Friday, November 23, 2012

The tradition of giving thanks...

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It's also been one of the most traditional. Here's my classic Thanksgiving Day tradition: 1) Being home with my family, 2) watching the Macy's parade, 3) watching the dog show, 4) having a fire in the fireplace even if it is 60 degrees outside, 5) watching my mom flit around the kitchen in her apron all day, cooking and smiling, 6) getting dressed up even if we go nowhere, 7) having turkey and pumpkin pie, 8) working on a puzzle/project with dad, 9) playing music with Kevan and digging out our favorite Christmas albums, 10) watching It's a Wonderful Life.

None of those things happened this year - absolutely none of it. I woke up this morning and felt a little bit sad that things were so extremely different, with no semblance of anything familiar. But at the same time, I wouldn't have traded the gifts of yesterday's celebration for anything.

My friend Anna is here visiting me from NC, and that is a huge gift. I got to be with Hannah too, and she has been one of the greatest gifts in my life in the past year - my Samwise Gamgee. And I couldn't help but think about last spring, and how I didn't think I would live to see this Thanksgiving, or at least that I would not still be living and thriving and growing in Fort Wayne. What a dark time in many ways, but it is such a testimony of the Lord's power and faithfulness and mercy to me, so even for that three-month time - what Hannah and I affectionately refer to as "The Curse" - I am truly thankful.

This Thanksgiving, we picked up six of our dear teen girls and spent the day with them in the kitchen and around the table. We decided that since the first Thanksgiving was about people coming together across cultures to thank God for his love and provision for all of them, we should do that here. So we made sambusas, chipote bread, wontons and wonton soup, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry spread, cranberry and orange scones, and southern sweet tea. The air was filled with spices and fried oil... and it was delicious! We watched Beauty and the Beast together, and listened to Indian music and of course, Justin Beiber... who we are all quite thankful for. ;) 

I loved watching the girls work together, giggling and singing and talking. I am so thankful for each of them, and the precious times we've had together. I'm thankful for the ways I've seen them grow and mature and blossom into lovely young ladies who are learning what it means to really love. I'm so glad the Lord brought me to this city and gave me these friends. I'm thankful for this year, for all the crazy times of danger and heartbreak and joy and change and peace and adventure, and for the overwhelming love and grace I have received.

After the girls went home, we were quiet for a long time - watching from our big front window as our neighbors draped Christmas lights on their houses, drinking tea, and working on sewing projects like the Jane Austin characters we imagine ourselves to be. No, it wasn't traditional at all, but it was beautiful and rich.

Today we had apple pie for breakfast. Today the Christmas music playlist is being compiled. Today my thanksgiving can't stop. While the feast and the party is over for now, the tradition of thanks is daily, constant, and it just keeps overflowing...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lessons learned in a backpack

"Well, there's this fire tower... and I have this camping backpack... how much do you weigh?" I could see the wheels turning in Joe's mind, and I was torn between dreading the development of a very bad idea and tingling with the excitement of possibly the craziest adventure ever. I accepted the suggestion more as a dare than an invitation, and less than 24 hours later, I was stuffed in a backpack, ready to go. Joe, Anna, Hannah, and I held on for dear life as Todd drove us south, away from the city and into endless flat farmland of Indiana, racing the quickly setting sun to the horizon. In the purple glow of dusk we stared up at the 100-foot tower before us... Some of the details of our adventure were beautiful, some a bit terrifying, some hilarious, and many were powerful and deeply personal to me... my life will never be the same. And if you really want to hear it all, you may want to plan to take me out for a big cup of tea. :)

For now, I'll skip to the end of the descent, when we were all laying on the dewy grass, staring at the stars, and the only emotion my pounding heart could contain was overwhelming wonder at a love poured out on me that is too big for my soul to wrap itself around. I have some amazing friends, whom I have come to love and trust deeply. And I know they love me too, because over and over they have been willing to carry me, bear my burdens, and walk with me through tough times (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), for the sake of witnessing and experiencing beauty, glory and majesty in the end together. Under that starry sky, I was quiet and still, resting in that love and trying to get a handle on this deeper feeling that kept whispering to me, "This is the gospel in action... This is like the love of Christ..."

The thing is, the five of us reached the top of that tower and made it back to the bottom again, and throughout this whole adventure, I did nothing to contribute to its success. In fact, if anything, I tried to give the group reasons to give it up in the darkest moment. But they did not give up, and didn't let me give up either. They found a way, they risked their own safety, they pushed themselves beyond what any of us imagined they could handle. And I sat cushioned and buckled in a pack, strapped to two strong backs, hanging and being held up, without the strength or ability to even hold on or shift my weight, depending totally their strength without being able to offer any in return. And I realized this wasn't about me - they weren't doing all of this just to give me a thrill... they wanted to have this challenging adventure too, and just wanted me to be a part of it with them. "This is the gospel in action... This is like the love of Christ..."

God is doing incredibly adventurous things in the world... in the flat farmlands of Indiana... in the unpredictable inner city of Fort Wayne... in our little Hobbit Hole... and I am constantly in awe of the fact that he invites me to be a part of his work. I say yes to following him because I know he is good and trustworthy, but at the same time I have no idea what is ahead - terrifying or thrilling. He doesn't really share that information upfront; he just asks me to trust him, so I do. Then I find myself caught up in his arms, and he is carrying me to places and relationships and experiences I never dreamed possible. When I try to control or analyze his ways, tone down the danger and risk, or even back out of his hairbrained ideas, things may get tangled up and delayed, and I may cause obstacles and pain that were not intended to be there. But that is when he reminds me that he knows what he is doing, and that I don't have to do anything but abide in him, trust him, and let him do what he will do.

This is a hard journey to take, because I cannot boast in anything but my weakness and dependence on him. But the good news is, I can rest and be close to him, feeling the steady rhythm of his heartbeat and each sure-footed step he takes toward the fulfillment of his dreams. And life is worth the living when he invites me to jump in his backpack and join him in his adventure and witness his power, majesty, and love.