Friday, October 5, 2018

The Spoons and Forks of an Abundant Life




I was sitting at the kitchen table working one afternoon when a commotion tore through the quiet. Two frustrated parents walked down the sidewalk, trying to get where they were going, when one of their little kids suddenly realized, with alarming urgency, that he indeed did have to go potty. It couldn’t possibly have escaped my attention.

Hard at work writing my first book, Falling Free, the process was systematically stripping me of everything I thought I knew about writing. On top of that slight speedbump, I also lacked a solid grasp on the very life I was writing about—the shaky peril we seemed to be slumping toward or the perplexing gratification it brought us. All I knew was that I was hungry to get to know the people near me, and for an introvert with deep mind-my-own-business tendencies, this vast, instinctive departure from my personality was proof of God. So at least there was that.

When the young family passed by, it might as well have been Jesus himself standing with his mouth pressed against the window screen. Hello? Can you hear me? Riddled with self-doubt as always (should I just mind my own business?), I opened the door and invited these perfect strangers into my bathroom, which is to say, into my life. We didn’t trade names or numbers. The whole event felt pretty inconsequential.

Two years later, I was passing the peace with everyone else at church when a woman approached, wrapping me in a hug while I scrambled to figure out who she was and why she seemed to know me. “I’m Heather! We used your bathroom that one time!” She pointed to a blond-haired toddler clutching her leg. “This is Matthew, the baby I was holding that day.”

Just like that, she was back, like so many other Heathers who show up, wander off, and circle around again when we least expect it. We’re still here, right where they left us. They’re boomerangs, bearing the image of God. It always feels excessively lucky, like spotting an elusive yellow cardinal singing from my tree, or discovering a shard of turquoise sea glass the size of my thumb in Lake Michigan’s surf. 

This is the weird way of discipleship.

Eugene Peterson defined discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction.” Here, discipleship hinges on enduring proximity, worshipping God, serving our community in joy, sticking around for the long haul, and walking together toward a better way. In practice, it’s guaranteed to frustrate, annoy, and inconvenience us. This is sanctification, the wrecking ball and the rebuild. Knowing all this asks of us, do we really want to play a bit role in the discipleship of those near us? Is this slow and hidden work reason enough to endure? And can we possibly begin to see ourselves as among them, modern-day versions of the scrappy, power-grabbing, greedy, disorganized brood of regular men with whom Jesus traveled through life?

White collar, blue collar, no collar at all, there was no rhyme or reason for their thick loyalty to one another. They bickered, shared meals, and probably wore each other’s tunics without asking. If their discipleship was anything like the one playing out around me, they bummed a few bucks and didn’t pay it back. They spaced birthdays and teased too hard. They cried together and pointed each other toward healing and belief. They hugged it out. They doubted and trusted and, at night, they sat around an open fire and laughed their heads off at the events of the day. They rallied together and took turns doling out the patience of Job.

We’re kidding ourselves when we think too formally about our central purpose to reflect God’s glory onto those around us. It is in the spoons and forks of everyday living, in the dinner tables and minivans, the text message confessionals and songs we can’t help but sing out loud together, that we are drawn to the heart of Christ. He is oxygen. Soil. Sun and rain. He surrounds us, and the narrative uniting us  is one in which we constantly take turns pointing. Here he is!

Growing hardy roots into the soil of Fifth Street means accepting that people will come and go, and this is neither my fault nor my concern. We will be right here when they need us, easily found. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed or how much heartbreak has been dealt. I want them to remember the little white house hugging the curb here on an unspectacular street on the wrong side of the tracks. Most of all, I want them to remember their claim on it, drawn in by the magnetic pull of a God who multiplied dregs into abundance, designed the constellations, and will do whatever it takes to heal us. A wider circle family cannot be chosen, not really. It also can’t be abandoned, not really.

Three nights ago, our rowdy crew tromped down the alley in a snowstorm for our Christmas Eve candlelight service. Before I made it into the service, Heather grabbed my arm and stopped me. “Hold on a minute. You gotta see this.” She scrolled through her phone for a few seconds, then turned it toward me. “I just had the best day of my life,” she said, beaming. There on the screen was a photo of her, her husband, and one of her seven kiddos, a two-year-old with his mama’s eyes.

Though custody hasn’t yet been returned to her, she’s doing the work. She’s fighting for their well-being by fighting for her own, clinging to sobriety one day at a time, noticing God’s presence in her tiny rental home, surrounding herself with people willing to lace up their gloves on her behalf. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a picture together with me and his dad sober. I can’t stop looking at it.” Heaven came down and the whole earth was filled with his wonder. Thousands of years later, in the city of Goshen, the manger miracle was reborn. Heather raced off to rehearse with our small church choir, where most of the members are over the age of eighty. I just stood there smiling, glad to be here for the encore.

A thrill of hope.

The weary world rejoices.

~

The above is an excerpt from my brand spankin' new book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You, which releases on Tuesday, October 9. So soon! 

This book is the personal manifesto from my last few years walking the planet. I wrote about my family (including some EPIC Silas moments!) my neighbors, our church, the jail, and I strangely ended up writing quite a bit about food. (A podcaster recently told me, "When I read your new book it always makes me hungry." Ha!)


If you order the book by October 8th, you can also cash in the freebies, including this swoony artwork by one of my favorite artists, Amanda Evanston. Just plug in your order number here and all of the bonuses (artwork, monthly calendar, discussion guide) are yours! 

You only have a few more days to get the extras. I printed my art on a gigantic canvas, as is my way, but you can print it smaller, use it as your wallpaper on your laptop or phone, or even give it as a Christmas gift. She made this just for us. (Watch her make it, and see the beautiful meaning behind it, in this quick video.) 

 
I'm so excited for these words to find the light of day and I want to thank you all for being with me every step of the way. Every time one of you pre-orders, or tells a friend about the book or my blog, every encouraging word and comment, every prayer you lift up on behalf of my family, every single bit of it means the world to me.

We've built something truly beautiful together here on the internet. We are a wider-circle family. I feel the love and I hope you feel mine coming right back atcha!




Ever yours,
Shannan


PS:

Silas Park, freshly 10


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Life Lived Ordinary


Way back in May, on a lightening-speed trip to Nashville with Cory and Calvin, I stole away for an hour to a little pea-gravel patio with this book, found on a shelf where we were staying. It was the first crack of true-spring, pop-up showers and sun on the bridge of my nose both within the same afternoon. I remember the damp grass, the trees leafed out around me and flowers pushing up through the soil around me.

It had been quite a while since I'd spent time frivolously thumbing through page after page of high-style, high-design homes. Though most images were either outside my personal taste or way outside my budget (or both,) I found myself exhaling. 

Then and there, I decided this would be my summer of freedom. I would take back the days, one leisurely afternoon at a time. I would slice stone fruits and rearrange my furniture for the joy of it. I would remember the parts of me I had forgotten along the way and make no apologies for any of them. I would let my graying hair bleach out in the sun. We would visit the farmer’s market every week, read towering stacks of library books, and ride our bikes everywhere. We would.
 
It was a nice idea that didn’t come close to touching my actual life.

What really happened was far more ordinary. In the scheme of life, my summer wasn’t an empty hour plucked at peak freshness and lingered over with a glass of iced tea. It was long stretches of long days, doing chores, mitigating sibling drama, and forgetting to water the flowers. It was also sleeping in later, staying up later, and shunning most to-do lists. (In this moment, I have no idea what my family ate all summer. I think I remember making BLT’s once, but other than that, they must have sustained themselves on fresh air, rainwater, and snark.)

What I’m trying to say is, it was a terrible, wonderful summer. The best of life tends to fall somewhere in the middle.

In just ten short weeks, my family tumbled through our share of harrowing days. There was a kid hit by a truck on his bike (Calvin, he walked away with only minor injuries but a good bit of anxiety,) a couple of kids fending off the lingering sadness and unanswered questions of adoption, and a kid on the receiving end of a stunning injustice. There was also general work stress, seventeen medical appointments (17!,) boatloads of dramatic “neighbor” minutia, and sassy attitudes (occasionally not mine.) And all the while, Cory and I managed to maintain our summertime tradition of constant gridlock over whether or not to turn on the central air. (I told him more than once, “I have to smoke the kids out of the house!”)

In so many ways, summer did not live up to my ideal. 

And yet, most days I as I stared out at my messy kitchen or my mishmash patio, a wave of gratitude crested over me. 


I was invited on three out-of-country trips, places I have always dreamed of visiting. I watched the trips play out online, a tinge of regret occasionally curling my edges, but my overwhelming thought was that there was nowhere I would rather be than right here, with my family, my neighbors, and every complicated, imperfect person I love most. 

A life rooted to our ordinary place, intentionally present and actively engaged, even on the most boring of days? It matters. Deeply. This is our solution, pals. When the world feels sideways, this is our horizon line.

A friend and neighbor wrote this in an email earlier today, paraphrasing this On Being podcast series, “We could all do something new, even one small thing, to express love and compassion for others. If enough of us do that, our nation can move beyond the goal of tolerating one another to loving one another.” 

August is winding down. My kids are already in their third week of school (so early, I know,) and I’m equal parts melancholy and relieved about falling back into my own routine. 

I'm facing this shifting season like I always do, with a little too much idealism and the understanding that life will just keep having its way. 

Here’s to fresh starts that are actually old beginnings, and the grace to remember just how precious all of this is.

*****


My newest book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You is now available for pre-order! We've put together a collection of extra-special free gifts for anyone who pre-orders, including a fine art print, a printable calendar featuring photos from my neighborhood, and a book discussion guide. You can also download the first chapter for a sneak peek. 

Pre-orders are tremendously helpful for the success of a book (they help ensure that retailers stock enough and don't run out!) and remember, when you pre-order, you don't pay until the book actually releases (Oct. 9) AND you're guaranteed the lowest price, as book prices fluctuate often online.

I'm so thrilled to share this piece of my heart with you. This book is a deeply personal look at what God continues to do around me right here, in my ordinary place, and about really being with the people near us. The world feels pretty wonky right now, and the problems are way over our heads. But this is where we can start and it matters. 


It thrills me to no end that we're still here, together, journeying through all of the surprises of life. Thank you for sticking with me and supporting me along the way. 

So much love to each of you!



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Palms for Stones


Sunday morning we wielded our palms, waving them somewhat awkwardly while a tangle of kids did their best to show us how to rejoice and be human. The Martin pew was tighter than usual, the regular five of us along with our weekend sister, Avery, Robert (who used his palm primarily to torment a friend in front of us) and his twin boys.

I had woken that morning to a reminder of something I wrote last year on Palm Sunday, "I'm 40 years old and I only ever thought of Palm Sunday as mobs of people waving Jesus into the city. 'Hosanna! Save us!' Moments later, those same people screamed for his death. I've always thought of myself only as the one waving the palm."

It bugged me all morning as I poured bowls of cereal, peeled oranges, and dosed meds, kissing my youngest on the top of his silky head. It niggled at me through the hymns, and into the sermon. Why had I written "moments later" when it was actually days? Why had no one questioned me on this flub a year ago, or even now?

I must have had my reasons, and Instagram posts aren't made for nuance. Anyway, the truth still stands - the ones who praised him evolved into the ones who wanted him dead, worship turned to bloodlust.

It didn't take long at all.

~

A few nights earlier Cory and I stole away for two rare hours with another adoptive couple. Over burrito bowls and then coffee, we took turns commiserating about all we still don't know and the ways we aren't understood. She shared about the long days spent surviving, the evenings where her heart aches from the taxing work of physically holding anger and grief, sitting with it and in it because to set up camp there means all will not be lost. We tether our bodies to our sons and daughters, and all of us to the shaking ground. We're still here. Just watch us get through this. All will not be lost as long as we seek shelter in low places.

She talked about the dark nights of self-doubt, of shouting when whispering would have been better, of apologizing and believing in do-overs even when we feel most foolish.

I nodded along, remembering those days, those evenings, those nights like I remember the scent of home. Remarkably, their intensity and frequency have faded. It's good for me to notice the slow growth that pushed up through the soil in spite of us.

"It will get better," I promised.

~

It was Sunday lunch, then, that marked the beginning of the end. There were complaints about the grilled cheese sandwiches, complaints about the milk, complaints about the ranch dressing we dunked tiny carrots into - too tangy, not enough, too much.

Cory was working and though I wanted to relax, I couldn't tear my eyes away from the messes closing in on me, cold leftovers from a weekend where nine people, (three under the age of six,) made ourselves at home.

In quick succession, I went from Having A Plan, to Barking Orders, to Tossing Random Things Into the Trash. We will not live like this. We are not animals. 

One more sharp swerve and a minor argument bloomed into shouting and tears. Before long, I found myself down at eye-level, apologizing.

I wish I could end the story there, or maybe with my invitation to stir up a treat in the kitchen. Lemon bars - cozy shortbread, bright lemon, a dusting of sugar - everything our day had not been. Maybe we can fake it. Maybe we can bake it.

The bars weren't even cooled when we pushed the needle to the outer edge of the album and played it all again. More disaster. More rage. More of me choosing poorly, shouting when whispering would have been better.

More apologizing.

"But you already said you were sorry," he sniffled. "So it doesn't seem like it's true."

The adoring Jerusalem crowd attended to the mundane details of their week, turning imperceptibly from praise to persecution, their self-protection doused with the gasoline of shared fear, until the heat of their fury would be felt to the end of days.

Maybe it took nearly a week.

Or maybe, held against the light of eternity, a week is but a moment.

Maybe the time it takes for a parade to turn into a riot is only as long as it takes for breakfast to turn into lunch.

~

This year, holy week began with the reminders that I'm not so holy at all. Pride. Anger. Impatience. Discontent. I traded my palms for stones, and I hurled them.

This week marks the beginning of the end.
It is also the end of the beginning.

The best place to start is the truest place, and I am right there with the fickle crowd, triumphant and vengeful.

Savior, healer, redeemer, please rescue us from ourselves. Lead us through the terror and into the empty tomb.

Hosanna.

~

I have a whole knapsack full of big feelings about Holy Week, and how a bit of meaningful reflection might be exactly what we need to grow. Join me this week as we travel from the Palms to the Empty Tomb. Sign up here (it's totally free!) to join the Easter Jeans Revolution (I'll explain more in the first email, haha) and I'll send you a short email each day for the next four days. Equal parts reflection and simple action, my hope is that it will be just the nudge we we need this year to experience a truer celebration.




Tuesday, March 6, 2018

This is What it Feels Like to Talk to the Wind


Every Wednesday at 10 o'clock I meet up with my friend Kristen, a standing date. Don't be too impressed. After months of pinging texts around, trying to coordinate schedules amid intense deadlines all around, both of us juggling work and life, it was only last week that we decided to simplify and just set it in stone. Coffee, on the regular.

There are others like her. Becca, Julia, my friend Jolene. "Want to grab coffee?" "Let's meet for coffee!" "When can we have coffee?"

Just last week, Silas came in for his after-school hug and drew back with a grin. "Did you go to The Brew today?" he asked, like he'd caught me in a secret, the earthy scent still clinging to my t-shirt and hair hours after I'd been there.

"Yep. I met so-and-so for coffee."

"But I thought you don't like coffee?" he asked, confused that I would say something so obviously untrue.

He's right, of course. I say "coffee" when what I really mean is, "tea."
Social shorthand, I suppose. Coffee is the language most everyone else is speaking. Over time it has become easier to set my default at the common narrative.

It's only coffee.

It's no big deal.

~

Last winter, while the wind whipped raspy through skeletal Walnut trees and snow collected in the skies but never really fell, I spent a disproportionate amount of time sitting around oblong tables, drinking tap water from paper cups. If you know me at all, if you've read Falling Free, you know Cory and I somewhat reluctantly accepted God's grand calling on our lives to embrace the Ministry of Meetings. PTO, neighborhood association, probation, various boards, IEP meetings where we landed almost by accident. These form the pulmonary artery of our full-time ministry (which is to say our ordinary, daily life. Though the details vary, each of us has one.) It's not as flashy as we imagined.

A few meetings stand out in my mind, not because they were exceptionally well-run or because they had superior snacks, but because they almost broke me. They were the ones that nudged my paradigm on liberty and Christian love toward a more desperate, cynical direction.

The  worst one happened back during that steely, snowless winter, but I can still feel the blood pulsing behind my eyes today. I remember my face on fire, my hands gone cold in my lap, my heart lurching as I sat across from tender-hearted humans unceremoniously plunked down at the edges of acceptability like toddlers in time-out. There would be no egg timer signaling relief. No hug waiting at the end. No cold cup of juice.

I watched in agonizing proximity as stories were drafted for people I care about without their consent. I watched as these scripts were fed back to them, line by line. I watched the lump in their throats as they swallowed them down like junk nourishment. And I wondered - why is no one screaming? How is it that whole lives can be shattered without making a sound?

For the past year I've been on a fast-track to catching a glimpse of what it's like to be hated by people who hold all the power in their own slick fists. The powerful rely on different tactics, some take their shot at distraction with easy smiles and honey tongues, others go straight for the kill, refusing eye contact, talking over you, taking phone calls as you sit low at their mercy, rubbing it in that while it's your life hanging in the balance, it's of no consequences to them.

I am new to these meetings, but my friends are not.
I say some things. I listen. I watch.

I have seen that when your future is painted grimly enough, you might hold onto your life at the expense of the truth. When you are told often enough that you don't matter, that you're a problem, a liar, a mistake, that you aren't worth the air you breathe, it is only so long before you fold into yourself and try to disappear, storing up your voice in the storm clouds within. It is only so long before you believe your best shot for redemption is to speak only the words Power wants to hear.

"They kept saying you punched him, but you told us you didn't."

"No, I never punched him. I only grabbed his shirt."

"But in the meeting you said it, too. You said 'when I punched him'."

"Well, that's what they always call it. So that's what I call it when I'm talking to them."


What are you having today, sweeping devastation? Or relief? 

Coffee? Or Tea? 

~

They, the powerful, are louder.  Bigger. Fiercer, they believe.

They are the wind, and they'll carry the truth away, if we let them.
But we don't have to go.

Faced with destruction staged in the polite, midday sun, we can surrender or we can rise up together, a rogue garage band hellbent on breaking the sound ordinance.

We don't have to go.

We can insist upon having each other's backs at the expense of being on the right side of Power. We can grab hold of each other and sing like we mean it, letting their hot air swirl around us like redemption's flames, igniting our purpose - to stand for truth and for justice, especially when we're told it's none of our business.

What the wind forgets is that it actually makes us stronger. This is the resistance training of injustice. It bends us, but we snap back, our roots a little deeper, our stance a little wider.

We don't break.

We reach for the resilience born of struggle. We join the fight, because if our friends aren't free, we aren't either. If their voices have been silenced, we'll scream until theirs heals. We'll listen until they hear it for themselves. And then we'll hand them a megaphone.

Our roots thicken, tangling underground as we hedge together to break the howling wind.

I'm getting a bit existential here, I know. What I'm really trying to say is that even when it feels futile, even when we walk out of meetings with our faces on fire, even when we are patronized, even when we're given the side-eye, even when they doubt and disparage us, even when they imagine the worst of us and talk smack, even when they mentally check out or double down, we can can value the truth - everyone's truth. Shared suffering, even when we only get a taste, is the communion of kingdom vitality.

Standing next to each other, we keep talking to the wind, not because it changes anything, but because it might.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Good Excuse to Love Bigger



I don't remember when I became a Valentine's day fanatic, but I'm guessing it happened well outside the scope of age-acceptability. I'm sure the roots are tangled up somewhere in the naked, improbable hopefulness of my teenage years, when my best friend Sarah and I, doomed to schools in different counties, would write notes to each other on notebook paper in which we talked almost exclusively about our unrequited crushes. Against all reason, we hoped. Romantics to the core.

I secretly like the idea of invisible cupids taking aim on unsuspecting fools who, shot through the heart, turn the tables on classic rock and give love a good name.

I also like Galentine's day. There. I said it.
It's dopey and cheesy. I don't care. Valentine's day does not just exist for the coupled. It exists for any human who needs a reason to throw some puffy-heart pink around and love with extra intention. It's love, and love is for everyone.

So, I've done my due diligence. I brought out all the pink. I hung romantic plates on my wall. (As one does.) I've hatched plans to surprise my closest loves in some weird ways. I even have a plan for dealing with any Valentine's related angst, such as eye rolling, unexplained surliness, and general crankiness. (Hint: it involves believing with my whole heart that they actually love every second of it, despite obvious evidence. It's not denial if it's truuuue!!!!)


Valentine's day is a real, bonafide "you do you" situation. It's okay if you don't geek out over it like some of us. Honestly, it's okay if you're the one rolling your eyes.

But what if we all decided to take the excuse to love bigger and run with it?

What if we reframed February 14th as a strange Thanksgiving/Christmas love-child, where we gather up the love we're given and fling some of it back out into the world? (Heart-shaped glitter optional.)

Two years ago, I spent part of February in Ecuador with Calvin Lee and now, the two are tied up together somewhere on the February calendar of my heart. February is chocolate truffles and it's bearing witness to poverty through the eyes of my ten-year old son. It's grocery store sushi and it's the one-room, tin-roofed home with a romantic, flowered curtain for a door. It's whimsy and silliness, but it's also the triumph of hope. It's resilience.

It's my son, piecing together the puzzle that he was born across the ocean, but lives in Indiana. He was first loved, held, and named by a woman he might never meet, but he also has a new mom who won't ever stop loving him, holding him, and calling him hers. It's loss. And it's love.

This year, it's Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday, and there's room in my heart for all of it. To me, it makes perfect sense.

I've been working with Compassion International on a way for us to come together as a community and fling some love around. I do believe today is our moment.

The Martin fam has sponsored children (which is to say, families) through Compassion for over a decade now, and we'll never quit. It works. It matters. But today, it all goes a layer deeper. If you click here you'll find a page set up just for us, filled with kids waiting to be sponsored. Every one of the kiddos on our page is an orphan, having lost one or both parents.

Child sponsorship is a lifeline that helps hold vulnerable kids steady, and these are the most vulnerable. These kids need hope more than ever. We have seen it for ourselves. One of the happiest days for a child is the day they are sponsored. They have lost some things, yes. But they are loved, called by name, chosen.

What would it look like if we, as a team, scooped up the entire page?

Mexico. Ghana. Indonesia. Uganda. Ethiopia.
The list goes on and on.

From the looks of it, they are all boys, in desperate need for a shot of hope and love across the sea.

 

We don't need an excuse to care for orphans as we care for ourselves and our "own".
But today, we have one anyway.

Click here to consider becoming a vital part of the life of one of these boys.

Happy ThanksChristTines Day.

We are dust and to dust we'll return.
We are loved and we give love away.

Ever Yours,
Shannan


* Click here to see more of our time in Ecuador. 

** I am a long-haul, devoted partner with Compassion. This means that in addition to over a decade of sponsorship and joining one of their blogger trips, I am also compensated as part of a focused partnership to help spread the word and gain sponsorship for more kiddos. It is with gladness that I share my platform, as I have always done, with this message that beats so strongly within my own heart.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Sweeping the Floor

Back in the day it irritated me when other bloggers would explain why they hadn't blogged in a while, or warn everyone when they were getting ready to take some time off. It seemed a little self-important or something. The world will keep turning, I thought. Just live your life. 

But I logged into this dusty blog last week and did the math. It's been over two months. After a few of you reached out to see if I'm still alive, I was forced to sit with my feelings on my long hiatus. Here's what I know - I've missed you. I've missed this space where we've gathered for so many years to share life.

I don't have any big explanations, I guess. But I'm still here. Hi.


Cory and I were driving the back street that hugs up behind our neighborhood over the weekend. I know it well now. We moved east over ice-slicked roads and I looked to the right, at the porch with the profusion of silk flowers shoved into a wayward shopping cart. There was a time I would have seen it as trashy. Now, it stops me in my tracks, all wild beauty and artificial color. It's resilience. Hope? Yeah, I think so. I looked left at my friend's house, recently painted a pretty shade of blue.

Two summers ago on a rare evening alone Cory and I had walked the buckled sidewalks and alleys of the adjacent neighborhood at dusk. It's one of our favorite things to do, but we didn't do it once last summer. I'm not sure where last summer went, or what I did. But the next one doesn't seem so far away, and I'm already looking forward to really feeling it this time around.

The last year has been a doozy.

As my work made the shift to writing deadlines once again, I sat most mornings staring at a blinking cursor, trying to figure out how to uncork what I know about life and pour it bubbling onto the page. Writing often felt like roaming from room to room, looking for a window that might creak open enough to draw in a fresh stream of air.

When I truly found myself stuck, when every window was painted shut and every door sealed (and those days were many,) I would shove away my laptop and grab my broom. Always, without exception, I would be stunned by the amount of filth five people and a wide rotation of neighbors could drag into one home.

The piles would collect strategically throughout the kitchen, the dining room, the mudroom. Dirt, grime, clumps of fur from the cat, tiny rubber bands, minuscule Legos that wouldn't be missed, scraps of paper, stray Cheerios, and crumbs from our morning toast. By the time the floor was cleared, I usually remembered the one west window that would open if it was jimmied, just so.

And the air would blow through, like magic.

Sweeping my floors didn't exactly unlock the hidden mysteries of extracting the truth and the pain and the solace of living, laying it cleanly on the page with no effort. It's more that sweeping my floors reminded me of who I am and where I belong. There's real freedom in that. And freedom is its own sort of open window, even when it still has to be propped up with a sawed-off tree limb or a hammer, like the bedroom window of my childhood. Air is air. We'll take it however we can get it.

I'm out from under that deadline, and my floors still need to be swept.
Life right now feels new-to-me, like pulling on a forgotten, favorite flannel. I'm remembering that blogging and floor sweeping are the first cousins of everyday living, as long as I'm willing to believe it.

There have been times I have worried that what I write here needs to be Really Important. Or Really Funny. Or Really Well-Written. I have occasionally made it something it was never meant to be, wandering from room to room with a wet paint brush and sealing off any stray breeze that might whistle through the jamb.

I don't know what you expect when you show up here. I'm sure it's different for everyone, but that's actually fantastic news. Because I'm someone a little different every day, and so are you. Life wears against us differently. Some days I'm funny. Some days I'm sad. Some days I have something important to say.

Most days, I just have a few piles on the floor, a collection of the bits and grit of my ordinary life. It's shockingly messy, I know. But I also know you understand, because your piles are no different. I don't mind if you don't.

 

Yesterday I stayed home from church with a sick little girl. Our boys came home and we ate left-overs for lunch. We had a kitchen meeting with one young neighbor and I stood there very aware that my life now lends itself to being bare-faced and wild-haired in the presence of those around me, dealing stern words and fierce love because it's real and it's necessary.

In the afternoon we lounged around in our sweatpants. I read a story to Silas about a room with no windows and three locks on the door, about kids who love life so much that they can't hold it in, about the ways we force them into a box without meaning to. He didn't want to read that book. "Too many words!" he said. "The pictures are boring!" The truth is, he'd never tried it. So we talked about poetry and we talked about freedom while the snow fell outside in thick tufts of white.

I stuck my hands in a bowl of ground beef and pork and squished it around, then rolled out a double-batch of these meatballs that cooked into the best pot of spaghetti I've ever eaten. (No fresh parsley, because this is February and I'm not trying to complicate life.)

I sorted hot air balloon puzzle pieces with Silas and Ruby while Cory and Calvin watched the Superbowl. All afternoon Silas had been confused, saying things like, "Are we eating the snacks tonight when we watch the ball drop?"

I made lists. I wiped off counters.

I swept the floors.

When it was nearly midnight I lay in bed with Cory, listening to Dawes and talking about whatever came to mind. The last thing I remember is rolling over and praying, "I'm sorry I haven't been paying enough attention to you, God."

What I meant was, "I'm sorry I haven't been reading my Bible as much lately."

As sure as I sit here with Monday's sun streaming through my smudged window panes, God chuckled. There hasn't been an inch of space between us. He's always been right here, in every sliver of life. He's in every pile. He's the air. All of it counts.

This is longer than I meant it to be. (There was a time I'd have worried about that, too.) But seasons change and there are no rules to blogging anymore, at least not here.

This is my home. My life. The things we shed without even noticing.
Welcome. I'm so happy you came.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

My Favorite Things (& Then Some)


Today was the first morning we stepped outside to a denim blue sky, faded and torn, that eerie glow following us down the street to school. Honestly, it was a relief. Indiana has been playing that strange sort of atmospheric roulette and I know plenty of people manage without them, but I need the full, four seasons. I needed it to buck up and start being wintery.

Christmas is only twenty days away, after all.

This is about the time that I jump in with both feet. I want to see all of my friends. I want to put butter on everything. I want to stay up too late with Cory, bingeing The Crown. I was coziness. Togetherness. I want that Christmas feeling.

I also want the sorrow, the longing, the truth that Jesus came to save us because we are basically a wreck. He wants to heal us, but that doesn't mean it's simple. It might hurt along the way.


Late last night, I finished a special little project just for you. It's called The 12 Ways of Christmas and it was such a joy to create it. It's my entire heart for the holidays, divvied up into twelve bite-sized emails.

Over the past several years, my family has started to approach the season differently, and it has brought untold peace and joy to our household and our schedules. This isn't a boss-around series. It's just me, opening my front door to you. It's a peek inside. It's a bit of reflection, a bit of evaluation, some prayer, some crack bark, some new ways of thinking, some saying yes, some saying no. It's Christmas hymns, simple crafts, and a couple of little gifts for you as we go.

If you'd like to join me, click here to subscribe.  (The 12 Ways of Christmas series is now closed.)


This is a free invitation to more meaning and less pressure as we wait for Jesus. You'll get the first email immediately, and one each day for the next 11 days. I hope you love it as much as I loved writing it.

While we're here, I've been jotting a list of my favorite things with the intention of sharing them. Now is as good a time as any! You can consider these gift ideas or just an opportunity to be a little nosy. Either way, this is the legit, tried-and-true account of what I'm loving lately. Because we all know Jesus is all we need, but we don't hate good music and fun earrings along the way.


Every Mile Mattered
::  Nichole Nordeman - Every Mile Mattered
She has been my favorite singer-songwriter for over ten years now, and this album is a masterpiece.

:: Denim shirt by ABLE

ABLE (previously FashionABLE) is all over their A-game with their new apparel line. They have denim, bags, shoes, fashion-forward tops (for those younger and trendier than myself,) jewelry, and more. All of it is hand-crafted throughout the world by women who have overcome. The denim shirt has my whole heart for my whole life. It is simply perfection, with a longer, not-too-baggy/not-too-slim fit and a raw, frayed edge. I live in this thing. It dresses up or down. The craftsmanship and attention to detail is impeccable. It costs more than an Old Navy knock-off, but it's a classic piece that will last forever and it's made by women who are paid a fair wage and offered a brighter future.

(Remember when I traveled to Ethiopia four years ago and barfed in a Ziploc baggie in front of Emily Maynard? Yep, that was an ABLE trip. I have seen firsthand the mission behind the high quality fashion and I'm a lifelong believer.)

:: Trucker hat by Peace Within

Here I am after getting four hours of sleep, wearing both the shirt and the hat. If you asked my neighbors to draw my uniform, this is what they would draw, complete with the under-eye circles and bedhead.
(I wear it All of Thee Time. It's handmade in the USA by women transitioning from struggle to a better way. LOVE!)

::  Books
General shout-out to Books, one of my favorite, all-season gifts.
Right now I'm reading Hillbilly Elegy, The Very Good Gospel, and of course Barking to the Choir.

::  Mugs and tea
I will proclaim to the end that there is no better gift than a thrift-store mug (there are So many good ones if you just look!) filled with tea, coffee beans, chocolate, or any other little do-dads. 

:: Literally anything from Belove (a local and online Give Back gift shop)
(I'll take one of everything, plz.)

:: Locally made goat milk body lotion 
My favorite scent is Mandarin Orange

::  Cookbooks
I've been obsessed with the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and she has a new one out that I'm itching to read, Smitten Kitchen Every Day.

::  Vintage tea towels, tablecloths, pillowcases. 
I can't see this at a thrift store and not buy it. (And I have the sort of friends who consider thrift-store gifts the very best kind!)

:: Painting Class
Calvin just finished a four-week drawing class in town and Ruby and I are gearing up to take The Secret Garden painting course offered by Amanda Evanston.
{Just for the record, these are MY faves, pure and simple. Amazon and ABLE links are affiliate links, which means if you purchase through the link I get a tiny commission from the sale. The rest are just links to help you find the stuff I truly love.}

Tell me, what are you loving lately?