I Invite Myself to My Own Dinner

Preemptive parenting is my strategy. I have a running schedule and clock in my mind at almost all times because either it’s how God made me, or I’m a catastrophizer. I dislike being late, being complained to, and being under pressure so much, I will put the 6-year-old down for a nap, I will start Operation Shoes and Socks 15 minutes before we actually need to leave, and I will pack back-up Goldfish, gum, diapers and wipes in the car because so often in Los Angeles, we are without access to food, other people and stores.

Preemptive work in relationships requires a lot more vigilance and gumption. While a Christian woman might be affirmed for being prepared with a kids travel game or for bringing snacks, she is not usually applauded for boundaries, saying no, or sharing her expectations for an event in advance. Those are typically assigned negative hues of guardedness, selfishness, being a control-freak, anal retentive or other suspect characterizations (I have heard…).  We are trained to defer, accommodate, submit, overlook, and serve. While at times these actions can be great strengths and hold within themselves a powerful freedom and love when chosen, they can also enable the entitlement of other people to the diminishment of our own personhood. We are not destined to become smaller; it is not our job to disappear. 

Going into the weekend, my spouse and I often have expectations for the precious 48 hours. They are generally competing.  Going into the holidays, we may all be facing the same dilemma, only with the added help of multiple-day road trips, long-distance family suddenly sleeping in the next room, candied children, and, if we’re lucky, bacterial infections. Nothing says joy and peace like spilled juice in the car, sliding around snowy passes next to semis, mysterious and constant appearances of glitter and snot, and off-colored jokes from the uncles, ammiright?

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I’m just here to say, if you can pack a diaper bag in your sleep, or have thus far managed to feed, clothe, and bandaid actual living people, including your self, you are allowed to say “no,” or “I want,” or “we will.” Merry Christmas. The safety and intimacy of our relationships relies upon our exercising agency and boundaries. Particularly for those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression or addiction.

It’s not about controlling others or being rigidly closed off. It’s about self-awareness and working from the best part of your self and not the worst, or fastest, or most sensitive. Preemptively making a plan to cut off chaos at the pass.

This may look like extending a request along with an invitation: would you be willing to not discuss ______, or isolate anyone in conversation regarding that topic? (And if this does happen, my family and I will be taking a walk.) It may mean saying ahead of time that you will be leaving by 9, when things really get boozy. It may look like staying at a hotel instead of your childhood bedroom, with the nephews and the giftwrap. It may mean scheduling alone time, and letting your host know you won’t be around Friday afternoon. It may mean using paper plates no matter what your mom thinks.

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What are your expectations for the rest of this year, which, for the most part, has been really challenging? What concerns do you have going into group gatherings and which of them are valid, addressable, and likely shared (ie: managing uncle bob’s anger, not addressable; making a plan for when it is triggered, absolutely)? What would it mean to experience the holidays with freedom and presence rather than anxiety and reactions? (“While we love traditions, we won’t be squeezing in the movie this year between presents and dinner; we’ll see you when you get back!”) What preparation and communication would help these times be building rather than destructive? Who are the safe people who can help you stick with the plan?

I encourage you in your preemptive policies. I cheer you on as you exercise agency, take your heart and brain seriously, and invite others to do the same. It will be a gift to the people ready for better relationships; it will be a model for our sons and daughters.

When I think about it, my relationships and the way I enter 2018 are at least as important as how many snacks I’ve packed. It’s time to get planning.

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My Unbecoming

Women are unbecoming.

They are unbecoming the silenced one, the interrupt-able, the indirect object, the first apologizer, and the compromised.

This is not a scary thing if we believe that success and shalom for women are not inherently threatening to the success and shalom for men. And other women. And everyone. What if we did not assess humans competitively?

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I am only 33 but I am unbecoming. I’m unbecoming my childhood shame and guilt that made me nearly perfect, as I examine and re-examine the unkind behaviors of my child. I’m telling her she’ll be okay as we take the time to look at his heart, behind the cutting words and punishable arrows. Behind the performance and the pains.

I am unbecoming the self-righteous sensitivity that, like a clam shell, seemed to protect me, but then, turned out to isolate me instead. No pearl was forming, only imagined; all orthodoxy, no generosity. Like Beth Moore recently said, liking fewer people and calling it sanctification. No clarity maintained, eyes closed. In my fear of worldliness, I blocked human goodness; in my disdain for darkness, I blocked the light. I am unbecoming the closing.

I am unbecoming the reluctancy to say I was wronged, or hurt, or impacted. I am unbecoming a stoicism that the clam took well to and the patriarchy approved. I am undoing the dishonesty that other people’s comfort demanded; I am recovering from my own learned deafness to my needs, hurt, and worth. I am unlearning the lie that looking at something gives it infallible power.

I’m only 33 so I have only started to see the things God’s inviting me to unbecome. The undoing is not as a sweater unraveled, a heap of chaos and wonky, but as a first shoot from a bulb, headed up, having a taste for light. A mystery, a toil, to be sure, but a gift in this gift of time. Unbecoming into who I am better being.

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Also there is becoming. Women are also becoming. Definers. Decision-makers. Comfortable. Singular. Pervasive. Connected.

It can be hard to not trap the becoming, the new, in the unbecoming, or the old. It is hard to keep the two separate and moving, like siblings. For me, this includes the wildernesses of domesticity and being a woman in 2017 specifically. The ways to help, the gaps in our society, the cultural shifts, the breaking down of Christianity in our context, the new science, the recent poll. The conversations and opportunities that meet me each day, new pages, fresh print–not to be jammed in an old drawer and defined by an old construct.

It requires courage to not automatically reach for the old drawer, the last language. The becoming lessons are new to stay new–to start brand new hope, conviction, and relationship. Framing them in the past makes the lessons fade and compromises the work of unbecoming. We are brave when we look with curiosity. The situations my children face, that children before have never faced. Failures and successes that need to stand on their own two feet. The becoming is daunting in its own way because we don’t have the syllabus and the deadlines are moving; constantly, we are asked by this life to show movement, memory, and change–in this becoming, we are never finished.

Shalom, if we can dare speak of shalom within the world of only one person, is the overlap. When the lanes of the unbecoming and becoming merge. When the past isn’t too heavy but its substance is polished, and when the new isn’t hype or cheap but tailored…I suspect those moments when our gut, and mind, and lungs, and prayer, and worth are full, those are the times of most truth.

I pray for this work of unbecoming and becoming, a dotted line between the two in their youth. Traveling companions, but different journeys, each needing to stay in their lane for the most part. I pray for divine differentiation for healthy attachment; that the becoming would not have the lid of unbecoming, and that unbecoming would not go unnoticed in the fervor of becoming, and that both would help us be true, and full, and sources of shalom. I pray we would have people in our lives helping with each, pulling us to do whichever one comes least naturally, applauding the overlap, cheering for shalom.

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May you find the dotted line to occupy both spaces.

Undo, and new, ever human, going deep.

Unlearn, and discover, safer still, you and me.

 

 

Maybe Happens

One thing that I have not shared much about is a very good and important thing that happened over the summer. Last summer had some real downers but those don’t subtract from our joy, and rejoicing, over a new victory.
Our second born had a rough time for a few years. A major accident at our church, febrile seizures, and getting very sick in Guatemala. When we returned home and began fostering, he embraced her fully as a toddler would, and his febrile seizures continued but thankfully he was not often running a fever. 9 months after her arrival, in the aftershocks of her sudden removal, some of his first sentences were heart wrenching. While we were fighting that battle, Asher began having many more seizures. Maybe stress and the emotional trauma of losing a baby like that did something, maybe it’s just coincidence. It was a very hard period. These were not just febrile seizures like they had thought and the medical bills started piling up.
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There are many things we don’t know about epilepsy, and that doctors and scientists don’t know. It is a scary diagnosis. Asher began treatment, and despite changing jobs and insurance twice, and becoming part of medical, was able to see the same pediatric neurologist his whole life. Because of the Affordable Care Act, we were able to have continuation of care and not be penalized for his epilepsy. I tried going to the first neurologist we were referred to on one of our new plans at the time. It was a truly terrible experience and I could not imagine working with them to sort out appointments, let alone solutions, as we found ourselves on this path.
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The first medication didn’t slow down the seizures. We gave it a good run but we saw the negative side effects and didn’t notice much relief. It was hard because he couldn’t tell us how it made him feel, and if he sensed anything different before or after his episodes. We slowly began a different medication–one which introducing too quickly to patients could end in fatality. Doctors said after more testing and overnights that they didn’t think he would outgrow epilepsy. I briefed babysitters and teachers and sunday school. I tried not to think about IEPs one day, or driving, or camp, or anything restricted on this bright eyed wonder.
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He did well on the new medication and we could breathe once we reached a therapeutic dose with no rash outbreak. We were still dealing with collections, payments, and billing reductions but we were not documenting seizures. Eventually the grip on the phone when separated loosened. The spans of playing out of eyesight lengthened. The months between UCLA neurology visits and that $14 parking garage grew. He was pro at taking his pills. We were pro at fighting, I mean working, with the local pharmacy to help them keep their inventory up and refills regular.
As Asher’s Kindergarten graduation plans were taking shape, and no ambulance was ever called, we had another checkup. It was a slow breakthrough. With epilepsy they call seizures emerging under medication “breakthrough,” which is the opposite of any headway a parent wants to make. I was shocked to hear of a real breakthrough: the dr thought we could try titrating down, off the medication, to test the epilepsy. Maybe he was outgrowing it. Maybe it was different than they had thought. It had been over a year. No delays. No jumps in dosage. Maybe the prayers, the hopes, barely spoken aloud for fear it would ruin our ability to walk the prescribed, long road ahead, were coming true.
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On my birthday, Asher took his last, now tiny dose of epilepsy medication. And there have been no breakthrough seizures during the months of transitioning off. His moods and energy seem to have panned out, from however the drugs affected his system, combined with the excited exhaustion of starting 1st grade. We don’t wonder if something is seizure, drug, or age/misbehavior/mood related now. It’s just C, a 5-year-old boy, learning. We are thrilled at his progress and health, for him, for us, and for the pharmacy on the corner. I don’t know when we can say he does not have epilepsy, when it will be far enough away that a glazed look doesn’t cause my 2nd take, but each day is closer to then.
To be sure, it has been a rough year on almost all accounts. Homes, literal and figurative, are burning down all around us. But this is quite the foil. We are so proud of this boy and his love and tenacity and incredibly excited that this is yet another new normal. This victory, this praise, deserves our tears, applause, and thanksgiving and I’m so glad to be able to share this today, in the midst of all the todayness that weighs heavy. We’ve learned so many lessons by his side. From the waiting, to the hurting, to the forgiving and the grieving, to the advocacy, to the pain of children’s hospitals, in which so many have stayed for far more time. We’ve learned to take things by the day, that anesthesiologists have their own groups, and nothing is for granted. We’ve seen how limited we are as parents, and how scary pre-existing conditions and medical bills can really, really be. And we’ve been encouraged to keep places of hope in our lives that defy reason, that may be hibernating, for an unexpected spring. Who knows, maybe your birthday is coming. Maybe the breakthrough is slow. Maybe because this maybe came true.
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Feels Like September

I have a half-written grant proposal collecting dust in my computer. It talks about the dream of sitting under someone much farther along, who is not emotionally invested in your identity and protection in the way that your mother, or even grandmother, is, and should be. But she is someone who still knows, and who, because of her completed steps, can guide or understand or cushion your own. The brewing idea is one of intergenerational community of sisterhood, that debunks the mommyblogs and echo chambers we fall into, because like tends to like, and our technological toys silo us as much as they can connect. She is the see-er. The voice missing in our confounding mental loads as women doing it all, fighting competition, pushing justice, weighing obligations and avoiding high fructose corn syrup.

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I have this idea of learning from older women, not in spurts but in rhythm, and making it more possible for others, because of the incredible women who are already a part of my life. But in practice, I’ve struggled to do this.

Because the ladies in the shallow end at swimming lessons have also recently given birth. The women in my grad classes were career-minded, seeking first mortgages, internships, and noble peace prizes. The ladies on my feed are in the trenches, reaching out in the nano seconds of alone time our thirties give us for a like, a laugh, a lunch break. And it’s hard to stop and visit with my senior neighbor when the whining pulls. It’s hard to interview and take long walks and listen to senior women when I am chasing, scrambling, and budgeting every minute and dollar.

There is another voice I have missed, in addition to the one far in front of me. It is my own. To a lesser degree, to a smaller detriment, but still. Interruption is my norm. Bending and adjusting is the plan. I forget things when I only have to think about myself at this point; I am more awkward and uncertain the fewer moods rely on my preparation. I have sought the help of professionals and brutal/beautiful friends to help remember me before us.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but women throughout history have traded their very lives for the idea that there is nothing more important than nurturing others. In some ways, I believe that. In other ways, I know that idea, unexamined, threatens my sanity and health.       –Courtney Martin

I promote solitude in theory, primarily as a mode through which we hear God’s heart, not just our own. Not to brag but I have exercised it in 90-120 minute parcels irregularly over the past 11 years of adulthood/marriage/motherhood. The last time I had solitude that was not measured in minutes, but days, in which I was not completely anxious, was probably when I was 20. I am soon turning 33. I tried taking an overnight solitude retreat a few years ago. An alarm kept going off and there were no curtains in the sweet cottage nestled in the woods. I was officially citified by that point and completely distracted and edgy. Barely slept. When I was 20, I had 48 hour of solitude on a rock face, with a clif bar, a journal and bible, a sleeping bag, a headlamp, a water pump and bottle, and some sunscreen. It was one of the best things of college.

Tomorrow I embark on both a time of sitting for extended times with a woman much farther along than me, and being alone with my self and God, for not a matter of hours, but days. And I have no idea what to expect. It is a completely different situation than the past, oh, all my years, and I’m so grateful and humbled in advance, but also have trepidation. What does a day look like without a deadline and nap schedule and bell system? What DO I want to eat for breakfast, that meal that always eludes me? What will God show me as I sit, awkwardly quiet and un-needed? How will my life of planning, devoting, working, fighting for causes, and connecting with friends leave me to be, or inform who I am, away?

This summer has left some scars and presented good gifts. The school year is in full swing now. I remember that feeling of September, up in Oregon when we’d start school after Labor Day. Excitement. Unknowns. Courage and nerves, holding hands. Tiredness from that summer still on our shoes. This kind of feels like all of that. September is about diving in, and stepping out, and back to school. This year, me too.

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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.

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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.

Confessions from the Backyard

Our backyard is not something I’m proud of. The carefully laid sod we bought and planted our first year here died long ago under the drought and our incompetency–the neglect of both the sky and human attention. The still-loved trampoline has a bad case of sagging-net and has bright yellow duck tape on pieces, betraying its years in the sun. Our mandarin orange tree is so confused, with 3 stages of oranges on it and a slew of ants. The tortoise has some pigeon poo on her shell.

It is a great space but what was once nicely cleaned up and orderly and growing is pretty dusty and rustic and lackluster.

I know the feeling.

14 months since leaving vocational ministry. 17 months since losing a baby and, eventually, a battle. 14 seizures in our youngest son since she was taken. Over 3 1/2 years since we started becoming foster-to-adopt parents. 4 inches of paperwork from our time with her and fighting on her behalf. 2 inches of paperwork from medical bills. A lot of goodbyes. A lot of misunderstandings.

Nearly all the things have been unconventional and unplanned. By God’s grace and love, good friends, the propeller of children to care for every.moment.of.the.day, and the tyranny of time, we have bid some farewells, and had times of healing and moving forward.

6 months pregnant. 4 months seizure-free. 2 months into a new career for Ryan; 3 middle school grades representing a bounty of love, promise, investment, heartache, and heart. 10 months into a new job for me; 4 grants awarded. 1 new Christ-centered, socially-active, egalitarian, small-budget, multi-ethnic church body. 2 beautiful sons growing in character and becoming friends, teammates and co-rascals. There is still so much goodness in our little space.

Still, it has not left us unscathed. All of “It” so near and yet so far back. There are days when we have been ungrateful–where we have not felt like we had enough, could keep going, had things to give, and had received our fair share. Yes, there have been days we have felt downright bratty and mad–“Why won’t anything work out?” “Would it be too much to ask for a break?” And these attitudes, and the survival mode of many months, have left us dry. Left us acknowledging our need for a rekindled devotion to God and service–in our heart of hearts.

Because while the pace keeps going, the extroverts keep showing up, the kids keep growing– things can become hollow, less grounded, more default, more rote, quite smoothly.

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” Rev. 3:1b-3b

The hollowing is not all wrapped up in grief and injustice. It is not all excused by stress and weariness. It is not all because of inadequacies in our personalities or maturity or marriage or parenting or planning (though all those things possibly exist). Things have really sucked at times despite the best of these things and while God has been near, and we have been helped and supported by Him, our devotion has suffered. Our discipline has lagged. There is discouragement in our prayers. Our faith is still recalibrating. What is left may be true and good; it is solid to grow from, attach to, and offer back. But there is wreckage. The many hard realities of life the last couple of years have not always driven us to Him, but within, or our coping devices, or our hard work, chatter and human autopilots.

“I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Cor. 7:35

As the former missionaries, the church goers, the natural leaders, the open house, the whatevers and whoevers we’re tempted to allow others to think of us as, we are fallen, and though stronger in small ways, weaker in many others. We do not know how to wait patiently on the Lord for adoption and how to conduct ourselves in this system and this brokenness. We do not know how long to wait for MediCal back payments on bills after months of fighting and resubmitting. We do not know how cautious to be about epilepsy and we’re not good at being gracious with our local pharmacy. We do not know what it’s going to be like to have a newborn again, in the middle of the school year, with a teacher/administrator and 1st grader in the mix this time.

We do know we need to spend more time in ancient Truth and stillness. In rereading scripture, in rekindling devotion, and investing in the deeper conversations and friendships. We do know that we are not alone, and all is not lost–far from it. We are part of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken–i.e. purposes and a love that both demand and return much despite any of the “It” we face. We know that good is lasting, that love is final, and there is grace enough for us and our mess.

The rains are coming; the land is waiting in all its non-glory. The grass might grow back…and perhaps we with it.

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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Just Yesterday

One of my sons has a very fluid concept of time, which must be very resilient in order to survive life with me. While I’m like “Did you say 4:12pm or 4:15pm?” BECAUSE IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE, he is under the impression that all things that have happened are in the category of “Yesterday” and all things that will happen are in “Tomorrow.” So even if this morning we went to the doctor, based on his emotional departure from that event, it was probably yesterday. And if he is seeing a picture of himself getting his first bath, that too was yesterday. So basically, it’s like he is from another planet.

This incorrect vernacular is a lot like grief.

Sometimes the yesterdays seem so far away like memories indistinguishable from photographs, and other mornings we wake up with our heels feeling the toes of what has been. The past can suddenly smash right up against the present like there was a wrinkle in time and it is tiring and it is real. I can be transported to the year one of my siblings began medicine indefinitely as I’m giving my own child his new indefinite dose and I am a wreck of compulsive web searching and ineffective self-soothing tactics. I can look at an empty eggshell blue dresser or a birth or adoption announcement and well up with tears a minute after thinking “I’m really at peace with our family right now.” Welcome to crazy town.

As our new realities have settled in the last four months since things were officially hopeless at clearing our name and things officially different with employment and schedule and things were officially undetermined with Asher’s seizures and prognosis, it is hard to not get swept up in the urgent, mindless chaos of it all. It’s hard to not give in and get numb and dodge all the feelings and disappointment and questions. It is hard to not get shifty-eyed around the yesterdays that haunt us.

More than ever I have been aware of the ways I distract myself from sitting and listening to the Lord. Meanwhile He has seen it fitting to give me many examples of people who do rest at His footstool and who don’t, and how those people are different–how what they are doing is different and how who they have become is different. I guess I am in a state of motivated reluctancy when it comes to mindfully subjecting myself to His presence (detect the rub?). Because the floors are dirty and an hour of work would be so productive right now and writing cannot happen any other time and coffee, no a nap, even a show, would be restful and help me face the rest of the day. While all these things are good, they fall short. They can all be grace, certainly. But when I engage them to delay the reality of my relationship with God, however awkward it feels at that moment, they are misplaced.  And they don’t help with the grief at the end of the day and at the beginning of those days in which the past is giving the present flat tires.

When I do slow and sit, I find myself praying for courage to do so and to face Today, let alone Tomorrow. And I find myself crying. And also comforted. The last four months we have found ourselves in touch with a new level of our humanity and who better to comment on that than Creator, Sustainer, Triune God. They who help us distinguish between the false and true self.

There are so many effective ways to deny the Lord the mic. Tasks for Him, conferences, good spiritual books, deep conversation, Bible studies, heady writing, new nifty ways to organize Bible reading and prayer, list making, poetic journaling, even sermon podcasts and worship music. I’m seeing in my own life that never were these things stand-ins or stand-alones, and in our society in which time is of the essence, maybe I should be much more reluctant to engage these options if my own attentiveness to the Word and the Voice of Truth have not led me there in the first place.

Because probably too often I have participated in these things when my soul needed Him and my culture readily offered these as substitutes.

No one’s interested in legalistic ultimatums. I can’t even follow a meal plan. But today, I’m admitting and offering this: our grace-initiating God wants to lovingly handle both our yesterdays and our todays and I know I’ve been in danger of avoiding Him with both in the best possible ways. I’ve missed out on opportunities to have His company in my grief and face my humanity with the One who loves humans the most. This has made the todays too unpredictable, the yesterdays too unwieldy. And time keeps marching on.

Let’s put aside the highlighters. Take out our earbuds. Close the hardback books and wait to commit to that new great thing. Let’s sit and allow Him to quiet us. Hear our breathing, let down our shoulders. Let’s read the ancient text and withhold our own comments. Hold out our yesterdays and see Him today.

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

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 

Is. 43:19

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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.
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// 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. //

Aging

I am taking a break from the series of Today as though Yesterday posts, which, I would guess, is a healthy sign.

I have to stop to tell you about a book I am chewing on: The Gift of Years, by Joan Chittister.

There is so much truth and ground in her words, I urge you to read it. Even if you’re more of a Max Lucado type. Even if you don’t read spiritual books. This book is not spiritual in the normative way. It is incredibly ecumenical in the spiritual language it employs and at times downright universalist. If you focus on what you do or do not like about how she does this, the truth of what the book is actually about will be lost. I do not know her spiritual progression, but an earlier book of hers, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, is incredibly catholic Christian in the best ways, written from the Benedictine experience. Again, some of you may find this indeed progress, while some of you may find it upsetting. Just another reminder that authors are people, who change and adjust, and books misrepresent their authors the day after they’re published. Isn’t that wonderful?

The gift of The Gift of Years is this: redeeming the latter stages of life and aging itself. Reshaping the years we bloggers, we millenials, we “omg i’m gonna be 30″‘s (*guilty)…or 40…or 50, know the least about. The seniors are discounted in more ways than one while the rest of us hurrying folk, addicted to getting each other’s input on every aspect of our lives when we’ve lived the same amount of life as one another, are bereft for it. It is the wide angle lens we need. One of those compasses I will return to again and again, and force upon people I love as though I were the agent (so you are warned).

I think Jesus is proud of this book. It is light and it is pulling in the margins. Sounds just like Him.

It talks about actively aging. What an amazing conversation–deflating the power of the less important physical limitations through accommodations in order to celebrate and elevate the more important intellectual and soul experiences, freedom and meaning that aging bequeaths its crowd. What would it look like if we grandchildren, we sons and daughters, we spouses, or caretakers, or nurses or church family, helped one another age actively, beginning with those who are facing the decision most acutely. What would it look like if instead of doing an online search, we visited the nearby retirement community for some advice. What would it look like if we helped glorify the years, mark the time, and listen to the stories of the living among us that often receive less respect than the furniture they grew up around.

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People have wondered why am I reading this book. I am reading and loving this book because I want to actively age and I am a helpless nerdy nostalgic who is often painfully aware of the unnatural speeds and cravings of the stage of life I’m in now. There are a lot of reasons, but predominantly, I keep reading it because it reigns true to my heart and soul–over and against the popular disguises and marginalizing of aging, the exclusivity to the aged I see all around, and my own attitudes and biases. It is a breath of fresh air, a wide place seldom examined.

If you want to love the advanced around you, if you are married to someone or taking care of someone experiencing retirement or an age-induced identity crises, if you are wondering about the future, or if you are currently getting older, this is a book for you. We would all be better for more who embrace the gift of years.

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