The Circle of Life


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
There is a time for all things. Sometimes, those times just occur simultaneously. It’s been a season of multiple “times” in my life recently. I’ve had times to do all of the things listed above; I feel like the last year has included every activity under heaven. Illness and death, graduation, painful separations from people and places that I love, relocation, new risks, leaving old dreams behind and realizing new ones. And then there is that rare moment when a dream you thought was dead is plopped down in your lap again. Literally.
When I left Chattanooga in July, I thought that I was leaving behind my dream of fostering and adopting. After more than two years of training and several possible placements that went to other homes, I moved to Louisville, terrified at the change to come, but perfectly content being the single girl in a new city. I moved in stages over the next couple of months, slowly bringing what I needed as I needed it.
In April, I had moved into my grandmother’s house, planning to remodel it and live in it with my future kids and my two dogs. I ended up there for about 10 weeks with three dogs and no kids. But this crazy time of crazy times began last November, when my grandmother unexpectedly passed away. I had the honor of spending her last days with her, and on the day before she died, I snapped this photo:
2014-11-24 18.36.42-1When we moved my grandmother to the Hospice unit, we realized she was most comfortable on her side, but she needed a pillow to prop up her arm. My back seat is always full of stuffed animals, so Pooh ended up being the pillow my Nana hugged. I love this picture. It’s a reminder of the love and support I know I always had from all of my grandparents. She is the one stepping into eternity, but it looks like she’s holding me up. It now hangs over my desk at home as a sweet reminder that no matter where I may go, I have a support system that is always holding me up.
My grandmother’s death allowed me to have a space, a home for new life, and when I moved out of her house, I thought that dream had ended, or at least been delayed indefinitely. The last few months, though, life and death have been intricately intertwined, a precious reminder that there are different times in life, and sometimes they really do happen all at once.
Life and death and love and eternity.
Hope.
All powerful words, all captured for me in the image above.
Which is why, when I woke up last Sunday after dozing off while putting Big Sister down for a nap, seeing this took my breath and brought tears to my eyes:
2015-10-24 21.32.23There’s someone else, cuddling Pooh with one hand, and hanging on to me with the other.
One moment is a sweet reminder of memories made and a life well lived, a legacy to uphold.
The other moment is a precious promise, a new and unexpected life to cherish and protect, a generation to whom that legacy will be passed.
The last month has been a whirlwind of preparing my grandmother’s house to be sold to a different young family. Several weekends I have gone back to Chattanooga and have simultaneously closed a chapter with my grandmother and begun writing a new chapter with my own kids. These intertwined times were literally being separated into different boxes, what was being preserved, what will be moving to Kentucky. But the best moments were when those old memories were packed up to come to Louisville for Big Sister and Little Man. Books and toys and highchairs that have been used and loved by generations of kids in my family are being used again. And my Nana would be thrilled to see that.
My worldview recognizes that life is a line; there is a beginning and an end to time itself, and it’s not stopping for anyone. But even while time marches on, the seasons and rhythms of life remain. There are circles and connections, and sometimes the time to laugh and the time to cry may just happen at the same time. Just like spring comes after winter, new life is born out of death, and occasionally, we get to be there to see both the end and the beginning. And both are good.
And by the way, that Pooh has officially been designated a family heirloom.
Love the Sojourner

Love the Sojourner


  
“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19 (ESV) 

In biblical times, hospitality was expected and homes were open to travelers. Inns were few and far between, and often dangerous places to stay. I’ve wondered on occasion what this hospitality command would look like in my Bible Belt culture where we have as many hotels as we have churches.
The past two weeks, I’ve not only seen this love, I have experienced it.

When I accepted my new position at a school in Louisville, I knew personally one couple here; Kevin and Patricia Smith, two of my parent’s best friends in ministry and in life. And they took it upon themselves to make sure this sojourner was well loved.

They weren’t ok with me staying in a hotel until I found an apartment, so they asked a friend from church if I could stay with her. She said yes without ever even speaking to me. The plan was to take it a week at a time, and stay with her until I found an apartment and could move in.

When I arrived at her house yesterday, she told me that it would be crazy for me to pay a mortgage and apartment rent when she has this house, so if I could handle her, I was welcome to stay with her until my house sells in Chattanooga. 

We chatted all evening about foster care and teaching. Mrs. Pat dropped by to check on me and make sure I was settled in. Then she took me to get buttermilk pie for dessert and drive me around the area.

This morning, Pamela, my host, made enough coffee for both of us and helped me figure out how long it would take to get to school because of last night’s flooding and regular traffic issues.

Then, as I was walking out the door, she said, “You know, I don’t even know your last name. What is it?”

That is loving a sojourner. Not needing the details, but just knowing the need and meeting it.

As my sister said last week, “People are strangers. Until they are not.”

And in the unity of the Spirit, we may be sojourners, but we are never truly strangers. 

 

On Sharing Life and Death


The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9, KJV

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I sleep just like my grandmother. Curled up on my side, one leg stretched out, the other pulled into my chest. A pillow between my arms. I didn’t know that she slept that way until last night, as I watched her curled up in a hospital bed, finally sleeping peacefully. For a little while, she is not consumed with pain.

I share her feisty nature, which is still obvious in spite of the fact that she has wasted away to skin, bones, and the cancer that fills them. That peacefulness was disrupted briefly when Robby the CNA rolled her over and she let him know that he had “messed up the bed.”

I wonder as I wander, just like the gentleman next door, who also paces in his pajamas between his room and the kitchen.

Shared bathrooms between suites. Pajama clad people shuffling, half awake through the halls, in search of coffee. Other people sleeping, oblivious to what’s going on around them. It’s like my college residence hall, only it’s the Hospice unit where my Nana has come for her final days.

One thing that unites all of us who are living is that, one day, we will be living no longer. For all the differences that we think separate us as people, life and death unite us like nothing else.

There is nothing new under the sun. The older I get, the more I see in the now, and the more I learn of the then, the more I recognize that we all have a deep yearning to be different, be unique. We want to be seen and be known.

And we are. Unique. One of a kind. Fearfully and wonderfully made. We are Imago Dei.

The struggle comes, I think, in the fallen desire for our uniqueness to be recognized as better, as right. And so diversity is not celebrated, but scorned. We fail to be unified in our diversity because we fear what we do not know.

As I sit in the quiet, at that moment when the sky is gray and pink with all the anticipation of the coming day, all I can think is, “What am I anticipating today?”

The last day of classes before Thanksgiving break.

The birth of babies.

News of a former coach receiving a life saving transplant.

The day my Nana steps into eternity.

War overseas and rioting at home.

Christmas being provided for mamas and their kids by generous people.

Glimpses of grace.

Words of encouragement.

Hugs. Prayers. Laughter. Family.

There is nothing new under the sun.

But if the best is only possible with the possibility of the worst, bring it on, whatever the day may bring, because each day confirms that we share so much more than we will ever know.

To Know And To Be Known


In the next couple of weeks I have the incredible blessing of reconnecting in person with two of my dearest friends and favorite people on the planet. One lives in New York City. The other in Southern California. Both of them I have known nearly half my life,yet I have seen neither of them face to face in years.

But I know that there will be no awkward silence in our times together. I doubt there will be much silence at all! There is much to catch up on, much to share, and there is life to be lived; two moments that I anticipate will be memories that last a lifetime.

Do you have friends like that? Friends who know you better than you’re really comfortable with, because they know your best AND your worst?

The idea of being in relationships like that used to terrify me, because the idea of revealing weakness or imperfection terrified me.

But in the last few years, I’ve begun to see how God created us with an inherent desire to both know and be known. As He is in relationship, both in Himself as the Trinitarian God, and with His creation, we are created in His image to also be in relationship with Him and with others. And, I have learned, to know and to be known is the only true way in which to extend and to experience grace.

Only when we are known at our deepest levels, when we are transparent enough to bear our souls and risk rejection, do we also open ourselves up to receive the most genuine act of love; to know someone and love them anyway.

This is why I am so excited about reuniting with these friends; they know me, and that no longer scares me. I can be myself and that is celebrated, not critiqued, examined or judged. Just loved and challenged and encouraged.

Who are the people in your life who love you in spite of yourself? Who are the people you love in that same way?

In other words, with whom are you practicing the love of Christ?

When the Benefit Outweighs the Cost


My parents have lived in the same subdivision for nearly 17 years. I’ve been running in that neighborhood for nearly 17 years, and I’ve been running practically the same route the entire time. It’s predictable, challenging (but not too much), has several little dead end streets you can add for extra elevation, time, and distance.

It’s a good, mindless route.

At least it used to be.

Since moving back to cut expenses while I finish school, this route has been physically more challenging than it used to be. In fact, I haven’t even been able to run the entire route. I stall out at about the same place every time. I thought it was just b/c of being older, or trying to get back into shape.

But it hasn’t gotten any easier, even though I can run farther and faster other places, and lately I began to realize why. It’s not any more physically challenging than it ever has been, but one particular part of my old route has dredged up particularly painful memories, some nearly a decade old, some fresh, in the last few months.

My stall outs haven’t been physical, they’ve been psychological. They’ve occurred when I’ve gotten distracted with the “whys” and the “what ifs” attached to the houses I pass. Instead of running being a time when I clear my mind, refocus on God, commune with Him, my running became a time of reflecting on the past and regretting much of it. It literally weighed me down til I had to walk.

And today, I just couldn’t do it. This part of my run is nearly a mile, and it’s relatively flat, but I couldn’t do it. But I had four miles to run, so I had to do something.

So I chose another route.

And not only did I run it, I hit an elevation PR. Pretty cool.

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To some, that may seem like the obvious thing to do, but how many times to we do that in our own lives, in relationships or other issues?

How often do we find ourselves limping down the same painful road over and over again when all we have to do is pick a different path?

The new path I picked today was hard. There’s a steep elevation, right in the middle. But I’ll tell you one thing:

The temporary pain of the new uphill challenge far outweighed the familiarity of the old, downhill pain.

I know that old route will always be there, and one day, when those emotional wounds have healed, I can run it again. But in order to leave that old route and go a new way, I had to get to the point at which the benefit of facing a new challenge outweighed the pain of constantly reopening old wounds.

So how does that relate to our spiritual and relational lives?

When we’re “trapped” in a spiritual rut or an unhealthy relationship or other situation, what stops us from taking the challenge of trying another route?

Is the same old pain and heartache at least familiar, and we’re not willing to risk that a new challenge may be even more painful?

Remember this: “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.” The new challenges we face with Christ can be difficult; but we will never face them alone.

Sometimes, all it takes to break free from a long term cycle of pain is to just pick a new path.

Which path will you pick today?