Holy Audacity: The Church as Christ’s Vice-Regents

Last Saturday morning I jumped in my van and pulled out of my driveway. Lately I’ve been introducing my kids to the tunes-of-choice of my college days, so Steven Curtis Chapman was cued up in our CD player. Track 4 started playing when I got in the car.

It’s all yours, God! Yours, God! Everything is yours!

I was driving toward a local shelter where I was to meet a desperate mother and her four young girls. Through Safe Families for Children, I had agreed to host two of them for a night.

I have my doubts in these moments. I am keenly aware of my privilege and my naivety. I am comparatively young, comparatively wealthy, and comparatively whole. My story reads like a fairy tale compared to the brokenness and devastation survived by many of the parents I meet through Safe Families. I imagine they must find me irritating. Maybe they groan to themselves about yet another Well-Intentioned Well-To-Do who thinks she holds the keys to hope. “As if she has a clue. As if she’ll care enough to go the distance.”

As I drove I wondered out loud: “Who do I think I am, going to get these girls like it’s just a regular Saturday morning? How is this my business? What gives me the right to waltz in offering my remedy? My relief?”

But Steven Curtis Chapman was still singing, and his worship reminded me of another lyric I sing to my kids often: “This is my Father’s world.”

This is my Father’s world.

Suddenly my heart was flooded with confidence. It wouldn’t be putting it too strongly to say I felt a sense of entitlement in that moment. “Holy audacity,” I heard myself say to the empty passenger seat beside me.

So I parked my van just a mile from my own house and walked to meet these struggling strangers. On behalf of my Father in heaven, I had work to do. In some sense, these girls belonged to me. Their mom belonged to me.

I believe that my identity in Christ (and more to the point, my identity as part of the Church, His Body) includes a right to ownership of the whole world. If “everything is Yours,” as Chapman sings, then it must be true that everything is mine, too. God has called His people to love the world on His behalf. He has called us to practice His kingdom.

I’m not saying we can achieve world peace and end world hunger by our efforts. We believe the Kingdom of Heaven is coming. Someday. But today, while we wait with hope, we enact that vision. Today we are Christ’s vice-regents, commissioned for the flourishing of His world.

I stood waiting to meet the little girls I was to take home and Meghan (our local director) began to wonder where the second host family could be. When they still hadn’t shown up fifteen minutes later Meghan called them, only to discover there’d been a mix-up and they were out of town, thinking their hosting was to be the following weekend.

Suddenly we had a situation on our hands, and any minute this mom was going to be walking through her doors with four little girls to hand off.

Steven Curtis Chapman must have gotten into my bloodstream in college, because I buckled all four of those little girls into my van twenty minutes later. I turned the key in the ignition and Track 5 began on cue:

It’s crazy when love gets ahold of you
It’s crazy things that love will make you do

I laughed.

I knew I could do anything for 30 hours, and I knew I would have support.

My husband was in the middle of painting our bathroom so I was on my own for the first few minutes as he finished up. I don’t remember much from that mayhem, but I remember playdoh on the bottom of shoes, mass-production of snacks, and six little people coloring at my dining room table. Suddenly I had seven kids, and my 5yo son was the oldest.

The other thing I remember distinctly is the number of attempts I made to send a single text message. After an hour of sheer pandemonium, I finally got it typed and sent.

And so began the unfolding of a most amazing day. The text was to Brad & Caroline Tubbesing, the directors of Reformed University Fellowship at Indiana University. I knew when I agreed to take all four girls home that I’d need help, and by the time I heard from Caroline I had little more to say than “Send back up.” I asked her to connect me with college students, and I told her I didn’t want their phone numbers, I wanted them on my doorstep ASAP.

Mike finished painting and we started suiting up to walk everyone to the park. At one point the door to the garage got opened and kids started escaping. Mike picked up one tiny person after another and set them back inside until he realized that no sooner would he reach for the next escape artist than the one he’d just retrieved would head back out the door. He called for help. “Babe, we’re hemorrhaging babies over here!”

By the time we’d set out with two kids on bikes, three kids in strollers, and a baby strapped to each of us, I’d started to get text messages from our College Student Fairies.

Elizabeth was the first responder. She was at Kroger and decided to pick up groceries for lunch. Just as we returned from the park she showed up at our door with fried chicken, watermelon, juice, cookies, and even flowers.

Brad himself showed up with his preschool-aged son to lend a hand while I escaped with my own daughter for our long-awaited ballet matinee.

At 4:00 Xinzhu showed up and helped while I started giving everyone baths. At 5:00 Matthias walked in and found me up to my elbows in shampoo. Xinzhu made rice. Matthias read stories. Luke arrived in time to help set the table. We all sat down to lentils and rice at 6:00 with four kids bathed and jammied and only three to go.

The kitchen was in quite a state. After dinner Luke ran Xinzhu home and returned to read stories, color, and generally offset the average household age. Matthias rolled up his sleeves and attacked the kitchen. He didn’t quit till it was sparkling. There wasn’t even rice under the table, and that’s saying something.

Around 9:00 Matthias and Luke left, promising to return in the morning to help caravan us to church since we’d be short on seatbelts. It was 10:00 before I’d finished settling the four sisters into our guest room. The 3yo fell asleep on my arm. The 2yo went from whirling dirvish to snoring angel in mere seconds. The baby wiggled around quietly in her crib. I told kitty stories with the 4yo in the dark and then escaped to attend to the laundry and set out seven church outfits, raiding my stash of outgrown girl clothes.

By this time three of our closest friends had gathered in our living room. This is not unusual in our house and I don’t know what their excuses were for showing up on that particular evening. But at midnight – as Tyler, Nicole, and Fr. Raymond stood in our basement folding a mountain of laundry – it was obvious to me that God hadn’t been finished chasing me down with the love of His people.

Sundays are always an ordeal for my family. My husband works as the organist at a local church. My kids and I worship with a different congregation. Mike leaves by 7:00 a.m. most Sundays and it’s my job to get the family out the door on my own. This particular week was no exception.

I have it down to a science after several years of practice. Still, it isn’t easy. And Sunday mornings are excruciating when I’m sleep-deprived.

After about three good hours of sleep I was standing in my kitchen slicing a very large collection of strawberries when it occurred to me that I was neither anxious nor stressed. If I’d had to make those breakfasts and pack those bags and dress those babies in a filthy kitchen and a house full of chaos I would’ve been a basket case. Instead I was at peace and there was only one explanation: Matthias.

Matthias cleaned my kitchen like it belonged to him. He had the holy audacity to step into my world and enact his vision of the Kingdom. While I was giving myself for the flourishing of these girls and their mom, he gave himself for my flourishing.

And it worked. I flourished.

We say often that it takes a village; but I think it’s more accurate to say it takes a church – an audacious community of vice-regents, working on Christ’s behalf for the flourishing of our Father’s world.

I understand Safe Families more now than I did before last weekend. It’s common for people in Safe Families to tag social media posts with #bethechurch. My understanding of our mission deepened as I found myself surrounded by Jesus’ hands and feet, held up by an audacious church as I ventured into My Father’s World with my own audacity.

Hopefully that single mom felt as much of Jesus on that weekend as I did while slicing strawberries in my clean kitchen. Hopefully she felt the embrace of our Heavenly Father, a whisper of the reality that (as Steven Curtis Chapman sings) He’s the Maker and Keeper, Father and Ruler of everything.

It’s all Yours.

Meredith: 44 Months

Meredith: 44 Months

Sweet Meredith,

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Most of my pictures of you this month are adventuring pictures, which is a fun coincidence since you and I are about to embark on our biggest adventure yet: a road trip just the two of us (if you ignore the small matter of your baby brother) out to the Rockies and back.

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This month our escapades weren’t quite as ambitious, but they were nothing to sneeze at. Maybe the most amazing was the night almost a month ago now when Daddy had to be gone during dinner time and bedtime and I didn’t relish the idea of waiting out the witching hour at home with four kids (including our Safe Families baby). So I got this insane idea that we could walk to the park and we set off, you on your bicycle, which you’d only just that month discovered you could actually ride. Still, you were in for a challenge so off we went, Joshua in the umbrella stroller, baby in the Moby, you and Jacob biking. On the way there you were afraid of hills enough that on any degree of slope you dismounted and walked your bike, though when that resulted in scraped up ankles one too many times I became the designated bike carrier. So whenever you needed a break there I was, stroller in one hand, bike in the other, newborn on my chest. I’m going to state the obvious and comment that, well, I am a strong lady. But the only reason is that it’s the way you spoke of yourself, which I found completely adorable and bewitching. Yes, yes you are. You were so proud of yourself, riding your bike so far beyond your own known abilities, and you looked at me with amazement and said “Mom, I’m a very strong lady.”

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The very same week our next escapade took us around town to enjoy the things we love, starting with lunch at Noodles & Co., running a few essential errands, and then wandering the science museum, the town square, the historic downtown mall, and down the walking trail to a coffee shop where we sat out doors and the grown ups read books and the kids colored. We returned home and ordered pizza and ate on the picnic blanket in front of the TV while we watched the 1966 Batman movie. It was an excellent day.

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Then there was the zoo adventure, which began with breakfast at our favorite cafe in town and then took us 80 minutes up the highway to the zoo, where we spent four hours seeing everything, including a mesmerizing dolphin show and some earnest attempts to pet sharks.

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And last weekend we had a little Girls Staycation when Daddy & Jacob left for a weekend. Sadly, we were miserably sick with colds, but that didn’t stop us from eating jelly sandwiches in front of Winnie the Pooh, coloring, snacking on chips and salsa, painting our nails (we’re talking multiple colors with flowers), and doing some pretty serious dancing, all of which you did while wearing this amazing hand-me-down formal dress you’ve got in your closet. It was cute to see you gravitate toward princess business in the absence of your brother’s strong personality, since most of the time you tag along with him and his emergency vehicles, the Robin to his Batman.

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Aside from princess business, there’s a lot of creativity oozing out of you in every way. And a little role-playing and mothering on the side, as you’re starting to tune into the presence of your dolls and speak up for them and identify with them like they’re your very real babies. Maybe the most darling thing of all is the way these two things – creativity and mothering – have combined in a way that amazes Daddy & me. Most nights when I’m rocking Joshua in his room before we kiss him goodnight you come in and announce that you’re going to sing him your goodnight song, and then you launch into a completely improvised melody with a mash-up of words drawn mainly from “Lullaby and Goodnight, go to sleep little baby,” a standard for several years now, but also often including lines from other songs or story books (think “rubber ducks”) and usually ending with a very serious “All-men.” All of the sweetness.

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You color ALL. THE. TIME. Skinny markers, big markers, crayons, colored pencils, watercolors. Lately there’s been a lot of scissor action happening, too, and you’ve begun delivering messages abroad, strings of the letters you’ve learned to write at preschool. I can’t wait for you to discover the little canvas bag I’ve prepared for our trip, with these cute little stubby markers and a dozen sheets of princess stickers and a stiff spiral bound notebook of blank pages. That should definitely get you to Colorado and back. On our Girls Staycation weekend, when we were eating the aforementioned chips and salsa and I was casually and stupidly ignoring you, you finally got my attention, communicating to me that you had drawn a furious dragon. I’d heard you narrating information along the way about “purple fire” and “claws” but I hadn’t bothered to look, busy with my own coloring probably. But then I looked over and there it was: a for real dragon, claws, purple fire, and all. My mind is STILL blown and that dragon is STILL glaring at us from the fridge door.

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Then there was yesterday when we were at our neighbors’ house for dinner and you saw their framed print of Picasso’s Starry Night. Remembering its appearance in your current favorite (“The Boov”) movie, you informed me: “I know what that is! It’s art! It’s in the Boov Movie!”

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The reality obvious from all these tales (and all in a month) is that we’re living full, good days. We’re happy and your childhood is brimming with beauty and wholeness. But sometimes it’s hard for me to see that, and sometimes I feel so depressed or anxious that my perception gets badly skewed and I begin to think I’m failing on these fronts.

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February and March were very difficult months for me on the inside. They usually are, as months go, but this year it was particularly bad for several reasons. On one of my routine Wednesday mornings a few weeks ago I found myself sitting in Starbucks before dawn sorting pictures of you from the year you were two, preparing to create a Shutterfly book. Seeing that whole year’s events march across my computer screen, and seeing your smiley (if usually filthy) face brought this enormous wave of emotion over me and I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks, simultaneously awed and horrified.

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I wanted to hold that little girl and hug her and tell her I was sorry that her year had been so full of upheaval and anxiety and stress and chaos and even danger and loneliness. I was horrified. I wished you hadn’t lived all that and I wished I’d been better able to embrace you in the midst of it all and I even wished maybe we’d have made different choices. But there was your grimy little smile, and I knew (because I was there) that those pictures weren’t selective memories, journalistic deception. And that’s where the strong emotion came from: I was actually looking at the life we actually lived. It was shockingly chaotic but it was somehow good, and there was the awe: We did it. You did it. We made it. You are amazing.

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There was so much beauty and happiness even in the mess. You are lovely and I want to notice and celebrate that every single day. I didn’t, that year. I survived. Barely. I don’t this year, either, to be honest. I can’t believe the love and joy and amazingness on your face, and all you went through. I’m so sorry I haven’t treasured and sheltered you better through this past year or two as you’ve emerged from your place as our baby. I wish I could go back and do better. I hope I can do better today and tomorrow. So there I was, crying over photos and fully aware of my own depression that I’ve had to fight through the winter, and simultaneously full of life and joy and satisfaction and hope, and that’s when I remembered the Ampersand: Life is hard AND good. I am broken AND beautiful. 2015 was immensely awful AND beyond wonderful. This is how life looks under the sun, and it is good this way.

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How about we road trip to Colorado together, OK?

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I love you.

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Love,
Mommy

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There Is No Crisis Here. Everything Is Fine.

I’m here to reason all this stuff out.

In a pause of the vacuum cleaner just now I spoke my mind:

“Will you drink with me tonight?”

It didn’t need an answer, really.

Tonight we get to see each other, my husband and I, for the first time in over a week. I mean, we sleep in the same bed and we greet each other and we are present, but never alone together lately. There wasn’t a single night this week that we kissed the kids goodnight together. We spent date night working.

But before we get to sit down together we vacuum most of a large bottle of glitter out of our carpet.

I drove to the pharmacy for my daughter’s antibiotic (she has an ear infection) while he tucked them in, and I thought to myself “‘My life for yours’ is only fun until there’s glitter on the carpet.”

The pharmacy was closed.

As a highly sensitive person I find myself reciting this mantra to myself often these days:

“There is no crisis here.”

My body feels crisis in too many situations. My vision of the good life is clean, minimalist, tidy, calm. Things move slowly and in an orderly and sophisticated way.

What I’m learning – what “There is no crisis here” means – is that I can still allow myself to feel those slow feelings when there is glitter on the carpet and everyone is talking at once. When my house is still full of people over an hour after I thought my kids would have their jammies on. It means that even when I am busy and I know I haven’t paid those bills that were due on Monday I still have time to listen to what my kids are saying and say yes about the Dr. Seuss book. There is no crisis here.

There was crisis most of the time last year. But noise and glitter are not a crisis.

I also breathe “Everything is fine” a lot because often I feel like it’s not fine. But everything is going according to plan. Glitter on my carpet means everything is going according to plan.

We believe in “My life for yours.” We believe in a porous household (except for when it’s time to close up shop for a week or a month or a year) because we believe in the Kingdom of Heaven.

I’m part of a team supporting a single mom these days, so every other Saturday crazy things happen in my house while we women sit and share our hearts and our Jesus. On this particular day the craziness was glitter. We only discovered it as we walked down the stairs to tuck in the kids, ready for that “finally” moment when we’d see each other for the first time in a week.

There is no crisis here. We believe in vacuuming up glitter. We believe in welcoming a tiny newborn into our family for a week or two , especially when it’s Lent and we’re asking our children to recite Isaiah: “Is this not the fast that I choose? To take the homeless poor into your house.”

Back in our college dorm hallway conversation days we envisioned this. We didn’t realize that what we believed in looks like glitter and chaotic Saturday nights at the end of a brutal week, but we just weren’t there yet.

Redemption is found in the specifics, my friend said.

There is no crisis here. Everything is fine. I believe in all of this.

Apparently I believe in glitter.

Six

Chuckling this morning as I reflect on last week and how our whole world erupted.

“Six days shall you labor and do all your work.”

We love the Sabbath, though it’s been a concept we’ve struggled with a lot since our profession and even our calling within the Body of Christ has us anywhere from busy to frenzied on Sundays. But still, we’ve found a rhythm that works at present, that’s true to the spirit both of Sabbath and of Feast Day, that gives us the space to look back on six days to pronounce it good and that heals us and restores us for the next six days.

So then I thought about six again, since it’s been six years since we launched this epic marriage thing. I’m not sure what else to call it right now, because “thing” is about as true a description as I can find right now, and because it has felt epic thus far, not even on the surface (moves, degrees, babies, houses, travels) but simmering underneath, too, slowly developing us toward an ever-elusive finished product. So I use the word “epic” in a more literary sense than usual.

Anyway, it feels these days like perhaps our six years so far have brought us to the brink of a Sabbath, like a bit of punctuation. We’ve intentionally claimed this year as a chance to heal, to explore and learn and practice self-care. We are completely exhausted, and I use that word in its rather scientific sense: there is not much left of us. Of me, of him, or of us. So it’s nice to imagine – hopeful, and maybe not just a dream but an intention we’re already beginning to attain – that this seventh year will be a Sabbath, to say “Very Good” and to rest for what lies ahead.

And most of all to celebrate victory: Resurrection and its unavoidable framework. (“Behold! New Creation!”)

Sunday was yesterday, and it was not what we’ve come to know as a Sunday. After years of chaos and making do we finally have this weird but perfect niche involving two different congregations and a lot of quiet family time. We are happy. It is working. But this week, oh.

Every circle that we exist in called on us this week.

The funny thing was, it wasn’t just Sunday that was bad. This whole week was hilariously full, but only hilarious because it was reminiscent of a lifestyle we have rejected and replaced. I thought this on Saturday night as we were arriving home from the grocery store at 9:30 p.m. on our anniversary: Today we did at least eight things, any of which would have been enough for a day’s events for me in this new healthy finitude we’re trying on for size. But this day with its at least eight things was our daily pace all of last year.

No wonder we both feel traumatized.

I thought about journaling the events that made this weekend hilarious yesterday. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to do a ninth thing yesterday. (Same reason we have still not sent our already-written Christmas 2015 letter.) But today I’m still inclined to journal, still finding it hilarious, still feeling like I could benefit from my catharsis-of-choice (writing). So here is the tale of that week that marked six years of marriage in a fitting frenzy of Everything.

Monday night (after Mike’s weekly 6:00 p.m. class period) friends came to watch a movie on our couch while our kids slept and we attended a dress rehearsal for an upcoming school event. The organ department puts on a choral program every year at this time and I’ve enjoyed jumping into the fray the last few years, not only singing but reading (and in the case of this year, selecting) selections of poetry to punctuate the music and propel the program. We go to bed by 9:00 most nights these days. We weren’t home till well after 10:00 Monday night.

Tuesday night Mike had a church committee meeting that had me flying solo on bedtime. Tuesday I spent most of the day at the library with the kids, coming home to fix a dinner which Meredith barely touched, complaining that she felt like she was going to throw up. Stubbornly resolute, I did not cancel my Wednesday morning coffee date with a precious new friend, and enjoyed leaving the house before sunrise when I woke up to discover that morning had come without puke. But of course when I glanced at my phone as my friend left for her work day I saw the text from Mike: “Merry just threw up.”

Of course she did.

But it wasn’t an ordeal. (Any parent who knows childhood puke knows this is always a lie to some degree.) She was eating and bouncing off the walls almost immediately, and it was clear that whatever had been wrong had sorted itself out, and was probably exacerbated by a very empty stomach. So she watched a movie and ate yogurt and had a bath and then we carried on with a normal day, thankful. I think “stomach flu” just felt it deserved a place in our line-up of events for the week. Ya know, since we were including everything.

Thursday I put away my chores when Mike got home from school and left him to put the kids in front of a movie while I got out for a run on a magnificently warm February 4. During my first mile I tripped on a curb as I was looking over my shoulder at an approaching car and I hurt my foot really badly.

Of course I did.

I stopped and waited to see how it felt, started walking again, and the endorphins (and Jon Foreman) took over from there and I literally forgot about the whole thing. Two miles later I was home, very late to put dinner in the oven. I raced around the kitchen, sweaty, chopping vegetables to roast, and had to speed it up even more when Mike told me that he’d need to leave twenty minutes early for choir practice. Again with the solo bedtimes… As I finally sat to eat I realized my foot was bothering me, and by the time I remembered what had happened it was hurting so bad I almost couldn’t walk on it. I hobbled through bedtime and got a shower just in time to leave for an 8:30 pub conversation hosted by my church, which I was really invested in listening to. Again, 8:30 is my bedtime. I went to bed at midnight after forty-five oblivious minutes of conversation with one of my dearest friends in the parking lot of her apartment and a return home to the discovery that Mike had tried to call me thirteen times to say that Joshua was flipping out. Usually a pretty awesome night sleeper, he thought this would be a good week for feeding three times a night.

Of course he did.

Friday as everything that had been looming began to actually transpire I found myself unable to think more than ten minutes ahead, just methodically triaging one thing after another all day, a day which happened to include last-minute Japanese food with an out-of-town visitor before a 2:00 p.m. massage. (I’m trying to eradicate migraines, and this seems to be working.) By the time I was home from that there was just enough time to abandon my strata menu plans in favor of quick quesadillas and sit at the dining room table putting on make-up for the concert while Jacob & Merry worked on their Valentines. The massage had left my hair a greasy mess, which I only noticed after I’d painted on a full face of make-up, so I had to get creative. We left the kids at 6:15 after a quick bedtime and Mike dropped me off (I still could barely put weight on my foot) for the concert and went to park. The concert was beautiful and a delightful success. I’m not saying the things our week was full of weren’t good things. (Well, except for the foot injury. But again, this week needed to represent all our major life themes.)

There was that funny moment late on Friday as we were snarfing quesadillas and donning concert black when Mike said “I’m guessing this is not the right time to let you know that I have practice time tomorrow morning in the concert hall from 8:00 to 8:45 for that radio broadcast next week…”

Of course you do.

Ironically, I’d managed to think ahead more than ten minutes that afternoon to realize that I could kick off our anniversary with breakfast in bed.

I did it anyway, launching The Craziest Anniversary Ever. At 6:30 Mike jumped in the shower and I pulled on my robe and slippers and mixed up pancakes and broiled grapefruit in our filthy kitchen. We had just enough time to enjoy it by candlelight on our bed before the kids arrived, groggy and curious, and reminded us just how many years it had been since a similar breakfast in a tiny carriage house in Stillwater, Minnesota. And then Mike was off to practice and I went into Beast Mode, cleaning the kitchen thoroughly and getting the household’s day begun before he returned. Because looming at the end of the Tunnel of Crazy was the nagging knowledge that we were hosting a party on Sunday night.

Of course we were.

We spent two beautiful, quiet, slow hours at an art museum while our friend watched the kids and then had a fantastic lunch and a piece of chocolate cake at a foodie cafe in our neighborhood. We spent lunch planning the menu for the party we were throwing.

We returned home around 1:30 and Mike went to prepare for Sunday and I did some more chores and lay down to nurse an inkling of a migraine until my friend arrived with her kids for our bi-weekly meeting. The ladies chatted upstairs and the kids raised hell downstairs, and I ran referee a lot and tried to contribute to the grown-up conversation a little. These Saturday afternoons are good, a lovely instance of mutual love and true community, and they are perhaps the most exhausting thing in my world right now. I always want to sleep for two days when they are finished.

When that was finished we made dinner for the kids and read them a few stories (as a good-faith pledge that we still loved them despite appearances) and then the next babysitter arrived and we left for a little more celebrating, talking long, really knowing each other for a change, and laughing over calzones and cheesecake and red wine, stopping at the mall just long enough to remember how much we hate it and how well James K. A. Smith has ruined it for us, and winding up our crazy day with a trip to buy the groceries we’d planned for at lunch. Who goes grocery shopping at 9:30 the night before the Super Bowl?! Answer: Everybody. (Except everybody who went earlier than that and bought up All The Things.) Oops.

The convergence of school, anniversary, stomach bug, and church #1 wasn’t all: It was also Transfiguration Sunday, which I only realized in dismay after having agreed to spend the morning at a large non-denominational church in town, helping to represent the non-profit I helped to launch in our community last year. Transfiguration Sunday is a big deal to me, personally, spiritually, especially during a year when I am craving Lent as I am. When I realized I would miss that liturgy I was really bummed. So of course when I saw a way to do both by taking the assignment at the west campus instead of the east campus (a shorter time-commitment) I jumped at it like any crazy person would. So I ran the usual lean-mean-Sunday-morning-machine and got us all out the door for church by 8:00. I even made myself a thermos of coffee. Needs no explanation. Of course, Merry picked this morning to have an epic attitude problem which colored the whole thing with stress and frustration and seething under the surface. Still, we made it through church, sneaking out early and breaking speed limits across town to arrive late to set up for my non-profit work. Our surrogate Grandpa arrived with his teenagers to take Merry & Jacob off my hands, and as I unloaded them from one car to another my full thermos of moderately-warm coffee quietly poured in its entirety into my open diaper bag.

Of course it did.

I’ll leave the tale of the church I visited untold, since it is not one I will forget and since it bears no public telling, in the name of charity and unity. I’ll leave it at this: Sometimes, I thought to myself, you have that annoying and embarrassing cousin; the one you wonder how you could possibly be related to. But that cousin is as much a part of the family as you are and you don’t have to be friends but you do have to be nice and you can’t pretend they don’t belong. And that is all I’ll say on this occasion regarding the staggering diversity of the Body of Christ.

I went home and had a quiet moment to walk around the block alone with Joshua and listen to the birds sing and feel the strangely warm spring. (Today it’s snowing as I write, but it’s early February so that’s as it should be.) I left the diaper bag full of coffee in the car (It’s still there.) and went inside to put Joshua down for his nap and prepare the evening party.

Because this wasn’t an ordinary Sunday: It being Transfiguration, it’d been chosen for a Worship Arts Series concert: an Evensong led by Mike. He’d frantically, thoroughly, systematically prepared every facet of it through the weeks leading up to it, and bribed singers into spending their afternoon donating their time and skill with promises of gin and tonics at the end. Hence the absurd throwing of a party the day after our anniversary.

Hannah came to be our lovely Joshua-sitter. (Steve still had Jacob & Merry) and she spent the afternoon with us, talking deep as we always do, and helping me make Spinach Dip and salsa, laughing with me as I squeezed a lime straight down the sink instead of into the mixing bowl, absent-minded and indicative of the state of my brain and psyche.

In the end, the Evensong went off beautifully and the house was tidy and the oven turned itself on at 4:30 to bake the dips while we were singing, and then we came home and laughed and talked and sipped gin & tonic with colleagues and friends for several hours at the end of Everything. And thanks to the simple finger food and disposable plates the house was still clean when we went to bed even though we did forget to set out the trash and recycling for pick-up.

I think I’m going to give up Everything for Lent.

The Dignity of the Ordinary and Adequate

I’ve had the germ of an essay bouncing around inside my brain for over a year now. The seed was planted as I wandered the streets of the medieval town of Aix-en-Provence last August, noticing the difference in lifestyle of morning markets and corner boulangeries; the humble beauty of a life in which one’s daily business is not much more than one’s daily bread.

This is not that essay. When it finally germinates and sprouts and grows into something it’d better be good, because I am expecting a lot out of it. Ya know, since it’s taken a year and counting.

But for now, the teaser. A marker of sorts, of a day when I especially noticed how I’m living this Ordinary and Adequate, and how sometimes there’s really no room for anything else. It was this morning: Jacob had thrown up immediately after waking up. Now bathed and hungry four hours later, I was literally watching myself get juggled around my house, and every little bit of it had to do with bodily needs: All in the same instant Jacob needed yogurt, Joshua needed a diaper, and Merry needed her hair washed before she got out of the bath. It was tricky to know which should come first. The puddle of pee on the nursery floor was still there from thirty minutes ago but that was obviously not important.

It was a remarkably ordinary moment. It was full to the brim but nothing unmanageable so long as I kept my wits and wisdom to handle the triage feel of it effectively. But all this work to achieve mere adequacy is exhausting. We’ve had three separate puking incidents (four if you count the week Merry had it Wednesday and Jacob & I had it over the weekend as two separate occasions) in just over a month. Let’s just say I’m gun-shy now. I just expect puke every day. And pretty much every evening by dinner time I feel awful and weak and exhausted, and I arrive at the conclusion that tonight will be the night when I finally puke my own guts out all night.

I always turn out wrong, waking up the next morning wondrously thankful to be wrong again. I’m beginning to think the issue is just that by 5:00 p.m. I’m straight-up bone tired from a day of nothing more than running triage on a house full of body needs. Using up my body for their bodies, to the point that I think I’m literally ill by the end of every day, only to realize that I’m actually probably just hungry. There are heart needs to meet, too, and those are exhausting in a different way. But these days it’s an awful lot of manual labor and an awful lot of laundry, so much so that a “night off” has come to mean those evenings when all I have to do is sit on the couch and fold laundry and watch Netflix.

It’s a good thing I’ve come to see dignity and beauty in all this humanness, because on days like today when I am watching it juggle me around my house like a set of circus balls it’s good to feel satisfied that what I’m doing is enough. I’m unemployed, barely tapping into my professional skills, and empty of any grand notions of changing the world. (It’s also possible that I’m un-showered and wearing yoga pants.)

Maybe the world doesn’t need an endless procession of world-changers aware of their own unique awesomeness and ambitious to make their mark as much as it needs humans, aware that the business of being human, waking up each day to pray and work for daily bread, is not only adequate and enough, but just about as good, true, and beautiful as anything can be.

Now to finish that laundry and check on the coughing I hear that might be puking.

Things I Thought in the Now Yesterday

I’m thinking Switchfoot this morning:

Hello, good-morning, how you been? Yesterday left my head kicked in.

Sunday my pastor preached about normal. About small. About reveling in it. About being here. Now.

Apparently I wasn’t the only mom who went home and scrawled “Revel in your smallness. –Dan” over the top of her weekly planner page.

Yesterday I was in the middle of smallness.

I can’t say I reveled, but at least I didn’t self-destruct, and I’m calling that a win.

In fact, I’m thinking being in the middle and not self-destructing is the whole goal. (For now.) It’s like holding a yoga pose. There’s nowhere you’re going, you’re just there and that is the whole goal. I think sometimes that’s what grace means. I mean the kind of grace that strengthens and equips. Living in the middle of grace means accepting things as they are, reveling in the reality that you are not necessarily doing it right but at least you’re aware of that.

I’m thinking that living in the middle of grace means submitting to the awareness that you (and everyone else) are in a jam, in a hard place, maybe even dancing around your freshly-minted golden calf (we read about that with our kids last night). Somehow in the middle of that dance you are still opening your heart to God: letting him tinge – temper – your mess with His love.

I’m thinking that’s better than trying to control it, anyway. Trying to fix it so it’s not broken anymore. And it’s better than accepting it, letting go and living – really mucking around – in the mess of your garbage and everyone else’s.

I’m thinking that it’s better than visualizing tomorrow, when you will no doubt be able to keep things a little more pulled together so you can feel better about yourself, or maybe a year from tomorrow, when you will all no doubt be so much more sanctified and wise that there won’t be a mess in the first place. THEN you can revel. THEN you can claim grace.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when your 4yo son quietly crawls across the floor and throws two tiny dirty socks at your legs with all the strength he can muster, instead of shutting him down, telling him that he can’t be angry, means figuring out the anger instead. “Are you angry at me?” “Yes.” “Listen. It’s OK to be angry. We need to figure out what to do about it. Throwing socks at mommy is unkind and disrespectful. You may not be angry in ways that are unkind and disrespectful. If you are angry you can say that, and I will listen. I will listen to you. You can tell me that you’re angry and I will listen. And I will help you figure it out and I will try to comfort you. But you may not be unkind and disrespectful.”

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when your preschoolers fail a half-dozen times in a simple task that you know they need to muddle through without help (you know, so they can move past preschool) is entering their foolishness-zone a half-dozen times (and not less) to discipline and re-assign without giving up on them. Without indulging that sarcastic cynic in your head telling you that they will not get it, ever. After all, this is their now. If they are bad it, so are you. Grace and hope, not despair. Be here. Now.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are spitting mad at your kids for not listening to you is going to your room with an explanation over your shoulder: “I can’t hang out with you right now because you are being rude to me and I feel really mad. So when you are ready to tell Mommy you are sorry for treating me like that, you can come find me.” And then when they do come to find you, claiming grace (and hope) means recalling how much you love them and how lovely they are instead of handing over forgiveness like a compulsory tax.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you recognize that your kids are up to their eyeballs in their own foolishness and sin patterns means recognizing, too, that what is needed is not so much training for them as patience for you. Being here, now, today, means that today I need to choose (and ask for) patience instead of coercing (and expecting) altered behavior. They will always be up to their eyeballs in this and so will I. This is now, after all. So yes, my 3yo needs to learn to mentally check in when she hears the sound of my voice and at least twitch a hint of acknowledgement. And yes, my 4yo needs to learn that he cannot respond “But” or “What!!?!” or “Why?” to every instruction. But today that is where they are so today what they need is for their earthly mother to see them as their heavenly Father sees her: “He remembers our frame.” He is nothing if not patient. My kids will discover that by its reflection in me. That my own need for patience even occurred to me above the noise of my “righteous” anger in the face of their shortcomings means I’m calling this a win.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are spitting mad at your kids for going ape-sh*t in the doctor’s office, for sassing you when you say simple things like “Can you push the door open for us?” is to decline to chat with them. “Mommy, what does that sign say?” Instead of bitterly engaging in casual conversation as if there isn’t disaster afoot, “Mommy is really angry right now and I know if I talk I’m going to say rude things, so instead I’m not going to say anything. You need to leave me alone. We can talk later.” I’m calling this one a huge win, because it kept me from saying something stupid and it modeled for them a way to acknowledge (and live in the middle of) their anger without using it as a weapon.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are in the middle of self-imposed silence on the drive home from the doctor’s office and your 3yo calls out “Mommy, look!” means making room in your heart for your second thought when your first thought is “OMG I SAID SHUT UP” but your second thought is “I bet she just saw the mums in front of that store and she’s excited to share that special moment with me.”

I’m calling this a win because in the instant she interrupted the silence I was mad and wanted to shut her down: “Do you not care that I said not to talk to me?” I wanted to show her only the angry side, as if I wanted her to believe (perhaps as if I believed myself) that there was no other side. For an instant I labeled myself and my forever-relationship with my daughter: “She is going to learn not to risk intimacy with me for fear of what she’ll find. If I’m going to have angry days like this we’re doomed to live a life shaped by my sin.” But in the next instant I knew I had a better option, and I’m thinking this is claiming grace: (Caged, a little grumpy. Terse): “What, Merry?” “Look! Those are mums over there!” (As fully cheerful and enthusiastic as sharing my love of horticulture with my kids makes me): “Yeah! That’s so cool! Thanks, baby. I’m so glad you showed that to me.” That was all and then we were silent again, and I was still angry. But I knew that the silence held not only their sin and mine, but our best attempt to hold that pose with grace and a tinge of confident hope, too:

I’m thinking claiming grace means recognizing that sin, in Christ’s economy, does not mean despair. You can be angry and still love each other truly, wholly. My kids can feel the weight of my angry refusal to talk to them without concluding that our future is doomed to vengeful distance and cautious calculations. In other words, sin, tempered with grace (and hope), doesn’t have to be poisonous. There is an antidote. This is big news for me.

Switchfoot: I’m learning to breathe. Learning to crawl. Learning that you and you alone can break my fall.

Last night I let him break my fall. After we got home from the doctor I called on my husband to speak some sanity: “You guys have had a terrible day. That is done. We are going to have a happy day together starting now.” (Talk about hope.) And then I parked my kids for quiet time and I retreated to their 100% filthy room with some good music and a spray bottle of Murphy’s. All alone with a little sanity spoken by JJ Heller I cleaned and organized, not to enact my anger – “What a mess my kids are” (I’ve done that) – but to say “I love them.” I didn’t run away and shut them out. I didn’t despair. I didn’t change the subject. I chose hope and claimed grace and made something in our world for us to delight in together.

I doubt they’ll be much better at listening to me today than they were yesterday but I am remembering that I love them and that happiness (like, for example, a tidy room) is our grace-earned privilege anyway.

I call this reveling in smallness.

Steroids and Roses

If you were to walk into my house right now you might notice a vase of lovely roses in my kitchen.

First, a back story, and then, the panoramic view.

Last night I should’ve gone to bed so much earlier than I did, but the Romantic in me thought it was worthwhile to wait for my husband to get home late from his evening of work so we could climb into bed together. As I set my alarm for a generous 6:00 my vision of the day was as follows: Since I’d be showing our apartment for my landlord on Saturday, I’d need to wash the floor. So I’d do it before the kids got up and then exit the premises, spending the morning at playgroup at a friend’s house. We’d come home to our clean house, eat lunch, and then while they slept I’d Skype with a dear friend – the “dessert” I’d been looking forward to all week. In the evening I’d get back to the composition I’m working on, cozy in my clean house.

I woke up to help Jacob four times through the night. The kids were clearly not getting over their little sniffles in time for playgroup. The second time I helped him I wasn’t exactly waking up, though, because the Sorority Sisters in the apartment a couple doors down were out on their porch in tank tops in the 0 degree weather, chugging from flasks, giggling, and hollering at the top of their girlie lungs. This I discovered when their noise woke me at 1:00 a.m. Jacob woke at 1:40. So that hour was a wash.

I compromised with myself when my alarm went off, rolling over to sleep past 7:00 and let the floor happen when it happened. After all, we clearly weren’t going to playgroup so we’d be tramping on it all day.

This morning the kids were sick enough and I was convinced enough through a random set of factors that it might be strep that I decided the responsible thing to do was call the doctor. At 8:45 as they were halfway through breakfast I heard myself telling the nurse, “Yeah, let’s do the 9:15.” So out we went, in the aforementioned 0 degrees and of course no gloves.

By the time the nurse practitioner saw us Jacob was wheezing pretty dramatically, something that happens almost every time he gets a respiratory bug. He got his daddy’s childhood asthma. The kids were crazy in that office and Jacob opted to perch on the doctor’s rolling stool while she listened to his chest. “This is no good,” she said, and I offered to convince him to sit up on the exam table, assuming she meant she couldn’t hear through all his Crazy. “No, I’m hearing just fine, I just don’t like what I’m hearing.” She floated the idea of pneumonia and said she’d listen again after a breathing treatment, so there we sat in the exam room reading a big book about amphibians while Jacob valiantly breathed through a Darth Vader mask and Meredith took apart every piece of my wallet, as she loves to do. It was pronounced Not Pneumonia when all was said and done and we were prescribed Some Steroids. Three Steroids. Twice a day for a week.

We got home to find Dear Daddy had come home from cancelled classes. He was just sitting down to play his Hanon exercises at the piano and I was just getting off the phone with a mom friend for some seasoned second-opinion about The Three Steroids. Go with it, she said. So I set Jacob to play dough at the kitchen counter and I transformed a bit of potato soup into mac-n-cheese (don’t think too hard) and Meredith, well, she got bit with the Hyper Crazy Insane Girl Child bug this week so she was probably either running or shrieking or both. I stopped noticing as each round of Hanon worked my heart rate up to another high and then let me down slow. My favorite.

Kids in beds, I’m ready to improvise my own lunch and see to that Skype date. As I sat on my couch luxuriating in the sight of my sweet friend’s smile and the sound of her always-lovely words, I ignored the sounds coming from above and below. When our conversation got cut short I went to go investigate what I had, as it turns out, accurately predicted…

Jacob hadn’t slept but he’d had a massive accident. So there was that. Meredith also hadn’t slept, for similar reasons, but bless her little heart, she’s still wearing diapers, and in case I’d forgotten that there was the evidence: She’d reached out her crib rails and obtained the wet diaper that was sitting on the changing table, opened it, and dropped it over the side of her crib along with all her animals. “No, no! Diapers are not for touching! Only Mommys touch diapers!” I give her The Serious Face and she gives me the I Know! I’m the Prettiest Princess of Them All! I Love That You Are In Love with Me! Face and I just started giggling like any reasonable grown-up would.

The good news was that Mike’s evening class – the one that happens during dinner time twice a week this year – had been cancelled. Which was good, because I’d forgotten about it and was gearing up to make dinner for us to all eat together – Oh The Novelty!

So I pack the babies off to the grocery store to pick up The Three Steroids and some veggies for stir fry. I ask the pharmacist what I can expect out of a two-year-old on three steroids and he literally LOL’d. (Go ahead and picture that.)

As I rounded the corner to the check out counters there were the day old flowers on clearance, and this bouquet of exquisite blush roses – the kind I thought I was getting in my wedding bouquet but then they weren’t quite what I expected. $3.00. And the pharmacist had laughed at me. And my house needs to be staged despite the piano lessons that got rescheduled to Saturday and the meeting that I’d just found out about for Saturday. If this is only Friday, clearly Saturday is going to need some roses.

I bought myself those roses and now they are sitting in a filthy vase, still in their plastic, surrounded by a kitchen full of this day’s disasters. And my floor is definitely not washed, not even swept. But before dinner I snuggled The Boy with the Steroids while we went to my happy place together: a ten minute YouTube publicity video for Alison Balsom. I just sat there in the middle of “the day’s work” that hadn’t even begun yet and enjoyed that soul-shaking beauty with my crazy babies. And now that they’re asleep it’s time I washed this floor and put those roses in their proper place.

Some days you just have to write about.