A winding, long way around

It has been such a long pause, and so much has happened and not happened.

Tonight I’d like to speak to something that has happened: a major job and career change for Ryan–an unexpected grace.

At first I was incredulous and then was doubtful it would work out, but, lo and behold, he is going to be a social studies teacher and administrator, grades 6-8, at my old stomping grounds, Los Angeles Christian School. This time we are not missionaries, but we remain dedicated, just as clear about our desire to be here, in this neighborhood, with this community, and he is thrilled. To him, this is a long-term decision. He wants to take classes himself, and recalls wondering why he didn’t major in History in college, taking the seemingly safer Business route instead. Life is funny.

The last job was helpful. It gave him confidence. It made him appreciate things he had before. It afforded him the opportunity to offer friends jobs, who still continue with the company. It made us miss him and him us and it made him grow in the art of saying no… Ultimately, he had to say no. It was a big, big job and he did it well, but there was no end in sight to the rigorous demands and it was not what he had agreed to–so less than a year later, he was applying to all kinds of places, closer to home, closer to his heart, and we ended up very close indeed.

This afternoon the family spent a few hours in his disheveled classroom, sorting through posters, wrestling with staplers, and (the youngest amongst us…) playing with clay and computer games. Down the hall was where our time with World Impact and this urban context first began, 10 years ago when I volunteered as a creative writing teacher as a senior at Azusa Pacific. Next door was my Language Arts class–I wondered today if I’d ever return. The timelines of his classroom do not catch my eye like the materials next door, even though I deeply respect and admire the students of the subject. We want this school to thrive, and more importantly, the students in it. He’s excited for the opportunity to encourage that.

A while back I read this:

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one and I blessed him and made him many. The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.*

What a wonderful thing to know the rock from which you were cut. To know the grander story that yours springs from, no matter how convoluted and shadowed, how inequitably privileged or under-resourced, no matter how unknown the next step is—the direction from which you hail, the people to which you most belong. The great privilege of teaching Social Studies in a Christian middle school is to offer this footing, this framework, to the developing story of 11-14 year olds. Look to the rock from which you were cut, you who are unsure, you who are lonely, or grappling for someone’s approval. Look to your way, way back family — and know you have been blessed and included.

Get your bearings, young men and women, in history and heritage and build hope for the joy and gladness promised.

This is our scripture too; this is our history lesson. Over a year ago, he was applying for another job. He wanted to be in schools back then and a disturbed and powerful man was set on keeping him from being hired–a man I have not been able to write about because of the risk. We then were spun into a tornado of lies and grief, becoming acquainted in new ways with suffering and injustice. It did not really resolve; it has not yet resolved. But today, Ryan is in a school, working with kids in the city, affirmed and appreciated. It isn’t justice, but it is grace–that despite everything, he’s employed, at a school, doing something he loves, and our family is still intact.

Tonight, we may not have the homework, the class periods, and the teacher that used to substitute under the name “Mr. Razzle Dazzle”–but we have the rock, we bear the family promise. May we find our bearings in the quarries and deserts of our days, and feel the Lord’s compassion on the ruins.

1 night, 1 4-inch binder, 1 gentleman and 87 days // 8

It has almost been 8 months since our eyes were changed permanently. When three strangers entered our home, after I had returned from a rare girls night out. We had watched The Fault in Our Stars. It was a late balmy night, unsuspecting and innocent. Almost 8 months since two strangers formed one opinion while the other came with her own established. 8 months since a child was taken and this clawing journey began.

Last night we received a uniformed visitor.

It was one of the strangers from June who has now been at our doorstep 5 times. He does not seem like a stranger any more. He, like she, also walked through our home, examined our children, spoke to each of us separately, and is in a profession of protection, service, and risk. He is a police officer.

His and his partner’s role that night was largely to protect the social worker should things go badly in this then-unknown home. They were not to weigh in on her decisions or process that night. He adhered to his role that night but has since allowed it to become much more.

This police officer and his partner expressed concern, disbelief and regret immediately after she left with the baby. He came by the next day to give us his card and offer help. He came by a few months later to check in after receiving a message at their office from us. He came by last night with a copy of an e-mail he had sent in response to a request for information from DCFS. It seemed that someone, somewhere, had received one of our many letters formally complaining of the conduct we experienced that night. Without him, we would have never known it, as USPS recipient receipts and personal requests for confirmation of our letters have not been returned.

Almost 8 months ago we found an unlikely friend, one of about three we have encountered in the dozens of people we’ve communicated with–in the Department and in the force–since that night. We have a 4-inch binder documenting all of our correspondence and the reports and visits that have occurred since we brought baby girl home to this day. We have been waiting 87 days to learn if the Department will correct its decision to put our home on hold, closed to children to need it, closing our hearts to this dream. Despite the state’s decision to re-license us, we may not be allowed to support the county family welfare system again. We don’t know if the long debate in the upper ranks is encouraging or alarming given the past 8 months.  We don’t know all that she endured since leaving and how she has developed and healed now. We don’t know if anything will come of this officer’s report that collaborates our own and if anyone is looking at both the social worker under question and our home approval at the same desk, though one certainly determined the other.

Much has happened in the past 8 months to change our understanding of law enforcement and power in our city. We have encountered many officers and read many news stories that have robbed us of prior confidence and a feeling of safety and justice. On a personal scale and on a grand scale, grave wrongs have occurred due to the negligence of officers and their organizations.

However, there is a foil to these accounts that we had the chance to encounter last night–someone we are happy to see at our doorstep and who has come to our aid in one way he can. He has seen this story and vouched for us, and this is no small thing. He is a leader and a gentleman and we are grateful–whatever the effect of his letter, whatever the decision is about the social worker or our own foster home status–we are grateful that he became involved. That he did not brush off the discomfort and offense to his integrity that started that night. That he did not let fear or the next call, the next task, the next drama, to sweep away his attention to the last. That he maintained his values and truth in a complicated situation just because it was the right thing to do. We are incredibly grateful for this hero in this story and for the contradiction he bravely offers to so much of our experience.

I am thankful that today I will add one more page to that binder that is truthful. That today I can write a personal and positive account of an officer in our city. That today I can know that there is one outside person added to our corner since we found out we needed a corner.

photo-2

May light find a way.

Gathering the Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a lighter note than last…

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

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

(deep breath)

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

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

// pancake mix //

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

// sandals //

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

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

 

 

 

// children’s best //

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

 

 

 

// foodie much //

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

infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

// 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. //

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.

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.

 

Image

 

Image

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.

park16

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.

4637_552969513070_7901366_n

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.

The Show Will Go On

This week I thought we may need to take a day to be a family of four again. But we are still five. Gratefully, surprisingly, tiredly, five.

Another twist in the road of foster-to-adopt. Another plot twist that leads our imaginations with new anticipation and wondering.

Throughout the past three months, each day has come in rhythm. Each night there is sleep. Each day there is activity. And we chug along. At the same time, there are the outstanding questions and trailing prayers that backdrop any normalcy. Under the piles of girl laundry. Hanging in the sleepy rooms of children’s nighttime breathing. Between the rows of bottles and the crowded stretch of carseats taking up the width of the car. At times, though so entrenched in the Daily, I feel the tense waiting as though I am in an amphitheater, waiting for a show to start. The stage holds no clues to the plot; the passing of time is unmeasured and undefined. In a crowd, I watch. I fidget. I try not to write my own script.

Through all the waiting, there has been divine grace. Grace I never knew I would – I could – bear witness to and definitely could not muster. A growing compassion for the woman whose baby I hold. A friendly calm and feeling amidst an assortment of their family members I have met and spent time with. A forgiveness for unfair behavior. A peace that allows us – all five – to sleep at night and wake in the morning.

This past week has held much upheaval. Aside from our personal phone calls and turn of events, there have been attacks, bad news, injustice, and poor decisions in our surrounding community. In these times we know with painful poignancy that we are small. That our definition of safety is not what it used to be. That anger and despair could take us. That we have grown spiritual muscle for this walk in the desert but maybe not enough and it is time to reach out and it is time to feed our souls and minds with life-giving things because the rest is life-taking.

And that is not all bad.

When our life pushes our faith to become less invested in things going our way, going easy, our love for Him becomes more disinterested and less false.

And the weaker my attachment is to a comfortable, self-defined plot, the more I can appreciate and sit in spaces of ambiguity and waiting.

So I will be thankful for that. I will be thankful for one more day of rising as five. One more way Love is introducing me to Himself. One less limit I have placed on His character and plan.

Image

Psalm 6:3-6 – O Lord, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;

    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Psalm 4:8 – In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Proverbs 3:1-6 – My son and daughter, do not forget my teaching,

    but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Joy

Once, when I was a kid, I got in trouble.

I remember gettin’ a talking to for not showing enough emotion, especially when I was expected to be visibly grateful and happy. I think I was very awkward expressing emotions at some points, which may be hard for you to believe if you have been around me lately. I don’t know why I was almost non-communicative emotionally. I don’t think it was all due to being a brat. 🙂

I have been attending a 3-part class on adoption and substance abuse. Last week was about temperament. One of the dimensions they spoke about was emotional intensity. As a child, I had low emotional intensity. I was rarely hyper, excitable or giddy. I also did not show much sadness or pain. I was happy but also cautious, rational, and rule-oriented. Basically, I was 5 going on 55.

As I have become older, I have become comfortable admitting my emotions as well as a tendency towards melancholy. I am content with not being an optimist. At the same time, such a historical sense of apart-ness from the happy, hyper crowd has left me with a lingering sense of missing joy–like an observer to this great Christian virtue I never got. It has made for an internal dialogue and striving that sets joy as something foreign, other, and a “should” destination that is really tough to get to. I find joy intimidating.

There have been about a million mediocre reflections, devotions and sermons written on joy. I have found few very helpful. At the risk of adding another to the pile, here is what is helping me this year when it comes to the J-word.

Joy is not as much a behavior or demeanor as it is a current.

A space for wonder. Opening. Submitting. Tension. Aim.

I joined the shepherds this morning when I read in Luke 2 of when the angel delivered the news of so-called “great joy.” They saw Him. The area all around them was filled with His glory. They were surrounded by the sacred; they had full view of Love Himself. And yet they also stood there, filled with fear. The good news of great joy didn’t seem to take too quickly. Or did it?

So often in modernity, we are subtly and overtly told we have two choices. Grief or celebration. Democrat or Republican; liberal or conservative. Demonizing or deifying a person. Productivity or healthiness. Separating convictions or moral relativism. Sadness or happiness. All is well or all is lost.

In the current of joy, from what I can tell, there is space for and instead of or. The end of the story is not what it used to be and the field–the announcement–is big enough to handle the glory and the fear.

Therefore, I can cry over losing a baby girl without losing the possibility of rejoicing over her first holidays, even if she is never told about me. I can choose to accommodate and be hospitable to people with religious and cultural rules that are different to mine, without losing my own point of view and witness. I can lament in the current of joy. I can be completely hurt and I can forgive the perpetrator. Though I don’t exactly know where I am headed since I joined this stream, I do not have to stay put in the Pain.

Joy can be before us, as much as it feels beyond us. Much like the newborn King–who, for the joy set before Him, endured suffering. Joy can carry us, when our feet cannot find the ground but in our core we insist that there is more to this story, that there is redemption for the darkest moments. Joy frees us to remember that we are not the center of the universe but we are attended to completely. Joy shifts us so we remember that Shalom is for all people, for all parts of people, for me, for the Other, for this.

That’s all I need. Not a new personality. Not a beaming demeanor. Just a shift, a space–a to-be-continued lightness. To be included in and count myself a part of a well-ending journey–that is joy enough this year.