Category Archives: Church

My Epitaph, from an 8 year old

 

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An 8 year old friend at our church gave this mug to me last night at Life Group. Isn’t it adorable?

Since then, I keep thinking, If that’s what it says on my tombstone someday, I’ll have done alright…”

Until recently, I have given no thought whatsoever to what I would want carved in granite over my body’s final resting place. The plan is that I’ll be hanging out in heaven (where the events of the past 7-8 years have secured me an EPIC condo with simultaneous views of the Atlantic, Pacific, and a wide swath of the Mediterranean…) So I haven’t considered how I’ll be remembered here on earth.

Then last week, my friend Sonya, in town from Hawaii to speak at our women’s retreat, invited me up to the North Shore to spend a day writing together. We had solid artistic intentions. But it turns out what we both needed was time to talk. It was as if we each had pieces to a larger puzzle of shared experiences, and this was an opportunity to see  how they fit together.

We had a long breakfast overlooking the ocean. Then out of nowhere she asked, “Do you want to see my favorite headstones?”  

Of course, my gut reaction was No. I mean, that’s weird, right? We were by the ocean, drinking coffee, with an endless supply of carbohydrates. Why would we move?

But of course I said Yes. I’ve been at this Jesus thing long enough to know that when a respected friend invites you to do something a bit peculiar, the Kingdom of God is often at hand.

So off we went.

A few winding miles from our breakfast table, Sonya introduced me to two of her heroes:  Ebenezer and Abigail Cleaveland.

They lived on Boston’s North Shore in the late 1700’s. He was a pastor. She probably was too, although that sort of thing was entirely informal in those days.  They lived long lives in a tough climate. What stood out to me most was that they believed in free grace – the idea that we don’t earn God’s love, or Jesus’ salvation, or the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We receive them. We respond to Jesus’ offer of love, forgiveness, freedom and help. And as we respond, we are saved. This was a radical stance in Puritan New England. And yet Ebenezer and Abigail lived long, full, intense lives…and they finished well.

Sonya said something so poignant as she showed me these headstone inscriptions: “We make public statements about who we are and what we stand for every day on social media. But back then, this was your one chance to tell the world what your life was about and what mattered to you.”

I’d never thought of it like that.

She described how, in the aftermath of a difficult season in their lives, she and her husband Jordan found comfort in this couple’s legacy, as well as faith to move forward toward their own. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of betrayal and loss, it helps to have someone to look to who has forged a path through the darkness. You need someone up ahead who is saying with their lives, The Light is real. Keep going. It matters! 

And then I got to tell her how she and Jordan have done that for us.

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We had a good time, there in the cemetery. As we watched the boats fishing out in the harbor (Ebenezer & Abigail have A VIEW!) it made me wonder in a new way what it means to be from a place. Not in terms of preferred sports teams, or whether or not you own winter clothes, or if your reaction to an approaching stranger is to invite them in for dinner or pretend you don’t see them. But to be the ones who were born into God’s plan for a place. Perhaps those things matter more than we realize. Steve grew up in Cambridge. I’m from Southern Maine. In some way, we’re decedents of Ebenezer and Abigail, charged with living out the message that even in the midst of this harsh, beautiful New England climate, God is near and He has something better for us.

This morning, as I look at this mug from my sweet little friend, it gives me vision for how I want to live these days in this awesome place. I’m usually funny – it’s a genetic thing. Sometimes I’m kind because I try. But happy has been a bit of a stretch goal. Enough so that when it comes, I know for sure that it’s God. Telling stories about how that unfolds is a fun way to spend a life.

I want that to be my legacy – that we helped others make that connection, here in this place that I’m convinced really IS the best place in the world to be. It seems like something worth living…and dying… for.

The Amish Nun Strikes Again!

Last night we went to a Gala to raise money for Cambridge Family & Children’s Service, the awesome organization that helped us adopted the Cherubs. Last year, my friend Super-G & I went. This year, Greenhouse Mission sponsored a table. (Next year we hope to WOW THE ROOM with a 40 person roller skating performance to the tune of Stayin’ Alive, but the room has carpet, so we have a few things to figure out…)

mentioned before how I had a bit of a struggle over what to wear to the Gala (and how I don’t do well with dresses generally), and that I turned to Stitch Fix in my hour of need, hoping they’d find me a certain dress. My algorithm/stylist Katelyn tried, she really did. And while I was cautiously optimistic when I opened the box and saw this pretty array of Spring possibility…

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My hopes were crushed in a brutal collision with reality.  Let me remind you…

The dress in a picture:

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The dress on me:

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You know it’s bad when your first reaction to a photo like this isn’t, “I need to delete this immediately…” but rather, “Oh I need to show this to EVERYONE!”

So last night, after trying on all four dresses I own, I went back to the Amish Nun Dress. It IMG_5654really was the best of the bunch, and I knew that I wouldn’t run into the same Everyone  else is wearing a ball gown issue I had with Steve’s holiday party. I wore cuter shoes this time. Honestly, I thought I’d be okay.

I walked into the gala feeling cute & confident. But then, out of nowhere, I was TOTALLY BUSTED.

A nice woman I’ll call D came up to chat. I’ve met her before at other CFCS events, as she’s on their Board. She’s really fun so was excited to see her. BUT THEN she told me, trying not to laugh, that SHE READS THIS BLOG. She even forwards the link to friends (Hi Kathryn!) And therefore she knew that not only was I not wearing the Stitch Fix dress, I was wearing my Amish Nun ensemble. Again.

I was hilariously mortified.

Just as I was struggling to justify my choice (I was working on a line about how Nuns help children, so it was the right thing to wear…) she confessed her own dress struggle, and mine faded far into the background. She gave me permission to share it here, and you should thank her now.

D. told me that, as she got dressed that morning, she thought she looked pretty good. She called to her husband for his take on things, and he (being a wise man of discernment and kindness) told her gently, “Um, something’s not right in the front…” She could see what he meant – things around the tummy area were bunched up in an unusual way. But she couldn’t hone in on the problem and had to get on with her day.

Later, she discovered the problem. She had her Spanx on backwards. 

Her shapewear was diligently doing it’s job in all the wrong directions, lifting and separating her tummy into butt cheeks.

I laughed so hard my face hurt.

I feel like this is a theme of my week – how, when we get together with our hopes and dreams and stories, and lift each other up by sharing the funny things that happen, the atmosphere changes. The world actually becomes a better place.

Thank you, D. for making my night! (I so wish we’d grabbed a picture!)

Here’s part of our Greenhouse Mission crew at our table.

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Behind us you can see some of the young ladies who live in one of the CFCS group homes. The money we were raising will go to support them, and the young men at the next table, as they transition into adulthood. Such a cool thing to be part of. If you want to donate to CFCS and the work they do, click here and be part of the fun.

 

Vineyard Women’s Retreat

This past weekend was our Massachusetts Area Vineyard Women’s Retreat. It such a great experience.

It was my first time organizing something of this magnitude. I learned so much! Things like:

  • The women at my church are simply the best. They rise to meet a challenge like nothing I’ve ever seen.
  • Having people come to bless and pray for you from outside your context is incredible.
  • I forget to feed people. The next time I do this I will totally be looking for volunteers to make sure the guest speaker gets food!

My friend Sonya Seng flew in from Hawaii to speak to us.

I can’t begin to describe all that happened, so I’ll just post a bunch of pictures to make you feel like you were there:

Yesterday, I was so tired, I almost fell over at the gym while attempting a bicep curl. What’s that you say? One’s feet shouldn’t move when you do a bicep curl? I agree. And yet…

I’m grateful for the chance to be wiped out in the best possible way :)

 

The Story of Our Staycation

In an Easter miracle that feels every bit proportional to Jesus rising from the dead, we managed to pull off a school vacation that didn’t suck.

Easter 2017

I am awed and grateful. I’m not even sure how to describe it, so I’ll just post a bunch of pictures with a few words to record this moment in time.

First, we had the two year anniversary of the day we met the Cherubs. We did not celebrate this, however. I tried that last year, asking #2, “What do you remember about that night?” to which she replied, “We just cried. We didn’t want to leave where we were to go live with strangers.” Yikes. So this year, we left this one right alone. Next month, we’ll celebrate Adoption Day, and then Moving In With Us day in June. But now we leave Nice To Meet You Day out of the picture. Lesson Learned.

We DID celebrate Easter, my favorite holiday.  At church we had art by Grace & Reena, and music about the incredible things we believe.

I preached about the Boston Marathon, and how cool it is that, four years after the Marathon Bombing, no one talks about who did it or why. Instead, everyone talks about the overcoming that happened in the aftermath, and how the words Boston Strong define who we are and what we love about living here. There are Boston Strong signs and t-shirts everywhere. I love it.

Then we prayed for Gwen & J.J. our two friends who’d be running the next day.  So inspiring.

Speaking of inspiring, Steve & I had a date afterwards! The Cherubs went on an overnight with their grandparents, and we went out for long relaxing lunch, after which we came home and RIPPED UP our bedroom.

And no, I don’t mean that as a metaphor.

Remember I told you about the stairs? And how that led us to some conclusions about the gross, hazmat-y rug?

Well, the project expanded in scope almost immediately. Replacing the floor somehow led to repainting the bathroom sink cabinet, pulling up all the baseboards, and taking down a wall.

Here is my inspiration photo:

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Here is what I woke up to this morning:

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Really, we’re practically there.

But I’m happy to report that there are now 10 contractor bags of gross rug down in a bagster next to the driveway, and our floor is now covered in lovely maple boards on which no dog has peed. I’m taking that as a win.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the week was watching Gwen finish the Marathon. Her friend J.J. flew up from Florida to run with her, and spoke at church about how friends run all different kinds of marathons together, cheering each other on and helping through the touch stretches. A bunch of us gathered in an office space overlooking the finish line to watched them cross, and as they crossed, we all pretended to have something in our eyes. Tissues all around for the big wins.

Finish Line Gwen and JJ

 

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Then Steve, the Cherubs & I walked back over the bridge into Cambridge. It felt like such a long distance, but our attitudes were kept in check by all the tinfoil wrapped people we passed who’d just run 26 miles, and the glorious sky over the city, and the fun of having something like this happen for people we love, in a place we love. Really, it was all the gushy feelings, accompanied by some sore legs.

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Speaking of sore legs – I went to the gym. Three times. My first session was with a trainer who is Irish and seven months pregnant, which means we looked like twins. I won’t post pictures of that. I’ll just say that I’m glad I can slide in my socks across the new wood floors as a form of travel rather than having to pick up my feet for each new step.

Happy Monday, All.

He is risen, indeed.

Road to Adoption: Checking in after one Year

 

We went on vacation last week :)

IMG_4185 This was our first as a family. (Because no, I’m not counting that time we took our Black kids to the White Mountains.)

We went to Syracuse NY for the Vineyard East Regional Conference, a gathering of Vineyard Church leaders from Maine to Pennsylvania. The difference in these two experiences was a good reminder of how far we’ve come.

Last year at this time, the kids had just moved in with us. They were stressed and overwhelmed, struggling mightily to make the best of a situation they never asked for. They called us Steve & Trish, they submitted to hugs but didn’t reciprocate, they had no trouble expressing the many and varied ways we sucked. The list of things they hated included meeting new people, having new experiences, and my cooking. In other words, most parts of most days. Don’t even get me started about running errands or driving anywhere in the car. There were times they both just pulled blankets over their heads in the back seat just to get some space to process their fury.  I moved my toothbrush out of the downstairs bathroom after finding it coated with soap.

I think what saved us in those early days was what we’d learned from other foster & adoptive parents: to IGNORE the part of us that wanted to say, “Oh honey, I know you’re hurting…what will make better???”  Because the truth is, they didn’t know. They were in new territory, and needed us to help them map the land. So we doubled down on high structure & high nurture.

Steve and I gave endless hugs and words of appreciation and affirmation. We complimented toenail growth and praised deodorant application. We ate dinner together every night, even though it was quiet and angry and awkward. We kept the refrigerator STOCKED. They may not have liked all the food, there was a lot of it.

At the same time, the kids were expected to look good when they got dressed, not wear clothes with stains or rips, brush their teeth & shower daily, make their beds, and do the few chores we could dream up with excellence and without complaining. We gave them a script to follow for when they meet people (because people happen), and just ignored their “Oh it’s going to be AWFUL/I don’t want to go!” complaints when we left the house until they more or less learned that if something was planned, it wasn’t getting un-planned. They detoxed from high-fructose corn syrup and the dream that we’d swing through 7-ll to pick up dinner. They had early bedtimes, almost no tv, and quickly learned that there was just no way either of them was going to play songs in our car or our kitchen about what some girl was going to do to some boy after they left the club.

These were not the boundaries I would have predicted if you’d asked me about my parenting before The  Cherubs arrived. I’m not against TV or music or even junk food. But we learned that these were the boundaries our kids needed, and so we build these rules like scaffolding around them to give them something secure to hold onto.

I don’t think I realized until this vacation how much this scaffolding WORKED.

I am in awe.

This year, our kids have just started calling us Dad & Mom. They hug us back and ask for affection. We have family jokes and things we laugh about. They’re still nervous about meeting new people, but have learned that meeting new people is ALWAYS awkward, no matter who you are, so they don’t take personally. They more or less tolerate my cooking. (Honestly I think we now just eat a bunch of healthy-ish food none of us really like, but we’re doing so much better than before that it seems like a win).

And in the days leading up to our vacation, they DIDN’T obsess about going to a big conference filled with people they don’t know. Instead, they chose a couple of good things to focus on: that we’d promised them McDonalds the first time we did a really long car ride, and that Auntie Gwen & their friends Grace & Sam would be there at the conference, too. They repeated these two things again and again, creating a narrative of excitement instead of fear. It was amazing.

When we arrived, the hotel had a pool…and a basketball court (GOD BLESS YOU Residence IMG_4172Inn Syracuse for that basketball court!!!)  At the conference, there was a teen/youth track the kids could follow so they weren’t with the grown ups the whole time (GOD BLESS YOU Syracuse Vineyard for the teen/youth/get-away-from-your-parents-and-have-your-own-experience-track!!!).  By the end of the first night, they asked, “Can we come again next year?” And by the end of the week they didn’t want to leave.

It was one of the best weeks we’ve had as a family.

I’m sharing this because Jen Hatmaker shared a similar then vs. now story on her blog last year that saved my sanity when I was deep in the trenches and feeling like I didn’t have what it takes. It’s been taken down, so I thought I’d post my own version to pay it forward, to cheer on all of you who are in this situation right now, or considering foster care/adoption.

You should consider foster care/adoption. I’m not sure anything in my life has gone on such a speedy track of growth and transformation. These kids are amazing. It has taken more than Steve & I thought we had, and there have been some white knuckled nights and long, frustrated days. I’ll admit that there was a season where the checkout guy at our local beer & wine store knew us REALLY well, because we were there A LOT.

But this kind of transformation in just over a year? It’s worth it. Some adoptions take longer to find the sweet spot; this isn’t a one-timeline-fits-all endeavor. But the wins are pretty huge when they come.

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Our traveling tribe from Greenhouse Mission Vineyard Church.

Teaching The Cherubs About Faith

Once Steve & I met The Cherubs, we began thinking about how to teach them about faith. About Jesus, specifically, and the Bible, and why these things matter so much to us that we’ve built our lives around them.

The first step, we thought, was to find a church, one that would (hopefully) become a spiritual home for us as a newly formed family.  So we started visiting on Sundays.

The first church we visited had a kids’ curriculum based on a Jesus who taught morality: things like, Don’t be a bully and Be nice to people in need. Our kids seemed to have picked up on those lessons already, so we kept looking.

The second place we went looked so impressive as we walked in. The building was enormous – there was a 3 story fountain in the foyer. But beyond that, we loved how diverse it was. It reminded us of our life back in Cambridge, and how when people don’t look alike, you get to figure out what you have in common based on who you actually are. It’s a pretty cool way to live.

A volunteer proudly led us to the WING of the building that housed their youth/young adult program.  It was jaw-dropping. In the class for 5th graders, there was (I’m not even kidding) a 20-something guy doing a hula-hoop by the door, greeting the kids as they walked in. Behind him there were video screens with games on them, foosball and ping-pong tables, and an arts corner that could rival any classroom at RISD. Down the hall was the space for the junior high & high school kids, only this wasn’t a class, it was a cafe. Dim lighting, giant couches, more video games, pool tables. I felt like we’d fast forwarded ahead 6 or 7 years and were now touring colleges.

But when we left that day, we knew that church wasn’t for us, either. We don’t want to teach our kids that church is primarily entertainment, or that the main value is whether or not they’re having fun.

While I’d prefer that The Cherubs not hate church, I don’t really care if they love it.

This is, I suspect, because I grew up Catholic. In Catholic church, NOBODY CARES if the kids are enjoying themselves. Or the adults, for that matter. The whole point of Mass is that it’s not about you, it’s about Jesus, and we are all there to receive something from Him we need and cannot get any other way. So in every Catholic church you will see toddlers running toy cars across the pews, middle schoolers squirming and zoning out, and high schoolers trying not to get caught staring at the cute guy or girl three rows up.  And as they play and zone and oggle, they absorb information about God. Some of it might be the specific message of the day (although I remember very little of that – I needed ten years of Protestant Bible study before I could even understand what was going on at Mass). But there’s also a sense of priority – that faith matters enough to invest an hour a week, even if it’s boring, and a sense of belonging – you are part of the family of God, and when the sh*t hits the fan in your life, you know where God lives. Even if you’ve never connected with Him there before, you have a place to start now.

That’s what happened for both Steve and me: When we sensed God speaking to us about taking Jesus seriously, we had a starting point.

I think there’s a lot to this. So for the past few months (after we visited a third church that had all the kids DANCE in front of the whole congregation to a song our kids had never heard before) we’ve been doing church at home, here in our living room. It’s been fantastic. The Cherubs are relieved. Sometimes on long drives we listen to podcast sermons from a church we love in Hawaii, led by friends of ours who used to live up here. (We’ve listened to so many of these that the Cherubs now consider Pastor Jordan their friend, too, and #2 Cherub wanted to hit him up for a magazine subscription in last week’s school fundraising debacle.)

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As we teach the Cherubs about faith, we try to give them spiritual tools they can use right now. (For example, #2 Cherub has a big event at school today and asked us all to pray.) But more than that, we’re trying to situate them within the larger faith, a larger family, and a larger way of seeing what is possible and what Jesus offers that they cannot get anywhere else.

As with most things, the results are mixed. Yesterday, I had this conversation:

Cherub: My throat hurts!

Me: Aw…can I pray for you right now?

Cherub: (rolls eyes) It doesn’t hurt THAT much.

But just a week ago, I when Steve was home sick, that same Cherub blurted, “Please God, heal Steve!” Now, the motivation was that she needed Steve’s help with something later, but still, I’m excited that they’re picking up on the truth that when there’s nothing WE can do, there’s still a lot God can do. They’ve seen us do this, and so they’re trying it out.

It’s not what we expected, but it’s what God is doing, so we’re going with it.

I’m learning that our kids are picking up more about life with Jesus from watching us live it than from anything else they encounter.  So I’m trying to live it BIG, so they get to see all the ways it plays out- the impossibilities and possibilities it offers – and why it means so much.

And in this, I’m holding on to this vision of church – A place where we connect with Jesus, are encouraged & challenged in our mission, get pushed into absurd situations that could only be orchestrated by God, and get to see miracles as a result. Where people whose faith we admire help fill in the gaps we’re unsure about, just as we help them do the same.

Easier said than done, I know. I guess what I’m saying is this: don’t settle for a foosball table & an earnest kid with a hula hoop, if that feels like “not what I’d hoped for but I guess it’s good enough.” It might be enough – bless that hula guy! But if it isn’t for you, trust that feeling.

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A few weeks ago, when a friend asked me how it feels to finally have children after so many years of praying, I told her this:

I see now that when God comes through, it doesn’t feel like you’re settling. I don’t feel like I’ve settled. I feel 100% like these precious Cherubs are THE KIDS I’m supposed to raise. I’m astonished that life can feel this good.

The same applies to wanting a great marriage, or meaningful work…or a church family that feels like home, where you and the ones you love (along with a few you’re not so crazy about) absorb and try out what it means to be Jesus-ey. A place where we and realize that the gifts and promises are for us, too. If any area of life right now feels like you’re settling, then God is not done yet.

Love for Accidental Saints

I know I rave about books a lot here – I tend towards the jazz hands side on the review scale of life (Which is essentially: Ballet = “I found this to be a quiet, but important, read;” Modern Dance = “this book is weird;” Jazz Hands = “OMIGOSH I WANT TO HAND THIS TO YOU PERSONALLY RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE!!!”) This tendency leaves me feeling a bit like The Girl Who Cried Wolf right now, because Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People is ALL the dances: it’s the important, weird book I want to hand to you personally right this very minute. I can imagine some part of it appealing to you, no matter who you are.

UnknownMy favorite chapter is called “The Lame.” In it, Bolz-Weber describes how, as she wrote her first book, her editor pushed her to describe why she’d been such a pissed off kid – how she’d suffered from an autoimmune disorder that caused her eyes to bulge out of her face so far that her eyelids could not even close.

“Absolutely not,” Bolz-Weber replied.  Then she tells us about what she learned as she wrote it:

“Of all the inelegant things I wrote about myself in that book,” she says now, “–publicly admitting imagesto drug use, alcoholism, deceit, sexual indiscretion, misanthropy, and pretending to be a hero–the pain and alienation of my childhood was the one thing that made me think, If I tell this, I may die. If I show the encasing under the tattoos, no one will again believe that I am cool.”

Writing this made her realize: it was never the people attracted to her “cool” persona who stayed at her church. It was the ones drawn to the bug-eyed kid she used to be, the with no friends who ate her lunch alone in middle school.

I read that and wrote in the margins: “They’re not drawn to her cool or her uncool. They’re drawn to the path between the two. She’s transformed.”  

I’m not sure I’ve seen a better collection of real stories of transformation walked out in daily life. If you need encouragement that it’s possible (even if you’re pretty sure that YOU’RE fine, but know all these OTHER PEOPLE who could use some transformation) read this. You’ll want to cry when you’re done, but in a good way, because you’ve been reminded that all the things are possible.