Monday, February 20, 2017

Annapolis MD

It’s a beautiful day in Annapolis. 



 

This is the city of all the people I used to be. I see them and hear them walking by. 

Girls talking to each other — “About lastnight…” 
Couples speaking quietly from a bench waterside. 
Uniformed Midshipmen's loved ones visiting because they could make it in time to enjoy the three-day weekend. 
Brand new parents pushing strollers outdoors, perhaps for the first time, ever-so tentatively. Will the air be good or bad for the new baby? 

I’ve even been the barista working behind the counter at Starbucks and watching the late-morning Monday crowd pile up in a seemingly endless stack. 
I’ve been the one with the Bible open next to my laptop, trying to find some nugget of inspiration to get people to see the Scriptures a different way, new way, fall-in-love kind of way. 

Coming down to Annapolis makes me gulp in beauty and fresh air like a starved convict, dying for more of this freedom. 
This place also makes me suck in my breath with gratitude at where I am today, as opposed to all the people I used to be. Thank god we get to keep growing. 
And it makes me a little melancholy at all the things I messed up in my past because I was so damn terrified of Pain. 

Surprisingly, the point of life is not to try and avoid pain. The point of life is to live it. Go ahead and minimize foolish risks, selfish risks, but don’t trash the things you love because of fear of pain, or disapproval. 

Spoiler alert: you can try to do that all you want, but pain is a gas and it can seep in through the tightest of seals. 

The good news is this: many happy lifeforms can coexist with pain. 
Pain does not mean that all pleasure, all joy, all happiness is totally suffocated. 
Both pain and joy, living and dying, sit down in the cafe together and talk. 
Both experiences elevate and illuminate one another. 


So in reality, where I’d like most to live, there is no sense in making a choice to abandon one or the other. Group hug on the city dock, with gulls floating above.



 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

After the Election, How about Some Peace on Earth?




 
We are the Christmas people. 

Fresh off the election season, I am suddenly eager to pour myself into the Christmas celebration.

I’m under no illusion that Jesus requires me to celebrate Christmas to any particular specifications (or at all), just as I am sure that He would endorse neither Presidential candidate. I do believe He’s given me the liberty to both celebrate the holidays and participate in the politics of this land while honoring Him from my heart and my actions the best I can discern, with prayer and careful intentions.

So here we go then. I’m a Christian facing the fact that my nation is led by someone I consider to be an abominable example of human conduct. As post-election days unfold, ugly tales of violence and hateful comments against non-white citizens are bubbling to surface, boiling over from dangerous rhetoric heated and salted during the campaign.

My heart hurts, it’s bleeding under my skin, bruising me through and through for people I love who are feeling unsafe; for people I don’t know, who are feeling unheard and unseen; for the brokenness that is so clearly present in the country I love. 

Not sure that I’ve ever been proud to be an American (I did nothing to make myself so), but I’ve always been grateful. Now, I am just so sad. 

Then right after the second Tuesday in November comes the holiday season. First we celebrate Thanksgiving. Next, we will celebrate Christmas. 




Christmas is maligned for the materialism associated that our culture eagerly engages in, starting with Christmas shopping commercials in September. Many people object if a Christmas song tickles the eardrums a moment before Black Friday dawns. 

But this year, this 2016 year, the election year — oh please, let the hope of Christmas flood all my senses. The sooner the better. 

This year, can we be Christmas people?

We think about each other, asking, “what would he want? what can I get her? what can I give that would surprise and delight?”

We plan and prepare. We anticipate the joy of our loved ones, and drive ourselves to distraction concocting a plan to outdo our love for them each year. 

Or, at least that’s how I do it. 

We believe it is better to give than to receive.

We wrap with paper and ribbons and arms around precious ones.

We sleep expectantly, and we awake. The falling asleep and the waking up is one of the most narrated and magical acts of Christmas. 

Let’s wake up early now, okay?




We open boxes and doors and living rooms and dining tables. We add extra leaves and chairs. Everyone gets a seat at the table.

Everyone gets a seat at the table. 

When it gets dark, when the nights are the longest and coldest, we keep lights burning. We don’t do it just plainly, we do it with finesse and with playful imaginations. We shine it out into the wild and icy outdoors with rainbow colors. We let it twinkle. 

We are patient with each other’s idiosyncrasies. 

We are grateful for each other and speak in ways we forgot to throughout the year. 

We reset, we feed one another, we sip warmth together, then we sleep again. We wake up in the morning and we embrace going back to normal as we clean up the mess that celebration leaves in its wake and we think… 

Is it really already over? What part of this can we carry with us all year? 

All of this to remember that our hope is wrapped up in Life. One new Life. 

We celebrate it over and over. We wait expectantly for new life that is wide enough to share some part with every person, and a celebration that never gets old and doesn’t stop, doesn’t hurt anyone, puts everyone else first. 

So let’s love without hypocrisy.
Let’s detest what is evil, while we cling onto what is good.
Let’s love each other like family.
Why not consider how to outdo one another in showing honor?
Let’s share with one another in need, and pursue hospitality together. 
We are people who will bless everyone, not curse anyone. 
As far as it depends on us, we will live at peace on earth with everyone else.
Oh yeah, and we’ll leave room for God’s wrath, He will repay with His vengeance. We’ll leave that to Him. To surprise and delight. 

(Romans 12:9-19, paraphrase mine)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Monday on vacation

Monday was a special day. It was our first full day in California and we woke up early in our hotel, which was an extended stay joint in Fremont with all vinyl wood floors and a distinct marijuana scent throughout. 

The place also featured really poor coffee for free(!) AND coin operated laundry machines. One of my packing strategies was to minimize the stuff we brought by making time to do laundry during the trip, so this fit the agenda. We needed coins, however. 

The best option was to patronize the local Denny's for some coffee and breakfast. It was great to walk out into the fresh scent of California air. [If you have never smelled California air, northern specifically, I don't know what to say. I just recommend it. You'll remember it always. At least, I have.]

While at Denny's, we got some great news we'd been waiting on about our house which made all the hard work we put in before leaving seem pretty worthwhile, and gave us another great start to the day. 

Side note: this Denny's featured several retirees eating breakfast. When I went to breast feed Levi, some guys who could easily pass for WWII veterans were staring at me. I'm pleased to say, this is this first and only time on this trip that I felt like I was drawing attention to myself breast  feeding. There is no moral to the story, just an observation and something that lodged itself in my memory. 

As we were leaving we got a bunch of quarters and headed back to the extended stay place to do a load of laundry. Then, from there it was time to pick up Nana!

Nana, my Nana, is my dad's mom and was a staple of life growing up. The few years we lived in California growing up she was only an hour away, so visits were frequent. She had several fun toys at her house that we always had to leave there so we'd have some toys to play with and books to read while visiting. I remember her shell collections, her letting us wear her wedding shoes (not allowed to go down the stairs in them!), And the legendary "NK" -- Naked Ken, a Ken doll with no clothes. She also had many great books which we enjoyed.

More than any of that, though, it was her kind and generous disposition, sense of humor, warmth, patience, kindness and fabulous story telling that endeared her to us. Although we moved alot and far away over the years, she always seemed close and special. We were always certain of the love and affection between us as her grandkids. 

For all those reasons and more, while missing her myself, it's also made me sad and frustrated that my kids never got to spend time with her so far in their young lives. Recent health issues have stopped her from flying out to visit. So I was incredibly excited for the chance to visit with her and bring the boys and Jhonny to her house where I spent so much of my childhood.

We picked her up and went to the local pho restaurant. She came complete with two pails full of hot wheels and bibs for Caleb and Levi, which certainly cemented her in at least Caleb's memory!



After a relaxed and lengthy lunch, we headed back to her house to play.

She wanted to show us her baby pic because Levi reminded her of what she looked like as a baby.


 Caleb enjoyed playing with some very vintage Fisher Price toys my siblings and I used to play with, too!
I spotted one of my sister's favorite classics:

J made sure we got a photo all together: 

It was a really nice visit. I hope she can come to visit us out East, or that we are able to make it out West again soon. I felt pretty sad to say goodbye but really thankful we saw each other.

After that, it was time for a quick nap for the jet lagged kids and Jhonny used the time to catch a few moments of the first Redskins loss of the season. 

Then it was off to Redwood City to see the Millards, some friends I made while working in Arlington. They moved to the San Francisco area over a year ago, and I have really missed them since. Janelle gave birth to Hudson the day I had my thyroid taken out, so they have a son who is a few months older than Caleb, and Janelle just had their second baby, Pierce, two weeks ago! Yes, somehow they still let us come over...



I love how fun-loving and adventurous and down-to-earth at the same time. They love people and make friends everywhere they go, while Logan is simultaneously ambitious and always thinking of new entrepreneurial ideas -- reminds me of Jhonny! In fact, the two of them carried on about their latest ideas while Janelle and I bonded over the experience of becoming moms of second sons. The boys played really well together with minimal toddler drama, and on the whole this visit just made me even more sad for myself and for my family that the Millards live so far away. However, what a treat to have a friend to go visit so close to my Nana! 
 
I'm feeling sorry I didn't take time to get better pictures of the adults and new baby!

It was a special, heartwarming day, and I'll not forget it anytime soon. 
 

 
 
 
 

Wednesday

Blogging a day at a time is not working! I inevitably get interrupted basically as soon as I start, but I feel like I'm already forgetting things so I'm jumping in!

YESTERDAY -- Wednesday 

We woke up freezing after our first night in the RV. We stopped in a place called Sly Park Recreation and set up RV camp in the dark. The temps dropped below freezing through the night and we each took a baby and tried to sleep by them to keep them warm. Funny part was, we agreed they both seemed unfazed by the cold and able to keep warm on their own, so they were both like "shove off, mom/dad!" 

Early in the morning we were cracking ourselves up reenacting how Jhonny took a tumble stepping down from the bedroom of the RV into the front section in the middle of the night. Then Caleb awoke when he fell out of the bed (onto a nice cushion) and we dissolved into hysterics yet again! He woke up in a good mood, and when we looked out the window we were all cheered further by the sight of a beautiful lake and picture perfect trees. 


Disgustingly clear water!



 
Levi not trying to prove he's the smart one (eats rocks)


Throwing rocks is  Caleb's second favorite pastime after making echoes, which were so impressive even the adults were getting in on the echo action.
 Just... Ridiculous. 



 Having a blast.


Caleb really loved this little lake and was hard pressed to say goodbye.

Poor fella.



 

We ate breakfast and showered in our RV, with only minor drama such as setting off the smoke alarm, as is our tradition, and Jhonny turning the RV in the middle of my shower because we were on a hill and all the water was pooling in the non-drain side of the basin! 

Once we got on the road, the glory was all in the scenery. The views are so beautiful it's impossible to describe or even to capture in a photo or remember. The things around you are so beautiful and so huge, they defy the human mind to comprehend. Jhonny said at one point, "I thought I had seen it all, but I have never seen anything like this."
Captures it perfectly.



 

We reflected:
1) this must be the terrain that inspired "America the Beautiful."
2) this is the type of topography I imagine David the psalmist to have been involved with when he was hiding out from Saul or walking his sheep, inspiring many Psalms and a huge, expansive faith.
3) this reminded Jhonny of what he knew of Afghanistan. It's little wonder that warfare in this type of setting would be extremely challenging, especially with limited infrastructure.
4) we were both reminded of Ecuador at points.
 
Even Caleb would excitedly spot mountains and cows.

We ended up in South Lake Tahoe, and stopped by the water for a pbj picnic and some playground time, chatting with two different families from Oregon. 





 Then it was time to get back on the road.
I brought several books to take out periodically for Caleb to look at. It's definitely difficult to be road tripping as an energetic two year old.

He's doing the best he can, and genuinely having a fun time, but definitely keeps us busy. At this point he's super confused on his time zones, feels tired easily, and sometimes cries that he misses his house. 

He's really interested in talking about emotions, and frequently asks Jhonny or me if  we feel mad or happy, or tells us when he's sad when he doesn't get his way. He's starting to realize that his choices have emotional consequences for other people, and we strive daily to teach him how to use that power for good when it comes to his little brother. *grin*

My body is absolutely covered in bruises, reminding me just how physical parenting two little ones 24/7 can be, and my mental stamina is challenged by thinking about the best way to motivate good behavior or respond to undesirable behavior, while hopefully getting somewhere in the vicinity of the heart of matters (as much as a 2y.o. Can comprehend). 

Just before dark, we closed in on Bridgeport, and found the last spot open in Paradise -- a quaint little RV park. 


We were just in time for the absolutely unbelievably gorgeous sunset: 


 And with that, we headed back to our camp, ate dinner, and went to sleep. 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 
 
 

Friday, February 27, 2015

I'm laying here all alone in a quiet room which I have all to myself for the better part of 24 hours. 

I got a cancer in my thyroid. I didn't know or think anything was wrong with me. My doctor heard some symptoms that troubled her expert mind, and when she looked into it she found it was Cancer.

They caught it so early there was no spread, although the little bugger surely had plans to try. Cancer wants to take over the whole body if it can. It wants to metastasize. It wants to be the biggest thing about your life.

It strikes me that I had no intentions of getting medical attention for a problem I never thought I had. A healthy, vegetarian, marathon-running newlywed -- does it make sense if have cancer? No.

And so it also strikes me that I cannot give myself credit for my life today or my general good health ever. I cannot give myself life or health. Once I receive life and health as gifts, I can try as I might but I cannot keep them if something stronger determines to take them.

My life is a gift. I believe it was a gift from God. That fact that He orchestrated any early detection of blood-thirsty, life-hungry cancerous little nodule means that He wants my days on this planet to continue. He's given me an extension of the gift. Praise Him! It can be mighty fun down here at times. And even when it's not, it is still a gift.

The lemon candies I'm eating for the treatment remind me of my childhood in Scotland, where we moved because my dad was in the navy. When we first arrived and we were in temporary lodgings, the innkeeper gave my sister and me lemon drops. I have a memory of narrow stairs, Scotland, and lemon drops. My sister filled in the rest. 

It blows my mind right now to think that when I sucked on lemon drops as a child, God knew I'd someday find myself in temporary quarters again, receiving follow up treatment for thyroid cancer, and I'd find such immense comfort in those little, innocent lemon candies. Every inch of this room that I might touch right now is covered in paper and tape, so I don't contaminate anything with radioactive body fluid. The nurses wear masks and slip things in to me through a cracked door like I'm a prisoner in solitary. 

But I am not at all alone. I have lemon candy memories.My sister is with me. My family is with me. My husband is with me, wrapped three times around that left-hand finger. My God who has never stopped watching over one iota of my story is with me. I hope the unfolding my story brings Him a smile, as it does to me. He has been so good to me. 

What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? (‭Psalm‬ ‭116‬:‭12‬ ESV)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sweet Victory

I confessed to my dear hubby Jhonny​ earlier this week that sometimes I am scared: scared because the doctors say to me, "If you have had cancer once, you are more likely to have it again." Scared because I have to try and make the right decisions about follow-up care without knowing the future, but weighing a lot of heavy jargon against the present moment. I see 34-year-olds saying goodbye to their babies. My baby will be 4 when I am 34. My baby will be 10 when I am 40. How many years?

Now the likelihood is I will live a long and healthy, robust and crazy life. I am so loving life these days. It is so sweet! But I am daily reminded that I am fragile and frail. Friends gone at a snap of the fingers. Who's next?

I recall my regrets. I made so many choices for Fear.

I miss my friends: the ones I've broken fellowship with because I am just so broken. And I dread to know my jagged edges caught some faithful ones. I miss you, dear hearts. 

I miss the ones who went too soon and too suddenly. It would be the truth to tell you that I miss you every day. 

I feel my enemy, nipping at my heels. The husband and I wonder sometimes if our dreams are in the safe zone, away from the enemy's grasp, because at times those nightmares are just so real.

Some nights it's so real and recurring, the repentance of regrets. The clear expression of apologies for all the fearfulness and running and escapism.

Lastnight I was there in life with someone I will never again speak to in this life. I just kept saying I'm so sorry for what I did to you. I'm so sorry for what I did to myself, cutting Me off from You. What I did to you I did because I was so afraid. I was afraid to feel the pain and I was so young.

Little did I know, but I learn as I grow, you CAN.NOT run from pain. You cannot escape it.

And you try so hard not to get hurt. And you hurt yourself because you ran from what could have been the balm for your soul. You reject the gift, because you are living Fearful.

And I have been haunted, because I will never utter those words in this life. I will never have that earthly solace to give apologies and receive that one's forgiveness. But I hope we can lock arms in eternity. Coexist as it was meant to be. No pain, and all that sweet gain.

The pain -- on this side of the page, it's a gift. Don't take away my presents! I want to be present.
Stop running.

My dear husband told me -- our hope is not here. Whatever happens, our hope is in eternity, and we trust Jesus Christ our Savior to sustain our people through this life. We don't trust in each other lasting forever in this life. We trust our Jesus.

When I shadowbox these nighttime messengers of guilt, I teeter at the edge of failure. When I remember my true hope, I remember that my victory is already decided, and I am empowered.

When I remember how I've failed my friends, I remember the Friend I need most is guaranteed, and has promised to wipe away all the tears that I've caused ... and cried.

"They like, 'I hear you talkin' wins but I see your losses
You celebratin' crowns but I see your crosses'
That's the paradox that don't fit in your merry box
You might not understand if you walk in this pair of socks
The victor ain't the one that's winnin' seventh inning
Trophies don't go to the ones that got a good beginning
When I say I win I don't mean the state I'm in
I mean that day when the grace got fade out then
I'm winning cause I ran with Him."