Friday, December 30, 2016

In-the-Between

Between Christmas and the New Year is mostly suspended animation. No school, warm temperatures and rowdy kids filling the streets, waiting in lines to return the things that don't fit quite right, filling our time with "fun family activities" while silently counting the days until school starts back up for the new semester.

The message of Christmas, I suppose, came mostly in an emptying, the swelling and birthing as an emptying of divinity for the sake of our souls. And yet, we have spent the season scurrying around doing the opposite. Filling our calendar and our trees and our stockings with all the things we think we need or mostly just want. We fill and fill, and I am sick to death of all the ways I stack things under the tree whose branches grow limp and needles pepper our floor with spikes. I am snappy and grouchy and my fingers itch with the impulse to buy more things for delivery right to my turquoise front door. Adam is out of town and I yell at my children, words I cannot even bear to repeat as I imagine the ways they have torn holes in Jayci’s soul. I apologize and she apologizes, and I fear the worst for all the brokenness that never gets hidden by all my doing and buying.

Cookies for neighbors, thank-you gifts for donors, and Christmas cards for everyone, complete with a smiling picture with Zack holding Jayci while Isaiah laughs, and Caden’s hair grows a touch too long over his eyes. Our life is full, we declare, and it is true; except I have forgotten the emptying. And I feel empty, but not the good kind. More like hollow. Like we only missed one Advent reading all season, which is somewhat of a miracle, and yet we may have missed the whole point.


We busy ourselves soliciting year-end donations we desperately need, and coordinating gift-giving for all the folks who have an abundance and feel charitable this time of the year; after all, we know intimately all the ones who have the need and so we straddle both worlds, us stretched thin between.

We bring the gifts to their apartment and I hope that no one notices the fancy Mercedes we park outside. You’re giving out gifts? someone yells, we need some too! I laugh and joke that these kid-clothes won’t fit her and sorry, before trudging up sagging steps and pushing open the door without a knob. And there are grand-kids and cousins bursting at the seams upstairs, leaving hand-prints on the walls while grease bubbles on the stove, and they want to know which gift is for them. There’s never going to be enough to fix the whole broken world.

Which, of course, is why we need the one who broke Himself to fix the world. The emptied womb to fill us all and save us all and forgive us all.

Christmas is already gone. Another year spent with the getting and giving and gifting, and we pack it all up to haul back into the attic in red and green plastic bins.

And so we will try in this new year to live differently, to start with the death and the emptying and live backwards to the birth and forwards to the resurrection simultaneously. We will make the kind of choices everyone calls crazy, because perhaps the thing we really need in a world gone mad is a different way of doing everything. To empty instead of fill; to say no instead of yes, and to say yes when instinct demands we say no.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mary's Song

She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger  -Luke 2:7
Her new baby wails tiny mews through barely open eyes, she shushes him and wraps her cloak against the cold while he suckles noisily at her breast. Her uterus contracts and blood stains mar the straw beneath them, a reminder of the messy ways life wrestles itself into the world. Eventually she hands baby Jesus to Joseph, who wraps him tightly in swaddling cloths expertly, his arms pinned to his side and his lips sucking while he sleeps. Joseph presses his lips to Jesus’s wrinkly forehead, his scratchy beard making his son’s eyes twitch and nose scrunch. Mary gazes quietly with joy over her son, with unknowing and knowing, with fear and hope, and with the kind of expectancy that brims with all the promise of new life. Finally they all three recline and surrender to sleep beneath the holy noisy peace that night.

Everything is ordinary and extraordinary all at once, just like for every new parent; Mary's muscles sore and hearts full from the excruciating joy of birthing something new. The weary parents wake too soon to baby coos and the bleats of lambs carried by shepherds, arriving with angel songs on their lips. They are unlikely subjects for an unlikely King, for the son she swelled with and carried and broke herself open to bring forth. She nestles Jesus closer into her still-soft young curves, bending herself into the crook of Joseph’s arms while the donkeys bray and the stars blink bright overhead like one million times the sky failed to contain the brilliance of heaven.

Mary breaks off a piece of unleavened bread and gives thanks for the scandal tucked in the crook of her arm and the man snoring beside her who married her anyways. She glances over and locks eyes with her donkey and offers thanks for the things that carried her through, as stubborn and grouchy as they might be. She slips her shoulder from her blanket as Jesus blinks his eyes open. She imagines she sees herself in the slant of his nose, in the particular shade of his brown eyes set beneath thick dark brows. She strokes the down on his cheeks, follows the curve of them down his neck, wondering if she sees his Father’s wisdom set behind his eyes trained somewhat unsteadily on her face. Wonders if perhaps it’s his Father she discovers in the perfection of his tiny fingers and toes, He who she notes in the strength of his wail. She smiles lightly and winces equally in pain, lifting Jesus back to her breast and she begins a new conversation with the flesh of her flesh who has come to rescue them all.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving and Expectant Hope

We spent Thanksgiving in Chicago this year, visiting my little sister and her husband, both of whom are chefs and therefore the perfect choice for a Thanksgiving visit. On our way to Chicago, we made a quick stop in Indiana to visit the ever-lovely and gracious Shannan, whose friendship is for sure one of the best gifts that the internet has ever given me. Not to mention that our kiddos played together like well-behaved champs (Thanksgiving miracle?) and our hubbies both have impressive beards and a penchant for prison-dwellers. We ended our whirlwind cross-country trip with a stop in Michigan for my aunt's wedding celebration. The only thing that could have made our trip better was if I didn't come down with a nasty stomach bug as we were leaving Goshen that lingered for basically the whole trip, and made it near-impossible to enjoy any of the festivities. Whatever man, just my luck.
Now that we are home and my children are blessedly back in school, I am bewildered to find myself smack in the middle of the holiday season that somehow snuck right up on me. Jayci has made Christmas countdowns for the whole family, and according to her math there are only 26 days until Christmas. This must not be right, I argued, but it turns out that indeed her math skills live up to her straight 100s on her report card.

All that to say, I am desperate this year for a chance to slow down. To buy less and give more. To choose carefully which "festivities" and celebrations and holiday markets and other activities are worth our family's time and energy, and will contribute to a heart attitude of expectant waiting for our newborn King's arrival. So easily I find myself caught right up in the hustle and bustle of the season, both by default and by FOMO attending all-of-the-things; this year, however, we are trying to pare down and focus our eyes on Jesus.
That said, we are practicing Advent (or trying to anyways), and will be reading Ann Voskamp's book together as a family. True confession: we don't do the Jesse tree and ornaments, because I just cannot with the printing and cutting out and stringing up. Reading something every day seems a far more (possibly) achievable goal for our family. We are all about managing expectations around here.

I've also been paring down my online reading to spend more time between the pages of a book and less listening to political rants via Facebook. For me, there are a few trusted and wise voices that I find myself revisiting time and time again in this season. And because I love you all dearly, I wanted to share some of those voices with you here:
Shannan (obviously) - Two Kinds of Buckets
Sarah Bessey's advent newsletter and devotionals
DL Mayfield - Day 26
Kelly Nikondeha- Insistent Hope 

As one last side-note, today is #GivingTuesday, which is a way (in theory) for us to take a step back from all the busy consumption in order to give generously to people and causes and places that are close to our hearts. In practice, I feel like the whole thing is another cacophony of "advertisements" and flurries of voices insisting where we should point our money. I am weary of all the noise, and so hesitate to add my voice to the din. Instead, I'll just say that if you feel led to contribute to what we are doing in Atlanta (through our nonprofit Blueprint 58, meaning tax-deductible), you can visit our website for more information on how to do that. As always, we are honored and grateful and humbled again and again by the ways you all support and encourage and carry us on our journey.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On the Election, from a Canadian in the City

If I am going to begin anywhere, I suppose here is as good a place as any: I will not be voting today. This is because I am an immigrant, with a green card to prove it. My Canadian heritage also provides me an excuse to slip myself neatly out of election conversation and political arguments alike. (My non-voting status aside, let’s assume I lean Canadian in my political views both as a result of upbringing and the particular path my life has wrought).

Caden went back to school yesterday, not even two full weeks after his heart was wrenched open, re-plumbed, and wired shut. I was somewhat of a nervous wreck all day, reminding him of no climbing or big hugs, no wrestling, lots of water, no gym class or climbing wall. He practically rolls his eyes and pushes me out the door at drop-off, no worries in his sweet little heart over the bottom-dropping-out. A few nights ago (and then again last night) he had what seemed like a night-terror combined with a flashback to post-surgery in the hospital. It was horrifying, he sobbed for me to help him and wailed over and over how much it hurt. Jayci cried and brought him water and Adam and I stroked his forehead and whispered he was safe.

I have been struggling through Caden’s recovery the past two weeks. A combination of anxiety and cooped-up-ness has brought on a bout of depression that I can’t quite shake. The truth is that there is always always much to fear, so many things that could (and sometimes do) go wrong. I know his heart will always be a risk factor for Caden, but just as reasonably I could fret over car accidents and cancer diagnoses or perhaps which candidate will emerge victorious today.

But if I have learned anything by walking through Caden’s two very different heart surgeries it is this: there is always always going to be fear and loss, and there will always always be the overcoming of it. A friend reminded me this week that the two are not inextricable, and that God is good and holy through it all. And so the real truth is that whoever wins, whoever gets sworn in as the next president of our nation, God will not lose His throne, and we will be afforded many chances for the overcoming of fear and loss during the next four years.

That said, Adam and I have always talked about how to find ourselves on the right side of history, and we conclude that we must always side with the least powerful, the marginalized, the poor. I worry about the climate that would be fostered by subjecting our nation to a leader who leads with rhetoric of fear and hate. Who is not afraid to mock, to debase, to threaten, and to otherwise demean the very humanity of people and groups that I have to believe Jesus would choose again and again. (As a side note, I don’t believe a word he says about who he will put on the supreme court -or anywhere - because he has made it clear that his own words and promises mean nothing to him). When the neighbors who we love and choose to live in solidarity with say they are actually afraid for their lives and safety if a certain candidate wins, I can and will not ignore that. In the same breath, of course, I recognize more chances for us all to overcome fears on every single side of every single issue and debate. I see and understand and agree with many fears surrounding the future of the supreme court, and a Hillary presidency as well.

There are people who I respect and love and who are voting for Trump based primarily on the singular issue of abortion. And I am pro-life, and absolutely agree in the value of every life from the moment of conception. I just submit that if this is the only issue you are using to determine your vote, if it actually matters that much to you, than perhaps you should let that issue matter all-the-time. Volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers, write about it, lobby against it, educate teenagers about it. The number of babies that Adam and I have offered to adopt in order to dissuade girls in our neighborhood from abortions is currently four. And when girls (some of whom are basically babies themselves) decide to choose life instead of an abortion, they need lots and lots of help (I mean, I’m barely surviving motherhood and I have a degree in child development). So if we want to be citizens and voters who are known for our ethics of pro-life, then let’s live that out every day instead of once every four years. Let’s teach our children how to be pro-life by the very way we live, the ways we celebrate and fight for life and dignity for every single person every single day.

I recognize both my lack of political knowledge and my own privilege in this conversation. I am an immigrant, and I have never once been stopped or asked for my green card. When politicians discuss dangerous immigrants and refugees, about building walls, I am always certain they don’t mean Canadians (mostly because we’re so polite and kind, eh?) My life in our neighborhood with higher levels of crime and in which I am the minority is by choice, not circumstance. I can always leave. We could, quite easily, head back to my oh-so-polite homeland. But Adam insists we cannot. I get it, he said. I understand why we would want to flee. But what if he wins and then all the Trump-opposers actually leave? If everyone who stays in the United States is either a die-hard Trump supporter, or a minority/marginalized person without the means to flee. What a disaster, he says.

So no matter the outcome, we will stay, I suppose. Dashing my dreams of idyllic Canadian countryside in favor of staying to stand for our belief in a bottom-up Kingdom. We will practice the sacred and brave sacrament of staying put. Of planting our feet and loving our neighbors, of doing the laborious and beautiful work of practicing kinship with the marginalized no matter what.

We will stand for truth and goodness, for welcoming the stranger even as leaders build walls to keep them out and then expect them to foot the bill. We will actively work against greed, even as the leaders of our country promise to restore it. We will move down the ladder as often as we can, gently placing our feet alongside those we love, no matter what it means for our own futures. Because the Jesus we love always works mightily in the soil of oppression and fear, moving His people towards justice and peace in ways unseen and powerful, right there on the margins and at the bottom.  Because we do not fear the powers and principalities of this world, but rest in the knowledge that the one who holds all our futures will sustain and carry us through even the most frightening political climates and careers. We will choose not to despair, to believe God has lost control or the world is going to “hell in a hand basket,” but to actively remember the ways that God’s people are fighting for what is good and true. We will believe in goodness and in what is right, and we will march towards it no matter what happens today.

Monday, October 31, 2016

When the Bottom Drops Out

Earlier this week, I was talking with a sweet friend last week about things suddenly going very wrong. I recounted for her the moment five years ago when I was wobbling from the bathroom into a wheelchair, my legs still numb from the epidural they gave me during Caden's birth. Just as I gently and triumphantly lowered myself into the seat, Adam walked in with tear stained cheeks and a look in his eyes that I immediately and instinctively recognized as the bottom dropping out.

It's his heart, he said.

We agreed that when you have experienced these moments where the bottom drops out, the problem becomes that now you know it can. No longer can you mistake the ground below you as firm or unyielding to sudden catastrophe.

Our alarms go off at 4:30 Tuesday morning, and we leave the house just after 5am. By 7:30am, they are wheeling Caden away from us down the hallway, while my hands tremble and I grip Adam’s arm. We blow out a breath, agreeing we actually feel a little better than we expected.

And yet, we sit in the same seats we sat in five years ago, waiting for the bottom to drop out.

Friends bring us food, people text me. They ask questions and offer prayer. We bow under the weight of knowing and not-knowing all at once. Over carrying too many stories of when things went wrong, and clutching too tightly the casual assurance of the doctor who will cut through and sew up our son’s heart.

I find my faith, of course, on neither end of the spectrum. Not in talking myself out of anxiety, convincing myself it's “no big deal” because we have been through this already, but worse. I also do not find faith, however, in the gripping fear, in my inability and/or stubborn refusal to surrender my son.

We sit in not-cushioned-enough chairs for six hours before they take us to go see Caden, whispering and tweeting updates as we get them. We shake with relief when the doctor tells us his chest is closed, everything went well. He says the surgery was much easier than last time, that he jammed an adult-sized valve in his little heart (his words, not ours), explaining that Caden might not even need another open-heart surgery (he will need a new valve, he is just hopeful that his next replacement might be by catheter rather than surgery). Everything is smooth sailing, basically. We are skeptical, seeing as our only reference for open-heart-surgery is Caden’s last one, when we found ourself on a roller coaster of a recovery that was anything but certain.

It feels like we might have PTSD. The first notes of the beeping song of monitors only barely begin when my heart beat quickens and my nose twitches with the smell of antibacterial soap and the undulating lines marking Caden’s life that pulse alongside bubbling chest tubes.

I can't stop crying upon seeing Caden, big tears roll down my cheese while quiet sobs shake my shoulders. His perfect lashes lay dark against his pale skin and a tube is snaked down his throat so he can breathe. In the next bedspace, alarms keep going off and I am undone with each one as I read all Caden’s numbers in frantic succession, trying to make sure the alarm isn't his. With near alarming speed, he wakes up and panics to find the breathing tube down his throat. We reassure him the best we can while gulping back our own tears. Sooner than we imagined, they pull it out and his tiny raspy cry and the fear in his eyes is enough to unravel me completely.

Within twenty-four hours, he is oxygen free. He cries quietly with pain and they pull out his catheter and chest tubes, and quite honestly I can scarcely believe all he has been through and overcome in such a short amount of time. I am shaky with adrenaline and fear and relief and exhaustion, and I stroke his forehead and pray while Bethel music plays over him and Adam sneaks in a few hours of sleep.

After forty-eight hours, and more middle of the night needle-sticks and temper tantrums than we care to recall, we are heading home. It seems like a marvel of modern medicine, even daresay a miracle. I credit the prayers of our community of friends and strangers. Adam and I lock eyes, shocked by the outcome and our shaky faith alike, while the nurses tell us how even they are surprised by his quick recovery. I joke about how they probably drew straws to see who got stuck with Caden since he refuses to answer any of their questions, and develops a quick habit of attempting to kick anyone who tries to give him medicine.

Once we settle into our thoroughly disinfected house and snuggle Caden into his own bed, where he immediately falls into deep sleep, we collapse on the couch with our fingers entwined. I let out a slow breath, unsure how long I have been holding it.

Literally until we actually left I was expected something to go wrong, I tell Adam. And then, I was sure we would get in a car accident on the way home. 

Me too, he admits.

We sit quietly for a few minutes, and then talk about how we can’t keep living waiting for the bottom to drop out. We can accept good gifts from a good God without the anxiety and fear that they will be lost down a gaping hole in the very next breath. Because that’s the thing about the bottom dropping out, and about knowing it can: we can actually accept it as a gift. As an invitation into a life built on a deeper foundation. An invitation to live without anxiously worrying about when catastrophe might strike again, but to live instead resting our feet on the only thing that can never drop out from under us. An invitation to live firmly rooted on the solid rock of Christ, so that no matter our circumstances and the outcome of heart surgery, we remain unshaken (which is different than without questions, I'm learning).

This is easier said than done, of course. We are at home, and still I wait for the bottom to drop out. For something to go wrong (infection, bleeding, fluid on the lungs, every risk they warned us about): surely it can’t just be this easy? Living without constant fear, while acknowledging the solid rock beneath it all, doesn’t come easily for me, riddled as I am with doubts and brokenness. But it is nevertheless the only way to make it through this busted-up world. To understand that the bottom can, and probably will, drop out. That elections might not turn out the way we hope. That churches and friends and family might disappoint us. That our boys might all end up in prison and another sixteen year old will come over to tell us she's pregnant. That sickness and even death may come knocking at our door. But with our feet planted firmly on the solid rock that will never ever drop out, we can face whatever comes with strength and a steady peace that the world will never understand and nothing can ever take away. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Thin Places

The thing about children's hospitals and neighborhoods on the margins is that they are places where it becomes impossible to pretend all is right with the world. When gunshots become your evening soundtrack alongside the katydids of southern summer. When you silently hold your husband's hand while you hold open the elevator door for a breathtaking girl whose smooth head is covered with a delicate silk wrap, and she drags her iv pole down the hallway with a bright smile pasted across her pale face. When we arrive for our first meeting with Caden's surgeon, the parking deck is full, there are too many sick kids. We park across the street at the cancer center, and quietly watch a man dry heave into a bag on the elevator, while his wife dabs his neck with ice and braces his arm and we grasp hands and gasp quietly at the fragility of it all.

The air here feels thin, the curtain drawn back on all our illusions of safety and longevity. Again we remember that we are actually but a breath. And our sons and daughters too, as fleeting as the green grass already turning brown, the bright green leaves gasping last breaths in brilliant red and yellow.

God feels unbearably close, we cover our face at his brilliance. At the awful beauty and unbearable pain, the joy and sorrow entwined, inextricable.

I have no good answers for tear-stained parents and battle weary grandmothers. Neither the ones on our block nor the ones sitting alongside the bed next to Caden. I wonder how the nurses serve and care with such gentle joy and peace, how they clock-in and out to face suffering in twelve-hour increments again and again. I wonder why our boys wake up optimistic and early, to open their Bibles with Adam and read promises before school of the God who says over and over "do not fear" even though by all accounts there is always oh-so-much to fear.

In these thin places we find ourselves stripped of the things we cling to. Of wealth and health, of American dreams and prayers always answered in the affirmative. Of hashtag blessed, and of election woes. It all fades like our lives and we watch in awe the space where curtains draw back to offer us a glimpse of the one who holds us close through it all. We surrender and hope and pray and grasp faith lightly. We want more Jesus, we want freedom for our boys and healing for our son. We want all the things without any certainty we will get any of them.

We tell ourselves this time is less serious, and certainly this is true. We are not blindsided by emergency, by the most complex surgery they can do on a heart that will surely not survive without it. We have been there, walked through that deep valley before. But the fact remains that our son's chest will be cracked open, his heart won't beat while they do the repair. The doctor explains that cutting through the scar tissue from that last surgery is actually the hardest part. Probably for us too. Our own scars and fears and memories loom, both to shake us and comfort us, for I cannot help but remember the fearful nearness of my savior. The holiness of the space by Caden's bed, the ways we learned about the most important things in all the hardest ways. About surrender and faith and letting go of our illusions that the world can ever be our true home. Come Lord Jesus we cried, and so I murmur those same words tonight.

Over the past few days, some of the matriarchs of our neighborhood have come by to pray over Caden. Without fail, they kiss my cheek and whisper assurance into my ear: God's got him, He's got this, everything will be fine. What kind of faith is this? I wonder, as I struggle to gain my own footing on a shaky faith riddled through with fear. They have walked through valleys and more valleys and known hunger and fear, and yet they believe. They trust in His goodness with a faith discovered in the thinnest places.

And so tonight, on the eve of Caden's second open heart surgery, I will ask God to help me open my hands, recognizing that my tight grip on my son will change not one single thing about the outcome of his surgery. The best I can hope for is that in very act of letting go, we will enter into the thin place with a readiness to meet our Savior and surrender our son in order to find our faith anew.

Friday, October 21, 2016

On Tuesday

I realize I haven’t done a very good job keeping y’all up to date on the details and the latest with Caden’s upcoming surgery. I want to keep you informed, because we appreciate so deeply your prayers and the ways you cover and carry Caden with your kind thoughts and prayers, and I am grateful for the opportunity to give you the information you need/want to pray more specifically. 
Every morning Caden wakes up and pops out of bed, hair messed and sleep lingering in his eyes. Mom, he asks, how many more days until they cut my heart open? It’s jarring, his words, particularly before my first cup of coffee. Nevertheless, we count together: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Five days. He announces this number cheerfully to his big sister, before opening the fridge to find some yogurt, currently his favorite breakfast food. Despite his upbeat protestations that he isn’t nervous, he stays out of sorts, melting down with all-the-big-emotions on a regular basis throughout the day and especially at bedtime. Our usually compliant boy cannot handle simple requests, and I wonder if perhaps the anxiety is weighing on him even if he doesn’t understand it fully.

Next week Monday (the 24th), we will spend the day at the hospital doing pre-op (echocardiogram, blood work etc). Then we will sleep at home, and head back in the next morning for his surgery. The surgeon (the same one who performed his first surgery) explained that they will cut through the scar tissue from his last surgery to open his chest (and also that this portion of the operation is the lengthiest and riskiest part). Once his chest is open and he’s on bypass, they will replace his pulmonary valve with a larger donor valve, and they will also patch his pulmonary artery where it’s been narrowed by scar tissue. The entire surgery will take at least a few hours and we will wait in the same waiting room we sat in five years ago for about 6 hours, updated with phone calls from nurses (side bar: I am not relishing being back in that room and waiting for those calls).

This surgery is much less complicated than his first surgery was. Nevertheless, the surgeon explained it's not without risks, particularly of bleeding and infection. They will most likely not have to leave his chest open, which is a relief.

After surgery, Caden will spend a few days in the Cardiac ICU at Egleston, and then a few more days in a step down room (private room where we can sleep with him). Overall, he will spend about a week in the hospital, and then another week of recovery at home (which is astonishingly quick recovery-time in my opinion). Anyways, we have so much lovely family who will be helping with the other two while we are in the hospital and helping Caden get better.

While Caden remains cheerful and excited about his surgery, Jayci leans much more distraught and anxious. After we told them about surgery, she pulled me into the other room and told me I didn't want to scare Caden but I'm really nervous. I want to trust Jesus but it's so hard, I'm afraid something will go wrong. I wish this had never happened to his heart. To which I had no good answers except Absolutely baby, me too. But we are going to have to choose to trust in the goodness of God together. We prayed and I cried a lot afterwards. Yesterday, Jayci’s teacher called to tell me she was upset about Caden and wanted to talk to me.

It’s been difficult to balance preparing our own hearts, preparing Caden and Jayci, and making practical plans for the next weeks. All that to say, we are so grateful for you all and your continued prayers and support and help. I am not sure we could walk through this without each of you.

We would love continued prayers for peace for all our hearts. For the surgeon and doctors/nurses. For the surgery to go perfectly, and recovery to be easy. That Isaiah would sleep for his aunts/uncles/grandparents, and that Jayci wouldnt be afraid. Pray particularly for Caden's unspoken fears, and for wisdom for Adam and I in how to love him and support him well through all of this.

Thank you all! And we will do our best to keep you updated on his progress etc here so I don't have to answer individual texts/emails etc and can instead focus on loving our sweet little buddy. If you want more ways you can help, let me know and I'll try to point you in the right direction!


Thursday, October 6, 2016

When 8 Sneaks Up on Us

My dear sweet Jayci,
You are standing on the cusp of something I wish mostly that I could pull you straight back from. Alas, time marches on, and so I will settle instead for praying for you and with you, for cheering you on and occasionally shielding you a little when the need arises. As girlhood blossoms into the earliest blips of womanhood already, I have to admit I'm a little afraid. Proud of you, and oh-so-smitten, and afraid. The world is an unforgiving place for women, even today. Even after years of hard-won-right-to-vote, and with a women candidate for the presidency. Still, the world hollers for us to quiet down, to lose some weight, and know our place. To support our family and work hard, but not leave our kids at day-care for too long. The expectations heap, and I know it starts young. So I want, more than anything, for you to figure out who you are shaped to be outside of the weight of all those expectations. For the only thing you think about your body when you look in the mirror is wondering  how well you are using it to love the world around you. For the muscles in your heart and mind to be flexed every single day as you grow more and more unafraid (rather than more afraid like the rest of us) to show the world all of yourself: your flaws and your strengths, your compassion and gentle wisdom, your quick flame of temper and your careful acts of forgiveness and contrition. All of you, my sweet girl, is loved and worth loving, no matter what.


You are absolutely adorable, with your snaggle-tooth grin and shy stubborn insistence on performing songs and giving gifts for all-the-occasions. More nights than not, I have to confiscate your flashlight, because you are using it to read books under the covers while the street-lights blink off outside your window. You ask really good questions and sometimes know more answers than I give you credit for. You love your brothers fiercely, even though they have already mastered the art of eliciting an eye-roll (another trait you apparently inherited from me). Your beauty goes deeper than your skin, beneath your light freckles and gentle blue eyes to the inner-most parts of your heart, where you notice the forgotten and encourage in careful ways all the ones who are hurting.


One of my friends told me that she saw a picture from your birthday party (one we printed and gave to all your guests at your request) posted on the Spelman alumni Facebook page as an example of great love and beauty in the midst of racial tensions and hatred and fear. I am so proud of you for this, because you created that space with far more careful planning and cultivation than even your daddy and I did. You set aside your own crafts to make sure there was room for everyone at the table. You waited to greet newcomers, and made sure each person got equal time on the tire swing. Your kind and gentle spirit was a joy to witness, even as I tried to catch my breath because entertaining so many eight year olds is no-small-task, even for your daddy and me (who consider ourselves something of experts at entertaining many children).

But seriously sweetest girl, here’s the thing: if you can hold tight to that most beautiful piece of who you are, the deepest down truest part of you, I do not doubt for a second that you will be a woman who changes the world. But I also need you to know that when I say "you will change the world," I do not mean you need to be perfect, pretty, put together, successful, rich, or president. You don’t need to run a giant corporation or discover the cure for cancer (although if you want to do those things, please go right ahead). What I mean is that your heart will make the world around you a better place. Your compassion and gentle spirit, your kindness and wisdom, will always turn the needle towards justice and peace. And I believe wholeheartedly that you will keep ushering in the upside-down Kingdom just like we always prayed you would: by loving Jesus and loving your neighbors in tangible ways every day.


Being your momma is my greatest joy and honor, and I do not take the responsibility or pleasure lightly. I hope that even as your growing pains keep you up at night, even as you wrestle through your doubts and fears, even as you cry over hurt and loss and a broken world, that your heart will stay perfectly tuned to the song that the Savior is always singing over you, the song He has written just for you.
I love you always, even more with every passing day,
Mommy.

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Success Stories"

The world these days feels heavy and forbidding, or perhaps just slightly depressing. We find ourselves forced to choose between two possibly equally terrible choices (but I'm Canadian and can't vote, so let's be clear that I am not making any political statements here). We discover we have no option but to move forward even when the innermost sanctum of our hearts urges us to play the ostrich and bury our heads in the sand.

We've been told that our ministry cannot be supported because 1-we don't "hard sell" the Gospel enough or have an ambitious and large enough growth strategy, and 2- we don't have consistent enough church attendance. And so we wonder if perhaps they are right, if maybe we are accomplishing nothing by the pouring out of our very lives. We catch eyes across the table, and wonder together if we truly are the kind of foolish we have been deemed by others who have been doing this longer and with more "success." Too soft, too full of grace without enough practicality and law. Not enough bars on our window and no security cameras making sure we know it all. Too naive, too gentle, too easy-going, too much of everything except all the right things.

And so, a new post on the blog. I won't call it a series, because I think we all know how those turn out for me (follow through is hard. Exhibit A: Whole30). But I'm posting here in what I can only hope is an act of prophetic imagination, a railing against all the world demands of us as a nonprofit and "ministry," against statistics and effectiveness and everything the empire deems "success." Instead, a celebration and acknowledgement of the still small voice we occasionally hear whisper "well done good and faithful servant," right in the midst of the smallest stories that may seem foolishness to the world but nevertheless ring true and holy in our ears. We are staking a claim, erecting an ebeenezer to remind ourself that our standards of success are rooted not in numbers but in love. In faithfulness, not effectiveness; in relationship rather than "saving" a single soul, because that is only the work of Christ. So here's to moving down the ladder and loving the least of these in fumbling imperfect ways every single day.

She yells to me from the fence beside our blackberries bushes, "hey Becca!"

"Hi Mikey," I wave back and smile wide, offering her some strawberries from the garden. "Oh no," she waves them off, "I just wanted you to know I'm going to Missouri for a while. That's where I'm from, and I'm going for a month to visit my family and I didn't want you and Adam to worry."

She is probably in her late 30s, and most often I wave to her while she sits on the street corner across the way, or when she asks to borrow a dollar for the bus or for some corner-store chicken. For a while, her pimp rented the house behind us, and I would watch black BMWs circle the block to pick her up and drop her back off at the crumbling front steps. She never waves to me on these circles, only later when she walks by, and I run down to offer a hug or a slice of leftover pizza (we always have lots of Little Caesars pizza around here). She asks if she can "hold a dollar," and I hand her whatever change and snacks we can scrounge up while the boys shake their heads and her and at my eagerness to offer her something.

I have a necklace to give her, a key engraved with the word hope. But somehow I lose it before I muster the courage to offer it into her hands. What will I say, I wonder: how will I explain the hope I wish her to hold in her heart, without sounding hokey or lame, or pushing her further away than she already floats by circumstance and the inevitably of life?

We met her at our first thanksgiving feast, when I held baby Amir and summoned my courage to invite the group on homeless men and women congregated by the corner store to come in for the golden turkey Adam brined to perfection, and the $200 pan of macaroni my parents brought from Whole Foods.

Since that night, and at every Thanksgiving feast, she stops by for the meal; and then occasionally for dinner or cookies in-between.

But we count it "success" when we stops by to tell us she's leaving for a month, even as we wish we could offer more. Because we will gladly take the mantel of being the ones she knows will care, those who might notice her absence. We don't understand her whole story, and can only hope one day we might have the privilege of listening in and holding it close to our hearts and to His. But until then, we will settle for being the ones she takes an extra loop around the block for, the ones she tells she is leaving because she knows we see her and we will notice when she is gone.

“God has not called me to success, but to faithfulness” -Mother Teresa

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Podcasts and Books and Docu-series, oh my.

Ok guys, I realize no one actually reads my posts these days, particularly the ones involving links and recommendations. But it's impossible for me to stop, because when I find something I love, I feel like it's not enough for me to text a couple people and tell them: listen to _____ asap, or watch _____ immediately. All that to say, sorry not sorry. And here's some of my favorite things I've been reading/watching/listening to lately.
First off, if I've said it once, I'll say it a million times -- preorder my girl Shannan's book today. Even my friend Father Boyle recommends it, which is basically the highest praise I can imagine.

Adam and I just finished watching the docs-series Last Chance U on Netflix. You guys, I cannot think of something else I watched recently that made me so happy/sad/entertained all at once. Granted, all the players at this community college reminded me exactly of every single one of our boys, and I want to be Ms. Wagner forever. Also, we watched and loved Stranger Things, but I'm assuming all of you already know about that one!

Malcom Gladwell has a new(-ish) podcast called Revisionist History. Right after I listened to an episode called Carlos Doesn't Remember, I immediately texted some of my favorite folks and told them to listen asap. So consider this your text from me -- listen to this episode. I also loved the recent episode of On Being (always one of my favs), with Ruby Sales (the episode is called Where Does it Hurt?)

As far as books go, I have been reading like crazy lately. Consider it my healthy(-ish) form of escapism from life when its too insane (read: always). Anyways, I've read a few that I loved and wanted to pass along those recommendations to you. I started off by reading Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped, and I loved it so much that I immediately ordered all her other books from the library and read them all in quick succession. They were amazing, although her memoir voice is still my favorite. I think her words are beautiful and inspiring and hard and necessary and important. Highly recommend.

Finally, I sent an email newsletter with an update (well, as much of an update as we have) on Lee and also the latest details on Caden. If you're interested, you can sign up here (also, we have a meeting with the surgeon on Wednesday to discuss details and timeline and all the risks etc, would love you guys to cover that time in prayer).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Confession and Assurance

Last week, the sweet church plant where we have been attending the last few months in our neighborhood asked if I would write and read a prayer of confession. I agreed, of course, because I always do; then panicked about trying to write something worthy of being read aloud in church, even in front of just a small group of folks. Nevertheless, I said what was laid on my heart, and I thought maybe someone else might need to hear this as much as I needed to write it.

I am always praying for each of you, and grateful for all the ways you point me to Jesus.
Merciful Father, we confess that again and again we fail to remember who you are, and
therefore who we are. We try to earn your love with our broken notions of obedience and
sacrifice, rather than resting in the truth of who you have made us to be and the things you
require of us.

You call us to love as you love, to seek justice, mercy and truth in a world and community in
desperate need of you. Instead, we turn away from those in need and remain silent in the face
of injustice. We clutter our hearts with the trappings of the world, filling our lives with all the
things we think we need apart from you. We refuse to abandon the American dream, failing to
realize that you are calling us instead into your upside-down Kingdom where the first will be last
and you gain your life by losing it. We pray this morning that this Kingdom will come even here
and now. We ask that the truth of our belovedness will always spill over from our hearts onto the
hurting world around us.
We have developed cases of spiritual amnesia, forgetting the very forgiveness you tell us to
remember with the breaking of your body and the shedding of your blood. Help us in this space
to recall in our hearts the things we have forgotten. To remember the depths of your grace and
the cleansing waters of your forgiveness. And I pray that having washed, we may know the joy
of living in right relationship with you, our loving Father who always forgives because of Your
faithfulness and not because of anything we have done or can ever do to deserve it.

Remind us here of your brokenness for our wholeness, for the blood you poured out to cleanse
our sins and make us new. Remind us that we are never too far away from you to decide to
draw nearer today. We offer you what we can today, all the pieces of ourselves we try to hide or
think aren't good enough. Forgive us for not trusting you more deeply, and thank you for the
ways your love makes us new.
Lets hear this word of assurance from God’s trustworthy word:

Without the shedding of Blood there is no forgiveness of sins. - Hebrews 9:22
But thanks be to God that we read this in Ephesians 1, In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace. - Ephesians 1:7

Friday, August 26, 2016

When the third child turns one

Dear Isaiah,

In typical third baby fashion, you have been one for over two weeks now and I'm finally sitting down to write you a letter. In fact, I wasn't going to write you one here at all (sorry!) but then I was afraid one day you might look back on your momma's blog (although probably they won't be a thing anymore at that point), and realize your siblings both got letters every year. Then you would feel the angst and paint all the third children discover upon realizing they never got a baby book and their older siblings did.
You have probably realized by now that we might always be late. Unfortunately, you've found your way into a family where things lean full and hectic and mommy and daddy forget most-of-the-things-all-of-the-time. So really, this letter paints a picture of your life as a one-year-old in the Stanley Clan (perpetually running behind). In fact, just yesterday, your daddy picked Caden up a full half-hour late from kindergarten.
You, sweet Zay-Zay (as we've taken to calling you), are a such a joy to our family. On a pretty regular basis your daddy and I look at each other and remark on how we might be in trouble with this one. That wrinkled nose and mischievous grin get us every time. You are funny and silly, and especially obsessed with dogs. In fact, every time you see my phone, you take out your pacifier and pant with your tongue out, a clear indicator that you just want to use the snapchat dog filter. Since your momma is apparently a little too old to actually understand the Snapchat, this is the extent our Snapchat use.
Don't ever doubt how much your older siblings adore you, and how fun to watch the feeling grow more mutual the bigger you get. This is probably due to the fact that you are now less likely to be squashed mercilessly by all-the-love. You are a delight to your big brother and sister, and they fight (constantly) over which one of them can hold you and throw balls with you (one of your favorite pastimes) or feed you your dinner. 
You eat more than your older brother and sister ever did, and we are constantly amazed by your voracious appetite. Although you are quite adamant and selective about what your menu entails, throwing whatever you deem unsatisfactory straight onto the floor.
Since you have a big sister who basically aces all school work and reads on a sixth-grade level in second grade, and a big brother who has overcome heart defects and already had one open-heart surgery with another one looming soon, its a good thing you are so easy-going and fun-loving and able to hold your own in a family of big feelings.
You shared your birthday party with your super-hero big brother, and quickly stole the show with your funny cake-antics and those big brown eyes, which never fail to get comments from cashiers and waitresses. The ladies love you already, not that I can blame them. You love giving your big brothers (the even bigger ones, especially Ashton) high fives and tossing the ball to them.
It is so much fun for me to be your mommy, to watch your personality unfurl and grow with every passing day. Your wrinkly-nose and chubby thighs (I might be able to claim genetic responsibility for both of those attributes - you're welcome) make me smile and laugh and want to nibble you up. Beyond that, though, I can't wait to watch the bigger pieces of you unfold. You are stubborn and I know this trait will cause me many headaches, while also serving you well throughout your life. What I mean is this: I am grateful for every single piece of who you are, because I have learned that all of our greatest strengths are also usually our greatest weaknesses (and vice versa).

I hope and pray that you will embrace who God has made you to be, down to the tiniest freckle and personality quirk. I hope you always know how delightful you are, not just to us but to a Father who loves you deeper and more fully than we ever can. I hope this first year, and every year to come, only grows your roots deeper into the love and acceptance of your heavenly Father. That you might do great things for Him, perhaps, but mostly that you will come to understand that great things don't always mean big things. That sometimes the way up is down. That more than doing things, you are able to always rest into being. That you will breathe in His love every morning and lay down in His peace each night.

We love you to the moon and back our sweet baby Zay-Zay, happy (belated) first birthday!



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