In the spring, I can toy with my northern friends, sending them pictures of us splashing at the lake and taking long walks, while they wait for their yards to defrost and deslush. In the fall, my northern friends send me photos of their crunchy-leaved lawns, their flannel jacket walks and their fireplaces, while we sweat it out Indian-summer style.
In the winter – it feels like we all lose.
Yesterday my friend sent me a picture of her dashboard temperature: 6 degrees. Her thumbs had just warmed up enough to text.
I sent her a picture of my dashboard temperature: 84 degrees. I had the a/c on blast and a giant cup of iced tea.
Our tree is up and the stockings are hanging off the counter because bottom floor apartments don’t get fireplaces. I have some garland strung over the dining room table, our Advent wreath moves around the coffee table with (currently) a tiny bucket of blocks, sheets of paper half colored, and a pink watering can. I have six candles on the counter between the kitchen and the living area because I really, really need it to smell like Christmas in here. It’s 80 degrees every day, breezy, sunny, hazy in the mornings. We listen to “Sleigh Ride” on the way to school, the Beastie in her sleeveless dress and me in my gym shorts.
Frankly, this makes me a bit out of sorts. My Americanized imaginary Christmas does not look like this, despite the fact that I’ve grown up in Florida. I feel grumpy and waiting for Christmas feels less like a bunch of spiritual analogies I’d like to pull out of the trees frosted with a fine layer of snow and more like an interminable wait for who knows what. I determine every year that I’m going to EMBRACE CHRISTMAS and wait well and enjoy the moments and find all the magical things, but the past few years it just seems like I can’t pull it off. We wait and we wait and we wonder if the Father is actually involving Himself in our deferred hopes at all and we wrap up a few presents and light the candles on the wreath. And more waiting.
A writer friend of mine remarked recently that she hoped she would be better at a particular painful thing, seeing as how she has to do it a lot – she gets a lot of practice. She believed and hoped it might get easier after awhile. But she is discovering that “endurance just leads to more endurance. But also character. And hope.” [Romans 5:3-5].
I promptly texted her that I don’t want endurance to lead to more endurance — I want endurance to lead to feeling AWESOME. Which we all agree would be totally great, yes? We persevere through frigid temperatures and/or tank top Christmas weather and maybe we feel AWESOME because we just keep going. (Meh….) But do we ever endure through deferred hope or painful, repetitious suffering or injustice and start feeling like, “YES, I am NAILING handling suffering!”?
This is not typically how I feel. This week, it feels like my endurance is perishing [Lamentations 3:26].
A friend recently reminded me that not only does my endurance produce character that I cannot always see, God the Father is always working out a redemptive purpose far beyond what we could ask or imagine — He is working out hope in us, whether we can see and name it or not [Ephesians 3:20, Romans 8:25]. The difference is not going to be made with me in a different set of circumstances, but with Christ in me.
I struggle with this. I find what I have committed my life to – the cause of Christ – to often appear inexplicably irrelevant or unsatisfactory for explaining grief and abandonment and suffering. It does not seem “enough” to say, “Ah, well, but God is working out hope and He will redeem us all in the last, amen?” It seems nearly heartless to say that to the mom whose child is battling cancer or to my friend suffering depression or to the refugees fleeing Aleppo or the whole broken world that is just groaning with the pain of death and choking in the smoke of bombed cities.
But I think what I am coming to is that assessing and making determinations with my senses and limited knowledge is what is actually inadequate and not enough. I can never hope to offer peace if I am depending on my own interpretations of redemption and justice. I have no hope of extending healing and help to those in despair if I am relying on my not-quite vast and not-quite infinite imagination. And, for certain, I cannot merely be after my own good, after my own relief from enduring. What folly and what self-absorption! The life of Christ was a taken and broken and given away life…and I sit here snatching and hoarding and wanting more of what I say is good.
I know it seems like He will never restore hope and death will never die. It is easy to say, There can be no possible recompense for this terror and injustice! There is truly no way to make right what is destroying the people, the family, my heart…
But I am saying to you you simply do not know that.
The hope of the manger is the empty tomb.
The victory of the baby is the triumph over death.
The historical coming of Messiah was like a slow burn over history. And Emmanuel, God with us, come to rescue and restore – I urge you to silence the protests of your tiny imagination. I beg you to consider that every sad thing will become untrue. Not “every sad thing will one day be worth it” – no. You cannot make dying children and the rape of girls and the bombing of homes and the despair of a lonely heart “worth it”. But He will make it completely not true anymore.
I beg you to endure with me.
What does the Father say is good? Because His life indwells those who belong to Him – there is a mystic and mysterious union life when we are overshadowed by the Spirit of God, when we are bound to His family. “To live is Christ, to die is gain” becomes the refrain of His children [Philippians 1:21]. We carry around in our bodies the death of Christ, so that His righteous, eternal, holy life is made evident in our broken human selves [1 Corinthians 4:10-11]. Therefore I get to surrender my definition of “good” and defer to His righteous definition of good.
So I’m compiling a list to help me endure through the waiting and through the tank top Christmas weather. A list of things God’s Word says are actual good. I hope these serve to remind me that self-referential “truths” are cold comfort in the face of suffering. I pray these serve as a holy redefining of my experiences, that I would see with “Spirit eyes” what my finite imagination will not allow me to see. And I pray the list encourages your heart as well, whatever you are waiting for, enduring for, hoping for this Christmas.
[CLICK HERE] to view the PDF list of good, as defined by the Father…
Nine years ago today, I was nervously getting ready for a wedding rehearsal and folding programs with little brown satin ribbons on them.
We practiced walking down the old carpet in the tiny chapel and we played it super cool. We ate Italian food in the fellowship hall, with checkered table clothes and garden lights. I made strawberry smoothies with my cousins and watched a movie and went to bed early.
My dad would marry us and my aunt would play piano and my cousins would sing and my dad would also put a peanut butter cracker on the communion table as a joke. We would say “I do” and Cameron would attempt to wipe my tears away by literally smearing them down my face.
No dancing or toasts or extra attention, thankyouverymuch. A reception my mother (and her crew of workhorses) worked really hard to decorate and prepare food for. We would have iced coffee instead of champagne and we would chat with friends instead of throw a bouquet. We would leave amidst family cheers, heading to a honeymoon in the mountains and our first Thanksgiving together.
I loved our wedding. I loved our wedding photos. Our wedding day was beautiful and clear and cool and we had so much fun.
But those dancing, dipping, laughing kids up there? I barely know them. Nine years ago us had no.blooming.clue. We were wounded and scared and hiding and saying “I do” had not begun to peel back the layers injury we’d carefully wrapped around our hearts.
God, who is rich in mercy, somehow let us see in each other what was possible with grace.
He gave us the gift of bumbling through those first few years, peeling back anxiety, fear, pride, strongholds and, amidst lots of yelling, He started to administer the sort of love only possible when and a man and a woman are surrendered to Christ. He used the fire in Cameron’s bones to keep me from backing down, cowering in fear and kowtowing to anxiety. He used my persistence and persuasion to compel Cameron out of the darkness and into the light. He used our collective determination and willingness to let stuff go to make room for healthy conflict resolution. We take an argument by the horns and don’t let it go until it’s resolved. Nothing festers here. We drag it into the light and we call sin sin and we call each other to higher living.
We hardly recognize ourselves now – and this is a good thing.
We met one hot summer after I spent three months refusing to be introduced to him. We dated for six months before getting engaged on Valentine’s Day (much to my horror. Cliche, much?). We were engaged for nine months -almost to the day- of our wedding. We were married for two years when we experienced our first miscarriage – twins. Two years and two more miscarriages later, we welcomed our daughter through adoption. When she was 18mos old, we started saying “yes” to adoption again – three times we’ve walked through the open door, three times God’s said No. Not this time. Not this baby. Not your family.
It’s a good thing we are being made new. Because now? A decade into our love story and nine years into our marriage? We can walk together – equally yoked, equally passionate, equally gifted & called, equally made in the image of Christ and equal to the task of waiting for another baby. We can wait with grace -and without sometimes-, because our home has been made into a safe place for the (now) three of us.
We are being made new and we are known and so we take one step at a time, one day at a time.
Tomorrow, there will be flowers. (I know, because I ordered them. Nine years in and we’ve agreed it’s just best for all if I direct that.)
And there will be a date day sponsored by two selfless parents and one generous friend.
We will get to sleep in.
And we will wake up and say, “I do. I do. I do.” all over again, till death do us part.
Love you, whodie. Glad to be your wife.
We’ve had so many sweet people book mini-sessions to help support our adoption fundraising efforts! Enjoy the gallery below of images from our mini-sessions, plus a few more I’ve taken in recent years. I am still taking on appointments for fall portraits – but the get-them-done-for-Christmas window is narrowing quickly! You can use the contact button over there —-> to reach out, if you’re interested in booking a session to support our adoption!
Recently I have found myself making book recommendations.
WHICH I NEVER DO. I am terrified of making recommendations. For most of my life, I have adopted my parents’ method of sharing books or movies, which is to say, “I [enjoyed it, was bored by it, really liked it, this one was okay], but I won’t recommend it.” It has rarely mattered how I felt about the book or film, I have never been willing to recommend it. Because what if the person to whom I recommend said piece HATES IT and then says, “Well, Sarah recommended it to me…”?!
I just can’t handle the risk. I am not a risk taker. I am a calculated, chronic over-thinker. One who does not recommend books. [Aside: I recently learned I am a six on the enneagram, which has totally wrecked me and explained half of my over-thinking all at once. I hate it and I love it, which is characteristic of a six. UGH.]
At any rate. I am now becoming the book sommelier (is there a word that works better for this?) for my mom and my aunt and a few other friends. This is making me think about books differently. In a good way. I can’t handle thinking I might give a book to my mom that has a sex scene in it (HORRORS) and I want the books to be realistic, but I don’t want them to be too sad, since all three of us are in the reader camp that believes “life is already sad, I don’t read for realism, I read for escape”.
To get here, I had to learn what kind of books I like to read and then be brave enough to admit it. Prime example: I still keep my Shopaholic books in the drawer of my nightstand and put my more intellectual reads on the bookshelf in the living room because as funny as I find Becky, I am just a wee bit embarrassed that I read her. It took me a while to find what I liked, too, because once I was out of school, I kept reading like I was in school for a while. I know. I’ve been out of college for over 12 years. Good grief. It took me a minute.
Sometimes I read for the intellectual challenge or for personal/spiritual growth. That is another post altogether. Right now, I’m evaluating and sharing what I’ve learned about reading for pleasure. So, in the spirit of not recommending anything, here are my tips for finding a good read:
- Decide what you really, genuinely like in a book. I like books that make me think, but not books that require me to take notes in order to retain. Sometimes I want to just be entertained for a minute, sometimes I want to feel the way I feel when I am taking a walk alone outside or reading poetry. I like books about books, books about authors or readers, books about bookstores, tiny bakeries, women “finding themselves” (no romance necessary), books with occasional recipes thrown in, I like books with a hint of mystery (but nothing scary – I have a vivid imagination), and I usually like historical fiction, depending on the era. A little romance is okay, but if the leads keep hopping into bed, I’m done. A little suspense is alright, but if it creeps me out, I bail. I want to enjoy the book, I don’t want to acquire a taste for it.
- Investigate what other people like to read. I am a huge fan of Anne Bogel over at Modern Mrs. Darcy and get a lot of my reading suggestions from her. Anne has a podcast called ‘What Should I Read Next?‘, wherein she matches people with books, based on their preferences. I sometimes search for summer reading lists on Pinterest. Occasionally I text my high school English teacher and ask her what she’s been reading lately. And I just re-established my GoodReads account, so I can keep track of what I’m liking and maybe find some more good reads for the fall.
- Be willing to wander. Sometimes I just wander the local library or bookstore. I read the jackets and then see who wrote promo for the book. If an author I really like writes a review for a particular book, the chances I will take that home are increased by 35%. (Okay, I totally made that up. But the chances do go up.) I am also more influenced by the cover or jacket than I entirely necessary. I want my books to be pretty, too! If I love a book, I may or may not own several copies, if I find pretty ones.
- Be willing to bail. Blessed be the library. Borrowing books wins here! I have NO guilt whatsoever when I bail on a book I borrowed! Occasionally – very rarely – I will buy a book with little to no research and then discover that I cannot finish it. And then I feel super crappy for bailing on a book I now own and have broken the binding on. (I am a binding-breaker. Another issue for another post. Probably in a list with the Oxford comma and other quirky things.) ANYWAY. When you borrow from the library you are utterly, completely free to bail on a book you hate with zero remorse! And unless you are in some strange competition with yourself, I urge you: BAIL ON THE BOOK. You only have so much time. Don’t read a book you hate.
There you have it. Best practices for being bookish.
I figure reading should be fun, but it can also take a little work to find what makes it fun.
Totally worth it.
And if you must know, this is what’s on my nightstand right now:
And you can check out my Goodreads here, to see what I’ve read, liked, not liked and what’s on my to-be-read list!
I am asking God for a very specific thing and quoting His words back to Him directly in so doing. I think I will be changed as I do this.
I am considering that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.
I am writing out words every day and calling it an actual goal, instead of hiding behind “I don’t make goals because I always quit them”.
I am the Mystery Reader this week in my kid’s preschool class. I will be reading Max and Tallulah, a colorful storybook about two zebra friends. One friend believes he must do wild and exciting things to capture the attention of the other. But all along, she is waiting for him to just be himself. This is what I want for my daughter – to be completely herself. And that can be wild and exciting, or can be quiet and dreamy.
I am praying for a baby. I am crafting a bajillion things to sell in our “shop handmade for Christmas and support our adoption” shop that will go live in late October. Gestation through crafts. Whatever works.
I am making new friends.
I am going to stop eating sugar, probably, maybe, starting next week. Because good things start on Mondays. Or maybe I will start on Sunday. But I think my whole self will feel better if I do this.
I am slowing down the speed with which I agree to various commitments. Life is inexplicably faster, with a kid in pre-k and a husband on staff at a large church in a big city. And last week I felt swept away. So I am starting to stay “no” and I am very excited about it.
So, I am really very brave, you see.
this original photograph & quote available in our adopt shop as a print! click the image to view the shop.
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