A Bite Out of the Sun: An Eclipse Story {for SheLoves}

We were among the fools who drove hours to put ourselves in the Path of Totality for the eclipse. At the risk of ramping up the sense of FOMO for those of you who skipped it, I have to say the experience ranks among one of the most inspiring of my life.

We spread out our ratty quilt next to the river, claiming our spot in the RV site that claimed to be a “resort,” but was really just several hundred campers smashed into tiny gravel lots charging $120 a night. But since hotels in Casper, Wyoming, were $399 a night and my parents had the foresight to reserve a spot nine months ago, we pitched a tent for our family of five on the rocks behind their camper.

Mostly, we waited. The kids became instant best friends with the family across the gravel path who had driven overnight from Vegas. We tried on our opaque eclipse glasses, gazing at the burning dot, then checking our phones again for the time. A man set up a mammoth telescope and let people look through it, for the small price of having to hear him marvel about the wonders of a divine creator, to the great irritation of my parents’ atheist friends.

We settled on the blanket to the whining of our three-year-old, demanding that she have her hot pink camping chair. My husband darted back to the site to get the chair, with just two minutes to totality. The temperature was dropping, the sky darkening to twilight. Terrified my children would stare at the sun and go blind, I yelled at my daughter to put on her glasses, panicking that I myself had looked at the sun, now just a sliver of light, without my glasses. I was glad our baby was fast asleep in my parents’ camper so I wouldn’t have to obsess over him not ogling at the sun.

My husband returned just in time. The girl next to me suddenly shouted, “Take off your glasses!” After so many minutes of stressing over wearing the glasses, we finally yanked them off and found ourselves frozen, trance-like in the horrific wonder of a modern-day science fiction film.

The campsite erupted with noise and motion. The adults shrieked wildly and the children spun in circles–pirouetting, twirling, cartwheeling and hugging one another in the eerie light. We were Frodo, our vision transfixed on the eye in the fires of Mordor. The moon was a smooth black orb, framed by the most brilliant shock of light I have ever seen. Touching my cheek, I realized I was crying.

The trees, grass and river glowed with the light of dusk—or perhaps dawn. A pinpoint of light pierced the darkness and the diamond glinted off the side of the burning ring. This was the end–the finale that left us speechless except we suddenly knew that we were small and nature and space could drastically dwarf our overinflated sense of self. We knew light and dark could dance together and we’d survive the harrowing nightmare.

Totality lasted two minutes and twenty-two seconds. In that short span, the supernatural peeled away reality to reveal life in all its wildness and God in all His glory… CONTINUE READING AT SHELOVES

The Cost of Getting Proximate {for SheLoves}

Sharing this post at SheLoves today, for the theme “Amplify.”

Bryan Stevenson changed my life.

Last year, his book, Just Mercy, crushed the last of my illusions about justice in the United States. A few months after reading it—sleep deprived with a 12-day-old newborn—I drove to hear Stevenson speak in the auditorium of a nearby university. I nursed my infant with one arm and scribbled illegible notes with my other hand. But two words rattled me, transfixed me. They altered the course of our life, in fact.

“Get proximate.”

I stopped writing and looked up as he spoke. “Get close to the problems instead of trying to solve them from a distance. Get proximate to the poor and be willing to do uncomfortable things,” he said.

Was I willing not to just visit, talk about, or pray for those living in the margins, but actually move there?

For the past two years after moving from the city of Chicago, we rented a house in a nearly all-white area of Colorado snuggled up against the Rocky Mountains. The middle class neighborhood was made up of retirees with large campers parked in their driveways and a few young families. People didn’t bother locking their doors and I would have felt safe walking down our pitch black street late at night under a jubilee of stars. We were within walking distance of a huge new park with a splash pad, a giant wooden playground, a Frisbee golf course and tennis courts.

But as we began to search for a home to buy, I sensed God nudging us towards something other than safe, secure and comfortable. As we looked for houses in the nearby college town, I picked subdivisions where the neighborhood school had a high percentage of non-white students and free lunch recipients.

I drove around neighborhoods near trailer parks and run-down apartment complexes, ashamed that though I’d be willing to live near them, I wasn’t willing to actually live in a low income neighborhood just to be proximate to the poor.

Buying a home holds a mirror to our prejudices, privilege and values. It blasts holes in our claim to love our neighbor when we begin to realize we meant the neighbor just like us.

God never assures us safe or comfortable. He doesn’t urge us to pray for “smooth journeys” or perfect health. In fact, the gospel message juxtaposed against American culture is starkly counter-cultural.

Jesus wandered from house to house, keeping company with the misfits of society. He touched the untouchable and dined with the outcast. In the end, he gave up the right to protect himself and willingly died so these misfits could experience belonging. This is the gospel. So why do Sunday mornings at church always feel so polished and pristine?

We finally bought a home. Though the city is 82 percent white, the neighborhood school is 73 percent white. Fifty-two percent of the students have free or reduced lunch. It is not a drastic shift, but it is a small step toward a wider community of neighbors.

The city we moved to is double the size of the one we left. The hum of life murmurs at a low level. We now hear sirens, see bikers buzz past our picture window and hear Thai, Arabic and Hindi spoken at the grocery store. For the first time in my life, there is an African American family living across the street. My children are also beginning to recognize Spanish being spoken at the public library or MacDonald’s play place. I have plenty of opportunities to eavesdrop on unsuspecting Chinese people who don’t know I spent five years in China. From a diversity-standpoint, this feels like a good decision.

But what about the increase in homelessness and crime—does Jesus really want us to move closer to that?

Before moving (and in rebellion against the inner voice that warns us we’re googling too far) I searched online to see if there were any sex offenders in the neighborhood. There are. The site also offered all the registered felons. There were many—even on the route my kids will one day walk to school. I joined the local online forum for our neighborhood and learned that three cars were broken into last week and an unsolved murder a few streets away was solved. Fear began pawing at me, whispering that I am right to shelter and shield my children.

Proximity costs us …

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In Solidarity with the Butt Wipers {for SheLoves}

Most days I’m responsible for wiping four out of the five butts in our household. Sometimes I change my clothes three times a day because of shoulder snot, spit-up or worse. My life is not glamorous by any stretch. And I know I can’t be the only one.

So today I seek solidarity with the mama who wipes butts other than her own. The mom who eats standing up, has given up on sleep as an inalienable right, and thinks going to the dentist is equivalent to a spa day.

I stand with the mom who sometimes wishes she could run away, and then feels guilty about it. The mom who is compelled to write, teach, create, study, or use her education the way she thought she would, but just can’t right now. The mom who thought her life would be a tad more adventurous. I stand with the mom who sometimes wants to jump in the car and just drive. Anywhere. As long as there is silence.

I stand in solidarity with the mom who feels like she can’t catch up. She is like a cell phone that never charges to 100 percent power but is constantly being unplugged, always needed. We can’t keep up with it all: sleep, cooking, shopping, planning activities for our kids, juggling job and home life, dusting, sweeping, folding laundry, sorting junk, organizing bins of teeny clothing, not to mention making love or talking to our spouses (which sadly makes the “to do” list). We never fall into bed at night thinking, I’m so satisfied by all I accomplished today.

I stand in solidarity with the mama who messes up. We yell, say the wrong thing, get frustrated, lose our cool and do everything “the books” tell us not to do. We fear we’re ruining our kids. We sometimes care more about what other moms think than we do about our relationship with our child. But then we kneel down, peer into their little faces with their tiny noses and earnest looks and we know they forgive us. They adore us, in fact.

I stand in solidarity with the mom who longs for meaningful friendships but isn’t sure how to string together enough play dates to equal one in-depth conversation. As children, we had sleepovers, played in the backyard, then whispered together about our crushes, our fears, and hopes for the future. In college, we shared rooms, clothes, and cars. But marriage and needy children complicated our old habits of friendship cultivating. We need each other more than ever but lack the time, energy and gumption to reach the same level of intimacy we enjoyed when we were single. We turn to social media instead of putting forth the effort to befriend people we can touch and see in real life. Sometimes this is our only option, but we yearn for the flesh, blood, and tears of face-to-face sisterhood.

I stand with the mom who is trying to make the most of these days with little ones because everyone warns us they go so fast

continue reading at SheLoves.

 

When Writing Feels Like a Waste of Time {for SheLoves}

On a rough day, my husband will cheer me up with a dozen yellow roses. For some reason, it’s often before we go out of town, so I immediately think how we will receive a sad, wilted welcome when we return from our trip. It feels like a waste of beauty.

How many days and months go into cultivating a single yellow rose? Daily sunlight, water and fertilizer encourage it to grow. At just the right moment, it is snipped, sold and carried from the store by some well-meaning suitor or lover (or more likely, a female who treats herself to this little luxury every once in a while). All for what? To sit on our crumb-laden kitchen tables for a few days, splashing our rooms with color and assaulting our senses with scent only to be thrown in the trash within the week?

Sometimes this is how publishing a piece of writing feels. When I think about the days, months and years that have preceded putting my thoughts into words, then the hours of molding and shaping them, coaxing out the beauty, the grace, the deeper meaning, it reminds me of these roses. I am the gardener and yet I also decide when my words are ready to be cut and offered to the world. When my offering of words is welcomed, I smile. And yet how quickly the glory fades as my article is overlapped by another, then another, then another article until what felt like vibrant, fresh and life-breathing words become faded and forgotten.

So is writing (without monetary compensation) even worth it?

***

Last night I tried out a complicated new recipe. I sipped red wine, dancing between the recipe on my computer screen and turning up the volume of the “evening acoustic” album on Pandora. My husband wrestled with the kids on the rug in the living room while I chopped onions, garlic and peppers to toss into the simmering oil in the pan. He took the kids out for a dusk walk and I relaxed into the smells, sounds and feel of a kitchen in use. When they returned, we washed tiny hands, strapped kids into high chairs and bowed heads to pray in spite of spoons banging and feet kicking.

If you’re a parent, then you know what came after this seemingly magical moment.

“Yuck,” my son said, pushing his dish away. My daughter picked out a few pieces of food, but also declared my meticulously prepared meal “yucky.” My husband and I finished eating in less than 15 minutes and just like that—after nearly an hour of preparation–it was over.

But here’s the thing. Even though the food was underappreciated, consumed quickly and the process will need to be repeated tomorrow and the next day, it was still worth it. Why?

Because the process of preparation fed my soul. The meal gave us a reason to sit down together as a family. And it provided nourishment for the hungry ones at the table.

Just like your writing.

As you write, God is working out what He is working in you...

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When the Answer is “Not Now” {For SheLoves}

 

What about a driving school for Muslim women? My mind buzzes with the possibilities, spinning the details into a feasible plan. I just dropped our Saudi Arabian exchange student off at the international terminal and in the quiet hum of the hour-long interstate ride home, I plan, strategize and dream. Most of the Saudi international student girls I’ve met have a secret desire to learn how to drive since they are not permitted to drive in their country. Likewise, they all complain about the expensive driving schools in the U.S. or about taking private lessons where they have to be alone in a car with a man. We have a spare car, I think. And I could give private lessons and get to know the women at the same time. Perfect …

As I turn the minivan off the interstate at our exit, I hear stirring in the backseat, then arguing, then shrieking. I sigh, smoothing the bunched-up shirt over my ever-growing belly, remembering. Lost in Imaginary Land where I could chase every dream, I had forgotten my reality: two children under four and a baby on the way. I tuck the idea away in the attic of my heart, thinking, If only …

***

Several months later, scrubbing potatoes by the window at the kitchen sink, I watch my elderly neighbor shuffle around in his backyard, shoveling snow. In summer, he and his wife spend hours each day planting, watering, weeding and coaxing incredible beauty out of dry ground. It has always perplexed me, actually, because I’ve never seen anyone else in their yard. It seems like such a waste to sculpt beauty for no one to see.

Standing at the kitchen counter, I think about the notebook I carry around with me that probably has 200 titles of blog posts and ideas to write about. Some of those words will grow, blossom and die without a single other person ever reading them—just a secret thought between God and me. But some will be cut and handed out for others to enjoy (though, like freshly cut flowers, they will likely be forgotten with the next day’s round of blog posts, email newsletters and online journals).

What a waste, I think. But then I begin to wonder …

Is hidden beauty still beautiful?

Continue reading at SheLoves.