The First Time You Paint Her Toenails

selah toenailsIt happened last week. We sat on the bathroom floor together. She squirmed in my lap, and pulled off her socks one by one. And I picked out the only color I had…for a brand-new two-year-old: light pink.

The novelty of nail-polish, Mom’s nail-polish, kept her little feet squirming. I tried to steady them in my hand, and even when I’d whisper in her ear, “Hold still,” her toes still wiggled a little bit. I carefully painted the pretty color on each tiny toenail. Amazed at how small each one was. And as I did, something happened.

Something happens the first time you paint her toenails. It only happens between mothers and daughters I am sure. I can barely name it. But as I painted her nails, I felt I was doing something much more grand, and I think she felt it, too.

It was almost too delicate to put into words. But it was as if I were showing her, her wings. Showing her the way to beauty. And soon tears filled my eyes. It was as if I realized all at once–she was going to grow up into a woman.

A beauty.

I can see her sitting before me in a white gown before the ceremony. And I’m buttoning silk buttons long all the way up her back. I’m helping her pin up long, loose wisps of curls. I’m down on the ground, painting her toenails…and remembering: this. This day, when I first painted her nails, when they were so tiny. And her feet squirmed. And her toes wiggled. And I will want to take her in my arms and whisper once more in her ear, “Hold still.”

selah toenail 2

I push the thought away, of the day she will fly away from home forever. And who will she fly with? It pushes back. Who would ever be worthy?

I see the way she already wins attention: effortlessly. Her bright blonde hair, and big ocean eyes, her long dark eyelashes, and pixie-like features. I know she already is: a beauty.  A creature like I’ve never seen.

Yesterday, a little boy in the booth behind us, would not stop standing up and calling for her attention. She turned, and stood, too. And then they just smiled at each other six inches from one another’s face. He reached out one finger, just wanting to touch her. And she reached hers back. They both giggled when their fingertips touched. Was this toddler love?

I think mothers see it long before we ever want to admit. The grandeur of raising a daughter. Of raising up beauty, in it’s purest form. A beauty that will one day take on a life of her own, and find the comfort of another man’s arms. A man who will never seem worthy of her…

Only because you saw her, in a way he never has. You saw her at her most delicate state. You cradled her when she was just a fragile bundle on your chest. You rocked her long hours in the night, and let her tears bleed into your shirt. And you remember the first time you painted her toenails. And the way you trembled at the beauty of this little girl. And tremble still.

And you will cry, with hot tears streaming down, not because of how beautiful she looks that day. But because of how beautiful she has looked every day since the day she was born.

selah toenail blanket

In Response to “Does Missions Separate Families?”

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I never expected that my recent post “Does Missions Separate Families?” would be so widely-read. But in the past week or so, I have had the privilege of a whole audience I never imagined: missionaries.
From all over the world.

And I just wanted to say to these missionaries and your families: thank you.
As I read your comments, I got just a small taste of your daily reality. Your real thoughts, your real feelings, and the real cost of what you are doing. More than anything, that you are real people.

I couldn’t respond to your every comment. Not because there were so many, but because…sometimes I just didn’t know what to say. Reading your perspectives, and testimonies left me often just whispering, “Wow,” and pushing myself away from the kitchen table, lost in thought about you. I had no words to simply “reply” to all I feel for you.

But this is what I want you to know, if you find yourself here and are now following:
I love what you are doing. I love that you are following Christ and proclaiming Him in the darkest places of the earth. Even when that darkness seems to invade every part of you. Even when you feel completely and utterly, alone. Even when you can’t talk to anyone (in English) and just want to scream at the sky. And even when your families, and showers, and clean sheets, and sanity seem a million miles away.

Surely you will be give one hundred times more in the life to come.

The other day, my brother-in-law in Africa (whom I wrote the post about) emailed us and said protests and riots broke out in their city (due to what happened in France.) The next day, the protesters burnt down eighty percent of the churches. And the day after that, he visited one the smoldering churches just two miles from their home.

There he met two men, who said the protesters tried to burn the church down, while they were still in the building—but they managed to escape. Nearly all the teaching curriculum and bibles were burned.

Listen, I don’t know where you are. I don’t know the threats that lurk outside your door. I don’t even know if you will be able to read this. But this is what I do know—Your mission stands. It is of God. And it cannot fail.

They can burn down your churches. They can burn up the bibles. But they cannot take away the Spirit of the Living God. And He goes everywhere with you. And you go everywhere with Him. And His Word is in your heart, like a fire. And He will not be mocked. And this mission, regardless of what you see in front of you today, is not a failure.

My brother-in-law tried to encourage those two native men, who escaped their burning church, but instead they turned and encouraged him saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” And then went on to assure him that even though their building was destroyed, the Church still remained.

I was later sent this amazing video footage of the believers from their country worshiping in their church the day after it burnt.

They get it. They know where their treasure is. And that He is faithful, and He will do it. “He will not fail or be discouraged.” Isaiah 42:4

He will not fail or be discouraged.
And I guess that’s the only reply I have for you. I’ve searched it out, and these are the most soothing words I can find: He will not fail or be discouraged.

And neither will you.

Thank you for sharing your stories and lives with me. Thank you for laying down your lives. And for making our family grow. For the day is drawing near, when we will meet, face to face, every brother, sister, son, and daughter at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, and we will all rejoice wildly together at the greatest reward of all. That is, Christ.

For He will not fail or be discouraged.

How To Stay Alive In the Dead of Winter

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Queen Elsa may be able to wear a dress and prance around in the snow–but I for one, cannot. In fact, I actually hate the winter. Where I live, it snows for days on end. And bitter temperatures actually make your face hurt. (If you’re not a cartoon.)

In the last few weeks, I’ve started to feel crazy. Like, I need to get out of my house crazy. I need to go somewhere. I need to feel the sun on my skin, and warm wind blow through my hair. I need an adventure, I need something to look forward to. But when I look at the calendar…January, February, and March look about as exciting as an empty parking lot. There’s just not much going on. (And let’s just face it, the holidays in February and March are like the “B-movie” version of holidays. I mean, green beer, chocolate hearts, Groundhog Day? …Tell me if someone with cabin fever didn’t come up with this stuff?)

Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m just sort of waiting for these next few months to be over.

I think a lot of people feel this way. Because “Seasonal Affective Disorder” is real. And those serotonin levels and depression are real. But there’s something else that’s real.

Your spirit.

As human beings made in the image of God, we have been given a spirit part of us. And you won’t see much about this on WebMD. But open the Scriptures, and it’s real. And we were made to fellowship with God. And we were made to experience excitement, and mystery, and desire in His presence.

So instead of just “cabin fever” and “chemical imbalances”–could it also be that our spirit is groaning for intimacy with God? And that the Spirit of God is also calling out wildly to us?

If you have been feeling restless, and bored, and longing for something more—be encouraged! The Spirit is drawing you. He longs to woo you this winter. To draw you out of yourself and into Him, to explore His depths.

Pretty much everyone loves the song “Oceans” by Hillsong. (If you want to listen, click here.) But why do you think this song is loved by so many different people, of so many different denominations, and levels of spiritual maturity? I think it is because this song is wooing to that spirit part of us. The part of us that was made to commune and fellowship with God. We all have it. We all have a spirit–and we all want the Spirit of God to call us out. And the good news is: He is.

He does.

“You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown, where feet may fail.”

God woos in the winter. If we’re quiet enough, to hear Him.

If you are restless, or bored, or depressed–it may be that you are actually hungering and thirsting for God.

And no one can satisfy, or soothe, or thrill like Him. Perhaps our “restlessness” is the prelude to the greatest awakening we’ve yet to experience. For as St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless, until we find rest in You.”

Let Him woo you this winter. And He will call your spirit to life. Because that’s what He does. He makes dead things come alive. He makes smoldering wicks burst into flame. And makes stagnant pools flow again.

For as David said, “You make known to me the paths of life, in Your presence there is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

This is how you stay alive in the dead of winter. You stay in the presence of God. And enjoy Him.

Who knows? You may even want to run outside without your coat on. And spin around singing.

Does Missions Separate Families?

 

Selah meeting her cousins for the first time.

 

Tomorrow, my brother-in-law and his family will get on a plane, and fly to Africa. I won’t see them again for three years, except by some emailed photos, or maybe a choppy Skype connection.

I joke that I am going to sabotage their trip to the airport. And part of me really wants to. Because deep down, I really don’t want them to go. I have enjoyed having them and their three sweet girls around the last six months. They were the first to teach her how to have a proper tea party, and make elephant noises, and sing “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs. As they ran barefoot through the grass in the summer, she chased them. As they danced wildly in the living room in the winter, she imitated them. She adores them, as if they were her own big sisters. They take her by the hand, they whisper in her ears, they burst into laughter at her expressions, and pull her in for a second hug. And now, they are going away.

Does missions separate families?

I think the impulse answer is: yes.

They left for Africa three and a half years ago. And in that time, they missed births of new nieces and a nephew. The death of a grandparent. They missed all the Thanksgivings and Christmases and game nights. They missed heartaches and victories. They missed life here, for three years.

And not for an easy life. But for oven-like heat, and dirt, and difficulty. And constant sweating. And risk. Risks of violence and persecution. Risks of disease, and illness. Risks of terrorist groups, and wild animals. Risks of kidnappers, and poor health care when it really matters.

I see these three fearless little girls, whose mom is pregnant with their first little brother, and tremble that he will be born there.

The question inevitably crops up: Why are they doing this?

One night after dinner at our house, as we pulled apart the last remains of the garlic bread, I asked my brother-in-law, “So, how did you…get over all of the fear?” I think he made a few cracks about my fear of Ebola. And then he just looked at me, and said with such simplicity, “I am afraid of some of those of things. I’m actually really afraid of flying. But I’m more afraid of not obeying God.”

But I’m more afraid of not obeying God.

And that’s the difference. I see the risk, the danger, the loss. He sees the reward. The gain. The joy.

He and his wife see hell as a reality. And love as a command. And the gospel as real. And they are doing it. They are living it. They really love Jesus. They really believe He’s coming back. And they really love bringing others into His family.

While we feel like we are losing a brother and a sister, they are actually rescuing lost brothers and sisters and bringing them into the Kingdom of God.

While we will miss their daughters and son, they will be rescuing daughters and sons and bringing them into the family of God.

They leave us in order to rescue others, to bring more into the family, the family of God. The family that will live on forever. And the gates of hell will not prevail against this mission. Because it’s the one Jesus called us to.

Does missions separate families?
Yes. For a time.

But it also expands them. By inviting the lost into a family. Those who had no family, no hope, who were on the outside and separated from God. (See Ephesians 2.)

There may be a few empty seats at our next Thanksgiving dinner. But by those seats being empty, it will mean that other place settings are being made ready for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Because lost brothers and sisters who live across the ocean, whose skin is darker than ours, whose language is different than ours, will be invited into God’s family, and will be called for the first time sons and daughters, and will be given a place at His table forever.

One day, we will come together, all of us, those who were far off, and those who were brought near, as one family, with exploding joy.  And there in the presence of Christ, we will see that missions never separated our family at all.

It only ever made it grow.

I Actually Really Love This

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I know it’s good to get away now and then, and I do. I slip out to Starbucks and write, or just stare out the window. But sometimes when we have a baby-sitter and we are at an adult-only party, I’m laughing along at some joke, and somewhere during that laughter, my mind drifts away to her. I feel the pink rubber hairband around my pinky, and think of how like it, I’m wrapped around her finger. I open my purse to pay at the coffee shop and as I pull out my wallet, so does Mr. Potato Head’s arm. My ear bud is wet; she sucked on it this morning under the computer desk.

How is it she goes with me everywhere? How is it, she has become my obsession? I’m tired and moody and yet, I can’t pry myself away. I feel naked without her.

My husband’s home this week on Christmas break, and I will grocery shop tomorrow as usual. And he will probably offer to keep her home with him. And that will sound like a great idea, until I am there. Alone.

I’ll push the empty cart, without her in it. I’ll easily grab the produce and cereal I want without having to pry anything out of little hands. No one will snatch my shopping list from me, or crumble it up, or throw it on the ground. No one will open the dryer sheets and blow their nose on them. No one will scream at the top of their lungs or tell me they have to go potty as I begin to check out.

The secret is: I actually love to have her with me. Even though it can be hard, and stressful, and chaotic.

Life is more fun with her.

I want her with me. I want her smile. I want her voice to fill up the car. I want her blonde head chattering in the rearview mirror. Even when that blonde head will start to scream and whine. Because, even as I’m wrestling her off the bathroom floor, (who knows what they are thinking in the stall next to us), and grabbing her from touching the nastiest box of feminine napkins that is bolted to the wall–I actually really love this. I love her. I love her with me. And I wouldn’t trade it.

That moment she left my womb, on a cold night in January, she entered my heart–never to leave.

I’m not saying taking breaks, or time away is bad. In fact, it is very good. I guess I’m just realizing, it’s not what outsiders would think it is. Those aren’t the moments I live for. They are the ones that help me keep living.

It’s like when you were a kid, on a hot summer’s day, running around playing freeze tag, sweating, screaming and laughing. Then your friend’s mom comes outside with a giant pitcher of Kool-aid. Someone screams “Time-out!” and you pause for a moment, gulping down all the cold liquid you can. And then you stand there, breathing hard, and wiping your mouth, and catching your breath. And the moment you do, someone screams, Time in!” And you run wildly back into the yard.

That is what we mom’s live for. The exhilarating game in the grass, the one that makes us sweat, and scream, and laugh. Not the crumpled paper cup on the picnic table. That was just so we could keep going.

Because underneath all the noise and chaos as we tote around little ones, underneath the shirt stained by ketchup fingers, underneath the the hands cramped from buckling, and unbuckling car seats, is a woman who whispers in her heart,
“I actually really love this.”