The Next Right Thing

Here’s what I’ve learned: when everything and everyone around you is messy and complicated and uncertain, you sit in stillness and quiet, and you wait for the Next Right Thing.

It is both simple and complex. It is straightforward and mysterious.

But to bravely step into the NRT, as it will henceforth be known, is to step into wholeness and peace and joy, knowing you are precisely where you need to be. To bravely step into the NRT is to discover what Brian McLaren refers to as aliveness. The beauty and thrill steal your breath, the contentment bathes you with strength and equanimity.

This is what I have learned.

God has tilled the soil of our family and planted seeds of justice and mercy from the beginning. I vividly remember a distinct nudge while Michael and I were starry-eyed college students: Your home will be a safe place where Love is found. Even with ridiculously polar-opposite personalities, Michael and I share a love for hospitality and opening our home whenever we can to whoever needs it. Hosting guests in our home—whether it was our tiny newlywed apartment or our ginormous 5-bedroom McMansion—fuels us and energizes us and offers us a sense of purpose.

We have grown to know God as the master conductor, artistically and perfectly conducting a grand symphony of people and circumstances in a way that shows off his greatness.

We have been shaken from our sleepy, linear, 90s church culture and pushed forward into the Kingdom where Jesus lives among the least—the marginalized, the outcast, the forgotten—and we have learned to find him and join him in those places. We have learned that true religion is not how we follow the rules, but how greatly we love.

One of the top-priority goals for our kids is this: when they are grown and living their adult lives (not with us), if they ever reach a season of life when they are not serving and loving people well, they will be physically uncomfortable. I want justice and mercy so deeply ingrained into the marrow of their identity that they will be restless and unsatisfied until they jump back on the train.

That’s where Michael & I were last spring. After reading Interrupted in 2012 and launching into a life with new eyes and new passion, we reached a season of stagnancy. It happens. We still had the same fervor, but fewer outlets to expend it. So we began to pray, What next? Who do you want us to love? How do you want us to love? Where? When? We’re getting a little antsy. Show us the Next Right Thing.

Enter Embo.

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Embo came to our church several years ago, and she and Meghan became fast friends. Embo has spent most of her life being bounced and shifted and occasionally drop-kicked from foster homes to homeless shelters to friends’ homes, and back to foster homes again. Nomadic, unstable, and inconsistent doesn’t begin to describe her experience.

Yet this girl—this intelligent, strong, faith-filled, resilient girl—defied all the odds and graduated high school with honors last spring at age seventeen. (No one, including her, is exactly sure how she was able to graduate early, but her last high school counselor added up the credits from the 28 [that’s a real number] schools she attended and said she could. So she did.) College was the next logical step toward her goal of becoming Dr. Embo (and I have no doubt she will), but because she was still underage and still officially in the foster care system, her options were limited. She would have to be placed with another foster family with no guarantee for transportation to her classes.

Michael and I found out what was going on, and we looked at each other. This was a no-brainer. This was our NRT.

We talked about it and prayed about it. We talked to our kids, who all know her well. Everyone was on board (which is a total understatement. There was much rejoicing and whooping and cheering, as if we had announced we were moving to Disney World).

You would think it would be a harder decision. You would think there would be more back-and-forth, more weighing the options. There wasn’t. We just knew.

I mentioned the idea to her last summer, and at first I thought her silence meant hesitation. Not at all. She was just speechless…and really, really happy.

///

My favorite novels often use chapter breaks to switch perspectives and tell the story from another character’s point of view. Let’s back up the truck for a minute.

Embo moved into her fourth foster home last spring, and like most, it was not a great situation. The weight of her experience—all of it—threatened to crush her, but she would have none of it. She began to write—raw, honest reflections on her identity, her family, the foster care system—with perspective and vision beyond her years.

About this time, Jen Hatmaker put together a launch team to review and promote her new book, For the Love (which, by the way, is a great read). Five thousand women applied, and 500 were chosen. Embo was one of them.

While the launch team met on a private Facebook page, those who were not chosen formed their own group to cheer on Jen and celebrate her book. They called themselves The #4500.

(I know, right??? Golden.)

Because writers write, Embo expressed her fear and grief and frustration one day in a blog post, then quietly shared a link on both the launch team and the #4500 pages.

This is where God starts showing off.

These precious women, including Jen herself, rallied around our girl like Mother Hens. They embraced her and loved her and cheered her on, they made sure she knew that they saw her, that she is not forgotten, that her life and her voice matter. Within this rich soil of abundant grace and love, Embo began to flourish. She courageously dared to have hope.

While Michael and I prayed for God to show us who to love, twelve hundred women began to pray and ask God to provide a home and a family for Embo.

///

After the required background checks, calls to personal references, and a four-hour home study, a judge issued an order to declare We Belong To Each Other. Legally, she named us Temporary Possessory Conservators—but we prefer “family.” During Embo’s first week with us, I had exactly two moments of holy crap, we have four kids! This is right, right? We heard You correctly? We’re doing the right thing?…but then she missed dinner one night for a meeting, and her absence was palpable. We are not complete without her.

///

Someone recently stopped me at church and thanked me for welcoming Embo into our family. Thank you, I replied, but honestly I feel like we should thank her. Our home has never been more alive. We’ve never encountered the presence of God more tangibly. Nothing has ever felt more right.

The NRT requires only one small step of courage. And knowing the NRT requires only your stillness and willingness to listen. I’m not a hero. I’m not some example to be lifted up and honored. I’m simply one woman inspired by great women to be still and be brave.

What is your NRT? It doesn’t have to be something huge, like adding another child to your family. It could be a phone call, or a job application, or a walk. It could be a beginning or an end or a choice to continue for one more day. It could be saying yes, or saying no. I’ll tell you mine: in a specific relationship, I need to bite my tongue and not be a jerk. Baby steps, man. It’s too much for me to be mushy and gushy and kind and sweet with this person. Not yet. I have to take the first step to simply shut my mouth. That I can do.

Be still, be quiet, be expectant. Ask for the next step. Only one step. Then courageously pick up your foot, just one foot, and move.

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PS: Our girl is well on her way to Adulting (it’s a verb). She’s taking a full load of classes at the community college while working both an internship and a part-time job. Our family is a safe, stable launch pad for her. We’re working on budgeting and time management and will soon teach her to drive so she can get her driver’s license when she turns 18 in the spring. My friend, Morgan, with the support of the launch team and the #4500, has started a fund for Embo to buy a reliable, low-mileage used car. When you’re being still and quiet and waiting for your NRT, would you ask God—or your inner voice or whoever is speaking to you—if investing in this amazing young world-changer is your NRT?

You can read more about Embo and her car fund here.

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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.

Entwined

He moves swiftly through the family room, carrying a basket of clean laundry, intent to deliver it to our bedroom before tackling the next item on his long to-do list. I reach out from where I’m sitting and brush his arm with my fingers as he passes me, and I smile. His steps slow for a nanosecond, and he looks at me, first quizzically, then he grins, the quick change in his expression noticeable only to one who has known him so intimately for twenty-one years.

///

Midnight premieres are not what they used to be. I’m not sure why this is, but I’m not complaining. When a studio schedules a weekend release of a blockbuster movie, theaters start playing the film at 8:00 on Thursday evening, not midnight. Which means you can cross off youthful adventure and still be in bed before the carriage turns back into a pumpkin and your RLS flairs up again.

Meghan wanted to go to the premiere of Divergent last week—she preferred the actual midnight showing, so I pulled the 40-Card out of my back pocket—we compromised and went at 10. When you’re fifteen and don’t have another ride, whaddya gonna do?

I had not read the books yet, and I really liked the movie, which is forcing me to reevaluate my read-the-book-before-you-see-the-movie rule. I’ve stuck to that rule hard and fast, but it always leaves me disappointed. The book is always better than the movie. I usually leave the movie wanting more of the book. But see the movie first, enjoy the movie, and still love the book? I’m rethinking this.

For the uninitiated, the Divergent series throws the reader into the middle of a dystopian post-apocalyptic society where the ruling authorities divide the population according to each person’s single defining characteristic: service, bravery, intellect, peacefulness, or honesty. There’s no overlap—unless you are “Divergent.” Which, of course, Tris (our sixteen year old heroine) is. And which, of course, she has to keep a secret or lose her life. She meets Four, one of her instructors in the Dauntless faction, who also happens to be Divergent. And, of course, they start to kinda like each other.

That’s really all you need to know. (That, plus government is power-hungry and bad and wants to kill people to maintain control.)

So there’s this scene where all of the non-Divergent Dauntless are in a train car, under the influence of this government-issued mind-control serum, on their way to wage war against another faction. (Hello, young adult dystopian science fiction.) Even though their Divergence makes them immune to the serum, Tris and Four pretend to be mind-controlled to prevent divulging their secret. But Tris doesn’t yet know that Four is a Divergent, though she suspects he is, and she doesn’t know for sure if he’s only pretending to be zombified. So she inches her way through all the zoned-out Dauntless and stands next to him. In a moment of enormous suspense and tension, he slowly, surreptitiously takes her hand and laces his fingers through hers.

He’s not a zombie. And they’re holding hands.

For an instant, my insides flutter and swim. I can hardly breathe.

Because he held her hand.

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///

“So, um, I had a really good time this weekend.” He twisted his watch around his wrist, fidgeting with the strap.

“Yeah, me too,” I smiled. I looked out across the river, the moon reflecting its light like an unfolding secret.

“So what does that mean?”

I blinked.

Two hours later, we stood up from that place—grinning, nervous, joyously exhilarated—and began to walk back to his car. He took off his coat and put it around my shoulders, then reached for my hand, our fingers entwining. My stomach leaped. We looked at each other and smiled, moving together along the sidewalk through puddles of light and shadow.

///

I vaguely remember dating. Before bills and obligations, before careers and babies, before diapers and potty training and tantrums, before soccer practices and ballet recitals and Cub Scout campouts, before sleepless nights wondering if our mistakes could be redeemed.

I remember dating. I remember how I could not suppress a smile when he looked at me, when I heard his voice on the phone, when he touched my arm or my face. I remember resting my head on his shoulder, and his hand touching my knee, and the thrill that lit up inside me, knowing he believed I was something special. I remember escaping to secret places together, making out for hours, the too much and the not enough. I remember nights of talking until we could not keep our eyes open, but not wanting to leave because leaving would mean thoughts and ideas and words left unexplored.

I remember wearing white, vowing ‘til death do us part, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. Amen.

And then…

///

After seeing the movie, I read the entire Divergent series—three very thick novels—in four days. I couldn’t put it down. Not because it was especially good writing, but the storyline intrigued me, the suspense consuming. Plus it was a nice little distraction from my reality—the one that includes never-ending piles of laundry and mail, the 300 miles I drive every week, rarely venturing more than five miles from my house. Dystopia doesn’t seem so bad.

While I wish the characters would do something other than pinching the bridges of their noses or rubbing the backs of their necks or wiping their sweaty palms on their legs every other page, I found myself rooting for Tris and Four/Tobias. And I would rush through other plot lines and chapters to reach their next scene together. The silly schoolgirl in me went all a-flutter at their interactions, the building chemistry and tension, the what-is-he-thinking, the electricity. It’s a little ridiculous, I know. But I miss that.

If you’ve been married for more than a week, you know. Romantic love quickly yields to hard reality and tough choices. It doesn’t disappear, but sometimes it’s harder to find. The butterflies migrate, occasionally leaving indigestion in their wake.

But you still choose to love, you still decide to stay. Love is a decision, not simply a feeling. True love is joining together, yielding, serving, sharing, building. True love chooses to act lovingly, even when he does not deserve your kindness. True love accepts his kindness, even when you do not deserve to receive it. In other words

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
(I Corinthians 13:3-7, The Message)

And here’s what I’ve discovered: choosing to act lovingly will produce loving feelings. The heart follows the head. The feeling follows the choice. Not the other way around. You don’t feel “in love” anymore? Welcome to adulthood. Pull up a chair; you’re in good and abundant company. The emotional rush of dating cannot sustain itself. Love craves something deeper, more intimate, more permanent. And when it matures, when we learn how to choose love, then we can choose to act lovingly. It takes work and will, and you might have to bite your tongue in half to keep your thoughts from slipping out. But the payoff is worth it.When we choose to act lovingly, we cannot help but stir affection. We cannot help but remember why we chose each other.

///

He smiles and keeps walking, and I lower my eyes back to my book. I hear the closing of drawers, the rattle of hangers, the shutting of cabinet doors in our closet. You totally scored with this one, you know. He puts away the laundry. Yum.

He walks back into the family room, sits down on the couch next to me, and picks up the remote.

“Hi.”

“Hey there.”

I rest my head on his shoulder, he places his hand on my knee, and together we share this sacred space of years and moments, loss and triumph, joy and grief. We drift through the light and shadow, ever entwined.

Coffee and Bambi

A few years ago, I tumbled down a slippery slope of awesomeness called coffee. Really, it was Gretchen’s fault. We were on our annual family vacation together, and she handed me a Frappaccino, henceforth known as The Gateway Drug To Full-Blown Coffee Addiction. Michael was offended. I was finally awake.

It was as if I missed something in our wedding vows: for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; I promise to enjoy only the aroma of coffee and never undermine our marital identity as non-coffee consumers.

I caressed my coffee mug, cooing over its blessed, caffeine-infused goodness.

“But we don’t drink coffee!” Michael insisted. As if I was committing the ultimate betrayal. His entire existence, everything he knew to be true, was called into question.

He’s been saving up, as those passive-aggressive types tend to do. He’s been biding his time, waiting for his moment to throw his own wrench into eighteen years of rock-solid marital certainty. Last weekend, he seized his chance.

Michael went hunting.

Like, for the first time. Ever. Y’all. It’s like I don’t even know him.

“But we don’t shoot things!” I insisted when he came home with his new hunting license. We don’t own guns. We don’t like guns. Guns are bad. Eyeballs are good. The two don’t mix. The end.

Meghan, our save-the-earth, animal activist, borderline vegetarian, was incredulous. “You’re what?!?” She shook her head. “Unbelievable.”

(I’m trying really hard to convert my kids into my bleeding heart liberal ways of thinking. I think it’s working.)

I realize I’m in the minority here, especially in the (cough, cough) Great State of Texas. You don’t mess with guns, litter, beer, corporations or taxes. No sirree. That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it will always be. So I mostly keep my mouth shut and keep my progressive, slightly liberal ideologies to myself. Except when my beloved picks up a rifle and tries to shoot Bambi.

His partners (and by that, I mean business partners, just to be clear) take a “practice retreat” every spring. Please imagine my air quotes here. They pretend to need an entire weekend to evaluate their scheme to conquer the world, one eyeball at a time—but really, they are merely finding an excuse to leave their wives and children for the weekend, eat lots of barely cooked red meat, and hit golf balls.

Or, apparently, kill stuff.

Dr. E and Dr. A have been killing stuff for a while, and they teach their kids to kill stuff. They have the camouflage gear and calls and lures to attract Bambi’s mama to a perfect spot where they can take her out. They bought some acreage last year where they can spend lots of time killing stuff. Which is where they insisted upon taking Michael.

He tried to pacify me, even though I’m already a pacifist. “I’m only going to see what all the fuss is about. It will be fun, and it will be good time with my friends, but I won’t do it again. Probably.”

I facepalmed. “Who are you?”

We met when we were eighteen and nineteen years old—which is, holy crap, only four years older than our eldest child. We were babies. We didn’t drink coffee. We didn’t kill stuff. We didn’t know yet who we were or who we would become. Obviously, we’re still figuring that out—though we have a much better idea now.

Coffee and Bambi notwithstanding, much of what we believed twenty-one years ago we have set aside. What we valued, how we saw people, how we saw the world—that’s all different now, in a good way. I’m glad it’s different. I’m much more comfortable in my skin now. What I’ve decided I believe about God, about people, about the world, sits right with me now. I don’t have it all figured out, and I’m content knowing I never will. The painful shades of gray don’t frighten me any more—though I still wish they were a little more black and a little more white.

Michael, too, has changed, and as a married couple, we have evolved and morphed together. There are many issues—mostly political—about which we respectfully disagree, and we allow our kids to form their own opinions. But the core issues of faith and compassion, service and generosity, have knit us together, binding us to each other. Our eighteen and nineteen year old selves probably wouldn’t recognize us. They would quite possibly be perplexed, dismayed, disgusted. But they haven’t yet seen what we’ve seen. They don’t yet know. They can’t yet understand.

Years of questions and doubts, icy plunges into shades of gray, frightening journeys through darkness—all those have formed our perspectives and bound us together. We are united on the things that matter…which is precisely why I can drink coffee and Michael can shoot a turkey (or wish that he had), and we can still be okay.

But helpmebabyJesus if he ever comes home in cammo or attempts to mount an animal on a wall. I will take my coffee and run.

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Silence, schweety

“Well, that was unexpected…”
Not exactly what you want to hear from the surgeon who has been cutting on your husband for the past two and a half hours.
His two-hour surgery — repair to his deviated septum and reduction of the turbinates, whatever those are — was scheduled at noon. Not unexpectedly, the nurses did not wheel him to the OR until 12:30. (Bonus of being a medical family: we already knew that surgeries NEVER begin on time.) After kissing his head and wishing him luck, I settled into the family waiting lounge. Ate a sandwich, read a book, played some Words, caught some HGTV. Two hours is a long time.
I checked my watch occasionally, then more frequently as 2:30 approached.
2:35.
2:41.
2:50.
Mm-kay. This can’t be good.
2:57.
Finally, the surgeon opened the door and sat down with me to explain what he found. Four ugly, ginormous, hideous, obstructive polyps completely blocking his left nasal passage. Which explains why Michael hasn’t been able to breathe from that side for the last five years. And why he breathes so loudly at night that I sleep with earplugs.
But now these polyps, most likely caused by allergies, are on a trip to pathology, and we can all finally breathe.
I waited another hour before the nurse called me back to the recovery room. Before his surgery, they had told me my wait would more likely last about twenty minutes. So the additional wait was a little unnerving — but oh-so-worth it because Michael on drugs? Hilarious. Drunk-eyed, drooling, slobbering, nonsensical hilarity. I tried really, really hard not to laugh. 
The poor guy (whose only other surgery was at the blossoming age of two — ironically an eye injury, which is too stomach-turning to describe) did not know how he would respond to anesthesia. The verdict: nausea and total loopiness. He’d take a deep breath, open his eyes, look at me, and slur “hey schweeety,” then close his eyes again and sleep. Five minutes later, he’d do it all again — as if seeing me for the first time all day. After an hour, he looked at me and declared, “Ju can jus keep my phone.”
I guess that’s an improvement from “hey schweeety.”
Seven hours after we walked into the hospital, he staggered into the car and we drove home. He slept for several hours, then awoke and ate ravenously — not surprising considering his twenty-two hour fast. Healing occurred over the next five days, prodded along by sleep, food, and televised sporting events. Oxygen at last moved freely through his nasal passages, allowing us both to rest deeply, offering us a new appreciation for airflow.
My emerging theme for this year seems to be breathe. Life and busyness have a nasty way of obstructing our airways and constricting the flow of air. Breathing becomes labored and loud, and it drowns out the silence which allows us to recharge. To listen. To grow.
But remove the obstructions, and the flowing air brings with it life and renewal and goodness. We inhale and exhale, passing on the life within us — giving and receiving, giving and receiving, a mysterious rhythm that both sustains and depletes. 
Michael’s polyps surprised his surgeon. Had he ordered a CT scan, he would have seen them, but such an expensive diagnostic was unwarranted. He found them after jamming a camera up Michael’s nose, though. Hello, little polyps. So you’re the ones causing all this trouble. Out you go.
My obstructions are just as difficult (if not more) to spot. But I know they’re there. Busyness, to-do lists, and literal NOISE prevent the air from flowing, blocking the words so desperate to reveal themselves on this page, the truth waiting to make its entrance. They hinder patience and goodness, self-control and joy. I can’t breathe out what I don’t breathe in. I can’t effectively and generously love with massive globs of excess tissue standing in my way.
My life seems very loud lately. And crowded. Slightly suffocating. Which is ironic considering the lengths we’ve taken to de-complicate our family. But beyond clearing the calendar, I need silence. Not just quiet. Silence.
There’s a difference. Years ago, before we had kids, when we took for granted our pieces of quiet, Michael and I participated in several silent prayer retreats at a couple of local convents. From Friday night to Saturday afternoon, we did not speak. In fact, we were encouraged to remove ourselves from words altogether — no books, no music, no conversation. Just silence. Prayer, meditation, listening, contemplation — but no words.
Quiet is much more easily achieved than silence, for even when I would stop speaking with my voice, my mind would continue to chatter and carry on. Without fail, I would not achieve Silence until sometime following Saturday lunch. Just in time to go home. But during those few hours of divine Silence, I soaked in perspective, inspiration, understanding. I left the convent renewed and refreshed. At least until the next wave of noise crashed over my head and threw me to the sand.
Fifteen years and three kids later, I still struggle with silence. I want the voices in my head to shut up and leave me alone. The noise is deafening. My own endless self-talk — coupled with the cacophony of piano practice, iPods, television, chatter, whining, arguing — is pushing me over a cliff. Throw in a constant barrage of information and entertainment from my smartphone and my laptop, and you’ll find me running for the hills and screaming (which, unfortunately, does nothing to usher in silence). Peaceful nothingness I crave.
So this year, I will pursue silence. I will carve out time from my noisy day to learn meditation, contemplation, stillness. I will breathe: giving, receiving, giving, receiving — unobstructed, life-giving airflow.
I’ve had a couple of friends pester ask me recently about my (nonexistent) book. Which usually leads to self-loathing because I have nothing. I have nothing good to say, no direction, no plan. I can barely crank out a blog post every other week. A book? Laughable. And then I read stories and insights from these amazing women and think I could never do that. Then there’s this whole issue of marketing myself and building a platform and aggressively pursuing an audience to like me. Pssshh. So not me. And so beyond my level of comfort. I have the ambition of a tabby cat.
For now, I will inhale and exhale, meditate and contemplate, internalize and spew, hopefully hearing some voice of direction and purpose.
And if that voice happens to say, “Hey schweeety”? This time, I’m gonna laugh.

Party like you’re Farty…ummm, Forty

If I were truly a “writer,” then I would sit down and write every day. I would post my thoughts several times a week. I would be disciplined, inspired, inspiring.
Alas, I am none of those things. I am, however, a wife, mom, volunteer, mentor, cook, housekeeper, friend. I also like to sleep. A lot. So sometimes writing takes a back seat to all of my other roles.
But I’m here now. Hi. Good to see you again. Thanks for coming back. I’m sorry.
I did start a post sometime last week (two weeks ago?) about my first experience hot waxing my hoo-hah, and I attempted a segue into parenting (painful, extraordinarily messy, necessitates large doses of Advil) – but I’m not there yet. It’s been an open window on my laptop for two weeks, and I’d love to wrap it up and bless you with mental images to burn a hole in your brain…but you’ll have to wait a little longer.
What could possibly distract me from such riveting prose, you ask? Two words: Fortieth. Birthday.
Which was most certainly NOT mine (though it will be soon). Michael hit the summit earlier this month. We celebrated with his family on the actual day, but since this is a significant birthday, we decided to throw a party later in the month with our friends. Our first free weekend was three weeks after his birthday. Such is our life.
We said, “Let’s have some food catered, hang out with friends, no kids. That’ll be fun. Easy, laid back, nothing fancy.”
That was the plan. A week and a half before the party, I ordered paper goods. Black. Kind of an over-the-hill feel. Good.
Then I saw black and silver sparkly gems to scatter on the tables. Ooooo, that’s fun, I thought. Let’s get those.
Then I ran into Hobby Lobby for a quick glance at their black-and-silver decor. 
It was, as they say, all downhill from there. Silver-glittered birch branches led to black and white glittered curly sticks and black ribbon with silver rhinestones, which led to black and silver bunting, which led to a ginormous tub of black and silver Christmas ornaments. And I was only getting warmed up.


Ten days and six Hobby Lobby runs later, our home was slathered in black, white, and silver. I had sentimental centerpieces, table runners, a wreath, banners displaying the word “forty” in seven different languages, a poster with over a hundred pictures of Michael, a homemade photo booth, lights strung across the back patio, and a cupcake tower. It looked amazing. (If I do say so myself.)
I couldn’t have pulled it off without Caroline’s help. We took a break from serving the world to serve Hobby Lobby’s profit margins. Her motto is “anything worth doin’ is worth over-doin’ ” We plunged head-first into over-doin’.
These tags are stamped with significant dates in Michael’s life, and the event is written on the back

About thirty of our friends arrived on Saturday night – all from different seasons of our life. We ate, we talked, we busted moves to the 80s music piped in around us. Perfection. Michael and I intentionally designed our home for entertaining large groups because we thoroughly enjoy doing so. While we were dating, God tore off a corner of the wrapping paper and let us peek at the gift He had for us – hospitality – and over the last twenty years, He has slowly unwrapped the box. Last weekend was icing on the cupcake.
While I should have started months earlier, the preparations both exhausted and energized me. I’d fall into bed each night with aching feet and shoulders, but my heart and mind were racing with fresh ideas and exhilaration. I love to create. I haven’t had so much fun since we built our house. 
Which makes me wonder why I don’t create more often. Time? Energy? The three hundred miles I drive every week? Yes, yes, and yes. But I need to create space in my week for creating. God hard-wired me as His co-creator, and the process fulfills a small part of His purpose for me. Couple that with the gift of hospitality, and the answer seems clear. 
I need to throw more parties.
For now, I will try (try!) to write more. I think I’ve said that a bajillion trillion times. No, really. I mean it. Sort of. I will write. Writing is creating, and I can create. At least upon completion of a blog post, I’m not covered in black and silver glitter.

Lavender oil would have worked wonders for Joan Crawford

I’ve been in survival mode for the past week. It has not been pretty. Michael left for his fifth (sixth?) trip to Vietnam, where he saves the world one eyeball at a time. Again. 

When he took his first trip, our kids were two, five, and seven – but we were all so proud of him and so energized by knowing God was working, and we had a community of people surrounding us. We all worked as a team – with Michael – to bring the Kingdom to Earth.
The next year, he went back. Our kids were three, six, and eight. Michael thought the beginning of May was a great time to go. It was not. The end of the school year is worse than Christmas, and we grossly underestimated my ability to juggle alone. Also, Nathan split his head open and needed four staples. Michael came home to a hazmat-quarantined house and a catatonic wife.
He decided to schedule future trips during any of the other eleven months of the year.
I’ve greeted each trip with a different reaction. Sometimes I’m energetic and ready to tackle the challenge. Other times I’m in denial or simply resigned. This year, I was irritated and grouchy. Seriously, now? You have to leave this week? When our children are acting like monsters, the calendar reminds me of an overflowing garbage heap, and I bear a striking resemblance to Joan Crawford? Now?
Yes, now. 
Mm-kay.
Fortunately – for all of us – our children are now seven, eleven, and thirteen. They bathe themselves. They dress themselves. They pack their own lunches. They pour themselves a bowl of cereal for dinner and put themselves to bed after Mommie Dearest spews a venomous rant about not doing what she tells them to do, then retreats to her bathroom for a long bath and Lost reruns. On the first night. Hypothetically.
Fortunately – for all of us – God and Amazon set a box on my doorstep a few days later, and I started reading this. God reminded me of my purpose, and I was freed from myself. Take a hike, Joan.


Whereas Interrupted kicked me in the teeth, and 7 punched me in the gut, Kisses From Katie has poured lavender-scented bath oil all over my banged up body. Same theology, same ideas, same convictions – but with a hugely inspiring breath of fresh air. 
Synopsis: girl graduates from high school, moves to Uganda to work in an orphanage and teach in a primary school. She ends up adopting thirteen girls, healing the sick, feeding the hungry. Then she starts an organization to provide food, medical care, and education for hundreds of children and their families.
I suppose her book smells like lavender because she lives on the other side of the world in the midst of poverty we will likely never see – so I can cheer her on from the comfort of my leather couch and feel better about someone doing something good. But it’s more than that. She states over and over and over that she is not extraordinary. She simply cares for the person in front of her. One at a time. And then she does it again. She recognizes the need, the brokenness. And she does whatever God tells her so the need will be met and the brokenness healed.
You don’t have to live among orphans in Uganda to do that.
“People who make a difference in the world,” says the foreward, “hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters. In the slums of Africa. In the slums of Harlem. Street corners, homeless shelters, convenience stores. In the McMansions of Texas. Everyone, every place is broken. And God dwells among them all.
In the heart of my thirteen year old baby girl who cannot see her own beauty. Her brokenness knocks me into spontaneous sobbing in the middle of the gym. I, too, am broken.

Caroline and I drove across town last week to hear Jen Hatmaker speak at a local church. We are squealing, giddy, ridiculous fangirls. Most fangirls work themselves into a lather over fresh-faced boy bands. Thing Two and I soap up over the woman who wrecked us. 


Hat (as we call her) spoke for an hour on one chapter from her book 7. The possessions chapter. The one where she decides to free herself and her family from excessive stuff. And she implored us not to be captive to our accumulation of things, but to be set free by using our excess to provide for the needs of others.
“Generosity has the power to heal us,” she said.
The truth of that statement snatched my breath. I have seen it, I have experienced it. I have never felt more alive, more full of purpose than in the last six months. Michael, too. Journeying together for justice and mercy, our twenty-one year relationship has never been stronger. “I feel like I’m falling in love with you all over again,” he told me. That’s the power of generosity. That’s the power of God working through us for His will to be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Are we not our own worst enemy? Do we not all need to be freed from ourselves? To be healed from our own lies, our own brokenness, our own self-absorption? Could it be that in looking beyond ourselves, in being broken and poured out, we find our redemption?
Jesus said yes.
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:37-46)
Then Katie Davis threw her lavender oil all over me. She tells about a worship service she attended with her primary school students, most of them abandoned or orphaned. How they worshipped with lifted hands and full hearts and overwhelming thankfulness. How the presence of God was thick and tangible in that moment.
And how these students have nothing we would desire, yet they have everything.
At first glance, it would be easy to feel sorry for these little boys. Their clothes are tattered; they sleep on old, dirty mattresses; they walk to school barefoot in the rain. They have no electricity, no running water, and it is raining so hard that the whole compound has become a muddy swamp. But I should not pity these children. In fact, I should envy them. At six years old, these children know what it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. These children know the greatness, the wonder of our God.
I’ve had people ask me why I think Africa is so impoverished, but these children are not poor. I, as a person who grew up wealthy, am. I put value in things. These children, having no things, put value in God. I put my trust in relationships; these children, having already seen relationships fail, put their trust in the Lord. This nation is blessed beyond any place, any people I have ever encountered. God has not forgotten them. In fact, I believe He has loved them just a little bit extra.
We, who have everything, have nothing. We, who consider ourselves so blessed, so advantaged, have much to learn. Our privilege blinds us; we cannot see the need standing before us, inviting us to join Jesus in His fight for the hearts of the broken. We completely miss it. We completely miss Him.
This day, this week, live courageously. Pray humbly. Ask God to give us sight, for the opportunity to obey his command to serve the least. Ask Him for the chance – even in the smallest, most insignificant way – to fulfill His purpose for this world. To bring light and life. To meet tangible needs.
And be free.