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.

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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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Today as Though Yesterday // 1

I will continue attempting to write mid-way. I am in the thick of a sludgy walk with sorrow but still have the hope of reaching wide Joy waters too. I will be posting short reflections as I go, as though I have passed through this marsh. As though today was yesterday.

//

I never worried about monsters as a kid. I was much too practical, much too invincible for that. Night was just night and shadows were just shadows; the sunrise, even the night light, was not my salvation—I wasn’t scared. It wasn’t until adulthood that my security, my fear of the unknown and the dark corners, grew to keep pace with a normal 4-year-old’s development. Though I did not encounter any as a child, I feel certain that monsters are a far worse experience as an adult, never knowing when they will jump out, or who they are hiding behind. Having no super-adult there to comfort you, to say they are not real, because, in fact, there are no super-adults and they can be real. Having no fancy adult-tricks to make the monsters go away, to prove them untrue, to disappear the bad. I found myself thinking completely impractical, juvenile thoughts, like, I wish I could trade in these scary monster hunt nights for the ones I neglected in my childhood. As if I were due. For monsters.

During this time I found my physical health insulting and insincere. I didn’t understand why I could walk down the street without my guts spilling out on the sidewalk and no thick blood trail. I wished to become very sick, to vomit and vomit and vomit until this time was emptied and gone, until the poison I had been fed was sewage, and all I had to do was drink Sprite for a few days and enjoy the way my jeans fit. It didn’t make sense that my chest was still wrapped in unscarred skin when it seemed a big, black cavern—a gaping hole of mystery and sorrow, the size of a warm baby who knew the beat of my heart. I did not appreciate that all the organs and bones were in the right place when there was a starving emptiness nagging in the center of my body. My weight was terribly stable. My hands kept their patterns of dishes, laundry, e-mails, and driving. My muscles kept form though at times I would wake in the middle of the night believing I had lost my body, feeling nothing but a great blob of grey, powerless matter. The grace of good health seemed ill-placed to my ill-state.

I was partly dismayed at my body because it never once let me off the hook of the fight for True or sent me into sweet hallucinations or blissful unconsciousness. But more than that, it added to the internal conflict that had taken up residence in my mind. Though all the parts of my body worked like normal, I had given a part of my hip to a child that no longer rested upon it and a swaying bounce of my legs to a child that I could no longer soothe. I had trained my ear to stirrings and groggy babble that never came. I had treated my nose to the smell of a little one who gave affection and effected us dearly, and there was no where to nestle it now. How would my systems restore, how would these processes recover, after 9 months of being programmed around a person that was now an absence. When would I stop thinking of taking her monitor to the backyard with us. When would I stop looking for her in public and seeing all our meetings in public places replay at every drive-by. At what point would the parts of my body I had willingly committed to her every moment give up their highly-functioning, suddenly-expired ways.

I didn’t know. I couldn’t find the light switch. I had no closet door to open. Just me, enduring the monster of Loss, who kept company with many others, waiting for the sunrise, praying for a night light.

 

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Review

I am working on my annual review and what an annual it has been.

 

Even as I know the shadows and still feel their touch, their implications, I feel the breeze. I read the scrawl of the past year and find green, buds, sprouts that will get us to tomorrow. To springtime.

 

Help me fix my eyes not on the remainder of things looming but the finished grace you give over and over. Truth over fear. Be our glory. Be our treasure. 

Not one is missing. To him who has no might, He increases strength. (Is. 40:26, 29)

He covers the over-done like a weighted blanket, while His angels bear you up. Set your love on Him and find your terror in night, your daytime arrows, absorbed. Gone. (Ps. 91)

When we have been brought to a place we never wanted to go, the Lord enjoys our attention as never before. (adapted from Acedia, Norris)

Keep at it. He is a sure thing. Perfect peace is there for the stubborn. Our cumulative longing bears shalom–wholeness, safety and welfare. (Is. 26:3-4)

 

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.

I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.

I will thank you forever because you have done it.

I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.”

Ps. 52:8-9

 

Wait. Be silent and thankful in the presence of good company. His grace is finished and new.

Your Plans are Too Small, and other (detailed) confessions of a detailed control freak

The last major thing that went as planned was the weather June 10th, 2006. It was sunny and I was gettin’ hitched.

 

So filled with cavalier college confidence was I that I didn’t even make an alternative plan for the Portland-Oregon-Rose-Parade-Day outdoor ceremony. As though making a Plan B would jinx Plan A, and I am ALL about Plan A. Plan B might as well be PLAN Z (can I get an Amen?)!

Yes, that morning, it was sunny and clear, just as planned. While some of us had been ripened by the southern Californian sun and thought it was unimpressively warm, the tender Oregonians amongst us went home with sweaty dress shirts, regrets about nylons, and sunburns, a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly wedding favor.

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And that, my friends, was the last time a major event went according to plan. (It may have also been the last time you saw someone wearing nylons.)

After the breaking of those glorious Plan A rays, the wedding went decidedly downhill. Thank God Twitter was not invented yet because the tweets from that ceremony would have been epically disastrous. Best to leave the experience to deteriorating memories rather than enduring social media. Printed photos are just so much more…silent. Marriage was (is) a heck of a lot tougher than either of us ever anticipated; WE THOUGHT we would be so good at it! Our beautiful first-born’s appearance was compared to the immaculate conception by my OB (uh…for other reasons). In exchange for walking in my graduate graduation ceremony, I breastfed in the balcony. Kinda the same thing. And our 2nd son’s arrival was about, oh, 12 months and 6 days later than I wanted. (Despite my best theological attempts to not invest in my own plan about child-bearing.)  Now, our hopes of adopting the baby in our arms, whom we’ve helped sleep through the night, transition to solid foods (i.e. gross diapers) and who is about to cut her first tooth, are dismantling, one day at a time. Each day as a family of five is precious but poignantly non-permanent. And it is a hard thing to know.

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Career-wise, we have been missionaries as long as we have been adults. Not outside the plan but some things in that ARENA of the plan have been, how shall we say, unscripted. Compared to the amount of support my parents raised to go overseas as missionaries, we had to raise change when we first started. Full of missionary-kid-confidence (are we detecting a theme?), I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but it has always been a medium-large deal. I mean, sure, they had giraffes and huts on their side but gosh. After being here a while, it seemed obvious to everyone that Ryan was more cut out to be with people than computer screens, and we started dabbling in church planting (addictive, I know). Turns out Ryan is really gifted at striking up new relationships, sharing his Jesus story, and tracking with people that others don’t track with. It also turns out that while I have grown to truly love and find my place in church planting, the whole constant change in strategy, schedule, teams, and church attendees thing seems downright unnatural to my senses. I have a deep, resilient attachment to things like neatness, predictability and plans, specifically MINE. And to be in the church planting crew with this bouquet of expectations is like asking the organic vegan Oregonian crowd to eat Hot Cheetos.  HOT CHEETOS, I tell you. I have come to accept the variables (i.e. chaos) of church planting, and even appreciate it at times, but it has been like physical therapy for the MIND. Other “goals” in the whole missionary work realm so far haven’t happened; Plan A’s didn’t even get demoted to B’s or Z’s, just Plans. Tired, crusty plans.

To be clear, this is not a cry for help. At least that I know of. I’m getting to the point.
This is also not to say that the changes and surprises come void of triumph and celebration. On the contrary, they usually offer much of both. I just have to get over the humps of disappointment, anxiety or grief (or sometimes a cute triple cocktail) and my prodigal-son’s-older-brother-attitude out of my behind to join in. (Ouch.)

Also…even I have to admit I had nothing to do with the last acknowledgedly “planned” detail of a major life event 8 years ago. Yes, okay, the sun shining is actually independent of my striving and lists. Okay, fine.

 

In reflecting over the last time things “went my way” (however artificial), I have to admit that I would have a lot less disappointment in my life if I kept the big things in front of me instead of banking on the deets. That I have this crippling tendency of placing intangible yearnings on the shoulders of tangible, finite circumstances.

 

My plans are too small.

 

They are not built to keep step with my dreams.

 

In trying to be a person attuned to my history and personality, the plans I thought were God-given, and the goals I picked up along the way, I make really rather specific plans for myself. Plans that ultimately have nothing to do with what I ultimately care about. I give my heart to these details. I am so terribly good at details that I can inadvertently choke out my true dreams.

The dream of actually becoming a more humane and gracious, i.e. redeemed, person as time goes on, however time treats me. The dream of spending all sorts of energy and resources to pull people to both the cross and the empty grave, to justice and mercy, whether those be my own children or my neighbor or a distant reader. The dream of creating community that is life-giving and transformative, wherever I am, whoever I am with–of creating non-conventional, permeable family lines. The dream of valuing my emotions without marrying them to my actions and opening wide the places that I’ve made narrow.

 

These dreams are unencumbered by circumstances. I cannot blame the unfulfillment of these things on a bad event or rough season or late arrival. I am always on the hook for these hopes. And that seems divine as much as it seems uncomfortable. And that is how I know that they matter most. The scary things today are the freeing things tomorrow.

 

So, despite all those improv moments, when I wanted the script, and all the lingering expectations for the future I surely still carry, I will raise my glass to a free tomorrow. I will raise my glass in hopes of keeping the dreams real and the plans adjustable. Here’s to less disappointment, less coping and less scrambling. Here’s to keeping the big things big, and the small things small.

 

Here’s to another unplanned sunny day.

Love

It is after the turn of the year, after the day we remembered the Baby King and I am still stringing along the advent themes. And that is just how it is right now.

There are days when the love doesn’t seem thick enough. It doesn’t seem loud enough or near enough or real enough. It doesn’t seem like it can hold the frustrations, the pain, the way we play out lies and tumble in disappointment.

But then, just as I am not defined by a person or a role, but only by His image, Love is not defined by my sense of it. Of them. Or my imperfect dance with its shadowy imitations.

It is January 2nd which seems promising but a flip of the calendar is not reflected in our everyday lives. The vices still stand. The weariness was not wiped. The gaiety does not dissolve the grime.

The advent guide begins with Zephaniah 3:17, which was the verse I had in my profile in the 2002 yearbook. I couldn’t know then how I would lean on that verse hard and long the next year. The year I felt alone and liberated, devastated and thrilled, faith-less and faithful. It says “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

It is hard to think of delighting anyone except my parents and babies. Let alone Him, Love.

When everything falls down around me, my dreams are up for grabs, the suffering of the world and my neighbor weigh in, and I can’t think of how to pray, I sometimes see I know nothing of this Love. And it is actually a relief. This Love that delights, that quiets, that sings. It lifted me in the darkest, private corners of my first year of college by its relentlessness; it has been the backbone to my story, but still I peer at it awkwardly, uncertain and blurry. Sometimes then I see that I have been sacrificing but not loving, like when Israel’s love, just as the prostitute’s, is considered the morning cloud, the early dew–quickly going away (Hosea 6:4-6). I have forgotten that He loved me first, and He loved him first, and her, and them, before I did anything right. Before he changed that habit. Before she realized she was like that. Before they called Them their God.

This Love, that broke in to the lowest parts of the world in the form of a baby, says this:

“I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with the cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bend down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11:3-4).

We are the children, the enslaved, the sick, the asses, the babies. We are the whore that the Love came for, pursues, forgives, delights.

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The Love returns us, returns me, to being a helpless baby. And it meets me when I feel like one. When the advent writing didn’t finish in time, when the Christmas cards didn’t go out, when I forgot to show that person I cared, when I fall, fall, fall. When I forgot that nothing I do or sacrifice replaces holding fast to Love. Holding fast to the first identity of Beloved–of Enough. To a full and divine dependency on a Triune Love Being, like an infant on its caregiver, from dawn till dusk, and through the night. From the first breath.

And He loves us all last too. Still taking us up by our arms, healing us, and wrapping up with cords of kindness. He’s at the end, with the same Love. That is the relief. No matter how poorly I have received and clung to and extended this Love, it is force I do not effect. I cannot mess up the constancy of the invitation.

He came as the invitation. And oh so early in this new year, I receive it again.