November 26, 2011

Simply Thankful

Would you believe that this is the only photo I have from Thanksgiving dinner? Sadly, it is. And though the cheese-ball-in-apple-disguise tasted fabulous, it was only the beginning to a truly amazing Thanksgiving meal that I ought to have done a better job documenting.

Thanksgiving is quickly becoming my favorite holiday. It's simple. A group of people who love each other gather to fellowship and give thanks, and everyone brings a portion to contribute to the feast. This year, we had a mish mash of friends celebrating together. Some people brought the dishes that epitomize Thanksgiving in their minds; others brought a new recipe they had been dying to make. Everyone brought from their limited resources, and everyone had plenty to eat. And since none of us had family in the area, no one had to meet multiple obligations in a single day. We all had time to linger in conversation, assist with cleanup, and eat some more! 

There were so many happy moments throughout the day and so many exchanges that really encapsulate what I love about my friends. But the one moment that keeps making me chuckle is a brief conversation I heard just before we ate. Below is a paraphrase:

Courtney: Jamie, what's that Thanksgiving hymn that is only two verses, but they are long verses that take up two pages in the hymnal?

Jamie: Um, I know which one you're talking about, but I can't think of the name. Arrika, what is that Thanksgiving hymn that is only two verses, but they are long versus that take up two pages?

Arrika: Let All Things Now Living.

Courtney: YES! Thank you! Let's sing that one.

Observant Dave: Arrika, you just knew that?! Off the top of your head?!?!

Jamie: NO ONE knows the hymnal as well as Arrika.

At this point Arrika tried to downplay her vast knowledge of the hymnal and chalk it up to years of being a church accompanist, and I drifted away to help with the last minute preparation. But that conversation made me smile. It made me smile because I LOVE that hymn and had sung it to Levi on our way to dinner that afternoon, and it has been swimming happily through my head ever since. I loved the team effort it took to find the title of the hymn, and Arrika's ability to recall the hymn instantly.

And then I loved it when we sang it, - a cappella, in harmony - as we gathered around our Thanksgiving table. 10 adults (three sleeping children did not contribute; neither did the three disgruntled dogs in the back yard) just singing a song of thanks to God for His goodness and provision. It made my heart happy and my eyes watery. 

This year's Thanksgiving was simple, and given my current condition (39 weeks' pregnant, thank you very much), I needed that. I needed "the usual" faces in a familiar place with the typical exchanges that occur with these friends. But the fact that I see these faces and hear these types of conversations all the time didn't make them dull; it made them seem all the more special. These people, these friendships, these conversations - these are the things for which I am so thankful. 

We too should be voicing
our love and rejoicing;
with glad adoration
a song let us raise
till all things now living
unite in thanksgiving:
"To God in the highest, Hosanna and praise!"

November 19, 2011

Direction is Everything

Part of what makes writing so great for me is the chance to have amazing conversations with thoughtful, articulate people. At their best, these conversations simmer in my brain and connect to other areas of my life that have nothing to do with the piece I am writing. These conversations not only make for interesting articles, but they pierce my heart in ways that the other party will never realize. And I love this.

I had one of these great conversations this week with a guy who works with college students. His job is fascinating, as he leads what many would call "outdoor recreation" events. In reality,  he and his team design and implement opportunities for students to think and live more deeply. His team philosophy is "Direction is everything; distance is secondary." In his field, this philosophy relates most obviously to work with the compass. If you're hiking through the wilderness, going in the right direction is infinitely more important than how many miles you log in a day. And no matter how far you go, if you're not headed toward your campsite, you're in trouble.

Of course, this guy also moves students to think about this philosophy as it relates to their lives. Where are they going? Do they know? If not, then what does it matter how fast they are going? What are their ultimate goals?

This philosophy statement has simmered in my brain considerably since Thursday afternoon when I spoke with this guy. It helps me find a way to answer the question I have asked roughly 18,000 times in the last 18 months: Where are we going? What is our life direction?

Usually I have thought about these questions in terms of distance logged. Having job applications out or making it to the next round of interviews with a church felt like progress, and each gently worded rejection email felt like we were being yanked back to square one. This roller coaster route exhausted and frustrated me. And in times where there were no new opportunities, it seemed like we were just idling, not going anywhere at all.

Now I see things differently. It's not about distance. It's about direction. And what is our direction? Waiting on the Lord. We are not charting the course, and we are not being yanked around by search committees. We are standing still, facing the Lord, and waiting on Him.

It's hard to articulate how much this change has altered my perspective. My head isn't down desperately searching the ground for signs of the trail. My eyes are lifted up in expectation. The hard work of life doesn't feel like a punishing sentence. It is what we are called to do while we wait. And the gnawing fear that through some misstep we somehow missed our one chance has pretty much dissipated. We are facing the right direction, waiting on the Lord.

Holidays and special events can take on a sense of melancholy when you're jobless. When it's your second birthday or second Thanksgiving or second child without a job, life can feel discouraging. Like encountering a marker in the woods that you know you passed two hours ago, these days can feel like indicators that you are indeed lost, not where you want to be. Until earlier this week, that's kind of how we were feeling.

But now things make more sense. We are not as far down the path as we might like to be, but we know we are facing the right direction. The rest will come with time. But for now, we wait.

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" - Psalm 27:14

November 8, 2011

Birthday Followup

Ah, the celebration of all known fall Fowler birthdays has concluded. That's not to say there might not be another birth day to celebrate before the month is over, but as far as we know, the celebrating has concluded.

Having the one-two punch of Levi and then Lindon is a challenge. It is hard for me to find ways to make both birthdays feel unique and especially hard to not make Lindon's birthday seem like an afterthought (which it pretty much was in 2009 and 2010). This year, I did better. We spent Levi's birthday as a family. Since Levi had two birthday celebrations with family last month, we thought it would be nice to skip another party and just hang out together. Levi loved getting his very own bike for his birthday, and it was so fun to help him figure out how it worked.

But while I was trying hard to ensure Lindon didn't feel like an also ran, the weather did not help me out one bit. Sunday, Levi's birthday, was lovely enough. The sky was cloudy and threatening, but the rain did not come. And the warmer temps were awfully nice. Monday, by contrast, was gross. Rain, clouds, and rain. Plus, it was a Monday, and Lindon had to work. And no one knew it was his birthday! And with the changing of the clocks, the three of us felt exhausted, which meant Levi's sunny disposition had set by mealtime. By the time we put Levi to bed, I think Lindon and I would have been happy to just call it a night, too.

Now I realize this is how birthdays sometimes go when you're an adult, but I still felt disappointed for Lindon. We did, however, have some tasty homemade pizza for dinner, which was nice. And because we were exhausted, we went to bed at a healthy hour, which we badly needed. So while it won't go down in the record books as the best birthday ever, it was an alright day.

Now, we have Thanksgiving on the horizon (Really! It's in two weeks and two days), and then three weeks from today, my mom comes! These happy events should keep me going while I wonder when BF2 will appear. 

To Levi, on his Second Birthday

Dear Levi,
13 months
You, more than most people, know how much I hate cliches. So I will do my best to ensure that obvious statements like, "I can't believe you're already two!" and "Where has the time gone?" are wholly absent from this post (except that I just snuck them in above - ha!).

14 months
The past year has brought so many joys and challenges for us. I am still adjusting to the fact that I am indeed responsible for your well being and development, and you are still adjusting to the fact that some of your antics receive less than enthusiastic reviews. Your learning to walk, run, jump, and talk is so much fun, and being present for those moments has meant so much to me. I love your affectionate personality and your obvious desire to please. Training you in obedience has been hard at times, especially when the willfulness you display is clearly something you picked up from your parents (probably your dad), and watching you suffer through illness has been awful. It encourages me to watch you respond well to discipline and bounce back quickly from disease. I hope you are always that way.

15 months
In the coming year, you will become a big brother, a role I know you will enthusiastically embrace, once you accept the fact that the baby will not go away. I can't wait to see how you respond to this new addition and the ways it will stretch both of us. 

16 months
17 months
Sometimes I wonder what you might be like in the hands of a more competent mother. Your potential just seems so limitless. But like it or not, the Lord in His wisdom chose to give you to me and your dad. And while I will probably always pity you for having me as your mother, I will always count it a privilege to have you as my firstborn son. Thank you for the laughter and smiles you have brought to our house, the ways you remind me that I am indeed not in control of my world, and all the hopes and dreams you inspire within me.
18 months

 I thank the Lord for you and look forward to how we will change and grow in the year to come. I love you, dear son.
19 months

20 months

21 months

22 months
23 months

24 months