Category Archives: Family

Begin, Again

Thank God for beginnings. Thank God for milestones and brand new calendars to draw our focus and intention.

I get that each new year is mostly an illusion, a mental trick to living better lives. I can totally get behind the reasoning that Every Day is the Best Day to Start Something New. Resolutions are SO last year, I MEAN, COME ON.

It’s a kindness, really, this symbolic start-over, a way to bracket all we wish to leave behind and begin, again.

Beginnings are fun. Beginnings are powerful, filled to overflowing with meaning and potential and rose-colored glasses. Thank you, God, for beginnings.

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Two of my favorite chunks of pure-poetry scripture start with, “In the beginning…”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…

In the beginning was the Word…

Even though we, in our humanness, tend to timestamp everything, I, in my faithfulness, believe “in the beginning” is only the very best way our minds can absorb an infinite God. We assign a beginning to the story, all the while knowing we’ve dropped into existence somewhere near the end of it. We collect dozens of histories and letters and testimonies to compile a clear enough picture of a God radically bigger than any frame we hold up. God looms larger than what we can fit in our brains and hearts and hopes. He bleeds onto the next page and the next and the next, described in words we haven’t even invented yet, divine groanings only heaven comprehends. God did not begin.

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It’s tough — impossible, actually — to understand the depth of God’s all-knowledge, to wrap my small mind around God’s intimate awareness of every. single. detail. He is a grandiose God, extravagant in His interest and grace, His infinite attention drawn to me, and to you, so individually and completely it stuns the soul.

It’s a kindness to have the ear and the heart of this endless (and beginningless) God, my life and hopes and dreams a breath against the eternal, and the invitation He gives me to begin all over again.

It’s a kindness, all over again, to be made new.

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Losing Gravity

I’m really terrible at self-promotion, and it makes me feel slimy to place any spiritual significance on my own writing, but today’s specific piece in my Advent devotional is exactly where I am right now, and maybe where you are too, so I wanted to share. I’ve been kind of grumpy lately, even if I put on a good “Christmas Holiday Spirit” show, snowman sweater and all. Kind of like gift-wrapped underwear. So here’s to losing gravity.

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“My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I find no rest.”
Psalm 22:2

We thought we knew what it meant to be desolate. We thought exile from the garden was the very bottom of our fall. We thought we knew the darkness.

But we have not felt such a void as this. We did not know God’s presence was the only thing that tempered us.

So we ask to hear the stories again. We ask to hear about our ancestors who walked and talked with God. We ask to hear how Moses saw God with his own eyes and the glory turned his hair white as fresh snow. We ask to hear how Isaiah’s lips burned with the purifying fire of heaven. We ask to hear about the great King David, how he chased after God imperfectly but with passion.

These stories bring us closer to home than we have been our whole lives. We know, with every drop of blood in our bodies, something is not quite right, not quite whole. When we are most aware, we feel the outcast, the foreignness of where we are. We know, somewhere quiet and deep down, we are in a strange and dying land, a land for which we were not made.

We feel the absence of God in an ineloquent way, a way we cannot quite place. Where once there was a pull between who we are and who we are meant to be, there is nothing. Our identity is tangled up, not in God, but in the rules he gave us generations ago. We no longer feel the draw of the bits of God within us, pulling us toward the maker.

We have lost our sense of gravity.

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Excerpt from Long Lay the World: Essays & Images to Prepare Him Room, available for instant download.

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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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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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The Names We Carry

It happened in a crazy long line for barbecue, which is a pretty good place for subtle, profound things to happen. I had been in Nashville for the weekend, and we were in the thick of the Sunday After Church lunch crowd, and the restaurant we had chosen was noisy and packed and delicious. I was preoccupied with chatting with my friends, worrying we might not get a table, dodging sweaty waiters, and trying not to eat my dessert before I had even paid for it. (I tried REALLY hard.)

And inside the chaos, I just happened to meet the eye of the woman standing in line behind me. We smiled and glanced away before the length of eye contact could move past Polite into Just Plain Creepy (there’s a thin line drawn by Uncomfortable), when in that moment I knew her.

And by the expression on her face, she knew me too.

I put my barbecue nacho dreams on hold and we hugged like old friends, which is exactly what we were.

See, Sarah and I first went to Kindergarten together far from barbecue in Nashville. It had been a year-long string of so many other Firsts that can be collectively remembered in the briefest of flashes: a field trip to the rodeo, the name of my teacher, my best friend Marianne whispering something ticklish in my ear, a haircut bad enough to stay home from school that day, the precociousness of boasting how I already knew cursive, a girl named Sarah getting in trouble for licking her paper to see if the scented marker tasted as good as it smelled.

But then I moved away and across the world and then on and then back; and then Sarah and I were in junior high school together. I remembered her from before, but junior high was awkward enough without admitting how scary efficient my memory was. But one day in German class it leaked out, like everything juicy does, and we talked about being five years old once at the same time and in the same place. Reminiscing is an experience universal, no matter the age, no matter the depth.

Then Sarah-in-the-now turned me toward the man standing between us who was a boy the last time I knew him, the boy who accidentally pulled the fire alarm one morning, and the entire school stood in the middle of downtown Montgomery for surely hours while fire trucks screeched to a halt and hunted all four floors for the flame. And Jared was a hero that morning, a man among a bunch of nerdy, artsy kids, someone with the guts to pull the fire alarm, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

And then Sarah introduced me to the third person in their party, her husband (who I didn’t know before but know now), and she introduced me as “Jessie” just as I shook his hand and said, “I’m Jessica.” And Sarah and I both laughed and corrected each other, because I was only Jessie then, but mostly Jessica now, though usually just at first and rarely to anyone who knows me even a little or at all. I’m still Jessie, or Jess, or Mom to my most beloveds, or a thousand other secret names to my lifelong family, and I caught myself marveling how so much life can fit into versions of the same.

I’ve carried names my whole life, dropping some unfortunate ones in favor of those more fitting. I once thought I was trying them on just to see what stuck. (And let’s be honest, I’m pretty grateful that some didn’t.)

But maybe all this time I was just unfolding and expanding into the ones that were mine all along. And they’re really just language to wrap around a girl who loves words and faith and thoughts and people and laughter and doughnuts. They’re really just a way for me to come when you call.

Sarah probably doesn’t lick paper anymore, and she has a husband and a tattoo now, but the same gorgeous smile. I’ve stopped getting bad haircuts and try not to write in cursive, but whispers still tickle the whole way down my spine.

And it might not matter if you call me Jessica or Jessie or some other shortcut along the way, because I’ll always know who I am, and you’ll always know how to find me.

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A Fevered Love

Bean was sick this past week. A high fever to go along with the throat infection she had made for some unpleasant days and middle-of-the-nights. Before she finally recovered, her fever spiked, her throat was raw, and the silly girl with the contagious laugh was hidden in a fog of damp washcloths and ibuprofen.

But this isn’t a post about the baby girl with the flushed cheeks and burning throat.

This is about her brother.

This is about the young man who was quarantined right along with her, sacrificing a week of summer fun – almost complaint-free – because his baby sister was feeling crummy.

The protective older brother who would touch her forehead every hour or so and report to me that she was still “burnin’ up!”

The thoughtful boy who would run to refill her water and make sure she was getting plenty of fluids.

The boy who generously, and with great concern, shared his brand new birthday toys, his Avengers balloons, and his favorite spot on the couch flush against my lap just so his sister would feel a moment’s relief.

The girl’s brother – my son – whose already-evident love for little Bean grew new arms and legs and powder-soft touches and the scent of caramel kisses.  A warm, active sort of love that wrapped itself around her heart and mine.

Bug, you are astounding, truly.

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29 and Holding

So I turned 29 last week.

Birthdays are a big deal in our house. It’s always been a way of saying, “You’re really special. I’m glad you’re alive and in my life. Here, have some noodles*.”

My birthday plans consisted of my parents coming into town, eating a fancy dinner, going to see The Avengers, and an eager shopping trip with my mom. Maybe even a day at the spa. Twenty-nine was going to be fabulous.

First, some birthday week lowlights:

  • Falling into a pool with my iPhone in my pocket.
  • A feverish Bean for a few days.
  • A sunburned Bug the first day of summer vacation.

Now, some birthday week highlights:

  • A giant cookie cake.
  • A pedicure and Swedish massage at the spa.
  • The Avengers and cookie dough bites I did not have to share (and a cherry coke I willingly did).
  • A fancy seafood dinner.
  • A zealous amount of shopping.

The second highest highlight of the week was my husband telling me we were going to do all these things and more…at the beach.

And the highest highlight of the week? Walking into a beautiful beach house, exploring all the rooms, finding out our particular rental had a theater room, and opening the door to have this happen:

What you see on my face is equal parts complete surprise and sheer terror. Imagine walking into what you believe to be an empty house, and into a soundproof, unlit room (IN THE BASEMENT, no less), only to be shouted at by eight people.

I’ll be honest; I jumped back, screamed, and immediately thought Saw VII was actually happening in the basement of our rental property. My mind, you guys. It’s a dark place.

My husband had me convinced that the charges that cropped up on our bank account a couple of months ago was to help our friend surprise his wife for her birthday. He also lied when he told me our family couldn’t make it to the beach because he didn’t give them enough notice. He triple-lied about our three-bedroom rental having a leak and the renters upgrading us free of charge upon check-in to the only one available the week before Memorial Day – a gorgeous eight-bedroom house.

Instead, I find out this has been in the works for months – literally since last year. I find out my parents, in-laws, sisters and their families have been keeping secrets, making the covert trip from near and far (ranging from a three-hour drive to a seven-hour drive to three round-trip plane tickets). I find out Bug, sweet, honest Bug, had been sitting on this piece of exciting news all month long without so much as a blip on my radar.

So fellas, take notes. Because nothing eases the blow of a woman aging quite like this:

 *Eating noodles on birthdays is a Filipino tradition signifying long life. We’ve broken out the Ramen before when we couldn’t get our hands on an order of pancit. We DO NOT break this tradition, you guys.

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