The quote above comes from one of my very favorite books, the autobiography of Darlene Deibler-Rose, a missionary to New Guinea who was taken captive during WWII and held in a series of Japanese prison camps over 4 years. The story of her life and her faith through those circumstances is stunning and inspiring.
This quote was something she spoke about another man who she saw suffer greatly in the prison camp. It has been a prayer that I have offered with fear & trembling during many seasons of life -- "God, would you make me someone who you could trust with pain?" I think it is likely true that the depth of pleasure and delight that God can trust a person with is in proportion to the pain he can trust that person with. This month was evidence of both of those. Even as we celebrated the closing of our new house and all of the delight wrapped up in God coming through for our family in such a miraculous way, so very much else of this month has been marked by the experience of pain.
June 1st was closing day, and my mom had arrived the day before to help us with childcare, packing & moving, as we hoped to be settled into the new house within a couple of weeks. As it turned out, we needed her help and presence so desperately, but not to accomplish the work at the new house or the packing & moving as we had hoped. A few days into the month Clementine began complaining about stomach ache, and what seemed to start as a simple GI bug became more and more extreme pain, sleepless nights, days with more pain instead of improvement, and fear about what could be wrong with our girl. We ended up in the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania emergency room not once but twice that weekend, and she was diagnosed with an intususpeption, a rare condition where the intestine telescopes in on itself. Thankfully it didn't require surgery and was expected to resolve on its own, but without any remedy but time we just had to wait and comfort our sweet girl as best as we could while we waited for her body to heal itself.
Through the distress of seeing my girl in pain, I could only think of parents whose children diagnosed with terminal illnesses who couldn't expect an eventual reprieve. With the love and care of my mom and our friends & church family Clementine finally started to improve with fewer, less extreme and less lengthy episodes of pain.
We hoped that we were out of the woods, but after no more than two days of Clementine making great improvement, both Selah and I came down with this same bad GI bug. As with Clementine, the main feature was extreme abdominal pain. Experiencing it first hand, at its worst the pain rivaled that of labor contractions, but without the break that comes between contractions, and without the reward of a baby. For me, the illness was compounded by extreme dehydration, and I ended up with my own visit to the ER. Again, the care of my mom being present in our home and the support of friends, in particular my friend who insisted that I go to the emergency room, ended up being a saving grace.
Now that we are finally all well, simple things like normal eating, drinking, working and playing seem utterly blissful. When I look for God's presence and truth in the experience, I can see how he was so gracious to care for us, even while not removing or relieving the pain in response to the prayers of so many. Over and over we said how perfect it was that my mom was able to be with us to help us, even though her purpose for visiting ended up being so dramatically different. Also, because we purchased the new house in such a whirlwind, we had to cancel a trip that we had planned to Vermont. It ended up being essential to our well-being and recovery that we were home and near to top-notch medical care and a 24 hour pharmacy instead of hours away from home in rural Vermont.
Even before Clementine became sick, there was another providential aspect to my mom's visit. On the day after we closed on the new house, Frank needed to be there to meet a contractor, and I planned to be there with him to get busy cleaning and preparing the house for our big move. While drinking my morning coffee, the direction of the day utterly changed when I read a Facebook post from a friend who works at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Special Delivery unit. It said, "Hi all...Need a last-minute doula for a couple who were planning a homebirth and instead ended up at CHOP with baby who is no longer living. They will have an induction today and would really like a doula."
The moment I read it, I knew that God had prepared me and called me to respond the the needs of this family. Entrusting Clementine into my mom's care, I was able to drop everything to be beside this couple and support them through the unparalleled pain of a labor ending in the birth of their baby who they had already lost. It was heart wrenching and not at all what you would wish for any family to have to endure. And yet to be there felt like a tremendous honor. God could trust me to be in the presence and to hold the space in such horrific pain.
Daily, we are bearing witness to all sorts of pain. People who we care for are burying their children, their siblings, their parents, their friends, who have overdosed on heroin. We had to miss the memorial service for the mother of some of my dearest Philly kids who passed away unexpectedly because we had already made plans to be at the funeral service of a young mother who died of an overdose. As overwhelming as our pain was in the midst of illness this past month, it has healed and past, and yet there are people who God has put into our lives (or whose live He has put us into) who are suffering pain that they will not see resolved this side of glory.
I don't have a tidy bow to put on this, except to say that God is honoring us by trusting us with pain. And instead of shying away, we are hopeful that we can be brave and mighty to bear the truth of God's love and goodness and to represent the sweetness of His presence as we hold space and care for people around us in great pain.
We are only able to have this availability and to do this work, to be Jesus to people in painful places because of the love, care and generosity of those of you who support and keep our family here. Thank you for caring for us, praying for us, giving on our behalf so that we can obey in these hard but beautiful ways.
Frank, Elizabeth, Selah, Callum & Clementine
Once upon a time there was a little family who live in a little house in the big city of Philadelphia. As time went by, the little family was not feeling so little. They were feeling pretty BIG within their little home. Beside that, they felt like their hearts were growing bigger for the people in other parts of their big city. They anticipated that big changes were on the horizon for them.
This family was loved so greatly by so many people that they often used blogs and newsletters and Facebook to communicate with all of their friends. With these big changes brewing in the hearts and lives of this little family, they wrote a nice, long newsletter to tell the story and get the word out. The wrote, formatted, edited, and submitted it to the printer.
With envelopes addressed and stamped, they waited for the stack of newsletters to arrive so that they could stuff envelopes and send them out to their friends. While they were frustrated that the man who drives the brown truck seemed to be purposefully trying to bring the newsletters whenever they weren't home, further delaying the distribution of their big news, they could only be so upset because other BIG EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS were taking place.
Within 48 hours of having submitted their newsletter for print, the family looked into a little swatch of territory that they had not yet explored. On a street only about 5 blocks away from their church, the family found a house for sale that was a size and price that seemed perfectly suited for them. In their newsletter they had describe a "financing miracle" as a necessary step for them to avoid the stepping stone of having to rent a home before being able to purchase their new home. The price of this house actually only required a "small financing miracle" which the family were the grateful recipients of.
The family put an offer on that house and had that offer accepted, and pending inspection are set to close on that house on June 1st!
More details coming soon, but we are so happy to share this pinch-me-I'm-dreaming fairy tale that God has written for us! Our inspection is Saturday and will give us a better idea of how feasible a June 1st closing is. We look forward to sharing all of the details soon so that you can celebrate with us and revel in God's amazing care a stunning favor!
Today is January 13th, 2017 and 11 years ago today, Frank and I started the day as merely friends but ended the day as much more. It was the day when this man with a little more than 6 months of sobriety boldly proclaimed, “I think you’re my wife” and I knew from the depths of my being to respond, “I think you are right.” (This is the part where I should acknowledge that I also said, “but I need a week” and Frank told me to “take all the time you need! I just had to tell you!”) Yet we still recognize January 13th as a precious anniversary.
Only a few weeks after our official relationship was conceived, Frank had to share a hard truth with me. There are many ways that his life bears the marks of the chaotic and broken life that he lived throughout his 20’s. His sober date, 6 months prior to that fateful January night, was also the day after he got out of jail for the last time. Even with some stretches of sobriety, most of his 20’s were spent on the street, in & out of drug rehabs and in & out of jail. Beside a scar on his back from a knife attack, another bodily impact of his years of drug addiction was the Hepatitis C that lived in his blood and threatened his liver. Since it’s transmitted almost exclusively from blood to blood interactions, he almost certainly got it from an infected needle. This narrow route of transmission also meant that it wasn’t a significant risk to me or others. But it was a great risk to Frank’s liver. Many people die far too young from liver cancers and liver failure on account of Hepatitis C. Over the years, and up to today, Frank’s journey with Hep C has been a series of good and bad news.
A few weeks after Frank first told me about his Hepatitis C, the good news was that the viral load of Hep C in his blood was low enough that treatment wouldn’t even be recommended.
The bad news was, he didn’t have any health insurance to monitor it in the future.
The good news is, he was able to get an appointment at a nearby free clinic to monitor the Hep C.
The bad news was, in September of 2007 his viral load was high enough that liver damage was inevitable without treatment to eradicate the Hep C.
The good news was, there is a treatment for Hep C.
The bad news is that we still did not have heath insurance, and even if we did, it would be a considered a preexisting condition.
The good news was, Pennsylvania had a waiting list for a health insurance for adults who made too much money for medicaid, but not enough to afford health insurance and we were able to get on that waiting list.
The bad news is that the waiting list was expected to be 12-24 months, and you could only be on it if you were uninsured, so I couldn’t even keep my medical crisis policy.
The good news was, we passed that 24 months without any major medical emergencies even though we were uninsured.
The bad news was, another 12 months went by and 3 full years on the list still didn’t give us the chance for affordable health insurance. In fact, the program had quietly dissolved because of lack of funding and support.
The good news was that over the next several years as our family grew, we found ourselves in circumstances where we had seasons of being covered by medicaid. We had health care for all of our babies’ births and Frank was able to start seeing a GI doctor at Jefferson University.
The bad news was, we were always in the position of losing that heath care coverage as our income fluctuated. At one point making a mere $200 more in the year would have put us in the position of needing to make nearly $10,000 more to cover our family’s basic medical insurance needs.
The good news was, we kept hearing news about new Hepatitis C drugs that were being developed. A nurse researcher at Jefferson was always keeping Frank in mind as different Hep C treatment studies were going on.
The bad news was, the drugs that were on the market at that time were tantamount to chemotherapy - weekly injections over full year that would often put you in bed feeling like you had the flu for the rest of the day. Along with that, the daily oral meds were highly teratogenic, meaning that they could cause severe birth defects not just to a the baby of a woman on the treatment but to the baby of a woman who was the sexual partner of a man having the treatment. A requirement of all of the drug trial studies were that your agreed to use two forms of birth control. You could not have the treatment if your partner was pregnant, and your partner could not get pregnant until a full 18 months after the 52 week treatment period. It was scary to consider the harm to Frank’s body, and preparing for the option of treatment derailed the vision we had for a fourth Varaso baby. Oh and for all this trouble, this treatment regimen was known to have about 50% cure rate.
The good news was, enough time passed for all of those drug trials to be completed and a new medication called Harvoni was on the market. It was a once-daily oral medication taken for 3 months with a 95% cure rate.
The bad news was, it cost $1000 per pill. For the three-month regimen that was a nearly $100,000 cost.
The good news was that it was the year 2015 and the Affordable Care Act had been created and enacted to help people exactly in our position.
The bad news was that we initially fell into that no-man’s-land where we couldn't get a Marketplace policy OR medicaid. And then for some reason I was able to purchase a Marketplace policy, but Frank was bumped back to a Medicaid policy, insurance which did not cover the cost of Harvoni unless you were in stage 3 liver damage.
The good news was, Frank was only had stage 1 liver damage.
The bad news was, those people who were eligible for insurance to pay for treatment with Harvoni were those whose livers were so badly damaged that they would still be at elevated risk for liver cancer for the rest of their lives. If we waited around for Frank to get to severe liver failure, he could then get treatment, but then he would still be at great risk for the same kinds of things that kill people with untreated Hep C.
The good news was Frank was still getting regular visits with his GI doctor and she recommended waiting with hope on the endeavors that Pennsylvania legislators were making to try to make Harvoni available for people with earlier stages of damage.
The bad news was, it seemed like every visit to the GI doctor was a waste - just finding out that nothing was new and that we should keep waiting.
The good news was that when we reapplied for heath insurance in 2016, Frank and I were both able to purchase insurance through the Marketplace.
The bad news was that we had a pretty high co-pay, and I doubted that it would be worth it for Frank to pay $100 to keep his appointment with the GI doctor just to hear that “keep waiting” message.
The good news was that he went anyway, and at that appointment discovered that our insurance from the Marketplace covered the Harvoni treatment even with only stage 1 liver damage.
The bad news is that after insurance covered a huge chunk of the nearly $100,000 treatment, there was still a nearly $15,000 copay.
The good news was that the drug company offered a patient assistance program to help cover the copay, and we would only end up paying $15 out of pocket.
The good news is that last April 7th, Frank took his first Harvoni and within a week his blood work already showed an undetectable level of Hepatis C in his blood.
The good news is that he took his last Harvoni on June 30th and that every set of blood testing along the way has shown no Hepatitis C in his blood.
The good news is that if you still show no Hepatitis C in your blood 6 months after treatment is completed, you are considered cured.
The good news is that Frank gave up that blood to LabCorp on January 3rd.
The good news is that we just got the results that confirm that Frank is officially cured of Hepatitis C.
This is a story of good news for us and for our family. Since Frank called me from the GI doctor’s office back in February of last year, it has felt like a bit of a “pinch me, I’m dreaming because this is way too good to be true.” In fact, we have waited to share this news more widely unit after the 6 month period passed and we could fully embrace and enjoy the truth that Frank has been cured from Hepatitis C.
Even as I write this, I have to do so with such a mix of feelings. We are obviously ecstatic that things lined up perfectly for Frank to receive this treatment in a window of time when we had the exact kind of insurance that was needed to provide this treatment for him. We credit God with his sweet providential care of us, and acknowledge that his goodness was expressed to us through the brilliant researchers who created Harvoni as well as the people in positions of power who made it a priority to make sure people like us could get affordable health care.
I was hesitant and cautious to share this story at this point in time because of all that has been going on politically in our nation recently. I do my best to voicing my opinion on anything that even sniffs of politics apart from careful conversations in-the-flesh. I don’t want to risk alienating people who hold different views than I do, and quite frankly I am afraid of the criticism that might come my way if I were more transparent. However, there is just no way to factually tell this story without clearly articulating how essential the Affordable Care Act has been for our family’s well-being. At the risk of the negative emotions or consequences of discovering that someone reading this doesn’t share my views, I will still proceed with words that seem timely.
In the same day that we celebrate this cure, we are taking in the news that acts of Congress this week put us at great risk for being right back at the same place of being uninsured in the future. That is scary for us. And it’s heartbreaking for us to wonder who else may not have the same happy ending that we are enjoying today because they will need this treatment next year instead of last year. It’s humbling to have to admit that we have needed this kind of help, but I will not let my embarrassment or fear of judgement keep me from asking you to think hard and act well on behalf of people like us.
But for today, we welcome you to celebrate with us as we continue to cherish and feel so grateful for all of the joy that January 13th represents in our life!
I’m sure you have enjoyed many greetings & well-wishes both in person and through the mail over the past several weeks, and like us, you might even have an entire beautiful collection of Christmas cards displayed in your home from friends far & near. With Christmas behind us, the greetings have turned to a default, “Happy New Year!” which seems to be as good a way as any to start a conversation with folks who we are seeing for the first time in 2017 as we settle back into a regular routine after days off from work & school.
Well, we do indeed hope that you have a healthy, happy and wonderfully blessed 2017, but we timed the arrival of this season's newsletter intentionally to be able to extend another specific blessing to our friends and family — “Happy Epiphany!” “Epipha-what?” you might be asking. I confess that growing up I was only familiar with the word epiphany in the generic sense, as in “a moment of sudden revelation or insight.” I think the first time I heard of it as an actual date on the calendar was when we enjoyed an Epiphany Bonfire with our friends in Vermont one very snowy January 6th— everyone brought their dying Christmas trees with whatever needles remained to throw into a community bonfire to light up the night and keep sled-riders and hot chocolate drinkers plenty warm. That is likely when I started to become more curious about what Epiphany was, and wondered what I might be missing out on.
Here is what I learned - For those who aren’t familiar with Epiphany specifically, you have probably at least heard the song “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Ever wonder why there were 12 days? Well, there are 12 days between Christmas Day and January 6th, and although your nativity set likely insists upon including the wise men in the scene of Christ’s birth, factually we know them to have visited Jesus at a separate time and place when he was described as a “child” not a newborn baby. So while his birth is celebrated at Christmas, and even for 12 days following, Epiphany recognizes the visit of the magi bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Let me tell you some of the reasons that I have come to love Epiphany, and maybe you will come to appreciate it and decide to embrace some of these celebration ideas for you own household. First, the winter season that follows Christmas can often be a difficult time. The days are shorter, you or someone you know is quite possibly fighting a nasty cold or the flu, and while there was the brightness of holiday decor for many weeks, the dullness left behind when those decorations are taken down often accentuates the internal bleakness that can accompany winter’s external barrenness. Plain ol’ winter can feel like a painful letdown after the Christmas season. Recognizing Epiphany has given us a way to extend our holiday celebration and preserve our thankful hearts for the sweet gift of Immanuel. When we pack away our Christmas decorations, we often keep up some of the lights and add to them paper star garlands. If we failed at making those plates of Christmas cookies for friends, we might make & decorate some star-shaped cookies as an Epiphany gift. From year to year we might spread ourselves between home and out-of-town family for Christmas celebrations, but we are always back home and settled in by Epiphany. This creates a default bonus opportunity to invite friends or neighbors over for a celebratory meal, topped off with a dessert that hides a baby Jesus figurine inside for one lucky person to find.
This idea is one that is harder to do, but one that I cherish — my very favorite Christmas seasons have been the years when we have opted to wait to give our kids their gifts until Epiphany. It has always been the tradition in our family that each child gets 3 gifts — why should they get any more than Jesus got when the point of the holiday is to celebrate HIS birthday? As parents trying to raise kids in a materialistic and disposable culture, it is a challenge to make Christmas about Jesus, but holding off gifts until Epiphany has helped with that. It has shifted the focus of the Christmas season to spending time together as a family and toward and recognizing the incomparable gift of God-in-flesh. (And practically, you can purchase much nicer things for much less money AFTER Christmas!)
One of our family’s very favorite holiday traditions is visiting a Living Nativity hosted by a church nearby. This year was our 8th year going! In years past, the kids will start asking as early as July, “When are we going to the living nativity?” It’s a really beautiful production that doesn’t just include a single scene of Christ’s birth, but that tells God’s story of love and redemption from before creation, and depicts the life of Jesus all the way through his ascension into heaven. The kids have always liked the “Boys in the boat” scene — the story of Jesus calming the stormy sea after he has been sleeping in the boat.
There is a different scene which is my hands-down favorite, and this is where we get back to Epiphany. True to scripture’s telling of the story, the magi don’t show up at the manger to see a newborn baby Jesus along with the shepherds, but instead, as they approach the house that the star led them to, out the door bounds a toddler Jesus ready to receive their gifts and their worship.
Even in the midst of our family’s favorite December tradition, I am already turning my mind and heart toward Epiphany — the reality of “toddler Jesus” utterly thrills my heart. I mean truly, how absurd, right? It is one thing to imagine a serene sleeping newborn lying in a manger and to say “That is my God, with flesh just like mine.” But a toddler? Hang out with a toddler for even an hour, and then tell yourself, “Immanuel, God with us, God-with-flesh-on means that the Almighty put himself into a toddler’s body.” A toddler — with all of the silliness, inappropriate sharing of observations, freedom with their bodily functions and total disregard for the concept of an adult’s personal space. The incarnation, God coming near to humankind, to me, to you … it is really too wonderful to bear the thought of when it’s fully pondered. And I love how toddler Jesus, how Epiphany, pushes me to consider the beautiful absurdity of God’s grace and redemption even more.
Every once in a while, I come up with an idea that's good enough to make into a tradition.
For most of the years I've lived in Philadelphia we have enjoyed the help of visiting mission trip teams who have spent themselves and their their ministry budget to assist us in feeding our neighbors. Most Summer Sunday nights for the first decade I lived in Philadelphia were spent with the Adventures In Missions teams preparing plates of hot dogs, chips and cups of cold lemonade to share with the folks up on Kensington Ave. Many of these neighbors-without-houses didn't have other food options within the 24 hour space between the soup kitchens Sunday lunch and Monday lunch meals.
It wasn't just a hand-out dinner to give to some hungry homeless folks. It was dinner for the team as well. While some of the mission trippers took turns grilling hotdogs or refilling cups of lemonade, others received their own plates and sat next to our neighbors on picnic table benches. There is something about sharing a meal together that is a great equalizer and creates meaningful connections. Many of these youth would begin the evening intimidated and feeling worlds apart from our guests. Many would leave at the end of the evening having discovered common ground and seeing their own assumptions about homelessness and addiction shattered.
On occasion Frank still pops in at the Kensington Avenue meal outreaches often with our kids by his side. Teams of volunteers with Cast Your Cares keep those feeding outreaches happening, but it's far more than our family our our small teams could pull off. Becoming a family with young children changed both the scale and the scope of what we were able to do as far as breaking bread with our neighbors. As we began wondering what we could do ourselves, wondering the best way to include our small teams of 8-15 people in our outreach and wondering how to even adapt and re-frame out "outreach" to the growing community of well-to-do folks moving into the neighborhood, we realized that we needed a new approach. If you stand on Kensington Ave and offer, "Hey, free food!" you will draw a crowd. As of late, if you did the same on Fletcher Street you are likely to get mostly strange looks.
Enter my idea worthy of a tradition!
As our focus narrowed to loving and caring for those right on our block and wanting to be able to engage with our neighbors whether we had a team to help us or not the idea of a "Potluck Cookout" began to develop. It started with the help of teams but when it was just us and our neighbors we still filled the tables with food, took up all of the chairs we had and began to get to know each other beyond the courtesy "hellos" as we passed each other on the sidewalk. Now, when the weather turns warm the neighbors will start to ask, "Hey, when will Potluck Cookout start back up?" Tradition established!
On our second Potluck Cookout this summer the table was already filled with hummus and carrots, freshly sliced watermelon and juicy cheeseburgers before our neighbor Kim brought her portion to share. She had visited a farmers' market and brought a large metal bowl filled with plums. After she sat it down she told me, "These are for everyone else but I'll be right back with something else for you." In a few minutes she returned with a fat jersey tomato in each hand. Kim looked me in the eyes with utter seriousness and told me, "This is the best gift that anyone is going to give you all summer." She instructed me to put them inside my house and enjoy them all for myself.
Week after week in July we enjoyed good food and good company as neighbors from our block and friends from all around the community came to add to and enjoy the bounty. For some reason we thought it was a good idea to squeeze in one more Potluck Cookout on the first Tuesday in August before leaving in the wee hours of the next morning for our trip to Vermont. We were bleary eyed from staying up to pack and making the long drive, but it was worth it to arrive in time to enjoy dinner with our Vermont friends. If there is one way that Vermont never fails us it's with good company and delicious food as we gather around the Franklin family dinner table. Beside whatever other culinary wonder Annette prepared for us while we were there we enjoyed some of the tastiest tomatoes I've ever eaten. They reminded me to tell the story of Kim bringing me those two Jersey tomatoes with her bold proclamation of the gift's value.
Honestly, I think those Vermont tomatoes were superior in taste.
Yet, Kim was right.
Her gift of those two tomatoes were in fact the best thing anyone gave me all summer.
If I tell you a little more about Kim, I think you will understand why.
Kim has lived in the house just up the block from us for decades. At times it seemed like there were two different Kims --- the friendly one who chatted with us when we saw her, and the one who was spaced out talking to herself and would walk right past you without acknowledging your existence. It made sense when we learned that she had been battling paranoid schizophrenia for her entire adult life. Her medications usually kept the intrusive voices quiet and she managed amazingly well at independent living in light of her illness. Her daughter Cassie lived with her as well and Cassie's pregnancy with her daughter overlapped with my pregnancy with Callum. Pregnancy, birth and babies almost always open up opportunities for conversations and closer friendships so we got to know Cassie, Kim & Mikayla much better in these past 5 years.
A year after Mikayla was born and a couple years into a great stretch of mental health and with no psychiatric hospital admissions for Kim some bad news came along. Kim was diagnosed with colon cancer which eventually spread throughout her body and into her liver. She spent the entire Christmas holiday in the hospital receiving blood transfusions for some mysterious and dangerous source of blood loss. The time and effort required to care for Kim was more than Cassie could handle on her own so we picked up some slack by keeping Mikayla several days a week until she could afford daycare again and by driving Kim to and from the hospital for treatments. Other neighbors helped by cooking meals. The preschool that our kids were attending let Mikayla come along with them free-of-cost.
On the other side of that particularly rough patch things seems to look up. Despite the fact that liver cancer in particular tends to take people quickly Kim's treatments cleared her liver and kept the other cancer at bay. Mikayla went back to daycare and Cassie got a promotion at work. Cassie dug deep in her dependence upon God and removed herself from a toxic relationship. Kim kept defying the odds and even gave up her 2+ pack a day cigarette habit. Moving along with slow improvement created a comfortable status quo. We enjoyed them as neighbors cared for them but didn't worry intensely about their well-being like we had the year before.
Which is why my mind came up with every excuse I could think of a couple weeks back when we first saw a rescue squad and firetruck then a little later a police cruiser pulled up in front of Kim's house. When the funeral parlor's van showed up a couple hours later there was no denying the truth. Having just chatted with Kim a few days earlier about how she was doing -- "Aw - okay" she told me -- I sat on my steps and wept as I watched the men bring her body out on a stretcher. I cried thinking of Cassie and sweet Mikayla. And I wept for myself because I did really love her. And she had given me the best gift that I would get all summer.
Just a few days later we gathered with other neighbors and friends to celebrate her life at a little church a few blocks away. It was the night before Selah's first day of second grade and we ran around town in pursuit of our own errands. We needed to pick up candles and balloons for Kim's service to add just a little more crazy to the schedule. It honestly felt a little like an obligation by the time the start of the service rolled around. It felt like the right thing to do. But I wasn't particularly looking forward to it. The church where the service was being held had been reduced, in my mind, to "that place where they don't let men in without suits and where all the women wear jean skirts."
I was so wrong. I was so humbled. I was so honored to be there in that place to hear Cassie talk about her mom and to receive the pastor's gracious words about Kim's deliverance into real life --- life free of the pain & agony of schizophrenia and cancer into the glorious presence of God. I wept because of my gratitude that Cassie had a mother like Kim. I laughed because everyone had a story that was classic Kim and reminded me of why I loved talking to her. I got chills as the visiting home nurse who cared for Kim made good on her promise to sing at her funeral and belted out, "His Eye Is On The Sparrow." I call it nothing short of a miracle that Mikayla's father desires to do right for Kim's daughter & granddaughter because he wants to honor her legacy. I listened and recognized what an absolute treasure Kim was, what a gift she was to this earth for the season she inhabited it. I felt peace and deliverance from my own strivings -- all the things that I think are so important and bully me through my days, but that mean nothing once you approach the final threshold of life on earth.
What a privilege to know Kim. What a privilege to witness the testimonies of those who loved her most. Our family has received many generous and valuable gifts this summer -- a lovely print by a mama-to-be artist who was in one of my classes, caring friends pressing cash in our hands, the leaders from one of our mission teams washing our family's feet and praying for us. And yet because I valued her life and because it was the last gift she would ever give me, Kim was right, that those two tomatoes were the best gift that anyone would give me all summer.
Above - Potluck Cookout, Below - Kim's Memorial Service
There was a mystery to be solved when I first moved into my house in the year 2000. Because the former resident had passed away and left the home to a local church, it was still filled with her furniture and housewares. I was all set with a dining room table and hutch, some end tables, and a few dressers. For a few months the church had provided the house for a young Korean pastor and his family. I suspect that the pickle jar that I use to keep my brown sugar in came from the original resident, but am pretty certain that the large kimchee jar that has been my flour container for 16 years came compliments of the pastor’s family. But one thing was mysterious — there was a full set of base cabinets in the kitchen, but the matching top wall cabinets were nowhere to be found. You could tell from the lack of paint on sections of the wall that there had once been cabinets, but I wondered with no explanation as to why they would have been removed.
“The neighbor stole them,” a young red-haired freckle-faced boy told me. He and his two older brothers - a sandy haired middle brother and a husky oldest brother with a crew cut - began to be fixtures around the block and were constantly filling me in on what was what in the neighborhood. Their uncle lived across the street. “He’s a warlock.” they told me. Until I realized they meant that he was a part of a motorcycle club known as The Warlocks, I was a little disconcerted. They were always full of stories that seemed far-fetched, so I was never quite sure what to believe. I totally dismissed their report of the stolen cabinets. They were incredibly helpful to have around though! In the week leading up to my trip back to Ohio to retrieve a moving van full of my belongings, they came through in a big way. That was by far the poorest summer of my life. I was paying off Visa with MasterCard and vice versa. The floor of my new home was a dirty and nasty linoleum. The original resident had a dog who had peed on the floor. In one spot where the linoleum was torn away, the dog pee had seeped down and gotten trapped between the linoleum and luan board below. My best hope was to pull off the linoleum and replace it with inexpensive linoleum tiles that I intended to put on a credit card. We decided to pull that one-portion of dog-peed luan up, and found below it some fairly impressive hard-wood floors! Rather than the expense of the band-aid fix of cheap linoleum, those three brothers helped me pull up all of the linoleum and luan and no time flat, leaving me with the hardwood floors we still enjoy today. With no additional cost, my floors were all ready to welcome my couches when they moving van arrived the following week.
The boys helped with all sorts of work around the house. When the house next door was up for foreclosure sale, I got the chance to peek inside for the first time. And what do you know — there were my top wall cabinets screwed into their kitchen wall! I probably spent hours on end with those three brothers, enjoyed their help, their company, and their proven inside scoops on the neighborhood.
It’s so funny to think about my original work crew and the condition of my house 16 years ago now that new construction homes are being built and sold for $250,000 and up on our block. At any given time you can hear the buzz of power tools putting up new houses all around us. When I moved in, half of the properties were abandoned houses or vacant lots. Now those same properties that were once trash-filled lots are fitted with granite countertops and high end appliances. The net worth of our block has skyrocketed! As a result, one of the major trends that we have noticed in recent months has been a surge of thefts in our neighborhood. Vehicles have been regularly broken into, and while abandoned houses were once a target for people looking to strip all of the copper pipes out of, all of the new construction in the area brings with it the allure of stealing new building materials. We’ve seen people walking down the street at night pushing a shopping cart full of lumber, certain that they picked it up from a local worksite and not The Home Depot.
Frank caught one such theft in-process earlier this spring. I had gone to bed early, but was rudely awoken when I heard his phone dialing on speakerphone and then a voice answering, “9-1-1, where is your emergency?” He had heard a noise from our living room and looked out the window to see someone loading building materials into the back of a car. He came up to our bedroom window for a better line of sight and gave the 911 operator details as we watched this guy make several trips through the alleyway coming from the back door of the house, loading up buckets of joint compound and other materials into the car. Another neighbor came out to see what was going on and ended up startling the guy before the police could arrive. The thief jumped in the car and sped away as Frank tried to read the license plate number.
It would end up being a long night for Frank. While I fell back asleep to ramped up thoughts of, “What nerve! I hope they get that guy!” Frank came outside to meet the police officer who came to our block, to chat with the neighbor who had startled the guy and to give a call to the builder who owned the house. The police caught up with the guy about a half mile away, and Frank was taken over to identify him. He was a skinny, scrawny guy — the physique of someone who has been choosing drugs over food. The police said he had no record, so who knows how many times he had done this before, but not been caught. He had no idea that Fletcher Street has a vigilant block captain and this was not a place where he could easily get away with his criminal activities.
A week later Frank got a thank-you letter from the captain of the 26th district, followed not long after by a subpoena to testify at the grand jury trial. Really, if it hadn’t been for Frank, not only would they have not likely caught the guy, but Frank’s good citizenship and follow-up by going to court would virtually assure that justice could be done. The district attorney assigned to the case had spoken to Frank several times to make sure he was really coming. A lot of times when people are arrested for theft, witnesses or victims don’t show up to see the charges through and defendants walk away without any consequences. This guy wouldn’t be so lucky with Frank Varaso on the case.
The night before Frank was to appear in court, he was hunting down a Septa token and his court paperwork in the cabinet. He read the subpoena out loud from the other room … address of the courthouse, time he was supposed to appear and the name of the thief. The name he said sounded familiar, and at first I thought he was saying the name of the District Attorney — “Wait, what did you say?” I asked him. He repeated the name again.
“That’s the guy?!”
“I know him.” I said.
“I know him. He’s one of my boys from when I first moved to the block. He and his two brothers used to come hang out with me and helped me a ton on the house.” It was the sandy-haired middle brother, the most tender of the three. Within a few minutes I had searched through my old photos and found a picture of him with a bunch of other kids at a Valentine’s Day party we had at a local church. Suddenly, my sense of “get that thief” justice was turned on it’s head, and my heart ached. The immediate thoughts were sobering and discouraging. As I continued to grapple with my heavy heart that night and into the next day, I started to perceive it in a different way.
My own walk of faith has been most profoundly defined as of late by my recognition of God’s pursuit of me. Whereas I have always felt the burden of mustering up enough faith and good behavior to be worthy of God’s grace, He has been showing me how any of my own efforts to bring myself or other people closer to him are negligible compared to the mighty pursuit He exercises towards the people he has made and loves. Formerly, I would have stayed in a funk, beating myself up for the failure of not sticking closer by this kid and having an impact on his life that would have spared him a future of drugs and crime. Instead, I suddenly recognized this moment of Frank’s life intersecting this young man’s life as God’s passionate pursuit of his heart. It’s amazing that this was the very first time he was caught and charged with a crime, and the man upon whose testimony those criminal charges depended is one who knows himself how God pursues and snatches us from the brink of the grave that drugs and crime have dug.
I printed that Valentine’s Day party picture up and sent it along with Frank. He had hoped to be able to give it to this young man, and share some words with him. This grand jury trial was only a few weeks after the fateful night, but already the sunken cheeks and wiry frame of this young man had begun to fill out on account of “three hots and a cot.” Even though he stared Frank down with a steely glare, he looked healthier and better in just that short period of time. I imagined my sweet Jesus snatching him up - grabbing him when he had his next fix in mind and placing him in the holding space of police custody to potentially spare his life and set him forward on a different path. Unfortunately Frank didn’t get to share the picture or any words with him, but we are still hopeful that this will be a situation of justice laced with mercy and an instance of God’s mighty pursuit.
We’ve heard no detail since that day, but guess that with charges filed and eyewitness testimony stacked against him, this young man will take a plea deal. I saw the all-grown-up red headed youngest brother just a few blocks away the other day, so I know his family is still around. Our hope and intention is that in the coming months we can connect with them and that they will come to recognize this reconnection as God’s goodness.
I would seem that next I should ask you to pray for him, and I certainly invite you to engage in conversation with God about this young man’s life and story. But mostly I want to encourage you to recognize that even though he had completely fallen off my my radar, God had plans to intervene in his life and pursue him. I didn’t pray for this to happen. I was in my bed snoring during a key moment that brought this story about. And yet the grace of God is so mighty and His jealous love so profound that I keep getting to be a witness to His goodness in my neighborhood. So this is my proclamation: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And all the days of that young man’s life. And all the days of you, the reader’s life.” Amen.
Good morning .... good, snowy, spring morning! As I watched flurries outside my window, I thought, "If April showers bring May flowers, what do April snow showers bring?!"
Hopefully, the April showers and and the April snow showers will bring lots of healthy moisture to our newly laid sod. Since we first were able to lay sod in the lot next to our house 4 years ago, it has taken a beating. The margins near each wall were decent, but the well-worn path from all of the people passing through the main part of the yard were patchy at best. The worst spots were where the grass was totally absent, and then exposed dirt was entirely too enticing to our kids for hole digging. Of course they were digging holes with good intentions --- they filled the holes with water to go fishing in them! Turns out that the holes are actually much better for twisting an ankle than for fishing though.
So this year our yard got a fresh start. In the same way that we are starting out with a full lush yard for our summer ministry, we are praying and thinking hard about how to plan ministry that is fresh and new. Each year our block continues to change, and many of the kids who we could always count on to come and participate in our summer activities now live far away. While I'm sure we could scrape together a meager number of kids to come and participate in the same kinds of actives that we have done in the past, we see this as an opportunity to take some risks and try some new things. One idea is to have some of the older kids on the block serve as paid interns for the ministry events we have planned ---giving them an opportunity to work, learn some more leadership and serving skills and give us a hand with the logistics of events like movie nights, worship nights and possibly even an art gallery display or talent show. Trying new things can feel overwhelming, but please pray that we will have insights and ideas that will really meet the unique needs of families in our neighborhood.
Frank was able to invest this time in the yard in part because he has come to the completion of a one-year season of having a part time job at our church. It was perfectly timed for a really financially vulnerable time for us, but also made for a really demanding year. Since he had to be the first one there to open & and make coffee, and the last one to leave, I (Elizabeth) was spending Sundays getting the kids ready and to church on my own, and probably making people either wonder what kind of business I had going to church or thinking I could do with a double-dose of church when they heard me getting the kids out to the van every Sunday. I jest in part ... it wasn't always so bad, and in reality it was Frank who not only did the hard work of 5+ hour workdays every Sunday morning, but other than the handful of times that we travelled and visited other churches, he never got to enjoy just sitting and hearing a sermon or worshipping in song. While he thrived at doing his job, there are also parts of his heart as an encourager, pray-er and father that he was missing out on.
So it was a really joyful day on the first Sunday in April when we got to all drive in the same vehicle to and from church together for the first time in a year! It was really restful to enjoy a plain ol' Sabbath. And with that season behind and a new season ahead, Frank is looking forward to getting to be a part of the prayer team at our church, to spending time at The Last Stop here in our neighborhood, and to helping with some of the repair and maintenance needs at the church building where our kids go to preschool. Things have fallen together really beautifully, and we are feeling grateful for the time that Frank had in this job at our church, but hopeful about what is ahead. (And incidentally, our financial support with Adventures in Missions has been steady and sufficient, and so we were able to balance out that loss of his church paycheck with a little AIM pay raise!)
Meanwhile, God continues to care for us.
Some highlights of 2016 so far ...
I (Elizabeth) was able to take on a new childbirth class series that I really, really enjoy teaching. It meets for 5 full classes, so I really get to know and invest in the couples who take it. I also started offering a "hybrid" birth class so that couples strapped for time could do a combination online/in person class. If it catches on like wild-fire, you saw it here first, folks!
We got to enjoy some extra time with our kiddos and did a LOT of laundry during February & March when "scabies" went from being just a word that you heard that made you itch, to knowing all of the ins and outs of how to treat for and prevent re-infestation. Not fun. Also when our washer decided to putz out! Thank you Pennsylvania State tax refund for arriving just in time!
We were able to spend Spring Break in Virginia with the Westfall side of the family, and even got to spend a few days at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. The last time we were there, Selah was two and Callum was about 6 weeks old. Now Selah is a rollercoaster lover, and even Clementine shocked us with the thrilling rides she rode again and again! We are really enjoying our family time with the age that our kids are.
As we enjoy full days, God steadily keeps us living a life with wide margins for all of the things that just come up. Last night a neighbor knocked on our door because a woman was passed out on another neighbor's steps. The fact that something like this happens where we live, and that Frank is the one that neighbors turn to in these situations is really the heart of why we are here. The woman's name was Erin --- she's 43, and she has a shelter about a mile or so away under the interstate. (and by shelter, I mean a collection of stuff, out in the elements --- not a homeless shelter) Frank got her mom on the phone so they could talk, and took her down to her spot. Erin was not in a state to receive and remember much of anything, but Frank was able to encourage her mom. Pray for Erin, her mom, her son & daughter who are being raised by other family. But for the grace of God, it could be any of us. And hopefully by the grace of God, there is still much much more to her story.
I'll leave you with this ---- this month at our church, several members are being given the opportunity to preach about "The Difference that Jesus Makes." I was asked to speak this last Sunday, and the sermon can be heard on our church website and on SoundCloud. It's a really honest expression of where my heart and life are now, and is meant to be really encouraging and energizing --- give a listen if you can! http://www.mosaicphiladelphia.org/#...
Also, below I will post some pictures of the process of the new grass, and other pictures from the year this far. Don't worry --- no pictures of scabies!
Love, grace and peace to you all!
On Monday, our sweet Callum boy turned 5 years old. It’s been an especially sentimental week for me, wondering at the amazement of getting to be Mama to this boy, and sort of stunned by the rate at which time is passing. Thanks to a leap year, this year his birthday fell on the same day of the week as he was born. It made it all the easier for me to think about exactly what I was doing 5 years earlier.
… eating that plate of extra Pad Thai after church on Sunday, and feeling certain halfway through that it was going to successfully smoke this baby out.
… feeling frustrated that my stop & start labor was just a fake-out on Monday morning, and my midwife telling me to “just go watch The Price is Right or something. She was right, and the tool of distraction and trying to ignore my labor was all it took to kick things in high gear.
… feeling shocked a few hours later to be holding my new baby boy who was born with what looked like baby sized Lee Press-On Nails and a smushed nose, like a little prize-fighter. Unlike his big sister who gave us a little scare because she needed some help getting her first breath, sweet Callum accepted life outside the womb graciously and so was placed and remained skin-to-skin with his mama without interruption or separation.
For many people who gave birth in a hospital in decades past, the buzz about “skin to skin” may sound odd and unfamiliar. Many people think they would prefer to meet their baby for the first time after they are cleaned, diapered and swaddled. However, there are some amazing benefits of babies enjoying uninterrupted skin to skin time with their mama for the first full hour after birth. It helps to regulate baby’s body temperature and blood sugar and causes an exchange of hormones that creates a loving bond between the two. Those same lovey-dovey hormones also help mama’s uterus to shrink down and keep her from bleeding too much after birth. It’s not just a lovely reward for the hard work of pregnancy & labor — it’s great for the health and well being of both mom and baby. This benefit goes way beyond that first hour of labor, and aren’t only good for moms and babies, but dads and babies too! On the packing list for their hospital bag, I always tell couples in my classes to include a button-up shirt for dad. In the case that a cesarean birth becomes necessary and mama can’t hold baby right away, skin to skin against dad’s chest can give baby that warmth, and produces the same lovey-dovey hormones in dads. Beyond that first hour, in the days and weeks following skin-to-skin helps parents to bond with their babies and tells mom’s body to produce breastmilk. All around amazing!
Back to Callum though. Now, five years later, he is still our sweet skin-to-skin boy. Even though our breastfeeding relationship was cut short by his baby sister’s arrival, he decided that day that he would make up for the loss of that guaranteed skin-to-skin time by becoming our little “tucker.” His hand always finds its way up a sleeve or just inside your collar for a warm and comfortable tuck. When my mom came to stay with us and help when Clementine was born, she left with the neckline of every one of her shirts stretched out from Callum’s tucking ways.
Whether by tucking, or asking his Daddy to put him to bed shirtless, he loves the comfort and warmth of spending time with us skin-to-skin. It’s bittersweet to see him grow, to still enjoy many of these tender times with him, but to realize that unless I’m going to be like the mom in the “I love you Forever” book, (I might!), there will be a day when tucking and skin-to-skin with Callum will be a thing of the past.
Today while I was working around the house, I decided to tune into the webcast of Adventures in Mission’s staff worship gathering they have each Monday in the Gainesville office. We have a standing virtual invitation each week, and can join in live or watch later. However, today was actually the first time I tuned in. I don’t know if the song they sang was penned ahead of time by an artist, or just improvised on the spot by the Holy Spirit, but here were the words …
“There’s nothing in between us. Just skin on skin. It’s like I’m walking with you in the garden again. “
Those words fell so sweetly on my heart. I’m really lucky that not only to I have the precious memories of getting to hold my own babies skin-to-skin, but I’ve gotten to witness dozens of other mamas & babies enjoy those precious moments together. To ponder the thought of God lovingly holding me that near, with nothing between us … it takes my breath away. For many people, their idea of God has to do with him as Holy, with us as sinners. But before sin, there was the garden. Before hiding behind clothes, there was unashamed nakedness. Before we could wonder if we were worthy or struggle with depression or doubt that we could belong to God, He created us. He created us to love us.
Before I ever had to discipline any of my kids, before they ever once lied to me or disappointed me, I held them skin-to-skin. And it imprinted us both. They belong to me, and my love for them precedes and exceeds anything else I think about them.
I needed to be reminded of that today — that God’s love for me is more powerful than anything I can do that could separate me from Him. That his love precedes and exceeds anything I could possibly do to disappoint Him.
If you know me, you know that I'm a bit of a birth junkie. What you may not know is that over the past couple of years, I have developed a slight obsession with the Civil War. As it turns out, one friend in particular can be blamed for both obsessions.
When Callum was a few months old and I was wondering how on earth people did this whole parent-of-two-kids thing without losing their minds, I looked around and saw a woman in my church who had two great kids AND a job. Not only did she have any ol' job, but she was actually a doula. Having been through birth twice now, I knew that doula work was no joke. So - two kids, a demanding and admirable profession, and she didn't seem crazy, so I figured she must be doing something right. I asked her for a coffee date to try to see if she would share her how-to-keep-it-together secrets. Maria's response caught me off guard, when she said, "Oh, You caught the bug didn't you?" The "bug" that she was identifying and calling out in me was "the birth bug."
There I stood, thinking I was just signing up for coffee, but Maria saw something more. She didn't know that at the time Frank and I were going though a sabbatical from organized ministry in order to try to figure out our future direction. I didn't know that the future direction was going to be as a birth doula and educator, but Maria called it and she was right. So not only did a get a coffee date and a wonderful friend as a result of that conversation, but I ended up with a tremendous mentor who has helped build a profession that works both as ministry tool and a tent-making opportunity. All around win!
So, back to the Civil War. Maria is also totally to blame for my Civil War obsession. Well, maybe she shares the blame 50-50 with her husband Adam. Maria and Adam invited our family to camp with them two summers back, and the location they had chosen was Gettysburg. Despite having once stayed overnight smack in the middle of the city, In a hotel that I later found out was built where hundreds had battled and died, I really knew little to nothing about the history.
Our first summer camping there I was intrigued, and even came home and added a dozen or so Gettysburg documentaries onto our Netlix queue. It turns out that I never watched one, but after a second trip back to camp at Gettysburg this past summer, I saw my intrigue through. After the kids were asleep, I watched animated maps of the battle on my phone. I drug my family to the diorama where I first saw a to-scale model that helped me to understand how all of the pieces and scenes fit together. We took a family picture on Little Round Top, which has remained my phone's home screen ever since.
As I began to comprehend the scope of the battle's death toll , the weightiness of an infant nation killing its own brothers and amazingly, the ability of this young nation to come back together afterward, both my mind and heart began to engage with the stories and the land in a way I couldn't set aside.
One story in particular stayed with me in the weeks following this past summer's camping trip. Overlooking the land where the final day of the battle was fought, there was a historical marker that told the story of Confederate Lt. Thomas C. Holland who was struck with a bullet that entered through his cheek and exited though the back of his head. Care that he received at a nearby Union field hospital preserved his life, and gave him the opportunity to return to the battlefield 50 years later at a commemorative gathering. It was then and there that he met and shook the hand of the Union soldier who had shot him.
He was shot in the cheek. Later he shook the hand that cased the wound.
Maybe you missed that.
Shot. In. The. Cheek.
Shook. The. Hand.
So, despite the horrendous death toll, the horrible shame that we ourselves caused more American deaths in the Civil War than any other war our nation has fought against a foreign enemy, the thing that impacts me most profoundly is that we found a way to be one nation again afterward.
It's really easy for me to imagine the two armies as a young married couple. It started out as them against the world (--- well, at least against the British.) After a Four Score honeymoon period, differences emerge. One half of the couple wants out. Whether you suppose it's because of pride, controllingness or good intentions, the other refuses to give up on their union. So they battle it out. And they hurt each other more than anyone else has ever hurt them. On the other side of all of that hurt, how could these two ever come back together?
I continued to think about the petty things that I saw causing hurt and division in my own and other people's marriages or friendships. I thought about the things that we struggle to forgive and move forward from. And then I thought about Lt. Holland who was SHOT IN THE FACE and later SHOOK THE HAND of the man who shot him. Despite all of the horrors of war, these were not unreconcilable differences.
It makes me feel hopeful about the things that divide us -- the same arguments and disappointments that wear down a marriage, political disagreements that keep real-life friends from even being able to be Facebook friends, theological differences that have us hacking off entire limbs of the Body of Christ. As for me, I refuse to let the hard things or differences be the final word.
I'll venture to guess that your spouse or even someone you might call your enemy has never shot you in the face. So don't give up on your relationships too easily. Bear with each other in love. By the grace given by Christ who tells us to love our enemies, find a way to turn the other cheek.
And if you ever want to chat Civil War, you know who to call.
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” - G.K. Chesterton
I’m by no means a perfectionist, and yet when I first heard this quote, it offended my sensibilities. I grew up a messy middle child and still would typically rather move on to the next exciting thing than finish up something well. That being confessed, I am driven enough by a sense of accomplishment and by others’ evaluation of me that I do at least try to do most things well. My successful strategy thus far has been to choose things to invest in that I can expect to excel at, and just to not take on the sorts of tasks or challenges that might showcase my insufficiencies.
When I decided recently that it was time to start sharing my words with the world on a more regular basis, I’ve struggled with a host of self-doubting objections —
“There’s no way I can stick with this. This is just another good intention. Why even start?”
“You know there are so many people who do this so so well. Isn’t it just silly to try to be one more voice when there are such powerful and eloquent voices already out there?”
“What if I can’t handle the criticism of people who disagree with me? What if I lose friends or ministry partners as a result of honestly expressing my heart and opinions?”
But ... just as strongly as I’ve known so many other things in my life, I know that this is my season to begin to craft and share words. And since I made the promise publicly a couple weeks ago, I have struggled like a kid with my toes curled around the edge of a diving board to just take the leap. Then, yesterday, this quote came back to graciously haunt me …
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”
Now, like you me you are probably wondering what exactly Chesterton meant —- certainly he knew as well as we did that there are plenty of things that we most certainly should NOT do badly. Heart surgery for one. Driving tractor trailers for another. Things could get very silly or very scary very quickly if we applied this rule across the board.
No, he did not at all mean to apply this to all spheres of life. What he was doing was esteeming the amateur — pointing out that not only do we not need professionals for all things, but in fact there are many things that are better left to amateurs. He uses the examples of wiping one’s own nose or writing one’s own love letters. Some things are better done by ourselves. The authenticity that comes from someone doing something guided by their passion, not because they are a paid professional, lends great value to many pursuits.
I was really relieved to know of two areas in particular that Chesterton thought were worth doing “badly” —- parenting and writing.
He knew that the love that a parent has for a child outweighs the value of the most brilliant professional child development specialist. Parenting is meant to be done out of love, not for payment or reward, so it is worth the risk of letting amateurs be in charge of loving and cultivating the lives of their own littles, even though they may do it quite badly compared to the myriad of experts. (I say it all the time to expectant parents in my birth classes … “YOU get to be the expert on your baby!”)
And writing — Chesterton speaking in defense of hobbies and amateurs, in fact called himself a “duller scribe” and a “general duffer*,” noting that of course writers work to get attention, and hope to have an effect on their readers. But, they may instead just get criticism. But for those who must write, writing is one of those things that is worth doing badly.
If he considered himself dull scribe and an old duffer, I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish. But since he has released me, I’m uncurling my toes from the diving board and taking the leap.
If blogging is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. With typos. (I promise, there will be typos.) With not-yet-matured ideas and honesty about my doubts. With sharing too much sometimes, and pretty-ing things up too much other times. With perspectives that will make students of theology shake their head at me. With the occasional know-it-all tone that will embarrass me to read in later years.
With all these risks, with all the potential for doing this badly, I move forward and send this first blog out to the world. So watch out, because with more belly-flops than swan-dives, I’m gonna make a SPLASH!
*Duffer- “An incompetent or stupid person, especially an elderly one.”