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I see you there with the grey book on the floor, you’re buying tickets to see a movie in a few days, giggling nervously or excited, going with friends or boyfriend or husband.

And I want to tell you, stop. Put the book down. Don’t watch the movie. You were made for more than this. 

Daughter, you were woven together by the hand of God, uniquely crafted, individually made, specially designed. You are glorious, so glorious, can’t you see it? The brushstrokes of grace that perfectly coloured your skin, the handprint of love that shaped your face and your limbs and your hands and your hips.

Sister, your mind so full, so unique, you’re going to change the world with it, can’t you see that? You were made for books full of ideas, for stories that tug at the deepest part of you, the one that longs for redemption, the story that lifts you up and shows you a better way to a life of meaning, purpose and passion. The one where your hands create and build, the one where you repair the breach in the walls of your broken society. Where you stand firm at the gates and declare truth to the evil in the world, to the evil in yourself. Evil cannot stand in the face of truth. Sister, your voice will be heard on behalf of those who need it, but will you speak? Will you tell the truth?

Sister, will you turn your privilege into a voice for the abused and the oppressed? Put down the book. Don’t watch the movie. It’s only a privileged, bored woman who can hold to the notion that whips and beatings are desirable, but you, you are more than that. You know your innate worth, you shake when you see the glory inside of you, placed there by the hand of the divine, and you know – oh you know – that you were made for more than this.

Sister, what are we going to tell our daughters that we read? What are we going to tell them we watched? Will we chart a path for them among rich ideas and words and thoughts? Or do we lead them on a path of intellectual and emotional destruction?

She was made for more, your daughter, she deserves better. 

Wife, you love him, I know you do, the man on the other side of the bed, the one who is snoring or gassy or boring, and he takes out the trash and sometimes doesn’t. He cleans the kitchen, rubs your back, tells you that you’re beautiful. Or maybe he doesn’t. You’re restless, I can see that, maybe the life you have is not what you expected, perhaps time takes its toll on communication and intimacy. Maybe your imagination provides a safer resting place. A pretend woman’s life seems more attractive, her man is wealthy, powerful and knows what he wants. It feels good to you as you turn page after page. Connection is what you long for, intimacy is what you need, but I see you there, you’re alone turning page after twisted page, each sentence pushing you further away from the one who shares your heart, your love, your bed.

Stop. Put down the book. Don’t watch the movie. 

He didn’t manipulate or seduce you into a relationship. You’re an equal partner, not a naive work of fiction. Your life and your body isn’t for domination and control because you know you can choose and you’ve made your choice. Him. He is your choice. You have a covenant. A covenant made between equals, and his promises were made in public before God and before witnesses that he would love and cherish you until death, whatever would happen. And you make it work, don’t you? When it’s tough, when it’s low, when it’s good and when it’s great. You make it work. You keep telling him what you need, you say thank you, you listen, you cry, get angry, scream. This is what you were made for, this love that lasts because it gives and sacrifices and listens and lays down his life and works through the tough times and patiently puts one foot in front of the other one beautiful day at a time so that the only way to see the result is to wait until the quiet end when you can look back and see footprint after footprint of a covenant lived out over decades. 

Mother, I get it, I really do. The life of yoga pants and sippy cups and hormones left you wanting more. Your children used your breasts  and stretched out your midsection. You were a Venus once, rising, rising, and now all you see is a shell of the siren you once knew. Your trying to find your spark again, and the tawdry titillation takes you back to a place where you’re young, wanted, physically intact. But the way back isn’t through the imagination of a woman making millions off of your pain and boredom. Face your pain, Mother, count your costs, mourn the lost years, and then move on. Find your new groove – it’s out there waiting for you. There is yet beauty waiting for you, aching to inhabit your spirit, there is yet freedom and richness in life and experience at hand. It doesn’t come from a man who knows everything or demands everything, but it’s in the hands of a God who knows you, he will not take you back but he will move you forward, to a place where you know yourself and can love yourself again.  

Sister, what will they say about our generation? We were the ones who heralded My Freedom, My Consent, My Liberation. But freedom doesn’t come in chains. A whole woman, a strong woman, a woman so confident in her innate worth and intelligence consents to what is good, to what is noble, to what is honorable for her but also for her society. She knows that her liberation cannot be found in the hands of subversive slavery. She will be controlled by no one because she belongs to the One who knows her, who loves her, who fought for her and rejoices over her.

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, my friend. You were made for more than this. You were designed to thrive and to flourish under the tender touch of love, the hand of grace, the bonds of covenant. You were made to run free, you mind enriched, your body protected, your whole person completely, totally accepted and loved just as it is. And your soul? Your soul prospers. 

Stop. Throw away the book. Don’t watch the movie. 

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It was Tuesday, February 10, 2009, and I walked into the living room of a stranger in an apartment in Geneva and sat across the room from a tall German man. It was my sixth day in Geneva, I had no idea why I was there, I had no idea why I was in that room. We must have stared at each other, but I don’t remember. I said things about loving people that tugged at his heart. He prayed at the end about people and God and other things, and it tugged at my heart. We didn’t speak to each other, we went our separate ways.

February 10, 2010 I am living in the apartment in Geneva of a now-friend and sitting on her low-to-the-ground black couch from Pakistan. The tall German man holds my hands and kneels and asks me to marry him. I say yes.

When we tell people the story, they get starry eyed, and for a long time I couldn’t see the magic in it. I kept wanting to make it all ordinary and normal. But I see it now. It was anything but ordinary.

Whatever way I try to add it up, I don’t know how Husband and I could have crossed our paths if we had even tried. He lived in Switzerland, I lived in Australia. Only living in New Zealand could have put us further apart. It took a trip around the world, it took radical obedience to God when he told me to go to Geneva, a place I would not have chosen on my own. It took walking out of my hostel on the evening of February 10 and walking into the doors on 25 Quay de Mont Blanc. It took saying yes to the date on the boat in May.

This morning Husband and I watched Little Bear – now nearing two – and Big Boy run around our living room, and we couldn’t believe that six years ago we were strangers sitting on opposite sides of a room.

February 13 is my birthday, February 15 the day when six years ago I ended up at not-then-my-Husband’s apartment to have lunch with friends. This week was one day after another of sweet memories and glorious celebrations.

And I cannot lie, in the years that followed 2010 I wanted to go back to those moments, what brought us together, what looked like the cement that held us together, the magic, the wonder. Every February, returning to those memories, to that apartment was all I could think about. 

Life began again for me on February 10, a new that bloomed with beauty and promise.

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February 10, 2012, I put our firstborn son to sleep in Steinbach, Germany in Husband’s old room. The phone rings, and it is Husband, he is crying. Papa is dead, cancer eating his life away in a hospital bed.

You don’t know much about life until you see it taken away. We were not made for death, I know that now. Our relationships were not made to end, and it’s there on those freezing German days in February, grey and darkness all around us that darkness descends. The brutal reality that life is finite, that the beauty we can hold on earth can be taken away abruptly. The way he is forever frozen in time, no more birthdays, no more anniversaries, no more Opa, no more Papa. That you can have absolutely no say in the matter.

Monday February 13, it’s my 30th birthday, the first day after Papa’s death that the undertakers are open, and we plan a funeral. I wish I could tell you I handled this gracefully, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I had some good moments, the kind of moments I hope that represent the best part of myself, but there were many others that were horrifyingly selfish.

Life ended for us on February 10, not just because an irreplaceable person and relationship was taken, but it was the crude and horrifying introduction to death, our lack of control, innocence gone. 

February 16 would have been Papa’s 64th birthday in 2012. The week that was once magic and destiny and grace and life turn into death and sadness and tragedy.

This is the sixth February since I met Husband. This is the third February since Papa died. We haven’t figured out how to navigate the different memories and milestones. There are the highs of thankfulness and the depths of sadness. It is beautiful and awkward and strange and sad all at once.

Last Saturday I heard Christine Caine say the words, Some of you have an unhealthy attachment to your past. It’s easy to see it when you’re looking at something bad in your past. Much harder to spot when the past you hold on to holds something good. Her words pierced me, and they are stirring in my soul today.

For the past six years, I thought February 10 held the best and the worst my life had to offer, and I could not move past it, the truth impossible to see. But I can see clearer now.

It was neither the best nor the worst. It was the past. It was life. Meeting Husband in Geneva opened a door to love, and it changed my life. Losing Papa opened a door to grief and finality, and it changed my life. But those two moments are gone. I can celebrate, I can grieve, I can remember. 

But I cannot go back. 

I can believe that there is something greater, something better, that I am putting one foot in the other and moving. Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to your will, trusting that my life is in the hands of a Redeemer who buys back everything I lost and makes what was beautiful before even more beautiful with time. 

Yes, today is Tuesday February 10 again, but I mark it in a different way. Today is the day I move forward, the day I turn my eyes to the new thing. Can you see how it springs up? There is a way that opens up in the wilderness, the renewing stream gushes in the dessert. My heart is ready, my pen is waiting. It’s time to write a new story. It’s time to sing a new song.

Now it’s your turn: What are you holding on to in your past? What’s the new thing springing up before you? How can you move forward? 

I’m linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and the #TellHisStory community today.

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I am always thinking about ways that I can sit down and “just write” instead of the blog posts that take more thinking and writing time. I’ve been reading Emily Freeman’s “What I Learned” series for a while, and I’m hoping to participate this year. Here’s what I learned in January.

1. IKEA stands for the name and hometown of the store’s founder. It is Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd (the town where he grew up), and Agunnaryd (the county or kommun where he grew up). But more importantly I found this information out via Swedish friends and not Wikipedia.  This makes me feel extremely Swedish. 

2. Swedes are a my favourite. This is a subject for a longer blog post, but what I learned about myself this month is that I am falling hard for this country and its beautiful people. I have lived in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, the United States, Australia, Switzerland and now Sweden, and easily Swedish people are my favourite people and culture.

3. Walking downhill on ice. Don’t do it. We had a thick layer of ice on the ground two weeks ago (and there is still a lot around), and I was walking down a sloping driveway, holding Little Bear, and we slipped and fell.

4. Buttermilk pancakes by Martha are stunning. Do not overmix the batter. Leave the lumps in. Gloriously fluffy pancakes.

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5. I can keep amaryllis alive, said the woman who held dead mint and rosemary in her hands. This is the second round of blooms out of my amaryllis plant this winter, a gorgeous display of colour and life as winter takes most of it away from us.

6. Sabbath is life-giving but killer hard to maintain. I write for myself, so when these words come out, it is rarely to convince you of something, more because I need convincing, and the best way for me to do that is to speak to myself. I have never needed rest more than I need it right now, but every Sunday that rolls around, I have to fight off my inner desire to work on something, to check my phone, to keep my mind busy.

7. Let It Go, Let It Go. I’m late to this party, but I have two boys under three-and-a-half, so we’re partying, but with Thomas the Tank Engine, not an army of Elsas. But I do read, and by now I know that you, your little girls, adolescent girls, teenagers and everyone (and maybe even guys) in between, love Frozen, live Frozen, and received an Elsa dress for Christmas, etc. etc. etc. I went to a friend’s 40th birthday party two weekends ago, and during the dancing part, the DJ played, you guessed it, a certain song about snow glowing white on a mountain tonight, and the room paused, the vast majority of adults danced and belted the song out at the top of their lungs. Most of them have small kids, but it was still stunning to watch grown men and women with their arms flung to their sides, drama poses on, all Here I’ll stand, and here I’ll stay. 

I think Let It Go is more than the song of a generation of five-year-olds. It’s our generation’s song well.

8. Balance. We are organizing IF: Stockholm, part of IF: Gathering for next weekend. It has been a sweet, rewarding and fulfilling experience to launch into the unknown with this, and I am unspeakably excited about what will take place in February 7. But balancing life at home with life outside the home has done my head in. I didn’t figure out any answers in January, but I learned and was reminded daily that it is very, very difficult to maintain a rich life inside the home and a rich life outside of it. (And if you live in Stockholm and want to join us on February 7, we would love to have you. Register here.)

I’m linking up with Emily Freeman from the beautiful blog Chatting At The Sky.

What did you learn in January? Join us.

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Big Boy still takes an afternoon nap, but settling him down for this rest time takes more work now than it did a year ago. He’s three-and-a-half, and he knows that fun goes on while he sleeps. One of the few things that calms him down is me lying down with him until he falls asleep, and because we all need his nap, I do it.

I used to resent the extra time that felt like nothing for me, but his little self drifting off into a place of rest became an invitation for me to do the same. Sometimes I watch his eyelids drop softly closer and closer down to his cheeks, only to jerk back awake, sometimes I stare out of the window at the winter sky, bright and white with light on some days, heavy with snow on others. Often I close my own eyes and let myself sleep for a few minutes.

You don’t realize how much you are carrying until you give yourself permission not to bear the load. 

I have made the choice to honor these moments as rest in my day, rest for my body, yes. But more importantly, rest for my mind, rest for my soul. Everyone is different – I have never been a physically busy person, but my mind works at a fast pace, balancing a load of To Dos, doubts, fears, goings on, meal plans, anything from the very serious, Where Is My Life Going? to the very trivial, Who Won Best Actress at the Golden Globes?

It doesn’t matter what the content of these thoughts are, the busy swirl that goes round and round and round takes its toll. And I know the toll when I let it go.

Because every time – every single time – letting go leads to peace, rest, release, and it is so strong, so total, that I can feel my whole body relax.

Easily one of the best parts of last year was keeping a weekly Sabbath,  I’m borrowing the term from Jewish practice of rest on the seventh day of the week because it is the best example of total, God-honouring rest I can think of. I tried to do as much as I could in the first six days of the week, and when the last one came, the goal was to do as little as possible, to spend time with my family and to spend time reading and reflecting. It was a beautiful part of my week, but one of the worst parts of last year was when I stopped setting a day apart of the week to rest, to stop, to turn off. I stopped practicing Sabbath.

What is our aversion to stopping? To resting? Why is it something we have to force ourselves to do? Why does it seem so unnatural?

Your work may be in an office, at a construction site, your baby’s crib, the dirty bathroom, an unhappy child, typing words on a page, painting a canvass, teaching a classroom or a host of other occupations, but I’m going to be bold and say that I’m not alone here. You also struggle to put work aside, to come to a full stop.

Our world sends us two messages every day from the time we are born: “You are not enough. But you can be enough if you have ______. ” And we spend our lives, our time, our energy, our passions, our money, we will spend everything we have in the pursuit of that thing that will make us feel like enough. 

It is this journey to line our lives with adequacy that leaves us so finished and exhausted.

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This is why in 2015 I am drawing my boundary lines again around two places: One day of the week and one moment every day.

I am going to find a moment daily when I let my soul and body exhale. There is no giant time limit on this, it is the five minutes I spend watching my son fall asleep. It’s 30 minutes on a rug in front of a fire playing with cars. Two minutes spent lighting candles. Anything that welcomes rest.

And I put a wall around one day of the week, I am saying, No more. This day I will not engage my thoughts in things that for me are work. This day I will not do laundry, tidy up, stress out and make my family “do things.” What do I envision for this day? Playing a lot with two little boys. The phone is absent. The computer is off. I will cook – I love to cook. We will eat as a family, sometimes just us, sometimes with friends. I will choose to discipline my mind to not “go there” in the realm of busy, worrying, thoughts about what’s next and planning. We will pray. I will sleep when I can. I will chill out. I will not pressure the people around me to do as I do or live as I live. I will live freely from my space.

It means I will have to try to get some other things done on Saturday. Some of my projects related to writing or organizing and planning will have to end on Friday. I will have to create boundaries and limitations. There are activities that will remain undone. People will be disappointed. I will have to say, No. I will have to embrace imperfections. I will have to let things go.

Choosing sabbath rest is my declaration that I cannot do it all, that I am limited and fallen. Choosing sabbath rest is my radical belief that God will take care of my life, the details, everything. 

We are still in January, I have no idea how practicing a Sabbath will progress in 2015, but it’s one week at a time, one moment at a time. Last Sunday I was in bed with a cold; we will call it forced rest. Last week, I watched my little dragon fall asleep. I promise there is nothing more wonderful in the whole world that watching a green, three-and-a-half-year-old dragon fall asleep. Friday night I lit the candles in our windows, they are burned almost completely down, some were gone, but I lit them anyway. Because perfection is not welcome in our home or in my heart, and the perfect light of God will shine through our glorious imperfections.

Yesterday we had a big brunch with eggs and bacon, I read, wrote in my journal, my family napped. I tried not think about what comes next. It was restful. It was good.

Now it’s your turn: How do you rest? What do you need to do to stop the chase of enough in your life? Do you practice Sabbath in your day-to-day life? What does it look like?  

I’m linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and the #TellHisStory community.

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I have written here and elsewhere that 2014 was the worst year of my life, and these are the kinds of statements that become mantras. The worst. The hardest. Never Want To Go Back There. Over time I don’t even know why I’m saying what I’m saying. Have you ever been there? In that place where you’ve had a label for something for so long, you know the label, you trust the label, but the thing itself, you can’t even remember what’s there anymore.

Sleeplessness had something to do with it, adjusting to a new culture with no support system, darkness and cold, I think those were the standard replies I trotted out in response to any follow up questions when I declared 2014 The Worst Year of My Life. 

When I sat down at the end of last year to pray and dream about 2015, lists upon lists of thankfulness is what came out of me. You are not more surprised than I am.

Because here is what I remembered.

Husband. Who accepted me when I failed, who woke up with our children when I was too tired, who cooked and cleaned and folded laundry. Who laughed with me. Who took care of the boys while I spent many, many days away, recovering and healing.

Big Boy and Little Bear. Stunning creations, unique, overflowing with creativity, thoughtfulness and mischief. Every single day with them I have smiled at something they have done. They changed in 2014, both were in diapers at the start of the year, one is now in underwear all the time. One was only drinking breast milk, now he eats more than his big brother. They play and wrestle and fight and jump on each other. I cannot believe they belong to me. I cannot believe I have sat on the sidelines (or the floor) and watched them grow.

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Beauty. I live in a stunning city, beautiful buildings everywhere I turn, lakes, the sea, forests and fields. We live in a home that is full of beauty even when it is messy, we can walk to the water’s edge in less than a minute.

Friendship. A place of so much absence and bareness, a place where all I have known are the words goodbye and loss, 2014 brought the new. Friends with whom I can share my heart and my life, openly and honestly, with no judgment. Friends who share my creative passions. Friends who bring joy into the every day of our life. Friends who have lived life with me.

This isn’t even the half of it, only the major ones. I wrote three pages of thankfulness because there was so much, it overflowed out of me

I can imagine someone is wondering, But what about those essays you wrote about raging against God? What about the hard? The very, very hard things that happened last year? What about that? Oh, it was there my friend. Every week, every month, the ill wind howling in the face of every hope, you read about some of it here but most of the pain tucked itself away in my heart. The hard, it was here, it was real. 

But what I saw last week was the incredible good, the indescribable beauty, glory rising out of the ruins.

Our labels can keep us from seeing the truth. If the story of our life is written by nail-pierced hands, grace is the warm water that washes the pain, that wraps the bruise, that pours out peace.

Everything can be redeemed. 

Now it’s your turn: How do you look back on this past year? What were the toughest things that happened (if you want to share)? Have you seen beauty come out of those places? In what ways?