Glory

It was fitting that I was cooking with a fair amount of bacon grease when the call came. Grandpa Pruitt, Bobby, had passed on to the next life. Suffering no more, he was gone. And like that, as my dad said, the oldest generation was departed, leaving behind deep roots and so many branches in this family of faith.

I remember as a little girl, wrapping presents with Grandpa in our guest room in a split level house in Oregon. They had come for Christmas again, and we were busy downstairs, just me and him, somewhere between the DOS computer and patchwork quilt. He used the scissors with a constant up and down motion, snipping each 4 inch segment of the wrapping paper at its appointed time. I showed him what I liked to do: hold those scissors at a steady angle and ZIIPPP, that new line was slightly curled in the wake of my linear efficiency. “Well, I’ll be,” he beamed, sputtering something about the thought of ME (who he commonly referred to as “ugly”) being able to teach HIM something. He wasn’t one for pretending so I believed that I had introduced this technique.

It’s hard to explain a man who called his young granddaughter ugly without once causing her to question how much he loved her and thought otherwise. He was the Zeke Braverman of the family, with less Berkeley and more suspenders. He got away with too many things, and was my first teacher in the well-meaning, if not downright inappropriate, insult. He wasn’t too proud to tear up when noticing the significance of a moment, or laugh that high, vacuum-sounding pleasure at his own mistake.

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Proverbs 13:20 Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch you life fall to pieces.

I give thanks for this man, this legend of the river and woods, of missions and letter writing, romance and brusque ways both. For the life he and Grandma built. Thank you, God, for the son they raised in my father. For this undying legacy my siblings and I are swept up in. Thank you that he is no longer lonesome, no longer limited. Be with us, the crowds of Pruitts and beyond, grieving this loss, the passed generation of scaffolding, stability and faith, which not one of us has ever lived without. Our ankle twists in the hole left behind the removed pillar. Our eyes squint at the absent shade. Their hands, their hearts, their foibles, all so big. All such a gift.

He found mansions of glory here, on this earth—in his garden and around the fire, on the water, in the kitchen and beside his bride. His eyes twinkled with endless delight at innumerable grandbabies, the piano, a pie, a bad joke, and always, always, at the sight of any of his six children. But now, the mansions of glory, and endless delight that do not end are his—the ones needing no repair, that do not age and move away. All his senses restored, reunited with Grandma, with his youngest daughter, with so many of his friends who went before him. I don’t think that Rush Limbaugh is turned on in every room up there, but who could hear it over Grandpa’s storytelling anyway. The hymns have taken over, the berries are ripe, the river glass.

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I love you Grandpa and miss you already. Thank you for loving this life, and us, so well.

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Staying

It is no small and unholy thing to stay.

I don’t know about you but I sow my wild oats in the wee hours of my soul’s nights. I rebel from my heart, not my body. In my deviance, I move through my own life as a visitor, a reluctant tourist, as though my connecting flight was delayed and I flirt with fantasies of departure. Mentally, emotionally. I wish to be impenetrable. I think that it, that my presence, makes no difference.

In the morning, when dawn starts and I feel the relief of new mercy, I relearn that becoming absent is not the answer, but rather full presence is the promise. Compartmentalizing is not often our strength as nurturers; integration is. On the other side of my leave, I resolve that one of the most powerful and transcendent things I can offer my own health, my Lord, and my family community, is the posture of staying. I pray for the faith that suggests that God is for me here, with my longings and fears. I believe that God is for them—the children, the friends, the others—here, so we can all stay and I can be present to whatever this holds.

Professional chaplains finesse the art of this ministry of presence. Their work relies on the theology that the Diety indwells the humane and in one another’s company, we draw nearer to God. Whether visiting a person in a coma, or incarcerated, a premature infant in NICU, or a chatty outpatient, the chaplain offers their presence to the pain, and enters the space having been honest with their own condition and capacity that day. Their effectiveness is not often measurable; it must be undergirded with a sound theology of Immanuel. So too is ours.

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We do not wear badges, nor chart our visits, but mothers and wives and women are full time practitioners of the ministry of presence, the discipline of staying, and it is a powerful cadence in the milieu of constant updates, upgrades and uprooting.

As missional women, the fire in our spirits and the thrust in our activism can lead us to a restlessness that bankrupts our confidence. Because the rubric of the empire, which American Christianity has often adopted, involves fame and fortune, statistics and stages, we itch. We measure our success on a faulty scale and despair, when all the while, our steadfast presence, our dwelling here and with, is the salve to our want, and the world’s searching. It is resistance and it is confounding. It is growing up and it is an anchor to the tossing.

Sharing reflections from the transformative community of Benedictine life, Joan Chittister speaks straight to me in the middle of my sticky linoleum: There comes a time in life when everyone else’s family seems to have been better than my own. There comes a moment when having everything seems to be the only way to squeeze even a little out of life. There comes a day when this job, this home, this town, this family all seem irritating and deficient beyond the bearable. There comes a period in life when I regret every major decision I’ve ever made. That is precisely the time when the spirituality of stability offers its greatest gift. Stability enables me to outlast the dark, cold places of life until the thaw comes and I can see new life in this uninhabitable place again. But for that to happen, I must learn to wait through the winters of my life (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, p. 151).

We know this irritation and this wait. And we also know, when by God’s grace we’ve approached Him with our misgivings, and sat with ourselves and each other, warding off both the guilt and the flight, that the ministry of presence is disarming in all the right ways. We know, for when we receive someone’s full attention or we feel the Lord’s pleasure after the full arc of a day alongside a child’s wonder, that the ministry of presence is healing. Renewing. Soothing.

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As a chaplain of communities such as the family, the church, the school, the neighborhood, the mother figure announces God’s goodness and steadfastness even as she relies on it herself. As a person vulnerable to other people, she demonstrates the invitation of the triune God. As a person rejecting the chains of perfection, consumerism, and control, she presents herself as an approachable companion to others. As she sits without judgment with an overwhelmed new mom, quietly occupies an overtired child in a hospital waiting room, or listens to a child’s unreasonable plans for a birthday for the tenth time, she suggests a Love and a Grace we only learn from one another. She resembles a weeping Savior, a cooking Messiah, present, stayed in the smallest and deepest of ways.

Even when it costs. Even when the night before she took a little trip through the weeds of want and the rushes of regret. She is present not because she does not have any other options or distractions or because it is easy; she is present because God is present to and in her, and this station is a conduit of the calling, not its culmination.

And so, my sisters, I see your choice to stay and I raise my glass. I applaud your outstanding grit to remain present over the years that you cannot speed nor slow, the surprise visits, the illnesses, the chores, that bleed into each other, that step on the heels of the next, and on the toes of your own securities. May the meaning of the moments neither pass us by nor overwhelm us to despair. We are here, together, injecting the daily with the divine. Thank you for staying.

Missional Women and Skyscrapers

When I first became a mom, I was also in my early years of adulthood and vocational ministry. I had just graduated with a masters in theology, and as grateful as I was for the gift of a child, I also deep down felt a little cheated. Like I had let everyone down, like I was going in the opposite direction as planned. I was very young, and I had many ideals and intentions that seemed incongruent with being a mother. I careened into motherhood like I did other stages of my life, and as quickly as I could I resumed roles and responsibilities, out to prove that being a mom wasn’t the end of me. Mostly to myself. In doing so, I delayed forming a more congruent sense of identity, and fostered a belief that motherhood competed with a better purpose.

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Looking back, I wonder if I spent too much time fighting against my role as mom, disliking the embedded stereotypes I felt defensive towards, as opposed to seeing this new part of my life as a conduit through which those ideals could manifest creatively. I wonder if I could have been a little easier on myself, a little more trusting of God’s work through me as opposed to relying on my effort. I am now seven years into my irreversible tenure as a mother and I’ve settled down a bit. I had a short, glorious reprieve from diaper bags, leaking sippy cups, and pack’n’plays. Now, we are a year into our third son, cherishing the good with the hard, a little less rushed, a little less pressured, and, honestly, a little less together.

I can tell you that being a mom has not become the definition of who I am but it has determined most of my waking and sleeping hours for the past 7 years. I can also tell you that, at the same time, it hasn’t been a death sentence to my ideals, my sense of calling, and my dreams. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you, yes you, that new mom, or the woman who had an unexpected, irreversible detour of any kind, are still on mission. I’m glad to report, even just 7 years in, that the socially-minded, justice-fighting, feminist, grown-ass Jesus-loving woman can co-exist with this honor of motherhood. That, as Donald Miller articulates in describing his friend David in Scary Close, maybe while life is declining “in earthly validation [it is] all the while ascending in the stuff that really matters.” You don’t have to become a mom to learn some of the things I’m learning. But you don’t have to not be one also.

I am writing against the doubts and shadows of despair that I myself still face occasionally. You know the ones: the flat one-liners that reduce us to who we are in relationship to one other person, or box in our dreams to a specific shape, size, and color. I’m writing to you from a fellow trench of deafening needs, long days, and short years. You are still you, and your heart for others is going to grow, not wither, from your station in the home.

// .  // .  // .  // .  //

 

Women who are primarily labeled stay-at-home-moms in this blessed world routinely practice a very profound behavior: the act of invitation. She invites the tears of her children, the sighs of her husband, the stories of the cast of characters in her ever-growing community. She invites care when she is exhausted or confused, and help when she is sick. By nature of being a woman, she is vulnerable to surprise, cycles, changes, setbacks and regrouping. She receives people, in her physical space and her emotional depths. She reflects Trinitarian reciprocity and extends the hospitable nature of God as wife, mother, neighbor, friend, visitor.

As a woman translates her self into her leadership in the home, in developing familial and extra-home relationships, and in turn allows her self to be affected and matured through that role, she embodies a powerful combination of structure and adaptability. These are the crossbeams of a good invitation.

In family systems theory, boundaries, adaptability, and the permeability of family norms and rules is discussed. When a family dance is met with a new person through birth or adoption, or a crisis occurs in a particular person’s life, the system has choices. Does everyone’s life come to a screeching halt? Do family rules end up in the trash bin, never to be considered again? Does everyone except one person make sweeping changes, protecting a particular person’s rigidity? Does the family grow out of touch, strangers under the same roof? How elastic is the microsystem?

In Los Angeles, buildings are designed or renovated with an earthquake in mind. The techniques engineers use to mitigate damage to the structure given a seismic crises are mind-blowing to this onlooker. And useful for the ideas of family systems and missional women. There are a variety of technologies but what I found most interesting are the innovative ways in which engineers equip a building to be flexible, and move in counterbalance to the earth’s movement. Rigidity is not reinforced; tension cables, swinging masses, steel tendons, rubber bearings, shape memory alloy…any of these may be the ying to the earth’s yang. To think that our ever-changing beautiful LA skyline is invisibly fluid, absorbent, and responsive.

It occurs to me that in so far as a woman equips her self to be responsive, yet stable, to the larger world, whether the bassinet beside the bed, or the neighbor everyone else calls crazy, she accomplishes the holy task of making room for the Other. In a spontaneous and unglamorous act of allowing her day (not to mention her night) to be run by a pre-verbal life-sucking bundle of joy, or in visiting the lonely with a front carrier and a curated portfolio of puree pouches, she is practicing divine invitation. As she becomes practiced at changing her plans to host a school playmate, inviting an unlikely guest to the Thanksgiving dinner, or promoting her home as a place to drop by unplanned, she demonstrates to her children, her self, and her community that perfection and predictability are not the priority. She acts subversively to the isolating American norms of privacy and refusing liability. She calls to the carpet the evangelical idol of the nuclear family unit and the consumerist approach to making a home.

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When a family system is moderately cohesive, and moderately adaptable, it achieves a flexible structure, a retrofitted connection. Family boundaries are neither rigid nor transparent but permeable. So it is safe for a crisis to arise in or out of the home; the system will hold. It is okay for someone to have an autonomous thought. The connection is not threatened. The dance will change. The change can be painful. But the building does not fall down. It is safe to go to this family with a need. It is appreciated when a guest invites their friend to the party. The children remain the children; the adults remain the adults, but the home is not a bunker. It is a port.

As a missional mom, it’s life-giving to me to continuously and awkwardly sort out how to use my home, my errands, my little realm of supposed control, in a reciprocal manner. I ravenously watch other women who have achieved these maneuvers. A dream that has birthed from the labor of motherhood is to instill an attitude of invitation in my family. My default as a mom is structure, preemptive organization, lists, and routines; these are my Ritalin. (I’ve been known to tape a newsletter-like document to the car dash when my husband and friend road-tripped with our oldest two kids. Because control.) But as a player in the larger mission of God’s upside-down economy, with creative agency instilled by our Creator, I’m compelled to counterbalance that structure by subjecting it to interruption.

The biblical account reinforces this idea of holy invitation, and dynamic family structures. Ruth and Naomi come to mind. Ruth, though she was the guest to Naomi’s family and land, opened up with her pain and adopts and attaches in response to calamity; their family dance shrunk and continued. In the Law, YHWH makes multiple considerations for guests and foreigners, establishing that even when His chosen people were a specific nation, that those boundaries were absorbent. His expectation was that they remember who they are and be responsive to the needs and guests around them (Deuteronomy 10:12-22). Structure and adaptability. Their family feast of booths included the visiting Levite, the servant, the sojourner, the fatherless. Permeable family lines. Jesus demonstrates innovative family makeup, and a hospitable heart always. Stopped on his way to bigger things, tending to basic needs of thousands, positioning his earthly mother to be cared for by his best friend. The culture of our faith is a radical hospitality. The sermon of our Gospel is simple invitation. Our realm lies strategically within this call.

This is unclear work. There is no syllabus. With every additional birthday of my children, additional personality type to the mix, job change, heck, counseling session, this goal of permeable family lines is adjusting. And it’s incredibly inconvenient but it’s a small price for remaining a congruent, missional person. Ladies, this is not win or lose. This is not pass or fail. Your heart is too big, your life too short for that binary garbage. Mine is too. We are committed to our families and that requires different things on different days. We are also committed to our gift for invitation and inclusion. Finding that sweet spot where these are mutually beneficial is a moving target, but what a holy opportunity. Our homes, our emotional space, our maddeningly ordinary tasks, may be the skyline of hope and belonging another soul needs. Stoicism need not apply. Perhaps never before have we been so in touch with our own humanity and limitations as now, here. What a perfect time to extend an imperfect invitation.

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Prone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your Crying is Safe With Me

There is so much shame in sadness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gathering the Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buying In

I write as an outsider. I was not a best friend. I was not a daughter or spouse or sister. Just an observer. A neighbor. A watcher.

This is just a watcher’s writing. But one day, terrifyingly, the majority of the accounts of our lives will be from watchers. The outsiders who gathered a potpourri of impressions about us that we did not control or know were being collected. The bulk of my legacy will one day be written largely by a collection of observations of mysterious sources. I cannot know how graciously, how often, and by whom. The sampling will be random, independent, and, most of all, telling.

My limited observations of the last eight years of Janet’s life have left me struggling with the blank page and the sea of emotions and the pain of wanting to help her nearest and dearest as their pain must pale mine. If you have noticed what people keep saying about Janet you may have noticed that they talk in lists. There are run-on sentences and commas and everyday, faded words that the tellers want a better word for because she just can’t be captured in the typical way you may use “mom” or “missionary” or “wife” or “woman.”

As I have thought about her as I have missed her, I have realized that the thing about Janet is that somehow, in her abbreviated life, she seemed to have bought in to all the right things. All the good, the true, the lasting things. That, more than any other description I have thought of so far, gets at why I was attracted to her. Why I am so sad, and so sad for her family, that two weeks ago she celebrated her last birthday. Janet bought in to the good and true fully and faithfully, with a groundedness and peace that suggests she was much older than she was. I know we all have different callings and gifts but fundamentally, she bought in to things that in my most present moments before the throne and before my self, I want to too.

She wasn’t on the fence about the nature of God, the impact of prayer, and the activity of God’s voice. She also wasn’t so mystical and spiritual that she lost touch with this blessed grimy earth and things like when to just watch a stupid tv show or worry about your cat or declare that the gazpacho was a bad idea. She found and reported the beauty and joy of a good sermon, a baptism, and a supernatural healing as well as the beauty and joy of a new adventure in the city, a beach day, and a new elaborate recipe. These worlds did not conflict in her person that I could tell; she demonstrated their joints—the sanctifying and befriending effect that the one world had on the other.

Janet didn’t buy in to the perfect home, dressy children, designer style, crafty goddess THING that I dabble in. She didn’t keep imperfection from hushing her invitation and she didn’t keep her love of family and home from going out into the neighborhood. She and Tim maintained a door between their home and their neighborhood but it is a thin door. A sweet, gracious, swings-both-ways thin door that has been a true grace to so many of us. It allows us to be watchers.

She didn’t buy in to the spiritual maturity bequeaths social aloofness and authority THING that tempts the best of disciples. She didn’t seem to have a drop of pretense. She gracefully and effortlessly adopted the innocent questions and wonder of the neighbor kids about a Bible story that she had taught a hundred times before and read herself a gazillion more. She just didn’t have all the answers. Janet was very generous, not only with resources, but with the things that I sometimes find are hardest to give—the laughs, the minutes spent in a place you feel awkward in, the record of wrongs that cannot move unless it is just dropped.

Janet didn’t buy in to the martyr role we justify for moms, missionaries, and wives. She embraced the cities she lived in, she loved, supported and advised her husband, and she did not seem to think much of all she did for her family. She loved them so much, so well, and so individually. She wouldn’t be the one to talk about all she did with her kids; she just did it. And she probably invited other kids too. Her husband praises her and respected her; her children have truly risen up and called her blessed. She was the woman to whom you would ask your marriage, ministry and child-rearing questions and, because she was bought in to just being married and being there for her kids while being a servant disciple, find she was surprised you were asking her and you would leave with scant advice. So you would just watch, realizing she was a living book, when all you usually have time for is a shared blog entry written by someone about 7 minutes ahead of you in life.

I am grateful to have been a watcher of Janet’s life the past 8 years.

Pondering the significance of her effect on me and beginning to feel the absence of her presence have led me to wonder, “What am I buying in to and is it what I mean to buy in to?” I wonder if it is a legacy that has bearing and weight and substance in any sort of trajectory like Janet’s.

What do my day, my thoughts, my worries, my free time say about what I have bought in to?

This watcher, with tear-filled eyes and weighted heart, continues to be inspired by the legacy of a woman who bought in wisely. Though she departed early, our observations of her investments—of an unforgettable legacy—will last us for many years to come. Thank you, Janet, that even now, your life is giving. Thank you for the gift of watching a life that was bought in so well.

 

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Janet with our friend Lily, who also lived well and who preceded Janet to heaven a few months ago. Pray for their husbands, each set of their four kids and the community that misses each of them fully.

 

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.

Newlyweds, Ryan and I

I dearly love my husband. We have been through a lot with each other and because of each other. It has never been the perfect marriage but thankfully, that is not our expectation or role. It’d sure be nice but that is just not our story. It’s been perfectly messy at times and we have included others in that mess, hopefully in healthy, opening ways. (Not in the pointed, friend-ostracizing, facebook status sort of way. :)) We continue to be students to the marriage covenant, even while finding ourselves already plopped down in one.

It helps to know that to be married, to stay married, is to commit to being a beginner.

Women in our society are frequently and especially sequestered to an imaginary starting line at each stage of life. Each milestone of age and position is burdened with a new set of flawed expectations and matrices of “success” that generally disregards the preceding set. Meanwhile, as our gender goes through those gymnastics, our culture values finishers. Winners. Experts.

And I am never finished being married. Being a wife.

At times, he is my companion and confidant and my opposite in all the right ways. We are walking beside each other now with fresh, substantive memories of Guatemala, a year of counseling under our belt, triumphs and trials in ministry, joined hopes for a daughter, harmonious perspectives on our family and families. He knows the valley I am in right now, agrees with it, sometimes identifies with it, and is willing to study it.

At other times, he has been a stranger and changes from my complimentary opposite to the opposition. He can be the catapult sending me into deep places of fear and abandonment. I have been a person from whom he wants to flee, who has not been safe and caused indifference to pattern. We have seen each other in the psalmist’s agony: “For it is not an enemy who taunts me–…then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (55:12-14).

Marriage-keeping is a constant starting over because people change and the covenant does not follow. In Kathleen Norris’ words, we continually have said “yes” to marriage. With each yes, our understanding of the cost of the yes is greater, and it began quite steep. In a bizarre arrangement, the first agreement in marriage is the instant of the least understanding. Our first agreement was June 10, 2006 around 2:45pm PST. Since that walk to the end of the aisle, there have been many feelings of dead ends. The end of our healthy arguing resources. The end of our love for each other. The end of our wits. But our dead ends are not His. We are not beholden to the weight of the moment.

And so we begin again. Reacquainting. Refilling. Learning to share again. Share the bathroom. Share the plans. Share a smile. With each yes, true the cost is understood better. But also with each yes,  each dawn of a wedded day, the thing that is greater than two small lives put beside each other is understood better. The sense that roots are deepening, vows are divine, and that this thing, this breathing animal called marriage, is worth insisting on, morning and night, becomes stronger.

I have often considered what a good marriage might be. Aside from our mission and what we may accomplish or do together. What would count as success at this ongoing starting line? Do I aim to be conflict-less? Is passing the years without splitting up the goal? If my kids think of marriage as desirable? So far I know two arcing hopes for the journey–two things that would contribute to making a marriage beautiful: that whatever our marriage brings and shows, our need for Jesus–our reliance on Him–is dominant. And two, that because of that, we can fully engage the humanness, the ups and the downs, honestly, openly, deeply, so as to work out this thing without losing either of us.

Sometimes people ask us for counsel and about our story. Not because we appear to have it figured out but I suspect because we are obviously such difficult people, so human and full of trying. Beginning. Hopefully this helps. Knowing there are others who fight in their marriage but mostly fight for their marriage. Knowing it is hard and deep and confusing. Believing in humble beginnings and perpetual starting lines and coming to rely on those as the saving graces that change one day into a span of years.

We have been beginning our marriage for over seven years.  It is a start.

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