Eleven.

If I had known eleven or so years ago how hard and heartbreaking this parenting gig was going to be, I would never have signed on.

Well, that’s probably not really true. But I definitely would have given it a lot more thought than, “Yeah, okay, we’ve got this.”

How arrogant. How short-sighted and silly to think I’ve got any of this.

But I can wing it. Today we’re eleven years in and I’m pretty much just winging it.

My astounding Bug, my firstborn, my gift, the one who made me a mother, who gave me this purpose larger than myself…he has no idea all this time I’ve actually just been following his lead.

This kid is magic. And because we don’t trust the magic in ourselves or in others, we sometimes try to dim it. Magic makes us nervous; magic makes us suspicious. The world doesn’t often spin so kindly.

So sometimes I try to reign him in, worried the things that make him loud and bright and big and present will backfire. Sometimes I worry he is too much for the world around him, and the world around him will force him to shrink small and fit neat.

I want to protect him. From bullies, from concussions, from sunburns, from bad grades and sore losers, from feeling out of place. But at eleven years old he doesn’t want my protection…he probably doesn’t even really need it.

Realizing my space in his life is the tide receding…that’s something fierce. It cuts deep. So I force my protection on him, with sharp words and edges because I know I am running out of time with this ELEVEN-year-old. (ELEVEN. There is no possible way I’ve already had ELEVEN years with this kid.)

When he was a toddler and glued nicely to my hip, I never thought this day would come. I mean, I figured it would but it was so hard to imagine, so abstract from the way he and I — baby and new mama — actually spent each day. “Not us,” I’d think, “we’ll still be inseparable.”

But the thing is, even as independent as he is, he still slips effortlessly back by my side. He has his own life, like every other pre-teen, but for now he still happily invites me in. We are still inseparable. (And, kid, I am clutching that with both fists; you won’t be able to shake me loose. And I’m glad you haven’t tried.)

This kid is a superstar. He is laugh-out-loud funny (even if his go-to comedy is fart noises) and whip-smart (do NOT get him started talking about professional soccer unless you have at least thirty minutes to spare) and watch out, because he is changing the world.

He is literally the best eleven-year-old I know, and he is crushing me to pieces from the inside out.

Happy elevensies, Bug. You are my very favorite boy.

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The Magic Bean

I keep thinking maybe I’ll run out of words because sometimes when I look at her my breath catches in my throat.

She is my favorite girl in the whole world. I tell her that, ask her if she knows it, and she will sigh and say, “Yes, mommy, you tell me every, every day.”

And maybe it’s not so much so she will know, but because I need to know. I need to reassure myself I’m not missing something; I am still aware of this spunky little gift who never lets me use the bathroom in peace.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll get to keep her this close; under my foot and within my shadow. It didn’t last nearly long enough the first time around, so this time, I soak it up (most days).

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So today we celebrate her, our little Beanie-bell, the spitfire, the truth-teller, the silly-song singer, the fastest scooterer, the magic in the room. We celebrate how she completed our little family five years ago, how she slipped into this world and from that moment gathered us in like wildflowers.

She is magnetic and charming, mischievous and bold. I love to listen to her talk, because her mind is a secret garden, a tangle of dandelions and hidden doors and unlikely adventure and glow-in-the-dark enchantment. Everything is real to her and everything is magical, and boy, what a way for a tired, stretched-thin grown-up to see this world.

 

I wonder sometimes if this world is ready for her; I wonder if it will be kind, and soft, and forgiving. I never want her to lose the way she marvels at clouds and pinecones and fireflies. I never want her to believe the world is harsh and vengeful, greedy and mean. I want her to trust the good stuff, that there’s enough of it out there to far overwhelm the things that are hard. I want her to love this world, to see it and love it in all of the broken places and to know she was made to help it mend. I want her to realize her own smallness in this wide, wild universe, that she is the very favorite girl to only a handful of people out of billions, and that she takes up very little space on earth and in time. I want her to know that space and believe she can leave it better, brighter, more whole and healed.

I want her to know she is joy, she is heart, she is beauty, she is warmth.

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It’s her birthday, but this is my wish.

Happy fifth, Bean. I. Love. You.

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Jessie’s Journal, Part I

So I recently found an old journal of mine from when I was 17-ish. I’ve been writing in a journal ever since I was 11 or so, so this one is probably  Vol. CLVIIEKDV or something.

I covered this particular journal in pictures cut from an travel catalog a couple of hot Australians handed to me during one of those college & career fairs.

I covered this particular journal in pictures cut from a travel catalog a couple of hot Australians handed to me during one of those college & career fairs. BECAUSE ADVENTURE.

When I found it OF COURSE I immediately started reading it, and OF COURSE I immediately started cringing and breaking out into hives and nervous laughter. I was SEVENTEEN AGAIN, minus Zac Efron’s excruciating romantic encounter with his own daughter.

I promised the Twitter I would share excerpts, because I mean, HOW COULD I NOT? Seventeen-year-old Jessie was a GEM, you guys. And also a WELL of emotions and adverbs. Every single adverb.

There’s really no way to set up any of what’s about to happen, so let’s just dive right in.

On Love…Part I [ed. note: everything is in parts and EVERYTHING is in Roman numerals]

Today, I felt my heart beat faster and my stomach tingle and my toes curl when I thought of someone. Could this be it? I know that it isn’t physical attraction [ed. note: WAIT, NOT physical attraction? THAT’S SO MEAN.] So I am perfectly safe in that aspect. So obviously it is their personality. And isn’t that what we need to fall in love with first? [ed. note: NO, SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD ME, FALL IN LOVE WITH HIS PORCHE FIRST. What I mean is, maybe we should marry for money?][JUST KIDDING, marrying the guy while we’re both flat broke totally worked out.]

You guys, I fell in love with a different boy pretty much every other month. REAL, TRUE, LASTING LOVE, OBVI. What follows that delicious opener is a dissertation two solid pages long on dating vs. trusting God will drop my future husband (MY SOUL MATE) into my arms (or vice versa) because I probably had just finished reading I Kissed Dating Good-Bye and DUH, THAT’S BASICALLY WHAT HAPPENED TO JOSHUA HARRIS.

[Love] makes me seem weak and vulnerable and my heart is just bare, completely unprotected, waiting patiently on that line. Love is such a beautiful thing. [ed. note: wait for iiiiiiiiiiit…] Although I have never firsthand experienced it, through little tastes I’ve come to grasp concepts of love. [ed. note: GROAN. GROAN. GROAN GROAN GROOOOOOAN.]

You guys, I was SO FULL OF WISDOM AND EXPERIENCE AND TRUTH back then. I’m pretty sure every single teenage girl I know today is a thousand times cooler and more self-aware than I ever was at 17.

And is love truly a search or more of a stumbling, you just happen into it, you just stumble into someone’s life and something new happens.

THIS IS THE DIRECT RESULT OF TOO MANY MEG RYAN MOVIES. Thanks for NOTHING, ’90s Meg Ryan.

FINALLY, I wrap it up with some profound words:

But why do I need to know [ed. note: I’m talking about needing to know if the 17-year-old boy mentioned above was THE ONE] if I trust God will deliver me someone who I will love forever and perfectly [ed. note: please ask my husband — who is NOT the 17-year-old boy mentioned above — next time you see him if I love him perfectly HAHAHAHAHA]? Each situation is separate and different, so I guess it’s nearly impossible to generalize all situations with one theory or one solution. And about that pitter-patter of my heart? It felt nice…

OMG, THE ELLIPSES! This girl’s story isn’t over yet! Will she find THE ONE? Will she discover what it means to stumble into love? Will there be a Part II? Only time will tell!

(And me. I’ll tell. There will be a Part II, because I have a composition notebook quite literally filled with teenage wisdom, SUPER random poetry, and at LEAST a dozen more boys to fall in love with.)

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Easter Sunday; Oh, the Bliss!

It was still dark when the women rose that morning. But even if the sun had been up, their days would still feel black as night.

It was their new reality; after weeks or months or years at Jesus’ side, drinking in his goodness and his warmth so filling it spilled out onto the desert sand, they were suddenly parched. Drifting. Fearful and grief-stricken and hopeless.

At least today they can put their grief in motion.

So they go to the tomb where Jesus lay, both anxious to get there to anoint his body and fulfill their holy rituals, and dreading the brutal finality of his death.

How close did the women come, in the dusty pre-dawn light, before they realized someone had gotten there first? And who could possibly have beaten them there? They had left before anyone else had awoken, everyone who loved and mourned Jesus as thoroughly as they had and did had been left behind. These women were the first to go, the first to visit Jesus’ grave. Who could possibly have gone before them?

Those who followed Jesus during his ministry were no strangers to the supernatural. Though they witnessed countless miracles, had seen demons overthrown, nothing could have compared to walking beside Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, the unseen Yahweh with skin on, with calloused hands and dirty feet and flashing eyes and desperate conviction and untapped love.

But none of them could have known, not fully, who they followed, from whom they learned about God and man and God’s pursuit of man. Even as close as they stood, they couldn’t have known.

Not until the stone was rolled away. Not until they came face-to-face with Jesus the Resurrected, the payer of our debt, the conqueror of our penalty.

Their faith had been so shaken. The very foundation of their beliefs and their new, fragile knowledge of God had crumbled beneath them, settling into the cracks of the earth as it shook open. Their hearts had been broken; their hope had been lost.

But then they saw the tomb. They heard the angel sitting on the stone. They held the cast-aside burial linens, they searched the barren, empty walls, they felt the frailest breath of hope catch in their throats, and they ran to tell the others what strange things were happening.

They’re still happening.

We still come face-to-face with Jesus the Resurrected.

The tomb is still empty.

And hope, if we let it, still catches in our throats.

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Good Friday; It Is Finished

They suddenly find themselves untethered. The gravity that had pulled them in and held them there, that gave them purpose and hope and a name — is gone. 

Was it really just last night they celebrated the Passover together? Remembered God’s special favor for his chosen people together?

They were convinced — Jesus was sent from God. His own son, they were sure of it. Every miracle they witnessed, every quiet moment away from the crowds, every time Jesus reached his hands toward the untouchable, his evident, unquenchable love for humanity. 

They were convinced all right. Counted themselves blessed to walk beside this Jesus, this prophet, this rabbi who not only knew the holy scripture inside out but actually lived them, every impossible commandment, every challenging word. 

But now what? Their world is spinning. Nothing feels real. Were the last three years just a dream? How could they have seen the mysterious God so clearly through Jesus, how could a man so intimately acquainted with the almighty God be arrested like a common thief? How could a man so willing to heal and touch and teach be hated like a brutal murderer?

They mourn. They fear. Where is God now? Has he removed his favor from them, the chosen people? Did he fall silent yet again, angered by the way the world treated Jesus? Dismissal and disbelief, hatred and cruelty and glaring injustice. They watch as Jesus is taken in, arrested. Then ushered out and thrown to his knees as soldiers and guards attack him. They want to drown out the sound of the jeering crowd hurling insults and laughter, but if the crowds fall silent then they will hear the soldiers’ whips against bare flesh, tearing pieces of it as they pull up and away and swing for another lash. 

Their own cries of grief over the treatment of Jesus are swallowed by the hungry crowd; maybe that’s what’s saving them, keeping them from the same fate. To anyone listening, they seemed to be a part of it, united in the chants to crucify him. 

And even as they watch, Jesus, already covered and slick with his own blood, is forced to hoist that heavy cross onto his back, the rough rugged wood digging deep into his bones, his muscles weak and exposed and screaming in agony. Still, they hope. 

They have seen his miracles. They’ve seen him command demons and the sea. They’ve seen the sky and even death bow down to him, some of them even saw his earthliness fall away to reveal his Godhood in all its glory. 

They hope. Surely Jesus will put an end to this madness, this torture. Surely something huge is about to happen, and then everyone will see; then you’ll all believe. 

They follow Jesus yet again, the dirt behind him stained with rivers of his blood, the cross dragging deep, ominous gouges in the road, stirring up dust until their eyes sting with betrayal and disbelief. 

Anytime now, Jesus, they might have thought, hoped, prayed. Throw down that cross and rise, show them who you really are. Where is that power and might and authority they have seen firsthand? Show them, Jesus!

But they don’t know — that was never his plan. 

The sound of the hammer against rusted metal jars their very bones. They flinch with every swing, maybe even cover their ears and avert their eyes. It still isn’t over, they think, it can’t be. 

The soldiers raise the cross, Jesus now sufficiently nailed to the wooden planks. They drop the cross into the deep hole meant to steady it, and when it hits the earth, the momentum throws Jesus forward. But the nails do their job and his hands and feet are ripped further but not off. He is held there. 

They pray for it to be over soon. Their hope is gone, trickling down that hill with Jesus’ blood. So they pray the end comes quickly now, ending this anguish. 

They want to shake every single person in the crowd, grab their shoulders and shake until they are boneless. Do you realize what you’ve done? they want to shout. Why are you doing this? Get him down from there! Now!

But before they could muster up the courage, the earth shakes beneath their feet. First they think it’s their own bodies shivering in fear and grief. But the trembling grows stronger, and the shock in their neighbors’ eyes tells them it’s everywhere and underneath them all. Maybe this is it, Jesus’ big stand. Maybe the ground will open up and swallow whole the monsters who did this, who let this happen. An unearthly rumble splits the sky. 

But it isn’t the earthquake roaring but Jesus, his final dying breath rolling over them like thunder. 

“It is finished.”

Words everyone can’t help but hear, as if Jesus were right beside them all, speaking those words in their ear, their heart, their soul. 

The sun drops out of the sky, the world turns black, the earth shakes still, the son of God dies. 

Hope is lost. 

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Maundy Thursday; Passover Feast; Jesus’ Last Supper

If they knew what was coming, would they have changed their minds?

If they knew how seemingly out of control the next few hours — days — would spin, would they still have dropped their fishing nets to follow? 

With their bellies full from the Passover feast, purposefully prepared food that told the story of their lineage, their unique relationship to a living, mighty God, with their eyes heavy with wine…what a night! they might have thought. Fulfilled in ways that can only come from ancient traditions steeped in meaning, deep conversation between men who have traveled and slept and witnessed impossibilities beside one another for three years, intimate prayers and muscle-memory rituals rich with history. 

Did they notice the unusual hitch in Jesus’ voice or the slow and deliberate way he broke the bread and poured the wine, blessed the feast then washed their filthy feet? Half the time these simple men could barely keep up with Jesus, his mind and thoughts so far out of reach, his wisdom timeless and older than the sea. 

But did they notice that night, these men who knew Jesus more closely than anyone else, the strain in his words, the God within him warring with the man in him, the weak and so easily broken body he had worn these many years. God in disguise, a Lion in Lambskin. 

Could they understand, even as they heard those puzzling words, saw the telling flash in his eyes:

This is my body, broken for you. 
This is my blood, poured out for you. 

More riddles, they might have thought. Maybe Jesus speaks of that first Passover, the daring and dangerous night they are celebrating, the escape from slavery and into the unknown, leaving behind cruelty and injustice and a foreign land. Their ancestors crying out and being heard by God himself. Called out and freed by God himself. 

He is so wise, so well-spoken, so thoroughly taught. No one knows more than Jesus. Surely He speaks of their covenant with Yahweh. What else could Jesus mean, on this the day of Passover?

If those men had known what Jesus’ words truly meant, would they have drifted off to sleep in the garden while his body crumpled to his knees and blood-tears? 

Knowing the story, the full story, I still want to tell Jesus to stop. To get up. Leave the bread, the wine, just get out of here. Can we just forget the whole plan? It’s not worth it, Jesus; I’m not worth it. Let’s just call the whole thing off. 

I dread the next chapter. Every time I read it. I want to press my hands against my ears and squeeze my eyes shut tight and block out those heavy, life-changing words: “broken for you; poured out for you.” 

“Don’t do it, Jesus!” I want to yell at the whisper-thin pages of my Bible, trembling with grief and awe as I read on. 

But even so, he goes. The story continues. 

Jesus watches Judas slip out into the night, greed leading those washed feet; he implores one last time his men to understand, to listen and hear; he meets his fate in the garden just before dawn, in the deepest, darkest part of the night, the black sky weighing down on him like heavy oak. 

Doesn’t he know we’re going to blow it? Doesn’t he know how dangerous and small and fickle and mean we will be, even in the name of his life and death? Doesn’t he see the hurt and abuse we will inflict, the agenda we will push, the self-righteousness we will wear like silken robes? Don’t do it, Jesus! We aren’t worth it! Just call the whole thing off!

We are going to fail you, Jesus. Why do you still head toward that cross?

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A Prayer for Your Passion

“As the time drew near for Him to ascend to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
– Luke 9.51

My God, there are hardly the words for this little verse. “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” There is so much power packed into this single line of Scripture, so much purpose in less than 140 characters. I want to understand what Jesus was going through; I want to ask for help in feeling what He felt. But, oh, that feels like a dangerous prayer.

The intensity of His journey, the necessity of it borne from this overwhelming, overtaking love. I try to imagine how consuming Your love must be for this broken creation. I try to put words — any words, all the words, the most eloquent words I have — to this image of drowning in Your love, floundering, unable to even see the bottom, much less touch my toes to it. What a small way our small minds can quantify such love.

O God, I want to experience Your love in such a way that it fills my lungs and swells my heart and steals my breath. I want to be so full of You that Your love pours out of me, gushing from my fingertips and over this parched land.

These few words tucked quietly in the gospel of Luke moves me in such profound, unaired ways.

Your Word is already so full of Your deliberate plan to rescue us and redeem us, to turn Your creation back to You, to reconcile this world with what You envision it to be.

But these particular words draw so much hope from me, such gratitude and shame, all at the same time, honest emotions for once that twist in my gut. Something expands in my chest, leaving me breathless and doubled over, and I think, why haven’t I been hearing this? Why haven’t I been paying closer attention?

Jesus, there was nothing unknown to You. You knew the plan. You knew the cost. As the man You fully were, You fully became, how terrifying it must have been, the knowing. How You must have dreaded every dusty step closer to the cross, every sunset one more day spent. To weep blood from Your brow in desperation for what was to come, the burden pressing heavy and hard against Your back and driving You to Your knees. I can only pretend to imagine the tightness in Your chest, the knot in Your stomach, Your heart and pulse pounding out a desperate rhythm, “Take this cup; Thy will be done.”

But as the Christ, the Holy Son of God who was there from the beginning, whose hands shaped the formless void, You witnessed our downfall, You wept as we split wide the chasm between Heaven and Earth, all the while knowing the price of our redemption, all the while knowing You would willingly pay it.

How clearly this verse shows us Your passion, Your purpose. How real and how near is Your spirit, Your will and Your want for us. You offered Yourself up and into the greedy hands of the very ones You longed to draw back in. We didn’t understand; how could we? How could these dry and dying bones even recognize the life abundant You were pouring out over us, reviving us?

You set Your feet toward Jerusalem, Your eyes to the cross. You never once wavered but spilled as much of Yourself along the way — Your love, Your healing, Your mercy and grace and Your call for us to do the same — until all that was left was a final breath: “It is finished.”

What is left to say but a whisper, “My God, my God.”

What a journey, Jesus, the descent into Your darkest hour on this earth, all so we wouldn’t have to go too. You invite us along, to follow You, not into despair or dread or to our rightfully earned deaths, but to follow You back to the kingdom of Heaven, back to God Himself.

I would walk that journey to Jerusalem with you, if I could, if only to squeeze Your hand and promise I’ll do better, to be better, so can we just call the whole thing off?

But You died so we wouldn’t have to, not really, not fully.

Jesus, how passionately You died for my disobedience; help me to live as passionately for Your love.

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