When You Stop Being Invulnerable

A friend (who’d worked at length with children) watched the two of them play innocently in the one small section of the waiting room where we’d told them they could unpack their tote of just a few toys. We’d described to him their first few months at home with with us and he witnessed what we’d said and more. They played without fear and securely under our boundaries, even though we’d not been within immediate reach. They took delight in simple trinkets, but even more in one another, as ones who were already siblings before they became our family. Neither set of eyes was dull, but alive.

“There’s a word for that,” he said. “They are ‘invulnerables’.”

He spoke to what we’d presumed. They were untouchable, unadulterated by loss that had shrouded the years before they could even walk. Our children — former orphans — had been preserved.

And I was relieved.

We’d said ‘yes’ to them knowing what the books said about the possible implications of loss and brokenness, but we hung on to optimism more than we did hope — because optimism is often marked by naiveté, but hope is forged. (We were too new at this to have forged real hope.) She’d always fight for her little brother and lean into me as mommy. He would trust. Their eyes would always be bright with expectation. They were the rare kind of “normal” that gets produced out of abnormality. I thought for sure.

Phew. Both Nate and I knew I wasn’t cut out for layered pain as a new mom. So we called them The Invulnerables and I exhaled.

Until one day we couldn’t anymore.

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Growth and time and siblings added to the mix revealed worn edges that two-on-two hadn’t. One struggled to trust. Another to lean in. The brightness in their eyes waned, for a time. A little bit of pressing and we saw tired years behind those wide-smiles and flickering eyes. Life had, in fact, worked them over before we held them for the first time. They weren’t as invulnerable as they once appeared.

{But really — is anyone?}

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I cringe, later, at what I’d call an over-share with a new friend sipping coffee. She wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t ready to say all that. I blush when my child says that thing in that way in public. I don’t want to send the text for the third day in a row that begs “I need prayer” and I feel slightly naked before the friend with two older (read: more composed) children, who stops by unexpectedly and sees my wreck of a house at 3pm on a Tuesday.

I resent the tears I cry over missing my Dad in the middle of someone else’s birthday dinner when I’m reminded that he’s gone.

Who, really, doesn’t want be an ‘invulnerable’?

Most of us have let life and humanity train us into thinking that vulnerability is to be avoided — in us and in others. It’s toxic. We’ve bought into the lie that exposure of the heart — in even the smallest of ways — only brings pain.

The one who makes that 9pm crisis call to friends to say “our marriage is stuck, can we come over and get some help?” wakes up to a morning-after “why didn’t we just resolve it ourselves?” gulp of shame. The 50 year-old woman who musters courage to whisper to her decade-old Bible study group “I’d still like to be married. Would you pray that God would give me a husband?” leaves that night feeling foolish for putting herself out there. The 25 year-old wanna-be songwriter sings the first song he wrote, passionately, before he steps off the stage and makes a promise to himself to never take a risk like that again. The mother of that baby in the NICU — whom the doctors said wouldn’t make it — works up a prayer for healing and asks others to pray with her, only to wish she’d just accepted her lot as the reality of that exposed prayer creeps in and over her. What’s it gonna feel like if He doesn’t “come through”? What will they say about me and my wild prayers? she thinks.

We’d all like to climb out of those few circumstances that somehow slip past the gate of invulnerability we so fiercely guard because we’ve only been trained to know the downside of vulnerability — the human side of vulnerability.

Branch Water MJ

When the first two we adopted stopped living so seamlessly in our world — no longer without a bump or blemish — I coiled. I’d built an understanding of us as family that required them to be invulnerable. They were smooth, easy, and I was safe and unexposed. During those first months after we got our second two children and when the bumps and blemishes began to surface in our first two children, I was terrified. My heart had attached safety to invulnerability and I was now unsafe, by my metric. Their vulnerability — the fact that their past had impacted them in ways I couldn’t easily tidy up — made me feel vulnerable.And I didn’t know what to do with that.

I didn’t know what to do with vulnerability.

It wasn’t all that different than the walk to the car after my “overshare” with a new friend or the way I felt after leaving a baby shower where my barren womb was noted … or when it wasn’t.

Vulnerability shuts down the systems of self-defense we create around our manicured lives.

And vulnerability, to God, is beautiful.

It’s His currency.

Flower Cherish

I form a language about God and nearness and tenderness, but I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it independent from my own vulnerability. I talk of Him as a kind Father and a gentle leader, but that language rarely moves to reality without some level of uncomfortable exposure in my heart. I pray for “more of God” but I rarely grow in personal, intimate understanding of Him without, first, wearing the kind of vulnerability that I seem to spend most of my time avoiding.

The invulnerables are impenetrable.

And those who learn to re-set their system in the face of vulnerability — to turn to Him and bury their otherwise-shamed faces in His chest — are the ones into which He reaches. They’re the ones who grow.

I want to be them.

Daisies MJ

I want to make the call to a friend at midnight because I need help, and turn to Him the next morning when my shame tells me otherwise.

I want to send a dozen texts for prayer and find out how safe it feels to curl up in His lap when that voice in my head tells me I’m a burden in my weakness.

I want to write a book (another one!) that exposes layers of my heart and life I’d feel safer not sharing and see Him wildly celebrating my partnership with Him when my heart starts to shrink back in fear.

I want to pray for my once-barren womb to open again, even past 40.

If the naked exposure of my vulnerability before God means I get to not just see but smell Him and touch Him and be held by Him, I’ll take it.

Invulnerables1

For Your Continued Pursuit (cause I don’t want you to just take my word for it): 2 Corinthians 4:7 | Psalm 22 | Psalm 34:18 | Isaiah 42:3 | Psalm 31:1-2 | Romans 8:1


The book: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet (Zondervan) is available here.

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First through fourth pictures compliments of Mandie Joy. Fifth picture compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

 

What Wonder Can Do for the Human Heart

Summer is about wonder.

I grew up knowing summer to be the pungent smell of saltwater air that envelops the east coast oceanfront towns.

We spent only one week per year at the beach, but my memory of those weeks overshadows swim lessons and day camps and bike rides to the neighborhood pool. Grains of sand embedded themselves in the seat of my bathing suit all summer as a reminder of the week when we rode the waves of the ocean until my mom called us in for dinner.

The summer after I asked Jesus into my heart, I couldn’t wait to get back to the beach — it was as if the air was thinner there.

I could talk to God more freely sitting on the sand floor (that He made) and under the intangible sky (that only His hands have touched). He’d been there all along, but this year I wanted to hear from Him.

Everything was {I’m writing over here today. Pop on over to keep reading —>}

Fatherless on Father’s Day {a note to my dad}

Dear Dad,

I once heard a set of parents say that they wanted their ceiling to be their children’s floor. If you’d heard that, too, you would have said it. You lived it.

Though your body was broken for about as many years of my life as not, I think I’ll always remember you as you were when you were 40. Saturday mornings, covered in the after-sweat of hours of tennis with John Engel, jogging with me around the neighborhood (when I was just learning to run for sport and not because I was being chased ), and being “cool Coach Welter” under the fluorescent lights of St. Joseph’s brand new gymnasium. That’s how I remember you, Dad.

Cherish Dad

Even after the time when girls start to hold secrets inside, I told you everything. Our stiff living room furniture absorbed conversations that were supple. My heart was safe with you, Dad. You normalized me.

Then, age fifteen brought with it — for me — a new understanding of God. My fifteen year-old heart was finally able to decide that I didn’t want to just acknowledge His existence, but I wanted to know Him and allow myself to see that I was known by Him. I fell in love at fifteen, Daddy — the same year you began to die to lifelong dreams as your body gave way underneath you. The vigor of your youth was slipping through your fingers like sand, that year I found God.

Dad Daughter Cherish

And the living room couch still absorbed our conversations, except now you were skeptical — sometimes curious — and I was fiery. How can’t you see? I thought, wondering why you could acknowledge God’s existence but not climb into His lap. Jesus was still historical, for you, the history-lover.

But you taught me to wait with your life, Dad. It was just passive, this time.

For years, you had taught me with your words and your actions to pursue my dreams and to not shrink back and to make an impact on the world around me. You taught me to run hard, Dad, just like you did with your life. A cause with YOUR name on it meant that it would be made known. You made the overlooked famous and showed us kids what it meant to love the unlovely. You made a mark.

But Dad, what you taught me when your body broke and you didn’t have any more words is what has changed my life.

You made your ceiling my floor in the darkest days of your life.

I waited on God, for you, Dad. Not patiently. But I waited. I prayed prayers over years for your heart. I labeled you stubborn but you were really just pensive and thoughtful. You saw more life and pain in your fifty and sixty years than I’d yet known in my twenty. You had more questions of God. I pushed and tapped my toe against the floorboards, anxiously, while God was having His perfect way with you.

… while God was having His perfect way with me.Isaac Cherish

That night Nate called me in to pray with the two of you and I knelt on the floor beside the chair (that I’m sure still has a permanent imprint of your figure), made the decades seem like months and the years seem like days. Your “yes” to Jesus that night was perfectly timed. He knew when He looked at my fifteen year-old heart, full of vim and vigor, that I’d get formed in that fifteen years of waiting for you to say “yes” to Him.

He also knew that your soul was about to go home.

And that’s when your ceiling became my floor, Dad. In God.

Doorway

How do I say thank you for teaching me, with your life — lived and died — that God will father me when the sun sets on my external life? 

Hands

God became a whole new kind of father to me, Dad, when you died.

You primed me to receive a loving Father, by the way you made me safe and then you left a gaping hole that my heart so desperately needed in order for me to know Him more. You ushered me into His chest, Dad, by your life.

And you ushered me into His chest by your death.

Death has no sting when God fathers.

(The gaps that our broken fathers and mothers leave are opportunities for God to uniquely and tenderly parent our weak hearts. One day — instead of wincing or avoiding to look at those painful gaps — our cry might just be: thank you, God, for how you gloriously repurposed, not just patched, those gaps of our parents’ broken lives.)

Here I am, now, staring daily down the corridors of my children’s almond eyes that hold a once-fatherlessness behind them — and I show them what you showed me, with your life and with your death: God comes in the ache and the gaps. And He breathes. Right there. He scoots near. He presses His once-flesh against our bleeding wounds and He heals hearts, even when bodies hang in the balance.

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The place where you left me with the biggest gap, Dad, has become the place where God’s glory shines the most through me. (This book is not just my story, Daddy, but it’s yours.)

Your ceiling became my floor, Dad. When you and I both least expected it.

I love you,

Sara


The book: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet (Zondervan) is available here.

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(Second two photos courtesy of Cherish Andrea; All others, but last, courtesy of Mandie Joy.)

How to Love a Man

Dear husband — it’s not just them whom you’ve trapped in wonder.

They’ll make you cards and sing songs to which they’ve forgotten half the words and climb all over you first thing Sunday morning to wish you Happy Father’s Day, but I’m the one who sees what seven and nine and eleven year-old eyes are too young to catch.

Father’s Day is my day, for you, too. I might just take credit for the way you hold fledgling hearts in calloused hands and don’t bruise them. Because you practiced, first, on mine.

Marriage can make a man into a true father.

Hands MJ4

Marriage might have made a father out of you.

My ten year-old heart — dressed up in a twenty-four year old body — learned what not to do before I ever even tasted what strong love from a weak wife could do to a man.

Sometimes you have to have a history of what not to do before the doing becomes something driven more by your heart than the playbook.

So I mastered what not to do.

You came to me with your eyes studying the floorboards and put the bloodiest part of yourself right out there in front of me — in a whisper because something about secret-keeping makes you feel safer when it’s finally let out in a whisper — and I fumed. I stormed. Right past your heart with eyes fixed on your actions, I lost you for what you did, not who you were inside. A husband, to me, was measured by what he did, not what his heart desired. A man who did what he didn’t want to do: you weren’t the exception I wanted you to be. (But He was forming you into one who was exceptional, even then.)

And I continued to master what not to do.

You got back up. Bloodied and stained, your hunger grew. And though everything in you resisted weakness in front of a women who lived expecting strength to be born, not forged, in a man — you did what few twenty-somethings could do and you lived, weak, before me. You were broken and I was stiff. I ran roughshod over your weak spots and nagged you to clean yourself up. I looked at the outside of you, but He was forming you in the hiding place, then. You learned His voice when my lips were pursed.

And I continued to master what not to do.

Measuring Stick

I made a mental scroll of your failings and called them my prayer list. I joined the band of women interceding for their husbands and forgot that there was a whole lot of me that needed intercession. Life would be good and right and easy if you’d just grow — my way, I thought. I fixed eyes on what you weren’t, all the while — right underneath my nose — He was telling you who you were. (A man who hears from His Father who he really is is a force to be reckoned with.)

Husband, you were being shaped into a father when I wasn’t looking, all before you had a child to call you daddy.

I wanted outward strength and He tenderized your insides.

I wanted perfection and He produced a glory in your weakness that even the best of the world can’t hold a flame to.

I wanted you to be just like me and He took me to the school of who I really was when you wouldn’t bend to my way.

In mastering what not to do I, then, learned how to love a man.

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The best fathers hold fledgling hearts in calloused hands without bruising them, because their own hearts had been given permission to be amateurs in the hands of a very safe God. In a world that tells twenty-somethings that they need to conquer and thirty-somethings that they need a big fat bank account and a following and impact and forty-somethings that they need external stability (whatever that moving target might be), the twenty-eight year old husband — the forty-three year old dad — needs permission to bleed.

A man who learns he can bleed — who learns he must bleed — finds the blood of God’s Son to be his only safety.

It’s in walking through weakness and finding the Father’s eyes on them, there, that boys become men.

Daddy

You found His eyes, husband — you’ve developed a pattern that started with minutes and rolled into days and months and has now become years into a decade where you’re every day finding His eyes towards you.

You’ve taken eyes off of all you’re not and placed them on all He is and you’ve became a father, right there.

For this next stretch, I’m “in” … k?

Bring your bleeding heart to my kitchen floor and I’ll hold it.

Whisper your weaknesses to me in the dark when the pillows we’ve had since I unwrapped them at a bridal shower absorb your tears and mine.

Ask me for that list — you know, the one I’m making throughout my day as I talk to Him about how He sees you.

Push me to change — to put on big girl pants and be the one who asks, first, what is it in me, Father, that needs changing?

And maybe I’ll learn how to be a mother, right here. You and I, together with a couple of kids, fumbling — bleeding — but hungry for a God who gives us a swift brush with the supernatural in the context of weakness.

Happy father’s day, husband.

Girls Nate MJ

HowToLoveAMan


The book: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet (Zondervan) is available here.

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First photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Last photo compliments of Anna McParlan.

 

What Do You Say to that Voice that Wants You to Quit?

How many times do you need to respond to something in one particular (toxic) way before you notice a pattern?

With five kids, one of them still in diapers, my answer is usually “many.” But I’m pretty sure that before the five kids and before I had one in diapers the answer was still many.

We are creatures of habit, and we can be long in the habit-making before we realize that some of those habits have wrapped themselves around our air source.

One afternoon a week I sit down to write.

The babe’s down for his nap, the children are building forts in the woods and Nate is working from home with one eye on the computer while answering to shouts outside of “Daddy, we found a turtle. Come see!” and “Is it time for a snack, yet?” and “Can we ride bikes down the hill?”

It’s a rhythm.

HK-78

I drive a few miles away to hide in a local coffee shop while they shout through the trees, and the baby monitor props on Nate’s desk, droning in the background.

My drive goes something like this: first, I remember the things left undone at home. Was the oven still on? I forgot to check Lily’s reading. Ooh, the bread for dinner is still in the freezer.

If unchecked, that line of thinking could move from: hmmm … should I just turn around? It’s a busy week …to … what I am thinking trying to add this creative exercise to an already long list of life?

If unchecked, I walk through the door of the coffee shop, order a chai and sit a little more slumped, a little less enthusiastic about my writing now that I’ve let myself be reminded of all that I’m missing by spending these few hours here.

Just like the week before, I open my computer, set the background music and I pray: Help, meet me Lord. This is You – by You, for You, to You. I see the girl two tables over, also writing away on her computer. A paper, maybe, or a book? She looks intent and if I’ve allowed this rut of unfettered thoughts, I’m susceptible. “The world doesn’t need another writer,” I could think about myself. “There are so many people saying something … anything … why do I want to add my voice to that noise?”

If I don’t remember to quiet this voice because now I’m too far in, believing it, I befriend it, openly.

Ice Evergreen Cherish

I could stare at the screen, and the writing idea that had been bumping around in my mind for days suddenly seems foolish. I’m my own opponent now. You’re just wasting time. You’re too young to write, anyways, and in the wrong generation — the best books are from long-dead people who didn’t have Facebook. You’re gonna look back on this years from now and wish you never wrote it but it’ll be cached somewhere forever. I had a page of notes and I cross a line right through them, tattoo it with FAILED.

I’m better off just reading today, I’d reason — and so join the throngs of writers and painters and accountants and schoolteachers and photographers and mothers who on this one very day forfeit God’s display of glory through them in exchange for a lie from the enemy.

You see all this? I’ve let you into a toxic habit that He has been gently healing over the course of years. But could this also be you?

Mothers who send their children on the school bus only to walk back down the driveway in shame at the tone they used just five minutes earlier — I knew I’d never be a good mother to this child. And mamas who educate at home, exhaustedly declare to themselves: I’m ruining my kids, just like I feared I would, as their unfettered self-analysis.

Photographers and painters and musicians who got all geared up (equipment in tow) for an afternoon of playing with God — only to come home empty-handed. If I can’t get it just right, I’m not ready to try and I surely can’t get it just right today, we reason.

Bankers and lawyers and architects who showed up to work with an empty cup in hand, wondering who might validate this vocation about which they’re passionate, but who are still spending every day’s commute considering quitting because they aren’t hitting the achievement marks they thought they would be by now.

Business owners whose sales this year were less than last’s — but who hired one more employee. Who was I kidding to think I’d make this idea work? I knew it — I’m just an irresponsible kid underneath this suit is the unspoken anthem ringing through the back of their head. Missionaries who’ve not yet seen one heart turn to Jesus, say to themselves: I knew I should have kept my salaried job. I wasn’t made for this.

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If we’re honest, most of us struggle with the business of this particular kind of habit-making in at least one area of our lives.

Except, can I remind you of the secret that might just change your morning commute?

When we shelf that boldly-vulnerable expression of ourselves because this shameful lie spoke louder, we have missed a meeting with God.

The accusations in your head aren’t the personal report-card you thought they were, they are arrows from an enemy who’s hounding your life and your pursuit of God. He’s found your weak spots — you know, the ones that were maybe even pre-purposed for the greatest glory of God in your life — and you’ve been duped. The enemy is, after all, a thief and destroyer of what is good.

There are closets full of half-painted canvas and electronic files of never re-opened stories and dusty dreams you once dreamt for your children that are awaiting revival from Him. ‘Cause when we shelf that boldly-vulnerable expression of ourselves because this shameful lie spoke louder, we are missing a meeting with God.

We’ve created a call-and-response with shame — we hear the lie and respond with a resignation letter — and all the while He’s inviting: engage with Me in the place where you feel most ashamed and I’ll breathe my Truth over your dark thoughts.

Friends, our closets are full of lost art not because we need a different hobby or career or life-expression but because we need to open our mouths and partner with God.

Trees Cherish

Use your voice.

Before my toes even feel the cold morning floor I have to use my voice to declare His Word over me if I’m going to live on the offense.

At the break of day, noon, night and a dozen times in between, His Word is your weapon. Use it. Read it. Say it. Sing it. We can’t just clean the house of our minds and expect sustained clean-thinking without filling it with Truth. To live and thrive in God in this age, amidst all the competing noise and voices (the worst of which are in our heads), we will have to find a new way to engage with His Word.

Give yourself permission to try a new approach. Dust off your Bible and make it your food. You can’t live without it.

Glass Mug Cherish

 

(Before long, it won’t just be your dreams that die if this Word doesn’t have a PICC line into your veins. The enemy — that voice — is after more than just having you quit your dreams; he wants you to quit God.)

Pick up your paint brush again (or your spreadsheet or camera) as an act of warfare while your voice — singing His Word — echoes against the walls. Don’t hasten away from that place or space that’s caused all this internal commotion: lean into it. With Him.

You wanna know what this looks like for me? I’m writing another book. Yeesh. I didn’t just say that but now I wrote it.  (Cached forever, right?) Though the contract was signed a while back, I get to sign up again with my heart and my pen and say “I will not succumb to the enemy’s pursuit of my heart. I’m gonna bring Him glory here.”

Over the months ahead I’ll share a few more details that I don’t share on the blog, as well as some of my favorite things in a monthly email to those who opt in. Sign up here to find me occasionally in your inbox…

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For Your Continued Pursuit (cause I don’t want you to just take my word for it): Romans 8:33-34 | 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 | Ephesians 6:10-16 | James 4:7 | 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 | 1 John 4:4-6 | James 4:7 | Psalm 89:1 | Isaiah 26:3 | Revelation 12:10 | Zechariah 3:1 NIV | 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 | 1 Peter 5:8-11 | John 10:10 | Matthew 12:43-45

Photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

UsingYourVoice2

 

It Takes Work to Rest

It’s a radiant four pm. The counters are wiped, slick. The sink is empty and dinner is simmering next to my teapot, also humming. The children are willingly lost in the woods out back and the babe still asleep. I can’t smell anyone’s afternoon sweat and there’s not a disparate sock in sight. The only smell in my house, aside from dinner, is the new candle I lit to memorialize afternoons like this one.

I sink into my chair, alone, with a book and my Bible and I’m ready to receive all that the next full hour of rest has for me.

This is you, too, right? “Once every three and a half months,” you answer, if you’re like me.

Except in my mind’s eye. If there is room for fantasy for a mother of five who moonlights as a writer, this would be my daily fantasy: {continue reading over here —>}

A Call from {and to} the Hurting before Mother’s Day

The brownstone was swelling with song and the windows were sweating from the collision of packed bodies in a small space against the stark winter air. I didn’t think we were going to a house party, I thought, feeling uncomfortable even before I even crossed the front door’s threshold.

We entered to well-known worship music — translated through what sounded like “local” flavor. The furniture had been moved to accommodate the standing guests and the musicians’ equipment. This was a cross between a concert and a modern-day church service. Some watched and others participated, but the mood was generally festive. A party among friends, except we only knew the ones with whom we came. Nate and I exchanged questions without saying a word. We took one another’s temperature through an eyebrow raise and a discreet turn of the mouth, both of us saying you sure we should stay?

That’s when I saw her.

She was in her late forties or fifties, and her mind seemed lost in a dance that I’d not really known outside of a high school rock concert. She had little awareness of her surroundings; or if she did I couldn’t tell. Her eyes were closed. She was all hands and body sways and song. I judged her. I speculated. This couldn’t be real. Who is her audience?

As quickly as the thought entered my mind, another phrase trumped it: You don’t know what she’s been through.

Window CHerish

Though I couldn’t determine the source, it was enough to cause me to pause. At that point, I was familiar enough with my own internal judgments to know that not many of them produced fruit.

And, after all, we’d come out of curiosity, not scorn.

This scene was not our scene and these people, not our people. But we were like researchers, curious about what happened down the street from our little steeple.

So, I decided to pray for this woman in effort to win over this subterranean thread of judgment that was infecting my night.

And my prayer continued intermittently throughout the evening; for some reason I couldn’t take my eyes off this woman. As I asked for His heart for her — something I’d only recently begun to practice, as an effort to to swim upstream against the judgment I had spent years nursing — this thought came: She’s like Mary.

Flower Cherish

It came to me as my own thought, but I suspected it wasn’t actually my own thought. After all, I’d not seen her actions in a favorable light and the woman who poured out her alabaster livelihood to anoint the God-Man was one of my favorites.

Now, I felt a little nudge to tell her this. Urgh. I don’t want to do that, I thought. But I felt it to be a restitution for my judging heart — this day, judgment would not win.

I pushed past the concern that if I shared this information it might validate her attention-seeking behavior (which I couldn’t condone  — again, another one of judgement’s seeds, that I was somehow responsible for evaluating her), and I approached her where she now was, in the back of the room.

“As I prayed for you I saw you to be like Mary of Bethany,” I said, awkwardly and above the noise, not exactly looking her in the eye. I was not fluent in the language of this environment. She looked away, and then back at me, and then she said nearly the same phrase I’d heard hours earlier:

“You don’t know what I’ve been through.”

Then, without hesitation: “In the past 17 months I’ve lost both my son and my husband. They both died. Worshiping Him is the only place that I can find joy.”

I was silenced, taught a lesson in the way that only a face-to-face story can teach.  And then I realized that maybe I’d come here just for this.

Pearls Cherish

Over the decade that followed, I got to be her. Sure, I was too “refined” to flail and wail demonstratively in front of others, but I had a story of emptiness on my insides and an external reach for God that was unconventional, as a result.

Barrenness is about what you don’t have — so it’s often undetected. I was sick — my body wasn’t working — but I didn’t have crutches or a sling. I just had my waist-line, unmoving. And human nature teaches us to assume that what we see is what’s true.

Just like that woman, I had a story that no one knew unless they pressed.

So when Mother’s Day rolled around and we were new in our church, I wanted to be as invisible as my womb. Sitting between round-bellied mamas and women who’d “earned” their gray hair from their babies made me want to tuck my story even deeper inside. Let them notice my outfit, not this pain. A few rough handlers of my story led me to believe that everyone was callous with what they couldn’t understand.

But the joyfully-pained woman from years before in that brownstone was my parable: let these others in and they might just grow, just like you did when you saw that she was more than what you’d judged.

Mother’s Day has opportunities for both the ones being celebrated and the others who want hide under their bedsheets and eat chocolate for breakfast, away from all the people.

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To the one for whom Mother’s Day is painful — single, empty-wombed, on a paper-chase for your child but without a girth to show for it, estranged from one of the ones you love, or without a husband to rally the troops to massage your feet and make your dinner — uncurl your clenched fist, the one that’s holding that story and your pain so tightly. Let Him in. Cry to the God who is nearer to your pain than even you are and ask Him to make this ache into part of your greatest story in Him. You might just find Him in a way you never have before, right here.

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To the one who’s round bellied or driving a mini-van or with a husband to celebrate you: ladies, this week is your week to try on His eyes for another’s pain. Ask Him to give you a name (or two or three) of those who are hurting and reach right into their stories. They might be slow to respond to you, but know this: they are more than what your eye tells you. These ones, pained, in our lives are the ones who invite us to see that God made hearts and stories with layers and that our eyes tell us only one small part of what’s really there. The broken ones in our pews invite us to see the God who reaches in to them in a way neat-and-tidy often prevents.

So, sure, it’s a random day on the calendar — remembered the night before(and forgotten the day after) while harried daddy’s distribute construction paper and crayons with hopes that this somehow translates into love — but for many women, this one random day stirs up a whole lot of not-so-random ache.

And for the rest of us, then, this one random day stirs up a whole lot of opportunity to reach in to their stories and love them, there.

Let’s practice, with this one day, seeing the woman in the room — who leads you to think one thing about her when you notice the designer bag she carries or the dated shoes she wears — as a beautiful creation of the God who has another story behind her name.

And see what He tells you, there.

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For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 34:18 | Deuteronomy 10:18-19 | Psalm 139 | Romans 11:33-34

Photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

A Little Love Note {for the mama still in her sweatpants}

Hey you,

Yes, you, still in your sweatpants and un-showered, hours into your day. This love note is for you.

Between seven a.m. when they wake, alert and ready to tackle the world and you and any sibling that accidentally touches the edge of that notebook that one-time a long time ago used to be theirs, and lunch you will field dozens of questions. The shade snapped, up, when seven arrived and you’re right in the thick of a motherhood that looks a lot different than when you prayed for their hearts in the dark, just a few minutes earlier.

In your mind, they were quiet and jammy-clad with the night weighing down their eyelids — and you poured out quiet prayers for their souls.

With seven a.m. came bodies that bolt and jump and climb right out of that placid sleep and into dress-up clothes and dolls and drama.

The older ones, they wear their layers — maybe not as loud on the outside but roaring beneath their skin. Where the littles count minutes until snacks and sweet treats, these older ones they hunger, too. They’re hungry for answers to all the questions you’ve just barely had answered yourself and the ones you’re still asking. You see them, awkwardly fumbling through who they are and who you’re not and trying find their one niche in a world that doesn’t know them but wants to own them.

Each child is a bell and they ring with their needs, sometimes all together.

All at once, this loud cacophony of sounds and needs and aches and you wonder how in the world God even allowed for a mother, much less you. They all need Him. Those bells, they ring and remind and hang out in your once-quiet space. All of them are needy for way more than your frame — still ringing its own bell of need and ache and hunger — can supply, yet {continue reading over here –>}

Finding The Love That Retrieves

We stand in line at the grocery store, no different than the week before. It’s Friday. The cashiers know my family and my children know them by name. Miss Misty is having a baby. Eden knew it months before it was obvious and I hushed her in fear that she’d engaged in the taboo question all children have a hard time containing. Mr. Ty’s daddy just died. Caleb prayed for him to be healed nearly every day since he’d told us, but Mr. Ty’s heart seemed to be healed in the meantime. “I believe in God, now,” he tells them as he weighs my cucumbers. Miss Sata has a new hairstyle, again, and Mr. Roger still isn’t quite sure my groceries will fit in the oversized bag we use every week.

Just like at home, I forget we are “different” when we are there. We may have been”different” to each one of them, when they first met us, but now the normal we live everyday is just as normal to the man re-stocking the produce each week as we scoot our cart passed him.

But one week, our cashier was new and curious and demonstrative. The groceries slowed to a halt  on the belt and his face flushed, red, as he gushed about them and gave kudos to me. “Wow, it’s so amazing what you’ve done.”

Adoptive mamas alike share the same discomfort with comments like this, but this particular one struck a new, strained, chord.

This week, when the window shades were pulled, I had been far from amazing.

Tired at best. I hid behind my bedroom door and cried, exhausted. Was it always going to be this hard? I’d run bone dry — out of those tender, patient words with a long-suffering tone, and this particular child pushed away every movement I’d made towards love. It was as if every one of this one’s actions was purposed to say: “I’m going to make it impossible for you to love me. I’m waiting for you to fail me. Prove to me I’m not worth it.”

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And fail I did.

This one needed steady and I reacted. How many times will this child resist my advancements towards their heart? In my fearful expectations, I inhaled those years of fatherlessness like it was a death sentence. Albeit subtle — all in my head — my child read me, of course; a child, once orphaned, becomes an expert at detecting a weak-link of love. They prepare to flee at the first indication that love might fall short.

Hearts bleed in my home in different intervals, but at any given moment one or another is reminding me that we aren’t exactly re-creating normal. I press my hand against the wound and it hemorrhages and I wonder if we’ll ever stop bleeding out old blood.

What a perfect storm. The recovering perfectionist fails and the child backs away further. Who wouldn’t fail this child who’s fiercely resisting my love? I argue to myself. This one waits expectantly for their history to repeat itself and I fight feeling trapped by their expectations.

On days like these, as you cry behind the shades pulled tight while your neighbors are shouting out accolades, the YouTube video of the beautiful moment when they found themselves wrapped in your arms is not enough to sustain you. Those of us who have said yes to the wounded child   — or even if you just happened to find yourself raising one — need a grid for their very worst days.

He gave it.

In words, once. In expression, all throughout history.

Go again.*

He told the man, Hosea, who married a harlot that couldn’t leave her darkly-patterned ways. What a life calling. How do you explain this to your mother and father, whose dreams for you surely stretched well beyond welcoming a stained bride who still hasn’t decided yet if she is staying?

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His words to me are in kind. Look deeply into those eyes that are like vacant corridors and hold that child again. Let their forehead feel your lips. Scratch their back and tickle their belly and tell them — again — that they are yours … forever. Call forth from what is not, what will one-day be. “…just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel” (Hosea 3:1).

You see, friends, he or she (any one of them in my home on a given day) is only my greatest challenge if I believe that my eighty-something years on earth were intended for me only to know safe love — the world’s version of love. If I am to receive and live a love that has a known a shape and form that doesn’t bend or break or bleed, then these ones are a real problem. A hindrance.

But His love isn’t plastic.

And He said about me what He is saying to me about them.

Go again.

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So I go, again, to this child — not because I have some stalwart strength that needs recognition from a grocery store cashier, but because I want to invest my life in knowing the “other-than” love of the Father that outlies every one of my natural understandings of Him.

It’s not my resolve that equips me. My knees are busted open and blood-shod from falling in my pursuit of this one’s heart. But in my weakest moments, I can know this love. Because of my weakest moments, I can know this love.

The most beautiful part of my story these days is bloody.

A friend recently stared into the eyes of her daughter, adopted at an older age and bristling — hard — against her love, and said tenderly, “Babe, you’re going to call me your best friend one day.”

That’s His love that goes again.

Going again is looking into that dead-pan expression and saying it’s not about how far gone you are [the lie they’ve listened to all their lives], it’s about how far He is willing to go to retrieve you. 

Holding Hands

FLower opened

I won’t come by this love naturally. It’s not natural for those of us clothed in flesh to lean in, not back, when pushed away. The real life-blood of God courses through my system when I resist the urge to divorce my heart from the battle for theirs and, instead, go again.

It’s in the going again that we wear the cross and find out from experience what we know in Word, that that tree was more about life than death. Though death was required.

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The person in our lives most challenging to love — the child in our home, the husband who shares our sheets, or the friend down the street — is the instrument for bringing us to the end of that plastic kind of love and the beginning of our own personal revelation of the cross as a doorway, not just a destination.

He’s aptly positioned them so we might have a place where we get to be the rare ones on the earth who share His heart — the heart that goes again.

They aren’t our biggest challenge, friends. They are our greatest asset.

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Making it Practical for those in and outside of adoption: If your love for the one under your roof has run dry, start the line of prayer with yourself: Father, where I am putting up walls to Your love? Where am I not receiving You? Though maybe not connected by blood, this child was given to you for more than just their own heart’s redemption. Every one of their challenges is tied to something He is also doing in your heart. Resist the urge to divorce them in your heart and ask Him to reveal the layers in you that need to know Him as the Father who goes again.

 Spend time meditating in the gospels on the cross. Smell the blood and sweat against that wood. Ask Him to make His Word alive in your experience.

And put what He shows you into action. Slide away from the screen, pad your way down the hall to her bedroom, and wrap your arms around her, tight. Ask Him on the way “How do You see her?” and tell her what He shows you. Make it a habit: hug her as many times as you feed her. Give her His words about her, not just your observations. Let them become her true food.

Go again.

 

*For Your Continued Pursuit: Hosea 3:1 | Hosea 2:14-15, 19-20, 23 | Hosea 6:3 | 1 Corinthians 13:-10 | 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 | Galatians 6:14 | Hebrews 12:1-2 | Matthew 10:38-39 | Colossians 3:2-3

First, fourth, fifth and sixth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Second and third photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography. Last photo compliments of Thrive Photography.

Holy Week Adoration: You Said Her Name In That Way

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him,“Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). – excerpt from John 20:11-18**

You conquered the world’s limitation, and You called her by name.

She stumbled, unknowingly, to the rock which held resurrection’s imprint. She hadn’t received Your words of promise. She lived her years beside You, but didn’t understand You. She wept for a loss that was, instead, great gain.

Mary’s easter Sunday was still the dark, black night.

This is the flesh You came to save.

You didn’t chastise her lack of expectation or her mourning as unnecessary.

You called her by name.

She didn’t recognize Your stature, or even Your voice. But she knew You by the way You called her name.

Oh, God, so personal — Your victory didn’t preclude You from leaning in to the world’s weakest. You still called her name, with that lilt in Your voice which revealed You not to be stranger with inside information, but friend.

You still call my name with that lilt in Your voice which reveals You, to me, as friend.

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I adore You, the One who won with love, for loving me by name.

You saved the world and not one of them escaped Your sight. This first Easter morn, Your reacquaintance with her, provides a lifetime of  understanding, unfolding.

God most personal, God most powerful — You hold both.

You see me. You name me. You know that name.

You say that name in a way which only You can say it.

And when the world is trembling with great terror and strife or erupting with the glorious goodness of You coming forth, You still stop on the historic scene to say a name.

Rabboni, my great teacher. You are teaching me with Your love, bold to save humanity and quiet enough to whisper my name in a way that only I can recognize.

I adore You, Father who knows me.

Your resurrection … it’s personal.

Today for all mankind.

But still today for me.

Your eye, still on me.

**So …adoration — what do I do with these posts? you ask. First, if you haven’t yet, do read: Why I AdoreHow to Really Fall in Loveand The Words to Use When You’re Not Ready to Talk  to give you a context.

If you are compelled, don’t wait until you feel familiar and comfortable to start (ready, FIRE, aim). Set up a space and time in your own life to begin adoring. Over laundry or dinner dishes, on your commute to work, or in the wee morning hours — five or ten minutes is a great start. You can use the verses I list here with these Holy Week Adorations to start. Feel free to lurk or join the group of us over here, adoring daily.

Then practice praise — practicing telling your soul and telling God who He is. Even this small act of moving our mouths towards praise when we don’t feel it (especially when we don’t feel it), expands our insides.

I promise your weary soul won’t regret it.

First photo compliments of Mandie Joy. Second photo compliments of Cherish Andrea.