Monday, December 20, 2010

On Leading

I've been thinking a lot lately about the finding and the leading that's part of the Christmas story. How instead of lifting high this new king baby for the whole world to see, the Father hid Him away in near obscurity and called an unlikely yet perfect audience to witness and proclaim His arrival: shepherds. He called shepherds to find the One who would be the Shepherd to His people.
And how those who tried to find Him for all the wrong reasons couldn't, and those who were just minding their own business were blindsided by angels and a colossal star so that the finding was unmistakable.
I am growing to love God's upside-down and inside-out ways more and more because He orchestrates with such tender mystery and with such an unlikely cast of characters. More than ever before, the Christmas story has gripped my anxious heart and I feel a connectedness to everyone from Mary to the shepherds, probably because I've felt a little upside-down and inside-out myself.
In need of some divine leading and overwhelmed by decisions and anxiety, I simply sputtered through the tears last week, God help me. Show me the way. To be honest, I would love some heavenly hosts and that big ol' star to make things more clear.
And while He may not lead me through the same means, He always leads me to the same the One who saves me both in the cosmic sense and in the everyday sense.
I don't know about you but I have needed a lot of everyday saving lately...mostly from myself. The condemnation that starts out as a whisper can steadily grow until it is so all-consuming, even the inability to keep up with laundry or not yell at my kids turns into some existential crisis and I wonder what purpose I'm serving on this planet.
I'm so thankful that God doesn't leave me in my condemned and shameful state, thankful that He faithfully leads me to the Savior with tender mercy and warm mystery. Thankful that He leads me to the One who imparts wisdom and reassures me that He's in control. Thankful that He speaks truth through His word and through His Spirit: I came to give you freedom. There is no more accusation, no more condemnation. Don't re-enslave yourself to that which I came to to save you from.
He leads me once again to Truth incarnate who came as a baby to set me free.
May Grace and Truth and Glorious Freedom be yours this Christmas.
Words of freedom to ponder during this fourth week of Advent:
{Isaiah 9:2}
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
{Romans 8:1}
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...

{Colossians 1:19-22}
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[a] your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good Company

I don't know why we know so little about Mary. She is, after all, the one who birthed the Savior of the world. Last night I was at a Christmas gathering and we were all asked this question: "If you could have coffee with any person in history, who would it be?" For me it was a tie between Bono, C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. But after I thought more about it this morning, I decided on Mary.

How long was she in labor and how badly did it hurt? Did Jesus cry that robust, red-faced cry when He was born? Who tended to her after the labor and delivery? There was no mention of a mid-wife and I'm guessing that Joseph didn't have a clue. Did she doubt whether she'd really seen and heard that angel of the Lord? Did she maybe wonder if she was crazy, wonder that it had all been a dream? What were all of those thoughts that she "treasured up" and "pondered in her heart?"

This side of Heaven, I won't know. But today with new eyes and a needy heart, I gazed upon the few words we do have in Luke 1. Commentators call it "Mary's Song."
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.

{emphasis mine}
That Mary's words find resonance with a 21st-century mama just struggling through the everyday with her own baggage...well, God's word is so faithful. Today I have been especially mindful of my own humble, servant-like state. I cried when my husband left for work this morning, overwhelmed by the mess and the children but mostly overwhelmed by my own inadequate self.

The inadequacy. It waxes and wanes depending on the day but oh, there are times when I am simply swallowed up by it and it seems there's no way out, no glimpse of grace. The tears have flowed freely and the frustration has shot my nerves to pieces and it is in my swallowed-up state that I long to be rescued.

Still in pajamas, still recovering from tantrum-throwing toddler, still staring at heaped-up clothes in every room of the house, the older two and I, we finally sit at the oak table to gather ourselves in so many ways. And we sit 'round our first-ever Jesse Tree, our very own family's "shoot" pointing to the Savior, despite days of feeling stunted and broken and stump-like.

More than a few days behind, I read and I read, story after story, as tears burned and heart ached and children stared at me...crazy, crying mama. We read of destitute Naomi and desperate Ruth and Rahab the prostitute {my favorite,} all broken-down women who only God could make great and who humbly took their places in the line that would eventually bring Jesus into the world.

Is it any wonder that He felt so at home among the lowly and the beaten-down? He came out of them and He also came unto them. Only God would do such a crazy, wonderful, upside-down and inside-out thing!

Sometimes I simply need to know that I am in good company and maybe you need to know it too. I need to know that the Savior of the world is also the Savior of this girl and the Redeemer of rotten days. I need to know, like Mary and her inadequate sisters, that He is mindful of my humble state, that his mercy extends to me and that the only greatness that matters is that which the Lord raises up out of nothing.

Mary's song is for all of us.

I pray that grace and strength and fresh hope will be yours and mine during this third week of Advent.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On Belief

I believed in Santa until an embarrassingly old age because Lee Kinard, the Channel 2 weatherman, said he was real. With each passing year, my shaky belief swinging like a pendulum between the magical and the rational, I'd watch Mr. Kinard show a radar picture of Santa's sleigh and tell all of us children to hurry off to bed. And every Christmas Eve until I was 10 years old, I'd fall fast asleep knowing that Santa was real and tangible even though none of it made sense and all of the other kids said Santa was actually your parents.

I've often wondered why my belief in Santa persisted beyond that of all my peers while I questioned the existence of God at such an early age.

I went to church twice on Sundays. I memorized Bible verses on Wednesday nights and got award pins. My mom directed the church children's choir and my dad delivered sermons week in and week out. There was persuasion aplenty swirling about during those impressionable childhood days and I tried hard to believe....most of the time.

But as I got older, belief became more difficult. And while I was able to keep the serious and scary doubt at bay for years at a time, by mid-20's I was a mess. None of it made sense and I demanded proof. Church-going and sermons and choir didn't cut it anymore.

Stories of God and the motions of religious rituals, much like the myth of Santa Claus and the practice of Christmas traditions, seemed contrived and meaningless. I wanted someone to point out God and Truth on a radar screen so that I could fall asleep with the assurance that He was real.

My own story would probably be a more powerful one if I could tell you that Belief showed up in some magical, supernatural way with glitter and snow-dust and angels or in the midst of drugs and jail-time and a biker gang.

But the story unfolded without much fanfare or drama at all...

An over-thinking girl with a still-seeking heart buried beneath all of that cynicism, just me and the book of Romans on a winter's day, stumbling into a church that taught Truth with equal parts Word and conviction and grace, the gentle, powerful persuasion of the Spirit that whispered to my searching self, This is true and real and no amount of evidence can make you believe.

There wasn't some convincing apologetics book or a 12-steps-to-belief program. After years of struggling to understand, the nonsensical slowly began to make sense and with each shaky step toward belief, my feet found surer ground.

I know now that all the evidence in the world is no match for a heart that is simply not ready to receive faith. It's a gift. Faith, that is. And for natural-born skeptics like me, it's one we have to keep receiving daily.

Christmas becomes increasingly special to me each year because for the Believer, it's so much about the receiving. The rituals and practices and songs force me to reckon with my daily state of faith...or lack thereof. The motions are no longer empty or superficial. They point, like a radar, to the One who is real and who came and still comes, every day, with fresh faith to be opened as a gift for skeptical strugglers like me.

And maybe like you too.

May hope and faith be your gifts to receive during this second week of Advent.


Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

{Hebrews 11:1)

{Linking up with Ann once again on this crazy and messy Monday to count the gifts}

44. Our Jesse Tree, a helpful "pointer" to Truth

45. A full pantry

46. Three {still pajama-clad children} playing robber-catching-police on the sofa

47. Books

48. Coffee {I know, it's on every list...but it's such a worthy gift}

49. The loveliest event, A Charles Dickens Christmas, that Blondie and Brownie and I attended over the weekend {complete with feasting and crafts and Ebeneezer Scrooge}

50. Cupcake's first Christmas craft {made at church}, a manger scene with Baby Jesus on top of the stable

51. My own healing head...after a mishap involving a wayward board propped up in the garage, followed by a trip to the E.R., and a couple of staples to keep it all together. {Also thankful for anesthetic.}

52. My mom, who happened to be here when the board fell and who tenderly took care of me just like she used to {Thanks Mom!}

52. Wooden train and a toy guitar, delightful presents for Cupcake in honor of his 3rd birthday

Monday, November 29, 2010

Coming Into the Mess

We started our Jesse Tree today, generous gift to all from the beautiful Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience. I invite you to spend some time there. She writes of the holy, messy everyday and Jesus drips from her every word. With each post, she has a way of reorienting my gaze back to Him and every day, I need that.

This year she has written a Jesse Tree advent devotional e-book and it's free. Go here if you'd like to download.

For months I've longed for this Christmas season to be one of intentional anticipation, one in which we slow down and incorporate gentle practices of expectancy. I've envisioned serene mornings of hot chocolate and Bible readings and Jesse Tree ornament hanging. How we'll awake Christmas morning and celebrate His coming more than we celebrate with consumerism.

And today, on this first "serene" morning of expectancy, hot chocolate spilled across my tableau of perfection as children bickered and littlest one got sent to time-out. We finished our first devotional to find that he had destroyed the Lego creation his older brother had painstakingly assembled and by 9:45, I felt undone. I fussed and fretted and reprimanded and said to myself, This is not at all what I envisioned. Why do even the most sacred and well-intentioned practices crumble before my very eyes?

And just as quickly, I sensed a Spirit-tug and I knew this:

He came into the mess and He comes into the mess.

Born in a stable amid the stench and groan of animals, out of the womb of some non-descript girl who moaned and cried just like I did, born to a people who would rather worship the things of this world than worship the One who came to save them from it.

There was nothing serene about any of it...except Him.

Daily, we will continue our Jesse Tree journey until Christmas Day and the setting will likely be life is every. single. day. As I type this, there are crumbs scattered across the table, dirty dishes littering the counter, and nary a Christmas decoration in sight, save for the paper advent chains my children made in church last night. And maybe this is just the perfectly imperfect way to begin this day and this season. Life stripped of glittery, lit-up, and bedazzled perfection and replaced with life undone and messed up, cluttered and loud and torn apart just like the Legos.

He came to piece it all back together and to bring peace to all of us who feel just a bit undone. Besides, glittery perfection isn't as obviously needy of a Savior.

During this first week of advent, if you're feeling just a bit unraveled and overwhelmed, I invite you to segue from Thanksgiving to Christmas by being thankful for the mess that points us to Christ.

Emmanuel, God with us...

With us in the mess...

With us in the celebration...

With us in the fear and anxiety...

With us in the giving and in the receiving...

With us every moment of every day, no matter what the day holds...

To bring us peace.

Grace and peace to you all, dear ones.


Today, I continue to count {albeit inconsistently} the gifts with Ann and the other folks that are part of the Gratitude Community at Holy Experience. I have learned from her that the counting makes all the difference.

28. Hot chocolate, spilled or unspilled

29. Paper chains, reminiscent of my own childhood

30. The very loud, clamoring, imaginative children playing make-believe as I type. {Did I mention they are loud?}

31. Seasonally-appropriate cold for our southern climate after a looooooong summer

32. The reorienting and encouraging words of bloggy girls and friends-in-real-life girls who love Jesus

33. The Word, opened on the table and surrounded by crumbs and empty mugs...and gentle inspiration from this scene that it needs to be opened more {all the time?} in this messy place

34. Cupcake. He will be three tomorrow and he is joy incarnate for all of us. His name means mercy and He represents that, child conceived out of patched-up love.

35. A new-to-us dryer that will hopefully not eat our clothes

36. Fire in the fireplace each morning

37. Thanksgiving and feasting with family

38. A break from the routine

39. Coffee

40. My husband, who lovingly and graciously comes to my rescue, time and again, when the stress has me undone and incapacitated

41. My Sunday Inklings friends

42. Christmas lights and candles

43. All of you who read this and come here...I'm thankful for you

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Practicing Rest

She came to me with piano book in hand, one of her many impromptu breaks from practicing and said,

Look, it's a song you play with no hands.

No hands? I asked. How does that work?

It's a song with just rests, she replied matter-of-factly. You don't use your hands. You just practice rests.

I let her words sink in and settle down deep.

And in that instant, I knew that God had once again spoken timely truth into a single mundane moment.

Life lived with some songs of rest every now and then, I thought to myself. What might that look like?

To simply accept the fact that yes, we work and practice and perfect and labor and sometimes we just need to play a song of rest. That songs of rest give Him glory and breathe life back into our stressed-out souls in ways that songs of a zillion fancy, strung-out notes cannot. That songs of rest lullaby our spirits in ways that chords and trills and constant staccato cannot.

Fast and furiously, I pound and plunk out the notes of the crazy everyday and it is cacophony, not calm...discord, not delight.

Oh to be nine and and naive and fully accepting that sometimes we just need a song of rest and that's all there is to it. That practicing rest is just as legitimate as whatever else we're doing all day with our ever-tasking hands.

And I, at 37, know that rest takes actual practice...discipline even?

The season ahead is one of gratitude and celebration. It's also one in which the to-do takes precedence over the rest our souls need. We're so busy tasking and preparing; receiving rest takes a backseat...

He takes a backseat.

Ironic, yes, how busy we can become as we prepare for and celebrate the One who is rest.

Too often, my busyness and inner mess blinds me from seeing Him as that. And I'm grateful beyond words that He relentlessly pursues me anyway, amid piano books and dirty dishes and unfolded laundry, an unassuming 9-year-old girl unknowingly speaking divine truth words just for me in that bleary-eyed moment...
Child, practice rest.

I pray that for me, for you, for all of us, our hands and our hearts can find peace, stillness, and grace in the One who invites the weary to come.

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Exodus 33:14
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

Unwrapped with Emily {Chatting at the Sky}

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Remember Me?

So I've been kind of busy with living and all. The kind of busy that leaves you breathless too many moments of the day. For introspective types like me, it's like a nagging thirst and the water is always just beyond reach.

All work and no writing makes this girl downright beastly. I have craved rest and solitude like a marathoner longs for the finish.

But here I am, finally, enjoying a rare moment of complete silence at my kitchen table and feeling as if I have absolutely nothing and everything to say. I've learned that days without reflection and rest {both the physical and spiritual kind} create an internal bottleneck and when the moment for contemplative expression finally gifts itself to me, I am ironically at a loss.

So with that in mind, I give you pictures, hoping they may be worth the thousands of words I'm apparently without, a few glimpses into some of the more delightful moments of living we've enjoyed during the fall...


I already know that when they are grown, I will look at this picture and cry.

I know, this picture is in a previous post but I love it. A few days away that The Man and I enjoyed, a belated trip to celebrate our 15-year anniversary. Already it seems like a lifetime ago.

In case you're wondering, yes, Brownie is still playing golf. This fall he started playing in some kid tournaments. It was only going to be one tournament, just for fun, but somehow it turned into 6. He and The Man conspired to make it a "tour." Anyway, here he is at the actual tour championship, the only tourney I was able to go to because we also have a 2-year-old and golf courses are quiet and 2-year-olds are not.

Be still my heart. Getting to and from the tourney was so crazy, I couldn't enjoy it much then. But now? I just love this picture of the boy and his daddy {also the caddy.} Again, one of those pictures that will make me cry when the boy is grown and the daddy and I are old.

Hi Papa and Nana! They came down all the way from Michigan to visit us for 4 days and watch Brownie play golf. We had the best time.

Golf is the prettiest sport I think. For a girl who is not sportsy, I rank my affinity for a sport based on the beauty of its surroundings {or the cuteness of the uniforms.}

We enjoyed the loveliest field trip to a farm and vineyard up in the mountains. I cannot tell you how beautiful it was. Even though I was chasing my kids, the beauty of the place quieted my soul.

The kids ground corn with this old-fashioned corn grinder for what seemed like hours. I now have 2 bags of coarsely ground corn and they are expecting me to whip up some tortillas or bread or something pioneerish. If anyone can tell me how to make grits or cornbread out of it, I would be much obliged.

And there were still a few raspberries on the vine.

I don't know how many times he rolled down the hill but I look at this picture and it makes me feel free and giddy.

And last but not least, Brownie turned 7. I always cry at their birthdays because it's going by too fast and I want to slow it all down.

We bought an overpriced golf cake from the grocery store with air-brushed icing and plastic figurines and he loved it.

Happy fall. I've missed being here and hope not to stay away quite so long.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What I Scored at the Nester's Yard Sale

When I saw the Nester's yard sale post this morning, I simply had to sit down and scrawl out a companion post because. Don't all of you inquiring minds want to know what I brought home?

Of course you do.

I had already planned to go visit Lily that weekend. How lucky that it was also the same weekend as the Nester and Emily's yard sale!

There were many treasures for a girl to take home but I was trying not to be too spendy.

Still, I have some fun loot to show you.

Here's my trunk loaded up with mine and Lily's stuff from the neighborhood sale.

And here's a random guy who jokingly asked if we wanted him in the picture. I jokingly said back to him, "Sure!" He took me seriously.

Okay, so here's what I bought at Nester and Emily's:

Some galvanized buckets to store library books and other junk...

Some cute new clothes...because they are such stylish sisters...

And clearly the most photogenic sisters on the planet, are they not?

Some bangles and baubles that they sold so cheap I felt like I was stealing. {This isn't even all of them}...

That cute brown purse you see in the top picture...

A little fur rug for Blondie's "dressing area..."

And a baggie of chandelier baubles, some of which you see here on the chandy I've been making for my girl. It's not quite finished but here's a sneak peek.

This chandy and The Nester go way back. Remember her swap-meet she held over a year ago? Well, Lily and I got to go and after the swap-meet concluded, there was still a table of unwanted items just waiting for a good home or the Goodwill. Lily convinced me to take home a plain white light fixture and told me to turn the sconces upside down so that they're pointing up, not down, and to remove the ugly frosted globes. {It is so wonderful to have an ever-resourceful best friend who has mad creative skillz. Seriously, she built a whole company with her creative self.}

This poor discarded chandy sat in my garage for over a year just waiting to light up Blondie's room. We've been stringing beads and blinging it up bit by bit. It is sparkly and delicious and best of all, it cost me a package of Wal-Mart beads and fishing line.

And speaking of the girl's room, Blondie has finally gotten one of her own and we've been slowly working on it since August. We're almost finished and I can't wait to show you how it turned out. It's like a candy store. I want to be her roommate...

{And Lily's and the Nester's and Emily's.}

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Snapshot of Grace

For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. In good times and in bad times.

Fifteen years, all of the above, and we have Grace to thank for every moment.

{This snapshot: A celebratory anniversary trip to the mountains, just the two of us. All of it made possible by Grace.}


Linked up today with Emily {Chatting at the Sky}

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Miracle Desk

With the advent of a new school-year, I must confess that I've had to ward off homeschool-room envy. I recently told friends that I don't envy people's big, fancy houses; I envy people's school rooms.

Our kitchen table has worked mostly fine until this year, but with Blondie's increased work load, I begrudgingly shuffled books and papers and crayons from the table to the counter multiple times a day. We had to clear the school junk away so that we could eat breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner at this all-purpose table.

And if we didn't? Someone invariably spilled juice or smeared peanut butter onto somebody's math book and I would get mad because they were mad and papers were wet and I blamed all the world's problems on my lack of a homeschool room. Because I'm so rational and all.

And while I knew that I could make do just fine without an actual room devoted solely to education, I still needed a solution to the constant shuffling of papers and high-stakes juice spillage.

I literally lost sleep rearranging my entire house in my head night after night searching for a solution. And then, it hit me.

Take this seagrass settee...

And turn it into a window seat on one side of the kitchen table.

Use the empty space left by the moved settee for a long, narrow school desk and book storage.

So that's what I did.

You know how sometimes you really want something and you think it's going to change your life and make it so much better but then it doesn't turn out to be the miracle you though it would be?

This is not one of those times.

I spent about $100 and saved a whole lot of sanity. Also? I have always wanted a window seat for that big bay window. Turns out I had one all along. It was just sitting on the other side of the room holding piles of unfolded laundry.

I can't believe how simple this was and how well it's working for our family. Thanks for letting me show and tell.


And thank you IKEA for the affordable desk solution.

{I used 2 Vika Annefors cubbies, 2 Vika table tops, and 4 Vika Curry legs. Instead of using one long Vika tabletop at $40 that would have required just one leg, Lily advised me to purchase 2 smaller Vika tabletops at just $5.99 each and 4 legs at $3.50 each. I saved a little money that way but more importantly, I actually have 2 separate desks if I ever choose to move these elsewhere.}


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