Monthly Archives: November 2014

Intentional love

Today is a special day: it is my husband’s birthday and it is also the first Sunday in Advent.

Also significant is that it is the anniversary of when my husband started pursuing me romantically. He was a Mr. Darcy type, so our story brings much laughter and delight when we reminisce. He went from cold to hot overnight—one day telling me that he would never be interested in dating me and then telling me days later that he couldn’t imagine me walking down the aisle with anyone else.a3I always tell people that God used Aaron to help me understand the nature of God’s unconditional love for me. You see, Aaron didn’t see me across a crowded room and have a burning desire to kiss me madly. He didn’t ask around our friends to find out who I was because I was so gorgeous and amazing. No, he made a conscious decision to love me (after prayer and seeking counsel). And he has never stopped since, his love growing daily.a2In the same way, I didn’t attract God’s attention by my morality or lack thereof. My talent or sad story or desperation didn’t catch his eye. He didn’t say to Gabriel, “Hey, look at that curly headed gal—she seems neat. I should get to know her!”

On the contrary, God knew me before I was born, created me, knit me together in my mother’s womb. He created me to love him. He created me to have a relationship with him. I didn’t earn his love. I didn’t earn his salvation. Instead, God decided that he was going to love me because he decided to love me. Then he pursued me, wooed me, engaged my heart.

And because it was nothing I did that convinced God to love me, I never have to worry that something I do will convince God to stop loving me. I have hope in God’s love, and it brings me peace and joy this Advent.

My question is, how can I show intentional love to others this Christmas season?a1

Day-after reflections…

This post is dedicated to my brother, Benjamin, who graciously engages my clumsy attempts at pursuit, and who is always willing to talk about the deep stuff.

Would you laugh at me if I told you I cried reading an autoreply email today? I had signed a petition supporting Just Mayo (I’ll spare you the exciting details), and I got a confirmation email from the petition platform’s founder, Ben Rattray. He told me that by signing the petition, I had joined a community of 75 million people who have also used this social change platform. And then he said he couldn’t wait to see the change I create. And I choked back the tears; the email sounded so sincere that for a split second, I believed that Mr. Rattray was speaking just to me and that I had something important—something life-changing—to do, and he believed in me! Just for a split second.

But that revealed my heart: I need people to know me and love me and cheer me on.

And so do you.IMG_0862I am noticing the holidays so far this year are more exciting than I’ve ever experienced. My son is 2 now, and he is understanding just enough to make the excitement level in our house so contagious and infectious that I can’t remember how I ever celebrated with less joy. IMG_0865Thanksgiving was so fun that I left the spoils until this morning just so I could see them first thing and smile at the evidence of our night to remember. IMG_0879We shared Thanksgiving Day with three families we love dearly. Our relationship with each family is totally different, but it didn’t matter—we were all there because we love each other and wanted to share a special day with people who know us and love us and cheer us on. And in opening our home to them, we hoped to communicate that we want to know them and love them and cheer them on, too.

Picking the turkey late that night took me back to picking the turkey last year. I think I picked three turkeys, which provided a lot of thinking, praying, talk time. We had spent the day with Kara and her family and friends, and Kara was upstairs resting with my baby boy. VonAndKaraPeople were scattered, talking and laughing quietly while the kids played happily in the basement. I tried to shoo Kara’s mom out of the kitchen so she could get a break. And I rolled up my sleeves and started picking, picking, picking.

Jason wandered in, eager to help clean up after the massive feast. We chatted. I can’t tell you much about our conversation, but I can tell you he asked me what it was like for me to navigate grief through the holidays—how did I handle my parents’ absence?IMG_0877My back was to him, so he couldn’t see the tears swell up and spill onto the carcasses in front of me.

I didn’t cry because I missed my parents. I cried because my friend was reaching out to me in the midst of his own grief over the shattering news of his wife’s cancer. He was offering to know and safeguard a piece of my heart. And we both knew that at some point, though hopefully not for a very long time, he will be wondering how he himself will navigate grief through the holidays.IMG_0856That is a Thanksgiving memory I will always treasure, a moment in time where I felt known and loved and supported and safe. And that is the kind of intentionality that I want to have with the people in my life. Especially over the holiday season when so many emotions arise and when so many of us are extra fragile.IMG_0873How can I pursue, engage, protect, and delight others? How can I love well? How can I know, love, and cheer?IMG_0870

November Emmanuel

Friends, you wouldn’t believe the relief I feel tonight.

My Christmas tree is up, the stockings are hung, and Christmas music is playing in the background.

For years, I’ve looked down my nose at people who listened to Christmas music before Thanksgiving and who put their Christmas tree up before December. I grew up in a very liturgical denomination and Advent has always been sacred to me; therefore, I protected it by refusing to bring the Christmas boxes up out of the basement until December, turning the radio off if Christmas music came on before Advent, and painstakingly ignoring the flashy, gorgeous, tempting Christmas displays in store windows.

This year, I didn’t have the heart to put Christmas off one more day; my 2-year old became contagiously excited about All Things Christmas while at Target today, and I caved. When we got home, I dragged the Christmas tree up from underneath the stairs. I pulled out my collection of Nativity scenes and hung the wreath on the door. We played Christmas music and made a second trip to Target for more Christmas lights. We talked about Baby Jesus and ate Christmas M&Ms.

The relief washed over me. But why?

At first I thought it was because Thanksgiving comes late this year, and my husband’s birthday is the same weekend, which sets me up for Christmas failure because then I am late getting everything ready, and before I know it, Advent is almost over and I feel like I’ve missed it.

But as I thought about it and watched my babies’ joyful faces as they played with the Little People Nativity scene and the Mr. Potato Head Santa Claus, I realized what was truly going on in my heart—this has been a tough year. Filled with hurt and hard and ugly and messiness. The promise of Emmanuel—God with us—is too beautiful and too hope-filled for me to ignore simply because of too many blocks on my calendar. I need something to look forward to. I need something to celebrate. I need to be reminded of where my hope comes from.

So no longer will I roll my eyes at friends posting on Facebook about listening to Christmas music in November. And no longer will I scoff at Christmas lights going up as the Halloween decorations come down. Instead, I will join my 2-year old in his excitement over Baby Jesus and allow the hope Emmanuel offers to fill my spirit. Merry Christmas.

IMG_0808

Halloween communitying

The babies and I just got back from a ten-day trip in which I met up with my younger sister at my older sister’s house for a visit. That doesn’t happen often, and every single moment was precious to me. I felt like Jim and Pam taking mental pictures at their wedding—so many images remain in my heart of my family fellowshipping, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that time.

We got there Halloween afternoon after a long—long—day of airplane travel. After warm greetings and lots of hugs, we put the kids and babies in costumes to head out for trick-or-treating. Baby V was supposed to be Buzz Lightyear, but he wasn’t convinced. IMG_0586

Baby A was content as The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

IMG_0587

My sister lives on a small street with few children, so we drove to a neighboring neighborhood. My, was I overwhelmed.

We live downtown, but in a modest area. We don’t have driveways—we have alleys. And we typically get only about half a dozen trick-or-treaters, but we treat them very well with lots of candy. Each year I wait with eager anticipation to ooh and ahh over the children who ring our doorbell.IMG_0589But this was unexpected. In this neighborhood, decorations were almost Claire-Dunphy elaborate. We didn’t ring a single doorbell; the candy-hander-outers all sat in their driveways, most with firepits and caldrons full of candy. Many had music playing and many were dressed in costume to greet the children.

I teared up at the sense of community I felt half a country away from my own community. This American tradition was bringing together people of all shapes, colors, beliefs. All in the name of candy. But really, all in the name of community, of wanting to share something special with their neighbor, of wanting to know each other and be known. The sounds of chitchat and laughter astounded me and caused me to talk a bit louder and laugh a little more. By the time we got back to my sister’s house, I was energized by being a part of this neighborly effort to be kind and a blessing to one another. I lay awake that night thinking about it.

IMG_0590And almost 2 weeks later, I’m still thinking about it. How do I translate that experience to my own neighborhood? How do I engage my neighbors instead of retreat into my community? How do I teach my children the importance of being warm and welcoming to people who may be different instead of finding refuge in people who are just like them? How do we, as a family, participate instead of isolate?

How do you navigate these waters?

IMG_0588