Saying “Yes”

On Tuesday evening, I will board a plane en route to Malawi, in southeast Africa. It will be the first leg of 46 total hours of flight time, and in the seats around me will be 13 women and 1 man, all of us adventuring together.

During our visit, we will lead professional development seminars for the Malawian teachers from 3 villages near Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.

I’m actually co-leading this team, but that’s a story for a different day. (Hopefully, someday soon.)

But I simply wanted to pop in here to very briefly explain why I’m going to Malawi.

The reasons are many.  They include thoughts, dreams, plans, questions, social justice and education and the local church and using my gifts.

But ultimately?

I said “yes” to Malawi because I didn’t have a good reason to say “no.” For each obstacle my over-thinking brain generated, a clear and simple rebuttal was easy to find.

No, I can’t leave Ian for 2 weeks. Of course I can. Evan is a more than capable parent, we have friends and family around to help, and I’ll enjoy his giggles all the more after missing them.

No, I can’t take 2 weeks off work. Of course I can. I can work hard to get ahead, my coworkers will fill in the gaps, and Jesus is responsible for the ministry, anyway.

No, I might get sick. That’s what doctors and vaccines are for.

And so forth.

Annie Downs has long been one of my favorite bloggers (since way back when she was an elementary school teacher in Georgia), and she released a new book this week. The title?

Let’s All Be Brave.

Yeah.

I’m pretty confident that it’s NOT a coincidence that this book came out right before I head off to traverse hemispheres, so I immediately went to Barnes and Nobel and bought it. It was the first thing I stuffed into my carry-on, and I can’t wait to crack it open as our plane leaves the runway.

I’m looking forward to saying “yes.”

 

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Decluttering, Part 1

At the end of 5th grade, I was so sad. My 3 best friends and I made plans to call each other every week, and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief that at least Erin and I would attend the same middle school. And then, there was the box.

I grabbed a big cardboard box and a thick black Sharpie and began writing all over it. In the middle, I scrawled, “The Transition Years,” and around the edges, I write, “5th grade,” “8th grade” and “12th grade.” I filled it with every memento of 5th grade I deemed important: a class photo, a note from a teacher, some stories I journaled, and other stuff I don’t even remember. I tucked it away in my closet, confident that in 3 years, I would dig it back out to fill a bit more with remnants of 8th grade.

I was scared of forgetting, so I held on to the stuff.

Recently, my department at work completed the Strengthfinders assessment together. My second strength is input. When I read that the first time, I responded with a solid, “huh?” But, once I read the description, a lightbulb went off. 

You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information — words, facts, books, and quotations — or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity.

 

It’s so me! So many of my habits–the wide range of interests, the frequently changing hobbies, the books, the scrapbooking–fall under the “input” category so nicely.

I no longer have that box from the 5th grade. But, I do have boxes and boxes of photos, collections of books and baseball cards and candles and mason jars, extra collections of dishes just in case, and a million half-finished projects. 

I used to be good at multi-tasking, and I enjoyed having many balls in the air at once. I didn’t mind floating from one project to the next, coming back around whenever the mood struck.

But lately? I just can’t handle all this information. My mind feels continually overwhelmed, a tangled up ball of yarn, and it might all unravel if you pull too hard at one end. I may have forgotten what it means to focus. 

When I look at Jesus’ life, I can’t help but notice that He was extremely focused. Though He travelled far and had impact more far reaching than I can begin to fathom, so little stuff actually filled His days. He prayed. He ate. He taught. He built relationships, and He met the needs of others. 

Truly, He didn’t do much else! Yet consider the scope of His influence, the lives that were changed in His wake. 

He never strayed from the significant and the meaningful.

I want to do less and be more within each day.

I want to do less and be more with my whole life. 

I want less excess, in every category, so I can have more of what matters. This is the beginning.

Evan and I are embarking on a decluttering challenge and considering what minimalism might look like for us, going forward. I plan on documenting what I’m thinking and learning about it here along the way.

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tufts

tufts,
like feathers,
atop your head.
they grow and

you grow.

you remind me of your father
when you are sleeping,
or perhaps he reminds me of you?
i am not sure which, for i
have known you both, it seems, from the very first

sun
on the face of the deep
heartbeat
within the womb
bird
alight against the blue

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Passage

I don’t think I blinked. I think I savored every moment I had space for, wrote down as many memories as my eyes could take in and my hand could record. I ignored the dishes and set aside my phone and sat, stared, soaked it in.

And yet.

My boy is almost one.

This morning I stood over his crib, saying good morning and listening to his babbling like it was a conversation, because it was. It is. I almost cried for how big he seemed. Like a boy and not a baby.

It’s all cliche, I know.

I think the passage of time is both a reminder of this fallen world and evidence of grace. It is the now and the not yet. I wish for early Friday mornings on the floor of my friend Becky’s house, praying for our college small group and talking through the ways Jesus was transforming us. I can smell the chlorine from my grandfather’s smiling pool, feel the smooth fiberglass bottom against the soles of my feet, taste the togetherness of family in the summertime. And I ache for my baby boy, small and light, red and wrinkled and brand spanking new against my chest.

But what is life with Jesus if not a constant journey forward, a path full of transformation and change? Faith is manifested in the heart-change, of course, but I think it can also be found in the physical change. With every lengthening muscle, every wrinkle of the skin, every day’s truth absorbed, I am being made into His image. I am being transformed into the person I was created to be. Even Ian, though he is small, is growing into a man, already fully-realized in the eyes of God.

It is the now and the not yet.

Brokenness and longing, redemption and grace.

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Dear Ian: 9 Months

Dear Ian,

Hey cutie patootie. (That’s my favorite nickname for you right now. I have to get it in now before you learn how to roll your eyes!)

The World Cup is happening right now, which means our television is tuned to ESPN during all waking hours and your father is using words like “beautiful,” and “idiot,” neither of which he normally says very often. (He’s describing goals and players who flop, in case you were wondering.)

This also means that you are now the proud owner of two soccer balls (one large and plush from Ikea, and one that is miniature and belonged to your dad). The funny thing is, you love them! I’m sure it has something to do with the way they are easy to hold on to, or the way the high-contrast black and white color is good for your growing brain. But mostly, I ascribe it to the fact that you are your father’s son.

As you’ve played with these more and more, we’ve noticed that you love to throw things. You frantically shake your arms up and down and loosen your grip, and the ball goes flying (as does the spoon, the sippy cup, the remote, etc.). Your aim could use a little work, but I’m no tiger mom.

What amazes me most about this is how quickly your personality has emerged, and how you are clearly all boy.

When your dad and I first got married, I quickly learned that boys love to throw things. Growing up with only sisters didn’t prepare me for this. I was constantly wondering why your dad wouldn’t just hand me the car keys, instead of tossing them across the room. Even now, he thinks it’s crazy that I would walk up the stairs to bring him something that could clearly just be thrown over the bannister.

One day, I’m sure, your sister will ask you for her book off the coffee table, and instead of walking over to her, you’ll toss it. And she’ll probably gripe about it.

But you just tell her it’s because you’re like your dad. K?

Love you, bud.

Mama

 

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Learning about Acts: Community

It was a Saturday morning in the fall, and the tailgaters in orange and blue RV’s had arrived hours ago. I drove to campus, hoping I’d be there in time to find a decent partaking spot (a Herculean task on a sleepy weekday in the Gainesville summertime, let alone on Saturday in the SEC). I held the steering wheel with one hand and my flip-phone with the other, and I dialed my boyfriend’s number repeatedly. Each time, I thought, “Please pick up. Please pick up. Come on. Pick up.” He hadn’t answered my calls or returned my messages in three days. In that time, I had been in a car accident and sprained my ankle and grown increasingly angry and confused.

When you’re 19 and you’ve been dating someone for two years, it’s hard to imagine life any other way. My entire identity had changed in those two years, and so much of it was tied up in that relationship. And each time my call when to voicemail–that same infuriating recording, when he pretended to be answering the phone–I felt that identity slipping away.

Stopped at a red light on 34th Street, he answered…and he dumped me.

Somehow, I found a parking spot that morning, right in front of the Alpha Gamma Rho house. (Because sometimes Jesus looks like an open parking spot.) In the yard, the fraternity brothers played corn hole, and I sobbed into my steering wheel. I’ve never been more grateful for tinted windows. I dialed one more number.

“Ellen,” I said, “He doesn’t want to be with me anymore.”

When I met Ellen on move-in day freshman year, I thought she was someone’s younger sister. Barely 90 pounds and hardly 5 feet tall, her small stature didn’t match her huge personality. The first time we sat next to each other in a Spanish class, I remember thinking, “Man, this girl talks a lot.”

On this day, I watched her pedal up on her blue bicycle, a box of Kleenex and a package of Oreos in the basket. We sat in front of Alpha Gamma Rho until kick off. I gave her my ticket to the game and drove home.

Later that night, after the touchdowns were scored and the alma mater sung, I heard a knock at the door. Ellen and Jessie stood there, backpacks and pillows in tow. “Hi,” they said, and “We’re coming in.” They flipped through my DVD collection and landed on Pirates of the Caribbean, because it was one of few options squarely outside the romantic comedy genre. When I woke up on the couch the next morning, there they were, asleep on my apartment floor.

In the six or seven years since, Ellen and Jessie have slept on my floor many times, so to speak, even all the way from North Africa and Spain and Georgia and Ft. Lauderdale.

When I finished reading the book of Acts a few weeks ago, I filled the empty space on the last page with the themes I couldn’t ignore: church, the Holy Spirit, persecution, movement. And community. In the margins throughout each chapter, I scrawled that word: community. The writer of Acts continually mentions how they “met one another’s needs.” I noticed it over and over again.

How to engage in and rely on a Christ-centered community was perhaps the greatest lesson I learned in my college years. That package of Oreos in the bike basket and those girls on my living room floor? Jesus. Grace. Comfort. All of that personified, living and breathing and turning off the DVD player in the middle of the night.

 

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#YesAllWomen

I have hesitated and wavered about writing this. I have never shared these stories with anyone, so to write them down now seems scary. But if thousands of women around the world can share stories with far more vulnerability, and if Maya Angelou can dedicate her life and work to telling the truth of her story with grace and dignity, so can I.

As a high school freshman, I was given a Hooters application as a birthday present. It was a turning point in my self-esteem and self-confidence. That is the first time I remember feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and resentful of the way I was made. #YesAllWomen

One afternoon in AP Euro, we had some downtime. I don’t remember what I was doing to occupy myself, but I remember that a male “friend” was continually trying to throw small wads of paper down my shirt. My history teacher looked at me, scoffed, and said, “Young lady, that’s harassment. You should be ashamed of yourself for allowing yourself to be harassed that way.” And then he said absolutely nothing at all to the boy guilty of harassment. #YesAllWomen

I remember combing through department store racks before the start of each school year, agonizing with my mom about what clothes were or were not modest. Then, I’d come come and my dad would often declare what we settled on was not modest enough. Yet, I was harassed. And there’s a well-documented idea floating around out there that says if a woman is dressed provocatively, she is at fault for the harassment (or worse) that may befall her. I know first hand that dressing modestly does not protect you, and we can not keep blaming victims for the sins of the culprit. #YesAllWomen

Just this morning, as I drove Ian to daycare, a woman rollerblading down the sidewalk in shorts and a tank top was honked at by a couple young men in a red sports car. #YesAllWomen

I don’t know what to say about these stories, and I don’t know how to wrap them up neatly with a bow.

But I do know this: I worry about having girls of my own. I pray often about how I might raise them to be strong and confident and comfortable in their own skin, assured that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet I want them to be modest and humble and pure in heart. I don’t know how to protect them from the unrealistic images or harassment they might face and from the way in which their opinions about themselves will change as a result. And I know I need to turn my fear and desire for control over to Jesus, who gently loves and creates and grows each woman in His own image. #YesAllWomen

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