Everyone loves a comeback

The life-changing magic of never giving up…

I can’t believe it’s playoff time again.

I can’t believe I care...

(See what I did there?)

If I’m watching a sport, one of my kids is playing. Or it’s the last 5 minutes of a college basketball game… But I’m talking about football (can you believe it, Dad?). Hang with me though, if you’re a hater. There’s a point.

Up here in Washington, they get a little excited about their Seahawks. And it’s a little contagious. Okay, a lot contagious. And not just because I live with some serious fans.

There are friendships forged in the hardest of times. When we’re together, our conversations are often about the nearest and dearest to our hearts — our families, our faith, our prayers. Football doesn’t fit.

But last January, we talked about the game.

Over tea. Over coffee. Over lunch…

And we might have gotten a little teary about 3:52 and 19 to 7.

If you’re a Seattle Seahawks fan, you know what I mean.

On January 18, 2015, chances are, if you live in Seattle, you listened to the conference playoff game on the radio because your power was out. If you were lucky enough to have TV, you kind of wished you didn’t. Because it was bad. Too many turnovers. Too painful to watch.

Chances are you reminded yourself we’re a second half team and then you got giddy because the guy who’s supposed to hold the ball for the kicker threw it instead to a guy you’d never seen before — a trick play like kids do in pickup games on playgrounds — and it worked. (This is what it sounded like on Seattle radio.) You dared to believe…and then…another interception.

The clock ticked away. Fail after fail.

Chances are, you turned off the radio once Steve Raible began to sound hopeless. Or you changed the TV channel. Or you left the stadium…

win probability 2
graph cred: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201501180sea.htm

With 5 minutes left in the game, the Seahawks had a .1% chance of winning.

Point One Percent.

The odds were decidedly NOT in their favor.

The Seahawks got the ball again with 3:52 left to play in the game. And they had to get two touchdowns in order to win.

No way.

It seemed impossible. And it was. (see graph for statistical proof)

But when the Seahawks got the ball again, with 3:52 left in the game and the score was 19  to 7, something changed.

Marshawn Lynch moved up the field 14 yards in those golden shoes and suddenly, it was on. And Kam Chancellor was running down the sidelines yelling to Russell Wilson that Doug is open! Throw it to Doug! like he’s 14 years old. And you saw the team light up with him. And then Russell Wilson ran in for the touchdown with 2:13 left in the game.

And the strangely sad, silent crowd — normally infamous for their volume — rallied, too. Even while the commentators were claiming the victory for the Packers. How awesome is it that even though we’re going to lose this game, they’re not giving up? We said to ourselves. What a great example for the children.

And then, my goodness. A rookie gets the ball back in an onside kick. And now you dared to hope, not breathing at all. And holy cow, when those gold-soled feet ran 24 yards to score ANOTHER touchdown with just 95 seconds left in the game and you could hear the whole neighborhood cheer because what is even happening??

And then, a desperation pass as Wilson ran out of time and threw the ball up on his way down but the other Willson miraculously caught it and put the Seahawks ahead by 3 points.

Are you kidding me? (that’s my Steve Raible impression, right there)

But wait. Nope. Way too much time left… funny how that happens…and the Packers wanted it so bad. And now the game is tied and going into overtime and you just. want. it. to. be. over. Because good grief, you DIDN’T EVEN CARE. And now you do. And the tension of overtime is way too much…

But Seattle’s so awake now in overtime. Wilson to Lynch. Wilson to Baldwin. Wilson to Lynch. Wilson to Baldwin. And then a beautiful thing…

Every time Russell Wilson threw to Jermaine Kearse in that game it failed. Every. Time. All four interceptions were intended for Kearse. But both Wilson and Kearse have the guts to try again.

Chances are, if you’re  a Seahawks fan, you maybe cried just a bit when the guy who’d played the worst game of life up til a few minutes before hit his knees and gave God the glory. Because you know he must have prayed that ball into Kearse’s hands for the win. And maybe you cried a little more when he said he wished his dad had been there to see it.

Chances are, when the shock wore off and the win sank in, you realized that you just saw something happen in real life that only happens in the movies.

And you started thinking about the things you think only have a fraction of a percent of turning out well.

About the hard things. The times you’ve failed and can’t bear to try again. The times you’ve wanted to give up on that kid, that man because chances are the chances are impossible and the odds are against.

I wonder as I write this, What sparked that unbelievable Seattle comeback? What fueled it? Was it the 12th Man? Was it their roar of encouragement at the slightest hint of turning things around? Was it the injured superstar players who refused to leave the game? Was it Pete Carroll, good old positive Pete who didn’t give up on Russell Wilson and pull him out of the game?Was it Russell Wilson who just kept at it over and over until he got it right?

Everyone loves a comeback, but not everyone has the guts to believe it can happen and see it through to the end.

Sometimes, you just need to see with your own eyes and feel the impossible.

That’s what we said over tea. Over coffee. Over lunch. Even if it’s football. Because it’s not really about the game at all.

It’s about hope. About how it’s never over til it’s over. About how the impossible CAN happen in real life. About how encouragement may come from the most unlikely places. About how even the strongest fall and have to pick themselves up and keep on fighting. About how what you believe about yourself affects your actions. It’s about throwing the ball one more time to a guy who’s missed over and over and that one more time is the most important time of all but you’re giving him another chance.

It’s about never leaving the game early.

Never give up. Never. Ever. Ever. Not on yourself. Not on that friend. And mama, don’t ever give up on your kid.

It may take perseverance. It may take a miracle. But comebacks do happen and they are beautiful.

Dave and me as farmers
Me and my comeback guy.

P.S. GO ‘HAWKS!

(12th Man Flag from Seattle Seahawks http://www.seahawks.com/wallpaper)

the truth about welfare

Uncomfortable revelations seem to be my lot in life.

You know, the kind you get when you’ve been super judgmental of something or someone and then you suddenly find yourself in their shoes . . .

For example, my older brother had three kids before I had one. I remember riding in their van and being astonished by the crayons and toys and sippy cups littering the floor.

How hard is it? I actually uttered those words in my head. Keeping your car clean can’t be that time-consuming.

Oh, yes. I did.

Twenty years and four kids later, my van is still a mess. I feel like a permanently-dirty-van curse was direct and swift punishment for my judgmentalism.

. . . I could give you countless other examples of this. The things I would never and suddenly am . . .

But the one that is pricking my heart right now — well, I still have a hard time putting it into words.

I’m not sure I can adequately express to you how humbling it was to go through the interview  process for TANF: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, formerly known as “welfare.”

I think I cried more varieties of tears in November and December of 2007 than I’ve cried in my whole life combined. The joblessness, homelessness, Dave’s relapse . . . painful sledgehammer blows to my pride.

And the lady in the DSHS office had zero compassion.

She shared with me in the most condescending tone that I would be better off and get more assistance if I left my husband. As it stood, we could get no rental assistance, no cash benefit, and no food stamps for at least a month (due to a technicality with Dave’s final paycheck) even though we had absolutely nothing. We were welcome to come back the next month and apply, but, she warned me, everyone in the household over 16 years old has to be pursuing full-time work in order to get anything more than food benefits.  I had no idea what all that meant, other than that if  I got a full time job, our youngest would go to daycare. And though I argued with her that I could make more money working part-time as a teacher and not have to pay for daycare than working full-time doing anything else and having to pay for daycare, she said those are the rules.

Once Dave had a low-income job, however, we were eligible for food assistance, for which we were extremely grateful. But every pay increase, no matter how small, reduced our assistance — even though we were below Federal Poverty Level for more than a year.

And one day, it stopped all together. Which was good, because it meant we were getting back on our feet, but I could not help wondering, as we subsequently lost free lunch for our kids and then reduced medical while still struggling to pay off debts and live, What is the point? What incentive is there to work hard and get out of poverty?

The  distance between poverty and “self-sufficiency” is a no-man’s land. It’s two steps forward, three back. And there are more enticing reasons to hang on to the help when you can get it than to kill yourself to stand on your own two feet.

I remember the day I got the letter  about free college tuition. My child could have free tuition if I signed up during 8th grade and was still financially eligible when she graduated from high school. I looked at the income limits and had a Scarlett O’Hara moment: As God is my witness, we will not still be that poor in four years. And we weren’t.

I have so many bottled up thoughts and feelings from being poor . . . I remember skipping recovery group because we could afford neither gas or nor child care. One of those Friday nights, I sat on the landing between the flights of stairs of our tiny two-story townhouse, planning cheap meals to maximize food benefits (which weren’t half of what I spend on food now) and make them last the full month, praying for raises and hand-me-downs, and feeling ashamed of my ignorance and judgment of people in this affluent country who ask for help. I sat on the stairs, the oddest and only place to be alone, and talked to God about how I would not forget my American poverty and would speak up and do something about it.

But I’ll be honest with you, it’s pretty daunting.

I wish we could all just see caring for the poor and wandering among us as our God-given responsibility, but we don’t. Instead we draw lines in the sand and redefine “neighbor” to suit. We pull out the worst stories of abusing the system and sling the word “welfare” like mud. Because there are plenty of entitled people out there whose behavior makes you cynical in a heartbeat.

But the truth is, there are more than we can possibly know who slip through the cracks of a system we think just hands out money to poor people and foreigners.

And then there are those for whom the system sort of works — like us.

* * * * *

The president of a rescue mission spoke these words from Isaiah to me in a phone interview early in those years of poverty and writing. I know he had no idea what they meant to me, or how they would seep into my soul.

This is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ He will quickly reply.
Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.

 Isaiah 58

* * * * * *

Soon, I’m going to paint those words on the wall of our own home, over the landing between the flights of stairs.

I want to remember always to have compassion.

To not forget the help given to us by God, by our church, by family and friends and by our government.

* * * * *

Photograph: Poor whites, Georgetown, D.C. photographed by Carl Mydans, 1935 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [reproduction number LC-DIG-fsa-8a00144]

dear mom who feels the darkness

It has not been a quiet week in our town.

Poulsbo, Washington sits on Liberty Bay 18 miles across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Our “Little Norway”is full of Scandinavian charm and actual Scandinavians.

On a clear day from various hills around town you can see the Olympic Mountains to the west and Mt. Ranier to the southeast. Woods hide flaws here. And tides mark time.

But this week, our hearts are raw from shock, fear, alarm, and now grief over yet another young person in our little town overcome by darkness.

As parents, we are shaken, and moved to pray deeply, from broken hearts, for our kids. To love them more clearly, more vocally. To give them hope that darkness passes.

Honestly, sometimes, it feels like it never will. The world outside is war, and disease, and death. And school is fear. And tragedy hits home.

Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. Every day the headlines are worse.

They see it, too. They know. They can count. One every year, my son said.

* * * * *

Dear mom who feels the darkness,

I feel it, too. So heavy. A darkness consuming days, raining sorrow.

Inescapable dread, eclipsing joy.

It’s so hard to see in the dark. My eyes are old. And tired of seeing pain. I bet yours are, too.

But night does not last forever.

This is a promise we can trust. We have evidence every day as night passes into dawn.

Tell your children you love them and pray they will hear and embrace the truth that God loves them and has a purpose for their lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord . . . Jeremiah 29:11-14

And tell stories of when you were nearly overcome by darkness, but you reached out to God for help and he helped you even when the situation looked impossible.

“Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful . . . . the only kind of hope that is of any use in a battle is a hope that denies arithmetic.” G.K. Chesterton

And pray always, dear mom who feels the darkness, because you are fighting a spiritual battle for your children’s lives.

* * * * *

The silver rectangle in my hand with the cut out flower was a gift from a teacher for working in my youngest son’s kindergarten classroom. She gave it to me for Christmas just weeks after my husband lost his job and we lost our home. It was the darkest time of my life.

Hope was the thing I needed most desperately. I needed to believe God had a future for me, for Dave, and for our family.

And He did.

But I could not see any of it for a very long time. Not just days, but weeks and months.

The walk through darkness does not have to end in despair. Cling to hope and pray through til the light dawns again.

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

* * * * *

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hope from a season of despair

I’ve been a writer at a marketing agency raising money for nonprofit organizations for the past six years. I’ve written for prison ministries, for family ministries for humanitarian aid, justice ministries, rescue missions. The stories entrusted to me help spread the word about what our clients do and raise money so they can keep doing what they’re doing.

Several years ago, on my first interview trip, it struck me that even though my life had been Sunday school, Church, mission field, Christian family, and I had had zero exposure to illegal drugs, when these men and women talked about coming to the end of themselves, I got it. Though our lives couldn’t be more opposite, the end result was the same.

The devastation that drugs and addiction bring to a person and a home are universal. Neither Dave nor I went to prison, we didn’t get a divorce, our kids weren’t taken away, and yet we came to the same breaking point as an addict on the street: God, I need help now.

As wonderfully fitting as my work is, I confess that I get discouraged. I feel like I’m writing everyone’s words but my own. My name doesn’t go on anything I pour myself into. The fruits of my creative labors are for somebody else’s benefit.

But on Thursday night I sat at a round table with co-workers and friends in an enormous room, dining on filet mignon and jumbo prawns, and witnessed contagious, hilarious generosity.  Just the sort of evening to breathe new life into a tired writer.

Items up for bid at this included float plane excursions, U.S. Open tickets, and time doing various things with people like the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor, the Sounders soccer team, and Macklemore.

And they didn’t go cheap. The minimum bid for anything in the live auction, hosted and called by local television personalities was $1,000. A night on the Mission’s Search & Rescue Van with Macklemore sold for $25,000. A donor called in from his hospital bed to pledge $100,000.

I don’t know who these people are, but I know they believe strongly enough that broken people can be renewed to open up their wallets and give $1.5 Million to help heal them.

A man named Richard told his story. He’d been homeless and a meth addict for years, and he laid on a park bench for five days and asked God to take his life. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Search and Rescue Van found him there and when they asked if he’d like to spend the night in the mission instead of on the streets, he said yes.

A year later he’s standing up on stage at this event telling 500 people that God did take away his life. He took away the life of addiction and drugs and hopelessness and gave him a new life in Christ.

I also witnessed the very thing I wrote about two days ago. That thing about monks and how we defeat discouragement and depression and acedia with serving and working with our hands.

The keynote speaker, with a net worth of $100 Million, famous for his role on a successful TV series surprises us, “Tonight, I’m going to tell you my story.”

And his voice breaks and he says, “I’m not afraid of anything, I’m known for being a shark, I don’t have weaknesses. Except . . .” And he weeps out words of devastation, of losing his kids in a divorce.

And he says all the money and fame and prestige could not heal the most painful hurt in his life. He was in such deep despair he went to the balcony and contemplated ending his life.

Afraid of himself, he called a friend and said, “I need to help someone else right now, or I’m going to die.”

That friend sent him to Seattle where he labored at the Men’s Shelter, alongside men like Richard. Through choking tears, he tells about going out on the Search and Rescue Van with Richard and how they found a man who was crying in a park and the two of them prayed over him and served him, millionaire on one side, homeless meth addict on the other.

And in the end of his story, this broken mega millionaire says: simple acts of service fixed me.

Stories of hope and revival lead to other stories of hope and revival.

No way in my life did I ever dream that our worst season of despair would turn into a season of philanthropy. Impossible that I would heal while writing words that help raise millions of dollars to help hurting people. I suppose about as impossible as a grateful meth addict reviving a billionaire.

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