Sunday, December 30, 2012

When You Want to Celebrate a Life

Sharing grace moments and pictures from the epic week of birthday celebration earlier this month.  Absolutely the best birthday ever.  And it only took me three decades to figure out how to really celebrate a life.  Thank you to all who helped me celebrate and to every single one of you who has been apart of my journey.  It's been a wild ride so far but God's been faithful through it all.  Here's to all the years still to come!

2052.  First day of the birthday week!
2053.  Waffles and bacon for breakfast
2054.  Flock of birds taking flight over the grocery store parking lot, then settling right back down on the roof again
2055.  Lunch date with the best-est of best friends
2056.  Her paying my way unexpectedly
2057.  Cup of chowder so full of good things I can barely fit the spoon in
2058.  Afternoon spent chatting about life, yarn projects in hand
2059.  Wrestling the knotted yarn while we wrestle the events of a week
2060.  Beautiful ruffled, sparkling, purple scarf she gives to me

2061.  Her smiling big and saying it's perfectly *me*
2063.  Me smiling happy whenever I look down, see all this joy wrapped around my neck
2063.  Driving home to the Toby Mac Christmas CD, because sometimes I really do like it loud
2064.  Pear cinnamon cider before bed

2065.  Second day of the birthday week!
2066.  Plenty of work to start off the week
2067.  Tea and crochet date with another friend
2068.  Me left standing outside when the buzzer fails to buzz me in
2069.  Friend hurrying down the hall to open the door for me
2070.  How warm and cozy her place feels as soon as I walk in the door
2071.  Steeping our tea and settling in for a chat at the table
2072.  Her surprising me with a gift--I have the best of friends!
2073.  Her artwork adorning the packaging, me marveling at the beauty

2074.  Knitted scarf inside the bag--in purple, of course!

2075.  Her sweetness and generosity, the true gift
2076.  Us pulling out yarn and patterns and crochet hooks
2077.  Both of us laboring long to learn how to crochet a snowflake
2078.  Laughing, making mistakes, trying again, both of us successful at last
2079.  Geraldine the Cat talking away while she wander the house
2080.  Discovering cookies in the cookie jar right before I leave for home
2081.  That "pig chef" cookie jar and my friend translating the French for me--"cookies," of course!
2082.  Goodbye hugs and talk of "next time"
2083.  How the last page of the second gratitude journal sneaks up on me
2084.  Knowing that there is no end to the Grace, to the Love, to the God Who holds this life together.
2085.  How the second thousand has taught me this:  If I want to live, really live, I've got to keep counting for always
2086.  For change and growth and figuring things out--no matter how long or how hard the path to get there.

2087.  Third day of the birthday week!
2088.  Too much work--even this is a gift
2089.  Strength to work extra when the hours are hard
2090.  Dinner date with the ones I've named Second Parents
2091.  Trading shoes for slippers as soon as I get to their house
2092.  Sitting by the Christmas tree while we wait for dinner to finish
2093.  Having to ask if their tree is real because it looks so natural and beautiful (it's not real!)
2094.  Homemade chicken and veggie lasagna!
2095.  The unceremonious way my Second Mom dishes up the food, us all laughing out loud
2096.  My Second Dad praying blessings over me and asking for my kitty's healing
2097.  After-dinner tea
2098.  My Second Mom hurrying me to open my gift because she can't wait any more
2099.  Handmade earrings with little silver teapots dangling at the ends--LOVE

2100.  Generous gift of Teavana gift card--because you can never really have enough tea.
2101.  My Second Mom lighting candles on the cake, my Second Dad telling her how she should do it.
2102.  Me just watching them both and laughing
2103.  Blowing out all the candles with one breath
2104.  Sneaking another piece of cake because the first one is so good
2105.  After-dessert tea
2106.  The three of us in the kitchen, me on the floor with Barney the Cat, my Second Dad sitting on the counter, and my Second Mom the only one of us in a chair
2107.  Settling back into the living room with our tea, watching the cats eye the Christmas tree
2108.  Barney climbing the tree twice--and knocking it over twice
2109.  Only one ornament breaking from the fiasco, my Second Mom shaking her finger at the naughty cat
2110.  My Second Mom sending me home with a plate full of cake
2111.  Goodbye hugs and talk of "why don't we do this more often?"
2112.  The gift of having Second Parents
2113.  The way they've loved me strong for these last two decades of a life.

2114.  Better day of work than the one before
2115.  Quick nap in the afternoon to rest up for a full evening ahead
2116.  Mom walking across the parking lot to meet me, reindeer antlers perched on her head
2117.  Wandering the gift shop at Swanson's Nursery with Mom and Cousin, cup of chai in hand
2118.  Trying on hats and marveling over all the beauty here in one building
2119.  Two reindeer and a camel named Curly

2120.  How the camel doesn't bother to stand up to eat, just lies there and buries his head in food, grabbing mouthfuls to chew
2121.  Blitzen the Reindeer bellowing at me when I try to talk his picture
2122.  Walking into the Christmas tree building, that wave of evergreen scent washing right over us
2123.  Wandering rows of trees, breathing deep and running hands over branches
2124.  Cousin driving the three of us to dinner, me listening to Christmas music in the backseat
2125.  That parking spot waiting for us right across the street from the restaurant, us hardly daring to believe we can park there
2126.  Peeling off all our layers, settling in for dinner, and pondering the menu
2127.  Us all deciding on chowder--it *is* a chowder house after all--and the waitress answering all our questions so cheerfully.
2128.  Sipping tea and telling stories across the table while we wait for our food
2129.  My sampler plate arriving at last--all five kinds of chowder!

2130.  Tasting chowders one at a time, deciding on a favorite and then changing my mind
2131.  That basket of bread that keeps getting refilled
2132.  Mom dropping her glasses in her soup--really?!--and us all laughing while she tries to wipe them clean
2133.  Leaving the restaurant happy and full--but still walking around the corner to the cupcake place.
2134.  Picking out the snickerdoodle cupcake because it's got the tiniest heart nestled right on top and I can't pass it by

2135.  The three of us settled on the couch in the corner, sampling cupcakes and sipping eggnog steamers
2136.  Taking the heart off the cupcake and setting it atop the eggnog foam
2137.  How the heart gets swallowed right up and we all joke that I've lost my heart
2138.  Last sip of eggnog revealing my heart right there on the bottom of the cup

2139.  How God's teaching me again and again that what feels like loss and heartache (a lost heart) might just reveal the greatest beauty of all
2140.  Climbing back in the car for the last event of the night.
2141.  Cousin driving us to a neighborhood we've never seen, all these houses decked out in lights
2142.  Driving up one street and down another real slow, pointing out all the beauty
2143.  That one house towards the end, three enormous letters filling the front window:  J O Y
2144.  How the Joy Dare of 2012 is completed right here in the midst of this week filled to the brim with Joy
2145.  The way God keep teaching as long as I keep counting.
2146.  Day 4 of the birthday week coming to an end, me so full of happiness and hope.

2147.  Day 5 of the birthday week and that funny email I get from a friend, her asking me to bring doilies with me to our lunch date
2148.  Me digging through Mom's bins in the basement after work, in search of doilies
2149.  Welcome hugs at my friend's house, her telling me that the doilies are for a "project"
2150.  Homemade chicken curry pot pie coming out of the oven
2151.  Us enjoying a cup of tea before lunch
2152.  Sitting down to a delicious meal, Baby Cora "talking" to us while we eat
2153.  My friend revealing the mysterious project at last and me a little giddy with excitement
2154.  Rolling out porcelain clay until it's smooth and flat
2155.  Pressing pieces of crocheted lace right into the porcelain, us thinking we know what it's going to look like in the end

2156.  Holding our breath a bit while we peel up the lace, reveal beauty we never saw coming

2157.  How we're both learning it right here that the beauty of lace is only revealed after it's been pressed down hard into the ground

2158.  Life lessons learned in the kitchen beside a sister-friend, us marveling and pondering together
2159.  Heading out to our next adventure, Baby Cora in tow
2160.  Making good time on the roads and finding a parking place nearby
2161.  Walking up the path to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens with all these glorious lights on display, us already oohing and ahhing over the beauty

2162.  Wandering a whole garden made of lights on a cold, cold evening in December
2163.  Us taking turns guessing the types of flowers, ever single bloom made out of lights

2164.  How beauty can light up a whole night of darkness
2165.  Warming up with a cup of hot cider held in the hands
2166.  Going through the garden a second time, because really, how could once be enough?
2167.  Heading back to the house for hot soup and cake
2168.  Friend and her husband singing happy birthday to me, that one candle flickering bright and Baby Cora just watching us all
2169.  Early Christmas present opened, those home-canned peaches and that jar of chai mix weighing the bag right down
2170.  My beautiful curly-haired friend and her new baby and her incredibly kind husband--and me welcomed right into this life

2171.  Day 6 of the birthday week--my actual birthday here at last!
2172.  Mom the first to wish me happy birthday, her hair still asunder from sleep
2173.  Enough work to fill the whole shift--on a Saturday.  Gift, Gift, Gift!
2174.  Dad and me pouring over the Snappy Dragon menu, picking out the birthday dinner (takeout Chinese!)
2175.  Dad making cranberry-apple cobbler and the way it fills the whole house with this delicious scent

2176.  All these friends writing birthday messages on my Facebook wall, me having a hard time keeping up
2177.  That package that comes in the mail and me completely taken by surprise
2178.  Butterfly wrapping paper adorning the gift inside, a telltale sign of the one who sent it
2179.  Tearing off the paper because I can't wait any longer, book of crochet patterns nestled inside
2180.  For friends I've never met
2181.  And how they become dear companions on the long road, no matter how many miles separate us
2182.  For the God Who lets us find each other in the most unlikely ways and binds our hearts in the way only He can
2183.  Sitting down to the birthday dinner, Chinese takeout covering the table
2184.  Good food and family to share it with
2185.  Movie night at home to finish off the birthday week
2186.  Blowing out candles after the traditional off-tune, out-of-sync rendition of Happy Birthday by my family

2187.  Eating cobbler and ice cream, fighting off the kitties who want to lick the bowl
2188.  Handmade scarves from Mom, in purple of course
2189.  That enormous package that appears on the table at the end of the night, covered in purple pansies
2190.  New griddle that will actually *cook* pancakes, not just burn them or leave them pale
2191.  For 31 years
2192.  For finally figuring out how to celebrate life in a way that honors the person God's created me to be
2193.  God never giving up on me, always stretching and pulling and turning me right into something else--someone else--the someone He always knew I could be
2194.  For growth
2195.  But mostly for God

Monday, December 24, 2012

If You're Looking for Joy

It's a Monday morning in December when I wake up weary.

There's a list of things that need doing and that list stretches clear around the corner, right past all hope of reaching an end, and I think I might just give up before I even get up.

It's two days after my 31st birthday and I've just done what I haven't done before in all my years--I've celebrated the life He's given me in six different ways, on six different days, all in the same week of December leading right up to my birthday.

And, oh, the joy that's found me in this one week of celebration?

There are no words for that.

But I'm sitting here in the wake of all these festive days and this broken body of mine's telling me what I've been afraid of from the start.

I'm not strong enough to live that kind of joy.

And there's this one piece of a heart that thinks it might just be true.

But I'm not convinced and I get out of bed regardless and I start to think maybe what's really true is this:

Maybe the joyful life doesn't come easy.

Maybe it comes at a cost.

And maybe that's exactly how it should be.

I think back to that day in January when I wholeheartedly took up the dare to find joy in 2012--to count another thousand pieces of His Grace and let Him fill up a whole life with joy.  And I might've been foolish enough to believe the second thousand would be easier than the first, but oh, could I have ever been more wrong about anything at all?

This year, the one I named Home, it's named itself Loss and I've given up more times than I can count and I've grieved and I've wondered and maybe I've even shaken an angry fist at the sky.

And that journal meant for catching Grace, it's sat closed and silent for months without end.

But then there's a day in the middle of October when the Death Angel passes by and my dad nearly dies and I count gift number 1710 that night:  My dad didn't die today.

And I'm more than a little paralyzed by that one enormous Mercy and nothing finds its way into the journal for long weeks after.  But there comes a day in November when I realize there are only seven weeks left and I'm 407 gifts short and maybe there's no real hope of finishing what I've started but don't I want to give it everything I've got?  Don't I want to find Joy after all, at the end of a year that's ripped me clean open and carved me right out and left me wounded and wondering what God's really doing in all this?

Oh, yes.


That day in November, it's the one on which I finally make the choice to find Joy.   I make a permanent home for my journal on the dresser beside my bed and I lay it open and I leave the pen right there on the page and I start counting like I've never counted before.

Because I might've thought counting 1117 gifts in 2011 would've taught me how to really give thanks, how to find God in all the days of a life, how to live joy.  But it's another 593 gifts before I figure it out that there isn't any figuring it out.

There's only the choice to keep living the daily thanksgiving and let God teach and change and grow us as He will.

And what He's teaching me through the second thousand gifts?

That Joy's this force of God and it doesn't settle for a place on the shelf.  No, it requires the emptying out and the making way and the carving of a space in the soul and it doesn't come easy and it doesn't come cheap.

But our redemption's been paid for with the blood of a Son and why do I keep thinking that the abundant life in Christ can be bought with anything less than sacrifice and letting go and falling right into the mystery of God and His ways and all this crazy life we're struggling to understand?

It's a night in December when I'm in the backseat of a car and we're driving up one street and down another, just three women marveling over strings of lights adorning trees and houses and windows and fences.  And we're just about to call it a night when there's this one house that catches my eye across the road.  There are lights strung all across the eves but what I can't take my eyes off?  Three giant letters emblazoned on the living room window.

J.  O.  Y.

I sit in my bed late that night and I count the thousandth gift for 2012 and I feel it deep, how Joy really has come and it's making a place in me.  And I wonder, for just one moment, what happens now.

But I already know.

I pick up the pen and I keep counting.

And I let God figure out the rest.

All 512 gifts from the last few weeks are a bit too much to catch up on, so for today, on the eve of celebrating the birth of Joy Himself, just a whispered Thank You to the One Who has filled another year with Himself and taught me that Joy's a hard-fought battle that might just cost us everything we've got.  But, oh, it's worth it, Friends!  *He* is worth it!

Monday, December 10, 2012

When You're Feeling Ragged and Worn Through

I learn to knit because I am afraid.

It's a day in early January and I've put off the learning for 13 months and I've finally decided that the only way to be brave is to choose to be brave.

Because I'm this woman born under a cloud of terror, and I'm still figuring it out, how to really live when you're afraid of failing, afraid of rejection, afraid of being who you are.  Maybe the only thing I've figured out is this--there's no once-for-all cure for the broken place of a soul, only the daily choice to keep fighting for the life God has for us.

And maybe this, too--that Fear doesn't go away when you hide it in the closet.

No, the only way to send Fear packing its bags is to pull it right out into The Light, look it square in the eye, and do the very thing that Fear's declared we can't.

So I pick up the needles and I teach myself to knit and purl, cast on and bind off.  Because the path of a courageous life, it's made up of a million little steps into a million little fears.  And maybe no one understands how learning to knit can teach a soul to live.

Maybe I don't understand it either.

But God's this crazy pursuer Who pries open the eyes of the blind, and me, I'm the blind one more often than I'm not.

Is it any real mystery, then, that I've no idea what He's doing when I meet a woman in February who will show me how knitting can change a life?

Bernadette and I, we meet in the most impossible way--me clicking randomly and her writing soul poetry on a page of the big wide world.  I'm captured and I'm held from that first happenstance reading of her words, and we exchange comments and emails and prayers.

Mostly, we exchange hearts.

And we both know it without one bit of uncertainty that God's behind all this Grace, and how can we doubt the extravagance of His love when He's given us both a soul sister we never knew we had?

Yes.  We might be 817 miles apart and we might have spent a few decades without knowing who we were missing.  But we know it now.  We are sisters who've been found at last.

It's a day in July when I decide there's only one way to send my love across all those state lines.  So I pick out the loveliest yarn, soft and delicate and perfectly blue, and I pick up my needles and I do the impossible.

I learn to knit lace.

It's only my third time knitting and everyone thinks I'm a bit out of my mind and I do have to rip it out at least a dozen times in that first week.

But I keep at it for five long months and every stitch becomes this labor in love, knitting yarn into beauty with patience and prayer and mostly just this straight-up stubborn persistence.  And it really is the most beautiful thing I've ever created.

But I'm still this woman oblivious to what God's about to do and it's not until I wrap up my love and send this blue lace across 817 miles that I see what He's been trying to tell me all this time.

Because Bernadette, she holds my love in her hands and she writes the poetry of us and she points me straight to this:  It's the holes in the lace that let all the light shine through.

It's the holes in the lace that make it beautiful.

I'm this foolish woman who learns to knit because she is tired of being afraid.  And God, He's the patient One Who bides His time and waits quietly to reveal this one thing:

I might feel ragged and worn through, all the struggles of a life chipping away at the beauty of a soul.  But I think maybe I'm really these endless tangled threads, and the needles of adversity and loss, they bore clean through me.  I might be left with all these aching empty spaces, but God, He's the One holding the needles and He's knitting me into lace.

And when I'm held up to the Light, the beauty of what He's done might just bring us all to our knees.

Yes.  This year's been about letting go, about loss, about leaning hard into God when everything else is being stripped away.

But maybe underneath all that it's really been about this--God emptying me out in the most beautiful way, His pattern emerging from all the heartache, and me becoming lace, knit together in the hands of a good God.

Yes.  I think it's really true.  All of us, we're being made into lace, knit together in the hands of the good God.

And He makes all things beautiful in their time.

Project Details
Pattern:  "Red Pepper" by Tanja Pessina, Free Download on 
Yarn:  Cascade Yarns Alpaca Lace (100% Baby Alpaca), Color 1432 Sapphire Heather
Needles:  Size 7