Tuesday, January 26, 2016

when Love sleeps

In the deep, still darkness of the night, we woke up and noticed our bedroom light was on.

Four hours before, we had turned every light off and gone to bed. So, strange light was concerning. Lights don't come on all by themselves, after all.

Morgan got up to check on the house while I waited to be killed by intruders.

He came back five minutes later, pointed to the ground and said, "Finley."

There she was, our seven year old daughter, right next to our bed. She was snoozing away like a little bear cub hibernating for the winter.

Morgan turned the light off and we both went back to sleep.

Except before I drifted off, I lay there thinking about the mixture of confusion, fear, and relief the midnight drama had brought us. The whole experience was a mini version of how life can be full of mystery and almost-tragedy.

Because there are nights we wake up and the light is on: our boss has to let us go, our house floods, the money isn't enough, or our child is walking out the door for good. We get up to investigate or we silently wait for the end to come.

When the end does finally arrive, we find that Love has been sleeping beside us the whole time. The darkness takes its toll on us, but life goes on and the gospel offers us the chance to see how God weaves the unexpected into His greater plan for our redemption.

I don't ever want to go to sleep without knowing Love is next to me again. I want to live out here in the full light of the gospel.

Let me look at you and say, "Sometimes I'm a real slacker loser who gets scared and hides from life." Then you can look back at me and say, "Really? Sometimes I don't know right from wrong or dark from light and I'm terrible at doing my life."

Then let's grab hold of all the other sleepers. We'll shake the shame and brokenness, as God binds us up in His grace and mercy.

God has flipped a light on in the middle of our dreaming and there is a way to be made holy and righteous and glorious in Him.

Who wants to be perfect on our own when we can be redeemed by a Savior, be born of His Spirit, and belong to God together?

I don't want to live my whole life and find out I never learned how to die.

I don't want to hide my wounds so well God can't wrap them in His grace.

I am tired of ignoring the shrapnel of my mistakes and living with the sharp edges of false beliefs always cutting deeper into my soul.

Love sleeps beside us. He has turned on all the lights we turned off. When we lie down with Him, He restores us, making us whole and redeemed. The night will go on, but we are never alone.

Friday, January 22, 2016

12 years later I'm still cluelessly mothering by faith

The year I turned twelve, I got a snazzy new purple and neon yellow track suit from Big 5 Sporting Goods in Yorba Linda, California. I knew nothing about anything back then, but I thought I knew everything about all the things that mattered.

Youthful ignorance is bliss.

That was about five minutes ago, I think. Or maybe it's been a million years. I don't know for sure. Time is too hard to understand.

I do know for sure that I woke up at 6:30 this morning to make blueberry muffins and breakfast tacos, and to be the first to shout "Happy Birthday!" to the new twelve year-old who sleeps upstairs in my house. I am pretending today that I am okay with this new age of my first-born.

Gosh, he's a great kid. Full of woo and friendship for everyone he meets. Generous with compliments and love for his mama. Always ready to play any kind of sport with anyone who is willing to play. He'll  let you win the first game if it means you'll play a second.

I used to wonder how I would ever teach him to share his toys and read long words. Now I wonder how we'll teach him to stop slouching and guard his heart against the tide of peer pressure. Like all twelve year-olds since the beginning of time, he sometimes thinks he knows everything about all the things that matter.

I get more sleep than I did when he was a baby, but the stakes are so much higher and my influence is limited by his growing competence at life-in-general.

First-borns get all the experimental parenting. They're good sports about it, thankfully. All the younger ones seem to pick up everything by osmosis, but these first-borns get the longest lectures mixed with our strongest theoretical guesses at how to win their hearts.

The last few years, I've consciously slowed the wheels driving me to perfectly parent this biggest boy of mine. I've held my tongue more, let him off the hook a lot, and taken deep breaths when his tweenage eye-rolling increased. I think it's going well, but parenting is so messy in the day-in-day-out that we never know for sure if we're missing a blind spot or two.

The key to happiness seems to be enjoying the simple moments of being a family. Does it means we will raise great kids? I hope so, but grace will have to fill in the gaps I miss, because I don't really know how to be a flawless mom.

I know how to tell him he's diligent and handsome and and fun to talk to after a baseball game. I know how to do his stinky laundry and bake apple pies on his birthday. I know how to listen to his goofy jokes and ask about his friends. I know how to pray for him and with him.

Twelve years ago right now, I was in clueless agony trying to give birth to a baby. Today, I am just grateful we've made it this far and still love each other this much. After twelve years of learning to love him better by letting go a little bit at a time, I still have no idea what I'm doing.

But it's pure joy to bumble my way through the years with this kid. I only wish I still had that radical track suit to prove to him how awesome I was when I was his age.

On second thought, maybe it's better that I don't....

Thursday, January 14, 2016

my awkward week of solo parenting

For four days, my husband has been on a work trip and I have been parenting solo.

For the record, parenting solo is NOT the same as being a Single Parent. Single Parents are heroes who deserve a special lifetime of holy glory for all they carry through the long days of work and kids and life. I probably deserve a Snickers bar or a nice, frothy Coke for managing our kids and house for four days alone.

Because mostly, it's been fairly uneventful.

I mean, for a lot of the week, I've been a decent mom. I get a few gold stars for the following:

  • I read the Bible with them. 
  • We did all of the necessary schoolwork. 
  • I listened to 274 jokes from really bad kids' joke books. 
  • I took them to the library. 
  • I made pancakes. 
  • I jumped on the trampoline with them when I didn't want to go outside. 
  • I didn't even lose my temper at all when they spilled stuff and broke some of my favorite things jacking around and not listening to instructions. 
  • I bought them pizza one night (okay that was really for me). 
By day three, though, I was mostly done.

Here is a smattering of the things I said and did on day three:
  • When no one "cared about" doing their Math: "It actually doesn't matter to me if you care about Math. You don't have to care about Math. It's not your best friend. Just do the problems."
  • When no one wanted to help me unload the car: "Your dad has been gone for three days. Mean Mom is here now. Just do what she says."
  • When no one could agree on lunch plans: "I am lying here on the ground dying one thousand deaths, you guys."
  • When the unhappy children followed me around, complaining incessantly: "I came in this room to be alone. Should I find a different space? I can't take your whining."
  • When my throat started mysteriously hurting: "My throat hurts. I'm going to lay my head down here on the table a cry for a minute." ( I then actually did this. Crying is cathartic.)
  • When the boys endlessly played "two for flinching" in a coffee shop: "You, sit on that stool. You, stand against that wall. No touching. You're in jail now."

I don't know what this list even means. We made it through, though. There were no real injuries or trips to the hospital. No one cried- except about Math, but I'm not going down for that one. You can blame Isaac Newton or the entire nation of Singapore for how hard new math is, people. Mostly we have been supery dupery peachy keen. 

And here's the thought I haven't been able to shake once everyone was in bed and I could watch Gilmore Girls until I passed out: I am a totally okay mom. 

There are parts of this mom thing I rock and there are parts I struggle through. But no matter what, my kids love me and I love them. 

No, I didn't savor every moment of every day this week, making sure we didn't miss one second of their fleeting childhood. I didn't construct some brilliant way to document my love for them. Sometimes, I had to send some emails and work on some ministry stuff. Occasionally, I skimmed through Instagram, looking at other people's children doing way cooler stuff than we were doing. Once, on day two, I felt like a total failure when I read some article about how much our kids need us to get on the floor with them and play with them more, and build our whole world around them.

I can't do that, though, because that would be weird. 

Sometimes I want my kids right next to me, and sometimes I want them to go play somewhere that I can't smell their stinky feet or hear their gross jokes about toilets. Always, I love them. Always, I run when they're hurt or really in need. But these growing children need to try to find their own happy place while I find mine, because we are separate people with separate brains and souls, and we get grouchy when we live codependent lives of unending connection and awkward bonding.

So, just go away and be secure, my children. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and being happy alone makes you stronger and braver.

Which reminds me, Morgan gets home tonight and I won'r have to be solo any longer. I have to admit, I will miss my Gilmore Girls marathons a little bit. But even so, my hands are up, all praising Jesus for airplanes that bring husbands home. 

Now I can be a totally okay wife again, too. 

All I do is win, man....

Friday, January 8, 2016

how to lose collagen and still gain in beauty

When I was a kid, like all decent 1980s families, we had a navy blue GM conversion van. We bought it to replace our old VW bus. In hindsight, we now know this was a tragedy- VW buses are worth a fortune these days and only scary child-snatchers drive conversion vans in the new millennium. But at the time, we were wooed by the wood paneling and custom carpet kit that blue van boasted. We were rollin’.

this is me, back when collagen was just
a word that didn't rhyme with anything

I never fit right on the bench seat in that van, though. In the beginning, my skinny white legs hung lifeless from the plaid upholstery. Once my feet finally reached the floor, my head had nothing to lean against any longer. It just sort of bobbed back and forth if I fell asleep on a long road trip. One end of my body or the other never had a minute of rest in that van.

Did you know a person can live her whole entire life and never quite fit in her place?

Which brings me to my point: this skin I live in slackens more every day.

They make balms and salves to heal my flawed foundation of beauty. Collagen is an old friend who hardly ever comes around anymore. This aging thing is a meant to be a tragedy, I think. There are starving people, homeless children, refugees walking across Greece, curable diseases running rampant in the third world, and yet here in North America, the signs of aging are met with OUTRAGE and fear.

At a great cost, I spread a cream all over it to tighten it up, whip it into shape. Science promises to solve every problem our vanity produces. All we have to do is pay up, trade our hard-earned money for hope in a bottle and a miracle in a tube.

But the wrinkles come anyways. Maybe someone should write a letter to those lotion companies and tell them the hands of time can’t be turned back after all. What’s done is done.

I’ve had this skin as long as I can remember. It’s always fit me so well until now. It began to worry me back in the year 2000. I heard a lady call into a morning radio show and warn us all about using lotion. She said our derrieres would flatten out like pancakes if we weren’t using lotion.

Look out, people! Don’t ignore your skin and then regret it later.

I didn’t want a flat backside, so I slathered the lotion on daily, priding myself on my diligence. Then the Great Fall began despite my best efforts, and life itself became meaningless, just like Radio Lady warned. (But not really.)

Thank the Lord above for those handy filters on our photo editing apps that make us look like newborns. At least our hideous skin can’t be documented for future generations. My grandchildren will have to face the Collagen Curse all on their own, oblivious to the battle I am enduring. Look at those old Instagram pics of Grannie. She looked the same until the day she died! (Poor future kids.)

Future generations will be duped by our photoshopped brilliance. They will probably blame the increase in free radicals in the polluted hyper-modern air, or the aging Sun will be accused of releasing extra-damaging UV rays that we, their lucky grandmothers, didn’t have to deal with.

I suppose I do feel kind of lucky. As this skin slackens, the slackening seems to make more room for me, for the real me, to live and be and have enough breath to make it through this life one day at a time.

On the outside I’m just your average-ish middle aged woman. But I’m bigger on the inside. Inside my skin lives an endless soul. She’s seems old sometimes, but she’s just finally learning how to walk.

All these years I’ve lived since we sold that big blue van have given me a complimentary gift inside this flappy old lady skin. Suddenly, I don’t fit in my skin at all. The extra space has made room for something I have always lacked: Perspective.

Did you know a person could look for a place all her life that she really fits, and then a light bulb could pop on over her head one day when she realizes she herself is her own place. I fit inside my own soul, and my own soul fits inside me.

It’s taken me almost forty years to figure this out.

Our souls are kind of a mystery, like the way VW buses make hipsters drool while conversion vans give us the creeps. We can only tell you how it is, we don’t have a single clue as to why it is.

These days I have parentheses around my mouth, crow’s feet by my eyes, a basal cell carcinoma scar on my arm, age spots appearing on my hands, a thousand tubes of face cream, and enough perspective to know I have never been more beautiful.

I am home at last after wandering through the dark and dry places.

I am still just myself, and that is enough. My shame has been undone by the vulnerable need to know who I am and why my life matters. I see the hearts of the people around me and they are so worthy of love and care. They are all a mess, just like I am, but together we are pretty amazing.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

failure and homelessness in the the Church of the Dirty Feet

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him….
‘You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’”
-John 13: 1-4, 13-17 (bolded words mine)

I think the words that flowed and burned and lit my fingers as I typed have all gone to obedience school and learned to sit and be quiet.

Maybe the gospel has made them still and silent with the rest of my soul. I blame the Holiday Season. Christmas was so peaceful with longing for the God who hides His glory in a baby, who takes tiny things and makes them bigger on the inside than the world can see on the outside. New Year’s Day offered us all a sausage of resolutions stuffed with unidentified motivations and abilities. What is it about January that makes us all so indomitable?

Easter is approaching, with its loud hallelujah shouts and palm branches waving. I want to shout it out and see Him ride in just for me. But the crowd is so hard to navigate.

Church culture scorns the people who only come on the high holy days. And there is a great deal to be said for gathering every week. The stability and challenge of living in community revolutionizes our lives for the Gospel. But I think our seasonal brothers and sisters feel something we Regular Attenders can miss. Walking through those church doors as a failure and an outcast changes the way you look at Jesus. Without their gold star attendance to save them, they are primed and pumped to feel desperate for Jesus. They know it’s not just another Sunday; it’s their Sunday.

We sit there together, the Regular Attenders and the Holiday Christians. We try not to be cynical or critical about each other, and it can be uncomfortable. But I wonder if we really see each other at all.

And this is what I wish would stick in all of our hearts: Church is really just a gathering of dirty feet.

A few weeks ago, our family went out on one of our church’s truck runs to feed the homeless of our city. We drove along the highway, stopping to pass out meal bags, warm clothes, and supplies. We stood on cold corners and talked with about a dozen different people who have failed by our culture’s standards. They live in tents and under bridges, fly signs at stoplights, and often have only one another to turn to for help.

One woman told me she was twelve when she started living on the streets. Her mom died and no one in her family wanted her- not even her dad. He’s old school, you know, she said. He said we should be able to make it on our own. She spent her youth running from group homes. Now she has a husband, a baby, and a roof to live underneath. They rarely have food, but she laughed when she told me that, like the challenges of poverty are all a delightful game of strategy.

There was a man I’ll call “Mike” who practically tackled my husband, Morgan, with a huge hug. They know each other. They both used to play baseball and have bonded over this fact in the past. Sometimes Matt tries to get Morgan to share a cigarette with him. This usually gets big laughs from everyone, since my husband is the pastor of our church. But this particular night, it was all just sort of sad. Matt’s buddy had died two days before, right there on a corner. He was letting the alcohol soothes his grief while it robbed his soul of hope.

Another man regaled my daughter with the story of an abandoned puppy he rescued one night from the middle of the road. They just left that puppy in a box in the middle of the highway. I heard it whimpering. My daughter ate it up. He was a puppy superhero! He told us how he had been off the streets for a while this year, living in a friend’s spare room. Then the manager of the apartment complex found out he used to be homeless and made him leave. He was back under the bridge again that night. My daughter asked him why he had to leave. They think we done something bad to end up out here. But a lot of us haven’t. Things just happened to us.

In all the stories I heard that night, I heard echoes of my own. My soul has often been alone and hungry, I have filled it with various poisons to chase away the ache, and my past has haunted my attempts to move on many times.

Our fear of failure masks our vulnerability. We run faster, work harder, get better because we are scared of the things that could just “happen to us”. But the worst thing that could happen is this: we might believe we’ve saved ourselves with our own good behavior, and forget how desperate we are, and that every Sunday is our Sunday.

The words may be gone. Our parents may have pushed us out on our own too soon. Alcohol may make it seem less painful to face our loss. Injustice may have nipped at our dignity. But God is right here, a baby in a manger and a man on a cross. He’s washing our filthy feet, and loving us to the end.

Even so, I feel a little lost without the words. They gave their space to the vague sense that I am failing and it won’t leave. Lots of people would shush those words the minute they left my mouth, and then they’d go home and feed their own fear of failure a hearty meal of self-criticism or over-achieving effort to keep it alive. We forget empathy so easily. In the lives of other people, we call fears ill-formed and make light of their sharp teeth and harrowing presence. But then we go home to our own fears, carrying them like precious cargo, like bombs that could detonate at any moment.

As we drove home from the truck run, I thought about all the conversations we had that night. In my thoughts, I added up the number of people who longed for a way off the streets, and then I counted the people who have embraced their circumstances as inevitable.

All together, they made up the whole wide world.

One woman’s joy hounded my own heart. After a lifetime of physical abuse, she has found a man who doesn’t hit her in a warm tent out in the woods. It isn’t an ideal life, but her gratitude was evident and her love for God inspiring. She smiled, showing off the new coat my friend Leah gave her. I don’t fly signs and do all that stuff. I just sit there under the bridge and read my Bible. I’m the Bible Lady, That’s what they call me.

We gave her food and friendship that night. She gave us hope and happy smiles. It was a good old fashioned foot washing.

Maybe God will send the words back to me. Maybe He won’t. If I could trade my words forever for the return of Matt’s hope, or food for all the hungry bellies, or cut up my words into slivers and pass them out so all the broken souls could know they belong somewhere, I would do that.

On Sunday mornings, you’ll find most of the people we meet on truck runs gathering in the lobby of our church. Most of them make their way into the service when the music begins. Some of them don’t. All of them are unwelcome in places we take for granted: grocery stores, parks, restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters. Even if they have money, they won’t step into those places very often. It would be too painful.

But here on Sundays, they are welcome. We have a shower they can use. We have a coffee bar with a barista ready to make them anything they would like. We are people just like them, wearing our dirty feet as we run to God. We only belong here because God says our feet are dirty enough to be washed by Him, so we can belong to Him.

We are the Church of the Dirty Feet. We are failures who have been found favorable enough to belong to Him, and to each other. We are the homeless who have been called holy in His sight. This Sunday is ours forever.