Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Isaiah's Nursery

To be honest, the nursery is actually not-quite-finished. But I posted a little picture of it over on Instagram today, and folks had all-the-questions about the fabulous shelves Adam made (of course he did). If I'm continuing with the whole honesty-thing, I don't actually have a lot of answers for you, because I basically just told Adam what I wanted and he crafted them using what I think might be magic. That said, I took some close-up pictures for you, and made Adam promise to give more details asap (although his list of "guest posts" on the blog is getting quite long, so I might have to figure out how to make it worth his while). 

Without further ado, I present way too many pictures of baby Isaiah's small bedroom. Also, I'll try and update when I put on the finishing touches, so stay tuned!
The whole room basically evolved from this print by one of my favorite artists, Emily Jeffords. If only we had all-the-money and I could have bought a bigger print. 

I found two large pieces of old door frame at one of my favorite little antique shops (Christine's Creations), and snatched up because that chippy paint in just the right color? Swoon. Then I asked Adam to make it into book and art ledges, which he whipped out using (as I mentioned) magic probably. 
Here's how it looks from the side, if that helps any of the DIYers out there. Again, I promise I'll try and cajole Adam into a more detailed explanation. 
Adam made these shelves for the room too, and they're just basically pieces of wood painted white and basic brackets from home depot spray painted with a matte gold. 
The glider, pillow, and rug are all from West Elm (thanks mom!), and that fuzzy white "sheepskin" is from Ikea, as is the lamp. Adam made the toybox (again, of course he did), and the magazine rack and crate/end table are from flea markets and antique stores.
Adam and Zack painted Jayci's room white, but we decided to keep the green chalkboard. The dresser is a hand-me-down from all three baby rooms, and Jayci and I did the art collaboratively (which means I tried not to freak out that it wasnt perfect). 
All three of our kids have one of these sweet sock monkeys from SockMonkeySupply, which are both well-loved and adorable.
The awesome sign is from House of Belonging. Related: I want to cover my entire house in their signs. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

FAQ: But why do you have to actually live there?

Nearly five years ago, we were in the midst of renovating a house downtown. I was also pregnant with Caden, with Jayci smack-dab in the midst of her terrible twos. And so I decided we desperately needed to sign her up for "preschool” (ok daycare) a few days a week. We didn't know how long the moving process would take, but knew we wouldn't (hopefully) be in Marietta much longer, which is why we decided to find a preschool downtown, closer to our new home. Not knowing the area well yet, we simply found two preschools with good reputations and reviews. One of the two was a well-known Christian preschool, while the other was a secular one in a Montessori-ish style. Both fell inside a “nice” neighborhood about 15 minutes from our new house. We visited both preschools, explaining our situation and what we wanted to do downtown, and asked if they had any openings. The two schools offered us very different responses. At the Christian preschool, we were met with incredulity and alarm that we would be moving our child into such a “terrible” neighborhood. In fact, they asked us why we couldn't just drive in from a nicer area of the city, or perhaps remain in the suburbs. At the secular school, they offered us a full scholarship because they were so inspired and encouraged by the work we were doing. I will let you guess which school we chose.
We get this question surprisingly often, particularly from a certain set who are concerned for our safety:

But why do you have to actually LIVE there?

For about five years of doing ministry, we didn't actually live here. We found ourselves in the city several times a week, every single week during those years. Driving downtown for Bible studies, for “sidewalk Sunday school,” for church, for picking up the boys we mentored, for picnic lunches in the housing projects, and for Saturday afternoon games of kickball. We would spend a few hours a week in the car driving back and forth, and occasionally would bring the boys to our suburban neighborhood for the weekend. But every time we dropped the kiddos back off at their homes, every time we told them “we love you and care about you, and good luck with all this,” before driving back to our sweet little house on a quiet street where we got HOA letters regularly telling us we needed to cut the grass, something niggled at our hearts. We felt less than authentic, a disconnect somehow growing between our words and our actions. We said we cared about their education and their doctor appointments and their housing crisis (Atlanta was tearing down the projects during this time), but it was hard to tell if that was really true. After all, we always had the choice to leave (truthfully, we still have that choice, which of course is another post for another day).

So the annoying niggling at our hearts combined with a voracious appetite for reading all we could about community development and inner-city ministry, and we stumbled onto the work of CCDA (Christian Community Development Association). CCDA builds around the three R's, the first one being relocation (living where you minister). Which meant we were trying to accomplish the subsequent steps of reconciliation and redistribution while skipping the first one, a nearly impossible task.

I've written more about the idea of relocation before in my posts on Intentional Neighboring (part 1 and part 2), but here's a quick recap for anyone who missed it: “Living the gospel means desiring for your neighbor and your neighbor’s family that which you desire for yourself and your family” (Perkins). Only by joining a community do a community’s needs become your own. Living the gospel means sharing the suffering and pain of others, and relocation transforms “you, them, and theirs,” to “we, us, and ours.”

Because we live here, it matters to us that there is no nearby grocery store. The idea of a food desert takes on a whole new meaning when it personally affects shopping for and feeding my own family. It matters to us that the local school system is failing these kids, because it is failing our own kids too. When there are shootings, or gang outbreaks, or teenagers getting pregnant, we have “skin in the game” so-to-speak, and we know from experience that sometimes (unfortunately) we cannot move our hearts fully until we are affected personally. When we are not fighting “for” someone, but instead fighting alongside them, an important and discernible shift happens in both of our hearts. No longer do we have to carry the mantle (which we were never intended to carry) of “white savior” or someone who comes in from outside to fix everything; instead we lay claim to the far more gentle and true titles of neighbors and friends who care about one another in real and lasting ways.

Another facet to our decision to move downtown was rooted in our desire for community. We had simply never seen anyone who lived in community and solidarity the way we experienced among the people in the housing projects in Atlanta. They watched out for each other's kids, they shared meals, shared space, shared everything. If it wasn't for the poverty and violence that lingered as surely as the smell of grease and smoke of various kinds, the whole thing would have been frankly idyllic. When someone got evicted, their neighbor took them in, regardless of how few extra square feet they had to spare. Apartments overflowed as people shared what they had in ways that reminded me of, and pointed me towards Jesus time and time again. Vague embarrassment and unease blossomed in my deepest places when we went home to our two extra empty bedrooms and the formal dining room we ate in perhaps once every two or three weeks. Three bathrooms and four bedrooms suddenly seemed downright wasteful, rather than simply the framework of a starter-house on the stepping stones of the American Dream.

This all leans, of course, more complicated than it sounds. Because no matter how often I check my heart and motivations, and no matter how quickly I repent of my belief that I can fix or save anything, they creep insidiously back in. Cultural barriers stand in opposition to the kind of friendships I dream of, and I will always be the one who chose this life, rather than the one who simply needed a place that accepted my section 8 voucher. We have the resources to drive to the closest grocery store for our food, and to send our kids to a nearby charter school.

And please don't hear me saying that you cannot serve or love folks in the city without living here. We did ministry for years that involved driving downtown weekly, and building very real relationships with people in ways that deepened our faith and stretched us in so many ways. I just think that without finding ourselves smack-dab in the center of a community of people who look nothing like us, we would miss out on so much of the Kingdom. On reciprocal relationships, where our neighbors bring us big boxes of diapers in Walmart bags and snuff out their joints before climbing the front steps to deliver them. On laughing around the table over whether or not we should eat our chickens, and what Adam should garden next. On neighbor after neighbor returning our little runaway dog tucked under an arm with a laugh while I apologize profusely. And every single time that these connections deepen and grow, we find ourselves staring at the Kingdom of God lived out in real life. Because God promises that the Kingdom is for all nations and all tongues, and we will mostly be surrounded by people who don't look exactly like us. Jesus came with a heart tuned to the poor and marginalized, and the longer we stand arm-in-arm with those closest to Jesus' heart, the more we understand the ways of this upside down Kingdom and the servant King who leads it.

More FAQ posts, for anyone who is interested:
-School Choices in an Urban Neighborhood (part 1 and part 2)
-Do you ever just want to move back to the suburbs?
-Aren't you afraid?
-What about adoption?
-How do you budget for food?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Weekend Reading List

I have unfortunately been spending some extra time in courthouses and trying to navigate jail mail and visitation without appearing too clueless (I am), so I've been reading and thinking through some things about prison/jail/sentencing etc over the last few weeks. I just finished reading Chasing the Scream, which takes a look at the War on Drugs. It was fascinating, whether or not I agreed completely with all the conclusions ultimately drawn. 
A few more articles that caught my eye surrounding prison and pipelines and systems and actual humans caught in the middle of it all: 
A Lament for Sandra Bland and For Me - Red Letter Christians
Born Suspect - Sojourners
Also, did anyone see that Obama visited a federal prison, making him the first ever president to do so? (side note: this seems unbelievable to me, how have no presidents ever visited a federal prison before now?

President Barack Obama Visits El Reno Federal Correctional Ins...
President Barack Obama became the first president to visit a federal prison on Thursday, touring the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.
I also just started reading Go Set a Watchman, and really loved my friend Megan's thoughts on Why You Should Still Read Go Set a Watchman over at Sarah Bessey's blog. I can think of few things more complicated than racial reconciliation and attitudes surrounded these issues, so I think complications raised by this book only make the whole thing more real.  

A few more good reads:
What if Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?
I, Racist
The Rule of Life  - DL Mayfield
Tell Me What To Do - Austin Channing

And this music video from Gungor: I love it.
Light - Official Music Video
Introducing our homemade video of "Light." With moments from Lucie's birth and love sent from all around the world the night before her second heart surgery.
Posted by Gungor 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Night Terrors

Last night the lightening just begins its flickering, with echoes of distant thunder rolls following, when I tuck the kids into bed. Adam's fifth day out of town, on his third week gone this summer, and I wearily heave myself into my bed hoping against hope that both kids might miraculously stay in their beds for once. Minutes later, rain pours over the eaves and my eyes flutter closed just in time for the pitter patter of steps and a tremulous mommy? I roll over, and Jayci explains she looked out the window and saw two of our chickens stuck outside of the coop in the thunderstorm. They'll be fine, I assure her. We even call daddy to confirm. But thirty minutes and much sobbing later, I sigh and we pull on our rain coats and boots as lightening flashes and rain pounds the ground.

I'm not touching the chicken though, I tell her.

No offense mommy, but it kind of makes me think you're a scaredy cat that you're afraid of chickens, she replies.

We dash through the rain and Jayci safely deposits the admittedly sad hen back into the shelter of her coop. After toweling off and climbing back into respective beds, I check the clock (11:24pm), as loud thunder cracks and Jayci and Caden dash to my bed.

Later, both kids lay tucked quiet in their cozy yellow bunk beds. The thunder rolls distant grumbles, and rain falls gentle instead of harsh. I am startled awake at 1:30am (and again at 3:45 if we're keeping count) by the kind of shriek from Caden that can only mean he has not been awakened by a scary dream; but rather is still trapped in the mire of one. I roll awkwardly out of bed, and try to rush to get him before he wakes up Jayci. My waddling, however, is not fast enough, and basically the night is a wash of not sleeping and Caden flailing and Jayci complaining and by the time the sun peeks over the horizon, I am done.

I yell at Jayci and Caden more this morning than I have perhaps in all nearly-seven-years of parenthood combined. And then spend a few hours berating myself, before collapsing exhausted back into bed while the kids watch strings of television shows that I at least hope might be considered semi-educational.

The pure physicality of this pregnancy has kept me mostly out of my head. Dealing with contractions and nausea and aches and pains has meant strings of days with plodding, but little space for reflection. Some really hard stuff that I'm still not sure how to talk about, and processing it all while my husband is out of town has meant many hormone-filled tear-fests which mostly involve me feeling oh-so-sorry for myself. I count down the days until the kids go back to school. And it's like a punch to the gut every time I see another mom post on social media about how much they cant stand thinking about their kids going back to school, and how much they will miss spending all this quality time together.

The tape begins: If only I was more like that mom. My poor children. I'm not cut out for this whole motherhood thing obviously. What am I thinking adding a third child to the mix? 

Loneliness sits heavy over my shoulders, and anxiousness creeps into all my cracked places. I realize I'm still working in the job I started ten years ago, just until I figure out what I want to do with my life. And I feel lost somehow in the midst of living exactly the life I want, and wondering how to get out of it.

I keep trying to remember that I'm hormonal, and I'm tired, and I'm very-very pregnant and taking care of two small children solo. I keep trying to give myself grace, and stumbling into comparison instead. I hear on repeat the familiar echo that I am not enough. I want to be one who stand certain of who God created her to be, and who can rest in the ways that God has gifted and formed her. I want to teach my children to love boldly and live secure in their identities. But I'm not sure I'm doing that, currently, because I cant seem to swallow that truth for my own life.

I realize this post leans self-indulgent, perhaps, and maybe a little worrisome. But what, I wonder, does it look like to be honest about where we are? About how shaky the ground feels sometimes, how much we need to be held by a Savior who says I know to all our deepest fears.

When Caden has a night terror, I hold him close to my chest, even as he kicks against me and screams that he wants his mommy. His heart gallops and mine follows suit. We both cry, and I walk the dark hall, willing him to find his way out of whatever terror grips him.

My own fear wraps tight around me, and I push against the Savior who holds me close, even as I cry out for Him. I kick and flail and forget that I am already safe. The world I've imagined feels more real than what is true. I want to relax safe in the arms of a Father who loves and holds me close as our hearts beat in tandem. But the moment of relaxing is a mystery, for Caden and for me. There's no rhyme or reason. No trick that works every time to pull from fear to peace, no song or prayer or soothing or simply leaving alone.

And so I remain in the mystery. I try to work out how to relax into the arms of a Savior and trust His plans for me, and for the ones I love the most. But all the while, I know He holds me and He loves me, and for today and for tomorrow that will be enough. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

For the Smallest Stanley

Dear Little One -

In just five short weeks, we will get to see you for real. Not on an ultrasound, or through feet stuck hard in my side, but in an actual little bundle that cries and eats and has a certain color of eyes and hair. This feels unbelievable, both because I cannot imagine keeping you contained inside of me for five more weeks, and because I cannot fathom how quickly these nine months have passed. You certainly haven’t made things easy on me this pregnancy, buddy. Not that I blame you; after all, you had to do something to get my attention in the busy chaos of life around here. But these months of nausea and contractions and not-sleeping have made me focus more on resting when I need to rest. On taking care of myself and your big brother and sister, even if it means shutting our front door and asking the neighborhood kiddos to come back later.

Speaking of your big brother and sister, I am so excited for you to meet them. Caden will make you laugh, for sure. Our little minion, he loves bananas and jokes, along with every single sport. He’s silly and funny and quite crazy, while still remaining astonishingly shy around everyone besides family. Jayci cannot wait to take care of you, and not just because she adores being in charge of people (she does). Every night she whispers how much she loves you to my belly, and prays that you will grow big and strong and come out soon. Caden also leans in for a kiss, only to exclaim that you kicked him in the head, which I dont doubt.

We settled on a name for you a few weeks ago, and thought to keep it a secret until your arrival; except we told your big brother and sister, forgetting that nothing stays secret with them. And so now people know, and we can start calling you by name: Isaiah Andrew.

Isaiah has long been a favorite for me, the book of the Bible that inspires and changes me on every reading. Remind me when you get bigger, and I’ll tell you the story of how I claimed Isaiah 58:11 as my life verse in high school. And then how I learned about context, and about the rest of Isaiah 58 as God expanded our hearts for the neighborhood and folks we live and love these days.

I think of your namesake, of Isaiah the prophet. And I cant help but think that maybe we need more prophetic and poetic voices in today’s world. Ones that neither fear rebuke nor seek fame, but who faithfully proclaim the Truth and point people to Jesus in creative and imaginative ways. I pray you will always find yourself able to resist the simple narrative. That you will find yourself able to push past the noise of social media and headlines and even the religious chatter of the day, in order to find the still small voice that speaks Truth and whispers in your ear: this is the way, walk in it.

In Hebrew the meaning of the name Isaiah is: The Lord is generous; Salvation of the Lord; God's helper. I pray whispered prayers over you every day that you will remember the Truths of your namesake. That the Lord's generosity will always be on your lips and knit into your heart. That His salvation will cover you, and that you might live your life poured out to Him.

My instinct is to shield you from the hard stuff, to make sure you never get hurt, that you never fall or tumble. But the places we live and love in have taught us that the hard stuff often means the best stuff. That beauty snakes through even the darkest corners, and that we cant quite separate joy from pain. So instead I pray that you might be the kind of man who gets hurt and then lets God heal. Who chooses to follow a Jesus who does not lead you down the easy path or up the ladder of success. That instead you will move towards the hurting and the margins, and find there the surprising beauty of life unexpected: the adventure of following Jesus even, or especially, when it’s not easy.

You daddy and I aren’t perfect, you should go ahead and know that up front. Although honestly it probably wont take you long to figure that out. Just yesterday, I found myself in tears because I just needed to be alone and your brother and sister apparently have no intentions of ever allowing that. And then once they were finally both asleep, you started your nightly workout routine, tumbling and kicking and lodging yourself under my ribs while simultaneously pressing on my bladder. I’m learning that motherhood often means choosing the harder things in ways that stretch and mold me. But it also means recognizing the ways I fall short, and the places I cannot fill. And I pray that my frailty will point you to His strength. That you will come to recognize the face of the Father as one who loves you more completely and deeply than Adam and I ever can. That we will do the very best that we can, but that ultimately the greatest gift we can give you lies in surrendering you to His care.

I love you my sweet little Isaiah Andrew, and I cannot wait to meet you. For now, keep resting and growing and kicking and squirming. The Lord knits you together in Christ and for Christ, and I am merely blessed to be a part of the process.



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