Of Linen and Grace

Sewing is one of my escapes.

I lock myself in my little room, turn on the machine, and wait for the machine foot to lurch to the side, indicating that it’s ready to go.

I start a lot of projects, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I finish about 1/10th of them. I don’t know. I guess they’re just better when they stay in my mind and the needle hasn’t pierced them poorly yet.

So they pile up and stare at me, taunting me with my own inadequacy.

Scraps lie all around the floor-some from an old baby dress I got halfway through and others from a quilt I have determined to finish before Christmas. They blend together in a hazy stack of discarded odds and ends, and I realize it’s been far too long since I cleaned the floor.

Ellie walks in and sees my hands grabbing anxiously at the colors and she looks concerned.

You aren’t throwing those away, are you? She asks.

Yeah, babe. They’re just the leftovers. She winces at my response.

Well, can I just keep them then? She asks. I nod, feeling a familiar sense of guilt run through my body.

It’s just been one of those days where my failures are shouting louder than my successes, and I’m convinced I’ve let them down. I don’t pray over them every night the way I should. I get distracted when I should be focused on conversation. I anger easily and form my own opinions before letting them speak their minds. I am quick to hush them and slow to spill grace.

I am the mom who leaves scraps instead of what should have been, and it’s eating me alive.

I see her scrambling and tears come to my eyes. I don’t even know how to verbalize it to her, because it is so profound a realization that all I can do is watch, my arms clinging to my elbows as I blink away my sadness.

What have I done?

That’s from a dress I started for you, Ellie. I manage.

She looks up at me and sees that I’m red-faced and broken hearted, and she comes to me with the fabric in her hand.

Mommy, I don’t need to take them… She starts. But I shake my head side-to-side. No, I assure her. They are yours. But you should be wearing it and not scraping from the carpet, I mumble. I explain that I’m just thinking and it satisfies her enough to go back to the gathering.

We do this, you know. We have great plans, grand ideas of mothering and care-taking and preparing a child for life, and at the end of many days we just feel like we’ve left it in pieces. What’s here for them to take is not near enough, we say. And we cry because we wish we had done it better.

We wish our fingers always zipped and buttoned the completed gown instead of staring at the remainders of our dreams for them.

It stays with me, this image. And in the middle of the night, for many nights to come, I will awake with her in my thoughts. She is kneeling, desperate, hungry for more than my gift to her. And I cry more than I remember crying in years.

It will be better, I tell her.

But she doesn’t know what I mean by that. She nods so I will wipe my eyes and make her feel like I’m okay, but she doesn’t understand my brokenness or my choppy words as I try to make right what she doesn’t realize is wrong.

I’m gone this weekend, I tell her. But I will be home.

I will always come home to you, Ellie.

It’s just that I have to do my job and it’s what the Lord has for me, and I want to be obedient and good and…does she hear me?

She is nodding and smiling and happy and I don’t know why because it’s all a mess, but I have no choice but to leave it be for now. I pack, I pray, and I drive away from the house and family I love so much, and I leave them the pieces again.

I feel the Lord’s peace as I go, though. And it doesn’t make sense to me but in a way I know He is saying, “Leave it to Me, love.” And so I do.

Two days pass and I come home to a clean house and a candle burning and I realize all the gaps that have been filled in my absence. The kids are joyful, eager to see me but not destroyed by the distance.

I give hugs and little airport gifts and we laugh and tickle and hope together for a few minutes and then I go to take a hot shower and wash the fear away again.

I stop cold in front of my sewing room.

The door is cracked and the light is on, so I push it open and I see a child-sized chair piled high with scraps.

They’ve been organized by color and size, and I realize there is more than I knew there was.

It’s enough to make something, I think.

And the tears come again, because I realize that in all the things I thought were failures, my love gave them something to take with them even if I never got it exactly right.

She tells me her plans for them, and I know it will be a more spectacular piece than anything I could have hemmed and ironed.

I’m giving her the pieces she needs-exactly the pieces she needs-to make her life an offering to the Lord.

She didn’t need the dress.

She needed the mother who gave her enough to sew something beautiful of her own.

What I thought was trash-what I thought was the remnant of my own mistakes-has become the fiber of her creation, and I stand in awe already of the way she has begun to join them together.

And so my prayer has changed.

I don’t spend more time worrying about what I don’t give them than I do praising Him for what He allows me to give them.

I am not their God, I am their mother. 

And they don’t need homemade clothes as much as they need to know how to sew life.

We give them more than we realize we do, and every time we step in obedience, we hand them more and more to string together in His name. They know I’m afraid of flying, afraid of speaking in public, and afraid of failing those around me. But they see the doorknob turn and they know that I’m stitching as well.

It’s more than we realize, this obedience.

It’s more than we realize, these slivers of linen and grace.

And God-willing, they will grow to love the needle as I do, and they will smile one day as their own children gather what’s left at their feet.

It is exquisite, this pieced-together faith.

And thanks be to the God of grace, I am finding it is more than enough.

 

The Brown House

We moved to the brown house a few months after I turned one.

For my second Birthday, my mom set a big tall candle in the middle of the dining room table and let me blow it out as soon as it had burned from the “1” to the “2.” For the next five Birthdays, I would sit at the same table with the same candle.

That house holds some of my strongest and happiest memories from childhood. A good portion of the stories I have written about are from this time, including the year I wouldn’t come out of my room on Christmas morning because I was convinced Santa had brought me coal.

In my mind’s eye, I can see every corner of it.

The swing that was bolted underneath the second-story deck, where I would pump until my feet touched the underside.

Our dog Sparky, who I may or may not have blamed for pushing my sister down the stairs one time.

The day my dad brought home a wrapped box, and when I opened it I read “T-Ball” but didn’t know what it meant. He told me we would play with it together after supper, which was all the information I needed to love it.

My grandmother taught me how to swim a few miles from the brown house.

I can still feel the pull my mom’s hands, tugging my wet boots off after hours in the snow.

It was exactly what childhood should be, and albums of photographs have preserved the days of the brown house.

Where I welcomed a baby sister into the world.

And played on a soccer team called the “Brown Bombers” that never won a game.

I listened to records and did gymnastics waiting for my dad to come home from a business trip. After awhile I stopped dancing and stared into the dark night, willing his car to pull in the long driveway so I could stand on his feet and dance with him.

   

I had my first crush there, and subsequently my first heartbreak.

Once I stuck my head through the slats on our porch, only to realize that my ears prevented me from pulling it back through. It wasn’t nearly as alarming as it was comical, and truth be told I don’t remember how we ever did get me out of there.

There was always snow in winter, bright sky in summer.

It was idyllic, really.

I would hasten to say I have exhausted Todd with my stories over the years

Unfortunately, it’s also the house that reminds me of the way I was afraid to sleep. I can remember sitting up in bed, staring straight ahead and waiting to see my parents walk to their room.

One night I thought there were snakes in my bed so I screamed until my mom came. They were actually not snakes, but rather the tails of the mickey mouse images on my bedsheets. We decided Holly Hobbie was a better option after that.

I can smell the humidifier, puffing and piping steam while my sister cried a few doors down.

I got my first scar at the brown house. My mother was sitting behind me, blowdrying my hair, and I swung my legs and lost my balance. I landed on my chin and split it open. I still remember the man at the hospital telling me it wasn’t exactly stitches, but something about a butterfly instead, which sounded better than bleeding.

One of the hardest days of my childhood was the first day of school.

I vividly remember being concerned that my hair wasn’t quite long enough to be braided the way I wanted. I watched my mother make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and as her hands moved from one side to the other and I stared at the back of her head, wishing she would let me stay with her instead.

I didn’t smile for a single picture, because I was petrified. I gripped the handle of my lunchbox and pleaded with my eyes.

In light of everything that has happened in the past several days, this particular photograph has taken on new meaning.

Beautiful, precious, and full of a lifetime of days I hadn’t seen yet.

I was six- a Kindergartner.

At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

I look at myself, standing in a kitchen where another child likely stood last week, and the weight of it all overwhelms me.

We sat as a family today and we each prayed for everyone involved. We begged God to be present with the families affected, and to work in supernatural ways to bring healing.

It’s familiar to me, this town.

It’s as much a part of me as any other place I’ve been.

But this grief, this upside-down, twisted inside-out devastation that is wreaking havoc on streets I used to run…it’s more than I can bear.

I cry as they show images of women, panicked and running with their children. I fold over myself as the first images are released and I am face to face children who are Kate’s age.

I’ve tried to write this post over and over, and I just can’t get through it. I am so terribly broken for all of those who have been affected, and I fear my pen can never reach the depth of these emotions. There are beautiful and right things to say about our hope as Christians, but some days it’s a fight to feel the peace we profess.

I await the day when it will be made right, and in the meantime, I will fix my eyes on Jesus. I will pray for these families by name, and will never forget the tiny faces that flash on the nightly news…

Lord, we don’t understand. We are trusting in  Your goodness, leaning hard into you instead of what’s all around us.

Please, Jesus…have mercy. We are broken and devastated over a loss like this…we need you, Father.

Come Quickly.

 

(in)courage post


(I thought this was going to be up late tonight, but I guess it’s first thing in the morning! Check back on (in)courage then and hopefully it will be there!)
AND there will be another fun post up tomorrow (with video!) How fancy is that?!?!?!


The Yellow Line
When I was about 4 years old, my parents checked me into the hospital for a week.
My feet dangled off the edge of a chair, ankles crossed together and swinging from front to back while I waited.
I had bitten my nails down to nothing, and now they were tucked into fists, sweaty and restless.
I had on a blue corduroy dress with flowers on the pockets.
I was terrified.
I wasn’t a normal four year old, or at least that’s what they told me.
Normal kids don’t have to check to see if the stove is turned off before they go to bed, nor do they obsess about baby sister’s breathing.
They don’t stare out the glass door and wait for daddy’s car, crying because he might be hurt or lost.
And so I sat.
A few minutes later, I followed the nurses down a long hallway and they put me in a big bed with plastic rails. They gave me a red Popsicle and told me they would be back.
Then they disappeared around the corner with my mother.
**To read the rest, please go to www.incourage.me***

Where I’ve Been…

***update*** I just came up for lunch and am reading through all of your great advice…God and I have been talking through things this morning, and we’ll see what that leads to…also, to the lady who said her sister-in-law saw me here in the hotel the other day, you better tell her to give me a squeeze if she sees me again!!!! And I am also hoping my kids weren’t picking their noses or fighting over shovels…
And to those of you who have mentioned giving up coke, chocolate, carbs and coffee, just know that those are my main food groups (the four C’s. I’m sure there’s a pyramid with those somewhere…).  I’m having anxiety attacks just thinking about saying goodbye to those old friends….:)
Thanks so much for all of your thoughtful suggestions!!!
You all are so great to me.  I haven’t posted in awhile (we are at the beach and about to head home:) ) and so many people have written me to ask if I’m okay.  You have no idea how much this has meant to me.  It has been a really great week with my family (thanks, mom and dad!), but also a very hard one.  With grief, it’s hard to tell why or when it will hit, and I was a little blindsided to have it happen here, where it is so beautiful.  Every sweet baby I see has made me miss the opportunities I will never have with my Audrey.  Every time I see the water I want to tell her about the great God who makes it roll onto the sand.  I have to remind myself that she knows…she knows better than any of us.  I just miss her so much.
I have been having panic attacks first thing in the morning and then a few times a day.  I have this feeling of fear and dread that stays with me, and my mind is full of worry. I am trying to figure out if there is something natural that will help me before I reconsider medication (diet, homeopathic remedies, etc.). I have been doing a little online research, but would certainly love to hear from you if you have any constructive suggestions.  I am caught in a pattern of worrying that something is going to happen to one of the girls or Todd, and it is hard to get my mind back on track. I don’t feel rock-bottom, just kind of like a feeling I can’t shake off, and it takes a toll on me.
Sorry this is so short (you are probably relieved! I tend to be a tad long-winded…:)) but I just wanted to let you know I am okay.  I covet your prayers and am so grateful to feel like I have your support during this time.  This coming week is going to be incredibly difficult (please pray for the entire Smith family), and I will post about that soon…
Also, still waiting to post about the Michigan event…I believe the tickets are being printed and when they are ready I will pass along the details. Many of you have asked if I am attending the South Carolina Selah concert this weekend…we are trying to find cheap tickets, so I’m not optimistic right now, but I sure would be honored to meet you if it works out.
Until then, thank you friends. 
Angie

He

When I was about 4 years old, I was hospitalized for several days because I battled with overwhelming anxiety.  I remember the hospital room, the way I would watch out the door when it was open to see who was coming.  They made me draw pictures and ran all kinds of tests.  I saw a child psychologist as well, and the best part was that my parents took me out to dinner afterward and I felt very fancy.  At the time I didn’t understand that something was wrong with me or that I was different from other kids.  My stomach hurt all of the time.  I used to make my father walk me around the house before bedtime to make sure that the stove was turned off, the front door was locked, and that my baby sister was breathing in her crib.  I would worry for hours about things that could happen to my family, to my house, to myself.  I vividly remember asking my dad what he would do in the event that someone broke into our house and tried to hurt us.  Did he have some kind of plan? Was he strong enough to overtake a burglar if he needed to?
I worried at school.  I worried that kids wouldn’t like me, that something would happen to my mom while I was away, that my sister would have to eat alone in the cafeteria (I actually broke the rules several times to sneak to the kindergarten side and sit with her until they would catch me and send me back to the second-graders).  
I just worried. I never wanted anyone to feel like they weren’t “taken care of,” and for my entire life, this pattern has remained constant.  When we were at Disney World recently, I walked into a little shop that I remembered from childhood.  All the stuffed animals were on the same wall that I had pictured them on in my memories.  I got so choked up remembering myself as little red-headed girl who stood in front of the Goofy dolls (he was my favorite), tenderly lifting one off the shelf and then feeling the overwhelming guilt that all the other ones would be sad because I hadn’t chosen them.  I would look at their faces and try to decide which was the most needy so that I could rescue him.  I vividly remember walking away with the “chosen” one and starting to cry because all the other ones must have felt abandoned. 
I refused to come down the stairs on Christmas morning when I was 5 because I was convinced that Santa didn’t find me worthy of toys. I hid under the covers and cried and cried until my dad brought me some red and white pom-poms from under the tree to prove that Santa had come, and that he had remembered me.  I have always had the feeling that I needed to be the rescuer, that I needed to keep people safe, that I needed to be good enough.  
I have never been able to completely shake these emotions.  They came with me to college, to graduate school, to marriage, to the delivery room, to the doctor’s office. To the ultrasound where I was told that my worst fears had been confirmed.  They walk beside me in the daylight and wake me in the night. Fear wraps itself around me and refuses to let go.  I can feel my fingers getting numb, my vision getting hazy, my breathing quicken, and I know it is upon me. But I believe now, years later, that this voice has a name, and he lurks in the shadows, waiting to devour.  I feel that I have been in the midst of spiritual warfare as I have walked this path, and I have constantly had to silence the enemy with the only word that can. I utter the name of Jesus as I get into bed, as I cry in the night, as I sense the evil that Satan has tempted me to believe.  Today he has sought me out.  To paint horrific images of tomorrow, to shake me to the core, to tell me that my Lord has no power to intervene now.  It is too late.
I have not made it out of bed today because I have so sensed the need to concentrate wholly on what I know to be true, even when I don’t feel it.  A few hours ago, I talked to God about what I was feeling, and I begged mercy for my doubts.  He reminded me gently of a man named Job, whom he loved and knew as a righteous, holy man whose heart was filled with His spirit.  He allowed Satan to test Job, to take away what was most precious to him.  Job walked through the depths of suffering, more than I can fathom.  I opened my Bible to his story, and asked God what it was that He wanted from me today, on the eve of the day where I have been called to anticipate the loss of my sweet daughter.  He spoke, as He always does.  I wasn’t necessarily expecting to hear what He said in that moment, as I wept openly before Him in the profound wake of sadness that surrounds me.
I want you to praise Me.

He didn’t ask me to praise Him because He was going to perform a miracle, although He knows that I would.  He asked me to praise Him because He will be the same tomorrow regardless of what happens to Audrey.  Is that hard for me to wrap my heart around? Yes.  Does everything in me want to protest letting someone else be in charge? Yes.  It has been my mode of survival since I was born.  My parents told me that moments after I was born, I lifted my head off my mother’s body and scanned the room.  I was probably making sure someone was going to bring me to the right place and that the doctor was well aware of what he needed to be focusing on in that moment.
I have a history of not letting someone else “take care of things.”  And now I am being called to praise the One who is allowing this season?  Who has taken every bit of control from me? Lord, I can’t even read a book without a highlighter in my hand.  I can’t let my children walk too close to the ice-cream man without hovering a foot away (although, in fairness, you would do the same if you met him.  Seriously creepy….).  Are you serious?
I sat in the silence.  I closed my eyes and thought about who He is to me.  What He has been to me, in the bitterness and in the joy.  I felt like He was beside me, waiting.  And in that moment, I felt myself rest.  My mind was still.  All I know is that without intending to, I smiled.  It was the most ridiculous thing you could ever imagine, unless you know what I know.  And I hope you do.
He is Lord.  Only He.  Not me, not Todd, not my doctors, not my parents.
He.
We don’t know what tomorrow will look like, how it will be remembered ten years from now. We can’t begin to imagine the road that lies ahead of us, but I know that I will remember today as being a day that I trusted Him despite the hurt.
I want you to know, especially if you do not know the Lord, that He is real.  This is not a fairy-tale coping mechanism that I rely on when I need to escape from reality.  It is not something I do because it’s nice to have a place to dress up for on Sunday mornings. It is my fervent prayer that somehow I can manage in this post to find a balance between not alienating people and sharing my heart. It’s just that I don’t know how people get through things like this without Him.  I can barely choose stuffed animals without having a heart attack, and today, because of Christ, I am filled with peace. I pray the same for each of you as you walk through your own life.  
One way or another, our daughter will be healed tomorrow.  Praise God with me tonight for this truth.
Your prayers, as always, are with me.  God has allowed my burden to be shared with so many “strangers” that I am overwhelmed.  This little girl has been loved deeply, richly, profoundly by many.  Thank you.  I know you will be with us tomorrow, and for that we are more grateful than we can express.
My friend Jess will be updating the blog tomorrow as things are progressing so that we can share specific prayer requests.  For today, please pray that we will be able to hear truth above fear, and that we will rest in knowing that truth.
With much love and great hope,
Angie