My brother has a theory about fear and politics.

He says that since the fall of the Soviet Union, we in the US do not have a common boogeyman. We used to fear and hate the Soviets, but during the 90s, the Wall came down and we lost our villain. So we turned on each other. Feminists, religious conservatives, homosexuals, immigrants, the poor, the rich—each took their turn on center stage as the new “boogeyman”. But the fear was never a consensus, so it drove us apart along political lines. When 9/11 happened, not even that united us for long—only long enough to dupe us all into one war we didn’t need to fight, driven by fear of what might happen.

Now we’re chewing on each other again and almost every single divisive political disagreement is grounded in fear. Gay marriage will ruin traditional marriage! Raising the minimum wage will tank the economy! The Hobby Lobby decision is the first step to women being required to wear burqahs!

Fear is everywhere.

Take the gun rights argument. You know Dana and I respect anyone’s right to hunt as long as they consume, and to own a firearm to protect their family.

We are not on board with high powered and semi- or automatic anything. We don’t see the point.

But folks will get all hot and bothered over their right to guns that have no other purpose than to turn  living things into a pile of ground meat. The anger is always laced with fear of what might happen. Like we might be invaded. Don’t ask by whom, no one knows. But we need to be ready.

I saw it with the border protests in town too. Lots of worry about disease. Horrible, awful, possibly incurable things like strep throat. Lice. Measles. People were whipped into a frenzy, one man yelling at the cameras that he had to protect the health of his kids, wife, parents.

No matter that there was an outbreak of measles in Temecula this winter, due to unvaccinated kids.

Maybe Guatemalan measles are deadlier?

That just might be true.

And then last week, the plane crash in Ukraine. I found out about it on Facebook, since we were on vacation. I read the article and then commented on the post: “Dude.” Which in Jen speak means “That is one f-ed up and sad situation.” To which the poster replied “So scary.”

Sad? Reprehensible? Immoral? Incredibly irresponsible and just plain STUPID?


But scary?

We can take any situation at any time and twist it into a horror movie, but that doesn’t mean the horror movie will happen.

Of course, horror movie scenarios make money, for news stations and politicians. People we should be able to trust, people who say they stand for our good, are using fear of what might happen to boost ratings and win elections.

And we’re so used to it that we don’t even fight it anymore but let me tell you: this nation was not founded on fear. Good Lord, if the Puritans had stopped to think what might happen, they wouldn’t have gotten on the ship.

And the worst did happen, by the way, and they survived. That’s the blood that runs in our veins.

I’m done being scared. I want to live here, and now. I want to live in truth and light, not rumors and shadow. I am not talking about turning a blind eye to the state of the world and living in blissful ignorance. But I wish we could all stop looking at what might go wrong and start seeing what is going right.

We should find the courage to hold our leaders and media to this same standard. All we have to say is this:

We are not little children. We are God-loving folks and we are not scared of the dark. We work hard, we support each other and we deserve the truth. You think the truth is boring. You think we need a boogeyman. We have news for you: Main Street USA is about as real as it gets and our lives are not boring. They are beautiful and fruitful, even when they are hard.

That’s the truth.

So stop inventing ways to tell stories that try to make us feel like the world is blowing up and caving in on us all at once. Stop telling us about what might happen. Be real.

That’s our new hashtag: #BeReal. A challenge, a reminder and notice served that we aren’t buying fear for fear’s sake anymore.











Heart Warrior ~ Guest Post by Shalimar Niles

You know when you meet someone and they radiate calm kindness and patience? The kind that actually calms your own heart just from being in their presence?

Meet our new friend Shalimar. She is one of Kate’s Girl Scout troop leaders and I was amazed by her before I heard the story she’s about to tell. We invited her here because this woman’s life is full of grace–grace given by God and then distributed outward in total love. She knows that God is not here to test us, but to see us through.

She was born on a Friday morning. 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a head full of hair. Her daddy followed her to the nursery, and I went to recovery and waited for someone to bring my baby in to me. No one came. For more than an hour I waited, when finally, my husband came in, empty-handed, to tell me.

Our daughter was 1 in 100. That’s the likelihood of having a baby born with a congenital heart defect, or CHD. The ultrasounds showed us a healthy baby girl, but she was born with a severe CHD called Pulmonary Atresia. We had no indication that anything was wrong, and yet, our newborn daughter was now in a race against time to fix her heart before she started running out of oxygenated blood.

Emma at one day old

Shalimar with Emma at two days old

Hours after she was born, she was transferred to a hospital that could give her the care she needed. My husband went with her, and so it happened, hours after giving birth, I was alone in my hospital room, in shock and recovering from a c-section.

I held her for the first time when she was two days old. At four days old we walked her to the operating room doors for her first catheter procedure, which was unsuccessful. At one week old, her due date, which also happened to be our wedding anniversary, she had another procedure, also ultimately unsuccessful. From that point on, she was intubated and sedated, her right leg was purple and had almost no pulse because of damage to the artery during her procedures. We were broken-hearted for our girl, anxious to get her well and terrified of how bleak things looked for her at the moment.

Prayers and support came pouring in from friends and strangers alike. Her story was shared and thousands of people were praying for her around the world. I, however, was not one of my daughter’s prayer warriors. I told a friend that I felt like a hypocrite for allowing, and even encouraging others to pray for her when I could barely speak to God. “This is the time to let us lift you up,” she said.

We call June 7th our daughter’s Happy Heart Day, because that’s the day that things started improving for her. She had open heart surgery, which was terrifying, but we had the hope that things would be better on the other side. The texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages were incredible, and did give us strength through those awful hours. All those people kept me close to God when I couldn’t do it myself, and they all have been able to witness the miracle that is our daughter.

Emma after her surgery

Emma after her surgery

She came home just a week after her surgery. On medications, and 24 hour oxygen, but she was home. And the medical miracles kept coming. Just a couple weeks after surgery, I started nursing her (which for being on a feeding tube for most of her life was amazing) and she began to thrive. She gained weight, she went on to oxygen just for sleeping and by the time she was three months old she was off all meds and supplemental oxygen. At 10 months old, she had a hole between the chambers of her heart closed, which improved her health even more. By looking at her, you would never know the challenges she has had to face in her young life.

I think the real miracles have been the intangibles. After being sedated and lacking oxygen her first month of life, she opened her eyes for the first time after her surgery and she was there. In the sense that I knew our worries about any brain damage were answered. She was delayed in rolling, crawling, and walking, and you could see the determination and grit in her face as she struggled in physical therapy to meet those goals. She is quite simply, a force of nature. Our daily reminder that miracles do happen, that God is with us even through the storm, and that hope we have in Him is real.

I live in a constant state of gratitude. I quite literally thank God daily that He saw fit to let us keep that sweet baby girl, who just turned two years old. A CHD is never truly cured, she does have more surgeries and challenges to face, and that is not what I dreamed of for my child. But as she healed, so did we, and I am certain that our strong family foundation, built of love and strength and faith will carry us through whatever may come.

Emma turns 2!

Emma turns 2!


 Tomorrow, Emma’s family and friends will wear pink to celebrate the anniversary of her surgery.

Happy Heart Day to Emma from all of us at Full of Graces!


The Summer of Discontent

May 19, 1994, Hofstra University

May 17, 1994 at Hofstra University

The summer after I graduated college was one of the worst times of my life.

Even now, 20 years later, after everything else that has happened, that statement is true.

I had moved home from New York, leaving my college boyfriend behind, something my head knew was wise, but my heart was struggling with. We hadn’t broken up yet, so there was the added stress of a long distance and very expensive phone relationship. My parents had put the down payment on a car, but I needed to make the monthly payments. Luckily it was only to the Bank of Grandma, but it was still a responsibility.

I knew what I wanted to do: teach. But I needed a credential to do that, which meant more schooling. I needed to find a job that would let me go to school, so I took a temporary sales job at Nordstrom’s, hoping it would turn into something long term. One Saturday, the assistant from my dentist’s office came to my register. I will never forget what I felt when she said “Wait. Didn’t you just graduate from college? What on earth are you doing here?”

It was the push and pull of transition and it was painful. I felt that if I didn’t find a way to stand on my own two feet, independent of my parents, and make my own way, with my fancy private school degree, then I was a disappointment. An ungrateful disappointment, since I had both earned and been given an amazing cultural and educational experience.

But the lure of dependency was strong. I knew my parents loved me and if I folded, they would have supported me. It might have caused big problems, but they would have done it and I knew it.

One night my mom laid a stack of bills in front of me. Her bills, not mine: the electric bill and the water bill. “You need to contribute by paying these bills”, she said. I will never forget how that felt either. I’m sure she thought she was introducing me to the hard reality of being a grown-up, but to me it felt patronizing, like she wasn’t treating me like an adult. And a part of me knew that wasn’t a rational way to feel, which made it worse.

I cried a lot that summer. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea how to make anything happen. I have never felt more lost, or afraid. I wanted to be an adult and start the rest of my life. Sometimes. The other times I longed for my life to be the way it was in college, when life was one big adventure.

We are welcoming a new crop of college graduates into the world this month, including one in our family. I would bet that most of them are feeling the stress of this transition. Some of them will handle it, but for others, it will feel like the floor is falling away beneath them.

Last night Teresa and I were discussing a job offer she received. She only graduated two weeks ago and this was her second offer this week, so she’s already got me beat by months in the job arena. But still, there was a moment when she broke down. It’s a lot, facing a real job, making real money, paying real student loans, taking on a car payment and finding health insurance. Wanting so badly to move out on her own, but realizing that this particular job will require her to live very quietly for a few years for a bigger pay-off down the line. That’s a hard thought for someone who has been living the good college life, where gel mani/pedis, designer jeans and nights out are the norm. Not that I’m criticizing her, because the girl has been working since she was 15. But she is processing the truth that life is going to replace fun, for a little while.

She’s scared. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Can she do it? Can she be a functioning adult in this world? Can she meet her own expectations of success?

We know that she can, and will, but that doesn’t matter. She needs to know it.

So to her and all the scared, faltering, frustrated college grads out there, here’s is what I wish I had told myself twenty summers ago:

It’s ok to be scared. A little bit of fear is a motivator. But be careful: too much fear will paralyze you. It will make you reach for what is safe and known. It will trap you in a limbo between childhood and adulthood and weaken you, and you will not break free of it until you are strong again.

That could take years. We all know someone who got stuck there, and what it cost them.

Don’t be afraid to step away from what is known, because great things happen in the unknown. And nothing is forever. The days of having the same job for fifty years are long gone. If you hate what you are doing you can make a change, but it’s always better to make a change from a position of power—so get that first job, give it your all and see what happens next.

Have faith. Lean on God. And remember that no matter what, someone loves you. We love you.

Good luck!

May 16, 2014, University of Southern California

May 16, 2014, University of Southern California




Look at the Fruit ~ Jen

Big ups to Adopting James for blowing my mind on this one.


Last week, AJ posted an article by the band Switchfoot, in which the lead singer said he doesn’t want to be known as a Christian singer because he thinks people then make the assumption that he is a better Christian than other musicians. He believes that we all have one calling: obedience. None of us knows what that means to another and we can only be obedient to our own calling. A teacher is not being more or less obedient than a preacher, if that is what God has called them to be.

AJ invited discussion about this topic at the bottom of his blog and I basically asked the question “How do we know when someone in the secular world is being obedient?” My example was Beyonce, who calls herself a Christian, but her music tells another story. I while I may be able to relate to the kind of mother and wife and woman she is off the stage, the sexualized and money hungry message of her music is not something I want in my life.

AJ responded to me with this: “Beyonce, I assume, has no fruit bearing from her songs. That is how we can tell.”

Say what?

Forget about Beyonce. Let me get this straight. All those sleepless nights I spent wondering if I was doing the right thing with the right people for the right reasons? Good Lord, how do I knooooooowwww?????

And all I had to do was think about the fruit??

Man, while I am sure that somewhere along my 42 year path, someone has said this same type of thing to me before, this time was the one that stuck.

Look at the fruit. That’s all I have to do. Because God knows the plans He has for me, to prosper me and not harm me. So if I am in right relationship, if I am obedient then my fruit of the spirit will be abundant, nourishing, sustaining.

And if I’m not, well. We know what that looks and feels like because we’ve all been there. Our souls screaming at us that we are doing the wrong thing with the wrong people for the wrong reasons and the fruits of our spirit are shriveled and dead from anger, jealousy, greed, spite, vengeance and fear.

Even if we are in that wrong place, the Good News is that we just have to get right to make our fruits blossom again.

Yet another reason to give up sleepless nights.

Just look at the fruit. That’s how we know.



Friends, the one year anniversary of the passing of Dana’s dad is approaching and it’s been really hard for her. A year ago were the toughest times of her life. If you could please wing a prayer in her direction or send her an encouraging thought, I think it would nourish her soul and I would be so incredibly grateful.

Thank you.





Mouthy Women

This morning, Dana and I made it to yoga for the first time in two weeks. My kids have been sick, her kids have been sick, and the dang time changed. You know what I’m saying right? One of those weeks.

So what to write about?

We just passed the one year anniversary of Full of Graces….Almost 500 honest to goodness readers…we just had our first comment criticism and throw down, which made us very excited because you must be doing something right if you can’t keep everyone happy…it’s women’s history month, you know we have things to say about that…and it’s Lent, a very holy and sacred time of the year.

Too many choices, too many choices! So today we’re going to punt, to ourselves and a post that originally appeared on Hallelujah Highway in 2012.

Do you know Glennon, from Momastery?

She’s been talking lately about a woman named Brene Brown, a research professor from Texas who has spent ten years researching shame and courage. She posted a pic of a page of Brown’s new book Daring Greatly. This page talked about the social rules women are expected to follow, summed up here: “Basically, we are expected to stay as small, sweet and quiet as possible”.

Glennon was almost smothered by these rules. So many women can relate to that feeling. Trying to stuff themselves into some mold and feeling inadequate when they don’t quite make it.

But her post made me think about other women, the ones who never followed the rules, or at least knew the rules were crap from the beginning. They never stayed small, sweet and quiet. They opened their mouths and said what they felt, thought and meant. Or, they looked small and sweet, but opened their mouths and roared like lions.

I have always been a mouthy woman.

Maybe because I was six feet tall since I was twelve, I did not feel constrained by the rules. The small and quiet ship sailed fairly early in my life, and I was not on it.

It could also be that in my family, children were seen and heard. We were encouraged to talk and the adults listened to us. I knew my opinion was important very early in my life. I saw my dad honor my mom’s opinion, and my grandfathers honor my grandmothers’. Not once in my life have I ever struggled to voice my opinion. More often, my struggle is to discern when my opinion should be voiced, or how to express it appropriately.

Maybe it was sports. My success was not tied to how I looked or dressed, but how hard I played. And I controlled that. In college, boys flocked to us, drawn by our strength, health, intelligence.  They were the men who didn’t need us to be quiet or small. Most of us married men like this—men who are delighted at our “take on the world” approach to life.

But they are the exception. Most people are extremely uncomfortable with the Mouthy Woman. Some men don’t like her because she seems threatening, like she’s reaching out of her province and into theirs. See how male politicians expressed Cave Man opinions in this last election. See women at the highest levels of politics in this country and how they are treated. See that we have not had a female president. Yet.

More distressing to me, though, is how women turn on the Mouthy Woman. Why is that? Why do women eat their own? Why do we poke those who do the very thing we all say we wish we were strong enough to do?

Just recently, a friend of mine told me that my very presence demands honesty. It took me a minute to see the whole truth of this statement: it’s a compliment for sure; but also a question, a “How can you be so sure that you are right?”; and a request to go easy—honesty seems like a hard standard to meet.

I do hold myself to a standard of truth. I believe in truth. Lies are unpredictable and messy. Truth is simple. Truth is a survival skill.

Glennon would agree. She is with those of you who are still struggling to find your truth, to silence your shame, to open your mouths. I know you can do it. You can find and live your truth. I don’t know any secrets. I just made a choice. You can make it, too. Start by telling yourself the truth. Then tell others the truth. Make a commitment to never lie. This doesn’t mean you have to speak all your truths all the time. Sometimes it’s enough that you know the truth. But never speak a lie. Not to yourself, not to your partner, not to your kids, not to your friends. Make truth a habit.

To my mouthy sisters, to the ones who were never concerned with being small and quiet in the first place, or have learned to speak the truth: Keep talking. Talk for your daughters and grand-daughters, so they will know that truth is safe. Talk for your sons, so they will know the value of an honest woman. Talk for those less fortunate, talk for those who cannot talk.

And listen to them all. Show them the respect of being heard. Grow a future that believes in itself and the honesty of what it knows. Grow a future built on a mighty mountain of truth.



Some truths are easy and fun. We’re not dealing with those today, because those aren’t the ones that cause us trouble.


All the time, I see these posts on Facebook that tell us to Live your truth! Find your truth! Speak your truth!

It always makes me think Why not just say “Live, Find, Speak The Truth”?

Truth is Truth—verifiable, supported by facts, actual. In a sense, the quality of Truth is one size fits all.

We can be in denial, or fear, or have strong opinions about the Truth in our lives. We can wish the Truth away, act like it never happened or try to misrepresent the Truth in our words and actions.

But none of that changes the Truth. It’s still there, squatting powerfully in the corner of our hearts, driving us to reach for anger, fear, shame. Another drink. Another bowl of ice cream.

That truth can be hard. Scary hard. Especially when it tells us that we are our own worst enemy.

Or that our lives are not going to go how we thought.

Or that a dream is not going to come true.

Or that we have experienced a pain from which it will take years to recover.

None of those things create “my truth” or “your truth”. They create the Truth. And isn’t there a kind of beauty and consolation in knowing it’s a shared Truth? Because these things happen to everyone. Which is how, in God’s wisdom, these hard truths can give us new life.

A life of recovery. A life of surviving. A life of new beginnings. A life of triumph.

Truth is not darkness. Truth is coming out of the darkness into the light.

It’s not complicated and oppressive. It’s simple and straightforward.

Even hard truths can be known, tolerated, understood. The moment we accept these hard truths in our lives, we can begin to move on from them. We can heal. We seek forgiveness. We can forgive.

And I just know, because God is good, that the more we stand on Truth, the less hard Truth there will be.

So whatever we are eating, drinking, smoking, snorting, hitting, stealing and lying about, it’s not the Truth. If it’s keeping us in the darkness, it’s not the Truth. It’s shame or anger or fear of the truth. It’s what we are letting ourselves accept, or take responsibility for. It’s how we wish it were all different. But it’s not the Truth.

The Truth is somewhere else, bathed in Light. If we seek it, we’ll be in the Light too.

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Crazy Mode ~ Jen


Crazy is a tough word.

In the purest definition, it refers to a mentally deranged person. Through common usage, it has also come to mean “possessed by enthusiasm and excitement, immoderately fond and infatuated, intensely involved and preoccupied, foolish or impractical”.

I have been all those things.

Not so very long ago, control was my unhealthy obsession. In the “intensely involved and preoccupied” sense, I was crazy about my control. I believed that if I could control things—myself, others and things, then I could shelter my family from the storm. I read every horrible story on the internet about every child who died or disappeared. I read the story until I found the place where someone had lost control, where if they had just made a different choice, none of it would have happened. Then I held on to that “lesson” in my head to make sure I never made that choice.

The stories where there was no moment when a choice was made, when there was nothing anyone could do, haunted me. Two of those stories had things in common: a mini-van, a big rig and an off-ramp. Accidents. But I traded in my crossover for a Tahoe. It has a third seat that I didn’t let my kids sit in. I needed the four feet of empty space between my babies and the big truck with no brakes slamming into the back of us. I started avoiding the off-ramps where traffic had a tendency to back up suddenly. And if there was a big truck behind me, I’d move over.

In hindsight, I realize this was the start of my postpartum anxiety journey that would come to a fractured head in 2012. My efforts to control everything around me were evidence that I was slowly sliding off my rocker. In the midst of my madness, it’s fair to say that I was addicted to control. I was also only working in my head. It was an overly practical, logical place to be. My heart was crying out for rest from all the worry, horror and anxiety I was dumping into it, but my brain was driven to understand, to head trouble off before it came knocking on my door.

Trouble came knocking anyway. It always does. Life and death will out.

In recovery from my crazy, I spent a lot of time reading Richard Rohr, who I have talked about before. Two of his books met me where I was, like the Good Samaritan: Everything Belongs and Falling Up. They were a challenge to get my heart and faith in the game. I had left them behind. I wasn’t trusting God at all. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t praying. I wasn’t reaching out a hand. I wasn’t letting myself be loved. I had crowded God out of my life and was trying to do His job.

And I was letting fear—a huge, angry, anxious, evil fear—eat my peace.

I needed to unlearn the things that hormones and fearful motherhood taught me.  I have unclenched my fists, to let go of what I was holding so tightly.

It’s no good to me strangled.

I turned my hands up and out and am learning to cradle. I’m giving my fear to God, as fast as it comes to me. I am listening. I am praying. I am believing.

I had to give up my need to control, which drove me out of control, to get some self-control.

I would have never believed it five years ago, but letting go has brought me more peace than trying to control it all. It has decluttered my life, simplified it, clarified it.

In a wonderful turn of events, I have less to worry about now than I did when I was trying to control everything so I would have less to worry about.

Crazy, but true.

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