Whereness and Egg Sandwiches.

“That is impossible. You know nothing about whereness. The only way to come to know where you are is to begin to make yourself at home.”

“How am I to begin that where everything is so strange?”

“By doing something.”

“What?”

“Anything; and the sooner you begin the better! for until you are at home, you will find it as difficult to get out as it is to get in.”

I am not sure why, but this little interchange in the book Lilith by George MacDonald struck me. Struck me enough I had to stop reading for a moment, setting the book down. Struck me enough to get my attention.

You know nothing about whereness.

I have mixed feelings this time of year anyway, and reading something like that hit me right in the middle of all the sentimental setting. I love the changing of the seasons; the rapidity of the change sometimes takes me aback. Just when I am beginning to truly enjoy the changing of the leaves…a storm blows through and I find more on the ground than in the trees. Actually, just after one of the last storms there were two trees on our street struck by lighting. More than just leaves were left on the street…full strong branches and half the tree was brought down.

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Still…whereness.  This sense of being planted and aware and knowing not only who I am but where I am.

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There is something about this changing of the leaves and creation demanding our attention. Demanding we stop, or at least slow down, and pay attention.

October was, frankly, an insane month. I wrote a couple weeks ago about the laundry being out of hand, and the need to take deep breaths.The husband had a project at work that demanded attention…21+ days of work straight. Many days working fourteen or fifteen hours. Insane. Thankful for the job, thankful for the ability to work…but wow that makes the rhythm of life not conducive to paying attention.

Last week I finally found moments of stopping. I found moments of finding my footing. I found moments of not only knowing where I was…and pulling the kids in to that moment of paying attention…but feeling like I knew what home was.

We did something.

We went outside and looked around.

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The very best tree in the backyard is the one Sammy and Steve planted…that sense of whereness. “Sammy’s Tree”.

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Then we did something else. We created.

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More, though….food.

I mentioned the other day that one aspect of the Hutchmoot conference I attended that made it so special was the feasting. Not eating. Feasting. Food that was prepared with love and intention and presented in a way that fed the soul and helped bring us into more of a sense of the whole ‘teaching’ of the weekend.

I have found that I enjoy cooking more and more, and I enjoy it because it feeds more than just our bodies. The month was crazy, and there were nights Steve didn’t come home until 9pm. We had dinner waiting in mugs…

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Some mornings I found that I needed more than just a cup of coffee and a piece of toast. I needed something that stirred memories and reminded me of my “whereness” and my “who-ness”.

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Egg sandwiches. My Dad used to carry them with him to school in Indiana. I’m not sure if his had hot sauce. Or Mayo.  I also found out at Hutchmoot that one of my favorite authors and singers also eats these, as a ritual. This simple sandwich now carries the weight of memories and connections…and nourishes soul and body. Reminds me of who and where I am.

Then, one night I made soup that was mentioned by Andrew Peterson, who along with his brother Pete are the founders and instigators of Hutchmoot, in his Wingfeather Saga. Totato soup. Or Stew. It made an appearance at the conference, and has made several appearances in pictures on Instagram and FaceBook as Lewis Graham, the chef, has been gracious enough to tell us his secrets. This one night, it filled our house with fragrances of whereness and our bodies with warmth. Steve ate four bowls. Then I lost count.

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This week of paying attention, of slowing down and listening…it has helped. I still yelled at the kids this weekend. I still felt my footing slip. I still felt that I wasn’t completely home…but it was better. I caught myself more quickly.

I have been leading up to shutting down some of the noise. Turning off FaceBook, not worrying about sharing pictures on Instagram of all my meals. Looking instead at home, and being still. Listening and paying attention to who I am, and who I am called to be.  Listening to voices from long ago, who have much to say about where and who. God inspired and preserved and poked and prodded and brought us wisdom through the years. Worth paying attention.

It’s as if the ancient bardic oracles and songs and oral histories and warrior shouts needed more than the air to carry the messages. The thoughts held enough power to need some permanence, some transmitting wire, some way of getting through to other human beings no matter how far into the future, some way of informing us, “This idea is burning in my own mind. Here, let me light a wick in you.”

-Luci Shaw.  Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey

I love this time of year and the demand Creation makes upon me to pay attention. I don’t like how quickly it is over.

I am thankful for the sense of where the changing of seasons gives me. I am thankful the rhythm of the seasons reminds me of so many other years of paying attention to the leaves, of sipping hot drinks and talking about the cold weather. I am thankful for food that warms the soul and the body. I am thankful for a season to be thankful…and to be more still and quiet and calm.

The increasingly rapid heartbeat of Advent is almost here. I am eager to be ready. How about you? Turning aside from a bit of the noise for a season, listening to deeper voices. Doing something today to find home, to know my whereness and who I am. And to Whom I belong.

Dirty Socks and Beauty

Oh the difference a week makes!

 

Last week I was still humming in the glow of the conference I had just attended. Tired, yes, but still warm and filled with thoughts of beauty. Filled with hope and with an eagerness to stir imagination in my children. Filled with refreshment from conversations and music and feasting.

 

Today? Well, today there are dirty clothes strewn about the house upstairs. They haven’t quite made it to the laundry room. The laundry basket is overflowing with clean clothes which need to be put away…I was tired after the third round. There are still a few dirty dishes in the sink which couldn’t make it in the load last night. Sweatshirts and shoes are in various places around the family room.

 

Library books are stacked on the kitchen table, next to the decoratively cool turban squash. And an empty Jones Soda can.

 

Somehow there is an empty hair gel container also on the kitchen table…Maddie has been emptying out the bathroom for me.

 

We have a leak in the fireplace that has come under the marble and soaked the carpet during the days of Noah we had recently. Beginning to dry out, but it left an interesting smell and we had to wait until the rain stopped before someone could come to look at what is wrong. Hoping that happens soon.

 

Ah, basking in the beauty.

 

Life is busy; crazy busy. Steve is swamped at work with a project which will culminate the first full week in November. Until then he is working seven days a week. Sports are in almost full swing. Practices are happening and games being attended. Biblestudies are happening and church events. Field trips. Tutorials.

 

Life.

Full and busy and constant. 

Dirty dishes and laundry and leaks.

 

Beauty and afterglow has a hard time elbowing for room. I would love to sit and read for hours, but I have lesson plans to figure out and grading to tend. Where do I fit in this imagination and wonder and creativity?

 

Some seem to do it with an elegance and grace that amaze me, while I feel disheveled and harried. Tacking on my wonder while I hide the dirty laundry.

 

Deep breath.  

That was what I needed.

Mondays are generally a bit messy. I find it difficult to get my rhythm back after the weekend, and I want to start with some silence. The house always bears some battle signs from the weekend, and I know I need to tend to it, but first…I need to tend to my soul. That is part of what I learned last weekend.

 

Beauty, and tending to beauty and imagination and wonder, is not a luxury nor an extravagance. It is a necessity. A priority.

 

That deep breath that gives the strength and the calm to face the litany of things needing to be tackled. It’s not just dirty dishes and laundry. It is parents aging and friends struggling. Jobs with great stress, or friends with no jobs and the great stress of ends not meeting. Deep breath.

 

I need the strength I find in the beauty and the wonder to carry me through the tasks at hand. All of them. Loving well, tending the things in my care…living well. 

So the dirty dishes and the laundry and tidying will wait just a bit longer.

 

A strong cup of coffee and the porch and ancient words of prayer await.

 

Messy Monday….meet a resolved heart.  There will be beauty and wonder here in this house this week, even if a dirty sock is poking out somewhere.

The Necessity of Luxury

Rarely in my life do I have moments when events with significantly diverse elements happen simultaneously. The anticipation of one event filled me with anxiety while the anticipation of the other filled me with hope and excitement. The result? A realization of how I am so often caught in my fears, along with how vital beauty and wonder, and what might even be considered luxury, is to this walk of faith in a broken world.

 

The eldest boy’s hockey team had a tournament in St Louis this weekend, the same weekend a conference was happening which I eagerly had been awaiting since April. My very gracious husband planned to take all the children to the tournament, leaving me free to completely enjoy my conference. This was the plan and it was great.

 

Until the harsh reality of our brokenness shouted for attention in St. Louis. The weekend was dubbed The Weekend of Resistance in protest of police violence after the shooting death of Michael Brown. Another young man was shot on Wednesday leading up to the weekend. Tempers were flaring and the violence of our world was on display.

 

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The call for protests led to anxiety for this mama. I began to make alternative plans for my weekend, trying to find ways to keep the younger three children home. Trying to pull in close those I hold dear and protect them from what I anticipated would be a violent and unpredictable weekend. The riots surrounding Rodney King happened during my college graduation weekend; memories fueled my fear. The first game was 10 pm on a Friday night, only 10 miles from Ferguson. Ugh.

 

The first game was 10 pm on a Friday night, only 10 miles from Ferguson. Ugh. 

My much calmer husband was not worried. He was aware and planning alternate routes to keep out of the fray, but he was not worried as the ice rinks were not in St Louis proper. The final decision was to stick to the original plan. And ultimately I trust his wisdom and I prayed and sent them off.

 

My conference, called Hutchmoot, is a conglomeration of artists and musicians and creative souls alongside those of us who appreciate the art and music and beauty. An intentionally small gathering,  desiring to lean in toward God and His stirring. Leaning in toward those things that are beautiful we hope to be changed, being ignited and refreshed with the incommunicable grace of community.

 

In the midst of what has been a rather chaotic life lately, this weekend brought refreshment. There was music and storytelling, art in the decorations and all around, and amazing food which brought it all together with feasting.

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Steve’s weekend was filled with avoiding violence born of our brokenness. People desiring to be heard and understood and spilling over into anger and frustration, clashing with those who are trying to reign in the violence and keep order to our lawlessness. Plus, Steve had to contend with a sick 3 year old and Zach had some food poisoning thrown in on Saturday evening. Still…they survived despite all my fears. They encountered none of the violence I anticipated. Zachary was able to do what he loves, and do it well. They were weary and ready to be home by Sunday afternoon, but happy and content.

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I almost missed something significant, however, because I focused on what-ifs. I almost missed a weekend of new friendships, of challenges to open my eyes and see more (more than just what frightens me? ). I almost missed seeing Luci Shaw who had encouraged my soul 13 years ago at Regent; almost missed conversations with her that again encouraged my soul.

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I almost missed the call of Welcome Home which stirred in me desires for our home. Stirred in me desires for my children. Stirred wonder and excitement. Stirred hope.

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Honestly, this weekend was close to luxury. When I registered I was one of the lucky few able to get a ticket, and I wondered at the time why I needed this. The fact is, I have been more weary than I thought and I needed this more than I knew.

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The fear drawn out by the hockey tournament’s location and timing showed me how much I am caught by fear. How often I miss good things because I am so focused on the brokenness and the unknown. The brokenness and the unknown are always there; the wonder and richness of home help us walk in the midst without fear.

The luxury of the weekend was not luxury…it was necessity. Necessary in this moment to refocus and refresh.  Necessary to remind me of how wonder and beauty and love push out the fear and the anxiety, leaving room for life to happen. Grace to happen. I almost walked away from a weekend that was a gift.

 

At the coffee shop on Sunday morning Over The Rhine’s song Called Home came up in my playlist. Fitting, isn’t it?

 

Just shy of Breakin’ Down
There’s a bend in the road that I have found
Called home

Take a left at loneliness
There’s a place to find forgiveness
Called home

With clouds adrift across the sky
Like heaven’s laundry hung to dry
You slowly feel it all will be revealed

Where evening shadows come to fall
On the awful and the beautiful
Every wound you feel that needs to heal

And silence yearns to hear herself
Some long lost memory rings a bell
Called home

Old pre-Civil War brick house
Standin’ tall and straight somehow
Called home

Mailbox full of weariness
And a word of hard won happiness
Called home

Leave behind your Sunday best
You know we couldn’t care a less
Out here we’ve learned to leave the edges wild

And stories they get passed around
And laughter – it gets handed down
Read it in the lines around a smile

Our bodies’ motion comes to rest
When we are at last
Called home

Grace Brings Glimmers of Hope….

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I am sitting in my favorite coffee shop, sipping great coffee and listening to good music mixed with the chatter of happy folks. I have a pen to use in my journal, but the pen is not cooperating; the ink just won’t flow very well and I find I have to re-trace the lines. I am, however, stubborn.

I want to use this pen, and when I am done I want to slide it back into its flowered sleeve. Because the lilac pen and the flowered sleeve hold more than a simple writing instrument; they hold the memories of the woman who used to write with this pen. Back when it flowed well.

The pen and the holder are stylish and I can remember Mom pulling them out of her purse and using them. I can remember even that act being done with a sort of elegance.

Mom was always stylish, and she carried herself with this confidence and elegance. Everywhere. People noticed her.

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Dementia has stolen her thoughts and some of her elegance. Not all, though. She still carries herself with dignity and she still speaks with an innate politeness and compassion.

However, she simply is not completely there…she is a shadow of herself. A physical reminder of the strength of character, sharpness of wit and commanding presence she once had. We catch glimmers.

I realized that sometimes I am not much different.  Some days I am a shadow of myself. I am caught in the mundane and the demands of the day, the trivialities and the noise, and I am lost. Sometimes the broken world is stronger than the creativity and the wonder that I desire to develop. The strength of character and the intellect I inherited are stifled by a weariness of a broken world.

I catch glimmers of who I could be, of who I would like to be.

Those are the moments God graces me with a reminder.

A lavender pen tucked in a floral case. Words of grace and beauty from authors who live more fully in the moment than I.

Words of grace from a Creator who understands the weariness because He took on the flesh we wear and He walked:

 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ

Words of reality that although this world in which we walk and live and breathe is marred by brokenness and by sin, there is still healing and there is still hope. Words of reality that although sometimes we only see the glimmer, there is One Who sees more and Who knows the whole of the story. He sees the result of the storm we walk through and sees the result of the long obedience.

He sees the ultimate healing and the ultimate glory that we only long for in this season.

“When I asked my mother why the trees were so much larger on the ridge than anywhere else, she replied that it was because the winds were the strongest and the storms were the fiercest on the ridge. With nothing to shelter the trees from the full brunt of nature’s wrath, they either broke and fell, or they became incredibly strong and resilient.
God plants you and me in our faith as tender saplings then grows us up into “trees of righteousness,” using the elements of adversity to make us strong. And He leads us to endure, not just somehow, but triumphantly as we choose to praise Him, regardless of the storms swirling within us or the winds howling outside of us.” -Anne Graham Lotz

Fiction to the Rescue…

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I am thankful for good books. Thankful for books which have enlarged my thinking, enlarged my imagination, others introducing me to characters so rich they have become friends through the years. Books I read as a child and return to as an adult, finding the delight of childhood imagination now mixed with the awareness of a depth of wisdom I didn’t even realize was being revealed to me as a child.

I am thankful for boys who like to have books read to them. They have not become overwhelming readers in their own right, unless something truly grabs their attention. That’s alright, the seeds are there and they will grow. I like reading to them, anyway. I love anticipating their reaction as we make our way through Lewis and Tolkien, L’Engle and right now…Rowling.

Yep, we are speeding our way through the Harry Potter series, and thoroughly enjoying the roller-coaster ride.  I love reaching the end of reading time and having them demand another chapter. I love a story that grabs their attention and carries us away.

Sometimes, though, I want a story to grab their attention and carry them away, and then take that attention and somehow speak a deep truth in the moment when they are so alive and awake and caught in the story. Speak about Aslan being not being safe but being good. Or like the moment when Eustace is changed from a dragon back to a boy…only when Aslan tears through the dragon skin. I remember when that story soaked in to my understanding, and the Truth it conveyed made me stop and pay attention.

I watch my boys sometimes as I read and I anticipate these moments, even as I know I cannot force them to happen. Most likely they will happen when they find the books on the shelf and read while tucked away in some cozy spot. I just have to keep them on the shelves.

There is a series I somewhat stumbled upon a few years ago, mostly because I stumbled upon a singer named  Andrew Peterson. He is one of those multi-talented folk who carry themselves in a way that their talent does not diminish those of us who struggle to find one talent. They enlarge our capacities for wonder and imagination, for worship and for celebration. Yep, he is rather unique, but I am sure there is a list running through your mind of those fill this category. Some well known, some known only in our small circles.

I found out about Andrew through a concert he hosts at Christmas time called Behold The Lamb of God. I don’t remember who told us about him or how we found out, but Steve and I so enjoyed that first show and we went again with friends the next year. I have appreciated his music for years and when I found out he was writing books for young readers I was cautiously eager.

Is that possible? Being cautiously eager?

Well, I wanted these books to be good. I wanted to have something I could read to the kids that spoke to them in the ways so many authors have spoken to me. I wanted them to be drawn in and have their imagination excited; I wanted them to have those moments when the truth grasps them in the midst of the story and they realize the Truth is greater than any imagination.

I wanted them to be mad when the book was closed each night, demanding more chapters.

I love that.

More than that though, I wanted this person they had heard singing about a Gospel they knew, singing about a God they are beginning to catch glimpses of, I wanted him to come through. He was more of a reality to them than C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and some of the other authors we read, because they had actually heard his voice.

Here’s the great thing: He came through.

We read the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, when our boys were 8, 6 and 3. Just before we finished the first book I was able to take Zach to see Andrew in a small concert setting. After the show I was so pleased to see the genuine excitement as Andrew and his children asked Zachary what he thought the “Jewels of Anniera” were, and how they encouraged him with being so close to the end of the book.  That sealed our love of the series.

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We anticipated each new book in the series.

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Now the final book has been released. We have waited for it eagerly…with no caution.  We are zipping through Harry Potter and enjoying the ride and the fun, but I want to revisit the beginnings of the Wingfeather saga before we open the final chapter. Nate and Sammy were too young to remember the beginning of the story, so we will begin again.

And we will not zip.

 

There are great things about much fiction that takes us on a ride and teaches us a bit along the way. I’m thankful for the Harry Potter stories and Eragon, for 39 Clues and others that draw my children into reading. I am all the more thankful, though, for an author who understands not only a wonderful adventure story and the joy of children, but who also understands the deep pain of brokenness. More than that, I am thankful for an author who is caught up in the wonder of the Gospel in a way that informs and enlivens the story he has created.

There is conflict and fear alongside great courage and hope in Warden and the Wolf King. I simply cannot tell  you much in detail because I won’t give away any spoilers. It is enough to say I am glad I read the final chapters alone before reading them to the boys. I am thankful I have some time for the ending to soak in with me as we revisit the first books before I present the ending to the boys.

I might be blubbering and whooping too much to read if I didn’t know in advance.

There are moments when life is simply overwhelming and times when the reality of our Creator can evade us in the midst of dirty dishes and broken-down cars. There are moments when the grey around us clouds everything. Those moments stories can carry us out of the fog, alongside music, in a way almost nothing else can. If you are looking for a series to read to your children, or a series for your kids to read…The Wingfeather Saga will not disappoint.

Or if you are caught up in too much of the mundane and the weariness of life…grab a cup of coffee and start the saga. I never said it had to be only for the kids!

Nate-the-Great is Eleven.

I am sure I am repeating myself when I say that Nate is unique. He entered this world on his own terms.

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I had to walk up and down Oak St. in Vancouver, BC trying to encourage him to come out and join us in the world. We walked to Subway, sat on church steps, enjoyed the brilliant September day in Vancouver…and still this boy did not want to come. Hours went by. Checks would happen at the hospital and confirmation would come that slight progress was being had…then, at the last moment when we thought I would have to change plans, Nate decided the time was right.

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Here he came.

My beautiful picture

Now.

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Right now.

And boy are we glad he did.

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Eleven years of imagination, creativity and laughter. Eleven years of big thoughts and ideas, of energy and determination. Eleven years of intellect melding with a heart of compassion and love of God; eleven years developing a unique young man who is becoming more and more a young man of character and wit and delight.

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You amaze me with your ability to care for your siblings.

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Matched only, possibly, by your ability to drive them crazy. Still, you truly love with a great devotion and I pray that only deepens as you grow into this heart of yours.

Your imagination and creativity is what everyone who knows you is drawn to; you capture our attention. We look forward to your next ideas and your next project, and we truly know that God has gifted you with a creativity that will continue to develop. We are all so much richer because you are in our midst.

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You are our sensitive soul, and I know we drive you crazy from time to time when we just don’t understand. I hope you will be patient with us. Sometimes we don’t see all the things you see, and sometimes we need some time to catch up. Keep dragging us along, even when we are sluggish.

Keep being filled with wonder. Keep filling us with wonder.

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Whatever you do, don’t get bored. Keep imagining, and keep laughing. Keep being Nate-the-Great.

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Happy Eleven, my boy.

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Losing children, resting in hope.

Honestly, we are pretty diligent about watching our kids. I mean, genuinely, we for the most part know where they are and we are paying attention to what they are doing.

 

We are engaged with them and watching…but sometimes, well, sometimes we just feel comfortable and we get a little lazy.

 

We go to church in an old Catholic School building. We meet upstairs, then we go down to the basement level to pick up Sammy. We usually end up talking in the hallway with other parents while the kids literally run up and down the hallway, playing hide-and-seek with a little notch that sticks out. Sometimes they run around a little corner where there is a stairwell. The room at the end of the hall is a meeting room for the church, which opens onto the parking lot, but the kids never go in there…they just run back and forth.

 

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Except, of course, this one time.

 

When we were comfortably talking away, and I suddenly realized I had not seen Maddie. I wasn’t sure how long it had been.

 

I walked down to see where she had been last hiding, and she wasn’t there.

 

Not around the corner in the stairwell.

 

Not in the meeting room. I talked to the person who was ushering in that room, and he had seen her running around, but had not seen her in a few minutes. We both darted outside and asked the parking attendant…also the youth pastor.

 

Nope.

 

Not panicking yet.

 

Walking back in, I thought back to the drive down to church when I was thinking about Maddie’s hands, and how innocent they are. I thought about how she hugs fiercely and how she constantly tells us she loves us.

 

I thought about how much our world has changed with this little one.

 

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And then I thought about what it would be like to really lose that little one. And panic did ease its way in a little.

 

I heard something though, that brought reality back pretty quickly…the sound of the the guys talking on the parking attendants radio describing Maddie’s dress and telling everyone to find her. And I realized where we were and then I opened the door to the women’s bathroom and found one of my dear friends helping Maddie straighten her dress and open the door to come find me.

 

She had to go to the bathroom and we are just completing potty training. She had been hiding right by the girls bathroom, but the door is a little heavy to open back up.

 

Heart pumping, panic done, radios now relaying the message that all is well. Maddie was a little scared as well, but we were all fine.

 

Still, there was that moment of fear, and that clench of the gut at the awareness that we live in a perilous world and we can never completely relax. Even in the places where we are comfortable.

 

I cannot fathom losing a child. I can only catch the glimpses I have had and they were moments of fear in the midst of a reality of many helping hands and places of safety. (Thanks, Peter and all the gang at church)

 

The world, though, I can fathom as a broken place where we turn around and realize suddenly that something is amiss and it throws us completely off our grounding.  Those are moments we need to know that there is help beyond us. Helping hands and those who can see beyond what we can see. Not just community, but beyond even that.

 

 “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” -Buechner

 

Yes, yes, I know. I have used that quotation of Buechner’s before. I’ll warn you that I will most likely use it again. It is simple and it is true, and more than that it lets us know that we are not alone. More than that, it gives us that glimpse that there is hope, and there is help.

 

Grace.

 

Hope.

 

Mercy.

 

We cannot simply muster these things up from within ourselves. When the need grabs hold of us, when the awareness of our lack gets our attention and we realize we cannot simply manipulate something to be better…the awareness that there is a God who is able and who is willing, brings enormous comfort.

 

That awareness brings us to the God who creates redemption, brings salvation. Brings life.