Superman’s Smile.

Yesterday was a really hard day for our family, I’m not trying to be cryptic, I’ll fill you in when I can. 

There are a lot of things I could be worrying on, freaking out about, angry over. All of them rightly so

But you know where I am fixing my gaze instead? On this picture.

supermanIt seems like I would say “I’m keeping my eyes on God” or “his provision” or “his faithfulness” and I am saying that, but for some reason no verse or quote is saying as much to my weary heart as this picture.

This picture says “everything’s going to be fine” and “God is watching out for us” to me in a way that nothing else can.

It’s not a high quality photo, it won’t look impressive to you in a frame on our wall. It was taken in the dressing room of a Halloween Store under dingy florescent lights.

We stopped in because I knew we needed to. I’d spent the morning paying bills, reducing this line and that on the spreadsheet until it all worked out…. ish.

Writing checks, calling doctors to pay uncollected co-pays with one ear as the other one was filled with the voice of a little boy.

“Mom, instead of numbers, let’s look at superman costumes on your computer! Mom! CAN WE LOOK AT SUPERMAN?!”

No, No, No buddy, please wait, not now… 

And then, you know what? Yes. Before we can’t anymore, let’s go get a superman costume. Continue reading

Giving Up on Why

Today I am guest posting for my dear friend across the pond, Tanya Marlow to kick off her fall series on God and Suffering. Hope you’ll start here and click over and as always thank you for your presence and readership.

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This past spring, my husband graduated from Seminary after a seven-year, marathon journey of taking classes when we could afford it, both time-wise and financially. He started on campus, and finished up with intensive courses and online.

To celebrate, we made the seven-hour trip down to Kentucky for the commencement ceremonies. As I took my seat after checking our two children into child-care a single, paralyzing thought occurred to me.

I am here alone.

I was surrounded by a gymnasium of people, clustered together to celebrate their graduates. Some had signs and balloons, most chatted happily as they waited for the ceremony to begin and there I was, literally alone in a crowd.

I started to cry, and masked it by flipping through the program, hoping no one would notice the lonely woman bawling.

Let me fill you in on a little of the backstory as to why I found myself alone that afternoon.

Shortly before I met him, my husband’s father died from two, rare types of brain cancer. The beginning of our relationship was steeped in his grief. His birth mother died a week earlier and, although he hadn’t had contact with her for fifteen years, her death was a hard blow as, with it, all hopes of reconciliation were shattered.

A year and a half later, I received a phone call from my Mother: my father had passed away overnight in his office chair after a sudden heart attack at the age of 49.

 

Five years after that, another phone call: my mother had taken her own life on the train tracks of our hometown.

So that afternoon I sat at seminary graduation alone, feeling the weight of our collective losses. It wasn’t the first time I felt the holes left behind by our parents, but this time it was particularly sharp.

So many people who should have been there beside me…

As the graduates received their diplomas the people who had gathered to honor them stood to cheer. A few names in, a paralyzing thought occurred to me: “I will be the only one who stands and cheers for him; he deserves so much more than just my lonely voice.”

God why did you have to take them all?

Click here to head on over to Tanya’s blog to finish up. 

Why I Believe

A few month’s back I was asked by Believe.com if I would be willing to do a phone call with them about their new “I’m a believer” campaign. I looked into their site a little bit, spoke with the lovely Andrea on the phone and decided to go for it, even though it would involve me making my video-blog debut (yikes!) 

The question I had to answer in my video and in the corresponding text was this: Why do I believe in God.

I found this a hard question to answer because no matter what answer I came up with, they were all so self-centered.

I believe in God because he sustains my life in every season, no matter what… he’s the one who got me through with gentle love and endless grace.

This answer is true, but so much more about me than about God, more about my needs being met than a reflection of his infinite goodness, holiness and love.

The more I thought about my answer, the more I realized that it is and must continue to grow into a deep need and appreciation for his pools, his oceans of love and all the ways this is evident in creation, in my life, in his Word.

Is my answer the most mature answer? No, I am quite convinced that it’s fraught with human-failing and that there are others out there with meatier responses.

But we start where we are, yes?

I’d love to share the believe.com piece with you today, and the corresponding video. Bear with me, it was a raw and difficult story to tell in under two minutes… with one take.

And here is the piece at Believe.com, I encourage you to click around and check out the others who are being featured in the “I’m a believer” series.

And honestly, I encourage you to reflect on this question for yourself:

Do you believe in God? If so, why?
If you had to write about it, talk about it in less than two minutes, what would you say? Do you like your answer? 

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And when share with your friends, well that makes me pretty happy. 

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God, I don’t give this to you.

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It was past midnight, maybe three AM when I found myself face down on our dingy comforter silently sobbing these words:

God I give this to you, I give it to you, I give it to you.

I sat up. I got honest.

God I don’t give this you, not today. I fully acknowledge that it IS IN FACT yours right now but my fingers won’t unclench. They will not release. Today I cannot let this drop into your hands where I fully understand that it already rests.

Today I am grasping, today I lack the faith, today I am fully of reasons not to trust you but God… will you help me? 

Could you love me, even now when my fear and faithlessness gather into piles of reasons why you shouldn’t? 

God I am through pretending that I leave my endeavors, my people, my life, my plans in your hands because I think we both see me scrambling for control, for the reigns, for the false hope that I was ever in charge in the first place.

I wonder if the only way to get somewhere in all of this is to sit up straight, walk out of bed, turn on the lamp and confess to you plainly that I do not trust you. That I do not give this to you… but that I want to, deeply, with a desperation kin a deep, desert thirst.

Continue to romance me? To pry my fingers open one by one saying “dear one, dear one… I got this. I got it love, please let go, drop it into the hands that have never stopped holding it. I know you are wounded, I know that you have questions and reasons why the only person who can make things okay is you but I promised you freedom and I will never stop calling you thusly.

He cannot promise he that everything will be okay
That there will not be additional pain, even loss.
That promise does not exist friends.

So tonight I sit up in the midnight hour and confess honestly the heart space in which I find myself.

God I do not trust with you my children and I do not trust you with my husband.
I do not trust you with our provision and I do not trust that you go before.

But God? I want to.

Can you spare a bit more patience? Go with me a while longer while I point out all the ways in which you have let my prayers fall through the cracks or be answered with the worst possible ends?

Will you forgive me my faithlessness a bit longer while I come to terms with it and beg a bit more forgiveness? A bit more love, a bit more time on our journey back to trust.

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Day 12: Here, With Holes.

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Today would have been my Dad’s 58th birthday. Some days it seems as though it’s been forever since I had a father to call and then other moments I think to ask him something. Still, 8.5 years later.

Usually it’s for advice on cars or painting. but I’m still wired to go to my Dad for help when things get overwhelming.

I know the cliché Christian thing to say here is that I should pray and talk to my Daddy God in these moments.

I hate to disappoint you, but it’s not the same, we are wired for God and for people and when people make an exit it leaves gaping holes in our hearts.  It leaves us with a void that cannot and should not be filled this side of heaven. Continue reading

Heaven and Matchbox Cars (guest post at Deeper Family)

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I’m an orphaned adult, I have been since I was 28. It’s about as tough as you would
imagine it is, this parentless existence, but the pain is sharpest when I reflect on all my
children are missing out on, the grandparents they will never have.

There is a very real ache that comes from realizing that your parents will never meet
your children. Never play out all the imaginary scenarios they created in their minds
when they projected their lives forward.

It flies in the face of how things were supposed to be. They should be here, grilling at
birthday parties and buying cutesy outfits at SAMs club. Their faces were supposed to
grace the snapshots of our lives, all covered in mud and frosting and childhood.

As a parent, I have to swallow this lump most of the time and focus on what we do 
have, how richly we are blessed and all that can still be. So I bring them to life for my
children with stories and photographs and a few old VHS videos of family camping trips.

I tell them about Mommy’s Mommy and Daddy, that they’re in heaven and that I miss
them a lot.

On my brightest and best days I raise thankful hands, for we are loved as a family,
adopted and held by a group of people I count as family, as essential, each one an
unspeakable gift.

On my darker days? I feel jilted and harbor jealous resentment toward my friends for
simply having parents. For posting grandpa pictures on Facebook and sending their
kids to “grandma camp.” This sucks twice because it leaves me feeling like an orphan
AND a bad friend.

The other day, in a slump of melancholy, I let it slip to my four year old daughter that
everything dies: people, animals, flowers, all of it. At first I thought she’d brush it off and
go back to her daydreamy play, but instead she burst into tears.

Because I’d just hit her with one of life’s harshest realities, the one that breaks our
hearts from the moment we internalize it.

Please click over to Deeper family to finish up this post and if it’s your first time there, dig in, it’s really one of the most beautiful blogging collectives online.

Fall, death, meltdowns and wine.

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It’s fall now, I can feel it settling on us like gold dust, tipping the leaves in orange with a slow and steady rhythm.

Pumpkin spice everything is popping up everywhere and the apple orchards are staring to open their gates as the bushels come in empty and leave overflowing with green and red sweetness.

It’s my favorite season, even though at it’s core it was created to be the season where everything dies.  Where everything shrivels up and withers away to make room for something else to be born.

The ripeness of summer never lasts forever, everything in life, including life itself, has rotated in a seasonal march since the beginning of time.

So, is it ironic that the season of dying is my favorite one? The one in which my heart comes alive?  It doesn’t extend beyond the seasons, I assure you… I don’t like death in other areas of life.  (Except for earwigs, those can die, I’m good with that.)

Lately I’ve felt a hard truth start to settle onto my brain, filling in the cracks between the gray matter with an unpleasant reality, one I’ve tried to ignore for a while now.

I have some dying of my own to do.  

I’ve known it for a while, but it hit my like a frying pan in the face last Saturday night.

It was one of those moments that every parent dreads: a total kid meltdown in the middle of a quiet roomful of grownups.

I watched in horror as my four year old got up from her seat, yet again and ran between the tables of quiet adults, all of whom were trying to ignore her as they listened to their pastor talk about his recent sabbatical.

When I got up to retrieve her, she darted away from me with a grin on her face.  She thought it was a game and given the parameters of quiet in the room I couldn’t call after her.

I couldn’t use “that tone” to communicate to her that this was no game, that I was serious about her need to return. to. her. seat. for. the. love. of. God.

Finally a stranger grabbed her by the shoulders and restrained her as I walked over to collect her, red faced and on the verge of tears.  I knew it was time to go. Stat.

As I marched my children out of the room, they wailed over the forced exodus begged me to let them stay for a brownie.

I was crimson angry and mortified beyond words. There was no smacking or shouting, just the sounds of car seats clicking and preschoolers howling.

We took the long way home as I fumed, hot tears streaming down my cheeks.

All I could think was: “I need a drink.”

So, I got home and poured some wine, taking long sips between deep breaths. As I drank, Noelle finished her time out and Caedmon sent cars zooming down the hand rail of our staircase. (a banned activity that I didn’t have the energy to correct)

We dressed for bed and I got them tucked in their beds, Caedmon got out of his more than a dozen times before finally falling asleep two hours later.

Somewhere in there I poured a second glass of wine, because… you know… sanity.

When he finally fell asleep I made a sundae with cookies and chocolate sauce and watched TV until almost midnight.  I needed sleep, but with Caedmon’s bedtime shenanigans the “me time” came at the expense of my sleep.

After the ice cream and the wine a terrible feeling washed over me, not because I was sick to my stomach from the sugar, because I was sick in my soul over… all of it.

I had nasty feeling that I’d crosse some unhealthy line a while back. I knew on a deep, dark level that the ice cream and the wine had become too needed.  Too important.

I was using them to cobble together a sense of sanity that seemed to be elusive without the mind numbing practice of sugar, alcohol and television.

Wine and TV aren’t evil or sinful, it’s just that in my life they were frightfully misplaced.

I was using them to patch the holes and they weren’t holding.

I don’t need to throw them out and label them as evil.  This is where religion can screw you up and turn you into a burdened pharisee.  It’s not the thing itself it’s how we use it.  Where we place it in our hearts that becomes the issue.

That night I looked into the mirror and saw a women with bags under her eyes being held together by something that was never going to hold.

The wine wasn’t life giving and celebratory, it was a crutch, a mask.  I hoped it would wash away the heart of my issues with it’s warmth and detachment but everything was still there in the morning, all pent up inside me as I marched the empty bottle to the recycling bin.

So wine isn’t gone from my life, it’s just back on it’s correct shelf for a while.  It’s not the thing I want to use to get me through my life.

My faith and my soul are wise enough to know that there are better practices to engage in and I’m on the watch for them.

I’ve noticed that my fists have become tight with grasping, self-survival and that my soul has closed off a bit.

I have some dying to do, some demon to stab with point pitchforks.

Wine is one of them, but so is selfishness and self-reliance, and other nasty phrases that begin with self. me.

This season of dying is normal, the one that’s happening all around us and the one that’s falling upon my heart.

I’m giving in to it because I believe in what can be birthed when winter gives way to spring.

The After Miracle

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I went to 4 colleges and at one point or another I claimed 6 different majors

At one point I planned on going to Bible school in New Zealand. I even got my passport, but it was never stamped until our honeymoon and even then it was for Mexico.

I went to grad school for a bit, but I left after 2 semesters.

We’ve already discussed how many different jobs I’ve held (it’s 17.)

I own more books that I haven’t read than those I have.

Our basement is home to more than one unfinished craft project… some of them furniture.

I’ve started training for at LEAST 6 different 5ks that I never ran.

I have gone public with a lot of dreams that never went anywhere at all because I abandoned them for the next big idea.

But writing?  I can’t walk away.  This is my thing. Continue reading

Ragamuffin Faith and Patchwork Theology

I was baptized as an infant at a traditional Christian Reformed Church.

Then we switched to a contemporary one

But it wasn’t my Dad’s favorite so he and my sister went Baptist for a while.

Then we all found a Christian Reformed Church we liked and it stuck

But I struck out on my own after high school and was baptized (again…) as an Adult at Mars Hill Bible Church.

Then I found my Best Friend, and she’s Roman Catholic.

After that I fell in love with this Methodist guy I met on the internet.

And we went to a non-denominational seminary before moving to Oklahoma where we joined an evangelical non-denominational church that did altar calls.

This is where my own children were dedicated as infants.

Now it looks like I’m going to be a Methodist Pastor’s wife, or maybe I already am one, they don’t give you an official certificate or anything.

After perusing my impressive list of denominational switching, can you tell where I’ve landed?  Yeah, me either.  I’ve tried a lot of different denominations and congregations and I’ve come to one extremely important conclusion.

The name on the sign doesn’t matter.  

I’m not a methodist, and I’m not CRC, and I’m not Baptist.  I’m just… a child of God.  I have no idea how to classify it and I’m really not all that worried about it.

But, I did’t always feel this way. For a long time in my late teens and early twenties I thought that all these distinctions mattered.  A lot.

I had huge political and theological ideas and a lot of energy to expend on debating them.

I was prepared to go to war and convert the world to my self-proclaimed “right way” of believing.  Which was so post modern and flexible, it had no labels, it was organic… how could anyone else possible do anything differently?

I was determined to convince everyone that my “no-labels” labeling was the right labeling system.

If I couldn’t sway them I walked away wondering how sad it must live in their overly labeled religious world.

I threw around theological slang like it was my job.

Reformed! post-modern! Non denominational!  Progressive! contemporary!

These labels (or lack thereof because again I was SO post-modern) mattered to me greatly and I expended a lot of energy on it all.

And then my Dad died, suddenly and all my family and all my people gathered in my parent’s house and we watched as they took his body to the funeral home.

My world truly and utterly fell apart that day and as we sat in that house, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Non-Denominal, Reformed and Christian Reformed people all grieved the very same man with a line of questioning that transcended denominational boundaries.

Because who cares about trans or consubstantiation when you’re just trying to remember that the blood of Christ will set everything right someday?

And infant versus adult baptism seems laughably trivial when you’re just trying to hang on to the belief that God is good and on your team… when somehow he allowed the glue of your family to leave through the portal of an unexpected heart attack?

I can pinpoint that day to the beginning of the end for my theological battling.  Because on that day it was simply back to basics, trying to hold onto the most simple truth and hope.

the old church nestled in the woods.

That God loves me
He is somehow still here
And somehow ….. still good

I’ve learned that religious and denominational distinctions evaporate in the face of the grieving, questioning thirst of real life. Continue reading

Down with Normal.

I sat there in the play place at the mall, desperately wishing I was anywhere else.  I was happy that my husband was off getting me a new computer charger at the apple store but I was in no mood for the mall.

I watched my kids play on the foam breakfast food and admired the whimsy of it all, my two beautiful little ones bouncing on a 5 foot square waffle, giggling as they tripped over the shiny, fake butter.

This is the life of West Michigan children, sometimes you go to Woodland Mall and bounce on the giant breakfast food.

As I sat there I turned my eyes off of my children and onto all the others, climbing over giant shredded wheat with blueberries and bouncing across sausage links, all in a row.

It was then that I started to engage in the awful practice of stacking my children up against those around them, Especially my 4 year old Noelle who was diagnosed with ADHD last fall.

My mind drifted back to earlier that morning when I sat in church, tense beyond measure as I watched her march up on stage alongside all the other VBS attenders.  As they sang their song, motions and all, Noelle wandered a bit, checking out the speaker repeatedly.

The teachers were constantly redirecting her attention to the song at which point she’d grin and re-engage for a while before going back to the speaker again.  She was fascinated by it.

I sat in my seat with my head in my hands, feeling all at once sorry and thankful for the teacher who kept bringing her back to the fold.  Was her smile genuine or was she sick of redirecting my dear girl.

Were the other parents giggling at the classic whimsy of a child on stage or wondering what was wrong with my daughter that she couldn’t tow the party line for a few songs?

As we drove home she sang happily in the back seat, clueless to the worry that was swimming around in my head as I wondered what her behavior that morning meant for her future.

Ever the pessimist I projected it long term with the worst possible outcomes until I was in tears at the though of her going through school a completely rejected and lonely soul.  Surely she would be the bane of her teacher’s existence, only every feeling love when she returned home.

Finally I managed to check myself a bit and tell myself that many four year olds are curious, that I didn’t know how many preschoolers were up on stage or how fair the comparison was.

And for that matter, why was I doing this?  Comparing her?  Reducing her to some standard that in no way accounts for the unique whimsy and love that she brings into the world.

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Oh how the allure of the unreachable normal screws with us, doesn’t it? Just when we think we got over striving for normal in our own lives we have children and it starts all over again, only ten times worse.

Yes, I have a daughter with ADHD, but so do other parents and that’s okay because you know what? Every child has struggles and challenges and as parents we too often forget that it’s often our challenges that form us and give us character, perseverance and resolve.

We want so badly to protect our children from  pain and struggle but we’re forgetting one very important thing. It’s not possible!  Every child will have hurdles they must learn to jump, they will experience social pain, they will have to learn to rise above something.

And that’s. okay.

When you really step back and think about it, do you want to raise a child who has no idea how to handle conflict or manage struggles?  Think about how unprepared they would be for the world.

And whatever you do, don’t forget that the perfect children and family that you think other families have doesn’t exist.  They have meltdowns, focus issues and parenting challenges just like you.

So down with normal, screw you, off you go!  I banish you from our house and I’m working on eviction notice for my thought life.  We aren’t shooting for normal in any other area of our life: we’ve going to revolutionary, godly, extraordinary.

Down with the worry of normal and down to my knees as I ask God to make me mindful of his plans and tender grace for the daughter that was never mine to begin with.