Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Young Life's Frontier Ranch ~ Excellence in All

June 2017

Last summer God presented me with the most amazing, unexpected surprise of getting to go as a LEADER to Young Life's Frontier Ranch. It was a marker experience, and I don't want to miss getting some of the details down. Just last night I was touched by adult testimonies at our Fort Worth YL Leader's dinner, generations of Young Life woven through many of our city's finest. I cannot, cannot say enough about Jace and Dayna Thompson and the ripples of their servant leadership in our city. Incidentally, I first met Jace (well, watched him anyway) as he was on Programs (aka the funny guy) at Frontier during my first stop there in high school. His and Dayna's day-to-day faithfulness not just to Young Life kids and leaders but to Jesus can't be underscored.

"Hey TJ, I know this is a long shot, but I was wondering if you might be open to taking a group of high school girls to Frontier Ranch this summer..."
Aaron's voice kept talking on my voice mail, but I hardly listened to the rest of the message.
Um, YES!

Aaron's phone call came in mid-May, camp was set for June, and it would involve some tricky planning for our kiddos' jam-packed summer and completing the online training to officially serve as a Young Life leader.

But as I told Aaron, "I don't even have to pray about this."

My heart had been primed for high school girls just days earlier in our church's high school ministry class during Senior Sunday. I listened as senior after senior got up to share with the younger students, challenging them with the wisdom they'd gleaned through high school. What I heard most - "get involved in small groups, and latch onto the leaders."

Listening to those students share, it pained me to think of teenage girls floundering through high school with culture as their guide instead of God's unchanging Word. Comparing themselves to Instagram and SnapChat stories rather than resting in the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully (and perfectly, and specifically) created.

So when Aaron called, I seriously didn't have to pray about whether or not to go. And never mind that Fort Worth would be going to FRONTIER RANCH (!!!!!), and that one of my dearest friends Heather was right there, where her husband Jay Mac oversees the camp. I hadn't been back to Frontier since the early 90s - more than 25 years ago. I attended as a camper during high school and then a couple of work weeks during college, but my marker experience was a month of Work Crew, summer of '90. Two life-long gifts came from that month ~ a heart friend in Heather, and setting a routine of daily morning quiet times.

The other God-ordained dynamic of this summer's trip is that is was with girls from Southwest Christian School. Branson just transferred to SCS last year, so any other year I would have never been asked. But now I had a connection, and that very same week when Aaron asked me to go, Hudson decided to transfer to SCS as well. So all seven of the girls I'd take to camp would be sandwiched between Bran and Hud's grades at school. And then we bartered for an 8th girl to go - a graduating SCS senior. What a God-send for Kirsten to join us as our unofficial (but practically official) "junior leader." Kirsten is energetic, optimistic, adventurous, and spiritually grounded ~ an incredible asset to our cabin.

It's difficult to reign in the emotions I felt going back.

- Getting off the buses, welcomed by an energetic work crew and Heather's family (and videos - sweet ML!) nearly took my breath away. Then going into the dining hall for the first dinner. As work crew crashed in dancing and singing through the aisles, I had to choke back sobs (and luckily, for the sake of my table, I did) with the flood of memories

- Time with Heather - we snuck away a few times to catch up and visit, and this girl is a gem. Heather's friendship was foundational to me at a time when I needed a good friend. We met through YL in high school, then worked in the dining hall together on Work Crew. We were stuck together like glue. Her friendship transformed my senior year in high school, and though we haven't lived in the same town since we both married, our friendship continues to run deep
so funny, Jay Mac
- Getting to know Jesse and our Northside leaders, along with other FW leaders - what an amazing group! Transforming lives by loving kids so well

- Building friendships with the SCS girls

- Camp speaker, Andy and Angelyn from Kansas - Andy learning SO many kids names, so relatable and kind and a clear communicator


- I knew before I even left for camp that my biggest challenge would be experiencing Frontier without Branson and Hudson (and Corbin!) there. I was right

- Experiencing Frontier Ranch again, 25+ years since the last time. Pristine, manicured, inviting

Loading the bus. It's crazy how many long-standing friendships I've had with these girls' mommas, culminating in this trip. Grace isn't even pictured here, but her mom Caren was my BEST friend and like a sister all growing up - and now I get to spend a week with her at YL camp
we made it! adorable Sami - best bus buddy ever

sand-volleyball, right outside our cabin, where my girls spent any downtime
devos are just better with goldfish and sugar
good grief
thank God for Kirsten! newly graduated, she was my unofficial co-leader

Real life - one of the most powerful events throughout the week


Aaron, Kirsten and me
Fort Worth's (fabulous) group
 My biggest take-away this summer was being reminded of the excellence of Young Life. "Excellence" is one of Young Life's top priorities, described at length in leader training. And I saw it on display at Frontier: manicured campus with flower pots overflowing with color; work crew guys never without their rakes and brooms, keeping every trail and walkway perfectly maintained; updated, clean, and spacious meeting rooms and dining hall and gym; every room and every outside area we entered was prepared for us - clean, set up, and welcoming; the skits were executed with precision, the speaker and worship team and skit guys and sound guys were precisely in sync.

Corbin and I have been on committee for more than twenty-one years here in Fort Worth. We've served in different capacities, some seasons more involved than others. But seeing Young Life played out in schools and clubs is messy. It just is. Some events are well planned and some are thrown together last minute, but it's messy because relationships are messy. And for years we've cheered on our Fort Worth staff and leaders, knowing they work in a challenging and often difficult arena. But being at camp reminded me that at the core, Young Life is excellent. The camp staff and summer staff and work crew allow kids "an extravagant resort in the middle of God's extravagant creation to proclaim to kids God's extravagant love in Jesus Christ" (Ty Saltzgiver - years on YL staff, author of My First 30 Quiet Times, which is the booklet that set my habit during work crew).

Jim Rayburn, Young Life's founder, left us with some oft-repeated quotes:

“You don’t put the greatest Message in the world in a brown paper bag"

“Excellence in all ... if Disney can be excellent for profit, Young Life can be excellent for Jesus.”

This excellence was demonstrated at Frontier and spills over into local ministries across the country, including our beloved Fort Worth. I am continually encouraged by God's work through Young Life - what a privilege to get to be a part!

Lastly, besides taking part in the adventures of all things Frontier, besides getting to watch say-so unfold, besides meeting amazing people from all over the country (esp Topeka - who knew there were so many amazing people from Topeka?!), perhaps the best part about going as a 44-year-old leader is that my campers were extra-protective (or felt sorry for?) and took GREAT care of me during the initiating, pitch-black, freezing-water-sprayed-on-us, water-slide-into-the-pool-fully-clothed obstacle course!

Frontier bid  our buses farewell with this parting sunset... until we meet again

Thursday, November 2, 2017


I have nodes. I am living with nodes. But I am a survivor, but I have to pull back because I am limited. Because I have nodes.                   - Chloe, Pitch Perfect
I’m on day 7... day 7 of TEN DAYS of no talking. Not a word. Not even a whisper. This after a minor surgery last Friday where my ENT removed a small node form my vocal cords. Depending on my audience, I scrawl an explanation on my dry erase board, “like in Pitch Perfect.” And depending on my audience, that explanation is met with smiles and squeals.

Several weeks ago I called my ENT and told the receptionist, “I really don’t have any desire to make an appointment with Dr. Fewins, and I really don’t want to come in.”
She paused.
I continued, “Last time I saw Dr. Fewins, he forbade me to speak for ten days. And now I'm pretty sure I need the same procedure.”
“How long have you noticed your voice being hoarse?”
“Oh, about a year and a half.”
“Well,” she laughed, “let’s make that appointment.”

About a decade ago, the last time I had this procedure, our kiddos were so young. My ten days of parenting in silence was most difficult with Basden, because that’s just hard not to talk with a four-year-old. Essie was about two and toddled along just fine. The boys could both read, so I kept my dry erase board handy. But sweet Basden would just look at me, not fully understanding why I couldn’t talk to her. At one point she fell and  hurt herself, and I remember holding and rocking her, not able to soothe her with words. No fun.

Also because of that week, Branson claims he’s the only eight-year-old who’s been screamed at through a dry erase board. I distinctly remember waving him upstairs to my room, and I was so stinking angry. I remember sitting on my bed, furiously writing out his offense, whatever it was, and holding it up in his little face. Then furiously erasing it, then furiously writing again, and holding it up... seriously one of my biggest parenting fails. I knew even then that I was out of control. Red faced, angry, chewing out my little boy in deafening silence with a dry erase marker.

AGH. Well, frustration and anger with little ones is a real thing, and I’ve written on that before. Let’s just say I utilize the words “I’m sorry” an awful lot (still do), and Branson had and still has a tender heart willing to forgive.

At the beginning of that week, all those years ago, my friend Tina gave me a cute tiny chalk board with the word “remember.” It hung above my desk for years, and that sign took me back to the lessons I learned enduring a small window of silence.

So it’s time for me to again remember.

Even surgery last Friday morning with full anesthesia couldn’t keep me from Bran and Hud’s Friday night football game (c’mon, this is Texas), Basden’s City Championship volleyball tournament (her team WON and she actually got to play for the first time in weeks after her ankle injury), and Esther’s volleyball game. During Essie's game, my good friend Alison approached me very concerned, “TJ! Essie told Caleb you had LUNG SURGERY ~ what in the world?? Surely I would have known if you were having LUNG surgery??!”

It’s different this time around with teenagers. Easier for sure, but different. If you look at what I posted ten years ago, my kids were leaving "I love you" post-it-notes all over the house. Now these big boys are just making fun.

Branson asks me a question, then walks past me and says, “I can’t hear you.”
Or he’ll say goodnight and start to head upstairs, glancing back at me, “Hey Mom - are you mad?” He waits for me to shake my head no, then continues, “You sure? You’re awfully quiet...”
I asked Bran a couple of nights ago if I needed to call his coach for some details about an event (me communicating all of this, naturally, on my erase board), and he paused then asked, “And just how are you gonna do that?” and he held his up his phone, looking sideways at me with hearty chuckle.

I’ll mouth something to Basden, hoping she can read my lips, and then she silently mouths something back in response. Then starts cracking up. She keeps falling for it.

Hudson sees a need and jumps in to help. On Halloween evening as he and Bran came in from football practice, he caught me handing out candy at the front door and immediately took over. “How are you even doing this?” he asked, taking the bowl from me. And for the rest of the night he went back and forth to the door, taking care of all those costumed kiddos.

Now, Essie is still young enough to be writing notes. She keeps stopping to kiss me every time I pass. Lots of compassion and empathy from that one. The funniest is that when I write her a note on the board, she wants to write me back. So it’s taking us years to communicate. But sweet.

And Corbin - he can’t understand a thing. Not my eyes, not my expressions... he told someone, “I am not the TJ whisperer.” I texted him that we’re gonna be pathetic trying to communicate in our eighties. However, he is compassionate. Made me stay home last Sunday from church to sleep in, and yikes I needed it.

The funniest response, and I remember this happening last time, is that when people realize I can’t talk, they immediately start to whisper, or even mime things back to me. I dropped some stuff at Good Will, held up a note that I couldn’t use my voice, and the man responded with, “Awww.” His voice grew softer, and as I walked back to my car I heard him whispering to another man, “she can’t talk.”

Going through a neighborhood guard gate, I showed the guard my note, and he immediately started miming, using some sort of sign language and giving me a thumbs up (all I needed was for him to open the gate). Incidentally, when I returned again a couple of hours later, Basden was with me and spoke to him for me. He looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Oh, you’re the one who can’t talk!”
I nodded.
He leaned in, “Can you talk now??”

Joking aside, it’s evident when my friends “get it.” They immediately barge past the practicalities and consider the relational and even spiritual challenge of not speaking for a few days.
I pulled in the "Walmart to go" parking space (which is extremely convenient whether you can or can't speak) and looked over to see my friend Brandi in the next car. Holding up my sign, she immediately said, “Well what is THAT doing for your heart?”
And during small group, my friend Keely asked, “You can’t talk?? That’s awesome!” with a huge grin. She immediately knew this recovery involved a slowing down process, which I agree is “awesome.”

A few take-aways this time around:
- The invitation to rest is worth the interruption. So grateful that I don’t have added stress of losing days at a job, that my daily responsibilities are not terribly interrupted, and I was able to pretty much shut down for a week. How different - and refreshing - it is to just BE QUIET
- Other people get to talk. No kidding. I wish I listened more than I talked, the same way I’ve wished for years I was a morning person. I can discipline myself to get up early, but it’s not my nature. And I can work at listening, but man I usually have a lot to say.
- Much easier not to gossip or complain when not using words. I caught myself wanting to share a good story this week - a really good but not-mine-to-tell story - and thank goodness I couldn’t. And I got all the way to yesterday when I realized I haven’t complained this week (at least not with words, I'm still quite capable of rolling my eyes). How amazing and refreshing is that?! Affects my mindset.
- The majority of my words are not necessary.  Just how much do I really want to type into my phone or write on a dry erase board? Believe me, just the necessities.
- While Pitch Perfect's Chloe is not necessarily the standard of wisdom, in this case she's exactly right, I have to pull back when I'm limited. When we have to compensate physically, it’s exhausting. Takes a lot of energy and creativity to communicate without words.  Last Saturday after all the activity, I hit a wall. And even this week, if I’m out and about and seeing people, I have to stop and rest and be quiet. Perhaps I can remember this when spending time with (or even running into) others who are dealing with a physical disability.

Probably the most profound thing rolling around in my mind from all of this, intensified after just seeing "Same Kind of Different as Me," is that I need an advocate. I need someone who can speak for me. Basden with me at the guard gate. My mom with me checking out at Costco. Jamie with me in a crowded room of parents at gymnastics. I need someone to speak for me, someone to explain, someone to buffer. Someone who knows my story and can communicate for me when I'm not able.

And next Monday, even when I can speak again, I will still need an Advocate.
Especially if I have to go back through that guard gate.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Soaking It In

With Bran as a newborn, one of my first opportunities as a mom to "soak it in..." I loved watching him laugh at his reflection in our little upstairs bathroom

Life just doesn’t get easy this side of Heaven.

Corbin and I ran into a small grocery store Sunday evening for ice cream and saw an elderly woman hobbling toward her car parked in the handicapped space right near the entrance. As we passed her, I whispered to Corbin, “How can we help her?” Here it was, after 9 pm on a Sunday evening, and she was just feet away from us hunched over her cane with a small bag of groceries. She didn’t necessarily need our help, but my heart went out to her ~ all alone shopping late at night and then driving home. We simply smiled and said hello, and she launched into a story of how she couldn’t find her best cane, she’d looked all over, but this one would do. She finished with a half smile and shrug of her shoulders, “oh well” and climbed into her car.
Where was she driving home to? Should she even be driving? Would anyone be waiting for her at home as she arrived under the dark cover of night?

Several weeks ago I sat across our patio table from my dear friend and her lovely mother as they discussed the nearly two years since losing their father and husband. Said it felt like a blink.
“Tell me about his passing,” I asked.
And as they recounted the events of that shocking, difficult day, this precious woman's eyes moistened as she described being without her husband of nearly fifty years, “It’s so very difficult.”

Life just doesn’t get easy this side of Heaven.

I have this unfounded expectation that we finish school, get married and raise our children, and then coast a bit. I can’t think of one older couple actively pursuing the Lord who are simply coasting. The weight of loved ones struggling, chronic health issues, loneliness, despair with the state of our culture and world... the challenges seem to remain until we meet our Heavenly Father. So ~ I can either choose to carry the weight of the unknown struggles ahead, or I can choose gratitude for this day and soak in the good and the hard. And perhaps the best strategy ~ take one day (one moment) at a time.

One of the few times I've captured her without a huge spunky grin ~ but I love this one
It’s good and hard that our youngest is finished with elementary school and started middle school. No more little bitty ones in our home. (She will always be little!!) Soaking it in.

I just love her so completely
It’s good and hard that our almost-fourteen-year-old looks more like a woman than a child. She is growing up beautifully and seems comfortable in her own skin. She is sensitive to others’ feelings yet doesn’t feel guilty if things go well for her. I learn so much from her steady countenance. Soaking it in.
Has there ever been a sweeter face??!
It’s good and hard that Hud chose to leave his childhood friends and comfort zone and move schools to be with his big brother. Watching them suited up on Friday nights - in the same uniforms, on the same team  - it’s too much. Soaking it in.

The "wrestling window" is smaller than we think
It’s good and hard that our oldest has started his senior year. Eight more months at home, and then as he says, “I’ll probably never live in Fort Worth again.” Who knows, but I sure believe that’s a possibility. We’re in our “lasts” together as a family living under one roof. Soaking it in.

Well this is enough to make my eyes a little misty, but there is just so much good mixed into the hard. And this broad overview of our current season isn't even getting into the nitty-gritty of the daily good and hards! The way I see it, the years stretched ahead will continue to be a mix.

Amy Grant has a song on one of her latest albums, "Better Not to Know" ~ here's the chorus:
Oh, it's better not to know
The way it's gonna go
What will die and what will grow.
Oh, nothing stays the same
Life flickers like a flame,
As the seasons come and go
Goodbye more than hello
It's better not to know

I love that song. At first glance it can sound a little depressing, that it's better not to know the struggles ahead. But we also don't know the joys.

That elderly woman at the grocery store, I don't know her story or situation. But the lovely grandmother sitting across my patio table ~ as she grieves her husband, she also wakes every morning in a lovely home and in good health to the cacophony of her daughter's vivacious family. Three amazing grandsons still living under their roof all together, and she has great purpose as the matriarch of that family, sharing their daily struggles and joys.

We can take such comfort in the Lord's command to not worry about tomorrow, that today has enough concerns. Let us just soak in today and look forward to tomorrow with our chins up, knowing that He holds the good and the hard, and He will equip us as we go. 

Life will not get easy this side of Heaven. But we've got our Heavenly Father's promises and His presence, and we've got all of Heaven with no tears, no sadness, and no pain. Until then - may we soak it all in.

And here's to hoping we can enjoy lots of laughter in the process!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Practicing Gratitude 10.6.17

Gameday started with the Varsity players surprising the elementary kids ~ adorable!
team meal
these two
Rebekah and Bran

Part of our Frontier crew ~ love these girls
Seniors and dates
Chloe and Hud

sophomore crew
- Friday nights - lotsa football

- Essie loving volleyball

They're a pretty cute (spirited) team to watch
- Boo. Here we go again. Thank you, Lord (practicing gratitude!!!)

- Back on crutches, bless her
Basden was on crutches and in a boot from Jan-June earlier this year... we'll see about this time
- A rainy fall Friday morning

- Basden and Bran leaving for school super early - got up well and in good spirits

- FINALLY overlapping with Brighton and Julia in life!
McLean football - go Brighton
some of our favs
- Rainey loaning us her scooter and Iwalk at a moment's notice - so kind and so helpful
Thank You, Lord, that this is in our house... (!)

- Hud sleeping all last evening / night - fell asleep by about 7pm - twice last week

- Picking up Hud at Chipotle for PT, Bran making it a point to wave at me through the window - touched my heart

- When desk work is productive - thank you, Lord!!

- a day at home

- A get-well visit to Abbey

- Seeing my sin and my need for You - my sin is bigger than me, but it’s not bigger than You

- That Bran comes in our room every night at least to say goodnight, but often to talk

- Canwick invite

- Hud’s shoulder nerves healing, little by little

- Basden being able to put a tiny pressure on her foot

- My “Holy Spirit” candle, and what it represents - encouraging

- Taking time for a walk

- Bran’s senior speech yesterday and what one teacher's response meant to me

- Matt 7 and John 6 - WOW so rich

- Jackson Moffatt - WHOHOO- on the BU basketball team!!! He and Bran will be Bears together, I'm DYING

- This morn - everyone getting out the door even though we were all pretty exhausted

- Hud and Basden side-by-side at PT
seriously grateful for Ben Hogan PT
- Getting to know Shelbie, Hud's PT, who is a YL leader!

- Mom willing to run up to Tulsa at a moment's notice - of course she is - and happy to do it

- Julie flying to Houston. Not sure how to contain my sadness, Lord, but I trust you can

- Lord, thank you for your commitment to Your eternal promises. This means so much as we navigate this world - Eternity gives us hope as this world is but a blip 

- Senior pics and HANNAH!

- Time at home to work on pool, yard, kitchen, etc... just a normal morning

- Lingering dinner in Krista's home

- Adeline’s single - Moments to Memories, WOWZERS

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles...   1 Chronicles 16:11-12