Friday, November 11, 2016

Post Election Thoughts

I haven’t said much about the election because I haven’t known what to say.  I woke up at 3 am on Wednesday from my restless couch sleep and my heart felt like a stone flung into a deep sea.  I’ve cried while cutting peppers.  I’ve been lost in a swirl of foggy thoughts, unable to engage my 3 year old’s constant chatter.  Because whatever your policy positions, whatever your hopes for the Supreme Court, it is indisputable that we have a President Elect who has said awful, hurtful things and degraded women and minorities again and again. And this is a cause for grief.  I’ve stayed silent because I know there are many whose worlds seem undone by Tuesday.  To blithely speak of my quiet life with my kids is an insult to their pain, for I am a white, middle-class, straight, college-educated woman, and the danger of a President Trump is minimal for me.  To my liberal friends, to my gay friends, to my friends of color, I see you.  I hear your fear and your anger.  And I am so sorry. 

I am also troubled by the dichotomy that this election cycle seems to have cemented. You either love minorities and the LGBTQ community or you love the unborn.  You either voted for Hillary or you’re a bigot.  If you voted third party, heaven help you, for now you are despised by many.  I live in a county in which 80% of the presidential votes went to Donald Trump.  My direct neighbors are the white rural poor.  This is my reality; this is my culture.  I have watched them from my windows and bestowed copious amounts of assumptions and judgments.  And in return, my heart has been shamed as my neighbors‘ humanity has wrecked my hasty and fearful stereotypes.  I have listened to a man weep on our front porch, the same man who I wanted to get the heck out of our block, for I was sure he was selling meth.  I have opened the door to a neighbor bearing tiny pumpkins for the kids to paint, the same neighbor I wrote off as having a messy yard and no job.  I have been given baby Nike tennis shoes for the birth of my first child by a family who I wished lived anywhere but across the alley from us.  These stories are painful for me to behold, for they reveal my smugness and pride, my fantastic ability to paint people as stock characters, rather than to look them in the eye and see all the nuance they contain.  

In the Kingdom of Christ, this dichotomy does not exist.  I think I will be a bit surprised someday to see who is standing with me before Christ, for the grace of God reaches wider than I can wrap my mind around.  Here and now, the love of His followers ought to extend to all the world, even and especially, our enemies.  While it is VITALLY important to speak out in defense of the groups that are targeted and afraid right now, it is also important to see and love the swaths of America that chose a President I wish they hadn’t.  For the Christian, we don’t get to choose who gets our love and understanding.  We give the cloak to any who demand.  We bring the chalice of Christ’s blood to all because we know how undeserving we ourselves have been.  

May I humbly propose that as we refuse the narrative that we must pick a side and dig our heels in, the Kingdom of Christ will come?  Might we envision a world where we defend the girl in the hijab and share the table with the uneducated man who would be called deplorable by some?  There will be voices that decry such a method, for in the act of radical, sacrificial love to all, we will displease those who want an easy target to blame. 

This is what makes the Cross of Christ so insane.  That the most “other” person, whether they truly personify all that we abhor or whether they simply wear the mantle of our condescension and categorization -- that this person is welcome.  That this person is the one to whom Christ stretches His hands out with pleading love.  

Love where you are, my friends.  

Speak out against injustice, stand up for the oppressed, and then whomever you find yourself surrounded by, 

love them,

again and again and again.  

Not because they have earned it, but because you never have earned it either.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To my Dear Brothers and Sisters

This is primarily written to my white brothers and sisters of faith.  Please may I say to you at the beginning that this is not an attack.  No matter how you might feel about the issue at hand, I love you. Let's not lose sight of our common ground, and the truth that our King is great and is working all things toward the culmination of the fullness of His Kingdom.  I look so forward to celebrating that day with you.  

Sunday night, after the kids were in bed and the dinner dishes spread out to dry,  I drove to Wal-mart. Our project that afternoon had been to lay a paver patio for our outdoor table.  We were five pavers short, and I was determined to finish before bedtime.  I paced up and down the outside aisle of mulch and dirt.  No patio pavers in sight.  Disappointed, I trudged back to my car, and as I opened the door, I noticed a middle-aged couple a few spots over struggling to fit a large box in their trunk.  He was African-American; she was white.  The box wasn't fitting.  He called over his shoulder to a youngish white man.  "Young man, you come over here and give me a hand, will you?"  The man gave him a look of utter disdain and disgust, muttered something which I could not hear, and walked right past the black man.

The look on the black man's face was a pain and anger so deep that I wanted to look away.  He stared after the white man, and for a moment, he looked as if he wanted to follow after the man and respond to whatever hateful thing had just been said.  The woman touched his arm as if to keep him there, and I wondered how many times she had done that, how many times she had held him back in the face of blatant disrespect and disregard.

I knew then, the stinging tears welling up in my eyes, that I needed to write this post.  It is the post I didn't want to write.  It feels as though everything's already been said.  The Internet is a swollen river of opinions, and there are plenty of hot-headed rapids but so few eddies of grace.  Did I really have anything else to say, and I did I really want to enter the raging waters?

Monday, I walked home from work.  Two yards over, a giant Confederate flag waved from the the tailgate of my neighbor's truck.  One yard over, a black man lives in a bungalow with maroon shutters.  The flag waves only a stone's throw from his front door.  Every time he leaves or returns, how can he not see it?  Is he supposed to see it?  Is it a message for him, I wonder?

Church, do we see?  Are we listening?  

May I tell you one more story?  This one is my story, and I am sure it is also the story of many of you who are not African American, but who are women.  I am a woman who walked streets in India and was touched on the bottom or breast by men walking the other direction.  A woman who stood in a crowded subway and had no where to escape from the men who rubbed themselves up against me.  I am a woman who runs the streets of her small hometown always on alert.  I am not paralyzed with fear, but I am aware of every loud truck, every car that slows down, every man walking on the other side of the road.  I  abhor the cat calls and whistles, and I want to get right in the face of every man who offers such and remind him that I am not an object for his pleasure, I am a image bearer of God.  I've even had men yell at me when I was in my front yard weeding my flowerbeds. When I come home and tell Aaron of another whistle, another objectification, can you imagine the pain I would feel if he responded with,

"Well, it's your own fault for dressing like that."

"You were in the wrong place; you shouldn't have been there."

"You're imagining a threat that's not there."

"Statistically speaking, only one woman who was out running has been raped in this town in the last decade."

If he did (and he doesn't), my heart would instantly shut down.  Aaron would not be a safe place for me to share my vulnerability and fear.   He would not be a person I could trust with that burden.  And here's the kicker -- even if all of those statements were true, they do not change my reality.  My reality is that I will always feel slightly threatened as a woman when I run alone.

My reality as a middle class white woman is not anywhere close to the reality of black America; I have been born into a privilege that I've done nothing to earn but automatically inherited.  But oh friends, those imaginary responses to my reality?  I am so deeply grieved that they are responses I have seen offered to the black community this week.

I have cried over these answers I've seen held out.  I have cried the hardest because we--followers of Christ--have had some of the strongest reactions.  We're offering our statistics; we're insisting our mantra of "all lives matter" does more to reconcile than their mantra; we're drawing lines and choosing sides.  And maybe, just maybe, what we need to do most is just sit with our black friends and weep with them.  To tell them as many times as we can, "Your life matters.  Your people matter.  I am sorry."  If we did this, what would that tell black America about Christians?  More soberingly, what are we telling them now?

From my broken heart, here are the prayers I'm praying for us.

Father, please help us to stop changing the subject.  Please help us to be brave enough to sit in the pain of racism and let it uncover the truth in our own hearts.  Please help us to listen to the black community and to be humble enough to not need to offer a rebuttal.

Father, please help us to stop assuming we know how black people feel.  You've let me hear the stories this week: the mother who reminds her 14 year old son to not wear his hoodie outside of the house because more than anything she aches for him to come home alive.  The black pastor who visits several grocery stores asking for donations for a charity event and is given nothing, but when he returns with a white colleague, receives donations from every stop.  Jesus, help me to validate these stories by my admission that I do not understand the weight of a dark skin color in this country. Take away my pride that would say otherwise.

Father, please help us to stop claiming that we aren't racist and that racism isn't a thing anymore.  We pray that you will open our eyes and our hearts.  We pray that you would bring injustice to light before us.  We ask for a unswerving humility to replace our indignation that we might be considered racist.  Would you uncover our silence in the face of oppression?

Father, please break our hearts.  Jesus, forgive us for our sin.  Jesus, forgive us for the sins of our fathers.  Forgive us for our assumptions, opinions, and worldviews that we have held onto more tightly than we have held onto You.  May we see your Cross with such great clarity in this time, your cross that calls us to die for our neighbor and for our enemy alike.

The world is watching, my friends.  We are the face of Christ to a world with gaping wounds, and oh, let us not convince the world that the face of Christ is white, or Republican, or middle class, or fill-in-the-blank with any of our ideologies that we confuse with the Man himself.

I love you, Church.  You are my brothers and sisters.

But I am convinced that we can do better than this.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us.

*A footnote with a couple things I've found very helpful.  If you're concerned about the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement, I urge you to read this transcript of a recording by Pastor John Piper.  
For a kind and honest perspective from a black woman, check out this blog post.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

This Is All That I Have

When I look back on this season of life, these years of young children, what will I remember?

I think of this question often.  I'm smack in the middle right now, and it's tough some days to see past the nights with not nearly enough sleep.  The laundry game that I'm badly losing. The dishes that multiply like busy rabbits.  These days are long.  They are sometimes lonely.  They are hard.

I know, in my cognitive mind, that there will be a point where I will viscerally yearn for the days of my babies.  But alongside that knowledge, I hold at the same time the bone tired, weary discouragement of today.

I haven't blogged lately because this is all that I have.  I am swollen with motherhood.  I begin posts, and they sit in my draft folder because I am afraid they sound whiny or shallow.  I try to think of something profound I am learning, but I come up empty every time.  The sum of my depth lately is the wish that my house was cleaner or the desire to sleep one whole night all the way through.

Yesterday, though, I felt Spirit nudging me to go ahead and write.  About this?  About my total lack of everything?  Yes.  Paul boasted in his weaknesses, 1 Corinthians tells us, and it's tempting to think that Paul's weaknesses were not as ugly as ours.  He was a hero of the faith, after all!  But what if his weaknesses really were just as glaring and awful as ours?  Whatever they were, they pointed to Christ, and that's the only thing I'm holding onto these days, that when I can't, Jesus.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

British Garden Dreams

Spring is coming up quietly here in the Midwest.  My hyacinths are weighty with full pink heads. The daffodils have buds.  Some of my perennials are sending their first scouting leaves through soil's surface.   Oh goodness, I could talk about flowers all day long, and believe me, if you were across the table from me now, I'd for sure show you all the little seedlings I've started in the window.  Then again, that has the potential to quickly spiral into the likes of an infamous vacation slideshow, so perhaps it's best you're not here.

As I plan out my garden this year, I daydream of the trip we took last summer to England and Scotland.  I never blogged about it because I'd just finished the terrible sick months of my pregnancy with Judah.  Our trip was a family affair with my parents and sister's family, and we spent two weeks exploring the Cotswolds, Lake District, Wales, and Scotland.  Great Britain has flowers everywhere.  Even the tiny front yards are full of wispy spires, and every stone wall has something trailing down its side.  Can we talk about the stone walls?  I came home wanting to start a grassroots movement to banish barbed wire and chainlink fences.  Let's go the UK way, people!  (Aaron was quick to point out that stone walls are far more expensive and difficult to maintain than our options.  Whatever.)  And the rhododendrons!  Growing as thickly along the highway's edge as if they were just a bunch of dandelions.  All of it was every bit as magical as it sounds and so, so beautiful.

This is where it gets a wee awkward, since only two paragraphs ago I bashed vacation slideshows. But, would you like to see some England pictures?  Let's talk gardening and all the ideas the Brits have given me.  Aaron is wondering how many trellises I will ask him to build, and the answer is somewhere between How Can One Ever Have Too Many Trellises and How Many Backrubs Will You Take in Exchange for Your Carpentry Skills?  

First off, flowers that I will be attempting to grow because of our trip.

This is Jupiter's Beard.  It doesn't look at all like a weed, but based on its prolific appearance in sidewalk cracks and ditches, I'm surmising it grows like a weed.  At least in England.  I found this plant at ACE Hardware a few weeks after we got back, and it is coming up already this year. Hopefully it blooms as well as its English relatives!

Roses.  Ack.  Intimidating!  But seriously, how could you not want a climbing rose after seeing this in person?  Lowe's had them for 8 bucks, so I bought one about this same color.  I need to do some research on how to secure them to walls.    

Cranesbill geranium is gorgeous, isn't it?  This is a plant I already had before our England trip, but mine does not grow nearly as big.  I don't know what it is about England's climate, but all of their flowers go gangbusters.  Look at that wall!  If there were such a thing as stone wall sweepstakes, I would enter every one.

Next, flowers I adore but have not been able to successfully grow in years past.

Campanula.  Every May, I selectively forget that this plant always dies in our sweltering August heat. I've seriously bought this three or four years running, and it never makes it.  If I see this picture in May, the amnesia will probably return, and I will buy it again.  It's so sweet.  Also, stone wall.  Gah.

Delphinium is another flower that I wish I could have in my garden.  Like campanula, it doesn't tolerate our hot summers.   

Foxglove does fare better in our zone, but as a biennial, it's a little fussy.  If it doesn't reseed, you have to replant in the fall to have blooms the next spring.  Plus, it's poisonous, and that seems risky to grow with young kids.  I think it's gorgeous, though, and maybe in ten years I'll give it another try.

One thing I loved about the English cottage gardens was their use of sticks.  There's nary a wire tomato cage in sight, but they use sticks and branches to edge their gardens and as pea and bean teepees. 

We also visited some larger manor gardens.

I think the English have such pretty gardens to serve as a distraction from the constant mist.  Or maybe they have such pretty gardens as a result of the constant mist.

I took an up close picture of the trellis.  You know, just in case we ever have the time, space, or money to replicate it.

Also on the list of wild dreams: a tunnel like this. 

I'll go ahead and add giant rhododendrons to that list as well.

Doesn't all of that make you want to visit England?  Aaron and I have commented several times how much of a dream it all felt like - partly because of how ridiculously picturesque it was.  (Also partly because we were traveling with a toddler who slept poorly, but that's bygones.)

I'm itching for spring to arrive in full force, to spend afternoons digging and sowing, but there is a certain magic to early spring.  There are no bugs or droughts or bad soil to contend with in early spring.  There are simply so many garden dreams, and they all seem possible.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spilled Cup

I came across that quote when I was in college, and I remembered it today as I sat down to write, thinking over the ways life has jarred me lately.  It feels silly to call the last few months jarring. Nothing tragic or truly difficult has happened.  It's just been life on double speed, with enough tangles and frustrations to tilt the scale toward hard.  The pressing, the tugging, the balancing act always near toppling - all of it has exposed the liquid in my cup for what it really is.

It's those nearest us that get to see the drops spill, one by one.  They catch the bitterness or sweetness in their arms as they stand by.

When Aaron and I got married seven years ago, I prayed that our marriage would be something different: a story that spoke of God, a long song of hope, a real life laboratory to prove the existence of forgiveness, long-suffering, redemption.

But the months fold into years, and at times, we're just two people getting by.  Folding underwear and begrudging the socks left outside the hamper.  Putting the kids to bed and watching re-runs of The Office.  We take on extra commitments, as we have in the last few months, and the silent grudge about the socks turns into a rant.  I'm tired and stressed and picking a fight becomes my default.

I remember the wife I wanted to be as a dream in the night.  It's a foggy storyline that I can't quite make reality.  The gaping distance between who I want to be and who I am.  All that bitter water on the ground, waiting to be turned into a puddle sweet.

And so, last weekend, it was just another stressed-out night, me forgetting that I needed to make a meal for a family at church, dropping the lasagna noodles into a boiling pot at nine o'clock and throwing punches at a pile of french bread dough.  Aaron came into the kitchen with his laptop and set it on the counter with a grin.  "I tried to put on You've Got Mail, but I think we lost the DVD," he said.  "Sleepless in Seattle is your second favorite, right?"

You've seen it?  Black sky dotted with stars, music.  Annie and Walter at the family Christmas.  Sam, on the bench, talking with Dr. Marsha about his deceased wife on live radio.  "Maggie, my wife, she really...I mean, she loved...she made everything beautiful."

I glanced at Aaron.  His eyes were wet.  He reached over and grabbed my hand.

She made everything beautiful.  I swallowed those four words and they echoed in my caverns.  Me, I make things complicated and tense.  I make mountains out of molehills.  But to be a woman who moves through life turning the ugly into beauty, the bitter into sweet, to be a woman who watches her Savior and moves as He does, I want that.  

One line from a 1993 Tom Hanks hit, and God undoes me.

At church the next morning, my heart still soft and sorrowful, my dad preached from Exodus.  Often, he said, we look at our sin and say, "Well, I've tried, and this is as good as it's gonna get."  Like the Israelites in the desert, we'll wander around in the muck and never spring for the Promised Land.

In my seat, I thought about how I have sinned and sinned against my husband, passing the buck to hormones, or feeling weary, or best of all, "being honest."  God has more, my dad insisted.  God leads us out of our sin.  He is the God of the great exodus.  Moving us out of sin, moving us into holiness.

My cup drips the waters of Marah, and I feel stuck in ruts I've scraped deep for too long.

Not too deep, He whispers.  Not too bitter.

My dad on the stage, he pleads with us to believe that what God did for His children then He does for His children now, and I can't stop picturing the Red Sea, cracked right down the middle by the hand of Jehovah, all that water surging skyward.

God knows what to do with water.  He knows how to change water to bring His children to freedom. I will ask.

Empty this bitter cup, Lord, and fill it up sweet.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trying So Hard

Life the last few months has been somewhat of a vise.   My default reaction to all the various pressures is to try harder.  It's okay; I can just stay up later, use my daytime hours more wisely, be more on top of everything!

Give me a house that needs remodeling, two small children two and under, church commitments, relationships, and the hamster on the wheel starts racing madly.  Turns out, a million variables that I can't control AT ALL makes me want to do nothing but try to control them all.  And pull my hair out.

I'm a perfectionist, and seasons like the one we're in shine me up to my perfectionist best.  (Or worst.) I've not always been this way; in fact, ask my mom if she ever thought her nine year old would be classified as a perfectionist, and she would laugh.  But somewhere along the way - senior year of high school or junior year of college or somewhere in between - I started wanting to get everything right. Perfect, as it were, and there you go.

The fall-out is slow to come.  At first, I believe my craziness is actually changing things and working for me to achieve my (ridiculous) ends.  But God is gracious, and hallelujah, the light comes.  No, my craziness is not doing anything but boiling up tension in the relationships I value most.  It's teaching my daughter to freak out over tiny circumstances, because that's what she sees her mama doing.  It's creating an atmosphere of stress, where anxiety and discontent fall like raindrops all around.

In my Lenten devotion today, I read the words of George Matheson.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

That's hope for the heart that tries too hard, isn't it?  Jesus doesn't let me go, even in my grossest, most pitiful state.  He welcomes me, weary and worn, into His rest.  I'm trying so hard to create a life I perceive as perfect, but this life?  It isn't even mine to begin with.  Jesus builds his Kingdom on paradoxes, and here is one I have forgotten: the life surrendered is far, far better than the life held tight.

It's not enough that I try harder.  It's never enough.  The same exhausting routine amped up a few notches only produces more exhaustion.

But there's Jesus, and He's saying, "I am enough."  His words are a freedom I want to receive.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Winter Blues

I've found a way to make the winter blah months speed by.

January and February just drone on, don't they?  Two out of the last three winters, I have been newly pregnant, and believe me, being sick through the darkest, coldest season of the year just helps cheer it up tremendously.  So, this year, since I feel like a normal person and can eat without throwing up, I'm already scores of points ahead.  But that's not my secret.

No, the way to make time fly is to set ambitious house renovation goals that must be done by the end of February because you have friends visiting.  (These friends, as all good friends, could care less if our house projects are finished when they come, but it's been very helpful motivation to pretend as if they care a great deal.)

That is how, on February 15, I find myself wishing that February were, oh, maybe 54 days long instead of 28.  And I have never before said that.

We've been working on our house for what feels like an indeterminably long time, which is a little ironic, considering I just spent three paragraphs convincing you that time was a wisp.  When we have to turn down hanging out with friends because we feel compelled to work on the house, our friends give a knowing nod, "Ohhh, the house."  And we understand; we have been saying we have to work on the house for so long, I'm sure they are convinced by now that what we really do is stay at home and play Candy Crush instead.  (Is Candy Crush still a thing?)

The last two and a half years we've spent remodeling bring forth a few ironclad conclusions:

1.  Aaron is such a hard worker.  He has taught himself all manner of skills and has worked tirelessly and uncomplainingly.
2.  I will always choose form over function, and Aaron will always choose function over form.
3.   This will be our first and last house remodel.  Chip and Joanna Gaines, we are not.

Also, (and this is getting its own paragraph as I'm reluctant to classify it as "ironclad") remodeling brings out the crazy in me.  I find myself saying awful, ridiculous things.  Those doors were supposed to be INSET!  Why is this wall patched like this?  I REALLY WISH we could have made the new floorboards staggered.  (This said multiple times after Aaron had already explained to me there was no possible way to stagger the new boards save ripping up the entire floor.)

Please take this moment to reread #1 and to marvel anew at the patient wonder my husband is.

Needless to say, we're weary and tired.  We're ready to turn in the tools and have a life again.
When next February rolls around, we will not even care if it feels like the longest, dreariest month ever.  We're going to be wearing cozy sweatpants, curled up on the couch with popcorn and a movie. Every single night.

I promise I won't once mention the floorboards.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where the Sun Is a Memory

It's been a little over two years since my uncle died.  In the days since his death, I have thought of him often.  He cared so deeply for the people he loved.  I think his intention left a deep and long impression on many.  On me, certainly.

The day after Dave died, I stood in front of my kitchen window.  It was late afternoon, and the sun blazed in those west-facing panes, a welcome warmth at the bitter end of January. Beams piled on top of me, ray after ray of heat permeating my cold skin and sinking into my bones.  This song by All Sons and Daughters was playing on the iPod.  I began to cry.  Sob, really.  In a beautiful, other-worldly way, it felt like I was being given a small picture of the light and radiance Uncle Dave was standing in.  He was with Jesus.  He was with the actual, physical reality of Christ, his faith finally replaced by sight.

Revelation says that heaven has no need of the sun, for the Lamb is the lamp (Revelation 21:23). How can we even imagine such a brightness, we who use the sun to measure our days and nights, our seasons, our planting?  The orb that enables life on our planet is the only image we possess to imagine the luminance ahead.  Yet the only light we know is a dim derivative of what's coming.

"Will there be a victory?  Will you sing it over me?"  The iPod sang on, and in that hot square of sunlight I knew all was well with my Uncle.

Indeed, there is a victory, and Dave knows it now.  All around him, over him, the new song of the redeemed rises to the throne of the King.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Last night I was upstairs painting our closet doors. Aaron was fitting together plumbing parts in the bathroom, and I was in the corner of the bedroom with a well-worn brush.  Our closet doors cost us absolutely nothing because my dad is the Salvage King.  When the State Farm Insurance office in our town decided to raze its building, Dad asked the owner if he could go by and save some things out of it.  I'm not sure of the exact amount of treasure Dad amassed from that foray, but I do know that our closet doors and a good portion of our bedroom trim were among the spoils.

Salvaging is in Dad's blood.  If there's something free, and that something holds the potential of someday, possibly, remotely proving itself useful, that something is going in Dad's garage.  He loves yard sales, and I remember he used to take me and my brother to dig around in the college dumpsters where hasty students, in their hurry home, threw all manner of perfectly good stuff.  He's never above curbside picking.  Last week, my parents drove to Kansas City to visit my brother, and as my mom later related their trip, she said, "Your dad was looking on the free section of the KC Craigslist before we left, and I'm not sure why." Mom, we know why dad was looking on the free section.

The depths of his garage have also provided us with door hinges, an antique doorknob that matches the rest of our doorknobs, roof tar, a ceiling fan, two Craftsman porch columns...I could go on.  It's amazing.  I'm telling you, if you need a dogsled, or a 1958 Studebaker part, or a Egyptian mummy - go.  Now.  You will find it in Paul's garage.

Dad sees possibility where others see detritus.

And so, last night, easing white paint onto doors that were destined for the landfill, I thought about my Dad.  And I thought about God.

It's a risky comparison to make, because I don't want to sound like a story you'd find in Chicken Soup for the Soul.  But Dad and his salvage heart make me think of God and His salvage heart.

Suspend your disbelief with me and dare to believe the impossible: that God takes the crud and junk and trash of our lives and turns it into good.  No, really.  It's not a slogan for a Christian t-shirt (God Loves Junkin').  It's true.  All the things that feel like too much, the things that have plagued us for too long, the wasted years, the yawning fears, the dying hopes, the regrets, the sullied depths that no one sees but us.

He collects them all. And He wants to redeem every single one.  His is a salvage of the greatest imagining - nothing in this sad, heavy world is beyond his touch of redemption.  

God has transferred those who love Him into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:14).  In His Kingdom, nothing is wasted.  Nothing goes under the blade of the bulldozer.  He's using every bit of it, for our good, for His glory.

In a world where we toss all manner of things - ugly things, old things, worn out things - God is never ready to dispose of us.  He makes beauty from ashes, and it's hard to think of a better salvage than that.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What These Streets Need

On Sunday morning, we walked out to our car to discover papers and CDs strewn all over the passenger seat.  My first thought was annoyance.  "Aaron left something on my seat again!" Then, remembering we'd been out late the night before and Aaron would have had no time between then and now to rifle through the glovebox, I realized someone had been in our car.  We hadn't locked it, so whoever it was didn't have to enter forcibly, but they took the fortuity of an open door to dig into our glovebox and trunk and to swipe the odd change in the cup holder.  

It's not the first time we've had something stolen from our carport.  The last item was of considerable more worth than my quarter for Aldi.  But this instance rankled me more, so much so that my concentration during church was shot.  As we sang, I thought about how maybe I wanted to build a privacy fence instead of a picket fence.  Getting to know our neighbors be darned.  During the sermon, I worried our house would be ransacked while we sat placidly in rows.

It's hard to love your neighbor when your heart is full of fear.

Two little girls live next door to us.  A vivid assortment of plastic toys dot their front yard, dropped, forgotten, never corralled back into order.  I have seen a portion of the heartache that happens behind that white siding, and yet still, I begrudge the trash that drifts over into our yard.  Nearly every day when the school bus drops off the oldest girl, she runs to our front porch and knocks on the door.  If I tell her that we can't play today, she wallops on the glass until I am afraid it will break.  The days she comes in, she wants every snack in our cupboard and tells my daughter we do not have enough toys.

As the clock inches to three every afternoon, I feel anxiety rise up in my chest.  I know the bang, bang, bang on our door is coming.  I don't want to give up my quiet afternoon to referee toy quarrels. I don't have time to be a vending machine; there is laundry to do!

It's hard to love your neighbor when your heart is full of resentment.  

 If I showed you the unedited script of my mind, you would find a wish that we could move our charming old house to a nice, new neighborhood, where the inhabitants are soundly middle class.  No needy children hanging around.  Alarm systems aplenty.  You would find desires to hide, impulses to insulate, plans to retreat.  You would uncover so many, many things that are not who I want to be, not who Jesus asks me to be.

This is the thing about who Jesus asks us to be - it's simultaneously so simple and so difficult.  It's simple because the complex labyrinth of law is gone.  To please the heart of God we need only concern ourselves with two things.  Love the Lord your God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

It's hard because love requires denial, sacrifice, surrender.  It's hard because I really, really love myself and the things I want.  When love inevitably asks of me to give someone else that same attention, time, and care, I resist.

We moved into this neighborhood because we got a neat house for a steal.  We had hopes that our renovation would spur on other spiff-ups, that ours would be the first in a series of street updates. "Look here!  Your house has potential too!"  But, instead, God is using our neighborhood to remodel my heart.  Moving a beam here, opening up a room there, showing me the truth of the castles I'm prone to build: plenty of room for me and little for Him.

I want a pretty bungalow and a undisturbed life, and yet Jesus reveals my ambition is not nearly enough.  It's a respectable block of land I have my sight set on, and He's building a Kingdom without end.  I unroll the blueprint, and I find the plans are scribbled top to bottom with one instruction - to love, love, love the people around me straight into His waiting arms.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Deconstruction Work

Grumpy mornings begin in benign enough births, small circumstantial upsets that, alone, mean nothing. Yet pile them one on top of another - a precarious wooden block tower - and life feels unmanageable, hard, and IRREPARABLY BROKEN if we're going for drama.  (And I do go for drama.) A potty training accident.  Crumbs on the floor when I just swept.  A fussy four month old. Baby junk that has completely taken over my living room but that I can't quite find the courage to boot because darn it, the vexing teddy bear swing does work magic.

My words get sharper as the block tower grows.

A tiny voice asks, "Mama, my play on couch?"  I nod, and she rolls along the cushions, burrows herself into the corner.  She's so little and so big all at once, and my heart is struck with tenderness. How many days do I have to watch her play on that couch?  Not as many as I think.

The catchphrases for times like this are many: Choose joy.  Be present.  Live in the moment.  They're good reminders, but sometimes, a little skeletal.  What do they really mean, anyway?  It looks different every day, and I've got to flesh out that bone each new morning.  So, I take a deep breath, and I

smile at her.

Take a picture because I will want to remember her, like this.

Move the teddy bear swing out of the center of the living room and into a corner.

Ask her if she wants to make muffins.  And of course she does.

I often get tricked into thinking that a grumpy day must have a complete reset in order to be rectified. Call Aaron home from work, give me an hour to meditate, and why don't I change into a new outfit to seal the new start?  But that block tower can be dismantled just as it was built, one block at a time, and it sure makes less noise than toppling the whole thing over with flying arms.

In the spirit of honesty, this still happened.

Where does girl get her drama???

Oh yeah.

So we'll do this again and again.  Add a block, take a block, slowly, slowly, knowing all the time,

there's grace in every bit.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Five Kids' Books We're Loving

It's hard to find the holy grail of kids' books, is it not?  Some books my daughter loves but I feel as though I will need to go hide in the bathroom by myself for a long while if I have to read that book one more time.   Others I love but Anna just isn't ready to sit through yet.

Here are five that we both currently love.  Keep in mind that Anna is 2 1/2, so our recommendations might not appeal to your kiddos if they're much older or younger than her.

1.  Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson.  There are quite a few books in this series, but this one is my favorite.  It's written in catchy and masterful rhyme.  The words in this book are just delicious.  I love books that hold Anna's attention but also have a lot of vocabulary that she's not exposed to every day.  This is one of those.

2.  Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack.  My aunt gave this to Anna, and my aunt has raised and homeschooled nine amazing children, so any book she gives I take seriously.  It's one of three in a series, and it is a sweet little story about Angus the Scottie dog whose world is turned topsy with the arrival of a CAT!  The text is written with all-caps emphasis on certain words, which makes for fun reader intonation.

3. Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert.  I love a lot of Lois Ehlert's books, mainly because she incorporates lots and lots of nature.  The rhyme stands alone in this book, but the labeled illustrations of flowers and birds are what makes it one of my favorites.

4.  Dr Seuss's ABC by Dr. Seuss.  I'm not an across the board fan of Dr. Seuss.  The Cat in the Hat annoys me and some of his stuff is just too much - Fox in Socks for one.  The ABC book strikes a nice balance of whimsical language and good flow.

5.  All Things Bright and Beautiful by Bruce Whatley.  The words of the classic hymn are set to gorgeous illustrations.  A little girl wanders through her life on a farm, and at the end of the book, I am always ready to go outside and explore!

Any good recommendations to add to our reading routine?  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tiny Letters

As previously confessed, I don't have a baby book for Judah.  I have one for Anna, but it's only filled in up to around six months.  I hope she never needs to know her 9 month old weight, because that information has floated away into the cumulus of all forgotten facts.


I do have these tiny books for them.  I love tiny things.  So much so that the phrase "tiny white dishes" has become a joke in our marriage.  I started writing letters to Anna when I was 20 weeks pregnant and we knew she was a girl.  I started Judah's a month or so after he was born.  I write with haphazard frequency, usually just once a month or so.  I keep them in the telephone nook in our hallway, which we aren't ever going to use for a telephone but is charming nonetheless.  I am probably charmed by it because it is a tiny nook!  All the tiny things together!

In the letters, I tell them the cute things they're doing.  I write down things Anna says that are hilarious and will do the same for Judah when he is able to talk.  I pray for them.  I tell them over and over again how much I love them.  

One of the things I've realized about being a mom is that it's good to capitalize on my strengths.  Oh, there are things that I have to hunker down and do no matter how I feel about them.  I wouldn't say keeping on top of the cloth diaper laundry is a strength of mine, yet it has to be done.  Of all the many things that are non-essentials, though, I can gracefully release the ones that aren't me.  I'm just not the mom that saves the lock of hair, the hospital bracelet, all the monthly stats.  And that's okay.  I can do letters, and more importantly, I will do letters because I love to write.  

I hope someday they read my letters, scrawled imperfectly but with every stroke a love mark.  I hope they are reassured that the love I have for them reaches far back, into times they can't even remember. To have been loved before one began is a strength and comfort of great proportions, and that love is a gift I can give them, all bound up in a tiny book.   

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Goal Tending

I'm late to the goal-setting party.  But in the three weeks since New Year's Day, I've kept two tiny humans alive!  That's the rub for me these days, perfectly illustrated in this exact moment: As I type, Anna is organizing a nap strike, and so this post, like nearly any task these days, will be completed over several snitches of time.  The tension of motherhood and my "doing" personality can leave me frustrated.  In a season of life when nothing ever seems completely done, it's cathartic to take a blank page of a new notebook, a mug of tea, and a few moments of brainstorming.

Some of my goals are lofty; I know they might not happen in 2016, but it gives me joy and hope to write them down on a tidy list.  Others are doable with hard work and focus.  A few more are things I would likely accomplish without a list, but I add them anyway because every list needs a couple lines you know you'll cross through.

  • Finish remodeling our 1928 bungelow.  We've been working on this beauty since May 2013, with breaks here and there, but this year, we've determined to put our hands to the plow and not look back!  Aaron and I created a calendar and some monthly goals to help us have the biggest projects finished by December.  
  • Stay within our budget.  We keep a monthly cash envelope system, but I am not the best at staying within the confines of the cash system.  When I make a purchase online, I often forget to remove the cash.  I want to shop online less in 2016 and not buy anything that I don't have the cash for.  Related to this is a handful of saving goals I have.  I'm keeping envelopes marked with the goal on the outside, and anytime we have extra money at the end of the month, I'm going to tuck it away in the envelopes.  I find that having the actual cash motivates me much more than figures in a savings account.  
  • Love our neighbors tangibly.  Two little girls come knocking on our door quite often, and I want to welcome them in even when it's not convenient for my schedule.  I also would like to invite our neighbors over to eat dinner or to barbecue once it gets warmer.
  • Go on one date a month with Aaron.  Date nights are harder to make happen now than ever. We have a list of quirky, non-chain restaurants to try, and though we don't want to abuse the privilege, my parents are great sports about babysitting.  
  • Earn extra money through Ebay and Craigslist.  I have a monthly goal I'd like to meet.  It's one I think I can meet just by listing around five items per week.  This money will go toward some of our saving goals.
  • Plant a big garden.  We've done this the last two years, but I would like to spend some time troubleshooting our past problems (squash vine borers, I'm looking at you) and laying out the most efficient plan for our limited space.  
  • Get caught up on photos.  Before Anna was born, I printed out all of our photos and organized them in simple albums.  I'd like to do this for the last three years.  
  • Start blogging again.  And done!  Maybe the goal should read "Start blogging again and keep blogging."
  • Get back to my pre-baby weight.  The pounds aren't sliding off as easily as they did with Anna, but on the positive side, I'm thinking more about what I eat and when I exercise, two things which are good no matter what the scale says. 
What about you, my friends?  What are you hoping for out of 2016?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

If You Say So

Anna is at that stage in toddler development when new words pop out in her vocabulary daily.  She's able to carry on a conversation now too.  Some conversations with her are incredibly illogical, but others are pretty fun.  A few of the best lately:

I was drinking my morning cup of decaf coffee, and Anna asked for some.  "Why not?"  I thought.  "It's decaf."  I poured her a tiny cup.
Anna:  Iss dangerous.  (Looking up from her cup of coffee.)
Lara: Your coffee is dangerous?
Anna:  Yes.  Coffee dangerous.  (Looks back down with concern and takes another drink.)

Anna: Poppa old!
Lara:  Oh that's funny. You think Poppa's old?
Anna:  Yeah.  Beard.
Lara: Poppa's old because he has a beard?
Anna: (Nods her head vigorously.)  No beard, young.  Beard, old!

Anna:  I have to poo-poo!  (Runs to bathroom.)
Lara:  I have to go potty too.  Can I join you?  But I don't have to go poo-poo, just pee-pee.
Anna:  Oh no!  Mama not potty-trained!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Letter to My Son

I'm sorry, little buddy.  Big sister got a debut on the blog at only a week old, and you're now four months old.  It's the life of the second born, but you've got good company in your Mama.  We'll commiserate together, and I promise, I will buy your baby book soon.  

There are perks to being the second child, though.  This time around, the new mama angst is blessedly absent.  The constant stream of worry that trickled through my heart with your sister is all dried up.  I've done this before.  I know we'll get to the other side.  I also know how fast the other side comes, so I've sat and held you when the house is subpar at best, minefield at worst.  I've kissed your chubby round cheeks again and again.  You're such a happy baby, and you reward all those kisses with big smiles and tiny chuckles.

You'll get questions later about your middle name.  I know because Daddy and I have already gotten plenty.  Before you and before Anna, Daddy and I spent three summers in a tiny mountain town named Lake City.  We'll take you there, of course; we'll take you before you can remember it, and we'll take you when you're old enough to love it on your own.  It's hard to tell you what it meant to us and to our marriage, but the first time you stand at the edge of Windy Point and look down into the valley, I think you'll understand.  We gave you the name Lake for the freedom that we found there, that you would run freely in the grace of Christ that breaks your shackles of sin and overshadows the opinions of men.  The wide blue sky and far-flung northern hills where we learned to dream again - we pray that spirit over you, that you would never stop dreaming big for the Kingdom and for Christ.

Judah Lake, you are such a gift to us.  We delight in you each and every day, and that delight will never wane.  Whatever you do, whoever you become, you are ours.   We wanted you even before the first day we knew you existed, and we will never stop loving you.



Read Anna's letter here.

Friday, January 8, 2016

For All the Mamas

I work out of the house one day a week.  It's not much, but it's enough to give us some extra money that we've used for fun trips and will soon use for more responsible things such as a minivan.  It doesn't compare to working full-time, I know, but it gives me a picture of what working full time and being a mama is like, and goodness, the working mamas are amazing.

I stay at home with my two kids the other six days a week.  It's hard and long and rewarding and precious.  It's simultaneously a job I want for the rest of my life and a job from which I want to take a vacation, stat.  Stay at home mamas, y'all hear me?  You are also amazing.

These thoughts raise a glass to all the mamas everywhere, who are honestly changing the world with each day of their love and sacrifice.

- - -

On the stay-at-home mom days, I wake up at 7:30 to the sound of a tiny voice calling over and over again, "Mommy!  Mommy!  Mommmmmy!"  Judah is nestled in beside me, because I said we'd never be those people that co-sleep, so obviously, now we co-sleep.  I crawl out of bed, and despite my slow motion, I shift the springs enough to stir Judah.  I'm out of the room and down the hall quickly, before he decides to wake.  Our house is 87 years old, and Anna's door sticks exactly as badly as you'd expect.  When I give the top a hard push, it pops open, and she jumps up in her crib like a jack-in-the-box, her whole face a grin.  "Mommy!  Hot milk, Mommy?"

On the working mom days, I wake up at 6:45 to my alarm.  Aaron and I dress in the shadowed light of our closet bulb.  In the bathroom, I swipe the blush and mascara.  Take care not to drop my Sonicare toothbrush into the sink, because that will wake the toddler.  Pull my long hair into a low ponytail and hope it doesn't look like I did nothing to my hair.  (I did nothing to my hair.)  We eat bowls of oatmeal, or if I've had a productive weekend, there might be some granola in the glass jar on the counter.  My mom arrives at 7:45, and we are out the door in a flurry of grabbing coffee mugs and breast pumps and babe, can you get my jacket?  I don't have time to kiss Judah's chubby face, and if Anna is awake, it's a fifty-fifty chance she might cry when I walk out.

On the stay-at-home mom days, it's 11:00, and I am googling "how to get your toddler to poop in the potty."  Anna is begging for me to hold her, and I am trying to be more present, so I snap the laptop shut and find some books for us to read together.  Judah is happy in his bouncer seat until he isn't, and then I hold him in the rocking chair while trying to finish Ape in a Cape.  Anna cries because she's "kwished", and Judah cries because?  Well, I'm not sure.

On the working mom days, it's 11:00 and only an hour until I take lunch and get to cuddle my babies. I wonder if Judah has napped for Mom today and if Anna had any pee accidents.  If I want, I can get up and walk to the bathroom without anyone hot on my heels.  "Mommy, MY flush.  MY flush."  But gosh, it's also hard to concentrate on what I'm typing, because I'm always, always wondering how they are.

On the stay-at-home mom days, it's dinner time.  I prepped most of it during naptime because I've been letting Judah cry it out, and he's finally starting to nap better.   There's music on in the background, and Aaron is building blocks with Anna in the living room.  Oh BLESS that man for coming home from work!  Judah is hungry, but in-between setting the table and tossing the salad, I talk to him in that ridiculous baby voice, and it staves him off for a bit.

On the working mom days, it's dinner time, and dang it, I forgot to use the crockpot again.  I'm so tired, and I know Aaron would order pizza if I asked him to, but we should save money, and I should cook.  It's seven before we sit down to dinner.  Aaron eats and then goes upstairs to work on our house.  We're a couple months away from having much more usable room in this tiny, wonderful house.  A glorious thought, but the reality of tonight is that I need to put two kiddos to bed by myself and then tackle the dishes.

On the stay-at-home mom nights and on the working mom nights, I collapse on the couch.  This mom job is no joke.  I have the thought of flying to somewhere quiet, high up in the mountains, where I can drink coffee in front of a fireplace all day long and read as many books as I want.  I ask Jesus for wisdom, for patience, for grace, for forgiveness, for strength to wake up and do this all again tomorrow.

On every night, I hover outside of her door and open it as gently as that old wood allows.  The floors creak as I creep to her crib.  Her sleeping face is so beautiful it makes me want to cry.  I pad into our bedroom, and Judah yelps out.  I scoop him up and smell the top of his head, and for how rich I am, I can not believe.