The Monday That Changed The World (as we knew it)

It was an ordinary Monday. They make the best memories.

I was wearing a faded Invisible Children shirt, doing paperwork from the couch on my old laptop, listening to Yanni. Sunlight was streaming in through the blinds making patterns on the wood floor from the layers of leaves. The house smelled like air-conditioned summer.

I finished paperwork and called Dave. He was harvesting wheat. “We’re going to run the rest of this field, so I won’t be home for a little while”, he said. In between my questions about his plans, my phone beeped an incoming call. I glanced at the screen to see who it was, and suddenly our entire lives changed.

The strange thing about this day, June 25th, 2012, (yeah I’m a day late, but it’s a Monday memory most of all) that I can go back and entirely relive 5 years later, is that it holds pain and sadness as well as excitement and joy.                                                    

I was aware of the paradox in those first moments. I’ve become far more in tune with it as I try to consider the world from my daughters’ angle, see the anniversaries and memories and holidays through their eyes, framed by their loss.

For a while, I felt the sorrowful side of these anniversaries so heavily I hardly mentioned them, almost ashamed of the joy that was also there.

As I anticipated this date and felt conflicted emotions with its memory, I realized I was doing it again. Trying to fit life into an either/or category, when the human existence is mostly always a both/and.

The story of June 25th is the girls’ birth story into this family, after all, and they should get to hear it.  What child doesn’t love to hear her parents fondly reminisce about the day they found out, the sheer joy of finally seeing the face of their precious child? This one is theirs, and there is no lack of sheer joy.

So this year, I tell them the story with enthusiasm, about the call that changed our whole world. They laugh when I demonstrate how I had to sit on the floor because my knees were shaking so hard. I tell how the dog raced around the house, not knowing why I was crying and gasping and laughing and laying on the floor. How their Daddy had to make Uncle Kendall drive the combine because he was shaking so much from the call. How he cut his harvesting short and I ran barefoot until my feet nearly bled to meet him down the street so we could come home and open the pictures for the first time together. How we stayed up late that night, reading everything we could about their story, practicing saying their names, dreaming of meeting them for the first time.

And they grin but their eyes glisten with emotion when I describe how we sat side-by-side, looking into photos of their tiny faces, and wept. Overcome at the unimaginable fear they’d experienced, at the privilege of becoming their parents, at the loss from which our family was being born.

Then it’s our turn to listen as they ask questions, stare at pictures of their own little faces and giggle at the sight of themselves, and then begin to reminisce. Quickly stories of their homecoming surface. Cy tries to remember the first time she saw a photo of us, but gets sidetracked with details of friends and caretakers. “Not to be disrespectful”, she prefaces, “but the blankets they gave us in Ethiopia were TERRIBLY itchy!”. Not to be left out, S chimes in with her own “memories” of eating applesauce and learning to crawl.

They’re full of animation tonight, and I’m stern with myself about not getting all up in my mommy-stalgic feelings as we look back at photos of this day over the past 5 years. After more reminiscing with Cy, S wants her turn at the mic again. I’ve watched her emotions building just below the chatty surface. She wants to tell something she remembers, but it’s from last night. It starts out as a dream about a monster, but quickly turns into a sincere telling of her awaking last night thinking Mommy and Daddy were lost. She tries to tell it nonchalant, but one big tear escapes on the final word. She climbs into my lap and wraps her body around mine, and I’m in full on comfort mode until she asks to hear “her song”. (Each girl has a special song I sing to them.) Midway through John Denver’s croon of I’ll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand, my emotions stage a revolt.

I manage to regain territory before she sees my tears. She relaxes in my arms, and when the next song is Thank God I’m a Country Boy, we all end up in a kitchen dance-off, seeing who can come up with the weirdest country moves. Laughing and crying, Laughing and crying. We’re learning the both/and dance too.

The human heart is capable of honoring both the joy and the heartache.  

Maybe some years they’ll be desperate to see and hear and revisit every single detail like they were tonight. Maybe some years they won’t want to go there at all, and we’ll let June 25th pass for an ordinary summer Monday.

But I’ll treasure it always in my heart, the day that held the biggest surprise. The highest anticipation. The fiercest love. The gravest responsibility. The scariest lack of qualification. The heaviest sadness. The sharpest juxtaposition.

The best both/and day of my life.  

 

I'll walk in the rain by your side

I'll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand

I'll do anything to help you understand

And I'll love you more than anybody can

~John Denver

 

 

What a Wonder

I see trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom, for me and you

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

~Louis Armstrong

 

Blue skies from horizon to horizon. Lazy drone of a plane. Sunlight filtered through dancing leaves. Every color of green on exhibit (the corn around our house is wearing a shade so flamboyant with life right now it could grow legs a walk away). A kite tail of white butterflies lifting and diving over the purple thistles. Hummingbirds hovering over geraniums.

I present to you, Summer.

It’s Solstice, and in my humble opinion, the most wonderful time of the year. (Andy Williams, can we agree to disagree on this one?) As I’ve watched this summer’s birth, I’ve had one phrase run through my mind over and over: what a wonder. Watching baby wrens leave their nest in our basement? What a wonder! (Husband had a slightly different phrase about bird-watching from within the house. But he’s too much a softy to disrupt the nest or the hearts of three girls thrilled to be watching, so he let it go. Just this once, of course.) The kids playing sweaty, meeting new friends at the park? What a wonder. The smell of summer rain? What a wonder. The rainbow reaching high as the heavens from the setting sun, turning the whole sky aglow? WHAT A WONDER!

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My love letter to summer could go on for days. It’s a season of extravagance; copious in color, in warmth, in daylight hours, in opportunities, in life.

Yet I have unpleasant tendencies of either turning the lack of schedule into laziness, or turning it into a scarcity. I told Dave several days ago I felt like summer was already passing us by too quickly. He responded, “I don’t think it’s even started yet.”

This year I’ve had a vivid desire to live these lazy hazy crazy days of summer more purposefully. (Anybody else just take a 30 minute Gilmore Girls detour after that phrase? Good luck getting that song out of your head. Thanks, Taylor.) To be more intentional about how we play and rest and spend our energy and time.

I’ve identifying some priorities, some better time management practices, some ideas to make sure each week we learn and explore and connect and love with purpose.

Mostly, I’m intent on noticing the wonder. The word “wonderful” is perhaps overused and easily sounds like everything is rolling hunky-dory. That’s not my life, nor anyone’s that I know, and certainly is not the world around us. But considered as inspiring delight, pleasure, or admiration, there are wonderful things everywhere!

Some days we just have to look a little harder.

Honestly? I’ve spent the last year noticing more keenly the brokenness, the injustice, the great human heartache, be it of refugees, victims of hate crimes and racism, or the teens living here in my tiny town. It’s often had me like a deer in the headlights, wide-eyed and paralyzed. It’s made me hesitant to embrace laughter and joy, afraid that light-hearted fun would somehow disregard the suffering simultaneously present.

But it hit me again lately that it isn’t either/or. It’s both/and, especially when it comes to joy and sadness. They don’t negate one another. If anything, they validate the other.

I’m committed to empathy and justice, to holding up weary hands, to listening and grieving. But I’m also committed to better embracing the joy. To living wonder-full, inspired and delighted by the good, meaningful, beauty around.

Summer seems like a pretty great teacher.

I have a hunch that living more wonder-full makes for less wander-lust. There isn’t time for restless discontentment when we’re wowed by the beauty right before us.

Here’s to summer. I hope it is flowers and fresh fruit, laughter and play, adventure and rest, sunsets and fireflies, meaningful work and relationships. I hope your heart is flooded with all the goodness of God.

I hope your summer is wonder-full.

I’ll be posting a photo nearly (and I’m careful to phrase it that way) every day, of some wonder that catches my eye this summer. If you capture your summer moments on Instagram, stick the hashtag #summerofwonderful on as well, I’d love to see what all you're noticing. 

Here’s a reminder I’m giving myself, in case you need it too: not all the photos have to be incredible shots, and not all the sentiments behind them have to be giddy with happiness. Wonder can be found in the frustrating, grimy, disappointing, and down-right rotten days too. Look around. Look around!

What a wildly wonderful world, God!

You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,

Made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

~Ps. 104, Message

 

Reading {AND WINNING!!} Good Books

This list of books has only sat here waiting on me to share it for 6 weeks. If it’s dated in February, it still qualifies as a “New Years” post, right?

There are a variety of factors contributing to this post's tardiness, not the least of which is that I basically re-read 3 or 4 of the books while doing my “research” for the post, and also had nostalgic flashbacks of all the year’s highlights as I listed each one.

When you think about a book you’ve read, does it take you back to the season, place, or experience you were having while you were reading it? I think of a book and suddenly can smell the salty sea air, feel the anxious motion of the plane over the Atlantic, hear the May chorus of birds feeding their young and mosquitos feeding on skin.    

And, as if “reading” while driving to the gas station, chopping onions, cleaning the closet, brushing the dog, clipping one’s nails, etc. etc. wasn’t a good enough list of reasons to adore audio books, I’ve concluded that listening makes the recall even more vivid. (Did you think you’d get my book list without paragraphs of audio book accolades? Think again. I need to become a paid affiliate for Audible already.) Something about listening engages the senses even more. I’m pretty sure this is scientific, John Tesh can you back me up?

Good books, in any form, have the ability to expand your imagination and exposure to the world, while also enhancing the current reality you’re in.

I didn’t finish as many books last year as I’d hoped, although 16 is a fitting number for 2016. The older I get, the slower I’m reading. And no, I don’t mean because my eye sight is going bad, contrary to the assumption of my teenage friends, who think 30 is basically one stumble away from the nursing home.

I just don’t rush through, desperate for the end anymore. I’m intent on catching the nuances and letting the story sink in, so I re-read pages and hit the 30 second replay again and again. Hopefully this appreciation for the journey over the destination I’ve found in reading will become a trend in all areas of life.

Ok then, here are the books.

Asterisks mean I would read again/recommend. (A) means audio.

Nobody’s Cuter Than You- Melanie Shankle (A)

Why Not Me?- Mindy Kaling (A)

Everything You Ever Wanted- Jillian Lauren (A)

*What’s So Amazing About Grace- Philip Yancey

*Big Magic- Elizabeth Gilbert (A)

Me Talk Pretty One Day- David Sedaris (A)

*Help, Thanks, Wow- Anne Lamott (A)

*Bittersweet (read again)- Shauna Neiquist

*Tattoos On The Heart- Gregory Boyle

Obsessed- Ted Decker

*Man’s Search For Meaning- Viktor Frankl

*Present Over Perfect- Shauna Neiquist (A)

*Coming Clean- Seth Haines

*Quiet- Susan Cain (A)

*Behind The Beautiful Forevers- Katherine Boo (A)

**Rising Strong- Brené Brown

A quick rundown on my three favorites:

Tattoos On the Heart- Boyle’s life is full of the most colorful characters (who also happen to have colorful language), and his stories enable us to see beneath the rough exterior of a population often written off as despicable and dangerous, to the tender hearts inside. The book gives a glimpse into his decades of experience living and serving in the gang capital of the word, and allows us to see beyond the political rhetoric surrounding border control, poverty, drug dealing, gang violence, etc. and into the living, breathing, aching human hearts we often miss. Tattoos On the Heart is heartbreaking and hilarious, filled to the brim with grace and compassion.

You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language that it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.

 

Rising Strong- This book is perhaps an example of my taking savoring too far. I started it in February, and, desperate to absorb the message, read a page or two at a time and didn’t finish it until after Christmas. Brené brings understanding to shame, sensitivity, empathy, vulnerable relationships, and whole-hearted living. Her attainable research and real life examples have been instrumental in my emotional healing and growth. Choosing one quote to leave you with was nearly impossible since I had no less than 17 pages dog-eared, and hardly one of the 280 was without underlining or with exclamation marks in the margins.

 “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

 

Coming Clean- Memoirs are currently my favorite genre, and Seth Haines’ did not disappoint. In the chronicling of his journey to sobriety, we can all find our stories even if alcohol has never been our vice, because none of us are strangers to pain, fear, emptiness, the ache of unanswered prayers, and the doubts that try to flood out faith.

“…the friends of Job, the agnostics, the atheists, me—we all grope about for God, trying to make sense of his character. Some of us fancy ourselves theologians, rest in structure and our practices. Some of us float about on mystic spirit winds. Others live in doubt or disbelief. But we are all together, bumping into each other as we try to make sense of this cosmic moment we call life. We are sometimes the abusers, sometimes the abused. But even still, we are always loved by God; we are called to love like he loves, too.

 

Honorable Mention: Quiet- I can’t miss the chance to put in a quick plug for this book. It was a little dense for audio and would be easier to digest if read the old-fashioned way, but I highly recommend it. If you’re an introvert, a highly sensitive person, are fascinated by personality types and the history, science, and culture behind them, or struggling to understand a loved one whose personality drastically differs from yours, put this book in your Amazon cart asap. It’s full of fascinating studies, examples, and stories that keep it interesting and not text book-ish.

And now for the fun part…A free book!! Comment here or directly on the social media post and share one of your favorite reads from last year, and also which book on this list you’re most interested in. You can comment again and tag a friend to get more entries. I’ll select a random winner on Friday the 3rd, and send the winner their book of choice from the list. Happy reading, friends!

(*Giveaway is now closed.)

Dear Refugees

Dear Refugees,

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If I lived near an international airport, you would have found me in the crowds last week, holding a “We Welcome Refugees” sign.

I've had the tiniest glimpse into the process of obtaining a visa and becoming a U.S. citizen.  I’ve felt a hint of those breath-held moments, shuffling through paperwork, handing over passports, and praying every piece is in place and there are no additional interrogations, searches, or requirements.

Just weeks ago, I overnighted two more envelopes of complicated documents to the USCIS. A college degree, a few years of getting familiar with government forms, and speaking English since birth didn’t save me from nail-biting over which numbers to enter and boxes to check. I would have made errors if it weren’t for the detailed help of friends who’d filed the forms already. This update alone cost over $700, and I waited nervously for a confirmation, knowing if they were deemed incorrect I would be out the money.

My experience is an anemic comparison to yours. My citizenship was secure; I had nationality, language, color, financing, and religion on my side. My two daughters, joining our family from east Africa, were tiny and couldn’t create a security concern if they’d tried.

Still, I well remember the “Welcome Home” sign that awaited us as we walked down the airport terminal toward a crowd of smiling faces.

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I remember the relief in a warm hug, the need to know that my immigrant daughters, our new family, would be welcomed and gladly woven into the rich and colorful fabric of the United States’ diverse society.                           

I’d do anything to give a piece of that warm welcome to you.

Some of you have tenaciously traveled through storms of weather and war, pressed through exhaustion and illness, endured prisons, camps, death threats, tedious interviews and endless paperwork, only to find yourselves denied.

Some of you were so close to the fresh start you could taste it. How harsh the disappointment of being turned away, sent back to face thousands of dollars lost, expiration dates encroaching on hard-earned paperwork, and despair of not being reunited with loved ones waiting for you here.

My friends, the strength and courage you carry within you is remarkable. I grieve with you for whatever hardships you’ve experienced to bring you to this place of needing to find refuge. I’m broken over the humiliation and despair you must feel as you see months and years’ worth of work dissipate before your eyes, feel the assumptions that you are bad or dangerous or somehow a lesser human because of the piece of the world you were born on.

I speak for myself and my family and a powerful number of compassionate Americans, when I say that you are truly, deeply, welcomed here.

If I could, I’d meet you at the airport and drive you to our farm this very night. I envision us pointing out things around the country side and trying to tell you what they are. We would laugh at our pitiful attempts to speak the words of your language, and admire your tenacity in learning how to speak ours.

We’d fill the grill with hamburgers, and stand around the stove tasting the flavors of your favorite dishes while you taught us your special recipes. We would smile to see the empty seats filled around our table.

When all the hungry stomachs were full, we would offer you beds with piles of extra blankets.

Then, If we could somehow explain and ensure through the language, culture and religious differences that we were not causing you to feel shamed or afraid, we would kneel and unlace your shoes. We’d take them, with their dust from another land, their soles bearing stories of walking for miles, of running in fear, of blood on the streets, of aching and shaking and sweating and shivering, set them aside, and wash your weary feet.

Not because we’re holy rollers, with super spiritual rituals we do every sundown or something. Not because we’re worried about dirt on our blankets. But because we are desperate for any way to fellowship with you in your sufferings, to esteem the immeasurable worth of your souls, to repent of prejudices and pride in our hearts and our nation, and to impress upon you that we are not governed by fear.

It’s not that we’re naïve, adamant no refugee could ever do us harm.  On the contrary, we know every human is capable of rancorous wrong. But a greater force, a Light that blinds hate, a Love that casts out fear, has captured our souls. Grace wipes the windshield of our blurry vision and gives a glimpse into the depth of our deplorability, and then shows us a glimmer of the Imago Dei in every single soul. 

This is our fundamental mission: “In the same way I [Jesus] loved you [I fed the hungry, fellowshipped with outcasts, extended grace, forgiveness, a warm welcome into the family of God, and gave up my very life], you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples- when they see the love you have for each other.”

I don’t know your names, much as I wish I did. But I know someone who does, a Father who’s kept track of your every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered into his ledger, each ache written in his book.                              

Until I can seat you at my table, call you by name, and share my abundance of blankets and food and acres (the inequity of which is a constant throb) with you, I give you my earnest word: you are not forgotten. There are so many here committed to standing in the gap for you. While it may seem as if our nation is playing “She love’s them, she loves them not” with you, we will not relent in seeking solutions, in praying, in caring for your family and friends already dwelling within our cities, in actively engaging in compassion and pursuing justice for you and yours.

Until then,

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you;

May he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;

May he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;

May he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.

~Peter Sutcliffe, Common Prayer