What some days are like: raw edition

“The inbound train is an express train and it will not stop.”

I hear the station’s announcement system over the piano and strings playing in my earbuds. Sure enough, the train shuttles through quietly. At the intersection of the tracks and the road, red and white bars have previously lowered themselves without ceremony. Lights flash on and off without sound.

The piano in my ears arpeggiates in rolling consistency, almost in time with the chug of the train. It’s a short train, just a few cars of busy people who live in the far out suburbs of Chicago. They ride the express to their high-paying jobs while it is light in the morning. On their way home, their seats on the train will be lit with a greenish glare, revealing their heads bent down at 45 degrees, both absorbed and bored by their cell phones.

Behind the train rises a clutter of litter. One piece of white something rises above, caught in a current. It whips around with surprising grace, tracing after the route of the train until it passes out of my view.

The violin and cello rasp in their comforting earthy way, and tears freeze on my cheeks.

After my dad died, I felt like I had been shouting at a locomotive. The will of God would not stop for me and my childish voice. The sovereign path of the Almighty was predecided and nothing I could say would change that.

It’s been four and a half years since I sat on the steps in my backyard and mentally watched the locomotive go by. And I told God I felt like he hadn’t heard me.

It only took a few months for me to see myself as a passenger on the train again. Maybe I didn’t have the authority to call for a stop at any given station, but I was en route to where God was going. I knew my work as a missionary had purpose and my goals were more or less seated in the expectation of his Kingdom advancing.

I still expect the Kingdom to come, but without explictly working for that end, it’s hard to know where I stand, or sit, or ride. Getting off the missionary train has meant that I sleep more, spend more time with my kids, and feel a lot more confused about my life.

Today, I know less than ever. I’m like the white something fluttering noiselessly behind the express train. God is going somewhere. I want to go too.

Untitled, for now.

Today I noticed the little nest is gone. Outside the kitchen windows of our rental home, there are three wooden perches built for birds to nest in. This summer, when we moved into this home, our whole family watched attentively as a robin settled into a prebuilt nest. She spruced it up a bit and laid her fabulously fragile eggs. She hovered obsessively over them, and after they hatched, she fed them with religious consistency. After a week or two, the baby birds would stick out their necks and circle their heads around wildly in search of food until their mother fed them and sat on them. Then one day, the birds were gone.

This fall, my ten-year-old son and I have enjoyed the antics of a particular squirrel who frequents the now barren bird perches. One day, the squirrel sat there shivering with his tail draped inadequately over his back. John couldn’t stand watching him without offering him succor. He wanted to get him a blanket, but I told him there was no way it would work. The squirrel would run away before letting a human put a blanket on him.

Last week, I noticed the squirrel had placed a few bulky nuts in the dried out nest. I told John about it when we were headed off somewhere in the van. “It’s like he said to himself, ‘oh what a nice little basket for my nuts.'” John chuckled with appreciation at my humanizing the squirrel’s inner monologue. And I felt this: who else in my whole life would have found that funny? It was a moment of friendship.

Today the nest is gone. It probably toppled out of its perch, unable to hold onto the oversized nuts. I feel a little regret, because I’m not sure if John got to see the squirrel’s little basket.

I will try to remember to ask him. I will try to remember how the chuckle sounded when I told him and the way his shoulders shook a little. He’s almost a preteen and more often than not, his reactions seem chosen. Like there is a shelf of ways to laugh, emphatic expressions, and disinterested shrugs. They are the right ways to act when one hears something funny or epic or lame.

He has always desired what is right. And I know he has to obssess for a while about being thought of as “right” by his peers, whose acceptance is a discombobulated puzzle. Please God, let him have seen the funny little basket of nuts so we can both remember the simple squirrel and the mama bird who knew when her babies were grown.

Two new articles

I’ve had the privilege of writing for the Assemblies of God’s magazine, Influence, which is geared toward ministry leaders throughout the U.S. This article is a reflection on the many times I sensed God highlighting misdirected motivations in my devotional life.

Choose this day whom (your devotional life) will serve

Don’t spill your coffee, girlfriend.

I also did some research on kids and stress. It seemed like my kids were acting funnier than usual as school approached, and I wanted to understand the ways kids express stress differently from adults. The trickiest thing is both disciplining misbehavior and meeting their emotional needs all at once.

Signs your elementary kid might be stressed out

Not my kid, but she looks like she’s doing a great job.

Have a wonderful week, everybody!

Babies cry

One could argue that babies are the most human of us all. They act on instinct and impulse. They are the most animal, let’s say. They’re the most in touch with their humanity in its earthly, primal form

And babies cry. The average healthy baby under 6 weeks cries around 3 hours per day (according to BabyCenter.com, which lines up with my experience in this case!) This mostly happens in short bursts, gratefully, but its true whether the baby is cared for well or not. Probably neglected babies cry more, at least for a while.

Crying is the chief method of communication for infants. They can’t say please and thank you, they can’t give intelligent signs to make a polite request. Even if they are in a comfy spot with a dry diaper and a loving family, when they get hungry, they will cry.

This is good for parents, because that’s how we know they’re in need. If they mitigated their crying out of a reasonable sense of gratitude for their pleasant lot in life, they might not get fed much.

All of this is relevant to me personally, because ever since we moved, I’ve been crying like a baby about once per week. So the newborns have got me beat with their 3 hours per day.

I keep feeling like I should be more grateful, and shouldn’t need to cry or feel the intense emotions that lead to these waterworks. I have so much of what I wanted—a rest from ministry, loads of family time, a pleasant and comfortable house. I even have a place to hang laundry that’s not my bedroom, which was a little add-on prayer request I made when we were searching for homes. I hadn’t thought to ask for the glorious sunroom in which I now sit writing.

Other things that warrant my surprised gratitude: We live so close to Lake Michigan that I spend time with it every day. My husband and I are going on a date tonight. Three people introduced themselves to me at church today.

That’s just some of the new stuff in my life that I’m grateful for. There are treasures so often enjoyed that their names have worn off. But I remember them: Healthy Children. Loving Husband. Unending Life in Christ. Wisdom from God. Parents who Taught me Truth. Friendship with my Siblings.

What right do I have to cry about anything, when my life is so replete with blessings? I have the same right as a well-cared-for newborn. I am happy about all the good things, and I cry about the following: want of certainty, fear of failing, loss of normalcy, distant friends. Being well-cared-for doesn’t cancel out my need to express these wants.

I imagine it would be better if I didn’t cry or feel the low feelings that crowd around my tears. But if I didn’t cry, would I know I had those wants, hidden under the surface as they are? Would I bring those requests to God? Would I recognize when God brought the answer?

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”