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.