Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Waxing Spiritual: "O Holy Night"

Truly he taught us to love one another.

I'm grieving the many lives lost at the hands of those who justify their actions with law, ideology, and their knowledge of good and evil.

I am standing in solidarity with the vulnerable:

Pakistani students
Those in the path of ISIS
Too many caught in the conflicts of their forefathers

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

I understand why God says, "Vengeance is mine." When vengeance is left to us, we inflict painful, harmful damage--like a sibling in a rage over some perceived offense. Two wrongs do not make a right. And yet our world continues to hop on the merry-go-round of "eye for an eye" policies and "he had it coming" justifications.

Meanwhile, parents and children grieve.

No explanations or justifications assuage those voids.

Chains will he break for the slave is our brother.

I am grateful that when God saw the mess we made of our world, he did not come with weapons to repay us in kind. Rather, he came in dark skin with lungs that require oxygen as a needy, vulnerable child who would grow up within religious and political systems run by authorities concerned with self-preservation and control.

And God-as-man would subvert them not with power but with surrender, not with vengeance but with forgiveness, not with violence but with peace.

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Jesus is scandalous because his justice is accomplished by self-sacrifice, because his judgement is mercy.

Jesus is scandalous because he does not dignify the self-righteous and vilify the criminal. Jesus is scandalous because he does not believe one man's sin renders his life less valuable than another.

His is a methodology that is foolishness to our world and our culture and even our churches. Jesus would never bother over nativity scenes in front of government buildings or cashiers wishing customers a "Happy Holidays" because he's too busy bleeding with victims of actual oppression.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we.

He is nothing like us. His instinct is neither self-defense nor revenge.

Let all within us praise His holy name.

This Christmas, I grieve and lament the tragic losses we inflict upon each other.

But I celebrate Emmanuel, God with us, who lay in the street with Michael Brown and fought for air with Eric Garner and suffered with hostages in Sydney and rode trains with Muslim brothers and sisters afraid of backlash and bled alongside the children in Peshawar and knelt with the victims of ISIS, and who also descended into hell to whisper grace to the men who pulled the trigger, who swung the sword, who tightened their grip on judgement and power.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever.

What we see now is not the end of the story.

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Easter is coming.

O night divine, O night, O night divine. 

But for now, Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stay the Course

Tonight before bed, Benjamin said, "I'm tired of pretending."

The statement startled me with its vulnerability, so I said something like, "I know that feeling. Tell me more."

And he did. About how sometimes, other kids talk about books they've read or movies they've seen or things they've done that he hasn't, often because we haven't let him yet. And since he doesn't want to say his mom and dad won't let him, he sometimes plays along, pretending he knows what they're talking about.

"But I'm tired of pretending. I don't want to do that anymore."

I listened hard, restating what I heard him saying, empathizing, asking questions. It's easy to relate, because we all know that feeling of wanting to be in-the-know, of worrying that we're missing out because we lack certain knowledge or experience. We talked about which books or movies come up, with whom he has these conversations, other ways he handles the situation.

At some point he said, "I have two feelings about this, but they're kind of opposite. One is that I don't want to feel left out, like I don't know things. But also," and here he teared up with sincerity, "I really, really trust you and Daddy. I know you are making these decisions because you think they're best for me, so I don't want to read or see those things."

I was stunned: first by his ability to articulate the conflict within himself, but most of all by his faith in us.

I thanked him for his trust and shared how seriously Daddy and I take our decisions, always weighing a variety of factors. We talked and talked about how frustrating and hard it can be to feel left out and about what would happen if he was simply honest.

Eventually he came to the conclusion that there's primarily one kid around whom he feels he has to pretend. "With other kids, it's like they just want to talk about something they're interested in; it's not to make me feel bad. But with [this kid], it seems like he wants me to know how much he gets to see."

And so we discussed motives, how sometimes kids show off not to make us feel bad but to impress us, because they respect us. I shared that most often, people aren't doing things "at us" (stealing Glennon Melton's wise words); rather, their actions reflect something inside of themselves.

We trekked upstairs where he got ready for bed, and then I tucked him in, thanking him for sharing his feelings with me, reminding him that I am always willing to listen or talk.

Benjamin said, "Sometimes I don't like to talk about stuff, but when I do, it just feels so good after."


So here's the thing: aside from how much I enjoyed this conversation with my son, how privileged I feel that he is willing to open up to me, his confession that he really, truly trusts us was a gift of peace. A gift he doesn't even realize he gave me.

If you've been around my blog for a while, you know that as I've raised my kiddos, I've wrestled insecurity as a mama--wondering at times if I was doing this parenting job all wrong, if I was messing up my kids, if my failures would trump my love and intentions. Because let's be honest: when the kids are in the irrational and sometimes insane stages of the early years where they rail against boundaries like it's their job (because it is), no matter how cute they are, you wonder some days if all is for nought.

As we move into the relatively stable years of middle childhood, though, I'm getting to watch my kids emerge from the chaos as these truly remarkable people.

And Benjamin's statement tonight reached down deep in my soul to assure me that, yes--despite the numerous times I've reacted rather than responded, yelled rather than soothed, modeled anger rather than forbearance--my kids see that at my core, I am for them, not against them. They recognize that I love them, that I'm looking out for them, that I'm doing my best to make decisions that will benefit them.

They see that love so strongly, in fact, that Benjamin can acknowledge it even in the midst of discomfort caused by those very decisions.

It is the most intoxicating grace.

And so, parents of littles, I want to offer this encouragement: stay. the. course.

Keep doing the hard, thankless, tiresome work of loving, which sometimes looks like snuggles and other times looks like consequences; which sometimes speaks tenderly and other times speaks firmly (fiercely, even); which sometimes feels fun and fulfilling and other times feels futile and fruitless; which sometimes offers forgiveness in failure and other times fails and seeks forgiveness.

A day is coming when that railing child you're certain you've failed will look you in the eyes and say, "I trust you."

And you will realize that your messy attempts at mothering or fathering have, by grace, been received in the spirit in which they were intended.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Malala, Love, Wins

(This is a repost from last fall. Malala was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a grand, public reminder that Love wins.)

Most nights before bed, Josh and I watch Jon Stewart's The Daily Show in order to get a chuckle from the otherwise despair-inducing lunacy of the political realm. A couple nights ago, we watched Jon Stewart interview Malala, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year in retaliation for advocating for education for girls. Miraculously, she survived, and her platform has exploded. She was even nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

If you can watch the interview, please do (ignoring Upworthy's summary at the top...not quite accurate). About four minutes in, she makes a statement so pure, so beautiful, it stuns Jon Stewart and evokes uproarious applause from the audience. He asks her how she felt when she learned she was being targeted by the Taliban, and she responds with this:

"...even after the threat, when we saw it, I was not worried about myself that much. I was worried about my father, because we thought that the Taliban are not that much cruel that they would kill a child, because I was fourteen at the time. But then later on, I used to, like, I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come and he would just kill me. 

But then I said, 'If he comes, what would you do, Malala?' 

Then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him' [audience laughter]. 

But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.' 

Then I said, 'I'll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well,' and then I would tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you. Now do as you want.'"

In the face of imminent death, she wishes to bless her enemy. She decides she will not fight hatred and violence with the same weapons of destruction. She will not be like them. Instead, she will lay down her life for the sake of all children, even his.

Did you hear it? Did you hear the voice speaking through this precious Muslim girl, through a mouth now lopsided from the Taliban's bullet? She speaks Love. She speaks Mercy. She speaks Grace. She offers body broken and blood shed to the Taliban, to some of the hardest, cruelest of hearts who claim to act in the name of God.

The audience went wild. Jon Stewart, giving all due respect to her proud father in the wings, asked if he could adopt her. The video has since gone viral on facebook and news outlets. The world does not stand in the presence of such Love unchanged.

It's an upside down gospel. The crucified conquer, not the powerful. The last and the least become first. 

And ultimately, I believe the "first" will be won by the glorious beauty of grace, too. 

Because one day, I believe the Taliban will stand before Love and Truth. There may be weeping and gnashing of teeth as they recognize the great wounds they've inflicted upon this world. But they will find themselves before one who says, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." And if they will receive the grace, if they will not hide in fear and shame, they will put down their guns, surrendering their religious ideology to a person. Then they, too, will know Love. 

In fact, it's already happening. They've already glimpsed it in Malala.

It's such good, good news.

"Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

History in Humility

At dinner, Abigail said, "I don't like Christopher Columbus."

Josh and I were surprised to hear this kind of declaration from a seven-year-old, so of course we asked, "Why?"

"Because he came here and took things from the people who were already here and made them sick."

We have a brief conversation about this harsh reality, about the context of Thanksgiving, about the way fear due to language gaps and cultural differences leads people to make bad decisions.

Then I pose a question to my kids: "Right now in the area we used to live, people disagree about how history should be taught. Some people think kids should learn both the good and bad parts of our history, but others say only the good parts of history should be taught. What do you think about that?"

Without hesitation, Benjamin, nine, says, "I think both should be taught so that we can learn from the mistakes."

Abigail, seven, says, "I think maybe they should just teach the good, because people might get bad ideas from the bad parts."

I realize this conversation oversimplifies the debate over the revised Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) framework currently finding its stage in Jeffco, the Colorado school district from which we hail (which is actually a misguided and misinformed debate to begin with), but the kids' responses get to the core of the discussion.

Should the history curriculum star the U.S. as a noble hero championing freedom and democracy for all? Or as a flawed, complex character influenced at times by justice and honor and other times by prejudice and self-interest?

Will kids learn to be better citizens from a history that emphasizes the ideal or from a history that acknowledges the full, messy story?

The majority on the Jeffco school board wants to create a committee--separate from the district's existing curriculum review committee--to examine the new APUSH framework. Board member Julie William's proposal defines the guidelines by which the curriculum would be assessed:

Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.

Leaving aside the conflicting notion that "factual information" presented "accurately and objectively" should also promote a point of view--and the irony that Williams is, herself, affiliated with the Tea Party, a political party named for one of our country's most iconic acts of civil disorder, social strife, and disregard of the law--I confess I don't understand the purpose of presenting only or mostly positive aspects of our heritage.

What do we have to lose by looking honestly at the travesties committed against others in our construction of a "city on a hill"? What is at stake when we acknowledge that our great democracy was, at times, established and grown at the expense of other people groups?

My senior year of high school, the year after I took A.P. U.S. History, I had a physics teacher who ranted that he couldn't stand people who talk about the negative parts of our country's history. He insisted that if people didn't like America, they should leave the country and live somewhere else--as though an honest examination of history somehow equates to a hate of country, as though patriotism requires a blind adherence to a belief in our country's infallible goodness.

Unfortunately, the sins of our forefathers are fact. Glossing over their impact does not make them less true but instead leaves us vulnerable to repeating them.

Perhaps the cost of our freedom is facing the discomfort of our less-than-blameless heritage.

Today, our country continues to wrestle issues of racism, immigration, representation in government, economic opportunity, and our role in the world. We have much to learn from the previous generations' successes and failures, but we cannot discern right action from an incomplete, artificially positive perspective.

I do not love my country less for knowing its ugliness. I love our country less when, despite centuries of toil and sacrifice and the slow slog of righting injustice, those who claim to defend its greatness would actually diminish it through a limited narrative that glorifies one group's experience over all others'.

Well, after our conversation about Jeffco's debate, Abigail asked, "So was Columbus bad or good?"

Isn't that how we tend to think? That leaders, or ideas, or countries are only one or the other? Our world view is much simpler when we can neatly categorize people and events, but real life is rarely so accommodating.

"Well, both," I said, "depending on whose perspective you're looking from. To Spain, Columbus was good. He found new land and resources that helped them. But to the Native Americans who lost their lives and land, he was bad."

When I consider both views in this APUSH discussion, I see a debate that asks whether our country's history curriculum should be rooted in pride or humility.

May I gently suggest that we know where pride goeth.

I would prefer membership in a country that admits wrong-doing, asks forgiveness, and repents of its evils while striving ever more diligently toward the ideal. A truly exceptional country would eschew horn-tooting for the steady, quiet work that accomplishes true freedom for all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Waxing Spiritual: Good News?

(Disclaimer: Part of who I am (most of who I am) is someone who loves Jesus deeply. I grew up knowing a certain version of Jesus but realized sometime in early adulthood that the way I'd come to know him was incomplete, empty, impotent. The last twelve years have profoundly changed my understanding of faith, and I believe my understanding will continue to change and evolve as I continue to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I need a place where I can process my "before and after and now" and work out my faith with "fear and trembling." I'd like to be able to do that here sometimes. I'll preface these posts with the title "Waxing Spiritual" so you know when I'm going there. You can skip them if you want. But if you're interested in the reflections of one who used to think she had all the answers but now finds herself following one who defies answers, I'd love to have you join me. Questions, thoughts, discussion are welcome in the comments. I submit all musings in humility, knowing I cannot possibly understand the beautiful mystery of God this side of death. But I want to love him with my whole mind anyway, so here we go.)


"It's like this," the pastor says on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, and I've heard it a thousand times, explained it this way myself in the days before I grasped how wide and deep and long is the love of Jesus.

"God loves you. But--"

The deconstruction of the mystery always begins with a "but." Can we pause for a moment to recognize the way this "but" frames God's love as conditional? The way this "but" establishes fear? The way this "but" suggests God's Love is not sufficient?

"But...we are separated from God by our sin." Here, an explanation ensues in an attempt to convince people they are imperfect.

Side note: Does anyone really need to be convinced of their own imperfection? It seems to me that most people are generally hyper-aware of their shortcomings and are too busy trying to fix and hide their failures to argue about their existence. I don't know any other mature adult who would claim perfection, or sinlessness, and we patronize the people around us to think otherwise.

The only time I ever needed convincing of my sinfulness was when I was a teenager saturated in Christian culture, ticking all the boxes of good, clean Christian living. Ironically, I am most ashamed of that season of life due to the hurt I inflicted on others out of pride, insecurity, and judgement.

Back to the sermon: "Because we are separated from God by our sin, we must suffer the consequence of sin, which is death (or hell, eternal separation from God)." Here, we are given a metaphor of the Grand Canyon, where we are on one side of the chasm and God is on the other, and no amount of jumping, leaping, or wishful thinking will get us across to God's side. Some may jump farther than others, but all fall short.

If only there were a bridge! Enter Jesus. "But God loved us so much, he sent his son as a perfect sacrifice for our sin so that we could be made right with God. The cross is like a bridge over the Grand Canyon, allowing us to be reconciled with God."A discussion of how Jesus is the only bridge follows: "All roads don't lead to heaven!"

If a pen and paper were handy, one could draw a cliff on the left with a stick figure standing on it, and a cliff on the right with GOD written on it, and a cross would sit right in the middle, it's horizontal beam bridging the gap: The Bridge Illustration.

And the closing: "Every person must decide for himself whether he will cross the bridge God has provided. Would you like to make that decision right here, right now? To accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior so you are no longer separated from God?" And so we pray. Sometimes, people are asked to pray along silently in their heart if they want. Other times, there is an invitation to come to the front as a public declaration of faith. In this church on this Sunday, the prayer was silent, and no public declaration was required.

After hearing this life-altering good news, we sang a song and went to lunch.


Is this the message Jesus came to deliver? Is this the message that will lead terrorists to lay down their weapons, that will set the addict free from her tyrant, that will reconcile family and friends estranged by deep wounds? Is this the good news? I mean, it's nice that there's a way to escape hell, but beyond that, what can be called good?

Paraphrase of supposed good news: Hey, World, we had a good thing going in the garden until Eve screwed it up and caused every human ever born to be afflicted with sin. Sorry I have to not only banish but torture you forever now (even though I really love you) unless you demonstrate faith in Jesus alone as eternal fire retardant. (I'll know you really have faith in Jesus by the rules you follow and the time you spend reading your Bible and praying and the doctrine you subscribe to regarding evolution, abortion, homosexuality, gender roles, and the nation of Israel.) Hopefully the years of sexual abuse and famine and war and corruption and abandonment and slavery and terrorism and racism and nightly news you've witnessed or survived or perpetrated won't make it too hard for you to find and trust me.

This version of the gospel falls flat to me. Rings hollow. Smacks of something other than Love.

Since gaining some distance from this perspective, I've discovered that most of the folks around me are profoundly discouraged by their own sin and deeply wounded by others' sin. Most of the folks I know desperately want to be good parents, friends, neighbors, citizens, but they recognize their love is not perfect, that often they act from fear or insecurity. They find themselves in the paradox of existence that Paul articulates so clearly in Romans: "Sometimes, I don't do the things I know I should. Other times, I do things I know I shouldn't. Why? Help!"

Here's what I've come to believe is the truly good, subversive, counter-cultural gospel of Jesus: mercy.

A quick search for a definition of mercy brought this: "compassion or forgiveness shown to someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm."

So consider: "God consigned all men to disobedience that he might have mercy on all."

I know this doesn't sound good, but stay with me.

We could not know mercy if we did not sin. Perhaps we cannot understand God's love completely if we do not experience his mercy. What if sin did not wreck his plan? What if sin and the mess it makes in this world are the vehicle God uses to reveal his love for us? What if, somehow, the riches of mercy are worth the despair of sin?

It bends my brain, but I can kind of understand when I think of my kids.

I relish (!) seeing them enjoy each other's company and play together happily as brother and sister. There is love and joy there, certainly, and I rejoice.

But there is something far more powerful, far more profound when one is distraught or hurt or heartbroken and the other has compassion, hurts alongside, and patiently endures and forgives the anger or crankiness of their aching sibling. That is a Love that reaches deep down in this Mama soul and whispers, "This. This is it."

Mercy reveals the real love.

Being loved in perfection is not as meaningful as being loved in our imperfection. This is the reason marriage is such a powerful crucible, why parenting breaks our heart and challenges our spirit. We receive mercy over and over and over, are asked to have mercy over and over and over, and in this act, we learn and reveal the heart of God.

What if the gospel were this: God loves us. And he loves us so much he doesn't want us to believe for a second that we can do anything to earn it or deserve it. So he made imperfection a condition of humanity and then sent Jesus to model how to love each other in the midst of our imperfections.

The challenge is that we generally feel deep shame about our imperfection, so we try to hide ourselves in accomplishments or good works or power or numbing activities (fig leaves). We generally run away from anyone who wants to shine a spotlight on our drinking problem, commitment issues, facebook addiction, workaholism, over-committedness, crankiness, or judgmental nature. But this hiding and running away slowly ruins us, leaves us suffering alone.

Fortunately, Jesus was never really interested in spotlights (anachronysm aside).

Instead, Jesus drank wine with folks. He hung out with them in their jobs, in their chores, around their tables. He went to their hiding places. And to parties. He enjoyed people. He told stories and asked questions and reserved the preaching for the religious folks who thought they had it all figured out. He was a truth-teller, not because he wanted to make people feel bad about themselves so they would repent but so people could stop hiding their mess and find real life. The truth sets people free.

God loves us with the kind of Love that suffers hell for those who crucify him. And then he takes care of our sin and shame by hiding us in Jesus, allowing us to be identified by Jesus's perfection rather than our imperfection. So now we're at peace with God. Already. Without doing anything. Thanks to the cross.

Doesn't that bring relief from the merry-go-round striving we typically subject ourselves to?

Please look elsewhere for self-help strategies, tidy boxes, and easy answers.

But please feel free to pick up a cross and follow Jesus away from the folks who know a lot about what's right and wrong in search of the outcasts, the lost sheep, the last and the least.

Brace yourself for suffering. Because shame leads people to hurt each other in unspeakably cruel and violent ways. And hurting alongside those who are the victims of injustice is part of your work as a member of Christ's body.

You might want to grab your yoga mat, too, because you'll need to do a lot of deep breathing as you learn to suspend judgement. If you follow Jesus, you'll find yourself at the dinner tables of pedophiles, terrorists, Wall Street tycoons, dictators, racist cops, pimps, producers of cable news, abusive parents, human traffickers, and those who disagree with you about evolution, abortion, homosexuality, gender roles, and the nation of Israel. Because they need him.

And because this will be impossible for you at times, Jesus will also come to your table for dinner.

This unreserved mercy is the scandal of the gospel. All roads don't lead to heaven, but all roads may lead to Jesus. Or perhaps more accurately, Jesus may find all roads and take care of the mapping system himself. 

If this kind of God sounds like good news to you, well then, consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ, because that's how God sees you. The sooner you believe it, the sooner you'll live it and be transformed in his image in a process that will last your lifetime. That's grace.

That's gospel.


"When the [religious leaders] saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with tax collectors and sinners?" But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:11-13

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Beginning Again

Yesterday, the kids had their first piano lessons since we moved, and I was nervous for them.

Benjamin had taken lessons for two years before we moved, and Abigail had only played for six months by the time we had to pull them out. After nearly a year and a half without lessons or regular practice, I knew they had forgotten much.

I didn't want them to feel discouraged if they sat down to play and found it all unfamiliar and overwhelming. I also didn't want them to feel bored if she had to start them over from the beginning.

I shouldn't have worried.

Their teacher led them through the lesson expertly. She started them with an exercise that reinforced basic skills but felt absolutely doable, re-immersing them in language they once knew while building their confidence.

As they played, she asked them if they remembered certain terms or skills. "'No' is an answer," she'd say, making it perfectly acceptable to admit they had forgotten something.

My greatest surprise and relief came when she picked a song from the books where they had left off a year and a half ago, and then used that song to re-familiarize them with the basics. The songs she chose would have been too challenging to attempt unsupported, but she guided them back into the music, reorienting their hands to the appropriate keys, giving them clues and language to navigate the keyboard, breaking the song down into manageable pieces.

She didn't start them over, which would have felt patronizing. She didn't bore them with review, which would have smothered their enthusiasm.

Instead, she trusted them with a task appropriate to the skills they once had and slowly teased to life their body of knowledge, knowing that in the process of relearning this piece, the terminology and muscle memory would return.

The time and energy they invested back in Colorado was not lost. She recognized their experience is still buried in their brains, latent. It's simply a matter of time before their little minds fire the synapses enough times to re-connect the neural pathways and resurrect their skills.

I'm proud of my kids for returning to the piano: it is an act of courage and humility to endure the relearning process, but I know they stand to gain so much more from facing the temporary discomfort of re-entry than they do from avoiding something they once loved.

And their process encourages me. After a break from the gym or from writing, I am tempted to think the time and work I invested previously is lost. Beginning again can feel like starting over from nothing.

But it's not.

The foundations I built are still there, too, and while there may be a short period of reorienting and rebuilding, before long I will be growing from where I left off. 

No effort, no investment of work is ever truly lost--unless you choose not to return.

May we all be brave enough to begin again.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Less is Not Loss

This was the summer of "Mama, can I go out and play?"

Of doors opening and closing over and over while kids retrieved toys and rope and balls and paper and any other prop that might enhance their imaginary plots and schemes.

Of hours of noise while the kids and their neighbor friends invented worlds and dramas upstairs in the air-conditioned game room.

Of hours of silence while they did the same at someone else's house.

This was the first summer when they weren't always tucked securely in sight.

When they were given the freedom to roam the street and sidewalks and a few known houses provided they kept me informed of their general location.

When they could grab their bike or scooter or skateboard (and helmet) and transport themselves at-will up and down the block.

This was their first real taste of physical independence, of the responsibility that comes with privilege, of negotiating social dynamics without an ever-present adult to remind and admonish.

This was a summer characterized by good old-fashioned childhood fun: kid-organized, kid-led, kid-negotiated, kid-fueled.

They loved every minute. So did I. And not just because I had more time to myself.

Though I was out of sight much of the time, I kept watch through the windows, I listened from a distance to the tenor and content of conversation, and I heard each of them offer suggestions, clarify ideas, work out conflict, and otherwise participate in this group dynamic as kind and productive members of the community. All of the kids.

When necessary, I stepped in to help redirect or problem-solve when conflict escalated. There were moments of discord, to be sure, but they were generally short-lived and solved by a brief break and conversation with mom or dad before heading back out to make amends and begin again.

What I observed filled me with respect and gratitude for my not-so-littles and with the conviction that this kind of summer was far more productive and valuable than any camp or activity I could have signed them up for. Essentially, they received a summer intensive in working with people who differ in personality, age, objective, and skill.

They learned:

-how to invent their own fun
-how to establish rules that are fair for everyone
-how to include children ranging in age from three years to thirteen
-how to share ideas, resources, and roles
-how to compromise and reach consensus when people disagree about what to play/how to play/where to play
-how to apologize when someone's feelings are hurt

But the kids weren't the only ones to benefit.

I saw Ben and Abby for fewer hours in the day than I would have in previous summers, I had less direct influence, but they continued to learn and hone the values and skills we've spent their lifetimes cultivating.

And the time we did spend together was enriched by the wonder of observing how absolutely competent and mature and amazing these two little people are. They thrilled me and filled me with thoughts like, I just really like my kids. They're such cool people! My role was smaller, but I learned this reduction is not a loss. Rather, the freedom is pure gift, like getting all the benefits of a home-cooked meal with only half the prep.

It's been nine years of intense, daily investment, but the time and effort are paying off. And this reality gives me faith and hope that if we stay the course in the coming years, other milestones of freedom and independence like getting a driver's license and going to college will be rewarding in the same way. The quantity of time together will be less, but I have hope that the quality of relationship with these truly wonderful humans will be even greater.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Year Later

We are no longer the new kids.

It's amazing how quickly this happens. One introduction leads to another, one involvement begets invitations to new involvements, the simple act of showing up on the same corner every school day at 3:15 acquaints me with a host of folks with whom I exchange smiles at school events, at the grocery store, at the library.

Both kids knew at least half of the children in their classes this year, no small feat considering each grade has nearly two hundred kids. Between class and recess last year, soccer, activities, and neighborhood friends, they walked into classes as members of a community.

We are established now.

We carpool. We are asked to volunteer. We are invited to try out for teams. We run into friends around town. We have a pool in our backyard that fills with children in a matter of minutes.

There is power in the act of showing up a stranger but continuing, day after day, to be available to the possibility of friendship.

For all the heartache we endured leaving Colorado, I am grateful my kids have experienced the process of starting over: to feel the fear of many firsts and to muster the courage to enter anyway, to understand the loneliness of being an outsider and to witness how time and patience and a willingness to engage transform that isolation to connection, to experience the miracle that more than one place can come to feel like home.

Rare is the lifetime that does not require us to uproot and begin again. Now they've seen that a new life in a new place, though painful at first, can ultimately be transformed to blessing.

We went home to Colorado this summer, and when we left to return to Texas, Abby captured the feeling best: "When we're in Texas, I miss our family and house in Colorado, but now when we're in Colorado, I miss our friends and home in Texas."

This is the reward for facing down the loneliness and loss, for living in the vulnerability of newness, for walking into the unfamiliar over and over: friendship, feeling known.

Wherever we find ourselves, it is the richness of community that makes a place home.

Even Texas.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Desperately Seeking Jesus at Church

I miss church.

My heart this week has ached for a place to go on Sunday mornings that feels like home, for a community with whom to worship Jesus and study Scripture and love the world.

Josh and I moved to the land of mega churches in August, and throughout the fall months, we tried church after church after church, kids in hand, looking for a place where we would all fall more in love with Jesus each week, where we could know folks and be known.

It seems a small request, but it's tricky because ideally we'd like to be honestly known. And that means we need to find a place that can handle all of us (all of me?) with my suspicion of practical application points and my questions about the theology of hell and my desire to read grace into every single passage of scripture I discuss.

I want to find a church that focuses more on Jesus than on the perceived error of our culture or on a "clever" list of should's and should not's conveniently packaged in acrostics.

I want to find a church that operates out of faith and hope and love rather than out of fear of the world around us.

I want to find a church that believes the risen Christ has defeated death and damnation and therefore does not need our small-minded defense.

I want to find a church that believes we are saved by grace AND transformed by grace--and this not of our own efforts, that none of us should boast.

I want to find a church that believes the gospel.

Wow. It sounds like sacrilege to say so, but in my heart of hearts, I believe the gospel is what we've missed from the pulpit each week. There is Scripture, certainly, and plenty of claims to "Biblical" teaching.

But no gospel.

No Jesus, and him crucified, for the redemption of the world in a beautiful, mysterious upending of all the power and judgement structures of the world, leaving nothing more to be done because it. is. finished.

In fact, if you believed the sermons we heard, you'd think the gospel is about prioritizing church activities in our schedules, praying (which itself is presented as a chore) only for the impossible in our lives because we can handle the rest (ha!), and choosing not to be like the Muslims who were offended by the video originally purported to be responsible for the tragedy in Benghazi. If only THEY would learn to be more like Christians, who are never offended! (Tongue firmly in cheek.)

Kids, this is what our churches are teaching!

So we are still church home-less. And not sure what to do next.

I'm guessing we could venture further out of our neighborhood or into other denominations and find the kind of spiritual home we seek, the one that can't be bothered judging those outside (or inside) its walls because it's too consumed with the life-altering good news that sin was crucified with Jesus so that a new, righteous creation could rise with him.

But we'd really love to find a church nearby, so that the community we develop is within our neighborhood. Plus, Josh and I both hail from the evangelical "tradition," and it's hard to trade the music and structures and customs of this particular culture for one that is more liturgical or formal. It's not that one is better. It's just that one is familiar.

But perhaps we're being asked to venture out of our neighborhood. And the familiar.

I don't know.

But I do know I miss my little tribe of raw, radiant souls in Colorado who became the truest church I've ever known.

We belonged to an institutional church that loved Jesus and preached gospel, too, but this little tribe was a group that committed to show up week after week with as much honesty and courage and vulnerability as we could muster. We wrestled Scripture and challenged dogma. We wept in heartache and marveled with joy at success. We fought for truth and love in each other's lives and marriages and families, and we prayed as though prayer were the very manna of our souls. We recognized our day-to-day work is as sacred and spiritual as the time we spent reading the Bible and praying.We believed Jesus was truly the answer to every Sunday School question, and we tried to understand what it means that we are his body on this earth.

I love them, every one. If I told you about them individually, you wouldn't believe me. And then you'd chuckle at God's creativity--and at the beauty of people wholly alive.

I want to find a church of people who seek God this fully, who trust his grace this completely, who believe the gospel not just for themselves but for every single person they encounter.

Not perfect. Not "all together." Just honest.

And more dependent on the living God than shallow self-help strategies.

Somewhere in this city of churches, there must be folks who believe people are changed by Love incarnate, not acronyms or fear or judgement.

I've met some individually, and perhaps this is enough for now.

But I'd love to find a community we can call church.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Work Matters

There have been moments lately.

Small moments.

Imperceptible, perhaps, to those not engaged in the daily toil of child-rearing.

But monumental to us, who have been daily loving and encouraging and reminding and praying and disciplining and correcting and forgiving and surrendering.

After both kids argued with me at length, Benjamin approached me on his initiative, teary in his sincerity. "I heard the way Abby was talking to you and didn't want you to think your ideas aren't good," he said. "I'm sorry for talking that way to you."

When I asked Abby to get going on her shower after finishing dinner, she said, "Okay, Mommy," rather than assailing me with the usual protests and resistance and tears.

Benjamin, who for months has had his sights set on an electric scooter, saved and worked and saved and worked some more for the money. He earned nearly one hundred dollars and then made a deal with Abby over the weekend to have her contribute the last twenty dollars toward the purchase in exchange for unlimited access to the scooter. She agreed, we bought the scooter, and he has been completely faithful to his end of the bargain, allowing her to ride the scooter and working out equitable turn-taking without any intervention from us.

At the dinner table, Abigail offered the last bell pepper to the rest of us before taking it for herself. She did this because she's seen her brother extend this same courtesy consistently for the last couple weeks now.

And there've been many more.

It's funny because a month ago, we were wondering where we'd gone off course. It seemed we'd spent months and months encouraging certain principles and behaviors without any indication the kids were learning them at all. Then suddenly, in the last couple weeks, we've observed countless displays of maturity and self-discipline and thoughtfulness.

There are seasons of parenting when it feels as though you are doing hard, steady work--day after day after day--into a void of feedback. And though I should know this by heart by now, I still forget that these seemingly fruitless seasons are always followed by seasons when you get to admire how truly amazing these little humans are.

Note to self: parenting is like gardening.

You plant seeds into soil you've diligently prepared and then water and weed and nurture and nourish and protect in exchange for nothing more than sweat and dirty hands and a lot of time on your knees.

This effort is a wild act of faith, because you must keep doing in the absence of any sign that the labor matters. You have a vision of what you hope the seeds will become, but when the pile of dirt persists in remaining a pile of dirt, you can't help but wonder if all the work was for nought.

Until one day, a tiny green shoot breaks through the soil, defying gravity in a courageous, audacious display of determination and resilience.

And you've never seen anything so beautiful as that small but wondrous sign of life, rooted down deep and promising goodness to come. Because you know that once that life has surfaced, the little shoot will continue to grow and flourish and multiply into something lovely, something healthy, something that nourishes, something that gives back.

The work doesn't stop, of course, but the worry eases and the toil becomes pleasure, because now every effort rewards you with something you can see and feel and enjoy.

The work matters.

Even when the soil shows no signs of life, the work matters.

Something is happening deep down in the dark, messy, hidden places of our kids. Our love, our discipline, our encouragement, our forgiveness is taking root and growing those very same fruits within them. It takes time before we see the evidence--weeks, months, years, perhaps even a lifetime--but their hearts are fertile ground, and invisible miracles are taking place below the surface even now.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Great Parenting Paradox: My Messy Beautiful

This morning, Benjamin, my eight-year-old, entered our room at 6:30 and laid on the foot of our bed, chatting with us about whatever. He was content and smiley and gentle and sweet. His guard was down, his spirits were up. It was the very best of who he is, the real Benjamin, the Benjamin who at times amazes us with his maturity and selflessness.

My husband got up to get ready for work, and Benjamin crawled up closer to me so we were facing each other. I began squeezing his arm playfully, and he giggled, tickled. He flexed his bicep, and I oohed and ahhed and then flexed mine back. He looked at me and grinned, his smile all big kid teeth. And I thought, I love when we're in this place with each other. How do so many mornings get off track?

Twenty minutes later, our happy train derailed.

He tested a limit, we enforced a consequence. He reacted with drama and sarcasm and blame, I addressed the disrespect. He honored me with his lips though his heart was far from me, I wanted desperately to get us back to the peace we enjoyed on the bed earlier. There were tears, words, anger, hurt. 

And then, as quickly as the cloud appeared with its thunder and lightning, the skies cleared again. He finished his breakfast, grabbed his backpack, hugged us before walking out the door, and proceeded to chat with me on the way to school as though nothing had happened.

Sometimes I get the impression the kids forget these tantrums as quickly as they start them. I, however, am left reeling, playing the conflict over in my mind to see where I could have diffused the situation rather than escalated it, wondering if something I did incited such a reaction. 

My tendency is to extrapolate these moments into generalizations about how we're doing as parents, how he's doing as a kid. Is he feeling loved enough? Is he getting enough affirmation? Why did he feel the need to make such a lame choice on an otherwise delightful morning? And then, why didn't he just acknowledge the lame choice and move on so we could return to our delightful morning?

But perhaps these are just the normal, everyday growing pains of childishness. Maybe his attempts to usurp control are actually a necessary exercise of childhood and not a reflection of something we're doing wrong. Perhaps our error is in expecting otherwise. I mean, the kid is winning citizenship awards at school, so he must be taking something worthwhile away from our home, right?

Some folks say that kids will act out most at home where they know it's safe and secure to do so. In this way, they learn what is acceptable and what's not from those who will love them no matter what. Is it possible our son is actually quite secure? That we should receive his misbehavior as a sign of trust? Some studies even show that kids who push and test their limits, bumping up against firm boundaries, have the best social outcomes, grow up most self-assured.

I generally regard these statements with some suspicion, the perfectionist in me reluctant to believe that imperfection--his or mine--could be purposeful in his growing up. It feels like the pipe dream of a weary parent.

And yet, I think there may be some truth there. If the law came in that sin might abound (so let that be a lesson to us: make fewer rules), and if God consigned all men to disobedience so that he might have mercy on all, then disobedience is not a sign of our failure as parents. If it were, God would, by definition, be the worst parent ever. And perfection must not be our goal, since God made disobedience a condition of humanity. 

Despite everything we've been told, despite every voice in my head that says if I were doing my job as a mother right my kids would be all sweetness and light every day, raising ever-compliant children is not the point. It's not even possible.

The opportunity for us as parents to demonstrate mercy and offer forgiveness and display love unconditional, is. Over and over and over. Day after day after day. Until, by some mystery of grace, mercy and forgiveness and love becomes the very fiber of their being.

It's a messy, infuriating notion: we get emotionally crucified, they learn love. And isn't love what we're really asking of our kids in all our rules? Benjamin: please think of the people around you before you act on your own desires. 

When we distill misbehavior to its essence, it is simply selfishness at work rather than love.

The great parenting paradox is that our children learn love by experiencing forgiveness for their un-love. Our children learn obedience by receiving mercy in their disobedience. There is no detour around the frustrating to the delightful.

Perhaps Benjamin loves well--in selfless displays that at times leave me speechless--because he's disobeyed and been forgiven much.

I screw up, too. Some days, many days, it is really my unreasonable expectation or grouchiness or need to get out the door right. now. that incites the meltdowns of behavior. My own selfishness spirals us into the tears and anger. Then it's my turn to receive forgiveness, to remember how absolutely hard it is to be human, and in this state, I am drawn to greater compassion for my littles, to greater love for their precious hearts that are doing the best they can in a world that demands so much.

We find our common ground in our failure--and our common joy in loving each other anyway.

Well, it would sure be easier if the process were different: I say something reasonable every time, he obeys with a smile every time, and we all live happily ever after. 

But that picture of sanitized family is dimensionless and textureless, devoid of the richness and vibrancy and security found in conflict and resolution. The illusion of perfection is better left in the realm of the merely acquainted.

Family is made in the gut-wrenching mornings like today. We chat, we giggle, we feel each other's biceps. We rail and argue and bump up against each other's feelings. And then we pack lunches and hug and ask forgiveness and go about our day, stronger for having witnessed, yet again, that nothing will break our love for each other.

May it be so. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Throw the Ball

Benjamin's baseball team competed tonight, but I noticed a curious phenomenon.

For the first few innings, the boys would field the ball and then hold it, arm back as though ready to throw, but frozen in inaction until the runner was safely on base.

I can only surmise that this paralysis came in response to the game they barely lost Saturday.

After a close game in which they headed into the bottom of the last inning ahead, they made error after error in the field: throwing over the first baseman's head or into the ground or anywhere but the glove. The mis-throws gave the other team run after run and ultimately the win that could have been ours.

The loss was painful to watch and disappointing for them to experience.

And so, I think, they decided to play it safe tonight. Rather than throw the ball away and give up runs, they'd field the ball and hold. This way they wouldn't make errors. This way they wouldn't give up runs.

But in so doing, they gave up outs.

After the third inning of incomplete plays, after watching player after player field the ball and freeze, after watching the other team score four runs one inning and five the next because the only outs came from strikeouts (not common in coach pitch), the boys' coach finally yelled (uncharacteristic in itself), "The next person who doesn't throw the ball will sit out the inning!"

Even our mild-mannered, ever-encouraging coach couldn't take it. Play the game or sit it out!

So the next time they took the field, the boys began to attempt the plays. Not perfectly. Not to the point of turning the game around. But they made the throws to first. They got the out at second. They tried to throw the runner out at home.

They were playing the game. And in one inning, their plays got the outs they needed to hold the score and get their at-bat.

At one point, Benjamin fielded a ball from short stop and threw to first. He didn't beat the runner, but he made the play. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and the attempt made me prouder than anything else he had done on the field.

Another boy in the outfield attempted to throw a runner out at second. He overthrew the ball, giving up a base in the process, but I found myself cheering wildly in the stands.

Sitting in the bleachers under the lights of the little league field, I realized I'd so much rather they throw the ball and miss than be afraid to make the throw.

At least when they throw the ball, they have a chance at greatness. At least when they throw, they can grow in skill and experience. At least when they throw, they can learn something for next time: stay calm, get your arm back, point your other arm toward the target, step into the throw.

In the first three innings, it felt like they would never progress because they wouldn't try, wouldn't practice their new skills, wouldn't put the coaching and rehearsing to use. Playing that way, they'd be the same team in three years that they are now.

They have to attempt the plays in order to make the plays. And they have to attempt the plays to become better players.

I felt myself convicted because I recognize that sometimes, we lead our lives like those boys played the game. We hold back because we're afraid to fail. We're on the field, and we can say we stopped the ball, but we refuse to take the risk and throw.

Unfortunately, in our paralysis we beat ourselves.

When our focus is to not make mistakes, to avoid disappointing those around us, then we ensure we will never contribute to victory. The goal must be the process, regardless of outcome.

Field the ball, make the throw, get the out.

Sometimes we'll fail. But we will have learned something, and we will have gone down trying.

But sometimes we'll nail it. And the joy of that one moment is too sweet to be missed for fear of shame.

And the cumulative joy of making play after play and having moment after moment? Well, that's pure glory.

Throw the ball or sit it out.

Anything less isn't baseball. Or true living.

photo credit: adwriter via photopin cc

Sunday, April 6, 2014

60 Minutes Closer to Bedtime

Some days of mothering are uninspired. And uninspiring.

Everyone's tired. Everyone's cranky.

And I try to be the bigger person but mostly I'm just the bigger boss who gets to draw the majority of the lines regarding activities or sounds that are too annoying or too loud or too much to deal with on this tired and cranky day.

We were all up late playing with the neighbors last night, so it's no wonder. The marathon of yesterday's fun was delight from start to finish, but we paid for the hours-too-late bedtime with grumbling and malaise and general snappishness today.

I don't think one child made a statement today without the other declaring said statement could not possibly be so or insisting the exact opposite was so or asserting the speaker's intentions were to ruin the other's everything.

I don't know where they get the energy to fight when they can't even lift their eyelids all the way up.


Abby was mouth-open asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow tonight.

Benjamin unfortunately took longer, his earlobe still pained after taking a hit in yesterday's neighborhood Nerf gun war.

I decided ibuprofen was justified since he's complained about his earlobe three other times since he went to bed last night. And since I had no resistance left in me.

I assume I needn't worry about a cartilage injury.

So, dear ones, I humbly accept the super-fun mommy award for yesterday's frivolity and spontaneity and carefree approach to bedtime and dessert and soda consumption and bathing.

And I likewise accept the mediocre mommy award for expecting the tired and cranky children I produced through yesterday's surrender of responsible parenting to treat me and each other civilly, and to also clean their rooms, and not drive me mad in the process.

There are some days when every hour is simply sixty minutes closer to bedtime.

Sleep well, my darlings. Tomorrow is a new day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

When You Say Yes

Last night, Josh and I filled more of our empty walls. We gathered the screws and nails, the screwdriver and hammer, the level and tape measure, and proceeded to hang our modest collection of eye candy.

Up a little.

Over just a quarter of an inch.

No, back a smidge.

Yes, right there.

Do you think it's too high?

Do you think it's high enough?

Is is too much?

Is it enough?

Are we centered?

It's perfect.


When you say yes, you don't think about the minutiae-filled moments of a lifetime.

You don't think about the laundry you'll fold, the toilets you'll clean, the floors you'll sweep, the dishes you'll rinse, load, unload, repeat.

You don't think about the utilities you'll set up, the bills you'll pay, the contractors you'll manage, the appointments you'll make.

You don't think about the decisions you'll mull regarding retirement accounts and home mortgages and insurance policies and wills.

You don't think about the little bathroom floor where you'll spend the wee hours of the morning with your sick child or the nights you'll climb into bed next to a coughing, snuffling, snoring and miserable spouse.

The pretty house, the weekends away, the snuggly babies, the games of catch in the backyard--those you can imagine when he's down on one knee. Those are the elements of romance you can conceive.

But the other stuff--the logistics and the finances and the repairs and the kids who confound and the jobs that disappoint/thrill/exhaust and the nights you spend moving pictures up an inch, over a quarter--those are the moments of which a marriage is made. Life shared in all its lovely and crazy-making and snooze-worthy glory.

When you can smile and tease and chuckle your way through an evening when the most exciting thing on the agenda is organizing the garage or marveling at how your daughter can manage to leave a trail of belongings that reaches every room in the house...

When you can collapse into bed together at the end of the day, knowing there's nothing left to do but hold each other and pray over your kids, wondering if you've disciplined them too much or not enough, if your words and actions even mattered...

When you can ride the waves of success, job loss, relocation, and limbo, and watch infinite possibility stretch out before you, knowing everything could change again in a moment, or not...

And want nothing more than to live each triumph and crisis with the man who kneeled before you once upon a time--

Then you have a real romance.

I looked across the room at my husband last night, balancing on the big red armchair with hammer in hand for the love of me, and I realized how naive I was all those years ago.

And how wise.

When I said yes, I could never have imagined this moment: hanging pictures at ten-thirty at night in Houston, Texas, with two precious kiddos asleep behind closed doors and a pup curled into a ball on the floor between.

But when I said yes, deep down I knew I could enjoy anything, anywhere if I were with him.

And I was right.

Up a little.

Over a quarter of an inch.

Yes, right there.

Saying yes means you'll spend your days crafting a life together: big decisions, small adjustments, course corrections, questions and doubts, and the labor of making the vision come true.

So that when you step back, you'll see something beautiful, something that enhances this temporal home on earth not just for us, but also for those who pass through.

Friday, March 28, 2014

One Perfect Moment

Childhood defines this moment.

From my perch on the front porch, I hear Abby chatter and holler and giggle with the neighbor kids. They run from driveway to driveway following the impulse of youth, doing whatever excites their wide-open minds.

Bikes and scooters dot the street, abandoned to new flashes of inspiration. Chalk drawings climb the driveway. Markers spill over the sidewalk into the planters.

A breeze tickles the warm spring air. The children do not notice the sun falling slowly back to the horizon.

They play for no other purpose than to thrill at being alive, together.

The evening is perfect. In the midst of global crises, politics, and religious scuttle, these children at play remind me that God really loves this world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Home Again

On a sunny Friday morning a little over a week ago, Josh and I signed the papers that gave us the keys to our new home here in Texas. 

Over that weekend, we transported our apartment goods--the dishes and clothes and files that came from the "guts" of our house in Colorado, all the things that were tucked away in cupboards and closets that no one walking through our home-for-sale would miss--into the cupboards and closets here.  

That Monday, everything else from Colorado arrived. 

And with those belongings arrived a deep peace that must come from the soul's recognition that we are home again. 

The furniture, the art, the bedding, the decor--it seems they ought to be insignificant, mere material possessions that they are.

But their presence soothes, comforts. Their years as the backdrop of our lives has imbued them with story, with meaning, with a nostalgia that re-roots our family in its history, placing our new life in Texas in the context of our former life in Colorado.

Making our bed with the bedding we received at our wedding, arranging the kids' furniture, decorating our family room has been therapeutic, an extended exhale of the underlying tension and stress we've been carrying since moving down in August. I hadn't even recognized that our temporary set-up in the apartment had activated a general sense of alert until the wariness slipped off, leaving a quiet calm.

I see the weight lifting in the kids, too. Though they enjoyed aspects of sharing a room in the apartment, they are both embracing the respite and solitude of having their own spaces with their own beds and dressers and rockers and toys. 

Abby goes to her room and plays and plays with her dolls and horses. She has made her bed nearly every day that we've been here--a sign, I think, of how happy she is to be surrounded by her lovely things again.

Benjamin comes home from school and cozies up on his bed with his homework or a book, sinking into restful contentment. His patience is longer, his tolerance for frustration greater. 

They are remembering parts of themselves that went dormant in our transient, make-it-work season. They are stretching their spirits out again after our cramped existence. 

And they are discovering new joys. A yard in which to kick the soccer ball. A cul-de-sac full of kids. A friend on the other side of the fence. 

For however long our time in Texas lasts, we have our own sanctuary to return to each day: a home furnished with the history and memories of our life before, a familiar backdrop for the new living to come.

Friday, February 28, 2014

It's Not *What* You Do...

Each morning on our way to school, I watch the crossing guards ensure our children cross the busy roads safely. They blow their whistles and flash their stop signs and gesture with determination to the hundreds of cars that drive through the intersection daily. If a car comes through the intersection too fast, they wave their arms and deliver a stink eye powerful enough to make grown men feel like children caught.

One crossing guard, a spry old woman as feisty as she is wrinkled, takes her job even further: she stands on the corner where the kids gather on the sidewalk and greets each one as warmly as she would a grandchild.

With the younger kids, she bends her knees and crouches to eye level, smiling large into faces that radiate joy at being seen, recognized. I watch them hug her and share enthusiastic stories, looking straight into her eyes.

With the older boys, she exchanges high fives, fist bumps, and all manner of handshakes. There is no sense of stand-offishness, no dismissive eye roll from these boys wrestling independence and identity. The pull of adolescent cool cannot deny the sincerity of her interest in their lives.

By all definitions, the job of crossing guard is not a glamorous one. Important, yes. Esteemed, no.

But this woman has elevated her position to something holy, sacred. Her presence has transformed the concrete sidewalk to a sanctuary where, for a moment, children are cherished just for showing up. She has not for a second believed that her job is insignificant. Rather, she has filled it with meaning and purpose through love.

The what of our days is so much less important than the how. Whether we operate in finance or construction, retail or medicine, engineering or housework, our day-to-day tasks are transformed by our perspective and intention.

When we believe our work matters to the folks around us, when we believe the people we serve or toil alongside are fellow children of God, then no task is insignificant. And we can no longer believe we are insignificant.

For we have the power to transform street corners to sanctuaries.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rest Without Ceasing

A few weeks ago, we enjoyed two "snow" days bookending the weekend here in Houston. Freezing rain led to the shut down of schools and businesses across the city and state, which doesn't have the abundance of de-icing equipment found in the northern states. All productivity stopped: work, appointments, school, sports, and extracurricular activities all cancelled.

As a result, the kids and I spent four gloriously mellow days together, enjoying the freedom to meander from game to puzzle to movie to make-believe. During our forced stay-cation, our apartment was full of quiet music and the sound of little voices giving instruction and encouragement on how best to accomplish their minds' vision.

The kids completely upended their room, relocating all closet contents to the middle of the bedroom floor so that they could use the closet space to create the setting for their pretend adventures. Strategically-placed chairs suspended blankets above their heads, and they folded their bodies under their forts, discussing plot points in their alternate reality.

The great lie of our culture is that rest is a luxury, not a necessity; that downtime is wasted time: unproductive, lazy, indulgent.

In fact, this stillness is our very lifeline to connection, meaning, energy, and--paradoxically--productivity.

Our bodies are actually built on this principle, wired to thrive on rest. Any fitness expert will tell you that your body does not get stronger during the intense workout. It is in the recovery that the body does the hard work of repairing the damage, building muscle, getting stronger, preparing for the next exertion. 

Even our minds function in this way. We consolidate our memories, storing and hardwiring all we've learned and absorbed in our days, while we sleep. This is why infants, for whom every experience is new, sleep most of the day and night: they require abundant time to process and store their near-continual learning.

We don't realize we've fallen into the too-much trap until a day with nowhere to go reveals what we're missing in our busyness: the unstructured time to explore the recesses of our creative minds, to re-discover the healing power of togetherness, to remember who we are without the trappings of our achievement-oriented culture. When we break from our responsibilities, we discover ourselves and others.

Is it coincidence that we experienced so little fighting those few days? That we enjoyed a relative harmony with each other in the slow, quiet pace?

I doubt it.

God created us to require Sabbath. He could have made us to run endlessly, tirelessly, but He values the pause, the stillness, the surrender, making it a condition of our very existence.

Without rest, we break down, growing sick, injured, depressed, unstable. We simply cannot survive in a state of perpetual doing. With rest, we get stronger, we learn, we discover the expressions of creativity that have been stifled by our perpetual motion, we reconnect with those around us.

We remember what gives us life.

Is it any surprise, then, that the only "action" we are commanded to do without ceasing is actually a form of inaction? We are told to pray without ceasing, to continuously acknowledge the limitations of our own efforts, to surrender our productivity, to release the dreams of what we hope to accomplish and the burdens of what we should to the hands of the One in whom and through whom all things live and move and have their being.

Prayer looks like nothing. Like sleep and rest, it appears to be an indulgence, a break from the "real work." But when we enter into this form of Sabbath, we realize that anything worthwhile in this life is produced not by our will but by the mysterious workings of Christ in us.

Consider this. That which is essential to our very survival is beyond our power to accomplish: the beating of our heart, the steady inhale-exhale of our lungs, the transmission of millions of messages from body to mind and back--autonomic processes that would absolutely overwhelm us if we had to consciously execute them. 

As much as we think we control our lives, our physical existence is sustained outside the boundaries of mere determination.

So it is with our spirit. When, in prayer, we pause our own attempts to control, fix, manage, or otherwise produce our life and the lives of those around us, we receive everything we need to move mountains. We are invited to lay down our anxieties and questions and uncertainties in exchange for peace and life abundant: front row seats to the redemption being worked in us and those we love every day. Rest without ceasing: what a command.

The kids and I played during those snow days. We set aside the schoolwork, the responsibilities, the chores, and the ever-present list of to-do's in order to create and commune. We lived life like a prayer of gratitude, resting non-stop. The kids made up grand adventures in the wild frontier of their closet. I wrote in between trips to their room to admire their process. And when the time came to clean up, the kids put their room back together in record time with minimal fuss.

By the end of our four-day break, we had "accomplished" so much more than we would have in our daily hustle. The apartment was neater, yes. And our enthusiasm for the daily routine was renewed. But most importantly, our relationships with each other--the dimension of life I spend the most time and energy analyzing, trying to get right, and berating myself for doing wrong--grew stronger, more trusting, more intimate. Without effort, our connection grew, our joy abounded, and our energy multiplied. 

Stillness made space for creation.  Rest begat productivity. Doing nothing yielded everything that matters.

We are not foolish or lazy to slow down. In truth, pausing our rush to meet the insistent demands may be the only way to discover the inspiration, wisdom, and clarity that enables us to accomplish anything worthwhile.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Privilege of Being the One They Ask

This afternoon, I watched Benjamin pace the floor of our friends' house on my iPhone. He looked and sounded so utterly proficient from the side of the conversation I could hear.

"I see," he'd say thoughtfully.

"So what I hear you saying is...," he'd respond, putting those active listening skills we've practiced to work.

Benjamin called my dad to gain insight into a problem his team is trying to solve for a tournament in a few weeks. As part of the solution to their challenge, they are creating a small, portable iPhone charger, and in the process, they've learned about energy conversion, generators, electromagnetic energy, and how to build their prototype. But fuzziness on a few of the basic science formulas was stalling their precise calculations.

It dawned on us that Papa sells generators and might be a good resource for their remaining questions, so Benjamin decided to call him after school during the team's meeting today.

There were so many things I loved about this exchange:

My dad's willingness to make time for Benjamin's questions and to patiently lead this third grader through basic physics.

Benjamin's utter ease in talking with Papa on the phone. There is history, relationship there that makes the exchange comfortable.

Watching my little boy grow up. He carries himself so maturely sometimes. He looked out the window, listening carefully, occasionally nodding, and I could envision him twenty years from now making a call from his own office.

I stood there, spirit gushing with affection for Ben, heart overflowing with knowledge of my dad's love for both of us.

I wished I could squeeze my son to pieces. As I write, I realize I need to tell Benjamin how much I admired his poise on the phone, how much I respect the young man he's becoming.

I also wished I could give my dad a hug for being so present. And I realize I need to tell him how very grateful I am for the time he made for me and Benjamin today.

Because even after Benjamin got off the phone with my dad, I ended up calling back to put my dad on speaker phone with four of the other kids so they could ask follow-up questions. Without hesitation, my dad greeted these four little strangers warmly, congratulated and affirmed the work they were investing in this project, and then clarified  all of their questions and concerns with great skill and patience.

And it didn't surprise me, for my dad has always graciously made room in his life to show up for me.

My dad's availability to me--and now to my family--is one of his purest demonstrations of love. When I see the way he happily takes time from his work and full life to invest in this project simply because I ask, he communicates that I am important to him, that I am not a headache or a burden.

He inspires me to respond to my kids' requests for help with enthusiasm and tenderness, to readily support them in whatever they undertake, no matter their age or ability. Though the demands are great some days, I want them to know, deep down, that being invited into their lives is my great joy.

Because I want them to keep asking as they grow up.

My parents--and Josh's, too--have communicated over and over that they are happy to help us in any way they can. Not in a helicopter-parent kind of way, but in the way that good parents genuinely support and show up for their kids.

Generally, Josh and I are pretty self-sufficient and appropriately independent and all grown-up and such, but there is comfort in knowing we can call them up when a need arises, and the answer is not only yes, but a generous and enthusiastic yes at that.

I want my kids to feel that same value and freedom. When the babies come or the house needs to be packed or the money's tight or the day has reduced them to tears, I want them to call, confident the response from my end will be respect, compassion, and great joy at the invitation to participate in their lives.

And it begins now, in the dozens of small, daily moments when my littles come to me wearing vulnerability on their sleeve: not yet big enough or coordinated enough or sophisticated enough to navigate their world entirely on their own.

May I view each request not as an inconvenience but as an opportunity to send a powerful message of love to my precious kiddos. May I discipline myself to pause what I'm doing, look them in they eye, and smile at the privilege of being the one they ask.

Even if it's the twenty-fourth time in as many hours.

Even if it's the twenty-fourth time in as many minutes. Especially then.

For that is how we build trust to last a lifetime.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Advice I Should Take

What would I tell Abby?

I couldn't shake this question when I finished reading Brene Brown's latest book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Her book is titled after Theodore Roosevelt's speech, "The Man in the Arena":

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly..." 

What would I tell Abby about getting in the arena?

When I look at my sweet girl, when I see all the gifts she's been given, when I see her spirit, her dreams, her determination, and her compassion, I want to do everything in my power to make sure no one in her life thwarts her goals, to let her know it's okay to undertake new endeavors, to try something she hasn't yet mastered, to take risks that others may criticize.

I don't ever want her to hold back for fear of what others may think.

I don't ever want her to withhold herself from the world because she may not succeed.

I want to support her as she walks bravely through this life, sharing herself and her ideas and her creativity with those around her.

I know she will experience heartache. I know there will be times when the risk pays off in pain. But I know her life will be fuller for having stepped out in courage, for having "dared greatly."

Whatever the outcome, I will cheer wildly. I will be so breathlessly proud of her willingness to simply show up in the fullness of who she is.

And isn't this how God feels about me?

It's easy to tell someone else to take the risk, to attempt the seemingly impossible for the sake of living fully, to ignore the critics and naysayers.

But what about me? Can I take my own advice? Can I find the courage to act on the seeds of inspiration planted deep within?

In her chapter about parenting, Brown says this:

"Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting."

So what would I tell Abby if she were in my shoes? How would I encourage her to engage this world?

I would tell her to be brave. To lean into the uncomfortable. To silence the voice that says, Who do you think you are? To do the things that make her feel most alive, even if they make her most afraid. To accept error and shortcoming as a necessary byproduct of effort, not a sign that she should give up. To be willing to fail for the opportunity to succeed.

And if that's how I hope she will live, if those are values I hope she'll embrace, then that's how I need to live, how I want to live--as a mother, as a writer, as a fellow sojourner on this earth.

For my daughter's sake.

And for mine.

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