the little things: skittles & surprises (missy hall).

Guest post Tuesday, guest post Tuesday!  Missy is a friend of mine who seems to bring sunshine with her everywhere she goes.  She and I have known about each other for awhile now, but are just now entering into the burgeoning journey of friendship …and I couldn’t be more excited for time with this lovely lady!  So enter in, and be encouraged by her words today. Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 1.31.15 PM

It had been an exhausting day at work. My feet were swollen and my stomach was growling.  My mind was filled with the stresses of planning a wedding, buying a house and graduating from college.  I hadn’t seen my Hunnie in two days due to all the craziness and when I came out to my car, there was a little note and a bag a skittles – my favorite.  Just a little something sweet to show he was thinking of me.  Just a little surprise to lift my spirits.

Sometimes surprises come just when you need that little bit of hope and joy.  Yes, there are surprises that don’t bring joy – like a flat tire that makes you late or a child who comes home with lice from school, but there are probably just as many surprises,  both big and little, that can remind us about what is important in life.

If we have eyes to see, we can easily spot the sweetness of the surprises all around us.  This week alone, I was surprised by Kindness, Love, Hope and Generosity.  When these came a-knocking, I almost didn’t open the door!

I often dread checking my email.  Although I am social by nature, lately I have become overwhelmed by the requests and the have-to’s and the managing of my calendar.  But, early one morning I opened an email from a friend– that asked nothing from me, instead she wanted to show kindness to me. She wanted to come over and take the kids to dinner (yes, all three!), to bring them gifts and to just show them some love so that Hunnie and I could go out on a date.  She didn’t just say she wanted to help, she actually gave me some possible days and times.  This Surprise of Kindness made it so easy for me- immediately my mood was brightened and now I have a happy Date Nite to look forward to on Saturday!

My little girlie is in a very creative phase.  Almost daily I come home to pictures, stories, presents (things she has wrapped up from her room) and little love notes.  One morning I could tell it was going to be a trying day with my toddler who was already yelling, “I still poopin’!” when it was time to walk out the door, the laundry was piled up high and the my list of errands was already being trampled upon by an impending migraine. I huffed out to the car and wrestled little man into his seat and walked around to get into my seat to rush the big muffins off to school.  But, I paused when I saw a note written into the morning dew: “I love you, Mommy.” I almost missed it; I almost forgot that these little ones who were already draining me… could also fill my cup with their sweet words, hugs and smiles.  A Surprise of Love to soften my already hardening heart. The grouchiness started to melt away before the letters disappeared in the morning sunshine.

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On Tuesday, I pulled a muscle by my rib – right in the middle of my back.  I was crying by the time I reached the car.  I came home and called just about everyone I knew to help me with my toddler – “B Rex”- the active, growling, wild beast that I could not lift up. Some days just stink more than others. Some days I really hate living so far from family. Some days Hunnie has a million meetings and no flexibility.  Some days are just lonely. l sat on the couch and just cried- too uncomfortable to even nap.  But, an unlikely new friend offered to come over and help me all evening.  She helped feed my kids dinner, she lifted my boy into his crib, she graciously wiped up counters.  A Surprise of Hope covered over the depression that was growing in my mind.

Moms often find it hard to find a time to shower – no time before school when there are lunches to be made, socks to be searched for, papers to be signed and fights to be refereed.  No time after school when there is homework to be done, games to go to, dinner to be cooked, and laundry to be put away.  So, I’ve started showering in the middle of the day when B Rex is asleep and cannot bang on the door and scream the whole time.  But, people sometimes come and ring the doorbell.  Then, the dog barks, then the kids run by yelling that someone is here (so you can’t just ignore it and pretend you didn’t hear.) On Sunday I’d just put the shampoo in my hair, when I heard it. Ding Dong. At first I did try to ignore it, but it came again, and again. So, finally, I wrapped a towel around me and answered it, as I was expecting a friend anyhow. Well, it wasn’t her– it was a man! Luckily, I had the screen door shut and locked and you can’t see through it. So, I told him that Hunnie wasn’t available, but I’d tell him that he had stopped by.  “Oh, would he be available if I were to give him tickets to the World Series game today?”  Yeah, pretty sure he would. Hold on…

A Surprise of Generosity – and to think, I almost didn’t answer the door!

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.05.21 PMMissy began writing about their family journey to adoption three years ago.  Last summer she wrote about the crazy long road trip she took with her three crazy children on her family blog.  You can email her if you want details about how to survive both of those adventures at missyb.hall@gmail.com.  Her Hunnie is a pastor in the Bay Area and her heart beats for missions, justice, hope and exploring!! She loves books, words and the therapy of writing, and has started a new season in writing.  So, what little Surprises of Kindness, Hope, Love, and Generosity have you seen in your life recently?  Did you almost miss them, too?  Leave a comment, and encourage Missy today!

help come near (advent).

Photo cred: Tiny Prints.
Photo cred: Tiny Prints.

As a child, soon after the orange and brown fall decorations came down, I gleefully began anticipating the Christmas season.  The questions catapulted towards our parents, one after another: “Is it time to get a tree yet, is it time?” and “Mom, when are you going to buy us eggnog?” and “Do you have a stamp so I can mail my letter to Santa?”

With baited breath, we looked forward to the glitter and the magic of the holidays; while commercialism reminiscent of the North Pole certainly took its toll, we also held tightly to Christ’s birth.  Though elementary in understanding, we got the Real Reason for the Season – we held sacred the carols “Silent Night” and “What Child is This?” and our hearts breathed hallowed holiness when candle after candle lit up the old sanctuary in hushed glow.

In Advent, we celebrate the God who is with us, the god-man who lived and breathed here on this earth, entering into the fullness of life through human body.  Were you to ask me what that meant as a child, I would have rightly answered Jesus came to earth as a little baby, “just like me!”  But what strikes me today is not necessarily the how of Christ’s birth, but the why of his humanity: He, the Salvation Pioneer, became fully human in order to help us.  Jesus didn’t do this for the angels, but he did it for people just like us.  He entered into every detail of human life, experiencing the ups and the downs, the good and the ugly, so he might “…be able to help where help was needed,” as Eugene Peterson phrases it in The Message translation.

Now that is a mind-blower!  He who is bright with Eden’s dawn light becomes one of us, experiencing the fullness of every detail of what it means to be human, all in an effort to comfort and help us more.  Perhaps this is what Mary so astutely understood when her soul exaltedly sang of the God near her and with her, alive and kicking in her very belly.  She braved mockery and ridicule, and she clung to God, knowing that he would not leave her in her time of need.  Her Hope had become her Help, doing for her then just as he does for us now.

Might we all rest in this Help come near.*

What about you?  How do you merge the magic and the holiness of the holiday season?  How do you embrace Help Come Near?  

*This article originally appeared in the DPC Advent Booklet, 2013.

a walk, a song & the return of joy.

It was just an ordinary Friday afternoon: Cancan and I had driven to the local BART station to drop off the car for Daddy.  See, we’ve embraced City Life for all its worth by only having one car – I, in return, toss labels like “sexy” and “living simply” and “eco-savvy” onto our choice of transportation [the choice of transportation that equals out to me getting the car most of the week], while the HBH (…rightfully) guffaws at the hassle of it all.  But there we were, on the corner of Ocean and San Jose; Baby strapped in the stroller, I checked to make sure the car was clear of belongings and subsequently texted Husband the address.  Earphones in place, I steadied myself for the long upward descent home, and then it happened.

Music started playing.

Mind you, I realize this is considered normal to the great majority of 21st century Americans, particularly those who pop earphones into their ears and wait for a listening reaction to occur.

But for me (First World Problem, First World Problem…), in order to save space on my phone, I’d purposefully not synced the itunes album on my computer with the album on my phone.  And then the break-in happened, and all of our pictures and my Masters coursework and that which could be considered my livelihood of writing and speaking documents were lost, along with the music, too.

And a slew of emotions ensued: I was angry and I was sad and I was bitter, seemingly all at the same time.  I mourned and I shook my fist and I grew paranoid at the very thought of the Comcast man parked obtrusively in front of our house, as the police said it was a group of thieves posting as service workers who likely broke in to our residence.  I drove around the block three times and then I parked in our driveway again, and I ran inside and grabbed the new laptop and the borrowed iPad because I would not let this happen again.  I cussed and I screamed, but then I pulled to the side of the road, and with deep breaths I said, FEAR, You will not get the best of me.  Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, come…

So here we were, just a couple days after circling the block, when the music started playing.

And walking up the sidewalk, I looked to my right to see if the sound was coming from the park, and across my shoulder to the other side to see if a parked car was playing the haunting, soul-searching echoes of the cello and its accompanying strings.  But then I realized that it was coming from my ears – my ears – and it was my music – my music – and with tears in my eyes, I picked up my phone from its hiding place, and I looked at the screen in disbelief.

Zoe Keating - check her out.  Photo cred: NPR.
Zoe Keating – check her out. Photo cred: NPR.

Somehow, the magical world of iCloud had saved my music, even if it took me six weeks to realize it.

So, my legs began pumping faster as the hill started to rise, purposeful, purposeful, as Hope started to sing its way into my soul, as Beauty opened my eyes to her Already-In-Existence self.  I listened to the mournful cellist, Zoe Keating, pour her own self into her stringed instrument, to my favorite of songs, “Sun Will Set,” and I was again reminded of new beginnings, each day, every day, given anew.  Grace massaged my tired shoulders as I pushed the stroller up the hill: the sun will rise and the sun will set, but tomorrow is a new day.  And with it comes the unimagined, refueling abundance of more Hope and more Beauty and more Grace.

The smile would not wear on my face, but grew with each step, the depths of its very existence filling my insides and reaching out its gnarled fingers to strangers I passed on gritty street corners, to the old man crossing the street with suitcase in tote.

Because I guess for a little while there, I’d forgotten what joy was like.  

But then – as often happens, I suppose – that gentle reminder, that loving nudge pushed its way in …and this time, I said yes.  And it wasn’t that my music was saved, per say, but it was that reminder of Hope Remaining, the combination of the song and the day and the loveliness of God cupping me in the palms of his hands, saying, I’ve got you.  

I’m grateful.

(I’m also really, really glad Apple products are smarter than the average user.  Ahem).

What about you?  What’s given you Hope lately?  What’s brought back joy and put a pep in your step lately?  

hope found in the orange.

Photo cred: Femme and Fortune.
Photo cred: Femme and Fortune.

True confessions: I have a thing for prison dramas.  Can’t get enough of the stuff.

It’s your fault, Netflix.

I’m having a pure love relationship with old episodes of Breakout Kingsbut especially the first two minutes and thirty one seconds of breaking-out-of-the-penintentiary bliss.  And the show doesn’t even get four full stars.

And Orange is the New Black?  Ugh.  Don’t get me started, don’t even get me started.  It pretty much consumed a good 52 minutes of every night of our road until we wept like little schoolgirls, realizing that we’d have to wait an entire 10 months to view season two.

Now I’ll admit part of the problem is this: I live in San Francisco.  I know, that’s like blaming Netflix for my own love of life in The Farm, when via live streaming, I’m willingly clicking “play.”  First-world problems.  But hear me out: when you choose to reside in the City by the Bay, you’re subconsciously choosing the Giants over any other form of so-called “baseball” in the state of California.  You’re choosing organic meats and free-range chicken eggs, and with giddy delight, you’re picking up your CSA box every Thursday from the Outer Sunset.  You’re biking and walking and taking public transportation as much as humanly possible, and you’ve always got a library book or your Kindle tucked into your bag for reading on the go.  Because you are an educated, literate individual, and a conversation about such literary pursuits is always on the portals of your mind.

You just don’t watch TV, and you certainly don’t admit it as such on the Internet.

But I just did.

Is there a support meeting I can go to for this?

A couple weeks’ ago, Rachel Held Evans wrote a featured piece for the CNN Belief Blog on Breaking Badand while I don’t know if these meth-savvy stars eventually land themselves in Sing Sing, I appreciated her admission of loving the show.  [Following RHE’s post, we too watched two episodes, but couldn’t continue with it: although, as she writes, the show puts us in touch with our own dark, sin-filled humanity, it was just a little too dark for our taste.]

So while Breaking Bad wasn’t my cup o’ tea, Orange is the New Black captured my heart,  boomeranging it back to me again.  And again and again.  Certainly, themes of darkness pervade this show as well: violence and death and prison bitches; sex, drugs and, well actually, but for the Hallejujah-filled Christmas show at the end of season one, there’s not a whole lot of rock-n-roll.

But there is HOPE – and as some of you know, Hope is one of my very favorites.  Hope is all that remains at the end of the day, after all the bad news has set in, and you’re not sure how you can make it another day.  Hope is the grace note that keeps one going.  Hope is that tiny little spark that lights the darkness, reminding all that light can invade the dreariest of situations.

So I suppose that’s why I made the very best of efforts to prioritize streaming Netflix over vacation: in a crazy sort of way, the show reminded me to hope and of hope, through the grimiest of landscapes.  It’s a theme that pervades the landscape of plot and characters, and our leading lady, “Piper Chapman,” realizes that she’s no better than the women around her.  Her experience transforms her, and our hearts are in her own soul’s greatest adventure of discovering true self.  At the end of her orange-uniformed day, hope is all that remains for her and the show’s other characters: hope that she’ll be her authentic, true self, hope that she’ll find love, hope that she’ll empower others to do the same.

I’m in need of hope, in a clingy, desperate sort of way – and I’m betting you are as well.

So Hope, I leave room for you.  I’ll look for you in the everyday, and I’ll lean into You, my Hope of Glory.  I’ll find you in the little things, and when the good-hard comes, I’ll cling to you, for at the end of the day, you’re all I have left.

And don’t you worry, I’ll continue to click “play” on my prison dramas.

 

What about you?  What gives you hope?  Where do you find HOPE in the most unlikely of places?