The one that began with a baby and a puppy

Finn 15It all started with a puppy and a baby in a driveway.

As they crawled towards each other, we knew we were getting good neighbors.  We didn’t know we were getting So. Much. More.

That baby and puppy are now four years old.  And soon, the boy who is no longer a baby will pack up his mom and his dad and his sister and move away.  I’ve known this day was coming for awhile now, from the moment they sat us down and said “So, we got this email – and we’re just exploring – but this is possible.”  And there’s no doubt that they are heading to greatness – to a place that is filled with family and opportunities and God whispering to take brave steps.  And in that, there are many reasons for happy squeals.

But also, they’re leaving (insert whine).  And while friends moving away isn’t new – I guess you could say it’s one of the costs of living in Southern California – there is something very new about their move.  Because there was something very new about their friendship and the way we got to do life together.   So I’m getting a whole new set of questions directed towards me … “How are you doing with this?” … “Will you be okay?” …  at first I was put off by the attention, wanting to say I’m not so pathetic that my life won’t go on without them.

I wanted to say it’s no big deal.

ButI knew that would be a lie.  And it got me wondering –  I don’t know why we’re all afraid to say that the people in our lives are a big deal.  And really, how sad would it be if friends moving away was met with a “meh” and a shrug.  But somehow, I felt the need to down-play my response.  To down-play the impact their move will have on my life in some desperate attempt to prove independence or something equally stupid.  And yes, I do have other friends, but I don’t have another Nick, Karen, Finnden and Ellis – and having them for the last four years is such a big, beautiful deal.

Because every now and then we get friends that make our story better – like meeting characters in a book that you didn’t realize were even missing until you meet them and sit back and say “ah yes, this is a better story now”.  They are the characters that make you laugh so hard that no sound is coming out.  The ones that help you heal.  That grab a flashlight and hold it out in the dark and scary places God calls you into.  The ones that make you jump into a pool with all your clothes on.  That will down a cheeseburger and donuts with you at midnight.  The ones that play a major role in the scenes choked by laughter and the ones drowning in tears.

Finn 5The days that started with a puppy and a baby in a driveway became nights of laughter around a dinner table.  Talks that started with the traditional “what do you do?” evolved into “who are you as your truest self?”  Through walks and talks and game nights and movie nights and play dates and work days and heart-times and hard-times those questions found answers.  Through diapers and long work shifts and hard losses and great wins we grew and changed.  Through celebrating together.  Through mourning together.  Through sharing words, and the moments that there are no words for.  Through watching and waiting.  Together.

And somewhere, in between the simple days and the deep places, friends became these friends.  And my story was bettered because their baby met my puppy in the driveway.

I recently read this question:  “How expensive is it to be rich in friends?”  Answer:  So expensive.  Especially when you say “goodbye” or “see ya later” or “send me pictures of your new home!  and your new friends!  except the skinny pretty ones, don’t send me their pictures”.  So expensive – if you’re willing.  And we should always, always be willing.

It’s tempting – in this season of change – to decide that this is the Last Great Goodbye that I’m willing to make.  But I know that’s not me.  We decided long ago that the currency we’d most prefer to be rich in is friends, and we are indeed wealthy, so with that comes costs.  So I’m choosing to feel it all, and to be willing to feel it again.  I’m choosing to feel the deep sense of gratitude to the Great Storyteller who knew I needed a Nick, a Karen, a Finnden and an Ellis.  I’m choosing to answer questions about how I’m doing with their move by celebrating that people matter – that friends are a big deal.  I’m choosing to let myself cry even as I write this, because tears are the bodies’ way of saying that something matters.  I’m choosing to cherish each memory of Finn and Ellis growing teeth and personalities and knowing that even if I don’t make it into their long-term memory, I got to give them a special place in mine.  I’m choosing to rejoice with friends that are following God’s voice and will again be surrounded by seasons (I’ve heard there are 4) and grandparents.  I’m praying for the new friends that will fill their living room and their hearts – yes, even the skinny pretty friends.

And I’m choosing to be ready.  Ready to share life across the country instead of across the room.  Ready for surprises that show up in a driveway.  Ready to be messy and generous and needy and real.  Ready to live life that is both expensive and rich.  Ready to say that we should all be so lucky to live life so wholly together that a friend moving away is Such. A. Big. Deal.

Finn 1

30four

Thirty four years ago I was given a gift.  A chance.  The chance to find out what this world is all about.  To learn the cosmic dance of beauty and brokenness.  I was a surprise to my mama, and I think I’ve been surprising her ever since.

I’m not very good at birthdays.  I get self-conscious with all the attention – and I get even more self-conscious with a lack of attention.  So you know, birthdays are ripe for anxiety in this department.

But this year I’m not freaking out.  Mostly.  This year, I’m rather blown away by how full these 34 years have been.   And I’m thankful.

34 years into my story, there are so many things I didn’t know would be true of today.  I didn’t know …

… I’d be married to my best friend.

… I’d have filled two passports and be starting on the next one.

… I’d dance on white-sand beaches with crystal clear waters.

… I’d have twelve nephews and nieces, each with personalities that could fill a book.

… I’d have no children of my own.

… I’d know what infertility can do to a soul.

… I’d own a house.

… I’d be happy about owning a house.

… I’d love a dog who snores.

… I’d know foster children by name.

… I’d love scuba diving.

… I’d understand what “thirty-something” means.

… I’d “feel like I’m still in my 20’s” … until I want to go to bed at 10pm.

… I’d drive a convertible.

… I’d have friends that can beat up your friends.

… I’d still wonder if God knows how to do math.

… I’d have a twelve-year-career under my belt.

… I’d know the sound of someone’s last breath.

… I’d hear my niece’s first breath.

… I’d have friends that really do last a lifetime and across the miles.

… I’d find the deepest parts of my soul through my pen.

… I’d discover my favorite place in the whole world: wrapped in my man’s arms.

I didn’t know how brutal life could be, nor how brilliant.

But now I do.  And THAT is what this 34 year old woman (for real, that number is freaking me out) will celebrate with each Happy Birthday that comes her way.

She Came Back

Last year, I got to share a story on the ROCKHARBOR blog based on my time at Royal Family Kids Camp that summer.  Other true stories from this same camp have become a movie:  CAMP (easy to remember).  This week, I’m making a shameless plug to GO SEE THIS MOVIE, and I’m reposting “She Came Back” to show you a little bit of why I, too, come back each year.  

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She Came Back

Sharing someone else’s story is hard.  So I won’t share her story.  I will share mine, and where it intersected with hers.  It was only for five days, and only for moments at a time.  So you see, I don’t really even know enough to share her full story.

I first saw her name when I wrote it on her bunk bed’s sign.  I first saw her face when she peeked out from her curly mop of hair as she organized that same bunk bed.  I first felt her strength when she wrapped me in what she called a bear hug but I swear was a way to show me she could crush me.

She is eight years old.  I am thirty-three.  I have been to this camp before.  So has she.  Royal Family Kids Camp.  A camp for abused and neglected children.  I was scared the first time, but it is now my favorite week of the year.  It is a camp filled with children that are easy to love.  I have never met an 8 year old that was difficult to love.  Until this one.

Let me back up to the first steps she took off the bus.  I wasn’t there for this moment, but I was told that when she first met her camp counselor – my cabin-mate for the week – her first words were of the four-letter variety, words that should be unfamiliar to an 8-year-old, making her position crystal clear:  she was NOT here to receive love.

But we were there to give it.  And all week long she flung it in our faces.  She was obstinate and rude and physically abusive to all adults in her path.  I shed many tears that week wondering “Child, what evil could have been done to you for you to know this kind of hate, this kind of raw mean-ness?”

You see, that’s the part of her story I don’t know.  I don’t know anything about what happened to her before she stepped off the bus, or after she stepped back on.  But for those days in between the bus steps, God’s family – God’s ARMY – rallied and fought and stretched at the seams to prove to her and to ourselves that our love could conquer her hate.  To rise to the challenge of loving our enemies with Christ’s love – all the while wondering how an eight year old just became our enemy.

104 kids came to Royal Family Kids Camp this summer through ROCKHARBOR’s partnership with other local churches.  104 broken stories intersected with about two hundred adult volunteer’s stories.  And most of those intersections are sweet, fun-loving, precious, swimming and splashing and having a good time.  We get to plant some happy memories in the lives of children that have had brokenness hit them all too early.

For five days, 300 stories converge at camp, and let me tell you, it is a beautiful mess.  Messy because the kids aren’t the only ones who come with brokenness.  But beautiful because it is redemption.  Because it IS love conquering hate.  Because it IS an army of believers standing up to the evil done to these children and saying EVIL, YOU WILL NOT WIN.

On the day that she climbed the bus steps to leave camp, I was right behind her.  Leaving a week of camp is sad for any child, but can be especially heart-breaking for a child returning to an unknown fate in the foster system.  So tears are abundant.  In front of me, I heard her commanding a six year old: “Stop crying.  STOP CRYING.”  Oh no, I thought, she is gonna cuss out this 6-year-old for crying.  This is gonna get ugly.

But instead, the next words shocked me as this hard-to-love camper said “I know how you feel, because I cried for a whole week after I left my first year.  But I came back.”

Right there, her story’s intersection with mine became much more than a child who was hard to love for five days.  Right then, she unwittingly let me see inside a heart that has clung to these five days.  Where she will spit.  And we will love.  Where she will cuss.  And we will love.  Where she will run.  And we will chase.  Where she will fight with us.  And we will fight for her.

She came back.  And so will I, again and again and again.

Building Future Ruins

Future Ruins

I’m in a building season.  Literally and figuratively. 

I’m building a new me.  I’m restructuring and redesigning places in my heart.  Letting light into dark spaces.  Splashing new color where before it was drab.  Serving up new tastes and projects to stimulate the senses.

I’m not alone in it:  My husband is my biggest champion, and constantly reinforces the me who sits at the teahouse in quiet and rest.  The me who is inefficient with her time and heads to the beach.  The me who fails more because she tries more.

I’m building a new ministry.  Shaping values and goals.  Seeking the core truths of God’s heart.   Putting together words to try and express His vision for His Bride, and how she is to care for orphans.

I’m not alone in it:  I get to build this ministry with an amazing team.  Volunteers, pastors, social workers, and regular old Joe’s like me who are willing to roll up their sleeves and take some hard knocks.

I’m building a new house.  Not from the ground up, but from the inside out.  A bank-owned home just became our first home, and it needs new paint, new bathrooms, and most exciting/daunting of all, a new kitchen.  It needs life and light and love to be poured into it again. Image

And I’m not alone in it:  We have amazing friends and family, ready to get dirty and knock out walls.  Ready to analyze paint swatches and window treatments for hours.  Ready to pray through every room in the house.  Ready to enjoy the soon-to-be-BBQ area as a reward for their labor of love.

I’m in a building season.  And I can’t help but be ware that what I build today will someday be a story-once-told.  The projects of today are the ruins of later years.   Rather than deterring me, this is invigorating.  I love walking the ruins of Rome, the archaeological finds of Israel, and the restored relics of Istanbul. 

And while I don’t expect to ever build something worthy of a guidebook, I do want to build with future ruins in view. 

When I design a kitchen, I want to build more than cabinets.  I want to create a space where hearts are opened up in between bites of chips and guac (which should be plentiful thanks to the Avodaco tree! Can I get an Amen!?).

When I step away from building an Orphan Care ministry, I want to have more than a folder of events and procedures to leave behind. 

When the new-me is no longer on this old-earth, I hope there’s a whole lot more than dust in my wake.

I want to build future ruins, because when you walk through ruins, you see the strong stuff, the enduring stuff, the stuff that held all the temporary stuff together.  

When we’re in building seasons, we actually get to have some say in what will be discovered about us.  What mark we get to leave.  I pray that my future ruins tell a story of relationships over tasks.  Of a healthy marriage.  Of generous living.  Of core truths over meaningless compromise.  Of exploring.  Of redemption. 

What about you?  What story do you want your future ruins to tell?

The Season of Impossible

We have one of those messy refrigerators.  Inside and out. You know the kind.  The one with endless notes and random pictures posted on the front.  That’s ours.  The one with a cacophony of food tossed haphazardly in airtight containers on the inside.  That’s ours.

Organized refrigerators are a thing of mystery to me.

Among the disorganized chaos that adorns our fridge hides a quote:  That which is probable and impossible is better than that which is possible and improbable.” – Aristotle

Last night I overheard my husband and a young man trying to come up with what it could mean.

I know what it means.

You see, I’m a dreamer.  I come up with the impossible, and then I think of ways to make it probable.

I’ve lived a lot of dreams and have breathed deep of the impossible.

But I’ve also tasted the bitterness of the improbable becoming possible.

I’ve sat at the deathbed of a cherished friend taking her last cancer-weakened-breath.  Improbable, but possible.

I’ve held the hands of a friend who has lost five babies to miscarriage or still-birth.  Five.  Improbable, but possible.

I navigated am navigating five years of my own unexplained infertility.  Improbable, but possible.

Just this week, my husband’s days have been filled with visits to the hospital bed of a twenty-three year old suddenly struck with a severe auto-immune disease.  Improbable, but possible.

It gets harder and harder to believe in the impossible when you’ve stared into the face of the improbable.

Yet here in this season of Advent, I can’t escape it.

A baby born to save the world.  Impossible.

Death overcome.  Impossible.

Addictions conquered.  Diseases cured.  Marriages restored.  Impossible.

“Family” meaning more than bloodline and skin color.  Impossible.

Being healed by being broken.  Impossible.

Life coming out of death.  Impossible.

God with us.  Impossible.

Yet probable.  Because of a promise. His promise.  THE promise.

That’s what Advent is.  Looking forward to the impossible future because of what happened in the impossible past.  Celebrating the promise that made it all probable.  The promise kept.  The promise yet to be kept.

So this Advent, I’m choosing to let myself dream about the impossible again.  I don’t know if any of my impossibles will become probable.

But ‘tis the season of the impossible.  What’s yours?

Playing Hurt

“[There is a concept that] one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work.  This way of thinking is a form of Resistance.  What are we trying to heal, anyway?  The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free.  He has to play hurt.”  – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

This has been my Resistance. I have been throwing three-year-old temper tantrums because I. Don’t. Want. To. Play. Hurt.

If I were an athlete – which I most decidedly am NOT – then I would be the athlete who pretends he’s not hurt.  Who pretends his arm isn’t broken while it dangles awkwardly at his side, completely unusable.  I would get angry at doctors who told me to take it easy.  Angry at fans who removed me from their fantasy football team due to my injuries.

I would also be the athlete that yucked it up on the field for sympathy.  You know, like the soccer players that get “tripped” and then roll around in “pain” until the penalty whistle is called, at which time they jump up feeling remarkably better.

Yes, I would be both of these athletes.  I am both of these athletes.  I am just playing on the field of life, and my injuries take all different shapes and forms.  Some are minor, but I make SUCH a big deal out of them.  Others are major, and I try SO hard to ignore them, pretend they don’t exist, pretend I’m just as fine as all the other athletes out there.

This year, though, my playbook was laid open.  I’ve been unable to hide the fears and tears that come from the major hurts.  And I’ve found grace from people who will listen to me whine about the minor ones.

I keep thinking I have to be the girl who heals first, plays later.  Figures it out first, writes about it later.  Which is funny, because those aren’t really the people I like to hear from.  All of my favorite favorites are people who write from a place of honesty and truth, be it on cute and playful days or ugly and raw days.

But still I hold myself to a different standard and think I have to heal first, write later.

Today that changes.   Today I’m playing hurt.