June 16, 2013

Talking about dad

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

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

Now, it was my turn to do the laboring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But my Todd was shockingly steadfast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

psalm 145

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 5, 2013

On time and quiet growth and resurrection

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

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

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

And it was like a homecoming.

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

this has been our finest year yet.

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

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

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

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

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

And then for the catching up.

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

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

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

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

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

I am learning not to fear time.

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

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

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

"I'm really good," I say.

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

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

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

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

March 4, 2013

On my birthday- a letter to my teenage self

Dear Girl,

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

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

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

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

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

But the people ...

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

Same fears. Same needs. Same desires.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world is waiting for just-right you.

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

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

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

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

But choose wisely, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And hang in there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 6, 2013

If you are fishing for some encouragement

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

And if not? No worries, friends. 

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

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

Sometimes it feels like all bets are off ...

can we open up empty hands and wait patient?

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

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

We are not yet who we will be.

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

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

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

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


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

Just one right-now at a time.

January 3, 2013

2013 is The Year of ...

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

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

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

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

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

Because I never wanted to trouble her. Not anyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only, God gave us each other...

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

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

I just didn't want others to know.

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

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

God's grace.

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

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

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

 I am guilty of this.

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

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

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

What rough draft is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So ...

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

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

And I think I feel better already.


January 1, 2013

At Home in 2012 and a review of sorts

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

We were quiet. Private.

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

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

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

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

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

I would wait quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We miss our people.

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

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

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

We were married here.

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

We have felt lost in a sea of faces.

But then this:

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

We have found communion.

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

In 2012, we found Home.

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