This Long Goodbye

46 days ago I started a countdown.

50 days to go.

40.

30.

At the time I wondered if I were perhaps making things more difficult, keeping the count in front of me. Wouldn’t that stress me out? Make me (more) melancholy?

There was probably some bit of wisdom in those concerns, but I went ahead anyway – even going so far as to write the numeric countdown on every page of my calendar.

20.

10.

9.

The cumulative effect has been (nearly) fifty days of unusual awareness. The daily countdown has forced me to assess where and how and with whom I will invest the hours. It has (ironically) slowed me down a bit and given me a measuring stick to take stock of how my preparations have gone.

8.

7.

6.

At another pivotal moment of my life I vividly remember telling Mom through tears, “This feels like death.” I’ve thought quite a bit about that phrase over the past weeks. What I meant then, and feel somewhat now, is that one of the necessities of change is the leaving behind of that which is familiar, and often, incredibly dear. And that loss is hard.

In the past, I have tried to ignore massive changes ahead, choosing to wait to deal with rioting emotions in the moment as action occurred. Often we have no choice but to live this way as some of life’s biggest changes come surprisingly bursting onto the scene. And typically, that’s how I roll – but not this time.

This time I chose the long goodbye.

I don’t particularly like it – counting down the days – but it has been achingly sweet. It has helped me be intentional with things like dinner dates and phone dates and coffee dates and staying up late to feel my new nephew’s fluttering kick in his mother’s belly. Choosing a long goodbye has meant a lot more tears (pretty much every day, at the end of the day, like clockwork) and taking time to really feel the ache of leaving. It has meant taking time to say the things I wanted to say, to my students, to my siblings, to my friends, and reading the same book over and over and over to eager little niblings. It’s given me time to think and pray and meditate on the sweetness of God’s faithfulness, shown now, in my past and with certain hope, my future.

And I’ve been surprised. Because as much as the ache is deep and the desire to wrap my arms around babies and never let go is breaking my heart, this time it doesn’t feel so much like death. The grief and loss are real, but almost fifty days has given me time to realize the joy and gain that are real in this transition too.

Will there be more tears ahead? I wouldn’t bet against it. And hard(er) days? Those inevitably come as well. But there is life in this long goodbye and I am grateful for the gift.

5.

4.

3 – Sunday.

2 – Monday.

1 – Tuesday.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

Back to the Basics

The original intent of this blog was to keep in touch with the folks back home as I traveled to the wilds of CA to teach for a couple years. It served the purpose well, keeping my family and friends updated on my crazy adventures and daily happenings with (somewhat) regular posts. Since my return I’ve attempted blog series and regular postings, but have basically just used this space when I really have something to say.

Well, once again I’m heading into the crazy unknown – not quite as unknown as the the CA frontier, but definitely out of my comfort zone. In a few short days (16, but who’s counting) I’m packing my car and road-tripping it to the beautiful Brazos Valley of Texas to fulfill a pretty much lifelong dream of being (as my sister put it) a “real” Aggie. I’ll be planting my life at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service, where I intend to study National Security and Diplomacy with a focus on (to no-one’s great surprise) the Middle East.

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Which means that this blog will see a bit more action than the last several years have brought, as I revert back to the original intent of keeping a larger group of people updated as to my daily crazy life. I don’t anticipate that I will be any more faithful in updating than I ever was, but I’ll do my best to keep all those interested in the loop as I tackle this latest adventure. Thanks to all those who have stuck around to listen to the bits I’ve had to say over the years, for your encouragement to me to keep blogging. And welcome to those of you who will be jumping on the blog for the first time as I hand out this address in the coming days. I hope you enjoy. (A special note to my students … I expect comments!)

Please feel free to follow the blog (there’s a link for that on the page), check back as often as you like, or ignore it completely. I promise you won’t hurt my feelings in the least.

Surprise

I don’t know how many times I’ve told the story, but I was beyond surprised when Mom told me you were on the way – I was shocked. Flabbergasted. More than a little concerned that my way-too-old-to-have-another-baby mother was pregnant – again. And I told her so. I can only imagine the patience it took for Mom to keep from throttling my arrogant 13-year-old self.

The news of you was surprising. And you have kept on surprising me from that first moment. Surprise – you were a girl (poor Joel). Surprise – you were a big baby (at least we thought of you as big until these huge nephews started arriving). Surprise – you came on a Sunday … early (Mom told Dad he should have someone ready to preach, just in case – he didn’t). 

I fell in love the moment I saw you. Seriously, I was a weeping mess in the delivery room. Then I worried … with a nearly 14 year age difference, would we ever really know each other? Surprise – we do.

NinSar1Baby you was the one I whispered all my angst-ridden teenage secrets too. Surprise – you never told. Toddler you was the loudest fan at my basketball games. Surprise – you always assumed we were going to win. As you grew, God kept me here and – surprise – caused us to develop a relationship that is one of the sweetest blessings in my life.

Then you turned 11, and I left the country and (no surprise) we both changed. When I came home, surprise – you weren’t a baby anymore. Surprise – you didn’t like being babied anymore. Surprise – you grew up.

Daddy likes to introduce the two of us as his Alpha and Omega. We fit together that way somehow. We are the bookends. Where we are alike we are soooooo alike. And where we are different —

Surprise – you are the crazy one. Surprise – you understand fashion. Surprise – you play the violin. Surprise – you like to “hang out” with a large group of your (equally) crazy friends. Surprise – you play volleyball. Surprise – you like to dance. Surprise – that hair though.

I watched you grow up too fast in the middle of betrayal and strife in the church. Surprise – you still love God’s people. I taught you as an inaugural student at One Room. Surprise – you came back for your senior year. I directed you in numerous productions. No surprise – you are just as dramatic as your siblings. I coached you for many years of basketball and (surprise) volleyball. Surprise – you are tougher than anyone knows.

Wonderful, surprising Ninny – you are tenderhearted, kind, serving, competitive, tough, and thoughtful. You are a defender of the little guy, and champion of justice. You are argumentative, stubborn, and solid in your convictions. You are a good friend, a wonderful Auntie, an amazing baby sister.12512747_10100795354575457_285287972292387617_n

Surprise – you are graduating today. No surprise – my big-sister heart hurts just a smidge. Surprise – you are more than ready. No surprise – I’m so incredibly proud of you. Surprise – you make that cap look great … oh wait, that’s no surprise too.

Love you Ninny! Congratulations.

Currently Reading

Wishful Drinking. 

Raised by Wolves.*

The History of the Peloponnesian War.* 

Foreign Policy Begins At Home. 

The Jedi Doth Return.* 

Side by Side.* 

Politics – According to the Bible.*

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Persuasion.*

Sometimes I look at the books I’m currently reading and worry about myself. Seriously. I’ve always been an eclectic reader, but this is an odd group, even for me. The list runs the gamut from memoir/comedy (Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking) to classics (Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War) and the spiritually edifying (Ed Welch’s Side by Side) to the geekily ridiculous (Ian Doescher’s The Jedi Doth Return.) There’s even some werewolves, Jane Austin, and a 700+ tome on politics in the mix for good measure.

After coming home from CA I had to retrain myself to read widely and extensively. Apparently, despite the slowness of the internet, Netflix had become my go to option after long school days (or days of just living). It was easier (even with the looooooong wait time for things to load). I just didn’t have to think so much when watching something, even if I did try to keep my fingers busy with handwork or henna. And consistent reading, like any other habit, slowly fell by the wayside for want of use.

I didn’t realize how much my book intake had dipped until I came home, and suddenly had access again to a wonderful blessing of American life – the local library. And several months after I was back in country, it hit me between the eyes. I didn’t read like I used to do. Ouch.

So I started reading deliberately – and widely. Biographies, history, fantasy, YA, theology, leadership, business, Christian living – I forced myself to read. It was hard. The hardness of it was beyond irritating. That’s what happens when you try to regain a habit that you unthinkingly let lapse. But slowly, like a starving man regaining a taste for good food, my love of books rekindled.

So now I read. All the time. Except when I’m watching Netflix (which is still sometimes the best brain rest after a crazy school day). Over the last many years I’ve challenged myself to complete 52 books between January and December. So far this year, I’ve finished 17, and I’m looking forward to exceeding my usual goal due to starting grad school in the fall.

Not in a habit of reading? Try it. Don’t start with something crazy (like say, The History of the Peloponnesian War), just grab something that looks interesting (I haunt the children’s section in the library) and read. Or download the Overdrive app and check if your library does audiobook downloads (this is THE. BEST. EVER.). Just read – you won’t regret it.

 

I constantly get asked about books I recommend. I don’t recommend everything I read. I do however, suggest you check out the books marked with a (*) in the list above, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Who Speaks for God?

Here’s a thing, ya’ll. If you are not involved in a small group of some kind, you are totally missing out. As someone who stood skeptically on the sidelines with a “I’ll wait and see” attitude as our pastors rolled out the plan for 3G (Grace Growth Groups), I can testify that I now realize being a part of a group of people dedicated to loving God and growing together in knowing Him is one of the greatest blessings of my life.

Today our 3G was full of laughter and conversation, then focus and thoughtfulness as we discussed the sermon from this morning and sought to apply it to our lives. As we talked over 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 a question was asked, “Who speaks for God in your life?” The context was a discussion of how we can keep the “unseen things” of verse 18 in front of our thoughts.

That question continues to rattle around in my brain, though we said our goodbyes and went our own ways several hours ago. Clearly, God speaks through the world He has made and even more so through His Word. But God hasn’t designed us to be solitary, lone-ranger Christians. We need those around us to remind us of what we can’t see – the “unseen things” that give affiliations the perspective required to appear “light and momentary.” So who speaks for God in my life?

For me, the answer is found in family and friends (particularly those who are willing to NOT agree with me all the time), church family (like my fablous 3G), authors whose books point me to Jesus (like Grudem, Welch, and DeMoss who I’m reading now) and even musicians (like the Gettys, Steven Curtis Chapman, Andrew Peterson, and the whole gang at Sovereign Grace Music) whose melodies and lyrics direct my thoughts to the unseen realities of life. And I need them all.

Contemplating the upcoming move to Texas has made me realize this so much more. I can’t do life without people speaking for God around me. The books and music will travel with me, and the family and friends will be accessible (thank you, Face Time) but this is the first time ever, that I’ve actually had to stop and contemplate where to worship. In the Wild West of CA there wasn’t much of an option, and the rest of my life I’ve pretty much lived here. So my question is, “Who will speak for God to me?” Where will I choose to plant my spiritual life, and what will keep me there when it’s different from what I’ve known before? Tough question – but one I’m excited to prayerfully consider and contemplate.

For now I’m thankful for those here who live life with me and speak truth to me. What an incredible blessing is the church!  And particularly my 3G (though I’m prolly slightly biased).

Just a Little Lie

One of the great joys of my life is the opportunity to teach middle school students on Wednesday nights at my church. The years between 9-14 are some of my favorite. As I like to put it, they are old enough to have great conversations and still young enough to not think they know it all (nothing against my fabulous highschoolers, of course).

The last couple weeks we’ve started a new study using the book “Lies Young Women Believe” as a base. There are a few (brave) dudes in the class so we’ve modified it to “Lies Young People Believe” and I promised them we’d skip over all the girly bits.

This week, I got to teach on one of the big lies we find ourselves believing about God – God is not enough. It was so encouraging to see the kids engage with the Scriptures and speak up willingly about their own struggles to believe what is true. However, I didn’t anticipate the importance my own (re)study of this lie and the truth that combats it would be in my life.

As I find myself contemplating a move to a new State (this summer), beginning  the pursuit of my Masters Degree (this fall), continuing to ween off of some long-time medications (this spring), and getting involved in a new business (also this spring) I seem to have more frequent opportunities to give into these two lies. “If only” is a phrase that pops up in my mind again and again.

“If only I didn’t have to leave my family to go to A&M.”

“If only I could get completely off this medication right now.”

“If only I was less afraid of meeting new people.”

I could add more.

But, as I found myself teaching Wednesday night, “if only” is a cleaned-up way to say “God, you are good but I need this other thing too.” God plus my family. God plus being medication free. God plus the personality of a social butterfly.

Ouch.

That’s another thing about teaching middle school kids, their honesty inspires your own. In the two days since I’ve taught, I see where I believe this lie in so many areas – way more than I care to mention here. Thankfully, I also got the chance to teach how to combat this lie – and I’ve needed that desperately.

God’s Word is full of teaching about the reality of God being enough, but the one that’s been on my mind most is Psalm 73:25 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

This is what I want for my heart. This is what I want for my kids. Thankfully, this exactly what the Holy Spirit can work in me. Which is great news for my lie-believing self.

Dear Jerry

Hey Jerry,

Sorry I didn’t get you down from the shelf last week. I totally forgot about you, buddy! I’ll do better next Tuesday.

You get so many great letters from the One Room students – I’ve spent the last few minutes reading over some of my favorites. Do you remember the one about how volleyball was a “girly” sport? That writer is captain of her squad this year. Or the one by a senior who was ready for some responsibility and leadership? He still drops by every week just to help out around the class. And what about that first graduate, the one who was so full of ASL dreams? She’s a teacher now, Jerry – and her ASL classes rock! There’s that one about unicorn breeding, the ones about loss, the ones about belonging, the coin collector, the cosplayer, the bold young writers who wanted to change the world.

I had someone ask me today, Jerry, just what One Room was all about. Well you know me, I could talk academics and environment and integrated learning all day long. But what I really wanted to tell her was, “Check out a blog, dedicated to arguably the most obsurd mascot a group of people ever rallied behind. Read what they write. That’s where you’ll get an idea of what One Room is really all about.”

You’ve had the front row seat on this crazy adventure. You’ve seen us laugh together, cry together, pray together, celebrate together. I’m pretty sure you watched the first week of “after class tears” that came pouting out of an overwhelmed teacher. You got to sit in when presentations were given in Swahili, and certain favored troublemakers got jokingly told off in French. I think you probably hold the record for most play rehearsals attended (and no, there is no way you can cameo as the crocodile in this year’s performance!). You’ve been hidden, photographed, decorated and enthroned and I count it among my greatest accomplishments that you’ve not yet lost one of your skeletal limbs.

Wow! This letter, which I thought would be a quick “hey there” note, has turned into a jaunt down memory lane. I better stop before it gets too sappy.

We’ve had some great times, Jerry. Here’s to at least eight months more!

Your deskmate.

PS – read Letters to Jerry, folks, and get a peek into my little world.

These Strange Ashes

I do not remember how the book “These Strange Ashes” first came into my hands, but I will never forget the first time I sat down to read it. In it, Elisabeth Elliot tells the story of her first year as a missionary in Ecuador (before she married Jim) and the trials that occurred (and they were many and significant). I got as far as the end of the introduction, where I read the sentence that has since framed my often overwhelming struggle through disappointment, pain, fear, discouragement and the numerous times I have looked at the road ahead and wondered “Where do I go from here?”

In the moments of desperation, the words on the page are vivid in my memory (right side, just over halfway down in that first copy I read).

“Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.'”

Never ends in ashes. How often have I found myself looking around at the tatters of life and seen nothing but ashes. How often wondered if I had reached the end of the story and perhaps there was nothing else good to come. But in one simple sentence, and a life full of faithfulness, even though ashes, Elisabeth Elliot reminds me to keep trusting in a God who always finishes the story with good.

This week, Elisabeth Elliot learned more about the fabulous end to the story than I know now. She discovered that all she had written and believed and helped me to learn was more than true, that God’s story ends in the glory of worship and perfection and the undoing of all the trials of life. She understands the ashes. What incredible joy is now hers!

I am thankful that her work continues to stand as a legacy and signpost to fellow travelers on the road. I am thankful that God used her early trials, the difficulties of that first year overseas, to teach her what to do with the “strange ashes” of life, so that many years later, her little book could teach a struggling seventeen year old. I am thankful that she now joins the great crowd of witnesses, whose example of simple trust in a faithful God encourages me to journey onward.

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Discipleship Thoughts …. and Newsies

So I started with my new discipleship group today. Three single gals, all around the same age, all (soon to be) living with family, all pursuing great careers, all sooooo happy to be sharing food, laughter and Jesus over the table this morning. What really should have been an hour and a half proposition turned into three hours of stories — learning each other and bringing the Gospel to bear on our lives. We’re journeying through a little book called The Dangerous Duty of Delight (J. Piper, Multnomah. 2001) and I’m sure it’s going to be a wonderful trip.

We couldn’t be more different – the FSU fan, the UCF fan, and me. We couldn’t be more the same. Here’s what I learned that we share.

– we are all sinners

– we all trust Jesus to rescue us

– we all desperately want to be more like Him

– we all need each other

If that were all, that would be enough. Enough that we see our sin, love our Savior and want to do more of both together.

Buuuuuuut … turns out we also share something else. A love of musicals. Disney musicals. Okay, Newsies. (and okay a lot of other musicals too)

It’s a pretty great mix … musicals and discipleship. And food and discipleship. And friends and discipleship. I can’t wait to get to it together.

Welcome to My Garden

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This is my garden.

Not much to look at, right? At least not yet. It needs a lot of work.

This garden is my new project as I look forward to spending the next 15 months in Florida, rather than moving to Texas in the fall as I had originally planned. Texas is still in the game, and I am excited about the possibility of continuing my education in 2016, but for the next year – I’m staying planted.

And I’m growing a garden. Because aproximately 450 days is plenty of time to grow stuff (or kill lots of plants, depending on how things go). It’s also plenty of time to spend getting my hands dirty and working hard and taking my time and making something beautiful.

I’m looking forward to it. Looking forward to dirt under my fingernails and sweat and all that I can learn from developing a garden over the next year. It will be an adventure, maybe not quite the one I was planning on a few months ago, but just the adventure I need for now.