Thursday, November 29, 2012

More Favorite Things. I Know! I Love Too Many Things.

Reddi Whip is a must with this hot cocoa. Crushed-up candy canes are optional. {But I highly recommend. }

#1: My favorite hot chocolate. It's my third winter of having this as a staple in our house. And it's so simple! Yet amazing because it's Martha Stewart's recipe so, you's legit. 

Makes 5 3/4 cups dry mix or 92 eight-ounce servings
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups cocoa
1 tablespoon table salt
Whole milk for serving {Trust me, you must you whole milk. This is no time to skimp.}

In a large bowl, combine sugar, cocoa, and salt, and whisk to combine well. Store the mixture in an airtight container. For individual servings, pour 1 cup whole milk into a microwave-safe mug, and microwave on high just until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of cocoa mix, and stir to dissolve. For a larger batch of cocoa, warm the milk in a saucepan set over medium-low heat, taking care not to let the milk boil; as it warms, stir in 2 tablespoons of mix for each cup of milk.

#2: This cupcake recipe with this frosting. They're called "Wedding Cake Cupcakes" and "Wedding Cake Buttercream." You're welcome. Best cupcakes and frosting I've ever made and super easy. 

A picture of the amateur ones I made. Recipe Girl's are much lovelier.

I made them for my 9-year-old's birthday a few weeks ago and I'm making them again for my {sniff-sniff} FIVE-year-old. 

Which brings me to Favorite Thing #3: this guy.

Yes, the baby of the family will be five tomorrow. I'm not coping well. I feel like I just gave birth to him and soon he'll be leaving for college. I have a hard time with birthdays. It's wrong and weird and I need to get it together. 

But honestly, I just love him at this age. He wears cowboy boots every single day, rain or shine, summer or winter. He usually wears a cowboy hat to complete the ensemble. When we try to coerce him into sneakers, he tells us they look weird and that people will laugh at him. So he wears what is essentially a costume instead. Makes total sense.

Also? Collared shirts. He refuses any shirt with a crew neck or any pants that do not have a button or zipper. It's the quirkiest thing. He's been this way for months. It's like he's a 50-year-old trapped in a 5-year-old's body. 

#4: The fact that "ombre" hair is in. I haven't had my poor hair cut or colored since May so if people stare too long at my grown-out roots and lighter ends, I just tell them I'm rockin' the latest trend. And that my version of the trend has a bit of gray mixed in.  

Um, not me. Just in case you were confused. {If only.}

#5: Puffer vests. I bought my first one this year when Old Navy had their 50%-off-outerwear sale and I want to wear it every day. It covers a multitude of sins, is super cozy, and looks good with jeans or running pants. {Or pajamas when you are too lazy to put on real clothes in order to take your kids to school.}  

#6: Cinnamon Pinecones. You know those cinnamon brooms that grocery stores sell this time of year? I love them. But I've never bought one because a.) they look witchy and b.) where in the world do you hang a decorative broom?

Enter the cinnamon pinecones that I bought at Wal-Mart this morning for $3.97. 

My great room smells like a cinnamon-spice wonderland. {I may or may not have licked one.}

#7: Santa Snow. Also an impulse buy at Wal-Mart. {Do not go shopping first thing in the morning when you are somewhat rested, caffeinated, and ripe with the holiday spirit.} It is not to be confused with flocking spray so you can't use it winterize branches, but you can spray a bit indoors and it cleans right up. For $1.50 a can, you can "let it snow" wherever you like. 

It's a Christmas miracle. 

{I'm thinking it may snow on the kitchen table tomorrow for a certain 5-year-old's birthday.}

#8: Branches & Spray Paint: I've been clipping bare branches and spray-painting them white in an attempt at creating some free Christmasy ambience. We'll see how it all comes together. I brought some of them inside before they were completely dry and it smells a bit spray-painty in here. 

Good thing I've got those pinecones. 


Your turn. Any favorite things {holiday or otherwise?}


Linked up with Grace at Home {a weekly link-up event at Imparting Grace}


Monday, November 26, 2012

Favorite Things {With Pages}

Happy Post-Thanksgiving and Pre-Christmas everyone! This Monday finds me a bit bleary-eyed and exhausted from much traveling and much food and two weeks of sickness that will not leave. I've no intention of being brilliant or deep or productive today, so I'm dishing up a favorite things post {and continuing to try not to stress about getting my holidays just right.}

My pockets are not exactly deep right now {as if they ever are} so I'm not planning any Cyber-Monday  craziness. But I do look forward to Amazon's $5 magazine subscriptions this time of year. I love getting and giving magazine subscriptions. It's like unwrapping a little surprise gift that arrives in the mailbox once a month. 

Another recent favorite purchase is this book: Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning. 

He's one of my favorite writers. The Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba's Child have both been such important books in my life. Reflections for Ragamuffins is a devotional, one reading for each day of the year. I love it. Here's a quote from the preface:

Reflections for Ragamuffins is a series of meditations written over a span of twenty-two years--years of joy and suffering, fidelity and infidelity, intense commitment and serious relapses, muddling and struggling to be faithful to Jesus. I share these reflections with a specific purpose in mind: not to transmit inspiring thoughts, but to awaken, revive, and rekindle radical, ruthless trust in the God bodied forth in the carpenter from Nazareth.

See why I love his writing? It's not about striving and perfectionism; it's about real rest in the only One who can save us.

On a different note, it was a little over a year ago that I began baking this bread: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. But I call it "Bread for Dummies." I love to cook and bake but bread has always intimidated me. It's so fussy and condescending with its demand for exactness and precision. Prior to the "Dummy Bread," I had ruined at least as many loaves as I'd successfully baked. 

No more. This bread is delicious, free from preservatives, and nearly foolproof. Did I mention it takes 5 minutes? Here's the basic premise: You dump yeast, flour, salt, and water in a large plastic container. You let it rise. You refrigerate it. You pull out a hunk of dough when you want fresh bread for dinner. You let the dough rise {no kneading or anything} for 40 minutes. You bake the bread. You eat the bread. You delight your family and friends. You wonder where the extra five pounds came from but decide not to sweat it because the bread to so worth it. 

Anyway, I've been making this bread regularly for many months and thought it was worth mentioning again, especially since it's the perfect season for hot, crusty, comforting bread. I linked the recipe above if you want to try it out but I finally bought each of the actual 5-minute bread cookbooks last Christmas {after checking them out repeatedly from the library.}

Here's the first cookbook and the one I use the most.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking

Here's the second cookbook which has lots of healthy breads and gluten-free options.

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients

Okay, so these next favorite things do not have pages but I feel compelled to tell you what I'm watching these days as I tide myself over until Downton Abbey resumes: The new version of Upstairs, Downstairs and Call the Midwife. The former takes place in at 165 Eaton Place, London, during the late 1930s and 1940s. The latter also takes place in London but in the East End during the 1950s. 

Oh they are such good shows! {Dramas, both of them, on Masterpiece Classic.} The actual seasons have ended but I think you can watch them or stream them on PBS online. {And while searching for that Downton Abbey link I saw that you can buy Season 3 on-line already! What?!? 'Tis the season for not shopping for oneself so I will patiently wait for January. Hopefully.}

Any favorite things you're loving lately? {with or without pages}


*Amazon links are affiliate links.

Monday, November 19, 2012

For the Mom Who's Trying to Get Her Kids and Her Holidays Just Right

She started the list a week ago. Her delicate fingers gripped the brightly-colored pigma pens as she scrawled out her heart's desires on the lined pages of a polka-dotted notebook. Mommy, do you want to know what I have on my Christmas list so far? 

This mama's inner response was one of frustration and slight panic. Why is she only thinking of what she wants? My children are becoming products of American consumerism run amuck! How am I going to fix this?

I'm not sure what I said at first but within a few sentences I was waxing poetically about how we need to also be thinking about ways we can give and not just focus on what we want to receive. Like a heart surgeon, I wanted to jump right in and fix things. You know, take out the greed, replace it with selfless goodwill and sincere gratitude, stitch things right up and tada! A child who can celebrate the real meaning of the upcoming holidays because I, a righteous and intentional mother, have taught my children well.

As I type these words, I could just choke on the hypocrisy of it all. Not to mention the control, anxiety, and self-righteousness that goes along with it. 

I'm not sure that our foremothers stressed over the intentionality of the holidays and special occasions with their children the way we moderns do. They were not bombarded with Pinterest, blogs, an endless array of magazines, and HGTV segments. As commercialism and consumerism have skyrocketed, so has the "intentionality movement." {That's what I'm calling it.} 

Don't get my wrong, I long to be an intentional mother. My husband longs to be an intentional father.  We want our children to be full of thanksgiving not only this week but every day of the year. We want them to know something of sacrifice and generosity during the Christmas season and beyond. We want to incorporate traditions and practices that point our family to Christ instead of to the Toys 'R Us Big Book of Presents. 

And we can stress ourselves to death trying to do it. 

We can wallow in guilt when we don't live up to our expectations. 

We can consume ourselves with attempts to undo the consumerism. 

We can look at what other families are doing or not doing and feel like maybe they're getting it right and we're not. 

I don't have answers. I never have answers. But writing and sharing helps me process the tangled state of my heart and mind as I consider the unnecessary pressures and obligations of the holidays. Personally, I long to be reasonable and balanced in a way that fits the uniqueness of our family. 

I like pretty things and baking and crafts and sacred traditions. But if my family emulated every great and intentional idea we've ever seen, we'd be up to our ears in Advent calendar-ing and devotionals and cookie-baking in the shapes of Christmas symbols and doing lessons on the Christian history of Christmas and volunteering in homeless shelters and giving shoes, toys, clothing to the needy and buying goats for a family in Africa and making sure each child only gets 3 gifts because that's what Baby Jesus got from the wise men...

And I am so not even done. 

Those are all wonderful endeavors. You may do some of them. We do some of them as well. Do not misinterpret my condensed list of good things as cynicism, sarcasm, or apathy. It's because I care quite a lot about mothering well and modeling compassion that I stress and digress. 

We are called to give generously and to live sacrificially. Honoring traditions create lovely memories for our children that they may even want to honor with their own families one day. 

But we cannot do every good thing. 

We cannot change the hearts of our children even though we try like mad to do so by mandating certain behaviors or instituting various family practices.  

We cannot save the world. That's what Jesus came to do and is doing. I think the most lasting thing we can do with our families is to speak, love, and live every day in light of that Truth: Jesus came! To save the world! 

Gratitude for the truth and beauty of the Gospel inspires and enables me {and my family} to shine a light in the small, humble corner where we live. 

Dr. Tim Kimmell in his book, Grace-Based Parenting, says this about families:

God left our families in communities to serve as porch lights, if you will, for the lost people around us. We are to be the steady glow that helps them find their way out of the darkness. When families are committed to being this light, they are inclined to live more intimately with Christ. {And I would argue that the inverse is also true: When families live more intimately with Christ, they are supernaturally more committed to being this light.}  
... {Historically} Parents armed with little more than a vibrant relationship with God consistently served as the ideal springboard for great people. So something changed. We got scared. And I think that fear is what motivates so much of the Christian parenting advice we get. 

This excerpt was not written to address the issue of being intentional with our kids regarding the holidays, but his words nonetheless apply. 

We fear that we're not doing enough in our family and for others. We fear that our children won't be compassionate and generous if they're too excited about their own presents. We fear that they'll be lacking somehow if our own traditions are missing creativity and consistency.

When I'm motivated by fear, I tend to control and manipulate. Things become contrived instead of sincere, forced instead of free-flowing. It's ugly.

I often think of Emily Freeman's quote in Grace for the Good Girl

Fear drives. 
But Love leads. 

Do you know what I wish I'd said to my daughter when she came to me with childlike excitement over her Christmas list? 

I love your list. This list shows me how much you appreciate beauty and anticipate delight. You know, God made us this way. In the garden, there was a limitless supply of beauty, an endless array of his good gifts. No living thing lacked anything. That's how we were created to live and one day all of that will return. In the meantime, dreaming of lovely and delightful gifts show us how much we long for beauty and goodness in a broken world. Receiving and giving presents are a little foretaste of what was and what is to come. And of course all of this pales in comparison to the greatest and most undeserved gift of all: Christ Jesus, through whom all of this was promised and is possible. We have so much to celebrate, so much to receive, so much to give...

Because she is 11, she would have probably tuned me out after the first two sentences. But if we're living out what we believe every day of the year, though we're doing it so imperfectly, perhaps it eventually gets through. Trickle-down theology?

Though excess and materialism can poison our hearts, so can good deeds and sacrifice when they're driven by duty-bound motives or dripping with self-righteousness. 

We can't make our children's hearts change. We can simply love them, provide for them, teach them, and model for them, albeit imperfectly. Only God can knock down the idols of their hearts and replace their love for the created with a greater love for the Creator. Only God can do that in my own heart and let me tell you, I sometimes wonder if I'm much further along than my children.

This year I'm starting over, at least in my mind. I want a brand new paradigm. It's not about getting it all just right. It's not about making sure my kids love Jesus on Christmas morning more than they love the new Lego set they just unwrapped. 

It's about pointing our own minds and hearts, as parents, toward the beauty and wonder of Christ and hoping that a bit of that beauty and wonder will spill over and cumulatively settle into the hearts of our children. And also hoping that it will flow into our spheres of influence in ways that are genuine and authentic and personal. Like the squares of a patchwork quilt, there is such beauty in the uniqueness of our families and how God uses us differently in our communities and beyond. 

I don't know about you but that sets me free in all sorts of ways. And I think it really is that simple...

Start first with my own heart. Live gratitude. Receive the love and mystery and wonder of Christ every day.

Perhaps setting our minds on these eternal truths will have a way of making everything else fall into place over the coming weeks.

A thrill of hope, the weary mom rejoices...


How about you? Do you struggle with "intentionality guilt" like I do?


*Book links within this post are amazon affiliate links.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why We Need to Have a Party for the Stuff We Never Celebrate

How are you? she asked. 

We were at church. She's one of the few who knows the real guts of my life, a sister who knows that behind the lip gloss and tall boots hides a woman with a story that is anything but fashionable and pulled together. 

I replied with confidence, not with fear of relapse or false hope: I feel change in my heart. It's happening. It's slow but true. 

She smiled, her face revealing the sincerest gratitude for me. And then she encouraged me to write it down, to journal the gifts of change and growth, to acknowledge and celebrate that God is at work. 

I know that God can snap his fingers and heal on the spot. Sometimes He does. Usually He doesn't. 

I'm finding that He uses an often-overlooked instrument of healing: Time.

We underestimate the healing salve of time. Often I think of it as some disconnected abstraction or as annoying accountability. I check my watch. I jot something on the calendar. My heartbeat quickens or my face grimaces when busyness eats into my precious margin. Too often time feels like a tool that I wield to govern my days.  

But time does not belong to me. It belongs to the One who created it. We talk of how God created the Heavens and Earth, how He's the author of faith, hope, and love. 

But what about time? He created it too. And though He is not bound by time in the ways we are, He uses time in remarkable, miraculous ways. In our speedy, instant-gratification culture, inefficiency can feel like an enemy. Waiting feels like punishment.

Even within the church, we applaud those who are quickly delivered from addiction or varying forms of licentiousness. We leap for joy over those who are instantly healed from disease or disability. We cry and Hallelujah and call it a miracle. And it is. It is

But what about the rest of us who feel stuck in the eternal waiting room? We're still in counseling. Our internal workings are still more broken than we want them to be. Our relationships and our very lives are still a mess and isn't there a clean-up crew who can help with this already?

What about the marriage that is in the process of healing but that process takes years? Issues are processed and forgiven only to give way to more issues that have to pass through the same, grueling cycle. 

What about the young mom who is balancing babies and carpool and forgiveness? She knows she has to. Theoretically she wants to. But those deep wounds coupled with her pride combined with the rigors of the day-to-day? She's getting there, she's making progress. She's learning and growing and finding healing even in the midst of her crazy life, but daily she's tempted to despair because complete change isn't hers yet. The process feels terribly slow and the pain of the past weighs her down. Still. 

Healing in one area but not yet another doesn't mean failure. Conviction and awareness that come incrementally doesn't mean you're losing. 

It means God is at work. 

The Bible uses many different metaphors for the Christian life: a long and grueling race, a seed that is planted and cultivated, a branch that is grafted onto Christ Himself. He is referred to as the author and perfecter of our faith, one who promises to complete the good work He began. 

He is faithful over generations

All of these images and promises reveal that God is not in the same kind of hurry we are. I could go into great detail about every one of those metaphors, how a seed has to die and remain dormant, how long it takes for a fruit tree to actually bear fruit, the physical and mental obstacles of completing a marathon, how generational promises took and still take centuries to fulfill.

But the imagery speaks for itself. They all require time. 

Slowly, I'm learning that time is not an enemy; it is one of God's good gifts. 

For reasons I may never understand, He uses time itself to heal and time as an incubator in which we heal. 

Our visions of what complete change and healing should look like are not necessarily wrong. But I for one have a tendency to focus on the complete instead of the change. And why wouldn't I? After all, we were made to be complete, made for a garden of perfect wholeness and fellowship. Our souls will long for perfect healing and sweet consummation until our time on Earth is through. 

Longing for wholeness is not wrong; it simply points us Heavenward.

Until then, we journey seemingly circuitous routes, trod treacherous paths, and live with broken hearts. We hurt others and are hurt by others. Wounds mire us in the deep, sometimes for years. Change can feel so slow, we wonder if we've moved an inch.

I can only truly speak for myself. The story I know best is my own. And I've decided that I don't want to put off celebration and remembrance until healing is "complete." I want to acknowledge every bit of incremental heart change, every wound that hurts less than it did, every new grace. 

I want to look Time square in the face and say, Thank you for being so patient and doing your thing even though nobody ever acknowledges what you do. 

I want my marriage, my family, my church, my tiny circle of influence to be places in which we celebrate the "small" and "incomplete." We only see a single brushstroke on the canvas. God sees the entire work of art and, as any artist knows, a masterpiece takes time. 

I have such a long way to go toward the healing, wholeness, and change I desperately desire. But as I look back, I'm able to see that Time is both a patient healer and a gentle place to simply be. Rest {"the art of doing nothing"as I like to joke} is bringing renewal. Faith and Hope are taking shape in tiny but tangible ways. 

Most of all, Love is winning. That sentence makes me cry every time I read it. I think it's because only I can really know what a supernatural thing that is, that Love could win in a such an unlovely story.

So for my own sake, I think I need to redefine "miracle." I love the instant kind. And I still pray for it. 

But Love that grows out of that which was dead, whether it takes ten days or ten years, that's incredible. 

Forgiveness that requires a thousand small deaths over five months or five years, that's amazing. 

Beauty that slowly rises out of the ash-heap of dysfunction and baggage and self-righteousness, that's crazy. 

And repentance that perseveres through bouts of pride and pity, anger and waywardness, well, that invites the fanfare of Heaven itself. 

Let's resolve to make much of the grace at work in our lives. Sometimes that means we just need to take a moment to reflect and give thanks. Whether we roll it around in our heads for a bit, chat it out with a friend over coffee, or scrawl it down on paper, reflection and remembrance have a way of giving birth to gratitude-induced hope. 

Or maybe we need to have an actual "party" of sorts:

A date with your husband because even though marriage isn't perfect, you haven't given up and maybe you're even getting help. 

Ice cream with your kids because even though you still haven't stopped losing it with them, you haven't stopped asking them to forgive you and you haven't stopped begging God for grace to change.

Dinner out with a sweet friend who knows where you've been and also how far you've come.

A few quiet hours to yourself to simply celebrate, in your own uniquely personal way, the great work that God is doing in seemingly small ways over His time. 

Twenty months ago I couldn't have written this post. Now I can. And that is something to celebrate.


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