He Gives His Beloved Sleep

…”It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

Psalm 127:2

I awoke this morning when my body wanted to wake up. Not to the rush of children, not to the kiss of a husband bringing me coffee. My eyes simply opened when they were ready.

Now I am reclining in a fluffy bed all to myself, a fan making gentle white noise in the room while I read and rest. The fact is, without the fan, my ears were actually throbbing – this place was completely quiet. As quiet as my home during a power outage while my family is away on vacation. Too quiet.

My husband sent me away to give me some time off. He wanted me to sleep, to relax, to refill my vessel, to take a breather from the tyranny of the urgent I spend my life upon in the day to day, to step away for a day from the anxiety of the never-ending to-do list.

He actually wanted to send me to a nice hotel in town, and then have me spend a day reading and writing and sipping coffee in bookshops or bakeries. But when I said I didn’t want to spend money on that when there are so many other more worthy (or necessary) things pulling on our pocketbook, he arranged for me to stay next door.

That’s right. Next door.
My parents are our nearest neighbors, which is a bit of a jaunt for the average suburbanite – around the pond, through the marsh, over the rocky bluff, on the other side of the forest, up the hill. Yep. That’s the most direct route from our home to the home of our neighbors, my parents. And since my parents were planning to take a weekend to get away to a lake for their own time of rest and retreat, Steven decided it would be the perfect opportunity for me to get away to their home. With satellite tv and a featherbed, it’s as good as any hotel!

My husband is now home with our children doing the homeschooling for a day while I am retreating (yes, he used a vacation day on his wife). The kids promised me they would be extremely well behaved and do even better on their schoolwork than normal. But I told them not to make it too easy for Daddy or he will never know how hard Mommy has to normally work every day! I wrote out their assignments for today before I left, and I didn’t load them up too thickly – they’ll be okay. And hopefully it will be a good thing for all of us: Steven and the kids getting to spend a normal day together and experience what that is like, while I get some headspace and extra sleep.

My beloved is kind. And I am grateful for his thought in caring for me in this way. Life has a way of being very busy, of having no margin.
That is actually part of the reason behind Paideia Northwest bringing an annual conference for Christian mamas to get a day of refilling their vessel. It is a different kind of retreat; but it is an opportunity for women to come together for fellowship, for hearing encouragement & exhortation based on truth, goodness, and beauty urging them toward courageous faithfulness. There will also be food and drink to fill the body and new friends to make to feed the soul. But Steven knows that for me, it will be a big work day. Running a conference is not exactly restful – it is good work. I am so grateful for the opportunity to bring this event to life, and to have the front row seat to see what God does with our little offering by faith.

So for today, I rest. I relax. I retreat.
I will write and read and plan my baby boy’s third birthday party.
I will watch the Food Network and munch on easy food.
I will have a grateful heart for the hubby who loves me and who longs to give me rest.

My Cup Overflows

Thou anointest my head: my cup runneth over.
Psalm 23:5

This morning, as my children and I sat around the kitchen table doing our copywork for the day, little things were really getting under my skin. The six year old will not stand still, sit still, stop wiggling, or curb the humming & whistling… quite literally, no matter what we try, it seems that at least on this particular morning, he is actually physically unable to truly be still & quiet. The ten year old repeatedly uses his pencil and the heel of his opposite hand for a drum set in between penning words. The five year old moans every time she needs to correct a word, erase a pencil mark, or drops something on the floor… which, to be fair, is about every 27.3 seconds. The two year old is happily uncapping ColorWonder markers and strewing them about the floor (last time it was half-melted crayons which took a while to scrub up… so this is a major improvement) while singing songs at what-ought-to-be the top of his voice, but I happen to know it isn’t, because if there’s one thing we have in spades in this household, it’s breath support & plucky lungs.

My own copywork was going slowly, thanks to the ever-emergent nature of the fulltime homeschooling mother of small children. The dog needs out, the toddler needs to go potty, the children squabble, the pencils need sharpened, the dog peed on the floor, the toddler peed on the floor, the phone rings, the washing machine buzzes, the FedEx man comes at an unusually early hour… the singing, the pencil-drumming, the leg-wiggling, the chair-squeaking, the moaning about how long five verses is when you are trying to write in cursive and you’re only six years old…

I made a big, delicious latte and sat back down. I was only three verses through my five… and it had quite honestly been about thirty minutes already… when the five year old lost her self control and needed some correction. In my over-zealous flight to show her the error of her ways, I rather gave a flamboyant representation myself of just what lacking self control can do to a day. I managed to knock my entire large mug of hot latte all over the table and down the edge like a frothy waterfall. In the nanosecond it took for me to finally lose my cool and react in an expulsory fashion, God slowed down my vision enough to do one of those “this is your life” slideshows inside my eyelids for a moment… highlighting simply the last hour of the morning. My petty angst, my raw nerves, my frenzied attack of all the things at once rather than pacing and parsing them out in an orderly fashion. I don’t think I uttered a single sound or solitary syllable. God grabbed me right there. The proverbial swat on my hand was received, my eyelids came down, my shoulders slumped. The breath in my lungs caught and I immediately felt the mercy of God’s hand rearranging my morning in one quick movement.

My sudden physical response was so jolting, I managed to slide my chair away from the table far enough that the waterfall of coffee avoided me altogether but rather soaked up my copywork journal and splashed upon some of the readalouds from our morning basket, sopped into the table runner, and managed to splosh & splash across the entire kitchen nook floor (praise the Lord we recently got rid of the rug & reverted to the bare wood) & onto most of the chair legs around the table.

While I spun around to grab an armful of towels from the drawer beside the sink, I thought to myself, well, that’s one way to restart the morning.

I cleaned up the books, the table runner, the chair legs, the floor… and layered kitchen towels amongst the wet, brown pages of my own copywork journal. As I did this, my children grew suddenly so attentive and diligent in their own copywork, their verses were finished and they moved on almost mechanically to their sketchpads and math books. I hardly even noticed my daughter crying over her copywork… I was so caught up in my coffee-soaked Scripture pages and trying to make sure no library books were casualties.

Finally, my daughter looked up at me and said in a very sad little voice, “Mommy, was that my fault?” I cupped her chin in my hand and looked her in the eyes to say, “Who knocked over that cup of coffee?” “I don’t know, Mommy. Did I do it?” she asked, tears trying to puddle in her ever-greener blue eyes. “Mommy knocked it over, baby. You didn’t do it. Mommy lost self control. I let my impatience take over.” I stepped back and looked at all the kids. “Thank you for being patient with me while I got through my own temper tantrum. God’s still working on me, and I am not always a cheerfully obedient daughter.”

They smiled at me. They forgave me. They understood.

I made a new latte. We all sat back down, a freshly mopped floor now beneath our feet. It was overdue for that anyway. I looked down at my copywork journal. The page that seemed most ruined held Colossians 2:6-7: Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I certainly was not walking in Him with an abundance of thanksgiving this morning! And now this coffee-soaked, tattered & torn page would remain the evidence and reminder of my weak & wobbly ways.

I gently turned that page over to see where I had left off of this morning’s verse… we are just beginning to work on memorizing Psalm 103, so I was three verses into it when I spilled the coffee…

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
who forgives all your iniquities,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your…

Oh my.
My own eyes now filled with tears. Immediately, I was brought to prayer of humility, confession, repentance, praise, and thanksgiving.

I am not called to run a home that is still, silent, stark, & stoic.
I am called to be faithfully building up my home, training these children for the Kingdom, and pursuing Christ as a corner pillar.
How can I so easily lose sight of the calling of my soul?
To bless His name! And to not forget all that He has done.

Oh! Praise the Lord that even in the very midst of that moment, His grace was there to grab me and set me straight again. To show me that I was pursuing an incorrect vision of my day, rather than embracing the life before me with faithfulness. My friend Mystie had just shared with me a few days ago some thoughts about leading our homes and teaching our children with rest and faithfulness. It was a must-re-read for me this afternoon. Quoting Sarah Mackenzie, in her book Teaching From Rest, “Our days, though messy, loud, chaotic, and sometimes completely overwhelming, can be filled with great peace. … Teaching from rest means we don’t panic when things don’t go according to our plan.”

It was a beautiful spiritual exercise to finish my section of Psalm 103 once my page dried out enough that my pen wouldn’t rip the page badly.

…who redeems your life from destruction,
who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
who satisfies your mouth with good things,
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

What a perfect pivot from where I was to where I went.
The irritation and angst that had been building in me (although I would not have admitted it) gave way to destruction, and it wasn’t until after my soul awakened to NOT FORGET the benefits of my Lord that I once again realized how very much my cup overflows – with His lovingkindness and tender mercy, and with so many countless, tangible, good things.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! For things like forgiveness, healing, redemption, satisfaction, and strength. These are the gifts that He gives in abundance. These are the things that I can rely on, even in the midst of the messy, chaotic, loud, frustrating, and unpredictable.

Mystie says, “Instead of looking for what you can cut to make life easier, cut the whining, cut the social media, cut the lingering over your coffee. Cut the fear, cut the comparisons, cut the jealousy, cut the anxiety – we can, because God gives us grace to turn from our sins, to repent.”

Yes. He does. Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me, bless His holy name. The goodness and mercy of my God follow me and fill me. He makes my cup overflow. Amen.

Hungry for Healing, Part III

Hungry for Healing, Part III
The Apple Pie

A number of months ago, I made an apple pie for my husband. Fruit pies are his love language. He loves when I get the crust just right. But he could probably revel in the filling with delight even if the crust weren’t flaky enough or got too browned around the pinched, ruffled edge. He simply loves pie. Really can’t live without it. And as long as it tastes delicious and close to heaven, he doesn’t care what it looks like.

While I washed, peeled, and sliced apples, I recall meditating on trees and fruit and baked goods. I contemplated Rachel Jankovic’s comment once that “trees which have borne much fruit should no longer look like a sapling.” I thought about God growing my tree, deepening my roots, expanding my trunk, filling out my branches, producing my fruit, and performing the harvest year by year. In her book, Loving the Little Years (which I haven’t read in a long time), I remember Rachel’s musings on trees and fruit: “The branches are our responsibility, the ground is not.” “The more fruit you make, the more fruit gets used.” “You cannot know the depth of His plan for your fruit. So throw it out there on the ground when you have no plan for its future. Waste it.” “Be bountiful with your fruit and free with it. The only thing that you can know for certain is that God will use it.”

AppleStrudel2

While I blended flour and salt together, and cut fat into its grains with dedication and delight, preparing to wrap, enfold, cover, and encase those apple pieces… I thought about the process with a sense of recognition and familiarity. I remember texting a friend of mine to say that I was writing a blog post about apples, apple pie, body image, and mom life. I remember telling her that I had been peeled, cut, seasoned, aged, and baked – that I was realizing I was no longer an apple, but rather a pie. I vaguely recalled Robert Capon saying something which planted that seed.

I never hit publish on that. Partly because I lost steam, partly because I wasn’t ready to really expose my struggle.

But the image has not strayed from my mind. I’ve written and rewritten thoughts about this numerous times. None of them felt right. But the repeated phrase Jonathan Rogers told me this winter was to trust my instincts and to worry less about what I write. So this morning, I don’t plan to edit, rework, or nuance. I am writing stream-of-consciousness style, for better or for worse. It may be a jumbly, hot mess. That’s pretty much the state of my work these days. It’s simply true.

At nearly 35 years old, raising four children full-time, with thirteen pregnancies and a host of health & hormonal nuances under my belt, I am a woman learning to live post-anorexia and post-bulimia, loving my smile lines, embracing the little streaks of white dappling my carrot top. I think about Nate Wilson’s poetic phrasing in Death By Living when he said that his grandmother was the tree from which apples fell and grew, from which apples fell and grew, from which apples continued to fall and grow.
Apple trees produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees, which will produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees…

Apple tree in old apple orchard horizontal.

I am not alone, stagnant, isolated, an island. I am an apple. I fell from a fruitful tree, I was sown and sprouted. I grew into a sapling.
But the rub comes when I fail to acknowledge that God has continued to deepen my roots, increase my fruit, lengthen my branches, and strengthen my trunk. I am not the girl I once was. I am not the firstyear fruit producer I had been. And while I love the imagery of remaining the tree, of looking forward to the days of needing my branches propped up, of having burls and truly gnarly bark thick with wrinkles and creases – there’s something about the idea of moving from the orchard into the kitchen that delights me.

I’m a baking addict, so that’s one thing.
I love flour, sugar, fat, spices.
I adore the sounds of thick syrupy fruit bubbling on the stove, and the schunk sound my knife makes as it slices through crisp apple flesh.
Even just imagining the smell of pastry in the oven makes my salivary glands dance.

And then there’s Father Robert Farrar Capon.
The man who really introduced me to onions.
The one who started me realizing that my hatred of my body and my war with food was truly a spiritual battleground, and I wasn’t seeing victory.
He is the one who reminds me that, yes, I fell as a crisp, ripe, firm, shapely apple from a strong and faithful tree. But when God took that apple, He didn’t set it on a shelf to be kept the way I was harvested from the tree of my lineage.

I was plucked in order to be used.
Apples are meant to give nourishment, to give joy.
I am meant to give life, nourishment, and joy too.

And just like the apple that is used up for those purposes, I will not be left the same.

Rachel Jankovic wrote, “our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body… Scars and stretch marks and muffin tops are all part of your kingdom work. One of the greatest testimonies Christian women can have in our world today is the testimony of joyfully giving your body to another.”

She goes on to say, “make sure you aren’t buying into the world’s propaganda. While there are a great many rewards, the sacrifice is very real… [and] the answer to these obstacles is not to run away in fear as the world does, but to meet it with joy, and in faith.”

My life, my calling, my homemaking, my motherhood, my faith – these things call me to be used for the good of others, to give myself away, to be used up, to savor, to become considerable, to be relished.

As Robert Capon said in a beautiful benedictory passage in The Supper of the Lamb,

May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable… And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed… Eat well then.

I will determine, then, to turn from buying into the world’s propaganda. I will meet these obstacles with joy, and in faith. I will embrace my season of apple pie as sweeter and fatter than my firm and slender days as an untouched apple straight from the tree. I will endeavor to appreciate my softened body with a heart of thankfulness rather than a sense of resentment. I will seek to glorify God with this sweet season of bodily life, not grasping for control over the size of my jeans, the fit of my swimsuit, the taut of my belly skin, the roundness of my cheek.

May I be used. May I be molded, remade, served up as something even more marvelous than I was to begin with. And may I see joy and glory in the process and in the result. Not because my determination is a victory. But because God is in the business of making things new, and I want to give myself up to Him as He works new things in me and through me. Muffin top and all.

Glory be.

AppleStrudel1

“for to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you might follow in his steps…
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 peter 2:21, 24

At the Barre

Originally written for a writing course I took this winter
with instructor Jonathan Rogers,
here is an artistic look at a turning point
in the developing feminine psyche of eight-year-old Melissa.

Peony1

 

At the Barre

Ballet lessons were a highlight of my childhood. The weekly foray into all things poised, wearing the uniform of black leotard and pink tights, made my little-girl heart skip and leap like my instructor Miss Tammy herself, yet the defining memory of my years in that ballet studio has little to do with plie, jete, or curtsy.

The rectangular studio held polished wood floors, two walls of barre, ample floor space for the ten little dancers in my class, and one entire wall of flawless mirror. The room smelled of sweat, hairspray, and leather. We practiced leg and foot positions standing along the wall of barre which faced opposite the mirror, one hand delicately resting on the barre, the other extended in a gracefully draping arc. Legs extended to lengthen muscles as our calves carved shapes along our pink tights, thighs tensed like gazelle necks, toes pointing until the leather of our pink shoes creaked with the strain. Necks were long, shoulders pressed down, shoulder blades squeezed tight on plank-straight backs, chins elegantly turned slightly left—just enough to see our reflections in the mirror, to self-correct poise and gauge how long until Mrs. Henshaw reached us for professional critique and instruction.

Miss Tammy was absent this particular day, replaced by the studio director Mrs. Henshaw. Everything about Mrs. Henshaw was as straight and strict as her name sounded. She moved along the line of dancers as we practiced repetitions of movement to classical records.

Born with German bones and raised alongside a puppy frolicking in an overgrown pasture, often crawling along a creek bed to catch tadpoles, ballet made me feel more lovely and dainty than anything. So there I stood, stately and feminine in uniform and practice, not a red hair fallen loose from the perfectly round bun atop my head, when Mrs. Henshaw reached me. Her gaze exacting, she studied the position and movement of my body, her chin aloft and cheekbones harsh. Without words, her terse hands stretched my leg further than my hamstring knew possible, and raised my elbow ever so slightly to achieve the angle of perfection.

Waiting for her eyebrows to soften and her head to give me the expected miniscule nod of approval before moving on to the dancer behind me, I almost relaxed into the genuine ballerina I saw in my reflection across the dance floor. I felt confidence begin to blossom in my bosom. And then Mrs. Henshaw cocked her proud head ever so slightly, pursed her lips in that confrontational way which makes the neck hair bristle, and reached her index finger out to poke it into my stomach. If her manicure had been less perfect she would have snagged my leotard with the veracity of her nail pressure. “Getting a little chubby,” she said coarsely.

She moved on to the dancer behind me, as though she had not just eviscerated me with the penetrating words of an irreversible cut.

Peony2

little creator

If only I could create ex nihilo, using nothing but logos. My image-bearing of the Creator is quite marred, as it ought to be since I am a daughter of Eve. But my deep vein throbbing to create using hands or using words or using breath is a crying out of my soul to imitate my threesome God.

I long to imitate the Father. I long to take dust and mold it into something beautiful. I long to gather together a piece of my own creation to make something fat and sweet and dimpled. To see my image done over again in a new way.

I long to imitate the Son. I long to use words to create life and fill with meaning, to reorient souls and bring restoration into broken places. I long to create healing and relationship and beauty out of written words and shared thoughts, common experiences and extravagant moments.

I long to imitate the Spirit by breath and wind. Song and speech.

~~~

What I find myself creating are meals that fill bellies, messes to wash, piles of laundry to be stacked in drawers. I create restful spaces and warm rooms and drinks to swallow that nourish tongues. I create order out of chaos. I create sounds out of noise. I create lesson plans and to-do lists and stacks of books and bins of art supplies.
I am creating well-rounded people with my body, my words, my breath.

How can such an enormous work ever be enough? How can I ever be enough for it? I cannot be. I need oh so much grace. I need more energy than I ever knew was necessary. This enormous, endless work is simultaneously more than I can comprehend doing every day for the rest of my life and everything I ever wanted to be putting myself into. The largeness and smallness of it all fills me with every sort of feeling every hour of the day.
To be needed is such a gift.
To be needed every two minutes
so that I can not actually spend any cohesive amount of time doing one single thing
is… indescribable.

~~~

I am getting ready to pour myself into a garden.
I am getting ready to pour myself into a wee flock of chicks.
I am getting ready to pour myself into more artistic creative endeavors than I could actually tell you just now.

But it’s kind of like I am trying to pour myself into these things because there is a hole here than I’m trying to fill. And I’m not sure these are the things that are actually able to fill it.
Like filling up a pothole with chocolate pudding instead of cement.

~~~

I am a creator. Made, marred yet molded, in His image.
The Creator’s.

Image result for creator's gonna create

Grandpa’s Hands

When I was a child, it was your hands that were getting down and dirty, scraping the barbecue, planting seeds, trimming rosebushes, stopping my spinning chair at the kitchen table. I remember watching your hands place toothpicks in the petals and stem of delicate passion flowers so they would stay open. I remember your hands holding the tiny paring knife, standing at the kitchen counter, every morning as you prepared a mound of fruit to top your bowl of mixed cereals. I also remember your hands opening the lids of multiple salad dressing bottles as you mixed dressings to top your salads at dinner.

I don’t remember you playing games, I don’t remember you reading books aloud, I don’t even remember you often holding my hand or holding me on your lap. I guess those weren’t necessary ways for you to show me your love. You brought me alongside you, and allowed me to follow you around, as you did your work. I remember reading the funny papers and watching America’s Funniest Home Videos on your tv on Sunday evenings. I remember sitting on your left side at the dining room table every Sunday night for our weekly family suppers. I remember you always saying supper, rather than dinner. I remember you holding your fork in your left hand, while I held mine in my right and tried not to bump into you over the table corner.

There were years, my most formative years, with a thousand miles between us where I did not get to much practice the art of being a granddaughter. As I look back at it now, with more perspective and wisdom on the subject, I can see that those were also the years where the Alzheimer’s was settling in to your cells and beginning to take over little by little. I remember you coming to visit, especially for Thanksgiving and November birthdays. I remember your addiction with little dogs and the daily newspaper.

The years I was in college, the early years of my marriage, the time I have spent in the trenches of young motherhood, I do not have lots of memories… but I missed you. I remember missing you.

I remember going to California to see you eleven months ago. It was my first time seeing you in a wheelchair, seeing you in “an assisted living center,” seeing your eyes deeply while knowing without a doubt that you don’t see me back. I remember bringing you a gift my children and I had made: a fidget blanket to keep your hands happy. I remember you loving it; in fact, you loved it until just a couple weeks ago.

I remember you moving here in May, and the delight it brought my soul. I remember bringing my children to see you; the newness of that first time, and then the normalcy of seeing you multiple times each week. I loved holding your hands, rubbing your shoulders, scratching your back. The way our eyes connected sometimes made it feel like you knew me deeply and truly: but then I would wonder if, instead of seeing me, somehow your brain saw your wife of years gone by in my visage. It brought my heart so much joy to look into your eyes connecting with your soul, while my body leaned close over yours. I knew your wrinkles, your grizzly whiskers, your long earlobes, your wild eyebrows. Your hands would sometimes let go of your fidget blanket long enough to reach out and touch my face or grip my hand. I loved how your hands would pat my children, rub them, hold them. Both of my youngest children loved to sit on your lap, Simeon especially asking for rides on your lap as we pushed your wheelchair around in big circles in the backyard, crunching yellow leaves this fall. Asher, my special boy you always had a unique connection with, would stare into your soul through your eyes as your hands wrapped around his back. You would smile for him when you wouldn’t smile for anyone else.

Then it happened: every part of you grew suddenly tired, massively weary. I brought you ice cream, I fed you bites of cold caramel creamy goodness when we could not get you to swallow anything else. It was the last thing I fed you, except for the apple cider mixed with Ensure I gave you in a syringe at Colin’s house the week before you died.

That was the day we gave you a living memorial. We sat you on the big brown leather couch, propped with some pillows, your foot on a little wooden crate. Grandma held one of your hands, Mama held the other. I was kind of wishing you had a third hand I could hold. I sat near your feet, sang toward your face, rested my hand along your cheek, and let my tears fall on your lap as I sang to you of day’s end, death’s disrobing, and being in God’s loving presence. My daughter danced for you. One of my boys read Psalm 90 for you. We sang hymns on end following your birthday songs, with Psalms sprinkled in.

And then the days grew long as we felt the night of death draw near. We rotated sitting at your bedside so you would not be alone. We sang to you, read to you, held your hands.

There were times when you would squeeze my hands when it really seemed inexplicable.
And then you raised your hands. Your body was as wasted away as I could imagine, so I have to believe it was your renewing spirit that was lifting those weary bones and drying skin into the air with praise.
When Mama read you Ephesians 1, your hands were raised in a strength that was clearly not your own.
When we sang you hymns of faith and psalms of hope, your hands would raise – it made us want to keep singing!

Oh Grandpa. Your hands.
I love those hands. I held your hands tight and told you how I could never look at lemons, blueberries, passion flowers, or cherry tomatoes without thinking of you. I also think I will never see tired old hands without remembering yours.
The last week of your life, I got to spend a lot of hours at your bedside, and I hated the time when I couldn’t hold your hands because they were being held by other people instead.

There was a wish inside me that I could be holding your hands when your body was delivered of your spirit. Rather, I held your hands often during the laboring of your body while your soul waited on the Lord for the full renewal of being called Home, and it was my own daddy whose hands held yours and whose voice you heard as the angels escorted the real you away from your body’s shell.

I did not come see your body after your spirit passed away beyond the veil. I heard that your wife and daughter held your hands and kept them warm until you were taken away. I saw a picture of Mama’s hands holding your hands as you lay in your handsomely wrought casket at the funeral home in California two days ago… it was the part that broke my heart. Your hands.

Today I saw a picture from 62 years ago, you holding my mama in your arms. I saw your young, healthy hand holding her chubby little toddler thigh. I cried. I never saw your hands like that. But they were the same hands. Those hands that held my mama in your youth are the same hands I saw working in the garden twenty-five years ago, and are also the same hands that rubbed my babies’ backs this summer, the same hands that I held while I sang to you on your deathbed, and the same hands I saw with no warmth or blood or life as Mama held them in hers two days ago.

Now your hands are crossed across your body, which wears a suit many sizes now too big, as you rest in your coffin of wood beneath the layers of earth, dirt, sod, and California sunshine. Grandpa, my memories of our life together are scattered and incomplete. But as I scatter these words through my fingertips at your memory, please just know how completely I love you. How thankful I am for you. How I will not forget your hands.

You made it to the finish line with valor and integrity. I trust your hands are still raised in victory, praise, and joy.
I love you, Grandpa. xo

Ordinary

There are some days that, while filled with nothing but the ordinary, feel truly extraordinary nonetheless.

In the liturgical Church year, incidentally, today is the last day of Ordinary Time prior to tomorrow launching this year’s Advent season. Well, perhaps it is less than incidental: in fact, it may be the precise reason I thought of this in the first place.

One of my friends is at the hospital in labor today with her first child, after years of longing to be given the gift of motherhood.
One of my friends, who I babysat & taught piano to for years and then who was a flowergirl/maid in my own wedding, is getting married this afternoon.
And my one and only Grandpa will have his bones laid to rest in a couple of hours.

The intersection of some of life’s moments of highest pinnacle!

And here I am at my home, living in the very ordinary routine of my life.
Dishes, laundry, feeding my people, changing diapers, loading up crockpots, listening to a podcast while I walk around in circles between my own needy little people and my weary old brown boxes of Christmas decorations that I’m trying to unload into a semblance of celebratory beauty around my home.

Ordinary.

But just because it is ordinary does not mean it has no value. Some of the most monumental and majestic of events rely fully upon those who are holding down the forts in the world of the ordinary!

And so as I chop onions for chili and cut fat into flour for pie, as I transfer laundry loads and sweep up pineneedles from the family room rug, as I interact with my children and scatter Christmas decorations around my home, I wait for my ordinary little phone to buzz. I get updates from my friend waiting for her body to be delivered of her tiny son. I get updates from my mama who is waiting for her father’s body to be laid to rest. I watch the clock as I anticipate the covenant-making of my friend as two shall become one.

This is ordinary yet it is majestic.

On this last day of Ordinary Time prior to Advent, I am thinking about the power of the ordinary.
Ordinary things like life, birth, death, marriage, parenthood, homes, food, tangible, physical things.
And tomorrow when Advent bursts onto the scene, I anticipate one friend’s arms will be filled with her little son; another young friend entangled with her husband; and my grandpa will be planted in the earth awaiting the harvest of the Resurrection.
I will go to worship, partake of communion, sing, pray, and rejoice because the majestic King of creation came to earth in the ordinary form of a baby with human DNA just like me and lived a life full of ordinary, tangible, physical things.

Maybe it is the ordinary things, after all, which are the true pinnacle of the majestic.

Final Lap of The Race

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Acts 20:24
“I consider my life worth nothing to me;
my only aim is to finish the race
and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—
the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

I’m not a runner. I may have gone through a short stint a couple years ago where I gave it a try, but it’s quite arduous and painful… so let’s just be doubly honest here, I am not and never shall be a runner. And yet as image-bearers of the Creator, we all do run ~ He is the one that determines and establishes our every step (Proverbs 16:9), He is the one that prepared our good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). Each step I take is of Him, for Him, by Him, through Him. Some of us run races faster than others (ahem, remember I’m just a walker?).

But I know what it is to run.
I recognize various parts of the race when I see others racing.
I can see the difference between the sprint, the endurance lap, the uphill grind, the downhill blitz.
Known as an encourager, I guess you could say I know something about standing along the sidelines and cheering others on.

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And have you noticed that the beginning and ends of the race are where the most stands are filled?
So much energy and exultation happens when the race begins.
In the middle, when things seem smooth and easy, sometimes there are stretches where there is nobody cheering; simply the occasional medic or someone handing you a water bottle. At other points in the middle when the hills are steep or the terrain dangerous, there may be more people gathering around to make sure you survive the toil and they cheer for you as you make each stride.
But it’s at the end of the race, in that final lap, where the cheering and rejoicing and clapping is most obvious. Even moreso than the energy expended at the outset. It is then, at the end, when you will see so much egging on, encouraging shouts, jumping up and down with loud exults, coming into downright cacophony nearing the finish line.

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Hebrews 12:1-2
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

My children and I have been spending hours every week at the elderly care home where my grandpa lives. So many of these people are finishing the ends of their races without coaches and cheerleaders. We have even semi-adopted two older men there who are bedridden, and we bring joy to them as they continue on these laps near the ends of their races.

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But recently it is Grandpa himself who has needed the cheerleaders amping up. For him, the final lap has begun. The finish line is getting closer. It can be so tempting to plop myself down along the sideline and just bury my head in my arms. I don’t have the best relationship with grief, I have probably a good bit of PTSD associated with it in fact.

This is not the time, though, for me to take a breather and leave my faithful runner alone on the path.
This is the time to cheer him on the most.
He’s almost there! He’s almost finished! That fullness of joy is nearly within his grasp!

Psalm 16:11
“You make known to me the path of life.
In Your presence there is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

So here I sit, here I stand, here I’ll commit to staying ~ cheering on my grandpa as he rounds the final bend in these final laps. He has run with endurance. The finish line is in sight. His faith will be perfected, it will become sight, and soon he will see King Jesus face to face.

Grandpa! You’re almost there!
I may cling to your weary, wrinkly hand with all my might right now,
but I would not ask your soul to tarry.
Run. Fly.

Finish strong.
You have lived well. You have run with grace.
We will rejoice with you when you step at last
into the victory lap, joining the cloud of witnesses across the finish line.

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Two Years Old

God’s amazing hand in our life by granting us His gracious gift of Simeon James two years ago is just astonishing on so many levels. I can not believe the adventure of his entrance into the world of the oxygen-breathing was two years ago. My little boy loves so much and so well. Books, tea, turning anything & everything into a phone, taking rides on Great Grandpa’s lap in the wheelchair, snuggling with his parents after the big kids have gone to bed, singing at the top of his lungs, talking up a storm, exploring with flashlight in hand, zooming around on a tiny balance bike with epic skill. This little boy has a big life ahead of him; he is embracing it with both hands already. We couldn’t be more thankful for God’s evident grace in his life, and the faith Christ continues to grow within him.

Happy Birthday, sweet little benediction.

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Rest & Adventure

A couple weeks ago during communion, where the pastor prayed over my children, he included a phrase asking God to be their rest and be their adventure.

I can not tell you how that has stuck with me.
It has been repeated in my own prayers and in my discussions with my children, and it informs my outlook frequently as we face day to day scenarios as a Christian family.
It is even reflected in how I hope my children look back on their own childhoods: that it was both restful and adventurous.

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Oh God, even in Your 23rd Psalm I can see both Your rest and Your adventure. You take us on daring journeys, through all types of landscape, You show us both darkness and light, shadow and glory. You provide for us with strength, yet You carry us when we are void of it. Thank You for proving Your faithfulness. In the calm and in the storm, in the peace and in the drama.

Isaiah 26:3
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Exodus 33:14
And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Psalm 4:8
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 16:11
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
2 Corinthians 2:14
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession,
and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
1 Timothy 6:12 / 2 Timothy 4:7
Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called
and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Thank You, Father, for Your Word. For how You meet us at every time and in every place.
Thank You, Lord, that my children are Your children; that they belong to You, that You have numbered their days, formed their intellects, nuanced their delights. Thank You for giving them Your love. Thank You for giving them a love for You. Thank You for knitting their hearts in faithfulness.
Do, oh my God, do be their rest. Do be their adventure. Both now and forever. Amen.