April 25, 2012

When the "yes" is sweet ...

He and I didn't exchange presents this past Christmas. At some point during Advent, we agreed. Let's just receive what we already have. Let's not do anymore asking.

And we fell into a Christmas rhythm of waiting and watching and speaking of the real present found in the Presence. The God who comes down.

Backtrack just one month to Thanksgiving and it never fails. Each year the dearest family members begin asking for our "lists." For years I have been quietly defiant, passively refusing to write down the wants. And for years a family has given the extravagant gifts anyhow, always the showering with the tangible, the practical, the visible. For years, I've held my breath in the moment of receiving, never knowing what to say ... my 'thank you' always feeling so feeble. Inadequate.

I've got this sweet husband who says, "This is how they love you well, just let them love you, Ab."  And he inherited these giving genes and he can go overboard in the kindest sort of ways ... like the time he imported chocolate cereal from Ecuador after I mentioned it with nostalgia. He says his greatest joy is to give, support, surprise this girl. This is  the same girl who wrestles a critical voice like a lion and cries uncle too often under that weighty lie: "You're not good enough for all of this."

We are an awkward pair: he, the ultimate giver and I, a girl who doesn't like to ask.

And let's be honest. It's not because I don't like to receive. 

There have been lots of tears these years too, wanting desperately to grasp the art of giving.
Because I want to be a giver too.

I wonder sometimes if it isn't the getting and the giving that can change a person. I have not been great at either ... both all wrapped up in stifling insecurity: fear of inadequate giving, fear of unworthy receiving.

And I think it odd that my Jesus would give me a abundantly generous man to model generous love; that He would graft me into a family of crazy-givers who make me voice my wants, make me hope out loud.

This is the family that asks for snow each year and after years of humoring, I've begun to believe they could actually conjure it up somehow. Anyways, how many of us dare to put out the big, impossible ask?

Isn't it easier to keep the big desires quiet? Whispered only in soul closets.

I have lived in this space. 

I wonder about asking God for the extravagant and I discuss with myself on paper. "Can I put out the big ask? Can I anticipate the extravagant yes from the Giver of all good things? Can I also trust the 'no' that may come instead ... if He truly is good all the time?"

He has been good, in the giving and in the withholding. He has known better than I, each time a request went up and out. He will be good again.

And while we didn't give gifts to each other this season, we did select a few for the kids. Intentional and special. As we sat back, sipped coffee and watched them swirl and play, I felt it deep down in a new way: it is good to give a well-timed 'yes' ... to give a good gift with great affection.

On Christmas night, after kids were down and baby dolls were tucked into new doll beds, I sat down with a pen, thought on how the baby born was just that ... an extravagant 'yes.' An extravagant answer to people sick from hope deferred for far too long. I thought about how the infant God-gift was all wrapped up and waiting before their asks ever went out.

I imagine an extravagant God, waiting for just the right moment.    

And even though I didn't ask Todd for a gift this year, I did ask the Father for three. (Ah, the other two for another day perhaps??) But the first?

"Christmas is here," I wrote down in a journal "and I've got Africa on my mind ... all those faces ..."

As it went down in ink I knew it was too big, this ask. How does a mama just up and go? Fly over an ocean, land on another continent? There is laundry and school and there are little people with so many needs. A man. No, this one is better left a dream. And I can't get a 'no' if I never actually ask ...

But my pen made the leap and so did my heart. "Can I go? How soon can my feet touch the ground?"

This husband-giver said, "I think it might be time" and then a passport came in the mail. I wrote a country on the wall and we started to pray.

And after all these years of quiet hoping ... we heard an extravagant, well-timed "yes."

Friends, my feet will hit red soil in just. ten. days.

I've been overwhelmed by the receiving, all of your gifts and prayers (you know who you are) coming together to sing a resounding YES over this dream. The thank you's feel far too feeble and I imagine there will be many, many more to say. To you and to the Giver ... there is only gratitude.

I cant wait to tell you more ... these words are all jumbled and fumbling. But I know this: He is teaching me how to receive well, all of this lavish love, so that I might truly be a giver too.

Peace to you. And more Africa info. to come!

April 17, 2012

When unfinished is a good thing ...

She is a finisher, my oldest gal. I can't pry her away from a project midway ... I don't dare. Because when she has a vision, she sees it through to the end. And this trait necessitates my catching her before she begins. 

Or else we are all in for the long haul.
This is a wonderful trait ... the will to finish a task.

And this little gem of a girl who hums non-stop has constructed a full penguin suit from brown paper bags and established, in the yard, a nest-home from twigs for each of her birds. So when she said she would trace an entire coloring book, page by page, so that her sister would have a copy  too ... well, I should have known that she would, in fact, trace the entire coloring book. 

I love this about her. She is gentle and kind and intuitive ... and strangely tenacious with the focus of three adults. Sometimes I project myself onto her, calling her my "mini-me." And there is a visual resemblance, naturally.

But tenacious I am not.

I tend more toward the drifting along with an insatiable wanderlust. I may, or may not, finish what I begin. I assure you, He is working on me in this area.

And it is slow-going.

In my defense, what I lack in follow-through, I more than make up for in vision. Oh! There is a lot of VISION around here.
Truth is, I would like to be more like my daughter. She is inspiring at six and I am painfully (and gratefully) aware that I have a long way to go.

I am so very thankful that that my Father is tenacious too. And focused. 

He is a finisher. He followed through. He is following through. He will follow through.

For me, for each of us, this is very good news ...

Perhaps give yourself some grace today? Find peace in the knowing that you are not yet complete. Artwork unfinished ...

Surrender a bit to the process, to the vision? And if you feel you've got a long way to go?

Excellent!! Let's journey out this growth together, one brush-stroke at a time.  

"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."    Phil. 1:6

Ah, friends. I have so much to say and I'm missing you! Lots of words here, all back-logged and waiting. Soon!?!

April 4, 2012

If a little bit of change sounds nice ...

She was just two and a half when she memorized her first bible verse. It wasn't intentional. She had this favorite book about a caterpillar. You know, the very hungry one.

And parenting was still new when she was two and I didn't know how to "train up a child" (I still don't ...!) but it just seemed natural to recite it with her ... the way the old goes and the new comes. And so we did. After that caterpillar munched its way through one piece of chocolate cake, one salami, and one slice of cherry pie, it wrapped its old self up for the waiting.

Each time we turned the very last page we held the book up overhead, opened and closed its pages and pretended to make that "beautiful butterfly" fly. She would articulate it just right and cheer the last part as if there were an exclamation point. Maybe there should have been.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come(!)."

For four years now, she has recited her "butterfly verse" at the end of that story and at the end of (nearly) every day.

This was accidental parenting too, us not knowing then how it would pave the way for hearts just before sleep. Night time is an ideal time, after a day of mess-ups and missteps, to talk about needing a little new life pumped into day-drained vessels. They seem to do their best thinking after the lights go out. I know I do. And by days end, which one of us couldn't use a little transformation?

Who doesn't need reminding that we are new and we are being made new all the time ... simultaneously soaring while shedding this mess-up prone life-skin -- one real, hard day at a time.

Each Monday here, we begin school the same way. I hand my girl a new character card and we learn the sentence together, then practice the lines from weeks before.  "I don't quit, I persevere."
"I am a wise child, so I work hard." This week she asked why the card included a butterfly. We read the words, "God can make me new."

I smiled, told her I bet she already knew the answer. 

So we read books about butterflies and she drew their life stages. She didn't say. We painted butterflies on canvas and she ran after moths with cupped hands in the yard. But she didn't say. So, when she let that back door slam on her way in from outside, I shushed her loud, nearly yelled  (always ironic) that "Ben is sleeping!" the way I tend to do. And then this ...

"I figured it out, Mama! It's just like my butterfly verse ... God does metamorphosis in us! That's why there's a butterfly on my card. "

And four years later, her "butterfly verse" came into full color and she was animated and jumpy with the knowing. Later, she dug a bit deeper. "Mama, can God make anyone new? I mean ... like anyone?"

I knew what she was really asking. And she wanted to know what we all desperately need to remember. Is there anyone who is too far gone, too far out, too far away? Ah, and this girl of six doesn't know her own heritage, the oldest born to two prodigal parents.

I smiled. "Yes, He can make anyone new." I told her how we don't ever stop loving, hoping with, anyone. "Not ever, ok? Because God can always change a heart."

I say it loud and clear, tender but emphatic. I say it with authority because I've lived it. I've seen it. And I've listened, jaw-dropped to the floor, to humble men and women who speak of the old, but only display the new. Yes, this is one I'll die on -- for myself and for the one out there who appears unchangeable, for the one who believes too much time has lapsed, for the one who has been given up on.

Because really? What good is Easter then?

What are we remembering? Hoping for? Celebrating? Why all the praise that will come on Sunday morning? Why bother with any of it if not for the promise of the new?

Later that day I mess up big and I yell and I have to apologize to my kids. For a minute my couch with green marker streaks trumps a kid's heart and I crush it good. I send everyone outside with wide eyes while I scrub and the marker comes out but I'm all messed up.

I tear up while I apologize and I try to make sure they know I value them more than a piece of furniture. But my oldest girl has internalized this butterfly truth and she leans in, pats my back the way I do hers. "It's ok Mama. We all need a little metamorphosis everyday."

She winks and I'm stunned because what do you do when your kindergarten kid ministers to your soul? I tell her I guess I'm just a stinky caterpillar today and my middle gal just thinks this is hilarious. 

On Palm Sunday we entered into Holy Week and began this final leg of the Easter journey. I've failed miserably in writing about any of it here-- but God has met us in these past forty days. Beautiful things, rich and lovely, are transpiring.

To begin the week, we planted a tiny garden in a silver tub. We chose plants still green with the knowing that they will bloom ... soon.  We bought parsley for the sole purpose of attracting butterflies and Cara has been toting a self-made caterpillar habitat, complete with caterpillar, for three days now. Our house is full of anticipation and the watching for signs of new.

And I just keep laughing, thinking about how badly I need some metamorphosis, and how often. I think on how we shed just a bit more of this everyday skin all the time -- everyday becoming a bit less like a caterpillar and a bit more like a winged beauty (2 Cor. 4:16).

This is the hope we have and the promise He made good on. "God can make me new."

Friends, today is Holy (Maundy) Thursday. If you missed Lent, missed Palm Sunday ... perhaps begin today?  Perhaps read through Mark 14 and 15 and begin to walk this road a bit, before Easter sneaks up?

Because everything changed, and became new, at the cross. 

Peace and grace today.