Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Stretching Skin and Fig Trees


I try to catch my breath.

This feeling I can’t shake. This trying, trying, trying - without anything to show for it.

For five days now, I haven’t watched a lick of TV during daylight or evening hours, minus a showing of the girls’ new fairy movie. I thought that it would give me more time and life would feel balanced. Instead, it seems to give me enough time to realize how much more I need to do and my lists grow and grow and I feel like I live in some enchanted land where I am cursed to never finish and never be enough.

My sweet Kathryn girl wrote a book two days ago. Six pages of full color illustrations and six pages of text dictated to me. She’s working on her next book, a story about Peter Pan and Neverland,  but she is waiting for the right story to put down so she keeps staring at the pages, drawing different pictures, waiting to see what comes to her. 

(This is Tinkerbell in her workshop)



It occurs to me she has created more this week than I have.

******

My skin is stretched thin. I feel it all over me. I woke up at some point during the night and I thought I could feel it constricting around my tired muscles. It itched. It tightened. I wanted to escape my skin and go somewhere I could breathe.

I chastise myself. I have it so good. If things had gone as we planned, as we thought God desired, as we desired, I would be typing this from a small apartment somewhere in Cairo. I’d be looking out my window onto the street below, watching taxi drivers tear down the street as families walked by, women with baskets balanced on their head full of fresh baked pita bread. I’d see dozens of stray cats peek out from under buildings as they shade themselves from the sun. Everything would be loud. And the air would be full of spice. My ears would be ringing with the Call to Prayer. Life would have been hard. And there would be less, so much less. And in my heart, I imagine we would have been happier.

Maybe that is why my skin doesn't feel right anymore. Maybe it’s not made for this. For preschool and the gym and trips to museums and parks. Maybe it’s not made for this.
But it doesn't seem to be made for the other. There’s nothing left for that. Not right now.

And I’m so heart sick when I hear people talk about how some trees are meant to have their roots go deep and wide and to share their fruit with the others who are the transplants, the goers, the doers. And I can feel bitterness rise up when I think of how we were meant to go, but our fruit was stripped by others before it was time, and now we are left with this barren tree and it feels as if Jesus walked by and cursed us and we are sitting here withering.

And now I hate figs.

******

I open up my hands and try to let go. I want my life to speak of hope and redemption. But I can’t hide from the brokenness that is there. Loving Jesus doesn't automatically take that away. Because brokenness isn't necessarily something that needs to be fixed. I’m thinking that brokenness is just a stripping away of the things we place on ourselves.

******

So today, I let the girls sleep in. We’ll pretend we don’t have school. When they wake up I’ll make them breakfast and let them wear their costumes and watch cartoons as long as they want. We’ll play some Uno, sing some Mumford and Sons, and I’ll help Kathryn finish her book.

And I’ll clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, organize the craft closet, clean the toilets, vacuum the floors, and then remember I should make something for dinner. I'll break bread. I’ll finish the preschool schedule and send it out.  And in between I’ll change diapers, run kids to the potty, end up cleaning up some sort of accident, give out snacks, give out hugs. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll curl up next to them, pen and paper in hand, and scratch out some words.  And each time I write, I hope it brings some life back to us. And I keep checking our tree, to see if anything is growing again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

When Grace Looks Like a Parking Spot on a Chicago Street


Four days in a row of a good parking spot right in front of our Chicago building. That’s some kind of record. In 3 ½ years of living here it has never been that consistent, that easy.

Our normal routine when coming home is to carefully unbuckle the baby from her carseat, hoping a city bus doesn't come whipping down our narrow street in hopes of making the green light,  and stick her in the Ergo so I can wear her, keeping her safe. The two other girls are unbuckled and crawl out on the sidewalk side. Usually if we are lucky we can park somewhere on the back half of our block. But often times we find ourselves a block to the south of us, walking ½ a block east and then through the alley weaving around the cars and scrap metal trucks that fly through the bumpy alley road, along with the occasional rat that feasts off of the neighboring restaurants’ dumpsters, to get to our building. We then make it through the two wooden doors and catch our breath before walking up the four flights of stairs.  My middle girl is usually whimpering at this point as her fatigue and her tired muscles are catching up with her. My goal is to make it into our condo before someone starts yelling or crying, usually me.

I have sat in my minivan each afternoon this week, touching just the hem of grace. Because I should not be able to park that close to our home. And that long routine that gets us home each day is one of the main reasons we feel pressure to move. Because it’s just so hard. And it’s not safe. And it leaves me on edge, and sharp, and a me I don’t entirely know, or want to know.

I shouldn’t be able to park that close. But this week, I have. And I hear Him whispering, “It’s all grace, even this.”



******

33 years of “Being a Christian”
8 years of private Christian school
3 years at a Christian college
An undergraduate degree in Religious Studies
12 years of working in Children’s Ministries
3 years on staff at a church

And I couldn't tell you the first thing about grace.


But I think I can tell you what it’s not.

Flipping through my Facebook feed as I wait in the car for preschool to end and I felt a tightening in my spirit.

“The grace of God is activated by actions of faith!”

Really? Really? And I know that if it were four or five years ago, I would have probably hit “like” and maybe even shared it on my own page. Because the Christian walk is so much easier to hold onto when we are the ones calling the shots.

But that was before the nine week old baby died, a teen lost his battle with cancer, a young mother died unexpectedly leaving two babies, and the youth pastor died in a car accident on his way home from work.

Because prior to that, it was all about faith. It was all on us. And until recently, between me and God, I thought it was my fault they died, because if I had more faith, and prayed harder, and been bolder, God would have moved and spared them.

The weight of that has been heavy on me until after a workshop when she came up to me and asked me what was stopping me. And the tears started coming so hard I couldn't breathe and I whispered aloud for the first time that I knew it was my fault. And she held my hands and looked at me the way I look at my girls. “Oh, dear child, God is so much bigger than we are. That wasn't in your control.”

This wild and unpredictable Kingdom living. This world where sometimes, no matter how hard you pray, things don’t turn out the way we hoped. But sometimes, things turn out perfectly and life is full of delicious, undeserved surprises that bless our socks off.

Not because we deserve it. Not because we deserve it.

******

Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel shares:

Our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter – in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest, In Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a child licking a chocolate ice cream cone, in a woman with windblown hair. God intended for us to discover his loving presence in the world around us (89).

I want to see God move around me and in me. I want my sense of wonder back.

I have no doubt that I will spend my whole life and not come close to understanding grace, or joy, or God’s deep love for us. But I’d love to spend the rest of my life trying.

And friends, I just wrote a SECOND posting this week as the baby has been miraculously napping since falling asleep in the car on the way here. We walked in from in front of the building and she has managed to stay asleep as I type and the girls watch Cinderella. And that, my friends, is grace yet again.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Not to Us


I may have brewed my coffee a tad too strong this morning, but it’s nothing another lump and a splash of cream can’t fix. And after last night, I hold this cup close, grateful for this liquid grace that warms my hands and really my heart.



Today is a school day, but I am getting good at gauging their hearts, their minds, and their spirits, and a morning of cuddles, cartoons, and sleeping in should help return their smiles and a little bit of sanity to us all. Sometimes it’s good to step back and breathe deep.

Last night I took a step back and breathed deep too. It’s not my story to tell, and it’s not my fight, but I saw two people who I respect a great deal get misinterpreted for sharing their journey. Two sides of one coin, perhaps, and there were people on both sides who ended up, form my vantage point, a poor, poor reflection of God’s glory.

One person got huge amounts of vitriol and I found myself absolutely shaking that people were so full of hate. She wrote a book that let my weary and shifting soul let out an exhale. I am grateful for her and for her ministry. And to see CHRISTIANS being so ugly and hateful probably shouldn't have shocked me – but it did.

Another I've never met, yet I feel as if she is a dear friend. I imagine us sitting on a porch together with her boys and my girls playing in the sunshine. My heart cracked throughout the evening as some comments and reactions just felt too strong. Too personal. Too much.

Friends, it’s okay to discuss. It’s oh so good to discuss. That's how we all learn and grow. And when God has put on your heart to fight for something, you do. But fight for IT, not against someone else.

It’s okay to disagree. It’s good to disagree. But do it when you have all the information. And don’t make assumptions about someone’s character.

Frank Viola shared on his blog:

Civil disagreement and even debate, when done in the spirit of Christ, are healthy and helpful.
But when disagreements descend into second-guessing motives, distortions of one another’s words, mischaracterizations of one another’s views, and personal attacks, then we've moved into the flesh.
The net is that the name of Jesus gets tarnished in no small way. (Emphasis mine)


It’s so easy to spend so much time and energy defending Jesus that we forget to follow Him.


******

Yesterday was spent trying to let go.

I was able to spend ten minutes in my prayer room, aka the steam room at the gym, and I sat there, hands open, palms facing up, and as I breathed out I whispered, “Christ have mercy,” as I tried let go of all my stress, my worries, and my plans. But I couldn't quite put my finger on specifics to let go of – I was still holding tight.



And last night, my little one, who doesn't feel quite as little any more, had a rough one. For ninety long minutes she cried. We changed diapers. We offered bottles. We rocked. We medicated. We rubbed chests. We rubbed backs. We bounced.  We swayed. My arms and back ached by the end.

I whispered into her ears over and over, “I’m here with you. I’m not leaving you. Let me know what’s wrong so I can make it better.”

We did all that we know how to do, and yet her wails continued until her body slumped in exhaustion and she finally fell asleep. I felt the Lord whisper to me, “This is you. I’m here with you. I’m not leaving you. Let me know what’s wrong and I’ll make it better.”

******

Maybe my years are starting to show, but I’m realizing not every battle is mine to fight, very few are it feels. And we need to give people space to share their truth and explore without jumping all over them. I have so much to learn. And I think I have some to share.

In yesterday’s passage in my Book of Common Prayer, the thought of the day was,

Not to us, not to us: but to your name give glory.

Yes, yesterday was rough.

So this morning, with the sun shining and an unseasonable warm breeze blowing, I repeat yesterday’s prayer:

In the light of the morning, Lord, we glorify your name. May the mystery of your incarnation shine through the complexities of this day so that in all we do, your name might be praised. Amen.

******

Linking up with the ever lovey Emily at her place today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

He Places The Lonely in Families


It’s not that the words haven’t been here. But between the busyness, the sickness, more busyness, and more sickness, I've just. been. tired.

My computer has remained closed for over a week, but my notebook has been my constant companion as I scribble down words here and there. But yesterday is our short day, where we get home early so the girls were running around, playing, making a mess while I opened up that tired laptop and woke it from its week long hibernation.

I felt the keyboard grow warm as the keys lit up and I opened up a page and begin transcribing, but it just doesn't work, so I take a few minutes to hop online. And my hopes and dreams pull up the page of children ready and waiting for adoption.

Breathe.

And oh, my heart. I found one that captured me with her smile. Teresa. And for a minute she was mine. And all she wants is “a family that will read me a story and say prayers with me at bedtime.” Why isn't someone doing that for her?

And then the sobbing so hard I almost hyperventilated. We are in a sad and broken world where there are children without a family and all the political talk in the world isn't changing the fact that there are 104,000children in the US in foster care waiting for adoption.

But Teresa, she can’t be mine. The timing isn't right and she’s all the way in Arizona.

******

Last night, I woke at 2:30 with my little one. And as I held her, I thought of Teresa. And I prayed for her as I prayed for my own, because every little girl and little boy should have someone praying for them. And I hoped she was sleeping soundly and was in a home with someone who gave her love and pointed her to Jesus.

This morning I woke up and I felt a bit of that Pentecostal fire in my belly that has been just an ember for a while now. And I thought about how I’d like to pray for her if she were with me. If I had just ten minutes with her.  And I saw her sleeping in one of my girls’ beds. And I’d lay my hand on her head and pray:

Sweet girl,

The Lord your God is living among you. 
He is a mighty savior. 
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears. 
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. 
Zephaniah 3:17


Do not dismay, do not be afraid,

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." 
Jeremiah 29:11


And just like with my own girls,

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
Ephesians 3:17-20


I’d tell her that she can talk to Him whenever she wants. When she is lonely. When she is scared. When her heart is breaking. He is near and will wrap her in His arms of love. And she can hear Him too. And I’d take her hands in mine and ask the Spirit to speak to her and show her pictures of how much He loves her and let her sit in silence until she hears His voice and feels His love.

I’d kiss her forehead and brush her cheek. I’d look deep in her eyes and tell her how valuable she is. How important she is. I’d remind her that she has beauty and purpose and beg her to never forget that. And then I’d just hold her close to me until our time was up.

****

I've been a Christian since I was three, so I have over 30 years of sermons under my belt and for the life of me I can’t think of one on adoption.  Anything else that Jesus or Paul or any other disciple or saint has mentioned has been told to me over and over and over again. And yes, I've heard James preached. "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." But it’s never come with a call for action. Why not?

Lord, have mercy.

I say this not to condemn. Not to guilt. But out of pure confusion. For I look at the well worn pages of my Bible and from what I can remember, Jesus got pissed off two times. The money changers and when someone stopped children from coming to Him. Shouldn't that mean something to us? And maybe, when we have resources and don't use them to care for the children not in families, are we maybe keeping them from Him? I say this to myself as much as I say it to anyone else.

Christ, have mercy.


Here’s the thing. I can’t let my heart bleed out without asking you to do something. Whether you bring a child into your home, sponsor through Compassion, or World Vision, or Help One Now, or some other organization, would you do something? I’m just growing more and more convinced that as followers of Christ, this isn't optional business. This is Kingdom business.

And if you happen to read this, would you take a couple of minutes and pray for Teresa?

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows-
this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
Psalm 68: 5-6

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Sabbath Reflection


Yesterday I had church.

I sat in a circle with 13 three year-olds. I told them about Joseph being thrown in jail.  I told them that even when he was scared and going through hard times, God was with him and God was before him, working it out. I sang with 13 three-year olds. I watched them sing and dance and be joyful. I prayed with 13 three year-olds. I prayed that they would feel the Holy Spirit. I prayed that they would hear His voice. I prayed that He would be there for their tough times. 

I love the fact that I spend my Sundays doing this.

And.

Yesterday I had church.

I drove home, sunroof open, the heat of the sun landing on the top of my head and warming me. I drove through a cathedral. The bumpy Chicago street I drive down every day glowed in a new way with the sunlight that poured through the trees. The heavens were as bright a blue as can be and filled me with a sense of awe that only comes from a Midwestern sky. The trees graciously bowed their branches low to cover me. They were as beautiful as the flying buttresses at Bath Abbey.

Bono was my worship leader. We sang together.

“You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains; carried the cross of my shame…You know I believe it. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

And I my eyes filled with tears when I sang, in truth, that I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. And I feel like I’m closer and closer. This great future, this great hope has been so blurry and uncertain and so elusive. But it’s coming in focus. I could feel it inside as I sang. So I sang for me. I sang for my family. And I sang for my God.

Mick Jagger brought the word. Oh yes, he did.

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find  you get what you need.”

And he sang to me about Daily Bread, about Manna. I go back and forth so much you know. I want to be content where I am, in this place in location and in this place in life. But I know there is something else out there. And there are more babies out there who need a momma, a family, a home, but we’re stuck and don’t have room for them in our house, even though there is space in our hearts. 

But I’m trying to live in the moment. And maybe I don’t have all that I want for us in total, but I have more than I need for today.

And at home, around my dining room table, I had our Eucharist. Our potluck/ leftover /let’s feed them something lunch with all of us there. And we drank our milk and water and ate that pasta, and chili, and bread and it was His Body and Blood for us. And as I sat there, looking at the gifts I was given, I knew it was good.

And this, this my friends, is my confession.

For yesterday I saw my graceless heart. And I felt my own desires wrap around me and constrict me until I was fighting for air. 

I want to drop everything and run when someone is in need. But I’m a mom, with three really young ones, and a super busy husband who is always being shoved on the back burner anyway, and so much stuff to do. Always so much. 

Always tired. So I get the frantic message, and I respond, but I hold back not in action but in heart. Self-preservation? Yes.I want to be so full to overflowing that I have it in me to do more. I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but I’m just. so. tired.

I want to love the city. To love our neighborhood. This place that was picked so intentionally. But there are days I just want to pull into a driveway and let the kids play in the yard. And I don't want to feel bad for wanting it. But I don't want to want it.

And so I'm trying to lean into grace more, though the closer I lean in, the further she seems from me. I think this must be like a trust fall. I'm scared to let go and trust that grace will be there to catch me. But I'm truly starting to learn, to know in the marrow and sinew of my being, that outside of the full embrace of grace, there isn't much.

In the murk. In the confusion. In the desert times. I still want His glory to shine through.

Thank you for hearing my confession.

And now, my friends, this is my benediction. Go in peace. And, as we say each week at the end of church, "Now go out into the world, and be the church."


May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.
(Book of Common Prayer)