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?

November 10, 2011

When change comes slow ....

Sometimes change comes slow.

I wait. I watch. I take in the now and all that it offers; but there is always the wondering about what will be.

The seasons come and go and I know this, how it all works. It is the same cycle every time, the same cycle of hope. I know this rhythm like I know my own heartbeat and still I wait with held breath.

October was slow and the page turns to November. I begin the waiting. I wait for the color and I wait for the acorn to fall and I wait for the sound of the lone goose overhead ... that gut-wrenching call that slays me on the inside.

And my children, they have learned this fall song and they have learned to love the geese. We tune our eyes to the hues that come gradual and we cheer for the Japanese maple by the door as it somehow, nearly overnight, does its magic. We sit at the dinner table or read books by the window and the geese fly the same pattern each year-- right over our heads.

We didn't know it when we bought this old house, how they would cross this roof every night at dusk. My girls mimic their mama as they gasp and sit up tall with wide eyes. They run out to the street in their socks. We hold our hands up and call to them. Hello, friends! Saluting their ritual, applauding their faithful trek.

It has become a family affair.

They are too young still to know how life can sit heavy on the shoulders. But I feel the weight roll right off as those birds follow each other out of the waiting.

That V in the sky pointing toward home.  

My whole body sighs and there is peace in the knowing that they go ... that they come back again. The sun keeps keeps rising and the ocean keeps ebbing and these silly geese keep flying south, a conscientious answer to a Maker who beckons them to warmer skies.

But they wait still before taking flight and the leaves hang quiet before displaying full splendor.

And isn't He always getting us ready?

Each year when the air turns harsh, I brace for the cold. We herald in the new year with communion on the floor, this man and I. Since our first year in Arkansas, we have broken bread and named the year to come: the twelve months about to unfold. We look back at where we've been ... then look ahead. We cast vision together for this family and then ask corporately for the grace to carry it out. We wait.

We have held on tight and we know we haven't walked the dark road yet. We know we will, in time. 

Because the seasons always come.

And we can't change where we are and we cant rush what the seasons will bring. We can't speed up this growth life any more than we can will the leaves to turn. But we can watch and we can wait hopeful. We can be faithful to do the next thing, follow that Father voice when He calls us out of the waiting, calls us to new heights. Calls us a little closer toward home ...

This was the year of Being Brave.

Brave to open our eyes. Brave to enter in. Brave to look close. Brave to simply say yes ...
Brave to ask the question, "Jesus, what do you really want from us, from me?"

And I watch with different eyes and a crazed camera this fall as the leaves take their sweet time. Everywhere I look they are only half changed. Multicolored, sort-of complete, almost-there beauty. It makes me smile, pieces of creation groaning everywhere I look ... groaning to be fully there.

Fully finished.

Fully beautiful.

And sometimes the change comes slow.

The tides roll and we spin unknowing. The leaves glow and then fall and the branches wave exposed. We watch the falling down and we insulate with matches and wood. We bundle up and we wait. And in the witnessing and in the waiting, we are changed.

And somehow with more vibrant color than the season before, we find ourselves a little closer to home ... a little closer to full splendor.

I snap more pictures of leaves and I whisper,

"go on with thy patient work ...

and deliver me from everything that dims the brightness of thy grace in me..."from The Valley of Vision

November 7, 2011

When living big looks small ...

I've been busy these last few days ... dealing with throw up.

And I have to laugh, after writing for thirty-one days about Spending Yourself. It is all so very fitting. Because sometimes we just want to see God in the big picture, be part of a big story, see Him doing big things.

But somewhere around Day 28, my friend and I sit and we drink coffee. I talk about Africa and books and moments of insight. I tell her how I want to GO and DO. She reminds me, in her gracious-true-friend way, of something I forget too often:

that living big really means being great at living small

I have to ask myself again, "Am I willing to do the small well?"

Around the same time, I fold laundry and talk with another dear friend. We hold phones pressed between shoulder and ear and we laugh and wonder if we could really find joy right here, in these mountains of towels and socks. "Are you there yet?" she asks. "I just don't know if I'm there yet."

In motherhood theory, perhaps ... but really? Like deep down in my soul?

The week wraps up and the series of 31 posts comes to a close. I have been humbled and people have been so kind ... but I know me. I sit in the kitchen, wonder if I am just a fraud living behind words. There is a holy rumble here.

Todd and the kids are gone and I am alone for a few hours and there is always more laundry to fold. I sit among the fabric and I know my coffee-drinking friend was right. I must offer up my very best self right here in the low places. I ask again, "Am I willing to do the small well?"

I fold. I think ... if you want to do more, become great at less, no task too lowly. Can I find joy right here? Can I have zeal for this mission, this vocation? Isn't this daily-ness, isn't this sacred space too? 

I leave the laundry and I do something new and out of character. I pray over this home. Room by room. Bed by bed and chair by chair. I ask for enough time alone before kids run through the front door. I want to finish. And please don't think too much of me. This is not a natural posture, not a normal occurrence. But suddenly I am struck and I know down in the depths that my focus must get shallow, if I really want to see.

It's right in front of me and it isn't complicated.

I know this living-and-serving life is all wrecked if I can't first live and serve within these walls ... among these towels and these socks. These poeple.

And so ... that night my oldest child races to the toilet. I hold her wispy hair and I wipe her mouth. She is an all-star and we sleep together on the bathroom floor. We lie still between rounds ... wait. I carry her to my bed and hold a plastic bowl and I wash sheets. Towels.

We trick-or-treat two days later and now it is the middle child's turn. It is two in the morning and I wake to that sound, then the cry. I rinse candy off blankets and down the drain. I do more sheets. There are little bodies in my bed again ... and that bowl.  No one has done much sleeping.

The following night, it is the youngest. He heaves in the quiet, all by himself and I am unaware. When I find him the clean-up is exponential. He is sleeping in, bathed in, sour milk. It is the middle of night again and I don't know how much more I can take. I do more sheets. Wash the lovey. Dad runs a bath and the boy settles in, settles down. He closes those blue eyes.

And then he does it all again. The sun will be up soon but I do. more. sheets. Re-wash the lovey. I am tired and we are tired ... tired of smelling like throw up. 

I look at the clock and we've lost almost a week. We have watched a lot of NetFlix. I cross my fingers and sleep light, ears tuned and eyes heavy. I think back on 31 days, on conversations with friends, on how the seemingly big has finally culminated ... with the small.

Throw up and laundry and t.v. days with Sprite and saltines. Lots of prayers but very few deep thoughts. And now just this one:

Can I serve right here in the low places?

Can I speak with a kind word, touch with a gentle hand, forfeit sleep, share space on cold tile between a toilet and a toddler. Can I play pretend even though I am designated (every.single.time) as the stepmother or the witch or the grumpy, jealous uncle? Can I fold laundry with a song, praising even the smell of clean cotton while imagining her in those purple polka dots? Maybe?

Sleep falls heavy like a brick after a month of scribbling words and a week of churning stomachs. And these real life days just keep coming and the fatigue can wear on the perspective. But I keep reminding myself to keep spending ... myself ...

Because these small todays add up. And they become one big life.  

Live small with me today, friends? Do it well, from a place down deep? For His sake. Happy Monday ... it's good to be back. 

November 1, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 31} :: Just the beginning ...

I've doubled up today ... because this was harder than I thought! So please don't miss Day 30, my true heart behind this whole thing. If you don't read anything else...? You can find the whole series just above in the tab as well.

And then, here we are! Closing up this 31 Day Challenge. I can hear my mom (or dad or brother or best girl friends for that matter) saying, "Yes and one day late, in true Abby form."

Yes. Yes, I know.

Still ... I have to tell you something. THANK YOU! Really.

Because this was hard and a little awkward and a lot scary. It was beautiful and so many of YOU showed up, shared words that made this not. about. me. 

And again, I might have named this whole journey something else, even though I still don't know what that would have been. And what matters is this: He is big and faithful and good. All the time.

My prayer for YOU now. For me? That we might look closely at these lives we are living. Look back for a moment so we can really look ahead. Get honest. Be brave. Hand it all over. Trust that He is always for us, that His "nearness is our good," that He is the author of a great and powerful story and WE ARE IN IT ...

Could we offer ourselves to the One who gives full freedom? Grace. Peace. Yes, joy! Clarity. Could we stay in the moment and not fret about what will come? Could we spend ourselves and our time and our energy, our money... on people? His people. Could we believe that when we do, we really live and love and learn. Broken places get fixed. We are changed. They are changed. We become the family we were created to be.

Could we trust that IF ... THEN ...

Thank you for walking with a messed up girl who is learning, one messed-up step at a time. Just believing that the doing leads to the knowing. Just believing He is worth following,  worth trusting, worth being spent.

Thank you to a beautiful community of women who challenged me to follow along. You inspire.

Peace, friends. New and old. I hope you will come back again soon. I think I will too.

Spend Yourself {Day 30} :: Then ...

I am at work for four years and nearly invisible beyond my immediate crowd. People in the hall still stop and introduce themselves. I am all-in while there, though not there everyday like others, who work harder and longer. But this still feels like my life. These kids feel like my kids. I am finding myself, growing into my own skin. I am learning to love and see, by serving them.

For the first time in years I am believing on my own, without much feedback, that I belong somewhere. No one here is praising me on a regular basis and I am ok. I can see for myself these days.

I have weak moments, like anyone. I fill out "superstar" cards for coworkers and they are posted in the hallway. "Acknowledge a staff member doing something great." I throw out the praise and the cork board fills, crowded with cards of affirmation. For years, I walk by this board and I don't get one. Not one, from anyone. Occasionally I wonder as I pass by on the way to my car... Just a little praise, Lord? And I confess my envy and comparison. "She isn't even that nice," I mutter in my heart. "I just heard her complaining yesterday." And then I laugh at my regression.

I settle it the same way each time because I know what is true. Am I now trying to please God or men? This is between you and me, Lord, and I really am okay. I really am. I have learned to lift my head within these walls. I have found my voice ... walking in the margins. It is I who should offer the praise, here among the forgotten ones. I don't really need words anymore. Praise isn't why I stay.

So when I decide to quit and be home with my own crowd-- be the mama I always wanted to be-- it isn't easy, not cut and dry. It is complicated and sad and I am all torn up. I am walking away from a backwards place- a place people don't ask about, don't speak of. And these kids ... working so hard to work it all out. I don't want to go. I just know it is time.

I give my four weeks notice and time drains away too fast. I try to get time with each kid, look them in the eyes. I play ping-pong, make chinese rope ladders, read poems. The last day catches me off guard and I cry on the way to work. I cry again in the hallway. I am late to clock-in ... can't pull it together in the bathroom.

When I do come out, they are waiting for me. All of them: kids, staff, therapists. They give me a graduation, the same kind the kids receive when they complete the program. I sit front and center with the director's hands on my shoulders. She is steady as always while I quietly disintegrate. My friend, he leaves the room and I wish he wouldn't.  

And for thirty minutes they shower me with praise: the sweetest, most genuine praise possible. I am certain it is other-worldly. I don't know the girl they are speaking of.

They pass tissues and use words like exuberant and beautiful. You were born to do this. I love you with all my heart. You are my hero, my role model, the mother I wish I had. I am so proud to know you ... You exude everything good...

Words bowl me over and how could they possibly know? Do they know what they have given to a recovering praise junkie? And I don't know I am possibly recovered until maybe this very moment. Because the words are lovely but no one is this lovely and I get a glimpse of the Father's real feeling for his kids. For me. For all of us. He knew I needed to know, before I walked away to my own children, that this time had been redemptive, valuable somehow. But they could've just said we'll miss you.

Two days earlier I read these word in my kitchen: "A man is tested by the praise he receives." The verse strikes me, stops me. You can know a  man's value by the praise he gets? High praise equals worth? This is confusing and it feeds right into my mindset of old ... If I could just hear it, then I would know ... my real worth...

I get stuck here. It isn't right and I am mixed up. Until they throw me a graduation.

And as I drive home that last night, with sweet affirmation fresh in my mind, ringing in my ears, I think I should feel satisfied. Peaceful to move forward.

But the praise doesn't leave me. It lingers and grows and wells up and I am overwhelmed with Father love. I have seen you all along, He seems to say. You are worthy- in your unworthy, approval addicted-ness because. you. are. mine. Everything good comes from me, child.   

And I realize they didn't really see me at all. They saw Him. And I am laid low for two full days. Because what do you do when all you ever wanted to hear is finally spoken over you?

I am wrecked by grace and by gratitude. Humbled to the core. I feel foolish for pining away so many years after scribbled words on a corkboard, and beyond, when He held all the affirmtaion I needed ... all along. I find myself holding a giant gift in meager hands and I have to know... how do I give this value? How do I honor what just happened?

I hear it. Keep living loved.

I receive it fully, with humility. And I decide to live out the thank-you. And the proverb makes sense to me now. We are not defined and determined by the praise we receive. We are refined, literally tested by how we respond. Do we know how great we are? Or do we step aside, certain of how great He is? 

Because the God of this backwards heart used a bunch of misfit kids to tell me who I am ... teach me how to receive praise that is only fitting for One. Could I receive it from bent knees? And then give it away. Again and again and again. Could we?
And what if we spent our whole selves living out this yes on behalf of those who haven't yet seen? The poor and meek in spirit. Could that be our prescription for recovery as well as our prescription for living well? Giving well?

Could we find Him in our brokeness, then turn and give Him away to the broken? Could it really go 'round and 'round, this spending and receiving? Doesn't it though? Isn't this where the lasting transactions are taking place ... heavenly currency on a heavenly scale?

I am filled up, grateful beyond words. And I am not walking with eyes down any longer.

" ... then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." 
from Isaiah 58