Friday, September 4, 2015

For When it's September 1st

My dad's birthday was on the 1st of September.

Same day as his father's all those years ago.

It's been close to 40 years since he last heard the sound of his own father's voice and  over 5 years since I've heard the sound of his own - since our relationship reached the breaking point and everything crumbled and fell apart.

And I want to hold these words carefully and tenderly because I haven't always done so.

I write these words as a marking.

As a recognizing.

Not to shame or point fingers, but to hold what is wounded to the Light.

I spent years leading up to the first babies wondering which day would mark their births - what ordinary day would become extraordinary that I didn't know just yet...and so dates on the calendar hold weight for me. They always have.

I don't expect that to change.

There are days that heave with grief, and ones that fairly explode with joy and those square boxes on the pages of the planner in front of me are more than just blanks to hold words and names and appointments that I pen in. They hold deep emotions that mere ink can't convey while tears evaporate, leaving only wrinkled blots behind.

Elias, he sits behind me in the van around 10 this morning asking a hundred questions in 60 seconds and I smile as I try to keep up. He asks me if we are going to Madison House today. And then he asks when we are going to church...when our next day off is. When Christmas will be.

And I listen to him as he processes his days.

It's all so innocent.

He's not aware of the wars that are raging, of the people who are fleeing and the little ones who are dying and washing up on shore.

He's not aware yet that the news is hard to sit in front of, that the never ending stream of words sinks fear deeper and deeper into air already so emotionally charged.

He just knows that Sunday is church and Friday is for incentives at Madison House and Saturday mama really, really wants to sleep in.

This past week, as the air has been getting cooler and dark clouds mark the sky above us, our yard has been full of little ones after the Madison House doors have closed for the day. I've sat inside near the big front window to keep an eye on the craziness of the "restaurant" that has set up residence on our porch. Everything is whirling in the middle of their play and I miss the quiet conversation happening just down our front steps.

There's a little girl who has latched on to my oldest girl and they sit and whisper secrets and learn what it means to speak from the heart. This little one, her daddy has died and there are a lot of fears that rip at her heart and this is what she shared with my daughter.

Lyla, who has only ever known the presence and love of a father, she asks quietly if her friend knows who Jesus is.

There's only a small shaking of the head.

So, in her soft way, Lyla offers to pray with the one sitting beside her, offers to help the fatherless find her Father and while the air is full of yelling, a little one opens her heart up to the Love of Jesus and she is no longer lost, but found.

The ground all around us is holy.

I don't know how long it's been now since I first came across these words, but something deep resonated inside of my soul when I first read them.

Each month, I print out the pages and I place them up on my wall and when everything starts to tilt, when fear creeps in and I find myself overwhelmed, I grab onto the words of who Jesus is.

It was on that last day of August that I reached for the paper still warm from the printer and as I picked it up, my breath caught -

Beside the 1st of September were the words, My Daddy.

The day marked already by so many emotions, I stopped.

It's a day marked by the birth of a man who carries the title of father,

and son,

and the tears of a daughter who sits in front of that large front window wondering.

And Jesus, in His tender, merciful way calls to the deep in me that feels as though it is sinking and causes my swirling thoughts to slow, to recognize this day and this man as created by a Holy God - and then to turn my heart to the One Who calls me child because of wholly undeserved grace and kindness.

I think of the unfathomable-ness of God - how Isaiah trembled over the vision of Him and the train of that robe that filled the temple. How he crumpled to the ground because he couldn't bear the weight of such glory...this is Who calls me daughter. This is Who calls me to love and serve outside of what makes me comfortable.

This is He Who marks my days, both the ordinary *and* the extraordinary, not merely with words, but by His very presence.

Each day should bring my eyes to this fact first - God Himself is my Father and everything else rests on this foundation.

It's Friday today, which means a late evening with loud games and louder laughter filling the halls of Madison House before we head home for the weekend and rest.

But in the middle of it all is One Who is drawing us all to Himself,

and all the sons and daughters are finding their way Home...

Grace and peace to you from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.   Ephesians 1:2

Sunday, August 30, 2015

For When the Changing Seems Hard

The clouds rolled in during the quiet of the early hours yesterday. While it was still dark, the rain fell and the air that has been so filled with smoke cleared and lifted.

Zee still refuses to put on her shoes.

And that's okay.

Tony received an email this past week while the air was heavy and thick. While my eyes were burning, he sat down near me and read the words that marked and recognized his time at Madison House. August 27th marked 3 years since he stepped into his role, 3 years since he brought me with Zee all curled up in my belly and the older ones pressed close as we walked up the front steps, unsure of what to expect, but wanting to receive all that God would give.

School started this week. We pulled down our books and brought out our pencils and while the school buses drove the ones living just down the street to their classrooms, we gathered in our own small school room and we entered into this new year with new hope.

September is it's own version of New Year's I think. There isn't a counting down at midnight, or fireworks exploding over our home, but it's a new leaf full of new possibilities and for everything that we've removed from our schedules and our purposefulness in going smaller, these days ahead feel ripe with expectancy.

I sat on the front steps of Madison House at the beginning of the week, I watched as the kids started returning with backpacks slung over shoulders and fresh new haircuts and shy smiles as they walked by me into the front doors.

As faces that I've loved for three years now come into view, I feel that familiar ache press close into my chest. It's one I've been feeling all summer, I think, but as Fall quickly approaches, the ache is getting deeper and it's time to acknowledge what it all means.

From the time I was small, I wanted to be a wife and a mama. That's all. Some may think that it's a small thing to aspire to, and that's okay. I never had grand dreams of grand jobs, I just wanted to make a home cozy and warm for the hearts I would love. And when one is 10 years old, this dream and this wish seems like a lifetime away.

Now, I stand on the other side of the dreaming. It's no longer a hoping, but a fulfilling. My home is full of a good man and crazy kids, but this body that has cocooned my five babies holds no more and my breath catches at the suddenness of it all. Warm newborn skin no longer folds up into my neck as a new one breathes deeply in sleep...instead, arms and legs sprawl and clamor for space, as though my once-little-ones haven't caught up to the reality yet that our space is transitioning.

My heart is aching.

It's that deep ache that settles in as I watch these kids who have found such deep places in our hearts walk up the front steps I'm sitting on. 3 years ago, they seemed so small, so young and now I look into the faces that are changing into young men and women in front of me. There's one young man whose hair was all shaggy just a year ago, he was the first one of the MH kids to hold Zeruiah just a year and a half before that, he sits across from me all quiet as he tells me about his first day of school. This kid, who just yesterday wasn't it when he was mouthy and hurting? He looks me in the eye and says, "It was a good day. And yeah, I'm in the top grade, but that means I'm a leader this year. I'm going to be a good leader."

The moving of time is a good thing, I see and know this...I do. I just haven't been prepared for how quickly the transitioning would happen. As though the letting go of one stage and moving into the other should be more gentle, more slow.

Back during the blur of Liv's first year of life, when she was awake more than she slept, when she screamed more than she was quiet, when all I saw was the neverendingness of where I was at, Jesus gave me a verse in the dark one evening, in the dark of my emotions, and it was this:

He will tend His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in His arms;
He will carry them in His bosom, 
and gently lead those that are with young. 
Isaiah 40:11

This past week, when I was wrestling through all that my heart was feeling, I looked out the window at the big maple that hangs low over the fence. The leaves are just starting to turn colour on the edges, just enough to let us know the air is changing and soon a new season will be here. And there was, in the hundreds of leaves spilling off that old branch, one lone leaf caught in the glow of the sun.

I'm not sure why it pulled at me the way that it did, but for just a few moments, it reflected the glory of the sun off of it's surface...the deep green no longer seen, but instead transformed into a bright dazzling gold in a sea of shadow.

I don't know how long on this earth I have...the weight of this thought has been pressing in on me harder this year, but the One Who formed the dust I am made of, He has set me here, has given me all that I have here. And for a brief span of time in light of eternity's length, He has set His gaze on me here...and I can turn my life to reflect Him here, so that it's not me that is seen, but Him.

I think of that green all transformed into gold before winter's wind comes barreling in and it is no longer...and the words of Isaiah, they burn in my heart and as September comes nearer, it's a call I want to answer for me and for our children who have grown under my heart and for those who have become a part of my heart,

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk,
in the light of the Lord.
Isaiah 2:5

We have a Savior Who promises to lead the way...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dear Olivia {A Birthday Post},

It dawned on me last week, that I had you all wrong.

As though the world was flipped upside down and I could finally see all that I couldn't before.

It took 8 years and 9 months short of a week to see and there have been so many times in the last 7 days that I wish I could go back and make up for all that I didn't understand.

I wasn't ready for the gift of you.

I remember the pink positive sign and the tears of fear I cried, feeling wholly inadequate to be a mama to two children under the age of two.

I remember the miles the midwife had me walk, pushing your sister in the stroller, trying to navigate old and broken sidewalks in tandem with trying to navigate old and broken fears while you grew strong under my heart. Your quiet and small flutterings belied the powerhouse you would be.

It was during that time, when we found out you were a girl, that the name Olivia was mentioned. And loving words the way I do, I looked up the meaning to discover that it meant peace.

I craved peace.

I honestly craved quiet both in soul and surroundings and I thought that was what peace was...quiet.

So when you, Olivia, turned in all the wrong ways came bursting into the world on your very own terms and screamed your way through life for the first 2...3...6 years of your existence, I was convinced that we had named you all wrong.

That you weren't peace.

And in naming you such, you...and I...would always be reminded of that fact.

Oh, sweet Liv.

I've been so wrong.

So, as I sat in a conference last week while you were in the classrooms above tracing maps and coloring pictures and keeping an eye on your brother (to help your teacher, I'm sure. :) ), my heart was getting pried open and my eyes were beginning to see clearly.

The word Shalom gives a strong glimpse into the beauty of your name...and into the beauty of you. This greeting, said as a blessing, means this: You will have no lack, you will have peace and rest because you have everything you need.

Your name is a blessing.

Which means, when I call you, when I talk to you...when I talk about you, I am speaking a blessing over you and over those around us. May this very thought stop me in my tracks when our emotions run high and we both misunderstand the other.

I thought peace meant calm and quiet and when you weren't, I was blindsided. But peace, according to the woman speaking over us, it means that there is no area of lack. She spoke of A Plan for Peace, mentioning that it started with being in Scripture...because the word Peace is like a guard dog at the front door.

It makes me think of your insatiable desire for the Bible. How you keep the Scriptures right under your bed so that you can grab it before you go to sleep. How when you sense me growing frustrated you ask for us all to stop and pray. You long for the presence of Jesus and you desire to sense Him near.

I learned, in the back row of that conference, that peace isn't passive or quiet, but it is active and it moves with purpose and passion.

8 years and 4 months ago, when I saw you moving on that black and white screen, when you were named with a wrong understanding, Jesus knew that this name was the very right one for you and for all of the very right reasons.

This morning, just as the sun is coming up over the horizon, before it even has the chance to heat the air into the furnace it is supposed to be, in those early hours you will slip from being 7 and become a brand new 8 year old with all the flair that marks your every movement.

And I will have your breakfast birthday cake on the table and as you walk all sleepy into the room, I will pull you close and whisper your name into the air around us, inviting the One Who is Peace to come near because with Jesus, Liv? We really do lack nothing. I'll fail you in so many ways, but when we have Jesus, we are made whole and the blessing that we speak over one another becomes words of worship to the One Who created us.

8 years ago, I held you in my arms having no idea how my life would change.

You have changed it for the better, sweet girl; our family lacks nothing with your addition and we have been abundantly blessed.

May this year ahead grow you deeper and wiser - may it find you falling even more in love with Jesus. May you see that with Him, you lack no good thing always. Always. 

Happy, happy birthday, dear Olivia Grace. I love you so very, very much.

With all my love,



Thursday, August 6, 2015

For When Everything Changes

It keeps spinning, regardless of our circumstances. I know the truth of this. But there is a small part of me that wonders at times if there is a slight stuttering in the moments that matter, that form and change us...those moments that move us from one direction to another.

I guess the world would stop turning all together with all our many moments that bear the weight of change and notice, so I know it must keep orbit, held in the hand of the One who formed it. The weight of these moments instead lay deep in the heart, where He alone sees us most clearly.

It flashes in time with the blue and red lights filling the street just down from our house in the middle days of July, in the aftermath of bullets that fly from that rolled down window and enter the house just across the street from our front door. As officers tape off the road to block traffic and my phone rings with the number of a visiting dear friend. While she wraps her arms around me and calls out to Jesus for help as tears run down my face from not knowing if it was the house of one of our kids...from not knowing if someone we loved was hit.

In this circle of prayer, as we call out to the One who is Peace Himself, I find my footing in the anchor of His Name.

He hears us in the middle of chaos.

We leave for the unhurried craziness of camp in the hot heat of July. We leave the confines of wifi and cell service for the freedom of play and we find rest there, even as physical exhaustion sets in.

The second week that finds us in the height of trees and the cool of mountains, while the full moon was rising high and the field was full of the night game and teens, I slipped out of the lodge to walk in the fresh air. I wasn't expecting to hear the guttural scream or feel the tension of the next moments before the rushing and the call for 911. I see Tony's face and I know it's bad. Arms reach out for Zeruiah and I run with him in the dark on a dirt road so that we can direct the ambulances and emergency vehicles. I reach the field as it begins to fill with swirling lights circling around one of the most dear women I have come to know. This woman who retired just one week before coming to counsel a cabin full of teen girls and point them to Jesus was now laying on the ground with a leg twisted in all the wrong ways and there are times that tears are the only answer to the moments that don't make sense.

And as everything is tilting from the weight of pain and confusion, as her broken body is lifted up in pain onto a stretcher, the rest of us lean into the presence of each other as we hold the hands of the ones beside us and lift our voices up in prayer.

In this tender place, as we call on His Name, we find Him and He sets our feet on the truth of His presence. And He is there as the moon climbs higher and the smallness of us is deeply known.

It's here on this night, this night filled with so much brokenness and confusion, that a girl who knocks on my door back home and draws maps of imaginary places for my girls, who smiles shyly when I point out her's on this night that she hears the beauty of Jesus and how He makes the broken beautiful and she says yes and makes the decision to give her life to Him alone. She gives Jesus her yes in the hours before her counselor gets rushed to the hospital and we could see how God uses all things, good and bad, for His glory.

For whatever reason, I think of the story of the Good Samaritan and the brokenness he embraced. How Jesus used the unlikely to open our eyes to the beauty of mercy and calls us to a life that comes near to the hurting and tender places in another.

That's the key, I think. We may be afraid and uncertain, trying to feel our way through the dark and unseen, unsure of how it is all supposed to look. We can choose to stay back from what we don't understand, feel ill-equipped to handle, or even of what we are afraid of. We could, and it would be understandable. But Jesus pointed out the beauty of the most unlikely to a lawyer who looked the most likely in order to reach his heart.  The Samaritan, who was considered "Bad" by the ones who hated him most, came the closest to the wounds of  the broken in front of him. He didn't just come close, he gave of his time, his comfort, his resources - he gave of what he had and God called him "good".

Tony and I sit in the aftermath of these weeks at camp in our coffee shop chairs that still smell of caffeine and pastries and we ask the hard questions of each other that we had been praying over and seeking direction for to find that sometimes the greatest gain in our lives means the giving up of what feels safe and familiar. Realizing the small ways that I've been relying on things or "this is the way we have always done it" rather than on the faithfulness of Jesus.

I've been afraid to go smaller and simpler, afraid of what it would mean for our family and schooling and ministry. But if I look at the model of what Jesus put forward, I see a man who let go of what he had in order to add to the care and benefit of another.

The hearts of my children matter no less, the beauty of our family demands that Jesus and what He is asking come first. Letting go of the known for a season opens our hands to receive the gift of the unknown, trusting that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights. Letting go of the much allows us to give even more to the ones that He brings into our lives - we give from a place of trust and find that the stuttering moments have only just changed the orbit of our lives. Where we once focused on what was we now find our lives lined up next to the I AM and there is rest here.

Only half of the moon showed her face last night, she orbits and her face shows less then it did in the dark of a field surrounded by towering trees just one short week ago, but I'm not afraid of seeing the smaller picture anymore because I know that we are all seen by the One who spoke our days into existence and we are safe here, for we are always under the watchful eye of our good God.


Monday, July 6, 2015

When He Remembers

I'm reaching for a pair of her pajamas when I hear her yelling from the other room. She's become a yeller, the smallest one of mine. Loud indignation pours from her lips over any injustice she sees, real or imagined.

Tony comes around the corner, smile barely contained and shoulders shaking.

Elias grabbed something from Zee, he quietly tells me, and when I asked him, "Elias, did you take that from her intentionally knowing that would make her scream?", the lines around his eyes deepen as he starts laughing, Without missing a beat, Elias grinned at me and said, "Yes!".

Earlier, in the kitchen, after a dance party in the living room, he turns on one of the songs that I love to hear him sing and he holds out his hand and offers me a dance. Gently swaying on the tile, he pulls me close and I lean into the strength of him.

Kitchens can be incredibly romantic.

Olivia joins us within moments and starts chanting, Ewww!!! Brody!! Brody!!! Guys! Mom and Dad are kissing!! Brody!

I wait for a few moments for the song to end before I turn my head slightly to whisper that "Brody" is a boy's name...the word she wants starts with a "gr".

Oh...she grins, I'll remember for next time! and runs off to another room.

Even with the song over, the magic still hangs in the air and I don't want it to end.

The dishes can wait, can't they?

This past week has been record breaking heat-wise, temperatures soaring 20 degrees above normal and plants and people begin to wilt under the blanket of it. Last Monday, we escaped the furnace of Madison House and brought out the dishes and pans and served dinner out on the front lawn for the kids gathered for Sports Camp. The heat only seemed to intensify hunger and plates were heaped high.

I heard her voice before I saw her, insistent and pleading she kept calling out to see if she too could have some food.

Above the faces I was bent over serving, I looked up to see her face pressed up against the fence, hair wrapped up in a scarf and a face weathered and worn. She looked into my eyes and asked again, Could I get some food, please?

I looked over at Tony beside me and he smiled wide, Yes! Of course you can!, and I grabbed a plate of food and began to pile it high.

She stayed pressed up against the fence watching, remaining on the outside.

I look at her and I see Jesus as His words start running through my mind,

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty
and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was 
naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me,
I was in prison and you came to me.    Matthew 25:35-36

Tony, he's acting before the words are done rolling around in my mind and he is inviting her in, encouraging her to come near and get food.

And there is joy as she is telling us about the food she had smelled down street, how she had searched it out and found it here and as I ask if she wants tomatoes and jalapenos and onions and salsa, she just laughs and tells me that she'll take it all.

And I want to pile her plate higher.

Because yes, she's a stranger and a little quirky and yes, she had a little more than water to drink before she came across us, but she is made in the image of God and because of that alone, she has beauty and she has worth.

She takes that plate in her hands and smiles again and says a loud thank you before heading back out the gate and on down the street. 

I think of her today, after I tuck small ones into bed and listen to them giggle...I wonder if there is a mama out there somewhere missing her. If there is a mama who holds memories close to her chest and aches over everything that seems lost.  I wonder if there is a mama who had tender dreams for her girl and wonders over all that seemed to go wrong.

I wonder over her as a daughter and where she lays down to sleep tonight. I wonder if somewhere in the haze of what clouds her mind if she longs for home. I wonder over the choices she made and what path led her to us, if even for a moment.

I curled up in my green chair this morning before church and let the verses in Psalm 78 press hard into my soul, and I can't seem to get away from verses 38-39,

Yet He, being compassionate, 
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
He restrained His anger often
and did not stir up all His wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not 

  He remembered, and still remembers that we are all but flesh...that we are but a moment in light of eternity and that we only come this way once.

How beautiful that this stirs up His compassion towards us, us in all our sin and brokenness. It doesn't repulse Him,

it stirs up His kindness.

I think of my children, the ones who need me to remember this the most - to remember their frailty in the middle of mistakes and messes.

I think of the opportunities that He gives us everyday as we walk in the doors of Madison House, to remember His love for us as we see pain and fear and beautiful joy in the ones we get to serve.

I think of the sidewalk outside our home, the one that brings dear friends and gang members-turned-dear-friends and everyone in between up to our front door. I've purposefully marked the porch with reminders of love, not for beauty but for our hearts to remember why we are here.

We are here to love deeply, to see the image of God in each person we interact with. We are here to speak of His grace and His sacrifice to those around us. We are here to serve even the stranger because we are really serving and loving Him; seeing the unlovely places transformed to beauty because His love has been freely given for us.

He dances with me on kitchen tile and keeps his hand on my lower back while we sway. There are children scattered throughout our home yelling and reading and drawing and watching the way a husband loves his wife.

These are moments that are fleeting, moving so quickly, barely allowing my heart to catch up while bringing me one step closer to breathing eternity's air, and I don't want to waste them.

So, I'll love the ones that made me a mama and live alongside of me each day. I'll love them and serve them point them to Jesus, and when I mess up ~ which I do so very often ~ I'll point them to the wonder of grace and the beauty of the cross.

And for the ones who wander, who are lost and forgotten, who have a mama somewhere...or not; I'll love and I'll serve in the gaps where Christ allows, I'll love for the mamas who can't. I'll choose to see Jesus in the hardest of places and watch with faith to see Him bring beauty and healing.

And I'll keep dancing with that man of mine in the kitchen, until the wind of my life blows me Home...


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dear Elias {A Birthday Post},

You may not remember that Sunday when you began sobbing in the back of the van on our way to church.

You hadn't yet turned five, but your imagination was huge and six months before you had created this family inside your head and you were convinced that it was with them that you truly belonged.

I had been sitting on the floor when you came up to me, your eyes all bright and your smile so wide and you said, 

Mama? I have another Mama! And I like her better! Than you!

I could only answer by asking what she had done that made her more lovable than the very woman who bore you, and your reply was sure and swift,

Because she gave me a brother.

So six months later on the drive to church across town, as your wailing grew louder and your tears began to pour down your face, I couldn't imagine what was causing such emotional pain in someone so small.

Words began to accompany the crying and I began to understand,

They died!! They died in a fire! Last night my family died!! They are all dead!

I would have laughed, except you were still lamenting as we walked into the building and as you were signed in and passed from my hand to theirs, I had to whisper to the woman leading you to class that this family grieved for actually never existed outside of the heart of a little boy who felt a deep void.

This year has been a hard one for you, I think. Your big eyes take in so much around you, and as brothers come to the doors of Madison House and you watch the way they interact, you are realizing in small ways that they have something that you don't have.

You came up to me today, this last day of being 5 years old and you put your face so close to mine and you whispered,

It would have been better to be a girl.

I didn't understand right away, and I put my nose next to yours and I told you all the really super cool things that come with being a boy, but that wasn't what you were trying to tell me. Instead, you broke through my list and said with a trembling lip,

But if I was a girl, I'd have someone to play with.

Because as much as your sisters will sit down and play cars with you, they don't understand the excitement that comes from the crashing and the racing and the chasing. Well...Liv may, but that's a whole other topic. 

You fall asleep to the sound of your older sisters whispering and giggling in the dark down the hall and there are secrets they share that shut you out. You're still trying to decipher what Zee is babbling at you through the slats in her crib, or why she is screaming incoherently at her blankie all crumpled up on the floor as she determinedly tries to swipe your favorite car and flush it down the toilet. I can almost hear the thoughts building in your head some days...the ones that whisper, a brother wouldn't do that.

Only, he probably would, but you don't know that. All you know is that you are a little brother in a sea of sisters and that's probably a pretty lonely feeling sometimes, no matter how much they love you (Whether they show it or not).

You have been given a daunting task, brave son of mine. One you may not even realize you have. With two older sisters who feel it's their place to be Mamas #2 and 3 after me, you could easily be bowled over by the motherly attention.

In a different church across town tonight, you sit in a row and you sing songs and eat snacks and probably wiggle around more than once. You slipped on your VBS shirt and as you bounded out the door, your sadness was quickly forgotten.

And as I sit here in a quiet house I am realizing that maybe I have been looking at this all wrong.

I reached into the fridge to grab the cream for my coffee as I remembered Paul.  You know the one? The one who started out as Saul? He never had a son. He never had a daughter either, but I think there was something in Paul's heart that longed to be a father to a son. And I truly believe that God knew that longing in Paul's heart and do you know what He did? He brought along Timothy. Timothy who was raised by his Gramma and Mama - two women who loved Jesus more than anything and wanted their little boy to know Him too. A little boy surrounded by Jesus-loving women, but I can't help but wonder if little Timothy didn't long for a Jesus-loving daddy as well.

Maybe it's not a daunting task that you've been given, Elias, but a very intentional void. First, that this void would turn your heart to your Perfect Big Brother - the One who died for you and is preparing a place for you with Him. He loves you Elias, and sometimes He uses what hurts us deeply to show us His tender love in ways that we would never understand without it.

But this longing for a brother? I think it's like Paul's longing for a son, and Timothy's longing for a daddy. I think it made their hearts more tender to the need in each other. I think it opened their eyes to the void that each man carried and they were able to recognize Christ's hand as the One who ultimately filled those empty places. And it makes me wonder, sweet son of mine who carries this want so close to the surface, I think if we kept giving this desire of yours to Jesus, you may be surprised to see how many brothers He brings into your life. So many more than I could ever give you.

Because really, with our track record, you'd probably get a few more sisters out of the deal if we left it up to your Daddy and I.

Six years ago this evening, I remember laying on the floor of our living room, realizing that I would hold you in my arms so very soon. I remember wondering what it would be like to hold a son and be a mama to a little boy. I had no idea, I had only known daughters. You came so quickly in those early morning hours but the moment you were placed against my chest, I knew we were going to do just fine. 

You were named after your Papa and your Daddy, both strong men who have loved Jesus so strongly...but now there is more to your name as I pray over your days - the reminder of a little boy who longed for a daddy who loved Jesus and the amazing God who joyfully filled that desire.

Elias Timothy Tony, may you come to know Jesus as the only One who can ever take the ache you feel and fully satisfy it in Himself, but may you also come to know the joy of sweet answered prayer as He grows your family beyond us and opens your eyes to the breadth of His family and HIs Blood that connects us all.  I can't wait to see your eyes light up as you realize.

You turn 6 in the early morning hours while we are all still under sheets and the sun is just beginning to light the horizon. A Birthday Breakfast Cake will be waiting for you on the table and a car or two waiting to be unwrapped. And my heart will ache and grow just as  little bit more as your small years fade and your bigger years come near, but I will take delight in the son I was given and pray for so much joy to cover your days as you uncover more of Jesus in the dark and light of the seasons ahead.

I love you so, so very much.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

For When the Light Starts Fading

He sits all folded up around himself as he curls up on the grass in the middle of the open field in front of us.

He won't sit up or look up or even respond as different ones bend low beside him, trying to coax him out of himself and that protective wall already building around his small frame.

We are driving away from camp in an hour, and he doesn't want to leave.

We drive up into the mountains this past weekend with 90 other kids and 20 some adults and we get out of the inner city and the noise and the chaos and it's inevitable: When everything familiar is taken away, defenses come down and need comes rushing out.

There is no way to prepare for it, only to know it will come.

The many trips to the nurse's office with exaggerated injuries gives testament to this - it's not the bandage these small hearts need, it's the attention.

They need to know they are seen and heard.

That they matter.

This year, the net was flung wide, past the walls of Madison House and out into the community. The prayer was that many would come to hear and to know that Jesus loves them.

There are stories I can't even comprehend. I hear the words with my ears and I see the faces with my eyes and I can't connect it to reality. There are groups of children literally left to fend for themselves, some as young as 5 and 6 years old.

I look at Elias turning 6 in two weeks, exhausted and just needing his mama, curling up beside me on the chairs and falling asleep in the middle of music and yelling and laughter.  He doesn't even make it until bedtime before he's snoring and in his makeshift bed, he has an accident and he needs help to clean himself up. Tony and his cabin counselor walk him up to his bunk in the dark and I can't imagine him all alone trying to fend for himself.

But this is the reality around us.

Earlier, as the light starts fading, I strap Zee to my back, pass her a cookie and we start hiking up a well worn trail. I know where I am headed and why.

About half way, she starts kicking my sides, she's already yelling about the rushing water. It's a small stream, but to her it's a river and so we stand there together listening to the sound. It's about all I can do to hold it together as the words of that hymn start winding their way in my mind.

When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul".

In the days leading up to this weekend filled with stories of rejection and unwanted children and fractured families, a little one in our church family died in a tragic accident. A little one who was very much wanted and desperately loved.

And there are no words. Juxtaposed against each other, there is no making sense, no comfort, no relief from the pain or the grief of any of it.

The suddenness of it takes me back to our own dark days of unwanted grieving and while my own little one yells about the water and pats my head, I place my feet back on the trail and start climbing up again; I know where I am going.

And it's not the real cross, His blood didn't stain the wood on this tree, but as I round the bend and it comes into view through the trees, I could kneel right there on the sharp rocks and not leave this place.

It's an instrument of such gruesome torture, and yet it pulls me near. 

This life at times feels like a torture of sorts - a never ending wheel of pain.

Is this why the Cross brings comfort?

I stood in the kitchen of Madison House this past week with one of our middle school boys. And there are words still on the wall from Christmas and he was standing there reading them while I was wiping down tables,

Hey, Kimberley! What does that mean? What does it mean that Wise Men still seek Him?

I stand next to him with a dirty rag in my hand and he asks me if people are still actually looking for Jesus, if they can actually find where He lives here in this world.

Zee is trying to slam a door somewhere as we talk about Jesus and what it means to seek after Him, as I feel inadequate with all of his big questions, but knowing that the wisest thing I can do is to point this boy who is more young man back to Christ. 

So this is what I do this weekend, when my heart is aching because of all of this pain, I go to the place that reminds me of all of our sin and pain Jesus took on.

There is a verse in 1 Peter that I have been praying over our own family this year,
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree,
 that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. 
By His wounds you have been healed.

I don't think the Cross makes sense of our suffering - there are situations and pain that go beyond words and that our minds will never be able to wrap around. But there is the pain that Jesus went through that brings healing and comfort to our own unbearable wounds, that takes the depth of our sin and utterly forgives it. That takes the ugliness of horror and somehow opens our eyes to His beauty in middle of the unthinkable.

Tony and I had to leave a little early from the camp to meet waiting parents and set up for our arriving kids, but as we were walking away I saw that small boy curled up still on the grass, still not wanting to go home. His situation still unchanged. But he wasn't alone. Sitting beside him was the tall frame of his counselor, leaning into the pain of the situation with him.

And I think back to the conversation in the kitchen this week, the voice of that young man asking me if people still look for Jesus where He lives today. And the truth becomes crystal clear as the dirt flies up behind our van - 

When our pain encounters the horrific beauty of the cross and our lives become His own, He lives in the very spaces we are. He comes near in all our situations because He is already here. Emmanuel isn't just for the beauty of Christmas, He is with us in everything we face as we sit with one another in sorrow and in joy.

The stars peeked out in the spaces between the tall trees last night, Zee lifting her finger to point at the outline of the Big Dipper dipping precariously in the wrong direction - light boldly shining, not allowing the darkness to take over...