Tuesday, July 28, 2015

To Levi (on his 8th Birthday)

My dear Levi, 

Last night I kissed your 7-year old head for the last time.
This morning you are eight.
8 years old.
I am not really sure how that happened.

Wasn’t it yesterday that you entered the world wailing at the top of your 7 lb 4 oz lungs?
Wasn’t it yesterday that we welcomed you home to a Colts football nursery of khaki and blue?
Wasn’t it yesterday you snuggled your baby sister with cuddles and followed your big sister around with wide-eyed abandon?
Wasn’t it yesterday we were on the lookout for mail trucks and backhoes during every drive around town?
Wasn’t it yesterday that potty training required Hot Wheels and Duplos as an incentive?
Wasn’t it yesterday that our dialogue revolved around Diego and anything related to the animal world?

No, it wasn't yesterday. It just seems like it.

In reality, yesterday was the day you were 7 for one last time.

It was the day your imaginative self told me the pile of plush felines were participating in the Stuffed Animal Olympics and the “Cat Delegation” had to take a train to Illinois and then walk the rest of the way to Iowa.

It was the day I watched you run across the yard with a God-given speed that amazes me.

It was the day you asked me to play Mario Kart with you.

It was the day I listened in wonder as your usually shy self audibly answered a question asked from someone at church.

It was the day I watched you join in Mega Sports Camp without clinging to my side. 

It was the day I saw your smile fill up with two permanent teeth in the top of your mouth.

It was the day your sensitive soul hugged my waist when you realized the twinge of sadness I was carrying knowing you would only be 7 for a little bit longer.

It was the day you asked to sit on my bed so I could read you a story.

It was the day you wanted to make sure you didn’t get to close to my pillows and get my “germ juice” from recently having had a cold. 

It was the day, I swept your bangs to the right, hugged your precious neck, and tucked you in for the last time as my 7-year-old son.

And it was all a privilege.

Yesterday, I went to bed a little sad at the quick pace of time that leaves you ready to blow out more candles.

But this morning, the sadness is gone.
Today you have the opportunity to be 8 years old for the very first time.
You have the chance to wake up and be a brand new age.
A whole different year of your life is starting.
Another 365 days to discover, explore, uncover, and embrace your beautiful self.
And your dad and I are blessed to have this coming year to share, instruct, and celebrate with you.

Yesterday, I was missing 7.
But today?
8 is awesome.
Just like you, buddy!

I love you, Levi.
Always and forever.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Three Little Words

By the time the summer solstice is upon us, there are three little words every home educating parent longs to hear...

School is out.

Yesterday, I was able to say these words.

School is out. (f.i.n.a.l.l.y.)

I never approved of the idea of falling across the finish line.
I never imagined a face plant to end a race indicated greater strength then at the starting block...

...until yesterday.

It was a significant day for me as it marked the end of an amazingly exhausting yet rewarding school year.

Our family has encountered unique challenges this year, but we have borne each other's stresses and we have survived. Everyone is still breathing and still ever-so-slightly sane. And oddly enough, I feel stronger than when we started.

We faced three large hurdles this year:

1. This is the first school year I have had all three children in school at once. I am not sure I ever fully grasped how to teach two different grade levels effectively and then the youngest had to go and turn 5. So, Kindergarten here we came. Along with a 2nd and 4th grader too.

2. This is the first school year I have taught while working significant hours outside the home. Between us, my husband and I spend a joint 60 hours (give or take 10...actually just give 20) serving as interim pastors of a congregation making some significant transitions. My responsibilities include, but are not limited to, preaching 3 times a month, coordinating guest speakers for my off weeks, leading bible studies, developing ministry leaders, offering guidance to leadership, writing notes and making phone calls to congregants, and trying to figure out the copy machine.

3. This is the first school year we have encountered sickness multiple times. Not major stuff. I am talking the flu and slobbery colds, but enough to sidetrack school on several days. December's mini vacation was cut short by a vomiting child in a hotel room. Yes, it's every bit as gross as it sounds. That got passed around to everyone save for my husband who was the only one to get his flu shot last fall. Guess who's getting their flu shots this year? Everyone, so help me God. Insert a runny nose here and a sore throat there and that brings us to April when the tables turned and all three kids and Daddy went down for the count. I came through unscathed with this bout although I am still unclear as to how that happened. In other news, my children think Lysol smells like spit-up because that is the only blasted time I ever spray it. I am, however, truly thankful to report despite these setbacks, we had no major medical issues and so my grumbling comes to an end here.

I tend to be my own worst critic, easily focusing on the ways I have failed to live up to my (ahem, impossible) expectations. In spite of our unparalleled year and my unrealistic ideals, I am glad to say that these accomplishments were made in spite of it all:

- My "let's-enjoy-the-journey-no-matter-how-long-it-takes" Kindergartener knows all her letters and their phonetic sounds, can write them correctly on lined paper, and is finally grasping the concept of decoding strings of letters (aka reading words). She can write her numbers, do basic addition, count to 100, and skip count by 2s, 5s and 10s. It's been difficult as her needs has been vastly different then her siblings, but she has accomplished so much and I am so proud to promote her to 1st Grade.

- My "conscientious-let's-stay-focused-and-get-the-work-done" 2nd grader has mastered addition and subtraction, can tell time on an analog clock, and count money. He's a quick study with numbers which has made math enjoyable for him. After a slow start and disheartening lack of interest in phonics last year, he has blossomed into quite the reader which thrills my heart to no end. Armed with his Lego Star Wars Character Encyclopedia, we gladly replace the batteries in his LED flashlight so he can read to his heart's content at bedtime. He is now a 3rd grader.

- My "highly-distractable-yet-wonderfully-creative" 4th grader can now write every letter in cursive, has begun keyboarding (which she loves), has taken 30 spelling tests (which she despises), and has learned long division. I have heard horror stories from parents sitting with their children who are learning long division. While we have had difficult moments in the process we have come through with very few tears or battle scars. God bless Steve Demme and Math-U-See. She is so excited to say she is now a 5th grader. (Notice her creative self decorated her board.)

- All three started the year studying world history. We moved from the nomads to Ancient Egypt and then they discovered the game "Stack the States." Since we homeschool in Michigan and have the blessed liberty to do so, we switched our social studies focus mid-year to match their interest. This began our journey in learning about the 50 states. 

- Our science studies led us into the world of Botany, be still my heart. Believe it or not, the kids chose that subject...silly rabbits. Yet, in the end, I have to admit even I was taken in by the fascinating facts we learned about the world of plants and the kids were too.

- Of all the accomplishments this year, I am most pleased with the children maintaining a prayer journal. Our bible time ranged from discussions about Psalm 119, the armor of God (Ephesians 6), wisdom in Proverbs, reading various children's bible, and following a Lenten Prayer Guide. Throughout the year, regardless of the bible topic, the kids have practiced the art of recording their prayers. I can't wait to give these precious notebooks to them once they are grown.

They were days I didn't think I would make it. Days of feeling inadequate and questioning my capabilities. They were days I wanted to scream, pull out my hair, crawl into bed and escape into Austen's world of Pride and Prejudice. But we made it thanks to a faithful God, a sense of purpose, a decent ability to laugh at ourselves, some awesomely faithful friends, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. And diet coke. 

It feels a little like we've fallen across the finish line, yet I still feel strong. It was a hard race - life this last 9 months - but we've broken the ribbon at the completion of this course.

So without further ado, I say again...

School is out.

Time for a nap.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Choosing Day (on our 17th anniversary)

Paul - 

I remember our scandalous beginning. Strangers pretending to be high school sweethearts until everyone in the piano lab believed it. I had never even said hello to you before that day.

I remember speaking briefly on the sidewalk outside the Olt Student Center on picture day. You had caught my attention and I was wearing black jeans that apparently had caught yours. 

I remember your face in a sea of sophomore guys while you held up a kiwi. And I thought I would die of embarrassment with a one word declaration about a fruit. 

But I didn't know it was the beginning of a love story.

I remember late night phone calls, shy smiles, and first kisses that took my breath away.

I remember the tiger t-shirt, the worn-thin one you still wear to bed, and your question about submission that really was just an awkward prelude to speaking your love for me.

I remember our days as a couple in chorale, as Park Place youth workers, as ministry majors (finally), and then those painful days we weren't a "we" anymore.

But I didn't know it was still the beginning of a love story.

The love story that was sown on the campus of Anderson University began to sprout as we commited our lives to one another. We stood, hand in hand, while Shirley Coolidge worked her magic on the organ. Before a room full of people and all of heaven, we chose each other. 

June 6, 1998 became our day of choosing.
But I didn't know that was still the beginning of our love story.

Funny how the wedding is still the beginning. Hollywood would beg to differ. Don't get me wrong, I love me a romantic movie. You wouldn't have to suffer through all those Hallmark movies if I didn't. There's something special about the early butterflies of courtship and the breathless excitement of getting to know someone, but most romantic films are set up to end the moment the couple chooses each other.

The older I get and the longer we are at this crazy little thing called love, the more I realize that movies end before the love story takes hold. The unfolding of love is not in the candlelight of newness or the infatuation of dating. Love unfolds itself every day after the choosing. 

That's the love story.

Our wedding day is the day I chose you and you chose me.

For life. 
In the good and the bad.
When we have love bursts and when we discover habits that drive us crazy.
For the days we have patient smiles and the days steam comes from our ears. 
When we could run the Crim and when we are hospitalized from pneumonia or childbirth.
In the moments of triumph and defeat.
When we are confident of our tasks and struggling to face the day.
When we are caught up on housework or we've run out of underwear.
For the predictable and the unexpected.
When we speak words of healing or words that wound.
I chose you and you chose me.

We chose each other that sunny June afternoon. 
In the seventeen years that have spanned since then, we have still chosen each other. 
Every single day.

And that is the story of love.
Every day of our marriage has been a choosing day.
Love unfolds itself every day we still choose each other.

That's our love story.

I still choose you and you still choose me.
I am still chosen and so are you.
A love that unfolds and blooms each time we choose one another.
And with each sunrise, we have a new opportunity to choose each other again.

I am pretty sure there is nothing more romantic than the choosing.
Nothing more powerful or life-giving than the choosing.
Choosing love. Choosing you. Choosing me.
Every day.
No matter what.

I am so glad we chose each other 17 years ago, 
but I am ever more grateful for our choosing each other every day since.

Happy Anniversary, Stud Muffin!

I love you and I choose you. 
Always. Everyday.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lament: A Preface and a Poem

A Preface on Lament

The thing about living is it's hard. And the thing about redemption is it's best recognized after the heartache. Lament is a necessary part of the grace process. Lament is where we own our failings, admit our shortcomings, and embrace our need. Lament is where we unabashedly say that life is far from easy and pain can be a frequent companion and answers aren't always quick to the rescue.

I believe that those of us who follow Jesus need to lament a little more. This world is doggone crazy sometimes. My heart is doggone ugly sometimes. And the kingdom needs to be a place we can plant our lament in the ground of God's goodness. That's the only way it will flower and bear fruit. It's the only way lament is redeemed. After it's been accepted, confessed, revealed, expressed.

Jesus people love to quote Lamentations 3:22-23. It's the "goes down easy" words about God's mercies that could lose their meaning on the near side of simplicity. But before we ever get to the great faithfulness of God, the author of this book has put 21 verses of "just plain hard" first. Why? Because redemption is best recognized after the heartache. And lament becomes our invitation to embrace heartache so that we might clearly see redemption.

So, here's a poem about the hard. And it doesn't end neatly. It leaves my lament open and unresolved. That may feel uncomfortable but we need to remember that resolution in real life doesn't always come swooping in on immediate wings. This is my attempt at a poetic kind of lament. An embracing of my own kind of brokenness because in claiming the painful, we can be released to recognize our redemption.

Lament I

It's funny how the cold dark can create a cold sweat;
how lonely feels cramped;
how lying voices crowd a mind
and coup d'├ętat their way into power
and waterboard the truth.

Gasping hard for breath
that would oxygenate freedom.
Hope drowning;
under the weight of expectation
and the tyranny of perfection.

Inmate without steel bars.
Maximum security prison built from insecurities.
This cell block of "not good enough."
It's blackmarket currency is peace.
Taken piece by piece.
Stolen. Given. Bartered.

This silent suffering is prevalent, predictable.
Masked by money
or fame
or position.
Busyness is the morphine.
Accomplishment the valium.
Numbing the bastilled pain.

To no avail.
A dungeon where
freedom's call is repressed,
and worth is forgotten in Comparison's shadow.
Invisible shackles remain.
Self it's own warden,
and cruelest taskmaster.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Mercy in the Struggle

It's been hard lately.
Life and ministry.
There have been some days recently, that had I known they were coming,
I would have boarded that boat to Tarshish and been long gone, like the prophet of old.

But God has a way of catching up to us.
Now matter how we might try to run
or hide
or avoid.

And struggles force you out of hiding.
Hardship pushes you out of complacency.
Trials have a way of helping you regroup and reevaluate priorities.

That's what Jonah's three-day stay in a deluxe fish resort did for him.
It was a strategic management course.
And forward movement required choices and action.
And it was mercy, albeit smelly, but mercy nonetheless.

And these days of late, full of the hard edges of life,
have been my own kind big, stinky fish belly.
It has refused me rest and refused me retreat.
It has demanded a constant sorting of thoughts and emotions.
A barage of choices and actions to be rationally-based and not emotionally-driven.
And I wouldn't have chosen this. Not one single moment.
But they have been mercy.

These days of merciful struggle have brought certain priorities into focus.
These days have crystallized important relationships.
These moments have insisted on choices.
Choices that determine what I really believe about people, the church, my calling, my God.
The rubber meets the road kinds of faith choices that will demonstrate if I practice what I preach.
Will I forgive even if my hurt is never spoken to those who have injured me?
Will I trust God to tend to my heart and the hearts of others especially when that means I do nothing?
Will I embody grace in the midst of unjust words or broken systems that let you down?
Will I choose to see another's point of view even if no one ever tries to see mine?

This is brass tacks kind of Jesus living.
It's the hard stuff of the kingdom that is easy to talk about...until it's your reputation and your hurt.
And I don't like it. Not one little bit.

And people have tried to soothe with talk of the enemy that works against our good God-future.
And people say struggles like these pave the way for better days ahead.
And I suppose those sentiments could be accurate,
but honestly, I am too submerged to see the coming daylight over the horizon.
My hurt is too fresh to look for the brighter day.
Right now, I just don't know.

And yet, I can't escape God.
He keeps pursuing me,
relentless Hound of Heaven.
Even situational darkness can't keep Him away.

I can't make sense of my circumstances right now
but God, He still does make sense to me.
His goodness. His truth. His strength. His love.

Mercy stares me down right in the middle of the mess.
And maybe one of the greatest mercies of His is that
this present storm beckons me to grasp a truer faith;
that these current winds can lead to deeper roots.
Maybe mercy takes the shape of struggle that reminds me I haven't arrived
and there's plenty about His kingdom I don't understand
and I haven't really learned to live.

And that's enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The promise of fuller kingdom living.
Even at the cost of my pride or need for being heard.
If this struggle channels my faith to flow more freely,
and helps me enter more fully into kingdom living,
then I will walk it.

Just like Jonah, any forward movement will require choice and action.
So I choose to let these difficulties spur me to tenacious trust
so I might move toward the One who knows me best and loves me most.

I may not always like it.
I probably won't ever ask for it.
But God is who He is.
And that is always enough.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Slow of Sabbath

Slow days are saving days.

Another Sabbath has come to a close for our family.
Another Thursday into Friday where we fight to be - just be.
Another 24 hours where we practice play and real attentiveness.
A day when we act like we actually have the time to stop and smell the roses.
Or play approximately 38 rounds of Super Mario Brothers.
Or sit shoulder to shoulder with my 10 year old and read seven chapters of Nancy Drew aloud.
Or cuddle with my Kindergartener and laugh at mismatched socks while smothering her in kisses.

Sabbath is about slowing down.
Not because there aren't things to do.
There. always. are.
The list will never end.
The tasks will never cease.
The expectations will always hover.

But slow days are saving days.

Slowness strengthens me for the fast days.
The rapid-fire, can't-miss-a-beat days.
Slowing provides a glorious reminder that my to do list does not get the final say.
That the world will keep turning without all my boxes checked.
That joy is defined by something greater than my accomplishments.

Slow days are saving days.

Rest invites me into the rhythm God intended for living.
A life-giving rhythm that doesn't rob but sustains.
Resting allows me to trust that God is in control
and it calls out the illusion that says I ever had control.
Resting relinquishes the lie that everything rises and falls on my actions.
It doesn't. But I sure live that way sometimes.

Slow days are saving days.

Sabbath is a defiance of looming deadlines.
It rebels against the American definition of success.
It's anthem ignores the clamor for increased productivity. 
Sabbath is the one thing many of us would say we can't afford to do.
But we would be wrong.
The soul will not be denied.
And the soul needs slow.
The soul needs rest.
Sabbath is the one thing we can't afford not to do.

Slow days are saving days.
Today, again, I found my salvation.

Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
But you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NLT)

Friday, January 2, 2015

My 7 Books for 2015

I wrote about my new year's resolutions here
One of my goals was to read 7 non-fiction books.

It's never been all that difficult for me to pick up a novel. 
In fact, fiction books are as much a mental escape for me as movies or sleeping.

But non-fiction is a different story. 
It has often served as a cure for my insomnia.
No joke. 
I do not exaggerate.

Just hoping I will pick up a non-fiction book doesn't work. I might pick one up, read 60 pages, and put it down with every intention of reading more. But I hardly ever do. Hence my self-inflicted title of "Queen of the Unfinished Book."

So, I have resolved to read (to completion) 7 non-fiction books in 2015.  The next step is to decide what I am going to read. 

There are a lot of good books. 7 is a very small number. 

But I whittled it down to the ones that most interested me or I felt were most pertinent to my life and ministry at this point in time. 

Here's my list in no particular order:

Leading Change without Losing It: 
Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change When Facing Opposition 
by Carey Nieuwhof

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
by Susan Wise Bauer

Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn 
by Melanie Shankle

A Spirituality of Fundraising 
by Henri Nouwen

Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Disciplines 
by Lauren Winner

Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year 
by Tavis Smiley

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: 
Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible 
by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien

And my runners-up...
You know, in case I get ambitious and actually read more than 7 books in 2015.
And no, the irony doesn't escape me that there are more than 7 books in this list.

by Timothy Keller

by Reggie McNeal

by Shauna Niequist

by Peter Rollins

by John & Joanna Stumbo

I am interested to know what non-fiction you have found helpful or beneficial. Feel free to leave a comment below and share with me. Who knows? Maybe I will alter my list after hearing from you!