Monday, September 03, 2012

I have moved!!

Hello friends,

The blog has moved. Come on over and join me at

It is a new and improved site---one I am really excited to share with you! If you follow this blog, you can also follow my new blog, but unfortunately you must re-sign-up. (Sorry!)

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Stroll Abroad

I want to be in London.

There, I will don a floppy cap, a tailored trench coat, a perfectly broken in leather bag. I will spend the morning drinking tea at Harrods while reading Dickens (Great Expectations, perhaps), practicing my accent when I order cucumber sandwiches. I will scale the Tower Bridge and throw off my hat, my coat, my bag for just a moment so that I can do a little dance there at the top, and I won't care a bit that the whole world stops to watch me. I will walk victorious through Piccadilly on my way to dine with the Queen.

At dusk, I will stroll along the Thames and the wind will blow me in and the current will take me all the way down to the coast, across the channel, up an inlet that turns out to be the Seine.

And I will find myself in Paris.

(In my mind, I am saying it like this: ParEE! And rolling my r's as much as a Midwesterner can. There is an accordion player following behind me the whole way, his sad melody my soundtrack.)

I will roam the streets all night and talk to the seedy women, and they will be cultured even in their shame. I will follow a sleepy young baker to his shop and stand quiet outside until a cloud of flour puffs by and I walk away, a mime returned to his home country. And I will stumble, through cobbled back alleys, along quiet bistro-lined streets, until the Eiffel Tower breaks through the buildings, and I will stand and stare for a while.

I will notice in the soft morning light that the metal is rusted, the lines are welded, imperfect. It is brown, which is not what I thought. It reminds me of a construction site or middle school shop class. Except for the tall red flowers circling round.

I will wait there disappointed all day, until twilight comes and softens the steel and blends with the street lights to make it look how I'd hoped all along.

Satisfied, I will catch a flight home and I will practice my French accent on my children at the breakfast table and always talk of how I danced atop the Tower Bridge.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Our God-Wild Summer

Many of you know that we hosted Ilya, a 13 year old Ukrainian orphan child in our home this summer. It was a fantastic experience, and I wrote about it periodically as it was happening over the summer (here and here). But here is the full-ish story. Ben and I gave this report of our experience to our church body this morning as part of our church's Ukraine celebration.


Back in the spring, on one of those days when the routine of life as usual had gotten the better of us, Ben and I had a serious conversation about whether or not we were still going to God with the question, "What else?" In the last few years, we had reached a point of stability in our family life and careers, and we were very pleased with the place where God had so clearly brought us. But during that conversation, we realized that we had gotten pretty comfortable.

And so, together, we prayed and told God that we wanted whatever He had for us. We wanted more of Him. More willingness to leave our routines, more understanding of the Spirit and how it was moving around us, more faith to do the things God asked us to do.

Then, very shortly after that night, Brad Lantis came up front in church and talked about an opportunity to host teenagers from Ukraine for the summer. Ben immediately felt drawn to the possibility, and in faith, he spoke up just as we got into the car that afternoon. It seemed interesting to me, and even though I hadn't had the same guttural reaction as Ben when I heard about it, in faith I told him that we should get more information. So we did. Thus opened a wormhole and in we fell.

We went through all of the steps. One tiny step of faith followed by another. We filled out paperwork, raised almost $2500 in a couple of days, allowed a social worker in to check out our family. And in the meantime, we had been matched with a beautiful 11 year old girl. We were ecstatic! She would be a perfect match for our two little girls. Faith seemed really easy and exciting in that moment.

Then came our first of many challenges.

Our adorable 11 year old girl was no longer able to come. When we heard, we were crushed. We had already told our girls and our neighbors and family and showed her picture around. Then more news: all of the girls were taken. Did we want a 13 year old boy instead?

It made absolutely no sense. A family with 1 and 5 year old girls taking in a 13 year old boy? Who would he hang out with? What would we do with him? Surely he wouldn't be interested in princesses and coloring. And what about safety concerns for our girls. I mean, we knew nothing about him!

Faith suddenly didn't make sense. It got harder.

We spent a lot of time bringing our concerns to God. Asking him the whys and what-ifs. And we heard him tell us that we should keep moving forward.

In faith.

So we did. And we began to get excited.

Then interesting things began to happen. Things like me suddenly becoming the church youth director where I would have the privilege of hanging out with teenagers all summer. Things like Ben's job finding a way to give him two weeks of vacation in the middle of July when Ilya was going to be here. Things like our air conditioning and car breaking down on the same day. Things like the 11 remaining orphans finding host families in a matter of hours.

And it just made me wonder if it wasn't faith making things shudder.

Then Ilya finally arrived and it was everything we thought it would be--exciting, fun, awkward, difficult, incredibly rewarding and touching and eye-opening and wonderful. He loved our girls. They loved him. There was more than enough to do and people to befriend him. There were misunderstandings but plenty of grace. It was going well.

And then we found out about his sisters.

One night not long after Ilya arrived he came out of his bedroom and was teary eyed. We asked what was wrong and he told us that he had 2 sisters in America who he wanted to talk to and see while he was here. He wanted to see them so very badly. They had been adopted by an American family 4 years ago, and he had had very little contact with them since. But he had no address, no phone number, and he didn't know their American first or last names. We were starting with nothing. But we promised we would do our best to help him make it happen. We were relying, at that point, completely on faith that God had brought him to us, that God was intimately involved in our situation, that God would have to show up for this to work out.

It took almost two weeks for us to find them. We and Mary Beth from Homes of Hope spent hours doing detective work on the Internet, and we hit dead ends so many times. But, finally, we found a correct phone number, Mary Beth made contact, and we scheduled a time to talk to them.

He spoke with them while Ben and I and 11 teenagers were at Myrtle Beach attending a camp whose theme was "find yourself in family." The irony of bringing a couple of Ukrainian orphans with us to a conference about finding your true identity in God's family was not lost on us. We saw God break through that week, in everyone. And Ilya got to talk to his sisters. It was thrilling.

And then this:

We found out that Ilya's sisters, who live in St. Louis, were going to camp in Kentucky a week later. And as it would happen, we were scheduled to be in Kentucky on the exact day they were scheduled to leave camp. In fact, we would be driving within miies of them on the same day at the same time on our way home from visiting family in Ohio.

Tell me. What are the odds of that?

So without doing much, without going out of our way or manipulating circumstances at all, Ilya was able to have a reunion with his sisters. The God of the universe is the God of orphans, and he is a God who cares about and works in the details. This is one of the few times in my life when I can say that my mustard seed faith proved resilient and grew a towering tree.

I haven't even scratched the surface here, quite honestly. I want to tell you all of the ways in which our family and neighbors and friends were blessed by the experience of blessing. Of the ways in which having the Ukrainian kids around this summer fundamentally changed some of our youth, not to mention grew and changed the very heart of our youth group. And I know that so many of you came to love these kids too--you let them play with your kids and come into your homes and I want you to know that stepping out in faith like this, all of us together, as a body, is doing something.

And now that he is gone, we miss him. It is so tempting for us--who fell in love with him--to question the experience. To ask God why he would bring such a precious one as Ilya here only to take him right back. It hurts. And it is so much harder knowing that he does not go back to a loving family like he deserves, but to a poor, state-run institution. His future is uncertain and he will face so many obstacles in the next few years that it is even hard to think about.

But I have learned this, if nothing else. God knows him. God knows him deeply. God knew that he would be in a certain state on a certain highway on a certain day and time, and God arranged it so that his sisters would be there too. And if God knew that and looked after it, He knows all the other things there are to know also. What his future holds. What he needs. How to take care of him.

And so our job, coming off of a wonderful and full summer, is this: to have faith that God is faithful. To look back and remember all of the things He did, all of the ways He was true, and have faith that His work on behalf of Ilya--whether for an adoptive family or for his own life and salvation--is in God's hands. The God of action, the God of details, the God of infinite concern.

And as we as a church body experience this Ukraine service together and come to God asking, "What are you doing here among us?", let us be people of faith. Let us be people who are willing to say yes. People who believe God is at work. People who allow the creator God to enter our lives, turn them inside out, do things that make no sense. And let us have faith that He will move. Let us believe it because it has already begun.

If you are interested in learning more about orphan hosting or want to know how you can support such a worthy cause as advocating for orphaned children around the world, a great first step is to visit There is another round of hosting happening in December, and they are currently looking for American host families. Check it out! Definitely one of the most fun things our family has ever done!

If you have other questions, feel free to leave a note in the comments section and I will do my best to point you in the right direction!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Wind Will Carry

There is a crevice, you will hardly notice it, part way up the hill in the forest along the road. That is where I reside, a hidden place. The trees bend low, branches diverge, cross, reach toward the ground, force me to snap and push them out of the way so that from my hammock, creaking back, creaking forth, feet crossed and arms folded, I can catch a glimpse of the sky and the green field that runs up against the wood.

The journeymen pass one by one and I, unseen, unknown, swing eternal inches from sweating, unrestrained humanity. They talk out loud spilling words directed at no one, fingers shaking at invisible selves. They stop, lost, strain for direction in the silence, always keep on. Oh, we are conflicted creatures, this much I have seen.

We are travelers all, but I have stepped off the road for a time. The journey wears on a soul and I prefer the forest canopy, the twinkling of the sun passing through the leaves, the gentle swing of the hammock.

Who is to say that here in my stillness I am unmoving? I expect that tomorrow or in a thousand years the wind will mistake me for nothingness and carry me along on its dash to the finish. And there I will meet up with my companions and end up just the same.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Mother's Prayer Upon Kindergarten

The big yellow bus came yesterday.

Little girl was ready long before it lumbered down our steep hill.  She’s been ready for some time now.  All summer, as we’ve talked and dreamed and speculated about kindergarten, her guidepost was that bus and how the next time it came, it would be coming for her.

Come it did--at 7:00 am. It swallowed her up and she was off.  All we could see of her as she pulled away was the very top of her little blonde head popping up in the window.

All day long, I felt like I was in some secret club.  When I would mention that my little girl headed off to kindergarten that morning people immediately asked how I was doing and braced themselves for—something. Tears? An emotional breakdown? I don’t know.  It was funny after a while, and certainly I understand how this could put a parent over the edge. It’s a big deal.  But I knew she was fine.  Knew it in the way mothers know. And she was. And so I was, too.

As I think about what the next twelve (plus) years hold for her, about what ups and downs we will ride out, about the things she will accomplish and learn, about the failures and heartbreaks that will disappoint her….my biggest hope is simply that she can find joy and purpose in the midst of it all.   And my prayers.  

Oh, there are so many prayers.

I pray that something will captivate her imagination.  That art or music or sports or writing or computers or…something….grabs hold of her, makes her pay attention, and gives her a glimpse of the big, wonderful world out there and her role in it. I pray that she will not let someone else tell her what should captivate her, but that she will be brave and figure it out for herself.

I pray that she finds friends who will help her be the best version of herself.  Friends who will wear those stupid beanies with her when she is in brownies. Friends who will help her stay up late at sleepovers so that her underwear doesn’t end up frozen next to someone’s lasagna. Friends who will help her with her algebra homework in middle school and help her ward off the Mean Girls in high school. Friends she will cling to and cry with the day before they go their separate ways at the end of it all. 
I pray that she would have ears to hear and eyes to see that there is a God in our midst who is the orchestrator of all of this, and that He loves her, and that that is such a big deal. That it changes everything about you, if you really believe it. And I pray that she would be someone who would let it change her. Pray that she would be open, really and truly open, to Him and that she would let his goodness and mercy soak through every cell in her body.

And, for the love of Moses, I pray that she will not develop a potty mouth from all of those mornings and afternoons on the bus.
Lord, hear my prayers.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Meditation on Matthew 22

Oh, Peter.

Remind yourself
When you stand at those tall gates and look down on us speaking of you knowingly
With curved smirks and raised eyebrows

That we weren't there that night.

Know, that
On that dark and stormy eve as you tossed restlessly on the sea
Unable to sleep because your head lurched back and forth and your insides fought to regain center and you had somewhere you had to go,
Then you thought you saw--but weren't sure--a ghost
And you were afraid.

That we would be, too.

Tell yourself
That so very few of us understand what it must have taken to call out and enter the storm
To expose yourself to the fear and the questions and to not shrink back
Rather than to lay there and watch another do it.
And yet you did.
You stood up--no doubt clutching the side of the boat and maybe the guy next to you for all the rocking

And you told the ghost to call you forth.

Who would do that, Peter?
What is a man made of who beckons God Himself?

All we remember is what happened next,
And I'm sorry for that.

We remember how you stepped out
and looked down
and became afraid (you were walking on water after all)
and pleaded to the ghost that he might save you.

We hear how he pulled you up
and scolded
and called you out and
you became Faint Heart to us.

We think it is a bad thing, this lapse in courage
And we miss the fact that what you did with the standing up and the walking
(and, yes, even the failing!)
Is what brought him into the boat.

And perhaps because we don't understand what you did that night--
How you risked it all while the others sat aside and watched--
We think that we should just sit in the boat,
afraid of sinking in doubt more than we desire faith.

But, Peter
You also need to know that I read the story in its entirety--
Partially because I am you and I had this feeling that the steps you took were not in vain and I needed to be sure that was true--
And I noticed the part there at the end when the others recognized Him for who he was.
Not a ghost, but the Christ.
That was because of you.

And I read even further, Peter.

I read about the cock crowing thrice and cried along with you at our fickleness
And then there was the whole thing about being the Rock and having the keys.

I know that you were just a man, Peter.
But you need to know that I understand how what you did that night was big;

And as I stand here and think that I see my own ghost
You have given me the strength I need to muster my voice
To command my feet to step where no one--really--thinks it wise to go.
To beckon, relentlessly, though I am afraid.

I understand, Peter.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Storms and Calls

This post is part of a synchro blog at in which we answer the question "What is saving your life right now?" Hop on to her blog to read all of the amazing responses!


I look upon grandpa's silhouette, dark in front of a tear-dropped wet window. His stature is sloped, worried. On the other side of thin glass the world rains angry, yells, lights up here and there.

The house is dim, quiet (well, except for the weather channel screeching in the kitchen). The family is gathered round the forecast, table set for an early dinner in anticipation of the power failing. We notice that the tomato plants out back have toppled--this before the wind has even come. A stray limb is sitting on the front lawn.

The weather channel bleeps loudly and all turn and listen as the monotone voice issues a thunderstorm warning. All are on edge, for a storm a few weeks back leveled parts of this town.

Soon, the colorful weather map dances behind us as we chomp our corn and serve up the barbecue. It is all very American--the meal, the Norman Rockwell hanging all around us, the wide, green fields spreading before us out the kitchen windows. All except the boy. He is distinctly NOT American, though you wouldn't know it until he began speaking. He is from the other side of the world.

He has come here for the summer, from an orphanage in a far off land. When he interviewed for the trip he, twelve years old, told the lady that he wanted to come to America to see his sisters. Two sisters, brought here four years ago, now part of a family. He is still an orphan, living without a true home thousands of miles away from them. All he wants is to see them while he is here.

We have been unable to make it happen so far, and we only have one week left.

He is a dear boy. One of the dearest there ever was. He is quiet and shy and goofy and silly. And SUCH a cheater at Uno. And he won't let you take his picture even if you make your meanest face and threaten him with...well, there isn't much you can threaten him with. But the mean face has not worked.

And this. This is what is saving my life right now:

As the thunder rumbles, as the storm passes through, the phone rings. My husband runs out to the car, comes back in with a tattered u.s. map, secludes himself in the other room. I hear words like "visit" and "Kentucky" and "Saturday" and I know who it is.

It is his sisters' family. They responded. We make plans to see them in two short days. In person.

There is a whole story there. A story of wild coincidences (coincidence? Do any of us still believe in such a thing?) and the kindness of time. It is a story for another day because it is still so unwritten.

But the fact is that tonight, as the skies sob and the atmosphere rages, a phone call is what is saving my life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just Another Sunday

The evening we drive into my husband's hometown, we drive up the main street and notice the new things: the fancy lamp posts, the wide sidewalks, the thriving flower boxes. We ooh and ahh over the updates--genuinely thrilled that the small town is rediscovering its charm. And we see the sad things: trees and roofs and livelihoods felled by a tornado a few weeks back. Old faithfuls taken out by a strong breeze.

We glance at but don't really talk about all of the empty storefronts. My husband nudges me, points to the large vacant spot where a bookstore and coffee shop resided the last time we were here, two long years ago. The faded sign still hangs, holding on to lost hope. I make a sad face, he makes a joke. Something about how the hipsters must not live here yet. About how this town must still be full of regular people who can't spend precious time ruminating over books and free trade coffee.

I notice this again the next morning, at church. It is an old church, with old pews and old music. I can't bring coffee into the sanctuary. There is no drummer or guitarist. There is a distinct lack of skinny jeans. A solo pianist plunks along to songs from decades ago and the pastor shortens his sermon because the vbs kids need to go and release their butterflies before they wilt away in their storage envelopes. There is barely even a message. He is wearing a tie.

And, I'm telling you, life is oozing from this place.

On a hot July Sunday morning, the wooden pews are packed tight. Young and old, rich and poor, all belong. And they are not shy. Oh, no. They stand up during that worship service and they announce things that god has done that week--ways he has blessed, places where he has been near. And they stand up and they declare that they are in need, that they can't leave without prayer. And sometimes they walk up front and allow hands to touch backs and living words to bridge the gap between god and men. There is the distinct feel of holiness to it all. God has drawn near, here in this church.

They are studying the words of James. That is what the sermon was supposed to be about, had the butterflies not taken precedent. The part of James where we are told not to favor the rich over the poor. The part where we are reminded of god's heart being with the least of these.

But they know all of this. Know it with their lives.

They are going out in droves. Daily. Welcoming neighbors to picnics. Sharing the love of god to people in prison, in nursing homes. Snuggling children close and pointing them to their father. Sharing what they have with one another, helping their brothers and sisters clear storm wreckage, pulling one another along in action and in words.

And, people, they deliver pies to visitors. Pies.

I am starting, now, to become a little embarrassed. Because a month or two ago, we told my father-in-law about how we were living missionally, now. We were building community, doing life together at a local park with others of similar vision. Reaching out without evangelizing, connecting without overwhelming. We had read all of these books and put our heads together and now, here we were, living a mission that continued to confuse and fall short of expectations. He'd wanted to know all about it, a few weeks ago. And I was sure he couldn't relate because he hadn't read the books or had the conversations, and our contexts were so starkly different.

It never occurred to me to ask about the missional lifeblood of their church. Turns out, I could have learned a lot. Turns out, community isn't built, but lived. Mission isn't sought, but received.

A woman in a yellow shirt gets up and announces that she has just received a letter and needs to read it aloud to the congregation. It is from a man who has wronged them all, a man who is not loved in this congregation. And rightfully so. Several months ago, he broke into the church and stole things, expensive things, leaving a sanctuary full of people asking, "Who would steal from a church?" Everyone around me stiffens, on guard.

The woman in the yellow shirt begins reading. She gets to the part of the letter, right there at the beginning, where the man declares that he is sorry and proclaims that he knows he can never make it up to them. He talks of burdens he will carry for the rest of his life. Of years of alcohol and drug abuse that he is trying to escape, of amends that he will make even if it kills him. Of how he hopes to come some Sunday and make it right in person. And we all realize that he must be a brave man. The woman, she stops, takes a deep breath, chokes back tears.

She and the pastor, standing there together facing the congregation, they take stock of their people and tell them what they already know: that they will welcome this man. That when he comes, they will embrace him. That as he works to pay them back, they will work beside him. That the burden he carries, they will all carry it together.

I have the sudden urge to take off my shoes. To repent. Oh, we are on holy ground, and god is passing by as we sit in these hard wooden pews among all of these regular people.

I wish I were going to be here when that man comes. I imagine how he will walk through the front door, and how his heart will probably beat fast and how he will probably want to turn around and run away, but he will choose to make things right anyway. I can see the expressions on the people's faces when they discover who he is, and I can see him standing up in front of the sanctuary saying he knows he can never repay them but he is here anyway to make it as right as a man can. I can hear his voice quivering and feel his sweaty palms.

I wish I could watch, with bated breath, as they break the news to this man: that, lo, your sins are forgiven dear one. That you are a sinner among sinners, and we are in the midst of one who transforms. That, no, of course you don't carry your burden for the rest of your life. That you can leave it right here, right now, and we will help you.

And then they will ask, what is your favorite kind of pie, friend? We will be out on Tuesday, to welcome you properly to our church.

The body of Christ. Regular folks, broken, transformed, redeemed.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Conversation with my 14 Year Old Self

As I creep through the bends in my mind I want to stop and chat about all of the proud places. The glamorous places I have been, the triumphant moments that have come my way. And I can see them. Can always see them. But I am not allowed to linger today.

No, I am propelled through the doors, down the hall treading dingy orange carpet underfoot. I can smell it before I realize where I have come. The odor of cigarettes mixes with bathroom disinfectant and there I am once again.

The high school bathroom.

I look around. It is empty. The mirror hangs annoyed over the large communal sink. Not even glass, but shined aluminum. I see myself. I am 30. And though the bathroom appears empty, I know I am in there. In one of those stalls on the end. And when I crouch down to see, there are those shoes that I used to wear. There are my feet shrinking back from the gaze of the one outside.

The girl in there, locked down tight and silently begging for me to leave, she is 14. She is me.

I stand outside the locked grey stall for quite some time. My comfort amidst silence, that has not changed. And that is what I begin with. That, dear child, to be quiet is not to be strange. To be quiet is to be one who hears, one blessed with sight. And to be one who listens and sees is one who can find all of those hidden treasures along the way and, more importantly, one who can find god.

Know this: you will find him. And, oh, he is so big and so good and so much closer than you would ever imagine. You will find him, and you will know him.

Because I know you doubt that.

I know that sitting there in that stall you wonder if anyone notices your absence. I know you question god and if he is really real because if so shouldn't he know how lonely you are and shouldn't he care about things like rejection and pain and crying yourself to sleep at night? And, dear one, those are all of the right questions. You don't know it yet, but that's one thing you are incredibly good at: asking the right questions. The hard questions.

You, the timid one in there, you are actually incredibly courageous.

Oh, little blonde one, you have no idea. You will grow no taller, but you will look mighty ones in the eye and never flinch. You will stand strong in hard fought battles. You will pick the right sides.

It makes me proud, seeing how far we have come. And grateful.

And all of those adventures you long to have, all of those places you long to see? You will do so many of them, and you will do them right. You will allow the things you see and the lessons you learn to soak deep and break your heart. And you will be a kinder person, a better person, because you will know that loving deeply is even worth it when you have to pick the damaged pieces of of your own heart off the ground, one at a time.

I know that the lunch hour is almost up and that you are watching the second hand on your watch so that you can be ready to exit your prison the instant the bell rings. But there is one more thing you need to know.

The life you are going to build for yourself, it is going to be a good one. I know how much you worry. I know you fear wasting precious time and think that you'll never be able to live up to your own incredibly high expectations. And the truth is that you're right. You are going to waste a lot of time. Your path will be anything but the straight and narrow you are aiming for. And your expectations? You will have to learn to bend. But, oh hear me now, the bends? That is where the life is.

Don't you worry about a thing, quiet one. You'll figure it out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Beacon and Joy

There is an intersection amidst the rolling terrain of Boston where Beacon and Joy come together. The day I discovered this, I was elated.  I may have cried. It was an affirmation that, yes, a street---a normal, unremarkable street--can lead you to that elusive treasure: Joy.

It was something that, really, I had known for years.

I had known it since those first days of freshman year, when with fearlessness and a craving for adventure, I walked out my door and just kept going.  It so happened that Beacon was the street.  Those were our courting days.  

When she saw me she would preen. She would convince the sky to banish the clouds and darken to just the right shade of blue.  She would loose her magic on the trees and turn the leaves yellow and orange and red, and make me gasp in spite of its expectedness.  And when nature refused to conspire she would shine up her old deco buildings and make her hard New England people smile.  As I walked along her haphazardly cobbled streets, she drew me in and I was taken.  

And though through the years her beauty never wavered, it became familiar. It stopped being my reason for coming.  The reasons, they shifted.  Sometimes I came because she was there, and I didn't know what else to do.  Occasionally, I went utilitarian on her and came for her coffee shops and bookstores and restaurants. But mostly, I came because I knew her and she knew me, and there is safety in knowing.  There is freedom.  

And within the confines of her freedom, I grew up.  Reared, in so many secret ways, by a street.

Even now, I think of the hours I spent on those sidewalks as the critical hours of my life.  If all had to be wheedled down and concentrated into the essential decisions and beliefs that shape a person, the majority of mine were arrived at as I walked along Beacon.

Because, you see, God resides on Beacon Street. I am quite sure of it.  If you ever go walking there with me I can point out the building in which I am certain He lives.  And maybe that is the attraction.  Maybe that is why--after all of these years--I can't shake that street.  Perhaps the breezes that blew through my mind as I traipsed the hills of Boston were breathed from an open window of a flat on Beacon Street.  And maybe all of my wanderings were tracing that origin.

It is the places where we meet God that we can't shake.  If we know where He can be found, how can we not keep coming back?  Some people meet God at church.  Or at a friend's home.  Or in a hospital. I have met Him in all of these places.

But I met God--regularly--on a street.  Beacon Street.  And it changed everything about me.

So you can understand how, when years later, after winding my way from one end of Beacon Street all the way through the hills of Newton and Brookline and Boston and Beacon Hill, I looked up and saw that Joy intersects with Beacon, it was like I had always known.  

If God lives on Beacon Street, Joy has got to be close by.

And it is.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What A Day

This is the kind of day it was: 

90 degrees. The air conditioning dies.  
One hour later. The healthy car bleeds burning oil.
Then, the bank account. Don't even get me started on that.

It is tempting to shout at the skies: What else! Why us!  Why now!
Curse this day!
And, yet.  We know.

This is the day that the LORD has made.

Chaos presses, but it is exhausted.  
Panic pushes, but it is diffused.  
The clouds gather, the lightning flashes, the waves crash.

But we know their Father.

We will not wallow in the thrashing waves.
Or cling desperately to the sinking ship.
Or question the one sleeping at the helm.


We will step out onto the water.

The water that churns, seethes, rages--
Its white caps crashing with terrifying force.

None of that matters.

For we are given grace to do the impossible: 
On water.
And so that's what we do.

It is only later that we realize: 

We have out-walked the storms.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Guest Room Closets

The space between committing and acting is called stressing.  And this is where you find yourself.  Stressing about the one who, in a couple of short weeks, will step on an airplane, cross a continent and an ocean, and land on your doorstep.  A stranger.

A twelve year old stranger: dimpled, cute, alone in the world. Yet somehow, strangely intimidating. Not him, really. Just the thought of him. Of him and his stranger-ness. And you and your not-enough-ness.

You don't know what to do with yourself and the only thing you can think of is to go dig around in the dark abyss of your guest room closets and start making some room for this dear child.  You know he will need space, and that is just about all that you know.  You root around for a few minutes and discover your old Wii and Playstation video game systems that are collecting dust, and you realize that there isn't a twelve year old boy alive who wouldn't love them.

You realize you have something.

Encouraged, you continue. And as you pour through the buried contents of the guest room closets--a veritable asylum for all that is forgotten, all that is unnecesary to daily living--you find some of your greatest treasures: Your wedding invitations.  Your husband's photo albums from his childhood. The baby quilt you painstakingly stitched atop your nine month swollen belly in the days before your first child was born. You find old birthday cards and letters from friends near and mostly far. You find notes of thanks from favorite students--students who were twelve, dimpled, and cute, you remember. Children who you loved and cared for and thought of, in some strange way, as yours for the brief time you had them.

You realize that you have something else.

Digging now with enthusiasm, you spy something hard and black and plastic at the bottom of the clutter and see that it is your husband's violin case. Nestled inside the cheap blue velvet lining is the small violin that has known your husband's soul much longer than you have. It is the one that is the subject of his parents' favorite story of how your husband, at age ten, decided he would play the violin even though there was no orchestra. And how that husband took lessons every week though the teacher lived an hour away, and how that husband learned and got good and played in a youth orchestra another hour away that eventually took him around the world to play in the Sydney Opera House.  And, years later, to stand before family and friends and all who were important and play a song for his blushing bride--just because she asked him to. And you love that story because you love how the man you married is willing to sacrifice for things that don't seem important to most people because he can see their inherent worth, their potential.

And you realize that you have enough.

You stand and stare at the guest room closet, now empty. And at the floor of the guest room, now strewn with the pieces of your life. And you step back and you realize that this is all you need: a life. A life worth sharing.

Well, that and an empty closet.

And now you have both.


This summer, our family is hosting an orphan child from the Ukraine for 5 weeks through an orphan hosting program called Homes of Hope International. If you would like to find out more info, visit their website at or ask me about it!

Friday, May 04, 2012

On Sherpas, Dams, and Mutant Porcupines: The Art of Keeping Patients First in a World of Diminishing Returns

This is a guest post from my amazing hubby, Ben.  I read the 'speech' that he gave for his graduating students at Georgia Tech today and wanted to give you all a chance to see who I get to live with every day.  I'm pretty proud.  Hope you enjoy!  

I was asked by Chris just a couple days ago to say a few words goodbye, and so I said yes thinking it would  be just that…a few words goodbye.  Three hours later, I received an email asking for the title of my presentation – which caught me a bit off-guard, but I wanted something that would be memorable to all of you and felt that I needed to reference some themes from my time teaching you.  I also felt that I should talk about something serious in nature as well, so…

As you are set to embark on this next phase of your journey, the role of being a resident, let me just bestow upon you some words of wisdom.  I will stray from the typical cliché remarks that you hear at graduations; such as “You will NEVER make any money doing this”, “Now it is time for you to get a REAL job”, and most importantly, “Today is the first day of the rest of your lives” and will try to focus on a topic that you will deal with fairly soon. 

Somewhere in the next few months, you will run into a situation where you are faced between making a business decision and a humane decision – a place where doing something wouldn’t make financial sense, but which could potentially benefit a patient – a person that is in need.   There is a struggle there,  because everything cannot be given out for free, otherwise you would not be able to help others when the money runs out.  But at the same time you got into this field first and foremost to help and serve others.   So what do you do, especially as a resident?  While I cannot give you the answer, I can impart on you how I think and what I have been taught when it comes to patient care.

Someone very influential in my career once told me to treat every patient as if that patient was my daughter, spouse, or parent – basically to empathize with patients as people with needs that are to be met, needs that could easily be for your loved ones.  Put yourself in their seat and try to understand how it may feel to be given, and sometimes treated, as just a diagnosis.  That is how I try every day to practice – treating patients as individuals with the respect and compassion that I would show anyone that I love and expect to be shown towards those that I love when they are in need.  Treat patients as people with hopes and dreams just like me.  You do not always get back the appreciation directly from the patient that you might expect, but it only takes a few to make practicing worthwhile – those patients that take the time to engage back with you and let you know that you have had an impact in their lives.  Those are the patients that you do not want to forget.

In practice, I have personally committed myself to provide the service that I deem necessary, choosing designs and products that will potentially enhance the outcome for the patient.  There are many times where I feel it would have made more sense to give the patient $25 and gas money to the nearest competitor than to provide a service to them, but even though that may be true, that never will happen.  In business that is called a loss leader, a product that is sold at or below cost to stimulate other, more profitable sales.   In healthcare, the art of patient care involves sometimes taking care of patients first and profit second, with the hope that by doing the former the latter will follow.  This is because how you care for your patients spreads and your patients become your best advocate to referral sources and other potential patients if you treat them well. 

Personally, some of the items and projects that have provided the most satisfaction to me as a practitioner have been the ones that have brought little to no income to the company.  From making floor-reaction AFOs for an American Girl doll to match the AFOs of the little girl who was trying to cope with having spina bifida, to making a custom abdominal binder with a bottle carrier for the child so there was one less item to be carried around the hospital, and to the little girl with CP who needed only a shoe lift that wouldn’t have been paid by insurance and referring them to a cobbler who could do it for a fraction of the cost that I could have provided.  All of these instances gave me an opportunity to impact someone in a small way.  Sometimes these are ways that may seem extremely small to you, but may have a huge impact on the outlook of the patient and their family – giving them the feeling that someone has taken the time to show compassion and care in a world that can sometimes feel very impersonal.  The AFOs, abdominal binder and shoe lift will never “cure” those children of the disabilities that they have, but they did make a difference, even if for a moment.   Just as a mutant porcupine beavertail provided a little bit of relief during a grueling day of lecture on scoliosis, small things that are unplanned can become the most memorable.

So as you leave these hallowed grounds where we could debate endlessly about exactly how you measure 90 degrees, where is the lateral epicondyle, and just exactly what would a fish say when it hits a wall... remember why you are in this field to begin with – for all of you I can guarantee at least some of the reason is because you want to help people.  That ever-present feeling that you want to do something that you know can, and will, directly impact another human being.

I also, before you leave, want to thank you all for being such a great class to teach.  As my first real class, it has been a pleasure to learn what works and what does not work and feel appreciative that you have all been so patient during the process.  I will always remember each of you for the impact you have had on my career here at Georgia Tech and now have the pleasure of referring to you as colleagues, instead of students – that is of course except for Kaitlin and Liz, who shall now be known for their Sherpa-like qualities over the next year at CHOA. 

Thank you and good luck!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

My Ode to Dust

Sometimes, the residue of my own expectations covers me in fine dust, and I walk through the world as one continually under construction.

I begin the morning shining and clean.  New, every morning.  But as I walk through the house it begins to appear.  First, an imperceptible shadow.  A molecule here, there, clings.  One speck when I look in the sink and realize that it is 7 am and I am already behind.  A second when I look at the piles that abound.  Laundry.  Papers.  Lists.  I am covered now.  Layer one is complete.  More when I shrink, just for a moment, from a child or a husband or a friend because I wish I were somewhere else.  Wish I was someone else.  And bit by bit, speck by speck, I don't even bother brushing it off now, but instead help pile it on.  Housekeeping?  I smirk, and dump a handful of the dust over my head.  Not my thing.  Child-rearing? Laughter. I jump into the dust and swim around.  There are others much better at all of this.

I am drenched, now.  Soaked through.  Weighed down--in dust.

Certainly.  This is not who I am meant to be: a dust-wearer.

But in my mind--slowed, no doubt, by the grit and grime that has crept in--I think the problem is circumstantial.  What I am doing.  And I think that maybe if I change what I do, how I spend my time, how I order the events of my life--that the dust will disappear.

And I think that heartily.  Until someone asks me the hard question.  "What do you think you should be doing instead?"

It occurs to me that I have no answer.  Those things I tell myself--that her life or his life or all of these other lives have more purpose, more direction, more value--suddenly seem questionable.  I blink.  For a moment, I can see clearly.

And then this:

"God formed Man out of dust from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.  The Man came alive--a living soul!"

I think to myself: to be alive!  To be a living soul who isn't just breathing, but who is alive.  Yes, that's it.  That's what I want to be.  Living.

My nostrils begin to tickle.  Begging for that breath.

And though I am just one, buried in my own residue, magnet for the world's dirt and a shrine to the god of dust, there is hope for me.  Hope that life's breath--God's breath--can blow steady on me and bring me to life.

I can see it:  God, breathing in deep.  His mountain-sized lungs sucking in oxygen and expanding to capacity; the pressure mounting as He holds his breath and looks for me, the little one buried and barely visible in the dust mound amid all the other little ones in their own dust mounds.  And when he spies me, his gentle lips curve open and blow forth and I expect a torrent, but feel a steady breeze and gasp in because I hadn't realized how badly I needed the air.  Life.  Life being blown in.  The dust swirling, scattering.  The painful grit clearing.

The circumstances--they will not change.  Not anytime soon, at least.  But I am learning--with every morning, with every time that I allow the cleansing breath to come in, to clear out, to take hold--that it is not about the circumstances, anyway.  It is not about what I am doing or not doing.  About the things I accomplish or don't.

It is about the air that I breathe.

The life that I allow in.

The life that I am invited to breathe back out.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Unholy Week

It was our third try. And I was not leaving the bathroom until she peed in the stupid cup.

There I was, camped out in the doctor's office restroom. We'd been there all morning. It was Easter week. 

Holy Week.  

The holy part doesn't ring so true when you're squatting in front of a public toilet for ten minutes at a time, holding a plastic cup up to your wilting child, trying to coax her bodily functions to cooperate so that the doctors will (please God) be able to figure out why she is so sick.

She just looked at me.  Her face and arms and legs aflame with a mysterious rash, her nose and eyes swollen from who knows what. A shadow of her normal self. She would periodically say, "Mommy, it's coming.  I know it is."  Even though it didn't.  And we would keep waiting.  She, to feel better.  I, for patience, for answers, for relief for my Brave One. And I don't know if it was in her child's wisdom or her feverish haze that she reassured me.  It would get better.  It was coming.  We wouldn't be here forever.

And while I would have given about anything to leave that bathroom, the thought of leaving scared me, too.  The morning had been rampant. Before I'd even gotten my coffee poured in the cup, the children had fought, I had been sick, the puppy had peed all over the floor, there had been time outs, emails, texts, phone calls. Appointments made, appointments broken.  All dancing to the background music of a climbing fever and a sick, sick child.  

Holding the cup between her legs was by far the most peaceful part of the morning.

What is one to think of Holy Week, really?  One like me, who spends those sacred days sitting on a restroom floor?

It can seem so detached.  I think it has to do with the word "holy" because it seems unreachable, unattainable.  I imagine quiet cathedrals and solemn parades.  Priests and all of the righteous in pressed, new clothes, spending hours praying and meditating, thinking of the cross. They realize something new during this week, they achieve something deeper.

I, on the other hand, am worried sick over this child.  The prayers I am saying are for her.  There seems to be nothing left for Him.  I will get no deeper.

I am still holding this cup, and waiting.  Our humanity in this moment--it is real, it is fragile.  There is no hint of holiness here in this bathroom with these germs and this defeated mother. 

And I wonder, in a distant and hazy thought: didn't he have a cup too?  Wasn't he holding a cup, and didn't he want it to go away?  It strikes a nerve.  

He was emeshed in humanity, too.  There was sickness, pain, uncleanliness.  He wasn't safe and separated in holiness.  That week, his last one, it was more like mine--like sitting on a bathroom floor with a sick one--than like theirs--praying and reading and celebrating.

It wasn't Holy Week for him.  It was a week like any other.  Laced with turmoil, conflict, tears, pain, betrayal.  The holy part of his week was simply the knowledge of what was to come.  That on Sunday, hope was coming.  That he himself would bring it.  That all of this unholiness could be touched by his presence and start becoming new on Sunday.

He knew that it was coming.  Hope, healing, peace.  But that he had to first walk through this week.  Holy Week.

He walked it as us, and now we can walk it as he did.  

Sitting on that floor suddenly seemed the perfect place to be.  I was observing Holy Week, hoping, in earnest, for Sunday.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Cultivating the Organic

You hear a lot about this word "organic" these days.

A whole section of our grocery store is now named this.  Everything from yogurt to fruit to cereal (to clothing!) can be organic.  I've heard of organic conversations.  Organic churches.  Organic movements.

But what, exactly, do we mean by this?  

Well,when referring to organic food, we mean food that wasn't grown or made with pesticides or synthetic components.  In terms of conversations, we mean discussions that bubbled up on their own rather than being directed or forced.  As far as churches, movements, and the like go...I think we are referring to something that is unproduced, spontaneous--and, somehow, it has the connotation of being better, healthier.

But there is a problem here.  We have taken this term, which is a farming term, and made some gigantic leaps with it.  So now, when it is used, I think we mislead ourselves to some degree.  

When organic farmers grow their fruits and vegetables, they commit to growing these crops without unnatural pesticides or other synthetic means.  So, definitely, there is this "natural" component to growing things organically.  But don't let this fool you.  Growing things organically does not mean that the farmers are just planting the seeds and letting them grow "naturally".  They are not, somehow, saying, "I've done my job and planted the seed.  It is fully capable of thriving on its own, and I will be back in a few weeks to pick its fruit." Nooooo.  Definitely not.  You better believe that gardener or farmer is out there every day, cultivating the bejesus out of those seeds.

I am certainly no farmer, and the only thing I know about gardening is from watching my husband fight with his small square foot garden on a yearly basis.  But I know enough to be sure that organic farming takes a great deal of cultivation on the gardener's part.  Once that seed pops up, the gardener must thin the surrounding seedlings, pull the weeds, water the plant, figure out how to give the plant nutrients (naturally!), thin and prune the plant so that it will thrive--not die, etc, etc, etc, until the yield is finally ready.  These are daily tasks!  Sometimes it takes years for a plant to be ready to give anything back!

You see, plants growing and producing fruit is a very natural process.  That's what the seeds were made to do.  But farming, gardening--those are man-made processes.  To yield a large crop, or even to yield a small yet somewhat predictable and edible crop, takes a lot of work.  The gardener has to be ever-present, manipulating the environment so as to cultivate the plants into what he or she wants.  

This is especially true with organic gardening or farming.  Those unnatural pesticides and fertilizers and growth hormones make it much easier for plants to grow.  But organic farmers have to be even more vigilant.  Even more attuned to the plants and their needs.  Even more responsive when things take a downward turn.

So when we use the word "organic" to mean natural, undirected, unforced, spontaneous, unproduced....we have a problem.  What is organic farming (or any type of gardening or farming) if it is not directed, forced, planned, produced??  Organic, in my mind, is not about how something grows, but all about how something is cultivated.  

In so many settings, I hear this word tossed around, used to mean "let's just start this process and see what happens naturally--organically."  In a sense, "organic" is used to mean "let's start the car and take our hands off the wheel and see what happens." Everyone nods their heads because we know that organic is better, healthier.  And then we're surprised when what grows is disappointing.  But, really, should we be surprised if a car crashes when we take our hands off the wheel??

In our push to do things "organically", we've ignored the fact that the best things in life are cultivated carefully.  Sometimes with much effort...for years...before producing fruit.  Healthy families don't just happen.  They are cultivated by diligent parents doing specific things.  Healthy organizations don't just grow.  There are wise leaders at the helm, pruning and weeding and making the hard decisions about how the organization will best thrive.  Very little in life "just happens".  Even environments that feel very easy, very spontaneous, very free, are cultivated to be that way.  

I do believe there is a difference between organic and inorganic, and we're on to something in using that term. We're trying to communicate that we don't want things to be fake.  We don't want to manipulate them into something that they're not.  But just because we don't manipulate something into something it's not doesn't mean it can't be manipulated.  In my mind, "organic" is a matter of manipulating a plant or a circumstance or an event into what it was meant to be.  Into its best, most fruitful, version of itself.  It all comes down to how we're cultivating.

And just for the record, I do not hate the word organic, and I generally know what people mean when they say it (and give them the benefit of the doubt).  It just always strikes me as odd that as a society, it has come to connote something so opposite from what it actually means.

So what things are you cultivating in your life right now?  Are there things that you're tracking carefully, albeit allowing them to grow as they will?  Are there ways you've taken your eyes off of something, hoping that it will thrive naturally?  And how is that working?  I would love to hear your thoughts.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

God and Dissatisfaction

Here's a question I've been wrestling with lately:

As Christians, as committed followers of Christ who believe that He has overcome and is restoring the world (and ourselves) unto completion, do we have a right to be dissatisfied with our lives?

And just to clarify, when I am talking about dissatisfaction, I am not talking about being unhappy or experiencing pain (emotional or physical or otherwise) or grieving or mourning.  Obviously, there are times in our lives when bad things us.  Sometimes, really bad, hard things.  And I do think that we have a right to these emotions...because, for one, I think they are kind of out of our hands.  We feel what we feel.  And two, I think they are healthy and helpful.  Our feelings of pain help us to acknowledge reality, and maybe they help us to see it for what it really is.  And in the process, they bring us to a point where we can identify what it would look like to continue moving forward, new scars and all.

So, sure, I think we have a right to these emotions, which in my mind are natural responses to the world we live in and the circumstances that happen.  But my question is about dissatisfaction, and whether or not this, like other emotions, is something that we have claim to.

Just cutting right to the chase...dissatisfaction seems, at its root, to not be a reaction to the things that happen to us in this world.  Anger, sadness, happiness, frustration....all of those seem like reactions to me.  Dissatisfaction seems more like a conclusion we reach on account of these circumstances.  For example, I might be unhappy about a situation I find myself in because it was not what I expected.  I think I have a right to that feeling, nor do I really think I could force myself to feel happy (and I am certainly not suggesting that we force ourselves into emotions we just do not have).  But dissatisfaction grows from these types of feelings.  Feelings of unhappiness or disappointment are like the fertile ground from which the weed of dissatisfaction can grow.

So after experiencing negative situations and emotions in our lives for a long enough period of time, I think the conversation in our heads turns from "This sucks." to "I don't deserve this." We reach a conclusion about life---that it has not submitted itself to our picture of perfection, and how dare it?.  We all do this.  How can we not?  But nevertheless, my circumstances and my reactions to them turn into a value judgement about life.  That is where I start to wonder if we have the right.

See, if we take things back far enough, we see that our feelings of dissatisfaction with life lie in the fact that we are not sovereign over life.  That the things we will do not always happen.  Yet, as Christians, isn't this precisely the basis of our hope?  We believe in a sovereign, all-good God who is living, active, and continually willing things for the Good.  Moving things in the Right direction.  And us....well, we are not always moving things in that direction.  Our hope lies in the fact that God is bringing about the Good with and in spite of us.  So when we experience tough circumstances in our lives and, rather than communicating those in an honest conversation with God, we jump the track and board the train of dissatisfaction....aren't we in fact telling God, "I should be sovereign, not you?"

Because if that's what is happening, I don't think we have ground to stand on.  I just simply think this is wrong. None of you want to live in a world where my will is sovereign, believe me.  I would love it.  You, probably, would not.  :)

This is all not to say that we should be walking around with smiles plastered on our faces, pretending we're satisfied with life when, really, we aren't.  I certainly think that honesty about our situations is something that is healthy and necessary.  But I think we need to be aware when we make that critical leap from emotional responses to our situations to conclusions about life on account of our situations.

How's that?  Clear as mud?

What do you think?

I Give Up Self Sufficiency

A year and a half ago, as I hugged my coworkers goodbye for the last time before moving one thousand miles away to Atlanta, my boss handed me a card.  Inside was the most wonderful note thanking me for all of the hard work I’d put into my job over the years.  My boss was a woman who I admired more than almost anyone I had ever met, and her words were so precious to me.   But at the end of the card…the very last line, in fact…she wrote something that I haven’t forgotten.  She said, “We’ll miss you here.  But we know that God has bigger and better things for you, and we can’t wait to see what those things are!”

Although those words were meant as a blessing, my heart sank the second I read them.  I didn’t believe with any part of me that I was moving on to bigger and better things.   I knew what I was moving on to.  I was 8 months pregnant with our second daughter, and I could see an endless string of days at home stretching out before me.  Of course, the work I would do at home with my children would be important, but it suddenly seemed so insignificant in comparison with the life I had been living in the working world—a life where I was making an obvious difference, helping people, showing them God’s love.  There was a big part of me that wondered if God had forgotten me.  Or if it was some cruel joke that just as I was where I had always wanted to be, He moved us away.

And so, believing wholeheartedly that God had either forgotten or didn’t care about my desire to do something good and important with my life, I forged off to take matters into my own hands.  We soon settled into Atlanta, I had our baby girl, Caroline, and then I began to sign up for every possible thing I came across—looking, I suppose, for the bigger and better.  I became a room mother for Molly’s class and I took on a part time job tutoring in the evenings.  I became a part of moms groups and playgroups and library groups and church groups and neighborhood groups—sometimes stepping into leadership positions without even a thought.  And as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to be completely overwhelmed.  Not only that, but I wasn’t satisfied.  I wasn’t feeling appreciated or like I was really making a difference.  I was just the schlep who was doing all of the things that no one else wanted to do.

It was at this low point that God broke in and showed me what I was doing.  I had taken it on myself to build up my life and establish my reputation—apart from Him.  In refusing to believe that God could possibly be at work in me, moving me on to the bigger and better without a burgeoning career or position of importance in the world, I’d come to rely fully on myself.  As long as I was advancing in a way that was expected, I had been willing to follow God.  But as soon as advancement meant trusting God to use me in a much less visible situation, I had bailed.   

I spent a lot of time asking God about this place I found myself in.  A place that, to me, felt like absolute nothingness.  I wondered how God could want me to become nothing.  To not utilize the gifts and talents I thought he’d given me.  God didn’t answer these questions.  But he definitely did talk to me.  He told me to let things go.  All of the things that I was grasping so tightly, trying to use to create an identity for myself…he told me to let them go.  He told me to make space in my life so that there was room for Him to enter in.  He promised me that if I made this space and trusted Him to be enough, that He would be.

And so, very reluctantly, that is what I began to do.   I made space.  It meant not signing up for gymnastics AND soccer.  It meant not volunteering for every opportunity that came along.  It meant having entire afternoons, days, and weekends where we had no plans.  This was really scary at first.  I feared the long days, and I hated the conversations that began with, “So what have you been up to this weekend?”  I had to become okay with answering, “”Not much,” which was humbling.  As our neighbors jetted off, day after day, to ballet lessons and piano lessons and soccer practice, I wondered if I was depriving my children.  I wondered if I was depriving myself!  But, still, God would whisper, in those moments where doubt and insecurity crept in, to wait, to stand firm, to not pick up the idol of self-sufficiency that I’d just decided to lay down.

And then something amazing began to happen.  Into all of those empty places like the long afternoons and the open weekends, God began to fill, to become sufficient.  Spending so much free time outside in our front yard meant that our house became the place for all of the neighborhood kids to congregate in the afternoons.  Sometimes we have 10 or 15 children in our yard, and we are building relationships with them that we never would have if we were always going off in 5 other directions.  We’ve also become a stopping point for many of our older neighbors who walk their dogs in the afternoon. They walk past, we pet their dogs, and we chat…sometimes for a long time.  Though I thought that making space would relegate me to loneliness and deprive me of adult company, it has turned out that I often have more company than I know what to do with.  I have learned things I never would have otherwise…things like who is having surgery, who is sick, and who is just having a hard time.  And in the midst of all of this, I see that God has given me a place, an important position.  I am the one who is always around.  I am the one who knows about the hard things.  I am the one who has time to care.  I love that God is making me this person. 

But that is never the role I had for myself.  That, to me, was not the bigger and better that I’d hoped for.  I was too focused on becoming someone (not sure who)  and something (not sure what) to see what God was so clearly trying to show me…that he has a role for me right now, ministering in his kingdom.   It wasn’t until I agreed to let my plans fall away that I could see what God had for me.  And realize that his plans are not just enough, but perfect.
So, this Lenten season, I give up self-sufficiency.  I give up self-sufficiency because I am beginning to believe the things I’ve heard about our God all of these years:  That he loves me.  That he knows me…deeply, truly, and completely.   That he has plans for me—a destiny that he has crafted uniquely for me.  And that nothing, absolutely nothing that I could dream up for myself could ever compare to the life that God wants to give me.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The One Without

In my last post, I wrote about how I've arrived at this point of thinking that hearing from and responding to God is it. The point. Thanks to those of you who engaged in conversation with me about that.  I said that I would put some thoughts together on what exactly it means and looks like to hear God in my next post, so that's what I'm going to attempt to do here.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts...especially as I feel like I'm in kind of strange territory here.

Let me just define my terms (or rather, term) to begin.  When I'm talking about God, the one we hear, I'm talking about a specific God.  I am not referring to a generic spirit, a source of energy or power, or a force in the universe.  I would venture to say that when people talk about this more general or overarching supernatural being, they tend to view the being as part of and inseparable from everything.  So, for example, if I think of God as energy, I might think of that energy as being everywhere.  Around me, in me, in you--part of everything, and indistinguishable from anything.   I think that--as the world has taken on a more secular flavor--the concept of God has not disappeared so much as blended into this idea of an energy that is everywhere.  However, I think that this is a mistake.  To buy into this idea that the point of life itself is to hear from and respond to God necessitates that we think of God as other.  As separate from ourselves.

I want to be clear.  I do believe that God created everything.  I believe that he is eternal, omni-everything, etc.  And he holds all things together.  So, in some ways, God is a part of everything.  But he is separate from us.  I am me.  God is god.

Why is this important, you ask?  Well, I think that hearing God is simply being able to recognize thoughts, ideas, and inspirations within our minds that are from without.  I think that if we start paying attention to the "without" moments in our minds and in our lives, we will see God.  And we will hear him.  Let me try and explain this (have I lost everyone yet?)

The easiest way for me to explain what I think are "without" moments are instances of what we normally call inspiration.  There is a reason we call the most amazing things in life (great art, music, literature, etc.) "inspired".  I think every artist, musician, and writer could tell you of times when they have surprised themselves with the things that they produce.  Sure, they would tell you that they spend countless hours honing their craft by building their skill level.  But there is a point at which skill plateaus, and I think that to get from skilled to great there is a leap of inspiration that needs to happen.  There is something that meets the artist or the musician or the writer from without, and it catapults what is happening to a whole new level.  Have you experienced this?  I do not consider myself an artist or really even a writer, but even I have had these moments when I look back at what I created and realize that part of that just did not come from my brain.  There was something else happening there.

I also think there is something to the idea of intuition.  Many of us have experienced moments in our lives when we knew something that we shouldn't have known.  In my mind, these are clear examples of One who is from "without".

So, how do we hear from God?  Well, I think we begin paying attention to our lives and trying to find these "without" moments.  Maybe we collect them, put them in our pockets and wiggle them around with our fingers.  And then we ask God, the one who is without, what he wants us to know about these things.  And I think that at that point, we'll be able to hear the answer.

Let me know what you hear.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Center Point

I am becoming increasingly convinced that, while my faith as a Christian has many different facets to it, there is a central "crux" of things--a place from which all else hinges. And so things like the beliefs I hold and the stances I take on everything from politics to ethical principles are important...but only because they come from and are informed by the center belief. In my mind, this looks a bit like a wagon wheel. All of the different spokes spring from that center point.

And so what is this central point, you ask?

It is this: that God speaks, and that I (we) can hear Him.

Is that what you thought I was going to say?

This is something I've been thinking a lot about over the last couple of months. It really began when I read the Bonhoeffer biography (Metaxas) in December. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my all-time heroes. Perhaps my biggest hero. If you don't know who he is, here's a little background: Bonhoeffer was a theologian and pastor in Germany before and during World War II. When Hitler came to power and the German church (along with other churches around the world) failed to stand up to evil, Bonhoeffer and some others began the Confessing Church--which tried to remain true to the right and good in the midst of Nazi pressure to give in--which it was somewhat, but not completely, successful at doing. He was also involved in underground activities to both help victims of the Nazis and to plot an assassination of Hitler. Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and was killed in a concentration camp just before the end of the war in 1945.

Obviously, all of these things about Bonhoeffer are admirable. But what I really appreciate about him is the way he reasoned through the ethical dilemmas in his life--and that he did it on paper so that we can still look at his thoughts today and learn so much. Clearly, living in the time and place that he did, Bonhoeffer confronted moral dilemmas almost daily. Questions like: As someone who believes the word of God when it says to love my enemy, am I justified in killing others to prevent evil from harming innocent victims? Questions like: If I am admired and closely watched by younger men and women, can I decide to take a dangerous stand against an evil enemy even though I know it will compel those watching me to put themselves in danger as well?

These are not easy questions!! You could have a long and unresolved argument about these and many more dilemmas like them for days and days without truly reaching the bottom of the arguments. But I think this is why I like Bonhoeffer so much. He didn't reduce Christianity into this nice, neat little box of "shoulds" and "shouldnt's". He didn't take the Bible, hold it out, and say, "Here you go. Everything you ever need to know is right here." That's just not the case. I mean, let's be honest, sometimes the Bible seems to contradict itself and we're left wondering, "What in the world am I supposed to do?"

Bonhoeffer, an ethicist/philosopher/theologian, would tell you that there are no easy or absolute answers about how to react to life. But that doesn't mean he was wishy washy or unconvinced that there is a sovereign God who divides good from evil. Rather, Bonhoeffer would say that we can know what to do in these ethically unclear situations. The way we know? We listen to God's voice.

Bonhoeffer, a liberal, scholarly, highly educated man who grew up in the middle of a strikingly secular family, believed that we can hear God's voice. Not only that. He actually believed that hearing God's voice and responding in obedience and submission to God was the point. It was the only way that we could make it through all of those confusing moments in our lives where our faith in God seems to pit itself against us. But I think the importance of hearing God's voice goes even further than that. Sure, it is super helpful to be able to hear from and consult with God himself in difficult situations in our lives. But I think that God also longs for us to listen to him about things that are much less weighty, that are small, daily, seemingly unimportant. I think he wants us to know him. God, the creator, the one in charge, wants us to know him.

And I don't mean know in some metaphorical sense. I don't mean any of this in a metaphorical sense. When I say that we can hear God, that we can know him, that he breaks into our lives in all of these little moments, I mean exactly that.

So I guess my question is this: Do we believe that that's true? I know a lot of you reading this blog are Christians and have walked a long way down this path. So I ask you: Do you really think we can hear from God--all the time? Do you actually think that God is speaking into every situation in your life? That he is breaking in? And do we believe that this happens in everyone's lives (believer or not?) and that it is our fundamental task as human beings to seek out this voice and respond to it?

Because that's where I am. That's what I think. I think that this concept of hearing God's voice and responding to it is--it. And I think that if we learn to do it, it changes everything about us.

My next post will dive into what it actually means to "hear God's voice". I'd love to hear your thoughts on that if you have any!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


Did David know
When just a shepherd-child
Of his greatness?

Is one born
In the image of God aware
Of his bloodline?

Did he polish stones,
Herd sheep,
Play the harp, knowingly?

Was it easy?
Sitting alone in arid fields,
Waiting for his destiny

Because he knew,
Somewhere in his innards,
That destiny can’t be escaped?

That it can only be waited for.

And when he volunteered
To meet the Giant,
A child versus a mountain,

Did he know?
Or did the possibility hang in his mind
(even just a small one)

That it wasn’t necessarily settled--
That God may not come through,
And it wouldn’t change anything about God?

If David
Had a little doubt
When he picked up that first stone,

It gives me confidence because
It means that,
Knowing that I am not destined for greatness,

There is still the chance
That I can fight the Giant and win
And it wouldn’t change anything about God.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Importance of Ritual

These last weeks as I've reflected on 2011 and looked forward to 2012, I've been thinking about the importance of rituals in my life. Truth is, I'm terrible at making and keeping resolutions (aren't we all?), but I have found some success in viewing goals not as a singular change that gets added to my life, but as incorporated into a new life ritual of sorts.

As an example, earlier in the year we realized that we were watching too much television in our house. Thing is, we weren't really watching it much of the time, but we'd gotten used to just waking up and having it on as background noise, and as a result, Molly was racking up television hours like it was her job. The thought of just all of a sudden turning off the tv was terrifying, even though I knew I wouldn't miss it. So instead of deciding to simply enact a rule that we would turn the television off, we created a new morning ritual that just didn't include the television. Formerly, Molly woke up and turned the tv on while she woke up and had breakfast. Now, we wake up, read a story, and listen to music in the mornings. Taking away the television was painless because it didn't really feel like we took it away. We merely changed the routine.

When I was teaching, routines and rituals were something I put a lot of thought into before the school year started. I then continued to reflect on them throughout the year and tweaked things as needed. I believe that having routines (especially in a classroom) creates a sense of calm and safety because everyone knows what to expect. Students can arrive at school and start the day off in relative peace and calm, rather than in a state of anxiety over whether they'll be thrown into an uncomfortable situation. Even (or especially) children need to feel like they have some sort of power over their surroundings. I think that is so important for all of us.

In our spiritual lives, too, there needs to be some degree of ritual in order to grow in maturity. This is what I've really been thinking about as I've set my New Year's goals for 2012. Obviously, God is in charge of whether and how much I grow and mature in my relationship with Him. But there are things that I can do, routines that I can set, patterns that I can follow, in order to put myself on the right path. Rather than just saying, "I want to deepen my relationship with God this year" I have decided to say, "I want to set my life in a trajectory that points more closely to God." I want to establish routines in my life, like waking before my children and having a plan for reading and praying, that won't feel like an additional thing to do, but will replace my current routine. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy New Year!