Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful Thursday :: Thanksgiving 2017

Every Thanksgiving for the last 13 years, I've logged in to compile a list of 100 gifts for which I'm grateful--the big things, the little things, the silly/random and the profound. In the last twelve months, it was nearly the only blog post I managed to write. I'm still sorely out of the habit--both the habit of giving thanks and the habit of blogging--but at least today, I'm jumping back in to continue what I think is a valuable tradition.

As I look back over the past year, I'm especially thankful for... 

1. a thriving, growing girl in our family
2. her squishy legs
3. her happy disposition
4. those glorious three months when she slept well (long gone now, alas)
5. endless raspberries and motorboat noises

6. the way Miriam lights up when she sees her brothers
7. the way they greet her and shower her with attention
8. Steve babywearing
9. hairbows
10. a house full of laughter

11. obstetrician
12. midwife-turned-doula
13. chiropractor
14. aqua yoga instructor
15. craniosacral massage therapist

16. pediatric dentist
17. babysitter/mother's helper
18. occupational therapist
19. physical therapist
20. friend-turned-counselor

21. sertraline
22. loratadine
23. whatever drugs they put in an epidural :)
24. ibuprofen
25. clean water

26. help from my mom during pregnancy and postpartum
27. help from my MIL during pregnancy and postpartum
28. support from our church family
29. my BIL and SIL coming to visit and serve
30. generosity and prayer at my baby shower

31. boys doing laundry
32. boys making eggs
33. boys emptying the dishwasher
34. boys cleaning bathrooms
35. boys entertaining Sister

36. plentiful milk supply
37. grace to persevere through months of nightmarish nursing
38. a stellar lactation consultant
39. insurance-provided double electric pump
40. relief from pain and a smooth nursing relationship at long last

41. sharing book recommendations with Elijah
42. hearing Jude's reading skills take off
43. reading Sandra Boynton board books to Miriam
44. a Kindle with a light for reading in bed
45. extensive selection of e-books for free through the library

46. Every Mile Mattered, Nichole Nordeman
47. Red Sea Road, Ellie Holcomb
48. The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson
49. A Home and a Hunger, Caroline Cobb
50. Fortunate Fall, Audrey Assad

51. big skies in Ohio and Indiana
52. German Christmas markets
53. the canals of Amsterdam
54. rolling hills in middle Tennessee
55. getting to see Hamilton on stage in Chicago

56. cold brew coffee
57. hot apple cider
58. smoked turkey stock
59. Vanilla Coke
60. fresh squeezed orange juice

61. Vienna Springs ring slings
62. Moses Basket custom handmade baby items
63. Binky Beads pacifier clips and teethers
64. winning a giveaway from Brass Bee Bonnets
65. VIP and buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook for these mama shops

66. piano lessons
67. soccer games
68. basketball camp
69. school bus stopping right in front of our house

70. long-awaited daughter adopted by a friend
71. long-awaited daughter born to a friend
72. friend with a new house
73. friends with new jobs

74. hard, grown-up conversations with Elijah
75. snuggles with Jude
76. Miriam's kissable cheeks
77. unprompted hugs and "I love you"s from Elijah 

78. Simeon Trust workshop for women
79. women's Bible study during Sunday School
80. monthly women's prayer meeting
81. others connecting with and being encouraged by my writing
82. Steve in my corner, advocating for me

83. student of the month awards
84. keys of excellence awards
85. glowing reports at parent-teacher conferences
86. skilled, caring teachers
87. dedicated, hardworking administrators and staff

88. health insurance
89. stable employment
90. a promotion for Steve
91. his being accessible/flexible at work
92. getting to tour the facility on a recent family day

93. Steve's tremendous wisdom
94. his relentless servanthood
95. his willingness to listen and then tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear
96. his back rubs
97. his gorgeous gray-green eyes

98. recording of "He Will Hold Me Fast" from T4G 2016
99. the fact that our church started singing this song right after I fell in love with it
100. the reality of Christ holding me fast when my love is cold and my faith is weak

Friday, November 03, 2017

Autumn Disappointment

 I'm on a walk with Miriam, and the sky is a gloomy gray. For the last couple of weeks, Timehop has been teasing me with pictures of past autumn glory. Orange and red, gold, scarlet, rust, yellow, vermilion--our neighborhood a beautiful blaze of color. Today I mostly see dull, faded green and the occasional brownish-orange, nothing brilliant or spectacular.

I'm not sure what to make of this. I have the impulse to try and write about it. And then instead of adding it to my to-do list as one more "should" that I'll never get around to, I pull out my phone and start dictating as I walk through the neighborhood, pushing a stroller with my daughter.

It's 70 degrees today, and I'm sweating. The deliciously cool fall weather that finally seemed to have arrived for good has disappeared again. I hear someone mowing his lawn. Are the leaves actually going to change, or are they just going to let go in disappointment? I can't believe how green the trees still are on November 2. The wind kicks up, and dozens of leaves float to the ground without having revealed their beauty. Why?

Too much warmth? Too much sunshine? Too much chlorophyll? I have no idea of the scientific answer, but I can't help feeling let down. The promise of autumn's beauty--the glory in the dying that I have waxed poetic about so many times--isn't showing up this year. What does that mean?

It's this strange reminder in this strange new season of my life that nothing is promised. Or is that even true? Lots of bigger, eternal things are promised. I can trust the God who is sovereign over the seasons. Even when the transition is unremarkable and disappointing. Even when the beauty I anticipated and longed for falls short of my expectations.

We keep walking, and suddenly I see a beautiful red tree--the kind that usually populates our entire neighborhood. It stands out all the more because of its solitary beauty; there are no other colorful trees around to distract from its brilliant red leaves. The clouds shift a bit, and above the red tree I get a glimpse of that crisp blue autumn sky I always love to see.

A question surfaces: What will I choose to remember? The dull green-brown trees under the gray clouds...or this flash of crimson and bright blue?

It's a dilemma I face every day--a lesson the Lord has tried to teach me countless times. It's a question as old as Eve. Will you emphasize what you have, give thanks for what has been given, celebrate with gratitude? Or will you complain, meditate on what is lacking, focus on what is not yours--what has  seemingly been withheld?

The choice is always mine to make--even about something as simple as autumn leaves and brilliant colors, on a walk around my neighborhood on an ordinary Thursday morning. I'm hot and uncomfortable in my short sleeve shirt, but the breeze is blowing through my baby girl's hair. These sidewalks are uneven, hard to navigate with a stroller, but rundown houses are being renovated and given new life. The sun briefly peeks out in between all the clouds. I can walk again, after so many months of being immobile and in pain. And instead of the "all or nothing" thinking that plagues me, I'm choosing "all or something": I'm dictating this blog post instead of letting the idea disappear into the draft folder of good intentions. 

But how is all this different from Pollyanna, from naivete and rose-colored glasses? Reality is also that my girl is starting to whine, and chances are good she might be full-on screaming by the time we return home, my blood pressure rising. The lack of color is still a disappointment. I'm still going to need a shower. My jeans are still too tight.

It's a matter of who gets the last word. Sunshine briefly warms my face. Tiny dimpled hands grasp the side of the stroller. No matter how unspectacular their dying, these trees will still be reborn in the spring.

The darkness will always be there. The disappointment is a permanent fixture east of Eden. But the light is more permanent still--the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

Beautiful Through Dying
Autumn Beauty
Contemplating Beauty
Part of the Whole
The Last Word: BUT God

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Hanging and Hoping

photo: Flickr/Jared Tarbell
When I was in elementary school, gym class at some point during the year included an activity I quickly grew to loathe: the rope climb. In the makeshift office area (it had once been a stage) off the gymnasium, a long, thick rope hung from the ceiling. Our class would line up in a row, and one by one, each kid had to step forward and shimmy as far up the rope as she could.

As a skinny kid with noodle arms, I didn’t have near the upper body strength to reach the top. In fact, I could hoist myself exactly zero inches up from my highest reach when dangling at the bottom. It was humiliating to hang there, the rough strands of rope burning my hands, unable to pull myself up.

I spent a good portion of my pregnancy meditating on 1 Peter 1, and at some point in the midst of memorizing, I remembered that old rope. I read “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” and pondered Jen Wilkin’s exhortation at TGCW16 to set your hope *fully* on God, not partially. I pictured not just the one rope but two giant ropes hanging from an impossible height. In my mind’s eye, the ropes don’t merely hang a couple of feet off the ground, with a kid-sized chair at the bottom; below them is a black hole of darkness.

I picture myself suspended between those two ropes. This time my assignment isn’t to claw my way to the top; all I have to do is hold on, keep from falling into the darkness. I’ve got a death grip on each one, but I’m dangling in the middle, vulnerable, precarious. My strength can’t hold out forever. The ropes burn my hands. My fingers cramp and my shoulders ache; the muscles in my arms start to quiver. This is what it is for me to hope partially (even *mostly*) in the grace of Christ and yet also not be willing to let go of other hopes.

What I can't feel or see is that one of the ropes is slowly fraying at the top--fiber after fiber breaking under the strain of my weight. It won't hold forever. If I will let go of that other rope and devote all my strength to the sure and solid one--the one anchored in the Rock that is my Savior--I can wrap my entire body around it. I can grip it with both hands, forearms pulled securely against it. I can hold it right next to my whole body, twist my legs around it, even use my feet for extra traction. If one hand gets tired, I can let go and shake it out while the rest of me holds tight. And if I grow weary and start to slip, I will not freefall into the chasm below the ropes—I will simply slide down this one rope a bit. Even if my strength should fail and I slide all the way down—there is a steadfast knot tied at the bottom, massive, firm enough to stand on. In the end, it will hold me.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

Hey, so. If GoDaddy is going to keep billing me for this domain name, I should maybe use it, huh?

I don't really know what happened to this space. Well, I mean, I sort of do.


I spent nine months devoting most of my energy (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) to carrying her in a 35-year-old body that does NOT do pregnancy well.


And then I've spent the last five months figuring out how to settle back into a season of life I've not seen in a long, long time.


My days are once again full of nursing and diapers, tummy time and babywearing, walks with a stroller and troubleshooting fussing and trying to catch a quick nap. Only this time around, they're also filled with listening to a beginning reader, signing math homework, driving to piano lessons and soccer practice. It's hard to find time or space to think my own thoughts, much less write them down. Especially when I'm desperately rusty, having all but forgotten how.

Today I have a babysitter. Three whole hours of a friend's homeschooled teenage daughter entertaining my baby so I can do whatever I want. Ha. Of course "whatever I want" looks like being paralyzed with anxiety about how best to use the three hours, knowing the time will fly by. It looks like fighting rejected insurance claims, calling orthodontists, attempting to summit Mount Laundry, and stressing about whether I'm going to end up paying the babysitter to be here while Miriam sleeps.

But, at least today, it also looks like sitting down to a blank screen and a blinking cursor and trying to remember how to do this writing thing. Let's be honest: this blog was dying a long, slow death for quite some time before Miss Miriam arrived on the scene. And yet, as a much-beloved writing professor reminded me years ago: "Thankfully, we are people of the resurrection!"

Just yesterday I came across this incredibly timely and encouraging post by Rebecca Reynolds at Thistle and Toad. She concludes:
...Now and then I can write an encouraging post for five people--or I can write a post for one person who is struggling.
I can wait to post until I have something important to say.
I can let the gospel apply small. I can let God be God and trust Him to place my labors in the context that is most useful to him.
I can live small then smaller still, encouraging my readers to do the same.  
I can do all this because the gift of writing doesn't offer an identity that springs into being with a publishing contract, or with a following in the 100’s of thousands. Writing well is simply a tool to utilize in the context of an identity that was secured long ago by the work of Jesus. We have nothing to earn; we have only to wake up each morning and say, "In every small step I take, Thy will be done."

So here's to fresh starts. Here's to tiny baby steps, the smallest of efforts in the right direction. Here's to awkwardness and imperfection and muscling through the anxiety to get something, anything, on the page. Hopefully I'll be back soon.