Several weeks ago, Michael and I plunged two of our daughters into the ice-cold baptismal waters of Clear Creek. Our church family enveloped us that late summer morning, wrapping around the creek’s banks, nodding in agreement as eyes filled with tears and phone screens flashed with the simplest and most profound of glories.
Below the surface, one at a time, we supported our daughters’ heads and held them around their waists, blessing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And these new creations (our firstborn and lastborn) emerged, mouths agape, stunned by the creek’s chill.
I’ve recognized over the years, though I still don’t get, that some people are simply not animal people. No judgment here, friends. I just don’t understand. So for you, maybe this story is not about a dog at all, but perhaps hope and audacious prayers and receiving the good gifts in your life without fear and a heart-deep exhaling thank you.
It hurts in the way of an ugly truth to say I struggled to believe God is a good Father who gives good gifts to his children – until she came.
I know I should know this after all this time, but somehow didn’t really. Honestly, I wasn’t aware how much I believed the echoes of a lie tucked far away in the nooks of my heart. Didn’t know that I was prone to renouncing God’s essential goodness all while saying, thank you, thank you.
Thank you for healing and forgiveness. Thank you for soup and clear running water. Thank you for these incredible daughters and this faithful husband and this warm house.
Thank you for life.
At age 21, on a short-term mission in San Francisco, I worked with a team to clean single-room occupancy hotel rooms in the Tenderloin District. I might have told you about that day before.
The room I scrubbed was filthy and frightening, littered with hypodermic needles, a mattress smeared with blood. Out the window a courtyard filled calf-deep with nasty garbage and spikes to keep birds away.
I scoured like my life relied on it, and I knew the holy that wends through suffering, of the need to plunge hands of light into dark. I felt a deep sense of partnership with Jesus – the One who never turned away from pain, who never allowed it to overtake him.
And I felt God rumble in suspended time that he did not hold a life of ease for me. This was something I already knew, but now I’d heard it from God’s own mouth.
There’s so much I want to share with you about this last week, but for now a small story.
Today, I scraped myself up from bed, ate something small that still made me nauseous and pulled together the best it’s-gorgeous-and-75-flipping-degrees-in-Portland-in-March-and-I’ve-had-the-flu-for-days-outfit I could muster. I pulled on a tank top and cardigan, hoop earrings, a swishy skirt, some sandals and, to disguise my bedhead, a scarf (an unusual choice for me, given my particular hairstyle, but not unheard of on certain kinds of days).
I thought perhaps, even without any makeup at all, I was sort of rocking it – especially given the week I’ve had.
I drove to the girls’ school, dropped off Lala’s kung fu clothes in her locker (because a friend would be taking her) and walked into her class to let her know her uniform was there and to remind her of the afternoon’s plan. I usually volunteer Thursday afternoons, but today, being sick, I had cancelled and only wanted to pass on some details to my girl.
Lala was kneeling on the floor, deep at work on a poster. I got her attention and told her what she needed to know.
“Are you still sick, Mama?” she asked, giving me a quick once-over.
“Yes. Still not feeling good, honey.”
“Ohhh,” she said. “OK. Bye, Mama.”
I hugged her and turned away, feeling accomplished at this one small thing I’d been able to see to the end this week.
And before I reached the door, I heard her announce to the group assembled around her on the floor: “The only reason my mom is wearing a bandana in her hair is because she’s really sick.”
I managed to smile sweetly at the group of first graders that turned my direction at that moment. In fact, though part of me wanted to tear off the head covering, the other part of me was quite sure in that moment I had actually rocked it — in that unique way only a mama who’s embarrassed her kids knows.
I hope to be back here again soon. Also hoping to eat something more than little bits of bread, yogurt and apples. And talk to my girl about our interaction. Would welcome any and all happy thoughts and prayers.
*** Follow up: Lala informed me that she needed to tell her classmates the reason for my attire because as I was leaving the room a girl asked, “Why is your mom wearing a bandana? Did she just come back from tennis?” ***
If you are joining from Amber Haines’ place this morning, welcome. I’m so happy to see you!
Amber Haines was one of the first writers I ever read online. Her words brought tears, revisited me in hushed moments, got swirled up on my insides. The way Amber expressed simple and complex truths of God, creation and humanity stirred a desire for more.
Though I still want to string salty, edgy, hard, beautiful words like Amber Haines when I grow up, I’ve realized these years later that I can only ever write like me. That said, the opportunity to be featured on my Southern sister’s blog this morning is a true honor.
Amber wrote a book released last summer called Wild in the Hollow. I checked the mail with anticipation for days and gave way to full rejoicing when it arrived just in time. Sick in bed on a girlfriend getaway, I read it in a day. Wild in the Hollow is Amber’s story of homesickness, longing, brokenness and the ragged way home. It is lyrical and deep and memorable.
In her book, Amber recounts a conversation with a man named Monk in Port-au-Prince, Haiti:
“There’s no way to know what Monk had endured, because he kept a smile, but I asked him, ‘What is the thing you want most for your life?’ His response still has me reeling. He said, ‘I want for nothing, and I want for everything.’ He wanted better for Haiti. He wanted healing in relationships, but he explained that there wasn’t a thing he didn’t have in Christ. He walked a life of contentment on the tension between already but not yet. He looked like Jesus.” (Wild in the Hollow, p.160)
Since I read these words, they’ve been so caught up in my own understanding that I didn’t even recall I’d read them first in Amber’s book. How true that I want for nothing and everything, that I am walking the tension between the already and not yet, that I long for home while it already resides within me.
This morning, I share a part of my story with my grandmother. The walk of a little girl and an old woman. A walk of love.
My 86-year-old grandmother lives in an adult foster home within two miles of my mama. Grandma receives frequent visits, gets her nails painted, works puzzles with her caregivers, goes to lunch, listens to books, watches the birds that gather at the feeders and on the swollen river out the expansive windows. From her sporty wheelchair, Grandma exercises her legs and arms, her fingers, her voice…
Some months ago, I took Grandma for a walk on River Road. As I pushed her wheelchair, I told her about my girls’ latest activities and the puppy we’d be getting soon. I talked about the change of seasons, pointed to scurrying squirrels and fluttering chickadees.
As is often the case, she was quiet.
The air was nipping cold, and I stopped frequently to check on her – wrapped her scarf around her face like a muffler, held her gloved hands in mine to warm them.
At times, Grams moved her feet from the crossbar and used her legs to help walk the wheelchair. We veered off to let a car pass, and I asked if she wanted to try walking.
“Yes,” she mouthed, nodding her head slowly up and down…
I sit by the Christmas tree – a ragged little miracle. The front lacks appropriate branches, and so the white goat on wheels lilts strongly toward the center, as do the handprint snowmen and jack-in-the-box. The wooden cranberry garlands hold on the best they can.
We picked our eight-foot tall noble fir from Mike’s Tree Farm this year, just as we’ve done every Christmas for the last 14. On the final leg of a five-hour road trip from our family’s Thanksgiving in Southern Oregon, it was our earliest foray and nearly our most disastrous. Mike (of Mike’s Tree Farm) and his family have always kept on the porch a coffee can for our $10 a tree payment, as well as a few bow saws. Saws, as it turns out, are very important when it comes to tree cutting.
The screen door doesn’t fit in its casing when it swells with November rain, so it slacks open. Every minute, every thirty seconds, a change in air catches the door, and it taps. Wooden door against porch railing. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap.
Normally, repetitious sounds rattle my nerves, but this morning, I find it comforting — this drum beat refrain like a heartbeat.
A vase of white-centered mums sit in front of me in a gaping-mouthed vase. Orange bread crumbs and mandarin orange strings from this morning’s breakfast sit in a happy pile next to me, gathered together, but not tossed.
Outside the crows caw across hundred year old trees. Overhead the dining room chandelier buzzes like it always does.
I’m not just light. I’m electricity. Don’t you see? Don’t you hear?
We escaped from the throes of lice this week — the third time the girls have caught it at school in the last 13 months.
I take that back. We did not escape lice. There is no escaping lice once they’ve made their way onto your head and into your life. There is only enduring the process, doing the next needed thing to eradicate the horrid creatures.
The nit picking. The cleaning.
The laundry piles. The quarantine room. The freezing of hair brushes. The rotating series of bed covers. The bare, vacuumed couches. The nightly hair oiling. The morning showering and combing. So much combing.
It’s a Groundhog Day style- anxiety-producing, micro view within the macro destruction of a house torn apart.
(Your head is itching right now, isn’t it?)
At the very beginning of this week’s Operation: Rid the House of the Louse, I read words to the effect of, Notice the small things because the small things are really the big things.
Back in the spring, a rectangular card arrived in my mailbox. A distinctive font scrolled across an ombre watercolor wash of blue and at the top three words: The Open Door. I held the invitation to join a small group of women from around the country — speakers, writers, authors, artists, ministry leaders; the only commonality our faith in Jesus and call as bearers of hope.
As I read the invitation and explanation of the vision, as I held the small bronzed key that accompanied it, I shook my head. Why me?
I most certainly am not a superstar blogger with my beginner WordPress blog (and all the best intentions to update it). I’ve only just begun speaking. My primary ministries are in my home, our school and with women over coffee, story and prayer. My freelance writing career hasn’t yet gotten off the ground. My name has never graced a book cover. Really, my primary vocational nudge seems to be Love People. Why me?
And yet, because of my journey to stand firm on a rock of confidence that doesn’t turn like shadows, because of my desire to live fearless, because of the tremendous faithfulness of the Spirit who shows me one next step after another and another, I said yes. I walked through that open door and chose to keep believing I belonged.
Not like one belongs to a secret society or insiders’ club, but the way one allows Love’s eyes to lock with her own, to watch the mouth that forms the words, beloved, and to nod, Yes. Yes, I am.
Really, it’s a lie when we compliment after passed years, say someone is exactly the same. I suppose what we’re wanting to say is that the essence of you — the unique spark of you — is intact. The one we recognized then, the one we see now.
I squeeze those I love, laugh freely and cry more than most. I'm a detail collector, big picture thinker, nature lover, book savorer, passionate lover of people and God. I am learning to embrace the great mystery, live in the questions, take risks and speak unafraid. I believe in pain redeemed and hope where it has no business, and I'm so grateful you've come to unwrap some messy and glory-filled stories with me.
to the life right where you are. Whether delightful or downright disaster, each moment presents the opportunity to stumble through half awake or slow down to truly see. I want to live AWAKE.