IMG_2120OK, technically my 19-year old friend Marlena is an emancipated foster youth who was part of the Riverside County system. As she shared as last week’s Foster Awareness event (the 9th Annual Walk Your Talk Walk) tears of pride welled up in my eyes as I heard her share about her experiences in the system. She stood up on that podium and gave voice to the countless other youth whose life experiences tell them that they don’t matter. They are invisible and no one cares.

But I didn’t see a statistic speaking from a stage.

I saw my friend.

I grew up with a completely different story from hers. I am a suburban mom with three kids of my own, in fact, I’m old enough to be her mom. She is a college student at Cal Baptist University. I attended college way back in the middle ages in St. Paul, MN. I’ve been married for longer than she’s been on this planet. Her shoe wardrobe is way cooler than mine.

But God had our paths connect, thanks to Inspire Life Skills Training, and I’m so grateful.

She is a remarkable young lady. She’s smart and tough and laughs at my pathetic jokes. She gangs up on me with my other kids when I say ridiculous things and reminds me to not take myself too seriously.  She works insane hours, studies like a maniac and well, I won’t talk about what the floor of her room looks like.  She is a typical 19-year old college student with her life ahead of her, dreams and struggles like all of us. I like her roommate. She texts faster than anyone I know.

I volunteered to mentor because I was heartbroken when I heard the statistics about foster youth in our own community. It was something I never really understood, or wanted to understand, cocooned as I was in my little Christian life. But God had different plans. I became convinced that this was my problem if it is happening in my community and I say I follow Jesus.

I cannot change the whole system, but I can bring what little I have to befriend one person. I signed up not to save someone who needed saving, but to walk alongside a new friend like a mom would.

She’s been a beautiful addition to my family.  Being a part of the foster system happens to be part of her story, but it does not define her.  And now I’m part of her story and she’s part of mine.

So, yes, technically she’s an age-out youth. But more importantly, she’s my friend.

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Welcome back to the Chronicles of Dawnia. After technical difficulties, an unsuccessful upgrade and overall neglect, the blog is back on track. So, my Ten Faithful Readers, your patience has paid off.

I am back, writing about the journey of faith that flows from a genuine place. I write about building soul capacity in order to be present with the brokenness in our world. I write about growing kids to whole adults and growing myself up on the inside. There are detours into art, fostering wholeness of mind and heart, and the role of faith communities on all the above.

Welcome back to my fresh start.

IMG_6413Sometimes I just have to look at where I live through a visitor’s eyes.

Our 8yo son called his Nana for Thanksgiving today. About halfway through the conversation she asked how we’d been spending our days off during the Thanksgiving break. She asked specifically if we’d gone for any rides on the bike path behind our house.

Bike path? Oh, that’s right, we live right up against the Santa Ana River Trail and Parkway, which stretches from San Bernardino all the way to Newport Beach. In the midst of our suburban wasteland, it is a little stretch of undeveloped nature where we can walk, jog or ride our bikes. For free.

After wasting a whole week of vacation with mindless videos, staying up late and sleeping in until embarrassing hours, it occurred to me that we’d hardly left the house. Not a walk, or a family stroll around the neighborhood. We had simply succumbed to the sluggish life of glassy-eyed entertainment drones.

So, after being reminded, that we in fact have a resource we’ve neglected, we brushed off the snacking crumbs from our shirts, donned our jogging shoes and actually got active for a few minutes. It felt so good to get outside and away from Angry Birds, Facebook and Iron Chef. The air felt clean and my stale limbs rejoiced grudgingly as I started to move.

Made me wonder why it took looking at my environment with visitor eyes to see the beauty, the resources we have right under our oblivious noses. We get so jaded and familiar…living in Southern California with it’s temperate weather, no humidity and proximity to beaches and mountains gets boring. Or we get so caught up in auto-pilot life that we forget to open our eyes and really see what is around us. Sometimes it just takes someone who doesn’t live here to jar us awake.

So, my Ten Faithful Readers….is there a challenge in this? What if today we walked through life with visitor’s eyes and discovered a few things to thank God for. Even in Riverside, there are the orange groves along Victoria, or the 1940′s bungalows in the Wood Streets, or who knows what else.

Go ahead, put on your visitor eyes and see what you can see.

What if you could sit down with three visual storytellers and have them share some of their thought process behind how they create?

Yesterday I was trolling through some old videos of previous IdeaCamps and rediscovered this interview with extremely talented film-makers and storytellers. The IdeaCamp Justice Edition took place in Washington DC, a few years ago, bringing together practitioners of social justice efforts. Sponsored by organizations  like International Justice Mission, it was a chance for those involved in innovative justice work to learn from one another.

The interviewer is Charles Lee, founder of The Idea Camps and The Ideation a creative agency. Joining him on stage are Jonathan Olinger of Discover The Journey whose work in Haiti was featured on CNN, Gregg Helvey the director of Kavi which won the 2009 Student Academy Awards, and Nicky Yates of charity:water which has set the standard for cause communicating (IMHO).

Take a few minutes and learn, like I did, from these storytelling geniuses and use what you find in telling the stories entrusted to you. Enjoy!

verge12_300x600Yes I admit it, this is a Purpose Driven Blogpost.

A shameless plug for an upcoming gathering in Austin called Verge12 which I’m planning on attending, along with my conference-hating husband Dave. So why would someone who is not a church-planter or in leadership at her church expose her introverted spouse to such torture?

I am a mom who needs help.

I’ve realized over the past three or so years, that when it comes to spiritual formation in my kids, I’ve been building little clones of myself.

And it ain’t pretty.

Someone once said, “you don’t want to climb the ladder of success only to find the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.” Well, my ladder has been tilted for as long as I can remember at the wall of checklist items like:

  • Being nice to our neighbors, so we can bring them to church
  • Raising kids who don’t cuss, especially at church
  • Separating my family from “the world” as much as I could
  • Attending as many church functions as possible
  • Having my kids know more Bible verses than the next kid

So one day, I cannot even remember what prompted it, I was struck by the lack of joy. My lack of joy. My tiredness at doing the church stuff right but being haunted that there must be something more.

There was no joy in seeing others come to know Jesus, because I barely experienced Him myself. I just went to church a lot. And raised non-cussing kids.

So over the last few years, I’ve been on a journey. God has introduced me to people who are the real deal. Folks like John Perkins who love their community, not as a marketing gimmick but because the love of Jesus to walk along the least of these, flows through their lives. Pastors like Dave Gibbons who rocked my world with The Monkey and the Fish. Champions for the fatherless like John Sowers and The Mentoring Project. People like Mike Rusch’s Cobblestone Project down in NWArkansas who envision a community without need. The list goes on, but my journey hasn’t stopped.

As God has shown me another wall on which to lean my ladder, I crave hearing more. I want to learn from folks who live this out, who share the good news of Christ’s love in tangible ways. I need to see how others wrestle with living out love each day to people who are different. I suck at it, but I’m learning.

So, my Ten Faithful Readers, this is why this mom wants to go to Verge12. Maybe you’ll join me? And don’t feel bad for my poor introverted husband, when he heard that Alan Hirsch was going to be there, he invited himself.

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Spent a few minutes watching our cat taunt our GoldenDoodle from the inside of a sliding glass door. She runs full force at the glass, hissing.

Lucy, our not-so-bright puppy responds by barking menacingly at the bold threat. The cat automatically foomps out her fur, tail taking on twice the volume due to the fear.

What amuses me is the posturing and emotion involved. The glass barrier, reality in this case, doesn’t deter either animal from reacting as they are programmed to. They see the enemy, but are oblivious to the enemy’s inability to actually affect them.

They’re so busy reacting to the threat, they ignore reality. They are safe.

Makes me wonder how much emotional energy I use reacting to things that feel threatening but actually are not real. People’s opinions of me. Imagined disasters. Fears of facing a blank page and having nothing come out of my pen. Fears of failing.

The God of the universe holds my life in His hands. The posturing of the enemy of my soul need not rile me.

I am safe behind the glass, regardless of what threatens me outside.

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I remember the early days of married life, when my starry-eyed new husband would ask me a simple question, “Darling, where would you like to go eat tonight?”

I’d frantically try to recall what his last favorite place was so I could answer safely. I was guaranteed to get it right if I gave him his favorite restaurant as my answer. This seemed normal to me. Someone asks me a preference, you defer to theirs. Automatically.

Years have gone by since that silliness, but I remember distinctly feeling like a lost member of the Starship Enterprise (there, my Trekkie roots have been exposed) whose transportation beaming was interrupted mid-process. If someone asked me basic questions, which should be simple to answer, like:

  • What restaurant do you feel like going to?
  • Did you like this movie?
  • What are you feeling inside, really feeling right now?

I’d be hard pressed to genuinely answer.

It was never about being evasive or dishonest. It was almost like being asked to find something you have no clue how to locate. Cluelessness isn’t necessarily evasiveness, though it was perceived as such in my close relationships.

Now, in hindsight, after years of individual therapy, Bible studies, small groups, healing groups, word studies and reading, I see that most of my life has been spent with Dawn, partially-beamed. The molecules hadn’t a chance to solidify. Amidst the swirling of my internal noise, I could never identify my core. My real self. The Soul that God created.

I grew up in an alcoholic, chaotic and yet rigid home, where emotions and particularly negative emotions were not allowed. At a young age you learn to appease, please and over-perform to make everything OK. The molecules of my forming self never had a chance.

I grew up properly churched, so I automatically discounted any internal rumblings…clamped down on any confusion or discontent with a quickly applied Bible verse or platitude. I applied direct pressure until the bleeding stopped. But the bleeding never stopped. It just went deeper inside. And the swirling molecules of my soul never settle.

So, the process of becoming solid has been a slow one. A painful one, and I wish I could say, a completed journey, but no, it continues on. With each step of obedience I take towards wholeness, my center takes a little more shape. Each uncovered place of arrested grief that gets grieved out moves me towards solidness. Every time I establish a new boundary or express a real, yet risky emotion, I gel.

I cling on (or should I say Klingon) to the hope that He who began a good work in me will bring it about to completion. The God who wooed me to him in the first place is not the enemy after all, but is the one cheering my progress, moving me towards wholeness.

Until one day, I can stand, fully beamed aboard my destination….swirling particle me gone….fully formed and fully loved me standing present, blinky-eyed in wonder at my next frontier.

But I’m not there yet.

I took a risk tonight as I drove home from cheer practice with my daughter (yes, even though competition is behind us, our football team made it to playoffs, so there are a few more weeks).

I brought up how some of her responses to me as her coach made me feel. Didn’t want to fight about anything, was too tired to be defensive…just wanted to let her know how her actions affected me emotionally. I was honest without accusing, a rare moment for me.

I reassured her first, of my appreciation for the opportunity to coach her, to see her grow as an athlete, to be a part of her world. The time commitment was great, but it was worth it to be there for her in this chapter of her life. I was able to articulate how rough it had been though, with some of her interactions with me.

She apologized, I forgave her and we were able to move on. I felt like bricks fell off my heart and I no longer wanted to avoid her company. Our relationship was restored and free to move on.

We talked about how good it is to not have “taboo topics” with each other. Even as a Jr. High student, she sees friendships where friends can’t be honest with each other about hurt feelings…things are too fragile.

I’m glad that I have the privilege of modeling how to share the messy stuff of relationships, also known as feelings and not collapse into a sniveling pile. I’m grateful that I can give relational feedback in a loving, respectful way. I’m especially grateful for the counselors who have taught me this skill so I can pass it along to another generation.

Real conversations about real feelings are required for genuine relationship to exist.

I used up my blogpost writing time tonight watching The Sing-Off, so I’ve enlisted the help of my kids to help me with my NovemberBlogFest post.

This list of items he’s thankful for is from my 8-year-old son:

10. My kitties who like to snuggle.
9. Book covers, they make nice hats.
8. Rugs, they are fuzzy.
7. My bed because I like sleeping.
6. Mac ‘n Cheese because it’s Mac ‘n Cheese.
5. Air-conditioning because I hate to be hot.
4. Wrestling because it is good exercise and I can jump on dad’s back.
3. Friends are super important to me.
2. Lotion because it reminds me of Nana who visits us and rubs my feet with lotion at night.
1. SpongeBob because it’s a funny show.

There you have it.

A few things for which a 3rd grader is thankful…makes me want to go journal about mine. (He does have a point about Mac ‘n Cheese.)

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How about you? What are a few of the things you’re thankful you have in your life?

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Spoiler alert: Today’s post has no didactic value whatsoever. No deep thoughts. Just a glimpse into the life of a cheer coach.

Today out in Indio, our season crescendoed as the SoCal Junior All-American Orangecrest Wolves competed along with 800 other screaming, uniformed girls. Nerves were on edge; the decibel level, unforgivable.

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Our family stayed overnight in Indian Wells, to shorten the 60 mile commute to the event venue, Fantasy Springs Casino Resort & Convention Center. Although my squad, the Midgets (girls 13-14) didn’t compete until 4:00p, we reported at 8:00a to get checked in.

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Hairpieces were affixed over severe buns. The little ones cry sometimes because it is so tight. They take it as part of the sport.

We then head to the stands to cheer on the younger squads. The convention center is decked out with tumbling mats as the center stage, and all manner of cheer families fill the stands.

Over 85 squads from Corona, Murrietta, Riverside (that’s us, Orangecrest), Norco and the powerhouse, Yucaipa compete in heats based on squad size, not ability.

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Throughout the day, while you wait for your heat, you can take team portraits…

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..or spend money at the vendor stands. One can never have enough cheetah spanks or plaid flannel pajama pants with the word cheer down the leg.

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So my squad, being the oldest division, competed last. The months of stunting practice, bruises, conditioning and tumbling all come down to this moment. And as the girls executed their routine with energy, precision and good facial expressions, I just smiled. And recorded on my iPhone, of course.

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Orangecrest took First in every heat they competed in. Something they make a habit of doing.

Not gonna lie, I’m thankful the season is done, and it’s neat to end on such a high note. The girls worked so hard, and if anyone ever thinks cheerleading is easy, I know differently.

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This last picture is of my family, minus 10-yo S., who was throwing up in the bathroom. After 8-yo T had been doing the same yesterday.

Oh, my life….