Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why it's easier to give than receive

They say it's better to give than to receive and I like that because, let's face it, it's easier to give than receive. Hang with me here.

Giving says:
"You're in charge!"
"You did the nice thing!"
photo credit
"You don't owe anyone anything!"
"You look good in someone else's eyes!"

Receiving, on the other hand, means:
You're not in control.
The score isn't tied.
You aren't the one in power.
And you can't take any credit.

I'd like to believe that giving is a selfless act (and for those of you with perfect hearts, I'm sure it is), but a lot of the time for me, it's laced with selfishness because I gain the unseen upper hand in the relationship. The giving is so masked in goodness that the other person doesn't even realize (and often I don't even realize) how self-promoting I'm actually being. Because the truth is that I want the relational upper hand; it makes me feel better about myself. I want to have the balance thud decidedly on my side. I want to be thought of as thoughtful and selfless. And receiving really isn't any of that.

In the last month, a dear friend bought me coffee and another brought over dinner for no reason at all, and I found myself inwardly scrambling for how to make it up to them. "I'll pay for coffee next time," or "I'll make her dinner next month." Scorekeeper-style--yuck. Neither of those women were offering those gifts to me with the expectation that I'd do something for them in return, but unless I did, I had trouble settling into the receiver role.

And it makes me wonder if that's how I see God a lot of the time--a scorekeeper who's waiting for me to repay Him, or someone I can turn to and say, "Look! I did something nice! Now you can do something nice for me!" Clearly, bad theology and not something I actually believe in my core, but if I'm honest about the way I functionally live out what I believe, it typically goes something like that. Earn. Earn. Guilt. Guilt. Work. Work. Not Enough. Not Enough. But the truth is that I am on the receiving end of things when it comes to God--not in control and in His debt. And that's actually my strength: It's finished. The score is settled. And I can't take any credit because it's all been given to me.

I don't really know how to make my giving more selfless and genuine and my receiving more rested. But I'm guessing that scorekeeping view of God and everyone has something to do with it. I need to get acquainted with being a loser in the best possible sense, because as strange as it sounds I really do believe that the way up is down.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Celebrate well

Do you ever feel guilty celebrating? Maybe because others aren't experiencing the same joys you are, or because you're wondering how long the good things are going to last?

I do.

When good things happen--everyone is healthy, my family is at peace with one another and themselves, I find a pair of jeans that fit (miracle!), a hot cup of coffee (another miracle!)--I temper my celebration to self-protect. I often react to good things with one of three emotions:

fear ("When is the shoe going to drop? I know these good things won't last.")
doubt ("Why should I get good things? I don't deserve them.")
or guilt ("Others aren't experiencing this joy now." Or, "I'll probably just start loving these good things too much and make them idols.")

I don't want to fully celebrate; if I just go ahead and assume the long/hard/frustrating path, then I won't be disappointed. Total self-protection. But if I'm really communing with the Father and am not making those things idols, then they're good things that I was made to celebrate.

So, I'm asking myself, how well do I celebrate good things--like really, guilt-free, all-out celebrate them? I think God desires a lot more party in my heart.

photo credit
In reading through the Bible in a year five years, I recently came to 1 Kings 8 about Solomon dedicating the temple he built for God. After 40 years in the desert and many more decades of uncertainty with Saul's rivalry with David, and 14 years building and furnishing the temple, the Israelites seem to arrive at a season of peace and goodness that they'd been longing for. They were obedient, God was dwelling among them, and they'd built a beautiful temple for His Name. And after all those years? They celebrated. For TWO WEEKS. They sacrificed tens of thousands of animals in His honor--so many I can't even wrap my head around it. Solomon prayed with hands outstretched to heaven--the very posture of his body reflecting freedom and openness. And after two weeks, Solomon sent everyone home.

I'm wondering what it would look like for me (or you?) to celebrate well. For many of us, everything isn't good and just how we want it. Lots of expectations are unmet and people and circumstances aren't what we want them to be. But in those moments when everything (or even a few things) in our pictures of how life should look is looking pretty darn good, how are we celebrating? Are we celebrating at all? I want to make my life one of praise, where even a hot cup of coffee is an opportunity to speak highly of Him. (And a two-week party wouldn't be bad either.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

A word about our Christmas card

I thought our Christmas card was okay until I got everyone else's in the mail and saw their professional photos on Facebook...and until ours came to our door last week. 

There are too many words.
The pictures are too small.
The layout is busy. 
All pictures were taken on my phone. 
And there is zero color coordination. 
Let's just say it didn't come out like I thought it would.

But they'll be in the mail soon and in your trashcans soon after, and this is real life over here, captured in a far from perfect Christmas card. At least I avoided typos (I think). We love you so much that we're going to send you one anyway. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three Things Thursday

photo credit
Thing One: Temptation
If you're really my friend, you'll buy me ridiculous amounts of Bark Thins (Dark Chocolate Pretzel--with Sea Salt). Actually, if you're my friend you will NOT buy me these because I will absolutely eat every last one of them. In a day.  They should just get it over with and call it crack. Hoping my grandmother hates them so I can eat the bag I bought her as part of her Christmas gift. Truth. Oh, and it's Fair Trade so it's clearly guilt-free (just don't read the label).

Thing Two: Victory!
The newly-three-year-old of the house is officially potty trained! His idea + Cars undies (or "fundies," as we call them) + Bribery + A grand prize trip to visit his favorite cousin = Done in a under a month. Whew. You're welcome, landfill. We're filling you up at half the rate.

Thing Three: The only two words you need to know.
The one-year-old now knows the only two words you really need to know in life: "No!" and "Cookie!"

Monday, December 8, 2014

On Advent and suffering and hope

Advent. It's a season of slowing--originally slowing in order to connect to our longings--those unmet-in-this-world desires. It's also a season of anticipating a hope that answers those longings. 
photo credit

David's Psalm in 2 Samuel 22 describes God as His deliverer, rock, refuge, horn of salvation, shield, stronghold, and Savior. In His might and delight, God rescued David again and again from the hands of the giants living in Midian. I love those qualities of God--deeply love them. I've experienced them, so they carry weight and meaning for me.

But I'm also struggling with these attributes of God. "He rescued me from my powerful enemy" and "God saves the humble." Part of me nods--yes, yes. But there's this other part grappling with all the godly, humble people I know who haven't been saved or rescued from their enemies. They've died of cancer. They've lost children. They continue to struggle with alcoholism. Their husbands have cheated. They've lost their jobs. And like Mary and Martha after their brother died, I'm asking, "Lord, where were you? Why didn't you come?" And I wonder about a larger, global suffering--how and why God allows beheadings, rape, disease, torture, and starvation. How does that jive with His character that David describes?

I don't have a lot of answers. Many days it feels like God has turned a blind eye and abandoned me (or the world) in my suffering. But I do know a few things. I know Mary and Martha didn't know the whole story, and I don't either. I know that the existence of suffering doesn't negate God's character as our good, kind Rescuer. And if suffering didn't exist, would I really long for Heaven? Would I really need Jesus at all or commune with Him deeply? Could it be that suffering draws us into Him in a way nothing else could?

I don't often understand the story He's writing. It's costly and messy and confusing. Many of Jesus' disciples felt the same way: "On hearing [Jesus' teaching on communion], many of His disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'" Jesus then asks Peter if he wants to leave too and Peter replies, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:60, 68). 

So many questions are unanswered for me about Jesus. But like Peter, who else would I go to? He alone gives words of eternal life, and there's hope there in the darkness.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Children's Advent Devotional

I'm still getting my "I'm-back-into-blogging" feet under me. Some days it feels like I'm dragging my feet, and other days it's like my feet are dragging me. Either way, I've been doing the usual: seeing family, cleaning poop off the wall, reading, overseeing toddler painting sessions and one-year-old climbing obsessions, and getting wrapped up in the Christmas spirit (pardon the pun...I couldn't resist).

photo credit
Speaking of Christmas spirit, I came across a children's Advent devotional put out by Focus on the Family that I highly recommend--short, scripture-based, interactive, and true to Advent. Now, before you go thinking that I'm that put-together mom who has Advent activities for her kids, please know that this one was started three days late, and particularly drew me in because it was FREE and e.a.s.y. Love those. There's no do-it-yourself about this, no Pintrest-fail moment you're going to feel. You literally print out a poster, tape it together, print out characters for each day to put on said poster, and print out the devotionals (or to save paper, just bookmark it and read it from you computer if your littles can keep their hands off the keyboard for three minutes). I loved it so much that I sent the hubs to laminate the poster (printed on card stock) and characters so we can use it again next year. (Full disclosure: I also needed a break from the one-year-old who's decided that getting into things she shouldn't is lots of fun, so I sent her with him too, as a "Daddy-daughter date," of course.) The devotional also has ideas for younger and older kids, so it works well for a variety of ages. Click here for the link.

What Advent resources do you like to use with your kiddos?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Listening and asking: the messy business of being intentional in conversations

photo credit
"So, how are you doing, like spiritually and emotionally?" my sister-in-law asked after an hour and a half of pleasant (small talk) conversation.

The tears spilled before my words, not because I was that emotionally or spiritually undone, but because my heart had been gasping for connection like that and I didn't even know it. Before either of us said another word, I felt like I could breathe again.

Another friend recently blogged about asking questions in conversations like "What do you want to achieve?" rather than getting stuck on piddly talk of work or food or the scoop on an acquaintance. What made her suggestion even better was the challenge to help the person achieve their goal in tangible ways. But often "we're afraid of finding out a friend's goals because that opens up the dialogue around our own hopes and dreams that we are currently avoiding."

And that's the thing: intentionality in relationships is messy. costly. uncomfortable. vulnerable.

I love people who are willing to take that relational risk, though. Sure, sometimes usually an hour (or year?) of small talk needs to happen before the deeper questions can come comfortably, but we do ourselves and others a disservice if they never come. Intentional listeners and questioners ask things like:

Tell me more about why you enjoy that so much.
What do you mean by _____?
How did you come to that conclusion?
Why do you think you reacted that way?
What makes this situation particularly hard for you?
How do you typically handle situations like this?

You might know someone who says things like that. If so, spend as much time with them as possible. With any luck, you'll be among them. I know I want to be.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I'm back! Why I'm blogging again (for now)

Sometimes you need a break from the things you love to remind yourself why you love them, to have enough space to miss it. The words were becoming a burden, not the life-giving thing it was meant to be. And I know writing is a discipline and I'm going to have days when I don't feel it, but this was different. This was a season of not feeling it. So I took a break. And can I just tell you? It was one of the best decisions I've ever made as a writer.

Because now the words are back. I sense them. They're begging to come out of me and I'm willing and wanting to go through the labor of writing to birth them into the world. I'm not sure what this will look like or how often I'll be writing, but this blog's not dead, y'all. Not yet, anyway.

So, thanks for sticking it out with me and graciously giving me space to let the words rest a while. More to come!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Three Things Thursday

Thing One: Recent Moo conversation
ME: Moo, God made you a really good runner.
MOO: Yeah, He made me a good "wunner" and Noodle a good "swower" (thrower).
ME: That's right. He did make you guys good at those things. What did God make Mommy good at?
MOO: (Almost without missing a beat) Getting frustrated.

We both had a good laugh over that one!

Thing Two: Mattress update
You may recall the shenanigans we went through trying to pick out a new mattress before landing on the Saatva brand. First, the customer service was phenomenal. Second, however, I'll say that we are in the process of exchanging our mattress for their softest model. They only offer three mattresses: firm, medium (most popular and what we went with), and soft. Okay, they actually have much snappier names than that, but you get the idea. The website does a great job of describing each one and recommending certain ones for certain sleepers, but we found the medium mattress to be far too firm. Like I'm not sleeping as well as I want to kind of firm. Hoping the softer one does the trick because the mattress itself is really well made and would be comfortable if I were a back sleeper.

Thing Three: Warning: this blog might be over soon
Are blogs a thing of the past? Or are my former-blogger friends (and me) just busier with kids/life than we used to be? Because they seem like they're a thing of the past. Or maybe Instagram has killed them with the unopposed weapon of the single-picture update (no words necessary). I don't know. What I do know is that I started this thing to give myself accountability and a platform to write regularly. And I still want that. But I'm wondering if this format is working, if it's relevant, if I even want to write here anymore.

Is this a thing bloggers do? Do we threaten to run away with our backpacks and then come back in three hours because we're hungry? Again, I'm not sure. There's just a little voice in me saying, "This is it. The time has come. This thing is on it's way out." And I wanted  you to know.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

12 things NOT to post on Facebook


photo credit
I'munnah go ahead and say it: this post may step on your toes, so if it's a little too snarky for your taste, feel free to unfriend me. I can take it.
  1. What you ate. If you're giving me a recipe idea for this week, great. But if you're telling me how healthy/beautiful/perfectly-plated/colorful/browned-to-perfection your meal is, please stop. I don't need to be reminded of how I don't measure up. And seriously, no one cares what you're eating. Just eat it and enjoy it with whoever you're with. 
  2. How you scored on a buzz feed quiz. The quizzes themselves are kind of a fun escape, but if we're calling it what it is (a waste of time), then let's not waste other people's time telling them how we scored on our waste of time. 
  3. What percentage your children's height and weight are. Save it for the grandparents. We love your kids, we do, but that information just isn't for your 465 Facebook friends.
  4. How great your workout was. Why are you telling me this? All it accomplishes is a guilt trip for me and a big digital pat on the back for you. Working out is great; I'm just not sure why I need to know that you're doing it. Check those motives, people.
  5. Along the same lines, how great your green smoothie was. Again, I don't need to be reminded how I'm not measuring up. I'm doing just fine with insecurity all by myself. 
  6. Pictures of your vacation while you're on vacation. First, you're screaming "Come rob my house!" all over the World Wide Web. Second, just be present on your vacation with your friends or family. Every special moment doesn't have to be documented, and just because it's documented, it doesn't have to be shared with the Facebook world. 
  7. Selfies. Please stop taking 18 pictures of yourself to find the perfect angle. Or one picture of yourself, for that matter. It sends a narcissistic message, so just stop it. 
  8. Rants. There's a place for these and it's not Facebook. No one has ever convinced me of or compelled me to do anything because of their Facebook rant. In fact, I usually scroll on by when I get to that first sentence: "I usually don't say this sort of thing on Facebook, but..."
  9. Vague/cryptic statements that beg a question (For example, "Ready for this all to be over" or "Wish I'd had a heads up about that one.") Don't be that person. No one wants the needy friend, and statements like that make you needy and confusing and not in a good way (if there even is a good way). Just say it. Or don't. But don't make me guess. 
  10. Too many pictures of your kids. More than one a day is absolutely 100% too much. One word for those of you who just can't help yourself: Instagram. Again, I love your kids, and they're super cute, but I don't need to see more pictures of them than I see of my own.
  11. The whine. It's been a bad day? Everyone's day is kinda hard, so unless yours involves something actually serious, please just tell some of your close friends and move on.
  12. The unremarkable detail/story. I'm genuinely confused as to why I need to know that you're at the grocery store or that you ran into your microwave door this morning. Really, I don't get it.
photo credit

If you haven't already unfriended me, you maybe thinking, "Yikes! I shouldn't post anything on Facebook ever again lest I conjure the wrath of snarks like her!" Take heart. Here's a list of some completely acceptable posts:
  • Legitimately funny stories or videos.
  • Interesting and intelligent articles/blogs.
  • Pictures of your kids/pets in moderation.
  • A powerful quote.
  • A practical question you need answered.
  • A product that you're selling. (This one is controversial, but I'm okay with it.)
  • A reminder about an upcoming event. (Like you're in charge of the nonprofit fun run, not your  kid's half-birthday party.)
The bottom line: let's stop documenting and sharing all our moments and just live a little. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Newsflash: I'm not in control.

photo credit
It's 6 a.m. and I already feel like I've lived a day. Between the (rare) nap I took yesterday and the weird stomach pain I had most of the night, sleep was fitful, short, and frustrating. And the kids, who've slept until 6:30 most mornings this week (and should have slept in this morning because they didn't nap yesterday and went to bed late) are both awake and I just want to drink my coffee hot and spend time reading scripture--something I feel like I deserve since I still got up with my 5:40 alarm even though I barely slept. Terrible theology, I know. I've turned my time with Jesus in the mornings into an idol. I have a complaining, entitled heart. The whole day feels defeated before the sun is even up, and there's one big, false assumption that if I could just do A and B, then C will result. I'll be in control; I won't have to trust.

So, here are truths I'm putting before me today. Maybe you need them too?

  • You are not in control. Today isn't about you feeling accomplished, rested, or competent; it's about God and who He is, what He's promised, and what He's up to. Lean into Him.
  • You may feel empty today--good! You have surplus to give out of--surplus that comes from unending grace, not your own storehouses.
  • The day feels defeated already--good! Lay down your weapons. Die to that woman who has to have it all together. Boast in your weaknesses because it's then that He is strong.
  • Fight to rest today. Quit trying so hard. Quit trying at all. Take up His light yoke and shrug off worry--you aren't in control anyway.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

No Small Moments

I've been reading through the Bible for, like, four years. Maybe five. And I'm only in 1 Samuel. Clearly, I've taken a few detours along the way.

The story of Saul becoming the first king of Israel isn't new to me, but when I read how Saul was called to kingship by the prophet Samuel, I seriously didn't remember the details. Do you know how many weird, insignificant things had to happen for Saul to run into Samuel and for Samuel to name Saul king? A lot. Here's a brief list:

  • Saul's father's donkeys went missing.
  • Of all his sons, Saul's father asked Saul to go look for the donkeys.
  • Saul walked all over tarnation to find those donkeys and couldn't find them.
  • Just when he was about to give up, his servant happened to know that a "seer" (Samuel) was in a nearby village and suggested they go see him about the donkey situation.
  • Saul says they need to pay the seer but they don't have money. Oh wait. The servant has some. Perfect.
  • On their way to the village, Saul and his servant happen to walk by some girls going to draw water, and ask them if they've seen the seer. They have.
  • Samuel had just arrived in their town that day
  • Samuel was on his way to a banquet, and the people wouldn't eat until he was arrived. If Saul found him too late, he'd have to wait a while to talk with him. 
  • Saul finds Samuel in time (and God had told Samuel the day before that he would meet Saul at that place and time...the banquet was actually for him, even though he hadn't shown up yet).
Y'all, a donkey hunt is the way God chose to anoint the first king over His people. Every one of those details individually is insignificant; you wouldn't think twice about the fact that a servant has a little change in his pocket. Girls going to get water in the middle of the day? Okay, yeah, that happens. But without each of those details working in concert, Saul may not have been the king of Israel. 

This isn't an isolated story. It's all over the Bible, all over our lives. And it's not a new story. I know all about "divine appointments" and God's sovereignty. But it hit me freshly this week, and I needed the reminder that I'm part of an infinitely bigger story than I can sense or see, that my moments matter.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mattress buying 101

The mattress we sleep on is at least 20 years old, and while it's not necessarily causing us any discomfort, it just seems like it's time. I mean, who really knows the lifespan of a mattress anyway? One website told me "2-20"years. Thanks for that. My arbitrary rule (before doing any research) for determining whether not we needed a new one: take the average number of years you're supposed to replace mattresses and double it. If ours was significantly over that, it'd be time.

Turns out, the average mattress lifespan is 6-8 years (according to the people who want to sell you mattresses), so taking the higher end of that and doubling it, our mattress is way past its prime. My guess is that, while we're aren't particularly uncomfortable on our mattress, any new mattress would feel better; we don't know what we're missing.
photo credit

Thus, we began our research phase. We watched a short Consumer Reports video, read multiple online reviews and explanations, and even went into a couple of mattress stores to lie down on plush mattress after plush mattress. The verdict? It's a crapshoot. Some say coils are just as good as foam; others say foam is the way of the future and the best out there. Some are advertised as "firm" but really aren't and others are advertised as soft but are firm. There are no standard terms in the mattress biz, so two mattresses can sound completely different even though they're essentially the same mattress, which confuses the heck out of us consumers who are just trying to get a good night's sleep.

And then there are the names for the mattresses.
  • "Beautyrest Recharge Palisades Court Luxury Firm Pillowtop"
  • "Serta IComfort Brilliant EFX Luxury Plush Mattress"
  • And other variations including words like "Rhapsody, "Cloud," "Symphony," "Majesty," "Crystal City," "Lily-Rose," and "Lux Estate." 
If they're trying to do the whole "Use-wealthy-words-so-I-believe-this-mattress-will-make-me-feel-rich-and-important," then they've used the wrong ad technique on me. I can't even make it through the mouthful of adjectives. Sheesh. 

The bottom line: No one really knows host to decipher the mysteries of the mattress world, so lie down on several and pick the one you like. End of story. 

Okay, a few addendums (helpful hints we picked up along the way):
  1. Never pay more than 50% of the original price. Mattresses go on sale all the time, so wait for the sale.
  2. Unless a video game character jumped out of the TV and slashed your mattress to pieces with a machete, mattress buying isn't an emergency. Wait for the deal.
  3. Check return policies carefully; mattresses can be a pain to return.
Fast forward a week and a half of researching (many thanks to Phil, who made this new mattress his mission). WE'VE FOUND A MATTRESS! It's a Saatva mattress and is actually online. Sounds shady, I know. I mean, we haven't even tried it out. BUT. Just watch this video and tell me you don't love it. It's a four-year-old mom and pop company. It's rated "best mattress" in Google searches and multiple independent mattress review sites. It has an incredible (unheard of, really) return policy. There's almost 100% customer satisfaction. It makes mattress buying easy and straightforward (thank you!). It's half the cost of comparable mattresses you can buy in a store because it cuts out a lot of middle men.

The mattress should be at our house in the next 8-18 days, so I'll let you know the official verdict, but we're ready to sleep on clouds! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book reviews

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
photo credit
This is one of those hot books that I felt like I should read because everyone I knew said I needed to read it. Then I read it, and now I'm telling you that you need to read it. Seriously good. It's like a history lesson, a sociology lecture, and an interesting writer all smashed into each other at the same time and this is what came of it. Gladwell traces patterns of success in various "successful" groups of people--hockey players, geniuses, billionaires. His conclusions are unexpected and turn how you think about success--and how people get there--on its head. I felt more informed and thoughtful after reading it, and the last chapter on education was particularly interesting to me as a teacher. Highly recommend!

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
photo credit
Technically, I'm not finished with this one, but I'd pretty much recommend any of this guy's books before I even opened them, and I'm almost finished. I haven't read a marriage book in years--probably since I got married nearly a decade ago--but our small group at church decided to go through this book together, and it's been challenging and encouraging all at once. A must-read for pretty much anyone--married, single, thinking about marriage. It's full of substance, light on fluff, and while Keller tends to write fairly heady books, he includes enough practical and personal examples that it's understandable and meaningful and so very rooted in the gospel. Highly recommend!

It Looked Different on the Model by Laurie Notaro
photo credit
Nothing comes close to the humor in Mindy Kaling's Everyone's Hanging Out Without Me, but I was needing a light read for our trip to Canada and came across this title while perusing a New York Times Bestseller list. And I loved it. It's hard to get me to laugh out loud when reading, but I did on several occasions in this book, much to the amusement of my plane-mates. The book is nonfiction and each chapter is a stand-alone piece about her life, which made it easy to put down and pick up as needed, but also easy to read "just one more chapter" and finish the whole thing in a few hours. (Disclaimer: total ladies book--sorry, men!) A great little read!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Finish

(part of my Five Minute Friday writing challenge)

I bow down to the word "finish." It's in big shiny capital letters--FINISH--in my brain right next to "I love my children fiercely" and "God is faithful" and "Creation is stunning" and "Let's take care of the widows and orphans." It's there like it belongs, looking around saying, "What, guys? I'm one of you. I matter. Quit looking at me that way."
photo credit

If I'm honest, I live most of my days to cross finish lines. Good days are marked by how much I've accomplished, by how much is behind me rather than here, now. I throw these finishes into a pack and show it off (to myself?) at the end of the day as a great and worthy prize. See what you've done! You're really something. And there it is: who I am is suddenly tied up in what I've done. The bigger the pack, the better.

And then a funny thing happens. I put the pack on--proudly, I might add--and am crushed by its weight; it's too much.

That's the moment when I get it: if who I am is tied to what I've done, then I'll be utterly unable to carry that responsibility. I'll always feel guilty that I haven't accomplished more. I'll keep beating myself up for not being enough, doing enough, wanting enough, trying enough. I'll make new finish after new finish so that I feel better about myself. I'll never ever ever finish with all the finishing.

When I can stop long enough to remember that, I get to that beautifully hard place of giving up and giving in to something better. I get to a place of dependence and desperation that I was made for. I get to lay down my heavy load and exchange it for one that's easy and light. Who I am is tied to Whose I am rather than what I do, and there's deep rest there. It is finished.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Three Things Thursday

Thing One: A first--house cleaning
Anyone who's ever lived with me would agree that I'm pretty neat and clean. But having kids sort of redefines "clean," if you know what I mean. Like my house is never all clean at the same time anymore. And wiping down the blinds, washing windows, and vacuuming under the furniture? I've pretty much given that up entirely. I chalk it up to "being human." BUT. There's nothing like having company over to get your butt in gear on these kinds of things, so I hired a couple of ladies to deep clean my house before a baby shower I was hosting (I figured it'd be the only way to have my whole house clean at once, since less than an hour before everyone came, my toddler was crushing his pancake into the floor and the toy box had inexplicably exploded in our living room).

Y'all. Worth. Every. Penny. They spent nearly SEVEN hours in my little house. The canisters that hold my flour and sugar looked brand new. My fridge was cleaned out. I actually felt good about my kids eating off the floor. The inside of my freaking fire place was shining. Best cleaning job I've ever seen and now the latest addition to my yearly budget.

Thing Two: Two Moo conversations
ME: Do you want to go on a walk, bud?
MOO: No, want to go on an adventure.
(So, naturally, we went on an adventure).

As we drive by McDonald's: "Mommy, there's Old MacDonald's!"

Thing Three: small changes, bit impact
After four years of living in this house, nearly a decade of marriage, and two kids (and their toys), it was time to get rid of some college furniture and make a few changes so that our living room a) looked like adults lived it in, and b) didn't look like a toy box had just vomited everywhere. So, a few lamps flanking the sofa and pieces of storage furniture later, I'm really pleased with how such small changes really make the room more inviting. I even had people the baby shower (see #1) compliment my decorating, which was hilarious to me since I've always said that I missed that expected part of womanhood (decorating). My secret: make friends with people who are good at it, steal ideas from their house, and ask them lots of questions when they're at your house. Apparently I can be that person for you now. (But not really.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vancouver

It's been five years since Phil and I went on a trip together, so when we had the opportunity to travel to Vancouver to celebrate his dad's Lifetime Achievement Award with his company, we jumped on it. The trip was entirely impractical--two days of traveling for two days of being there--but worth every inconvenience and cost.

What made it worth it:
The look on Phil's dad's face when he saw us. He thought it was just another company trip and had no idea that his sons were flying out to surprise him. When we got there, it was dinnertime and we were going to put our bags in the room, freshen up, and surprise him at dinner. But when the elevator doors opened, he was stepping out, so after a "What are you doing here?" and a wink from us, he was beside himself excited and emotional. Smiles. Tears. Hugs all around. After all the years he's supported and encouraged and gone out of his way for us, we loved every second of giving that to him. The scales will never be balanced, but we hope he felt an inkling of the gratitude for and pride we take in him.

The time away together, uninterrupted. It took a little while to get used to not having kids, and of course we missed them terribly, but it didn't take too long to adjust to life without them either. After all, we've had many more years without them than with them. With the exception of a mild panic attack on the plane (see picture of what I envisioned being my impending doom), we soaked up our time together. I read two books and two magazines, we went on a date, we (tried) to sleep in, we drank our coffee hot, we walked and talked and spent lots of time with other adults. It was glorious. And the reunion with our kids was pretty awesome too.


The beauty of Vancouver. We packed in the activity in our short 48 hours in Vancouver. The highlight by far was hiking Grouse Grind--1.8 grueling miles of steps with one breathtaking view at the summit. Many thanks to Phil and his brother for making interesting conversation to keep my mind off my burning thighs.
photo credit
We also biked the seawall, which really did look like this picture for 9+ miles. Blue water, blue sky, distant mountains, city skyline, green space. All in one. About as close as I get to Heaven on Earth, I think.
photo credit (pardon the lady in purple's backside)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Exhale

photo credit
So I don't really know if this is going to be a thing. I'm not that great at sticking to resolutions and new kicks and all that, but I came across this writing flash mob that sounds fun and interesting and challenging and I want to try it.

Here's the idea: write for 5 minutes, unedited, on the prompt found at Lisa-Jo Baker's Surprised by Motherhood blog. Post to your blog, link on her blog, and get feedback from a fellow contributor.


So, here's my first (only?) FMF (what all the cool regulars call it):

Prompt: EXHALE


Breathe out.

You know those days with the little people when you’ve done puzzles and played outside and done fireworks at 7:30 a.m. and gone on a walk and cooked and played cars and looked at far away places on maps and read books and played cars again and pulled out all the stickers and gone to the park and changed clothes twice because someone peed out their diaper (again) and somehow it’s still not even dinnertime? That was today.

Breathe out.

Those days when your brain is 20 steps ahead and you’re fighting to be present present present. When you know you need to

stop
rest
breathe


But you don’t. You frenzy, move, stress out, get impatient, rub your hands down your face and have to walk to the other room to count to ten because MY GOODNESS did he just do that again?

Breathe out, girl.

Exhale.

Push away from all that.

Breathe.

Be still.

Be.

Be.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Getting reacquainted

*I started this post back in February and just realized that I'd never finished it!

The late afternoon sun casts a glow on our faces as we sit near the place we sat ten years ago. A decade. The original coffee shop has closed, but this one's more quaint, just down the street, and a little more hipster than we can pull off. We sit down anyway and share a latte because we're still too cheap to buy our own and too old to handle the caffeine so late (even decaf). I don't put up a fuss when he drinks more than his share, but also notice him making efforts to ration himself, accommodating my leisurely pace when it comes to anything culinary.

I steal a glance across the blue and white mosaic table and smile. Ten years of looking into those eyes and it's still hard to look away sometimes. But just to bait him, I look out the window at the shop next door. 

"I brought something I think you'll like."

His eyes flicker, curious; we no longer have to use words.

But words are what I have. Lots of them. Pages and pages of them. From ten years ago, when he first worked up the courage to ask me out. I pull the marble black and white journal from my purse, and what surprises me most is how it feels in my hand when its closed--how it's warped and thick, like it ate a little too much for dinner, how much life bulges under the cover. It's old and familiar all at the same time, and what I don't realize is that I'm about to reacquaint myself with myself as I read pages aloud.

We read and read and laugh and laugh. About how we've changed. About how right or wrong our early impressions were. About our naivety. It's an evening of remembering, and those are important.

As I read, I find a young woman who's me but not me; I know her and I don't. I'm fascinated by her and learn from her but am so glad I'm not her anymore. I love being a decade in, having nestled into life and mess and adventure and humdrum with this man. To live long enough to have a little perspective and to have the word "mature" mean more about my age than my behavior.

I lean over to put the journal back in my purse, noting briefly--and almost lovingly--the soft curves of my middle that gave life to our two children, and I don't think my decade-ago self could have ever imagined this--all of this that isn't perfect and isn't easy but is good and deep and unexpected and wonderful and ours until death do us part. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Kickin' it old school

photo credit
You know that ebb and flow of life? The yin and yang of it? How one decade sugar is bad because of calories and the next it's good because it's natural? Or how decades ago putting babies to sleep on their tummies was thought to be soothing and now it's a hazard? Or how Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest was once a transforming way to connect and now people are deleting their accounts left and right because it takes up too much of their time or they're comparing themselves to others too much or they just want some more privacy? That. 

I've been thinking about that last one, about how much of my life I spend trying to document life instead of just living it. How I'm looking at my kids through a screen so that I can preserve their little faces and voices. I'm even thinking about why I take those pictures and videos: is it for them and for our family, or is it to show the world and get some likes on Facebook? And does the world really need pictures of my kids? And do my kids really want their faces strewn all over who knows where?

What would happen if I went a little old school, if I got off the grid a little? What would happen if I were more present--turned off the screens, quit looking at what other people were up to, remembered birthdays because I'd written them down instead of having a Facebook reminder, called or emailed people instead of relying on status updates for news, enjoyed a cute moment with my kids without having to capture it? Took a break from TV for a while?

I know I'm just in an ebb phase and that social media isn't only evil all the time. I'm not going to delete my Facebook account or quit blogging, and I'm not even on a screen all that often to begin with. BUT. I'm going to scale back. An article in World Magazine recently stated, "Living life online...can intrude on our private disciplines" and my heart nodded. Yes. Yes. I'm missing the things that make my heart alive: reading, writing, thinking, praying, letter-writing. And I always say I don't have time, but I do; I just need to create space for it.

So I'm going to watch fewer shows on Hulu and pick up some books in that stack that's been piling up by my bed. I probably won't post any more pictures of my kids on Facebook (for their sakes and mine...and maybe yours). I won't update my status on Facebook unless it's useful (like, can you please help me find a Lightning McQueen anything because my son is obsessed? That kind of thing). I'm making an effort to put down my phone more. Like in another room. I think it will make me a more present mom. I probably won't write about my kids as much on here either; some things are just for them and need to stay that way.

One thing I won't do for now, though, is quit blogging. I started it years ago to keep myself writing, and  it still serves that purpose and gives me a platform to do something I was created to do. I do want to work more on my writing here, making it tight and interesting and honest.

Girls' Night Out

After three and a half months of Phil working and studying for boards (read: I was a single mom), Phil graciously offered to watch the kids one weekend for me while I had a girls weekend. Please and thank you, Hubs.

While he offered an entire weekend, I only took him up on 24 hours (nursing/pumping/kid who wasn't sleeping well and all), but it was glorious. My friend Christen (5K Christen) and I stayed at Embassy Suites in town, since the trip was so short and we didn't want to waste precious time in the car. We made those 24 hours count, though, by:
  • Getting pedicures
  • Having (free!) drinks in the hotel lobby
  • Eating sushi (my favorite) with another friend at a new restaurant (love trying new places)
  • Watching the last two episodes of Grey's Anatomy for this season (Christen and I have watched that show loyally together for years)
  • Sleeping over NINE hours uninterrupted (Christen had to wake me up so we wouldn't miss the free made-to-order omelet breakfast)
  • Eating a delicious and large and someone-else-cooked-it breakfast
  • Shopping for and finding a dress I needed for an upcoming event
So, yeah. It was awesome and just what I needed. I think it should be an annual thing. You know, once you do something fun once you ought to make it a tradition! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Three Things Thursday

Thing One: I survived VBS
So, yeah. I went into VBS this year kicking and screaming with a touch of pride that they're so lucky to have me. Yucky heart stuff. But but but. While I'm glad it's over, I'm also glad I did it. I forget how much I love teaching and how much I love teaching kids and how much I love teaching kids about Jesus. In the midst of the controlled chaos of teaching a room of preschoolers whose attention span was the size of a pea, there was something palpably eternal about it all. Before VBS began, I asked some of you to remind me never to sign up for it again (especially when it starts the day after we get back from a 10-day vacation where no one sleeps enough), but now I'm changing my tune. Next year, when I'm being a selfish, fit-prone kid about this again, please remind me that whatever sacrifices it may cost, it will be worth it because eternal things hang in the balance.

Thing Two: Planet Fitness
photo credit

We recently switched our membership to Planet Fitness because they just opened one near our house and it's freaking ten dollars a month and WOAAAH I love this place. While the cost got me in (and the fact that they're a sponsor for one of my all-time favorite shows, The Biggest Loser), here are a few other things that will keep me going back:

  • They have so much equipment that you can always find an open machine.
  • They have free personal training offered most days of the week.
  • They have trainers patrolling the gym to show you how to use the equipment/do the circuit/lift correctly, which eliminates that I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing dilemma I usually get when going to a new gym.
  • They play great music (even though I usually only listen to my own).
  • Parking is free and close and there are plenty of spots.
  • They pride themselves on "no gymtimidation," and it's true. The people there aren't body builders; they're just regular people trying to work out.
  • We're not paying for perks we don't use. Our old gym was awesome and had a pool, racquetball courts, basketball gyms, a running track, and all kinds of classes. The problem was that all we had time to do and really wanted to do was lift and/or run and head home, so this is a perfect fit for us.

Thing Three: Must-make recipe--Blueberry Crumb Cake
photo credit

It's a good thing I've been going to the gym more often because this recipe isn't exactly healthy, but oh. my. goodness. It's good, y'all. I had to freeze half of it so I wouldn't consume it all in one week--great for a crowd. Of course, because it's a Pioneer Woman recipe and those are always delicious. Another perk: it can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, snack, or dessert! Yesssss! Okay, okay. Click HERE for the recipe already.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Three Things Thursday

I'm thinking of renaming my blog to "Three Things Thursday" because that's apparently the only posts I write anymore. My life has turned into one giant bullet-pointed list. Alas. Here are this week's three things:

Thing one: 5K update
Remember that 5K I ambitiously signed up for and barely trained for? Yep. It happened. I definitely made my goal of running the whole time and almost made my toes-crossed goal of running it in under 30 minutes--just seconds off. And, I have to admit (I can't believe I'm saying this)...I sort of loved it. I got that runner's high everyone talks about and was saying things like, "That wasn't so bad," and "I'd totally do that again." Want to guess how many times I've run since then? Once. My theory is that I run more when I've paid money and have to train for something rather than just running on my own. So, next time (and there will be a next time, especially if I stay friends with my runner-buddy Christen), I think I should sign up for a 10K or something that requires training so I'll actually get my butt in gear. Don't worry--I'm not getting all marathon-girl on you. Keep in mind I'm the one who's run once in the last three weeks.

Thing two: Firsts for Moo


Haircut: Thanks to the magical powers of youtube, I've been cutting Moo's hair at home since he was nine months old, and it usually looked passable. However, after a few cuts that left something to be desired and the realization that professionals are faster and better at it than me, the boy got his first real haircut. Phil took him with the promise of a consolation cupcake afterwards. To be fair, we didn't do the best job preparing him for what it would be like, so he was a teensy bit traumatized, but five minutes later his hair was cut and he was salivating over the promised overpriced cupcake, so I'm okay with a few tears. By the time he got home, he was all smiles about it!

Swimming lessons: My son has that glorious combination of loving water and knowing no fear, so we put him in swimming lessons for part of the summer. He loves it!

Dentist: This was the most difficult "first" because he didn't want to lie down in the chair. I guess since we brush his teeth while he's standing up, the feeling of lying down with something in his mouth sounded gaggy or something. I don't know. But I do know that we have a fabulous pediatric dentist, that he loved when the spin brush "tickled his teeth," and that the bouncy ball and itty bitty dinosaur he got as "prizes" (a.k.a. we will lose them in .02 seconds) made up for any discomfort.

Thing three: Post-baby bathing suit
Sorry, guys. I like to keep it real on here, but I'm not posting pictures of myself in a bathing suit. Just not gonna happen. As I tried on past bathing suits, I realized a few things:

  1. I need to quit buying cheap bathing suits; they stretch out after one season. 
  2. I'm okay with it, but my body isn't what it used to be; I now need ruching, patterns, and full coverage, y'all. Totally get why my mom wore the suits she did when I was growing up. Judgy days over.
  3. And by full coverage, I mean on top too; I forget that nursing boobs just can't fit into pre-baby tops. 
So I went on a long online hunt for The Perfect Post-baby Bathing Suit and FOUND ONE. It took forever, but I ordered it from Macy's and am really, really happy with it. I had to pay more than I wanted to, but since I'm trying to learn from #1 above, I'm seeing it as an investment. P.S. It's on sale for 15% off right now. You're welcome. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day: Being Hers

I remember her hands, speckled with freckles and age spots, soft but strong, dry in places from all the washing and working, nails that angled up just so, painted a sensible pink. And I remember sitting next to her at her least favorite place on earth: the beach.

We sat where the water laps the shore, wearing matching floral Lands End bathing suits, and even though I was old enough for matching bathing suits to deserve a good eye roll, I liked being hers, so I tolerated it. I'd taken a break from boogie boarding with my dad and three brothers and she was making the best of having to be hot and sticky and "sandy in places I didn't even know I had."

She grew up in Florida, so she'd done the beach. A lot. It didn't feel like vacation to her as much as a drag back into an earlier version of "normal." Nothing to see here; move along. But she went with us every year just the same, which I now realize was about the most loving thing she could do. And she put on a bathing suit, which she hates, and she sat in the heat, which she hates, and she tolerated it all. For us. And I knew that.

We Wharton Women had to stick together, so I walked over and sat by her, and I'm sure we talked some and I soaked it in because alone time with my mom in a family of six was pretty hard to come by, but what I really remember was a quiet moment when I studied her hands while she looked at the ocean. I'd seen them for a decade but had never really taken them in, and the veins and scars and spots captured me. They're lovely, I thought as I wondered what my hands would look like when I was a mother.
~
The other week my son poked my hand with his pudgy finger and said, "Beeeeep!" because, of course, one of my sun spots was a button. I smiled--not just amused by his comment, but because my hands, I realized, are my mother's--freckled and worked and strong and storied. And while my nails are shorter than hers and never painted, I still have the hands I've wanted since I was ten years old.  Because I still like being hers, and she's so very, very lovely.

*Apparently we NEVER take pictures together because the one above is the best of three I found of us over the past nine years. You know it's bad when the "best" is a picture of yourself going home front the hospital 30 lbs. over your normal weight. Gonna work on getting the two of us captured a little more often (and flatteringly). 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Three Things Thursday: funny Moo edition

Funny Moo thing one:
Moo's first full-length movie, which he watched in 20 minute increments over several days, was the movie Cars. And he's obsessed. Every scenario he creates with his cars involves Lightning McQueen and Mater, and he goes around saying "Ka-chow!" So, the other week Noey had to get her six month shots, and on the way home Moo informed me that watching the Cars movie would make her feel better. Uh huh. I see what you did there, buddy.


Funny Moo thing two:
Speaking of cars, Moo and I had a lengthy conversation (like 10 minutes) the other week about how it is that a person gets to drive a car. He asked me if he could drive the steering wheel somewhere, so I explained that he had to have a driver's license and be 16, and I even showed him my driver's license, after which he said, "My have it?" Nope. No shortcuts to that little plastic piece of freedom. Let the record show, though, that he was ready to drive a car by himself at age two.

Funny Moo thing three:
During the tornado warning this past week, we went to our place of safety in our basement. Phil did an amazing job of setting up a cot surrounded by mattresses and getting all our emergency supplies together. When we had to wake up the kids, we told Moo that we were going on a Family Camping Adventure in the basement. You would have thought he was at Disney World. All he wanted to do the next day was play on the "bed in the basement" and talk about camping. Clearly, he wasn't traumatized by the storms, and I'm so grateful for that sweet innocence; not everyone was afforded that this week. (Excuse the picture quality; it was dark and I had to use a flash)

Funny Moo thing bonus:
There comes a day in every little boy's life when he wants his toenails painted. Moo saw my toenails painted and asked if he could have his painted, so I agreed. It's not permanent, so what's the harm? We started with red because I didn't have any manly colors, but quickly found some blue so Phil's manhood wouldn't be too bruised. We were getting family pictures later in the week, so I took off the nail polish and Moo lost it, y'all. It was like he was grieving. He kept looking down at his toes and crying all over again with the realization that the blue polish was gone. It was pretty hilarious. The only way I got him to stop crying was to let him watch Cars and remind him that we could paint them again after the pictures. So, if you see my son with blue toes all summer
, you now know why. Some battles just aren't worth fighting.

And so Noodle doesn't feel left out, here's a little snapshot of that chunky chica:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Seder Meal

photo credit
For the first time, Phil and I participated in a traditional Seder meal together on Maundy Thursday with a handful of friends from church. A Seder meal marks the beginning of the Jewish Passover (the meal Jesus ate in the upper room with his disciples the night he was arrested), but you certainly don't have to be Jewish to participate in it.

We ate what Jesus and His disciples ate. We said what Jesus and His disciples would have said. We did what people for over two centuries have done on that night. And it made Easter weekend so much more meditative and meaningful. I could (should?) write for a long time about my experience that night, but for now, here are a few highlights:

Savoring. Since the food eaten is small-portioned and symbolic, a seder meal is slow and purposeful. I particularly enjoyed tasting each bite and drink, thinking on it with the intensity and alertness of a food critic because I'm usually scarfing down whatever is quick and easy.

Remembering. The slow pace clears space for reflection and remembering, which is one of my favorite themes throughout the Bible. Remembering takes time and conscious effort and, yes, slowing down. For this I-don't-even-have-time-to-eat mama, the slowing was not just my favorite part; it was the most essential.

Experiencing the senses. The seder meal engages all the senses. Obviously, taste is used most, with the specific foods and wine to drink, but beyond that, the sight of the table set, candles lit, and friends gathered, the smell of lamb, the feel of breaking bread, and the sounds of singing and corporate readings elevate this meal to something extraordinary.

It's a family thing. The meal was intended for entire families to enjoy together, and parts of the meal are specifically designed for children, having them look around the house to find hidden objects and recite parts of the readings. I love this. I love that young children were trained in the traditions of their fathers and that families sat down to meals together.

Historical. People have eaten this meal and said these things for over two centuries. It's humbling to be a part of something that started long before I was alive and will finish when Jesus returns. Makes me feel appropriately small and simultaneously significant.

Bitter-sweet. The meal is a combination of sweet and bitter foods--a tangible reminder that life is a combination of sweet and bitter moments--moments that Jesus himself experienced. I like that this meal acknowledges the reality that tears and joy reside together this side of heaven.

Jesus symbolism everywhere. You can't miss the symbolism. The most poignant example for me: throughout the meal, guests each have four cups of wine, standing for freedom, deliverance, redemption, and thanksgiving. The one Jesus raised when he said, "Drink from this all of you"? The third one. And before that night, no one ever actually drank that cup, they just acknowledged it. Can you imagine how shocking Jesus' words were that night? Just wow.