Life lately

The damage from our epic and unexpected storm in February is still seen around homes and in the forests here. On my walks in the woods, the brush is rubbled-up like leftovers from a huge party, blocking the creek in places and changing the landscape. Fir trees, strong and established, came completely unmoored by the surprise weight of the snow that fell. The trees grow roots to hold on to the earth and so many of them completely let go, gave up, and their bodies all lay neatly pointing downhill. 
There wasn’t a lot people could do about the mess until the season had passed, but now the sun is out and it’s time. 

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There is really no good way to describe a season while you are in it. You don’t understand the full extent of it till it has passed.  So we describe what we were and what we did and how we thought. We tell it as though it was either the worst of times or the best, because nostalgia creeps in and makes us victims—either the past was great and now, here we are; or the past was terrible and there I was. Distorted. Hyperbolized. Inflated.

Knowing all that, let me try to describe our present season in one sentence: On Thursday we took the trash to the dump and we didn’t have another bag-full of garbage until Sunday. 

Or this sentence: Friday there were only three of us so we had dinner out. 

You’ll need to get used to this mom, my daughter said when I noted the trash situation, and that’s another sentence that could describe our season—my daughter, explaining things to me gently, letting me down slowly.  She has two months in Mongolia this summer, a full-time job, and plans to move out soon. Is eighteen years really enough time to prepare?

I had already changed our chore chart from a daily trash affair to every other day, and then I removed the chore from the chart altogether because it was so random and chore charts need regularity. Someone just takes the trash out when it’s full and no one gets to check it off a list anymore.

We still run a load in the dishwasher daily, but I wonder when that changes. When do we switch from six gallons of milk a week to four, to two, to a tiny, cute half-gallon? When does the milk spoil? I can’t remember the last time the milk spoiled in my fridge and I think it's maybe never happened; maybe milk spoilage is a myth to perpetuate repopulation: have more kids or your milk will spoil.

Time is the same. God is the same. We think it’s logical that our bank account should begin to increase now as children work and learn and leave, but even that is essentially the same. 

The sameness of God is what counteracts our (mock) despair in a season like this. He is same and steady and sure, the way a tree rooted to the earth and reaching to the sky should be. But He’s not boring in His sameness. He’s not fully discoverable, still, after so many seasons.

God is the center of a concentric circle we rotate around, rowing our boats, forgetting our bread, still not getting it. He increases the surface tension and we don’t even realize we could walk right to Him and touch Him and see Him steady, unchanging in Himself but new to us in every season. We think we’ve discovered something new when we unwrap a mystery, but He has only just pulled back the cover on what has always been. The only new thing is our understanding.

I need to think about these things when all my things are changing things, because I am a woman whose definitions and titles are changing. But I am who I always am.

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When the disciples forgot their bread, somewhere on the shore behind them were twelve baskets full of fragments leftover from a miracle—twelve baskets from a feast prepared for the hungry who would be hungry again. On the one hand, no one thought to bring bread for the trip and I think they were men focused on a task. On the other hand, wasn’t Jesus exasperated that they still didn’t get it? “Don't you understand yet?” He asked them. They didn’t and I don’t and we attempt to cover our lack of understanding by trying harder, but it never works that way. We laugh at a joke we don’t get and wonder how our bellies will be filled in this next season.

I don’t understand yet how God meets all our needs but sometimes we still feel a lack; how the spiritual dangers we can’t see outweigh the physical ones we can; how preparing for a season is even possible when we don’t know the start date, the itinerary, the return flight schedule. I don’t know how to prepare for something I’ve never been or done or seen.

All I can do is what I keep doing: gathering the fragments for the trip between feasts. There are miraculous provisions in my past, baskets full to carry me through the present.

The fragments for this season must be the memories: a toddler and an infant on the carpet, one reaching for a toy, the other starting to take it away but holding back, looking at me, knowing to be gentle; scrunching up a baby sock, rolling it over tiny toes; a baby in a room full of un-held babies, one of those orange plastic jewels stuck to his finger, eyes large and black and drowning; all of us on the floor Christmas morning.

I have a sketchy memory full of very specific snapshots I’ve intentionally frozen—remember this. I am mad about so much I don’t remember but the fragments are enough to fill the boat, and if I forget, ultimately, it’s ok. It’s never about the lack, the forgotten things. It’s always about the present provision.

The trees grow roots to hold on to the earth but so many of them let go this winter. I am changing, but I am not like those trees.  

Conflict in Church and At Home

“Every story needs tension to be good.” – ND Wilson

Every family has conflict. It is an inevitable part of living life with other sinful beings. Our family has gone through big changes in the last few years as our kids have reached adulthood, one by one. Having children so close in age was exhausting when they were young, but it’s a different kind of exhausting as they mature. There are emotional taxes for everyone and a fair amount of conflict.

My husband and I have never disagreed very much, but we surely have differences of opinion and the occasional argument. However, we realized several years ago that our children never saw us argue. One day,  we realized we had failed to teach that disagreements are normal and ok by the looks of silent devastation on our children’s faces when we had an argument in the van. It was one of those inevitable moments of childhood when the pedestals of parents wobble just a little. It was a good, hard lesson for us all. 

We still do most of our arguing in private, because that’s just polite; but since that day in the van, we have made a conscious effort to model good arguments and grace in front of our kids. We know each other’s body language, we interpret the sideways glances and silent pauses, and we have gotten smarter about timing.

Continue reading this post at Morning by Morning.

Memory and Imagination

Whenever I hear Matt Redman’s “Blessed be Your Name” I am on I-84 headed east through the Columbia Gorge, past the giant windmills, towards our favorite eastern Oregon camping spot. Our kids are all small, all strapped to booster seats, all packed in with snacks and blankets and books. Though the drive is excruciatingly long, these are the best of times. 

That song is a soundtrack to a memory. 

Our youngest son wasn’t on those trips. Born almost four years after his nearest sibling, he missed out on some of the memory-making of those summers when we camped a lot. We try to be careful when we remember. Sensitive. 

None of us have memories specific to his first year and a half of life. He spent them in an orphanage in India, surrounded by other babies and rotating staff. A great deal of that time he also spent in the hospital with recurring bronchial infections and pneumonia. Our first sighting of him was on a DVD, narrated by a lovely woman who gave us the phrase, “Shashwat is feeling sleepy” in her heavily accented english, and who told us Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was his favorite song. 

But he came with no birth story, minimal history, and no shared memories from 17 months of his life. 

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Memories are so pliable. My husband and I both have stories from childhood that we remember a certain way, while those around us have a differing version. Grievances can seem larger and punishments more harsh than they were in reality—we've learned this from our own children's memories. Likewise, the joys of certain events can grow over time and repetition, making a small act of kindness or privilege seem like an extravagance in our minds. This is the power we have, in shaping memories.

Our solution has been to make memories for our son, using our own experiences of India and its culture, and threading in the emotions and trauma common to any young woman giving birth. We tell him how loved he was by his tummy mom, how hard it must have been to give birth at sixteen in a tiny hut in a tiny village, and how, for eight days, she and his grandma struggled to keep him alive. He was tiny and frail when he arrived at the orphanage. We tell him how so many people worked to sustain him and get him healthy. 

We tell him he was wanted, because there are ways to “do without” a pregnancy, and we pray for his tummy mom together on Mother’s Day and on random nights when questions arise. They are hard questions—ones we can’t answer without imagination—and we tell the best and truest version we can. 

Some might call this lying. I prefer to call it Imaginative Redemption, because remembering is redemption, and the past lives in the stories we tell about it. We can tell any kind of story, avoid all kinds of truth, or settle for answering all the questions with “I don’t know"—but a child needs to know. We’ve chosen to make the best memories we can imagine for our son. 

God commanded Israel to set up memorial stones and called them to imagine a day when their children would ask, “What do these stones mean to you?”—a day when they would be far removed from the crossing of the Jordan and they would help their children imagine all the ways God cares and will care for them, by remembering all the ways he’d done so in the past. He unites curiosity with remembering, giving us an open-door for telling a good story.

I don’t remember anyone ever warning us about the questions our son would have when we were in the cumbersome process of adopting. I’m sure it came up in our training classes or our home visits, in the reams of paperwork we read and videos we watched; but until you are in the thick of the moment, until you have context for something, you don’t fully grasp it. We tell his story and answer his questions with all the redemption we honestly can. We try to create the healthiest memories for each of our children by telling them the truth—bad things have happened, mistakes have been and will continue to be made. But here is the redemptive imagination that keeps us going: God slipped on skin and flesh to buy back your memories and do more than you could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). When circumstances are beyond any we can control, God asks Is anything too hard for the LORD? and then delights in blowing our minds. 

A "true story”—which is not always the one we tell ourselves—roots us in a past experience of God’s goodness, because he is always behind, and gives us an imagination of his future goodness, because he is always ahead. We live in the moment with these memories and this imagination, and for every pleasure remembered, every memory forgotten, every blank space in a life we know was full of goodness, there is a redemptive story to be told.  Our kids will develop their own soundtrack to their memories and they'll exaggerate the stories and miss some details, but we hope a redemptive imagination will help them with the lyrics.