Saturday, February 27, 2016

Flash Blizzard

On Tuesday night, I ran into Kroger with my friend Meg (my visitor for 3 whole days because THE LORD IS GOOD!) and as I grabbed a casual head of cabbage, I noticed my Kroger-bestie working much later hours than he usually keeps. "What are you doing here so late?" I inquired.

He muttered something about management and his eyes looked tired. Then he perked up a little, "You stocking up for the blizzard?"

What blizzard? The kids had played outside with the neighbors all afternoon, some without jackets! Wasn't it mere hours ago that they'd run in then back out with armfuls of junk treasure for a late-winter yard sale?

I ran home and stalked the Weather Channel, which, if you live in my house, is the half-channel that plays elevator music 24/7 with a static "weather map" rotated out with the 7-day forecast. Times are tough and the North is wild. I don't know what else to say, other than: it transfixes me.

When there's an impending weather "situation", as was the case on Tuesday night, there's also a ticker, or as my friend Sarah always accidentally says, a "tickler", at the bottom of the screen. Indeed, a rogue storm was barreling our way.

I was duly conflicted.

Because on the one hand, we haven't had a decent snow since November. Nary a school cancellation.
But on the other hand, Meg and I had big plans to drive to the city for Lebanese food on Wednesday in our yoga pants and knit hats while the kids were in school.

The good news is, the snow wasn't supposed to hit until late afternoon on Wednesday.
The bad news is, the weather men are usually wrong.

Our walk to school the following morning made me feel like I was braving the uncertain terrain of a mountainous frontier. Or something. It was snowing so hard, every picture I took was blurry. It was snowing so hard, it made some of us cry-talk. It was snowing so hard, I commiserated with the crossing guard. It was snowing. So hard.

Megan and I did what any sensible women would do and drank tea on the couch in our pajamas for half the day, contemplating birth control methods for 40-year olds. Then we drove to Panera because I had a gift card and hit up the thrift store.

All the while, it snowed.

The kids made it home. She met Robert (she hugged him for all of you, saying, "I love you because your mom loves you!" His response: "Wow, that was a good answer.") Silas entrapped her in an unending game of dry-erase Hangman. The unfolded laundry grew wrinklier. I tried to avoid looking at any mirrored surface. 

We ate tacos and salsa, we put the kids to bed, we watched Straight Outta Compton.

We woke up to an urban Narnia. Of course school was canceled.

So we took to the streets. It was the only right thing to do.
I snapped pictures with my phone. Calvin randomly decided to shovel the entire sidewalk all the way to the street. In shorts. Silas did Silas kinds of things in the snow. Rubes hoisted up her snow pants and made them look like a true fashion statement. They made a snowman with a real scarf and carrot, but I didn't get a picture.

I was busy.

Doing absolutely nothing.

"Hanging out" as the cool kids call it.

In the ultimate twist of cruel fate, after surviving the only storm of the season together, Meg'so flight was still scheduled on time out of Chicago, so I reluctantly drove her to the airport.

But not before screeching to a halt when we passed this Salvation Army in Chicago. I could tell she doubted my enthusiasm just a bit, but not after she found this gem hiding in a dusty stack of "art". We both nearly fainted over it. It's truly a painting from the Lord. I couldn't stop (lightly) touching its texturey paint. swoon

This morning, we were back to business as usual, with the addition of POPCORN DAY! I donned my PTO t-shirt, put on make-up, and even did my hair! When I waltzed in to the popcorn closet, my friend Jess sort of shouted, "Your hair looks so beautiful!" which is not something I hear every day. My hair was made for radio, if you know what I mean. And incidentally, my voice was made for print.

The point is, life persists in being unexpected and rad. They say tomorrow it's supposed to be up close to 50 again.

We'll see about that.

Working on
Eating (I recommend this with grilled sourdough + Muenster + pesto!)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why February is the Loneliest Month

On Monday I took the longer way home, bypassing the street that leads to my door and looping one block over. I traipsed heavy-footed in my industrial boots across snow that had been packed down to thick patches of ice. Salty cars soldiered bleary-eyed to work and the occasional semi-truck heaved its way north. At twenty minutes to eight, I told myself no one cared that I was basically still in my PJs, with yesterday’s stubborn eyeliner still smudged around my eyes and settling into the lines I’d  rather ignore. I took a swig of my morning cup of denial and swallowed it down. I’m basically invisible right now.

Crouching down to sidewalk level, I tried to find something beautiful between the brittle skeletons of last year’s glory and the snow, snow, snow.

I did my best to strong-arm February into a more manageable, classic kind of lovely, but everything seemed a bit grubby and sad. It was years ago that I learned to truly see my world through the lens of a camera. The revelation left me wondering how I’d managed to live more than than thirty years with 20/20 vision, yet half-blind.

I might see more clearly now, but when both the life and the landscape look empty I tend to feel stuck. I walked the rest of the way home with my phone zipped inside my pocket. There’s no story here. My optimistic edges receded back to a dusky blue. Click here to continue reading.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Good Gifts and the Ministry of Coloring

Last night, Cory and I stayed up way too late with a friend, spinning yarns and deconstructing the things that trip us up. We drank our tea, trying not to notice the way we couldn't possibly have just met, despite what time and life would suggest.

Seth had taken the late flight in to Indiana and accepted our welcome so that he could spend two days in the heart of the jail, sharing the message of his book, Coming Clean: A Story of Faith with my husband's friends. His time here won't draw huge crowds. He won't face adoring fans or be treated like a celebrity. Inmates are notoriously slow to buy books and can't even offer social media shares.

But Seth knows the bondage of addiction, and he knows there aren't many of us who don't. He grasps things like hope and believes in the boiled-down power of a love that shows up, then stays a while.

This is what it looks like to use our gifts for the kingdom.

I've found myself in the privileged position of being surrounded by people who live with open hands, resisting the possessive clutch of borrowed goods. You might know some folks like this yourself. I'll give you a hint: they're the ones with the half-crazed grin plastered across their faces when they talk about passing around their heart and soul away. They're paid in relationship. They operate from a place of profound grace.

My friend Haverlee spent a day this week photographing a young couple for their adoption profile. Ashley and Ruth trained their artist's eyes on the children of Ecuador's poorest families. Down the street, Mrs. Iemma, Mrs. Drescher, and Miss Krug show up every day to lead my children, teaching them the patience and fun of learning, helping to mold them into compassionate citizens of the world.

The gift of sharing life with soulful neighbors is all mine.

I met my friend Becca soon after moving to Goshen, back at a time when was just recovering from the quietly belief that the dearest friendships could be pinned down to demographics like age, life stage, and experience.

I loved her from the start.

On our very first coffee date she handed me the most gorgeous, intricately patterned designs. "These are for the kids. I design coloring pages for adults." So casual. I stared at the thick paper in front of me. "I had no idea you did this!"

Becca might not be super comfortable with gushing, but I continued anyway, and in what I now know as her trademark, she cracked the truth open through a series of jokes. "I didn't know either, until I was watching the luge in the winter Olympics and got bored enough to try."



Since that conversation not even one year ago, I've watched Becca host a coloring class for senior citizens, begin co-leading a writing group for incarcerated women, and design a new coloring book called Doodle While You Drip, meant just for people suffering through chemo. Her best friend Michael wrote a moving foreword and passed away just months later.


I met with Becca again last week. We try to do this now and then so we can gripe about politics and suffer together through the complications of life, church, and what matters most. Becca's coloring books had just been featured in our local paper, where her humor and was on vibrant display. She told me about the calls that had come in, each story equal-parts funny and dear. Alzheimer patients, cranky men, women who saw in her the friend they'd been looking for. Most stories ended with something along the lines of, "So I sent them a book for free."

And that's when I knew I needed to share her work with you.

If you'd like to support Becca's Ministry of Coloring, you can order a book by emailing her at

Each book is just $10.00 
(Shipping is $2.00 for one book and $1.00 for each additional book. Delivery to USA only.)

*My friend Sara gave me a set of these pens a while back and they are the BEST for coloring!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It Doesn't Have to be Beautiful to be Perfect

Two Christmases ago, Cory and I were gifted a fifty dollar bill. It fell at a time where a fifty dollar bill seemed like an extravagance. When we married, barely into our twenties, we thought we knew some things about life, one of which was this: you start with nothing and you build from there. Up and up; you're doing fine if each year ends better than the last.

Well. Last year was our fifteenth year, and that cold fifty felt every bit as lucky as it had twenty years before, when my uncle slipped one into my high school graduation card.

We talked about splitting it down the middle, but twenty-five apiece lacked a certain chutzpah. We could put it back, but that was just boring. We could go out to eat, but we did that all the time.

We weren't poor and we weren't as rich as we'd been before.
We were somewhere right in the middle, in no-man's land, where all it takes to stoke a dream is an unexpected fifty dollar bill.

In the end, we bought a little rug off the shelf at Target.

We put out an open call for free couches and began collecting them in our basement - the in-laws' love-seat, the "come and get it" 1980's Chesterfield-wannabe, the curvy-legged floral found aging better than I could hope to at her age. For two long nights we shoved cardboard boxes filled with dusty books and Christmas decorations against one wall, plastic tubs of vintage fabric against another (I have a fabric problem.) We stacked quirky chairs in the corner and pretended it was architectural sculpture. Cory created a make-shift gallery wall with my out-of-rotation art and, it seems, I also have a chair problem. And an art problem.

There were choices to be made and trust to be dealt, and if I say authenticity is important to me, well, it was time. Inviting people into my kitchen had never been hard. Inviting them into the dark corners of my extremely unfinished, unheated basement in the eye of Snowpocalypse was a whole other thing. But I was land-locked and longing. A bit lost at sea. I could keep it cute or I could keep it real, but I couldn't do both.

So, we set out to invite new friends and a few near-strangers into our literal mess, the place in our home where all the junk is shoved before company arrives then bolted behind a closed door. Ever aware of the risks this posed, I did what any reasonable woman would do. I dug out the two boxes of Kroger strand lights and strung them overhead.

For three years we had talked about opening our home in some way, cobbling together a community of misfits like us. We imagined platters of sloppy Joes and sheet cakes, wild kids, and the space to be known. It was never long into the conversation before we circled back around and squashed our own dream. We don't have enough room. We have too many kids. Our neighbors aren't ready for us. Our friends aren't ready for our neighbors. No. No.

In the end, our craving won.

We dared to believe we were free from overthinking a good thing.
Staring Ulysses S. Grant in the face, we found the guts to try, even to fail.
If it was all going to go down, we were going down with it.

The rug wasn't large enough for the ground it had to cover. But it helped. It warmed our toes, or at least half of them.

The kids ran wild circles overhead, they ran down and interrupted us twenty times.
We went back for seconds. We sat across from each other in the dim, cold basement, and I tried not to worry that all of my junk and every problem was on glaring display.

Over time, I stopped caring. I pulled more up from under the dust and made room for it in our circle.

We confessed old grudges and waded through a few that were just setting to a boil.
We laughed sometimes, but we also shared the burden of the anguished and uncertain.
We spoke with the salty tongues of men and we wondered about angels. 

It looked nothing the way I'd imagined it might. Everything was mismatched, there still wasn't enough room and the ones we hoped for hardest didn't stay.

But somewhere down there in the dark, light was seeping through.We sprung for our little rug's twin. We shoved them together, piece-mealing something better, something necessary, from what had been lacking on its own.

The ground between us narrowed again.
I saw myself in different faces - misfits to the end, each of us.
We were starting to get warm.

*The title of this post goes out to my homegirl, the Nester, who keeps teaching us, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." It's true and important, no matter which we you spin it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


We drew it out as long as possible, slipping through the doors into the thick buzz of night. The bus made its way along the highway, headlights streaming, street lamps glowing, and I kept catching the sense that I was already home - a flash of light in my jar, then gone again.

Fifteen hours later, I actually was home, wearing yesterday's clothes; traces of yesterday's eyeliner smudged under my weary, grateful eyes. The kids were already fighting. The house smelled new again. And within five minutes of pulling into the garage, Calvin made a legitimate attempt at stealing a Bible meant for an inmate at the jail. 

We had talked about re-entry, that it can be difficult to process the emotional upheaval we experienced through the lens of the American middle class, where many of us live. In the end, it wasn't the reverse culture shock that got to me. It was the relentless reminders that none of us has found an earthly way around our humanity. We're all the same kind of sick, just with different symptoms.

Somewhere near the end of day four, we had a ten-minute window to meet the grown son of a missionary couple who devoted their lives to serving the poor in a coastal region of Ecuador. Once among the richest families in Quito, they met Jesus and everything changed on a dime. They accepted the call to live as missionaries. In America.

They came to us, made us their people, spoke our language, watched as we wobbled and teetered and fell flat on our faces. They came to be Jesus among us. We were their poor, and I have to wonder if, having seen both faces of poverty up-close, they worried more for us.

Maybe my ten-year old is exactly right, people who have less really do have more in "the spiritual side of life".  Could I ever sacrifice stuff for Jesus and find it a worthy trade?

Twenty years later, the couple moved back to their home country of Ecuador, making a community, again, of its poorest.

Their son stood in our circle with a wide grin and dusty boots. His English was flawless, his truck reflected the snap of the equator sun.

"Is this the life you expected for yourself? I asked. I was desperate to know. Maybe, having grown up a MK, the mantle had been passed down to him early. Maybe he'd skipped all the in-fighting and Bible-stealing. Maybe his early adulthood had been marked with a certain saintliness and all of this was a foregone conclusion.

He chuckled, and quickly filled in the gaps of the past few decades.

When his parents returned to Ecuador, he stayed here. He'd tasted America and wanted more. Kissing them twice, he thanked his lucky stars that bamboo huts, flash floods, infested drinking water and drug-addicted children were not his problem.

He built his American dream. And then, over time, he noticed the pain, and chose to walk away from one kind and toward the other. "I never saw this coming."  

In the end, he was right. They weren't his problem. They were his life.

I've been home now for over four days, swept back into the routine I love. But I shed skin in those tiny homes. Growth cannot happen without dirt, rain, sun. They bang us around, leave us soaking and burned, and we become a different version of who we were yesterday, or even at lunchtime with our taco salad and the book we can't put down. We aren't divided by differences but brushed with sweeping similarity.

In Ecuador, I learned about the power of dreaming. I studied the different faces of poverty, shocked by the ways they parallel faces I see every day. More than anything, I got uncomfortably close to my own poverty, bent on processing life through the DIY lens of can-do America rather than solely through the work of the cross.

I discovered I still have so much room to grow. I was reminded again that when I lay down my own plans, God fills my arms with better things.

I came home added to, and subtracted from. 


This won't be the last time I talk about Compassion International. Like my neighbors an ocean away, they're under my skin. I can't overstate their integrity and wisdom and I simply cannot ignore the ways their partnerships with local churches throughout Ecuador (and the world) are changing young lives and entire families.

Thank you so much for following along as we traveled, for your kind encouragement, especially to Calvin. You're my people, and I'm tremendously grateful for each of you.

I'm thrilled to say we exceeded our goal of 200 kids sponsored. As of today, we're at 241! But there's still plenty of room at the table for you. If you've been considering, or waiting, or thinking it through, let this be the day you see what you stand to learn by walking with a precious child who needs the same things all of us need. You can sponsor a child right here.

Much Love,

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ecuador Through Calvin's Eyes

When we realized Calvin would be making this epic trip to Ecuador with me, he said he wanted to blog for me one of the days. I have to say, I've enjoyed sitting here chatting with my friends tonight while he sweats it out at the laptop. :)

He and I talked a couple of times over the course of the past few days, jotting some notes so his post didn't end up a bullet list of fascinating facts about the country. No offense to bullet lists. But I want you to know, this is his heart, typed hunt-and-peck-style with his two pointer fingers. I encouraged him to think hard about what he most wanted to say, and allow God to speak to his heart about what to share. I helped him with some very minor edits (oh, commas!) after he completed his draft.

I gotta say, I'm quite fond of this young man. (Sidenote: I am not alone! The Ecuadorian women have been fawning all over him all week as though he's the Prince of a foreign land. Yesterday alone he was kissed five times by strangers!)

I present to you, Calvin Lee.


Hello, I am Calvin Martin and I am almost 11. My mom and I are on a missions trip for Compassion International. It is a group that releases kids from poverty through Jesus' name. They have set up stations in 26 countries! Well, my mom and I were lucky enough to go on the trip to South America. It has been a powerful trip so far and it ends tomorrow! My family is sponsoring a child named Josue. He is the cutest, sweetest 5 year old boy in the world. We are so lucky to sponsor a child like him.

Our second day on the Ecuador trip we met him in his home. It was a small house painted yellow. The mom and the children were so welcoming and they let us walk right in. Three of the family members were sponsored including Josue. Josue had a toy truck and a deck of cards and was so content with what he had and wanted to share his toys with me. His cousin and sister that were also sponsored gave us probably the only bracelets that they had. Now that we are sponsoring I feel like I have a brother from a different mother. Which God has actually used to impact my life because it showed me that there are people from different countries that have less than me but are the same age as me. It showed me a new perspective of the world.

Yesterday we helped with the daily life in a mountain home. It was the most inspiring thing I've done yet. This family had 13 people, 11 sons and daughters and the parents. They were so poor that they did not eat breakfast and only had corn soup for every meal. We helped shuck corn and make a stew. The people that were there were severely poor but what I thought was that the poorer the person the larger the heart because the whole time they were laughing and singing and talking. It's almost like people who have less maybe have more, in the spiritual side of life. 


One of my favorite verses since I was little says "The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) This makes me think of my new friends from this trip.

When I get home I think I will be changed because I will compare myself to Josue and the people in Ecuador and will see the difference between us. But also the similarity in our lives, for example we both like soccer but we play with different equipment. We both have dreams.

If you sponsor a child, the child will be closer to Jesus and get the care and education they need. Please sponsor, it changes lives.

{Also see the trip through Calvin's travel-buds, Corbett and Caleb.}