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When grace is in the receiving

Today we meet Jesus in the synagogue where he’s teaching with authority and casting out evil spirits. (Mark 1:21-28)

His disciples are amazed.

Amazed at this man who teaches with power, who calls out his enemy and sends him away.

And we are challenged.

When is the last time we’ve stood amazed at this Jesus?

I have stood amazed, no doubt.

The night when words I’d heard hundreds of times before flashed hot and bright behind my eyelids, fluttering in my little girl heart because I got it.

The day when Jesus yanked me out of my adolescent angst with an ultimatum to which the only response was where else could I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.

The time I prayed for a daughter and everyone told me it never happens like that.  Except that it did.

And when I pleaded with Jesus to be done with foster care and his answer, one thing, brought a Little One who is one of the greatest joys of my life.

The times I’ve watched Love win—in my home.  In my classroom.  In court.

And plenty more.

I figure I’m good.

And so through the closing song, I wrestle with another thought that thumps and throbs.

Maybe I’ll write about it soon.

And then church is over.

And I’m gathering my coat when Jesus shows up in the chair next to me wearing the skin of someone I barely know.

Words of kindness and affirmation tumble over me, then a tangible gift of grace offered freely.

Too much.

Too much from someone I barely know.

But the answer is yes and thank you.

I know this too.

Because the Jesus who speaks with authority is here.  Heavy in these words that I want to shrug away but cannot.  In this freely offered gift of too much.

And so I leave church today standing amazed.

Taken aback again by the extravagant love of One who knows that sometimes

Grace is in the receiving.

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Losing Season

My big girl had her last basketball game today.

It was a great season.

She met new friends and loved getting to know them.

She had two fantastic coaches who got to know her as a person and helped her develop good skills for basketball and life.

She ran around a lot, made a lot of good passes, scored a fair number of points.

And her team lost almost every game.

It was, by the numbers, a losing season.

My big girl is competitive like her mama.

We don’t like to try things if we think we can’t master them.

We are still working on losing gracefully.

***

It’s been a rough school year for me.

If I rated each day as a win or a loss, it would, without a doubt, be a losing season for me too.

Can I be honest for a second?

I hate this.

It’s easy for me to tell my big girl that basketball is not that serious.

That I love her just the same when her team wins and when they lose.

And still I hate to lose.

I struggle not to let my self-worth get tangled up with what feels like a spectacularly terrible performance.

Friend, if you too are in a losing season, here’s what I want you to know.

What I want my sweet big girl to know.

What I want to know, deep in my bones.

Your performance does not impact your worth.

What you do is not who you are.

You are loved.  Deeply, passionately loved.

If you are winning at basketball, at teaching, at Christian-ing, at life, you are loved.

If you are putting up a spectacularly terrible performance, you are loved.

Settle down into your true identity, Loved One.

Slip into it like a pair of comfy pajamas.

Wrap it around you like a suit of armor if you must.

And then get back out there—you’ve got a game to finish.

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Dear Sister, You are not a disgrace.

Dear sister who marched on Saturday, taking a stand for women, you are not a disgrace.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister who marched on Friday, taking a stand for Little Ones, you are not a disgrace.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister who didn’t march because you were working to provide for your babies or because you were nursing your babies or because you are flat scared of what might happen when that many people get together in one place, you are not a disgrace.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister who is celebrating this season, you are not a disgrace.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister who is weeping, truly grieved for what feels like a huge setback, you are not a disgrace.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister who is overwhelmed, too stressed by the actual real life in front of you to take a stand on political issues, you are not a disgrace.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister living the American dream—a husband, two kids and a white picket fence, you are not a disgrace.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister whose family looks different—whether through your own choices or the choices of another, you are not a disgrace.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister courageously raising babies that you know our world will “other” and judge harshly, you are not a disgrace.  You are not alone.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister who longs desperately to snuggle a baby of your own, to have what seems to come so easily to everybody else, you are not a disgrace.  You are not alone.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister who has been victimized or violated, you are not a disgrace.  You are not alone.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sister who looks back and cries for what might have been, you are not a disgrace.  You are not alone.  There is a place for you here.

Dear sisters, all of you, listen hard.

None of us are a disgrace.  None.  Of.  Us.

We don’t agree.  We fuss and pout.  We fight for what we truly believe to be right and can’t fathom how our sisters could disagree.

But we are not a disgrace.

We are loved.  Desperately, passionately loved.

And we are created to love.

Our voices matter.  Our stories matter.  Our babies matter—born and unborn, American and not.

So, sister, love hard.  Yell loud.  Agitate for justice in the ways that you can, the ways that you must.

But, dear sister, don’t let anyone tell you that you are a disgrace.

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Uh oh, uh oh, Jesus!

We have a ton of books in our house, but like lots of kids, Little One gravitates toward the same ones.

One of my words for 2017 is “connect,” so I’ve started doing some tasks the night before so that I can spend a few early morning moments snuggling and reading instead of rushing around like a maniac.

So we snuggle, and Little One chugs his apple juice and inevitably, he brings me one particular Bible story book.

I’ve read and paraphrased these stories hundreds of times, I’m sure.

Jesus finding Zacchaeus, Jesus healing Bartimaeus, Jesus welcoming the children, Jesus calming the storm, Jesus healing ten lepers.

Again and again and again.

This morning I was tired.

Mama read it! Little One chirped.

No baby, you read it today.

Ok!

Snuggled in my lap, he dutifully turned each page and “read” the familiar stories.

Uh oh, uh oh, Jesus!

Uh oh, uh oh, Jesus!

Uh oh, uh oh, Jesus!

And, just like that, my two year old nailed the story of the Bible.

The story of humanity.

We are a mess.  Too small.  Too near-sighted.  Too narrow-minded.  Too scared.  Too isolated.

And into all of this walks a Savior who chooses to love us anyway.

A Savior who chooses to walk with us, to redeem the mess a little more with every step we take together, to love and keep on loving.

A Savior who moves us from the uh oh to the exclamation point.

Sometimes all at once and sometimes little by little.

And usually both of these.

 I listened hard in church today, but the truth is I didn’t hear any better explanation of the gospel than the one Little One read to me snuggled in the brown recliner.

Uh oh, uh oh, Jesus!

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Who You Are

God I need you, oh I need you.  Every hour I need you.

We sing, and it’s true.

I watch a dear one wipe away tears, perhaps suddenly self-conscious (or maybe not) because no one else seems to be so visibly moved.

I see it here.

Fingerprints of the Creator in our neediness for him.

Imago Dei.

You are the light of the world

We read, and it’s true. (Matthew 5)

Maybe it’s the freshness, the possibility of a new year, but it’s hard for me to listen and not be stirred.

If only we could get this.

If only we could embrace who we are.

Friends, you were created to be light.

You are not here by accident.

You were loved into being by the true Light and you are passionately, ridiculously loved by him still.

His fingerprints are all over you.

Most especially in those places where you cannot be strong, only honest about your neediness for him.

This light is not something that we do, something that we muster up through willpower and resolve.

It’s who we are.

It’s who we’re meant to be.

Friends, you were created to be light.

Go ahead and shine.

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That Time Jesus Paid for my Lawyer

Sometimes I hear people say “you know, foster adoption is free.”

It always makes me cringe a little.

Because the reality is that it doesn’t take much money to adopt from foster care (although you do have to prove that you are financially able to take care of a child).  But it is hardly “free.”’

You pay in blood, sweat and tears.

You pay in sleepless nights and desperate pleas and time taken off work for appointments that all have to happen during business hours.

In any case, you get financially reimbursed for most things along the way.

Including a lawyer.

My big girl’s adoption was easy-peasie.  Or at least as simple and straightforward as such a thing can be.

I called a lawyer, went over a few things on the phone and met him for the first (and only) time on adoption day.

I never paid him a penny.  The money went straight from the agency to him.  Easy-peasie.

As I’ve mentioned before, everything about Little One’s case was different.

Nothing came easy (except falling hopelessly in love with an infant… oh. dear. goodness)

When it came time to finally get a lawyer, I wanted the best.

So I researched.  And I called.  And I used my brain and my mama-intuition to make a good choice.

Because everything about this case was different, I used my lawyer for some adoption-related things before finalization.  It ended up that I paid her just about exactly one thousand dollars more than I would be reimbursed by my agency.

I didn’t care a bit.  I am not poor (just cheap!) and the peace of mind was worth every single penny to me.

Until a sweet friend slipped an envelope into my hand one evening.

Inside was a card full of encouraging words and cash money.  This friend had received a windfall and wanted me to use this money to help pay for an adoption lawyer.

Eyes wide, my big girl and I counted the bills.  So many bills.

Bills totaling exactly one thousand dollars.

There is no way this friend could have known how much I paid.  Or how much my agency would repay.

But the God who counts hairs on our heads also counts pennies.

The Jesus who takes care of sparrows also takes care of solidly middle-class mamas.

Breath catches in my throat to think of it still.

That time Jesus paid for my lawyer.

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Life’s like that.

Two years ago, December nearly broke me.

It was Little One’s first Christmas, and he was not spending it with me.

I found out later that he actually spent his first Christmas in the hospital… and I honestly think it was the gracious provision of God that I didn’t know that at the time.  I’m not sure I could have handled it.

It was also my Mamaw’s last Christmas.

This, of course, we didn’t technically know at the time either.

But I think our hearts did.

Of course, my beautiful daughter deserved everything I could muster up for her.

And I tried.

Wrapping gifts half-heartedly at the last second, I walked through all the motions.  I did all the things.

All the while missing one that I loved so hard it physically ached.

Hopes and expectations rising and falling with every phone call that cold, dark month.

Such a long darkness, that December

***

This year, both of my babies are home.

Home forever, snuggled into bed in their Christmas jammies.

My Mamaw is in heaven.

Also, I guess, home forever.

And I feel the happiest I ever remember feeling in my whole life.

No, things are not perfect.  My job is not super fulfilling at the moment.  I lock horns with my big girl, so much like me.  Little One is loud and wild and leaves a trail of random objects in his wake all the time.

But my babies are home.

You guys, my babies are home and I cannot help but smile.  And decorate.  And buy all the things.  And wrap tidy piles of presents while humming Christmas tunes.

I’ve never much felt festive at Christmastime.

Until I did.

Life’s like that, I think.

Even for those of us who love Jesus.

There are Decembers that will nearly break us and ones that make us wonder how in the world we ended up with everything we want.  Every.  Single.  Thing.

And so.

Let’s be gentle with the ones who struggle to go through the motions, whose hearts ache so hard that they physically hurt.  Because they are us.

And let’s be gentle with the ones buying all the things and doing all the things and feeling all the festiveness.  Because they, too, are us.

Let’s link arms and light candles and hold space for the ache and the celebration, the grief and the joy, the sobs and the festivity.

Because we’ve been both places and we will again.

Because life’s like that.