Wednesday, February 10, 2016

From My Sick Bed

After two days of resting (or writhing in misery, rather) in bed with the flu, I think enough is enough. Adam leaves for a meeting after getting Jayci off to school, and both remaining children climb into my lap. My skin crawls at their touch and I sit in front of the heater to ward off the chills. I sip a mug of hot tea and lemon, trying to soothe a new tickle in my throat.

There is a pull within me to equate production with value. To believe I am only afforded a certain amount of me-time before I'm just being selfish (even if me time = in bed with the flu).

Its the first day of lent, and I don't have plans to give anything up exactly. Instead, I want to use these 40 days to remember my identity in Jesus. As Shane Claiborne says, lent is an opportunity to give up something that is sucking the life out of us so that we can be filled with God, with life, with love again. . . So whether it is giving up an old bad habit or take on a new holy habit, may we each use this Lenten season as an excuse to do something that empties us of ourselves so that our lives make better music.

This past weekend we had the (crazy) opportunity to share our story at a youth conference for a couple hundred middle and high schoolers. Besides being way outside of my comfort zone (Adam is the one who likes speaking to crowds), it was a really sweet time for our family and an amazing reminder of all the ways that God has called us step-by-step into this life we never would have dreamed up for ourselves. Also, I just wrote that it was a sweet time for our family and then remembered how many times I nearly lost it yelling at my children because they would not stop fighting for the love of everything. I only pulled it together because I thought "you are the keynote speaker, pull it together."
But seriously, I remembered some things I needed to be reminded of: that we didn't mentor Zack and Sabo because we wanted to start a mentoring program, but that God led us to mentor Zack and Sabo and that's why we ended up starting a mentoring program. Our end goal never skipped past the people who were right in front of us, and I want to keep living that way. To recognize the holy ways that God slips people into our lives (for a season or forever) who we will learn from and with.
Since I'm about to read some more and then perhaps nap while Isaiah naps, I leave with you with some links I love and a few books I'm going to preorder (and I think you should too).

First of all, Adam and I also shared a story with a friend of mine from UGA (which was apparently over 10 years ago, crazy). She came to our house and interviewed us about our lives and Blueprint 58 and shared the whole thing on her cool site (ATL 1X1). I'd love for you to pop over and read it if you're interested. And be sure to spend some time looking around the site, because she has shared lots of stories from really cool Atlanta change-makers, of whom we are beyond honored to be included. Its a great resource to find something you're passionate about in Atlanta and find out how you can get involved. Of course we would love that to be Blueprint 58, but really would be thrilled for you to find any way to let your passions meet the needs of our city.

I have rarely been as excited about a book as I am for these next two. Although if you've been around here long, I've linked to their blogs often enough that you've probably already preordered their books too (I hope!)

The first is my homegirl Shannan's book, Falling Free (Rescued from the Life I always wanted). Their story is so much like our story, and the time that Adam and I spent with Shannan and Cory cemented my love for them forever. Sorry guys, you'll never get rid of us now! But seriously, her story will inspire you for sure, and I've been meaning to tell her for days that I think her writing is only getting more beautiful and holy every single day. For real.

I'm also super-pumped to get DL Mayfield's new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith. I mean seriously, I feel like I need to read it right this very minute because I currently feel exactly like a failed missionary who needs to rediscover some faith, please and thank you. Her writing is some of my very favorite, the kind that leaves me ready to both love my neighbors better and hand over my pen, because I have read very few people who can write like she does.

A few more books I'm excited about:
Renovate: Changing Who You Are by Loving Where You Are - by our dear friend and pastor Leonce Crump (our story is tucked in there somewhere too!)
Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark - Addie Zierman
Winter (The Lunar Chronicles).  Confession: I got this book for my friend for Christmas and then made him let me borrow it before he even read it. I feel a little guilty like perhaps I basically bought myself a Christmas present? Oops.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ordinary Loaves and Fishes

At night I lie beside my child and sing.
Last night I sang "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."
Her back was pressed against my chest,
and the smell of wind was in her hair.
Before I'd finished singing she was sleeping,
but I sang on softly of you faithfulness,
faithfulness that made you pursue your people
even after the green of Eden faded.
At first you came in cloud, in fire,
feeding, leading, sealing
covenants with rainbows, oaths with flames
that passed at dusk between halves of heifer,
ram and goat. Your raw presence was too much for men.

Then, when time was right, you
who were cloud and flame came closer,
and the glory that before could not be looked upon
settled on your son, asleep in a woman's arms.
And in him men saw that the God who fathered them
longed for them, loved them.
There were thirsty deserts, waffling followers.
Yet, faithful to your love for men,
he went your way, another son following father
to the stony place of sacrifice.
This time though, no ram in thicket,
no staying of the father's hand.

And now, as your strange ways would have it,
the Spirit that is you has come to me
and I, not ark, bear you through the world.
Bearer of your image, I? I do no miracles -
make no manna, sight no blind eyes.
I tie laces, make beds, bake bread.
But your equations, like your ways, are strange
adding oil, multiplying meal, making one lunch
food for thousands. Take my acts,
ordinary loaves and fishes.
Bless, break, multiply.

(Sanna Anderson Baker)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Family Newsletters and Support

Let me start off by saying that this post isn't about money, nor will I be asking you for money. In fact, I try not to talk too much about money around here, because awkward. For those of you who don't know, Adam and I run a non-profit (Blueprint 58), and Adam's salary is nearly 100% provided by personal donations from individuals. Most of our amazing village of supporters reads my blog, because they are also family and friends and some of the most crazy encouragers around. But here's the thing about being a support-raising missionary: it can be hard to feel free to tell the truth. I trust that our support team believes in what we do in Atlanta simply for the sake of obedience to Jesus, and not based on "results." But that doesn't always make it easier to be completely honest about discouragement, about losses, about failures. All that to say, I've been trying to figure out the best medium to write about the hardest parts of all of this life, because sometimes (usually) it might not be the public forum (duh).
If you received our Christmas card (which I just mailed last week, because #winning), you saw our handy QR code with a link to our family newsletter.  We've decided to send out a monthly newsletter that isn't a "ministry update" or a blog post (meant for anyone/everyone), but more of a "here's how we are really doing and what's going on with our family."

Be warned: don't sign up if you'd rather just not know about the hard stuff. Or if you don't want even more pictures and possibly poems, and the occasional recipe from Adam's kitchen. 

Interested? You can sign up for The Pretty Gritty: The Stanley Clan Newsletter and get it in your inbox once a month. Also, I promise you won't get more emails than just the one per month!
Also, I realize I never shared pictures from our Christmas in beautiful Colorado. You guys, we got a foot of snow on a mountain house in Breckinridge: talk about a picture-perfect time! Also, Zack is an amazing skier, and so is Jayci. I was totally impressed with both of them.

I am also amazing, mostly at sitting in the lodge and drinking coffee and/or wine.
Also, cookie-making contests and all-day pajamas? Ok fine.
Thank you (times a million) to all of you for the ways you continually love and support us. Also, if you didn't know anything about our non-profit and want to learn more, you can read about it on the Blueprint 58 website. Or you can email me with questions! And don't worry, I'll still share and be vulnerable here, because I'm usually not even aware I'm being "brave" in my authenticity until y'all inform me of that fact. I just wanted to have a safe space dedicated to sharing our deepest hearts and pieces of our lives. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Fresh Starts

"Life is amazing. And then it's awful. And then it's amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it's ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That's just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it's breathtakingly beautiful." - L.R. Knost
My fresh start this year has already been all-scuffed-up.

In case you hadn't noticed, my goal of writing more in 2016 is not looking great (as in, I haven't written one-single-word yet this year).

I'm realizing that without careful attention, the busyness of last year will creep right into this one. Without consciously saying no and taking time for rest, I will quickly find myself tumbling through days and weeks until I blink and my baby is five months old (today!)

Adam and I apparently produce babies who dislike sleeping and naps. Throughout my pregnancy, I would rub my belly and tell people this one is going to be my sleeper. The one who takes three hour naps like my friend's babies. Um, apparently not. Despite all the not-sleeping, he's basically the most adorable baby ever (no bias here). We are still in a full-on state of completely-smitten. Sleep-deprived, but smitten might be the perfect description of my life so far in 2016.

Because I haven't been able to find time to write many (any) words this year, here's a few good ones you can read that I've found around the internets the past few weeks.

Now What? A Note on Small Beginnings (Flower Patch Farmgirl). You guys already know how much I love Shannan, and surely you've already started following her blog; but if not, I'm not sure what you're waiting for. And while you're at it, be sure to pre-order her book!

Shannan mentions this talk from Michelle Higgins at Urbana15 in her post, but I wanted to link here separately just to be absolutely sure you don't miss it.

This piece resounds somehow both hard-to-read and absolutely perfect (as is most of this lady's writing): The Cross, the Lynching Tree, and the Playground (D.L Mayfield at Christ and Pop Culture).

I loved my friend's Sarah's piece on her blog about the importance of friendships with people who are not like you. I so completely agree: Why We Need Different Friends Now More than Ever (A Life with Subtitles)
"If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have? These exotic revelations bubbled up involuntarily and I began to understand that the sleeplessness and vigilance and constant feedings were a form of brainwashing, a process by which my old self was being molded, slowly but with a steady force, into a new shape: a mother. It hurt. I tried to be conscious while it happened, like watching my own surgery. I hoped to retain a tiny corner of the old me, just enough to warn other women with. But I knew this was unlikely; when the process was complete I wouldn’t have anything left to complain with, it wouldn’t hurt anymore, I wouldn’t remember." —Miranda July

One good thing about 2016 so far has been my 365 project. I basically do one of these every other year, because I'm too tired after one year to think about doing it the next. But then I get sad because I love the finished product put into a book so much that I decide to try again the next year. This time, I'm collecting all my images in an instagram account, which you're welcome to follow along with right here (thestanleyclan365). 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of 2015

One of my goals for 2016 is to write more. I am very good at writing goals because I know they should be specific and measurable and attainable. So "write more" seems legit.

All that to say, here's a quick look back at 2015 and some of my favorite posts, pictures, and other fun from the past year.
Five of my favorite posts from this space over the past year (it turns out I didn't write all that much this year. Whoops):
Dry Bones
Letting Things Go
Intentional Neighboring: Part 1 and Part 2
The Upward Mobility of a Neighborhood
I spent the first part of the year stuck in pregnant nausea, and I can scarcely remember anything but my bed and the toilet for the first seven months of the year. I do remember (vaguely) Easter, and one of my favorite pictures ever of my two biggest.

Obviously, welcoming Isaiah was the highlight of our whole year. It's hard to believe he's already rounding the corner on five months old, and nearly half a year of sweet Zay in our lives.

We are adjusting to life with three kids, because we want to enjoy them each as individuals as well as a sibling group of mass chaos (this one was a favorite shot of the three of my lovelies via instagram). 
We did ministry this year, even adding a few people to our Blueprint 58 team. We are grateful especially that we got to take Zack skiing in Colorado with the whole fam (which he is obviously very much a part of!
Spending some quiet and beautiful days in the mountains was a good way for us to end this crazy year, and we are hoping for more peace and sabbath in the year ahead. 
A few more favorites from the year: 
*movie - Saint Vincent (weird choice maybe, but this one really stuck with me!)
*tv show - The Good Wife (I will forever associate this series with this year and watching while pregnant and eating cheese and crackers late at night. As a side note, I don't love this latest season so far)
*podcast - The Big Magic Podcasts by Elizabeth Gilbert (I enjoyed these podcasts more than the book, although I liked that too!
*music - Anything Lauren Daigle sings (her voice is ridiculous).  

Happy New Year to all of you. I am grateful for you guys and the ways you love and encourage me, even when I'm notoriously bad at posting regularly or responding to emails, or answering my phone. Sorry!

Also, I am thinking I might (possibly) choose a word for 2016 . . . try not to hold your breath waiting to hear what it is. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Still Waiting

A hush falls over the mountain house as heaven spreads a blanket of snow in big fluttering flakes. The hot tub steams, and warm feet make footprints in freshly fallen snow, wrapped in fluffy white towels and hurrying inside. The whole family cuddles on the sectional in front of the television, watching Santa Clause 3 and muting the age-inappropriate commercials. The sparse tree twinkles with colorful lights and a few pretty ornaments, while a fire flickers in the stone-clad fireplace. I sip eggnog and stare mesmerized out the window as the pine trees boughs grow heavy under the weight of snow.
All the kids finally asleep, I lay in bed and think, next year we will make Christmas more intentional. The irony, of course, is that the evening neared picture-perfect, the Christmas of postcards and movies. But somehow something was missing. Jesus, probably. Because I cannot seem to conjure true Christmas cheer even when circumstances lean favorable.

We went to see Santa this year and he asked my kids whose birthday it was on Christmas. Umm, Mommy, they answered hesitantly, while I flushed red with embarrassment. We have read approximately seven days of our advent book. I have spent little time preparing my children or myself to recognize the “true meaning of Christmas.” I fear we’ve missed it in the hubbub of activities and holiday festivities. I am sad more often than merry.
The world feels heavy, and my heart follows suit.

Sometimes hope feels far off, and I am tired of waiting. Advent seems unending, like Jesus is overdue and false labor pains stretch my patience. I know lonely, even in a room full of people. Sometime holidays loom quiet and solitary, or Christmas demands celebration even without a loved one for the first time.
I have been thinking about those who waited for a messiah so long ago. The ones who counted hours and months with longing for the rescuer of their people. And I realized today that even when Jesus was born, they were still waiting. They kept waiting, kept hoping, without realizing that Hope had come to live with them. They were looking for something different, something bigger, something more monumental and spectacular perhaps. A rescuer who raised an army and came with fire, instead of tiny baby fists and dirty strips of cloth lining a feeding trough in a stable.

Because here’s the thing: I don't want to be one who’s still waiting. Who tries to conjure a Christmas that rescues like a conquering army. I don't want to miss Jesus because He doesn't look like I think He should.

So instead of fumbling to make Christmas the thing I want or need it to be, I’m taking the time to let it be exactly what it is. An ordinary day in the midst of a busy life in which I encounter the extraordinary. Christ come down right into the middle of our mess. Not how we expect, necessarily, but exactly how we need.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Self-Portrait at Thirty-One

Thirty-one today, and I still don't know how to see myself. 

I sit with Isaiah in the light, and hold the camera towards me. My arm quakes with the effort. 

The sun dances on the leaves and my shoulders. Isaiah grins and grasps my finger in his fist. I've watched him discover those fists the last few weeks, bringing them to his mouth and sucking noisily, comforting himself, though never quite finding his thumb. I delight in his discovering his voice and his hands, the way he kicks his feet in excitement and searches for our faces when he hears our voices. He's more excited and less afraid with Caden, more enchanted with Jayci. We widen our hearts to let in the newest parts of him. 
I graze my finger along the curve of his rounded cheeks. Tracing the dip of his chin into his chest makes him giggle and we cannot resist nuzzling him there to hear the sound again and again. 

The leaves scoop the light and reflect it back, growing brittle as fall heads towards winter. Dark descends quickly, steeping the sky in black only after the sun's gasping breaths of gold.  Colors deepen, richer and more tenuous, teetering under their weight before flitting to the ground.
I am resisting the temptation to delete these images, too many wrinkles and strange angles make me cringe. I have trouble seeing myself the way I wish I could. But I'm hoping this thirty-first year might be the one. When I finally settle more deeply into my own skin, and start seeing myself with new eyes.
31 feels old and young, all at once. I wonder what new wrinkles and stretch marks this year will carry, signs of life lived full and deep. I wonder what God will stir in me, what surprises this year will hold. I'm hoping for less fear and more brave, less lies and more truth. For less bondage and more freedom, more laughter but not necessarily less tears. For more grace and less guilt. For more of Jesus and less of myself. 


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