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!

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. 

 

 

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

leighandme
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.

Join me at For Her to read the rest! 

The Day I Won the Lottery

IMG_20160321_110930
IMG_20160321_110930

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.

Read the rest over at For Her.

#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,
IMG_20160316_060005
IMG_20160316_060005

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.

You can order your shirts Here 

On the Glory of the Clementine, and Noticing

clementine_GT
clementine_GT

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.

  Join me at GraceTable to read the rest of this wonderful moment

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

Monica Ayers Photography
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. :)

 

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

delight1
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,

Micha 

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.

Why 'Receive' Should Have Been My Word in 2015

cultivate
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
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
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.

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.

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

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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Good words for Thanksgiving

 

"It is impossible to give thanks and simultaneously feel fear."

-Ann Voskamp,

 

"[The] dinner party is a true proclamation of the abundance of being--a rebuke to the thrifty little idolatries by which we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us. It is precisely because no one needs soup, fish, meat, salad, cheese, and dessert at one meal that we so badly need to sit down to them from time to time. It was largesse that made us all; we were not created to fast forever. The unnecessary is the the taproot of our being and the last key to the door of delight. Enter here, therefore, as a sovereign remedy for the narrowness of our minds and the stinginess of our souls, the formal dinner...the true convivium--the long Session that brings us nearly home."

-Robert Farrar Capon

  

"What will our final perspective be on all these hours? The hours of work, the hours of wealth, the idle hours, the hours of failure and self-doubt? Who stands up and divests themselves of this body of work? Who lets go of all these accomplishments, these so-called failures? Do we look back on the wealth acquired from the acquisition, the poems published and admired, the house built and sold, the land farmed and productive, or do we see the drama of the acquisition, the beauty in the act of writing itself, the happiness the house can contain, the love of the land and the sky that nourished it?...

It is the hidden in our work that always holds the treasure. A life dedicated to the goodness in work is a life making visible all the rich invisible seams of existence hidden from others. Good work is a grateful surprise."

-David Whyte,

 

"Thanks be to Thee, Jesu Christ, For the many gifts Thou has bestowed on me, Each day and night, each sea and land, Each weather fair, each calm, each wild.

I am giving Thee worship with my whole life, I am giving Thee assent with my whole power, I am giving Thee praise with my whole tongue, I am giving Thee honour with my whole utterance.

I am giving Thee reverence with my whole understanding, I am giving Thee offering with my whole thought, I am giving Thee praise with my whole fervour, I am giving Thee humility in the blood of the Lamb.

I am giving Thee love with my whole devotion, I am giving Thee kneeling with my whole desire, I am giving Thee love with my whole heart, I am giving Thee affection with my whole sense; I am giving Thee existence with my whole mind, I am giving Thee my soul, O God of all gods."

-taken from the Carmina Gadelica, found in , by Esther De Waal

 

"You have survived the winter because you are, and were, and always will be very much loved," said the sun. "For that small place deep within you that remained unfrozen and open to mystery, that is where I have made my dwelling. And long, long before you felt my warmth surrounding you, you were being freed and formed from within in ways so deep and profound that you could not possibly know what was happening."

-Mary Fahy,

  

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end. Let the sons of Israel say: 'His love has no end.' Let the sons of Aaron say: 'His love has no end.'

-Psalm 118, as translated in  

 

Scrolls

by Brooks Haxton

So will I compass thine altar, O Lord: That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving. (Psalm 26)

Thine altar is to me this bathtub where my four-year-old twin girls tip back their heads. They close their eyes. I read their faces from above, in trust and fear, in holiness, heads tipped until the waterline has touched their hairlines, cautious. Look: their hair flows underwater like the scrolls unfurled in heaven.

from  by Brooks Haxton

 

This is a repost from last year (and the year before that, too!). Emphasis mine, where in bold. Amazon Associate links included.

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What I'm Into - Fall 2015

It's been a few months since I linked up with the lovely Leigh Kramer's monthly posts. I can't pull it together to share all my things with you every month, but here are a few of my favorites from the past few:  

Favorite Instagram

Ace's legwarmers for the win! Why are baby thigh rolls so extremely wonderful?

Favorite Post

 

TV

Still watching West Wing on Netflix. I've made it Season 6, and though I'm committed till the end, I'm beginning to believe the people who say . Will I make it to the end? I just don't know. I keep holding out hope.

Also, I'm faithfully watching Nashville, even though it is REDONKULOUS as always, but getting more ridiculous this season. I mean, that fall off the building last week? Who out there actually laughed out loud? And then felt terrible about it? (Hand raised.)

BEST NEW SHOW: Y'all, I'm loving . It has the same kind of joy and fun and whimsy that I loved in and . (Both shows that were taken away from us and it was not fair.) This is a show for all of you lovers of sweet story lines and amazing musical numbers that I can't even explain because I get too giddy talking about it.

And, that's it, folks. I am only watching three shows right now. I'm telling you, this three kid thing is taking up a lot of my time.

 

Movies

Last month I finally saw  and I loved it. I'm still thinking about it. Chris and I also forced ourselves to stay awake long enough to watch a movie after trick-or-treating Saturday night. We rented , which I thought was hysterical. My husband was only semi-convinced. But I think everything Melissa McCarthy does is amazing. (It's my deep-rooted Gilmore Girls love that gives Sookie and unfair advantage in anything.)

[Wait. TIME OUT. Did I mention how excited I am about the  reboot? Dreams are coming true. Rainbows are exploding.]

So I think I've only watched two movies in the last five months. So sorry for my lameness. I really do try.

 

Listening

August has been listening to on cd from the library. Which means so have I. (I love that he's getting old enough to love some of the books I love! He keeps telling me things about HP and I'll respond with the correct terminology, or knowing what a Nimbus 2000 is and he's like, "How do you know this stuff, mom?" He still doesn't believe that I actually loved these books first.)

Brooksie still loves listening to on cd from the library and he's finally branching out to the  as well. Audio books have been changing our lives in this house. Listening to books makes weekend rest times actually doable. And it makes picking up their room / doing chores bearable as well. And I love that they're getting obsessed with stories.

Music: Not a lot to report on the music front. (Since all my listening time seems to be spent with children who are listening to books.) But several weeks ago the band at our church performed "" from The Brilliance and it blew my mind. Since then I've had on repeat. So good.

Also, I'm so excited for . I preordered mine and it releases in a few days. If you haven't heard their music yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Books I Read

Sarah Bessey's new book is a beautiful book about the challenge and beauty and hope of going through a faith-deconstruction. Here's what I said about it in my endorsement:

"Sarah Bessey writes with the fire of a preacher and the soul of a mother, critical thought without cynicism. This book is for all of us wonderers who long for Jesus and distrust easy answers. Sarah is a brave and faithful guide as we all learn to live the questions.”

I also just finished Seth Haines' debut book , about his first ninety days of sobriety. This isn't just a book about alcoholism, but about pain, and whatever it is we use to numb it. I found this book gorgeously written and thought provoking. So much I'm still chewing on.

Last month I finally read . I love all things Cheryl Strayed writes. Her prose is so sharp and compassionate and reading her makes me want to be a better writer. I may not agree with all her counsel in this collection, but she always makes me think.

Talk about things that make me what to be a better writer: Last month I also read , Mary Karr's new book. Fifteen years ago I fell in love with Mary Karr's poetry and she's the reason I went to Syracuse. Reading this book was like reliving one of her classes. I felt a fresh longing to read great writers and make space for the kind of writing life I want to have. This is a book that will be reread and dog-eared, and I will come back to all those underlined words.

 

On the nightstand:

This year I'm a mentor through the amazing fellowship program at the . My mentee and I are working through some classic spiritual practices together. This month's practice is Lectio Divina and I'm coming back to on the subject.

I'm part-way through Parker Palmer's . I'm also partially into from Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw, two writers I love. I'm not sure about this one so far, but I'm really interested in the idea of a book composed of letters between two people, so I'm hoping I'll end up liking it.

One of my goals for this new school year (which I guess isn't so new anymore) is to make poetry more of a priority in my life: both the writing and the reading. I currently have two books of poetry that I'm working my way through. I'm very excited about Dave Harrity's new book of poems, . Dave's previous book  is a combination of devotional meditations and writing exercises. I'm also reading Tania Runyan's book of poems, . Runyan's poetry is influenced by her faith and I'm really drawn to the way she's working with Paul's New Testament passages in some of her poems.

 

Oh, and did I mention Christmas is coming???

I'm trying to get our thankful tree up in my house, so we can continue our tradition of practicing gratitude in November. I'm only 6 days late, you guys. (Also I'm terribly uncrafty, so mine is not .)

And then it's ADVENT. Woot Woot! In addition to the Rain for Roots children's Advent album, I'm also super excited about these beautiful Advent and 12 Days of Christmas Devotional calendars, featuring meditations written by my friend . I just ordered mine yesterday.

 

Also, if your church is looking for any poetry to use in worship throughout Advent, here's a collection of poems I wrote for a church several years ago. They're available at .

 

What, dear readers, are you into these days? Leave a note in the comments!

 

This post contains Amazon Associate links.

 

 

 

 

Books

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Jesus in real life: A repost for Halloween

I wrote this post three years ago. And it remains one of those conversations with my son that I think about often. Especially at Halloween. Hope you don't mind my sharing it again...

“Why is it called Halloween, Mom?”

We’re driving to preschool. This is the time of day when August asks all the good questions.

“Ummmm…” I say. I say that a lot. See the thing is he wants a real answer. He wants the history and the reasoning. If he knew the word ‘etymology,’ he’d want that too.

I stop at the light. “So, Halloween is a holiday that comes from ‘All Hallows Eve.’”

“Just like Christmas Eve!”

“Yeah, like Christmas Eve is the night before Christmas. All Hallows Eve is the night before the Hallows.” I’m making this up as I go. “That’s because the Church Calendar says the next day is All Saints Day. That means it’s a day for celebrating ‘saints,’ people who loved Jesus and have already gone to heaven. It’s a way for us to remember them.”

. . .

Last week I had a conversation with a friend whose 8-year-old son wanted to decorate her front yard with homemade R.I.P. signs. At first she said no way. But then she started thinking and praying about that answer.

“What really concerns me about having signs about dead people?” she said to me later, while I stood in her kitchen and she flipped pancakes at the griddle. “I realized that maybe it’s healthy for my kids to think about death, not in some monster sort of way, but in a way that remembers people, that celebrates their lives.”

She told her son he could make the R.I.P. signs if he made them for people he admired who had already died, like: “R.I.P. Martin Luther King Jr.” or “R.I.P. Mickey Mantle.”

I’ve been thinking about that. There’s so much wisdom there. How do we talk about death with our kids and remember the lives of those we loved?

. . .

We’re still sitting at the light, Masonic and Haight. I say, “Maybe we should do something the day after Halloween to remember people we love who have gone to heaven.”

He’s thinking. “But we don’t know any one, Mommy.”

“Of course we do!” I say. “Who do we know who went to heaven this past summer?”

“Oh! Pawpaw!” he practically shouts. “Oh, Mommy, I forgot! I forgot that Pawpaw gets to see Jesus in real life all the time! We don’t see Jesus in real life. But someday, we’ll go to heaven and we’ll see Jesus in real life, too.”

I can’t believe these words. The moment they’re out of his mouth, the image is stronger in my mind than it’s been since I lost my grandfather this past July. In Real Life, this phrase I use all the time for people I once knew only online but now know in person. Someone I’ve seen face to face. Someone I’ve laughed with.

And there in my mind is a picture of my grandfather with his Savior, knowing Jesus in Real Life. And I believe it. There in the car heading uphill toward Fulton, with my sons in the backseat, I believe it.

“Mama, are you crying?” he says with a little grin on his face.

“Yeah, baby. I’m crying. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because I was just thinking about how happy I am that Pawpaw gets to see Jesus in real life.”

“Mommy?”

“Yes.”

“Remember how you had to say because he was gonna die and you cried with Memaw?”

“Yeah, August, I remember.”

And I turn west on Fulton and drive. If I keep going, if I don’t stop at school, this road will take me straight to the ocean. And I see it ahead. The Pacific Ocean, this unknown world of water where I can never live. I can learn about it and fish in it. I can ride boats over it, but never fully understand it. Sometimes, I can see creatures if peer down into it. Sometimes, if I swim into the shallows, the fish will swish by my legs. And some of us can dive deep in, but only for a short time. We only have so much oxygen. Our bodies are weak for that world.

Real Life, I think as we move in this car toward an unknown sea. We are always moving toward it. And what if it is the real life? This world, only virtual, only words on a screen. But in that one, we will finally know. We will finally be known.

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On Belonging, and the Buddy Walk

When I got the prenatal diagnosis for Ace's Down syndrome I felt a strong sense of separation. I was no longer a typical mother raising typical kids. I was different. My husband was different. Our family was somehow other.

This wasn't something I worried about for long. From the beginning our friends and our church community have checked in with us, have rallied to pray and listen, have cheered when Ace's health has been great, and have given him more kisses than any baby prince.

Honestly, I think we did the Buddy Walk because we needed to see that we'd be okay. I think we just needed to see people cheering for our little guy. We needed to know that our friends' kids would be raised to love him and celebrate him, we needed our older boys to associate Down syndrome with something wonderful, not something scary, not something unknown.

IMG_20151017_104027006

So we did Zumba led by Yulissa, the first ever certified Zumba instructor with DS. (She was amazing.) We carried a banner and cheered for our team. We marched around the park in a parade of rainbow shirts.

And I said this simple thing to our team before we marched out: "When we got Ace's diagnosis we were so afraid we'd feel alone in this. I want you to know we don't feel alone at all. We feel surrounded."

That's what community is for. This year has been a hard one for my church. The shaking of my church home has mirrored the shaking of my life with this diagnosis. But it's also mirrored the beauty of friendship and the beauty of holding tight to one another. My baby is the most lovely thing I've ever seen. His eyes are not my eyes--those extra folds, that space along the rim of his nose. But then again, my oldest son took his baby picture to school last week and his whole class (at least the girls!) said, "You looked just like Ace!"

IMG_20151017_125304726

What I'm trying to say is that we belong to each other. It's not always the surface similarities that make us look like one another.

Sometimes the walls shake and the tide washes into all the structures we thought were sturdy and the life we knew drifts away in a soft current, just beyond us, unreachable.

Life changes. And my life doesn't have to look like yours in order for us to love each other. We get to love each other anyway.

And so we wear our rainbow #ACEface shirts, in all its many forms. And we dance like crazy to Zumba and cheer for all the children who stand before us.

IMG_20151017_110941152

My life is not like yours, but we are each other's. Isn't that the story of the Church? All these years, all these broken parts, and still we hold to Jesus.

 

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When God Meets Us in the Wilderness

My friend Amber Haines released her book this past summer. That Amber Haines can write gorgeous sentences. And her book's theme of how our desires point to the kingdom we serve has challenged me to go back to another friend's book. Jen Pollock Michel's  is about the theology of desire.

Today I'm guest posting as part of Amber's Wild in the Hollow series on her blog, and thinking about Jen's words and what my own desires for comfort and ease reveal about me.

 

Here's a little peek:

There are parts of me that only want comfort, ease. I want a life of surface-level pleasure. I want my kids to be healthy and happy and get good grades and score winning soccer goals.

What is false desire and what is true desire? There are big longings in me: I want to win the hardest worker awards and be a perfect mom and be the person everybody loves, and never feel overwhelmed, or afraid.

But those longings for ease and a life where I’m not afraid? They are the shallow side of my story. They are desires that only scratch the surface of who God longs for me to be. My most real desires are the result of God’s grace in my life.

To get to my truest desires I have to be courageous enough to dive into the darkness, through the pain, and find myself on the other side in the bright sun, in the place where my false desires are exposed for what they are: fear, selfishness, comfort at the cost of others.

Rich, miraculous love exists on the other side of pain.

And to get there, I must first walk boldly into the wilderness, where God met Moses in a burning bush, where the people of God wandered for forty years, where Jesus fasted and was tempted. The wilderness is the space between the promises and the promised land. The wilderness is the pain between our shallow desires and our deeper, more real desires. We move from loving our own comfort to loving the things God loves.

 

Find the rest over at ! And be sure to check out both and . They are both worth your time and meditation.

 

 

 

(Amazon associate links included in this post.)

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