Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Notes on A Marriage

Cory and I hightailed it up to Michigan on Sunday to belatedly celebrate our 15th anniversary.
We used to get away together more often...back when life was different in lots of ways. Upon reflection, we've only had one night alone in the past 18 months where we weren't sick as a coupl'a hound dogs.

Summary: We were long overdue.

For two nights, we stayed up late, slept in late (our dream schedule!) ate fantastic food cooked by NOT ME, read books, strolled around, held hands, took selfies, ate snacks, took naps, adventured, and generally had a blast together. We also hot-tubbed.

The first night we talked about the kinds of things that require mental energy reserves and zero interruptions; important things like mission and little kids and big kids, community, church, the jailbirds. We'd caught a breather, so we regrouped and dreamed without restrictions, our faces barely lit, feeling bold and gutsy in boiling hot water under sheets of stars like the ones in the movies.

Just before my face started to throb (my signature "you've had enough hot tub, Martin") I flashed back to 13 years ago, sitting at my end of our blue striped couch, bawling my eyes out because I was in a mess of a marriage and I couldn't see an end.

I wanted out. Everything felt hopeless. All I could imagine was an eternity of unhappiness. Things had spiraled so quickly and I was terrified of the shifting ground. I felt unloved, unlovable, very alone. (And everything I felt, Cory probably felt double.)

Right there against the backdrop of my misery and the dingy paint job of our "economical" apartment, God shoved past my crap and told me the truth about things. "See how hard the enemy is fighting to destroy you two? Just imagine what he's scared of. Just imagine the good you'll do with me, together."

In an instant, a page turned.
I felt the slip of paper under my fingertips, heard the rustling brush of words on words, saw, for the first time in a good, long while, some white space. Room for a future.

I had no idea it was what I wanted, what I'd been looking for.

That was the beginning of this right here.
We couldn't possibly have imagined it.

We moved to DC, re-soldered our mangled commitment to each other, got jobs in politics, hitched our stars to the American Dream, went to church, payed our tithe, adopted babies, bought a farm.

I clung to those cheap-carpet words whenever I felt tremors beneath our fine-tuned life.

I decided our little ones were the "good" we were doing together.
And they were. Still are.

But I had no idea there was more.

I didn't imagine a future of loss and instability and surrender and loneliness.
I didn't dream of a little house on a shabby street, a failing public school, or that my husband would spend his days with criminals but call them his friends.
In my wildest wishes, I couldn't trace the shape of a tall kid with an ankle bracelet and a heart broken so long, he thought it was supposed to feel that way.

Back then, I thought bigger was better and more was more.
I thought Jesus kept His best gifts on the tallest shelf, so I climbed. With my husband.

It would have been foolishness to imagine that our greatest purpose, our near-tangible peace, would look like bits of broken dreams.

Wearing a ridiculous bikini, skimming the bubbles with my fingertips, staring at my man, it clicked into place. It crystallized.

This life right here, this was part of God's purpose for us, inked before the first bloom of time.
It's not so exceptional. It's not the kind of life they make movies about.
To us, it is ordinary.
It is grueling, some days.
It can feel thankless and annoying and sometimes, boring to its core.

All those gifts I mentioned, the ones I didn't even know to ask for, they aren't because we did anything right or because we're very smart in the ways of righteousness. They are grace. Only grace. The kind that makes you fall to your knees. The kind that makes you remember your depravity. The kind that makes you believe God can meet you in your darkest hour, sit down beside you on your secondhand couch, and tell you to shape the heck up. Cut the drama, already. There's work to be done, but you've got to drop that torn-up net you're holding and follow Him.

Cory and I have talked about that moment plenty of times, but it felt good to say it all again, in order.

Bubbles blurred the edges of all our words, and there we were; one set of brown eyes, one set of blues. Still locked on each other when common sense would have said otherwise.

God defies gravity, friends.
He laughs at our foolish "logic" and our made-up psychobabble. He holds our world at a scary-sharp angle and says it's level.

What feels real to us often isn't, and only when we take a hard look at His unbending love for us, His endless mercy for us, only when we're so desperate that we actually listen, can we begin to see straight.

That's the kind of weekend I had.

*These are all phone pics, the step ones and selfies courtesy of Cory.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Weekend Cheer-Ups

:: Cory and I (both introverts) cackled at this like cats in nip.

:: Could this convince me to overcome my fear of the whole bird?

:: Bravo, Jen!

:: SUCH a dreamy home (and always fun to see my friends shine!)

:: Not that I need this parenting advice...

:: The kids' school has some big, exciting things around the bend.

:: I'm on a secondhand hunt for a great plaid scarf.

:: An oldie but SUCH a goodie. I still quote this now and then. It makes me laugh-cry.

:: Fascinating perspective on race and adoption.

:: Really love this print shop.

:: Grabbed this and this from the library today. (Both reader suggestions!)

:: I keep a list here of all the books I read.

:: Give beets a chance.

:: Then reward yourself with this.

:: Hayley told me this $5 concealer is the bomb...I'm a believer.

:: Stellar parenting advice from a dude.

Happy weekend, frans.

Friday, October 17, 2014


I spent a recent evening sharing part of my story with a group of women whose hearts keep a beat similar to my own. We were at an adoption conference, so I talked about each of my four children, some of whom sailed into our family from across oceans, some who skipped across the St. Joe River like a smooth stone made just for our hands.

But of course, nothing about the blending of families and cultures and forever can be described as sailing. And fractured beginnings don’t inspire anyone to skip.

For weeks I prayed about what these women (myself included) needed to hear from the Lord. Over and over, He spoke one word to me, “Chosen”...

To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What It Feels Like To Fall

My neighborhood has never been more beautiful than it is today.
After two rainy days, the leaves are putting on a show. Almost every tree is on fire, brash and brazen and daring any of us to believe God doesn't care. Just one look out the window and we know better.

I rushed out the door this morning to spend an hour in Silas's kindergarten class. The sky was still netted in fog, the kind of beauty that makes you stare, the kind that could turn us all into poets.

I wished for my camera. I framed the image in my mind, clicked just once on the shutter. By the hour's end, the fog had lifted, but I had seen that romance out past the glass. I had noticed. And so had some of the kiddos. Documented or not, it was real. And, I think, personal.

This is who God is.
This is how He loves us.

Cory and I have been spending our evenings talking about this new stirring in our hearts. God is moving here. He keeps showing up in the wildest ways in our little neighborhood, in the school, in jail. Our neighbors and Cory's friends are God's beloved, and we watch Him gather us all up together.

We're family, and He wants us to really believe it, but more than that, He wants us to live like it.

We spent the summer resting in what simply is. We finally understood God was going to have to do the negotiating and all the heavy lifting. We are driven to the hurting and the forgotten, yes, but it's up to Him to piece us all together and direct our paths, because if left up to us, the whole thing hits the concrete in shards of pride, pity, duty, and resentment.

(Can you tell we've walked this sidewalk before?)

Lately, people are coming our way. They're finding us. We're finding them. We pray to stay soft to opportunity and suddenly, the connecting part almost feels easy. All we've done is wait while we live.

But I'm that maple leaf, clinging to the limb. I don't want to fall.
I get nervous and guarded. I trade my fear of being pushy for a refusal to move at all.

This weekend, we're clipping a line.
We're choosing vulnerability and butterflies.

For over a year, we've had a dream that sounds small but feels really big.
The clock ticking, we pulled it together in a rush, knowing in the corners of our hearts it might be a pathetic failure.

The good news is, we're starting to view "failure" quite differently. Maybe taking the leap is all the "success" we need right now.

My neighbors and I, we have things in common: we need to experience the love of Jesus to survive. We need to know it's real. We need reason to believe we haven't burned up all our chances.

That's the best place to start.

If you could, say a prayer for us on Saturday.

I'm' not even sure how to tell you to pray. We just want to see the love of God move among His people. We want it to float on the breeze and fall around our friends' ankles in heaps of can't-miss-it color until they know it was meant just for them.

Thank you so much, friends.

ps - I still need to hear from 7 of the Goodwill winners! :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Goodwill "Winners"

I'll be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect with how this whim of mine would be received by you guys. This kind of felt like the Biggest Test Ever of how well we "get" each other.

Will they dig it?
Will they finally decide, after years of contemplation, that enough is enough?
Will they doubt my choices?
Will they break up?

The good news is, the wedding is still ON!
We're still a thing, you and me. You're Thelma, I'm Louise. In it to the end, minus the dying.

The comments were such a frenzy that was forced to Google "how to turn off comments blogger" for the first time in 6 years. Don't be mad, baby. I didn't have a choice. I couldn't handle more comments/new comments/all the wonderful, enthusiastic Goodwill-geeking comments BECAUSE I WAS BUSY CREATING A SPREADSHEET.

Another bloggy first.

This project required the careful tallying of each and every bid.

(I wish I could don my handy Martyr hat and pretend I hated it, but you don't work as a policy wonk at a political think-tank without emerging an even nerdier version of yourself. Bless it, Robert Rector.)

It feels impossible to articulate at this hour how much the bell curve distribution of said spreadsheet data blessed me. Who knew??? (I originally had a screen shot of the spreadsheet on this post, but it caused my blog to rebel and act fussy, so I had to take it down. Just know: Almost perfect bell curve.) I put exactly zero thought into the order of the outfits on the post. Honest to goodness, I was worried about ol' #6, with the lace and the gingham. It felt so FPFG that I was sure it was more of a niche combo.

I'll be honest though, I'm pretty disappointed at your overall disregard for outfit #7. Why you gotta hate, baby? My friends Sarah and Kim came over for dinner Monday night and of course Goodwill was a hot topic of convo. Of the poor, brown jacket, Sarah said something to the effect of, "It doesn't wow me," to which I hauled every last outfit down to my kitchen (where they still reside, cough cough) and we sorted through them.

Kim tried on the brown coat like a boss-lady and loved it. BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME. I will admit, perhaps I could have paired it with a different shirt. I'm working with some limitations here, people! Just trust that should you see her rocking her tweed faux-moto (fauxmo?) jacket around town, you will blaze with crimson shame over your loss.

Poor, poor people-coat.

Now, for our winners.

Listen. Silas chose them. It felt like the only fair way and I thought it could be insightful. It wasn't, really. But I had hope that it could have been.

Last night I hauled the laptop up to his bed and we went through each list of names (often multiple times so he could remember his options.) He picked the name he liked best. I will now list the names, along with his reasoning for choosing it, but please remember, it was late. He wasn't quite on his game. (And his game is WEIRD.) I annotated his rationale beside each winner.

Right up front, I'd like to offer my apologies to Darby.
He is 6.

One last disclaimer: I'm fairly concerned about things fitting the winners right. Should you find that your items don't fit or you just don't love them, there is a staunch no-returns policy, because it will be a miracle unto itself if I even get these sent out in the first place. (I believe! I do!) So, in a case such as this, you would have two options: 1) re-donate it. Look at it as a ministry. 2) comb through the comments on the original post and contact a loser. And by "loser," I simply mean "one who did not win." Just to clarify.

Without further ado...

#1 - Gray sweater/blue T - Darby (Because it sounds weird.)
#2 - Red blazer and cami - Kristin (It's a blah blah.)
#3 - Courduroy blazer and striped T - Elisha (It's so cool.)
#4 - Green sweater, polka dot T - Melissa (It's awesome.)
#5 - Black jacket, gray T - Ann (It's so short.)
#6 - Gingham - Bekah (It's a cool name!)
#7 - Don't wanna talk about it.
#8 - Plaid button-down, Gray T - Easton. (It's so cool. Easton. It is SO COOL! Easton!)
#9 - Blue loungey sweatshirt - Michelle* (Because it's cool.) (See? Not on his game.)
#10 - Oatmeal button down - Amanda* (He actually picked Keisha, the only other contender, because she is his aunt. But I thought we'd better do that thing where immediate family members can't win. No worries though, Amanda. I'm sure he thinks your name is "cool".)
#11 - Gray cardi, Mystery Man T - Becklist. (For Silas, I changed this to "Becky" because it was late and I couldn't chance another tangent. He immediately picked Becky, "Because it's such a pretty name." Little rat can't help how cute and lovable he is....)

Winners, you can Paypal me $16 at ( and be sure to include your shipping address in the notes.

Will I do this again? Oh, I think I probably will.
You guys are such enablers.


*Michelle - I spotted a couple small darkish spots on the back of the sweatshirt when Kim tried it on for fun. I didn't realize they were there before. They are small and not super noticeable, but I totally understand if that's not your jam. If you are still interested, the price is $5 (rather than $10) plus $6 shipping. Also, the striped T has super-fun sequined bling on the front stripes! I had forgotten about that...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Goodwill Toward Women - The Secondhand Surprise

A couple weeks ago I was all keyed up about the Secondhand Challenge, so I did what I always do when I get like this: I drove to Goodwill.

I thought I'd be there for 20 minutes.
In and out.

I found a few really cute things, but sometimes they weren't in my size, or other times, I would remember I don't need another gray sweater.

I thought, hmmmm...maybe I should just buy this outfit and use it as a giveaway for my blog homies. They might love it.

But then I felt like that would be discriminatory against all the other sizes.

Let me back up.

I've always had this weird thing about feeling bad for the underdog, even when said "underdog" isn't a living person. Even when it's less than an actual dog. When I was a kid I would sometimes wear a shirt I hated just because I didn't want its feelings to be hurt. By me. To me, they were like people-shirts. Shirt-people.

(This is getting weird.)

You might think I grew out of it, but a couple weeks ago I was at an ice cream social and every single person was getting vanilla with chocolate sauce, not even caring about the lime and raspberry sherbet sitting all woeful and drippy to the left.

Yada yada, I had the vanilla. But I'm still ashamed.

I like things to be even.
It brings me deep peace.

SO. I bought 4 outfits, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large.

But then I bought more.

 (This was my holding rack. I whittled it down and hauled a bunch of it off to the janky fitting rooms...)

(This is what made the cut.)

So, the really bad news is, this isn't a giveaway.
But the good news is, I rounded up a bunch of rad secondhand outfits AND YOU CAN BUY THEM.
For ten bucks. (Plus $6 shipping.)

Disclosure: I can't foresee a situation where I would spend $16 on a secondhand outfit. I get it. I wish there was a way around the shipping fee. I mostly just wanted you to see there's really fun stuff to be found for SO little.

Each outfit cost $10 off the racks. And I found 90% of it in one trip to Goodwill. Just imagine the damage you could do on 1/2 off day! Or with a coupon! I'm getting all wound up and using "excited marks", as Silas calls them.

Anyway, if you're interested in one of these outfits, leave a comment telling me which one you want and if there's more than one person who wants it, I'll draw a "winner".

It's like Ebay, which means you can have this all-too-familiar convo with your husband:
You: I won that outfit!
Him: You won it? So it's free?
You: Well, no. But it's cheap!
Him: So you didn't win it. You bought it.
You: I won it. For a small fee.

This is also the right time to say that I'm specifically not telling you the brands.
Because that's the whole point: IT DOESN'T MATTER.
In some cases, you'll be crazy surprised.
And in other cases, you'll be crazy surprised. In the opposite way.

This will open your mind FOREVAH!

Also, you'll notice the sizes seem wonky. This is another Secondhand Life Lesson. When you buy secondhand, always be sure to look one size up, and one size down. Because you're mixing brands and even fashion eras (fit standards change over the years) you can't rely on just your "size".

I'll shut up now and let the people-shirts do the talking.
(Each outfit description is above the photo it describes.)

Outfit 1
Size: Medium (both pieces)
Includes: Gray cardi, ink-blue v-neck T

I'm sorry, but I can't let this do its own talking.
I have to interject and say how much I love this sweater and how perfect it would layer with almost everything you already own. Also, wear it with a scarf.

(I hope you clued in to my very high-end photo studio. Two pieces of wrinkly sheeting left-over from when we backed La Fiesta Mexicana curtains.)

Moving on.

Outfit 2
Size: 14 (blazer) Large (cami)
Includes: White lacy camisole thingy with a mustard yellow under-layer, Red blazer that I WISH fit me because when I tried it on (I tried every piece, just to make sure the outfits "worked",) I fell deeply in love with it, making every other people-jacket in the joint burn with feelings of inadequacy.

Outfit 3
Size: XL (blazer) M (t-shirt - def more of a L than M)
Includes: Brown corduroy blazer that you will wear every day of your life, super-soft pumpkin/oatmeal striped T.

Outfit 4
Size: XXL
Includes: Loden green long cardi, gray polka-dot T, 2 wood bangles (not pictured because I forgot they were on my dresser.)

Outfit 5
Size:12 (jacket), M (t-shirt) (Again, this is sized more for a Large.)
Includes: Black/White/Multicolored tweed jacket, Gray V-neck T.
(I want to lick this outfit. I love it so much. I love all of them because that was my litmus test: Only buy it if you would wear it. But this is 100% me. I would wear it OUT.) (Don't tell the others.)

Outfit 6
Size: S (button down), M (sweatshirt) (Sweatshirt is actually a true small.)
Includes: Royal blue GINGHAM!, mint green/lace sweatshirt. BOOM.

Outfit 7
Size: S (jacket) M (t-shirt)
Includes: Rusty brown jacket, fuchsia T

Outfit 8
Size: Medium (button down), S (t-shirt) (This would be an overall Small)
Includes: Plaid button-down, gray 3/4 sleeved T

Outfit 9
Size: Small (but could totally work for a medium, too)
Includes: Big, loungy, comfy sweatshirt cape thing that I want to live in forever, tangerine striped T

Size: Medium
Includes: Oatmeal button down (worn as a jacket), Ron burgandy T, gold tassel necklace

Outfit 11
Size: Small
Includes: Gray jersey cardigan, orange T-shirt with oddly familiar man face (Who is this? FDR? The Wendy's guy???)

Disclosure: I have waffled back and forth 20 times on whether or not I'm keeping this for myself. Alas, you won.


By the way, this was the surprise I've been yammering around about.
Do you like it?

Do you want me to mail one of these bad boys to your house?

Tell me everything in the comments.

Love in the secondhand degree,

ps - A reader mentioned after I gathered all this up that it's hard to find plus-sized clothing secondhand, so that's my newest challenge. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Come In

If you hadn't noticed, my house and I are having a bit of a "moment". It's not that I feel compelled to expose it/us every time it's a mess, it's that this is the way we usually live. And I like it this way.

This is what life looks like in between the photos that get staged and tweaked, before I pull out all the shadows and brighten things up a bit.

If there's one thing I know, it's that I was never as comfortable with the mess until we moved out of our dream house and into a place we never knew to dream of.

Here, we hold hands with the mess of life, where clothes wait to be washed and folded and sized and stacked - ready for whoever gets them next. There are muffins to be made for the folks who just moved into the blue house. There are blankets left-over from last night, when one of our favorite neighbors came to stay a while.

On my worst days, I believe I actually have lost myself, that something was broken along the way. I look to my left, to my right. I see good, Christian folks in their shirtsleeves and neckties, the salt-of-the-earth women who scrub their floors as in worship.

What I mostly want to do is run. Or hide. I worry I don't fit with them. I feel the pull to retreat into myself, offering as little back as I can get away with. (Even then, I feel like a fraud.)

On my best days, I stand at my messy counters while the sun is barely pricking the sky and water fills the sink. I look out my window just as the three new neighbor kids walk past, a clean 25 minutes late to school.

My eyes meet his through the glass and I wonder what he thinks when he sees me standing here in my husband's sweatshirt, with bed-head. Overwhelmingly, as "deconstructed" as my house may feel at the moment, I wish it was so much worse. I don't ever want him to believe he can't roll with us. I don't want my throw pillows to look like a row of tidy, church-shirt buttons, or my curtains to seem sort of like a necktie.

Some of the people on my street use bed sheets for curtains, not because they like the pattern, but because it's what they have to keep everyone away - the prying eyes, the suspicion, the outsiders.

I don't have bed sheet curtains to yank open (wait, actually...I do.) But what I can offer is my hot mess of a life, where tasks outnumber hours. I can offer my tendencies to grumble, not because they're holy, but because they're human. (My imperfect heart knows its own kind, so yours might, too. We'll get there together.)

What I can give you here is my promise to not pretend, and though some days this curtains-splayed existence looks like fluffy hair and a face full of make-up, most days it looks like 3-day yoga pants, flat bangs, and dark circles.

I can look you in the eyes and tell you how hard it is for me to pray, how I've always felt I wasn't good enough at it and how Satan twists my truth into lies, sometimes, making me believe my love for Jesus must not be real, causing me to fear being found out.

I live, quite literally, where the sidewalk ends.
Different things are valued here, not necessarily better things, not necessarily worse. 

I live and move inside my pretty, little white house where our electricity has never been cut. Our cupboards have never known lack.

I fend off wishes that I wouldn't love beauty so much, that I could strip away all my thrift-store glitz and live bare-bones, like Shane Claiborne probably does.

The real truth is, I splurged two days ago on a different color comforter for our bed.

With the snap of my wrists, clean sheets fall but the room is still a mess. I'm still tripping over boxes and wondering what's become of me. I'm still niggled by the thought of what some of my friends might think if they knew.

I never wonder long enough to really care.

This call to live in the heart of humanity, with people different and exactly like myself, is a call to live and breathe its rhythm. The call to love the broken is a call to live in brokenness - to embrace being broken.

This undercurrent of bold-faced imperfection is saving me.
There moves among us the winds of dependence - we are a people in need.

Come on into my mess. You are welcome here.

"Don't divide your life into things you can do by yourself and things that require My help. Instead, learn to rely on Me in every situation." - Jesus Calling

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