Monthly Archives: January 2014

Fighting for forgiveness

DSC00895I have a few topics close to my heart that I love to soapbox about: shame, community, pursuit, adoption. These are things I’m passionate about because they’re part of my journey and I’ve wrestled through them in some form or another. Recently, I’ve been wrestling with another issue that might become one of my soapboxes—forgiveness.

I have struggled with bitterness since I was a kid. And not necessarily the you-sinned-against-me-big-time-and-I’ll-never-get-over-it-and-will-make-you-pay-for-the-rest-of-your-life kind of bitterness. More of a general, life-hasn’t-gone-my-way-and-I-feel-sorry-for-myself bitterness. This is a bitterness that, regardless of what I’d like to believe about my heart, is pointed at God. He is the only one who has the power to have made my life go a different way, so ultimately he is the object of my anger and hurt. Over the years, God has softened my heart toward him as I’ve learned that regardless of my feelings and how I’d like to plan my life, God’s plan is always Good—better, in fact, than the best scenario I could imagine. That’s difficult to believe a lot of the time, so I fight for faith to trust God’s Goodness and love.

Through different relationships, God has helped me realize that the reason I am prone to feel bitter isn’t simply because I want to control my life and think I would do a better job than God; it is because I am hurt and feel overlooked. When things don’t go my way, sometimes it feels like I have been discounted, like God’s purpose and plan are way more important than my feelings, my heart. And they are, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean that my heart is not important to God. I picture him pushing me aside as I try to hold the fragile pieces of my life together. “Move over, kid,” he says. As he nudges me, the pieces I was balancing so carefully all fall to the ground. My hard work and planning has counted for nothing. In the meantime, God’s big, beautiful, mighty plan is getting all kinds of praise and accolades, while everybody stomps on the pieces of my life in their hurry to rush by me. In fact, sometimes it feels like people are running away from me.

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That’s not the case. The case is that God tenderly gathers me in his arms. My fragile pieces start falling, but they don’t shatter; instead, they vaporize and my Father whispers, “You never held them anyway. I carry those for you.” As my heart hurts and the confusion threatens, God holds me tighter and tighter, gently reminding me to not take my eyes off him—that  pain does not equal bad, that God’s story is sweeter than mine, that I don’t have to fear not having control.

As these truths started taking root in my heart, my bitterness started to slowly fade.

As for forgiveness, I’ve never been one to withhold it. I am grateful for forgiveness being extended to me, and I always want to readily extend it to others. But the other day, I ran into someone from my past. From years ago. Someone who held the promise of friendship and community in her hand and then snatched it away with nastiness and criticism. Her actions had consequences in my life she could never have imagined. She apologized at the time, and I forgave her, but the consequences remained. The wounds she created are still being healed, and kind of scabily. Anyway, at the mere mention of her name, a righteous vindictiveness arose in my heart. I jumped up onto my metaphorical pedestal and recounted every last bit of the scenario in which she hurt me, including my gracious and generous forgiveness. By the end of my recounting (which was just in my head, by the way), I was a pathetic, self-righteous puddle, shocked at how quickly I tried to take back forgiveness and justify my anger, my bitterness.

Am I not wanting to forgive because I want to justify my own hurt and anger at what she did to me? Am I wanting to prove a point in my heart about how awful she was to me? Is my bitterness so valuable to me that I am okay with withdrawing my forgiveness and stewing about this old issue and reliving all the hurt and rejection I suffered originally?

No. It’s not. My mind wandered until it came across that sad place, the pieces of my life scattered around me as everybody rushed past me, not noticing me, my tears, or my brokenness. And it hit me—I allowed bitterness to overtake me in that moment because this woman will never know the consequences of what she did to me and how widespread they were. She thought her offense was small, but to me, it was big. Her apology was for her actions, not the future impact of her actions. My brokenness went overlooked. I went overlooked. Only my husband and Jesus ever knew about it. I didn’t feel big and loud and justified at the time—I felt small and unimportant and unnoticed and loserish.

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So what does this mean? I do not like the ugliness of my heart that this encounter revealed. I am reminded that forgiveness means forgiving the action as well as the long-term consequences. That it means paying the price for this woman’s act against me so that she doesn’t have to. Even though we are not in relationship, in my head I could force her to pay the price of what she did over and over again OR I can Let It Go. Withholding forgiveness means I am defined by her act against me; I don’t want to be under her control in that way.

Maybe instead I can crawl up in God’s lap and rest, knowing that he understands what happened, he knows best the hurt of my heart, he is healing me, and his story that he is writing for me is full of redemption and life, not bitterness and hate. Maybe I can trust God, trust his love for me, trust that he cares that my heart was broken, and trust that he wants to make me whole. Maybe I can trust that as little as I am, God still sees me and he cares. Maybe.

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6 songs–my life’s soundtrack

This weekend, NPR had a brief feature about a project entitled “A Life in America“–exploring personal playlists of people’s lives. This got me to thinking. We grew up in a house of music. We all played the piano and at least attempted a second instrument. And we all sang. Daddy loved to hear us practice and Mamma loved music, period. I have wonderful memories of dancing to classical music with my sisters when I was 3 or 4, acting out musicals, holding the tape recorder in my lap in the car while we listened to tapes on road trips, singing duets or trios with my sisters. I hope our children have similar memories.

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My whole life is a soundtrack, so picking 6 songs to represent that soundtrack is about impossible. I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow about what I’ve chosen, but for now, this is what I’ve thought of.

When I was little, before my younger siblings were born, I was home alone with Mamma after my sisters went to school. Every time I hear Hooked on a Feeling, I think of those sweet years.

Growing up in a Christian home in the 80s, we listened to a lot of Christian music. At first I had an Amy Grant song listed here because we had every single one of her tapes and I loved her, but more than Amy Grant or any Psalty song or Music Machine song or Nathaniel the Grublet song, I loved The Roar of Love by 2nd Chapter of Acts, which is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe set to amazing 70s music. My favorite song was “Turkish Delight,” but I can’t find a clip of just that song. The link above has ALL the songs in it, which is awesome–you’ll love it, I promise.

I spent most of my 20s exploring and rebelling and discovering. One of the redeeming parts of this time was the music I was introduced to. The White Stripes is still one of my favorite bands and I always think of them fondly when I think of their part in my journey. Seven Nation Army is just a taste.

That said, my 20s were difficult and also when God wooed me to him. I was introduced to Reformed theology, and all of a sudden, my entire life–including and especially my struggles–made sense. At this point, I was also introduced to different Christian musicians who sing about these concepts that were new to me. I Need Thee Every Hour became one of my anthems during this time of learning and hope renewed.

In the middle of our wedding ceremony, Aaron stepped away, sat down in a chair, picked up his guitar, and surprised me with a song he wrote just for the occasion. It was the most romantic gesture ever (he also printed the lyrics in the programs without my knowing and recorded it onto the cds of a song we wrote and recorded together that we gave away as our favors). If there were a youtube link to that song, I’d include it. But instead, I’ll choose Wild Thing, which he played and sang to me with the band at our reception. So. Hot.

Now I am a mama. When our son was in the NICU, we would sing You Are My Sunshine to him during different procedures and tests to comfort him. It became our baby anthem and we would sing it any time he was upset or anxious and it would calm him immediately. Now that we have two sunshines, we have customized it–“You are my Vonshine” and “You are my Annshine”.

What 6 songs would you choose for your life soundtrack???

Ask me about my church

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I’ve been going to church since I was 3-weeks old (see above picture–Easter Sunday, 1977). My parents helped plant an Episcopal church here in Colorado Springs before I was born, and I was the first baby baptized there. My mother told me that I used to wander around the little sanctuary during the service, and the priest would often pick me up and hold me while he preached. I have so many memories of the different churches we went to over the years. When we lived on Guam, Daddy would drive me to the other side of the base so I could be an acolyte for the Lutheran service at the smaller chapel. I would beg to stay for the service afterward, which was black gospel. I’m sure the congregation got a kick out of the little white girl with her awkward-looking father sitting in the front row.

If you asked me as a child why I went to church, I would probably look at you funny—those days, most of the kids I knew went to church. It’s just what we did—part of our culture. As a teen I probably would have told you that I went to church because it was the right thing to do. I wanted to be a good Christian. Gag. Obviously, my heart wasn’t in it because I deserted church for much of my 20s. I can share my conversion story another day, but for the purpose of this post, I will tell you that after I asked God if he would adopt me as his daughter, my heart yearned for more than my daily routine. I wanted to learn about God, my mind craved studying the Bible, and I wanted to be around other people who believed what I believed. I ended up living with my sister Erin and her family for 380 days, and they welcomed me to their church. Because of certain circumstances, it happened to be a difficult, painful time in my life, and I was well loved there. I felt safe and at home and like people actually cared about me, which they did. After I moved back to Colorado, I met my husband at church.

When my sisters lived in England, we visited them twice and had the privilege of going to church with them. Their churches were very different—one was very small and traditional while the other was much bigger with lots of young people and a more contemporary style. We loved both for the people—they wanted to be at church. It wasn’t an obligation or a social event. It didn’t seem to be a place to check a box to make sure everyone knew what good people they were. Going to church in Europe is very counter cultural, and those people were there because their hearts yearned for Jesus. They wanted a place to worship him with other people, their church family.

After that experience, we had a new vision of what church could be. We were thinking about starting our own family and knew that we couldn’t raise children ourselves without the help and input of others. Both of our brothers had experienced serious marital issues, and we realized that if we ever went through something like that, we needed relationships with people we could trust to walk that journey alongside us.

We ended up at a wonderful, wonderful church. Our first Sunday they had a visitors’ luncheon and we were fed and welcomed well. Our second Sunday we were invited to a young family’s house for lunch. Our third Sunday, we were invited out to eat by another young couple. While I was very ill during my pregnancy with my son, the church kept track of us and offered help on a regular basis. We have so many stories of the wonderful community we discovered there. It was a time of healing and respite for me personally, and I experienced the love of older women in a way I hadn’t experienced much before. It was a taste of Heaven on earth.

Which is why we said no thank you when Aaron was approached to be the music leader at a new church plant in town. We knew lots of the people who were part of the church and we loved and respected them. We agreed with their mission and vision and prayed for success. We were enjoying getting to know the pastor and his wife, and we believed in the work they were doing. My heart ached to join them and the excitement, but we were at such a perfect place with our church—we had no reason to leave. We were learning about God, learning how to share with others about God, and learning how to have true and meaningful community. Why would we leave that?

But the pastor kept asking Aaron, pursuing him both personally and professionally. Finally, in a feeble attempt to put an end to the conversation, Aaron promised to pray about joining the church plant. He laughed as he recounted the story of his lunch with Jason to me later that day. I said, “I guess we better pray…” We did, and Aaron sought the counsel of several men he trusts. Each friend told him to go for it—that it seemed like God was being obvious about trying to gift us with something really special. Even our pastor was excited when Aaron told him what was going on.

The first Sunday we went to the church plant, now named Westside, I was nervous. The group had been meeting for several months together at the church that was sending them off. They knew each other and each others’ stories. I felt like I was behind on relationships. But it didn’t matter. The moment we stepped in the door, we were greeted by a tall man with an even bigger personality. He didn’t know who we were, and we didn’t spoil it for him—we were enjoying his welcome too much. From there we were greeted by person after person. When we were introduced to the congregation, we felt genuine joy that we were with them. And not a Sunday has passed in the year since that I haven’t been approached by women pursuing relationship with me—wanting to know how we are, what’s going on, how my heart is. Every Sunday I am reminded from the pulpit how much God loves me, what he did because of that love, and how it has changed my identity. I learn more about God’s character. I pray with people I care about and who care about me. We petition God for some hard stuff and thank him for gifts.

I have a very strong impression from the first time we met Jason and Kara. It was at one of our favorite restaurants where we were joining them and mutual friends for a birthday celebration. I had just had our baby boy and was still carrying him in the wrap. I believe it was the first time we even took him on such an outing and I was nervous, messy, tired, and not feeling up to engaging people socially. When we approached the table, everyone began greeting each other, but Jason stood up and helped me with the baby gear and pulled out my chair. He moved stuff out of the way at my place setting like a seasoned dad. I remember thinking, This man notices me. And he gets it.

That is the way he and Kara have led Westside. They notice people. And it’s infectious—other people are noticing other people. I would be surprised if anyone has ever come and gone from Westside without being noticed. It’s a direct reflection of God’s character—he notices me and he gets it and he cares and he sent his son Jesus—Immanuel, God with us—to make this journey with me. And with you. Together. Ask me about my church. I’ll tell you. I’ll invite you. But only join us if you want to be noticed.

Christmas reflections

I am not sure how many regular readers I have, but for those of you who do exist, I am going to attempt to post more often; I have a couple of writing projects in the works, and I find that blogging keeps my creative juices flowing and is good discipline in general. So, there you go.

The last couple of days, I’ve been processing Christmas 2013. This was the first year in our marriage that I did not do my Christmas baking. The first year we were married, I spent an entire day baking; I made enough for an army. To my dismay, my groom did not eat much of it at all—he just doesn’t have a sweet tooth. I dispersed the goodies among my coworkers, his coworkers, and friends. In subsequent years, I still did all my baking, but with different intentions; knowing Aaron wouldn’t be all that interested, I gave the treats to guests when we hosted, neighbors, coworkers, and my grandmother to give to her neighbors since she doesn’t cook much anymore. But this year? Nothing.

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This Advent I also didn’t follow an Advent devotional or even do daily Advent readings. I finally put the tree up mid December, but we didn’t hang Christmas lights outside. I didn’t make my annual Christmas Eve gumbo. We didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve. And we didn’t host anyone. We didn’t visit Santa Claus, and we didn’t even watch “White Christmas” of “Elf”. Aaron and I did a joint gift, which we received at the beginning of December, so we had no gifts for each other under the tree. I didn’t hang stockings, mostly because the cheap ones I bought a few years ago melted last year when we burned fires in the fireplace. I didn’t do gifts for the neighbors. And each of the babies just got three simple gifts. In fact, I didn’t even wrap Baby Girl’s gifts, and I failed to get any pictures of her first Christmas. I didn’t even shower.

By all counts, Advent/Christmas 2013 was a huge failure. And yet, Aaron and I both agree that this was the best Christmas we’ve ever had as a family.

One thing that we did differently was accept an invitation to join another family for the day. Usually I like to spend a quiet day at home, just us. But this family is preparing to leave the country in the near future, and we thought this was a good chance to spend quality time with them. So we showed up with food, games, and babies in hand. We enjoyed a traditional meal and then the men sipped whiskey while we ladies had coffee and dessert from a gorgeous spread. They presented gifts to us and the babies and allowed me to browse their vast old book collection, which included several special Christmas books. They brought out fun toys for our big Baby Boy and held and cuddled Baby Girl. Then we played games, laughing and enjoying one another’s company. We felt like we were home even though it was the first time we had been in their house. The love this family showered on us was a reflection of God’s love—warm and tender and thoughtful. Through their selflessness and grace, we experienced Immanuel, God with us, that Christmas day.

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As we left, Aaron fought back tears as he thanked our gracious hosts. How rarely we are so embraced and unconditionally loved with no expectation! And how safe we felt in their home.

Going to someone else’s house meant that the pressure was off me to create the perfect Christmas experience for me and my family.

My not doing my typical, yearly Advent list was due to the fact that I had a 20-month old as well as a 2-month old. I just couldn’t do it all. So I did nothing. And I tried to give myself permission to not feel guilty. I told myself that it didn’t matter this year—our oldest didn’t understand any of it but maybe will next year when I’ll be able to make sure his Christmas is full and perfect. Then in one of the blogs I follow, I read that we should not “do Christmas” but “delight in Christmas”. I found myself with plenty of time to meditate on that while cleaning babies, wiping bottoms, washing dishes, laundering diapers, feeding babies, etc. My deep disappointment in myself for failing to produce an amazing Advent led me straight to Jesus. I experienced Immanuel in Christ’s joining me in my sorrow. He comforted me and reminded me of my value—not in my acts of Christmas programming and decorating and cooking, but as a child of God so beloved he sent his son to be born as a human in awful conditions.

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I realized, embarrassedly, that in past years, all my planning and lists were to conjure up some feelings of Christmas happiness. I wanted to experience the magic you see in Christmas movies and on Facebook statuses. If I did enough and did it well, I maybe could feel something special and Christmas would be a success.

This year, that was stripped from me. I had no effort or works to give me a sense of Christmas worth. Instead, I lived the mundane of comforting crying babies, wiping spit-up and snot, assembling cloth diapers, researching crockpot recipes, washing dishes, forgetting to do laundry. I wrote off this Christmas, thinking I’d be able to do better and more next year. And yet, the unexpected happened—instead of a fabricated feeling of Christmas magic, I felt God with me in my daily life. In the joys of toothless smiles and first words to the struggle of the monotony of oatmeal every morning. I realized that in my working so hard past Christmases to create a meaningful holiday season, I didn’t leave room to experience Immanuel. My attempts at producing the perfect feel-good Christmas stole the feelings of peace from the assurance of the presence of Hope and Joy. Where I felt I had failed as a homemaker and Christian, Jesus met me, walked with me, delighted in me, worshipped with me, dwelled in me. It was an Advent and Christmas to remember. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll be a big failure next year, too.