Hannah, you’re the queen…

I believe in the power of words, of names.

Lately, in my class, we have been looking into name meanings – What does your name mean, and what does it mean in your life? How is God redeeming you through your calling?

I have been called and given many names in my life, as have you, I’m sure. My family is particularly fond of nicknames, so I have many. Allow me to expand…

Laur, from my brother

Loo-lum-lore-lee-la, peanut – my dad

Lolly, Lollygirl, Lollybird / Little Lollybird, Mosquito, Marie, Lamb Chop –> Chop –> Choop –> Chooper

The names go on and on.

And then there was Hannah.

When I met Brian’s family, I also met a beautiful little one with long, dark “shag dog” hair, as the boys called it – they liked it long and sweeping across her face. She met me and swiftly tried to keep me at the house. We bonded instantly. With her small, warm hand, she took mine and at the age of two, called me Hannah.

Her parents would say, “Say Lauren,” and she would say, “Hannah!” “Say, La-la-la-la-Lauren,” and she would respond, “La-la-la-la-Hannah!”

We could not figure it out. And for about three glorious years, she called me Hannah. It was a sad day when this sweet girl learned my “real” name…

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I’ve been thinking about that name Hannah. I’ve written a tiny bit about it before, of how it means favor and grace, and since I was given it by a member of my husband’s family, I realize what favor and grace I was given by joining their family, by combining our families. Believe me, our marriage has brought blessings to both sides of the aisle.

And yet, I don’t think that’s all of it. That’s not the end of her story, or mine.

If you know more about the story of Hannah, don’t spoil it for me. God is revealing that to me in his timing, how that name fits me and how it seemingly doesn’t. However, God is sovereign, and out of the mouth of babes… God speaks clearly as well.

I am so thankful for what he says about me in His word and in His names for me. I look at my nicknames from family and see favor and grace, love abounding, care and sweetness. I see familiarity and a future.

Today, I was sitting alone in my classroom grading papers. I felt weary, and I said, “God, would you keep speaking to me? Would you show me your grace and help me as I work?” I turned on an internet radio station, and one of the first songs that played was this one, called “Hannah” by Ray Lamontagne. I won’t explain every lyric and how it fits so perfectly with me, this song about falling in love and being captivated by beauty (Thank you God – and Brian – for loving me so well!), but I will give a few sneak peeks…

For example, how I sobbed this morning and “cried so loud” when God comforted me in my quiet time and prayer,

how I would put down my idols and my comforts if He would just be kind to me, and He is,

how I’m celebrating my emptiness as God fills me up,

how I came down from those Ozark Hills where I used to go to Sixth Grade Camp,

and instead,

I am roaming the streets of Westminster, with music and a Bible,

and praising God for his goodness and flourishing,

the right fit for now,

how my name is Lauren, “crowned with the Laurel,”

flowered dresses that I use to clear the way.

God lets me climb big trees as Hannah Lee.

God is so good. So good. Tonight, I am thankful and full.

My cup overflows, again and again and again.

“Come to me, Hannah. Hannah, won’t you come on to me?”

Yes, God, yes, God, yes…

Every day,

I will fall down at your feet,

For oh, God, you are the King of this street.

I lost all of my vanity
When I peered into the pool
I lost all of my innocence
When I fell in love with you

I never knew a man fall so far
Until’ I landed here
Where all of my wounds that turn into gold
When I kissed your hair

Come to me Hannah
Hannah won’t you to come on to me?
And I’ll lay down this bottle of wine
If you’ll just be kind to me

Ask her why she cries so loud?
She will not say a word
Eyes like ice and hands that shake
She takes what she deserves

To celebrate her emptiness
In a cold and lonely room
Sweep the floor with your long flowered dress
If you cannot find a broom

Come to me Hannah
Hannah won’t you come on to me?
And I’ll lay down this bottle of wine
If you’ll just be kind to me

She’s got hair that flows right down
Right down to the backs of her knees
Her papa he was a preachin’ man
And the Lord is hard to please

So she comes down from the Ozark hills
To these very streets to roam
With a banjo and a Bible
And a fine tooth comb

Come to me Hannah
Hannah won’t you come on to me?
And I’ll lay down this bottle of wine
If you’ll just be kind to me

I’d walk one mile on just broken glass
To fall down at your feet
Oh Hannah you’re the queen of the street

I climb the tree with my Hannah Lee
My intentions they were pure
Oh the breeze did whip and I lost my grip
I tumbled towards the earth

Where you never would guess who it was that stood below
His name I would never tell
But his eyes were clear and his arms were strong
And caught me as I fell

Now come to me Hannah
Hannah won’t you come on to me?
And I’ll lay down this bottle of wine
If you’d just be kind to me

I’d walk one mile on just broken glass
To fall down at your feet
Hannah you’re the queen of the street

Read more: Ray LaMontagne – Hannah Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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Context is King, and when Life is Bad to the Bone

So, you might think I’m crazy.

That’s fine.

I’ve been posting up a storm lately on Instagram and Facebook and my blog, proclaiming God’s power in my life and the fact that I’m going to stomp all over that coward, Satan, with the gift of words that Christ gave me. You can think I’m crazy if you want to, but if you do, you’re blind.

Satan loves shame. He loves darkness. He loves to hide, and one of his favorite tricks is for us to turn on each other because we can’t see what others can.

Satan is REAL. God is REAL, and we have power and access and weapons at our disposal in the Word and in the Holy Spirit and the body of believers. Yes? Can I get an amen?

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Yesterday, the sky on Delmar at night.

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Yesterday, my story played in chapel at Westminster Christian Academy, to about 1,000 kids and staff. I was nervous, and yet I saw how God put that together and how holy hands had formed that video from 40 minutes of my verbose speech wittled down to 5 minutes of clear, concise good words. He is faithful.

The mantra, the drumbeat, the anthem of that video was this: What Satan means for evil, God works for good. ALWAYS. Genesis 50:20. (See my video here.)

While that video played, my husband was T-boned on Delmar Street. [side note – what is going on on Delmar lately? Injured deer running the streets? Crazy?!]

My husband is perfectly great. He is safe. The other car smashed in his passenger side (praise the LORD!), and he is safe. My husband even used his gift of wisdom and words to encourage me on the phone when he called me during my planning period, and for ONCE, I had my phone with me all day… I answered right away. Praise the LORD! Brian encouraged me and then continued to care for me all day with his words and actions. Wait… weren’t you the one that was hit today, hard? It’s like the one time when we were dating, and I smacked him in the face with the Wii remote because I wanted SO badly to get that backhand tennis shot, and even though I gave him a black eye, when I started crying because I felt so badly, he ended up comforting me! What the heck?!? Life is crazy.

You might think I’m crazy, and again, that’s FINE. Think all you want. But while you’re thinking over there, I’m going to be face down praying, y’all. Because Satan is REAL, and God is REAL, and we have power and access and weapons to wield against a cowardly fallen angel who continues to strike out at me and my family.

Would you pray for a hedge of protection over the Rieckman and Simpson family today? Would you cover us in prayer?

I had the image today as I was praying, face down in couch, of a forcefield around my family. I prayed for each individual person, one by one, adults and babies alike. Pets alike! I prayed for protection to cover them. I prayed for Satan to FLEE, and I commanded it in the Lord’s name. I prayed for God to help me because I feel so bold and yet I am so, so scared. Because when you fight for God’s promises and you speak words of truth that the God of the universe gave you, crazy things happen. And Satan loves to fight back.

But here’s the thing. I have weapons. I have YOU. I have prayer warriors, and the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:17-18

Prayer is powerful. Let’s harness it.

Pray for:

– a hedge of protection
– eyes to see the very clear spiritual battle going on
– binding us together
– staying alert
– getting in the WORD and being in constant prayer
– telling Satan to FLEE
Here’s the other thing: I know I’m not the only one. I’m hearing so many stories right now of other people’s storms. I mean, geez, just look out the window this morning in St. Louis. Today woke us up with a crack of lightning and deep rumbling in the earth. Big things are happening. And God is sovereign over every bit of it. Praise the King!
Life might be striking out at you, bad to the bone, but Our King is good through and through. He might not be safe, but LORD, He is GOOD! Can I get an amen?
PREACH. PRAISE. PRAY. What Satan meant for evil, God works for good. ALWAYS.
May that be our anthem, our drumbeat, our place of praise, always.
Time to kick start this day and kick Satan in the [err… pants.].

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On Fight and Flight [or Beauty in the Breakdown]

I’ll cut right to the chase. This morning, I burst into tears in my classroom. In front of my kids. At 7:56am. One minute after class started.

Allow me to give some context and explain.  

Last weekend – beautiful, redemptive conversations and hugs, LOVE abounding and refreshing, best friends

Monday – unpreparedness, OVERexposure, emotional wreckage (in private)

Tuesday – good and busy

Wednesday – fine and fun and fast

Thursday – The phrase “The day got away from me” is not accurate enough. The day flew by me and around me. It FLEW, and I was building the plane while flying it. Work from 7am-11:30pm without ceasing.

Friday – Wake up. GO. GO. Go. go. gooo… CRASH. Insert Gina, amazing teacher partner, who gave me a breather and took over my class while I cried in the empty hallway and in her room, and I prayed.

It’s wild to me to think about how we fight and flee. When we do. If we do. It’s also amazing to me to see how God REDEEMS, because boy, does he ever… ALWAYS. Here are five things I noticed after my 3rd hour when I got a breather.

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Fable & Lore necklace, made here in St Louis. The pattern speaks to me – partnership, gold, shining, waves, dips, doves, peace.

Camo “battle” shoes – I seem to always wear these when I have a spiritual battle ahead. I wore them to the store two summers ago when we heard that Grandpa Alex was in the hospital. I wore them to Chick-Fil-A that same week when I mightily ate some chicken and made my father-in-law belly laugh to lift some grief.

“Hunger Games” arrow rings with chain from Standard Style in KC. I feel powerful, alive, and GUIDED when I wear this. I could stab the devil with this and inflict some damage as well.

Ring wrapped in thread from local store in LA. Handmade. It speaks to me of binding, protecting, adorning, and unraveling over time, the need for redemption.

Ebony heart earrings from the annual family Hen Party. I wore my heart on the outside today; edged in gold and passed down to me from family, it was.

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I’m a lover of jewelry. I love to make a statement and decorate myself in things that make me feel bold and strong and unique.

After my 3rd hour when I got a breather and walked down that same empty hallway to get some tea, I saw adornment. I saw adornment and purpose and reasons to praise.

God loves to adorn me as well… and how odd it is (and INCREDIBLE) that it seems subconsciously (or miraculously) God guides me to dress myself in things that give me power and strength on days that I REALLY will need it.

Before first hour, I felt the stress building. I rushed. I tried to help kids who desperately wanted my attention. I did not get my plans cemented. I did not get the objectives or agenda written on the board. I did not play music as they entered like I normally do. I was not relaxed and full of peace, and I know (because God spoke to me yesterday and this morning about it, that peacemakers who sow in peace build fields of righteousness (James 3:18). Yet, I was not full of peace. I was full of exhaustion and anxiety and the need for control, and yet I was spinning out of it. I was full of selfish ambition (James 3). I would strive and strive, do and do, work and work, and I (key word: I) would get it all done and do it all well. Friends who know me, do you see a pattern?! Oh my good GOD, what you must be thinking when you look at me and see me repeating my same sins over and and over again, stubbornly fleeing from you and relying on my own flawed ability to perform. God, what must you think…?

I know what you must think, because when I returned from getting tea, I opened my Bible and flipped to the next passage in James and read this:

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

And l listened to this: “Healing” by Ben and Noelle

And suddenly, it all fell together. I nodded and laughed and smiled and prayed, and then I blogged. Because God knows what he’s doing. Because there’s beauty in the breakdown. Because when I felt the emotion rising, I asked a kid to pray for me, smack-dab at the start of the class, and he did. And when I turned around to turn on the projector RIGHT after that, I was locked out of the system because of the storms and power loss yesterday, and that’s when I lost it. The tears started flowing, and I squeaked out, “It’s been a really hard day already, and someone needs to go get Mrs. Bush.” And they did. And she did what she did, and I did what I did.

And the kids were gracious, and they all said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Simpson. We’ve all felt that way. And we get it, and you’re not the first teacher who we’ve seen cry.” And class was better.

And 2nd hour, class was better. And by third hour, when the technology was breaking down again, the video projects the kids had prepared were not uploading and were not playing and were not using sound, and the computer kicked me out of Power Point and kids were getting flustered, I stopped class and said, “Listen.”

“Listen, Satan is the worst. And you might think it’s funny, and it kind of is, but there is some REAL, supernatural, technological difficulty going on here. There is some real spiritual battle happening in my heart and in this classroom today, and Satan’s not going to win. God is bigger and stronger and better. Amen?” The kids laughed and clapped, and I said, “Let’s be honest. That might sound weird to you, but there is a reality to the fact that Satan doesn’t want us to flourish. And he’s a butt-hole. I HATE him. Don’t you?!” [insert shocked student laughter] “I absolutely hate him, and I believe that when you call upon the name of the Lord and you tell Satan to flee, he has to. He has to flee, because God is greater, and Satan sucks. Yes?” And they all echoed yes. And we went on with our class, and we played some of the videos and solved some of the technical difficulties, and we ended class in prayer, going on with our day.

Guys, Satan is real. God is REAL. And we have POWER and ACCESS and PEACE in the Holy Spirit. God is willing and able to redeem situations and overcome evil when we ask and even sometimes when we don’t. But He wants us to ask and ask boldly. And he will fight with us as we tell Satan to flee. And he will. And now, here I am, using TECHNOLOGY that has failed me all day to share this message with you. God is a restorer and a redeemer. God is a warrior and a comforter. God is a HEALER.

I am fighting against Satan’s temptation to despair today, and I’m telling Satan to flee. Will you join me in the fight? Will you allow God to speak to you and heal you and do powerful things in your life? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to enter and move in power?

Amen. May it be so.

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A Saucy Italian

When Brian and I first began dating, I remember us warning each other about certain respective family members. He was kept from meeting one precocious grandfather for quite some time, and he gave me a heads-up about his dearly loved grandmother who happened to also be fiercely Italian. “You should just know that she’s been trying to get me to marry a nice Italian girl from the Hill for quite some time,” he said (as we drove to his little sister’s birthday party, and I was preparing to meet a whole slew of family members in one evening). He was right to warn me, I thought at first.

“You’re Italian, right?” his grandma Alex asked shortly after she shook my hand.

“No…” I hesitantly replied.

“Are you sure? Not even just a little?” Her brows furrowed as she stared at me intently. Perhaps I’d just forgotten.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

She leaned back in her chair and sat quietly for what felt like a few minutes. The seconds ticked away. I studied the wrinkles on her face, ones of joy and sadness, of raising active boys, of focusing on hand-forming hundreds of homemade raviolis and slaving over steaming stovetops, mixing tomato sauces. She focused on my face. I held my breath.

Finally, she exhaled and said, “Well, you look Italian.”

I was “in,” if only by appearances.

 

A few years later I learned that grandma had dated Yogi Berra, the famous New York Yankees player from The Hill, some time in the late 30s or early 40s. When our jaws dropped and we asked what went wrong, she said matter of factly, “Oh, he was a very nice man. He was very sweet on me, but I just couldn’t marry him.” She looked at the grandchildren in the room. “I mean, you all would have been ugly!” No holds bar, grandma said it like it was.

Grandma Alex (affectionately named by my husband because of their German Shepherd, Alex) was a loving Italian woman through and through. She talked fondly often of her days on the Hill and the journey of being stolen from the only streets she had ever known and deposited miles away in Kirkwood (a by-product of being whisked off of her feet by that darn German she married). She loved animals, doting on dogs and cats alike. She raised five rambunctious boys with a strong Catholic faith, and she loved on her daughter-in-laws and grandchildren. In fact, she told me that after watching Brian as a toddler while his mom worked, she often threatened to keep him. She was a woman of family and of faith… and of ravioli.

After we said goodbye to grandma Alex this past February, Brian said that ravioli came to mind. After years of grandma making her own handmade ravioli and slaving in the kitchen for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, Brian thought it just made sense to pick up her favorite Mama Toscano’s ravioli from the Hill and share a family meal. So, we did. And though hearts were very heavy and the loss was very raw, we had a little taste of Italy to remind of us of grandma and of the way she brought family together and the joy that it brought to her face when all of her boys were together.

Her funeral was on a drizzling, cold day after a recent snow, oddly feeling much like her husband’s had only six months earlier. We said goodbye to her after an honoring eulogy and gathered again for a family meal on The Hill. And though it was a day full of grief, we took comfort that day, and the days after, in the fact that she was without pain and with her Lord. Not only is her body restored, but her mind is also. She never has to feel confusion or despair again. Her sadness has been replaced with joy, and she shares a place in heaven with one of her five sons who she has missed so dearly for far too long. It’s amazing how that knowledge gives hope and life in the midst of pain, how it begins to mend the hearts of family to know that she’s more than well and that she truly does rest in peace… if you can call heaven a place of rest. It is most likely, more aptly, a place of praise, to my understanding, which seems a very active state instead. And that’s great, because until her latest years, grandma Alex was always moving, always serving, always cooking. Perhaps she’s perfected her Italian recipes now, or probably, she’s doing even more important and glorified serving. I can only imagine.

Like a good sauce, I’ve let this post simmer for a few months, looking for the right spice and flavor. I hope grandma would be proud, that she would feel it captures her in part and honors her – her humor and devotion to family and big, big heart. Or perhaps, I hope that I’ve come to appreciate and embody more of her Italian heritage and heart in the ten years that I knew her. But even if not…

Hey, at least I look Italian. 🙂

Seeking Family

Anthropologically speaking, (Yes! Using that phrase shows that there is a purpose for having watched so many reruns of Bones!), I wonder what has been researched or discovered about our search for family wherever we live. In the “olden” Biblical days, families lived near one another. You were in the same village or same hut or same 1,000 acres of land… but near. And yes, this was largely out of necessity or tradition or not knowing any other way of being, and no, there were not cars or planes or trains to take them far from their homes to seek out new homesteads “just for the adventure”, knowing they could call or return at any time, but… still. There they were, in their thatched huts and on their farms and in their palaces and igloos, living as family. And it seems that thousands of years later, there is still a sense in which we create, or attempt to create, family wherever we go, even after and if we’ve moved away from our biological one. Perhaps it is not a family with your immediate neighbors, but more likely, it is one created out of people with like interests, whether that be through a hobby, a faith-group, or even your work colleagues. And those who don’t have it often seem to be seeking it.

America seems obsessed with this notion, at least in as far as it needs to be to convince us we should throw our selves into our capitalist work. Shows like Friends (working adults who thrive on their family-like closeness to each other) or Bones or Castle (or a variety of other network favorites that rake in the big bucks) have front-and-center characters who make their work their lives and their family, and they appear very happy doing it. Their coworkers become their best friends, their lovers, their husbands, their best men and maids of honor, the godparents to their children. They work ridiculous hours but love it. They are brought joy by, challenged by, and ultimately fulfilled by their work and the people in it. They have found their surrogate family, it seems. At least that’s what TV seems to say. 😉

That simple observation could take me in a lot of directions, in truth – capitalism’s far reach to make us feel we could reach this ascent to camaraderie in the workplace (just keep working those long hours!), the unconscious desire of humans to hope that that level of happiness at work is possible since we spend so much time there (hence continuing to watch these shows, increasing their success, and subsequent creation of more similar ones), the fact that I watch too much television (is “too much” too revealing?), the small number of basic story archetypes that really exist in the world… but today, the observation is focused on the title of this post, seeking family.

Are we meant to live near our families or ‘a family’? Does our cosmic search for “family”, in whatever way we can find it, show us something about our character, our desires, the way we were made, or even our purpose as people? What does the loneliness that most people feel (when they don’t have access to this) reveal about our wiring? Our desires? Our reality? How does this inform us in how we approach relationships? What does it mean for the way in which we now live (in short, generalized – wherever we want, apart from many of those dearest to us, and often far away from biological family)? Is the way that we live now irrelevant to the larger plan? We adapt only as it adapts? (In other words, all this questioning is futile; we are where we should be, in time and in geographical positioning, and this is all a theoretical waste of our time). Or, should there be a harkening back to what used to be, to reverse the departure we’ve made from the possible way it should be?

Should we live near family? Do we now?

I’m full to the brim with questions, but the bottom line is… Anthropologically speaking, what purpose does this family-seeking serve? How and what can be explained about it?

Tell me what you know, if you care. Share with me your thoughts, and let’s dialogue.

I’m intrigued… and undecided.