Saturday, December 31, 2016

Verses for the Wilderness

I wake up the last four mornings barely able to breathe.

Panic clings close and all the unknown things lurking in the future loom large.


Suddenly, time has moved too quickly, and it isn't slowing down and how can the oldest of my four be less than a year from middle school?

How can I be thisclose to 40?

Shouldn't there be more time?





I wake up this morning and think of his dad. As the second hand clicked closer to 10:30 a.m. the memories did too.

The sound of the door opening.

The sound of his voice.

Celia's breath catching.

Elias trying to roll over.

My frantic phone call to my best friend.


The story never changes, year after year.

These memories are solidified.


I wondered, as I ran last minute errands this afternoon, if I would still be grieving like this 50 years from now? Would the pain always feel this fresh?






This past week, the words for this year changed suddenly.

And I was okay with it, until I saw the verse that went along with it.


It's been a long battle for me to fall in love with the pages of scripture. For so long portions of it were associated with people and events connected with pain. It was easy to skim, rather than dig. Easier to rush through rather than to sit long and slow.


The battle was slow and unrushed, and my love has grown deep and true. But there are still prickles of pain that snake up my spine when certain verses or words brush too close.


This verse is one of those.




In my kitchen, the day after Christmas, seated at my desk with my pen and journal in hand, I gave into the pain.

A few years ago, the year was named New, all tucked in with the verse found in Isaiah 43:19,

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.


The verse for this year, while different, represents a portion of my life that is a wilderness - that has represented death and brokenness for so long. And so I wasn't really surprised when both verses of scripture were laid out on the same page of a book under my nose while I sat there wrestling with pain filled memories and emotions.



I rush through books.

Because I want to know how the story ends.


I run away from pain.

Because I don't want to live with the hurting.


I push against the unknown.

Because I want to know how it all turns out.




But that isn't my place.

It's Christ's.




As I prayed over this year ahead, all I've sensed was a call to Be still.

Not "being still" in the sense of doing nothing, giving up, and burying what little talents I have in the ground and just waiting.


No, the call to Be still is one with a purpose.


God, through the Psalmist, calls out clearly,

Be still and know that I am God...


Being still walks hand in hand with action. It's joined in with the action of knowing and this knowing has a very specific result - to know God is God in and over all things.


I don't know what this coming year will look like.


But I know what my role is to be.

In all my living, in all the moments given, 

my heart is to be in a posture of stillness, no matter how quickly everything around me spins.


The purpose of this life He has given me is to glorify and honor Him, yes. 

Always.


even if the only glimpse I ever see is here on 4th Street.







So, I stand here, on the edge of the end of the year of Grace, ready to walk through the unknown wilderness of this coming, whirling year learning to Be still.

May I know Him more deeply at the end of it all.










Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How a Brother's Voice Can Echo {A Post by Tony}

I’m 5 years old, so it must be 1979. 

My grandparents purchased a giant house complete with fall-out shelter on a hill.  

100 acres.  

On the front of the hill is the Christmas tree farm and on the back end is a lake and a massive amount of woods; a boys dream.  




We live here frequently, on and off again, whenever my parents money ran out of money or the plans changed. 

In this memory I am sneaking through the woods, my cousins and older brother have left to go build a fort.  I begged to come too but my cousins said I was too young to help and no good at sneaking so I was left behind.  

I’ll show them, I’ll sneak up on them, then they’ll see how good I am at their game and they’ll have to let me play.  

It works! I surprise them but they are not impressed. They are angry and dismissive asking me to stop bothering them and go back to the house.  My older brother, he’s 9 and outnumbered, hestitates, and then steps in, “Hey guys it’s ok. Tony’s a cool kid. We should let him help us build a fort.” That’s all I can remember from that day. 

It’s a good day.   





We move again. Up to Canada.

We live in two bedroom apartment; 2 girls, 4 boys, my parents sleep on a hide-a-bed in the kitchen/living room. The apartment is only 500 square feet. 

We live there 9 months. 

We move again, to Oregon, to a parsonage, where my dad is an interim pastor of a church.  During that time my brother finds an old book in the church library, “For This Cross I’ll Kill You.”  It’s an amazing book, I am enthralled by my brother's ability to add voices and further characterize and color the people in the story.  It’s about a missionary who moves down to South America from Minnesota and walks into the jungle, discovering an unreached people group all on his own and bringing them the gospel.  

After a 9 month stint at the church, my father is not asked to stay.




Someone in the church takes pity on us and lets us move into their home that is sitting vacant outside Beaverton. 

The house is huge, an old Victorian, complete with its own pool table and all kinds of crafty built-ins and hidden closets.  In one of the hidden rooms we discover a stash of what I now realize are priceless old comic books and records.  My brother teaches me how to shoot pool and we play late into the summer nights, listening to Abby Road “Shoot Me” and pouring over all the amazing, color pictures of Fantastic Four and Superman.  In the afternoon my brother reads me all of the Chronicles of Narnia, and Tower of Geburah.  We are only there for three months, but what an amazing summer it is! 

We move to the beach.




 I never realize that we’ve been homeless for a couple years now. 

What kid does? 

According to the books I’m being read we’re just on one incredible adventure after another.  


It rains nearly every day at the beach so we stay inside and read.

“The Hobbitt,” My brother says.  

“It sounds dumb,” I say, “What’s a hobbit?” 

“It’s cool, you’ll like it.”


We are only there a month.




We move again to Idaho.

We stay! It’s a miracle!  

My brother joins High School football and even though I’m only in fifth grade, he needs, with his speed, a quarterback to help him practice the routes.

“No,” he coaches patiently, “don’t throw it to me, throw it to the tree. I might be at the porch when you release the ball but I’ll be at the tree when the ball gets there.”

I go to all the games. My brother is so fast and so quick, nothing can stop him. Once he gets the ball, he is gone.

I want to be my brother.




In my fifth grade opinion Back to the Future is the greatest movie ever made.  It’s a cold night and we are exhausted from getting firewood up in the mountains all day but there’s a reward waiting at the end.  My dad is letting my older brother and I go to the movies…BY OURSELVES!  We must be nearly grown up.  Nothing can stop us now, Not even the Libyans!

He goes to college and when he comes home at Christmas, I have missed him like crazy.  All the funny stories about dorm life and intramural football and girls.

“Girls!” I say, incredulous, “I don’t like girls.” 

This is a lie, I’ve had my eye on one all year long in seventh grade but she’s rich and beautiful and I’m invisible and poor so what’s point?

“You will,” he assures me.

I do.




My younger brother and I are standing in the restaurant facing my older brother with terrible news.
 
“Yes I know. I knew dad was dead when you walked in the door. I love you guys.”

I don’t hear any of this until later.

Shock will do that.  

It means so much to me now; a memory I can smile at on the darkest day.




Madison House. What a life! No regrets.  





People ask, “What would make you move to a part of the world that you didn’t know, to a culture you don’t have any affinity with, to share the gospel?”


In the rec-room, “How come you’re so good at pool?”


“Hey dad, how come you know so much about super hero’s, music and movies?”


“Tony’s on our team in snow football! He’s fast!” They smile.


“I don’t like girls,” A young man proclaims loudly for all in the Madison House kitchen to hear.

I laugh on the inside, “He will.”   


“No,” I say patiently, “Throw the ball to the end zone. Even if I’m at midfield when you release it, I’ll be in the end zone when the ball gets there.”


 “Hey, don’t leave that kid out,” I say under my breath to the older kid selecting, “Make sure you pick him for your team. He’ll feel special.”


“Dad, what’s a hobbit? It sounds dumb.”  

“It’s cool, you’ll like it.”
    

I pull aside the 18 year old, gently I explain, “The younger kids look up to you, that’s why I need you to be an example. 

He shrugs noncommittally, disbelief crosses his face.

“No I’m serious. You might not know it, but they’re watching your every move and they want to be just like you.  They are dying to impress you and get your approval. They might act like they don’t care but that’s just a front.  They want you to be impressed with them because they look up to you.  It’s not a contest against you, it’s a contest for you.”

He frowns but nods. 

It’s Thanksgiving 2016.

We are leaving the house in Lake Stevens to head back to Yakima and I see my older brother pull aside one of my young daughters; the one that struggles the most with self-image. 

“Hey,” he whispers just for her. “You are not a weirdo. You are a special kid. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re weird. You are special.”  

She nods and a smile breaks her frown like an ice cream sandwich on a hot day. 




The truth is, my kids freak out with excitement when they know dad’s older brother is coming to visit. They love him to death. Any compliment from their Uncle puts them over the moon and has them walking on air for the rest of the week.

I know exactly how they feel.    








            

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Year the Gifts Were Stolen {A Letter to My Four}

The snow started falling last Monday.

The flakes were small, hardly noticeable.

Really, it was barely a scattering compared to the heavy fall of Thursday.

But as your faces were lifted up in wonder in the parking lot of that church, trying to catch bits of white on your tongue,

your Christmas presents were being lifted out of their hiding place, unbeknownst to us, and the gifts we had purchased for you were now in the hands and homes that they were never intended for, security cameras capturing it all.



I remember telling a Sunday School teacher once how much I loved the nighttime, how my soul felt like it was reviving when the days started growing shorter and dark would settle earlier.

He didn't give me any time to explain why before he told me he questioned my faith. Questioned whether or not I had given my life to Jesus. Encouraged me to question my eternal state.


Only two of you have faint memories of living in the places where I spent my years growing up. You only remember the flatness of the Albertan prairies from pictures I show you. You have no concept of a town of less than 2000 people, of the nearest major stores being over an hour away, of an Arctic wind blowing from the north and freezing your skin in less than 30 seconds if you weren't properly covered.

Your memories of those things come from my own.



You don't remember the long drives from a trip in to the main cities in the black of night that had settled in just after 4pm on a highway that seemed to go on endlessly while a moon reflected off of the fields covered in a hard packing of snow.

But I do.


I loved those drives, not just for the quiet hush with only an occasional lone car passing us, lighting up the spaces around us for just a brief moment,


I loved it for the way light became a beacon.


Dotting the empty vastness of space around us, light would flicker bravely from farms and homesteads planted firmly in their places reminding us in our state of motion that we were not alone in our traveling.


I found that when the moon was new and gave no light, when the air dropped to -40 C and the cold around us was bitter, light would appear to be shooting straight up in to the dark whether it was from an approaching car or a single bulb hanging over the door of a barn.

The colder and darker the air, the straighter and bolder the light would appear.




I never got to tell my Sunday School Teacher that,

but I am telling it to you now.



Because last Thursday, when we had discovered your presents had been stolen, I tried to be brave and have hope.

But on Friday, once names and faces were known, I crumbled and felt like all I was doing was failing in this place where we live and work.


Failure can make air around one's soul grow dark and cold.


The four of you don't even know of this space that I sit down to write in yet. None of you are aware that I am trying to preserve memories for you in pictures and prose. None of you will know until you come across this specific post of this year: the year that your Christmas gifts were stolen.

I want to keep it that way.


Because tonight in the quiet hush of the dark, we will light the third candle for Advent and the space above our mantle will grow brighter, the other candles that I've placed around them waiting for the celebration of the day of Christ's birth, heightening our anticipation.




The name of this candle is Joy.

I want this to fill your memories of this season.

Yes. You saw me grieve on Friday, cry out my anger and my hurt and frustration. You saw loss in my tears without knowing the why behind them.

You bear witness to my wrestling, yes, but you will also bear witness to Christ's Joy ringing triumphant.


I know this.



In the moments before we discovered the theft and the loss of the things we had purchased and hidden away for you, we opened an envelope passed to us across a table at a dinner we had attended that same night.

Tucked in the folded crease of a Christmas card full of cheer was a reminder that God knew long before we did of the things that would be taken and had provided enough to cover what we had lost to the greed of another.


I love the dark and the cold of the winter because it is a continual reminder, every year, of the truth of who Christ is.


You who were so small and filled my arms now stretch tall and only the smallest of you can still curl up on my lap and I know that the days are coming when you will begin to know more fully the dark and the cold of the world around you.

The darkest days can seem like the most endless. And when it can't seem to get any darker, the fiercest winds can pick up and freeze you in your place.





But you must keep your eyes open.

You must wrap yourself in the truth of Who Jesus is.


Because Jesus, Emmanuel, He came into the darkness of our world.

Because Jesus, Light of the World, pierced the darkness of the world in the piercing of His own flesh.

Because Jesus, Risen and Conquering King, fills us with His light who believe in His name and place our faith in Him.


I long for the dark roads some days, my heart longing to see the flame of light stretching straight and true up through the dark.


But then I look at you, the four who love and laugh and live loud, and I can see it beginning, that flame flickering within you.

And should the sky grow darker around us as time spins with chaos all around us, I'll keep my eyes open and look,


Christ's Light is all around and within us, guiding like a beacon, pointing us Home.









Sunday, November 13, 2016

When You Find Yourself in the Middle

The middle days of October found us driving miles east, winding through the last bits of Washington, across the state of Idaho and finally stopping in the middle of the vastness of Montana.



I didn't know what to expect of those days away from home while my four traveled west to spend days with aunties and uncles and cousins and a Nana. 

What I did know is that I would be out of my comfort zone, out of what felt familiar and known. 


It was the height of Autumn as we wound through the foothills and mountains, as the light felt heavy with the gold of Fall and as the sky grew large and blue my eyes kept being drawn to the the rich dark of the pine trees that had grown up the sides of peaked rock.





The atmosphere around all of us has felt heavy...I'm sure you have felt it too? It doesn't seem to matter whether one lives in the middle of the inner city or in the open expanse of the prairies, the air has felt oppressive, thick with apprehension and anxiety.



They popped their heads around the corner back in September, two boys who are often unruly and difficult to handle and I felt the sigh creep up my throat. The bright and sunny renovated classroom  was ready to welcome the new group of kids to be tutored this year and they were the first ones in the door.


How does one love another who doesn't know how to receive love but instead pushes away kindness and grace?

How does one not give up?

Because I was ready to, if I am to be honest here in this space.


That week, I stood up in front of our motley crew of little ones gathered around tables and small group leaders to lead the new Bible Study we had chosen for the year: the impossible task of teaching a small number of children the large number of Names of our even unfathomably larger God.

This day though, we would start small.

We would learn that our own names had meaning and what those meanings were.

The oldest of these two boys was sitting beside Tony with his paper in front of him, waiting for his turn to find out what his name said about him.


Only, he didn't want to know the meaning of his name, because his name was the same as his father's, and to him the result of that name search could only mean bad things for him.


Tony paused in that moment, and then he opened the pages of his Bible because his name was found right there in the Words that hold Life. And this particular name found throughout the Old and New Testaments speaks of God-given bravery, strength and courage. 


Those small shoulders so often hunched over in defeat or scrunched up in anger, for the first time seemed relaxed. 

He sat up straighter.


After leaving the beauty of Montana, the quiet, almost Canadian-ness of it that made me homesick and nostalgic all at the same time, we gathered together as our family of six and traveled down the coast to the ocean and beaches of Oregon.

It was the same there as it was on the foothills and prairies of the east - the dark pine and spruce that covered the ground we were passing. But it was on this trip that I realized why my eyes were drawn there.

It was the brilliant and wild light of the maple trees, the aspen and birch trees. Each leaf that reflected gold and burnt orange and the deepest crimson was held in stark contrast to the depth of dark around it.

I kept trying to capture it in picture as Tony drove, as the lesson was sinking in.




Yes, so much around us feels uncertain and tense. Fear seems to be everywhere. Nowhere online seems safe from anger and outrage while families and friendships and communities fracture and break apart. How do we lament and grieve together for one another no matter what side of the mess you find yourself on?

Jesus, Light of the World, has placed His Light incredibly within the brokenness of His own children. That means, in the dark of the chaos around us right now, we are to stand and let His light blaze out through us while we stand with, not against, those who stand next to us. 



Joshua, before he was to take the land of Jericho, looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a sword drawn.  Joshua approached and asked the question that I think we all have, 

Are you for us, or for our adversaries?

The armed man spoke words that echo across thousands of years and still ring true today,

No; but I am the Commander of the Army of the Lord. Now I have come.

We are out of line when we think Jesus takes sides. We are out of line when we demand He takes our side. Instead, we are to press into and align ourselves with Him.

When Joshua realized Who it was standing there before him, he fell to the ground and in worship asked what he was to do.

This Commander's only order?

Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy. 


The spaces around us, where we have the awesome privilege of speaking with those around us online or face to face...these spaces become holy with the presence of Christ. As a follower of Jesus, this holds weight.


The pastor spoke it from the front of the sanctuary this morning, the words that brought everything together and held me still. He said that it was in the dying of the leaf that the brilliant colors came out.

Until the maple leaf began to die, the deepest red could never bleed out. The gold of the aspen leaf would never be seen unless its life began to fade away.

It is the same for the one who loves Jesus.

Our life becomes His as we die to ourselves, and it is here in this dying that we are transformed and made into His likeness, 

and this is how His Light shines through.


And how all the ground around us becomes holy.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

When He Writes Love {A Post by Tony}

I was speaking with someone the other day about a job I needed done on my house. 



Near the end of the conversation they made some comment about Madison House and then followed up with this,

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about you.”

I hesitated for a second and then responded with a smile,

“Thanks. If you hear anything bad about me I would think that is true as well.”

They laughed, but not really. I think the nakedness of the idea caught them off guard. They recovered quickly, a very classy man, he was.  




Kimberley is an amazing woman. She’s always writing incredible things about me. I don’t have her same perspective on me.  I see a never ending mess ahead of me that I’m struggling to give back to Christ on daily basis, mostly failing but with patches of light that help me continue.



Kimberley is electric, an Adonis, a blazing fire on a long bitterly cold day.  She is entirely the funniest woman I’ve ever met and the gentlest heart.

To hear other men talk about their wives, then listen as Kimberley imparts to me marriages she catches glimpses of, I feel sorrow and joy and the guilt of a survivor.  With Kimberley in my life I KNOW I went through the war and came out on the other side; wife, children, and job, all intact and accounted for. 



So here it goes: Kimberley is always writing down lists of things she is thankful for, so here is my list of Kimberley’s joys and the treasure that I have found in being with her.

1.     She gets up and does devotions for over an hour.
2.     No, seriously, she gets up EVERY MORNING and does devotions for over an hour!
3.     She never nags. I can’t explain that, it never happens. I’ve never felt nagged.
4.     She is incredibly respectful of me in front of the kids.
5.     She is respectful of me in front of the kids and others even though I don’t deserve it.
6.     Kimberly respects me in private, public, socially, and at work, even when we’re in the middle of an idiotic fight.
7.     She spends hours sitting with me and gently rubbing her hands over my back while we read and listen to music together in the evenings.
8.     During this time a kid will inevitably poke their messed head of hair around the corner and yell, “Mommy, I poop my pants!” or, “Mommy, Lyla throw up on her bed and it stinky!” Kimberley works with me to clean up any mess.
9.     I sleep very little but when I do I may as well be dead, and Kimberley, who Is a lite sleeper will deal with most of the 2am kid problems without trying to wake me or making me feel bad the next day.
10.  I interrupt people. It’s a really bad habit, worse than smoking, and Kimberley quietly waits while I jibber jabber about whatever nonsense was in my head and then quietly continues after I’ve wound down.
11.  Kimberley is amazing at taking a dollar and making it stretch out to the end of forever.
12.  The bed is always made. It is with great joy that I enter our bedroom to find that the covers are clean, warm, and soft.
13.  I wake up with Kimberley’s arms wrapped around me. 
14.  If I complain, it’s not at Kimberley. It is for more time with Kimberley. The communication is strong; I want to be with her, I want more of her, she is the safest place on earth.  Whenever there is gunfire and sirens outside the house, I’m not worried; Christ is with us and Kimberley is with me.
15.  Don’t you think Kimberley is a sexy name?  I do. Kimberley, Kimberley, Kimberley…
16.  Hair, make-up, clothes, I don’t know how she does it but she always looks like fire from the gods and I often find myself staring like an idiot.  Yes, idiot. Wake up you fool! But I don’t want to wake up, I want to stay here forever, with only you.
17.  Other women just aren’t getting in the door. They may as well be blind. Where is the door?  Only Kimberley knows, and she can let herself in and take up residence whenever she pleases.
18.  I love making Kimberley laugh. I’m so thankful she likes my sense of humor because it gives me great pleasure to see her throw her head back and enjoy the peace of laughing.
19.  In an age of such sexual, unmitigated, dis-holy catastrophe, Kimberley is a very modest dresser. Not Amish, stylish.
20.  Eric Clapton said it better, “Yellow Tigers crouched in jungles in her dark eyes.”
21.  Not much phases me, but I have to admit, if Kimberley is gone 15 minutes later than she said she would be I get dry mouth and start internally freaking out that she is dead or maimed or has been kidnapped by terrorists or all other manner of hideous horrible.  Then she breezes in the door, laughs, and kisses away all the ugly manifestations of the monsters of my imagination.
22.  Lastly, for this list, “My baby don’t mess around because she loves me so and this I know for sure.”  -Andre 3000-




I love you Kimberley and it is a logistical impossibility for a me to encapsulate the essence of your radiance with a list of poorly stated, “22 reasons.”
You are the only woman that can break me with a flash of her eyes and a tilt of her head.  All other woman are wax candles, dissolving in a river of imprecations before your insatiable flame.  I have only ever been with you; I will only ever be with you.  16 years have been too short to know you and a 1000 more will never do.

Eternity will have to suffice. 

I love you, I love you, I love you.          


   

e00 more will never do,f humor,y guy, he was. o suffice.  i  fire. s of the monters of imagination. ll other mannner s into, i
e00 more will never do,f humor,y guy, he was. o suffice.  i  fire. s of the monters of imagination. ll other mannner s into, i