This is not an announcement

Processed with VSCO with a9 presetTypically announcements are made when something practical or tangible has already happened, like “we bought a house” or “our baby has been born” or “i just got a new job” or “we’re engaged!” This doesn’t fall into the practical/tangible category.

And yet, it feels like something worth announcing. Or maybe it’s more like declaring a college major, or setting an intention.

In any case, here it is:

I intend to become a midwife.

If you want to read some long and soul-searching details about how thing have gotten to this point, please read on.

For those who want cliffs notes, here are they are: I’ve been a birth junkie for years, and finally God brought it to the forefront and asked me to own the desire in my heart that I’d been trying to deny. My family and I are trying to sort out the timing and details of what pursuing this will look like. It will involve, I hope, a combination of apprenticeship and self-paced distance education. I haven’t taken a single practical step yet, nor made a single commitment, but I’ve explored options and hope to start SOMETHING within the next year. 🙂

Now, the long version (for those with interest and time to read)….

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12 hours of grace

i want to write about the recent 12 hours i’ve experience, in which God FEELS near, though of course He always is. but there’s been that thick blanket of grace, and those little signs that He’s listening, sees, cares.

it began with a good, ugly cry last night. i haven’t cried that way in so long. it was the sort of cry that, in its honesty, seemed to break some things open between me and God, and between me and tim. nothing is resolved per se, yet there’s an odd but certain hope that came in the wake of that cry. and that hope was an answer to a heart cry.

we listend to God together after that cry, tim and i. what i heard was reinforced by what tim heard. and there are now a few solid things to lay hold of with confidence: a few sentences of loving affirmation, an insight into a place where i feel stuck, and a gentle nudge toward a difficult obedience.

and to be listened to, held, not shut down… that was good, too. i’m grateful to have a husband so sensitive, so open to hear without defensiveness.

then i slept really, really well. perhaps i was exhausted by all the crying. and the miracle is that Hazel also slept really, really well. like 12 hours, straight through. this after nearly a week of night waking and/or waking at the butt-crack fo dawn, always in screaming tears, so much so that it got to the point where i felt as though every tim i woke, it was to her crying. i cannot begin to explain to you how immensely grateful i am for a night like that after so many rough night in a row (damn you, 18-month sleep regression.)

while i slept, i dreamed. i dreamed a variation on an old and familiar dream that features me in a familiar house, discovering new rooms and passageways and openings and features to this familiar home that i never knew were there before. this time it was about the home we’re planning to move into next year. as this beloved house unfolded before me with so many surprising features, i kept thinking, “i had no idea they [the friends selling the house to us] were so wealthy! there is more room here than we could ever need! we need to share this place with people! how will we find enough furniture to fill it?!”. i was overwhelmed by the expansiveness of that territory being given to us to call our own, for a price that was obviously a tiny fraction of it’s real value.

this dream in the past has meant that i’m on the brink of significant growth or healing. that makes sense, after that ugly cry.

this dream this time might also meant that what we’re being given in 2013 — the literal house and the work of the boiler room, both of which come down to us from the same dear and in-it-for-the-long-haul friends — may hold far more value and legacy than we can now comprehend. and there will be room there to expand, to imagine, to share, to discover, to celebrate, to be close.

either interpretation works for me. 🙂

this morning at our wee little church service, ryan delivered a good teaching, complete with a reminder that when God has told you which way to go, you mustn’t ever stop unless He tells you so. circumstances may get as rough and disheartening as they will, but you fix your face in the direction He’s told you to walk and you press on, sister! you press on.

all these things compile to a sweet sense of His nearness, a knowing that He is speaking and stands poised to teach, to rescue, to renew.

i just wanted to make note of all of that. He’s good.

in brief

1

this evening tim and i had our supper on the front porch, in that funny little fold-up love seat we have there. we had a favorite stew. hazel sat across us in her little chair, smiling at us like a fool. and then, next thing i knew, this scene had unfolded in our front yard: four boys of three colors, having dropped their bicycles on the sidewalk, were wielding light sabers, laughing with abandon as they rough-housed together. and then, tim joining them, playing in a way i haven’t seen him play before, while i held hazel in my lap (she is just the right size for cuddling these days), watching with a smile in my heart. lots of days i resent these boys who come knocking on our door more times in a day than seems proper, always wanting something or another, and always just at the moment when we are sitting down to eat or trying to put the baby down for her nap. but tonight i had affection for them, seeing them behave at last like the children that they are, rather than the bad asses they so often feel compelled to play.

2

we begin again with the boiler room rhythms. once again we’ve sat down around a table, dreams held in open hands, quieting our voices to hear His guidance. our job is always to discern what He’s asking us to do in each season; to be more committed to coursing like a river through the bends of His winding ways than to be a rod, straight, stiff and unmoved by changing seasons. so we let go of some things that seemed so central, so essential, in the past… and we pick up other things that we wouldn’t have seen coming before. over three years now, my life has been connected with this family and the corresponding work of God here. three years of revisions and surrenders and surprises. it may seem hard to put labels on, difficult to pin down, but then so is the Holy Spirit.

3

three weddings down and one left to go this season. and that’s enough. as for next year, i’ve got one on the calendar already, but i’m not at all sure that i will intentionally pursue booking more weddings. i sense it’s time to release those intentions. if folks come knocking, wanting me to be the one to capture their wedding through my lens, i will most likely agree to it; but i won’t go looking for it like i once would have. because these days i see the world as babies and families more than as young people in love. having a baby changes everything, including, apparently, the eye of an artist. so i’m looking forward to doing some family sessions this fall, and senior portraits, and i’ll likely just about beg my friends with new babies to let me spend some time photographing them, too.

4

many days my eyes brim over with tears of affection and deep love. this love for my daughter is qualitatively other than all the other deep loves of my life. loving her opens me up. she sleeps horribly and eats like a greedy little horse. lately – after three nights of waking every two hours to feed and to comfort her – i am an empty well with mush for a brain. but then she looks at me with recognition and joy, and i can forgive her anything that she’s ever cost me.

5

i think that one thing we are learning these days is that dreams are far less lovely in their actuality than in the imagination. like this thing with the neighborhood boys and bikes (“this is what i dreamed of,” tim said one day after answering the millionth request for help, “so i guess i can’t scorn it.”) being a parent is another example, of course. and so is missional living in a neighborhood with not much going for it. and now there’s this other dream… a Big One; the one that drew tim and i together with a sense of shared purpose foundational to our marriage… and it, too, is inching into actuality… so it, too, is starting to feel a little less romantic. we dream without even knowing the cost. i wonder if the dreams of God planted in our hearts are the only ones that can survive the onslaught of Coming True. and i wonder what will happen to this one. all i know is that i stand at the threshold with more ambivalence than i would have predicted.

(being vague for now intentionally).

6

remember: to stand behind a good man with all your strength and conviction, and to raise a child with all your wisdom and endurance are large enough contributions to humanity and the Kingdom.

and on a friday night, i ramble

it’s friday night. we’ve just had home-made pad thai and shared a bottle of chilled white wine. t is trying to get our scanner to work so that we can scan in our signed copy of the purchase agreement (offer) we’re putting in on a house in stockbridge. if it doesn’t work, we’ll be calling on jake pretty quickly here to use his.

yes, we’re making an offer on a house. it has the same address as the other, only one block north. and it feels just right. i hesitate to say “this is it” because i’ve said that twice already and was wrong. by now i know that Papa is preparing a place for us, but that He is also full of surprises. His imagination is far more vast than my own. so, i am willing to say, “i don’t know” but also “i hope.”

i’ve been thinking a lot about paint colors and flooring and gardens (peonies, poppies, wheat, raspberries, lupine, sweat peas –  all in a wild tangle).

i’ve been thinking about what it will be like to raise a child in this sweet, sweet neighborhood we’ll soon be calling home.

we’ll not get into this house — even if our offer is accepted — for at least two months, because it is a short sale. this means we’ll stay a while somewhere else. i’m grateful to have friends and family willing to take us in until things settle with our housing situation. God’s timing in this is wise. by the time we will likely close on the house, i’ll have had time to earn some income through photography, tim will have some paychecks under his belt from Hope Network,  and we’ll have a returned security deposit from our apartment in Madison…. and we will not have to borrow money for closing costs, we think.

four weeks left here in madison. four brief weeks. we need to purge in order to pack well. but we purged only last year when we moved. so perhaps there won’t be tons of that.

i have a job that i love, which needs to be finished well. i’m making a book of favorite recipes — previously stored only in my head — as a parting gift to leave to that place. i’ve loved that job. it makes me so happy to see those small faces pressed up against the glass of the kitchen door, waving and smiling. and the other small faces of the two year olds who wander into my kitchen at various points to tell me what they are doing and to inquire about what i am doing. they are so very precious and i will sincerely miss them all.

i want to have a child of my own. and quickly.

we’ve been with family here more often lately. sunday dinners and evening prayer sessions with linda-mom and lon-dad. we’ve been trying to show up for amanda in her activities, and are excited that nonny is back in town for the summer months. we’re hoping for opportunity soon to have a lingering meal with nathan and kristen, and a trip to see dan and jess (and those darling boys we call nephews). the collier clan is wiggling deeper into my heart, especially now as we stand poised to put a giant lake between us. go figure.

t took a bike that previously was not ride-able and made it into something that’s a smooth ride. i love that he has done this. more to come, i am sure, once he has a garage to use as a workshop for his “man hobbies.”

i love this photography thing i’ve got going on. if you haven’t done so already, please visit me here or here to see some of what i’ve been up to. i’m assisting on a wedding tomorrow and then doing two senior portrait sessions in the next two weeks. and  i’m so happy to have several sessions booked within the first two weeks of being back in Michigan — a few family sessions and two weddings! i hope for more. not only because it earns income but because there is so much life in this activity for me. i find such pleasure in it. i couldn’t stop if i wanted to. also, i love watching myself grow and mature as photographer, making better images even as i have been unable to upgrade my equipment. this means that when the [glorious] day arrives in which i can upgrade my lenses and camera body and computer, i’ll feel as though i’m truly ready for it; because i’ve learned how to milk the more inferior tools for all they’re worth and make something lovely from them… imagine what i could do with an upgrade in tools!

meanwhile, in the deeper places, i’m being brought into something i think i would call humility. i’m praying that that characteristic would be birthed in me, and get a good foothold. i feel it’s part of the preparation He is doing now, before we move.

and now i’ll say goodnight.

called home

as i mentioned, i’d surrendered (even the longing to go home).

but then tim told me that HE, early on in his sabbatical, felt for the first time ready to consider a move to Grand Rapids as a viable option.

then, jenn emailed me and said, “okay, so move here!” and, “tony says i should ‘call you home.'” they went on to explain that the harvest in stockbridge is plentiful, that workers are needed, and that they would love to work shoulder to shoulder with us there.

i have not been considering this as a real option; had not let my mind explore the possibility of that. “but,” i wrote to Him in my journal on 2/28, “jesus, i will listen to YOUR voice, and walk under YOUR yoke, not the desires of any other people. it is YOU i am following and whom tim is following and YOU will perfectly lead us as we walk with You. will will walk to grand rapids with You or we will continue to walk with You here in madison. i trust You. Please show us which way to go.”

so i began to allow myself to think about what it might be like to return to Grand Rapids, and to the Stockbridge Boiler Room. i have been so home-sick for it. and we are being invited back, to step back into that beloved and vibrant community, to love its neighborhood, to shepherd its flock, to labor alongside a family we love and whose calling and mission overlap with what we believe ours to be. these benefits, alongside the loosening of several ties that have kept us anchored in madison, seem to make this an obvious and lovely invitation to say yes to.

so, we retreated a weekend at the tendero’s hytta (that same, wonderful place we spent the first three days of our marriage) the first weekend in March. we wanted to get away to seek His guidance about this.

when i have thought about the questions for which i want answers from God, much of it comes down to questions about my Life Work. how badly i yearn for a clear and unique calling on my life and marriage. yet as i listened to Him that weekend at the hytta, mostly what i heard was lines from scripture, not a voice speaking an intensely personal set of instructions. i heard scriptures like these:

  • He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (micah 6:8)
  • Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (james 1:27)
  • Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?… If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (isaiah 58:5-12)
  • and the sermon on the mount

and these are the things that we DO know. we know them because they are in His word. they are the calling of every person who follows in the footsteps of jesus. and we know them also because these commands are in our hearts, uniquely. the prayer pictures we had of our marriage before our wedding even occurred center around these themes: of being joined together for the sake of others who are poor and whom we will feed. we have known, first individually and then as a couple, that this call to love the poor in concrete and incarnational ways is planted deep.

and we sense that, whatever geography we choose, and whatever community we align ourselves with, we have a holy responsibility to be faithful to that which we do know (phil 3:16).

i see now that in many ways i have been waiting on our community here in madison to want to go there with us, and have been stalling on acting on it because we would be acting alone in many regards, which felt lonely and improper. and part of the reason that i have longed for home is because there is a community that has this call a bit more integrated into their daily lives and outlook, thereby making it a more natural place to live out of our convictions.

but the action or inaction of our community, the shared conviction or lack thereof, is not to be the deciding factor in our own obedience. here and now, starting with the two of us, we follow our hearts, build our family culture, and follow jesus in the ways he has called us to.

this, we realized, is freeing. it makes us free if we were to remain here, and it keeps us free as we plan to return to stockbridge. because now we have owned it, taken responsibility for the obedience it demands. i wonder if this is part of what jesus means when he says that we must hate our relatives, even our own life, in order to follow Him. (luke 14:26).

yes, we’re being called Home.

that happily means we are literally called home to Grand Rapids, but more importantly and most truly, it means being called Home to His heart, called Home to the calling He has already put in us, to be faithful to it.

a small house in the country

tonight i am dreaming of a small brick house in the country,

with a garden full of fruit and flowers,

and a lovely, light-filled kitchen from which

will come tastey things to eat.

tonight the quiet and crickets of that scenario entice me,

and i feel cozy at the thought of the solitude,

the sewing, the baking, the photographing, the reading,

the strolling through gardens in cool afternoons with clean air,

with my husband and children alone as company.

tonight it sounds attractive to have that space

to re-examine, to find our bearings, to perfect our love,

to bask and rest in the Father’s love without pressure to minister.

i am hard on myself to the extent that

even as i’m dreaming of this scenario i am

also judging myself for it’s sharp contrast to

the city life among the poor, with door open to homeless friends

(that picture i’ve thought that our life would be about).

it is odd to yearn for a thing so completely other than that,

and i wonder what my soul is asking me to pay attention to there,

what the Father might have to speak into that.

i am not too proud to change course, nor to do

something other than what i have always said that i would do,

because sometimes i make resolutions He hasn’t asked me to make, and

it’s possible such a move might be faithful to His nudges

(i will not rule out that possibility).

the obligatory new year reflections

it’s not something i habitually do, preferring instead, like a typical Enneagram Type 4, to avoid doing whatever it seems most people do at any given time…

but this year, with so much on the horizon, and many things bubbling up in our collective heart, i couldn’t help spending a little time looking ahead. these are not new year’s resolutions, exactly, but sketches of what might be.

first, i made an inventory of the responsibilities, commitments and obligations we already have. then i looked at the ones we might end up soon adding (indicated below by question marks):

  • Campus America prayer-room planning
  • Transit mentoring
  • Boiler Room leadership (meetings, gatherings, teaching)
  • Big Oak  and REM (our day jobs)
  • Some independent and contract photography work
  • keeping house (laundry, cleaning, organizing, etc)
  • menu planning and cooking
  • blog and photo projects
  • one another’s well-being
  • helping our families with some things
  • pastoring “the little church that could?”
  • buying a house?
  • starting a family?

and i thought, “looks like we might very well get over-committed here, if we’re not careful.” i wondered about what will be the most important things to protect… and in knowing what to guard, we can make decisions about what to take on and what to let go. and this is what i came up with:

1. simplicity – sustainability

to me, this means our life pace is restful, with room to breathe, our physical spaces are uncluttered with things requiring our attention or creating distraction, and we keep our rhythms of sabbath rest and daily prayer. i don’t want to feel like we need to escape into vacations.

2. intimacy – relationship

to me, this means that t’s sphere and mine overlap significantly, that we have a few deep relationships with folks we see at least a couple times per week, that we stop to listen to jesus at every turn, and that ideally we live geographically and relationally near to a few close friends.

and i don’t ever want to get busy doing good things God hasn’t called us to do. (so much spinning of wheels).

when i think about quality of life — what, to me, keeps life glimmering and hopeful — these are the markers of it:

  • reading and writing
  • keeping up with friends
  • taking photographs
  • sit-down, home-cooked meals, often shared with others
  • visits to family in MI
  • adequate sleep each night
  • prayer rhythms with community
  • silly dancing in the kitchen
  • annual pilgrimages
  • practicing hospitality (overnight or just for meals)

in other words, if those things started to slip, or to become rarities rather than regularities, it would tip me off that a little re-evaluation is called for. and, as best as we’re able, we’d adjust. because this is, perhaps, part of what sets us apart from “the world”: that we don’t knock ourselves out, but are people able to be still and know our humanity.

finally, i wrote a 101 in 1001 list. i was inspired by a wedding photographer i follow, who has done similarly in a recent post. the idea is that you write a list of 101 things you’d like to see happen in the next 1001 days. if you’re interested, here is MY 101 in 1001.

expand my territory

He said, “stay; I have something for you here.” so we’re here still, staying, as we’ve been told. and in the staying, He’s changing my heart so that it wants to stay, to nestle in, to put down roots and spread out branches. and He’s been talking a lot about things like building family, and He’s been giving us hunches.

in our tender-shoot Madison Boiler Room, He’s moving us on the grassroots level. we are seeing life over small things like dude church and chick church and evening prayer, and other off-shoot, spontaneous activities. and we’re wondering together, if this is a FAMILY God’s building, what will the family tree of the Boiler Room look like?: maybe like all of us (now well established and raised to maturity in the family of the core team) growing up, getting married, and having babies, so to speak? yet still being brothers and sisters with one Papa, who go to one another’s soccer games and chorale concerts, who help one another with home repair projects, and bail each other out in times of trial. and now that this vision has been settling into my spirit, i can see that He’s already been moving in that direction. it’s not like the revelation of this “Building Family” strategy requires us to abruptly switch course, because He’s already set the course, and maybe now He’s just drawing our attention to what He’s been doing all along.

i never want to resist the river of God.

so that at this point, to buy a house in this neighborhood seems like an act of obedience. it says, “i have heard you, God, here i am. i will make a home here, plant a garden, buy and sell, and seek the peace of this city to which you’ve carried me.” and it just so happens that there’s a house, sitting a few blocks from here, empty and weary and in foreclosure, which means it is in our price range (as nearly no other at-assessment-price house in the city would ever be). we like where it is, and we’ve begun painting pictures of our lives unfolding in it’s rooms. we drive by it almost every day, and ask God please to reserve it for us, until we can creatively come up with cash for closing costs and a wee little down payment. because once we’re in it, it’ll be cheaper per month than our apartment is, and that would be good. and we could make some room there, even more than now, for sheltering folks and having babies.

meanwhile, all within a week following christmas, our dearest little hobo church (aka “the little church that could”) has suffered the loss of it’s pastor and the death of it’s director. all of this within 2 months of our discovery of the little place. for these two months, t and i have simply been showing up there, keeping our mouths shut and our ears open, waiting to see what God might have in store for us there (because we suspected there was something). and it might just be that he wants to give it to us, in part or in full… somewhere between the pastoring of the church services and the taking on of the entire non-profit (!). our new friends there, who don’t really know us from Adam and haven’t seen our credentials seem to think we might be the answer to some of their prayers, and they wonder if we’ll take it on. and i am sitting here in stunned disbelief because i have fantasized about this, but didn’t dare to expect it, nor even to ask for it. there are big ifs and hearts that need softening and legalities that need sorting… and the call to an internal commitment in our own hearts to say yes to this crazy venture, even when there are so very many unknowns. we’re doing research, uncovering historical information, and trying to listen to God’s heart for this little piece of his family. as pastor bill said, during his final sermon, “this isn’t bill’s church and it isn’t ___’s mission; it’s God’s. and God has a way of providing what He needs.”

God help us! how large are these things we’re asking you for! ready our hearts to carry them, if you do indeed intend to entrust them to us. in all things, may you be the One who is recognized as redeemer, provider, and breather of life into a just-born boiler room, an old house of Fifth street, and a weary old Mission.

anell reminded me today that we don’t do any work; we simply join God is what He is already doing. and when that’s the case, things fall into place with surreal ease. the sort of unfolding you witness and then say, “i can’t believe this is happening, but i saw it coming.”