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. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

First, Be Not Afraid

The most afraid I've ever been was sitting beside Caden's bed-space in the cicu. I watched his actual heart beating through what looked for all the world like saran wrap. His tiny heart squeezed a unique rhythm while chest tubes bubbled gently and machines beeped wildly. The nurses and doctors spoke mostly in a hush, bringing me warm blankets as I shivered with more than just cold. The arc of our days grew familiar and even now faintly distant, but I never quite got over the fear. Even today, writing about it, my own heart flutters. Staring down the barrel of the very real possibility of my worst fear realized, I was terrified.
Facing losing my son, I had no choice but to walk it all the way through. To ask myself what if Caden does die? Then who will God be? And this was not a question easily answered. I wrestled hard and long, fighting with my fears and doubts to come away with a tiny kernel, somewhere deep in my gut, believing God would still be good no matter what the outcome.

Even still, I have to fight for that kernel, to protect the tiny seed deep inside that somehow holds fast to His goodness despite evidence to the contrary. I hold it close as I wrestle through how to live in our neighborhood (and country) unafraid, how to love my neighbor as myself, how to speak with dignity and tell the truth, to believe the truth, heck - to live the truth. I wrestle and walk away with a limp every single time. Because there are no easy answers.

The problem with a life motto of “resist the simple narrative,” is that you must resist it on both sides of the story. It requires acknowledging no easy answers. Admitting that the equation cannot simply be compassion versus fear. I've learned in my own experience of opening our doors and hearts to the marginalized that sometimes it's just not smart. Vulnerability equals the possibility of hurt. And sometimes it honestly costs us much. Regardless, we want to live our lives with a policy that's not rooted in security cameras and burglar bars, but open doors and knowing our neighbors. And not because those things mean we will not be robbed. But because if we are robbed, God is still good and he is still on the throne.

Letting fear win means mostly that I lose. Because I believe so deeply in God’s goodness, I am certain that He will rescue the refugees with or without our help. He will redeem things (somehow, because His imagination is far greater than mine) like gun violence and terrorism. He will stand up for the marginalized and make sure our neighbors know they are loved.

But what, I wonder, if we are here for such a time as this? What if this is our chance to find ourselves on the right side of history? Adam and I talk often about how much we hope we would have been part of the underground railroad, that we would have been bold enough to march with King. We wonder if we would have been brave enough to hide Jews from the nazis. We discuss the ways we hope we would have stood on the side of history where we think Jesus would have. And I told Adam the other day, I’m not convinced we wont still have a chance to choose a side during our lifetime. Perhaps right now.

The thing I learned in the cicu (well one of the things I learned), was to walk my fear all the way through. To ask myself the really hard questions. What if we do let terrorists into our country? What if we open our doors to neighborhood kids and we get robbed? Or my children get hurt? What if we lay down our guns and then our safety is threatened?

Then what?

Sitting with those questions, that is where I find myself burrowing deeper in search of the seed I’ve cupped close and watered carefully that says He is still good. From that seed grows peace, and the unshakeable ability to trust in standing for what is right and good, even (or especially) when I am afraid.

Because peace comes often in the most unexpected places and ways. Caden's bedside in the cicu was scary, yes, but also the most peaceful and holy place I have ever found myself. The Lord who draws near to the brokenhearted and poor reminds us again and again be not afraid. Not because things aren't scary, but because we can still have peace even when they are. Because peace does not depend on outcomes, but on the character of God.

Monday, December 7, 2015

How to help your kids be less selfish

Every year, right around this time, I start getting lovely emails from lovely folks who want to know how they can help (side note: I love getting these emails, please don’t stop sending them). What impoverished children can they buy Christmas toys? Can they bring their kids to serve a meal? They desire to teach their kids selflessness and generosity, to help them cultivate hearts of gratitude over greed. So they’re hoping to come down one morning and perhaps hand out toys or serve food to homeless people.
I both agree and sympathize so deeply with the moms who email me. I GET trying so desperately hard not to lose sight of the Truest things in the bustle of the holiday season. I long for my children to grow up compassionate and empathetic. Kind, rather than simply nice. They are bombarded by gifts from loving aunts and uncles and grandparents, not to mention Adam and I who have a penchant for impulse buys. Their tree often overflows, and their greed seems to grow likewise, until it seemingly knows no bounds. I mostly despair at this point, and threaten to cancel Christmas or perhaps give away every last one of their toys to kids in Africa. Because this is a reasonable and practical solution. And so, of course, packing a shoebox or serving food at a homeless shelter feels not just like a nice gesture but a necessary step in preventing my children from turning out as serial killers or stars of their own reality television show. The problem is that a once-a-year service project cannot be enough. It’s better than nothing, of course; however, I don’t want my standard as a parent left simply at “better than nothing.”

Read the rest over at my friend Kristen's place: We Are THAT Family 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent and Waiting

And He who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21:5)

My opa lies on a bed in hospice, his breaths slow. Pregnant pauses between breaths bear the fullness of time. The fullness of a life lived well and complete, somehow not yet begun.

We wait for news, the break between breaths interminable.

The leaves are brittle and tremble in the wind, scooping light and dropping it into the breeze. They hold tremulous to life as winter approaches. The sun sets ever-lower.

Knowing the truth of heaven after death, or of spring after winter, doesn't always stop the dread in its coming.

And so we wait for death.

And for life.

Because in the fullness of time, He came. And in the fullness of time, He will come again.

Opa is a writer and a man of great faith. Years ago he wrote these words and I cling to their promise today: We must never be discouraged. Nothing is so bad that God cannot make it good. And nothing is so old that God cannot make it new.

So as I wait, taking heart in the faith of one drawing near to the end of a race well-run. One whose slow shuddering breaths are pregnant with the closeness of seeing Jesus. The one for whom we all wait is waiting for him, waiting with arms wide to make him new.

edited: I wrote this last night; this morning, opa's wait is over. For those of us here, we still wait, and so we are sad at our loss. But I am reminded in this season of advent that we will not wait forever, and so I sit in anticipation under the promise that he makes all things new.

Soon it will be revealed that God has given us a new name and a new country - the land of hope and glory. 

Excerpts are from opa's book: Daylight (Andrew Kuyvenhoven)


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