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

Daughters and Their Daughters

18 11 2011

Last weekend our extended family gathered in Dallas for my nephew’s wedding and an early Thanksgiving meal. We enjoyed a beautiful time of celebration with so many of our beloveds, and today at All the Church Ladies I’m thanking God specifically for four of them.

I hope you’ll join me, and while you’re there, please share your special thanks, too. We’d love to celebrate your gifts with you.


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.


Going Home

11 07 2011

They built the house when I was six years old. It’s a basic ranch style home, long and rectangular, with a wide circular driveway paved smooth for bicycles and roller skates. These rooms witnessed my life. Elaborate Barbie houses and “the hall game.” Writing and performing plays. Practicing dance and piano and guitar. Vinyl records and disco moves. School projects, a slim-line phone, and an orange beanbag chair.

I see my various selves in my old bedroom. I’m small and weak with fever, and Mom is perched at my bedside, cutting out paper doll clothes or coloring in a brand new color book. I’m in junior high, with friends sleeping over, and we’re giggling, whispering secrets, and wondering about make up and clothes and boys. I’m sixteen and crawling into bed after coming home from a date, still smiling because my sweet Daddy waited up for me, even though he insisted he really was watching TV.

I’m sixteen, and my True Love finds me, and I’m on my knees, growing wings.

“If these walls could speak . . .”

I wonder, does a house remember? Do a young girl’s prayers — the first and holiest ones — somehow remain, a faint aroma of grace?

I left for college at eighteen, then marriage at twenty-one, and the first baby came at twenty-three. I had my own home now, but this house, it was always the place I returned to. My life, my children’s lives, and now my grandchildren’s lives — a thousand snapshots of smiles framed by these same walls, and isn’t the frame what holds a thing together?

“You can never go home again.” So the saying goes, and perhaps it’s true. Certainly we can’t go back in time, become the little girl again. We can’t catch the same fireflies or whisper the same secrets. But the house, it’s still there, and my parents still in it. This house that expands and contracts and opens its arms to each new generation, lively once again with music and laughter and baby’s cry. With Luke and Sarah and sweet little Naomi, who sleeps in that same room where I first tasted Living Water — where I awoke and knelt long, my head bowed low, and the words, they came in songs to Him. Now she awakes and stretches her tiny arms and legs, and does she hear it? Do the echoes linger still?

“You can never go home again.” Perhaps not. But sometimes life’s twists and turns take you very close, and you find yourself sitting in the living room of a house on the same street. A house that you passed every day on your way to school. You rode by on your bicycle as a little girl and you drove by in your Volkswagen Bug as a teen, and again and again through the years, you and your children and your grandchildren, never once thinking you might one day live there.

But it’s come to this, and you tell the owners you’ll let them know. You bow low, open hands holding all things loosely, clinging only to Him. You ask, and there’s no mistaking the Voice that speaks. Peace pours in, and every argument is swept away in the flood.

So. In a few months, after almost twenty years in a community that has loved us and embraced us and carried us through the hardest days of our lives, we will be saying goodbye. Because, as difficult as it is to pull up these well nurtured roots, we can’t resist the loving purposes of our Always Good God. Might it now be my turn to sit beside Mom in her weakness and wait up with Dad? What a beautiful honor.

In a few months we’ll be moving to Dallas. We’ll be neighbors with my parents, our son, our daughter-in-law, and our granddaughter.

And we’ll be neighbors with my life history.

It’s true, in some ways, you can’t ever go home again. But these wings? They bend to the Spirit’s wind, and the only way to soar is to lean hard into the music and let go. And what if you land close to where you began?

Perhaps the first and holiest prayers meet you there.

I believe it. I already hear the echoes of grace.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for:

#165 Promises kept. (And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.)
#166 Prayer with George and the gift of unity
#167 Peace that passes understanding
#168 The joyful prospect of sharing life with beloveds
#169 God’s promise that not one word will fail of all that He has spoken
#170 Tears and grace from treasured friends
#171 A brother’s generosity
#172 A father’s joy and gratitude
#173 A mother’s life (Happy Birthday, Mom.)


10 06 2011

I was six when we moved into this house. Mom was thirty-two and movie-star gorgeous back then, with full lips and long brown hair and feisty green eyes. I remember her standing at the kitchen sink, belting jazz standards in her lusty alto. She was vivacious, strong-willed, and a bit wild, and her quiet, conservative, gentle-spirited husband — my father — adored her.

* * *

To love is to open our hearts to suffering. But what else can we do? Love is the only way to own the music.

Today at All the Church Ladies I posted some thoughts about birth and life and the way home. I hope you’ll join me there.

Pleasant and Beautiful

6 06 2011

After almost 30 hours of labor, Naomi Belle Damoff arrived at 7:42 AM on Sunday, June 5, 2011. I’m in awe of God’s grace. In awe of Sarah’s perseverance and Luke’s steadiness. In awe of the miracle.

She has already brought so much beauty into our lives. So much joy. I’ll share more later, but for now I simply want to thank God for:

#119: protecting Sarah and Naomi through a long, difficult, natural labor and delivery
#120: the gift and privilege of witnessing this intimate miracle in the lives of my beloveds
#121: grace and strength and stamina given to Sarah to press on hour after excruciating hour
#122: watching my son gently love and support his wife, his faith remaining strong, his words wise and encouraging long after he and Sarah had both passed the point of complete exhaustion
#123: wisdom given a midwife in crucial moments
#124: a gentle thunderstorm in the evening  (Hosea 6:1-3)
#125: new life in my parents’ home and their unveiled delight
#126: Mom brushing her finger on soft baby skin and quietly weeping
#127 the plans of God, formed long ago with perfect faithfulness
#128 the way He gently leads those who are with young

Lots more photographs and snippets of story here.

Celebrating God’s goodness in community:

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