A Legacy for Seventy

My husband’s parents and grandparents and our niece were visiting for the week, and we had just spent our morning marveling at giant redwoods. The kids climbed over enormous roots and into dark hollows. We stroked soft bark and stretched our arms around massive trunks. Light streamed in shafts down to the forest floor, illuminating small spaces in an otherwise dark place. It was magical.

Now we were on our way to make a wish come true. My husband’s grandfather (our children’s great-grandfather), a man who has rarely ventured away from home, wanted to see the Pacific Ocean. He was courageous enough to board a plane at nearly 80 years of age, and we were happy to take him the rest of the way. After being in the shadows of thick redwood forest for several hours, the darkness abruptly parted and revealed a brilliant blue expanse. The intensity of light nearly blinded us. There she was–the Pacific Ocean–sparkling endlessly into the distance.

We found a quiet stretch of beach and parked. Squealing children tumbled out of our two cars and were running on black Pacific sand within seconds, banishing all quiet with their exuberant delight. A couple adults ran after the kids, and the rest stayed back to set up Grandpa in his wheelchair and watch his dream unfold.

Grandma wheeled him through sand to water’s edge. Grandpa bent over and slowly removed his shoes, then his socks. Grandma asked if she should push him a little closer to the waves. He said, no, the waves would come to him. Behind me children laughed and screamed and played chase with the ebbs and flows of water, oblivious to all else. Before me a man sat silently, almost expressionless. But as he watched the waves come closer, I knew he too was oblivious to all else. He was lost in the roars of wild Pacific waves and the smell of salt air and the feeling of wind on his face. And the waves inched closer.

I was riveted, watching this man watch the sea. We all look a little more frail against a backdrop so overwhelming and powerful, but a white-haired man in a wheelchair makes the contrast greater still. Yet in his eyes there was no trace of fear. Only wonder. In his eyes he was as young as his great-grandson rolling, fully clothed, behind me in the sand.

And then out of nowhere came a wave that rushed to him and then past him with such force it sent everyone but his bride running from his side. Grandpa had said the waves would come to him, and they did. I was a bit further away and managed to capture the moment on my phone camera.

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This image brings tears to my eyes, because in it I see a man old enough to have 70 great-grandchildren (yes, 70!) and plenty of health problems; yet he is still fully alive. And I realize an incredible truth: that being alive has nothing to do with age and physical prowess. It has everything to do with heart. And in his heart this man is both wise and young. My children will be blessed by his legacy.

My mind wanders back to just hours before when we stood amongst redwoods much older than Grandpa will ever be and another spontaneous phone photo. Our vanilla boy had climbed into the curves of a redwood with his great-grandfather watching from below. The image my husband captured says everything.

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The Struggles of an Idealist

After flying across the country with three young children and a belly bigger than a basketball, I was ready for sleep. The drive from the airport to our new home seemed much longer than I was told. But when we arrived and I walked in the front door of our new house for the first time, it didn’t feel new at all. It felt familiar. It felt like home. The thick straw bale walls curved around me like a giant welcome hug. Even though it was different than what I had constructed in my mind through photos, everything was just the way it should be. And so we tucked our little ones to bed in their new room, and I slipped into dreamland within minutes of entering mine.

In the morning, after reacquainting myself with rooms I had seen only through sleep-deprived eyes the night before, I stepped outside our home’s hugging walls to explore our land. My tour ended in the garden, where I stood in a beautiful jungle of tomatoes, kale, carrots, garlic, onions, raspberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, rhubarb and more.  I was giddy with excitement. This is what my garden needed to look like next year. I am an idealist, and the abundant diversity around me immediately became my ideal.

But I was also scared. Really scared. In Uganda Shawn managed the garden. Now it was my turn, but my gardening experiences are few, and my successes are fewer. I definitely have more success killing plants than growing them. So with my excitement rivaled by fear, I made a plan; and the plan began with properly preparing the garden for winter.

But I got carried away with setting up my home inside. I was frantically nesting before our little one arrived. And then little one did arrive, and I didn’t even make it outside to collect the mail for a while. That required getting out of my pajamas, and that was more than I could handle. Shawn and Ava managed to plant garlic and cover them with a blanket of leaves. I watched, thankful and embarrassed. It took them less than an hour. I could have done that, but I didn’t.

Winter came and went. Little one and I became more familiar with each other. I became more comfortable with being a mama of four. I became more comfortable, but not necessarily more adept. I just let more things slide. Like the pile(s) of laundry and the cleanliness of the bathrooms. In Uganda I had help. Sweet Christine washed our clothes by hand four days a week, and my very dear friend Kizza helped me clean. We had one bathroom in Uganda. Now we have three. In Uganda the boys peed outside more than they peed inside (they really only came inside to eat dinner and sleep). Now they pee inside more. Boys really need to learn that peeing is not a game. Pee first. Talk later. Otherwise, the one using the bathroom inevitably swings around to answer the other before he is finished peeing. And all moms of boys know exactly how that turns out.

The point is, I was consumed and many times overwhelmed with all the tasks inside my home. I squelched thoughts about the garden. It was too much. And so spring came, days warmed, and still I remained–for the most part–inside. Because of all the natural light and fresh air in the house, it wasn’t half bad. But I was shocked how days could so quickly be filled with laundry, picking up, baking, cooking, emailing, errands, and cleaning (and that not enough). I was rarely on top of things enough to enjoy the out-of-doors on a daily basis. We still went hiking and found time to go to the river and lake, but day in, day out I was stuck inside.

And the garden sat. And all thoughts about the garden felt heavy. And when a task looms over me that way, I get paralyzed. The downward spiral of inaction takes over. I don’t like that, in fact I hate it. And so along with everything else, I feel guilty. All over a garden.

Then Shawn said to me, “You know, you don’t have to plant the whole garden. Just do one bed.” It’s a wise idea, don’t you think? An idea that could free me from feeling overwhelmed and scared! It could release me from inaction! I would no longer feel guilty! But I’m an idealist, you see, and it’s very hard for an idealist to let go of her ideals. In many ways I would rather feel burdened and guilty than give up my ideal, because giving up an ideal feels a lot like giving up.

And so for several more weeks the garden sat. Until last week.

Enough was enough.

All the being inside was making me grumpy and (quite honestly) mean, and that affects my family. So now the garden catastrophe wasn’t just hurting me.

And that’s where I draw the line.

So I have made a decision. From now until cold days come again, we have some new rules in our family:

  • I am not baking bread. My family will still feel loved if I feed them store bought bread.
  • We will live outside more and so will our messes.
  • The boys can pee outside.
  • It’s okay if the garden is ugly and lacks abundance and diversity. I’m new to this.
  • I’ll plant one bed. It might succeed. It might not.
  • I’ll try to water what I plant. This might help increase my chances of not killing things.
  • Regardless of its outcome, I will enjoy being in the garden. We’re just getting acquainted.

My garden will be the project of an idealist struggling to surrender. It will be my therapy. It will not be my masterpiece.

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The Problem with an International Life

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While in Uganda, we wrestled with the reality that our children were living their formative years out of reach from their grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins, and all the “like family” people in our lives. Skype was sketchy, and it’s hard to understand a two-year-old on the phone. Our children knew our family best through the stories we told of them. We showed them photos until the photos became their own memories.

Now that we live in the States, even though we don’t live down the road from family, we are much more connected. Visits are more frequent, Skype works (almost) every time, and the mail is (more) reliable. This part of American life we love. Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but too much distance for too long just makes the heart ache.

The problem is, now we have another problem. Now our hearts ache for our loved ones in Uganda. And I am trying desperately to keep my kids’ fading memories of Uganda alive. We talk about “our people” there, who and what we miss. They want Auntie Kizza to mail them posho in a box and their friends to come over and play. They want to see the cows and pigs and Kato driving the tractor. They want to race Moses on their bikes around the mango loop and watch Papa playing basketball with the secondary school boys. Yet already some memories are slipping away. They recognize a face in a photo but can’t recall a name. I give them a simple direction in Luganda, and they ask me what it means (and they used to know more than I). Someday their own memories will be few, and they will know our loved ones best through the stories I tell. And that makes my heart ache.

I am thankful my family has been able to live internationally and will always be globally minded. The best part is building relationships. But that is also the hardest part. The more places we go and relationships we build, the more people and places we miss. The deeper our hearts ache.

It doesn’t matter where we live, we will always be far far away from loved ones.

I wouldn’t trade it for the world, though, this loving people in so many places. In fact, I hope we continue to meet people from all corners of the earth. I want to know–and I want my children to know–what Jesus’ love-for-the-world really looks like. I don’t want that to be an abstract idea to them. When they hear about Jesus loving the world, I want them to see faces in their minds–faces they love too.

The face we see in our minds today is Moses’, a boy who is quickly becoming a man.

Today is his birthday.

If I were with him today, I would cook him chicken and rice, and we would talk while he stirred the sauce. Then as I baked the cake, he would play hide-and-seek with the kids. When it was time to eat, Shawn would say a prayer for Moses, and we would all take turns saying something we loved about him. The kids would say they love playing with him (because no one plays with them more). Shawn would say he loves how Moses takes initiative and is growing in responsibility and character. I would say I love his gentle heart. And his joy. We would all tell him we love him so so…so much.

This love that we have for Moses…and Kanakulya and Kizza and Nana and Andrew and Patricia and Ibra and Christine…it’s worth all its aches. But sometimes it really hurts.

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Worlds Apart

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It’s just Baby and me in cherry red minivan, driving this winding highway. Thick layers of hills and oscillating roads remind me ever so slightly of our landscape in Uganda.  The road texture, however, does not. These roads feel like fine butter beneath car wheels compared to the rain-battered pot-hole cluttered roads in our former homeland. Nevertheless, my mind wanders to a place familiar yet so far away. I remember sticky hot journeys on those roads, traveling to and from Town. While juggling toddler at my side and infant in my lap, we would jostle between equally sweaty carpooling companions and wipe dust from our eyes. We would lurch forward and backward with the vehicle’s every abrupt stop for chickens or children and swerve sideways with every attempt to avoid clashes with cow horns. My babies rarely napped in cars without being startled awake by a disco-party-on-wheels or midday/mid-week church revivals or honking horns. Oh my nerves…the honking horns.

This slip into memories halts abruptly because of wales from my little traveling companion. The afternoon is warm, and Baby seems a bit uncomfortable, so I turn on air conditioner ever so slightly. Sun is in her eyes, so I lower the sun shield. She relaxes into the cushioned curves of her car seat and drifts back to sleep. All is quiet except for the gentle blowing of cool air through vents. How different her young days are compared to those of her siblings. I stop all other thoughts and let this one sink in. My wee one number four will only know our Uganda life through photos, stories, and perhaps a short trip or two. Her life–and this new life for our whole family–is worlds apart from the land of her conception. And to her Uganda will always be a foreign place.

I pause this thought and check my heart. Does this make me sad? Happy? What am I feeling about…all…this? I can’t tell. I’m not sad. I’m not happy. Our life in Uganda was full of intense emotion and brokenness and need and grace and simple day-to-day life, and some days I loved it, and some days I hated it. Our new life in a world of smooth roads and car seats is also full of intense emotion and brokenness and need and grace and simple day-to-day life. And some days I love it, and some days I hate it.

Clearly the brokenness and need of these two places are in some facets starkly different; but people everywhere are essentially the same: we desperately want–we desperately need–the Full-Life. Some of us are still searching to discover what that actually is. Others feel hopeless because we feel it will forever be out of our reach. A few of us believe we have both discovered and obtained it…but no one is completely blind. Even the most fulfilled people know this world is a far cry from Utopia. And we have our differing opinions on why that is.

This babe of mine in the backseat is growing in a place where need and brokenness are not as apparent as in the homeland of her siblings. External comforts easily mask inner need. But I will teach her to recognize brokenness beneath the surface, just as my other children have learned to see the people behind the need. And all my children will grow up loving the world, because–after all–it’s because of His love for the world that Jesus died. These four little ones still under my wing will learn that Jesus is the way to Life-to-the-Full and that Grace is for every last one of us.

And in these things our two worlds are one.

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To learn more about our life in Uganda, visit our former blog.

Font of Limitless Beauty

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“[Nature is] a symphony that plays on whether or not I stop to listen. If we cannot judge for certain whether or not the world is  friendly, at least we can judge it a font of limitless beauty.”

P. Yancey

1000 Pieces

1000 Pieces

With wind whistling through evergreens white and coals cooling in wood-burning stove, we agonized over pieces of water and trees. This puzzle had been the gathering place for our weekend’s heart-to-hearts. For three treasured days Jess and I left our worlds to retreat into snowy Colorado mountains, counting on fresh air, quiet, and honest conversation to refresh our souls.  And now it was all coming to a close. As only friends of twenty years can do, we had flitted from silly childhood memories to tear-stained confessions of today, seamlessly moving forward and backward in time without preface or back-story. We are no longer neon-rimmed-sunglass-wearing-brace-faced sixth graders, and our childhood scars on knees and elbows now have plenty of  counterparts on our hearts. But all those layers of memories and experiences have made us into…us. And there are few things more beautiful than being embraced by one who remembers it all, sees you today, and believes in your tomorrow–even when that tomorrow feels like a closet full of scary shadows that look an awful lot like monsters.

And something inside us relished the simplicity and controllability of putting 1000 pieces exactly where they should be. We were almost there. Five pieces to go. Then three…two…one…and…wait. No final piece. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! This puzzle was supposed to quench our thirst for predictability and order. Every space was supposed to be filled, and together those pieces-in-their-proper-places were supposed to come together and show us the bigger picture. And that picture was supposed to be perfect. And it was supposed to be worth all that hard work!

But there we sat, staring at hole-in-the-picture, unable to enjoy any satisfaction of puzzle-almost-finished. All we could see was Empty Space, and all we could think about was Missing Piece. This was not how we had imagined it. This could not be how our weekend of deep pondering and honest professions would end.

As the last of fire-heated air slipped away through cold cabin cracks, our most heart-aching questions lingered unanswered. Missing Piece must be found. For the sake of our hearts, Empty Space must be filled. We needed assurance that somehow the 1000 pieces of our lives would eventually come together to create one beautiful, united picture. We could be okay with our lives’ dark pieces and missing pieces and pieces-without-places if we knew it would all come together. And that all this hard work would be worth it.

And just as we were accepting our disappointment and preparing to dismantle our almost-finished hard work, we found it. Not under a chair or behind a half-empty glass. There it was, on the puzzle, next to the very hole it needed to fill. It was probably there for a very long time, waiting to be discovered.

Final pieces always bring joy, but this one deserved to be framed. We too will discover our answers. But just as we search, we must also wait. Missing-Piece-Now-Found tells us Jesus is right: The picture will one day be perfect. And complete.

And worth it.

This post is dedicated to Jess. 

Moments Worth Celebrating

When I was young, my father often listened to the piano music of George Winston in the evenings. His songs were my lullabies, and even today they have a powerful calming effect over me. Each song has its own personality and set of emotions. Before I was old enough to recognize what I was listening to, I fell in love with them.

As an adult I am a great lover of music of many genres, but single-instrument music can disspel my stress and slow my heart rate better than any other. I like to hear every nuance and emotion of an instrument, and I cannot do that when other sounds distract me–even other instrumental sounds. After a while it all begins to mush (not mesh) together. Too much of it can unsettle me. Thank God for Winston lullabies. How many nights would I have wrestled with sleep if the soundtracks for Dad’s unwind time had been the (beautiful) symphonies of Bach?

This need for single focus crosses into other aspects of my life. I am terrible at multitasking. Whoever said women are better than men at multitasking did not include my husband and I in their generalizations. The more he has going, the better Shawn works–and the happier he is. Me…not so much. Yesterday a long distance friend called just as I had pulled everything out to make bread. Over the course of an hour-and-a-half conversation, I managed only to mix the dry ingredients. And I even messed that part up. I do my best work slowly and in relative silence.

You can imagine, then, that being a mother of four young children can be challenging for me. It’s true. I have had some low moments. I have had some low seasons. This is why I long so desperately to see the beauty in the midst of distraction! I believe this is my most difficult yet important work of this time of children young and four. If I can do it, anyone can. And so I must rejoice in my victorious moments, no matter how small or brief.

Yesterday, after long conversation and dry ingredients mixed, three sets of semi-clean hands helped me measure and pour and mix. If you have ever attempted baking with children, you do not need to work hard to picture the scene: Flour coating counter, stools, floor, clothes. Molasses trails squiggling from bottle to bowl. Cooking utensils doubling as cars and trucks, crashing into one another and making messy scene messier. It was a recipe for pounding heart and tense muscles. Yesterday, however, instead of tension I got joy. Somehow I stood in the chaos, took it all in, and smiled. I think I even laughed. At that moment my life was full of sticky hands and floured noses and so… much… joy.

Moment of victory.

I was able to see and hear amidst the chaos of sights and symphony of sounds! For some that may come naturally; but if you are like me, you understand that moments like this are worthy of celebration.

And I love any reason to celebrate!

Have you had any victory moments lately? Well then stop focusing on the other ones, and celebrate! God knows it will at least lighten us up a bit.