Category Archives: Faith

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 Rest of Yesterday’s Story

Yesterday I had a bit of a rant. I wasn’t sure whether or not to post it. It had the potential to come across as full-on ungratefulness for all I have, and I am astoundingly blessed. It hasn’t been that long since I felt astoundingly NOT blessed (to the point where Steve and I actually had the conversation, “Do you think we might be cursed? Because in the Bible, lives like ours mean you’re cursed…”)  and so I don’t take what I have now lightly.

But here’s the thing: every answered prayer brings with it parts that drive you bananas. And every “here’s a look at my life” blog (or book) brings the temptation to only show the parts where you’re crushing it – not the parts where it’s crushing you.

I don’t want to do that. As disappointing as it is to watch someone who has something you’d give ANYTHING to have complain about it, it’s even worse to witness their seemingly perfect life and wonder why you’re not as constantly chipper and celebratory and just as thrilled to be alive as they are.

I’ve had those thoughts.

Why aren’t I capturing our lives in heirloom-quality candid photographs? Why don’t I have a capsule wardrobe? Or a in-home craft corner? Or a partnership with artisans in emerging nations whose wares I feature on my blog? Why don’t we do game nights? What does it mean that Steve wants to give up on the 1000 piece puzzle we attempted during vacation but I want to leave it out because it means we can just eat dinner in the kitchen? WOULD WE BE HAPPIER IF WE HAD CHICKENS??? 

I’m not even kidding. I’ve actually wondered if our lives might be more peaceful & happy (and heirloom-quality photo worthy) if we installed a coop of pecking, pooping BIRDS in our backyard. Because nothing says SERENITY NOW! and HONEY, TAKE A PICTURE! like your dog’s mouth filled with the feathers of Clyde the Clucker. Thankfully, my sister reminded me of the time THAT NIECE came home from a farm visit covered in bird lice. That cured my chicken fantasy once and for all.

But why did I have it in the first place?

I share about the things I struggle with in an attempt to make my online life look a little bit like my actual life. Yes, I untag myself from unflattering Facebook pictures. But then I circle back and tell you that the tummy rolls are so out of hand, they require professional intervention. 

The other day, someone asked me, “Who reads your blog?” I thought for a moment and realized that in my imagination, you guys are curious about adoption, wondering about what faith looks like in the midst of real life, and/or just interested in an entertaining story.

All of these things have ups and downs, and none of them are true or encouraging or memorable if they skip the hard parts. But to be really good, they also need a satisfying ending that leaves the main character in a place the reader feels good about. So let me do that for you:

My day yesterday was not all bad. Yes, the morning was rainy and rocky and emotionally perhaps not my best (given that whole hiding out on the third floor thing.) But then it was REDEEMED. The sun came out. I had lunch with a friend. I’ll call her JESUS POWER GIRL because she is so openheartedly encouraging everywhere she goes. She was full-on hands in the air praising God for something right there at our lunch table in the middle of Cambridge yesterday (not a common sight, to put it mildly) and the people around us were all smiling and nodding because the happiness is so contagious when she’s around. Then she told me about when she had three teen boys living with her, and how she was grossed out for years by the household aftermath of those sweet, smelly young men. But now they’re successful, launched actual men, and it’s worth it.

And with that, I got my eye back on the ball.

Thanks for hanging with me when there are dips in the ride. I know they’re not as fun as the slow climb to new heights. But if someone told me about a roller coaster and didn’t mention that I’d be terrified and furious for significant parts of the experience, I’d find it hard to trust them.

I’d rather have you trust me than think I’m perfect.

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.

Celebrating the Good Moments #2

TODAY’S ADOPTION QUESTION!

Steve & I are often asked what advice we’d give someone considering adoption from foster care. It can be hard to answer, because I want to tell everyone all the things, yet I’m aware that each experience is really unique and not everything will apply. But yesterday afternoon I realized one thing that is universal:

REALLY enjoy the good moments. 

I know that sounds cliche. But seriously. Do it.

When things go well, notice it, savor it, write down what happened in a journal, snap pictures if you can. Tell the story of the good thing that happen to anyone who might listen. Replay them over and over in your mind so that they become integrated into your internal soundtrack of what your life is like right now.

Stressful memories will accumulate on their own. You’ve got to intentionally stockpile good ones.

In your early months as a new adoptive placement, once the honeymoon phase wears off and you’re not all tiptoeing around one another anymore, there comes a time where it feels like your life used to be a nice snow globe…but then it got knocked off the table and landed upside down in the trash. Nothing is the way it used to be, you’re not sure how to rebuild your life from the pieces you can find, and everyone is exhausted from the new emotional demands of creating a family out of strangers. (That’s not bad news, and it’s not forever. It’s just an unavoidable stage.)

So when you get good moments, they are like GOLD.

But if you’re too focused on the stress of rebuilding, or lost staring at the piles of your former life, you will miss these moments.

Don’t.

Yesterday, I was home with my son after school. He asked if he could cook mac & cheese for a snack. He expected me to say no (that child needs protein!) but my lifelong understanding that mac & cheese = happiness won out, and I said yes. Then the moment came: He wasn’t sure how to make it, would I help?

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Now, you ALL know that I am unlikely to have many “let me teach you my favorite recipe” moments with my children. It’s taken me 12 years to figure out basic dinners. But mac & cheese is my THING! I made it in a plug-in kettle in college, a microwave in law school, my little apartment stove in Philadelphia, and the “real” stove I had in D.C., where my Italian roommate (who was practically a chef, just via genetics) watched on, horrified and amused by my enthusiasm. Teaching #1 Cherub to make mac & cheese is closest thing I’ll have to a culinary legacy. So I took pictures, and made all kinds of jokes about how much his future wife will love this special recipe, passed down from his Mom :)

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How much is THIS DOG hoping that some of those shells fall out of that pan???

It was a good moment, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

Celebrating The Good Moments #1

EARLY Sunday morning, I saw a post from my friend Stephanie Elliot  on Facebook that inspired me to ditch the whole second half of my sermon to make room to share the story of how she handled years of rejection and disappointment in her writing career.

Her book comes out today :) 

I know Steph in real life (if you’re a longtime blog reader, you may remember this road trip from Chicago to Wisconsin in a tornado with my friends Manic Mom & Swishy? Manic Mom = Steph!) She overcame SO MANY NO’s to get to this very big YES in her writing career. She inspires me with her perseverance. She understood that if anyone was getting their books published, then it was possible for her, too. And here she is!  I’ll be waiting out on my porch all day for my copy of  Sad Perfect to arrive. It’s YA, a hardcover book for just over $10, and has GREAT early reviews. Looking to escape into a good story with a personal connection? You should click over and grab a copy, too. Congratulations, Steph! xoxo

On a related note…Lent begins tomorrow!

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In He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, I devote a whole chapter to my first experience of Lent and how pivotal it was early in my faith. There have been some rocky years since then, but this year, our church is reclaiming this observation as an opportunity to take a chance on God once again. If you don’t have plans for Lent, join us!

Everything you need is on the Greenhouse Mission Site:

The Study Guide tells you a bit more about my experiences with Lent, as well as how we’re approaching it this year through three traditional practices: Bible Study, Prayer & Fasting. You can do these on your own, or with friends. (I do better with the buddy system to keep me afloat, but it works with just you & Jesus, too.) Each week we’ll post a Weekly Bible Guide  with links to the daily reading, along with some thoughts on the passage and ideas for prayer. There will also be sermons you can listen to, book recommendations, and – God willing – some cool testimonies of what God is doing in our lives. I hope you’ll join us from wherever you are (and I mean that both geographically and spiritually :) )  Let me know if you’re joining in, and how it’s going. It’s good to cheer each other on and believe together.

(Looking for today’s Adoption Answer? It’s here, in a second post!)

 

Adoption, faith & the 1st thing we’d do differently.

Today’s question comes from Donny:

Religion is a big part of your life – how are you raising the kids within a faith-based environment and why is it important to you and Steve?

One thing Steve & I have learned over the past 2 years is that our Christian faith is THE THING that gets us through the rockier patches of adoption. But it’s also THE THING that has the most “What the heck? I didn’t sign up for THIS!” response from the Cherubs.

The Cherubs ask us repeatedly, “But why didn’t you TELL US  you were Christians?” I never know what to say. We didn’t withhold it. I’m pretty sure it came up the second time we met them.  But in the same way we didn’t tell them at our first meeting that Steve watches every Bruins game, or that I love to sing but can’t carry a tune, faith seems like something you show more than you tell. To say, “We’re Christians” seems meaningless without context, especially as something they were being invited into.

But in hindsight, there’s something we could have done to ease this process.

When the kids’ social worker, Janna, first told them about us, she brought them photo-books Steve & I put together to introduce ourselves and give them a glimpse into their new lives. (Walgreens did an amazing job with these.) This way they wouldn’t be left to wonder what we looked like, or what our house looked like, or our dog. It gave them something tangible to look at as they struggled to wrap their minds around this strange new reality.

[Because not much is stranger than being told that you’re going to meet new people tomorrow, and those people will be  your new parents.] 

We personalized a photo book for each of them. The opening page had pictures of us, with notes about our jobs, hobbies, how we met, etc. Of course there were pictures of Bergie. (We suspected – correctly – that she would be a selling point even when they weren’t too sure about us.) There were pics of the outside of our house, and of the rooms that would become their bedrooms. Then we showed some shots from around our city, including their new school and some local places where they and their future friends might hang out.

(Note: We can’t take credit for the photo-book idea. It was suggested in our MAPP training class, one of many ideas and resources that helped us during this process.)

I thought of including something about faith in their photo books, but I couldn’t figure out what to use for a picture. We weren’t attending a particular church at the time, so I couldn’t anchor the concept with a building. And a picture of a Bible seemed daunting and heavy, which isn’t us at all. We enjoy our faith – it’s a fun, empowering part of our lives. Since they’d be living it out with us, it seemed like something best explained in person.

In hindsight, we probably should have used a picture of a beach or a sunset, or even of a page in one of my books where I describe what it was like to get to know Jesus. Something to suggest that this was important to us, and help start the conversation about what that means. I’m not sure it would have made the Cherubs more amenable to faith, but at least they wouldn’t feel like it snuck up on them.

Even though the Cherubs aren’t always psyched to be Christian, Steve and I really are. There have been countless times when we’ve said to each other, “Only Jesus can help us now!” Sometimes we’re being funny, but other times – when we’re discouraged and at the end of ourselves – it feels like the absolute truth. I think parenting might be like this generally, but adoption is especially so – we just don’t have what it takes. We don’t. Steering and shepherding another person’s life is too big an endeavor, especially when you come into a life that’s already well in progress. So in the moments when I don’t have vision for a good future for them, or for us…I know for sure that God does. And so I say that, repeatedly: “Jesus, thank you that you love these kids,  that you have a plan for their lives, and that it’s a good plan. Thank you that you have what they need even when I don’t. Bless them and help them…”

Shockingly, it works. There’s something about not being in it alone, about not being the biggest authority in the room, about having spiritual power available when earthly power is fruitless, that makes SUCH tangible difference in our lives.

Jesus saves my bacon, time and time again. No joke.

Now that they’ve been around it awhile, the Cherubs see this, too. Our church recently started a Life Group that meets on Wednesday nights. It’s massively inconvenient for us to get there – the kids have to rush through dinner and bring their homework, and the drive + parking takes forever. But after the second or third week, they noticed how much of a difference that time with friends in prayer & scripture study makes in our happiness.  #2 Cherub has said to me more than once when I’m worried or stressed, “You’ll feel better after Life Group.” #1 Cherub has asked Steve to pray for him about different things. And they both tell us about people and situations, asking if we can pray for them as a family. By watching us live out our faith day to day, they’re absorbing the understanding that this gives us access to help we wouldn’t have otherwise.

That’s the WHY for us. We want our kids to have access to all that God has for them, and the way to that is Jesus. But we can’t just say that. We have to live it, and answer questions about why we do things this way, and give them the chance to make it their own.

Only God knows what the Cherubs’ faith journeys will look like down the line. But we want them to have a foundation to work from – something specific to respond to, wrestle with, make decisions about – rather than leaving them awash in all the possibilities of all the religions. To walk in ANY direction, you need something to stand on.

In the Bible, God promises that if we “train up a child in the way that they should go, when they are older they will not depart from it.”  This doesn’t necessarily mean that they will live their faiths exactly like we do. It just means that Jesus will guard and guide them, steering them back to his best again and again.

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Tomorrow, I’ll dive into HOW we’re doing this, and what it’s been like to plant a new church in the middle of our adoption process.

Thanks Donny, for the great question :)

Give God 5 Years

This weekend I was texting with a friend from MAPP class, who is also adopting. “Can you believe how much has changed in just a year?” I asked.

At exactly this time last year, we were in our final adoption-licensing class. I’ll tell you more about the whole thing in another post, but suffice to say that that morning, I was not capable of comprehending that in one year, I’d be waking up at 5:45am to drink coffee before getting kids off to our local middle school, trying to remember to make them dentist appointments, and deciding how much to push a cherub who is not excelling in one academic subject when s/he is a rockstar in the others.

Life has changed SO MUCH.

It makes me think of another conversation I had 6 or 7 years ago with a different friend. She was new to Christianity, but had been exploring faith for just long enough that the initial, “Wow, this explains everything!” feeling had worn off, and she was looking for more tangible life improvements. We all go through this, I think: Jesus promises abundant life, so we look around and ask, “So, um, where is it?”

(By the way, I think this is a totally fair question, and Jesus can handle the pressure of being put on the spot about His promises.)

“Give God five years,” I told her.

She looked at me like I was nuts.

“Here’s the thing,” I said.  “Sometimes, God comes through before we even have the chance to ask for something. We all love those moments. But other times, He needs to move some things around. In us, around us, in people we haven’t even met yet, or places we’ve never seen. God has both short and long game, and we don’t always know what’s what. But give Him five years. If you really want your life to be different, I believe it will be.”

When I offered these earnest words (after which I thought, “Well Jesus, I just bought you some time. It would be great if You came through…”) I had no idea how intensely they’d apply to MY life, as well.

I thought things were pretty well established back then. Sure there were a few areas of disappointment. If my life was a house, I kind of knew it could use the equivalent of a paint job and some new windows. Instead, God tore it down to the studs and started over.

God has changed EVERYTHING over the past five years. Aside from Steve, my contact lens prescription, and one favorite pair of jeans, every part of my life is different than it was in 2010:

-I live in a different house

-in a new town

-with two new people.

-I have THIS DOG instead of THAT DOG.

-Steve works for a different company.

-The publishing world is rebuilding after a bit of a collapse, so I’m encouraged.

-We’re rebuilding our church family after a bit of a collapse, so I’m encouraged.

-I’ve used the treadmill we bought more for running than as a hanger for clothes, so I’m encouraged.

All in all, it’s pretty groovy. But it’s taken a full five years.

Here’s what I’m learning: if you’re looking at Jesus today and thinking, “Hey, whatever abundant is, I don’t think THIS is it,” that’s okay. (Snarky, frustrated prayer = still prayer).

Think about the things you’d like to be different; the places you’re discouraged, or have lost hope, or see happening around you that seem out of reach. Or just take a couple of things you’re furious about. Whatever. Give Jesus five years. Mark the calendar. Tell Him this: I’ll do what You suggest, I’ll go where You lead if You make Your instructions clear to me. You promised that you’d light up my path and guide me, so I’m taking you up on that promise.

It’s not the quickest path, or the flashiest. I mean, sure, seeing people miraculously healed and lives miraculously transformed is incredibly cool. It’s great to not feel shame about my treadmill. But let’s be honest – following Jesus? Socially awkward.

Still totally worth it.