on God’s kindness and other update-ish things

Wellll.  It has BEEN A MINUTE since I last made it over to this blog.  But here’s the deal, y’all.  We have had a thing or two going on up in here.  And it appears as though it’s going to stay that way for a while.  So, I thought I’d grab ahold of a few blessed kid-free moments today to give some mass updates for those of you who might be interested in our journey overseas.  And, let’s be real, to Future Me who will surely scroll back to read this years down the road and think, “Oh, sweet 35 year old Catherine.  You didn’t even know what was a’coming.”

So.  Here’s what’s been going down:
The kids wrapped up their school years and their time in American schools for the foreseeable future.  (And yes, my friends.  Elizabeth commemorated the occasion by donning a gold sequin dress.  I mean.  Whatever.)  They’ll be attending an international school in Lilongwe (with uniforms that are completely void of any semblance of sequins or shine… RIP Gold Sequin Dress), but since we’re in complete and total limbo ’till then… school’s out for the LONGEST SUMMER EVERRR!!
Kind of.  I’ve been playing teacher this summer on a very itsy bitsy tiny scale in a desperate Type A effort to keep them up to speed with school stuff, and… I cannot even believe I’m about to utter these words, but… our very itsy bitsy tiny dip into the homeschooling world has been enjoyable.  I know.  I don’t even know what’s happening to me.

Because we Allisons like to go big or go home, I also happened to schedule my last day of work on the same day as their last day of school.  I managed to hold myself together until the bitter end.  And then, the tears started rolling.  Because this.  For those of you who might not know the culture of our church, we are constantly- incessantly- reminded that we are “sent.”  Every service concludes with these words.  Nearly every gathering.  And as I walked out of my no-longer-workplace on that last day and saw these words, Y’ALL.  I was about to re-employ myself right then and there.

In all seriousness, while the tears have fallen plenty in recent months and the INSANE logistics can sometimes be, well, INSANE… God’s been so kind.

Like how ’bout the fact that we sold our house.  (BEFORE EVEN PUTTING IT ON THE MARKET.  HOLLAAA NO SHOWINGS WITH THREE KIDS.  I WILL TYPE THIS IN CAPS FOR THIS REST OF MY DAYS.)  Yes.  We sold our house to a family we know.  Another staff family from church.  A family who will love this house as much as we have.  WITHOUT HAVING TO KEEP MY HOME SPOTLESS AND SHINING FOR DAYS ON END WHILE IT WAS ON THE MARKET.  God’s kindness.

Or how ’bout the fact that, after so, so many tears and hours of fretting, we found a family for Lucy.  And, once again, this family happens to also be on staff at church and are sweet, sweet friends of ours.  She’s truly the weirdest, best dog in the history of dogs, and if I had to give her up to anyone, I’m so glad it’s them.  God’s kindness.

While we haven’t been selling our house and re-homing our dog, we’ve been selling a ridiculous amount of randomness, and my kids have made BANK off of their old toys.  I’ve dropped hints that surely I should get a cut of their profits for the amount of time I’ve spent on the Facebook Marketplace selling their junk.  But, alas, all I get are rapidly emptying toy boxes and bookshelves.  I’ll take it.  Because we can take some of their toys to Malawi, sure.  But that random janky Barbie doll that should’ve been tossed before we bought it?  Nah.  Peace, Barbs

Truly, though.  These kids of ours- as imperfect as they might be- have been absolute ROCKSTARS during this process.  One year ago, they were all “no way, no how, not going” about this whole deal.  Last night, we sat around the dinner table while the kids- completely unprompted- rattled off reasons they’re excited about moving.  WHAT.  Again, God’s kindness.

So, yes.  We’ve sold a boatload of everything and have another boatload to unload in the coming weeks.  But we’ve also spent surely trillions of dollars on All The Things for Malawi.  Three years of shoes and clothes for three kids.  Embarrassing volumes of taco seasoning and ranch seasoning packets.  Deodorant to last for, basically, ever.  New bikes all around to be crated to Africa.  Like I said. Trillions of dollars.  In the midst of all of this, our cars broke.  Both of them in one week.  One was fixed.  One was fixed(ish) and (just) needs a new transmission.  Awesome.

But, once again- jacked transmission and everything- it’s still totally drivable.  We can get where we need to go.  And, if we can’t- heeeey new bikes! God’s kindness.

I’ve told so many friends recently that if I had to describe this season in two words, it would be “God’s kindness.”  Also perhaps “sheer crazy” or “I’m tired” or “send help.”  But mostly?  God’s kind.  Over and over and over again.  We feel seen and known and cared for and loved by the One who is sending us.  And we continue to stand with mouths agape at his provision for and kindness toward our family.

So, seven weeks left in RDU.  Three months in RVA.  (Half of which will be spent living with my ‘rents. #prayforchrisandsusan)  And then, Malawi or Bust.

This is happening.  Not sure if Malawi is ready for this crazy crew.  But it’s happening.

unraveling

Today, it was the dog.  You see, bulldogs don’t thrive in heat.  And, last time I checked, sub-Saharan Africa is hot.  We can’t take our Lucy- our beloved dog who brings us heaps of laughter and joy and who is really quite possibly the best dog in the world- with us when we move.

They talk about “counting the cost,” but sometimes it’s just too hard.

I’ve had a number of those “too hard” days lately.  Those lump-in-the-throat, what-are-we-even-doing days.  Those “okay, Matt, look in my eyes and remind me that Jesus is worth it” days.  “Okay, now tell me again.  And again.”

I suppose that’s just how it goes when you start to unravel everything you’ve built, done, collected, and possessed.  When you look down upon the unraveled threads that lay bare on the ground and you know many, many more are to come.

The other day, it was a conversation at work.  “Catherine.  You know, you really need to start telling your patients that you’re moving.”  “But I don’t want to,” I countered.  “I love those people.  It’s too hard.”

I made it through two patients, maybe three.

More unraveling.

And our stuff.  We’re beginning to sell our way-too-many possessions.  Right now, it’s the easy stuff.  Books, toys, unused home decor.  But the harder is coming.  Like our house.  This home we purchased with every intention to finally, at long last, plant ourselves for good.  To stay and to raise our family, to see our kids morph into teenagers in these very rooms.

Who knew our lives were so tightly wound up?  Who knew we were so enmeshed to this earth right here?  Who knew there was so much tying us down and knitting us tight to a kingdom that simply does not last?  I’m now convinced that there’s no way to know until you start unraveling the threads and seeing with you own eyes.  Your own heart.

It’s really easy to talk a big talk about this life being finite and how living for eternity is better, but if I’m being real honest…. these beginning days of letting go have been a challenge.  And no need to remind me that it’s only going to get harder from here.  I’m acutely aware.

But for today, it’s the dog.  And my friendships and family and this dang, stupid house that I love more than I should.

Unraveling is hard.

But as I’ve been reminded- and will need to be reminded of many times over- Jesus is better.

 

seven.

Dear Elizabeth,

You, my girl.  YOU.  Seven years ago today, you came tumbling into the world, born to your beautiful Congo mama.  Honestly, I have not an inkling what I was doing seven years ago as you were welcomed into her loving arms, but I can assure you- I had no idea what was to come.  What March 4th would come to represent to me.  How much more my heart would learn to love.  I had no clue that a brown eyed, brown skinned little Congolese girl would one day come into our lives, absolutely wrecking our entire family for the better.

Elizabeth, it’s been a big year for you.  You wrapped up kindergarten and confidently launched into first grade.  You danced in your first recital (and absolutely slayed).  You conquered your fears and learned to swim.  You became quite the little reader.  And you continued to make friends every single place you went.

But as friends go, nothing competes with the relationship you have with your sister.  I truly have never witnessed anything like the friendship you two have.  It’s beyond precious.  I liken it to a twin relationship.  When the two of you are together, you are inseparable; when one of you is missing, the other half feels utterly lost.  I could just weep thinking about it.

You really are a people magnet, Elizabeth.  You have the kindest, most compassionate and loving heart.  You care deeply for the oppressed and are often the very first to notice if someone is hurting.  Your big heart for others sometimes translates to even bigger feelings and emotions, but don’t you change a thing, baby girl.  I’d choose a soft heart and occasional tears ANY DAY over indifference.  God’s going to use your tender heart and compassion to do mighty things.  He already is.

You love to dance.  We’re talking ALL THE DAY LONG.  You’re completely obsessed with Full House and can be found swooning over Uncle Jesse.  Your favorite food is steak.  Your favorite series of books is Judy Moody.  You have a love affair with sequins- the more the better.  And your favorite color is turquoise.  Specifically, Tiffany blue.  I cannot even.

Speaking of which. About six months ago, you kindly informed us that you had started to save your money for a car.  A convertible.  Specifically, a turquoise convertible.  And even MORE specifically, a Beverly Hills Limited Edition Tiffany blue Bentley convertible.

You have $99 in your save jar so far.  Which, for a seven year old, is a small fortune.

Keep dreaming big, sweet girl.  Watching you bloom and grow is one of the greatest joys of my life, and I cannot believe that I have the privilege of hearing you call me “mom.”  May your heart stay tender and your prayers remain bold.  And may you always remember that your great, big, unconventional, stitched-together-by-adoption family that spans from the DRC to the USA loves you more than you could ever know.  Ever. Ever. Ever.

Happy seventh birthday, my little Elizabethy.

when small steps of obedience look a lot like God’s will for our lives

Here’s what I believe about God: he’s vast and holy and unchanging.  Omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.  Unbounded by time or space.  Always has been, always will be.  Beyond our full comprehension.  And yet.  I believe we can still know him.  I believe we can know him AND his will.

It’s crazy, actually.

However, we, as Christians, love to talk circles around “finding God’s will” for our lives. It’s just what we do.  Like it’s this mystical, magical, unreachable thing.  But I’m here to suggest- after oodles of experience playing this same game- that it’s not all that tricky after all.  I mean, I THOUGHT it was.  I spun my wheels for years praying and talking to wise counsel and reading deep books and, oh hello, blogging my feelings… all to decipher what the Lord wanted from me.  From us.

And all these things are well and good.  Yet, when I began to sense that God might actually be serious about this missions thing- when I started to realize that he might be calling US- my prayers became a bit more desperate.

“No, no, God.  I need you to, like, tell me.  WITH WORDS.  Spelled in the sky or shouted into my ear.  Or maybe you could even pull a Moses and talk to me from a burning bush.  I’d be down with that as long as you make this very, abundantly, overwhelmingly obvious.  Mkay, thanks.”

Meanwhile, God was probably all “Hey, girl… heeeey! Ever heard of the Bible?  The thing you call ‘the Word of the Lord’?  Oh yeah!  Check it- my plans and my will for your life is RIGHT IN THERE.”

Right.  Some of us are slow learners.

Because I knew the words.  I memorized the Great Commission as a kid.  I knew that Scripture straight up tells us to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus.  I just, I don’t know, forgot these verses were for me.  I failed to consider that maybe these pages of the Bible actually spelled out God’s will for me, clear as day.

But God’s patient.  He’s also relentless.

So, he flew us around the globe- country after country- to show us the work he is doing.  To break our hearts wide open for the vast and broad physical needs, yes- for poverty, famine, fleeing refugees, and limited access to healthcare.  But even more, he overwhelmed us with the lack of gospel access around the world.

It is for this reason that I will always, always, be an advocate for short-term missions trips. Done correctly, they can make an enormous impact of people’s lives.  However, it just so happens that the people impacted are typically the participants themselves.

Like us.  I digress.

SO.  We had the Bible telling us to “go into all the world”.  We had short-term trips giving us a deep, deep love for distant lands and cross-cultural ministry.  And then, God decided to pull out all stops over the past two years when he legit bombarded our family with people knee-deep, doing this work.  I am not even kidding you.  Missionaries AND THEIR KIDS invaded our lives.  At school and at church and at work.  Even at home.  Because OF COURSE we would unknowingly hire a nanny who grew up overseas as a missionary kid.

Let me just tell you.  It’s really dang hard to ignore God’s call to the nations when he’s surrounding you with people whose stories from those very nations now felt intensely personal.  Whose kids would give context to life overseas for our three wary children.  Who could look into our eyes and give unfiltered “been there, done that” truth.

It was time to reevaluate how we were viewing this whole “God’s will” business.

Long story short, that’s precisely what we’ve been doing throughout the course of the past year.

We took inventory of our gifts and passions.

We considered our deep love of Africa.

We thought about our desire and willingness to move overseas.

We enlisted our closest friends to pray over this decision and invited them to push back if they saw any red flags at all.

We, ourselves, prayed.  A lot.  A lot a lot.

And we held all of this up to what God himself has said all throughout the pages of Scripture.

And boom.  The answer quickly became glaringly- almost annoyingly- obvious.  With that, we committed last summer to start the application process.  We told God, “Hey, we see what you’re doing here.  And we’ll start taking steps of obedience in this direction.  If you keep opening doors for us to head overseas, we’ll keep walking right through them.  But you just stay near.  Because, dear God, this feels crazy.”

We kept waiting for doors to slam shut.  Which never happened.  So, we held up our end of the bargain and kept right on stepping.

And as we take those tiny one-foot-in-front-of-the-other steps of obedience, I’m learning that maybe God’s will is a lot less about what big things we’re going to do for him and a lot more about what God’s going to do in us.

Onward.  One step at a time.

on fear and safety and illusions that cripple

I grew up going to camp every single summer, from third grade through twelfth.  Situated right on Lake Gaston in rural, small town North Carolina, Camp Willow Run wasn’t exactly abounding with frills and fancy.  It was relatively small and humble but had- and still has- a fiercely devoted following.  

Every year, I would roll up into camp, well aware of what was to come.  I knew that, a short hour after arriving on camp property, I’d have to jump into the murky lake for a swim test.  I knew the high ropes course forward and backward.  I knew that, toward the end of the week, we’d be served cookie mush for dessert, an unfortunately-titled fan favorite.  And I knew that, on the last night of camp, there would absolutely be tears.  

Because, at Christian summer camp, things tend to culminate with THE INVITATION.  For those of you not fluent in church talk, an “invitation” refers to a time in which people are invited to make a decision to follow Jesus.  I tend to roll my eyes at Christianese, but it is what it is and basically goes down like this:

  1. Here’s the gospel and
  2. So whatcha going to do about it now?

I knew the gospel.  And I knew my response.  I had decided that Jesus was worth following when I was very young.  And yet, that last night always found me making other giant- sometimes emotionally charged- promises to God.

“Lord, this is it.  I’m going to start reading my Bible more.  Every single day.  Genesis to Revelation.  PINKY PROMISE.”

“Alright God, I’m going to kiss dating goodbye.  And I guess kissing too.  Wait.  Do you really want me to kiss KISSING goodbye?  Uh Lord, hello??”

You get the drift.  Big declarations and big proclamations after a big week at camp.  It’s how it goes.  And it’s awesome.  But there was this one year when this guy named J.D. Greear was the camp speaker.  After a week of preaching hard, he gave an invitation for those who had decided to follow Jesus.  A bunch of people walked forward.  We all clapped and cheered and did all the things one does when someone makes the biggest decision they’ll ever make.  

But then J.D. kept going.  “And now, I’m going to offer a second invitation,” he said.  “I don’t do this often, but I know that God places the missionary call on the lives of some.  So, if you feel called to missions- if you feel like God might be asking you to leave your home and family and country to move overseas- come on up front.”

Even more than kissing dating goodbye, I knew this was right.  I knew this was for me.  Yet while a handful of people rose to their feet, I stayed put.  Paralyzed in fear.  And I immediately regretted it.

Fear has a way of doing this to you.  Fear of breaking from the pack.  Of being seen as different.  As weird.  As “holier than thou.”

Fear of man.  Fear of unknowns.  Fear of taking that first step of obedience.  This has been my story, over and over and over again.  

And it only intensified from there.  Because time would pass, and trips around the world would continue to affirm what I had already known as a teenager. But it’s one thing to talk about a romanticized version of being a missionary when you’re a starry-eyed twenty year college student.  However, place a living, breathing, newborn babe in that same person’s arms a few years later, and junk gets real.  Fast.  The game changes dramatically.

That fear of being viewed as different, weird, or unpopular that crippled me as a teenager was morphing into something a bit different. And still, the symptoms were the same.  Namely, I found myself once again overlooking truth to dwell, instead, on hypotheticals.  On the what ifs.  

What if my kids get sick?

What if they turn out awkward and poorly adjusted?

What if their education overseas is subpar?

What if our marriage suffers?

What if we have no friends?

What if we give up everything all to discover that it was all one big mistake after all?

You see, these questions- these hypotheticals- they have a way of drawing you in and leaving you floundering in the murky waters of unbelief and doubt.

Good thing God is greater than the hypotheticals my finicky brain can come up with. Good thing he never leaves us floundering too long.

In the fall of 2016, I was asked to join a medical missions team that was heading to West Africa.  My first response was a hard and fast “no.”  I was about to start a brand new job.  The country where they were headed was in a state of unrest.  And it just didn’t make sense to go.  Not here, not now.

Fear.  Yet that hard “no” somehow shifted into an “okay, fine.”  And off I went.

And that trip, man.  It’s almost like God actually knows what he’s doing or something.

Yes, that trip to West Africa was phenomenal, but in full disclosure, I actually DID very little that week.  I mean, I saw some patients.  I had a few good conversations with some nationals.  I prayed.  A lot.  But I am fully confident that God flew me halfway across the world that week to teach me a thing or two about fear.  

I’m convinced that he flew me to Africa so that I could meet my now-dear-friend, Sheri.

My friend who was raising a family in a country of unrest and instability and who could say with an unwavering confidence, “Jesus is worth it.”

My friend who would patiently listen to my fears and misgivings and would set my eyes on truth.

My friend who, just hours before we’d hop on a plane to head back home, said, “Catherine, safety is a complete illusion.  Don’t live your life trusting in an illusion.”

The following day, we landed in Miami, Florida to a terminal teeming with police and bomb sniffing dogs.  Because, just prior to our landing, a gunman had let loose in a neighboring airport.

Several days later, sirens followed an armed robbery that occurred just seconds from our home.  Our home in safe, secure, suburban North Carolina.  

That was it.  I was over it.  Done trusting in the illusion.  I was tired of being the captain of my ship and the author of my own self-absorbed narrative.  I was calling it quits on coordinating the perfect life for my perfect kids who would obviously, as a result, turn out perfectly.  

A safe, comfortable life was no match to an infinite, holy God.  And that very God was going to some pretty great lengths to get my attention.  At long last, he had it.

it’s time.

As it turns out, even the wordiest of people can fall mute every now and then. I’ve attempted to sit down to type this out for weeks- months, even. And yet, I cannot for the life of me figure out where to even start.

But let’s try, shall we?

Let’s just cut to the chase. So, we’re moving. To Africa. SURPRISE.

No really. We’re moving to Africa. Lilongwe, Malawi to be specific.**

It’s funny, actually. There have been few- very few- people in our lives who have been legit surprised by this news. The vast majority, however, have been all, “Dude, that’s… crazy. Like, MOVING moving? Yeah, you’re totally crazy, but I am not one bit surprised. WAIT. Oh my gosh, the kids. How do THE KIDS feel about this?”

Almost verbatim. Those exact three points, nearly every time: 1. We’re crazy, 2. They’re not surprised, 3. But what about the kids?

So, if that’s you, let’s just set some groundwork here. Just to put your pretty little minds at ease.

1. You might be right. Maybe we are crazy. Maybe we have indeed lost our minds. Matt and I look at each other on a near-daily basis and ask ourselves these very questions. But…

2. You have no idea how affirming your “I’m not surprised” responses are. Especially when we start circling around point #1. Or when we get stuck on point #3.

3. The kids. The kids have varying levels of excitement and acceptance on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis. Similar to they way they feel about, oh, each other. You know how siblings can be snuggled up sweetly next to one another one minute and ready to pounce slash draw blood the next? NOT THAT THAT EVER HAPPENS TO REAL LIVE MISSIONARIES-TO-BE. But I’ve heard rumors of such things (ahem), and it’s been EXACTLY like this. Highs and lows. Excitement and anticipation one minute, sadness and fear the next. There’s a lot they’re going to give up, and plenty that they’ll gain in moving to a new country and entirely new culture. But I’m getting ahead of myself. More on this later.

That said, I think the tippy top most important piece of groundwork to lay and point to drive home is that, sweet goodness, God has been at work here, leading up to this point. We’re talking years of preparation. Decades even.

Because in his good and sovereign plan, God would use a trip to Zimbabwe to completely reorient and rearrange the worldview of an impressionable eleven year old boy. And that boy would one day meet a girl was similarly raised to love and care for the world around her. A girl raised with missionary biographies in-hand. A girl whose heart was wrecked and eyes were opened wide on numerous short-term trips around the world. That boy and that girl would one day fall in love and get married. They’d make big plans and dream big dreams. They were gonna do this thing, man.

Years would pass. And, sure, they’d keep praying for the nations. But kids would come. Roots would be planted. They’d get their perfect house. Their perfect jobs. Their perfect lives. The American Dream up close and personal. It would be right in their grasp. And it would be awesome. Comfortable. Full of promise and opportunity.

But those two crazy kids- now all grown up and perhaps a bit less starry eyed- well, they would have to reach that point of having everything they ever wanted before they realized that it wasn’t everything they were created for after all.

They’d have to grow into the understanding that this call to missions actually has zero to do with them and everything to do with the God who called them.

And as they reached this point- as their view of God finally overshadowed their fears, hesitations, questions, and the seductive American Dream that had been placed so neatly in their very laps- they would look at each other one day knowingly.

“It’s time.”

** As things in life go, nothing is for sure until it’s for sure.  A board of trustees will be voting on us in a few months which will hopefully make this forsureforsure.  Get it got it good?  Good.

To TOTALLY be continued…

a whole flippin decade

Carson. Luke. Allison.

Didn’t anyone ever tell you pulling shenanigans like this- like TURNING ONE WHOLE DECADE OLD- isn’t good for your mother’s mental well-being?

Seriously though.

Carson, I don’t know if it’s something about a mama and her baby boy, but I basically think you’re the coolest ever.  With each passing year, I continue to watch you settle- with a quiet confidence- into your gifts and passions, and it’s absolute joy.

You continue to be a wildly voracious reader, and you have a book on you everywhere you go.  The playground.  The school cafeteria.  The bathroom.  Honestly? I have had moments of worry surrounding this and even asked your teacher this year, “Is this a problem?  Is this weird?  What about his peers?  Books aren’t necessarily a hot commodity for the average fourth grade boy.  Should we sneak a football into his hands instead?”  Suffice it to say, your sweet teacher set me straight REAL QUICK.

“Mrs. Allison.  Carson has friends.  He’s kind to others.  Others are kind to him.  He doesn’t feel the need to be like everyone else, and THAT IS A GOOD THING.  Let. The. Kid. Read.”

Got it.  Read on.

But she’s right.  Carson- you’re kind and compassionate and have an overall gentle, tender spirit.  You’re also a card-carrying introvert, and you love your quiet, your space, your people.  You don’t cast a crazy wide net for friends, but you do love the few best friends you have really hard.

You have an insanely strong sense of justice which is typically great… but has been known to get you into trouble. You’re a black and white thinker.  There is no such thing as grey area.  You’re logical.  Methodical.  And you stick to schedules and routines like a boss.

You’re (still) completely obsessed with Minecraft, Legos, and Pokemon.  You are a master of corny jokes.  And you continue to shave years off my life on the regular as you climb trees/poles/walls/anything climb-able like a crazy little ninja.

Carson, I feel all weepy as I think about the past ten years of your life and all that God has done in you.  This was a big year for you, fueled by a huge decision to follow Jesus.  As I mentioned, you carefully measure your decisions in life.  You research and you think and you overthink and you ask questions and you research some more before you jump.  DUDE I DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU GOT THIS FROM.  (cough)  But you did this all with your decision to follow Christ, and in doing so, you saw and believed that he is worth it.  That Jesus is worth it every single time.  And time and time and time again.  So, basically, that’s all I could ask or pray for in your life and in all the decades to come.  That you would remember that Jesus is worth it.

Happy birthday, buddy.  I love you so stinkin much.

on messy discipleship, unmet expectations, and baptism

I tried something new this summer.  A family-wide, sync’ed up Bible reading plan through the book of Romans.  It all started off grand.  The kids had their darling new Kids Read Truth books, I had my iPhone app, and we all had some pretty solid intentions.  We’d read Scripture.  We’d talk about it around the dinner table.  We’d strum harps and sing Kumbaya.

And we’d fail epically.  Or, at least so it would seem.

I mean, we read it.  Most of us at least, though all at different paces and with varying degrees of whining.  I’m pretty sure we rehashed Scripture around the dinner table a grand total of thrice.  And the harp sadly never made its debut.

As we approached mid-summer, I began to feel frustration creep in.  Once again, my lofty expectations did not align with our summertime reality.  Once again, parenting looked a lot more like a hodgepodge of messy moments than shining examples of family discipleship.  And, once again, doing A + B wasn’t exactly equaling happy, compliant, Bible-loving children.  No, A + B was simply driving me to an 8pm bedtime, overwhelmed and defeated.  Romans and all of our well-written, beautifully-designed Bible reading plans could SHOVE IT thankyouverymuch.

Then there was that day several months ago.  It was just another day when Carson approached me at bedtime in a completely nonchalant way.  “Hey mom, I’m ready to get baptized.”

Pause for a second.  For a solid year now, we’ve been having conversations with Carson about his faith in Jesus.  And, for a solid year now, he had remained fairly adamant that he didn’t want to get baptized.  He didn’t want to stand up in front of people, and he didn’t want people looking at him.  It felt awkward and it felt scary and he just wasn’t ready.

So we backed off.  We’d stand by him, encourage him, pray for him… but this was something that he and his logical, analytical little brain needed to hash out.  Just between him and God.

So, I pressed a bit.  “Dude, that’s awesome!” I said.  “But, I’m just curious.  How’d you get to this point?  How’d you come to this decision?”

“Romans,” he responded, shrugging his shoulders.  “I just read Romans.”

Funny how that works.  We, as parents, spin our wheels, workworkworking to see our kids to follow Jesus.  We use all the latest tools and read the best, most gospel-centered parenting books, desperate to be all that our kids need us to be as parents.  And yet, at the end of the day, we’re reminded that what our kids really need from us is a signpost pointing back to Jesus.  Back to Scripture.  We quickly learn that we can spin those wheels all the livelong day, but the power to change their hearts lies in the Spirit alone. 

 

So, Carson.  Thanks for this reminder.  This reminder that I can buy all the right books and say all of the right (or wrong) things, but I’m still not in control of you guys.  And, you know what?  That’s actually a really beautiful and freeing (and sometimes really really terrifying) thing.  For BOTH of us.

Buddy, we are so very pumped for your decision to get baptized last weekend.  This felt scary and risky to you, and you did it.  Scared.  Which stands in pretty close resemblance to what this crazy adventure of following Jesus is all about.  But here’s the really awesome thing: we can do hard things scared because we know His presence goes with us, before us, and behind us.  We can do hard things scared because we have His very word to guide us along the sometimes rocky way.

You know this.  Dude, you saw this with your own eyeballs and experienced this with your own life this summer, but let me just remind you once again that His Word is truth.  This world may lead you astray.  Heck, I MAY EVEN LEAD YOU ASTRAY SOMETIMES.  (I know it’s exceedingly hard to believe, but I’m not perfect.)  Scripture though?  It can be trusted.  HE can be trusted.

We’ve got your back, buddy.  Our big, messy church is chock-full of people who love you and who have got your back.  And that God of the Bible who you met in Romans this summer?  He’s totally got your back.  So get after it.  We love you so much.

eight.

Mary Grace,

Eight years ago, I was pacing the hallways of the hospital, begging and pleading with you to make your grand debut.  To just go ahead and come OUT already.  In hindsight, maybe you were just giving the world a few extra moments of prep time before you entered the scene.

You, my girl, are one tiny, wild-haired ball of passion and fun.  You have a fervor about you that gets stuff done.  (And, sometimes, wears me flat out.)  You have lots of words and lots of energy and lots and lots and lots of opinions.  And good gracious, do you fill our home with laughter.  You have this uncanny ability to diffuse any rocky situation with humor.  It’s a blessing.  AND it’s also a curse for me and your dad when we’re trying to discipline your way-too-witty-for-the-situation self.

You so have us pegged. 

Ninjas are front and center in your life these days.  A few months ago, I learned that you were coordinating an elaborate “ninja training” program on the school playground for any willing participant, and the love affair hasn’t run dry yet.

At eight years of age, you also love animals, art, soccer, basketball, Pokemon, and running shorts.  You dislike mornings and having your hair brushed.  The before-school struggle is JUST SO REAL OHMYGOSH.

Your best friends are Avery, Lucia, Elizabeth, and Carson.  Your favorite subjects are math and art.  Your favorite food is frozen pizza.  The cheaper, the better.  And when you grow up, you want to be a ninja.  However, if those ninja aspirations don’t pan out, you’re quite clear that you’d settle for a job as the president.

Let me just tell you something, Mary Grace.  As you grow older, you may have people tell you that you’re too much.  Your personality too big.  Your opinions too strong.  Don’t listen to them.  As long as you’re walking in truth and following the One who created you, don’t apologize for who you are.  Don’t apologize for that personality and that voice of yours.  For all of that passion that oozes out of you.  Use it.  Use it all and use it up.  But do so in His strength and for His purposes.  For HIS glory, not yours.

 

Happy 8th birthday, Mary Grace.

Get it, girl.

Xoxo,

Mom

Oh, and P.S. This video?  I attempted to interview you for your birthday.  To capture the essence of Mary Grace, age 8.  All I have to say is YEP.  It’s ’bout right.  Also, I need a nap.

blogging like it’s 2007

Well, HEY.

It’s been nearly four months since I’ve last blogged.  That’s BY FAR the longest span of silence on here since 2007.  2007 when a newly announced pregnancy was, for the basic mom of America, synonymous with a newly announced blog.  2007 when I was Great With (my firstborn) Child.  2007 when I thought I had life a whole lot more figured out than I actually did.

Funny how that happens.

A lot has changed over the years.  Laid-back blogging has given way to platforms and sponsorships and dollar signs.  Writing for the sake of writing and blogging for the sake of documenting… I don’t know.  Is that even a thing anymore?

I didn’t intend to take a step back from this space over the past few months.  But summer happened.  That epic summer of 2017 that will forever go down in history as That Time Mom Lost Her Voice For Weeks On End.  No, I didn’t go completely mute, much to my children’s dismay.  But I did walk around with a voice just raspy enough to prompt people to question my physical well-being.  All summer long.  “No,” I’d reply.  “No, no.  I’m not sick.  This is just my summer voice.”

My summer voice: a direct result of answering the constant “mom mom mom mom mom” interrogations that echoed through my house for ALL OF THE WAKING HOURS THIS SUMMER.

So, yes.  There was summer.  And, I don’t know, just life.  Work.  Laundry.  The crushing demands of The Daily Homework Folder.  Maintaining our ever-present library fines.  Seminary classes.  (Huh?  Yes.  Seminary classes.  WHAT EVEN IS MY LIFE RIGHT NOW.  I don’t wanna talk about it.)

And then.  THEN there’s this phrase that I find myself repeating on loop for one special child in my life (I feel my voice once again being siphoned away into nothingness just typing this):

“Oh, Unnamed-Child-O’Mine.  Oh, precious little spit-fire.  Hear me and hear me well.  Everything that enters your brain does NOT have to exit your mouth.  Think. Before. You. Speak.”

These words, y’all.  I’ve been mulling over them for a while now.  Four months, I guess.

Not everything that enters my brain has to be typed into words.

Not everything that my heart feels has to be processed publicly.

And not everything that my hands accomplish has to be photographed, filtered, and posted.

Sure, these past few months have been busy.  Like, head-spinning, can’t-keep-up busy.  Because, life.  I’m not unique in this.  But these past few months have also taught me that God is a far better keeper of my feelings and thoughts and prayers than my keyboard.  And that I’d rather have intimacy with Him any day over a few virtual high-fives.

There is just so much good that comes in the quiet of the unblogged, unposted, un”liked” and unseen.  This is a theme that I’ve heard swelling up around me for the past year or so.   (Shout out to Sara Hagerty who hit on this so beautifully in her recent book which I just loved so much.)  A call to embrace the quiet.  An anthem for the beauty of the small.   A reminder to be faithful to the real life here and now that God has handed us.

But I’ve also found that writers gonna write.  And I’ve noticed this unfortunate trend: the longer I go without writing on here, the wordier I get on Instagram.  Bless all of your Instagram-using, picture-loving hearts.  Some people have a lot of words they have to speak in a day.  I have a lot of words that come out of my fingers.  I JUST CANNOT HELP IT. Jesus, take the wheel and shorten my captions.

I guess this is what I’m saying.  I don’t care if blogging is SO 2008.  I’ve decided that I kinda like it here.  I like that my kids scroll through these pages to peruse old family pictures.  I like that I scroll through these pages to see God’s faithfulness in written form.  I like you people (heeey mom. heeey PawPaw. heeey weirdo spam commenters.) and the real life AND online conversations that have flowed from blog posts.

The truth is, I am just a teensy bit less crazy when I write.  I know this.  Matt knows this.  He knows it so well that he has urged me on more than several recent occasions that I should “probably get back to writing”- that “it’s, you know, a good way to process things.”  Hey, Matt.  I CAN TAKE A HINT.

And so, in a season that feels like all of the crazy, I think I’m back.  Maybe to keep writing words.  Or maybe just to overpost kid pics.  But I’m back to blog like it’s 2008.  Because nobody’s got time for the crazy.

 

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