2016 in Squares

I always dread January 1st. There's something cold and raw and empty about wintery beginnings. The warm yellow lights of Christmas disappear along with our temporary civilization built on celebration and cheer. I'm trying really hard to like New Year's Day, but I'm not quite there yet.

Until I get comfortable with new beginnings, I'll continue to flip through the thousands of beautiful mental (and digital) snapshots I took in 2016. Here is my year in squares, specifically squares from my life in England. Ringing in the new year means placing the last full-stop on my life's chapter in the United Kingdom.

This sure was a gorgeous year. One I didn't deserve. I am thankful for 2016.

I am choosing to be thankful now for 2017 and the rainbow of snapshots it holds.

Katherine Lived

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I was wearing a green dress and eating Cheetos in my dad's blue armchair. It was 3pm. The phone rang.

My mom answered and listened to the voice on the other end, then hung up. "Katherine's going to the hospital. Looks like she has some strange food poisoning."

The following hours would reveal that Katherine definitely did not have food poisoning. She was instead having a massive stroke. My brother Jay made that panicked phone call from his car while following Katherine's ambulance down the Pacific Coast Highway and into a strange new life.

The news of Katherine's stroke sunk into our brains as the sun sunk into the horizon that night of April 21, 2008. A group of men in dark suits materialized in the middle of our living room and practically held my dad up as they pleaded with Heaven to spare our beloved Katherine. A stream of friends poured in and out of our home all evening to pray and cry and feed us.

One friend even slept on our couch that night. I remember thinking how strange it was to see this church lady, perpetually primped and put together, in a sweatshirt.

My dad caught a redeye from Alabama to Los Angeles to help carry his firstborn son through this unfolding nightmare.

We picked at a tray of deli sandwiches and went on a walk and watched the Home Shopping Network because how else do you fill the time until a sixteen-hour brain surgery ends? When the hour was appropriate, we called my sister Sarah across the world in Ethiopia and started her day with the worst news possible. Then we bought her plane ticket to come home.

None of us could have imagined the sea of trouble we'd waded into that day. As the sun rose on April 22nd, the phone rang.

"Katherine lived."

With those two words, hope showed up.

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I've always been ashamed to admit it, but I couldn't go past the doorway the first time I visited Katherine's room in Intensive Care two days after her surgery. The tangle of swollen limbs and wires and roving blue eyes sprawled on the hospital bed could not be the beautiful, bright sister I'd known since I was eight. I willed myself to travel the five feet to her bedside, but the stomach-churning scene rendered my legs useless.

I went into the hallway. My sister Mary had to sit on the floor and put her head between her knees.

This is not the story Katherine is supposed to have. 

Yes, she was alive and yes, we had hope. But this hope wasn't pretty or shiny like I thought it was supposed to be. This hope was gritty, desperate, and difficult.

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Hanging-on-by-a-thread days slowly turned into stable weeks, which morphed into learning-to-walk-talk-and-swallow months. Katherine was soon dubbed the "slow motion miracle", but a lot of those early days didn't feel so miraculous.

We are now in the still-healing years of Katherine and Jay's story, one that began with the pen strokes of tangled nerves in an unborn baby's brain. What a strange way to begin a love story. But, as he so often does, our Author of Life used the unlovely details and plot points and characters to weave an unlikely gospel allegory.

Life where there was death. Beauty where there were ashes. Dancing where there was crying.

Jay and Katherine have become master storytellers and grace-filled characters, championing the truth that we are all stewards of our God-given stories. We may not get to write our stories, but we can trust the One who does.

We must surrender the story we think we deserve for the story we actually got. Jesus is a much better writer than I am, anyway.

The book of Psalms carries a running motif of proclaiming God's good works to the world: I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done... Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done... I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people... I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, LORD.

We are formed in the image of God, the master storyteller. It logically follows (and Scripture corroborates) that we are made to mimic our Maker, to declare His story and our story to the universe. May we never mistake a difficult chapter for a defeat, or death for a final page.

We owe this to one another: daily preach the good stories to your brothers and sisters. Tell the hope-giving stories to the world in whatever way you know how.

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Jay and Katherine have recently written a book, every word of which was borne of blood and hardship and pain. I cannot emphasize how much you – and our hurting world – need this book because in this life we will all have our own April 21, 2008. But the message of Hope Heals is this: April 22nd is coming. Take heart because life follows death.

ORDER HERE TODAY: HopeHealsBook.com

 

(The photos in this post are a cobbled-together album of moments from the days and weeks after Katherine's stroke. They're not exactly professional quality, but they tell more of a story than any photos I've ever taken.)

Chasing Light

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Grey.

The thick, wooly clouds and chilly morning mists of early June in southern England have reflected my insides a little too well lately. Nothing is wrong, but the monotony of routine and responsibility has simply lulled me to sleep. My gratitude muscles need toning and my wonder reflexes need sharpening. From the atmosphere to my attitude, life has been a bit grey and I haven't made any earnest effort to conjure some color.

Over an afternoon cup of tea with friends (yes, the entire British-tea-drinking stereotype is spectacularly true), the idea of a spontaneous trip to the seaside sprang into life. We volleyed the thought around, we came up with reasons to just stay home,we sipped and nibbled and stayed a little grey.

"We're doing it," a brave soul finally declared. The scones were hastily finished and the bill paid. A few short hours and a bit of petrol later we were sitting on the coast, our palms pressed against the cool beach pebbles and the wind whipping our hair.

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The daytime was living it's final moments. Honey-colored sunlight dripped over the rolling, sheep-dotted hills and my heart ached with the beauty of it all. We'd serendipitously arrived to the coast at Golden Hour, that sublime slice of day in which the dying sun casts the landscape in a delicious golden glow. I imagine every hour in Heaven will look like this. Feel like this. Where the warm sunlight somehow fills up your lungs.

When my feet hit that seashore, the grey of the last weeks evaporated and was replaced with miles of gold.

Sometimes grey is comfortable, like a blanket that keeps you trapped in the fog of sleep, of numbness. It's not until you find the Golden Hours that the grey becomes unbearable.

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Unlike the steady rhythm of sunrise and sunset, which has produced a Golden Hour everyday since His mouth spoke the heavenly lights into being, Golden Hours of the spirit don't come to us by a clock. Sometimes we must chase the light. We must put down the tea, leave the sleepy village, and expend every ounce of our breath climbing the sea cliffs until we glimpse that sunbathed panorama view.

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12

Jesus. He is the burning ball of light that casts this world in a heavenly glow. He is the one who rips off the grey blanket and calls us to live with Him in the light of truth, love, holiness, peace, and joy. He asks us to follow Him, but I want to do Jesus one better. I want to chase Him, to chase the Light until Golden Hour is every hour and all the world drips with honey.

Jesus is alive and I am redeemed. This is golden.

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Chasing the Light can look like a bursting-with-gratitude heart during a seaside sunset or a bursting-with-girlfriends table during a weekly Bible study.

Chasing the Light can look like dusting off a forgotten Bible and reading the words aloud until you believe they are true. Chasing the Light can mean kneeling on the bedroom floor and crying out words you didn't know you had to tell Him. Chasing the Light can mean removing the earbuds on your morning commute so as to truly see each soul that passes by.

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Just as the sun is ever shining on some part of the world, God is always working out His salvation on the earth by bathing the human race in the honey-colored light of His Savior Son. There is no room for grey on this side of the resurrection. The Golden Hour is here. It's up to us to chase it.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9

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