Monday, March 26, 2012

Moving Day

We've packed up and moved... Please stop by and visit

For those of you who've subscribed via email, we'll be making every attempt to move your subscription.  But it may not hurt to drop by and subscribe on the new site just in case :)  Currently ironing through a few wrinkles as a result of the move.  Thanks so much for your support this past year and patience through the transition!

Now you can also "like" Greener Trees on Facebook:

Greener Trees

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Two Roads

It's been a week since I've had time alone.  Time to breathe in an uninterrupted space of silence.  I need to be reading.  I've committed to write.  I'm behind on the very beginnings of research.  But the bright spring morning beckoned me to come out and play.  The budding trees wooed me from afar with the power of  Odysseus's sea sirens.  I was drawn away from my steadfast commitment to duty into the quiet place of simply being.  A newly discovered jogging path was the backdrop.  A recently acquired CD the musical score. Virgin territory were both.  Step after step revealed increasing evidence of  renewed life.  Glimpses of diamonds bobbing atop the surface of the trickling stream, I was drinking in grace. 
The still, small voice gently whispered, "My child, listen to my instruction.  Open your eyes and see.  Every budding flower teaches of hope.  Every stream, my peace.  Every bird, my provision. You want wisdom.  You want understanding. You fill your hours acquiring words from pages written by learned men, all for the purpose of finding revelation.  You settle for notes taken by my children, when I have offered you a play date with the Author of the story of the world.  An excursion filled with all that is infinitely real and beautiful and true.  "  
I had hoped to leave the real world behind, yet to my surprise, it was the real world that I  found.

One of the many treasures I stumbled upon.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Political Interlude

Recently we took a quick break from a morning of reading.  My 10 year old son picked up his guitar and  announced, "It is now time for a musical interlude."

Well, I've taken a break from writing while trying to get my new blog site up and running.  So folks, "It is now time for a political interlude." If there is such a thing.  I guess there is now.

I offer the viewpoints below, not as a personal political statement, rather as fodder to add to the bonfire of political thought.  Not as voices of absolute truth, but as opinions to be considered.  Not as a stance on issues, rather as a perspective on the posture of the heart...  
"Christians may be at times, 'cobelligerents' with the Left or Right, but never allies.  If there is social injustice, say there is social injustice.  If we need order, say we need order... But do not align yourself as though you are in either of these camps:  You are an ally of neither.  The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is different from either - totally different."  Francis Schaeffer
~ Although I have definite political opinions and leanings, can I acknowledge that there is some degree of truth to be found on both sides of the party line?  Do I think, speak, and live out of the truth that my membership in the Kingdom supersedes my allegiance to a political party? 
"A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right.  We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future.  To attach to a party programme - whose highest real claim is to reasonable prudence - the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication."  C.S. Lewis 
~ Will I approach the issues, the candidates, and the proposed solutions with humility and admission that my viewpoint, no matter how informed, is still limited?
"For a Christian, Jesus is the one in whom it has indeed become manifest that revolution and conversation cannot be separated in the human search for experiential transcendence.  His appearance in our midst has made it undeniably clear that changing the human heart and changing society are not separate tasks, but are as interconnected as the two beams of the cross. 
Jesus was a revolutionary who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but himself.  He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as rebel.  In this sense he also remains for modern humanity the way to liberation and freedom."  Henri Nouwen
~Am I placing my ultimate hope in the government, or in the Author of all Hope?
"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out.  Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out.  Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.  And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 
~Although I may focus on the issues that are most likely to impact me, can I make room in my heart to care about the concerns of others? 

May we stand firm in our convictions, but let us do so with humble hearts. 

Breathe Deep by the Lost Dogs

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Curiosity for Lent

Having grown up in a small town in the mountains of Tennessee, my worldview was largely shaped by the individual faces in our small community.  I had one friend who was Jewish.  One was Catholic.  One who wasn’t aloud to wear shorts because they were too revealing.  Another who actually took her Bible to church.  These differences never caused division – they simply provided the adjectives with which each family was described. 

Friends' distinctive religious celebrations brought a welcome  diversity into a fairly homogenous community.  To attend a bat mitzvah in our little town felt somewhat cosmopolitan.   The cross of ashes worn on the forehead of a few classmates evoked a subtle sense of mystery.  We respected the differences of our faiths.  However, to cross over the line between respecting and learning from one another felt too bold and uncertain.  

As a young adult, my experience of God shifted from one of inherited religion to one of chosen relationship.  Gradually, I began to suspect that I might have something to learn from the different ways in which others encountered, experienced, and worshiped God. I wanted His life, His teachings, and His ultimate death and resurrection to be more than an intellectual assent or a religious practice. I was not longer content to just know about Him.   I wanted to know Him.  

An attempt to move beyond wanting toward knowing came shortly after I graduated from college.  Every Wednesday during Lent, I slipped out of my office at the bank and walked down the street to attend a church service.  The choice in church was not deliberate or intentional - it's location and schedule simply made attendance relatively easy.  Each sermon focused on one of the people involved in the Passion of Jesus. Preparing for Christmas had been an expected part of my annual tradition. Preparing for Easter had not.  Intentionally altering my routine, in order to focus my heart, changed my experience of the season.  It changed me.

As we consider the world in which Jesus walked, he encountered primarily two kinds of people.  Those who held so tightly to their systems of religion and life that they missed Him, and those who were curious enough to follow.  As we embark on the season of Lent, we all bring our childhood history, our adult experiences, our preconceptions, and our annual rituals (or lack thereof) along with us.  Although these bring a sense of tradition and security, I wonder what it would look like if we allowed ourselves to become curious...  

~ Curious about how others commemorate the next 40 days  
~ Curious about the “whys” behind the Lenten traditions practiced by others 
~ Curious enough, perhaps, to slip into a service at a different church, read a new book, or alter our routine in some way to make more room in our hearts for the season ahead.   And ultimately, to make more room in our hearts for the One who came to rescue us from ourselves.

I want to see Him with fresh eyes.  

I didn't grow up in, nor do we currently attend, a liturgical church which formally celebrates the season of Lent.  However, I look forward to the next four weeks with great anticipation. We'll be reading as a family, I'll be reading on my own, and we plan to attend Vespers at a local Abbey.  Our choices will most likely differ from yours, yet the hope is that we all approach this season not with a sense of duty or habit, but with a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity.  


A few suggestions if you’re looking for books:

If you have children, or enjoy reading historical fiction, I’d highly recommend reading Arnold Yuletide’s book, Amon’s Adventure.  Written by the author of the Advent series Jotham’s Journey, each of the 28 chapters is a great read-aloud which provides fodder for rich conversation and reflection.  It paints a vibrant picture of the political, social, and religious climate in which Jesus lived.  Amon's Adventure illuminates the complexity and confusion Jesus' ministry brought to those who loved and were trying to obey Yahweh.  Jesus wasn't what they were expecting. That same tension exists to some level for all of us today.

This year, I have discovered and soaked myself in the writings of Walter Wangerin, Jr.  I referenced the book Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace in my “Top 10 List” for 2011, and I’ve been lining up his books in my reading queue ever since.  I started reading this morning.   

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen has become one of those staple books in our library to which I return again and again.

I'd love to hear from anyone who is willing to share books, resources, or traditions that have been meaningful to you during this Lenten season.  You'll be an encouragement to others.  Perhaps you'll peak their curiosity.  Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day Remixed

Happy Valentine's Day!  I feel as though I should be sharing our treasured family traditions - perhaps something crafty, clever, nostalgic or at least a good recipe.  I'm so sorry to disappoint.  I don't have strong feelings about the holiday on either end of the spectrum, and each year, February 14th manifests itself differently around our home.

I do, however, possess some treasured books about the holiday (shocker).  From their pages, we found that St. Valentine's day is a combination of history, tradition, and myth, all mixed together and baked in the oven of capitalistic opportunity. Historically, it's believed that there were multiple Saint Valentines, and three were actually martyred for their faith on February 14th.  There are also beautiful myths telling of St. Valentine, while in prison, falling in love with and healing the jail keeper's daughter.  Notes of love were passed through the jail door, and the legend grew as it was passed through generations.

Our culture's current knowledge and celebration of Valentine's Day bears little resemblance to the holiday's original roots.  Romance, Hallmark cards, and expensive dinners at crowded restaurants have become the icons.  Ironically, most sit-coms on television this year depict couples who are rebelling against the "Valentine's Day rat race", and are contentedly choosing to stay at home.  Regardless of which viewpoint you hold, both stray far from the martyred Saints who suffered under oppressive Roman rule. Our perspective has changed, and we've forgotten the original intent for the day.  Culture changed the story - but it can't change the history.

Whether we like it or not, we're as immersed in our culture as a fish is in water.  We're often unaware of the powerful impact that our generation, as well pervious generations, has had on the lens through which we view marriage.  Marriage was originally created for great purpose. Far greater, I believe, than most of us would dare to hope.  Culture changed the story - but it can't change the history.

What would happen if I suspended my own ideas, hopes, dreams, and fears about marriage, and had the opportunity to view it through the eyes of its Creator? How would the shift in my perspective affect the lens through which I view my husband?  I believe that God holds my marriage in much higher esteem than I can begin to imagine - yes, even with the challenges, failures and disappointments that can arise, He sees it as holy.  

In the C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, Screwtape (a demon), writes letters to Wormwood (his nephew) educating him on how to secure the eternal damnation of "the patient."  
"Now comes the joke.  The enemy (God) described the married couple as 'one flesh.'  He did not say 'a happily married couple' or 'a couple who married because they were in love', but you can make the humans ignore that... humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of fear, affection, and desire which they call 'being in love' is the only thing that makes marriage happy or holy... In other words, humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly-coloured and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as a result."  
How many of us have a distorted picture of marriage?  Remember the fish in water.  It can't possibly know it's wet.  So what is this water in which we're immersed?  Where have we been deceived?

A step to climbing out of the fish bowl and drying off...

God is far more concerned with my holiness than he is with my happiness.  

This is hard, but true, particularly if our hopes were hung on an idealistic picture of what marriage "should be."  The good news is that if (and when) marriage is hard, we should not despair. The Father is up to something, and if you believe in his promises, He is up to something good.  

The measure of a successful marriage is not happiness and lack of conflict - it's mutual selflessness and commitment.  

That's the bad news and the good news.  

More is required of me, but more is promised of Him.

So as we enjoy the Valentine's Day festivities, don't despair if yours is less than what you had hoped.  The Author of all hope has written the story, and the story isn't finished yet.  We don't know what plot twists may unfold as we forge ahead, but we do know that He is good. He cares deeply for His children, and He'll use anything, including disappointments and challenges in marriage, to draw us to Him.

As an aside... I don't think I'll ever look at a picture of the chubby-cheeked scantily-clad cupid again without wondering if I just caught a glimpse of Wormwood himself.

Monday, February 6, 2012

You Are Cordially Invited

Most days, I’m deeply aware of the benefits of our lifestyle.  Schooling at home gives us tremendous flexibility to take advantage of a myriad of rich experiences.  Books read aloud routinely become family friends, and recess often takes the form of digging in the creek or building forts outside.  Fidgety boys take basketball breaks when needed, and my crafty girl creates throughout the day.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Usually.

Several weeks ago, I hastily became quite knowledgeable about the admission procedures and tuition for the private schools in our area.   I also paid particular attention to the big yellow bus schedule, and took note that there were plenty of available seats.  My mind began to construct a new schedule for myself – one that included long runs and a home with preordained periods of quiet.  Yes, it was one of those weeks.  And my commentary has nothing to do with school choice.  It has everything to do with the motivation behind all of my, well all of our, choices.

I don’t want to be selfish.  I don’t want to become angry with my kids, short-tempered with my husband, or aloof with my friends.  I want to be more.  I want to be patient, kind, and other-centered.  But last week, I wasn’t having much luck.  And rather than deal with the mounting evidence that I was the problem, I found myself wanting to sweep it under the carpet.  Or more accurately, put it on the bus and send it away.

Voices were competing for my attention and energy.  There were the high-pitched needs of the children, the muted desires of my husband, and the emphatically heated debate between self-justification and self-contempt that raged inside of me.  But somewhere in the midst of the mental and emotional chaos, I heard that still small voice.

I’m inviting you to more.

When your children’s needs outweigh your capacity to give,
I’m inviting you to grow in dependence.

When your tired husband returns from a trip, and you want his help more than you want him,
I’m inviting you to grow in selflessness.

When you’ve been treated unfairly and want to retaliate (or withdraw),
I’m inviting you to grow in kindness.

When customer service eats up half your day then drops your call,
the guy selling pine needles interrupts dinner, 
and the dog ruins the living room rug (again),
I’m inviting you to grow in patience.

When a friend disappoints out of her own insecurities or fears,
I’m inviting you to grow in faithfulness.

When there are mounting bills, 
piles of laundry, 
sick children and weary hearts,
I’m inviting you to grow in joy.

When  you're heartbroken, and even angry, that life doesn’t look like you had hoped,
I’m inviting you to grow in peace.

And lastly…

When you realize that the problem isn’t your needy kiddos (or schooling choice),
Or your husband,
Or your friends,
Or your life situation,
Or those annoying people who interrupt your day,

It’s your own selfish heart,

But I’m not condemning you…
I’m inviting you to grow in love.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Here We Go Again... Parenting Teenagers the Second Time Around

Barely over a mile in, and I’m sucking wind.  So sad.  It’s hard to believe that a few years ago, an exponentially longer run resulted in euphoria, not fatigue. I’ve been moderately sick for a few months and unable to run, so today was the big day.  Despite perfect weather, adequate sleep, and the strategically-timed cup of coffee, I limped along fueled by sheer determination.  I’m tired.

We have five children, ages 8-25, and currently have no teenagers.  Think about it.  Our family makeup could practically be used as a logic riddle.  The last few years have been somewhat of a “golden age” in our home with no little ones awake in the wee hours of the morning, and no new drivers or high school parties requiring late night parenting vigils.   Let me be clear – I love much about the teen years.  The shift from childhood toward maturity, meaningful conversations, pivotal choices, and a glimpse into what their adult life may hold, collectively make this phase of parenting significant.  But as with any worthwhile endeavor, that which is of great value often comes at great cost.  

At one point, we had two teenagers, a pre-schooler, a toddler, and a newborn living in our home.  Our oldest children are now in their early twenties and actually survived their teen years, largely in spite of us. On this side of the “parenting the teenager” journey, I’m increasingly convinced that much of the stress and heartache along the way is largely reflective of the parents, not the kiddos.  That, by the way, is a personal confession.  In hindsight, there is nothing like a normal, healthy teenager to reveal the selfish heart and personal agenda of a parent.  But somehow, we all made it through, and watching our young adults make their way in the world has made it well worth the effort required.

In my 39th year, I confessed to a friend that running a longish race was on my unspoken bucket list.  She didn’t let me stop at a wish, and pledged to run all of the longer training runs with me.  Before I knew it, I had registered for the race, printed out my training schedule, and purchased bright new running shoes.  I had no idea what the next few months would hold, but was fueled by excitement, aspiration, and a meticulously-loaded ipod.    I couldn’t have anticipated the cold, dark, insanely early morning runs or the “gut through it because I only had four narrow windows each week” runs.  But somehow, we made it through, and race day made it well worth the effort required.

As I embark on the familiar territory of starting to run again, you’d think that it would be easier this time.  I know what to expect.  I know my best times of the day to run, and the proper way to eat and hydrate.   I’ve run much faster and further with considerably less effort.  But for some reason, starting over today seemed harder.

During the last several months, it has become clear that it's time once again to lace up our shoes and prepare for parenting the next round of teenagers (the oldest of our younger crowd is twelve).  And as we embark on this second round of parenting teens, you’d think that we’d be better prepared for an easier experience.  We’ve covered similar territory before. We know what to expect.  Which may be why it feels daunting this time… but for very different reasons. 

Thankfully, what I’ve lost through the years in terms of energy and brain cells, I’ve gained in other areas.  Although this is the section where you might expect the “now we’re wiser and more prepared,” well… here is what is different: This time around, I’m more aware of my selfishness and the reality that I do indeed have a personal agenda.  I’m less sure of the answers, and more curious about the questions.  And most importantly, I have a glimpse of my general tendency to parent out of my own strength and wisdom.  The challenge this time isn’t getting it right.  It’s acknowledging that I can’t.

No doubt, we made a multitude of mistakes the first time around.  And my guess is that we’ll make a whole new batch of mistakes with this second opportunity.  But I’ve come to believe that the goal is not to be the perfect parent, but rather to become a diligent pupil of the Ultimate Teacher.  And in doing so, I hope to slow down and enjoy the scenery of the everyday.  To focus less on the finish line, the adults that we hope our teens will become, and focus more on the gift of each step along the way.  Even the accidental rabbit trails I wouldn't have chosen, unexpected obstacles in the path, and weary muscles are a gift.  They are a necessary part of the process, and will eventually be absorbed into our larger lives’ stories.

As dormant muscles are reawakened, healthier patterns are established, and the initial shock to the system ushers in a “new norm,” my hope is that:
  • I'll be less likely to gauge my progress by the apparent pace of those around me
  • I won’t take one step for granted - even on the hardest of days 
  • I’ll be mindful of the Source of all true wisdom, energy, and direction, and will parent accordingly  
  • I’ll count it an honor and a privilege to run this race… the second time around 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unlikely Places

He had traded in his Armani suit for a bright orange jumper.  Rather than dining at five star restaurants, he now waited in line for standard institutional meals.  His daily interactions no longer took place in the oak-paneled boardroom, for his domain had been reduced to a ten by ten foot cell.  He had worked his way through school, climbed the corporate ladder from the bottom rung, and had arrived at a coveted position of wealth and status.  But through the years, the cocktail of success had numbed his conscience.  He was abruptly awakened from his drunken stupor as the cell door clanged shut. The echo resonating down the long cement corridor served as a haunting reminder of his long chain of life-changing choices. 

Although he had traveled throughout the world, this was a foreign country for which he could not have time to prepare. He sat quietly digesting every morsel of information that would help him understand this new land.  The culture, language and customs of this place were alien to the life he had known.

His new neighbor, an intimidating hulk of a man, had gained his citizenship through taking the life of another.  He observed that very same man tenderly giving his new, hard-labored-for shoes to one who needed them more.  Time after time, he witnessed acts of kindness, selflessness, and courage within this world set apart from acceptable society.  He slowly discovered that all he had previously believed about “these people” was not accurate.  Yes, they had made poor, often devastating choices, yet in each man resided a more complex story.  Another side.  Alongside the obvious, well-documented depravity was the irrefutable existence of dignity.

Over time, his relationships shifted from that of outcast to friend, and he grew to love these criminals.  These undesirables.  These prodigals.  Together, they had found the strange peace that comes when many layers worn in the world are stripped away, and the naked truth remains. Life’s circumstances had leveled the playing field for these men of extremely diverse backgrounds.  There was no plotting to manipulate the future.  No fortune to be made or social ladder to climb.  No pretense.  No attempts to explain or defend. Locked away behind bars, he was able to find freedom.

The countdown of years droned on, one slow minute following another.  From the outside, his life looked painfully monotonous compared to the stimulating world that he once knew.  Yet the simplicity of his days allowed space for movement and growth of a different kind.  He found and spoke words of truth about the realities of his life without fear of judgment or condemnation.  As his scrambling to control and manipulate life was no longer a viable strategy, there was an ease and relief that settled in his soul.  Room was made for a new inhabitant – One who would never leave nor forsake.   One who restores the years that poor choices have taken.  One who makes all things new.

Trapped in the worst of situations, there was no way out. 

He lost all that he had in the world.  

He gained Life.

"You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s the food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being “care-full,” you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.  That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. 
You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right.  Then you can see God in the outside world. 
You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. .”  
The Message

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Blog⋅mo⋅sisnoun  1. the tendency of knowledge, wisdom, talent, or status in life, to pass through a barrier (computer screen or book) from those who have to those who want, thus equalizing the knowledge, wisdom, talent and state of life of both parties.
Recently, a friend of mine was in the midst of a particularly difficult season of marriage.  While trying to find evidence of folks who had gone through similar trials and come out the other side, she discovered a blog that offered great hope.  The authors’ marriage had survived the worst of offenses, yet they had labored through regaining trust and rebuilding relationship.  They offered hope that marriage could indeed survive the darkest of seasons.  As we talked through the pros and cons of following such a blog while she was in the early stages of rebuilding her own marriage, a possible danger surfaced:  blogmosis.  The tendency to read about the life of another, and hope that in doing so, our own journey will take a similar path.  She coined the term, by the way.  Clever, huh?
On some level, we all hope that blogmosis will occur in our own lives.  We seek comfort, wisdom, enlightenment and assurance as we walk through disappointments and challenges in life.  The sources to which we look may vary – a blog, book, speaker, or friend can offer hope that their story may rub off on ours.  We want to know that someone else has traveled this road and succeeded, and perhaps their good fortune will bleed into ours.
No doubt, the stories of those who’ve gone before us can offer hope and direction.  Yet all too often, the line is blurred when we desire that another’s story becomes our story.  I want what another has. Ever so stealthily, legitimate desire mutates into coveting that which is not meant for me.  
In the scientific realm, osmosis is defined as the tendency of water in salt water to flow across a barrier from an area of low concentration to an area of high concentration until both sides of the barrier reach equilibrium.  Similarly, the propensity toward blogmosis can only be prevented when we reach a state of equilibrium as we relate to the lives of others...

~When we choose to believe that our unique journey in life is equal in value to that of all others

~When we accept that the individuality of our own story holds infinite dignity 

~When we can be inspired, challenged, or convicted by the journey of another, yet still rest in believing that we are created with unique talents and abilities to be used for specific purpose
~When we attempt to view our lives not through our own eyes but from the eyes of our wise, perfect, incapable-of-error Creator 
~ When we focus not on the life that we would like to have, but on the life that we have been given
I’m grateful for the stories of those around me, and for the vast array of technology that gives unlimited, immediate access.  When kept in proper perspective, they can give me a glimpse of the greater story for which I was made.  Yet as with any good thing, the best can be twisted into the destructive.  I can't live my life fully if I'm trying to replicate someone else's.

I want to see clearly.
I want to be wise.
I want to be content....
I want to live fully in my own story.
"Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone's task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it."  Viktor Frankl

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Left Behind

It’s been a hard few months.  Yesterday provided an almost humorous dot at the end of the exclamation point.  As I reclined in the dentist’s chair, my distaste for the relentless shriek of his drill could only be outdone by the aromatic waft of chiseled tooth.   I wasn’t sure if I would laugh or cry as I took account of the past several weeks.  Due to the congestion pooling in the back of my throat, I decided that neither response would improve the situation.  Rendered unable to do much else, I couldn’t help but recount the toll that the fall (and The Fall) had taken on our family.

Sometime in mid-October, I developed a cough that decided it didn't want to leave.  Without going into extensive detail (which I’m happy to do for any medical professional who cares to offer an opinion), I’ll share that I’ve now been coughing and generally feeling crummy for three months.  Which means that I haven’t been sleeping for three months.  Add to the formula a colony of “little friends” (term affectionately coined by my husband) had taken up permanent residency in my daughter’s hair, significant parenting challenges with multiple kids,  a particularly full home at Christmas, a son who had been up the entire night due to an ear infection (seriously? I though we were way past those), and now a broken tooth.   I’d say that I needed that like a hole in the head but…   well, it all starts feeling like a bad joke.

I’m acutely aware that the challenges I’ve faced in the last months are minor compared to those of so many.  I don’t have a serious illness, I have an amazingly supportive family, and we’re able to procure medical help when needed.  Nevertheless, there has been a modicum of grief.  I’ve missed a dear friend’s baby shower and first baby being born, I couldn’t help another friend through a move, my cherished time reading aloud with my children has been limited significantly, and I haven’t been able to exercise in months.  I’ve grown weary of waiting for life to return to normal, and have experienced a strange sadness as life for those around me has continued without my involvement.  I feel like a spectator watching the parade go by, only to be left behind.

There are many ways we experience being left behind.  Illness, the intense needs of young children (or aging parents), significant struggles in marriage, shame from the past, and disappointment in friendships only to name a few.  Everyone else seems to be happily marching along - at least if we believe the one-dimensional messages we receive via Christmas newsletters, Facebook updates, and in cordial conversations in the hallway at church.  We place our hope in life “returning to normal” and wait for the storms, and for the loneliness they often produce, to pass.

But perhaps there is a greater gift to be gleaned than the return to normalcy

“…as long as you keep pointing to the specifics, you will miss the full meaning of your pain.  You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances, and events had been different, your pain would not exist.  This might be partly true, but the deeper truth is that the situation which brought about your pain was simply the form in which you came in touch with the human condition of suffering.  Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.”  Henri Nouwen

I believe that this challenging season of life will not be wasted.  My hope is that I will develop eyes to see more keenly others who feel left behind, ears to appreciate the more subtle music of those around me, and a heart that will be softened and enabled to love more deeply.  Both the in the small inconveniences in life and in the large tragedies, there is greater purpose.

So if you find yourself watching the parade pass you by, take heart. Know that even in our loneliness, we are not alone.  And one day, we will gather together at the ultimate celebration, under the Great Banner, when everything sad will indeed come untrue. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Year in Review: Top 10 Books of 2011

I have a love/hate relationship with lists.  I'm a fair-weather list maker and follower at best. I'm skeptical of any book that has "Ten Steps to..." in the title.  The implication being that if I read and correctly execute the given list of suggestions, the relevant segment of my life will become controllable with a predictable, desired outcome.  Although lists can be helpful in pointing us in the right direction, there is a potential danger when we assign them too much power and assurance.

With that being said, however, I'll bookmark a good resource list any day.  I love to hear what my friends are listening to or reading, and I'm always on the lookout for like-heartedness.  As we pack up the Christmas ornaments, clean up the New Year's confetti, and look forward to whatever the new year has to bring, I wanted to pause and share a few of my favorite books from the past year with you.  Hopefully, you'll find something of interest to include on your 2012 reading list.  What an honor it is to share these books that have meant so much to me this year.  It feels like I'm introducing you to some of my dearest friends.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 from 2011:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
I'd seen this book on several lists and assumed it would be an immediate favorite.  Turns out that it took some time for it to rise to that spot, but it eventually landed there. Gilead reads like poetry, and is thoughtful and compelling.  A letter written from father to son, there is much to be treasured.

Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace by Walt Wangerin Jr.
Oh my.  This may be the most life-impacting book that I read this year.  Highly recommended.   I'll be reading it again.

The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of Lost and Found by Frederick Beuchner
Thoughtful and poignant.  If you're a Beuchner fan, this book gives you a glimpse of significant people and events that were influential in his life.  If you haven't read Beuchner, it's a great place to start.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
One of the few books I'll continue to re-read.  The truest of stories for adults as well as children.  Reading it (again) resulted in some of my meanderings here and here.

Bird by Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
I've never read a book that can be both highly irreverent yet profoundly insightful at the same time.  And wow, is she funny. Lamott's book is less about the technical aspects of writing, but more about the discipline and cost required, the heart challenges, the realities, limitations, and joys of writing... and life.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
I'm guessing that I'll be reading this every year... for the rest of my life.  It's that significant.  If you don't have children, don't let that stop you.  More on The Jesus Storybook Bible can be found here.

Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
A few thoughts about Nomad found here.

How Rembrandt Reveals Your Beautiful and Imperfect Self by Roger Housden
A thoughtful look at Rembrandt's life and work.  Housden elaborates on the following lessons learned from Rembrandt:  Open your eyes * Love this world * Troubles will come * Stand like a tree * Keep the faith * Embrace the Inevitable.  

The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathan Rogers
One of the most delightful books that I've read in years.  Andrew Peterson accurately describes Rogers' style as "Mark Twain meets C.S. Lewis."  Clever and light-hearted in spirit, but deep in content.   And Rogers just so happens to be a Furman grad.  'Nough said.

The Trunk by Elizabeth Coatsworth
A few thoughts about The Trunk found here.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
If you've never read it, this is the year. Charming.  Particularly when read out loud.  Even if you are alone.

Ok.  That was 11.  I told you that I'm not great at the list thing.

As the new year commences, here are a few books I'm working through and that will most likely make it on the 2012 list:

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
Ragman and Other Cries of Faith by Walt Wangerin, Jr.
Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle

Happy reading to you and yours as we venture into the new year.  I'd love to hear what's on your list...

“When you listen and read one thinker, you become a clone… two thinkers, you become confused… ten thinkers, you’ll begin developing your own voice… two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise and develop your voice.”               Tim Keller

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Tricky Wicket of Gift Giving

Birthdays are significant in our home.  We're not big on decorations or even presents, but the hope is that the birthday person feels celebrated and enjoyed.  When possible, we spend the day together enjoying some combination of favorite homemade meals, restaurants, and activities.  It's a veritable crime for the one being celebrated to do any work.  King or queen for the day is the goal. 

This past summer, I was enjoying a relatively low-key birthday day.  My husband had made plans for the evening.  My children, who had been well-trained in the way of Silander birthday custom, greeted me in the morning with shiny, anticipating faces.  They sincerely wanted me to enjoy my day.  They wanted me to feel loved.  Their motives were pure.

Shortly after breakfast, my cherubs were quick to relieve me from manual labor, and they started cleaning the kitchen.  But somehow, in an instant, the mood shifted.  Child A began arguing with Child B about who was to do what chore.  Exasperated Child C interrupted and proceeded to boss give direction to the less-than-righteous siblings.  After giving up hope that the situation would resolve itself, I finally stepped in to mediate. My efforts were temporarily successful, but within the hour, a modified version of the same situation transpired.  My frustration was growing.  It was my birthday.  "All I really want for my birthday is for you all to love each other well and for us to enjoy the day together,"  I stated, as if this would be the obvious end of the matter.  And it was.  For awhile.  

My frustration dissolved into sadness as I realized a hard truth.  My children love me.  From the deepest, sweetest, brightest places in their hearts, they wanted me to be blessed on my birthday.  But, an insidious cloud had gathered and was overshadowing their good desires.  They wanted to honor me... but on their terms.  The cost of laying aside their own agendas was too high.

When for a fleeting moment, I attempt to look honestly at my own heart, I'm saddened to acknowledge that I give to others in much the same way.  We had nine under our roof this Christmas, and it didn't take long for my feeble, misguided attempts at caring for others to buckle under the strain.  Too often, I give out of my natural inclinations and tendencies - which does not necessarily result in a gift that is meaningful to the recipient.  Even if my motives are pure.  

Imagine that my talent and interest was in knitting, and that I knitted the same red wool scarf for everyone on my Christmas list.  For some, the scarf would be a treasure.  The time taken to create, the warmth the scarf provides, and the much-desired fashion accent would leave the receiver feeling loved well.  Those are the easy-to-love people in my life.  My natural inclinations fit well with their needs.

But others may be allergic to wool, look terrible in red, or are hot-natured with no need for a scarf.  If I want another to feel loved, I have to pause and consider what would be best for them.  And all too often, the time and energy required to stretch beyond my natural inclinations, comfort, and agenda...  well, the order is just too tall.  So I knit my red scarf and convince myself that it will be enough.  Or I cook a meal rather than spend time with a sick friend.  Or I clean up the house rather than offer kind words to my husband. Eventually, we both feel missed and hurt.

I've never been one to make new year's resolutions, but I do have some hopes as we launch into 2012.  I want to pause and consider those folks in my life who are difficult to love with new eyes.  Rather than taking offense that my "red scarf" doesn't succeed in making another feel loved, I long to lay down my pride, comfort, agenda, and expectations in order to grow in grace.   I want to be willing and teachable to love in new ways - for the benefit of another. 

I also plan  to be more intentional in my reading, consistent in healthy cooking, and possibly train for a race. And by the way... I'm actually taking my first knitting class with my daughter this month. Perhaps I'll make a red scarf for myself.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Micah 6:8

"May I bring a new friend over with me when I come for coffee?"

A simple question that changed a family.  My family.  Forever.


We live in South Charlotte.  Some have referred to our dear city as an "Atlanta wannabe."  I'm not offended by that description.  It's actually not too far from accurate.  We like to think that we have the best of both worlds - small town feel while still having access to great art galleries, Broadway shows, professional sports, and the ripples from Wall Street's economic power generators radiating throughout uptown.  Yes, for those of you unfamiliar with Charlotte, it is uptown, not downtown.  I've enjoyed the benefits of this energetic town, including a fulfilling career housed in its tallest building.  We've birthed three and raised five children here.  We have a church we love and amazing friends. It is home.

Yet with all that Charlotte has to offer, its strength is also one of its great weaknesses.  I've worried about my children's perspective on life while growing up among such affluence. Given this soccer-mom, banking-hub, Bible-on-every-corner culture, how could we possible raise children who see beyond their comfortable bubble?  Children who are other-centered, compassionate, and have a healthy humility and curiosity with which they approach other cultures - and other people.  Particularly while their parents struggle with the same issues.

Then one hot summer morning seven years ago, a dear friend called.  She and I had planned on catching up at my house over coffee while the children played.  A few hours prior to her coming, she gave me a quick call to ask if she could bring a little boy along with her. "Of course", I responded.  The more the merrier.  She arrived later that afternoon with her new friend - our new friend - Yusuf, who just happened to be from Somalia.  Yusuf was 6 years old, and had arrived in America just weeks prior to our meeting.  Three little bodies darted around the backyard, two with blond hair and blue eyes, and one as dark as coal.  The boys ran and played in the water from our  hose while my friend recounted their unfathomable story.  They had fled Somalia through the dark of night, lived in a Cambodian refugee camp, and had finally been transported, compliments of the UN, to Charlotte.  More on their remarkable journey another time...

Later that afternoon, we embarked on our weekly pilgrimage to the library.  Like a good homeschool-mom-to-be, I searched out as many age-appropriate books on Africa as I could find.  When I showed them to the boys, I instructed, "This is the country where Yusuf used to live.  The people there speak the same languages as he does."  Will, my inquisitive, observant, detail-oriented 5 year old who had just spent several hours playing with his new buddy responded, "Do you mean that Yusuf doesn't speak English?"  

My earnest hope had been that my children would engage with someone who was different than their friends.  That they would develop compassion for other cultures, and that they would choose to build bridges over differences.  But to my surprise, they taught me a greater lesson.   The commonalities of little boys playing in the water instantly bridged the 10,000 mile divide between them.  They enjoyed what they had in common, rather than trying to overcome the ways in which they were different.  They hadn't met a refugee whose family had fled the dangers of Somalia.  They had met a new friend.

Seven years ago on a humid July morning, the seed of love for our refugee friends was planted in the heart of our family.  The great Gardener has continued to provide fertile soil of opportunity, drench us in the water of the Word, and supply power through the Son.  As a result of His tender care and pruning, that small seed has grown.  We've come to love the refugee community in Charlotte, and opportunities to serve them continues to be a significant gift to our family.

I'm consistently humbled by my shallow attempts to give, arrogantly believing that I have something to offer.  Yet each time we show up, our family becomes richer for the time spent with these beautiful people.  People who have fled great danger and had the courage to build new lives from scratch.  People who have farmed for generations, yet now consider fresh fruit and vegetables an occasional delicacy. People who are now strangers in a strange land.

As we were pulling out of the apartment complex last week, I was surprised to note that a small yet significant shift had taken place in my heart.  Walking down the sidewalk was a young man from Nepal.  I had been introduced to him the prior week while he was shopping at the "Clothing Closet." Shortly after our meeting,  he had labored to help me understand what he was trying to say.  The scene resembled a somewhat comical game of charades, and I wasn't doing very well interpreting his animated gestures.  Eventually, we finally deciphered that he was asking for a baby swing for his little one.  When I saw him weeks later this second time, my perspective had changed.  He was no longer one of the many faces who visited the Clothing Closet each month.  He has a name.  He has a baby.  His story has become a part of my story.

In the chronic business of life, I wonder how many remarkable stories I pass and dismiss - from the checkout clerk at the grocery store to the neighbor walking her dog.  Everyday, we're given opportunities to discover a bit more about the Creator through those he has created, and we're given the great honor of sneaking a glimpse of another human soul. Too oftenwe miss out on the miracle and settle for the mundane.

  People who laugh like we do, who cry like we do, who pray for their children's safety... just like we do.  And along the way, I've gotten a taste of what it means to be fully human.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” C.S. Lewis

For the past few years, a highlight, perhaps the highlight, of the Christmas season for us has been spending a Saturday celebrating Christmas with the folks from Project 658 (check them out here - you can join us!) and our refugee friends.  The objections raised by my selfish nature (we don't have time... too much to do... we're already tired) quickly dissipate when we drive into the apartment complex across town.  I love the beautiful faces representing the farthest corners of the map.  The content children who are generous with their smiles and hugs.  The adults who delight at the rare opportunity for their children to be photographed with Santa.  And I was lucky enough to catch him under the mistletoe.

That is one cute elf

Project 658.  Yes, they are rock stars.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!