Monday, March 25, 2013

my parent report card

if i were grading myself as a mom today i would give myself a C-.  that's not good for a studious achievement-oriented gal like me.

at least the day wasn't an absolute failure.  i did manage to keep both kids fed, clothed, and sheltered from this unseasonably cold and windy spring day.  i also did not inflict any physical harm on either one of them...but emotional harm is another story.

on days like this...days when i wake up with paper-thin patience and they wake up with sharp needles of whining and arguing poking right through it, i wonder what an outside observer would think of me - would think of my family.  

i actually laughed out loud in the car after an episode that involved slamming on the brakes, a 'death look', finger pointing, and harsh words.  after i composed myself and apologized, i actually laughed out loud.  i was imagining someone rolling video footage of that episode as i walked on stage at the parenting event i will be speaking at next month.
who am i to speak to other parents about parenting?  i mean...on a day like today i guess i could give a pretty good bullet-point presentation on how to make your kids feel really rotten about themselves.  i could outline how to throw a grown-up temper tantrum to outdo your preschooler.

but don't you love how parenting under God's grace is like having a teacher who allows for make-up who gives you a chance for bonus points to keep you from being a big fat failure?
when oliver went down for his nap this afternoon i had a list of things to accomplish.  one of those things was making banana pudding for my brother's birthday dinner tonight.  i knew lucy wanted to help.  i also knew that asking her to help would double the amount of time it would take to complete that particular task.  as she was playing quietly in her room for the first time today i began taking out the ingredients.  as i poured the milk into my big mixing bowl i sensed what felt like an elbow jab in my side and someone whispering 'ask her to join you'.

i reluctantly called her down from upstairs and she came barreling down with a big grin on her face.  she washed her hands, grabbed her stool and parked herself next to me at the counter.  for the next 20 minutes tiny loving, laughing stitches pulled us tight back together.  we talked and giggled and licked spoons until we didn't feel miles apart anymore.  
sometimes as a parent i flunk the test.  i feel like my day is one big red "x" mark after another...another pointed finger, another eye roll, another opportunity for gentle discipline replaced instead with harsh punishment.  i just can't get anything right!

and then i remember that necklace that hangs like a life preserver around my neck...
and by grace alone i resolve to take a step in a different direction.  i make the decision  to put in a little extra energy, a little extra time for make-up work.  and suddenly i feel like i've just received a shiny gold star on the top of the page.  it's like all those red marks begin to fade away.

parenting is never easy and there are some tests that i find more difficult than others.  
then sometimes i get results i don't deserve...results i couldn't earn on my own.

later this afternoon after the banana pudding was made and lucy was back to her quiet play, i walked upstairs to finish some laundry.  as i passed oliver's room i saw something hanging on his door.  i can't explain exactly why i knelt down and began to cry.  i think it had something to do with the fact that i glimpsed the precious spirit that is growing inside my daughter despite my repeated failure as her mother.

lucy had taped up a little sign with oliver's name written on it.  i have never seen her write anything other than her own name without my help before.  usually she asks me to spell anything she writes.  she had done this one all by herself and carefully secured it to her brother's door while he slept.  when he woke to find it he hugged her tight in thanks.
did you notice all the shiny stars?

regardless of how many red marks you have racked up this day i pray that by grace alone you will receive the gold star you didn't earn...and be brought to tears with thanksgiving.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

who will make the introduction?

I wish I could have held her hands in mine and looked deep into her eyes - unafraid of what was hiding there.  Did I pass her on the street?  Did I bump into her in the grocery store?  Did I walk right by unaware of the war that was being waged for her heart?
Sometimes people we pass seem so distant from us - so out of our reach.  There appears to be no lines to connect us - nothing that could hold us together for anything beyond a simple exchange of pleasantries.  

But she was a writer.  

Had I seen her all dressed in black with face downcast I wouldn't have thought to ask -  do you love words?  Do they sing you to sleep and whisper you to wake?  Do they venture into deep places no one else wants to go?  Do they give you breath and then turn around and take it back away?

The words could have connected us - could have made a way for two distant souls with generations between us to cross a bridge to one another.  In our meeting I would have offered her words.  the 'I know what it feels like to experience deep pain and grief' words.  the 'I've felt lost and alone too' words.  the 'I have messed up so many times in my own life' words.
Those words would all be my own.  

But then like a carefully chosen gift wrapped in glossy paper with a big soft bow holding it together I would offer His words.

The King is enthralled by your beauty; honor Him, for He is your Lord. {psalm 45:11, niv}

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  I know this is true because all His works are wonderful and you are one of those works.  In a secret place He made you - seeing every bit of who you were and who you would be.  {from psalm 139:14-16}

You want to become someone's princess?  You already are!  We have a King who calls us chosen, holy, dearly loved.  He adopts us as His children and calls us heirs to all that is His.  His love will never fail you.  {from 1 timothy 1:17, colossians 3:12, romans 8:17, psalm 136}

This gift sits unwrapped.  

A few days ago the writer heart of a teenage girl stopped beating just two miles from where I would be working and worshipping later that morning.  What was I doing when the train struck her body?  Was i taking a shower?  Kissing my kids goodbye?  Going about life as usual?

Our pastor asked our staff to reflect on how this story spoke to us and the work we do as a church.  For me - it spoke volumes, but I find myself left with more questions than answers.

How do we open wide our doors to the ones with questions?  How do we open wide our arms to the ones with wounds so raw?  How do we open wide our mouths to the ones seeking truth in this world of false?

I want a place where lost and lonely people know they are welcome just as they are - with all their questions and wounds and false beliefs.  I want a place for someone to completely fall apart, and then slowly be put back together.

There is such a place.  
It is at the feet of the One who came to claim every last, lost one of us.  

How do we make our place more His place?  How do we sweep aside our human ideas of what 'church' should be and make room for the spirit of the living God to show up and offer the kind of hope and healing that doesn't come from our whole human hands but from His pierced divine ones?

I begin finding answers in the words my pastor led us to in response to the death of Arielle Troutman - a beautiful 16-year-old girl who lost hope right around the corner from the place we desperately try to offer it.

...and then I found {a shrine} inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS.  
I'm here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you're dealing with.  The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn't live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn't take care of himself.  He makes the creatures; the creatures don't make him.  Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after him, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.  He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us.  He's not remote; He's near.  We live and move in him, can't get away from him!  
One of your poets said it well: 'we're the God-created.'  
Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn't make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?  
{acts 17:23-28, MSG}

And so we must stop spending all our time making shrines for those safe inside our walls.  
Instead we must start making introductions to those wandering aimlessly outside of them.
It's easy to start believing that everyone has already met the One we call Savior.  
It's easy to assume our God is known.  
It's easy to judge people whom we conclude are making bad decisions despite the light of God's truth shining on them, when the reality is that they are still groping around in complete darkness. 

And all around us people are dying.  
They are dying, because they know drugs.  
They know alcohol.  
They know pornography.  
They know infidelity.  
They know reality t.v.  
They know abuse.  t
They know heartbreak.  
They know 'the American way'...
   ...but they don't know our God.
If we don't make the introduction...who will?

Monday, March 18, 2013

when adoption is part of your story

“Was it the act of giving birth that made you a mother? Did you lose that label when you relinquished your child? If people were measured by their deeds, on the one hand, I had a woman who had chosen to give me up; on the other, I had a woman who'd sat up with me at night when I was sick as a child, who'd cried with me over boyfriends, who'd clapped fiercely at my law school graduation. Which acts made you more of a mother?
Both, I realized. Being a parent wasn't just about bearing a child. It was about bearing witness to its life.” 
 Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care

you knew i couldn't just leave it at that.

i had to wrestle with the words a little longer.

it always blows my mind when a fraction of a moment contains more than an entire book's worth of words could explain.  that story i shared with you last week is case in point. 

lucy has two mothers.  
it's not something every parent has to explain to their child.  
every parent has questions about how they handle certain issues.  we all wonder if we've said the 'right' things in the 'right' way.  adoptive parents have one more layer to evaluate ourselves on.  how are we doing on the topic of adoption?  

are we saying too much?  not enough?  are we providing enough details?  should we share more openly?  are we emphasizing the importance of adoption in their story without making a 'big deal' out of it?  we talk to other adoptive parents, we read books, we consult experts, but the truth is - there is no one way to handle the subject of adoption in an adoptive family.

before lucy was born i spent enough time with her birthmother to love her...and i mean really love her.  i love her for the heroic way she gave life to a child when she was still a child herself...but i also love her for who she is apart from lucy.  i love that she is funny and creative and tender-hearted.  i love that she can laugh at herself and help others do the same.  i love that she has a fighting spirit.  

a few weeks before lucy was born i went to a birthing class with her birthmother.  part of the class involved taking a tour of the hospital where lucy would be born.  when we got to the labor and delivery floor and began walking through the rooms where lucy would pass from her arms to mine for the final time things got messy.  i'm talking cry-your-eyes-out messy.  the reality of 'adoption' hit us both.  

i remember standing in the hallway of the hospital with our arms wrapped tight around each other...tears falling onto each other's shoulders.  as i held this teenage girl i loved and we cried through the heartache of the situation i suddenly became keenly aware of the round mass nestled in between us.  for a moment my thoughts shifted to lucy - in between her two mothers.  i whispered a silent prayer that all the emotion we felt would wrap snugly around her as love.  it was all i ever wanted her to feel - all of us...never doubting that for a moment.

each of us has a story.  we have a great responsibility as parents to preserve the stories of our show them how lovingly God writes each unique one.

i have many dreams for my children.  one of them is that they would steward their stories well.  that they would never feel the need to hide out in the back of the bookstore but instead see each page of their lives as something beautiful enough to share.  i pray that they would see the chapters filled with tears and the chapters filled with laughter of equal importance and value.

there were many tears surrounding the opening chapters of lucy's life but tears have a job to do in this world.  they are meant to protect our eyes - to prevent dryness, and flush out anything causing harm or pain.  maybe they do the same for our hearts.  maybe lucy is doing the same for me.  her life has washed over me and in her i have found that many of the obstructions of my heart have been flushed out and made clean.  with her i see more clearly.

perhaps knowing the weight i carry to help lucy steward her adoption story well gives you insight into the magnitude of the moment we shared last week...or the times when i overhear her lovingly tell her baby dolls that she is adopting them...or the joyful interest she takes in the stories of other families who are adopting.

when she declares thanksgiving for this story of hers, i feel the heavens erupt in celebration over the seeds of love planted deep in a child's heart and the evidence of redemption growing there.  

and my humble heart gives thanks too.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

when words won't work

if you ask me what i came to do in this world, i, an artist, will answer you: i am here to live out loud. 
{writer, emile zola}

i have been trying to pin words to something that happened last week.  i have been unsuccessful.

did you know that during any given week there are dozens of thoughts and experiences that my mind begins furiously processing with words?  does anyone else do that?  i'm learning that this is part of my unique design as a writer.  

i experience the world in words.  

some things don't feel complete until i take them in, sift them through my fingers, examine them closely, dissect their meaning, connect them to other thoughts and experiences i have held, rework them through the lens of truth, and then lay down the finished product.  

in this way a writer is akin to a potter who holds the earth in her hands kneading it until it is ready to be shaped into her own expression...her own art.  something that will stand up to the fire that will complete it...making it ready to be received by the rest of the world.  

walt whitman said that

     the art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.

if this is true {and i believe in many ways it is}...then perhaps simply communicating what happened in the simplest of terms is adequate...

last week our family of four sat down to dinner.  instinctively we all reached out to grab one another's hands - tiny finger clutching bigger ones.  our eyes met each other's and without hesitation lucy offered to do the honors {as she often does}.  the child's sing-song voice is delightful...really...she seems to have lovely pitch and tone {and whatever else they are always critiquing on american idol}.  as we closed our eyes, she began one of her memorized prayers...

God our father, God our father

once again, once again...

then she stopped short.  joey and i glanced up.  she looked thoughtfully at us and continued...with her own singing words this time...

God - thank you for mommy and daddy...

and thank you that they adopted me.

my eyes sprang open to see this child of mine who breathed these words that sent salty streams down my face.  i looked at her with wonder and amazement.  she continued offering up words that had something to do with thanks and family and love but they are lost from my memory because i was replaying that first line over and over to make sure it was burned into my heart for eternity.

in the simplest of terms...that is what happened.

but it's not really all that happened.  

because though walt whitman's observation is is aristotle's...
     the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

the inward significance.  that's what i want to pin words to...but, in this case, they all seem to fall so inadequately short.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

why i am squealing with delight!

if you heard a loud squeal coming from my house this afternoon it's because...


y'all have no idea how long i have been staring at that mile-long name that i arbitrarily chose almost 5 years ago when i began blogging and wishing i could change it.  ok...i knew i could change it but i didn't know how, or to what.  i tried messing with it a couple of times but my lack of technological savvy left me frustrated and with the same old words stuck behind that www. longer!  
by a holy miracle i fiddled around with a few things this morning and - wa la!  i have a custom domain name!

feel free to spread the words friends!

and if you're wondering why 'words and wonder' you can find out here

here's hoping you will find unexpected joy and delight today!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

behind the scenes of our lives

maybe it's because i have recently seen years of 'behind the scenes' work bearing fruit in my own life...

maybe it's because it was a familiar story with a female heroine...

maybe it's because i was just reading a part of the same story in my weekly bible study {i love it when that happens}...

maybe it's just because i haven't actually been to a worship service in weeks {one of the tough things about working for a church}...

whatever the reason - last sunday's message settled deep and has been running through me ever since.

ruth - faithful, loyal, servant-hearted, redeemed ruth.

if you read her story {and you won't take you long} you find her mother-in-law breathing these words after both of the women had lost their husbands and left their home...

it's true.  life could have been characterized as bitter and empty for ruth and naomi but it wasn't a case of God 'dealing' with them.  oh no.  He didn't lead their story to a dark dead-end of loss and grief.  He kept walking that road with them until His work was complete...until He had made the bitterness taste sweet and the empty places filled to overflowing.
God had a plan.  God always has a plan.

as ruth spoke those well-known words and packed her life up to head for foreign soil i wonder if she had any inkling that God was about to make history with her life...

her eyes forever turned from the false gods of her moabite ancestors and fixed themselves on the one true God who created her to carry forth the lineage of jesus christ.

the scene that played out could have never been orchestrated by ruth herself.  she finds herself childless and without a husband, leaves her people, sets her gaze on God, remains faithful to her mother-in-law, works hard to provide for her, is noticed by boaz {who consequently is the kinsman-redeemer who was in the unique position to actually give her a new start}, becomes his wife, and then...oh, it takes my breath away...

and that holy line of history continued weaving it's way through time until...

and on that day that our savior took his first breath on this earth the bitter-turned-sweet life of ruth became that much sweeter.  God's plan took a giant leap forward and He had used the broken life of a widowed moabite woman to get there.

sometimes our circumstances don't match up with what God is actually doing in our lives...behind the scenes.  the story is so big and powerful and yet chapters that we live sometimes feel so small and fragile.  and then one day all the hidden work that was being done lands us smack dab in the middle of the stage with our face flooded in light.  and what our audience sees is Him...only Him...shining up through the cracks of our broken places.

on sunday my pastor put perfect words to an idea that has been stirring in my heart for some time now...

don't live your life seeking to be discovered, 
but to be developed.
God is faithful to His promises, 
not our performances.

how's your development going?

Friday, March 8, 2013

it's race time!

i have a tendency to live like i run...
     ...gobbling up air.
     ...refusing to pace myself.
     ...feeling the pain that comes when your heart and lungs try to catch up with your legs.
     ...avoiding anything {including water breaks} that might slow me down.

these aren't necessarily the best strategies for running or for living.

and they are all things i will have to contend with tomorrow when i run my first half-marathon.
my high school cross country coach used to remind us to 'breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth'.  i never caught on.  my mouth stays wide open sucking in every ounce of air it can hold.

he also told us to monitor our pace as we trained for races.  i always just ran as hard as i could off the mark.  

as my over-eager legs take off i have to remind myself that it's normal for the first 2 miles to leave me feeling completely out of shape.  my legs know what they want to do but my heart and lungs are a little slower to respond.  once they catch up i find my strength and endurance.

as much as i have tried to improve the pacing of my days,  i have also realized that running full-speed with lungs full of air, legs racing forward, and heart catching up, is who i am.  it's who i was created to be.  and so many times when i race into some experience in life and give it every bit of oxygen i can hold i feel more completely 'me'.  

there are a handful of things in this life that i feel created for.  running is actually one of them...writing is another.  when i allow time for these things in my life and i approach them my own way i feel a deep intimacy with my Creator.  

when we do the things God created us to do, in the ways He created us to do them we glimpse His glory in us.  there are unspeakable connections between a creation and its Creator that can't be explained but instead must be felt on an almost cellular level in the fibers of our being.

what about you?  are there parts of you that seem contrary to the way you think they 'should' be?  do you find yourself trying to be a little more of this or a little less of that?  do you fear there are parts of you that are 'too much' or 'not enough'?  

sometimes it's ok to be just who you are and trust that you were created that way for a purpose.  maybe the more we embrace the true creation we are...the more we will feel the embrace of our Creator.

for we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. {ephesians 2:10}

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

when you get more than you deserve

last friday as i left for my weekend away i gave you permission to take a break {to avoid suffering a break}.  in that post i shared a few situations you should definitely avoid when attempting to take a break.  you thought those were all hypothetical didn't you?
guess what?  
they weren't.

in complete humility i admit to you that, at the time, there was in fact mold growing in my shower.  {yes - i know that seems to defeat the purpose of getting into the shower to get clean}  
and it's true that the week before there was one night i fed my children cereal for dinner {but they actually really like cereal and i think i gave them a super healthy fruit strip to go with it}
and i'm not sure if it was oatmeal or what but there was something brown and lumpy that had hardened to the floor and it hadn't budged any of the dozens of times i swept over it. {i was planning to chisel it off whenever i had a chance to crawl up under the table and work up a sweat}

i share all of this with you to demonstrate that i am definitely not the perfect homemaker. {but you never mistook me for that anyway, did you?}
i also reveal these deep, dark {dirty} secrets to further prove that i am married to one of the most amazing human beings on the planet...
please allow me to enter the follow into evidence:
#1 - he reads my blog {so he saw the aforementioned list and knew full well that the words i spoke were his very own home}
#2 - he didn't just read the list he took it on as a challenge.  for real.  y'all aren't going to believe this.  while i was out of town for some 'me' time and he was home with the kids he fed them healthy meals {reserving cereal only for breakfast}, didn't just clean our shower - he re-grouted it {this required a trip to the hardware store with the kids}, and had the kitchen floor shiny and clean upon my return {no trace of dried-up lumpy stuff}.

so, are we all in agreement?  i think the verdict is in...he is amazing.  

for all the guys reading this - take note {this is how to really love your girl}.
for all the ladies - feel free to forward this on to your guys {for inspiration...not degradation}.

have you noticed i've been using a ridiculous amount of brackets in this post.  yes...i know it is grammatically correct to use parentheses instead but i think the curly brackets are much cuter {and i've never been one for grammatical correctness on this blog}.

anywho...if you find yourself blessed beyond measure this week i hope you will feel the fullness of the gift you have been given and it will compel you to wrap one up for someone else.
in fact...i give you this challenge to complete before the week comes to an end:
think of one thing that someone you live with is dreading having to do and then just go right out and do it for them.  
if your relationship is in a good place it will make it better and if there is tension in your home it just might provide the relief everyone has been hoping for you {let me know if this proves true, will you?}.

thanks for sticking it out for these rushed words...i just had to share.  i will try to be a little more thoughtful and inspiring next time. 
...and a little less bracket-happy {maybe}.

Monday, March 4, 2013

when a 'people person' gets alone

yesterday morning i sat by myself in a coffee shop somewhere between asheville and hendersonville and everything around me was unfamiliar.  i loved it.  
sometimes when i am traveling away from home i imagine how lovely it would be to live in that place.  to be able to explore strange streets and discover hidden things.  unfortunately part of the appeal of an unfamiliar place is my anonymity...and the reality is that it would take about 5 seconds of living somewhere before i started making friends.  
i love people as much as i love being alone.  
i'm so weird.

being offered a fresh new start refreshing to me.  i am drawn to the opportunity and intrigue associated with new things more than i am held by the comfort and safety of routine things.  i used to be willing to upend my life if it meant a chance to begin again.  instead God has been teaching me how to have fresh new starts right where i am.  Jesus is the king of ‘new’ so it’s been pretty amazing to see him spread it all over old me - anytime, any place.

as i left that coffee shop in the mountains and walked out to my car to head home, the snow fell soft.  i studied the flakes that drifted past me.  they seemed to be the tiniest fluffy feathers from a bird that could fit on the top of a thimble.  as the sun broke through the pines the light hit their angles just right so that i suddenly felt i was being showered in glitter.  

the slowing of last weekend helped me notice such things.  
i crave time alone so desperately because my blind eyes experience moments of clear vision.  i can better see that which surrounds me and that which indwells me.  
the words come flooding in such a rush that i have to flap my hands above my head grabbing for the closest pen or keys to tie them down into place.  
writers need time alone.

and then they need to come back home.  
once you feel back to life you have to get back to life and suddenly even the everyday is brand new again. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

permission to take a break

don't let this picture fool you...
...this was one sweet happy moment in the midst of dozens of crazy chaotic ones in my house today.  just in case you don't believe me i was lucky enough to capture this precious incident on video this morning while attempting to film my kids having the laughing-est fun time playing together.  as you will see - things took a turn for the worse.  can you say 'drama queen' {and 'king'}???

now that i have your sympathies i don't feel so bad bragging about the girls weekend i am on.

my 'me' time has officially begun...

...and i have officially smothered the voice of guilt for leaving my family behind.  
i know these next 48 hours are good for all of us.

any other tired, overworked mamas out there??  yep - i thought so.  if you need permission to take a break you've come to right place.  

whether it's an hour locked up in your bedroom closet {yes - i've done that} or a quick weekend getaway with your best friend {yes - i'm doing that!!}...
don't think about that mold starting to grow in the shower.  
don't consider when you will be able to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store so your kids can stop eating cereal for dinner.
don't start anticipating how long it is going to take you to chip away at that oatmeal that is glued to your hardwood floors.
and don't you dare go get the broom and dustpan for the 10th time today to sweep away the latest mess.

friends - whatever this weekend looks like for you i pray that you will find time 
to actually relax all those tight muscles that daily carry the weight of the world, 
to hear your own thoughts without interruption, 
to feel grace and love fall fresh upon you no matter how many times you've raised your voice too loud or harbored a bitter heart too long.  

we all know that without taking a break we will surely experience one...a breaking of our body, a breaking of our spirit, a breaking of our heart.  everybody needs to take a little break to prevent a bigger one from happening.  go find yours.  

and remember - it's not really a break unless you enjoy it...guilt-free.