Sweet Huit

getting ready wedding.jpg8 years ago I woke up in my childhood bedroom, more nervous and excited than I had ever been. Quite literally. I stared up at the same ceiling I had stared at for YEARS – praying to God about who I might marry and what he might be like. I had ideas and visions and dreams just like any other teenage girl. I asked God to make sure he was hott (two t’s), to make sure he really loved Jesus, and it would be also kind of super great if he had a sense of humor because I had a laugh that could wake the dead and I wanted him to love it.

I got out of bed, looked around my room full of dance ribbons and neon picture frames and marveled at what day it was: my wedding day. 15 months ago I started to date a guy who was hott, loved Jesus, and was kind of scared of my laugh (bless him),  10 months into our dating we got engaged, 5 months flew by and now here it was: THE BIG DAY. I was marrying John Lavoie. I was going to be a Mrs. by the end of this day. My heart leapt into my throat as I heard my mom and sisters bustling around in the kitchen and after about 2 minutes of pondering and marveling I was just so ready. SO. READY. My excitement practically catapulted me down the hall into the welcoming company of my bridesmaids and in a blur the day ushered me to the church, down the aisle, to the reception, to the honeymoon (BOW CHIKKA WOW WOW), and so began our adventure together.

Today I wake up  in the bed we’ve shared for 8 years, I reach my arm across to your side of the bed that’s already empty because you’re already gone for the day. Never in 8 years have I worried about your commitment to provide for me, and now for Samuel too (even during seasons of unemployment and Lord knows we’ve weathered that together more than once). You work harder than any one I know.

I say a prayer for you, thank God for you and eventually peel myself out of bed. You and I are in the middle of an ordinary, supernatural thing. God has given us a remarkable life, built upon the foundation of that one promise, “For better or worse, in good times and bad times, by the grace of God for as long as we both live.”

You have witnessed my better and my worse, you have walked faithfully in good times receiving lineand bad times. You have depended on, been rescued by, and pointed me to the grace of God throughout all of it. I have witnessed you at your worst and your best, I have not forsaken you in the dark waters of depression and I have cheered for you loudest as you have conquered obstacle after obstacle. You do not cease to amaze me.

Sometimes throughout our marriage we’ve missed each other. Not just missed hanging out with each other but missed out on the person we married. We  have been caught up in the whirlwind of life full of work hours to complete, dinners to make, appointments to keep, diapers to change and laundry to wash and we have passed each other like ships in the night. Then we just kind of resign ourselves to being strangers and we hide behind our phone screens or books because it’s just easier, you know? It’s so hard to be intentional when you feel bitter or lonely. Thank God for His new mercies every morning and the Holy Spirit that helps us get over ourselves. We have fought many of the same fights over 8 years together. And we have fought for each other too. We don’t always feel the warm fuzzies, but we understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it has strengthened our commitment like no amount of self-help or self-sufficiency ever would.

beach picI do not want to do this with anybody else. I promised you that 8 years ago and I’m sticking with it.

Let’s promise, by the grace of God, in the midst of the mundane world of dentist appointments and dirty floors that need cleaning we will lift our chins and find each other. Thank you for keeping your covenant to me. You honor me with your love, you assure me with your integrity, and you delight me with your friendship.

I love you, John.

Happy anniversary!

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All About Dad.

When we had a son many people told me how he (Samuel) would most likely cling to me and need me and worship the ground I walk on etc etc… until he was about 2-3 years old. Then it would be alllll about dad. Dad. Dad. Dad.
They were almost right.
Since Samuel was born, aside from nourishment, poopy diaper changes, and the occasional affectionate moment with me – he was born ALL ABOUT DAD. I’m not trying to downplay my role or anything – I love Samuel and he loves me and that’s that. But this is Father’s Day so I get to talk about John and he doesn’t get to stop me (HA. HOPE YOU’RE READING THIS, JOHN.)
FD pic
When you become parents, each of you ordinarily operates in the realm of “Reliable, Comforting, Safe Parent” OR “Crazy, Risk-taking, Boo-boo making, Fun Parent.” Knowing our personalties going into marriage I was destined to be the fun parent and I just knew it (PLEASE. I AM SO MUCH FUN OK?). But I didn’t really know who I was parenting with until Samuel came around. I have met my match.*
John is a FUN. MACHINE. When he comes home from work Samuel just can’t even. It’s “DADDY!!! DADDY!!!” at maximum decibels.
From about 12- 18 months, Samuel would get so excited to see John he wouldn’t know what to do so he would sort of run towards him and then run away and ignore John altogether while smiling like his cheeks were in charge of holding up his eyeballs. The cutest.
John will wrestle and throw and play and come up with games (that I don’t even think qualify as games?) that Samuel just LOOOVES doing and they’ll do it together and I just kind of shake my head while I make dinner and thank God for the two goobers running circles in my living room.
Of course part of that is being a boy. John’s been a boy before so he gets little boyhood on a very personal level. But honestly? A big part of it is who John is. It’s the man that he is that makes him so awesome at being a dad. He wants to get to know Samuel. He really really cares about who Samuel is as a person. He disciplines and he sets boundaries and he plays and he cares. He’s an incredible dad.
So here’s to all the dads today. To the ones who are raising ankle-biters, or teenagers (po-tay-to, po-tah-to). To the ones who are done “raising” people and now just get a front row seat to their lives. To all the dads (mine included) who patiently helped with homework, filled up the gas tank, listened and listened and listened (Shout out to dads of girls. You are saints. We have alot of words and feelings.) Keep on keeping on, guys.
Thank you, John for stepping into the role of father with both feet and making Samuel’s life so much richer and better for it.
And thanks to my Dad, too. For all the years in my life where I was quite content to be your valentine and wake up to flowers and balloons at my kitchen chair. You taught me how to find a guy that would really enjoy my company – because for my entire childhood, you always did. Thank you. (I’ve found him, Dad! Thanks for setting the standard. 🙂 )
I love you both.
*to be clear – I’m a fun parent too. Just a different sort. LIke silly faces and tickle fights instead of shooting the cat with a nerf gun. Play to your strengths.

Even As

Even asEver find yourself waiting for that perfect moment? Every new season of life finds me waiting for the stars to align over a particular circumstance or relationship or dormant dream.

As a Christian, there is only one perfect moment to look forward to – the return of Christ. But there is something to take heed of in Jesus’ words to His followers. Here is a rough summary of His commands to anyone who claims to believe in Him – “Wake up. Obey. Go. Serve. Love. Tell others.” And when He says that, He doesn’t mean, “Wait for the perfect moment, the opportune time to live your life exactly as you imagined it would be.”

He means – even as you go to grade school, even as you move into your dorm room, even as you wait tables, even as you grieve the loss of loved ones, even as you parent, even as you sit at your office desk, even as you post on Social Media, even as you get married, even as you travel the world, even as you pay off your debts, even as you watch others get married or get pregnant or buy a house or get promoted or work their dream job.

We’re missing something about God and the life He has called us to if we are constantly waiting for our life to change. 

The Christian life is so much more about where we put our hope every morning than it ever will be about our circumstances. The Christian life is a plodding. A believing heart and mind tempted and distracted by an unbelieving world. Day in. Day out. It is surrendering and rejoicing. Repenting and receiving. The Christian life, at it’s core – is a happy obedience, no matter where we find ourselves.

I’m beginning to realize that myself. I am the queen of excuse-making – my favorite excuse to date is parenting a toddler. So I tell God, “I can’t do that because parenting. SO HARD.” And God says, “Do this.” and I say (in absurd exasperation), “When?!” And God says, “Do this.” — this goes on for days, weeks, months etc etc.

I tell God that I will love my neighbors tomorrow, I will sit down and write when I have the time. I tell God I will put my husband before myself when I’ve had a day to myself thankyouverymuch. I tell God I will dream big and trust Him to use me when I’m done raising little kids. I tell God all kinds of things.

And God says, “Do this.”

Even as you parent your little one – love your husband. Be intentional with your time with him.

Even as your days rush by – honor your parents. Call home.

Even as your home is unfinished and messy – love your neighbor. Invite them inside.

Even as you wake up early to work out – love your body as it is right now. Smile at your reflection.

Even as you buy groceries and run errands – love the words I give you. Love them enough to write them down.

I’m waging a battle of convenience against God’s commands and it’s not working. When I stifle His Spirit, when I choose self-indulgence again and again, when I make excuses – my world becomes so small, so self-obssesed. I want out. And the only way to get out of my own way is to acknowledge that HIS way is the best way. (that sentence has the word “way” in it 4 times. ridiculous. I should be a rapper.)

Even as the Day of the Lord approaches, there is work to be done. I don’t want to be found waiting around for the perfect moment to get started on it.

Are you waging a battle of convenience with God? My advice is lay your excuses at His feet, then your hands will be freed up to do His bidding. You might be surprised how sweet it is to be inconvenienced. Gotta go – my kid’s awake and I gotta go buy groceries before dinner. #evenas

How to Not Drown in Your Crappies

fall-1Samuel is napping while I fluff up our home with festive touches of fall and consider the season of Thanksgiving that’s approaching. I don’t know about you but I often fight gratitude with reasons. With cold hard facts and cruel reality. I have my reasons for being bitter and resentful and unhappy.. Don’t we all? Life can be a real beat down. But I’m learning that truly being grateful for my life isn’t just giving thanks that my “happies” outnumber my “crappies” – it’s often a fight for the right priorities. What things, of all the list of happies and crappies really matters? Long term. Big picture. Eternal perspective. That shift in focusing on priorities helps me so much when I’m struggling to be grateful. It also helps when I remember that I’m not supposed to endure crappies all by myself.

Listen to me – You will drown in your crappies if you’re trying to go it alone.

Here’s what you do to avoid drowning:

1. Get to know God. Study Jesus. – This sounds so “woo woo wacko” if you’re not someone who thinks about or cares much about who God is or isn’t. It also may sound like 2 steps but they’re one in the same. This is a crucial step. Why? Well, if for no other reason than you were made in His image. He put you together so if you have beef with Him or questions about stuff that’s true of you/been done to you/you’ve done to others – start the conversation by pursuing Him. *Spoiler alert – He’s already and always pursuing you. So, you’re about 15…20… FOREVER years behind. It’s OK though, totally worth jumping in and getting to it. I recommend picking up a Bible and reading the book of John – it’s in the New Testament, 4th book down if you’re looking at the Table of Contents.

The more you learn about God, the more you understand about yourself. I do this by reading the Bible on a regular basis, praying, and talking to other people about just about anything from God to parenting to careers to hobbies etc. Which leads me to my second tip to avoid drowning in your own crappies

2. Let yourself be known by other people. – Full disclosre: I’m bad at this. All of my closest friends (spouse included) will tell you I’m bad at this. I have a tendency to hide behind all of my happies, sweep the crappies under the rug until they explode and then it’s like a shitstorm. Pardon my french but it’s a quite accurate metaphor is it not? When you let other people know when you’re hurt, angry, lonely, scared, or confused you may be amazed to discover they still love you any way. EVEN ALL OF YOUR CRAPPIES. Use caution with who you let into your shitstorm though because it ain’t a pretty place and you need the real troopers who will wade in and pull you out without feeling the need to pinch their nose.

fall-2So if you’re like me and you’re so super excited about Fall and PSL and OMG CRUNCHY LEAVES but you’re kind of feeling a little (or a lot) like you’re drowning in crappies, it may behoove you to dive into the aforementioned steps and see what happens. Maybe by the time Thanksgiving rolls around you will be able to lift your glass at the obligatory “thankful toast” and experience in your heart – real and abiding gratitude for the life you’re living right now.

Uncomfortable

imageHave you ever been in a place in your life when you think, “Maybe one day I’ll look back on this and see God’s fingerprints all over it and it will be grand and I will encourage people and it will be so lovely and I will summarize all of God’s faithfulness over a cup of coffee and isn’t that nice ?” But as you wade through that season of life you’re just thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

That’s me right now!

So much of me longs to gird my loins, put on the armor of God and storm into this season with gusto and enough faith to drown out all of the anxieties and doubts. Oh but friend, I am tired. I am longing for respite. I feel stretched, weary and weak. I want to withdraw, to quietly pack up the armor of God, to pull out of every battle raging internally and around me and just wait for Jesus to clean it all up. (Try not to be too bedazzled by the tenacity of my faith.) If there’s anything you may learn from my spiritual journey it’s that trusting an invisible God does not come very easily to me. I guess the beauty is, it doesn’t have to.

My head knows the truths about God and His promises, but in times of adversity or confusion my heart swallows the truths with an obligatory gulp – and it often takes a while for it to be digested. Maybe you can relate?

Becoming more like Christ often means surrendering parts of your human nature that are familiar and easy – and crippling. I am a sucker for creature comforts, for happily ever afters, for “ignorance is bliss” and for the American dream. Every time any one of those things is gently rendered from my tight fists, I am left with open, empty hands. Which is (not surprisingly) exactly what enables me to connect with God and with others. How can I receive and enjoy the Good News that Jesus is who He says He is, when I am preoccupied with what other people think about me or how my life adds up compared to someone else’s (aka: things that don’t matter. ever.)?

My small piece of the world feels very unsteady and uncertain and I am uncomfortable in it. Yet it is my reality. Yet God has placed people in my life who remind me of His steadiness and certainty and the comfort of His Presence – even as all of those things seem tucked into a pretty sermon rather than winding through my story.

In addition to the uncertainties that plague my small corner of the world lately, my head has been spinning the last few weeks with questions about race, racism, and reconciliation. It all feels so big to me. Like too much. My pride bristles at ideas and perspectives that challenge my own, yet my spirit within me is restless for unity and peace and the mission of God. I have entered into conversations that require me to listen and reflect. I have walked into territory that is new and scary and humbling. This season of my life is uncomfortable, guys. Have I mentioned that? The issue of racism in America is uncomfortable. The searchings of my heart have led me to dialogues that have challenged and moved me to uncomfortable, refining places.

The firmness of my faith is being tested as I walk out, unwillingly, onto the waters of this season. moms flowersAgain I find myself looking at a future that doesn’t look like what I thought it would. Again I surrender to God and again I find it all difficult to do. Oh! To present to you the face of a woman who is so confident in her God and in her future. But honesty is too precious and saving face costs all of us too much.

Instead I am resolved to take a deep breath, one conversation at a time, one step at a time and wake up tomorrow knowing that the same God who sent His own Son to die a brutal death on my behalf, and live a resurrected life also sends me into my corner of the world with purposes He will fulfill through a life lived honestly, imperfectly and uncomfortably.

Life is hard. God is faithful.  Amen? Amen.

Be a Household that Remembers

I wrote a poem this morning while shoveling cheerios at my son and sipping my morning coffee because every year Memorial Day makes me stop – even when the world around me doesn’t. So much was given and so much was taken by the sacrifice of the men and women who died protecting the United States. Freedom and restoration was given, birthdays and anniversaries were taken. May you and yours be a household that remembers. And if you hold the ache of Memorial Day in your heart and home every day – Thank you. I am so sorry for your loss and cannot imagine your -pain. May you find in America a nation that cares about your sorrow.

——
Memorial Day Candles
Be a household that remembers
take some time, brief or long.
Consider the blood of sons and daughters
dripping from our freedom song.
Tell your children about sacrifice,
teach your students about respect.
Light a candle, say a prayer,
close your eyes and just reflect.
War is hell, there is no doubt,
it tears and burns and kills.
It seeps into a quiet home,
and leaves an aching chill.
Take a moment to enter into the pain,
and allow yourself to feel.
Every bullet fired, every IED,
every shock that made bodies reel.
From open fields of massacre,
to jungles, huts, and trenches.
Men and women entered in,
as our nation’s brave defenses.
Carried home in boxes, greeted by moans and wails,
hands caress the smooth wooden beams
and words have and will continue to fail.
We cannot bear the burden that so many families do today,
but let’s just set aside politics and divisions and humbly say,
“His sacrifice mattered. She will never be forgotten. And we will take care of you.”
Be a household that remembers
take some time, brief or long.

Farewell, Fanny

John’s grandma died yesterday. She was 95 and managed to live like she never passed 50. I didn’t know her in the way a grandchild knows her grandma. We don’t share many memories together and our conversations, though sweet have always been brief. Yet, her faith and her hands have shaped someone who has become the most important person to me. Apart from his mom, John’s grandma was the most influential woman in his childhood. She lived with him for his first 12 years of life and raised him and his siblings. She disciplined him, loved him, and prayed for him.

I owe a great deal to Fanny Gialdo, a woman from Trinidad who had faith that burned ferociously. The ferocity of her faith did not leave people scathed and wounded however, but rather drew people towards her… towards Christ, with warmth and wisdom. She had her faults, like all of us. I don’t know them in particular so I have the happy job of remembering how her example changed me in profound and beautiful ways.

I met her on our wedding day. She wore a lovely blue dress, comfortable white shoes, and a warm smile. She was the one who made John break down in tears that day. Not his blushing bride, mind you. Looking as radiant as a thousand freaking suns while vowing her undyng devotion to him. (I am totally over it, by the way.)

There was a bet going among the groomsmen concerning when John would cry because (bless him) he’s a crier. I thought for sure he would break down at the vows. He was a little shaky but there were no tears. Enter: grandma. There we were in the recieving line right after being pronounced Mr. & Mrs. –  I saw John stoop down as her tiny, strong arms looped around his shoulders, speaking of her love and affection for him. He straightened up with a shining grin and tears streaming down his face. “Way to go, grandma!” I thought. It is only appropriate that a woman so deeply nestled in the heart of my new husband would open the floodgates. No hard feelings, Fanny. Nothing but love.

A little over a year into marriage, I saw her over Christmas. These are where some of my most favorite moments with her were unwrapped and tucked into my memory.

One day, I saw her sitting on the front porch, hands folded in her lap, looking out at the road. I was a little intimidated by her, I’ll admit. John told me stories of her voice carrying with it a thousand daggers when he would get in trouble as a boy.  She was a sweet woman, but not to be messed with. I approached her and commented on the weather because that’s what you do when you come into the presence of someone you want to be like, but you also want to be cool about it so they like you back. I’m certain she would have laughed if she knew my palms were kind of sweaty. Once we talked about the weather I just jumped right in with, “If you could give me any marriage advice, what would it be?” (I’m so good at transitions.)

She continued to look out at the road and while I can’t remember her exact words, here was the gist: “Forgive. Let it go. Know when to hold your tongue and keep your peace.” It sent all these red-hot flags flying in my brain, “I WILL SPEAK MY MIND SO HELP ME! I hope you tell JOHN to know when to hold his tongue too because he’s not perfect!” Instead I smiled and nodded and (God help me) dismissed her notions as maybe a bit dated or old-fashioned. Full disclosure: As it turns out, her advice comes straight from a heart that actually understands the gospel of Jesus so if you need me I’ll be eating crow until… forever.

The next morning, I walked into the kitchen and saw her at the small breakfast table, hands raised, face lifted, and thanksgiving spilling from her lips like the sun spilling across the kitchen floor. When she instructed me to “hold your tongue and keep your peace” she was most certainly not referring to my prayer life! Fanny did not hold her tongue when she was giving thanks to God. She had a relationship with Jesus that I could almost see emanating from her. She loved Jesus. Unapologetically.

She kept company with her Savior in such a peculiar and compelling way. As if he was there, eating breakfast with her – wrapped in all of the intimacy and familiarity we feel when sitting with a close friend and sharing a cup of coffee. Yet she was worshipping him. He was familiar to her and holy to her. She revered him and she trusted him like a bosom buddy. The two were inseparable. It was awkward for me because I sort of felt like I had stumbled into a moment that was supposed to be just between her and Jesus. But Fanny did not bend to her surroundings or the people around her, she bent her knees and her will only to Jesus. So if her praying out loud made you uncomfortable that certainly wasn’t her intention but she certainly wasn’t about to stop. Political correctness be damned, Christ be exalted.

Gosh I want to be like her.

The final memory I have of Fanny during that visit still makes me cry. We were all gathered, a bunch of family, in one of the large rooms in the house. People were sporadically sharing about what was going on in their lives when someone asked John about seminary. At this point we were about halfway through that journey. John answered honestly – seminary was hard. One of the most exhausting and draining seasons of John’s life. Fanny could sense it in his answer and responded to it with singing. Because, of course.

john at weddingIt started sort of soft and low, then grew stronger and louder. Fanny stopped all surrounding conversation, ushering everybody into a thick silence and we listened as this woman’s love swept over her grandson. Her john-boy. John and I’s tears poured out as our ears opened up all the way down to our hearts and one promise found it’s way in: God will take care of you.

“Be not dismayed whate’er betide,

God will take care of you;

Beneath His wings of love abide,

God will take care of you.

 

God will take care of you,

Through every day, o’er all the way;

He will take care of you,

God will take care of you.

 

All you may need He will provide,

God will take care of you;

Nothing you ask will be denied,

God will take care of you.

 

No matter what may be the test,

God will take care of you;

Lean, weary one, upon His breast,

God will take care of you.”

She ignored the squirming in the seats and the darting eyes that didn’t know what to do with this old woman filling up the room with notes that may not have found the right place but words that certainly did. She was about doing God’s work and she never asked for your permission to do it. Again – never from an aggressive posture but in a surrendered and obedient one.

She finished up and the room exploded in “Amens” and “Thank you Jesus” and I sat, her words covering me like a warm blanket, assured that God will take care of me.

Fanny meets SamuelOur paths would cross a handful of times after that. She “met” our darling Samuel thanks to the wonders of the internet. Oh! How she smiled and laughed as she said his name and told him how beautiful he was. I told him over and over, ‘That’s great-grandma Fanny, buddy! She helped raise your daddy and boy do we love her A LOT!’ He smiled and reached for the computer screen as she leaned in so close to the camera I thought she might fall right on through and land in our laps! (if only!) Many times I have talked with Fanny over the phone. Many times her words, steeped in a rich Trinidadian accent, wouldn’t be fully understood by me (essentially the most un-accented person on the planet. thank you, central Virginia) but her meaning would come ringing loud and clear: “I love you. God bless you. God bless your child. I pray for you, take care.”

FannyI will miss your prayers, Fanny. Your impromptu worship and your frank wisdom have left in it’s wake a legacy of faithfulness, service and joy. You changed this world. You did it gracefully, amidst adversity and trials I know nothing about. You did it imperfectly, with your own baggage and prejudices that tripped you up along your journey. I will never fully know, this side of heaven just how much your prayers changed the course of my life by changing the course of my husband’s. Thank you. Thank you for showing me that following Jesus means loving people even when it’s weird or (especially when) unreciprocated. Thank you for all of the times you approached the God of the universe and laid John, me and Samuel at His feet. Asking for His love, His wisdom and His protection over us. We are left to grieve you, but we look forward to seeing you again.

I picture you now at a breakfast table with Jesus. Talking as friends, learning more about Him than you could have ever imagined. You are happy, whole, vibrant… and home.