A Living Eulogy

 

A Living Eulogy to My Father on His 70th Birthday

I’ve only been to one funeral. A Father who was taken from his daughters, way too soon. I was struck by the powerful stories that his two young daughters, both still in college, shared about the way he had shaped their hearts and lives. I wondered if he knew. I know he knew the satisfaction and pride that comes with watching his kids grow into who they were meant to be, but did he know how much he contributed to that?

So you’re turning 70. I figure you’ve got a good 15+ years left, with plenty of vitamins and tequila to embalm your old organs, you could get a good 20-25 more. But since your old eyes won’t be able to read this small text, and your memory will eventually go to pot, I figured I’d just lay it all out for you now. I hope you’re amused by the tact of my dark British humour.

Since mom got to care for my more practical needs like keeping me fed, washed, clothed, and safe from imminent danger, my first memories with you are enjoying life.

I remember a lot of dancing. Not just a little butt wiggle or shoulder shimmy, but the blasting music, climb on tables and couches, all-out party, kind of dance.

I want you to rest assured that I have passed this ritual onto my daughters. Nathan was opposed at first, but our family room table has now become a platform for Bree’s and Elyse’s after dinner dance performances, ending in the nightly ritual of me leading a conga line throughout the house.

I remember you talking to me like I was an adult when I was as young as five-years-old. I never questioned if you were feeding me a lie, and you certainly didn’t bother with dumbing down words. The most obvious and memorable example, of course, is when you refused to play a silly game with us kids, responding, “I will not engage in your childish endeavors.”

We would have serious conversations about life, and I never felt like you were belittling my feelings or talking down to me. I see the conversations I now have with Bree, and they remind me of our talks. I don’t think I realized how much I was becoming like you, until one day during one of Bree’s tantrums, I threw up my hands and said, “Bah! You’re being grossly overreactive!”

I believe I am a writer because of, and in spite of you. Because of course, you weren’t afraid to tell me that my writing was crap. Every good writer needs a good editor, and you were mine. From the first poem I wrote at ten-years-old, when you read it and shook your head, “No, this doesn’t make any sense,” to the hours you put into poring over my high school papers, you were always willing to spend time with my work. I remember the smug pride I felt my senior year of college when you told me for the first time, “this doesn’t need a single edit, I don’t know if you need me anymore.” You didn’t just approve of my writing because I was your daughter, but you challenged me to look at my work honestly and pushed me to tirelessly improve.

You are my spiritual mentor. This isn’t because you are some kind of saint. Hardly. But that’s the beauty of it. Through all your cracks, you let God shine through. You went to church in the best of times, and in the worst of times. When we didn’t go to church you would have us all gather on the floor in your bedroom and read the Bible with us and pray. I remember poking you in church one time because your eyes were squeezed shut. I thought you’d fallen asleep. But you put a finger to your lips and shook your head, “Shhh. I’m praying.” Then I put my elbows on my knees, squeezed my eyes shut and tried to pray. I think I fell asleep.

You talked openly about guardian angels, and Satan, and God’s return and new creation. I still remember sitting on the faded grey, velvet couch when you tried to explain that I shouldn’t live like I was, “of this world.” It sounded ridiculous. But I trusted your words were seeds of wisdom that I tucked away, hoping someday they would make sense. Now as I read my girls the Bible and teach them about our faith, your words come back to me. The truths that you sewed in me when many would have thought I was too young to understand, have been growing roots, that now support my faith—faith that I now share with my daughters—knowing that though I’m not a saint either, but I trust that there’s power in speaking God’s truth to them too.

As you can see, you’ve had a bit of an impact, because of, and in spite of who you are. God is good like that. So now you think you get to rest? No. Since this is a living eulogy, I get to say a word of prayer over the next 20+ years.

Father God,

I pray my dad’s soul would dance.
I pray that he could let go of agendas, expectations, and to-dos,
That he would dance with joy before you.
I pray He would delight in you, and invite others to do the same.
I pray he would find soul-filling rest,
That he would challenge those around him, in a spirit of love and unity.
I pray that he would find a place to use his gifts and share your truth,
Even when it seems like no one understands and is listening,
That you would use him to sew seeds deep within hearts.
I pray for satisfying work, for abundant fruit, and joy.
I pray that he would lay his fears before you,
That you would break the chains of self-doubt and need for control,
So that he can walk in step with You on the path You have already carved out for him.
Lord, we know he wants to leave a legacy.
Help him to see the legacy he has already left,
Help him to invest in them.
Help him to show up, to be honest, and available,
To continue to be the living example of imperfect progress,
Of human weakness and contradiction that’s redeemed by your grace,
As a living sacrifice and testament to your power and truth.

In Jesus Name
Amen

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How to Get Through the Hard Anxious Day


I’m doing something a little different today. Instead of waiting until I feel cleaned up and inspired, I’m coming to you in the midst of an anxious day. I woke up, and instead of feeling clear-headed and optimistic, my mind feels a bit jumbled, everything around me seems a bit blurred at the edges. I can’t explain why, but my heart feels in a state of unrest. This would normally be a day that I would avoid writing altogether, and especially social media–or I would look at my newsfeed and wonder how everyone else always seems to have it all together. 

Let’s be messy together.

I’m inviting you into my messy space right now. Dishes are in my sink, my coffee is cold, and there are trails of toys throughout the house. The kids are bickering in the background, blasting their favorite Jana Alayra song, “Jump Into The Light” and tossing brightly bedazzled dress-up dresses like confetti.

It’s spring break which has been hard for my anxiety-prone brain. I do better with routines and plans, instead of long, lazy stretches of undesignated time. I feel restless and unsatisfied. Amidst these confusing contradictions, my heart feels weighed down with the needs of kids, unmade meals, and unmade beds. My mind feels on constant overload with kids buzzing underfoot looking for new ways to make messes, and asking for a snack every fifteen minutes. The worst though is the guilt that pokes at the back of my mind, inviting in the other bully, shame. Yes amidst the hard anxious feelings, the worst of all might be the guilt that shames me when I don’t feel grateful, satisfied, and serenely peaceful with my circumstances.

I am grateful and satisfied with my life, and God offers me peace again and again as I enter into hard places. But that doesn’t mean that I always feel grateful, content, and peaceful every day, in every moment. 

So here we are, in this mess of life together, with tangled emotions and untidy hearts. I could wrap all these hard emotions and struggles up in a tidy bow of encouragement, but I won’t.

Instead, I’d like to tell you that these days will come. I believe there are ways we can walk through the hard feelings and unsettled nerves of these days, and allow God and others to walk beside us. I believe that these hard days might be the places where God is shaping us for His greater purposes. 

Here are a couple thoughts that are helping me get through this day. I hope they can help you too.

Be honest with those around you.  If you feel messy and uncertain, then invite others in and let them speak truth to your heart. This could include your children. When I have an anxious day I will tell my family, “today is a hard day.” My four-year-old daughter will nod with a look of concern, and love. She’ll hug me and remind me “Jesus loves me.” My husband will give me more understanding and grace. I try to offer myself more grace and space as I move throughout this tender kind of day.

Colossians 3:16 “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (NIV)

Be Honest with God. I find it hard to pray when I’m having a hard day. My prayers come out as run-on sentences and unfinished thoughts. But God doesn’t need me to have it all together. He doesn’t need a pretty prayer to meet me–I believe He wants all of me, in whatever place my heart is at. Jesus himself prayed in soulful shouts and desperate pleas.

On the hard days, moving through the long hours is an act of obedience to God; obedience when I give my heart to Him each time my thoughts threaten take me down a dark winding path; obedience when I show love to people around me even when it doesn’t flow from me effortlessly. On these hard days, from my first breath to my last waking thought, my prayer never ends. As I wrestle to turn my face to Him again and again, my day becomes a living, breathing prayer.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

Serve others. There are some days when all I can do is tend to the people God has placed right in front of me. I need to accept my limitations and set healthy boundaries. Then there are the days when the best thing I can do is get outside myself. Sometimes talking to a friend that’s struggling, sitting and reading silly stories to my kids, or cooking a delicious dinner for my family is the best thing I can do to get out of my own head.

Take His power in place of your weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9) Once this hard day is over, we’ll be wiser, stronger, and more compassionate. We are empowered by Jesus who entered into the weakest, hardest places in order to bring reconciliation and grace. I remember that somehow, by God’s power, he can use my anxious mind to grab hold of Jesus more and more–and by some kind of miracle, He can use my brokenness to make others feel wholly loved through Him.

So join me in entering into this vulnerable place, friend. This world means social media, and surface conversations, polite smiles, and hidden truths, but we can crack open these exteriors and let His love seep into the secret hurts and struggles that need His healing. It starts with being honest in front of God and others. My prayer for you and I is that we find space and time for that. I pray that we embrace the slow sacred work that He does in our hearts, minds, and lives, even in these hard, anxious days.

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Believe it or Not: This Time Will Pass



Dear Reader & Friend,

I’m sorry I haven’t been writing to you. Life has been full with good things and a to-do list that seems to undo itself–a house that seems to unclean itself each week. But you get it. You feel the same way, having trouble finding time to pause, and breathe in God’s goodness; time to think and ponder and dream. I pray you find time for those life-giving activities this weekend. 

I felt a pressing truth I needed to squeeze in a moment to tell you.

THIS TIME WILL PASS

This time will pass of waiting with questions, and answers that are too big for you to wrap your thoughts around.

This time will pass of mind-numbing work, wondering if you’re making a difference.

This time will pass of sleepless nights and foggy days, up round the clock feeding a needy human that pulls the life from your tired body.

This time will pass of tension in your home–thick silence as you wade in the muddy water of hurt and resentment.

This time will pass of sticky kisses, and “Mommy I want you,” and “Hold me.”

This time will pass of aching uncertainty, chest heavy with rocks, minutes passing like gravel through your tender heart.

This time will pass of “honey I’m too tired,” or “let’s sneak away,” like school children stealing a few sacred minutes together.

This time will pass when you feel called to something greater, but tied to something that’s needed. 

This time will pass of arms and legs pulled in every direction, lap always full, your body never your own.

This time will pass of childlike enthusiasm, curious questions, and “just one more” story.

This time will pass of a confusing blur of doctor appointments and medicine, side effects, and charts of numbers to explain your painful reality.

This time will pass of holding hands, and wrinkling your nose as you laugh at an inside joke, looking at each other with certain love, and fragile hope.

This time will pass of feeling breathless from a pain too big to feel at once, and loss too big to ever fill.

This time will pass of hoping and trying, and waiting, and testing–the crush of another negative, the painful push to keep trying.

This time will pass of disappointment, of resentment and hurt, of unmet expectations, and longing…

This time will pass of smallness, of innocence, of dreaming, and planning…

This moment, in its mundaneness, its beauty, its pain, its plainness–it will pass.

It will all come to pass.

So we must rub our sleepy eyes, and pay attention. We must tie our heart to the present, and offer our presence, to show up, to love, and to trust that each moment is writing a beautiful story of redemption and grace, woven into the greatest love story ever written. 

 

 

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Rest in HIS ENOUGH

I am with you now.
In the wandering, in the waiting;
when your plans didn’t work out.
When your dreams aren’t coming true.

I’m with you in the uncertain space.
Where there are more questions,
than answers.
Where your fears feel bigger than,
your hope.

I’m with you although you feel all alone,
It might surprise you,
but you aren’t the only one;
that’s longing, searching, praying,
for things that are bigger than you can dream.

Longing for understanding;
searching for meaning;
praying for more.

But in this quiet moment,
As you hush the stirrings deep within you,
Let your heart long for more
than you could ask or imagine,
and yet,
Let your soul rest in His ENOUGH.

Knowing, believing, praying,
that when He says “IT IS FINISHED,”
that means His work in us,
IS JUST BEGINNNING.

And it is very good.

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For a Friend


For a friend,
I would move mountains for you if I could,
I’d cross a river, a sea, my love,
to bring your wandering heart home.

But I know thats not what you need,
I know that this is your battle,
That I must love from afar, and stand watch.

So I will be a bird, perched outside your window,
Singing you songs of light and love,

I will be the soundless whispers of love,
In the dark pitched night.

I will fight for you by never giving up on your heart,
By cradling it and lifting it to God who will,
Breathe it back to life.

I will wait for you, hurt for you, hope for you,
Quietly, without expectation, knowing that,
Your heart needs to be scattered, and broken,
To make a path home.

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I Fall Short as a Parent…& Why That’s Good

Her face turned on itself, going a shade of red, as globe-like tears slid down her cheeks. Guilt entered and sat on the couch of my conscience, heavy and unmoving like an unwelcome guest. It was too late, the harsh yells had already ripped out of my throat, still burning and bitter in my mouth. But I saw my little girl with the wounded look in her eyes, and forgot my anger like a lost penny.

I opened my arms up and picked up her damp, warm body, her four-year-old frame was swaddled in a towel. I was the reason for her tears, and yet she nuzzled in my neck for comfort and protection.

It had been a long day stuck at home. Our family has been trying to go gluten-free and so my head hurt and I was irritable. More than that, as the girls giggled and splashed, carefree in the bath, I had been reading about the blood bath of another high school shooting in Florida. When Bree resisted getting out of the tub, after my fourth request, I lost my composure. I gave in to my temper, like you give into a donut, a satisfying rush in a moment of weakness.

My vision blurred, and I let out a command that was half growl, half yell, “Get out of the bath NOW!” It wasn’t the words exactly, but the volume and intensity that they came out of my mouth that communicated a level of anger and frustration that I show only in my most unflattering moments.

After our bath time incident, we silently went about the rest of our bedtime routine until it was time to pray together. I couldn’t just act like it didn’t happen. I didn’t know the perfect thing to say, as a mother who found myself acting more like the child. I’ve never been the kind of mom that kept up the pretense that I’m always right or perfect, rather I keep an open dialogue with my girls about how much I have to learn, and how much I mess up; even when it comes to being a mom. So I just let words tumble out, hoping God would season them with grace, like He seasons my salty soul.

“Bree, mommy just talked to you in a way that no one should talk to you. I yelled in a way that I’m ashamed of, and I’m sorry.” 

Having been trained by her dad, how we can extend forgiveness to one another, she uttered in her small person voice.”I forgive you mommy.”

“Thank you. If I get angry and shout like that again, which I probably will, is there a word you can use with me to help me remember this conversation?”

A beat of silence then she answered with resolve, “Please stop, I don’t like it. Its not okay mama.”

“What Bree?”

“I’m practicing. I will tell you to stop mom, and that I don’t like it. Because its not okay when you talk to me like that.”

Her words surprised me, but they also made me proud. I was expecting some small code word, but here it was—she was doing as I asked, telling me that talking to her like that wasn’t okay.

Its not okay. She is an innocent child and her heart is meant to be loved and protected. But yet, in this moment I realized that it is in the small act of being vulnerable, admitting my weakness, that I can let God enter in to do His sacred and unseen work.

I imagine her saying those words when a friend tries to belittle her with shaming words, when a boyfriend tries to touch her in a a way that is violating, when someone treats her in a way that invalidates her, or makes her question her worth.

Parenthood is the way that we model healthy relationship with our children. But, that doesn’t mean a healthy relationship is free of misunderstanding, dissatisfaction, anger, and conflict. Rather, we live out a healthy relationship when we unflinchingly face these challenges, and still show up and love each other. As a mother I’m tempted to shush and silence the inconsistencies and imperfections in my relationship with my daughters, but in the end, I know it feels inauthentic. While small and imperceptible, I know that they ultimately create giant gaps in out closeness to one another.

For me to show up as a mom, I need to show up all the way—flaws, and failings and all. Its in this vulnerability that I trust that God will work good in me and through me. I trust that God will work good, in all the ways He’s made me good, but even more beautiful and unfathomable, is knowing and trusting that He will accomplish good even when I fall terribly short.
Its not okay. Its not okay to trade our pretense of human perfection for His ultimate perfection that is accomplished only when we realize, as parents, as children, as husbands or wives, that we can’t get everything right. Its in this admission that we’re free to be ourselves more authentically, to truly be present and honest, and to let God do the work that only He can do.

Psssst! I’m trying to grow my readership so I can get traditionally published, kind of a major feat these days. So if you like what you’re reading and think others will benefit…it really helps me out if you share with your friends! xo

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How to Find Holy in the “Offensively Ordinary”

 

This morning I read about Nadia Bolz-Weber’s story about being stretched to fit a mold of herself she didn’t recognize. A story of how God challenged her to be something she didn’t think she was, in order for Him to use her to reach a people who needed God’s grace–akin to a story many of us know of Jonah going to Nineveh, but not before a struggle.  For Nadia, Nineveh was speaking at a youth conference, when she saw her audience as sarcastic and skeptical adults.

This morning I read her words about an offensively ordinary God, who uses “offensively ordinary things,” to reveal Himself to us. Yes, Nadia and I agree “that this God has never made sense.” But even more, I love how she reminds me what this means for me too:

“And you don’t need to either, because this God will use you, this God will use all of you, and not just your strengths, but you failure and your failings. Your weakness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful, so don’t think all you have to offer are gifts” (Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints, pg 38)

This leads me to ask myself (and God), “Why aren’t you stretching me like this God?” because, if I’m honest I feel a little bored with my life. My stay-at-home mom existence certainly doesn’t look like Nadia’s challenge of speaking to thousands of difficult teenagers. For a minute, I stubbornly challenge God, “You aren’t stretching and challenging me to do great things God.” Then my mind returns to my own life challenges–I notice the sag of my tired body, kept up all night by a nursing toddler gymnast. I release a guttural noise, a confused half-breed of a cry and a laugh. In this ripe place of pain and uncertainty, of fatigue and resignation, God challenges me to be present in the places I don’t want to be either. In such a time as this, God is stretching me, my ego, my assumptions, and my patience. 

My older daughter, Bree, really wants to share a room with Elyse. She doesn’t think its fair that the three of us, and the dog, pile into our queen sized bed, while she sleeps alone in her room. Every night we pray together, “God please help Elyse to wean and start sleeping through the night so she can share a room with Bree.” 

I believe that there is power in prayer. I believe that prayer unlocks a Heavenly shift in our earthly reality. But this doesn’t mean it shifts in the way that we envision. God is moving in my present circumstances of nursing all night, and bed-sharing. He’s moving somehow in and through my sleep deprived body and is present in my addled thoughts and resentful reality. I had to chuckle when one morning Bree shared her dream with me. She dreamt God was raining down milk on the Israelites. They were drinking the milk until they turned into ghosts. I wish I had a Joseph to make earthly sense of what this dream could mean.

“Maybe Elyse will just nurse for her entire life?” Bree asked, smiling brightly.

“Lord help us!” I said with thick sarcasm and exasperation.

“Amen,” she responded with passion and enthusiasm.

I don’t have any qualms about a mom that wants to nurse her 28-month-old toddler through the night. Power to you sister. But I was never going to be “that mom.” No, for me, my cute baby would be healthy and ordinary (tongue in cheek). My cute baby would wean at the appropriate time–and sleep through the night too. I believe every mother should choose the path of motherhood, feeding, sleeping, nurturing, that works best for the whole family. I believe that in a theoretical way, like, “you do whatever works for you.” But for me, I’d rather not challenge the mothering norms. Yes, in my mind, nursing my 28-month-old and co-sleeping, challenges my own assumptions of what my mothering journey should look like. As my reality scrapes against my ideals, I see God using “offensively ordinary” things to challenge who I think I am.

In the past I’ve seen the things that others see as “shameful,” as opportunities to connect and stand in the light. This morning as I wrestle with my messy and imperfect reality, I want to hide it. I want to pretend my mothering journey is all the things beautiful and “normal” that fit squarely into a photo on Instagram. But then I feel God nudging me, whispering to me that this is where he wants me to stand in His light.

So here I stand. I stand here in this area that feels grey. I feel the thick seeping darkness beckoning me, to hide in the shadows. I’ve started thinking how I can hide from my friends the fact that I’m still nursing, because I feel embarrassed at this point. I feel like I’ve failed to help my daughter reach the next milestone. But for some reason, like Nadia, God is challenging me to stand in the bright lights, on an unfamiliar stage, to use my shame and weakness to usher in His love and grace. I really want my challenge to look much more glamorous, like speaking in front of thousands of sarcastic teens. But my audience is through this little blog, lit up on computers of stay-at-home moms, working moms, grandmas, dads, and grandpas, old friends, and new ones I haven’t met yet. My prayer is in this messy reality God stirs the contradictions and doubts in your mind. That God can use your “offensively ordinary” circumstances to move mountains that you don’t even know are there.

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Brave Means Taking The Very Next Step

We think brave is shown in a big defining moment. But what if brave is something more humble? Sometimes its easiest to muster all our brave for the big earth shattering blow, but its the days that follow that sometimes take the greatest courage.

Putting on that cap and gown, saying “I do”,  getting the first glimpse of your baby’s face…these are the milestones that forever change the fabric of our lives, but its the ordinary days, after days, that layer together to build a lifetime..

As a teenager with social anxiety, my family was so proud that I had the bravery to go out on a stage and perform as Dorothy in Wizard of Oz. But the crowded auditorium and staring eyes were white washed under the bright lights as adrenaline propelled me forward through my choreography. What I couldn’t form words to explain to my parents is that it took more bravery some mornings to walk through the double glass doors of my school, day after day to the overwhelming buzz of small talk and what felt like critical stares.

Sometimes the initial blow overtakes us in a consuming wave that leaves us disoriented and underwater. Bravery comes as easily as swimming to the surface and finding air. But once we find our bearings, as we stand and begin walking to the waters edge, its the wave after wave that slowly wears us down and steals our strength.

Maybe brave isn’t withstanding the waves but finding the strength to get back up and take the next step. Maybe brave is getting out of bed when depression covers you like a thick blanket. Maybe brave is staring at your precious daughter, her face covered in an angry red rash and smiling past the tears that threaten, to tell her, “darling, you’re beautiful.” Brave is your 15th round of chemo, bringing your dad lunch as he recovers from brain surgery at the hospital, or making coffee and taking a shower two days after you kissed your wife goodbye after her final breath. Brave is raising your daughters, working a job, and supporting your husband while secretly battling the aches of a chronic pain. Brave is the wife beside her husband’s hospital bed after a year long fight with a disease that no one has heard of. Brave is having Christmas in a makeshift apartment as you rebuild your home that was lost. Brave is forgiving the husband that cheated. Brave is facing cancer for the third time and still fighting with all you’ve got.

Maybe brave isn’t dressed in the clanking armor of Saul, but the regular human flesh of you and me, filled full of an unshakeable God-sized hope. Brave doesn’t mean we have to be bigger than the giants that we battle, or the storms that we face; brave isn’t as strong as lions, or hate; as powerful as death. No. Brave is knowing WHO IS. 

Brave faces an uncertain future and grasps on to an unshakeable hope.

My dear brave friends– with shaking legs and outstretched arms I lift you up in fragile prayers, to the One who will hold our hearts and makes us brave.

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What I Want This Christmas

Its the final sprint to Christmas and I’m standing at the crossroads of anticipation and sadness. I love the festivity that Christmas brings. It brings people together in joined anticipation. It gives us a reason to wear pretty clothes, and string up lights, and hang wreaths. Our hearts beat a little faster at Christmas in preparation and excitement. 

But what happens the day after Christmas when the paper is torn and the shopping malls rush to disassemble it all? Its a day we don’t discuss in the days leading to Christmas, a day we put up on a shelf to face when we must, when we’re forced to look at our weight on the scale and long list of to do’s reserved for “once Christmas is over,” once again.

But before you think I’m a total Christmas buzz kill I’m getting at something, I promise.

I’ve heard about Christmas wishes of the different children in my life. Bree wants a unicorn, Hannah wants a bike, Ava wants an IPhone. I have my own little list of the things I’ll shop for at the after-Christmas sales. Then I think of the famous song by Amy Grant, “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” I would love for those hopes to be fulfilled too. Things like “no more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, that time would heal all hearts.” Yes please to all three. But as grown ups we know that we live in a world that will always be a bitter blend of beautiful and ugly–that on this side of Heaven, restoration comes in the dark corners and broken bits of life.

So I sit here looking at the twinkle of my tree, and a glimmer of hope in my children’s eyes. My heart is full of hope, and love, and faith, and yet a deep ache for something more. Something more that I’ll have to face on the other side of Christmas, but is hushed to sleep with sugar, and wine, and pretty paper.

It challenges me to ask how I can take the bright hope of Christmas into the days that follow. It challenges me to think of the things that I can unwrap on the 26th, 27th, the 30th, and January, February, July, and the long dark days that scatter between.

So, this is my Christmas list:

  1. Laughter Every Day– Even if its laughing at this mess of life, I want to find a reason to laugh every day: kid’s belly laughs,  laughs that cramp my stomach and escape in tears at the corner of my eyes. I wish for bowls and bowls of laughter.
  2. Heart to Heart Conversation– The kind of talk that makes me feel seen, the beautiful mess I am. I wish that this year I see more people holding out their hearts so I can cradle them–more people that know me enough to love me through all my aches and victories. More time with the people that already do.
  3. Inspiration– Whether its books or poems, center pieces, or paintings I want my life to spill creativity, and the hope that it blooms.
  4. Song– I’m learning that music lifts my mood and inspires my words. I want to remember that even on the days that feel too somber for song, that I need to turn it on, and let the hope crack open my heart.
  5. Ordinary Grace– I don’t just want the holy grace that I experience in the words of forgiveness from a pastor. I want to share and experience the reckless grace from loving wildly. I want my kids to learn grace as a life, and not just a precious word between the pages of scripture.
  6. Messes and Face Time– I want to abandon my chores to read my kids books, to cook impromptu muffins, or to leave my house in a moments notice to sit and listen to a friend in crisis.
  7. Lovely Contradiction– Too much of my life I’ve wanted to organize things in a way I can understand them. This makes me the ultimate judge and curator of life. I’m learning people are a knot of complication and nuance. That I’m not called to understand or approve but to love and be love to a world that doesn’t have enough.
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Every Day Christmas

As a kid on Christmas morning, I would gaze at the pile of papered packages beneath the tree, searching for the big one—with my name on it. Biggest was best, of course, and so I would spot it, pick up the oversized gift with my child size body, and place it at my parents’ feet. I perched and pleaded for my turn to unwrap the promise contained within the bright and festive Christmas paper.

Our first year in Orange, I learned that St. John’s does “big,” well at Christmas time too. Big crowds pack in to worship within an ornately decorated sanctuary, aglow with strings of lights and candles, colored by brilliant stained glass windows, and humming with breathtaking music. St. John’s also does big outreach events for the holidays, things like hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas for kinship families, Project 23, and Operation Christmas Child. I love all these things, and more, about my church.

When I first came to St. John’s, I just stood in awe, taking it all in— all the vibrant ministries, all the worship opportunities, all the talent and history. I came from a small church, where I was the big fish, and at our new church, I wasn’t sure of where I fit in.

But like a God who would send an infant to a manger in Bethlehem, to make his grand appearance, I found my place at St. John’s enfolded in the humble and gracious fabric of its people.

On Ash Wednesday this year, we received word that our daughter, Elyse, had a rare auto-immune disease called Juvenile Dermatomyositis. It quickly spiraled, and a week later, Nathan and I cradled our 18-month old in the hospital, so weak she couldn’t walk or lift her head.

By God’s grace and provision we were able to get back on our feet, and with treatment, Elyse has been doing remarkably better. But, on Mother’s Day, a pipe burst in our bathroom, leaving our family of four displaced from our home for three months.

I thought I would find my place at St. John’s on a platform, but little did I know I would find it within the space of my greatest vulnerability and need.

It was in these circumstances I experienced St. John’s story through eye to eye relationships, through humble and heartfelt generosity, and the love that spills into the cracks of ache, like a trickle from the altar.

In my deepest pain I encountered the sweetest mercy, through loving home cooked meals that tasted like grace. The Haiducs can make a mean lasagna. One day a box of “busy bags” showed up from an army of St. John’s moms, with toys and crafts that lifted Bree’s spirits and kept her busy, and scraps of Bible verses to keep me going. One day a bouquet of dandelions and ingredients for smoothies was dropped on our doorstep. A check arrived in the mail to meet the amount due for an overdue hospital bill. The Friendship Quilters made a quilt sewn and tied with hope and prayer for our Elyse.

I shared on Facebook one day that Elyse’s sun sensitivity had gotten worse, and two days later, someone showed up with a princess parasol for her. While the teachers at St. John’s gathered hand drawn Bible verses and other inspiration in a book, for our family. Classes of kids drew cards of encouragement, and bowed their heads in countless prayers for a baby girl they knew only from pictures.

When our house filled with water, St John’s families showed up with towels, and buckets, strong arms, and hot boxes of pizza. As we tried to get our house ready to move back in, two high school students from church, volunteered to watch our girls, as a St. John’s life group of 6 people arrived in work clothes, to vacuum, mop, and organize.

I love big gifts. This year I’m thinking about getting my girls a Barbie doll house to unwrap on Christmas day (Shhh! Don’t tell!). I love sitting in a magnificent, century old church, and feeling small, as I join my voice with an overwhelming chorus of worship. But lately, God is helping me to appreciate small gifts too. He’s giving me eyes to see the small gifts of handmade love and outstretched hearts that tell the story of St. John’s through community, and relationships.

I think thats the story God was teaching us with Christmas too. Instead of a big platform, God sent his son in the helpless package of soft, baby flesh—displayed for shepherds to worship in a wooden manger surrounded by livestock. Immanuel, God-with-us, came to Earth completely dependent on relationships, for a mother to love and nurture, and a Father to guide. Jesus began his ministry by becoming close friends with twelve other men, by touching, by healing, and by serving people.

Tonight I’m grateful for my baby Elyse. I’m grateful for every smile, for every step she takes, and when she twirls, I watch in awe. I’m grateful that God uses babies to remind us of who He is. I’m grateful that, through her, God has taught us what St. John’s is all about—God sized love—in human packages.

So I guess this Christmas, the question I’m left with, is how do I continue the story?

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