December 24, 2011

Joy to the World

Merry Christmas to you, friends!!

December 19, 2011

Slowing for the gift ...

Wishing you peace today as the week begins new and brings us closer, closer still, to the unwrapping.

Wishing you eyes to see and ears to hear.

He is coming.

Wishing you a pace that is slow, a heart that is full, and a home that is ready to receive.

He is coming.

Wishing you moments to embrace the gift ... this God-sized gift that is is wrapped in humility and available for all. For all who will look with child eyes, touch with child hands, embrace with child faith.

And this long-awaited gift is worth the wait. It is precious, with none matching it in value or worth. It is sweet, its goodness never running out. This gift is timeless, unbreakable, and meets every need.

Wishing you fullness of joy, this week, as you anticipate Him-- the most perfect gift for this season.  

And every season that follows.


December 14, 2011

On roots and rhythm ...

It's advent around here, and during the month of December we do what we have always done.

Every year since I was four ... we start on Day 1 and we tell the story. And my mom created this rhythm in our home all those years ago. Now life just seems to ebb and flow with the seasons ... with me always on the lookout for what is coming around the bend. Again.

And I love this circular living, the knowing and the waiting. My girls wait with anticipation the way I waited when I was small, each morning waking up and looking to the day. What day is it? They want to know and I am thrilled. They are putting down new roots, grafting into mine and hers ... grafting into His.

And my mother was thirty-nine when she crafted the Jesse tree out of felt with the other West Point ladies. It was 1982 ... military moms banding together to create an advent tradition, weaving Truth into a tangible story for small minds.

I woke every morning of December to put that figure on the tree and my mind doesn't know advent without them. Without her all wrapped up in them ... telling me of Him. She taught me in quiet, simple ways how the small tales are really part of one large story. How the old weaves right into the new. How every word pointed to His coming. How scripture told He would come from the root of Jesse ...

All along, through those rhythmic years of Decembers, my mother was making Christmas more than just a day. She was making Christmas a story-- a life in the making-- with real heroes and reminders of our place in it all ... us, all unknowing and hero-needy.

So at Christmas time each year we begin at the beginning. We tell of Adam, Eve, Noah and the flood, Abraham and the promise, Samuel, David and a royal bloodline. We tell the story one piece at a time, starting with a miniature earth and that ol' apple.

We start with a serpent and we end with a Savior. We start with a promise and we end with a Person.

The Word making good on his word.

My mother is 66 now and her Jesse Tree, all its felt figures, shows signs of wear. And she said I could have it someday, when she is gone. But I don't like to think about that and I prefer it hanging on her wall in her home. Still, it has taken me years to create may own version and the felt characters just don't feel the same in my fingertips. I want the smell and the taste and the touch to stay the same and I have to remember that we are paving new ways. Same roots ... new rhythms.

I am thankful for roots.

And somewhere along the way, during these last years, I have grown to love this woman too. As a young mother and no longer a little girl, I need reminding again and again of this rhythmic living.  Always coming back to Christ, day after day, season after season ... the story always pointing to Him. She helps me to see.

And lately I find that I need this story now more than ever and I wonder if my mother, way back then, didn't need it too. I wonder if that Jesse Tree was more for her than for us ... creating her own space of grace and awe ... a space of remembering while a young family and four children swirled at her feet and swept through her kitchen. 

Looking back I know it was all by grace ... me picking up on the rhythms she created. Me breathing in the story that was so much bigger and substantial than I ever could have known. And how we invited Him into our living room, our life, all because she knew our need ... 

Because more than a Jesse Tree, did she know that we just needed Jesus? And I live now by these rhythms ... created by her, rooted in Him. This God among us.

It is December 14th and we are following the lead of my mother and we are following the lead of Ann (dearest Ann who quietly follows the lead of Christ). We are looking toward Him. And for the last few years now, we have joined up her words with my felt roots and I smile big each advent season, like I did when I was small ... the knowing that this is a good fit for us.

This new weaving into the old and the knowing that there is room for these roots to sprawl and plunge deeper still. Always pointing behind and ahead too ... each day a reminder of the One who came and the one who is coming still.

November 28, 2011

Christmas is coming ...

It's the first Sunday of Advent and it snuck up on me the way it always does. We sit together in church and we watch the first candle with its first flame. It is the first light of the season and it is time. 

Time to do this again ... tell this story as we revel in the wonder of it all. Then wait joyful ... watch it unfold before us and it just doesn't get old.

And we're not anti-Santa around here. Not afraid of him, don't wince at the mention of his name. We are just normal folks who grew up in American homes and how much do I love John Denver and the Muppets' Christmas (circa 1984)?! The season simply wouldn't be complete without Miss Piggy (and Animal) singing "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..." because some things just die hard (or never die at all) and well, when John Denver has been part of your entire Christmas life ...

So, we enjoy fun tradition like the next family but we don't indulge it too much, don't build up this pot- bellied man who squeezes down chimneys.

Because there is another man who comes. A man who came. A man who is here. And His story is epic and no amount of rosy cheeks and flying reindeer can top it. It is The Story of all stories, the story that began it all and the story that is playing out every day... right here and now.

So as we scramble a bit to catch up with the first candle that came right on the tail of  turkey, we are getting ready to dive in. We will watch and wait together as we share the story that trumps all other stories. 

It is His story and it is our story and it is your story too. Will you join us this season?
I will promise one thing and one thing only: it will be your best Christmas yet. And if you haven't been part of an epic story before? Well then, sweet friends, here is your chance.

John Piper says, "Past grace is glorified by intense and joyful gratitude. Future grace is glorified by intense and joyful confidence."

And so, 'tis the season to celebrate Grace that came down. Gratitude for what He has done. Confidence in what He will do. The God who was. The God who is to come. The Beginning and the End.

We are getting ready: eager, hopeful, grateful. And we would love for you to come along.

Come, Lord Jesus, as we wait in joyful hope ...


November 24, 2011

When practice makes perfect ... a music lesson

She sings while she draws and she sings while she paints.

She sings from her designated spot in the back of the van and she sings from her designated spot at the dinner table.

It is constant and it is natural, this forever tune. Present when she is thinking, playing, creating, concentrating ... breathing. At any given time, there is this humming of my girl.

She wakes with music because she has always fallen into sleep with music and I wonder if this music, at some point, just sank down deep. In that townhouse where we all three shared a room -- we would open our eyes, lift our heads from pillows to find her looking our way from across the room, under her name on the wall that means "Dear One."

And the music had played all night long, that one sweet melody on "repeat."

And it makes me wonder if a song, played over and over again,
could become the undertone of a life?

In this first year of school at home, we have capitalized somewhat on her love of song. Why not do what comes natural? So we sing verses and we sing the timeline. We sing poems and we sing the months of the year. We sing our way to one hundred ... by tens and then by two's.

And my husband laughs at me because I have a song for everything ... always have. But then again, so does my mother. And don't we live out what we know by heart? As a girl I took in songs about leaves and songs about snow. A song for the wind, for patience, for fear. I am nearly thirty-four years old but when I can't sleep some nights I sing the same old words. 

Be not afraid, I go before you always ... The Lord is my strength and my song ... Unto to Him who is able to keep you ... I will go if you lead me ...

And the songs are more of an asking, really. An asking to see, to really know.
I think on all those songs that carried me all those years, even when my feet didn't follow. My heart singing out the requests, then the truths, and finally the praises. It was a slow aquisition and yes, perhaps, practice can make perfect.

And didn't Augustine say that when we sing we pray double? The prayers and the praise going up like incense ...

When she was learning to talk at one she would ask me to sing the "sad song." Not because it was a sad song but because I would sing it when she was sad.

Do not be afraid I am with you, I have called you each by name. Come and follow me ... I love you and you are mine.

When she moved into her big girl bed at two she would hold my wrist with both hands, stroke her own cheek with my palm, then down the bridge of her nose. "Sing 'Step by Step,' mama."

O God, You are my god and I will ever praise you ...

I will ever praise you.

I watch her now and sometimes I wouldn't mind some quiet. I have asked to her to stop singing. But her little tune is hard to suppress and I have learned that she is not defiant. I watch her while she builds forts and blocks and while she sets up full scenarios with animal families. I used to wonder what she was thinking.

Now I know she is ever-praising, in her child-like way that Jesus says we would all be wise to emulate. I think on this and I am reminded not to cut her off mid-song ...

Perhaps instead I should join her. Learn ... from her.

And when she went to the dentist at three and cried nervous, she had no intention of crawling into that chair, certainly no intention of opening her mouth. So when she finally decided to be brave it wasn't because of anything her mama said.

She had simply recovered her memory, misplaced momentarily. She remembered her deep down song and when she climbed into that chair, she looked right at that stranger and she sang about the fear. She did open her mouth but first she sang what she knew.

When I am afraid I will trust in You ...

And she already knew those words. She just had to act them out. Live what she believed
And perhaps we learn more than just words when we sing. Perhaps we learn how to really live a life: tuning our ears to the Truth, memorizing its rhythm and its meter, listening all the time for the melody.

And then the singing. Breathing out what we have long taken in.

When I asked her over and over again at five if she wanted to ride her bike, she answered "no thanks." She had tried and had wobbled scared. She doesn't crash well and she couldn't find her rhythm on wheels. Unsure.

But just the other day she greeted warm air and more falling leaves with a thrill. And when I asked again, she indulged me and she got on that bike. She let me run along behind. Told me not to let go, asked if  I thought she could do it. I told her I knew she could. Progress...

And yesterday I let go.

I ran behind, then beside. She wobbled and slowed down, sped up again and it made me insane not to grab her, snatch her right up. My first born who I gripped in fear until I learned my own mother song--handing her over again and again. And I jogged with a grin and I yelled for her, cheered for her.

"You're doing it, you're doing it! Keep going!!"

All the while she didn't scream or squeal with delight or yell. Instead, that girl pedaled down the street for the very first time and she just hummed quiet ... found her balance and sang her little song with a tiny, knowing grin.

And I suppose it makes sense, really. She's been singing quiet joy in all of the small moments all along. This quiet singing in the big moment came like second nature.

And could all of our days be lived this way? The quiet practicing of praise in the moments ... this whole life becoming one steady song?

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. Would our life-song sing to Him today ... and everyday after.

"I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me." Psalm 13:6

November 15, 2011

A course for life's obstacles ...

They pose by the gate, laughing and waiting. Bouncing.
He yells. "On your mark! Get set! Go!"

They take off and Reese is left in the dust before they even begin ... those little legs.

It's a perfect day and the leaves are perfectly crunchy. The ground is dry and why not make an obstacle course? Cara is serious and she has already planned her route. Her strategy.

Reese ... not so much. But the boots are key. She really wants to wear the boots.

Cara is focused, precise ... way ahead.

For Reese, this is all about the moment. She is going for the total experience and I have to laugh hard when she finally kicks her ball into the goal and we scream, cheer for her to catch up with sis. But she goes back again, hand rolls each ball into just the right position. She is still on the first of five stations and she is thrilled.

She calls for help on the balance beam. Takes her time, watches her feet. Doesn't even notice her competition. She is making her own way. 

When she finally makes it to the midpoint, her only requirement is to fill the bag. A few handfuls should do it. The pile is enormous and the bag is small. Cara is finished already... up the slide. Down.

And Reese stops and calls me. "Mama! Here, for you! This one! You will love this one!"

She is holding up a leaf.

In a pile of dead brown quadruple her size she picks out one with life. Yellow, perfect.

"Mama, come take this one too! You will love it."

She finds another. Red and orange. And another.

Cara is back at the gate now, ready to go again but Reese has changed the game. She is searching now, through the pile, pushing leaves aside and digging for color. Collecting them all, for me.

And this is a sweet mama moment. She knows me. She has watched me bend and pick leaves from the ground for weeks. Years. They fall out of my purse, go through the wash. I stuff them between pages of books and this has been the rhythm of every fall.

She knows what thrills this simple heart and, perhaps she is learning ... if only in the smallest way.

She is learning to see.

The full color in the moment. God in everything, everywhere. Wonder.

Just a few days earlier, I walk down the street with a friend, through the leaves underfoot. We talk about obstacles. I bend and pick up the color and she texts me today with pictures: reds and oranges and yellows. She writes, "I picked up some leaves on a walk today and thought of YOU."

Grace in the obstacle. Is it always there? Can we learn to see it?

That evening, our home is off. We forget grace. We argue and I worry. I lose my cool. We contort our faces when we look at the bank account. We don't feel well and family is tricky and there is always something new on the horizon.

Life has obstacles.

And I am learning that the grace always comes down. It's at our finger tips and at our feet. Available for the picking up-- could we search for it, wade in it, hold it up and cheer when we find it?

When the obstacles come, could we simply slow? Search beneath the dead brown to find Him in full color?

Then press on through, toward the goal?

I am looking hard today. And pressing on. Join me?

November 11, 2011

When Compassion travels to Ecuador

I was seventeen and I had lived a good life. For some reason I still felt all busted up, could identify with sorrow.

And I traveled to Ecuador with a group of church kids and a youth pastor wise in the ways of grace.

We landed late at night in a tiny airport and I couldn't see the mountains but I could feel the air. Up there in that high city, the air was different. I could breathe.

I have loved the poor my whole life. I traveled to Ecuador and discovered my own poverty. Because when you can finally breathe in deep, the exhale comes out full ... I didn't know just how much I would spill.

I woke that first morning with gripping fear on a top bunk. For the first time in my life I was clinging to Jesus in real time and I hoped He was the Jesus of this city too, hoped He had come along to Quito. I spoke the fear into my pillow, wrote it in a journal. I was needy and starving for something I couldn't name and I didn't know to what degree.

And we traveled to Comite del Pueblo by van each morning in that insane city where the only driving rule is that there are no rules... We dug dirt and filled wheelbarrows. Broke bread at 10 a.m. sharp and ate tiny green bananas. We began a foundation for a church in a community on a hillside and the boys played hacky sack, built a fort. We drove crazy roads up mountains, swam in hot springs, and lost a transmission somewhere half-way to wherever we were going. We bargained for striped overalls and beaded rings, wool sweaters in the rain at Otavalo, and the whole market smelled of  wet llama. We posed on the equator ... danced. In the morning we at Chocapic with milk from a bag and at night we caught sunsets, circled up and talked about the Word that doesn't return void. The feet that carry the good news. We held hands like family, sang acapella. "Let us adore the ever living God..."

And when the lights went out I poured over Psalm 13. How long, O Lord?... How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?

I was as lost in Quito as I was at home. We walked through side markets and I confided in Lauren and sang words with Meredith: "Unto Him who is able to keep you, who is able to keep you from stumbling..."

I stumbled hard.

And after a really bad night while that wise, young pastor prayed long over me in the dark, I woke to an empty room. They had all prayed too, and then left to build a church on a hill. They had let me sleep in.  But that pastor- with compassion packaged up in the gifts of time and grace- he gave me a whole day. It was appropriate and it was fatherly.

It was the clearest picture I had experienced yet ... Jesus walking with me. Vivid. Tangible.

And while the rest of the crew worked with dirt and steel, we walked in the city. He asked hard questions and I spilled about family and school and relationships. Pressure. In the middle of Ecuador, we ate pizza.

When we rejoined the team the following day, we sat quiet on a heap of dirt like a surrogate and a stray. We watched, laying a foundation of trust. I shrugged guilty as we were still and the team worked hard, with hands and boots and shovels and steel ties.

I laughed nervous, "Maybe we should get to work, help build the church now?"

And he leaned close so I would hear the punctuated truth he would speak. It would linger long and while I wouldn't live it for years to come, it would change me at my core.

"That's what we're doing, Ab." He pointed to us, patted the dirt pile.

"We're building the church. Right here."

That moment was wrapped in ten days of grace, followed up by years of time ... time and words and a presence that mirrored Jesus. This man had a family and a church, had responsibility. And the sacrifice of real time, true words, patience to walk alongside a life-- it steeled my understanding of a God who came to dwell with the poor in spirit. Resolved exactly what we are called to do in this life.

We are called to build this church.

At all times and in every circumstance and this building has little to do with concrete and steel.  We love in extravagant, messy ways that make no sense to the onlooker. We give compassion and time and we speak true words. We give pieces of ourselves away and we live Jesus with the busted up who know about sorrow. We let our hearts break and we aren't afraid to stay up long and pray- be wrecked for and present to the poor. 

When we commit to a life for a season, we give a picture of Jesus that is undeniable. We say, in a clear whisper and with full authority: You and me together. We are building this church.

I flew home from Ecuador at seventeen, my heart all ripped up and lacking and I waved to Cotopaxi from the air. I wouldn't follow Him in action for years to come. But I met compassion in Ecuador.

Jesus in real time there in that high altitude. 
All because one person looked closely. And then gave.

Compassion International has had a team of bloggers in Ecuador this week. They will fly home, tired and wrecked and built up, inspired. They've been traveling, visiting homes of children, sharing their stories-- all in hopes of inspiring US. They've been looking on faces and hugging necks. They've been capturing moments to share, in the hope that you, WE, might decide to give some of ourselves away.

In the hope that we all might build this church.

This team will touch down on home turf and sleep hard but could we, perhaps, touch down where they left off ... be the hands and feet too?

Could you sponsor a child?

The stories are real, of people waiting for someone to enter into a life. How long, O Lord? ...

And the children ... those faces. They are beautiful. Look close, do the math. One dinner out a month, one pair of shoes. For a child?