We Are the Waiting

I wrote this post for Good Friday a couple of years ago, but I’m reposting it here for this Good Friday because Friday is still Good and so is recycling.

*          *          *

It all happened so quickly.

One day the crowds are following Him, flocking to Him, mobbing Him. They cannot get enough of Him. He is magnetic, disarming, surprising. He is authority and tenderness, intriguing and mysterious. He speaks with an ancient wisdom, a direct voice to the darkest piece of the heart.

They are whispering about Him, nudging their neighbor and nodding to the tall man who walks with purpose.

He is something else, something other-worldy, and when He looks out at the crowd, He looks with familiarity, with a recognition and assurance that His story is the very same as theirs.

But His time has run out.

No.

His time has come.

The crowds are soon unimpressed. They are growing restless, thirsty, tired of listening to the words of a prophet, His words hitting far, far too close to home.

A mere five days later, and the fickle crowd is demanding His death.

And so it comes.

Quickly.

Brutally.

His followers scatter, struck dumb and inactive, the One who claimed to be God’s very own son dead. Pierced. Entombed.

And now they wait. But for what, they do not know. They only know they cannot let hope slip through their trembling fingers.

And so we wait.

We wait to see what will happen, we wait to see if He will keep His promise. We wait to see if there is any truth to pour ourselves back into, we wait to see if our lives have lost its purpose, His message.

We wait to see if the dawn will break, because this black night is far too suffocating to last.

For now, we are the waiting.

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Sunday Comes

I’m not entirely sure how I managed to let this season slip through my fingers.

I began Lent with such good intentions and strong convictions. My practice of sacrifice was going to be elegant and meaningful. I was going to rediscover – or discover for real maybe – what it meant to find comfort in God, during a time when we as a church are purposeful to recognize the gathering darkness. I was going to emerge altered, and closer than ever to truth.

“I was going to” is much less elegant and meaningful when it doesn’t become “I did”.

So I failed. I failed more than usual. I failed consciously and while completely unaware. I all but wasted this time set aside to focus more fully on Jesus Christ and His heavy heartfelt journey to the cross.

These last several weeks of Lent were no different than the rest. That all to say I am so much more wasteful with my time than not.

The beauty and the grace and the vividness of this world and of God moving in this world are too often wasted on these dull, blind eyes, too often overcome by the mundane. And when I am awake enough to notice Him, I am always caught by surprise, as if I don’t fully believe that God is here, and that He is present.

So I let all that is worthy slip from my mind. I let all that should seize my heart and spur my hands and feet and stretch my soul become nothing more than background noise. I let myself, created at once and for ever and ever to fall for God as thoroughly as He fell for us, to fall instead out of practice, out of reach.

I need each Lenten season to tell me how to focus more faithfully. I need symbolism and tradition and liturgy, I need empty tombs and rough, rugged crosses, I need ashes and palm branches and the oil that anoints, swelling hymns that reach toward Heaven and broken loaves of bread. I need the earth waking after a long and brittle winter, bursting with color and fragrance and promise. I need a hand of God on either side of my face as He says, “Look. Don’t you see? Here I am all along.”

I need to remember the tomb still sits empty because the promise has been fulfilled. I need to remember Jesus said, “It is finished”; I need to move in this world like I believe it actually really is. I need to remember the grace spilled down that hill, running like blood and water, shaking the earth and tearing the veil and swinging wide the throne room of God.

I need to know even when I fail, when I putz around and waste the time and the space and the words God has given me, Sunday still came for me.

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Fancy Pants Make Me Dance Accidentally

I did a little shopping yesterday because I have three pairs of slacks I can wear to work, and two of them are the same color. And because these new clothes were for work, they needed to be fancy. And when I need to be fancy, I shop at Old Navy, especially if they send me an email promising to give me 30% off THE ENTIRE STORE.

I went on my lunch break. I was able to actually try on a few things AT THE STORE without a small child waving at strangers from under my fitting room door that is literally* six feet off the ground.

I saw the pants on my way to the register with my lunch break drawing to a close. So I grabbed what I hoped was my size (I was being optimistic), paid for my fancy purchases, and was on my way.

I tried them on this morning thinking, “I was really being optimistic yesterday,” and promised not to cry if I couldn’t button and latch them. (What is up with the pants and the latches lately? They’re just giving me more opportunities to not fit into the pants.)

But GOOD NEWS! They fit! And I loved them.

You guys, I LOVE THESE PANTS. I love them so much I’m going back for its sister colors. I love them so much I texted a picture of them at 5:57am to my sister and told her to BUY THESE PANTS. I love them so much I selfied with them.

You have to understand, I have three simple but hard set rules for selfies:

1. Only selfie with the first pumpkin + chai latte of the year.
2. Only break Rule #1 for humor.
3. Only break Rule #1 by abiding by Rule #2 no more than three times in a calendar year.

I love these pants so much I was willing to break all my selfie rules and I was not doing it for humor and I was going to smile and I was not going to make a silly expression and I was even going to hashtag OotD on Instagram and probably even tag Old Navy in hopes of getting a gift card for more of these fancy, fabulous pants.

Seriously, you guys, these pants are the shiz. I love them so much I just used the word “shiz.”

I could have woken up my husband and had him take a picture of me.

“Honey, get up. What time is it? No, you’re not running late, it’s only 5:30. I just need you to take a picture of me in my pants.”

But then it wouldn’t have been a selfie. And also the whole cranky husband thing.

So I set the camera timer to 5 seconds. The second option was an EXCESSIVE 15 seconds, and I just don’t have time for that. Surely I could hop in front of my phone, decide on a flattering pose, and SMILE all within five seconds.

You guys, turns out I can’t.

Instead, I end up with an intentional selfie of a 100% unintentional twerk.

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But these pants look amazing.

*Not literally

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Would a Buttram By Any Other Name?

In honor of my husband’s and my tenth wedding anniversary, I thought it would be prudent to lay some things to rest.

I’m talking about the glory of my married name.

I remember when I first found out my husband’s full name. This was back in college and I had caught a glimpse of his student ID. Back then, our IDs had our full name, date of birth, and social security number. (Not joking; we recently found our old IDs while cleaning out our home office and THERE IT WAS, all nine digits. Not an extra wise idea to put that information on a small piece of plastic issued to a bunch of 18-year-olds, but it didn’t include the dashes, which would totally throw off any would-be identity thieves if you ask me.)

So I saw his ID and his full name and I had wanted to laugh, but this boy was really cute and I really liked his first and middle names, so instead of snickering I just said, “Well. That’s a strong name.”

“It builds character,” is what he said.

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So I go to the same dry cleaners every time. There are three extremely polite women who work there, and all three women call me Mrs. Buttram (as opposed to “Jessica,” I mean, not as opposed to Lady Buttram, Grand Duchess of the Dodge Journey who picks up her dry cleaning three weeks late), and all three women pronounce my last name differently.

The first lady I’m pretty sure is just messing with me. She’s younger and a little edgier than the others. And once, I even saw her taking a smoke break in the parking lot.

This lady – this hardened, world-weary lady – she calls me Mrs. Butt-Ram, and she says it SUPER unapologetically. I know I corrected her the very first time she mispronounced it, but only that once. Because I figure, whatever gets her through the day, right? Besides, I can’t really say I blame her; when asked to spell my name over the phone, I would to say, “B-u-t-t (lengthy pause, lengthy pause, lengthy pause) r-a-m” until my husband made me stop.

The second lady is older and really southern and always tells me about their alterations services, and I think it’s because she’s the one who does the alterations. She also says my name about thirty-seven times in our three-minute interaction. She calls me Mrs. Byootrum. Like, “Isn’t she a beaut (byoot)?” Or even, “Let’s race around Willie’s Butte” in the spirit of Cars.

I don’t correct her either, because I really don’t want to hurt her feelings after she’s said it wrong with such enthusiasm and consistency. “Your total is $18.47, Mrs. Byootrum, and Mrs. Byootrum, have I told you about this month’s specials? Well, Mrs. Byootrum, this month we’re offering 25% off all alterations. Yes, we do alterations now, Mrs. Byootrum! Thank you for your business, Mrs. Byootrum, and ya’ll have a great evening!” I mean, correcting her would just break her heart.

The third and final lady pronounces my name one hundred percent correctly.

So, without further ado, how to pronounce my last name: Buh’tchrum. The “u” and “a” sound the same, a short “u” as in, “You can stand under my umbrella (ella, ella).”

So there you have it! Now you know what I’ve known for eleven years, and have willingly taken on for ten. All in the name of luh’ve.

This post is inspired by one of my favorite Jamies, who sent me a screenshot of an honest query from one of her readers showing sincere concern over how, exactly, one should pronounce B-u-t-t-r-a-m.

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Desperate for Grace

There are probably more than a few life lessons I’ve learned from being a parent, one of the most important obviously being how to eat a doughnut so the kids don’t catch me.

(The secret is you can’t hide when you eat one. It’s like they can sense sneakiness. I think it’s related to the fact that I can announce with gusto and clapping and eye contact, “Time to clean your room!” and they one hundred percent don’t hear me, but if I communicate to my husband with sign language and lip reading and the occasional mime, “I’m going to go take a bubble bath,” Bean is all like, “BUBBLE BATH?! I WANT TO COME!”

Life Lesson: Dance like no one is watching, and also eat a doughnut like you don’t mind sharing.)

But then this whole parenting thing catches me by surprise, somewhere in between hiding the chocolate covered cherries (they were in my Christmas stocking, okay?) and willingly saving the last two Reese’s cups (I MEAN…organically grown apples?) for my little buggers.

It’s surprising because I mean, who shares Reese’s cups?

But it’s also surprising because, all of a sudden, I am pressed against the earth, crushed by the sheer weight of raising this young man and young lady, crippled into stillness by the magnitude of what it all must mean to be their mother. I build them with my trembling hands and uncertain words, hoping they will become Kind and Compassionate and Thankful, Well-Rounded and Well-Educated and Well Aware.

But this is what you miss: I fall short, daily and knowingly, filling in the cracks with all good things from teachers, friends, and fellow parents, my palms poised and ready to smooth in the rough spots whispering “grace” like a prayer.

photo 2I am tougher on my Bug than anyone else. And I grow tougher still with every inch notched higher on his doorframe. His size and his wisdom and his intelligence fool me, convincing me he is very nearly grown, and should certainly start acting like it. I find myself panicking, watching the clock and the days crossed off on calendars, worried and aware my time to teach him is short, that he is already halfway out the door toward adulthood. I am running out of time, and I know this, I know this, so I speak louder and faster, and I push harder and firmer, and maybe one day all the tears and tired muscles will be worth it.

But the thing is, at nine (and a half) years old, this boy is already better than I’ll ever be. He is witty and quick, comfortable in his own skin and spiky hair. He loves without apology and laughs without reserve. He has baby cheeks and bruised shins, every inch of his body moving a hundred miles an hour.

I cannot fail at this. And knowing I do anyway? It paralyzes me.

But then he sleeps, cocooned beneath the blankets and twisted around action figures, and I sneak in to kiss him goodnight. I hold his hands tucked under his pillow, and in his sleep he holds mine back. I run my fingers along his lashes, his nose, his jaw, and that is when I feel it. Somewhere inside my nine-year-old is a man with a strong chin and stronger convictions, and I feel it in his bones and in his grip.

I have failed. I do fail. I will fail.

photo 1My daughter is full of beauty and spunk. I often wonder if these two things together won’t make her too terribly difficult on the world. And I worry this world might break her of it. So instead, I try to teach her when to yield and when to stand her ground, but the balance is fragile and to her everything on earth is a challenge to be won.

But where she is good at fighting for her way, she is even better at figuring out when she was wrong. She will run away and pout, shutting me out while she mourns. Sometimes I let her go, less because I am honoring her decision and more because my lack of attention is a kind of punishment in itself.

But other times and not often enough, I get it right. Those times I scoop her up and hold her, letting her know in language she understands how life can be frustrating and difficult, but I am constant. Those are the moments it won’t take long for her small, sweet voice to say, “I’m sorry, Mama, do you forgive me?”

The answer is of course, baby, always of course, because this little spitfire has shown me what it means to swallow pride and let loose faith, and just like that my anger or annoyance or sense of Manners or Rules or Appropriate Behavior is insignificant in the face of such great grace.

And it’s the thing for which I am most desperate in this calling of mine. It is grace spun into a silk fine and feather-light covering over the multitude of my sins. And even though I do not parent them perfectly, oh, how I love them fiercely, and the grace my children wear so well is eager to stretch across that gap.

And at the end of the day, it is grace that wins us all.

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I Was a Teenage Letter Writer

So I feel like we’ve come a long way together. I feel like I can really open up to you. I feel like it’s time you knew the kind of person I really am. Because that’s what happens on this blog. Vulnerability. Realness. Raw grit. We don’t hold back, and we can’t stop.

Sorry, I’ll move on.

This particular story starts when I was in the sixth grade and a youth pastor and his family moved in next door. They inevitably invited us to their church, and shortly after, we became members. At the tender, impressionable young age of 11, I was baptized into the United Methodist Church and confirmed later that year, embracing my newfound religion like I was the unpopular but pretty when I don’t wear my glasses female lead in a teen flick and Jesus was the jock who looks past it all.

I was the kind of Christian girl some might say was often “moved by the Spirit.” That’s just a nice way of saying I was deeply emotional. I wept at every altar call. You guys. Every. Altar Call. I rededicated my life to Christ at every opportunity to the point where (not the same) youth pastor pulled me aside after one particularly moving sermon and said, “Again?” (Just kidding — but I’m one hundred percent sure he was thinking that). I shed tears whenever I gave my testimony at Fellowship of Christian Students (which was often). And I was most definitely the girl in the front row at YoungLife meetings with her hands raised in the air, eyes closed, so overcome with emotion I could barely mouth the words to “Shout to the Lord”.

Verdict: Sappy. Boy, was I sappy.

Coupled with the fact I’ve always fancied myself a writer, and we are entering some dangerous ground, ladies and gentlemen.

I’m talking bad-poetry dangerous. I’m talking write-my-own-praise-songs dangerous. I’m talking lengthy-heartfelt-prayers-in-a-trembling-voice-during-Sunday-School dangerous.

I’m talking love-letter dangerous.

To recap, I: a). was (am) a Christian, b). was (am) a sentimental, weepy little thing, and c). was (am!) a lover of the written word. You guys, a storm was a-brewin’.

It was the summer before ninth grade and, like every summer in southern Alabama, it was ridiculously hot. Our church’s youth ministry did everything in their power to keep us busy and well-hydrated, which meant opening up the Family Life Center every day and organizing indoor tournaments (from basketball to kickball to ping-pong), pool parties at the houses of those lucky enough to have swimming pools, and the occasional lock-in weekend at our local laser tag arena. It. Was. Awesome.

And being the dedicated, emotionally invested Christian I was meant I was pretty much at every church-related function on the schedule.

And he, oh, he…

Sigh.

He was my Sunday school teacher’s son. (You can cue the Disney princess music now if you’d like.) He was also going to be in the ninth grade, though we went to different schools (probably why I didn’t stalk notice him sooner). AND he was also at church whenever the doors were open, usually creaming everyone else at pool. A fellow ninth grade Christian church-frequenter? MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN, if you ask me.

(However. I would like for the record to show he noticed me first, thank you very much.)

(He just didn’t know what he was getting himself into.)

We flirted the only way fourteen-year-old Christians know how: he teased me for sucking at pool, I showed off during kickball, he sat next to me in Sunday School, I wrote down his prayer requests like there was going to be a test. We were totally on our way to being Zack and Kelly, the Kirk Cameron-approved version.

And then one afternoon, my friend overheard him telling someone else he had a crush on me and she reported back to me quick-like. BOOM. Yeah, it happened. Open the floodgates, people, the floodgates of EMOTION.

How did I use this piece of intelligence, you might be wondering? Did I squeal? Probably. Did I wonder when he was going to ask me out? Inevitably. Did I finally have the courage to call him that night? My sources say yes. (Hey, thanks, Church Directory!) Did I automatically start envisioning our wedding day? I won’t rule that out.

What I didn’t do was Chill. The crap. Out.

What I eventually did, when he didn’t ask me out the next day or the next, or after a few weeks, then months, which may or may not have included my phoning him excessively a few times from the corner of my bedroom closet so my mom and little sister wouldn’t know I was like, so in LOVE with a boy, was write down my feelings on three sheets of college-ruled looseleaf.

And then give it to him.

I know, you guys, I KNOW. I’m groaning and cringing and shaking my head right along with you.

What made my love letter so different though was the way I appealed to God’s will in this whole messy affair. That’s right, friends, I absolutely called in the God Guns.

I wish I had the foresight to photocopy this letter for my (and your) amusement years and years later (with the added bonus of using it as a humiliation-inducing deterrent for my daughter warning her against the follies of boy-craziness), but if I had the foresight to do that, then I probably would have been wise enough not to write it in the first place, MUCH less give it to him.

While I have since blocked the painful specifics of that letter from my memory, I do remember inciting God’s perfect plan, His involvement in our developing friendship, and how He MUST have had a greater purpose for us. Surely I wouldn’t like this boy so, so, SO MUCH if it wasn’t for some God-divined reason, right?

Well, fourteen-year-old Self thought so. I even lamented this to my best friends who in turn wisely offered to pray for me, assuring me God sometimes puts a comma where we think He put a period. (Which only led me to believe we would one day get married and look back over our missed opportunity, laughing heartily at our pre-pubescent silliness. Pretty sure that’s how it happened in The Baby-Sitter’s Club: Logan Likes Maryanne!)

Needless to say, I didn’t marry that boy. We never even went on a date (and by “date” I really mean “get dropped off at the mall by our parents at the same time”). We actually never even spoke of that letter ever again. And I’m pretty sure I was the reason he stopped going to church. OMG, just kidding, you guys. He didn’t stop going to church. But he did sit as far away from me as possible for a while (and avoid basically all eye contact) after receiving THE LETTER. But I mean, can you blame him?

Needless to say, that was the first and last love letter I ever gave a boy. (Notice I said “gave” — I have, in fact, written several love letters since then, I’ve just had the sense to not give them away, or, more accurately, to give them to my husband, who, having read them, is legally contracted to stick around and still wants to sit beside me in Sunday School. Love you, honey!)

I’d call myself an incurable romantic but that sounds much too normal.

What I really was was a dope who honestly thought God’s will was bent on cosmically aligning the fates of a junior high romance. Don’t worry, Self these days is much more in control of her faculties and tear ducts.

These days, I know my depth of emotion and sentimentality are things about me God designed, whether intentional or by accident (just kidding). Had I given Him the room to fully cultivate those desires and traits in me, I would probably have a much (ahem, MUCH) shorter list of Embarrassing Moments. (But that would be boring, wouldn’t it? WOULDN’T IT?)

It is who God created me to be, and a small inkling of His own depth of emotion and tenderness for His creation. In fact, aren’t we all inklings of God’s character, our very best Selves just a scratch of God’s infinite goodness? We were all fashioned to be His reflection; we just sometimes let our lesser Selves get in the way and write three-page (front and back probably) love letters to fourteen-year-old boys. (None of that sounds like a good idea, honestly. What was I thinking?)

I know God delights in romance. He Himself wrote the greatest love story of all time when He, a star-crossed Lover separated desperately from His beloved, did the only thing He could do to restore that relationship: He bought our freedom, our passage and now-rightful belonging into Heaven’s kingdom, at the cost of His own Son’s demise. What a best seller, right?

If only I had trusted His pen over mine all those years ago.

(But in the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess if the government ever makes time-travel available to civilians and not just to scientists and Denzel Washington, I am SO jumping at the chance to slap that letter out of my fourteen-year-old hands.)

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All I Want For Christmas

I love the Christmas season.

I love the holiday bustle, the purpose in every shopper’s step. Guys, I even love mall traffic. I obviously love the food, the indulgence of eating well and without worry. I love the Christmas cards that all end up on our mantle, how I get to see a friend’s kids  growing over the year. I love the gift-giving, the moment I’ve realized I’ve just bought the most perfect gift for someone. I love the memories of Christmases stretched behind us surfacing when we pull out our box of ornaments.

I love most things about this time of year, except for one.

I do not love The Question.

“What do you want for Christmas?”

Oh, how I dread The Question.

I don’t like asking it, because I want to gift you something perfect and thoughtful and unexpected. (Instead, I will ask everyone around you what you want for Christmas. And no, I don’t think of it as cheating.)

But I really hate being asked it. Really, really.

And I really (really) try to hedge my way around it. In fact, I actively avoid it. I hem and haw until I can back slowly away. (I have been known to actually run from the room once or twice, and accidentally on purpose hang up on my mother. UGH, CELL RECEPTION, AM I RIGHT?)

And if I can’t get out of answering The Question, I pick something ridiculously practical, like spatulas. (I mean, I accidentally melt them on somewhere around a weekly basis. I can never have too many spatulas.)

So, yes. I hate The Question. (And in my mind I hear my daughter saying, “We don’t say HATE.” She’s basically a parrot.)

The thing is, there are a lot of things I want. And most of them are things that are shiny and new. Those things promise me life will be easier, faster, better, more enjoyable if I have them.

And then there are things a little further down my list, things that remind me how absurdly blessed I am. Things like the health and wholeness of my family, the warmth and comfort I don’t have to do without, the well-loved place I have in my community, my church, my corner of the world. Things that remind me just how much I take in vain.

But what doesn’t often make my list is the thing I should want the very most.

The healing of the whole world.

I forget God doesn’t need me to defend His Word to a frankly uninterested world (even if I think I’m SO GOOD with the words), or to make sanitized statements about what separated us from His irrational love in the first place. I forget God doesn’t need me much at all, but He built me for relationship, with Him and more notably with the rest of His beloved creation, and He delights in my participation (those fickle times when I am eager enough to want to). I forget God wants the whole world healed toward wholeness, toward Him, and I am uniquely qualified to help.

I forget I bear good news, timeless news, so much bigger and deeper than a story or a carol, news that won’t just mean something in the distant future and doesn’t come from a faraway past. I forget this is the good news, the answer to every question, even the ones I don’t like to ask. I forget God wants me to spread His joy over us, His interest in this broken world, His purpose and plan to usher us all closer to the fullness He forever intended.

I forget the Advent season is a way to remember and rejoice that God came in after us, and the thing He most wants from me is to share in His healing of the world around me.

The thing I should most want for Christmas is to remember that.

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