Friday, January 31, 2014

For Your Weekend: The Popcorn That Has Yet to Be Named. And Some Hot Chocolate.

What do you know, a food post. I told you Wednesday that the writerly well was dry. This means you get a post about food.

I've started making this popcorn on a weekly basis for our family movie night. 

I fill each of the kids' bowls with the marshmallowy popcorn goodness and then I sit down on the sofa with the actual pot as my bowl. I wish I was joking. I'm aware of how uncouth and gluttonous this is. Something about this popcorn tempts me like nothing else. 

I found it on Pinterest a long time ago {cannot find original source} but have since tweaked it. You can make it in the microwave but I think it's easier on the stove. Let's call this Cheaters' "Caramel" Popcorn, shall we? {That's because it's not real caramel...I don't think. I honestly don't know how one makes real caramel.} My kids call it Movie Night Popcorn or Magic Popcorn or The Special Popcorn.


  • 1 regular size bag of microwave popcorn {I use Orville Reddenbacher Naturals, Simply Salted.} You don't want movie theatre butter or anything like that. You want a plain or lightly-salted variety.
  • 10-12 full-size marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick of butter {I use unsalted}


  • Pop the popcorn.
  • Melt butter in a large saucepan over low-medium heat.
  • Stir in brown sugar and then marshmallows until it's nicely mixed and bubbly.
  • Remove from heat and stir in popcorn until it's good and coated.
  • Put on elastic-waist pants and enjoy.

I've posted this next recipe before but it bears reposting. We have thoroughly enjoyed this hot cocoa the last few days with the kids out of school for "snow days." Our yard looks like it was sprinkled with powdered sugar but here in the school, that's cause for early dismissal {at the first mention of flurries} and two whole days off. Our kids have been sledding on cold grass and dirt. 

So here's our "snow" day favorite for warming up frost-bitten kiddos. I found it on Martha Stewart's web-site several years ago but don't let that fool you. It's totally easy and uses ingredients you can actually pronounce and probably have in your pantry.

Homemade Hot Chocolate

  • 3 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • Whole milk for serving
This mix will keep all winter if stored in an airtight container.

  • 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.


And there you have it. A little sweet and salty goodness for your winter weekend. I'm all about these easy favorites that have a way of becoming their own family traditions. 

Now it's your turn. Any easy weekend family favorites going on in your house? Let's dish in the comments.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Post That Was Almost About Nothing

Is winter the death of writers? Is it just me? If you're a writer and you're cranking out page after page or post after post right now, please don't tell me how in the zone you are.

The truth is, I feel like I have nothing good or original to say. Waiting until you have the perfect thing to say is a terrible reason not to write. I know this. But I still succumb to it.

Being able to write at the same time most days is super helpful and I simply haven't had the luxury of good writing rhythm lately. Appointments and people in my house getting the flu and preparing to move my blog to Wordpress soonish--they are throwing off the steady writing days I enjoyed throughout the fall. Apparently I can only manage one creative endeavor at a time while also keeping the home fires burning. Or at least smoldering.

I don't even have a good favorite things list to share with you today. Something is surely amiss.

So let's just call this the "Seinfeld post." That is to say it's a post about nothing. Well, not nothing because there's something really amazing at the end of this post. Which means you have to wade through this post about nothing before you get to the something.

So here's what I've got:


I've been working on what may be known as the slowest blog changeover / makeover in history. I am anything but speedy and decisive. Apparently. Sometimes we don't realize these things about ourselves until we're knee-deep in colors and fonts and placement and social media icons.

This is why I will never ever be able to build a house or handle a restaurant menu longer than one page or have any more children who require naming. Decision-Making Anxiety. It's a real thing. It has to be.

My fairy blogmother {shout-out to Kindel} is a saint for putting up with me and the snail's pace with which I am working. It's taken me many, many months to land on a name...which, as you will eventually see, is not at all original. And this unoriginal blog name is still waiting on a tagline. I'm totally open to suggestions. What describes what I write about in this space? Who am I? What is the meaning of life? I have made list after list and still, I'm coming up short. Please feel free to dish about all of this in the comments. I need help.


I haven't been reading as much this winter either but I am slowly making my way through an autobiography of Wetherall A. Johnson, the founder of Bible Study Fellowship. She was an adventurous, amusing, Jesus-loving, British woman who spent much of her life as a missionary to China. Also, the cover of the book is a bit Mrs. Doubtfire-esque and this makes me giggle. I'm just saying. 

I'm not normally one for missionary stories, which probably means I'm a sub-par Christian at best. I think it's because I often can't relate or I end up feeling guilty or I'm judgmental concerning the methods or motivations of others. 

Or it could be because of my unnatural childhood phobia of missionaries. It's true. Every time a missionary came to our church, I was terrified that God would call me to a forsaken African tribe and I'd be forced to wear sad, outdated, castoff clothes that charitable Americans boxed up and mailed across the ocean. I felt no affection toward the visiting missionaries and their display tables of tribal masks and woolen blankets. I was, in fact, afraid of them. 

Thankfully and ironically, I've come around to the idea of being a missionary. I've even wished to be one but for all the wrong reasons: escaping the pitfalls of American culture, traveling the world, learning a new language, decorating my home with artful pottery and the aforementioned woolen blankets. I can't believe I've just said all of this out loud. Who am I kidding, I'd be the most selfish missionary ever. Clearly, I need someone to be a missionary to me. {must. stop. typing.}

Anyway, I am enjoying this book. Ms. Johnson was, in many ways, a reluctant convert to many of her beliefs and endeavors. I'm a fan of reluctant converts because I'm sort of one of those myself. She's the kind of person I'd liked to have known in real life. In some ways, I was a reluctant convert to BSF but it has been such a needful part of my life this year and I was curious to know the story behind it.

Bloggers {cue the part of this post that's really worth reading}

The first two blogs I ever started reading were The Nesting Place and Chatting at the Sky. Now many years later, Myquillyn Smith and Emily Freeman are still two of my favorite girls on the internet and in real life.

Right now they're in Uganda to raise awareness and support for Compassion International. Their goal is to match 400 Uganda children with sponsors. Maybe you're hesistant to read their posts. Maybe you don't feel like being sad right now. Maybe you're not in the mood to be confronted with poverty. Maybe you know you can't currently sponsor a child so why bother even reading. I get it. 

Just read anyway? Please. Myquillyn and Emily are wives and moms just like me and maybe like you too. They care about cute shoes and finding the right paint color for their walls. They work from home and live middle-class lives and drink Starbucks. They're not traditional missionaries or celebrity humanitarians.

They're just normal women like us but they said yes to traveling to Uganda because there are some stories we need to hear. And in sharing these stories and sharing ways we can save a future for these kids, we're saved in a way too. This I know. And because of that, I want to share what they're doing with you. It'll just take a few minutes and these will be the best two clicks of your day. I promise.

Emily's first post from Uganda. Choosing the One You Least Expect. {You are not going to believe this story.}

The Nester's first post from Uganda. Grace. At Home.

And if you love these posts like I do, their second posts from Uganda are up now too.  


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Thursday, January 23, 2014

"There's More Than One Way to Be a Good Mother"

If you're reading this post, there's a decent chance you feel like you don't have it all together as a mother.

Hands down, being a parent is the hardest job I've ever had. Motherhood seems to be the intersection of my best intentions and worst follow-through. It's a job I couldn't wait to have and then once I landed it, I panicked a little bit. And by a little bit, I actually mean a lot

Almost thirteen years later and I'm still prone to panicking on any given day.

If you're a parent, perhaps you're nodding your head in agreement. 

Motherhood has been like one of those dreaded 360 degree mirrors. 

It's revealed all sorts of faults and sins I didn't even know were there: selfishness, crippling fear, and cussing at my husband in the middle of the night because our insomniac baby had driven us both of us to the brink of crazy.

But it's also revealed all sorts of virtues I didn't know I possessed: sacrifice, perseverance, and the ability to wipe one toddler's boogers while simultaneously wiping her baby brother's bottom.

Not long after my first child was born, I realized that mothers give birth to three things when they have a child: the baby, the placenta, and The Guilt. 

I heard that a nurse tried weighing The Guilt one time after she weighed the baby. The scale broke into a thousand pieces.

We have a way of allowing unrealistic definitions of motherhood to defeat us before we can even get out of the gate. This cloud of "shoulds" continues to haunt us through each new season of motherhood.

No other generation of mothers has been bombarded with more information on how to be a good mother and raise great kids than this generation of mothers. How many books, articles, blog posts, pins, etc. have you read on parenting?

That's what I thought. Too many to count.

I'm all about having a voice. I'm all about bringing your own uniqueness to the table and sharing what you've got. But perhaps there is too much bossy-ness about this thing of mothering. Too many "Sure-fire Ways" and "10 Best Tips" and "What Every Mother Needs to Know About McDonalds." 

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to live an authentic life, to show up each day with all that I have and all that I lack. Not comparing myself to the good mother down the street or the good mother in my head, but simply showing up each day and caring for my kids in the ways that are consistent with what is most true about me. 

When I was a teenager, my mom used to say: You be you.

That bit of advice isn't just for the teenage years. I've spent entirely too much time trying to figure out how to be the right mother, all the while failing and flailing and floundering.

But the simple truth is this: I am the right mother because I'm the one they've got. 

Perhaps motherhood is more about trusting than it is about trying. Motherhood invites me to trust in a way that no other endeavor or relationship calls for. 

I trust that I'm the mom these kids got put with so there must be purpose in that.

I trust that God knows all the ways I fall short so there must be purpose in that. Falling short may be an opportunity for growth. Or it may be an opportunity to simply receive grace and carry on. 

I trust that God knows the ways my kids will struggle and the ways I will struggle and He gave us all to one another for reasons I may never understand. But I can trust it's for our good and for His glory.

I trust that He will provide wisdom and resources for fruitful opportunities. I also trust that He will show us when to say no.

Sometimes we need to take all the extras we believe about "good motherhood" and let them go like helium balloons after the party. Sometimes we have to go back to the basics and camp out there. Sometimes I wonder if all the extra things we think "good mothers" are supposed to do are actually getting in the way of the simplest ways we're called to love them.

Do you love them? Do they know it? Do you try to be available when they really need you? Are they fed? Are they clothed? Do they know right from wrong and have loving boundaries? Do you apologize when you mess up? Are they learning?

Congratulations. If you answered yes to these questions, chances are you're a good mother. Chances are your kids wouldn't want to have any other mother on the planet, even if they don't act like they think that.

In the first episode of this season's Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess said these words to Mary Crawley: 

There's more than one way to be a good mother.

Truer words were never spoken.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

So You're 40. And Having an Identity Crisis. Awesome.

I've spent the last couple of posts wading through deep matters of the heart. Openly discussing the recurrent struggles of shame and perfectionism and failure and cluelessness in my life is no picnic. 

It's cathartic and needful. But it's no party. 

I've decided that January is kind of a bully like that. If ever there's a month I'm prone to descend into the pit, it's January. Perhaps that's why the god of serotonin sends the Golden Globes in January. 

Can awards shows be a means of grace? Probably not. I might be excommunicated from my church just for typing that. I'm not gonna lie though, couture gowns and cheesy interviews and funny people are therapeutic. Anybody?

Can this post just be about the Globes? Can I just be an entertainment blogger or lifestyle blogger? Food blogger? 

I'd love to jump genres right now. I really would.

But alas, I'm a things-of-the-soul blogger. Sometimes I wish I wasn't. Food and fashion and being funny sounds more appealing right now.

As I've been writing and thinking in recent weeks, as I've waded through messy introspection and prayed about what God has in this season for me and for my family, He has been kind to make some things clear. Not in a here's the instant answer to your prayer kind of way but in a the answer to your prayer has been here all along and now I'm giving you eyes to see it kind of way.

When you're teetering precariously on the edge of a pit, it's easy to focus on your shortcomings. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. It's easy to waffle between striving harder and giving up altogether. This is where I've been.

I simply haven't had the eyes to see or the clarity to comprehend much of the good that my life has yielded. January introspection has a way of narrowing my vision and only pointing to the good that's been left unfulfilled. 

Writing that out for others to read makes me want to run and hide. It reveals just how ridiculous and twisted and overdramatic I really am on the inside. Unfortunately it gets worse.

In the midst of all of this woe is me stuff {because all of that isn't enough grossness on which to ruminate} I've been seeking and searching for what I'm supposed to do with my life. 

Apparently I am twenty years old again. 

Don't misunderstand, I have plenty to do. In fact, I don't even get to all of the stuff I'm "supposed" to do. I am constantly overwhelmed with all that there is to do and yet? I feel the need for "purpose." Go figure. 

As if a husband and a home and three kids and a dog and kids at two schools and church and living in real-life community have no purpose.

But compared to what some of my former seasons of life have looked like, this season sometimes feels small and insignificant, even though I know that's not true. Still, on many days I have felt insignificant. I've oscillated between wanting to do more and wanting to stay hidden and safe. I still do. Maybe you do too. 

In October I read the loveliest book called A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily Freeman. I say it's lovely because of its gentle voice and beautiful message. It's not a battle cry to get out there and do what you were made to do. It's more of a winsome invitation to live out your God-given design, whether it's in the darkness of night as you rock your sick baby or whether it's on a stage in front of hundreds of people. I've written about the book before and months later, I'm still rolling it around in my head. 

These questions of purpose and design and calling have always had a way of haunting me.

And so I wonder and pray, What does it look like for me, right now, in this little corner of the world, to live like an "artist," to carry out all of my roles and relationships in a way that's honest and unique and open-handed and underpinned with grace? 

I know that it first means doing battle with the voices of shame and failure and letting go of the idea that there is even a real "wagon of awesomeness" to begin with. It means filtering bad news truth through the greater lens of good news truth. 

Because I'm a Christian, it also means that I have to know who I am in Christ and because of Christ. This is a daily reorientation. Daily. Usually many times a day. But assuming I'm standing in this Truth, then what? 

What am I supposed to do with my life today? Tomorrow? In this season where I am no longer consumed with diapers and babies who don't sleep and lesson plans and lectures and homeschooling? 

God, what do you have for me?

It's not that I'm on a mission to find the will of God, nor am I afraid of missing it. I know that God isn't wringing his hands while pointing to all the clues and hoping that I don't miss his direction or mess it up. 

I believe He is sovereign. I believe all is grace. I believe nothing is wasted. I believe that our roles in each season of life help define our purposes.

I've simply felt floundery. {Dare you to tell me that's not a real word.} I've sensed a lack of intentionality and conviction in the everyday. I've not wanted to rush into opportunities but have instead wanted to proceed slowly and thoughtfully.

But in this slow and thoughtful process, I'm doing battle with fear and insecurity and doubt.

There are some things I know, priorities that are obvious. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a manager of my home. And so thankful that I can't get fired for this one because y'all, I should so be fired. We should totally be under new management. I am a neighbor. And in all of these things I am called to love and sacrifice and offer what I have.

But that's kind of the rub. What do I have?

It's the weirdest thing, not having an annotated "job description" in black and white. I'm a fan of job descriptions.

Remember how I said earlier that God has opened my eyes to answers that were already there?

I received an e-mail from a dear friend.

I received another one from a stranger.

I received some unexpected messages from others I know but not all that well.

One after another over the course of the week, they came and with each one, I cried. 

They all carried the same message: Thank you. Thank you for what you've shared with me. It's made a difference in my life and I wanted you to know.

I told my husband that at another time in my life, this would have puffed me up a bit. But at this point? In this season? It brings me to my knees. I've cried a lot. I've marveled and thanked God because this one thing is crystal clear: God works in spite of me.

I'm a mess. I'm half-crazy on any given day. 

If you only knew. 

Yet even as I've lived and moved in my everyday life through my everyday mess and sometimes my epic mess, God has been living and moving with me and in me and through me.

Emily wrote a free companion guide to her book and on Saturday morning I read these words from the introduction of this guide, Seven Little Ways to Live Art. As I read it and re-read it, the answers to art and purpose and plans began to come together in my mind:

Learning to live like an artist means opening your eyes to where you live right now, to see who stands around you, and to uncover how you might offer what is most alive in you today into the life of someone else--for their benefit and for God's glory.

Those kind words of gratitude I received from others, they revealed that I was living as an artist without fully knowing it.

  • In the conversations with those around me that I never considered noteworthy.
  • In the books I recommended to a hurting friend.
  • In the posts I labored over and doubted but published anyway.

These things came about without fanfare. They flowed out of the everyday me in the same way that the things you do flow out of the everyday you. 

I wish I could just stop there but the truth is, that only answered part of the question for me. 

What about the stuff that comes less naturally? What about the bad stuff that flows out of the everyday me? What about the relationships and circumstances that tend to showcase the worst in me instead of the best? What about when your gifts seem to be nowhere in sight and you just want to climb out the escape hatch and let someone else take over?

I have a tendency to compartmentalize who I am. It's not intentional but it's a pattern that's been in the making for many years. I often save my best words or heartfelt encouragement or diplomatic responses for others but tend to dish up complaining and general slackness with my husband. It's easy to be funny and crazy with my friends but way too serious with my kids. 

Simply put, I tend to bring my best to those outside the walls of my own home and serve leftovers for those who mean the most to me. It pains me to write this but the life I live at home with my dearest ones is usually less. Less than artful. Less than the life I give to others. Less than I long for. 

Now that's a post in and of itself but let's just admit that confession is a needful thing. It lays bare our weakness and inability and invites God to provide. 

Like the scant offering of loaves and fishes that Jesus used to feed a multitude, this same Jesus says to me and to you: 

Bring what you have. Just show up and let me supply your needs. I am sufficient even though you're lacking. Your weakness is an opportunity for me to display my power and compassion. I am a God of change and healing and courage.

I long for a simpler approach toward living out my purposes. Not "simpler" in the way of easy because we're definitely not promised easy. But simpler in the way of grace and openness and letting who I am seep into every compartment. Simpler in the way of bringing what I have and acknowledging what I don't have and trusting God to work in me and through me.

So, back to Emily's quote. What does that look like exactly? It looks different for all of us, but I've tried to break down what it looks like for me. You can break down what it looks like for you. And by the way, Emily's companion guide takes you through this process over the course of seven days. I've just started my seven days but here's how I'm beginning to flesh out that introductory quote.


Opening my eyes to where I live right now. 

Right now I am a tired mom living with kids who need me. I'm a wife living with a husband who needs me. I'm a reluctant owner living with a dog who sometimes pees inside when it's raining and therefore needs me in ways that are wholly unpleasant. I'm a homemaker living in a house where meals are made and clothes are folded and counters are wiped.

I live in my neighborhood. I move in and out of places in my specific community. I worship and have fellowship at my church. I'm at my kids' schools. I type out thoughts at my writing desk. 

These are the places where I live and they help define my purposes, my "art."

Seeing who stands around me. 

My kids. My husband. My neighbor. My friend next to me on the bleachers. My extended family. My child's teacher. Depending on the day, it could be anyone. 

These are the people who stand around me and they help define my purposes, my "art."

Living who I am in a way that means something to them. 

Writing heart-felt words for readers who show up to receive them. 

Sharing books and stories with my own kids. 

Singing a crazy, made-up song as I brush his teeth and knowing that I helped turn his frown into laughter that sprayed the sink with tiny toothpaste bubbles. 

Being honest with a friend who knows me, telling her that I'm struggling and asking her to please pray. 

Remembering that the girl my husband fell in love with 20 years ago was prone to frequent outbursts of hilarity and being mindful to bring that back a little more. 

Knowing that I have to watch TV in order to fold laundry so that my most loathsome task becomes an excuse to binge-watch Parenthood and still yields clean clothes for the family.

French-braiding her hair late at night even though I'm tired. Because having pretty hair the next day means something to her and I can offer this.

Helping my neighbor hang pictures on the wall. 


Can it be that simple? 

Can a job description be this open?

Can I simply translate who I already am into the everyday I already live and let the mixture of the two paint my life's canvas?

It hit me over the weekend: I have let perfectionism and impressiveness and my own opinions sabotage my purposes, my "art." 

Nothing is small to God. And it may not be small to others either. What we offer is only small in our estimation of things. 

A few days ago I erased "Merry Christmas" from our chalkboard and wrote this instead:

I wrote it with the kids in mind. But perhaps it's more of the daily reminder their mom needs.

Our big expectations and big selves have a may of making that which is sacred feel insignificant. But God says whatever we do is sacred and significant. As we offer ourselves into the world around us each and every day, we offer ourselves to Him too.

So here it is, the prescription for my "identity crisis." {And maybe yours too?}

Show up as you are.

Bring what you have and also what you lack. 

Embrace what comes: the dreamed-for project and the disappointing results, the stuffed-up kid and the tear-stained neighbor. 

Give God your epic and your everyday. 

Step into your real life and live your story.

Related Books

Seven Little Ways to Live Art {a free downloadable companion guide} by Emily P. Freeman

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Truth is a Battlefield. {I know, "Love Is" too.}

After that title, I realize that Pat Benatar will be singing in your head over the weekend. Sorry about that but I can't help it. I'm a child of the 80s. 

I've had several ideas of posts for the new year. But they haven't felt right or timely. Instead they've felt like topics to distract me from the heart of the matter. And the heart of the matter is that I've been struggling with some age-old patterns of shame and perfectionism in recent weeks. 

Just when I think I've kicked these bullies to the curb, they come lurking around again, taunting me in everything from motherhood to marriage to how I order my days to how tired I feel.  

So I've decided to face things head on, digging deep into the realities that plague my soul and sabotage my spirit. The post I wrote Tuesday about "falling off the wagon of awesomeness"--it fleshed out how the enemy of perfectionism targets me in the everyday. Uncovering the layered insidiousness of it all is so helpful in being able to think through ways to retaliate. 

But this is no ordinary enemy; retaliation can't be fueled by anger and fought with conventional weapons. We lay down our knee-jerk weapons of anger and work harder and fake indifference and we choose to ignite our minds instead. This may sound like pacifism but it's not; our minds carry the message to our hearts. And when how we think begins to change the way we feel, we get a much-needed revolution. 

On a particularly bad day, how we think may not be able to influence our hearts so much. Sometimes the emotions follow suit. Sometimes they don't. But we can choose what's true even if it doesn't feel real. We can think through truth and pray through truth and hope through truth anyway.  

Even though it's a battle, this kind of perseverance isn't characterized by striving and gutting it out; it's characterized by a gentle, steady, kind perseverance of the truth. Truth that we roll over and over and over in our minds until it seeps into our DNA and begins to change us from the inside-out.

Often we think we need to uncover the lies we tell ourselves and combat them with truth. And we do. Most of us are believing all sorts of lies and letting misguided definitions of ourselves and others steer our daily living. 

No wonder we feel so defeated.

But I'm realizing that sometimes we have to fight truth with truth. 

I combat the truth of my own shortcomings with the greater truth of Jesus' overcoming on my behalf.

Let's turn to mothering for an example. {If parenthood isn't a battlefield, I don't know what is.} 

Yes, I failed my child today. In all sorts of ways, I didn't love well. 

This is true so let's just agree on that.

But it's only part of the truth. Here's what happens when we allow that truth to define us and guide our thinking:

I failed my child today. Again. I've been a mom nearly 13 years and I still can't get it right. Things may never change. I give up on improvement. There's something fundamentally wrong with me as a mother.

Or you may be more prone to this angle of self-talk:

I failed my child today. Again. I've been a mom nearly 13 years and I still can't get it right. I'm going to work even harder tomorrow. I'm going to read all that stuff on Pinterest about "75 Ways to Pray for My Child." I might even get on amazon and order a another new book on parenting. 

What's the first part of that truth again, the "bad news" if you will?

I failed as a mother today. I didn't love well. 

Maybe I was selfish. Maybe I spoke harshly. Maybe I was graceless. Maybe I wasn't sensitive. Maybe I didn't hold her accountable for her actions or words because I was tired and didn't feel like it. The specifics don't matter. What matters is that I stopped when I was only through the first half of the truth.

I stopped before I could fight the "bad news truth" with the "good news truth."

Here's what happens when we allow the good news truth to triumph over the bad news truth and change our thinking. For me it's sort of a confessional and conversational prayer. I've said something to this effect when I'm making dinner or sitting in pick-up line or trying to go to sleep:

You know why I'm here again. I failed as a mom today. I didn't love well. It's not the first time and it will probably not be the last. God, you and I both know these things. I'm sorry. Help me. Only you can bring about lasting change in this area and I'm trusting that you will. You promised that you'll be faithful to complete the good work you began in me. Thank you that you don't love me any less when I screw up. Thank you that if I was awesome at this, you wouldn't love me any more. You love me because I am yours and not because of anything I do or don't do. And because you love me, it grieves you to watch me stewing in my own failure. So will you help me? Most of all, will you remind me of your great and unshakable love and will you allow that to define me today? Thanks.

The thing about the bad news truth is that if you stop there, what started out as some unpleasant truth {I fail and sin and struggle} can snowball into our identity and that's where it becomes a lie.

I fail repeatedly. Therefore I am a failure.

And that's not true.

For those who are in Christ, we can instead say:

I fail repeatedly. That's why I need Jesus. His righteousness defines me. And because this is the most awesome truth imaginable, I want to pour my life out in thanksgiving and love. I want to love my kids and my spouse and my neighbor and my community in the unique ways that only I can because of Jesus' great love and sacrifice for me. Though I know I won't do this perfectly or even all that well, He's working it out in me. In the midst of this broken world filled with broken people, He's bringing about redemption. He uses even me and all my shortcomings to do this. Crazy. It's not about being perfect or able; it's about being grateful and willing.

I used to think that my faith was a free-fall. That it was like one of those team-building games you played at youth group or camp where you fall backwards without catching yourself or bending your knees because you have faith that those behind you will catch you.

I've even heard spiritually authoritative people explain our faith and belief in God like that. How if there wasn't mystery and unknown and unanswered questions, it wouldn't be faith. Don't think too hard. Don't try to understand. This is faith. We believe and we fall back and we trust that God is there and will meet us. 

And that sounds good, until you realize that's not really how it works.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all about unanswered questions and the mysterious union we share with Christ. The mystery of a life hidden with Christ is beautiful to me; that's not what I'm refuting. 

But I've come to realize that the Christian life is a contemplative life. Not in a quiet, peaceful sort of way {though it can certainly be that at times.} 

Rather, we are tenaciously mindful of the Truth that defines us and sets us free in our everyday lives. 

I'm not wistfully and nebulously free-falling. I'm processing Truth every single day through every single situation and in every single pit. 

I have to know what I'm believing in any given moment. Why? Because the trenches of the everyday are a battlefield and what I'm believing directly influences how I'm living. I have to constantly go back to good news truth and knead it into my errant thought-patterns and persuasive emotions and discouraging circumstances.

Because I'm a Christian, I am always thinking. This sounds exhausting and sometimes it is. But it actually leads to a soul-level restfulness. 

I filter the bad news truth through the good news truth so I can rest in Christ's finished work. I stop the bad news truth from snowballing into bad news identity so that I can confidently live who I really am. I bask in good news truth and allow that to change everything.

Ann Voskamp saysThe enemy of your soul only has two battle plans. 1. Blind you to who God is. 2. And blind you to who you are.

For perfectionists and for those who wish they were a little more perfectionistic,

For those who fail and then allow that failure to define them,

For those who are trying harder and those who are tired of striving and have given up altogether,

Fight for the good news truth...and rest.

The fight can be messy. You have to confess and repent and look at gross stuff about yourself. But stuffing it or ignoring it or justifying it will just make you sicker. These are things I know. You have to get it out. You have to take what's hidden or embarrassing or seemingly easier to just ignore, and bring it into the light of Jesus. 

Then you let him take it... 

And you watch as the most upside-down exchange occurs. You give him your mess and he gives you his righteousness and all that his righteousness entails: grace, love, a sound mind, freedom, courage, forgiveness, loving others unconditionally. And that's just the beginning. 

You don't have to earn it or promise not to screw up again. You simple receive it. And I do realize that for most of us, this is not simple at all. And that's why we fight with our thoughts. Scripture tells us to take every thought captive. That's combat imagery right there. Why? Because being defined by bad news truth and being defined by good news truth can feel like war.

Press on friends. Persevere and find rest in the deep, deep love of Jesus.


I bought a little book a couple years ago on a desperate afternoon. My cousin had recommended it and I felt like I needed something that would help me think through good news truth applied to my current situation. It's called Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary  by J.D. Greear. It's a great resource, very practical and accessible. 

My favorite part of the book is "The Gospel Prayer." I'd like to share it with you since it's helpful and short, a reminder of good news Truth when you're in the trenches of messy circumstances or messy relationships or the mess of your own failure. 

The Gospel Prayer

In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.

Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.

As you have been to me, so I will be to others.

As I pray, I'll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hope for When You Fall Off the Wagon of Awesomeness

I mean, I just fell right off a few weeks ago and skidded to a screeching halt. Though these sorts of epic falls and crash landings happen from time to time, it's been a while. And to be honest, the thud startled me a bit.

The slipping and teetering, I had been feeling it for a few days. Though I tried to stand firm and prop myself back up, I succumbed to the gravity known as my failure and dashed expectations and finally hit the ground altogether. 

Truly, I thought I was ready for it this year. Prepared to be vigilant and keep first things first. The delights and distractions of the holidays were not going to get the best of me. And I tried, I really did. 

I took our Christmas devotional on our trip to Disney World. I even got in snippets of Bible study in the van on the way down. I scribbled verses on notebook paper to keep me grounded {and then promptly forgot to unpack them from my bag.} 

I made grand plans in my head to be Rock Star Christmas Break Mom and promised myself I would keep up with the laundry over the break and learn to love board games and bask in every moment of togetherness. 

But despite these valiant efforts to be who I wanted to be and focus on the most important things and make the holidays and our time together everything I'd imagined, I still managed to fall off the wagon of awesomeness.

And then I proceeded to do what I do best when I fall off the wagon: 

I wallowed in the shortcomings. I didn't even bother to brush myself off and get up out of the dirt. I just stayed there, defeated and tired. 

Every undone pile of laundry, every "we're having sandwiches again for dinner tonight," every moment of sibling squabble, every lapse of hanging out on the internet too long, every time I chose myself over my kids or my husband, every harsh word, every judgmental thought, every day that I didn't know how to prioritize anything really--it all piled up like courtroom exhibits and collectively pointed the finger at me, the defendant, issuing the verdict I already knew: guilty.

It gets worse. 

Because I know that self-loathing is in no way noble and is actually just a lesser-acknowledged version of pride {because it's still complete and total self-absorption}, I added insult to injury by further wallowing in self-loathing because of my proneness toward {wait for it} self-loathing.

It's laughable now that I'm writing it all out and can see it for myself. That's right, the cherry on top of the shame sundae is that I hated myself for hating myself. I've always referred to it as the "shame spiral" {though the shame sundae metaphor might be a better one.} I've perfected it over the years. 

We're all knit together differently and some of you reading this are probably shaking your head and saying, Honey, lighten up. You are crazy and way too hard on yourself. And you would be right on both accounts.

This thing of striving for my own approval, of not measuring up to my own standards of acceptability, is so hard-wired into my DNA, I wonder if I will ever fully be free.

My husband told me the most sobering thing a couple of weeks ago. I was depressed and weepy and confessing all of my crazy to him and he said, If I struggled the way you do with this inner voice of perfectionism and guilt and failure, I'd die. I literally wouldn't be able to live like that.

I felt a twisted sort of victory. Good for me, I told myself. My guilt-complex hasn't killed me yet. I'm alive and choosing to stay that way. Yay! 

So there's that. 

"Living. The one thing I haven't failed at yet."

{Who's glad they've tuned in for this uplifting New Year's message?}

I wish that I could share with you the 5 Easy Steps I Used to Pull Myself Up Out of Failure and Hating Myself and Jump Back on the Wagon of Awesomeness. That would be concrete and workable and we could all buy cute notebooks and pens and check off each step, right?

Honestly, I would give anything for that list, for a workable, fool-proof plan. But there aren't five steps. There aren't even five words. There is only one word and in the midst of tinsel and travel and effort and expectation, I'd lost it. 

It had become doctrine instead of daily bread. 


I'm going to tell you what I'm telling myself as I type it out in black and white. The bad news comes before the good news. We have to admit what we already know but would like to forget. 

So what's the bad news I know but would like to forget?

  • I fail. In little ways and in epic proportions.
  • I disappoint others.
  • I disappoint myself.
  • I will never measure up to my own standards.
  • I will never measure up to God's standards, not by myself anyway.
  • I'm selfish.
  • I'm lazy. 
  • I'm greedy.
  • I love the things of this world more than I love the One who created the world and created me and is redeeming both, even now. 
  • I'm an approval junkie.

And that's just the stuff I choose to tell you because I'm the boss of this post.

Do you know what all of that is? It's confession. And sort of like drinking green juice made out of kale and cucumbers and parsley, it's not super fun but it's good for you.

In a weird way, the "corporate confession of sin" that we do in church each Sunday has become my favorite part of worship. Because, like the green juice, I can't get to the good news until I swallow the bad news and the bad news is that the list up there? It's all true. Also? That's really just the beginning of all the badness. We've all got our lists so let's just agree on that.

But here's the part when the clouds separate and the sunlight streams in and the angels bust out their harps. Here's what I can say with confidence to God through salty tears and surrounded by a sea of Sunday-bested sinners:

My sins and shortcomings present me with a list of accusations but I thank you that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ.  
{an excerpt from our corporate confession of sin}

They will not stand against me. That's the best news ever when you've been in a pit of wallowing in how un-awesome you are. 

I wish I could cue a gospel choir to just carry on through the rest of this post while I grab a box of Kleenex and raise my hands to the heavens.

The Gospel is this simple and also this profound. This is that good news I was talking about. Jesus is both my daily grace and my saving grace.

I really need that daily part because I'm so prone to losing my grip on the Truth. Circumstances and emotions are distracting like that. I once heard a pastor refer to it as "Gospel soap." We grab it and then it's gone again. 

My daily liturgy reads like the back of a shampoo bottle: Confession. Repentance. Joy. Repeat.

I don't know about you but I've lost the soap big time in recent weeks. Yes, even in the weeks we're supposed to spend celebrating Jesus. The irony has tormented me a little. Perhaps that's because the holidays and the hope for self-improvement that a new year ushers in are mingled with so much effort and expectation to get it all just right

But try as a might, spin as I might, accuse myself as I might, my hope and peace and success are not found in my own effort or expectation. They're found in Christ.

All of that failure over the holidays and every day, if I'm being honest? Not a surprise. 

God isn't wringing his hands over my failure so I don't have to either. Why? Because of Jesus. 

The One who came as a human baby and lived a perfect life and took on all the sin of humanity as He died a criminal's death. But He didn't stay dead. He rose again, victorious.

The penalty of my sin and shortcomings died with him just as the hope and power of new life rose with him. 

I'm not usually so forthright about Jesus in my posts. Not because I'm unsure or ashamed but because I write about life and faith in ways that are more implicit than explicit.

But this is all I've got. Jesus is all I've got. I'd be lying if I tried to spin this any other way. 

My hope, my center, my Truth, isn't found in boot-strapping or working the steps or positive self-talk or resolving to be awesome. I've tried all of that. 

My hope is the Gospel of Grace. 

My comfort is the Gospel of Grace. 

My power to keep going is fueled by the Gospel of Grace. 

And Grace exists because Jesus came and lived the perfect life I couldn't and when the Father looks at me He doesn't see shame and sin and sordidness like I see. He gazes upon the perfection of his Son that covers me from head to toe and He smiles. He loves me with an everlasting and unconditional love. And He knows that when I believe this, the good fruit of my life will grow and produce and add some sweetness to my little corner of the world. 

We live what we believe. 

And when we live loved, we live love. 

Change, progress, loving well, bearing real and lasting fruit with our lives--it begins within. Christianity isn't a list of rules. It's not goal-setting or the "power of positive thinking" or moralism or "living your best life."

It's believing who you really are in Christ and allowing that to change everything. It's inside-out, not outside-in. It's why Jesus tells us to make our home in him as he makes his home in us and how that's when the good and lasting stuff begins to happen.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  {John 15:4-5}

If you've been spinning wheels and struggling like I have...

If you're looking to resolutions won by your own strength or motivated by your own idea of what your "best self" or your "best family" looks like...

If you're too worn out and burned out to even try anymore...

There's Hope and Grace and Inside-out change. 

Acknowledge the bad news and honestly offer up your list. But by all means, throw a party that it doesn't end there!

Admitting our weakness and our need opens the door for a strengthening Grace and makes us grateful that nothing can stand against us. 

All has been laid on Christ.

And because of that, there's freedom. There's lightness. 

There's certainly no place for self-loathing and manufactured improvement. 

And there's definitely no room for the list. We travel light on the path of Grace.

I still have a lot of changes I'd love to see in my life this year. I've even written some of them down. And while that is fine and has its place, I'm realizing that when I abide in Christ and he abides in me, He gently brings about authentic change. He makes me mindful of things that cause me to stumble. He infuses me with the power to restrain or the power to be bold. He shows me my unique design. He provides opportunities to speak and shine and surrender, not for my own approval but for his glory.

My awesomeness is fleeting and finite and laced with all sorts of mixed motives. Not to mention that a good fall off the wagon has a way of quashing it altogether.

But the awesome grace and love of Jesus never fails. All has been laid on him. You can live wildly free and wildly loved and wildly forgiven. Because you are.


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

P.S. Though God's Word is the primary means of grace and truth in my life {it's the plumb-line, if you will}, there have been a few books over the years that have fleshed out what living under the canopy of everyday grace really looks like. You may find some comfort in these good reads too:

A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel by Steve Brown

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