Monday, December 31, 2012

mourn with those who mourn

One of my facebook friends passed away last week after her car was tragically hit by a drunk driver on Christmas Eve. 

I barely knew the girl, but had a few classes with her in college - enough to remain 'friends' on social media after graduation. 

The news of her passing is so tragic and sad.  Although I barely knew her, what I do know about her life and her passing is enough to tear deeply into what little understanding of faith, and death, and justice, and grief that I have. 

She was a beautiful and strong Christian woman. A new bride, with a new groom. She was serving God in ministry with her husband, and you could see Jesus in her eyes and in her smile.  

How could this happen?

When I think about her life, her passing, her purpose, I think about the dear friends and family who must now grieve what was and what will never be.  Her dear husband will ring in the New Year with new prayers of how to possibly survive without her.  Her loved ones will struggle, and weep, and shake their fists in the air, trying to understand such painful news that surpasses all understanding.

And me?

I will weep for them, for I know {in a small way} what it's like to miss someone and not understand why or how God allows loss to happen like it does. 

I will pray for them, for I know how difficult it is to find the words to pray in the midst of great suffering and loss.

I will shake my fists in the air along with them, because to truly understand loss requires us to question and cry out to God for understanding. 

I will pray the only words I know to pray right now in my own life:

{May God help us understand}

Alégrense con los que están alegres. Lloren con los que lloran. ~Romanos 12:15

Sunday, December 16, 2012

on city dwelling and fireplaces.

On days like today, I often convince myself that life would be almost perfect if only we had a fireplace.  We'd stand our Christmas tree somewhere close by, snuggle up on the sofa, and feel it's tingly warm air hit our faces as we rest.  

Rest.  I have always associated fireplaces with rest, and refuge, and comfort.  

Sometimes, I dream of where we'd place it - probably in our massive, expanded living room where nothing ever gets broken and everyone always feels like there's more than enough space for three or four more.  

Our living room (slash basement, storage closet, utility room) is small.  There's barely enough room for our Christmas tree, or Chris' new bike, or so-and-so's friend who wants to come to bible study. 

There's certainly not enough room for a fireplace.  

And yet somehow, in the midst of dinging doorbells, and sticky-kid fingers all over our brand new ivory painted walls, and having to park our cars on the street where they get assaulted by footballs and on really bad days, drunk drivers, I know I have to remind myself why we're here.  

I have to remind myself that by choosing Jesus, 
by choosing this lifestyle of dwelling in the city for Jesus, 
comfort {most days} does not come quickly.
Baseballs break windows, 
and babies are born addicted to crack.
Drug dealers flaunt their profit at the expense of young, easily-influenced minds, 
and people, precious and beloved people, must fight to death for second chances.
Trials come, 
and babies raise babies,
and then babies die. 
Doorbells ring,
and ivory-painted walls don't stay that way for long.
Chewed bubble gum and sunflower seed cases fall on carpet fibers,
and booms and sirens alert us in the night to something unjust.

But this is our home, and we have chosen to dwell here, in this place, that booms and rings and often times, tears us up in a way we cannot describe

This is our home, where we have wept for peace and justice and God's love to be present; where we love and serve and learn from those around us;  where we borrow spoon-fulls of sugar and sit on our stoop to watch kids kick other kids' butts in street football. 

This is our home, where we open our door to eight or nine or sometimes ten middle school boys weekly for bible study; where slowly but ever-so-surely, precious moms and grandmas are opening their doors and their hearts to us.  

This is our home, where 'M' came and went, right before our very eyes and where we were forced to experience tragedy publicly; where my dear neighbor and her boys baked us cookies, and in their own unique way communicated how sorry they are that we lost something so special.   

This is our home. 

And on days like today, when all I want is comfort, a big fenced-in backyard, and a warm, cozy fireplace, I can almost hear God whisper,

This is your home, 
and this is where I have called you.
Rest and be still. 

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. 
~ Psalm 62:5

Thursday, December 13, 2012

a christmas tradition.

Somewhere along the way, my husband and I decided that we wanted to be all about traditions

Traditions, little celebrations of our own, things that make our small-family-of-two {hopefully someday four or five} unique. 

In the spirit of Christmas, I'd like to share a tradition we started last year as a newly-married couple. 

Last year, we decided that we wanted to purchase an ornament -- our ornament {I call it} -- to hang on the tree as a reminder, or a symbol, of that year.  We go pick out the ornament together, usually with hot coffee or tea in-hand, and make a date of it.  It's a really fun, sweet time to share together as a couple.  We do some reminiscing as we try to figure out which ornament would best represent the year, and a whole lot of laughing about things like why it might {or really might not} be funny to just hang a pickle ornament on the tree and call it an evening. {This is what we call my husband reaching his capacity to shop.  It usually ends with him finding the nearest free-sample espresso machine and coming back to life after three or four 'samples' and a whole lot of mean-mugs from store employees.  True story.  My life would truly be boring without him ;-)}

In my opinion, this is a great tradition to start because as newly-weds, we have to work to build up our ornament collection.  If you're like me, you have way-too-many plain jane {jumbo pack buy-one-get-one-free} ornaments and it's nice to have something that actually means something on the tree.  This is why we started this tradition.

Last year, we chose this ornament from Ten Thousand Villages because we felt like it represented so much of what we were praying for: peace for our city, peace for our home.  This is one of my favorites. 

This year, we could have gone a lot of ways.  It's been a really eventful year.   As I debated back and forth between something that would represent our house, or baby, or ministry, or something else, I walked past a box of ornaments and only saw one thing: a raspberry.  

Our sweet baby girl, no bigger than a kidney bean, a grape, a bb pellet, a raspberry.

This Christmas, she will be remembered.  

I'm so thankful for traditions.  

What special Christmas traditions does your family have?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

why we date.

Last weekend, my husband and I got all dressed up and went on a date.

Usually when we do things like this, the neighborhood kids stare {confusingly} and share with us their oh-so-wise thoughts about how married people don't have to go on dates because they're already married. We smile and then we kiss each other {on the lips} and usually they say ewww and run away. That usually does it.

Last weekend, we went on a date and I wore a pretty dress with fancy earrings and my husband got so snazzed-up that the neighborhood boys asked him why he was wearing a tuxedo. {Sport coat, tuxedo, same thing.}

It was really nice to get out of the city and relax together over good food and wine and cheesecake. Between 'M' and our car fiasco and ministry and the busy holiday season, we just haven't been able to do much of that. Let's face it... nothing says 'relaxing' like a massive piece of dulce de leche cheesecake, submissively rested under a mountain of whipped cream. And yes, it was the real kind of whipped cream. And no, we did not save any for later. {Life is short.}

During times of tragedy and healing, moments like these are important to share and important to remember.  

Today, I'm thankful.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

eggplant parmesan for two.

Confession time.

This evening as I waited patiently for my eggplant parmesan to bake, I browsed random photographers' blogs, filled with photos of random families and babies and kids in little-matchy-match-sweaters.  I scrolled through the pages, filled with reds and greens - for the Christmas card of course; smiling babies with flower headbands, being tossed up into the air; and Brady Bunch families with five, six and even seven kids.

And then there was me {silly-ol'-me} feeling hopeless as the cheese bubbled over my tiffany-blue casserole dish and the kitchen exploded with smells of eggplant parmesan for two.

Let's face it, I don't even know if our {future} children will even eat eggplant parmesan.  They will probably take one look at most of the {primarily vegetarian} meals that we make and stick out their tongue at the green monster on their plate.  Or maybe at us.  I guess we'll have to work on that.

But these parents, in their picture-perfect matchy-match photos, they at least have the opportunity to offer eggplant parmesan to their children.  In fact, I bet their children love eggplant, and kale, and all-things-green-and-good for them.  At least that's what the photos say.

Hear me out on this one.  I love families, especially the families of my dearest friends.  I love your babies and your good news and your Christmas cards.

But stranger families on strangers' blogs?  It's complicated.

If I'm honest, today I'm mostly angry at myself.  I'm angry because I know I need to stay away from things like this that are just not healthy for me to look at {or throw things at}.  I know I need to not dwell on what would be right now if 'M' had never happened.

But it's so hard to forget. 

It's hard to forget that a few weeks ago, we would have had our maternity session.  Over the next couple of weeks, our friends and family would have placed our baby-bump news on their kitchen refrigerator.  Pretty soon, we'd be finding out if the nursery accent color should be pink or blue.  I'd be shopping for big flowy-stretchy shirts and we'd be planning our 'last' vacation as a married couple before kids.

Instead, I'm staring at photos of random families on random blogs and secretly wishing I could photoshop our faces into their seemingly 'beautiful' and 'perfect' reality.  {I know this is ridiculous.}

Instead, I bought Christmas cards for 50% off at the mall.  {Yes, the boxed kind with the graphics of donkeys and stars and warm-fuzzy-seasonal sayings.  This year, these will have to do.}

Instead, I'm making eggplant parmesan for two.  

But thankfully, I have a second-half who not only shares in all the mess and anger and sadness along with me, but who also loves my cooking.

Especially eggplant parmesan.

Someday, maybe for seven.

But today, only for two.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

why I share my grief.

On my way to jury duty this morning, I grabbed Anne Lamott's book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, from our book shelf in a hurry.  I hadn't heard of Anne Lamott before, and frankly, I don't exactly know how her book ended up on our shelf.  It has someone else's name written inside the front cover with a note that says "People say she's the male version of Donald Miller.  She's crazy!"  That alone makes me think that this book was meant for me all along.  Lord knows I invite the crazy in far-too-much.  (And I have a writer's-crush on Donald Miller's work.) 

So all day long today, I waited, and read, and waited, and read.  Somewhere in there, I almost cried, but I couldn't actually cry in a room full of cranky, impatient, and hungry potential-but-maybe-not jury people {myself included}.  Sixty-eight pages later, I stumbled upon some thoughts that struck me; some ideas that put words to my thoughts about why I share my grief with the world.

Now I'm sure some of you read this blog and wonder why I'm hanging my dirty laundry out for all to see.  Maybe you're wondering when my blog posts will turn 'happy' or 'cheerful' or be about Christian-ese or Pinterest projects.   Don't get me wrong, I love me some Pinterest.  Those posts will someday make an appearance {Pinterest, not Christian-ese}. But in the meantime, we're all going to have to get real comfortable with that little gray donkey inside of us that we all love to hate, Eeyore.  My blog reeks of Eeyore-ese, and I know it.

So in this particular section of her book, Anne Lamott writes about her struggle to process her best friend's breast cancer diagnosis and her break-up with her boyfriend all at the same time.  She explains that for years, she has believed the lie that "grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately" (pg. 68).  We've all heard that, and let's face it, we've all done it -- faked a smile so that the world would carry on and people would stop freaking asking about that awful thing that happened to us.  A smile usually does it.  So does hiding in a bunker.  Anyway, here's what she wrote that stood out to me most:

"But what I've discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it" (pg. 68)

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Only grieving can heal grief.  

When I read this, it became clear to me... this is why I write, this is why I share. 

Because during a season of my life when it's hard to really, fully believe anything, this is one thing I know to be true: Only grieving can heal grief.

In order to heal from our pain, we must embrace and experience that which has wounded us the most.

We must feel it - acknowledge our losses, our failures, our fears.
We must admit that we're not what we pretend we are.
We must give ourselves freedom to weep over what was and what might never be.
We must grieve in order to heal.

And somewhere in there, we must invite God into that grief and pray He binds up our wounds. 

Even when we don't want to.  Even when we don't believe.  And yes, even when we feel like Eeyore.


Monday, December 3, 2012


A few short years ago, I wrote about survival here on my blog.  I was in a pretty raw place when I wrote it -- I had a wedding dress that I'd never use now stored in someone's closet {somewhere}, I had sold or given away most of what I owned, and I had quit my job {and essentially my life} at Liberty to go to Ecuador for who-knew-how-long.  Surviving that season of my life was a miraculous surprise.  No one thought I'd make it out alive.  Heck, I never thought I'd breathe again. Some nights I barely could.  Yet somehow, here I stand.  Sort-of. 

Right now, it's really difficult to read that post. It's like I'm living those feelings all over again, as if I didn't learn anything from the last time God allowed me to get a fresh slap of reality right across my stubborn, naive cheeks.

You see, way-back-when, I thought I knew something about God; something fancy and true and admirable about Jesus, my faith, the world.  I was a mess-up, and then I met Jesus.  Well, actually... Jesus chased me up-and-down-and-all-around, tripped me at the knees, held me down with all of his might and tied me to a chair.  But when He did, I knew everything was different.  I was different, yet I understood so little.

I thought that since I had already lived in the ditch -- broken, self-seeking, afraid  -- that maybe I'd never have to go there again.  Maybe somehow God would have pity on me and spare me from those lowly places {that I knew so deeply}.  Maybe since I had already been through hell, somehow, someway, I deserved to live a beautiful, happy life with a little bow on top.  Maybe that was the testimony I'd share with the world: God picked me up from that ditch.  Now I'm free and live joyfully to tell you about it.  Snip, and snap, with a pretty little bow on top.  Man, her God is good.

I think that's why God hasn't stopped slapping me since.  

For as long as I can remember, my story has been full of ditches, some a bit closer to ground level, but nonetheless, still ditches.  In my story, the ditch always follows the slap - a rejection masked as newly understood and divine direction, a dream unrealized, a child gone forever, pieces of what was.

They say He's my father, so I think these are loving slaps.  Parents do this all the time, right?  Only in this version, I am not five years old and my father, way-up-there-in-the-sky somewhere {yet at the same time, somehow feeling the impact of the slap along with me}, is not holding a wooden spoon.  He's holding our baby, and our cars, and our marriage, and our joy.  Slap.

 Sometimes it just startles me, and sometimes it brings me to tears.  Most of the time, I learn something from it.  Nine times out of ten, it becomes a part of my story; the story I tell people when they ask me why I am a Christian, or why I live in the inner-city, or why I talk to drug dealers, or why I don't do keg stands in a skirt anymore.  Slap.

These are the moments that flip my world upside down; moments that cause me to question everything, including how I'm going to survive their impact.  They are the moments that somehow manage to take my breath away and remind me to breathe, all at the very same time.

Miraculous moments.  Painful moments.  Moments so heavy I wish I could hide from them.

Yet somehow, someway, I have come to realize this:  Without these moments, these slaps across my face, I could never survive this world.

Without pain, I'd never know the warmth that healing can bring to the soul;
Without loss, I'd never know what it means to appreciate a good gift;
Without chaos, I'd never know the sound of peaceful, life-giving solitude;
Without a slap or two, I'd still be who I used to be.

I guess that's reason enough to say Man, her God is good.  Maybe, just maybe.