of the day, I felt like a terrible person. I had broken the rules and made someone very angry, and I can’t remember the last time I had done either of those things.

That’s what I was thinking as I sat behind the wheel a few days later, watching one woman in a BMW flirt with hitting my car and messing up loads of traffic around her.

Instead of feeling really angry at her like I thought I should, I felt compassion.

I wondered where her mind was… and how she slept last night… and if she has a group of girlfriends she can do life with.

I was in no position to judge. So instead I just wondered.

In light of my recent experiences, I thought it was sort of funny when I stumbled onto this week’s memory verse: “If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” Galatians 6:3 (NLT)

May God continue to remind me (and you, if you need it) that the main reason we must make an effort to always give grace to others is because we need it so often for ourselves.

The Kindness Podcast Episode 9: A Case for Kindness

I never knew the radical effect kindness could have on a life until it had an effect on my life. Isn’t that the way it always goes? We can hear about something again and again, but until it becomes real for us, it’s simply not real.

I went from seeing the world through mostly grey colored glasses to suddenly finding a kaleidoscope of kindness in front of me. One act of kindness, which led to a weekly newspaper column, which led to the need to intentionally search out kindness, totally rewired my brain. I never would have believed it could have happened. And then it did.

Lisa Barrickman is a woman who has come alongside me in this kindness journey. I’ve never met her face-to-face, but we’ve shared ideas back and forth online and over the phone. I was stunned the first time I talked to her, because I realized, it’s not just me. Kindness is sneaking up on other people and changing their lives, too.

After challenging herself to do 40 days of kindness for her 40th birthday, Lisa was so taken with the results that she convinced her entire church to try it. Then her relatives tried it at their churches. Seeing the positive ripples that were happening around her, Lisa decided to put her program into words in the form of a book, A Case for Kindness: 40 Ways to Love and Inspire Others

Lisa talks about taking on a kindness program without making it feel like a diet or exercise regime and without totally draining your bank account in Episode 9 of The Kindness Podcast.

You can listen on itunes, NPR, or wherever you like to find your podcasts.

You can learn more about Lisa at LisaBarrickman.com and find her book here.

Week 49 Memory Verse: God knows Ben loves Carson Wentz

I tucked in my youngest son last night with the same two questions I always ask.

Who loves you?

Momma.

Who else loves you?

Jesus.

I always end by saying That’s right, Momma and Jesus love you! Then I walk away sort of giggling to myself, because I like the ring of that — Momma and Jesus love you. It sounds like a country western song.

Last night I added a third question. How do you know Jesus loves you?

It wasn’t premeditated. I was just sort of curious, so I thought I’d ask. My 7 year old son immediately responded with, Because he made me.

In our family, we believe that God is the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit totally intertwined, all at once. So yeah, that’s a pretty good answer. Ben knows Jesus loves him because as God, He took the time to create him.

Do you know that God knows everything about you? He knows exactly how many hairs are on your head. He knows you love Carson Wentz (my son’s favorite football player). And He has a plan for your life that He put together before you were even born. Isn’t that cool?

We went on to talk about how God knows everything about us, and it’s sort of our job to get to know Him so we can begin to understand what that plan is for our life.

As we were talking, I could only half remember a verse I’ve heard recited for years. I wished the fog would clear from my brain so I could share it with my son. The moment passed, but this morning I woke up still trying to put all the words of that verse in the right order.

I’m making it this week’s memory verse in case you need to memorize it for the first or second or third time, too.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

I wonder… if we keep that verse close to our hearts, perhaps it will help us better understand the true character of God. If we can remember that He is good and that He has good in store for us even when it doesn’t seem like it, maybe we will be able to better trust the parts of the path that aren’t yet lit.

I’m willing to try it. How about you?

 

The Kindness Podcast Episode 8: Waking Up in Heaven

As an aspiring author, imagine my total delight when I was asked to introduce a New York Times bestselling author at a charity event. Not only that, the organization’s director asked if I would be willing to spend the day with the author, driving her to a television interview, showing her around town and taking her to lunch. Best. Day. Ever.

I had my list of questions prepared and couldn’t wait to pick her brain while showing her a little North Dakota niceness.

It was the best day ever, but better than gaining new insight into the world of publishing, I gained a new friend.

That author was Crystal McVea, who has now written two books, Waking Up in Heaven, and the follow up Chasing Heaven.

Let me be pause and be bossy for a moment.

If you haven’t read Waking Up in Heaven, stop reading this and go read that. It flows like a fiction novel, but I am convinced after meeting Crystal that every word of it is true.

That book is balm to the soul of anyone who has lost someone they love, and to everyone else who wonders how there could possibly be a good God when so many bad things keep happening.

Crystal’s second book, Chasing Heaven: What Dying Taught Me About Living, is equally as awesome because it describes what happens when God puts a call on someone’s life.

That’s where kindness comes in.

Crystal now boldly ministers under bridges to the homeless and ventures into the dark of night to reach women working in the adult entertainment industry — all while teaching in a third grade classroom in Oklahoma.

Okay, enough from me, you’re going to look at things in a whole new light after hearing from Crystal herself in this week’s podcast.

You can listen on iTunes, Google Play or NPR.

To learn more about Crystal, go to CrystalMcVea.com.

Week 48 Memory Verse: Remind Me Who I Am

I was driving by myself yesterday when a song came on that I love. I listen to it before I speak. It’s part of my “pre-game” ritual. When I remember who I am in God and how much He loves me, it’s easier to stand on a stage and help others remember.

When I lose my way,

And I forget my name

Remind me who I am

In the mirror all I see

Is who I don’t wanna be

Remind me who I am

In the loneliest places

When I can’t remember what grace is

Tell me, once again

Who I am to You, who I am to You.

It’s called “Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray. Here’s a link in case you want to watch the video. It’s a pretty awesome way to spend 4 minutes.

I wasn’t on my way to a speaking event, but I was definitely in need of some reminding — both of how God sees me and in His ability to work through me.

This beautiful season of gratitude and bounty can make us weary. It can leave us feeling so tapped out from planning and prepping that we can end up in a depressed fog, with no energy to lift ourselves up, much less anyone else.

I get to that state and then I begin to ponder big questions that really shouldn’t be pondered on an emotionally empty stomach: Does what I do matter? Do I matter?

Ever been there? If so, maybe you’re in need of some reminding too.

Nearly seven years ago, I sat in a friend’s living room for my very first bible study. We watched a DVD by Lysa TerKeurst called “Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl.”

I wasn’t exactly a good bible study girl, if you know what I mean. I wasn’t sure why I was there and I certainly didn’t believe God would reach out through Lysa’s words to speak to me — a wayward child. But he did.

Lysa said two things that changed my life. She said,

  1. You are a child of God.
  2. God has big plans for your life.

In a perfect world, being someone’s child means that you are loved immeasurably, more than you could ever understand. God is perfect, so imagine what the love He has for you looks like. It’s immense; all encompassing.

He loves us so much that before the world was even created, He thought of us. He planned out our lives. He knew we would mess up again and again and again, so He made plans to bring that all around for our good, too. And he gave each of us a purpose.

When I remember those two things, I am a child of God and God has big plans for my life, I feel refreshed. The pressure is lifted because I know that I’m enough. I don’t have to be anymore or do anymore because God is ultimately in charge of what gets done. I get to go along for the ride, knowing He’ll use me in exactly the right way at exactly the right time.

I don’t know if you need to be refreshed and reminded of who you truly are, but if so, I hope you’ll etch these words on your heart this week: I am a child of God.

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26 (NLT)

Kindness Podcast Episode 7: The Coffee Shop Story

Several years ago, a man sent in a story for my Kindness is Contagious column. It resonated with me so deeply, I used it again in my book and I often refer to it in my speaking engagements.

Why did I love that particular story so much? Because it flipped over the ridiculously angry emotions I feel sometimes when someone does me wrong.

I’m sure you can remember a few times in your life when a total stranger was intentionally rude to you. They preferred their own wishes over yours. They literally or figuratively let the door slam in your face and it instantly soured your outlook on the day.

Why would we ever let someone have that much control over us? Especially someone we don’t know and aren’t emotionally invested in?

Dennis Seeb is an ordinary guy with an extraordinary way of looking at life. He took a situation in which he was miffed by a stranger and turned it around in a practical, day-changing way, that has forever altered the way I, personally, look at the power of kindness.

Dennis shares this particular story and his other thoughts on living the human race in Episode 7 of The Kindness Podcast. I hope you find his story of kindness as life-changing as I did.

You can find The Kindness Podcast free on iTunes, NPR or your favorite podcast provider.

Week 47 Memory Verse: Fishes and loaves and cozys

I woke up in the middle of the night this week with an incredibly clear thought: fishes and loaves.

Let me back up. My sweet 13 year old daughter was featured on NBC Nightly News last Wednesday. An hour after it aired, I was on the phone with the manager of Shop Athens Ohio, the store where Jordan sells her handmade coffee cup sleeves.

“I think we’ve been hacked,” the manager said. “We are being totally inundated with orders for Jordan’s products.”

Oops. I had forgotten to give her a heads up that Jordan’s “Cozys for the Cure” creations were going to be seen on national television.

Within 2 days, we had gotten orders for 700 coffee cup sleeves plus dozens of bowl cozys.

Jordan makes each one by hand. They take her about 7 minutes each. She has two weeks to get them all done. My math stinks, but I think if she worked on them an hour a day, it would take her 81 days to finish.

I toss and turn at night wrestling with other concerns like, Walmart has just stopped carrying the special buttons she uses. Where are we going to get 700 buttons? We don’t have enough fabric. She still has to go to school every day. I don’t know how to sew.

Can you feel my anxiety rising?

So that was my state of mind in the wee small hours Sunday morning when I woke with one clear thought: fishes and loaves.

Four different times in the Bible, we are told that Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed 5000 men, plus women and children.

He took the little bit that one boy in the crowd had to offer and he multiplied it to the point that there were 12 baskets of leftovers!

But before he did that, Jesus talked with his disciples. They were adamant that this was an  impossible situation.

“But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered. -Matthew 14:17 (NLT)

How often do I say that to God? But I only have…

I chose that as today’s memory verse, because it reflects my own thinking. Maybe it reflects your thinking too.

It never feels like we have quite enough, right?

And yet, God proves again and again that He can take our little and make it much, not because of who we are or how hard we work, but because of who He is.

Every time I walk through the kitchen and see Jordan’s sewing machine or a pile of half-finished cozys, I now think, “Fishes and loaves.”

I don’t know how it will get done, but it will. And we will have God to thank.

P.S. I’d also like to thank Andrea Coombs, Blow’s Sew & Vac, Jordan’s Cozy Tribe in Fargo, Teresa & Dave South, Kathy Hartman and her quilting group, Rachael Blatt, Leslie Zalecki from Designer Window Treatments, and Janome who have quickly come to our rescue. We’re not nearly done yet, but you are all proving that many hands make light work. We are so grateful for your encouragement.  

Kindness Podcast Episode 6: What a Wonder!

I remember walking downtown with my youngest son when he was about four. It’s that beautiful (yet exhausting) age where kids are becoming alert to the world around them, and vocal enough to give you a play-by-play account of what they see.

As we strolled along, I spotted a college-age woman with a significant limp. Sure enough, so did my son.

“Mom, look at that lady. She walks funny.”

I froze with a terrified smile on my face because I knew the woman had heard my son. “Um, I’m really sorry…” I sort of mumbled.

“That’s okay,” she replied. With a huge, friendly smile, she turned to my son. “You’re right! I do walk funny. I was born with one leg longer than the other. It makes it awfully hard to run. Do you like to run?”

All of sudden, my son was caught up in the excitement of talking about himself. The attention was off of her, and all differences between us were erased.

I have never been more grateful for the kindheartedness of a stranger in my whole life.

She saw a sticky situation and gracefully taught us how to handle it.

There is a mom who has to deal with situations like that one all the time. Her son was born with Apert Syndrome, an extremely rare craniofacial disorder. Her only chance of creating some normalcy in her son’s life was to greet the odd looks and pointing fingers head on — with kindness.

Taryn Skees joins me on The Kindness Podcast to talk about her son Aiden, what she does to address the curiosity, and what it will mean to see a story so similar to her son’s played out on the big screen in the new movie, Wonder.

You can listen on iTunes or NPR.

And please be sure to stop over to Taryn’s website, MoreSkeesPlease.com to learn more about Aiden, Apert Syndrome and the mom of four boys who calls herself the “coordinator of chaos.” You can also catch up with the family at https://www.facebook.com/MoreSkeesPlease/

Week 46 Memory Verse: Got Flood Insurance?

Sometimes I wish I could spend more time, money and energy on myself and less on others.

Selfish? Yep.

True? Absolutely.

I bet I’m not alone. I bet there are times when you want to say, “Sorry, God, find someone else today. I’m busy.”

Only we’re not busy. The truth is, sometimes we just don’t feel like doing the right thing.

We talk a lot about integrity in our house. That means doing the right thing even when no one is looking.

It’s easy to be your best self when you have an audience — or someone to hold you accountable. It’s a little trickier when we’re alone and we start hearing the voice of the enemy whispering in our ears… Do you know what you could do with that money? Don’t you deserve a little extra kindness for yourself today? Let someone else be in charge of spreading the light, they’ll probably do a better job anyway. 

Lies. All lies.

They come up against us, again and again, like a series of waves trying to beat us down and make us fall so that eventually we drown.

How do we stand firm in the face of the temptation to do our own thing, make our own rules, give up on the light?

We go to the Light.

I sat in God’s presence, humbly apologizing for my hard heart, when I opened up to Luke 6:48 (NLT), “It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.” 

Jesus is the one speaking here. Notice he says, “When the floodwaters rise…” He knows that those powerful waves will come. But he also knows that God is more powerful, and if we commit our ways to Him, again and again, even when we are tempted and ashamed to admit what’s in our hearts, He will hold us strong.

I take immense comfort in that. God sets us on firm ground and gives us exactly what we need to weather the storm. Far from perfect, and far from strong, our only job is to keep coming to God day after day, allowing Him to fortify us and provide the best flood insurance possible. All we have to do is ask.

God, help me build a solid foundation in you so that when the storms come crashing, I will stand strong. Amen. 

Kindness Podcast Episode 5: Complimentees and Snooty Giggles

The people we interact with today will be a tiny bit changed because of us. Hopefully, they’ll be changed for the good, but if we’re not careful, maybe not.

When we smile at the clerk at the grocery store and ask how she’s doing today, we’re adding light and positivity into her life. When we forget to make eye contact or grumble about the price of potatoes, we’re not.

I had a very interesting conversation with a woman from Nashville named Shawn Aswad. She’s the creator of the apparel company, Complimentees. Shawn’s shirts help us add inspiration to the world without even having to open our mouths. 

In Episode 5 of The Kindness Podcast, Shawn shares her motivation for starting this company, but she also talks about her other passion, her dogs. Snooty Giggles Dog Rescue is Shawn’s baby. Whether a pup stays for a long time or a little time, each one encourages her to remember that our weaknesses, or special needs, are actually our super powers. 

You can listen to my conversation with Shawn on itunes or NPR.

And since we’re getting into that gift-giving season, be sure to start the ripple of effect of kind words at complimentees.com. (all photo credits: Complimentees)

Week 45 Memory Verse: Does what you wear matter?

The last time I prepared to head out on a speaking road trip, a beautiful thing happened in my bedroom.

(Hmmm… maybe I should rephrase that. Nah. Stick with me, you’ll see where I’m going soon enough.)

Two things have to happen before I’m ready to give a presentation:

  1. I have to get quiet enough to prepare the message.
  2. I have to figure out what I’m going to wear that’s going to be cute and comfortable and make me feel confident when I deliver that message.

The first one seems legit. We would all expect people to take time to really focus on their presentation before actually delivering it.

The second one seems a little vain. Who cares what I wear? The audience isn’t rating my outfit. (Yes they are, but that’s a thought for a different day.)

So, after creating my message in the solitude of my office, I walk into my bedroom, pull out my suitcase, open my closet door and start pacing back and forth like a wild animal.

Within two minutes, I’m on the edge of a full-blown panic attack.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to wear. I have plenty of things to wear. It’s just that I can’t figure out what goes together when I’m stressed out or pressed for time. Nothing fits right, nothing looks good, nothing seems to match.

All of sudden, I’ve spiraled from “can’t figure out what to wear” to “Why did God choose me for this job? He must have made a mistake. I’m totally incompetent.”

So… this is where I was a few months ago when a beautiful thing happened in my bedroom. I was preparing to head to Wisconsin for a week-long speaking road trip.

It was a Wednesday morning and I was just wrapping up a bible study at my house when I mentioned my angst about packing to the other women. The next thing you know, my five friends are cozily sitting on my bed while I’m trying on a myriad of tops and bottoms.

They took a Yes/No vote, picked out jewelry to match, snapped pictures of each outfit (so I could remember what went together), and literally put the clothes into my suitcase.

All of a sudden I was done. The fear left and I found myself instantly excited to see the precious people who would be at each event.

Shortly after my friends sat on my bed and built up my confidence with their kindness, I ran across a verse that reminded me of what is truly important as we prepare to face the day — or a crowd of strangers.

“…dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.” Colossians 3:12 (MSG)

The paragraph continues and I want to share it with you, because it’s so beautiful.

“Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” (Colossians 3:13-14 MSG)

I put those verses on my bathroom mirror as a reminder of what people will truly see when they look at me.

Will it be a well-cut blazer or will it be the light of God?

What about you? Sure it’s fun to look good, but at the end of the day, do you think people will remember the top they complimented you on, or will your kindness, humility and quiet strength be what follows them home?

Kindness Podcast Episode 4: RAK Foundation

Do you struggle with high blood pressure, eating disorders, depression or anxiety? Do you ever feel like true happiness is reserved for other people?

There is room for more joy in your life and it comes from the chemicals released when you do an act of kindness.

Kindness has the power to change a life. Brooke Jones has seen that personally and within her professional role as the Vice President of one of the world’s most prominent non-profit kindness organizations.

“I would look at these people out there that were living life so fully and so happily and I thought, I will never be one of those people.” – Brooke Jones, VP Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

One act of kindness, one little moment in time, can send a surge of feel-good chemicals through your body that will not only change your own mood, but also the outlook of those around you.

With a sweet vulnerability about her own struggles and a solid handle on the scientific research behind kindness, Brooke shares her insights during Episode 4 of The Kindness Podcast.

Listen now for free on iTunes or Google Play.

Week 44 Memory Verse: So he got up

I don’t know if I’m allowed to do what I’m about to do. I don’t know if it’s okay to take just a few words from the Bible and highlight them, but that’s what’s about to happen.

I just finished a bible study about the prodigal son. That’s the story about the son who asks his dad for an early inheritance and then takes off and spends it all on wild living. He finds himself with nothing, feeding pigs and wishing he could eat as well as the animals.

The study I did was a dramatic video series called, “AHA” and was narrated by a pastor named Kyle Idleman.

At one point in the last episode, Kyle reminds us of what happens right after the son realizes he’s longing for the pig food. The son determines that his best course of action would be to go apologize to his father. Then the NIV translation tells us this, “So he got up and went to his father.” (Luke 15:20) 

How many times in our lives do we know what we should do? I’d say pretty often.

How many times in our lives do we follow through and actually go ahead with that plan? I’m just speaking for myself here, but I’d say not so much.

She knew she needed to apologize for her part in the fight. So she got up and called her mother. 

She knew she needed to do something to combat the anger in her heart. So she got up and met with a marriage counselor. 

She knew she needed to stop spending money she didn’t have. So she got up and cancelled Netflix. 

She knew she needed to fit into her jeans again. So she got up and walked away from the cheesecake. 

I’m not sure what gives some people the strength to get up and do what they know they need to do. (If you’ve figured that out, would you let me know?) I think it has something to do with acknowledging that there is a problem, taking some of the blame for the problem, and then realizing that we can create our own future by taking the next right step today.

As my new TV friend, Kyle says, “It’s not easy, but it is simple.”

Maybe this week, we just need to memorize four words from scripture that can serve as a reminder of that first step: “So he got up.”

What do you need to get up and do?

Kindness Podcast Episode 3: Same Kind of Different As Me

What’s the single biggest mistake of your life? What’s the one decision or perhaps series of decisions that led you somewhere you never intended to be?

Do you have one?

Or perhaps it’s not something you’ve done, but what’s been done to you.

Our stories often become the secrets we hide in a dark place deep within us. We all have them, and few of us could imagine pulling them out and sharing them with the world.

But that’s exactly what Ron Hall is doing. He’s made decisions he regrets and hurt people who were good to him, but at some point, through an unlikely friendship with a man nicknamed Suicide, Ron changed.

Now, with the help the A-list cast of Renee Zellweger, Greg Kinnear and Djimon Hounsou,  Ron is sharing what happens when you crack open a hardened heart and use kindness to transform your life and the lives of others.

His New York Times best-selling book and movie, Same Kind of Different As Me… as well as his interview on The Kindness Podcast inspires us to remember that regardless of what we see, we’re all more alike than we are different.

You can listen to Ron Hall’s interview on iTunes or Google play.

 

Week 43 Memory Verse: Not Your Battle

What if the way we see people behaving in the Bible long ago is a message about how we are supposed to behave today?

Not all of it is good, of course, so you can’t just open to a page and say, “There! See? It’s in the Bible. I’m gonna do that!”

You might just find yourself like Kind David, on a rooftop, lusting after someone else’s wife.

Or beating a man to the point of killing him, like Moses.

Or flat out lying and cursing your best friend, like Peter.

When we continue reading those stories, we find out God is in the redemption business. He’s awfully good at making masterpieces out of our messes. But that’s a point for another day.

Today, I’m interested in what we see people in the Bible doing when they really need God’s help.

Have you ever really needed God’s help? Me too.

I stumbled across a story in the Bible last week that is sticking to my ribs and continues to sustain me as I hunger for God’s intervention.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat finds out that he is going to be under some serious enemy attack. Three different groups are coming at him, together.

He doesn’t have much time, he needs to prepare his troops. But instead, he prays. Then he asks everyone in the country to fast, then he gathers them all for a meeting so they can pray together. In his public prayer, he reminds God, the community, and himself of all the promises God has made and all the ways He’s saved them in the past. Right then, a man in the crowd who came from a long line of priests, starts sharing a message from God.

This man starts talking on behalf of God, telling the people that this is God’s war, and even though they can see the enemy coming from over a far-away hill, tomorrow when the battle begins, they won’t even need to fight.

Here are the words that have been resonating in my head from that speech. It’s today’s memory verse: “March out boldly tomorrow— God is with you.” 2 Chronicles 20:17 (MSG)

I’m not sure what I would have thought had I been standing in that crowd, but today, in this modern time, I need the reminder that when I show up, God will show up. When we do what we know we’re supposed to do, God will do the rest.

King Jehoshaphat also appeared to believe this message. The next morning, they walk to the front lines, with singers leading the troops in songs of praise.

“At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies… to start fighting among themselves.” (2 Chronicles 20:22 NLT)

The enemies all killed each other while the king and his people stood there and watched!

I need God’s help every day, in the little things and the big things. How about you? Before I ever write a single word for my work, before I have a tough conversation with my kids, before I step out bravely to help someone I don’t want to help — or forgive someone I don’t want to forgive, I need to talk to God. I need to remind Him and myself that He’s here and He’s on my side.

You can do that too. God’s always listening, so you always have His ear. You never know, you might just hear Him remind you that this isn’t your fight. You are standing in the middle of the battle field simply so you can watch the Lord’s victory.

Kindness Podcast Episode 2: Brian Williams

I have a secret.

I do not like talking to kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I love talking with kids, I just don’t like talking to them. Like from a stage. When they’re all sitting on the gym floor. Staring at me. Wiggling. Expecting me to pull a rabbit out of my hat or introduce a magic unicorn that farts rainbows.

Speaking to kids about kindness means 95% entertainment and 5% content. You have to get their attention before your message earns a permanent spot in their brains.

I’ve tried it. I want to be good at it. I’m just not. I never get booed off the stage, it’s just not my strong suit, so I never leave an event thinking, “Yeah! Nailed it.”

I got to talk with a guy who is really, really good at talking to kids. He’s also really good at backflips, which probably helps.

Brian Williams is a Kindness Ninja. He started a movement called Think Kindness. He and his team began working with schools to activate and count one million acts of kindness. 

When they got to a million, they quit counting, but they didn’t stop their kindness mission.

Using his martial arts skills and the art of competition, Brian speaks to kids and then motivates them to create their own kindness teams within the school.

His efforts have even become global, with high school students actually hand-delivering kindness to kids in Africa. 

It’s amazing, but hey, why am I telling you about it when he can tell you himself?

Brian Williams, Kindness Ninja Extraordinaire, is this week’s guest on The Kindness Podcast. 

It’s free and available now on iTunes or Google Play.

Week 42 Memory Verse: How to Stop Stifling Your Power

I was sitting in my mini-van when I had this huge idea over-take my heart. Go give her money.

“Her” was the young mom in the shiny gold bikini I had just met at our community pool. The “money” I was being told to give away was mine, and although I didn’t know exactly what I was going to spend it on, I knew it shouldn’t be wasted on a total stranger.

But for some reason, I put the car back in park, got out and awkwardly approached this teenage girl that I hadn’t even known a few hours ago.

“I want you to have this.” The words came out of my mouth and tears came out of her eyes.

What happened next was spectacular. I got back into my mini-van, knowing that I had just been part of a miracle. God and I teamed up in that city pool parking lot and all of a sudden I felt like I could light the world on fire!

I didn’t know it at the time, but God’s miracle wasn’t for the girl in the shiny gold bikini, it was for me. Because that day was the beginning of my kindness ministry. It was the need to share that single experience that turned me into a writer and a speaker.

Today’s Memory Verse is a continuation of our study from 1 Thessalonians. “Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19 (NLT) 

I never knew how intimately involved God wants to be in the tiny details of our lives. Why would a big God want to deal with my trivial stuff? Isn’t He too busy working out the world’s large-scale problems?

God is never too busy for you, my friend.

God is going to speak to you through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives in us and does a remarkable job of guiding us into the right and out of the wrong. (I use the terms God and Holy Spirit interchangeably because I believe they are one and the same.)

When He talks, when He moves, we can’t afford to miss it. We have to be ready.

How do we make ourselves ready? How do we avoid stifling the Holy Spirit?

I’m certain there are a whole lot of theology experts out there who could really break this down for you, so I’m just going to stick with sharing what I know to work in my own life.

  1. Ask for it. – Ask God to use you, to make you a vessel for Him.
  2. Expect it. – Know that once you ask, it’s going to happen. God heard you.
  3. Look for it. – Go about your day on high alert, looking for ways God is showing himself to you and asking you to join Him in some little project.
  4. Obey it. – If you want the Holy Spirit to continue inviting you to the party, you have to say yes and go!
  5. Give praise for it. – When you lay your head down at night, think back over the day and thank God for a few specific ways you saw Him working in your life and the lives of others that day. Thank Him that you get to repeat the partnership tomorrow.

Teaming up with God, boldly following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, will open up miracles in your life.

You don’t have to be afraid. God won’t take you where you can’t go. He knows you better than you do.

And thanks to His mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Kindness Podcast Episode 1: Leon Logothetis

Have you felt miserable in your life? Ever wanted to make a u-turn on whatever road you were on and start again?

That’s what Leon did.

Leon Logothetis is my guest in this very first episode of The Kindness Podcast. He has an amazing Netflix series and he’s a rockstar in the world of kindness.

I’m crazy excited for you to hear his words— and the words of the other people coming up in each episode of this podcast — because I know as I know as I know that those words will lead to new thoughts in your brain and those thoughts will lead to new actions and those actions will change your life for the better.

That’s the power of kindness!

Are you ready???

Here are the links on iTunes (this is where you can rate and review the podcast) and Google Play. Same podcast, two places to listen.

Now, a couple of questions I’ve been asked recently:

1. What is a podcast? It’s like a radio interview, only you can listen to it anytime you want for free from the internet, on your phone, tablet or computer. Driving, exercising, cooking dinner, you listen when you want.

2. What is The Kindness Podcast? This is my baby. It is only coming to life because of divine intervention via WOUB Public Media and a very kind man named Tom Hodson. This is a weekly show in which I get to interview celebrities, kindness experts, and people who have really amazing stories that will fill your cup right to the top. You’ll find new episodes every Thursday!

3. What can I do to help you with this Nicole? Okay, so no one has technically asked this yet (except for my podcast team — thank you!!!), but there is something I desperately need from you. Between now and Monday, Oct. 16th, would you please go to iTunes and rate or review The Kindness Podcast? I have a goal of 150 reviews by Monday. The goal is to get so many ratings/reviews in such a short period of time that the folks at iTunes say, “Hey, I guess people want to hear about kindness” and then begin featuring The Kindness Podcast on their own. That kind of exposure could crack open the whole podcast world for my little kindness team!

Thank you in advance for listening and rating. Thank you, as always, for loving on me so well. I hope I’m able to love on you equally well through each episode and help pass along tools to make your life as full and refreshing as it can possibly be!

 

Week 41 Memory Verse: When our world is shaken

There are situations in life that knock our socks off — and not in a good way.

We didn’t see the results of that biopsy coming…

We didn’t understand how far gone our children were until they were too far gone to reach…

We never imagined that a day that started out so normal could take such a tragic turn…

Sure. Some of it’s our fault. Sin is messy. We walk down paths that entangle us in webs of destruction we never saw coming.

Some of it is another person’s fault. The mess from their sin ends up all over us.

Some of it is no one’s fault. Accidents, natural disasters, test results. Life happens.

So here we are. Right smack dab in the middle of a situation that feels so dark, so suffocating, so overwhelming that there is no way out.

Now what do we do?

What do we do when all the light has gone out of our world?

We bring the light.

This often comes in the form of kindness to others, but when that feels too hard, back up one step and try this instead:

Give thanks.

Today’s memory verse tells us that this is what God wants from us in tough times.

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT) 

Perhaps it’s easier for God to move us through the situation if we’re meeting Him in a posture of gratitude instead of frozen in fear. Or maybe it just feels better to focus on the positive. I don’t know. But I do know that this is what God wants me to do, so I will do it.

Notice we are not asked to be thankful for all circumstances. We are not called to thank God for the problem, but instead we are asked to look around and see the good that still exists in the midst of the problem.

Find the good in the middle of the bad, and name it.

God, you’re still with me. Thank you.

God, there’s a new gentleness in my conversations. Thank you.

God, my friends are uniting around me. Thank you.

God, I’m still here, which means I still have time to sort out this mess I’ve made. Thank you.

God, you forgive me, even when no one else does. Thank you.

Friend, God’s hand is on us. Always. If you’re having trouble finding something to thank Him for, I know He’ll be happy if you simply start with that.

May God bless you in the middle of your hurt.

Athens is Kind

Big news! Athens, Ohio is kind!*

Wait… you already knew that?

Then join me during the first two weeks of October to prove it to others.

I’m launching a new podcast through WOUB Public Media called, “The Kindness Podcast.” In celebration of this event, I’ve teamed up with the Athens County Convention & Visitors Bureau and other area businesses to throw kindness around like confetti!

You can join the party with two simple steps:

  1. Go be kind! (Or recognize when someone’s been kind to you.)
  2. Tell everyone about it on social media using the hashtags #AthensIsKind or #FindingKindness.

That’s it! I get to read through those hashtags and highlight some of them on my own pages at facebook.com/nicolejphillips, twitter.com/PhillipsNicoleJ, and instagram.com/nicolejphillips/.

Kroger and Donkey Coffee gift cards will be randomly given away, along with some super cool “kindness” rocks, and several copies of Leon’s book!

Also, you’re invited to the Baker Center Theater Tuesday, October 17th at 7:30pm for a free event featuring Netflix star, Leon Logothetis. He’s the host of the amazing show, The Kindness Diaries.

What will you do to join this kind movement now through October 17th? Together we’re proving #AthensIsKind!

*Don’t be sad if you’re not in the Athens area. You can still play along and create ripples of kindness in your own area. Just hashtag your city (#FargoisKind, #CharlotteisKind, etc.) and tag me in your post!

 

Week 40 Memory Verse: Don’t Hang Up

I used to think of praying like making a phone call.

“Dear God” was the same as “Hello, is Jesus there?”

“Amen” was the same as “Well okay, talk to you later. Bye!”

It was a set aside time each day when I would “call” Him up, chat for a few minutes and then move on with the rest of my life.

I thought I had to use specific words or be in a kneeling position or speak out loud.

When I realized God could hear my thoughts, all day/every day, my prayer life was transformed.

When we begin to understand that all ground is Holy ground to God, things begin to change. The secular and the sacred suddenly become one. And praying becomes an ongoing conversation picked up again and again throughout the day.

When we let go of rituals and “right or wrong” thinking, today’s Memory Verse becomes possible: “Never stop praying.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)

If you’re a person, like I was, who really wants to please God so much that we don’t want to offend Him by talking to him in the bathroom or while we’re in the middle of yelling at our kids, I  urge you to try something new today.

Let go of the need to please and just talk to Him. Ask Him questions or tell Him how you’re feeling or what you need help with in that particular moment. Keep the line of communication constantly open.

I’m convinced God wants to be with us, to go along for the ride, whatever that entails. So please, even if for today only, don’t hang up on Him.

Who Wants $20?

“Who wants $20?”

That was the question I posed last night to several hundred kids and their parents.

Hands shot up in the air.

The one hand that caught my eye didn’t belong to the first graders bouncing up and down in the front row. It belonged to a freshman in high school sitting off to the side.

There were a line of boys sitting together, but for some reason, my vision targeted on him.

I knew I was going to play a game with that $20 bill before I entered the church. I had it all planned out. I was going to totally decimate the money by spitting on it and rubbing it under my armpit and crumpling it up. Then I was going to ask who still wanted the $20.

When I asked the crowd the second time, that teenage boy’s hand once again went up into the air.

I walked over to him in front of everyone. “Why would you still want it?” I asked.

“Because it still has its value” he responded.

Yes. Regardless of what the world does to try and break us, we still retain the same value we had when God created us and set us on this earth. 

And we’re worth a whole lot more than $20.

Before I entered the church, I said a little prayer, specifically asking God to show me which kid to give the money to. That’s the hard thing about the game. I only have one $20 bill and the crowd can turn ugly if I keep it for myself.

God was faithful, as always. After I finished speaking to the kids… and giving that sweet boy his money… his mother came up to me.

“He’s going to ask a girl to the Homecoming dance tonight after religion classes,” she confided.

Several minutes later, the boy walked up to thank me for the money. “Did she say yes?” I asked.

He smiled and nodded. “I’m gonna use the money to buy our tickets.”

“I’m so glad I could take you to Homecoming” I said with a wink.

I sure hope he knows this was all God’s doing and not mine. And may we all remember how priceless we truly are.

Week 39 Memory Verse: How in the World Can We Be Joyful?

This week’s Memory Verse is super easy to memorize and super difficult to live. Here it is:

“Always be joyful.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 (NLT)

Three simple words. Close your eyes and say it to yourself. See? You already have it memorized.

But how do we live it? And what does it really even mean?

When a child dies, are we supposed to be joyful? When our husband loses his job, do we rejoice?

Is God asking us to slap on a happy face and pretend everything is okay?

No.

Even Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), got angry and overturned tables of the men using the temple as a mini-mall (Matthew 21:12) and cried out to God in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus was without sin, so we know it’s not sinful to show our true emotions.

Pastor Steven Cole says in his lesson, Three Impossible Commands, “‘rejoicing always’ is a conscious attitude of contentment, hope, and happiness that comes from deliberately focusing on Christ and the eternal treasures that we have received freely from Him.”

So perhaps for us, always being joyful means that when we find ourselves in the midst of our darkest pain, we take our eyes off ourselves and turn them directly toward God. We bring Him our anger and our questions and our grief, but also our acknowledgement that we know He has an eternal plan. And that plan is good and worth rejoicing over.

That initial step of taking our eyes off ourselves is hard, sometimes too hard, if we try to do it on our own. So in an act of obedience, because we know our strength comes from the Lord, we ask God to help us.

Friends, I think there is something beautiful about allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with the people around us. Kindness lives in that place, because our brokenness allows others the freedom to be truthful about what they are going through, too.

But in that same room is a place for joy, always. Call it the silver lining. Call it kindness. Call it whatever you want, but remember it comes from God and it is a gift.

And a gift like that always brings joy.

Cozy Walmart Store List

Wondering which Walmart store will be carrying Jordan’s Cozy for the Cure coffee cup sleeves? Here’s the list of nearly 1600 stores! Warning– it’s long and it’s listed by store number, alphabetically. Happy hunting and thank you so so so much for supporting Jordan’s mission to end breast cancer. 

I’m Not Proud of My Daughter

“I’m not proud of my daughter.” That’s a stupid title, right? Of course I’m proud of my daughter.

It’s just that when people say, “You must be proud” (which they say quite often right now thanks to Walmart carrying her product), I feel something else.

It’s not exactly pride. It’s something deeper. I feel… gratitude.

That’s it. Not pride. Gratitude.

In each 13-year-old girl’s life there will come a time when she wonders…

Am I pretty enough? 

Am I smart enough? 

Am I popular enough?

Heck, I’m 42 and I catch myself wondering those things sometimes. Am I capable enough?

I am grateful, because when my daughter holds that coffee cup cozy in her hand, the cozy that she created, she has tangible evidence to prove without a shadow of a doubt that she is something more important than all of those things.

She is powerful.

She is powerful enough to create a ripple in the world that leads to waves.

I’m grateful for that. I wish we all had evidence of our power.

Maybe we do.

Maybe that evidence comes in a variety of forms that we often don’t stop and recognize. Like the smile that appears on a stranger’s face because you smiled first. Or the tear that is dried because you took the time to listen.

Yes, you are powerful too. I hope you know that.

You are the one who recognized Jordan’s power and breathed life into it.

You have said it through donations. You have said it through encouraging words. You have said it through impromptu business mentorships and advice. You have said it by using your own connections to create new pathways for my daughter.

So yes I’m proud of my daughter, but mostly I’m grateful. I’m grateful that because of cancer and a world full of people who stepped forth in kindness, my daughter was given a valuable gift: the chance to see what happens when you stop worrying about yourself and start thinking about what you might be able to do for others.

Week 38 Memory Verse: How to fill an ocean

Is there anybody in your life you’d be okay with God sort of “forgetting” to save?

It’s not like you intentionally wish ill-will on them (or maybe you do), it’s just that they have pulled one too many punches. They’ve hurt you or the one you love too many times to be forgiven.

Or maybe it’s a group of people. Child molesters. Rapists. Sadists.

Surely, they can never belong to God’s family, right?

And if they do make it through the Pearly Gates, God couldn’t possibly expect us to talk to them, hug them, welcome them in, right???

This week’s memory verse is the beginning of a paragraph that we’ll be memorizing over the next several weeks.

“See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NLT)

Remember the story of Jonah? He got swallowed up into the belly of a whale because when God asked him to go talk to a specific group of people, he ran away instead.

As a child, I always thought that story was about getting swallowed by a whale. Kind of a “You can’t outrun God or His plan for your life” message.

I read it just the other day and I noticed something much different. I noticed why Jonah ran away.

God asked Jonah to go talk to a group of people that Jonah hated. In the book of Jonah, chapter 4, Jonah tells God that he didn’t go, because he knew that if he preached that message and the people repented, God would indeed forgive them.

Jonah didn’t want them to be forgiven.

Back to today’s memory verse: “See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.”

That’s a tough order to keep, in the big ways, but in the little ways too.

When someone snaps on us, do we snap back?

When the person working behind the counter is short and rude with her words, are we short back?

Do we discount what someone is thinking or planning or even capable of based on how they look, the way they’re dressed, the words they use, or any other physical property?

Always try to do good… to all people.

How do we do that? Maybe it starts by taking an honest look at the ways we’re not so good.

Sometimes thoughts pop into my head that aren’t kind or productive. Acknowledging that I don’t have to think those thoughts helps me. So does replacing them with a more loving thought like, “God created each of us” or even “It seems like they’re having a bad day. God, please help them to see the beauty in this day.”

Jonah wasn’t expected to change anybody else’s behavior. He wasn’t expected to make the rules about who should and shouldn’t get into God’s Kingdom. He was simply called to do what God asked him to do.

I think that’s the same thing God asks of us today, to do what we feel like He is telling us to do.

But if we can be kind and forgiving and less-judgmental while we’re doing that, we can unleash a force for good in this world that, one drop at a time, could fill an ocean.

A Very Cozy Video

Once upon a time, this happened:

Cozys for the Cure are in some Walmart stores now (mainly in the southern states), but will be in many more stores in October. Look for them in the Housewares department. They are $1.97 and there are seven designs. Perfect for gift giving!

 

 

Ten Ways to Kick Stress Fatigue to the Curb

“Stress fatigue. Ever had it? Ever heard of it? Is it normal to want to sleep all the time?”

I was having coffee with a few precious women yesterday when one of them posed those questions.

The weight of the world can rest on the shoulders of a parent. When that parent is also holding down a job or caring for another family member, it can seem like that weight is multiplied.

It piles on until we feel like we might crumble under the pressure.

When that happens to me, all I want to do is take a nap. I totally understand where my friend is coming from.

If one of us had the go-to solution, we would be trillionaires right now. There’s no easy way to deal with those seasons of our lives.

But an interesting thing happened as we sat there and talked. Little by little, collectively, we came up with a list to lighten the load.

I want to share them with you now, and I’m hoping you’ll join our conversation on Facebook by adding a thing or two that has helped you.

  1. Take a nap. Go ahead, give into the urge to sleep— guiltfree. Maybe you’re not getting enough zzzz’s at night and really do need time to recharge during the day.
  2. Take a bath. Let the family continue the evening hustle without you for a few minutes and hide in the bathtub with a magazine and some favorite tunes.
  3. Take a walk. Or a run. Or any sort of physical movement that will release your muscles and your mind.
  4. Take a friend to coffee. Even if you only have 20 minutes and it’s a last minute invitation, see if someone can meet you for a quick coffee. Just a few moments to look into another person’s eyes and laugh a bit is good medicine.
  5. Take a cup of coffee outside and pray. Maybe you journal or maybe you just sit there for a few minutes and listen to the wind. Connecting with nature (and God) is powerful.
  6. Take a drive. Go somewhere. Anywhere. Go sit at the mall and watch the people walking by. Getting out of your home may get you out of your rut.
  7. Take on a 10 minute project. Clean a drawer or pick out 5 things in your closet to give away. Feeling physically organized can often help us feel mentally organized.
  8. Take comfort in your comfort. Find out what makes you feel calm, relaxed and grounded, then carve out a few minutes to do that. Maybe it’s drawing or coloring or cooking or writing or just sitting and staring at a favorite picture. It’s your YOU time and you deserve it.
  9. Take time for RAKs. Doing tiny Random Acts of Kindness on days when you don’t feel like it are especially helpful because they release serotonin into your body. That’s your body’s natural anti-depressant.
  10. Take ten minutes to think about your RAKs. If you replay an act of kindness in your mind as you drift off to sleep, your body will re-release the serotonin, giving you double the anti-depressant hormones.

So there’s our starting list of things to do to combat stress fatigue! What do you do? We’d love to add your thoughts to our list on Facebook. Thanks in advance for sharing your ideas. After all, as I love to say, we’re in this together.

Week 37 Memory Verse: Modern Day Miracles

My seven-year-old son crawled into the chair next to me yesterday morning. It was early, I was spending some time with God, but Ben decided he wanted to spend some time with me.

We sat there, the three of us (God, Ben and me), in one comfy little chair with a blanket tucked around us when Ben asked me a question.

Mom, why don’t miracles happen anymore? Why don’t they happen now like they used to happen way back in the Bible?

I caught myself without words. I wasn’t quite sure where to go with this one and I wanted nothing more than for God to say, “Scoot over. I’ve got this.”

And in a way, I guess that’s what happened. Because before I had even formulated my entire argument, my mouth started talking.

They still happen, Ben. All the time. Every day. But people often focus so much on the bad stuff that they can’t see them. Or we end up giving credit to the wrong person. We think science or technology created the miracle instead of God.

My son was intrigued by that answer, but not quite sure if it was true. So I pointed out one of many miracles in our own lives that he could certainly remember.

Ben, when Momma had breast cancer and then it got fixed, it would have been easy to say that the doctors did it, that God had nothing to do with it, right? 

But what about Dr. Peggy? If she hadn’t found the cancer, you would have a very sick momma right now. I think it’s a miracle that she found it when nobody else had.

God works through people every day. People who know Him and people who don’t. And those are called miracles.

My conversation with Ben popped into my head today when I started focusing on this week’s memory verse. Here it is: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3 (NIV)

Our brain has to make a choice. Either we believe God still works miracles in our lives or we don’t. Which side of the fence we sit on with this issue determines whether or not we have the power to endure when the fear comes.

When I am afraid, I don’t want to hope that the doctor got good grades in college, or that my home security system will actually work. I want something more than that. I want the God who parted the Red Sea to rescue me.

When we believe that God still exists and that He is still as powerful now as he was back in biblical times, we know that whatever comes next, He will, in one way or another, be working a modern-day miracle in our lives.

We’re in This Together

I had just one question for the doctor: Is this normal?

I’ve been cancer-free for two years, but I still go to The James every three months for a check-up. Yesterday was the day.

I sat in the white, sterile exam room in a chair eye-level with my medical oncologist. Everything in the room looked clinical and uncaring, except for her eyes.

Her soft brown eyes were locked into mine as she listened to every word I said.

… I know these thoughts aren’t logical…

… I know we’re doing everything we can to keep it away…

… I just can’t help but feel like the other shoe is going to drop… 

… like the cancer is going to come back… 

Finally I finished with, Is this normal???

I could tell she cared deeply. I could tell she wished she could tell me there would be no chance of recurrence. But instead she gently spoke truth. She reminded me that with cancer, just like with life, there are no guarantees. We never know what’s right around the corner, but we do know we’re in this together.

And yes, she assured me, these thoughts are completely normal.

We talked about using some medication to help level out these feelings, but in the end I decided I wasn’t quite ready for that. I feel like there are still some things I can incorporate into my life before I take that step.

We decided instead that I would find a really great Christian counselor and my doctor wrote me a “prescription” for exercise. Start with just 10 minutes 1 to 2 days a week, work up to 3-4 days a week, then start adding time, 20 minutes, 30 minutes until I’ve built up a solid routine. She said I don’t need to go all-out crazy, but I do need to work up a sweat each time. I guess that new treadmill in our basement is going to get some use this winter.

This is all very personal information to share with you, but as always, I feel like it’s important to be open because I imagine I’m not alone.

Maybe your thing isn’t cancer, but I bet you have a thing. I bet there is something in your life that produces a little bit of anxiety, a little bit of worry.

It’s okay. Me too.

Maybe we can both take comfort in the words of my very wise doctor. We never know what’s right around the corner, but we do know we’re in this together.

Week 36 Memory Verse: It’s More Fun to be Right

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong — you want only what will give you pleasure. 

Ouch. Sure those word are true about somebody, but me? I can’t remember the last time I’ve schemed and killed and waged war.

Those words are from that great big book of wisdom called The Bible. (James 4:1-3 NLT) That’s not this week’s memory verse. I’ll get to that in a second. First though, let’s take another look at that paragraph. I think it may have more to do with me than I’m willing to admit.

Getting along with others is hard work. Sometimes other people are the difficult ones and sometimes it’s us. Either way, tension can spring up faster than we can say, “Me first.”

How often are we able to swallow our anger when the car in front of us cuts us off? Do we let it go immediately, or do we speed up to tail him just a little closer than necessary so he knows we’re mad?

How often do we let it go when we have a disagreement with the person at the Customer Service counter? Do we admit there are two sides to the situation and calmly walk away agreeing to disagree, or do we head back to work and tell anyone who will listen what jerks they are down at the “So and So” shop?

How good are you at stopping the path of gossip and letting it die at your ears instead of escalating the conflict? I know I have work to do.

I think we’re all a work in progress. There is room for growth. The question is, what are we spreading to our spheres of influence while we’re waiting for that growth to happen?

Our kids, our friends, our co-workers… they are all affected by our words and our actions today. That’s why this week’s memory verse gives us an alternative — and a promise to keep us on track.

“And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18 NLT)

Here’s another way to say it from The Message translation: “You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”

When we choose to be gentle and reasonable (even when we don’t get our way) or hold our tongue when the words wanting to escape are hate-filled or anger-fueled, we become peacemakers. In our own little world and in the world at large.

Bit by bit, choice by choice, kindness by kindness, we begin to create the world we want to live in.

Yes, it’s hard work to get along with others, but the promise from God to be “righteous” far outweighs any temporary pleasure of being “right.”

How My Daughter Got Her Product in Walmart

So a funny thing happened after I had breast cancer. My daughter’s little “Let’s help Mom” sewing project exploded into something that none of us could have ever asked for or imagined.

Let’s recap.

May 2015: Diagnosed with Stage 2 Lobular Invasive Carcinoma (breast cancer).

July 2015: Single mastectomy. 

August 2015: Doctor declares me “Cancer free”; Puts me on Tamoxifen for ten years just to make sure stray cells don’t form a new game plan.

Jordan (then 11), asks if she can raise money for the upcoming Athens Race for the Cure, put on by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She uses her latest sewing creation — coffee cup sleeves — and gives them to people in exchange for a $5 donation. The name “Cozys for the Cure” is officially born.

We put her fundraising idea on Facebook and by the next morning people donate more than $500.

October 2015: Jordan keeps sewing and people keep being crazy generous. Jordan raises $5741 for Komen and is named Top Fundraiser of the Athens Race for the Cure.

Komen Columbus (our local affiliate) tells Komen headquarters about Jordan. Jordan is named one of their 35 heroes (along with Laura Bush and John Cena!!!) in the national More than Pink campaign. A PSA is made about Jordan’s story.

June 2016: Jordan and I speak in New York City at the Susan G. Komen Annual Partner Summit. This is where WWE, Major League Baseball, American Airlines, Kent Bicycles and all the other major corporate sponsors meet to hear about the latest breast cancer news and to find out where their money is going. 

Jordan speaks eloquently and then throws out Cozys like a cheerleader at a sporting event. Everyone cries. Mostly her mom.

July 2016: Greensource (a company that makes products) calls. They had been in the NYC audience when Jordan spoke and now want to see if their customer, Walmart, would be interested in carrying the Cozys. (They work behind the scenes for an entire year on this.)

September 2016: Jordan (age 12) starts selling her products in a local boutique called Shop Athens Ohio (ShopAthensOhio.com). 

She registers with the government and becomes an official business, “Cozys for the Cure, LLC.” She is still giving a portion of her profits to Komen, but has now set up a business model to 1) learn how real businesses work and 2) save her mom a gazillion dollars a year on elastic ties and buttons. 

Jo speaks at the Pink Tie Ball in Indianapolis; raises another $20,000 or so by giving away Cozys at that event.

A group of girls in Fargo, ND (Jojo’s Cozy Tribe) starts sewing and selling Cozys to help raise money. Two talented sewing ladies also donate their time to help Jordan keep up with the demand.

October 2016: Jo fundraises for the Second Annual Athens Race for the Cure; she’s named Top Fundraiser for having collected another $11,000.

April 2017: Walmart buys 207,000 Cozys. Yep. That happened.

July 2017: Jordan and Mom head to Walmart HQ in Arkansas so Jo can meet Becky the Buyer and the team who made this all happen. Mom cries because Becky is so awesome to Jordan. 

September/October 2017: More than 1600 Walmart stores begin carrying Cozys for the Cure, including Fargo, ND; Charlotte, NC; Vero Beach, FL; Madison, WI; Appleton, WI; Milwaukee, WI; Columbus, OH and Athens, OH; a new video is made about Jordan’s story.

You guys, this is something only Kindness could do. Each person who donated, told someone else about Jordan’s project, or used their connections to take this to the next level made this happen.

We are humbled. I am teary. Thank you.

I want to leave you with this: Bad things happen. But there are helpers in this world. There are people who are so so so good, it’s almost like looking at the face of God. Cumulatively, people can create change and bring good out of the bad. The next time you’re faced with something that seems too terrible to take on, look for your kindness tribe. Look for the silver lining. And remember, miracles still happen.

 

Week 35 Memory Verse: Dealing with Difficult People

I’m sure this article has nothing to do with you. It’s about difficult people. You might want to keep reading though, because you probably know a few folks in your life who fit the description.

A difficult person is someone who constantly seems to give their opinion— loudly— even when you haven’t asked for it; someone who has to complain about how hot it is when you’ve just commented on the beautiful sunshine; the person you avoid having over to your house because you’re certain they are making a mental checklist of all the things you haven’t cleaned prior to their arrival.

I used to think the world was full of difficult people.

My husband was difficult. My children were difficult. Sometimes even my friends were difficult.

Here’s what I learned the hard way: if you’re surrounded by difficult people and the only common denominator is you, well… you might be the difficult one.

Sorry. I know that’s a painful truth. I had to face it myself.

Today’s memory verse hits me hard, because it illuminates a blind spot, something about myself that I never realized. There was a time in my life when I was pretty difficult to live with. I’m sure there are days when I still am.

“Better to live in the desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.” Proverbs 21:19 (NIV)

If you ask my family, they’ll probably admit that there are times I’m hard to handle, but they are much rarer than before — before I started to be intentionally kind, before I allowed my husband the honor of being the head of the household, and before I realized that the pause in my words before I speak allows the Holy Spirit time to intervene.

Saul would leave his socks on the floor or his dishes on the table and I would take it as a personal offense. He doesn’t care about my needs. He doesn’t respect me. He’s gonna hear about this.

I imagine there were times when he wanted to live in a desert. Thank God he stuck around.

God’s gotten a hold of my tongue and my temper and he’s not nearly done. There is still so much renovation needed in my heart. But in the meantime, He’s opened my eyes to something spectacular that keeps me wanting to change. He has allowed me to see that the less difficult I become, the less difficult others seem to be.

If you are struggling to live in harmony, with yourself or with others, may I gently suggest three things that continue to help me immensely?

  1. Go do an act of kindness for another person today.
  2. Allow someone else (your child, your spouse) to control just one little thing in your household.
  3. Slow down before you speak.

The Holy Spirit wants to work in our lives, erasing the difficulties, both in ourselves and in others. All we have to do is open the door.

Calling All Breast Cancer Survivors

2018. That’s the date (or at least year) set in my mind for the release of my new breast cancer book. This is the book that shows what the process of reconstruction looks like on a real woman’s body — my body.

But I am only one. One voice, one body, one choice of the many reconstruction options. That’s why I need you, Survivors.

I am looking for ten women who would be open to allowing my dear friend, a professional photographer in Athens, Ohio, take a picture from your shoulders to just above your belly button. No faces, no names. Just an honest look of what a woman can expect if she opts for a lumpectomy, mastectomy, bi-lateral, nipple reconstruction, tattoo, or no reconstruction at all.

It’ll look something like this (minus the big blackout bar): 

When I was newly diagnosed, I was desperate to see what my body would look like “after.” Each decision seemed to be huge and confusing and insurmountable. When I googled images of reconstruction, I found hack jobs and pornography.

It’s time to open up the discussion and be brave enough to help our sisters with as much information as possible.

If you’re not in the Athens area, I have another way for you to participate.

In addition to photos, I’m looking for your best advice so I can create a cancer “cheat sheet” for the newly diagnosed in the following areas:

  • How to tell the kids
  • Chemo/Radiation advice
  • Dealing with insurance companies
  • Questions to ask your potential tattoo artist
  • Caring for yourself during cancer
  • How to be a friend to a breast cancer patient
  • Navigating hospital protocol
  • How to dress to impress with only one breast — or no breasts at all
  • How to gracefully accept the kindness of others
  • Advice from husbands to husbands
  • Now what? Getting your life back after cancer

Please email me at Info@NicoleJPhillips.com (don’t forget the J). I can’t wait to hear from you. Thank you for letting me borrow your brave.

Week 34 Memory Verse: Bring the light

I would never take a stroll with an artist through his studio and start judging his work.

Can you imagine? Walking along and commenting to the one who created each canvas, saying, “Oh, that one is lovely… but that one really sucks… I love the colors you used in this one… but man that one is stupid.”

We wouldn’t do that, right?

And yet we do. In big ways and in small ways, every day.

We walk through this world that God masterfully crafted and we judge his greatest creation, his people.

That person is so annoying! I can’t stand her. He is absolutely insane. What a jerk.

It might be someone in the car in front of you, or someone you see on TV that you’ve never even met.

I’ve been guilty. How about you?

Today’s memory verse is from James 3:9 (NLT), “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.”

Not only do we belittle the Artist’s work, but we are criticizing his self-portrait. Yikes.

It’s got to stop.

I know, I’m like a backwards activist– telling people to just be quiet. I believe in what Thumper’s mom used to say in the movie Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Yes, we have to have freedom of speech and be allowed to openly call out bad action when we see it in our communities and in our national government. But imagine what that would look like if we always cushioned it in understanding and compassion.

When my kids come home from school and complain about a teacher, the first thing I always say is, “We have no idea what she is going through right now. If she’s being so grumpy, there must be something going on in her personal life that we no nothing about.”

When they complain about a kid who is being mean or disrupting the classroom I say, “Gosh, I bet there is something going on behind the scenes there. Maybe learning is very hard for him, or the people in his house don’t value him the way they should so he doesn’t know how to value others.”

We can carry on the conversation to figure out tools to deal with difficult people, but first, we have to acknowledge that they are people— and that in itself makes them special and important creations of God.

Even if they don’t know Him, He knows them, because He created them. In His image.

Boy… I feel like I just went on a little rant there. Sorry about that. My point is this, if we want to live in a world that’s lighter and brighter, we have to bring the light. We have to measure every word that comes out of our mouths — or that’s typed out with our fingers — because once they’re gone, we can’t get them back, and we can’t begin to imagine the damage they may cause.

Attack of the Killer Zucchini

Apparently there is this thing in Southeastern Ohio where you leave an extremely large zucchini on someone’s porch or in their car.

I’m not sure if the vegetable is left because the mystery giver is a friend or foe. That’s still sort of unclear. It’s kind of like back in high school, when I was never quite certain if it was a compliment or an insult to have my front yard covered in toilet paper in the middle of the night.

Anyway, I was recently gifted with several of the largest zucchini I have ever seen. I say “gifted” because in this particular case, the giver asked if she could leave them on my porch. She knows I’m trying to eat healthier and apparently wanted me to have a steady supply of zucchini for the next 45-50 years.

After posting a picture of the monster zuke, I asked for suggestions on what to do with it.

From Michelle: Cut it up- sauté in olive oil, dice in some yellow and red peppers, add in basil, and some angel hair pasta- finish with sliced cherry tomatoes with 1/2 cup of feta crumbles!

From Liz: slice in half, remove seeds and stuff with garlic, herbs, mushrooms and any other veggies. Wrap in foil and bake.

From Ben: Zucchini pizza casserole! Shred it with your cheese grater. Press as much water out of it as you can. Mix with parmesan and mozzarella cheese, some bread crumbs and an egg. Press into the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Top with tomato sauce, more shredded cheese and pepperoni. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until zucchini crust is set.

From Angela: Grate it and salt it down in a colander. Sauté with butter, garlic . Mix with cooked spaghetti top with basil.

From the President of a Major University who should be much too busy to cook: Cut into thick slices, dip in eggs whites, then roll in panko or grated Parmesan…pan fry in olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste… Eat!

About 14 other people told me to make chocolate cake with it.

You know the recipe for the chocolate cake won, right? Chocolate cake always wins.

Because I’m leaning toward healthier options these days, I decided to make cupcakes because it provides better portion control.

Highly skeptical of any dessert that contains zucchini as a main element, I boldly plowed forward and laid out the ingredients. 

I substituted almond flour for regular flour because I have pesky gluten allergy.

The first step nearly unglued me. “Beat eggs until frothy.” I dug a wire whisk from the bottom of the drawer and started beating. Eight hours later I was still going… I gave up when they looked like this and continued with the rest of the directions. What does “frothy” even mean?

Eventually, I got those bad boys into the oven. I set the timer and headed into my room, where I began sorting clothes. Then I decided to take a bath, followed by reading a book. 75 minutes later, I remembered the cupcakes. Luckily, my husband had heard the timer go off much earlier and pulled them out of the oven.

I’m not sure, but I don’t think they were supposed to look like this, sort of dented in the middle… 

As you can see, I ate one out of the tray with a spoon. It was actually delicious. It was too soft and moist to come out of the tray in one piece, but it was still yummy.

I called in the boys and proudly offered them a bite of my creation.

They hated it.

Not like, “Sorry Mom, not my favorite.” More like, “Oh my gosh, what did you do to make them taste so terrible???”

Well, more for me, I guess. They are now in individual bags in the freezer waiting for me when I need a chocolate fix. Here is the recipe for “Healthier Chocolate Zucchini Cake” just in case you’re brave enough to try it.

There are LOTS of other things to do with super ginormous zucchinis. Here is the list I compiled from all of you. Thank you so much for helping a girl out! My favorite suggestion is the last one.

  • chips
  • bread
  • zoodle/noodles
  • lasagna
  • boats
  • stuff it
  • give it to Saul and let him figure it out
  • add it to sauces
  • add olive oil and seasoning and put it on the grill
  • grate it
  • shred it
  • cube it
  • use a julienner instead of a zoodler
  • slice into long wedges and grill with lemon zest & garlic
  • cut into circles and fry with potatoes & onions
  • ratatouille
  • double chocolate no flour muffins
  • bigger zukes are better for baking, smaller ones are better for cooking
  • orange zucchini bread cake
  • fritters
  • I would peel it, cut it open, scoop out the seeds. Then I would run it through the food processor and freeze it in one cup portions to use for cakes, muffins, breads etc.
  • brownies
  • grill & sprinkle with parmesan cheese
  • BBQ – brush with chili oil! Yum!
  • Add it to risotto
  • Put it on someone else’s porch (is this kind of like how teens TP each other’s houses?)
  • zucchini hash browns
  • pickled slices
  • whole wheat muffins
  • shred & hide in meatballs and meatloaf
  • steam & toss with mozzarella and fresh basil
  • stir fry noodles
  • give it away and eat ice cream instead

Week 33 Memory Verse

A car crashes into a crowd of people standing up against white nationalist protesters.

What’s your first reaction?

Do you lash out in a flurry of hateful words over social media, adding more negativity to the situation?

Do you hide under a blanket on your couch, binge-watching Netflix so you don’t have to risk seeing more bad news?

Do you go about your daily business, but gripe every chance you get over the state of this nation and pontificate about who may or may not be responsible?

Or do you look for someone to love? Someone who may not have anything to do with what happened in Virginia, but who may feel a little better when they turn on the TV tonight because they will remember you, and know there are good people out there, too?

We have a choice.

It seems to me, humans are hard wired with two powerful character traits:

  1. We want to be in control. Take my kids for example. When they were little, I’d asked them, “Do you want to leave the park in two minutes or four minutes?” I was telling them (because I like to be in control) that we would be leaving very soon, but by allowing them to choose the exact time, they maintained control too and therefore didn’t feel the need to throw a tantrum when the four minutes were up.
  1. We are motivated by things that will ultimately benefit us. Full disclosure: I find myself buying raffle tickets sometimes for a cause that I care nothing about, just because I’m hoping to win a new boat.

Do you get my point?

When it comes to bad things in our world, those two human traits can be valuable assets.

For me, I know that when I am kind, I am in control. Even if it’s just my little spot in the world, I’m still in control of it — or at least my actions in it. When I am angry, I am reacting and letting external things control me. Which is better, maintaining the upper hand with kindness or flying off the handle? I’ll take kindness, thank you.

So what’s the benefit to being kind when it seems others are getting ahead by spewing hatred? Well, that’s where we rely on what we know instead of what we feel. We know that “Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.” (Proverbs 11:17 NIV)

We know it because God tells us. That’s this week’s memory verse.

I’m hoping if we commit to remembering that kind people benefit themselves then maybe we’ll choose kindness over hateful words on social media or hiding on the couch with Netflix.

Despite what you see on TV, let me assure you, there is a kindness movement happening, and it’s growing. People are realizing the best thing they can do to combat this mess is to use kindness as an offensive weapon. Not random. I’m talking about intentional kindness. That’s what will change this world. And it begins with remembering we have a choice.

Ann, the Appalachian Pioneer Woman

I’d like you to meet Ann. Ann is a professional photographer. She took all the photos of my bare chest during reconstruction for my upcoming breast cancer book. She’s used to seeing me naked. That’s why she has no problem walking into my house while I’m still in my pajamas, and I have no problem letting her.

Besides being a rockstar photographer, Ann is also an amazing cook, our own little Appalachian Pioneer Woman. Earlier this week, Ann popped over for an early morning visit. She sat down at my counter, scanned the 487 ingredients waiting to be prepped and said “What’s all this?”

“I laid this out so I could start cooking this morning, but looking at it makes me tired.”

“How many different things are you making???” she wondered.

“Two.”

At that point, she broke out into hysterics and kept whisper-chanting, “It’s so cute!”

She hid her face so I wouldn’t see the laughter tears running down her face.

Ann pulled it together and started by teaching me how to cut a bell pepper and an onion. I’d teach you, but I’m a slow learner, so you better just google it — or call Ann.

Thanks to Ann’s kindness (and her willingness to step in and just DO IT!) we did make two delicious meals. Before I share the recipes, here are a few takeaways from my new cooking adventure that may help you, too:

  1. Buy whole grain minute rice. Don’t try to make it yourself.
  2. When the recipe says “1 can of beans” don’t buy a bag of beans and try to boil them yourself just because it’s 20 cents cheaper.
  3. If you’re a newbie like me, it’s less confusing to do just one recipe at a time.
  4. Make sure your husband has already left for work or he will pontificate about how easy cooking is and then demonstrate with his granola and yogurt parfait.

I got so caught up in the chaos of the actual cooking that I forgot to take a picture of the finished recipes. EEK! Here’s one of them mid-process though!

Thank you to Julie who commented on Facebook and suggested I try making zucchini boats! Here are links to the recipes for Mexican Zucchini Burrito Boats and Spiced Raisin and Pine Nut Barley Salad. 

Bon appetit!

Week 32 Memory Verse

I’m a project starter. How about you?

A project starter is a person who gets all excited about cleaning her closet. She throws everything onto the bed and sorts through it by making three piles (give, save, toss).

She puts the “give” and “toss” into black garbage bags, then walks out of the room because she decides she is hungry.

Several hours later, she returns to her room ready for a good night’s sleep, only to realize she can’t go to bed because the entire thing is still covered with clothes that need to go back into her closet.

The black garbage bags will continue to sit on the bedroom floor for at least a week, at which point she will have forgotten which was “give” and which was “toss.” She has no choice but to open them up and rummage through them once again.

Can you relate?

If you come to my little lake cabin, you will find 10 boxes of lights that I had planned on stringing along the porch. I was so excited when I found them on sale. I made a special trip to the cabin just to deliver them. Those same boxes have been sitting in the exact same spot on the shelf for four months. I barely even notice them there anymore.

 

Do you have any of those not-quite-finished projects around your house?

I’m so grateful that God is not like me. He doesn’t begin this magnificent creation called “Nicole” or “Liz” or “Jessica” and then just leave it half-way done.

No, we are assured in His word that He’s going to slowly and surely keep at us until we are the real deal.

Here’s what Paul told the Philippians: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

I think we can get wrapped up in guilt, thinking we should be a little kinder to people or a little stronger in our faith or a little more whatever.

God knows we’re weak, and just like those lightbulbs can’t put themselves up, God knows there’s much we can’t do for ourselves. But we have an advantage over those lightbulbs, because we know the One who will lift us up and make us shine is working it all out in His perfect timing.

Can I just say, I hate food?

In our house, we don’t use the word “hate.” It’s too strong. It’s too damaging. It’s too permanent. However, if I’m being honest, there are a few things I hate.

I hate food and I hate exercise.

I have a love/hate relationship with food that goes back as long as I can remember. I don’t like to prepare food or think about food. I just want it to magically appear when I’m hungry. I’ve told the story many times about making lasagna (twice) and both times forgetting to put in the noodles. The third time I made it, my husband vomited. True story.

Food frustrates me. It takes too much of my brain power and energy. It got worse when I had kids because the doctor said I had to feed them multiple times every day. Good thing they’re so cute.

People who find out about this side of me often ask, “If you don’t cook, what do you make your kids for dinner?” Ummm…. I don’t know. There’s usually plain chicken breast in the crock pot or Saul will jump in and throw something on the grill. I have a repertoire of about 5 solid meals. If Mom’s cooking, that’s what they get.

Okay, enough about food. Onto the second thing I hate: exercise. Yes, I usually feel better after I’ve incorporated some movement into my day. Yes, I understand that I have to find something I love (rollerblading! kayaking! mountain climbing!) so that it doesn’t feel like exercise. My body’s too smart for that, people. It knows it’s exercising.

I have tried running groups and personal trainers and the buddy system. Nope. It’s just not sticking.

So now that I’ve vented about what I hate, let me tell you what I love.

I love my daughter. And she loves Disney World. She’s 13 and she wants to run the Disney half marathon in January of 2019 and she needs me to do it with her. Actually, she wants me to do it with her, which makes me feel awfully special.

I told Jordan there is no way I’m going to be able to run 13.1 miles. I’m 42 years old. My running days are far behind me. Then she reminded me that my mother ran her first FULL marathon on her 60th birthday. What can I say, I come from good genes.

Um…. okay, Jordan. I’ll do it. But I can’t do it alone. And if I’m going to ask my body to start running, then I need to start fueling it with something more substantial than protein bars and Ben & Jerry’s. You have to help me.

So off we went to the grocery store. My cart has never been healthier. See?

Next week I’ll tell you about what happened when I tried to actually cook some of that healthy food. In the meantime, I’m wondering if you want to join me?

There’s a 5K race coming up in Athens on October 15th. If you live out of town, you could run a different race and then report back with how it went!

Or if you have any favorite recipes (5 ingredients or less — I’m still learning…) maybe you’d be willing to share them with me.

With your help, we could banish that word “hate” from my vocabulary forever.

Together, this might even be fun!

 

Week 31 Memory Verse

The Bible tells us not to fear something like 365 times— one time for every day of the year. Some theologians argue that’s not exactly true, but it sounds good so I’m going with it.

Actually it doesn’t really matter to me exactly how many times we’ve been told. I’m a mom, so I figure if I’ve said it once, that’s enough. Everyone should hear my words, heed my words and fall into line.

Yeah, it never works that way, but I can keep hoping.

So back to this whole “fear not” thing… I was thinking about that this morning and wondering if it is actually possible for a human not to fear. Sure, maybe if we were perfect. But even a perfect person would be cast into fear once in a while, right? I mean at some point our life is threatened and we’d have to crumble.

I started thinking of the one perfect person I know. Jesus. I’ve been told since I was a little girl that he had no sin. As in, he never sinned. As in, he never did anything wrong. As in, do it the way Jesus did it and you’ll know you’re in the clear.

So how did Jesus deal with fear? Had he ever felt it? Or been tempted to feel it? Did he ever have to push it away and instead train his eyes back on his Heavenly Father?

I bet with a quick google search I could find 365 different posts about how Jesus cast off fear, but instead I decided to just sit and think about it. I decided to let every Bible story I’d ever heard come and saturate my mind.

Here’s what I remember about Jesus. (If you notice I’ve gotten some people or places mixed up, please forgive me. I’m stretching my brain by doing this from memory.)

As a boy, Jesus was separated from his family in the big city of Jerusalem for days. His mom was freaking out until she finally found him sitting in the temple talking with the teachers. Jesus wasn’t the least bit afraid.

When he began his ministry, he was alone in the woods with wild animals for 40 days being tempted by Satan. Jesus wasn’t intimidated by the lions, tigers, bears or the devil.

After speaking one day, he got into a boat and a huge storm erupted. He was sound asleep until his disciples woke him up with their screaming about how they were all going to die. Not Jesus. He just wanted to know why they had so little faith.

Speaking of speaking, Jesus stood in front of more than 5,000 men and shared his message. No stage fright. Then he broke up two fish and a few loaves of bread without the least bit of worry that 1) it would taste good or 2) there would be enough to go around.

He stood in front of demonic possessed people again and again, and instead of cowering in fear, he simply ordered them to leave (the demons, not the people).

He sat down to dinner with his friends, knowing it would be his last supper, and flat out told them that one of them was going to betray him. He knew death was imminent, yet he kept his cool and ate his meal.

The only time I ever remember Jesus perhaps being on the edge of fear is in the garden of Gethsemane, just before he is arrested. Matthew 26:37 says that he was “anguished and distressed.” But if we look at those words from their original Greek, there is no talk of fear. Yes, those words translate into heaviness, sadness, depression, grief, sorrow… but not fear.

So. I guess we have our example. It’s as hard to live up to as everything else about Jesus, but that’s why we have the Holy Spirit. To help us.

Knowing that it is possible to live without fear makes it a little easier to swallow this week’s memory verse. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Man I love that verse, don’t you? It tells us what to do (be strong and courageous) but it also pours power into our souls by reminding us that we don’t need to fear because we’re not alone. God is with us wherever we go.

I pray that you have renewed strength and courage today to stand up to whatever is forcing you into fear. May we use this verse to remind us that we don’t have to be afraid because, just like Jesus, we have the One who created everything on our side.

The Moments That Words Can’t Reach

There are moments that the words don’t reach…

My daughter and I sat in the balcony overlooking the stage as Angelica sang these words.

There is suffering too terrible to name…

All of a sudden, I wasn’t watching a show about Alexander Hamilton. I was caught in my own thoughts.

The moments when you’re in so deep…

Have I ever been there? Have I ever experienced a pain so deep that I now have the perfect words to comfort someone else? No.

It feels easier to just swim down…

Pain is funny. It’s so individualized and unique. Each story is different. Yet it’s so common and ordinary.

We’ve all felt it. From the youngest child, who is legitimately heart broken that he can’t play with the blue car, to the man who mourns the loss of that same child many years later because a child should never die before a parent.

The script is always different, but the pain is the same. So why don’t we have the right words yet? Why have we not figured out the perfect thing to say to ease that burden?

Because there are no words.

There are moments that the words don’t reach…

So we turn away and let them grieve alone because we’re too afraid to say the wrong thing, to add to their pain.

What would Kindness do in those situations? That’s what I constantly ask myself. Forget about bringing flowers and making meals. If Kindness were a person, what would she do?

I think she would sit.

I think she would sit close enough to feel the pain, to bear the burden. And instead of saying “This too shall pass” or “God has a plan” maybe she would just be silent. She would let her presence be enough.

I’ve been in the room where it happened. I’ve sat next to a dying friend. Age 30. Too young. And I couldn’t stand the feeling of sitting there, not knowing the right words to say. So I told myself if I really wanted to help, I would move — I would do her laundry and shop for her groceries and exterminate those damn ants from her kitchen. And that’s what I did.

But what I should have done was sit. Just sit in the bed right next to her like she asked me to, watching daytime TV.

There is suffering too terrible to name…

It’s hard my friend. But it’s not going away. Pain is going to travel this road with us as long as we breathe. Thank God, joy will too.

So let’s agree to be in this together. Let’s agree to let Kindness lead with her actions. Let’s agree to sit and simply allow our presence to fill the moments that words could never reach.

Week 30 Memory Verse

Have you ever thought, I’m almost there! Only to realize that you’ve still got so far to go?

I went to a waterpark recently. I’m a big believer in amusement parks with roller coasters. Waterslides, not so much.

My son, Charlie, is a fan of all things fast and tall, so I put on my three piece swimming suit (top, bottom and never-to-be-removed coverup) and loaded the towels into the minivan.

I am a pretty positive person, but I haven’t always been. I know how important thoughts are in our lives, so I’m careful not to dwell on negative phrases that come into my head, and I don’t stick around for negative conversations.

I’m also a pretty non-judgmental person, but I haven’t always been. I have a self-critical vein that runs deep and sometimes it transfers onto other people. But the good news is, when we know certain things about ourselves, we can often shoo them away before they hurt others.

Waterparks can bring out the best in us. They can remind us we are brave as we plunge down a slide taller than a house, and they can bond relationships with the glue of laughter as we trail along the family fun slide.

But they can also bring out the worst in us. Or at least in me. All day long, sitting at that waterpark, I had to cast off thoughts that threatened to cover the day in storm clouds.

It’s only 10am. How can these bathrooms look this gross already? And how can every stall be out of toilet paper?

That lady should not be wearing that swimming suit. Who told her that was a good idea?

I just paid $20 for a burger and fries and it’s cold. I should seriously complain.

I think we all have experiences in our lives — every day– that call for us to find the good instead of focusing on the bad.

Mine was most recently at a waterpark. Where was yours? Work? A family gathering? A restaurant that didn’t live up to its four-and-a-half star Tripadvisor rating?

Today’s verse is a good one to keep in mind when we need to see the good in our given situation. It reminds us that God is here, in our midst, when we react to our surroundings with kindness.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:12 (NIV)

I went to the ice cream shop after downing the bad burger. I ordered and paid for a cup of Reese’s peanut butter ice cream, but then decided at the last minute that I really wanted chocolate chips on top.

As I handed over my credit card once again, the sweet young manager behind the counter smiled and said, “No, no. It’s on us.”

God was in his smile.

When I was gathering my towels and struggled with the one stuck under a lounge chair, the man sitting next to me got up and untangled my mayhem.

God was in his hands.

And when Charlie came bounding up to me to tell me about the incredible day he was having, I could see it…

God was in his heart.

I still have a long way to go until I can be declared “negative and judgmental free.” Who knows, I may never get there this side of heaven, but at least God has taught me to keep my mouth shut (most of the time) until I arrive.

That’s a good place to start when we’re hoping to see God in the midst of our mess.

You are someone’s miracle

I’m keeping it short today. I just stumbled across this quote from one of my favorite movies and wanted to share it with you… You are someone’s miracle.

“Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce, it’s a magic trick. A single mom who’s working two jobs, and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says no to drugs and yes to an education, that’s a miracle. People want Me to do everything for them, but what they don’t realize is, they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.” -Morgan Freeman as God in the movie Bruce Almighty

Week 29 Memory Verse

Have you ever had to sell yourself? Maybe in a resume? Or face-to-face with a perspective employer?

We’re expected to brag about all the great attributes we hold and accomplishments we’ve accrued.

It’s terribly hard, isn’t it?

I remember going into my boss as a young TV reporter and asking for a raise. He asked why I thought I deserved it. My mind went blank.

I was the lowest paid employee in the newsroom. By a lot. The station had brought me in on a trial basis at trial pay.

But I had been a quick learner and a hard worker and had even been featured in a local magazine as someone to watch.

My boss knew all that. He wasn’t trying to be mean. He was trying to teach me to stand up for myself. To put my value into words.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t come up with a single compelling reason why he should pay me more money for the job I was currently doing for less.

Well, I did come up with a reason — two actually. I told him I couldn’t afford to get my hair cut and I qualified for low-income rates at the YMCA.

He gave me the raise.

Here I am twenty years later feeling like that intimidated young employee. I’m writing a proposal for my new cancer book. It’s standard in the publishing industry, sort of like a resume: you tell us why your book is so special and why people would want to read anything you write and we’ll tell you if we’re going to publish it.

Easy. At least the first part is.

I am passionate about getting this book into the hands of every woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer. Women need resources and answers and encouragement. This book can give them that.

Here’s the problem. I have no idea why someone would want to read something I write. Seriously. Why are you reading this right now? What’s wrong with you? There are so many other things you could be reading. Or maybe you could be folding laundry.

I think there are some amazing women out there sharing their experiences and their walks with God. I’d rather read their stuff than mine. It’s a classic case of low self-esteem (even though I’ve never been accused of having that before!).

Maybe you’re a person who understands what that feels like. If that’s the case, today’s memory verse is a good reminder for both of us.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

We don’t have to hold ourselves up against the measuring stick of the world. God created you and me to be His children. He delicately put us together. In His eyes, we are perfect. Or perfectly imperfect.

Sure, that’s a tough thing to put into words on a resume or in a book proposal or in your boss’s office. It might come across as a little awkward when the boss says, “Why should I give you this raise?” and you enthusiastically reply, “Because I’m a child of God!”

But there is something to be said for tucking that bit of information in our hearts and living as though we know we are cherished. Just like we know that the people around us are cherished too.

If we can focus on the Father’s amazing work in us in the heavenly realm, I bet eventually we’ll find the right words to explain that here on earth, too.

Pinterest Dance Party

I need you. Really. I’m living in the 21st century, but my brain is stuck in 1985.

I’m a pre-teen dancing around my mom’s living room greatly disturbing the tenants in the apartment below because I can’t get enough of Whitney Houston’s new music video “How Will I Know.”

What? You don’t remember it? Well here you go!

In 1985, I didn’t have a cellphone. In 1985, I didn’t have a website. In 1985, I didn’t have the guys who are re-designing my website casually mention that I really should be on Pinterest.

Huh?

In an effort to be extraordinarily helpful, a group of young men who specialize in branding and website design noticed my social media tags and realized that I wasn’t using Pinterest.

Why would I?, I ask. I already use Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

Yes, they say, but the women in your tribe are on Pinterest. Don’t you want to hang out with them there too? Maybe even make some new friends?

I am a person who likes to follow advice (especially when I’m paying for it), so I took my website guru guys’ not-so-subtle hint and logged onto Pinterest.

I joined Pinterest about 10 years ago, but I don’t like to cook and I don’t like to craft, so I sort of lost interest. This time I went in with a specific goal…  to create cute boards that might make people smile.

Here’s what I’ve got so far. Five boards:

Cute Kindness Quotes 

Breast Cancer Awareness Party Ideas God’s Words for Tough Times 

Let’s Go Be Kind 

and Just Need to Laugh 

So here’s where I need help.

  1. Can you please tell me if I’m doing this right? I don’t really get the whole “like” a pin verses “save” a pin thing and who can see each one.
  2. Were my web guys right? Are you really hanging out on Pinterest and having loud Whitney Houston style dance parties without me?
  3. While I’ve got you… Are there any other boards you’d be interested in following if I create them?

Thanks Friends! I look forward to seeing your comments on Facebook!

Week 28 Memory Verse

I learned how to be a mom by watching my own mom and the moms of my teenage friends. There’s no one right way to do it. I seemed to understand that from a young age, yet there were certain things that I tucked away because they made a positive impact on me. I wanted to do them someday when I had kids of my own.

1. Bring cupcakes and fun napkins to school for their birthdays– even when they’re much to old to pass out treats.

2. Take a little road trip when it’s time to buy a prom dress. It’s fun to shop somewhere special. (All you WI people– my mom and I shopped on historic Mitchell Street in Milwaukee, does that still exist??).

3. Make a big deal about their artwork — even when it’s pretty terrible.

Here I am 40+ years old, with kids of my own, and I realize I’m still tucking away bits of information and learning from others.

The verses we’ve been memorizing for the last few weeks all come from two paragraphs in Philippians that I’ve been wanting to commit to memory for a while.

They’re all about rejoicing, being gentle, steering away from anxiousness, allowing the peace of God to settle us, and focusing our thoughts on positive things. (Check out Philippians 4:4-4:8 if you’ve missed them.)

Today’s verse is one I almost skipped over. I thought, do we really need that one little line tagged on the end? The other stuff is the powerful stuff.

But then I remembered my mom. And the other moms who prepared me for this motherhood job. And I realized, we must never stop learning from others. We must be on the lookout for awesomeness in action so we can continue to grow.

Paul says in his letter to the Philippian people, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9 NIV)

Paul isn’t asking them to be like him just because he’s Paul. Paul knows God has transformed him into a true Christ follower. He wants the same for those people who are lost and hurting and having difficulties getting along in a world full of temptations.

He knew God could do that for them.

I know God can do that for us.

Yes, we read the Bible and get our instructions directly from God, but sometimes it’s nice to have an example in our current world of what it looks like to be like Jesus. What would Jesus do in this particular situation?

Unfortunately, no one is perfect. We will be disappointed if we look to one person to lead us. But if we broaden our gaze and start seeing Jesus in ALL the people around us, then we’re onto something.

Then we can learn to love and accept and be kind even when it’s hard. And before we know it, we won’t have to rely on our mental checklists of how a “good” Christian would behave. It’ll be our new nature.

And the God of peace will be with us.

Wait for it…

My seven year old is a fishing fanatic. He’s hoping we sell our home in Athens so we can live full-time in our little lake cabin an hour away. School? Nah. Let’s not go anymore. Dad’s job? He can commute.

When I finally got up the nerve to break it to Ben that we would not be moving, he took it in stride and asked if instead he could have a fishing pole at the lake AND at home. You know, just in case we need to fish on short notice. Sure kid. Good plan.

A quick trip to Walmart and $8 later, Ben is the proud owner of a new purple fishing pole. He was sitting at the kitchen table last night, cutting off the excess packaging, when he suddenly hopped up and ran to our junk drawer. Whatcha doing Ben?

He pulled out a red Sharpie. Seven year olds and Sharpies generally don’t mix in our house. No really, what are you doing, Ben? 

Look Mom! It’s a sweatband!

Huh. I was missing something. This is all I saw.

One red marker and one tiny rubber band that he had carefully pulled off his fishing rod.

Sometimes in life we have to wait for the plan to fully come into focus. Sometimes there are a lot of floating pieces but we just can’t grasp how they could possibly all come together to make something special. Sometimes we don’t see what others see– or more importantly, what God sees.

So I waited. And trusted my kid alone with a permanent marker.

And 2 minutes later, I was delighted with the results…

A tiny basketball player at the tip of my son’s finger.

And a gentle reminder that sometimes we just have to wait and see how things will unfold.

Week 27 Memory Verse

Do your thoughts ever run away from you? Do they take you to places you know are not healthy or necessary?

Maybe you’re driving and sort of zoning out and the next thing you know, you realize you’ve spent the last ten minutes worrying about whether the cable guy will show up on time– and what you’re going to do if he doesn’t.

Or maybe you’re in the shower having an imaginary conversation with that jerk at work who always has something snippy to say.

Or maybe you’re unloading the dishwasher for the 47th time this week and wondering why you have to do all the work around here.

Have you ever noticed how your thoughts can totally derail a perfectly good day?

They derailed mine time and again, until I realized that I don’t have to think what I’m thinking.

Here are the two things I learned about thoughts that changed my life:

I cannot think of two things at the same time. Seriously. Try it. Try thinking about how mad you are at the insurance company while creating a grocery list in your head. It’s can’t be done. You have to pick one or the other.

I can choose what I’m going to think about. Yes, it’s true. We don’t have to automatically accept whatever nasty thought pops into our brains.

This is where our memory verse comes into play. Here it is:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

This is my go-to verse for rerouting my thinking.

It’s long, I know. You may have to write it down and carry it around in your pocket for a few months. I did.

I also used a game to help me remember the order of the words. The first letters of True, Noble, and Right spelled out TNR or Tenor in my brain. Then Pure, Lovely, and Admirable spell out PLA or Play. Then I tagged on Excellent and Praiseworthy once I had TNR and PLA down.

If you didn’t catch my logic there, that’s okay. I’m just suggesting you make up some word associations so you can remember the order of all those life-giving phrases.

Then every time you catch yourself slipping into unkind or unhealthy thinking, use your brain power to recite the verse instead. It will automatically cast out the other negative thoughts, which is important because thoughts lead to emotions and emotions lead to actions.

We get to choose: either renew our minds with God’s word or retreat into a pit of fear or anger.

I know which one sounds better to me. How about you?

If you feel like this is an area of your life where strongholds need to be broken, please please please read Power Thoughts by Joyce Meyer. Here’s a link to an article about the book. Getting your thought life in order will change the way you see the world. 

Fear Less, Fun More

Clearly I am in summertime mode, because I woke up this morning and had no idea what day it was.

Or should I be saying “is”? See? I’m losing my grip on the English language. It must be summer.

Just after I realized it’s a blog day, I came to a second realization. I have forgotten to collect stories this week to share with you.

One might think stories just manifest from daily life and patiently wait in my head for me to retrieve them. That, unfortunately, is not the case. Most things that enter my brain leave my brain a short while later.

I choose to blame it on summertime instead of age, but you never know…

So anyway, I stumbled groggily into the bathroom this morning only to see this:

My niece took this photo in “portrait mode” so I look extra fancy. I also made her cut off my head since it’s 8am and I’m in summertime mode.

This is me in my pajamas. Note the t-shirt.

It’s says Fear less, Life is Good.

Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I immediately thought, That is what I want to say today. That is what I want to remind my tribe — and myself. 

Life IS good. It’s really, really good; even when it’s not.

So today,

instead of worrying about what I’m getting done or not getting done in a timely manner,

instead of fretting about what trials may be waiting down the road,

instead of fearing what other people might think if I put a bra-less photo of myself in my pajama shirt on the internet,

I’m going to fear less and fun more. After all, it is summertime.

Won’t you join me?

Week 26 Memory Verse

Imagine your reaction if someone told you this…

A woman was sitting in her living room dealing with a terrible ordeal and all of a sudden, a peace that totally goes beyond anything she could understand or imagine or explain came sweeping over her body. In that instant, she suddenly felt happy. Joyful.

Would you think she was crazy?

That woman is me.

You might still think I’m crazy, and that’s okay, but hear me out.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and dealing with all the decisions that go with it, I put on a pretty brave face. But let me assure you, there were many many many times when I lost it.

I’d hold it together in front of my family until I could escape to the shower where I would sob under the steaming water so no one could hear me. Or I’d wait until everyone in my house was gone for the day and then crawl into my bed so I could feel safe in my own little cocoon.

I talked to God a lot during those times.

I never really had the right words, but somehow that was okay. God knew what I was feeling.

And more often than not, as I was talking with Him, my anxiety would be replaced by a strange sort of calm. A knowing– that whatever happened, I was not alone.

Some people might say, “Well, that’s because crying is therapeutic. Of course you’re going to feel calm after exhausting yourself with tears.”

But.

I didn’t always cry.

Sometimes I would just be feeling especially anxious or panicky and start talking to God and the calm would come. Not every time, but many times. And if I started praying out loud, often my body would first be filled with chills, followed by the calm.

This isn’t magic or paranormal activity. This is a promise God makes us in the Bible. It’s part of the series of scripture we’ve been memorizing.

Last week God told us what we need to do: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

And this week He tells us what He will do: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

The promise is there for the taking. If you don’t believe me, memorize this verse and take it straight to God in prayer.

Maybe it looks like this:

God, you told me to come to you and share my heart. To tell you what I need and thank you for all you have done. I’m here doing that now. Regardless of what the answer is to my specific request, will you please cover me now with a peace that transcends all understanding? 

God can do that for you, you know. And there’s no limit to the amount of times you can ask and the amount of times He will give.

Trust me. I’ve tested the limits and haven’t found them yet.

Tattoo Take Two

I never knew nipples were such a big deal. Actually, it’s not the nipple, it’s the areola that’s causing all the problems.

When I stand in front of the mirror, I notice two things:

1) The tattoo I had on my reconstructed side has faded and lost pigmentation in some spots. The tattoo artist told me this could happen and offered to let me come back in for a “touch up.” He is 2.5 hours away from my house. I’m no longer interested in driving long distances to make my breasts look good, so I figured I’d just live with it.

2) The areola that was reattached after my native breast was lifted is a little misshapen and has a distinct circle of scar tissue outlining it. Again, I could go back for more surgery, but that seems awfully compulsive of me.

Neither of these things are a big deal. I don’t stand around looking at myself naked and fret about them. But when the opportunity arises to do something, I take it.

Have you ever had one of those times when a word or phrase or message randomly popped up again and again over a short period of time? That happened to me with Ellie.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, so it seems a little strange that now of all times people keep asking me if I know a nurse named Ellie.

It turns out Ellie is a cosmetic and paramedical tattoo specialist. She does permanent makeup on lips and eyebrows, but she is especially passionate about women who have gone through breast cancer.

She works about 10 minutes from my home, so I thought I’d call her.

“Hi Ellie! You don’t know me, but I keep hearing your name. You do areola tattoos, right? I’m a survivor. I’ve had a tattoo but it needs a touch up. Also, I’m writing a book about reconstruction so I’d sort of need to bring along my photographer who will document the whole thing. Do you mind?”

Ellie was in!

I sent her a photo of my right breast (the one that was lifted) so she would know the size and color when she worked on creating a match on the left side.

She messaged me back immediately and gently said, “You know, I could do a little work on that breast too. Maybe soften the scar lines and even out the shape?”

And that was how I ended up getting a tattoo on both of my breasts.

Ellie spent four hours mixing colors, measuring sizes, and tattooing my breasts while Ann took photos and I tried not to flinch. I couldn’t feel anything on my mastectomy side, but I definitely had sensation on the other side, even with the numbing gel. There were maybe 5 or 10 minutes where I thought I might go through the roof, but looking back, it wasn’t terrible. I did go home however and eat ice cream for dinner. Being brave for 4 whole hours is exhausting.

 

Now some of you reading this might be thinking, “Why would Nicole go and desecrate her body like that? It’s not Biblical.” How do I know you’re thinking that? Because some of you have said that to me. I understand your concerns, but please, please hear my heart on this…

Cancer isn’t Biblical. It doesn’t play by the rules. It doesn’t follow God’s plan. It comes in and tries to kill us and then turns around and runs away, leaving a wake of physical and emotional scars. Some of those I can’t fix, but some of them I can. When I look in the mirror now and see something that resembles the “me” before cancer, a small part of the emotional damage is healed.

I don’t know if God cares if we get tattoos or not. I have no idea.

But I do know if Jesus were here today, he probably would have driven me to that appointment. Because regardless of whether or not we manage to follow all the “rules,” he is always by our side.

 

Week 25 Memory Verse

I think it’s a pretty safe bet that we all know what “anxious” means, right? Yeah, I thought so.

But just the same, humor me while I google it…

adjective: anxious

experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. “she was extremely anxious about her exams”

wanting something very much, typically with a feeling of unease. “the company was anxious to avoid any trouble”

The Latin root of the word “anxious” is “angere” which means… to choke.

Wait, did that stop anybody else in their tracks?

When I get whipped up in worry about something, I feel like my heart is being choked.

I’ve heard that worry, fear, and anxiety are the opposite of faith. I think that’s true. When I’m feeling anxious, I’m basically saying that I’m not certain God can do what he says he’ll do; that he won’t take care of me, because he’s either too busy or not big enough.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m anxious about. Things are going well, but I’m just sort of jittery. Like I’m so busy juggling life that I don’t have time to think about what I’m actually worried about, but I know it’s something. The anxiety settles over everything like a heavy, constricting, sometimes choking presence.

Is there a solution? Or is this normal; how we were meant to live?

Today’s memory verse tells us 1. God did not intend for us to live in nervousness, and 2. How to escape the choking.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

This verse is so comforting to me because it basically says, I get that you’ve got a lot of stuff running through your head. Bring it to me. Let’s talk about it — all of it– so I can ease your mind. 

And the way God eases our minds is by telling us to remember all the things he’s already done for us! That’s where the thanksgiving comes in!

We tell him what we’re worried about. (If you’re me, you also tell him what you want him to do about it.) And then we start making a laundry list of everything he’s already done for us.

When we do that day after day, we change. We become brave. We begin to focus on the eternal instead of the day-to-day.

And that constricting feeling that once threatened to take hold is choked out by a faith that says no matter what tomorrow brings, it’s okay, because I know God will be there.

Reclaiming Our Happy Place

I cut the head off a fish the other day. My fingers still smell kind of peculiar.

I wouldn’t exactly call butchering a helpless, flopping fish my kindest act ever, but I had a good reason.

We wanted to eat it.

Last December, Saul and I bought a sad little lake cabin. It desperately wanted to be brought back to life, so little by little, that’s what we did. We tore out carpet, filled in all the mouse doggy-doors and painted every surface of the place.

I can’t even count the hours I spent on a ladder, paintbrush in hand, singing at the top of my lungs to my favorite worship songs.

Little by little the tiny cottage came back to life. And so did I.

I hadn’t realized how desperately I needed a place to think and relax and heal from the post-trauma I was feeling from my battle with breast cancer.

By May, the place was ready to go.

We have spent many blissful days looking out over the water, fishing pole in hand. It’s our happy place.

Or at least it was. Until I cut the head off that fish.

My kids are awesome at catching fish. I am not awesome at filleting them.

So I googled it. “Easy peasy,” the 75 year old man on the video assured me. “Just takes a lil’ practice.”

So I sat on the dock and tried it again and again and again. And yes, I learned that you don’t actually cut the head off the fish.

At some point I gave up.

I cleaned up the mess and the kids and I headed back up to the house to throw in a frozen pizza.

The problem is, I didn’t clean up the whole mess.

I missed one little fish head that my son, Ben, had been playing with. (Ahhh 7 year old boys.)

When we went back to the dock later that evening, we were greeted by a 4 foot snake who was not interested in giving up her dinner.

She slinked off the dock the moment she saw us, but hovered nearby in the water to  watch us.

Jordan (that’s the teenager), immediately broke our “No electronics” rule to google what type of threat we may be facing.

Nothing venomous, but as we sat together on the couch that night, we all were a little despondent. None of us had any big urge to go back to the dock. Ever.

The next morning, instead of running down to the water, we all kind of hovered near the house.

I was sitting having a quiet conversation with God, basically begging Him to help me make this place our happy place once again. God I know they are all your creatures, but some of them scare me. Please help me see this situation the way You see it so I can bring joy back to this place for my kids.

An hour later, the boys and I treaded lightly down to the pedal boat and headed for our favorite fishing hole.

That was when I started talking. I had no idea where the words were coming from. They just sort of spilled out.

“Her name is Lucy. She was out looking for food and when she realizes that we’re not going to give her any, she’ll go away, but for now she’s our special lake pet.”

And just like that, the whole situation was diffused. Reframed.

We spent the rest of the weekend playing in the water and sitting on the dock and NOT filleting any more fish.

A few days later I was spilling this story to a friend when she got a funny look on her face. “Lucy? You named her Lucy because it’s short for Lucifer, right?”

I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that her name was short for Lucifer because I wasn’t the one who came up with it. It just popped out of my mouth.

But it fits.

The enemy will always try to steal, kill and destroy what you love… the things that bring you joy.

But isn’t it nice to know that God hears our silent pleas and is happy to come to the rescue? And there is no snake, big or small, that He can’t slay.

Week 24 Memory Verse

I’ve never been described as a gentle person. At least not to my face, and I’m not sure that’s one of the words that comes up behind my back.

Bold. Direct. Bossy. Brave. Maybe even energetic.

But gentle? No.

We are in the process of memorizing a weekly verse together. Actually it’s a paragraph I’m breaking into verses because my brain likes bite-sized assignments. Last week we began with this: 

When I sat down with this week’s verse, I realized God has a sense of humor. Here it is: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5 NIV)

So maybe that’s not funny to you, but to me, who is trying to see how these verses relate to everyday life and then put those thoughts into words for others to read, this is hysterical.

“Let your gentleness…” Um, God, are you forgetting that I don’t have a gentle side or are you telling me I just don’t use it enough?

Sometimes when I get stuck on the meaning of something in the Bible, I’ll work through it using other translations.

I turned to the English Standard Version which told me this: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;”

Yeah. Reasonableness is another one of those words that seldom gets used around me.

Try again.

The King James edition puts it this way: “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”

That one made me chuckle. I’m more of a “if one is good then two are better” sort of person.

Gentleness, reasonableness, moderation. God, how can I possibly find a life application for this verse when I’m wired so differently from these words?

That’s when I opened up the Message translation.

“Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!” (Philippians 4:5 MSG)

Ahhhh… “Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side.”

How beautiful.

You know what that means to me? Be kind.

We can love the people around us just as we are, and in the process, they will see the hands and feet of God.

That disgruntled employee who would rather be enjoying the sunlight instead of the hard floors and florescent bulbs? We can shine the light of God on them with just a smile.

So let’s go back to the original verse we are memorizing this week.

Maybe you’re like me and gentleness still needs some time to blossom in your life. That’s okay. The world needs your particular brand of love. Your unique voice may be the only voice that someone else relates to.

You may be the only Bible they ever read and they will read it through your actions.

Bold, direct, bossy, brave or gentle, reasonable and full of moderation. Go be you. Go be kind. Let them see that God is closer than they know.

I Was Wrong About Teenage Boys

Gosh. I’m a little ashamed of myself.

I try to keep an open mind and greet others with love and kindness, but it’s been brought to my attention that I have a great big judgement sticker hanging out inside my head.

I’m sure in some ways we all do, because we’re all raised with beliefs that we truly believe. Even if no one else does.

It happens in religion (Christian, Muslim, Jewish? None of the above?), sexuality (nature or nurture?), finances (do you really have to pay your credit card bill off every month?) and about every other area that we can grab hold of a strong opinion and back it up with a few facts and a lot of emotion.

Well, here I was, ready to do my act of kindness for the day, by hiring the teenage son of a family friend to detail my dirty minivan.

This kid is going to be a junior in high school. Every interaction I’ve ever had with him has been pleasant. He’s respectful, interesting to talk with and makes eye contact.

However, he’s a teenage boy.

I’ve known lots of teenage boys. In a few years I’ll even have a few.

Teenage boys like to sleep. And eat. And sit on the couch. With electronics.

Am I right?

No. Actually I am not.

You see, this particular teenage boy, named Alex, came over to my house with a vacuum, an arsenal of cleaning supplies and a box of Q-tips.

When he said he was going to detail my minivan, he meant business.

Three and a half hours later, he stepped into my house soaking wet.

“Is it raining outside?” I naively asked.

“No.” He answered.

The light dawned and I realized it was sweat. This kid was ringing wet from cleaning my car!

I was speechless when I walked out into the garage. My 2010 minivan never looked so good. It could have passed for a 2012 if it weren’t for all the dents.

I paid Alex and asked him to come back the next day and do the other car. It’s a 2004 but now looks like a 2006 (again, a dent issue).

So, I guess this is my apology letter to Alex and all the other teenage boys out there.

Yes, there are middle-aged women who think you are lazy, but we are wrong. You are smart and capable and hard-working and I’m awfully glad you’ll be in charge when I’m sitting in my rocker.

Go get em. I’m cheering you on.

P.S. If you’re in the Athens, OH area and need a car detailed, I highly recommend Alex. Send me a message and I’ll send you his info.

Week 23 Memory Verse

Have you ever had deja vu? You immediately know you’ve heard those words before… but where?

That happened to me when I stumbled upon this page: 

It’s from Philippians 4:4-9, in the New Testament.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

As I was reading this, I vividly remember two separate times in my recent life where someone was praying with me, for me actually, and said these exact words.

There is such joy in Paul’s message, even though he wrote it from prison. And the wisdom. Wow. It transcends 2000 years and smacks us in the face with words to live by right here in our modern, technologically-driven, chaotic world.

But it’s hard to live by words you don’t know. That’s why these two little powerful paragraphs are going to be my mission for the next six weeks. I have to break them into tiny verse-by-verse pieces or my brain will revolt. Ever feel that way?

I hope you’ll join me.

I’m excited about committing these to memory so we will have them, to use as a guide for our own lives, but also to use someday as we pray for others.

So let’s start at the beginning.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV)

On a side note, I just got back from a little trip to New York City. We stayed in Times Square. People everywhere. They all appeared to be hustling, chasing something different, but really searching for the same thing: something to fill the empty hole deep inside.

I think we all want something to trust in, to rely on, to be our very best friend.

I love New York City. I love being surrounded by the noise, the excitement. But the truth is, when the bright lights are gone and the buildings have crumbled, the only thing that will still remain is God. That’s it. Nothing else. 

So what makes the most sense to celebrate? Something we can buy? Or Someone who can hold us when we realize that the thing we bought wasn’t as magical as we thought?

I say we rejoice in the Lord always. Let’s say it again: Rejoice!

She Stands Strong

Sometimes I look at a beautiful piece of art and think, How did they do that? How did they create something so emotional from a flat piece of paper and a few shades of blue?

Or I’ll stand in the shadow of a building that was constructed hundreds of years ago and wonder, How did they get those heavy bricks way up there without using a modern-day crane?

I had the same experience with my daughter earlier this year when she brought home something she had written for her ELA class. How did she create this image in her mind and then mold it into words?

Pretty much every day of this past seventh grade year we had the same conversation.

“What do you have for homework?”

“ELA.”

(Slight pause while I try to remember what ELA is again… Oh yeah, English!)

The teacher of this ELA class assigned an insane amount of homework. Nightly reading and writing like nothing we had seen before in the Phillips’ household.

I’m sure every kid in the middle school wanted to go on strike at some point. It was awesome!

Seriously.

It was awesome.

Because in the midst of the groaning and complaining, I saw something amazing being built. Jordan was becoming a writer. She was gaining her footing and finding confidence in something that will serve her well for years to come.

Sure, she may never want to write for a living, but she will have to write for the next 9 years of her life as a student. And then after that, she will want to apply for jobs and write beautiful love letters and perhaps sit and sort her heart out in a journal when her world gets a little too confusing.

I may be biased, but I think writing is pretty important. And so is creating. And so is standing in awe of something wonderful that has been created.

So, I’m gonna be a mom for a minute and brag up on my girl by letting you read something she wrote this year. I hope you feel the wind lifting your hair as you stand next to Jordan on that mountain top.

She Stands Strong by Jordan Phillips, age 12

She stands on the mountain top,

Hair blowing,

Face glowing from the rising sun’s rays;

Inside, she feels warm in an icy cold world;

She smiles,

A smile that stretches a mile,

A smile that says so much;

I am fierce, it screams,

I am strong,

I am kind;

She has found her purpose,

There on the mountain,

And she is not afraid to help others find theirs,

She has joy and hope;

A joy and a hope that is so warm that it melts away the icy cold,

She stands strong,

And many others are encouraged to stand strong beside her.

Week 22 Memory Verse

I remember being 16 years old and begging my dad to let me drive two hours away to a party on a college campus with a guy friend that I went to high school with. It was the beginning of my junior year.

Guess what my dad said?

No way.

Period.

I stood in the living room and loudly debated my case with tears streaming down my face. Then I seethed in my bedroom for the rest of the weekend, refusing to talk to my father.

I thought he was the meanest dad in the whole town.

My father just ignored my nastiness and let me sit in my room. He knew I’d get hungry or need to use the phone (ahhh the days before cellphones). Looking back now, as a parent, I can see how strong he had to have been to handle my emotions.

I couldn’t understand at that age that my dad could see things that I couldn’t. There was a whole lot of the world that he had been exposed to that I hadn’t. He was trying to protect me — from my own bad decisions and the bad decisions of other people I might encounter.

This week’s memory verse reminds me that there is still Someone who is trying to protect me. Someone who can still see things I can’t see.

“All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1Corinthians 13:12b NLT)  

Someday you and I will get to see the big picture. We’ll get an eternal perspective that comes with an understanding that we can’t grasp this side of Heaven. I like to imagine that we’ll even get to look back on the disappointments of our lives with new eyes; eyes that can see how the pain we endured was actually paired with a great love and protection from our Father.

Until then, what do we do?

Trust.

Trust that He has a reason. And a plan. And that it’s way better than our plan.

And when we do get upset, I hope instead of stomping off to our rooms and refusing to talk anymore, we will use that time to draw closer to God.

If my dad could handle my nasty teenage emotions, I’m certain God can too.

Same Party, Different Focus

So I’m probably not supposed to say anything about this yet, but since you keep showing up and reading my stuff, I figure you’re a safe person to share things with.

I’m launching a podcast! Now you don’t have to read my blog while you’re driving!

I’ll give you all the details later this summer, like what it’s called, what it’s about and where to find it.

Today I just had to tell you about it, because I got to interview a man for that podcast who said something so simple, yet profound, it still resonates in my ears.

He said, “If you were heading into a birthday party and I told you to keep a mental tally of all the things that were wrong or bad about the party, you’d come out with a long list to share with me. But if I asked you to keep track of all the things that were really great about that party, you’d come out with a list that was equally as long. Same party, different focus.”

Like a thin piece of cellophane, I keep laying those words over the reality of my life.

My kids are out of school for the summer. Am I freaking out because now I have to think about how the kids will be entertained when I want to meet a friend for coffee? Or am I relishing in the quiet, sleepy mornings that certainly mean more snuggles on the couch before we begin the day?

I’m cut off in traffic. Do I immediately get annoyed at another driver’s rude behavior? Or do I remind myself that I have plenty of time to get where I’m going?

How about you? What can you lay those words on?

Maybe you go through the drive-thru and the employee is gruff and grumpy. Do you drive away wondering if you should complain to the manager? Or do you think, I’m so glad I don’t have to work there today. That has to be hard… on her feet all day… I bet she goes home exhausted and still has to take care of her kids, too.

I wonder what would happen if we pretended that it was our duty– our role, our job– to pick out all the great things about the circumstances around us.

I bet we’d go to bed each night with beautiful thoughts in our heads and great peace our hearts.

Week 21 Memory Verse

I was standing in the bathroom the other morning with a heavy heart.

The doctor had asked me to come in for some blood tests, so I was up early. This would be no big deal, except that I had cancer a few years ago and so now everything feels like a big deal. Yep, even when it’s not.

So there I was blow drying and lotioning and mascaraing for the lab tech when I caught myself having a “What if…” and “Well you know…” conversation with myself.

Have you ever had those?

The circumstances are always different, but it goes something like this:

What if this isn’t just a routine test? What if there is something seriously wrong with me and nobody wants to tell me?

Well, you know, you did have breast cancer. That snuck up on you out of the blue so why couldn’t something else?

Around and around the thoughts circulated through my brain until I heard a very dominant voice in my head ask a simple question. “Who are you talking to?”

I froze.

And then I realized.

I had been standing in my house having a conversation with the devil.

I was going back and forth debating whether or not I was seriously ill with the one who came to this Earth to steal, kill and destroy.

Immediately, I started reciting the Lord’s prayer.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…. 

Today, I want to ask you, Who are you talking to? When your hands are busy but your mind is not, where does it gravitate? I think that’s when the enemy likes to whisper in our ear. When our defenses are down. That’s when we need to think about what we’re thinking about and make a definite decision to allow those thoughts to continue or to cast them out.

This week’s memory verse gives us two assignments and then a promise.

“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 (NLT)

We must humble ourselves, which to me means submitting to the authority of God. Saying daily, “God I need you. I want to do the right thing, but it’s hard. Walk with me. Show me how to do this life better.”

And then we need to resist the devil. When words and phrases pop into our heads that are not kind or loving or nurturing (to us or anyone else), we say No and intentionally replace those thoughts with something more productive.

Then comes the good part: he will flee from you.

Sure, he might try to come back a hundred times, but the enemy will flee each and every time you turn your eyes to Jesus. That’s a promise.

If you were to keep reading, just past the part we’re memorizing this week, you’d find another wonderful, comforting promise tucked in the very next verse.

“Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” James 4:8 (NLT)

I like that. Because whatever we face each day, it’s so much better knowing that God is there too.

He’s Home!

My Charlie is back home, snuggled in his bed. At least for the next hour until I wake him up with a loud, rousing rendition of “Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory!”

It’s my favorite get-your-sleepy-butt-out-of-bed song.

I mentioned in my post on Monday that Charlie, my 11 year old son, was on a field trip to Gettysburg. I desperately wanted to check, double check, triple check that he was okay and that he hadn’t misplaced his lunch money and that he wasn’t scared, lost, lonely or hurt.

It’s a momma thing.

I used great restraint and held back the crazy in me that wanted to get in a car and drive myself to his hotel room seven hours away.

And then something beautiful happened.

One of the moms on the trip texted me this picture… 

And then this one… And this one… 

This doesn’t look like a kid who is hungry or worried or missing his mom. This looks like a kid who is having an awesome time spreading his wings and hanging with friends.

It was a little thing, really. A few text messages, one or two a day. A nice comment about how my son is sweet and respectful.

But that’s what kindness is. We talk about Random Acts of Kindness and assume it’s going to take some money or lots of time. What it takes is heart.

Kindness takes a heart that says, “This would brighten my day, so maybe it will brighten your day, too.”

That’s really the essence of kindness.

I lay in Charlie’s bed last night way past both of our bedtimes. He recounted story after story about the weather, It was hot!, the observation towers, They were cool!, and the friendships he made along the way from the kids from other schools, You can’t spend three days in a motel with 100 other fifth graders and not get to know all their names, Mom. 

I think the trip was good for both of us. But I sure am grateful for the quiet kindnesses along the way. I bet Charlie is too.

Week 20 Memory Verse

I sooooo want to be a helicopter parent right now. I want to hover over my child and make sure he’s okay.

Charlie, my 5th grader, is on a bus heading to Gettysburg for a class trip. At least I think he is. I held myself back from continuously circling the block until I actually saw the bus pull away.

I dropped my child off in front of the school with a gazillion other kids and a few tentative looking parents. The tentative ones were the chaperones.

Charlie will be staying in a room with two other boys and one adult male chaperone whom I marched up to meet for the first time just this morning.

He seems like a nice guy, but the mom in me walked away wondering if the school does background checks before they let someone hang out with my son.

Then I started wondering if Charlie had enough snacks for the bus ride… Maybe I should run to the gas station quick and grab a few more? No! Keep driving. 

Then I started wondering if Charlie remembered to bring his money for meals… Maybe I should just call one of the other moms on the trip and have her double check? No! If he forgot money, the other parents won’t let him starve. 

Then… Should I have written him notes to read before bed?

Then… Should I have reiterated the dangers of strangers?

Then… Should I have reminded him again to tip the server if he goes to a real restaurant?

Then… (sigh) I remembered that God has a plan for Charlie. I remembered the verse we memorized back on Week 5: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalm 139:16)

And then my mind went to the memory verse we picked out for this week:

“But You, O Lord, are a God who protects and is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” Psalm 86:15 (AMP)

I bet there is someone in your life that you worry about, someone you wish you could hover over and heal or protect.

I hope memorizing this verse brings both of us a little peace of mind, and continues to remind us that God loves them even more than we do.

Don’t Believe Everything You See

Saul and I got to go to Madison this past weekend. It was perfect.

Except when it wasn’t.

Had I posted the highlights on social media, you might have sat back and thought sarcastically, “Huh… good for her. She gets to do all the fun stuff.”

We were there for a benefit called Garding Against Cancer. Saul’s good friend, Greg Gard (the head basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin), lost his dad to brain cancer at the same time I was fighting breast cancer.

Greg and his wife, Michelle, have made lemon soufflés out of rotten lemons. Seriously. They put together an amazing weekend of events and raised one million dollars.

Saul and I got to speak at the event Saturday night at the Kohl Center. It was a beautiful experience filled with laughter, touching stories, old friends and new ones.

Here are a few of the photos. It looked like a rock concert. I’m perhaps the worst photographer ever, but here you go:

 

Had I posted those pictures on Facebook, it might have looked perfect.

Maybe you would have even thought it was perfect when I posted this picture that we snapped this just before heading to the Gard’s house Friday night for a VIP reception…

…right before I had a full-blown panic attack in the car and then again in the Gard’s entryway bathroom.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly care for parties. They make me nervous. I could tell as I was getting dressed for the event that I was feeling a little skittish. If I were still a drinker, this is when I would have pulled out the first Rum & Coke. But I didn’t.

I honestly thought I could work through it if I just kept moving. We got in the car and started to drive.

Five minutes away from the Gard’s front door, tears started running down my face. I couldn’t breathe. My entire body was covered in sweat.

Saul’s eyes were the size of saucers. He started talking softly, saying sweet words of encouragement. I could tell he was as scared of my reaction as I was.

I didn’t even know what I was afraid of. I just sort of lost it. It was the perfect storm: lack of sleep, memories of cancer, and a room full of people. I scrambled in my brain for one of the techniques that I love to enthusiastically share with other people. I came up empty.

Finally, I whispered, “Maybe God will send me a friend.”

I pulled it together enough to hand the keys to the valet guy and walk through the front door. Then my throat started thumping and my eye started twitching and I knew I had to hide in the bathroom fast.

Saul stood outside the door while I took deep breaths and begged Jesus to help me make it through the night.

Shortly after I left the bathroom, God did indeed send me a friend. Two actually, because He’s just really nice that way. One was the wife of a former professional golfer and one was the wife of a former NFL player. Both had high-profile husbands and were very used to this mingling game. Both hate mingling so instead hung out with me.

It ended up being a nice night. Not perfect, but definitely nice.

On the car ride home, Saul wondered aloud if I would have the same reaction the next night — the night we were scheduled to speak. “No” I said. “Absolutely not. I’m fine when I have a role. I’m excited to share a message.”

And I was. No tears, no panic attacks.

I hesitated to share all of this with you, but I feel compelled. It’s so important to remember that no one has it all together. Not the star of the show, the people who get invited to be in the limelight, or the ones who take the best Instagram photos.

I heard someone say once that we cannot compare our day-to-day reality with everyone else’s highlight reel. That just breeds resentment and discontent.

Being vulnerable allows other people the freedom to be vulnerable too. And that’s where healing begins and kindness flourishes.

And if we lose it once in a while, well, I feel like that just gives us greater compassion to use in those times when we see someone else lose it, too.

Week 19 Memory Verse

God has a sense of humor. My friend, Sue, asked me to write a little something for her “Every Table Tells a Story” series. Here’s why that’s funny. I don’t invite people to my table, I invite them to my couch.

When people come to my table, they get sick. Like the time two of my husband’s basketball players ended up in the bathroom for three days following a Christmas meal.

Or they get confused. Like the time I made lasagna and forgot to put in the lasagna noodles. Actually that happened twice. Both times, my husband began dishing it out and proudly declared, “Chili!” He was sent to bed with no supper.

Or they get hysterical. Like the time my Easter guests had tears rolling down their faces when I proudly presented them with mashed potatoes I had prepared in the blender. Did you know you can’t make mashed potatoes in a blender? We had to eat them with spoons out of a soup bowl.

So no, Sue. Sorry, no blog post from me. I don’t invite people to my table.

And then something happened.

I was sitting at an afternoon ball game, talking to a woman with two boys the same age as mine when I got a great idea.

“Wanna come over for pizza tonight?”

I had no ulterior motive. My husband was out of town and I thought it would be fun to hang out with a new friend. I didn’t even clean the house.

While the kids ran all over the place like a herd of small hyenas, my friend and I visited. She lost her husband to cancer several years ago and while she’s slowly finding her groove, she is still reeling in a lot of different ways.

My heart hurt for her.

But then the conversation turned to me. When she asked about a difficult trial my family has been dealing with, I knew I had to be honest. I told her how on one particular day the previous year, I crawled into my minivan and began bawling. I screamed out to God,

“Help us! Won’t you please help us?”

I told my friend how I heard these words: I AM.

At that moment in the minivan, I felt peace. I was able to remember that I can’t see what God can see. I don’t know the end of the story, but He does.

My friend gave me a funny look. Not quite an eye-roll, but almost.

I wasn’t offended, but it did make me realize that I had no idea where she stood on the subject of God. So I asked her.

“Are you mad at God?” I asked.

“What? Um, no,” she replied.

“Because if God took my husband, I think I might be a little mad at Him,” I continued.

And that’s when God pulled up a chair right there in my kitchen.

My friend told me how she got chills when she heard my story, but that it was hard to believe He was really in control because she couldn’t understand His plan. She told me how her husband was a believer and before he died he asked her to try and find her faith. He knew he was going to Heaven and he wanted her to be there, too.

With tears in her eyes, my friend told me she wanted to believe, but she just couldn’t. Not yet.

I told her I would pray and believe enough for the both of us until she found her own way. Maybe that’s sort of how it worked way back in the day for Paul when he wrote to the Philippians, “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.” Philippians 1:9 (NLT)

That’s this week’s verse that I’m hoping to commit to memory.

I now pray for a woman I barely even knew before that pizza party. She shared her story and I was able to share mine. And His.

No cooking required. Thank God.

Reclaim the Extraordinary

I live in a house. It’s a beautiful house. It’s a house I could never have dreamed of living in when I was a child.

As a kid, I lived in duplexes and apartments. When Saul and I got married, as soon as we could afford it (okay, maybe a little sooner), I insisted on living in a house. I wanted my own four walls. No footsteps from upstairs or other voices filtering through from someone else’s family.

Saul didn’t understand, but like many times in our marriage, he kindly submitted to my strong will.

So here we are, in this lovely house.

But you know what? Sometimes I don’t see the lovely house the way I used to.

Sometimes I see the tattered floorboards that are all banged up from vacuums and toys and life.

Sometimes I see the air-conditioner that is hanging on by it’s last breathe waiting to be replaced by a newer model.

Sometimes I see bathroom fixtures that looked awesome a few decades ago but now look outdated and neglected.

How many areas in our lives become so ordinary that they stop becoming extraordinary?

That job we so desperately wanted, hoped for, prayed for, now is something to be endured day in and day out.

That husband we used to get all dolled up for now gets us in yoga pants and a pony tail– even on a date night, because we can’t be bothered with a curling iron and lip gloss.

Those kids we held in absolute amazement when the nurse first put them in our arms, now annoy us when they sit on our laps because they’re too squirmy and we’re too hot.

Do you feel it? Are there things in your life that were once extraordinary?

I don’t think they’re gone forever. I think we can reclaim them by looking at our lives through eyes full of excitement and gratitude and leaving off the lens that feels the need to judge and fix and worry.

When I look at my job or my husband or my children, I have a choice. I can allow the negative thoughts to wander in and take up residence in my brain, or I can evict them.

I can give them the boot by replacing them with thoughts of gratitude. I can recreate in my mind the first feelings I ever had about them. And then, when the air-conditioner starts making that funny noise again, I can rejoice that I actually have an air-conditioner… and that everything is fixable.

Week 18 Memory Verse

“The Bible isn’t about you. The Bible is about God… searching for you.”

As my pastor’s words filled the church, my soul was simultaneously filled. Filled with love for a God who knew I would stray. And filled with gratitude that there is no where I can go that He can’t find me.

I’m just returning home from a whirlwind trip to Fargo. My husband and I lived there for ten years. It’s been three years since I’ve been back, but thanks to some speaking invitations, I got to spend an entire week hugging old friends and making new ones.

My schedule was what one person described as “aggressive.” I had 8 speaking events, 2 radio interviews, 1 television morning show and 2 book signings in 7 days.

Yeah. I have a hard time knowing when to say when.

I have to admit, I was a little worried that I would be so caught up in prepping for the “stage” events that I would miss the small, intimate, important conversations that God had aligned along the way.

So, months before boarding an airplane, I started praying. I prayed that God would speak through me at each event, but that He would also help me to see every person who crossed my path as He sees them. I wanted ears to hear them and eyes to see them, even if they were in the back row of the sanctuary or behind the counter of the coffee shop.

I should have known He wouldn’t let me miss them.

I asked for God’s ears and God’s eyes, but the most shocking part of the week, the part that still leaves me a little breathless, is that God also gave me His heart for them.

For the woman with Alzheimers who asked how she could be kind when she couldn’t even leave her own home…

For the 17 year old girl going to school and taking care of her 2 year old son…

For the woman who came to see me speak on her anniversary, with her daughter instead of her husband, because the love of her life is now gone…

Every pair of eyes I looked into seemed to long for the same reminder. And so through my words and my eyes and my prayers I tried to give God the space to breathe into them.

God loves you. He thinks you are precious. He sees what you are going through and He hasn’t (not for even one second) turned away from you.

This week’s memory verse is important. So important. Because in the midst of our pain, we can have hope if we can only remember this:

“May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)

Friends, His love is wide. Wide enough to wrap His arms all the way around you and protect you from what you fear.

His love is long. No matter how far away you are from Him— even if you question His existence, He can reach you.

His love is high. It’s higher than the mountain of problems standing in front of you. When your problems stack up high, remember His love is higher.

His love is deep. Have you been to hell and back? Maybe you feel like you’re still stuck there. Or maybe you feel like because of something you’ve done, that’s where you belong. God will go to the deepest darkest depths to rescue you.

My pastor’s words reverberate in my mind and in my heart. No, the Bible isn’t about us. It’s better than that. It’s about God searching for us because of the width, length, height and depth of His love.

Kindness Podcast

My mom is an amazing woman. I get to talk about kindness and reconciliation and God’s great power to redeem because my mom allows me to share her story as part of my story.

Tom Hodson, the host of Spectrum Podcast and Director WOUB Public Media invited me to be on his show to talk about how my childhood opened the door for my mission of kindness. This was the hardest interview I have ever done, and for my family– especially my mom,  I’m sure this will be the hardest interview they will ever listen to.

As you listen to this podcast, I hope you will remember that we can and should REJOICE in our trials and even in our own regretful decisions because it is those times of trouble that create in us the ability to love others more deeply. That’s where kindness is born.

Same 40 minute podcast, three ways to listen! Thank you to WOUB Public Media for producing this podcast.

Guest Post! Week 17 Memory Verse

Hello Friends! You know those awesome graphics that we get every week to go with our memory verse? They’re made by my friend Tania Meek. Tania has a way of speaking and writing and creating that leaves me a little bit breathless. I’m always so touched by the way she shares her heart. I’ve asked her to take over this week’s Memory Verse devotional. I hope you enjoy her heart as much as I do.

Have you ever had a verse that seemed to keep presenting itself to you, over and over again – sticking with you even when you were ready to move on? Psalm 46:10 has been that verse for me.

It’s an easy one to remember, especially the first half. I’ve known it most of my life.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Then, three years ago, it began to weave into my life from different sources and I could not shake it. I quickly realized that God had a message He wanted me to hear. Rather than ignore it, I began to open my heart and study it.

How hard could that be, really?

It is such a simple and straightforward verse.

I didn’t realize He would unpack it in three phases for me, over the course of the next three years.

Phase one – be still.

Ahhhh, surely that’s the message He was trying to get across in my life.

Let’s be honest, though. I was rather lousy at stillness. I am not only a closet perfectionist but a constant striver. My personal drive to live life to the fullest and cherish each moment often leaves me questioning whether I am doing enough, being enough. I come up lacking – each and every time.

The root Hebrew word of the English word “still” is Raphah. One of its translated meanings is to cease.

That first year, God and I had a big conversation about ceasing. He was asking me to cease striving. I walked that out by walking from a career and identity that I had fallen into and loved. I ceased to be her.

The second year of unpacking this verse was one of deep, inner struggle. While the year prior was one of stilling my outer life, leaving a job I loved and learning to say no to outward commitments, the remainder of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 was the phase of trust. He spoke straight to my heart, asking if I understood the next phrase – know that I am God.  I knew Him, at least in an intellectual sense, and had my entire life, but this conversation, on the steps of my soul, became one much more intimate. This journey took me from knowing Him in my head to knowing Him in my heart. Did I believe Him? Did I trust Him? Did I realize how very deep His love was for me? Did I surrender to that love? My answers came up lacking.

The struggle came in the surrender – the surrender to be still, to know.  To trust that He was who He said He was.

Next came phase three. By this point, I was more than ready to move on. For such a small, easy verse this had been a painful growth process. This final year began with a meme I found online from #5MinWithJesus which stated “The Hebrew root word of be still doesn’t mean “be quiet”; It means “let go.” “Let go and know that I am God.”

Immediately, I felt Him nudge my heart. He was not done. He is not done. These past twelve months have been one of release – a journey of letting go.

It began with letting go of my dreams. My dream to be someone, do something.

Then moved on to letting go of our home – the home we had built to raise our children and make memories.

Next came the release of my expectations – expectations that my life should look a certain way, feel a certain way.

And last but not least, I am currently learning to release the people in my life. Within the last month, I have said goodbye to two pillars in my family. This release has been the hardest. I love my people. Saying goodbye is the true walking out of the knowing God portion of this verse: knowing that He is in control, trusting in Him, knowing He will be honored by every nation, throughout the world.

It has become knowing that this journey is not one about me but one about Him.

What will you learn about Him when you are still? When you cease striving? When you learn to let go?

You can find Tania on Facebook and Instagram. And be sure to check out more beautiful words of inspiration at http://www.5minuteswithjesus.com/share.

Fargo, Here We Come!

The kids have been putting together a list of all the things they want to see while we’re in Fargo: our old house, the ferris wheel at Scheels (it’s a sporting goods store), West Acres Mall, and all their favorite old parks.

The list is about two football fields long. I keep reminding them that this is a “working vacation” for me so I may not have time to run them all over tarnation, but who am I kidding? I lived in Fargo for ten years. I’m just as excited to see all our favorite people, places and things as they are.

My kids are especially looking forward to Monday because that’s the day I speak at their  old elementary school. They’ll get to see their teachers and Charlie will get to see his former classmates. Jordan’s have moved to the middle school, so I’m just thinking of re-enrolling her for the week we are there. Kidding.

For those of you in the North Dakota/Minnesota area, I want to share my event list so perhaps I can see you in person! Here it is:

Saturday, April 22: Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church, Holy Family Social Hall 5202 25th St. S., Fargo, ND 11am

Sunday, April 23: The Plummer House, Hillsboro, ND (hosted by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church) 2pm

Monday, April 24: North Dakota Today live interview, KVLY, 9:15am

Monday, April 24: Oak Grove Lutheran School, Fargo, ND 10:16am

Monday, April 24: Longfellow Elementary, Fargo, ND 2pm

Tuesday, April 25: Midday Live with Sandy Buttweiler, 970 WDAY, 12pm

Tuesday, April 25: Women Connect, FMWF Chamber, Sanctuary Events Center, 670 4th Ave N, Fargo ND 3:30pm

Wednesday, April 26: Life 97.9 live interview, 8:30am

Wednesday, April 26: Comstock-Hoff Lutheran Parish, Comstock, MN 7pm

Thursday, April 27: Book Signing! Red River Coffee Co.,  2600 52nd Ave S Fargo, ND 11-1pm

Thursday, April 27: Calvary Church, Village Green, 2801 Village Green BLVD, Moorhead, MN 7pm

Friday, April 28: Hope Lutheran Church, 3636 25th St S Fargo ND 7pm

For those of you in ND/MN or anywhere else in the world, can I ask a favor? Would you please pray? Pray that God will speak so clearly through me to the hurting hearts that I may encounter on this trip… that not a single person feels condemned, but they may instead find release through this message of kindness… and that even those people who feel they have nothing to learn (i.e. someone dragged them to my presentation), may they walk away inspired by all kindness can do to add joy to their own lives. Will you pray that Kindness becomes Contagious?

Thank you, Friends. I love you.

Watch out Fargo, here we come!

Week 16 Memory Verse

I forgot to write yesterday. I woke up and went on with my day and completely forgot that it was Monday and I was supposed to share this week’s memory verse.

Sure we all forget things, no big deal, but I have been writing every Monday for a while now so it struck me as odd that I would just totally forget.

Until I remembered the verse I was planning to use this week… then I realized (once again) that God has a sense of humor.

Here’s the verse we are memorizing: “They did not remember his power and how he rescued them from their enemies.” Psalm 78:42 (NLT)

Yep. It’s all about forgetting. And I keep forgetting how judgemental and haughty I can be. So God took a moment to remind me.

The first time I read these words I was filled with sadness. The psalmist spends 72 verses explaining all the great things God has done for his people and then how those same people kept turning their backs on God.

They’re hurting and God rescues them from their slavery in Egypt.

They’re standing in front of a giant sea and God parts it for them.

They’re hungry and God sends down manna from heaven, along with a bunch of birds because they’ve also been craving meat.

Ten minutes after God does one of these miraculous things, the Israelites forget. They worry that they’re going to die in the wilderness or they start complaining because they don’t like the living conditions.

And here I am, thousands of years later, judging them. How could you possibly forget seeing a Red Sea part before your very eyes? How could you ever doubt God’s goodness when you were thirsty and He split open a rock full of water for you?

But it happens, doesn’t it? It happens to all of us. We get caught up in ourselves and our own wants and needs that we forget to sit down with God for a few minutes so he can realign our focus for the day (and perhaps remind us that we were supposed to write a blog post about remembering).

We forget how he cured us of cancer, or how he comforted us when we lost a friend to the disease.

We forget how he showered us with a kind act from a stranger when we were feeling low.

We forget how generously he brought us the job or the spouse or the house that we so desperately wanted, and we begin to complain about all the things wrong with it.

All of a sudden I can see how those people, thousands of years ago, would forget. And I can see why God would whisper it in the pages of the bible.

Their lives would have been so much easier if only they had taken the time each day to remember.

And now, many years later, so would ours.

Father, forgive me for all of the times I forget your goodness and your greatness. I never want to doubt you, but God I need you to help me remember. Build my faith so instead of wandering around the same mountains again and again, I can live a life paired up with You that is filled with purpose and victory. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Something Awesome is Happening in Nelsonville-York

I am like a dog with a bone when I get an idea in my head. My mind focuses in on something I want to do, and I’m off– a high-speed train coming straight at you.

That’s awesome when it comes to things like kindness. It’s what gives me the jolt to quickly go and do something kind before I stop to think about all the ways it could go horribly wrong.

But it’s a little less awesome with other things.

We had been looking at lake cabins for a while before finding one to buy in Ohio’s  beautiful Hocking Hills last November. Before we even closed on it, I started envisioning the timeless memories our family would create while kayaking around the lake.

So, I started looking incessantly at kayaks.

Nearly every day for five months I searched the internet for kayaks. Finally my husband threw his hands in the air, rented a truck and said, “Let’s just go to the store and buy the $#@$ kayak!”

At least, that’s sort of how it went down…

And then I bought a 1500 piece puzzle.

You know that every lake place needs a puzzle, right? You just leave it out on the table and as people walk by, they can add a piece.

One small problem. We didn’t have a table.

This became a bit more complicated than the kayak. You see, I didn’t just want a table, I wanted a specific table that I had created in my mind. I wanted it long and narrow and made out of wood. I wanted it to have two benches that could fit all the way underneath it in case we wanted more room to play dominoes on the floor (since the table would be taken up with puzzle pieces).

After numerous in-store and online shopping excursions, I still couldn’t find exactly what I wanted within a reasonable budget.

In desperation, I turned to Facebook.

“Does anyone know someone in the Athens area who could make me a table for less than a gazillion dollars?”

A super energetic problem-solver named Julie responded a few minutes later. “My brother is a woodshop teacher and he and his kids have been making some amazing things.”

And that is how I learned about the incredible happenings in Josh Woodburn’s Nelsonville-York woodshop classroom.

This table became so much more than a table. It became a piece of art that will be handed down for years. It became a reminder of good people who passionately teach willing students a skill they will use for the rest of their lives. It became an icon of the next generation of boys who are quickly growing into kind, confident, able men.

Saul and I got to meet the high school boys who made our table, along with the man who, through his quiet daily interactions and example, reminds them that (aside from beautiful furniture) they also have the ability to create the life they want to live.

Here are some photos of the table. I hope as you look at them, you see what I see: immense kindness from so many angles.

The table and its craftsmen, along with (my cute husband) Saul and their teacher, Josh Woodburn…The adorable benches… 

The boys signature on their artwork…

The puzzle on the table!!! This could take us all summer to finish…

And finally, a God wink. Something Josh could not have known… In our family, when we see a penny, we take a moment to remember that God sees us, cares about us, and wants to meet us in our everyday lives. Josh and his students used pennies to cover all of the bolt holes in the tables and benches.

There is something awesome happening in the Nelsonville-York high school. And I’m certain, it’s going to continue to spread.

Week 15 Memory Verse

If I get butterflies before speaking in front of one audience, you should see what happens to my stomach when I think about speaking in front of eight audiences. And two radio programs. And one live morning TV show.

I’m prepping for a return visit to Fargo at the end of April. It started out as one invitation to speak about kindness at a church fundraiser. To keep travel costs down, I thought I’d see if I could book one or two more events in North Dakota. The next thing I know, I’m on a full-fledged speaking and media tour, with a few book-signings thrown in just for fun.

Studies show that most people fear public speaking more than death.

Not me, I love to speak. When I’m passionate about a message, there is nothing I’d rather do than share that message.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that there are still almost two weeks until I leave. It’s approaching quickly, but not quickly enough. I have 11 days to wonder if I’ve sufficiently prepared what I want to say. Eleven nights to lie in bed envisioning all the ways in which this could go terribly wrong.

Maybe you can’t relate to speaking or event planning, but I bet you have something in your life that likes to tickle at the back of your brain. My teacher friends wonder if the little ones they teach will actually leave their classroom equipped to deal with the next school year. My mom friends wonder if saying “no” to their teens will push them away farther. My married friends wonder if this person was truly their best yes.

We have lots to ponder. Lots of places to let our mind wander.

But we also have a God who anticipated the ways the enemy would try to disarm and distract us. That’s why God gave us an instruction manual.

This week’s memory verse comes from Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” (NLT)

If we keep our thoughts fixed on trusting God, He promises to give us peace; relief from the need to constantly wonder if everything is going to be okay!

All we have to do is turn those worries into words of prayer.

Late at night, when my heart starts racing because I’m afraid I don’t have anything interesting to say about kindness, I can replace that thought with this prayer: God, I’m trusting you to be there with me in Fargo, at every event, in every interaction,  whispering what to say.

Or for my teacher friends… God, I’m trusting you to take the hours I have spent in the classroom with these kids and grow an understanding in their hearts and minds.

Or for our role as a parent… God, I know you love my teenager even more than I do. I’m trusting you take care of her when I can’t, to give me guidance to make decisions that will be best in the long run, and to give me endurance to continue being a loving parent.

Or for our spouses… God, I know you can fight for strong marriages in a way that I can’t. I’m trusting you to soften our hearts and help us to love each other in the way we used to. 

Friends, will you try it for just one day? For one day, anytime an anxious, worried thought flitters through your mind, use it as a reminder to pray. Give it to God and let Him give you a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Hey, Only God is Perfect

Have you ever seen one of those funny sentences where all the letters are jumbled and yet you can still read it?

It’s amzanig rlealy hw teh hmuan brian cn d0 tht!

Except when you don’t want it to happen…

I was on Day 3 of handing out kindness tokens when I was talking to my friend, Paul. You might know him as The Muffler Man on Columbus Road in Athens. Paul is just a super sweetie. Seriously, big, tough looking guy and all sugar on the inside.

Anywho, I wanted to give a kindness token to Paul because he’s always so good to me.

I walked into his shop and smiled as he held up two large greasy bear paws. He was trying to tell me above the noise of the garage that he couldn’t shake my hand. I gave him a little squeeze around the neck and and then gingerly tucked a coin into his pocket.

As the coin was sliding from my fingers, I had one of those slow-motion movie moments. Nnnnooooooooo!

From the corner of my eye, I could see that something was wrong with the coin. I couldn’t see exactly what it was and the token was already in his pocket. At that point, it seemed a touch inappropriate to try and retrieve it.

As I was walking back to the car, I had a desperate hope: Maybe it was just that one coin. Maybe somehow the machine just misprinted one letter on one token. Could it be?

I grabbed a handful from the box. Nope. Every last one of them said, “KINDESS is Contagious” instead of “KINDNESS is Contagious.”

I started to laugh at myself. Claerly proofraeding ins’t my specaility.

Then I remembered a story someone told me once about the Amish people. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s beautiful. They told me that when Amish women are making a quilt, they will leave one mistake in it to remind themselves that only God is perfect.

Isn’t that lovely? And humbling?

I’ve ordered new tokens (spelled correctly), but I have to say, I love giving out the “defective” ones because it opens the door to remind people of God’s great love for each of us.

I get to assure people who may be hurting from their own deficiencies that the only one who is meant to be perfect is God.

And to souls who are feeling shame-filled or weary, those words might be the most important token of kindness (or kindess) we can give.

Week 14 Memory Verse – BE ASTONISHED

It’s hard for me to know how to pray some days. It’s not that I don’t have anything or anyone to pray for. Lord knows, the list is long.

It’s just that I have a desire to really feel God, to be in His presence. Sometimes the feeling is there. Sometimes it’s not.

I sit down in my special chair each morning with my tea and my notebook and my bible. And I wait.

Unfortunately, I’m not a very patient person. I like to be doing something, which means I give God about 35 seconds to begin this little morning board meeting.

Okay God. I’m here. Start downloading all the information you need me to know today. Who will need my help? What did I do wrong yesterday that I need to work on today? Oh and thanks for this, that and the other thing.

If I don’t “hear” or “feel” anything, I move on and open my bible, sometimes to a random passage and sometimes to a subject I’m studying.

When we try to rush God, our prayer time can start to feel a little pathetic.

Based on the suggestion of a friend, I’ve been trying something new. Instead of just reading the bible, she suggested I pick out one verse, write it down and then dissect it.

The last time I dissected something was in a high school science class. This new way of meeting with God has been absolutely fascinating.

I’m going to use this week’s memory verse as an example.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” Psalm 62:5 (NLT)

First of all, the hysterical thing about using this verse is that it’s all about waiting on God. Quietly. Patiently. God gave me this verse to teach me how to sit quietly in His presence. God has quite the sense of humor.

Okay, so I write down that verse and then I begin to pick out the words that stand out to me and I write other words next to them.

Let ALL (everything, every bit, my soul, my entirety) that I am WAIT (cease, rest, pause, sit, stay) QUIETLY (calmly, peacefully, submissively — be astonished!) before God, for my HOPE (my future, peace, solution, answer, expectation, outcome, the thing that I long for) is IN (from) him.

The good news is there is no right or wrong answer. You just allow your brain to start replacing words with other, similar words, that really speak to you.

You know what I got out of that exercise with this particular verse? Two words.

BE ASTONISHED.

That is what I feel like God is telling me in this verse. When I sit before him quietly each morning, instead of waiting for him to download a set of instructions for the day, or instead of giving him my laundry list of needs, he is asking me to just sit and ponder His greatness.

Be astonished, Nicole. Look around you. Listen to the silence. And know that I AM God. Everything else will work itself out through my grace. You only need to be astonished.

Before I leave my cozy chair in the morning, I do one more thing. I use that verse that I’ve just dissected to write a prayer.

Yours will look different than mine. That’s the beauty. Again, there’s no wrong or right. You simply pour a little of your heart out to God and trust him to handle it gently.

God, please help me. Help everything that I am, my whole being, my entirety, quietly submit and BE ASTONISHED by you. I know that my hope, my future, my peace, my joy, my solutions, my expectations and the things that I long for are in and from only you. Forgive me when I forget that. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Now What Do I Do?

Have you ever had a super great idea and then a bit later you stop and think… Wait, what was I going to do again?

Check this out:

Cutting some of @nicolejphillips #kindness! 😉 #smile #token #madeinohio #showkindness #kind #givemore

Posted by Red Tail Design Company on Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I had this awesome idea to make wooden business cards. I actually stole the idea from the tattoo artist in Ohio who inked my nipple after my breast cancer reconstruction– too much information???

Anywho, I thought they would be a cool tactile reminder to add more light to the world with kindness.

Sure, maybe I hand them out and they end up in the bottom of a purse. But every time that woman goes digging for lipgloss and instead feels the wooden kindness nickel, my hope is that she will either 1) remember a time someone was kind to her or 2) be prompted to go be kind.

So that was the plan.

I asked Red Tail Design in Athens to make me 200 coins. Here they are. Totally beautiful. Made in blue because I love blue.

Tim Martin and the guys at Red Tail Design are the best. Honestly. Every time I need a tweak to my website, Tim takes care of it. Bookstand for my Kindness is Contagious book? Tim has a brilliant idea. He is soooo kind to me.

Here’s the problem. How do I get rid of these awesome coins?

I can’t really give them away at my speaking events because I wouldn’t have enough for everyone. I can’t really randomly mail them out to people for fun because sending 200 of these puppies in the mail will cost me a fortune in extra postage.

I’m at a loss and I need my tribe. What do you think? What would be a fun way to hand these out to people without looking like the crazy lady at the grocery store begging people to take her business card?

Do you have any fun ideas? I’d sure love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

Week 13 Memory Verse

I’m shaking things up a bit this week. Okay, God’s shaking things up. I’m just trying not to get in His way.

I’ve had a dream come true. I belong to a group called COMPEL, an online community that equips people who want to hone their writing. Last September-ish, a piece I wrote about my dad was chosen to be sent to half a million people around the world in a future Proverbs 31 daily email devotional.

It was sent out today.

I cried when I opened my email and saw it.

My dad, who suffered a stroke in June, is still in an assisted living center. My step-mom goes over there every day, all day. She is the world’s best cheerleader and truly thriving in her new role as professional encourager during his therapy sessions.

There is beauty that has come from this tragedy, but some days I find myself choked in grief that my dad won’t get to go to my daughter’s first track meet or my sons’ baseball games.

But even as I feel my eyes flood, I am simultaneously in awe that God would use this situation to shower me with His blessings of joy — like winning a writing contest totally out of the blue– and teaching me lessons in patience and self-control at the same time.

Our God is so big. I pray that you see that in your life today.

I thought it would be fun to use part of the “Truth for Today” from the Proverbs 31 devotional for this week’s memory verse. Here it is: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” James 1:19b (NIV)

If you have the time, you can read the whole devotional here. Or start each day with a devotional from Proverbs 31 by subscribing on the P31 website.

May God bless you and keep you and may He help us all hold our tongues once in a while. Amen!

Being a Coach’s Wife

For 16 years, people have been asking me, “What’s it like to be a coach’s wife?”

For 16 years, my answer has been, “Um… I don’t know. It’s good?”

The thing is, I don’t know any different. Saul is the only husband I’ve ever had, so I’ve never had the opportunity to compare my husband, the Division 1 College Basketball Coach, with my husband, the teacher or my husband, the accountant.

It’s just part of our life. So I’m always stumped by the question.

I can certainly tell you how his job has evolved over the years or how our relationship (and I) have had to mature to weather the stress of the job, but seriously… what couple doesn’t go through that? In any field, it’s part of the game.

A man in Southern California has finally given me a good, solid answer for people who truly want a peek into the life of a coach’s wife.

I can now say, “Watch the movie.”

Jonathan Moore is an independent filmmaker and associate professor at Vanguard University. He also happens to be the son of a coach’s wife.

Jonathan and his team have released a touching and quite accurate (from my point of view) portrayal of what it’s like to do day-to-day life with a man who is married to his wife and to his sport.

In their own words, high school coaches’ wives talk about why they don’t sit with parents in the stands; college coaches’ wives talk about how games take precedence over holidays; the fiancee of Phil Jackson (former Bulls and Lakers coach) talks about the attractiveness of a man who commands the room.

I kept thinking, “Wow… I’ve felt all of those things. I just never knew how to express them.”

And then I got to see my favorite part of the documentary. The part that made me a little bit weepy.

The women acknowledge the gratitude they feel because their husband gets to do what he loves for a living.

Amen, Sister!

People have to go to work. The people who find something to do that makes them want to go to work are the blessed ones. And that’s us. Coaches and their wives.

I guess I know what to tell people now who ask me what it’s like to be a coach’s wife.

Right after I tell them to watch the movie, I think I’ll tell them this:

Win or lose, nasty newspaper articles, lost jobs, snarky comments from the stands, missed birthdays and Thanksgiving dinners. None of it matters.

My husband needs basketball to breathe. It’s his purpose and he knows it and he gets to live it. And I get a front row seat. What could be better than that?

If you want to watch “Coaches’ Wives – a documentary film” it’s available online. You can find it here

Week 12 Memory Verse

Eighteen years ago I stood on the pitcher’s mound at the old Milwaukee Brewers stadium. I was wearing a headset that was streaming the Beatles into my ears. With my pitch pipe in hand, I got my starting note and waited for the tech guys to turn off the music so I could begin the National Anthem.

Only they forgot to turn off the Beatles.

There was no way I could attempt to sing one song while listening to another and taking off the headset wasn’t an option since the mic was attached. So with two major league baseball teams and 15,000 spectators watching, I walked off the field.

I pulled off the headset and asked them to cut the Beatles. Then I pulled myself together, got my pitch, walked back to the pitcher’s mound and sang my song.

Saul and I were just dating at the time. He was standing near the dugout and when I walked off the field. He wrapped me up in a big hug and told me what an awesome job I had done.

I told him I would never sing again.

And I haven’t.

Previous to that Brewers game, I had sang in quite a few pageants, including Miss America. I had performed the National Anthem at hockey games, basketball games and professional soccer games. I toured the state of Wisconsin for an entire year and sang everywhere I went.

Every single time I sang, my body would turn cold. The fear would tangle it’s icy fingers around me and it was only by sheer will that I was able to open my mouth so that first note could escape.

I always assumed that if I just did it enough, I would eventually overcome the fear. But I never did.

Today’s memory verse is from 1Peter 4:10, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” (NLT)

My voice was a gift from God. But I never looked at it that way. I never imagined it was meant to serve others. I always assumed it was meant to make me look good or give me entrance into a world that brought fame or fortune.

When I sang, I constantly worried if I looked good, sounded good, would remember the words. In short, Did people like me????

I never once thought, “God, you gave me this gift. How do you want me to use it?” or “God, let them see you through me.”

Friend, you have gifts given specifically to you from the Holy Spirit. The Bible mentions speaking, helping others, giving wise advice, great faith, healing, miracles, the ability to foretell the future or give people a special message from God, discernment, leadership, teaching…

There are others, but I hope you see yourself in at least a few of them, because they are there, inside of you.

Unfortunately, we have the ability to block the gifts we’ve been given by second guessing ourselves, wishing we had gifts that someone else has, or in my case, wrapping the gift up into too much ego and self-involvement.

I don’t miss singing. I don’t want to sing under a spotlight. And I don’t think that’s what God wants for me. But he has tweaked that gift in a way that includes still using my voice– this time as a speaker. And now when I get nervous to step onto that stage, I can do it with boldness because of the tiny prayer I whisper just before I grab that mic. God, please speak through me. Help people know you through my voice.

As you memorize this week’s verse, I encourage you to think about the special gifts God has given you. And how you might use them fearlessly to serve others.

What Makes Losing Easier

My past week:

Tuesday: Arrive at the hotel in Cleveland and set the kids free in the pool while trying to stomp down the anxiety of beginning another season of March Madness as the wife of a Division 1 basketball coach.

Wednesday: Text the friend I met several years ago in another tournament. Her husband was a coach too. Now he is not. Go to bed grateful that my husband gets to do what he loves, even if it is giving me grey hair.

Thursday: Cheer like a maniac as the Bobcats win an incredibly intense game in the quarter-finals of the conference basketball tournament.

Friday: Hold a sobbing 6 year old who continues to wail “We are going to lose” with 7 minutes left in the game. Simultaneously pray the cameras are not catching this on their nationally televised program. (Ben was right. We lost. Still not sure if they showed him crying on TV.)

Saturday: Load four sad-faced kids and one sleepless-faced husband in the minivan and make the very long and somewhat silent drive back to Athens.

Sunday: Open the refrigerator and discover one bottle of ketchup and one cheese stick. Write up grocery list and try not to look shocked as the husband declares he would like to go along.

Leave kids home and go on a date to Kroger with the husband.

Return home amazed and full of gratitude for the people in the store who said things like, “Hey Coach! Tough loss, but you’ll get ‘em next year.” and “Way to go, Coach! You had a heck of a year.” and (my personal favorite) “We’re so lucky to have you here, Coach. You’re doing great things with that program.”

Friends, it’s been a roller coaster week. I was prepared for it, because I’ve now done this 16 times with Saul, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

What makes it easier is the kindness. Like the friend who texted as I was packing up the hotel room to tell me she hoped our day was filled with many bright spots of happiness.

Or the other friend who blessed our family with a hot meal because she knows I hate to cook.

Or our fellow shoppers at Kroger who boldly walked up to the coach and showered him with words of encouragement.

It may have added 45 minutes onto our shopping trip, but I’d say those minutes were priceless.

Week 11 Memory Verse

If I only sat down at my computer when I had something to say, I would never sit down at my computer.

Seriously.

I blog on Monday and Thursday mornings, so sitting down at my computer is kind of essential.

At approximately 6:53AM twice a week, God hears the exact same prayer. God, what do you want me to tell them? I don’t have any interesting stories or bombshell revelations. I haven’t had a deep thought in three days, God. I think you better pick someone else for this job.

And then something happens. I put my hands to the keyboard and start writing. I follow the tiniest vein of a thought, the tiniest whisper in my soul, and just let it out.

I know if I show up, God will show up too. So I continue to sit down at my computer, even when I don’t feel like it.

And you know what? Mondays and Thursdays are the best days of the week for me. Once I’ve teamed up with God in a tangible way, I feel lighter, joyful and more at peace.

These last two weeks, we’ve been memorizing verses from Matthew 11:28 and 29. I wanted to memorize the whole paragraph, but that seemed like overload for my brain, so I decided to take it verse by verse. Today, we’re going to add the last verse.

First, let’s review…  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Now the last verse… “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30 NIV)

I imagine a suitcase. We all have to carry one through life. Some of ours are filled with the heavy bricks of regret and shame and poor decisions and missed opportunities. Even if it has wheels on the bottom, it’s still difficult to maneuver, especially when you have to climb steep steps.

It’s too much to carry each day, every day.

So Jesus is offering us a swap. He’ll take that heavy suitcase we’ve been dragging and exchange it for one that is light. Instead of a hard armored suitcase filled with bricks, we’re offered a duffel bag. It’s got two handles, so you can hold one side while Jesus holds the other. Sharing the yoke… sharing the burden.

What would a duffel bag from God contain? I’m not sure. Maybe some heartache. It’s hard to escape life without it, but it’s a lot easier to hold when someone’s taking half the load.

I do know that the heavy bricks of shame, guilt and regret are gone. Totally removed; left on the side of the road. We don’t need to carry them because Jesus is right beside us reminding us that those words don’t get to define us or weigh us down anymore.

I think that duffel is mostly filled with light and airy hope: hope for today, hope for our future and hope for our eternal future… the knowledge that good things are in store in this life and the next one.

If you are new to this whole God thing, you might be asking yourself, “What does it look like to be yoked with Jesus? How does that play out in my day to day life?”

I think it means that we get to reach into that bag and pull out wisdom from a higher power when our kids need discipline.

We get to use the discernment of God’s best for our lives when we wonder if we should say yes to a future commitment or to having that second glass of wine.

And even when we don’t feel like doing what we know we should do (like sitting down to write at a computer every Monday and Thursday), we can pull out trust, knowing that if we show up, God will too.

Week 10 Memory Verse

Have you ever gotten stuck on someone’s choice of words and therefore missed the entire point of what they were saying?

It’s happens to me most frequently with the word “fine”.

I’ll be nervous about going to an event and tentatively ask my husband what he thinks of my outfit. He responds with, “It’s fine.”

He is thinking, Yep, that fits the bill perfectly. Let’s go!

I am thinking, What does fine mean? It’ll do, but it could be better? It’s not the best I’ve seen you look, but it’s not the worst?

Last week’s memory verse was from Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (NIV)

Because I was too lazy to memorize the entire paragraph in one sitting (remember, we’re giving everyone a 5), this week we’re carrying on with the next verse.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29 (NIV)

I’ve been hearing this verse my entire life but I never understood it. I never took the time to understand it because I consistently got caught on one word that didn’t jive with my beliefs about God.

Can you guess which word?

Yoke.

If God is a good God who wants to help us, which I believe He is, why would He want to send us out into the field to work when we both just agreed in the previous verse that I am 1) weary and 2) burdened? I came to rest, not to be put in a yoke. Why did we switch gears here, God?

A year or two ago, I learned a little more about what a yoke actually is. I had been picturing a heavy metal device that fits onto one poor lonely animal at a time.

My friend, Google dictionary, set the record straight: “A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.”

Two animals. Two.

Once we’ve rested at His feet a bit, God doesn’t send us back out into the field (or our chaotic lives) by ourselves. No. He’s asking us to pair up with Him, so side-by-side we can learn from Him and do the difficult things together. 

Suddenly, “yoke” becomes a beautiful word.

Just like when my husband gives a wink and says in a sassy, flirtatious voice, “Honey, you look fine!”

All of a sudden the word “fine” takes on a whole new meaning.

Being yoked with God is an incredible opportunity. It means that we, the weaker and inexperienced ones, get to walk alongside the best possible teacher ever.

I don’t know about you, but I love that, because based on the way I jump to conclusions with simple words like “fine” and “yoke,” I still have an awful lot left to learn.

Beware the Teenage Years, Or Not

It’s funny how the same circumstances can look so different when you take a moment to stroll around the perimeter of a problem.

My daughter turned 13 yesterday. Well, sort of yesterday — she’s a Leap Day baby, so she only gets a birthday once every four years. Don’t feel too sorry for her. With no February 29th, she decided to celebrate on February 28th and March 1st.

So what’s the “problem” in this situation?

I HAVE A TEENAGER!!!!

That in itself may not seem like much of a problem, but a long time ago,

I WAS A TEENAGER!!!!

I know how squirrelly and rotten and rude I was. I remember sneaking out to meet boys and stealing a car for a quick joy-ride and saying “yes” to a variety of decisions that were a clear “no”.

I went from a loving, obedient child with a great big heart for my mom and dad to a rebellious almost-adult who was too big for her britches.

So here is the problem…

WHAT IF THAT HAPPENS TO JORDAN?

What if my sweet girl is abducted by the alien called Teenage-ism? What if she becomes a 13 year old version of me?

I love this girl. I don’t want to lose her.

So the whole time she’s opening presents and eating cookie cake, I’m thinking NONONONONONONO! Freeze! Everyone Freeze! Stay right where you are in these exact ages!

But then, thanks to a short conversation a bit later with a wise friend, I was transported back to Jordan at age 9… and the first time she had “mean girl” drama in her life.

That day is crystal clear. Jordan and I talked through that situation and by the time we went to bed, her heart was light once again, but mine was very heavy.

I still remember lying in bed with tears running down my face, begging God not to make my little girl go through the pain of adolescence that I once so vividly felt.

And then God took me on a walk around the perimeter of the problem. In my mind, I got to see what it would look like if Jordan couldn’t go to school… couldn’t learn the intricacies of friendship and heartbreak… couldn’t participate in life the way other 9 year olds did.

And at the end of the walk, I felt only gratitude. Thank God she gets to be a kid who experiences all of life, the ups and the downs.

Every one of those experiences– even the ones I made that were terrible– make us who we are today: people who are wiser, more compassionate and more able to sit in understanding with a friend in need.

So I guess having a teenager isn’t so bad. Regardless of what it brings. Not having a teenager would be worse.

Do you have a problem that needs a little walk around the perimeter? I hope that when you take the time to look at it from all angles you will be able to see the hidden gems of blessing tucked along the path.

Week 9 Memory Verse

“I don’t know what to do. My life is too stressful. Something’s gotta give. If I quit my job, the stress will be gone, but then I can’t pay my mortgage. Everyone wants something from me. I can’t keep up.”

The woman sat next to me with pleading in her eyes. She wanted me to find a solution for her. She wanted me to open my mouth and deliver a word from the Lord.

I had nothing.

In my mind, I began to chant, Help me Holy Spirit. Help me Holy Spirit. I knew I didn’t have any answers, but I knew Who did.

Finally, a thought popped into my head. Give them a 5.

Oh! Right! It was the best advice I had ever been given, and it came when I sat next to a friend and poured out my heart in a similar way… Give them a 5.

That was several years ago. I honestly don’t even remember the exact circumstances, but I know I was feeling overwhelmed by everything in my life. I was staring at my calendar and it all felt hard.

Have you ever been there? You get tired just looking at your to-do list? Too many people pulling on your sleeve, needing you, when in reality, they could do it themselves or ask someone else?

I want to be all things to all people. I want to hit it out of the park every time I show up at the ball field (metaphorically speaking– no one wants to see me doing sports).

But I learned a few years ago that my goal shouldn’t be to WOW people. My goal should be to do what I can when I can do it, but not at the expense of my health or the welfare of my family.

So, sometimes, I do just enough to get by. Everyone gets a 5. They get half of my best.

And that other 5 that I’ve conserved for myself? Well, that’s the part of me that I take quietly to God. I sit with Him instead of running around like a crazy lady.

And you know what’s really crazy? That bit that I’ve saved for myself and God finally has the space to multiply. I begin to feel stronger and more able to continue– and perhaps give my total 10 to someone who really needs it.

For the next three weeks, I’m giving a 5 in the category of “scripture memorization” and I hope you will too. I’ve been wanting to memorize the entire paragraph from the end of Matthew 11, but I know my brain will be on overload if I try to do it all in one sitting.

So instead, I’m going to take it one little line at a time. Nice and easy.

Here’s the first part: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

Next week, we’ll work on committing verse 29 to memory, then the following week, verse 30. But this week, let’s just focus on what God’s trying to say to us in this one small sentence.

Is it time to come back to God because the world’s been beating you up? Is there an area where you need to cut back? Maybe we can spend the week pondering what God is telling us in our own lives about this verse.

I’m certain He wants to speak to us if we’ll only pull back the extra 5 we want to give to the world and give it to Him instead.

What to Say to Your Kids

I took a knee next to my father’s wheelchair. “Dad, I’m heading to the airport now. I’ll be back in a few months. Anything else you need to tell me?”

My dad had a stroke last June and last week I was able to make my third trip back to Wisconsin to see him.

Each time I go, there are big improvements. He can feed himself, read the lunch menu at his assisted living facility, and laugh at appropriate times when people are joking. But he still can’t move the right side of his body and it takes him a little while to find the right words for what he wants to say.

We hadn’t had any great heart-to-hearts on this particular visit, so I was stunned with what came out of his mouth as I knelt beside his chair.

“You are just as beautiful as ever.”

In an instant my world went blurry as my eyes filled with tears. He continued to speak.

“You are successful. All three of my children are successful. I can be here and be happy. I’ve done my job.”

I grabbed a tissue and allowed the waterworks to keep flowing.

Now a note to all of us parents… may we never stop showering our children with words of love and encouragement regardless of how old they get. I never knew how important those words would be to hear. I never knew how special they could make me feel.

I don’t think for a moment that my dad was talking about my physical appearance. He wasn’t commenting on my hairstyle or make-up or the cute new boots I was wearing (although in a strange turn of events earlier in the week, he did actually notice that I had on cute new boots).

No, he was looking deeper. And his words found their target right in the center of my heart.

Do you want to do something kind today? Take a moment to look deep into the eyes of someone you love and tell them what you see.

Week 8 Memory Verse

“God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” Romans 2:4 (MSG)

Seven years ago I stood on the edge of a major decision. I knew if I kept going the way I was going, making the decisions I was making, I would never be the mom I wanted to be. I would never be the wife I wanted to be. I would never be the woman I wanted to be.

I was taking the boatload of blessings I had been given and flushing them down the toilet. And I knew it.

I was focused on the negative in life. I was looking around and seeing the way the world attained happiness and thought that was my avenue too.

Sex sells. Partying is the pathway to popularity. If you don’t have anything nice to say, at least make what you’re saying interesting.

Yet as I inched closer to what the world was trying to offer, I felt farther away from what I knew I was created to be.

So, I prayed. I prayed to a God I barely even knew.

I took every bit of my brokenness and laid it at the feet of my Savior. I said, This is it. This is all of it. Every last bit of the hot mess that is me. Think you can put it all back together again? I sure hope so. I want to be your vessel God, but I can’t seem to get out of my own way.

And you know what God did? He took my hand, gently but firmly.

God took my hand and led me down a path heading in a whole new direction.

When God told me to stop drinking, I argued. I couldn’t fathom the thought of never having a rum and coke with my husband again.

One by one, I brought my concerns to God.

What if we go to Mexico? It can’t possibly be fun without an all-inclusive drink pass. What if I get really super stressed and need a cigarette? How will I get over that craving? What will I say to my friends if I stop gossiping? I’ll have nothing to contribute. 

(On a side note, Saul and I have not been back to Mexico and we have not missed the all-inclusive drink specials one bit. Stress still comes but the cigarette cravings are long gone. And my friends seem to appreciate the fact that I don’t talk about other people because they know I also won’t talk about them.)

God knew how much change I could chew at one time. As long as I was faithful about holding His hand, He was faithful about giving me only what I could handle.

Friend, if you’re scared of coming too close to God because you’re afraid that He’ll ask for more than you can give, I understand. Me too.

But I assure you, He loves you more than you love yourself. Any change He asks will be for the better. And you will never regret taking His hand.

Confession Time

“I have a confession to make.”

I had never met the woman standing in front of me, but I could tell whatever she was about to say was serious.

“When I first heard that you were going to be our speaker, I rolled my eyes. I thought, What could a former Miss Wisconsin who looks like that possibly teach me? She’s got it all together. What could she possibly know about suffering?

I stayed quiet. I had a feeling this woman wasn’t done sharing her revelation.

“Then you started talking… about your childhood and the prison and the cancer and everything else. I was wrong. I was wrong about you and I was wrong to judge. I am so sorry.”

She nearly had tears in her eyes as she finished her thoughts.

What could I say? It’s not like she booed me from the crowd when they introduced me. She was quiet about her contempt. Polite. She was just throwing daggers from her mind.

I thanked the woman for being so honest. As she walked away, I thought, Me too.

How often do I do that? Decide how I feel about a person just by the way they hold themselves? See a woman on television and assume it’s gotta be easier for her? Turn down a possible friendship because we’re too different?

What is my internal dialogue falsely determining? What is your internal dialogue falsely determining?

I don’t know that I would be bold enough to say to another woman, “Ya know, I really didn’t like you when I met you” but I’m so glad this woman found her brave.

Her confession changed me. It turned on a light bulb in my head. And that light bulb is illuminating the dark corners of my mind, the crevices where the evil thoughts hang out.

Kindness starts in our minds. It’s not the $5 we spend on a stranger’s coffee. It’s not the condolence card we send to a friend. It’s the words we speak to ourselves and others in our head.

Everyone has a struggle. Everyone. No one is left unscathed from this world.

We each have a story to tell. Just like a good book, some chapters are tragic and some are light-hearted. Perhaps when we see someone who looks like they have it all together they are just going through a chapter of ease. But perhaps not.

Thanks to one woman’s conference confession, I’m going to work much harder to never judge a book by its cover.

Week 7 Memory Verse

My husband and I have had a little game going since we got married. It’s called, “Things I’ve never said before.” When one of us says to the kids, “How did the toothpaste get on the ceiling?” or “Did you poop in the tub?” we will look at each other and say, “Well, that’s something I haven’t said before.”

It’s diffused a lot of tenuous situations and left us giggling at ourselves instead of standing in a hot lava pit of angry or frustrated emotions.

I spoke at a women’s conference this weekend and although I don’t think I said anything off-the-wall that I haven’t said before, I definitely heard something that I hadn’t heard before.

Saturday morning, I gave my testimonial… basically explaining the story of my mom falling in love with a prison inmate and my Saturday visits to that prison as a child. I love to share the beauty of God’s redemption and the power of kindness to help us through life’s sticky situations.

Saturday afternoon, I gave a workshop on kindness. For 45 minutes, I basically told the group everything I’d ever done wrong when it comes to kindness; the misconceptions I had in the beginning and tools I use to reroute my brain when being kind becomes difficult.

I was sitting at a table signing books later that afternoon, when a white-haired woman slight in stature with sparkly eyes came over to say hi. Those bright eyes locked into mine and with a bit of a smirk she said, “Nicole, I ran right over to confession after I listened to your workshop!”

Then she proceeded to ask me to sign her book to “Sister (her name)”.

Did you catch that? She’s a nun. I made a NUN feel guilty! It’s probably some sort of a sin, but I think that’s hysterical! With all I’ve done wrong in my life… all the ways I’ve failed to do right… a CATHOLIC NUN is going to confession to get right with God because of me?

I choked and then I laughed out loud. I said, “Sister, that is definitely something I haven’t heard before.”

I still smile as I reflect on that conversation.

We do that to ourselves sometimes, don’t we? We feel like if we’re not helping everyone, if we’re not making the most of every single opportunity, then we are failing. Maybe you don’t think that way, but I do.

That’s why I love this week’s memory verse. I’m committed to memorizing it because I know it’s important to remember the basics. What does God expect from us? What does he want from us? What would make Him happy?

It’s all there in Micah 6:8: “The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

We don’t have to save the world. We just have to be kind to the people in it as best we can. No guilt or confession required.

The Morning Blend Interview

Today was a great day. Really. Some days are like that. Some are not. That’s why I’m especially grateful for today. Molly Fay, (the host sitting closest to me) was a rockstar mentor and positive role model for me when I was just a baby in the TV biz. I will always be  so grateful for the kindness she once showed to a kid who was in way over her head.

 

Week 6 Memory Verse

No electronics in the bedrooms. No shoes on in the house. Bedtime is 8:30.

I love rules. Perhaps I’m a control freak, but rules make me feel safe. Yes, I certainly have the better end of the bargain because I’m the one who gets to make up the rules, but for the most part everybody seems to agree they are here for our benefit.

The rules in our house serve two main purposes:

They keep us healthy in mind and body. (No electronics in the bedrooms.)

They help us to respect each other. (No shoes on in the house means less mess for me to wrangle.)

Bedtime at 8:30 is especially great because it accomplishes both goals! When my kids go to bed early, they are getting the sleep their bodies need and they get enough rest to avoid being crabby apples the next day.

But problems come when we honor the rules and forget the motives. Then they become like links in a chain, tying us up and holding us down.

This week’s memory verse comes from Isaiah 58. In this chapter, God is pointing out the ways in which people are warping the rules.

Instead of being kind to each other, the Israelites were treating their friends/neighbors/family anyway they pleased. Then they turned around and offered a sacrifice to God or began a fasting ritual so everyone could see how good and religious and obedient they were.

God is basically saying through Isaiah, I see you. You’re not fooling anyone by hiding behind the rules. Your motives are wrong.

Then God goes on to say this, “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” Isaiah 58:10 (NLT)

I feel like “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble” could mean a lot of different things. Maybe we can ponder what that means and then come back and share our thoughts.

Here’s my initial take on it.

Feed the hungry. I think that means those who are hungry in the physical realm and those who are spiritually hungry. Invite them to your table. Ask them how they feel about God. Share with them how you feel. If you have questions about how it all works, that’s okay. Maybe your vulnerability will allow them to unload theirs.

Help those in trouble. Yes, people have temporary troubles that we sometimes have the resources to fix. So let’s do that. But there’s a deeper issue here. Everyone who is not following Jesus is in trouble. Period. Let’s tell them where we get our strength, not in a preachy “You’re wrong because you’re not following my rules” sort of way, but in our natural daily interactions. If Jesus is truly walking right alongside us, then why would we leave him out of the conversation and pretend he isn’t there? That would be rude.

Okay, now hold onto your hats. Here’s where it gets awesome!

After we feed the hungry and help those in trouble, God promises a beautiful reaction. “Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.”

Instead of living in a world that feels dark and oppressive and filled with fear and anxiety, we get to live in the world we actually want to live in. Surrounded by light.

The light we’re searching for in this grey world isn’t found somewhere out there. It’s found inside each one of us. That light is our kindness. Perhaps you smile at someone and share your light. Then they write a note to hurting friend and share the light. Then that person treats a stranger to dinner and shares the light.

Feeding the hungry and helping those in trouble aren’t rules made for us by a control-freak father. They are the way we light up the world around us.

I hope committing these words to memory this week will help us remember why we choose to follow the rules.

The Best Medicine

I sat alone in a small sterile room for 75 minutes yesterday waiting to see a doctor. I had already taken my top off and was wearing the white robe with the pink collar they give to all the breast cancer patients.

At some point I gave up on the straight chair and decided to catch a little nap on the examining table. As I laid with my back against the crinkly paper, I started to get mad.

My appointment was supposed to start an hour ago! If they are this understaffed then they just need to buck up and spend the money to hire more people. I should have gone to that hospital across town. I bet they take better care of their patients.

Then all of a sudden, I started listening to myself. I could feel my entire joyful mood descend rapidly all because of a silly backup at the doctor’s office. The angry words I was reciting to myself were literally transforming my emotions.

So I stopped.

Right then and there I told myself I would not care about this delay. I had nothing pressing to get to. My friends were all entertaining each other in the waiting room. What a blessing in itself to have friends who would drive all the way to Columbus with me to sit in a cancer center for two hours.

I extended my legs a little farther on that examining table and decided to pretend that instead of waiting for a doctor I was waiting for a massage therapist. My breathing slowed, my heart settled and my mind clicked back into a place of peace and gratitude.

And that was when the doctor walked in. Actually it was a Physician’s Assistant. It turns out that the doctor was so busy that they had indeed called in back-up.

The first thing she said to me was, “I am sooo sorry about your wait.”

“No problem,” I told her. “I was pretending I was waiting for a massage.”

I sat up and she started firing questions. How are you feeling? Are you sleeping at night? Any pains? Hot flashes? How are you handling the Tamoxifen? (That’s my anti-cancer drug.)

“I’m fine.”

“Okay, but how about headaches. Are you having headaches?”

“No. I feel fine.”

“Does your back hurt? Swollen ankles?”

“No. Really. I’m fine. I have side-effects from the Tamoxifen, but so does everyone else. It’s nothing I can’t handle. Life is good.”

Then she turned and looked at me. I mean really looked at me.

Hesitantly, she started to speak. “Every single patient I have seen today has had a looong list of things they’ve needed to talk about. I just feel like I’m sort of…” She stopped.

“Cheating me out of my time with you?” I finished.

“Yes!” she said and we both started laughing.

“I don’t need the time they do. I’m here, but I don’t have cancer anymore. So yeah, I’d say life is pretty good.”

Then this woman, who was willing to take all the time I needed to make sure I left there feeling cared about, left the room with a big smile on her face.

I think about how that interaction might have gone if she had walked into the room while I was still stewing about my wait time. I might have said something that ruined her day. Or at least added negativity to her already stressful job. Instead, I made her smile. And it felt awesome.

If the world feels a little cold or sterile today, might I suggest you make it your goal to make one person smile today?

I promise you, it’s good medicine.

Week 5 Memory Verse

Have you ever felt like no one could possibly understand the chaotic and complicated inner workings of your brain? Even if you could explain them, it wouldn’t make much sense to an outsider, right? They are uniquely you.

Like the time I was in fourth grade and insisted on sleeping outside my dad’s bedroom door for three months. My parents had gotten divorced the previous year. I knew my father wasn’t going to leave me. I heard him when he told me I had to stay in my own bed. And yet, every morning, there I would be, curled up in a little ball on the shag carpet outside his closed door. No pillow, no blanket and no explanation of why my body insisted on moving in the middle of the night.

Apparently I still have some chaotic and complicated tendencies. I always know when one has come to light because my husband grins, shakes his head and says, “It’s all part of the glory and splendor of the mystery that is my wife.” He’s said that line about 40 million times in our 16 years of marriage.

What if God knew every single thing we were ever going to do from birth until death? He knew when we’d sleep on the floor or hover over a sick child or choose the path that leads away from Him… we wouldn’t even have to try to explain it.

This week’s memory verse is balm to the soul of the person who longs to cry out, “Do you see me, God? Do you know how much I’m hurting? Do I matter to you?”

Here it is: 

“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalm 139:16 (NLT)

Isn’t that beautiful? Like magnificently gorgeous? He loves each of us so much that He not only created us, He actually set out the perfect plan for each of our lives.

I bet we break His heart when we choose the more difficult path, and yet He knew that would happen. Our bumps, detours and black ice do not catch Him by surprise. He knew we would give in to temptation and the enemy and our own sinful desires so He has allotted chapters in our book specifically for creating beauty out of the ashes.

Friend, I hope you’ll commit the words of Psalm 139 to memory so the next time you find yourself wondering, Do I matter to you, God? you’ll know the answer is yes. He always has and He always will.

God Changed His Mind About Me

I was driving Ben to basketball the other day when I heard this from the backseat: Mom, why did God let our friends become homeless?

Oh boy. Some people close to us are going through a very tough time and my six year old has been wrestling with big issues. I took a deep breath and then tried to delicately pick all the best words from my brain.

It’s a complicated situation… God loves them… He has a plan for them…

I told him that people have been asking these same types of questions since the beginning of time. Why do bad things happen?

Me: Ben, it’s sort of like asking why babies have to die. There are some things we can’t know because we’re not God.

Ben: Oh Mom! I know why babies die! It’s because God wants to be with them.

Me: (Pausing in my tracks for a bit…) Well, okay, it’s like asking why Mommy had to get breast cancer. 

Ben: I know the answer to that one too. God wanted you to be with him, but then he changed his mind. 

Me: (laughing) God changed his mind about me, huh? 

Ben: He’ll want you some day. It’s just that he remembered he can be with you here too, and that’s good enough for now.

Clearly, theology isn’t my expertise. Or Ben’s quite yet. But I admire his childlike faith. He believes that if his mother had gone to Heaven, it would have been because God needed to be with her.

How often do I look at the heartache of the world and think, “God’s up to something good here”? Nope. Usually, I think “What is wrong with people? And where is God in this mess?”

God’s bigger than people — and the things we do and do not bring upon ourselves. He’s bigger than cancer. He’s bigger than homelessness. The bible tells us that suffering produces perseverance which produces character which eventually produces hope.

I don’t know if He’s building our character or drawing us closer by reminding us of our need for Him, but I can trust in two good things when bad things happen: He’s here and His plan is perfect.

Week 4 Memory Verse

Something freaky has been happening. First, I have to explain that I have an obsession with license plates. Not all license plates; just the ones that begin with GGG.

About a year ago I saw my first GGG license plate and for some reason, it triggered a response in my mind. I immediately thought GGG: that stands for God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. 

It made me happy. Sort of like a tiny hug from my big Creator.

It’s become this secret little game God and I play. He reveals a GGG plate and I send up a little prayer of gratitude that He is closer than we think and more involved in our lives than we could ever imagine.

Normally, I see about one a week. I used to take photos of the plates as I saw them, but it became evident to me that 1) it’s not safe to drive and take pictures at the same time, and 2) people in parking lots get suspicious when they see strangers taking pictures of their cars.

Often, the sightings are well-timed, like the day I was driving in the car with a friend who really, really needed to know that God was hearing her, seeing her pain and had a plan for her future. There it was. GGG… we both got misty as I explained the game and how I was positive God was listening to our conversation and working on her situation that very moment.

Here’s where it gets freaky (in a good way). This past week, instead of seeing one, I’ve seen more than 20. Literally, every single time I’ve gotten in the car I have seen a license plate beginning with the letters GGG. On the interstate, on city streets, in parking lots, on the side of the road, all different makes and models of vehicles. They are everywhere.

Think God is trying to tell me something? Me too. But what?

That’s where our weekly verse comes in. Here it is:

“On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” Psalm 138:3 (NASB)

A few special things strike me about this verse. I shall now use bullet points because those are always fun.

  •  “On the DAY” — not years later or whenever God got around to seeing our text message; He answers us immediately!
  • “I called” — God is near, not jumping in and forcing a solution upon us, but rather waiting for us to decide we are ready to humbly turn to Him.
  • “You ANSWERED me” — please note, it doesn’t say God gave me whatever I was asking for. Nope. It says, God answered. That means He heard us. And really, isn’t that what we honestly want anyway? To be heard? And to know we are so loved by our Father that He will only give us things that further His great plan for our lives? I would rather have God hold me in a place that is painful than release me before His plan for my life could be fulfilled.
  • “You made me bold with STRENGTH in my soul” — this is where the confirmation comes in that He heard us. Even if we don’t get what we were asking for or we don’t get released from the pain, we get the strength to persevere, to hold on for one more day or two more days or however long it takes until we can look back and say, Oh… so that’s what You were doing.

You don’t have to go around looking for GGG license plates, but I encourage you to look for the little miracles that He has sprinkled throughout your day just for you. They are there. He is near. And he hears you.

“On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” Psalm 138:3 (NASB)

Start Pruning

I have the flu. Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to in the last few days seems to have it. I wonder if you might have a touch of it too?

It’s not the 24 hour kind or the kind that has you running for the bathroom. No cough or sniffles, but you might find your eyes leaking occasionally.

It’s the kind that makes you groan when you hear your alarm in the morning. The entire day goes by and you realize you never quite found your groove. And your to-do list looks blurry, but that doesn’t matter, because even if you could focus on what was written, you wouldn’t have the energy to do anything about it anyway. Oh yeah, and people annoy you. That’s a big one…

I call it the blue flu. It feels a little like depression, but there’s something different. It’s all-consuming yet somehow temporary.

Do you have it?

I’m thinking our friend, January, has a lot to do with it. We need warmth and sunshine and we need it bad.

I was sharing my blue flu theory with my husband last night (who, by the way, doesn’t have the blue flu; he seems to be suffering from I-need-to-win-more-basketball-games-insomnia which is his typical go-to malady this time of year). Saul started laughing when I told him I think my condition is weather related. Nic, we spent ten years living in North Dakota! It’s like summertime here!

Every year we lived in Fargo I would escape to Mexico in the middle of the winter for a shot of tequila the blue flu antidote.

No trip to Mexico for me this year. You staying home too?

So what’s our solution? Kindness for sure. Kindness is always the answer. But what kind of kindness?

I’ve been spending lots of time pondering and praying on this one. My natural default is to “go big or go home.” I like to pick a few things and then do them up full force. I want to be the best– not necessarily to beat someone else, but to prove to myself I can do it.

Friend, this is the wrong mindset if you’re suffering from the blue flu. Being the biggest and bestest and changing the world isn’t on a sick person’s to do list. So for January and February (I’m hoping by March we’ll all get over this), I’m going to go small.

Instead of getting a blow torch and setting the world on fire with my awesomeness, I’m picking up the pruning shears. I’m cutting away everything that isn’t a necessity in my life. If it makes me happy, it stays. If it feeds the souls of myself or my tribe, it stays. If it sucks us dry, it’s gone.

There will be time in the spring to finish our to-do lists and even add some more grand ideas to the agenda. But for today, let’s keep it simple. Be kind. To you.

Memory Verse Week 3

I have two friends waiting for test results. I’m not talking the “I wonder what I got on my math quiz” sort of test. I’m talking big tests. Bad tests. Scary tests.

Another friend is trying to figure out where she and her kids are going to live next month.

Me? My problems are little in comparison, but they still weigh me down. If I’m supposed to write and speak and lead with kindness, why is it so hard? When will I feel like I’ve finally gotten good at it?

What’s your thing? What is the giant in your room staring you down, daring you to pick up your slingshot and hit it between the eyes? I know you have one. We all do. And then that thing goes away and we get another one. It’s part of the growing process.

You know what else is part of the growing process? Trusting.

That’s why I picked this particular verse to memorize this week, because I need to remember that I’m not in charge– the world is not in charge– GOD IS IN CHARGE. And he loves us. And he would love to fight for us, if only we would close our mouths from complaining and hand him the reins, and trust him.

A long time ago, way back in the beginning of the Bible, God worked mightily through Moses to save his people. God used Moses and a whole bunch of plagues to help the people he loved escape their life of slavery in Egypt. But then the Egyptians came running after them. God’s people (the Israelites) were standing in the middle of nowhere with a huge sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other.

You know what they did? Wait… let me tell you what they didn’t do. They didn’t stand there thinking about all the times God had saved them in the past, or how He had just done a series of amazing miracles on their behalf. Nope. They panicked. They looked at Moses and started pointing fingers and complaining and accusing, saying things like “What’s you’re deal, Dude? Why did you bring us out here? Were you trying to kill us? We were better off as slaves.”

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it sounds very familiar to me. I’ve had that inner dialogue.

But instead of saying, “Yep, you’re right. I totally screwed up,” Moses speaks life into their weariness. He says, This isn’t over. The Lord is going fight for you. Just stay calm.

That’s our verse to memorize this week: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14 (NIV)

What happens next in this true story? God parts the Red Sea, the Israelites walk through on dry ground and the Egyptians who follow get swallowed up and drown.

Kind of gruesome, but totally awesome of God… at least if you’re an Israelite.

So this week, whatever giants you face, whatever army seems to be coming after you, I hope you’ll turn to God and quietly say, “I know you’ve got this. Thanks.”

P.S. Thank you Tania Meek for making us all beautiful graphics. You can find the whole series under the Resources tab at http://nicolejphillips.com/leading-with-kindness/

Also, if you happen to be good at power point presentations using gifs and graphics, would you email me? Technology seems to be one of the giants staring me down and I sure could use some backup. Thanks! 😉

Game for Some Family Time?

For as much time as we spend together, when I look at my little family, I have to admit, we aren’t great at spending time to together.

There comes a point in the evenings where we all end up in the living room at the same time. I’m watching HGTV, Jordan is looking at her phone, Charlie and Ben are on iPads and Saul is sitting with his work computer on his lap, making clips of his team’s latest game.

We’re so close, yet so far away.

I blame electronics (and myself for letting them have electronics). I think, If I were a better mom, I’d have the energy to get off this couch and create a fun, educational, entertaining, non-virtual activity for us all to enjoy. And then I turn back to Tiny House Hunters and wonder how that lady on the screen thinks she’s ever going to live with a composting toilet. It’s 7pm and I’m in my pajamas. We only have another hour and half before bed. Why bother trying to be super-mom now?

Based on the suggestion of a friend who knows nothing of my grudge against electronics, I watched a TED talk by Jane McGonigal. Jane is a game designer, and I have to admit, when she started talking, I may have groaned a bit. I really didn’t want to spend 20 minutes of my life learning how I could get 7 minutes of it back again if I played video games.

But then…

Jane mentioned something that cut straight to my heart. She said parents who play video games with their kids have better interactions with those kids during the game, but also after the game.

I have to be honest. I’ve never been a boy. I’ve read books recently about how to parent boys, but nothing seems to click. They are noisy and messy and sometimes defiant (sorry to all you boys who are NOT any of those things– I’m speaking about my own experiences here). Basically, as much as I love my boys, they are altogether confusing and occasionally frustrating to me.

So I figured, What do I have to lose? What’s another night with our noses in electronics? And I downloaded Yahtzee to all of our devices.

You guys, I don’t know how long it can last, but these last few nights have been the best evenings in our household ever. Seriously. The entire family is now addicted to rolling electronic dice. Pathetic? Maybe, but just this morning my 11 year old spent 15 minutes telling me all about Tim Tebow instead of reading the back of the cereal box. His lips were suddenly loosened.

My 6 year old left this note for me on the counter…

No, I’m not the best, most fun and prittyist mom around. I’m just a mom who feels like she may have stumbled upon a winning combination.

Memory Verse Week 2

The demon of depression has chased me since I was a kid. I remember being in elementary school and feeling like my chest had a heavy weight sitting on it. I didn’t know what it was at the time– even after a teenage suicide attempt, it took me well into my adulthood to come up with the diagnosis “depression.”

The last time I remember having an episode was about 2 and half years ago. It was August and we had spent the summer settling into our new home in Athens. All of a sudden it hit. I crawled into my bed and knew I didn’t want to get out for a very, very long time.

There are two peculiar things I’ve noticed about depression:

  1. When you’re NOT in the middle of an attack, you feel like you’re healed. Hurry! It’s gone! I’m cured! This is why so many people who are on anti-depressants go off their medication. They start to feel better and think they don’t need them.
  2. Panic sets in at the first sign of an attack (at least for me it does).

Okay, I admit it, I was one of those people who started to feel good and ditched the meds. Saul and I had a long talk about it. I had made a lot of behavioral changes (exercise, no alcohol, daily acts of kindness, daily time reading the Bible). Saul was on board. He agreed to “watch me” and let me know if my mood seemed to be slipping.

With the exception of that one spell two years ago, which thankfully lasted less than a week, I have been fine. But I am diligent in minding my mind.

What’s that mean, “minding my mind”?

It means that I refuse to let my mind wander over to the dark side. I choose what I’m going to think about. When thoughts enter my mind that begin to give me that “heavy weight” feeling on my chest like I had as a child, I stop. I purposely reroute my mind and think of something else. That’s why I memorize scripture; so I have something positive and truthful to meditate on when the clouds comes.

Sneaky as depression is, it likes to try to wiggle its way in first thing in the morning. The moment my alarm goes off, before I even step out of bed, depression says to me, “What is the point of getting out of bed? You won’t accomplish anything that matters anyway.”

I can only listen to that voice for about 3 seconds before I have to get something else on my brain or I know I am going to be a wreck for the day.

So that’s where today’s memory verse comes in. I know I need a word from God to memorize and use first thing in the morning, and I thought maybe you do, too.

Spend the week committing it to memory so you can pull it out before you even put your feet on the floor. Ready? Here it is…

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT)

On a side note, this verse was written by Jeremiah. He was known as the weeping prophet because he just couldn’t stop crying. I guess he knew a thing or two about depression, huh? Actually, he was sad because people wouldn’t stop sinning and follow God. But even in the midst of his anguish, with his world literally falling apart around him, Jeremiah stopped to remember that God is good. I hope you’ll remember that truth today, too. God loves you and so do I.

Phillips’ Sort-of Reality Show

Have you ever been on a reality show? Me neither, but now I can say I’ve come awfully close.

Saul and I had the unique experience of spending the last nine months with a woman from Ohio University named Hailee Tavoian. The words “strategy” and “advancement” and “marketing” are all in her title, but big words scare me, so I don’t know exactly what she does.

What I do know is that she carries around a camera, has a ridiculously great sense of style and lights up the room with her smile. She was in charge of writing an article about us for the Ohio Today alumni magazine. She was also shooting video for the online version.

I’d say Hailee takes her job pretty seriously.

When Saul and I went to speak in Cleveland last year, Hailee was there. When Saul and I went to my pre-op appointment in Columbus, Hailee was there. Shooting hoops at the Convo or hanging out on my couch, Hailee was there.

I’m exaggerating a bit. Seeing Hailee show up with her camera was more of a monthly occurrence than a daily one. She was never intrusive. Never judgmental. Never asking for more than we could give. She didn’t even take offense when I said, We just can’t do it right now. We’re swamped or stressed or don’t feel like sharing.

I got two things from my near-reality-show experience. First, I gained a new friend. We all know, a girl can’t have enough friends in this world.

Second, I got a video diary of my family’s experience with breast cancer. It’s a snapshot in time that we will cherish forever.

Hailee actually ended up putting together three videos for ohiotoday.org: one is our cancer journey, one is  our love story and one is Jordan’s Cozy for the Cure experience.

It’ll take you less than 10 minutes to watch all three of them, and I hope you will, because woven throughout each one is the undeniable message that whatever you or I  go through in life, we are better as a team.

This Resolution Will Change Your World

Jordan almost started her New Year’s Resolution yesterday. She wants to see how many days in a row she can log 10,000 steps on her fitbit. We were about four shows deep into a mother-daughter Tiny House Hunters marathon when she realized she only had 2,000 steps. Day One was going to be a bust. Until…

Jordan at age 12 figured out the secret to a successful resolution: Resolutions must begin on Mondays. If you subscribe to the same theory, then welcome to your new beginning!

I was standing on a ladder straining to keep a steady hand this weekend when Jordan asked Saul and me if we had made any New Year’s Resolutions. Saul was painting in another room but yelled something like, “I resolve to be awesome. Oh wait, I already am awesome. Good. I’m done!”

I started laughing and now there is light blue paint on the lake house ceiling.

Jo said, “What about you, Mom?” to which I replied, “I’m going to seek the Kingdom of God above all else, live righteously, and then He will give me everything I need.”

“Isn’t that what you do every year, Mom?”

Even with the eye rolling, that still felt like such a compliment coming from my daughter. I’m glad she thinks I continually try to put God first, but the problem is, I don’t.

Lately, I’ve been letting the details come first.

How will I ever come up with something clever enough to say in front of 500 people? 

How can I convince more stores to carry my book? 

How can I ask my friends to write reviews on Amazon when they’re already so busy? (By the way, that one is a hint. If you have read Kindness is Contagious, would you PLEASE go to Amazon and leave a review? THANK YOU!)

Am I spending enough time with my kids? With my husband?

Maybe your details look different than mine, but we all have them. Those little worries that can overtake our brain if we let them.

The strangest thing happened when I had breast cancer. All those little worries disappeared. Yes, sometimes they were replaced with big worries, but I think the reason they were gone is because I gave something else my undivided attention. God.

I knew there was nothing I could do for myself in those intense moments of uncertainty, so I turned to the only one who could help me. I focused on him and his power instead of me and my weakness. It was the only way to get through the day.

Once the cancer was gone, apparently I thought I could take back the reins.

How silly of me. There is not a single thing I do that wouldn’t be better or easier with God involved. It’s just a fact.

So that’s my New Year’s Resolution. I’m going to intentionally redirect my focus on how big God is instead of looking at the problems piling up outside my back door.

Every week, I’m going to memorize one verse from the bible to remind me that God is good and that God is Great. Wanna join me?

If you’ve never read a bible verse before, don’t be scared. They are just like other sentences you read, only wiser. Write the words down on a piece of paper and carry it with you. When your brain wants you to think of something negative, see if you can call the words to your mind without looking at the paper. Ready?

Here’s my first one:

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33 (NLT)

Let me know if you’re actually going to memorize these with me, so I can 1) keep sharing them with you or 2) write about something else. And while you’re online, will you please head over to Amazon and tell the world about my book? It will mean the world to me. 😉

Live Yes, And!

Do you ever just miss the sound of someone’s voice? If you happen to be missing the sound of my voice (HA! Is that even possible?) then have I got a treat for you!

My new friend, Travis Thomas, is way more technologically advanced than I am. He even has a podcast! And guess what?! He let me talk on it!

So, if you have 39 minutes, click here to listen!

If you have ten minutes, head over to Travis’s website and check out his mission. It’s all about helping us identify and walk out our true purpose.

If you have 2 minutes, go straight to Amazon and buy Travis’s book, 3 Words for Getting Unstuck: Live Yes, And!

Merry Christmas, my friend. May you be covered in kindness.

OH! I almost forgot! My boys wanted me to share this song with you. It’s about kindness… sort of.

 

Tattoos Aren’t So Bad

It is finished. The reconstruction is done. My breast cancer journey is over.

Scratch that. I’m not sure it’ll ever really be over. As long as I have to deal with tingling toes and hot flashes and my hair thinning out as a result of my anti-cancer medication, the reminder of this ordeal will be in the back of my mind.

That’s not such a bad thing. I’ve come to appreciate those negative side-effects because they produce a positive side-effect: they remind me that I’m awfully lucky to be here.

Before I get all mushy talking about how grateful I am to be able to hear little Ben’s six-year-old thoughts on the world or sit proudly in the stands watching Saul coach his team to a win, let me get to the point.

Tattoos aren’t so bad!

My friend, Ann (the photographer), and I made a road trip yesterday to the Tattoo Lodge in Marion, Ohio where we met up with an artist named Kelly Jordan. It was a two and a half hour drive each way and Ann had to remind me about 20 times to 1) quit picking at my fingers (it’s an anxiety thing I do) and 2) stop speeding (it’s a driving thing I do).

Ann is a special soul. She has a way of knowing that you’re bothered before you even know you’re bothered. She is gentle and kind and plays with my hair. Seriously, she is precious.

But yesterday, she was funny.

Between quizzing Kelly about home renovations and his tattoo history, she suggested he make my breasts “look like sisters, not twins.” Um… huh? What does that even mean?! Anyway, we laughed a lot until I made Ann promise not to make me laugh anymore. She astutely commented, “I promise. I don’t want you to have jagged nipples.”

The Tattoo Lodge is beautiful. Outside, it looks like a house. Inside it looks like a house. The walls are deep navy with white trim and there is a fireplace and a stereo that was playing a soundtrack to my college days. There were fun signs on the walls saying things like, “Service may vary according to your attitude and my mood.”

I have taken my shirt off in front of strangers so many times in the past 20 months that it doesn’t even phase me anymore. I felt safe and warm and confident in Kelly’s ability, so it struck me as odd when I laid down in the tattoo chair and tears began escaping out of the corners of my eyes.

I wasn’t particularly sad about anything and the tattoo didn’t hurt a bit. I couldn’t feel a thing. I just think it struck me. Thousands of women have gone before me. Thousands of women will come after me. My heart hurts for them. For those who don’t have a friend to make them laugh and take them shopping and go to lunch on the day they get their areola tattoo. Or the women who don’t get the chance to get a tattoo because the cancer is more than their bodies can handle.

So I cried just a little for each of them. And then I looked at Ann peeking from behind her camera and I thought, “This is a pretty great way to spend a day.”

Wallpaper Woes

You know that thing that happens where people complain obnoxiously loud about something just so they can be relieved from their duties? Eventually someone else steps in and says, “Here, just let me do it.”

My kids are pros at that. They know if they fumble around long enough with my glass pitcher while they’re unloading the dishwasher, there is a good chance I will say, “Here, just let me do it.”

Apparently I’m pretty good at it too.

Remember the other day when I was beside myself about the cement-like wallpaper in my bathroom?

I had decided to just put shiplap over the whole thing and call it a day. My incredibly encouraging tribe (that’s you!) suggested I try, try again and piped up on Facebook with all kinds of tricks of the DIY trade. The best piece of advice? Rent a steamer.

I went over to the neighborhood rental store, and when I was done visiting with Shirley (the 80 year old woman who still works 45 hours a week) and Rich (her son who owns a Kona Ice truck and frequently brings it to our house), I was the proud temporary owner of one very heavy duty steam machine.

But that’s not all. Rich mentioned that his girlfriend (who is also my friend) has flipped numerous houses and loves to renovate. He was positive she would want to come and help me rip wallpaper.

I thought that would be an awfully big imposition, but I promised I’d give her a call.

The next day, Kim loaded up her truck with tools and I loaded up my minivan with kids.

The bathroom is tiny, so it wasn’t long before Kim set me free from steaming and let me pull carpet out of the basement instead.

When I walked back upstairs, the bathroom floor was covered with pieces of blue and yellow paper, but huge chunks of the wall were not.

When it was time for me to leave, Kim asked if she could stay. She said it was like therapy for her.

I drove home thinking about how I had stumbled upon such kindness… with Kim, with Shirley and Rich, and with all the people who cheered me on when I wanted to block off the bathroom door with caution tape. Even the handyman who dropped in for the day assured me that it was all going to be okay and that there is light at the end of the renovation tunnel.

Stripping wallpaper might be therapy to Kim; counting blessings is therapy to me.

Shiplap to the Rescue

Saul and I just bought a fixer-upper lake house. We envision long, lazy summer days filled with sounds of laughter and the splash of water as our children jump off the dock.

We knew going into this project that there would be no early morning fishing or late night marshmallows until we put in quite a few hours of sweat equity to make the place our own.

So, we loaded up the minivan with a bucket of tools and got straight to work.

The problem is, I’m no Chip and he’s no Joanna.

I am, however, a learner. While Saul used his big strong muscles to haul out old carpet, I watched every youtube video ever made on removing wallpaper. I called an army of friends and a few professionals for tricks of the trade. I was ready to make some serious headway.

But after 20 hours of staring at the same blue and yellow intersecting lines, I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion: that wallpaper isn’t budging. img_6349-2

I’m ready to throw in the towel. My nose has been pressed to the side of a bathroom wall so long I see it in my sleep.

I took a break yesterday to have breakfast with some friends. I was lamenting and second guessing and wishing for a fairy godmother when one of my wise friends said, “Why don’t you just cover it with wainscoting? Or shiplap?”

If you’re not a DIYer or an HDTVer, let me pause to explain that those are basically decorative pieces of wood that are mounted to the wall, thus covering everything underneath them!

Hallelujah! The clouds parted and suddenly I could once again hear the sounds of giggling children running barefoot through the house looking for ice cream.

So, what does this have to do with you? Maybe nothing. Maybe you can always see the forest through the trees. Maybe you can always stand back from your problems and analyze them with the a critical and creative eye. But I can’t.

This little wallpaper fiasco taught me a valuable lesson. When my nose is pressed up against the problem, it doesn’t leave any room for God to get between the mess and me. We have to back off (or perhaps seek the counsel of wise friends) long enough to keep the problem in perspective.

We weren’t created to handle every situation on our own. Sometimes it takes a little help from a higher power, a helpful friend, or a handyman with truck-full of shiplap.

Kindness or Selflessness?

Who is in control of your body? Your time? Your decisions?

I have a friend who asked me an intriguing question. She said, “Are selflessness and kindness the same thing?”

I thought about her question all day. Then I thought about her question the next day and the next. My brain wants to produce a black and white answer, but my heart seems to think it’s a bit more gray.

I still have to work out my thoughts on this, but I wanted to share what I’ve come up with so far in hopes that you can add or subtract, or at the very least, we can get a variety of opinions on the board.

Will the answer to this question change the world? No. But it just might change the way we approach the “want to” versus the “have to” chores in our lives.

My initial viewpoint is that selflessness is about being obedient to our roles. We have roles as wives and mothers and friends that often call us to give selflessly when we’d rather not.

Kindness seems more fun than that. Kindness is like a secret passageway through which God blesses us while we bless others.

We get a “helper’s high” from being kind, but that doesn’t always happen when we’re being selfless.

If selflessness feels overwhelming and is wearing us down, maybe we need to go back to the beginning and ask ourselves some questions: “Who is in control here? Who is in control of my body, my time, and my decisions?”

If your mother calls to chat just after you go to bed every night, even though you’ve asked her not to, you have a choice. You can either pick up the phone or let it go to voicemail. Yes, there may need to be another difficult conversation the next day when you remind her again that 11pm doesn’t work for you, but you remain in control. You control the amount of sleep you get or the amount of drama you let into your life just before you head off to bed.

When my wicked flesh screams out that it wants to be in control, instead of arguing with it, I work around it. When I have to do the dishes (even though it was someone else’s chore), I maintain my sense of control by telling myself, “I am the mom and I am choosing to do this for my children.” But don’t let me fool you, I am still a serious work in progress on this one.

Sometimes I have to take it a step further. Sometimes there is something that I really don’t want to do. Or a situation that puts me in a place where I have to give even though that wasn’t my plan. In those situations, I look up.

God is God and I am not. I’m just a person. What makes me so special that I can’t humble myself to help out just because it wasn’t “in my plan”? It’s God’s job to keep that wicked flesh of mine in check, and I think acts that require selflessness do that.

God knows, those are some of the most beautiful experiences of all, because I still get to be in control. (Okay, I get to be second; God’s first.) Those are the times when I get to say, “God, I don’t want to do this, but I think you’ve set this up for me. So I am going to do this as an act of obedience to you.”

An act of selflessness may not be as fun as a random act of kindness, but when it becomes a moment of worship and humility, I guarantee you’ll gather the blessings.

So enough from me. What do you think? Please share your comments on Facebook. I can’t wait to hear from you!

My Dad Won’t Read My Book

Pain and joy exist simultaneously. I’d say I wish it weren’t true. I’d say I wish I could just have the joy without the pain, but then I guess the reverse would also have to be true.

I’d have to accept the pain without the joy.

Where would that have left me during my breast cancer diagnosis? Where would that leave you when your child comes home heartbroken? Or any other part of your life suddenly crumbles?

I definitely want the joy when the pain comes, so I guess that means I have to suck it up and take a bit of the pain when the joy is so evident.

I was sitting in my sweatpants wrapping Christmas presents over the Thanksgiving break. Boxes and ribbons and scraps of paper circled me. I’m certain if someone could have shaken the room, it would have looked like a snow globe.

I picked up the last present to be wrapped. My book. My new book. The first one I’ve ever written, but the one I’ve been working on for four years and longing to write for many more.

My dad was always the biggest proponent of my publishing career. For years he’s been asking, “How’s that book coming along? When are you gonna let me read it?”

I gently set the book down on the wrapping paper. Then I picked it back up. A wave of heat instantly formed in my throat and I involuntarily gasped. The tears came before I even knew what was happening.

He’ll never read it.

My dad will never get to read this book.

I could feel my mind desperately scraping for the silver lining, trying to talk me off the ledge. C’mon Nic, be happy! It’s your first book! You finally did it! Other people will read it. Who cares if your dad can’t? Besides he probably read most of these stories when they came out each week in your newspaper column.

My emotions were at war. I felt the joy and excitement of holding that book in my hands, but all I could picture was my dad, still sitting in the nursing home after suffering a stroke last summer. He can’t process information well enough to read– or even to be read to for more than a few moments.

I finally asked the question I never once asked during my battle with breast cancer.

Why?

Why can’t he read it, God? Would it really be so hard for you to give him back that ability? To let him truly feel the pride that I imagine he would have felt if he could totally process what this book means to me? To us?

I’m like a little girl again, needing to hear my daddy tell me I’m smart and talented and good at what I do.

Why God? Why can’t I have that?

This is all part of the grieving process, I know. I have been given the opportunity to say goodbye to my dad slowly, thanks to this stroke. I have been given the time to get used to him being gone, before he really is.

The joy of knowing people will read my words of kindness and perhaps cast a new vision for their own lives will win out. I know it will. But today, it still hurts.

In a strange way, I’m grateful to feel the pain that goes with the joy of this first book. I never want to get to a point in life where I forget that everyone has pain. Even those with the fancy Facebook photos and those who get the great job and those who write the New York Times bestsellers.

Because when we recognize everyone has pain, we are able to greet everyone we meet with compassion. And that’s the place where kindness lives.

***Kindness is Contagious: 100 Stories to Remind You God is Good and So are Most People is now available on Amazon.

Is God too Good for Me?

Do you care what God thinks about your behavior? Or do you feel like he’s let you down one too many times and you’ve earned the right to make your own decisions without his pesky guilt trying to trip you up?

The funny thing about God is if you ask him to leave you alone, he usually will. I’ve seen plenty of situations where he has chased someone down, but most of the time, those people were desperately searching for something. God stepped in and gently reminded them that what they were searching for was Him.

It’s the other times I’m talking about. Those times when we say, “No God. You don’t get a vote. You didn’t show up when I needed you and now I don’t trust you. I’m doing this on my own.”

I went through a phase in college and my early adulthood where I volleyed between two courts when it came to my thoughts on God.

In one court, I was distrustful of God. I couldn’t imagine that if he were actually here and good then he would have allowed so much pain to enter my life and the lives of people I love. Some of that pain was of my own creation, but much of it wasn’t. It didn’t feel fair. Shouldn’t God at least be fair? And if I’m His beloved creation, shouldn’t I be shown a little favor?

Then occasionally the ball would volley over to the other side of my brain, where I was pretty sure God existed and pretty sure he was good, but I knew I was not. My behavior and choices and decisions were so far from what I knew I should be doing that I couldn’t imagine God would want to be anywhere near me. I was too far from his reach.

To paraphrase a thought from Pastor Andy Stanley, instead of letting my belief system determine my behavior (and cleaning up my act), I let my behavior determine my beliefs. If I didn’t follow God, I didn’t have to carry around the nagging reminder that I was making choices that would break His heart.

I had religion for decades before I ever had a relationship with God. It wasn’t until I became friends with a woman who was so sure about his existence and so enthusiastic about his goodness that I was truly able to approach God and say, “Will you show me how this works?”

I didn’t know how to be a Jesus follower, I only knew how to be a rule follower (or a rule breaker). It took me a long time to see the difference, but once I did, God was awfully good about going back to my original doubts and clearing them up once and for all.

Those times when I wondered where God was? He finally gave me peace. I didn’t have anymore answers than before, but I was able to lift up those temporary troubles against the reality of eternity and realize there was no way I could know the longterm outcome of His plans.

Those times when I was certain I was beyond God’s reach? Nah. I am so loved and so forgiven that I don’t even identify with the young woman I was when I made those bad decisions.

I have a heart for people who are waffling about God’s existence or goodness because I was one of those people. If you are there today, how about you just start by asking him, “Will you show me how this works?” I am certain that is a prayer he will be glad to answer.

When You’re Too Broken to be Kind

It’s Thanksgiving. You probably have a turkey to cook so I’ll make this quick.

What do you do when you’re too broken to be kind?

Like when you’ve been up all night with a sick baby.

Or you’ve been walking on eggshells so you don’t offend your in-laws– and then crack,  one of the eggs breaks and all hell breaks loose.

Or you’re dreading this whole holiday season because it’s the first time you’ll have to “celebrate” with an ex-husband. Or without a loved one.

There are times in our lives when kindness feels too hard. Too big. It’s a job better left to someone else. How can I possibly be expected to make cookies for the neighbors when my household is crumbling around me?

I know a woman who lives several states away. She has her own kindness ministry and  sends me letters every so often so we can compare notes.

The last letter she sent me tore out my heart. She said she was thinking about shutting down her kindness crusade. She is going through a divorce and gets weary at even the thought of spreading the message of kindness.

She is broken.

Then she said something in her letter that struck me as a tiny kernel of brilliance. She went on to describe how “quiet” her acts of kindness have become. Now she sees it as a win if she can muster the energy to lift her head and smile at the store clerk. Or stand for just a moment longer and hold the door for the person behind her.

And I thought, “Wow… that’s just what some people need.”

Some people don’t want to be the center of attention or caught in the middle of a Random Acts of Kindness parade.

Some people just need another hurting person to make eye contact.

In that moment, kindness is quiet, but it is also powerful.

God made so many of us, so different from each other, so that we could give in ways that reach all of his people. Even the broken ones.

Your brokenness, your vulnerability is the soft space to land that someone else needs. Even if it’s just for a moment in passing.

God’s not going to stop using you as His vessel just because you’re broken. If that were the case, God would have run out of vessels long ago. After all, we’re all broken.

So what do you do when you’re too broken to be kind? Look for those people who are hurting, too. The chance to briefly, quietly connect will be healing for both of you.

Should You Hold Your Tongue?

There are plenty of times I hold my tongue. Those of you who know me are now rolling your eyes thinking, “Yeah right, Nicole.”

Okay, I guess you’re right. We’re both right. I don’t necessarily hold my tongue, I just don’t say what I really want to say because I’m worried about how it will be taken.

Holding our tongues can be a really good thing when we’re about to give an opinion on someone’s unconventional parenting or unique new hair style. It’s not such a good thing when it holds us back from giving someone our best authentic self.

Here’s what I mean. True story: I was sitting and having lunch with some other moms when we began talking about the mom’s high school daughter. The mom jokes that she just bought condoms for the first time in 20 years because she wants to tuck them in with the toiletries the daughter is packing for college.

She says, “I know she’s going to have sex, so I’d rather she be protected.”

I say, “Uh huh.”

WAIT. Wait right there. Did I just say, “Uh huh” because I agree or because I was too afraid of offending her to say what I really think?

This is where holding our tongues becomes a problem. We must ask ourselves two vital questions.

Am I withholding my words because I’m trying to conform?

Does withholding my words actually prohibit me from giving the gift of rich, biblical wisdom?

Sometimes as a Christian, I think it’s easier to offend God than to offend other people. God will forgive me. Other people hold grudges. Or look at your funny. Or stomp off in a rage.

If we consider ourselves Christians, then it is essential that we continually spread salt and light. We do that by offering another perspective. An eternal perspective.

What I wanted to say to the condom buying mom is this. “I’ve been there. I’ve been the college girl desperately wading through the swampy mess of what feels good now versus what I want for my future. I sure wish I would have had one wise woman talk to me back then about God’s Best for my life. It may not have changed my behavior. But it may have. I had no idea that God even cared about my sex life and that I was standing in the way of His great plan for my life.”

This is not about telling people they are wrong or “selling” them on Christianity. I simply have a different perspective because of the life I’ve lived and the ways I’ve seen God work through my troubles. So do you.

Let’s pause in our conversations long enough to let the Holy Spirit intervene in our words– but not so long that we let a beautiful gift slip through our fingers.

Casting the Net

Little Jordan Phillips is $645 and one day away from being the top fundraiser for the Komen Athens Race for the Cure. As a mom, how can I not throw the net out there one more time to say, “Anyone else?”

Is there anyone else out there who was thinking they’d like to make a donation but never quite got around to it?

Is there anyone else thinking, I sure would like a custom Bobcat, Ohio State, John Deere or University of Wisconsin coffee cup sleeve? (Don’t worry, she’s got a gazillion other fabric colors to choose from, too.) Jordan’s cozys will be available year round at ShopAthensOhio.com or in their store, but those will all be pink. This is the last time she’ll be taking custom orders.

Also, 25% of the store cozys goes to Komen, but for the Athens Race for the Cure (through Friday Nov. 18), your entire donation goes to Komen Columbus, specifically for programs in Southeast Ohio.

Is there anyone else who is thinking, “I’ve quit smoking (or drinking or buying fancy coffee) and now I have an extra $5. I can donate!”

We are looking for you. $5 per cozy is the suggested donation. $645 is the goal. Tomorrow is the deadline. Anyone who donates $25 or more before tomorrow is automatically entered in a drawing to win 25,000 miles from American Airlines.

I’m sorry to be the mom who continually pounds people over the head asking for help. Seriously. Totally. Trust me, I am soooo sorry to do this. But this year at the race, Jordan and I got to meet the Honorary Race Chairs, Cindy Oremus and Mary Dupler. Cindy is fabulous. She even gave my daughter a Team Cinderella t-shirt so Jordan could feel like  part of her team.

But it was Mary Dupler’s story that stopped us in our tracks. Here’s just part of Mary’s story. I stole it from the Komen Columbus website:

“Mary, a resident of Somerset and a single mother of two, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2015. Due to a history of breast cancer within the family, she decided to undergo a double mastectomy and total hysterectomy at the young age of 30. […]

When Mary received her breast cancer diagnosis, her employer, at the time, did not offer healthcare and out of pocket costs were too high. Mary struggled with the thought of having to choose between “paying for [her] surgery or putting dinner on the table for [her] children.” Thanks to a funding from Komen Columbus, Mary’s mammogram, surgical consultation, biopsy, pathology, and follow-up surgical appointment were covered by a community grant to Fairfield Medical Center.”

Did you catch that??? She either had to feed her kids or get the mastectomy. The money that you donate pays for programs in rural Ohio so women dealing with breast cancer issues don’t have to make such tough decisions.

While watching Mary speak on the platform at the Athens Race for the Cure, Jordan could see very clearly why she was fundraising. And so could I.

So here I am, casting the net one last time, asking, “Is there anyone else?”

If you feel a pull at your heart to donate, here’s the link directly to Jordan’s donation page. Thank you.

Do You Need a Redo Too?

I should be stripped of my crown; the badge revoked; dishonorably discharged from the ministry of kindness. I blew it.

Yesterday was World Kindness Day and I completely forgot that meant we were all supposed to do something kind to spread love and goodwill throughout our world.

Oops.

Funny that I forgot since first thing in the morning, I got a greeting card in my email. It was one of those adorable sing-song animated ones with a dog holding a huge bouquet of flowers. It said, “On World Kindness Day… Here’s wishing you a day as special as you are to me!”

Then, a few hours later, a different friend sent me a Random Acts of Kindness calendar you can do with your kids.

I loved and appreciated those gestures, but it wasn’t until 6:30 last night that it occurred to me that World Kindness Day isn’t a special holiday for me to receive kindness, it’s meant to remind me to give kindness.

Oh… you meant me?! I should be kind? Can I get a redo?

Luckily, my daughter was in the car when I began lamenting on my lack of thoughtfulness. She got very quiet. I could tell she was thinking. Unfortunately, she was coming up blank too.  Finally, she said, “Well Mom, you did tell that woman that you liked her new haircut.”

AHA! There it is! Kindness!

Well, sort of.

Did you happen to forget World Kindness Day yesterday, too?

If so, would it be okay if we make a vow to each other right here and now? Let’s promise that today we will reach out of our busyness and give something to someone: a smile for a difficult person we’d rather not smile at, a listening ear even though we’re in a rush, or maybe a cup of coffee for the guy in line behind us.

I’m going to start by giving you a link. This will take you to the website of another woman who loves kindness. She’s got all kinds of free printable things for you, like calendars, reward coupons and encouraging lunch notes. If you’ve got kids, you’ll especially love this stuff.

We can’t be all things to all people, but today, the day after World Kindness Day, let’s vow to be to kind to each other.

The 13th Disciple

What would have to happen to make you shout at the top of your Facebook lungs, “THE SKY IS FALLING!”?

Has it happened already?

I opened my Facebook feed twice yesterday. I was online no more than 35 seconds, just long enough to realize people feel wounded. Our eyes are focused solidly on this world, and in exchange, we are turning into a people who are confused, depressed, worried or even terrified. Even people who are happy with how the election turned out seem to have those feelings.

Our worldly perspective is threatening to snuff out the light of love that shines in each one of us.

A tiny story tucked into a book written by a Minnesota man has changed the way I look at times of turmoil and uncertainty.

The book is called Not By Site. The author, Jon Bloom, retells 35 Bible stories by imagining the thoughts and feelings of people we find in the Bible and those people who were perhaps at the scene that nobody ever talks about.

While reading the book, my mind started to formulate and grab hold of the character I yearn to be: the 13th disciple. Long after I put the book down, I continued to create and visualize this character for myself.

In my mind, the 13th disciple is the one who is unrelentingly positive. She is the one who continues to let Jesus sleep in the boat during the storm because she just knows God has her back.

She is the one who steps into the hurt of others, walking the adulteress home and drying her tears of shame when the men finally drop their stones.

She is the one who gathers the hungry doubters by saying, “Come quickly! Jesus is about to feed a stadium full of people with five loaves of bread and two fish!”

She is the one who is certain God is control today. She can’t help but shout at the top of her Facebook lungs, “Hurry! Come check this out! God is about to do something amazing!”

That’s who I want to be. I want to be the person who is so certain that God is working in our lives and in our world that she can’t help but tell others.

I don’t rise and fall with a president, I stand with a King. I am the 13th disciple. You can be one, too.

Look Up

The first election I ever paid attention to was in 1992. Billy Ray Cyrus was singing about his Achy Breaky Heart and the three political candidates were Bill Clinton, George Bush (Senior), and Ross Perot. I was just shy of 18 years old and a little miffed that the only place I could vote was in the mock election in my high school civics class.

Many years later, I’m old enough to vote, but in some strange way, I wish I wasn’t. I wish this could all be someone else’s problem. Do you ever feel that way? That maybe you should stay in bed and let someone who is smarter and more informed and has a better handle on the situation go and do the heavy lifting?

It can happen in any area of our lives. We look outward and see someone who is a better parent, a better organizer, a better employee, a better friend. They just seem to do everything so effortlessly and well.

We look inward and see all the ways we fall short. Forgetting to ask our child about the math test or send that birthday card or make vegetables with dinner or make dinner at all! It seems like we never quite get it together.

Instead of looking outward or inward, may I offer another perspective? Maybe we should look upward.

When I start to think I’m not capable of making decisions for my own family, much less my country, I have to remember that I’m not actually in charge.

Did you catch that? I’m not actually in charge– and neither are you! HURRAY!

Now, sorry to cut short the celebration, but that doesn’t mean we get to sit back and relax. We still have a role to play. We have to do our part, but I’m convinced if we ask God to lead us (or take the lead!), He will.

Every time you feel confused or frustrated or overwhelmed, take it to God. In a tiny whisper, or just in your head, ask God to give you the patience, wisdom, discernment– whatever you need– to make a decision that will work inside His will.

Inside His will is a good place to be. We are “enough” there. We are capable of making tough decisions and can live with the joy and assurance that God has handled situations a lot stickier than anything currently facing us. He knows what’s coming, and He knows what He’s going to do about it.

Doesn’t it feel good to look up?

“My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.'” Psalm 27:8 (NLT)  

Mama Mama Teenage Drama

My daughter woke up to 120 text messages on her phone this morning. One hundred and twenty.

We go dark in our house about 9pm, so those 120 messages came in sometime between the hours of 9pm and 7am.

Clearly there must have been some great crisis happening overnight in the world of our almost teenage daughters.

Nope.

Just lots of talk about what to wear and boys. Same things you and I talked about when we were in seventh grade. Only we had to pick up the phone and could only get the opinion of one friend at a time, until the invention of three-way calling.

Now, I’m about to tell you something that I really shouldn’t tell you. I hope no seventh grade girl reads this. It was my intent to be absolutely anonymous. But the more moms we can get on the team, the better off our daughters will be, so I’m going to tell you.

A few days ago, there was another stream of text messages on my daughter’s phone. One of the girls was distraught about the color of her hair and certain no boy could ever like her or would ever want to touch her because she is so “ugly.” (At this point, I could go on a tangent about why a 7th grade girl would want a boy to touch her, but let’s not go there.)

This girl could not be consoled. Her friends tried to tell her how pretty she is and listed off all of her other great attributes, but this girl would hear none of it. In my mama heart, I knew this hurting girl needed much more than this upside down world could offer.

So I sent her a note. I didn’t sign my name. I simply wrote a little message on a card and asked my daughter to secretly drop it in her locker.

I can’t remember my exact words, but it said something to this effect: “The One who created you thinks you are perfect and beyond beautiful, and His is the only opinion that really matters. God has big plans for your life. Trust Him to unfold great things for you in His perfect timing.”

I have no idea if this girl and her family know Jesus. I don’t think I’ve ever actually met her parents. But it doesn’t matter. Our girls are getting whiplash trying to keep up with the latest and the greatest and newest and the shiniest. They can’t console each other, because they haven’t lived enough life to have the wisdom to do so. But we have. We’ve been there. We’ve fretted over the details and the drama. And we’ve seen how somehow, it all seems to work out in the end.

Clearly, if 120 text messages are floating through space in the middle of the night, girls are looking for answers. They are looking for confirmation that they are not alone, that they are significant, special.

So let’s tell them. Let’s be the village that raises our daughters (and our sons) by encouraging them and nurturing them and reminding them that there is One who can see way beyond these teenage years and His plan for them is good.

Looking for Love in Fargo

I’m in need of a little Fargo love and I’m wondering if you can help.

I’ve been invited to speak at a women’s event at a church in Fargo. Can we all thank God at this very moment that the event is being held in April instead of the dead of winter? My North Dakota blood has thinned quite a bit since moving to Southern Ohio.

I’ve just finished working on a new presentation about kindness. Actually, I’ve finished working on two presentations: one for the Christian crowd and one for the secular audience.

The message for Christians focuses on the exciting news that God literally created us for kindness. When we step into our true calling, we begin to reap the benefits and see massive transformation in our lives.

The secular message uses lots of fun and touching stories from my Kindness is Contagious column to back up the scientific research that points to the healing power of kindness in our lives. Our bodies produce the awesome feel-good chemicals we need when we fill it with kindness.

I’m crazy excited to come back to Fargo, but a few things have to fall in place in order for that to happen. Mainly, I need to book a few more speaking events. The church would very much like to share the cost of my flight with another organization or business. Since I need to either pay for travel expenses for my three kids or a week’s worth of babysitters, a little more work would come in handy for me personally, too!

If you know of a business, church or non-profit that may be interested in a message of kindness between the potential dates of April 17-April 28, would you please share my information? I’d love to talk with them about my speaking fee and how I may be able to incorporate their values into a message specifically tailored for their group. They can contact me at info@nicolejphillips.com.

Now, for those of you who actually read through this entire sales pitch hoping to eventually get a little Monday Motivation, let me leave you with this sweet tidbit: People who are consistently kind age two time slower than the average population! Skip the botox and meet a hurting friend for a latte. Your listening ears will pave the way to a more beautiful you!

My New Best Friend Drives for Uber

I was staring down the barrel of an hour long ride with a total stranger in downtown Chicago. I needed to get to the airport by 8:30 in the morning to make my flight home. That meant hopping in the car before my morning coffee had kicked in.

I requested an Uber on my phone and then stood in front of the hotel waiting for a man named Moise in a Nissan Altima.

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I tend to pray for the little things in life even more than the big things. Sure, I’ve talked to God about the upcoming election and ISIS and human trafficking, but most of our daily conversations go something like this:

Me: God, I just spent an entire day talking about kindness. Can I just put in my earbuds and pretend to sleep in this car so I don’t have to talk to another stranger?

God: No.

Me: Seriously? You know I’m exhausted. I don’t have anything left to give. Wouldn’t an inspirational podcast be a better use of my time?

God: No. People are more important than podcasts.

So, I got in the Uber and said hello to Moise. I asked him about his day and if he has always lived in Chicago and what he did when he wasn’t driving an Uber through rush hour traffic.

That’s when he started telling me about his mom. He lost his job not too long ago, just before his mom took a turn for the worst and needed dialysis.

Losing his job means that Moise has the time to care for his mom full-time; driving for Uber means he can still pay the bills by working when she’s resting or feeling well enough to be alone.

As I listened to his story, I began to understand in some small way why God had placed me, without earbuds, in Moise’s car. It was a divine appointment.

I shared some of my own story with Moise, about being a child and visiting my mom’s husband in prison, about reconnecting with Saul after rejecting any idea of ever getting married, about how my life has changed since I began chasing kindness. Most importantly, we talked about how God continually uses bad situations for good.

“Your mess is your message!” Moise wisely noted. “Your test is your testimony!”

We pulled up at the airport and I almost didn’t want to get out. An hour ago, I was drained, ready to curl up into myself and wish the day away. But thanks to a stranger in a Nissan Altima, as we parted ways, it was evident that we both had a better view of the day (and days) to come.

I guess it pays to choose people over podcasts.

Focus on the Celebration

The cancer is gone, the reconstruction is over, but there are days that take me right back to the heat of the battle.

Yesterday was one of them.

Yesterday was a day of pink.

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And a day of celebration.

Courtesy of April Williams-Schrader FB post

Courtesy of April Williams-Schrader FB post

And a day of friendship.

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But it was also a day to remember that I lived while many others did not… that I get to carry on as if it never happened while others are walking through their own scary diagnosis right this very moment.

Cancer is never far from any of our minds, but sometimes it’s closer than others.

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Jordan and I were out making an ice cream run last night when she softly spoke the words that often echo through my own heart. “Mom, it was so sad today to see how many women had reoccurrences. I hope your cancer never comes back.”

Me too, Baby. Me too.

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But that’s why we fundraise and why we encourage others in their battle and why we celebrate. Because we never know what’s coming tomorrow, but we do know what we have to be grateful for today.

Your thing may not be breast cancer. But you have a thing. I know you do. You’re afraid of it. You may not let it overtake your day, but it occasionally haunts your mind.

If that happens today, may I gently suggest, from one survivor of something to another… focus on the celebration. See the good that surrounds you. Write it down if you have to and carry it around in your pocket. Then pull it out when the worry begins to creep in and sit in awe and wonder for a moment at the greatness of today and the One who made it happen.

It’s way more fun than worrying about tomorrow.

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Next Stop… Shark Tank. Or Not.

My daughter adores the show Shark Tank. Not me. It gives me anxiety to see someone break out into a nervous sweat as they deliver their carefully crafted pitch, only to have Mr. Wonderful tell them their idea sucks. I can hardly stand to watch it with her.

I look over at my daughter and she’s practically salivating, taking mental notes, piping up with “The Sharks are right Mom, that idea will never make it.” or “Yep, they blew it. They should have gotten a patent years ago.” Can I remind you, my daughter is 12?

Well, no worries, I won’t have to deal with Jordan going on Shark Tank anytime soon. She’s in seventh grade and she doesn’t even have a business.

Oh wait. Scratch that last part.

I spoke at a luncheon a few weeks about my breast cancer journey and happened to mention Jordan’s coffee cup cozys. One of the women in attendance is the owner of Kiser Bar-B-Q and their new store, Shop Athens Ohio. They carry all kinds of fun products (food, pint glasses, jewelry, t-shirts, home decor) that are all made in or inspired by Athens, Ohio.

Two days after the luncheon, I got a phone call. “Nicole, I have an outstanding idea!” My eyes nearly rolled… usually people’s “outstanding” ideas cost me something in the form of time or money. I cautiously listened. “We would like to carry Jordan’s cozys in the store and sell them online nationwide.”

My little Shark Tank wanna-be took the bait: hook, line and sinker. She was all in. But in true entrepreneurial fashion, she asked the store to carry her entire line of Cozy products: microwaveable bowl cozys, notebook covers, and of course, the coffee cup sleeves.

img_7874All of the products will be made exclusively in pink. A portion of the proceeds will still go to Susan G. Komen to help women in Southeastern Ohio, but Jordan will also be using part of the money to pay for her own materials (YAY! I’m off the hook!) and to begin a college savings account.

You guys this is all so exciting, I should be thrilled. But I’m not. I’m terrified. Okay, I’m a little thrilled and a little terrified.

What if I mess this up for her because I don’t know the legalities of running a business? What if I mess HER up by allowing her to do something that becomes overwhelming or tiresome?

Instead of breaking out into a nervous sweat, I’ve decided to tell myself what I would tell you. If we were sitting down having coffee and you were pouring out your heart to me about this big opportunity that has come your way (a new job or a new home or a new family member) these are the things I would say to you:

1. It doesn’t hurt to try. Well, it might hurt a little, but nothing that can’t be healed.

2. When you’re not sure what to do next, just do the next right thing.

3. Remember you are surrounded by loving, kind people who want to help you succeed. Let them.

4. Failure isn’t a swear word. Henry Ford’s early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he successfully launched the Ford Motor Company. R.H. Macy failed seven times before his store hit it big.

5. I’m here for you. (Well, this one is odd because I can’t really be here for myself, but I would TOTALLY be there for you. And I’m certain if Jordan and I need a soft place to land, you’ll be there for us, too.)

We all have big decisions to make in life. Sometimes we meet a fork in the road and either path would be fine. It’s hard at those intersections to know which path we should follow. But here’s the thing, I’m certain that God is in control and if we’re supposed to be heading in a particular direction, He will get us there– even if we take some detours along the way.

I don’t know if Jordan’s ultimate destination is Shark Tank or not, but it sure will be fun following her, wherever this new endeavor leads.

You can order cozy products at shopathensohio.com or shop in person at their new store next door to Kiser’s at Eclipse in The Plains.

I Failed Jesus

I fail every day. More to the point, I fail Jesus every day. You might think that’s a bad thing, but I don’t.

Why? Two reasons.

First, notice, I didn’t say “I fail people every day.” I do. I snap at my kids and renege on promises. I’m a person just like you’re a person, so I’m messing up all the time. The thing is, I’m not here to please people. I’m not here to hold myself against the measuring stick of some foggy or shifting system of right and wrong. Lying in bed and thinking about the ways I may have potentially mistreated someone would tie me up and weigh me down with miles of invisible steel chain links.

There is only One that I aim to please, and that is Jesus. If you go to bed at night and confess, “Jesus, I’ve failed you today. I was impatient and emotional and lots of people may have gotten caught in the crossfire, but it’s You I’ve truly failed. Please forgive me” then that’s a good thing. That we can control. We can throw ourselves on the mercy of God and be forgiven. We can allow the Holy Spirit to say to us, “Yep, you screwed up, but I still love you. Try again tomorrow.” There’s great freedom in failing Jesus, because He just keeps forgiving us! Again and again and again!

The second reason I think it’s not such a bad thing to know you’ve failed Jesus comes from a truth I heard in church yesterday. My pastor was talking about Peter. If you’re not familiar, Peter is the follower of Jesus who denied knowing Him when Jesus was about to be crucified. Jesus came back, forgave Peter and basically gave him the job of growing the church.

Peter totally failed Jesus. But God used him after that failure in a huge way.

Here’s the truth: God builds His Church by showing mercy to people who have failed Him. 

Isn’t that exciting? We’ve all failed Him and we all get a second chance! Or a third chance! Or as many chances as you need! When we finally get to the point of desperation where we will stop what we’re doing and listen to Him, He will begin to use us to strengthen the people around us.

Why do you think I talk about kindness all the time? Because I was a hot mess before God came into my life. It’s the kindness of God that leads man to repentance (Romans 2:4) and it’s the kindness of God that made me want to become someone I could stand being around. I can’t help but share that with others.

Friend, if you fail Jesus, and you know it, rejoice! You’re on the right path. Then say you’re sorry and get ready for Him to use you in a mighty way. You might still mess up, I sure do, but at least we’re heading in the right direction.

Inside Edition Story

Well, ready or not, here it is: the first photo of my breast cancer journey! (Yep, you’re about to see a naked picture of my cancery breast.)

CBS’s InsideEdition.com asked me to do an interview on how I found my breast cancer. They also asked if I could share a few photos with them of myself and my family. I’m not sure they were prepared for what they got. I imagine the poor producer who opened the email attachments… I sure hope they weren’t eating breakfast. Surgeries and naked breasts are never fun to look at while you’re eating lunch, even when they are taken by brilliant photographer, Ann Fredricks.

The producer and reporter chose one of the less grisly photos to highlight. It’s the one where you can see the greenish shading and the dimpling of the left side of my breast caused by the tumors pulling on the skin. Graciously, the production team pixelated my nipple.

Today’s action step (after you watch the video and share it with everyone you know) is to look at yourself in the mirror. After you check out your hair, makeup and those runaway eyebrows, please be sure to check out your breasts. Maybe you’ll be able to find on your own what it took a trip to the doctor’s office for me to discover.

 

 

Jojo’s Cozys Page

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Hey Cozy Fans! Thanks for your interest in helping my daughter with her fundraising efforts. Here is the link to her page. She will email after you make a tax-deductible donation to get your mailing address.

Guest Post: Messy Meltdown

Have you ever met someone so kind, so gentle, that the minute you see her sweet smile you just feel safe? Accepted? That’s cc_headshots-5573_dual-2how I felt when I met Michele O’Leary. She and I became online friends this summer, just before she took the brave step to start a blog. A few months later we connected face-to-face at a writer’s conference. Her beautiful spirit reminds me that we are all on a journey… and we are all absolutely perfect in our imperfections. I want to share her words with you today in a guest post. I hope it brings encouragement in the midst of your own messy meltdowns!

Messy Meltdown by Michele O’Leary

As I looked up, I saw the horror in my son’s eyes. His eyes read, “My mom has finally lost her marbles.” He didn’t know if he should laugh or leave. He had just witnessed the “murder of the Christmas pumpkin log.” Just second’s before, my fists were raging like a prize fighter in the boxing ring. Beating up the contender of dessert. Messy goo splattered everywhere, evidence of my messy meltdown dripping from my hands. The making of the delightful dessert for Christmas Day was turned into a messy, emotional tantrum.

Not only were my fists flying, so were the unspoken words that a “good Christian” mother never says. You know, the naughty ones. I was a bull in the arena, steam puffing out of my nostrils, horns pointing down, ready to charge towards the red flag waving in front of me that read, “Not Perfect.”

You see, with determination, I tried three times to make that tasty treat. Each time I failed. Each time I felt like a loser. Each time reminded me that I was not perfect. The familiar, but unwanted emotions roared up their nasty heads. For a person who dwells in perfection, these emotions fueled the fire of: You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.

Maybe you have had a time or two or three in the battle of perfection. It is a lifetime battle for me. It is exhausting to strive to be perfect. It is consuming. It is crushing. It steals the joy and God’s calling in my life. Perfection actually makes me messy.

Jesus reminds us to come to Him and lay down our burdens and He will give us rest. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

I have found this verse is hard to do at times…to rest in my Savior. I struggle to hand over my messy, emotional perfectionist self. It is not easy, but it is freeing.

I thank my Lord, the Shepherd of my life; that I can come to Him. I can lean into Him as He holds me and gives me rest. He reminds me that through the shedding of His blood, I am already made perfect. Not by my works, but by His grace. He sets me free and loves me regardless of my messy meltdowns!

The story of the “murder of the Christmas pumpkin log” I am sure will be told at my memorial service one day by my son. It is one of “those” stories that will pass down from generation to generation. I laugh out loud; the comical story puts a smile on my face.

You may be wondering if I ever tried making that tasty treat again…that is a big fat NO!

Connect with Michele on her website and be sure to sign up for her emails at casualconversations.net.

You are More than Pink

If you have 60 seconds, click on this video. I want to show you something…

The little girl in the video is Jordan. The mom is me. For those of you who know us, you know those aren’t our actual faces, but it is our actual story.

Several months ago the Susan G. Komen headquarters called and asked if they could feature Jordan’s Cozy’s for the Cure story in a public service announcement. “Sure,” I said. “That be great!” Then I quickly slid it to the back of my brain. Moved on with life.

The first time I saw this video, I cried. Like, for real. Big tears streaming down my face.

The second time I saw it, I cried again. Hot mess.

The third time, still crying.

I’m on my 487th time of watching it (well, almost) and I still find my eyes leaking.

This video (which will be played on American Airline flights– how cool is that?!) exemplifies exactly what I want everyone to know about the journey of cancer.

Pain and joy exist simultaneously.

That little girl silently slipping into the bed and the momma throwing the covers over them? The giggling followed by tears? That was us. A thousand times, that was us.

There is something so painful and raw about cancer, yet it’s filled with moments of intense joy. Kind of like life.

This video happened because a whole bunch of people supported Jordan when she tried to support me. $5741 doesn’t just fall out of the sky. Saul and I can’t write a check and create a sense of accomplishment in our daughter. She got that through you.

img_6214Because of this video, Jordan and I got to speak to groups in New York City and Indianapolis. We got to tell them about the beauty that comes from the ashes. Thank you.

Jo is still sewing and still raising money to help women in Southeastern Ohio. Last night (Oct. 5, 2016), she hit the $10,000 mark for her two years of combined fundraising. Her goal is to raise $11,482 by November 1st.

If you want to make a donation and get a cozy of your own, follow this link. Thanks to the generous CEO of Kent International (who heard Jordan speak in NYC and then gave her a bike to give away!), everyone who makes a $50 donation or makes a purchase through our 31 fundraising party will be entered in a drawing to win a special edition Susan G. Komen bicycle or a $100 cash prize.img_6383

And hey, if you’re looking for a mother-daughter duo to speak at your next event, we’re free! Especially if that event is in Hawaii… it’s getting cold in Ohio.

My Taylor Swift Speech

There are times as a mom that you need to be quiet and listen and there are times when you need to speak– even when your opinion is not invited. Figuring out which time is which can be a little tricky.

Sitting in the driver’s seat of the minivan, I would say that my opinion was not exactly invited. I was carpooling my almost-teenage daughter and two of her friends to a volleyball game. They were quieter than usual, but still talking about the things almost-teenage girls talk about when they’re dead tired the morning after a school dance.

I had five minutes and a heart that was begging me to speak. So I did.

Hey Girls, you know how I love kindness right? Well, I just wanted to share a few things…

I went on to ask them how they felt when they were together. Happy, safe, secure, accepted. Kind of like in a bubble of goodness.

Remember how this feels… I continued. I urged them to lodge those feelings into their minds and then work hard to maintain the friendships that produce those results. Be the type of friend you want to have. Instead of making snarky or sarcastic comments to your friends, be thoughtful in each interaction and treat one another like a precious gift.

I had their attention. They were staring at me and dead silent, but they were listening and I could tell they were thinking.

So I continued.

And you know how sometimes people say, “I can’t” as in “I can’t pass this math test” or “I can’t learn Spanish” or “I can’t get a serve over the net”? I think when people say, “I can’t” what they’re really saying is “I’m not willing to work hard enough to make that happen.” The only thing you can’t do are things that are out of your control… like growing to be 6’7”. That you can’t do. Everything else is within your grasp. 

You hear yourself speak more than you hear anyone else speak. Ever. And you listen to your own words more than anyone else’s. Our brains are tricky things. They begin to believe what they hear– and they cause us to act accordingly. You will eventually produce the results of what you speak. So speak good things into your life. Exchange the words “I can’t” for words like “I’m gonna nail it!”, “I’ve got this!” or at least “I’m going to give it my best shot.” 

And when someone else tells you that you can’t do something or you’re not good enough or you don’t belong… well, that’s when you get to shake it off!

At this point in my mini-presentation (or should I say mini-van presentation?), I turned on my favorite song and we had a little shake it off dance party. It’s quite possible I’m the only 41-year-old woman with a girl crush on Taylor Swift, but seriously, how can a song possibly get better than this?

By the way, I did ask my daughter later that day if I had totally embarrassed her with my Taylor Swift speech. “Not at all, Mom. I think my friends just sort of expect that from you.”

Her friends expect to hear about kindness from me? I guess sometimes it’s important to share your opinion– even when you think it might not be totally invited.

A Question for Our Tribe

The enemy says you’re not good enough. The enemy says you’ve messed up beyond repair. The enemy says you should retreat, go back where it’s safe in the shadows.

I know the enemy’s tricks and yet I fall for them again and again. Do you? Do the lies become so loud they cloud out the Truth?

The Truth that says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Truth says God has big plans for you, plans to prosper you and give you hope and a future.

I know all of this. So why was I slumped over on my bathroom floor with tears streaming down my face wondering what to do next?

Here’s a little secret about me. I don’t freak out before I speak. I love public speaking and sharing messages of kindness. I freak out after I speak.

The entire 24 hours after a speaking engagement are a train wreck. My sleep is fitful as I toss and turn, waking up with thoughts of how horrible I must have been. Then the next day, even while standing on God’s Truth, I feel ashamed about each word I said and those words I forgot to say.

It’s ridiculous.

I know it’s ridiculous.

And yet, there I was on my bathroom floor having a total meltdown. Just before my husband’s departure for work and my complete meltdown, I stepped out of the shower and proclaimed, “I quit.” My sweet husband was completely caught off guard and therefore said, “Quit what?”

“I’m done speaking and writing. I can’t do it. I don’t have anything to say that feels valuable anymore.”

Saul slipped his shoe on and then stopped and looked at me. “I won’t let you do that. I don’t know what’s going on in your mind. If you’re too busy, back off a little, but I won’t let you quit. Your message is too important.”

As he drove to work, I sat on the cold tile and thought about his words. I won’t let you quit. 

We all need someone to pull us up sometimes and remind us that the mean little voices in our head don’t get to win. They don’t get to dictate where we go, what we do and to whom we show kindness. They can nag, but we don’t need to listen.

I came to the conclusion that Saul was right. I wasn’t going to quit. My message is too important. I turned once again to the One who can see more than I and asked Him, “God, it seems like I’m just saying the same thing over and over again. What more can I share?”

Our God is such a nice God. In that moment, He gently whispered, “Ask them.”

So here I am, humbly asking you, my tribe, the people who actually read the words I write, What do you want me to share?

Is there a burden weighing heavy on your heart that perhaps I can project some love on? Is there a conflict or tension in your life that could use a second opinion? Are you just curious what it’s like to be married to such a good looking man who happens to be a college basketball coach?

I’m no expert, but I’m game. I’d love to join the conversations you’re already having– at work, with your friends, or even in your mind. I’d be honored if you’d invite me along. And maybe together we can remember that God’s Truth is more powerful than any of the enemy’s lies.

Please comment on Facebook or send me an email at info@nicolejphillips.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Everyday Worries

The funny thing about cancer drugs is that they seem to spit out side-effects cyclically.

I don’t always get hot flashes. They come in waves. Every few weeks I wake up hot and sweaty and know that for a few days I’m going to have some uncomfortable nights. Then just when I think I can’t stand it anymore, the hot flashes disappear.

It’s the same thing with my anxiety. I’ll be feeling very confident and in control of my emotions, when the next thing you know, I’m having wicked scary thoughts about where my children are or what my husband is doing.

This past week I’ve had both hot flashes and high anxiety. I think it’s safe to say I’m a bit of a hot mess.

Saul’s job requires him to be on the road a lot. Timing being what it is, my crazy train pulled into the station about the same time Saul’s flight left. I’d say that was God’s provision for my husband. There is safety in distance.

Anyway, with Saul gone, I was in charge of getting our three kids to volleyball, football, school, church, one parade, and two birthday parties. I was on edge, hoping I’d make it to everything on time and that I wouldn’t lose a child in the mix.

At one point, I was waiting in my car when I noticed a woman and child in the vehicle behind me. I couldn’t get a good view of the woman, but I would have sworn that the child was my youngest son, Ben. Why was my child in a car with a stranger? All of a sudden, my body had a physical reaction to this mental image even though I knew it couldn’t be true. My stomach turned over in dread while my heart started thumping through my chest. I never knew a person could actually hear their own heartbeat.

My brain finally caught up and reminded me that my son was safe and sound at a playdate with one of my dear, trusted friends. I exhaled my gratitude… He’s okay. He’s okay. He’s okay.

Stepping back from myself long enough to realize that logical me and feral me were at war, I needed to make a decision. Who would I allow to win? To which side would I give my energy?

It was then that I realized the irony of the situation. In less than hour I was scheduled to speak to a group of college students about how to unlock God’s great gift of joy in times of trouble.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s a little hysterical when you are forced to take your own advice?

My action step for the students was simple. It included two things: 1) Set a “Get Grateful” alert in your phone and when it goes off, take a photo of something happening at that exact moment for which you can be grateful. 2) Memorize Philippians 4:8 and start running it through your mind when your thoughts begin to darken or fixate on something worrisome.

If you’re not familiar with that verse, here it is: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

The truth this world sells is that bad things will happen. The other shoe will drop and the only answer is to drive ourselves to distraction trying to prepare for it.

But there is an alternative.

God’s truth. He calls us to give thanks in all circumstances because He sees what we cannot see, He knows what we cannot know and He has proclaimed our victory through Jesus.

When the hot flashes come and the anxiety hits the roof and I’m worried my kid is in someone else’s car, God’s truth reminds me that I don’t have to buy into everyday worries. I’m in this for the long haul and in the end, I already know who wins.

For my yOUnglife Friends!

Hey YoungLife Friends! Here’s a great verse to use when worries begin closing in. I memorized it so I can run it through my mind over and over again when I feel dark or negative thoughts closing in.

May God illuminate all the silver linings in your life! -Nicole

“Whatever is TRUE, whatever is NOBLE, whatever is RIGHT, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is ADMIRABLE– if anything is EXCELLENT or PRAISEWORTHY– think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Also, here’s an awesome article on God’s answer to “What should I do now?” or “What do you want from me?” Enjoy!

Is Joy a Matter of Perspective?

The woman beside me was a cancer survivor, too. We were diagnosed within weeks of each other. Her treatment plan was a lot more intense, but here she was, looking beautiful, with soft wisps of ebony hair shining beneath a diamond studded headband.

We were at a fancy ball, celebrating our journeys.

After asking about her diagnosis, I asked if she had noticed her life being filled with joy at the same time she was experiencing such pain. “Oh no!” she quickly responded. “It was terrible. I lost my job just before the diagnosis, then I lost my car. My family completely abandoned me.”

My heart broke for the woman, and for every other person who goes through terrible trials. All this time I had been professing the incredible gift of joy God gives us when we are at our lowest points.

Listening to that woman, I thought, What if it’s not true? What if I made it up? 

As I continued listening to my new friend, her eyes began to sparkle. She went on to tell me that she’s not bitter about her family; she’s proud of the strength she had in adversity. She told me about a wonderful agency that provided taxi vouchers so she could get to her chemo appointments. And how they had a garden and she learned to cook the most delicious vegetables, even when she could barely keep anything down. And how the free massage therapist was so gentle and the power of human touch was so healing.

This wasn’t a woman who had lost her job, her car and her family. This was a woman who had walked through a fire and had come out refined. Glittery. Strong. I think she was just beginning to see the extent of her own power.

It’s possible that joy in the midst of pain is all in my head. Maybe I see the silver lining because I am naive and need to believe in something good. I could be inventing kindness and joy where it doesn’t exist. That could be true.

But can I tell you a secret?

It’s way better on this side. I’ve lived both ways: believing that life was a grey, pointless experience meant to be endured and believing that each day holds tiny miracles meant to remind me that I am loved and that the One who created me has big plans for my life.

Could it be that the joy in the midst of our pain is a matter of perspective? Maybe it’s there for all of us, but we have to reach out and grab it. Let’s choose today to focus on the good even when the scales tip way over to the bad. Maybe that’s the key to unleashing all the joy that is in store for you and me, even in the middle of our pain.

I’m Glad I Got Cancer

The evening’s emcee stood on the stage and said the unthinkable. “The women I’ve talked to say they’re glad they were diagnosed with breast cancer. That it was one of the best things that ever happened to them.”

Jordan and I were invited to speak at the Pink Tie Ball in Indianapolis this weekend. It was a beautiful mother-daughter getaway complete with a hotel stay, shopping and lots of yummy treats. We topped it all off by sharing our story of cancer and cozys in front of 500 new friends at a gala near the Indy Speedway.

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Jojo with Pippa Mann’s Indy race car

Just before we got up to speak, the emcee, who is a prominent television anchor and health reporter, shared her sentiments. She said she had interviewed countless women who all told her the same thing: Cancer was worth it, because it uncovered a strength they never knew they had.

I silently gasped in my seat. This woman is standing in front of hundreds of survivors. They’re gonna boo her right off the stage! And then suddenly it occurred to me, she’s right.

I am glad I got breast cancer. Grateful even.

Cancer stole a breast, it stole my feelings of immortality, it gave my mother and sister and daughter and future grandchildren a legacy I wish they didn’t have to carry, but cancer gave me so much in return.

Cancer taught me how to feel deeply without being afraid of those emotions. Laugh when I need to laugh and cry when I need to cry, without worrying that I’ll enter a pit I won’t be able to crawl out of.

Cancer taught me that joy and pain exist simultaneously. Always. If we look for the silver lining, we will find it. There is a reason God tells us to rejoice in all things and give thanks in all circumstances. It’s because He knows it’s possible.

Cancer taught me that kindness is a powerful tool to combat self-pity. Doing something for others reminds us of our ability to create goodness in life.

And cancer taught me that a little idea can make a big difference. Jojo’s Cozys for the Cure idea started out with one coffee cup sleeve in exchange for one $5 donation. That was 13 months ago. She’s now paid for 84 mobile mammograms for women in rural, hard to reach areas. If statistics are right and 1 in 8 women are truly diagnosed with breast cancer, Jordan has rallied enough support to save 10 women’s lives. Ten women who will also learn that breast cancer has important life lessons to teach them, too.

So, as unhinged and demented as it sounds, I will say it again: I am glad I got breast cancer.

If you are worried about what the future will bring, about what to do if your worst nightmare becomes a reality, let me encourage you. Whether it’s cancer, a financial issue or matters of the heart, when your battle comes, hold onto the sentiments of the survivors who’ve gone before you and take heart. This fight will uncover a strength you never knew you had.

Qualities of a First Grade Boyfriend

Everyday after school, my son does two things: he washes his hands (I can’t even begin to guess what he has touched in the last six hours) and he unloads his backpack.

Unzipping his backpack opens a window into my first grader’s day. An award for learning to write 120 numbers! A certificate for being quiet in the hallway! A tooth necklace to celebrate that newly acquired gap in his mouth!

There are worksheets and a reading log and an occasional birthday invitation.

But never this.

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Until now.

Folded ever so carefully and tucked into his red folder was an anonymous love letter to my son.  I’m certain he had no intention of showing it to me because he turned about four shades of red when I held it in my hands and asked, “Who’s this from?”

Now Ben is not much for divulging secrets, so even if he did know, I’m not sure he’d tell me. He plays it pretty close to the vest. However…

Ben is saving up for an electronic, so as all good moms do, I bribed him. All good moms do that, right??? 

Ben spilled the beans on the first grade gossip and told me there are actually two little girls in his class who may have written it.

Wait, what?! My son in a miniature ladies man. How did I miss that?

I happened to be volunteering in the classroom the next day when both of the girls who are sweet on my boy came to give me a big hug. What luck! With both of them standing in front of me, I knelt down and said “Hey ladies! Does either one of you know who drew that picture for Ben?”

One girl shot her hand straight up in the air, while the other pointed sideways and said, “It was her.”

“What’s it a picture of?” I asked.

“That’s me and Ben holding hands!” she proudly answered.

“Why is he wearing a skirt?”

“I don’t know how to draw boys yet.”

That answer in itself was enough to make me fall in love with this spunky little sweetheart, but her next answer sealed the deal.

“Okay, one last question.” I continued. “Why do you like Ben?”

Without skipping a beat and in a tone that said I should already know this, she said, “Because he’s considerate and kind!”

Oh be still my heart. My son is considerate and kind to his friends– even the girls! This calls for cake and ice-cream.

Not only did I want to wrap my arms around that little girl in that exact moment, I also wanted to high-five her momma for teaching her 6 year old daughter the most important traits to look for in a man… or in a first grade boyfriend.

Considerate and kind. Well done, Momma. Well done.

 

Use Your Words

I woke up this morning and realized I had nothing to say. The only words I had were for God. Thank you for this, please forgive me for that. I sat with Him and told Him about the help I needed today and asked Him to walk with my friends. And then I was done. Totally out of words.

I did what I always do when I’m out of words. I stalled. Instead of opening a fresh document and at least trying to think of something hope-filled or encouraging to say, I opened up my email.

And that’s when I realized God has a very funny sense of humor.

Beckoning from my inbox was an email from my sister. She had forwarded an article from the New York Times about a Stanford program that encourages people to write letters to their loved ones. It’s called the Stanford Friends and Family Letter Project.

You can read the entire article here, but this is the heart behind the idea, according to VJ Periyakoil, M.D. “With guidance from seriously ill patients and families from various racial and ethnic groups, we developed a free template for a letter that can help people complete seven life review tasks: acknowledging important people in our lives; remembering treasured moments; apologizing to those we may have hurt; forgiving those who have hurt us; and saying “thank you,” “I love you” and “goodbye.”

I thought it was ironic that on the day I ran out of words, I would read about a program that encourages people to take the time to say what needs to be said.

It made me wonder if my people know why I say the things I do or whether life speeds by so quickly that it seems like mom is just barking out orders or making crazy suggestions.

I often ask my daughter on our drive to the middle school what she’s looking forward to that day. “What exciting thing will happen today, Jo?” Usually she can come up with an interesting project she’s working on or something fun she’s planning with her friends. Today, not so much. I guess she ran out of words too. “Look for it, Jo. Like a treasure hunt. God wants to spoil you. Hunt down all the ways He’s showering you with kindness today. I promise you’ll find them.”

Does she know that when unkindness meets her in the middle school hallway, God will also be there, waiting for her to notice Him, planting gems of kindness along her path? It’s a trick I’ve used to ward off depression for years. Look for the kindness. It’s a tactic I want to teach her for dealing with the difficulties of life, but do I slow down enough to fully lay out the lesson plan?

I might not have words today, but I have little ones who will someday cherish the writings of their mother. So like my own little Stanford project, I will leave a piece of my heart on the paper before my words are gone for good.

ISO Tattoo Artists

Once again breast cancer is giving me the opportunity to experience something I never really knew I needed to experience. This time, I’m researching tattoo parlors.

Are they even called “parlors” anymore? I have clearly watched too many movies, because when I think of a place that does tattoos, I think of a dimly lit, smoke filled back room and a large man with a beard. Not exactly a setting that invites you to take your top off and bare your breast. Well, maybe in my younger days… Kidding! I’m only kidding! Sort of.

Anywho, two weeks ago, my doctor put on my new nipple and yesterday he proclaimed it alive! There is always a chance that the skin won’t survive the surgery and they have to do it again. That’s actually what happened with my mastectomy, so I was very relieved that my skin cooperated this time.

In two weeks I’ll be cleared to jog, in four weeks I’ll be cleared to sprint and in eight weeks I can schedule my first tattoo!

The process of reconstructing a breast comes in four parts: 1. Slowly filling the tissue expander pouch to stretch the skin 2. Surgery to swap out the pouch for an implant 3. A mini surgery to create a nipple and 4. Tattooing of the areola.

A person certainly doesn’t need to do any or all of these steps, but I wanted to complete the process for the book. My friend, Ann Fredricks, continues to take amazing photos of each step of the breast cancer journey that we eventually hope to share as a resource with women all over the world.

Tattooing is kind of a big deal to me, because it’s pretty permanent. It’s on my breast, so not a ton of people will see it (except for everyone who reads the book). If I’m going to have it done, I want to know that I’m not someone’s first try. It would be nice to know they have done an areola or two in the past. That is basically what I told my doctor when I asked him for references.

It turns out I’m not the only woman who feels this way! The clinic actually has a list of people who do this sort of tattoo. I do have the option of getting it done right at the clinic, but I’ve been told to go to a place with the best ink and the best equipment, so that’s what I’m looking for.

You guys should see this list. I’m sure these are all wonderful, kind, professional human beings, but I cracked up when I read, “Vinnie in Baltimore, Kelly a guy at the Tattoo Lodge, or Monkey who lives in Dayton.” I swear I am not making this stuff up! I do have some other options, but their names aren’t nearly as fun.

Saul and I laid in bed last night talking about tattoos. I told him I wanted to get the words “I AM” in teeny tiny letters next to the areola. I never should have said anything, because the conversation digressed quickly.

Saul: “I am” as in “I am nipple”? Huh…

Me: No!!! “I AM” as in GOD! Like “I AM the Alpha and the Omega…”

(I looked it up this morning and it’s from Revelation 1:8. The exact scripture is “I am the Alpha and the Omega–the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come–the Almighty One.” That would be a lot of words on one breast, so I thought I’d stick with just “I AM.”)

From there, Saul gave me lots of helpful ideas of his own. Most of them had to do with playing off the fact that my new nipple looks like the knob of a radio dial. It is amazing the amount of things we have found to laugh about due to cancer.

I used to think when people had cancer that I had to be somber when I talked to them. That no joy, no humor and no laughter were allowed. I see it differently now. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh and cancer does not get to dictate when we choose to do either one or where we go to get our first tattoo.

A Houseful of Bobcats

I’m terrified to have large groups of people in my house. Small groups are fine, but a guest list over six gives me the cold sweats.

I love people, but I love them more one-on-one.

I don’t worry about the prep work. The cooking, cleaning, that’s all fine. I make the kids do it. Joke! That was a joke!

I don’t worry about my house getting messy or things getting broken. Things are just things.

What I worry about is saying the right thing, making people feel welcome, and connecting with everyone so no one feels left out. How can I possibly do that when we can’t all fit around the table together?

Each year, my husband likes to invite his freshman basketball players over for a cookout. He grills, I do side dishes and desserts, which usually means fruit, chips and M&M ice cream sandwiches from a box. Hungry college kids are easy to feed.

This year, Saul thought it would be fun to invite the whole team. As I stood in my kitchen bravely trying to catch his enthusiasm, he quickly added that because of the amount of people, he would have it catered.

There are lots of Bobcat fans in town that would give their right arm to shoot hoops in the driveway or play corn hole in the front yard with these guys. I get it. It’s fun. I should be grateful. But all my mind could focus on was the math… players plus staff plus wives plus kids. It added up to way more than my comfortable number of six.

You guys, I purposely say “Yes” to things that are scary because I know it’s the only way I’ll grow.

I’m hosting a Friday morning bible study in my home starting in October. Yes, you are invited.

I’m having a 31 party for all the members of Team Phillips just before the Athens Race for the Cure. Yes, you are invited.

I think it’s important to kick the comfort zone to the side sometimes. It’s part of my philosophy on kindness. We must leave what feels easy to break through barriers and really get to know people and shower them with kindness. That’s where the biggest reward comes for the giver, and let’s face it, kindness really isn’t about them, it’s about us. God created us to be kind and we never really feel like we’ve stepped into our purpose until we embrace it.

Friday night came along and the walls of my house vibrated with laughter and doors slamming and spoons clanging.

I was almost overwhelmed. Almost. And then I just stopped. I listened to the noise filling my home and my heart swelled with joy and gratitude.

Fun! We were all having fun! And I didn’t need to be the center of attention or give everyone a handcrafted goodie bag to make them feel special. All I had to do was open my home.

Huh. That wasn’t so hard after all.

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THINK about it

I know I’m supposed to keep my eyes on today, but I’m just so excited for tomorrow I can hardly stand it. Tomorrow I’m going back to school! Elementary school!

The principal is allowing me to speak to all of the students (kindergarten through sixth grade) at the all-school morning meeting.

What a perfect place to share the message of kindness.

I’m ready. I’ve got a bag of balloons, a roll of painter’s tape and five poster boards loaded into the family minivan.

You’d have to actually come to the school to see those tools in play. It’s top secret. But I can tell you that tomorrow’s message is all about remembering to T.H.I.N.K.

I didn’t invent the concept. It’s on posters in schools all over America, reminding us to ask ourselves if our words are:

T-true

H-helpful

I-inspiring

N-necessary

K-kind

Think about it. It’s not just for kids. How would people look at us if we always ran our words through that filter? I bet they’d like us a whole lot more. I bet we’d like ourselves a  whole lot more.

Today, in honor of tomorrow, I’m pledging to slow down enough to T.H.I.N.K. before I speak. Will you join me?

He Loves Them More

My niece called me from college last night. She’s a freshman and wanted to Facetime to show me her new dorm. She is beyond excited, but I wasn’t shocked when she admitted there were some tears as she moved into her new home. Kate called them happy tears. “I’m just so excited, Aunt Nicki!”

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She should be. She’s doing something doctors swore couldn’t be done. As a NICU infant, they told her family that Kate wouldn’t survive. As an elementary aged child, she struggled just to get through a whole day at school. As a teen, living at the Mayo Clinic, she fought to regain her ability to walk and speak without a stutter.

Kate had a bigger plan. She wanted to go to college. So when she moved into her dorm last night, there were happy tears.

But there were also sad tears. Because standing next to Kate through many of those trials was her little sister. She likes having Kate at home. She wants her people together under one roof. While Kate’s heart is soaring, little Elena’s heart needs to heal.

I imagine many of us can relate.

I’m at that strange age where I have just as many friends dropping kids off at college as I do driving them to their first day of kindergarten. Two totally separate ends of the education spectrum, but I have to believe the feelings are sort of the same.

So proud… so amazed… so scared. What if they need me? Who will take care of them?

I took my own daughter to middle school this year. Did you know that the middle school hallways are filled with drama? I know. Strange. Things have changed so much since I was in school. (That was sarcasm.)

I would never want to be a teenager again, but I would switch places with her in a heartbeat if I could save her from even an ounce of hurt.

We all have someone we love so dearly and worry about so deeply. But parking in angst does no one any good, so what’s the alternative?

Perhaps we just need to remember one simple truth. He loves them more than you do. The One who made the special people in your life adores them, regardless of whether they love Him back or have run a great distance from their Creator.

My entire capacity to love is just a fraction of God’s love for them. He sees all, He knows all (even our deepest thoughts), and only He can redeem whatever may go wrong in their lives. In fact, it’s His specialty.

So what if instead of spending our energy on worrying, we spent it thanking God for our loved ones? Instead of contemplating all that could go wrong, we began proclaiming out loud the greatness of God? What if the words we speak are actually the truths we bring to life?

Imagine for a moment what that would look like… opening your mouth to say, “Hey guys, check it out! God’s about to do something amazing!”

I don’t know what that would do to the spiritual world, but I can tell you it would bring a whole lot more light to this hurting world and breathe a whole lot more hope into each day we get to spend here. Let’s give it a try and see what happens. After all, it worked for Kate.

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I Make Myself Sick

I’d like to blame my morning fainting spell on low blood sugar, but I think it has more to do with my new nipple.

Tuesday’s surgery went really well. I was awake the whole time, the nurse pumped my favorite Christian music into the room, the procedure was fast and I didn’t feel a thing. Pretty perfect in my book!

At the very end, when the crew was getting me all bandaged up, I boldly looked down for a quick peek at my new body part. “Ugheew!” The noise that came out of my mouth was a mix between a groan and a scream. My doctor smiled. “Too soon?” he asked sympathetically. “This is the worse it will look. It gets much better from here.” I was thankful for the consolation.

Ten minutes later, sitting at a restaurant with my friend, Ann, I was happy to have the hard part behind me. Or so I thought.

Then today arrived. It’s two days after the surgery and the first day I get to take a shower. I sleepily stumbled into the bathroom.

I should have known it was going to be rough when I started crying just pulling off the surgical tape. The nipple and breast have no feeling, but the rest of the skin on my chest does– and that’s where they attached the tape. Think of ripping off a band-aid…. that’s been glued to your skin.

Tape off, I stood in front of the mirror and assessed the construction site. I felt a nauseous little flip in my stomach as my mind and my body registered what it was looking at. Again, I cannot feel my left breast, but even the idea of water hitting the wound sent me into a panic.

Determined to keep moving, I stepped into the shower.

It’s possible that was not my best yes of the day. The minute the water touched my skin I knew I was going down. I threw myself out of the shower onto the dry rug in an attempt to hit the ground before the ground hit me. I swallowed back the urge to vomit and took several deep breaths. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Help me. Help me. Help me.

When I felt stable enough to stand, I made sure I was facing away from the mirror.

Now, dry and ready for the day, I’m feeling great. I’m confident the skin on my breast will heal into something resembling a nipple. After all, the mastectomy healed and that looked like a complete train wreck. Maybe I’ll just stay away from mirrors for a while.

By the way, as I love to say, there is always a silver lining! I’m on restrictions for four weeks: no lifting more than 5 pounds for two weeks and no more than 10 pounds for two weeks after that. Also, no running, laundry, dishes or vacuuming. Life is good!

 

New Nipple Tuesday

I’m going off the rails a bit. If you are one of those people who relishes TMI (too much information), stick with me. You’re gonna love this– we’re talking about nipples! If not, carry on with your day and I’ll catch up with you another time.

Tomorrow is New Nipple Tuesday! I’ve named it that because I have to keep my sense of humor about things. I’m heading back to The James to continue this process of reconstruction that has seriously been going on since they took off my cancery breast a year ago.

Can you tell I’m ready for it to be done already? I bet you feel that way about certain things in your life too. Can we just close the curtain on this scene and move on to the next?

I have two steps left until my reconstruction is complete. Nipple replacement and then (three months from now) tattooing of the areola.

Tomorrow, the plastic surgeon will tuck and sew the skin on my breast to make it into a nipple. Right now, my left breast resembles a barbie doll. It’s in the shape of a breast, but it doesn’t have any female details. If I were a braver woman, I would google this process so I know exactly how it’s done, but I’m not, so I’m just letting my imagination tell me all I need to know. Besides, I know from previous internet searches that typing “breast” or “nipple” into a computer is never a good thing.

I’ll be awake for the process. That’s good, because my family has learned from experience that I don’t recover quickly from anesthesia. But that’s also bad, because even though that particular part of my body will be numb, my brain won’t be. My lovely creative mind will be wide awake and free to think all kinds of wack-a-doo thoughts about all the things that could go wrong.

The doctor tells me he creates the nipple three times larger than it needs to be because it shrinks in the healing process. Tell me that alone is not enough to think about during the hour long procedure…

So why would I even bother? That’s the million dollar question. Honestly, if it were just about me or even my husband, I wouldn’t. But it’s not about us. It’s about you. And your girlfriends. And your sisters. And maybe even your mother. I want to share my experience, the whole experience, with you so that if you ever have to make this decision, you’ll have a little more information than you had before.

Not everyone is called to share the intimate details of their cancer journey, but I am. I’ve known from the beginning that if I was going to have to walk this path, other women would gain in the process. And maybe even a few men who are wondering what is going on in their wives’ minds.

So I’m scared about tomorrow and I know I’ll be scared to look at my new nipple, but I’m going in with a purpose which is much deeper than cosmetic and that makes me brave.

The next time you have to do something uncomfortable, think about who else could benefit from your short-term suffering. Maybe it’ll make you brave, too.

On a side note, my sweet daughter is giving her all to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer. If you’re interested in getting a handmade coffee cup cozy and supporting her efforts, would you please follow this link and click the “Donate Now” button? As a survivor and a mom, Thank you!!!

Cancerversary

Some days seem to count more than others when it comes to cancer. May 14th? The day I found out I had breast cancer. July 14th? The day I had my mastectomy. April 26th? My reconstruction surgery.

Before my eyes even bothered to blink open this morning, I knew what day it was. August 19th. The day I found out the cancer was gone.

One year ago, on this exact date, Saul and I were heading to The James to meet with a new doctor. This one was joining our team as my medical oncologist, the person who would determine the best future treatment plan. In other words, this doctor was the one who would tell me if I needed chemotherapy.

It could have been a day of grieving. Or of muscling up for another battle. Instead, it was a day of rejoicing. As Saul and I sat side-by-side holding hands, the doctor said these words, “The cancer is gone.”

She went on to explain that using chemo or radiation as an insurance policy would do more harm to my body than good. Instead, she wanted me to try a drug called Tamoxifen. If I could tolerate it for the next ten years or so, the likelihood that I wouldn’t have another bout of breast cancer was in the 90th percentile. Somewhere between 93-97% that the breast cancer wouldn’t be back. Those are pretty good odds.

Saul and I looked at each other before he ventured to ask, “It’s GONE gone? Like my wife is cancer-free?” Yep.

August 19, 2015 was a really good day.

August 19, 2000 was a really good day, too.

That’s the day Saul and I got married. I’m grateful to have ALL days since dealing with cancer, but some days definitely seem to count more than others.

Maybe that’s not true. Maybe it’s not that some days count more than others… maybe it’s just that some days are so much more fun to remember than others.

First Day of School Fail

Ugh. I did it again. Twice.

Yesterday was the first day of school. My daughter started 7th grade, which in Athens, means going to the middle school. My boys are in 5th and 1st, still at the elementary.

Two schools means two separate drop off times. Two chances to get back-to-school pictures of at least one of my kids.

Or not.

Jordan had shut the minivan door and was long gone by the time I realized my mistake. Here’s Jordan’s First Day of School photo:

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Less than an hour later, I was in the elementary school drop-off lane with my boys when I saw a lovely family get out of the car. Mom, dad, and three gorgeous blond headed boys. I thought to myself, “Wow. Those are really good parents. The kids’ all have their hair combed and they’re walking into school as a family. Nice!”

And then I realized, they weren’t walking into the school, they were walking over to the school sign. What are they doing?

All of a sudden the clouds in my sleepy brain parted as rays of understanding came streaming in… pictures. They’re taking pictures.

Not to be outdone, I quickly grabbed my phone and snapped a delightful reminder of this educational milestone:

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Look! My son’s hair is combed!

So, maybe I should tell you, I forgot to take First Day of School pictures last year, too. But that time I had a super great excuse. Saul and I were on our way to The James Cancer Center for a post-surgery update. The first day of school in 2015 was also the day I found out the breast cancer was gone and I wouldn’t need chemo. I felt badly for forgetting the photos, but we all had a lot on our minds. I was certain this year I would totally redeem myself.

Have you ever noticed that friends have a way of making our failures a little less painful? I was sharing this story with one of my besties when she quickly pulled out her phone.

Here’s her back to school picture of her daughter:

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So we all win some and lose some. Frankly I’m not sure it even matters what you get right and what you get wrong as long as you’re there when they need you.

Thank goodness for the invention of ice cream. I’m pretty sure it was created so families like mine could take after school pictures.

IMG_6373 By the way, how much longer do you think she’ll voluntarily sit on her daddy’s lap?

Life Lessons from IKEA

Oh dear God… What have I done?

I stared at the box and felt panic creep into my throat. I can’t do it. Do you see me, God? I’m shredding my hands just trying to get the box open. This is too hard. I give up.

But I couldn’t give up. I had three incredibly excited children waiting for new beds and nine humongous boxes threatening to take up permanent residency in the middle of the floor.

Just then, Jordan walked in with a scissors. At least now I could proceed with the first step: open the boxes.

Jo has been waiting to do a bedroom switch-a-roo with her littlest brother since March. Ben had the biggest room and Jordan thought it would be prime real estate for her sewing machines. All of a sudden, all three kids wanted in on this Extreme Home Makeover, but I told them we had to wait until the end of the summer.

Not sure if you’ve looked at the calendar lately, but my “end of summer” happens on Wednesday. That’s when the kids head back to school. This was literally the last weekend of our summer vacation. So, Saturday morning we hopped in the minivan and headed to Cincinnati to the mecca of do-it-yourself furniture: IKEA.

Sunday, we realized we bit off more than we could chew. At least, I did.

Alas, there are lessons to be learned from putting together multiple beds and shelving units in one day. Here are a few:

1. You don’t need words to understand what someone is saying. I’m guessing this picture will save me from some future hazard.

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2. Don’t assume you have a better plan than the creator. Follow the directions. In order.

3. When you get off course in life (or IKEA mantling), return to the last right decision you made. Don’t agonize over lost time, just pick up from there.

4. Two heads are better than one. Each child helped me put together their own bed. The next time I need one-on-one time with my kids, I’m going to buy more furniture to assemble. It was precious. Here’s Charlie…

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5. Listening to Christian music will curb your desire to cuss out loud. Not that I ever get the urge to swear. I’m just saying…

6. Trust in the master plan. You can’t see the final product when you’re up to your neck in the individual pieces.

7. Hard work makes for a good night’s sleep. For everyone. Even the dog, who seems to think she got a new bed, too.

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The Two C’s

Ouch. My daughter’s words cut deep into my heart. I was failing. Not in everything, but in this one thing. The conversation at the dinner table halted as I processed this information.

“It’s just that sometimes I talk to you and you’re looking at your phone and you don’t even acknowledge me.”

My first response was to defend. It’s my job to support and encourage the people on the other end of that phone, Jo. 

My second response was to deflect. Dad pulls out his phone while we’re eating and you never get down on him.

Luckily, I waited to open my mouth until my brain got to my third response. Concede. She was right. It was hard to hear, but she was right.

At what point did it become more important to nurture the world instead of my own family?

I have to admit, there’s a whole lot I do on my phone that has nothing to do with spreading the message of kindness. It’s escapism. Or busywork.

Jordan could tell my feelings were hurt as I apologized and promised to curb my iPhone enthusiasm. She started to back-track. “It’s okay, Mom. I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s your job to be online.”

And here is where the most beautiful conversation rose up out of the ashes. I got to explain to my 12 year old the difference between being convicted and being condemned.

When a friend, family member, or the mean girl at middle school says something that hurts, hold it up in the air. Before you react, put it out at arm’s length and examine it.

Was it said out of hate or jealousy or anger? Or was it said out of love?

Then ask yourself, is there any truth in these words? Do I need to own them or brush them off? Is there an element that could make me a better person– not necessarily in the eyes of people, but in the eyes of God?

Condemnation is the icky feeling you get when someone tells you something out of hate or hurt or jealousy or anger. When you hold it up to the light, it doesn’t quite make sense. You don’t see the truth in what that person is saying and it certainly doesn’t stand up next to what God says about you.

Conviction can initially bring on that icky feeling, but when you consider the source, you realize the words come from a place of love. The other person is pointing out something that is hard to hear but will help you grow.

I’ve come to love conviction. It’s a powerful tool the Holy Spirit uses to continue to mold us into the people God intended us to be.

I wish my younger self would have understood the difference between condemnation and conviction. I’ve spent my life in a tiny limelight. I was Miss Wisconsin, then a television newscaster, then a coach’s wife, then a speaker. When people criticized my looks or my work or my beliefs, that moment of pause would have saved me a lot of heartache. Just because people say hurtful things doesn’t mean I have to accept them. That’s condemnation.

…Until they come from your truth-telling, momma-loving little girl. Then you’re immediately convicted to stop scrolling and start some good, old fashioned face time.

Listen to the Voice in Your Head

Saul and I were just a couple of young pups, sitting across from the pastor, jumping through the appropriate hoops so we could get married in this church.

Premarital counseling was going pretty well. We seemed to have all the right answers, until the wide chested middle-aged pastor in cowboy boots asked us our mailing address. “3621 River’s Edge…” I recited.

The pastor turned to Saul. “And what’s your address?”

“Mine’s the same as her’s,” Saul replied.

Uh oh. Wrong answer.

The cowboy boots shifted under the table as the pastor sat up a little taller and took a deep breath. He went on to tell us that the church really doesn’t believe in cohabitation before marriage. He even offered to marry us on the spot at that very moment in a private ceremony so we could be aligned with God’s will.

Wait! What? Is this guy crazy? The invitations had already been sent. How could I possibly get married right now???

Saul took the wheel and explained that while we would love to live separately, he was making $10,000 a year and I was making $18,000 and neither of us could afford rent on our own in downtown Milwaukee.

The pastor let it go, but not before saying these words. “Go home and listen for the Holy Spirit. Let Him guide you in this decision.”

That was 16 years ago. Now that I’m in a different place in my life and hear pretty frequently from God, I wonder why I never heard from the Holy Spirit on that issue. And then it occurred to me, I wasn’t listening.

We do that sometimes. We step out of God’s will for our life by justifying our behavior and then we put our fingers in our ears and sing LALALALALALALA as loud as we can so we can’t hear what we don’t want to hear.

Sin is messy, so our lives become messy. It doesn’t even have to be our own sin that complicates our lives. Other people’s sin has a tendency to spill over onto us, turning our living rooms into CSI crime scenes. But if we are in line with God’s will (or even trying to be), He will help us work through the situation and guide our reactions — both within our own hearts and in our dealings with others.

There is a biblical truth that becomes glaringly obvious as I look back on those premarital counseling sessions. It’s the kindness of God that leads man to repentance. (Romans 2:4)

That pastor could have thrown his hands in the air at our cocky ignorance. He could have sent us straight out of the church and left us scrambling to find another place that would play by our rules. But he didn’t. He spoke truth into our lives and then let us just sit with it.

In time, I came to regret living with Saul before marriage. I have a daughter and I want her to stand within God’s guardrails because I know they’re not meant to harm her or tamper her fun. They are meant to protect her and give her the best that God can offer.

My life still includes plenty of sin, both my own and others. But the difference between 24 year old me and 41 year old me is that the blinders are off. I can feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit because I ask for it. I ask to be prompted to be kind. I ask to be convicted when I’m out of line. I ask to be guided and guarded.

That feeling deep inside of you that we sometimes call a conscience? It’s the Holy Spirit. The more you follow that voice, even when it doesn’t make sense, the more powerful its leading will become. And the more joyful you will be in life.

You don’t need to be scared about what it will tell you and where it will take you. God’s a nice guy. He’s gentle when it comes to chipping away the ugly parts of our lives. He loves you and I promise, He won’t give you more than you can handle.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Everyone’s Invited to Facebook

Remember when you first started using Facebook and the kids went unwashed and unfed for 3 days because you couldn’t pull yourself away from trolling other people’s status updates?

Please tell me I wasn’t alone…

It’s happening again. Only this time, instead of feeling like an anonymous stalker, I’m being drawn to this fun, open, “everyone’s invited” conversation.

I’ve started posting videos to my public Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NicoleJPhillips/) and encouraging others (aka: you) to comment with your thoughts on the word.

The first one I did was on gratitude. I’m grateful joy and pain exist simultaneously. What are you grateful for? 

The second one was on love. What happens when we love something so much we invest our best selves in it? What do you love?

The third one will be on joy. Look for this one next week — probably on Thursday, but you can go back and find it on my FB page anytime.

I was blown over by what people had to say about what they are grateful for and what they love. I was so inspired to expand my view on these two simple words.

I hope you have time to pop on over to Facebook and watch the videos and leave a comment. Our tribe needs everyone’s voice to be heard. We have so much to learn from each other.

Can I Get an AMEN?

I hadn’t felt this nervous since I was waiting in the wings of the Miss America pageant 20 years ago. If I hadn’t wanted what was on the other side of that door so badly, I would have bolted.

Just behind that door was the person who could say one word and make all of my dreams come true.

I was at a Christian women’s writing conference this past weekend. Imagine, 750 women just like me. My husband says that’s a scary thought. I was in heaven.

Learning, worshiping, and loving up on other writers was amazingly fun. We all wanted the same thing… to be filled with God so we could pour out into others through our words.

Then Saturday came. That’s when I found myself sitting on a chair in a hallway, staring at a door that would lead to my future.

Actually there were two doors. Two meetings with editors from prominent publishing houses. Two people who could say “Yes! This book on kindness is amazing! Yes! This book on breast cancer is groundbreaking! We’ll take them both!”

The meetings went well. The people behind those doors were just… people. Not even a tiny bit scary. The pressure was all in my imagination.

Have you ever done that to yourself? Built something or someone up to be so big and so powerful that they become larger than reality?

I got the same answer from both publishers. Basically, they said, “Interesting. I’ll take this info back to the team and see what they say.”

Not a no. Not a yes. Just a wait.

I walked out of those rooms and immediately knew what I needed to say to my tribe– to you. Ready for it?

IT’S NOT PERSONAL.

Whatever rejection you face in your mind or in your life, is not about you. In my case it’s about what that publishing house needs at this exact moment. For you, it’s about the baggage that someone else is dragging into your conversation. Or maybe a rejection from a boss or a husband or a girlfriend is God’s way of protecting you from whatever is coming down the pipeline.

IT’S NOT PERSONAL.

God created you perfectly. Seriously. You may be a work in progress, but He still thinks you are simply wonderful. Isn’t that beautiful?

Live free today of other people’s expectations and judgements and know you are right where God wants you, and right where He can use you most at this exact moment.

And all the people said, AMEN!

Perfectly Imperfect Kindness

I woke up this morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. I guess that’s a good thing since that’s where I went to bed last night.

It’s a little confusing trying to keep up with myself this summer. During the month of July, I’ve been in New York, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. I have spent six nights in my own bed in Ohio. I love to travel, but even for me, that’s a bit much. Add to that the intense emotional toll of each trip and I have to say, I’m a bit weary.

I’m weary, but I’m pressing on because this is the trip that I have been anticipating for a year. I’m in Charlotte for a writer’s conference called SheSpeaks. I have my book proposal tucked carefully into my bag, waiting for Saturday when I’ll pull it out and try to convince a publisher that Borrow My Brave should be in the hands of breast cancer patients across the country. In the meantime, I get to learn all about writing and podcasting and posting on social media.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re fatigued, you’re more likely to listen to the lies that float into your brain? When I’m alert, I’m ready. I have trained my mind to reject negative thoughts and replace them with something more productive. But when I’m tired, lonely, or over-extended, sometimes the enemy wins.

I attended a dinner last night with 30 other women who are here to improve their craft. One by one, we stood up and shared a bit about ourselves and our ministry. It was amazing. There were some powerful stories in that room.

This morning, I should be reflecting on the beauty of each woman’s calling.

But instead, before my feet even hit the floor, the circle of self-doubt began swirling through my head. I started questioning myself. Why do I always over-share? Did my comments come off as rude? Or worse yet– unauthentic?

It took a few minutes for me to realize that thoughts like these could derail my whole weekend. I had to get out of the pit.

So instead of thinking about what I coulda shoulda woulda shared, I started thanking God for his grace. Even if my words did come out upside down, God’s grace will cover me. It always does.

We all second guess ourselves or occasionally act more self-serving than we should. But don’t worry, God’s grace is big enough to cover us all.

If you happen to be a person who is prone to self-criticism, let me encourage you. None of us has it all together. And actually, a misstep now and again is a good thing, because when we are humbled, we have more room in our hearts for people who aren’t perfect. People who are just like us and could use a little kindness.

Instead of focusing on what you’re not doing right or should’ve done differently, spend your mental energy figuring out what you can do to make the day better for another person who might desperately need your perfectly imperfect kindness.

We are the Light

It’s heavy, isn’t it? All this stuff happening in our world? It makes me feel sad and angry and fearful and all of those other emotions that erupt simultaneously when senseless acts of violence occur. But it also makes me feel helpless, and that might be the worse feeling of all.

Three years ago, I wrote an article for my Kindness is Contagious column. I want to share it with you now. The stories may have changed, but the meaning stands. You don’t have to go far to find the light in a very dark world.

“If the darkest hour comes before the light, where is the light? Where is the light? Where is the light???”

Those words are from the song “Ave Mary A” by P!nk. I’ve listened to that song for years, and yet this week, I felt like I heard it for the first time.

I was thinking about the community of West Fargo, N.D. and how many hearts are breaking at the recent deaths of five students in five separate incidents over a seven-week period. I was thinking about the residents of Newtown, Conn., and how the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary will forever seem haunted by one evil act. I was thinking about the sex trafficking and molestation in America of girls my daughter’s age. I was thinking about the amount of people right here in our town who are working so hard to make ends meet and yet have to worry about how they will feed their kids because they don’t qualify for assistance.

I was wondering how much darker things need to get before we see the light. And then I realized something. We are the light.

Every time we smile at a stranger, pause a moment longer to hold the door for someone, or just prefer someone’s needs over our own, we add light to this world.

NBC News Correspondent Ann Curry started a movement that’s gone viral. In response to the shooting deaths in Connecticut, Curry suggested that we honor the lives of those lost by committing 26 acts of kindness. People all over the country are joining in and posting their points of light on Twitter and Facebook.

In its own way, the movement has made it here, too. A Fargo woman and her two children were at West Acres Shopping Mall on Christmas Eve when an elderly man wearing an oxygen tube slowly walked over and handed her $130. He said he wanted to bless some children in honor of the Sandy Hook students. The woman he gave the money to happened to be a kindergarten teacher. She gave the money to her school counselors who used it to buy milk for kids who couldn’t afford a drink at snack time. We are the light.

A single mom sent out a desperate plea on WomensImpact.org for help making her car payments. She was on the brink of losing her vehicle and, without transportation, her three jobs. A stranger, who had once had to flee an abusive relationship and become a single mom, too, offered to help. We are the light.

An assistant coach for the North Dakota State men’s basketball team was in Brookings, S.D., for last weekend’s game when he found out his little girl was in a Fargo emergency room. An assistant for South Dakota State gave him his car so he could hurry home. We are the light.

A local boy read a story in The Forum newspaper on Jan. 18 (2013) about the woman who spent her 25th birthday doing 25 random acts of kindness. He thought it was such a great idea that he celebrated turning 13 by committing his own 13 acts of kindness. His mom took the day off of work to help him. We are the light.

My heart hurts over the pain of this world so much sometimes that it feels like I can’t breathe. And then I remember that we are the light.

If you find yourself frustrated over other people’s behavior or evilness that seems out of your control, I encourage you to fight back. Take away the darkness by becoming the light.

Cancer Lives in the Basement

It’s the one year anniversary of my mastectomy! Although the cancer is gone, it still very much feels like a part of our lives.

Cancer is similar to a cousin who lives in the basement… sometimes it’s annoying have another guest around, but then he goes and does something totally sweet like stocks the fridge or brings home flowers.

Yes, there are perks to having cancer. Two weeks ago, I was in New York City thanks to cancer. Last week, I got to do an interview with Better Homes and Gardens (look for the October issue!). Cancer has also given me perspective on what I’m willing to give and what I’m willing to take.

I recently had a friend ask for the three things I didn’t want people to give me when I was diagnosed. Here they are:

Pity. Pity says, “This sucks and you’re probably not strong enough to handle it.” Pity doesn’t leave room to celebrate a woman as she rises to the challenge ahead of her. I’m smart, I can look around and see how good I’ve got it. There’s no room for pity in my life.

Fear. Fear says, “Oh my gosh. You’re gonna die!” at which point, I, as the patient, have to be the one comforting and consoling the caretaker. It took too much of my energy to constantly reassure people that I was going to be okay, so I generally just avoided the fear-filled ones.

Sadness. Sadness says, “This is terrible. There is no joy to be found here.” People assumed I was sad and distraught about my diagnosis. Yes, I had those moments, but most of the time, I was joyful. Seriously. It was strange. I have never felt closer to God and my husband than during my battle with breast cancer. In fact, after the cancer, I had to have a long talk with God about it. I was so aware of His presence in the hard times that I missed Him once everything settled down. I had to ask God to show me how to maintain that closeness with Him in everyday life. I had to fight to preserve this beautiful intimacy with Him.

I tell you what worked (or rather didn’t work) for me in hopes that you’ll take a moment to think about what works (and doesn’t work) for you. Then, run.

Run toward the people who feed your soul and away from those who suck it dry. Not every emotion someone wants to give you needs to be accepted. I’m not saying we can cut off all communication with people who leave us feeling empty. I’m just suggesting we  make sure we are feeling strong and full before we pick up the phone or allow them into our life in any other way.

Today is a milestone day for me. I hope it will become a milestone day for you, too.

An Update on Dad

I’ve entered an alternate reality. I’m supposed to be surrounded by children right now, warm sunlight on my face, as the smell of hamburgers wafts from the grill nearby. That’s what summertime is about.

Instead, I’m surrounded by old people, under the cold glow of florescent nursing home lights, with a mixture of chemical cleaners and bodily fluids assulting my senses.

It’s all wrong. And yet, it’s all right.

My dad had a stroke a month ago. When his health started to look a little shaky last week, my aunt and step-mom suggested I come home to see him.

I’ve been here five days and I’ll be here five more.

When I first arrived, my dad was only able to put one or two words together at a time. Each day, those short sentences lengthen themselves out, although he still often gets lost in his head before all the words make it out of his mouth.

Nouns are hard. People, places, things. Sometimes he’s spot on and sometimes he’ll point to his ear when you tell him to point to his eye.

Yesterday, he said my name for the first time… Nicole. It was the most beautiful word I had ever heard, aside from the first time “Momma” came out of my daughter’s mouth 11 years ago.

He said my name again this morning, but instead of “Nicole,” he said “Nicole Locy” which is my maiden name. I’ll take it.

We’ve had plenty of laughter to compete with the ever-present dinging of alarms. Today, after my dad said my name, the nurse asked who I was. He said, “Girlfriend.”

“You wish!” I sarcastically replied. He realized his mistake and started laughing. “Daughter. Yes, daughter.”

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Most of the time he’s very calm and peaceful and patient with his body and the action happening around him, but there are times of pain when he sits in his wheelchair too long or frustration when deep thoughts get stuck on the back of his tongue.

As difficult as they are, those are the times I will look back and treasure. Those are the times I get to lean in close and whisper how much I love him, that I know he’s upset, that I know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, but I’m grateful we get to be together. We get to sit here and look at each other and love each other and just… be. This time is a gift.

My dad will crookedly smile, because only half of his mouth follows orders. Then he’ll nod and say, “I agree.”

The Place Where Joy Lives

What a difference a week makes. Last Thursday, I was on the 35th floor of One World Trade in New York City, feeling on top of the world.

Thanks to my 12 year old daughter’s fundraising efforts, Jordan and I were invited to speak at the Susan G. Komen Partner Summit. She got a standing ovation before she even opened her mouth– and then another one after her 10 minute speech. That night, one of the corporate sponsors treated us to a mouthwatering steak at The Palm.

The next morning, I went on the shopping spree of a lifetime at Carlisle Etcetera. One of the executives showered me with kindness and a $1000 allowance to spend on a new outfit. Nearly the entire store was 75% off, so I ended up with a whole wardrobe. And let me tell you, this is nice stuff.

Jordan and I saw Wicked, Les Mis, Matilda and the Rockettes. We giggled throughout the week with our beloved friends from Fargo who crashed in our hotel room.

It was the best.

Then, in a taxi on the way back to the airport, I got a phone call.

My dad, who had a stroke a few weeks ago, has taken a turn for the worse. You should come soon, my Aunt Mary counseled.

So now, with the applause and laughter still faintly echoing in the back of my memory, I will get back on an airplane, this time bound for Wisconsin.

I have a one-way ticket. I’ll be back, but I don’t want to be rushed in this visit.

On my left hand is joy. Gratitude. Delight in all the ways God spoils me. On my right hand is grief. Sadness. A questioning of God’s plan.

But when I pray, my hands clasp together, the fingers intertwine. Pain and joy exist simultaneously. They are like cords that weave together to make us stronger, taller, more able.

We will never have pure happiness this side of Heaven, but we will also never have pure misery. The next time you are faced with a trial, faced with being on the low end of life, allow yourself to break open, crack just a little and feel that sadness. Then look around carefully, because you will be standing next to joy.

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