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Beauty from Ashes

sarah-mak-54250I grew up a church girl. We lived in this tiny house in Pasadena, a property with two houses stacked into it. Our family of six squished into the back house, while another family of six smashed into the front house. The horde of children played between the two houses and even though we looked quite different we were at some point just brothers and sisters.

We were this misfit community, primarily comprised of young first generation Christian families, and their hoard of children. We would play together daily, pray together on Sundays, and do life together the rest of the days, whether that was sharing a meal or sharing toys.

As children we’d to go from home to home playing magical ponies, and as we approached our pre-teen years discuss how awesome DC Talk was. Crushes would blossom and little hearts would get broken, but then somehow someone would mend them and on we’d go. We spent summers swimming and barbecuing, we did youth group in the various homes of people we felt more comfortable calling Auntie or Uncle than we did Mr. or Mrs. We’d essentially known each other all our little lives.

This is how we did church.

I occasionally get asked what my church background looked like, and if I had to sum it up in two words it would be “messy” and “lovely”. Sometimes in our little community we could lose where one of us ended and the other began. We, in some ways, just melted into each other. I was a child, and cannot pretend to know that it was really like for the adults. I assume something rip your heart out beautiful, but perhaps something a little without boundaries at the same time. Our lives and worlds were beyond intertwined.

I’d joke that we were one step away from snake charming and that there was a lot of Sunday writhing on the floor. This typically elicits a blank stare. You’d just have to be there.

Then it was the summer of ’95 and our world burned to the ground. Our people were dying and a string suicides rocked our little community. If my mom said the words “I need to talk to you,” I’d respond with “who is dead.”

The magic was over. We moved away. I grew up.

Some of the group scattered and some stayed in the same place. A part of me felt fractured, untethered. I felt much like a moth out of its cocoon subject to winds and weather.

I floundered. And kept floundering. I went off to college and did “my own thing” as so many faith-raised kids do. I decided to be angry with God for allowing my world to break apart. I decided faith was inconvenient. I decided church was an ugly place filled with hypocrites. I decided I wanted nothing to do with it. I decided to give up.

In truth, all those lovely days spent in our little comfortable community taught me what the church is supposed to look like, but unfortunately I didn’t come out of it with a solid foundation of who God was. Was He all knowing? All loving? Gentle or angry and wrath-filled?

I only had one-half of the piece. It’s taken me years to build a foundation under existing and at moments non-exsistant faith. One night in my early 20’s I came to the scary conclusion that the work was not going to do itself. I was not necessarily going to have a Saul on the road sort of meeting with God. My anger, agnosticism, hurt, resentment, confusion, brokenness, battle wounds, all of it, the whole wide messy package was something God could very easily hold in his hand.

I didn’t have to hide any of it.

I was studying abroad half-way across the world only to stumble into a church filled with Americans and ex-pats. The Pastor, fittingly, was from Southern California. Why I had to stagger around the world only to find someone that spoke my language to lead me back to Christ, I don’t know, but forever I’ll be grateful. This little church did church much like that messy little church in Pasadena. We broke bread together, did life together, watched Alias together.

I somehow ended up teaching Sunday school. They allowed broken messy me to teach Sunday school. We entered the season of Lent. Spring was upon us, there seemed to be more bread and wine passed during those 40 days and nights. There was a reverence and beauty that I hadn’t experienced in my past church life.

Then it was Easter Sunday. We rose before the sunrise and drove into the countryside. We climbed a hill and celebrated the resurrection as the sun rose. Right there, in that very moment, the profound impact of Christ’s sacrifice hit my heart like a freight train. Right there, from the ashes of my past I could see beauty and freedom and life and joy and release in a way I had never yet experienced.

There, right there, beauty from ashes.

 

 

 

Photo Cred: @sarahmakphotography

 

 

 

 

An Invitation to Slow Living – If Only for Today

bethany-laird-311248A little over a year ago my sweet little ginger baby girl was still nursing. She didn’t sleep through the night until I weaned her, waking several times and crying out to me. We lived in a haze of exhaustion.

In the morning, at first light, she’d wake, screaming, until I came to her. We’d start our morning routine; fresh diaper, snuggles and nursey-time on the couch, while my sweet husband prepared coffee. My little boy made himself busy playing Legos and for almost a solid hour I’d sink into our love-worn sofa letting this little baby nuzzle me.

Mornings look different now. How a year can change things. I roll out of bed at 5am to teach English to sweet little Chinese students half-way across the world. My little boy is becoming more and more self-sufficient, dressing himself in his school uniform and often even preparing his own breakfast. As I walk up the stairs from my basement office I can often hear him giggling to Fineas and Ferb, and yes he figured out how to turn on the T.V. and navigate Netflix long ago.

Baby girl still wakes up crying, but not for me, instead for her little dog, Pepper—the source of her morning snuggles.

By 7:30 it’s a rush to get out the door, coffee spills on the counter and oatmeal bowls in the sink. Of to school and work my gentlemen go, while baby girl and I head to the gym. The days are regimented and life works well this way.

But today, my body feels older than my thirty-some years, I scroll Instagram and see young mothers who seem to have all the energy. Whereas most days we’re barely making it. We opt-out of the gym for the day and determine what chores need to be done and what can wait. We make our world small, focusing only on the here and now. The big stuff can wait. Today my body needs to rest, my little girl needs snuggles and a tea party-mate.

Somedays, this is what we need to do, lean into the quiet, allow for rest and games. It’s a big grand world out there, but it’s just as grand in our little space.

Mommas, we all need this occasionally, rest for the weary, the oxygen mask on first, the time on the floor with a toddler. The slow and beautiful of life. The quiet morning, day.

The do-er in me feels a level of guilt when leaning into the quiet and slow, but I read somewhere that we aren’t built for breakneck speeds. Yet life and society tend to demand it. There will always, always, always be a need for us to do, do, do.

Today, I quiet, I listen to that rhythm in my soul, and dear friend, I give you permission to do the same.

 

Photo Credit: Photo by Bethany Laird on Unsplash

Teachers & Momma’s: To Learn About my Stay at Home Teaching Gig Click Here.

 

 

It’s Been a While

elijah-o-donell-392340It’s been a while since I’ve logged in. Even longer since I’ve strung words together in a coherent manner. I last wrote at the beginning of summer vacation with promises to fully enjoy my children, the sun, the sand, the ocean air in my lungs.

We enjoyed it all. The ice cream down our faces, the sun until our skin peeled, the sand tracked everywhere—sand that I’m still finding in random places, all these months later. I set it all down with the promise of promptly picking it back up when the littles went back to school.

But then our house flooded and we were living in what felt like a never-ending construction zone. And then there was a retreat and a trip out of town and there were guests and trips to see the fall foliage and costume shopping and visits with friends and laundry and dishes and and and…

Suddenly, I realized that summer is so very over and here we are knee-deep into fall and the writing has just stopped, dried up. I promised a few of my faithful followers to stay-tuned, the hush of the blogosphere was so that I could focus my efforts on my book. I dutifully sat down to finish Bloom and stared at the words piled upon words and felt riddled with self-doubt. “Why am I even writing?” I challenged myself, questioned my motives, attacked my own ego.

I can think of about a thousand things I need to do right now, finish planning that party I’m hosting, write all my thank you cards that are years overdue, finally re-paint our bedroom, sort and wash the laundry, catch up with that friend who needs encouragement, make those phone calls.

The list is truly endless.

This journey began as I sat at my computer nearly two years ago. I sat in Emily P. Freeman’s “HopeWriters” workshop and she said something so brutally honest it caused water to spill out of my eyeballs. “The world needs to you come to life.” 

Lately, I’ve been looking at the world with agony and a pit in my stomach. I have hope through my faith, and yet I stare out and am completely broken by our brokenness. My heart breaks in unexplainable ways for the people of this world, for those who suffer, endure tragedy, for those left behind. I want to weep and carry their pain, and then I also want to find a rock to hide under.

I can allow this empathy to swallow me whole. I can sink into it and never resurface, and while empathy comes from love, losing oneself to it is the antithesis of coming to life.

And so, while this world is a hard place to find breath in, and while I struggle with self-doubt and ego and constant busy-ness I’ve realized that I have to remain committed to the process. These words are my process, they are my gift to myself and something to share with you who has chosen to read them. I’ve missed you and them, so I’m back, welcoming myself, with a little more grace and tenderness. It feels good to be here, alive and breathing.

-Rachel

 

 

photo credit: @elijahsad unsplash 

Postal in the Post Office – Mom Life

jason-rosewell-60014.jpgThe line in the post office was long. I had two kids in tow and we were quickly approaching naptime, but I had a package I needed to get out so I hoped for the best and stayed the course. The line slowly shuffled forward. My son said words like “boring” and “forever” and asked questions like “how much longer?” While my son articulated his impatience my two-year-old demonstrated her angst physically. She began throwing her body around, touching everything and even at one point yelling something that sounded a lot like “you’re a bad bad mom.”

I resorted to sweeping her up in my arms, I pulled the package from my purse along with my credit card. I’d have everything ready to go, I’d be quick, I promised my children.

Finally, after what felt a lot like an eternity we made it to the front. A tall gentle-faced woman waved me to her station, I prepared to exhale. “See, this will be easy,” I confidently thought to myself. I quickly handed her the package and said: “whatever is cheapest.” She inspected the package and furrowed her brow. “You don’t have enough tape,” she explained. I stood there blank-faced. I wasn’t really sure that the appropriate amount of tape was, the package was closed and safely sealed. We both stared at each other for a moment, after a pause she sighed and said, “well because I’m so nice I’ll tape your package for you, but in general we want our packages properly taped before we can process them.”

My two-year-old continued squirming in my arms and my six-year-old was now jumping up and down and hanging from the counter. The new long line that had assembled behind were now starring, begrudgingly I’m sure. I started sweating like a pig and muttered something to the effect of “thank you, you can see my hands are full.”

Then it was time to pay, the package would cost $2.67 to send. I swiped my credit card quickly and hoped to bolt from the watching eyes of everyone in line behind me. “The machine isn’t ready yet,” the teller said, “Not yet, not yet, okay now.” I swiped my card again and then she stopped me, “Wait is this credit?” “Yes,” I replied. “I need your identification.” My ID was buried at the bottom of my purse, the abyss, which was at my hip, meaning finding my ID would require I set my daughter down and chance her bolting toward the door, not an option I decided. “Why didn’t I bring my stroller?” I lamented. I struggled and did the “I’m trying not to lose my kid and still grab something for you dance.” I’m pretty sure the people behind me at this point were rolling their eyes and sighing.

I finally found my wallet, flipped it open and essentially waved it in her face. It was low, rude, and totally unacceptable. “Wait for your receipt,” she practically yelled at me. I pulled it from her hand and hustled the kids to the car, chiding them the whole way. “How can you behave like that in public?” But an inner voice spoke to me, “how can you behave that way?”

I hastily buckled my toddler into her seat and gave her a stern look. “That was naughty,” I scolded. Her chin began to quiver and big huge crocodile tears began to roll down her face. “I’m a bad girl!” she cried. My son just curled himself into a ball in his booster seat, as if knowing that Mom was no longer “cool.”

And he was right. I had lost my cool. I was frustrated, embarrassed, and pretty much sick of myself. Why couldn’t I just let that lady roll off my shoulders?

I got home, got the kids in the house and took a moment. I texted a friend about the encounter and just sat with myself for a moment. I concluded that some days I just can’t do people. Or as my new friend puts it, “it’s just too people-y out there.”

Pretty unbecoming of a Pastor’s wife huh? Aren’t I supposed to have endless amounts of patience and an ever soft-tongue? I should be constantly gracious and always even-tempered, right? But the fact is that I am so just very me, and perhaps this highlights my need for Christ. My deep deep need for Christ, because without Him—can I just be totally honest—without Him I could have gone postal in that post office.

In an ever-changing world, I need Christ as my steadfast metric, my example for living. However, (still being honest and Rachely) I’m so thankful for Christ’s large range of emotions. I’m so thankful that alongside love and compassion He did express anger and frustration. He flipped tables in temples and put people in their places. Now, not that I should go around flipping tables or people off for that matter, but I am allowed to feel frustration. I don’t have to berate myself when I feel my jaw clenching, but I do absolutely need to express my emotions properly and keep myself in check.

So, in check, I sit. Self-assessment complete. Done and done.

However, all self-checks aside, I’m pretty sure I’ll be avoiding the post office for a good long while.

 

 

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Our Numbered Days – Parenting

We rush into swim lessons. Baby girl in on my hip. She is perfectly capable of walking but for the sake of expediency I whisk her into my arms. My little boy holds her foot, tugging me in a downward backward motion. I just want to get out of the hot sun.

“Stop pulling me down!” I snap.

We check baby girl into her play class and she trots happily to the toys she’s claimed as her own. We walk toward the pool, mindful not to slip on the wet deck. He’s jumping off the walls. Literally. Always. He’s either bouncing off the walls or dead asleep. There is no in between.

“Come on buddy.” I try to take the harshness out of my voice.

He puts his little hand in mine and walks determinedly towards the orange cones that separate Turtle from Clown Fish. He finds his fellow Turtles and jumps into the pool. His energy direct towards his instructor.

I can see her mouthing “No no. Do not splash me.”

I giggle a bit, but try to maintain composure. “Stay strong,” I think. “They can smell fear.”

I reassure myself, “This will be easier. Less physical.”

I hurt all the time. I constantly have a two-year-old on my hip or running  head-first into my pelvis. Or my 6-year-old who now has “muscles” attempting to pick me up, which really is more like getting hog-tied around the ankles. He’s taken me down more than once.

“It will get easier.”

But then I think about his little hand in mine. Her little words and the ways she says her “L’s” like “U’s”. I imagine when it gets easier he won’t be putting his hand in mine, in fact he’ll probably be embarrassed to hug and kiss me in public.

Yes it will get easier, my body might even hurt a little less, but then these moments will be gone, replaced by something else. I hope that whatever it is replaced with is equally tender and lovely, but for now I realize I need to lean into the chaos and the six-year-old hanging on my tiny shoulders. He will outgrow me in a split second, the hand being held will be mine in his. Mine as he grows, mine as he goes.

Mine as he steps in manhood, adventure and the unknown. It will get easier, but it will get harder, and then this sweet moment will have passed.

How We Cope

erik-lundqvist-221875Last week a 6-year-old Alabama boy is murdered in the backseat of his Mother’s stolen car. Yesterday a home-made bomb maims and kills over twenty people. From the cozy interior of my Utah home life hasn’t changed.

But it has. It does.

The weight of life’s seemingly endless cruelty and senselessness can be together all too much. Even with tragedies in my own personal experiences I still feel utterly unprepared to cope with the reality of our world.

Bad things happen. Bad things have always happened. Bad things are going to continue happening.

The weight of this conclusion can catapult my mind-set from warrior mentality to broken-victim. I want to hide under my covers, turn off the news and incessant updates and hold my children tightly. I want to create a magical peaceful space for them. I want, desperately, to protect them from what is and what may be.

And yet: I know full well that I cannot do this. I cannot hold them tight to my chest and create an illusion in place of reality. Doing so would leave them ill-equiped for this world. They’re little yet and while I do not show them all of my grief I do feel the urgent need to talk to them. To speak truth and not fairy tales.

We travel. Our loved ones live from coast-to-coast, some in major metropolitan areas. In just about every episode of 24 or every doom and gloom apocalyptic film one of these two areas are the first to go. Sometimes it feels like the writing is on the wall.

And yet: We choose life. Scary dangerous amazingly beautiful fill-you-up and break-you-down life. Even when it hurts, and it does absolutely hurt.

Somedays so much so that I lay awake with tears burning down my cheeks. It hurts. To live is to hurt. To love is to hurt.

But how do we keep living in all the hurt?

When I was a teenager my aunt sent me a card. The inscription of the front read: “You had a talk that fought back the darkness.”

A talk that fights darkness.

When I think about healing and coping, and just having the courage and strength to come back from pain, grief, brokenness, loss… it always starts with “talk”.

After my Dad and Brother died it was talking with friends, sharing my story that ultimately made life life again. After my Uncle’s loss to cancer it was talking and weeping with my therapist. When something across the world rips my heart out it’s calling my sisters or sending long-winded texts to my brother-in-law. It’s praying out loud and laying it all down, but it’s never ever silence.

The pain and darkness win in long-kept silences.

We need each other. I always come back to this. In my own faith community I need people to weep with and trusted friends to hold space as I lament. I need to see goodness and love and kindness to breathe. This holding space becomes creating breath, life, air.

This is how we cope. This is how we heal.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Erik Lundqvist/Unsplash