Friday, August 19, 2011

Happy Birthday Andy!

I married a wonderful man.

You may have picked up on it, but I'm pretty fond of my husband.

You may have also picked up
from the two above photos
that Andy likes the Huskies,
and his black sweatshirt...

Today is his 30th birthday.

Mostly, Andy is pretty unaffected by life. He takes things with an easy stride and quiet resolve. This birthday milestone is no different.

When a friend asked him how he felt about turning 30 Andy just shrugged and said that he was okay with it, that it made him feel like a valid adult now.

Before I had even met Andy I remember telling a girlfriend that if I ever got married (I was one of those I could be single forever gals - not a man-hater, just someone who was pretty comfortable as a single) I wanted to marry a "man."

When I said it, I meant someone with strong hands, a deep voice and big muscles who wasn't afraid to get dirty, especially while changing my oil and mowing the lawn.

But as I have discovered more and more of the treasure inside of my husband, I realized that although Andy does have lovely, rock-hard muscles and a swagger in his manly step, those are not the qualities that cause me to think of him as a man.

We have just had a new near-17-year-old boy move into our house. He is a BEAST! Six-something feet tall and a good 250lbs. Linebacker material (for other women whose husbands do not watch sports, the linebacker is the big-guy on the football team). He stomps around the house challenging everyone, throwing his weight (quite literally) and bragging about how he is twice the man that Andy is.

The first two weeks
I was SO
irritated by this peacock
I really wanted to put him in his place
and point out all his shortcomings
until the spirit in me that loves Jesus
fluttered enough to catch my attention
and remind me
that this show of arrogance
is most likely masking
some deep wound.
His hurt will never be healed
by my pointing out his failures
over and over.

The contrast between this boy and my man is so startling. I wish so badly that I could make our giant kid understand that masculinity is not a matter of size, it is a matter of character.

If there were ever a magic trick that could make teen boys actually listen to what I said, I would use it in this relationship. I would point to my husband and commission our new charge to care less about his stature and instead learn from Andy.

My husband lives out an example of humility.

A fact you should know about Andy is that he is really good (REALLY GOOD) at a lot (A LOT) of things. He is just one of those guys who can pretty much pick up any sport or activity and be awesome at it. He knows his skills and he uses them well. He also knows that besides physical activity he is highly intelligent and quick witted. Yet he approaches new situations with a watchful eye. He does not look for moments to prove himself or show someone else up, instead he listens, he learns and he does his best whenever he can.

When I first met Andy, I mistook his quiet and understated confidence as arrogance (or, perhaps it did use to be arrogance, but he has outgrown it). Now, when I watch him or work with him, I am amazed at how comfortable he is with himself and how capable he is.

I love knowing that he is the best around, but never hearing him say it himself.

Andy is generous.

Andy gives cheerfully. He looks for opportunities to support missionaries, he tithes without fail and he loves to walk Jack through toy aisles looking for something fun to play with.

Several years ago we were part of a building campaign at our church. I had an amount in mind that I wanted to give and was nervous to tell Andy about it, as it was a lot more than I thought we could do. But when we talked about it, he had the same amount in mind! For months and months we gave, even when it felt like we couldn't do it. At one point I wanted to back out and quit, but Andy remained steady and we saw the entire campaign through.

Andy expects to learn, grow and change.

I am not married to the same man I walked down the aisle with.

The man I am married to now is deeper and wiser and more understanding than the man I first feel in love with.

Andy has made intentional decisions to change attitudes and actions that have been part of his make-up for a very long time. He refuses to cop-out from hard work relationally by saying, "that's just the way I am." Instead he does the slow and steady work of learning about me and teaching me about him.

He is softer now, more compassionate, is slow to anger, speaks wisely and plans for the future.

The man I am married to now has stepped into his responsibilities as husband and father and has WILLINGLY made sacrifices to his own comfort in order to care for me and our boys.

Andy listens to God.

None of what I've just said would matter much, nor would it be a part of who Andy is, without the fact that Andy hears from the Lord and is willing to obey.

I am so very grateful that Andy cares more about what God says than any other voice in his life, including mine.

If you ever get a chance to hear all of Andy's story, it is worth listening to. Andy is the best example to me of a life transformed by the love of a heavenly father.

The man I live with and love now, is not the man who went by Andy Aichele 10 years ago. He has grown from heavy drinker, recreational-drug user, angry, aggressive, disrespectful, imprisoned, dismissed, dishonest, calloused, and careless to honoring, thoughtful, respectable, influential, brave, and willing to go where he is sent.


I adore you. I am grateful beyond words that I get to journey through life with you. Thank you for being a MAN: living boldly, loving deeply and leading well.

Happy Birthday!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A conversation over chocolate-peanut butter ice cream

I'm pretty sure that it is a bad idea to replace my meals with creamy, heavily sweetened and highly caffeinated beverages, but it seems that is my current coping strategy.

The way I see it I am allowed a week of counter-productive, self-medicating behavior, right?

The answer to that is "yes." Please don't pop my bubble.


After walking through way too many time outs, temper tantrums, "he's not sharing" fights and heaps of dishes, I found Andy in the kitchen last night and put my head on his shoulder in surrender.

I mused out loud, "How can I love doing something that is so hard?"

Because I really do love this. Not love in a warm fuzzy sort of way, but in an "I can't even begin to fathom NOT doing this" sort of way.

I have three teen boys in my house currently. One just moved in, but two of them have been with me since Andy and I took on this job. Both of those two have been arrested at least once while in my care. Both have sworn at me, threatened to run away and lied to me over and over and over again.

But I adore them.

They tease me and I tease them. I sympathize with their breakouts, I pluck their unibrows and I chastise them for agreeing to go out with girls they don't really like. I'm not sure I could have ever anticipated the satisfaction and "full" feeling of having two teen boys rush in the house each day, eager to tell me about the latest high school gossip.

Side Note:
It is all fun and games until
a scroungy teen boy
who has trouble remembering to shower
notices your dried out and neglected
and asks you why you don't have pretty
feet like other adult women.
Because, you little whipper snapper,
I'm too busy reminding you to do your laundry
to indulge in anything as frivolous as a

For the last week, they have shown me extra grace. They have each picked up extra chores (or more accurately, done their chores without so much prompting) and played with Jack and Joey as I pour my efforts into teaching our new guys the ropes. As they have given more of themselves one of them asked me today, "How do you DO this?"

You know I love that kind of commiseration!

This morning, as I was called out of my room by needy little voices I asked myself the same question. How can I do this?

This last week has exhausted me. I feel as if I am mere skin and bones at this point. My body feels empty of soul - all of my mind, will and emotions being consumed by a short (please Lord let it be so!) season of extreme exertion.

I started a conversation with the Lord in my head this morning, asking him how I can give so fully -to genuine needs- yet still find space to be filled.

I mentioned to one of the pastors at our new church, and a friend of ours, that I was asking God that question. His reply was so simple and so sweet: "What did he say?"

I had to confess that as of that moment, I hadn't heard an answer.

But I was wrong. I had been hearing the answer since before I asked the question.

Yesterday GAP partnered with JCPenny's to get all of the 80+ kids in our ministry new school wardrobes. Each child receives a small allotment of clothing money each year they are in state custody. Penny's offered to match what they had.
They didn't just match.
They also paid all the sales tax,
which in AZ is RIDICULOUS!

They opened up their store TWO HOURS early, fully staffed with the brightest faces and most cheerful personalities and we walked our kids through the clothing section, filling bags with new outfits for the school year.

I had asked two new friends to come with our house and be personal shoppers for kids and they both enthusiastically said yes. Andy's mom was in town and she watched our boys for the morning and another staff member played with our two new additions so that our hands could be free to help the school-kids.

I had so much fun.

One of those teen boys I was talking about acted like he had never tried on clothes before. He assured me he had picked out everything he wanted, but when I required him to try it on, not a single item fit. I was able to spend almost the entire time with him, getting him a whole new closet of clothes, because the friends that came with us were so generous with their time.

The boy I worked with took a solid hour longer than the rest of the kids in my house, so my friends took my three other kids out to breakfast and to play.

When I met up with them again they were happy and well fed, feeling like they had just had a treat, instead of like they had waited a hour for a really pokey shopper.

When everyone had finished shopping one friend came back to the house and jumped right in, changing poopy diapers, playing with kids and keeping the house in order.

Andy's mom ended up staying the entire day. She took over bath time, bed time, and all other time with the two tots and freed up my hands and my emotions for Jack, Joey and my big kids.

By the end of the night my house was in order and everyone had received the attention they needed.

Not only that, but my load felt manageable.

The answer to my question is that I stop thinking that my calling is something I live out alone.

I know that not everyone is able or willing to live in a house like I am, but that doesn't mean that they might not be eager to lend a hand or play a part in some amazing stories.

If I continue to operate in a solo state, thinking that because this job is my ministry right now it means that I (underlined three times!) have to be the one to make it work, I am going to burn out and have to give up this beautiful life, before my season here has run its course.

Taking care of kids and building a safe home are the obvious parts of my commission. It would be a shame to miss the more subtle pieces of the picture - those that include inviting our neighbors to compassion, making room for our friends to give, and exposing kids in my home to the beauty of community - simply because I am too self-reliant or self-conscious to invite others in.

So let me be clear.

I need help.

This is not a one woman show.

To make it such is selfish and foolish.

I REALLY don't want to be either of those.

So while I still intend to give everything that I have, I find that I am retiring this evening with hope. Hope that as I invite others in I can give fully, but begin to fill too. That is the place where I want to live; to give and receive in equal measure - that what I give isn't mine, it just passes through me, a stream of living water.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Pretty Bow

I know yesterday's post was a bit of a downer, but over the last year I have been trying to make the concept of "real time" friendships part of the way I live.

One of my wise friends introduced me to the concept and it has stuck in my mind.

The idea is that to feed your friendships and to grow deep roots and sweet fruit in community, I have to let go of my need to present myself as "in control."

I have a tendency to like to tell my sad stories once they have a happy ending. I am learning forbearance and the art of under-reacting to difficulties, knowing that in most cases something that strikes me as traumatic will most likely seem less significant a few days or weeks after the event.

But just because something will eventually get better, doesn't always mean that I need to white-knuckle my way through a hard time alone.

Hence the "real time" conversations. It is the practice of saying, "This is where I am right now. I recognize that it will be different in the future, but at this very moment, I am struggling."

Real time feels so dangerous to me. I wonder what people will think, if they hear the "I can't do it" on the front end of an experience, and never hear the "I did it" or more likely, "God did it!" of the resolution. I am often aware of the challenge of presenting hard times without being a whiner and of knowing what times are appropriate to share a genuine struggle.

I am by no means a master of this kind of relationship, but I would like to be one day. So for now, I will simply try and try again!

All of that to say that yesterday was the beginning of a journey ...

it is probably somewhere in the middle
since I feel like
I have been traveling toward an
awesome and unknown destination
for some time.
I figure I am about half-way up a glorious,
though steep,
mountain pass.
Every few switchbacks I get to pause
and see the ever-changing view
and admire the vastness of the world,
but then I must continue on,
moving up at whatever
slow and steady pace I can manage.

And God, in his infinite grace, poured fresh and refreshing air into my lungs this afternoon.

I am still tired, overwhelmed and confused, but to my practical self, already I am seeing a transformation in the two that joined our family on Monday.

I understand more of what is being said to me, and I feel bold in bringing them into the way I parent.

There is always an awkwardness that accompanies the transition from a safe and warm welcome, to integrating a child into the flow of our house.

Today I crossed that line and started to establish routines and boundaries rather than just cuddle and mitigate the stress I image the children are experiencing.

That means that we did time-outs, I said "no" when appropriate, and I got to splurge on a pair of pink suede shoes that made baby girl's eyes shine.

Two children
came into my home with nothing.
However long they stay,
they will at leas
t leave with a weeks worth of clothing
and the small toys
I was able to purchase for them.

I have picked a few places to focus my efforts and through repetition (oh it is mind numbing!), consistency and God's infinite grace, already changes are happening.

To see them in writing makes them seem small, but anyone who is parenting - or has recently parented - toddlers and preschoolers understands the victories of hearing "please" and "sorry" unprompted and of putting children to bed and having them stay there without a fit, are huge.

At one point today all four of my under-5 club were asleep or quiet at the same time. Yes I am that awesome.

Later in the day we all sat for 15 minutes and did a craft project, followed by another 20 minutes of playing with Play Doh.

After a hard rain it was cool enough to play outside so I brought out the speakers and put on dancing music. We colored with sidewalk chalk and jumped around, enjoying ourselves greatly.

And if I were not already the most remarkable (of course I am being facetious here) mother today, I set the table with a simple dinner that all 11 people in my home enjoyed. Sweet victory!

But wait, there is more...

To ice the cake, I single-handedly diapered, changed, brushed teeth and tucked into bed the four-under-five in less than half an hour (Actually, I didn't do all the tucking by myself, for which I am thankful! Way to go Andy!).

Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah! GOOOOOOOO Emily!

The humbling and heart-heavy realities of what I have been entrusted with are still present. I am still unsettled and still so tired that I have lost all sense of propriety and am planning on eating a spoonful of chocolate frosting after I publish this post. But despite the frightening unknown and the sobering known, I have moved forward. That is something to celebrate.

I am so very grateful that God's ability isn't dependent on my courage. His goodness isn't altered by my depravity. His love isn't thwarted by my hard heart. His ways are beyond my ways - unmarred by blemishes.

Oh God, thank you for being the same yesterday, today and forever!

And thank you friends for standing with me! Your prayers made a difference in the day!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Broken they may be, but worthless they are not.

This afternoon I was raiding the garage fridge for all the makings of a preschool lunch. I was over ambitious in what I tried to carry into the house and ended up dropping a large jar of Adam's peanut butter on the concrete.

It broke, of course, and my heart lurched as a large shard of glass slid across the length of the floor, leaving a trail of shimmering and hazardous slivers in its wake.

There are very few messes I find more frustrating to clean than broken glass.

But as I swept up the tiny fragments, I made an effort to draw some parallel between the broken glass and the strange beauty created by the smaller bits, catching the light and making my dustpan look as if it were dressed for a party.

Perhaps, on a different day, that imagery would have rung true. Today, however, what was in the forefront of my mind was the fear that I associate with broken glass. Dread may be a better word than fear. Or foreboding.

While sweeping up so many miniscule pieces there is the very real and likely possibility that something will get missed. Some near-invisible fleck of shattered jar will find just the perfect little dip in the flooring and hid away until I have forgotten entirely about the event. Wait until I no longer keep a pair of slippers outside the garage door. Wait until one day I walk out with my feet bared and that so-small glimmer will become a sharp pain.

Yesterday Andy and I welcomed two new children into our home.

The last portrait I gave you included four beautiful, brown children.

I hate trying to be
politically correct
when identifying races.
The appropriate title
seems to change frequently
and my information doesn't update
often enough.
So I say "brown" simply because
that is what the pretty girl of the family
told me she prefers.

They moved back home with their mom, which is a story for another day. The parting was bittersweet, but left our home feeling like a home.

When they moved out, we were left with four foster children, all of whom have been part of our family from the beginning.

After almost six months, we know each other fairly well. We feel comfortable with one another and each of us has trained the others how to get the best from us.

For two glorious weeks I felt like I was living with my family. My home was predictable, full of peace and happy camaraderie and full of children who have started to let their guards down.

Oh it was bliss!
Bliss may be a bit of an exaggeration.
But it was at least pleasant.

As we knew would happen eventually, we saw four new children this weekend. One came for a day, one came for a weekend and ended up moving in and two showed up at our door late yesterday evening.

When the person delivering the children called, she told us to have a bath running and wash them first thing. They had "bedbugs."

So when two tiny children arrived, one two years older than Jack and another just a few months younger, I had a warm bath going and lots of toys out to play with.

I helped a young boy undress. His clothes were caked with dirt. Instead of underwear he was wearing filthy swimming trunks under his jeans. Beneath his clothing was the wonderfully smooth skin of young-childhood, marred by dozens of small red spots.

The tiny girl has eyes that will not focus and cause her to always look as if she is afraid. Her skin too was dotted with bug bites as well as two large raw and red welts between her legs. My hope is that they are the result of ill-fitting diapers and not something more sinister. Her hair is sickly and she is so thin that her ribs can be counted.

When the woman dropping them off asked me to throw away their clothing I was a little shocked. It was fortunate that they were so close to Jack's age because everything they came with, left with our garbage pick up this morning.

The bath disturbed my heart, to see such small children walk in, so obviously ignored for a long period of time... but the sorrow went deeper as I tried to get to know them.

Neither of the children can talk. I don't mean they aren't physically able, I just mean, nobody has ever taught them how. They seem to be able to converse with each other, in a language that I first thought was foreign, but they are extremely limited in the words they can speak to others.

A boy that is five and a girl that will be three this month. They can't tell me anything.

Luckily they are very good mimes and both seem more than able to follow directions. I do understand when the boy calls his small sister "baby girl" and I have started to identify words that we used often today: share, purple (baby girl's favorite color), trucks, helicopter, BIG helicopter, no and hey!, which is what they call Andy and me.

We tried to tell them our names,
but they persist in shouting "hey!"
when they want our attention.
They aren't the slightest bit interested
in "Emily" or "Andy"
so when they remember not to shout,
they call us mom and dad.

Oh friends, can I tell you. This is really hard.

These children have been horribly neglected. They need so much. And I don't want them.

Please don't misunderstand me. I want to love them, and take care of their needs at this very moment. But their needs are beyond my ability. To say "yes" to giving all that they require means so many nos to the other relationships and dynamics that are established in our home.

I don't want to say no to the four children who are making their home with me. I don't want to say no to Jack and Joey. I don't want to say no to my own selfishness. I don't want different when what I was building was so comfortable.

These children are shimmers of something broken. A broken history, broken family, broken hearts... I am not capable of cleaning this mess.

I want to see beauty in the dustpan, but my heart is fearful. Whatever sweeping I can do, won't be enough. Pain is still there. For each small fragment I can piece back together, another chip of glass waits to draw blood.

I don't know what will become of the two new waifs that are now sleeping in my home. But I do know that ultimately, my job is not to repair the broken.

With the grace and strength of the Holy Spirit I may be able to sooth. To calm. To teach. To love.

But putting the pieces back together will always be beyond me.

As I wrestled today with welcoming these two glass-glimmers, I thought of a story in John:

"As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'

'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'"

I so badly want to blame someone for the hurt inflicted on the children that find their way to my home... but "this," whatever "this" may be, happened so that the work of God may be displayed.

Friends, I have two darling children in my care this evening that need more than I have. Please pray with me that God's abundance would cover over all of my lack and run deep and rich into their lives.