Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Letter to a Thirteen Year Old Girl: Julia’s Birthday Letter 2015

Dearest Julia,   Happy 13th Birthday! We’ve celebrated for a solid week and now I can sit down and write you a letter.  {Mark this down— your letter will NEVER be ready BEFORE your birthday.}  You said it best yourself, “I don’t FEEL thirteen.”  I don’t FEEL like I now have a teenager in the house.  Yes, you are growing up, but I hate to tell you, I will always picture you with brunette curls framing that perfect heart- shaped face and warm brown eyes peering at EVERYTHING going on around you trying to figure it all out.  We hit the ground running with you because you were WIDE awake when you got here, girl, and that hasn’t changed.  You don’t miss much and because of that, I can’t either.

This was the year you received sweet, life-giving words from some of our favorite moms.  {Not all, but some.}  You had a lot to take in that Tuesday morning but you did it with such quietness and grace.  I didn’t get everything right that morning, but you did.  {I was the blundering Martha and you were the calm Mary.}  You listened.  You smiled and made eye contact.  And you said, “Thank you”.  And one thing I love about you— I walked in on you in your room reading the letters a day or two later.  You are like me in that way.  You like words— no, you LOVE words.  Those letters will be a treasure to you, won’t they?  You will wind up knowing some of them by heart.

So, it’s my turn and I will try to keep it short this year since you’ve been given such gifts of wisdom from our friends.  Two words, sweet girl of mine.  Just two.  Kindness and Truth.

Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.  Proverbs 3:3

Kindness.  We’ve not had near enough of that in our family.  I don’t know how it happens but mornings turn into a bundle of rush, the days into an announcement of tasks— and then you have a week, a month and then, a year.  Were we kind to one another?  How many snapshots of kindness do any of us remember?  I don’t want us to have difficulty remembering these moments in our family.  I want kindness to be THE character of our interactions.  I’ve told you many times, if you can be kind here at home, to those you are with the most, to those who have a tighter hold of your heart strings, to those who know your buttons better than anyone, you can be kind anywhere.  I see you learning that— and sometimes it’s painful.  My prayer is that the relationships in our home are characterized by kindness.

One more thing, Julia. Treat those you love and also, those you don’t with kindness.  It’s the most beautiful you can be— to be kind.  You know what this looks like and you know how attractive it is.  I pray you will be reminded to sparkle and shine with the light of kindness in all your circles, especially with your girlfriends, especially at this age.  All of you are looking for words of affirmation, words of kindness, mostly regarding your appearance.  I challenge you to give those words freely but think of their hearts.  Figure out how to genuinely lavish them with words of kindness that will enrich their hearts.  Their outfit or hairstyle will be different tomorrow but the longings of their hearts will be the same.  Serve them up some kindness.

And then- second word- live your life founded on, rooted in, anchored on, clinging to, walking in — the Truth that never changes when everything around you might.  What the culture says changes with Facebook likes.  You will find inconsistencies coming from people you respect and admire {Be careful where you allow your esteem to land!}.  Your friends’ opinions will change overnight.  You may, at times, think your Dad and I have changed our minds, when, in fact, we really have!  But please TAKE GREAT COMFORT that His Word, His Truth never changes.  When you need the feeling of solid ground under your feet, let Scripture be home base.  It’s unchangeable.

May His Spirit remind you that you have Truth as a Guide for your life and you never have to wonder if it’s the best for you.  Study it.  Memorize it.  Hunger for more of it.  Love it.  The Truth can be such a comfort in this unpredictable life.  I cannot shout this loud enough from a mountain high enough or even repeat it too many times.  Catch the bug for His Word and you are going to be just fine.

On a more trendy note— Instagram.  Yes, you got an account.  After many conversations and many months of waiting, we did it.  Enjoy it.  Like your friends’ pictures, take pictures, celebrate fun moments, brag on your friends but don’t take it too seriously.   When you find yourself dwelling on the numbers, it’s time to sign off for a while.  When you find relationships are getting tattered or even unraveling, it’s time to put it down.  When you find it taking cheap shots at your insecurities or blurring the identity Christ has covered you with, it’s time to put it down.  When you find yourself wanting to promote yourself, we need to talk.  That’s a tricky line— one I have most likely crossed at times.  You want to share something but your motive is fuzzy.  Just don’t.  Let’s just talk through it and decide together.

I am so very proud of you.  I am honored to be your mother.

I love you more than I could ever express.

P.S.  I didn’t keep it short.  I can never keep it short.

Goodbye, Twelve.  Hello, Thirteen!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Friend’s Letter to Julia, 2008

It’s birthday week around here.  My firstborn is turning 13!!!  Yikes-a-bikes!  Seriously.  Nothing prepares you for this passage of time.  However, aside from the time warp I feel like we are in,  I’ve got NO complaints.  I have a birthday letter to write but before that, I want to share this with you.  My friend, TJ, writes over here at Lift My Noise and she gave me this letter in 2008 to tuck away until I wanted to share it with Julia.  So now is the time and I thought you might enjoy it too.  TJ’s awfully gracious with her words but I’ve snowed her pretty good over the years.  She takes all my stuff with a grain of salt, knowing my dependency on Christ is my survival.  All these years.  Grab a tissue.  It’s one of those.

 Precious Julia,
At the time of this writing, you are a little over six years old with the maturity of a much older child. I have had the privilege of observing you through the eyes of an invested friend since your birth. It was a JOY for Corbin and me to travel to Shreveport in January 2002 for your birth, to hear “every detail” of your birth and adoption in that little motel room straight from the lips of your excited momma and daddy in the presence of your smiling and graceful great-grandmother, Julia.

We were all new to this parenthood thing - all testing out brand new wings that had yet to fly very far, and we did so with nervous trepidation that accompanies taking on such a deep, eternal role as motherhood and fatherhood, but also with an exhilarating glee and excitement knowing that all was right with the world now that we held these babies in our arms.

I tease your mom and dad - mostly your dad - about their first attempts at buckling you into your infant carrier. Still in Shreveport, we were preparing to leave for dinner one evening at a local casino - an appropriate first meal out for the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher. We heard a shuffling commotion from the corner, and your mama and daddy were both bent over your tiny body in the infant carrier, struggling to get you placed securely with the straps just right. Now let me tell you, infant carriers can be confusing. But not that confusing. I instinctively walked over to examine their progress - I think your daddy had broken out in a sweat - and almost fell over laughing. Your dad, in a moment of technical deprivation, had somehow wedged you into your snug car seat without ever unbuckling any buckles or straps. And this wasn’t the first time you’d been wrangled into the thing!
I had known your mom for nearly a year before you were born. She was elegant and calm and glamorous and carried herself as stately as Audrey Hepburn. But in the days right after your birth (and a few times since) I have seen her frazzled and dizzy with the learning curves motherhood throws. She’s still mostly elegant and calm and glamorous, but I believe there’s a little more vulnerability to her stately demeanor that the Lord has crafted in her through you and Brighton. I’ve seen her proud as a peacock bursting with news of you reading your first word. She was amused you wanted to learn cursive so quickly and bypass manuscript altogether. And she’s been astounded with the depth and longevity of your memory.

Adoption Day-- 6 months later, it was official on paper
There are two reasons I’m writing you this letter, Julia. One, is to communicate as best as I can the depth of love your mom holds for you. She was an amazing lady before you came to be her daughter (I’m seeing that even more as I get to know your grandmother and Uncle Blake and hearing stories from your mom’s childhood - she’s always been a bright star), but she came alive after your birth. You were truly a dream come true. An undeserving gift from the Lord. She prayed for and longed for you years before you were even conceived. I’ll never forget holding little Hudson at your mom’s desk before your birth, and the hutch was completely adorned with note cards in your mom’s handwriting claiming God’s promises and faithfulness. This was right about the time they learned you would soon come dancing and giggling into their home. But these Scripture-filled notecards were written weeks and months and years before that, a visual comfort from the Lord to your momma that He sees and is faithful and trustworthy.  You were at the heart of those Scriptures, Julia.

As you mature, I can see you are the exact, perfect, God-created daughter for your momma. You are so similar to her - your love for order, your admiration of pretty things, your outgoing personality combined with a need for time alone, your acute awareness of your surroundings, your attention to detail, your tenacity, your competitive spirit, and your steel trap of a mind that locks in everything ... pretty soon we’ll need an “askjulia.com” website. You are also like your mom in your contemplative spirit. If something bothers you, really bothers you, instead of spewing out questions, you’ll likely bury your head and think on it - maybe for days - before bringing it up again. Eventually that will be a significant strength - harnessing self control to think on difficult issues before broadcasting them to everyone around you.

As you grow, I pray your contemplating becomes a form of prayer - that you make a habit of instinctively taking everything to God for direction and clarity. To see through His lenses. I can assure you that both your mom and your dad are in this habit. And most of the time your mom can maintain self control. And in addition to prayers, I pray that you know you can talk with your mom about anything. She is a good listener and wants to know the depths of your heart. But remember also that if she responds too quickly and harshly, give her another chance. I promise you, Julia, your mom wants nothing more than for you to come to her with anything and to be able to talk openly. She knows you are not just like her, and doesn’t expect you to be. And she’s teachable. She will learn great things about love and friendship and God from you. She already has.

The second reason I’m writing you today is to encourage you to embrace your story. Embrace this dynamic, blossoming narrative of who God has made you and give yourself freedom to bloom brilliantly. Look at all God has given you: big brown eyes, a sharp intellect, a smiling and earnest little brother who adores you, weekends at the lake on your daddy’s boat, summer vacations at the beach, beautiful hands with long slender fingers, a mom who (for now, anyway) chooses to give you the  privilege of learning at home and from her teaching, amazing grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and a great, contagious laugh. God did not create you to look just like your friends, Atlee and Isabella and Annalisa and Basden. He made your appearance unique and lovely and special. He also didn’t create you to have the same birth story as these friends. He gave you a unique platform through adoption to bless other people and point them to the goodness of God.

I am so grateful for your story of adoption, because it shows God’s creativity and faithfulness and overflowing abundance. He allowed your birth mother, Sarah, to give up something so dear that she’ll never go a day without considering that beautiful, very difficult choice. It blessed your momma in ways that we’ll never understand, we won’t see the ripples of blessing really until Heaven. And your story blesses me and my family in the process. What in the world would we do without Julia in our lives?!

As you know, your mom is an amazing woman AND an amazing mommy. She dreamed of you for years as the Lord gave her a unique opportunity to trust Him for His best - that  He created her to be the perfect mommy to Julia and Brighton. You are beautiful, Julia, and your story is beautiful. It’s no surprise that the Lord drew your heart to Him at such a young age. He is beautiful in you. I love you!

TJ, pouring more kind words into Julia’s heart and mind- affirming her story.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Brighton and the Worldwide Web

No surprise here but it has always amazed me how easily words have flown from Brighton’s mouth.  They may be words I will cherish all my days or words that have earned unpleasant consequences.  He is never short on verbiage and never short of the courage to speak them— for good or for bad or for the sheer joy of having a voice in his small world.  Add these free flowing words to his sense of justice for all and it can get interesting.  A few years back I remember telling you of his seriousness of calling “Mr. Saxon” to prove to him the math key was “incorrect”.  “Mrs. Shurley” was threatened as well because the grammar key was “faulty”.  I feigned phone calls as he looked on with sheer terror— to call his bluff.  So as all of our kids grow up, we wonder, “What’s that going to look like when he’s older?”  “How do we help coach that now so it’s a strength for him and not an annoying weakness?”  While I am certainly looking for ways to navigate his many words on the healthiest trajectory, I can still chuckle when I see this come out in him in ways I hadn’t thought of yet.

He got a Kindle for Christmas.  The verdict is still out on that— whether it was a good idea or not.  {Isn’t it tradition that parents do ridiculous things in the name of Christmas?!} It has all sorts of restrictions, places for parental passwords and all that jazz— and while I think I am pretty tech savvy {I keep telling myself that.}, I cannot figure out how to separate MY stuff from HIS stuff.  However, being connected definitely has its advantages because EVERYTHING he does or downloads comes straight to my email.

This came up a couple of days ago…


Short and simple and poorly punctuated— and his being the one who wanted to argue with Mrs. Shurley. Really?  His irritation could not be held back. His voice had to be heard.  Justice for all.  So he typed that pitiful review—- under MY account.   My favorite part is “We and millions of shoppers on Amazon appreciate the time you took to write about….” lalalalalala… {italics mine}. All of his 3 seconds in lower-case negativity.

So this is B.  Enlightening “millions” on bad deals.  Games that don’t do anything.  Something that really matters to an 11 year old boy.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Filling in the Blanks, or Not

As I clean up and clean out this week, I keep looking at this blank chalkboard on my mantle.  Christmas verse now erased away,  I am thinking of this new year stretched out in squares—- 30 or so at a time, 12 pages.  I’m not ready to put anything on my chalkboard, nor do I wish to fill in any blank spaces, nor am I ready to crack open those pages to see what they already hold.  I kind of know, but I am not ready to get really familiar with it yet.  This first week of 2015, I am enjoying the “blank”, as contrived as it may be.

You can’t read a book or see a movie like Unbroken without talking about it.  My mom demonstrated that a few years ago when she finished the book— telling me all about it to the point I felt like it would silly for me to read it. Then, Jeff’s brother read it and he recounted it all in more detail as we sat on the beach with him one summer.  I felt VERY familiar with Louie Zamperini’s story.  I was a fool.  Once the movie was announced, I felt I needed to read the book.  After the first few pages, I couldn’t believe I had waited so long.  And then I understood why people have to talk about it.  Jeff heard all about it.  I read him page after page after page of things so unreal, I could not keep it to myself.  I could not.   You must read it.  You must see it.  The book fills in all the holes of which the movie is full, but the film is excellent -it’s just not the complete story.   Anyway, one of the hundreds of things I found intriguing about the men afloat the rafts is how the time and silence affected their brains and memories.

Laura Hillenbrand writes— so wonderfully, I might add, “Given how badly the men’s bodies were faring, it would seem likely that their mind, too, would begin to fail.  But more than five weeks into their ordeal, both Louie and Phil were enjoying remarkable precision of mind, and were convinced that they were growing sharper every day.”

“Louie found that the raft offered an unlikely intellectual refuge.  He had never recognized how noisy the civilized world was.  Here, drifting in almost total silence, with no scents other than the singed odor of the raft, no flavors on his tongue, nothing moving but the slow procession of the shark fins, every vista empty save water and sky, his timed unvaried and unbroken, his mind was freed of an encumbrance that civilization had imposed on it.  In his head, he could roam anywhere, and he found that his mind was quick and clear, his imagination unfettered and supple.  He could stay with a thought for hours, turning it about.”

Does anyone else find that fascinating?  He and his pilot, Phil, would quiz each other, telling stories to the most minute detail, describing recipes and entire meals being prepared and teaching songs to one another.  Their memory “became infinitely more nimble, reaching back further, offering detail that had once escaped him.”

There are moments in the book that are hard to explain if you don’t use God to explain them.  His protection, His mercy, His holding out hope to Louie, His Presence— and this clarity of mind, this deep focus, I believe, all of these were a gift to him.

I am seriously NOT interested in being on a raft for 47 days and traveling 2000 seemingly aimless miles, but what Louie experienced in his thoughts reminded me of the mystery- and power- of being quiet, pulling away from all the distractions for a period of time.  For anyone.  Just a few hours even.  Definitely, a discipline.  For our minds to be “freed of an encumbrance that civilization had imposed upon it” might seem impossible for anyone living today in “normal” circumstances.  We cannot escape it.  Civilization is good.  Men have died for it.  We have responsibilities and commitments— God-given— good, life giving things.  But we can learn quietness, trust and rest.

Burden and constraint come with civilization, but God also tells us to  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 Also, the prophet Isaiah spoke these words, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

Will I have some of it?  Will you?  There is something strong and good and right about being quiet.  About resting.  We speak much of repentance but do we speak as much of rest?  Rest for our souls?  Unusual, powerful things — things to which we aren’t accustomed— happen when we pull away for periods of time to find quiet.  To turn a thought about.  To ponder.  To hear from our Heavenly Father.  To get our marching orders for the day, the year.  To remember details of things we have been taught in the past.   To see new insights into a favorite Scripture.

My chalkboard is blank.  My calendar, like yours, is not.  However, in those pages of 2015, I am committed to finding rest for my soul, to feel the strength that comes from trusting in Him, to experience quietness in my spirit with Him.  I want some of it.  Do you?