She is more than a body…

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My youngest sister stares at picture books and compares her thick, well-muscled frame to the bean-pole ballerinas and wishes she was thinner. The blind, unquestioning hunger in her desire makes me feel sick.

Yet when I sit on my computer and look at ravenously gorgeous, curvy lingerie models, and wish desperately to be more beautiful, I rationalize it. That’s freedom from cultural standards. That’s what diverse beauty looks like. That’s what art looks like. Come on America, let’s respond to Victoria Secret’s sexualized beauty with more sexualized beauty!!

(Have we ever stopped to think that maybe, the answer to fantasized, airbrushed lingerie models isn’t to post more diverse lingerie models? Consider just not taking commercialized photos of women in their underwear. Novel concept.)

I am overwhelmed by our cultures lopsided emphasis on sensuality–even in the bold, possibly laudable attempts currently popping up on every newsfeed–the #imnoangel and facets of the Dove campaigns, to normalize many different types of outward appearance, the focus of everything is still physical, sexual beauty. Human beauty is so much more nuanced and subtle and vast. It can’t always be captured in a photograph, or video. Sometimes it comes in packages that are scarred and vaguely unattractive. It’s always really, really complicated.

This summer, a friend commented, “We forget the intrinsic beauty of a soul, and the fact that a soul somehow shines through something physical, and makes a shell that might not otherwise be attractive…somehow, attractive. Some of the most beautiful women I’ve known weren’t necessarily what you would call physically attractive. It’s complicated like that. Because people are complicated.”

I wrestle every day with feeling unattractive. I think most girls do. But it stopped mattering so much this year when I realized that those emotions, and in some ways, that reality, couldn’t stop me from being beautiful. The people who loved me usually don’t notice the things I hate about myself, and if they do notice them, they have too much grace to care.

There’s a subtle, important difference in proclaiming, “My body is beautiful” and saying “I am beautiful”. I want the confidence to say that when I slather thick layers of foundation on to hide the scars and marks I dread so much. I want the grace of Christ to show my best friend how radiant she is when all she can do is compare our dress size. I need the honesty to tell my little sister that yes, she won’t ever fit the ballerina mold, but that doesn’t keep her from being one of the most jaw-dropping, shining lionhearts I’ve ever encountered.

Let’s stop acting like we’re just cadavers, please. This is my heart…

To my sisters

Baby girl
You are a beautiful soul
Whole, each piece wrapped around this slice
Of flesh, that the world will sexualize and
Dichotomize and tell you to flaunt
Or hide, according to their current whim
To celebrate, embrace or generally plaster
Their minds with your allure, failing to master
The simple concept of your essence
Preciousness, not slut to be pasted everywhere
In the name of beauty, equalized, your
Consciousness exploding past their small
Stereotypes, as something to be treasured
Worth loving in the wholeness of your being
Regal. Soul. Spanning eternity with your
strength and kindness, grace rupturing
into infinite beauty transcending all their words
And size two (size X) boxes. Baby girl,
You are beautiful, precisely because
Some parts of your body are not. And this is grace
That we are made
Of shattered categories, loved in unity
Under the stars of forever, grace, to see
A piece of God in brokenness
What privilege.
Beautiful, precious human being.

Thoughts on a Fig Tree

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 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3)


Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’ The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13)


The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11)

 

Thoughts on a Fig Tree

Then he gave them this illustration, “Notice the fig tree…” 

Let all who have ears to hear, hear.

 

When You said, “Eat not of this tree…”

Your Word, I hid in my heart.

Do not. Do not. 

And covered

My shame in clever disguises

Of my own invention.

You walked with the lion’s tread

In this garden,

The low rustle of our Lord, about

This garden.

Oh God be merciful to me, a sinner.

I bear the fruit of law

Papa, look at me, I cover myself

In patchwork leaves, bare limbs and

empty hands, appendages

Stretched in supplication

With no fruit to show.

Oh God be merciful to me,

A sinner.

You will cover me in the slain…

I stand in my facade and mutter

Do not. Do not.

As if this is my covenant with grace

While quietly you slaughter

Preform the rites, without me O my Father

Between two parties, the covenant of grace

When I would barter and charade

With a barren tree. You climb towards Calvary

I stand inside the gates and

Mock you with my barren leaves

A human being

With all the appearances of health,

Now withering at the roots,

As my righteousness walks by.

My robes. The second-party to the covenant

For me.

Oh God, O God

Give mercy, O grant

Mercy unto me.

To the Wanderlust Heart…

A man goes far to find out what he is–//Death of the self in a long, tearless night,//All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.//Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.//My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,//Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?

-excerpt from “In a Dark Time”, Theodore Rothke

To the Wanderlust Heart,

IMG_2732-1I read that poem by Rothke last night and the whole world slowed down. I get it. And I think you get it too…

It’s 2015, but we’re still stuck in 1956, “angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection”, finding outlets in every Travel Pinterest board, worn-out copy of National Geographic and VSCO covered Instagram feed. We are a hungry group. Shredded attempts at self-realization, identity and discovery dominate the flotsam of our adventures.

We are the kings and queens of navel gazing, tramping through vast tracts of land and vaster wifi bandwidths just to turn and look a little deeper into ourselves. We are self-proclaimed artists, vagrants, wanderers, dreamers, complete with an obscure quote on our profile page to prove it… Annie Dillard’s on mine.

But what are we really?

What if I’m just a lemming lining up at pop-cultures punch bar?

See… this movement, my wandering, hungry, re-hippie generation has tapped into something that resonates with believers. The longing for something more–for meaning, purpose, value, wholeness. It’s the reason so many of us got saved. C.S. Lewis’ shoots to the top of the every young Christian’s blog and profile page, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” This is the perfect place to start.

IMG_2735But where do we go from there? We gulp down early-Eliot and Ginsberg, Salinger, Kerouac and Vonnegut. We love their desperate fire, their kinetic energy. We love the wild leaps of faith their souls make as they search for purpose… Vonnegut summed it best in his book Slaughterhouse-Five, “There is one book that can teach you everything you need to know about life…but that’s not enough anymore” Answers aren’t enough any more. We are obsessed with searching. We are obsessed with dissatisfaction, with desire, and the elusive pursuit of beauty. We are the bulimics of truth, vomiting up whatever we find so that we can gulp down the next adventure with just as much starving expectation.

I have made myself an idol, and raw experience its shrine. I have climbed to the top of the mountain, and heard God’s voice in the whisper, and the thunder and the shekinah, but I don’t want to climb back down. I want to put this experience on loop, and play it over, and over and over, shouting a little louder each time, “Where are you God?!” to see if He’ll come out to play. But I was never meant to live here. Israel is tearing itself to pieces below. And I forget. He’s in me now. The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies dwells in this earthly vessel, and I have all my soul could ever want.

FullSizeRender-2I can stop searching now… 

Today is virgin territory. It’s beautiful. I want to embrace it with eyes full of longing and wonder, but with hands full of the truth, that I am running towards a destination. I know who I am. I know where I’m headed. I have met Rothke in his long night, but I have said, “The people who walked in darkness will see a great light… And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

There’s only one thing in this world I can be endlessly hungry for, and that’s Christ. Him I can crave with every bone in my body, but shout the answers to from every mountaintop. And then climb back down and serve, and serve and serve. Because God knows I want to be like Him. And He spent His one wild and precious life on earth bringing answers to the chaos.

You and I need to know what we are called to. We need to understand that we have the freedom to stop questioning our purpose. “For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.”

Travel. Explore. Dream. Create. But do it because you have something worth sharing, something worth giving. Something worth living.

Reset

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About this time last year, I redesigned my blog. I am always hunting for fresh beginnings.

September was the last time I wrote. First it was unintentional, then it was purposeful – earlier I felt as though I had nothing to say, then I felt as if I had no right to speak. I was learning, growing, tripping, falling, and making a great big fool out of myself. December was a month of long, tear-filled discussions and broken, faltering reconciliations. It’s been a hard stretch.

Yet God is faithful. 

Last month I stood in the pouring rain, mouth wide open gasping for air, for something fresh, for a new start. The air was thick with petrichor – the warm, musty smell when the rain first hits the dust. It’s a smell with a thousand variations, that one moment overpowering, mixing with a heap of burning trash just down the road and rolling in smokey, green undertones that leave an earthy aftertaste. Swollen red dirt, smoldering garbage, lush palms and pines, while over everything, streaming in rivulets down my hair, my neck and shoulders, water – clean water, making all things new. I threw my head back and laughed into the sky as the richness of His promise hit me – He is making all things new. Even me.

“And he will be like a tree, planted besides streams of living water, bearing fruit in each season, their leaves never wither. “

That promise is faithful.

Tonight I’m sit here tired, defeated, and feeling utterly helpless, but it’s pounding rain outside… With Paul, I pray for myself me and for you “that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance”.

So here I am again. Plugging away. Much more aware of God’s mercy and my sin. More grateful and content than I’ve ever felt. I did some coast hopping, then some continent hopping, and now some settling… Still illustrating, reading obsessively, and drinking ridiculous amounts of tea. For all of you praying, I’m still pursuing Asia, one step at a time.

 

Hello again. It’s good to be back.

 

I am a stranger in a strangers land

Blessed by an awkward sleight of hand 

Papa told him he’d done wrong

And I’ve wandered too and fro…

Your daughter coming home, is home

To a city not her own.

I’ll rest my head in Egypt

Tanzania, Taipei too.

Mi casa es su casa

If it’s all the same to you 

I pitch my tent in the waning light 

Of a day I never knew.

Jacob, Esau, Cain and Abel, 

Joseph’s sons, Isaac, Ishmael

Absolom, O Absolom, Solomon has come to reign

The harlot girl is coming home

And I am blessed the same

I’ll rest my head in Egypt

Wander D.C., L.A. through

Mi casa es su casa

If it’s all the same to you. 

I’ll pitch my tent in the waning light 

Of a day I never knew.

So I’ve left home, yet 

Am home

And will be there forever.

In this place that’s yours but not yours 

I your second child, daughter

The one you blessed by sleight of hand 

And drew up from the water

I’ll meet you in the promised land

My once and future father.

 

Connect

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Friday morning I found myself in the middle of 800 other people, shuffling through a wide church auditorium for an empty chair. The eager fellowship was palpable–people who’d never met before vigorously shaking hands, hugging and swapping stories. I slipped in alone, and was sitting quietly twiddling a pen, but even in my own wide-eyed silence, I’d rarely ever felt so enveloped by a community. Hearing flashes of conversations, stories, greetings–the whole room crying out in one voice, “Thank God, I’m not alone.”

This wasn’t a normal adoption conference. It was not a pep talk for starry-eyed couples looking to add an adorable multicultural baby to their picture-perfect family. This was a room full of very broken, very desperate people who were looking for answers. People who had stared into their child’s frightened eyes with nothing to offer them, and no power to heal. People who sat slumped in hallways while their child screamed for hours…and hours… and hours. Beautiful men and women who had reached the end of their rope, tied a knot and hung on, begging God for mercy with blistered, bleeding hands.

We needed help. I needed help. I’m not a parent; I’m not even living with my siblings anymore, but I desperately needed a grid through which to understand the past, present and future of the children most precious in all the world to me.

There was no easy answer. No 5 step plan. No quick trick to a peaceful home, an easy life, and a postcard family. Just one word: connect.

Connect with a child.

How do you connect with a child whose entire being, down to the very synapses in their brain, has been molded, wired and formed to build mile high walls? To survive. To protect. To fight fiercely, wildly to keep themselves safe no matter what the cost. How do you cup a three-year old’s face gently in your hands and tell them they are safe–that everything, everything, they’ve done to stay alive needs to be left behind now–that you will care for them, and that you will move Heaven and earth to meet their needs? How do you show them?

How do you show them that you love them at their absolute worst?

How do you show them that you will lay down everything to meet their true needs?

How do you live Christ, every moment of every day?

How do you lose your life–so overcome in the rich power of a greater being that from HIS wealth you can pour, and pour, and pour?

Oh Father, help me for I am so very weak.

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There was a lot to learn.

I wish I could post it all here–make some coherent sense of the sixteen pages of bold, highlighted and underlined notes.

Here’s my best attempt at the highlights. Two days of speaking, one book and countless DVD’s into the few things that smacked me across the face. I hope you find them helpful.

All of them, the deeply practical and mundane to the euphorically spiritual, boiled down to one thing–live like Christ. 

Wow Marli. Much revelation. Such deepness. I know.

But it’s true. I was rocked, really rocked when confronted by the cold reality of how much growth is ahead. How much patience and perseverance this path will require. How much grace and forgiveness.

Good thing I’ve got a much stronger man carrying the burden for me. I love Him. And I really want to be more like Him.

And there’s an awful lot of practical ways to do that ahead.

Good thing Jesus was all about practical. I’m grateful to serve a God who jumped at the opportunity to wash a lineup of smelly feet.

So when I rub lotion up and down their dry, wiry legs, massage between their fingers, and play with their hair I can whisper over and over again His sweet words “You don’t realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

That love comes day-in and day-out… That he has “set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”

But what does that look like?

How do you take a child built by chaos, pain and danger, and teach them love? Let them understand themselves through the Lord’s eyes…

Because God the Father has provided eternal safety. He has given them a voice. He understands that their life was formed with purpose, and He so loved them, that he gave the blood of His Son to pay for their redemption. That is radical preciousness. 

And because I love organization, check boxes and flow sheets, we’re gonna break it down:

1. They need to feel safe.

2. They need to have a voice.

3. They needed to feel like their life has meaning.

4. They need to feel precious

Behind these breezy, pleasant words, how do you do this? In the middle of scheduling, and meltdowns, and tantrums and manipulation?

You pray. Long and hard. And you research. Long and hard. And you work to understand how you can best glorify the Lord with your child.

Good luck. I’m sharing what I can, and what was passed on to me. I’m not even a parent yet. Feel free to laugh at the impracticality of my idealized statements. I know just enough to laugh callously with you. But I’m going to keep trying, and I’m going to keep learning…

——————————

1. Make Them Feel Safe

Remember, these kids have often been without nourishing food and water for long periods of time. Trauma–difficult pregnancy, drugs and alcohol en utero, difficult birth, early hospitalization, physical, emotional, sexual abuse–all makes it physically harder for their bodies to metabolize food and water. What many experts recommend is that children with a history of trauma have access to food and water every two hours. That they are given food, easily accessible upon request, in a structured, safe environment, taking the need to control it out of their hands. They are taught that their needs WILL be provided for.

And not just their physical needs. They need hugging, snuggling, massaging, connecting, giggling, all the random little flourishes we take for granted, they have missed. They need for Serotonin and Melatonin. Use touch intentionally and lavishly.

2. Give Them a Voice 

When a baby cries, it’s mother picks it up. She hears it’s voice. Many of these children lay in a soiled diaper, staring cross-eyed at a ceiling, crying and crying and crying, while no one came. No one asked if they were fed, or cleaned or loved. No one asked whether they wanted to be taken out of the home. No one asked what foster home they wanted to go in to. No one asked if they wanted to be separated from their siblings. They had no voice.

In anger, some scream and thrash and punch, frantically reaching to be heard. In pain, some of them curl up and clam silent, forcing those around them to dig for their thoughts and words as they desperately bid for control.

Teach them how to express their needs. Look past their frantic attempts to control the situation, take the control out of their hands, and show them they can use their words to express their fears. Work in the good moments. Teach them how to identify emotions in a calm moment, and how to verbalize it, so that when the storm strikes, you can head for the shelter. Create a concrete game plan for expressing feelings, and run it through with them.

3. Make Them Feel Like Their Life Has Meaning

Shame runs miles deep. If many of us as healthy, loved individuals can spend months masticating on one awkward mistake, how long do you think a child with little sense of self-worth will think on theirs? They have felt worthless, unloved and abandoned – even at the most subconscious psychological levels.

Show them they are not. Give them structure, schedule and routine to help them understand that they can accomplish something. Engage with them in building and creating, conquering. Help them see and understand their progress – even if “progress” means something as simple as letting a piece of food drop to the floor and *gasp* stay there.

4. Make Them Feel Precious

Turn those tables… Engage with them. Give them your full attention. Memorize their moods, their needs, their fears, their triggers, and their loves. Show them they are meaningful, because they are loved by Christ. Show them that they are not worthless. Value eye contact and for every ounce of structure, add an ounce of nurture. Show them they are worth it, and they contribute.

Tell them the story of how one beautiful, powerful, almighty God descended from the heights of Heaven to give their soul purpose – to rescue them from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of His dear Son.

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There’s so much more here… So much more I want to say, but it’s 12:41am, and I’m quickly running out of steam.

Maybe another time.

Remember their story. Remember that you have been loved in all your darkness, and love them as they run towards the light…

“I honor that these behaviors kept you alive, but in this home, these are not going to work. What can I do to meet your need?” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Help!

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(I know I have some younger readers, so if you are under 13, please get your parent’s permission before reading the rest of this!)

Hi there!

I need help! I’ve entered a design in the Covenant Eyes infographic contest. It’s chosen by popular vote – 160 contestants narrowed down to 10, then another round of voting for first place. The first round of voting closes on September 10th.

The grand prize is $3,000. If I win, the money would go towards working with Serving in Missions in central Asia, as I am currently in the middle of their application process.

My entry is #83 (click the drop-down menu at the top). Please, please repost on FB, tweet, email to friends etc.

Internet pornography is an extremely important topic, and families need to be aware of the very real danger it presents. You can watch a short message from my brother Thaddeus here, to understand why I am so passionate about this topic.

Thanks in advance for helping me get the word out!

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Exactly, Today….

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I fiddle through blogs, and membership ads, and correspondences for the first half of the morning, brightly responding to emails, and printing the same sheet wrong three times…

My mind swirls with new ideas, which generally steamroll with a productive spurt – creativity seems to fold upon itself and compound, and explode, so here I am frantically grabbing sticky notes and emailing myself to-do reminders. Banners, and reading and blogging and mailing lists, and a multitude of prayers…

Then I see photos of someone working at an orphanage in China, and another glowing, disciplined raw-food mama, and whisper to myself that I too am doing important work for the kingdom.

But it’s a very small whisper, because I don’t really feel it.

There’s a succulent on my desk, and a Van Gogh print on the wall above it, and a sparkly watch on my wrist. I live the Pinterest dream, but discontent gnaws my inside’s empty because I want to be hugging a child, wearing no make-up and a t-shirt with dirty hands, and a cup of Pu-Er tea, and this, and that, and something always, always just out of reach.

I have lived in so many worlds.

….In the desperate, darkly beautiful, life-or-death world of orphaned children, malaria, trafficking, homelessness, shrine idols and dirt, sweat, tears and soul-wrenching prayer.

…In the world of scrawled letters, coloring sheets and crayons, the rapture of soft cheeks and sweaty forehead kisses, diaper changes, and he-wet-the-bed-again laundry loads, and so, so many text conversations: “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to grab coffee – I’m watching the kids”.

…In the hipster Shangri-La of art, typography and blessed singleness with so much black coffee. 2am poetry binges and long walks down dappled old lanes, museum shenanigans, and a perfectly planned outfit for every occasion.

And I was, in each world. Just was. Both happy, and sad.

And I was serving the Lord.

There is a beautiful fluidity somewhere in there, a gracious freedom to be exactly who God made me to be, in exactly this moment, if only I will stop grasping and just be.

Simply being in the next phase won’t make me more like Christ.

It won’t make me a better servant for the Kingdom. We are all surrounded by images murmuring, rushing and roaring that we just need to be one more thing, or just need to do one more thing to be happy, and I have downed the kool-aid like a desert wanderer.

Can I be who Christ made me to be, today? For tomorrow has enough worries of its own. And Christ is perfect.

“But you are the same God, whose property is always to have mercy… Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.”

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