Terrible Beautiful Things

Last night I dreamed of spiders.

I was in this odd space. It was a neighborhood that was also a sort of camp or community. Everyone had chosen to live there because they worshipped at the same church. They’d gather in this community hall for dinners together in front of a huge stone fireplace. And I know what you’re thinking. But it totally wasn’t a cult. I think.

I was visiting a friend who had a lot of kids. I headed toward the back door as I arrived. And as I walked I kept seeing these spiders. They beautiful actually. They looked like Mexican sugar skulls. They were black and velvety with pink and blue and acid green markings like icing.

My friend’s kids were playing in the courtyard and they were surrounded by webs. They were on gutters and eaves and doorposts. But the kids didn’t seem to notice them.

I asked my friend about them. Yes, they’d bite but they couldn’t kill you. It’s not that big a deal, really. If one attaches, you just tap it and it’ll drop off. You’ll lose some fluids (something clear, not even blood). Nothing to worry about. Oh, just don’t pull at them or they’ll rip off some skin, too.

I went to the room where I was staying. In the dream, I kept imagining spiders biting me. It felt like I was covered in them. And it definitely didn’t seem like no big deal. It seemed like it would hurt more than my friend was willing to admit.

Something terrifying and painful was being made normal, even trivial. They were just living with the spiders when they should been fighting them. How could they just let their kids get bitten all the time? Why were they content to be surrounded by these horrible things just because they weren’t deadly?

In my dream, I was a little troubled by this but nothing like I would be in real life. Even though I had this vague sense there was a problem, it was like everything was a little hazy. Like I (and everyone else) was a little drugged or something.

Lots of other things happened. An old woman dressed in pink came to see me for spiritual direction. She was lovely. That part was wonderful. It was a meandering kind of dream.

And then I woke up. And I couldn’t stop thinking about those terrible beautiful sugar skull spiders.

Oh, God. There have been so many spiders in my life. Terrible things that don’t look so horrifying on the surface. I have been lulled by darkness into not trusting my instincts. The evil and brokenness and pain have been real. There have been horrible things wearing terrible beautiful masks. And I’m scarred by them. And too many people in my life have told me–with words or with silence–to live with it. To call it small or unimportant.

I need Your help to call things by their true names. I need Your help to know when to fight and when to run. I need Your forgiveness for the times that I’ve been the one telling someone it’s no big deal. How could I? I’m so so sorry.

So, my prayer? It’s that You will help me and heal me. That You’ll love me and not ever leave me. That You’ll fight for me.

And please let me be a healer, too. Please show me how to fight for people in a way that sets them free.

Amen.

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{photo cred}

identity theft

Sometimes I am ok with taking their own time. Some days I can celebrate process and journey. I have a sense of grace that reminds me of goodness and growth and God’s kindness even through suffering. Other days, I’m distracted and impatient. I’m frustrated that I still have so many questions. So many things I don’t understand. So many things that I should be over by now. But then I realize.

Maybe it isn’t surprising I’ve had a hard time figuring out who I am, who I’m meant to be, who I can be. Because of things like this–>When my dad remarried, he and my stepmom had a son together. They gave him the name that I would have had if I’d been a boy. And get this. He was born on my birthday. The poor kid actually stole my birthday. What are the chances? I’ve told people that strange story over the years and no ever seems to know what to say except ‘wow…weird.’ I have always hoped someone would help me figure out what it means.

But what it feels like is simple and clear. I was replaced–edged out–erased. It felt like I became nothing. Forgotten. A girl.

I remember going to visit my dad once. I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I wasn’t invited often even though for most of my childhood he lived fifteen minutes away. But on this day, I was there for some reason. I think my mamaw (that’s east Texan for grandmother) might have been in town. Dad wasn’t there when I got there. He was hunting or fishing with friends. I remember a lot of people around when he arrived.

I was excited. I couldn’t wait for him to notice me–I thought he’d be so happy and surprised since he wasn’t expecting me. He was distracted by showing the fish or deer or whatever it was and was talking happily to everyone there. Everyone except me. As the moments passed it became clear he was ignoring me. He was embarrassed I was there or something.

I was crushed.

Finally, a friend of his named Chris whose sandy blond hair was stylishly 1980-something short said, ‘Barry, aren’t you going to say hello to your daughter?!’ You’d think that would have made my humiliation even greater but it didn’t. I was so grateful to her. She saw me. And she made him see me.

As a kid, a lot of times I tried to disappear. It seemed like that was what I was supposed to do. It seemed safer to blend in.

But sometimes, I’d take a chance. I worked so hard to get my dad (and others) to notice me. To be proud of me. To like me. To find something worthwhile in me. Writing this made me realize I’ve bragged more to my dad than any person I’ve ever known.

Dad, my favorite color is the same as yours. Dad, I’m a good Christian. Dad, I’m a good student. Dad, I like books and music like your wife does. Dad, I’m graduating with honors. Dad, I’m getting a pool. Dad, I’m a good cook. Dad, I travel like you. Dad, my house burned down. Dad, I wrote a book.

And the answer is the same as it has always been. Silence.

And I get it. (In theory at least). This is my experience. His couldn’t have been easy, either. I’m sure he had his own hurts and confusion and conundrums. Maybe he felt shut out of my life. Maybe he thought it was best to let me connect with my new family.

And I didn’t make it easy for him. I was annoying and bratty and way too eager to talk about me, me, me whenever we were together. And when I was older, I started to vaguely say ‘yeah, let’s get together.’ But then I wouldn’t call. Just like him. But my word is my own. I could have called. I wish I had.

At first, he was young and probably didn’t know what to do. And when he wasn’t young any longer, the patterns were established. Inertia is a powerful thing. And it’s not his fault. Many things have conspired to make me believe all kinds of terrible things about me besides this.

But it happened and it matters and it’s the story I’m telling today.

The darkness has tried so very hard to make me disappear. To make me be quiet. To make me afraid and alone and ashamed. I guess that’s what I was supposed to get out of the whole half-brother-with-my-birthday-and-almost-name scenario. And the dad who didn’t want to be part of my life. But it hasn’t taken, somehow. The light keeps calling me. It keeps telling me my name.

And you know what’s great? I’ve always loved my name. I like the sound of it. I like the way it’s spelled. Most of all, I love what it means. It’s earth in Latin. Ground, soil, womb of life. I know we’re supposed to get a new name in heaven and I have to admit I’ve always been a little sad about that.

Some how, against all odds, I know who I am. I know I belong to the Light. I know (I can’t deny that I know) that the Center and Origin of all things calls me by my name. And loves me. And likes who I am. Even as he is making me new. Even now.

“But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

If this story sounds like your story, you should listen to this song by sleeping at last.

littleterra

The Daughter I Haven’t Met

terramcdaniel:

We would have received our referral for Camilla on this date in 2011. We still miss her, love her, and wish things could have been different. Lament is as important as laughter so I’m remembering her and acknowledging loss and sadness today.

Originally posted on terra firma:

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too late and too soon

Three years ago I became a mother again.  At long last, we got the referral letter for our Chinese adoption.  That meant it was finally time for us to be matched with a child who needed a family.  We’d been waiting five long years for this email.  But it came too late.

For reasons I am only beginning to understand, it was clear that with us was not the best place for this precious girl to be.  She would have been somewhere between 6 months and a year old.  She would have been small for her age after spending her first months in an orphanage and she’d have had dark, almond shaped eyes and shiny black hair cropped short.  We would have scurried home from the airport where I’d read the email to wait for our adoption agency to send more about her.  On the…

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Three Days In Marfa

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{Last April JRF and I took a road trip to Marfa. It was magical. As we approach this holiday weekend, I am really ready to sit by a pool and enjoy a refreshing adult beverage but, alas, I have three papers to write, an exam, tons of reading, and a sermon to prepare. (All of which is wonderful and exciting so please don’t feel too sorry for me. Oh, you weren’t? Good. Anyway, I am taking a trip down memory lane. Come with me, won’t you?}

Our third annual girls’ trip couldn’t have come at a better time.  I needed a breath of fresh air in the midst of wedding planning and Jenny needed a break from her busy and wonderful two year old.  We are both city girls at heart but wanted something different.  A road trip seemed like just the ticket—a few days to unplug, see some beautiful country, read, and soak up a little sun.

We knew we’d come to the right place as soon as we got there.  The tables at Padre’s were full of people finishing beer and tacos and a few haphazard rows were set up in between.  A makeshift screen had been set up and the lights were dimmed.  And everyone was there for the same reason—to watch Marfa’s 60 Minutes segment airing that night.  Morley Safer and his staff did a great job of capturing the crazy juxtaposition of quirky artists and hipsters with cattle ranchers, border patrol way stations, and dust storms.  The best part was how everyone watching laughed at all the same lines and got excited together when a friend appeared onscreen.  When the segment ended, everyone applauded, the lights came up, and two bartenders started closing out tabs.

Morley was right about Marfa.  It has sparse beauty and small town charm.  The sunsets and openness of the land somehow make it easier to take a deep breath here.  And there’s something about the countryside that makes you want to create something beautiful.  I can see why artists are drawn here. There’s a semi-permanent Andy Warhol exhibit, Donald Judd’s boxes are scattered like cattle in a field near the Chinati Foundation, and a growing number of wonderful small museum spaces are here, too.  Ballroom Marfa is even building a drive-in movie theater and stage.

The food, when anyone feels like opening up, is surprisingly delicious.  I might have had the best cocktail of my life at Cochineal.  There are even some great places to stay. You can sleep in a real live teepee if the mood strikes and there’s not a hail, lightening, or dust storm.  And, of course, the Marfa lights are mysterious and amazing.  (My money’s on the aliens.*)  The Davis Mountains, hot springs, and the MacDonald Observatory are all within an hour drive.

But in the end it’s the people that make Marfa.  What we saw in those first moments was only reinforced the rest of the week.  It was fun to see locals of all ages hanging out and catching up wherever we went.  At Future Shark, old-fashioned (yet delicious) cafeteria food is served on long tables flanked with benches.  And nearly every one of them was full of people with wrinkles and white hair meeting kids in their twenties or thirties for lunch.  It made Jenny and I both realize how much we wish we saw that kind of thing everywhere.  Everyone was glad to be there.  And everyone we met, with the exception of one cranky store clerk, was super laid back and friendly.

I’d heard of Marfa before but couldn’t understand why anyone would want to make the eight-hour drive to get to a flat, dusty wasteland.  Now I get it.  Marfa is in the middle of nowhere but it’s full of people who love each other and their town.  And how could anyone not fall in love with that?

**We met a cute couple from Austin who watched the Marfa lights with us. She was a pastry chef and he a PhD student at UT. We got to see the moon and JUPITER through his fancy telescope=WIN.

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Time To Fly

I wrote this months ago but waited to post until Torey and Craig’s first anniversary…

I believe in serendipity, signs, synchronicity, providence. That’s why when I glanced out the kitchen window to see a bird’s nest on the grass the day before my daughter’s wedding, it didn’t seem like a coincidence to me. I walked outside to pick it up from where it had blown down, no longer needed. And I can see it from where I’m sitting now, a cozy and intricately made home sitting under a glass dome on a shelf. (Cheesy metaphor? Absolutely. But if you think parenthood doesn’t entail a significant amount of cheesiness, you haven’t been paying attention. I say embrace it.)

That mama bird (and probably daddy, too) gathered branches and leaves to make a home that was beautiful and safe. They made sure the eggs stayed warm and then kept the babies fed until they were old enough to take care of themselves. They taught them to fly and might have even pushed them out if they were scared. It was for the best. They needed to know what they could do.

Isn’t that exactly what being a parent is all about? It’s making a safe place as long as it’s needed and then, when the time is right, setting them free to fly. Why stay huddled among the sticks and dead leaves if the sky is your home?

That’s where I was on that sunny afternoon a year ago. Staring at a nest and knowing it was time to let my beautiful baby girl go and become a family with someone else. And I was hoping against hope that I was ready. That her dad was ready. Most of all, that she was ready.  Because it was time.

First it was finishing high school. Then it had been moving her into a series of dorm rooms and apartments, watching her become her own person, surrounded with friends and a life that suited her. Before I could blink, it was time for her to put on a cap and gown and become a college graduate. But this was different. Even her name was going to change.

I’ll always be her mother, of course. I’ll be there for her and she’ll never, ever stop being my daughter. Yet, as I watched her radiant face gaze up into Craig’s during the ceremony the next day, I knew this was an end of one thing even as it was the beginning of another. And I remembered all those years ago when I discovered I was expecting her. Something fundamental changed in me that day. In an instant, I knew that I’d give everything I had to help her become the woman she was meant to be.

I watched Torey and Craig laugh through the ceremony for pure joy with a deep peace of my own, knowing that she is more than I could have ever hoped. She is strong, confident, beautiful, and humble. She has an independent mind and a passionate heart. She knows what she believes but is willing to listen. She’s a wonderful friend and she loves to laugh.

Please don’t misunderstand me–God and Torey get all the credit for the incredible person she is. But Kyle and I did our best to make a safe place for her to become the best version of herself. We made lots of mistakes but we got some things right, too. I think she always knew she was safe and loved. That her life was infinitely valuable to us and that she’d never been unwanted for a single instant of her life.

And while it’s hard to imagine any man could ever be good enough for my precious girl, Craig is on the right track. He’s smart and a hard worker and a good friend. He’s humble and teachable and fun and kind. He’s a little bit crazy which will serve him well with my dynamic girl–his girl now. Best of all, he treasures her like I do. He sees how special she is. He gets her.

They still have a lot to learn about life and they’ll learn it together. Kyle and I, Earl and Denise, and other mentors are available for advice but they’re calling the shots. It’s okay—they were ready.

{Happy 1st Anniversary, Torey and Craig. I love you both big as a road.}

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Guess What Didn’t Lead to a Perfect Life?

My wonderful daughter Torey wrote a guest post continuing the dialogue about modesty and sexuality. She is one smart woman and I’d be glad to be a part of her life even if we weren’t related. Check it out::

My life isn’t perfect because I didn’t have sex before marriage. Seems like a straightforward statement. One that most of us would proclaim we believe. However, many of us who grew up in evangelical churches might find ourselves counting purity before marriage as the only key to success. As look around to my peers, mentors, and the church as whole, I find this message running rampant through Christian culture and ideology. The fact that we don’t seem to recognize it is even more disconcerting. As someone who has experienced the pain that comes out of operating under this ideology, I owe it to myself and to you to dispel it.

Recently, my mom wrote an amazing piece on modern-day modesty in the Christian church and in it she discussed my experiences in a 21st century church youth group {Aw, thanks, Torey. Here’s that essay if you want to check it out.}. She described a culture and message that idealized sexual purity and “covering up” the parts of us only meant for our spouse. After consistently hearing this message, it became part of my theology without me realizing. My actions and daily thoughts began to form around this perceived truth. With my rebellious tendency towards rules I perceive as arbitrary (don’t get me started on the tax code), I started to toe the line instead of letting my actions being informed by the spirit of what Jesus wanted when he commanded us to be pure.  Even though I spent my high school career in a uniform, I rolled up my pleated khaki skirt as soon as I got to school to make it shorter. And even though I never had sex, I went farther with high school boyfriends than I wish.  That is my sin and mine alone. However, I’ve wondered if part of that rebellion was against the model Christian church’s culture which idealized purity.

As I went to college and met the man who is now my husband, I wanted to do things differently. Although we weren’t perfect, we waited. I remember thinking how much better off we would have it than friends who hadn’t waited to have sex or who had gotten closer to the line than we had.  We would enter our wedding night as God intended, and were therefore destined for marital bliss.

Those of you who are married know just how wrong I was. After the honeymoon, Craig and I had to face the harsh reality that our lives and our marriage we not perfect simply because of something we withheld from each other before it started. Don’t get me wrong–sex is awesome. It’s fulfilling and exciting.  But it isn’t even close to the majority of what our marriage is based on.

Marriage is more than a list of do’s and don’ts. It requires a deep understanding of what the other’s needs are and fulfilling them to the best of your ability. Even though we have only been married for a year, I love Craig more every day. The sweet times we spend together in the evenings talking about our days over a glass of wine (or beer for my man) are the best part.  He consistently amazes me by the way he demonstrates Christ’s love in the way he serves me whether it be turning on Gilmore Girls for me to help me get through my most hated time of day (morning) or leaving me a sweet note in my purse. To me, those little acts of service and love are what have made our marriage great. I love Jesus more because of my marriage to him.  Craig is my partner and best friend and I am abundantly blessed.

Despite that I have been surprised by how normal life after marriage is. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and thus far, besides knowing Jesus, it is the best part of my life. My point is that the troubles and trials of the world do not go away because you enter marriage sexually pure. Jobs still sometimes suck, relationships are still hard, and money’s still tight.

I guess I’m saying all this to remind you that sexual purity and modesty cannot save or sanctify you. Only Jesus can. His grace is sufficient to cover a multitude of sins. He wants the best for you and remaining pure IS God’s best for you. It protects you from a world of hurt and pain that you weren’t meant to experience. Sex within a committed marital relationship is unparalleled.  But for those of you that struggle with purity or modesty, know that you aren’t alone. And that your sin isn’t worse than any other. You are not doomed to a failed marriage if you have made sexual mistakes before. Marriage and your walk with God are dependent on much more than what you have or have not done in the past. Fall into his abundant grace—knowing that it alone can save you. Speaking from experience, that is the most freeing feeling. I’ll say it again. My life isn’t perfect because I didn’t have sex before marriage.

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A List

In honor of mother’s day, and on this side of motherhood, I have a few things to pass on to my friends who are still in the trenches:

  1. Be a parent, not a best bud. Your kid will have plenty of friends (especially once you teach her how to be a friend). Parenting isn’t a popularity contest and that’s a good thing because you’d lose.
  2. Don’t be afraid to show him what he should say yes to and what he should say no to. We have more freedom of choice at this point in history than ever before. Choice is truly a wonderful thing but it can quickly become dangerous or overwhelming without boundaries. That’s where you come in. Don’t be afraid to tell him in age appropriate ways what’s off limits for them and why. But choose your battles.
  3. Balance the boundaries with lots of freedom. Embrace creativity and whimsy and the occasional touch of chaos.
  4. Admit when you make a mistake. (You will. Often.) Show them how to apologize. Model humility and teachability. Show her that she doesn’t have to be perfect.
  5. Teach modesty both in the sense of dressing in ways that demonstrate self-respect and in the sense of humility (see above).
  6. Teach them to celebrate and embrace their masculinity or femininity and their own unique worth. The world (and, sadly, often the church, too) wants them to be ashamed of their bodies.
  7. Let your home be the place where the kids hang out as much as possible. As tired as you’ll sometimes be, don’t use other kid’s parents as free babysitting.
  8. Laugh with them. Make funny faces in the bathroom mirror. Play in the mud and the rain. Dance. Make a mess. Be silly.
  9. Teach them—boys and girls—how to sew a hem and a button; how to make at least one meal other than breakfast; how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ (and why); how to do their own laundry; and how to change a tire.
  10. Don’t lose yourself. It might seem like love at the time to pour every bit of your energy and time into your kids but it isn’t. Show your kids how to live a life well. If you’re married, date your husband. Practice self-care. Be who you are meant to be, the person you’ll continue to be once the kids are grown and gone. You’re modeling how to be a whole and holy human for them and that’s love.
  11. Never forget that what you’re doing matters. You aren’t creating a human being–that was done for you. But you and everyone else who loves your kid are making an environment that makes it possible for that amazing human being to become what she or he was meant to be. And that’s something worth spending your life on.

 

Mother-Daughter Fredericksburg Trip

Mother-Daughter Fredericksburg Trip (September 2012)