Sammy Turns 11…

Appropriate that another birthday draws me back to this blog. I am thankful for the time to reflect on one of the kiddos. This moment it is Sammy. He is growing before our eyes, and I am already beginning to realize we call him Sam more often than Sammy these days. 
Eleven. Seems like such a big change from 10. Each year he seems more and more grown, maturing every day.

His love of music continues, now developing in new ways as he begins the discipline of learning to play piano. He has flourished with this, and I love watching him learn new things…love the joy he derives from playing well and mastering a piece. He also benefits, of course, from growing up in a town where music surrounds us. He has had the chance to see some truly gifted musicians, and beyond that has had the opportunity to meet these musicians.

This birthday boy continues to loves to play soccer…

And we love watching him play!

Sammy, and yes I insist on still calling him that, is in his happy place on a computer hanging out at the coffee shop with us.

Eleven years. He has learned to move from being the little brother of all to being a big brother to one. He made the transition with grace…he has been patient and kind and a teacher to Maddie. Showing his characteristics of compassion and patience with her, and his great humor throughout. 


Eleven years, he is sneaking up on being more man than child, but I am thankful he is still filled with the joy of childhood. He still giggles uncontrollably at silly things. He has learned to become absorbed in stories, and I am thrilled that his love of story is growing. His love of God is tender and true. He has spoken nearly the same prayer every night in nightly prayers for probably close to two years. It is not a redundancy…it is a liturgy for him. 

So thankful for eleven years of his laughter and smile, his affection and his love of so many things. Thankful for the very key part of our family he is…for the way he lightens our lives and brings joy. I cannot wait to see how he continues to mature and to grow. Cannot wait to see how he develops in his skills in soccer and piano. Cannot wait to see the man beginning to show in the midst of his childhood delights and innocence. I’ll also delight in the fact that he is still child enough to want hugs and cuddles and being read to at night.


So, Happy Birthday, Samuel. Enjoy the sliders tonight and the cake and ice cream. Enjoy the presents and the notes from those who love you. Embrace 11 and continue to bring joy and delight and wonder along with you.

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Time to Look Honestly

“The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of millstones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them” -G.K. Chesterton

Cheery thought to start Thursday.

The reading I am following for Lent with She Reads Truth comes from Isaiah. The words today made me think of Chesterton’s words.

The Lord of Hosts removing any security from the people of Judah. Ouch. God allowing them to fall to what they truly were in that moment…they had rejected God and were living for themselves. God was going to allow them to follow that through. The result, according to the word of God through Isaiah, was going to be devastating.

People oppressing one another, desperate for a leader. There would be no stability, no security. Fear…that underlies the verses.


Until God says that there will be a day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious.  There will be a refuge and a shelter
.

The people could not see what they had become. They were fooling themselves, and as long as God allowed them to prosper in that state, they would remain ignorant and rebellious. When they saw the fulfillment of their reality, they would see the deep need for God’s redemption.

When we see ourselves honestly through Lent, we realize the deep need for Jesus.

This morning as I sit, I reached for tea instead of coffee. Something different, something to awaken my senses this morning as I just felt numb to the taste of coffee. And I love coffee. It had become bland to me though…and so I reached for something different. And I drank it from a tea cup my grandmother used with a sugar spoon my  great grandmother used.

 

I read and looked around at my life, which is very good, and realized that it is easy to be complacent in honestly looking at myself. It is easy to doze in the sunlight even when there is so much turmoil all around.

 

I know there is so much to pray for and about all around us. There are so many dealing with enormous challenges. Sometimes, though, we need the season to look inward. It’s not healthy to naval gaze without end…but sometimes we need the season to quiet down and look honestly at ourselves.

 

There is something about tangibly changing things. Lent provides the opportunity to change things, tangibly. And sometimes just a simple change…like giving up being judgemental, even for one of the 40 days, helps us think differently. Helps us look differently at ourselves and at our God.
Give up something, something noticeable. 40 Days of changing the routine.

 

Before God has to remove the security to get our attention. Sometimes God getting our attention is uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels like millstones rolling upon us. Because, the point is…we are fallen and marked by sin. We are in desperate need of salvation.
Sometimes that is not so easy see. Sometimes, though, we see true evil around us and are reminded there is a deeper reality. Ann Voskamp talked about that today:

And if I’m only dust — just my love alone in the world will not be enough.


If love is all we need in this world — I’ve got a problem.


Because, honest? Our love isn’t enough to absorb the evil that decapitates men’s heads, evil that rapes little girls, evil that steals and sells children as sex slaves.


There’s real active evil that’s not simply people acting — there’s real evil that’s more than a social construct, that’s more than someone’s bad choices, that’s not from any heart in this world, that’s not from any place in this world, that’s not from any mind in this world — there’s a supernatural evil that slithers into the corners of this world and pythons around hearts and minds until it strangles out the light and we scream against the dark.


At some point — in a broken world, your Love runs out, and You need a Love larger than your own to Love Larger than evil.

 

Looking honestly. Honestly like this takes some time to sink in. Some time to settle in our brains and then make its way to our hearts. That is one of the blessings of Lent…it takes its time. Time to understand the reality of sin, and of evil and of a love that is able to turn that all upside down.

 
A God who comes not overwhelming and not conquering, but instead comes unexpectedly and then dies unexpectedly. A God willing to suffer. A God willing to be in the desert and know what it is to be tempted and to suffer.

 
The reality of the Cross, the honesty of our need for that reality, Lent provides us the time and the space to remember.

 
Every. Year.

 
Lent is not just about giving up chocolate or FaceBook.

 
Lent is about changing our focus and about discipline, discipline in our thoughts.

 

Discipline in our spirits. We’ve just begun…find a book that helps you focus and helps you look honestly at the world and at yourself, and ultimately draws you back to Scripture to look honestly at the God who changes everything.

The Lent Mirror

Is this a Fast to keep

The larder lean?

And clean

From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish

Of flesh, eat still

To fill

The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,

Or ragg’d to go,

Or show

A down-cast look and sour?

No: ’tis a Fast to dole

Thy sheaf of wheat

And meat

With the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife

And old debate,

And hate;

To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent;

To starve thy sin,

Not bin,

And that’s to keep thy Lent.

-Robert Herrick

Ash Wednesday, today, the beginning of Lent. Another rhythm of the Church Calendar, drawing my attention away from news flashes and FaceBook notifications. This year it seems to come so early. That might owe simply to the intensity of the first two months of this year. I feel as though I have hardly taken a breath since toasting sparkling grape juice at midnight with the kids and Steve…

I have been looking forward to Lent this year, mostly because it provides an opportunity to lay aside some things and take up a focus my soul needs. I have ‘fasted’ from FaceBook before, and am doing so this year at least for the most part. I’ll post updates as I have a blog post, but the notifications are off and the apps are deleted. The season to settle down a little is settling upon me.

That does not mean, however, utter sadness or mortification. Lent has never meant that for me…it is more a narrowing of focus. A concentration for a season. It is difficult for me to concentrate on anything indefinitely…so this structure of 40 days brings borders I need. Lent brings this strange paradox of joy and hope with repentance and deep awareness of my sinfulness.

I am reading a study from She Reads Truth this year, along with a couple other books.

 

This morning I woke early anticipating some time to read and pray and think about Lent…only to find myself instead tracking storms and Steve’s progress to work. 80 mph winds. Tornado warnings. Garbage bins flying across the driveway. Little girls waking hours early…thankfully only to fall asleep again on the couch.

 

 

Somehow that seemed appropriate this morning: Lent calls us to look honestly at ourselves, to “Circumcise thy life” as Herrick says above. We cannot do that in isolation from the reality of our lives, though. The storms will still blow through, even as we turn our attention toward the salvation of our souls. Even as we discipline ourselves to look honestly at who we are, and then…thankfully…at who God is and what Easter is all about. We cannot think on these things without being touched by the storms all around us. This year probably more than most.
The storms are done here now. The cats are looking wet and irritated after being outside.

 

The youngest boy is playing piano.

 

    

 

Underneath all of that, at least for today, though, is the refrain from G.K. Chesterton:

 

“I have found only one religion that dares to go down with me into the depth of myself.”
I need the discipline of looking honestly at myself, of holding that awareness of my sin, and then of walking in the mercy and grace of God. In the midst of storms, and life…we need this season of pause, of directing our thoughts to the reality of God Incarnate crucified. Then, we can walk in the reality of Lent…meaning “spring”…and the joy and hope which comes.
Walt Wangerin said this in my reading this morning:

 

We have to see ourselves honestly in order to see the offer of forgiveness and redemption Christ offers as honestly.

I most likely will not post daily through this season, but will be posting some poems and thoughts from the readings. Take some time today…even if you do not feel the call to fast through the whole season…but take some time to look honestly at yourself in light of Christ. Oh, and if we could fast from “Strife and old debate and hate…” that would be lovely.

The Grace of Mourning

This whole week, it has been there, just under the surface. Creativing a tension and a weariness. Adding to the unpredictable nature of my late – 40’s womanly prerogative. This awareness of a deep mourning just under the surface. 

I was able to go home last week, back to New Mexico, with the youngest two kiddos. We ate an enormous amount of Mexican food and almost satiated my need for red and green chile.

We rode Clydesdales, or thought about riding them. 

We played late night solitaire with Grandpa. 

Mostly, though, in the midst of all of this, I went home to see my Mom. I’m not sure if she knew that I was there, and those of you who have walked this road of Dementia understand that. This is the most despicable disease. I have written often in the past about the sense of a long endurance mourning which accompanies this, a mourning which does not offer any release or any healing. A mourning at the loss of the person who remains physically  present. 


Each activity is marked by an awareness of our loss of Mom’s lively personality in our midst, even though she is present. She would enjoy so much her grandchildren, and they would so enjoy her.

So, this week I have been aware of this mourning, this desire to weep, more closely present with me than at other times. 

Her Dementia continues to change her, and those changes bring a new sense of loss. A new step in the mourning.  But it is this mourning that is held in check because it is not complete, and it cannot be given completion. There is such frustration in that. A word can set off a stream of tears and then it is hard to hold back the floodgates, because they have been restricted for so long.

I don’t like to cry. I don’t like to mourn. I don’t like to think of the what ifs and the should be…and yet I am realizing that we need to make the space for that. We need, in the midst of the difficult seasons, to give ourselves the space to mourn, to weep, to shout in anger at God (he can handle it), to give our emotions the needed expression. 

So many around us are carrying such deep, deep burdens. Within my acquaintances and friends I can think of those facing divorces, bankruptcies, children dying, houses falling apart, jobs in peril….deep, aching fear and mourning and uncertainty. Most all of these people have children and have the need to keep life ticking along, as we all do, so we tuck those emotions away and try to continue on. 

Until that guy cuts us off on the freeway and we lose it.

Or the lady at the grocery store looks at us funny and we fall apart.

Or we yell at our kids.

Or we just pull in to ourselves and begin to detach to try to keep the emotions in check. And we miss…we miss the moments we could rejoice, and we miss even the moments we could mourn and find healing.

I have quoted this from Buechner before:


“some moment happens in your life that you say yes right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. waking up to the first snow. being in bed with somebody you love… whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to business as usual, it may lose you the ball game. if you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul.” 


I wonder if the opposite is true a bit as well…if we find the moments that bear down upon our soul and break us, we need to cry out to God and weep. We need to not resist that mourning and allow ourselves the sorrow. Before it turns to anger because we have tried so valiantly to keep it in check.

David knew.

I cry aloud to God,

Aloud to GOd and he will hear me.

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;

In the night my hand is stretched out 

Without wearying;

My soul refuses to be comforted.

When I remember God, I moan; 

when I meditate, my spirit faints.” Ps. 77


He knew how to weep and cry out to God.

I need to read more Psalms. 

My Mom was a beautiful woman.

She still is. 


She has taught us much even through this season. She will sometimes catch us with her laughter, and it makes us pause to hear it. She is completely dependent on my Dad and brothers and I have learned that they are men of faithfulness and kindness and care in a way I never would have seen otherwise. 

I still would rather be able to talk to her. But this is what it is. 

Right now she is teaching me it is ok to mourn along the way…and she is reminding me that others carry deep burdens as well. We need to give each other grace in these days. Maybe the snarky waitress is holding back tears. Maybe the irritating driver is distracted by life changing and  difficult decisions. 

I write much about finding wonder and beauty…maybe, just maybe, today we need to hear that it is ok to recognize the pain and sorrow and give it the space needed. I wrote the other day about books being able to help with that Ugly Cry.   We were made to praise and sin and shout, but we were made just as much with the sensitivities to love and mourn and weep and have deep sorrow. Sometimes we don’t need much help, we just need to give ourselves permission. I usually give myself permission in the shower. 

Wherever it is, if you have been holding it all together for too long…allow yourself some time and grace to mourn. Then come back with a little healing under you and grace for those you encounter.

Hear my cry, O God,

Listen to my prayer;

From the end of the earth I call to you

When my heart is faint

Lead me to the rock 

That is higher than I,

For you have been my refuge,

A strong tower against my the enemy.

Let me dwell in your tent forever!

Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! – Ps 61:1-4

Thankful for the Push.

February 4.  Happy Birthday, Dad.

Almost 24 years ago, eating McDonald’s burgers just around the corner from the radio station in Albuquerque, you asked me the question that changed everything. I was the afternoon drive host, I was music director, and I was loving working in radio. I thought I had it all, but  you knew I needed to push beyond what I was doing.  You gave me the push.

“If radio is what you want to do, where do you need to go and what do you need to do?”

Nashville.

I need to go to Nashville.

I had never put it into thoughts that clearly, I had never put actions in place. That was October, and by January I was living in Nashville working at a radio station.  Now as I a parent, I wonder how difficult that was – to encourage me to move away. 

A year later you called and asked me how the radio career was going. Not so great. Turned out the move was not exactly wonderful for my radio career.  So you pushed again…not in an overbearing way, instead in a freedom giving and empowering way. 

“How about pursuing your Master’s?”

Maybe.

“Where would you go to study and what do you need to do?”

“Regent College.”

Another whole new path was opened, another place I was supposed to be, and you were the one who gave the push to get me there. In the year I had been in Nashville I had met someone, I had settled in and found a life in Nashville. The move was what was supposed to happen, just not for the reasons I had imagined. 

 A marriage happened. A life was beginning to take shape. Because a push had been given. 


My whole life you have provided the grace and the support and the confidence for me to be who I am. Ride a motorcycle at 5? Sure! Why not! Horses and climbing trees and shooting guns?! Absolutely!  I never thought anything was impossible, or at least never thought I shouldn’t try. 

I would not be the person I am or have the life I have if you had not asked me the questions you asked 24 years ago in McDonald’s. So many things you have shaped not through demands and overbearing, but through gentle guidance and encouragement. 

Thank you for always giving us the space as kids to make mistakes, the space to work and the space to play. Thank you for teaching me to love photography and horses, to love dogs and woods and birds.


Thank you for teaching me to love well, for teaching me that sometimes that means allowing people to move away because that is what God has called them to. Sometimes that means caring for those who do not know us any more, or know us only in moments. I’m grateful for your birthday to celebrate your sense of humor, your strength and the great favor God gave me and my brothers in giving us you as our Dad. 

I’m thankful my kids know you well. I’ve always had the coolest Dad. Happy 83rd. Eat some good chocolate and know you are loved.  Always happy to write your Happy Birthday Post, every year. 

Pause to Breathe

I am so glad it is Friday. This week has exhausted me. Maybe it is simply nearing another birthday…mine is two weeks away…mixed with all the emotions of this election and the issues being hilighted. Maybe it is the awareness of my mother’s presence and yet longing for her true presence. Maybe it is migraines that have been annoying me all week. I’m not sure…maybe just the culmination of all of that, but I am worn out today. 

I am thankful for Friday morning in the coffee shop with the oldest boy. Thankful for laughter and watching goofy videos.  Thankful for good books to read and for warm fireplaces.

Last night we had an Arts Night at the homeschool tutorial. Such talented kids, and so much joy. 

Sometimes it is easy, and I know this is stating the obvious, it is easy to think that everything is falling apart and the world is ending. It is easy to be overwhelmed. There is much to occupy our thoughts in a somber and heavy manner, and we need to take the time to think through heavy issues.

We need to take the time to breathe as well. And we need to take the time to rejoice whenever we can. We need the youth around us to celebrate and remind us to dance and turn the music up too loud. We need their talent and their energy. 

Driving yesterday with the youngest two I was caught by their delight. Silly, goofy delight in simple things. Running around with sticks like light sabers and building fires out of sticks and leaves. Pretending. Delighting. 

Living.

They do not have the weight of sober thoughts bearing down on them. 

I’m so thankful for their delight. 

So, it is Friday. Let’s take a breath and find something to bring delight, something to celebrate. Something to refresh. Something to bring wonder. We cannot exhaust ourselves in the heavy things only, or we will not have the endurance for the long journey we are on. We need these Friday mornings of reflection and calm. I know I needed it this morning. 

Let’s find a way to model for our kids today that we know how to delight and how to dance, how to rejoice. Especially in this season when they sense the tension and the uncertainty around them. Let’s remind ourselves of the good the Lord has done in our midst, and let’s point it out. 

I have the goofiest thing from last night, but it almost made me cry. I had a terrible headache and it had been a long day. Of course Arts Night involves a lot of sound. So, I picked up a coffee and came back a bit late…and realized I had the consequence of parking about a block away.

I forgot to mention the blister I was working on, didn’t I?

I parked and sat there for a few minutes, then simply told the Lord that I didn’t have the energy to walk that far and if he wouldn’t mind opening up a space for me. In the middle of the performance. You know, one of the six spaces in front of the building with 200 people. 

He did.  Actually two spaces. Maybe someone else had a headache and a blister.

Now, I can hear an atheist friend of mine snickering right now, and guffawing at my naïveté that the God of the Universe would open up a parking space. I know.

That’s why it almost brought me to tears. I would rather He would sweep in and solve some of our big issues and overwhelming prayers. I would love several things to happen so easily…but here’s the thing. Sometimes something very simple and very clear happens. We can guffaw and pass it off….or we can stop and realize He is telling us He is listening. 

I’ll take the latter interpretation. 

Leaving you all with two of the seniors from last night, Lilliana Napier and Joseph Gunnells, singing “The Prayer” from David Foster.​ Grace, my friends…we sure need it. And these kids are a great blessing of grace and delight.

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I do not understand…but I hope.

Indeed the Book of Job avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can only say, ‘I do not understand,’ it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat ‘You do not understand.’ And under that rebuke there is always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding.  — G.K. Chesterton

 

There has been so much dialog lately about strong women. Worthwhile dialog. Conversation happening between women I consider strong, and women I respect. Underlying all of it I cannot help but think of the woman who instantly comes to mind when I think of a strong woman.

 

Grant me a little grace on this post. I am not in the mood to define for you what strength in a woman should be, or how we should exercise our rights. In this moment, late at night on January 25, I am not interested in marches or or name calling. I am not interested in the vulgarity of a president, or the necessity of standing in solidarity.

 

Right now, I am thinking of a woman standing in her bathrobe just inside the the door of a bus. Remember the old buses with the door that had the handle the driver had to pull to close the door? She was standing just inside and the driver was pulling that handle for all she was worth, trying her best to slam that door on this woman. Didn’t work. Bathrobe. Coffee in hand, and rant about to begin.

 

I don’t remember what this substitute bus driver had done that so ticked off my mom, but it was a doozy. I remember coming home and telling her after the first day about our ride. I remember being upset, and I remember coming out that morning and watching my mother explain things in no uncertain terms. The bus rides were much better the rest of that week.

 

That was my mother. Strong woman.

momdad

I remember so many situations when she walked in a room and filled it with her presence. She was elegant, intelligent and incredibly witty. She had a flair and charisma that drew people to her and a generosity of spirit and kindness which made her friendships last for years.

 

She had a wit and a humor that could absolutely leave you rolling on the floor laughing, or stop you in your tracks if you were out of line.

grandmasammy4

 

Today was her 81st birthday.

 

So, why the Chesterton quotation? Because, I do not understand.

CadeGrandma

It is not that I think we deserve any great grace or dispensation from a disease, or that because she was strong she should have been spared. It is simply that today is her birthday and it continues to break my heart that she is lost to us in her mind.

 

That the strong woman walks with a shuffle and hums her songs now without a tune, with lyrics made of words strung nonsensically together. She has not known us for some time. We have been on this journey of Dementia for nearly ten years. My brothers and my Dad walk it with an intimacy and strength I admire beyond words, while I watch more from a distance.

photo

I do not understand why we have to lose her to this dark place in her mind. I do not understand why she does not know her granddaughter carries not only her name, but the set of her jaw when she is determined, and the quickness of her mind and her wit.

 

IMG_1720

 

Maddie Bday9

I do not understand, and God does not explain. He responds, “You are right, you do not understand.”

 

This is broken, and while it is broken there is still purpose. There is still wonder in the midst of the brokenness, and even here in the midst of this heartbreak, He is present and continues to work.

 

I don’t like it. I wish she could come to the phone and hear us wish her a happy birthday. I wish she could know. But still, I know that there is hope. I lean in on days like today and long for heaven. I long for the healing of the One who can make all things whole. The One who can make all things right, and Who can bring rest in the midst of all this chaos.

 

I remember late on Monday night I think it was, maybe Tuesday nights, listening to the tapping of the typewriter. Mom was the teacher for BibleStudy Fellowship in our city, and she would be typing her lecture.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap….and then that Whhhiiiirrr, SNAP! as she hit return.

 

Late at night, thoughts flowing. I inherited that from her, along with her strength and few other things. The setting of my jaw, for instance, when I’m really ticked off.

 

It’s almost midnight, but I will get this post in before your birthday is done. We need to hear about hope in these days. We need to be reminded…that even though we don’t understand, there is reason to trust and to hope. Not in man, but in God who has time and again proved Himself faithful. It is not easy, and some days we do it through tears, but we hope.

 

Happy 81st, Mom. I trust somehow you knew all the flowers that filled the house were for you.

IMG_0799

“”Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy,”” says David (1 Chron.16:32-33). And shall is the verb of hope. Then death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying. Then shall my eyes behold him and not as a stranger. Then his Kingdom shall come at last and his will shall be done in us and through us and for us. Then the trees of the wood shall sing for joy as already they sing a little even now sometimes when the wind is in them and as underneath their singing our own hearts too already sing a little sometimes at this holy hope we have.

The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for him whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived, have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us as he promised to remember the thief who died beside him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping. Praise him.” -Buechner