Introducing . . . My new series at Off The Page!

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I'm excited to announce that this month I began a new series on prayer and spiritual formation at one of my favorite sites, Off The Page

Each month I'll be exploring "Prayer for the Rest of Us," aka those of us who don't have our spiritual stuff together. What does prayer even mean? Why do we do it? How do we do it? I'll take on a different spiritual practice each month and talk about my experience with it, and invite you into with me. 

This month I'm sharing about the desperation and the "Uneasy Silence" we face every time we come into the sometimes uncomfortable space for prayer.

If you haven't seen the article yet, I hope you'll take a look. Here's a bit for you:

 

Here’s what I know: When the doctor’s reports refer to your two-year-old as “malnourished,” and when he’s vomiting (again), and refusing to eat (again), when the doctors’ appointments and the therapists’ evaluations recommend a new system for eating, a new medication, a new calorie-heavy product to try or to stop trying, when you think you cannot face another day of begging your child to eat, and telling yourself it is not my fault when he doesn’t get the 200 calories he was supposed to get this morning, because you tried (because you used the vibrating mouth tool, and the cheesecloth trick, and made the elephant puppet sing about how yumminess of the bagel with cream cheese), when you aren’t sure if there will ever be a day you won’t wake up afraid for his beautiful, tiny body; that’s when prayer is breath.

 

Desperation often clarifies the why of prayer. I’m learning I pray not to let God know I’d really like some help over here (God knows, I’m sure), but to train my own eyes to see the help already available: the presence of God’s spirit in the kitchen, at my son’s highchair, holding us both.

 

Lately, it’s been helpful for me to think about the spiritual life as a movement towardor away from the presence of God. If Jesus is a dot in the middle, and we’re all arrows positioned at different places, spaced at varying times further and closer to the holy bull’s-eye, what matters isn’t how close we are to the middle, but whether or not our arrow is pointed toward the center.

 

What prayer does is reorient our arrows toward the presence of God. It reminds us what direction our true life comes from. It turns us from the darkness to the sun. It helps us shift and lift our faces from the anxiety or grief, the uncertainty or monotony, the desperation or maybe just the boredom of our lives, toward the One who holds life in its completeness, its fullness.

 

Read the rest at Off the Page.

Upon Turning 38 (And having a babysitter so I could write this.)

Twenty years ago today I turned eighteen. Now, that’s something. It was my first week at college. My New Student Orientation group took me out to dinner at Chili’s. I was a wearing a yellow and purple beanie and I was equally in love with my cute cheesy college and tortilla chips dipped in ranch dressing. Twenty years ago I stood on the padded Chili’s bench and let the table sing to me and me only. I loved it.

Twenty years ago. It’s just like all the annoying Hallmark cards always said. It goes too fast.

The night before last I held my baby throughout the night as he vomited every ten minutes. I whispered, “It’s okay. Mama’s here. I’ll always take care of you.” I told him he was brave every time I held his tiny body over the toilet. Every time he fell back against me, immediately asleep.

Then, after a night without sleep, I downed a cup of coffee and turned on the world’s best First Day of School Kids Bop music. I packed new backpacks and helped find missing pants. Sent them off to the terrifying world of new classrooms.

There’s a twenty year gap there between the girl dipping tortilla chips and the girl shushing her two year old in the night, telling her eldest that he is fun and interesting, just like fourth grade. And the gap between those years is deep and ravenous. Also, it’s sweet and small. I still love to stand on a bench and let the table sing me a song. I still love to eat tortilla chips, though I’ve given up on the ranch dressing. And Chili’s.

Here’s what I think I know, now that I’m 38:

  • If social media is too mean and you feel terrible about the shouting on it, it’s okay to stop hanging out there. Actually, I’d recommend it.
  • The world is a hard and scary place and we need each other to tell the truth.
  • As Ace has taught me, if you sing about the task in front of you it feels a lot easier to do it.
  • There is not as much time in a day as I used to think. So, sleeping is a good idea.
  • Also, exercise makes you happier.
  • Life is not what you accomplish, no matter how many “important” people say otherwise. It’s about hugging and playing.
  • I’m not perfect, so it’s not all going to get done. Especially email. (It took me a lot of therapy to learn that one. So if you’re still waiting for an email from me, that’s why.)
  • Raising kids is not about constructing something from the ground up using raw materials. It’s about growing a garden: surprising, hard, beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking. And rarely what you planned for. (See The Carpenter and the Gardener, which I’m currently reading.)
  • Hats are cute and they keep you from getting wrinkles.
  • Wrinkles are sometimes cute too.
  • There is not a perfect body. There is just the body you have.
  • God is not all air and mist. God’s in the flesh and making Godself visible through all the pain and goodness. The question is whether or not I’m paying attention.
  • Leading is hard. Making decisions is hard. Following Jesus is hard.
  • Early childhood specialists are the best people in the world. So are speech, physical, occupational, and feeding therapists.
  • The little rituals are the heart of a marriage. Our six am coffee dates are my favorite part of the day.
  • Birthdays should be celebrated every time, because nothing is guaranteed and being alive is a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Untangling Gnarled Roots: Recognizing My White Privilege

 

The conversation around race is hard. To have it each of us has to be willing to challenge our own assumptions about the world, to see life through another's eyes. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that he is always asking us to challenge our own assumptions, to see the world with the eyes of mercy and justice and compassion. Jesus always asks us to be uncomfortable, to hurt with those who hurt.

This is a story I've always been intimidated to write about before, but it's time. Today I'm over at Off the Page, sharing how I came to a place of acknowledging my own white privilege, how my eyes were opened to racism's long, hairy roots.

 

Molly and I sat at the round laminate table that had been my great-grandmother’s in the eighties. I’d been home from my month-long trip to Kenya and South Africa for one day, and we were doing what we always did in that year post-college: eating our feelings in burritos. She was my best friend in the world.

 

I’d collected a thousand thoughts for her in my journal, prepared to explain each story, to tell her each wild idea of God I’d consumed in my graduate African Cultures and Religions class, and share the names of the people I’d met in South Africa whose faith had given them courage to fight for justice, to put an end to Apartheid.

 

But I was mostly silent. We stuck chips in guacamole.

 

She stared at me across the table. “You seem older,” she said. “Sadder.” And I knew it was true—forever. I could never go back.

 

Read the rest over at Off the Page today. I'd love to see you there!

10 life lessons I can rely on during these troubling times

photo-1455905863367-da9adfc8b5d2 (This was originally published at Atleteia's For Her magazine, but is no longer available there.)

This past week, in the midst of this country’s political upheaval, I’ve been shaken, and so have many people around me. There is much at stake right now. There is much to fear and much to work for, and it can feel overwhelming. When life is troubling, I’m learning to go back to the kernels of wisdom I’ve already gathered, the smooth stones I carry in my pocket to remind me what matters, what God has taught me, what it means to move forward with joy and gratitude.

  1. The peace of Jesus is not passive. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, yet he had a way of always making someone angry. Jesus constantly offended the religious leaders and welcomed everyone into the circle, whether they deserved the invitation or not. Peace is never ignoring hatred or evil, and it always includes having the courage to tell the truth. Peacemaking requires action. Following the way of Jesus usually requires more pain on my part. It asks that I be quick to forgive, set relational boundaries, speak with honesty, and often, that I give up my rights to comfort. It is never the easier way, but it is always the way of Jesus.
  2. Questions are not something to ignore but to embrace. A life worth having is a life where you choose to stare your doubts down all the way. Once you get to the bottom of them, they shrivel. Their power is in their position in your periphery, lurking, hinting that what you believe or what you’re committed to is empty, or worse, a lie. They are loudest when you try to ignore them. But if you’re brave enough to hold them to the light, to examine their realities and their flaws, they have something bold to teach you, and their power withers. When I choose to turn my attention to my fear, to pull each sliver of my doubt from my mind, place it under the examination of God’s presence, God has proven up to the task. There’s a reason Jacob wrestled with God: The more we are brave and bold enough to deal with the fears and doubts and questions, the more we experience a God who meets us in the darkness, stays with us through the night, and sends us back into the daylight—altered, yes (Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life), but changed into something real-er, wiser, more our truest selves.
  3. When it comes to lines in the sand, I want to draw mine on the side of generosity and grace. In politics and theological frameworks, everyone has their opinion, and most of the time life—for better or for worse—has clarified their stance. There are reasons to be liberal; there are reasons to be conservative. If there weren’t, our two party system wouldn’t still be going strong after 240 years. In the same way, theology is a complicated system. There are many ways to read the scripture, and there is much to wrestle with in the Bible. When it comes to politics and theology, I want to form my framework in the place where kindness dwells. I want to look at the world, the church, and my community through the lens of Jesus’s life and teachings. If I have to draw a line in the sand, if I have to choose what I believe about a specific issue, I want to err on the side of generosity and grace.
  4. What makes a human being valuable is not success, but love. My son who has Down syndrome may not live up to most of the world’s expectations of power or prestige, performance or impressiveness. But our performance is never what makes us human. Intelligence is not what makes humanity as beautiful as it is. It is our ability to love and be loved, to make connections, to show empathy—these are the things that allow us to stand out from the rest of creation. These are the things that should be celebrated, in our children, in ourselves.
  5. Kindness should be our native language. The longer I’m married (only 13 years, so I still have much to learn), the more I believe that the key to happiness in a marriage is mutual kindness. It’s the hardest and the simplest thing. (Most of the time, the simplest thing is the hardest.) Also, the key to moving forward as a country? Kindness. The key to unlocking the deep and gnarled roots of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia? It’s kindness. The more we practice listening, knowing, and befriending one another, the more the world will change around us. I believe that. Fiercely.
  6. The elderly have powerful things to teach us, and they deserve our time and our attention. I believe our culture and our nation is suffering acutely because we have forgotten how to listen to our elders. The simple way is always the hardest, but if we want to slow down our wild lives, we could start by visiting the vulnerable; start by listening to the ones whose wild lives have been forcibly slowed down. There is deep wisdom there.
  7. I choose whether time is my friend or my enemy. If time is controlling me, and my schedule does not reflect what I say are my priorities, I’m the one who has to make a change. I can’t blame the world for asking too much of me. I have to choose to slow my life down, and choose to make space for the people who matter most, even if that means sacrificing my status or my success.
  8. Wise people pay attention to their bodies. My body is not simply an annoying ball of feelings that I’m forced to carry around. It’s a gift from God. It’s a friend that wants to teach me about my soul if I’m careful enough to listen. Exhaustion and stress lead me to anger and anxiety. Every time I’ve hunkered down, forced myself to work through the pain or ignore my sadness or fatigue, the more I become the person I don’t want to be: quick to rage, less able to listen to the needs around me. God gave us our bodies so we can test the wind, learn the direction from which the storm is coming. The more we listen, the more we are prepared when the storm arrives (and it always does).
  9. Sorrow and suffering will be part of my life no matter what: I choose what that suffering does to me. I can either run from the pain of this world, or lean into it. Those who lean into suffering are battered, of course. But they come out of the battering smoother, like stones at the bottom of a river. Those who run from pain are still battered by it, but it doesn’t make them stronger, only more bitter. I don’t want pain, but when it comes I pray I’ll allow it to make me wise, that I’ll come out on the other side closer to the woman God has created me to be.
  10. Prayer changes us because God changes us. There is nothing easy about prayer. Also, prayer is incredibly simple. This is the rich dichotomy of the spiritual life. God wants to meet with us, and also? God is already here, already active. Prayer is simply allowing ourselves to be loved by our Creator, to be redirected toward the Way of Jesus, to be made whole. There is much work to be done in the world, much work to be done in our own hearts, but it all starts with the movement of God: in us, in the world. We are loved, and prayer is simply coming back home to that love, choosing to live there in the space where our Creator is endlessly making peace, mending brokenness, and creating beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An invitation to breastfeed in church (and stop fighting about it)

Vera Lair | Stocksy United

(This article was originally published Aleteia For Her magazine, and is no longer available there.)

 

I’m the mom of three boys, and though I live in San Francisco—the land of organic veggies on every corner and required composting—I’ve never really thought of myself as a poster child for breastfeeding. But, in the past eight years since my oldest son was born, I’ve spent exactly 43 months of my life breastfeeding a child.

 

I’m sure you have ideas of who this means I am. I must be wildly free spirited. I must wear cut off jean shorts and birkenstocks and sew my own flowy shirts. I must be one of those women who don’t wear bras and who have no qualms about pulling the boob out in front of the entire park-going public, while my five year old says, “Mother, may I please drink from your breast?”

 

To answer your questions: No, my older children don’t breast feed. No, I don’t sew my own shirts. And I’m not—and never have been—what people might describe as “granola.” Actually, I wear spandex more often than I probably should. I wear makeup and always always wear a bra in public. I have strong concerns about showing my boobs in to the park goers (and anywhere else, actually). And yes, I still breastfeed my seventeen month old.

 

Here’s what I want you to know about me and my baby, Ace. Ace has Down syndrome and experiences delays in several areas of his development. He’s the size of a twelve month old and he nurses five times a day, despite his age, despite the fact that I never planned to still be breastfeeding a seventeen month old as much as I do. Ace has refused a bottle since he was three months old, and is still working with a therapist to build the muscles in his mouth for cup drinking. He breastfeeds because if I left him to receive all of his liquid nourishment from a sippy cup, he would wither.

 

Our life is full, so while Ace works once a week with his feeding therapist, I nurse him in the baby carrier while I pick my older kids up from school or during my eight-year-old’s swim class, or my five-year-old’s soccer game. I breastfeed him at the park and at the grocery store. I breastfeed him while I play board games on the living room floor. And, yes, I breastfeed him at church.

 

If I didn’t nurse him in public, I’d be incapable of tending to my older children. If I didn’t nurse him in public, he’d literally shrink.

 

 

Pope Francis and the Nursing Mamas

 

Back in 2014 the Pope surprised a lot of folks when he encouraged some mothers of babies waiting to be baptized to feed their crying infants.

 

Yes, he meant they should breastfeed their babies. In church.

 

To quote Pope Francis, “If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries, because here, they are the main focus . . . I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat!”

 

Will all the mamas out there please stand up and give Pope Francis a standing ovation? Yes, if a baby is hungry, that sweet child should drink some milk.

 

It is a beautiful thing when a spiritual leader can recognize the good and powerful gift God has offered most mothers and their babies: nutritious, simple food for young ones who need to grow. When the Pope welcomed the women worshipping beside him to feed their babies, he welcomed a healthier, more grace-filled vision of families in the church.

 

 

Breastfeeding is not about sexuality

 

There may be some who hear the Pope’s words and shrug their shoulders. Of course women should be breastfeeding in church! Why should this even be a discussion?

 

But there are plenty others who view the act of breastfeeding, and the exposure required (even while covered!) to be inappropriate for a place of worship. After all, we know what’s going on under that hooter-hider, and it involves bras unsnapping and a baby’s unhindered gulping noises (not to mention the burping and pooping that often comes with the drinking process). It’s hardly the stuff of holy, prayerful reflection!

 

I’d have to disagree. Perhaps breastfeeding in church is uncomfortable for some people, but if it is, it’s uncomfortable because of a failure to recognize the holy goodness of feeding a child. It’s uncomfortable because it’s messy, because it’s sometimes loud, because breasts have been over-sexualized in our culture. Breastfeeding tells the people around you, “I have boobs!” and—if we buy into our society’s glorification of breasts as a man’s trophy to accept or reject as he wishes, to judge and pervert—the acknowledgement of a woman’s breasts can be distracting from worship. But it doesn’t have to be distracting. It shouldn’t be distracting.

 

Unless the church chooses to reject our culture’s obsession with over-sexualizing the bodies of women, we will buy into a false story of the gifts God has given us. God has equipped mothers to nourish and protect their children, both literally and figuratively. That should be celebrated.

 

There is no better place for nourishing a baby than the very place where each week Jesus offers us his own body and blood for our spiritual nourishment.

 

 

 

 

Breastfeeding is not a debate, it’s an opportunity for compassion

 

 

There are some who insist that breastfeeding is a private thing and should be done in the home. There are some who will tie modesty to breastfeeding and point to scripture passages that should keep all of us nursing mothers well-covered. And there are some who draw a hard line in the sand, determining when babies should be old enough to move away from the breast.

 

Still, there are also those who would quickly judge a woman who can’t breastfeed, or has chosen not to. Because of the breadth of beliefs about breastfeeding, women of all opinions and choices have been labeled weak, uncaring, or backward. When it comes to women’s choices and parenting standards, there are camps for every particular belief, a reason to label any mother a failure.

 

But, then there are Pope Francis’ words: “If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries.” Church should be a place where hunger is met. Church should be a place where the broken, the beaten up, the weak, and, yes, even the exhausted nursing mothers are welcomed to come and receive from God’s table.

 

Of all places, let’s bring our babies to church and breastfeed them. Let’s model ourselves after the God who gives us good things, who nourishes, who provides.

And let’s have compassion on one another. After all, I’m the woman nursing her older baby, worried about his weight and his muscle development. And you may be the woman who couldn’t produce milk, who wept every time you prepared a bottle of formula.

 

If we heard each other’s stories, if we listened to one another, if we chose mercy over judgment, the Mommy Wars might come to their natural and gentle conclusion.

 

What matters is the beautiful, remarkable work of giving and sustaining life. What matters is how we welcome one another and how we show compassion, whether that happens under the hooter-hider on the back pew, or as we receive the Eucharist at the altar.

 

 

 

 

Hospitality and the Secret Power of Weakness

I'm taking a break from my Not Writing Anything and sharing on Grace Table a little nugget of what I've been learning and thinking about this summer. IMG_20160724_090251

 

"We as a humanity are obsessed with power. The sorrows, the tragedies of this summer might as well be narrowed down to the powerful, the powerless, and those who will do anything to keep their power. And all those who are crushed along the way? They’re the casualties of turning our faces from what makes us human. When we fail to care for the weak, we fail to flourish. We fail to be what God has made us to be.

Ace worries me. He’s too small and he doesn’t gain weight easily. He’s on a high-fat diet, sitting in his high chair at least three hours a day while I coat bite after bite in oil, or cream cheese, or butter. At the amusement park last weekend, his feet couldn’t touch the bottom on the baby boat ride and there were no seat belts to hold him steady. So his five year old brother Brooks—the only one among our extended family who was small enough to ride with him—climbed in the boat. He put one arm around his brother and one hand on the bell and rang it for the both of them, holding tight to Ace.

Hospitality is everywhere. Hospitality is not about performance. It’s not about perfection. It’s not even about beauty. It’s about weakness.

It’s about us—individually and as a society—turning our faces toward the weakest among us. Extending our power to the powerless.

 

Read more over at Grace Table. 

 

 

On Feeding Imperfectly: Hard-earned Hospitality and Motherhood

Two posts in one week! I know, right? Today I'm over at Grace Table sharing about my long-journey into the kitchen and how--though I am not a natural cook--feeding my children has become a liturgy of grace in my life. Not all the good things we spend are lives doing come easy. In fact, plenty of them don't.

And still, on my son's "Top 10 Reasons I Love My Mom" list, my willingness to make him dinner was listed twice!

Here's a little preview.

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The Friday before Mother’s Day my second grader came home with a “Top 10 Reasons Why I Love My Mom” note in his hand, one he couldn’t wait until Sunday to give me.

This was one of those fill-in-the-blank, extra generic worksheets with cartoon illustrated smiling kids at the top, one of those pages of homework that will go into his bin of saved second-grade pictures and stories, one that serve as an artifact of a moment in time, when the child I’m raising wrote about the mother he knew more deeply than any other human on this earth, but only the me at this moment. Only the me who mothers him.

Some answers he got just right, exactly as I hope he’ll remember me. “I love my mom because she reads me Lord of the Rings,” number 10 says.  (I love myself for that, too.)

“I love my mom because she taught me how to read.” (Yes!)

“I love to hear my mom sing Reptill Song” (also known as “Reptile Song,” my own invention, thank you very much.)

And then there are the other answers. “I know my mom is smart because she knows multiplication.” (Ha! Of all the things that *might* make me smart, my math skills are not among them!)

“I know my mom cares because she makes dinner for me.”

“I love my mom because she works so hard at dinner.”

 

I'd love for you to read the rest at Grace Table. 

 

You, me, and Leigh: What living with my single friend has taught me (and my family) about friendship and unexpected blessings.

  leighandme

 

This is my friend, Leigh. She's also my roommate. Today I have a new piece up at about what it's looked like and what I've learned by having a single friend live with me and my family for the past year.

Spoiler Alert: I think that when families and single people live together it's good for everybody.

Here's a little nugget of the article.

 

When Leigh—a friend from afar who had just moved to my city—first came to live with us, it was supposed to be for two months: one month of cat-sitting while we spent a lot of time visiting grandparents, and one month of temporary stay while she searched to secure her own place. Now, almost a year later, Ezra the cat, whom she started feeding out of obligation, splits his nights between her room and the room I share with my husband.

At first, this was an arrangement of necessity: the San Francisco housing market is ridiculous. It’s competitive and incredibly expensive. As we watched our friend Leigh search, we learned two undeniable truths: it’s hard for a 36-year-old single woman to a) Make enough to live on her own … even in a tiny one-room apartment, or b) commit to sharing a single bedroom with a random woman from Craigslist. When this became clear, my husband and I invited her to stay for the year.

There have been sacrifices, sure. My baby, Ace, has slept in my room much longer than I’d originally planned: he’s going on 13 months now. This wouldn’t have worked with his older brothers, who were much more intense even at that young age, but, luckily, Ace is laid back.

Keeping him in my room has forced me to adjust his baby accouterments and accessories, along with my expectations for what a baby needs. It turns out that a baby doesn’t really need a navy striped with matching elephant prints after all. He doesn’t need a Pottery Barn shelving unit either. A big wicker basket in the corner of the room works just fine. We’ve simplified and are focusing on the essentials. And simplicity is good for the soul.

Of course, it hasn’t been a walk in the park for Leigh, either. Not only does she share a bathroom with my two older boys (ages seven and five) who—let’s be honest—don’t always succeed at aiming for the toilet, she also shares a wall with them. When they’re up at 6:30 a.m., no matter whether it’s her day off or not—their little voices come right through the air vent, like a morning alarm she can’t hit snooze on.

During the day, Leigh doesn’t exactly have the life a single woman might otherwise, either. Most days, she can’t wake up and decide to whip up a fancy breakfast on a whim … because, though Leigh loves to cook, our kitchen is amadhouse. I’m always there, making a snack, making a meal, washing dishes. I imagine Leigh relishes the times when we’re out of the house so she can make something wonderfully adult and delicious without worrying about when one of us will charge into her space and start slicing an apple for a whining kid.

Yet, for all that, after a few months of cohabitation, we collectively decided to make our living situation permanent for a while. All of us—my husband and Leigh and I—shared the same reasoning: this experiment was good. In fact, we all agreed that it had genuinely surprised us all with its goodness. Its unexpected gifts were making all of our lives richer, and taught us a few valuable lessons.

 

The Day I Won the Lottery

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Happy World Down Syndrome Day from Ace! Today I have the honor of sharing what I wrote for Aleteia's magazine about what World Down Syndrome Day means to me, almost one year after our little guy's birth.

 

If I could write . . . [to] my pregnant self, the woman at the kitchen table with her laptop open, the woman who feared she was walking into a world of loss and sorrow, this is what I would say to her:

Sweet girl, take a deep breath. You just won the lottery.

This is not what you planned for and those are the best of all the adventures.

I would tell her that her older sons are capable of tenderness she’s never seen before. I’d tell her that loving another person is always a risk, whether or not that person has a disability. I’d tell her about the day I put three-month old Ace down for a nap and my oldest son asked me to pray “that Ace’s Down syndrome won’t hurt him.”

I’d tell her how when Ace cries my five-year-old half shouts/half sings the song we wrote together: “I am Acey! I am Acey! I’m a sweet little boy!” I’d tell her how, despite the chaos of all of it, as soon as Ace hears his brother’s voice he always stops crying, just so he can listen.

I’d tell her that there was never a different story. The one she had in her head, the one with three typically developing sons all growing up strong and handsome and successful with easy lives.

This was the real story all along, I’d tell her. The true story of our family. Your older sons were created with this plan already in motion. And it’s perfect this way, I’d say. Just watch and see . . .

I’d tell her it’s worth it, all of the risks, all the fears, all the therapies and challenges and the uncertainty of the future. It’s worth it because love is bigger and wilder and more spectacular than she can imagine.

 

 

 

  Argues that employees' own concept utilisations of 'good customer service' offer them both the possibility of satisfaction from paper writing by https://midnightpapers.com their work and an ethical position from which to resist changes to their role

#Aceface & World Down Syndrome Day

“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.”
-Jean Vanier,

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Each year on March 21 the world celebrates the lives of those who carry an extra 21st chromosome. I'm inviting you to celebrate Ace and all the children and adults in this world living with Down syndrome who deserve to know they are loved, wanted, and have something important to contribute.

On Monday I'll be wearing my #Aceface is my friend shirt. I'd love for you to join me!

If you don't have one yet, you can . (There are so many styles and sizes to choose from...kids sizes too!) You may not receive it in time, but all proceeds from #Aceface tees will go to , one of my new favorite charities that provides scholarships to help young people with DS achieve higher education. Ruby's Rainbow is also challenging us to take the . Give $21 to Ruby's Rainbow and then challenge three of your friends to do the same.

And then spend a moment with this beautiful video in honor of World Down Syndrome Day. So grateful you're with me and Ace in this journey, friends.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhCEoL1pics&app=desktop[/embed] Time management facilitates https://justbuyessay.com reduction in wasted time and effort, hence providing you with more productive time throughout the day

On the Glory of the Clementine, and Noticing

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One of the gifts of having a child whose development moves at a quieter, more deliberate pace than my other babies is that I have more time to notice the miraculous moments of his everyday growth.

Today I'm writing at GraceTable about the day Ace learned to feed himself a clementine, and the wonders of being present to notice.

 

Here's a little snippet:

And then that next morning I peeled Ace a clementine slice. I’ve been reading about the brain. How it learns something new by building more myelin and clumping it together. How the more you do a task, practice it and practice it, your brain makes new roads, new circuits, to travel down. How did Ace’s brain make the road that tells him eating is good? Was it every breakfast, lunch, and dinner when I forced food between his tight lips?

Or was it simply that morning when I threw two slices on his tray before moving my older boys from breakfast to the bathroom. Brush your teeth, wash your face. Is your backpack packed? Jacket and shoes ON YOUR BODY?

At some moment I looked up and he had closed his rolly fist around that quarter moon slice. And he’d realized he could suck it. The juice he swallowed lit the places in his brain that said: Food is good! Food is good! And he took more. And more. I offered slice after slice, which he dropped onto the floor beneath him, into his seat, into the neck of his pajamas.

And the brain-circuit had been built. Suddenly, without fanfare or declaration, Ace began opening his mouth for the spoonfuls of pureed spinach and salmon/sweet potato mix. His little fingers began to grab for the cereal on his tray. Amazingly, he started eating. Three weeks ago, he started eating.

Yes, glory gets lost in there. But sometimes our circumstances offer us the grace to slow it down, to notice what the exact food was that taught a lovely tiny human to eat. It was a clementine orange mandarin slice in the fist of my baby. One glorious piece of fruit, grown and picked and colored orange by the sun.

 

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Dear Parents of a Child with Special Needs (Revised and at TCW today!)

Monica Ayers Photography Several months ago of some things I had learned in my then six or so months of being the mom of a child with special needs.

Today that piece (revised and with some additional thoughts) is over at Today's Christian Woman. You'd usually need a subscription to read the articles at TCW, but you're special to me, so I'm giving you a top-secret link. Feel free to share. :)

 

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Delight: My One-Word for 2016 (and an announcement)

delight1 You are a delight. We say that to Ace, the baby who seems remarkably gifted at sweetness. I say it while I tickle him or while he giggles to my lame-mom attempts at singing our way through the afternoon. I say it to my older boys when they’re snuggling close, their hair sometimes the scent of the dreamcicle ice cream pops of my childhood summers.

You are a delight. It’s a word that registers a moment of bliss, a surge of joy, a renewal of wonder. To delight to is stop the monotonous motion of daily routines, to be present, to receive the dearness of the moment.

Delight. That’s my word for 2016. I want to delight in my children. I want to delight in this life I have. I want to believe in God’s delight in us. I want to move slowly enough through my days that I cannot help but stop for the joy of it all. I want to read because I love to read. I want to write out of a sense of emotional health, not guilt, not obligation.

. . .

So what hinders delight? I’ve been asking myself that question for the past month while I’ve mulled over this word. What stands between the drudgery of regular life and the joy of the present moment?

My own mind: My obligations. The directions I’m pulled in. The guilt I carry of not doing enough for enough people.

And without delight, I am not the writer I want to be. To delight is to find a new way toward creativity.

. . .

I’ve been waiting to “figure out” this whole three kids thing. I’ve been waiting to figure out what it looks like to raise a little boy with special needs. I’ve been waiting for life to calm down so I can go back to writing like I used to.

And readers, I’ve come to a realization: I can’t write like I used to. Not with the same speed, not with the same frequency. My older kids may be in school, but they demand a different level of emotional attention. There are challenges that require a mom who is present, who is intentional with our time after school.

My baby is not in school, but his therapy schedule is surprisingly intense. And Ace not only demands constant nursing. (He still won’t take a bottle! Ahhh!), but he also struggles in things that were easier for my older babies. He takes a lot longer to eat. He naps for a smaller amount of time. He has exercises he's supposed to do every day! I need to be intentional in the time I give to him.

I’m learning how to be Ace’s mom. And learning takes time.

Delight in this stage of life looks like a different kind of freedom. I need to let go of my old expectations. I need to embrace some new ones.

. . .

I’ve decided to stop blogging.

This has been a long time coming. I’ve backed off more and more. I’ve gone longer and longer between posts. I stopped apologizing for those long breaks. But I’ve still felt an obligation to this blog, a loud voice in my head telling me that I need to do more, that I need to use my time to get something up on the screen.

And I’ve decided to permanently shush the blog-obligation voice. I’ve decided to take some time to let myself be inspired again, to let myself play with my kids without a guilty feeling that I should be writing.

I started blogging because I was inspired. I was reading things I was deeply excited about. I was full of ideas. I want to be there again. And I really believe that in order to get back to that head space, I need a little delight. I need fun books to read. I need notebooks full of thoughts. I need space to have some new ideas.

I’m going to keep this space open. I am not closing this blog. I’m planning to publish pieces from time to time in other places. And when I do, I’ll share links to them here. I’ll still be posting on my and accounts. And I’ll keep on . You can find me in all my places.

If you haven’t already signed up for my email list, please fill out the form in the side bar! =======>

I promise I will not flood your inbox. But if you’d like to keep up with what I’m writing, I’ll send you an email every time I post something up on the webs. That way you won’t have to keep coming here to check in, you’ll get an email from me instead.

The season of constant blogging was such a sweet one for me. I’m so grateful for you all for reading and commenting and supporting the work I’ve done in this little corner of the internet. The reality is that the blogging life is just not sustainable with my right now life. And I’m learning to be more and more at peace with that.

So I’ll be off practicing delight. Relearning what it looks like to choose books for fun, to use time to play, to write things that make me giddy. And I hope you’ll look for ways to choose delight as well.

Thanks for the freedom. I’m grateful for you all and I promise to stay close by.

 

With love,

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Wednesday: Ashes and Death

I wrote this post five (FIVE!) years ago when I was pregnant with Brooksie, now a little boy who is making some extravagant plans for his fifth birthday next month. It's one of those rare things when I can come back to an old post and can still say, Yes, that's what I wanted to say. It's Ash Wednesday. I hope this day and your Lenten season is full of grace and goodness.  

I love Ash Wednesday because it reminds me that I will die.

I am a product of a culture obsessed with youth and beauty. We honor the young and ignore the elderly. We worship comfort at the expense of wisdom. We refuse to consider that each of us are constantly moving closer to our own deaths. And we convince ourselves that we have control over the reality of living and dying…until the cancer, the terror, the tragedy.

I don’t know what it is about pregnancy, perhaps those millions of years (until this past century), when a woman’s body knew that giving birth meant the possibility of death. Maybe my body and my brain still haven’t connected over the existence of modern medicine and the rarity of death in childbirth for the average American woman. And so I’m feeling in these final days of pregnancy like my womb has switched on an awareness-radar, saying: Love everything! It could all end soon! The world is suddenly brighter and more fragrant. August is charming even as he whines while I’m on the phone. I’m seized by a need to stroll instead of hurry. What a strange thing to have hormones telling you you’re risking your life, possibly dying, and doing something so significant it could change the world.

So tonight, I will sit alone in an Ash Wednesday service, preparing myself to stand before a priest of the gospel and hear the words that ring the bell signaling the Lenten season: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I will feel near to death. Not like it is a monster coming at me, but like it is a sleeping terror I am allowed to approach.

The older I get the more often I know people who have lost those they love. I know it's possible. The tragedy could come to me. I could be the tragedy. There’s something to sitting alone with that thought on this first day of Lent, for a mother and a wife who is never completely alone, to approach the bowl of ashes and feel them pressed into the skin that covers my brain. I am made of this. I will be this again.

The ashes tell me that I am broken. I am human, not a god, not a marvel, not a woman of accomplishment. They tell me that whatever I do with my life, this body, in all its beauty, will be the same lump of ash as the vilest criminal in prison. The ashes make me look at myself: thirty-one years old. Have I lived long enough to have become the woman I want to be? Have I loved completely?

I want to ooze hospitality in my life. I want to see the people around me as Jesus. I want to care. I want to carry peanut butter and jellies in my diaper bag to offer to those begging just blocks from my home. I want people who meet me to sense peace in my presence. I want my son to joyfully remember his childhood as full of color and kindness and rich love. I want to patiently listen to my husband instead of storing up bitterness until I lose my temper.

I’m thankful that the ashes are about more than my own death. They’re about the death of the God whose brokenness and ultimate restoration heals my failure, who brings purpose to a life that could easily be written off as ordinary.

Last year, as I sat through our Ash Wednesday service, I watched a couple carry their ten-month-old baby with them to the pastor, who marked not only their heads but their little girl’s as well. I watched them carry her back to their seats, a bit shocked at the sight of ashes on a baby’s face.  I couldn’t help but consider their intentions. Were they reminding themselves of their child’s own brokenness as well? I thought: August will die. At some point he will die.

As I write this, he is asleep in his room, snuggled up with around 12 different stuffed animals. My other son, the one whose feet press into my side long enough for me to measure a length that simply should not be (those things are not going to fit on the birth certificate), is waiting for our God to give him a little shove out of me. He’ll breathe oxygen for the first time and scream at the injustice of life outside of my warmth. He will be fresh and beautiful and it won’t take long before he will be scarred.

It’s Ash Wednesday. So let these ashes remind us that what we need is not the avoidance of age, the fear of our own endings, but the glory of healing, of purpose, of life lived fully. Your criteria for selecting target programs will depend on your goals and circumstances, but here are a few things to think about

Why 'Receive' Should Have Been My Word in 2015

cultivate Cultivate was my word for 2015, a year that was probably the most challenging of my life. I didn’t write about that word, Cultivate, all that much. Not because I didn’t feel inspired by the power of its meaning, but because I didn’t really have the energy to think about what I was cultivating. In all honesty, last year was not about the bigger picture of bringing forth good things. It was a smaller season of life. It was a season of receiving. The good, quiet, painful work of receiving.

Last January, , I chose that word cultivate, thinking already of what I would do once I had worked through the news of my unborn child’s diagnosis. What would come from this? What would I make of this new thing?

I didn’t really make anything this past year. I simply did what I needed to do. I slowed down.

In the last eight weeks of my pregnancy, my amniotic fluid hovered around the danger zone, and week after week I drove myself across town to have my belly pressed and rubbed with instruments, all checking to make sure Ace was safe in there. My growing bump slowed its expansion. I worried what would be found when the tape measurer wrapped around my middle.

And over and over there was no big answer to those challenges. Drink water, they’d say. Rest.

I wore my eye of the tiger shirt on purpose in those last weeks of pregnancy

Sometimes the work of cultivating gets halted into those first stages: The hard work you’re asked to do looks more like receiving: Put your feet up, mom of two wild boys. Ask your friends to watch them. Take naps. Stop writing so much. Let Florence bring you dinner, again. Receive, receive, receive.

Chris and I have been watching A&E’s six-part series , which follows seven young people with Down syndrome living in LA. It’s been a joy to watch their lives and personalities, to see their challenges and gifts. It’s a sweet, kind-hearted show. And it’s helping me make peace with who Ace may be as a young man. It’s helping me make space for that part of his story, when he isn’t a child, when he falls in love, or tries to find a job, or learns how to shop and cook for himself.

I keep remembering that receiving is a process. I need to continue, with each step of Ace’s development, to accept the parts of his story that I hadn’t planned for, and to celebrate the gift that he is. Sometimes that means watching these adults with Down syndrome learn to express their emotions or celebrate personal victories, and reminding myself that my boy will likely experience the world the way they do.

It’s receiving the challenges as they unfold. My little nugget of a baby needs to gain more weight. It’s learning how to feed him intentionally. It’s learning how to play with him in a way that both challenges him and blesses him. In short, it’s being a mom. But being one in which the microscope narrows in on every step along his development, the steps I didn’t even realize we were taking with my older typical boys.

2015 was a challenging year, not only because of Ace’s diagnosis, but because . Birth is painful and beautiful and my church birthed a new story, and I was a leader in the midst of it.  Receiving meant owning my decision as a leader. Receiving meant acknowledging the pain and the joy in front of me. Receiving meant believing in the power of Christ to lead us, even when it felt frightening, even when I failed to lead perfectly. Receiving meant pursuing reconciliation.

2015 closed with the loss of an important friend in my life. I’ll write more about Ali when I’m ready to. I’ll tell you this. I scratched my car on the flowering succulent bush in front of her house in November, a week before she passed away, the last time I saw her on this earth. Sometimes I run my hand across the scrape, while I’m calling my kids out of their seats and out onto sidewalks. It’s just a scrape on a car, I know. But it feels like some sort of ebenezer, a memorial of sorts, stones piled high in the place where God was.

We cannot love another person without being marked by them. Sometimes life is about receiving the marks, letting ourselves be hurt because loving people hurts sometimes.

beautiful-soil

On the other side of 2015, I’m beginning to understand this: And maybe I did. This past year was our fourth straight year of drought in California. Rainlessness and hard dry ground. The grass in our backyard dried up into stickers and yellow crackling, lifeless stuff.

The grass lies dormant underneath. At least that’s what the people at the garden store said when I came in to buy grass seed to sprinkle before the coming El Nino rains this month. No, they said. It’s not really dead. What you need is grass food. It’s all still there underneath. Just wait for it.

Before we can cultivate the dormant grass, we first learn to receive the rain. Receiving is making space for more. Internal .

All along there is something living underneath the death we see. It’s waiting for the specific rain that brings it forth into the world. What looks like dry ground. What looks used up and undone.

Cultivating starts small. First we receive.

And then God brings forth what God brings forth.

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This is how we love each other

There should always be homemade Chex mix on the counter, in a twenty year old Tupperware dish.

Also, there should be my 94-year-old grandmother Deenie’s peanut patties (dyed red with food coloring, made with corn syrup) available to all.

Speaking of red food coloring, I have to mention Mom’s chocolate chip meringue cookies. (Sometimes they’re also dyed green.)

The night before Christmas Eve my dad will make the pies. He is the official family pie maker because his dad taught him that real men should not only be able to fix a leaky pipe and change the oil in a car, they should also play a stringed instrument and bake a good loaf of bread. (My dad hasn’t figured out the bread part yet, but his pies are fierce. And his fix-it skills and violin accomplishments are pretty fantastic.) I love the sight of my dad at the counter with his pies and my sister in law peeling the apples at the kitchen table—one long curl.

Creamy potato soup on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning: banana bread, coffee, my mom and Deenie and Aunt Vicki around the table in the 7 am morning darkness, waiting for the kids to find their stockings.

Deenie has always made the gravy just the way her mama taught her on the West Texas farm of her childhood. She oversees my mother at the stove.

. . .

Today I'm at , thinking about my family rituals and why I choose to keep carting my kids to Texas at Christmas.

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To Ace, after his baptism

 

Ace Christopher,

As I write this you are on the floor wiggling around, rolling from tummy to back and back to tummy. You’ve got your eye on a red ball and have been trying to decide if it’s worth the hard work of scooting yourself over to it. After all, your little navy booties are just as fun to play with and they’re already attached to your feet.

I wanted to write something for you two weeks ago, buddy. I hoped that on the day you were baptized I would have it together. I wanted to host a big party and raise a glass to you, let our pastor give you an extra blessing, and then read this aloud and weep. But I didn’t get it done, and I know you. You’re not mad. You’re proud of me for trying, right?

I call you my Love Sponge, always soaking love in and pouring it out on whomever will take it. Your physical therapist says if given the choice between another person’s eyes and a toy you’ll choose the person. Your love for people is contagious. I feel like a celebrity when I carry you around, the way people look at you first, and then at me like I’ve done something wonderful. Daddy jokes sometimes. He uses his silly, deep voice and holds you high into the air: “We shall call you Joy-Bringer!” he says.

Have I ever told you what you’ve done to your brothers? Their love for you is remarkable. They delight in you. Delight. You won’t remember this. You’re only 7 months old, but I wish you could remember what Brooksie does when we get to school each morning. It takes him two minutes to leave the car. He’s kneeling beside your car seat whispering his love to you. “You’re such a sweetie. You have a good day, Acey, okay? I’ll see you later. I’ll see you later.” You just gaze into his eyes and smile back. No one can stand to leave you.

You’ve taken to grabbing faces. While I talk to you your hands are on my cheeks, squeezing my nose. You love giving big open-mouthed kisses to the face in front of you. So I shouldn’t be surprised that during your baptism you leaned in to Matt, our pastor and dear friend, and held his face between your hands, blessing him as he blessed you. Our love sponge.

Have I told you about my baptism? I wrote:

I asked Jesus to be my Only One and two weeks later, I was robed in white in a warmed tub, three feet deep, looking out into the crowd of faces. My church said that baptism was a choice we must make for ourselves. And I will never forget the moment I leaned back, let the water wash me. I will never forget giving myself to God.

Your father was baptized too. He was younger than you. Two weeks old in a baptismal baby suit, he was given to God too, marked and sealed.

It was a big deal when I decided to baptize August as a baby. I studied all the scripture passages, prayed for wisdom, asked all the wise people in my life. And you know what I finally came to? I came to the same spot as I’ve come in all my theological struggles. I came to a choice. There’s a reason people disagree on things. Usually it’s because both sides have a good support for believing the way they do. It’s natural for me to see most challenging disagreements through a both-sides lens. That’s just my way. I imagine you might be that way too.

You know what finally sold me on baptizing my babies? I believe God’s grace is here with you already. I believe your ability to do enough for God, to be old enough or intellectually aware enough to follow Jesus doesn’t have as much merit as what God already believes about you, Ace. I believe Jesus has welcomed you in to this family of God already, though you know nothing of it yet, little one. And I want to celebrate that.

We’re not waiting for you to make a decision to belong to Jesus, to align yourself with the story of forgiveness and mercy-giving. (Not because we don’t long for you to make that choice, dear boy.) Today we offer you to the water because we want you to know that you’re already here, you’re already loved, you already belong to the family of God. You are welcome at this table with us.

And this is how the Church has welcomed its family for two thousand years and for more to come. This baptism is just the celebration of what is already true. Every Sunday night of my childhood, I would hold hands with the people beside me in church, usually my brothers or mom and dad and our hands would spread out across that huge sanctuary, arms extending across aisles, and we would sing this hymn:

There's a sweet sweet Spirit in this place

And I know that it's the Spirit of the Lord . . .

Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet Heavenly dove

Stay right here with us, filling us with your love

When I sang those words, I always felt like I was part of something bigger than I could ever understand. And I was: across the sanctuary, but also across the land where I lived, across oceans, across centuries, across the barriers of time and space, I sang: I’m a part of the family of God.

As you are sealed and marked as Christ’s forever, your dad and I will do our deepest best to remind you to Whom you belong:

The One who loves the least of these, the One who forgives 70 times 7, the One who turns the world upside down and says that the least influential are the most important and the meek are the ones who end up with the great big earth. The One who gave his life for you and, just when everyone thought the story was over, took up his life again: For you, for us. So that we don’t have to live bound by the rules of this world: There is a bigger world and a bigger hope than mere survival. Real flourishing is possible . . .

We’re making this choice for you in preparation for the day when you will make a choice for yourself. And when you do, I pray you’ll hear Saint Peter’s words in your ear, saying: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life.”

Ace, Pastor Matt held you and you held his face. He declared that Jesus died and lived for you. He asked us if we would raise you to follow Christ and we said “I will, and I ask God to help me.” And then he kissed your cheek.

He poured water on your head like I do every night in your little blue bathtub. He made a cross of water over your head. And when he was done, when you were sealed and blessed, you know what we did? The same thing we do for you every time you sit up by yourself or grab the toy you’ve been working hard to get. It’s the thing we’ll do for you when you learn to crawl or pull yourself up, when one day you perform in a play or kick a goal in the soccer game. We cheered.

We cheered because you are worth celebrating, sweet one. We cheered because you are our delight.

And one day when you understand more deeply how loved you are by Jesus, we’ll cheer again. One faith, one baptism, Paul says in Ephesians. One God and Father of all, who is above all and in all and through all.

I love you Love-Sponge, Joy-Bringer, Ace Christopher Evans.

Mama

 

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God has a surprise for you (Guest post at Her.menuetics)

Today I'm sharing the story of my prenatal diagnosis of Ace's Down syndrome, which I received exactly one year ago this week. I've been thinking about as my own "annunciation" of sorts, God showing up and letting me know that my life was about to change, all because of one little baby. Sound familiar?

Here's a little bit of it.

I stare at this morning’s passage in Luke. The angel has just said to Mary, “God has a surprise for you” (MSG, 1:29-33). I’m reading The Message transliteration, and its words sound fresh to my ears.

I’m practicing , an ancient form of Scripture-reading long used by Benedictine monks to encounter the Bible anew. It can be translated as “divine reading,” a way of listening for God’s voice in the text of Scripture.

When I’m talking to people about lectio divina, I usually describe an image of the heart as a metal detector hovering above the words. I ask God to help my heart go beep beep beep when I hit the word or phrase that God wants me to see in some new, valuable way. Maybe it’s a message I need to take from the passage. Maybe it’s just a moment to tell me that I’m not forgotten, that I am God’s beloved. Either way, on good days, I come to this time listening.

There it is: God has a surprise for you.

In my experience, God’s surprises are almost always complicated. Last year during Advent, God interrupted my typical pregnancy with news that my life was about to change. It happened about as quickly as with Mary . . .

 

 

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LectioCasting and Advent

Hey readers!

It's officially Advent. I'll be back with some words on the season soon. But for now I'm directing you to my friend 's lectionary podcast (aka ""). Daniel is a New Testament scholar, author, and blogger. Each week on his podcast he chats with someone else (usually a theologian with REAL credentials. Somehow I slipped through the cracks!) about the passages of scripture in the lectionary for that week, in hopes of giving pastors who are just now working on their sermons a little direction.

This week we're chatting about passages in Malachi, Luke, and Philippians. If you're doing the dishes or sitting in the carpool lane or writing your sermon(!), I'd love for you to join me over at Homebrewed Christianity for the LectioCast.

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