Recipe Sharing

It was once recommended to me to walk into a room and consider myself the worst sinner there. Not to paralyze or dismantle identity or purpose, but to deteriorate the pride and pretense, and diffuse the human condition of anger and judgment.

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Social media is the room these days.

 

I raise my hand as the first among sinners in this room. I will say that I have done all the talking and none of the listening. I have engaged when I should have ignored or just watched. I have been condescending and used my privilege and power in unproductive ways. I have experienced the remorse that comes after speaking online, and after not saying a thing.

I confess this even as I brazenly share what I wish to keep in mind going forward (I know, I have some nerve…), because this environment isn’t ending anytime soon for most of us. And self-correcting, changing our minds and resetting is what keeps us human. I collect and share these things not as a teacher but a learner–humbly, acknowledging my blunders and gaffes. For some of you, this is too conservative advice; for others, you just wish everyone would return to their recipe sharing and crafts, me especially. For the two of you interested, here is where I am working from right now. I am still writing mid-way. This is the recipe I’m interested in and tinkering with and trying to crave.

None of these are original thoughts (obvious considering your unreliable source)…They are conglomerates of advice and note-taking and scripture and reading. Take what you will to your reflection in the mirror, or in the screen; lay whatever sticks before your God and test. I’d also like to hear your approach as we strive to live into this space with integrity.

 

7 Practices in Internet Hospitality

  • Identify truth as holy. Any little blip of it. Celebrate the holy. Dwell on the holy. Proliferate the holy.
  • Bear in mind your relationship with the person, and how much you value them. Affirm this if you can, whenever you speak. We are sensitive people, changing, reacting, hiding. Keep the humanity and personhood of the other in view. You may be doing all right today. Someone else may be at their worst. Don’t compare your best to their worst. Review your relationship. Get nostalgic about the other.
  • Pray about a response. Name what you want to say or not say before the Lord. Ruminate if this is the Spirit prompting or permitting you, or if the problem is a tickling in your sense of identity or pride or fear. Consider the Beatitudes. Would speaking put you closer to one of the groups mentioned that are blessed? Would sharing align with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (Eph. 1:6-11)?
  • Consider who has the least power, both in the conversation, and in the topic at hand. Give them extra room. Pass them the mic. Share their stories if you are speaking on their behalf. Accept that narrative or point of view and sit with it for a day or two. It may be packaged in something you could tear to shreds, or in a way you fundamentally disapprove of—the powerful get to walk away and define what is respectful, what is appropriate, how something should come up, and when something should end. Defer to the less powerful. Practice Jesus’ downward mobility. This is terribly uncomfortable and divine.
  • Excuse yourself from the binary tug of war that says speaking is wrong, silence is right or vice versa. Turns out social media is a place where people have to share the Good News, be the light, fight the good fight, apologize, forgive, shut up, laugh and connect over tough stuff. Hospitality looks a lot of different ways and when we make space for another person, we make space for their approach and consider what responsibility and Love look like within that. We don’t control it. We ride it. We avail ourselves here to someone else. “Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves.” – Joan Chittister
  • Self-assess your limitations. How is my anxiety today? Am I in a self-preservation mode? Is my conclusion already set? Does this person remind me of someone else that I have unresolved issues with? Do I believe I am an established expert about this and therefore have no space to hear, and, maybe would have been invited if wanted? Some other great questions from Christena Cleveland specifically:
    • Am I believing the lie that if I don’t say it, it won’t be said?
    • Am I believing a lie that this person is bigger than God?
    • Am I remembering all humans are like grass?
    • Am I confusing taking up my cross with placing myself as a martyr?
  • Give and receive grace. What is your heart here? What is their heart here? Conduct yourself with integrity; there are no points. This is not debate class. Remember a time when you believed something wholeheartedly differently than now. Be prolific and sincere in your apologies and vulnerabilities; overlook whatever you can that is offensive and skip the vain defenses. Forgive yourself, and sit with the Lord to receive His forgiveness. Pray for the other person, the other pilgrim. Mercy is poured out each new day over us all. Grace is glory.

 

May the God of hope dwell within you richly.

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A Summer Solstice

I am an emotional wreck today. (Hush, those of you questioning that last word.) It’s relentlessly hot in Los Angeles and the heat scrambles all my emotional regulators and reason like eggs on a sidewalk. It just ain’t happenin over here. I would like to turn in my Adult card.

Sometimes the lack of my self-powered clarity and control allows a rush of Truth, over the rocks of desperation and face palms of discouragement. And in the midst of a mess, there’s a gift. Today, I remembered my name and was helped with worth. Even amidst the nonsensical noise that constantly, CONSTANTLY, fills my life with happiness and joy…

I urge you to walk in a manner worth of the calling to which you have been called…Eph 4:1

In an excerpt from For The Love, I read Jen Hatmakers’ litmus test for sound theological application after decades of her drinking the upper-class, homogenous white American Christianity Kool-aid that served her well with rights, wrongs and shoulds, but not always WELL. In essence, she’s landed on one helpful comparison to aid her escape: If it isn’t true for a poor single mom on Haiti, it isn’t true for me—theology is true for everyone. An interesting juxtaposition. I have some qualms but I see the point.

Today, this was the plate on which I was served Truth. As for me and my house, well— not really sure about serving the Lord today, but we are sure sweaty and cranky and needy—how about that! Conveniently, the little existential doubts about how I’m living life and how we are leading our family follow on the heels of, like, feeling defeated by Legos. No big THANG.

(They are literally so small and annoying and PREVALENT.)

It is a luxury to fret about our calling and decisions, to have options to weigh–to wrestle with what to buy and how to spend your free time. None of that is helpful to me today. But this, the litmus test and the Haitian woman whom I’d like to know, helped lift the weight.

To live a life worthy of the calling to which I am called does not mean gain professional development, put myself out there more, be a better housekeeper or have the admiration of other women. It does not mean I have to be perfectly groomed or humored or supportive. It means to have character. To be devoted to Love. These things are not accessible to the advantaged alone but also our sister in Haiti. Also to me at my worst. Character over competency, production, and charisma. Oh good, but oh crap.

So I don’t need to feel lousy about my disorganized closet and how that person treated me or be embarrassed when I size up my life compared to someone else’s. And I don’t need to feel secure all of a sudden when someone asks for my opinion or my kid does something well. I sit squarely before one set of eyes, grasped by one set of scarred hands. I may pretend to earn that spot and I may pretend I am outside of His gaze but my name suggests otherwise. Danielle means God is my judge, as the Old Testament prophet said, and my life is valuable insofar as it remains in His economy. His equalizing, grace-filled, no-nonsense system of rescued worth.

So maybe you find yourself a little disenchanted today. A little less enthused with your job, your hats, your people, your Self, this early summer day. Maybe along the way of fighting the good fight, you’ve become a little scrambled too and feel a little sensitive also.

You and I are not the sum total of our accomplishments and image and poise. You and I and the lady in Haiti are called to not dissimilar things. I want to walk in a manner worthy of that other-worldly economy; I want to stay in the belonging of that Grace-Gospel. So the hot days rattle less. So I have more in common with my namesake than the right or the left, or the perfectionism that haunts me. Peace be the journey.

An Untethered Courage

Courage, courage
Is what the Life and Deaths
Of Faith
Require.

There have been times in life that make us feel courageous, that we are courageous people, perhaps by the grace of God but also perhaps by our own virtue.

These are rarely the times of true courage.

It seems that true courage, or the next courage, feels crappy. It is not when the mission is utterly clear, when the sacrifices are distinct, and the rewards are quick to the tongue. Sure we were exhausted, sure those were good callings and brave steps, but we were comforted by many assurances that this new courage may leave behind. I suspect that true courage is found in its purest form in the ambiguity, in the dry mouth of shock and the straining eyes of “what is next?”

In and around me, I see the battle cries. The ones dismissing people from faith, from understanding Scripture, from their circle of trust, because it’s all too foreign. The ones setting a church over another, handing out excommunication slips with the slip of the tongue, freely and full of pity. The ones buckled to a certain position on a temporal issue, that is of course higher in the heavenly rungs of Babel than the next. I hear the scraping of lines being drawn, in the sand, on the cement, in people’s flesh and blood, raw with passion, rightness and self-aggrandizement. And blood, blood, is everywhere. Under a shoddy understanding of courage and conviction, we enclose ourselves in echo chambers that murder any shred of a will we had to understand and be curious about the Other. And I can’t find eternity and I don’t know a Divine voice.

I have been in the debates. I have defended my view, easily attacked the opposing side, dismissed a fellow Christian, felt full of my own rightness and bravery, thought my choices were all probably going to trump theirs whenever the scoring took place. I care very much about many of the “issues” at hand and many of the rights and wrongs worrying the Church today. But I have lost the courage I knew before—the courage that emboldened me to argue much, for long, in the face of the echo chambers. I have gone through enough (dare I hope?) disappointment the past two years to have to face a different type of courage I must learn. For me, it is one that requires more faith, more silence, and less stability.

This courage is less rewarding. It is a grueling morning of dragging one’s body awake, into the naked air, squinting at the abrasive, unrelenting Light, and slowly, resigned and resolute, adding “well” to the “it is” of the night before.

This is the new, next courage.

A courage that is craved and imitated poorly.

From the looks of it, this courage is less likely to call a person an enemy and less likely to be productive in the ways I’ve practiced. It seems that this courage is going to ask me more about Forgiveness and less about Rightness. It may mean the death of some discussions and the start of better ones. It’s going to scoot my actions and activism to the side, not to expire them but to bleed out the toxins of loyalty to any one culture above one Kingdom.

And in this new courage, I recognize that old friend grace—that soulful desire for embrace and being embraced continues, a metaphor Miroslav Volf explains by “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, prior to any judgment about others except that of identifying them in their humanity.” And speaking of identity, this courage does not rest in any resumé entries, from schooling to fostering to missionarying to mothering to developing. It just is. Alone. Without promises, untethered by the things to which I like to tether.

Perhaps you too are deflated from the night, from the pile of “it is”-s of the past. All of those debates and deaths and doings that have left us undone. And daylight is awakening a profound discontentment. If this courage makes sense in your new year too, if the morning is also brash and there are a lot of untethering things, not least of all your self, that you’re wanting the Divine to make well, let’s ask together, What is courageous in this place? What deaths and no’s or new-life yesses does a new-courage faith ask?”

“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:18b-20

Quote from Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 29.

Publicly Mistaken for the Arrival of a Stranger – My Story

“I do not understand. Where are you from?”

He was a scuba instructor and we were in a pool, about 90 degrees cool, on the east coast of Africa. His English was heavily accented in that clipped Kenyan cadence I never mastered. I was maybe 15. There were no other Asian tourists that I can recall but then again, I was technically a resident. And though I was racially Asian, I was ethnically white, with an increasingly amount of ethnic space under construction. Thus his confusion. He thought he knew me, and the words “adopted” “Nairobi” and “American” did not compute without further explanation. I thought I knew myself too, but that, I would learn, would never be the whole story.

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I am adopted from South Korea. I was raised by and primarily absorbed the white suburban middle class culture of the Pacific Northwest. At age 11, I went to South Korea and the Philippines and I felt more at home in the Philippines. Soon after, we were headed overseas as missionaries, in a state of constant travel and transition until landing in Nairobi at age 13. I attended an international school there, the 2nd largest nationality there being South Korean. My white parents adopted my three youngest siblings, who are racially black but ethnically a blend of the international sub-cultures they lived in and white suburban middle class. For university I returned to the States but a region I’d never spent time in before: Southern California. I attended a school that was committed to promoting multi-ethnic awareness and was proud of its diversity in a crowd of Christian colleges typically monocultural. I struggled as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) reacclimatizing to the United States after formative years away.

Out of college I began living and working in the diverse urban center of Los Angeles that reminded me in many ways of Nairobi. I married a white man whose family has lived in the same white suburb for generations. I also attended a seminary that forced me to continue to interact with and study from people with different racial, ethnic, cultural and theological backgrounds, by text and in person. We became certified to foster and adopt through the county and took cross-racial and cross-cultural parenting classes. I am watching my younger siblings make the tough transition across the ocean that I did, in the opposite direction, still not matching their surroundings, racially or ethnically. I daily interact with people who have had completely different experiences than me, partly due to their familial culture, their economic and geographical history, and partly due to their race. I love my city and my family and I am a career student of the stories therein.

These are the bullet points to a lifelong continuing journey of learning about race and reconciliation.

I am no expert. I don’t hold any keys or any exclusive rights to this conversation; quite the opposite. I happen to like writing and talking. I make a lot of mistakes.

From walking through sewered pathways in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi to reading Gustavo Gutierrez’s On Job to finding my heart ashamed as I realized deep, unfounded fear of another race in college to seeing the Gospel in new ways in the housing projects of Los Angeles, I am convinced that despite all my blindspots and all my mistakes, I will continue to learn from and talk about people with different levels of privilege than me. I am dead set on keeping in touch with the margins in this issue because I believe that Jesus is there and when I insist that the strangers to my life are strangers, I miss truth. I accept an under-developed level of compassion and understanding that will hurt my community, my siblings, the Church, and my own children. There is ample opportunity for this story-exchange and learning in today’s world; in tomorrow’s, it will not be optional.

It is my privilege that this is a choice. That I could choose to go through life without talking to people who are not white and not of the model minority race with which people secondarily attach me. It is a privilege that I grew up seeing leaders, authority figures, illustrated Jesus and the disciples, and heroes portrayed as the race I primarily identified with (though not the gender). Constant translation of pervasive icons and messages was unnecessary to me as a child because I so strongly accepted my white ethnic identity; my ethnic identity was normative and dominant so I did not have to be actively aware of my race or ethnicity. For others, translation and accommodations and making room for the stranger, the other story, the social norms that don’t correlate with your own identity and experience, are constant. That is called being a minority. And I tend to think that those who have been cognizant of their race and racial relations all their life have more to teach me about the subject than I them.

When Ryan first went to our local Costco with me, he left with a stark realization of his white-ness. Did it define who he was? No. Did it explain all of his behaviors, mistakes, idiosyncrasies and worldview thenceforth? No. But the fact that he had never been in a public place in the United States and been forced to think about being the only person of his racial background spoke to his racial privilege. This isn’t an indictment; this is a fact.

I speak and learn about race not as a victim or as an intrinsically conflicted adult TCK with adoption issues (both of which I’ve been accused of). I speak and learn about race as someone who has enjoyed a great deal of privilege and knows it. I do not feel guilty about that; I feel more informed about that than I used to be. That’s all. I wish more people would learn about this with me, correct me and listen to my limited stories. I wish that more of my brothers and sisters in Christ would be vulnerable and humble online and in person, sharing their stories, their questions, their fears, and listening in this arena.

I sincerely apologize to those that I have rubbed the wrong way in this journey for the things I have said and tones I have used that have inadvertently excused you from the conversation. I am truly sorry for the part I’ve played in separating us from connecting and engaging with this topic to the degree that your response has to do with me. I am not going to stop talking about race and listening to and highlighting the voices of the underprivileged, but I am hoping to do it better. I am new to this topic; for those who have not been racially or ethnically privileged, they do not have that luxury.

In international communities, it is normal to acknowledge race and nationality and celebrate the differences. It’s not the basis from which to understand people but it is a useful description that is not taboo. Current events in our nation continue to raise the issue of race relations, which are incredibly relevant and important to my family and local community. Yet this has struck a good/bad false choice in people that jars my heart deeply. I had forgotten, after many years in an international community, the academy and now in international Los Angeles, that debating racial issues could be an abrasive topic from the outset in circles where the very subject of race is politely avoided (out of often good intentions). I recognize that in bringing up solidarity with the race-based experiences of other races, I have threatened a white solidarity unspoken norm at times. As a result, I have been rejected from circles to which I used to belong. I can see my own past and current tendency with what has been termed “white fragility” in avoiding acknowledging any privilege or dominant influence my ethnic category has had on society as a whole. I almost daily recognize knee-jerk reactions against these hard, awkward conversations and situations in an attempt to make myself feel more comfortable and innocent. I get these postures. But I want to move away from them. And if this is a constant source of alarm and offense to you, perhaps we should unfriend and step apart for a time; I deeply hope to reconvene later.

At the end of my life, I hope that I was able to be a public learner–which is to say, a public, apologetic, messer-upper. I’ve said before that part of my purpose in this blog is to write part-way–to disclose weak and deconstructed parts of my journey in order to normalize and invite the secret struggles of others. Part of my purpose as a parent and older sibling is to show them why Jesus matters in every context and to model being brave and broken. This matter of race and reconciliation is of utmost importance to me and, I believe, central to an understanding of the Christian faith. For this reason, I’m willing to have awkward and fruitless conversations and go there. I’m okay with being publicly embarrassed and discredited along the way. I’ve accepted that I’ve made mistakes and I’m going to make more and I know that the people I need most in life are going to still track with and love me through those blunders.

I yearn for companions on this journey. Would you let me know if you are on this path too? I know that you are strong enough and there is courage in numbers. I love the black women who reached out to people with different hair and capitalized upon racial curiosity. I love that now that I live south of Koreatown, I am learning about my own hair for the first time! There is such freedom in talking about our differences, from hair to how we define respect. All I am saying is that I am listening to new accounts and it is changing my own to be more truthful. It is opening wider places of understanding and humility and while it is hard and frustrating, it resonates in my soul as right and He is near.

This is my story with this collective story of our country called race and ethnicity. This is why I care and why I keep talking about it. May our lifelong pursuit of wholeness (shalom) bring us ever closer to each other and our Creator.

Matthew 25:38-39
“And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? ’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

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.

An Invitation from an Account Under Construction

When you are afraid of what other Christians will think if you love someone, you have probably identified a place where the church has led you astray from the Christ.

If you hold a doctrine up to the light to see through it better, and are rejected, you have challenged the auto-pilot, in your self and in your former group. And maybe, just maybe, allowed someone the grace of going after you.

Should you feel weighted by an identity you both cherish but continually causes you to grimace, I am at your side. And I have often felt afraid and I am a regular at the misfit table. Because I am not an expert on this New Life thing.

Let’s add a leaf, because it seems to be a good place to be.

 

When we read the story of the man at Bethesda, the one Jesus sees and knows has lain there for a very long time, the question echoes: do you want to be healed? When you say “yes, but…” and He pronounces YOU up, He pronounces YOU free, well, there is nothing to do but to walk. To walk on the Sabbath and face the red tape. To walk alone and to walk away from the conventional pools of healing you could never get to. You, like that walking man, may not even know for a while that it was Jesus who healed you. He may have to visit again before you get it. But that is what He does. That is who He is. A visitor. A pursuer.

 

He changes our account of things. 

 

If our account of things hasn’t changed very much, it is a scary book we wield as holy and an aging lord we announce. Isn’t the Story living and active? Isn’t He characterized by always working, the One who never had to learn, the Creator of tenderness and justice and possibility? So why are we so still. So still on our mats. So stuck in our thinking. So notorious in our reactions.

Brothers and sisters, he said after Bethesda, “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

 

Here at the misfit table, I know one thing right now: THIS IS NOT LIFE. Policies and pulling money and tantrums and cyberwars and accusations and flip flopping and ultimatums and fear are not life. They are manipulation. They are power. They are controlling and they are not Him.

His work will never be based on temporal categories. His generosity has never been contingent upon agreement. The life He offers and lived is and was never about majorities.

 

We are all becoming. We are all scandalously healed on the Sabbath. We all miss Jesus when He is right in front of us and we all may think what’s in front of us IS Jesus when He has left.

 

These are the true things that I have to remind myself of when I am so embarrassed. So sad. So wanting to give in to anger-pride and flee the scene, writing my own one-dimensional stories of others. These are the broken pieces that make up the Church. Church is a community that is all about being wrong and helpless. Sometimes I forget and think we are together because we have the same mission, or we have the same priorities, or we have the same united love.

But no, we are together mostly because we are broken and it took unconventional means to heal us. We are together because at some point in our lives, we didn’t have all the answers–we just had One. Why does that change so much after donning this so-called faith? Over and over, we lie down in old ways, adopt our old accounts of things, and He comes and says, “Do you want to be healed?”

 

If you are broken too, will you join me? If you want a new Life, can I be your company? It would be less scary to answer “yes but…” and walk away together. To see what it is like outside the stagnant pools that are surrounded by mats that have been there a very.long.time. To find the misfit table of questions, invitations and new accounts.

 

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.

(John 5:2-15 ESV)

Beauty and Ashes and Forward

There is so much of me that craves beauty.

It is almost a tangible deficiency somedays, when my smile is lagging, when my breaths are pulled taut, when my attention is scattered like my son’s die cast cars across the carpet. The endless ocean of die cast cars…

I cannot even begin to name that hunger when physical hunger often is missed while I am running between diapers, doctors, and dirty clothes. Without real effort, I cannot even begin to identify that what I really want is to see the Beauty Between. In all the crevices of Normal and Sub-par. The super in the natural. That is what I really need. But my senses get dull so easily.

And then I watch a short video about unexpected love and a pulling, exhausting attachment. Or I hear a song that reminds me of Pretty and of the sunshines I keep company with. I witness my oldest speaking to my youngest in a compassionate and tender tone, moments after I consider a day-long time-out. Or I suddenly miss a beautiful friend who passed away two short, long weeks ago. I think about her and the beauty of her generosity, her sassy style, her beautifully-crafted story of resilience and healing.

And these things strike a chord, a reverberating deep chord of the Sacred. Of the Beauty I miss, not because it is not around me but because I am slow and too fast and I think I need to be in the woods to have it. To participate.

It has been a relief-less run lately. Asher’s 6th febrile seizure and his terrible rendition of the flu took me off guard. I couldn’t stop crying one night when his diaper and the day’s events took me back to Guatemala and a particularly desperate time of not knowing what to do about his health. I stared at the Maytag downstairs, telling myself he was okay, it was okay, and I tried to focus on the amazing thing of a washing machine and an extra sheet and ER this time around. Ryan and I are having tough discussions in an effort of discernment and dreams are scary to name and disappointments hurt and distractions demand. We have been thrown into a “child welfare” system and a process and scenario no amount of classes could foreshadow and we are helpless. It is all waiting and responsibility and confusion. Losing Lily has left a hole, even for me on the peripheral. I expect her to drop by and then my heart drops. And her children, no matter how many – and there are many – loving aunties and motherly neighbors they have, have lost their mom. Their motivator, their fan, their hero. And other children will talk and complain about their moms and be sent to school with Valentine’s Day doo-dads from their moms and will not have had to find the perfect size 6 girls dress for their mom’s memorial service. We can mother them but we cannot be their mother. His wife. Their rock.

Beauty, bullets to my ignored heart from the unexpected sources, in the midst of this cloud of welling and numbing, hits me hard and sudden. Fleeting, but reminding me of True and Noble and Praiseworthy and Excellent. And I am crying not because of fear, or even of grief, but just craving. Of recognition and longing.

The pilgriming is hard, isn’t it?

In these days, beauty reminds me that the promise is still coming. That nothing is wasted. That something in me is still alive and creative and wanting more is part of the journey forward. That now is all we have and nothing I am cleaning or fretting over is for keeps.

In these days, with disguised beauty and bulleted beauty and coming beauty, I am trying to remember to stop. To look. I am trying to believe that the heaviest things are not the truest things necessarily. That crying over a Chinese commercial isn’t just crying over a Chinese commercial. That pausing to peer at a die cast car with a four-year-old is worthwhile. That beauty knocks and sneaks in and beauty is even within this fidgeting, weary frame. Because this frame is part of Creation and humanity and there is good and beauty because He makes it so.

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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.

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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.

Peace

I’m sure she would have liked to know the part about the stable.

Giving birth in the company of animals, no matter how primitive your normal life, does not shout “favored one” or “his kingdom will have no end.” It did not confirm the calling on her life and body and probably wasn’t the set up to the Messiah and a new reputation that she was anticipating. The darkness of the night must have been punctuated by great disappointment. By heavy question marks that asked, is there a mistake? Is this truly happening?

Still, somehow, that is the story. That is the nativity, the pageant, the beginning.

So many times this past year, I have not wanted the story I was given or a part of. I have cried and prayed beside people whose stories were not panning out. I have watched plot twists that left people in deep nighttime, susceptible to loneliness and despair. In my own small world, 2013 has included more than its share of stables and instability.

It is for us, then, that dawn breaks.

We are the ones with our eyes fixed on the sky, who know that our greatest fears are not always unfounded and are peering through them to find a new star. We know the allure of apathy and absenteeism and can also testify to that pump of energy and faith that is a brief gift, completely unmanufactured by our own will or effort–simply a lifeline until the next calm can be found. We are the ones who grip another’s hand harder than we have had to before, who have come to readily admit our limitations because the lie of carrying them alone and quietly has been shattered by reality. We have come to the end of ourselves and found that He embraces that journey and frees us to our need. We are the ones less convinced than ever of worldly frameworks of health and happiness.

Just as there was no place for them, the immaculate conception, in the inn, things have probably passed that we had no room for–in our psyche, our emotional muscles, our schedules, our faith. We had no constructs to get through the time with, to lead us in the nights. We look up with empty hands, feeling unsheltered and oh so tired.

I am praying, leaning, holding my breath–that this advent would welcome the dawn of redeeming grace we sing about and for which we search. In the silent nights that haunt us, in the stables of disappointment. Not of a deus ex machine hero tale that dismisses what has happened but a step in each narrative towards resolution. A creeping towards the Prince of Peace. A filter, a blanket, over and under and through the darkness.

That would be peace. That would be a small way to add an ornament to the assorted memories of the year, a bridge to the unfinished ballads. That is the Christmas we need–not high-gloss but deep footing. We need to know that “those who dwelt in deep, intense darkness, on them the light shone”–in exile, in disobedience, in famine, in suffering. In birth and new life.

…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us…

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 

to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 1:78-79

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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