31 for 41: Shifting Piles

Dear Donovan,

I like nice things.  You know I am a self-proclaimed clearance shopping professional.  When I spot something I like in a store, I see lots of possibilities for its use.  In addition, I quickly and firmly attach sentimental value to items that are given to me.  These traits can be useful, but they can also lead to a cluttered life.

We each have inconsistencies in our life to address.  For me, there has existed the inconsistency between wanting to live simply but having too much stuff.  I can say that the level of ease or difficulty with which I could release personal possessions has been closely related to where I was in my healing process from early trauma.  As I have fought other battles, I have also tried to become an organized person who does not have an unhealthy attachment to possessions.

Along this journey, one day I was doing an online search for ideas about how to organize household items, and these words seemed to jump at me:  “You cannot declutter your life by shifting around your piles of stuff.”  

It was a hard blow to someone who likes to hold on to her stuff.  I knew it was true, though.  Even though our house was always clean, I knew that if I wanted to have an organized life, I could not just keep trying to move around all of the things I own until I found the perfect way to store everything.  Some things would have to go.

So I say the same thing to you.  You cannot declutter your physical space in life unless you are willing to let go of some of your possessions.  Otherwise, you collect more and more over time until your possessions hinder your enjoyment of life instead of enhancing it.

Similarly, you cannot declutter your mental and emotional space unless you are willing to let go of some things.  Releasing harmful clutter like bad habits, resentment, negative self-talk and worry can bring freedom and fullness of life.  Both the tangible and intangible possessions that we value and hold on to vary from person to person, but I will leave you with two quandaries that many of us seem to share:

1. You do not need everything that you want.

I want chocolate Oreo milkshakes a lot.  There are days when I want to stay in bed for hours and watch Hallmark Christmas movies.  I can find at least $50 worth of merchandise that I want on any given trip to Marshall’s.  Just last night, I may or may not have downed a Cajun Filet biscuit, seasoned fries with honey mustard, and a gloriously tall sweet tea in less than 10 minutes, not because I needed it but because I wanted it.

For many things that I want, obtaining them will mean that I am not doing what is best for myself or for my family.  I remember hearing a story about a young boy riding with his governess on an open seat of a horse-drawn buggy, while his father and mother rode in front of them.  The mother, trying to enjoy a leisurely ride, was perturbed by the sound of her son’s whining, and without looking back, asked the governess what was the matter.

“Your son is upset because he cannot get what he wants.”

The mother quickly replied, “Then just let him have it.  I am tired of hearing him fuss.”

Very soon, the mother was startled by the pained wail of her son.  Whirling around in her seat, she asked the governess, “What happened?”

The governess extended the child’s hand to show the mother the whelp of a bee sting.  “I let him have what he wanted.”

There are so many adults who can tell you stories of how glad they are now that they did not get what they once desired with their whole heart.  So guard your heart, and be very careful about the things you decide that you want.  It can be very hard to free yourself from physical things that you already purchased.  It can be even harder to recover spiritually from pursuing what you want instead of what God wants for you.  

2. You do not want everything that you need.

There are many times when I do not want to exercise or mop the floor or drink water instead of that glorious sweet tea.  But being a disciplined, successful person will require you to go to work when you do not feel like going.  Maintaining healthy relationships will mean saying you are sorry when you do not want to but need to.  Taking care of your body will mean choosing the cucumber instead of the cookie dough.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this human experience a long time ago:  “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19).  There will be times when it is hard to do what you need to do.  Do it anyway.  And as for the things that pile up that you do not need, you will waste a lot of time in life if you just try to manage the piles by shifting them around.  Do not be afraid to declutter.  If you seek God first, He will make sure you have all that you need.  

Finally, I want to say to you that it is okay to hold on to special things.  One of my most prized possessions is the bargain store light-up crystal cube that you gave me for Christmas when you were in elementary school.  You had earned “classroom cash” and really wanted to buy something for yourself during the classroom auction.  Instead, you used your hard-earned currency to buy that cube for me.  It is a treasure to me, and something I hope to never lose.  My wish for you is to have the treasure of a clean, balanced life.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Matthew 6:33

I love you forever,

Your sweet tea-loving, semi-organized mama

31 for 41: The Beach

Dear Donovan,

I love going to the beach.  I love the sand, the salt, the birds, the wind and the waves.  I love the beauty and power of land meeting water.  I enjoy the absence of manmade things.  I consider all of the energy and life contained in the area that my eyes can span. It is both simple and profound.

Whenever I return to that point where the waves begin, it is a celebration of being alive to enjoy it.  You see, in between many of my life’s visits to the ocean, there were battles with suicidal thoughts.

This struggle with suicidal thoughts began when I was in elementary school, not surprisingly around the time that I experienced sexual assault.  I will not write all of the details in a letter, but there were moments of terror as a little girl.  There was loneliness as a middle school girl.  There was depression as a high school girl.  There was a need to avoid stairwells and balconies in college.

Just as with the sexual assault, I voiced this struggle to no one.  And again, it was not because I was not loved.  I had wonderful, loving parents.  I had a happy and healthy home.  I had the community of an extended family.  I had wonderful teachers.  I had the love of my church family.

Still, I had this battle.  Had I taken my life as a young girl, there would have been no warning signs.  I did not get into trouble at school.  I kept my curfew.  I did not drink, smoke, or do drugs.  I did not cut myself.  I maintained high grades, participated in school clubs, and volunteered at the hospital.  I gave a speech at my high school graduation as valedictorian and class president.

I rarely ever mention that last part to anyone, as I never want to seem prideful.  I choose to mention it now, however, because I want you and other people to truly understand that some people are battling for their life even though you never get an indication of it from outward appearances.  That’s why Grandma always taught me, and I taught you, to be nice to people.  You do not know what storm someone may be passing through.  And even if a person gives you some indication of the storm, you usually never get to know all of the dreadful details.

My storm would subside for months and then rage again.  I did not want to hurt anyone by ending my life.  There were just times when I felt hopeless and worthless.  I truly considered that the people I love might be better off if I were not living.  In the place of logic, there were lies.

I won’t try to explain it all here, but let me tell you this:  Satan is a liar.  He is the Deceiver who tells people they are worthless, hopeless, helpless, and better off dead.  It is a lie every single time.

I can remember one year at youth camp when Preacher McLeroy preached for several nights from the verse “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: (Matthew 12:31a).”  He declared that all types of sin could be forgiven.  Admittedly, I thought it a strange topic for young people who were just starting out in life.  On that Thursday, several teenagers opened up about how they had already been convinced that they could not be forgiven for things they had done.  Satan is a liar.

Of course, God knew what those teenagers needed to hear.  In your life, there will be many people around you who need to hear the truth.  Those whose bodies have been violated and broken need to hear that healing and love are still possible.  Those who have hurt others need to hear that forgiveness is still possible.  Those who have lost so much need to hear that God can restore what was lost.  Those who survived when fellow soldiers did not need to hear that it is not their fault.  Those who think they have nothing need to hear that God can be Everything.

You will face your own battles in life, so let me state this clearly:  There is no version of life on this Earth in which my life would be better without you.  God has a plan for you, just as He has given an immeasurable value to each life and its potential.  When you face your darkest moments and your greatest doubts, hide in the Rock.  Remember that your value is not contingent upon how you feel or how you view yourself.  As is true for every human, it just IS.  I am proud of your accomplishments, but your value and my love for you just IS… no matter what you do or do not do in life.  You are my beloved son.  Do not ever remove yourself, in any way, from my life.

I love these words of a hymn writer who attempted suicide even as a Christian:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning Providence, He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan His work in vain; God is His own Interpreter and He will make it plain.”  William Cowper

I am so thankful to God for preserving my life.  Until God chooses for me, I have absolutely no desire to leave you, Brandon, and the twins.  I have the hope of many more trips to the beach.  I want to tell God “thank you” as I watch your children play in the waves.

The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.  Psalm 138:8

I love you forever,

Your beach-loving mama

31 for 41: The Little Girl in a Tree

Dear Donovan,

When I was a little girl, something bad happened.  I won’t write the details in a letter, but it was a sexual assault.  There are images and words that I can never forget.  There were bad days, but one day in particular was the worst.

For so many years, I would not even think of sharing this information as I am doing now.  I did not even voice it to another human being until I was seventeen.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have the best parents ever or good friends or a loving church family.  I had all of those things.  I did not tell anyone because of shame, guilt, and the conception that I was protecting other people.  I did not tell anyone because I could not expect any single person to hold on to my secret.

I paid a price for someone else’s sin.  I hated myself at times.  I tormented myself over whether I should tell or not tell.  My OCD and perfectionist tendencies were exacerbated to the point that I had to have physical therapy in eighth grade because my muscles were so tight.  It is possibly the reason, at least in part, that I now have Fibromyalgia.   And I will remind you that I had a wonderful home, extended family, school experience, and church family.  So many victims do not get all of those things, or any of them, as they try to learn how to survive their trauma.

Like countless other sexual assault victims, I never had the opportunity to confront my abuser or have my day in court.  I did have the benefit of receiving free counseling services in college, which helped me to direct anger to my abuser.  You see, I had thought that if I was angry about what happened, that anger would be wrong and the abuser would win because I was an angry person.  I did not want him to win.

I had to learn that anger is not sinful, as long as it is managed in healthy ways.  Jesus showed anger.  While I thought I was conquering anger, it was actually all being directed back to me and hurting me.  I had to picture another little girl my age and ask myself if she would have known what to do in the same circumstances.  The definitive answer is “No.”  I had to then allow myself that same consideration, and release myself from the responsibility and guilt of what happened.

Since I am now very clear about the fact that I do not have to feel ashamed, I do not fear sharing my story with others.  As a teacher, I especially like to help other people learn about triggers resulting from sexual trauma.  For me, there is a certain color that triggers memories of the worst day.  There is a certain combination of smells that triggers unwelcome memories as well.  Only Brandon knows what these triggers are.  I do not want anyone, even you and the twins, to feel like you have to tip-toe around me about a certain color or smell.  If you can understand this issue of triggers, though, it will help you to be a kind and compassionate man.

A young mom once shared with me that as a little girl, she was repeatedly sexually abused by a male family member who wore a certain cologne.  That cologne seemed to disappear from stores for a while, but then made a resurgence years later.   As this lady was shopping in a store one day, a man walked past her wearing that cologne.  It was a scent she had not experienced for many years, but at the moment she smelled it, she immediately vomited right there in the store.

That is the power of a trigger.  It is a smell, a sound, a phrase, a voice, a song.  It can sucker punch you at any given moment.  I was once in a meeting with a Sexual Assault Response Team, something I routinely did each month with no issues until this particular day.  There was a review of a certain incident with details similar to my own experience.  I suddenly could not breathe and the walls seemed to be closing in around me.  I was able to recognize it for what it was, and started consciously taking deep breaths until the walls seemed to back away.  No one else in the meeting knew what was going on with me internally, but when I left, I physically felt like I had been repeatedly punched all over my entire body.

Now imagine a child being triggered.  She doesn’t know why or how.  She doesn’t know to take deep breaths.  She cannot remove herself from the situation that triggered the triple punch of a physical, mental, and emotional response.  Imagine an adult who is aware of his triggers, but still lives with this terrible gift that may keep on giving for the rest of his life.  This is why I say a victim of sexual abuse should never apologize for wanting justice, for even when justice is served, the victim will still pay a lifetime price for the abuser’s selfish and vile actions.

As you go through life, there will be so many people around you who have experienced sexual assault.  People may suddenly have a strong reaction to some circumstance, or may suddenly withdraw.  You can choose to be judgmental, or you can consider the possibility that the person was triggered.  Give people time to process their own stuff, and try to be as consistent as you can in your own behavior.  You don’t have to allow others to treat you badly, but you can be aware that so many behaviors that we take personally were really about the other person’s private struggles.  You can be the man who speaks up to remind others that not everyone wants to hear a lewd joke, or be exposed to certain images, or smell alcohol on someone’s breath.

I want you to know that the man who hurt me is no longer living.  Only because God has done a work in my heart, I can say with all sincerity that I hope that man received Christ’s atonement before leaving this world.  Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for all the sins of the world, regardless of whether or not individuals ask for forgiveness.  The sufficiency of The Cross provides healing for me, even though that man never apologized for all of the ways that he hurt me.  And the beauty of healing is that it places me in a position of strength and understanding, from which I can help others who have been hurt in similar ways.   

I am not always strong.  All these years later, there are still days when I feel really weak, and then I get mad at myself for “letting it get to me” again.  There is still the fear that my own lifelong battle with this will somehow negatively affect my ability to be a good wife and mother.  I fight against that.  I need God’s help.

Sin is ugly, but Christ is beautiful.  Since I have experienced evil things done in darkness, I have the opportunity to appreciate beauty and light in a very special way.  I choose to see beauty all around me, and I think my quality of life now is actually better for having gained that skill.

When I was that little girl, going through bad things, I had a favorite tree.  I would find my safe haven in its branches, and I would write fantasy stories that carried me away from reality.  I no longer need an escape, as my reality is so rich and includes three beautiful sons.  I still love trees, though.  And I love you so much.  You don’t even know how much God used the gift of you to help me heal.  I determined to be healthy so that I could love you immensely.

Now go into the world, love God first, and love others.

He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.  Psalm 147:3

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.  And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.  Psalm 9:9-10

I love you forever,

Your tree-loving mama




31 for 41: Let it go

Dear Donovan,

When I was in third grade, I received my first academic award.  It was actually an award for a regional writing contest, and I wrote about pollution in a creek.  I received both a trophy and the praise of people that I loved.  More awards came later, and I began to define my value through academic achievement.

Just like with any talent or gift, there was nothing wrong with the exercise of the gift itself.  The problem in my case was that I began to use the gifts given by my Creator as a replacement for trusting my Creator.  I would have told you that my favorite verse was “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding“(Proverbs 3:5).  I was not actually doing that, though.  I was indeed leaning on my own understanding, looking to my own academic abilities in times when I just needed to submit to God.

At the center of this incongruence in my life was my pride.  It was not the case at all that I thought I was better or smarter than other people.  It was an issue of trying to rely on my own abilities and even essentially arguing with God at times.  Any time we place our own ability before God’s ability, we are acting out of pride.  And just like a Proverbs prediction, it did not go well for me.

I was tortured in my mind.  It was a silent battle that very few knew about.  It exacted a price on my physical health.  At one point, I truly felt like I was going to lose my mind.  God had to show me that He could take away the one thing I prided myself on.

So I say to you, “Let it go.”  Whenever you find yourself having to choose between holding on to some area of pride or submitting to God, let go of the pride!  In life, that will be the wise decision to make every single time.

There is a story that Preacher McLeroy told in youth camp years ago that I have never forgotten.  He told about a method used to catch monkeys in the wild (look up “Monkey Trap”).  The trap can be a simple coconut or gourd that has been hollowed out.  Some treat like a nut or piece of fruit is placed inside the trap.  A monkey can fit his hand through a hole in order to grasp the treat.  With the treat in his fist, however, the monkey cannot remove his hand from the trap.  Suddenly encumbered but unwilling to release the treat, the monkey can then be caught with a net or trapped in a cage.

The monkey loses his freedom because he is unwilling to let go of something that he wants.  It was a temporary trap from which he could have easily escaped with one simple action.  I do not ever want you to lose your freedom, your joy, your relationships, your reputation, your peace…simply because your pride will not allow you to let go of something that has you trapped.

God’s plan was not for me to abandon my gifts.  He wants me to use them for Him and to help others.  But I could not be used until I was willing to do things His way.  And that makes much better sense for my life, since He knows everything and since He loves everyone around me with a perfect love while my love remains imperfect.

If you remember how God views pride, it will keep you humble.  Always agree with God, and be ready to let go.  You are my child and I always desire for you to have wonderful gifts and experiences.  I would never ask you to give up something unless I know it is for your well-being and safety.  How much greater is the wisdom and care of a perfect heavenly Father.

“For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” C.S. Lewis

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.  Proverbs 16:18

I love you forever,

Your mama

31 for 41: Talents and Trophies

Dear Donovan,

When you were in preschool, I came to pick you up one day and a teacher met me at the door.  “I need to tell you about something that Donovan is doing.”  That statement often means that the child is in trouble, so I braced myself to hear what had happened.

“Donovan can climb all the way to the top of one of the posts of our shade shelter.  He gets up there and can just hang out and look at the other children.  None of the other children can climb up the pole.  We just wanted to make sure you knew and were okay with it.”

D spiderman

I was not surprised by this bit of information.  I had my very own four-year-old Spiderman living with me.  Not long after you could walk, you were already climbing as high as you could and then jumping off of whatever you had climbed.  You were certainly gifted with physical abilities.

So for any gift you are given, the question that follows is “Why was I given this gift?”  The short answer is:  to glorify your Creator who gave you the gift, and to help others by using your gift.  This answer is in keeping with Jesus’ words when asked which is the greatest commandment of the law:

 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  Matthew 22: 37-40

As you develop a talent that has been given to you, look to others who have successfully developed the same talent but who also use the talent graciously and unselfishly.  Also be considerate of those who are not gifted in the same way, and who may self-conscious in that particular area.  Remember when you had a hard time understanding why some of your classmates dreaded PE class?  There are many adult versions of PE class, and if you can be sensitive to others’ insecurities, it will make you an understanding and insightful man.

What will make you a humble man as well is remembering that you need help from others who have talents in areas that will always be weaknesses for you.  Also, if you daily acknowledge the Source of your talents, you will not become arrogant in the exercise of those talents.  When you broke your thumb playing baseball in elementary school, you asked me why God let it happen.  Then only answer I had then is the answer I have for you now.  Since you have been gifted with physical abilities, maybe it was an early lesson to never become too prideful in those abilities.  You were allowed to experience just how swiftly a physical ability can be taken away.


You have been given so many gifts, my son.  To be given gifts means that you have a purpose.  To be fulfilled, then, you need to partner your gifts with hard work and let God direct for you a purposeful path.  Do not be like the man who buried his talents out of fear (Matthew 25).  Be a good steward of what has been given to you.

D with displayed art

As for those around you, view each person as someone who also has a gift, and with it, great potential.  That is central to our belief in the value of each human.  Love people by noticing their talents, supporting them in the discovery and development of their talents, and by celebrating their achievements with them.

Finally, while it is fine to use your talents to strive for a championship or award, be aware that many trophies quickly lose their value and people soon forget about awards.  So do not pour too much of your energy into the gain of temporary trophies that have no eternal value.

I was once reading the story of David and Goliath, a great tale about combining talent, preparation, and the desire to glorify God in order to defeat a giant in one’s life.  That day, a certain verse stood out to me.  It’s not as well-known in the story, but it says “And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.” (I Samuel 17:51b)

We have a Champion who is alive and victorious.   “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. (Revelation 1:18)  So, we have no reason to flee from difficult tasks in life.  If you are doing what you have been called to do with the gifts you were given, you cannot fail because the Champion who created you is also guiding you and supplying you with His power.

Use your talents for God.  Expect great things and attempt great things (William Carey).  Work for a trophy that can never be stolen, burned, or forgotten.

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;  Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.  Colossians 3:23-24

I love you forever,

Your mama who is proud of her Spiderman


31 for 41: About Domestic Violence

Dear Donovan,

Their stories are still with me.

A college student I meet in court does not want to testify after her boyfriend attacked her.  He also held her dog over the balcony of their apartment and threatened to drop him, all after she discovered he was cheating on her.

A mom in my support group contemplates spending money for her small children to participate in a school program they are excited about, and wants to know what I think she should do.  I cannot tell her what to do, because she is quite sure her husband will beat her if she goes against his command and spends that money on the kids.

Another mom sits in shock while nursing her newborn.  I held the baby while a judge just granted her an emergency protective order, but the judge says she has to give the newborn to the father for a two-day visitation over the weekend.  Following the “protective” order will mean giving a newborn to an unstable man who just assaulted her the night before.  It will also mean trying to get her newborn to take a bottle and drink formula, things she did not want to do yet.  She doesn’t even know if the baby will respond well to formula.   She decides the court cannot help her, and starts devising a way for her and her newborn to go into hiding.

A business owner sits beside me on a bench in a courtroom.  Her ex-boyfriend continues to harrass her, but she does not want him to be convicted of anything.  She just wants to move on with her life in peace.  Within months of that day in court, the ex-boyfriend who already took her peace takes her life as well.

You have family members who have suffered abuse at the hands of someone who was supposed to love them the most.  You have friends who grew up watching their dad hurt their mom.  In the future, you will constantly rub shoulders with both men and women who have firsthand experience with domestic violence.  You have the opportunity to be a man who sends a clear message that partner abuse is never okay.

When people are experiencing domestic violence, they need to hear that message.  They may already doubt their own reality and sanity at times, due to the nature of the abuse.  They may may entertain the idea that they do deserve it, since the abuser blames the victim and does not take responsiblity for the abuse.  They may fear that no one will believe them if they try to get help, especially when the abuser has such a great “public face.”  With all of this internal turmoil they face, there is so much power in hearing words of truth from a compassionate man.

You can explain to a woman who never had positive males in her life that real men do not use their strength to hurt women.  You can tell a downtrodden friend who wants to be a good dad that no woman should ever use her children as pawns to control a man.  You can remind adults who were abused as children that they have every right to define and maintain healthy boundaries.  You can ask a person to consider why he or she was still abused even after doing everything perfectly and just as the partner asked.  You can state with conviction that there is no mistake your mom or grandmothers could ever make that would justify their husbands being vile and violent.  And you can say you have seen the opposite instead… godly men who love their wives as Christ loves the church.

Another thing you can do is to direct people to the Power and Control Wheel.  Without you even saying a word, this tool can help people see that domestic violence is about power and control.  It is not an anger management problem, a drug problem, or a stressed about money problem.  While those problems may also be present, domestic violence is a behavior set with the specific purpose of gaining and maintaining power over a partner.  This also helps explain why this type of abuse often escalates over time.

I once sat in court as a man was arraigned for the brutal murder of the mother of his child.  When the judge informed him of the possible maximum sentence for the crime, he asked, “But what if I was justified?”  That is the culmination of a behavior pattern over time in which a person convinces himself that he is justified in hurting someone else and is allowed by others to excuse away bad behavior.

This is why your mother will always stand up against such allowances.  This is why you were never allowed to blame your choices on other people.  Apart from the laws of physics that dicate that you may hit the floor when you collide with one of your six-foot-something friends on the basketball court, no one makes you say or do anything.  Even when others are being unfair or unreasonable, even when others hurt you, you always have the choice to respond with dignity and without violence.  We need more men to sound that message to our young men and women.

When I accompanied women in court, I worked hard to gain a reputation for being firm without being hateful.  Still, a defense attorney once accused me of being a man-hater.  I don’t even think he believed it.  Since he didn’t know me well yet, I think he thought he could intimidate me, and through that, disturb my client since there was a lot of evidence against his client.

The irony of that accusation is that I always felt like I cared a whole lot more for those men I saw in court than did a lot of their attorneys.  Their attorneys took their money and often helped them avoid conviction through agreements and legal technicalities.  I stand by my conviction that if a person is allowed to continually get away with violence, he is destroying his own life, destroying the love that could have been his to receive from a partner and from his children, and is heaping judgment upon himself.

I wanted these men to be stopped, and to be held accountable so that instead of continuing down a path of destruction, they might have a chance at restoration.  I wanted them to have a chance to be proud of the men they were, instead of hating themselves for having become just like their own fathers or step-fathers, as is so often the case.  So that attorney and I will have to disagree on the definition of “man-hater.”  I hate no man, but I will not be a silent partner to a poisonous pattern that hurts all involved.

I could write a book on this subject.  It would include entire chapters on how the Bible does not condone domestic violence.  It would point out that while not every high school student will go to a four-year university, every high school student will be in relationships, and therefore, could benefit from quality education about how to recognize warning signs of an abusive partner.  It would question a system that allows judges to make crucial decisions in domestic violence court based on being experts in the law instead of experts on the complex dynamics of domestic violence.  It would warn about the dangers of a culture that allows everyone to blame their behavior on others.  It would convince others of the cost of domestic violence to our children’s education and mental health.

I may not ever be able to write that book, but I am trying to raise you and the twins to be men of character who would never purposefully injure your wives or children.  Speak the truth in love whenever someone excuses or justifies domestic violence.  When an abused person needs help, direct them to professionals who can provide safety planning support.  Be aware that the abused person’s worst fear may be that the abuser actually does what he or she once threatened to do.   And when you are provided with the opportunity, tell that abused woman that she is God’s creation, and was never intended to be anyone’s scapegoat or punching bag.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.  I Corinthians 13: 4-7

I love you forever,

Your people-loving mama

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233, available 24/7. TTY: 1-800-787-3224

*At the date of this post, there have been 35 known domestic violence homicides in North Carolina in 2020.

31 for 41: When Bad Things Happen

Dear Donovan,

This will not be a very long letter, because answering the question “Why do bad things happen?” can be a complex task.  Ask anyone who has studied the book of Job, or anyone who has suffered loss.  I am not qualified to answer this question in one letter.  You will have to wrestle with this question like the rest of us.  I will offer a few thoughts, however, about how to interpret the pain and loss that are an inevitable part of the human experience.

Bad things can happen when you make mistakes.  This is why you should always be a student in life.  Learn from others’ mistakes so you do not repeat them.  Learn from your own mistakes so you do not repeat them.  Make wise decisions so that you do not multiply pain in your own life and in the lives of those who love you.

Bad things can happen to you when others make mistakes.  There is a mystery of humans suffering at the hand of other humans, and it can run against our sense of justice.  I once remember a woman making a bitter statement about wanting to ask Jesus why He did not stop some bad things from happening in her life.  I could hear the frustration in her voice, but the only conclusion I could think of to myself was, “Jesus did not stop me from doing or saying some things that have hurt people.”

We have been given choices about how to conduct our lives.  “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.”  Because we as imperfect people been given the freedom to choose our words and deeds, bad choices are made and people get hurt.  I am not saying I feel okay about it all.  I do try to be keenly aware of it, though, so that I may guard my own words and deeds, and so that I may speak up for others.

You don’t always get to know why the bad thing happened.  When I watched my almost 14-year-old son lay over the body of his beloved Hans’ body and say goodbye just before a veterinarian ended the dog’s pain, I had no answers.  No answer for why the freak accident happened.  No answer for why your young dog’s life had to be cut short when he brought all of us so much joy.  No answer for why it happened on Christmas Eve.  No answer for why you had to bury your dog on your birthday.  I still do not understand why.  I can only cherish our memories with Hans and try my best to learn from the experience.   This brings me to the next thought…

There is a lesson in every loss.  When we drove Hans to the emergency clinic that Christmas Eve night, I never considered a scenario in which he would not return home with us.  I talked to him and tried to comfort him.  I watched him still trying to be brave and protect us during the ride, true to his nature.  Still, had I known it was our last time together, I think I would have held him tighter and cherished him more for as many precious minutes as I could.

The lesson for me is that we never know when it’s the last time.  So, we need to hold on tightly to those we love and we need to cherish moments together.  That night was horrible, and I still feel the pain of losing Hans, but I do not want to devalue the purpose of his loss by missing the lesson in the loss.

Every bad thing that happens to you is allowed by God.  If I can hold on to this truth when there is pain or loss, then I can find peace instead of bitterness.  John the Baptist devoted his life to preparing the way for Jesus’ adult ministry on Earth, only to find himself in a Roman prison.  Facing doubt, John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He truly was the Christ.  Jesus did not reprimand John for the question, and instead said of him, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

It is okay to ask the question “why” when things do not make sense.  Wrestling with that question, and then making needed changes in your life when you do get answers to the question, is probably part of the whole purpose of this great mystery.

Do not be offended by the hard things that God allows or even orders in your life.  That is certainly easier written than done, but if you want to be blessed, trust Jesus’ words, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”  Matthew 11:6

I love you forever,

Your mama



31 for 41: Work and Welfare

Dear Donovan,

The picture attached to today’s letter is the day at the Copperheads baseball game when you collected enough foul balls to trade them for a cracked wooden bat.  I remember someone jokingly asking me if they could take you with them to buy lottery tickets, as you were seemingly having a very lucky day.  But since I know you, I knew luck had nothing to do with your procurement of those foul balls.

You were certainly gifted with the ability to run fast.  Aside from that gift, though, I understood that your success that day came from desire followed by hard work.  First, you really wanted those foul balls.  Second, you were willing to focus on the game while others kids played so that you would be ready to run toward a wayward baseball.  Third, you were willing to keep running as fast as you could every single time a foul ball flew.

In your adult life, you don’t have to let anyone minimize your personal achievements by chalking it up to luck.  If your blood, sweat, and tears, figuratively or literally, earned you what you have, it is your success to enjoy.  To be a balanced person, though, always maintain an awareness that the natural aptitudes, health, strength, mentors, setting and timing that aid you in success are all God-given gifts.  Also be humble enough to recognize that not everyone has been gifted with the same supports that you have that can set a person up for success.

As you earn your own money, you will pay taxes and you can give to charities.  Having a balanced view of work and welfare will help you make wise decisions with your money and will help you be a better citizen.  I would like to offer you some guiding thoughts:

If you can work, you should work.  The Bible has some pretty strong things to say about those who are lazy and refuse to take care of their own family.   

Money can be a tool.  Some of the greatest heroes of the faith we read about in the Bible were rich men.  God allowed them to be rich, and He used them for great purposes.  In Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, a less-discussed detail is that the Samaritan paid the host of the inn to take care of the injured man, and promised to repay any remaining costs upon returning (Luke 10:35).  The Samaritan had the money to give, and was willing to give of his own earnings to help a stranger.  

Money should never be an idol.  We are not to build up treasures for ourselves to the exclusion of what God would have us do with our money.  Money can buy temporary happiness, I say, but it cannot buy the peace of a right relationship to God.  Choose people over prosperity, and be led by the Bible instead of by your bank account.

The more things you own, the more your things will own you.  I stole this one from PawPaw.  You may acquire a huge house, that BMW you want, a boat, and a vacation home, but that will also mean more insurance payments, maintenance, and time away from family to pay for it all.  Choose wisely.

Check your heart by your charity.  The original welfare program was ordained by God.  For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” Deuteronomy 15:11.  As part of loving God and then loving neighbors as self, we have been called to recognize the needs of others and give of ourselves to help.  You can check how much you are controlling your money or how much it is controlling you by your level of willingness to open your eyes and your wallet to the needs of others.  He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.  Proverbs 28:27

Welfare should promote wellness.  Government welfare can be useful as a safety net.  I was very grateful to receive Medicaid for you when I was between jobs and lost our health insurance.  On the other hand, you have had a firsthand look at how some children actually became less safe when government welfare programs went unchecked and abused.

There are certainly problems with our existing government welfare system.  Be sensitive to those who wish they did not need it but cannot presently make ends meet without it.  You and I once needed it, and in one short day’s time, could find ourselves in need of it again!  It is okay, though, to speak up about the negative outcomes of a government system out of balance.  If welfare either persuades or allows a person to trade ambition for idleness, desire for dependence, and plans for poverty, then it does not promote that person’s wellness.  You can be a compassionate and humble man without being complacent about a system that sometimes cannot serve those in need because it is serving those with greed.

I want you to prosper and be successful, but I would rather you be rich in wisdom and love than in possessions.  Work hard.  Be a good steward of the gifts and opportunities that are given to you.  But keep career and money in their proper place, and make your accounting decisions with eternity in mind.

He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.  Ecclesiastes 5:10

I love you forever,

Your mama