Ellyse Faith is Eleven

It's July 28th and Ellyse Faith is eleven.

"Mama, what time was I born? I think it was around 7:45 in the morning..."

I knew that was about right, she arrived early in the morning via a planned c-section. Planned because I wanted to minimize any chance of the kind of drama that surrounded her sisters birth 1 year and 51 weeks earlier.

Elly is why we have "the little girls"....two instead of one, planned perfectly by God's wild side and extravagant love for us. I didn't know I wanted two more littles, was pretty sure one would do.  But God....

This morning when I went searching my old blog to see what I had written last year, since I always write about Elly on her birthday, I was both surprised and saddened to find no words for her tenth birthday.  A year ago I didn't write. I know why, as I sit here tearfully typing, things at the ministry I love and led were coming apart. On her birthday I had meetings at work and was buried in budget prep for a difficult board meeting looming just a couple of weeks later.  

Today is such a different day.

This week it was just Elly at home, with Libby gone at camp. We have made it her "birthday week" and each day she's chosen something to do in celebration. We've cooked, and shopped and watched movies and eaten fun food. 

I'm watching the inevitable transformation that happens as we enter the "tween" years. The glimpses of what kind of adult she will be are visible every once in a awhile. Elly is fierce inside, she won't be pushed around or pushed out. She learned early on how to create space for herself and hold that space, a necessary skill as the youngest of five with older siblings who all felt like adults from the day she was born.  She's creative but its rooted in something scientific and strategic inside her, it shows up in her cooking and the jewelry she makes out of odds and ends she finds. She loves tools, and binge watches HGTV, dreaming about the kind of house she wants to build some day. We had multiple conversations this week about making lipstick out of melted crayons and coconut oil....sometimes you just have to say no as mom, no to crayon lipstick. 

 

Every day this week she's run over to the neighbors house to play with their girls, even if it's only for a few minutes. She's extroverted and soaks up every interaction with people around her. She has a fort in her room right now that she refuses to take down, "because the girls will be back to play today Mom, I just know they will."

As we shopped this week she told me, "Hey Mom, I made a regret." I laughed, "What does that even mean?"  Her eyes sparkled, "You know, I made a mistake and now I wish I hadn't done what I did....so I made a regret."

That just cracked me up.

Yesterday she sent me a calendar invitation for the open house at the new middle school.  She'd been on the website and found the dates for it along with various other facts she included in her report to me about what I needed to get done for registering them for school next week.

She thinks I am old. It leaks from her. I like to believe its mostly about Mark and all his gray hair, he looks old...so I must be old too. I can feel her wondering sometimes if she needs to be alert on my behalf, telling me the light is green or asking me if I remember the way to the mall.  

A decade ago we drove from San Antonio to Austin on Elly's first birthday.  Our oldest daughter had a freshman welcome event here in preparation for her first year of college. I remember that day well. Katy ready to launch into adulthood and Elly teetering around the swimming pool just barely walking.

Today we will drive to San Antonio, a before school physical for her, and lunch at her favorite restaurant.

Something about Elly's birthday always provokes just a few tears of joy for me. Ellyse Faith, because Faith is the evidence of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). 

It was true eleven years ago, and it is true today.

The Valley of Forgiveness

I find myself wandering the terrain of my heart today, mostly in the valleys of betrayal, disappointment and need.

As I look up from the valley floor the cross is easily seen, Jesus there bleeding as He drinks the cup of judgement and takes my sin and the sin of the world upon Himself.

Down here in the twisting turning valley strewn with stumbling rocks and thorny branches I seem to move from scenes of feeling betrayed to being the betrayer, from having disappointed to being the source of disappointment.  It's cold down here, and bit damp too. The walls of the valley floor reflect back faces to me, friends and family.  Relational tension is thick in the air.

I can feel the presence of forgiveness, the ache for forgiveness needed and the desire to extend forgiveness.

All of this because of the cross.

It is a sobering day, one that begs taking the time to stop and feel all my feelings, letting truth wash over my soul.

Today I am reminded that Jesus paid for all that is down here in my valley.  He paid for the sin that has harmed and marked me, He paid for the sin that I have committed that brought harm and marked others, all the sin that has left me separated from The Father.  And yet, the relational tension remains in places of unresolved hurt, where somehow what's embraced as true is that His sacrifice wasn't actually enough.  

I am so guilty of not believing the cross is enough, not believing Jesus is enough. My primary strategy for managing my life has said again and again that the cross isn't enough. The repentance for this is daily, sometimes hourly. 

Today there's a call to release the tension with someone, tension that's there because I've not been ready to let go. There's no recovery from what happened, no going back to before, what's been lost cannot be restored.  And, I've started to see that it can be redeemed, and as I have opened my heart up to feel what God is doing in the wake of what happened I have felt my hand loosening its grip around the anger and now the pain.

The cross, brutal and bloody, where innocence paid for every dark deed ever done.

It invites me again and again to live something better than a life mired down in shame, guilt, contempt and revenge.

So much to surrender, more letting go.

So much peace and love to welcome in the space opened up.  

The journey of forgiveness continues.

 

 

Resurrecting Generosity

The day began while it was still night.  3:23am to be exact.

Stirring and a bit restless Mark and I were both awake enough at 3:23 to acknowledge that there was much in our hearts and heads.

Coffee and solitude came for a bit at 6:15am as I sat in my chair with the sun just starting to peek through the budding trees in the backyard.  Wise words from a friend, spoken to me several weeks ago, returned to my thoughts in the quiet dawn moments.  "Are you willing to let it all go?"

Such a question, so good, provoking both my thoughts and my heart.  

What would that mean?  What would "all" include?

I've wondered about that for weeks now, slowly sifting through the things I hold onto, what I grasp in my hand, what my heart holds tightly.

Philippians 3:7-10 is the chosen passage this week for a prayer circle I have with a few other women.    

"7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."

When we focus on losses it is tempting to give in to a scarcity mentality, one that fears there is not enough or will not be enough, it yields a tightening of our hands around what we believe we must "have".  And yet, this passage invites me to consider that the losses are in truth a way to join in the fellowship of Jesus' sufferings, to be conformed to His death.

This all seems to timely as we anticipate Good Friday.  

This morning Mark and I let go a bit more.  We surrendered to the reality that the sale of our home will not "net" what we had hoped, or what our realtor hoped either.  It was time to really lower the price and let go of our plans for how this will all turn out.  Where we are going, how we will get there and what it will all look like is not about how much money we get from the sale of the house.  But, it has been something to hold onto and put a bit hope into...foolish I know, but so very human! 

Slowly I find myself saying yes I am willing to let it all go.

I am trusting in God's generosity, and the real truth is I have loads of evidence that He loves me and that He will care for me and my family.  The lie that seems to suck me in, and my guess is that it gets you too from time to time, is that I have to figure it all out and take care of things myself. This lie is not helpful and takes up a great deal of space when being believed.  It produces tightness, control, worry and a scarcity mentality.

Letting go frees up the space to enjoy God's provision and generosity.  

I saw this poem posted on a friends Facebook page today and it felt like another piece of convergence in the message Jesus is speaking to me with staggering consistency.  I love the final paragraph which asks God to sink His generosity deep into our lives. I hope it speaks to you as we all walk towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday together.

"On Generosity"
by Walter Brueggemann

On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance ... mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness
all things Easter new…
all around us, toward us and
by us

all things Easter new.

Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

Passion Week Tuesday

Passion Week Tuesday

This morning I was reading in the gospel of Mark.  Jesus is had a lot to say today.  He talks about the power of faith, the necessity of forgiveness and he tells some parables.  

I was struck by what I read in Mark 12:13.  

    "Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words."

They were sent to "catch" Him in His words.  They wanted to catch Jesus.  They came listening, watching and purposing to catch him.

I am acquainted with this dynamic.  I am sad to say I have been at both the giving and receiving end of this kind of energy.

I have used this tactic of engaging with the intent of catching someone often at home, with my husband and with my children.  You know what I am talking about...when you just have that nagging sense that somehow you aren't been given the whole story, or you are just in a bad mood and wanting some excuse to dispense your energy at someone else.  Whatever the reason, it happens, you catch them in their words and it's all over.

I have been at the receiving end of it as well.  I have felt the accusation and judgement that comes when someone is fishing for information, hoping that the bait they put out will yield the information they are wanting to gain.  Or at the receiving end of subtle accusation that comes wrapped in curious or polite conversation.

As I read the words this morning I had strong feelings about it, and they didn't feel good.  

The sense of being set up, of being watched, of others just waiting to catch you at something feels terrible.

Jesus knows what that is like.

I thought today about how wise and playful Jesus was with those trying to catch him.  The truth was  there was nothing to catch him at...and they still crucified him.

For today I have held, and continue to hold, that I do not want to be a woman who lives from a place of anticipating how I can catch another in their words.  I don't want my heart and mind drowning in the plotting and accusation and tightness that comes with engaging others from that place.

 

The Table

The Table

Forks on the left, knives on the right with the spoon placed next to it, napkins go underneath the forks.  My mom's instructions on how to set the table were clear and carried out nightly from the time I was about 8. There were notable additions in the event of a fancy dinner party, salad forks added to the outside of the dinner fork, and sometimes even extra plates, water glasses next to the wine glasses etc.  

Meals were important, the table mattered.

I remember rolling my eyes at her somewhere during high school as she lamented my schedule of school and church activities interrupting the tradition of family dinner together; from my perspective the family dinner table felt insignificant in comparison with the belonging I was experiencing with my group of friends.

I can remember when that season gave way to living in my own apartment and the loneliness that came with all my independence.  I often made a dinner out of yogurt or a box of macaroni and cheese.  I had little desire to cook a full meal just for myself.  There was no internet, no FaceTime or Skype, no way to experience the virtual community that is so easily available today.  I was squarely faced with my need for people and community beyond the interactions I had at work each day.

Today it is easy to avoid what I believe is an inherent need for every human being.  

The seduction of virtual community is powerful. It approximates the food our souls crave, much like protein shakes and fast food approximate the nourishment of the good foods our bodies need to be whole and well.

Ultimately, virtual community leaves you alone.  There is no warmth to a virtual hug, no salt to be tasted in the emoticon with tears, no sensuality that leaves your body resting in the goodness of having shared physical space with people who care for you.

We need sensual, shared, embodied experiences with laughter, joy, sorrow, grief, pain and pleasure to know we belong and are loved.

I carry on the tradition of setting the table that my mother started with me nearly 50 years ago.  I've taught my kids where the forks and knives go and when we are all home eating together at the table is something that is anticipated.  Those times begin in the kitchen and culminate at the table.  My kids love to help cook, actually what they love is the conversation that happens as we chop, sauté, blend and boil things together in the kitchen.  The conversations are savory and the stories rich and deep.  

I feel passionate about restoring the the goodness of real connection and pushing against the addiction of virtual community.  My desire is for the internet to be a place that helps to facilitate the growth of real community.  So much goodness can come from what starts via a Facebook page or a following a blog or online magazine; Instagram can inspire and twitter can provoke.  When we allow what gets inspired or provoked to lead us to the place of face to face engagement transformative growth is possible.  

Returning to the goodness of the table where all our senses are invoked as we taste, see, smell and listen to all that is present seems like such an easy way to feed goodness to our hungry hearts.  

If you want to feed your heart some good food consider inviting some people over for a meal or ladies risk hosting a Red Tent Dinner, I'd love to hear about it if you do.

 

 

Shalom

The photo from my friend in Lebanon came with text bubbles that said, “This family lost their 18 yr old son in a bombing just before they fled their  home in Syria. 😢 4 yrs in the camp here and now they're being forced to leave. They have 2 days to pack and move. Don't have anywhere to go. Sooooo much sadness, and loss of hope for tomorrow. They just want to go home.....to nothing.”

I sat staring at the photo and her words.  I replied back, “Don’t we all, just want to go home, return to the place we knew goodness and rest.”

Not to minimize the horrifically desperate circumstances of that family, because I cannot imagine the trauma, the loss and the hopelessness they have known.  And, there are shared places where as human beings our souls can connect even in the most drastic of circumstances.

My pondering was interrupted by my husband’s invitation to come watch something.  He’d been scrolling through old pictures and videos.  I sat down next to him as he hit play on a video slide show we’d put together when our oldest daughter turned 18 and graduated from high school, a decade ago now. The music began to play and photos of her life cycled across the screen.  Of course, the songs were predictably emotional and tugged at the ragged places in my heart.  You know, how something ragged only needs a bit of a tug to unravel.

The journey forward hasn’t looked like I dreamed it would that April evening in 2007 as we celebrated her 18th birthday and impending graduation.

Between then and now we have tasted sweetness and joy that has exceeded what we felt that day, and we have been pierced by betrayal, loss and disappointment that is beyond what we had known up to that point as well.

Both/And.

As I sat watching the pictures in that video I had another set of pictures running alongside it in my head, the scenes that make up the past decade.  There are scenes I want to cut, ones that don’t make sense, scenes that haven’t resolved into something picturesque and beautiful.

Generally, I think most of us have strong propensity to stop any suffering we are experiencing.  We look for the cause of the suffering and seek to eradicate or fix it.  We judge what is happening in hopes of blunting the pain by making sense of it in some way.  In essence we say, “this story is terrible and I want it to end.” 

But reality is that once a story begins to unfold in our lives we can never be the same, it becomes part of the fabric of our lives.  Trying to eradicate it or minimize it takes a great deal of energy that in the end creates denial or deceit as we seek to hide it or squeeze it down to something small, manageable and barely noticed.

I texted back to my friend this morning,

We all want shalom. Hope is tied to risking the belief that we could experience it again in a new way.

She sent back, “That’s a big statement.”

I believe shalom is actually the place where every story belongs.  Shalom is not peace in the absence of pain or chaos, shalom is the place where the opposites belong and the resulting wholeness brings peace. 

Most recently for me this has meant considering, again, where Jesus is absent in some of my narratives as I talk with my counselor.  If I believe that my heart and soul belong to the Lord than I am only whole when I am with Him and He is with me.  When my stories reflect a lack of His presence then there is an absence of shalom. 

I have found that I can only hold the “both/and” of my life’s unfolding stories with the help of Jesus and the wholeness that He brings. 

So, here’s to the stories belonging, all of them. Shalom.