{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}

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Seeling Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by 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.

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.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

science experiments were invented to torture mothers:

The words at the top of the Science book page read:

Something to do at home:
Funny.  We're already doing everything at home.  Thanks, Science Book.
Then there's just a short list of everyday items that somehow require a gargantuan amount of time to hunt down:
1. 2 clear plastic soda bottles with caps (we don't drink pop. . . like ever. . .) [Jacob lights up at the idea of consuming 4 liters of sugar liquefied in the name of education]
2. small potted plants just alike  *special trip to buy*
3. two flat dishes
4. baking soda
5. vinegar
6. a funnel (do we have a funnel? *search the house from top to bottom, even the sandbox outside in the snow: no funnel.  Spy plastic vanilla bottle.  Pour excess vanilla into jar, cut vanilla bottle in half: voila, a funnel)
7. a glass
8. tape *another elusive household item, found up in Cambria's room*
9. notebook
I know this is all about explaining carbon dioxide but to me this list sounds like a mad treasure hunt that I don't have time for.
It's like saying:
Go find a
bar of Ivory soap (unwrapped)
paper bag (with handles)
piece of elastic
safety pin (1/4" long)
There!  Put it all together and you have a science experiment!
Or  an experiment in how to drive your mama nuts, either way it's an experiment.
I love teaching but I dread science projects.
What's your teaching nemesis?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Question That Never Goes Away by Philip Yancey


It is a question that cries out for an answer when we can't wrap our minds around the Hand of God allowing pain. 

Yancey writes with clarity and honesty, never deviating from the strong belief that God is Love, even in the darkest moments: Sarajevo, tsunamis, twenty little kindergarteners whose lives are snuffed out at Christmastime. Is God there? Does He care? Yancey examines these questions from a variety of religions and world views, including atheism, concluding logically that only Christianity provides hope and redemption for the heartache and pain of humanity. 

Just 154 pages, this is an excellent book to give someone who has experienced great loss.  Yancey's crisp, sweeping, journalistic style of writing includes thoughts from some of my favorite writers on the subject of pain: C.S. Lewis, Nouwen, Jerry Sittser.  Because of Yancey's extensive research, many short quotes from other sources are shared. Two rather confusing ones made me pause though: one, an evolutionary view of how humans show compassion, and the other referring to "the God of 14 billion years since the beginning of the universe." Elsewhere the author affirms his own views on our Creator God, but the lack of clarification would make me hesitate a bit before I gave the book to an unbeliever. 

Having experienced the loss of a child, I know that some of the greatest healing came to my heart from reading books people gave to me.  I have a shelf dedicated to grief and loss and it's kind of a revolving library because I give away the best ones to others who would benefit. The Question That Never Goes Away is already headed to a friend of mine, so I will have to order my own copy to restock my bookshelf. 

This hopeful, clear, healing little book validates pain while pointing to our Creator Who sent His Son to die so that pain and sin wouldn't define humanity forever.
Disclosure: I received this book for free through the blogger review program, BookSneeze.  I was not required to write a positive review. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

(maybe time doesn't heal but God does: four year birthdays)

Today is our little son Gabe's fourth birthday.

Last year I wrote about scars and said that time heals wounds.

Daniel and I talked about that late into the night of our littlest man's third birthday and he told me:

It's not true.

Time doesn't heal.

How can you say that?

It's not better, he's still gone, we still have this beautiful-sad-awkward day of January 12 to get through.

How can you say it's not as bitter?  It's bitter for me. . .

And I knew then that he was right and my ability to be strong was only as strong as my tenuous grip on my emotions.  I wept hard that night last year.

I told him I would take down what I had written, because it is so important to me to speak truth, even in the grieving process.

Always incredibly supportive of my writing, he said, no, I needed to leave it, because if that's what I felt, I should say it. 

But that little statement:

[time heals]

has been in the corner of my heart for a year now.

I've wrestled with the concept. 

Does time heal?

When I was writing, I was referring to scars; if properly cared for, wounds stop bleeding and scar over.  You still see the mark of the wound;  it's not the same, but also not torn and bloody anymore. 

And so, in the case of skin tissue, time can be a part of healing.

Whenever the eternal is involved, our human analogies can break down and fail to communicate. How do you communicate the terror and beauty of Heaven touching Earth in Death?  Terror at the power and horror of severing ties with here; the beauty is the knowledge that a human soul is eternal.

Maybe time doesn't heal.

Maybe only God can give the grace and strength to go on, to work and live and see another day and another. 

Maybe time is a vehicle in which healing rides?

the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. . .

and the time vehicle brings us to number four.


I'm sorry to be blunt, but it is just a ridiculously awkward conundrum. 

It's a happy day.

It's a horrible day.

Should we have a party?  Go to Chuck E Cheeses?

Should we pretend it's a normal day and skip all the questions, tears, drama, people, hugs, and just hide out somewhere?

Should we acknowledge him publicly?  I mean, do you say, hey, it's my little son's birthday.  He'd be four.  But he's not here. 

Do you invite your family and let your closest people share in your day?  After year four isn't that a little weird?  I mean, do you wanna be the people that just never moved on?  (Those pour souls.)

 These are the very real thoughts faced by people who lose anyone close to them.

I have learned from experience that physically you cannot skip grief.  It rears it's ugly head in other ways if you choose to ignore it, stuff it under the rug, block it out with laughter and pointless TV.  It shows up in insomnia, heart palpitations, excessive sleeping, depression, panic, nightmares, and all other sorts of junk. 

As hard as it is, it's better to take a deep breath and face the fear of crumbling, the fear of not making it through, the fear of what people will think and just swim through.  You feel like you're drowning, and it's awful, but if you face it, then you come out on the other side of whatever battle you just faced and there's perspective and a bit of healing and a tentative strength and a gratefulness to God for His grace. 

So even if we wouldn't acknowledge the day of our son's birth, we would be faced with remembering because of the oddest things that happen right before significant dates. This week Daniel dreamed that two little babies died . . . but he was able to resuscitate and they ended up all okay, living, breathing.  Also this week I overheard a whispered argument behind the couch:

Cambria:  "I wanna know."

JD:  "I'm telling you, don't ask."

C: "I'm asking."

JD:  "I wouldn't if I were you!"

I said:  "What's up, guys?"

Cambria:  "I want to know if anyone did CPR on Gabe."

JD: "I told you not to ask, Cambria, you shouldn't ask!"

Ahhhh, four years later, and there's still stuff like that that makes your heart stop for a moment.

I think of the sweet missionary lady in her eighties whose baby girl died when she rolled off her bed and suffocated while her missionary mama baked a birthday cake This woman poured her life out in South America for the cause of the Gospel, she's wise and strong and has a firm grasp of theology and she said: "I still can't eat cake."   So if birthday cake still makes her heart twist, maybe it's not super weird that my little family starts processing Gabe's death and life again around about January 12?

We woke up this morning, a Sunday, got ready for church, ate the customary yogurts, started the coffee, loaded the van.  Daniel is technically on duty today, but took off a couple hours in vacation time in order to be with us for the day.  He asks me on the way to church if I'm okay and I say yes and then I return the favor and he says yes. 

I have a tight grip on my emotions because I am about to see 150 people and I have chosen not to hide out at home, but I don't want to go in and cause a scene either.  I tell him I am okay, it's not so sad, but that mostly I just wonder what Gabe would look like.  Four isn't a baby anymore. . . I trail off and feel the tears coming and blink and try to regain control since our 2 mile drive to church doesn't lend itself to emotional dumping and kleenex - make-up repairing.

Sweet Mrs A. hugs me tight and I manage to hold it together for that and I tell her I'm okay.  She says in typical Mrs. A fashion: "Well, I'm not okay!" and just a tiny crack in my armor happens because this woman I respect so much gives me permission to not be okay.

I can't concentrate on the worship music because I keep thinking about that day, and Gabe's birth, and how crazy happy it was and then since music is inextricably wound through all the highs and lows of our lives, I think about the playlists we've created for the births of each of our children. 

The music choices are quite . . . eclectic because our music loves are wide and varied. If you're a kid of ours, you may be born to gentle flower child praise music or quite possibly, Lady Antebellum.

I sit.

I stand.

I pass the offering plate.

Jacob was born on Newsong's Cherish.

Cambria, Phillips Craig and Dean's Pour My Love On You.

And little Gabe. . . I smile thinking that we did have quite a range on his playlist:  Lady A, Switchfoot, the flower child praise group 2nd Chapter of Acts singing O For a Thousand Tongues and Holy Holy Holy. . .

And suddenly I realize that's what I'm hearing: Holy, Holy, Holy.  The offertory.  O dear, this isn't good.  There is no stopping the hot tears overflowing.  I'd get up and leave but it's so awkward.  We're supposed to be stronger that that by now and sitting towards the front everyone would see.  I try to stem the tide but it's just not happening:

. . .right back in that hospital room with soft lighting and his little cries and it's really a boy and my sisters. . .

tears run down the inside of my nose and I try to wipe them with the back of my hand but it's just no use. 

This is why people who are grieving are afraid to come to church sometimes.  You have no control over moments like that and it's embarrassing and frightening to be so utterly at the mercy of being blindsided by a memory that is going to make you want to ugly cry into your husband's shoulder.

I pinch the inside of my hand with my fingernails until all I can think about is how much my palm hurts and that's the most effective way to stem the tide. 

Daniel has meetings and he promises to get a ride home with someone else:  I flee the people who love us, support us, care so much, because. . . I just am going to be a mess.  Right.  I shouldn't run.  I know.  But I have just a very fragile grip on my social competence today and I flee with the children, home to fajitas and Cambria making cupcakes for our little Gabe.  I bought orange balloons the other day and Jacob and Eli blow them up in the living room.

The balloons weren't necessary though, since besides all the love people continue to shower on us through phone calls and hugs and texts and emails and messages, we received no less than three deliveries of 4 balloons for our little man's fourth.  I think the Hy-Vee people wanted in on the party by the end of the afternoon.  Our people- even when I flee and run- are the best support, the best heart caregivers, the most kindest bunch of friends EVER. 

We take him a cupcake, something we've done every year.  We take the #4 candle.  This is the first year it's stayed lit.  We take the balloons.  The kids throw snowballs.  I'm spent and cried out.  Eli loses his shoe in the snowbank.  Jacob's balloon gets stuck in a tree.  He's mad because all on his own, he spent a lot of time writing a note to Gabe and attaching it to the balloon: "Now no one will see it."  Cambria, on a huge gymnastics/AmericanGirl McKenna doll kick,  writes a note to Gabe on her balloon: I love u, Gabe, Love, McKenna (cambria) I Love You God To. Jacob frees his balloon by throwing snowballs at it. 

They rise, little orange pin dots into the January gray sky and we watch till we can't see anymore. 

I kiss my husband, out there in the snow and with gravestones all around, including our son's:  I love you, Daniel. 

And I do.

We made it through another birthday, and my whole soul exhales with relief. 

Tomorrow we start back to school, and our nights are booked and our lives are full.  We are planning a mission trip, pouring into local church life, teaching our kids, preparing our taxes, skiing with family, loving how sweet and purposeful and just plain fun life is right now. It's pinch yourself amazing most of the time. 

Today is a bitter, sweet, salty tear, breaking heart reminder to me of the pain that exists here on earth. 

I am grateful for the gift of my little son's life, and that he was born four years ago today.  I don't think I'll ever forget his birthday; and if time doesn't heal, I know that God is close to the broken hearted, and that's enough for me.

Happy birthday, my sweet sweet Gabriel James.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

menu plan

So this menu plan last week did not account for my stove being out for five days. 

I had to get pretty creative. 

Here's what we ate:

build your own bagel pizzas 
alfalfa, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, and Neufch√Ętel on rye
whole wheat buttermilk waffles
brown rice pudding
made some artisan bread and couldn't bake it (haha)
lentil spaghetti sauce turned soup after a "the stove part will be here!" false alarm 
whole wheat tortillas - black bean salsa - microwaved refried bean taco dip
oven works!!!!!! spinach, feta, bacon, tomatoes, cucumbers, grated carrots and Jacob's favorite oven baked corn casserole. 
Oh my word, best mac and cheese ever! sharp cheddar, roux with sour cream + chicken broth, smoke flavoring, bacon. Delicious!! 
back to Saturday and mom's flannel cakes.

What are you all eating? 

Monday, January 6, 2014


"When we neglect the systems and structures that are intended to bring us life, we not only rob ourselves and those around us, but we also rob those to whom we would minister." 
- Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams Into Your Comfortable Life (Jeff Goins) 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

when you don't have 52 date night ideas, steal some moments

I roll my eyes at the date night idea lists.

They're often so unrealistic. 

The lists don't factor in paying a sitter, drive time if you live in po-dunk-ville, your husband's crazy work schedule or any form of reason or sanity.

Do people really have free weekends out there in the big universe?  Free weeknights?  (Maybe my world is really on an alternate planet.)

And besides sometimes they're dumb.  For example, maybe your husband isn't jazzed by free massages at the massage school that you thought was a fantastic date night idea.  Don't ask me how I know this. 

Lately my circles have been talking about who the priority is supposed to be, husband vs. kids; it's an interesting discussion.  We were lucky enough to be counseled from the very beginning that our unit of marriage, one man and one woman, was complete in God's eyes, and therefore a very sacred priority.  Children are a blessing to marriage - they aren't intrinsically part of it. 

So I guess this is something I've always thought was really important. 

I married him.

I said no to a lot of things to spend my life with him.

I like to be with him- especially while our kids are little.  Time with Daniel charges me up to deal with everybody else.

While men aren't always super great at planning things, they are generally enthusiastic about hanging out with their wives.  I've found it doesn't hurt to plan things myself: silently holding out for the perfect date night invite might leave me without a date. . . . for a very long time.  Hey. . . you married a man, right?

When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood,
then women will be perpetually stuck with boys.
Camille Paglia, Time, 2013: The Year Men Became Obsolete? 

I didn't marry a boy, that's for sure.

It's hard to think of when pouring into your marriage is a waste of time.  I've never regretted it.

I've regretted:

not answering my phone when he calls

angry words

shutting him out

being too busy for him

surfing the 'net

allowing my kids to drain the life out of me

choosing my husband to be the place to unload all of my frustration 

But I haven't regretted choosing to carve out time for our marriage.

Here are some of my favorite dates over the past year: 

There are a million excuses why you can't pour into your marriage:

broken trust, broken heart, anger, betrayal, grief, depression, pregnancy, jobs, job stress, kids, finances, other commitments, other ministries, good busy, bad busy, teaching, he's an early bird / you're a night owl and the list goes on. . .and on and on and on. . .

Don't cling to the excuses.  Cling to the person God gave you and hang on. 

Valentine's Day.  Daniel's shift usually discusses what they are going to do for their significant others and during the brainstorm session {ladies: men truly try.  they really do.} Daniel came up with the brilliant idea of cooking dinner for me. Oh my word.  So special.  He put the kids to bed at seven and told me I couldn't come downstairs until eight.  When I did I really couldn't believe my eyes.  

table set, goblets, candles

fresh fruit chocolate bar

stuffed zucchini boats

with sausage and red bell peppers and muenster cheese (almost a year later and I still can't believe my husband went to a grocery store and bought muenster cheese)

ahhh so special and I felt so loved. 

Not so brilliant was the idea of letting a bunch of prank-crazy buddies know what his plan was: lots and lots of phone calls during our dinner hour and even a mysteriously anonymous honking drive-by.

Not exciting, not fun, but needed:  having older, wiser people sit and help us sort stuff out when we can't trace the end of a problem from the beginning.  So much wisdom.  So much value.  Hardly considered a date- but definitely pouring into our marriage. 

Is it a date to go on a mission trip for two weeks with your husband and not even sleep in the same room?  Umm, probably not, but one of the best things we did for our marriage in the history of us.  I cringe to think that I almost didn't go because of our kids.  They were fine.  They barely remember.  But we remember that shared life experience, shared horror at extreme poverty, shared tears, shared frustration at our own complacence.  We remember.  It was us.  Priceless. 

Sitting on the porch swing watching a thunderstorm, toes on the concrete porch, together for five minutes.  Yes.  It matters.  The bookwork, the phonecalls, the stress, the planning - it can wait for five minutes.

Bank Meetings.  Closings.  I am sorry to report that some of the most fun, happiest, most peaceful moments of our summer were spent at a long table overlooking the river waiting for our attorney.  That feeling of it's you and me against the world, baby! And we are so, so, so crazy. (And probably stupid.) But it was us. It wasn't my husband off doing his thing.  We're in this* together. 
*This refers to working every spare minute between May and October to make those bank meeting / house closing decisions be wise and not stupid. 

Midnight swim in the pool MINUS snorkels, floaties, screaming, dive sticks, donuts, all manner of  squirt gun apparatus, kick boards and swim diapers.  It's awesome.  I highly recommend. 

Taco + Phone Lunch Date.  I look back at this one and wish I wouldn't have been frustrated.  Daniel's mom had taken the kids and we were feverishly working through hot summer days and nights trying to meet deadlines for a house.  We took a break and met at Taco John's for lunch, both dirty and tired.  Daniel's phone rings constantly and sometimes he can turn it off, other times, he just can't.  That was a lunch where I looked out the window while I ate.  Retrospect: special.  We were able to work together, I got to see his world, I should have realized how much pressure and stress he was managing and congratulated him on how well he was spinning all of his plates.  Actual: not special, I felt frustrated. I can't undo that date, but I can hopefully choose a different attitude next time it happens. (And it probably will.)

Working the Boot Drive together. This is an annual event that firefighters participate in to raise money for kids with MD.  It involves standing in traffic with fire boots and yes, I suppose, begging.  You meet a lot of crazy generous people and a lot of really grumpy ones but it's a great experience.  Once again, I think it's so easy to opt out of these things using kids as an excuse, but again, they're so fine.  They chalked on the driveway with their beloved Jess and I spent an hour in my husband's world.  We're all better for that morning (except maybe Jess).

Bought black patent leather heels. That purchase practically counts as a date because it was a decision to say goodbye boring, hello LBD, and you still matter to me babe.

Visiting Daniel at MFD one night without the kids.  Make-up, hoop earrings, we sit outside on a concrete patio, treat it like speed dating. Fifteen minutes.  Worth it.  All the other nameless, pointless things that we could have done that night-  watching the news or an email that could wait or loading the eternal dishwasher?  Yuck, at nine pm?

Stopping each other to listen to a song that moves us.


Phone calls.

It matters.  It's little.  It's actually big.  They add up.  All those stolen moments. . . they add up to life.

We're building this home, this life, this marriage, with our words, with our actions, with our moments and how we spend our time.
The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.  Proverbs 14:1 

Ahh, I want to be a wise woman.

This year I'm going to keep stealing moments.
ten years together and this was our first time christmas shopping together!  stolen. sweet.