Monday, April 07, 2014

Spring Green


Two summers ago we put a pool in our backyard. It was a fantastic decision for us since we live in such a hot, muggy climate. The aftermath of pool installation is that you have a muddy mess of a yard. Factoring the cost of landscaping into the whole project is a must.

I was especially excited about a the arrival of a willow tree that was going to be in the corner of our yard. The day it came I remembered the willow tree in the yard of a rental house we lived in when I was four. There was something magical about it.  I thought our kids would love it.

We were told to expect the tree, in a bit of shock, to shed all its leaves at first but that they would come back. Sure enough, that beautiful young tree lost all its leaves. We waited for months for it to sprout new leaves. Fall came, winter came, spring came, but there were no signs of life.

A few months ago the landscapers returned with a new willow tree for us. It lost its leaves, which this time coincided with fall and winter. We had a couple hard freezes this year and I am really sad to say that every plant in our backyard is dead. The grass is emerald green again and all the trees behind our fence boast their new coverage. But every plant in our yard is a bundle of brown sticks. All but one, that is.

The willow tree lives.

How we cheered when the first burst of green we could see from our living room window was our humble willow.

My spirit is also green again.

It was a terribly harsh winter. The coldest I've ever felt. I thought I might never come back to life. There were times I wasn't sure I wanted to.

In late January a humble, trustworthy friend approached me in tears with a word from the Lord. The despair I was experiencing was not just grief. The enemy had come in my weakest moment and set a scheme in motion to finish me off. When she said these words I knew she was right: isolation, inconsolable hopelessness, and defiance. Hopelessness laying on me like a heavy blanket. This should have been hard for me to hear but it was the first hopeful thing I had heard in months. I knew the enemy did not have authority to oppress me like this for the rest of my days. Freedom was coming.

Later that day my husband and I went to war together. He poured oil on my hands and prayed for my deliverance. Then I prayed for myself and I renounced all the sinful things I had uttered with my lips in my despair.

The darkness lifted from me that day. For two weeks I felt like I was flying. It was like getting an epidural after three months of labor. The joy of my salvation was restored. I had never been instantly delivered from anything and I'm not sure I really believed people when they said it happened to them.  But in a moment, that terrible darkness that sought my end was defeated. Thank You, Jesus. He is truly my Savior and I love Him so much.

Right now the leaves on the trees outside are that beautiful, spring green color. It's almost lime green. If a color can sing, this one does. It sings about life and hope and renewal. As summer approaches the leaves will mature and the green will darken. We will give thanks for the shade they give us. And when the August heat scorches the land, the green will have to fight to stay that way. The gardeners will make sure the plants get the water they need when the sky withholds rain.

My spring green lasted those two lovely weeks. They were sweet and safe and full of song. I was like a bride on her honeymoon. And now my soul is summer green. The heat of life on earth surrounds me, but I am alive and bearing fruit.




Sunday, January 05, 2014

Beautiful Grief


I saw him today. 

His picture, that is. 

I went to my husband's computer to find a picture of a dear friend who just passed away, and there it was. I tried not to see it ever again, but I did. At first I thought it was Jackson or Annabeth in a hospital bassinet, but when I looked closer it was a baby with olive skin and black eyes wearing a white hat. I had put the Baby Gap hat in my purse to take home from the hospital and wash and then I never got to go back. It sits in a drawer in the stripped-bare nursery. 

Half a second later I was crying. Most of the time when I cry, it comes on slowly. But now it comes in a blink. 

Last night I visited a precious friend I've known for as long as I can remember. Her name is Vicky. She and her husband Louie were part of the core team of our church plant. They were one of a handful of older couples who showed us great mercy by joining our team. Their daughters are my friends and are close to my age. Louie passed away suddenly on Friday. He was sweet and hilarious and an adoring husband, daddy and grandpa. He loved Jesus. The quiet of his absence will be very loud for this family. 

While I was visiting with Vicky I thought about the demand our culture puts on us to be okay. I wondered if she was already feeling it. I wanted to stand between her and the Lie and slay it. I wanted to yell, "This is the worst thing she's ever gone through! There's no way she could be okay right now. This is terribly sad!" 

I wanted to fight for her. 

But a few days ago I wanted to fight myself. 

I was drying my hair in front of a mirror. I was having a sad day. A mad day. The expression I saw in my eyes was one of self-hatred.  

I hated myself because I could not control my emotions. 

I hated myself because I was rejected. 

I hated myself because I'm supposed to sing "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord" with my hands lifted to heaven and smile through my tears. I'm supposed to say how sweet and intimate my fellowship with God has been since I was crushed on October 14, 2013. 

It's not going down like that. I'm glad it does for some people. Those people have been given very special grace. There have been some moments like that, but largely this has been ugly and brutal. 

Perhaps I witnessed someone having a Beautiful Grief Day and I thought that's how it's always done. I read the amazing testimony she wrote and thought that's normal for every day. Why would I expect less from myself? I'm in ministry, after all. This Beautiful Grief should be natural for me. 

Um, no. 

This is not how I wanted to grieve, God. I wanted to be good at this. I didn't want to be mad at You. I didn't want to lash out at my husband and kids. I didn't want to use words that would shock people and let them know how rotten I felt. I didn't want to be cynical. 

The bright spot in this season is that I am really, really in touch with God's grace. I'm freshly aware that my relationship with God depends on His Son's perfection and not my own. This was something I came to know when I was a college student trying to get my very sinful life turned around. Now I'm a 34-year-old pastor's wife, just as relieved to be given grace as I was then. She who has been forgiven much loves much. Thank You, God. Help that love outweigh my questions and confusion in infinite measure. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Week 2013




It seems every Christmas someone gets The Winning Gift, which is something that the gift giver has either put a lot of time, thought or money into. This is the gift you remember the year by. For example, over lunch yesterday we recalled the year Papaw gave Memaw a diamond bracelet he'd attached to a vacuum cleaner. We'd all thought it was strange that he'd given his beloved a vacuum - so unlike him! And then we saw the bling. One year my mom gave me a huge tub of my old baby clothes, which reduced me to tears. This year Curtis and I agreed that we would be very low-key in our gifts to each other. He asked for some tools and a record, which I delivered. I asked for nothing because I have been funky as of late. And wouldn't you know...the winning gift came to me! I, dear reader, am typing on said gift. My new MacBook came with a letter from my husband encouraging me to keep writing - that he had missed my words and was glad to be reading them again. That Curtis Jones is a good man. 

I've never blogged very much about Christmas because we're immediately on the road and by the time we get home I'm sort of over it. This year we're home and here I am, typing in my bed while Annabeth sings on her new Sofia the First microphone, Jackson watches TV, and Curtis makes a hospital visit.

The days leading up to Christmas were memorable. Annabeth and I joined some friends and their girls for The Nutcracker Ballet at The Wortham. I had not seen this in many, many years and it was beautiful. They had a gingerbread house and a giant tree in the lobby to take pictures with. 









Afterward we went to Lakewood Church to hear our friend Christine Caine preach at the Saturday night service. It was an awesome day from beginning to end. Here is my mom covered in kiddos, which is her favorite thing. 



The night before Christmas Eve, we took our Australian friends to see Santa's Wonderland. The hayride ends with these scenes.







This picture shows you how COLD it was. 




On Christmas Eve we joined our dear friends, the Merrells, for the Second Annual Reindeer Games. The games involved eggs, shaving cream, flour, and water. In Texas you can get away with such messy outdoor shenanigans in December. Barely. The big kids made this event very, very fun for the little kids. 




I took great joy in Jackson and Annabeth's matching PJ's before they went to bed.


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We got up at 7 AM and read the Christmas story and opened our presents. I made pancakes to hold us over for our late lunch with my parents.





Their spots were marked by their mini Christmas trees.





We gave Beckham this chew and he immediately started whining and pacing back and forth. He was desperate to take it outside. Bless his heart.




This is THE funnest kid to give anything to. His joy is amazing. 




Sis had a lot of flair all day. 





We enjoyed our second Christmas at my parents' new house. I wonder how long I will call it the new house? My mom made a fantastic lunch and we had a great time with my sister and our grandparents.









Here's my honey getting some new contraption for the garage. He is my Christmas Hero. I did not feel up to a lot of shopping this year and he joyfully faced the hordes to make everything normal and great for our family.



I thought a lot about the little baby who I hoped would be with us on Christmas Day. I've never had a newborn at Christmas and thought it would be very special. It was hard not to have him here. I have no idea who he lives with now or how he spent his day. I dreamed about him and his sweet mom last night. They are never far from my thoughts.

I hope you and your people had a very Merry Christmas. Now, onto the New Year.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

You Win Some, You Lose Some, You Win Again


It's been four years since I told you about my very first school fail. It was spectacular. Since then I have continued to miss the mark - usually going over or under expectations. At issue is the question of "How awesome does this need to be?"

Annabeth is currently in her last year of preschool. A month ago she received a card stock page with a turkey on it. The directions given were to "Let the whole family help" disguise the turkey so he wouldn't be eaten for Thanksgiving. Translation: Make it awesome. Before I had a chance to explain to Annabeth what our project was, she found herself a pencil and a fading purple marker and went to town. I'm already laughing like a hyena just writing this. I had every intention of asking for another copy to start over with, but my girl ended up with the flu and I missed my chance. So her first day back at school after being sick was the day her Hide the Turkey picture was due. Fun times!

Of course, I remembered she needed this about 10 minutes before it was time to leave for school. So I found one of Jackson's National Geographic Kids magazines and cut out a koala face. I turned that into a mask by adding a strip of black construction paper to look like a stick. It doesn't matter that a turkey couldn't actually hold such a mask. I glued that baby down and BOOM. Turkey hidden.




My child was thrilled! She thought it was so beautiful and amazing. Curtis took her to school and later told me how happy she was to give it to Ms. Kari. Bless her, Jesus. Later I got to see all the kids' turkeys displayed (in the hallway!) and let me just say, one was not like the others. My poor child. She told me she liked hers until she saw everybody else's. Worst mom ever. 

So the Monday after Thanksgiving I was tucking my big second grader into bed and he started telling me about a CONTEST at his school in which "the whole family" must decorate a cookie (a cookie!) in the likeness of a book character (a book character!) and you could win a gift card to Willie's Ice House or to a pottery painting place. I started hyperventilating immediately. Oh, dear God in heaven, thou hast not gifted me with the ability to bake tasty nor beautiful treats for my child to display proudly at his place of learning. Deliver me from this destiny, Lord! He said it was due on Wednesday and there would only be two winners in the whole school. What he didn't know was I had a women's event the next night and I wouldn't even have time to come up with greatness, much less execute it. I promised I would take him to Willie's AND to the painting place, but please understand that Mommy is a terrible baker/cookie decorator and there's no way we would win. No amount of his whining was going to change my mind.

I took to Facebook to discuss my lame mom status with my friends. Some of them laughed with me and some of them were horrified at my lack of motivation to try. A teacher friend clarified that I actually had a week to come up with a plan and that there would be more than 2 winners. It was my lovely friend Faylinn who basically threatened to come down to Houston and kick my butt if I didn't make an attempt. She sent me some pictures of ideas and when I turned them all down because of their difficulty, she finally gave me an idea that the kindergartners at her school do. So I have her to thank for what happened next. 

But first I want you to see the 100th Day of School t-shirt I made for Jackson last year.  

It was an over-the-top idea...

 (before school)


...that performed below expectations. 


 (after school)

 My poor children.

Here is the idea Faylinn gave me - a hot chocolate mug made out of an iced oatmeal cookie, a campfire-size marshmallow, a candy cane hook, melted chocolate, and mini-marshmallows. The most advanced skill it required was melting chocolate chips. This I could do (after consulting Google)!



We printed out a picture of the mouse from "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and glued him onto the hot chocolate mug. The contest was inspired by the book.


My happy son. 


I made two of these bad boys so that if we ruined one on the way to the after-school contest, all would not be lost. I knew it ended up being pretty cute but I prepped my son that we would not win. But isn't it great that we tried? And aren't you proud of Mommy? A friend who had already seen all the cookies let me know that there were some truly amazing ones. And indeed, when we dropped it off I was amazed! At least we tried!

The winners would be announced the next morning. I reminded Jackson on his way out the door not to be disappointed. About 20 minutes later a friend who works at the school called me, squealing that Jackson's name had been called out on the morning announcements as a winner!


WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!


It was a Christmas miracle! Our cookie was The Most Creative!

This was one of the greatest days of my entire life. I told Curtis I was going to need to talk about it a lot. I couldn't wait to see Jackson and experience his joy, so I decided to take him lunch that day. He was so happy and filled with love for his mom. I hope I never forget the sweet look on his face when he was telling me all about it. He said his class clapped for him. When they lined up for recess he kept waving to me and as they started walking outside he was hopping up and down. This is what we call "making Jackson too happy." I thought he might run the risk of getting in trouble that day because of his extreme happiness, but he did fine. 

My mom expressed her great joy that generations of women in her line had been vindicated and redeemed through my triumph in the school baking contest. I had to remind her that the cookie we made actually required no baking whatsoever. 

I will leave you with this video clip of Steve Carrell in Get Smart. It best expresses my feelings about having a winning cookie. 







Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When Hope Won't Die


I made a public declaration that I was moving on. I gave away the custom crib bedding set. I gave back things that were borrowed, returned things that were bought, and boxed up everything else. I vowed that this was over. That we were not called to adopt like I thought we were.

And doing those things wasn't enough.

The hope won't die.

When the bedding ended up not being needed, my first thought was "God is sending it back to me. There must be a reason." And I beat that down like whack-a-mole.

A friend suggested I might receive a Christmas miracle. I beat that down too, with tears.

I was sent an email about an amazing adoption story. God, why are You doing this to me? Do you want me to still hope? Are you testing me? Are you desensitizing me?

Foolish girl, not everything is a sign. 

This hope feels like fraud. It is bitter in my mouth. It is salt in my wounds.

A dear friend struggling with infertility once explained that some women have tubal ligations so that they can end, once and for all, the 28 day cycle of hope and disappointment. They need acceptance and relief. That is what I'm looking for but I just can't figure out how to do it. For the peace of my marriage and for my peace with God, I have to get there.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

An Early Christmas


We were some of the first people to put up our Christmas lights (thank you, Curtis) and some of the last to do our tree (thank you, Amanda). A few days ago it was 80 degrees outside and there was such little motivation. I'm so glad we waited because a massive cold front hit us and it's in the 30's now. (Some of you reading this are probably iced in and just grateful to have electricity! Poor Dallas-Fort Worth.)

Yesterday after school we turned on the fire, put some Christmas music on, made hot chocolate from Annalee's famous mix, and finally got to work. The kids are an old 7 and 4 now and they were so helpful! The tree decorating went by really fast and, amazingly, no ornaments were broken in the process.

 



Our tree is pretty but I hate that it's fake. The only reason we have it is that it keeps me from getting miserably sick. I've had a horrible time with allergies this year. Over the summer I kept getting pink-eye (four times, I think) and I was finally diagnosed with a bad case of stress-induced allergic pink-eye. Um, what? Apparently stress can make your allergies worse, so awesome.

Let's talk about Christmas music. My wonderful husband has a record player and a few records to go along with it. He was excited to play them while we decorated the tree. I could only take it for so long. I am not a hipster, y'all. Not even close. The records were scratchy, not very loud and it wasn't exciting. And I'm super lame. I don't have a very open mind about Christmas music. I like my old favorites.

Well, I had six really good days after my last blog post. Thank you for all the love and kind words. I felt strong and good and then yesterday I spun out and crashed emotionally. I knew my sister was having a sleepover at my parents' house and Curtis was very generous to let me crash the party.  He has a good sense of when I just need my mother.

When I walked in the door, my parents were setting up their Christmas tree. Are you kidding me? It was so perfect. I hadn't been there for decorating mom's tree for at least 6 years. Melissa and I snuggled on the couch like bums and let mom do most of the work. But after she shamed us enough we got to work. I had to make sure my "Baby's First Christmas" ornament was hung higher than my sister's because I'm older. Most of our kiddie ornaments are gone now but the precious few brought great joy.

Today we had an early Christmas celebration with my daddy's family. Since it wasn't actually Christmas, it was just easy and a little less pressure and so much fun. I have a beautiful young cousin named Hannah who is 13 and Annabeth is enthralled with her. Hannah's family gave her a ballerina costume and she danced for all of us to some Nutcracker music. I also loved getting to be with my cousin Joe's new bride, Chauntell. She is sweet and beautiful and has a great sense of humor.

The boys were given camo hats equipped with head lights. 


The kids were really into this massive hourglass that my grandparents have had since I was a kid. They sat there forever staring at it. 


My Papaw had all the grown-up grandkids gathered around the kitchen island, demonstrating his very detailed process for making egg nog.


Aunt Mary gave the girls these fun gloves that keep your hands warm but still let you use your smart phone. Aunt Tina gave everyone really pretty sparkly rings. Here are all the ladies sporting both.


Here's Annabeth being sweet.

It's nearing the midnight hour and I'd better wrap this up! The last time I blogged it was at midnight and I couldn't fall asleep until 3 AM. I'm hoping for a different outcome tonight.




Sunday, December 01, 2013

It's Been A While


This year has beaten the hell out of me. I've had so many stories to tell and I've written none of them here. The coals are starting to glow again. Maybe I am still a writer. Maybe I can find the old me who could write freely and bravely. Maybe I can make sense of what I've seen and done and felt this year.

In early 2013 I got involved in fighting sex trafficking in my city. It all started when our church staff took a little van tour to see where brothels are operating all around us. That two hour van ride changed my life. I have seen and done more crazy things in 2013 than in all my teenage years put together. My girlfriends and I were all binge-watching Alias on Netflix when we got involved and it had quite an effect on us. It's not weird for my friends to have a girls night out that ends in some sort of outreach or prayer drive.

Last spring I also got involved with teaching ESL to Muslim women. I was just a sidekick to the real teacher, but it was so cool getting to know the ladies and help them learn English. We were uninvited to return after the session was over and I think it was because of something I said. That was incredibly discouraging, but I'm glad that I had the chance to know these women.

In March we were trying to have another baby and on the day I found out I wasn't pregnant, we heard about a baby who needed a family. We changed directions overnight - funny how that happened - and decided to walk through the doors toward that baby until they closed. The doors closed quickly, but it burned adoption into my heart.

After Mother's Day we officially started the adoption process with an amazing Christian agency in Houston. We spent the summer getting our application, family profile, and homestudy done. It was a LOT of work. We kept this largely on the DL because we didn't want to drag our whole church through drama - if it turned out to be dramatic. I wrote about the journey in a beautiful, white leather journal with my monogram on it. I declared that "Jesus is writing a redemption story." 

On the first day of school we were matched with an expectant mother who had chosen us through our profile book and a video we had made. We spent six weeks getting to know her and came to love her very much. We were planning for an open adoption, so in all of our minds we were becoming a family. She invited me to be with her in the hospital for the birth of the baby and to stay there afterward. This was very, very risky. We were either looking at a best case scenario or a worst case scenario. It turned out to be worst case scenario for us. Thirty-six hours after the baby was born, we were kicked out of the hospital. It was October 14 - my 34th birthday.

The last six weeks have been the most painful time of my life. I am a naturally empathetic person but I now realize I've had no clue whatsoever what deep grief is like. You can't control it. You can't tell it to end. You can't keep it from coming back after you've told all your people you're okay now.

Tonight I boxed up the nursery. Moving the furniture will be Curtis' job for this week. But at least my part is done. I cried a lot. The anticipation of this day has been terrible, but when I woke up this morning I knew it needed to be done.

I am moving on.

In 31 days this calendar year will turn to 2014. Fourteen is my second favorite number - the Lord's number times 2. That's got to mean something good. I never liked 13 anyway.