Gratitude 2022

Thanksgiving.
The crescendo of my year.
With an enormous deposit in the Thanksgiving bank of happy memories, anticipation swells as I cross each tiny detail of preparation off my list.

It’s was the Sunday night before THE Thursday and the text arrived quietly as I was admitting a premature baby to the neo-natal unit.
“Hey, wanna do an unofficial Turkey Trot, the three of us on Thanksgiving morning?” That was my daughter Robyn.
“Brennan is a great cheerleader while running and will make sure we all finish,” she added convincingly.

A handful of years ago, jogging in a 5K event got written in permanent marker on my bucket list. An invitation to cross it off with my beloveds felt like winning the lottery without buying a ticket.
I briefly calculated the risks. I am an Enneagram 6 after all.
The snow had taken a dump the last three days. It could be icy. I can’t afford to break a hip.
I haven’t jogged in 4 months. What if I fail?
Or what if I jog so slowly, they laugh and tell me they might as well be walking. Could I risk that sort of humiliation?
I answered cautiously. “If it’s not icy on the trail, I’ll try.”
“If we do this, you’re not trying, you’re doing!” Brennan replied emphatically.
Well, OK  then….I guess I’m doing!

On Thanksgiving Eve, we all collaborated on our jogging strategies. Being a morning sleepyhead, I considered the merits of an energy drink or a cup of coffee but Robyn’s instructed, “Drink water, mom…but not too much.” “Eat something too, but only a little.”

Thanksgiving dawned all Pure Michigan sunshine. My baby decided to join the party and the four of us met up at the trailhead, the mood anticipatory and optimistic.
Brennan managed our playlist including several Disney favorites. The kids sandwiched me in the middle and we headed north. My favorite direction. There were friendly holiday greetings between strangers along the way. The kids occasionally added, “2 breaths in and 1 out.”  Or, “We’re halfway there!”  Or “Watch up ahead. I think there’s some ice.” 
Never did they run ahead. 
Never did they complain I was going too slow.
And when I started to hit a wall, they started a countdown. 
“3.1…. 3.11…. 3.12…. 3.13….”
We crossed the finish line together at 3.20 miles. 5 kilometers exactly.
“You did it mommy!” 
“You can cross it off your list!” They announced celebratorily.
Initially, I thought they’d invited me to join them in their thing, until I realized that they’d concocted this plan to support me in mine instead. I had been seen and heard and valued, the very definition of being loved. And right then, I felt loved.

The rest of the day had other green pasture moments. Traditions old and new, near and dear. 
Our sweatshirts read TAINGEIL. That’s Grateful in Gaelic, a nod to the memory of our hiking adventure in the Scottish Highlands last summer. A supremely good and perfect gift.

We wore them on our gratitude walk and listed the mercies, one after another. At the table spread before us, we joined the Psalmist in recounting the cornucopia of blessings God provides for his hungry children.

It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all gods. Every morning tell him, “Thank you for your kindness,” and every evening rejoice in all his faithfulness. Sing his praises, accompanied by music. You have done so much for me, O Lord. No wonder I am glad! I sing for joy. O Lord, what miracles you do! And how deep are your thoughts! 
Unthinking people do not understand them! No fool can comprehend this: that although the wicked flourish like weeds, there is only eternal destruction ahead of them. But the Lord continues forever, exalted in the heavens, while his enemies—all evildoers—shall be scattered.
But you have made me as strong. How refreshed I am by your blessings! I have heard the doom of my enemies announced and seen them destroyed. But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him!

Psalm 92 (The Living Bible)

Once a year, on the fourth Thursday of November, we feast on His goodness. It’s the day we set aside to count our blessings and number our gifts instead of dwelling on our disappointments and rehearsing our annoyances. In a world where there is otherwise so much personal and communal sadness, injury, injustice and loss, Thanksgiving offers us a 24 hour sabbath rest from the chaos of another year. And for this year’s opportunity to celebrate with the ones I love best, I’m grateful.

Who Lived a Sweet Life for Jesus?

Yesterday it was Halloween. Adorable little ladybugs, princesses and cowboys walked the streets of our community loading up on candy from neighbors in their cute, little, plastic, pumpkin buckets, their parents tagging along behind them on the sidewalk. At least, that’s the Norman Rockwell portrayal of the festivities of the night. And I have friends whose families experience replicate it idyllically.

We didn’t celebrate Halloween when our kids were little. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about cute and candy makes me exceedingly happy. I like the Rockwell picture. It’s pretty much what I experienced as a kid back in the good old days.

But Halloween isn’t just that. It’s also scary costumes, spooky houses and horror movies. For some, it’s a Wiccan celebration for connecting with the dead and the spirit world too. And, if you’re an Enneagram 6 like I am, you remember isolated news reports about evil people who laced kids candy with toxins and menacingly killed them. And that takes you over the edge.

So, when my kids were itty-bitties, I decided to find an alternative that offered all the fun without any of the fear. And the church calendar made it easy. The day after Halloween is All Saints Day, a celebration that honors martyrs and saints, known and unknown, flesh and blood humans who lived imperfect but devout lives. 

Our festivities began on October 1. The kids decorated their brown paper bags with markers and stickers, stencils and crayons, ribbon and glitter. Every night after dinner we read aloud a story about somebody, somewhere who did something with their life that made Jesus smile. Then we asked the question, 
“Who lived a sweet life for Jesus?” 
In unison the girls called out the name of the character in our story.
 
I spent a fortune on our candy stash. No tootsie rolls here. Only the best of the favorites in our candy bowl. The kids chose one piece for their bag and another for desert except on bonus nights when they got two. They earned extra candy by independently reading stories about heroes and heroines of the faith and re-telling them to the fam. 
Some years we decorated pumpkins with happy faces, carved out a cross or planted fall pansies inside. 

On November 1, the night after the neighbor kids got all hyped up on sugar, I cooked a special meal. The kids plundered the dress up clothes bins and created costumes based on their favorite saint and wore them to dinner for the big “reveal”. After they told us who they were and why they chose that person, they got to dump their candy out of their bags and over-consume like the neighbor kids.

Traditions are sacred spaces where family communal practices shape our relationships and I wanted to include Jesus in every single one. I figured that if God’s instructions about loving Him explicitly told me to include Him in my family’s daily routine of sitting and walking and lying down and getting up, then surely, He should also be a focal point in our holiday celebrations.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Deut. 6:5-9

And in those fleeting early years of innocence and tenderness, I determined to be vigilant about bathing them in beautiful images, lovely thoughts, and good ideas while insulating them as best as I was able from the scary, ugly, evil realities of a broken world.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Phillipians 4:8

I’ve loved this tradition we shared, not because it’s better than anybody else’s but because it was ours and it was special and it was good.

This year, I texted the family chat and wished everybody a happy All Saints Day. I told them who I chose as my heroine of the faith this year and why. 
I asked them who theirs were. 
One response. 
I texted again telling them that in my heart, I’m sending each of them their favorite candy.  Crickets. 
Sometimes it’s hard to let a good thing go. 
To end a tradition.
To wonder if they’ll forget. 
To hope they’ll remember.
To acknowledge that the season has changed. 
To bless the leaf that first budded, then offered shade and life giving carbon dioxide before coloring our world all golden as it died. Sometimes we’ve got to just watch it float away from the tree, held by invisible arms as it dances gracefully toward the ground. To say it aloud like a benediction, “To Everything There Is A Season.”
Amen.

On Being A Daughter

It took every spec of courage I had plus several hits on the snooze button to get out of bed and face this day. Don’t get me wrong. I had a sincerely good mom and I have incredibly awesome kids. It’s just that Mother’s Day can be loaded on both sides of the equation once you get past the stage where your kids plaster your refrigerator in homemade love notes with dyslexic letters and you all begin to see each other more three dimensionally.

That foundational connection between mom and daughter, the one where a child learns what it means to be human, before realizing they’re in the classroom of life, it leaves an indelible tattoo on the persons we become and that tattoo is always some kind of ugly-beautiful.

My mom wasn’t a perfect mother and I was not a perfect daughter.
I’m not a perfect mama and I don’t have perfect kids.
And, according to everything I understand about christian doctrine, the same holds true beyond the borders of my family tree.

Our lives, amalgamated together resemble the categories of Shakespearean theater. There’s a whole lot of history with a unique blend of comedy and tragedy. Plot lines from generations of stories all being lived out on the stage of our family relationships.

I wish life was like my daughter’s math curriculum. When she gets a failing grade on a lesson, I can delete it online and she can give it another try.
I wish we got second chances to work through the rough patches in our parent-child relationships.
I wish we could tap into that innate curiosity to understand our parent’s stories before it’s too late to ask.
I wish we could lean into the paradox of both the beauty and the broken in our family bonds emulating something of the grace we have ourselves received.
I wish we could know what we know after we lose a parent beforehand.

Last year, leading up to that second Sunday in May, I was in a puddle of tears. There’d been so much transition in the annum prior, a reconfiguring of my daily rhythms and a new quietness I was still learning to appreciate. In the hush, I found myself barraged by shame and grief over my failures and missteps as a daughter and a mother. One day, I ugly cried to my spiritual director, unloading the burdens I carried on my aching back. She encouraged me to write a letter to my mom, drive myself to the cemetery and read it to her. So I did.
Here’s what I told her:

Dear Mom,
You were born 101 years ago today. I’m glad you were. You brought much good to my world by being you. I want you to know that I noticed how hard you tried, how resourcefully and creatively you problem solved, how perseveringly you navigated a disappointing marriage, how hard you worked and how generously you shared. It was from you I learned hospitality. You taught me to be intentional about pursuing friendships. Thank you for putting feet to vision and determination, for teaching me by example that I can do a great many things if I don’t give up. I’m grateful that it was your priority that I grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Thank you for making sure we attended church, for my Christian education, for praying with and for me every night. I value music because you did and it has enriched my life. I shop thriftily because you taught me how. I’ve walked a million miles because you walked the first 10,000 with me.

Ours has been a difficult relational journey. While individuating is a natural part of growing up, the process was deeply disruptive for us. I imagine it must have been confusing to you to see our relationship dismantle and I couldn’t understand or explain what was happening inside of me but I assure you it was also extremely painful. Now, I understand better why I put up barriers, why I viscerally needed space. I’m just so sad that I got stuck there– that I wasn’t able to proactively contribute to relational repair. Now, I know experientially as a mother what it’s like to love profoundly and to cause great hurt simultaneously. We’ve lived a messy love. All of us. From one generation to the next.

I’m sorry that injustice, betrayal, abuse, poverty, alcoholism and marital friction were written into your childhood story and though that’s all long before my time, I’m sad that trauma remained an unwelcome and toxic companion all your lifelong journey. If I never put it into words before, I want to acknowledge that you experienced things no child should endure, that you were not to blame for and the consequent burdens you carried the best you knew how. Well done!

I’m sorry for the times I shut you out, unable to receive your sincere care and concern.
I’m sorry for my lack of compassion regarding worries you felt for me. I know what that’s like from the other side now.
I’m sorry for the times I ignored your wisdom when you spoke into life altering choices I was making.
I’m sorry that I was so focused on myself that I failed to see you, know you and love you one adult to another.
I’m sorry that I chose a favorite parent and it wasn’t you. That had to be excruciatingly painful, especially when your investment in me growing up was so much more intentional. 
I’m sorry for all of the opportunities squandered, the shared laughter quieted, the healing words and touch not expressed.
I’m sorry for my prideful disregard when your health failed and you needed to leave your beloved home.
I’m sorry that I ended up moving 1000 miles away when you and dad needed the most care.
I’m sorry I wasn’t holding your hand when you when you transitioned from this world to eternal life.

God made you my mom, through a series of surprise mercies. You loved me sincerely and served me lavishly. You journeyed alongside me faithfully on this hard and often pretty one-sided calling. I’m grateful for you! I know you were the right mom– the best mom- for me. If I got a do-over, I’d speak these word humbly face to face. There’d be tears and a long hug. 

I’m looking forward to meeting you in heaven, to seeing who you are now that you’ve been healed from shame and fear and have experienced protective, unconditional, holy love. I’m looking forward to how God will heal me too, and how we will reunite then and there. I’m looking forward to that hug.
I love you, Dolly

It was not easy to drag myself out from under the covers this morning. But I did. And I put one foot in front of the other and walked straight to that little college, where my husband and I shared life with our daughters in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment for eleven summers. We owned that campus, and there, we lived life to the full. I circled the road that runs around its periphery several times pedestrian style, pulling up memories to match every square inch of space and offered them up with gratitude to God. Then, I went back with the kids for a picnic on the big hill later that day. We immortalized the moment with a picture in the tree, that tree, the one we always took a picture in.

Then we went dumpster diving because my son loves to do that. He climbed right into a gigantic trash container at another college campus down the road, one where the students had disposed of their throw aways from the year and gone home for summer vacation. Some of the trash was absolutely rancid, but in that dumpster was brand new stuff too, good stuff, even great stuff. “SCORE!”, he said with a broad smile across his face when he climbed out and eyed his loot scattered on the grass nearby. 

Life is like that… To be a mom and to be a daughter, you’ve got to be willing to climb into the dumpster and sort through the garbage to find the treasure. It’s there! You’ll get kinda dirty in the process but you’ll find fresh, new mercies in the mix. And for today, they’ll be enough.

A Grand Adventure

IMG_065926 years ago today, everything changed for me!

That cheesy little Hallmark sentiment about being a mom means you forever have your heart walking around outside yourself, it’s gospel truth.

And that first little person God writes into your story, introduces you to yourself as a mom. It’s not that you love any of your children more than you love the others but the order in which God brings them into your life, it’s distinctive. There’s something about first-time motherhood that can’t be replicated.

JJ Heller describes it like this,

“Through your eyes this beautiful life comes into view. 

Through your eyes I didn’t see ‘til I saw it with you.

On a grand adventure, I’m along for the ride.

And I feel it all again for the very first time.

On a grand adventure with you by my side ‘cause I love to see the world through your eyes.”

(A Grand Adventure)

IMG_0646That’s how it’s been for me.

From dollyhouse, 

To stuffed animals turned “real”, 

To block towers and duplo architecture,

Questions about “Why?” And “What’s that?”

Piles of picture books,

Pretend play,

Backyard circuses, holiday programs and homemade movies,

Nature walks,

Swimming lessons,

Learning to ride a 2-wheel bike, a lawn tractor, then driving a car.

There were cottage industries, creative creations and entrepreneurial endeavors,

Music making,

Cooking, baking,

Conversations about faith and femininity, politics and people-groups,

And a voracious appetite to read, to know and to understand.

We’ve worked together, played together, learned together, worshipped together, travelled together, celebrated together, grieved together, and in recent years started hiking together.

It hasn’t always been easy between us. Growing pains have left us both nursing our own separate wounds.  But here’s the thing, neither of us ever did this gig before each other and there’s a learning curve on both sides. That, too, is part of the adventure.

Now-a-days, I mostly watch her back, from a distance. Listening. Praying. Trusting God with her unfolding story.

I marvel at 

Her courage.

Her tenderness.

Her passion.

Her beautiful soul!

She’s already lived plenty of her own epic adventures, but today, on her birthday, I celebrate the ones we’ve shared. From the simple everyday delights to the adrenalin rush thrills and all the moments in between, how kind of God to introduce me to motherhood with Angela. Being her mom has been one of my grandest adventures of all!

Living the Great American Dream

It was 1986. The guy trying to win my heart took me to a quaint little donut shop for apple turnovers one Saturday morning. That was the start of our beautiful relationship with Robinette’s, a multi-generational family owned fruit farm. One turnover multiplied into many over the next few years. Poor college kids, we didn’t always have enough money to buy donuts come the weekend, but when we did, we’d cuddle into the corner picnic table near the fireplace and plan out our picture perfect future together._MG_5475

About the mid-90’s, that same guy and I, we started taking our first baby to Robinette’s for donuts. Pretty soon, the kids and donut purchases both grew exponentially.
I can’t remember the first year we climbed the ladders into the cherry trees with our metal buckets to hear ka-plink, ka-plank, ka-plunk, but it turned into a family tradition every year come 4th of July week.IMG_5455DSCF4274DSCF9390DSCF8754
When our nomadic life landed us at Kuyper College apartments for the summer, we felt giddy at the thought of living next door to Robinette’s. We unloaded our Grand Rapids or Bust Chevy Astro van, and headed over to the Apple Haus to celebrate._MG_5478

Jim and Bethel served as both the patriarch and matriarch of the family business and the host and hostess for the farm. You’d find Jim tending the flowers he planted in the whiskey barrels out front, shining up his Model A truck right next to the 1884 farmhouse they lived in on the property or chatting with customers about interesting places and people he’d met all over the world. Bethel worked behind the counter serving customers and leading school groups visiting on field trips.
For more than 100 years, and 5 generations, this farm has been a family affair. Jim and Bethel’s sons, their wives and grandkids all work the farm too. Now, they are the ones adding innovations to grow their small business and make a family friendly impact on our community.

When Jim heard we were neighbors for the summer, he invited us to be back door guests. “Why don’t you just walk through the orchard to come over for donuts?” He offered. And so we did. We marked the years, the kids growing up like the apple sapplings planted in neat rows. There were 10 summers that we meandered back and forth, through the orchard, arriving about the time the apple trees first blossomed pink and leaving just as the first crop got picked, bagged and ready for purchase. And all our friends tagged along. We could have won a popularity contest in those days. Everybody wanted to come over to the Websters’ place to walk to Robinette’s. The kids ate donuts on the porch swing while us mamas chatted at a picnic table. Then, they’d play tag on the shady lawn over and around the mammoth, mature trees. Those were the golden hours of the best summers ever!

Fast forward that decade and our oldest needed a summer job to help pay for college, so she started selling donuts behind the counter instead of buying them. A few years later, the next kid needed work too and she served food at the lunch counter. Then, the third kid was trying to boost her savings account and landed her first job supervising the bounce pillow while drinking cider slushies. Exclusive employee perks. Then last year, the baby’s first paycheck came from guess where? Robinette’s.

We’re still regulars at the Apple Haus. Always on the lookout for the day olds. Stocking up on honeycrisp apples all fall. But last year, I could tell Jim wasn’t designing the flower arrangements in the whiskey barrels anymore. I didn’t see he and Bethel around the shop. Then, this May, right around the time the apple blossoms burst into bloom, I heard the sad news of Jim’s passing and a few weeks later, Bethel too, departed this life for eternity.

4th of July week rolled around in the weirdest year ever. COVID robbed us of our time-honored traditions—parading in Ada in the morning and fireworks at Reeds Lake at night. Late spring freezes stole Robinette’s cherry crop. Record high water levels on the Lake snatched away significant portions of our beaches and there’s a constant churning of unrest. Peaked unemployment levels erode individuals and families’ financial stability. Suspicion of anybody who coughs is fueling fear and paranoia about sickness and dying. Exposed injustice has amped up racial tension to boiling over, resulting in retributive vandalism and violence. And it’s another polarizing presidential election year.

It’s easy to pick apart what’s going wrong in America about now but there’s also a bunch of stuff going right.
Which brings me back around to Robinette’s.
Robinette’s represents quintessential Americana at it’s very best! America has been and still is a place where families can work hard- real hard, extremely, perseveringly hard– to build a life, a business, and a civic impact for good.

When the donut and cider line extends down Four Mile Road come Fall, it’s not just about donuts and cider.
It’s about tradition.
It’s about the simple pleasures of food and drink and family and friends and nature.
It’s where people come to delight in the goodness of all that God makes grow.
It’s a celebration of another year that’s come and gone leaving its unique fingerprint on each of our stories.
It’s a new batch of photos marking time and memories with people we love best.DSCF9399

In this rugged individualist culture, the Robinette’s are family rugged. Year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation, they steward their land, their resources and their business with integrity. And they do it together.
So this 4th of July, as I celebrated the birthday of the good ole’ USA, I reflected on the sweet lives of Jim and Bethel Robinette. If I weren’t a tea totaler, I’d raise a glass of Barzilla’s Brew in their honor…but I am, so I guess I’ll settle for an apple cider slushy. “Here’s to Jim and Bethel and all the Robinette’s before and after them. Your great American Dream inspires me!”

Mama’s Brag Book

IMG_5176I don’t think it’s a thing anymore but when I was a baby, my mom had a brag book. The words were engraved right on the hard cover with square slots for pictures with white borders around them tucked inside plastic sleeves.

A brag book might sound kind of arrogant these days, but it’s not. From the moment the 2 lines on a pregnancy test turn pink until the birthday celebrating your kid’s legal emancipation and beyond, both of you, separately and together are living a seismic adventure. And if you survive with your sanity reasonably intact and a digital album of the golden-most moments to scroll through on your iphone, call it a big win.

I’m super proud of my kids. I admit it. The ones I birthed and the one God added through the bond of love. They’re in-process, for sure, but then, so am I. And, there’s lots to affirm, especially about these two. So I’m celebrating Robyn and Brennan and their May wedding–2020’s greatest adventure so far.IMG_5005IMG_4637

How did that sweet little freckle faced kid grow up to be so stunningly beautiful?
And his eyes…they’re amazing!

Robyn, she came wired a compelling communicator–speaking, writing, drawing, creating music at the keyboard. It’s all in her head, like a gift ready to be shared at any given moment.
And Brennan, he’s creative, quality minded and resourceful. Those rings they exchanged— he crafted them out of gold he unearthed metal detecting. Then he found a small town craftsman and participated in the process of melting down, casting the gold and setting the stone.


All those candles, the centerpieces on our dinner party table, the kids melted down 100 pounds of soy wax in empty Pringles cans on our kitchen counter one cylinder at a time. The orbs illumined our smiling faces as we recounted the goodness of God in their stories and toasted to their shared future.


And I just gotta say, the bridal bouquet Brennan arranged was pretty sweet too!IMG_4626

That son I love, she’s safe with him. He’s loyal. He’s committed. And he’s been intentional about building a foundation of care and trust, one solid brick at a time.
And the daughter I love, she swims out in the deep end where you can’t touch bottom but you touch the depths of God. And she caught a vision of God’s heart for her man and invited him to join her. Now, she’s his biggest cheerleader. IMG_5194IMG_5229

Their relationship, it hasn’t been a linear path but they are learning that Plan B, C or D isn’t necessarily less than Plan A, it’s just different.

They’re content with the simple gift of everyday companionship.

IMG_5426
They’re taking care of their bodies with life giving routines–Eating home cooked meals. Exercising. Resting.
Before the birds sing their dawn chorus, my kids, both frontline workers, drag themselves out of bed, pour a cup of coffee into their thermal mugs labelled “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and head out to the hospital to offer skilled, compassionate care to sick people.
They’ve checked all the boxes that apply on Dave Ramsey’s baby steps to Financial Peace and are off to a great start with their budget.
Their cozy apartment is becoming a welcoming place of hospitality.
And most importantly, they want their lives to image Jesus so they’re establishing regular rhythms to pursue that goal together.IMG_4893

COVID-19 hi-jacked their original wedding plan but God’s mercies were extravagant on May 13 and by the time our two families stood together on the dunes of Lake Michigan witnessing their vows, we all felt pretty overwhelmed with gratitude for a day that just couldn’t have been any more amazing!IMG_4834IMG_4933

So, here’s to my kids. ……..
I’m proud to be their mama.IMG_4982IMG_4944IMG_5035

COVID Quarantine Mercies

Sometimes mercies arrive in the most unlikely packages.
Usually they come like the mail, every day around 1:00, the familiar squeak of a white truck’s brakes in front of the box,
Or transported by the trademark all-in-brown UPS guy.
Occasionally they appear as a delivery from the florist’s refrigerated van, a pretty bouquet with a card saying “Just Because”.
And then, there’s the guy who pulls up your driveway with no identifiable credentials and drops off something you weren’t expecting and didn’t order and you’re not sure if you want it, especially from a stranger.IMG_9860

Mercies are like that. Unpredictably lavish, everyday reliable and unexpectedly severe.

I’m reclining under the shade of a tree this start of summer afternoon, songbirds substituting for Spotify, breeze gently dancing through the branches keeping me cool, comfy chair too. Everthing’s picture perfect except that I’m swatting at unrelenting bloodsucking mosquitoes who are making a meal out of mine.

And that’s life.

I’ve always told my girls:
People are a mixed bag—beautiful but broken image bearers of their Designer.
Nature is majestic—full of grandeur- and at the same time all creation groans.
Our bodies are miraculously resilient while also incredibly fragile.

So, too the conundrum with mercies. At times, they’re profoundly better than we hoped. Gifts greater than what we dared to ask for. But sometimes, they weren’t on our list and we’d prefer to return them but we can’t. So much of the angst in life is set to rest when we learn to trust the whole spectrum of God’s mysterious graces and this season of COVID-19 pandemonium offers us unprecedented opportunities to practice.
Here’s what that’s looked like in our story the last 14 days of this year of Coronavirus.

I’ve got 3 kids who work in health care, reporting to the hospital day after day. We figured we’d all eventually get infected through them but so far we’ve just gotten free donuts for healthcare workers instead. Thanks God and Krispie Kreme too.

Robyn’s wedding took a direct hit from COVID-19. Plan A turned into Play Y by May 13. And I won’t lie, the lead up was rough—for all of us. But the day unfolded all sunshine. And one of  the bestest fresh mercies of the morning was the family friend who rescued us from our hair emergency. One by one, right there in our living room, she spent hours curling and pinning and braiding and clipping. And just like an assembly line, we stepped out of her chair all beautiful. We rode to the beach in our borrowed Ford RV chariot. The Lake glistening all diamond-like calm and the dunes warm on our bare shoulders and toes as covenant promises were exchanged. Then we celebrated together around a cozy candlelit outdoor table for 13 with pasta and cookie cake, finishing out the festivities with sparklers, confetti poppers and long hugs.

Two mornings later, my phone went ding while I was shopping at the grocery store.
That same sweet friend, texted saying, “My sister got tested for COVID last night and the results came back positive. I’m getting her symptoms and the CDC says it’s likely our family has it. I’ll be tested today. I’m so sorry but I wanted you to know.”

So, I messaged my family with the news.
“Oh wonderful!”
“I wanted to go home this weekend!”
“You mean I can’t volunteer to serve at drive-in church on Sunday?”
“Oh dear!” came the replies.

It wasn’t long until her follow up text confirmed, “I’m positive too.”

The ones who planned on a secluded honeymoon in the mountains went anyway.
Our nurse tested negative then went back to work.
The aspiring author just cleaned her room to make her creative studio more comfortable to write in during the quarantine rest.
And the one who wanted to go home to Chicago, but couldn’t on account of her conscience, got slightly cranky—only very temporarily though. Family time is great, but in moderation. At least that’s her perspective.

We formulated a plan, the four of us sleeping under this roof anyway.
We’ve all been exposed so we’re in this together, baby! 2 whole weeks of self-quarantine.
No Meijer. No Target. No Aldi. No Flowerland.
But, Yes to the trails. Yes to the beach.  And yes to the sunshine.
And the Chicago-girl and I, we made a pact.
Let’s not squander the time together, we agreed. Let’s redeem it. And we have.

May 15:
Caring friends start texting.
Ding. “Take plenty of Vitamin C and D and sit in the sunshine. Also, drink a glass of red wine everyday.”  “Why?” I ask. “There’s something in the grape, and the alcohol is like hand sanitizer for your stomach.” OK….
Ding. “Drink a lot of hot and orange juice.”
Another Ding. “Gargle and hot tea.”
Is there a pattern here?….

May 16:
Today’s best quotables:
“If I breathe on Teddy maybe he’ll get COVID and then I can get back at him for biting me last week.” (Lily)
“Life is really wow!” (Hope)

May 17:
Lily tested negative. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry. If we’re going to be stuck here for 2 weeks, we’d kind of like to get it over with and come out the other side with antibodies.

May 18: Got up at 10:30 today. That’s a 30 minute gain from yesterday. I’ve decided I’m going to give myself 1 full week to be entirely useless after the wedding and if I’m symptom free after that, I’m going to kick myself in the butt and get productive again.

May 19:
Daily fruit smoothie blended in the trusty Vitamix and doused in whip cream for everybody in the fam. Check.
2 mile jog. Check.
Switch out winter and summer clothes. Check.
I went to bed before midnight. Shocker.

May 20:
Second shower I’ve taken since the wedding.
Played Harry Potter Clue. Love is the only explanation.
Practiced a dance tutorial on YouTube for exercise.
Stayed up too late binge watching Netflix, heard a funny noise coming from the basement. I discovered a broken water line flooding the storage room. Caught it fast and an hour later, we’d cleaned up the mess and gone to bed. Murphy’s law mixed with fresh mercy. Isn’t that how life goes?

May 21:
My decks looks like a tulip festival. And when I peek through its floorboards I see a robin’s nest carefully constructed, strategically tucked under the wooden supports and housing 4 little blue eggs. Mama robin hovers nearby to protect her babies, hoping they’ll grow into healthy, autonomous birds. I get that.

May 22:
Watering and weeding. Every single day.
I cleaned out the room of the one who’s not coming back to it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go over it. Gotta go through it. And it’s hard….
Ruminating on the words of a new book I’m reading: “Your child has caused you pain as well, but as the parent, you do not get the freedom to bleed all over your child. You have real grief but your child is not the recipient of your grief.”  Ouch, that hurts! I’ve hemorrhaged all over my kids.

May 23:
Taking on the paperwork pile.
Started making my next T-shirt quilt.
Cancellations, refunds. No vacation to Prince Edward Island and the Lake of Shining Waters or Green Gables. Have I said it before? This year ranks low on my favorites list.
But, the kids buy me a 2 week subscription of Hello Fresh for dinner. Oh happy day!

May 24:
A quick trip to the lakeshore with Ang. First stop, the cemetery. Time for my annual meet and greet with mom and dad. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I didn’t have to talk to a tombstone. Next stop, the beach. The lapping waves lullaby me  and I nap in the sunshine. It’s fun to be together.
Tailgating picnic for 5 at Kuyper College on the big hill. Peace. Joy.
Then, the honeymooners return with stories of their adventures.

 

May 25:
Church in our oversized chair. Angela and I share her consecrated bread.
Sorting through memories–purging, organizing, saving. This time she relinquished her dowry—a seashell collection- the brunt of our family joke about the  junk she’ll bring into a marriage someday.
Hot day. Maranatha at sunset—climbed to the prayer tower. Plenty to pray about. Not a prettier place to meet with Jesus.


The tear ducts overflowing tonight. Can’t seem to turn the faucet off. So much transition.

May 26:
Not a morning person. Tried to jog first thing. Another hot day. Fail. 1.2 miles and I quit. Well, actually I collapsed.
More sorting. This time it’s school books. 2 categories: 1) Save for the grandkids. 2) Don’t save for the grandkids.


Holiday dinner. All the kids around the table. Dragged up an old family joke from the archives. “What do we call a fairy who doesn’t take a bath?” –“A stinkerbell.” I really, really miss those days!
Watched Emma (2020) though I never could stay focused on a Jane Austen flick. Their lives are so boring.

May 27:
Tomorrow we get out of jail.
I’m starting to think about life post-quarantine.
Finding our new normal, just the 3 of us.
Dumping a colossal donation off at Goodwill.
Crossing the border into Indiana to go to Kohl’s later this week.
And now, because it’s time, Angela, she’ll load up her car, wave out the sunroof and go “Zoooom”….

These days, the ones God sovereignly surprised me with, they’ve actually been a treasure.
He protected our bodies from illness.
He provided a temporary diversion, a few weeks to rest and recharge before I face off the reality of yet another empty bedroom with all of its nostalgia.
And, He posited Angela and I in a training plan to strengthening our relational muscles through repetitions of love, respect and understanding and it turned out to be a great workout.
We stewarded our time responsibly.
We took a lot of walks.
We practiced being kind.
We gave each other space.
We listened to music. Arabic. Gaelic. German. Pop. Even CCM.
We Facetimed friends across the ocean and across town.
We watched movies– though my suggestions are always too sad, she says.
We talked about things that matter in the great big cosmos and in each of our own little worlds.
We cooked curry and baked scones and ate lots of homemade ice cream. She drank about a half dozen gallons of milk but neither of us imbibed any wine.
We went to the beach and watched the sunset together there too.
Lots of great memories to carry into a fresh, new summer. So many mercies.IMG_9644

And so, quarantine life turned into one of my favorite parts of this otherwise not-favorite year. God’s Plan B for the weeks post-wedding, turned out to be better than my plan A.
And I just feel really, really grateful.

In Honor of MLK Jr.’s Dream

IMG_0333 2Ebeneezer Baptist. That’s the red brick church I walked to from downtown Atlanta one icy, cold afternoon two winters ago. In the peace plaza next to the building, there’s an eternal flame. Facing the Georgia marble tomb where MLK Jr. and his bride, Coretta, are laid to rest, we defrosted our fingers in its warmth.

It’s a national holiday. Government offices are closed. There won’t be any mail delivered to my box.
And today, I’m reflecting on MLK Jr.’s dream.
It’s a good dream.
It’s actually a great dream.
It’s God’s dream.

It’s a dream of white-skinned people and black-skinned people sitting down at a table together to share food and friendship.
It’s a dream of justice and freedom from discrimination for all Americans in every state of the union.
It’s a dream of black youth being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
And it’s a dream of unified revelation of the glory of the Lord to all people.

The whole palette of colors God created are all equally beautiful to Him.
Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.

Whenever any of His creative masterpieces are treated as inferior or demeaned, when injustice and violence is perpetrated against them, God is the first one to cry. And whatever breaks his heart, should break ours too.

So, I have a tradition. In recognition of this holiday, I always try to watch a movie that sensitizes me with the suffering of slavery, segregation and discrimination because
I don’t want to overlook the degradation that black people experience.
I don’t want to diminish the trauma in African American people’s stories.
I don’t want to forget the courage and sacrifices made for the sake of equal rights and freedoms.
Instead, I want to listen sensitively to the concerns of minority populations.
I want to contribute to peace and harmony between races.
I want to embrace a holy vision of liberty and justice for all.

The dream—it won’t be fully realized before heaven, but I look forward to the day when all God’s children join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we’re free at last.”

BONUS: My top 10 impact movies on this issue.
Selma
Ruby Bridges
Harriet
The Help
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Loving
42
Hidden Figures
Woodlawn
Just Mercy

Happy Epiphany

IMG_8280They saw him and they worshipped him. They opened their treasures and presented them to him. Matthew 2:11

There were 3 of them, at least that’s how it’s always depicted in nativity scenes.
This gig, it’s just mother-daughter.

I didn’t pack for a journey that would last months, maybe years.
I left with a carry on and a backpack.

I didn’t cross the desert on a camel with the night sky as my map.
I boarded a plane, then rented a Volkswagen with Bluetooth GPS guidance and a perfect Spotify playlist of choral anthems, rich in Scripture, just like the girls used to sing.

I didn’t camp under the stars.
My mother in law loaned us a Wyndham timeshare in Sedona, Arizona with a 102 degree hot tub, perfect for admiring Orion’s belt.

I didn’t hover over the baby Jesus manger today. Not like the magi did.
But I saw him, gazing out over the canyon rim. And I, too, wondered at the miracle of such mysteriously lavish mercy and grace.IMG_7254

I didn’t offer him costly perfumes or precious metals.
But I presented Him with my sincerest worship. And so did she.
Each in our own ways, because we are both unique image-bearers on our own spiritual journeys. And today, we were traveling together.
Hers was a quiet expedition, transpiring in private places deep inside her soul and tethered to her worn, blue, leather Bible, a journal and pen she carried in her backpack.
Mine was more like a spring bubbling up at unsuspecting moments, leaking out the tear ducts and babbling from the mouth. The words all nuanced versions of “What kind of amazing God created all this?”
IMG_8292
We walked the rim together for several miles then attached our Krampons to our hiking boots and headed down the canyon. The snow only added to the splendor but made the switchback ridge trail icy and dangerous. It was 101 flights down a winding path to Ooh-Aah Point, every twist and turn, a new panoramic slice of gorgeousness.

I was almost to the scenic vista when I took my first fall. The provision that kept me from slipping caused me to stumble—twice. The first time, my micro-spikes caught on a rock and I went forward on my left side right into the mud. My personal off-duty nurse checked my wrist, verified that I could move my fingers and tried to dust off some of the dirt. I was shaken for a bit. I’ve never tumbled downhill a few feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon but the angels softened and directed my blow and I continued on lavished in grace.IMG_8262

There’s a reason they call it Ooh-Aah Point but no words to explain it, so, we took pictures to try and capture the grandeur even though the scale is all wrong. They’re a dim reflection of what’s real. Then, we each sat quietly for a while just savoring. And in my head, I was hearing the deep, resonant voice of George Beverly Shea bellowing out that old hymn, How Great Thou Art, like poetry:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder.
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur,
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee.
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee.
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Eventually, we had to leave, to climb back up the canyon. The trek uphill was an entirely different kind of challenge. My spike snagged a stone again and this time, I went down on my right side before I reached the rim.

Worship is like that hike….
Falling on our faces, repeatedly.
Humbled by our sin and our human frailty.
It’s in the prostrate position that we best contrast our weakness to His strength.
Our dirty clothes to His pure holiness.
Our limited understanding with His omniscience.
Our finiteness to His eternality.
Our self-serving, temporal affections with His sacrificial and enduring love.

It’s exhilarating to worship in the rush of awe and wonder that comes from your first gaze on the Canyon from the edge of the rim.
But, on the ground, in the mud, we’re pillowed in His fresh mercies too.
And God celebrates both forms of honor.IMG_7304

It’s the beginning of a new decade and I got to spend my first Sabbath rest of this year in the sun-saturated, breathtaking beauty called the Grand Canyon.
And on this gift-giving holiday called Epiphany, I gave Jesus the gift of praise.
And He gave me the gift of hope.
Eternal hope.
Hope that when the curse of sin that mars the original design of creation is broken, God will restore it to its original glory.
This Canyon,
This whole world.
And even me.IMG_7326

I bow my knee to receive this gift Lord Jesus with gratitude.
Thanks Be To God.

Grateful 2019

Webster-Thanksgiving-02Leftovers are crammed in the refrigerator,
The dishwasher running its third load,
One by one, everybody’s heading to bed except for the one working all through the night at the hospital,
            And me– the night owl.

IMG_7823Our 1,000 piece puzzle lays on the coffee table fully assembled.
So many doors of opportunity today for
Teamwork
Cooperation
Flexibility
Hospitality
And most of all Gratitude.

We walked through them all together, by God’s grace.
It wasn’t just Starla’s exquisite napkin folding,
Or Robyn and Brennan’s braided challah bread,
Lily’s sweet potato casserole,
Angela’s tabouleh salad,
Grandma’s homemade stuffing,
Brian’s perfectly cooked turkey,
Or even the flawless whipped potatoes,
Not to mention the amazing homemade pecan pies.

IMG_3677I treasured the walk on the White Pine trail recounting the personal ways we experienced God’s fresh mercies all the days of the last year,
Reading Psalm 100 around the feast table in English, Arabic and Spanish,
Team charades,
A cozy fire,
And a re-run of our family classic, Love Comes Softly.

I guess the shirts say it all.
Thanks be to God.