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.

 

Mirror and Sky

I didn’t use to be so worried  about wrinkles. Which made sense because I didn’t have any. I think for a very long time I was actually convinced that I would be the one person in the history of time who would grow old without ever having to buy wrinkle cream.

A few months ago I was getting ready in the bathroom and Ellie walked in and said something funny. I laughed and then gasped at my reflection in the mirror. Were those…? I mean, surely not. I’ve worked out all the details. No gray hair, no wrinkles, no belly fat, no stretch marks. And I accepted the latter two as payment for my babies. But the Lord and I had not come to any definitive conclusions about the rest of it.

Imagine my surprise a few days later when I found not one, but three gray hairs.

Clearly, it was time for intervention (and by “intervention” I mean “shopping).

I headed to Sephora because they are like a therapist but with more lipstick choices. I found a woman who seemed to have made the same pact with God about aging but apparently had better moisturizer than I did. She walked me to the back of the store and introduced me to an eye cream that smelled like dead fish. I wanted to embrace the dead fish because once my teenage skin came back it would seem like a small price to pay. I bought the fish stuff, along with a few other “must-haves” for the rewind process. I’m not going to say I didn’t give it a fair shot, but approximately 45 minutes after I put it on, I still saw some wrinkles and I gave a monologue that would have made Solomon seem optimistic in Ecclesiastes.

Stupid wrinkles. They’re just around my eyes a little and mostly when I smile. Actually, I’m not even 100% sure they are wrinkles. They might just be my face.

Whatever.

They smell like fish now.

My thought process for a few days went something like this:

“I’m old. I’m practically on the doorstep of death. I need to deal with it.”

“Who cares what I look like? I mean, the Lord doesn’t look at the face. He looks at the heart.”

“Well that’s good. But unfortunately, everyone else looks at your face and yours is old and freaky looking. And I would be much more concerned about your arm fat than your wrinkles. You can give up smiling forever but your arms are going to have to move.”

“I’m so vain. I need to get over it.”

And on and on. And then on a little more because why not go for broke, you know?

I know I’m not the only one who has been through this, and I also know that it’s inevitable. But I guess I never realized I was going to be included.

Truth be told, I don’t think it’s even about face lines or gray hairs.

I just don’t want things to be moving quite so fast.

I meant to take a picture of Charlotte’s tiny little baby feet hanging off the rocking chair the other day and I took at least 15 photos, bemoaning the way the angle was making them look so big. I scrolled through a couple and looked up at her again, and in an instant I realized they were wholly representing what existed. Her feet are chubby and delicious, and I kiss them every single day. And somewhere in the kissing and the shoes and the towel drying them after bath time, I missed the part where they changed.

The camera doesn’t lie, and neither does the mirror.

My heart says, “It will never change,”  but the reflections tell me otherwise.

I sat in the moonlight all alone that night and whispered to Him, “Why?”

Why do you let me love things as they are only to tell me they won’t stay?

And as the blushing bride, ever well-intentioned, I realized my mistake as soon as the words left my mouth.

All this dark night, and you sit in the moonlight asking why.

I’ve been holding it all too tightly. Shoving feet in tiny shoes and scrutinizing the way the hours are robbing me of what was beautiful. I missed the way He lit up the night for me.

His moon.

His love.

His painting of my hair and ticking of the clock.

His spectacular plan that I’m so tempted to forget in favor of wrinkle cream and doubt. I get the sense that I’ve been treading water for a long time, asking Him to give me something that feels better.

I spend more time looking for my reflection in a mirror, rather than in the night sky. I want to drink deep of the landscape He has blessed me with. Not from behind a camera, trying to clip and edit until it matches my heart, but as a woman who can see the stars spilled out and believe Him.

There is beauty in the believing, isn’t there?

It’s a warm summer day today, and I have a feeling my backyard will be full of noises and patches of light tonight.

And as it often does, the wind will pick up the swings and move them back and forth while I cry out for them to be still. Tonight I will watch them and I will smile.

And instead of worrying about the swings, I will thank Him for the wind.

Constantly moving.

Always nudging us toward our home with Him.

Jesus, You make it all unbearable beautiful when we dare to look. Thank you for the mercy that sets us all free to love you in return…You are Everything.

And also, Jesus?

I don’t want to smell like fish anymore.

Amen.

The Runaway

So we reached a parenting milestone that I was really hoping we never would.

Ellie comes running down the stairs holding a picture that Abby drew and she’s crying and shaking it at us. After a few muffled minutes, we calm her down and realize that Abby had told her she was running away.  And she had drawn a picture to prove it. It was the outside of our house, complete with our whole family on one side (except Abby) and her on the other side, walking away.

We were understandably very sad in the picture. She, however, did not look fazed. She got a straight-line mouth instead of a sad one. I think I was waving. It was a pretty rough stick-figure scene.

“Abigail Grace, I need you to come to the kitchen right now so we can talk about this.”

I could hear her footsteps in the upstairs hallway as my mind flashed back to one of my poorly-planned attempts to get attention run away from home.

We had just moved to Cincinnati from Japan and I was about to start sixth grade. Let’s just say my idea of fashion wasn’t necessarily in line with my new American school, but for some reason I had an image of what I wanted to wear and I begged my parents to take me to the mall so I could buy it.

In the event that you’re wondering, the dream outfit included a shirt, skirt, tights, headband, and shoes that were all various and inharmonious shades of magenta.

Magenta. I was always a step ahead on the trends.

So anyway, we went to Sears. Actually I think it was Sears-Roebuck. I don’t know. I just know it was 1988 and it was time to rock some McKids clothing.

In the event that you are puzzled by that last sentence because you were in Benetton or the Limited checking out Outback Red, let me tell you. The real party wasn’t at Camp Beverly Hills.

It was at Sears. Right by Ronald McDonald himself.

And yes, it was a clothing line launched by McDonalds, display complete with a 7 foot plastic cut-out of the red-headed-creepy-clown man. I don’t see how people resisted. I wasn’t that strong, I can tell you that.

I settle on this stunning ensemble (not one that they had put together, and kudos to me for shaking it up) and walk over to my dad to show it to him. Apparently Ronald had marked up his prices a bit more than my dad was willing to pay, and he shook his head and kept browsing.

I was devastated.

So much so that I decided to make a bold proclamation. One that should send fear to the hearts of every parent.

I took my clothes back and said, “OK, fine dad. You know what? You don’t even have to buy anything, so just FORGET IT.” Then, I did the dramatic walk-away. Nothing. He wasn’t budging. Time to step it up a notch.

(Insert “whip-around move complete with fake trembling lip” here).

“Because you know what, dad? I’m not even going home with you. I am going to live here.”

My dad looks around me while I nod my head like I’m confident about my decision.

“When you say, here, sweetie, can you tell me exactly where you mean? Cincinnati?”

Time for the big dogs, people.

“No, dad (fling hair, narrow eyes). I am going to live at Sears.”

Take that, Mr. Stingy.

I could see the breakdown in his eyes. He tried to mask his terror with a stifled laugh but I could see through it. He knew he was about to lose me to Ronald. Man, was he going to regret this for the rest of his life.

He nodded while I considered my brilliant plan. I started thinking it might not be believable so I decided to walk away. Let him think about what he had done and come find me to tell me I could indeed purchase the ticket to popularity.

He went back to browsing without saying another word, so I huffed off and found a spot on the other side of the department. I set my clothes under my head for a pillow and took off my coat to drape it over me like a blanket.

A few minutes later he peeked over the rack.

“Angela, what are you doing, honey?”

“I’m just settling in, dad. Just settling in to my new place.”

I adjusted my body around while pretending to get comfortable. There was a little T.V. playing ads for the clothing line so I continued.  Poor guy. This was going to send him right over the edge.

“I mean look, dad. They’ve got T.V., they’ve got clothes, there are all kinds of nice people, and if I get hungry, I’ll just go on down to the food court.”

“Sweetie you don’t have any money.”

“Someone will help me. Some stranger will care about me and take care of me. You just go on home and don’t worry about me.”

I flipped over, staring at the wall while trying to hear if his feet were walking away.

He kneeled next to me.

“I don’t think this is a good choice Angela. Your mother, myself, and Jennifer are going to be very sad without you at the house. But, you’re a very smart girl and if you think this is the best thing for you, I want to try and help you. Why don’t I leave a little money here with you and I will make sure the saleslady watches over you. Whenever we can, we’ll come back and visit, okay?”

Awesome. Not only was I not getting my outfit, I was going to be living next to a plastic clown.

He actually got out his wallet and as soon as I heard it shuffling around I decided maybe I needed to reconsider my offer. My heart started pounding and I sat up and looked at him.

“I don’t want Jennifer to be sad. She really needs me, you know?”

He nodded, wallet still open.

“Well, kid, I’m going to head out and I’d love it if you came with me.”

I lifted the clothes from under my head and held them out for him to take to the register.

He took them from me and smiled. So really, all my hard work had paid off, despite my little circus scare.

“Thank you dad.”

“Oh don’t thank me, honey. Thank the saleslady. She’s going to help you find the racks to hang these all back up.”

Aaaaaand cue scene.

Abby walks into the kitchen and I hold up the picture. She’s looking at it, looking at me, and seeing how this new revelation is going to shake me.

“Ellie brought this to me, honey. She said you were going to run away and find a new house to live at. I don’t want you to do that, and neither do your sisters or your daddy.”

I paused. After all, I learned from the best.

“But you are a smart girl, and if you think this is a good decision, I will help you. Why don’t you take some time to pray about it and if you still think it’s best, mommy has some very nice friends who would let you stay with them for awhile.”

Her eyes widened.

I got down on my knees and looked her dead in the eye.

“And if you decide that this is not what you want, I would like for you to rip up this picture and throw it in the trash. And I do not want to hear about it again. Understood?”

“Yes ma’am.”

She walked out of the room, and approximately 14 seconds later, returned with a shredded drawing and a new lease on life.

“I’m going to stay, momma.”

“Well I’m glad. Now go upstairs and clean your room like I asked you to an hour ago.”

“Yes ma’am.”

I looked in the trash a few minutes later and started laughing. I could hear her chronicling her failed plan to Ellie and I couldn’t believe I was already on the other end of the conversation.

Later that night, I found her getaway bag in my closet (where she knew I would NEVER find it. Clever girl…). It contained 2 princess dresses, some fake grapes, a stuffed dog and her song-writing notebook.

I have to at least give her credit for the clothing choices.

Ronald would be proud.

(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***

No Doubt About It

Because so many of you made a point of noting the resemblance between Kate and me in my last post, I had to show you this picture. I saw it on my Grandma’s nightstand a few years ago and I literally gasped at how much Kate looks like my dad’s sister when she was a child. 
Check it out…..

Isn’t that HILARIOUS?!?!?!?!

And by the way, my grandma made all their clothes and she is particularly fond of this “bucking bronco” sweater my dad has on (isn’t he a cutie-pie?). My dad likes to say that she still makes him wear it to church sometimes. Hehehe :)
Had to share…now I’m off to watch a movie with Todd- you all have a great night~
Ang

I Blame Laura

***Updated to say that my old BFF from the wonder days backed me up on all of my antics in a comment on this post (12:47 p.m. today). She probably has some great pictures of us to share from the good old days-love you, Tef :)  Also wanted to tell you that after so many of you commented about Kate looking like me, I have decided to pull out the big guns. I am going to try and post a little something later tonight after the ladies are in bed, and trust me, there will be NO QUESTION whose genes she got!!!!***
(Original post follows…)
I am referring to Laura Ingalls, in the event that you are wondering.
And as a warning, there will be no deep, heady thoughts here for several weeks, because I am pouring all of my smart thinking and cohesive writing structure into my book.
So, for all of you sweet Sundays, you are stuck with babbling, random, “not so well-written” Angie until September. 
That last sentence alone should prove my point.
And now back to our unscheduled program…
When I was living in Japan as a child, my sister and I would get deliriously happy every time the little green light would blink on the TV. When it did, it meant that the show was being presented “bilingually,” which usually meant ENGLISH! Typically, it also meant that we were about to watch Magnum P.I. or Little House on the Prairie. Not a lot of variety, but we would take what we could get. 
So, Jenn and I were hooked on the Ingalls.  Which, for many reasons, would eventually lead to my social downfall and also explains my obsession with bonnets and braids, but we’ll get there.
Anyhoo.
Aside from Little House, my grandma would send us Betamax tapes of the popular American shows, and honestly, we were more than a little creeped out by some of them. What was with Alf? Small Wonder? 
If you have no clue what I am talking about, please don’t say a word. You will make me feel old and embarrassed because I was amazed by the stellar graphics and acting that led me to believe we could have a robotic sister and a pet alien when we got back to the States. 
Seriously. Look into it.
We got plenty of episodes of Family Ties and the Cosby show, but when the big cardboard box showed up every few months, we tore through it like wild animals to hunt down any episodes of Punky Brewster and Rainbow Brite. Does anyone remember the episode of Punky Brewster where Candace Cameron was a runaway and her face showed up on a milk container? Well I had the great pleasure of going on a cruise with her a few years ago (we weren’t together, but I still feel cool writing that…she was speaking and Selah was singing. As a sidebar, she is incredible, and is really making an impact for the Lord…absolutely beautiful on the inside and out). I told her that I remembered that episode and she laughed her head off. I hesitated to mention the Teen Bop photos of her brother that graced my walls during the era of rainbow pillows and waterbeds. 
I will never forget the day that we ripped into the box and on the top was a tape marked “Anne of Green Gables.” I didn’t have a clue what it was, and told my mom I wasn’t really interested, but about an hour later I was hooked and ran to my parent’s bedroom, flung myself on their bed, and in my most dramatic, Anne-worthy tone, informed them that if the rest of series was not in that box, I might die.
Luckily, it was. 
Words cannot express my love for Anne, Diana, and the rest of the crew who taught me how to effectively have kids hate me for my clothing choices a few years later. What? You don’t believe that I bought a dress that could have been worn by Anne and thought it a brilliant move to wear it to my sixth grade picture day in Cincinnati? 
I have photos, people.
And many scars.
Where was I? 
Little House, oh yes.
There was drama, and plenty of it. Mary accidentally sets the barn on fire, Nellie Oleson mistreats Laura’s horse Bunny and gets thrown off and then pretends to be paralyzed, a tornado wipes out the crops, Mary wakes up screaming because she’s blind…any of these ring a bell? I’ll stop now. 
But seriously.
What could be better than living in a simple, cozy house with your family and sleeping in a loft with your sister while Pa plays the fiddle and Ma sews a new dress for you?
Nothing, I tell you.
And in my ten year old mind, that was the life I wanted. I wanted my kids to walk to school everyday and enter in the one-room schoolhouse when Miss Beadle rang the big bell and the town bustled around them. Meanwhile, Ma was at home cooking on her precious new stove and the worst thing that could happen while you were coming home was that a boy would pull your pigtails.
The first red flag about my future lifestyle came in the form of sharp pencils being thrown at the back of my head on the school bus in sixth grade. This was quickly followed up by a girl pretending she wanted to do her science fair project with me and then explaining in front of our class that she was completely kidding. In fact, that same day I was completely banned from practicing “The Lift” with the cool kids who had seen Dirty Dancing. As a sidebar, the nasty Katie N. begged me to be her science fair partner later because she had blown it off and I did the whole thing with my dad. We studied how Venus Flytraps suck all the nutrients out of flies. I can see you now, writhing with envy. Venus Flytraps are the underdogs of the plant world, and had it not been for Little Shop of Horrors, they may never have earned the respect they deserve. I remember that Katie wore a Camp Beverly Hills shirt to the science fair, and I wore, umm, glasses. 
The good news is that I eventually went on to be a college cheerleader despite the lack of “lift” practice in recess. And Katie? 
Did not. 
She decided to chase after a life of harassment and cruelty which landed her exactly where her victims had been for years. Don’t worry, nothing tragic. Just a taste of her own medicine.
So, after coming home to a less than rousing welcome in the States, I decided that my “Little House” life was not going to cut it. I did my best to just blend in enough to not stick out, and as I grew into my nose and out of my braces, I started to gain some credibility with the in-crowd. I loved theatre and reading, so I think the best I could say is that I straddled the line between cool and not-so-much. I never got into trouble, although I did sneak out a few times to be rebellious. 
Ever the guilt-ridden “good girl,” I left a note for my parents in the event that they pulled back the covers and saw the pillows in my place.
I decided I had been born in the wrong century. I wanted to sit by my window and read for hours, and my prized possession was an old-fashioned rag doll I named Abigail, who still lays on the guest room bed in my parent’s house. 
I made a point of never using the phrase “bosom friend” when I met girls at school. Let’s just say it doesn’t fly like it did back in the day. But, I am happy to say that Audra is my Diana (I think there is a resemblance, actually!) and I am, well, Anne. 
And all of you who are tempted to say I resemble Anne, BITE YOUR TONGUES. Trust me, in a few seconds, you will have much more fodder to use against me. 
I bring it on myself.
The bottom line is that the world feels so complicated, and all I want is a porch swing and a horse named Bunny. You know what I mean.
So, consider this the rambling, incoherent introduction to the post I will write shortly about why I chose to homeschool. And by “shortly,” I mean “possibly before Christ returns.”
And it doesn’t really have to do with shielding my kids from life, but rather the fact that I kind of want to be Miss Beadle. 
And in the event that you do not believe that I was the girl I have described here, I give you Exhibit A, which I simply call, “What happens when a ten year old cuts her own bangs, dresses like Laura Ingalls, puts stickers on her un-pierced ears and goes Trick-or-Treating with her matching Cabbage Patch Kid in a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween.”
Yeah.
So let’s make a deal.
Whenever you see a picture of me where you think I look cute, first, remember that I chose that picture, because it is my blog and I don’t necessarily want to put the bad ones on it (with the exception of Exhibit A). 
And second, picture me as an awkward kid with a weird doll, crooked hair, and an unhealthy love for the smell of books.
I assure you, the latter is more accurate.
I cannot end this post before ratting on my husband.
I’ll just come out and say it, because there is really no way to dress it up.
Todd used to be afraid of Laura Ingalls because he said that when the credits are rolling and the music ends, she is freeze-framed, frolicking down the hill in a way that makes her look, in his words, “demonic.” I asked him to be specific, and he explained (I’m assuming to make himself look better…oops) that it was “the way her braid slashed across her face when the music does that high octave finale note.”
Thank you, Sweetie.
I am trying to process this, as it was never on my list of credentials for a future husband. Please make sure and mention this phobia to my manly-man, should you meet him at a concert or something. Good times.
To his credit, he grew up in the bush of Africa, where there was no bilingual button.
Because seriously?
Laura is no match for Alf.

I Loved Jesus in the Night…

When I was 8 or 9 years old, my father and I were having a conversation which has been retold for years in my family.
We were talking about the things I might want to do when I grew up (for the record, at the age of four, I apparently wanted to be a “robber” and my sister wanted to be a mouse. Mom and dad were really proud), the dreams I had for my life, the person I wanted to be and so on. He was not the kind of father who talked about nothing just to pass time with his children. He was (and is) deeply engaged in who we are and what we are going through. He was a VP at Procter and Gamble, and regardless of how many many people reported to him, he would cancel business meetings to come see me if I was cheerleading. His family was first, no question. And we never felt slighted by his demanding job because there was no competition. As a sidebar (and to brag on him), you are probably familiar with much of the work he collaborated on at P&G (“the night-time, sniffling, sneezing…so you can sleep medicine”). Yep, that was my dad (“I’m not a doctor but I play one on T.V” Seriously). He always wanted us to be thoughtful people, who took notice of the world and cared about those in it.  I grew up wealthy, but to be honest, I didn’t realize it until I had to fill out my college applications and check the “income” box. When he pointed gingerly where I should put my check mark, I snapped at him for not buying me the Guess jeans I had requested a few years prior. I lusted after those stinking things. Pink, gorgeous, popularity-ensuring pink dream pants…..oh I still mourn that loss.
So back to the conversation. We were living in Japan at the time, and my dad said to me, “Angela (yes, my entire family still calls me Angela to this day), if you could be ANYTHING in the world right this minute, what would you be?”
“Anything, daddy?”
“Anything.”
I thought for a moment and from what I have been told, a smile stretched across my face as I responded.
“I would be a suitcase, daddy.” I stared at him, waiting to see what he thought of my answer.
He looked confused, but he sat for a moment and then asked me why.
I started to cry.
“So I could go with you when you leave for trips. So I could be your little suitcase and travel with you.” He pulled me into his arms tried to reassure me.
The gentle crying turned to sobs. I hated when he left, and he was about to go on another trip. They lasted weeks sometimes, and my only consolation was that we always got a present when he got got home. I distinctly remember him taking a trip back to the States and me telling him that I needed a “clutch purse.” He didn’t know what that was, but promised to find out, and true to his word, several weeks later, he showed up with a red clutch purse with little wooden handles that I adored.
Many of his travels were to India, and for as long as I can remember, he has instilled in us a love for the country.  He would bring back pieces that he had bought, including a handmade plate that was made on the site of the Taj Majal and is an exact replica of the structure. My sister and I would stare at it; the way all the pieces fit together, and try to imagine it as large as a building. 
He glowed as he told us of the love of a man who built this for the woman he loved. After losing his third wife, Shah Jahan (1631) was so grief stricken that he built this incredible monument as a testament to his late wife, and it sounded like a movie to me and Jen, as we sat listening to the stories of places we would probably never get to see in real life. He made it feel like we were there, among them, admiring the beauty and weeping over the poverty which brought him to his knees.
After one of his trips to India, he brought back a small, carved box that we were fascinated by. It was so intricate, and the best part was that when you opened it up, the smell of sandalwood would fill the room. Sometimes I would sneak into his office and run my fingers along the wood. I would open it and dream of the man who would love me the way Shah Jahan loved his wife. 
It was all so romantic to me, so intriguing. He told us about the Moghuls, and all about the history of this country that he loved so deeply.  To this day, the smell of sandalwood nearly brings me to tears because it reminds me of a time when all of my dreams were set in stone, and I was just waiting for them to happen years down the road. It told me that there was a great big world full of such an aching combination of desperate love and unimaginable poverty. I decided that one day, I would go there (I didn’t have the, ahem, fear of airplanes that I do now, so this all seemed very reasonable).
A few weeks ago I posted a picture of myself with Anne Jackson, Jessica Turner, and Brandi Wilson.  Anne and I were talking about travel and she casually asked, “Would you ever go to India?”
I didn’t think. I just smelled the sandalwood and I smiled.
“Yep. I would.”
What I thought was probably the end of a conversation began what will surely be one of the most difficult and God-ordained times of my life.
Instead of telling you all of the details, click here and you will understand why. Anyone look familiar?
I will be away from my family for almost two weeks, and the travel time (each way) is approximately 3 days.  If you are trying to do the math, don’t bother.
It’s going to be a LOT of Xanax flying.
I would love to ask that you visit the sites of the other bloggers/folks who will be going (you know Pete and Anne, and Melissa is Beth Moore’s daughter, and will be blogging for the LPM blog while we are there. The trip leaders are Shaun Groves and Spence Smith. I encourage you to spend time with each of them on their blogs and get to know our team so that you can be praying for all of us.
Since it’s a Compassion International Blogger trip,  I will be able to keep you all updated every day we are in Calcutta (the 26th of April through the 2nd of May, I believe). We will travel during the day to different projects and then come back to the hotel to blog, so you will get to see what I do firsthand. I am excited, honored, terrified, and about a million other things, so please pray. 
I feel I am being obedient to the calling of the Lord, which can be a very difficult thing, but I want to bring Him glory. I want to live my life outside the fear and inside His providence…
So, Sundays…we’re going to Calcutta. 
Will you walk with me where Mother Teresa walked and look into the faces of these sweet children who need us so desperately? I need to know you are going with me in spirit because it makes it feel so much more safe. We’ve walked tougher roads than this together, haven’t we?
As a part of all this (and really, the goal), is to get children sponsored. We’ll get into that more as time goes on, but for now, will you be praying about sponsoring a child in Calcutta? It is $32/month and it will change his or her life.
I am quite sure that if given the question I was asked as a young girl years ago, they might say the same thing. I just want to be a suitcase…
This is our best chance do that, and provide them with opportunities they never would have dreamed of having.
I will be talking a lot more about this, but I had to at least mention it so that you would know. You mean more to me than I could ever mean to you (don’t argue. I’m sure of it), and when I step on that plane, I will have you all in the forefront of my mind, because you have never failed me before….you are so, so dear to me. 

“I have come to love the darkness-For I believe now that it is a part, a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth.  What a wonderful gift from God to be able to offer Him the emptiness I feel. I am so happy to give Him the gift….”  Mother Teresa

Thank you, each of you, for loving me the way you do. By the way, does anyone know a pharmacist who isn’t really into “moral distribution” of anxiety meds? Just curious….
Angie

Believe

I’m going to start by saying something that may surprise you.
Growing up, my experience with several “Christians” led me to believe that I did not want anything to do with Christianity. They were judgmental, hypocritical, self-consumed, and some had pink hair (see TBN for more details).  I spent a good part of my life feeling like this was not a club I wanted to be a part of.  
What I have discovered in the last several years of my life is that these people still exist in churches all over the world.  The people who don’t care about the Christian walk, but they sure do care if the neighbors are arguing in their driveway (and then they add it to “prayer request time,” not to gossip of course, but for prayer, folks).  I continue to be disgusted when I see this, and even more so when I see it in myself.  And for clarification, I do see it in myself. More than I care to admit. We live in a fallen world, and we are all prone to unholy thoughts and actions that do not edify our Father.
I probably could have lived my entire life being someone who thought that Christians were (at best) delusional.  A baby? A manger? A cross? How silly. How useless. A bunch of dreamers who have come up with this great plan to make themselves feel better about life. I suppose I had better, more tangible things to do with my life.
And then one night (This January 17th, I will celebrate my eighth “anniversary”), I heard Him speak to me, and I have never been the same.  
It doesn’t mean that I turn a blind eye and think that the church is perfect (NO church is perfect).  What it means is that I have seen the tears fall in a group of people as we gathered together on a stormy night to hold hands and pray over the baby in my womb who had just received the diagnosis of certain death. The door blew open as we prayed and the rain poured in (no Sundays are surprised at this detail, right??:)) It means I have seen what the church was meant to be, and I love it.
I have seen true community, as a group of 30 or so people come to my house every Wednesday night and we share life. We don’t talk about the weather or the latest trends (usually…).  We talk about struggling marriages and kids who have walked away from the church. We talk about loss and heartbreak, and we celebrate the gifts that God has given each one of us. We talk about the parts of life that make it worth living. 
Images from childhood are racing through my mind at warp speed as I type.  The 6th grade girls down the road who told me I wasn’t as good as them because I didn’t care about Jesus. The same girls who invited me over to audition to be a ballet school teacher at their “school” that they were opening in their basement. I put on a leotard and some ballet shoes, kissed my mom’s cheek as she wished me good luck and then walked through the freezing cold streets.
I did every single move they told me to, and then, trying to play it cool,  I asked if I had made the cut.  They said they needed to think about it, and as the door closed behind me, I heard raucous laughter. I had fallen for their prank.  There was never a ballet school, just a chance to humiliate a little girl who didn’t know any better than to put on her shoes and walk toward opportunity.
Let’s not even get into the time I joined my first Bible Study (Breaking Free by Beth Moore…I like her a little bit), I was not yet a Christian, and I showed up nervously with the only (Catholic) Bible I had, which was, umm, a “Precious Moments” Bible. Score. 
It also had a whole bunch more books than the other girls’ Bibles…which was explained to me later:) Luckily, those women welcomed me wholeheartedly and helped me find the different books as they flipped through at the speed of light and I sat paralyzed with the giant book (those pages are like tissue, are they not?). They are still all close friends of mine, and I am so blessed to have met a group of people who exposed me to the true Gospel.
Do you have impressions or memories of Christians that sting? I bet you do.
And here is why I feel so compelled to write to you all today.
This is not the church that Jesus intended. This is not HIS church. It is what we, in our fallen state, have made it.
He is healer, refuge, forgiver, strong tower, peace-giver, redeemer, joyful, mender of brokenness…He is the Light of the world, and He came to give you the life that you were meant to have since before time began.
I am speaking from experience here, friends. I have met with Him, and I have fallen deeply, unequivocally, passionately in love with Who He is.
Last night, I had the great pleasure of spending an evening with several friends who live their lives chasing the Lord. We spent an evening with Mexican food, obnoxious laughter, homemade hot chocolate and watching as our 6 children run around like wild animals, so full of joy they could explode. To put it simply, it was, well, community.  The real kind. The kind where you hug someone because you know their deepest hurts and joys and you love each other richly despite their shortcomings. Nights like those restore my faith in what we are called to be as a body…they stir the fire that says, “This is my church, daughter. Now go out and DO something with what you have seen here…”
I have spoken of some of them here, but I want to reintroduce you.  You already know about Jessica and Matthew. I also spent time with an amazing, sweet couple named Chris and Anne Jackson.  Anne has an amazing blog and has her first book coming out in a few months (pre-order here).
Finally, you know about my dear friends Brandi and Pete.  People, listen to me. They GET it. Pete is the pastor of Cross Point Church (remember the cool videos they did of us for Audrey…he’s the one with the rockin’ hair), a church that is thriving because of the authenticity with which every message is presented. They are the real deal.  We went to look at Christmas lights in our pajamas the other night if that tells you anything…(and Brandi, you do not have my permission to tell the reason I was not pajama-clad….I am working on it…:))
SO…
I want to personally invite you (on behalf of Cross Point Church) to attend one of their Christmas Eve services, and I promise, you will be blessed. Services are at 2:00, 3:30, and 5 p.m. in Nashville, and 3:00 and 5:00 in Dickson.  Here is the link to their church site for more information. They don’t know I am doing this, but I just felt compelled because I know what an amazing night it will be, and if you can make it, you will be glad you did.
Maybe you haven’t even walked into a church for years. 
Maybe that feels scary or uncomfortable. 
Maybe you feel like you wouldn’t fit in, or that you would feel inadequate.
I totally understand, and I was with you there for most of my life. 
But maybe, just maybe, this is the year that you allow God to woo you the way He longs to…I am praying that for each of you. And by all means, if you do come, and you see me there, please say hello (and tell me I look skinny, because I am struggling a little with that…thank you to all my sweet neighbors who brought oversized plates of cookies….Crystal, yes, that means you. And Terri, also not helping.)
Here is a shot of us from last night- (Anne, me, Brandi and Jess)

I slacked a little on the Christmas card thing this year, so I thought I would post this for you all to see. It’s my favorite one I have ever sent, and I hope you love it too. I will go ahead and answer the inevitable questions (because I got a ton of emails when it went out in 2004!). Yes, that is Todd and the girls walking (look how TINY they are!!!!), and I digitally altered it to make the point that I hope you get when you see it.  
We can’t see Him the way we wish we could all of the time, but we can lift our hands to His and do what He longs for us to do….walk and believe…


This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…
Romans 3:22
Merry CHRISTmas to you all, and much love to each one of you.
Angie

A Few Things…

Hello all.
I wanted to write tonight and tell you a few things before I turn in for the night.  Firstly (and with her permission), I want to introduce to you my friend Adrienne.  She is the girl I asked you to pray for in my last post.  Click on her name and meet her sweet family…they are amazing.  I would update you here, but I would love for you to hear it in her words.  She has had a hard week, and I want to thank you for your prayers on her behalf.  I know how much it means to her….and despite the sadness, she says she is feeling peaceful.  One of my prayers for this blog has been that it would be a place where women with shared experiences could connect, and feel safe sharing their stories with each other.  If you feel led, I would ask you to continue to pray for her, her husband Jim, and their son Owen.  I am sure she would love to hear from you; I know that so many of you can relate to this season in their lives.
I cannot tell you how encouraged I am to see how many people are praying for our family.  I spoke to Nicol this afternoon (they are in town for a week or so), and she said that she had read through most of the comments, and was so moved by them.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for your love and devotion as you walk with us.  You will probably never know what your words and prayers have meant…we are so blessed to have you.
Amy Perry (who sings in Selah) came in town on Tuesday to just “be” with us. She lives in California, so this was not an easy thing to do.  She has been cooking, cleaning, and watching our kids all week, and they are as sad as Todd and I are to see her go.  It has been so great to sit around and talk and watch gymnastics on T.V., and laugh together while the kids color ten million pictures and “Aunt Amy” acts like each one is more beautiful than the last.  You are a gift that we treasure dearly, Amy.  
Speaking of women I love and respect….guess who is coming to visit me next weekend? I’ll give you a clue…this time, she knows she’s going to see me….:)  I will make sure and post pictures so you can see what their family is up to these days. I can hardly wait!
As a sidebar, I have to share this story with you because it has had me laughing all day.  Last night as I was putting the girls down for bed, I was reading them a story and Abby started trying to make her hair curl up on the ends.  It was still wet from her bath, so it was actually working.  She would cup it in her hands on each side of her head and press it up so it kind of looked like Patty Duke. This is the conversation that followed.  I’ll warn you now, there is no Bible lesson hiding, just a good giggle.
“What are you doing, Ab? You look like you’re hard at work on a hairstyle.”  She releases her palm and her hair turns up at the ends while Ellie stares, fascinated.
“I’m doing it like the lady at Kroger with the ponytails.”
I have no idea what she is talking about.  In fact, I shop at Publix.
“What lady at Kroger?”
“You know, the one with the bows and the ponytails.  Where you buy your burgers.”
No clue. I stare at her.
“Do you mean Pippi Longstockings?”  
I don’t know why I asked, because my kids have 1)never seen the movie, and I’m pretty sure Pippi never 2) had a part-time gig at Kroger or 3) sold me a burger.  But for some reason, she was the only flip-out hair person I could think of.  What can I say? I dressed up like her for Halloween and I was really proud of my ingenious “undo a wire hanger and wind it through your ponytails to make them stick out” trick.  
Which would have been extra cool had I not been in the eighth grade. 
Let’s just say, I missed the memo that all girls should wear football jerseys with black lines under their eyes or animal costumes to be “festive and adorable.” Awesome choice, Ang.  For future reference, if you don’t want to make Homecoming Court or be invited back, you should definitely wear big black boots and a torn dress and paint freckles on your face for a Junior High Party. 
I might as well have gone as a giant hot-dog.
I digress.
Abby looks at me.  She is confused, and I realize she has no idea what I am talking about. Suddenly it hits me.
“Oh, like WENDY!!!!” I immediately picture the familiar fast-food redhead. Now it’s obvious.  The ponytails, the bows, the flip, the burgers.  I am still not sure where the Kroger thing comes in, but I decide not to press my luck.  I give her a kiss and start to giggle because I am thinking of my ridiculous costume, and how many stories I have like this from my childhood. She smiles and starts to laugh too, even though she has no idea what is so funny.  
“I love you, Abby.  Sleep tight.”  I walk to the door and turn the light off.  From her bed in the darkness, this is what I hear.
“I love you too mommy, but I have a question. Who is “Pee-pee Longstalker???”
I literally cannot stop laughing as I type.  And it reminds me that I haven’t told you about their “adorable” haircuts you all keep asking me about.  Let’s just say it involves my eldest daughter, a treehouse, and a pair of scissors.
Another day….
With much prayer, thanksgiving, and laughter,
Angie

Blossom

Good news…I’m not spam!!! I cannot believe how many of you wrote to me to tell me that you wanted me to know you were still praying for me. I have needed and appreciated those words more than you will ever know during the past days. There is much too much to fit here…I feel like I am walking around in a dream most of the time. The last 2 weeks have been some of the hardest I have ever experienced. I am still sifting the moments, the memories, and the loss. Trying to figure out where it all goes in my life, and how in the world I am supposed to watch my kids play at the park and not just blurt out, “I just lost my daughter” to all the other mommies. What is this new life I have been given? In time, I know it will begin to make sense. We will learn what to say when people ask how many children we have. We will learn to fall asleep on a dry pillow. We will remember how to love fully, without fear of losing the one thing we can’t stand to lose. We will.

But not today.

Today I am broken. I feel like I am in the midst of intense spiritual warfare. The Blogger people unfroze me yesterday, and I sat down to write after the kids were in bed. I stared at the screen for about an hour, just crying and trying to stretch my fingers across the letters to form something that would tell you what I am feeling. I finally closed my computer and went to sleep, only to toss and turn for most of the night. When I did sleep, it was filled with images of Audrey, but they always unfolded differently. In one, I was screaming at the sky while people all around me told me that I wasn’t loud enough. They kept telling me that if I screamed at the top of my lungs, God would let me have her back. He would drop her from the sky. And so, in my dream, I stood with my arms outstretched to the heavens, believing. Then I remember crumpling up on the ground in tears, knowing that I wasn’t enough. I couldn’t do what I needed to do to save her. I woke up in the throes of helplessness, my bed soaked with sweat.

In another dream, I was away from home and had a feeling that something was wrong with her. I called Todd to check in and he told me that she had died, and that we had both missed her memorial service. I would wake up every few minutes, sometimes grabbing at my stomach to see if she was still there, or if any of it was true. Of course, on every occasion, I eventually remembered.

I feel like I am constantly releasing her, reminding myself that it is really happening. She is gone.

What I have in that moment is the blanket that she was wrapped in for most of her life.

What I have are the pictures of her sweet face.

What I have is a beautiful necklace that a stranger sent to me with all of my daughters’ initials on it.

What I have is a scar, five inches long, which tells me that she lived here not so long ago.

What I do not have is my daughter. And that loss is deeper than anything I could put on paper. It is concrete, definitive, gaping. It is my new life.

Shortly after Audrey was born, some of my close friends came to my house and told me they had a surprise for us. About half an hour later, there was a cherry blossom tree planted in our front yard in place of a maple that had never lived. To see those little pink flowers in the place where we had become accustomed to seeing dead branches was profound for me. Several times a day I walk by my dining room windows and smile at the blossoms because they remind me of my past, and they urge me to believe that new life has begun. The soil is rich in longing, needy for purpose, and prepared to be the giver of life. The friends that brought me that tree could not have known the full extent of how meaningful it was to me.

The official name of the tree is the “Yoshino Cherry.” I have always (unbeknownst to them) loved Japanese cherry trees. Growing up, I spent about four years in Kobe, Japan, and some of my fondest memories drift back to me in the form of pink petals floating on the breeze, beckoning hard-working men and women out of their offices. The cherry blossom season is so short (only a few days!), that last year, the government issued a national apology when they miscalculated the dates. I remember the way my sister and I jumped up and down as the petals fell like snow around us, and thousands of people gathered all around to just experience the beauty. This is one of the descriptions that I found online:

“The Japanese Cherry starts flowering profusely from the first warmer days in April, heralding the coming of spring.

The intense beauty and short survival span have associated Cherry Blossoms with spiritual and philosophical ideas such as the beauty and fragility of human life.”

I read these words and I just fell apart. It’s okay. I needed to fall apart. I pictured the God of the universe watching two little girls dance under the falling blossoms, in a country so far from home…innocence in motion…and years later watching my dear friends plant life in a season of loss. Once again I was reminded that none of this is a surprise to Him.

I went to a tourist site to track the Cherry Blossom festivals for this year, and I clicked on “Kobe.” This is the place where so many of my childhood memories come from…so much joy. I watched the dates come up and the tears just started falling. April 7th, 2008…one of the peak bloom days.

A one week time span, and there she was.

Tonight, my knees will bow to the God that gave her to me…and the God who took her from me. The God who loves to bloom where death reigned. We welcome you, Lord. Come and make it beautiful again.

Sweet Audrey-blossom. You captured us all.


My dad and some business associates
Me and my sister