Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dish: Books, the 80's, Zip-Line Barbie, and More...

Whenever I publish soul-baring posts like my last one, I have a desperate need to write lighter fare. And since I haven't dished in a couple of weeks, I thought I'd serve something up. 

What I'm reading

I finished up the novel, The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant and it was a worthwhile read. For me it was an engaging {and sobering look} at the lives of women during the time of early Biblical patriarchs {and matriarchs.} It has a raw and mystical feel to it and I don't know if I've ever read an author who is able to translate all five senses onto paper as impressively as Diamant. You don't just read this book. You feel it. 

Now overdue at the library even though I've renewed it multiple times, My Father's Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow, has been a most inspiring cookbook. I'll probably buy it. The recipes are healthy and simple-ish and {mostly} normal. 

The Man and I are excited {and nervous because we know we'll be challenged} to read Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller with our Sunday morning "Inklings" friends. 

And because I'm always reading too many books at once, let's throw in a parenting book shall we? I've started Grace Based Parenting: Set Your Family Free by Tim Kimmel. It's so good already, exactly what my anxious mama heart needs as I come to terms with doing things so differently than I'd planned. I wish I'd read it when I first became a mama but honestly, I wouldn't have "gotten it" way back then. The way of grace is so much sweeter when you've tried bullet-point, method-based parenting and failed at it a bazillion times. 

Here's a quote that sums up what I've read so far: 

Parents armed with little more than a vibrant relationship with God consistently served as the ideal springboard for great people. So something has changed. We got scared. And I think that fear is what motivates so much of the Christian parenting advice we get. 

I couldn't agree more. 

Oh, and I almost forgot. The older kids and I are finishing up Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I have sworn to them that I will not read ahead but it is hard. Still, I've kept my promise. And on the days I'm feeling like a particularly defunct mother, we enter Hogwarts and adventure with Harry, Ron, and Hermione and all seems a bit more right with the world.

New Stuff

For Mother's Day I got new running shoes. Wanna see? 

Whether you're 8 or 38, new kicks still have a way of making you feel faster. Especially when the colors are a little retro.

Bring back the 80's. 

And you can't bring back the 80's without bangs so I went and got me some of those too. I'm pretty sure I haven't had bangs since I was 16. Thankfully my new ones are a bit more grown-up and they don't defy gravity like my way-back-when bangs did. {The higher the hair, the closer to God. Anybody else ever hear that one?} And do you know why bangs give you a more youthful look? Because they hide forehead wrinkles. Amen.  

But new running shoes weren't all I got for Mother's Day. My daughter framed this picture she'd sketched with oil pastels.

Isn't it lovely? She is a true creative soul and I just love that. Even though it means her room is messy and she loses things and her head is in the clouds. Who can be bothered with housework when there's so much creating and thinking and dreaming to be done? Whenever I get a tad frustrated, I just have to look in the mirror and accept grace for us both. The poor girl comes by it honestly.

Honey, do you like how I've rearranged all the furniture while you were at work today? I realize no one has enjoyed clean underwear for a week but I've written a new post, taken photos of the neighbor's flowers, and spray-painted our kitchen chairs. 

You laugh but seriously, this is my life. I need to pray that my daughter's husband loves to do laundry and has an appreciation for the color wheel.  

And speaking of creative juices, I summer-fied my mantle. {Who's excited for her upcoming trip to the beach?}

I'm also auditioning new paint colors for our great room. I currently have three different colors painted on random sections of my wall. Stay tuned...


My kids have been cracking me up lately and I've been completely slack about jotting it all down but I have to tell you what my 8-year-old said this week. When invited to play with his big sister and her neighborhood friends, he said, No way. I do NOT want to catch puberty. 

I don't want him to catch it either. Eight is such a delightful age and I know we'll be dealing with issues of hair and hormones and voice-change before we know it. For now, he loves playing with anyone and everyone {boy or girl as long as they're not contagious with the puberty} and he names animals according to his favorite athletes. His caterpillar at school? Denard Robinson {Quarterback. #16. University of Michigan.}

Mom, Denard sure looks plump today. 
Mom, my teacher says Denard will be spinning his chrysalis any day. 
And one day soon, Bye Denard! Your wings are beautiful! I'll miss you, Denard... 

Sigh. This is the stuff motherhood is made of. I love it. 

Long live eight! And four! As for our rising 6th grader, well, we love her too...pending adolescence at all. 

And she has her own sense of funny. Today I walked into her room and observed this. 

Fashionista Barbie attached to a wire hanger with yellow modeling clay and zip-lining on the dog's leash. 

Creepy? Amusing? Resourceful? I did what I always do when I come upon a vista like this one: I grabbed my camera. Because today's ridiculous photo opp is tomorrow's sweet nostalgia. 

So that's the scoop around here. I hope you all have a festive, fun, family-filled holiday weekend.

I love your "dish" too! What are you reading, cooking, painting? I need to know these things.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Stories and Scars and True Transformation

A couple of years ago I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. It chronicles Miller's own journey toward making his life a "meaningful narrative."  

The book made me think quite a lot about "living a good story" and I wondered what that would look like for me. For Miller, it meant facing his past and his fears and moving toward the future with intentionality and fortitude. But at the time, I didn't feel like I was really facing anything except stacks of dishes and unfolded laundry.

Oh I had a story or two under my belt. I had slogged through adversity a few years prior and walked some roads I never thought I'd walk. But all of that was behind me and life had settled into quasi-stability and predictability. Which was just fine. I was tired of the roller-coaster and exhaustion that suffering brings.  

Miller's soul-searching and grueling adventures seemed great for him, a single, hip, writer from the Pacific Northwest, someone in the vanguard of all things innovative and influential and Starbucks-y. But I am not him. I'm a married mother of three living in a small town in the steamy Southeast, someone in the vanguard of all things carpool and vinyl-sided and utterly non-descript. 

I should have fastened my seatbelt. One should be careful when wishing for a better story.

Many chapters have been written in my life's pages since I read Miller's book. And I'm captivated by the idea of living a good story more now than ever before. 

Last week a friend came over for coffee and we shared bits of our lives, excerpts from our stories. We're in different life stages and I want to be her when I grow up, not because she's perfect but because she's real and beautiful, a sufferer and a survivor, an encourager and a story-teller. 

My friend spoke of her own dark days and the ones that still linger. We discussed the irony of suffering, how we avoid it at all costs and yet we'd never change back into the person we were before the trials came. 

So how'd you get there? she asked me.

And I told her. 

Unlike Miller, I didn't choose to reinvent myself or edit my life into a meaningful narrative. But I was reinvented, and that's the story I shared with my friend. 

The two of us cried and laughed and prayed. I called my husband after she left and told him how much I loved him, how telling even just the bare bones version of our busted-up story made me want to fall on my knees and thank God for redeeming, well, everything.

Often I've wondered how a girl like me ended up living such a crazy life, how a young woman who desperately wanted to be a mother {and just knew she'd be good at it} would end up feeling like a failure on her very first day of motherhood {and nearly every day thereafter}, how a committed couple like us ended up getting it so wrong before things finally started to turn right. I've wondered how the turmoil and battles and demons we each fought did not destroy us entirely.  

But those are not the wonders which leave me dead in my tracks. No. The greatest wonder of all is that a loving and good God spared us and breathed new life into us by allowing the idols of our hearts, the "good" things we wanted to glory in the most--success and stability, parenthood and marriage, righteousness and accolades--crumble at our feet so that we had nothing left to glory in but God alone and his unending grace.

We have taken journeys, together and individually, that led us far away from home but we have not returned unchanged. I've written about it some, but when my story is also someone else's story and his story is also my story, well, it makes the telling careful and delicate.

And as if all of these thoughts and talks about story weren't enough, I heard something on my Saturday morning run that nearly put me over the edge. I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon called "Resting Grace." It's about how the Gospel transforms character. Keller argues that technique and New Year's resolutions don't change our character, not in a "holistic and organic" sense. True transformation, true greatness, happens when we enter into the Story over and over again.

This is what he says:
Every adventure story goes like this: Some ordinary person, kind of going along in life, and suddenly something comes in and takes them to another time or to another planet or to another dimension or to a far, faraway land and they get caught up in some big story. And that big story has heroes and villains and evil forces and there's always some incredible conflict and at the last minute somebody usually sacrifices their life and snatches victory out of the jaws of defeat and everyone is saved. 
And then they come back home. They come back to their present time....and their character's different. They're never the same. Why? They're braver, they're sweeter, they're happier, they're more easily moved. They're more noble. They become great. Why? Nothing tempts them now because they've seen high beauty, so celebrity and sex and money can't hold a candle to it... And nothing bores them now because someone {remember at the end of Saving Private Ryan?) sacrificed, somebody gave their life so that they can be saved and now every second is precious... And nothing scares them now because they've seen greater evil and they've faced it down. 
There's a greatness about their life. Why? Because they're living every day in light of that bigger story. They've come from a bigger story into their daily life and they remember it. Their minds are set on that. And so they move through their life with greatness and that's the only way for you or for anybody to become people of greatness--kind people, forgiving people, peaceful people, joyful people, noble people, courageous people. That's how it's done. It's not done through technique or New Year's resolutions. You have to think that 'I was part of this incredible, heroic story and now I'm back and I'll never be the same again.' And that's what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is somebody who's come back.

My story hasn't been epic enough that I'm never bored and never tempted and never scared. No mere mortal will fully characterize those never's until Heaven. But I know I'm progressing through my own story in ways that matter. Why? Because I am less bored and less tempted and less scared than I once was. 

I am beginning to think and live as one who has come back.

And by "beginning" I do mean just-barely-taking-baby-steps-sort-of-beginning. But trinkets and distractions, career and compliments, know-how and getting it right...they all matter less, so much less than they once did. I cried as Keller talked about story because I've lived a bit of this now and I know he's right: You don't come back unchanged.

But it's not always ticker-tape and Disney vacations when you return. You may be battered and bruised for a while or even a lifetime. Some scars never fully fade away for good. But is there sacred purpose for our scars within our own stories and in the stories of those we influence? Even Jesus kept his scars after he was raised to life. It's one of the ways others knew He was real. 

And maybe that's how the world knows we're real. They can see our scars. But they can also see that we've been given new life.  

At times the everyday can still seem non-descript. When I'm not dangling off a cliff or feeling like a desperate damsel in distress {figuratively of course}, it's easy to forget that I'm living a story. Laundry has a way of keeping me woefully ordinary.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, famous or influential or immortalized in any significant way. But I have caught a glimpse of "high-beauty." I've tasted redemption first-hand. I know what it's like to have been snatched from the jaws of death and defeat. These things are true of my own narrative and they are most certainly true of the ultimate Story, the one Keller refers to, the one we have to set our minds on again and again. That's where the transformation, the "greatness" comes from. 

Every day is a page, failures and victories writing themselves into chapters that chronicle a story I realize I'm not really authoring but that I am really living, laundry and all. 


When I read this post of Emily Freeman's, I knew it was a divine invitation to scribble down all of these percolating thoughts about story and suffering and change. This post is linked up with some other folks' stuff about living a good story at Prodigal Magazine. Join us?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This is a Job for Future Mom

On Sunday, I awoke to four hands bringing a steamy cup of coffee to my bedside. Mother's Day could have ended right there and it would have been lovely. But it didn't.

Amid hugs and snuggles, some of the coffee sloshed and spilled. And after bounding inside from the rain, the dog wanted to get in on the celebration and leaped upon the bed with her muddy paws. The bed with freshly-washed sheets that now had smeary paw prints stamped alongside the coffee splatters.

The Man and I looked at each other and just laughed. The rain had washed away his plans for a Mother's Day picnic and his back-up restaurant was closed. We ended up eating bad Mexican food at a local buffet while our mannerless children bounced around in the booth and dripped queso all over their Sunday clothes. 

Our life is a beautiful mess.

Most days I see more mess than I see beautiful, but as the months and years pass I feel a shift. Sometimes I pause before I erupt, survey the scene with the eyes of my future self, the one whose kids have flown the coop and whose nest is tidier but also emptier.

When Future Mom and Present Mom meet up, it's a good moment. Nothing is perfect but everything is right.

When Monday morning showed up, I had dressed a toddler three times and cursed the dog more than that, all before 9 am. I'd gone to bed ridiculously late and didn't get my run in. I was tired and cranky. The kitchen was a mess, the laundry undone, the paint peeling. I'd just planted flowers and yet the weeds were winning. Also? It was raining. Again.

Sometimes mess simply trumps beauty. Or so my eyes and mind would have me believe. But it's never true. Never.

There is life pulsing hard and loud and messy in this place. Life! And there is nothing more beautiful than that.

On rainy, chaotic Mondays and messy, overwhelming Wednesdays, Future Mom stands beside me, loving and stern, and tells me to inhale all that I see and exhale thanks. And of course Present Mom is prone to look up at her with a roll of the eyes, and say something sassy in reply. {Present Mom wishes Future Mom would do a little time travel and help a sister out with the laundry.}

But she doesn't do laundry. She only speaks truth. 

Present Mom tells me to change the circumstances {or the wall color or the furniture or the behavior of my children} and life will be beautiful.

But Future Mom tells me that it's already beautiful. Choose to see what you already have, she says. It's everything you ever dreamed of and more.

If you're drowning in mess and can't quite grab hold of all the beauty, I can give you Future Mom's phone number. She's always available and the best kind of bossy.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

On Fear, Wishes, and {Gulp} Goal-Setting

I turn 39 this month. And if you're good at math like I am, you've deduced that I have only one year until the big one. 

My 40th has mocked me from the future since my 30th. I cried on my 30th birthday because the end of my 20s felt like the end of my youth. Clearly, I had no sense of perspective. I wouldn't go back to my 20s for anything now. That girl was an anxious, people-pleasing, clueless baffoon. She had issues for sure. 

{I write as if my soon-to-be-39-year-old self has reached some sort of Nirvana-like, self-actualized state of perfection. As if.}

But as my 30s is wrapping up, I feel an inspired urgency to set some goals. I have a love / hate relationship with the beast of goal-setting. For someone who has a strong perfectionist streak, unmet goals can feel like failure, even if the goals are completely unrealistic. 

And we all know that a giant scoop of failure on top of the proverbial 40th birthday sundae could have disastrous {and gluttonous} results. I could end up eating 40 birthday sundaes in my despair. 

So I've got these goals {only two} and no, I'm not brave enough to share them with you. Not yet anyway. But I've been thinking a lot about how I need goals yet also fear them. I read somewhere that a goal without a plan is just a wish. That truth hit me like a freight train and I haven't forgotten it. 

We all have wishes {I call them dreams} but we rarely put pen to paper to make the plan to reach the goal that fulfills the dream. Dreams aren't inherently a virtue. Dreams can be narcissistic, indulgent, and skewed for sure. But they can also be inspiring, life-giving, and world-changing. 

My pre-40 goals aren't world-changing in the least. They are personal and symbolic, achievements that tug at my soul hard enough for me to pull out the pen and paper.

Though fear of failure often keeps me from setting goals in the first place and that's probably normal, it's also ridiculous. And cowardly. 

If there's anything I'd like to kick to the curb as I approach 40, it's cowardice. Much of my inner life has been characterized by fear. Fear of others, fear of failure, fear of the future, fear that I'll never measure up to my own standards. 

And so this goal-setting / dream-wishing thing is forcing me to reckon with fear, to write it down, to pray for brave, and to bathe my loosely-held dreams in grace. 


Now what about you? Are you naturally a goal-setter or do you have a love / hate relationship with them like I do? Also, have you ever made a birthday "bucket-list?" 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

For the Love of Four

Four may just be the perfect age. 

Part toddler, part almost big kid, four-year-olds can speak well enough to sound nearly grown and unaware enough to say exactly what they mean. They are perhaps the most articulate demographic on the planet.

Mommy, I just want to have love with you real quick. And I know precisely what he means. He wants to snuggle up close for a few moments, give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then get back to business. Not too much love, just a little. 

Recently, I overheard him talking earnestly to his big brother's neighborhood pal, You're my best friend because you never be's mean to me. All it takes to be his BFF is to never be's mean. Pretty simple. {And yes, be's has now become a working part of the whole family's vocabulary.}

His speech is still imperfect and I get teary as I imagine the day when he can properly say "S" at the beginning of a word. For now I relish 'tinky 'kunk {"stinky stunk"}, 'lushies {"slushies"}, 'poon {"spoon"}, and a whole host of words in which the beginning S is silent as he confidently commences with the next consonant. 

Later this morning I'm going to a Mother's Day tea at his preschool. He told me that he made a tea cup for me. And that it's a surprise. Apparently in his four-year-old mind, surprise does not equal secret. I love that. 

He whispers out loud. He hides something behind his back and thinks that it really is hidden. And he truly believes that being a superhero just means putting on the costume.

Every age is beautiful and each stage ushers in new gifts...

But there's just something magical about four.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Everyday Grace: When Regret is a Bully

Sometimes I'm haunted and beaten up by everything I've gotten wrong. Regret is a bully that way.

A solitary remorse can serve as a spark that lights a flame that spreads like a forest fire through the mind. Lately I've watched with quiet longing as other moms tend to those littler than mine, wishing so badly that I could've known then what I know now. And then think of all the years I wasted on myself instead of living more sacrificially. Before you know it I'm cataloging every episode of ignorance and impulsiveness, cluelessness and selfishness. They've all had their way with me and sometimes it's hard to forget.

Sometimes the past crescendoes like a tidal wave and you're drowning in if-only's. Instead of being grateful for today and hopeful for tomorrow, you're stuck in a place of failure and unproductive wistfulness. 

Too often it takes coming to the end of my rope and hitting the ground with a thud before I finally look up. But when I do, I see that God's ways of dealing with the past and the future are so very different from mine. 

I gaze upon the past and regret.
He calls me to look back and remember His faithfulness.

I stare into the future with fear and anxiety.
He invites me to trust and to take my cues from the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.

I ruminate on the misuses and mishaps of my yesterdays and want to crawl under the covers.
He tells me to forget what is behind and press forward.

And I can. I can do these things but only because of what He did first. The finished work of Christ covers the sin and shortcomings of my past and provides hope and security for my future. Nothing can erase what's been done and I can look at that either as a lamentable reality or through the lens of the Gospel...

Nothing can erase what's been done: Christ came!

And He came to forgive and to redeem and to give us power to take defeatist thoughts captive and to set our minds on things above. 

Every day there is freedom through repentance, comfort through remembrance, rest through trust, and hope through Christ Himself. 

If you feel stuck in the mire of could haves and should haves, lift up your gaze and look at the Rescuer, the author and perfecter of your faith, the forgiver of your past, the power for your today, and the provider for your tomorrows. 

Related Verses
Colossians 3:1-4


"Everyday Grace" is a weekly post I've recently begun. It is sort of in the style of a devotional {which is ironic...because I don't typically love devotionals} and a departure from the sort of posts I usually do. It began as a way to record the ways in which God is making the Gospel of Grace "real" to me in everyday ways. This is a way of recording it for myself and sharing with you. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

When Your Craft Projects Become Subliminal Messages

I've had virtually no creative inspiration these last few months. Being tired will do that to you. But earlier this week I got together with a friend for the purpose of catching up and doing something crafty. She recently had a baby and we did a super cute modge-podge and cardboard letters project. It was so adorable and easy that I made a bee line to Hobby Lobby to make some creative letter art of my own.

I am lazy and wanted to do the least amount of letters possible. I chose EAT.

The area above my sink formerly displayed some plates but I grew tired of them. Then it displayed nail holes from the plates I'd grown tired of. Anything is a big improvement. 

Here's the quickie tutorial. My friend was inspired by her project on Pinterest but I don't have the link. I usually do the slacker shortcut amateur version of a tutorial anyway.

First, go get your letters and scrapbook paper. Hobby Lobby has thick chunky cardboard ones that are about 8 inches high, thinner mdf letters that are probably 10-12 inches high {which is what I chose} or giant chunky cardboard ones. Those were my favorite but they were too big for my space. By the way, the letters are 30% off this week and the paper is 50% off.  

Paint the sides of the letters. I used acrylic craft paint. 

Trace your letters onto the back side of scrapbook paper.

Cut out the letters {I used scissors. No fancy cutters here.}

The next part was trial and error for me. I found that my paper tended to bubble and not stick, so I used a light coat of spray adhesive, stuck the paper on the letters, and then modge-podged over the top

It's not perfect and there's still a bit of bubbling, but anyone who is fussy enough to pull up a ladder and criticize my bubbly letters is probably no friend of mine anyway.

There are probably better ways to hang one's letters but I whipped out the top two favorite craft supplies in my limited arsenal: upholstery tacks and hot glue. It made the process of hanging them evenly super easy. 

Here's a close-up of the finished project.

And there you go. 

My friend stopped in to admire the handiwork and told me that she can't hang an EAT sign in her house. "Why?" I asked. "Because it's like a subliminal message. I'll just do what the sign says and eat." Well I thought that was silly and odd and laughed it off.

The next night I made this for dinner. {Let's all just pause for a moment and thank the Lord for Pinterest.}

Double pans of homemade enchiladas. Two different varieties! Chicken in one pan and black bean / zucchini in another. With a green chile cream sauce. All five of us stuffed ourselves on these enchiladas.

Coincidence? Perhaps not. 

My next sign will read "RUN." 


Linked up with Grace at Home, hosted by my friend, Richella.



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