June 16, 2013

Talking about dad

She was just a few hours old when he spoke his first father words over her. The night had birthed more than just the morning and the process hadn't gone as planned. I was exhausted ... certain he'd been traumatized.

For two years I had worked as a Labor and Delivery nurse. I had no personal life experience as I coached, telling all those mothers-to-be what champions they were. "Hang in there," I would whisper. "Your little person is almost here."

Now, it was my turn to do the laboring.

I knew too much for my own good in that delivery room the night before. I talked technical words with the doctor. I watched his face turn from casual to all-business ... the way he focused in, got quiet. The way the nurse's feet moved a bit faster. I had been that nurse too. And I read those monitors, told myself when to turn to my left side, when to deep breathe from the oxygen mask.

This man I made vows with sat by my side, quiet and sure. And he doesn't do hospital speak. Years before, I had stressed over thick, heavy books. Patho and pharmacology kept me up too late and I called when I needed to talk out what I was learning. He would tell me we needed to change the subject, say he didn't feel well.

He'd drive the hours to visit and then sit on my floor. I'd trace the route of blood flow over his t-shirt, recite what was going where ... superior and inferior, pulmonary and so on. I'd tell him how I could start a really great IV in the thick vein near his wrist. He would pull away, turn a new shade of pale green. 

So when our girl was close to making her entrance, we made a back-up plan ... just in case he went horizontal. But he was an all-star. When that baby came out with a vacuum shaped head, it was I who did the teetering.

"It was not suppose to happen that way," I said over and over again. I wanted ocean music and Enya in my delivery room, not forceps.

More than that, I was convinced he would never be the same. I wondered what friend we could call in ... he would need to debrief, discuss, recover.

But my Todd was shockingly steadfast.

Later, in the wee morning hours, he scooped our "dear one" into his arms. He sat upright in his green, plastic recliner and he grabbed the only thing he'd packed. With his little girl lying vertical in the crease of his lap, he opened up to the words he'd played on repeat for weeks.

Everyday I will praise ... for you open your hand and satisfy desires of all things ... One generation will commend your kingdom to one another; they will speak of you and I will meditate on your wonder.

He didn't tell her how much worry she caused or ask her why she took so long to get here. He just cradled her there, in a cocoon of pink and blue and a knitted pumpkin hat, all in orange. He turned to pages of praise and, with a new sense of awe and a bit of holy fear, he told her what she needed to know.

On the day he became a dad, He introduced her to the Father.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love ...

The lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made ...

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

psalm 145

Almost without warning, this baby girl is nearing seven. Two more have joined us since. Some days I feel like the oldest one just entered our little world. With first-grade fervency, she claims to love this Father that her daddy spoke of. And what transpires between her little heart and His, who can say?

But I know this: she has seen father-love in real life, in real time.

There is a man in her midst who has modeled well and loved her in extravagant ways ... the way he still scoops her up, cheers her on, runs along beside.

There is so much of this parenting-life we still cannot grasp, so much of this dad-life he claims to not know. But, in faith, we follow his dad-lead.

We follow the precedent he set on that first morning with our firstborn. In faith, we commend His works to those in our care.

In faith, we trust that they too might tell of the Father's mighty acts.

May 5, 2013

On time and quiet growth and resurrection

I haven't been able to write for nearly a year. No more than a few words here and there. And it's felt a little like dying. And it fits really, if I'm honest. Because I'm only just now coming to realize that we did, in fact, do some dying this past year. And time has a way of marking necessary growth. We are always changing, shedding old skin ... dying a little ... becoming more and more like new.

It's been just over a year since we started turning right instead of left on Sundays. And it is possible, you know, to celebrate and to grieve. To walk away and also walk into.

When we walked through new church doors one year ago, it was the beginning of Lent. And I watched my husband stand up tall and brave among a new crowd of witnesses. I took in a deep breath of certainty, mimicking him there, and I had never seen him so sure.

And it was like a homecoming.

That was last Easter. And truly? We've declared together and apart:

this has been our finest year yet.

As if we entered a living, moving, turning organism with all its liturgy and its calendar and its rhythms. We were swept up into a current that is fluid and brilliant and deep- its riches seemingly bottomless. And like a whirlpool with Jesus at its center, we have found ourselves plunging again and again into still deeper waters, swimming around and around - and always closer in.

And I am convinced that we were made for this: this spiraling, this liturgical living, this time-keeping. The way we keep hours in a planner and mark days in boxes on our walls. Alarms in our phones. Reminders on screens. We are creatures of habit and time- made with a limited amount of it and always living in a way that just confirms: yes, we are finite. And we were created for rhythms. Seasons.

Sure, we live the daily but aren't we running in much bigger circles, all of us? Large, twelve month, orbiting circles that bring us back to the same points on the calendar time and time again. And we run ahead and fast as if we are one up on time. But really? We crave what is familiar.

And what we know best ... is time kept.

Who hasn't felt it? When we move outside of time's zones, the way our bodies can feel foggy and inside out. And even those of us who long to be globe trotters and time travelers must learn patience ... must allow for the getting there.

And then for the catching up.

I suppose I am learning this right now. We waited quiet throughout all of Lent and the waiting continues. We took a bold step, made the initial move. And I would like for the Lord to be doing visible things and directing us in outward ways. Instead, I sense the same whispers over and over again. Every day, just this:

Wait for the Lord. Create rhythms in your soul and habits in your home. Wait for the Lord. Shed some fear skin and die to control. Surrender to love. Wait for the Lord. Write quiet prayers in secret.

And it is one year later and my heart longs to tap out meaningful words in this space. I want to know that I've grown or changed and so often I can't see myself clearly until I see my own words. I want to know what He has been up to from springtime last.

Instead, this year found me stretched. Quiet. Baffled by its necessary silence. It was Lent again and my struggles were similar, my fasting equally tough, equally eye-opening to my own sin nature and frail human tendencies. And still, I'm thankful for the rhythmic reminders in a year. Lent was a time to slow and remember, go into the desert with Jesus on purpose. To believe that I, we, really do live on something other than bread alone ... whatever that bread may be. It was time again to wait.

And in our church now, we are still celebrating Easter. Six weeks later we are still talking of the resurrection and, yes, I am being resurrected too. And this church calendar reminds me to linger- not to rush necessary growth or grief or celebration. Inside those church walls, time seems to stand still and I'm swept up into something infinitely larger than myself.

I am learning not to fear time.

I am learning, in the quiet, that He is always keeping company with me- this man who is outside of the hours I keep.

I am believing now, with a new posture, that My Jesus really has marked all of my days.

I watch the calendar and pray for growth from this year to the next. It has been a year of sporadic words. And I have learned to be alright in this place. Perhaps gestating. Perhaps finishing up with a necessary grief. And my answer, when someone asks, has become semi-lame but always the truest response I can find.

"I'm really good," I say.

Because I really am. Perhaps moving into a long awaited season of security. I sense an infant, sure   knowing ... both new and strong. I'm not so afraid of breaking anymore. I'm growing into some new word skin. And I think I can see it now- how I needed to find some courage in the quiet.

Friends, time brings change and change brings growth. Growth can bring some hurting. But good, healthy hurting brings clarity and purpose. Vision. And God willing, next spring will come again. We can bet that in the midst of time turning, Jesus will not change. His words will still hold true. His call to holiness will still be clear. His love will still be abundant ... His grace still plentiful.

I've watched calendar months fall away and I've been a bit restless. What will come of all this unmarked time? I can hope this next year is not as quiet as the last. I can hope that as the seasons turn again, my heart will turn too-

always spiraling closer into the heart of the One who holds me, and time itself, in the palm of His hand.

March 4, 2013

On my birthday- a letter to my teenage self

Dear Girl,

You are beautiful. You are talented. You are worthy of good things. You are lovable.

Sometimes, you believe this. Some days it comes natural. Feels easy. Other days, your world tilts and all is a bit cock-eyed. You find it hard to crawl out of bed, do this, all of this, for one more day.

Dear girl. You are worth more than a name call at an assembly, an acknowledgement over an intercom. Your cumulative contribution to a sports team.

Dear girl. You are more than the MVP, SCA, SAT, GPA, or an AP A.

Somehow right now, life is an endless race out-of-bed and into-the-shower. Get to class. Rack up the points, the prestige, the popular vote. Blend in, ride low or sit up front.  Not much changes between now and then ... even though everything does. What will matter later is what really matters now and you won't remember the position or the paper. The brand of your pants.

But the people ...

And it's funny really how you are all the same there within those mascot colored bricks, laminate lunch tables.

Same fears. Same needs. Same desires.

Rejection, isolation. Acceptance, grace. Love, belonging. We are people ...

Dear girl. This is life! ... only the junior-varsity version. And you are YOU through and through since the day you entered in, all flailing and needy in mother arms.

And your parents really do know you best: all those quirks and the unspoken messages you send. The way you storm away, slam a door, look away when you fib. The way you pick at your food.

And all the gifts you came into the world with? They are the same gifts you possess right now; they are the gifts you'll hand out unknowingly over your entire lifetime.

'Cause DNA doesn't morph and the Maker doesn't make mistakes.

So, girl. Don't hold out on us! Forget that gift you wish you had. It ain't yours to give away!  So don't steal her joy and don't make us miss out on yours. The world is waiting for you to grow into your just- right-skin.

The world is waiting for just-right you.

At 35, you'll look back and see it. "Oh, I was good at that back then too ..."

If friends call you 'safe' now ... they will call you 'safe' later. Yes, this is your gift.

So stop trying to be elusive, dynamic ... cool.  Just be a soft landing. The world needs more of those.

Girl, you are emotional and in your head and details are not your thing. But you are hungry for real living and you feel things deeply, crave aesthetics and adventure at your core. This won't change.

But choose wisely, huh?

Give lots of grace and love well. Because everything comes down to people and everyone is in the midst of their own young story. Think of it! A million half stories being written: day by day by day. So be kind. Some books are longer than others. Some novels more gritty, others pure symphony. But all worthy reading ... all with plot and conflict, irony and climax.

All penned by the same Great Author. So be gentle. Patient.

With yourself. And with others. Because we only really know the chapters we have lived ... mere fractions of the whole.  And you? God willing? You're still in the first fifth of your  story.

So don't size up too quick. Write off too fast.

Love that gal who trips up instead of calling her a hypocrite, a disaster. This faith life is hard to wrap arms around. And it's in the working-out of your faith that it becomes real ... worth holding onto for dear life. 

Give her grace? Not more grief. Because you'll meet again and she'll be toting a baby on her hip at Target. Just. like. you.

She'll wonder if you remember her. She'll breathe relief when you do.

Then she'll ask you about Mom's Morning Out and nap schedules ... how to find time to run. You'll tell her you have no idea- about the running thing- and she'll admit how tired she really is. How marriage can be so lovely ... and so hard. How she really shouldn't be spending any more money but how she's simply got to get out of that house.

She'll ask you if you're still at that one church. And she won't really be asking about a building but about a way of living. She'll be asking how to make it through these days, and girl? It's then that  you'll begin to see the bigger picture. Because we all still need to know that we have high purpose, high value... a reason for being.

You'll look back to now- these high school walls- you'll look ahead to where you thought you wanted to be. You'll see this whirlwind of fashion and friends and fierce feelings as beautiful and tormented and yes ... fleeting. You'll thank God you made it through.

You'll see it was a mere piece of the whole picture.

Girl, take a deep breath in and out and let your shoulders sink.

Be good to yourself. Be brave. Love yourself well. And others too. Trust the bigger story.

And hang in there.

What is devastating you won't break you, even if you are toe-over-edge and teetering.
And if you hold on, you'll be stronger, built up, and battled-scarred in the best kind of way.

Because what bruises you now will make you a well of grace later ... Grace for a fracturing, waiting world.

So girl, this life? It funnels fast and funny and no matter where you go, where you work, what job or university you land ...

You'll eventually see how this life adds up to people - in our wake and in our grasp -
people yet waiting to hear from us, see us living our lives well, to the glory of the One who gave us our days.

So I wish I could tell you to treasure your uniqueness, to value your gentle spirit, and not to wince every time someone says, "speak up." They want to hear what you have to say!

You are just right and fiercely brave: saying 'yes' in your own time ... keeping step with His.

Girl, you are lovely and darling and dear. You are but one perfect piece in a most beautiful puzzle.
Take your place with grace and with ease. Look straight ahead and don't be afraid. Be excellent, yes! Work hard, yes!

Be brave enough to treasure your life and then hand it over, not to the masses, but to the One who first gave it.

You, beautiful you!, exist for the benefit of us all. But first, you must exist for Him.  

And He who began a good work in you will finish.

This, girl, is a promise. He has only just begun.

January 6, 2013

If you are fishing for some encouragement

Hoping your first week of 2013 was filled with happy laughter and a bit of hyper color. 

And if not? No worries, friends. 

Because you've got all year to test new waters, discover new shades, and lay your burdens down. It's our year to be ok in the now, to trust the process we are in, and to let Him 
re-shuffle and redirect if and when we are in a jam. There's no shame in losing a hand or two ...  

Because sometimes losing is really winning and handing over your best card is really making room for one that's better.

Sometimes it feels like all bets are off ...

can we open up empty hands and wait patient?

Friend, this could be the time to stop fishing for what is next.
And simply be.

So whether you started strong or you've already wished for a do-over -- pair up, again today, with the Creator of the game, the One who knows how every hand will end.

We are not yet who we will be.

And someday we will see Him as he really is.  (1 John 3:2) We will know just how faithful He has been, just how trustworthy ... just how committed to make us like himself.

So run the race today, friends. And then again tomorrow. Don't drop out.
Don't flip the board and pout, throw down your cards when your pal wins.
Let's cheer, "Wow, look at you!"

Because we each have winning and losing moments. Refining times. Yes, seasons. We are all growing into maturity. We are all moving toward one goal. And He will keep His promise to finish what He began ... yes, the good work in each of us. (Phil. 1:6)

We have all we need. We are enough just as we are. And we will be made complete.


But in this moment ... could we say in faith, "Come, Lord Jesus. Do what you will ... today."

Just one right-now at a time.

January 3, 2013

2013 is The Year of ...

I have been known to hide out when I am in process.  

To hunker down in the fog and then emerge into the clear, seemingly unscathed.

My mom knows this about me. And when I was in college she waited before calling- always waited for me to check in first. But if I didn't? She knew I had gone underground.

And she hates to leave a message- feels 'so silly talking to a machine,' she says. But she left the messages anyhow, always the same: 'Mary Abigail, I'm missing you. Where did you go?'

Most of the time I called back quickly. 'Sorry mama. I've just been busy.'
But other times, I would only have to hear her voice on the other end before cracking wide open. I would cry quiet into her ear, always trying to hold it together. Keep the flood contained. Keep her safe from my burden.

Because I never wanted to trouble her. Not anyone.

I have a few heart friends who always come to me when they find themselves mid-crisis. Call or show up right in that bad moment when the world is all coming down. And I love them like crazy for this, for the gift of being vulnerable. They don't know it's sacred space when they do this: show up at my door and spill it all out for me to catch ... only to offer it back up to Jesus on their behalf. 

And it's not that they couldn't or wouldn't go to Him in their distress. But it's hands and feet they need and it's holy privilege to be safe space in those gut honest moments. I've been called that:  safe space.

And I have been, for the most part. For every person but myself.

And I've always said I work everything out on paper. That I don't know what I think until I see it. Don't know what it all means, what it is all really about until it's over and done. Until the storm has passed. This is only partially true.

The other part? I don't like to flail. Don't like to fail. Don't like to fall apart. Don't give myself that much room. I'm just private, I say. Not likely to come to your door and spill.

Back in school I never let anyone edit my work ... would have taken my words to the grave before letting you mark them up with red ink. Too afraid to show process. To proud to need direction.

I'll show you my A plus ... just not my rough draft.

And fear and pride will play tricks on your heart- keep you all bound up and alone, tell you you are wrong for needing people. Wrong for being in the middle of the journey. Wrong for being a bit rough around the edges. Fear and pride will tell you to hide out, work it out alone, resurface when all is well.

Pride will whisper that just you and your quiet faith is highly spiritual.

Only, God gave us each other...

And I spent the first half of my life showing only the good stuff. Lived out an addiction-to-thin among college roommates for five years. I led bible study and raised my hands at Inter Varsity, covered up my hurts behind closed doors. 

I finally sought out some help. I did it all by myself. And for months, while living with four girls, I drove away to therapy instead of to class. Four days a week I sat in groups and private sessions,  learned it was alright to say 'I'm not okay.'

I just didn't want others to know.

And I had a major breakthrough- found some power in the Word-made-flesh and I stopped being afraid of my own. When that doc said I had years of work to do, I simply told him I wouldn't be back. I had found some new freedom.

My eventual victory was radical and powerful. It was also lonely.
I had no one to share it with, no cloud of witnesses.
I wondered why I'd done it all alone. And every year since, when spring hits and I smell the first whiff of green grass, I'm bowled over by memories of fear and keeping secrets ... and yes, of finding the way.

God's grace.

Because how do you share your greatest joy when you hide your deepest sorrow?
How do you share real beauty when you hide all of the growth?

And we were created by Him and for Him. All of us are His. And so we are family- brothers and sisters around every turn, if we will allow each other to be. We want so badly to belong, to be known, to find safe arms but we stay all tucked in, arms crossed. We keep people out. We show only our best selves, our finished selves- resurfacing when the hard is behind us, when we can tell about how we made it through, how tough it was, how strong we were.

We are terrified to be needy or lacking or a tiny bit broken ... right now.

 I am guilty of this.

And so when my words go underground, you can guess that I've gone there too. Waiting for just the right thing to say. Packaged well. Perfect.

This word crafting- the putting out into the open is risky. And I just don't know how to write words that aren't a bit transparent. They are real and they are all red streaked. And lately, this life is feeling all inked up. Red. With cross-outs and missing verbs and misplaced punctuation.

But it's what I've got to show, even if it's not that pretty.

What rough draft is?

My goal in school was to have no edits. I wanted to get everything right the first time. I equated revision with wrong. Suggestion with failure. I'd turn a rough draft in a day late before I'd turn it in with fixable flaws. I've been that way here- with all these words.

I want them to be right. And staying right takes tons of energy and we spend most all of our lives being mostly wrong- needy, mixed-up, unsure. I think I might write a bit more if I let you see those parts too.
I think I might like that.

I want this space to have a theme and a direction. A purpose. Truth is? My life looks nothing like that. I am all over the place. Could I be all over the place here too?

I could tell you about how I'm always reading six books at once and how most homeschooling days are a sweet disaster. I'd write about Africa and how I have this crazy notion that I belong in war-torn places with war-torn folks; how I'm learning to rest in my 'right now' with these good gifts of young children and a man who loves me in radical, daily ways.

How I have a roach problem and how, honestly, I've acclimated ... made peace with those sneaky buggers; how I really like my exterminator because he says I'm still clean and that's it's all these woods and all this rain and not at all a reflection on my domestic habits.

How most the time I feel like a lousy friend and a mess of a wife, never calling or showing up or showering when I should; how when I do wash up, I turn the water real hot and sit there too long, pray a prayer or two because I'm finally alone and if someones calling me ... well, I won't hear them.

How I love my new church and how I crave the Mass ... can't get enough of communion;  how it's been the most beautiful and quiet journey of our little family's life;  how I am afraid to talk about it, afraid the right words won't come, afraid I'll be misunderstood ... make another red streak on this page.

But here's the thing. I feel some victory coming on. And I can't share it with you if I won't share a bit of the process too.

I want to celebrate wild with you at the end of all of this.

So, for now, you need to know: I'm in process. And aren't we all?

So what do you say? I'll show my rough draft if you'll show yours. Maybe in 2013 you could let some folks into your journey? Celebrate the messy 'right now' together?

And later ... we'll celebrate together, okay?

It will be a red-streaked party called Grace for all of us who are holding out for the A plus.

Friend, you already made the grade. There's no report card around these parts. I'm tossing it out
(mainly because Jesus did long ago and I'm praying that head knowledge will become a heart truth).

And because I'm ready to be safe space- for you. And for myself.

So ...

I'm declaring 2013 The Year of the Rough Draft.

Yes, this is the year to be okay ... right now ... in the process. Whatever it may be.

And I think I feel better already.


January 1, 2013

At Home in 2012 and a review of sorts

Last year at this time, we were deep in transition. A major life-change.

We were quiet. Private.

I was vague with my words ... hoped you might, or might not, read between the lines.
And we named 2012, the way we do each year, The Year of Finding Home.

And it fit so many themes, really. We were homeschooling and we were home. A lot.
I needed to understand this space and these four walls in a new, everyday sort of  way.

I was planning a trip to Africa- finally flying off to a place that has always been home in this heart. And I stood up in Uganda, around a dinner of lentils and orange Fanta and new friends- told them all how I'd been homesick. And couldn't this African soil be home too?

But more than this- Todd and I were on a journey, one that we had been on, collectively and apart, for quite some time. My journey was emotional, nostalgic, and from a deep place I couldn't articulate. His was intellectual ... at first. And in 2011 I told God, alone and from a church pew on Holy Thursday, that I wouldn't ask it of my husband.

He would find his own way if this place would be our home.

I would wait quiet.

Anyways, I feared resentment. Feared misunderstanding from outsiders. Feared change and estrangement. But the Lord weaved and intercepted, gave us friends who stood in the gap. And
He brought this marriage closer still ... walked us further into communion.

And in our Year of Finding Home? We did just that.

But I've been known to go underground when I'm in process. I want to have it all figured it out and then tell you the back story from a place of wholeness. Clarity.

I've also learned over the years that the less process I share, the less celebrating I do in the end.
Because how do you celebrate wonders and victories if you don't first share the trials and the journey?

We've experienced some quiet wonder this year and I wonder if we, if I, could have shared more along the way. Except that I can hear my husband in my head, reminding me ... "Ab, we're not that cool." And while I wholeheartedly agree about the cool factor, I wonder ...

Because the truth is, you've journeyed a bit with me, with us, over the last year. And I haven't been able to write lately because I don't know how to write words that aren't see through. And because I've been nervous.

To some it may just be a church change. No big deal! Especially not big enough to write about.

But for us, it's been a major shift in community, in comfort, in control. Leaving one beloved church family for another just miles down the road ... this has been an ironic homecoming of sorts, full of beauty and full of risk.

This new community is one that my husband never claimed until now, the very one I left at age eighteen- frustrated with questions I couldn't answer, history and theology I didn't understand, and emotion I couldn't articulate. As a teenager, I embraced a new church filled with dynamic men and women, exciting programs and worship, leaders and teachers of the highest caliber. I got to know God. And my husband served on staff and I led young women and we lifted up brand new babies in front of a great cloud of witnesses. We grew friendships and shared life in all its glory for ten years.

But suddenly on Sundays, we pull up to the neighborhood stop sign and we turn right instead of left. 

We miss our people.

Because we are still here! and we are still the same not-so-cool us. But life is busy and common walls on a Sunday, common childcare rooms, common seats in the back/left of the sanctuary? These givens make staying connected a bit more easy.

But what about when you suddenly find yourself in different space ...?

And we asked ourselves the same questions over and over again, up at night, for a year. Why would we ever leave our people? Why would we give up these walls? This worship? Our history?

We were married here.

And our new space doesn't offer the same kind of childcare. Let's just say we've spent some time in the foyer with some kids. And it's a whole new crowd- equally large, equally rooted.

We have felt lost in a sea of faces.

But then this:

In the past year we've also kneeled, shoulder to shoulder. Cried collective gratitude with foreheads in hands. We've been bowled over by the richness of a sensual, sacramental faith. We've discovered liturgy and tradition- how those alone offer us a community without adequate description. And we have found a family that transcends walls and a history that reaches far beyond ours alone.We've walked forward each week, with palms turned up.

We have found communion.

And despite everything- despite the gratitude, the quiet grief, the immense change; despite what we've left down the road to the left-- the God-given and God-grown friendships, the comforts of familiar space, the full-of-Grace-and-Truth teaching we received, the story of our growing-up; despite all of the new questions we can't answer perfectly and the Mystery we've knowingly embraced ... despite it all, we are sure of one thing:

In 2012, we found Home.

Happy New Year, dearest friends. May you find your home in Him in 2013.

December 24, 2012

When roses bloom in winter {a re-post}

I've been struggling with words these days ... can't find words to fill this space. They just don't come readily like before and I'm trying to be patient. I wanted desperately to write, here, after last week and all that happened in Connecticut. But I had to write it all down for myself, in ink and on my own paper pages instead. Those words will likely stay there. Because last week was all too close for any of us- and I had to do some private dealing, just me and my Jesus.

But the events marked me and they marked all of us. And those dear little faces on the cover of People magazine mingled and messed with my Christmas joy. I can't shake the thoughts of their mamas. I have struggled to stay out of the emotional weeds. Still, Christmas is here and I believe in the Incarnation now more than ever ... this God who became flesh, born to save us all from everything we can't bear.

Below is a re-post from one year ago and, oddly enough, I think it works for today.
Have a truly blessed Christmas, friends. I hope to be back soon.

I nearly complain when I walk out the front door a few mornings ago.

This weather is so very bizarre and it is difficult to feel Christmas-y when the temperature hovers at 65. I suppose I don't really mind. How can I mind bike riding without coats and street play as if it were spring? I know the cold will come soon enough-- it always does. Somewhere, right now, there is a chill in the air and it will move this way in time, follow those black birds that descend in flocks and tell of colder days to come.

I see it that morning, out of the corner of my eye ... that thorny vine that is wily and misshapen. I don't know how to trim a rose bush and so it just does it's own crazy thing. It is mid-December and for months it has been nothing but a brown, thorny eyesore. I would have snipped it away long ago if I had known where to find the sheers.

But this week it is blooming roses.

Red and pink ones and I find it mysterious. I snap a picture. The next morning I read over here about how Christmas can be hard and all "upside down." The women respond candid and brave. I cry as I read ... pray for women I don't even know, women who will be alone or sad or stretched this Christmas. And who hasn't known pain? Aching loss?

I read and Christmas feels a bit more sacred, more necessary. It is about more than peace and waiting and anticipating. It is about deep need.

Need for light when the lights seem to be out ... or are just beginning to flicker. Need for hope that answers the ache. Hope that dispels the dark.

Because there are people who are hurting at Christmas.

And I think on another mama that I do know. It is ten months now, home without her girl. This will be her first Christmas with an empty chair and she posts on Facebook, tells of the memories that keep taking her breath away. At the funeral last year, they said their goodbyes amidst a sea of pink flowers and pink balloons for a girl who was just six. Her and that sweet aroma of pink ... mingling and lightening the air.

Dispelling the heaviness of a goodbye.

Her mama weighs heavy on my mind.

A few short hours from here another family keeps vigil, with thousands of others who have come alongside. And a dear friend's friend is dying. He won't likely make it to Christmas and his beautiful, strong wife informed the masses late last night, bid friends to come. Come now.

Come say goodbye at Christmas.

I watch a community plea for prayer and I pray too. I have tried so hard to make this season about the waiting and the knowing that He is coming, the anticipation of this arrival. God with us. It has been peaceful around here, just as I had hoped but I wonder if, in my pursuit to flee the Christmas Craze, have I missed something?

Have I forgotten that He is hope and light, the One who causes light to shine in dark places.
And  didn't He come in the middle of the night?

And the weather has been strange and Christmas is coming in with the cold. I am thinking of mothers, lovers, and a little girl who will kiss her dad goodbye on Christmas. 

Today we walk through Trader Joe's and the aisles are filled with shoppers buying gingerbread coffee and cinnamon cheese. We pick up peppermint taffy and I see them there to the right. In a sea of red and green poinsettias ... a small tin of pink roses. My heart speeds up and I tell my girl to look. Look! And we know who they are for. We know where we have to go next.

Later we leave roses on a doorstep, come home to taffy, and dad is off work early. He plays Christmas music and dances with his girls in the kitchen. I can't catch my breath and I mark the moment in my memory before I step out of the room. Thankful. Heavy.

Because I am still thinking of roses and I need to get away for just a minute. I shuffle through more Christmas music, favorites that mark the season, and I hear it-- this old hymn.

I have never listened well to these words but my ears are tuned today. A flower bright .... when half spent was the night. A savior  foretold, to show God's love. A babe, whose sweetness so filled the air that kings and shepherds came to see. Dispelling darkness everywhere and lightening every load.

It is the eve of Christmas Eve and I am thinking on a rose. I am waiting for a light that shines in the dark ... for a hope that enters gladly into the night.

Come, Lord Jesus.


Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God's love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger they found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

November 3, 2012

Running into the fear {Allume 2012 and why I'll keep writing}

Last year we stumbled onto a new favorite place. We walked downhill, carried a baby boy. Answered the invitation of falling water, its far-off roar. We followed its trail between rocks and under leaves showing their first signs of fall. And last year I forgot my camera and I shook my head all the while. Needing desperately to bottle that place, cup all its goodness at the foot of the falls. 

On our last day up north, we packed the van tight and settled in for the nine hours south. And my man knew we would meet D.C. traffic right at rush hour. He also knows me well. So he pulled off the road anyway and handed me my lens. Told me to be careful, told me to hurry.

He said, "go do what makes you you."

And I said sorry too many times even though he wasn't angry, told him I would hurry. I left the whole crew on the side of the road and ran into the woods, down the trail and over sopping leaves. I followed the sound all on my own, and the descent out of sunlight- into water- was a bit unnerving. For a minute I forgot the goal, wanted to turn back.

Because the trek into new places feels safer among a crowd. Other voices cushion the quiet; other bodies temper the nerves.

And at the foot of the falls I found myself alone and silent. The waterfall was deafening and I was fine. I was afraid. I wanted to hurry away. I wanted to stay.

And I heard His roar but I saw His beauty. I felt my own heartbeat. 

And when the call of God and the pulse of your own blood meet up in one place- well that's how you know.

I was made for this place.

Because it's how we all started ... the heartbeat of the Maker in our ears, us wrapped safe in a place all our own. So is it really any wonder that we would feel right at home ... and a little afraid too.

Following Him into that space when He calls.

That was last year and just a few weeks ago we made our annual trek again. This time my boy ran down into woods as fast as his feet would carry him. He navigated rocks and crags in his little gray Crocs and we were certain we would sew up a chin by day's end.

But his squeals echoed what we all know when we stumble into the Maker.

This is where I belong.

And when He is nearby, even unfamiliar land isn't so strange and so how do you deny someone running headlong into God. Me, I've been wrapped up in fear too long- not wanting to run. Saying sorry too often for "doing what makes me me."

But last weekend, I spent three days at Allume. I drove north again for the second time this month. This time I went alone. I was afraid.

When I cried, called myself an impostor, my husband looked right into my eyes, said it plain through the iPhone.

"You belong. You are loved. Go be who you are."

And walking into a crowd of women (or four hundred) can feel like running right into the woods. Finding a friendly face ... an empty seat at a table ... can be downright terrifying.

Following His invitation into the unknown can be both inspiring and just scary enough to hide out forever.

Believe me, I tried. (And really, it was this girl who saved the day. Fiercely courageous and for whatever reason, knocking on my door.)

Because my hotel room was just cozy and quiet enough to lounge unnoticed for seventy-two hours.

Only this: I had run off to follow an invitation. A call into an adventure that makes my heart beat loud. I had driven all that way to meet up with word women. Women who love words-

women who love the Word.

Women who have heard an invitation too, to be who they are by putting pens to paper and fingers to keys. Women who meet up with God in the writing down, where they whisper like me:

Ooh, I know this place.

I wanted to hide away. But they had come too. Hearts pounding, inspired, and perhaps a bit afraid like me.

And it's ironic really- how I ran away to learn how to do.
But I came home knowing who to be.

Because this writing life isn't really so much about the words, but about the girl jotting them down.
And it's not so much about who critiques them ... but why she bothers to write them at all.

At a conference, literally, filled with virtual connections- I found out about community and fear and courage. Reconciliation and understanding and how words can break down barriers and unify His people. For our sake. And for the sake of the church. And sure, the converse is true, but why wouldn't we, the Word lovers, use them for good.

I discovered that writing heals and authentic words matter; that the words make no difference if they haven't first been lived, wrestled; that words never take precedence over people- how Jesus was all about relationship and proximity. How we are called to live well in the here and now, with the people He's given us. Right in front of us. And how maybe, just maybe, we might gain a credible voice to share with the more.

And it was dearest Ann who said it soft and straight: the only way to write well is to go lower all the time, writing on lives in the quiet. And if we spend our days seeking word applause, people applause, well ... Heaven's applause may be silent.

I discovered that every time we put words out into the open, we invite others in. We add to our fold and how this tending is no small thing. We are changed in the reaching out ... they are changed as they enter in. 

I discovered how to be content- how my small and nervous words may really be big and courageous enough. How we don't decide our venue or our audience. We merely run ahead through the fear. Answer a call.

And my, how we get to watch Him work.     

Last month on our drive north, with the family altogether, we missed the leaves changing color. It wasn't quite time.

But today the leaves are changing. And so am I.

I'm home and I'm sure of it, this call to authentic words. I was there and afraid but now? I'm ready to find a space, right here in the quiet, with all of the words and all of the women who have been grounded by them.

Because of Him.

Grateful for the invitation. Grateful for women who heard the roar and followed the whisper.  This time, the all-alone was worthwhile.

Sometimes it's in the all-alone that He calls loudest. 
Sometimes it's in the all-alone that we discover our part matters. So can you hear Him ...

He's calling you  too.

"Come on now, girl. Come do what makes you you. Come and be who you are."

For the glory of His name. And for the benefit of us all.

October 22, 2012

Here's to good, imperfect days

Here's to fall days and flailing a bit, in the best kind of ways. To finding some new freedom and doing away with fear all over again. Here's to running barefoot in public, laughing too loud and skipping nap time. Letting your hair fly. Giving up the worry. 
Here's to regrouping quickly, managing less, praising more. Here's to getting down on her level, seeing the view from her eyes. Here's to saying "sorry" first, choosing grace, making his favorite meal. Here's to catching all things good right in front of you ... just today. And believing that tomorow will take care of itself.  

Here's to reminding myself that this life is a collection of moments. And the best days are the real days with the beautiful and the difficult all wrapped into one. Because even the best days are high jacked by real life; the rough spots and places still unpaved. We mess up, fumble through and regroup. We stop, turn back and start again.

Here's to learning all the time and realizing: who wants to live perfect when its the imperfect that makes us lovely? We take one step forward and a gillion steps back. We shake our heads, stay bent on grace-needy knees. We glance upward and acknowledge the only One who doesn't need refining. The only One who sees perfect when He sees the ones He made.

Here's to the moments before our barefoot soccer match when I argued with my husband under a poplar. Here's to just moments later, when the kids had a collective meltdown in the van. And the parts I remember?

The grass on my feet and how fast she can run and his all-boy belly laugh and, later, saying sorry in the kitchen. Swaying to the just-right song ... just moments before the bedtime frenzy.

It was a good day.

So, here's to YOU and high fives all around for journeying on, for keeping your head up, for praising when it's tough. For embracing all of this life- and all that He offers. For catching the sacred in the midst of the daily and for letting Him grow you up ... one baby step, one not-so-perfect day at a time. 

Happy Monday! And peace, friends.

October 19, 2012

When you want to stay dressed

So here's the deal, friends. I've been out.

Out of words. Out of steam. Out of touch. Just plain out.

And I have this crazy friend who is more like a lifeline and a year ago we decided to "do this thing until it becomes a thing." We didn't have any big plans really; we just knew it was time to get busy being brave. Stop lingering in the back row, start giving what we had. I had stories to tell. She had words to speak over women. And we had quite a year together- doing that thing- whatever it was.

She is one stage ahead in life, with big kids in big-kid school. She does life first, then coaches from a distance. She encourages me to love my man with a thumbs-up, teaches me to spur my children on toward cleaner teeth.

And for whatever reason, for all these years, she has taken on this friendship. Calling, speaking bold encouragement right through the phone and over the distance. Praying me into and home from work, and driving north on 95 to share some weekend courage.  

The other day she proposed something crazy (the way she does) and I protested (the the way I do). While chatting in my ear, she brought me up to speed on her latest Wednesday. And her Wednesdays are all wrapped up in her "doing her thing" and she stands up brave in front of women and she is as real as they come.

She calls it being naked and we talk about that a lot.

Not about being naked, but about how it feels to put honest words out there. How the words can't be taken back. How being brave can leave you a little over-exposed. We talk about how the wanting to hide can overwhelm, how the self-critic whispers in the aftermath, how it's a fight every single time to not cover up thick ... decide right then and there:

"Next time I'll show less skin."

And while she chatted in my ear from another state, I drove and listened and I made two wrong turns before pulling over altogether. Because she asks tough questions and tells straight truths. She requires my full attention. So I parked in the bookstore lot and turned off the engine. I spent the better part of my free afternoon with my car in park.

I cried and told her how I just don't have anything to say these days. She didn't bite. I told her again.
I told her I can't be a good mom and write too. I told her I'm too tired.

And then I told her one more thing and it fell out of my mouth like a brick.
I told her I don't like being naked anymore, that I don't know how to write words that aren't see-through. That, right about now? It all feels too risky.

"What if I can't do it anymore?"

"What if I can't keep writing the real?"

"Because I do have things to say. I just don't want to say them." And my chatty friend said, "Mmm hmm."

I hung up after crying some more, wandered into that bookstore and bought an empty Moleskin.  
It's still empty and the irony is this: I've self-talked myself right out of words. 

And so I guess I have to write about being afraid or else I just may never write again.

And her brilliant plan, the one I protested, was that I write every day in October. Just like last year. And naturally, I froze up afraid this week ... and the week before that ... spoke that whole line again about not having any words. But I've been chewing on my lower lip over here, watching October come and go. We've camped and we've picked pumpkins, plucked apples in a mountain orchard.

All without words.

But my friend called again last night, always right on time. She reminded me gently that we are stewards of words, not keepers. Borrowers of our gifts, not hoarders. And when we manage them  too closely, we can snuff them right out. And instead of slimming down in the sharing, we fatten up on all things self-indulgent. Fear, insecurity, pride ... All the while, we suffocate while others search about for gifts we have - and won't offer. Words, time, compassion, joy.

And I imagine Wednesday mornings with all of those ladies in Florida, poised and ready with my friend nowhere to be found -- hiding out somewhere with words she won't share.

This would never happen, because my friend is fiercely brave. But if it did? What a shame to miss out on her, in her shoes and her bangles. Her sharp, no-frills, no-fear truth that cuts right to the heart in a most ironic and tender way.

Listening to her, I'm certain of this. Her wealth to share with the world? It's truth and grace all wrapped up in words. Every time she stands up, she speaks it. And women drink her in,

because it is the truth that women really want to hear.

And my friend will tell me it is costly. And in the same breath she will tell me it is the only way.
Last night she said, "You have got to speak up. You don't get to stay quiet after you say 'yes' to a gift. You risk everything now. You risk everything to share what you have."

Because what she is really saying is this: "What is your other option?" 

And I know the answer to this one.

I think I'm living it right now. And from where I stand, I'm wondering if feeling a bit naked is really so bad after all. I'm thinking this stifling cover-up is way worse.

I'm thinking that not risking is the risk.

And maybe this is the way. Being keenly aware of our bare spots, we give what we have anyway. And in the crazy risking, we shrink rightly into Him ... into and under the One who covers all.

So, here's to starting again. Here's to putting words on paper. Here's to remembering how to undress, and how to put on God. Taking off the fear, the pride, the whatever ... and dressing in the only other way I know.

Wrapped tight in truth and grace,

and hoping that's all you see.

Wondering, friends. What is your gift to give away? And is it worth the risk?