{when you pass through the waters, I will be with you. . . when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. . .for I am the Lord your God}

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Why can't I write?  I wonder tonight while I run, cicadas threatening to drown my soundtrack, sunlight fading, running, not because I love to run, but because my sisters run and because I'll never be thin and because I love food and because running is supposed to negate everything I ate last weekend.
Why is pain seemingly easier to write about than happy days and good stuff?
I could write books on grief and loss and pain and loneliness but my husband took me to Jamaica for a week in November and I don't know how to write about that.  Is it because it's all too beautiful and fragile, these days, months, now years of joy creeping through?  We leave the kids with their grandparents and drive to O'Hare, pinching ourselves like two little kids, buying mismatched clearanced swimsuits because it's winter in Chicago and I hadn't thought about that; chocolate and granola bars and Nike sun visors at Target and carefully laying out our super crisp passports (we are green to world travel) and asking the hotel desk for a three am wake up call.
We fly to Montego Bay groggy and hungry and disoriented and squinting in the blinding sunlight and then a sweltering bus trip and free-flowing alcohol and winding streets and smells and the ragged beggars and haunting faces out of broken hut windows and I wonder why us, why here? We don't belong here, tourists, vacationing Americans, I don't deserve this, I could never have dreamed of this back when we had nothing but each other and nothing to our names but hard work and delivering papers and furniture and babysitting and stretching ends to meet each other. This is too good to be true. 
Cool tile and palms and pools and the ocean right there and hours on the sand with books;  at the pool bar we order everything under the sun sans alcohol and the salt cracks my lips; we eat jerk chicken on the beach with our fingers; fresh coconut milk, which tastes exactly like soap, cracked open with a knife right in front of us, and we drink it for the experience.  We promise to watch the sun rise and never do, exhausted and spent from our demanding life, we sleep in like kids on summer break.  Lying in bed one night watching TV, I hear Sara Bareilles' Brave on a HP commercial and wonder why I've never noticed it before:
Maybe there's a way out of the cage you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
And it's easy to let the light in here, on an island, with chocolate croissants for breakfast and music late into the night, but sometimes it's scary to let the light in at home, back in my little hometown with so much responsibility and our uneasy truce on whether or not to move and my entrepreneur husband's goals that seem to take him further out of my life. 
I want to be brave and sometimes brave is being happy.  Sometimes brave is letting go of the grief.  Sometimes it's closing a chapter and moving on.
And maybe fear would have been saying no to this beautiful week, choosing to stay in the mundane, choosing to close the door to adventure and choosing to play it safe and secure and so much less extravagance.
We rent a sailboat and go out in the bay and then to the ocean and watch another boat capsize;  I'm terrified and lose a twenty dollar bill out of my pocket in the wind and Daniel laughs harder than I've heard in a long time. We can see clear to the bottom, light all the way down to the sand, but we can't find my lost twenty and it doesn't matter anyway because money can't buy happiness, only a little freedom, and money can't prevent heartache, only pay for the aftermath, and we know all of this from painful experience. 
I've held a $127 masculine wedding band in my hand and said I will and I do,
and I've held a tinny (and tiny) navy blue cell phone and begged my girlfriend Allison to come visit me in this town where I'm so lonely and know no one,
and I've held a pregnancy test with two lines through it far before I thought I was ready to be a mama.
I've held nothing, I've held loneliness, I've held invitations, tentative friendships, I've held shingles and helped my husband roof our first little house, I've held my first child and felt my heart burst wide open with love.
I've held toddler hands and preschool pencils and a little sister's wedding invitations and one morning my little son who wasn't alive anymore and then I held loss in my hands.
I held kleenex and my sobbing mouth and dirt on a grave and cold winter snow; held on too tight and let go of some things I shouldn't have and held my husband as he drifted away from me; in humiliation held the edge of a counselor's couch and in shame I've held letters written with my own hands, wishing I could have taken back bitter, angry words, hurting the broken man I loved. 
I held grief and years of darkness and then another tiny son and I held him and terror, too, watching him creep toward the one hundred twenty-eight day mark.
And I wrote, wrote, wrote about all of this.  What do you have in your hand? God asks.
This, God.
This sorrow.  That's all. 
Tears are healing and life can be wildly healing and our people breathed grace into our broken hearts and then one day my hands held hope.
I held another shocked grieving mother, crushed her to me and stroked her matted hair and rocked her on my shoulder and looked into her swollen eyes and met the grief and I held little black babies all the way in Africa who were alive, but without love, and I learned about this, too, a different kind of loss, and maybe my grief tunnel had gotten a bit narrow and maybe I wasn't the only one suffering.
I held soccer schedules and then school books and choir programs and so much work;  Jamaica and rest and joy and somehow the iCloud loses all of my photos but it happened and I hold it in my heart:   this, sun and salt and water and joy and ten years with someone who loves me all the way to my soul.
And then I held my coffee cup in a restaurant and watched my husband buy a business;  held a pen and signed under his name, too, in shaky handwriting, and I held packing tape and moved to a dream house, brick, and front porch and on the same street as my beloved library, held my breath and said goodbye to that little bedroom where my son had breathed his last, held a cloth and wept as I wiped off the chalkboard wall:
love will hold us together
make us a shelter to weather the storm
Somehow the storm seems weathered and I don't know how to document this, the joy.  I feel so undeserving.  I remember being the sleepless insomniac, reading grief blogs, resenting and almost hating the ones who were happy again.  How could they forget the pain?
But now I know you don't ever forget the pain; your heart just opens up wider to hold everything- loss, joy, pain, happiness again- and this, this is a gift.
Lewis writes, "Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither."  Earth is thrown in  now for me, and peace and happiness are fragile, unexpected gifts.
What is that in your hand?
Exodus 4:2
This is in my hand, now, God - joy, and thankfulness and I will thank You and and let the light in again.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tiger Woods & Duck Towels

"Mom, can I google something?"

I am in the bathroom with a towel swathed Eli, struggling to clip his tiny toenails while he's perched on the counter. 

Granted permission, Jacob proceeds to google: pictures of Tiger Woods' house.


You just never know what your kid is going to be interested in next.

"Mom, look at this. . ." his voice is full of awe as he holds out the phone, scrolling through photo after photo of the golf idol's little massive mecca.  He finds an aerial image with explanations and arrows pointing to the indoor pool, putting green and massive excess of amenities. 

"Mommy, is this the ducky towel?" Eli asks, peering suspiciously at his white wrap.

"Yes," I say absently, thinking that Tiger Woods is not someone I want my son to view as successful.

We discuss golf and success and cheating and faithfulness and what's really important and I think that we connected some loose threads and then Eli's offended little voice interrupts:

"Mom this is NOT the ducky towel!  There are no ducks on this towel! You said it was the ducky towel but it isn't!"

Sorry, bud, not the ducky towel.

Behind me Jacob voice-googles: pictures of the INSIDE of Tiger Woods' house.

Maybe I didn't connect.

Maybe I didn't listen at the right time to duck towel question, maybe I over criticized the golf hero, maybe I undervalued what was really going on: a normal curiosity about public figures. 

It's a wild crazy world out there; a scary one to raise kids in, and I am stretched as  I try to meet the intellectual needs of my nine year old, the social needs of my seven year old and the 157 wide and varied needs of my two year old.

Tonight Daniel took us out for pizza and after finishing and driving away, Eli heaved a huge sigh:  "It was a busy day. . ."  You betcha son, glad you noticed.

I hate busyness for the sake of busyness; my cover photo on facebook is a quote to remind me: stop the glorification of busy. I try so hard to have time for people and carve out moments that really matter, but the truth is life is beyond crazy right now and I am struggling to wrap my fingers around the minutes. 

Deep inside there is this huge fear of missing the most important conversations with my kids or failing to connect with my husband.  I feel:

spread thin
 Almost every mom I know feels this way; relief at the end of each day tempered by the awareness that sweet sleep may be interrupted by
a) vomit
b) nightmare
c) need for a drink at 1 am
d) all of the above
But underneath the exhaustion I am so thrilled  to get to be the one to watch them grow and develop and become little people with thoughts and dreams and interests and personalities.  It is a privilege. . .
weary, yes, absolutely. 
More coffee please.
Also, advice on how to handle celebrity sports figures and their dichotomous lives.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Just 18 Summers by Rene Gutteridge & Michelle Cox

The title says a lot. . .

This is the fictional account of a community who wakes up to the realization that life is short and our days with our children are numbered.

While the plot is not very complex, reflecting the screenwriting strengths of the author, the message is simple and direct: eighteen summers with our children are not that many.  In the form of novelization, the authors address four different parenting angles: single parent, hover-parenting, success-driven parents and relaxed, laid back parenting.  All styles have challenges and regrets and joys, but it's easy to see by walking through the storyline that our children need us, not a formula or method.

This book was an easy read, yet it may take you awhile: every time I started in, I wanted to lay it down to do just what it encourages: enjoy the summers I have left with my little ones.

Disclaimer:  I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review from Tyndale House Publishers.

Miss Brenda and the Loveladies by Brenda Spahn

Oh, this book is fun!

When faced with the possibility of prison for a technicality she was unaware of, successful businesswoman Brenda Spahn's eyes were opened wide to the hopeless cycle of incarceration for women.  She sees the despair of new parolees as they are sent back to the exact environments they came from without any hope for change; Brenda decides do jump in and do something out of gratefulness to God for reversing her own prison situation. 

Brenda is a rich lady.  Rich, rich.  While it is super heartwarming and movie-like to read the account of  seven ex-cons living with an extremely wealthy woman, the heart of  the story is clear: get involved. It's so easy to throw money at a situation rather than sacrificially giving oneself. 

This is the story of a woman who embraced the unlovable at great personal cost, and her courage moves you to reach out of your comfort zone. Whether it's taking newly released women shopping for undergarments at Walmart or bringing chocolate covered strawberries to prisoners, you will be motivated by all of the practical ways to speak life and Christ into those around you.

Disclaimer: Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianityby Nabeel Qureshi

What if everything you knew to be true wasn't truth?  Would you embrace the truth even if it meant walking away from everything you've ever known?  Would you choose truth over family? Truth at deep personal cost?

Raised in Western culture, Nabeel Qureshi traces his childhood steeped in Islamic tradition to his adulthood and his deep desire to seek truth.

Although I was reading to understand my Muslim friends and their background, I found my own faith strengthened as he wrestled with the difficult questions of Christianity: did Jesus really die? what about the swoon theory? what about the conundrum of the Trinity- isn't that polytheism? As Nabeel tackles these questions with intense scrutiny and deep skepticism, he finds over and over that science and history prove the Bible to be true.

Another thread running through this excellent account of a man's search for truth is the power of a friend who won't let go.  Nabeel's friend David doesn't just love him to Christ - he prays, he spends years building a relationship,  he doesn't shrink from the tough questions, and most importantly, Nabeel knew beyond any doubt that David loved him. 

I chose to read this book because I'm interested in apologetics and usually this genre of book is slow reading and a lot to digest: however I read this in a weekend and couldn't put it down.  The chapters are intense and deep, but also short.  Because of the comprehensive glossary throughout, there's so many aha moments for anyone who cares about Muslim people that you are compelled to keep reading so you can understand your friends even more.

This is a fantastic book for anyone who is interested in Islam, anyone who loves a Muslim friend and wants to understand their culture, and for anyone who is seeking truth. 

Disclaimer:  I received this book for free from Zondervan's blogger review program, BookLook. I was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

(why i went to south africa x2)

just some of my notes from when our team shared with our church family as we prepared to go to africa 4/16 - 5/1

CS Lewis said: "I pray because the need flows out of me, waking and sleeping.  It doesn't change God, it changes me."

For me this statement applies to this mission trip as well. Holding little abandoned babies actually changes very little about their circumstances, and it doesn't change God.  But it changes me.  I want to keep my heart tender and broken to the needs of people. Africa does this in a stunning way. When I grow weary and burdened with the frustration of sorting purpose out of the American Dream, looking back and forward to our time in Africa brings clarity and motivation to my days.

Recently Daniel and I took my younger sisters to a Rend Collective concert.  We quickly realized we might be a little older than the target age for the attendees when as we struggled to find seating, we found no chairs.  We'd had a really long week, and had been looking forward to sitting and taking in the concert.  Looking around, this lack of chairs, designed, I'm sure to avoid spectator entertainment and  encourage participation- this bothered no one but us, and it was a beautiful concert.  A two hour participitory worship concert. As  I looked around at all the cardigans and skinny jeans, I was impressed with the young people I saw. They were absolutely passionate, in love with Jesus; they'd taken packets to support children through Compassion; they were on their feet singing to Jesus with direction, focus and energy.  As I sang 10,000 Reasons, too, with a little less passion because my feet were numb, I thought how that passion leads to action.

Because active worship is not usually easy street,  10 years down the road, that passion will be working 90 hours a week in order to support a family and still give compassion, coming home from work and then leading a discipleship group, pouring into the local church, maybe running an orphanage in India or Africa.  But there may be a lot less energy.  You see a lot more discouragement.  You have more responsibility on your shoulders and more people depending on your passion/action . 

Passion led to action for the staff at RHI and they are on their feet in what God calls true worship, caring for orphans.  My main desire this trip is to metaphorically - offer them a chair.  Please sit.  Take just a moment and breathe.  We value you. Your labor is not in vain.  Thank you for pouring your lives out.  Can you just let us serve you for a moment?  Can you - just for a moment- let us care for some of your needs? What you're doing for these little kids matters.  Thank you for not wasting your lives.  If they can feel refreshment - for just a bit-  the trip is totally worth it for me.

In Exodus 17 the Israelites were fighting the Amalekites; As long as Moses help up his arms, the Israelites won, but when he put his arms down, the Amalekites started winning. When Moses' arms grew tired, Aaron and Hur brought a stone for him to sit on and they stood beside him and held up his arms, holding them steady until the sun went down.  In this way Joshua totally defeated the Amalekites.  Then Moses built an altar and named it The Lord is My Banner.  . . He said "hold high the banner of the Lord."

I can't wait to go, and I'm so grateful for the unwavering support of you all here. Thanks for helping to hold the banner high.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

when you do mother's day solo

My morning at church has ended my two month writing hiatus. 

Sunday mornings are always a mad rush: we give rides, answer texts, have 1000 last minute ends to tie up and are almost always late.  It's really a shame. 

I also go to church by myself a lot.  It's okay, it's normal, I'm used to it, but it's never super fun and I always feel on the edge of mental breakdown fielding all the comments of where my husband is or how tired I look or hearing by myself which child misbehaved.

So today as I pulled up to the church and saw three cars in the parking lot I wondered for a moment if I was truly losing my marbles.  Maybe today was Monday.  Maybe I was an hour behind?  I drove the long way around and into the parking lot.  Still only three cars in the main lot, though I spotted a few more up above in the overflow parking spaces. 

"I guess we're just really early,"  I said to Jacob.  It felt ominous.

"I think we should just go look at the ducks in the park for a little while," he suggested.

"I know, it's like it's weird to be early.  We just can't hit it at the right time.  It's either way too early or late for us."

We're just going to embrace this early thing, I think, and in we go.

First of all, Eli and I must stop at the ladies' restroom; this is his very first Sunday at church in bona fide underpants. I'm not used to shuffling both of us into a bathroom stall and I promptly catch and slam my finger in the latch. 

It throbs.

It's actually bleeding. 

So that's awesome.

But he goes potty so that's really awesome.

I drop him off at Sunday school with extra underpants and promises to check on him. 

In my own class I sit and wonder why the universe still feels off.  I'm forgetting something.

I open the bulletin and what I'm forgetting jumps out at me.

Today is THE LAST DAY to turn in your child's camp registration money
As an exercise in futility I fish through my purse looking for a wad of cash.  Or perhaps the checkbook.  Who am I kidding? I never have a checkbook with me.  Who even writes checks anymore? I just gave my last bit of change to Cambria and Eli for their offering, so it's not an exaggeration to say that I'm penniless.
I sigh inwardly, leaving my coffee and early-to-church aura and slowly retrace my steps, swimming upstream through all the people who get to church at the proper time, get in the van, and drive home to find a checkbook. 
On my way home I see MFD's engine and my engine driver husband which is a nice reminder that my husband isn't home sleeping or out golfing. I already know this but it is nice to be reminded visually.
I stand in the kitchen and catch my breath for a moment, notice my now-cold coffee sitting on the counter and I stop and drink it.  I need caffeine.  I need a lot of patience.
I drive back to church.  I'm late.  I have missed all the coffee chat and sharing time.  Everyone is praying and I wait outside the doors to enter.  The universe is feeling on now.
During the worship service, I once again have the nagging feeling that I'm missing something.
the promises to take Eli potty.
This is becoming the most interrupted worship experience ever. 
We finish and try to leave and search high and low for Eli's missing shoe, do the potty thing again and finally arrive at the van.
The hatch is wide open.  
Why?  No one knows.  Apparently it's just been like that, sitting in the parking lot, with my back-up purse, gym bag and lawn chairs free for the taking.  Like, seriously? 
I think today was just not my day to shine. 
I don't know if it's ever my day to shine actually, but it really, really wasn't today.
I don't have a sweet spiritual wrap up to this: haven't had enough time to think of anything.
But to you, solo momma at church, at school, at the grocery store, at home, who doesn't feel like she's shining, Happy Mother's Day to YOU, cuz you're in the trenches and it's hard
and no one is rising up and calling you blessed
But I'm saying HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY to you.
You don't look a bit tired, your absent hubby must be a rock star, your children are all angelic and you're doing a great job.
The "moms with grown kids" from church treated the "moms with kids at home" to Moms' Night Out the other night.  Oh my goodness- go see it. 

Post by Moms' Night Out.

Postscript: {I'm saying postscript because saying PS sounds like peee S to me and I've seen enough pee this week}
Yesterday was the sweetest day of soccer games, family time, out to eat twice and doing yard work and porch swinging with my Daniel, who took the day off for me. So don't feel sorry for my solo mother's day or anything, I'm quite all right.  Back to potty training.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

on investing and our momentary stories

momentary carbon stories. . . life is here now, breathe it all in
I Am Mountain, Michael Gungor
Driving through slush and leftover salt and sand this week I was reminded of my first visit to this little town that is now all wound up in my heart.
It was early March, not a particularly beautiful time to visit anywhere in the midwest. I was driving down with my sister and then boyfriend Daniel to see where he was going to be living and working.  We'd both agreed to wait to get engaged until he landed a firefighting job with a real fire department so though I didn't have a ring on my finger I knew I'd be living and working here too. 
I was drinking it all in: industrial, slush, grey, foggy haze, frozen river, roads, brick buildings, old, old, very old.  We found an overlook to look at the bridge and the river and I was overjoyed because  I was with him.  The smoggy lil town didn't impress me much at all but I didn't care.  I was in love.
Daniel took me and my sister for lunch at the very worst Chinese restaurant any of us had ever eaten at; it closed soon after. He showed us around MFD, so happy to finally be back in his firefighting happy spot after college and half a year of full time paramedicine.
I never even thought about the less than ideal conditions. I learned soon enough that it would be hard to choose a less picturesque route than my first impression introduction; but I didn't care.  My rose colored glasses firmly in place, I looked forward to building a life with my boyfriend --> fiance --> husband.
Eleven years later we are here and this is home.  We have loved well and laughed and built friendships and discovered parks and said goodbye as others moved, hiked in the woods and boated on the river, splashed in the fountains, said hello (and goodbye) to favorite antique stores,
bought a house,
bought a crib,
bought a car,
bought a truck,
bought a potty chair,
bought a van,
bought a cemetery plot,
bought another crib,
bought a trampoline,
bought $20 x 52 x approximately 11 years of Friday night pizza (that equals $11,440) (wow.)
bought a bunch of swimming lessons
paid a lot of overdue library fines
bought a bunch of girls night appetizers
bought soccer cleats
bought pink soccer cleats
bought some golf rounds
bought a bunch of beach towels and pool chemicals up the wazoo
and it all invests in making a home.
When I pour in. . . money or time or resources or love. . . it matters to others, yes, but it impacts me.
Investing, pulling out the stops, throwing your hat in the ring to a community and saying I'm in. . . sure, it (hopefully) benefits the community but it benefits you too.  Belonging, loyalty, neighboring, friendships - they happen when you choose the rather risky investment of pouring time into people.   People make up any community, no matter how large or small. People are the best part of our lives: how rich we are because of the relationships that have been built here.
I'm thankful I never had the opportunity to overanalyze my small town:  because now it's home and I'm living this brief bit of life that God has given -- my momentary carbon story investing in my little corner of the world.
And it's so beautiful, when you choose to see.

In investing, what is comfortable is rarely profitable.
Robert Arnott
where you invest your love, you invest your life
Mumford and Sons

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Godward Heart by John Piper

Despite the rather vague title, I was drawn in by this collection of 50 short essays from the great thinker, John Piper.  Since each chapter stood alone, it was a great book to take in during my new reading style which consists of short bursts of time.

Covering tragedy (Putting My Daughter to Bed After the Bridge Collapsed), parenting (Why Require Unregenerate Children ot  Act Like They're Good), social media (Creating Pointers to the Greatness of Christ), the human failure of leaders (If You Can Be Godly and Wrong, Does Truth Matter?) and every topic in between, A Godward Heart is a great book to discuss and mull over. 
Some brief quotes:

Human language is precious. It sets us apart from animals. (pg. 41)

Christianity is not withdrawal from business. (pg. 48)

It is right and risky to aim at being worthy of emulation. It is more foundationally right to aim at being helpful. (pg. 133)

I chose to read this, actually my first Piper book, because we are currently going through the Don't Waste Your Life video curriculum with our small group.  I found A Godward Heart to be even more practical, applicable and succint than the (also excellent)  Don't Waste Your Life material. I underlined many, many passages, texted excerpts to Daniel, posted quotes on Instagram, and discussed the parenting chapter with my sister in law. This is a book you can use right now.

I received this book for free from Multnomah's blogger review program, Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

what they didn't say: on teaching at home

It'll be fun, they said.

You'll get to be with them all day long, they said.

Shape their little minds, they said.

It'll be so rewarding, they said.

I field so many questions from my friends about homeschooling, mostly because we married and had kids really young and I have about five more years of parenting under my proverbial belt than most of my peers. 

How does it work? (It works as hard as you work)

What do you use? (every brain cell I possess)

When should I start? (you started teaching your child the day you birthed him)

Do you distrust public education? (um, no, I envy that option many days and admire people who pour their lives out, underpaid and overworked)

It is a privilege to teach our children and we love this opportunity.  For our family, the rewards and benefits far outweigh  the work load, the burden, the difficulties.  But shame on me if I sugar coat the reality of hanging out the school shingle on the front door of your little house.

It's a good thing I counted the cost before I started because if I were counting on the glowing promises of what they said I would have quit teaching on Jacob's third day of kindergarten.

Homeschooling proponents raise visions of cozy library corners, energizing, engaging science experiments over the kitchen counter, throwing some laundry in while your kids do math tests (ah! multitasking at its finest!), the freedom to instill character and values.  They tout flexibility and movement and room to breathe and time for the individual attention so necessary for a child to achieve success. 

With reviews like that, who wouldn't be interested?

And people are interested.  Dissatisfied with a mass production approach to education, many are intrigued by the success and seeming ease of choosing a curriculum and following an educational path at home.  With Monday-Friday, 9-5 workforce demographics rapidly changing as employers grow more flexible and employees work unconventional hours (and from home), homeschooling can seem like an apple ripe for the picking.

Count the cost before you pick the apple. 

It's not a light decision to take your children's education into your trembling hands. 

Teach them character?  That's a nice idea:  the main teacher of that will be you.  With your life.  You just signed up to be the major influence on their value system.  How's your value system?

Are you grumpy?

They will be crabby.

Are you unmotivated?

They'll be lazy.

Do you dislike and avoid art?

They'll never know what it is to create beauty with their own hands.

Who you are will be mirrored in your students.

What you love is what you'll emphasize.

When you teach those little people, their eyes see who you are on Saturday and Sunday, too, and after 3 pm, and before you start teaching in the morning.  They see all of you. 

That kind of transparency can be good. It can be bad.  It can be ugly and beautiful all in the space of an hour. 

So here's a little list of what they don't say.

They don't say:

You'll wake up every morning with the burden of your children's education resting in your hands.

You'll have to spend as much time sorting out disputes and arguments and attitudes as you do teaching.

You'll find any shred of flexibility you had stretched far beyond what you thought your limits were.

You won't be able to finish a sentence because your toddler will have a catastrophe or your washing machine starts overflowing: though you're teaching, you aren't in school.

When you hang up your teaching hat, exhausted, your mom hat is right there waiting and sometimes you feel utterly spent and too tired to put it on.

They don't tell you:

You'll be teaching about respiration and lungs and airways and the diaphragm and then you'll be interrupted with a howl because the two year old pulled the unsuspecting six year old's hair.  You'll hypothetically discipline the two year old, who will then proceed to throw his crayola marker, bright pink inky side down, into the cream colored carpet.  Then you'll deal with that and turn back to the diaphragm. But by then you'll feel like your own airway might be blocked.

You have to be okay with your home littered with crayons, paper shreds, art supplies, pencils, piles of books, in a constant treadmill of shelving and unshelving your little ones' education. 

They don't tell you how inadequate you'll feel, how little actual support you'll get, how lonely you can be as a woman: it's sometimes difficult to explain why you're working a full time job that generates zero dollars.

They don't tell you about the sheer work volume, how self motivated you need to be: you are the boss of you.  You decide your hours, you're as free as a breeze with one massive caveat:  your children's educational success or failure is your employee evaluation and that's a stunning burden to carry.  No one tells you how heavy that burden is.

Why would they?

The truth, the agony, the loneliness, the monotony- why would anyone want to sign up for that? No one would.

And as with many choices in life, the rewards outweigh the pain.

So we choose to remember sweaty hands grasping first pencils and warm little bodies snuggled up against us on the couch, lisping first words and then sentences and then books, the math reward lunches, the lack of homework in the evenings since we've already accomplished it, the joy of watching the lightbulb moments of our own children, the stretching of our own minds as we teach theirs.

But if you're considering reaping the rewards, it's important to count the cost.

It is not easy.

It is 3% fun and 97% labor.

It is surely the hardest and most demanding task of my life.

I am absolutely giving it my all.

Wherever you are, be all there.
Jim Elliot
. . .and while He gives me breath, I will tell only the truth.
Job 27: 3-4
Jesus said,
No procrastination.
No backward looks.
You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow.
Seize the day.
Luke 9:62 The Message

Monday, February 17, 2014

Notes From a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider

Any book with an entire appendix on how Dave Ramsey changed the author's life story will get some attention from me. 

Take a subject that I can't get enough of: the art of living intentionally in a chaotic world and add beautifully written brief - yet - deep chapters on things I struggle to keep simple: work, food, education, travel, entertainment, revival, and I'm definitely interested.

Tsh Oxenreider writes about how much is enough, why it's so hard to develop relationships in America, her longing for the slower pace of other cultures, and why boredom for children is so tragic and unnecessary.  She brings the unique perspective world travel gives to the frenetic American conundrum of full lives and empty spirits, with practical ways to avoid succumbing to the chaos.

My only hesitation with the simple living, fair trade chocolate, ride your bike everywhere movement is that sometimes it can isolate us from the people God calls us to reach here in our own weary, overworked and under-loved culture.  Sometimes living simply to me means not slow food, but  mixing up some refined white flour pancakes (dotted with chocolate chips from Aldi) for lunch + very fake maple syrup for a snow day with friends. 

Fair trade chocolate aside,  I appreciated the encouragement to be intentional and drink in life with my little ones.  Beautiful book!

I received this book for free from BookLook.  I was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

if i were to title memoirs. . .

that title would change from day to day.

On Monday:

It's Okay For Mommy to go Potty By Herself: and other things I'm surprised to hear myself say aloud

On Tuesday:

Missing My Daughter's Piano Lessons (thoughts on inadequacy)


If You Don't Want Messes, Don't Have Children

And definitely don't try discipleship.

Did you know that trying to disciple someone into a mini-me is a really destructive idea?  I am learning this always the hard way with my children, with others.  I am flawed, I am frail; Christ is not.   It's people we're talking about, souls, and it's just not that clean and neat.  I want results, He wants surrender.  I want tidy, clean, neat.  He isn't afraid to break the clay and start over again.

Before and After.

Then and Now.

Mess to Success.

This is a fine and preferred approach when conquering inanimate objects:  The dishes, my fourteen hundred laundry piles, a disaster zone, a 30k income property.  It is about me and my work ethic, what I want in return for my time, return on investment and ultimately making my life easier.

Result oriented, pressure driven, watch me and copy me spiritual discipling breaks down when working with people in the real world. 

If we don't see quick results, then there's assumed failure, leading to blame: is it my failure or yours?

If we pressure behavior change without caring about motives, we will see a wide spectrum of response: people pleasing (which will last while you are visible to please or while your mentee wants to please you), frustration (because behavior modification never solved the root of any problem), or sheer refusal to cooperate. 

And copy and paste me discipleship is one of the most disillusioning styles because we all are human, prone to wander and quick to stumble; it's only a matter of time before a protege sees the flaws of an instructor.

When I'm reaching for the heart and not results, my questions and expectations change.

How can I serve you now? 

How can we equip you to use your gifts?

What are your gifts?

What is your fear right now?

What does God want you to do?

Yes, I have time for you. . .

What's keeping you from following now?

And don't follow me, don't copy me. Oh no,  me with the quick tongue and regretted words and passionate debater, me with the endless string of failures and frustrating inadequacies. 

Follow Him, perfect, wise, sacrificial example of perfect love, humble, servant, compassionate, healer, friend, justice personified.   It's hard to fail copying that stuff.

Thoughts I'm loving on discipleship and loving people:

"Keep your eyes on Jesus, Who both began and finished this race we're in.  Study how He did it.
Because He never lost sight of where He was headed. . ."
Hebrews 12:2 the Message
"It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision."
Helen Keller
[wildly paraphrasing Tim Keller from his message "A Tale of Two Cities"]
good art is creating a culture that encourages life
One of the stunning lessons of the Bible is God's free use of fragile human beings
to accomplish His purpose.
Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus
The church  must pursue reconciliation as well. . . .[but] we are not the reconciler; Jesus is.
Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts
"You can measure the character of a man by the size of the things that make him angry."
Dr. Lynn Anderson, They Smell Like Sheep
[on positive reinforcement]
Make it meaningful.
Be specific.
Make it timely: catch 'em in the act.
Keep it free of criticism.
Mark Murphy, Hundred Percenters

Friday, January 31, 2014

And Life Comes Back by Tricia Lott Williford

What if you thought your husband had the flu and you slept on the couch and then when you went up to check on him, he died?  In your arms? 

And then what if you had to be a mama to your children and miss your husband and figure out how to grieve?

I sat down with this book and didn't even stop reading until past midnight and past page one hundred; Tricia didn't wait to write her story until all the loose ends were tied up and her grief was wrapped into a neat package.  It's raw and real and stunningly honest. 

It would have been easy to gloss over some of the odd and frustrating and funny things about grief, but the author doesn't, sharing openly the difficulty of going to church, coping with her suddenly non-existent love life, her choice to get a tattoo, marking the loss on her skin,  a weird grief advocate lady who talked about pets dying when their owners die.  Anyone who has walked through loss knows all of these realities and it was refreshing to hear someone put words to the whole picture, not only just the sad and spiritual parts.

And Life Comes Back is a perfect title: life can come back, even after the deepest tragedies.  Life returning doesn't mean everything is fixed, but it does mean that laughter returns and joy and breathing without breaking down.

{I recieved this book for free from Blogging for Books.  I was not required to write a positive review.}

Monday, January 20, 2014

10 Days Without by Daniel Ryan Day

"It's risky to believe that it's our responsibility as individuals to change the entire world- and I'm not sure it's healthy to try. . . but God does call us to make a difference in the world of the individual.
So maybe instead of trying to change the world, we need to focus on changing someone's world."
10 Days Without, Daniel Ryan Day, page 49

These words sum up the challenge of this brief, brave little book full of practical ways to jump out of your comfort zone and open your eyes to the needs right in front of our own homes. In the first chapter, Daniel Day painfully concludes that his life is too comfortable and too full of good intentions that never actually happen: so he decides to start going without  some comforts in order to force himself and others to pay attention to the broken world we live in.

Topics include going without shoes (addressing disease), furniture (poverty), legs (disabilities), media (distractions), voice (modern day slavery) and human touch (untouchables - orphans, widows, prisoners). Each chapter starts with an explanation of what and why Daniel Day is going without; he chronicles the ten days and his experiences and ends with projects for you to do and get involved in.

I read this book in a weekend and shared a lot with the kids and Daniel;  it's light reading, yet honest and refreshing.  I appreciated the author's heart and willingness to jump in where he was at; I also appreciated his wife's encouraging, enthusiastic attitude throughout the projects.  My favorite chapter was Ten Days Without Legs; the author addresses disabilities and volunteers at a retreat for families touched by handicapped children.  I learned a lot from from the practical, hopeful, encouraging suggestions in this chapter to compassionately do something, not nothing.

Disclaimer:  I received this book for free from Blogging for Books.  I was not required to write a positive review.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

things i learned on the 3-day military diet

I ate whatever I wanted to on Christmas vacation and it finally caught up to me. 

I needed a kick start to lose it all.

The wildly popular military diet promises you'll lose ten pounds in three days. 

I had nothing to lose, so- wait, I had ten pounds to lose, so- I decided to give it a try.

Here's what I learned:

1) dieting is lonely

2) I have a massive sugar habit that fresh ground whole wheat does not negate

3) I love to eat

4) I love to cook even more than I love to eat

5) dieting can push others out of my life

6) I snack far more than I thought I did

7) my kids think I'm skinny (LOVE THEM)

8) dieting makes me grumpy and cross

9) choosing and preparing food is an art; I like that task and don't like someone else planning it for me

10) I hate dieting

After working out like a maniac, drinking water, eating an extraordinary amount of tuna and boiled eggs (ehhhhhhbleeehhhhhyuck) and no snacking at all I lost a measly 2 pounds on the second day.  I never got to the y on the third day, but I doubt I lost 8 pounds.  I ate at my favorite coffee shop with a friend on Friday morning, came home to lunch and Jacob's homemade [whole wheat, mind you] monkey bread for lunch, and we ordered Dominoes for supper.  Pretty sure my two pounds lost are back on.

I am not a dieter and I don't own a bathroom scale.  It's on purpose, too, my little effort to reject our culture's obsession with weight and unrealistic expectations for women.  I don't want my daughter to grow up watching me weigh myself and whine, or weigh herself and think that her value comes from numbers (or lack of numbers).

With that said, I know how it feels to be overweight.  I really never want to go back to that; in my mind I am just one box of oreos away from the slippery slope.  I envy the effortlessly thin:  it isn't effortless for me at all, it is a humoungous huge massive big whatever i give up battle.

When I decided to lose weight, I had some extreme motivation:  I liked a guy.  (surprise, surprise.)  He was funny and smart and cute and very popular in my group of friends and I didn't think I stood a chance unless I was skinny.  Or sort of skinny.  When you're almost six feet tall, no one is ever going to refer to you as wispy, slight, slender, small [etcetera ad nauseum]. But I definitely wanted to move away from the big girl description. 

I did lose it.  It was really hard.  I ran.  Miles and miles and miles.  I did sit ups.  I drank dieter's tea that made me so ill I didn't drink it again. (I never forgot the stuff:  Apricot dieter's tea.  Avoid it.  Vile liquid, that.) I ate salads and cut sugar and quit eating whole bags of Doritos and just plain quit eating so much, which was really hard, because I dearly love to eat.  But I lost a lot of weight.  And I wasn't big anymore.  I did end up having a chance with Daniel ;) and although of course we fell in love because of a million other reasons, I know that all of my working out and losing the large had a little to do with it. 

Having been there, in the defeated frustration of facing a mountain of pounds that have to melt off of you somehow, I really never want to go back.  I worked too hard.  For better or worse, weight is something I'm always conscious of.  I don't want to obsess (which is why we don't have a scale) but I have to pay attention or else.

These days I eat pretty healthfully; I also eat exactly what everyone else is eating.  From experience, I know that you don't get overweight eating dinner with the family.  You gain weight when you finish the bag of chips and stuff the evidence in the trash, when you take the cookie dough ice cream to bed, when you drive through McD's and order fries while you're alone, when you drink pop instead of water.  And I don't want to teach my kids that it's ok for mama to eat a celery stick while they eat lunch.  That's not healthy. Besides, celery is awful.

We have sugar and we eat at McDonald's and I like potato chips as much as the next person; but there are some guidelines I follow pretty closely as I feed my lil family (and myself).

don't buy junk - if I buy the cheetohs, we will eat the cheetohs.  It's only logical.  So don't buy 'em.

don't buy pop - we stock pop for company. Otherwise- no.

don't buy juice - instead, drink sweet tea! wait, no, I mean, drink water.  Seriously, it's far better for a child to eat an apple than slurp an apple juice sippie cup. And not buying juice saves a ton of money. 

reduce meat consumption (replacing with a wide variety of legumes + eggs) -

always have fresh fruit sitting out - clementines, grapes, all kinds of apples, berries, bananas, oranges, real pineapple. 

nuts sitting out (pistachios, almonds, etc.)

plan dessert for one meal per week (sugar has a way of happening every.single.day, but I usually only buy/plan for one)

oatmeal instead of cold cereal

stock healthy snack foods:  chips, salsa, popcorn, dried fruit, healthy food that actually tastes good

serve something raw with every meal blueberries thrown on top of oatmeal, baby carrots for lunch, fresh greens for supper- it doesn't have to be complicated.

have an off time when everyone's guard is down and we can just eat whatever.  weekends!

What I learned on the three day military diet?  I reminded myself why I don't follow fad diets.  It's far more fun and effective to plan healthy meals and exhibit some self control when it comes to the Edy's Cookie Dough in the freezer.

Also I learned that the three day military diet doesn't work. (Thanks for nothing, tuna x 3 cans.)