I Had a Baby in Africa



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On their special day, we lay in bed and tell their birth story, almost as if we’ve never heard it before. We remember the same details and giggle at the same parts. Our Tessa has a special story. It’s one we recall with such fondness because so many of us actually remember it. We experienced her as a family, in a place where we had learned to cling to one another, and the memories are every bit sweet. Having a baby in Uganda was never on my bucket list, but I’m so glad it was on the one God wrote for me.  My prior labor and deliveries were in an American hospital surrounded by my family — all my family. Not just Mark, but my mom, dad, brother, sister, brother-in-law, niece and friends in and out for the whole thing. I remember at one point the doctor asking us if we wanted him to bring in bleachers. After witnessing my sister deliver her first child, I decided birth was the most magical thing ever and should be witnessed by anyone who has the slightest desire! Sharing those moments with my loved ones was so special, and the thought of delivering a baby in Uganda without them circled around me was sad. Also, we had just lost our teammate and friend to the dangerous Ugandan roads. Africa had been stealing lives for as long as her history….but suddenly {to my eyes} it became a place where missionaries die too. Everything in me wanted to scoop up my treasures and flee. But God’s peace washed over me, and after extended time in the States for our friend’s funeral, I took my swollen belly back to Uganda, trusting God would deliver life into a time of loss and grieving.

So this morning in my bed, we remembered August 18th, seven years ago. And we laughed at how we stopped for a big breakfast in the city while contractions were increasing in strength and frequency. And we shook our heads at the bumps and deep pits in the road that Mark had to gingerly avoid on my behalf. And we remembered how before we took that two hour drive, our family of five piled into bed together at 4:30am to savor the last moments of “just us.” And how we wondered what she would look like. And how she would change us. You see, the five of us had shared a lot together by that point. We had moved away from home and family together. We had discovered Uganda together. We had been re-created together {by God} in our shared journey of adoption and cross cultural living. We — the five of us — were the Manry’s, and it was hard to imagine welcoming another person to become one of us. She wouldn’t know our stories and everything we had shared up to that point. She wouldn’t know America and everyone we missed and loved. She would be separated in years from the other children – not far, but farther than we had known before.

And then she came. All plump and pink and perfect. And it was like she had always been a part of us. Like God had written her into our family long before, and we were only just meeting her.

Receiving this darling baby was the divine fullness of all the life God birthed in our family through Uganda. She was the blessing of our faith, the fruit of our labor. And her birth opened our hearts to receive more.

It’s unsettling to have anything {or anyone} interupt your normal, change what you know, re-create who you are. It takes a lot of grace to welcome change. But we’re so glad we did.tessa2

She interrupted our life with laughter and little girl drama. She taught our family how to bind wholeheartedly to Ugandans, how to receive them as family. And this, I believe, is how Myles was conceived in our hearts. From her love, from her open heart. For a love like this is contagious. When you see it, you want to imitate it. When you receive it, you want to give it. When you give it, you can’t wait to give more.

I pray our family always welcomes what God has already written into our story, but we’ve yet to experience. May we ever be welcoming new life and new realities with grace and hope.

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This Two Becoming One



Sex is an act of hospitality – the giving of oneself and the receiving of another. In our sex craved culture where people are objectified, where pleasure is something easier achieved by yourself, and pornography is rampant and acceptable as television humor, it’s easy to forget just how intimate and divine the coming together of two bodies really is.

When I married, no one told me sex would reveal some of my heart issues. I had no idea it would be a source of conflict in my very happy and satisfying marriage. I did not anticipate the reality that babies would morph my body in a way that would cause insecurity to hinder vulnerability. No one warned me that what seemed so appealing and exhilarating, would one day be the very last thing I wanted to do when I crawled into bed with my mama fatigue! That I would actually meet my touching quota during the day with all the little hands holding and tugging and all the little bodies on my hip or in my arms. So when darkness and stars settled in, I ignored the twinkle in his eyes, and pulled the covers up over the body that everyone seemed to love. Everyone but me.

You see, those babies came fast for us. One right after another, like softballs firing out of a machine at the batting cage, spinning us out of the newlywed phase we had hoped to relish for awhile. And when you spend nearly every waking moment caring for someone who can’t care for themselves, you seem to neglect the one who isn’t as needy, the one who can make do without you. I reached a point early in our marriage where sex became another thing someone needed from me. Another expectation to heap upon the ones I already struggled to meet.

But I adored my husband! We were compatible in so many areas of our life. Our spirits connected deep, and our emotional beings found great comfort in one another. We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company, and we confidently joined God in the writing of our family’s story, one of adventure and passion and ministry. But this! This area of our relationship struggled. We faced this brokenness with deep love and persistence. Often times we felt like we were flailing, trying to grasp some sense of normal and a picture of what a healthy sex life looks like with spit-up on your shoulder, pacifiers hiding under your pillows, and exhaustion settled into your bones. We have been embarrassed, we have failed, we have laughed, we have cried. We’ve resented each other, forgiven and taught each other. We’ve asked questions, found victory, discovered great pleasure, and most importantly we laid this before God to redeem and make new.

Because in our marriage we want to give and receive. We want to welcome and respond. We want to always be coming together as one. In everything we do.

A lack of hospitality in anything is recognized by many boundaries, a lack of vulnerability, fear, and the instinct to protect yourself — the roots of a person who struggles to welcome. The same is true of sex. And when invitations are rejected, or when it doesn’t go as planned. When either person turns to other pleasures more than each other. When we’re not honest, and when we don’t consider the other person – we slowly build walls around our heart and body, much easier to construct than tear down.

Mark and I are thankful for the place of freedom we’ve discovered as lovers. Sure, so much of it was climbing out of our sleep deprived comas. But also, we intentionally and prayerfully engaged our brokenness. We didn’t want our season to become our pattern. So we considered how our expectations had been shaped by the broader dysfunctions of our culture, as well as our own sin. We discarded false teachings {from church & culture}. We identified sinfulness. And we asked God to reshape our expectations in a way that helped us to be better givers and receivers of love. Because, for the woman, she can feel like she’s the open door, she’s the one always hosting (wink wink). And for the man, he can feel insecure as the eternal guest. But in hospitable sex, both partners are givers, and both are receivers. The goal of all hospitality is to welcome the other to share in you, and sex can be one of the most vulnerable of these acts. In our learning to welcome each other, we striped down and faced the naked truths we had tried so desperately to cover up. And when we surrendered to the intimacy, it brought such life and pleasure. And now we don’t always wait for the dark to settle in. We sneak away behind closed doors. With greater wisdom, we delight in the way our bodies have matured to reflect our years and the life that surrounds us. And we pull the covers up….together. This two becoming one. It’s a good thing.

And one more thing….

If I were to counsel anyone in ways of sex and intimacy, I would begin with this teaching: Pornography and control are destructive. Period. No exceptions. They serve as tools to minimize, dehumanize, and objectify yourself and others. These sinful acts are motivated by instincts of our flesh and they hinder the spirit within us. They bypass the relationship, the very place sex and shared love was intended to exist within. They fool you into a false sense of satisfaction and draw you into deep selfishness. They lead to death, rather than life.

When It’s Not Your Gift



We call hospitality a gift. Some have it others don’t. A way of offering that some people are called to and others are not. Like teaching or preaching or healing.

Here’s the problem: We’ve equated hospitality with hosting.

The ability to have people in your home and serve them well is a gift. Some do this with ease, some do it because they have to, some because they feel called to. It’s an instinct for some, and for others it’s a learned way of living. And yet for others it’s awkward or exhausting or intrusive.

But here’s some real truth: You do not have to be gifted in hosting in order to be faithful in hospitality.

When we understand hospitality as having a heart that welcomes, a spirit that invites, and a life that is interruptible – it transforms this way of living and loving into a mission rather than a gift. And it separates this mission from the Betty Crocker, apron wearing, table setting, sheet folding, home organizing responsibilities that come with sharing your home with others.

Receiving people into your home is only one expression of hospitality. There are countless ways to receive life. Multiple opportunities to be available. And entering into the journeys of others doesn’t require them entering your home.

So for those who struggle in making a home receptive to others, breath these next words and find freedom:

You don’t have to know how to cook to be hospitable. You don’t have to entertain with ease. You don’t have to have a well cleaned and organized home. You don’t even have to have a home!

Consider the One who walks before us in these ways of welcoming, inviting and being available. He had no home. Nothing to his name but greatness. Holiness. Worthiness.

This Jesus who didn’t cooked for people, but offered his body as bread, his blood as wine. This Jesus who never invited people to his home, but entered the homes of others and blessed it with grace and healing and life. This Jesus who didn’t throw parties for his friends, but sat at the table of a tax collector, offered water to a prostitute, and broke bread with those he was teaching. This Jesus who welcomes all people to share in his life that he may point them to his Father.

This is hospitality. Not the well-dressed table. Not the linens that drape. Not the serving dishes that shine. Not the taste of the food. Not the well stocked kitchen. Not the comfortable bed.

It’s the love that is shown. The grace that is offered. The questions that are asked. The willingness to come. The availability to help. The posture of openness. The concern expressed in hurt. The truth spoken in trouble. The Word given for hope.

 

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Ugandan families showed us some of the sweetest hospitality we’ve received in humble homes such as this.

Hospitality is a posture of life that is open to others. Open to their journey intersecting with yours. Their story changing yours. Their problems becoming yours. Their pain paining you. It’s a willingness to embrace people where they are, pointing them to the bigger story they find themselves in.

This isn’t something we are gifted in. It’s a way of life we are called to because we claim to believe in Jesus and all that he is about. And this is what he is about. Life. Redeeming it, saving it, holding it, healing it, restoring it, valuing it – all for eternal purposes.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:8-10

My prayer for us all is that God reveals to us the ways he has gifted us in giving his grace. If the body of Christ are called to hospitality, may he affirm in us how our gifts manifest in this calling. How does your gift of preaching welcome people and point them to the Father? How does your gift of healing interrupt your life to be available to others? How does your gift of hosting give people an environment to see and experience the love of God? How does your gift of service provide God’s grace to those in need?

May we notice and affirm these gifts in each other and feel confident to acknowledge them in ourselves.

Even though I encourage you to understand hospitality separate from your home and separate from the idea of hosting, I also want to express how much I believe in the home. Despite the fact that so many are broken, I believe the home ought to be a place where people grow. I believe it should empower people, restore people, comfort people.

I use my home as part of my mission in hospitality. I am a mother of five who chooses to educate my children at home — home is where I am most of my time. It makes sense for this to be my environment where grace and hospitality happens. But everyone ought to interpret hospitality for the people and places they dwell — it will look different for everyone, and it may look different in your current phase of life than it did in the past. Be gracious to yourself {and others} as we all discern how to live into this calling.

Praying Mercy Today



You say you desire mercy, not sacrifice. What does that mean? Cause I thought sacrifice was the way to live Christian, the way to give of myself for another.

But your word is true. So I wrestle with it.

To sacrifice is to offer. The act of giving up something that is mine for someone else. These burnt offerings are not meaningless. They are ceremonial in nature. And their aroma is pleasing to you. You tell me this. But I can sacrifice my money for the cause of another, yet, it’s not really giving of myself. And I can sacrifice part of my day to help someone, without really entering into their need.

So, could it be there is a better way to approach brokenness? A way of living that goes beyond sacrifice, and takes us into mangers in barns and crosses on hills?

Is this what you mean when you say you desire mercy? A loyalty that goes deeper than giving up something on behalf of another? A faithfulness that loves through embrace rather than doing without? An acknowledgment of who you are, rather than what we’re able to give?

Mercy is entering into the brokenness of another. Joining them in the darkness of their sin. In the pain of their heartache. In the loneliness of their divorce. In the confusion of their wandering. In the hopelessness of their grief.

In the pit of sin, in the depths of pain, in the hollow places of grief….. there is really very little to offer someone other than yourself. Burnt offerings of material possessions and resources are welcomed and received. But they will not bring healing and restoration. For they are not eternal.

When your people were lost to you, you sent manna. You sent rain. You sent leaders. You sent sacrifices of love to reveal who you were and to show you were trustworthy. But your truest act of love was when you sent yourself. It was when you came to us. When you entered our dirty world. When you walked into our sin. When you joined us in our suffering.

This is mercy, isn’t it? And you desire it because you know it’s the better way. Because you know the way to holiness is through entering the lives of others.

Teach us in your ways of mercy. How to love through embrace. How to welcome by entering. How to receive by joining. For our acts of mercy authenticate our sacrifices of love.

Be merciful to us, oh Lord, that we might be merciful to others. That our love might move beyond our giving and serving. To a life of grace and compassion for the brokenness all around us. To a commitment of seeking truth and understanding. To a willingness to get dirty in the mess of others. To a life focused on the eternal, rather than the things that burn away.

Teach me, oh Lord, for now I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

My Favorite Things This Spring {2014}



favoritethings1. Pixi redness reducing primer from Target. I put it under my tinted moisturizer to help even my skin tone. The closer I get to 40, the more I need little favorite like this. My skin has changed a lot in tone and texture these past few years and I’m committed to taking care of it, even if it means spending a little more money on good cleansers and creams. I currently use Dr. Loretta skin care online and I’m super happy with the results.

2. These sweet potato chips are so yummy. Only 3 ingredients: sweet potatoes, sunflower oil and salt. I love products like this. I bought these at Papa Joe’s for $1.50 AND buy one get one free! I stocked up…

3. The denim vest is a must have for summer! I bought this one at Marshall’s.

4. Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt it my very favorite. I buy them, hide them, and don’t share them.

5. Elf Healthy Glow Bronzer from Target. Bronzers are often too dark for me. This is more like a gold shimmer. It’s super pretty plus it only costs a few dollars. And because it’s light, I let my little girlies wear it sometimes which they think is super cool!

6. My Dandy Blend latte. This replaced my morning espresso latte, which I cut out in January for adrenal issues. I mix milk, Tazo Chai Tea concentrate and dandy blend and pour over ice. It’s really yummy! I still love espresso more, but this satisfies my need for a yummy morning drink.

7. My green plants. I really enjoy color, but I am loving the natural green look for my front porch and back veranda. It’s been very calming and inviting — a great back drop to all my colorful, wild children running around!

8. Speaking of calming…Young Living’s Peace & Calming oil is such a great one. We use it before bed, during cranky moods and even as a perfume!

9. Mark. He’s always my favorite. Not just in Spring. But always and forever. I’m crazy about him and the way he love me. And I just cannot believe how much he has accomplished this Spring on our property. He works hard to make things productive and beautiful. Come on out and see everything we’re doing!

Do You Miss Me??



Wait…don’t answer…unless, of course, you do! I’m not going to assume you’ve noticed, but I haven’t posted in such a long time. I’ve missed the writing. It’s my way of quieting my mind and processing life in a way that documents moments and struggles and growth so I’ll always remember. Life has truly sprung forth with Spring, and I just haven’t been able to slow down long enough to scribble it down. Farm chores are in full swing! Six pigs arrived this month and we are super excited to offer pastured raised pork to more people this year. We’ve doubled our clutch of chickens, and we even have two goats we rescued. In addition to all that farm fun, we are excited to be hosting a wedding here at our place for some sweet friends of ours. They marry in a week and we are using this special occasion to motivate us to complete several projects and beautification attempts! We will exhale soon and very soon….

In the meantime, I invite you to come peek at some glimpses of our life over on Instagram (@environmentsofgrace). I’m not so quiet over there because it’s quick and easy to post a picture and share what we’re up to or express one of my many deep thoughts! Plus I’m meeting some super cool people in that web of a place. There is inspiration and encouragement and truth and beauty and real life shining through pictures of people I’ve never even met. I’m humbled at the way God can use all things — even distracting social media — to bless his people and bring Him glory.

Here’s a few pictures from the past month. I hope you’re enjoying the sun and green and warmth! We’re loving it so much we don’t even want to be inside. Which is great….until you actually do go inside and realize you haven’t cleaned or dusted or vacuumed or mopped in a reeeaaally long time!

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What needs resurrecting in your life?



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How good of Easter to come right after winter. For those cold barren months burrow in us an awareness of death, a humility to that which we cannot control. Instead of the obvious of vibrant colors and the fullness of foliage and the singing of the animal world, when we surrender to a season of dying we must look harder to see life in forms less visible. Like the whispers of wind that foretell change. And the provision of a thick coat that miraculously appear on the deer that winter in our woods. Like the glistening of snow that makes the bare branches sparkle. And the winter fellowship that happens when a family hibernates in their den of togetherness.

There are glimpses of life in every season of death. You just have to let grace be your vision.

But the hardest for me is right now. These days stuck in the in-between. None of the beauty of Winter, with few signs yet of Spring. It’s a holding place that makes me restless.  I yearn for the resurrection of colorful days, of the songs of the birds, of the warmth of the sun. I ache for the way it all breathes life into our bones and we begin to dance instead of huddle.

And this rebirth, this resurrection, is only possible because we endured the season before it. The one that taught us how to be still. The one that tested our patience. The one that made us tuck under covers. The one that brought the dark. The one that stirred in us a fervent longing for what’s to come.

And it has me wondering what needs dying in my life and what needs resurrecting. For when death is happening all around, you can’t help but also notice the winter in your heart. The starvation of control. The dullness of cultural conformity. The infertile nature of judgment. The suffocation of perfectionism. And how God is taking these territories of my heart and making them barren in order to resurrect the abundant life he intends for me. One of surrender. One of intentionality and mission. One of grace.

After death, God always resurrects. This we can be certain of. For it’s His story, and ours. But resurrection happens only after surrender, only after “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” This artist God of ours is always re-creating in and around us, springing forth new life, raising from our graves of flesh a life and spirit that embraces more fully our purpose on this earth.

What needs resurrecting in you? And what must die in order for God to raise up new life?

 

 

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