The Blank Page

I’m coming back to the blank page. If you’ve never written, or don’t know what that’s like, it’s a little like coming to a new year. It feels fresh, new, full of endless possibility, and a little terrifying.

The dawning of a New Year brings a time of reflection. Some of us take a moment to read over what’s already been written. We look back on what’s come before, we assess what the past year has brought us, done in us, and the ways it has grown us or wounded us.

The New Year is a time of decisions. We decide how we want to live our coming year. We decide that we will eat less chocolate, or eat more chocolate, or that we will go to the gym more consistently, or that we will be more present to our families. No matter what we decide, it’s up to us. We can’t delegate the results of that decision to someone else. We are both the CEO’s and the “Assistant to the Regional Manager” (for all my fellow fans of “The Office”). We make the decision at the start, but then we also are the ones left to follow through. The way we live the New Year is dependent on us, largely. In a sense, the New Year, like the blank page, is solely what we make of it.

The New Year takes us inward, where we must face what’s inside ourselves, and watch it emerge onto the page of our lives. For me, the turning of this calendar page is bringing some healing introspection, but it’s not without some sting. Probably like you, I’m a complicated mess of contradictions, of triumphs and emotional scars, of wonder and beauty and definitely a whole lot of ugly.

So the blank page, where there’s potential for all that’s inside to be exposed, is tricky. The blank page is the feeling of exposure. The reason it’s scary is not because there’s a lack of words, but precisely the opposite. There are so many words that I’ve been avoiding the page.

But just like I can’t avoid the New Year—it comes no matter if we stubbornly write 2016 on our documents or not—I can’t protect myself from the blank page. My computer aggressively stares me down from across the room, so I’m finally giving in. I have a hunch that the words that appear may be a little more introspective, perhaps more vulnerable.

I believe what appears on the page will reflect the theme I sense God giving me for 2017: “further up and further in.” I think there are things deeper within myself that God wants to bring to light, both to heal and to expose, and maybe someone could benefit from seeing those, too, even if only to know you’re not alone. I also want this to be a year of discovering who God is in deeper ways, of diving further into the truth of Jesus, and the truth of who I was created to be.

blank-page

In keeping with the theme of vulnerability, here is a true picture of my morning. Please note the work out pants that I am using for, well, um, working out my feelings as I sit on the couch. I actually had every intention of exercising… but then, you know, I didn’t. Instead, I ate Christmas candy, as evidenced by the wrappers, above. Baby steps. I am at least wearing the pants. The very stretchy pants.

So, what is your theme for the New Year? I’d love to read about it in the comments!

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Peace on Earth (or Happy Grunting Day)

Here’s a post I wrote for our church’s Advent reader on the theme of peace for this week:

http://www.waypointomaha.com/advent-week-two-2/

The other weeks have readings written by my dear (and very talented) friends, so if you’re looking for something to aid in reflection this season, please follow along all month long!

But before you read that, I have a little story to tell. On Peace. To keep it real, people.

Two weeks ago today, we embarked on a long-standing tradition: putting up and decorating the Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving. I’ll give you a moment to feel all the warm fuzzies that sentence just evoked.

…Ok, there you go. That was your moment. The moment is over. Just as it was for us two weeks ago. I affectionately call the Friday after Thanksgiving “Grunting Day,” because as soon as my sweet partner-in-life begins hauling up the boxes of Christmas paraphernalia from the basement, the grunting begins. After five moves, the box which houses our Christmas tree is basically shreds of cardboard, so just getting it up the stairs in one piece is quite the feat. As he then stares down the open box, spilling over with dusty piles of green and wire and tiny lightbulbs, you can see the dread and disgust in his eyebrows.

As we wrestle the poky-scratchy limbs to cover up the gaping holes, the grunting grows. And then, folks… The absolute worst, most infuriating part of this day for my poor husband:

The lights.

Let’s all just admit that the stinkin’ lights are the nemesis of all jolly dads everywhere. Murmurs and grunting increases as we discover (or more like remember) that two of our pre-lit sections are burned out. We fiddle with the microscopic bulbs for approximately 3 minutes before deciding to just throw some new lights on those parts and move on. It’s for the kids, right? They’re not going to notice.

Meanwhile, our darling little cherubs are running around causing mayhem, bickering, grabbing at all the family heirlooms and fragile boxes, and completely distracting us from the war we’re raging against the angry twinkle-light-gods. Mercifully, I happen upon the plastic nativity my aunt kindly and wisely gifted us with a few years back, and send them downstairs to play with it. Phew, good thing we found that.

Just as we were remedying our twinkle-light shortage, blood curdling screams come screeching up from the basement. Ben (eager, I think, for a break from the God-forsaken tree) hurries downstairs to save the day. So much waling. So much stomping. So much anger. He arrives just in time to narrowly miss a wise man zinging past his head.

“WILLA WANTS BABY JESUS AND MARY BUT SHE CAN’T HAVE BOTH AND NOW SHE TOOK THEM AND SHE’S THROWING EVERYONE EVERYWHERE!!!!!” A camel flies across the room, attesting to the truth in Audrey’s story.

Of course. Of course the conflict is over poor innocent baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace. After Ben somehow masterfully calls a ceasefire and regains order, he returns to find me wrestling with red ribbon, covered in glitter.

We look at each other and shake our heads. As he comes to rescue me from the ribbon, I mutter “Peace on earth,” under my breath.

Happy grunting day.

And here is our finished product. I think Clark Griswold would approve.

tree

Advent 2016: On Hope

It’s a dreary, dark, wet day today—not at all how “Christmastime” is supposed to look. Instead of crisp white, the world is covered in drab browns and grays. Instead of gentle flakes quietly falling, the noise of the rain, and even thunder, can be heard throughout my house. This weather feels like an intrusion on our Christmas spirit, but at the same time is bizarrely appropriate.

Today is the first day of Advent, a season of waiting, watching, preparing for the arrival of Jesus. And this week’s theme is “Hope.” The weather of our dreary day seems to be a parallel to Jesus’ arrival, which occurred at a time of dismal circumstances. For 400 years, the prophets had been silent. God himself seemed to have abandoned his people. They were living in oppression under the rule of a harsh empire, and their generation didn’t even have a memory of what it was like to not be waiting. They had literally been waiting for centuries, longing for any glimmer of hope the Messiah would certainly bring.

Today’s gospel reading (from The Book of Common Prayer) comes from Matthew 25, where he tells the story of the 10 bridesmaids watching for the bridegroom. With the last sentence, Jesus tells us the point of whole thing: “So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.” Advent is not only a time when we enter into the waiting of 2,000+ years ago, it’s a time when we recognize what we’re all still waiting for: the time when Jesus, our Messiah, will come again and put everything in the world right again, for good. Our hope is not just in the salvation that broke through on that starry night in Bethlehem, it is in the coming salvation, once and for all, of the world.

“And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

I’m finding that I’m coming to the last month of 2016 much like the past several years: weary, drained, and a little sad. I have COUNTLESS things for which to be thankful, and my life is a testimony to God’s abundance, but I find that somehow my expectations for this season—that it be peaceful, magical, happy, and full of quality time with family and friends—often go unmet. Are my hopes for this season too high? Very probably. But I also realize that I’m putting my hopes in the wrong things. I’m putting them in feelings, in ways of spending time, and in circumstances. When our hope is in ANYTHING but Jesus himself, things crumble. We will be crushed with the weight of disappointment.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”

thrillofhope

Jesus is truly a thrill of hope for my weary soul. Jesus, the one who says “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus, the one who breaks into the darkness of gloom of our present as the Light of the world.

He is hope.

May we all put our hopes securely in him, as we await his coming.

After the Sugar…Solitude.

candywrapper

After the chaos of last night, this morning is exactly what I need. I’m sipping my black, sugarless coffee like its a cure for the sugary, frantic consumption of last night. I’m breathing deeply, inhaling this perfect, crisp morning air. I’m drinking in all the beauty I can find, and it’s everywhere. I’m nursing myself with these views, and countless ones like them on my walk home:

I’m wrapping the solitude around me like a safe, cozy sweater. I need a little nurturing today. After feeling like I’m getting trampled by rabid, horrifically costumed teenagers on the hunt for candy, I need the rest of my quiet backyard.

The rainbow of trees, the crunch and shuffling of the leaves, the birds singing…these are all my medicine today. I had a thought, as I shuffled down a sidewalk temporarily paved with bright golden leaves: ”…streets paved with gold.” Heaven can break through in our very tangible lives if we’ll allow. If we look for it, only for a moment, I think we’ll all find the beauty our souls need to keep going in the midst of this crazy, broken world. I saw enough beauty, just on my walk home today, to overwhelm the darkness. The problem is that I rarely shut off the noise to receive the beauty. You see, it’s patient. It’s not rude or forceful. It waits for us to notice, and in our world there are so many distractions. We are shouting at each other. Constantly. We are making declarations. We are blaring our opinions and being careful to broadcast what we do and do not approve of. And we’re devouring everyone else who’s doing the same.

Stop. Listen. Just shhhhhh. Embrace the silence. The beauty is waiting for us. Instead of asserting ourselves, or even “informing” ourselves today, let’s nurture our souls. I have a hunch if we’d spend more time in quiet, we might have more love and beauty to bring when it’s time to finally speak.

If you have no idea where to start, here’s an idea:

1. Turn off the computer.

2.Turn off the TV.

3.If you can’t stomach LITERAL silence yet, put this song on repeat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vUhwyjdk8A

4.Head out into the sunshine for a walk. Notice things. Take note of anything of beauty, anything that makes you smile, or brings your joy. Drink it in, and fill yourself up.

On Tithing to the Toilet

 

Well, folks. Let me give it to you straight. There are those Sunday mornings where the stars align, the “get-along” and “be happy & pleasant” fairies wave their magic wands over the children while they sleep, all goes according to plan, and everyone is dressed and cheerfully out the door on time for church. (Theoretically. I say that in faith that this occurs for someone, somewhere.)

And then there are those Sunday mornings when your kid drops their offering money down the toilet at the moment you need to leave. Mmmhmmm.

toilet

I’ll let you guess which kind of morning I had. God bless us, every one.

On this particular morning, I had ensured the small ones were dressed and fed, and then popped upstairs for my long and involved beauty routine quick chance to pee, apply deodorant, brush my teeth, and put on something other than my 11 year old hoodie and flannel pants. When I was fully clothed with clean teeth, I thought hey, all is mostly quiet downstairs. Maybe I can actually apply some—*gasp*—makeup! Three whole extra minutes to disguise my zits and make my eyelashes a half a millimeter longer! Oh, the luxury!

But a lot can happen with a three year old in three minutes, people. Don’t be fooled. Silence is not golden. Silence is the warning signal of impending disaster.

After I’d finished my make-up, and gotten just cocky enough to think I might have time to do something with my hair, I hear a blood-curdling scream from downstairs. You know, the kind where there’s an eternity of complete silence right after while the individual inhales for the next, even louder scream. Then it’s just non-stop wailing. From the sound of it, I was judging we had a level 3 injury on our hands. Maybe a little blood, but probably nothing hospital-worthy.

When I rushed downstairs to comfort the victim, I found no blood, and no visible injury of any kind. The response I got to my standard “Where is your owie?” question was completely unintelligible through the wailing, so I decided to simplify. “Do you have an owie?”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO”

“Um, ok. What happened? Why are you sad?”

“MY MOOONEEEEEEY!!!!!! I DROPPED IIIIIIIIT!!!!!! IT’S IN THE TOILET!!!!!!!!!!”

(What is it with my kids and dropping things in the toilet?!)

So of course my very calm, older, and more mature child zoomed straight into the bathroom to check, and confirmed with gusto what Willa was trying to communicate. “OH NOOOOO!!!! SHE DROPPED HER OFFERING MONEY DOWN THE TOILET! WILLAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!”

Oh dear. By great concentration, I will myself not to burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of the moment, and try to bring the household back to a level of peace and sanity we would consider healthy. (In hindsight, it actually does concern me slightly that we had that level of outrage and despair over the loss of a few cents, but maybe to a person who only earns $1 a week, 13 cents is a considerable amount.) I tell Audrey to calm down, because this is no big deal, and to go to her room and take deep breaths. I find that separating the crazy actually reduces it quite a bit. Divide and conquer.

I held Willa and consoled her with all the most comforting things I could think of. When nothing worked, I desperately rummaged through my wallet, and miraculously found $1. “HERE! Look, this is way more than what you lost, sweetie, you can take this if you want!”

“I DON’T WAAAAAANT THAT KIND OF MONEY!!!!!!!”

Ah, yes. The difficult concept that paper money is actually worth more than coins. Tricky with toddlers. I rummaged a bit more and found 2 pennies. That did the trick.

With Willa placated by the pennies, I turned my attention to Audrey. “Honey, this is nothing to freak out about. It was a total accident, a complete mistake, and it doesn’t matter at all!”

“MOOOOM! But that money was IMPORTANT!”

“Honey, it’s not the money that’s important, it’s our hearts. God doesn’t care about the money. He cares that our hearts are grateful and generous. I promise you this is NO. BIG. DEAL.”

She looked at me with very confused and skeptical eyes.

I looked at the clock. We had to get out the door, so I added,

“Also, I gave her a $1 she can give in the offering.”

“Oh, great. PHEW!”

I guess we’ll have to deal with skewed theologies of God and finances at a later time.

Happy Sunday, friends!

On Zombie Flamingoes: Why I Love My Neighborhood

On my way home from school drop-off today, I’m taken aback again by gratitude. I’m thankful for SO many things, but every day as I walk home, I feel especially thankful for our neighborhood. Which brings me to the first reason I love it: it’s completely walkable. I walk our oldest to her school, and then my little and I meander on over to her preschool, whose start time is just after. Honestly, I can’t even believe that this is my life–I pinch myself often. Then I mosey on back to our house to enjoy a couple hours of silence while I work or read or write, or go for a jog (which lasts usually about 10 minutes. I use the word “jog” very generously).

On our stroll to the library a couple months ago, Willa and I heard the summer drone of landscaping companies: leaf blowers and commercial mowers pulling up and spreading out to do their jobs like worker ants in a colony. We live in a neighborhood where these companies can be seen everywhere on a warm day, caring for the lawns of houses that are vacant during the working hours. Actually, it would be much more accurate to say we live adjacent to this type of neighborhood. In midtown, it sort of all bleeds together.

Our particular block is a hodgepodge of residents: some renters, some homeowners, a journalist, a retired teacher, a pastor, and a few I don’t know…One of our neighbors has an impressive garden in his backyard, complete with ducks roaming around that we hear quacking when our windows are open. “What’s that sound?” people will sometimes ask. “Oh, you know, our neighbors’ ducks.” Our next door neighbor hires out his yard work, and one neighbor at the end of the block doesn’t mow, nor does he pay someone else to. They prefer to live in a jungle, I guess. And it’s the type of block where no one complains about that sort of thing. I like that. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s cookie-cutter living. Let’s not pretend we all came out of an assembly line, where some uncreative, bored-to-tears deity made a stock model and then shoved us all in stock-model houses. That gives me a Stepford-Wives-creepy feeling.

I love that when I walk my daughter home from school I’m with families of literally EVERY variety: black, white, hispanic, asian. I see Nikes and Havaianas, I see purple hair and I see hijab, I see Lulemon and I see lungyis, and it makes for a colorful, beautiful afternoon. It reminds me of the vast, unsearchable creativity of our God, and the beautiful tapestry of people I know we will see at his banquet table. I fully expect that we will all be utterly shocked at the scandalous diversity in Heaven someday. And not just of colors, races, and ethnicities. I think we’ll be shocked at all the people we meet whom we thought were wrong. I’m talking me, included. We’ll all be there only by the lavish grace of God, which is the most beautiful thing in the universe.

When I think back to this winter, when we didn’t have a clue where we’d live or where our kids would go to school, I am overcome. I prayed so fervently that God would lead us to the right place, that he would make it very clear where to live, what to do about the girls’ education, and I knew those things were connected. I prayed two prayers regarding our home when we were house shopping:

1.) God, please give us a home that will be a soft place to land for our family and for others, a haven to welcome others and show your love.

2.) God, lead us to the neighbors we need and the neighbors who need us.

I can tell you he’s answered those ABUNDANTLY. I wouldn’t say that ANY of our neighbors need us, but I will say that being a part of community where people know each other and can lean on each other feels so good. Our rental house was definitely God’s provision, and it was a great blessing, but our neighborhood there did NOT feel like a community at all.

In contrast, I have neighbors now who leave dessert on my front porch, who offer to babysit, who bring us homegrown chard, who get out their own equipment and help my husband trim our tree, unsolicited. We are so incredibly blessed. I pray I never take this for granted.

If all that were not enough, here are a few other reasons I adore living where I do:

Oh, yes, and let’s not forget this. I saved the best for last. On my walk home today, I saw this in a neighbor’s yard:

flamingoes

Then, just two doors down from that, I saw this:

zombies

Obviously after encountering this, I am just overcome with love for where I live. I’m not sure I even need to explain this. Just…obviously. Fantastic.

Five Things I Want My Daughters to Know

you-dear-girl-will-change-the-world

The air around us this election season is poison, and on the chance that our daughters are getting even a whiff of it, let’s be the kind of mothers and fathers that give them an oxygen mask. Let’s tell them the truth relentlessly, because our air is full of lies that threaten to enslave them. That’s not a fear tactic, that’s just reality. I have been enslaved by lies, and I want better for my daughters. I will not be afraid, but I can’t stick my head in the sand. I want my girls to know where I stand and to know who they are.

1. You are the boss of your body, not ANYONE else, no matter how powerful they may seem.

Even if their so-called “power” comes from their title, their wealth, their position, their intelligence, or their appearance, they do not have the right to your body. He might be your boss, your teacher, an upper classman or the captain of the football team. He might even be your crush. But NO ONE is the boss of your body except you. Don’t believe him when he says you are responsible for “meeting his needs”. You aren’t. Don’t believe him when he says no one else will love you. They will, and they do. Don’t believe him when he says you won’t get anywhere without giving out favors. You will. Women do, every day. And even if it means reaching your goals a little slower, it is BEYOND WORTH IT. Dear girl, YOU ARE THE BOSS. YOU CAN SAY NO.

2. If someone crosses a boundary, say so. 

Speak up. Don’t be afraid. Tell me, tell a teacher, tell the principal, tell a co-worker, tell a friend, tell the authorities. Your dad and I have got your back, and we will ALWAYS be proud of you, no matter what you tell us. We are your cheerleaders, your biggest fans. You have plenty of amazing people on your team who are ready to stand up for you should you need that. You are not alone.

3. If someone is using language that makes you uncomfortable, or is disrespectful, speak up. No matter who is telling you to “lighten up.”

There are a whole lot of phrases like “boys will be boys” and “locker room talk” being thrown around right now. You need to know what is normative and expected of people of all genders, and one universal expectation is respect. When someone tells you that disrespectful speech is normal, ask yourself: “Does my dad talk that way?” Does it honor people or hurt people? Does it lift up or does it tear down? I expect you, my daughters to be respectful in your actions, words, and attitudes. You can expect the same from others. Period. And if others are not being respectful, you can say something. You are free to choose not to be around that person. And if it is talk that involves hurting others, tell someone.

4. Don’t believe people when they tell you that “ Because you’re a woman/girl, you have to…/you can’t…” It’s a trick.

I’ve been hearing that if you’re a woman, you MUST vote for a particular person (that particular person changes, depending on who you talk to). I’ve been told that because I’m a woman I MUST go to work and pursue a career, and I’ve also been told that because I’m a woman I CANNOT go to work and pursue a career. Neither of those are true.

You are a unique person with a unique path. You have a brain. You are SMART. Your opinion matters, and your voice deserves and needs to be heard. I have been amazed and proud at what comes out of your mouths when we present you with facts and ask what you think. It’s ok to think differently from the crowd. Listen to the still, small voice inside you when you have a decision to make. Yes, it’s wise to seek advice from those you respect, admire, and who love you. But you are very capable of using the brain God gave you. You’ve got this.

5. You are a child of God, and that—not anything else—defines you.

Your worth is not in your outward beauty, though you are so beautiful it scares me sometimes. Your worth is not in your brain, though you are incredibly smart. Your worth is not in your humor, though you make me laugh daily. You will only be truly free when you know your identity and walk in it. Your worth is in who you are at your very core, and that can never be taken from you.

You are loved beyond what you could ever imagine. Live your every day walking, talking, breathing in the knowledge and strength of that love.

You, dear girl, will change the world. In fact, you’ve already made it better, just by being in it.