Thinking

Hi friends. I’m still here. And there is a lot I’ve been wanting to say. Especially to the Christians. Especially about how social justice should be a natural extension of serving Christ. Especially about how loving our neighbor should take priority over political preference. Recently though, I’ve been doing a lot more listening and a lot less talking.  While I think bold, prophetic voices who will proclaim truth are needed (and I refuse to be someone afraid to say hard things) it has been important for me to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Now, what I don’t want to do is be complicit in all the wrong by keeping silent. But what I also don’t want to do is just add to all the noise, noise, noise going on right now. It’s a delicate balance. But I’m still here. And I’ve  spent a lot of time thinking.

I’ve been thinking about the little house guest in our home. He is cute y’all. His happy brown eyes and deep dimples are the most joy inducing things I’ve seen in awhile. Strangers stop and notice him. And I hear a lot of “Oh he’s the sweetest thing.”

And I wonder what the magic age is when a black boy stops being the sweetest thing and starts being intimidating. I wonder this for him and I wonder this for my own son. How old will they be when society stops looking with adoration and starts being afraid?

I spend hours on the phone with the warrior mother of the toddler we tuck in at night. She is college educated and hardworking and has never had to get clean because she’s never been not sober. She is the opposite of the assumptions we make about homelessness. She calls at night and bares her soul in words. You would think her being homeless is the scariest thing about her life. But her biggest fear is not homelessness. No. She knows she will work her way out of that. She is afraid of what will happen to her son when he is no longer a child.  That is something she can’t escape. A home won’t allow her to escape it. A career won’t allow her to escape it. Her son growing up to be respectful,  to work hard, make eye contact and obey the laws won’t change it.  Some day someone will decide he’s not safe because he is large in stature and dark in skin. They just will. My own husband is living proof of this.

And I’ve been thinking about how many people, in the climate we are in today, would clutch their purses or look suspiciously at Jesus Christ himself if he walked in the flesh with his brown Israeli skin and dark eyes in the United States today.

I have no point to make. I have no solution to offer. I just wanted to say that I’m still here. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking.

My Word for 2017

For the past few years instead of making a New Year’s Resolution I have chosen a word. That word sticks with me throughout the year and is something I hold on to when I’m doing life. For example, 2016 I chose the word joy. I had no idea what I was getting myself into with that word. It was a hard word to live by. But probably the most important for all that 2016 brought.

In the beginning of 2016, we had a baby in our home who was not our own. Her Mommy was homeless and unstable. Navigating all the crisis that came along with that hosting was chaotic, but we did so joyfully. When they were successfully reunited, no longer dealing with homelessness, our hearts were so happy. We chose joy.

My parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew all came to Texas. We all slept under the same roof, we took lots of pictures and did lots of things. We shared meals and worshiped together at church. So many precious moments on that visit. It was so easy to choose joy.

In April, we experienced a first. The first time our family of 5 all had the flu at the same time. We were in pajamas with blankets all over the floor and it was all about the Kleenex and Netflix. A hailstorm quite literally ripped through our roof. I will never forget the way the kids screamed at the windows shattering or the way I pushed them into the closet not fully understanding what was going on. Church family came to the rescue, risking our flu germs to board up windows and tarp holes in the roof. Although we were overwhelmed, we were reminded that God has placed some of the most incredible people in our lives. So we chose joy.

We spent two months hotel-living while the house was being repaired and that was a low point. There was a lot of eating out and taking walks to keep from getting stir crazy and a lot of “please-for-the-love-of-everything-go-to-sleep-already” with the kids. Getting a call during our time there that my father was in the hospital felt a whole lot like getting kicked while I was down. It was ugly. I planned to spend another summer in Florida and tried to wrap my brain around what was happening. I’d like to say that I reached out to my support system and refocused and got my junk together. But mostly I cried a lot and introverted. I did a lot of writing and deleting, I did a lot of giving God a piece of my mind in the car alone with the windows rolled up. But when I did all the shouting and bore my ugly heart and was still met with undeserved grace, I was reminded to choose joy. And that’s what I did.

When dad got poor news from the doctor, when dear friends heard the diagnosis of cancer for the first time or lost people they loved dearly, when there was a messy house and piled up laundry and 504 meetings and “Mom nobody at school likes me.” When the days were too long and the nights were too short it was always, always about choosing joy. Sometimes right in the middle of ugly, painful sadness.

By no means did choosing joy mean living in denial. It meant living in confidence. Confidence that God knew what He was doing even when it didn’t make a lick of sense to me.

When there were highs- like the kids coming home with great report cards or our church starting a clothing closet to minister to the community  or the same dear friend diagnosed with cancer successfully completing radiation or family time at the North Pole Express in Grapevine, or the way Jordyn’s face lit up Christmas morning- the joy that came naturally was not taken for granted. I’d venture to say it was even more sweet.

On the rollercoaster ride that was 2016, I chose joy and the joy of the Lord was my strength.

For 2017- I am choosing a word that is literally tattooed across my wrist.

Hope.

I will admit that a lot of my time has been spent preparing for the worst case scenario. Maybe I have forgotten to hope for the best. Okay, not maybe. Perhaps in the process of learning to choose joy in hard things, I have lost sight of holding on to hope that it won’t always be the worst case scenario over and over. In my life, I have become so busy bracing for what will come next that I have stopped hoping. I don’t want to go into 2017 bracing for impact. I want to hope for a good year. It’s been about survival since March of 2015 and I haven’t been able to dig myself out of that. I’m ready to now.

cfh2bhjuyaaimftSo I will hope. I will look forward to the days that lay ahead for myself and my  family instead of trying so hard to make sure we are ready for every bump in the road…I mean, we’ll still wear our seat belts and everything, but maybe I can just start to enjoy the ride a little more. Maybe I’ll look out the window on our road trips and notice something beautiful. Maybe I will spend the ride in hopeful anticipation of our destination instead of spending the entire time trying to prepare myself for what will happen and how we will handle it if the car breaks down, so to speak.

In 2017, I will hope unswervingly.

What word will you choose?

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas from our family to yours! We have been busy, busy, busy- decking the halls and fa-la-la-la-la-ing. We Christmas so hard around here that we are allowed to use it as a verb. Yes, we love Christmasing. This season has been full of moments where I have laughed so hard I’ve cried- but I’ve also had moments when I cried so hard I had to just laugh. I have learned (and am still learning) that deep, deep joy can coexist with grief or sadness. I am grateful for that hard lesson.

Friends, whether your days have been merry & bright or you’ve been white knuckling it through the entire season (for me, if I’m being honest, it’s been a little of both), I pray that you know that you have value. That you are loved. That there is always, always a reason for hope. Hope in the baby in a manger who caused angels to sing. Hope in the teacher who shared radical truths about loving others as yourself and about how absolutely nothing could ever separate you from His love. And, if all of that fails to bring you solace because of whatever 2016 brought you, I pray you will hope in a man laying down his life so that death, in turn, would lose it’s sting. Hope in the promise of heaven. A promise that one day, no matter how hard things are now, He will wipe every tear from our eyes.

This Christmas, I just want you to know that it’s okay if that’s where you’re at. If that’s the only peace you can find. If the songs and the gifts and the twinkling lights just aren’t doing it for you. If everyone else’s holiday cheer is only serving to make you feel isolated because of your pain. If this Christmas finds you angry. Or sad. Or broken. There is grace for you, friends. If this Christmas finds you feeling a little like a misfit, be encouraged. It is my suspicion that God has a special place in his heart for the misfit. My guess is, it was no accident that Jesus was welcomed into the world so humbly, surrounded by stinky animals and socially awkward shepherds. God was telling us something so very important. The kingdom of heaven is so beautifully upside down, the last being first, the ones once sowing in tears reaping in joy. All are welcome. You are welcome. So there is hope. I pray you will know that hope this Christmas. I pray that hope will carry you through to the next season of your life. Merry Christmas, friends.

Another 1st day of school!

Tomorrow I will drop a 1st grader, 2nd grader and 3rd grader off for their first day of school. That doesn’t even make sense to my heart. In my heart they are babies. Just little, tiny babies. Every season of their lives I find that there are things that get dramatically easier (they all wipe their own bottoms, y’all! That is a serious Mom win!) and other things that get more complicated and difficult.

The questions used to be “Is she nursing long enough?” “Is it normal that he isn’t fully potty trained?” “When will I be able to pee alone?!!!” and now it’s “How can I make sure they are kind?” “How do I effectively build their confidence without causing them to be self-centered?” “What if kids bully them….or what if THEY bully someone else?!”

It’s never ending. And so I beg God to help me reflect Him in my role as a mother. And I ask Him to do so much more than just protecting them…I ask Him to make them brave, to help them do the right thing even if it’s hard or unpopular, to show them how to value character above achievement.

The kids and I had a conversation this week that went something like this:

“You guys are going into 3rd, 2nd and 1st grade! And that’s crazy to me because I remember being that age! When I was in 2nd grade there was a girl in my class that didn’t fit in very well..and I don’t know her whole story but I know that she got teased a lot. I wasn’t teasing her, so I figured I was doing the right thing. One night there was a school event and Grandma noticed that the little girl was by herself. And since Grandma is my Mom, she did what a good Mommy should do and told me that if there is someone who needs a friend, I should try to be that friend. Even if my peers thought it was weird. And I’m so happy Grandma did that. Because now that I’m a grown up I understand that being silent when someone is being picked on or left out isn’t the right thing to do. God asks us to be helpers. Grandma was able to teach me to pay attention to those around me and to notice if they are hurting. That doesn’t come naturally to us-by nature we are selfish. But we can try really hard to keep our eyes open and trust God to show us if someone could use a little help. ”

And then the kids shared story after story of times they noticed someone was sad and offered comfort, times someone was being teased and they spoke up, times someone needed a friend and so they tried to be that friend. And we spent even more time talking about ways we could look for opportunities in our lives to help instead of hurt. I walked away from that conversation so impressed with the character God is helping to build in Layla, Bryson and Jordyn.

I share all of that to say that for every question I have about motherhood, for every fear I have about who my children will become-nothing that has happened or will happen in my sweet kiddos’ lives surprises God-and He’s got all of it. He more than makes up for all of my insufficiency and I can trust Him to do the work on my children’s hearts that I can’t do myself. I can go to Him with all of my questions and worries and He will not ignore me. Because he’s a parent, too….He gets it.

 

 

 

It is Well

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Before I knew what a broken heart was, before I was old enough to understand the concept of death, before I was aware of injustice-before any of that, I knew the words to the old hymn, “It is Well.” I am so thankful that the lyrics to that song were hidden in my heart at such a young age, because they wake me up in dark times when I’m prone to lean into sadness instead of hope.

The man who penned the words that are still being sung today knew about dark times. In fact, as he wrote the words that would eventually turn into lyrics, his circumstances were anything but well.

Horatio Spafford was a very successful lawyer and investor. He had a beautiful family, a great home and was a devout Christian. I’m sure there is someone who pops up in your head when you think of the type of person that just “has it all together.” That was Horatio. Easily an enviable life.

And then, as it inevitably does, stuff hit the fan.

Horatio’s son suffered an untimely death due to scarlet fever. Not long after that, a fire destroyed nearly every investment property Horatio had, leaving his wealthy family in financial ruin.

In 1873, after so many hard times, Horatio planned a family trip to Europe in which his wife and remaining children (four daughters) would sail to Paris where he would meet them up soon after. The trip began as planned until the luxury steamer his wife and daughters were on sunk. All 4 girls died. Horatio’s wife was rescued while unconscious. After docking in Wales, she sent a telegram to her husband that said, “Saved alone…what shall I do.”

Saved alone.

Horatio left right away on a ship to bring his wife home. The captain pointed out to Horatio that they were passing the area where the ship that his family was on had sunk. He knew his daughters were at the bottom of that very part of the ocean. And that was when he wrote the powerful lyrics to “It is Well.”

When he wrote, “…When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well with my soul…” he was not using hyperbole. He literally watched sea billows roll in the ocean that served as a grave for his children. And nothing in his life was right. Or fair. Or okay. But it was still well with his soul.

For every time a Christian falls short in reflecting Jesus, for every time a person uses the Bible as a tool to hurt instead of help, for every time our humanity has caused us to misrepresent Christianity-I still can’t help but think that there is nothing more appealing than a God that can cause our souls to say “It is well” even in circumstances like Horatio’s. A God who still causes us to say “It is well” today-even when all of the worst case scenarios play out in our lives over and over again. God is enough. So it is well. What audacious hope we have in Him.

 

Jordyn’s 6th Birthday Letter

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Sweet Jordyn-

In one week you are turning 6. That means this is the 6th time I’ve sat at the computer to write a birthday letter for you. The 6th time I’ve sat in silence and thought about another year that has quickly gone by. I also have 8 birthday letters for your sister and 7 birthday letters for your brother under my belt. Sometimes I get nervous I will sound repetitive. When these letters are printed and bound for you to keep, will they all sound the same?

I know I go on and on about my love for you, but I just love you so very much. I write a lot about how quickly you are growing and how much you have changed. That’s a common theme. But baby, it’s every Mommy’s common theme. The days are long, the years are short. Don’t blink. Time flies. Every tired mama with bags under her eyes and fierce love bursting in her heart knows these things. Feels these things. So you’ll hear them from me now and one day, Lord willing, I will get to hear you repeat these same motherhood mantras when you are a mommy. Some day, a long time from now, you will hold your crying baby close against your chest and rock back and forth in a foggy haze from sleep deprivation. Your hair will be unwashed and your shirt covered in spit up and I am certain I will think that you have never been more beautiful. When I watch you I will close my eyes and remember the days that I held you just the same. You will cry because it is so hard and smile because it is so incredible and then you will understand exactly how I feel about you.

Joyful- that’s the word I think of when I consider who you are becoming. I’ve told you many stories about what a happy baby you were. You are still so happy. What I love most about jordy (6)your joy is that you so freely share it with others. You go out of your way to make people feel the joy that you feel. Your laughter is contagious. Your smile starts on the inside of your sweet self and it radiates, making everything brighter. What I admire most about your joy is that it exists even alongside other feelings. It’s not that you’re never afraid. You openly share that sometimes things make you feel scared. But you trust us. And you trust God. And that makes you brave. It’s not that you’re unaware that the world can be hard. You’ve learned this year that sometimes cancer gets worse instead of better, that sometimes bad things happen to people even if they are kind or helpful. You have grieved those truths that are new to you in all the ways a child grieves. I have held you while you cried and cried along with you because I can’t protect you from sadness. But you have not allowed anything to steal your joy. And you are a reminder to Mommy that we can be sad about hard things and still laugh and play and enjoy the beauty that exists all around us. You are so good at finding beauty everywhere. It’s part of what makes YOU so beautiful. Sweet girl, the joy of the Lord is our strength. It is what keeps us moving forward when the world gets dark. And you have so much joy. So you are strong. Don’t forget that.

Jordyn, on your 6th birthday I want you to know that I love you. That I’m so proud of who you are becoming. And even though you are getting older and I can’t shield you from the difficult things that you used to be too young to understand, I am in your corner. I am for you. I am always praying for you, I am always ready to listen. And if you ever need reminding-I am here to assure you that the joy you possess is beautiful and strong and brave. And it is worth fighting to hold on to. I thank God for the joy He has given you and I thank Him for the joy I have simply because I get to be your Mommy. Daddy and I love you so much, our unicorn loving-belly laughing-ballerina spinning-sweet, sweet girl.

Love, Mommy

 

 

 

On falling short, hating our sin and knowing we are loved.

When Bryson was a baby, his heart broke if he sensed disappointment. I cannot explain it. I have two wild child, passionate, dramatic little girls (who, don’t get me wrong, I love for their spirit) that spent their toddlerhood doing all the things and just not giving a rip if you did not like it.But even a pleasant and calm “No, no bubba! You may not put that in your mouth” would evoke sobs. This was long before he was walking….even before he had words. His kinder teacher once confided in me that she hated when he would have to pull a stick (the classroom’s discipline technique which worked like a charm for our sweet boy) because she KNEW the sorrow that would follow. Today my handsome 7 1/2 year old who is looking more like a man-child every day still hates to fall short.

 

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ughhhh….I told you! He’s SO big now!

 

 

 

 

 

As most of you know we have been hotel-living for nearly a month as our home is repaired after a hailstorm. And even though we are incredibly grateful for the way God has provided; even though we are well aware that we are not alone in this as evidenced by the multiple families also in this hotel until their homes are repaired- we are still at the point where we are getting a little stir crazy. We have tried increasing outdoor time so the kids can get our their manic energy but they are missing the space in our home and I have had to make very clear that we can have “no more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

Tonight Bryson forgot said rule and I found him hopping away on the fold out couch.

“Bryson Alexander! Are you allowed to jump on the bed?”

His face shot towards me as his body froze and it was obvious he was overcome with guilt. “No ma’am, I’m sorry.” he said. He laid down, tried to stick his face in the pillow without me noticing and quietly cried. And not even in a grandstanding, “I’m so upset with myself that you aren’t allowed to also be upset with me” type of way (that’s something one of my spicy little girls would think of for sure though, hehe!). I call for him to come to me and he hangs his head down and says “I don’t want to make mistakes!”

He is his mother’s child. I lost sleep as a kid over guilt when I messed up. Sometimes I still do. While I don’t want Bryson to be complacent about his shortcomings, I long for him to know grace.

I picked that big boy up and sat him on my lap. I shouldn’t have. He is almost bigger than me now and he doesn’t actually fit on my lap. But I did it anyway. I love him. I whispered into his ear.

“Bryson, it is not okay that you didn’t follow our rules. We have rules to protect you. You have to trust that when we tell you to obey us it’s not because we want to boss you. It’s because we have a reason. Listen closely because I want you to hear this with more than your ears…I want you to know it in your mind and in your heart and in your soul. You WILL fall short. You will not stop making mistakes. Mommy makes mistakes. Daddy makes mistakes. That’s why we need Jesus. He doesn’t make mistakes and He will forgive ours. You accept responsibility when you mess up, you take the consequence, you make it right by asking for forgiveness from the one that you wronged, but baby….then you accept grace. I forgive you. If you never made mistakes that wouldn’t make me love you more and when you do make mistakes that doesn’t make me love you less.”

As he nodded and wiped his tears it surprised me once again (it happens so much!) the way being a parent reflects our own relationship with our heavenly father.

May we not stop hating our sin. We cannot be complacent. But God’s not in heaven waiting for us to mess up so he can smite us and we don’t have Biblical guidelines just because He felt like “bossing us.” He loves us. And His great love for us should change our hearts in such a way that we long for nothing more than to push forward and finish the race. But when we fall short (and we will) may we find grace in the forgiveness He so generously offers. Because he will continually fill the great gap between who we are and who we need to be.

Tonight, if you have wrapped up this week knowing you “jumped on the bed when you weren’t supposed to again” then own up. Accept responsibility. But know that you are loved and know that God’s great love for you is not contingent on your actions. May you know grace tonight. May that love and grace change everything for you. Goodnight, friends.