The served become the servants

Every Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m., fifteen hands shoot into the air as I enter the room. Fifteen toothless smiles. Fifteen sets of bright, eager eyes.

“Ms. Johnson, can I read with Mrs. Hunt?”

I’ve been walking into this classroom for five years, and their greetings never get old.

Nor does their bravery, their perseverance, their determination. Many of these first graders at The Academy at West Birdville barely know their letter sounds when I first meet them in September.  “You can do hard things!” I tell them. Each Tuesday morning, I sit on a corner of the rug, and they come to me, one at a time. We sit together and they read to me, struggling over sounds and letters and blends. Sometimes –ow says OW, I tell them. But in this word, it says OH. It doesn’t make much sense, and it’s tricky. But you can do it, I tell them.

And they do. Over and over and over again, they figure it out. Tiny miracles happen in first grade every day. The child who barely recognizes the letters of the alphabet in September is reading sixty words per minute in May.

I play a small part in their story. It’s not a big role, and it’s mostly cheering them on and giving them a little extra help. Occasionally they share their secrets, sometimes with words, sometimes with silence: not enough food, fear of abuse, separation from their families. On Tuesday mornings, I briefly step into their world. I’m not the only one—every day, volunteers from NorthWood Church step into classrooms to remind these kids how amazing they are, and coach them with reading or math or vocabulary. It’s a small thing. But it’s something. It’s a small thing done with great love.

For the past five years, on my final Tuesday with the class, I bring a gift bag full of individually wrapped books to give them. Their pants have creeped up their shins, their toes rub against the tops of their shoes, their new teeth have filled in the gaps. They have grown—oh, how they’ve grown! Their smiles are brighter, their confidence soaring, their brains expanded. They know I have a special treat for them in my bag, so they sit criss-cross-applesauce, hands in their laps, bouncing on their backsides, waiting to receive.

But not this time. Today, before I can even announce the gifts, Ms. Johnson walks over to the bulletin board and pulls down a piece of blue construction paper, scrawled with first grade script and displaying two sandwich bags filled with coins.

“We have been learning about charities,” she tells me as the kids sit grinning. “And we decided to collect money to give back to NorthWood.” She reminds her students about the playground pavilion the church built, and the school supplies we provided, and the many volunteers who wrap their arms around this school.

This is where Jesus resides. This is his ZIP code. Among the smallest, the most vulnerable—raising their dimpled hands and declaring “Me too! I want to be a part of this kingdom!” Where the served become the servants. Where generosity begets generosity. Where small seeds of love are planted, grown, harvested, and replanted, awaiting the next season of growth and harvest and replanting.

One Tuesday morning at a time.

 

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My favorite things – Part Deux

Every once in a while, I’ll open up my blog dashboard and check the stats. Without fail, I have to shake my head and laugh. Here I am, a contemplative writer, eager to share my deepest thoughts and observations, and the one post that generates hundreds of views every day?

This one.

Y’all. I didn’t even open a Pinterest account or board or whateveritscalled until last week when I needed a new hairstyle. But somehow the pictures of my house ended up on Pinterest, and people like them. So in the spirit of peace on earth and goodwill to moms, I’ve compiled a sequel—which, in my opinion, is even better than the first because we’ve lived in our house for almost four years, so these are the tried-and-true, I-really-do-love-them kind of ideas.

1. The hutch in the kitchen. I store my cookbooks and casual serving pieces here, and the countertop is where we always put the drink station when we host a big party. It’s also next to our dining table, so I store all the silverware, placemats, and napkins in the drawers. It works beautifully. (Especially after the Christmas decorations go back into the attic.)

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2. The island. Both our architect and our builder double-checked to make sure we didn’t want to put the sink or stovetop on the island, but it was never a question for us. We had the same island (minus a foot or two) in our old house, and we loved it. This is where everyone gathers for parties. It’s long enough to fit all the food, plates, and utensils for a large gathering. The trash can is the pull-out on the end, so I can wipe all the crumbs straight in. We have five feet between the island and the counter so there is plenty of room for passing through while people fill their plates.

Plus, this is where the kids set up shop—just as we intended. They eat their breakfasts, do their homework, read the comics, have their snacks—all in this space as I cook dinner or wipe down the counter or sort the mail. It’s a safe place for them to talk to me, and I love it. Meghan’s “office” is in the lefthand corner. Most days, you can find there her laptop, notes, papers, socks, shoes, dance bag, and three dozen cups & plates from the past two weeks. That I don’t love so much.

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3. Dining room storage. We got this idea from Michael’s parents, who built their house with similar cabinets when he was three years old. As you may have noticed, I can’t stand clutter, and I’m a tad OCD about stacks and piles. But disorganized clutter in a family of five is inevitable, so I’m all about hiding stuff behind closed doors. I don’t want to look at the crap. Here is the first example of A Beautiful Coverup.

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4. Mixer stand with pop-up platform. I can’t remember where I first saw this, but I loooooove it. Those KitchenAid mixers are a beast, man. You could easily throw your back out trying to lift it. And again, I don’t want to see it, so this is a perfect solution. The pull-out drawer at the bottom is perfect for the mixer accessories. (Helpful hint for homebuilders: remember to put an outlet at the back of this cabinet.)

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5. Mud room lockers. Again, it’s all about the cover-up. Baskets for shoes, locker with a door for each family member. We also put two hooks, a shelf, and an outlet for charging devices. In theory, this is where the devices would sleep overnight, but that doesn’t always happen. My friend, Gracie, built her house before ours, and she didn’t put doors on their lockers. She told me that every time she walks into her mudroom, she thinks, “This does NOT look like the Pottery Barn catalog!” I highly recommend the doors. Doors also contain the odors of gym bags and forgotten lunch bags.

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6. Spice racks. These make me happy.

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7. Broom/cleaning closet. I think I found this on Houzz when we were in the final stages of building. It works superbly well. We need to add a light to this closet, but otherwise, it’s almost perfect. Also, I should have made at least one shelf a little taller for large bottles of vinegar and vacuum attachments that now only fit on the floor.

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8. Fireproof cabinets for photo albums. I KNOW, RIGHT?!? When our first two kids were babies and we lived in our first house, I had a nightmare that woke me up in a cold sweat. I had dreamed the house was on fire, and I told my husband, “YOU GET THE KIDS! I’LL GET THE SCRAPBOOKS!” …and when I woke, I started thinking cognitively about how that would work. Um, it wouldn’t. And that sent me into a panic. I have dozens of scrapbooks worth hundreds and hundreds of hours—and dollars—of work (I was scrapbooking before we had internet and digital cameras). So I began devising a plan, and this is the result:

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I ordered the cabinets from an office supply wholesaler, gave the measurements to our architect, and he designed a cabinet space for them. The actual process of installing them didn’t happen as smoothly as it should have—the sub-contractors built the space 1/2″ too narrow, and the cabinets wouldn’t fit in them, so the builder had to tear out dry wall, the cabinet maker had to rebuild the doors…it was a little bit of a mess, but it turned out fine. That’s usually how life goes.

The bottom drawer keeps our important documents (passports, wills, birth certificates), and the space above the cabinets holds extra throw blankets and pillows:

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9. Master bathroom appliance garage. All credit goes to our architect for throwing in this little gem. I love it so much. My hair dryer, flat iron, curling iron, and electric toothbrush charger are all within reach, but I don’t have to look at them or their messy cords.

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So there you go. Four years later, I still walk around our house thinking, “I can’t believe we get to live here!” We had an excruciating amount of time to dream, design, and plan, and it was worth every second.

I love to hide all the clutter in my house, but otherwise I’m all about transparency and authenticity. After you pin and copy and collect ideas for your own home, I hope you’ll stick around and check out some of my deeper thoughts.

The polarity of stress

Three kids. Three schools. All of which dismiss at three o’clock.

This is what I’m dealing with. This pretty much summarizes the last three months—and also offers an excellent excuse for this being my first post in eight weeks.

I am drowning.

A giant whiteboard leans against the wall in my office. Every Sunday night, I write out who needs to be where on which day at what time. I’m juggling multiple choir rehearsals and dance rehearsals and soccer practices and piano lessons and church activities LIKE A BOSS. So far, no one has been stranded without a ride. So far.

But I am so, so tired.

Two weeks ago, I was supposed to run away from home. Michael had a meeting in Chicago, which is one of my favorite cities in the world, so we were planning to make it a date-weekend and reconnect, refresh, renew. Considering the chaos of our lives recently, Chicago was a carrot, a promise, our motivation for hanging on just a little while longer.

On the Tuesday before the Friday I was scheduled to leave, Nathan came home with a fever. No other symptoms. Just a low-grade fever and a little bitty cough that would not go away. All week, I hydrated him, oiled him, fed him, detoxed him—everything I could possibly do to help his body heal…quickly! I took him to the pediatrician, requested a strep test (negative), had him thoroughly examined. The doctor suspected a virus and sent us home.

In the meantime, Nathan is bouncing around singing, “Being sick is fun!” (I could not form words to respond. And I hid all the forks so I would not stab my eyeballs.) Even when his temperature continued to rise and stay over 101, he didn’t even have a headache, which was totally bizarre. I tested my thermometer on the other kids to make sure it was working.

On Thursday night, his temperature spiked over 104 and his cough was getting worse.

I cancelled my plane ticket.

And I stayed home. Instead of going to Chicago. Instead of date-weekend. Instead of a quiet hotel room with crisp white sheets and fluffy pillows. Instead of Michigan Avenue and museums and art galleries.

On Friday afternoon and evening, I made two trips to the AT&T store to activate my new phone and another trip to the Apple store when it wouldn’t work. In the middle of these trips, Meghan texted me from school to say she wasn’t feeling well and please come get her.

On Saturday afternoon, after watching a football game, Griffin was walking through the kitchen when he stopped abruptly and yelled, “OH CRAP!” because he had a Spanish project due on Monday. Which was assigned five weeks ago. Which he had not started.

That night, I gave King Dramaflair a dose of homeopathic cough medicine. He flailed and whined and fussed for ten minutes before he finally threw it back. Then he threw up.

On the rug.

On the hardwood floors.

On the tile.

Around the toilet.

As I was mopping up pink puke (alone, because Michael was in Chicago, at a cocktail party), Meghan texted me to come pick her up from a party (for which she had made a miraculous recovery after coming home from school early and taking a nap).

The next week, I made an appointment to have my car maintenanced, because this is what responsible grown-ups do. On the way, I got a speeding ticket. Then I arrived at the dealership, where the check-in guy looked at my car, recorded the mileage, and asked me why I was there. “Forty-five thousand mile maintenance,” I replied. He looked puzzled.

“None of your warning lights are on, and you just had an oil change. So we can do an inspection, but I think your car is fine.”

Apparently, regular maintenance is sooo 2005. You only have to bring your car in when it tells you there’s a problem. Who knew. So I sat in the waiting room for an hour and a half for the reassurance that my car does not need to be there.

I. Cannot. Handle. This.

Please pass the confetti and queso and pull up a chair for my pity party. It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad…month.

Throughout these weeks, exhausted and spent, I would snuggle up on my Tempurpedic mattress and Egyptian cotton sheets, completely consumed with this book:

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Pages and pages and pages of stories about girls across the globe. Girls who are refused education. Girls who are sold into slavery. Girls who are sold into marriage before they achieve double digits. Girls who are trafficked. Girls whose tiny, underdeveloped bodies are so grossly injured during childbirth, who do not have access to healthcare providers or hospitals, who are outcast to the borders of their villages, left to die.  Girls who are discarded, abandoned, neglected, raped, beaten, starved.

My friends, in much of the world, this is the rule—not the exception. In much of the world, this is the expectation.

And yet, through various organizations, these girls are being lifted up, educated, and trained. Through the miraculous effort of a few brave voices saying this is not okay, entire communities are being elevated—because when women are given a voice and a seat at the table, everyone benefits.

So there I am, lying in my comfortable bed, on soft sheets. Safe. Fed. Educated. Reading about unimaginable injustice. Yet still exhausted from stress.

I procrastinated writing about this, hoping my muse would show up and reveal to me a neatly wrapped conclusion and a tidy application. I’m still waiting.

On one hand, stress is stress. Dealing with sick kids and unmet expectations and pink puke and driving 400 miles a week (I wish I were exaggerating)—those are all very real.

But what in the hell gives me the right to complain?

I spend hours and hours every week in the car and rarely travel more than five miles from my home. Because I have the freedom to drive. In my car. Whose monthly payment would feed and educate a third world family for a year.

My child was sick. And I took him to the doctor, gave him medicine and food and water so he would get well within a week.

I had to pick up my daughter early from school. In which she is freely educated and challenged and given opportunities most girls in the world don’t even know exist.

I spent hours trying to activate my new smartphone. I can’t even.

My husband left without me on a weekend trip. A trip which was an option. With my husband, who loves and values me, who elevates me, who treasures me as an equal partner, who was more disappointed than I when I couldn’t go. 

I got a speeding ticket. For which I could pay. And not for a second did I fear being jailed or kidnapped or assaulted when being pulled over.

I cannot reconcile the juxtaposition. My stress is real. But every ounce of it is First World. But it is still real, and I have no tidy answer to make sense of the polarity.

I guess all I can do is strive for what Glennon Melton calls perspectacles. Operating from a place of gratitude seems like a good place to start. Continuing to read and learn about global justice issues—when it would be so much easier to squeeze my eyes shut and plug my ears like a toddler—and then playing whatever small role I can to eradicate those issues. Breathing deeply, practicing awareness, praying, being still.

Realizing the sky covers the entire globe, and holding up half of it is a big job, no matter which piece of the sky you touch.

Grace guarding my rear

I have reached the season of life when I anxiously count the days until the beginning of school—not (only) because of the bickering and boredom and crap all over the house, plus the “there’s nothing to eat,” and “stop looking at me!” and “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?”—I hit that point years ago. This year, I craved the ending of the summer and the beginning of school so I could SLOW DOWN.

Here’s how summer goes with teens/preteens/pre-preteens: you set the alarm for 7:00 am. You drive one to Ballet Intensive. You drive another to Sports Practice. You drive another to Camp Interesting and Educational. Then you pick up #1 from dance, grab a quick lunch before you pick up #2 from practice, take him home and pick up #3 from camp. Then #1 wants to meet a friend at the movie theater and #3 wants to play with a friend, while #2 glares at you and declares there is nothing to do and his life is meaningless. At 5:59 you realize you’ve been in the car ALL DAY LONG and have nothing prepared for dinner, and since they insist upon eating EVERY NIGHT, sweetbabyMosesinabasket, you throw in a frozen pizza…or better yet, instruct your Privileged And Well-Rounded Brood to help themselves to a bowl of cereal.

At least when school starts, they go away for seven hours and you don’t have to see them, drive them, or entertain them ALL DAY LONG.

Then of course, school starts, and all is right and well with your quiet, peaceful little world…and by Day Three you are pulling out your gray hair and waking up in the middle of the night wondering how you are going to get everyone where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there.

I miss sleeping.

I’m kidding—sort of. (Not about the sleeping part.) Not every week of our summer was so jam-packed, and we did enjoy some pretty sweet travel time.

This one worked with Vietnamese orphans in Hanoi:

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These two worked with an orphanage in Mexico:

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And we spent one weekend touring Washington, D.C. at a frenetic pace with our bestbestbest friends, then hung out together on an island for a week.

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Kinda makes up for all the driving. Almost.

Deep in my bones, deeper in my heart, I feel a new beginning, a fresh start, a sense of hope. I’m not sure why. But I think this year is going to be different.

My eldest struggled in so many ways last year, which is her story to tell. As her mom, I wished I could take away her hurt—but at the same time, I knew pain and doubt and loneliness are some of our greatest teachers, and her story is being exquisitely written. God’s favorite job is taking the broken and making it beautiful—but the “broken” stage truly sucks.

Before her Vietnam trip, I found this passage in Isaiah 58, and I began praying these words on her behalf.

This is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring. (vs. 6-11, emphasis mine)

Generosity has the power to heal us. To summarize Jen Hatmaker’s interpretation: when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, then told the disciples to do this “in remembrance of Me,” He was saying, continually make this real. Continually allow yourselves to be broken and poured out for others because in the breaking, we find wholeness. In the pouring out, we are filled. In the dying, we find healing.

In serving, we find God—for God dwells among the least, the weak, the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the forgotten. That’s his ZIP code.

Your salvation will come like the dawn. Dawn is a pretty cool time of day. (Or so I’ve heard.) Dawn is a new beginning, filled with hope and promise. New things are budding up, waiting to burst open and surprise us. Our wounds are less wounded.

Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. This slightly confused me until I imagined walking on a path (my path has lots of trees and sun-speckled dirt)—I’m walking toward something good, accompanied by my companions: Mercy, Grace, Justice, and Peace. When I turn around and remember the pain and hurt behind me, I see the love of God. My past is filtered through God’s love for me, how He was always with me, even when I didn’t believe He was. His glory protects me from behind.

I moved a couple of times as a child, and I transferred from one college to another during my junior year. The latter was the most painful, and I went kicking and screaming. For most of my adult life, I’ve felt bitter and cheated out of a complete college experience. Being uprooted left me flailing. Twenty years later, I still have dreams about returning and finishing my education where I began, as if my unconscious brain is somehow trying to achieve wholeness.

Only recently have I looked behind me and seen God’s love guarding my rear. (Interpret that as you will.) Those were some tough years—emotionally, spiritually, medically, mentally—but they undoubtedly shaped me and prepared me for the even tougher years that followed. I can finally rest in gratitude for all I experienced. And, funny thing, when I see that season through the lens of grace, all my other painful seasons are washed and colored and guarded, too.

Did this change of heart result from the mere passage of time and acquisition of wrinkles and chin hair? Perhaps. But I’m pretty sure getting out of my own head and stepping into the brokenness of God’s beloved has something to do with it, too. Feeling sorry for myself, wallowing in my bitterness, stuck in my grief—that’s near impossible when I choose to love, when I serve, when I listen.

To bungle paraphrase Solomon, the summer is past, and the rains are over and gone. It’s a new day, a new year, a new beginning. May we love deeply from our own sacred brokenness, and may our wounds heal quickly. May our darkness be flooded with light, may our gardens be well-watered, may our strength be restored.

(Also: may dinner magically appear on the table every night, and may we not run out of gas while driving to Kingdom Come and back every afternoon, forever and ever, amen.)

On making decisions

In 1995, I was a starry-eyed college senior, ridiculously in love with this cute boy and his big brown eyes. He wanted to be a doctor. He gave me a ring. And together, we planned our future. We had no (insert multiple swear words) idea what we were getting ourselves into. Which is definitely a good thing.

Deciding where he would go to medical school was our first major joint decision. He applied and interviewed at multiple schools, then narrowed the list to two: UT-Southwestern in Dallas, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Have English degree, will travel—I had zero career opportunities lined up. We figured I would find something in either city. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, only that I loved words.

(Not much has changed in nineteen years.)

So we talked about it. And talked. And talked. And talked. For weeks, I think. And we prayed and prayed and prayed, then talked some more. We weighed all the pros and cons. We begged God for a lightning bolt to set a bush on fire and unleash an audible voice, telling us what to do. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

It came down to this:

1. Dallas

  • all our friends were moving there
  • our families were close to the area
  • comfortable and familiar

2. Houston

  • the armpit of the entire country
  • don’t know anyone
  • unfamiliar

No brainer, right?

I spent part of my childhood in Houston, and I was well into adulthood before I forgave my parents for moving us to Dallas. I stewed in fury for the latter part of my adolescence because we were no longer living in Houston. I was an angry, angry teenager. The irony of not wanting to return to Houston as an adult does not escape me. Life is weird like that.

But BCM had a great school, and at the time, it was structured a little differently, which Michael liked. We continued to talk and pray.

I remember tears. Lots of tears.

As we prayed together, we always said the same thing. God, show us where you want us to be. We only want what you want. We only want to be where you want us to be.

And also, pleasepleasepleaseplease tell us.

We kept waiting for the lighting, the burning bush, the audible voice. We’d even settle for a whisper. We just wanted to know.

After weeks of this, and a looming deadline, and silence, we sat on the couch in my apartment and looked at each other. We knew.

We were moving to Houston.

And I cried. Again.

As much as we prayed and begged God for a clear answer, we never got it. But what he gave us was a gift far better, and one we have carried with us and returned to throughout our marriage.

It doesn’t matter where you go. I will bless either decision. What matters is the process. What matters is how you snuggle up close to me and ask for my wisdom. That’s what I want for you. And because of that, I am giving you the freedom to choose. Go ahead. I am with you. I am for you. You are mine.

In hindsight, Houston was absolutely the best place for us to be. Yes, sometimes we couldn’t see the skyline because of the smog. Yes, the traffic was horrendous. Yes, walking from the front door to the car in July left us drenched in sweat and stink.

But.

We formed priceless friendships with people who challenged us and walked with us and shaped us, many of whom are still precious friends. We would not be the same people today without them.

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All of these babies are now in high school. Seriously.

We loved our church—not only the community, but also the blend of liturgy and art, the embracing of silence, the learning of meditative Taize prayer and worship.

We loved the city. Houston’s food and culture and diversity rivals New York City. (Almost. Even though we were too broke to experience most of it.)

We needed to be away from our parents and our friends. We did. We needed to be in a place where we only had each other, where we were forced to depend on each other and begin our marriage without a safety net.

Sitting on the couch in my college apartment, we couldn’t have known any of this.

But it was absolutely the best choice.

Could we have spent the first four to five years of marriage in Dallas and still have been blessed? Undoubtedly. But we didn’t, and neither of us would want to go back in time and change a single thing.

(Except perhaps the eyewear. And the clothing choices.)

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Nineteen years and countless decisions later, we still return to that experience, and now we are teaching our children. Who you are is more important than what you do. When we have reached other proverbial forks in the road, sometimes our next steps are clearly lit. Most times they are not. Regardless, we know that our hearts and our love for God are the priority.

In the seeking, we find wisdom.

In the trusting, we find peace.

In the silence, we find him.

 

The two roads diverge in a yellow wood, and God will go with us down either.

And that makes all the difference.

Showing up

This is me, showing up.

Showing up the the second most difficult thing in life, especially for the creative. Showing up means saying, “Here I am! Let’s get to work!” —even when you have no idea where to start or where you’re going or what you’re doing. You show up. You sit down, and you begin.

And then, you create something out of nothing—which isn’t entirely true. The Nothing is actually a Something you didn’t know was there. The Nothing Something could be an image, a word, a phrase, an idea. It could be something you noticed while sitting in the car line or changing the eleventh load of laundry. It is usually a whisper that beckons you to follow it, though you know not where it will lead. Your job is to follow, to observe, to record.

So you do. And from that whisper that is Nothing Something emerges a Thing of Beauty that you cannot contain or harness or control—it acts and speaks in a voice heard differently by every soul it encounters. Some may hear majestic major chords, some may hear a laughing trill, some may hear a mournful minor key. But they all hear what they need to hear, what will soothe them, what will inspire them, what will sustain them—so you simply play the music. With trembling hands, you hold out your gift, waiting for it to be received.

Showing up is the second most difficult thing in life. Your Thing of Beauty being ignored—that’s the first. Unveiling your secrets, exposing your raw weaknesses, coloring your soul on a page—that is what frees you; the loud silence that follows shackles you to your insecurity. The silence screams you are not enough, you are not worthy, you are not important. The silence draws you back behind your carefully constructed fortress, the thick walls that protect you from feeling insignificant, but also keep out light and breath and warmth. They keep out the community.

So this is me, showing up. This is me, stepping out from behind the walls, fearing the silence, but refusing to cower. This is my healing, my oxygen, my bread and wine. This is my broken turned into beauty.

This is me, showing up.

Aliens & Sacrificial Love – My Messy Beautiful

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I am thrilled to join one of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton, in her Messy, Beautiful Warriors Project. Glennon is quite literally changing the world, one mama at a time. In her words, “I learned fast that when you take a leap of faith and introduce your REALEST self—the REAL everybody else’s step forward. Heart to heart—soul to soul—people allow themselves to really be seen.”  So much freedom is found when we stop pretending we have it all together, when we agree to share a safe and sacred space of authenticity. This is my brutiful offering…

 

Alien

 

Many, many times during our fifteen years of parenthood, my husband and I have looked at each other, exhausted and frustrated and panicked, thinking This is not what we signed up for. This is not what we imagined when we said, “Let’s have a baby!” Somewhere along the way, our precious bundle of joy struck a deal with an alien life form and switched places.

This whole parenting thing?  Not for wimps. It is hard. It is messy. And it is beautiful.

The first week of school is One Of Those Times. Disruption, exhaustion, new routine, new teacher, new friends—throw in moving to a new house and a new school, and you end up with a perfect storm that will inevitably explode into some serious ugly. Especially when you are a nine year old middle child.

He was tired. (Who wouldn’t be after a full summer of sleeping and playing, then having to wake up at 6:20 every morning and go to school all day? Gah!) He was lonely and confused. And because of alien behavior over the summer, the rug was still being pulled out from under him at home in the form of some tough-love discipline.

Put it together and what do you get? Ugly.

Him: Screaming, yelling, name-calling, hitting, pushing, blatant defiance and disobedience. Me: crying, yelling, ignoring, more crying, more yelling. By Wednesday night, I was an exhausted, frazzled mess, curled in a fetal position, wondering where exactly we went wrong. This is not my child. This is not who I have raised. But he’s in there somewhere. I know he is.

Not surprisingly, I had a hard time sleeping. As I lay awake, an idea started to form in my mushy, fatigued little brain. A conversation. A plan.

The next morning was off to a (sadly expected) rough start. He gave us an ultimatum. “Give me what I want, or I’m not going to school.”

“That’s fine,” we said. “But you still have to get up and get dressed, because you will need to explain to your principal and your teacher why you’re not going to class today.”

He decided to go to school.

That afternoon, I picked up all the kids, brought them home, gave them a snack, then called him into my bedroom.  I closed the door and sat on my bed, inviting him to join me.

“I want to tell you the story of you,” I began. Then—lovingly, tenderly, respectfully—I recounted my tale. I told him how overjoyed we were when the stick turned blue, how we planned and prayed, how we counted the days until we met him. And then, in specific but discreet detail, I described all that I experienced and endured because I love him so much.

Morning sickness. “You know how yucky you feel when you throw up? I barfed every day for a month.”

Discomfort. “For four months, I had to sleep sitting up, otherwise you would get up under my ribs, and I’d wake up feeling like my ribs were broken.”

Labor. “Can you remember the worst tummy ache you’ve ever had? I had that every three to five minutes for about nine hours…”

Exhaustion. “I had only slept for about two hours, then we had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night, and you weren’t born until the next afternoon…” and “Staying in the hospital isn’t restful. Someone came in every few hours to check on me, and when they weren’t checking on me, I had to feed you…”

Nursing. “You know how it feels when you fall on your bike and hit your No-Man’s-Land? Imagine someone squeeeeeezing you there reeeeally hard for twenty minutes straight, then puking sour milk all over you, and then coming back to do it again every two hours, around the clock, every day.”

Exhaustion Part II. “You’ve seen your two year old cousins this year. That’s how old your sister was when you were born. I had to take care of you and her, and Daddy was working a lot. None of our family lived near enough to help me. I didn’t have many close friends. Sometimes I couldn’t even take a shower for days.”

Soccer. “We know God has gifted you to play soccer, and we love to watch you play. This is exactly how much money we spend every year for you to play soccer. We could take a really nice vacation with that money, but we don’t. This is exactly how much time we spend in the car every single week, just taking you to practices and games.”

At the end of this extended, very detailed speech, I said, “Look at my eyes. I want you to remember this. All of these things I told you about? This is why I deserve your respect, and why it makes me so sad and angry when you treat me badly and call me names and say that I don’t love you. I have endured so much for you, and I have sacrificed everything for you. I love you.

He gazed at me with his huge, liquid brown eyes—the same eyes that captured me nine years ago when I held him as a wrinkled, bald, beautiful newborn—snuggled up next to me, wrapped his arms around my neck, and said, “I’m sorry, Mom.”

With that, The Alien returned to his home planet, and my sweet, tenderhearted, obedient son returned.

I knew our little chat would stir his heart and rock his world because he can’t stand to see anyone hurting or sad or sick. He’s the kid who will empty his piggy bank for the American Heart Association fundraiser or the special offering at church for the Vietnamese orphans. He’s the kid who won’t let me drive past a homeless person without rolling down the window and offering my spare change. He’s that kind of kid.

(Despite the wild Norwegian-Spanish flare he comes by oh-so-honestly.)

I knew that illustrating the proof of my love and how much it cost would reach the part of his heart he had closed off to us, and I hoped he would respond with tender humility and gratitude. I knew how much happier he would be when he returned to who he really is.

How much like our children we are.

Lonely, terrified, insecure.

Disobedient, defiant, unkind, disrespectful.

And does not God similarly speak to the prodigal? Look at my eyes…I love you so much. Here’s what I did for you. This is how much I gave. I gave my life for you. I sacrificed everything because I love you so much. Please let me love you. Please act in love and gentleness so you can experience the life I have planned for you.

My Monkee sisters, rest. Breathe deeply. Know the limitless love of your Father/Mother God. How much more peacefully and joyfully we live—with ourselves and with each other—when we simply receive His love for us, when we know who we are, when we believe we are worth it. How much happier we are when we simply obey and live loved.

How abundantly we experience life when our own little aliens return to their home planet.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!