Thursday, December 19, 2013

Diamonds at the Grocery Store

She has packed three tiny plastic jewels. They are her treasures and today, I’m not sure why she eagerly puts them in her pocket to bring to the grocery store.

We aren’t out of the car for even 5 seconds before she’s shouting at a young couple walking toward the megolith American foodstore.

“EXCUSE ME!” she shouts and I frantically try to stop her from embarrassing us both.

“Sweetheart wha--”

“This is for you,” she says, and places one of her small jewels in the man’s hand. “To make you happy. Merry Christmas!

And the three of us adults stop in our tracks. He is bumbling with words. The young woman at his side squeals a little with joy.

“Are you sure?” he says, rolling the small plastic faux-diamond in his hand. “You want to give this to me?”

“Yes, sweetie,” I lean toward her and say a little quieter. “Are you sure you want to give those away?”

She nods fiercely, “YES.
I have three to give away today.


We are in the grocery store and she is all sniper-eyes. She’s looking for the right recipient. A grandmother with her young grandson rolls by us next to the watermelon.

“EXCUSE ME!” my daughter shouts again and the woman looks startled with the tiny shout. My girl proceeds to hand her a jewel and the same conversation commences.

“Oh wow, I don’t even --” she begins to say.

“Have a good day!” my girl says and hops along next to me again. "Merry Christmas!"


An elderly woman is hunched over the fresh bread, her long coat sweeps the floor as she surveys each bag. Her hair is snowy white against the backdrop of all this mayhem.

“Excuse me,” my little says. The woman does not respond.

“Excuse me….” she tries again and now reaches toward her slightly bent arm. “EXCUSE ME.”

(She’s still learning the art of gentility.)

“Here,” she hands her the last of the diamonds. The last of her pocketed treasure. The woman is startled, overwhelmed with the beauty of the moment, speechless. 

“What’s this for?”

M pauses, “For you! Merry Christmas.” The woman stood still, unmoved and watched as my girl danced away.

Her joy was spread. Her love lavished.


I am overwhelmed at global tragedy. Thousands dying at the hand of nature. At shocking news articles of sweat factories and the clothes they make so we can bargain shop. I’m sick to my stomach with pictures of children who are forgotten, abused, left to die. I’m knee-broken at the stories of women who are raped, abused, sold, shamed. The men who sell, the men who use, the men who are abused. The endless ticker tape of hate, judgement, injustice, arrogance. School shootings, domestic assaults, street wars, car accidents that steal the lives of children, and so on and so on and so on.

You know, right? You know it too? That sickening drone of the real world that spins everywhere around us, in us, below us.

I sit at our table and I’m wrecked and I cannot do a thing. I say it, “What can we possibly do about any of this?”

I cannot do much. Our bank account balance runs continually low. My ability to change the world from my small cedar-sided house seems very unlikely. Seems insignificant. Seems pointless. Until I look at my daughter.


I might not know how to end child slavery.

But I know how to love a child. I know how to look her in the face and say “Fight for good.” I know how wrap her hair in braids and push her toward kindness, compassion and unmerited grace. I know how to teach her that speaking up for those with no voice is better than staying silent.

I might not know how to end racism.

But I know how to speak truth. I can make our home and our table diverse. I can make her world bigger and change the way we speak, the way she speaks, and not keep silent. I can foster relationships and understanding across the street, across the block and into the heart of the city. I can show her that treasure hoarded is no treasure at all. The best kind of treasure becomes more valuable when you give it away.

I don’t know how to end homelessness.

But I can give my child a home, so that she’ll grow to understand the value of love, safety and shelter. That in her heart she’ll understand the weight of what it means for those who have no one, nothing left. That she’ll understand we are not entitled or enlightened, but just profoundly fortunate in this season to have food, clothes, a roof.

I don’t know how to fix the brokenness.

But I can carry a broken heart here — with her, with myself. I can show her how Jesus sits with the broken and busted up. How he extends grace and teaches freedom from sin. How he loves without judgement and still inspires everyone who follows him to lead a life marked by obedience and grace.

I may not know how to change the world but I can show her how to love the ones who live in it. And maybe that’s a good place to start.


She has pocketed three more jewels today, and she’s decided it’s better to give than receive. “People in this world need people who love them,” she tells me at bedtime last night. “We need to pray that they have people to love them.”

Yes, indeed, this is a good place to start.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Here is the Perfect Place

Today, it is only 9 days until Christmas. Every nook and cranny of this house looks like Christmas — whether it's the hidden pile of gifts, the tinsel that has somehow wandered from the tree to my slippers, or the bucket of Christmas fudge my mother made, just begging to be consumed. It's everywhere. It's in our speakers, on the television, on the radio and twinkling from our neighbors' windows. And we start our days with squeals as the Advent calendar is opened, chocolate tumbles out and a little note reminds us what activity to do and who to pray for. Mother says "Let's make the recipe jars today!" and my little begs, "Christmas cookies today?" and my calendar for the week could all be categorized under some "Christmas" reasoning. Rehearsals, movies, gigs, wrapping, etc. 

I see Christmas everywhere...

And yet, in my own heart, in this tiny beating knot of life within me, I find something missing. This morning, I'm looking at the list, the want-tos, the to-dos, the need-tos, and I whimpered a little. My mother, the one who knows me best and has carried my bleeding heart on her hips since I was a wee babe, comes close. She wrapped her arms around my shoulders and I leaned into her warm robe that smelled of her perfume and some Irish Breakfast tea. 

"Whatever it is you think you need to pick up today, let it go," she whispers this into my hair. My hair that is still wild with curls and is knotted on the top of my head. The hair that is unruly somedays and feels a lot like my temperament. Unpredictable. Moody. Wild and knotted. "Don't pick that stuff up." 

And she doesn't mean this in the "don't take responsibility for your life" sort of way. She means it in the "that's not your burden to bear. That burden is too heavy. That weight is not your life sentence." And as her words cover my heart, I feel it. I feel that sense of my heart putting down luggage, putting down my packages and all of the things I'm convinced make me stronger and better. I'm blowing the dust off my hands — the dust of expectations, worries, fears. 

I've often thought about Mary and her constitution. I've wondered at the woman God chose to carry His son. I think about her form and poise in these final days. The nights when she cannot sleep and the anticipation of what's to come seems too heavy to bear, and the delivery is an unavoidable certainty. When she's riding donkey-back and Joseph is leading her and the questions of love and choice, destiny and promise, deliverance and hope are all intermingled with the fear, the worry, the doubt. And God takes her to a stable, and creation around her is coarse, smelly and less than ideal. Here He tells her — lay this burden down. Here your burden becomes a promise. Here your weight becomes a watershed. Here, where you submit your body and soul to a greater plan, it becomes less about you and that's where the beauty happens. That's when the stars shine brighter, the angels sing louder, the earth nearly cracks under the beauty of what has come. 

Here, when the tiny beating knot of life within you begins to beat in sync with the knot of life that will save you. Here's where you find true joy. True rest. True peace.

And I think of this as my own mother wraps her arms around me today. The things that cause my mind and heart to race are nothing but a waste of time. But if I lay low, let them go, give into the greater gift of delivering peace, joy, and The Gospel into this world, I find that the things I have dropped become the things that "grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." I think of Mary and stables, and I'm letting go of the coarseness in my heart, the mess of soul, and the stench of my sin, and I'm always caught off guard by the beauty when God says "Yes, here. This is the perfect place. Here is where I bring my promise."

I'm back to sipping my coffee, and Toy Story is playing in the background. Several Christmas gifts sit unfinished on the shelf next to me, and my daughter exclaims "I've lost the baby Jesus in the sun room!" She is worried and I tell her we'll find him. "But he's MISSING," she says and bites her lips. "BABY JESUS IS LOST FOREVER."

I want to tell her that's ok — plenty of us enter into this week before Christmas wondering if Jesus is actually going to make an appearance in our lives at all. But there's time, I tell her. We have time to find him. And come Christmas morning, we'll see his face, new.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When We Were on Fire

Within the first chapter, I found myself wishing I had Addie's phone number.

Mostly to say, 

I was at that concert too.
Probably that youth group.
Definitely that mission trip.
I also memorized all of the words to Father's Eyes." 
(Ahem, I may or may not still know them.)


I find I'm tempted these days to put all of my young Christian subculture experiences under the same category as all of the dispensable, awkward, and worth forgetting stuff. 

Not long ago, a friend and I caught up while driving, our eyes fixated on the dark road ahead of us, and we reminisced about the days from "before" my life fell apart. We tossed around names and places, addresses and old houses, churches and stories of a life that seemed fuzzy at best. Fuzzy mostly because I was trying to forget it. 

"I hate her," I said to my friend, almost in a whisper. "I hate the old me, you know? Like…I think about the things she did, the things she loved, who she was and I can't think of anything I like about her. I don't like any of it. I'm embarrassed by her."

She sighed and nodded. She knew her, that girl I proclaimed to hate. She knew her and called her friend.

"I remember her," she paused. "She wasn't that bad. And she made you who you are today. She's still a part of you." She went on to remind me of the good things. The things I had forgotten or had buried with the corpse of my memory. 

It wasn't all bad. Some of it was really good. It wasn't perfect. It might not be what I'd recommend now. And sure, some of it fed the trough that led me to where I ended up at 22. But I can't look back and toss it all away. I just can't. There is something to extract there, and you know who did it well? That Addie Zierman girl.


In "When We Were on Fire", Addie extracted. She took the pieces of all those years and laid them out like a rag quilt in front of the reader. She didn't say everything was ok, or that all of the strategies and plans worked. She delicately and honestly peeled back the layers of what it was like to grow up as one child of the 80s & 90s Christian subculture. She said things straight, gently, without mincing words, without dodging the issues. She said it and laid bare the facts — leaving the reader to see it plain and clear. 

It was how I'd want to be able to say it all, without all of my loaded cynicism and sarcasm getting in the way. 

"It's refreshing to read the words of someone who's main mission isn't to tear apart the entire Christian subculture," I said to a friend. "Even if we all know some things were weird, or handled poorly, she leaves it to the reader to come to their own conclusions. It's really, really refreshing." Addie never made it her mission to single-handedly rip the clothes off of a broken system. In fact, if anything, she looked back at the broken body of Christ and managed to simultaneously see all of the broken pieces of all of it without calling the whole thing "ugly." 

I'm still learning how to do this. How to call something like it is. How to take a step back and know what's over is over. How to slip back into the beauty of the body of Christ again without holding all of it's failures against everyone else. There were moments of the book where I felt I was sitting side by side with her. She said the words I thought. She thought the words I said. And I realized that maybe this journey out of the Christian subculture isn't always a solo one. Maybe a lot of us have sat in coffee shops or next to a bottle of wine and asked ourselves "How did we get here?"

And then something else Addie handled like a pro? The art of saying one thing while meaning another altogether. I mean — in some cases it was brilliant. It was that moment where you said, "Wait. You're not talking about what I think you're talking about anymore, are you?" I underlined passage after passage, writing in the margins things like "Yes, this." and "There it is." I made the book my own and thanked her quietly time and time again for saying the thing I didn't know how to put my finger on.

So here's what I'm saying. Addie Zierman's book "When We Were on Fire" releases TODAY. And I think you should read it. I'm not saying that because I'm trying to force you to see things from this side of the water. And I'm not getting paid to say any of this.

I'm saying you should read it because Addie writes one amazing memoir, and I wanted more. I wanted more stories, more anecdotes, more of what she's learned, extracted and where she's headed. Truth be told, that's how I always want to feel at the end of a book.

Take it from me and whatever is left of that Jesus Freak, purity ring wearing girl from 1995…it's so good you guys. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Big Fears in a Tiny World

"I didn't want to tell you," she said. She was nervous, her eyes wet with tears. "I didn't want you to be mad at me." I am reaching an arm around into the back seat to reach for her hands. We are bound for a wedding with dear friends and she is kicking up her heels in a white flower girl dress. I see the beauty of the innocence spinning on her hips, but the heaviness of sin weighing on her heart.

I'm saying things like never ever, would I ever be mad. And you can tell me anything in the whole wide world and it won't change how I feel about you. I'm saying these things, and reaching for her hand, and choking back my own tears because as quickly as she's saying those words, I'm watching the shadow of innocence disappear on the horizon behind us.


I'm explaining things to her that I haven't had to explain yet. I'm telling her things today that are breaking her heart and I feel like I'm patching holes with bubblegum on a breaking dam inside of her and I realize this is why she needs Jesus.

And don't even mean this in the, "Jesus takes it all away and makes it better" sort of way. I mean that she needs Him in the same way I need a shelter when the storms really start to rock my heart. I need something immoveable, unshakeable. I need the voice that shouts at those waves. And I can't be that voice to her, because mine is still shaking.

I can try a million times every day to be her savior, but the truth is, I can't be. And maybe somewhere deep down, admitting that is the actually the saddest and hardest thing to do. I gave birth to her. I held her tiny hand as it curled around my fingers. I kissed her nose and told her that inside her is a song and I will always be listening. I'm the one cooling her forehead on feverish nights; I'm the one dropping an extra marshmallow into her hot chocolate on chilly fall afternoons. I'm raising her, training her, teaching her, holding her, hugging her, but I cannot save her. I cannot rescue and fix her heart. And this perhaps is breaking my heart even more. Once again, I realize that even in parenting, one of the greatest gifts, a lesson I have to learn is less of me. Less of me. Less of me.

I remember my pastor from years ago who said that "parenting is a series of painful releasings", and I feel it when I'm relinquishing her pain to her Heavenly Father and asking why does she have to feel the weight of so many things? Why do children have to know pain? Why do the young ones have to come face to face with things that want to steal, kill and destroy them? Why the littles? Why the tiny ones?


I'm scrolling through my phone — Twitter, Facebook, news feeds — and oh the stories. Mothers losing babies, fathers losing the fight to be the hero, true headlines where evil wins, and I'm feeling all sorts of empty.


A boy recently made advances toward my daughter, and she felt helpless. She felt like she had no voice. She was scared to speak up and shame followed close behind as she wondered where to turn.

I hear people say rape culture, and something inside of me recoils because I think, "No, surely we're not all that bad, are we?" I want to believe and hope for all the beauty and all the best ... until I see my four-year-old shamed by another, and she runs to my arms because there is no other safe place to run. Because we're told "boys will be boys", people laugh and say it's cute and "he'll grow out of it", while a young girl wonders if she's the one who was wrong all along. She's asking me why a mean boy also wants to be her boyfriend and why he accosts her daily with sexual requests and now she's afraid by speaking up, she'll be the one get in trouble, get a wrist slap, be told that it's part of growing up. And she runs to me in tears with a long list of fears inside her tiny world.

And it all feels like quicksand. I'm not an alarmist, I'm not a bell-ringer. I'm not going to burn people at the stake or demand reform in household traditions. But I feel like I've brushed up again against the shattering of a broken world and the real need for a real Hero.


I'm watching her speed down the sidewalk, her bicycle picking up speed, her pace quickening and her voice caught up in a shriek of joy. The neighbor asks me how she likes school and I mention that I've pulled her out and we're homeschooling, and she says "Oh what a shame," and before I break into a run to catch my carefree child, I smile and shake my head, "We're good, actually. Really, really good."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lessons of Autumn

My window is open which is a small and gentle grace today. I am working to the soundtrack of drops of rain and falling leaves while my daughter shouts to me from the still green backyard.

"Mom, do wooly bears like wet stuff?" she hollers at my window, her boots covered in autumn mud and her hair wild as ever. I make-up an answer, a convincing yes, and tell her to look again in the fairy garden and under the leaves that hang low on the corner of the house. She nods and runs off again, magnifying glass in hand. Today we are searching for the almanac-friendly caterpillars, and she is desperate to hold one, balled up brown and orange, in hand.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar
"Wooly bears cocoon for the winter," I tell her. I'm reading the explanation of them online and stop when I get to the words, "Their hearts stop. Their guts freeze. Their blood stops."

Their hearts stop. But their life doesn't. Something in them preserves them through the season when everything else dies. They are born to gently graze death and beat it by the warm thaw of April. Sometime in spring, a tiger moth emerges. A new purpose. A new name. A new shape.

I guess I know this lesson of nature well. And maybe you do too.

Sometimes, in order to get from here to there, from this side to that side of things, from the running leap of faith to landing on your feet in Tomorrowland, something has to happen. Something must happen and will happen and it may feel a bit like death. 

Your heart will stop and your blood will freeze and from all outside angles and all interior feelings, it will feel as though your life has come to an end.

But do not fear (the message of hope is wrapped up in the cocoon of a farmer faithful caterpillar).

Your spring is coming.