Prone

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.

What complicated, restless hearts we have. In the heat of the moment when I face difficult relationship problems, I always hedge my bets and blame the other person first. They weren’t thinking about me. They are avoiding this. Their insecurities have shaped that. I’m very innocent in the court of my mind, as luck would have it. But, of course, upon further examination, nothing is so one-dimensional, and it further extends the hurt and separation.

There’s a theme I don’t like that the Spirit has been raising a little antenna to in my heart. Abandonment. It’s a tough one. Not a pleasant word or idea, so harsh, so final. I haven’t learned too much about this theme in my life so far so will spare you the rambling, but I know it’s there.  And it has less to do with what actually happens to bring up my strong emotions currently than scars of my past and outstanding spiritual needs.

Today my guide for Lent directed me to the story of Hosea and Gomer. What a mess. I mean, really Lord? Here we see a painful marriage used to exemplify Israel’s abandonment of God, and God’s relentless pursuit and loyalty. Marriage, unsurprisingly, is great fuel for developing this abandonment theme in my life (sorry, Ryan…), and whatever the heck God wants to show me through it. I’ve said before, that to stay married is to stay a beginner. So this story of Hosea and Gomer, and his call to start over, and over, again, is compelling.

To Start All Over Again
v14-15 MSG “And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.”

v23″I’ll have mercy on No-Mercy.
I’ll say to Nobody, ‘You’re my dear Somebody,’
and he’ll say ‘You’re my God!’”

Hosea was an imperfect husband, no matter how many times he went after Gomer. But, he is a great archetype for a perfect, loving God who powerfully speaks belonging and identity, hope and resilience, to the wandering. Even as I slowly start to wrestle with this word ‘abandonment,’ I sense His mercy. I sense that this is not a journey I have to go alone, and that He wants to show me that I was never alone, even when the seeds of these fears and trials were planted.

Fellow Wanderer, this is the Savior for us. This Jesus, this Good News, is the antithesis of abandonment. You’re the dear Somebody! The Gospel is for the Gomers. You’re the cause to start it all over again, which, really, is what Christ endured in a nutshell. A new suffering, a new courtship, an endless pursuit. Even as we prepare our hearts for the cross, no matter our sadness and suffering, we have the comfort of this loyalty and care. No relationship on earth comes close; this is not that which hurt us in the past, or repels us now. Likely, our experiences will only heighten our hunger for this, the original love.

I am praying for reminders for us of this perfect love. I’m asking to see glimpses of this extravagant faithfulness we so desire.

 

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Your Crying is Safe With Me

There is so much shame in sadness.

I was told by an unhealthy friend this past month that I have no reason to ever feel depressed. I’m married to a guy whose enneagram motto is “I want to have fun.” I have young children watching me, gauging my emotions, desiring my attention and steadiness and happiness. And then there are the comparisons. I see the people seemingly perfect. And I shrink in the shadow of the real struggles my other loved ones face. Potential loss of a spouse. Incarceration. Refusing to be served by a restaurant because of their race or language. Fear of deportation. Cancer. Struggles of poverty and addiction.

It’s easy to try and muscle through (unsuccessfully) sadness and grief when it seems so petty or unmerited, situational, and privileged. When it seems so un-Christian, and unwelcome, and inappropriate. History would show me that I don’t have many good solutions for moving on when I start by denying the truthfulness of my experience. Nevertheless, the cognitive gymnastics continue.

Today the devotional guide I’m using for Lent asked me what am I sad about. We also read John 16:16-24, in which Jesus is preparing his followers for suffering and deep sadness.

Both of these things, in and of themselves, whisper to me that my sadness is okay. In this personal time of donning Christ’s suffering and offering repentance, restarting spiritual rhythms, and opening to the holy, my sadness is okay. These things suggest that my sadness’ companion, shame, is not from God, and that the two must be divorced.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice (v 20a, ESV).

Then fix this firmly in your minds: You’re going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You’ll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness (v 20, MSG). 

Jesus does not ask his followers to not be sad. He tells them they will see Him again. And in the meantime, be incredibly bold and blunt with their requests to God. It sounds like sadness is not incongruous with faith. It sounds like even though they know that God is God and that things will overall, ultimately, in that transcendent way be okay, there’s space for lament. For mourning, and missing Jesus (“What does he mean by a  little while??”). For sadness and depression. And that out of that pain, they may be brazenly full of requests, pounding on God’s door, until they’ll “…no longer be so full of questions.

Whew, that sounds good. ‘Cause I’m bringing a stack of questions and a well of tears this Lenten season–tears for me, and tears for you. And tonight, I’m feeling less bad about it. Sadness is a part of this preparation for the cross, and the tomb. Sadness is a part of living as foreigners in this land. Sadness is appropriate.

Lent welcomes our sadness and questions the shame. Calvary promises one, and denies the other. Hosanna.

Pancakes

Ironically, having a baby forced me into contemplation today. This almost never happens.

Lucas is sorting out his sleeping demons, which is really fun for us, and in a last ditch effort we went for a walk this morning. With each step I found myself able to pray for quiet, consecutive minutes, a luxury I used to ignore.

So many things facing us, aren’t there? Personal health. Court trials. Paperwork. Bills. Activist hearts, cluttered brains, booked calendars. Faith and fear. Life and death.

We ended up at a large cemetery, a block away. It had been years since I had been there. It’s a quiet walking area in the middle of our densely noised neighborhood. It’s also where we honored a student and friend who died unexpectedly in 2007. I found his resting place.

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I was so young and inexperienced with grief at the time. He had been my student the year before, and was in his freshman year of high school when “Pancakes” suddenly became very sick. The questions outlived the answers.

Today is his birthday. Today this young man would be 24.

My prayers turned to his family. I couldn’t believe the math, the date. This rock and this contemplative place, where so much grieving has taken place, reminded me that God has asked us to mourn. He has invited us to be a lamenting people who kept the faith, a grieving people who looked at the truth of their hearts and situations, not deny it. One of the main things God has been teaching me over the past 11 years is grief. I am still so young and inexperienced, I know. But experiences like losing Cesar and witnessing the pain in his family and the community have been formative and eye-opening.

Forced contemplation today reminded me that God is very, very big. The stretch of His reach and power are not dismissive to the list of needs I brought today; the true burden of those things inform my appreciation for His superior breadth. The grandeur of our problems and burdens, of the losses we face or carry, are enveloped in, and indeed inflate, our view of His greatness.

I felt that reassurance today, as I found myself at this grave, warmed by the sunlight, and the memories of this young man, on his birthday. I feel so lucky to learn grief with those who have become my neighbors and family, and want to give others the permission to name their own. I am encouraged by the reminder that God is larger than the scope of my concerns and inadequacies this week.

Wherein I Say Nothing About Any of the Things

I went to high school in East Africa. Nairobi in fact. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes it’s like a dream. Because, in many ways, it was.

While in said high school, I had the opportunity to fly back to the US and attend a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. It was one of those programs made to look very prestigious, bringing young leaders from near and far. Eager to build college admittance resumes, we were attending our first overpriced conference, strategically and suggestively set in the nation’s capital. We dressed up in professional garb as though we were not sixteen years old, wore lanyards, and stayed in a college dorm. Not a parent in sight. I was very fortunate to go, with people sponsoring my trip and registration. The theme for the week? Medical Ethics.

Never once did I consider a medical profession, mind you. But nonetheless, that was the option that fit best with ticket fares and summer travels and so why not. There I was surrounded by high school students who had set their pubescent sights on med school, or at least their parents had. I was headed towards an English Department somewhere, glad to have finished my high school (and lifetime) science credits with Environmental Studies.

The Thai food in D.C. was incredible. But one other thing was especially impacting (…other than the Korean guys who were interested in me, yes me, the nerdy girl in the permanent friend zone back at home in Kenya…). We all watched a movie one night, as a part of this Medical Ethics Conference: Wit, starring Emma Thompson. I was moved deeply by the film, but very soon after couldn’t quite describe why. It was obscure and no one had seen it apparently, except that select group of lanyard-clad young leaders, that I knew of. Its title stayed with me all these years and I finally watched it again yesterday, a mere 15 years later.

wit_2001_film

Wit still touched my soul, the first taste nostalgia, the rest merited profundity about the human condition, life and death. I had forgotten the strong elements of poetry, language and academia which would have been intriguing that week, way back when. I had forgotten the nurse, who always cared and rubbed lotion on the hands of the lonely patient. I had forgotten the pretentious rigor of the researchers and attending doctor. I had forgotten the main character’s journey towards both death and kindness, by way of suffering.

Wit likely watered my love for writing and studying poetry and Donne. It probably loosened some fears of the hospital, 7 years before I would work in one for a summer, and it probably planted a seed about bedside manner that made rubbing lotion on a dying woman’s back when she asked not that strange, but rather, a privilege. It tickled my appetite for academics, words, and the deep respect for women who become experts. It still speaks today to the value and pain of suffering and the great equalizing force of health and illness and endings.

Endings, health, ethics, and maintaining people’s humanity are themes that weigh on my mind these days. Also, always the thoughts and feelings about identity, my work, my worth, my gender…how I am changing and how I am not. These mazes are human and however difficult they are, whatever conflicts they may rise, and cloudiness they waft…they show life. The awareness of my own fragility, mortality even, however upsetting, is also an indicator light that my heart is beating and compassion is still kicking.

And maybe 15 years later, something will make sense. Or maybe along the way there will be a connection that leads you to give thanks, or a theme you recognize as directive, definitive, and distinctively tender. A theme God’s been showing you, patiently, relentlessly. We are alive, and yes, we are struggling, but the long game is still afoot. Our kindness, our attention to people’s humanity, our memory—these are of utmost importance now and our hurt may be the best indicator that these things are indeed on the rise. I must remind myself: the illness isn’t the story. It is the filter. Refining. Focusing.

Continue, sister and brother: forward.

Weeds, Anxiety and Home

I need me some home.” -Johnnyswim

There are days that by 6pm, starting a load of laundry seems far too hard.

When the thought of next week, tomorrow, next year, carries too much work to bring that rush of Looking-Forward-To-life I think it will.

This infancy, this 3rd one from my own hormones and womb, has left me fighting demons of anxiety. Most common when I am quite literally feeding this little doughboy does the sense of alarm and despair threaten emptiness. It has improved over time, and has become less surprising, but still, Tired is nearer, No More is always within arm’s reach…and in the crevices of a cheerful, cuddly live teddy bear’s light and joy, there’s the bone tired drought and knots that appear from no where.

This afternoon, I battled a weed as big as me. It comes back every couple of months and I glare at it and I put in a request for a chainsaw (yes, this weed has a trunk) and a male’s upper arm strength and I wring my hands and maybe yell a few times. I let it take over the planter, filling my vision of the patio. And it can feel overwhelming.

Today I cut off all the parts of the weed and its spawn that I could. I made a heap of something that used to be feeding, growing, and absorbing energy, and will now shrivel and die. I didn’t solve anything but I don’t feel defeated when I look outside for the moment. Now it’s not the only thing I see when I look out the window.

In my refined, oldest child, perfectionist, Good-Christian, missionary kid/adult mentality, it’s really easy to think that going without is a virtue in and of itself–that somehow faith and being good and blessed has landed me in a stressful, tired place and that’s the way it is meant to be. That the weed is a thing of glory or a test or some crap theology like that and I just have to figure out how to BE HAPPY, doggonit.

And then I listen to a song. Then I spend 10 minutes of quiet with Galatians. Then I plant something or encounter a safe friend on the street or am spontaneously embraced or helped by one of my sons. And I remember Home.

Not a home I can find on a map, like many third-culture-kids and millennials nowadays. Not just my family of origin that shared so much with me. Not just a feeling of humanness and connectedness, or freedom and contentment that worldly beauty and comfort can aid. The Home that beckons us forward, that makes us bow our head in thanks. That disentangles our mind and our heart–our death grip–out and off of the lies of anxiety and shoulds and going without for no reason at all.

The Good News that’s kept my attention in the darkest does not proclaim that God wants me to carry a strained look around all the livelong day. He doesn’t send us things like illness, MediCal sagas, computer glitches that freeze our savings, and random phone calls asking if we can take a child (“We hope we can help soon…”) the very day we’re worried that that dream is dying. Yes, He’s grieved by asinine global and national developments and He is deeply involved in the loss and otherness and margins that invoke pain. But He isn’t behind every closed door and every upsetting curve ball. He isn’t preaching the Gospel of Muscle Through and The End.

My Courier of Good News is not the grim reaper of deprivation.

He’s the Home. Christ before me, Christ behind me. Christ beside me, Christ beneath me. Christ above me, Christ within me. The constant. The meaning, the refuge. Home.

Today, once again, I did nothing to actually end the battle with the nightmare weed, but I made it seem less big. So now I can focus on the plants I do want to grow–the choosing, the watering, the tending, out from under the lying shade of a bully weed. Today, I still do not have control over when and for how long I will experience anxiety and my chest muscles contracting and all the other blasted adulting that makes laundry too hard by 6pm. But I can rebel by doing the small things that help me be centered. I can partake in the things that whisper of Home—of being home-free, abundant, graceful and calm. I can avail my self to that which spites the weeds of this life, stripping them until they are only one part of the picture. I can lay claim to Home.

 

Life Unfurled

** Childbirth is an amazing situation I’ve found myself in 3 times. With each son, I’ve written out my account of their birth and shared it with sincere disclaimers. Like the first two, this is long, personal and likely boring to the vast majority of people. It is not important to our friendship. It does not encapsulate the theme of this blog. Consider yourself excused, or warned, whichever strikes your fancy. **

 

// There Is A Time for Everything //

Our trusted doctor, who seems like a friend that we’ve never managed to have over for dinner in 7 years (Ryan says I have too many friends…), showed slight concern about how big he was. The baby that is. The third baby I was blessed to grow; the third son to rock my world of order and organization, predictability and pretty.

After giving birth to two large-craniumed, 9 pound, 14 ouncers already I was surprised by the doctor’s mention of size and needing to interfere at all with nature’s timing. He wasn’t one to over-plan, or worry, and just how big could this kid be?… I mean, in comparison to the others. I didn’t ask too many questions, biding my time, mulling over the options. Week by week, we measured, I grew, we talked in incrementally more detail about breaking water, a date, not being precious about letting him come late. I tracked but I wasn’t sold. I prayed that the conversations would be less relevant and my birth plan more. We waited.

On February 10th, a check-up revealed that my body had started showing signs of preparing for labor 2 weeks early. My mom wasn’t arriving for another 4 days. My doctor-friend said to be a couch potato, and wait until my mom came. Meanwhile I held an appointment at the hospital for the 19th, at 6am, to break my water, and maybe have “a whiff” of Pitocin should the baby wait that long to come, the start of the 40th week. I mostly obeyed doctor’s orders except for, well, still being a mom, and a compulsive night of mopping our laminate floors; I have completely reasonable priorities.

Every night we thought we might meet our son. Our son who we were hoping for, then didn’t expect after months, then learned of the week we were due to finish recertifying for fostering. Our son who was so big and so strong, I felt him move clearly and repeatedly in the first trimester. Our son whose name we couldn’t decide for months, with agonizing discussions, transporting us back to our last naming process—whom we had finally come to peace with as Lucas, light-giver. Related to the Luke who penned the Gospel, and Acts, which has driven our adult life. Luke, a doctor and healer—the detailed writer. Lucas, a sure light to our family we didn’t fully anticipate but so treasured once we knew of his joining.

The nights went on. Mom arrived. The hospital check-in I thought was irrelevant a week ago neared and I kept praying, kept walking, kept waking up in the night to listen to my body—am I in labor? Or was that just a wishful interpretation of a normal ache? Strangers wished me well as though we were at the threshold of the hospital. I received a couple pointing amused gestures, which I’ve come to expect. People asked about twins. It’s all very glamorous and flattering, my last trimesters. This one I was even bigger. Only a few shirts finished the race with me. I was tired of all the comments. My stomach felt so cumbersome. I was ready. But I didn’t want to check-in and evict the kid at 6am on Friday.

In the meantime a family crisis arose up north. It was good to be with my mom while news broke, though hard for her to be far. As we waited for new life, we all grieved what had happened and where it could lead together. I watched the dissonance of a mother’s love again, something I had watched all my life and had felt now as a mother too—the responsibility, the disappointment, the anguish, and the fierce protectiveness, the love, the physical response to your child’s pain. We recalled a different but a related experience—in which we were unprotected, we were sick, and our story was convoluted and complicated and we felt so vulnerable and at the mercy. A mistake had been made and it was serious, wrong, and upsetting, but not, we believe, worthy of a too-serious, life-derailing sentencing. The flippancy of people’s judgments, of the difference between 17 and 18, of minimum sentencing laws, of racist comments and prejudice, of the struggle for identity and the significance of what is not reported—all of it became personal in new ways, and we ached and held our breath and took it a day, an hour, at a time. And still are, though the first harrowing ones are over.

After this, after our brother and uncle and son was back in his own bed, and Grandpa had had one or two good night’s sleep, Lucas came. At 2am on February 19th, I knew I was in labor. We woke up the doctor, the Sho Sho, the neighbor for a sleepover with the boys, my friend who would come witness his arrival—and by 3 we were walking into the emergency entrance.

I am a quiet sufferer. I’m not one to yell, or sweat, and Ryan blames this for the nursing staff’s lack of urgency in getting us into a room and checking my labor progress. I said I was an 8 on the pain scale but maybe I should have said 9? In any case, by the time they checked, I was an 8 in more ways than one and I was starting to really, truly regret the whole birth scenario again. It was like the last four years of recovering mentally from Asher’s birth was enveloped in a wormhole and the exhaustion and fear found me again, quickly, and there was no where to hide. CRAP.

A few contractions passed and I was a 10. For pain and dilation. Thankfully, doctor-friend arrived just in time. “Push whenever you feel like it. Push through the pain.” The damned shaking had started and I hated the thought of holding onto my legs with my shaking, floppy arms. Seriously, I have to use upper and lower body muscles? But I remembered to curl forward, instead of the leaning away approach I had accidentally with Asher—an unconscious and feeble attempt to get far, far away from my own body. Something about opening my pelvis…lying down…sit-ups…and then…when I was really scared about not getting through it he said, “Okay, one more contraction—push through one more and you’ll meet your baby.” That’s what I needed. With the support of Ryan, my mom, and Tammy, praying and cheering me on, I could face one more contraction’s worth of pushing to get this thing out of my body. Yes, our baby, that’s it.

At 4:10am, Lucas Tyndale was on my chest. The doctor immediately commented on his size, another difference in his reaction to this baby versus the others. He suspected he would be the biggest and he was right. Lucas was a dark, handsome, 10 pounds and 5.6 ounces, and he came at the perfect time. No breaking my water, no whiff necessary; cancel my 6am appointment—we’re already headed to post-partum. I was so thankful and relieved. Thanks, God and thanks, Lucas. Impeccable timing.

Post-birth is such a nuisance without an epidural when a new baby’s on your chest; it isn’t fun and games just because the watermelon is out. As per my request, the doctor showed us the placenta and amniotic sac. Our inner biology nerds (well, for my mom, hers is very apparent as a nurse and bio teacher…) were satiated as we saw a magic piece of a baby’s internal world and growth. Wonders.

With each of his older brothers, we checked in to the hospital at 6am, after a good night’s sleep. Checking in at 3am was quite different. Birth announcement texts were sent to sleeping people. By 7am, Ryan was toast. Our first visitor came bearing coffee. Already, the cloudy perception of time and day and night had started…and I suspect it won’t be over any time soon.

Lucas is a rudy, beautiful kid with a set of lungs. He’s battling some newborn ailments right now that are keeping mom busy online and during her feeding breaks. He needs sun time, naked time, open shirt time and various ointments. It’s quite the regimen he has me on! Just in case we parents start feeling too secure or relaxed about starting over again. My body is steadily recovering and remembering nursing and changing yet again. In two days, it was suddenly without 19 pounds and I literally heard groaning and strange sounds coming from within (organ resettling??)–what a brutal and beautiful thing, this body we women bear.

In the midst of it all, I am trying to soak it up. Soak up the sweet smell of his newborn breath and skin, the soft cushiony hair and head and those heart-warming newborn stretches and reflexes—oh those faces! As Asher noticed, he’s squishy all over, and we are all pretty pleased around here.

Everything isn’t sorted out and easy yet. Sho Sho had to leave two days later and Ryan is in high demand at work. The boys keep going to bed late and I’m pretty sure the floors need to be mopped. Juxtaposed with Lucas’ newborn innocence and mystery is the reality of what my family is walking through and the daunting task of raising boys. And yet, it is a sweet reminder too of love and connection and the steady marathon of parenting. My love for my brother, the first baby in my life, is no less poignant now than it was when I was changing his diapers when I was 13. My confidence in his gifts and future is not less than before; I’m sure of his long game and God’s relentless grace upon him.

As I am forced to sit and nurse, watching the mess grow in my house, as I wait for sunning to happen and skin to heal and the night to become day, I must remember there is time for the other things. We must be patient because this time, won’t be again and we can only do and solve so much. For better or for worse, it is all fleeting. More than anything, I’m thankful and I’m watching. I’m praying and waiting, so glad that I have this story to tell of Lucas’ timely arrival and the light he is already bringing to all of us.

We are not so separate.

My son has started drawing me “kind of like a pumpkin” and considering how difficult it was to get the milk from the bottom of the grocery cart this morning and, eventually, stand up again, I think I’m embracing the image.

It’s that time. When, though you want to save it up knowing a sieve of sleep is coming in the form of a live baby, rest is slippery and complicated. (At what point do the pillows become more of a nuisance than a relief…) When all the things that need to be sorted or planned or written down seem too tiring, so instead you waste energy searching for the perfect, stupid […insert baby product here…] ad nauseam. When (in my limited experience) people begin pointing a little and laughing a little at your convex mid-section and you just hope, HOPE, that you’re not showing any midriff.

We wonder what he will look like and how each of his brothers will embrace and challenge and give in and resist his arrival. We pray for a similarly smooth birth, and hope for that same nurse that was at the other sons, the same room as them, because wouldn’t that be fun, and for new and different eyes to see a new soul, a new person who stands apart from our other frameworks.

I also pray my stomach skin doesn’t end up mid-thigh length by the time this is all said and done.

The physical expectancy we witness in ourselves, in a 1st grader, in a preschooler, and in our community, because of this little son, is so helpful for nurturing a faith-expectancy in the bigger, more abstract places in which we long for change. The growing, the nearing, of a baby’s life–of so much that is certain but so much mystery–echoes, no, foreshadows, the next chapters we long to read elsewhere. For that one person’s freedom and self-confidence. For that new job. For the courage to enter a church. For the resolution to an injustice that has steamrolled our security, our savings, or our very family. For peace in a wandering, distant mind. For wholeness in a bankrupt marriage. For a friendship that is like the mountain air.

May the pregnancies we see offer spiritual meaning to our day. May the new cries, the new mess, the new skin of a baby whisper to us, lead us, forward in our prayers and hope. May we find our future, our next step, in the daily occurrences and observations that seem commonplace. We all carry the longings; we all have the sleepless nights of needs and worries. May something as simple as an awkwardly large pregnant woman or a squawking newborn babe indicate the holy, the next, and the coming in our own lives for our stories are shared. We are not so separate.

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My Bout with Rest

Last night I achieved a good 9 hours of sleep.

(Some of us like to achieve even when we are unconscious.)

I expected to wake up refreshed and renewed, recovered from the past weeks of sleep-drought and ready for the future weeks of unrest and activity. It didn’t work that way. I drug myself out of bed, wishing I could sleep a few more hours, disappointed I hadn’t magically risen an hour earlier filled with vigor and a youthful glow.

Last night was my bout with rest and it didn’t work.

It’s been one of those SEASONS (our favorite ambiguous word…) of living from behind. I can’t seem to manage to get one step ahead of the mail, the appointments, the work, the dust, and the offspring. When the pharmacy takes three calls and two visits before one prescription is filled correctly, it seems like the formula has gotten seriously screwed up.

I wanted 9 hours of sleep to solve all my problems. But it’s too late for that. That too is a screwy formula.

I keep slamming up against this misled path of thinking that tells me “I can rest when I’m on vacation” or “I’ll get a break on my birthday” or even, essentially, “I don’t need/deserve rest.” I am an A+ student when it comes to overachieving, overhelping, and overdrive. The myth “word hard to play hard” is fully actualized in me–I am its favorite student–and as time goes on, I’m recognizing more and more its falsehood.

There was a time when grades, scholarships, and approval were the replacements for play; I worked hard and these things fell into place in ways that perpetuated the lie of never-quite-done-for-the-day. That time has long past. Housework, child-rearing, grant-writing, and community involvement are never done and rarely rewarding. I mean, existentially, there is purpose and meaning, but in the work-hard, play-hard sense of things, the fallacy emerges and my false-self rears its ugly head quite swiftly. I get grumpy generous and doubly distracted. I get my feelings hurt faster, and I want to escape the responsibility I’ve showered down.

When I am centered, I know, in the truthful core that gives us life, in that place that awakens to a moving song, a crying newborn, a beautiful story–I know that the rest preceded the work in Genesis 1-2. That play is not a product of effort, except for the stopping. I know that I’ve bitten too hard on the bait of an American ideology that isn’t biblical nor is it leading me to glory and peace. That the lie isn’t just for workaholics with briefcases and BMWs. It is for us women, who rarely tout such things, but still carry this burden for doing, and overdoing, and achievement and lists. I’ve seen the mess that is created when work is all consuming in one way or another, and then, in one blast of extravagant spending and quality time, Savior Vacation is expected to fill our family life, our playful urges, our sense of wellness and beauty.

My bout with rest was a lousy attempt at a mini-Savior Vacation and of course it did not deliver.

Return to the origins, the Original…to the long-told stories of true identity and order when everything else is unstable and lying and the day is too much with you. 

from Genesis 1 & 2 “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’

 So God created them in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food…’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

Rest is given, along with food and beauty and order, to humankind right away. I do not earn rest. Rest is basic to being here and being fully human. It was granted the 7th day, or the 1st day of human existence.  However you read Genesis 1 and 2, the progress of the story insists that rest happened to begin with–that Day 1, as far as we are concerned, there was Sabbath and grace and a divine togetherness.

In this way, I have a lot of growing to do to become more about a Kingdom of love and grace than a kingdom of toil, achievement and competition–the glass menagerie of America. It’s going to take a lot more than 9 hours to redeem the formulas I’ve mis-learned and that are situated deeply in my autopilot. My bout with rest is not over, and, in many ways, it’s time for Day 1.

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Gathering the Pieces

Last night a small group of us gathered as wounded healers and frumpy family. The countertop was covered in delicious foods and perspiring drinks. Small ones colored pages feverishly so the swishing of markers could be heard throughout our prayers. We sat and paused, aware of the gravity of time because the year has held graves, and we said farewell to 2014.

In some ways we have been so ready for this page turn in the calendar. Anything preceded by “new” seemed alluring after feeling so achy and old after this year. In other ways, as I prepared to listen to His voice and face the future with friends, it was scary to step into a new period. It could suggest more distance between us and the ones we lost because that was “last year.” It could suggest that more healing should have happened, more clarity gained, more stability achieved than what we boast from one moment to the next. It could suggest that those memories–those people, those dreams, are over or older, more than we want them to be. Even when a year held too much for us to handle, it was sobering to say goodbye.

We sat in a mess of blankets and papers, markers and children, and meditated as broken, distracted people on Isaiah 43. I didn’t know what to expect but that God loved us and He is enough. We could mishear Him, we could misread Him, we could miss Him…but His love supersedes all that. We are always banking on His correction and grace. Always.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. 

There were many moments last year I could not see God. There were many prayers that hung silent, seemingly ignored, and when I could fold my hands and sit to listen, I often did not detect His voice. I made some decisions out of fear, feeling very unprotected. I woke up at night without feeling in my legs but overpowering feelings in my heart. I worried that we would lose our sons. I felt impatient with people’s foibles and God’s promises. I thought we had loved too foolishly, that maybe we would have been better to not hope, to not host, to not hold. I wanted to sleep it all away.

There were also uncommon gifts in the year. Gifts like a trip with other women to a beautiful place. Like being together with my parents and siblings twice. Gifts like a new job that paid the bills, friends who were stronger and more faithful than you even thought, handwritten cards in the mail with a gift card for dinner. Gifts like having the means somehow to visit many supporters of our missionary years and thank them in person, see their lives, and be in a reliable car together as family for a week.

As I look back, I know God loved me, and God loved us, through these gifts. As we became closer with some who were moving away, or bonded with new friends over deep grief, gifts of love emerged that will outlast the pain they were wrapped in. It doesn’t explain or negate the pain, but it still deserves its part in the picture. 2014 was a year of grief and gifts both.

When we passed through the waters, we didn’t know where He was exactly. I wanted Him to be draining them all away; I searched the waterline. But I see Him in the clapping Madison River memories of a trip at the least convenient time with the most sudden breaking in of beauty to my broken world. I often felt like we were drowning in rivers of goodbyes and the suffering current was breeding everywhere, but to our surprise our marriage was not overwhelmed, but rather reinforced. His covenant and whatever He wants to do in our vowed relationship withstood those violent rushes. In the fires of injustice and anger, I couldn’t see Him and they were not extinguished but rather seemed to run its course. Yet, new and old friends appeared beside us with fiery faith and insistent prayers that lessened the heat and kept suggesting yes, He is still God, and one day you will feel it again.

Isaiah 43 was originally written to a scattered people. Broken up spiritually and physically, uncertain and unpopular. In verse 5 they are assured again: Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. 

Today, don’t you feel the scattering too? The mess of fallen confetti of misplaced hype and flaky hope?

Last night I was hooked by verse 5. I am still trying not to fear as I face a whole year of unknown, coming out of a year I didn’t really want to know. I am trying not to fear the system we are still dealing with, the hospital bills still coming, the theology still recovering and recalibrating. But the promise I heard loudest was I will gather you

Whatever our family is supposed to look like, He will gather us. Whatever shape our spiritual community and church take on this spring, He will gather us. Whatever loose ends and scattered prayers we still utter for our loved ones and our conflicted world, He will gather them whole. Whatever broken pieces, sharp edges, and apathetic scraps have been left in the wake of 2014, He will gather together.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? 

You are precious in His eyes and He loves you. He will gather you from the wreckage and redeem the rivers and fires.

The Gift List To Reform the Mail-it-in Gift Giving Funk

On a lighter note than last…

So basically, I don’t get out of the house much anymore. Or at least off the block much. Husband has a new job, which has significantly changed MY life, probably like first and foremost, and I just don’t have the youth and vitality I used to. Youth, vitality, and a lot of good WILL are required for going to Anywhere in this little town of Los Angeles. It’s like, really, if I have to mess up my kid’s nap schedule, miss a meal, pay for parking and almost pee my pants to get anywhere in this paved, crowded world, I’d really rather take a nap myself and just skip the whole thing.

Which brings me to the gift-giving season. Number 1, I don’t know why it’s a season. (I personally think we should give gifts to each other whenever we feel like it and not when we don’t, except those people that NEVER feel like they should give gifts to ANYone in which case they should HAVE to give gifts to everyone and me at all the times.)

(deep breath)

Number 2, lame gifts stink. We’ve all done the no-idea-so-I-got-you-this-scarf-hat-gloves-set. In this day and age, so friendly to those too lazy to shop outside, and customized to the nth degree, that scenario is less and less necessary. Gifting is a great opportunity to enhance someone’s life, acknowledge that you know something about them, and be true to your own values with whatever means you have.

Here are some ideas that fit the bill to me. (Click on photos for links where applicable.)

// pancake mix //

Some people host us, and serve us really well. A pretty quart jar with all these dry ingredients and a little note with the rest of the mix is enough to say thanks for all those hot meals, warm hugs, and cozy friendship. And pancakes are better than lentils. il_340x270.358128182 (This is my dad’s pancake recipe–he is a giver.) IN the jar: 1.5 c. flour, 1 T. baking powder, 3/4 tsp. salt, 2 T. sugar. ON the tag: Whisk in 1 egg, 1.75 c. milk, 1 tsp. vanilla, 3 T. oil.

// sandals //

For those of us lucky enough to be in So Cal, what we lose in sanity on freeways, we gain in year-round sandal wearing. And these are suh-weeeet, even if you only show your toes 2 months out of the 12 month year (seriously, consider moving and/or getting, I mean, giving these, because make the most of those 2 months!). Handmade in Uganda. Empowering to women. Very comfortable. Versatile. crp2289
// rest //

This place is a refuge. You (and maybe a few others) may want to send your favorite missionaries or pastors to a 5 day retreat to Genesee Home. Beautiful accommodations and meals included, wonderful company, privacy, gentle structure and minimal programming. Lots of beautiful space for restoration. We had the gift of going last month and it helped us so much. Distractions, intense work and deep-issue avoidance take time and intentionality to detox from; this is a good place for finding wide places of God’s grace once again. We did not find any other options so reasonable and welcoming on the west coast. Sponsor what percentage you can, and do the footwork to get others on board for the pastors or missionaries whose longevity you are pulling for. It is a gift with exponential rewards. IMG_5720 IMG_5712IMG_5714IMG_5710

 

 

 

// children’s best //

These books are so wonderful. They are engaging to the most distracted child. One we received from my sister-in-law and my boys love it. The other one is just wise and uplifting; it is good for the little audience and the not-so-little reader. Also Both-Boy Approved.
71DYPJVp-2L   PressHere_3D1

 

 

 

// foodie much //

A lot of people care a lot about food. Honestly, it is a privileged thing to worry about at this juncture. I am privileged that if I really wanted to, I could drive 30 minutes to a healthy grocery store with cheaper prices on natural products and buy wholesome food; most people can’t do that. It’s privileged state does not mean the issue is less valid; it’s just incredibly difficult in many places in this country, physically and socio-economically, to practice healthy eating and holistic health. For those who are not needing much but passionate about this subject, I suggest a gift to this incoming Market in honor and appreciation of your beloved foodie. I have been to meetings at this Market and I believe in it. It’s incredibly difficult to open a business like this in an area like ours; it is actually more expensive to open a small business here than in “safer” and “better” neighborhoods. The people starting this Market are committed to and educated about our neighborhood, food deserts, and our assets and needs. It’s inspiring and it would be a thoughtful, inspiring gift. Couple it with a food basket if you are uncomfortable with a 2 dimensional gift.

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// worldly beauty //

It’s like Anthropologie with a purpose. It’s unabashedly pursuing the same taste and market and who can blame them. Noonday Collection is where you should probably go for the socially-conscious, stylish amiga in your life, and maybe your next birthday is a trunk party, who knows. If times are tough, give them a magazine and a gift card; it’s pretty enough to wrap. Sometimes I walk through Anthro for inspiration; it is seriously encouraging to me. Well, this is like doing that without, you know, the traffic. Endorsed by the likes of Jen Hatmaker and Glennon Melton. Also, it helps fundraise for adoptions, over 1200 actually. A big deal. _CWP6917-l

I hope that helps; gifts mean something. Many things if we’re lucky. Happy gift-giving.

// Stay thankful. //