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.

img_2757

And a day of celebration.

Courtesy of April Williams-Schrader FB post

Courtesy of April Williams-Schrader FB post

And a day of friendship.

14720426_10207850745297044_4015938776533838907_n

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.

fullsizerender-20

 

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.

14717184_1761988437395771_1641831662836515768_n

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.

14680773_1761988417395773_2233451767599274022_n

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

11890450_10153538765728844_2750228189431946165_o

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.

fullsizerender-16

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.

fullsizerender-15

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.

FullSizeRender 14

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!”

14102366_10206860773939804_1391510147832585515_n

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.

IMG_9732

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:

IMG_6367

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:

IMG_6370

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:

IMG_6372

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.

IMG_6357

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…

IMG_6351

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.

FullSizeRender 8

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.”

IMG_6139

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.

IMG_6121

The Today Show!

IMG_6002Check out this ecstatic crew! While waiting for The Today Show to start, Jordan was interviewed by Alex on the Plaza for a Sirius XM radio segment! I promised to IMG_6088put her link on my website, so here you go! Every cent of your Cozy for the Cure donation goes to the Komen Foundation to further research and provide essential services like mobile mammograms. Cheers!

My House is a Bachelor Pad

If you drive by my home and there’s toilet paper hanging out the window, don’t be alarmed. The Phillips’ household is officially a bachelor pad.

My daughter and I are on our way to New York City to speak at the Susan G. Komen Partner Summit. Apparently, big companies like to know where their charitable donations are going, so once a year, the Komen Foundation tells them. This year, they wanted a super cute kid involved, so they called Jordan.

Actually, Jordan was on their radar because of all of those cozys she made last fall. (Brief recap: Jordan sewed hundreds of coffee cup cozys, you donated money to have one and she gave that money to Komen Columbus to pay for research and programs in Southeastern Ohio. One more thing– Southeastern Ohio has the highest breast cancer death rate in the nation. Raising money for early detection is a big deal.)

My 12 year old daughter was the top fundraiser for the Athens Race for the Cure. The folks at the national headquarters in Texas found out about my pint-sized seamstress and asked us to come to the Big Apple to talk about why she would set up shop in our home.

So Jo and I are on our way to New York City. We plan on seeing the Rockettes, the Broadway musical Wicked, and Jojo’s former piano teacher, Miss Christa. We’ll probably also see Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Times Square at night.

11903842_10153679214469672_7638666444328170550_n

Miss Christa: An NYC Must-See! (Look, she’s even holding a Jojo Cozy!) 

Then on Thursday morning, we’ll share our story with a group 150 people at One World Trade Center, overlooking the 9/11 memorial. I imagine it will be a powerful experience for a lot of reasons.

Once again, I have to say, the outpouring of love and support you gave my daughter during our battle with breast cancer is among the biggest blessings of my life. I’ve experienced much kindness throughout the years, but I never would have witnessed that sort of flood of affection if I hadn’t gotten sick. Imagine that.

Pain and joy exist simultaneously. I see it in my life daily. I hope you see it in yours, too.

Now, please head over to Facebook if you have a minute and let me know what else we should see during our 5 days in the big city! I don’t want to miss a single thing!

Where are My Barbie Boobs?

I went to Columbus yesterday for a check-up with my plastic surgeon. It’s been eight weeks since my reconstruction surgery. This was supposed to be an intense decision-making appointment. Instead, it was perhaps the first time in my life that I decided to leave well-enough alone.

My breasts aren’t perfect. They’re a little smaller than I’m used to and I’m still getting comfortable with the shape. The natural, lifted breast is fine. By the way, they refer to that breast as the “native breast” so if you ever want to get Saul in a fit of giggles, weave the words “native breast” into a sentence. For some reason, he thinks that’s awfully funny.

Anyway, back to what I was saying, the native breast is smaller than I expected, but otherwise it looks great.

If I’m comparing myself to Barbie, then I have to admit, there are things about the reconstructed breast (on the mastectomy side) that could use a little tweaking. I have some excess skin that the surgeon said could easily be fixed.

But here’s the thing: I look fine in a bra. If all goes well, the only person seeing me out of a bra is my husband, and he has made it abundantly clear that he thinks I’m beautiful and is just grateful I’m alive.

That’s good, because the doctor says gravity will eventually take its toll and my native breast will someday sag and I’ll once again have an uneven chest. Also, the implant has a shelf-life of about 10 years, so they will have to swap it out again in the future. Bummer, right? This breast stuff gets complicated.

I appreciated the plastic surgeon’s willingness to go back and make things absolutely perfect for me, but I can’t do it. I’ve had enough. I want to tie a bow on it and call it a day.

That’s why instead of scheduling any revisions, I scheduled a nipple replacement for August 23rd. In a 45 minute office procedure, the doctor will gather together enough skin to create a little pucker on my chest that will end up looking like a nipple.

Three months after that, they will tattoo on an areola to match the one I already have.

And then I’ll be done. What a thought. I’ve been talking about breasts for more than a year, and you’ve all been kind enough to humor me and listen.

Thank you for that. I promise to find something more palatable to talk about in the future. In the meantime, we can all be thankful that I wasn’t a writer back when I was birthing babies.

ABCD Breast Cancer Helpline

I first started working on TV in Milwaukee, WI when I was 23 years old. I was as green as they come, giving traffic reports and doing feature stories for the morning news. I had no business being on television, but I had the eagerness of youth on my side and a team of people to learn from who were the best in the industry.

One of those people was a woman named Melodie Wilson. Melodie covered politics for the nightly news. We were on opposite schedules, but our paths crossed enough for me to take notice of this stunning, no-nonsense woman who had an intriguing softness about her that made you want to sit and listen and learn.

I found out a few weeks ago that Melodie died from breast cancer in 2009, after a second aggressive recurrence of the disease.

I should have known that Melodie would leave her mark on Milwaukee for more than just being a local news celebrity. She used her connections and her disease to create a legacy for women who would be diagnosed long after she was gone, both in Wisconsin and around the globe.

Melodie believed in the power of one-to-one, people helping people, and she parlayed that into a non-profit organization that connects breast cancer patients, families and friends with those who have been there.

logoIt’s called ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. People can call the helpline to talk with a breast cancer survivor, and if they want, be matched with someone who has walked a similar journey in an individualized mentoring program.

I wish I would have known about this organization when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m certain it would have helped clear some of the fog and fear that comes with the territory.

There are few people left in the world unaffected by the disease. I hear about a new diagnosis almost every week. It’s always a difficult conversation, because I still don’t know what to say or how to truly help. I wonder if you’ve been there, too.

ABCD changes that. It gives us something tangible to give others: a phone number and a website to be used by patients and the people who love them.

So here you go. Tuck this number away someplace safe and offer it as a gift to the next person who walks this path. And tell them to say hi to Morgan. She is a stunning, no-nonsense woman who has an intriguing softness about her that makes you want to sit and listen and learn. You can tell she’s Melodie’s daughter.

For FREE personalized breast cancer support, call 800-977-4121 or visit www.abcdbreastcancersupport.org

Fight About it Tomorrow

My dad and I got into a loud disagreement when I went to see him last week. I’d call it a fight, but knowing my dad, he would say it was more of a passionate discussion.

He wasn’t feeling well and (in my opinion) was a little crabby. I was sore and tired from a 10 hour car ride with three children, so I suppose it’s possible that I was a little crabby, too.

Anyway, Friday morning rolls around and we’re sitting in the kitchen having breakfast. My dad starts in on how he hates looking at photos on phones because they’re too hard to see and people should really just print off the damn pictures like they used to.

I pointed out to my dad that we still live in a world of color printers and if would remind me, I’d be happy to make a real, live copy for him to hold in his hands.

Now, that would have been fine. I could have stopped there. But no. Since my mouth was already open, I decided to carry on and tell him how negative I thought he had been for the past two days about all of our conversations.

By the time my husband walked in the room, the decibel level was through the roof. My dad and I went toe to toe, and after about five minutes, I won. He apologized and said he would try to be more positive.

But I didn’t win. Because two days later, my dad had a major stroke.

He has been lying in a hospital bed all week, unable to move one side of his body and unable to recognize most of the people who walk in the room. There is still bleeding on his brain. I will never get the old version of my dad back again, but there is a chance I won’t even get to live with a new version.

I’m kicking myself for not leading with kindness. For not pulling him aside, later, after I had taken the time to think about what I really wanted to say.

I turned to the ultimate guide for advice and opened to a passage that I had never noticed before. If you’ve never read the Bible and don’t care to, please don’t leave me now. I have a point to make that pertains to all of us.

In Mark 11:11 it says this: “So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After carefully looking around at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.”

Three verses later, otherwise known as the next morning, all heck breaks loose: “When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the table of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.”

Do you see what happened there? Jesus didn’t unleash his fury the first time he saw the Temple. He carefully looked around at everything and then without saying a word, he left. The next day, after he had a night to sleep on it, he went in with the roundhouse kick.

Raising your voice, having a passionate discussion isn’t wrong. I don’t even think it would have been wrong to point out to my father that his words were bugging me. Maybe some of my words were bugging him. The problem is our timing. We need to take time to plan our course of action so our actions and our words don’t sneak up on us.

Friend, I implore you today, as a daughter who may not have a chance to say she’s sorry, to please think before you speak. Lead with kindness. Assess the situation and then take time to decide if it’s worth fighting about. If it is, it’ll still be there tomorrow.

I printed off a whole bunch of pictures for my dad yesterday and sent them to the hospital. Pictures of his kids, grandkids and other special people in his life. I hope he gets to hold them in his hands, because he really hates those damn cellphone photos.

It’s Not Too Late

Greater philosophers than I have spent eons pondering the elusiveness of time. One of my favorite thoughts is this one:

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”-Dr. Suess

Saul and I packed up the family for a quick road trip to Wisconsin. Twenty hours in the minivan (10 each way) loaded down with three kids, 47 suitcases and 12 bags of snacks. The only thing we left at home was the dog.

We were on our way to my niece’s graduation party. This is the same sweet young lady who has been under constant supervision from teams of doctors since the day she was born. She was barely meant to survive. Few people could have guessed the extent to which she would thrive. Kate graduated from high school and is on her way to college where she will learn how to help children with special needs overcome life’s obstacles.

IMG_5886

My nieces, Elena and Kate.

Kate uses each day to be the light to a confused and hurting world. I’m certain she’ll never look over her shoulder at opportunities gone past and have to ask, “How did it get so late so soon?” She seizes every moment.

On the way home, my children had been in the car a total of 18 hours over a five day span when the wheels started coming off. Stir-crazy. We all felt it, they just looked it. At one point, my middle child was wearing pants on his head.

IMG_5881

Ben, my six year old, had been talking non-stop for nine hours. At this particular point, he was pontificating on future possible Super Bowl match-ups. We were all sick of hearing that adorable little voice.

Just when I was about to turn around and ban all noise for the rest of the ride, a thought entered my mind. I turned to Saul, “Can you believe that five years ago he couldn’t even talk?”

All of a sudden, I wanted to hear him. I wanted to hear all of them talk and whine and laugh hysterically.

Bad things were happening outside of our car. A nation was mourning over the deadliest mass shooting the United States has ever seen. But my car was filled with life and noise and laughter. Why would I dampen that when the world continuously tries to dampen it for me? Isn’t it my job to keep the light going– especially in the dark?

It was one of those moments where I suddenly got it. The lightbulb came on. Gratitude filled my heart and instead of screaming for quiet, I settled back into my seat and allowed kindness to take the wheel.

Very soon my children will learn about the darkness that incessantly tries to overtake our world. Hopefully, I will have used every available moment between now and then to remind them that they are the light; to teach them how to be the light.

Then, like my niece, Kate, and all the other people out there who shine so brightly every day, I’ll never have to regretfully ask, how did it get so late so soon?

3 Tips to Change Your Mind

Find yourself riddled with anxiety or too focused on the dark spots in your life? That happens to me too. Sit back and relax for the next 5 minutes while I share with you 3 tips to change your mind.

 

 

Measuring Up (aka Bra Fittings)

I got my first bra when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I certainly didn’t need it, but all my friends had one, so my sympathetic mom drove me to JC Pennys and helped me pick out a training bra.

My freshman year of high school, when I was living with my father full-time, bra shopping got a bit more complicated. My dad would stare cluelessly into his wallet trying to determine how much a bra really cost and whether or not I truly needed more than one. I think he was trying to figure out if I was scamming him. I probably was. Eventually, he’d pull out a 20 and drop me off at Target.

Thankfully, a friend’s mom realized that the bra I was wearing and the bra I was needing were two different things. She promptly packed me in the car and drove me to a boutique that specialized in nothing but sensible bras.

This began my love affair with bra fittings.

If you’ve never had one done, let me assure you, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. A little old lady with bluish grey hair and a tape measure around her neck takes you into a fitting room.  At that point, you pop off your shirt and stand there in your current ill-fitting bra as she measures around your torso. She then makes a pronouncement like “36B!” and disappears in a cloud of smoke, while you stand there and shiver because you’re too lazy to put your shirt back on.

Four minutes later she returns with 5 or 6 styles that may suit you and you begin trying them on one by one. With each new bra, she lifts and tugs and adjusts straps and then proclaims, “Yes!” or “No.”

Eventually, you leave the store with two modest bras, one in tan and one in black because 1) they’re so expensive that’s all you can afford and 2) they don’t sell anything sexy.

For the past 11 months, I have worn nothing but constricting, compressing and depressing sports bras. That’s one of the side effects of surgery and reconstruction. Sports bras are essential during the healing process, but then thanks to reconstruction, you still haven’t settled into a size that will stick, so there’s no point in paying for the real deal.

This weekend was my triumphant return to the world of bra fittings.

I’m 6 weeks out of surgery and have finally been given the green light to wear a real (non-underwire) bra.

I stood nervously in the fitting room in my faded and fraying sports bra as the saleswoman wrapped her tape measure around my chest. “34C!” she proclaimed.

Moments later I was trying on the first of three possible bras. I modestly turned my back to the saleswoman and the mirror. Not because I’m actually modest, but because I didn’t want to freak her out with all of the scars and bruising still on my breasts.

I slowly turned around and looked at myself in the mirror. I nearly cried. It fit. It looked pre-cancery. I never thought I’d see this day again.

I’ve been really nervous throughout this recovery process because my breasts don’t look normal to me. The side they lifted is fine, but much smaller than my former D or DD size. The mastectomy side that now has an implant is shaped differently than a natural breast. It hangs oddly and is a little smaller. All the while I’ve been healing I’ve also been mentally preparing myself for more surgery.

Being able to buy a bra and put it on and feel whole again is priceless. It’s also way easier on my family than undergoing another round of post-surgical downtime.

I ended up buying two bras this weekend. One tan and one black. And then I called my husband and told him the good news. And then I went back and bought two more.  

I hope your weekend was as fulfilling.

As Good as Gold

I bet you’ve heard the quote, “Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other’s gold.”

quotes-make-new-friends_17455-7

I can’t really divide my friends into silver or gold status. I’d say they’re all platinum.

Our family has been ridiculously, crazily, super-spoiled with our new friends in Athens. They love us well and make us laugh. Hopefully we do the same for them. That’s kind of the essence of friendship.

A few days ago, I was reminded of the importance of old friends through a spontaneous act of kindness.

The Janssens lived right next door to us in Fargo. Grill outs, Super Bowl parties, dance recitals, we spent countless hours and several years doing life together. When we moved in, Jordan was a preschooler, Charlie was a toddler, and Ben wasn’t even a twinkle in our eyes.

Their son Alex, who can now drive a car, was still in elementary school. Their daughter, Sofia, who is a year younger than Jordan and getting ready to go to middle school, still took naps every afternoon.

I never realized how formative and meaningful those years were for my children, until Tuesday. The Janssens were road-tripping from Fargo to Washington, D.C. (more than a 20 hour drive!) when they texted me. “We’re passing through Columbus. Can we stop for a quick visit?”

I was sorry to bear the bad news that we actually live 90 minutes away from Columbus.

“No problem. We’re happy to detour.”

Seriously? They were willing to tack an extra three hours onto their trip to see us?

Stunned, I texted my husband to light up the grill for an impromptu party. Then I told the kids we were having company. Jordan and Charlie positively squealed with delight. Ben was more reserved. “Who are the Janssens?” Apparently, he had forgotten one of his taller  moments from the day we moved away two years prior.

IMG_5120

Ben and Alex in 2014

That’s okay because he was quickly brought up to speed by his big kids who were happy to recount the good old days and remind him all about our Fargo friends. He and Alex replicated their last photo in our new driveway.

IMG_5118

Ben and Alex in 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan and Sofia played dolls under a tree in the front yard, because that’s what they used to do in Fargo. Never mind that neither of them have played with dolls in at least 2 years.

IMG_5840

 

In the end, we were all having so much fun that the Janssens cancelled their hotel reservation in Maryland and stayed the night. The boys all slept in Charlie’s room and the girls had a slumber party on Jordan’s floor.

The next morning, I had 5 delightfully exhausted faces on my living room couch. IMG_5836

By 9am, the Janssens were packed up and on the road. And then ten minutes later, they were back. I’d like to say it was because they missed us, but I’m pretty sure it was because Alex had forgotten his iPad.

Kindness comes in lots of forms. Buying coffee for the next guy in line, watching a friend’s kids, or driving three hours out of your way just to say hi.

We haven’t been able to make it back to Fargo, so the Janssens brought Fargo to us. I am so grateful for this special act of kindness and the reminder to hold on tight to old friends, who are indeed as good as gold.

IMG_5842

 

Cancer’s Road Trip

The distance between Point A and Point B is supposed to be a straight line. With the precision of a ruler, we research the shortest path to save time, energy and the possibility of any road blocks. Cancer prefers the meandering trail, a snake-like road that at many points seems to be going in the opposite direction of our final destination.

When my family goes on a road trip, we generally choose the shortest route, begin our adventure early in the morning, but then stop every few hours for snacks and bathroom breaks. Slow and steady, we get there with a car full of kids still in relatively good spirits.

Cancer prefers to dictate a more varied pace. Sometimes riding with cancer is speedy fast, we can barely hang on and there are certainly no stops for sightseeing. Ten miles down the road, though, cancer may decide to creep along at an agonizingly slow speed while everyone in the car is screaming, “Let’s just get there already!”

Don’t you dare yell from the backseat, “Are we there yet?” The answer is always no. Even once you’re declared cancer-free, there is always one more doctor appointment in the future, and the shadow of cancer will always be in the room.

Every journey with cancer will look different. Mine is different from yours and yours is different from your mother’s or your brother’s or your best friend’s. We each get a unique trip of our own, and none of us gets a roadmap.

But we do get something. We get each other. We get to share what we’re seeing and experiencing along the way. Perhaps someone else has seen it, but even if they haven’t, they’ve seen enough to understand the exhilaration and desperation, the joy and the pain, that cross between your journey and mine.

Come to think of it, it’s not just cancer that likes to roll without a map. Life’s like that, too. Today will be different from tomorrow and my today will bare only a vague resemblance to yours. But again, we can be assured that in whatever we’re feeling, we’re never traveling alone. Someone else has seen it, will see it, or is seeing it now. That’s why it’s so important to reach out to other people: ask the man next to you how he’s doing, or get the woman who’s sitting alone to talk about her favorite vacation destination. Sharing in the good times and bad, with or without cancer in the picture, makes the journey so much more enjoyable. 

 

I Can’t Feel My Breasts

Focus on your leg for a moment. Does it hurt? Can you really even feel it without touching it? Now, if you’re a woman, focus on your breast. (If you’re a man, sit this one out.)

Can you feel it? No. It’s just kind of there, right?

I was sitting calmly at my computer yesterday when all of a sudden a thought popped into my head, “I can’t feel my breasts right now. How nice!”

It’s been one month since my reconstruction surgery and I think the clouds are finally parting. Yesterday was the first day in long time that I can remember consciously not feeling any pain or soreness in my chest.

I still feel a jolt when I roll over in the middle of the night or bend down to put a plate in the dishwasher, but I’m making progress, and I’m certain there will indeed come a day when I no longer have laser focus on this particular part of my body. I’ll be back to doing cartwheels (or at least some form of physical activity) in another 4 weeks when I’m cleared to exercise and vacuum. I promise at that point to stop badgering you about my breasts.

I know I’m not the only one dealing with something. We all have our own somethings. Sometimes they’re big and sometimes they’re little (but awfully annoying). Either way, it sure feels good to know that 1) they won’t last forever, 2) God’s holding on tightly, and 3) we’ve got each other.

Permission to Do Nothing Granted

It’s the first day of summer vacation and I am behind. My kids are slowly rolling out of bed, lazily slurping their way up onto the couch and zoning like zombies in front of the TV. It’s Day One and we’re turning into a family of sloths.

This is tough news for a person like me who is a bit of a do-er. I like a routine. I find comfort in a schedule. I am especially stimulated by a routine that includes a schedule.

It’s the first Monday of summer, there is laundry waiting to be folded in the middle of the living room floor, and I have yet to lay out any specific plans of growth or enrichment for my kids. Tiny voices are screaming in head right now. I’m not exactly sure what they’re saying, because they’re all screaming at the same time, but I think it’s something to do with how I was a much better parent last summer.

Last summer I was a parent with breast cancer. I was diagnosed in May, so when school let out, the worry and unease were quite acute. I was determined to keep my mind and my children’s minds busy every moment of every day. I decided to teach the almost-kindergartner to read, introduce the middle child to the elusive art of cursive, and set the oldest one on fire for the future with math facts.

Basically, we did school in the summer. We also got out of town as often as possible in an effort to out-run cancer. It was a great summer, if you don’t count the cancer.

This summer, I’m recovering from reconstructive surgery. I won’t be able to lift a bike into the back of the minivan or pitch a ball for another 4 weeks. My body needs to heal and I think my brain does too.

So this summer, I’m not going to try and be a superhero mom. I’m going to be a mom who tries to get a meal on the table once in a while, who reminds her kids to take a bath when they start smelling stinky, and who occasionally reads a book in front of her children so they don’t forget what one looks like. That’s it.

Oh wait. One more thing. Gratitude journals. We’ve started filling out tiny notebooks with   5 things we’re thankful for each day. Only we’ve been forgetting to do them most nights. So that’s going back on the list, because gratitude is important.

Oh yeah- I’m also going to make my kids separate that laundry on the floor. Not sure it’ll make their gratitude lists, but I’m certain it’ll make mine.

I hope you can let go of the should-dos and have-tos and just relax into a long lazy summer with the people you love. Remember, you’re as good of a parent when you have all your ducks in a row as when they’re sprawled all over the living room couch.

You Did This

The same guy who has photographed the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Fallon and about a gazillion other famous people came over to my house last night to photograph my daughter. I’m not even kidding.

And it’s all because of you.

Remember last fall when my 11 year old was selling “Cozies for the Cure” in anticipation of the first ever Athens Race for the Cure? Remember how I posted a few times on Facebook about how for $5 she would make you a coffee cup cozie and donate the money to Komen Columbus?

Her goal was something like $300. She ended up raising more than $5000.

You did that for her. You did that for me.

It was such an incredible outpouring of love and kindness and support for our family when we were going through such a difficult time. My baby girl felt helpless. She felt like there was nothing she could do to fix her momma’s breast cancer. And she was right — we had to leave that to God and the doctors. But Jordan was determined to help other mommas fight breast cancer by raising money to give to the organization that funds early detection programs in our area. That was her dream, not yours, but you all stepped up and said, I will help you, Jordan.

When a community comes together like that, other communities take notice. In this case, Dallas took notice, specifically the part of Dallas that houses the national headquarters for the Susan G. Komen foundation. They sent a crew to our house to shoot photos and videos of Jordan at her sewing machine to use for an upcoming campaign.

IMG_5773

The fire in Jordan’s belly to raise money for the breast cancer cause is hotter than ever. I can tell when she’s hard at work because I can hear the hum of the sewing machine coming from the ceiling above me. At some point she’ll be taking over my social media accounts again and asking you to consider donating in exchange for a hand-made coffee cup holder.

Not now though. I told her she has to go be a kid for the summer first.

It was so cool to have these incredibly creative, talented people from all over the country in our house… Miriam, Patti, Sho and Steven. Check out Steven’s super amazing photos on his website.

IMG_5779Thank you for making that happen. Thank you for teaching Jordan (and reminding me) that big things happen when you take a little idea and add in lots of kindness.

 

Your Best is Yet to Come

My husband, some hotshot. Saul got to speak the other night at the Athens High School Senior Athletic Banquet. The speech itself was good, but I got the benefit of hearing all of the rough drafts. Most of them were takes off of Chris Farley’s Saturday Night Live character who talks about living in a van down by the river. Let’s just say, Saul (and the audience in attendance last night) is lucky to have me. Only a wife can tell her husband that he absolutely, positively cannot say certain things in public to a group of high schoolers.

Anywho…

As Saul was preparing for the speech, we began reminiscing about our high school careers. Saul was one of Reedsburg, Wisconsin’s star football and basketball players. A starter in everything he did and Homecoming King to boot, it was a pretty incredible way to saunter through high school.

Two hours away, at about the same time, I was onstage singing my little heart out in the leading role as the narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I still have the entire soundtrack memorized. It was a highlight of my high school career.

I remember a teacher proudly saying to my father and me after one of the shows, “Nicole, this is going to be the greatest experience of your entire life!” My dad leaned close to my ear and whispered, “I sure hope not.” He knew I couldn’t live my life looking in the rear-view mirror.

That stroll down memory lane became the crux of Saul’s speech to this athletic class of 2016: Don’t let whatever you’ve accomplished in the last four years be the biggest thing you’ve ever done.

I’m sure you’ve done some pretty great things in your past, had some banner moments, made yourself and a few other people awfully proud. As adults, it can feel like we’ve lost our momentum, that what we do doesn’t really matter all that much, because instead of having people constantly cheering for us, we’re all just busy doing life. The shining moments are smaller, more private, but let me assure you, they are also infinitely more powerful.

Why?

Because now, instead of making the game-winning shot or bowing for a standing ovation, we are shaping the lives of the people around us. Instead of sucking in the encouragement of others, we are doling it out. If we’re doing our jobs as productive members of society and God’s own children, we are handing out kindness like candy, helping others feel confident enough to try something new and perhaps even healing old wounds.

We each have the opportunity today to breathe life into another person. Sadly, we don’t know for certain what that person is going through, so if we don’t do it, if we don’t slow down and build someone else up, it’s possible no one will. That makes us invaluable– at any age, at any stage, in our lives.

Your best moment isn’t behind you. It’s right in front of you. It’s today.

Let’s Talk About Boob Jobs

My friend called me “classy” yesterday, and she didn’t even say it sarcastically. I’m thinking she doesn’t know me very well…

I started to laugh and told her I had never been accused of being classy before. I have indeed been accused of being the exact opposite, but that’s another story hidden in the closet with the rest of my skeletons.

Classy is a real compliment, but it makes me wiggle because it seems like a lot to live up to. I just want to be authentic. So today, I’m bringing the real. Let’s talk about boob jobs.

Now, if that’s a little too crass for you, feel free to substitute the words “Breast Augmentation” for boob job. You say tomato, I say tomahto.

Thanks to last summer’s fling with breast cancer, I have recently undergone a boob job. I’m two weeks out of the surgery and here are some initial thoughts and perhaps suggestions, should you ever find yourself considering this (sometimes) elective surgery.

  1. Don’t do it. It hurts. Okay, if you really want to do it and you think it’ll make you feel more confident in your own skin, do whatever you want to do. I’m not here to judge. I’m just here to tell you it hurts. The left side (which was reconstructed because of the mastectomy) is just a bit sore. Those nerves are all dead anyway. The right side (my healthy side that got a cosmetic lift) is constantly howling about something. Aching, throbbing, hyper-sensitive, ugh, it’s such a baby.***
  2. Renovate your kitchen to better accommodate Little People. I’m not allowed to lift my arms above my shoulders. Every glass, every plate and many food items are above my reach zone. It’s very humbling to ask your 6 year old to crawl up on the counter to get you a coffee mug and the hidden box of chocolates.
  3. Move to a town that does online grocery shopping. This has been tricky. I am a control freak, so I like to do the grocery shopping. If I write Ben & Jerry’s on the list, I know that means New York Super Fudge Chunk, NOT Chunky Monkey. Does anyone else in the house know that? They’re learning. The grocery store poses a big problem because it feels very intimidating after surgery. I can’t reach anything off the high shelves, I’m not allowed to lift a bag of groceries or even a full gallon of milk, and once I get it into my car, I can’t get it into my house. Saul and I went grocery shopping together the other day. It was like a date. My husband is so sexy when he grocery shops.
  4. Prepare to be patient. It’ll still be about 4-6 weeks before I can see the final shape and size of my new breasts. At that point I’ll have to decide 1) if I want to do further renovations (NOOOOOO!!!) and 2) what type of nipple reconstruction I’m up for. We’ll talk about those options at a later date. See? I always keep you hungry for more…
  5. Clear your calendar. This is one we should all probably do once in awhile. I’ve basically taken off the entire month of May. No volunteering, no lunch dates, nothing planned in advance. I just wake up each morning and see what I have the energy to do. I understand this is a huge luxury and could only be accomplished with the help of a husband who still feels badly that his wife had cancer and is therefore willing to drive the kids everywhere they need to go. I wish I was feeling better, I do. But after talking it over with the doctor yesterday, I was reminded that I won’t be able to care for my family again until I get serious about caring for myself. That includes a prescription for eating healthy, drinking lots of water, forcing myself to go to bed at night, and taking daily walks. I kind of think that’s a pretty good prescription for all of us.

So there you go. Now you have the facts according to Nicole. I have pictures, but you’ll have to buy the book if you want to see those. Stay classy, folks.

***Tip for dealing with painful hyper-sensitive nerve issues in your nipples: stand in front of a mirror three times a day and do exactly what you don’t want to do. Touch them. Seriously. That’s what my Physician Assistant told me to do. You have to confront the pain head on and let those nipples know who’s boss. OUCH!!!!

This is Why You Need to Be a Friend

Two years ago today I was sitting in a Fargo cafe with my bestie eating a decadent chocolate torte with tears streaming down our faces.

Don’t let our cheery smiles fool you. We were both absolute wrecks. I was moments away from packing up my minivan and moving 16 hours away.

10299947_10202673666496853_1897567400113295330_n

 

One year ago, I was in Athens nervously awaiting test results from my mammogram, ultrasound and MRI. I was surrounded by this group of crazy girls (who will perhaps never speak to me again after I make this Christmas picture public).

12398511_10207029295724367_1828641293_o

There is one more member of our Bible study tribe, but she is missing. Clearly she got the memo that she should skip any sessions that include a camera.

Just a few days ago, that same group met at an Athens diner for breakfast. My 41st birthday was May 7th and they surprised me with the female essentials: flowers and chocolate. I opened the card and couldn’t stop the flood of tears from spilling down my cheeks. I still can’t believe how much we have all gone through in the past year and how much stronger and closer we are as a result of life’s trials.

Country superstar Garth Brooks said, “You aren’t wealthy until you have something money can’t buy.”

I am very, very wealthy. And I want you to be wealthy too. So today, I’m urging you to find someone — if you’re a woman, find another woman; if you’re a man, find another man– find someone who needs a friend. Put aside you’re preconceived thoughts about whether that person would want to be your friend or even whether they would make a good friend and just love on them. And then find another person and do it again.

Walk through each day looking for ways to be the kind of friend you want to have.

If you live your life making friends, when you’re shocked by moving vans or poor test results or any other trial, you’ll be more stunned by the people who show up to help you through.

Sit Back and Enjoy the Show

Have you ever had a time in your life that seemed to call for a fast-forward button? Maybe it was a painful breakup or season of illness or time of great loss. You would have given anything to grab the remote and skip to the next scene, the one where everyone is happy and reunited and reminiscing over a glass of red wine.

I’d love to push a button and make last week and this week and probably next week disappear. It’s nothing as tragic as losing a great love, I’m just recovering from reconstructive surgery. Easy peasy. The problem is, I’m not a very good patient. I’m more of a “Let’s go get ’er done!” person. The word patient looks a lot like the word patience and I’m not very good at that, either.

But here’s the thing: sitting on the sidelines has given me a chance to simply watch the show. This show that is my life (and your life, too), is amazing! It’s filled with all kinds of colorful characters who have distinct personalities and plot lines and catch phrases that always seem to get a laugh.

Now, if you know my husband, you’re thinking, “Nic, it took you this long to realize your husband is a colorful character?”

No, I’m talking about the less obvious actors, like Charlie, my 10 year old son who never likes to talk. Only I just found out, he loves to talk! I just never sit still long enough to hear him. Charlie comes and sits on my bed while I’m resting and walks me through his entire day, methodically, step-by-step, and I listen. Charlie talks, he just needs a receptive audience.

Then there’s Jordan, who leaves her little heart on the volleyball court each week, even though many times her team ends up on the losing side of the bracket. Jordan wants to get better and she wants her whole team to get better so they can all make the middle school volleyball team next year. Now there’s a sub-plot worthy of following! The other day, instead of saying “I have to go to a volleyball game,” I said, “I get to go to a volleyball game.” It was one of my first outings and I was so thrilled that I could leave the house to see my daughter nail that tricky over-hand serve.

Little Ben has always provided the comic relief in our family. He’s still doing that. If you have 10 seconds, watch his duet with his dad. He’s playing along with a show our family likes to watch — see if you can guess what it is.

Okay, I’ll tell you. He’s playing along to the theme music of The Office.

Lately, I’ve been pawning off Ben’s reading homework on the big kids. They sit and listen to him read while I do the laundry or answer emails– or (horrible mom alert!) we skip the reading altogether. But the past two weeks that kid has read to me A LOT. I am shocked at how much better he is after just a month or two of my parental slacking. It’s so fun to see him work through sounds and ask questions about what words like “kelp” mean. It’s a seaweed plant.

As much as I long to be fully recovered and back to 100%, I cannot say that I would push the fast-forward button right now, even if I could. There’s a whole lot to be learned from sitting still and watching the show.

Pain Pain Go Away

Pain is like a really mean bully. You look him in the eye and say “You’re not so tough,” and then he punches you in the face and you realize you were wrong. He is so tough.

I was recovering nicely from last Tuesday’s reconstruction surgery. So well, in fact, that I decided to go to my daughter’s volleyball game on Saturday and then out to lunch with my family. But by Saturday night, my galavanting had caught up with me. I was just getting situated in my bed when a sharp, burning wicked pain began stabbing at the side of my body. I think it has something to do with the plastic drainage tube hitting nerves that are now awakening post-anesthesia. I involuntarily screamed as tears escaped from my eyes. The last time I had felt anything like it was one year ago during my biopsy. The team couldn’t numb the area of my breast that needed to be tested, so they just had to go for it. I shook for an hour once they were done while tears leaked down my face.

The pain retreats now until I decide to do something silly like stand up and walk to the bathroom. Then it’s back and my breath catches and I pray.

Saul has given me a forced bed-rest and a steady dose of percocet. We just have to get through one more night… first thing Monday morning, I’m heading to Columbus so we can figure out what’s going on. Cause you know when you’re being bothered by a bully, you’re supposed to tell the teacher– or in this case, Nurse Holly.

Kids Are Noisy

Hello Friends!

Just a quick update to let you know that surgery went well on Tuesday. At least I think it went well. I’m still here, so that’s a good sign, but I haven’t peeked under the bandages, so I can’t say if the doctors actually did what they were supposed to do.

To review, I went in for a “swap” surgery on the left and a “lift” on the right. The word swap comes from the process of swapping out the expander pouch in my chest for a more permanent silicone implant. The word lift comes from the process of… well, I’m a 40 year old woman who has breast-fed several children so I think you can figure out why they use the word lift.

I’m allowed to shower and remove the bandages tonight, neither of which feels like a very good idea right now. I’m not in a ton of pain, but enough. I’ve been sleeping well thanks to the pain meds, but I know that one false move could have me doubled over for the rest of the day. Yesterday I tried to push a chair in at the kitchen table. Ouch. I won’t be doing that again for a while.

The good/bad news is that I’m alert enough to be bossy. My poor family. I can’t actually move around enough to help, but I can sit on the couch and bark out orders: Ben, quit playing with the pirate hat and go brush your teeth. Charlie, have you fed the dog? Don’t forget to feed the dog! Ben, seriously, stop with the pirate gear. You’re gonna be late for school. Jordan, pleeease finish getting ready before you work on your talent show skit. Saul, can I have some more water?

You should have seen the kids’ eyes when I walked in the door Tuesday night. I was nauseas and in intense pain, so I entered the house looking a little like Frankenstein’s monster. Green with hard, methodical footsteps. Charlie and Ben had saucer eyes and started speaking very quietly, which is not normal behavior for a 10 and 6 year old.

I’m so grateful that we shipped the kids off to see their cousins during the mastectomy last July. Best decision we ever made. They were saved from seeing the worst of my recovery and I got to rest in a very quiet household for a week. Did you know noise is actually painful? Yep, it’s true. That is a lesson I’ve learned over the past 24 hours.

When I was recovering last July, there were some very dark days. I cried over never being able to hug my children tightly again, and not being able to stand my husband seeing me naked. I stood in the darkness and assumed it would never get light again.

Have you ever been there? In that spot where it’s so bad you can’t imagine things getting better? Maybe you’re there now.

The good news is, I understand as I sit in this pain this time around, that it’s temporary. God’s not going to leave me like this. My body will heal, the medicine bottles will disappear from the bathroom counter and I’ll again be able to push in a kitchen chair. And it will no longer be painful to hear my kids running through the house.

I will get my life back, and you will too. But in the meantime, we rest.

Do Not Bring Up Netflix

Tomorrow’s the big day. I’m heading back to THE JAMES for reconstructive surgery. For anyone who cares about the details, Saul and I have to be in Columbus by 9:30 for an 11:30 surgery. It should take less than three hours and after another two hours in the recovery room, I’m free to come home. Then I get to lie on the couch like a princess for a few weeks.

My kids started asking questions last night. Just when I think my six year old is stuck in the land of basketballs and dinosaurs, something sweet and inquisitive and compassionate comes tumbling out of his mouth. “Soooo they’re gonna put a new boob on you?” I was trying to get in the shower and Ben was trying to grasp how all of this was going to work. “Are they going to cut off your other breast to make them match?” “Is it gonna hurt you, Mom?”

After I was fully dressed, I took some time to talk to all of the kids about the surgery and recovery and what they could expect.

That took about two minutes and then the dinner table conversation turned to Netflix.

Saul and I were having a difference of opinion about what was appropriate for our ten year old to watch.

Now, let me pause and say I had been feeling quite proud of the way I had been handling the looming surgery. Stress can make me anxious and anxiety makes me… let’s just say, crabby.

So there we were sitting around the table calmly stating our opinions when I shot off a snarky remark about Saul not backing up my parenting decision. In response, Saul rolled his eyes. Now, some of you know where this is going because you’ve been there yourselves.

Mount St. Mommy erupted. I lost it. I refused to talk to anyone in the household for the next 2 hours. I was scrubbing down kitchen counters with a vengeance, all the while knowing I was totally in the wrong. I asked God to soften my heart, but God apparently wanted me to work through this a little bit longer. So I did.

And that was when I realized that my anger had nothing to do with parenting decisions or eye rolling or Netflix. I was scared to death. Isn’t it funny how misdirected our emotions can get when we refuse to acknowledge them? Why couldn’t I just say, “I’m freaking out here, people! I am going under the knife and therefore I am totally unable to communicate like a normal human being. I appear to be holding it all together, but underneath I am a glass house of emotion!”

Finally, humbled by my outburst, I went to bed. My husband came in to give me a kiss goodnight. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I had such a good day with you. I’m so sorry I lost it.” For the record, Saul had apologized to me about four times before that, but because he loves me, he apologized again. “We totally acted like 12 year old versions of ourselves, didn’t we?” he said.

Yep. Netflix and breast cancer will do that to a person.  

Prayer Box

I saw something today that took my breath away.

Downtown Athens is home to quite a few big old beautiful churches, but one in particular caught my eye this morning.

I have driven past First United Methodist many times. I’d say hundreds, but I’ve only lived here two years, so that may be a stretch. Anywho, here it is:

IMG_5607Pretty, right? It’s stately. And perhaps even intimidating to someone who hasn’t been in a church for a long time– if ever.

That’s why I was so moved when I saw what was in front of the church. A little white cross with a prayer box attached. Another clear box below it holds paper and pencils.

IMG_5606Athens is home to 25 thousand college students. Most of them spend the majority of their time Uptown, which is what we affectionately call our downtown. Based on the reputation Ohio University has for parties and drunken debauchery, I’d say it’s a safe bet that many of those students are searching for something, but they’re surely not looking in a church.

That’s why this is so beautiful to me. It says, “We care about you. God cares about you. We’d love to have you join us, but until you feel comfortable doing that, let us carry some of your burdens.”

We can’t expect people to stroll into a new church and take a seat. That’s scary for even the most seasoned Christian. We have to meet people at the front door — or perhaps even on the sidewalk.

 

Take a Swing at It

Have you ever had your children totally show you up? Prove you wrong? Make you realize your parenting faux pas? Yeah, that happens. It happened to me this weekend at the ball field.

Let me give you some of the painful backstory… last year my son Charlie (who is now 10) joined baseball for the first time. He liked the hat. He liked the cleats. He hated the pitching.

Charlie would stand at home plate holding his bat in the ready position, totally terrified of being hit by a ball– or striking out in front of everyone. So, in a brilliant move for a kid playing kid-pitch baseball, Charlie came up with a plan: don’t swing. He was hedging his bets that the pitcher couldn’t hit the strike zone three times in a row. Charlie got walked nearly every time he was up to bat.

It was a good tactic, but I sat in the bleachers aching for my boy at every single game. I longed for my child to be brave. I longed for him to try. I longed for him to fail because I knew that was the only way he would learn that it’s okay.

Charlie’s team ended up winning the championship and Charlie even scored a few runs, but he continued to play it safe.

When baseball sign-ups came around this year, I encouraged Charlie to try something else. I offered to sign him up for golf. I even offered to pay for private lessons.

My sweet boy considered it long and hard and then realized he’d rather be with his friends… at the baseball field.

Game one rolled around and at the encouragement of his coaches, Charlie swung the bat. He made contact, but it was a foul ball caught near first base and he was out.

I positively beamed and then arranged for my son to have an ice cream celebration. HE SWUNG THE BAT PEOPLE! This is big stuff.

With that tiny bit of confidence under his belt, Charlie approached the second and third games with a new plan. When he hit a double and eventually made it around the bases, he ran into the dugout and then back out again. I looked up and there was my son standing in front of me, waiting to hear my words of praise. (His coaches told him he couldn’t go hug his mom anymore, but I will always cherish that one special moment.)

I almost get weepy now when I hear the ball crack against the bat, because I know regardless of the outcome of the game, my kid is invested. He’s all in, willing to take a risk because he can feel the reward on the other side.

What is it that you think you can’t do? I bet if you really thought about it, you’d find in your heart something you long to do, but don’t because fear is holding you back.

I’m glad Charlie didn’t give up on baseball. I’m glad he didn’t bow to my parental pressure. I’m happy to admit I was wrong. There’s plenty of summer left to play golf.

Your Story Matters

I had one prominent thought floating through my head as I prepared for my latest speech: they picked the wrong girl.

Saul and I were getting ready to share our story at the Cleveland Women’s Leadership Symposium. We felt like royalty– a nice hotel, fancy restaurants, a gift bag of goodies. But as I woke up early to run through my breast cancer speech one more time, I felt like I was wearing a crown I didn’t deserve.

I was going to step onto a platform and deliver words of hope and encouragement to an audience who had probably looked meaner forms of cancer in the face. What value could my story possibly have? I didn’t even have chemo… I cheated cancer. I got out early. It should be someone else up there speaking about how to be brave.

I let those thoughts float around in my head for a few minutes while I continued to lie in bed. Then I rolled over and grabbed my phone. I opened the Bible app and read what popped up on the screen, Galatians 5:22-23. Here is what it said:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

I don’t know if you know this about me, but when my thoughts start running away, I immediately start reciting a biblical grocery list. I start listing the Fruit of the Spirit. Those are the qualities that begin to blossom in you when you truly claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior. There are nine of them and I could say them in my sleep. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

As I read the words from Galatians on my phone, I started thinking it was sounding awfully familiar. And then it dawned on me. Those are the Fruits of the Spirit! I just hadn’t memorized them in that particular translation of the Bible. Look again:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others (LOVE), exuberance about life (JOY), serenity (PEACE). We develop a willingness to stick with things (PATIENCE), a sense of compassion in the heart (KINDNESS), and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people (GOODNESS). We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments (FAITHFULNESS), not needing to force our way in life (GENTLENESS), able to marshal and direct our energies wisely (SELF-CONTROL).”

In that moment, it dawned on me. The hope and encouragement will be the same, whether it’s me speaking or someone who nearly died from cancer. The value of my words is that they are different than other people’s words.

Each of us walks around with stories to tell and lessons to share. Your story be more or less dramatic than someone else’s. The person listening may have heard a thousand similar tales, but it doesn’t matter. When you open your heart to share, what comes out of your mouth may be just the translation that cuts to the heart of the person who needs your message the most.

You’re going to meet someone today who could use an encouraging story — YOUR encouraging story, in YOUR particular voice. I hope you’ll share.

I’ve Turned Into My Mother

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Somewhere along the way I started living my life as though everything is a miracle. Basically, I’ve turned into my mother.

It’s funny, I remember talking to her on the phone in college or as a young adult and she would say, “Oh my goodness! They had the TV I wanted on sale at Best Buy! It’s a miracle.” She wasn’t throwing around the word “miracle.” No, she actually believed God had orchestrated life to lift her spirits that day.

I would roll my eyes.

Why would God care about the details of our lives, Mom? If God really cared about my life he’d pay off my student loans and find me a nice husband.

By the way, God did both of those things for me in the next several years, but that’s another story.

About 5 years ago, something in my heart changed. I was challenged in a podcast to look for God’s love every day. The idea was to wake up expecting Him to plant little reminders of His love in my day and then to find them. (It was a Joyce Meyer podcast, but I can’t remember the episode. If you’re curious, listen to them all. They’re all fabulous.)

And guess what?! If you’re looking for God you’ll find him. He wants to be found. If you’re looking for proof that he loves you, you’ll see it in the details. You’ll find it in the uplifting phone call or email that comes at just the right time. You’ll find it in the $5 bill stuffed in your pocket when you’re hungry and forgot your wallet. You’ll find it in the grace of a friend who forgives you when you really don’t deserve it.

I’ve seen all of those miracles in my life.

This past Sunday, as I knelt by the alter, my pastor asked how he could pray for me. I had some specific needs I wanted to bring to God, but first I wanted my pastor to join me in a prayer of praise for the miracle of breast cancer.

Yes, I am going WAY out on this one in some people’s minds, and it’s okay to disagree with me, but it’s my cancer experience and this is how I see it. It was a miracle from God.

It’s almost too other-worldly to even put into words, but I’ll try. The enemy meant to steal my joy, kill my body and destroy my faith with cancer. But God took it and blessed me at every turn. Literally, not a single day went by when I didn’t lie in bed and reflect on God’s amazing love. Everything– from the North Dakota friend who just happened to be visiting when I got the call from the doctor, to the first ever Susan G. Komen Athens Race for the Cure that just happened to align with my diagnosis– it all seemed orchestrated to remind me I was loved.

You know what I’m most grateful for? That I didn’t miss it. I didn’t miss the miracles wrapped up in the pain.

Your life is filled with miracles, too. I pray you don’t miss them.

“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

Put Away the Vacuum

I won’t be able to vacuum for 8 weeks. See? This breast cancer stuff has some real benefits!

I had my pre-op appointment at THE JAMES yesterday and learned all about the procedure and the recovery. Basically, Saul and I will arrive at the hospital on April 26th at 9am, the surgery will begin at 11:30, it’ll be done by 2:30, I’ll come back to my senses by 4:30, and then if I’m not vomiting uncontrollably, Saul can drive me home and tuck me into my own bed by 7pm.

It all sounds pretty routine, except to the person who is being operated on. Yesterday, at the clinic, we were reviewing this process when Saul mentioned to the doctor’s assistant that I don’t handle euthanasia well. WHAT?! Who does??

Everyone looked a touch confused until I busted out laughing. “He means I don’t handle anesthesia well.” Yikes! Let’s not confuse those two things, people! Good thing Saul’s not in charge of dispensing the meds…

I have a long list of DON’Ts after the surgery: don’t lift anything heavier than 5 pounds for 3 weeks, don’t lift arms above shoulders for 3 weeks, don’t swim or take a bath for 6 weeks, and don’t exercise or vacuum for 8 weeks.

As I look at that DON’T list, I can’t help but be excited about all the unspoken DOs: Do snuggle your kids, do read a good book, do catch up with friends on the phone, do allow your husband to refill your water cup and kiss your forehead. I’m looking forward to the surgery because I can’t wait for the recovery!

Now, on another note, this could be a whole blog post in itself, but I just need to say thank you. I have been covered with love and prayers since my last post. You all made me weep (multiple times) with your gentle words of encouragement. Thank you for letting me borrow your brave.

Missing My Brave

I’m worried I’m losing my brave. It’s April and the countdown is on. My next surgery is 22 days away. On Tuesday, April 26th, I’ll go back to THE JAMES to have the expander in my left breast removed and a more permanent silicone implant installed. While I’m under, the reconstructive surgeon will also lift my right breast to make it match the left. So, basically, crudely, I’m getting mastectomy reconstruction and a boob job.

The expander hasn’t been too much of a problem, but it will be a relief to have it out. It’s not painful, but it is as hard as a rock. I saw my sister yesterday for the first time since the breast cancer diagnosis and the first thing I did was make her touch my fake breast. She really didn’t want to, but I made her. When else will she get to feel a human science experiment in the making? I offered to let her see it, but she declined. I didn’t push it, because I know she’ll see plenty when I publish all of the pictures in a book along with this blog and then force her to buy it.

I’m looking forward to wearing a regular bra again. Right now I rotate between a black sports bra and a white sports bra, because they are the only undergarments that give the illusion of my breasts being horizontal. Oh! Have I never mentioned that my breasts are at two different spots on my body? The young one is near my chin and the old one is down by my belly button. That surgeon has his work cut out for him.

Speaking of the surgeon, I see him on Wednesday for a final pre-op appointment. I’ll spend the day at THE JAMES learning what to expect for the surgery and recovery. I’ll also get a mammogram on the healthy breast to make sure cancer hasn’t developed in that tissue.

I feel like my brave is still in the same room, it’s just not inside of me right now. Have you ever felt that way? Like you should be brave and perhaps you’re overreacting, but it’s just not lining up? Would you pray about that for me? And maybe if you have extra, I could borrow your brave for a bit? I’m sure mine will be back once May arrives.

Oprah, Joel and Nicole

Watching TV has given me a new tactic to create a healthier me. I was watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday the other night when she had Pastor Joel Osteen on as a guest. It was the first time I had seen the show or seen the interview, so it was brand new to me. Only it wasn’t…

Osteen was talking about his bestselling book, The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today, when all of a sudden it occurred to me that I’ve read this book.

Don’t you hate that? I thought all of these wonderful ideas floating around my head about speaking positivity and truth into my life had come from my own brain power. They had taken such hold that I had started owning them.

The basic premise is this: whatever you say after the words “I am” is what you are inviting into your life and creating as your reality.

I am so tired.

I am never going to be able to quit this habit.

I am never going to be good at this.

I am getting my second wind!

I am able to do all things through God who gives me strength!

I am going to master this!

See the difference? Even writing those positive examples gives me energy. It’s powerful stuff. Now, I’m not sure this principle would hold if I said, “I am going to be on a luxurious island by the end of the week.” The “I am” phrase has to be followed with something that is within God’s will for your life. The good news is, His will is always for your good, so if you can get into His “flow” (as Oprah calls it), you can expect to see transformation in your life.

So here’s my new plan, let’s call it Phase Two. If it works well, I’ll write a book and then Joel Osteen and Oprah can read it. I might even send them a free copy. I’m nice like that.

My inner child is constantly looking for something decadent and sweet to eat. Like constantly. So today I’m starting out the day with a new dialogue.

I am LOVING broccoli!

I am so excited to eat my veggies!  

I am glad I don’t have to eat ice cream or brownies or cookies! Bleck!

I’ll let you know how it goes. It’s worked really well so far, but I’ve only been awake for 48 minutes.

Easter at Elevation

I took my kids to a rock concert on Easter. Okay, it wasn’t really a rock concert, but it sure was reminiscent of the time I saw the Steve Miller band live in Green Bay.

You know what it was? Church.

Several thousand people were on their feet, hands in the air, singing at the top of their lungs.

We’re staying at my sister’s house in Charlotte and I had heard about this place called Elevation Church. I suppose it would qualify as a mega-church, but there are actually about 14 smaller campuses that make up the organization.

Pastor Steven Furtick broadcasts live from one of the locations each week and it’s simulcast to the others.

I gotta admit, I thought it might bother me not to see the pastor face-to-face, but it didn’t. Jordan was sitting next to me and she later admitted that because she’s still shorter than all the adults, she usually has to watch the action from a screen anyway.

I don’t intend for this to be a review of Elevation. Believers are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Every church has a different feel, because there are so many different types of people. Some like to get up on their feet and dance while others prefer to worship with their knees on the ground. It’s all good.

That said, we normally attend a church that is less rock concert-ish, so you should have seen my kids’ faces when the band started up and all of these huge colorful beach balls got thrown into the audience. They kept looking at me like, “Is this okay, Mom? Would God be cool with this?”

The sermon message was called “A Tomb With a View” and it was all about perspective. My take-home message was this: before we pray for our circumstances to change, maybe we should pray that God helps our perspective to change.

That’s big in our family. As I swayed to the music with my littlest one in my arms, I caught Saul’s misty eyes. He remembers so well when I would cry to him, wondering if I would ever be strong enough after the mastectomy to carry my 5 year old. It was fitting that I would be able to hold Ben while praising Jesus for carrying us through the battle. It was certainly a perspective we didn’t have a year ago.

When I think about it that way, it does seem fitting to celebrate on my feet, hands in the air, singing my heart out. God deserves a rock concert.

My Inflating Walmart Ego

I think I know how Tiffany felt the first time she heard her song, I Think We’re Alone Now, played on the radio. Go ahead, take a trip back to 1987. I’ll wait…

Okay, onto my story. I was walking through Walmart, browsing the Easter candy aisle when a beautiful woman about my age, stopped me.

“Excuse me, but are you Nicole?”

She went on to say that she reads my blog and joked about telling people what “her new best friend, Nicole” says.

Can you even imagine the size of my ego in that exact moment? It was bigger than a 3-foot tall chocolate bunny.

But with my ego so big, my brain got small. At that exact moment, with a bag of Reese’s in one hand and a box of Sour Patch bunnies in the other, my mind went blank. I should have had something kind or encouraging to say back to her, but instead I just kept thinking, “Someone reads my blog? And we’re not related? This is AWESOME!”

I wandered Walmart for another 45 minutes thinking pondering how brave and inviting that mystery woman was. She didn’t have to say anything. She could have just watched the ridiculous amount of sugar I put into my cart and then let me walk away. But she didn’t. She stepped out of her comfort zone and approached a stranger who may or may not have been who she thought she was.

You have that power inside of you, too. You have the 45 seconds it takes to pass on an encouraging word. You have the courage to talk to a stranger for the sole purpose of making her day a little bit brighter. Won’t you use that precious power today?

Thank you Walmart Woman. Thank you for inflating my ego. Don’t worry, I went home after shopping and found that two people had unsubscribed from my email list, so my ego is now back to normal.

***That last time I saw Tiffany she was on Celebrity Wife Swap, so I’m guessing her ego is pretty under control these days, too.

Pause for Kindness

For those of you who’d rather listen than read, this one’s for you! When someone threatens to bring out your worst, create space for kindness with a pause.

Thank Goodness for Leprechauns

Wonderment. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of parenting. When my babies were little, wonderment was more of a daily occurrence. I would look at them in awe as they learned to roll over or say ‘momma’ or blow kisses. Then they took their first wobbly steps and Saul and I were so captivated we contemplated renting a billboard to announce the brilliance of our children.

But there’s another side to parenting wonderment. It’s that look in your child’s eyes when they simply cannot believe what they are seeing.

Ben, my big kindergartener, stumbled down the steps for breakfast this morning in his underwear. The sleep that was still clouding his vision was instantly swept away when he hit the kitchen. In an expression that confirmed his mind was clearly not making sense of the scene, his eyes darted back and forth… overturned chairs, Lucky Charms strewn over the countertop, and a little leprechaun (also known as a garden gnome) hiding sheepishly in the corner.

He began running between his two siblings as they each found hidden treasures and hints of naughtiness… green water in the toilet, green milk in the fridge, a shoe tied up high in fancy green ribbon.

I stood back and watched with gratitude. I don’t know how many more years the leprechaun will visit our house… there have been plenty of years when he hasn’t. But this year, wonderment abounded in the Phillips’ household, and it was wonderful.

***I’d love to show you pictures of our morning fun, but apparently late night elf-work (or leprechaun work in this case) makes a mom too tired to remember the camera function on her iphone. Maybe next year! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

May love and laughter light your days,

and warm your heart and home.

May good and faithful friends be yours,

wherever you may roam.

May peace and plenty bless your world

with joy that long endures.

May all life’s passing seasons

bring the best to you and yours!

-an Old Irish Blessing

Climbing Down the Ladder

The thing about being a coach’s wife is that it stinks to lose. No matter how magical the season was, at some point, it’s all gotta come to an end.

While everybody else is getting all March Madnessy, I’m trying to slowly climb down the ladder of exhilaration without falling straight to the bottom.

The coach in our household is doing fine. He’s gearing up to play in the CBI tournament in a few days, so his belly is still full of the fire of competition.

Me? I’m in recovery mode. Yesterday, I took a nap on the couch. All day. Today I’m wearing my “I can’t adult today” t-shirt. Tomorrow I will rejoin the real world. Perhaps.

I’ve been living in a hotel room in Cleveland with my kids for the past week, so part of this comes from pure exhaustion– both from traveling and from the up and down adrenaline of so many games so close together. I can’t even imagine what the players feel like right now.

Friday night, it all ended when we lost to Buffalo. My girlfriend texted me and said, “I know that you will find the silver lining.”

I already had. If we were going to lose to anybody, I wanted it to be Buffalo.

Earlier in the week, I was sitting next to the hotel pool watching my kids swim when I noticed three adorable blond-haired girls playing and giggling with their babysitter. Their daddy is the head coach of Buffalo. Their momma has lymphoma and couldn’t make the trip. She was in the hospital due to a bad reaction to her last cancer treatment.

Buffalo went on to beat everyone in the whole MAC tournament and win a spot in the Big Dance. Those three little girls were in the stands screaming their tiny heads off. But even better? Crystal Oates, the head coach’s wife, was able to make it to Saturday night’s championship game, just in time to help her husband cut down the nets.

So, yeah, I’m tired and crabby and sad that our ride has ended, but I do see the silver lining. Lots of them, actually.

March Madness Rollercoaster

I feel like I’m standing in line, waiting to ride the world’s best rollercoaster. Later this week, I’ll pack up the family and we’ll head to Cleveland for the MAC tournament. For my non-sporty friends, that’s our conference basketball tourney. If our team wins, the Bobcats will head to the NCAA tournament. (That’s the big leagues, non-sporties.)

Saul’s teams have been there before, so I know the exhilaration that comes with watching your school’s name pop up on the screen on Selection Sunday. I want to paint my face green and jump up and down just thinking of it!

I also know the pride that comes from standing quietly next to my husband, both literally and figuratively as he does countless interviews with every source of media imaginable.

I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. But.

Isn’t there always a but? It’s quite possible this ride will be cut short, called on account of rain (or a loss) and we’ll be sent home early. It’s like standing in line for hours only to find out the rollercoaster’s being closed down because someone puked just before you got on.

Bummer.

Maybe you feel that way about something in your life right now. You’ve been patient and it’s almost your turn… but wait… now you’re being told you can’t ride because you’re too short or too pregnant or too heart-attacky for this particular coaster.

It stings to find out it’s not your time– or not your ride. It can take weeks to pull yourself up after that setback. But you will. And so will I. If all of our dreams come true just the way we’ve imagined them, it’ll be awesome! But if not, we’ll get up and dust off and realize there’s another way to look at this setback.

Because in the end, win or lose, sometimes you just have to be grateful you got to be at the amusement park in the first place.

A Letter to Winter

Dear Winter,

We need to talk. This letter has been a long time coming. I know I should probably be doing this in person, but it feels like every time I step outside to talk, you try to freeze me out.

We’ve had some some good times together, haven’t we? Remember those 47 days my kids got off of school? Making snowmen… sledding… you were totally there making it happen. Thank you. I will be forever grateful for the extra snow-day snuggles.

But here’s the thing: we need to be done now. You’re starting to make people sad. My friends really liked you at first, but they’re kind of just not the same when you’re around. I guess I’m not the same when you’re around, either. I can’t really pinpoint it, but there’s a grayness that covers the spot where joy should be. I know you don’t want that for me.

I’m not laying all the blame on you, really, I’m not. I’ve gotten lazy in our season together. I have to own my role and take responsibility. After much reflection and more mitten washing, I’ve come to a conclusion. There’s a season for everything, and our season together was magnificent, but now, I’m afraid it’s time for you to go.

The other day, when you were gone, the sun came out and it was really cool. Well, actually, it was really warm. And I liked it. The grass was greener, the birds were chirpier, and the whole earth seemed ready to wake up.

It’s time, my friend. You have to let go. I’ll be so excited to see you again next November. I’ll have a fresh stock of hot cocoa and all kinds of fun plans for us. But for now, I have to say goodbye.

Thanks for the memories,

Nicole

My Leap Day Baby

I cried the day I found out I was going to have a daughter. Don’t get me wrong– it was not a sweet, tender moment. I was terrified.

After a tumultuous relationship with my mom, I assumed I couldn’t do the mother-daughter thing.

I stood in my bedroom and cried as I thought “What is God thinking? He knows I can’t handle this.”

I look back now and I know, I was right.

I could never have raised that beautiful little girl or rectified the relationship with my own mother by myself. If he would have left me as I was, I would have been doomed.

But God wasn’t done with me. He knew the plans he had for me and they were plans for good. Plans for hope and a future.

So he knit that precious little girl together inside of me and then he gave her to me, even though he was, at the very same time, continuing to create me anew.

Grace.

God gave me loads and loads of grace. I think that’s why I love kindness so much and why I am I drawn to those who are lost. Because I have been lost.

I received (and continue to receive) grace from God and my daughter and more people than I can even count on this Earth. Perhaps when you’re that filled with grace, it naturally spills over onto other people. It has no where else to go.

Leap Day 12 years ago, Jordan made me a mom.

I was so bad at it for so long. Seriously. I felt like I was as bad at parenting as I was at cooking.

But I loved that little girl, so every night, even before I knew God could hear me, I would ask him to make me the mom she deserves to have.

He’s still working on that request, but I can see the progress he’s made.

Wherever you are today, whatever you’re struggling with, whatever’s buried deep but still holding you back, I just want you to know that God’s not done with you yet.

You are wonderfully made and the Author is still at work.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
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 139:13-16 (NLT)

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

Kindness is Powerful

Here’s a little food for thought:

“We scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.” -Martin Seligman, from his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being

I ran across that quote in my newest Guideposts magazine last night, and it struck me. Yes! It really is that easy to reroute our day and at least temporarily lift us from our gloom.

We exercise our bodies, we take our negative thoughts captive, and sometimes we still feel like we’re having a crappy day. (I asked the online thesaurus to find me a more appropriate word for crappy, but all it came up with was lousy, junky, sub-par and inferior. Sorry folks, sometimes crappy just fits the bill.)

On those days, turn to kindness. You’ll change someone else’s day, but you’ll also change your own.

Saul’s Too Sexy for this Blog

My husband has just won an award that has us doubled over in hysterics. Hold on a sec, I have to quit laughing. Okay, are you ready?

My husband, Saul Phillips, has been named the third sexiest mid-major coach of 2016! Need to see the documentation for yourself? I can’t blame you. Not everyone gets that kind of national recognition.

This is funny to our family for so many reasons– probably for all the reasons it would be funny to your family if your husband would have been listed. We see him at his best and we see him… well, we see him trying to imitate Zoolander.

IMG_5239

My husband. He’s the sexy one on the right.

The other thing that’s hysterical about this whole thing is my naivete when it comes to sports writers. The article was written by Steph Crandall, which I assumed was a fancy way of spelling Steve Crandall. I found it incredibly odd that a man would be judging his fellow man according to their hotness on a sports website. Let’s just say that a wife only has to do a tiny bit of research to find out Steph can also be short for Stephanie, and that sports organizations do indeed hire women to write columns. YAY WOMEN in 2016! You go Sports Girls! (Side note: Hi Steph! So sorry! You have good taste, I think my husband is hot, too!)

All this got me thinking about what qualifies someone as sexy. The reporter (Steph) says her guys have to be both good looking and successful. Saul certainly checks off those categories, but that’s a far cry from what makes him sexy to me.

How about a guy who does the dishes? Or gets up with a coughing kid in the middle of the night? Or holds his wife’s hand before she’s rolled into surgery?

Carly Simon released a song in 1987 called “Stuff that Dreams are Made Of” — it’s one of my favs. The lyrics spoke to me long before Saul became sexy to reporters. Come over to my house sometime and I’ll sing it for you. Here are a few lyrics:

Don’t look at your man in the same old way
Take a new picture
Just because you don’t see shooting stars
Doesn’t mean it isn’t perfect
Can’t you see… It’s the stuff that dreams are made of

Sexy can mean a lot of different things. Take another look at the one who crawls into bed with you each night. Take a new picture. If the relationship needs a tweak, then be the bigger man (or woman) and step forward with special acts of love toward that tired old relationship. Create your own shooting stars.

Okay, one last thing: Steph, this is the third year you’ve ranked mid-major coaches, but only the first time my husband has made the list. I’m glad you finally caught on to his brand of sexy. What took you so long? And if we could move him up to the #1 spot next year, that would be great, thanks.

 

Winning by 3000

I’ve decided it’s WAY less stressful to have my husband sitting next to me in the stands at a college basketball game than to have him out there on the side lines.

My entire family went to the OU Women’s basketball game last night. The women played Miami (of Ohio) and won by 3000 points, so that brought the stress level down quite a bit, too.

I told my husband I’d like him to start winning by 3000. I think that would help my nerves. He agreed.

It was a pink-out game and all the breast cancer survivors were honored with roses. Here’s mine: IMG_5182

Sweet Lou, the announcer, gave me a special survivor shout-out and I wanted to crawl under my seat. There are so many who continue to battle this awful disease that any extra recognition sent my way feels a little (or a lot) undeserved.

Saul could tell I was thinking about making a run for it, because he wrapped me in a tight bear hug and whispered, “I’d rather not be part of this special club.”

Yeah… I get that. I remember the days when I would clap for the cancer survivors, never thinking I would be the one standing there in pink someday.

The thing is though, cancer has brought so much love and light into our family and into my world that I wouldn’t give back that awful diagnosis. I wouldn’t. It’s so funny to me… what the enemy meant to use to break us, God has totally covered in awesomeness.

Seriously, look at this… my people, loving up on me.

IMG_5183

Not that I want anymore members of this club. Don’t get me wrong. The hardest part of last night was watching the video board when the players talked about how cancer had affected their own lives. They have moms and aunts and cousins and grandmothers who are all battling. Someday, it will be their teammates… or themselves. It’s personal. That game with the pink socks and pink referee whistles and pink t-shirts became a sacred place where they could say, “I can’t do much, but I can do this.”

I get that. That’s how I feel most of the time now. I can’t do much, but I can do something. And someday, when scientists announce an end to breast cancer, I will dance and cry and probably run around naked with my reconstructed boobs flying free.

Won’t that be a fun day? Even more fun, I bet, than winning by 3000.

*Just for the record, the actual score was 72-44 (but it felt like 3000). YAY Bobcats!

Valuable

I woke up in the middle of the night with one word in my head: VALUABLE.

That’s just how I saw it in my mind, in big capital letters. The letters were also a bluish-turquoise color so I guess it looked more like this:

VALUABLE

Huh. Hmmm. It’s 4am. What is that supposed to mean? Sleep is valuable. My bed is valuable. My home is valuable. But that’s not it… what is this word supposed to mean to me today? 

VALUABLE

And then the sleepy fog lifted and it became clear. Tell them they’re valuable.

That’s it! It’s so simple, and yet, I wonder how many of us have forgotten? Do we get so busy that this beautiful truth slips our mind for days, weeks or even months at a time?

You are valuable. I am valuable. The person you’ll see today at your job who annoys the pants off you is valuable. The guy standing in the freezing cold begging for money while cars anxiously wait for the light to change is valuable. The woman serving me coffee who looks different than me and thinks different than me and doesn’t understand my belief in Jesus is valuable.

What would today look like if each one of us remembered that we are all precious and priceless and truly valuable?

Let’s not give ourselves the job of trying to figure out who is worthy of our kindness. That’s just way too much pressure and takes too much brain power. We weren’t engineered for that. How about we go back to the basics? Just for today let’s try to love God and love others, remembering that we are all valuable to our Creator. And then tonight, we’ll all get a good night’s sleep.

God Gave Me a Snow Day

My kids are on their third snow day in a row, in a week that leads directly into a 4 day weekend. So, let’s see… since last weekend, it’s gone like this:

Saturday – off

Sunday – off

Monday – school

Tuesday – off

Wednesday – off

Thursday – off

Friday – off

Saturday – off

Sunday – off

Monday – off

Tuesday – school?

I’ve highlighted the days they’ve had (or are going to have) school. I just want to be abundantly clear that in ten days, my three kids have been in school exactly once.

Now, here’s why that’s awesome.

I’ve had a lot of things pressure cooking on my schedule that were all coming up due this week. Nothing big. Nothing extremely hard, but all of it required me to leave my house with real clothes, a little extra makeup, good ideas and lots of energy.

On any given week, that would be fine. But this week, it just felt hard. Do you ever feel that way? Like things are a bit overwhelming? Maybe it’s even your own fault. You’ve said yes to too many things, when a no would have been more appropriate?

That was me. Monday morning, when my kids were at school, I made a map of my week. I listed everything I needed to bring to each event/activity and then realized I was trying to put 10 pounds of awesome in a 5 pound bag. It wasn’t going to happen.

I trudged on and got everything organized and ready to go, all the while praying for God to PLEASE intervene and give me strength or time or renewed joy in the things I’ve agreed to do.

Tuesday morning, He gave me snow. Everything was cancelled, that day and the next and the next. Hallelujah!

I’m pretty sure by next Tuesday when I scoot my little ones out the door I will be very excited to resume my adult activities, but I will also be more mindful not to resume them all in the same week. God got me out of this mess once, but twice may be pushing it.

You Want Me to do WHAT?

The principal of the Athens Middle School has made a big, big mistake. She has asked me to speak to her 7th and 8th grade students.

Somebody’s gonna lose an eye in the process, I’m just certain of it. But then again, I’m already down one breast, so I guess I could cope with one eye, too.

I hated eighth grade. Hated. Let’s review… I had just moved to a new town with a divorced dad, refused to come out of my room for several months and had one failed suicide attempt.

Eighth grade is not for sissies.

I’ve had a long talk with God this morning. I reminded him that she picked the wrong gal. I reminded him that newborn teenagers are scary. I reminded him that I probably don’t have anything cool enough to wear.

And then He started talking. He told me that he didn’t have me walk through 8th grade hell for nothing. He told me that the newborn teens are not scary, they’re scared. And He told me that it’s okay if I go shopping for a super cool new outfit and charge it to my husband.

So I said fine. To the principal and to God. I will show up and I will talk about the power of kindness to transform a life.

I will simply be available, because honestly, that’s all God’s really asking for anyway– from any of us.

And then I will trust that God, with His ability to see what’s deep in the hearts of those sweet, scary, scared kids, will fill my mouth with words that matter.

feet-349687_960_720

***I’ll be speaking sometime in March/April. Dates still to be determined. Will you pray for me and the developing message until then? Thank you, Friend.

Allergic to Life

My body has a magnetic pull toward the bathtub everyday around 7pm. Sometimes it’s more like 5:30, but generally I can hold off until everyone’s been fed. And then it hits. My people can continue watching TV or doing homework or playing basketball in the driveway, but Mom is going to take a bath.

I’m actually an 80 year old woman living in a 40 year old’s body, so I load up the tub with Epsom salts and a little lavender essential oil. Then I soak. I think about the day. Or not. I read a book. Or not. I listen to a podcast. Or not. I basically spend 30 minutes just… alone.

One of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle, talks about being a little allergic to life. You can find her Momestery blog here, but I also highly suggest her book, Carry On Warrior. It’s a great read, and I guarantee you’ll want to run out and buy copies for all your friends.

Anyway, back to the point. Glennon writes and speaks and totally looks like she has it all together. But she doesn’t, at least not any more than the rest of us. She takes anti-anxiety medication because, as she says, she’s a little allergic to life.

Here’s what she posted about it on Facebook:

“Mom- why do you take that medicine again?

Um. You know how you love trees more than anything in the world- but you’re also a little allergic to them? So you take your allergy medicine so you can play and have a good time and love trees without feeling bad all the time?

Yeah.

I love life more than anything but I’m also a little allergic to it. So I take this medicine so I can still play with life and have a good time with life without feeling bad all the time.

Kay. Can I play wii?” (from 2/2/16)

I read that post and thought, “YES! I get it!”

Do you know, I wake up in the morning and my first thought is, “I should stay in bed. Nothing good is gonna happen today.”

HONESTLY! It’s a ridiculous, stupid lie from the enemy, and I know it. So I talk back. In the quiet darkness of my bedroom, I whisper, “This is the day the Lord has made. I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.” And then I put my feet on the floor and move forward.

Debating with the devil is never a good idea. He will not back down. He’s tireless. So instead I call on God and then I start moving. And all of a sudden, that overwhelming day, that day that made me want to call my imaginary boss and say, “Sorry, can’t come into work as a mom today, my allergies to life are acting up” just sort of unfolds.

Before I know it, it’s 7pm and the bathtub is calling my name.

I close my eyes and breathe in the lavender scented bathroom and realize it was a good day. I gave it everything I had, which is pretty amazing considering I never wanted to get up in the first place.

I’m believe I’m a little allergic to life. I think we all are. This is not our final home, so our souls are always searching for heaven. I’m glad to know that until we get there, we have each other, we have anti-anxiety meds when we need them, and we have Epsom salts.

Pink Laces Follow-Up

Did you know that college basketball players can’t fit into regular people’s shoelaces? Not shoes. Shoelaces.

I’m not sure how I missed this detail. Considering most of my husband’s players wear a size 16 shoe, it would make sense that the laces to tie those high-tops would need to be extra long. I just didn’t know they needed to be that long.

I came across this new piece of information while ordering pink laces for Saul’s “Coaches vs. Cancer” game. Thank you, by the way, for all of the help locating the laces. One friend sent me an Amazon direct link while another friend from Wisconsin went so far as to search the inventory of Target stores in Ohio for me. Now that is love!

I ended up ordering 24 pairs of pink laces– enough to outfit the whole team.

I was beyond excited when the Amazon box showed up on my doorstep Friday morning, with plenty of time to lace everyone up by tip-off that night. But once the laces were in Saul’s shoes, we realized there was no possible way they were going to fit our guys. Saul took them into work anyway, and distributed them to the staff and managers. Don’t they look awesome? FullSizeRender 11

I have to tell you, the win Friday night on national television was amazing, but the highlight of the night for me came when all the assistant coaches took the floor. Every single one of them was wearing a pink tie– to match their pink laces.

My friend, Teresa, came sporting her own pink shoelaced sneakers. The golf coach’s wife wore a pink outfit. And my sweet Jordan made a sign for the game. IMG_5075

Sometimes, breast cancer feels far away. Like it was another person in another lifetime. But sometimes it still feels very close and very real and very scary. When those times hit, it’s the little things that have the biggest impact on my heart and continue to remind me that none of us ever walks anything alone.

And if you happen to find extra extra extra long pink laces, would you let me know? I’d like to stock up for next year.

Saul’s Pink Shoelaces

I need to find my husband some pink shoelaces today. That’s my mission and if I need to drive 45 minutes from my home to find a Target to do so, it will be done.

Friday night the Ohio Bobcats play Kent State at the Convo Center here in Athens. On the sideline, you will find my husband wearing a sharp looking business suit and sneakers. The game is part of a national effort to raise awareness for the fight against cancer. It’s called Coaches Versus Cancer.

Here’s what the American Cancer Society says about it on its website: “The Coaches vs. Cancer program empowers coaches, their teams, and communities to join the fight against cancer by participating in awareness efforts, advocacy programs, and fundraising activities. Guided by the Coaches vs. Cancer Council, participating coaches help people with cancer today and to find cures to end the disease tomorrow, and have raised more than $87 million to help the American Cancer Society’s mission.” 

I was standing in the kitchen talking with Saul yesterday while he was pulling stuff out of his backpack. He had just gotten home from a two game road trip and was attempting to organize his life. He proudly pulled out one size 10 sneaker and held it up to for me to see.

“Who knew Coaches Versus Cancer would hit so close to home this year?” he quipped.

I know there are many types of cancer and a cure is essential for all of them, but when I think of cancer, I think of pink.

I quickly decided to slide a comment across the kitchen island, much like someone would slide a piece of paper or a cup of coffee. “Want me to find you pink shoelaces?” I subtly offered.

I waited for my husband, the coach, to tell me how distracting that would be in the game. Instead, my husband, the softie, said, “Yeah. That would be great.”

IMG_5052So today, I’m going to find Saul pink shoelaces. And when you see him on the sideline Friday looking like a hot mess in his suit, sneakers and pink laces, I hope you remember he’s a good coach and a great husband.

By the way, the game will be nationally televised on ESPNU at 9pm Eastern. Put on your best green and white (and maybe even pink!) and get ready to cheer. Go Cats!

Life’s Not as Pinteresty as it Looks

I want to show you something… take a look at this picture. IMG_3713

This is my most recent family photo. It was taken in May of 2015.

Now look at it again. Look closely at my face… IMG_3713 copy

It’s covered in sheer glee — oh wait, no, that’s manic panic.

The picture was taken the day before my first appointment at The James. We knew I had breast cancer, but we didn’t know yet exactly what that meant.

Think I handled the cancer issue well? Take a look at my jaw-line in this picture with my husband…  FullSizeRender

I’m covered in stress and by the look of Saul’s eyes, he’s covered in weariness.

How about this one? IMG_5047

Totally adorable picture of my youngest son playing with my hair. You can’t tell from this picture (because my eyes are closed), but those eyes are filled with tears.

And this one… IMG_5045

If my chin were lifted another half an inch, the tears would be obvious. The photo session had just ended. I held my friend and photographer, Ann Fredricks, tightly for a moment and then I went to explore a ditch with Ben. I had let down my guard and was overcome with emotion. Ann picked up her camera and captured the moment.

Ann hates these pictures. Her professional brain sees lighting and… whatever… I don’t even know. She keeps asking me for a re-shoot and I keep telling her no. These pictures are perfect. They tell a story of a terrified family who put on a brave face and battled cancer. They are the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen.

But I hope you know me well enough to know that I’m not showing you these just to brag about my cute little nuclear family. No. I’m showing you these, because I want to pull back the curtain and urge you, please don’t compare yourself or your life with what you see on Facebook or Instagram or any other social media outlet. Heck, don’t even compare yourself with people when you see them in real life. What looks all put-together and Pinteresty on the outside may tell a whole ‘nother story once the protective layering is peeled.

I love you and I want you to love you, too. So today, please remember, looks can be deceiving.

A Magical Experience

I’ve been taking my kids to Disney World since my first born was four months old. Crazy? A little. Only other “Disney Families” will understand the draw. You either love it or you don’t. We love it. However… it’s not always a magical experience. 

Last February, while Saul was up to his eyeballs in basketball, the kids and I hopped a flight to Florida to meet Saul’s parents and my mom. It was a train wreck from the word Go.

Ben was sick with a cold/fever for the first half of the trip. Just as the preschooler started to rebound, the sickness made its way to me. Suddenly, I was less than enthusiastic about traipsing through the Magic Kingdom looking for a mouse. All I wanted to find was my bed.

I started to feel better on our last day and honestly considered extending our vacation, but my husband told me it was time to come home. Apparently he misses us when we’re gone and thinks the kids should attend school like other children. Neither he nor I knew what was waiting for us once we got back to Ohio. The kids went to school for 1 day and then had the next 4 days off because of an ice storm. Not funny, God. Not funny.

I wanted a do-over, and seriously, when will I ever have better leverage to demand a do-over than after a breast cancer battle? I hatched the plan in August, spent a week in September convincing Saul it was a good idea, waited until Christmas Day to tell the kids, then packed until January 14th when it was time to get on the plane.

We jokingly call it the Goodbye Breast Cancer World Tour. (Is it still considered a World Tour if you only make stops in Orlando and Cleveland?) It was meant to be a celebration and it was.  IMG_5027

However… uh oh. There’s that word again. About a week before we left, I started thinking I might be crazy. I was going to Disney alone with 3 kids. No husband and no grandparents for back-up. Ben came down with an ear infection and my tissue expander was really causing me pain in the left side of my chest. What was I getting myself into?

It would have been too heartbreaking to cancel, so instead I called in my prayer warriors.

Oh my gosh, you guys, I get weepy just thinking of it. There are people dying and abused and living in extreme poverty and here I am asking my friends to pray over my trip to Disney World. And they did it! And they didn’t even roll their eyes! Those are some good friends.

It worked. I swear to you, I could feel their prayers. It was like we were put into a little bubble of protection the entire week. Now, let’s not get crazy, things weren’t perfect, but our perception of things was perfect. When it rained, we put on ponchos and galloped our way down Main Street U.S.A.

IMG_4891I understood every moment of every day that I was being given a gift. Watching my kids and laughing with them and having conversations about God’s goodness… it was all so precious.

So, today, I just feel compelled to remind you that God does indeed hear you and he cares about the details of your life. He can bring joy to desperate situations. I know, I’ve seen it happen. But he also loves to meet us in the mundane, the maybe-not-so-important, the there-are-bigger-problems-out-there times and make those moments magical, too.  

 

Play Through the Ugly

IMG_8761I sat through one of the ugliest basketball games ever a few nights ago. I’m not great with details, so I’ll just say this: the Bobcats were playing some other team, we were ahead by a lot, and then we weren’t. That in itself could make it an ugly game, but add in a bench-clearing brawl and my husband’s technical foul and, well… even Jordan (Daddy’s biggest fan) wanted to cover her eyes.

But she didn’t. Instead, during the 15 minutes that the refs were reviewing the tape trying to figure out whose tempers had ignited the situation, Jordan started the wave.

Actually, the real credit belongs to Emily, another coach’s wife, but leave it to a kid to run with an idea until it takes flight.

First it was a few people in our immediate group of seats… then a few more in our section… then two people two sections over joined in… then a row of college students… then the entire Marching 110 band… and suddenly… thousands of people at the Convo Center were ignoring the tape-watching refs and turning their attention to the more entertaining movement of the wave.

Just like that game, life has ugly moments. Moments that make you want to cover your eyes, or walk out of the gym completely. Please don’t. It only takes one person to start the wave, to turn our attention to what’s good and fun and worthwhile and remind us not to take life too seriously. I guarantee the people who joined in the wave were having a much better time than those who sat angry and rigid, grumbling about the game. The same is true with life. Maybe you’ll be the one to start the wave, or maybe you’re the one that keeps it moving. Either way, life’s way more fun when you take time to play.

Genetic Win!

As the wife of a college basketball coach and a Wisconsin native, in our house we tally wins and losses based on my husband’s team’s record or the Packers’ odds of winning a Superbowl. This time, we’re celebrating a win off the hardwood.

Nine out of nine of my genetic tests came back negative– which is a huge positive when it comes to breast cancer. The doctor says the upside is that I don’t carry the breast cancer gene, but the downside is that we may never know what caused my particular brand of cancer. We seem to have figured out how to fight it though, so I’m okay with that.

The doctor also pointed out that the women in my family (my daughter, my sister, my mom) are still at a higher risk of getting breast cancer thanks to being related to me. You’re welcome, Female Family Members. I’m pretty awesome to have in the family tree. What’s one little scuff on the shoe? If you’re gonna buy the beach, you gotta take the sand. Or something like that.

I’m sure Jordan and I will have lots of conversations as she grows about her health and the importance of regular check-ups, but I’m beyond grateful that they won’t be about the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes.

I told Saul the good news when he got home from his road game. We knew that if the tests came back positive I would most likely be heading back in for another mastectomy and hysterectomy… Saul’s team had lost on the road, but as he wearily crawled into bed at 2 in the morning and listened to my groggy explanation, we both knew, Team Phillips had gotten a major win.

Bad Things Bring Good Things

I’ve mentioned before the silver linings that have come from having cancer. Yes, I lost a breast, but what I’ve gained? Sorry breast cancer. I got the better end of the deal. Seriously.

I’m not talking physically (yet), because that’s still a work in progress. I’m talking about the outpouring of love I’ve felt, the people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve had to share my story and outlook, a strengthening of my beliefs, growth in my children, a renewed marriage… I could go on for days.

The other morning, I was listening to the radio when I heard this: “Psychologists studying post-traumatic growth find that many people thrive in the aftermath of adversity.”

I wanted to roll down my minivan window and shout, “Did you hear that??? It’s not just me! Other people think good things come out of bad times, too! I’m not crazy!”

Then I realized if I started yelling at strangers that might make me a little bit, um, crazy… So instead, I’m sharing it with you!

Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman and HuffPost Senior Writer Carolyn Gregoire wrote a new book called Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. I haven’t read it, but I found this excerpt on the Huffington Post website.*

“Growth after trauma can take a number of different forms, including a greater appreciation for life, the identification of new possibilities for one’s life, more satisfying interpersonal relationships, a richer spiritual life and a connection to something greater than oneself, and a sense of personal strength. […] Psychologists have found that experiences of trauma also commonly lead to increased empathy and altruism, and a motivation to act for the benefit of others.”

Yep. Yep. And Yep!

If you’re in the middle of a storm right now, I hope those words spill over you and refresh your soul in a way you never thought possible. You can’t see what’s on the other shore yet, but let this be one more assurance that it’s gonna be better than you know, my friend. Just keep swimming.

0Bwo9Z3-wzxmgT1VsUmxVX25NMmM*You can read the whole article here. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/post-traumatic-growth-creativity_568426c0e4b014efe0d9d8e8

A Scary Prayer

I finally watched War Room last night. Disclaimer: I totally love in-your-face Christian movies. Certain members of Team Phillips think they’re cheesy, but I always walk away inspired and hopeful that God is indeed still in control. The characters get to say every thing I wish I were brave enough and eloquent enough to say myself. I guess that’s why movies are popular. For 90 minutes we get to step out of our own lives and try on someone else’s shoes.

images-2If you don’t know what War Room is about, go rent it. I don’t want to debate the merits of the film, I just want to point out one teeny-tiny thing that pretty much made the whole movie possible and would change each of our real lives if we put it into play.

The elderly woman in the filmed prayed for someone to help. She asked God to send her someone to mentor.

There are scary prayers in life, and I think that’s one of the scariest.

I have to believe that God ALWAYS answers our prayers to find someone to help. Feel like your prayers are not being answered? Try praying that one instead. You’ll hear from God in a hurry. Trust me.

I think we get caught up in over-thinking things. What if God sends me someone who wants my money? Or too much of my time? I can really only commit to helping for the next month or two– and I’d have to take a week off in the beginning of February.

If you’re still reading this, then I have a challenge for you. Be bold. Just today. Just this one time. Stop right now and say “God, I refuse to operate from a mindset of fear or scarcity. You have given me so much. I know I have plenty to share with others. Wisdom, resources, whatever, God! I’m willing to use it. Send me someone today to help.” 

Then watch. They will come…the young mom who needs an encouraging word…the person at work who could use your fresh perspective. Don’t be surprised when you get a jolt of extra energy as part of your answered prayer. God promises in Proverbs 11:25, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

Why I Love Joanna Gaines

I was lying in bed like a starfish this morning. My mind had clocked in for the day, but my body was all… nah.

My thoughts were chasing squirrels all over the room until they somehow landed on what I now call my “Trifecta of Inspiration.” Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Mister Rogers, Dolly Parton and Joanna Gaines. That’s my starting lineup for inspiration.

All three of these people have found their true calling and simultaneously live out their faith in ways that captivate believers and non-believers alike. I’m speaking in the present tense, because to me, Mister Rogers is still alive.

Mister Rogers and Dolly Parton, I’ve talked about before. I’m contemplating buying a trolley and an amusement park just to channel my inner greatness. Saul’s not on board with those plans just yet.

Joanna Gaines is a new-comer to my lineup. If you’re not familiar with her, then you need to come to my house and sit on my couch and watch a “Fixer Upper” marathon on HGTV with me. You’ll be a fan in no time. Joanna and her husband, Chip, restore homes to their former glory. Chip does the demo and Joanna does the design.

Joanna’s style is amazing. It’s obvious she’s living out her purpose and the nation has fallen in love. But here’s the thing… she stumbled onto it pretty recently. She wrote a blog post that mentions being on a road trip with Chip 12 years ago and stressing about not having a specific design style. What?! Well that was a pretty quick turn-around…

Don’t believe me? Here’s Joanna’s blog post.

And here’s my point. Not all of us are meant to be on a stage or a screen or making enough money to bankroll an amusement park. But the same God who put kindness into the heart of Mister Rogers, and a song into the soul of Dolly Parton, and a picture of beauty into the mind of Joanna Gaines is the same God looking out for you. Regardless of your age or where you are in life or what ships have passed you by… He’s not done with you yet. He wants to lead you into your legacy. All you have to do is follow.

Okay. So I wanted to end the blog post there, but I can’t. I’m a pragmatic person and therefore, I hate it when I’m left without practical ways to implement inspiring ideas. If you’re looking for ways to better hear God’s direction for your life, let me give you a few. I’m still figuring it out, too, but these seem to work pretty well for me.

Agree that you screw up a lot of the time and need a Savior, and then ask Jesus to lead your life. (Can’t get what you don’t ask for, right?)

Open a bible and read it. Not all in one sitting, you’ll go blind. Just read a paragraph or two and then think, “What in the world does this have to do with my life and what you’re trying to teach me, God?” Sometimes I have to think it through all day, but eventually, I always get the answer. You can read the bible on your phone or computer if you don’t own the physical book. Or go to a hotel. They have them in the nightstand.

Do the next right thing. Decision by decision, day by day, hour by hour. Listen to that little voice in your head that is saying, “You really shouldn’t do this” or “Go talk to her” or “What if?” You’ll be amazed by where the Spirit will take you, if you’ll only follow.

God sees you and loves you right where you are. May you see him and love him in 2016 in a way that transforms your life and unleashes the purpose for which He made you.

How I Became BFFs with Dolly Parton (Sort of)

I am the person advertisers are targeting when they cast miniature horses and cute puppies in their ads. I should not be allowed to watch TV. I’m a total sucker. Don’t believe me? Ask me what I did over the Christmas break.

Dollywood. I threw my family in the car and drove 6+ hours to Dollywood.

It started late last Monday. I sat down with the kids to catch up on some of the holiday shows we had taped (or DVR-ed for those of you younger than 40). They agreed to watch ten minutes of “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors.” Two hours later we were hooked, and I was certain Dolly and I were kindred spirits. I was equally certain she was inviting me to come to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to say hi. I think this is how stalking starts…

Saul is a good sport. His basketball team was off for a few days and he didn’t seem at all surprised when Tuesday afternoon I suggested we point the minivan south.

Saul: Where are we going?

Me: Dollywood.

Saul: Why?

Me: Because I watched her movie and now I love her.

Saul: Oh. Okay.

We got into Dolly’s brand new DreamMore Resort about 9pm. Walking into the hotel was like stepping inside my mind– all filled with butterflies, and comfy chairs and inspirational quotes reminding people to Dream More, Learn More, Love More, Be More. Oh– and they had a Starbucks next to the lobby. Ahhh…

IMG_4750

Nic & Dolly hanging at the Wax Museum

The next morning, we hit Dunkin’ Donuts, the Hollywood Wax Museum, Dollywood, the Titanic Museum, The Christmas Place store, and Dollywood again. After a really good night’s sleep, we headed home the next day in time to leave cookies for Santa.

The trip was reminiscent of my breast cancer diagnosis days. We were constantly going somewhere, trying to outrun cancer. Only this time, we weren’t running. We were laughing at our own silly spontaneity and cracking bad breast jokes.

I never did see Dolly, but her essence was there. The essence of a little girl who came from nothing and ended up building an empire that changed the financial landscape of her poverty stricken community– all while sweetly and Southernly reminding people to love Jesus and their mommas. It’s mighty powerful stuff. On TV and in real life.

It leads me to consider, what legacy could you and I leave if we simply dared to Dream More?