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If I’ve struggled with anything in my life, I’ve struggled to believe these two things: I am smart and I am beautiful.

And even greater is the struggle to resist measuring my smartness and beautifulness against her smartness and beautifulness, which is so destructive because we all are, you know. In different ways and at different stages, but we all are so smart and so beautiful. Not one or the other, not not enough of either.

I wish I’d learned this earlier. I wish I’d spent less time worrying about tummy rolls and hairstyles and grade point averages, and more time laughing and living and having fun. I wish I’d grown up learning how to affirm instead of compare. I wish I’d been better at complimenting others and myself. I wish I’d loved better the other girls, instead of harbouring secret jealousies and fighting the demons of self-perceived inadequacies.

I wish we could all accept that we are both smart and beautiful, all the time. We are smart, you guys. We do remarkable things that take brains. We learn stuff and we apply these learned things in creative ways and we adapt to the changes that come with environment and years and we make important decisions and we do clever, important things every single day.

And we are beautiful. We really, really are. We should take such great pleasure in our loveliness. We were gorgeously made and adorned and yes it’s true, beauty comes from inside. It shines right out through our eyes and it’s in our giggles and we don’t even understand, usually, how adorable we are when we smile or when we stroke the dog or when we beat eggs into frothy glory in the chipped blue bowl that was a wedding gift all those years ago.

I look at women differently than I used to. I used to evaluate you, my friend. Isn’t that sad? I used to try to determine whether you were prettier than I or better educated or more happily married or thinner, and I’d feel better or worse about myself based on how I imagined we stacked up against each other.

I don’t do that anymore. I mean, there are lingering wisps of silliness because of how ingrained these measuring-up thoughts and behaviours have been, but I fight them. I try very hard now to use my Jesus eyes and to see you in all your gracefulness and loveliness and brainy-ness.

And guess what? The world has become a friendlier place.

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I read this over at Seth Haines’s blog this morning, how a friend of his was at the hospital bed of his dying daughter and a woman offered the solace of the admonishment, if you just had faith like a mustard seed, all this trouble would go away. And it’s true, scripture has been used this way. It’s been hacked up and thrown about, well-intentioned sound byte offerings of impotency or judgement.

But that’s not scripture’s fault, said Seth, and I like his conclusion. Scripture doesn’t always mean what people says it means, and that’s the sad and happy truth of it.

Yesterday our dear, faithful Servant of Scripture preached on Romans 13, and his thoughts have been mingling with my thoughts since.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

And this is beautiful and makes me smile, because it means all the rules we like to emphasize and hammer on are made fulfilled if we love each other. Because if I’m loving you, how can I harm you or steal from you or gossip about you?

Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

Let’s go about our days paying our debts of love. Lets love each other as best we can, in Jesus’ name amen, and I bet those mustard seeds of faith will grow like crazy.

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You graduated!

Goodbye university; hello rest of your life. I wish would could be there to help you celebrate it all this weekend.

Since I can’t, here’s the thing. Actually, here are a few things…

You don’t remember this, but I’m sure you’ve been told. You were not an easy baby. You arrived loud and fussy and with a mind of your own about what you liked and didn’t like. You changed the rules, right from the start, about what it meant to raise a child, and how parenting is not something you can simply plan and execute, but it’s something you grow into and learn into and lean into. And how sometimes it’s a fearful thing, growing a child up. You taught me that before I had kids of my own.

It was a good lesson to learn early.

I think of you, all chubby toddler, and you had sass, even then. You and I would sit and tell stories at your kitchen table, eating your mom’s macaroni casserole with peas. We’d make’em up, wild stories about such things as my crazy dog Flint and how we we’d take him for walks and he’d be naughty and we’d finally get so tired of looking after him that we would decide to cook him for supper. Ew. Ew. But you loved it and you’d laugh and laugh.

You taught me the importance of having fun.

You were my buddy back then when life kept us closer than it does now. We’d take exotic trips to the mall or the university or the park, and you were so funny. Goodness, you were fun to be with. I picture you in your hot pink leggings and your hair wild. A crazy, laughing prairie flower. I missed you so much when you moved.

You have prairie roots, and don’t you forget it.

Gosh, you are a beauty. You’ve grown into such a beauty. You are all kinds of fresh loveliness, the lovely of good genetics and good health and good dental care. But you wear your beauty casually. You are a messy bun kind of girl, and it’s no secret that if there is a pin on a clean floor you will find it and trip over it. But that’s your charm. That gracious juxtaposition of angelic beauty and Mr. Magoo-ness. Messy beauty, that’s you, and that’s the real thing, I think.

You are the real deal.

I’ve missed you these past years. You’ve grown up in another place doing other things and I’ve watched from the outer edges as you’ve tackled challenges and I think you’ve learned some important things about life through it all. You’ve had to face some hard things, and you’ve had to give up some wonderful things, and you’ve had to learn that life has as many goodbyes as it has hellos. You’ve learned that finishing is a lot harder than starting.

You finished this college thing. Yay you!

And now you are off on an adventure. The first of many, I hope. I’m so excited for you. I’m excited for the things you will see and touch and taste and experience. I know it will be amazing. I know it will be challenging. I know there will be messy bits along the way but I know you are up for it all.

And this guy I’ve heard about. Rick? Mick?

You know I think he’s not good enough for you, right? I mean, I’ve never met him and he’s probably perfectly nice and all, but you are my precious angel, daughter of my heart, first child to call me auntie, and I love you more than words can begin to express. So this guy whose name ends with ick, well, he’d better watch himself.

And this adventure you are heading out on? I know your mom would like me to tell you to “be careful” and “be safe,” and yes, I hope you will be. But it’s a trip around the world, for heaven’s sake. So I’ll just say, “don’t be stupid” and leave it at that.

When you get back, sometime when you need less adventure and more quiet, come visit me. We’ll sit in my yellow chairs on my porch, under GG’s old pink quilt, and drink tea and talk about travel and life and love and Jesus.

I love you, Brea. You know I’m wiping tears as I write this, because you are my girl. You are my precious, precious girl and I love you with all the love an old auntie could possibly have.

Congratulations on your graduation, and take lots of pictures on your trip!

Not long ago my youngest son walked into my bedroom, and for the first time noticed the wedding picture sitting on my bedside table. My husband and I, a couple of decades ago when we were younger and had better hair and no wrinkles.

“Who are those guys?” he said.

“It’s your dad and me,” I said, like I thought he was joking.

“No way,” he said.

And there you have it. We’ve changed. Quite a bit, apparently.

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It’s February. The month of love and romance, and I’m thinking it’s been a long time, loving this one guy through all the ups and downs and family growing and changes, changes.

We’ve changed. We’re not as pretty as we used to be. He no longer needs a comb and I no longer wear mascara. We know more about each other than we’d like to, really. I can tell you what he’ll say before he says it, most of the time. He still has no clue what I’m thinking, most of the time, but I no longer expect him to. We’re comfortable, broken in, relaxed.

We’ve changed. We don’t fight about toilet seats or toothpaste or the proper way to make a bed. I don’t care whether he wears socks in his sandals, and he tells me I look nice without offering suggestions about what might make me look nicer.

Comfortable.

Yesterday, before he left the house for the day, he put his hand on my head and made a comment about all that new silver shining in the blonde. But he smiled when he said it, and his touch was gentle, and I felt loved.

Change, yes. Youth fades, lines deepen, silver sparkles. This is the cost of time spent together.

Change, yes. Anger fades, love deepens, peace sparkles. This is the blessing of time spent together.

Happy February.

We returned home early Friday morning from nine days in the Dominican Republic. It was our first experience having a warm Caribbean holiday and it was great. We did create many new memories, enjoyed wonderful new experiences and learned new things. The sun, sand and ocean were great.

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Using a local “moto” taxi was also a fun experience.

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And taking an eight-hour trip into the mountains to visit a coffee farm where shade grown organic coffee is grown was one of the highlights. Fifteen  years ago Julia Alvarez and her husband Bill Eichner bought a clear-cut mountain side and started their coffee farm. I believe it was to give back to the country they loved. The mountainside is now lush with tropical trees, wild fruit, shrubs and plants with coffee bushes interspersed throughout.

When we arrived at the farm we were met by Autumn, a young college graduate on a two-year volunteer program with the Peace Corps. She is working with a village of forty-four families to do health education. In a few minutes Michael arrived. He is on a one year program working in the community and on the farm helping to promote bio diversity. Both were very informative and we learned a lot about health needs and issues in a mountain community as well as the tropical vegetation and what takes place on an organic coffee farm.

Perhaps more importantly, I was impressed with the two young Americans spending their time in a Dominican mountain community helping to improve the lives of the people there, and I was reminded once again that our world is made better by those coming behind us.

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Before we started our trip down the mountain we had a sumptuous meal with a wonderful couple on another coffee farm.  We were impressed with their gracious hospitality.

IMG_0380Most significantly I came home realizing that when you spend time with the people you love whether it be on the beach, a mountain top or at home you have had a good day.

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Just be honest.

Really.

I mean, I could say I would have framed all those pictures and hung them on my walls this month, but I ran out of time. Or, I didn’t get a chance. Or, something came up.

But those would be excuses.

What I must say, if I’m honest, is that instead of doing that, I did something else.

No excuses.

This month, I’ve been loving my home. It’s been fabulous, for the most part. I have enjoyed a renewed relationship with my space in this place. I have learned much about myself and about what it means to call myself a home-maker, or stay-at-home-mom.

But the month is almost over, the clock is ticking on my 31 days, and I’m feeling a bit of pressure to make it all meaningful. To tie up any loose ends, to complete the things I anticipated being part of this experience. To do what I didn’t get done.

I won’t. Get it all done, I mean. And I’m tempted to come up with reasons why I won’t. Excuses.

But love, I’ve realized, is not a checklist. It’s not about to-do’s or finishing jobs or completing tasks. Love is a state of being.

When I was growing up I heard sermon after sermon, preaching Love Is A Verb. Love is an action. Love is what you do. And there is something in the doing of love that is important. Love without works is dead, perhaps, just like faith. I get that. I get that doing is important.

But maybe love isn’t just a verb. Maybe there is something else, first, that is so important that without it the verb-ing of it just doesn’t seem worthwhile.

I think that love – deep, meaningful, motivating love – is first and foremost, a state of being.

God IS love. Because he is love, he does love.

This month of loving my home has taught me something deeper than the joy of a clean house, that is, the joy of doing love. This month has taught me the joy of being love.

I may not finish all the jobs I set out for myself this month, but I’m not going to make excuses. I’m not going to feel guilty, or stay up late on the night of the 31st just so I can say, I finished that.

I hope I’ll wake up, instead, fresh on the morning of November 1st and think, I am love. And then spend the day doing it.