Day #7 – Why I Clicked…

On January 11, 2018, in Photo, by Chris

Day #7/365: Taking down the Christmas decorations at the farm can be especially bittersweet, mostly because there’s that question in the back your mind… Are we doing this again next year?

Julia and I went out to the farm late last week to help dad take down the Christmas decorations. We always put the wreath out on the front of the house (it’s the neighbors’ waypoint to let them know that the holiday has truly begun), but this year we got a little more ambitious with a tree and many of the decorations that we’d kept in storage – some of it for years.

It was definitely worth the effort. Christmas had a special twinkle on the farm this year. Seeing Julia’s face light up when I turned on the Christmas tree or wound up a music box was rocket fuel for my soul.

But now it was January, and the time had come to take it all down. The boxes were pulled out and filled with the trappings of Christmas joy.

First, the big wreath that hangs on the farm house every year was unplugged, lowered to the ground and put in the shed. And then the Christmas tree was taken down.

Finally, there were the heirlooms that were my mother’s. Her Santa Claus figurines left the shelves of the china cabinet and the handmade wreaths that had hung in the windows for years found their way back into their boxes and were taken to the attic.

And through it all, the nagging question remained: How many more Christmases will we spend at the farm?

Strangely, it was a bittersweet mixture of nostalgia and gratitude of ever having known this marvelous place that welled up inside of me. And as Julia helped me carry a borrowed wreath back to the car, I turned her around to face me and got this shot.

The look on her face mirrored my feelings as I considered the twofold blessing of a life giving Christmas season and a wondrous place to spend it.

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Christmas Greetings from the Farm

On December 24, 2017, in Commentary, Life, by Chris

It’s Christmas Eve at the farm on Willow Road. Those of you who have followed these posts over the years know what a marvelous pause the farm is in the life of our family. Time seems to get so compressed in the weeks before Christmas and all of the preparations and engagements that compel us to make just one more commitment.

But now we’re at the place of my birth, with bad cell coverage, no television, no internet and no distractions. We can simply be together to prepare meals, try to make a dent in the Christmas cookie supply (still working on that), visit the neighbors and take in the luxurious quiet of the land lying fallow and still.

There was a light blanket of snow when we got in yesterday; but the sun melted most of it away in the afternoon, painting the trees across the field in rich ambers and butternut. We woke up, though, to a completely different situation. The snow started around noon as we were wrapping up one of our many visits to our neighbors and friends; and by mid-afternoon, it seemed we had a good old fashioned snow storm on our hands.

It’s still coming down as I write this. I even excused myself from dinner preparations to take a walk in the woods to experience its silence. There was little to break the hiss of the landing snowflakes, except a couple of neighborhood dogs in distant conversation and an intrepid nuthatch winging about the trees in search of her next morsel.

I wish I could share some insight or encouragement that I found in that solitude and silence – some neatly-tied-up-in-a-bow wisdom that will lift your spirits. Those of you with whom I am in more intimate contact will know that it’s not been that kind of year for me. It’s been “dig deep” time for months now, and I’m honestly wondering how I’m going to bounce back from it.

I was out in the cold until I couldn’t feel my hands, but the same frustrations were with me. So let me lay them out in all of their embarrassing glory:

Frustration at my father’s increasing frailty of mind and body.

Frustration at the growing developmental gap between Julia and her peers.

Frustration at the marriages blowing up around me and the inevitable collateral damage visited upon the youngers.

Frustration at officiating the funerals of good men struck down far too soon.

Frustration over the seemingly intractable divisiveness we find in every domain of life.

And despair over a world that seems – in my current experience, at least – to be devolving into chaos and selfishness more than growing into something life giving and beautiful.

A wise friend told me once that sometimes the spiritual walk is putting “one damn foot in front of another.” But that roiling anger that I and many others wrestle with seems to make everything in life just a little tougher.

So I’m going to let you listen in on a conversation I’ve been having with myself of late – sometimes half heartedly, sometimes with a bit more conviction. It orbits around an oracle of Old Testament prophecy that I’ve clung to for the past few months:

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

For this season, I am clinging to an idea proposed eight centuries ago:

As bad as a situation can be, I’m not alone in it. It might not be the “salvation” I would choose, but God is always working to reconcile, redeem and remake. Even in my worst and most embarrassing moments, he is audacious enough to like me anyway.

Now comes the big one (for me anyway). God’s love can calm my gnawing tendency to project a catastrophe into every situation, give me perspective and discernment to know when I can and cannot do something about whatever frustration presents. And by the way, the ones I enumerated above, I have no control over whatsoever.

This love comes out in a song of life and beauty that still confounds me – even after twenty years in pursuit of understanding it more. I still struggle with truly receiving love like that; but it’s reflected in the steadfast loyalty I have known in my relationships and the whimsy of the little exchanges with Julia. I’m borne from my despair in the intentional practice of gratitude for those small gifts of clarity.

The season we celebrate brought all of this even more into life with God actually living among us in our frustration and fear. And it is the hope that there might be a larger, more redeeming story piercing into the mess of ours that I cling to. I bid you peace in the knowledge that we don’t have to have it all figured out (I know – that kills me too), and that there might be Love living among us as we put one foot in front of another.

Or I could simply say, Merry Christmas.

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Day #225 – Why I Clicked…

On August 18, 2017, in Life, Personal, by Chris

Editor’s note: Many of you have enjoyed my Pic of the Day for quite a few years now. I’m starting something new to select certain images and give a little more backstory on why I chose to share it. Let’s see how this goes! I hope you enjoy it…

Day #225/365: The corn crop, leaves curled to conserve moisture versus a sky too stingy with its rain. Both want the thing the other is unwilling to give. This season’s yield may be disappointing.

We were out at the farm, just checking things out last weekend. The bright orange day lilies on the roadside had long since dried up; and all that remained was the lavender of the chicory, dusty thistle and the tired but stubborn green of mid-August.

I’ll be the first to admit that my eye is still quite novice, even after the years I’ve spent watching my neighbors planting and harvesting. But you could see it as you passed field after field on the way in, if you knew what to look for.

The corn had dutifully tasseled out, but the normally broad leaves were curled and thin. There wasn’t the lush embrace between stalks. Each seemed to keep to itself even in the close planted rows, like strangers in an elevator protecting their personal space.

Upon a closer look, the cobs on each stalk seemed… shorter. There would be less space to hold the very thing my friends were planting for. And it all came into focus.

The July rain hadn’t come for the corn.

All is not lost, though. There will be a harvest; but the yield will be smaller in comparison to years past. If the drought is widespread, the corn prices may tick up and soften the blow a bit. And my friends will hit it again next season and hope for better.

I looked through my camera lens at the blue sky relentlessly tugging at the corn for its moisture, almost pulling the stalk out of the ground with its force. And the corn stubbornly clinging to the soil, drawing from wherever it could for the sustenance it needed.

The tension is clear and mirrors the struggle these families endure year after year with joy, coaxing life from the earth.

And I clicked.

My longtime friend Kirk says, “July rain for corn, August rain for soybeans.”

Let’s hope that greedy sky is kinder to the beans.

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Christmas Greetings from the Farm

On January 4, 2017, in Commentary, Life, Personal, by Chris

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It’s Christmas Eve at the farm on Willow Road, and the tired December sun has given up its fight to burn through the cloud cover. The dreariness of the day makes the sky almost indistinguishable from the snow covered fields were it not for the trees along the fence line. From a distance, everything has a monochromatic feel – as if the trees were penned into the horizon with India ink – but you can still discern the burnt sienna and nut brown of the woods across the west yard.

Jocelyn has outdone herself yet again with tonight’s meal. The smells coming out of the kitchen as my Dad and I played our cribbage game almost made us turn down my childhood neighbor and adopted mom Marilyn Gordon’s famous soft pretzels (ed. note: we each kept ourselves to one). The kitchen at the farm in the afternoon is always a marvelous center of activity, and its output makes packing the car with seemingly endless shopping bags the day before worth it as we head out from Detroit.

We always enjoy seeing livestock in the pastures and feed lots on our drive out from town and we often take a more scenic route to pass all of the farms that still have animals. It’s such fun watching Julia’s excitement as she points out the cows or horses; but winter draws them closer to the barn and out of sight like the farm implements sitting quietly in the tool sheds awaiting spring.

As appealing as the pasture can be, the snow and cold has a dampening effect on the ambitions of even the most adventurous heifer and drives her to seek the companionship and warmth of her sisters as they huddle together in the shelter of the barn. And if there were a monologue in the mind of that heifer, it would go something like, “June is for striking out and finding that untouched patch of clover. December is for being with my herd.”

I am often sadly forgetful of that rhythm of “being with” until I get to the farm, clear the snow from the walk up to the back porch, take my eyes off the thousand things I normally do and enjoy an hour of reading books with Julia in front of the fire. She picks a book, curls up next to me and I read. Sometimes she complains as I try to get her to say the words with me (her speech apraxia is still a challenge), but we are always right next to each other in the struggle.

It’s not until I steal my attention away from the daily and relentless voices trying to sell me something that I realize again the sacred nature of an exchange as seemingly mundane as reading together with my daughter. And it is that marvelous, connecting word that leaves my heart fit to break both in regret of past missteps and strange anticipation of the future:

WITH

It is the deeper understanding of the “with-ness” of God that I’ve been wrestling with for the past several months; and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve only begun to really understand the length and breadth of its meaning. At the beginning of that journey, let me share a little of what has been revealed to me. And let me warn you up front – this is not the easiest read…

It is all around us now in the season we celebrate. It was foretold in ancient dreams of long dead prophets:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel
(which means, God with us).

I’ll not debate the points of religious interpretation that often come with throwing around scriptural references. What I humbly offer is this: At just the right moment in history, when humanity had forgotten, rejected or simply given up on the hope of a God that was more than an absentee landlord, the WITH of a triune God enfleshed itself to erase any doubt in its charitable intention and ultimate authority.

And though there are wondrous times where the membrane is pierced between the infinite and the “here and now” of life, I’ve realized that there are many things Immanuel does not necessarily mean:

  • It does not always mean “God came and fixed everything.”
  • It does not always mean “God saved me from the scary diagnosis.”
  • It does not even mean “God calmed my fear.”

But it does mean that there is a promise that the divine WITH is exactly that – even in the most seemingly hopeless circumstances. Even when we feel most alone. Even when in our pain our soul chafes against the proposition of a loving and concerned Other.

The divine WITH is also shockingly powerful in its implications:

  • It destroys the divide between entrenched worldviews screaming at each other across the gulf of seemingly irreconcilable poles.
  • It silences critical voices that set themselves apart in their conceited exclusivity.
  • It demands that we move out of our nervous devotion to our own carefully constructed echo chambers and into the uncertain tension of actually listening to one another again.

And it is the thing that my daughter most wants from me that I find hardest to give in my day to day treadmill of the things I think are so important. Often, sadly, more important than her. So maybe I need to slow the hell down and simply be with her and give her the engagement that she so genuinely craves.

So in my admittedly crude understanding of Immanuel and even after nearly twenty years as a student of Jesus, it seems that there are two challenges that unfold that I humbly share with you:

In this season where we seem to naturally draw together, be WITH the herd of your birth or the herd of your choice or the herd you happen to find yourself in. And if you are in a season of seeming solitude, please know that you are still in the herd of humanity, wholly loved and pursued by God so that WITH can be experienced by all.

But there is also the challenge (and this one is a tall order for me, to be sure) to welcome the stranger and be open to the different herd that WITH presents to you. It seems so counterintuitive in this era of shrill divisiveness in nearly every domain of life; but I believe with a deepening conviction that something better is on the other side of our embracing the WITH.

I give thanks for who all of you are in my life and wish you a Merry Christmas.

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Every Day is WDsD

On March 21, 2016, in Commentary, Julia's Journey, Life, Personal, by Chris

CrazySocks

My Facebook feed has been blowing up over the past 24 hours with all kinds of videos, images and well wishes from our community. It started last night with a video from a family that has been walking alongside us – then a text message from the principal of Julia’s school telling all of the students to wear their craziest pair of socks as the beginning of a more intentional celebration for a sliver of their community.

It’s World Down Syndrome Day – the one day of the year it is universally cool to be a friend of someone with Ds! So allow me to put on my “crazy socks” and tell you a little more of what’s going on from the perspective of a man whose life got ambushed by a little girl with an extra chromosome hitchin’ a ride with the typical 21st pair.

If you’ve been hanging around my social media feeds for any time at all, you’ve been acquainted with Julia. As a freelance photographer, I try to regularly put out a picture to let folks know how she’s growing. You’ve seen her through the walker stage into preschool, the endless hours of therapies, and the ubiquitous “giraffe horn” hair buns that Jocelyn fashioned to keep her from chewing on her hair.

We’ve received unceasing encouragement from all of you over the years – from the comments on how cute and precious she is to the challenges we hear from you to press on through the adversity of navigating the bureaucracy of service providers to get her the help she needs. Sometimes I even wonder if Julia’s social media following outpaces Jocelyn’s and mine combined! Such is the life of a little girl with her own entourage of stylist (Jocelyn) and publicist (me).

But even with the love we get from our community, I’ve noticed a change in the way strangers interact with her. There is now just a tiny minority of people who don’t quite know what to do with Julia when she busts into her ballet routine in the middle of a crowded mall or expresses her still inarticulate but very clear frustration with directions. Don’t get me wrong – there are still loads of smiles and comments on how beautiful she is. But sometimes I hear the unspoken “… for a kid with Ds” at the end of the compliment. There is a quiet standard I hear that seems to be applied to all school age kids where “typical” becomes “normal” and “normal” slides into “expected” and these young souls are filed on to the treadmill of striving and competition that will follow them through adulthood. It’s an atmosphere that my kid just isn’t built for.

We’re getting to the stage where, just like any kid her age, Julia’s innate cuteness is starting to wear off and the real differences (along with some of the attendant social embarrassment) are becoming more pronounced. Julia is very tentative and even fearful of high-energy situations that she’s unfamiliar with. She is a creature of habit whose desire for quiet and television time can torpedo an evening social gathering. And we are still fighting for every syllable in her speech therapy – the progress is real, but painfully slow.

I’m sure that some of this is due to my own hang-ups. I still have to remind myself that despite a world bent on progress and its hostility toward anything or anyone that isn’t economically value added, there are people – lots and lots of people – who know that value isn’t solely measured by productive output. There are those wonderful people who love the differently abled for their intrinsic humanity and not the packaging they come in. They’re willing to bear with our Julia because she belongs to them as well – no matter what her mood happens to offer up at the moment.

One thing you know you’re going to get: pure, unfiltered, no-hidden-agenda Julia. Sometimes impolite, other times a fist bump or a hug – all of it is very, very real. This kid has no guile and you never have to wonder what she is feeling. And in a world full of agendas and deception, that can be as refreshing as it is frustrating; because with every interaction, I have to decide if I am going to press my agenda or enter into her simple desires.

Julia forces me to step off the treadmill of my agenda and engage with hers. She encourages me to be a little less selfish and reminds me that my story is only a part of the larger story. How can that be a bad thing?

So here’s to our girl – with all of her love, simplicity and challenges. With a community like you behind us, we get to experience the love and support of World Down Syndrome Day all year round!

Julia-WDsD2016

 

 

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