Monday, December 26, 2011

Advent Unraveled

I’ve had dreams where I’ve found a loose string in a favorite sweater, and started pulling & pulling until the whole thing was gone-- like being eternally stuck in a Weezer song.

Well, sadly, that’s a little what Christmas felt like this year. All these high hopes of changing the way we celebrate as a little family, bringing meaning and reflection & worship to our traditions, and giving thoughtful, personal gifts. Epic Fail.

It turns out that when you have a toddler, two full-time jobs, no childcare, grad school, a new house in need of repairs & a ludicrous amount of travel in your Winter, giving thoughtful, elaborate & personal gifts is rather difficult. When you add a very sick mama, followed by a very sick, sleepless baby to the mix, it becomes almost impossible. Then add five out-of-town [dearly loved] family members, three houses to travel between (with all the sick-baby gear), and you’ve got some serious anxiety & exhaustion. Then, just for fun, you run out of the supplies needed to finish said thoughtful gift half-way through & travel all over Orange County to buy more (I’ll spare you the details), and last minute (on the 24th) your pup gets attacked & winds up in the pet hospital with some pretty serious injuries (don’t worry, he’s gonna be fine).

When you combine all those things (and maybe just a bit of left-over childhood guilt & people pleasing tendencies), you might just end up with a full-fledged anxiety attack in the middle of the night (wish I was kidding). You might end up sleep deprived & worn out, feeling like a martyr & whining at God, instead of celebrating Him. You might end up reflecting on your Advent readings on Christmas night wondering why our King’s new Kingdom doesn’t look a little more like he said it would.

So, if anyone out there had any silly thoughts that this Professional Christian had her stuff together, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. It turns out that it doesn’t take much-- not a natural disaster or a life-threatening illness, or a major catastrophe-- to make me completely unraveled. No matter how hard I tried to pull it together, I just ended up a big mess, sobbing in the bathroom in the middle of the night.

And I guess that’s the whole point, isn’t it? I’m a mess. You’re a mess. This whole world we live in can just go unraveled, and no matter how hard we try, we just can’t fix it. We need some serious help. We need to be rescued.

And, to be totally honest, when I’m coming unraveled, the last thing I want is religion, or advice, or wise, pithy truths. I just want someone to sit with me; to walk with me through the mess, and to understand (maybe even without words) what it feels like. I want someone who’s been there to just be next to me.

So, even though I don’t feel much like celebrating, I have a deep & quiet sense of comfort at this whole idea of Emmanuel, God with us. I know that there’s a whole lot more to Jesus coming to earth-- all the theological implications & all that-- but right now, it feels good to know that He didn’t just watch from far away as a few little things caused me to come unglued. He got his hands dirty, entered this big mess we made, and said “I know exactly how you feel”.
Even though I’m tired of cookies, prime rib, and all the festivities, Emmanuel is something I can celebrate today.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Good Word

"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!

You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can't worship God and Money both.

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."

-Jesus [Matthew 6:19-34]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent: A Confession

I've had some disturbing thoughts lately as I have reflected on Christmas. Deeply disturbing. Extremely uncomfortable. Sometimes I wish I could just turn off my brain.

My desire has been to extricate the stress, materialism, and gnawing hunger for the New & Shiny at Christmastime, and to replace it with the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love that comes from celebrating God's arrival. It turns out, though, that when you invite God to rummage around and clean out the dark places, He usually ends up finding more than you are comfortable with. Apparently, making your home in Jesus doesn't involve tidying & cleaning, but a complete overhaul.

About a week ago, I noticed that the contentment I felt with my life & my closet had been replaced by a rather long Christmas wishlist. It seems to happen every year: I start off thinking that I really don't need anything & isn't my life so full, and end up hungry for more, more, more, as I see lovely new things in store (or computer) windows.

And it happened again. When I pulled out my wishlist and tried to cross things off, and carve it down, it was really hard to let go.

Then this quiet thought floated to the top of my brain: I want others to think I am stylish, fashionable and cute. I want it so much that it has taken root deep down and controls the way I spend my money, my thoughts, my desires.

Now, I'm not making any blanket statements here about the evils of wanting a new sweater. I just realized that this seemingly simple, even benign desire has marbled it's way through the corners of my heart & mind, and the reason I know it because it is so very difficult to let go of.

Here's what I mean: There are millions of people in this world who are starving. I've read the statistics, I've taught seminars on poverty, and I've even lived in a refugee camp. I'm not trying to go all emotional, desperately-pulling-on-your-heartstrings or anything. It's just a simple truth. I have personally met people who have been kidnapped by rebel armies, whose children have been malnourished, and I have held a baby who just died of malaria. This isn't some infomercial out there, it is something I claim to care deeply about. So there's that.

Then, on the other hand, I have three black sweaters in my closet. But I don't have the right black sweater to wear with several of my shirts, and I really, really want a new black sweater. And a pair of skinny jeans that fit better than the other two pairs I own. And a few other sweaters, tanks & loungy pants that are on my list. Even though I already own more clothes than I know what to do with, they are old and make me feel frumpy, out-of-date & self-conscious. I feel uncomfortable all day long when I wear something like that. I look at other girls who are stylish & fit and compare myself. I try on seven different outfits in the morning & never quite feel satisfied. I worry about what others will think of me, and hear in my own mind the things that they must see in me. It's a pretty deep insecurity that I've carried around for a long time.

I could ask for clothes from my [extremely generous] parents for Christmas, or I could literally donate a cow to help feed those Ugandan girls I love. I could even ask for half the amount of stuff, and give the rest away. But every time I try to let go, there's just one more thing I need. I thought about fasting for a year from buying new clothes (not that we have that in our budget, but our families are always very giving for Christmas & birthdays) to help loosen the grip this stuff has on my heart. I'm honestly not sure if I could do it.

But really, what would happen? If I were to keep wearing those things that make me feel frumpy and old, would people love me less? Would friends stop spending time with me? Would my husband leave me for a trophy wife? Would my work with college students diminish? Would my personal worth or value as a human decrease? Would anyone even notice??? Wouldn't people rather spend time with someone who wasn't so concerned with their image & appearance, who was centered & free from insecurities, and focused on others rather than themselves?

What would it look like to let go-- to follow Jesus and walk forward into something that is [embarrassingly] difficult for me? I want to let go, and I don't. I want to move forward, and I don't. What would it look like to follow Jesus while holding on to something I knew he was asking me to release? Is that what I want?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Saving Christmas

"And that was the year that Buddy saved Christmas..."
There are some pretty fantastic movies out there (and, I admit, some pretty terrible ones-- exhibit A) about an unlikely hero who steps up to save Christmas from certain disaster.

Looking back over the last several years, I've had these high hopes & big aspirations for what Christmas could look like. If you think about it, it has the makings of a great story: there is something pure, wonderful and good that is at risk of being corrupted & overrun by stress, consumerism & greed. Our chance to celebrate the arrival of freedom, peace & hope stands against an army of gingerbread men, Holiday sales, and tense trips back & forth to relative's houses. Pretty high stakes there.

Every year, I come up with a plan for preserving the meaning behind Christmas and holding it in my heart-- and every year there comes a point when I realize that my plan isn't working so well. This year, the plan was to blog everyday during advent, to reflect on Scripture from the advent readings, to keep in mind the significance behind each of our activities, and to simply set aside time for what was important. And as I lay in bed with a nasty cold for weeks, I realized that my big plans to save Christmas were crumbling.

The sense of contentment with my stuff has been replaced by a haunting siren call for new shoes, sweaters & skinny jeans. The desire to donate Christmas money to our favorite non-profit has been replaced by a hunger for things shiny, new & fashionable. The desire to spend my after-baby hours blogging, reading & reflecting has been replaced by a need to address Christmas cards, bake cookies, answer emails, make gifts, and order stuff on Amazon.

I can feel the tension, the weight that pulls me away from what I had hoped for & intended, and I feel tired & lazy. So the question is: What will our hero choose? Will she be able to save Christmas? Or will she end up disappointed, stressed out & a little gluttonous (with a really cute pair of black ankle boots)?

Here, my friends, is the climax of our story. Let's see how it unfolds...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Sunday: Joy

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
-Isaiah 9

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent: Peace on Earth

Peace is kind of a funny word. Despite thousands of years of deep meaning and significance, when I hear the word "Peace" today, I think of Birkenstocks, long hair, VW buses, and the corner of Haight/Ashbury.

It's one of those words that is used at Christmastime a lot, on flowery cards, cute little knicknacks, and in carols. I'm not sure, though, that I've ever stopped to think about the relationship between Christmas and Peace.

To be honest, Christmas is one of the last peaceful times of the year. Most people are stressed out, overbooked, overfed, overspent, and at war with at least one family member as they rush from obligation to obligation. I am definitely no exception. Christmas has always been about cramming as many family members into a 24hr period as LA freeways would allow, and as much as I love it all, I generally end up in a ball on the floor crying at some point in the festivities.

One of my goals this year is to be more intentional about eliminating stress and adding Peace to Christmas. I am going against every fiber in my body and not hosting a Christmas party. Instead, the plan (we'll see how it goes) is to bake cookies for the neighbors, and go door to door meeting them. The idea behind that is I still get to do the baking & Christmas cheering that I love, without the pressure of having a clean house, cute dress, 12 hors d'oeuvres & desserts and zero meaningful conversations while playing hostess. Plus, we get to meet & love on our neighbors. We're also having more friends over for dinner/brunch in casual settings to spend a little more quality time.

We'll see if any of these plans accomplish my goals. Really, those are more structural tweaks than deep heart-level peace. My hope this week is to meditate more on how Jesus' birth invites peace into my real, everyday life. Because I can cut out & rearrange my Holiday plans as much as I want, but I'm not going to find what I'm looking for without that. And I guess that's the whole point.

Wish me luck (and Good Luck to you, too) ;)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent (kind of)

Well, my plan to reflect on Advent each day has been foiled by a nasty cold.
But, it has given me the opportunity to watch Meet Me in St. Louis while lying on the couch, which just happens to have one of the greatest Christmas scenes/songs.
Skip to about 1:45 sec & enjoy :)
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent, Week 2: Peace

This Sunday night, as we sit in front of the advent wreath-- now with two candles burning-- my head is fuzzy, my voice is gone, and I can't breathe out of my nose. And although I wanted to just go to bed, rather than try to be spiritual (and especially rather than trying to scrape together coherent thoughts into a blog post), it does feel good to have this small discipline.

This week's advent candle is Peace, and the verse we reflected on comes from Isaiah (written out below), and gives, like last week's verse, a beautiful imagery of the Kingdom that is both Here and Yet to Come. The picture is one of Peace, saying that when the Messiah comes, he will teach us to walk in his ways, and we will beat our swords into plowshares.

The first image that came to mind was of a piece of art called The Tree of Life (pictured above) I had read about in the British Museum:
"During Mozambique's civil war (1976 to 1992) millions of guns and other weapons poured into the country and most of them remain hidden or buried in the bush. The project is an attempt to eliminate the threat presented by the hidden weapons. Mozambicans are encouraged to hand them over in exchange for items like ploughs, bicycles and sewing machines. In one case a whole village gave up its weapons in exchange for a tractor. Once the weapons are decommissioned, they are cut up and turned into sculptures by the artists in Maputo."

So, at Christmastime, we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 2:1-5

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent: The Peacable Kingdom

This is the final reading from the first week of advent. It's a poetic & mysterious picture of what our world will look one day when Emmanuel returns-- a metaphor for the future reality for us to put our hope in.

I was pretty excited to search around for artist's representations of this scene, but was disappointed to find that it really only captured one guy's imagination-- over, and over & over again. Instead, we get to use our own imaginations...

Isaiah 11:1-10

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent: Hoping for Emmanuel

"... and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23)

We have joy now over a promise that is still to come...

Oh come, Oh come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!

Oh come, Thou rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'ver the grave

Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!

Oh come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Drive away the shades of night
And pierce the clouds and bring us light!

Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!

Oh come thou key of David come
And open wide our heavenly home;
Where all thy saints with thee shall dwell
Oh come oh come, Emmanuel!

Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!
Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent: Contentment vs. Hope

Over the last several days, I've been slowly chewing on those two verses about the hope that Mary & Joseph had as they waited for this mysterious Messiah to be born. I've read those passages so many times throughout a life of growing up in the church that it feels as though the shine has started to rub off a bit. But for some reason, this week I continued to be struck by the way their Hope was placed in something beyond themselves, beyond their own comfort.

I tried to sit back and reflect on the things that I hope for. Over the last few years, they have been pretty basic:
I really, really hope I can make it this next hour without wanting to puke; I really, really hope I have what it takes to survive labor; I really, really hope I can sleep for 3hrs straight... 5hrs straight... 8hrs straight; I really, really hope we can buy a house & move out of this tiny apartment; and I really, really hope I can go back to work and not feel so stuck at home. Seriously, I think that just about covers the scope of all my aspirations over the last 2yrs.

And now, as strange as it is to say, all those things have happened, and I'm kind of left with nothing to hope for. That's not to say that we aren't super busy, that our house isn't always a mess, that we don't desperately need more funding, or that I've got any part of my life together. But, really when I think about it, things are pretty well lined up for us. And since my hopes have been rather small lately-- and rather self-focused-- I have had the strange privilege of seeing them come to fruition, and am now sitting around & looking at what I have in front of me, without lifting my eyes to what is ahead.

Now, in one sense, that is a very good thing. Contentment with our lives, our current situation, our possessions is (I believe) a key to living life well. We shouldn't always be aching for the next thing, forgetting about what we already have.

But on the other hand, we
should always be aching for what is ahead. I should be discontent with our world, injustice, pain, suffering, and my own brokenness. I should be constantly looking ahead with a Hope for what could be.

And there's the tension: Hope and Contentment. How do we center ourselves now, and ache for the good things we do not yet have?

Tomorrow's Advent verses point to those questions a bit.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent: Prison, Mozart, and Hope

This week's Advent readings and candle are centered on Hope.
It's difficult to find a more beautiful representation of hope than in Shawshank Redemption.
Here are two clips that go back-to-back (sorry about the subtitles on the first one).

I can't embed the second clip. Here's the link to it

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent: Hope

Last night, while munching on the bread that had just come out of the oven, and smelling the granola that had just gone in the oven, Chris & I read through some advent devotions. This first Advent Sunday we joined millions of other followers of Christ as we lit the candle of Hope, the first in the advent wreath.

I admit, I was kind of anticipating warm fuzzies as we contemplated our readings on Hope-- what with the insane baking smells wafting through the house, and the romantic glow of the newly decorated full-sized Christmas tree (not the tiny 2ft apartment tree we've had propped on a table for the last 6yrs!!!). But as we read through the verses marked out in our advent devotion, the warm fuzzies didn't come.

Two of the verses were accounts of Mary & Joseph being told that they were about to become the parents of a King who would reign forever and would take away the sins of his people. Big stuff. Lots to hope for.

But then, Mary has to travel 9mos pregnant by donkey, and just happens to go into labor at the worst possible time, when there is no where to go and one to help. I can remember the exhaustion after labor, the desperate need for help from family & friends, the fear & stress & sleeplessness. My biggest hope was to get through that phase of life. But, if we read ahead, we know that Mary & Joseph also faced the fear of a mass-murderer trying to kill their baby. They were forced into exile in Egypt, and sometime between Jesus' 13th birthday and his public ministry, it's believed that Joseph died.

All those hopes, all that anticipation of what it would mean to usher in the King & Savior of Israel, and I'm sure none of it turned out the way they thought it would. It would seem that their hopes were placed in something beyond their own comfort-- which is not often where I can find my own hopes lying.

It made me want to dig in a little deeper and ask myself where I truly place my hopes, and if maybe my hopes are a little too small.

Here are links to two of the Advent Readings on Hope. I would love to hear your thoughts, as well.
Matthew 1:18-24
Luke 1:26-38

Sunday, November 27, 2011


There's that certain feeling of regret that comes on Thanksgiving night, after you've stuffed yourself to the breaking point and wonder what on earth possessed you to take that second (third? fourth?) piece of pie. And the feeling is multiplied about ten times over come New Years when you've got a month of regrets haunting you.

It's not just the caloric regrets that make me squirm with discomfort after the Holidays are over, its a feeling of excess everywhere-- cramming too many activities into a schedule, too many miles driven over a weekend, too many new things sitting in my room, and too much money spent on gifts. I tend to get the same feeling after Christmas as I would if I had eaten a whole cake for dinner-- I am stuffed, but not with the right things; I'm full, but not quite the way I want to be. And it seems like, no matter how good my intentions are, each year, I get caught up in the whirlwind of activities, in the aching need for new things, in the stress & busyness that makes me full-to-breaking-point, but not satisfied.

I tend to leave Christmas with the feeling that I've missed God in it all somewhere. And just like there wasn't room for him at the inn, I always feel as though there somehow wasn't room anywhere in my schedule during Christmas for my Messiah.

So, one way that I am committing to make room this year is to keep an advent blog.
Advent is a time of expectant waiting, looking forward to the arrival of Christ the King. I am most familiar with it in the form of cardboard calendars with a piece of crappy chocolate hiding behind each number. But, growing up, I have also celebrated advent on the four Sundays before Christmas, lighting a candle on the advent wreath that symbolized a different aspect of our anticipation of Christ's coming.

My goal is to write each day a little snippet on that week's advent candle: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I hope that it helps to draw my mind & heart closer to God this Christmas-- and that you might even get one or two gems from it too.
Here goes...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, Pirates, and Black Friday

Every year, around Thanksgiving, I start to salivate in eager anticipation. Although I do love the turkey, stuffing, pie, and even the cranberry sauce (not that jellied stuff shaped like a can, but the real live cranberry sauce that no one else seems to go for but everyone makes), it's not the food, or even the Holiday itself that gets my heart beating faster.

What makes a little smile break out on my face, even when I'm all alone, is the knowledge that the day after Thanksgiving marks the official start of Christmastime-- trees, lights, carols, ornaments, cookie baking & decorating & eating... glory.

The day after Thanksgiving (and sometimes even before) also marks the infamous Black Friday. It even sounds sinister, doesn't it? If the Dread Pirate Roberts hadn't already been sailing a ship called Revenge, I'm pretty sure it would have been named Black Friday. There's a certain ring to it.

Now, I have nothing against sales. I'm a big believer. And I'm not here to lecture anyone on that little old man who got trampled to death at the Walmart on Black Friday a few years back, or tell you that you're probably going to burn in hell if you wake up at 4am and stand in line for a new big screen TV. Nope, I'll leave all of that to your own conscience.

I was just thinking about how beautiful it is that we have a whole day set aside to be thankful-- and that it just happens to be the day before Black Friday. We have a day to reflect on all the things we have, to soak in the abundance of our gifts & comfort and to thank our Creator for them. We come together with our families & share the extravagance of the good things we have, and acknowledge our gratitude for it. What a healthy and beautiful tradition to observe in a culture where we so rarely think about all that we have.

And then, the very next day, while we are full to the brim with thankfulness & the awareness of all the good things in our lives, we can turn our thoughts towards Christmas and giving to others.

*Sigh* If only that were reality. Usually, mom stresses out in the kitchen, making this ridiculous meal for 20 other family members who are watching football in the other room. Then, everyone comes together, gorges themselves, falls asleep feeling sick, wakes up 2hrs later & has seconds. After that, we wake up at 4am, buy thousands of dollars worth of stuff, get lost in the stress, pressure & endless force of that Voice that tells us we need more. And then, sometime after Christmas, we wonder if there isn't a better way to do it.

And yet, here it is, all laid out for us. A whole day to be thankful, to reflect on what we have, not what the TV tells us we need. I wonder what would happen if we literally made a list of all the things we are thankful for-- the stuff we usually forget, like indoor plumbing, access to clean water, being able to eat food everyday, a safe place to sleep, the sound of silence, or the feel of a really hot shower.

I wonder if we were to enter Christmastime in that context, how our mindset would change, how our spending would change-- not just financial spending, but time & resources & thoughts & words.

Maybe Thanksgiving isn't just a blip on the Holiday radar, in between Halloween & Black Friday, but an actual stopping point to help us enter in. And I think, that if we enter with intentionality & thoughtfulness, we'll be headed in a good direction.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eulogy: Gavin

They say that you don't miss a good thing 'till it's gone, and it's oh-so-very true for me in this moment.

There was a "certain member" of our family who always smelled bad, always left a mess in his wake, snored, slobbered, woke me up, and required us to clean up his poop & cater to him several times a day, rain or shine. No, that "certain member" is not our little man, but our stinky, greasy, gassy mutt with a wet nose that always seemed to find the underside of your elbow when you were least expecting it. He was dumb as a rock, afraid of new people, embarrassingly racist, and sometimes very clingy... but now that he's gone, I have to say that I miss the big thug.

If you've never been introduced, Gavin is/was our pit bull pup that we rescued from a life of neglect & abuse, and despite his idiosyncrasies (and my complaints), he really was a fantastic dog. Although his IQ was a few notches below Forrest Gump's, he was very obedient, sweet, mellow, super fun at the beach & on hikes, and never dug in the trash or begged for food. And in those early Nolan days, when we would forget to take him out to pee or feed him, he never complained, but patiently waited for us to pull it together. Sometimes, when Chris would go mountain biking, Gavin would run alongside him during the ascent, and then take off & meet him at the bottom, by the car with a huge smile on his face.

The only bummer was that because of his background, he wasn't a good candidate for babies, and so after months of searching for a new family & home for Gavin, Chris' parents graciously adopted him as their own.

It's been quite a relief, honestly to not worry about Nolan chasing a skiddish pit bull into a corner, and (selfishly) it's been beautiful to see how clean the rug stays now that there's not 5lbs of white fur deposited on it every day. But that first night when he was gone-- which also happened to be the first night that Chris was gone from our new house-- it felt very lonely & vulnerable without that big pit-mutt around.

A jarring noise woke me out of a dead sleep in the middle of the night, and I realized that for some reason, Nolan's baby monitor upstairs in his room had suddenly stopped working & was making a startlingly loud static noise. As I crept upstairs to see what/who had mysteriously turned off the monitor, I saw that there was a light on that I was sure I had turned off. Then creepy piano music started playing in the background, and a man with a chainsaw came out of the shadows. Wait, that last part didn't actually happen, but I knew that it could have, and that there was no 70lb dog to save me.

In that moment, I missed Gavin very, very much.

And I continue to notice his absence when I wake up in the mornings, or go out to our empty backyard, or try to explain to our baby why he can't find the "dah".

Gavin, I would like to publicly apologize for my lack of appreciation, affection, & attention this last year-plus, and especially for the lack of long walks since we bought a house with a yard. You are an amazing dog, and you deserve better. I'm so happy that you have retired to a warm, sunny home with a pool & plenty of neighboring dogs to torment. May you live a long & happy life.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


There's the feeling of anxiety that rises up inside every time I walk into our garage. I think maybe it's the fear of drowning... in all the boxes, precariously placed odds & ends stacked on themselves, random homeless objects that so desperately need a place to call their own. I get a similar feeling when I walk into a casino, with all that sensory overload; except instead of blinking lights & smoke to stress me out & make me want to run for the door, it's the panic of knowing that all the sensory overload is coming from my stuff-- that it belongs to me, or at least is under my umbrella of responsibility, and that no one else is going to make it better except for me & my hubby.

About every-other week, we make a valiant effort to tame the chaos, like taking a machete to the edge of a rain forest & trying to beat it back. Sometimes, there is a small sense of accomplishment, but after a few days, the futility of it all sweeps over me again as all the flat surfaces are consumed by papers, tools, clean & dirty clothes, and millions of work-related objects that crawl in during the night.

But the root of it is that all the chaos really is just a physical representation of how I'm feeling inside. It does feel like I'm drowning sometimes-- like I'm just barely keeping my head above water while I carry our work & ministry & family & all the regular everyday duties of life. I have spent so many weeks aching for the weekend, waiting to catch my breath, worn out & disconnected, and honestly a little whiny. The whiny, worn out ache sometimes compounds, as unexpected obstacles get in the way of the rest that we had been looking forward to.

What's strange, though, is how difficult it can be to take the moments of rest when they present themselves. It's tempting, when I feel like a limp rag after putting our toddler to bed, to flip open my computer and spend an hour online doing nothing of real significance; or to click on Hulu & catch up on a few TV shows. It is so much easier than thinking or conversing or engaging life-- nothing against all those activities, but sometimes at the end of the day, I've just had enough of all the relational stuff.

The thing is, though, I never really feel restored after shutting myself off like that. Yes, I've taken a break, and sometimes we just really need a break... but I know that it wasn't really what I needed.

Chris & I have been trying lately to set aside one day a week to just rest-- not to make plans with friends, or work on the house, or run errands, but to just spend time as a family & read books & take naps & go for walks (I know, we've invented something truly revolutionary-- don't tell anyone). I realize that this whole Sabbath concept has been around for a couple of years now, but to be honest, I don't know many people who actually observe it-- and I certainly never have made an intentional practice of it before. We haven't quite nailed it yet, either-- there are weeks where obligations creep in or activities get planned, and it seems like I can always tell, come Monday, when I haven't done a very good job of protecting my Sabbath.

Looking back over the last few months, it seems like a bit of the weight has been lifted from our shoulders. I don't carry that same semi-desperate feeling that used to always lie just under the surface, hoping for a free second to breathe. And in those moments when I get a little time to myself, it helps to ask, "Is this something that will actually restore me, or am I just looking for a fix?" Although I am rusty & clumsy at it after being out of practice, forcing myself to write is a step forward towards restoration.

We have also learned the beauty of asking for help, which has been a bit of a hard step for someone who prefers to be on the giving end of help. I suppose it comes from a fear of not earning my keep or being seen as needy or spoiled, but it can be tough to admit that I need help & to accept "charity". But as the drowning feeling increased, I threw out a need (for help with child care) and discovered dozens of people eager & willing to help. It has been amazing, beautiful and humbling to receive from so many generous friends, and to feel even more of that weight lifted off my shoulders.

So even though the garage is still a riot of boxes in various stages of un-packed-ness, and even though I noticed dark circles under my eyes the other day, I am confident that our tiny shuffling towards rest has actually brought about the restoration (even in tiny doses) we've been aching for. And I celebrate the little victories.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Harry's Story

I don't particularly like Harry Potter-- no offense to all of you who dress up for the opening night movies & book releases, and all that. I don't really have anything against the kid, he just doesn't wow me like Lucy Pevensie or Bilbo Baggins.

And yet, I find myself, in every spare moment, slinking back to this tattered old copy of Harry Potter. I stay up reading when I'm sleepy, I have to suppress little urges throughout the day to find out what happens next, and notice these strange, anti-social tendencies as I retreat back to a quiet space with this book that I'm not that into.

Today I realized why. It has to do with Story-- not necessarily the story of Harry & wizards & all that, but the greater concept of Story. Don Miller defines Story as a character who wants something & is willing to overcome obstacles to get it. The good stories, he says, are the ones where the character wants something good & worthwhile, and where the obstacles & conflicts are so great that he becomes a better character as he works towards his goal.

What I realized today from Harry is that I am drawn back to him over & over because I am a little bit stuck in my own story right now-- and it's easier & far more comfortable to curl up & watch someone else's story than to work at writing your own.

The last several weeks haven't told the most exciting story for me. Chris is trying with all his might to finish up his Masters degree, and is taking an intensive course, while I hang out at the parent's house with our little guy. Seriously, there's not much to complain about: I have a big, clean house, hardly any responsibilities, and a pool. Compared to the frazzled, stressed out season we've had buying a house, moving & drowning in home repairs, this is paradise.

But strangely it seems more like Limbo than paradise, and I admit I'm going a little bit crazy here in babyland day after day. I think that somewhere along the way, I have lost track of the Story that I am trying to tell. I paused today to ask myself "What is it that I want?" It's a pretty boring story when there is no great desire driving the plot, and it's honestly a pretty boring existence, as peaceful & mellow as it's been, to sit around all day with nothing driving or motivating me.

So I ask myself again: What do I want? What story am I telling? It's harder to answer than I thought.

I guess what I want is to live a life that illuminates life for others-- one that both allows them to see that there can be fullness & beauty & purpose, and that also helps them discover what their particular role is in that greater purpose. I want to be a part of a family that gives others hope in the concept of family, marriage, relationships & belonging, and to have a home that invites others to be at home. For those who are unable to reach that fullness & beauty & purpose-- because of something holding them back-- I want to help them get out from under that weight. And I want to do it within the context and energy that is found in my Creator.

I can tell that I need practice putting those thoughts into words. They feel rusty & forced as they come out, like some dusty, forgotten tool in the back of the garage.

I'm not sure what it looks like right now to live out that Story in this particular context, sitting in our parent's house day after day and talking baby talk. But I know that, if nothing else, I need to remember the Story that I am telling-- or rather, that is being told through me.

So I suppose this is the part of the story where patience & depth are rooted in me, if I will allow them to be. It's the part of the story where my partner takes the lead & I step back to support him; the part of the story where I get to know my little man a little bit better; the part where I soak in the quiet & the rest and gear up for the next chapter. The part where I curl up with a book and take a deep breath.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Super Human

When I got my nose pierced, I only knew one other person with a nose ring.
I got a tattoo on the small of my back before the whole "tramp st
amp" thing was a thing.
I used to have pink hair and wear black nail
I have lived in Compton, been in drive-by's, spent a summer in a mud hut in an African refugee camp, white water rafted down the Nile, and touched a lion in the wild.

I know, I'm fascinating.

But sometime last week, I realized that most of my life is spent in the kitchen, juggling a baby while washing dishes & making dinner. I wear the same clothes several days in a row because I share a bedroom with a baby, and it's easier to wear yesterday's clothes than sneak back into the room & pick out something in the dark.

A while ago, I was driving behind a mini-van in traffic with a bumper sticker that said "I used to be cool". I wanted to bump my fist on my chest in acknowledgement.

You know that scene that happens in every super hero movie? It's the
one where the light bulb turns on, and the girl realizes that Peter Parker is Spiderman, or Clark Kent is Superman. Suddenly she understands that the ordinary, geeky guy she's always overlooked is actually amazing-- super, to be specific.

Well, sometime after 18ish hours of labor (I lost count), I left the hospital a sleep deprived, exhausted, hormonal mess, and the light bulb turned on: All these women around me, all these frumpy, baggy-eyed moms walking the streets were actually super heroes in disguise.

I had always known that being a mom involved sacrifice, that it is a life-long act of selflessness to
become a mother, and that it's hard, hard work. But I never really understood. Something happened after I joined their ranks, and I was in awe. We are amazing. No really, we are. I constantly wanted to sing "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar" at the top of my lungs, and congratulate every female pushing a stroller.

After nine months of motherhood, some of the initial awe has worn off, as I'm sure it did for Superman, once he had been flying around for a while. But I'm glad that we have one day out of the year when children can make breakfast in bed, dads can make reservations, and moms can receive cards & flowers & chocolate as small tokens of the super-human acts they perform everyday.

And so, all you mothers out there, I salute you, and give a knowing little wink: While the rest of the world may think you're just some frumpy unkempt woman in a mini-van, I know that doing dishes while balancing a curious crawler is nothing less than heroic,
and that no one will ever see the millions of things you do everyday for other people.

But I think the best part is that it really doesn't matter. It's okay that no one sees. It's okay that "cool" is gone fore
ver. Honestly, it really doesn't matter. I don't say this in a mushy, martyr kind of way-- I really mean it when I say that it's completely worth it.

And in those moments where I'm sick & tired of standing in front of the kitchen sink, or I can tell by the look in someone's eye that I am just an out-of-touch mom, I can remember-- and honestly believe-- that it is all worth it. Although I can't put words to it, something shifts-- everything shifts, really-- and this un-glamorous, self-sacrificing life becomes an unfathomable privilege. Weird, I know, but true.
Happy Mother's Day.