Fine Lines

Motherhood is a fine line.

I didn’t straddle it very well yesterday, so lunchtime with Ian devolved into a total meltdown. At the end, I walked upstairs, plopped Ian into his crib, handed him his blanket & pacifier. Right now, he is just sitting quietly in his crib, rubbing the blanket on his nose, fighting sleep.

As Ian still refuses most solid foods, mealtimes are a fine line between encouraging him to try new things and him becoming so frustrated that he never wants to taste a new food again. He flips from cautiously and skeptically putting a bite into his mouth to TOTAL MELTDOWN in mere seconds, at the drop of a hat. There is no recovering after that: only baby food will do, and sometimes, not even that.

Do I walk away, until on his own, he comes around? Do I acquiesce, content to try again tomorrow?

And what if really, all of this is simply because he’s teething, those one year old molars poking through, and it just actually hurts to bite down?

I never know.

At playtime, it is a fine line between teaching and discovery and simply enjoying.

On Monday mornings, there is a fine line between walking fully and confidently into a job I love and feeling guilty for not being home with my boy.

At day care drop-off, there is a fine line between trusting another woman to love my son well and declaring, “Nope. Hands off. This is my job. Give him back.”

As a child, I was always afraid to attempt the balance beam, and as an adult, I’ve always joked that I would fail a sobriety test without a drop of alcohol.

Walking fine lines is not my strong suite.

I’m learning to recognize that walking a fine line is not a matter of precision, but nuance. It isn’t about sticking to the line perfectly for fear of falling of the precipice on either side. It’s less like a tight rope and more like a dance. I need to take a deep breath, release the pressure, and just start moving my feet. I’m learning that it’s the small adjustments along the way, like breathing in and breathing out, that will carry me through.

What I’m Into: September 2014 Edition

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This week, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into this month.

Truth be told, I have lots of bits and pieces of blog posts swirling around in my head, but no energy to hash them out into something coherent and interesting. So, this seems like a good way to keep my fingers typing, keep words flowing, and do the work of writing…but less pressure. So here it goes.

(I wrote that a few days ago, waiting for Leigh’s official link-up. In the meantime, I travelled to Charlotte for The Writers Barn, hosted by Emily Freeman & Christa Wells (at The Nester’s barn). It was the best. I have a few posts coming down the pipes about it.)

What I’m Reading:

Interrupted (Hatmaker). Y’all. This book has messed me up. I am still processing, but I do know this: I will never look at church the same way again. (And for someone who works at a church…well…yeah. All the thoughts. All the feelings.)

Books in progress:

Jesus Feminist (Bessey): I’ve had a little more trouble getting into it than I expected, which is surprising and a little disappointing for me, but it’s definitely worth finishing.

Writing to Find Yourself (Vesterfelt): SO helpful and great! It leaves me feeling inspired to pick up a pen. I was lucky enough to catch it when it was available for free, but I’d say it’s well worth the $3.99, and I’m only a few chapters in.

Goblet of Fire (Rowling. Of course.). No rush to finish this one. Though I do need to return it to its owner.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Lewis). Here’s the deal: I need light and easy fiction to read before bed. Any recommendations? I grabbed this off the shelf because it met both of those qualifications, and I want to finish the series, but I’m not really sold on it, as far as bedtime reading is concerned. I’m also finding it less engaging right off the bat than the other Narnia books.

Celebration of Discipline (Foster): Our connect group has just started reading this. I haven’t yet read a book about the spiritual disciplines, so I’m excited to dive in!

What I’m Listening To:

Music:

I’ve been listening to a lot of Christa Wells. I started gearing up for the barn, and I’ve only wanted to listen to her more since.

I’ve also been sticking pretty closely to Phil Wickham, Ellie Holcomb, and All Sons & Daughters this month. Me and Jesus needed the time together.

Podcast episodes:

Andy Stanley on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast: Andy Stanley is so wise, but completely down to earth. I need to go back and re-listen to this with paper for taking notes.

Annie Downs on the Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey: I love Annie. She is hilarious and humble, and I also think she has her finger on the pulse of what teens and young adults in the church need. (Her insights here on hook up culture and mentoring college students are so interesting.) But, this podcast is also just full of fun.

Amy Schubert on the Sarah R. Bagley Podcast: This idea about not knowing what I want to be when I grow up resonated with me. Even though I have always known what I wanted to be when I grew up, my career has already changed multiple times, and I feel like I’m dabbling in so many different things. Good conversation here.

BEST podcast interview I heard:

Jeremy Courtney of Preemptive Love on the RELEVANT podcast: Preemptive Love is working in Iraq at a time when everyone else is leaving. This interview is both informative and significant, and it gives an excellent account of what’s happening in Iraq, from Christians who are experiencing it first hand. (Lecrae is on this episode too!)

What September was All About:

You know that Zora Neale Hurston quote, about how some years question while others answer? September was a month of questions. Among them where, “Why is still 9o degrees outside?” and “Will it ever stop raining?” and “Why is our ceiling leaking?”

But more significantly, I was asking questions about how to do my job well without losing my mind, how to better navigate this tricky work-life-motherhood balance? And I have been trying to figure out  how all these disparate parts of me–children’s ministry, motherhood, business, writing–fit together.

By the far, the most wonderful thing about September was The Writers Barn. It was one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ll share more about it soon. It brought up more questions but lent answers too. I think the most significant thing was this: learning to own the idea that yes, I am a writer. Not I want to be a writer. But I am.

That was September.

A Prayer for September 11

Jesus,

Today, please be who Scripture says You are: a God of comfort, a God of peace, a God who mourns alongside us and draws near to the brokenhearted.

The brokenhearted are many today, Lord, because for each of the thousands who were lost thirteen years ago, many thousands more are grieving. You know each of them, and you love them all.

Today, may we look and love more like You.

May we seek reconciliation over revenge.

May we seek community rather than answers.

May we be united not through patriotism, but through a deep understanding that we are all your children, mourning and remembering together.

Lord, flood our world with peace so tangible we immediately recognize it as Yours.

Come, Lord Jesus.

On Purpose

Since coming home from Malawi, I have really wrestled with purpose. 

I know it’s the nature of a mission trip, but we woke up every day with a very clear purpose: get to know this family, become familiar with this village, hear the stories about this children’s home, teach a seminar about formative assessment. Every day was laid out, and the purpose was clear.

What’s more is that there was so little distracting us from that purpose. With no wi-fi, no cell phone signal, I was never wondering what I might have missed on Instagram. I didn’t think about making a run through a coffee shop or if I should rearrange my bookshelf again. No push notifications about rent payments or daycare payments or emails needed a reply. Of course, I didn’t have to go grocery shopping and while I once hoped to wash some clothes, we didn’t have running water that day.

When we had some downtime in the afternoons or evenings, my options were as follows: walk around and take photos, write in my journal, talk or play cards with my group members, talk to the secondary school students on campus, read book. Go for a walk. Perhaps shower. Perhaps.

In my first few days at home, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices inherent in every decision. I would buckle myself into the driver’s seat and need to choose: radio, CD, or iPhone? Then, Pandora, Spotify, Songza, or podcast? At dinner time, do I choose the nonstick frying pan or not, and on which size plate should our meal be served? The next morning, it would be time to get dressed, and good grief, my closet. And all of these choices pale in comparison to the complete paralysis I have felt looking at my to-do list and calendar.

While Malawi was certainly emotionally and spiritually overwhelming, it actually felt restful. Life was simple, by necessity and circumstance. I was continually aware of Jesus’ presence in a very tangible way, the Spirit weighing heavy like a blanket, and I know that indeed, He offers rest.

Before we left, my good friend Melissa told me, “You will sense both God’s presence and the world’s darkness more strongly in Malawi. I don’t know why that is,” she said, “but it’s true.”

I’ve been mulling that over since coming home, praying that Jesus will help me feel Him closely again and make me more aware of the need in my own backyard. At times He has, but you know what I think? I think I noticed Him more in Malawi because there were no distractions. No push notifications or tweets to pull me out of each moment, and no caramel macchiatos or craft projects to numb me to brokenness. 

As I’m going about my days, I’ve becoming painfully aware that I do so without much purpose. I float from one to-do list item to the next, and I rush from home to work and back again. Don’t misunderstand me–I know that cooking dinner for my family isn’t without purpose. (It’s a grace gift, these two God has given me to love and care for.) Yet, the significant things in my life are mixed in with and overwhelmed by so much meaningless junk and unnecessary excess that I hardly notice them.

I desperately want to eliminate all that excess, so that the things that matter most will no longer suffer under the weight of what matters least. I want each day imbued with purpose, even if the tasks themselves are mundane. I want Jesus, as close as my own breath, He and I, the Vine and the branch.

Steven

Our team left Malawi on August 1, which means I’m quickly approaching one month back at home. I’m continually amazed at the impact such a brief trip has had on my mind and heart, my thinking and believing. 

Today, I have to tell you about a boy I met. 

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We spent Friday in the village of Mgwayi, for what COTN dubs “Cultural Immersion Day.” Our team split into pairs, and each pair was matched with a family. We spent the morning with a little girl named Aida and her mother, plus a rotating cast of cousins and neighbors who made their way in and out of our circle that morning. Our mission that day was to simply spend time with this family, learning a bit about the rhythms of their life. We helped draw water from the well, mud the front porch, wash dishes.

As the afternoon approached, we left the village to buy food for dinner. We were sent to the market with a list of ingredients, written entirely in Chichewa, and we went into the market hoping to translate our list, negotiate prices, and come away with the makings of a meal. 

On that list? Nkhuku. A chicken.

You should have seen us, wrangling these chickens on the bus back to the village. I wasn’t brave enough to hold the chicken. I completely wimped out.  I admit it. So, other team members held their chickens by the feet or placed the chicken in a bowl (had they been smart enough to purchase a bowl with their leftover kwacha). Occasionally, a chicken would “flutter” (as my friend Joanna kept calling it), which would send feathers, dirt, and excrement flying. I rode the whole way with my feet up in the air, afraid of being pecked by the chicken sitting beneath my seat.

Travelling with the chickens was only half of it, because as you might expect, the chicken was meant to be eaten.

My brave partner that day, Stephanie, took one for the team. I stirred nsima over a fire while she bravely did the deed. 

(I think the COTN staff, all native Malawians, may include the chicken simply because they like watching a bunch of American’s squirm.)

Eventually, a teenage boy walked over to the hut and offered to help us with our chicken. With excellent English, he introduced himself as Steven. He helped defeather the chicken and he swiftly, deftly cleaned each organ, leaving a full pot of meat ready to be cooked. While our pots boiled away, we began to talk. 

“Do you know cat and lion?” he asked.

“Cat and lion?” I was thoroughly confused. Was he asking if we have cats and lions in Florida? Was he wondering if I had seen one since arriving in Malawi?

“Yes, Cat and Lion! And their son, Emerson. They sponsor my brother.”

I almost jumped for joy at the moment, because I suddenly knew what he meant. Steven was asking if I knew Kate and Ryan. (Many Malawians constantly interchange their “l” and “r” sounds. Our team members Lori and Rebecca, for example, quickly became Rori and Labecca.)

Ryan is the middle school minister at our church, and his wife Katelyn works for COTN. As I prepared for Malawi, Katelyn told me to look for the cutest kid in the village. “That’s Mphatso. We sponsor him.”

Sure enough, an adorable little boy in a red COTN t-shirt was standing nearby, playing with the crowd of kids that had gathered. Mphatso.

Mphatso.
Mphatso.

And this teenager, so patiently and graciously helping us clean a chicken, was his brother. 

We talked for a long time that afternoon about football and the Bible, family and friends. I showed him pictures of Evan & Ian, and he asked if I would ever bring them to Malawi. I was so grateful to find a friend in the village from whom I could learn about Malawi and COTN without a significant language barrier. We could talk about more than our age and the number of people in our families.

When I complimented him on his English, he replied, “Oh, thank you! What Chichewa do you know?”

“Me? Oh. I know ‘muli bwangi,'” I said. (That Malawian greeting means, “How are you?”)

“Yeah, yeah,” he replied, “Everyone knows ‘muli bwangi.”

I saw Steven 2 more times during our stay in Malawi, and each time he would walk with our team down the long path from the village to COTN’s ministry center.

“Lindsey,” he said to me one afternoon,” “I want to go to university and be an engineer. I am afraid that if I do not have a sponsor, I will not be able to go to school. Every day, I pray that Jesus will provide me a sponsor, but I do not know what else to do.”

Steven has a dream, but he seemed to lack hope that it would happen.

Joanna ran into Steven and Mphatso later in the week while walking through the village. She started up a conversation with them, and Steven immediately began talking to her about Kate and Ryan. He even pulled out their picture.

Kate and Ryan are so diligent about sending Mphatso letters and gifts often. They are building a relationship with him, reminding him that they love him, pray for him, and think of him daily. When I talked to Steven, his love for Kate & Ryan oozed from every pore. He asked how their son was growing, and did we go to church together, and would I send greetings on his behalf.

And they were not his sponsor.

Steven taught me that sponsoring one child benefits the entire family. 

When you sponsor a child, your generosity provides meals, school fees and workbooks, a mosquito net, and more. I’m not sure, however, that resources are the most significant things that sponsorship provides.

When you sponsor a child, it communicates that he or she is valued and chosen.

Sponsorship provides hope.

Steven wants to be an engineer. My friend Michelle was his math teacher for eight weeks this summer, and she will tell you: this boy is sweet and studious. He doesn’t complain when he doesn’t have food or shoes. He dreams and he works.

Almost every day since coming home, I have browsed through the pictures of children waiting for sponsors. Today, Steven’s face was no longer there. Katelyn and Ryan have decided to sponsor Steven, and I am praising Jesus because of it. I know that Steven is praising Jesus as well.

Sometimes, you need hope to keep a dream alive.

That’s what sponsorship provides.

You can browse the list of children needing sponsors, including Steven & Mphatso’s sister, by visiting COTN’s web site here. I can’t even express the hope you will provide to a child and his or her family.

Dear Ian: 1 Year

Dear Ian,

Today, you are one year old.

August 26, 2013
August 26, 2013

You still won’t eat solid foods. Sometimes, you pick up a cheerio, grasping it carefully between your thumb and forefinger. You gingerly hold it on the tip of your tongue for a moment or two, and then you gleefully throw it on the floor. And repeat.

Let’s be honest about this: you’re going to need to eat some solid food eventually. But for now, I love this because it is so typically you.

You approach things tentatively, observing and contemplating for quite awhile, but once you’ve made up your mind you go for it and do not stop. I could learn something from you in that regard: at some point, you simply decide there’s no use being cautious anymore.

When I was pregnant with you, everyone loved to say, “You won’t even remember what life was like before the baby!” I’ve found that’s not exactly true. I do remember what life was like before you were here. Every once in awhile, your dad and I will reminisce about the days we spent watching Friends on the couch, or decided to run out for Italian ice late at night.

And sure, that was fun, but you know what?  Life seems fuller and richer with you in it, Ian. I remember what life used to be, but I’d never want to go back.

This was the year our friends and family gave us enough diapers to last for 6 months.

This was the year your dad and I learned to communicate better.

This was the year we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar a million times.

This was the year our laundry grew exponentially.

This was the year you learned to roll over and crawl and pull up.

This was the year I prayed more than ever.

This was the year we loved more than ever.

This was the year.

Happy birthday, Ian.

On Teaching

When Evan and I were first married, we sat in a “Go to Africa” interest meeting at church and heard about the Teach Team for the first time. I was in the middle of my teaching internship: a baby, really, with a passion for teaching in my bones but no idea what my career might hold. Something in my soul lit right up, and I knew it was for me. Still, each summer I found an excuse (support raising!) or reason (pregnancy!) to bow out.

Let me tell you about the teach team: Each year, COTN’s educational directors provide a topic they believe will be helpful to the teachers in Malawi. In response, Summit issues a call for teachers and others who are passionate about education, and that team heads to the warm heart of Africa to lead a four-day professional development seminar.

I left teaching in 2012 (a year and a half since that first interest meeting) with only one full year under my belt. I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to teach, but simply because I could not turn down the opportunity to work in children’s ministry at our church. I knew it was my next right step; I’ve rarely felt such clarity before or since.

Two years have passed, and I love my job. I think I’d do it for the rest of my life if that’s how things worked out. The truth is, as a classroom teacher, I worked at least 12 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week. I cried every single day. Yes, I was an overachiever and perfectionist and workaholic, and yes, things would be better and different now. If, at some point, God calls me back to teaching, I hope I’ll be brave and obedient, but honestly? I don’t want to go back.

And yet.

Every career assessment, personality profile, or assessment of gifts and strengths I have ever taken has pointed toward one thing.

I’m wired up for teaching.

Still, like the majority of America’s teaching force, I quit, and since then, teaching has remained this strange, unresolved part of my life and calling.

I wouldn’t have joined the team, but one afternoon I eavesdropped on a conversation between my friend Melissa and our church’s missions coordinator. “We’ll lead seminars on differentiated instruction and formative assessment,” she said, and I couldn’t help but interrupt.

“I LOVE that stuff,” I said.

“You should come,” Melissa replied.

Still, the truth was that I felt like a fraud joining the Teach Team, two years removed from the classroom. It felt presumptive and arrogant to assume I still had something of value to share.

On Day 3 of our seminar, it was finally my turn to lead a lesson. Twenty-four nursery teachers joined us that day, and when I stepped up to speak, it flowed.

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I realized then what I hadn’t been ready to admit since leaving the classroom: I missed teaching.

It seems strange to miss something that was so painful most days. I wish I could say, “Nope, it wasn’t for me. I found something better, and I’ve moved on.” I hate living in the in-between, with unresolved tension between what I’m called to do in this moment and what I sometimes sense God created me for.

The time spent in a classroom setting again is one of the reasons I’m so grateful for my time in Malawi. It was so fun to talk to teachers, imagine their classrooms, and problem-solve alongside them.

I’m not working in a school setting and don’t necessarily plan to return, but I sense that my story as a teacher isn’t finished just yet.

Leaving the classroom made me feel like a quitter, but I learned something in Malawi.

I didn’t say no to teaching. I said yes to Jesus, the Infinitely Creative. I can trust Him to weave the disparate parts of my career–children’s ministry and teaching–into a richer story.