I am sitting here...
...during the last week of December, the last year spent fully in my twenties, with a bout of strep throat, dressed in my favorite sweater, an Anthropologie candle burning, and a cup of Starbucks coffee, reflecting on this last year.
It has been a full one, with all of the normals that come from children growing faster than Costco budgets and the hum drum of corporate commutes in a big city. We live our days in the familiarity of routine school drop-offs and pick-ups, Bible club on Sunday nights, and cheerios glued to the tile with milk. It has felt predictable and safe and after years of rip roaring speed, we are grateful for this year of monotony.
But, as you learn with wisdom, life is never exactly countable and each year holds things that don't fit into a box of New Year's resolutions. There is death. There is conception. There are wars. There are president-elects. There are words bleeding with hate. There are broken people. There are painful anniversaries only known in private journals. It is the adventure of life.
I mean every word. We millennials like this word and we cling to the pursuit of it like sticky marshmallows on bonfire sticks and plans of sweeping across continents. New years, in particular, are the worst. We do not consider that adventure could/should mean more than a camping trip or a grand story that eventually ends with pictures posted on Instagram. Adventure can mean pain and sorrow and lessons and growth and sacrifice along a winding path of uncertainty with empty hands up to the One who writes the greatest of adventure stories.
If we let Him.
There are a few people in the Bible whose adventures have had a profound impact on my life and stuck to me through highs and lows alike. Esther and Mary are my favorite: two warrior women that simultaneously manage to slap current feminism and patriarchy in the face with their heroic lives. They're the first women I'm going to hug in heaven, then Corrie Ten Boom. One marries a powerful man who has had a history of exploiting women and hating her heritage and the other conceives of the Son of God, without a man. Yet both women, through their strong faith in an unpredictable God, change world history. I cannot imagine the fear Esther must have felt when she presented solutions to the man who could kill her for her input. Or the shame Mary must have felt with her growing belly after she'd lived a blameless life full of right decisions. The way people must have talked! The lies that must have been spread. The courage it must have taken to not stop everyone and set the story straight.
Yet, God. We do not witness how He works in every soul, but He is there. Just as he was with Esther. We do not have the screenwriting scripts to His stories. We only live them and watch other people live them. We inhabit these broken, adventurous stories only He can tell with fallible world leaders and radical attacks and loop-hole policies that dot the map then and dot the map now. Other broken people with other broken stories stand on the sidelines watching it all play out, trying to make sense of it too. We judge, we jeer, we joke. We bring all of our blind spots into one gaping hole and say, "fix this!" with a tip of the hat to the Creator.
Maybe we have no idea.
Or maybe we do and we like our own better.
If you would have asked me years ago, "Where will you be at 29 in 2016?" I would have never told you I would be here. Interested in national security and the refugee crisis, the reasoning of Christianity, psychology and why we act the way we do, the effects of sexual abuse, the building of businesses and the fundamentals of capitalism, gospel parenting and the eternal impact of marriage, I am an odd mash-up of life happening to me and me happening to life. Who could ever write this story of a homeschooled girl who built houses out of sticks in the woods of Delaware who meets a southern boy and moves out west and comes back to the city and makes enemies on the internet talking about abortion and loses those who should protect her and builds a start-up and has four children and loses a child and loves those who cannot speak English, but an unexplainable God?!
He is the master of all stories.
This is comforting to a writer who has spent the last year trying to get words out, but struggles from an identity shattered into shards of glass. News flash: the greatest story has already been written. Relief. I need not top it or piece together all of the glass and replace with anything new. Simply tell what has been told.
It was done when His body was torn in two.
So here I sit, writing the oddest Christmas newsletter you've probably ever read. You're here because you've either known me in real life, or gotten to know me in the past from writings on this screen or maybe you caught wind that I'm interested in whales and you are too. Welcome.
Welcome to weird.
Welcome to broken.
Welcome to unrealized dreams.
Welcome to cheerios stuck to the floor.
This year has been a heavy one for us. Yet I cannot write on without first acknowledging the grief that has shaped the world at large this year. There are images and words and stories sealed in my brain that will never escape me. Many times I have willed myself to peel open the news, look at pain, read the conflicting reactions, and ponder the perspective of someone who thinks differently than me. It has been an education in and of itself and I've walked away from 2016 with the lesson that there are times to speak out and stand for what we know is right, and there are times to stay silent, while we pray for understanding and peace. It is only in our choice naivety that we become participators in the madness.
We always have a choice.
We are two and half years into our life in the Atlanta suburbs, renting this little town house we call home, and commuting in terrible traffic. (Where is public transportation when you need it?!) We had every intention to buy a home this past year, but when the market proved to be inflated we decided to invest our savings and our time into me building a couple of start-ups and getting to know our neighbors instead. I am SO glad we took the easier path, for once. Anything we would buy here will need definite amounts of work and the thought of scraping wall paper and ripping up bathrooms with Hugh's affinity for inedible objects just sounded like the push off the edge we didn't need. Maybe this year, we say.
2016 has been the year of intentional doing and we are beyond excited for launching some things we've poured our fringe hours into for the past 11 months. Meanwhile, Steven left his career in logistics and pivoted to an entirely new industry. For the first time in 9 years, Nov/Dec was not impossibly stressful and he was home for Christmas Eve. Praise God for providing UPS to pay for the birth of our babies, but man. We've moved on to the hospitality space and are not looking back. ;)
The kids are halfway through another year of language immersion school in German and while they are making tremendous progress, I long to have them home with me more. We are looking into a couple of creative options in order to open up flexibility for more travel next year and I'm thankful Atlanta offers so much. Ever the nonconformist, I'm always asking the question, "How can we accomplish this same pursuit, in half the time?" For all of my fellow education junkies constantly looking for the perfect formula, I'll keep you posted on what we find.
Emma is our 8-year-old and the light of this family. Always smiling and serving others I often thank God for the precious gift of her company and help. With a sensitive personality comes this intense desire to protect it, but one step into the world and you realize, like N.D. Wilson, that this is futile.
“The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.”
There is a boy at school who says rude things to her and it has been a tremendous opportunity to teach her how to stand up for herself and know where her true identity lies in God's spoken world. We are not what people say we are, but Who He says we are: made in imago dei. I can't believe we're here already but we have an almost 9 year old, so I bought a couple of books to help her (me) through the emotional upswings and downswings that occur in the span of 4 minutes these days. I was out working late one night and Steven said he looked down from the stairs to find Emma with all of the kids lined up reading from one of these said pre-teen books on the science of a budding nipple. Complete with diagrammed drawings, you've never seen more devoted pupils or a more passionate teacher.
Lord, cover our children where we cannot.
Believe it or not, Shiloh is actually our most surprising member of the family. You can never put that child into a box or underestimate this strongly opinionated, yet sensitive girl. Her first year at the language school did not work out and homeschooling her was challenging, mostly because she'd rather build with clay than sit and read. Introverted by nature, we knew she needed to get past some fears, so we gently pushed her back into the classroom with our hands up wondering how it would all turn out this year. To our shock, she has absolutely thrived and come out of her social shell with several good friends and the self-confidence we were trying to help cultivate! Her instruction is 80% in German and after immediately taking to her teacher (we love you Frau Lisa!) she has learned the language faster than any of our children. If I could pick my favorite thing about Shiloh it would be her ability to intuitively switch from tender spirit to determined warrior all in the span of seconds. Never look down on an introvert. They'll shock your socks off.
Keller is our steady little man of predictability. Not one to waste any ounce of unnecessary energy, he doesn't have high highs or low lows, he just is. This could be that he is literally sandwiched in drama by his two older sisters and his screaming younger brother, but he is the calm to their crazy. (Just don't ask him to walk all of the way through a Target or he'll plop on the floor of the aisle and declare he's DONE.) Forever trying to teach him what true leadership is, we've invested copious amounts of instruction time on what it means to respect women, be a problem solver, and to become an initiator, not a responder. The other day, our four kids were all sitting down at our lunch table that only has three seats and Keller took the last one, cutting Shiloh off. All of the sudden, I hear Emma loudly refereeing, "KELLER! Be a MAN! Let her have the seat!"
At least they'll both know what to look for in a spouse one day.
Hugh, our littlest (and if you ask either of us during this season, our last biological child), continues to be the sweet balm of sanctification in our lives. We cannot tell if it is a good thing that he is the youngest, or if God mixed up the order just a bit. Either way, he is unbelievably smart, obsessed with animals and babies, and hates authority. When there are 5 people telling you what to do, this is the short end of the stick, I'm afraid. He's been known to scratch Keller's face and hit me and turn right around and bat eyes at the nurse and get her to give him stickers all while she exclaims in a squealy voice, "Aren't you the sweeeeeeeeeeetest thing?!" If you're gasping right now, trust me, I could tell you worse. There are those parents that pray their child does not end up in jail and then there are parents who PRAY THEIR CHILD DOES NOT END UP IN JAIL.
We are those parents.
I, the mother of this fine brood, pushed every one of these babies out of me. I am as surprised as anyone that I only have stretch marks and a hip that likes to pop out once in awhile with some other unmentionable physical maladies to prove it. But I did. You hear it and I hear it from the older mom who takes my cart at the grocery store, but these years fly fast. The dentist tells me they fly faster in your fifties. It feels like a cruel joke at times, doesn't it? We wish time would speed up when we're a child and then we want to hold fast to it when we're a grown-up.
Perhaps the secret to really living is simply appreciating where we are, who we have, and what we've been given.
Easily said with coffee cup in hand, a donned sweater, and antibiotics in my system, I know. I speak from a place of grave privilege (as one learns from a friend's firsthand stories in Berlin with Syrian refugees). Hold the privilege up to the light of suffering, my western sisters. Caramel on coffee becomes dessert, wool becomes cashmere, and antibiotics, well...they drip of honey and syrup.
Gratefulness. Do you feel it?
The kind that spurs us on to thank God for urgent cares, for refrigerators, for messed up people, for trust broken, for all of the chaos that means we're actually living an adventure. While we string lights, dry orange slices, talk about simplicity, and chase after all of the buzz words that millennials flock to in the irony of individuality, consider this: like Esther, we have been given this position of influence not just to appreciate it, but to use it. Perhaps the over-abundance and the luxury of choice to slow down and say no is our modern moment "for such a time as this". Perhaps 2016 was all an opportunity to un-crowd our crowded souls and unhinge our hinged up churches for the purpose of living out loud the song of the gospel, which is this: we love because He first loved us. Period.
And then go out and actually love like it never runs out.
I wanted to block out a lot of what I experienced earlier this year. I walked around raw and exposed for months on end and questioned God on why He writes the way He writes when I'd pick an entirely different script if I could. Can't I have a different story, a different calling, a different position than the one you've given me? I asked. He met me, like He promises He will when we are broken-hearted or whole-hearted or any-hearted, and told me that hearts are not supposed to close after they've been battered and bruised and torn in two. You'll want it to seal up tight and never let it love and certainly never trust the world again, but that road ends in death. Bitter. Ugly. Death.
And I knew I wanted to live. Like, really live.
This is the part where some people go get breast implants or skydive inArizona or safari in Africa and while I still want to do all those things it's not what I did this year. I chose the unsexy thing that no one gets to write about in sweeping tales of grandeur with passport stamps next to coffee cups. You know what I did? By the grace of a forgiving God, I forgave. I forgave Trump. I forgave the church. I forgave the leaders who never lead. I forgave the government. The police force. And the murderers who murdered. But here is where it gets even harder: I forgave the ones closest to me. The ones who knew the very threads of my soul and turned around and trampled on it, while they drug it through the mud. The ones who knew me, but chose to turn their face away.
Have you ever been so frozen to the bone you're not sure you'll ever get warm again? You jump in the car, turn the heat on full blast, and feel the slow tingle of your feet as you begin to defrost? That's sort of what forgiveness feels like. Like one giant defrostment. It takes time to thaw and sometimes there's a particularly icy piece you've got to go retrieve and forgive all over again, but when you do. You live. Like, really live.
What does really living feel like? It feels like freedom, like you're skiing down the slopes with the wind across your face and a trail of all man's wrongs that lead back to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil getting covered by fresh, white, snow. It feels light, like a homeless woman's smiling baby smelling of urine on your hip. It feels high, like your hands when you sing "Oh, praise the One whose paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead." It feels soft, like when you're miraculously able to whisper prayers at 4am over the very ones who have hurt you and scorned your name. It feels whole, like a person is stitched back together altogether new.
And so I lived and so I tried to love...and ended up with an adventure better than any other year I've ever lived. I can't say I've always felt that way, but I'm melting. Drip by drip.
Jump feet first.
Jump at all.
Happy New Year from the most reluctant adventurer (but still jumping anyway).