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Monday, December 31, 2012

Coming Home. Becoming Home.

The last day of the year and I have to scrape windshield ice but I don't even care. My broken laptop has been resurrected and I whisk it off to a coffee shop to warm its chips and wires, to warm my belly with fancy mocha and pumpkin bread, to warm my hands and my soul with inspiration and words, again.

It's been too long, friends, and I'm sorry. Life and hiccups have kept me away but all is well and all will be well.

Happy New Year.

Our Jacob is finally home, and we are grateful. The holidays are still lingering in a hush, woven into this creamy gray vapor that hangs around us, barely noticeable upon the cracked cement sidewalk, the aged headstones peeking out behind bare branches at the cemetery I drive past to get here. It's a fitting sort of state, as weather often is, for the end of things, this year, a little dreary but not unpleasant…a wash of whiteness and stillness like a curtain being dropped. The romantic in me will see the same sights in Technicolor tomorrow. I'm a dreamer that way, and new years always hold new promises, new adventures, and I'm game.

I declared 2012 the year of Home. I thought, perhaps, after much weariness from our nomadic years that it might have been the year of settling down, the year of tying up loose ends, the year of holding down the fort in pajamas and feeling like a normal family for a change. It sounded so healing just a year ago, so safe and warm, a year of Home, a year of family and laughter and too much good food. What I wanted, looking back, was a quiet place for my heart to nurse its wounds, a space to linger long on whatever was supposed to come next.

It was that. Sort of. In some ways.

Just not like I expected.

Because the year of home…the year I planned for coming home, was really about becoming home, in a million ways that were nowhere in sight on the milky gray horizon of last winter. And this next year, too, will be a series of blind-sighted developments, surprise plot turns, and new things big and small. I return to college in seven days, four days before I turn 33.

So I'm pondering today all the words that I think might mark 2013 in a way I can't even imagine from where I sit right now. Bloom. Revel. Embrace. Worship. Jubilee. Inspiration. Wonder. Explore. Listen.

I hope, no matter what, that this new year will be full of words, full of life and connection and a still sort of dwelling on the magnitude of every present moment, for me and for you, my friends.

Stay safe, tonight.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

In Which I Break Up With Martha Stewart

"Every child's holiday will be made infinitely more magical if your holiday décor features a homemade gingerbread replica of your home, and don't they deserve a magical Christmas, you lazy slacker?"

That was printed in the lifestyle magazine that showed up in my mailbox yesterday. Well, it basically said that. Pretty much. A magazine I felt guilty sitting down to read because there was probably some linen I should be ironing or yogurt I should be culturing or fresh evergreen wreath I should be fashioning out of clippings from the indoor ferns I didn't kill because of course I'm an excellent horticulturist and I even know what a horticulturist is. (You believe me, right?) But since this magazine held wisdom on perfecting my technique of all of the activities above and the holiday spirit was upon me, I settled into the guilt and flipped away at the glossy pages.  

You know the magazine – it's the one that suggests stuffing your Thanksgiving turkey with figs and pancetta and roasted artichoke hearts with butternut squash (not slathering a half-frozen bird with Jell-o powder and orange juice like I do) while you wait for the sautéed escarole on the stove. I'm not sure what you're waiting for the escarole to do exactly because I don't even know what escarole is and I'm too busy trying to figure out where to find fennel and endive for the fennel-endive-pomegranate seed salad every decent human being can whip up for a light lunch when having surprise company.

You know the magazine. Martha Stewart Living.  

Because of Martha, I know how to make handmade marshmallows in Christmas-y shapes and create my own hand-beaded bag, which I should be making unique for each outfit or at least for every day of the week. Page 3 tells me I need a $10,000 oven to ensure my cream puffs are baked with the most even heat distribution possible, which must be true even though I've never baked cream puffs in my life, but I still feel good about myself for a split second because at least I know what a cream puff is, which is more than I can say for the endive. I'm pretty sure the oven in the Dollhouse retails new for about twelve bucks.

With every page, I wonder things I hadn't even thought of until this very minute. Things like whether my hair is thick enough or my kitchen mixer can make pasta. I start realizing things I need that I never needed before. A hybrid. A wine cellar. A sheep whose wool I can make into fashionable winter clothing for my family. I see things I probably should make because I'm sure every other person in the universe is making them and the instructions are right here! In my hand! Page 26 alone gives me all I need to know about making both a catmint pillow bed and bracelets/tassels made with the hair cultivated from five Friesian horses…and I'm not even making that up.

Page 69, spice-infused milk and sugar-dusted macaroon trees. Page 71, scented tree ornaments. Page 37, a $520 makeup bag. Page 45, perfectly complected laughing children in matching outfits. Page 53, hand-punched paper doilies. Page 55, patterned men's socks, folded, lined up in a drawer and organized by shade. Page 61, handmade bell jar terrariums with miniature skiers and tiny penguins on snowy glitter mountains. Page 62, toast in the shape of the USA. Page 82, chamomile-yogurt panna cotta. Page 112, a hand-carved menorah. Page 124, a miniature winter forest in a $172 bucket. Page 145, a "simple desert" – lemon mascarpone crepe cake made with 62,789 layers of crepes and lemon curd made with eggs from your own personal chicken who is also a designer poultry model.

Plus 186 other pages I didn't mention.

None of this resembles my life. Martha's calendar (which she graciously shares with us on page 2) features twice-weekly appointments with her personal trainer and other ridiculously unrealistic pursuits like "harvest citrus from greenhouse," and "write thank-you notes."

But somewhere during my mental vacation to Bedford Farm, I become overwhelmed and tired. Those hand-beaded purses are kind of ugly. Escarole sounds a lot like cooked snails. I have zero desire to dust or even possess a collection of tiny skiers in glittery jars.

This all is the brain-child of a woman who might as well live on another planet, a woman with a team—nay, an enterprise, dedicated to this kind of fluffery. I don't have a maid or a stylist, and my entourage is populated with small people who still pee themselves. She wears tailored pantsuits; I pick kid boogers off the knees of my mom jeans. She hand-glitters her letterpress holiday cards; I haven't sent a Christmas card since 1998. She loves propagating rare plants from cuttings (her words); I kill silk flowers. She has an entire day marked off her calendar for Frederic Fekkai's birthday; I get my hair cut once a year...at Walmart.

Like so many others, this magazine is designed to make me want this life, to be convinced that I need this life, and even more, that I should spend time and energy and loads of money in the pursuit of it. But the whole thing really makes me want to climb back into bed, on my drug-store sheet set in my thrift-store pajamas, and give up the glittery ghost. I don't want to live at Bedford Farm and I don't want to be Martha. I don't want chickens with headshots or a beagle in Tartan pajamas. I don't want to teach Snoop Dog how to cook or practice perfecting the recipe for chocolate kugelhopf (or give myself a headache trying to pronounce it). I don't want to tolerate the message that I am not enough and don't do enough, and I sure as hell don't want to pay for the privilege.

So here it is. So long, Martha. Your pantsuits are lovely. Your home is impeccable (both the gingerbread and brick-and-mortar versions). Your holiday table is splendid. Your cider-braised slab bacon looks delicious. But we have to break up.

Because here's the thing. My bacon is just fine like it is. I would rather strangle myself with tinsel than create a to-scale gingerbread replica of my home. Sheep stink and so do chickens. You should consider changing the name to Martha Stewart Can't Even Live Like This magazine, because at least it would be truthful.

Consider my subscription cancelled, my ticket for the guilt-trip torn to bits.

How's that for Living

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thank You for the Dollhouse

He is bringing me to surrender.

And while I spout words and thoughts about freeing my heart to Jesus on a regular basis, surrender is a difficult place for me. Sure, I'll surrender my worship, surrender my words. I'll surrender time for Scripture reading and some crumpled bills for the offering plate.

But what about stuff? Comfort? The redefining of need?

Back in January (or was it February?), I pegged this the "year of home."


It has come/is coming to mean something other than what I thought it would, as these things usually do. Adoption. Moving. Again. Paring down. Letting go.

We get keys to our new place in 16 days, a townhouse on the university campus with faded pink paint and a blue door like the one on my daughter's plastic dollhouse. There is a clipboard on the front door for family game night flyers and street sweeper notices, clothing exchange announcements and resident-only softball league signups. Our next-door neighbor is crafty, if the Halloween swarm of paper bats and a cardstock moon fastened across her front door and window is any indication, so I wish like a 6-year-old that she will be my friend. Maybe we will ride bikes to school together.

The usual new house excitement and chaos is underway now and all the preparations loom ahead. Except that it's more of a stateroom than a house, really. Part apartment, part dormitory, part submarine berth, part communal abode. Our new back porch is wide open to the grassy common play space and I'm about to have all manner of neighborhood children up in here, up in here.

I wonder whether we'll be able to fit very much more than a couple of forks and some warm bodies into the dollhouse with us. The dimensions of the dining room are actually smaller than the dimensions of our dining table, without any chairs. I call about borrowing a saw to hack two feet off the ends off my brand new dining table, a handmade anniversary gift from my husband. I am nothing if not determined, and resourceful.

But the line between need and want is a dashed and dotted one, I think, and life with four forever children means a hard process of purging the comforts I've always treated as deal-breakers. The dollhouse has no dishwasher, for instance. No washer/dryer hookups either. I am accustomed to clean laundry piles that reach my chin, a daily soundtrack of washing machine chugging and spinning, and the truth is, I don't really want to spend half my hours in a coin-op Laundromat with my neighbors. I don't want to end up with someone else's underwear by mistake and have to locate the rightful owner. I don't want to be a goldfish in a glass bowl again, inviting people in when my floors have crumbs and my sink is full because I have no dishwasher, and my kid is covered in purple marker. I don't want to revisit all the boundary-crossing that happens when you live in community, blurring those lines between yours, mine, and ours. 

But it's time I did.

It makes me worried, the thought of giving up so much of my stuff. But I'm grateful for the process, grateful for the paring away of internal, emotional clutter that comes alongside getting rid of the things I think I need simply because I like them. Grateful we'll be part of a culture again and that letting go of things often means making room for people.

So as I try to downsize, it's with that end in mind: blessing people, making room, living in community. Though I've taken a few sizeable car loads to Goodwill already, I'm aiming to be more intentional about finding needs to meet with our excess rather than merely discarding or selling it. There is something about giving it away that energizes and brightens so much more than simply giving it up. Furnishing the new home of a friend who had to leave everything behind, bundling up extra toys for the foster babies to bring along with them when they leave, adding resources to the church library… it is all His way of turning paring down into building up.

And the truth is, I can't wait for the dollhouse. To be stepping on the toes of my family all day, piling up together on the day bed we'll be using as a couch, rubbing elbows with my neighbors at Taco Night, tossing scraps in the complex compost pile to feed the community garden that will feed us too. I can't wait to wonder aloud about Jesus over a pint with the girl in my algebra class and meet my babies for lunch in a crowded student union. To learn. To grow. To live with less.

It's appropriate, I think, that we are moving in over the Thanksgiving holiday. The time for gratitude is here. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

When It's Time to Breathe

Like others in this season of politics and tension, I am thirsty for grace. And in my thirst, I realize how much grace I fail to show, how strong my desire that others see things my way, how hard I have to fight my own nature to reflect Christ's character.

But today, I'm asking you for grace.

Grace because I'm far from this place lately, wrapped up in a budding life ahead, a bunch of big changes on the horizon.

I'm going back to college, God willing, and I've brought my kiddos home to learn at the kitchen table again too, navigating a public charter school curriculum program that looks exciting but still has me a little lost and anxious while we get our bearings.

The foster babies are very nearing their own transition out of our home, a home the lot of us are moving out of at the end of November to be nearer to school and other things. I'm neck deep in editing a book and writing another one, and I can count the days until our newly adopted son will be here without having to even turn the calendar page.

Deep breath.

I've had to pull away from blogging and reading blogs for now, and I just thought I'd tell you all why. Soon, the dust will settle and life will look like something I recognize again, and we'll begin to build something new, brick by brick.

Love you friends. Thanks, as always, for grace. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rinse (First Rain)

I've been dry as the ground, this season. The grass had turned to straw and twine. Smoke billowed from a new hill every day and even the deck wood and telephone poles looked thirsty on the backdrop of crispy beige foliage, parched.

Crumpled and bitter, I've fought my tongue around every corner. Thirsty, threadbare, and dried in drought, dust was all I could manage to cultivate upon these lips, and from this weary heart, gasping.

And though I had better things to do, things that couldn't wait, I pulled out the paint box and dirtied my brushes and smothered the canvas large as life with paint and longing. It felt like air and space, so I opened windows, then, and dotted frantic with the mix of pink and white, and I was a fish, brushstroke by brushstroke, caught and released, and released, and released, and released.

Children slept and hours passed, one and then another, dark but for the colors on the canvas, and with the music swirling, I smelled it strong and sudden. Struck with alertness like a whiff of strong coffee, I recognized in the dryness the aroma of rain.

The ground opened to receive it and my heart opened to receive it and I could breathe again, breath so full it tasted like color. I swam. And the music and the rain and dust made painted fingerprints upon that canvas where my soul spilled in splats and curves. I laid awake and watched it fall until clouds and trees were backlit with foggy air and it's all still hanging there this morning…a misty linger like even the air doesn't want to let go.

The TV tells me we'll be dry again in an hour but I plead silent with my eyes to the sky like I'm pleading with a lover not to go, not to go. 

Don't go.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Soul Bare -- Call for Submissions

By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn't see, and acted on what he was told.
                                                                                                -Hebrews 11:7 (MSG) 

I'm no Noah.

And if God told me to build an ark of cyprus wood in the middle of dry land, I'd call a mental health specialist but not a lumber yard. I am ye of little faith.

I'm no Noah.

God knows I build with words and not with nails. Build bridges, build a home, build friendship, build understanding, build ships in the desert with the alphabet because it's all I ever knew about saving people.

And this? Soul Bare… Right here, in this season, this book is my ark. My ship built of words instead of wood, with stories instead of nails, and covered inside and out with a thick coat of love instead of pitch. It's no ark, but it's what He asked me to build, a tiny little offering in the face of the floodwaters all around.

It's all I ever knew about saving people. It's how I've always saved myself, how I've turned my eyes back to the only one who really saves. Hammering out the words to float your stories safe, and I ask… would you like to join me? Lend your tender heart, your only-yours story among the rest of us typing mad because it's how we know about saving, because it's what we do to point to Him?

There's one month left to submit an essay-length piece (1000-2000 words) for publication if you're interested in contributing to this project of building up faith from the root of our hearts, digging out authenticity and redemption from the heaviness, mining for joy in the unlikeliest of places.

It is a vulnerable and difficult practice to open ourselves wide, to share the gritty and painful parts of our story, or to explore against-the-grain ideas. Standing emotionally naked before God and others can be an intimidating but richly prolific experience. It is a progression of salvaging our own broken pieces, telling our story, and gaining a deeper understanding of one another and of God’s beautiful purpose for us as we seek to develop who we have been into who we are becoming.

The very Word of God is a collection of soul-bare stories, of broken people salvaged and sanctified, lives poured open for a holy purpose. By its words and the beat of our own hearts we live out and share a beautiful picture of grace and ransom, of unique (but shared) humanity.
We are looking for real, honest stories of your journey through self-expression in your process of becoming authentic. Why and how do you bare your soul and for what holy purpose? 

Get more information here, if you're so inclined. And in the meantime, your prayers for this book and its writers are both grace and blessing, as is your support and spreading the word about the book however you'd like.  

*Title, subtitle, and cover design are likely to change. We're working with a bit of a fluid concept here that will be further defined once submissions are chosen. If you have a piece that feels like a good fit for this project but the categories or title/subtitle are having you second-guess whether it works, please send it anyway. Blog posts are allowed but must be removed from all sources prior to publication.

Linking to:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tiptoes in the Water

I'm slow in returning to the world of public words… here, just beginning to poke my head in through the quiet and back to this virtual world of voices and beauty and community after a short-but-longer-than-planned hibernation from the same.   

There are a few reasons for my extended absence and they go like this:

-          My Internet has been down on and off for days (my apologies to the Imperfect Prose community most of all for my absence this week.) My phone data access from my house is spotty at best.
-          My fibromyalgia has flared up something awful and I've been particularly weak/tired/in pain the last two weeks.
-          I carved out time to write a dozen or so blog posts ahead of time only to find the next day that my computer had mysteriously dumped and disposed of them all completely…several thousand words just plain gone. I haven't had the energy to start over again, yet.
-          I've been up to my eyeballs putting out fires like dealing with a water heater outage for three days and catching up on overdue things like cleaning the carpets and folding laundry.
-          I found out I won't be able to go to Allume Social conference this year, which bums me out tremendously. It's for a good purpose (our adoption moving forward) but it's a tough thing to give up. 

Mostly though, I've lingered in the quiet space to give my brain and fingers and soul a rest and it's been good. The infamous fibro brain-fog meant not spending quite so much time in deep reflection as I had planned, but sometimes just walking through the daily things is healing and restful on a different level, and it was.

My tiptoes are back in the water, now, and my fingers teasing the keyboard again. Hope it's been a great September for you so far. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When It's Time to Untangle

My heart took a big tumble this week. It bounced around and hit a few sharp corners. It is bruised and bleeding today still, pulse-tender like blistered flesh burned on an electric stove. It is still on crutches today, slathering itself in ointment and retreating to quiet spaces.

And I have a lot of thoughts to work out about what's behind all the brokenness and what God has to do with any of it and what it means for my understanding of The Church at large and my voice and my place in things. I don't know quite how much of the pain is a result of my clumsy tendency to stand up for unpopular injustice with a fierce spirit and too many words, and how much is an answer to that prayer I pray in the dark… the scary, exciting, beautiful, awful one. The one that goes, "Break my heart for what breaks yours."

But it's all tied together like a knotted necklace chain and I'll have to untangle it later, after the ointment works its magic, after the wincing has stopped.

Because I'm still slipping between raging indignation and quiet tears. I'm still racing from corner to corner of my mixed-up mind, from the icy shadows to the warmth of the sun.

Somewhere in the midst of this, truth and love and healing will bring me back. They're already beginning to.

But what's saving my life this week are the soft places, like the crook of my husband's arm…the first place I want to bury myself when the hurt stings sharp and the brokenness weighs heavy and he listens, quietly, and hears. Ryan is my safest place, the corner I retreat to when nothing is sure in the world… when my thoughts about God and friendship and mothering and church and work and life bury me in fear and doubt. And then he sits with me, quiet, and I don't need to speak and he doesn't either, and it's love all the same. Ryan is all I know about love on some days, because the way he does it is really something worth taking notes on. He understands the value of presence and his short words linger long when I'm tempted to ask "Why?" What's saving my life today is gratitude for the man in my bed who taught me all I'll ever know about staying.

What's saving my life today are the tiny miracles… picking up the right book at the right time, communities so full of grace and love that I can't escape from Jesus love even when I try to retreat. What's saving me now is that slowly, hour by hour, I'm reminded that there are others standing up for the kind of love I believe in, people who aren't afraid to listen, to speak up for the marginalized and the wounded, people whose stories and lifestyles make a lot of people squirm. Fear brings out the ugly in some people, but intolerance brings out the ugly in me. I'm working on it.

What's saving me now are people like Tammy and Lindsey and Annie and Emily, praying and loving and sending me emails like grace with skin on all through my day. What's saving me, as always, is wild, extravagant grace, and a Nazarene whose love is making nothing in my world comfortable anymore and I suspect it's exactly the way it's supposed to be.

When the heart breaks open because you prayed for it to happen, because you know deep and raw that there's more than the moldable deity you see in modern American culture, it will mess you up. I'm not all that sure I even know what to make of it yet, or what it's going to mean for me, but I know this. It's time to step into quiet for a few days (a week?), to tiptoe away from social media and politics, from hot button issues and phone calls, to quiet my fired-up soul, listen to the breeze that wraps around in an embrace, and learn love from my kids again, the ones who I overhear in their bedroom in tiny voices saying, "You are beautiful," and "I love you," and "Jesus gave us to each other", because this is the love that washes over and saves us all, the love that is worth stopping and smelling and tasting and grasping with all our grip on the tender, unsure days.

So, friends, thank you for grace as I slip quietly away from this space for a few days to read and bake and pray and paint and swing and slide and laugh and sing and be still.

I promise I'm okay… really, truly. Quite full of joy and peace today after the fog of hurt is lifting and just being mindful that this is a place I need to linger for a beat, a pause to usher in Fall and learn a few things about the nature of love and experiencing God. A sorta-kinda spiritual retreat, if you will, a chance to untangle. 

Love, love, love. 

Be back soon. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When You Fight to Illuminate Hope - Imperfect Prose on Thursdays

I am tired and too delicate for this world. 

It all seems to fly at me at once today, an assault of worldly concerns and it feels like just too much and I whisper for Jesus to come and come soon and all the while I feel like a hopeless lunatic just waving my arms as the merry-go-round spins. 

Let me get off. I want the ride to be over.


Continued here over at Emily's place for Imperfect Prose. Join us? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

On Gays and God-Haters and Me - A Facebook Conversation, continued

{This post is actually a continuation of a personal Facebook thread in which I posted a link to this blog post. The responses I received were from varied perspectives and highly charged on all sides. This issue is important to me, so I appreciate your time in considering it prayerfully.}

I do not write this lightly, as I wept over the responses this Facebook post got. Actually fell to my knees in the middle of Barnes and Noble, phone in hand, and cried hot tears. I'll tell you why in a second. First, I need to clarify a couple of things, so as not to be misunderstood. I shared this link as exactly what it was – a powerful story about a family's experience with conversion therapy (a method of "curing" gayness that a lot of churches support). I disgree with this method since at its core is the teaching that homosexuality is caused by something lacking in the father-son relationship (something that research shows to be false and damaging, and in my opinion, is just plain hurtful). I strongly disagree with a church supporting/teaching conversion therapy. I made no indication, statement, judgment, or position on whether homosexuality was right or wrong. None. Nor did I represent anything anyone else said as a Christian perspective. However, I am Christian, and that was my perspective about conversion therapy, on a public forum in which we are free to share thoughts and opinions, Scripture verses, prayer requests, barbeque invitations, or whatever we fancy. It's the same hard-earned freedom which allows us to worship Jesus openly that also allows this man and others to share their words and hurts.

I shared one man's perspective and experience, a man whose perspective is no less important than yours or mine. I do not believe to do so calls into question my Christianity, rather I believe that to show active love, to learn how to love like Jesus, means to listen to and acknowledge the experiences of those who are feeling like outcasts, those who have been told they aren't welcome in church. Being listened to is a way to be loved, practically speaking, and I'd wager a guess that if more of the homosexual community felt like the church was willing to listen and support rather than condemn, we'd see many more gay individuals coming to Christ.

Since it was suggested that I may not be familiar with what Scripture has to say about homosexuality, please be assured that I do. I know well what both the Old Testament and the New Testament say, as well as Christ's silence on the particular topic. I do believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, as I also believe that to study it is to also study the historical background of it, the original languages it was written in, the meaning of the traditions and such, and to not take it out of context. The Scriptures condemning homosexuality also condemn wearing mixed fibers and eating certain fish, but I don't know any Evangelical churches ostracizing polyester pantsuits. I'm very grateful personally that Jesus taught about the dangers of living under religious law instead of freedom, which helps me understand that keeping the Levitical laws holds no weight in regard to my salvation and access to unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness.

I know all the relevant Scripture and have studied the Greek and Hebrew in modern translations and ancient ones, with historical implications, and have studied a smattering of theology on the issue, from various viewpoints, in order to help my gay friends get to the bottom of the topic. I am more acquainted with the Bible's standpoint on homosexuality than most Christians you know… I promise, and to be fair, arguments can be made for several positions on the issue, all of which I understand. I won't debate theology with anyone here, mostly because this is the Internet and not seminary, but also because I doubt it will matter. We may have different ideas about this position. It does not mean we don't both love Jesus.  

But again, I did not take a stance in the above post on whether homosexuality was okay or sinful or anything else. I never will. I am not God and until I reach the day where my own eyes are plankless, I won't attempt to let my moral standards have authority over someone else's life. Scripture warns me of the consequences of doing so. It is only the Holy Spirit that can convict us of our failures, and I am so glad that I was shown agape love by Christian friends that caused me to first want to know and understand God's love as an outsider, and only after that could I care anything about His law. I have read the Bible cover to cover, in several translations, and studied it in depth. What I have found every. single. time. in every. single. translation is the same, and it is this:

I have been given a greater responsibility, along with all Christians, to show love than anybody else. I follow a man (God), who taught that love was the most important thing and that without it, we are nothing but "clanging cymbals". Sadly, a lot of my friends will never set foot in a church or whisper a prayer because they can't hear love over the clanging, because God has only ever been portrayed to them as hateful. Those of us who intimately know Christ know that in Him is freedom and grace. I want my gay friends to know my Jesus. I care more about their soul than their sex life, and I believe strongly that He does too. I believe that Jesus, friend of sinners, would build a bridge of love before attempting to deal with lifestyle. Jesus saw to the heart of a person and it is my prayer that I can do so, too.

A popular Christian catch phrase on the gay topic is "hate the sin but love the sinner." What I want to know…what many of my gay friends want to know…is what that means for you on a practical level. HOW is the church, how are you and I, as the body loving the sinner? What are we doing to make Christ attractive to our gay brothers and sisters? Are we hearing them? Are we listening? Are we wrapping arms around them, showing them the grace we've been given? Do we care about anything more than their sex life? I hope my answer will be yes. I believe to love like Christ means to open the dialogue, to not generalize gays or claim to know everything about them because of one aspect of their lives. I am a sinner saved by grace and I believe that is available for all people who choose it.

Here's what sent me to my knees in tears in the middle of the bookstore on a Monday afternoon. I have many gay friends, some of whom are seeking truth actively. What they will see on my Facebook wall, between the lines of all of this, is not that they are loved and welcomed, not that there is room for them in the Christian community. They will see that they are compared to murderers, drunks, and liars by the world's greatest lovers, and that several sides of the issue will bear their teeth over a stranger's personal life. They will see that people who don't know them at all are willing to speak out about their sex life, but not about any other aspect of their beings. They will be reminded that there are many churches they aren't welcomed in, that they can find hateful statements galore by people whose greatest assignment is to love.

To the Christian friends/family who spoke out, I know the position of many of you is that tough love is still love and it seems that you believe to acknowledge or discuss homosexuality in any open way is to water down Scripture or ignore the law of God. I understand the perspective and acknowledge it, but I simply can't bring myself to see it this way. I have learned far more about the love of Christ, about how to walk in love, by listening and exploring and acknowledging people who are different from me than I ever have by starting the conversation with a statement about their sin. Respectfully, I don't think it's how Jesus did it or would do it now, and though I fail at it every day in many ways, I am growing in my understanding of His love and making every effort to walk in it through the grace I've been given. I will continue to share the perspectives of people I believe need to be understood and I freely invite you not to read it if it offends your values. In the same breath, I also invite you to (respectfully) disagree with me. I want all my public spaces to be open doors for all people. It doesn't mean we will agree, but I promise to always consider your perspective prayerfully. I make the same promise to anyone who finds their way here. There are ways in which we will adamantly disagree and I don't think our faith has to come into question because we might approach it from a different perspective. To the contrary, you teach me more about Jesus, you draw me to the Word and to my knees for wisdom when we disagree. I appreciate given the freedom to speak my truth and therefore honor everyone else's right to do the same.  

It comes down to this for me. It breaks my heart that most of my gay friends think Christians are hateful, condemning, religious, and spiteful, when Jesus adamantly, passionately taught against all those things. It is not only "God haters" who are giving Christianity a bad name. Plenty of people, in Christ's name, are willing to loudly condemn and assign that designation to the rest of us without our permission. I am the body, too, so I am doing what I can to help bridge the gap between the church and the homosexual community, in the interest of love. I do not have to make a judgment call on someone's choices in order to love them. Listening to a gay person's story, understanding their heart, acknowledging their hurt is not watering down God's love (or His law) in any way. If I am willing to listen to them, show them grace and understanding, there is hope that they will care about what my heart holds too and prayerfully, that they'll eventually know the source of it intimately, that they'll receive the love and grace and freedom I'm blessed to know. I hope that makes things a bit clearer, and I invite my gay friends, my Christian friends, and anyone else that wants to respectfully add to the conversation to do so. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Heartbreak, High School Style

"He has a girlfriend now and I really think he is changing his mind about wanting this adoption to happen."

She says it frantic through static on the line, and this is what I feared, too, but couldn't—wouldn't—admit to, not with the foster babies getting ready to move out, not with having to keep my heart intact while I watch them shuffle headlong into a painful future and can do nothing to stop it. He wouldn't bring us this far in the adoption of this boy we already love—a whole year gone by—if it could unravel this easily, would He?

Would He?

The woman on the line wants me to move quickly, take action… do something, anything, to keep this from going the way it could go. 

But I can't give her anything to go on. I can't stop the world from unraveling. I can't be his mother if he won't let me, even if mere weeks ago it was all he wanted in the world.

I am held captive by the ever-important and always fluid social life of the American teenager.

The rumors come by telephone now like they did when I was 15 and I'm back in my high school bedroom somehow with Rolling Stone magazine covers and vodka advertisements littering the walls, holding my breath and willing the pieces of my fragile heart to stay put until I know the truth for sure. I am holding back breath and holding back tears and wondering how love can melt away so easy.

I'm afraid I'm being dumped by a 15-year-old boy.

Traded in for another girl because having a girlfriend is safer for injured boy hearts than having a mother. 

Mothers drink. And mothers die.

And just like the first time, when I was all ribs and elbows, I start to dial his number and pause over the last digit, unable to complete the call. What would I say? How do I ask this burning question? And if the answer is what I fear… what then? What happens next?

Who else will fight for you like I will? Who else will love you every step of the way?

A lot of adoptions don't work out and I scold myself for being so hopeful, for already being his mother.

A lot of mama heartbeats echo beneath ribcages for what should have been, and I know there were never any guarantees in this. But I am reduced, nonetheless, for the fear of what we'll never give him. I am wounded by the fear of being replaced by something temporary and where that will leave him, and I am all ribs and elbows again, all captive-aching heart and whispers to my pillow of no, this can't be happening. But this time, the pillow is his. His pillow, on his bed, in his bedroom, in what was supposed to be his house.  

I have no magazine covers on the walls these days, no room to call my own. No boyfriend troubles or stepfathers or algebra homework or raucous youth retreats to heal tender wounds with laughter. Just a house full of babies from all sorts of bodies and a mama's heart left behind.

No matter what happens, child...
                 I will love you every step of the way. 

Linking up to Imperfect Prose, back from its summer hiatus. Join us here as we revel in grace and community?

* Update: Made that call and asked the hard question. And he admitted to having second thoughts, of how hard it is to imagine a life other than his past, but...gently...that he believes his future is still here and I am grateful and relieved and a little more grown-up in my own heart again. We will proceed with the adoption plans still and pray for a heart guarding and lots of approval stamps before the wind changes. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Abide. Proclaim. Bestow.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, says Isaiah*, and later Christ in the Gospels*.

The words unravel and re-weave this anointing of my flesh, the very calling of my spirit. I know deep and hard this work and this purpose.

I write to proclaim release to the captives.

I write, as Christ lives, to provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty* by pointing to freedom, proclaiming release.

It is my longing to tell you, with all of my breath every day and forever, to take heart dear friend and receive the crown of beauty. Throw open your arms and soar a while in your own sweet release, because I have known it, because it is magnificent.

But I forget, daily, to breathe in and receive. I forget to slow the thundering hooves and linger in my freedom long enough to proclaim it. I wash laundry and file papers and shepherd babies and my fingers don't find the keyboard. I make phone calls and wonder where the days go and when I will find the time to proclaim release when I'm jailing my very self with too much of the wrong kind of work and sit behind the bars of self-doubt to mold a casing around my tender heart with the liar's black clay.

I am mentally and spiritually aware that to abide is not merely to obey or to exist. This awareness, though, comes up shy of internal some days and days turn into weeks as days are wont to do.

And so I make the paper remember for the words to instruct when the brain forgets. I make the schedule to cradle a cushion to abide, a daily space for the fingers to find the keyboard: first, time to read and sit and pray and receive, then 4 hours a day of like-it-or-not writing time, beginning tomorrow. No excuses. No escape.


I am a writer before I am a housekeeper.
I am a writer before I am a chef.
I am a writer before I am an interior designer, a patio sweeper, a phone app dawdler, a grocery shopper, an iced-tea guzzler.
I am a writer before I am a Facebook junkee, a Twitter checker, a Pinterest surfer.

And? I am a mother before I am a writer. A wife, a daughter, a friend. So I puzzle the things together and remember them all as gifts. 

I must first breathe in my freedom and break through with release. First, I dance, radiant, with my flowering crown of beauty.




And Write.

Will you join me, too, in this?

Abide, dear friend. Live in creativity. Live in amazement. Live in love. And let the rest all fall away.

And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
                                                                                                -Ephesians 3:14-19

*Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:16-21

Friday, August 24, 2012

Olly, Olly, Oxen Free

A couple of times a day, The Little One peeks around corners and under things and wonders aloud,

"Where's God?"

She plays a cosmic hide-and-seek game all alone, turning over Matchbox cars and lifting rug corners. "God?" she says, eyebrows furled, "God?"

She glances around the room and below the dining table, between chair cushions and chair bases, under couch pillows, in clothing drawers. She traces peasant faces with her fingers on the toile tablecloth.

"Is this God, Mama?"

"God is in your heart, honey girl," I say, but her eyes droop at the answer. She wants something tangible. She believes He's here somewhere, an ant below a Matchbox car, a pale-faced shepherd in a fabric pattern on the dining table. She wants to touch, to find… to lock eyes with Him.

Me too.

I let her play the game over and over and I don't step in until she directs the question at me. I don't intervene with her hide-and-seek game because I might be surprised at what she finds. Because I'm playing my own grown-up version in my own grown-up heart.

"Where's God?"

And I look high and low, deep and hard. I look for God, for grace incarnate. I look in the dishes, in the laundry, in the tangled bedsheets and peanut butter sandwiches.

Where's God when my husband is away, when I'm overwhelmed, when the kids need more than I can give? Is He looking back at me from the toile tablecloth that I wipe down a dozen times a day? In the medicine bottles? The dirty barbeque?

I look in the pile of bills, the cat dish, the sunset. I look in the eyes of my babies and the bookshelf in the hall.

I play my own hide and seek game with God, and it is daily.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," I murmur. "Olly, olly, oxen free!"

It's a cry of gratitude, a cry of trust. A cry of faith and truth and a bare naked heart.

And there He is.

Under a Matchbox car, in the laundry bin, beneath the toile tablecloth. In the eyes of all these babies and inside my own crumpled heart. He's right there, in plain sight, for those willing to look.

I have looked and I have seen. There He is, and He grips my heart again. I'm caught. 

I'm tagged. 

I'm it now, I suppose.

And if I'm it, in this hide-and-seek game where God peeks around corners of His world, will He find me? Will I be there? Will I be about my Father's business or will I be consumed by my own? Will I be found in the eyes of these babies, in my work in this world, or will He have to search below and between for me, calling my name to find me hiding from it?

Olly, olly, oxen free. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On Excavating Earwax, Panty Raids, and Joy With Dish Gloves On

Friends, this post is long... like making-up-for-lost-time long...like more-of-a-chapter-than-a-blog-post long, and I apologize (kind of) for the length. I really feel desperately that I need to post it anyway and I ask if you'll give me the grace of getting through it because I think this message is a good one for us all this week. There are some things around here knocking my socks off... things I believe truly will rock your world, too, if you soak it in. So go get a coffee refill and stay with me in this, if you can...come back to it if you have to. Thanks for trusting me, for getting through my wordiness and letting me unravel the beautiful, terrible mysteries I'm drifting through these days.  


I haven't been writing much lately—not here anyway, and I'm sorry for that. 

It's not for lack of trying. I've sat down at my keyboard dozens of times this week and the last one and the one before that to keep this space current and relevant and real. What happens, though, is that no matter what I set out to write, it all ends up coming out something like this:

"This is hard. This is hard. This is hard. Joy is here. God is good. He is teaching me so much. And oh, yeah… did I mention? This is hard. "

It's true of course. This is hard. God is good. And He is teaching me measure upon measure more than I ever dreamed this season would be about. I am learning dependence and how gratitude can overcome attitude. I am learning about love in action when the feeling of love is elusive. 

I am learning about what importance and success look like in the Kingdom, and how wrong I've had it all this time. I am learning about need, about nourishment, about food and laughter and organization and the power of a smile or a scowl, about volume and voices, love languages, trust, fear, home, and the wild and wonderful human spirit.

- I am learning that love is joy with its dish gloves on.

- I am learning that the words I grumble or yell or whisper or pray are longer lasting than the words I type, that tying up life lessons nice and pretty in a package works well on paper but doesn't serve me at all when there is poop in the sandbox or when I see my own forked-tongue wagging back at me from the mouth of my flesh-and-blood boy. I am learning that hot, silent tears into my pillowcase are a hallowed kind of prayer, and that I would be wise to utter less the phrase "Lord, give me strength" and utter more the phrase "Thank you, Lord. Give me joy." Also, that He always responds swiftly to "Help me, Help me, Help me," even if I whisper a curse word in the middle of that prayer somewhere.

- I am learning much, much, much about grace.

Overcoming my critical, complaining spirit in this means not running to my blog just to purge out the grime of the day every time I'm tempted to, even though you all take it so graciously and mold it into a golden gift through your comments and outreach and prayer. You all are my heroes and you are how I do most anything—all this inspiration I get from the people out there walking around on Jesus-feet, kissing with Jesus-lips, giving with Jesus-hands.

Having foster kids in our home these past few months has rocked us, not in a flip-our-world-upside-down sort of way, but in a gnaw-away-daily-at-our-false-ideals one. The temptation is to say that with each challenge, I am growing and loving them deeper and deeper because that's what the neat and pretty answer might look like, but that just isn't always true. 

What's true is this. I still don't have a maternal instinct for these babies, not completely, and though I love them as much as I can make myself love anything, this is a hard love. It's a love that acts and does, a love that wipes and kisses, a love that moves and rocks and holds and bites its tongue, but not so much a love that feels. It's different, and I am learning, too, to be okay with different, all the while praying for a bigger heart to overflow with Jesus-love when these little faces still seem so exoteric, so marvelously foreign here. 

The intimacy with which I am caring for these sort-of strangers who are also long-neglected little children means this work is mostly gross and bloody and sweaty and stinky, covered in waste that emerges from bodies I have not carried and have not watched carved by formative years of nursing and growing and living. The truth is, it often makes me wearier than I wish it did. 

And though I am immune, mind and body and spirit, to whatever is produced by my own children's bodies, there is no such lack of repugnance with these children, yet. I shouldn't admit it but that's the hard work of motherhood, what biology affords us the capacity to endure out of instinct. When biology is the missing link between these strangers and myself, the already-hard stuff gets harder, if only because it is not nature but effort that drives me.

I am shamed further by the shame I feel, by the way I cringe and curl inwardly at the hazards of motherhood, the green and brown and foul-smelling things, the yucky stuff that from my own children leaves me unscathed. Per doctor's orders, I had to go out and buy a tool last week designed to excavate impacted earwax, a tool I never knew existed and have lived peacefully without for 32 years. Then, draping wriggling half-dressed children over my lap one by one, I dug deep into their oozing orifices and hummed loud to make them still and safe but also to suppress my gag reflex, to transform repulsion into grace, to remind me to find the joy here, in earwax, somewhere…in puddles of drool and vomit, in overflowed toilets, in asthma and tantrums and middle-of-the-night toddler pantry raids (not to be confused, of course, with panty raids, but with the same sort of commotion and cunning thievery involved).

I am struck by how unnatural this love can be, how the actions of what love does can sometimes be so instinctual but other times requires intense suppression of human instinct. And yet, even this unnatural and irregular love is complete and perfect love all the same, for such a time as this

Foster parenting is, by nature, the role of coaxing a square peg into a round hole and making it as comfortable there as possible. It is oddly unnatural. Intentionally unnatural. And, challengingly unnatural for me.     

- It is an unnatural love that chisels impacted sludge out of a half-naked stranger's head with a miniature plastic melon-baller and sings her quiet all the while. 

- It is an unnatural love that peeks beneath peculiar habits and whispered statements to the dark underbelly of human existence and reveals the despicable truth of the trauma and turmoil which raises babies in badly broken homes.

- It is an unnatural love that attempts to explain foreskin to a puzzled preschooler who accidentally discovers anatomical differences in his same-age counterpart (a delicate and highly charged conversation to have with a boy still wearing Spiderman underpants, just a baby but already corrupted and confused by sexual abuse and body shame).

- It is an unnatural love that whispers lies to a baby for a holy purpose. Their mama won't be visiting today; she's in jail again, but their hearts can't receive the truth of this. Not yet. And sometimes, a lie can be an act of love, too

Love so often is the tough work of exposing joy when there doesn't seem to be any.

Love can be natural or unnatural, and the tough kinds are pulled and stretched from all corners of our body and soul and spirit.    

- It is hard physical work to excavate joy like I excavate earwax, digging and prying and scooping for it to make things better, to enhance my ability to listen more clearly. I round my posture and strain hard for the delicate sound of joy amidst the clamor, the wailing racket in the world all around. There is a din of falling ashes and abundant hopelessness, but I tune in careful and with clarity hone my senses to simply hearing. In doing this, I decipher a soft symphony of intricate miracles, joy's peaceable volume growing over the clatter with each passing second. 

This love? This hard love... this careful, deliberate, focused, slimy and grimy, exhausting love? 

It amplifies the sound of joy. 

Love always amplifies joy because love teaches the lover to listen. 

- It is hard mental work to locate joy when a food-obsessed toddler leaves a midnight trail of empty soda cans and potato chip bags strewn about in her wake like rubble after she cleans the cupboards bare and we are all oblivious, snoozing in spent slumber. But as tight fists unclench, I look closely and there it is...joy, giggling about the silliness of it all under a pile of granola bar wrappers. 

Joy finds a pathway to humor when humor is a lifeline to grace.
(Or a pathway to chocolate. Chocolate is always a lifeline, in my book.)  

- It is hard emotional work to find joy in rising anger when three sets of tiny, mighty hands demolish weeks of careful bedroom decorating in mere seconds of raucous fun. They tear curtains off walls, thrash the personalized name signs I meticulously painted for each one of them, bust closet doors, and crush the paper lanterns that once hung from the ceiling—cheerful orbs now ripped and ruined by careless, overactive play. I almost cry but I yell instead and lose my cool completely. Later, we talk about destruction and forgiveness and how wrong we each were in all of this, me especially. And we forgive.  

Joy flees when anger roars but gathers at the feet of a humble lover. 

- It is hard spiritual work for me to remember, minute by minute, that they are children and not just to find joy in that but to create and nourish it also with room for imagination, creation, amusement, and wonder in the bustle of passing days. I'm so often tempted to wish them into mature beings fully capable of order and reason, but joy knows better and sees clearly.

Joy in you begets joy in others, and where there is much joy, peacefulness abounds. 

Though it doesn't make it any easier, I am grateful in small ways for this fissure between me and my foster children, for what is lacking here. These are not my forever babies, and my soul has not given birth to them the way it has to my others, the ones I could not bear losing like I will lose these ones, someday. 

So I go about the work of stitching my heart to theirs word by word and action by action, bathtime by bedtime, meal by hug by juice cup by storybook by smile, each action another stitch in the fabric of our stories. I baste love like scar tissue over fresh wounds with wide, loose stitches. I sew loops of thread like care and clockwork with lots of open space in this tapestry of grace that covers over them, space for the tight stitches of redemption that will someday not only cover the scars but heal them also. I am leaving room for those who will come after me, the new strong embroidery of an adoptive family perhaps, or the delicate healing sutures of reformed (or, rather, reforming) biological parents.

Theirs is not a forever love within me, not a soul-birthed love like I have for my biological kids and also for our boy in Texas whose adoption is underway. His stitches are sewn short and tight and strong like my others, and with the sweaty, painful work of bearing and birthing a grown-up boy from my heart's womb with all the fight and fire and breath of bringing forth new life—new life right out of existing blood and bones, thoughts and scars and needs and dreams and fears…a partnership between redemption and creation, a partnership between an average family and a Divine and Holy God. I don't know why it was different for him than the others, why his love gets to be natural and permanent, except that it was designed to be. The story was already written. 

And just like there are different sorts of stitches—wide and long and loose, short and tight and strong—there are different sorts of mother love, too—fierce and physical and permanent, nurturing and healing and temporary, bold and beautiful, quiet, clumsy, complicated, selfless, distant, biased, graceful… And I might exhibit a different love dynamic with each little body, each big life that passes through my care. 

I see now that my work in this world, in everything, is not merely about action but first about vision, to see joy and Jesus everywhere, and then to act accordingly. 

So, I seek joy...deliberately, intentionally, increasingly, I seek joy in every. little. thing.

I don't always find it. My heart gets hard and my voice gets loud and the laundry pile grows and I give way to weariness.

But I squint hard through the goggles of grace and try to be mindful if nothing else because the thing about joy is that it's really the awareness of its presence that's elusive, not joy itself. It is sometimes just a vapor, a supernatural and hazy transformation from empty to full, heavy to light, beastly to beautiful.

Sometimes it's wide right there in the open like a spring tulip, beaming bright in a child's happy smile or whispered thanks. Often though, at least for mothers, it is buried as treasure, settled hard under dirt and germy filth or else obscured and camouflaged—an optical illusion that requires a spiritual squint to recognize it hidden from sight right there in the open. Grace goggles, like paper spy glass prizes in sugary-cereal boxes, reveal the secret message in blue beneath a blur of red squiggles, beneath the ugly and exhausting work of mothering, of sustaining life every single day, all day long, again and again and again. 

The secret revealed is always this:

This is hard. This is hard. This is hard.

Joy is here

And God is good. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Coming Back to Gratitude

It's been awhile since I counted gifts one by one and letter by letter. I utter them in whispers sometimes… I grasp for them when feeling overtaken, overwhelmed, overcome. But today, I need to chronicle and count, when the month has been marked by groundhog-days, over and over the tasks that make me weary and worn, days where I wonder if I'm doing anything at all except driving my own self mad and making my own self sicker and sorer.

Rubbing swollen knuckles, I ask him why this? when I thought my work on this earth was something so different, something I was good at, something that came natural. And he whispers in the every day that all of these heaps of garbage and nothing glamorous keeps me needing and it's not about what I'm doing that matters. All that matters is that I keep needing, keep hitting my knees and crying out, because that is the only place I'll ever be right in any of my efforts. Needing, turning, receiving.  

Today I'm tempted to chronicle the hard things, to list out the ways I'm struggling with the assignment I've been given. Instead, I breathe in and squint hard through the mental fog to search for beauty, to count gifts.

-- A new kitty, Jack-Jack, who curls up beside my daughter in bed.
-- Sleeping until 8 a.m. today, a restful morning.
-- Kids coloring together on the deck.
-- Phone call from our boy, Jacob, in Texas yesterday, a quiet, teenage I Love You at the end of the call.
-- Five upcoming days "stuck" at home to catch-up and settle in, a nice break in all the constant motion of these months.
-- Positive progress with the adoption paperwork.
-- A new school year, right around the corner.
-- A restful day in bed nursing the flu while Husband held down the fort.
-- An old friend, checking in on me.
-- Animal crackers, in bulk.
-- That having "barely enough" means having "exactly enough."
-- Feeling the inner stir to write, again.
-- The anticipation of fall, of cooler weather and small luxuries like apple cider and hand-knit scarves.
-- Parenting books to keep my chin up when I'm feeling hopeless or overwhelmed.
-- Having a mailbox at the end of my driveway.
-- The sandbox, hours of entertainment for keyed-up kiddos.
-- My new sewing corner and crafting area in the bedroom – the option of cultivating creativity in my home.
-- My oldest son coming home soon from his long trip to California.
-- The gift of music, its powerful effect on my mood and my mind.
-- Submissions collected for the Soul Bare project.
-- Hand-me down furniture. 
-- Dreaming of thankfulness and humility, an inspiration to remember everything for the gift it truly is.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: Raising Financially Confident Kids by Mary Hunt

Because of how crazy busy I've been these days, I'm actively pulling back from doing many book reviews. I couldn't turn down the option to review this one though, since the topic at hand is one I'm eager to have resources for. I have always told my kids that whatever they choose to do in life, I have two major hopes for them. One is that they love and follow the Lord first and foremost. The second is that they would not get caught up in being enslaved to anyone or anything (drugs, alcohol, bad relationships, or debt).

Growing up, money was such a stressor for my family that I learned very little about it other than this: It takes a lot of it to live and there's never enough. I didn't receive any training on handling money or managing my financial life, and when I was old enough to begin teaching myself these concepts, much of the damage had already been done. As a result, I learned everything I know now about managing money through the old trial and error (and error, and error, and error) method, and what has resulted is, sadly, a serious financial ruin for my family that has resulted in so much stress and pain. I have resolved to give my kids more tools than I had in hopes that they won't make the same bad money decisions that I have, so that they can be free to live a generous life and have peace about handling money.

Raising Financially Confident Kids is a book that introduces a "salary" system for children, in which their income and financial responsibilities are increased as they get older. It is designed to teach kids to manage money through personal experience and allow them to make mistakes and understand the way money works before they are capable of getting into serious trouble. By the time children are crossing over into adulthood, by this system, they are handling all of their own financial business and ready to take on the real world. I absolutely love the plan and will definitely be implementing it with my own family.

I highly recommend this quick read and the family financial management system which it proposes. It is not a complex or terribly detailed system (great for people like me who don't have the focus to implement anything with too many variables) and it relies much on personal experience, something I think is a great teacher for children.

“Available August 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.” I received this book for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Anatomy of a Fight

It's hard to be a good wife.

Especially when you don't always know what that means. When you practice selflessness and not being a nag and you try and remember to rub his feet more often than you'd like to, and you work on first and foremost being aware of his needs, and their needs, and the needs of what seems like the whole entire world so many days.

And then you have an argument about who should drive which car and you feel for a while like you've been had, like you're the only one on the whole planet looking out for you, for them, for what seems like the entire world, and it's. all. up. to. you. to do it all.

So you get fired up and it rises within you because somewhere inside you're afraid that what it really means to be a good wife is to always be pleasing and agreeable, even when he's wrong, even when he's dead wrong, because that concept makes your ears ring like they did another lifetime ago when your head was being smacked into walls by a different husband. And even though the memories are distant, the gripping anger rises up inside when you get afraid, because your value as a woman is attached somewhere in the folds of these words about gas mileage and seatbelts and who ought to make the decisions here, and you think, fists clenched, I just have to put my foot down. If no one else is going to look out for me, I'll have to look out for myself.

You're not afraid because he made you that way but because it's scary how fights can always seem like the end of things to a girl too used to getting left…how the brain can flesh out the disastrous destruction of this whole big life anytime the paint gets scratched, when the fading color starts to show.

And you stew and you steam and when it's time for bed, you stay awake awhile because you're still fuming mad, because nothing was resolved, because he's snoring with the Olympics on full volume and you hate the Olympics and you hate snoring and you aren't even sure how to verbalize what this is all really about, whenever you decide to speak to each other again.  

So you breathe a lot and you think about perspective and grace and the benefit of the doubt. You remember that you're on the same team, even when it doesn't feel like it. You do what it takes to stop having the same conversation over and over again in your head, the one where you tell him off, where you really let him have it, where your words are so enlightening that he suddenly just gets it and agrees with you and everything is happy and wonderful again.

Instead you study the state of your heart, you figure out where all this is coming from. You remember that he was up before the sun today to take a side job for extra money because the family needed it, and he's sleeping because he's dead tired from lifting bags of concrete all day, on his day off. You remember how your legs looked all tangled together while you chit-chatted only yesterday and recalled together all the wonderful things about life these days. You remember the babies you made together and how he kisses them on the forehead and nicknames them and sees straight into them the same way you do. You remember how happy your whole wide life is this season and how a few short hours ago, you were praising God for this marriage, for this man.

And you see from behind your fear that this really is just about gas mileage and surface semantics and not about control or power or upper hands. You remember that this is the man who has sat in hospitals and held your hand, not the one who put you in there. You realize that respect can sometimes just look like taking a different vantage point, stepping over the divide and into their court, even when his logic isn't clear to you.

So you sit in the dark for a few minutes and listen to the clock on the wall, how it reminds you of this fleeting life, of all that's not worth hanging on to. You graze all the sleeping babies' sweaty foreheads with your chapped lips and smell their hair and whisper goodnight. You tiptoe to the bedroom and wriggle the throw pillows out from under his arms, the ones he's all wrapped up on, the ones you made for your marriage bed that say "Mr." and "Mrs." on them.

And even though he won't hear you through his slumber, you whisper I'm Sorry and I Love You and you trace his wedding ring round and round because rings are so very fitting an icon for what marriage is really…round and round, swirl and roll and circle 'round each other. And sometimes it's a whirlpool of turmoil, but sometimes it's a band of strength or a halo of sacredness or a wreath of celebration or sometimes a belt, round and round, just holding this all together.