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. 


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.