Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Stanley Clan (and an announcement)

Just wanted to pop in for just a minute to wish all of you, our dearest friends and family and strangers-who-are-now-friends, a very merry Christmas. We hope today is full of peace and joy, time with loved ones, and plenty of Christmas goodies. 

Oh and one more thing . . . This.
Yup, the Stanley Clan is about to become a party of five (or way more than that, depending on how many of the kiddos we want to count as family - hint: most of them). For real crazy. Also, Jayci? Slightly sassy these days, but also obviously about to be once again the most amazing big sister.  
I'm pretty sure this exactly sums up how Caden feels about the whole thing. 

Also, I'm super early pregnant, like only 7 weeks along. But I figure once these two know, it's not long before they tell the world anyways. And I'm super-nauseous and miserable, so I'm hoping for prayers from all of you that this might be a much less miserable pregnancy than I had with Caden. Not to mention covering in prayer for this sweet little one to have a healthy and whole heart. 

Ok, now go enjoy your Christmas! Love to all of you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

By the Light of the Stars

Oh holy night
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth

Adam pulls Jayci quietly from her bed still asleep, and waits until we are outside to wake her up. Caden doesn't stir from his sprawled spot under the (probably unnecessary) mosquito nets. The clock ticks past midnight. Jayci clambers slow and groggy from sleep on her daddy's shoulder. Wiping confusion, she asks what we are doing. Just wait, you'll see, we tell her. We walk quiet under the banner of deepest dark sky, feet finding careful footing on the winding path through the golf course to the shore. When we can walk no further, we lay a towel down on the perfect-springy grass on the 11th green, and then tell Jayci: now look up at the stars. She does and gasps, and we laugh. The three of us lay flat-backed, eyes glued to a sky strewn with pinholes of light against the ink-black sky. Why are there so many? she asks. There are always this many stars, we tell her, we just can't usually see them because we live surrounded by so much light and smog.

Oh she sighs. We lay quiet. Salty spray accompanies the waves crashing on the rocks just beyond our toes. Silver-capped waves roll to shore illuminated by a sky full of stars that fall and streak to all of our great delight.

That's the thing about beauty, about marvels. Sometimes I can't see them for all the light and noise. But when I do stumble upon it, I lay breathless in amazement. And if nothing else, I remember how small I am. I am certain only of my own insignificance in the grand story God has painted with broad strokes of crashing waves and with tiny delicate dots of light. I am forced to admit how much I don't know, how many things I don't understand under a vast sky and millions of stars. 
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

In case you were wondering, I have, in fact been avoiding writing this post. I realize I promised a response to honest questions from y’all. And I hope you can forgive me. The truth is that I’m tongue-tied around it all. I’m an avid people-pleaser and conflict-avoider, and when I promised an email with some “answers” I forgot that I’m not sure I have any. 

I’ve decided, for now, that I cannot win anyone over or change anyone’s minds with arguments about the state of the world. Statistics and case studies fail to move the heart, I think. But I’ve also realized this season all the ways the world needs desperately to remember how to feel its worth. To know that life matters, all of it. And that #blacklivesmatter isn’t saying that white lives don’t. Because it is not either/or. We have somehow all fallen for the myth of us vs. them. But really, for a world laying in sin and error, there’s only us. And we kid ourselves if we think, again, that injustice anywhere isn’t a threat to justice everywhere. Because we all belong, firmly, on the same side. And as I listen to the news, and read my twitter feed, and try to avoid comment sections where people seem to find the ability for unbearable unkindness, I think afresh of the ways it all points to a broken world. To people, perhaps, who have forgot their own worth, and the worth of every other person.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

It’s two days until Christmas, and I have what I’ve decided must be the flu. Body aches and constant vomiting make it impossible to sleep, rest, or check any of the millions of things off my Christmas-to-do list. This isn’t how I pictured our Christmas going. I thought there would be clean floors to open presents on, beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree. Christmas breakfast and maybe even mimosas, cookies packages prettily and delivered to neighbors with smiles and hugs.

Some of our families ask if we can help them get gifts to fill the bare spaces under their trees, if they even have one. But I am not even finished buying or wrapping all our own gifts, and I can currently scarcely drag myself more than a few feet from the toilet.

I cant seem to find the thrill of hope I so desperately need. Somehow it got lost, I suppose, in the trappings of all Christmas has become. And I find it hard to live up. Because there’s just so much we are "supposed" to do. Family parties and work parties, and movie nights, and advent readings (of which we have currently done 10/23 which, btw, is a failing score by my calculations). Gorgeously wrapped presents, and healthy but festive treats for the kids. Pinterest wreaths and Christmas card displays, oh and actually mailing out Christmas cards at all. Pretty Christmas Eve outfits, nice gifts for your children, but not too much Santa. Christmas light runs, elfs on shelfs, scarf exchanges, and baskets for the less fortunate. I start to feel worried sometimes, that we’ve made Christmas unattainable for normal moms like me, let alone the very people who are most desperately in need of a thrill of hope. The ones for whom Christmas means more stress, not more hope. The ones who dont have enough, who hear the whole world tell them they aren’t enough. Strangers hand them donated gifts in trash bags, and they smile for a picture, grateful of course.
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born

I’ve spent some time on my knees the past few days. Granted, it was mostly in front of a toilet and not necessarily in prayer. But still, the form bent low reminds me of a posture that brings me back to the place where I can actually hear the angel voices. Where I can sit in the holy stillness and mess of the night Christ was born. I feel strongly the rift that leads me to lament. For lives lost, for riots and burning buildings, for shootings, and for deaths that pile up quietly. The world mourns and aches this advent season. And all I can do is my best to enter in. To mourn alongside, to lament deaths of brown-skinned boys and police officers alike, to acknowledge a broken world in desperate need of a Savior who will enter in. Which, of course, is just what we find when we actually follow the story to the stable. One who comes wrapped in peace and swaddling clothes, who somehow fully embodies humanity and divinity and offers us a thrill of hope.
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace

This advent season, I've been spending a lot of time in Isaiah. And, I can’t help but think of all the ways we are brought from darkness to light. But we always start with darkness. With not-knowing, and with prophets who stubbornly proclaimed, even in the very midst of that darkness, the coming Light. Like them, we are people who believe that God shows up how we least expect Him, in the places we didnt even think to look. I read this morning from Isaiah 40: Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. And I wonder what it would like for uneven ground to become level. Perhaps, I think, we will start with an acknowledgement of uneven ground in the first place. Perhaps we will recognize advent this year as a season to mourn with those who are mourning, and to stand in the gap for those who have resigned themselves to getting over their hurts. Knowing people changes things, and I think that the Kingdom breaks through in flashes of unity, of solidarity, of transcultural and radical shedding of self for the sake of someone else. I think that the God I serve cares deeply for the souls and the bodies of all his children. And that He would stand with them and among them, which of course, is exactly what He did when He came down from His throne and lay in a manger that long-ago night.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease

He sings Oh Holy Night and uses a megaphone. Because he is spreading the very words the world needs, in the very place they need it. Hope and joy and slaves who are brothers. The end of oppression, the dawning of peace. Beauty for ashes, new life after much pain in the birthing. And amazingly, it's for all of us, for the rag-tag group gathered on the broken pavement he has painted with brilliant strokes of color. Abandoned boarded up houses splashed with white and light, and a neighborhood deemed no-good, declared perfectly beautiful by the ones who have poured out their lives here.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
I feel the ache deep in my bones and my skin prickles, and I sip gatorade in desperate attempts to stay hydrated. I toss and turn on my warm bed, and wonder how to find comfort and rest. And I think of the night we lay beneath the sky full of stars, and told Jayci that all that light remains, even when we cannot see it. High above us, cloaked in the city’s light and smog, is a sky full of stars, teeming with promises. So even on the days and in the moments I cannot see it, I rest in the hope that the light is still there. That Christ has come, and is coming. And that chains shall he break and peace shall he broker. Because the government will be on his shoulders, and He reigns with peace and justice. The kind that breaks through arguments and pushes aside statistics in favor of love and truth and actual people whom He loves deeply and desperately.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Monday, November 24, 2014

For Ferguson and Ashton: Not Away but Towards

"A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect." -W.E.B. Du Bois
I sit and scroll through twitter post-Ferguson-verdict, tears rolling down my cheeks. And my eyes flicker to the clock as it flicks past 11:30pm, and I think about tomorrow morning. Because at 6:45am, Ashton and I will get in the car and ride to work together. And, rest assured, Ashton will know what the jury said; and he will know with equal clarity what their decision says about his life, and how much this nation values it.

I wonder, will we ride in silence; seat warmers on, while the soothing voices of NPR come from the radio?

I hope not. I am just unsure what I can say in the harsh morning light following such a dark night.

I could ask him what he thinks and feels, but I already know the answer: he will be angry. And we ride together to a job we secured for him, from a room we loan him, with lunches packed with food we bought him. No matter how hard I try to make it otherwise, he will feel indebted. How can he really express the ways that our very relationship somehow perpetuates this culture. One where his life is less, where he always has to accept help and know "his place" in the relationship and in this world.

Ok, I think. Instead, I'll tell him how I feel. I'll tell him about the tears I taste pooling salty beneath my lips. The ways I wake weary this morning because my heart can't rest over the grand-jury's decision. I'll explain his infinite worth, no matter what anyone says. I'll try not to cry anew or feel embarrassed when I explain how angry I am, and how unfair it all swells day-after-day. I'll tell him he can, and he certainly should, fight for justice; but to do it smart and careful, and without hating white people.

But still, I fear I will sound only like another white voice reminding him to know his place. Like someone who fears his power and his righteous indignation because I know where it might take him. A swirling cycle that pulls us all down to the lowest common denominator. Because he, of course, is right. My tears flow because I know and deeply love him, and so many who look like him. But not because I have actual skin in the game. Not because I fear how police officers might respond to me or Adam, or what might happen to Caden if he finds himself walking in a hoodie on a dark night. Not because I do not have the choice to turn and walk away.

Then, what can I say as we drive through our city swathed in hopeful early morning light?

I have no answers, no words, no quick tricks or solutions to assuage my grief and guilt, nor his pain.

I don't have answers, but I do have Jesus. I have the promise that He will make things new, and that His peace passes all earthly understanding. I have a growing realization that the most fragile things like hope and peace end up the most powerful. I have forgiveness for the ways I have been complicit, and for the places I have been unmoved.

And I have a reminder that we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities that refuse to allow justice or reconciliation.

Because the real question, of course, is not actually whether justice has or has not been served. It is whether or not we will now stand together as followers of Jesus against this darkness. Whether or not we will be willing to share sweat and tears, running together down black and white skin alike, in ways that move to break through His Kingdom right here on earth as it is in Heaven.

So perhaps all I can tell Ashton tomorrow is that I am willing, and I hope that he will be too. That together we can offer the world the kind of hope it so desperately needs this dark night. That as advent begins, we can sit in the lament that is not without hope. That we will wait expectantly for the One who will right all wrongs, but as we wait we will act. And we will not move away from the pain and hard conversations and work, but towards it. 

Voice and Sabbatical

I wake beneath low grey skies, the chair still on the front porch growing soggy under drizzly rain that quickly turns past drizzle straight into downpour. Ducking beneath my hooded jacket, I dash to the van gripping Caden, insistent on coming along and still in his footie pajamas. We drive with wipers squeaking to pick up one of the boys, who apparently decided he would rather sleep in. Air escapes loudly as I turn around to drive back home, only to the phone buzzing and his pleading for me to turn back around because he's awake now. Back home, we eat pancakes and I climb over piled laundry and shove aside dishes to hurry everyone to church. Children leave puzzles strewn and legos stab underfoot. And I cant help but think it's no-wonder so many of us moms feel voiceless, hoarse. Laryngitis setting in from asking the same things again and again. And sometimes I wonder if anyone hears me, ever. 
I've decided to take a break from this space for the holiday season. I will probably return afterwards, but I'm not positive right now. I feel like I'm not sure what to say these days, and I'm not sure anyone is listening anyways. Which probably means mostly that I need time to refocus myself on Jesus and to stop watching the waves. And maybe to re-discover my voice.

I love all of you and hope and pray that the next month is drenched in peace and joy, with family and friends and community that surrounds and uplifts.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Very Es-lusive Things

A few years ago, we went to the Dominican Republic with some dear friends of ours. We stayed at a cheap all-inclusive resort which was amazing and lovely, but sometimes we took a timeshare tour so we could go over to the nice side of the resort for the day (they had mojitos). On said tour, the guide continually pointed out all the very ES-LUSIVE things, in particular the es-lusive car-al (exclusive coral). Ever since then, Adam and I have taken to referring to things as es-lusive.

This week, we went back to the Dominican with my family (my parents and sisters and their other halfs), but we stayed in a decidedly es-lusive location. I mean: personal chef and live-in maid in a private villa on a golf-course overlooking the ocean.  And, of course, mojitos.

I believe these approximately one million pictures have sufficiently demonstrated how strongly I wish we were immediately back in our villa (how quickly I become adjusted to a certain lifestyle), instead of trapped in the polar vortex which apparently engulfed Atlanta while we were gone.

Also, in case any of our supporters feel worried that we are spending all the money they send on lavish vacations, this particular vacay is courtesy of my amazingly generous parents. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Flying and Reading (occasionally simultaneously)

What I should be doing: packing. What I'm doing instead: editing pictures until sweet forever. Sheesh.

Tomorrow we leave for our highly anticipated trip to the Dominican Republic with the whole family (us and our kids, my sisters and their other halves, and my parents). Do you notice the best part about that list? Our kids are the only children, which means many hands makes light work. And I might even get to read a book or two. 
That said, I am currently tragically unable to locate my kindle. I have been buying/finding lots of actual books lately so I can add them to the library; however, I always like to have the kindle along when I travel (which is rarely) so that I will never be suddenly and terribly book-less. 
Here are the books I'm bringing for reading on the airplane and by the pool/beach (sigh, I cannot wait for this. seriously. i'm about to be as bad as Caden who has thrown approximately seventy-eight temper tantrums today because he wants to go the beach RIGHT NOW):

How to be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
Yes, Please - Amy Poehler
not in my suitcase: Cold Tangerines -- one of the casualties of reading everything too quickly. 
Speaking of flying, we flew kites in the part the other day. I was hoping for blue skies with those white kites; but it turns out my children (and the neighborhood kiddos) could care less about such things. 
 Caden, full-on temper-trantrum mode right here. He wanted to go home immediately.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why You Should Care About Ebola (Really)

This July, my aunt got married in Sierra Leone where her (now) husband lives, and where she works for literacy. Afterwards, she flew back to her home in Michigan with plans for her new husband to join soon thereafter. I smile over the pictures she sends: her cheeks flush radiant with laughter, and his grin spreading wide across his face. Her creamy complexion and ivory dress dance against his deep brown skin and navy African garb; she tells us the minister speaks of Rebekah and Isaac, from different lands meeting after a long journey.

Now they are still continents apart, plans for him to leave Sierra Leone thwarted by Ebola, and her tickets to go back to him cancelled for the same reason. A disease not, for them, simply a distant and vaguely unsettling theory but a harrowing daily reality. Knowing people changes things. Loving them changes everything.

We do not know, so it feels impossible to love. Instead, we continue to build false ideologies where us gets pitted against them, and what happens on the other side of the world is really none of our concern.

A few weeks ago, in the process of curating some links (which is how I like to describe the process because it sounds very fancy) for y’all, I stumbled across a link called “Why you should care about ebola.” I copied and pasted it to my blog post to comb through more fully, mostly included because I couldn't bring myself to ignore something that obviously loomed so huge. However, when I read through the article fully, I realized that the gist of the message was this: you should care because it will eventually come to America.

Hmm, I thought: that’s not what I meant.

I deleted the link; choosing to keep silent instead. Neither posture correctly nor fully expresses my heart.

My silence lingers, mostly because it’s easier; but also because I have the luxury of spending most of my time not thinking about ebola or any other health (or human) crisis on some distant shore.

Because rest assured, a crisis exists, and it does not lie in isolated incidences of ebola here in the United States. Our country comes equipped with the ability to contain and fight this disease. Even maybe to come up (now) with a cure, a vaccination.

But I fear for a place where the resources are less, and those that do exist dwindle more rapidly as ebola spreads and takes lives and resources from other desperate needs in this country. Adam sat down with my aunt last week, and she told him how the hospitals in Sierra Leone are shut-down to anyone not infected with ebola. Which means people are dying, not just from ebola, but from other things they cannot get proper treatment for like infections and childbirth.

My aunt Jo explains how she asked her new husband, “Is this as bad as the war?” He said, “During the war we knew the enemy; now we fear everyone. During the war we could gather and find comfort with each other; now we separate ourselves. During the war we could escape to the hills or find a safe place; now we are confined to our homes to wait.

Of course these stories pierce our hearts, we cannot allow them not to. The problem is that we feel helpless, we know we can do nothing in the midst of such ordinary lives here. We busy ourselves worrying about our own children, about surviving sleepless nights and toddler temper tantrums. Fear creeps in easy, and ignoring helps keep it at bay.

After Mike Brown and the ensuing events, I ended up watching a video of another police shooting soon afterwards (which I can no longer seem to track down). Quite frankly, I remain rattled by what I saw. My bones quake when I recognize how completely we have forgotten the important truth that lives matter. That life, no matter who it belongs to, beats sacred because of the One who breathed it. That pro-life simply must extend both past birth and beyond our reach. I dont think we can call ourselves Christ-followers and fail to find-our-knees and open our hearts and selves to those who are unlike us.

Because we are not called to fear contagion, but to love compassion.

To love compassion reaches out and touches those who are hurting. The ones everyone else has shut out and declared unclean. And the truth is that it’s messy, easier left unsaid and well-enough-alone. But just as Christ offered His hands as instruments of peace and healing, I think we need to stretch out. To recognize the ways we can enter into suffering even from across the globe, and not just when the suffering comes to us.

I dont have answers or solutions, or even ways to make it happen. But I am hopeful that the church is not dying like they say, but shifting. And that we will become known as a people who love radical and deep. Who love compassion and justice enough to fight for every drop of life in every corner of the globe.

If you’re interested in helping, I would be more than happy to chat with you about that and point you in the right direction, in collaboration with my aunt (who is far more knowledgable regarding the situation and lives than I am). Please email me or leave a comment here anytime. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Unconventional Driving Tour of Vietnam

Every once in a while, I reminisce on my life before kids and inner-city-ministry-chaos. It involved a different kind of chaos, one which I muse over and described a little bit for my friend Sarah's travel series. 
(Also, what a great title, right? I take no credit. I have the most creative friends.
What seems like multiple-lifetimes ago, I used to travel to Asia several times a year for work. Visiting bustling trade shows and towering factories, picking out the perfect pottery and glass designs. For those of you who know me and my life now, this might seem like such an incongruous picture that it’s hard to believe. I completely agree. . . 

(read the rest by heading over to Sarah's blog - A Life with Subtitles

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Celebrating Halloween

This post, quite honestly, might have been easier to write before actual halloween happened. And all its lovely/terrible chaos and meltdowns and cold-sprinkly rain. The main problem was that Captain Hook was so-awfully grouchy. Epic grouchiness, which I suppose we should have expected from a pirate. We then combined a grouchy-pirate with many, many neighborhood children and their younger siblings along with their mentors. Add in hot dogs and smores and wild tire swings and rain that makes the back-yard bonfire decidedly less-fun. And I'll just go ahead and tell you, Peter Pan was not happy.

BESIDES all of that, though, we generally love halloween around these parts. Partly because it offers Adam a great excuse to be weird and make everyone laugh at his craziness, which is absolutely his favorite thing (See exhibits A, B, and C).

Beyond Adam's opportunity to be ridiculous, we love halloween for the ways it brings together our neighborhood. I love a chance to be for something, to be for handing out treats and hugs, and walking together down cracked sidewalks hand-in-hand. For meeting new neighbors and laughing with old ones. For knocking on all the doors, and offering hugs from Tinkerbell and Captain Hook in exchange for mini-snickers bars.
 Yes, he is a real Marine and we could not be prouder of him.
 Caden wore this same chicken costume three halloweens ago, still my heart.
Kids dance around in their costumes and knock on our door into inappropriately late hours of the night. The rag-tag crew all peers around the corner past the bowl of candy to say hi to Adam and I shush them because our own kids have collapsed into bed with post-sugar-crashes hours ago. They all remind me of their names (even though I insist I remember, of course!) because they moved away; but came back to trick-or-treat and knew we would have candy. Actually, we dont, but I steal some
for them from my own kids' stashes, because isnt that what tonight is all about?

Tonight is a chance to learn not to be afraid of others. To embrace the teenagers without costumes and the kids in Jason masks, the neighbors we know and the ones we dont. To share bounty and tiny candy bars abundantly.
 Not to mention, seeing your children dressed in the cutest costumes in all the land.
So we know that the chaos and craziness of this many children who are boxers and princesses, and grown-ups wearing bumblebee costumes and cat-ears, we know the chaos tonight is ok. Even if this is far less than half the group, and they all end up coming inside later because of the rain. And even if the house is a disaster because someone had to sew herself a peter pan hat and therefore had no time for cleaning up the place.
Because that's why I love Halloween, it really just comes down to throwing open our doors to whoever knocks. To building community in small and big ways by walking down streets together, to crossing the street with Mr. Smee, and introducing yourself to the neighbors who just moved in. 


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