Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Favorites

Happy last day of the year! I hope that you and yours enjoyed the holidays and will be able to eek out a few more days of extended pajama wearing and movie watching.

I'm a list junkie, a complete and total sucker for tabulations of the best books, movies, news stories, and beauty products. Don't hate. It's not easy to strike a proper balance between the meaningful and the superficial but I do my best.

So in the spirit of the year's end and my love of lists, I give you a few of my own favorites from the year.

Favorite Movie(s) 
{That I happened to watch in 2012. They probably released sooner...I'm just a bit behind.}

Bernie. People, I just watched this one and it is BRILLIANT. If you like quirky, dark-ish comedies and you hail from anywhere near or below the Mason-Dixon line, you will love this movie.

Wasteland. It's a documentary about art, poverty, garbage and how they all come together in a way that is redemptive, inspiring, and heart-wrenching. I've watched it twice.

Queen of Versailles. Also a documentary but this one chronicles the rags-to-riches-turned-riches-to-rags story of an extremely wealthy family currently building the largest home in America. It's riveting.

The Hunger Games. Though the cinematography made me a bit queasy, I felt the movie adaptation of the first book was really well-done. The Capital and its inhabitants were a marvel of make-up and costume genius.

Favorite Books

{Fiction} To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I've already read this book but my daughter and I went through it this summer and I fell in love all over again. It may be my favorite novel of all time.

{Fiction} The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I know everyone has already read this one but I'm late to the game. It took me a long time to get through it but it was worth the perseverance. It's an epic, sweeping work that reads like a memoir of the various characters of the story. The writing is masterful and the historical backdrop is both tumultuous and tragic.

{Spiritual} The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I think I read it twice this year. I echo the thoughts of many when I say that it's one of the most spiritually influential books of my life, a book I will continue to read and digest for years to come.

Favorite Recipes

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Obviously. If you're sick of me talking about this bread, I'm sorry. It really is that good and that easy.

Pecan Pie Bars. I'm not even a mega fan of pecans but I nearly ate the whole pan of this stuff by myself. Here's the recipe.

Pecan Pie Bars Recipe

Favorite Beauty Stuff

The older I get, the more I have to splurge on foundation and concealer. Drug-store products still do the job with mascara, eye shadow, etc. but the ever-increasing lines, spots, and dryness are begging for products that do a bit more. 

Clinique Even Better Foundation: Love. It lasts, isn't cakey or heavy, and blends well. 

Product Details

Clinique Line Smoothing Concealer: Again, it blends well, stays put, and has a shimmery dewy-ness to it. I feel like it brightens up my tired eyes.

Product Details

Revlon Grow Luscious Mascara: People, this mascara is AMAZING! And at $5 a tube, it's a deal. Probably my favorite mascara ever. It doesn't smudge, doesn't clump, and makes your lashes long and lovely without looking spidery.

Product Details

A friend of mine surprised me with a gift-wrapped tube of this fabulous, splurgy lipstick and I cried. Yes I did. I love surprises and I love lipstick and I cry easily so this really shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me well. She saw that I had pinned it on Pinterest and she bought me a tube! Anyway, about the's the perfect color for everything. It's pinky-brown and satiny, lovely alone or under gloss. I guard this lipstick with my life.

Favorite Internet Stuff

Spotify. My brother just introduced me to this. It's sort of like Pandora but you can just type in songs or artists and listen to any of their songs. You can even make playlists. I don't keep up with new music like I did in my younger years but I'm beginning to broaden my horizons a bit.

Pinterest. No explanation needed.

Favorite a la mode post

I'm often partial to different posts than the ones that get the most views but I thought it would be fun to search through my posts and see which one got the most views. And the winner is...

I chose to write about the ins and outs, pros and cons, good, bad, and ugly of our journey to place our kids in public school after years of homeschooling. Apparently it's a relevant topic; all of my posts about school get the most views. And because it's kind of therapeutic for me to share our story, you'll likely keep reading about it in 2013.


May we all be filled with gratitude for the momentous joys and everyday gifts of the past year. May we hold our past and current sorrows with acceptance and grace, and find continued comfort. May the year ahead be one of wisdom and grace, renewal and new favorites.

Happy 2013, friends!

{What are a few of your favorite things?}

Monday, December 17, 2012

December {week 3}: "Mindful of My Humble State"

{An edited and re-gifted re-post from December, 2010}


Recently 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?" I couldn't choose just one person but C.S. Lewis was certainly on the list. And Bono. After I thought more about it this morning, however, I decided on Mary. 

I don't know why we know so little about Mary. She is, after all, the one who birthed the Savior of the world. 

How long was she in labor and how badly did it hurt? Did Jesus cry that robust, red-faced, newborn wail when He left the warmth and comfort of her womb? Who tended to her after the labor and delivery? There was no mention of a mid-wife and I can't imagine that Joseph would have a clue. Did she doubt whether she'd really seen and heard the angel of the Lord? Did she wonder if she was crazy, wonder if it had perhaps all been a dream? What were all of those thoughts 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 weary housewife and the Redeemer of rotten days. I need to know, like Mary and her inadequate sisters in the faith, 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.


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Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Last week he reminded me that December 9th would be their 1-year anniversary. I can't believe he remembered the date. He's only in third grade. 

December 9th was the day he and his sister began public school. 

I've written about our journey from homeschool to public school quite a bit. I am less emotional now than I was at the beginning, more sure that this is right. For us. For now.

Nothing about school, whether you do it under your roof, your church's roof, or the state's roof, is perfect. Convictions, values, the child's needs, the parents' needs, lifestyle, safety, academic excellence, money, and goals--they all play a part in what can be a grueling decision.

My hope has always been that we could make a decision and that I would be able to rest in it. I don't arrive at decisions easily and once they're made, I tend to second-guess them. It's a torturous thing for all involved. 

But this week I realized the sweetest thing. My kids have been in public school for a year and I have found rest in this reality. 

I no longer cry. I rarely fret, not about school anyway. I am at peace with a reality that I didn't think I could feel peaceful about. 

There are difficult days and things I don't like. I really miss the flexibility and downtime. Homework can be a waste of time. Grades are often too important. Standardized testing creates too much pressure and stress, something young kids shouldn't have to deal with. Books, lunches, instruments, and homework assignments have all been left behind on one day or another, stresses I didn't know when we homeschooled.  

But then there are the gifts: 

Devoted teachers who really care and guidance counselors who go to bat; new friendships that are so very sweet and old friendships that have been rekindled; read-aloud time in special needs classrooms; an invitation to bring my grandfather to a Veterans Day lunch; pajama mornings and parties and plays. 

"Tougher and rougher" kids have taught my relatively sheltered children that not every child enjoys a life wrapped in love, provision, and needful boundaries. To and from commutes allow precious time for dialogue, debriefing, and even prayer. And this mom? She's less depleted and has more energy to just be a mom. 

One year in, amid the good days and the rough ones, my soul is at a place of rest. And this? Is no small gift. 


Today, we're unwrapping the gifts of the everyday over at Emily's {Chatting at the Sky.} And we'll be doing it each Tuesday of December. 

What can you unwrap? 

{from Emily} Anything that causes you to pause and celebrate the moment. Not what will be or what is to come, but what is real and true this day: the messy, the lovely, and the unexpected. Share a photo, a story, or anything that offers a glimpse into your own journey of discovering the gifts in the midst of the ordinary.

Join us?

Monday, December 10, 2012

December {Week 2}: Belief is a Gift

{An edited and re-gifted re-post from December, 2010.}

I believed in Santa until an embarrassingly old age because Lee Kinard, the Channel 2 weatherman for the North Carolina Triad, 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 believing that Santa would slide down my chimney that night...even though none of it made sense and all the other kids said Santa was actually your parents.

Looking back, my "belief issues" point to a strange irony. Though my belief in Santa persisted beyond that of all my peers, I secretly questioned the existence of God at a terribly early age.

I went to church twice on Sundays, memorized Bible verses on Wednesday nights, sang in the church children's choir and scrawled copious sermon notes. There was persuasion aplenty swirling about during those impressionable childhood days and I really did believe....most of the time.

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

Stories of God and religious rituals, much like the myth of Santa Claus and the practice of Christmas traditions, seemed contrived and meaningless. 

I needed someone to show me God 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 Las Vegas.

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 her and the book of Romans on a winter's day...

The disillusioned girl and her still-believing husband making a last-ditch effort at church and stumbling into a place that taught Truth with equal parts Word and knowledge, conviction and grace...

The gentle, powerful persuasion of the Spirit that whispered to her searching soul, This is true and real and no amount of evidence can make you believe...

She didn't make her way through stacks of convincing apologetics tomes or enroll in 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, her 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 significant to me each year because for the Believer, it's so much about the receiving. 

The rituals and traditions 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)

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Face to the Sun

Well over a year ago I began a slow spiral into complete exhaustion. In July of this year, I finally sought help from a doctor. Tests revealed that I had good reason to be in a state of total and utter fatigue. With medicine and rest, nutrition and vitamins, I've begun a gradual ascent into quasi-normalcy. We don't know how long it may take but I now have more good days than gutter days. 

No small miracle.

In this season of much to do, I squint my eyes and wish for every day to be a good one. This week began with a hearty to-do list and I hoped with all my might that the energy would man up and match the list. Yesterday, it did not. 

Despite an early-morning run, coffee, and a quiet house, no amount of willpower or wishing would make this body go. I yawned. I sat. I read. I stared out the window. I drank coffee. I tried to just go. I yawned some more. I prayed for strength. Nada. 

Discouraged and drained {though I had done nothing} I took the dog outside and sat in the sun. This mild, southeastern climate is my best friend right now. On a December noonday, I sat in my husband's Nike sweatshirt from college, closed my eyes, and let the warmth of the sun beat down on my face. I smiled. I breathed slow and long and deep. I prayed a little. I nearly fell asleep sitting upright in a patio chair.  

I've been reading Sarah Young's Jesus Calling devotional for a couple of years now. She talks a lot about the warmth and light and healing of Jesus' presence. Over time, I've begun to associate warm, radiant light with Jesus, particularly on winter days when the sun is such an unexpected and welcome gift.  

And so yesterday, in the midst of nothing to give, I simply lifted my tired face to sky and received the healing, comforting, love-lit warmth of Jesus while sitting in my driveway.  

Times like these have become a sort of communion, a means of grace to keep me going through the difficult days. In moments of stillness and clarity, I see the beauty in my neediness. For there are certain gifts, like Jesus in the noonday sun, that I would never have stopped to receive if the day had been the energy-filled, productive, Type-A day I so desired.

Today, we're unwrapping the gifts of the everyday over at Emily's {Chatting at the Sky.} And we'll be doing it each Tuesday of December. 

What can you unwrap? 

{from Emily} Anything that causes you to pause and celebrate the moment. Not what will be or what is to come, but what is real and true this day: the messy, the lovely, and the unexpected. Share a photo, a story, or anything that offers a glimpse into your own journey of discovering the gifts in the midst of the ordinary.

Join us?

Monday, December 3, 2012

December {Week 1}: Into the Mess...{And How "Mess" Seems To Be A Recurrent Theme Here}

Recently I recalled a series of Advent posts I wrote two years ago. I thought it might be fun to look back and see what I was writing about two years ago at this time.

My life was very different then. I home-schooled three young children, worked part-time, and never felt even remotely on top of things. My pensive, introverted self coped with the chatter and daily demands by writing about mess and perfectionism and Jesus in between math lessons and read-alouds. 

I didn't know it then but life would get a whole lot messier and imperfect just a few months later. And as a result, Jesus would become a whole lot bigger. I would come to understand my desperate need to be saved from my own brokenness and from the brokenness of the world that would bring wave after wave of crazy into my life. 

Though things were different two Advent seasons ago, there is an obvious common theme. I am still writing about mess and imperfection, coming to terms with how the real trumps the ideal and how that's actually for the best, even though I kick and push against it every time. 

Surrender, acceptance, and gratitude in the midst of mess or suffering have the strangest way a way of ushering in freedom, peace, and joy. My stubborn, idolatrous heart still pines away for the ideal even though experience has shown me that the times of sweetest communion with Jesus are when I'm knee-deep in the real. 

And so the message of these two-year-old posts still echo my heart today: Jesus came into the mess


{An edited and re-gifted re-post from December, 2010.}

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. {Sigh. Still writing about this too.}

And today, on this first "serene" morning of expectancy, hot chocolate spilled across my tableau of perfection as children bickered and the 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 every woman in labor, 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 {hopefully} continue our Jesse Tree journey until Christmas Day and the setting will likely be messy, as 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. 

Perhaps this is just the perfectly imperfect way to begin the 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 tad 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 suffering.

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.


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