Saturday, December 15, 2012

Maranatha

I'm making cinnamon bread for our neighbors today.  The house is quiet save this music, which wafts into the kitchen from the laptop.  Most of the songs are peaceful, and a few are haunting.  An apt soundtrack for the day.  I wash the dishes, my hands scrubbing hard at the dough-crusted bowl, and I think of Ann's words.  What do we do "in a world that's right busted and hemorrhaging a mess straight out the side"?   

The hemorrhage seems heavy lately, does it not?  I talk to God.  These hopes and fears, this heaviness, this longing.  I tell Him as I would tell a friend, and the water becomes lukewarm.  I remember being a freshman in high school.  The Left Behind series was at its peak, and Christian radio stations played a song with one line that always stuck: "People get ready, Jesus is coming, soon we'll be going home."  I lived in fear of the rapture.  A teensy bit afraid that I would somehow be left behind.  More afraid that Jesus would come before I was ready, before I was able to do the things I wanted to do with this one life.

Today I beg, "Oh Jesus, please come quickly."  I drop a few measuring cups into the suds.  I am no longer afraid that this life will not be long enough for all my desires.  This isn't a death wish, this is a life wish, a plea that the Light who gives life will come to conquer the sin and death once and for all.

__________

And this - this post.  Written five years ago but meets this grief too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent grows old


I'm not very good at Advent.  It's December 11 now, right?  The season is halfway over, and I've been thinking for the last eleven days, "Oh, I wish I was following an Advent reading plan.  Maybe I'll find something for tomorrow."

It's good news that Advent hinges on a Savior who came for the people who don't have it together.

Still, I'm thinking about Advent today.  What does it mean to wait with anticipation and hope?  These words fly around for 25 days a year, and I don't want to take them crusty and stale.  I want to chew them fresh, write them on my forehead and wonder at their meaning every new morning.  

When God collided with earth, and the angels told stinky and huddled shepherds for whom no other living being wasted a thought that night, who was ready for that?  Who thought out of all the nights to break Heaven's silence, that night would have been the one?  The silence was becoming comfortable, I suppose.  If not comfortable, at least normal.  Certainly 400 years of no prophet, no message, was easier to swallow than a King coming in a way that no good Jew could rally behind, ready to take the towel of servanthood instead of the crown of the conqueror. 

I, we, have the story.  We believe the miracle, count it as history that really happened, and yet still. Who is ready for our King to come?  To see the clouds split even and the nations gather before a throne - does this read to us as brilliant sci-fi or as reality of truer mass than this table, this chair?

To celebrate the first advent is to proclaim the second.  Christ came, and He is coming.  

Amy Carmichael wonders this, "What will it be like to see Him whom I have known for so long, but never seen?  To adore His beauty; to worship Him in holiness?  What will it be like to see Him, crowned with glory and honor, who was wounded, bruised, oppressed, and afflicted...what will it be, when faith and hope fade out of sight--and only Love is left?  What will it be like?"

Faith and hope.  The rocks on which Advent is built.  Faith that He came.  Hope that He will return.  At the final end, when there are no more candle wreaths, no more pine trees with popcorn wound, no more heartaches and marriages cracked wide open, no more death for those much too young, at that end, there will be love.  

And so we take heart.  Advent grows old.  It's end is coming - and it's one aging in which we can wholly delight.  



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Settling in

I am home.

Deep breath.

By car, by plane, by subway.  Aaron met me in Chicago, and we took two days to lose ourselves in the big city.  An Amtrak train ride and a ride southwest on interstate, and I was back in our little town with the wide sky.  A month gone, and nothing seemed altered.  But the changes come slowly.

I sat in the comfy chair this morning, favored Anthropologie mug perched full of hot coffee on the arm, and I took it all in.  Our Christmas tree is bought and screwed into stand, waiting to be decked.   Christmas cards are written and stamped.  I am ready to dive back into life, ready to rejoin the lives of those I love here.

Yet the thought of my precious people in Turkey makes me cry on command.  I love those four.  In the rooms of my heart, they occupy more than the usual place.  I must have told Abby and Drew a hundred times while I was there, "You are my favorite girl" and "You are my favorite boy".  We need to be reminded we're someone's favorite, you know?  One day I said, "What am I going to do when I have kids?"  Abby replied without a moment's delay.  "Oh we will still be your favorites."  Her confidence is better built than I thought.

Bittersweet life.  It will be so until the end, I suspect.  I read in 1 Peter this morning.  I needed to hear the truth of who I am again.  A pilgrim, a traveler.  The ache in my heart at not having all my loved ones near to gather in close, the thrill of travel and the comfort of returning to familiar, the sorrow as I flip the World Vision Christmas catalog and herald the greed of my own heart again...these things are all evidence.  I live here, but there is something more.  There is Home with a capital H, where all that is right and good aligns in walls of a city with no sun but more than enough Light.

I love this song.  Give it a listen.  It's my anthem for today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Satisfied

The milk comes in boxes and sits on a shelf until opened.

The view of the sky is cluttered with concrete.

The language is clucks and tsks, a bubble of noise all around.

And I miss America.

I miss home.

I miss my husband, my comfy chair, my coffee pot, my gardens, my wide windows that look out on green, my car, my English, my life.

There are no substitutes here for God, here in this strange and foreign place, a city of millions where I know the hearts of four.   There is nothing to run to when I feel lonely or afraid, no hobby or possession that will turn my head from what is simmering in my heart.

All the props are gone.

This bareness?

It is good.

For I pray earnestly to wake up at 7 and sleeping in is not an option when you've got an empty jar for a heart and only one Well to fill it.   I fall asleep with whispered murmurs, "By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me," and the small red Bible sleeps with me most nights in a bed too big for one, and the words within are gold, real gold, more precious than anything else I stuffed in that black canvas suitcase and brought across the ocean.

When have I last been this hungry?

My sister, she says it when we are huddled over coffee in the bustling downtown.  "Grace is the backbone of every woman left standing."  They are Ann's words, and now they are her words, her rally cry for this life that is a new kind of different and hard every morning.  A year in, and she stands with grace as the backbone and leg bone and every bone.

I can see the x-ray skeleton here.  I can see the grace so clearly, stark white against a black screen.  "There it is," and I trace the mercy all the way down this skin.  I'm standing because of grace.

Do I understand this at home?  I fill up with a thousand things that taste better than the Giver of grace, and I think they sustain. What have I been eating all those days?  Fake food, play food, empty calories, stuffing myself on everything but.  When all but the Giver is gone and I am still walking, still alive, to whom or what else can the credit go?

There He stands, the Bread of Life, and I know.  He is more than enough to fill a belly, strong enough to hold these bones up straight.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Day in the Life: Turkey

I'm settling into a schedule here.  Good for me and good for the little ones!  Here's a look at a typical day.

7:00 am

I pray that I will wake up at 7, and so far, God has been an excellent alarm clock.  :)  This part of the day is similar to at home - I find coffee as quick as I can and settle into my favorite chair for some Jesus time.  The kids don't wake up until 8 (usually!), but I have made a rule that if the door is still shut, they have to go back to bed.







































Thank goodness for a French press and Starbucks!  I don't even drink Starbucks at home. My sister spoils me.

8:00 am

The kids are up and scrambling to be the first to the kitchen to "help" me make breakfast.  This morning it's muffins and fruit.




9:30 am 

Breakfast is over, and if we're all dressed by the time the tutor arrives, it's a success!  Rachel and Nathan retire to the salon for lessons.  (Salon is the word they use for living room here.  Makes their lessons sound swanky, yes?)  The little ones and I head to the office for school.

10:00 am

We read a few books every morning that cover animals, poetry, world legends, and science. Then they have some workbooks that we do together.  Drew is just in preschool, and Abby is in kindergarten, so my sister wants to keep school low key and fun for now.  Luckily, they both LOVE it and always want to do more workbook pages than they're supposed to.

Drew is learning how to write his name.  I love his bashful look.


11:00 am

Official school is over, but we hang out in the office for another hour or so...or for as long as they find coloring or another craft interesting!  Today Abby was really into cutting out snowflakes.  It hasn't snowed here yet, but we have plenty of snow decorating the office wall now.  And lots of little pieces of paper to sweep up...

While Abby deluges us in a paper snowstorm, Drew and I color.  He's a mutterer, always talking to himself or saying up the funniest things out of the blue.  Here is a conversation we had while we colored - 

D: Wawa, I dink da dish wanted da spoon just by himself.  So dey ran away.
Me: Oh, that was kind of selfish, huh?
D: Yeah, that was a naughty wittle dish.
Me: Yep.
D: But I dink dat's just pretend because dishes and spoons don't have faces in dis world.
Me: But do they in another world?
D: Yeah, I dink dey do in anudder world.  But not in dis one.

12:00 pm

We move into the bedroom now.  Only 1/2 hour left until lunch break, but we need a change of scenery.  The kids play restaurant while I put another load of laundry in for Rachel.  She does have a washer and dryer, but the dryer is slower than you can imagine (I think because it isn't vented to the outside?).  The rack is more efficient...


12:30 pm

Lunch!  Rachel and Nathan break, and Rachel whips up some grilled cheese.  We eat quickly, except for Abby who has decided that she doesn't like cheese.  What?  What kind of kid doesn't like cheese?  We're gonna have to work on this one.  

\

1:00 pm

Time for a quick trip to the park!  Rachel and Nathan's apartment has windows, but they all look out onto the neighboring apartment building.  You can't really see the sky.  I never realized how precious my view of sky, grass, and trees is at home.  I try to take the kids outside once a day, as much for my sake as for theirs.  


2:00 pm

Nap time!  Now I fully appreciate how precious these words are to young mothers everywhere!  Abby is hit and miss on her naps; at 5, she doesn't always fall asleep.  Nonetheless, she has to lay down for 30 minutes.  I check email, read, journal.

4:00 pm

The kids are awake from naps, and we play some games.  Drew is quite the card shark - please note the sunglasses - and can beat me honestly at Go Fish or Memory.

5:00 pm

Rachel and Nathan are done with lessons for the day.  I help Rachel start dinner, and the kids run circles around the apartment.  Okay, not every night, but a lot of nights.  :)  Nathan agrees to play their new favorite game: they are baby gorillas, or gruffalos, or foxes, or (insert any animal here that has struck their fancy), and he is the daddy.  They lumber around making the appropriate animal noises and think it is the best thing ever.

7:00 pm

After dinner, we put a little movie on for the kids and retreat to the bedroom with the laptop.  Oh yes, it is time for the adults to enjoy some Downton Abbey!  I introduced Rachel and Nathan to the series, and now we watch one a night.  Even Nathan is into it.  It's our nightly escape to a lovely alternate English universe.


9:00 pm

Nathan gets the kids ready for bed.  They sing a hymn each night before the Bible story.  I love hearing small voices belting out "Dis is my Fadder's world" with gusto. It's precious.  I head to the office to have my daily Skype date with my other half.  Being away from him is the only bad thing about this gig.  It sort of feels like someone cut my arm off.  



10:00 pm

I pull the couch out to a bed and sheet it up.  Time to sleep if I am going to get up with the alarm.  :)  This couch is from Ikea, and it is very comfortable.  Two thumbs up, Ikea.

And that's a day!



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

my new life as a nanny


I made it!  I've been here almost a week.  Time is a contradiction here.  It feels as though a week has flown, yet the thought of two and half more weeks without my husband feels immensely long.

It is good.  It is hard.  It is sweet.  It is bitter.  Is it not always this when we go to ones we love but, in the going,  leave other loved ones?

My days are full of pretending to be a gorilla, reading Little Critter and Amelia Bedelia (the latter of which they both love, although nearly all of the puns fly over their heads), walking to parks, and making breakfast with the early three year old riser.  Excuse me, he's three and a half.  I forgot.

These little ones, they are changing all the time, but then again, they still pop out familiar as they did last May, two Septembers ago.  She still looks off in the distance when she's eating.  When you ask her what she's thinking about, the answer is nearly always about a part in a movie.  He still can't say his "c" sound, so candy becomes tandy and cars are tars but sometimes the "t" is hard too, and when that is so, turtles become do-dos.  

The tiny troops have awoken from their naps.  Duty calls.  And maybe some more Amelia Bedelia?



A trip to Ikea!  I told them to make their "I like Ikea" faces!  This is what I got and right after Drew whispered to Nathan, "But Daddy, I don't like Ikea."






























Apple pie!  Yum!  


These are our fierce faces.  Don't mind the princess wand.  It's really a sword. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

the marathon



We did it!

We ran our marathon Sunday morning, finishing under four hours.  I thought there wouldn't be much pain difference between our 20 mile run a few weeks ago and 26 miles, but there is.  Wow, are we sore.  Aleve is our new best friend.

Not to over-spiritualize our marathon, but Aaron and I were talking about how Paul's race analogy of the Christian life is so accurate.  Nothing like running a long and hard race to really hit home his words in 1 Corinthians 9.  Gosh, we need people cheering us on from the sidelines.  We need nourishment along the way.  We need to fix our eyes on the prize.  We need to know that at times it will feel terrible, and nothing in us will say, "yeah, it's a good idea to keep going."  This is the Christian race.

But let me tell you, when we rounded that last corner and saw the big finish line banner at the end, tears came out of nowhere.  The knowledge that we were going to finish well and that my parents were waiting at the end, cheering for us as we stepped over that line -- that was a good, teary kind of beautiful.  Makes me think of Hebrews 12 and the great cloud of witnesses.  If it felt that amazing to finish a small, small earthly race, what in the world will it feel like to step over heaven's gate and hear "Well done, my servant."

Let's keep running, my friends.  The prize is so worth it.




On another note, Psalm 27 really encouraged me this morning as I thought about my flight tomorrow and the election -- two things that can really send me into a tailspin of fear.  Again, fixing our eyes is key.  For He is our light and salvation.  He is our confidence.  He is good to those whose hope is in him.  Our greatest delight is to see His face.  The enemy's tactic of fear desires to whisk those truths out of our mind and put a terrifying future in their place.  But that future is just not true!  Fear is just not true!

So I run truth through my mind like an endless tickertape.  I hope that encourages you if you are nervous about the election tomorrow or whatever else makes you anxious.  Find truth and cling hard.  He is our reality.

I'm not sure what posting will look like the rest of November.  I am sure you will hear from me a few times.  See you from across the pond!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hi, I'm the one made in the image of God with awkward stains on her pants

This morning I went out garage saling and to the grocery store.  When I got home, I realized that I had streaks of dried waffle batter all around the crotch of my black yoga pants. 

Great.

Last night, we played Capture the Flag at Klub.  I get really competitive if I don't talk down my heart before hand (which I didn't last night), and I wrestled one of our college leaders to the ground and gave him a bloody scratch.

Whoops.  

I bought four cans of pumpkin and four jars of peanut butter and four pounds of coffee to take to Rachel and her American friends in Turkey without realizing that with those small items, I'd just eaten up a fourth of my suitcase's allotted weight.  People, the expats need their pumpkin!!!

Packing fail.

I'm running a marathon on Sunday and getting on a plane less than 48 hours later.  Do you think I'll still be sore by takeoff?  Please vote no.

Crazy.

In the last week, I have seen two of our male neighbors outside in their briefs.  Not even boxers.  Would I make this stuff up?  

Wrong place, wrong time.  

Last night, I threw chicken and potatoes in the crockpot and covered them with the first two things I thought of: barbecue sauce and ranch dressing.  It actually wasn't bad.  Oh, the mercies of the crockpot.  

Can we call this carbo loading?

All this to say, it is so funny to look at individual cross sections of our lives.  From those six things, you probably think I lead a very strange existence.  Let's be generous and say quirky, okay?  

But then I think of the Louie Giglio video I watched with my small group girls on Monday night.  The fabulous, unbelievable thing is that all of us, each living breathing set of 206 dry bones, bear a mark of the Divine.  We're walking around with this huge weight of glory all over us, and we still spill our coffee and smell our armpits when no one is looking and wear that holey flannel shirt because it's comfortable.

Isn't that amazing?  

In all the everyday muck and oddity of life on planet Earth, there is a deeper and truer story.  I wanna be alive to the mystery of it, open to the wildness of it.  Isaiah 40 calls us grasshoppers, yet the Star-Breathing, Ocean-Gathering, Enormous God of the Universe sees our hearts and says we are part of something bigger.  We're not just set loose here for eighty years to swim through the crazy.    He's writing a Story, and He invites every last one of us weird, precious people to be a part of it.  To join Him.  

That is amazing.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

the best kind of gifts

The best gifts are those in which we give part of ourselves.  

I'm thinking about Christmas.  Already?  I know.  My fall is ending here; in a week I board a plane across the ocean, and when I return, it will be Christmas season.  I admit, the journey feels like a weird seasonal Twilight Zone, a month in a place bereft of November.  It will be November, but it won't be November.  Not this November with crispy crunchy leaf walks, pumpkin candles, and long Thanksgiving dinner tables.

So I'm already onto Christmas in my mind.  And onto thinking about gifts, trying to lay out what I can do before I leave and what will need to be done when I return.

True: Gifts can be stressful.

True with more truth: Gifts can be such a joy.

For firsts, Jesus.  The greatest gift to humanity.  Thanks to modern Christian marketing, it's impossible to write that and not think "cheesy."  But this is not cheese, this is not a sweatshirt with a Christmas slogan, no, this is a gift we have needed all along with such a great ache in our gut, a gift we still need desperately and violently, a gift we wonder at the goodness of when He gazes down at our faces.  Is this gift for real, really for me?  

I want to find joy in the gift-giving this year.  This idea of gifting our culture has propagandized -- spend more money on more crap you don't need -- this is not the way to joy.

The gifts I love best are those with meaning deep in the fiber.  The ones I walk by or hold in my hand with a smile.  I remember the giver, and I remember love.  They are just inanimate objects sitting still, all with a time bomb clock ticking down to rust and decay.   But for a short wave of time and space they represent more: love, sacrifice, intention, thought, all bound up in a little thing.  

I want to give those kind of gifts this year.






some gifts that mean much to me: 
1. a friendship rock from Aaron before we were dating / 2.  chapstick that my 3 year old niece had just received as a present and then gave to me / 3.  a sapphire ring from my grandma - we share September as a birthday month / 4.  an antique bowl from my mom / 5.  the trellis Aaron built for me / 6.  sweet personalized books made by my sister  / 7.  Bible given to me by my high school mentor - she left off my last name in case I ever got married :) / 8.  a scale from a friend who knew I was looking for one / 9.  a cake plate from Aaron's grandma that she bought years ago in Estes Park


Saturday, October 27, 2012

a horticultural update


We had our first hard frost last night.  I pulled my potted flowers into the kitchen.  I did.  I am that gardener.  

We did say adios to the tomato plants.  We have the latest tomatoes here, y'all.  The only single red tomato we had in August was stolen off the vine.  By a squirrel or a neighbor, we will never know.  Just when the baby tomatoes start partying, it's time for frost.  Shucks.  John, our neighborhood grandpa, assures us that if we put them in a brown paper bag, they will turn red.  

Eek!  Here is our PUMPKIN!  We actually have three, but this is the Big Daddy.  The picture makes him look huge, but he truly is 8 or 9 inches across.  I love it that Aaron gets into the vegetable side of gardening while I stick mainly to the flowers.  Back when we figured out what the vine was, he did a little online research, and per research, we have been faithfully rotating Big Daddy so that he doesn't get a "ground burn" (those ugly brown patches that pumpkins sometimes have).   Now we need some orange!  With the tomato plants out of the way perhaps he can gather some more rays.  


This fall I tried rooting geranium cuttings, and it was way easier than I thought.  I just let the cut harden off for a few hours, dipped the end in rooting hormone, and potted them up in small pots.  These have been moved inside where they will settle down for a long winter's nap in the sunroom.  In the spring, I'll repot them or plant them in the ground, and we will have gobs of geraniums for freeeee!

And that's what's happening in our neck of the woods.  Thank you, Al Roker, for being the weatherman of my childhood.  What's the horticultural update in your neck of the woods?

Friday, October 26, 2012

When listening is no longer a strange, foreign word

I'm in a season of listening.

For the first time since the spring of 2008, I have some margin in my life.  Some white space.  Some quiet.  A place for listening.   A place to be.

I knew after last spring a change was desperately needed.  The woman I was set to become with all of the running and the striving and the tugging was not going to be a pretty thing.  I could see it as my heart filled with bitterness, as I looked at the world and hated it for all it demanded of me, as I increasingly wanted nothing more than to run away and hide for a very long time.  Yet I didn't know what to do but continue on.  Because I'm American and I'm a woman and that's what we do right?  We keep going.

The relationships I held dearest were suffering.  My awareness of God was thread thin.

This summer I felt as though God gave me the word restore.  Restore: for my marriage, our vocation, and my relationship with Him.

We came home after a summer here, there, and everywhere and began to pick up the usuals again.  I knew the return to familiar routine did not mean I had to return to the woman I'd been becoming.  Another word followed on the heels of restore.

Listen.

To listen to His voice.  To welcome in His Spirit.  To ask Him who I am, what I am to be about.

Listening so I might live.  Truly live.

These things take time, you know?  Morning after morning.  Endless cups of coffee.  Pages written.  Prayers whispered.  Silence entered.  Saying no has become my default.  If I am to be about what He wants me to be about, then I best first clear the wasteland filled by my planner, my ego, my guilt, my legalism.

Madeleine L'Engle writes, "I sit on my favorite rock, looking over the brook, to take time away from busyness, time to be.  I've long stopped feeling guilty about taking being time; it's something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don't take enough of it...

When I am constantly running there is no time for being.  When there is no time for being there is no time for listening...

And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand."

I'm still in the listening chair.  I can sense the stirrings, the hints of the blueprint rustling as it's pulled from the tube.  But the order is right this time.  I am done with action before sacred stillness.  I am ready for action born of listening, of obedience.

So I'm listening.  Listening, I am realizing, cannot be divorced from submission.  And submission leads to something I was not expecting at all:

fullness of joy.

So in joy, I will set out from this silent space, ready to sing.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Who is this that you are making me?

In two weeks, I'm traveling to the country where my sister and her family live.  I get to nanny my niece and nephew as my sister and her husband transition to a new phase in their jobs.  If you've been around here for a while, you know how much I love those little rascals.  Here, here, and here is some proof in case you're new.  :)

I'm so stinkin' excited.

But you know what?  I'm also so stinkin' afraid.

When I was in India five years ago, fear became a battle that fought daily.  Crippling fear.  I don't know the clinical definition of panic attacks, but I think I had them in India.  I was caught in a riot toward the end of my time there, and after that, I was afraid to go out in the city, afraid to ride the bus, afraid to work at the orphanage, afraid to be anywhere alone.  When I flew home, I was alone, and even now, five years later, I remember the fear that clutched my chest, snaked down my arm, and followed me all the long flight.

Since my time in India, the Lord has done a lot of work against the stronghold of fear within me.  There are certain triggers, though, that cause fear to rise up again.  The biggest one seems to be traveling alone.  I hate driving by myself, even to the nearby "big city", a short 30 minutes south.  I also hate flying by myself.  This will be the first international flight I've had to go solo on since my return from India.

In September, I went with my Mom to a Beth Moore simulcast.  Beth shared about her own struggle against fear and anxiety and how she had gone to the Word faithfully to refute it.  One day, she realized the fear was gone.  "Who is this that you are making me?"  she had asked God.  I want to be able to say that too!  To look at places where I cannot imagine a difference, and to see that God has wrought freedom!  So it's Word time.  It's go time.

This is where the Lord took me today:

"As Pharoah approached, the Israelites looked up...they were terrified and cried out the Lord.  They said to Moses, 'Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"  -Exodus 14:10-12

Fear keeps us in a restricted land.

"Moses answered the people, 'Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring for you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. " (14:13-14)

Fear blinds us to what God is doing.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on..." (14:15)

The people did not have to secure their deliverance, but they did have to do something -- they had to move.  Active obedience on their part preceded radical deliverance on God's part.

As I think about my trip, part of me wants to stay here in my town.  Fear doesn't often come knocking here, because life is pretty much controllable.  (At least it appears to be.)  But you know what I want more than an okay existence in Egypt?  I want to watch God win the battle against fear in my life!

So I'm moving.  Moving toward him through His Word, moving toward Him when I get on that plane in two weeks.

Our God, He specializes in radical deliverance.  Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

as simple as a bag of Lays

Friday night we stood in the kitchen, prepping dinner for our small groups.  Aaron's group and my group are both seniors in high school.  We love these kids, these almost-adults.  I joked to Aaron as I turned three packages of sausage links out onto a cookie pan, "What if I only know how to entertain for teenagers?  What are we going to do when we have real adults over?"

Teenagers are easy to cook for.  You don't even have to cook.  Chances are, they'll want a box of microwave popcorn for dinner.  After we got married, I stressed a lot about having people over.  Since we had people over nearly every day, you can imagine that my life felt pretty stressful.  I've told you all before of my (now-not-so) secret desire to be Martha Number Two. When I started to figure out that homemade hand-filled cupcakes with piped frosting were getting about the same reception as the box of Oreos,  it changed a lot of things.  Jesus, He changed a lot of things too.  


It's been a process, this thing of hospitality.  From the get-go, I knew that I wanted our home to be open.  Heck, that's what I wanted from my dorm room.  How much more I yearned for our home to be a haven.  To be a place that would elicit an audible sigh and a feeling of let-down, of rest.  Yet as we welcomed people in, I was the very opposite of rest.  

I realized last night that Jesus has done some work in me.  It's a good thing.  I wasn't stressed.  I wasn't anxious.  I wasn't insecure that my efforts would fall flat.  

Hospitality is beautiful when it becomes not about me.  

So how do we let people in without making it about us?  Here are some things I've noticed in my journey.

- Release my ridiculous house expectations.  You guys, I actually used to want people to think my house was never ever messy or dirty.  Um?  What kind of goal is that?  "Hello, my name is Lara, and I am a freakin' good housekeeper, and I hope you feel natural in my immaculate house.  By the way, I notice you forgot to remove your shoes at the door?"  In general, I do try to keep our house picked up (it does feel more peaceful that way), but I've stopped moving piles inside closets and leveling all the lampshades before the first knock.  We have a life.  We are real.  We are messy.  So our are guests.  A lived-in home makes me approachable.  

- Serve food that is the most amount of good for the least amount of stress.  I do like to cook.  I do like healthy, homemade food.  What is the best meal I can prepare in the time that I have?  Sometimes, that's tacos.  Sometimes, it's a fancy new recipe from Jamie Oliver, everybody's favorite British kitchen chum.   Sometimes, it's pizza in a box.  We have two go-to meals for larger groups: crepes and calzones.  They're different enough to be fun, but they're still easy, partly because your guests are making the food!  We just set everything out and let them assemble.  

- Open our home when we're gone.  This has been so good for me because it helps me release the notion that my home is mine, and the things in it should be used how I think.  When you let people use your home and you are not there, you have no control.  That is good!  

- Be a vessel.  Part of the stress of hospitality for me come from my introverted-ness.  I hate small talk.  What if I can't think of good questions to ask?  Our home is my personal refuge, and it's hard to let a lot of people into that precious space.  What if they overstay their welcome?  Jesus has been showing me that I am just His vessel.  In Philippians, Paul tells the church that he loves them with the affection of Christ Jesus.  It's Christ's affection with which we love people!  It's Christ's heart in us.  We are the jar He uses.  That takes so much pressure off my shoulders.  I don't have to orchestrate the night.  I don't have to have the plan.  

Aaron reminds me all the time that hospitality is simply letting people into our lives.  It's not a show, an act, a routine, an unreachable ideal.  It's life.  With extra people sitting on the couch.  (Or sprawled across the floor.)  :)


What about y'all?  How do you host/hostess?  Thoughts?  Do you love a house full of friends or do you want to crawl under the bed at the thought of such a thing?  :)  Do share.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

a philosophy of aging

My parents with newborn me in 1984 and the three of us at my last birthday.  Haven't they aged with grace?

I turned 28 a month and some days ago.  Really, 28 was no stunner compared to 27.  27 hit me hard.  I think part of the shock came from the number line in my head.  I thought everyone had this number line until I tried to explain it to a friend in high school.  You start at one and head due north.  When you hit 20, you turn a sharp right and keep going until infinity.  The tens are in bold.  This is the way I always see numbers in my head.  At 27, I saw just how close the bold 30 loomed.  It was freaky, you guys.  30, always an abstraction -- an age far, far off where I would have a couple kids and a mom haircut -- was tilting precariously close to my spot on the number line.

Then there are the gray hairs.  I can tell you exactly where I was when I found the first one.  My vanity is of a finely tuned precision.  We were driving north on Market Street to a graduation party, and I was preening in the passenger visor mirror.  I pulled that pup out and took it in to the party with me.  I was weirdly proud of it.  Only 25 and already a gray hair to speak of.  There's a conversation starter.

This year, I came to 28, and I felt done with the moaning.  One year of it just plumb tuckered me out.  A month or so before my birthday,  I read a sermon by Peter Marshall called "Go Down Death."  In it, he writes, 

"We are pretending that we are not getting any older -- that we are not afraid of death.  We are all busy in a vain effort to create the illusion of mortal immortality.   Age creeps on, but we refuse to recognize it.  We enlist the help of the masseuse...and the creams and lotions, hair dyes and plastic surgeons, all in an effort to keep alive the illusion that life here will go on forever.  Either one believes in the immortality of the soul or one does not.  There is no middle ground here."  

His words would not leave me.  It hit me how disparate it is to believe in Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, and at the same time, join the cultural chorus which weeps over our declining bodies.  If every year brings me closer to another birth into a life truer than the first, then why would I pump the brakes? 

The face of Christ awaits beyond the veil. The more days I am given, the closer I am to that sight.  Send back the wrinkle cream and Spanx, y'all; I'm gonna take the new body.

Here, I am a clay jar.  Clay jars get broken.  They get that white limey residue on the outside.  No amount of external renovation is going to change my clayness.  I want to be the most graciously old clay jar there can be.   

All this to say, bring on 30.  And 40.  And well, really, just bring on Jesus.  It's going to be good.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A love letter

This is the view out my kitchen window.

Now do you see why I like to wash dishes?

The funny thing is, our black walnut tree has never turned like this before.  In four falls, I don't remember it ever being vivid.  But this fall, I putter into the kitchen for morning coffee and glance out the window, and it takes my breath away.

I heard people say fall wouldn't be good for color this year.  The cloak of drought and heat had wrapped too tight and too long, they said.  And now, this.  A sky filled with fiery yellow and a ground laid fresh with bright carpet.   I love that God can do whatever He pleases.

It's a love song, this tree.  I can't stop peeking at it all morning as I wisp in and out of the kitchen, going down for laundry, washing a cup and a bowl, reheating leftovers for lunch.  I look out the window and breathe deep.  God, who can do whatever He pleases, sends the wind that blows the branches, and leaves scatter and whirl, and I hear it.  "I love you."

He is our God, and He will remind us forever, over and over.  Nearly ten thousand days worth I have had now, He chasing me with His wild love.   On this day, He woos again.  In the tree that never is yellow and suddenly is.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Thanks, Father, for this home...

We moved into our house right after we were married.  We rolled into town from our Smoky Mountain honeymoon and went to Mom's house to open up gifts.  A few car ferries later, and we were surrounded by Bed Bath & Beyond boxes, all my books (which were pretty much the only dowry I brought into this marriage), and an empty set of rooms.  Our home.  

I was in heaven.  I loved our home.  LOVED. IT.  For the last three years, I have loved it more earnestly with each new month.  I know I sound weird, but seriously, I have often wondered if I loved our house a little too much, maybe with a love that I should reserve for people or possibly a cherished pet?

A few months ago, the love stopped growing a wee bit.  Our friends all started buying houses.  Some of them own two houses.  I got panicky.  "Are we doing something wrong?"  I asked Aaron.  "We're almost 30 and still renting."  Our house started to feel tight.  Small.  Wrong.

Today, a friend called to tell me they had just closed on a house.  The anxious feeling returned.  I thought of the brick bungalow a few streets over that I want to buy so badly.  I can see its hardwood floors polished and a built-in banquet in the breakfast nook and kids running in and out the back screened-in porch.

Past a certain point, our future is a big question mark, and I have no idea if buying a house is in His plan or not.  What I do know is what to do with that desire -- open up my arms.

After I hung up the phone, I began to sweep.  I started a mental list of all the things that have endeared me to this home.  There are quite a few.  Funny how a grateful heart can change perspective entirely.  Here are some of the things I thought of:

1.  Size
Not too big for when it's just the two of us, big enough for when there's a crowd.

2.  The windows
Our sweet landlady put in new windows before we moved in.  This house has lots of windows, and I love natural light.  I also love open windows, and it's nice to have new ones that don't stick.



3.  Having windows above the kitchen sink
Washing dishes would be dull indeed without seeing the world outside.



4.  Our fireplace
I get a huge wooden mantle to decorate, and we have a wood-burning insert that we use all the time in the winter.

5. The flooring
Most of the house has light laminate flooring.  When we moved in, I was really into dark wood, but I've been glad numerous times since then that I didn't get to make the flooring call.  The light laminate makes the house feel cohesive, airy, and spacious.

6.  Flow
We have a very open floorplan, which is great for the hosting we do.

7.  Old charm
The french doors, the tiny fireplace windows, the built-in bookcases, the metal doorknobs.  Love them all.

8.  Space for extras
The bedrooms are generously sized, and there is enough room in our guest bedroom for a bed, an office nook, and a crafting table.



9.  Deck and yard
We have a deck!  We love to eat outside, and oh, do you see that incredible looking trellis?   My incredible looking husband built that.  Our yard is great too.  It's a secret haven.



10.  Basement
Perfect for storing the paint cans, extra boxes, and the George Foreman grill.  Aaron may be a little hurt that his appliance was relegated to the basement, but the basement is better than no home at all.  Right, Georgie?

Okay, what about you?  Whether it's big or small, just what you've wanted or far from your dream, tell me some things that you like about your home.

The exact place He's given us is a gift.   I don't want to squander it.  Wanna join me?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

pancakes and joy

It's Tuesday night when I remember.  Tomorrow is Pancake Breakfast.  My heart hunkers down low and begs my mind not to remind Aaron.  Maybe we can just sleep in tomorrow?  After all, what can high fructose corn syrup and store brand pancake mix really do for the world?
 
I casually mention it to Aaron.  Maybe he will suddenly feel like it's a very bad idea.  He makes a run to Woods Grocery for some more plastic forks, and now there is no excuse.  We set our alarms and as I turn my head to the left side of the pillow I pray that the God of the tangible and the real will give me some peace and strength to hold onto.  It's just pancakes.  A few paces loom like a marathon.

We wake up, and there is a peace.  There is a strength.  Why do I ever doubt that the daily manna will come to me moldy and stale?

We drive to the middle school gym and unpack our things, and our sweet college girls come to join us.  We mix and flip and pry paper plates from the tight stack.  We ask names one more time and venture out into the scary abyss of the bleachers, where there is a money-back guarantee that you will feel like an insecure 13 year old again.

It is crazy how many times my selfish heart learns this lesson: there is joy in the going and joy in the giving.  In an hour, we lock down the concessions stand and lope back to our car, and I have been filled.  Our God who leads us, He never fails to meet us. 

I can't stop thinking of this Father who joins us under florescent lights and next to smoky griddles, this Jesus who consecrates the simplest and cheapest of breakfasts, this Spirit who changes our hard, hard hearts into moldable masses once again.

What kind of God stoops to the cement-block, gymnasium, everyday normal?

Our God, that's who.

Wherever you are today, my friend, whatever He is beckoning you to that seems hard to harken after, take heart.  He is our God, the God of the Going-with.  When you want to retreat, He's leading the charge.  And we?  We get to follow.

Shannan is writing some great thoughts on Going at her place this month.  Her words inspire.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

from India to Ohio

Heft.  Clunk.  Heft.  Clunk.  Heft.  Clu-clunk!  Four flights of stairs with one heavy suitcase.  I was in India, and the taxi driver had just dropped us off at our team leader's flat.  Beth reached for her key and swung back the metal grate.  We rounded the corner, and four faces met us.  Teammates who had already arrived.  I scanned faces, and hers met me with a wide smile.  She had an eagerness and a joy that reached out to me, welcomed me.  I hoped that she would be my roommate.  I sent an earnest telepathy to Beth.  "Please, please, put me with Sheila."

Sheila did become my roommate.  We moved into the spare room of a older couple's house.  They were kind of crazy, and life in Kolkata was sink or swim, so we grabbed each other and hung on tight.  After full days in the city, we would lie on our bed and process everything.  Sheila had brought an iPod, and I had not, so she gave me an earbud and kept one herself.  We fell asleep listening to the playlists her brother had made for her.  We woke up and ate the Indian breakfasts our Aunty made, and when I could not eat one more greasy puri, Sheila went to bat for me and swiped it when Aunty wasn't looking.

Boys, food we missed in America, college stories, friends at home, questions, heartaches, theology, good books...nothing remained untouched, and we grew so close in four months that I knew I had a heart friend for life.

Fast forward five years, and we are in beautiful Amish Ohio.  Perhaps the farthest cry there is from the heart of Kolkata.  Sheila is getting married.  The boy's name had bounced around those peeling walls of our room in India, and neither of us thought she would end up here, becoming his wife.  But oh how good our God is, and how patiently He leads us, to ends we never would have chosen but which become our deep joy.

I love you so much, Sheila.  Thank you for your friendship, given unconditionally, even in the darkest season of my life.  Your loyalty, faithfulness, and wisdom were buoys to me.  You are a beautiful woman, my friend, and I have no doubt that you and Joel, together, will shake the world in all the best ways.  


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

an acorn on Park Place



There's a favorite loop I have for walking.  It's straight north from our house.  The road hooks to the left in front of a stone cottage that used to have a bamboo forest.  Once, we met the old man who lives there, shortly after the forest had been cut down.  We asked why it was gone.  "The neighbors were complaining," he said.  "It was moving over into their yard.  Too hard to keep it contained."  Now the empty space is planted with zinnias and cosmos and irises.  He has a gardener's heart, and it can't be contained either.

After the stone house, I usually swing north again, down a quiet, curvy street.  Ranch houses line the concrete curb, but even for all the ranch-ness, this street has character and charm.   Cars rarely drive this way.  There's a white and brick house covered with ivy on the left side, and I keep waiting for a "For Sale" sign to go up.  How can a few square yards of ivy elicit such deep yearning? A few doors down, a bright pink mandevilla vine trumpets up a lightpost.  To the right, shady backyards share a fenceline with the old city cemetery.

Aaron is walking with me today.  He listens to my joy over the zinnias, my plans for improving the ivy house, my thoughts about my trip to Ohio.  My heart in every different dress.   We walk in quiet for a bit.  I notice the acorns where the asphalt meets grass.  "Wait!  I need some more of these."

He smiles and shifts his weight as I scramble.  "It's okay," I say, "I'm okay with being that crazy lady, remember?"

He rolls one between his fingers.

"Does it have a cap?  I'm looking for the ones with the caps."

"No, no cap," he says thoughtfully.  "Have you ever really looked at an acorn?"

"Hmm?"  I am still hunting for caps.

"Look.  Look at that color.  It's so rich."  He rubs more of the dirt off with his thumb.  "It's better than what we come up with, stains for furniture.  It's deep."  The whole shell is revealed now, shiny.  He is right.  Brown is beautiful in an acorn.  Brown, the color of dirt, dull.  Now it is gleaming, and brown is a beauty to rival the cocky zinnias and loud mandevilla.

"Life is this simple:" Thomas Merton wrote.  "We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.  This is not just a fable or a nice story.  It is true."

God shining through a acorn.  God shining in the smallest of things, the dullest of things, the most swept over of things.  Is it not true?  There is no other way to explain the ache and wonder of the noticing soul.

As we turn south to home, I pray.  Pray for the eye to truly see the acorn, for the eye to truly see God.

Monday, October 1, 2012

meet gordan



This is Gordan.

I tried to tell my sister about Gordan in a recent email.

"So that's the scoop on our various saving plans.  We are going to get some old pictures of "relatives" and post them on the fridge and that way they motivate us to keep saving.  We had Gordan for our Europe trip.  Did you ever meet Gordan?  Now we like him so much we keep him on the bulletin board although we met our goal.  

I can find you some old relatives if you need to save for something.  It really is a motivator.  Gordan was really ugly so that helped. But you know how ugly people grow on you and now Gordan reminds us of all the beautiful things we saw in Europe so how can you get rid of that?"

She replied:

Lara,

I don't understand about Gordan and the relatives, but Nathan and I still thought this email was hilarious.  Do tell.

Rach

I consider it my duty to make my older sister laugh.  She's living in a foreign country, and she needs all the funny she can get.  Gordan is good for a laugh.  He's so earnest, with his tweed vest and mutilated mustache.  He wants you to take him seriously, but you just can't.  



Back in March, I found a little book at an antique store.  It was full of vintage postcards of Rome.  I thought it would be a cool memento since we were planning to go to Europe that summer.  We were also in the thick of saving for this trip.   Well, lo and behold, when I got the book home, an extra little gem fell out of the pages.  A gem whom you have just met.  Our pal Gordan.  

He is rather creepy looking, isn't he?  Maybe he owned the book of Roman postcards.  Maybe his lover went to Rome and carried his picture along so she wouldn't forget him.  Whatever tie he had with the book, we decided that he was destined to become our saving mascot.  His name was obviously Gordan.  We pinned him up to the bulletin board in our kitchen, and we promised that his angular little face would remain until we had earned every last penny for our trip.  

Well, now he's part of the fam.  You just can't kick someone to the curb who's been there for you like Gordan has been for us.  

Last week, we had a budget meeting.  In the light of some big changes down the road, we had some reevaluating to do.  We created some new saving funds.  

Some of the funds are serious.  But one is for our 5th year anniversary, which is 20 months away.  We don't have the kind of income that lets us take big trips on the fly, and you know what?  Although I've resented that at times, the saving process really is rewarding.  And with the fake relatives silently cheering you on?  It's even kind of fun.     

Gordan, you're about to get some new buddies.  But, don't worry, old guy.  You'll always be our first. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

make your own chai mix and change your life

There will come a day when I will stop inundating you with posts about fall.  That day is not today.  

We love chai around here.  It is the number one hot drink that Aaron will partake of.  You know me, hot drinks are my love language.  They might even be my spiritual gift.  (Kidding.)  So anytime he'll drink something warm with me, it's a deal.  Done.  

The powdered chai mix at the store is expensive.  Last fall I googled how to make your own mix.  I clicked on the first page that came up and gave it a try.  It was good!  We made jars and jars of it.  We gave some away.  We kept a lot.  Our lives were changed.  We sat on the couch all day and had deep conversations whilst cupping hot mugs in our little paws.  Everything had that vintage Instagram tint to it, and Aaron even got a man cardigan.  Okay, so maybe that last half is a fat lie, but still...this mix is good.

Also, it's cheaper than buying the store mix.  Good, cheap = win, win.  

With the advent of fall yesterday, I clearly could not wait a day longer to change our lives this year.  Would you like to change your life too?  Here's the recipe.

Throw all the ingredients together.  I love the way the spices look.  It's a beautiful little thing.
  

(I have a cardamom problem.  Cardamom, hands down, wins the award for being the spice that most reminds me of India.  It's the prominent smell of their chai.  Also, they have these tasty cardamom biscuits (code word for COOKIES!) that cost something like 10 cents.  I buy cardamom at bulk stores to get it cheaper, but obviously, I forget what I already have.  Can someone remind me in 12 months that I already have plenty of cardamom?)


You grind everything up in a food processor or blender.  

Add three tablespoons to a cup of hot water.  Or you could use milk if you want double creaminess. 


Bam.  It's like liquid happiness. 


Now if you will excuse me, I think we have a long-overdue date with the couch...