Monday, December 24, 2012

The Ugliest Most Beautiful Gift

I recently made an addition to the decor on my desk at work.  It's pretty ugly and I keet waiting to hear someone jokingly mutter about it under their breath as they walk past.  But no one has.  In truth, they probably don't know that I think it's ugly and are doing their best to avoid hurting my feelings.  I'm kind of surprised that no one has even asked me where it came from or why it's there.  It's really not my style, but more like that of the movie stereotypical grandmother who collects all sorts of things.  Yet I've had it for nearly ten years.  I've moved it to three cities and six houses.  Each time unpacking it and putting it in the trash pile.  If I were Bilbo Baggins, this would be my ring. (That might be a stretch, but you get the idea).  It always calls to me from the trash and I continue to rescue it.  Why?

It was the fall of 2003 and I was on my student teaching adventure in a diverse school in the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago.  I was nearing what had been a tough, eye-opening semester during which I questioned whether or not I really had what it takes to be a teacher. They were a beautiful little class of varying ethnicities and personalities; a representation of the surrounding community. They were also urban almost-middle-schoolers and a somewhat difficult class to manage.  I loved them, but I was quite often grateful that I had a "real" teacher present to guide me at all times.

It's traditional to have a little going away party for student teachers and this class was no different.  On my last day, we had treats and the kids gave me all kinds of cards saying I was the best teacher ever (yes, some of the kids were lying).  Some of the kids had gone with their parents to the corner store and brought me little candies, but it was the gift of this one little girl that still adorns my desk ten years later.

I remember that she was Vietnamese and that her parents spoke almost no English.  In fact, they had come to parent teacher conferences and we had not been able to successfully communicate with them.  The girl would wear the same outfit for a couple of days in a row, but she was always clean.  She had the face of an angel; one of those faces that literally beamed when she smiled.  It was that face that brought me a wrapped gift on that, my last, day as her student teacher.  I unwrapped it, preparing myself to give off an air of joy (fellow teachers will understand this), and reminded myself to smile and thank the girl.

It wasn't until years later that I could fully appreciate the gift.  The little girl thought it was beautiful and she wanted to give me a beautiful gift. I don't know the story of what it took for the girl to get the gift or what her family had to sacrifice so that she could, but I can imagine.  I'm certain there was no allowance to save up or extra money in the bank.  Yet this little girl found a way to send me off with something of beauty.  Why?  Probably because she loved me.  That is not a statement of pride, but of awe.  I did nothing special for her to love me. 

Just like I did nothing special to be loved, but God sent Jesus to die for me anyway.

Just like I hope to love on kids who come through our house in years to come.

So I keep this gift on my desk as a reminder; that there is beauty in the unexpected; to ask about people's stories; to love without expectations and with abandon; to hold close to my heart that I was and am loved in much the same way.

May you find something once thought ugly and, tonight, find a beauty hovering in its depths. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

not just a basket

This is why I love my job: 

I know.  That picture really tells you nothing.  Here's the deal:  that little guy is carrying a basket full of games, crafts, and books to be given to families in need around our city this Christmas. This weekend our church put together somewhere near eight hundred of these.  It takes literally (at least) a hundred volunteers to pull off the full scope of the project. Today, I watched as people gathered and sorted and bundled and prettied.  My favorite part was watching the little ones.  The curly-headed four year old who unwrapped the blankets that would line the baskets; the preteen who eagerly did anything she was asked; the eight year old who collected the trash strewn about; mr. muscles (above) moving baskets from one spot to the next. Kids (and adults) gave their time to create baskets that, when used as intended, would give the gift of "time together" to families.  You see, these baskets are not your typical Christmas gifts.  They are filled with items that bring family members around the table. It's a gift of relationships and memories that will last well beyond the breakable toys that will soon go out of style.

Like the picture above, there's always something deeper than what is initially seen in the work that I get to do.  Not long ago we helped move a greenhouse from one organization onto the property of another.  Greenhouse?  What?  Well, let's just say that it's in a pretty desperate part of the city.  What looks like just a greenhouse is actually going to become a place where seeds are started which in turn will become gardens in the spring.  When the vegetables are ready to harvest, people in the neighborhood will get to pick and take them home.  Perhaps they'll get seeds to start their own garden.  Just a greenhouse?  Nope.  It's fresh, nutritious foods for an area of the city where the word "fresh" isn't known.  It's community in its purest form as people come together to care for and protect the garden.  

Like the landscaping we got to help with for a foster family. It was more than just dirt and plants and mulch.  It was creating a safe and beautiful space for kids to be kids in the midst of what is a very harsh life for some.  It's a place for the foster parents to sit outside on a cool evening and enjoy each other after they've put their eight children to bed.  It's a garden where relationships built on trust can grow.

Or the 90th birthday party we had the honor of putting on.  More than a party, it was honoring the life of a woman who has many a reason to keep grudges and honestly, to hold hate captive in her heart, but who instead loves with great abandon and care.

Yes, I coordinate workdays.  But it's really so much more.  God has given me a front row seat to watch as He heals and restores individuals and communities.  There are workdays (days when I coordinate volunteer projects) when I am so overwhelmed that I can only express myself in tears.  The tears are not provoked by the number of baskets we made or what we planted in the garden.  It's the trust; the relationships; the generosity of time; the gift of love and mercy so often found in the unexpected places.

So on a day like today when I watch the little guy moving baskets that weigh almost as much as he that someone he'll probably never meet can experience all these things...

speechless.  grateful.  humbled.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

wedding in pictures

this is my last post about our wedding...for real...or at least for this month. 

anticipation of getting to see my groom.


excitement over a gift that i put so much of myself into.

getting to hang out with these cool dudes...

and these pretty ladies.

 including beautiful parts of the city in our day.

a quiet moment ,

a rainy moment,

a moment frozen in time

children's laughter and clinking bells.




and one we love like a brother.

 little things:

like beautiful art (thank you kathee),

hand-painted bottles (thank you ladies),

remembering our loved ones,

two hearts,


 pink shoes,

 an old guitar 

and a song.
like cake in the nose

 a waltz,

 a twelve year old catching the bouquet

and a baby vying for the garter.

there was the guy who started this whole thing,

a most amazing sky,

and a daddy dancing with his daughter.

 and, of course, who can forget the magic....

Monday, September 10, 2012

God did good

i heard someone talking about our wedding this weekend.  i was so overwhelmed at the reminder of God's goodness that the tears were flowing and then i remembered that i hadn't returned to share here. 

people warned us that the day would go fast.  we were advised to steal moments as observers and to not hurry through it all.  boy, were those people right.  even with intentional moments to be a fly on the wall, i still find that i only recall pieces of the day.  while it's difficult to remember, there are things are forever etched in my heart. 

like the way steve looked at me when we first saw each other.  words cannot do justice the awe, the joy, the overwhelmingness.  it was the purest of looks.

speaking of looks....i also will never forget the way the best man looked at steve (which i could see when i faced steve).  it was similar to that of a proud father.  a beaming.  a man that has invested so much of himself in steve's life and couldn't help but ooze love and joy at the man steve has become. 

and my little bell ringers....exactly what i had dreamed of for years (thanks to some college friends who i stole the idea from).  one little boy specifically; one unabashedly creative little boy who decided to humor us all while we waited our turn to walk the aisle.  he did so by turning his bells into ears like shrek's.  imagine us all trying to stifle our laughs.

at one point the pastor made us turn around and face our guests, telling us to look at everyone that had come because they loved us and wanted to support us.  i will never forget panning the room and trying to take in every face.  it's overwhelming to think we are so loved and supported.

i remember ashley's hallelujah's.  my favorite line from my favorite song.  sung so differently and yet so perfectly.

and i remember "God did good" which is what the pastor that gave the blessing near the end reminded us.  God didn't just do good.  He did way better than my little mind could have ever even imagined.

steve and i have this thing that we say to each other.  it started innocently in a letter i wrote to steve, but in recent months has become a much more intentional saying in our house:  God gives good gifts. what a gift.  not just steve.  not just marriage.  but that there is a God who loves me enough to give me exactly what i need in a partner.  not only that, but that He brings together a whole slew of people to love, push, champion, and advise us as we travel this road together.  and what an extra special gift that a majority of them gathered in one place at the same time to help us celebrate. 

God did good.  amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

our wedding: behind the scenes edition

a friend sent this link to us recently.

i think she was trying to help us feel better about what happened at our wedding, or rather in the hours after our wedding.  i'm not sure what is worse:  the whole wedding party falling in the lake or nearly 100 guests who wind up sick post-wedding?  but i'm getting ahead of myself.  perhaps you would like to know the whole story.

i found myself surprisingly calm on my wedding day.  i had experienced all of the stressful moments i could the day before and had decided that nothing would get in the way of my marrying my best friend.  so when mom and i were on our way to hotel to get ready and discovered that we had left the boutonnieres behind, it was no big deal.

and when my maid of honor, my mom, and myself got stuck in an elevator, it was no big deal.  we were innocently on our way to get the flowers out of the car when the elevator just stopped.  i suggested we were stuck.  mom assured me we were moving.  then it got hot.  and the doors didn't open.  i always wondered what it would be like to use the emergency phone.  i told the guy on the other end that i was sure we were stuck and that i was getting married.  he made some not so funny jokes, but then said they would work to get us out as quickly as they could.  we giggled a lot.  it was really hot.  people yelled at us through the elevator shaft.  steve freaked out.  we giggled some more.  eventually, we were rescued.   thirty minutes later, i had forgotten that it had even happened.

so when steve called to say that our "getaway car" wouldn't start, it really wasn't a big deal.  steve would tell you that it was a dream of his to drive his friends' 1967 Chevelle with the woman of his dreams by his side.  he was disappointed, but at the end of the day, he was still getting the woman of his dreams.  (that, and we ended up with really nice Porsche to drive instead)

the rain that came while we were taking pictures also wasn't a big deal.  our photographer knew how to use it to his advantage and had some good covered places to snap shots.

when we were told we couldn't use the six hundred sparklers we had purchased, it still wasn't a big deal.  by that time we were married and we could always find a way to get some cool sparkler shots another time.

but when we got the phone call from the hotel, THAT was a BIG deal.  two months before our wedding, steve had booked our wedding night at a hotel we could never even consider staying at on a regular day due to fancyness.  he had even called two days before our wedding to confirm our reservation.  we were literally blocks from the hotel when the call from the hotel manager came (and not just the front desk manager.  we're talking higher up).  i only really heard " room....more people stayed than room anywhere."  i am embarrassed by the rudeness that came out of me at that point.  (i did apologize to the poor guy the next day).  we are not totally sure what happened, but we speculate this: someone made a mistake and then because of a 20,000 person conference, a Cardinals game, and the Blues rally, they overbooked.  after we got over the shock, stopped in at the hotel to get the details we couldn't get on the phone, we decided to drive around until we were sure the coast was clear at our house.  then the next call came.  the hotel had found us a the kirkwood best western.  yes, you read that right.  from a five-star hotel to the best western.  it was a room, a nice room at that, and they were kind to us.  what was a big deal resolved itself as i got to sleep next to my husband after a long and amazing day.

or so i thought.  i had only slept for about two hours when the vicious cramps started.  cramps that landed me in the bathroom every 20-30 minutes for the rest of the night.  turns out i wasn't the only one.  when we both finally got around to turning our phones on the next morning, we were greeted with several messages from people who had been dealing with the sickness as well.  over the next several hours (as we drove to our honeymoon destination), we pieced it all together and guessed that probably around a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five people were sick with what appeared to be a diarrheal virus.  even though i couldn't control it, i felt absolutely horrible.  and sad.  my wedding would be known as the one that everyone got sick at.  ugh. 

there are other things i could write about.  like how there was a major mess-up at our venue, both in set up and in clean up.  my family was actually asked to clean the bathrooms.  (luckily, my sister is good at saying no).  or that on our honeymoon, steve sliced his finger open and i severely broke my glasses.  OR that all this stuff culminated in my getting a bacterial infection that manifested itself in huge bug-bite-looking-bruise-feeling welts all over my torso.  or that we didn't get any cake :(  

i could write about all of those things, but i think what i really want to tell you about are the snapshots from the day that vastly overpower everything i've mentioned in this post.  moments that when i close my eyes, i can almost relive no matter where i am. moments to be shared in another post...