Thursday, December 31, 2015

The resolution that could help us all in 2016

The disclaimer
You know when you haven't exercised in a while and you start back and
your heart rate's up just walking into the gym and
your body hurts after two minutes and
parts of you are jiggling in ways you've never felt before
and it's all so...discouraging?

That's my writing experience right now. I'm sucking some serious wind. But there's no time like the end of a year (or the beginning of one) to get me going, so if you can bear with some language flab, read on.

The article that started it all
Last week I read a fabulous NYTimes article by Tony Schwartz called "Addicted to Distraction." It started as many other "this-generation-is-deteriorating-my-brain" articles have, but it took a distinctive twist. It was personal, not hypothetical. Honest, not idealistic. And it came just as I was thinking about my resolutions for the coming year. Like the author, my initial thought when thinking about all that was overgrown in my life was add more (or less) of everything in every area: I was going to sleep more, eat less ice cream, exercise more, check my email less, put my phone down more, complain less. You get the idea.

It was lofty. Idealistic. And completely impossible. 

But, of course, my world was full of possibilities because it was a new year! a new start! a new me! Whatever. That unfounded optimism sort of baffles me now.

The ah-ha moment
Anyway, as I was reading, I started to get excited because the author shared my hopes to accomplish the impossible. And then he shared his story of complete failure, the many ways he's still tethered to the pet loves of his life: "The problem is that we humans have a very limited reservoir of will and discipline." Oh no! I thought. That could be me. That will be me in three weeks or less. Now what? Schwartz saved the day in the next sentence: "We're far more likely to succeed by trying to change one behavior at a time, ideally at the same time each day, so that it becomes a habit, requiring less and less energy to sustain." Palm to forehead. Of course. One behavior.

The one resolution that could help us all

So, here's mine: In 2016, I'm going to try to sleep more. That may earn only a slow clap and cocked eyebrow from some of you, but I'm all kinds of serious.

I've said it for years, but haven't lived by it well: If I were a counselor, the first question I'd ask every client on their first intake form would be, "How much sleep do you get on average per day?" Lack of sleep, I'm convinced, has its sly hands in most of our problems. Of course, it's not the only hand in our problems, but it's a big one, and for some reason, I don't care if I ignore it. "I know I'll regret it tomorrow, but I need some alone time/want to watch this show/need to (fill in the blank with any given thing on a to-do list)/accidentally scanned Facebook for 30 minutes instead of the intended five." Whatever it is, I'm up later than I wanted to be most nights.

Obviously, there are times when losing sleep is completely worthwhile and right, and times when I can't help losing sleep (ahem, having infants/children and anyone struggling with anxiety or insomnia). But on the whole, sleep deprivation is something I can prevent because at this point in my life, I can pretty much choose when I go to bed and when I get up. And it really does leak into every area of my life: I drink more coffee, have more reflux, snap at those I love, don't eat as well, am less happy, less focused, less thoughtful of others, and less motivated. It's more of what's toxic and less of what's life-giving and I want to reverse that.

So I'm going to work at going to bed at the same reasonable time every night (as often as possible) and waking up at the same time every morning. It's my one thing. It's not going to fix every overgrown thing in my life, but it should prune a lot of areas, and, most importantly, it's doable.

What's your one thing?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Let's play catch up

It's been a while. Like a month. And a month before that. But here are a few nuggets for ya from the past few months:
photo credit

What to read: Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See. One of the loveliest novels I've read.

photo credit
What to eat: Edamame hummus. Sounds weird? It's not. It's whipped. It's light. It's garlicky and delicious. And it's at Publix in the hummus section across from the deli. You're welcome.

What to wear: A lesson learned: get yo'self a pair of black pants/jeans that fit you just right. Don't pay attention to the price tag. Just get 'em. And then wear the heck out of them. Dress 'em up. Dress 'em down. Wear them with boots or heels or flip flops. They go with everything and will become your go-to pants.

What to do: Take a break. For me, that's meant my biannual one-night hotel getaway (post to come!). I don't know what that means for you, but get away. For an hour, a day, a weekend. Dare to be alone and quiet and spend time in ways you don't normally get to. It won't fix all your problems but you'll come back a better version of yourself.

What I'm learning: 

  • Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
  • Parenting isn't for the weak.
  • The chocolate chip cookies at Chick-Fil-A really are the best. Warm, gooey, chocolatey goodness.
  • God doesn't make sense a lot of the time.
  • God is for me.
  • There is such a thing as too much coffee.
  • Shopping stresses me out. Like I almost hyperventilate after a while unless I know exactly what I'm looking for, find it, and walk out. The hubs loves this about me.
  • Sometimes going to bed at 8:30 p.m. is the most glorious decision you can make. 
  • There weren't nearly enough Butterfingers in my kids' Halloween candy this year.
  • My kids are hilarious.
  • November 2 is too early to play Christmas music (Hear that, Gap??)
  • Amazon does, in fact, sell everything. Just look at my credit card statement. Gas, groceries, and Amazon.
So, there you go. Two months squished into a computer screen. More to come, I hope. Just not sure when. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

between His shoulders

photo credit
Someone gave me this verse last week, and I've read it every day since, trying to let the words settle like wrinkles:

"Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, 
for he shields him all day long, 
and the one the Lord loves 
rests between His shoulders" (Deuteronomy 33:12). 

It's part of Moses' final blessing (God's favor and protection) to Israel, and it's for me too. I have mixed feelings about being the lamb between his shoulders. Part of me hates being that helpless, that small, that needy and dependent--so dependent that I have to be carried. I'd rather think of myself as able and competent; I don't want to have to need anyone that much. I'd rather buck and wander, thank you very much.

But that part about rest rings inside like church bells. Yes and amen. If anything tries to attack me, it has to go through Him first. And being held to Jesus by all fours, not as a way to wield power but as a way to lead gently, a way to take my burden--myself--on him? Oh thank you Jesus!

So, yes. I'm secure because
He has me.
He shields me.
He loves me.

I can buck or rest there, between His shoulders,
but what good would bucking do?
He has me.
And He isn't letting go.
And I'm grateful for a Savior who says:
Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden
and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hi there.

I can't say that "I'm back," but I'm here, now. Clicking keys and marking white space for the first time in over a month. The break has been good--necessary. The six weeks of sleep deprivation from the toddler with nightmares took me back to the days of having an infant; I probably shouldn't even have been driving, so writing was out of the question. But we're on the other side of the nightmares for now, and I've had a few experiences in the past month that have put a kid with nightmares into perspective, so I'm here, now.

Let's go with bullets today, just for fun. And because that's all I can do with these atrophied writing muscles. 
  • Have you been watching the GOP debates? Donkey or elephant, they're simply fascinating.
    photo credit
  • Do you know about the forced sterilization of over 60,000 men, women, and children from the 1930s to the 1970s? I couldn't believe the article I read in World Magazine this past issue. I kept telling my husband, "Did you know about this? How could this be okay for so long? or ever? Who gets to decide these things?" I'm still boiling from the injustice. Click the link above for the full article. 
  • On a more light-hearted note, the offspring are hilarious, per usual. The little one, Noodle, (who's about to be TWO!), has quite the vocabulary. The other day, she stopped running and said, "Need water break, Mommy." And when I told her Daddy was at work, she said, "Aw may-un (man). I miss Daddy." Love that girl to pieces. The big (tall!) one, Moo, loves asking deep questions right as I'm walking out of his room at night: "Mom, who is God's enemy?" and "Mom, I hug you so you can have Jesus in you. I know all about Jesus, all the parts about Him. But who made Jesus?" Lord, give me wisdom! What an incredible kid.
    photo credit
  • And on a completely shallow note, do you know about Softsoap's Wild Basil & Lime hand soap? If you can't find me, I'll be in the kitchen washing my hands so I can smell them. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Whenever the fog passes

It's been a kidney stone, car-dying, car-buying, kid with nightmares, kid teething, stomach bug, sleep-deprived 10 days. As if all of nature was mocking me, I dropped into bed at 8:20 last night but couldn't fall asleep for several more hours because of the strobes of lightning and the thunder that gave my bed the feeling of motion. So. Maybe I should give myself a break about all the writer's block. Maybe this just isn't the month to be hard on myself about buckling down to write. Because some weeks, you need sleep more than you need just about anything else.

That being said, I claimed the little corner
desk in our living room, declared it mine. Cleared the mail and alligator artwork and coasters, left a clean space with a simple lamp, and a wire basket for current books and writing projects. And now there's space--not quite a room of one's own, but a place to think and write. The physical space helps validate me as a writer, gives the title clout and worth and reality. So even though my brain is a junk drawer on NyQuil, my space is clean and waiting for me whenever this fog passes.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Today I'm THAT writer.

I'm swimming in wet cement. Inching along, kind of wanting to get out, but really feeling so discouraged that I want to give up more than I want to get out. One day I'm all "I'm a writer! Let's do this. I'm inspired and good at what I do and don't have time in a day to write all that's in my head," and another day it's just, well...nothing. Blank stares from the muse, complete dread of figuring out what to write, silence from God. I'd rather stab my finger with a pencil than sit down and try to write.

It's one of THOSE days. Months, really.
A funk.
Writer's block.

And I hate it when writers write about writer's block because it's so cliche and always wreaks of woe-is-me, but here I am anyway, joining the masses, complaining about how hard it is to write.

But I just need to write. To do the excruciating work of slaying myself open and letting others see the yuck and beauty and wonder that's there. Couldn't I have been called to a less gut-wrenching thing?

And so I'm writing.
Even if it's bad.
Even if the only adjective I can come up with is "bad."
Even if my heels are bucking and I'm punching the air.
At least the bucking means I'm alive, that I care.
At least that's what I'm telling myself.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Three Things Thursday: writing edition

Thing One: I'm reading
I'm in that writing space where I'm accumulating words and cadence, ideas and craft. The words--my own words--aren't there yet, so I'm letting others' words inspire me instead. It's a necessary part of being a writer. On my bedside table now (in no particular order and none of them nearly finished):

  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (fiction)
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (a book on life and writing)
  • Women of the Word by Jen Wilken (Christian nonfiction)
  • The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (fiction)
  • My grandfather's WWII letters to my grandmother. I'm slowly transcribing hundreds of his letters so they can be preserved. So far, I'm on page 124 of a Word document and have another 9 months of the war to go. More on that another time!

Thing Two: I'm writing
It may not look like it by how often I blog, but I'm writing all the my head, on scraps of paper, making lists on my phone, writing pieces so private or rough that you may never read them here. It's good. And it's hard. And most days I'm intimidated and don't even know where to start. But I'm writing.

Thing Three: I'm dreaming
I'm wondering what God is and is going to do with this writing of mine. Publication or writing a book isn't even something I want to do right now or maybe ever, but I want to get better at it, use it to help people, and not be afraid to walk through open doors as they come.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

One more reason to write (even if you're not a writer)

*For those who read my last post on how Phil and I met, please click here to revisit it. I've added a visual of his hair that you won't want to miss as well as a hilarious Moo quote!

photo credit
Even though I have the worst memory in the history of the universe, I still think "I'll remember this moment. It's so meaningful/funny/sad/important that I don't really need to write it all down." BUT I DO, Y'ALL. Case in point:

This past weekend, I went to my parents' house. They're doing some mid-life-crisis deep cleaning and have made it all the way to the deep freezer and the attic. You know they're serious if they tackle the scary places. While most of my childhood keepsakes are sitting snug in a basement Rubbermaid at my house, they had a new stack of things for me to look through--a few buckets of clothes I wore as a child and large manilla envelopes from kindergarten to 7th grade with my school work best in them.

You think you know your past selves, those people at various stages of your life who were you but who aren't you now. And then you look back at what you wrote and said at age seven and you think THAT was me? Really? I wasn't like that, was I? Man, I'm glad my teachers made me write a lot in elementary school. (Hear that, teachers? Keep making kids write...a lot.) I learned a few things about myself from thumbing through those old stories and "All About Me" pages and composition notebooks:
  • I liked to watch TV. Over and over again, I talked about how I looked forward to when I could "just relax and watch TV." Funny, though, because I almost never watch any now and don't remember watching much as a child. 
  • I had a reason for wanting to relax. I worked really really hard. I practiced piano every day for 30 minutes BEFORE school. I made all A's. I played sports and babysat my brothers and did family chores. It wasn't slave driving or overly strict parenting; I just had a really strong work ethic and high expectations from home. 
  • I loved alone time. No surprise here, but I repeatedly wrote about how my room was my favorite place in the house because it was quiet. I can't blame me. 
  • I also loved to sleep, apparently. Which is funny because I remember always struggling to fall asleep and still have one or two nights of crappy sleep each week. 
  • My brothers "aggravated" me regularly. Again, no real surprise there. Only girl with three younger brothers? Yeah, let's just say I was familiar with face farts. 
  • I was really spiritual. I wrote all the time about God and my faith and scripture and I really meant every word. I still do. 
  • I liked math and I hated English. At least in first grade. I liked math because "I liked to learn new things," and I hated English "because I have to write a lot and my hand gets all sweaty." Fair. 
  • I was creative and artsy. I'd draw in my journal and cut out magazine pictures and make up blurbs the people were saying. I'd make twenty different thumbprint stick people, all looking better than I could possibly create now. I wrote down quotes I liked and crafted outlandish stories. I took risks and didn't care because there weren't any stakes. Of course, I also had a crazy amount of free time as a child, so my imagination wasn't suffocated by real life bills/laundry/decisions. Even so, I wish I had a little more of that risky/artsy side now. Because, let's face it: I'm pretty much the opposite of risky/artsy.
  • I was really close with my family. I wrote often of my parents and brothers and trips we would take and things we would do together, even if it was just family dinner. Some things never change.
  • I liked school. And then one day I grew up and became a teacher. :)
I loved every minute of getting reacquainted with myself, triggering memories and people that I thought were lost. Hopefully some of them will show up here in the coming months. Until then, please keep writing. Even if you're not a writer, just write it all down. Because you won't remember, and one day you'll slow down enough to read a few things you jotted down on a tired day in July and you'll think, Really? That was me? That's what I thought and experienced? I had no idea.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Our story

Samford University just hosted a contest for "Samford sweethearts" to write in the story of how they met, offering a prize of two nights at a nice resort in town to the randomly drawn winner. A little lot cheesy? Sure. But two nights away sounded pretty great, so why not? We didn't win, but below is our story--a little ditty I wrote only one draft of in a Starbucks during a rare (and appreciated) hour alone. Enjoy (and thanks in advance for the first-draft grace). Oh, and make sure you read to the end; I'll reward your hard work with an unforgettable picture!

At the end of my senior year, I wasn’t looking for love. I was looking for a diploma. That magic piece of paper with important names illegibly scribbled on lines, which meant I could get a job. My Samford experience was full in the best possible way--being an RA, traveling, working, volunteering, singing, writing, working out in “the cage,” and taking all kinds of classes that stirred and challenged me. But as Spring semester of my senior year rolled around, I was caught up in the dual desires of investing in places and people that had become home and looking to the next step of finding a job and moving and living on my own. After years of casual and awkward dating, I’d come to accept what the Samford girl-guy ratio meant for me: the love of my life was not at Samford. And I was okay with that. 

Good things happen around Christmas, though. Romantic things. Magical things. Things you don’t expect. At least that’s what the movies taught me. My thing wasn’t exactly magical. It was a thrift store maybe-date with a guy I’d been acquaintances with since freshman year, but it was the beginning of something magical.

When we were freshman, Phil Johnson had dark, curly locks to his shoulders, parted down the middle--hair that flew in the wind behind him as he rode his razor scooter to class honking the clown horn he’d attached to the handlebars. Not exactly babe-magnet material. The hair and the scooter made him memorable, though, and the tiny post-911 American flag on the back waved at me unabashed, as if it knew it belonged there and I was the crazy one.

The hair and the scooter didn’t do it for me, though. We were “hi” friends, people who would wave across the quad and say hello and be fine to leave our conversation at one word.

He was nice.
I was nice.
We were not for each other.
End of story.

But then he cut his hair.

He went to London for a semester and came back with those black curls cropped short and it was then that he landed on my radar. But he still rode a razor scooter outfitted with a horn and flag, so I kept him on my radar with caution.

A year later, we found ourselves in one of the most unlikely places on campus for a pre-med student and an English/Language Arts major: a theatre classroom in the belly of Harrison Theater. I was in a required play directing class and he got roped into auditioning at the last minute for one of the annual Ten-Minute Plays. While I didn’t cast him in my play (he wasn’t exactly an actor), I was intrigued by why, at 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday night in November, he was in that theatre classroom at all.

Over the next month, we both clocked more hours in that building than we ever had in all our years at Samford combined. He was rehearsing for the play he was cast in and I was rehearsing with my cast members for another play. We finally had a point of connection that could move us beyond the one-word conversation.

Christmas break approached and my best friend roommates encouraged me to invite him to a Christmas party we were hosting after exams. I wasn’t sure. Do we know each other well enough for that? Would it be awkward? Would he know enough other people? Am I reading into things? I did it anyway. And he agreed. And somehow from that Christmas party, we planned to hang out later in the week since we’d both still be in town a couple of days after everyone else had gone home. Because of a shared a love of thrift stores (an unwritten requirement of any college student), we planned to go thrifting with a couple of his roommates. Thrift store, roommates, off-hand, last minute plans—definitely not a date.

But then his roommates backed out at the last minute and it was just the two of us riding in his Crown Vic (affectionately named “Boss Hog”) and it suddenly felt very datey. Except we were still going to a thrift store. And we never had a lull in the conversation. And it felt comfortable and easy and light and innocent. And when it was all over, I wasn’t sure if I’d just gone on a date or spent time with an old friend.

We spent January sending emails and postcards from across the pond (he was in London again for Jan-term), and February finding excuses to hang out every day—smoothies and walks around the quad on a rainy day, studying together in the library, Monday movie night with his roommates, RUF, picture swapping from our various travels over the holidays, game nights and three weeks worth of similar shenanigans.

At the end of February, I ended each day thinking, “I loved spending time with him today and hope I get to see him again tomorrow,” but I wasn’t entirely sure what we were. Friends? Dating? God-forbid, something in-between? So when a friend offered to set me up on a blind date, I agreed. I liked Phil, but I wasn’t tied to him and he was being relationally vague, so why not? On Monday night, Phil called me and said, “I’d like to take you out on a real date and wondered if you were free on Thursday.” Of course he wanted me to go out with him on Thursday, the day I’d already agreed to go on the blind date. I did some silent screaming and face-making on the other end of that phone call and then calmly told Phil that I had other plans that night but would love a rain check, so we rescheduled for Saturday.

Thankfully, the blind date was a disaster after about 15 minutes in, so when Phil took me to Chez Lulu on Saturday and said the words I’ll never forget: “I’ve enjoyed spending so much time with you lately and I’d like to take steps toward doing that on a more regular basis,” I was in.

It was the beginning of 13 months of dating and nine months of engagement and nine and a half years (and going!) of marriage. And now, two kids and a lot of sleep deprivation and laughter later, I’d like to thank Samford, the barber in London who cut Phil’s hair, the theatre department, Laura Brost who talked Phil into auditioning, thrift stores everywhere, my persistent roommates, the lame blind date guy whose name I can’t remember, and, of course, God for orchestrating the details of me marrying the man I never dreamed of, who became the man of my dreams.

The man I never dreamed of.
The man of my dreams.
P.S. When he saw the long-haired Phil picture, my 3.5 year old said, "Was Daddy a mean guy?" "No, buddy. He was nice. He just thought it was cool not to smile in pictures."

Monday, June 15, 2015


I'm pretty sure someone just dumped me in a blender and hit the "super grind" button because I'm spinning. Four mornings of VBS + one week at the beach with two kids under four + planning women's Bible studies for the fall and beyond = wiped. I apologize now for whatever crappy writing ensues. It'll get better with sleep and a little alone time, I promise!

Despite some stressful moments (my room wasn't set up at all when I went in on Sunday to drop off a few materials, and I had 50 2-3-year-olds in one class on the first day), VBS, once again, was worth the work.

I can't tell you how many adults stopped me to thank me for my lessons, how many parents sent me texts and emails with quotes from their kids that told me they really got the big story of Jesus, and how many kids were with me, learning scripture, eager to see God redeem sin, excited about Heaven. This isn't horn-tooting; it's God showing up through a willing but introverted, sometimes-bad attitude, stressed out, non-preschool teacher.

And I can tell you another thing: teaching the Bible to any age matters and should be taken seriously. I know I'm an overachiever, but preparing to teach these kids was no different from times I've prepared to teach peers. Either way, I'm entrusted with handling God's Word rightly. So yeah, they're "just" 2-5 year olds, and they're at the bottom of the totem pole as far as expected "impact," but the way I see it, this could be the first time many of them ever hear about the big picture of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration--and setting that foundation well could have an extraordinary impact. So, no matter the age, if you're teaching God's word, pray for those learning and for wisdom for yourself--a lot, prepare for hours and hours and hours to find the best, most clear way to communicate gospel truths, and study the Word to make sure you're being accurate. And even if I'd never received an email or phone call from a parent, God taught me so much about Him as I studied and prepared to teach these little ones that it would have been worth it either way.

Our time away was fabulous! We have the privilege of loving our extended family, and enjoyed beautiful weather, good food, and lots of laughter. The only drawback is that no one ever sleeps quite enough on those trips since you're in the room with your kids and stay up later than usual to play whiffle ball with the cousins. Our Internet was (blissfully) spotty, and while I didn't even make it through a whole magazine while there, it felt like a true break from normal life and a time of connection with people I don't see enough. I even paddle boarded for the first time--what a workout! Loved it. Funny aside: Moo called the ocean "spicy water" because I told him it was salty. :) All those nights of helping me cook dinner (sort of) paid off!

I came back to some intense realities: a friend had a late miscarriage; the 2.5-year-old son of an acquaintance is dying after heart surgery; no one could attend a meeting I'd worked hard to prepare and plan, and even more lightly: I found a half cup of coffee in the microwave that'd been left there for a week, and three pictures and a plastic cup in my washing machine put there by a certain little 2-foot someone before we left. Definitely back to reality, but it's good, and having some time away gives me more perspective and energy than I would have had otherwise.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: Peace Like A River

photo credit
Have you ever read a book and the only way you can think to describe it is in terms of food? You
digest every word and hold the characters long in your mouth to sense their flavorings. The sentences drip with the juice of the craft and you want to savor every bit of voice to the last page. And when you close the book and get up, you're still hungry for more and just a little sad that you only have one stomach.

That was Leif Enger's Peace Like A River for me. Delicious and savory and complicated in all the right ways. It didn't hurt that I read it ocean-side in Puerto Rico, but even if I'd have been working a toll booth at the 11th hour, this book would have heightened my senses and stirred the muse awake. It inspired me to write, and cracked open my brain just enough to suspend disbelief.

It's a Western--not the cowboy, shoot-'em-up kind, but the making-it-in-a-small-midwest-town kind. And it whips family and independence and faith and crisis and the supernatural into peaks of triumph and valleys of sorrow without leaving you overly hopeful or overly hopeless--quite a feat for the postmodern novelist. The protagonist is a 12-year-old boy named Reuben Land, whose name alone serves as an appetizer.  And the voice of the book about left me speechless with its unexpected descriptions, conversational tone, and unassuming depth. Here's an example from page three (page THREE!):

Let me say something about that word: miracle. For too long it's been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal. Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week--a miracle, people say, as if they've been educated from greeting cards. I'm sorry, but nope. Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word.

Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave--now there's a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. 

...No miracle happens without a witness. Someone to declare, Here's what I saw. Here's how it went. Make of it what you will.

Just lovely. And that's just the beginning! It's the most perfect novel I've read in a while, and one that I want to own so I can underline the heck out of those delicious sentences.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Three Things Thursday

photo credit
Thing one: We have a fish (for real, y'all).
Remember last week, how we were fish-sitting while a friend was out of town and how my kids loved that fish like it was a new baby? Well. That friend sent me a text this week that said: "I thought it'd be fun to get your kids a fish. What do you think? Is that okay?" And my mind went to their little high-pitched voices saying, "Hi, Dory!" and "Squeakers, do you like your new home?" And to their chubby smooth arms wrapping around the tank and their puckered lips pressed to the glass and I mean how could I POSSIBLY say no? So, we have a fish. For real this time. Its name is Squeakers or Dory, whichever you prefer, and I've kept it alive for three days. The day we got him, Moo said, "This is the best day of the year!!!" Heartstrings, y'all. Mine have been yanked.

Thing two: That time I felt old.
Phil and I went to a wedding this weekend, and had the honor of being at the rehearsal dinner too. And for the first time, I found myself identifying more with the parents of the bride and groom than the bride and groom themselves. Woah. I looked around at all the 20-somethings giving their heartfelt-but-cliche speeches and then I heard the parents talk and all I could think about was what I would say when I had a lifetime of memories and joys and sorrows and had to boil them all down to five minutes or less. And I have to say, while I loved my wedding day, I love having that same man by side 9.5 years later even more.

Thing three: easy Summer Frittata (from Parents Magazine)
photo credit

This recipe is fast, cheap, easy, and yummy! It's also flexible, so I've made it without peppers, or with different cheeses (or more cheese!) and it's just as good!

8 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. olive oil
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
3 Tbs. grated parmesan
2 Tbs. goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with 1/2 tsp. salt. In a large oven-safe nonstick skillet, heat 2 tsp. oil over medium heat. Add eggs and cook until edges are set, about 4 minutes. Top with spinach, peppers, Parmesan cheese, and goat cheese. Bake until eggs are cooked through and the cheese has melted, about 10 minutes. Slice into 8 wedges and serve immediately.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Three Things Thursday

Thing first: we have a fish.
Well, sort of. We're fish-sitting for three weeks for a friend who's on a trip and my kids talk to that thing in high-pitched voices like it's the most adorable creature ever made. It came with a name, but Moo quickly changed it to "Squeakers," which makes complete sense for an animal that makes no sound. He also hugs the tank and says, "Do you like your new home? I think you miss your mama. It's okay. She's coming back in a little while. We'll take good care of you." Fish therapy. Noodle climbs up on a chair and says, "Hi, Dory!" like she's talking to a baby. So the fish has two names. Three, really, if you count the one the owner gave it. And apparently we're going to be pet-owners one day because I can only say no to their cuteness for so long. I'm weakening, but not breaking yet.

Thing next: VBS 
I said yes again. I wasn't going to, but then I read this post from last year where I told myself that I wouldn't want to do it and that I needed to do it anyway, so I said yes. I'm in the "remind-me-never-to-do-this-again" phase, but it'll all be worth it. I think. No, I know. It's been a lot of extra stress prep this year (hence, the blogging break), but I love teaching about Jesus, and know those four mornings really, really matter. Not because I'm such a great preschool storyteller, but because the story I get to tell is best there ever was or is or will be.

Thing last: Mother's Day gift
For over a month I turned over what to give my mom and mother-in-law for Mother's Day. I'm not the world's best gift-giver, but I was determined this year to think ahead and give them something personal and thoughtful and not a gift card. The week before Mother's Day arrived and I had nothing. Well, that's not true. I had a lot of stupid ideas ranging from the cliche bouquet of flowers to the weird  bluetooth tracking device that connects from your phone to your keys but nothing felt right or enough. Finally, I came across THE ANSWER. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott dedicates a whole chapter to writing a present. I read it and thought: that's it. For Mother's Day, I need to give these women the best of me; I need to give them a piece of writing that's just for them. Why hadn't I thought of that before? So, I crafted two beautiful (I think) pieces for two of my favorite ladies on the planet (another reason I've been absent here). It about killed me, but fueled me all at the same time, gave me such joy to give. Maybe they'll let me share what I wrote, but really the words were just for them, a gift no one else could give and no one else could receive in quite the same way.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Parachute man, drop me a line!

photo credit
You know those parachuting army men that you send flying into the sky on the Fourth of July? The pea green ones with the parachute that's a cross between a Walmart bag and the poncho your mom keeps in the side door of the van? The ones that are sometimes duds, but when they actually ignite and open and glide down, you run all over your dead end street searching for them in your neighbor's steeple-tall pine trees, narrowing your eyes in the twilight? And when you do see them hanging there, looking a little sad and droopy after such a heroic fall, you grab sticks and climb onto your dad's shoulders and yell things at your brothers like, "That's mine! I can TELL!" so they don't knock it out of the tree before you do. You think about what it would take to scale the trunk of a pine tree, flexing your decade-old muscles a bit to see if you're up to it, measuring just how much sap would be worth the victory of nabbing the parachute man first.

And when he's in your hands at last, there's a little letdown because he suddenly seems so small and his parachute (if it's in one piece) just sort of drags behind him like a pet rock. Why do we only think about parachuters with their chutes open?

But then your dad gives you that look, the one you know can only mean a good thing's about to happen. And he takes your men and runs inside to the second story and opens the window and you look up--chicks with beaks open--and there are your men swaying down to you, their chutes open. And the world is as it should be--hopeful and expectant and exciting. For the next three seconds, at least.

I still need parachuting men in my life. Not the actual hot-model ones (although that wouldn't be too bad either). I need the figurative parachuters, those people who've been above the trees long enough to have the lay of the land. I'm down here on the ground trying to explain to my son why it's not okay to pee on my shoe and finding creative ways to work vegetables into meals and having dance parties to Disney songs and a lot of days I feel like I'm desperately looking into the sky for a parachuter, someone to bring me a word of perspective, and someone to tell me I'm heading in the right direction.

I recently read a quote by E. L. Doctorow (I have no idea who he is, but Anne Lamott quoted him, so he must be okay. And a quick Google search reassures me that he's a well-known historical fiction writer. And he has a killer last name, so he's completely reliable). Anyway, my new friend E. L. said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way." Sounds like good life advice to me. Especially if you're a mom of young kids. Because most days all you can see is what's right in front of you: the skinned knee, the timeout, the laughter around the table, the bath time silliness, the made up songs, the pee on the shoe. It's all so close up that you have no sense of whether or not you're actually heading in the right direction (whatever that is). Which is why I'm learning I need to have people in my life who are on the other side of young motherhood and I need to listen to them.

I was at the grocery store the other day with my kids, who actually love grocery shopping. As we were checking out, a woman behind me said, "You're in such wonderful season." I knew what she meant; I'd heard it before. "Thanks. I think so too," I said with a smile, but I was thinking: Yes, I know, they grow up so fast and I'll miss all the fingerprints on my mirrors. I'm supposed to take this all in. But it's really hard to do that, lady. Even when I think I'm taking it all in, time still seems so slippery. 

She continued and I braced myself for the sentimental "My kids are all grown now" chat, and while she did go there, she also gave me some words from the great beyond that while I knew were true, were hard to believe in the I-have-my-kids-at-the-grocery-store-at-4:00-on-a-Friday moment I was in. She said, "My kids are teenagers now, and I remember when grandmothers used to come up to me when they were little and give me advice, but now I have advice of my own: Raise your children in the Lord, and raise them in the church, and when they're teenagers and they don't want to listen to you, they'll have people in their lives who they will want to hear from."

It wasn't like a revelation to me or anything, but it was a timely reminder from the sky that what I'm doing with these kids each day is about a bigger story than the one I can see and sense all the time. It was a reminder that there's a whole forest here made of these trees I'm among, and that while I can't see the whole, I can keep walking the parts, trusting that the parts are what make the trip so wonderful.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Boundaries: an outline

photo credit
*Originally written as a guest blog for my friend Kaitlin. Head over to her blog for inspiration, beauty, and a good old-fashioned pep-talk.

Somewhere along the line, the word "boundaries" got  complicated. It went from marking the edge of
a territory to having all sorts of relational implications that are anything but clear.

In their purest form, boundaries tell us where a space ends or begins and are meant to clarify and direct. For our forefathers, they created order out of a vast new world. They keep Appalachian Trial hikers from getting lost on an already long journey. And they keep my neighbors' dogs' poop off my grass. See? We want and need boundaries. So why are they so darn confusing in relationships? I don't have all the answers, but here's a place to start:

Know why you're drawing the boundary. 
Boundaries are meant to protect, clarify, direct, and keep the peace. If you're creating boundaries for other reasons (i.e. "This isn't convenient" or "This isn't easy" or "I don't like this person"), check your motives. We mask a lot of selfishness in the word "boundaries." 

Ask for wisdom.
If your boundary-making is rightly motivated, though, then you're wondering when to begin or end a friendship/relationship, and that's a murky matter. Do a lot of listening--listening to people wiser than you, and listening to God. Don't make any quick moves; be deliberate and patient about seeking wisdom. And remember that a boundary for some isn't a boundary for everyone. Without wisdom, you'll make too many lines, too few lines, or lines that just won't work.

Draw the line
The Israelites cried out for God to deliver them from the pursuing Egyptian army, and God did make a way through the sea, but first He said something unexpected to Moses: "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on" (Exodus 14:15). We absolutely need to begin with crying out to God for wisdom, but then we need to move on--not that we stop crying out to Him, but that we don't stop there. Prayer moves us to action.

So, once you've determined to start, continue, or end a relationship, figure out where the lines are, and know that the process of "figuring out"is evolving. You'll stumble and mess up. You'll try something that doesn't work and stumble upon something that does. That's okay. I don't know many (any?) people who create boundaries perfectly the first time.

Color inside the lines
You've drawn the lines and now you have to do the hard work of following through. The boundaries have given you a new sort of freedom because you've clarified expectations, but you have to color inside the lines you've drawn. This, of course, is the hard part. It means breaking habits of engaging or disengaging, and old habits really do die hard. Give yourself grace to mess up (because you will), but also make it hard for yourself to mess up: gather a few people around you who know about the lines you're drawing and ask them to help you stick to it.

Let's get really practical. If you've committed to pursuing, be intentional about time with that person; call, text, get together, drop by, make a plan. If you've committed to ending, be intentional about latching those fences. Delete the number, resist communicating when you want to, and be okay with things feeling distant and awkward. So easy to type, eh?

And an important side note: drawing the line doesn't always mean announcing your line. In many cases, no one but you has to know the line's there; other times, the line needs to be clearly communicated. Again, seek wisdom.

Prepare for the lines to change (or not).
Have you ever looked at early maps of the United States? They're way off. The guys drawing those maps didn't have drones and computers to create accurate lines; they were walking the lines. We're like them. We don't have the luxury of a bird's eye view to our lives because we're living them, which means our perspective will change over time, as will (possibly) our relationships. Relational lines don't have to be permanent. It's why adopted children reunite with birth parents, fizzled friendships rekindle years later, and teachers can be friends with their students once they graduate. People change. Circumstances change. So our lines need to be moveable. Not always, but sometimes.

Here's the bottom line (get it?): 
Spend more time considering the WHY of your boundaries than you think you need to.
Be okay with messing up along the way.
Don't get judgy and throw your boundaries on others, or adopt theirs just because.
Be intentional, prayerful, and humble throughout the process.
Like our country's map, the lines won't always be straight and symmetrical, but the ones you create (thoughtfully) are better than no lines at all.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Three Things Thursday: Puerto Rico Edition

Thing One: Kayak at night in the Bioluminescent Bay
What's cooler than kayaking at night in water that glows and sparkles? Answer: nothing. It's probably the coolest thing I've ever done in my life, and worth every penny. The kayaking is accessible for any age, and because you go in a group, the pace is leisurely. The route begins by going through an archway of mangrove trees (see photo below), where our guide pointed out lots of iguanas that sleep in the trees.
photo credit
I wish I remembered the science behind it all, but once we were in the bioluminescent bay, the water around our paddles glowed as we stroked or ran our hands through it, and as fish dispersed around our kayak, we saw them light up through the water like shooting stars. The world only has a handful of these places because of the necessary combination of extra salty water, temperature, and certain elements in the water to create the same light effect as a lightning bug. Tiny flagella light up once a night, but because millions are in the water, it looks like the water sparkles. Magical. Tip: get toward the front of the line so you can ask the guide questions as you go.
Thing Two: Hike El Yunque National Forest
photo credit
If you love beauty and the outdoors and a little hard work, this is a MUST. I'd recommend looking at some maps ahead of time, but especially stopping to talk to one of the workers there to ask about the best route. We had a map and the guy we talked to cut an hour or two off our hike and gave us pointers on the most beautiful views and areas. (Our entire hike was just under two hours.) The official visitor's center is not worth your time; they charge you and it's not particularly helpful. And I would NOT recommend going on a tour of the rainforest. You'll be doing a dinky hike at a snail's pace with a bunch of strangers and hearing about the history of Puerto Rico, which is wonderful and interesting, but not nearly as interesting as just exploring the place yourself. I'm not making this up; the views really are as gorgeous as this picture.

Thing Three: Eat a quesito
photo credit
I have no idea what's in this pastry of goodness, but it doesn't really matter (and I probably don't want to know). Just know that you should try it and that you might have to eat one every morning (or afternoon or evening) that you're there because you may never get to eat one again. The Nutella-filled one might change your life. My mouth is watering just typing about it. Goodness.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

An Introvert Mom's Guide to Staying Alive

Let's get one thing straight: I adore Donald Miller. I hang onto his words with the white knuckles of a Titanic survivor floating on a piece of wood. Words from people like him help me stay afloat and feel alive. And another thing I love: he's a fellow introvert. He gets the need and desire and enjoyment of complete aloneness, and he recently wrote an article about it called "The Introvert's Guide to Staying Alive."

With lines like, "My head feels like a junk drawer [without alone time]" and "For an introvert, [extroverted activities is] the equivalent of hooking an IV up to their artery and draining their blood," I'm screaming YES! YES! YOU GET ME!
photo credit
He goes on explain what kinds of alone activities give him rest and life. Among them: going to a movie by himself, taking a long walk with his dog around a nearby lake, taking drives, and eating alone. And they all sound glorious. But there's one problem: he's not a stay-at-home-mom of little people under the age of four.

So, I'm wondering: how do introverted moms of littles recharge? Eating alone? Ha! Taking a drive? I call that "getting my non-napping kid to sleep." Doesn't count. It all looks very different under my hood and I'm struggling to know how to recharge as an introvert in a world that puts me around people (or their monitors) all day long. I'm constantly living in the tension of wanting to be with my kids a lot but also feeling drained by being around people (them) all day. If I put them both in MDO, I'm missing time with them that I love. If I keep them with me all the time, I'm feeling depleted. And guilt follows me everywhere: guilt when I'm not with them and guilt when I'm not refueling. Yuck.

I have no idea how you other introverted moms of littles do it, but since I (we?) just love lists (and since I'm still trying to identify what gives me rest), here are a few ways I've learning to steal away:

  • Figure out what gives you rest. Shopping makes me hyperventilate, so that's never on my radar, but could be on yours. Being at a coffee shop is still too peopled. I need quiet. And time to write. And time to think. For me, that's at home in my PJ pants drinking coffee, and usually writing. It's how I'm writing this post today and I'm so happy to be alone I could cry! (Many thanks to the hubs for giving me an hour here and there when I need it.)
  • Be okay with smaller pockets of time. My alone time tank doesn't really like little drops of time here and there; she'd much prefer to guzzle. But the gallons of time are so rare that I have to be okay with one minute with the door locked in the bathroom, a sentence scribbled on a napkin to write about later, or 10 minutes while they watch a movie for me to read or think or just drink a hot cup of coffee. In another room. By myself. 
  • It's a season. The littles won't always be at your feet, pulling on your shirt, and shadowing your every move. Really, they won't. 
  • Once a year, take a personal retreat. Be away from people for at least 24 hours. Get a hotel, stay at a friend's house while they're out of town, do the work to organize childcare or time off work and get the heck alone. It's like spitting in the ocean, but it's something. And you'll be surprised by what comes out of you when you get a whole day or more by yourself; it's a completely different experience from a couple of hours or even an afternoon alone.
  • Use the time you have to rest. Now that my kids nap at roughly the same time, I usually have an hour in the middle of the day when they're both asleep and the house is quiet. While I don't completely count this as "alone time" since I'm still "on," it's quiet time without them, and that's valuable. My tendency is to spend that time prepping dinner, eating lunch (alone!), shaving my legs, returning emails--doing something productive, something I can point to and feel accomplished about. But I need to try to have at least a couple designated days a week to rest and write and do whatever is life-giving during that time. And it's going to take discipline for me to stop doing and start doing what's restful, what will recharge me. I also need one night a week that's mine to spend however I need to, and Phil is great about giving that to me. 
  • Be okay with saying no. Be okay with not filling your schedule to the brim and saying no to even good things once in a while. Example: some years, I go to Bible study, some years I don't. Some weeks we have play dates every day, some weeks we have none. Some weeks we have people in our home for dinner more nights than not; other weeks, we just have family time. 
  • Don't make alone time an idol. I love alone time so much that I quickly find myself living for it, and losing my mind when I don't have enough; it can be a vacuum. On the one hand, there's a real need for time alone; it's how I get my energy. On the other hand, our whole lives are about sacrifice--loving others at our own expense, which often means saying yes to talking on the phone with a friend when you'd rather read read a book, or saying yes to engaging your kids when you'd rather put on a movie for them. The hard thing here is there's no rulebook. Sometimes choosing to sacrifice your need for alone time is godly and other times it's foolishness. Which leads me to my last point:
  • Pray for wisdom. I have no idea when introversion slips into selfishness and when sacrifice turns to depletion. It's different from moment to moment, day to day, and person to person. So mostly I need to pray a lot, all day long, asking God to show me how to live with wisdom.
Fellow introverted moms, how do you recharge? What gives you rest? How do you steal away in your extroverted life? 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The way it was always meant to be

I studied a camouflage of jewel-colored water glint as ocean lapped coral so rhythmically we use the sound for therapy. For four days last week, Phil and I stole away to Puerto Rico, an early celebration of a DECADE together of wedded bliss, challenge, laughter, heartache, adventure, mistakes, joys, and intimacy. And the trip was just about perfect.

I only wish I’d written more.

The muse was with me. (And how could she stay away? Such beauty and inspiration, time and leisure.) But I needed Virginia’s room of one’s own and the peopled beach kept the writing just out of reach. But it did give me the opportunity to read the most perfect book I’ve ever read—the kind of book whose language inspires you to be a better writer and whose characters feel familiar and sympathetic and whose storyline is compelling. It was so delectable that I’m giving it its own post soon, so I’m going to make you wait for the title. It’ll be worth it, I promise.
As each day yawned, I felt the bubbling of words inside and turned them over like smooth stones in my palm. And a couple of times, I put the words to paper –punchy, unexpected sentences strung together so interestingly that even I was amazed they came from me.  But many times, the words gave up trying to escape because I choked them. I’ll write when I get back, I kept telling myself.

But now I’m back home and the words are gone, the muse has left, and it’s taken me days to write a version of our trip because the words fall short every time.

But this post isn’t just about what I wished I’d done; it’s about what we did. And I'm telling you it felt like we were walking on dry ground between walls of ocean. The weather was always sunny but never hot. We rode a ferry to an island each day, and I spent every boat ride trying to find the words to describe the water there. We hiked the rainforest and kayaked at night in the bioluminescent bay and talked and laughed and ate and read and slept til we wanted to. It was heavenly.

I really do think God made us for things like this--to commune deeply and drop our jaws at beauty and explore nature and emotions without fear. But sin entered the world and it isn't like that anymore. We have fractured relationships and spinning lives that miss beauty and experience shame. But it was a taste of the GOOD that God created this world to be and the PERFECTION that He promises it will be again and I'm grateful.

Stay tuned for more trip reflections and the book review!