When We Dream ( a lesson from daniel tiger )

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If you’re not a parent to a toddler, you may not know Daniel Tiger, the friendly neighborhood Mister-Rogers-Turned-Friendly-Feline. He sings songs. He expresses feelings. He imagines.

So, I channeled Daniel’s power of imagination.

After a week of tough days, of long stretches of time and battles against our flesh-and-blood-selves, I needed to just imagine some things.

During the boys’ nap, I escaped to the quiet of the living room and began to dream.

I browsed pictures of potted plants on balconies, asked how to grow herbs in a hanging cloth shoe organizer (yes! it can be done!) and brainstormed the possibilities of composting with minimal stink.

I sought simplicity and looked around our place for the ways it could be done. I stared at the books that line almost every nook and cranny, and I thanked God for the gift of learning, dreaming for more of it in future days.

We received a box of late Christmas presents, and tore into them, joy shining on our faces.

My sister gifted me an IKEA book of textiles, pictures and pictures of beautiful spaces covered in fabrics.

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She gave me more space to dream, just when I needed it most.

If we allow ourselves to notice, we see that God’s gift to us is the ability to dream at all, from the imagining of toddler boys with a cardboard box to our adult selves, closing our eyes to see what could become of us in the months and years ahead.

The reality, of course, is that I won’t recycle every bottle, and I may not have a home full of refurbished furniture, or eat all of my veggies from our patio garden.

But if we only dreamt for what always fully happens, we’d miss the beautiful process of dreaming just for the sake of our peace today, for these moments.

So, if you really need to, watch a PBS Daniel Tiger episode, and connect with your inner, dreamer self.

Or, just curl up for a minute on the couch and think about what you hope for yourself, for your family, for your life.

And dream, dream, dream, for the sake of dreaming, and for the sake of quiet peace.

After The Harvest (When Words Are Few)

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Come, ye thankful people, come

Raise the song of harvest home

All is safely gathered in

Ere the winter storms begin…” -Henry Alford

We’ve been here six months. Half a year is gone, and we’ve spent it under the Georgia sunlight.

When fall came, she was welcomed in, as she always is in our home. The holidays brought forth blessings, and we rested, thankful.

Now, it’s almost February, and it’s barely felt like winter. But still, we’re in the dead of it, and we already long for the bursting life of spring, for potted plants on our balcony and homegrown herbs in our kitchen.

We’ve been safely gathered in, awaiting the cold and storms.

What we didn’t understand is that the storms may have started to bustle about in our very hearts, beating us into lifelessness and chill.

Parenting is very hard work, even in the blessing of friends and community who reach forward to help.

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And getting a PhD is unspeakably hard work, and the kind that never ends, never pauses to let you catch some shallow breaths. It’s sleepless and brain-stretching, with an abundance of humility poured over everything at once.

So we’re gathered in here, safe, but we’re emptied out and exhausted, and we long for moments of solitude to come find us when we’re too tired to look for them.

We discussed it this morning, me all teary-eyed at the sink, afraid to remind Trav how hard it is with the boys, afraid he’ll think I’m discounting his work.

But it’s none of that.

We see each other, and we struggle on together.

We choose joy and we look our boys in the eyes.

But we’re still in the struggle.

And at this time last year, I said, “We’ll look back at this and remember,” and so it is the truth again, and I’ll see it all clearer one day, when I’m sitting on the couch drinking my coffee, a different season of life whirling about me.

Our adventure is still here, and I embrace it.

And I light more candles and we turn up the music, and I find Jesus in the boys’ B-I-N-G-O Pandora station.

I remain weak, hoping that daily transformation brings strength to my weariness,

and more joy to the daily struggle of seeking life in everything.

The Mercy of the Sun

This morning, my world had a sorbet orange glow, spreading from the clouds over my apartment building to the construction site across the road.

It was the tender kiss of the sun, who had already risen out of the darkened hills to greet me.

But there, we embraced for a moment, for the few seconds before I got into my car and drove away.

This week, I felt empty.

I craved God and sometimes sought Him; I fell to impatience and sighing, and in my heart, I was dumb.

But the sun, the sun brings me its rise every morning, no matter what.

God still switches on the light, still displays glory, still calls me in.

I dreamt last night that I got away. I escaped the crowds and made it to the quiet place.

But once there, I could only spout out a few lines, and I finally gave up and ushered myself home, head hung low.

“Our weakness has opened Heaven to us, because it has brought the mercy of God down to us and won us His love. Our unhappiness is the seed of all our joy.” –Thomas Merton

The orange glow that greeted me this morning burned the image of Heaven onto my heart– my heart that is aching and longing for an end to so many broken things.

I’m remembering Uganda again. My heart gravitates back there every single year, right before spring comes, like she knows that there are some things I have forgotten or haven’t learned yet from our two months there, six years ago.

The sky I saw light up in Uganda was orange, too, and bright blue and charcoal gray, the essence of every color blushed into her cheeks. It glowed over the rushing Nile waters and over all the deep.

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There, Heaven called us close, just as the call beckons today.

All I can do is accept my weakness, surrender it, and bask in the rays of merciful love.

Amen, when I am empty.

Amen, when I am weak.

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The Pursuit of Seeing: I Choose You

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When semesters get going, we feel the tension like a ton of bricks piled atop our lungs.

And because the boys are of jabbering age now, and progressing in vocabulary every moment, our time to really see each other is limited.

You sat there at the table, eating your leek soup with heavy eyelids– I could see them, because your glasses came off the minute you stepped in the door and rubbed your brow.

I shut off Gilmore Girls and the tap water when I saw you.

I heated up my coffee and sat down across from you, thinking, This is nice.

Then Isaiah woke up. My coffee got cold, and you grew more exhausted, rubbing your brow again.

I moved to the recliner to nurse him back to sleep, and you met with me across the room, huddled up on the black sofa.

You told me the news of your day, the gory game theory details and the vocabulary I’ll never quite understand.

There, in that moment, I looked at you and reminded myself of the treasure we have in each other, this relationship that has built upon itself every day over the last seven years.

And I told myself that these moments are the meat George Herbert talks about:

You must sit down, says Love,

and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

These tiny, flickering, quickly come-and-gone spaces are life to us, the filling of our bellies and souls for every season.

And they are the moments I must choose, embrace, claim for our hearts, for our marriage and our family.

So when it’s quiet and you’re near, I choose you.

And when I’m barely able to catch your eye, I choose you.

When we’re knee deep in dishes and papers are due, I choose you.

And when the kindness of the Spirit huddles us close, I choose you.

And we sit and glean from Him, our souls becoming as children, molded by the words of their Father.

There, I choose you, too.

Once a month, we’re pursuing sight and viewing the dailyness of our lives with fresh vision and fresh spirit.

To read more from the series, click here.

A Lesson in Motherhood: My Boys & Martin Luther King

I woke up to an already buzzing household. Eliot is up before the sun and brings Travis with him, spilling his toys all over the bedroom floor to play until Isaiah and I come in to play, too.

We struggled to do a little homeschooling, and my temper and patience flared up and down as Eliot’s did, especially when he dumped the steaming hot coffee all over me.

We trudged through the rest of the morning, and I stopped to sing, to draw from the deep well that gives me rest and peace in huge draughts.

I stand at the counter and type, and I hear Travis tell Eliot that it’s Martin Luther King’s birthday. Eli comes out singing, “Happy Birthday to Martin King!” and his little world is light as a feather because his peace is in singing, too.

How do I tell Eliot who Martin Luther King was, when it’s difficult to explain what a syllable is during our alphabet lesson?

How do I explain, then, a labor union or contract negotiations?

No, I’m afraid I can’t.

So what can Martin Luther King teach me, a tired mom who is trying to drink her coffee and love her rowdy boys simultaneously?

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear…

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

We can stretch our arms out in front of us, far outside of our homes and away from our children, giving justice to the other.

But first, peace must start in this place, this roof overhead, in these cobwebbed corners.

Because hate is too heavy a burden, and in our behavior toward our little ones, they should see love abounding and expanding.

The boys rest for a few minutes, looking at books. They scan the pictures and words- a world opening up before them.

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They are expanding their hearts and brains for new realities, and I am opening myself up for the same thing.

Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for the reality of peace and justice extended to every man.

This morning, I’m fighting to expand myself into new love for my boys, new hours of patience and kindness and so much more grace.

And maybe one day we’ll watch his speech, and Eliot and Isaiah will know that peace starts here, on the couch where we’re gathered, and spreads out to the broken.

May it be so.

Slow Speak

Often, when I pray, if I pray, it is a rushed and shallow-felt rendering of phrases.

It is a call for Jesus “to be with” and “to be in,” but is pierced with rush and busyness.

It is prayer in the loudness, and then, when all is quiet, I’ve quite forgotten the slow ways.

I drove to the salon to get my haircut. Usually, I get in the Highlander and turn on the radio, scanning stations for something sweet and melodic, something to match my particular mood.

But I remembered the past week, heavy things, broken things that every moment receive God’s attention and heart–why not mine?

So, I held my butterfly coffee mug in one hand and steered with the other. And I opened myself and began slow, began with His name and my stilled breathing.

The slow speak of prayer requires something of us. We see God, we acknowledge His depth as best we can, and we lay ourselves, unveiled, into His waiting presence.

Jesus, {pause, breath}… and His kind ears are attentive and I know that He is good.

And my heart speaks over Nigeria, over mothers and grandmothers, babies and fathers, broken and torn feet.

And my heart speaks over France, and over my friends, and over our life.

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Duke University announced an opportunity for Muslim students to worship in prayer on Fridays, and because of the threats of men like Franklin Graham via Twitter, revoked it.

A step toward solidarity, and many steps back.

So, I prayed that my Muslim friends would know the holiness of Jesus.

And then I prayed that Christians would, too, because the truth is that we all miss Him–uncharted, holy, deep water that is rushing and pure through and through.

And in our hurry to give Him words, we put Him into those hand-made boxes again, and He simply says, Dear one, no.

So today, and, we hope, tomorrow,

we practice slow speak, and we recognize that Jesus is the Holy Sovereign, whether we understand it or not, and we count our words and breath, remembering that His listening heart does the same, with mercy abounding.

Hallelujah. 

Where Our Messes Meet: A Prayer of Church

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Where we gather,

the ceiling settles down,

walls bring themselves close,

and we are pressed into

one another,

all messes and mishaps,

all brokenness in the midst

of praise.

So, lead us toward one another,

and not to the abyss.

May we look each other in the eyes,

and heal each other’s blindness.

May we listen so intently to Your heart

that no enemy may be found,

but only the embrace of

brothers and sisters,

intimate friends.

May Your blood seal us into

each other,

so that we may not escape one another–

so that we may not escape You.

Because when You hemmed us in,

it was all of us,

together,

forever bound

and held

in You.

There is our Hallelujah,

and there is our Amen.

May our hands, eyes, feet,

minds, and wills

reach across aisles

and find there, the

other

that we choose to no longer avoid.

Jesus, You give us Church,

and our homes

fill the spaces with

one another,

where we were once barren and

afraid.

Yes, the Church,

she makes us unafraid,

and never the same.

We are all Saul, and

we are all Paul,

the villain and restored,

all in one breath.

We are the strong and the weak,

the fidgety and fixed,

the half and whole-hearted, all in one heart.

We’re the learning and the mindless,

and we’ve got everything and nothing at all.

We’re the lost sheep and the returned brother,

the found sheep and the stayed brother,

we’re the enigma, wrapped in Your fullness.

We are Church, and we are Yours.

Amen.

Holy & Broken: All Things Kingdom

I have a tan bag that I take to the coffee shop when I write, slung over my shoulder, full of books and a giant laptop.

Travis got it at an Evangelicals for Peace conference at Georgetown a few years ago, and he brought it home to me.

On the front is printed:

Look Deeply.

Act Justly.

Love Radically.

A few weeks ago, a big hole appeared in the bottom of it. My pens would fall out as I walked outside, my earbuds slipped through when I got up to leave my table.

It was time.

Today I slipped my things out of that bag and retired it to the closet, with an odd mourning burning in my chest.

And today my last words fill this big, black journal, and I mourn again.

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These are little things, little helps that guide me along to myself and to God.

These are little things that bring me to the Kingdom, that give me something holy.

On Sunday at church, I looked at the faces of the people whose legs brought them up the aisle, close friends and barely acquaintances who were coming for their Kingdom sustenance, to take hold of the promise of Jesus for themselves.

I looked and saw the little things, every conversation we could have with one another– every tear, every whoop and holler.

I kissed my boys on the head and reminded them that I love them.

I drove in the rain and noticed shimmering ground.

Don’t you see, friends?

All things can be holy, all things can point to the Kingdom.

The question is what to do with the broken.

Sarah Bessey laments what’s taken place in Nigeria, lamenting as the media and world majority grieve for what’s taken place in France.

While we see the little, the holy things, we look out and about, and we also remember the broken masses of people and plans, too, all things gone wrong.

But the hope is this: what holy and broken have in common is Kingdom.

And I light my candle with Sarah, and it burns through me and asks me to talk to God, to beg Him for His presence and His glory right in our darknesses.

And I look at the gray bag that sits beside me, that is my new companion for writing time, that carries the big laptop and all the thoughts that pour out of me within this two hour span of time.

But what’s printed on that tan bag will be burned into me, too.

I’ve got to look deeply for the Kingdom.

I’ve got to act justly because of the Kingdom.

And I’m begging the Kingdom to come, to teach me how to love radically, in all things—

Broken, holy, Kingdom come.

A Lesson on Bounty: serving grapefruit

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I cut the grapefruit in half and stood still, looking at the contrast of color. It reminded me of Mary Richards’ 1970s apartment hues, the tangy orange against happy green.

I was pondering what I’d read earlier in the morning, a Psalm that celebrates abundance throughout the earth:

You crown the year with Your bounty;

Your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.

The pastures of the wilderness overflow,

The hills gird themselves with joy.

The meadows clothe themselves with flocks,

The valleys deck themselves with grain,

They shout and sing together for joy.

-Psalm 65:11-13

Perhaps I wasn’t listening well enough when I chose my One Word for 2015. Or maybe it’s just transforming as I feel myself shifting in these early weeks of January.

God crowns the year with His bounty.

Bounty: good things given or provided freely and in large amounts

I am moving onward, asking God to speak and asking my little heart to quiet down and listen.

But my heart is also asking to be bountiful–

to receive all the goodness He freely gives, and to release goodness to others.

I finish cutting the grapefruit and hand it to Eliot, and go about my day.

And in moments of stress, I grow impatient and emotional, and lose sight of all the blessings laid out before me.

Then I stop and remember something about that grapefruit on the green, plastic cutting board.

Something about God’s provision and bounty towards me.

And I release the tension in my shoulders and say “Jesus, help me.”

And I smile at my toddler, who yesterday prayed for a “life of kindness” as we sat down at the table for lunch.

May we be bountiful in kindness, and intentional in giving;

May we seek peace and calm in the stressful circumstance,

And may we always turn our eyes to the

wilderness,

hills,

valleys,

and meadows,

who show promise of good things to come, always in glorious joy.

Adventure is Right Here

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Travis sat across from me, that stern and determined look in his eye. Eliot says that it’s his mad look, when his eyebrows are crinkled down toward each other like that. But I know differently. It means he’s listening.

“We can’t think of this next semester as just a season. It’s life. Tomorrow is our life.”

We’d just heard the sermon that morning, one that tore at our insides and made us want to leap from our chair and throw ourselves at the very throne of God in obedience. He spoke about Jesus and the disciples in that little ramshackle boat, in that big, flailing storm.

He said that Jesus often calls us into a different place than the one we had planned for ourselves, into things unexpected and stormy, at best.

So we took that and remembered about eight months ago, the way we listened for all of this, the way Jesus actually took us up in the crazy storm and called us to faith.

And here, semester 2 of a PhD program and semester 1 of pre-k homeschooling and book writing, we continue onward and hold on tightly.

About a month ago, we hit a really rough few weeks, and the storm was certainly whipping us about. I went to the mailbox and pulled out a white cardboard parcel with the return address of my best friend in the corner.

I opened it to the ombre pink background and golden words. Words that brought big, fat tears out of my eyes and a pulse of hope to my heart. Meg couldn’t have known exactly what she did, and that’s just what made it so holy.

Adventure is right here.

When we constantly think of life as this season, this time, this moment that will pass soon, we forget that the Kingdom encompasses all of our life. It’s every Tuesday morning coffee break and every Sunday afternoon nap time. It’s smoking a pipe and reading Preston Yancey before classes begin.

It’s life being birthed and transformed in every shadow and cracking wave.

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We hold on to today. We read and look and invest and engage, and we trust, even as we hold on for dear life to the edge of the boat.

And we thank God for the kindness of our friends along the way, who ease the aches and remind us that we’re in a good place, where adventure meets us at every turn.