Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Door with No Decor

Sort of like an Inn with no room, I’ve got a door with no decor this year for Christmas.

We drive past homes multiple times in day and night-- plastic sculptures of glowing snowmen, hot air balloon-sized inflatable Hello Kitties, handcrafted reindeer, and yard after yard of trees wrapped in the colors of the twinkling rainbow.  My children ooh and ahh and beg the same for our front yard.

Can I be honest?  A light bulb blows out in our home almost  It’s a miracle our house is not on fire this very second because I’m sure there’s a short in our wiring somewhere.  We can’t plug in too many devices in one room or the breakers blow.  There’s no way our house could even accommodate a spotlight in the yard without a complete blackout of our home.

Can I be even more candid?  I love viewing the lights and decor in other people’s yards.  I don’t feel like exhausting the energy to create and then un-create.

More raw truth?  This past year has been hard.  Most days it’s an accomplishment to get out of bed and keep the kids alive.  This year, my children heaved the big cardboard box upstairs and erected our artificial tree, oohing and ahhing over sparkling glass angels, photos of miniatures of themselves, and various plastic character ornaments from the past.  I kicked back on the couch and steeped in their joy.  It was glorious!

Our crèche nativity is still buried under dust and boxes in our storage facility a few miles away, along with a gorgeous flowing mesh bow for my mailbox and wreath adorned with sparkling ornaments for my front door.  I don't have the key to storage.  My husband is gone most of the time with work.  It's a safe bet my door and mailbox will be ribbon-less this Christmas.

And you know what?  It's okay.  I inhale the artificial tree, the random articles of clothing scattered in every nook and cranny of our home, scatterings of food crumbs, school papers, and dog hair on the floor...and I give thanks.

Life still goes on without world hasn't stopped, and I haven't felt neighbor guilt or puffy glowing Santa envy.  We slide into our devotion half the nights of the week because sometimes I'm just too exhausted.  And the world still turns and all is still well.

I did, however, mail out Christmas cards this year.  I don’t expect my pictures to be perfect, but I do ask each child to at least turn towards the camera.  Exhibit #1, Easter 2010 is a good indicator of how our photo shoots normally go with mama behind the camera. 

In the frigid air of November, I mentally prepared every child after breakfast to get dressed for Christmas card photos.  Standing with cold wind whipping my shoulders, chilling my bones, the same child crossed his arms and made an angry face.  Are you kidding me?

What should only require five minutes resulted in a solid hour of stomping, raised voices (some mine), repentance, and a re-do photo shoot with everyone at least looking towards the camera.  A tiny celebration.

Another celebration was cake.  Yes, at forty-one, I baked my first pound cake.  The first try was unsuccessful, apparently because I doubled the recipe.  The thick five-pound batter was like putty in the mixer blades and burned the motor of my utensil.  My house almost caught fire as the overflowing dough glopped to the bottom of the oven, creating flames.

Day two and a second attempt resulted in a glorious spongy creamy yellow mound, edged in crisp brown goodness-- a Bundt cake nonetheless.  

I'm celebrating cakes without house fires this year.  I open hands and give thanks to a God who has filled my year with hope, beauty, and answered prayers.  His faithfulness.

It's been through the unexpected, miraculous, laborious emotional pain that He has showered freedom, strength, and hope to this wretched, fearful, messy girl.

And I give thanks for all He pours out abundantly.  All the unexpected ways He shows up.

Because this girl is living and breathing a life with a fresh breath of courage and rest-- a girl who has grown a little less fearful of the darkness.

And I celebrate.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Navigating Beauty

(This post also featured on The Forgotten Initiative)

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7)

The inner city is typically not a route chosen for a leisure ride to gaze at beautiful landscape and surround.  Instead, it's sadly marked with worn and deteriorating buildings, like many of the families there-- broken.  Daddies are often young boys without a role model to point them in the right direction and mamas struggle to make ends meet.

This is the place where facades of old buildings stand vacant, spray painted with graffiti.  Often it’s through rugged, broken, the back roads and seeming missed turns that becomes the place where beauty is revealed.  The Lord looks not at the outward appearance, but the heart.

Despite broken sidewalks, crumbling buildings, and torn families, there are shoots of green-- a place of beauty and hope rising.  This part of the city also has my heart-- for this is where people live who are connected to us like family.

Much like driving through the desert of Arizona-- one minute dreading the view of unending miles of cacti and dry red dirt and the next second a surprise.  In a blink of an eye, the scenery is transformed and you gaze up in heart struck wonder over the enormity of the Grand Canyon— unending miles of purplish bruised hues fading into golds and browns.

The frayed ends of foster care are that way as well-- roads of deadness, dryness, and nothingness.  We look away a second and then we enter a sacred place of beauty— in our own lives and those we walk alongside.

There are never easy answers or quick fixes.  It’s much like navigating the heart of God, raw and painful.  It’s in the nail-scarred hands, the blood and pain, where beauty lies.

With two of my children on board, squished between bikes, talking dolls, and new clothes, we drove our SUV to the drop off location for gifts for foster children.  The location just happened to be located in the heart of the inner city, because a generous church opened its doors to temporarily transform into a sorting facility for thousands of Christmas presents for foster children.  Beauty.

We pulled up to the curb and unloaded gifts for nearly twenty children, strangers helping us load plastic bags of gifts onto carts to push inside to check-in.  My SUV empty, we drove down neighborhood streets of plank frame houses and I prayed out loud for the children in foster care.  Sobbing, I absently missed turns and drove down streets and various neighborhoods as I rambled to my kids about my wrecked heart.

My daughter sniffed in the back seat as I voiced how pulverized my heart felt.  I cried, I should be happy, but I'm so sad right now thinking of all the children without their parents for Christmas.

I navigated the gray road before me, the path twisting sorrow and gratefulness.

Amid tattered buildings, frame houses, bundled faces at the bus stop, I see it.  I gasp at the restaurant name— where Little Bitty’s birth mom would take her and her brothers to eat dinner on visits.

We are so near the heart of her birth mama, her favorite place to eat.

I hear my son speaking above my tears.  Quietly, almost inaudible, my precious pre-teen boy whispered, We wouldn't have met Little Bitty if it weren't for foster care…

Silence as my tears flow hot.

He continued… Or S and B (her brothers) or all the others...  A lot of our good friends are because of foster care.

Yes, I said wiping my eyes.  Yes.

Beauty breaks through the clouds, sunshine through the windshield as I steer onto the ramp back towards our home.

I peek over at my boy tall and lean, long legs like a Daddy Longleg stretching in the floorboard beside me.  I give thanks for this boy-- an instrument of grace and truth for my wandering heart that easily careens down steep hills to dark despair.

Our day ended with MG’s Christmas ballet performance.  Tears flowed steady again as my girl seemed to sashay from a two-year old chubby-legged tutu-clad dancer to this beauty-filled girl brimming with strength and grace.  The words to the song covered me like a fuzzy flannel blanket….

God is in us
God is for us
God is with us

I glimpsed my biggest boy reciprocate a hug to his sister after her performance.  My heart bursting, I whispered I love you so much.  I’m so proud of you, son.  For real, you don’t know the heart change God has done lately.  Grace.

Rushing to the car, we were enveloped in frosty chill air-- my middle-born in plaid shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops.  Oh I love him!  The seasonal air flurries with gingerbread men, candy canes, and hot chocolate; yet this child strides long steps of summer all-year, me pleading he at least put on shoes during the winter months.

Driving in the dark surround, we all rattled about how MG has become a real ballerina.  Silence descended upon us as we entered our neighborhood, houses flipping by in the dark like magazine pages.

Little Bitty piped up in her sing-song voice, My heart even filled up...with MG’s dance. (long pause)….That means I love her.

Oh my heart is overflowing.  Grateful beyond words to do life with this beauty-filled crew.


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