To My Niece on Her Wedding Day

First time holding baby

I’m not quite sure how to begin this but to say that you are brave and that I love you. Yes, that’s me as a scrawny 10-year-old holding you for the first time. You weren’t a particularly big baby, but you seemed that way to me, propped up on the pillows of your mom and dad’s bed in their first house out in the country with the gravelly driveway.

I didn’t know how to hold babies and certainly not one this precious, you being the first grandkid and all. From the start you stole the show and yes, maybe I was a little bit jealous at first because I was no longer the baby of the family, but here was one who was cuter and smelled better and gurgled in truly the most adorable way.

I’ve watched you through the years transform into a beautiful woman, one who looks out for the interests of others, who is generous and kind with her time, her words and her resources, one who is wise beyond her years.

And now. You will be marrying this spectacular guy and I’ll be meeting him for the first time tomorrow. What if I don’t approve and have to give him the stink eye on his wedding day? I guess I’ll just have to deal because everybody else really, really likes him, and I’d just be the odd-man-out if I snubbed your new husband.

I know, this is my time to be offering wise advice, how to keep the embers burning, how to make love last, but I might just be one of the last people you should ask…instead (and I know you already have) look to your parents’ and grandparents’ example…

There will come a time when he will be frail and sick and need you in every way possible. Show up, care for him in the way that he needs it, not in the way you think he needs it.

There will be a time when you feel overshadowed and maybe a little bit jealous, rejoice in his successes like they were your own because, truly, they are. He has achieved this because of you not in spite of you.

There will be a time when you feel tired or grumpy or just need to be alone for a few hours. First, apologize for whatever you said in your sad/mad/sleepy stage and offer a hug. If said hug is not accepted at that time, know that it will be later. Then, take that time that you need to be alone, because you both will be better for it.

There will be a time when you are at an impasse. Pray. Pray hard because then God will change your heart or his, and maybe both of yours over time. I’m confident that God doesn’t leave us where we are–James 1:5 –“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

There will be misunderstanding, frustration, anger, silence sometimes but there will also be fantastic, amazing things like excitement, adoration, joy, comfort, fulfillment, generosity, surprise, laughter.

And one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard? Treat him better than you would your best friend.

Amanda, I don’t have much to give you but my words. I admire you so much. I don’t say that about a lot of people. I know that you are going to do this with God’s help. I know that Jesus has been shaping you and changing you (as he does with all of us). I’m also excited to see the fulfillment of God giving you the desire of your heart as you have delighted yourself in Him all these years.

Always know that you have someone praying for you, every day, miles away for the family that you are and that you will become, and if you’re smart (and I know you are) you have only to take a look around at your brothers’ broods to see what raising a family is all about. I’m excited for you. Go get this.

with love,

Aunt Rachel

Dear friends, since God loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  I John 4:12

The Well-Fed Child

well-fed baby

The past weekend I had the gift of seeing a good friend of mine who now lives in Spain. She has three children, a 2 1/2-year-old and 8-month-old breastfeeding twins, yes, I said it,

Breastfed twins.

She was siting down a good part of our visit.

Which took me back…I can remember returning to work about 6 weeks after my daughter was born: I dropped her off at the sitter’s house around 6:15 every morning and wouldn’t see her again until 4. It was slightly heartbreaking the first few weeks for a number of reasons, but mostly because she refused to take the bottle and at first just starved herself until she was absolutely famished and downed the bottle faster than you can say, “Are you hungry, dear?” All that to say, it wasn’t really mommy who would pick her up from the sitter it was THE MILK MACHINE. So, at first, there was the recognition of, “Oh, that’s mommy!” And then the thought: “Oh, let’s eat, I’m starving!” and the fussing would commence…

Which puts Psalm 111 in a whole new light for me:

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

If you watch a breastfed baby in its mother’s arms long enough, they will turn, fuss, seek out a meal. But imagine the weaned child: content, complete, satisfied to rest and hang out. They have simply calmed themselves in her presence. We can take a hint from the Psalmist when we hunger, let us remind ourselves:

1) God is completely aware of our need (The eyes of the Lord or on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to his cry. Psalm 34:15)

2) We don’t have to concern ourselves with matters beyond control. And when we think about it: What is in our control? Not a whole lot, really. One of my favorite sayings is one from my pastor: “Look your best, be your best, do your best.”  When we’ve done it all, then we rest.

3) Like Israel, put your hope in the Lord. This is where our strength, our courage, our contentment–each one–comes from.

What troubling circumstance have you found rest in right now?

Heart is Where the Home Is

Nature Heart

Sometimes, most times, we don’t understand why things happen, the loss of a job, the sudden death of a loved one, infertility, divorce. We try to parse it out, we cling to Romans 8:28 but it doesn’t take the ache away. We give up and we want to quit and bury our heads under the covers and moan and cry and act out and make it all the things disappear. And that’s ok sometimes, but I think that God has a practical balm for that…

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They say that home is where the heart is, and if that’s the case, my second home is in a tiny little town in South Carolina, where the soil is sandy and the people are friendly, and lots of them have just one name–and here resides my friend Cami, her husband and her four little beautiful, whip-smart children.

This little town has been the site of many a gathering: New Year’s Eve, a wedding shower, birthdays. Her beautiful white house sits stolidly on one of the main routes shooting through town and has a wrap-around porch that fits your foot like a bedroom slipper.

The house has been on the market now for almost six months and part of me doesn’t want it to sell because haven’t we all been busy making memories here in the kitchen and dining room and the trampoline for the last 8 years? In the back is Pauly Girl, their old Golden Retriever and a new addition to the family, another Golden, Poseidon, in honor of her oldest being really, really into Greek Mythology these days…

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And it is here that we all hug and laugh and cry and eat and play the telephone game and watch babies crawl and kids fuss at each other, the girls tell secrets and if the husbands aren’t too weirded out or bored sometimes they stick around too.

This is where part of my heart has healed and become whole again, sure it took a lot of different pieces and places to make that happen, but this too, this house, these friends that I have had now for 19 years, the ones, who, without any question will love and support and pray–we come not for the house, but we come because our Cami opens it up to us.

Did I mention she grew up here in this town?

Did I mention we’ve all grown up a little here?

This weekend, one of our friends that she had a dream about this town: that it was different, way different, it was full of castles with bridges that connected the castles. So maybe, just maybe one day we’ll all have castles here in K-town. That means we have only to step out our front door, and grab a couple of our friends on our way to see our friend with the biggest, coolest castle, the one with the drawbridge down waiting for visitors…

What does home mean to you?

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To My Daughter on Her Last Day of Second Grade

To say that I am proud of you would be an understatement.  I am constantly amazed by your sunny disposition and the little writer (and artist and savvy business woman) I see you becoming.  You’ve taken a tough situation, with a teacher you certainly didn’t gel with this year and you stuck it out, reminds me a little of taking a required swimming class the very last semester they actually required it to graduate from college.  I hated it, but it made me more comfortable in the water, taught me the difference between the freestyle and breaststroke, and in the end, made me a stronger swimmer, and yes, I did invoke the backstroke as an integral part of the last swim exam.
Allister, life hasn’t been easy for you and me, we’ve traveled a winding, uncertain and sometimes lonely path together but you have made me the person that I am.   And somehow, by God’s amazing grace we’re still walking upright.  Thank you for your thoughtfulness, sensitivity, generosity, determined spirit and your compassion for those around you.  Thank you for falling asleep to my bedtime prayers, comforting me as I fell apart over all the bugs in the new kitchen, told me to work out when I didn’t feel like it, assuring, “You’ll feel better when you’re all done,” while you sat there and watched your portable DVD player.  Thank you for forgiving words I said this year out of sheer exhaustion and frustration.  
Book learnin’ is great, but I see you learning and growing in leaps and bounds in lots of other areas this year.  Yes, I may buy you the Newbery books, but I realize your true affinity lies in comic and Where’s Waldo? books and I have bought you some of those too.  Who knows, you may be drawing your own someday.

I love you, little girl with brown hair, blue eyes and a pretty adorable smile.  I can’t wait to see what next year holds.   

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. 
Col. 1:9a

The Best Medicine

Somehow, through a strange twist of events, I ended up going to see Dave Barry with my friend last night.  He’s on a book tour, and yes, his hour-long appearance frequently referred back to his current collection of essays, (Why else do you go on tour?) But he was really, really funny.  After it was over, I turned to my friend and said, “I needed that.”  It feels good to let out those laughs that sound like someone just hit me in the stomach with a foam baseball bat.  I’ve been taking myself too seriously lately and it’s been showing.
Also, after a hard day, it helped to talk to my parents the other night, too.  I shared my dream of living in a tiny house and we talked of property to buy on which to put it, and what they saw on DIY, you know.   My dad, knowing my dream, too, of writing a book about Joseph, reassured me with this guy’s timeline.  God is never too slow, and there was, finally a time, thirteen years after he was thrown into slavery when Joseph finally got his heart’s desire.  Our conversation also ended with another tidbit of advice that my dad loooves to give–on dating:
 Hang out my apartment’s dumpster. 
Cause this is how your aunt met her husband.  She was trying to drag a discarded yet still perfectly utilitarian piece of furniture out of her apartment’s dumpster when an attractive stranger offered her a hand.  Whammo, a year or two later: wedding bells. 
Rachel, why have you been making this so complicated?

Who’s in your corner?  Who will say, “I get it, that’s stressful/You don’t deserve that/I’ll come punch that person in the face for you/You need chocolate, let me buy you some?”  Give them a call today.

A Year-End Thank You

Father, I praise you and thank you for how great and wonderful you are.  You live in unapproachable light and yet you chose the still darkness of a silent night, a pitch-dark stable to make your appearance so that your light could speak for itself–so your messengers, your angels could come and proclaim the miracle of your birth.
You are the one whom no one has seen or can see, yet you made your appearance in the most vulnerable way possible–a squirming, hungry, fussy little baby–you allowed us to behold your glory.  Your first heavenly message came, not to the religious officials, kings, queens or diplomats, but was announced to a very scared and very young woman and an uncertain but somehow remarkably strong man named Joseph and finally, to a group of men who were considered so unclean that they had no place even close to the temple.  Your glory became abased for us, your splendor wrapped in strips cloth and your majesty confined to a tiny little stable and yet you, like your Father, love the world.
There are no words to say but “thank you.”
Now we bow our heads and we humble our hearts and we reflect on a year of how good you are, how you pour out your love in big and small ways–how we, if we pause can find the greatest gifts in our own home, sitting next to us on the couch, munching cereal at the breakfast table and requesting toilet paper from the bathroom door.

We say “thank you” for the moments of “oh my goodness!” and for the moments of sheer “help me.” Because you are you and you never leave us, never forsake us because you live in us.  Amen.

When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed

I’ve posted a couple of ideas on Moses recently, and wanted to share some further ruminations, particularly in a season of life where things have felt a little overwhelming.

After Little A and I concluded our evening reading in Exodus a few weeks ago, we read a footnote in her Bible that approximated the number of Israelites led out of Egypt to be 2 million.  Little A laughed and rolled back onto her carpet in the middle of her bedroom, “Moses must have been exhausted!  All that complaining and whining!”  Yep, for all you teachers out there multiply your classroom by about oh, 83,000 and there you have he nation of Israel, leading that crowd, not over, not under, but through the sea, and the whining started even before they could cross…God knew this was a lot for Moses, but God was with him, every day, all the time, fortifying him, just as he is with us, so if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with everything you’ve got piled on your to-do list (who isn’t?), or find yourself in a difficult relationship situation, I have a few suggestions from what I’ve observed reading about Moses:

1) Eliminate distractions: whether this means taking a little break from social media (what?!) or kindly declining a lunch invitation when you know you must, just do it, you’ll save your sanity. Time with God is essential to keeping your peace.  One of my Bible study leaders who came home after a successful career in academia to be a stay-at-home mom to her three children, joked that she had to start every morning on her knees to fortify herself against the troops.  We knew that she was only partly joking.  Motherhood is the front ranks.  Throughout Exodus and Numbers, we see the phrase, “Then the Lord said to Moses.”  We aren’t able to hear from him until we turn down the noise.

2) Step back and allow others to help you, better yet, ask for help. In the 18th chapter of Exodus, Moses gets a visit from his father-in-law, Jethro, they had a time of fellowship in which Moses recounted God’s goodness to his people, which resulted in feasting and sacrificing to the God of Moses.  The next day, “Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.  When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”  Moses explained that he helps them to discern God’s laws and decrees when settling disputes.  But Jethro is a believer in delegation (a very wise man) and encourages Moses to teach them the laws and decrees, selecting trustworthy men and appointing them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, having them serve as judges for the people.  Moses did just as he said, assigning judges to his people.

I realize I’m preaching to the choir here.  I hate asking for help, but whenever I do, I am very rarely turned down, as fellow believers, we are encouraged to bear with one another in love, this is an opportunity in service and in my case, a lesson in humility.


3) Remember that you are human–we all get angry, frustrated, sad, lonely and we make mistakes.  I’m not going to lie to you, the other day I got so frustrated I threw a chair, not at anyone or anything, I was just angry and picked up a large object and threw it on the ground.  Not a good moment for me.  I immediately went to my room and shut my door.  Yes, even at thirty-ahem, I still throw fits but try to go in my room and do it. When  Moses came down from the mountain, heard singing and dancing and saw that the people had set up a golden calf, he got angry, so angry, he busted up the tablets the Lord had written on (Exodus 32:19).  It’s ok, God redeems these things too.

4) There will always be haters, but God is the ultimate judge of any of our actions; in Numbers 12, we see the two people closest to Moses, Miriam and Aaron oppose him, they were upset that they couldn’t lead right along with Moses and used the subtext of him taking a Cushite wife as doing something outside of God’s law (there were no laws against marrying foreign women at this point):

Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked.  “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.  (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)  At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the Tent of meeting, all three of you.”  So the three of them came out.  Then the lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam.  When both of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words: When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.  But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house.  With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.  Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”

Next, it says that the anger of the Lord burned against them, the cloud lifted from above the tent and Miriam was left there, leprous, she was confined outside the camp for seven days then brought back–and no movement by the nation was made until she returned.

Yikes.  As much as our human hearts are prone to speculation, we have to remember that God is the ultimate judge.

Any problems seem daunting right now?  Not sure how to even begin digging out?  The last several days of my devotions have concentrated on resting, abiding, so I’ll leave you with this verse from Isaiah 50:10: Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?  Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.

One Wedding and a Birthday

Yesterday was kind-of momentous–a pretty big deal some might say.  A wedding and a 40th birthday rolled into one big, continuous party with Little A and I still coming down off a sugar high. 

The wedding, as those go, was beautiful.  It was Christ-centered and lovely.  Always, the look on the Groom’s face when the Bride begins her descent down the isle is just perfect: a combination of awe, joy, excitement and wow, it is enough to take one’s breath away.  And the moment that she had to physically leave her father and cleave to her new husband was just heart-breaking–that’s when the floodgates open and Little A whispers, “Are you ok?”

The vows were exchanged the kisses surrendered and the new bride and groom took off like joyful youngsters do–but wait, something different happened–something I’ve never witnessed before on said occasion:  the bride and groom can back, they came back to kiss their mothers and fathers and embrace their grandmother and I thought, “My goodness this is amazing.” I tucked the memory in along with the cake…

Then came one of my best friend’s 40th birthdays.  The cadre of hyper 7-year-olds bopping around the house and flowing out into the yard with –wait–how’d-they-get all-that-sugar?-hands…
The adults filled their plates and we ate and made sure the children weren’t scraping or falling or poking in between bites while the dervish seemed to take on an entity of it’s own. 
There was only crowd control at this point…
The time for the toasting and some tears and some more heart-warmth and we raised our cups to our friend who–is, put perfectly by a poet in the crowd as: “The most creative and caring person we know.” She turned and gave recognition to her two friends, one who was slightly younger and also celebrating a birthday soon and to Charlene, the resident, soon-to-be-92-year-old sage in our midst.
I share all this to say that we mustn’t forget our roots, those who have raised us, protected us, taught us, pushed us, encouraged must not be left behind in our past.  So, if we follow the words of Charlene: “Life is what you make it.”
Then let us make it thankful.

Good Fences Don’t Make Good Neighbors

Creative Commons by russelljsmith
 Good neighbors do.
And yes, I may have committed some kind of literary blasphemy with the twisting of Mr. Frost’s whole concept, but the reality is, I miss my neighbors, they moved out two weeks ago and there is a wide, silent hole just sitting downstairs until new tenants move in, and that is just what they will be for a while until we get to know them. 
If there’s one thing I hate more than moving is seeing neighbors move, maybe it’s because I’ve always been the one moving and shaking and Little A and I are hunkered down, settled peacefully with no plans for leaving for now. 
I’m happy for them, I really am, a bigger place is what they’ve been dreaming and praying and really, truly needing now for years, but selfishly I wanted to stand in front of their moving truck with arms crossed and say, “Uh, uh.  This a big joke, right?  This ain’t happening.”  They became our family over the last three years and we became one big, noisy family together. 
Little A sat at the dining room table last night and said, “It just doesn’t feel right without Noah here. “  I had to agree and swallow my own sadness and memories of late night talks, urgent phone calls when one kid was just driving us crazy and we had to move the mass of craziness from one floor to another–at least for a few hours.
There has been a baptism, improptu prayer time, missions send-off, seeing the Lord’s calling, surgery, court date, fundraiser, Easter sunrise morning, coming-of-age party, birthday parties, dance parties, match-making and consolation talks and spiritual pep-talks.  Yes, they have been more to me than your “average” neighbor, they have become friends, and truthfully, I’m a little jealous of their new neighbors now.
Sure, Jesus surrounded himself with 12 close friends and was oftentimes pressed in by masses of people, but I know he knew the pain of loneliness, which is why he was so awesome about reaching out to the sick and the lost and the isolated, the woman with the issue of blood, the short tax collector, the blind, the deaf and the mute, he understood what it meant to be lonely.  He had been separated from his heavenly Father, the one who knew him best for his whole life. Yes, they had communion–Jesus would often spend entire nights in prayer, but there is something about presence, real, true presence.

It’s hard to give your heart away in little pieces and watch those pieces drive off on a moving truck.  I guess this is preparing me for when Little A isn’t little anymore and leaves for college–Please, Lord, don’t let that happen…Do…But Don’t 
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
That would be me.
What can you do right now to show your neighbor how much you love and appreciate them and their barky dog?  Don’t just sit there, go do it.