Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Barefoot Mama in the Snow: on easy kindness

Yesterday a young mom caught my eye as I drove past the hospital; she was carrying a baby, struggling with a collapsed stroller, a toddler beside her. At first glance I thought she was barefoot in the snow, but then I saw her inadequate flip flops. 

Surely someone will help her fix the stroller, I assured myself. She was on a well traveled pedestrian sidewalk. But in my rear view mirror I noticed two men walk right past.

You know those little conversations you have with yourself . . . but they sound like conversations with God? That's what I had going on in my van.

You should turn around and go help her with the stroller. It's impossible to fix with one hand and she can't set the baby down in the snow. 

But I'll be late, God. I have to pick Cambria up. 

When have you been early anyway?  Why start now? 

I said okay, God, and retraced my route. I prepared to park so I could help and that's when she crossed the street to the bus with her babies, smiling at the bus driver. She had wanted  the stroller collapsed. I watched in disbelief. She didn't need any help at all (except some warm boots) . . . and she was long gone. 

Back to my regularly scheduled route. 

Why did You make me do that, God? You knew she didn't need any help at all. Now I'm late for no reason, not even kindness! 

I waited, quiet, as I drove, thinking hard. 

Like a film reel, my mind replayed all the times earlier in the day that I had been unwilling and too exasperated to inconvenience myself for Daniel, for Eli; if I could stop for an unknown barefoot mama in the snow, why couldn't I, why wouldn't  I stop to help someone I loved deeply?

Is that what You wanted to teach me, God? 

Isn't it always cooler to help the barefoot mama? Isn't it really the easier choice? I'm so very good at kindness to strangers. There's no commitment to those acts of service, those friendly smiles; while still important, maybe it just makes me feel good.

Kindness at its most unselfish doesn't make me feel good. It makes me feel spent and used and so painfully aware that there is nothing truly good in me; goodness comes from God and is a fruit of His Spirit.

Kindness is hard. 

Kindness isn't natural. 

Kindness starts in my heart at home. 

Never let loyalty and kindness leave you; 
{especially with the ones I love the most}
tie them around your neck as a reminder.
{because it's so easy to forget} 
Write them deep within your heart. (Proverbs 3:3)

Monday, June 22, 2015

10 reasons you should go on vacation with your (whole) family

When you think about hopping in your van and road tripping away to spend time with family, it sometimes seems like more work than it's worth.  Here's ten unofficial reasons why you should make the effort.

1)  Because they drive you nuts

Whenever I write (or talk) about spending time with our families, people ask me how we all get along, why our family is so happy and other such mumbo jumbo. There is a simple answer here: we don't and we aren't. I am not sure I know of another family who fights quite as passionately as mine; we should be Italian, but we have no ethnicity to blame except sin.  And our families aren't happy all the time at all! Since we are people, we all have complicated lives, pain, heartaches, messes, loneliness, stupid choices and consequences, drama and frustration.  We don't even like each other sometimes. Here are just a few of the many name tags I could wear at family reunions, awarded because of my own actions: Boss, Control Freak, Drama Queen, Feminist, Most-Unwilling-to-Let-it-Go.  

But we keep showing up, and that's probably what is unique. The crazy thing about family is that you're stuck with each other whether you like it or not.  Vacationing together is embracing the whole mess: we're stuck together, we might as well enjoy some great scenery. 

Look at it this way: even if you don't have fun with your family, at least you can enjoy the beach, which may put you in a better mood, which may help you have fun with your family.
We allllmost didn't do this little crazy campfire, late at night on the beach. . . but Daniel's sister Karen
talked us all into it.  Well, actually, she said: "I'm going, guys!" and took all the s'more ingredients and
fire lighting stuff with her.  She's pretty awesome.  (We all followed.)
S'mores on the Pacific

2) Because you can ('t) afford it 

This is one of the most common excuses used by people who don't want to go on vacation with family and I think it is just that: an excuse.  We have spent time with family in every stage of our financial lives and have never regretted using our money in that way.

We did it when we had nothing (well, not nothing, but almost nothing).  Living on one income with a tiny baby and charging our tickets to Seattle on our Visa, we had to humbly admit to Daniel's family that we couldn't afford a rental car (could they pick us up at SeaTac and bring an extra car?);  we contributed exactly zero dollars to the week spent at a lake house on the Washington State / Canadian border. We ate peanut butter sandwiches and cooked in instead of eating out;  we toured a border town during an infamous drug tunnel bust (we were pulled over and questioned twice) (it was hilarious). We played spoons and paddle boated, took canoes out on the lake and watched the sun set; we critiqued whole music albums and watched movies at one in the afternoon; Daniel's dad carried fussy Jacob on hikes and we picnicked, bonfired, stayed up late and slept in.  It was a magical week that we still talk about, ten years later.  We couldn't afford to go, but looking back, we regret nothing about spending $500 to build and invest in relationships.

Spending time with family when you can't afford it means you will also spend time with them when you can. It's good to be honest about financial limitations and find common ground and activities that everyone can take part in without great financial strain, but at the end of the day, why have money at all, if you can't use it to enjoy time with people you love?

3) Because no one will remember the gift card you sent for a birthday, but you will remember the shared experiences.
Who would have guessed the stormy outcome on that infamous sunny boat outing ten years ago?
Not us, for sure, but the treacherous trip home is something we still talk about!

4) Because vacationing together speaks the love language of everyone

Gifts: it is going to feel extravagant, no matter the cost, to all the gift-loving people. Even a free vacation isn't free; filling your vehicle with gas is a cost, time off of work equals money not earned, clearing a place in your schedule means you are assigning value to the group of people with whom you are spending your time. 
Quality Time:  nothing says I want to spend time with you like clearing your schedule to go somewhere with the fam.
Words of Affirmation: admittedly this may be the most difficult love language to speak while on vacation, but it will invariably happen because there is ample time to say them.  And affirming vacation words often happen in looking back at time spent together: ex. We were all faint with hunger after you made us search Chicago on foot for the perfect lunch spot, but I'm glad you made us keep going because that shawarma was the bomb.
Acts of Service are a reason some people don't want to go on vacation.  There are countless opportunities to serve your family when you're all stuck together. Like, you could give the last ounce of your bug spray to your brother in law.  
Physical Touch: whaaat? This one doesn't even need to be explained.  All the huggy people who don't have any personal space love vacations. Vacation is a huggy person's secret weapon. 

There are more than fifteen people in this fifteen passenger van.

5) Because being stuck with people for an extended time frame forges strong bonds.  There is something very bonding about camping with the entire family in tents while a severe thunderstorm rolls through at 3am. I was almost relieved to climb into the van to escape the storm since someone had left our tent pet door open and let in approximately 40,000 mosquitoes. Some vacations bond you almost like army buddies: nothing about the trip is fun except that it's over and you still have each other.

6) Because vacation puts everyone on the same schedule.  If you haven't noticed, Americans are fantastically busy creatures.  Even if relatives come to see us, it's hard to disentangle ourselves from commitments, jobs and responsibilities. This doesn't seem to bother anyone, but it can be a strain if Johnny takes a day off to visit Joe and Joe chooses to still work. Johnny can think: "Well, why am I spending my time off chatting with my sister in law while my brother works? awkward! "  Vacation solves this problem beautifully, especially with poor cell service and no wifi!

7) Because going away to a neutral location creates a more neutral environment.  Since no one is really in charge, there aren't really any house rules to break.  People aren't all descending on Susie's house and eating her out of house and home, leaving with a mess that'll take days to recover from. On the contrary, everyone is responsible and it is really amazing how well this works.  The people who always host get a break, and the people who don't always get a chance to host - get a chance. It levels the playing field.

8) Because you don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun together. Some of the most amazing trips with our families have been so very cheap.  My whole family goes canoeing every year to the same campground. This is not an expensive trip, but it is a fun one. It is hosted by a different person every year, and it is their job to choose dates, plan activities, and assign a meal to everyone. It is a highlight of the year for everyone, even if your canoe tips. (I can say it is a highlight because my canoe has never, ever, tipped.  I am jinxing myself right now.)

9) But if you are going to spend a lot of money, it's more fun to spend it with family. Why would you even want to go to a Black Hawks hockey game by yourself? Wouldn't it be more fun to go to the zoo with all the cousins?  Who wants to sit at the ocean by themselves? (Well, actually, it's very fun to sit at the ocean by yourself, but good news:  the ocean is huge, and there's plenty of room for the entire tribe to have beach solitude.)
(You would have yelled this loud at that Black Hawks game, too.)

10) Because life is very short.  That's all.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Comforters Are Brave

[God] is asking you. . . to value your comfort less than the privilege of comforting others.
Peter Greer, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, Chapter 12, page 133

I stand in Walgreen's alone, staring at the card rack.  Everyone close to me is hurting in wildly different ways and I have no idea what to say.  I am a case study in what not to say. 

I'll buy a card.  I'll let Hallmark speak for me. 

I am afraid of hurting more, of doing more damage than has already been done, of driving knives deeper and opening up wounds; of widening a distance if I'm unable to explain my heart.

I scan the themes.

Cope.  That's a good heading. I pull a card out of the rack. 

And we know that all things work together. . .

I can't even finish reading the overdone scripting of the overused verse. 

Christians are phenomenally good at cliches.  It's our secret weapon.  I've been wounded by the secret weapon and I put the card back.

As I pull each card out and read each confident caption, I feel like I hear a disappointed, unprinted echo.

God is good all the time. It doesn't seem like it right now.

You'll get through this.  What if you don't?

The Lord will deliver you.  But He might not.

He cares for you!  Then why is my life falling apart?

You're strong.  This is a bigger mess than anyone knows and I'm so very weak.

I am struck, suddenly, that countless people stood in this same aisle and wondered what to say to me.  I was the broken one and they spoke life.  

It's my turn to comfort now and I didn't know how hard it was to be the comforter.

I know who the good comforters are.  These are the people that you want in your corner.  They don't ask what you need, they just do it. They show up and bring food or mow your lawn or just hang out with you.  They warn you when maybe you're getting stuck. They risk your wrath and tell you anyway.  They are in it for the long road.  They don't hand out solutions. 

But me- I don't know what to say to broken marriages, broken dreams, broken relationships.  I am afraid, and I say nothing.

For the last five years, I've felt I had some answers when someone loses a child.  I have unconsciously known what to say and what not to say, and I've not been afraid to be involved, send a text, make a phone call or show up on a doorstep.  I wonder if this response has become a bit skewed.  It's so familiar to me and while still shocking and senseless, grief follows a very similar course for each person traveling it.  I feel I recognize the markers in myself and others, too.  Have I lost the sharp agony?  Maybe a little.  Have I lost the fear of being vulnerable and risking being hurt by involvement?  I absolutely have.

I think I've become a bit over-confident and now, faced with different kinds of pain, I am at a complete loss.  I have no answers.  I am confused too.  There is no reference point.  I am not sure I even have hope to offer and I am silent.

The answers I have for grief from personal experience don't quite fit the same into other scenarios and even as I write, I am disappointed in my self-developed checklist for helping others.  It's deceptively easy to bring checklists into hard stuff.

1)  Bible verse
2)  You'll be ok
3a) Send card
3b) Send money
3c) Send flowers
4)  If you're not ok, get some counseling
5)  You're still not ok? More counseling

But comforters know that checklists are best for business and accomplishing tasks and ultimately only for freeing our energies for the really important things. 

Recently I asked a friend: hypothetically, how would you care for someone who was facing loss? I anticipated a short message in reply, but instead I received these wise words:
Showing them that you care is the best thing you can do while it's still fresh. Don't give them advice. Yet. Give them hope (specific to the disappointment). They'll have to accept it first which will take a while and during that time the hope will take away some of that "sick" feeling. Tell them that you are sorry for them. But most of all being there in a supportive role is huge. It's not up to you to make them feel better. You can only help a little bit. It's something they're going to have to deal with internally. After a while, let them know that God has His best in store for them and while this is painful now, what He has instead in the future will make them much happier than what they wanted now.
Right now their hearts are heavy. The hope that you give them lifts it a little and for a bit they feel it's weight is shared. And that is the best thing you can do.
I think scripture helps after a while but right now sharing a verse with them feels very cold and uncaring even if it wasn't meant to be. It will help later. Sharing a story from the bible however that relates to them is very good. It lets them know that someone else suffered the same thing and it turned out good in the end.

Shocking events make you shake your head and ask why. They don't make sense and  they make us numb. I think sometimes life doesn't have a reason for what happens -- it just does. Solomon said a bad thing can happen to a good person just like an innocent bird gets caught in a net. It doesn't work out better in the end for the bird. It just happens. It's hard to see a reason for it.
Wisdom comes from the house of sorrow. And wisdom is the most important thing to attain because it's profitable in all things. As hard as sorrow can be and as much as it takes, it does give wisdom. And wisdom is worth learning. Speaking for myself, I didn't, couldn't, sometimes can't, see a reason for some disappointing things in my life but one thing I can say is through them I've learned a small portion of wisdom and it makes up for some of the things I've lost. Hopefully someday it will make up for all of them and then some. Here's to hoping. [shared with permission]

Because we so love checklists, here's a little list, not of tasks, but of heart attitudes I found in the words above:

care while the need is still fresh

withhold immediate advice

extend hope

say you're sorry

be there

realize you can't make it better

be patient

share the weight

be slow to hand out Bible verses, rather take the time to dig into the Word for meaningful hope

go ahead and shake your own head and ask why

enter in to the pain

and understand that bad things happen to good people for no apparent reason.

So years later, I am in the shoes of the brave comforters who came to us.  Looking back, I realize that they didn't know what to say either, but they didn't stay silent.  Many hadn't any idea what we were going through, but they still stood with us in the rubble of all of our mess and gave us some strength to hold on to.  I realize now that it's a special kind of bravery that sits in the ashes of someones life and holds them tight. 

God, forgive me for thinking that I have answers for anything, because I don't. 

God, help me be brave enough to show up with empty hands.

God, help me to comfort and not wound. 

God, please help me to be a safe place. 

Mission Drift by Peter Greer

Why do people stray so far from sincerely good beginnings?  This question intrigues and frightens me, which is why I was interested in Peter Greer's sharp yet hopeful critique of why and how drift happens. It's a bit heavier than Greer's usual writing style because of his meticulous research and carefully reported examples.

The most interesting aspect of the book to me was that names were named, both as positive and negative examples of drifting from an initially clear purpose.  Compassion International, World Vision, the YMCA, Harvard, Yale and InterVarsity are all organizations to learn from, on varying ends of the drifting scale.

"You can't assume that a mission will take care of itself," stated Dr. Gene Habecker, President at Taylor University. "It will atrophy if you don't aggressively manage it in an ongoing way and continually reaffirm and integrate it into everything that you do over and over and over again.  Mission management is never over.  It's never done."
Mission Drift, page 51 

Staying true to where God calls you requires that your mission statement have clarity and vision and an awareness that we are so prone to wander. This book was helpful to me from a variety of angles: charity, church, business involvement and even as a mom.

Disclaimer: Bethany House provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

on seeking safety & sierra leone

". . .I've been listening to the radio, on and off while I've been working on the house,
a lot of news on NPR, and I'm struck that I don't think I've heard Africa discussed even once since I've been here. It's so strange for me. I mean, not that Africa has to be in the news. . . " She turned away, looking out her window. Then she said, "You know, it's always hard, coming back. Bridging the worlds. But this time around, it's so pointed, the sense of disconnection. . .
Somehow- maybe it's just being up here, not in a city, America seems so insular now.   More than before, yes. And the [current political drama], which is so ridiculous, really, is part of that for me. I mean, how can this be what Americans are talking about. . .when there's so much horror in the world."  excerpted from The Arsonist, Sue Miller, pg. 133

When we flew back to Chicago after our first trip to Africa, standing in a fast track customs line as a US citizen, I was just blown away by the lack of patriotism I felt.  American soil!  Wealth! Freedom! All I could think about was how insulated, how blind I had been my entire life to how the rest of the world lives. I think the world revolves around me; that's human selfishness.  But Americans think the world revolves around them and it's considered patriotism.  It's all so very complicated.

". . .we didn't have to worry with the poor because we were paid pros serving the saved.  We spent so much time blessing blessed people, there was nothing left over." Seven, Jen Hatmaker 

I've thought a lot about this over the past year and wondered at the happy bubble we're content to live in.  We want to send money to a crisis, we will quickly jump on board a hashtag activism bandwagon, we give our castoffs to charities and drop our loose change in red buckets at Christmastime.  We aren't mean.  We're actually pretty kind.  We're giving.  (Two years ago, American individual household contributions to non-profits and charities totaled 228.93 billion dollars.But we really don't want to know what's going on out there in the big wide world.  Maybe that's why Time Magazine even prints different covers for their US editions.  That way, during the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, we can think about what's really important, like how dangerous football is.

And Ebola!  It's coming to town! 

I can't find any news source that's not bursting with some new development on this crisis.  Last week, a popular Christian ministry posted an article about the hospital in Houston.  It popped up on my Facebook newsfeed because a friend of mine commented that African Christians have been dealing with these diseases for so long and while it's alarming here, it's important to be in prayer for believers outside of our relatively safe nation.  She was blasted by the ministry's moderator for "criticizing the American church."  I would have laughed if it weren't so sad. 

So much fear and yet so few reasons to actually panic.  Unlike West Africa, we have running water, and efficient public waste systems; we aren't malnourished and we have an unbelievable amount medical options to choose in case something does go wrong. 

I won't pretend to have any knowledge of medicine, or even Ebola; but I have had my blinded little eyes opened to how the other half lives and I refuse to live with sanitary safety as my purpose in life.

Morningstar, a beautiful old hospital-turned-school in Welkom, South Africa welcomes children with HIV; this wall marks and remembers the lives of the little students who have died. 
America today is a "save yourself" society if there ever was one. But does it really work? The underdeveloped societies suffer from one set of diseases: tuberculosis, malnutrition, pneumonia, parasites, typhoid, cholera, typhus, etc. Affluent America has virtually invented a whole new set of diseases: obesity, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, venereal disease, cirrhosis of the liver, drug addiction, alcoholism, divorce, battered children, suicide, murder. Take your choice. Labor-saving machines have turned out to be body-killing devices. Our affluence has allowed both mobility and isolation of the nuclear family, and as a result, our divorce courts, our prisons and our mental institutions are flooded. In saving ourselves we have nearly lost ourselves. John Piper
At Morningstar, there is a bathing area for the older and weaker children.  In an effort to create sanitary conditions, this is a little personalized washcloth hanging area; it is next to an elevated tub, designed to reduce wear on volunteers and staff as they lift the children in and out of their baths.
I found this letter on the wall at Morningstar, written by a fifteen year old wise beyond her years.
Our west coast friends Jon and Kelli are headed to Sierra Leone with their children in February, not on a mission trip or visit but to live and pour into lives and people, extending hope and life and Christ.  I tell Kelli all the time I'm so jealous; ministry is never easy street but it is such a joy to be with people hungry for the Gospel and I can't wait to see what God will do through their obedience and lives. 
Kelli and I at my brother-in-law's wedding

The first time Jon and Kelli stayed with us Daniel was working and I was solo-hostessing.  I greeted them, brought a few bags in and feeling a weird poke on my finger, looked down at my engagement ring and saw four bright prongs staring back at me.  I'd lost my diamond.  I couldn't very well hide my surprise and thus ensued a housewide search which everyone enthusiastically took part in.  I couldn't even believe the irony.  I am hosting missionaries headed to the slums of Africa and I can't even say hello without asking everyone to help me find my jewelry. Jon even took my sink/ drain-trap thingies (whatever they're called) apart to see if it had fallen down there.  Realizing this was a needle in the haystack kind of event, I told myself I'd look in the recent trash and then just be done with it and try not to dwell on my diamond-less ring. I found it twinkling up at me from a pile of coffee grounds.  It was a pretty happy sight and Jon and Kelli were really gracious about my materialism.

In light of all the hubbub about Ebola, I can't help but think of them;  I asked Kelli if I could share from their most recent update and she agreed.  I love their courage, perspective and singleminded vision. 

from Jon. . .

First, I want to state that we are still moving forward towards a departure date of early February.  We are “watching and praying” as the situation unfolds in Sierra Leone and currently see no reason to change this date.  As we watch we are continuously reminded of 2 Tim 1:7.  The news coverage of the situation in West Africa has been VERY sensationalized and designed to promote a spirit of fear. However, God’s word reminds us that the spirit of fear is NOT from Him.

We have to continually bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”. (2Cor 10:5b)  We have His spirit giving us the power of the Almighty God to overcome the fears of this world.  We have His supernatural love to help us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love them that Christ came to seek and to save.  Finally, we have His wisdom giving us a sound mind able to make Spirit led decisions.  We do not need to be swayed back and forth by the fears of this world.  What an opportunity to show the power of Christ to a lost and dying world!

I think that it is very important to keep the current situation in perspective.  There are over 20 million people in the three countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia and to date there have officially been under 10,000 people infected with Ebola resulting in the deaths of about 4,400 people.  These numbers show you how small the outbreak is relative to the populations of these countries.  It also needs to be remembered that every day in these same three countries, thousands of people die of Malaria and thousands more die every day from Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, Cholera, and Tuberculosis, etc.  We need to ask ourselves why so much fear over this disease?

The truly sad aspect of the Ebola deaths is that many of these people have died without ever having heard of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” it matters very little what someone dies of, but it matters for eternity in what state they die: Saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ or an eternity in hell for the wages of sin is death!  We need to run towards those who need to hear of Christ and are dying without Him, not run away in a vain attempt to preserve our health or lives.  As my wife says so well “We are not going to Sierra Leone for our health!”

For over 2 years we have been going around the country telling people about Sierra Leone and have been amazed and somewhat saddened that so few people had ever heard of Sierra Leone and that even fewer where aware of the great need and open door for the gospel.  We “know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)  Ebola has placed Sierra Leone at the forefront of world news and now, for maybe the first time in it’s history, thousands of Christians are praying for these very needy people.  I believe that God is using this outbreak to further open hearts in Sierra Leone and to call more laborers into this white harvest!  Ebola is an opportunity!

More links:

From the son of the doctor treating Dr. Kent Brantly while still in Liberia

Don't Freak Out

Seemingly off topic, I found this article from the Washington Post fascinating; the thread tying it to seeking comfort and safety is our obsession with ourselves.

Even more terrible things are happening to the American Girl Doll

More on Sierra Leone

Jon and Kelli

a cemetery for children outside Thabong, a township in South Africa
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he could never lose. Jim Elliot

Thursday, October 16, 2014

(decorating blocks)

For sure, the most surprising thing about living in our new house has been how lost I am with how to make it feel ours.

I am so accustomed to a fixer upper mindset where anything I do improves the property.  Here, I'm kind of hesitant because I don't want to wreck anything.

Walls?  Should I hang a  map?  A clock?  I vacillate and hesitate. Before, I thumbtacked up art and clocks and even driftwood and painted with reckless abandon.  I projected verses, quotes, maps onto the walls, penciling the outlines and then carefully filling them in.  I painted my chalkboard wall before it was cool and I painted yucky oak cupboards bright white.  I painted old ceiling fans and used a hammered metal spray paint to redo light fixtures. Once I even painted an ugly linoleum floor a red and tan checkerboard design and coated it generously with wax.  It looked FANTASTIC.  Painting is my go to. And I know I'm biased, but all that stuff really did look nice.  Amazing, even. 

Here, the colors are already chosen and I happen to love them, so there's no reason to paint, but the expansive walls are kind of getting to me and most of my art and pictures are still stored on the floor of the linen closet.  And who has time to stand and squint and stare at their walls to figure out where to hang pictures?

Suddenly I am becoming a decor-challenged person and I have never in my life had that problem. As a tiny child I even rearranged my bedroom furniture one night when I was being babysat.  I was probably five, and I remember pushing the bed across the floor with all of my might.  How I expected this to escape the babysitter's notice, I'm not sure, but when Mom and Dad got home I crept down to the landing to listen to the report.  (I have also never required a lot of sleep.  Who needs sleep?)  "She was really good- except I don't think she went to bed and she made a lot of noise in her room moving things around." I froze.  Busted. 

I have not finished Myquillyn Smith's new book The Nesting Place, but I have bought it twice and and given it away, so maybe the third time I will buy it and keep it to myself.  However, I have browsed it very carefully so as not to crease the pages of my gift and did some speed reading stints.  Also I have given it, and then shamelessly taken it back and pored over the pages.  It is exquisite.  I love it and it is exactly  my philosophy of making a home beautiful.  Well, anyway, maybe I exactly like Myquillyn's philosophy, but anyway. 

Be creative with cheap finds, better yet freeee finds
Use what YOU love
Bring personality to your home
Be brave
Be a little bit reckless
Stop procrastinating
You can always change it
Simplicity is beautiful and life is beautiful and mess is part of both: embrace it

Somehow I feel I've lost this philosophy in the crisp clean spaces of our new house.  I joke that we run a hotel, and we really do, but I don't want it to look like one-- at all.  I want people to feel welcome and at home and have their eyes wander to interesting art and read quotes that point them to Christ and find intriguing books in easy reach.  I want our house to look like our kids live here, too, and like their friends are welcome, because they are.  I want our home to be an extension of who we are, but not what we are and there is a difference!

Tonight after a long day of teaching, house showing, and packing for the weekend, I threw caution to the wind and Cambria and I had fun with our kitchen wall.  IT WAS A BLAST.

Long live electrical tape, chalkboard paint and Myquillyn Smith.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

cambria's pillowcase project

When I suggested that Cambria get Eli the Hawkeye back scratcher he's been eyeing for the last several weeks for his birthday, she hesitated and said:

"Well . . . . . I really was thinking about sewing him a pillowcase with horses on it since he thinks he's Little Joe [from Bonanza]."

Never mind.

That would ALSO explain why I flooded Pinterest with horse pictures yesterday.  [PS- that wasn't me.]

She's so crazy creative and intuitive and artistic, but only in things she likes to do.  It's such a funny personality sandwiched between my two boys.

Like yesterday, Columbus Day, I said:

"Cambria, do you remember who Christopher Columbus was?"

She scrunched her face up and thought; "Well, I feel like I knew once. . . . but it's passed away."

You see what I deal with.

So we hunted high and low for the perfect fabric and she got to work today.

It's truly such a simple project UNLESS you dig your sewing machine out and find the needle broken, requiring yet another Walmart trip to replace it.  Probably my like would be simpler if I lived next door to Walmart.

It was definitely a hit and his three year old head is resting on the horses right now.

You'll need a yard of material, folded right sides together, one L shaped seam to create the pillow case, then a nice deep hem to finish it.  Couldn't be easier!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Leave it to Beaver Chocolate Chip Cookies

Rainy days are perfect for cookies and I know I'm biased but I think my mom's are the best. 

I think that she got the recipe from a radio program and I remember them becoming a family favorite in no time at all. I'm pretty sure using shortening is the key to the chewy crispness and all that vanilla is just amazing. 

1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
2 cups chocolate chips 

Mix ingredients together and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

thoughts from a sunday

 You couldn't spend your whole life in Campus Crusade for Christ,
or raise your daughter as a Promise Keeper,
or count on groups like the Moral Majority or the Christian Coalition
to sustain your belief system beyond the next election cycle.
For that kind of staying power you [need] a confessional tradition,
a church,
an institution capable of outlasting its charismatic founders.
-Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
Wisdom lies in anchoring ourselves to the church
as the church is anchoed to Christ.
Across time and culture and trends,
the church remains.
-Peter Greer, Chris Horst, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches

Jesus Christ is building His church.  This gives me so much hope.  We are not building it.  He is. 
So when we fail, and people fail, and things and lives get broken, and solutions that seemed perfect don't work, when ministry is messy and discipleship is draining, He is still building and He is still extending grace and the Cross is still power to those who believe and His Word is still not returning void.

I am loving this song today.


I know there is poor and hideous suffering,
and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war.
I have lived pain, and my life can tell:
I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks
for early light dappled through leaves
and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July
and the song of crickets on humid nights a
nd the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls
and all the good things that a good God gives.
-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Best Yes

We are working through The Best Yes in our Bible study right now and it has been amazing. 

First of all, the teaching segments are shot in London, and having just been there -

(for three hours) 

(in smelly clothes from two days in airports) 

(we were hardly a good representation of Americans to the UK) 

- it's really cool to see in the background. Okay, I know that's totally shallow, but it's still engaging, instead of a tan wall with ferns ala Emerson Eggerich/Tedd Tripp/John Piper/Beth Moore. 

Second, I can't believe how much Scripture Lysa digs into; it's not a book study, or opinion study-- it is totally a Bible study, taking a hard look at how God wants us to prioritize time. 

Third, I appreciate the little quotes Lysa encapsulates in her book, study and in her Instagram account (she's a great person to follow). They stick with me. 

It's easy to think that our daily yes and 
no decisions aren't all that important, but over time, they can add up:  the decisions we make dictate the schedules we keep; the schedules we keep determine the life we live; the life we live determines how we spend our soul - and how we spend our soul matters. - The Best Yes study guide, pg. 19

Wisdom is like a muscle; if we want to be strong in preparation for extraordinary circumstances, we have to give it regular workouts in ordinary circumstances. -pg. 54

We've got to practice wisdom in the everyday places of our lives.  - pg. 86

I have loved the book, as well, and I'm almost finished.  So much practical application: what do you do if someone asks to move in with you indefinitely? Lysa writes/walks through that decision making process and I could hardly turn the pages fast enough-- better than a murder mystery haha! Why does saying yes always feel more loving? Is it actually always loving? 

This is a great, great study to grab some girlfriends and walk through together.  

(See my little Best Yes display? -- propped up there in an effort to remind myself to choose my time and decisions wisely) 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

my face when. . . we have a family conference

I am folding laundry in our bedroom (laundry is my nemesis) when I hear a weeping Eli climbing the stairs.

He has inherited my flair for the dramatic, my love of the English language, and his dad's intelligence which is a hysterically funny combination in a two year old.

"Mom,"  he wails, "the kids locked me in the house."  He is wearing his most insulted and injured expression, tears rolling one right after the other down his little face.

I find it hard to believe that the children locked him into the house, and tell him so. 

"No, Mom, they did, and they locked the front door and the back door and now they are out on the trampoline jumping!"  New, fresh round of bitter tears.

My blood pressure is elevated at this injustice and I leave the laundry for another moment day year and go downstairs to investigate. The front doors are bolted, latched and locked. Eli is telling the truth.  The little stinkers!

I call them inside and tell them they are in trouble. They are to march to the living room immediately for a family conference.

Jacob chooses the love seat, Cambria the couch, and Eli perches on the arm of the big chair, next to me, his ally. 

I begin:

Number one: I cannot even believe you would lock your little brother in the house.

blah blah blah ad infinitum, ad nauseum

Now would any of you like to add something?

Eli raises his hand.  "I have something to say.  Jacob, you locked me in the house.

Jacob asks his forgiveness and I try not to smile. 

Cambria contributes:  "Well, Mom, I just want to say that we try to include Eli and he fusses so much that it's not fun.  So that's why we try to sneak outside when he's not looking."

Jacob:  "Mom, the last time we were on the trampoline with the neighbor kids, he begged to get up and I helped him and then he yelled at us the whole time and told us to get off."

[I googled my face when to see if there were any photos of expressions that did Eli's face justice. Found one that nailed it. Also, I have no clue who this dude is. ]

Eli's face when he knows JD and Cambria are telling on him

Eli raises his hand again.  And not even kidding, this is what he says:

"I have something to say.  Number three {theatrically holds up fingers}, Jacob is costing us a lot of money.  And he just costed us money.  And he keeps costing us money."

I want to die laughing but I'm the adult who just called this conference, so I have to finish it.  I pull my face together and ask Eli what he has to say about the screaming on the trampoline.

He hops down off of his perch next to me and says:

"I will show you how it is. Jacob, you jump with me.  I will be Cambria.  We are the big kids jumping." ///proceeds to jump up and down with an obliging Jacob on the hardwood floor///  Still jumping, he looks at Cambria.  "Now, Cambria, you be Eli David on the trampoline."

Cambria leaps off of the couch, between the boys, falls to the floor and begins (fake) wailing. 

Eli stops jumping, climbs back up next to me and looks at me. 

I look back at him. "Well, is that how it is?"

He nods.

"Eli, you need to quit screaming like that when the big kids let you jump on the trampoline."

He blinks dramatically, pointing to where the scene was just reenacted. "That was not me screaming, that was Cambria Faith."

Where do you even begin?

Yeah, I just parent for the comedy.

After working that issue out he trots off.

I ask if anyone else has any more concerns to bring to the family conference. Both kids join me on either arm of the big chair.

Cambria lowers her voice and shares that she feels Eli has been swearing a lot.  She believes he's learning it from Jacob.  I disagree and defend Jacob.  Jacob is about the most legalistic child to walk the earth; swearing just isn't his jam.  I ask what she means by swearing.

"Mo-oom.  Like Eli says poopoo and peepee.  All. the.time."

I point out that those words aren't swear words and maybe it's because he has the world's smallest bladder and goes to the bathroom about 427 times a day.

I kid you not, the words are not out of my mouth and we hear Eli swing the bathroom door open and the toilet in use. 

The family conference has pretty much lost all seriousness at this point, but I try to rein it in with a short comment about calling bodily functions and parts by their medical names and not cutesy made up ones that invite jokes, like winky and peepee.

Jacob throws out his hands, annoyed.  "Why do people even say that stuff?  It's so dumb."

Cambria's eyes twinkle:  "Like. . . the family jewels?!"  Jacob and I are shocked into utter silence and Cambria dissolves into giggles.

Then I start laughing and I can't stop.  The whole meeting is just a comedy of errors. I need to leave family conferences to Daniel and just get my normal show on the road before I lose complete control.

Late that night, tucking Cambria in, as usual, we discuss the best and worst parts of our day. 

"Mom," she whispers, "I know we were really in trouble, but the best part of my day was when we were all piled on the chair with you having a family conference."

Mine too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

i can't do it all

I have a housecleaner.


here i come with a bunch of excuses and explanations, groveling and apologizing----


Just this.

I can't do it all.

I came a bit late to this stunning realization last August.

We bought four houses in as many months last year, went to Africa, started planning another trip back there, taught a small group, ran a small business, participated in community, church, family and sports events and when it came time for school to start I just felt like I was going to drown.

I knew my husband was gone a lot; besides running a business he continues to work full time at MFD.  Out of curiosity one week I logged his hours gone: 116.  Really, this made me feel better, not worse.  I knew I was carrying a rather heavy load of bedtimes, training, teaching, mealtimes and practices alone, but doesn't everyone?  Why was it so hard on me?  Weekends are somewhat irrelevant since Daniel is usually on duty for either Saturday or Sunday (or both).  I don't get a break most nights when Daddy comes home.  We try to schedule one family day per week, but it doesn't always happen.

I felt like something was going to give and I really didn't want it to be a) my marriage b)our business c) my sanity.

I took a good hard look at what I loved doing, what I needed to be doing, and what mattered for eternity.   And then I started ruthlessly cutting out the rest.

Whenever you start taking things off of your plate in American society, your pride suffers horrendous blows and your very being starts quaking.  What if I'm not frenetically rushing??  What if I appear to have time to push my kid on the swing?  What if someone thinks I'm lazy?? What if I don't appear busy?  Our value as Americans is intrinsically wound up in what we produce and how full our schedule is; relationships, health, spiritual well-being and even sanity fall below the bar when it comes to how we prioritize our time.

So with my pride on the line I knew one of the things sinking me was quite simple:  housecleaning and laundry folding. 

But you're a stay at home mom! 

You are such a failure if you can't manage this!

How lazy!

You could be spending this money to feed starving children!

The accusations in my head were vicious (maybe because I'd mentally flung them at others before?) and I cringed; Daniel laughed and asked what I was waiting for. 

So I asked a teenage friend if she was interested in folding my laundry.  Why, of course! (What teen doesn't want some quick cash?) 

The first day she was at my house for barely two hours.  She folded and put away five loads of laundry, vacuumed the kids' rooms, scrubbed the dining room, kitchen and bathroom floors and washed the front glass door with windex.  I  couldn't even believe it; I kept pinching myself.  And that night when I was making supper at ten pm for my husband and the guys staying with us I didn't even feel guilty.  Instead I felt able to handle the weariness of an extra dinner, of cleaning up the kitchen and dining room late at night and I knew that only my foolish pride and independence would keep me from receiving this beautiful gift: one hour a week of help cleaning my house.

I can't do it all. 

I can't.

It feels good, freeing, now to admit this. 

I am pretty sure laundry is not eternal.  I do not want to give up snuggling my two year old or time with my husband in order to fold laundry.  I do not want to give up having friends over just to be or watching my kids' soccer games to scrub the floors. 

I have had to prioritize what is most important in my life right now and what I want to spend my precious hours on and as much as I love cleaning my house my way it's at the bottom of the totem pole of what's important. 

So I let it go.

Freedom comes in relinquishing my pride and giving God my time and energy;  His yoke is not a burden; His ways are not heavy and weary. 

Unless you believe the Gospel, everything you do will be driven by either pride or fear.
Tim Keller
The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

egg roll bowls

I'm pretty sure it's 100% cheating to post recipes for the write31 challenge. . . I can wing through this month with no sweat and no problems if I just write about food and books, two of my favorite things.

I found this recipe on Pinterest, read it, and then lost it, and scouring the internet for it did NOT turn anything up.  So I invented my own, loosely following what I remembered reading.  It is DELICIOUS and nutritious and the smell is just amazing as you throw it together.

Egg Roll Bowls

hot cooked rice 

[I bake rice @ 350 for an hour in a covered dutch oven, 1 part basmati rice to 2 parts water + 1 chicken boullion cube for each cup of water.]

1 pound ground pork
1 head shredded cabbage
4 grated carrots
1 grated granny smith apple
4 green onions, sliced diagonally, white separated from green
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
soy sauce
fresh ground salt and pepper
chow mein noodles 

Brown the ground pork in a large cast iron skillet. Add the shredded cabbage, and slowly, carefully saute the cabbage in the leftover pork drippings.  It will be dry at first and you will have to stir a lot, scraping the bottom to make sure nothing sticks, but all of a sudden it kind of melts down and all becomes very easy. Add the carrots, the white part of the onions, the apple and the garlic.  Saute for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the soy sauce (to taste), sugar, salt and pepper and the green onions and mix together.

Serve with chow mein noodles over hot rice. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

crosses on shoes

"The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship."

- Martin Luther