Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What Story Teaches Us :: We Learn to Behold #TellHisStory #TheGreatestGift

This is the second post in a series What Story Teaches Us. In the first post I talked about how we learn to see. In this post I expand on the idea of seeing, where we learn to behold.

They stomp on short and shorter limbs in a row of nativity. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six of seven nieces. We drape the scarves in robes and wrap in silky strands over hair for the regal flair of the girls who We Three Kings From Orient Are. We gaze towards the center of our living O Little Town of Bethlehem and a baby doll who acts the part of Jesus. Our Mary has a tender hold on Immanuel. And we all feel the pulsing beat of a God who is indeed with us.

There are no rehearsals. Simply the desire to wrap it all special. We line the beige of walls in a rehabilitation center’s community room. It’s mama’s temporary home as she undergoes radiation, learns to write with her left hand and walk again. Rods and pins replace bones eaten by cancer in her right arm and hip. There is no medical prognosis that extends her life past months. Miracles are real and the Babe in a Manger, high and holy, meek and lowly, beckons us to behold. It is the hope born of a night long ago and how we now trust the fullness that came from this one frail infant boy. This is what keeps us and mama tight and secure, beyond a stretching of days into next Advent.

This is the Christmas when Noel becomes altogether new. I am 27 and love to give, but still delight in receiving. Yet, what gift, in all the world, can fill our hearts split wide in the gaping cavern of grief?

Only Him.

It is only His life slipping out messy on the waft of manure. The beholding of promise fulfilled through millennia and culture and countless places of the tragedy of a world gone wrong. In all times and places ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Him tonight.’ For, it is the night of our waning hope and the full day of our rising fear in the coming absence of this family’s living, breathing heart that meets us in the dark hollowed of this year.

And here is where story teaches us to behold beyond the times and circumstances of these days. This Christmas. Remembering, searching the path of all gone before is our only true hunt for the strength to keep living into next Christmas and all that will come after
We behold the holy night where ‘yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.’ And mama’s story and ours shows the messy surroundings where the new day strains to be born. We remember her exhaustion of too much preparation to make it all special. We see her snipping at papa for the crooked tree he hasn’t, yet, in all the many Christmases learned to put straight. There’s the dollar store presents that sparkle of love, but we wish mama knew she didn’t have to run weary to get us things. There’s the Eve of Christmas when the pipes freeze on the farm and we run wild with extension cords and hair dryers to thaw. 

It’s always been a broken beauty, a messy majesty, ringing around thin-paper wrapping of presents and a crooked tree. It’s how together and home really are in the true beholding that comes with story. And though the pain is profound, this Christmas is not one solitary eclipse of the twinkling bright stringing year to year. More Christmases with mama is not that ‘yonder breaking’.  Our story reveals it is our journey, as Advent rounds to Advent, to behold more of the broken Beauty, and messy Majesty all the more hope-filled for the weight of time. He is our Dawn.

Story teaches us, especially at Christmas-time, there is ever the greater, better, before our waiting, wandering eyes. All our yearning strains in humble chords of love and loss for the Story of the Babe in a Manger. It is only here we find an unyielding resilience, where all of the world’s and our years’ of hopes and fears forever meet…tonight. 

May your story, in all its broken beauty, lead you through the dark places and to beholding of Majesty born into the Mess of wafting manure and rough-hewn feed trough.  May hope heal and faith overcome fear. This is the prayer I pray for you, friend, out of the gift of Immanuel as I, too, struggle to prepare Him room.
 Sharing with Laura , Jen, and Jennifer

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New Series & A Giveaway :: What Story Teaches Us :: We Learn to See #TellHisStory

Time Slips Through Fingers...But Stories Remain

He's the one all grown up now and going to Hungarian School

It’s Advent. And I love the slowing and remembering. We are ringing around our Jesse Tree, and deepening the tradition a little bit more this year. 

We also have a Hungarian Advent calendar. Last night I did my best to read the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. When I finished, JJ translated into English and said, ‘there was no room in the inn.’ He was right. Neither of us would have understood those words so well last year. 

He is living brave going to school, immersed in Hungarian for 7, 8 or 9 hours a day. Next year he will possibly be reading and understanding that journey to Bethlehem. For his mama, it is sheer grace, a teeny bit of discipline, a bit more stubborn and some amazing language tutors and partners which have brought me to the place to understand any of this beautiful, complex language.

She's the one all grown up below, too :(
Our lives and their stories are unfolding, year to year, advent to advent, hope to greater hope. I wonder how JJ will view his now permanent thread of third culture living when he is older. 

I remember the litany he would go through in the confusion of our whirlwind transitions and subsequent waiting. It was at three years and some change. He re-counted where he had been, was and would be related to our ‘Florida house’, ‘road trip to Colorado’, ‘Colorado house’, ‘road trip to Pennsylvania’, several ‘Pennsylvania houses’ and then finally, one day, our new house in ‘Hungary!’ 

One of the most profound things God showed me at our overseas training during the ‘Colorado house’ phase, is how God is writing my children’s stories. Not me. I play a significant part, but I do not write their stories. God does. How very freeing to see this.

And here's Boy #2 wearing the same outfit, decorating the same tree in another country;)

And this is why I am starting a series today, in the middle of Advent about ‘What Story Teaches Us.’ It gives us eyes to see as we remember; as we walk the path of story. As I embraced the truth of God writing my kids’ stories, I thought about my own. There are things my parents would never have chosen for me. Yet, through no deliberate choice of their own, I went through some very hard things during my childhood. But God is the One who writes my story, too, and He promises it is all working together for good as one who loves Him.This is my hope. For my story. For my children’s story. For the story of anyone I love or struggle to love.

This is why I think it is perfect to start writing about the beauty and freedom of story, as we await the celebration of our Savior's birth. Because our stories teach us to see, and that seeing is the doorway to hope. And that hope is what gives us strength to overcome anything. This is all because God became small, frail and grew up perfect and able to rescue; redeem this whole wide world and every story that is a part of it. 

(This series will keep running in the new year. As long as it wants to, maybe even till next Advent ;)
Here's everybody so grown up & me trying not to cry...and praying I will see

I am guest posting at my friend Jo Ann Fore’s place today. She designed and led the Free Your Story workshop I went through a couple of months ago. I am sure I have gained a friend and mentor for life, because that is what happens when we come together around our stories and God's.

In honor of my friend, and Advent, I am giving away a copy of her book, ‘When a Woman Finds Her Voice.’ Enter to win below. It will run through Monday, December 15th. It may just be a way for you to see through to the hope this Christmas, or give someone that same hope.

 book cover

I sit, head bowed low and back arched forward and down, on the slate gray IKEA patio chair. I stare at the overgrown brush of our garden and hear one word, 'failure.'

My legs feel the rub, a back and forth itch. The fabric--a spectrum splayed amid tiny-tulip-smattering-over-midnight—is that of a journal purchased in the summer of 1994. It lays open before me and the darkened underside moves a touch of rough. It triggers a gnawing pain of wound or scar. I do not know which.

I am in the middle of Jo Ann's 'Free Your Story' workshop. She asks us to harvest our journals. I am not sure I can find any for all the purging before our move overseas. But I do. And in this moment, looking at a visible mess of living-dead, green and brown, I am undone.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Find the Way Home #TellHisStory #AtlasGirlBlogTour

Yesterday, some dear friends came over for dinner. They are everything that family is when we live so far from our blood family. Earlier in the day, I found myself in an all-too-familiar pattern of feeling the stress instead of the joy.
 The house is a mess! Samuel is running to every corner fascinated by everything from Little People to Legos, refrigerator magnets to salt running through a funnel. How will I ever clean up, cook and bake his (very belated) birthday cake in time?’
But the Lord asks me to think His thoughts; see what He sees. These are the days He speaks gentle, and wraps tight, and asks me simply to receive. He beckons me to the Gospel and His rest for all my weary burden. Through all Christ is and does for me, I live without apology or shame, as I become the one He uniquely creates, redeems and calls by name to bear witness to His Glory.

For me, this is especially true, as I learn to live with open hands and invite others into the visible mess of my home. I remember how I wrote on a Facebook status a few months ago, something like, 
There’s some tongue-in-cheek there, but a lot of truth that has the power to set me free. My dear friend, Amy, said she needed to cross-stitch and frame the status for her wall. My dear cousin said the opposite was true for her because keeping the external mess, made her a bigger internal mess. I love both responses.

Because, Home is saying ‘Come as you are and I will give to you and receive from you as I am’.  

A little while ago I wrote about my mama inviting others into her home, in all its mess and beauty.  She especially did this with younger mothers who found themselves far from home. She knew how to bring them into the heart of the living home she was. So many of those times happened in our farm house or somewhere between the barn or the back and front of our yard. There were seven pairs (plus a couple of extra for guests) of manure-encrusted work shoes in the entry. There was Dad’s recliner covered in questionable debris of what my Grandpa called ‘foreign matter.’ There were open canisters of flour and sugar on the mustard-colored linoleum. When we had the church, or family, over for a picnic, there were too many flies hovering over the potato salad. And there were all kinds of craziness jumping off the loft into mounds of hay. And there was incredible beauty in the midst of wild, earthy mess.

Those times are the purest scenes of Home that I carry with me. They are the memories of Mama at her best. When so many hard years of chronic illness and financial strain followed our leaving that farm, we all lost our way and wandered far from Home.

But that is not the end of the story. The next scenes I think of are from Mama’s last months of life. They are of the open invitation into a rehabilitation center in New Jersey. Here she rose shaky, determined with a walker. She would learn to use, for as long as she could, a newly made hip and arm of steel to replace the ones eaten by cancer. We celebrated Christmas there as I organized my nieces and tiny nephew in a Nativity play.

And these scenes flow through to Easter in another hospital room and the snapping of a picture of mama and I. My aunt Debbie held it close to her heart as she walked down the aisle on the morning of my wedding, in honor of mam. There are scenes, too, of the days near the end. As My dad and I were away working, mama’s friends were invited again into this now gut-wrenching mess that would reveal eternal beauty.  They came into a different set of walls, and cared for her or sat with her by her hospital bed. And, in these months, mama gave us all the greatest picture of our true Home.

When I became a mama without my own, I knew I needed to invite others into the mess. I asked my sisters and every mama I could to help me find the way. Their wisdom is seasoned. And not one regrets plunking themselves down 'moo' or 'oink' farm animal noises with their toddler. Not one says folding the laundry ranks higher than stilling and looking into the eyes of a friend to really listen, or to open to their own honest, broken. Not one says to close the door, because the mess is too great. They do not want me to miss the beauty. For life, is indeed, short. And mama heartily cheers these voices. This chorus sounds a lot like a song from Heaven.

The greatest loss of Home comes in living the lie that we are not okay, somehow, as we are. I have dear friends, like my cousin, who I may be tempted to close myself to, because they multi-task so well and are just too efficient and so, expose the weakness I want to hide. And oh, how I pray I won't be blind to so much beauty. I pray I will clasp their hands tight to hold onto the practical and so very helpful, and also the truly profound things they teach me as they effortlessly fill deviled eggs and live and speak who they really are.

I wrote my friend, who was coming to dinner and whose apartment I had complimented for its tidiness as I visited her on Saturday. I confessed how I wanted to clean my place top to bottom before she and her husband came. I apologized for not trusting her, knowing it was more important that I offer the honest mess that would open the door to the just-as-we-all-are beauty of Home.

I pray we circle this world with the truth of how we are all lost wanderers when we hide the mess and miss the beauty. I pray we find the courage to live in the integrity of the real; the broken. I pray we open doors to each other and so, too, the Love that holds the only true promise to bring all of us to the Forever Embrace of Home.


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