Friday, March 18, 2016

Formula for Happiness

Remember how I mentioned that some friends asked us to film a Gerber commercial? Luckily, we already actually used Gerber formula (to supplement breast-feeding), so we could say of course without any misgivings.

Well, once said commercial was finally posted by Gerber (on their Facebook page, not on TV), I knew I had to share it here with all you lovely folks because you have been, and continue to be, so encouraging and excited with us for all of it. It is an honor to see my sweet little family represented so carefully by our friends who filmed it, and by Gerber too.

Also, for the record, at one point they told me: maybe less sarcasm #thestruggleisreal.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Megachurches and Valleys

Those of you who go to our church (new church/old church, or anywhere in-between) will recognize that I wrote this post a few months ago (Christmas-time actually). But somehow I still find myself floundering in the middle place, between justice conferences and megachurches. I never quite find my footing in either place, and in-between is a lonely place to live. Not quite justice-y enough for one crowd: after all, I don’t exactly make my own clothes, and there are few things I like better than a good Target run. But not quite ingenuous or upbeat enough for the other crowd: it’s hard not to let cynicism and righteous indignation creep in. Because I’m not sure we can fully understand hope rising until we have seen the valleys, experienced the darker places of our streets and lives. 

And so I share only to expose my ongoing confusion and hope, inextricably bound. 

Feeling a bit like spiritual nomads, we slip into the back of the mega-church where we have improbably landed these past few months.

On the way in, I snap a picture of the beautiful display where people can buy a book for $5 for an APS student. How cool, I exclaim to Ashton, explaining how they’re buying a book for every Atlanta Public School student this Christmas.

Ashton scrunches his face in his particular way, asking why would they do that?

Well, I tell him, they want to be a church for the city of Atlanta.

Humph, he scoffs, looking around: these folks don't care nothing about APS.

I want him to be wrong. And I sit in the back of church turning his words over and over. I study backs of heads, looking for evidence of lives not just shored up and encouraged here, but ready to be poured out. For people who understand the ways they are buying books for a whole lot of kids who cant read.

Visiting our local elementary school just the day before, in fact, the guidance counselor said to us: ask me how many of our fifth grade boys can read. We oblige, and she answers: not even one.

Surely that’s an exaggeration, I tell myself, trying not to think about all the prison beds being funded and built based on third-grade reading levels, let alone fifth.

Sometimes I long to un-know the things I know. Ignorance must be bliss I mourn with rose-colored nostalgia. I want to go to big conferences without thinking about anything except the pulsing beat to the latest worship songs. Instead, I glance obsessively over at the teenage boys we brought, worrying over the ways they see themselves reflected more often in the faces of the conference center employees than in the conference leaders, or even other attendees.
At a housewarming party in the neighborhood last week (the demographics of which are a whole other post for another day), I found myself huddled over the cheese platter (always), chatting with a few friends about church. The conversation ping-pongs around until someone asks: do you think there’s any hope for the church?

Of course there is. I say it with more conviction than I feel. But really, I do. I still hope in all the earnest believers who come in droves to fill conference halls and megachurch seats in cold loading docks labeled overflow. Because we were them. And in many ways, we still are. Naive and earnest, doing our best to live out the whole Jesus-following thing even when we aren’t certain what that looks like. And hearts come alive to Him in all sorts of ways and places. Who I am to say how and where lives might look poured out?

A few days after the conference, I take the familiar long way home, the one that takes me past his corner. And this time he’s there. He flags me down with a grin, and I pull my car over next to a boarded-over corner store, cinderblock painted garish yellow with red hand-lettered EBT. He opens his flip phone to show me pictures of his baby, and peers through the open window to meet mine. He grins with a cigarette in his teeth, grasping Isaiah’s tiny fist. It’s me, he says, your big brother Sabo. I smile and hope he doesn't notice the way sadness lingers behind my eyes. We hug, and he puts my number in his phone. I hope he will call, but expect he probably wont. Pulling away with a wave, I navigate streets riddled with potholes and ignore the waves from the boys I don't know on other corners. The music from the conference plays: down in the valley, where waters rise. I’m still believing, hope is alive.

Glittering glass shards littering the streets and boarded-up windows line what is surely a valley of the shadow of death if I’ve ever seen one. It feels like the very place where waters rise, choking out life.

And yet hope lives, stubborn and relentless. In the church and in the valley. I trip over my cynicism, stumbling into hope each time I fear it’s lost. Because hope, ultimately, does not depend on the depth of the valley or the height of the mountain, but on the character of Christ. And He never disappoints.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Reflections on 10 Years of Marriage

Ten years ago today was our wedding day. Impossibly bright, with a biting wind, and so many perfect details I can scarcely recall. After the wedding, we laid on the couch in our suite at the Ritz-Carlton (thanks grandma), still in our nice clothes, while Adam pulled bobby pins from my hair. The next morning, we flew to Jamaica. Two hours in a bumpy van ride ended in white sand beaches, bottomless drinks, and guards that carefully patrolled the edges of the resort. I forgot my camera, so we hired the resort photographer to snap our picture in front of the Jamaican sunset. We both wear bright colors, fancy outfits that perfectly pair with the brilliant sun sinking low behind us on the beach. Adam holds me in one picture, and we are impossibly young. This time, our first all-inclusive trip since our honeymoon, we fly into Mexico and I remember my camera, but we both forget to bring nice clothes. We shoot each other glances as they remind us of dinner dress codes; Adam wonders aloud if his pink Anteaters t-shirt counts as “dressy casual.”

Quite honestly, living in a Shane-Claiborne-Style upside-down Kingdom has ruined us for lavish vacations. As we fly over turquoise waters and lush green spread as far as the eye can see, all I can think about is my friend Bridgit who provides prosthetic limbs to those who, desperate, have fled Mexico by riding atop trains and suffered terrible accidents in the process. I try not to imagine their faces as we take our private car over bumpy roads and through guarded gates into all-inclusive white sands and endless margaritas. We talk about how much water we use in the seven-stream shower, how much food we waste, how much alcohol gets consumed. I am glad they rake the beach to get rid of the seaweed that sticks between my toes and smells of fish, then wonder what’s wrong with a world where we are so desperate for things to be picture-perfect we forget how it is to be real.

It’s ok, I think, to live in this tension. To recognize our need for escape and the ways we saved and scrimped to get here, while also feeling a little uncomfortable with the excess. If nothing else, ten years later, we have learned the value of not running away from the tension. Of leaning into hard things instead of away. Because Adam and I aren’t really “fighters,” necessarily, there have been very few times in our marriage where I’m the kind of mad that gets out of the car. More often than not, I stay, but twist my hips imperceptibly towards the window. I answer with clipped words, refuse to talk about anything important, wondering why he can’t read my mind. I shut the dishwasher loudly, slam the dryer shut as I fold yet another load of laundry and ask Adam in all seriousness, but why do you wear so many clothes? I am lucky enough, of course, to be married to one who doesn’t run away from my prickly moods. Instead he keeps asking “what’s wrong?” until I answer honestly. Until I tell him how I feel overlooked, unimportant. How I worry that my desires pale in comparison to his. That I’m not sure I believe in just submitting, unless we are doing it mutually. We question and wrestle (not literally usually), and I collapse into bed with a book while he flicks the channel to something about Alaska. We have different ways of unwinding, different strategies for loving our neighbors, and disciplining our kids. We don’t really dance anymore like we did at our high school prom (!!) but we coordinate a complicated dance of our own at 2am while he pulls Caden into his arms from a night terror, and I bounce Isaiah back to sleep as he nestles into the space of my neck with fingers entwined in my hair. I kick Adam awake when his alarm blares in the morning, and he woos me with coffee in bed before walking to the office.

Ten years later, we know it’s the hard things that strengthen us most. Something real gets forged in the fire of unpaid doctor bills, ER visits, and sleepless nights for six months straight. We catch eyes and know what the other is thinking, and I love that more than the flowers he left on my car every day after high school. Together we laugh about my lack of cooking ability and his maddening way of knowing how to do everything, but organize nothing. I sigh and drive to a job I don’t want, so he can do the one he does. I sacrifice for him, and he does the same for me. Because marriage is this constant laying down of self for the other.

The way our lives have unfolded over the last ten years is nothing like what we would have imagined, sitting under the setting sun in Jamaica. We wouldn’t have known to ask God for all the things He has granted us. I don’t know how to give advice on boundaries and tips for making love last. Because what works for us surely won’t work for everyone; but even still, moving closer together in forgiveness and laughter every day can’t hurt.

Because I am many days behind in my Lent study, today my reading passage began with this: “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” This is hard, we agreed over breakfast in bed. We clasped hands and prayed for our day and our marriage over mimosas and omelettes with sausage that looks like hot dogs. And we went into our day, into another year of marriage, hoping that perhaps we will finally be able to live selflessly, putting the other first. Because this, of course, is the real trick to marriage. Mutual submission and a constant surrendering of my own needs for the other’s. Not because I don’t have needs, but because I can trust they will always be met both in Christ and in a husband who loves me and serves Jesus every single day.

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