Sunday, January 10, 2016

On the Water

Then he made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.
When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on the shore. Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!" He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. 
They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.     Mark 6:45-52
I am much more familiar with Matthew's account of Jesus walking on the water than I am with Mark's. The number of words and actions that stood out to me upon my recent reading of this passage tells me that anytime I've studied this particular story of Jesus, I made use of only Matthew's account.

Right out of the gate, I note that Jesus made his disciples go in the boat and leave him behind. It gives the impression that they didn't want to leave, didn't wish to be separated from him. They had just witnessed the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. They were likely amazed, but confused, and had questions for Jesus. I would guess they were looking forward to some time spent with Jesus without the crowd so the twelve of them could ask those questions and mull over what had happened. Instead, Jesus tells them to take the boat to the other side of the sea and leave him behind.

On their way they encounter high winds and waves. It is stressful, exhausting, and possibly frightening. And Jesus is not with them. They don't know he's watching them from the shore. They don't know he is seeing their travail.

Then Jesus takes to the water. He begins walking across the sea. Easily could we think "He's going to them." Jesus must be walking to his disciples, his closest companions, friends, and followers. He sees their hardship and He is going to them. Thus my surprise when I read "He meant to pass by them." What?! This is the line that baffled me when I read this passage recently. It's been on my mind for at least a week. "He meant to pass by them." He was simply going to walk by them and leave them to the storm? He wasn't going to help? He wasn't going to get into the boat with them and calm the wind? Really, Jesus? Why?

It took until today, thinking on this yet again, to change my tune. "He meant to pass by them." As in, He meant to get close enough for them to see Him. Close enough for them to call to Him, to ask Him to help. Yes. That is what Jesus meant to do. Instead of keeping His distance, waiting out the storm, or even helping from afar - instead of this, He would draw near. He would help them in the midst of their trouble. He would make Himself personally available to them.

I'm not claiming this is the only possible interpretation of this moment in the Gospel. As far as what the disciples themselves realized about Jesus in that experience, I can't speak to that either. I am simply speaking as a person of faith reading this passage yet again and considering the manner in which our Lord sometimes chooses to help His beloved ones. We might want Jesus to stay with us in the particular manner we prefer, but He says no, you must go forward in the way I'm instructing you. We may want Him to appear in our midst, in our struggles, and take over the helm of the ship. He instead draws near and waits for us to recognize Him and call to Him.

God's help, His saving grace and guiding hand, often come in surprising ways. He's apt to choose the less obvious, the less understandable manner of meeting us on our wind tossed boats. And in every instance He commands, "Do not be afraid!" Do not fear! Trust in me! Know that I am here, that I, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, am available to you. I am here. Be not afraid.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Home Is a Moving Object

Time has an insatiable appetite, hording each present moment into its collection known as the past. Except even its ownership of all those moments doesn't satisfy. No, time must be sure we can't recollect what was ours. So it chips away at things, induces change, until the circumstances that made our memories are hardly recognizable. This is the conclusion I came to as I drove away from my hometown a few weeks ago. The building blocks of that structure, the "home" of that place, are gradually coming apart. Not crumbling or breaking, nothing so tragic as that. It's all the ordinary process of time passing, that's all. Blocks are removed, reshaped, separated from the rest. We all experience it. People move, people die, businesses close, buildings are remodeled, roads are rerouted. Essentially, time happens. What can we do about it?

Maybe the better question is what should we do about it? Because we can cling to the past. We can reconnect with as many old friends and acquaintances as we can find. We can dwell on what we no longer have. We can focus on memories until we are certain all was better then than now. But should we?

As I drove the two hours back to my present home after a weekend at my former home, my babies sleeping in their car seats and the radio giving a soundtrack to my thoughts, I let myself ponder all this. My conclusion: home is a traveling vehicle. It carries us, holds and contains us, and most of all, it moves with us. The old adage of "home is where the heart is" may be one of the most well known cliches of all time but that doesn't make it false.

We moved to our current home 5 1/2 months ago. I know exactly how long we've been here because it is the same as my little daughter's age, minus a week. We moved in a state of upheaval. Baby Girl spent one single night in our home in Menasha. We returned from the hospital and rested in a rocking chair while every other piece of furniture, article of clothing, and cooking utensil was packed up and hauled out. Then my husband began his new job, sleeping at the worst motel in our new town, and the kids and I had a limbo week at my parents' house while we waited for our place to be move-in ready. We unloaded all those boxes in Manitowoc and we were home. In the weeks and months that followed I have answered the "does it feel like home yet?" question countless times. I realize now that I've been answering incorrectly. I usually talked about what still needs to be done to settle in. I described where we were at in the stages of unpacking and decorating. I spoke of feeling like a stranger at our new church or how I don't have friends yet, stopping short of admitting just how lonely I am. I mentioned my gradual familiarity of the city's layout and what stores or restaurants or parks we've tried out. None of that answers the question though.

If I answered with clarity I'd say simply, "Yes." Yes, it feels like home. Just as our duplex in Menasha felt like home, or our apartment in Appleton after the wedding, or the apartment and then house I shared with my sister and friend in the years before being married, it feels like home. Because it is where I live. Not where I used to live or wish I lived or where my extended family or various friends live, but where I live now. It is where my life is happening. Home is a moving object. If I understand what makes a place or situation "home" then I can be sure to never leave it behind or have it taken from me. It will move and change with me, surround me at all times. It will be the scene of my life being lived, and that alone will give it the privilege of being called home.

Friday, July 31, 2015

I Am Not Shocked

I have said little about the undercover investigative videos revealing the practices of Planned Parenthood in the harvesting and selling of organs and tissues from aborted babies. I have said too little. I have read and heard plenty. Articles, blog posts, response videos, rants, prayers, questions, arguments. But I have said little. I have held back because it has been incredibly difficult to find my words in this instance. That's not a common trouble for me. This time though, the words... well, they're here now and they are this: I am not shocked.

When the doctor in the first video drank red wine and munched on salad during the pauses in her conversation about the techniques that help preserve the wanted organs as the child is killed, I was not shocked. When the second video dripped with the woman's cold greed as she laughed over her dream of a Lamborghini from the profits of their sales, I was not shocked. When the third video was released and this time the investigative journalist was actually in the room while they are sorting parts of the baby and speaking in even greater detail of the commonplace practices, I was not shocked.

Now there is a fourth video. I can't watch it. I can't stomach it. But I have read a thorough description of it. The doctor pointing out the organs to be harvested. The assisting tech exclaiming that it was a boy. The mentioning of how they handle the situation (i.e. still carry out the killing & harvesting) when the baby is delivered before they can perform their procedure (i.e. born alive before the abortion can be completed). On and on. And still, I am not shocked.

Disgusted, heartbroken, sad, angry - all these things and more, yes, but not shocked.

I have wept. I have shook my head, hung my chin against my chest, and cried. My tears have fallen for these precious, precious children. I've cried for the mothers and fathers, the "doctors" and their assisting employees. I have ached for the pain of those who chose an abortion in the past, been involved in an abortion in the past in any way, have suffered over their decisions and actions and sought forgiveness, have tried to move on from it but now the viral videos force them to acknowledge once again and maybe to a new, gut wrenching degree what their choices meant. I have cried so many tears for them all in recent weeks.

After the third video was released, I was sitting on my couch reading one writer's thoughts on it and tears ran down my cheeks. My baby girl was asleep against my chest. Her dear heart beating up against my own. My toddler was playing on the floor a few feet from me. Intuitively - yes, intuitively after only 22 months outside my womb - my boy looked up, examined my face, and climbed into my lap to wrap his arms around my neck. I held him for a moment, willing myself to hold it together until he went back to his toys so that he would not feel my body shake with grief for all the embraces lost through abortion.

So why am I not shocked? They're called shock videos, and for many that is exactly what they accomplish. But for me, the atrocities being revealed are, dare I say, logical. They are reasonable realities. I feel like screaming it from a roof top or a street corner or better yet, a church steeple as the every Sunday crowd marches in. "WHAT ELSE DID YOU EXPECT? HOW COULD YOU EXPECT ANYTHING LESS THAN THIS?"

For more than 40 years we have legally been killing defenseless children. Legally. Condoned by the law. Labeled as a human right. The baby has been called a blob of tissue. Not a baby. Not viable. Part of the mother. As scientific developments have actually contradicted every "scientific" argument for the acceptability of abortion, science has been abandoned. We have moved on to rights. The right to choose. We fill women's heads with all they will have to sacrifice if they become mothers. All that they will miss out on. We tell them to choose what is best for them. Choose. Choose. Choose. Say it enough times and it can suddenly stand alone. No need to state what is being chosen: to end a human life. How dare we question the obvious fact that that woman has a right to choose whether or not to have that baby? We cower behind the "I wouldn't do it but who am I to tell someone else not to do it" defense. But that baby. That baby doesn't have a right to choose. That baby is dependent on the provision and care of the mother, no different than after that baby is born really and for a good long while beyond that. Let's not go there though. Then the platform would collapse. Let's just focus on the woman. Yes, let's focus on the woman! Or the man. The parents. For that is what they are. Many realize that before the abortion but still make that choice for a myriad of reasons. Even more women and men realize their parenthood after the abortion. Depression, anxiety, suicide, self-mutilation, self-hatred, broken relationships. Decade after decade of the aftermath of abortions swept under the rug. Kept out of the limelight. Off of the mainstream news channels. Decades of protests, marches, gatherings. Every single year a peaceful, massive march through our nation's capitol. Grown to as big as 650,000 individuals from all religions, all ages, all states and numerous countries. A march this size, over half a million people, if it was concerned with literally any other law on the books, would be one of the biggest news stories for days or even weeks across the land. But a march this size to protest abortion? Nah. Maybe it'll be mentioned, maybe not. Some quick shots of the protesters and some creative camera work that implies the few handfuls of pro-abortion protesters that show up are actually of nearly equal numbers. Empty chairs and presidential excuses when the Planned Parenthood executives are called upon to explain themselves. Decades, years, months, weeks, days of procedures. Such a clean, clinical term: procedure. So much nicer than "death."

Death. We have characterized our era as one of death. Death that is perceived as acceptable, excusable, even desirable. Death of the most vulnerable, the most incapable of choosing for themselves, the most dependent on their caregivers. That is us. Someday that is what we will be most remembered for in the history books.

So, no, I am not shocked. We asked for this. We walked straight into this hell on earth. Eyes open. Hands idle. Steady pace. Why would we expect anything else than what we see in those videos?

Please do not mistake my words for hopelessness. As long as there is a single person on this earth speaking for the babies, there is hope. Our country is at a crossroads. A fork in the road. A point of decision. If we do not take a hard turn away from the direction we have been going, we will continue in that direction. Plain and simple. The progress will be logical and reasonable, just as it has been so far. The killing of unwanted children after birth will become acceptable. The choice to end the life of a handicap or ill child because of the difficulty/burden/pain/etc. he or she causes the parents will become legal. An ultrasound tech gets the gender wrong and the baby born is not the sex the parents wanted? Kill it. There is a genetic predisposition toward one disease or another, in the name of mercy then, just in case, kill the child before he or she might endure the disease.

Don't shake this off as absurd. Don't assume it could never happen. Do you think that when the Supreme Court decided that "ending a pregnancy" was a right that must be upheld by law that anyone in this country really expected all the results that came of this? Did anyone expect the numbers to reach 50 million? Did anyone expect so many parents to end their children's lives based on the mere chance they might have Down's Syndrome or a genetic disease? Did anyone expect the abortion industry to become so profitable? Or become partially funded by our own tax dollars? Did anyone expect the destructive aftermath for the women and men who regretted their abortions? No. I don't think anyone did. Or at least not more than a few. There must have been a few or the March for Life would not have been introduced the very next year. There was hope then and there is hope now.

I remember explaining to a group of teens a few years ago my stance on the effort to reverse the Supreme Court decision. I tried to explain that in the end, it wouldn't matter whether or not the law changed. Laws do not determine what is right or wrong. If something is right or wrong it remains right or wrong no matter what a law says about it. It is hearts that must be changed. Every heart that firmly believes abortion is not evil; every heart that refuses to take a good look at the issue or admit it matters; every heart that is on the fence and ready to be swayed in one direction or the other; every heart that fears speaking the truth. The hearts are where the change must happen. Laws ought to follow suit then, but at that point, would it matter? If the hearts are changed there is no one left choosing abortion. No one keeping those clinics open and profitable. The law would become irrelevant if still unchanged. Hope lives in changing hearts.

It is time we start expecting the consequences of our choices. It is time we had the foresight to know what is the next and the next and the next logical step if we continue down the same path. We must open our clouded eyes and together turn off this road. Find a new road. Choose to end the pattern. Admit we were wrong and begin to make it right. We can do it. We must do it. Continue to uncover the gruesome details and get people to face them. Continue opening and supporting pregnancy centers that welcome and assist mothers in need. Continue to stand peacefully outside the clinics, ready to speak knowledgeably and kindly with any person who needs to hear from you there. Continue to advocate for adoption and reasonable adoption laws. Continue to argue lovingly but firmly with anyone willing to converse with you on the subject. Continue to pray if you are a praying individual. And if you cannot continue because you never began taking any of these or other steps to help fight against abortion, then begin now.

We must create a world where abortion becomes shocking again. Imagine with me a future generation who has to learn from a teacher of this atrocious practice called abortion, who must look to history books to even know what it means, and are left wondering how it was ever legal. Imagine them thanking those who came before them for eliminating it. Imagine that world and make it the logical result of what we choose now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Art of Waiting

I don't consider myself an artist. That's simply not a label I have ever used to describe who I am or what I do. The last five months and especially the last week though, have given me every opportunity to become an artist in a very specific genre: the art of waiting. Waiting on efforts to bear fruit, hopes to be fulfilled, plans to be successful, and prayers to be answered. These acts of waiting characterized my and my family's days. I call them "acts" for waiting is not necessarily a passive thing. There's a lot of effort to be put into waiting, or at least into waiting rightly. Waiting with hope; waiting with peace; waiting with intentionality. It's hard. It is SO hard.

And now as the efforts and hopes of those five months are finally bringing about fruitful change, as we're packing our home to move and preparing for my husband to start a new job, I find myself still wrapped up in the art of waiting. My unborn daughter is teasing me with days of early labor contractions, hanging out in there for longer than I or my doctor expected. I'm scheduled to be induced in two days and that scares me for some reason way beyond any nervousness I might feel about going into labor and delivering this baby any time now.

Just the same as all the days in those five months that I'm glad are wrapping up now, I can't depend on much other than trust, prayers, and feeble attempts at patience. The art of waiting is centered on acknowledging that there is so little in my own control - and then believing that is perfectly okay.

"Be still and know that I am God." (Ps 46:11)

"But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some regard 'delay,' but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:8-9)

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." (John 14:27)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Drum Roll, Please... Full of Days, Chapter 1

After far too many months (years?) of neglect, my manuscript has been pulled out and dusted off (i.e. the file is open on my laptop). I'm strongly considering self-publishing but no matter what route I take, it first needs a solid round of editing on my part. After that, probably more of the same but by an actual, trained, experienced editor. If the story holds up through such poking and prodding, then I'll focus on the best possible publishing option.

All this to say, would you like to read the first chapter? As a sort of pledge to giving the world (aka my family, friends, and the few others I may persuade to care about it) my first novel, I thought I'd post the first chapter here. I welcome feedback so feel free to leave comments, and/or share this post with anyone who might enjoy reading it. Please don't copy and paste the text though, just share the post's link. Thanks!

The entryway of the house was small, barely two feet of peach speckled tile between the front door and the coat closet. Aillinn bumped her elbow on the adjoining wall as she came inside and slid open the folding door of the closet. She hung her damp jacket on the same wire hanger as yesterday. Tonight made three full days of rain. The duration was tiresome but tolerable after the record breaking heat southern Michigan had experienced in August and even the first weeks of September. That is, it was tolerable except for the drives between Grand Rapids and Ravenna. Aillinn hated driving in the rain.
She stepped onto the worn, brown carpet of the hallway, lingering at the edge of the living room. Flooring, paint, furniture, decorations; they collectively transported a person backward by a few decades. Aillinn paused now over the home’s scent – a familiar, lingering smell she supposed she should have noticed before tonight. Musty, mostly dry, like preserved flowers covered in dust. Other long gone scents rose in Aillinn’s imagination: bread in the oven, the lilac scented candles on the window sills, and, at this time of year, the juice of a hundred apples boiled down for applesauce. These were the rightful smells of her great-grandmother’s home. At least, they were, before the sofa had collected its uniform film of dust from disuse, before the television stopped showing nightly game show episodes, and before the backyard apple tree concluded its fruitful years.
A mirror in a wrought-iron, oval frame hung in the hallway between the two bedrooms. It was placed high on the wall, perfectly positioned for Aillinn’s height as well as her great-grandmother’s before a slight stoop had lowered her shoulders a few inches. Aillinn stopped in front of the glass and realized she hadn’t brushed her hair since morning. The thick, black strands hung heavily on her shoulders. She used her fingers to loosen a few tangles, making a mental note to schedule a trim. She hadn’t brushed it after work because of the hurry she was in to get out of her apartment. Changing from her slacks and blouse to jeans and a favorite t-shirt had only taken a couple minutes. There was no time to lose this evening. To anyone else, it might have appeared to be the same as all of her other visits in the preceding weeks and months, but Aillinn knew it was different. Or rather, it could be different. It could be. This is what Aillinn told Connor when he’d dropped by as she was putting on her shoes and coat.
Her longtime friend had doubted her. She’d cried wolf before, committing herself again and again to asking the questions no one in her family had asked her great-grandmother. If they’d ever tried, Aillinn didn’t know it. Connor had rolled his eyes and mumbled, “Sure, sure, if you say so.” Yet Aillinn was resolved. She’d been resolved plenty of times, he pointed out, and she knew he was right. He had made some attempts at conversation, describing his photo shoot that afternoon with toddler triplets, and complaining about the changes in plans for his parents’ anniversary party. While he talked, Aillinn had shooed him out the door and down the flight of steps to the parking lot. He’d seemed reluctant to leave, like there was more to be said. She realized this now, but between the rain and the desperate desire to retain her courage, Aillinn hadn’t noticed it as she hastily waved goodbye to him and climbed into her car.
At this mirror, steps from her great-grandmother’s bedroom, Aillinn put all thoughts of her friend from her head. She could feel today’s courage fading. It never lasted, never led to any follow through. Who was she to coax out the answers kept hidden for decades? Looking into her own violet eyes, Aillinn shook her head. The house’s thin, dusty scent filled her nose again. She turned away from the glass as tears shimmered at the edges of her eyes. Age, that’s all it is. Age and endings. Aillinn dragged her fingers through her hair once more and entered the bedroom. “Hello, Grandma.”
A smile spread over Annie Walcott’s face. “I thought I heard you arrive.”
Aillinn slid the rocking chair to Annie’s bedside as she had done countless times in the past months. “How’s the day treating you?” she asked.
“Quite well, now that you’re here,” Annie winked, papery wrinkles fanning from the corners of her green eyes. “Your grandma Megan used to ask your grandpa that question each day when he returned home from work. ‘Better, now that I’m home,’ Lee would say. Megan always waited to kiss him until he said it.”
Lately, more than ever before, everything in the present reminded Annie of something in the past. Last year, Annie was featured in a “Keys to Longevity” series on the local news. Now, at 103 years old, she had given up making it to Sunday Mass and relied on a cane if no one was there to help her get around the house. The time Annie spent in bed steadily increased, especially over the last six months.
Most of the furniture was removed from the spacious bedroom a while back, widening the paths for her to move about when she did leave the bed. A dresser remained in the corner, topped by an antique mirror and filled with clothing unlikely to be worn again. Next to Annie’s bed stood a small, square table. Its top was a pretty pattern of inlaid ceramic tiles in shades of yellow, green, and blue. Aillinn couldn’t recall anything sitting on that table except the present items: a dog-eared edition of the Psalms, a thin anthology of Irish poetry, and a framed photo of four generations. She looked at her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and her five year old self—Annie, Megan, Erin, and Aillinn—and realized they all had a very similar curve to their smiles.
“Is it still raining out there?” Annie asked, tilting her chin toward the closed curtains.
“Yeah, it still is. At this rate the ground won’t be dry until next spring.”
Aillinn’s eyes traveled from the little table to the bed. Annie sat against the oak headboard, supported by pillows and covered with a thin afghan that matched the red poppies on her nightgown. Annie removed her reading glasses and set them on the open book at her side.
“It’s Persuasion,” Annie volunteered, “my favorite Jane Austen. I’ve read it a dozen times, at least.”
“I think I read it for a class once,” Aillinn nodded, “or maybe that was a different one.”
Annie was incredulous. “Oh, Linny, you ought to remember it with more certainty. Perhaps you should read it without an assignment.”
Aillinn smiled at the sound of her childhood nickname, which only her great-grandmother made a habit of using. “I suppose I didn’t give my literature electives much attention. My marketing and PR projects were never ending. College hasn’t been an excuse for a couple years though so maybe I will read it. What is it about?”
“Everything a great story should include.” Annie punctuated her reply with a quick nod.
“Okay, how about this book of poetry? Why has that always been in here instead of on the living room bookshelves?”
Annie turned very slowly in the direction of the bedside table. Her eyes closed for a long moment before she reached for the book. “No one has ever asked before you.”
“I have wondered before, but it didn’t seem important to ask.”
“It is important. That’s why it stays in here.”
Annie’s face held an unmistakable earnestness. She handed over the book, open to its title page, and Aillinn read the handwritten words she found there.
“To Annie, with all my love between the pages.” Aillinn lifted the book to her face and peered over its worn edge. “Grandma, there’s no signature.”
“No?” She feigned surprise and they both laughed.
“Please, Grandma, who gave it to you?”
Annie took the book back, holding it tightly in one hand and stroking the spine with the other. For years her hands had shown her age, even while little else gave it away. Blue veins rose up beneath her wrinkled, ivory skin, and her knuckles were swollen and knobbed by arthritis. Her palms were smooth but their crisscrossing lines had multiplied and deepened with time.
She had not answered Aillinn’s request, nor did she refuse it. So, Aillinn ventured in a shaky whisper, “Was it my great-grandfather?”
The older woman lifted her face, pondering the inquiry.
Hesitation raced through Aillinn’s nerves. The unexpected opportunity to ask about her great-grandfather stared her down like a solemn dare. The confidence she’d carried here this evening had already fled but somehow she pressed on. “Who was he? Mom said she had no idea and that Grandma Megan didn’t know anything about her father except that he was Irish and you met during the war.”
“Well, that is all I told Megan.”
“Didn’t she ever ask to know more?”
“Other than when she was a young child, she asked only once. It was the day she married your Grandpa Lee. I knew better than to delve into that story just minutes before the wedding. I decided to tell her the next time she asked, when we had enough time to discuss it.”
“She never asked again, did she?”
“No,” Annie shook her head, weaving her fingertips through the stitches of the afghan, “and I didn’t bring it up.”
“Do you wish you had?” Aillinn’s voice dropped back to a whisper, wondering if she’d crossed a forbidden line. “Would you tell me?”
Annie met Aillinn’s hopeful gaze, holding it as she mulled over the request. “Well, Linny, I’m not sure if I could. I have spent so long not telling that story that I am uncertain how it should be told.”
Though the disappointment was surely written on her face, Aillinn was about to say it didn’t matter. Annie clicked her tongue though and added, “I can try to tell it. I just don’t know how it will go.”
As she leaned forward and set her feet flat on the white carpet, Aillinn’s smile widened. “You will? I want to know everything! How you met, why you couldn’t be together, everything!”
Annie chuckled and straightened her back against the pillows. “What sort of story do you think this is? I suppose you dreamt up some scandalous affair!”
Aillinn felt her cheeks flush. She remembered the time as a young girl when she had asked her mother why no one ever spoke of her great-grandfather.
That’s Grandma Annie’s business and she’s chosen not to discuss it. We need to respect that. Don’t go dreaming up some romantic love affair out of a soap opera. Those were simply different times than we live in now.
Her mother’s response was what first gave Aillinn the idea of a forbidden relationship, maybe even a scandal. She had assumed ever since that the couple never married, but her mother could not provide any of the details.
“That is what you thought!” Annie interrupted the memory. “Well, it’s best I set you right.”
“I think that is a very wise idea,” Aillinn agreed with a grateful smile.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Love Through It

Let me tell you something about my husband. He is exceptional.

This morning I woke up feeling frustrated. Insecure. Disappointed. And my first fallen instinct was to let my husband feel the effects. In my attitude and demeanor, he was undeservedly on the receiving end of my weak mental state.

This man beside me works daily to support our family, spending his hours at a job that doesn't make nearly enough use of his great skills and talents. He is unwavering in his dedication to raising his sons in uprightness. He apologizes when he is in the wrong, and talks through mistakes to move a step forward by them rather than letting them push him backward. He will push through any discomfort or pain to accomplish what is necessary, and usually a good stretch farther than necessary. He is relentless in ensuring I smile and laugh enough each day.

And when I give him scowls instead of smiles, selfish words instead of generous ones, he loves me through it.

He loves me through it.

I pray every wife is able to say that of her husband, and vice versa. We must love each other through it. All of it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Still New - Day 1, National Week of Marriage

I sometimes forget I'm a newlywed. Caught up in new motherhood, my awareness of the newness of my marriage fades. Then a moment comes along that catches me by surprise and immerses me in it once again.

My husband and I have been married for 1 year and 4 months. That still qualifies as newlywed, right? I certainly believe it does. We are still learning. That is what I have to remind myself so often as I attempt to balance all sides of this life we are living together. Learning to love, learning to live as one. Learning to rejoice and to forgive. Learning to fight and to make up. Well, maybe we have the making up part down fairly well. Learning to laugh at ourselves and with each other. Learning to challenge and accept. Learning to wait and to work.

With each passing month, I gain a deeper appreciation for how our strengths and weaknesses offset each other. Matt does not make me whole. No, only my Lord does that and I will wound my marriage every time I try to fit my husband in that role instead of Christ. But Matt does complement me, and I him. Together we are stronger, wiser, better.

Love is amazing. It is awesome. I mean that in the true sense of the word, not the trite way we usually toss it around. Awesome - filling me with awe when I contemplate the way it can build a person up to more than they ever thought they could be. Or how it can inflict pain, even unintentionally, when it is sacrificed for the sake of self interest. The power in the nature of authentic love is massive. Every day people sell themselves short with their conceptions of what they should gain or feel or experience in the name of so-called love. And God just keeps giving us more chances. More days. Each one an opportunity to let the truth dawn on us that real love is possible. It is available. We are capable of it and we were created to receive it.

Real love. Another phrase we can't simply assume we understand. God is love. All human love is a share in the life of God. If something has no place in God, who is all truth, all beauty, all goodness, then it is not real love. There is no standard lower than that which should be applied to love.

Real love manifests itself in endless forms. Faithfulness - from our very thoughts to our outright actions, not merely avoiding unfaithfulness but dedicating yourself to falling more in love with your spouse by noticing the good, complimenting the beautiful, encouraging the potential in the other. Self-sacrifice - in the daily grind of taking care of the home, working long hours to support your family, putting the other first in even the smallest ways so you will be well practiced when the time comes to put them first in a big way. Joy - celebrating the presence of the other in your life, praising God for them, thinking each day of a reason to be thankful for them rather than taking them for granted. Affection - touch with intentionality, kiss with purpose instead of absentmindedly, learn each other's bodies and desires as lovers, small caresses and deep intimacy. Forgiveness - always forgiveness. Without hesitation, every day we have together, forgive. No grudge, no 'holding out' will make you or your marriage better. Fight respectfully and forgive generously. Prayer - lift your spouse and your marriage up to God. Let Him tend to it, guide it, form it, The two of you are never alone in this relationship.

I love my husband. As a new wife, I am still learning how to really love my husband.

Monday, December 16, 2013

After Twelve Weeks

The last time I posted, I was pregnant. Pregnant and proclaiming that I was back to the blogging world. Ha. I am now the happy mama of a 2 1/2 month old boy. Timothy Michael was born on September 27th after a blessedly simple labor. He came home with us on my 32nd birthday and I have enjoyed almost 12 weeks of glorious time with him.

A friend reminded me, shortly after Timothy was born, of a blog post I'd written a few years ago. It was when Matt and I were first getting serious and I was adapting to being involved in (my stepson) Nethanial's life. I shared how, compared to my closest friends and plenty of other girls I knew, my desire to be a parent was weak. I didn't have a strong urge or longing for it. I feared it wouldn't come naturally, that I wouldn't be able to do it wholeheartedly as it should be done. I couldn't help smiling to myself when she brought that up. God be praised, I can honestly say that nothing has felt more natural to me than being Timothy's mom. Nothing. Being Matt's wife is an extremely close second but otherwise, I can't think of anything that didn't feel forced or awkward or unsuited to me in at least one way or aspect.
Twelve weeks of cuddling, rocking, diapering, breastfeeding, learning, laundry, dishes, house cleaning, cooking, singing to sleep, cooing, marveling, and praying. Praying I'll do it right. Praying it all doesn't go too fast for me to handle.
But it has gone too fast. I return to work this Thursday. Only part time; 3 days a week instead of 5, for which I'm so thankful. For the last few weeks, it is everyone's first question: "When do you have to go back to work?" Usually followed by "who will be watching him?" and "are you ready?" Day after day, I answer each of them with a calm manner and as much of a smile as I can manage. Then I sneak to another room or get in the car or hang up the phone, and I cry. I cry and I hug my boy. I cry and I talk to him. I cry and I snuggle him to my chest and feed him. I give myself a few precious minutes to stare at him and caress him without thinking about the laundry to be folded or the dinner to be planned.
I've never had my heart broken. Not truly. I had one boyfriend before Matt, and that was a simple junior high/high school relationship. Matt and I never broke up along the way, despite some extremely difficult times. I have not lost one of my parents or a sibling or a best friend. I've been disappointed, wounded, hurt, yes, but never has my heart been broken. I don't know if I'll be able to say the same come Thursday.
Mothers have been doing this for years, many of them for far more hours per week than what I'll be doing. It's necessary. There's no way around it. I've found a great situation for him as far as care while I'm at work. There is every logical reason for it all to be fine. I am so far from being unique in this necessity and difficulty. Even my pain over it feels shameful at times as I know so many women have gone through it (and survived it) before me. Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any less gut-wrenching.
With each day that brings me closer to leaving him in someone else's care, I feel a desperate, unanswerable need to apologize to him. To explain and reassure. There's no release from it as there's no way to actually do this. All I'll be able to do is count the hours until I bring him home, wrap him in my arms and tell him I love him.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Enduring Faith

Today, my friend came home. For the last three years he has been serving a prison sentence, unjustly in many people's opinion - including mine.  This man... well, I could spend this entire post summing up the goodness of this man and the effect he had on me during our time of closer friendship. But that isn't the purpose of this post. The purpose is to honor the way, during the last three years, he lived the Scripture, "Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer" (Romans 12:12).

I didn't get an opportunity to visit Pete while he was in prison. I sent a handful of letters and cards and occasionally received a reply. The tone of those replies, the statements he made, added to the stories and descriptions I heard from his family and friends who did visit him, came as no surprise to me. They were true to Pete's character. True to the young man I knew better years ago; true to the man I have always assumed he has continued to be since then. No, they did not surprise me, but that's not to say they didn't move me.

Smack dab in the middle of his doctorate studies, ongoing cancer research at his job, and plenty of other endeavors and activities, Pete was punished for circumstances outside his control. He had reason to despair. He had reason to wallow and slip into depression. He had reason for anger. Yet, beyond a reasonable level of righteous anger, he indulged in none of these things. I'm not saying he didn't have to struggle against them. I don't know if there were days when they tried to sneak into his heart and fill him with discouraged resignation. I do know that he did not allow them to take over.

Throughout the three years, Pete remained a man of hope. He remained a man of patience. He remained, above all, a man of faith. We are exhorted again and again in Scripture to endure trials and tribulations with the attitude of Christ. We are called upon to take up our crosses and carry them in the path of our Lord. In the Gospels, Jesus does not assure us that we will see justice prevail this side of Heaven. He does not promise to relieve from our lives the suffering that comes our way. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Apostles reinforce these realities of life in Christ.

We are assured instead that there will be crosses and trials. We are told flat out that "in the world [we] will have trouble" (John 16:33). The promised reward is only received in full when this life has finished. The justice is meted out according to God's terms and timing, not ours. The relief from the suffering is not guaranteed until Paradise.

So many of us know these truths. We've heard them, read them, attempted to be accepting of them. In the moment though - the moment of darkness and pain - do we hold fast to them? There is no easiness in this aspect of the Christian life. It is why the stories of the martyrs and saints are such effective buoys of inspiration. We need to know it's possible. We need to celebrate the lives of those who emanate the attitude of Christ as they carry their crosses. In them we gain encouragement to do likewise.

This is what Pete gives to those who know him. Whether he ever realized it or not, each day that Pete chose faith, hope, and charity in his attitude, thoughts, and actions during the last three years, he allowed Christ to make use of him. He became an extension of the example set by Christ for us all.

Pete isn't a superhero. He's not something other than what we are. Which means, we are all capable of acting in God's grace to live with the attitude of Christ. In every circumstance - joy and suffering - from the most ordinary to the most extreme. By the Spirit of Christ, we are transformed. Let us live transformed lives. Let us honor those among us doing so right now.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Add To the Beauty

Recently, my favorite band released their latest album. It took until last week before I was able to pick up a copy of "Inland" by Jars of Clay, but the disc (yes, I bought the actual CD) has been on repeat in my minivan since then. Superb new music, especially by artists I've long enjoyed, is like comfort food - stimulating in its newness yet soothing in its familiarity.

My husband and I are both passionate about our favorite music. However, we could hardly be further from each other on the spectrum of musical taste. To be blunt, we do not enjoy each other's preferred music. I know he doesn't like the large majority of what I have playing in my car and he knows likewise about me. I think the reason it's not a source of real conflict is that we both respect the passion in each other. He knows what it feels like to have true favorites, to really get excited about new music from those artists, and so he can respect that I treasure that experience, too. And vice versa. In fact, his value of the experience is probably even greater than mine as he makes his own music as well. Which gives me even more reason to respect his desire to listen to his favorite songs. Of course, if we shared a car, I can't guarantee the peace would endure!

I think it's rather incredible, the range of artistic tastes you can find in the minds and hearts of people. Just within one family or one circle of friends, the variety of preferences can be quite wide. It makes sense of course, when God has created individuals in every generation with such a vast range of talents and artistic capablities. Why fill our world with such people and not also filll the world with folks to celebrate and experience the art that pours forth from them.

That's the thought, now that I've wandered up to it in this meandering reflection, that encourages me. There can be such fear in pursuing an art, in using your talents and acting on your passions. It's intimidating. It's unsettling. And it is all too easy to talk yourself out of trying. How wonderful then to be built up by this truth: that God not only pours a share of His own beauty into us, but also places us in a world filled with people desiring to experience that beauty in its multitude of forms!

Think of the art that has added to your life. The music, the books, the paintings, the architecture, the speeches - think what you have gained from them! Think what would be lacking if those artists had not endeavored to be co-creators sharing in the the work of the Creator, the Divine Artist!

It's easy, of course, to say this about the greats. The Bachs and the Monets and the Dostoeveskys. But you? Me? Oh, I don't know... the hesitation sets in as soon as the comparisons start. Then I remember my favorite band. A few midwestern boys who encountered each other at college and bonded over a mutual appreciation of Toad the Wet Sproket. One saw another wearing that band's t-shirt and offered up a "Dude... Toad...," and the rest is history. Think of your favorite band, or author, or any manner of artist. They had a beginning; a beginning without guarantees of what would come after.

You do not know to what extent you can add to the beauty of the lives being lived on this earth - both while you're here and after you're gone. But just like we need to be generous with our love, and trust God will use that offering for the good of any who receive it, we ought to be generous with the art He has placed in us.

Honor Him by refusing to leave it in a mere state of potential. Honor yourself by believing that someone, somewhere, at sometime will be better for encountering your art. Honor your brothers and sisters of this world by offering to them a taste of God's beauty - which in all truth, is the only beauty all of us are searching for from birth to death. What a privilege that we can pour it into the waiting spaces of each other's worlds.