One Step

5 09 2013

-1Tomoki and Luke

When George and I got married, it wasn’t like we made a conscious decision to take people into our home.

They just kept landing on our doorstep.

A student arrived at university to discover his dorm room had been double booked. Another student’s apartment burned down. A steady parade of others have needed places for a year or a semester or a summer or a couple of weeks. We’ve officially fostered once, and unofficially adopted dozens of times. And, without fail, we always receive at least as much as we give. God has a way of using these people to stretch, teach, convict, bless, encourage, test, and inspire us. It’s one of the secrets of the upside-down kingdom. Give the glass of water, He says. Just do it. You won’t be sorry.

So, when someone needs a place to stay, our default answer is yes. We look at the calendar, consider the situation, and pray. But if there’s an empty bed in the house and no clear reason to say no, we say yes.

And that’s how we found ourselves hosting Tomoki.

Tomoki is a nineteen-year-old baseball player and university student from Japan who wanted to come to the US for two weeks and stay with a family. An acquaintance of his posted the request on our church’s message board, and our son Luke (who hopes to take his family and the gospel to Japan one day) asked us if we’d consider it.

Empty bed? Check. Works with the calendar? Check. Prayer for direction? Check.

Konnichiwa, Tomoki.

We’re halfway through Tomoki’s two-week visit, and so far he’s seen Yu Darvish pitch for the Texas Rangers, visited two universities, the Dallas World Aquarium, Jubilee Farm, the Sixth Floor Museum (where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed JFK), the Dallas Museum of Art, Northpark, and the Galleria. He’s attended a large American church service and a lively prayer meeting, held a baby for the first time, and taken lots and lots of pictures. He’s experienced a live concert at a coffee house, a pot-luck dinner on Labor Day, eaten his weight in Tex-Mex, and will try to consume his first Texas-sized steak tonight.

Still to come? A high school football game, the Fort Worth rodeo, wake boarding at a local lake, and more.

Meanwhile, we’ve juggled schedules, re-learned what flexibility looks like, and tried to hold all agendas loosely. Luke has been a cheerful and tireless tour guide, and Sarah has generously sacrificed Luke’s presence at home much more than usual. Yes, we are stretched, but it’s doable, and Tomoki is deeply grateful for every experience and opportunity.

Even if he wasn’t a dear, eager, polite guest, I’m convinced we would be blessed in this giving. But he is a dear, eager, polite guest. And we are definitely blessed. In fact, I think I may have already received my greatest gift.

Night before last, Luke was home studying while their children slept, and Sarah and I were sitting in my kitchen, visiting with Tomoki. He doesn’t know much English, but he carries a digital pocket translator, and asks a lot of questions, and somehow we muddle through communication.

In the course of our conversation, Sarah asked what it’s like to follow Jesus in Japan, where fewer than 1% of people are Christians. Tomoki’s mother is a Christian, and he has attended church his whole life, but he told us he doesn’t know any other believers his own age. Not one. This revelation led to a discussion about bravery and boldness — all accomplished through hand gestures and quickly typed searches on his translator — and before we knew it, we were considering how hard things can be gifts from God.

I told Tomoki about Jacob’s near-fatal drowning and how we’d seen God work in so many beautiful ways, and it was a powerful, worshipful experience for me to distill those truths into their simplest form to share them with him. In the telling, I reminded myself once again that God only gives what is good, and as soon as I turn to Him, trusting His goodness and thanking Him for His faithfulness, my suffering becomes a blessing.

He listened intently and nodded his understanding, and then he got excited and asked for a paper and pen, because he wanted to show us something.

First he drew this:


Then he drew this:


And to the side, he drew this:


He pointed to the first drawing and said, “This is Japanese kanji for . . . .” He tried to think of the English word, then shook his head and typed furiously on his translator, showing me the words that appeared on the screen: “bitter” and “hard” and “rough.”

I read them aloud, and he nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! Yes!” Then he pointed to the second drawing. “This kanji for ‘happiness,’ and this –” he pointed to the drawing of the single line, “means ‘one.'”

Sarah and I both leaned in, not yet grasping the point, but smiling our encouragement as he struggled to complete his explanation. He picked up his foot and deliberately planted it in front of where it had been, pointing to his foot, and saying, “This? What is this?”

We laughed at our own confusion and tried to guess his intent. “A foot?” . . . “Stomping?” . . .  “A step?” He typed again, then said, “Yes! Step!”

Then he pointed to the drawings again, and suddenly we saw — how adding the “one” line across the top of “bitter” turns it into “happiness.”

“It is one step from bitter to happiness,” he said, exultant, and we gasped and clapped our understanding and delight. In that moment, stories and cultures collided, and a Texas kitchen erupted in celebration.

One step — one cross-shaped, trusting step of faith in a loving, good, and sovereign God — gives purpose to pain, turns mourning into dancing, and transforms everything (yes, everything) into a gift.

We’re hosting Tomoki for two weeks. And I have a visual of grace that I will never, ever forget.

Who is receiving the most? You tell me.

Blessing for a First Birthday

4 06 2012

We stood in a quiet circle around the room and waited.

He placed his hand on his daughter’s head, and he spoke over her ancient words — the very same ones the LORD spoke to Moses, that he might speak to Aaron and his sons, that they in turn might heap the riches of God’s gracious favor on His children.

y’barekká YHWH vyish’m’réka

May the LORD bless you and keep you, he began. And she looked up at her daddy as he added the prayer of his own heart.

May the LORD grant you a good year. May you be healthy and happy. May He help you learn well and grow up to be strong. May He make you obedient and joyful. May He protect you from any physical harm or illness. May He protect your heart from pain and may He protect your soul from spiritual attack.

ya’ér YHWH panáyv eléyka viyhunnéka

May the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, he continued, God’s own blessing pouring over his firstborn and filling the room like the glory of the midday sun.

May the LORD reveal Himself to you, even in your earliest years. May you know even today that His presence holds the fullness of joy. May He make you His child. May you find yourself always under the shadow of the cross, your sins forgiven, Christ’s blood covering you with grace. May your life be utterly and completely His.

yissá’ YHWH panáyv eléyka vyasém l’ká shalóm

May the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace, he said, and she played and squealed her joy, secure in the love of good parents who hold her in the safest possible place, before the throne of the living God.

May the LORD be your dearest friend throughout life. May He be kind to you and discipline you gently. May His presence be the source of your peace throughout life and a refuge in times of trial. Whatever happens, may you hold fast to Him, and be hidden under the shadow of His wing, knowing His love for you in Jesus Christ.

Now and always, may the Father bless you richly in His Son through His Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thus he blessed his firstborn, and we added our Amen to his.

And then we partied.

Naomi opened presents.

And basked in the loving attention of a room full of aunties, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers singing happiness to her.

She blew out watched her daddy blow out the candle.

And tasted her first piece of cake. (She liked it.)

Then, after a quick bath, she played with new toys and colorful gift bags, and posed for pictures. And when I loaded these images onto my computer and saw this next shot, I realized for the thousand thousandth time what a gift children are.

We bless them in the Name of the Lord, and the Shalom, it’s multiplied back to us in countless gifts bestowed by our Father through these tiny, trusting hands. Gifts that teach us to fear, that keep us on our knees, that fill our hearts so full of love, we think they might explode.

Gifts that lead us to lay down our lives for the sake of another, and in so doing, to become more and more like Christ.

And the ancient words still speak, generation to generation. And God still responds,

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Amen. Grant it, Lord Jesus.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for (#493 – 504)

God’s faithfulness
a son become a husband become a father
yellow cake with chocolate icing
hard but good conversations
bottomless well of grace
one year with Naomi
Ruby Redbird Shiner Bock
the gospel

We have our Father’s ear

2 06 2012

I confess to a bit of self amusement with this one.
But isn’t it amazing to think we really do have our Father’s ear?
He hears our every cry,
even the ones we
try to hide
behind a smile.

Be comforted.
You are heard.
You are held.
Your Father
is nearer than your breath,
and He delights
in your trust.

What a wonder.

* * *

{I can’t believe our Naomi Belle will be one on Tuesday! Happy Birthday, sweet little Belle.}

Meant to be

28 05 2012

Life is a dance. The moments unfold this divine choreography, with each varied choice of each independent soul conspiring to create a synchronized whole.

Or so I believe. Do you believe?

And so she sat reading words, and in them a trembling but faithful heart grappled with the cycle of life, the inevitability of death, brokenness and mystery. And behind the words, she sensed the gentle pressure of an unseen Hand deftly leading around every obstacle, from longing and asking to remembering and accepting, until He landed His beloved back on rock-solid truth: The flesh and heart may fail, but this grace? It’s unshakable. It upholds and enfolds, and it explodes “like bits of blazing embers rupturing all the dark — lighting us with a love  that gives us the gift of eyes that see . . .”

And he, unaware that words waltzed with mystery on her screen, picked up his father’s guitar and sang a song he wrote in February of 2008, when life was a Sahara, and he, too, longed to understand. He was alone (but not alone) in his little house in Cote d’Ivoire, the land and his soul both aching for rain, and all that yearning poured itself into words and music he sang then and again now.

This is what she heard:

I will say to the firefly, I will ask, “How do you shine?
And why do you fly so high into the night sky?”
I will say to the falling star, “How is it that you have come so far?
And do you know who you are falling for?”

And that river runs her way down to the sea

And that willow, she just sits and weeps so sadly

I will say to the ocean wide, “How far are you from side to side
And why are you so keen on keeping the two apart?”
I will say to the mountains tall, “How is that you have yet to fall?
What is it that keeps you standing so very strong?”

And that river runs her way down to the sea

And that willow, she just sits and weeps so sadly

I will say to the winter snow, I will ask, “Where do you go?
Why are you so quick to melt away?”
I will say to the springtime rain, “It’s so nice to see you again,
But why is it that you will never ever stay?”

And that river runs her way down to the sea

And that willow, she just sits and weeps so sadly

I will say to the summer sun, “Where do you go when your course is run?
Oh, is heaven really all that far away from us?”
And I will say to the autumn leaves, “Why is it that life is so sweet,
Yet still we all die to gain eternity?”

That river has gone run herself to the sea
And I’ve seen that willow weep, but now she’s clapping,
And I have heard each silence sing so gracefully,
So when my sisters stood, they stood to tell me,
“This was meant to be.
All your pain was meant to be
And oh, your hope, well it was meant to be
Or so I believe
Or so I believe
Or so I believe.
Do you believe?”

So, will you be my firefly? Will you dance with me tonight?
And when that morning comes, we will both fly away.
And when that morning comes, we will both fly away.

Life is a dance. The moments unfold this divine choreography, with each varied choice of each independent soul conspiring to create a synchronized whole.

And all this was meant to be. Or so I believe.

Do you believe?

* * *

{Luke was kind enough to sing it again for a very non-professional iPhone recording. Click here to listen. Oh, and apologies for Jacob’s “humming” at the beginning and George’s kitchen noises. We live here. :-)}

Giving thanks in community for (#474 -492):

the gift of eyes that see
music, “humming,” clanking dishes: life’s soundtrack
the unassuming way Luke wears his gifts
unexpected delights
Josiah and Mandy’s wedding
paper birds in a playful breeze
Naomi and Neva
Jade in a straw fedora
Elise’s freedom song
Meghan’s voice
seeing Steven
exuberant joy
old friendships
new friendships
hope and pain
the dance of life

and on this Memorial Day

I’m thankful for and to
those who’ve given their lives
or their loved ones
in service to our country.

(Thank you.)


22 01 2012

Luke and Naomi, minutes after she was born

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
(Psalm 139:16 ESV)

Simplicity on Sunday, with Deidre


21 10 2011

I learn from them as I watch them follow, how there’s freedom in keeping a keen eye and willing heart, testing the Spirit’s wind and turning your ship full sail into Him. Because isn’t He the One who opens and closes doors? And how many times have I beat my head against my own desires while He patiently waited for me to see His abundant gifts lying wide open?

* * *

I’ve been quiet around here this week. If you’ve wondered about me, please know all is well. (And thanks for wondering!) I’m just busy with living, like so many of you, and thankful for constant reminders of God’s nearness and faithfulness. Thankful for what He teaches when I slow down and listen.

Like TPWWWLGC. I bet you’re wondering what that is (I mean besides a bunch of letters). It’s a philosophy for life and a timely gift to me from Luke and Sarah, and I wrote about it today at All the Church Ladies. Join me?

See you there.


What I would still say

15 08 2011

Today I shuffled through the contents of our lock box in search of the deed to this house. I found it, along with our wills, passports, papers of guardianship, birth certificates, and other important documents. I also found an envelope on which I’d printed, “For Jacob, Grace & Luke in the event that anything happens to their parents.”

I didn’t remember when I’d written it, nor did I have a clue what I’d find inside. Bank account numbers? Our lawyer’s contact info? It wasn’t sealed, so I opened it and unfolded a single sheet of paper. No date, but the first sentence told me I’d written it in August or September of 2006. Five years ago.

Have you ever wondered what you would say to your children if you had to condense your whole heart to a one-page, handwritten, farewell letter? Would you confess shortcomings? Offer practical advice? Steer them clear of mistakes you made or share secrets of your success?

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Jacob, Grace & Luke,

Daddy and I are leaving soon for our trip to Europe. I fully expect to return safe and sound, but knowing that there’s always the possibility we won’t, I want to say just a few things.

1. I love you.
2. God loves you more than I do. If He removes your parents from your life, you can be sure He will meet all your needs without our input.
3. Receive God’s gifts with gratitude. All of them.
4. No matter what happens in your life, know that God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect. Trust Him.

Every breath is grace. As long as God lends you breath, use it to glorify Him.

One way or another, I’ll see you soon.

Much, much love,

A lot has changed since 2006. Grace and Luke have both married and become parents themselves. And I wondered, should I write a new note? Update it? If I did, what would I say differently?

Other than adding the beautiful new family members’ names, I honestly can’t think of a single thing. Because, even though life may change in many momentous ways, truth doesn’t.

The trip to Europe is a fading memory, and obviously we returned safe and sound, but the letter? I read it again, then slipped it back in the envelope.

Every breath is grace. As long as God lends you breath, use it to glorify Him.

The letter is back in the box.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for:

#199 every breath, grace
#200 cicada song outside my window
#201 George in the kitchen voluntarily washing dishes
#202 Jacob’s grin as he counted to ten in Spanish
#203 lingering at the table after dinner, pondering Philippians 1:3-11
#204 friendships that span decades
#205 the prayers of the saints

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