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Everyday life, Faith, Family, Uncategorized

The Subtext

I know, I know.

It shouldn’t really be called a blog when I come over so infrequently.

I gave up guilt for Lent so I’m just not going to make a big thing out of it. Actually I didn’t think ahead enough to give up anything for Lent. And now I kind of feel guilty about that too.

I got a sweet message on Twitter the other day from a gal who wanted me to know she still checked over here every day, and it was the sweetest thing to me. I have had a lot going on in my world these past few months and I think I just kind of checked out of my blog until I could get through it. So, for the few of you still hanging out, thank you! I’m going to write more and try to be interesting and spiritually deep and funny. But it’s entirely possible that I will fail on at least 2 of those at any given point. What can I say? I set the bar high.

I am writing, though. And it’s absolutely wrecking me.

Pretty sure it’s the hardest book I’ve ever worked through, and I can only pray that I still have a publisher when I get to the end of it. If I get to the end of it. Kidding! I totally probably will.

So, there’s that. I’ll go ahead and be selfish for prayer at the front end…because I need it.

{Thank you:)}

I spoke at the dotmom conference recently (the link will take you to details about the next dotmom conference, and it’s going to be AMAZING-I’m trying to go to it myself because I love it so much:)), and my topic was “Evaluating what the sub-text of your parenting is teaching your children about the way God loves them.” Because that sounded easy and non-invasive. Awesome.

I can tell you this with certainty-it was an area the Lord wanted me to work on in my life, and it’s been pretty rough. It’s also been great, which is why I want to spend a little time on here chatting about the process with you, hoping it will bless you as a momma like it did me.

As I prayed through it in the weeks prior, God challenged me to take an active stance in my own home in ways I had been failing to do so. I want to continue to flesh out the places He revealed as weak, and I want to invite you to do the same. I’m going to put a couple of these posts up and I’m going to be honest with you about my shortcomings. It was a lengthy talk and there were a lot of different things that I didn’t even get to because, well, it turns out that understanding you are a representative of the Gospel to your kids is kind of a daunting realization. It’s easy to feel ill-equipped and bury our heads because we’re overwhelmed with the responsibility.

What I noticed as I prepared for the conference was the way I subtly expressed a message (often totally unintentionally) that wasn’t in agreement with my “main message.” Here’s an example: What I tell my kids in words is that I value them as individuals, but I often parent them as if they are a group. I took note of how many times I used the word “Girls,” and it was pitiful.

I started taking notes on myself throughout the day and I was shocked by the frequency of sentences that conveyed a subtext that didn’t line up with my heart for them. Obviously this is a work in progress, but I will say I have made changes and have already seen results.

So, before I get into the details, I want to encourage you to spend the next few days making notes as you parent throughout the day. Write down the words you say the most frequently, the things that surprise you, and anything else you feel like the Holy Spirit leads you to consider. It’s the first step in what will be a long journey, but you have to start somewhere.

I know the comment system on the blog is pretty involved, and we’re looking into ways to make conversation easier. I would love for you to share anything you are noticing in the next couple days, so if you’re willing to, please leave your comments here or shoot me an email. I just know that others are blessed when we’re walking in humility, and it’s good to be reminded that none of us have it all figured out.

I have plenty of stories to share about what my little experiment taught me, don’t worry 🙂

So, if you’re game, start today. There’s no exact science to it, but I believe God will bless your efforts to live more like Him. Let’s be diligent students of ourselves as mothers, and allow the Lord to speak wisdom into the gaps. It’s important that you write it down in some way that will help you look back and categorize, but don’t worry about organization right this second. We’ll get there:)

I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and I would welcome thoughts from ladies who have already raised their children as well.

Ready? I hope so. I’m really looking forward to digging into it with you 🙂

Love,
Ang

Family, fear, growing up, Uncategorized

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.

 

Compassion International, Peru 2012, Uncategorized

Woven

I swing the curtains wide open and pull the most annoying stunt known to children.

“WAKE UP! IT’S GOING TO BE AN AMAZING DAY!”

They are less than thrilled.

A few minutes later we stand in a row, all watching our toothbrushes move in the mirror.

“Where are we going today?” Abby asks.

“Today is the day we get to meet Fernanda!” I’m substantially over-emoting, but we’re a little road-weary and I think if I act as tired as I feel we might be in trouble.

Ellie spits out her toothpaste, wipes her mouth, and leaves the bathroom without saying a word.

A few minutes later I ask her what’s going on and she tells me she doesn’t really want to meet Fernanda.” I can tell she’s nervous.

“You know, I think you’re going to have a really special connection with her.” I say, rubbing her back while she stares at her hands.

“Well, then you’re going to be disappointed.” She answers.

Both of my girls have this part of their personality, where they will do almost anything socially unless they sense its forced. I don’t blame them, honestly. I knew without her explaining that she had a couple different fears going on. On top of the basic, “We don’t share a language or basically anything else” thing, she doesn’t do well in situations where there is an expectation she feels like she won’t be able to meet.

She doesn’t do the whole “connect because I think you should” thing. If she’s not ready, she isn’t budging.

So the fact that she knew this “meeting” was a big deal was starting to shut her down emotionally. I remind her that there is nothing expected of her, and she should act however feels comfortable. She nods, worry still clouding her eyes.

As we arrive, our trip guide steps off the bus and calls out Fernanda’s name. I’m walking in her direction as a teacher leads her to the front of the children and encourages her to come to us. I see the teacher’s arms push her in our direction, and then she claps and celebrates in spite of the fact that Fernanda has clearly been more “propelled” than she was “actively choosing direction.”

She tucks her head and hugs me, but as the cameras flash and people cheer, the irony doesn’t escape me.

We are strangers.

She is a nine year old girl whose teachers are urging her (lovingly, of course) to hug me and speak to me. She does as she is told, but she’s scared, and I know it.

She’s digging her feet in the dirt the same way Ellie is.

“It’s okay, it’s okay!” I say, waving my hand and smiling at her teachers. “This is so weird for her…don’t worry!” I shake my head at her as if to say, “No problem!” and she smiles a little.

I point to the twins, telling Fernanda their names and she smiles a tiny bit more. Her teachers both speak at the same time, no doubt telling her to greet Abby and Ellie  properly out of respect.

All three move toward each other, not out of love, but rather obedience. They embrace tentatively, unsure of what happens next.

A voice tells us to come inside the church, and we settle in the sanctuary as the toddlers perform routines and the Pastor welcomes us.

I am sitting by Fernanda, but Abby and Ellie have chosen the other side of the church, and I wave to let them know they are free to stay there and don’t need to feel bad. It’s okay, I say with my eyes.

Fernanda’s teachers sit nearby, and they explain that she is very, very timid. She was transferred from another program in August so she’s relatively new to this one. She is sweet, they say, but she doesn’t express emotion.  Fernanda’s eyes study the floor and her feet swing back and forth from the pew while she listens.

I watch her shoes move while her teacher talks, and I am suddenly struck by the deep affection I have for her.

It’s beautiful to just be in her world, and I want to see what she sees, take in the spaces that make up her days. I feel a protectiveness over her, an affinity that makes me feel inexplicably knitted to her. I expect nothing in return, and mentally acknowledge that I will likely not win her over today. It doesn’t matter…I’ve fallen for her.

As we stand to leave the church, I giggle and call the girls over so we can get a picture. I tell Fernanda that we bought these shoes for the trip, and she tells us that she got hers three days ago.

They’re just laces, but they bring me a smile as I imagine each of the girls here pulling their new shoes onto little feet this morning, looping them one lace over another, until they’re woven tight, tied, and ready to meet a stranger.

They don’t share a language, a country, or a worldview, but in this moment they share shoes.

We follow Fernanda as she disappears down corridors that would have made my kids cringe a few weeks ago. In her classroom, Fernanda’s teacher is holding her recent artwork up for us to see and I tell her she’s a very good artist. Ellie tells her she wishes she could draw that well and Fernanda appreciates the compliment. She speaks quietly to her teacher and her hand points to a table behind us.

“She would like to show you her chair.” The teacher explains.

She walks in the direction of her seat and I look at Abby and Ellie to see if they are going to move. They take a few steps closer to her, but stop short of her chair.

They show her that they are paying attention, but they aren’t ready to sit where she sits.

It’s no problem, my hands translate. Go as far as you feel you can.

We’ll get there, loves.

I’m busy making sure Fernanda has a toothbrush in the cabinet, scouting the walls for her projects, and wondering where she hangs her coat when she gets to the center. Clearly I have some control issues. Noted.

After a few minutes, Ellie starts asking questions about her school and the translator works her way back and forth for a few minutes, both girls now openly smiling at each other and making eye contact. They are learning each other’s ways, and for a moment I forget we don’t understand her words. Suddenly one of my girls jumps in the air and says, “Jump! Jump!” and Fernanda giggles tentatively. They point to her and repeat the jumping.

In an empty classroom. in a desperate corner of Peru, a little girl begins to trust us.

They’re all legs and gasping giggles and I watch it like I’m watching a favorite movie.

Moments later, a woman peeks in to tell us we need to move into the next area together, and Fernanda makes a beeline for the door. She stops abruptly as she gets there and turns her head to Abby and Ellie. Her teacher listens and then translates what she says to them.

“She wants to know if she may take your hand.” She says.

Fernanda looks shyly, hopefully at Ellie.

Ellie nods and I watch tiny brown and white fingers intertwine as they leave the room.

I can only see the backs of their heads as they walk, but I believe they’re smiling as they  go. I take a few photos because it strikes me as a significant moment, only to realize my eyes have teared up and I can’t see them through the lens.

We end up in the area where moms and teenage girls are completing training in cosmetology, and they are mesmerized by the intricate braids they are able to do. One of the women asks Abby if she would like her hair braided and she nods yes while Ellie shouts, “ME TOO!” While the girls do a dance of excitement over their soon-to-be hairstyles, Fernanda laughs and laughs. I see a dimple in her right cheek for the first time and I celebrate another milestone. We all squeeze in the tiny room and watch as a woman creates the most intricate, beautiful braid I have ever seen. I ask the translator to tell her I want to learn, so she instructs me as she goes.

“This one to this side, but not too much…” Im watching her fingers and I know mine will never be able to recreate it. “And then this one over, then this one, then this…”

The teachers are whispering and pointing to me and the kids, so I ask the translator what she is saying.

“They are saying they have never seen Fernanda show this side, and they believe that you all have brought out a special kind of affection. They are saying they are so happy to see her laugh and smile.”

I turn, tears stinging, and watch as the hairdresser holds three separate lengths of hair and then begins to braid them together. The symbolism makes my knees weak, and I thank him in advance for what He is making one.

I don’t want to push you while your feet dig into the dirt, and I promise you I have no intention of making this choice sound like a “photo-op” for your faith.

I’ve seen enough in one day to pen volumes about what love really looks like when it bends toward another.

 

It loops, one lace over another, until what was once foreign feels familiar.

It intertwines heart and hand, and what seemed an impossible path simply becomes the only way.

It weaves our very lives, and what was separate is more beautiful whole.

 

It blurs the line between grace and glory, and it lives only to bring life.

Risk is relative when the hours are this short…

We can continue as we have been-that’s always an option I suppose.

Or, we can jump in an empty room, knot our lives with the lives of others, and finally understand the power of being woven by the hand of the Lord.

I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

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Compassion International, Peru 2012, Uncategorized

Open

I’m too exhausted to think of anything but settling the girls and falling into bed.

I wash hair, find jammies, and tuck them in.

They’re asleep in an instant, faces still flushed from the second wind they got around 11:30 p.m. {Awesome}

I let the warm, damp towel linger on my face, staring into the mirror at my tired eyes.

I don’t even look like myself.

I’m empty, drained to the bone of any strength I brought with me.

If I had the capacity, I would let myself cry, but I can only think of making my way to bed and letting the dark hide me for a few hours.

I should read. I think. I need His words.I reach my Bible, thumbing for a few seconds and then letting it rest on my lap.

I wake a few hours later with my glasses still on and the pages of 2 Corinthians open wide. I set it next to me without closing it, because it comforts me this way. It feels like home, I guess.

I close my eyes, thoughts like anchors in search of ground, spirit parched desert-dry.

***

We’re up early, hustling to match shoes and comb hair.

The girls have been bickering and I know they’re tired. I’m tired too, but as any mama knows, that’s irrelevant.

We arrive on time, board the bus for an hour-long drive, and let the bumpy roads lull us into a dreamlike state. What seemed like insurmountable fatigue transforms itself to a rush of excitement as we finally pull up to a crowd of children waving wildly. They’re all light and color and the goodness of God, and as our team settles in, I get lost staring out the stained glass windows. I can see the homes, seemingly glued to the side of a cliff-like mountain, and it occurs to me for the thousandth time that I am far from home.

The wooden pews squeak with our weight, and the director begins a slideshow presentation. She explains that there are several children in the Compassion program that are considered “highly vulnerable” due to extreme life circumstances (condition of home, abusive relationship, sex trafficking, child labor etc). While they receive their monthly sponsor amounts, there is an urgent need that warrants additional support, and Compassion has a fund specifically for cases like these.

I spend the next hour or so sharing life with the children, watching them work and (my personal favorite) enjoying the laughter that comes as a result of my butchered Spanish.

Soon after, we pack up and head out to see some of the children’s homes.

I follow the group and as we arrive I am struck by what incredible condition the house is in. Christina, the homeowner, welcomes us in and points to several chairs she has lined against the wall.

I realize this is one of the houses we saw in the slideshow, and it is much more impressive in person. Lace curtains float in the breeze while we marvel at the structure.

Christina tells us about the way her life has been changed, but it is far more factual than emotional. She speaks kindly, directly, but with no extra words or expressions. It almost sounds like she’s telling someone else’s story. I hear someone ask her how it felt the first time she ever walked in her new home.

She thinks for a moment and then says quietly, “I felt like I was living in someone else’s house. How could all of this be for me?”

Listen, Angie. I’m speaking. You aren’t here because of the house. You’re here because of her heart. 

I keep silent, trying to understand the urging I feel from the Lord. I wish He would be more specific sometimes.

“Angie?” Shaun asks.

“Hmm?” My eyes jerk to his, trying to focus.

“I’m going to pray for Richard, and then you can pray for Christina, okay?” I nod.

When he finishes praying, I begin. I don’t remember what I said, but when my eyes open, she has tears slipping down her face. I’m shocked at the emotion because we haven’t seen it from her so far. I ask her why she is crying. She tells me she feels a different peace, and I smile.

As I had prayed for her, even though I didn’t express it in words, I saw visions of chains breaking. I sensed warfare, generations deep, and it startled me.

“Christina,” I start timidly, unsure of what her response might be.

“Do you attend church?”

She explains through the translator that she goes when her son wants to go. It was the church we had been in that afternoon, and because he knew it as his Compassion program, he often wanted to be there on Sundays as well.

His favorite part of the Compassion program is his “God homework.”

“Could you ask her if she knows the Lord?”

I wait for the expression on her face as the translator asks.

She nods affirmatively, explaining that her son’s teacher had come to visit her and had walked through a prayer of salvation.

“It felt like I was in someone else’s home…” I remember her words and I smile.

She needs to be reminded that she’s worthy. Not just of this home, but also of Mine.

I tell the translator that I want to share something with her that I had felt while I prayed, and Christina turns her attention fully to me, eyes searching mine for the first time since we arrived. “I want her to know that the Lord showed me that she is in a battle. It is a battle within her family, and it has continued for generations. She is the one God is using to win this fight. Her children will reap the benefits of her warring on their behalf, and they will know a different life because of her faithfulness.”

She explains it to her and Christina bows her head, her emotion raw and beautiful.

Her face softens and she stands tall. Stronger than concrete, more delicate than lace.

Compassion built the house, yes, but now it’s up to her to make it a home.

“Does she have a Bible?” I ask. The translator says she does, and explains that her pointing motion was indicating it was in her bedroom. “She says yes, she has one. She leaves it open by her bed.”

I smile, and in my mind’s eye I see a bed an hour’s drive from here with an open Bible.

It’s the battle we have to enter to win, and I sense a day of pages turned.

I touch the walls of her home and pray she will know her own strength.

I ask the Lord to remind her daily that her sacrificial love for her children will outlive even this structure.

And more than anything, I pray she knows she isn’t a stranger in this place…

 

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There were a lot of questions about how Abby and Ellie were doing during the Twitter chat the other night, so I thought this fun video might give you some, umm…insights? {They’re doing great :)}

peru2 from angie smith on Vimeo.