September 28, 2011

When you want to live bigger...

Some people browse crafting sites or DIY blogs. Some hang out online to stock up or catch up on pop culture news. These are fine and fun and good and I would do this more ... only I am terribly un-crafty and I am perpetually behind the times.

I walk into Target and push straight ahead-- drop in a pair of sparkly shoes and the obligatory Merona shirt before turning a hard left toward all things children. In order to not embarrass myself, I rely on friends like Krysten and Nina.

And in my "free" time, I linger in spaces like these:

and I don't think I am super deep or super spiritual. It is just how I am made. In 4th grade I wanted to be a Sister of Mercy and I have had Africa on my mind since I was tiny. When I declared Social Work and then French and then International Health and then Nursing in college... I had plans to GO.

And then I forgot who I was and I got all mixed up. Then I got un-mixed up and I met a boy. Now I have this life and these babes and this man I adore. Only I still have this desire to GO and I also have this little family that plants my feet deep.

And I just never know what I am supposed to DO.

I don't know how to merge these lives: this everyday,real life here and the far-away life there. The famine in the Horn of Africa rips me to shreds. I literally count seconds on my watch at dinner and he knows I am calculating terribly morbid things ... like how many children are starving to death. Right now.

Umm, can you pass the cheese?

Everything else seems so trivial and I realize my brain can get a little muddled and I could think us all into a hole. My practical husband is sweet and says things like, "You're thinking about Africa aren't you?" In his good nature and "go for it!" kind of love that spurs me on, he says "Well,  let's just go."

But I don't know what that means or what that really looks like and is that Todd or Jesus talking?

So the world refugee stats come to my mailbox each year in thick manual form and I flip through and I update my awareness. I surf through cyber links. I plead their case over coffee and ask my husband to sponsor just one more child. We all stay put.

I work here with these girls and I sign up for jail tours and we bag up little-girl clothes for  Nicaragua. I slow to pick up the same woman on the road but she won't climb into my van the second time either. "I have to walk," she says again.

I read the books ... all the books piled high... and this behavior isn't out of compulsion or guilt.

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice," He says.

It is just that I want to live out this gospel life and I want to go and I don't understand how it all works together.  

I just trust that He does and I hear the whisper that says... someday ...?

We sponsor little people around the globe and we talk about them, call them by name at the dinner table. Kushi. Simon. May Joy. We pray. We try to do with less and it is hard and we mess up, get caught up in life and activity and sweet parent-gifts that are extravagant.

And less never seems less enough and there is always less to compare less to and how do you live in gratitude in your daily reality and still stay tuned in to the heart of Jesus for them ... all of them? Out there.

I am young in these areas and I am really asking the question.

Because sometimes I grieve lost time and wonder where I would be now... and this little family I love and serve is the delight of my life. So how do I honor both: my heart that beats for this family here and His family there? Our family... across the boundary lines.

Again, I am really asking the question.

But if you're reading, I have to be clear. Hear me say: there is room to live free because guilt has no value, no purpose. We are not all called to board a plane to Africa or work in the county jail. 

But to live bigger? Braver?

To really hear Jesus when He says "love one another." To believe Him when He said, "When you did it to them, you did it to me."

And what of when we didn't...?

I watch this and I cry. This is not really a surprise. However, it really is the only reasonable response when you watch her touch their faces and live out the joy.

Is this what happens when you spend a life?

Could I spend myself this way? Live fearless and obedient like Katie Davis ... right here?
Not afraid of having too little, not afraid of living a little counter-culture.

Friends-- just. watch. her. This homecoming queen who drove a yellow convertible and loved sushi...
and then gave it all up to go...

Let her compel you ... let Him compel you. Then pray. Give? Go?!?

And be sure to drop in again real soon where we'll be talking a whole lot more about this spending...
but more on that later...!!

Peace, sweet friends.

September 24, 2011

When home gets a little stuffy...

We play this game at the dinner table. It is pointless and silly and has no redeeming quality. But it makes us laugh a lot. And it will be a good memory someday.

We wait for someone to pass an item: a bowl or bottle or plate. Then the girls laugh and giggle and wait until the server's arm is outstretched heavy, hovering over table. They yell "freeze!" and the passer stops mid-pass. They think this is reaching with bowl of corn, quivering while waiting for the "un-freeze" command.

And it totally gets old, when they have yelled "freeze" for the sixtieth time in a twenty minute meal. We used to tell them there was a freeze-limit but our freeze tolerance has grown and last night Cara said: "Hey dad, can you pass me....anything?" And we all busted up laughing because she just wanted to laugh and she didn't care what he picked up as long as he played along. So he did.

And I can be the serious, over-thinking one around here and sometimes Todd's antics make me crazy. The spontaneous trumpet noises ... like a bugle reveille in my living room. And the dance parties, complete with bass and cymbal. A cappella.

I say things like, "Seriously? Can we please be serious?" And he smiles bigger than ever and, in pure defiance, takes the dance moves to a whole. new. level.

He says with a big-kid grin, "Oh C'mon, Ab."

I have walked away a time or two...only to hear the girls giggling and squealing with delight.

"Dad is being so silly!" Reese yells. And the holding back really isn't that much fun and I am missing the gift wrapped, hand-delivered moment:
You have been cordially invited to laugh really hard and make a memory...right now.

This is (usually) when I come to. Snap back into being a human and not a kill-joy.
This is not always natural for me.

Because I am capable of over thinking and over analyzing every last thing and some days my relentless, high expectations trick me into thinking there isn't room or time to be so silly.

In my uptight, parental "what if I don't raise 'em right" moments, I can crush what is real in search of something elusive and stuffy and other. Like, let's just say, at the dinner table? Aren't we suppose to talk about character and Jesus and reinforce all the day's learning and teach them how to pray, eat nicely, say "yes please", and look people in the eye when they speak?

Go ahead, feel the crushing weight....

Then enter in God's awesome sense of humor and master plan when he matched me with my mate:
this light- hearted, grace-loving, non-wavering family man.

He plows the soil in this home-- creates fertile ground for grace to take root, for love to grow. He reminds me we are doing just fine and that this home is called to be a place of refuge and goodness and joy. He reminds me of their smallness ... and that we are not in the business of grooming little pharisees.

He reminds me to put away the parenting book and just chill out. He reminds me that real learning and true obedience run over from little hearts that are loved and free and safe to just be. Taught and trained, yes. But freed up?

And lavished in gracious, sometimes too-silly love.  

These little hearts that have wrestled loud and laughed hard over dinner and raised the roof to U2 and Veggie Tales alike are the same little hearts that are willing, an hour later, to say "Yes, mama."

And there are a million ways to fill up their "love tanks." You don't have to play the freeze game at dinner. But an extra hug when they are least "deserving?" A long story before bed when their behavior warranted skipping one altogether? A favorite question (adopted from work) for when it is all falling apart: "Can you help me understand ______?"

Because aren't these really the key moments? The ones that build them up- brick over brick- into strong and gracious grown-ups? Aren't these little grab-bags of grace the gifts that pave the way for seeing eyes and hearing ears?

Like when they will learn someday that Home is actually found in a Person? What if they could look back to now with a sense and a knowing... 

...that their first experience of Home was right here within these walls.   

September 20, 2011

If you're a little lost...

If you woke up this morning and the scenery was all too familiar, felt like surely you've been here before ... remember that his mercies are new every morning.

If you feel like you are walking in circles, you probably are. Stop for a moment?

Find that path again ... the one that leads to the full life.

And if you did it again, whatever it is... that thing that laughs mean in your ear and makes you wonder,    "Will I  ever make some progress?" ...

 Remember that we are slaves to nothing-- can call its bluff, claim full freedom from that old way of living.

If you catch yourself speaking not-so-kind-to-self words, hear this, friend: you are holy and dearly loved.



Do you have ears to hear?

If you had a day or two like this girl here and think staying under the covers might serve everyone best, plant your feet firm on the ground and hold your chin up high.

Because he promises to finish what he began. And you're not all finished yet. This is great news!

And some days faith is a whisper that calls quiet. Just keep going.  And grace is a clock that redeems the hours, buys back the time. The mishaps are molded into holy mysteries, working together for the good ... somehow. And hope finds us off the beaten path and gently leads us back... shows the light just one step ahead.

Keep heading north. Chin up, now. And carry on.

September 16, 2011

If you need a big God...

Sometimes we just need to know that God is big.

That He is bigger than today, bigger than right now. Because sometimes there are just no words and really, the only thing to say is His name: Jesus.

The One who holds all things together by his word. Sustains all things...with a breath.

What He says is what is true and this matters on days when you can't tell right side up from upside down. Because when this earth quakes, He isn't shaken. 

Jesus. Who loved us to the end. Full of Truth.
Jesus. Who sits now, fully finished, with full authority. Full of power.
Jesus. Ever hearing, ever interceding. Full of compassion.
Jesus. Ever calling, ever offering. Full of grace.

Offering one blessing after another.


The one who says, "I am the light of the world."
The one who says, "I am the bread of life."
The one who says, "If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink."
The one who says, "Before Abraham was born, I AM."
The one who says, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

These are big things, I know. That's a lot of Jesus talk, you say.

But some days we look up and it seems like the whole place has gone dark. Like today ... when friends are moving cross country and parents and kids aren't speaking and illness is winning and a mother is trying to get out of bed- to bury a child.

Some days, we just need to know He is who He says He is ... we need to say it over and over and over again.  This one word.


Because some days it's all we've got.
And in feeble faith we lift up a shaky, frail hand and believe that it ...that He ...
has always been enough.

And He will be again today.  

September 13, 2011

Missing you later...

We drink coffee at the table before church and Ben toddles around on his new walking legs. He carries a mega block in each hand. He puts them together, takes them apart, sets them down, claps for himself, and picks them up again.

He takes them to the windowsill and looks out. His little fat feet are too dear and he is wearing those animal pants. We thought he was advanced when we pointed to the lion and he growled. But then he growled at the dog too. And then the dinosaur. And we realized that all the animals on his pants are growl-worthy. And he is just a boy.

His wispy hair is all over. Those blue eyes ...

And I am the sentimental fool in this family-- always watching, looking. But Todd catches the moment today and it catches me off guard.

I hear him across the table- "Oh no." I glance over, ask him what's up.

He hasn't stopped looking at Ben there when he whispers this:

"I'm gonna miss him when he's big."

And he looks at me and we look back at him and every sweet moment and feeling and smell crashes into me like a sensory tidal wave. We log the now-moment.

For a split second we frame him, wrap him up and tuck him away... this little man that makes us swoon.  I am certain he was just in my belly.

The moment passes but it isn't lost on us. Ben moves along and so do we. We see the clock and we're up to dress little girls in little dresses, find six little shoes that match. We can't seem to get to church on time ... not ever. 

The day before, an older-wiser friend sits here in my space and tells me about her children. She tells how she took all four under six, hand in hand when they were small, to walk through nursing home halls. She went just to get out of the house, to feel and see something bigger than her little, busy life.

She tells me how she can travel freely now, her kids all grown and gone. She tells me how it doesn't last forever: this crazy season when everything is miniature and messy, full all the time and somehow still a little lonely...

She tells me to hang in there and to log the moments, to be fully here in the now...

because all the now moments string together, and they become the later.

They matter. 

We talk about other true things too: the relationships get better as they age; it's not so tiring when they are independent; it's so fun to see who they become. And I believe all of this. The not-so-tiring part sounds nice.

But fat little feet and slobbery kisses and bedtime songs eventually fade into back then. Life moves on and no one calls to say, "Tonight is the last night you will sing 'You are my Sunshine.'"

It just sort of happens. And that makes this sentimental gal a little sad.

So I just keep stringing these moments together, not allowing them to slip by unacknowledged. Without holding on too tight, I remember that now is always turning into then. I keep trusting Him who is timeless and holds it all together: their yesterday, their today, and their tomorrow.

And mine too.

'Cause I think I miss him a little already.

September 10, 2011

Finding your sweet spot...

Watching this girl with a crayon is like reading an early chapter of a long, long story.

Who she is now is who she will be. It is how she is made.

This is what she does and when she sits at the table and peers out the window ... picks up a crayon ... I can see her little mind go. She wants to capture something: a moment, a memory, an idea, a dream.

And I can relate.

But I am not an artist and my drawings now look a lot like hers at age 5. No, I pick up a pen and a camera. And I used to feel silly. I am learning to let that go.

But I think on who we are-- all of us-- and how we try so hard to be something other ... to be like someone other.

I think on how exhausting this way of living can be.

How I can wander sort of aimlessly, heavy-limbed, feet dragging. All out of sorts. Like when I try to be on a planning committee or wear the big bangle jewelry. I am terrible on a committee. And the jewelry is heavy and awkward on my neck and it just makes me insane.

And when her dear teacher said she had difficulty "moving on" from a project, I nodded and grinned. "This will be a great trait for academics," she said. "But socially, she may have a hard time when others go on to new activity."

I nodded some more. I know this about her too, how she doesn't like to be rushed and how, when she has an idea, she makes a plan and then follows through until it. is. finished.

It is very cool to witness. And it requires a lot of patience, on my part.

So she is only five and she will grow and learn and change in so many lovely ways. I can hardly wait to see. But this need to capture and re-create won't change. I believe it to be a gift. And when her teacher said that my girl hums her way through her art, I smiled again. Yes.

Always the humming and the creating. She is in her "sweet spot" and I dare say it is her five year-old form of worship ... a giving-back of a gift. With delight.

Oh, what if we could rest in that sweet spot? Maybe take a breath and remember for a moment who.we.are. What if we could stop trying so hard, wanting so bad, to be something other...

What if we could just be fearfully and wonderfully us? All the while, with a little hum, giving away the gift. 

Praying you find rest this weekend. And delight as you find what makes your soul sing ...

September 5, 2011

When grace is passed along...

As with any little family- when the temperatures spike and the noses run, we sort of screech to a halt.

And it can  feel a little like shut-down.

And so while dad continues to saw and haul and pile the fallen wood, I remain inside. I soothe and sing and entertain.

I do my own hauling and piling of little bodies into van. I pay the co-pays. I wait. I drive home and offer home comforts. But when this house goes viral, there isn't much to do but wait...

And for a few days, nothing changes. The fevers remain and these little, hot bodies still end up in my bed midway through short sleep. I am up. I am down. I am kicked in the ribs.

And today the fatigue is long. I miss church again. I'm short and feeling sort of shredded and this isn't the labor day weekend I had planned.

I  drive to find cough meds and pass a goose and its mate. They are stitting in tall grass and their heads pop up as I pass. And they don't know it but they become my invitation back into the joy. They jolt this heart awake and I have my own mini-worship service behind the wheel.

Two fat geese remind this tired mama of some theology I am learning to live:

All is grace.

Yes. This life, these moments, these days that often go all jabberwocky. The days inside and the coughing and cuddling and their little round faces asleep in night-light. All bits of grace to take in and it is everywhere and all around if we will slow to see.

I want life to be this simple. Couldn't it be? Joy in nuzzling this sweaty boy and joy in carrying this tired girl up stairs. Joy when babes are sick and trees are down, when friends are sad and calendars are full, when fatigue is heavy on my shoulders.

We roll into evening with no fevers and my little guy is covered in tiny spots.  I know this virus is on the way out so we pack up and go. We drive and talk about how life really could look different through these grace lenses... permanently.

We don't have suits but the breeze is cool and the sky too blue. We pull the car over into grass and we run down the hill to seize another bit of it ... this grace that surprises and changes and makes us smile big.

He is all good. And He is all around.

All is grace.

And you need to know, these words are not mine. But they have changed me. And this lady who I love dearly and this guy- they have joined up to share.

I have camped out with these words for a week now... these lyrics just following me around. I figured it was time to pass them along. I pray you read her story... because giving it away this year has been one of my great joys... now seventeen weeks on the NYT bestseller list.

I pray you support his music that has been somewhere.

And I pray you, too, might learn to live these words -- this "deep theology" wrapped up in one tiny sentence.

Be blessed, friends.

All Is Grace (With Ann Voskamp) from Shaun Groves on Vimeo.

September 1, 2011

Work on a Wednesday... when a story becomes so much more

I'm at work on a Wednesday and it is bedtime.

These kids on this unit are babies. And these halls will officially close in a matter of months and around here we are in high gear ... trying to get these babies out of here and into real beds-- under real roofs.

Because on this hallway everyone is between the ages of 6 and 11 and the higher-up folks would prefer they move out of treatment centers and into families. I can't say that I blame them. Don't get me wrong-- we treat these little people like our own and what they have here is good. For some, it is the best they've known. But this isn’t the place for the long-term and they do need to be in homes-- where meal trays don't come on the hour, where life is larger than this hallway, where they can sprawl on the rug on a Saturday morning and just ... be.

Next door, the hall is filled with big kids twelve and up. And I'll be there permanently when these doors close, when we get these guys settled elsewhere. And over there they are too grown in so many ways, wise beyond their years and it is sad to see their true age in their eyes.

But here, it's just like my own house in a lot of ways. Behaviorally speaking, many of these kids stalled out around age three or four and so they throw tantrums (really good ones) and they throw objects and they kick and bite. And they scream when they hear “no” or “not now” and they are picky eaters and bedtime can be a full-on disaster.

We know that routine and consistency and patience and compassion go a long way-- allow for security and decreased anxiety-- and so we do our best to stick to these ideals. And at bedtime I have become the nurse who reads stories. The staff says it isn't in my job description … that I have important paperwork to complete, official people to call.

I think about my own little people at home, secure and sleeping sound. And this story-reading is a no-brainer, really.

I can offer this.

For thirteen weeks back home, I show up on Wednesday mornings at church. I walk through that open door to be with all-star women and learn about Esther. At noon, I pick up my babes from the nursery, then rush home to feed peanut butter and jelly before leaving again in scrubs.

And my shift starts at 3 and I am there for the bedtime disaster. The air literally changes as the anxiety creeps up the hall. And as the lights go low, little faces appear at doorways needing water and snacks and hugs and a little assurance. The staff and I, we feel like the crazed woman in that gopher game with the giant rubber hammer and just when one babe settles in another pops his or her head into the hall … “Can I have some milk?”

We talk and figure out how to lessen nighttime tension. We find they are simply being rushed. Their peace can’t keep up with our adult pace. They can’t transition well and when we rush them into bed the anxiety rushes in as well. They just need more time to let minds catch up withbodies. They needed tuck-ins. They need stories.

One boy loves Magic Tree House. This little wispy, whimsy guy can’t sit still for a million bucks but he can tell you about bats and sonar and lizards and dirt.

Another stuttering sweetheart loves Spider Man. For another, it is Junie B. Jones and it is worth every minute to watch her giggle at Junie’s antics.

And one little gal just loves the classic tales: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Gingerbread Man. So when I ask her what we are reading I already know and I chuckle to myself before we start because it just doesn’t get old.

She is seven and a tiny tank of a girl with mini biceps and a belly and braids in rows with beads … and a mouth like a little sailor. She falls asleep with the radio too loud on a too grown station and I wait ‘til she snores to turn it down, or off. So many of them do this-- fall into sleep with loud music in ears, radio literally propped on pillow. And I wonder what they have trained themselves not to hear in the background.

When we read the Ginger Bread Man she changes it up a bit and we sing together every few pages ... after that deviant dough-man meets the farmer and the cow and the sly fox.

It sounds like this … more or less.

Run, run as fast as you can!
You can't catch me I'm the-
Wiggity- wiggity- what- what!?
You know’! I 'm the ginger bread man!

And we say it loud and we bounce a little with for-real rhythm, our hands in the air, fingers pointing and punctuating each wiggity-what.

But when I leave bible study the first Wednesday and head into work, I wonder if they know the story of a girl named Esther.

When bedtime descends, I ask this little darling if she would like to hear something new. I tell her it is, in fact, a classic. I pull a chair next to her desk and I tell her what I know from that morning back at home.

And she is hooked.

For the next three months I come in on Wednesdays and tell a little orphan girl about an orphan named Esther ...who lost her parents, was raised by an uncle, who was esteemed for being true to herself, who became queen, who saved her people. And this tough little cookie is taken by a girl.

And she waits for bedtime and she grabs my arm and she brushes teeth too fast and forgets to flush the toilet and dives into her bed on the first prompt.

She needs to know what happens next ... so long ago.

I tell her it can be her story too. Not the queen part … or saving her people per se ... but the part about being alone and brave and a little lost, wondering what will come of all this mixed up life.

Because even a seven year-old needs to know she has a purpose and a hope and a future.

A seven year-old needs someone to tell her to hang on for the good part … that she is worthy of a story with a good ending.

That the God who wrote that script is also writing hers.

That she has not been forgotten.

And long after the thirteen weeks are up, she is still retelling this tale to me. She knows this story-- Haman and Mordecai, the decree, the fasting, Xerxes and the scepter...

When we finally close up our doors in February, we have spent the last few weeks with just 3 or 4 children on the unit. It kind of feels like family and one by one, they are placed in new homes.

It is hard to say goodbye.

They are so small, this bunch, and it's impossible not to wonder ... what will become of them?

So when a co-worker feels a tug on the strings of her heart, she is brave. In an uncommon but heroic staff-act, she trades in her badge for this little Esther-girl and they walk out on that last day together.

I watch her leave with her little family and there is a little skip in her step and they are sort of simpatico.

And I smile and laugh out loud as it rings in the air here...

wiggity- wiggity- what- what...

I marvel at her story that is already written and I offer her up with the thanks.

Because with this job there is always the prayer.

And there is always the thanks.

For what higher privilege is there than to be a teeny side note on a page of a great and timeless tale...?

Thanks for grace, friends, as I post my Wednesday post on a Thursday...eek! Still learning how to do this little life and keep self-impoed deadlines too!