An open letter to my niece on the day she was born

Dear A,

I’ve been waiting a long time to be your aunt.  I remember the day your mom and dad told me you were coming as vividly as if it had happened yesterday, but I can track the waiting back further than that.  To when they were nineteen and I knew they weren’t going to shake each other and that someday they would be parents together.  Six years later, here we are!

Sweet girl, welcome to the world!  I could not be more excited to be your family!

The thing is, though, I’m not your family.  Not technically.  We don’t share blood ties or a genetic link or the same last name.  I hope you’ll come to find as your grow up that these things don’t matter. Not really.  Because what we do share is more important. We love and are loved by the same people. 

And you’ll come to find that as much as these people can test your nerves and drive you crazy that they’re good people.  They’re exactly the kind of people that take friends and make them family; they’re exactly the kind of people that take family and make them friends. 

And because they’re this kind of people, I ended up at the hospital tonight with your Nana and Grandpa, and your Uncle Matt and Aunt Jesse, and your mom and dad, even though we don’t share blood ties or a genetic link or the same last name. 

I really love that about them; because I really loved being at the hospital on the day you were born.

Sweet girl, you are so wildly loved already.  You are so fiercely adored just because you are.  And I’m praying you continue to know this truth as you grow up.  Because when you become an adult and the world starts to feel even just a little bit unsafe, it’s going to be easy to buy into the lies that your value comes from the size of your waist or the complexion of your skin, or the grades you have, or the trophies you win, or the nice things people say about you.  Do your aunt a favor, okay?  Ignore those lies and the people that tell them to you.  Own the truth that you are wildly loved, fiercely adored just because you are.

While you’re at it, be smart about the kind of friends you make.  Consider a person’s character and the way they are in the world when you’re getting to know someone. Connect to the people who genuinely love Jesus and walk with God humbly.  Surround yourself with people who keep you laughing.  Live into the relationships with people who show up for you when you need them, and make sure that you’re showing up for them too.  Ask each other for what you need, and push each other to be vulnerable.  I promise you that’s the only way you’re going to make the kind of friends who become family.  And I also promise you that you won’t survive without those kinds of friends.  Trust me on this.

Sweet girl, don’t be in a rush to grow up.  Enjoy your childhood.  It’s a blessed time of innocence, when all wounds can be healed with just a kiss from mom or dad.  So, pedal your bike too fast, and climb trees, and jump off curbs.  Play with the kids and your neighborhood, but don’t take your ball and go home.  Splash in puddles, and catch snowflakes on your tongue.  Have water gun fights, and wrestle with your dad on the living room floor. Bake cookies and dance around the kitchen with your mom.  Just pretend, use your imagination. The times for these things will pass you by far too quickly.  Life will become serious far too fast.  So, be a kid for as long as you can be.

And when life inevitably does become serious, when you experience your first broken heart or loss of a loved one or things just don’t turn out quite the way you had planned, call on those friends who love you like Jesus and the family who’s been there for you since the day of your birth.  We’ll sit with you quietly or talk until you’re out of words, and we’ll remind you that you are wildly loved.

Have I said that enough?  Have I told you enough times on the very first day of your life that you have been, and are, and will continue to be wildly loved until you take your last breath?

Living in this world is sometimes happy and sometimes sad, and it’s often predictable only in its unpredictability.  So, let it surprise you.  Take some risks. Sometimes the best places we end up are the ones we didn’t plan on.  Like, at a hospital on a Sunday night celebrating the arrival of a niece who isn’t your blood but is your family.

And sweet niece, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.   I am and always will be here for you.

With all my love, in the wildest of forms,

Aunt Amber

 

Whole lotta love for this little one!
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Thanks-getting

(c) 2009 vistamommy, Flickr // via Wylio

I hate my birthday.  I have always hated my birthday.  My mom tells this story about my first birthday, which ends with me reduced to a pile of inconsolable tears because they wanted me to eat my cake with my hands.  Even at my youngest, I liked utensils and napkins.  It’s, like, my “thing.”

Nowadays my friend Amy makes a triple chocolate amaretto cake for me and it’s way too good to make a mess of it. And because I know that cake was made with such love and happiness that I was born, it takes some of the grump out of me on that day.   But, I’m still not a fan of my birthday.  I detest being the center of attention.  This is also the reason that I’m a terrible compliment-receiver and thanks-getter.

I was thanked twice this week for things that seemed to me nothing I needed to be thanked for.

While I was at a girls night with some of the ladies from my church, one of my youth moms thanked me for my involvement with the group and, particularly, for being someone in her son’s life.  She talked about how everyone has different callings, and that she knows youth ministry is not hers but it is very clear to her that it is mine.  It was an incredible affirmation, a gracious gift from this woman who was once my Girls in Action leader and who’s witnessed me grow into my adult self.  Yet, I changed the conversation topic as quickly as I could back to the youth themselves, because I’d rather gush about them without end than spend even a minute focused on myself.

And my BFF thanked me for, as much as I can reason, being her friend.  She was sitting with her son on her lap and randomly, in the midst of helping her sister pack for her trip to Florida, said, “I know it has to be hard sometimes for you to see me nursing Noah and to have so many conversations that are baby-focused, but I just want you know that I’m grateful for you and I appreciate it.”   My response to these thanks, however, was very different than my response to my youth mom’s thanks.  I accepted it without hemming and hawing, because hearing the words were balm to a wound in my heart that I’d been trying unsuccessfully to salve with other things.

I’ve never questioned my position as a youth leader, and I’ve always believed God called me into this group of teenagers and leaders for this particular season.  I love Sundays because I get to sit with my girls and talk to them about who God is and how they can best model Jesus in their schools, and jobs, and families, and sports teams.  I look forward to the week of camp every year, to staying in the dorms and eating cafeteria food and not sleeping, because I get to serve alongside them and see God working in and through them.  When it comes to my youth, Jesus makes Himself known to me in ways that are fun, in ways that are easy, in ways that aren’t actually all that much “work” on my part.

When it comes to my mom-friends and their babies, though, I’m much less confident.  Because being a friend doesn’t feel like a “calling” and because, where I’m sure of how to be in relationships with my teens, I’m equally unsure of how to be in relationships with babies, since I don’t know how to change a diaper or heat a bottle or carry on a conversation with someone who lacks words.  I also have figured out that I have cap on how many hours I can talk about breastfeeding or exer-saucers or poop.  Where I feel like I “fit” as a youth leader, I feel much less like I “fit” with my mom-friends.  Sitting through conversations about breastfeeding and exer-saucers and poop is work.  Learning how to change a diaper and heat a bottle is work.  Being a friend when I don’t know how to relate or feel like I’m contributing anything to the conversations is work.  Yet, Jesus is making Himself known to me, though it’s in ways that aren’t easy and that aren’t always fun.

Sanctification sometimes works like that, I think.  Sanctification, the process by which we’re all made a little bit more like Jesus, is sometimes easy and sometimes, maybe more often, very, very hard.  Sometimes we’re going to see God plainly, and sometimes we’re going to have to look for Him.  Sometimes we’re going to feel like we’re exactly where we should be, and sometimes we’re going to feel anxious and displaced.   Sometimes we’re going to be teaching, and sometimes we’re going to get taught.  The key, I think, is to always be surrendered to the process, whatever it looks like and however it comes, taking the easy with the hard.

And sometimes all it takes to remind you that God is using you to make a difference in the world is a getting a “thank you” from a mom who’s glad you’re following your calling. And sometimes all it takes to remind you that God is drawing you closer to Himself is getting a “thank you” from your friend who’s glad you’re doing life with her, even though it’s hard sometimes.

All this to say, as difficult as it may be for me to receive it, I’m beginning to think that thanks-getting has its place in the sanctification process.

Thank you, Jesus.

Friend and Family

“Matt and I have a friendship that is sixteen years old. We met in youth group as middle schoolers, and I was good friends with his sister and I didn’t pay him much attention because he was friends with my brother and they were more than a little annoying. Most middle school boys are, I suppose. And they smelled, like lunch meat and feet, which did nothing to elicit a want for relationship. So, in middle school, Matt hung with other smelly, annoying boys and I hung with his older sister and held up my nose because I was too young to know that it is entirely possible to gain a whole lot from being friends with a smelly, annoying boy…”

Today I’m guest posting at my friend Alise’s as a part of her series on cross-gendered friendships. I couldn’t pass up the chance to give words to one of my dearest friendships, one that I thank God for every day. To  read the rest of it, you’re gonna have to go to Alise’s page, though, and read “Smelly, Annoying Boy.”  Make sure to stop by and leave a comment!  🙂

Some place good

Of this week in 2012 I will remember two things.  First, that I lost two people whom I love to cancer, and second that I watched Shrek 2.  And by “watched,” I mean slept through.

My aunt has carried a breast cancer diagnosis for about a year and half.  When she found the lump and the bruise, the cancer had invaded all of her lymph nodes and was pronounced Stage Four.  She fought it and we thought she had beat it, but it turned out to be a temporary victory because it came back with a vengeance right before Christmas, this time in her liver and in her brain.  She died last week on Sunday, February 26.  Our family had barely recovered from the initial shock of losing my aunt, if you can call it recovery at all, when we got word that my uncle, a brother-in-law on the same side of the family, had passed away because of the intestinal cancer he’d been battling for years.  He died Wednesday, February 29.  Both of these important people in my life had personal relationships with Jesus, had understood His sacrifice and repented of their sins, and had, I think, tried to reflect the Love they experienced in the world so that other people might know who God is too.  They are, I believe, in heaven.  They are some place good.

For the last few weeks, Wednesdays have been days that Jesse and Amy and I get together to watch Disney movies or some other favorite cartoon movie.  It affords Amy and I time to snuggle Noah while Jesse showers or naps or simply gets a few un-touched moments.  Wednesdays are usually pretty good days.  Here’s what I’ll remember about this Leap Year Wednesday in 2012:  that my uncle died while I was still grieving for my aunt, and that two friends took really good care of me while we watched Shrek 2. 

The three of us, plus Noah, piled on Jesse’s bed, each dealing with something unique that was draining us physically and emotionally.  And each of us, for our own reasons, needing to be close to each other and needing to laugh.  I think we just wanted to show up for each other, to be a little less alone in the tiredness, to try to help each other shoulder a part of what was going on just a little bit.  For me, “carrying” meant that they let me fall asleep in the middle of the movie.  It was okay by my friends that I was there and not there all in one fell swoop, that I was there in physical presence but checked out into sleep – and I know it was okay, because as I was drifting off I heard Amy say “Good!” when Jesse told her I was asleep.  And something in Amy’s “Good!” and in being with women who care for me like I’m also their sister in the warmth of a lamp-lit room with the rain singing off the roof made me feel safe and “okay” for the first time in a week.   Because when you lose two people you love in a three day time span, the world begins to seem very dark, and you begin to think that all there is in love is losing, and you begin to feel anxious as you wait for the next shoe to drop, marking another loss. But, before those thoughts and feelings could really take me captive, I sprawled across a bed, fell asleep at the feet of two of my favorite women in the world, and was reminded that with love also comes safety, comfort, and the ability to rest.

I know that a bedroom in any house is not actually comparable to the awe and wonder of heaven, but being at Jesse’s on Wednesday with her, Amy, and Noah was divine in its own way.  By that I mean that it was a sanctuary, a place of respite, where I could lay down in my weariness and be taken care of.  It was a place where God was present.  And like heaven, any place where God is present is some place good.

photo © 1939 The Library of Congress , Flickr // via Wylio

No, I’m the leader

There's definitely a twinkle.

My dad has this story about me that he likes to tell.  I guess I was about 3 years old and my dad was trying to explain something to someone – to me the details are fuzzy because I was 3 and to my dad the details are fuzzy because his mind’s not as sharp as it once was, despite how deeply he doesn’t want that to be true.  What he does remember, though, is that my 3 year old self walked up to him, put my hand on his knee and said, “No, Daddy, let me ‘splain it to you.”  He likes to say that I’ve been “splainin'” to him ever since.

My grandpa, my dad’s dad, has a story that he likes to tell, too.  It seems that my grandparents were taking my brother and I on a walk around the neighborhood, just as far as my little 3 year old legs would let us go.  Apparently discontent to be walking behind, I ran past my grandpa and said to him, “No, Grandpa, I’m the leader.”  He likes to say that I’ve been trying to lead ever since.

Grown-up that I am now, I always cringe a little bit when these men whom I love tell these stories.  I don’t think I come off too well.  My 3 year old self sounds, well, bossy.  And while I like to think that I’ve aged somewhat gracefully and have learned to tone-down the bossy, I’m just not sure I have, actually.  In fact,  I can say with confidence that my 28 year old self is still telling my dad and other people how it is and is still uncomfortable with the idea of getting left behind.

I’ll tell you another thing. I think I’m guilty of bossing God around a lot.  I think I’ve treated him much like I’ve treated the other men in my life – like I’m going to tell them how it is, like I’m the one laying down the ground rules, like I’m making it clear that I’m in charge.  I think my general attitude has not changed much since I was three: I’m the leader and I’m going to explain to You how this is going to work.

The thing is, though, being the leader and trying to explain to God how life is going to work isn’t working for me so much. When I was 15, I told God my plan for what my life would look like before I turned 30. As 30 looms ever closer, my life is not happening according to plan.  And I’m not happy about it.  In fact, much like my three year old self, I’m kind of a brat and I’m getting pretty good at throwing temper tantrums about it.

But, the thing about God is that I think He’s okay with it because He loves me. I think He loves me deeper and better and bigger than even my dad and my grandpa. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these two men are crazy for me and that they love me in spite of my ugly parts, and I know that somehow they’re modeling to me the Father’s love.  And I know that these men who’ve commanded troops and flown into combat zones and looked several United States enemies in the eyes always melt a little bit when they tell stories of this 3 year old spitfire who tried to put them in their place. They get this certain twinkle in their eyes, a look that probably isn’t perceptible to most but that I see and says to me that they are intimately acquainted with this very worst part of me, this bossy part, and are still so proud of me.  It’s a look that says to me that I can say the most ridiculous things and treat them not very kindly and try the last nerve of their patience and they still think I’m one of the greatest people on the planet.  My dad gets this same look when he looks at my mom – like she’s kind of a little bit crazy, but like she’s the most amazing thing that’s ever walked the earth. Man, if you could only see THAT twinkle.

God’s got the same kind of twinkle for us crazy folk too, I think. Only I think it’s brighter somehow, because He loves us deeper and better and bigger. I think I say ridiculous things and treat Him not so kindly and try every last nerve He has, and I think He’s still over the moon about me.  I think He knows the very worst parts of me, and offers me grace to live every day in spite of myself. I think He gets a similar kind of pride that my dad and my grandpa get in telling stories about me, because He loves me.  I think I try to tell Him how my life is going to work or run past Him trying to be the leader, and I think He smiles and He gets a twinkle. And man, do I relish THAT twinkle.