Jun 202014


Friends. Last month our Amy sent me a message about a miracle that happened at her church. Since it’s not everyday that one gets a front row seat to miracle, I want to share it with you, as well.


G, I have to tell you about something that happened at our church this week. I think it may have actually been a miracle. But first, to fully understand the story, you have to remember that our church is in Hampton Roads, Virginia, an area with a significant military population. I’ve read that we have the largest concentration of military bases in the world, and that approximately one quarter of the nation’s active duty military personnel are stationed here. So of course our church is made up of a lot of incredible military families. Men and woman who are serving with honor– who have dedicated their lives to our country. Their service is great, as is their sacrifice. And these last years of war in the Middle East have been hard. So much pain and long separations from family, from losing loved ones to death and trauma.

Here’s one example of what this service and sacrifice look like in real life: I ate lunch at Joshua’s school last week and his friends and I started talking about wishes. We were joking and laughing, and then the little one next to me pulled on my arm and started to whisper. I leaned in to hear, “If I had one wish, I would wish for a million dollars. If I had a million dollars, my daddy wouldn’t have to go to Afghanistan anymore. And wouldn’t have to miss him.”

It takes a lot of pain to make a 10-year old boy tear up at a cafeteria table full of his friends. This is where I am.

This week our church brought in a guest speaker, a man from the Middle East. During the speaker’s introduction, we learned that our pastor had asked a member of our church, a military man with a long history of service, if he would pick up this speaker from the airport and give him a tour of the area. The man told our pastor he would think about it.  His return message to the pastor was not unexpected, and contained a polite refusal. “No,” my fellow congregant and service member said.  “I’m sorry. I just can’t. I’ve experienced too much to be able to say yes to your request.” Our pastor understood—he did not press.

But, as you know, sometimes God won’t let us get away with our easy outs. Something kept working on this man in my congregation, nagging him about this opportunity. Like you’ve said to me, God loves us too much to not make us practice at being Love Warriors. So the man decided to listen to that Something that was telling him to choose Love. He called my pastor again and told him that he had changed his mind. He picked up the speaker at the airport and spent the day with him. And where life experiences would have caused division and separation, Love was able to step in and build a friendship.

And then, this—this is what I heard from the amazing guest speaker today: That growing up in Beirut he, too, had experienced terrible atrocities that had crippled him with hate. And that, after seeing his best friend’s family killed in a bombing, he was consumed with desires for revenge. But that same Something kept working on him, whispering that the person he was wounding with hate the most was himself. It kept working and working on him until one day he surrendered.  He fell to his knees and made the decision to love. To actively love his enemies, to welcome in strangers, to forgive those who had wounded him. Because, as he shared with us this morning, “Peacemaking is not a passive thing. Peacemaking is very active.”

See, my friend? A miracle.


This story makes me wonder… Where in my life am I welcoming strangers? Who am I afraid of and why? Against whom am I closing the door of my heart – and what might happen if I swung it back open?  What cycles of fear in my life do I need to interrupt with love?

These questions seem particularly important to ask today, because today is World Refugee Day. Today is a day that calls out for us to recognize and welcome strangers.

Our partners at CWS are teaching me about refugees and resettled people. In 1946, in the aftermath of World War II, CWS was founded to respond the needs of refugees left homeless by the war in Europe. They now work with refugees all over the world.  Here in America, CWS has refugee resettlement offices all over the country that welcome in individuals and families who are starting over and rebuilding their lives. They connect refugees to people in the community who walk with them as they acclimate to life in the United States.

I’ve learned that there are over 15 million refugees in the world right now. And that most of our communities have people in them who have come to the United States with nothing, and who are working to rebuild lives devastated by war and persecution. These refugees are from all over the world, perhaps from places that we don’t know much about or understand. And yet, they have become our neighbors.

Connected by CWS
CWS Connections

The picture on the left is of Maher AlFayyadh and his six-year-old daughter, Maryam- Iraqi immigrants who came to Lancaster, PA three years ago. CWS welcomed them in & connected them to a team of volunteers from Neffsville Mennonite Church, who came alongside the family and helped them to understand their new home. Maher says, “In Baghdad the security situation was bad and it made me fear for myself, my family and my kids….I am always thankful and pleased for my life now.”

The picture on the right is of Lancaster teen Brynn Hackett. Brynn started raising money to help refugees resettling in Lancaster when she was in 7th grade.  She set a lofty goal for herself: raise $50,000 by the time she graduates from high school. Four years later, Brynn has become increasingly involved with refugee work and has founded TAK(E) CHARGE, which stands for Teens, Adults, Everybody Can Help a Refugee Get Established. The organization raises money to support families arriving to the area through CWS Lancaster. Brynn’s commitment to refugees has deepened since she initially began fundraising. “Understanding that refugees don’t come here with much, it’s our responsibility to welcome them and bring them in. They didn’t have a choice to leave. This is their second chance…we can definitely do something to help.”

Click to read more about Maher and Brynn.

Here at Momastery we say “We Belong to Each Other.” It seems easy to belong to people who we understand and love, but like peacemaking, belonging must be very active. It must include folks whose lives seem very different from our own, even, perhaps especially, when it does not seem natural or comfortable to do so. When it costs us something.

And so, on this World Refugee Day, we are presented with the invitation to actively Belong To Each Other; to see past every apparent divide to where we are the same- mother to mother; survivor to survivor; provider to provider. To support those reaching out to the strangers in our midst, and to choose to be part of the miracle of active peacemaking in our communities and in our world.


Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels unaware.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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Jun 112014

Use Your Words

Last week I told my therapist that even though I’m too busy, I continue to say yes to new responsibilities. In my head, I mean nope – but I say okay, because I feel on the spot. I panic. Every time.

She and I talked about how in the absence of a plan, even intelligent humans don’t know what to say under pressure. We aren’t great at thinking fast – at considering all the consequences of our decisions in the midst of a loaded moment. When put on the spot, we tend to say whatever we think will please the other person, even if it means going against what we know is right for us. So together we decided to create a non-committal response that I could pull out and use – as a space saver, a time buyer –whenever a new request was made of me. We needed a phrase that would allow the pivotal moment to pass smoothly without making me feel compromised or the other person feel rejected. Together we decided on: “Thank you so much for considering me. Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.” I’ve said this seven million times during the past week. Even when my kids ask for breakfast. I feel drunk with time-buying power.

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend whose teen daughter is one of my favorite people on Earth. My friend was beside herself because her precious girl had come home drunk the night before.  My friend wailed to me: “How many hours have we spent talking about alcohol during the past decade? And the first time she’s offered beer, she takes it. She TAKES IT!”  I said: “Crap. What was her excuse for taking it?” My friend said:  “All she could come up with is:  ‘Mom – I DIDN’T WANT TO SAY YES- BUT I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO SAY.’” My friend thought this excuse was a load of crap. I wasn’t certain about that. It sounded quite familiar to me.

You know, Just Say No sounds good in theory.  But it implies that saying no is as easy as saying yes. It’s just not. In practice, saying no begs an explanation and saying yes doesn’t. Just Saying No makes for an awkward moment, which makes it an unhelpful suggestion to teens (and people pleasers like me) who often care about avoiding awkwardness even more than they care about their own well-being.

My friend and I talked about this fact: Yes, we spend hours talking to our kids about WHY to say No, but we don’t tell them HOW to say no. When they are put on the spot – they don’t have hours to explain their decisions to their peers. They have a split second. And while our teens and ‘tweens want to make the right decisions, they often want to avoid awkwardness even more. In the absence of a plan, they’ll likely default to yes. Just like we so often do. Maybe they’re not saying yes because they want to rebel – maybe they really do say yes because they don’t know what else to say. They need help knowing, preparing. That is where we come in.

When our babies are little, we help them understand and navigate their world by giving them language. We point and name: “Look. A Bird! A BLUE BIRD!” Then we help them make sense of who they are in relationships to others by modeling appropriate communication. “Say hello to Mrs. White, Jimmy. Hello, Mrs. White!”  When our kids become adolescents, their world changes so much that sometimes it feels to them that they’ve landed on a new planet. They are babies in this new complicated world of teen-dom. And so we need to start over, because a more complicated world calls for a more complicated language. We need to point and label: “Look. A Beer! A whole keg of beer!”  And we need to model the new language they’ll need to find their way.  If we want teens to use their words - we’ve got to provide some words for them that they can keep in their back pocket and pull out at the right moment. Because we’ve taught them how to get along with others, but now we need to teach them how to get along with others while also taking care of themselves. On their OWN. That’s new.

So my husband and I sat down with our ‘tween and we talked about how he was going to be put in LOTS of awkward situations in the coming years. We told him that being a teen can feel like one long experience in being put on the spot. We told him that he was going to be asked to make big, important decisions under intense pressure and even though his heart and brain are huge, he’s human – and humans make bad, people-pleasing, status-quo-keeping decisions under pressure. We told him that he’ll find himself in situations in which his heart will be screaming NO but his head and voice will have a hard time keeping up. We told him that things aren’t all good or all bad. For example, a GOOD, KIND, WONDERFUL friend could ask him to make a BAD, DANGEROUS decision. Sometimes it can seem to us like the best idea to keep peace and keep our friendship is just to say yes and hope for the best.  But we talked about how wisdom is knowing that peacekeeping and peace making are two different things. We talked about how people pleasing is often a human weakness, and how wisdom is making a plan in advance to work with our weaknesses.

So the three of us dreamed up inevitable awkward situations, and together we thought of sentences he could say that would buy him time but not alienate him from his friends or make anyone feel like he was judging them. We also tried to weave in humor to make sure his responses would be in keeping with his personality.

Here are some we decided upon together:

When you notice a lonely kid: Hey! Here’s a seat for you. Come join us.

When someone offers you a beer: No, thanks. I’m allergic to alcohol. Totally Blows. (Then go fill up a cup with water and nurse that all night to avoid 40 million more questions)

When someone offers you weed:  My mom used to smoke pot when she was younger and now she can smell it from a mile away. She checks my clothes every night. Can’t do it, man. (That’s the one that won, but I liked: HEY! How about we put down these joints and go volunteer at the dog shelter! He liked the first one. Whatever, his show.)

When someone starts texting while driving: Hey, I just saw a movie about a kid who got killed because he was texting and driving. I don’t want you to get killed because I plan to ask you for many, many rides in the future. Pull over if you need to text – I’m not in a hurry.

You find yourself in a sexual situation you’d prefer not to be in: Hey, I like you too much for this to go down this way.

A kid is being teased by another kid in the hallway: Hey. I don’t want anybody to get in trouble here. Why don’t you follow me out of here? I’ll walk you to class.

Someone is about to drink and drive: Don’t risk it, man. My dad’ll get us home- no questions asked. He’d rather pick us up here than in jail.

I don’t know if my ‘tween will use these life preservers we made together. But when that moment comes he will know that they’re available if he wants to save himself. And when he leaves the house in the evening and I say to him, just like when he was two, Use your words tonight – I know he’ll have words to use.

Me and My Boy

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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Jun 082014

 From My Inbox This Morning:

Dear G,

I do not feel beautiful. Everything about your work makes me feel understood and less alone- except for your appearance. Do you wake up looking like that?

Dear M,

Yes. Yes, I do. I am so sorry to tell you that natural beauty has always been my cross to bear. Below are two pictures for your examination. One is my headshot- which was taken after two hours of “hair and make-up,” thirty minutes of arranging perfect lighting, and what I can only imagine was forty nine hours of photo-shop. The other picture was taken this morning, right after I opened your email. Since the extremely subtle and nuanced differences between the photos are certain to make it quite difficult for you to determine which is which, I will tell you that the one on the LEFT is from this morning.

For now- the armor I wear comes in the form of cosmetic bottles from a department store. Since the armor I used to wear came in the form of vodka bottles from the ABC store- I call this progress. One day, the only armor I’ll need between me and the world will be a cup of tea and a smile.  That day is not today, but it’s coming. I’m extremely patient with myself, so I can wait.

And even so…EVEN THOUGH I wake up looking like that first picture everyday- I would insist to you that I AM  beautiful and I’m becoming more beautiful every day. Beautiful means “full of beauty.” Since I am almost forty now – God, I love saying that – I finally know what beauty is. To me, beauty is the beach near my house, puttering around my kitchen, the laughter of a good friend, my dogs’ stinky fur, Amma’s inability to say the letter R, Tish’s sensitive heart, Chase’s darkening summer skin against his ultra white teeth, Craig playing hide and seek by himself, the steeple of my beloved church, a hot chai tea, and the banyan trees in my front yard. Today I will FILL UP WITH THIS BEAUTY. I will SEE this beauty and really NOTICE IT and smell it and hear it and roll around in it and soak it all up. I will allow all of this beauty to become a part of me- to BECOME ME-  and by the end of the day I will be so freaking beautiful from the inside out that folks will stop and stare, probably.

If you do not feel beautiful then FILL UP, Precious Sister.

And if that doesn’t work, I‘ll send over hair and make-up. Freaking magicians.

One more thing, friend. Just in case you’re too tired to search for your own beauty today-  you can borrow some of mine. This is our banyan tree holding our Amma. She’s on her wope swing, having a weally wonderful time.

amma swing

Cawwy On, Wawwiow.


Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest