Thursday, December 15, 2016

Frontyard Miracles

A miracle happens every day in front of my home. I mean it's routine, on time, scheduled down to the minute, but it is extraordinary all the same. It doesn't come in with whistles or streamers or any other indication of its wonder, so it would be easy to miss. It's big and yellow, so it's hard not to see it, but a person could miss the miracle if they weren't tuned it. It just pulls up in front of my house and delivers my dreams come true every day. I'm doing my best to pay better attention to throw the confetti in my mind and remember how I dreamt about this for years and wondered if it would ever happen. I prayed and asked God for it and invited him to take the dream if it wouldn't reflect his glory. But in his infinite mercy, he let me have it. My dream came true, which absolutely reflects his glory even when I don't notice it. But I am reminded of it every day with the sight of the big yellow school bus.

It's not so much the bus that's miraculous, although door-to-door service is surely worth celebrating. It's who gets off the bus each day and runs up our brick path and into my arms. Two enchanting girls of our own. They're their own people now. Children yes, but individual, capable, opinionated people walk into our house every afternoon.
I'm privileged to be the first to hear their stories about the playground and lunch: the canvas on which their childhood is painted. So much of everything tender about school happens in one of these places and I'm entrusted with their stories.

It's as though my appreciation of them has come into crisper focus lately. As though the lens has been turned such that everything about them is sharper and clearer. I see it –  the miracle of their lives. Sometimes my breath gets caught in my throat when one of them excitedly tells me a story about how hilarious it was when her friend's milk cascaded off the cafeteria table and how she laughed so hard she had to cross her legs. Words are coming out of her mouth, sound is filling the room but all I see are crimson lips against milky skin crystal blue eyes framed in long lashes, auburn hair and deep set dimples. Miracles. Dreams come true.

Doctors sat in front of me and Dirk and told us we had a zero chance of conceiving a child. Zero. But they're here. They're right in front of us. Sometimes it's just too much to take and I have to scoop them up in my arms and before I can say a word, they say in exasperation, "I know, I know, you love us soooo much." And they can groan until forever and I'll never stop saying it, never stop appreciating the miracle of the breath in their lungs.

But the truth is, I do forget sometimes. The witching hour after school rolls in and tired groans over improper fractions or branches of government make me want to turn and run away...alone. Sometimes we argue about whether or not they have to brush their hair. It doesn't feel miraculous and extraordinary. It feels like a tremendous amount of work and I feel bad about how much I want to escape it. But I get it now. In order to appreciate the glitter of silver linings, you have to have clouds. I don't think I fully got that before, but now I do. We appreciate the summit because we remember the climb in the rain and the times we fell and slammed our knees on the rock face. But at the top of the mountain, everything is  clearer, we can see for miles, and our perspective is changed.

So yellow school buses, improper fractions, and scuffles about hygiene, I see you and I'm so glad you're here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Stray Dog: On Running Away When You Know the Way Home

There’s a dog on the loose in our neighborhood. We startled one another when I stepped onto my porch and found him asleep. He groggily got up and trotted away, but not far. He stood at the end of our driveway and looked at me. He seemed tired and a bit tousled, but a clean teal leash hung from his chain collar. He belongs to someone.

Assuming he was lost, I set out a bowl of water but he ran off when he saw me with it. I went back inside and watched through the window as he came back and took a long drink. 

I took a quick picture of him and posted it on our neighborhood Facebook page, assuming he had just gotten away from his owner on a walk. I went back outside to try to get his leash so we could keep him safe until his owners could come for him. But he ran from me just as he had before, still stopping to look back every few yards to see if I was still on the chase.

Neighbors commented that he has been in our neighborhood for three days. His owners have printed color flyers and have been out looking for him. They have been near to him, but when he sees them, he runs off, just as he did from me. He knows his way home and sometimes comes to their porch to get food and then runs off again. He’s skittish because he has been abused in the past and no longer trusts anyone. His new owners love him and are desperate to have him back, but because he’s been hurt before he’s afraid to trust them.

This morning someone spotted him running down the middle of a busy street nearby and the owners were pulled over the side calling his name. He looked in their direction, but kept running.

Oh friends, haven’t we all done this with God? He wants to love us well and beckons us, but we run from Him because of what someone else did. We’re weary and thirsty, yet we keep running because we think it’s safer to be on the move then to trust Him and be hurt. But there is none like Him—no love like His love.

We won’t ever find a home like the one we find in Him.

We won’t ever find rest until we stop running from Him.

We won’t ever be fully satisfied in anything outside of Him.

We won’t ever find our way home until we submit to following Him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Strength in Meekness on a Three Day Weekend

Yesterday was a school holiday. Whether for Columbus Day, Indigenous People's Day, or my mom's birthday, a three day weekend was on the books. We hosted a play date and the very same kids who were at our home two years ago were over again. I was reminded of the lesson I learned and had written about love. There's tremendous power in simply letting it wash over our people to cover their fatigue, their mood, their shortcomings. Lord knows we all need a covering now and then, and blessed are we who offer it.

I hope you'll enjoy this post from two years ago. It's not about Columbus, or holidays, or birthdays, but it is about the powerful force of love we all have the freedom to share. 

Carry on, friends. You're doing so well.

Click on the word *post to read the story:)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Love without Words

Emerson has a new friend this year. She's told me about the interests they share and the humor they find in everyday. They pair up when it's time to work as a team and play together at recess. They have found points of connection and communication which transcend words, which is helpful since her new friend speaks virtually no English.

Haemil is from South Korea and this is her first year in an English only school. The combination of translation technology, a wonderful teacher, and Haemil's tremendous intellect are serving her well and she's finding success in the classroom. But social connections require the other children to be  willing to cross the language barrier and create a path to engage. I couldn't be more proud of my little bridge builder who has taken it upon herself to find a way to love this girl well.

Emerson has learned a lot about showing love without words this year, yet she has willingly taken on a personal study of the language so she can communicate more fully with her new friend. She created a folder of common Korean words and phrases and their phonetic pronunciation. She is even learning the characters for each one. She has, out of the purity of her loving heart, done what we dream our friends will do: find a way to understand us.

I went to to the school Book Fair this morning to help Emerson select some books to buy. Haemil smiled shyly toward me as she placed her hand on Emerson's back and pointed to her wish list of books. Instinctively, Emie led her to the sections where each title was displayed. Haemil touched her again and pointed to a few of the specialty items behind the librarian's desk. Emie came to me and told me precisely which items Haemil wanted to purchase. Following the lead of my little love, I told the librarian I'd be helping Haemil today and could she please gather the items Emie mentioned. The librarian gently led Haemil to the items and encouraged her to choose her preferred color in each one. Haemil's face lit up like Christmas morning. She now held in her hands everything she had hoped to get at the fair. Without a little help, it would have been quite a challenge for her to find the items and communicate her wishes within their allotted shopping time.

As we waited for her total to be calculated, Emie picked up a prop hat on a stick which was there for the students' enjoyment. She held it over her head and made a silly face in Haemil's direction. She then held it over Haemil's head, which set her to fits of giggles. She'd done it again, tapped into joy without saying a single word.

I walked the girls back to the classroom and along the way, Em put her hand on Haemil's shoulder and pointed to me and said, "This is my umma," the Korean word for mom. Haemil's smile widened as another bridge was crossed in our introduction.

I drove away from the school with a lump in my throat and my heart swollen with pride for my beautiful girl. Sometimes tween-dom brings unwelcome bravado in which a child I brought into the world asserts her presumed authority and expertise in everything. It can be exhausting to control my response and be careful not to over-correct her when she's simply trying to stretch her wings. But today, I gladly followed her lead as the resident expert in loving others well. She has so much to teach me about leaning in and loving with my life before my words.

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” St. Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Different Beautiful

I am honored to have Courtney Westlake guest posting on the blog today. Courtney is a fellow University of Illinois graduate, a recently published author, and a gifted communicator. I know you'll enjoy her words, her story, and her refreshing perspective on true beauty.

When my daughter was first born, I thought they just needed to wipe her off.

At first glance, she seemed to be covered with a thick coating of white, causing confusion and near-panic with the medical staff in the room. It soon became clear that the towel the nurse was using to clean her wouldn’t alleviate anyone’s concerns.

Because the white covering was her skin.

Our daughter Brenna (our second child and sister to our now 7-year- old son Connor) was born in 2011 with a rare genetic skin condition called Harlequin Ichthyosis (har-le- kwin ick-thee- oh-sis).

This severe disorder means that Brenna’s body has trouble with things like regulating her body temperature – she can’t even sweat – and keeping bacteria out, so she can get skin infections easily. It also means that her body produces skin about 10 times too fast, leaving her with very dry, peeling skin that looks like a sunburn all over her body.

Brenna’s condition affects our lives very profoundly every day and has caused her four short years to be filled with surgeries, doctor and therapy appointments, and a lot of health issues. But my husband, Evan, and I have never questioned why – we have believed from the very beginning in God’s plan for Brenna’s life.

We are often asked what is “wrong” with Brenna, with her skin or her face. But to be But to be wrong is to be mistaken… and I don’t believe that mistakes happen with our awesome God.

When Brenna was just a few days old, critically ill in the neonatal intensive care unit, a family member came to us and said: “I haven’t talked to God in years… but I’ve been praying for Brenna.”

It was in that moment that I was assured that God had an extraordinary purpose for her life, and that he was bringing his children closer to him through our daughter and working through her to reach the hearts of others.

And, as I soon discovered, God was also working through me, by giving me the courage to stand up and say that my daughter is not wrong, she is beautiful.

God has given us the courage to find the beauty in this life, not the tragedy. We believe wholeheartedly that Brenna was given to us uniquely and beautifully created by God, not that she was given to us broken.

Within this, we are learning every day how to discover the beauty in the different and the unexpected. Where society often mocks different, we have found God’s beautiful creation in our differences and are learning to glorify his awesomeness through our distinct personalities, talents, and yes, appearances.

And yet, as we learn to appreciate and to celebrate our differences – our own and each other’s – it also serves as a great reminder that the God who created each of us with unique purpose and talents also created us with a likeness in his image.

We are different, and we are the same – none of us perfect, but formed purposely by a perfect Creator. And there is nothing wrong about that.

Courtney Westlake is the author of newly released book A Different Beautiful. She lives in Illinois with her husband Evan and two children, Connor and Brenna. After Brenna was born with a severe skin disorder, Courtney began chronicling family life and experiences raising a child with physical differences and special needs on her blog. Her writing has been published on sites such as the Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day and Yahoo Parenting. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sweet Sixteen with the Leader of the Band

For sixteen years I have been Dirk's wife. He's seen me fancied up for parties and rumpled up from the flu. He's heard me speak kind words softly and heard the sharp tone of my snappy retorts. He's enjoyed gourmet meals lovingly prepared and swallowed burned biscuits served in silence. But for more than three decades of his life, he didn't experience any of these things. He didn't know me, and I didn't know him.

I don't always think about how much of our lives have been spent apart, but it is good to remember. It's good to take into account the full lives we lived before we were Melinda110 and Dirk509 on Christian Connection. I was well set in my career twelve miles inland from Malibu, and he'd just completed doctoral coursework at Arizona State when we met. We had lives - full single lives - before we ever became husband and wife. We both had no interest in marrying unless we felt a union would enhance our already bountiful lives. Much to our surprise, a trial on an online dating service lead us into the best merger we could have imagined. But we were individuals for a long time before we were a couple.

This week we're up in northern Minnesota visiting Dirk's parents, and I'm surrounded by the history of the man who married me. Some of it feels familiar after so many years together. I recognize him in the childhood pictures his mother still has on the wall. I know where the tree house used to be in the backyard. But this trip, I got to hear some tales I'd never heard before because they were told by people outside of the family who knew Dirk before he ever knew me.

Dirk's class reunion was last weekend, and it was a surprisingly great time. These things can be both terrible and wonderful depending on who attends and what expectations are in the room. But this was actually great fun. His class is full of interesting characters who have gone on to become engineers, attorneys, sales executives, architects, and parents. Person after person came up to me to introduce themselves and tell me about Dirk through their eyes. I felt myself well with pride the way you do when you first start dating someone and hear privately, "He's a catch," or "He's the nicest guy." And your reassurance grows as you realize it's not just you who thinks he's a keeper. But to feel such advocacy sixteen years in, well, that's a sweet surprise.

Dirk's high school is this amazing place which actually has a spot on the National Register of Historic places. It was built by a mining company back in 1923 who were displacing the town after discovering valuable iron ore under the existing city. To make the move more palatable to the residents who highly valued education, they promised to build a "castle in the woods" for the students. And that they did as they spent $4 million on the building in 1923!

The 1800 seat auditorium was modeled after the Capital Theatre in New York with crystal chandeliers currently insured for $250K a piece. The stalls in the bathrooms are separated by solid marble slabs and the dressing rooms off stage were outfitted with box lights around mirrors like the finest in Hollywood.  As a result, the drama and band department at the school was widely acclaimed, and all the kids wanted the honor of being part of these programs.  Aside from the band's leader, who is kind of a legend around town to this day, there was one drum major who won the respect of his classmates and is still upheld as the best they ever had: Dirk Mattson. I mean, I knew this, to some extent. I knew he'd been the drum major in the band, and people mentioned how good he was when we'd bump into them on visits. But to have dozens of people come up to me to make a point to speak to me about the lasting impact of his leadership on them and how irreplaceable he remains even today got my attention. So many whispered, "He's such a good guy," or "You married well," into my ear as they walked away, and I knew they spoke truth.

We can get pretty familiar with the story of our marriage, assuming we know the key characters and setting. But I'm grateful to be introduced to the prologue and what set the stage for the chapters we've written together.  The sum total is a sacred and beautiful tale full of  more than a few plot twists and even a villain or two, depending on the page or day of the week. But after sixteen years, here's what I know: Dirk is a keeper, it turns out, just as I suspected he would be. It was wonderful to hear so many people lean in and agree with me at the reunion. But what I treasure most in our story are the pages known only to me, the excerpts reserved just for husband and wife.

Building a life with stories wide open is nothing short of holy. It takes guts to share the not so favorable parts and even more courage to turn the page. I love the back stories which brought us to this anniversary, and I look forward to chapters still unwritten.  

Here's to sweet sixteen with the drum major.

He's a good leader indeed.

Where he marches, I will follow.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hope is Hazardous but Worth the Risk

I needed this refresher today and maybe you did too:)

You are overflowing with hope about some amazing thing that’s about to happen. You pick up the phone to call one of your people. You can hardly wait for them to answer. And then, when they’ve scarcely said hello, you blurt out, “Guess what?!” and tell them what you are over-the-moon excited about.

Then they say that thing no one ever wants to hear. 

“Just don’t get your hopes up.” 

Umm, what? 

We’ve all heard it, thought it, or maybe even said it ourselves. But why are we compelled to diminish hope in those we love?