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Months ago, as I was considering the word that would define my year, one word settled in my soul. After a year of releasing things and people and feelings and stories, it was time to enjoy.

OW_enjoyAnd in the months since choosing that word (or did it choose me? I don’t know), I’ve thought about what it looks like to enjoy life.

You ready for this earth-shattering, groundbreaking revelation?

I. HAVE. NO. IDEA.

Whew. I feel better.

When I think about a life filled with joy, a person that embodies the very word, I do not fit the bill.

Isn’t the joyful person carefree and bubbly and spontaneous and upbeat? If you know me at all, I am none of those things, so what does it really look like to enjoy life?

I read a quote recently by Henri Nouwen (it was on the Internet, and I haven’t actually read any of his books, shame on me!) that said: “We have to choose joy and keep choosing it.”

Okay, there’s one clue to this mystery. Sometimes, maybe lots of times, joy is a choice. And not a one-time choice.

That is the theme I’m seeing repeated in these first few months of the year.

When I started this joy journey, I thought of course this year would be more enjoyable because the past few years have been so awful that anything–anything–had to be better. In some ways, I was right. We are healthy in multiple ways, finally thriving after years of merely surviving, and that in itself is a reason for joy.

Still, this fear: What if it doesn’t last?

What would you say are the best years of your life?

I posed this question on Facebook after Phil and I had a conversation about “the best years of your life.” At various times in our life, people have told us “this is the best time of your life!’ They’ve said it about high school (sorry, not true); college (um, maybe?); the first year of marriage (nope); seminary (not even close); and parenting young children (sigh). I’ve heard it said your 20s are the best years, your 30s and so on for every decade of life.

Which is why I posed the question. I suspected people of varying ages would answer the question differently. And I was right!

The responses I got ranged from high school to middle age to retirement.

And I’m beginning to think the answer to enjoying life is this:

The best days are now.

The best years are now.

If we choose to let them be.

Maybe you want to throw your computer across the room when you read that. Part of me wants to give myself a stern talking to for saying those words because I have been in some days, some years that I would not consider as best and I would have cussed out anyone who tried to tell me otherwise.

But here’s another truth: Even the best of times have their faults, and if I’m looking for perfect circumstances before I let myself enjoy life, I’ll die empty and miserable, having wasted the days and years I was given waiting for something better.

When I think back on the life I’ve lived so far, high school wasn’t great, but I made some good friends. Would I do things differently if I could? Absolutely. But I had no idea who I was or who I was becoming, and I think that’s another key to enjoying who you are and where you are. College, too, had its high points, including an unbelievable semester living in a manor house in England and traveling to Scotland, Ireland, Paris and Italy. I’m constantly dreaming about going back. But college was also a time of messy self-discovery. I learned some hard lessons and made some of the biggest mistakes of my life.

If I had to answer that question, I’d say my 20s were pretty great. Post-college, I made some amazing friends, had some great experiences of hanging out, going to concerts, traveling and doing the kinds of things when you’re young, working full-time and have no other obligations or attachments. But I struggled in those years to enjoy my job and I desperately wanted an other of the significant kind in my life, and even after I found him, he spent a year in Iraq, which was another of those best-worst times. Even then, I didn’t know who I was.

And my 30s? They’ve been full of marriage messes and family messes and learning to parent and failing and getting back up and figuring out what God has planned through all this. Even though I crest the hill of my 30s next month and look at the downhill toward the next decade of life, I can’t say that my 30s have been the best, either.

So, where does that leave me? Hoping that in my 40s life will get better? It’s possible. But it’s also possible it won’t. I could get cancer. My husband could die. My kids could give me crushing grief.

I don’t know what the next decade of life could bring, so I have to draw a line now and say: This. Right here. Right now. This is the best time of my life because it’s the only time I have. <Tweet that>

best time

I know it’s not easy. I know it takes work. I’m working at it every day. And I know it’s worth it.

I hope you’ll decide to work at it, too and find it worth the effort.

On Friday, I’ll share some specific ways I’ve found to enjoy life, even when it doesn’t look like I thought it would.

In the meantime, ask other people the question: What would you say were the best years of your life? The answers will surprise you.

And if you care to share your answer, leave a comment here.

Let’s help each other choose joy in any and every circumstance.

 

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  1. Notice mouse droppings in the pantry of the old farmhouse you’ve just moved into.
  2. Convince yourself that it’s probably not recent because no one has lived here for a while.
  3. Accidentally drop a large piece of pizza between the fridge and stove.
  4. Forget to clean it up.
  5. Ask husband if he cleaned up the pizza the next morning when you notice that it is gone.
  6. Conclude that you definitely have a mouse in the house.
  7. Freak out.
  8. Ask friends what they recommend for traps.
  9. Buy traps.
  10. Place one glue trap between the fridge and stove to catch the mouse on its path from the pantry to the counters.
  11. Wait. Overnight, if possible.
  12. Avoid looking at the area the next morning when you wake up.
  13. When children insist the trap is moving, call husband out of bed to dispose of mouse and trap.
  14. Breathe a sigh of relief and continue to enjoy your new home.
  15. Forget about mice for months.
  16. While using the step stool to put away spare sheets in the hall closet, decide to finally clean up all the accumulated plastic bags on the floor of the pantry so you can return the step stool to its rightful place.
  17. Notice mouse droppings.
  18. Convince yourself that those are leftover mouse droppings from the last mouse because you aren’t a terribly thorough cleaner and you can’t remember how well you cleaned the pantry anyway.
  19. Collect plastic bags to take to recycling.
  20. Jump and scream when you move plastic bags and a little mouse scurries across the pantry and disappears into the wall.
  21. Run to the bedroom and jump on the bed where your 4-year-old retreated when he heard you scream.
  22. Take deep breaths.
  23. Convince yourself you can finish the clean-up job without screaming.
  24. Don gloves and gingerly pick up plastic bags until you can see the floor again.
  25. Move glue trap to the spot where you saw the mouse disappear.
  26. Recycle plastic bags at the grocery store.
  27. Tell husband about the mouse.
  28. Forget mice exist.
  29. Get on with life.
  30. On an unsuspecting day when you’re sitting at the computer and the children are running through the house, scream as you see a grey blob scurrying across the kitchen floor right toward you.
  31. Freeze.
  32. Run into the bedroom and jump on the bed with the kids while hubby is getting ready for work.
  33. Point and shriek when you see the rodent peeking out from behind a chair in the bedroom.
  34. Watch in horror and awe as your husband tries to trap the mouse in the hall closet.
  35. Scream again when the mouse escapes into the kids’ bedroom.
  36. Wonder out loud if maybe it’s time to move again.
  37. Take husband to work.
  38. Eat lunch when you get home.
  39. Let kids play outside so you can wash the dishes that piled up from the day before when you were sick.
  40. Remove from the kitchen the cardboard boxes for recycling and boxes of donations to take to Goodwill.
  41. Go back outside and play (which actually means ignoring the mouse problem.)
  42. Decide to walk to the park and back, which will kill about 2 hours of your day.
  43. Have fun at the park.
  44. Invent errands to run when you get home from the park.
  45. Go shopping at Target for water bottles and the grocery store for canned pizza dough because you wanted to make homemade dough but the kids wouldn’t leave your side.
  46. Attempt to roll out canned pizza dough.
  47. Curse and yell at the pizza dough that will not stretch correctly.
  48. Decide to go out for dinner.
  49. Eat at CiCi’s pizza.
  50. Go to another park.
  51. Return home for the fastest bath times in human history.
  52. Go to Chick-fil-a early for indoor play time before hubby gets off work.
  53. Tell hubby about your terrible horrible no good very bad day that also had some good points.
  54. Let the 6-year-old girl call her grandpa to talk about why she’s scared of the mouse.
  55. Sing children to sleep.
  56. Wear slippers to bed.
  57. Go to church the next morning because it’s Sunday and it’s the best place to be.
  58. Talk about your mouse problem and how it’s scaring the children (just the children, of course).
  59. Come home from church refreshed.
  60. Eat lunch.
  61. Enjoy family nap time.
  62. Pretend the mouse has vanished.
  63. See mouse scamper through the kitchen the next morning while everyone else is sleeping.
  64. Wake sleeping husband and convince him to put traps on the path.
  65. Send your daughter to school the next day with hope that the mouse will be gone by the time she’s home.
  66. Send hubby and son to Lowe’s for manly purchases.
  67. Clean parts of kitchen with fear and trepidation while they are gone.
  68. Convince yourself mouse is nothing to be afraid of.
  69. Let husband and son back in the house as husband points out the mouse scurrying across the kitchen.
  70. Leap onto the bench at the counter/peninsula while husband resumes attempt to catch the mouse.
  71. Watch him squeeze himself into the pantry while trying to trap the mouse.
  72. Sigh with dread as mouse disappears. Again.
  73. Spend the rest of the day battling big emotions and crying.
  74. Lie down for a few minutes before picking the girl up from the bus.
  75. Work together as a family to cook a delicious dinner.
  76. Put the kids to bed.
  77. Bait a trap with peanut butter.
  78. Discover mouse droppings in a place that makes you want to puke.
  79. Watch Doctor Who to take your mind off things.
  80. Hear sounds from the kitchen.
  81. Send husband to investigate.
  82. Breathe easier when he tells you he has caught and disposed of a mouse.
  83. Sleep soundly that night, without slippers on.
  84. Tell kids the good news the next morning.
  85. Put daughter on the bus.
  86. See mouse scurrying through the kitchen as you and son prepare to leave for playdate.
  87. Tell husband to bait another trap, even if it means the mouse will be your problem later in the day while he’s at work.
  88. Hear sounds in kitchen before you and son leave.
  89. Tell hubby that mouse may already be caught.
  90. Leave for playdate and enjoy time outside of the house.
  91. Return from playdate to learn that second mouse has been caught and disposed of.
  92. Spend next two days tiptoeing around your house, jumping at slight movements and shadows, ears alert to any kind of noise, unconvinced that mouse problem is over.
  93. Tell Facebook friends you need prayer because you are going crazy over this.
  94. Get on with kitchen/laundry chores because it can’t wait.
  95. Report mouse problem to landlord.
  96. Wait for landlord’s call.
  97. Consider getting a cat against landlord’s policy.
  98. Write longest how-to list on the face of the earth.
  99. Leave readers hanging in suspense because you really don’t know how this is all going to turn out.

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I was a teenager the first time I saw a body lying in a casket.

My grandma’s second husband, a man not related to me by blood but who had become like a grandfather to me, had died and we were at his funeral, the first one I remember attending.

I couldn’t look at the body. It weirded me out to see the shell of a person I’d last seen alive looking like he was sleeping. I half-feared he would open his eyes and sit up. Looking at him felt like an intrusion of privacy. The world spun a little and I had to leave the viewing area.

Up to that point, I hadn’t known a lot of people who had died. A great-grandmother I knew a little had died a few years earlier but I didn’t go to her funeral.

In the last 20 years, I still don’t know a lot of people who have died, but I’ve attended more than a few funerals.

Last week, my husband and I took our kids to one.

To me, he was a kind, old man at church. He didn’t say much. I’m not sure he heard much either. My husband had more contact with him. I knew his wife a little better. Though they were members of a church we no longer attend, going to the funeral seemed like the right thing to do.

There, I learned about his sense of humor. About mystery trips he would plan for his family. How he loved flowers and gardening and making yard ornaments. I thought he was just a barber.

Funerals fill me with regret.

In my 20s, an elderly neighbor I’d known my whole life died. She was a sweet woman who always had a kind word for my brother and me. She’d been a widow as long as I’d known her. I rarely thought of her as anything else. At her funeral I learned of her vibrant Christian faith. I had recently become a Christian. I wish I could have visited her and talked about her life and faith.

The stories she could have told me. Gone forever.

I’m driven by a passion for these untold stories, the seemingly ordinary lives of those who walk among us. I wish I could tell them all before it’s too late.

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say

it is well, it is well with my soul

The man’s family ended the funeral with this hymn, a tear-inducing testimony of faith. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this song at a funeral.

A decade ago, I was a newspaper reporter, taking my turn on weekend rotation, which meant a visit to the county jail to check arrest reports for publication in the next day’s edition. It was a task I’d done before, not one I’d enjoyed, but I was comfortable enough being buzzed into the facility and hearing the door click behind me while I copied information off the reports.

This day was different, though. An officer met me at the door and assumed I was there to collect information on a tragedy I knew nothing about. He handed me a press release about a family of four who had driven off the road near the river and drowned in their van. I spent the rest of the night making calls, seeking information and photos of the family. It’s a story I’ll never forget, and I’m sure I didn’t do it justice.

Later that week, I attended the funeral. No one told me I couldn’t be there, but I still felt like an intruder. I sat in the balcony. I took notes on the service. Our photographer took photos before being asked to leave. I was certain I would be the next one escorted out. I listened to family members talk about the faith and togetherness of the four who died. I watched as four coffins left the church in multiple hearses.

And I remember the words from the hymn and how a grieving family in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy sang those words and meant it.

It is well with my soul.

This is what I want my kids to know about death.

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

That it is a part of life. That joy and faith can exist in times of grief. That life in these bodies does not go on forever. That there is hope beyond the grave.

We’ve taken them to weddings, baptisms and infant dedications, all sacred moments in the family of God. So, too, a funeral.

They didn’t view the body, but we talked about death.

In the bathroom of the funeral home, our 4-year-old son, the thinker, talked about the man who’d died. He calls him “the dad who gave us the bunk beds” because that’s how our kids knew him.

“Yeah, he died,” Corban said.

“Yes,” I replied. “And he’s with Jesus now.”

“And someday we’ll be with Jesus,” he observed.

“Yes,” I agreed.

“How do you get to Jesus? I wonder how you get to him.”

While that might seem like a theological question requiring an “ask Jesus into your heart” kind of answer, I think my son was thinking about the mechanics of the process. Like could a person take a highway to heaven or fly in a plane?

I simply answered, “It’s a bit of a mystery, isn’t it?”

He seemed satisfied.

Since my husband’s uncle died a few months ago, we’ve talked to our kids about death. Because we want them to know why people they’re used to seeing aren’t around anymore. The conversations got a little morbid for a while. They would say things like “We’re all going to die someday,” and my husband and I would cringe when they’d ask specifically about family members who were someday going to die.

It’s an uncomfortable topic, for sure, but I want my kids to be comfortable with death. Not morbidly fascinated or afraid but informed and hopeful.

Death is a part of life and it’s part of God’s story in this world.

They will read the Bible someday and read about death. They will someday learn that some deaths are more tragic and unexpected than others. They will attend funerals of family members, maybe even friends. They will know that there are limits to our life in a human body but that God promises eternal life that can’t fully be comprehended now. I want them to know that death is not the end; it’s a door.

We won’t have those discussions all at once. They’re only 4 and 6, after all. But we’ll take their questions as they come and continue to include them in the life–and death–of the family of God.

How have you handled this topic in your family?

When did you begin talking to your kids about death?

What advice can you give from your experiences?

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Twice in the last two days, I’ve been the recipient of quiet time. As I write, my husband has whisked the children away to the barbershop (for him) so I can have some quiet in the house time before the dinner/homework/bath/bed routine sucks the life out of me. This quiet solitude is usually a luxury, though I had a few blessed hours to myself yesterday as well, also unexpected. (And I wrote almost 1,500 words on my novel and maybe, just maybe, can see the faintest glimpse of the end!)

Quiet is something I crave but not often something I get.

And the last few weeks have been more full than normal. Which is why I’ve been a little more quiet on the blog than I intended.

But I realized that I left you with this look at my sometimes messy world with no follow-up, and I didn’t want to cause any alarm. Later that week, I came down with a sinus/head cold thing that put me behind in preparing for house guests and a six-year-old’s birthday party. Understandably, the blog slipped off the “to do” list.

I never stopped blogging in my head, though. I probably “wrote” a dozen posts while going through my daily life duties, and none of those will see the light of day. Maybe, though, I have a few spare thoughts to share. I realize it’s okay to disappear for a while, but writing (and blogging) are life-giving to me, and I’ve missed the chance to regularly share what’s in my head.

So, the girl turned 6, and the celebration lasted a week, and I can still remember her entrance into the world and the countless ways she changed us forever. To see her now, at 6, in all her emotions and feelings and zest for life, I’m reminded how quickly the days and years pass and how much of what we see in her now is what we will see in her years from now. Oh, how I dream about the ways God will use her unique (and utterly foreign to me) personality.

And speaking of personalities, I took a personality test for the first official time. It’s part of a leadership development small group at our church, and though I suspected certain things about the way I operate in the world, the test and its results were eye-opening. Shocking, really. Not because they didn’t make sense but because they did. Knowing my natural inclinations when it comes to living in the world helps me not to feel bad that I’m not like other people and makes me aware of areas where I can stretch myself a little more. (Oh, and if you’re into that sort of thing, I’m an INFJ.)

It snowed today. And I’m ready for spring. This is our first spring in this house, so it’s been a fun game to see where the flowers are going to come up. The kids skip around the house and yell excitedly when they spot a new bud or bloom. I’ve never been terribly “green” when it comes to plants and gardening, but I want my kids to love the outdoors and nature and to know how to take care of it. So, this year, we’re going to start small and try a few things.

A bunch of balloons landed in our driveway today. And when I say a bunch, think grapes on a vine. The purple-blue-green bundle blew into our yard and settled next to our neighbor’s porch. I looked out the window and exclaimed to our son, “Corban, what is that?” My husband rescued the balloons and brought them inside. (I really hope they weren’t on their way to a birthday party. We live on a busy street and would have no idea how to track down the owner.) Sometimes joy is like this. An unexpected burst of color and fun in the midst of your ordinary day. I want to be this for people and look for this in my day.

For every birthday my kids have had so far, I’ve made them a cake according to the theme they request. Some years have turned out better than others. This year, she wanted an Ariel cake. I’ve already done the doll with a bowl cake skirt so I wanted to do something different. I wandered the craft stores looking for inspiration (after spending significant time on Pinterest) and this was the result.

Izzy cake 6th

I frequently tell people I’m not crafty because I have not a lot of patience for kids’ rainbow looms and Pinteresty things that look fun but would probably drive me crazy. But wandering through an arts and crafts store revived my creativity. I could almost feel the possibilities in there. Everything in there has the potential to become something beautiful, and no two people would create the exact same thing, even if they had identical supplies.

When I’m feeling stuck in my writing or maybe even just a little hopeless about life, I think I’ll wander the arts and crafts aisles, even if I don’t intend to buy anything.

So, what have you been up to?

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Last month we took our kids to see Seussical the Musical at a local college. They loved every minute of it and sang the songs for weeks afterwards.

I grew up on Dr. Seuss (who didn’t?!). Before I was reading I could “read” One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and recite Green Eggs and Ham. (Our kindergartener read Green Eggs and Ham by herself last week. I had a moment.) And of course, I was familiar with the Grinch thanks to television. But it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized these favorites were just the tip of the Dr. Seuss iceberg! And they might not even be his best works.

Tomorrow, we’re headed to a library celebration for Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

In the meantime, here are five Dr. Seuss books I’ve discovered as an adult that I’m so glad I’ve read to my kids.

1. The Lorax. I’ll admit it: we saw the movie before we read the book. But oh. my. word. The message in this book is far ahead of its time: taking care of the natural resources and created world around us before it’s all gone. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot …”

seuss pool

2. McElligott’s Pool. This was my husband’s favorite as a child, and he brought a copy into our marriage. I’d never heard of it, but again, it’s one of those books that is rich with deeper meaning. I love that Dr. Seuss’ themes include free thinking and openmindedness and encouraging creativity, even if others tell you that’s wrong.

3. Oh! The Places You’ll Go. It’s possible I first heard this at a high school graduation. It fits that setting but it’s appropriate beyond that.

4. And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. Imagination can turn an ordinary day into something extraordinary.

seuss fly a jet5. Maybe You Should Fly a Jet! Maybe You Should Be a Vet! My kids love this one, too. We first found it at the library. It’s good for introducing kids to a wide variety of professions and encourages them to think big and not let other people limit their dreams.

What are your favorite Dr. Seuss books?

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I sat on the porch soaking in the warmish temperatures while the kids rode their bikes back and forth, back and forth. It was the best we could do the last weekend of February, and we desperately needed relief from cabin fever.

Patches of grass peeked through the mounds of snow, a sight we thought we might not see again until the calendar officially said “spring.” With my nose in a book, I barely noticed the cars passing by. We live on a busy-ish street on a lane that accesses a business behind our house, so traffic is normal.

A van with a glaring advertisement on the side whipped into our lane and parked. The driver hopped out and immediately began shouting at me about the delicious meat they were selling and how they’d just struck a deal with a Mr. Frank down the street and do we eat beef and would I be interested in seeing some steaks? megaphone

My protests went unheard as a second man got out of the van. They opened the back and each lifted a box of meat. I watched amused as they tried to find a way to the porch that didn’t involve walking through a yard full of snow. To their credit, they forged ahead, making witty comments about the snow.

They dropped two boxes on the porch while I sat on the glider, still holding my book open while the kids stood frozen in place. The second man introduced himself while the first man retreated to the van and made calls on his cell phone. I shook his hand but didn’t offer my name because I didn’t want this to get personal.

He handed me a brochure and said to not worry about the prices because he was like Monty Hall. (Would someone my age even know who Monty Hall  is? He’s lucky I watched a lot of old game shows as a kid.) Then he made me promise that if we made a deal I wouldn’t tell my neighbors what I paid for this delicious meat.

He opened a box of steaks and showed me the color of them, told me how his “lady” makes meatloaf out of the burgers but he just cooks burgers because he’s lazy in the kitchen. He pointed out the date the steaks were packed and slammed grocery stores for their labeling practices. He used the words “all natural” numerous times, as if to convince me of the meat’s quality. The same meat that was riding around in the back of a van.

He asked if we had an extra freezer and while we do, it doesn’t work right now so I told him “no.” He offered me one for free.

When he finished his presentation, he asked how the meat looked, and while I couldn’t deny the pleasing appearance of the beef, we honestly don’t have the money to buy a freezer full of meat right now. I told him so. He looked insulted. “You mean if I sell you $300 worth of meat for $150, you can’t help me out?” No, I couldn’t. $150 pays the bills right now.

He packed up his boxes, called his associate over, and they tromped through the snow with one open box of beef and an unopened box of chicken. They offered a half-hearted “have a good day” as they left.

I breathed a sigh of relief and told my kids that if anyone ever approached them like that and I wasn’t outside that they needed to come get me. Right away. I didn’t want to scare them because I don’t believe life should be lived in fear, but I wanted them to know that not everyone who seems friendly is friendly.

Sometimes, I think we try to sell the Gospel like this.

We look around us at the people in our path, and we try to find a willing victim customer. There, that person’s not wearing a cross or I’ve seen them working in the yard on Sundays or I’ve heard them swear. They need Jesus, and I have Jesus, so I will offer them the best gift ever.

I agree that people need Jesus. I do. Every day. That hasn’t stopped because I call myself a Christian. I still do un-Christian things and rely on the grace of His love and another day.

And I agree that we have good news to tell people. It’s the best news there is. But somewhere along the way, it’s become more like a sales pitch.

We barge into someone’s space and plunk down a box of good news. We open it up and ask leading questions that have them nodding. We’re slick and polished, but we’re also in a hurry because the world is dying and we’ve got to sell this Gospel before it all goes to hell.

We make promises God can’t keep.

And we walk away stunned when our offer is rejected.

Why wouldn’t someone want this good news?

The hard part is that I don’t have any answers. I have no earthly idea why some people choose Jesus and some people don’t. And I have no idea the best way to share this good news so that people will respond.

What I do know is that I wouldn’t buy steak from a guy in a van unless I knew personally someone else who had. And I wouldn’t spend what I didn’t have. The truth is, if I’d had the money to buy the meat, I still would have had to get our freezer fixed to make room for it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like meat or don’t want a deal. It just means I have some business to take care of first.

Maybe that’s how it is with the Gospel.

For some, maybe there’s some business to take care of first. Maybe they’ll ask around and find others they trust who know this Jesus. Maybe nothing will ever convince them that the news is actually as good as it sounds.

Maybe instead of trying to sell strangers a box of steaks, we need to take it slow. Get to know them. Let them see how we live. Grill out and let them smell the steak cooking over hot coals. Invite them over for a meal, without any thought to whether they’ll buy the meat we’re so ecstatic about, just because we think they matter.

Maybe we leave people with love, instead of fear.

Because I’d hate for someone to have to tell their kids not to talk to me because I tried to sell them Jesus.

Jesus got my attention when I was 19 and brokenhearted. Lonely. Miserable. I was looking for Him but was too afraid to tell anyone or ask if they knew the way.

He broke through those fears with a whisper in my heart I was sure everyone in the room could hear.

All that matters is what I think of you.

I didn’t answer an altar call. In fact, in the years that followed that internal decision to live for Him, I felt guilty that I hadn’t ever walked an aisle and publicly proclaimed my conversion. I was baptized, yes, but it was not in a church. It happened in a pond and I was surrounded by family and a few close friends. I don’t have a certificate to prove it. Maybe by some standards my conversion is invalid, but I’ve felt the changes over time. I’ve heard His voice, felt His leading, and when I look back on the journey, not once did Jesus ever sell Himself to me.

He simply said, Come. Let’s walk.

And I did.

 

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Board games, it seems, have always been a part of my life. One of my fondest childhood memories is spending weekend nights with my grandparents, playing board games. Monopoly, in particular. My grandfather had a strategy of buying every property he landed on, which diminished his cash flow temporarily but always profited him in the end. And my grandmother would exclaim with glee “Mine!” whenever someone else landed on one of the properties she owned.

It was there, in the family room of their home, that I learned to love board games. Through the years, playing board games together became part of our family holiday gatherings. Games like Outburst and Scattergories and Trivial Pursuit and Guesstures. When I moved into my own apartment, the board games continued as my friends and I would play Trivial Pursuit late into the night (and early morning) until one of us collected all the pieces.

We’re now–finally–to the age of parenting when we can play board games as a family. Our kids are 4 and almost-6, which we’re discovering is a great time for games. They’re close enough in age to be able to mostly play the same games.

kids gamesHere are five we’ve discovered as a family that are tons of fun.

1. Monopoly Junior Party. One denomination of money. You buy every space you land on. A good starter Monopoly. Doesn’t take too long, and even our 4-year-old can play mostly on his own.

2. What’s in the Cat’s Hat? A sort of reverse hide-and-seek/20 questions game. Imaginative.

3. Guess Who? A classic. Simple. Easy to play. And because it’s for two players only, I make the children play together. (Insert evil mom laugh here.)

4. Uno Moo. We’re almost ready to graduate to Uno, I think, but this one is so much fun with the animal shapes that I’ll be sad to let it go. Watch out for the stinky skunks!

5. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Based on the books by Mo Willems. There’s some strategy involved in this one, if you want. Or you can just move your bus around the board to collect all the items and avoid the pigeon.

What are you favorite family board games?

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Some of my holiest moments happen at the grocery store.

But before you dub me some supermarket saint, let me tell you this: I rarely go grocery shopping alone. Usually I’m accompanied by at least one child, sometimes two, and anxiety hits before we even pull into the parking lot.

I love to cook. I like to plan meals. Even the list-making is fun.

The actual walking into the store and navigating the aisles? Well, let’s just say there are days when being trapped in a preschool would be more comfortable.

I can’t pinpoint when it started. Sometime after we had kids. Maybe when we had to get government assistance and every transaction brought imagined judgment. Or maybe it was the loss of those benefits and the food budget being less than $100 a month. Or maybe it was none of those things.

All I know is that grocery shopping brings me to my knees.

Not literally, although that might help.

On a recent trip to the store for just a few things, I had both kids in tow. Our daughter was out of school early, and we needed to pick up a few things. And with cold and snow keeping us indoors, the kids were a little rowdy before we’d even gotten out of the car.

I gripped both their hands as we walked through the parking lot and breathed a prayer. Out loud. Which if anyone had seen me would make me look crazy, I’m sure.

Jesus, get us through this.

See, I’m the mom mumbling to herself about how much she just wants to get in and get out of the store without everything being touched. I just want to work through the list without chasing a 4-year-old halfway down an aisle or waiting for him to catch up while he hops on only the blue squares. I want to keep to ourselves and not have to pull my kids out of the path of other people’s carts. Inevitably, we’re the ones clogging the aisle for shoppers who are in as much of a hurry, or more, as we are.

Sometimes we choose the longer line so we’re forced to practice patience. To slow down. To deny the urge to rush.

Sometimes we choose to let other people go ahead of us because we know we’re going to take longer.

An older gentleman at Costco once invited himself to go ahead of us in line because all he had was a roasted chicken for his dinner that night. We gladly let him, and he thanked us over and over again.

It was nothing. And it was everything.

I’m at my worst on Sundays, the supposed holy day of the week.

I’m annoyed when I have to wake up earlier than I wanted because the kids have an internal alarm set to 6 a.m. I’m frustrated when I have to serve them breakfast before I’ve made my coffee. I’m irritated by what is inevitably a last-minute rush to get dressed and get out the door.

Actually, this is most mornings, not just Sundays.

snow holy

But because Sundays are supposed to be “holy,” I think that means they’re supposed to be perfect.

Everyone wakes up cheerful and kind. Everyone obeys in a timely manner. We calmly leave the house in plenty of time to arrive at church unhurried. After church we enjoy family time and all take a nap or at least a rest, and we start the week rejuvenated.

As I write this on a Sunday afternoon, there is one person napping in the house, and it’s not me. The kids’ idea of napping is reading books loudly in bed next to me or dragging everything out of their room into my newly cleaned kitchen so they can imagine an elaborate schoolroom.

The dishes overflow the sink; the laundry overflows the hamper. We have no plan for dinner except to survive it and put the kids to bed so we can finally, finally relax.

Maybe I feel guiltier on Sundays because I think I’m supposed to react differently, be different than all the other days of the week.

Or am I?

I was a new Christian, discovering my faith, when my best friend and I trekked across our college campus to pray in the chapel’s prayer room. I don’t remember if there was a specific need or if we were just meeting regularly to pray about our lives. We ran into a friend who had been raised Catholic and was walking away from religion. He asked us where we were going and we told him.

“But you don’t need to be in a church to pray,” he said.

I think we knew that but we needed a sacred space. Someplace where we could talk privately and pray confidently without interruption.

But his words stick with me, profound when I consider them years later.

I remember driving to a place in Wisconsin called Holy Hill, a national shrine, when I was young and knew almost nothing about God. (I still don’t know much.) We were on a visit to my grandmother, I think, and it was sort of in the area. We drove up the hill and never left the car, but we agreed that we felt something, even sitting in the parking lot.

A presence. Something special.

It was more than 20 years ago, and I still remember how I felt.

Jesus could have spent all his time in the temple. But He didn’t.

He walked all over Israel. He met people. He taught on the banks of lakes, while journeying from place to place, in people’s homes, and in the temple.

We call it The Holy Land. (I always imagine it in all caps.) I once mentioned to my brother that I wanted to visit Israel someday.

“Why? What’s there?” he asked. (I think he was testing me.)

“The Holy Land,” I said, as if it should be obvious.

He reminded me that it wasn’t just a holy land for Christians but for Jews and Muslims, too.

Annie Dillard wrote in For the Time Being of her experience visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. She describes the place and how you descend and descend again until you’re able to reach into the spot where tradition says Jesus was born. For some it is a deeply significant visit.

Her reaction is this:

Any patch of ground anywhere smacks more of God’s presence on earth, to me, than did this marble grotto.

Part of me wants to disagree, but I can’t shake the truth in her statement.

sunset holy

Do I need to visit Israel to experience the holy?

Do I need to wait for Sunday to encounter God’s presence?

Do I need to be in church to worship or pray or confess or be forgiven?

Or do I carry it with me?

Can anywhere I walk be holy? Not because I have mastered holiness but precisely because I haven’t.

The holy person can hasten redemption and help mend heaven and earth.

Another quote from Dillard. Words that are still sinking deep into my soul.

Most days I feel far from holy.

But if those days drive me closer to the Holy One, then it’s not all bad.

When God meets me in my most unholy of moments, I find myself on holy ground.

When He meets me in my most holy moments, I find myself on holy ground.

When I’m in church or the grocery store or limping through the day waiting for bedtime.

When I’m grumbling or praising.

When I’m getting it right. When I’m getting it wrong.

It can all be holy ground.

A place where heaven meets earth.

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I woke up feeling unwell in body and spirit. A challenging sermon on holiness at church yesterday and the onset of a cold that’s making its way through our family have left me drained before I’ve even started today. That, and the need to do EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE IMMEDIATELY.

Tell me your Mondays are like this.

With piles of laundry mocking you as a failure.

With kitchen counters covered in dirty dishes singing “You’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.”

Back to school. Back to a sometimes routine. The first full week of a new year.

And I’m blowing it already.

While it’s true I no longer make resolutions, I still feel the need to make changes in my life every time the calendar turns another year. Maybe I’m not calling them resolutions, but I’m still taking the opportunity to change.

And there’s plenty of opportunity for change.

As the first of the year dawned, I pledged to myself (again, for the third time) that this would be the year I finish my novel.

Last year, I felt mostly bland about my writing. Frustrated. Discouraged. Sure that I’d never make anything of myself. I chipped away at the story, adding words here and there without regularity.

Give up. Give up. Give up. The voices told me lies, but I wanted to listen.

Nevermind that my husband switched jobs and we moved and our daughter started school. Transition upon transition.

And when I dared to look at how much writing I’d actually done, I was surprised to learn that in all of 2013, I added 20,000 words to my novel.

It felt small and like nothing when it was happening. But at the end, it had amounted to much more.

I tried on three outfits before church yesterday because I’m having a love-hate with my body. I have some clothes I’d like to wear, to rediscover, and they.don’t.fit. Curse them.

I had a plan for Christmas Eve, to wear this purple dress I love and got on sale and haven’t worn in two years. It looked awful, which in my mind means I feel like I look awful.

But Christmas is full of holidays and eating so I allowed myself the feast, knowing that there would be a season of less come January. On December 31, I started a new plan. I would get up early. I would exercise. I would intentionally eat healthier. Oatmeal instead of a bagel. More fruit. More salad. I love all those things but they take more time to prepare. More effort. And, of course, I have to have them in the house in the first place.

As of today, I’ve worked out four times in the last week, which is four times more than all of fall, I think.

Yet I feel like a failure because there are no results.

It’s only been a week.

Time. Discipline. It won’t happen overnight.

(And for the record, I’m not aiming for a weight or a size but a healthier lifestyle overall. The older I get the better care I want to take of myself so I can enjoy my kids and life as a whole.)

A few months ago while sorting through some old newspaper clippings of columns I’d written back in my mid-20s, I had the urge to wad them all up. Or burn them. Something destructive.

Because the girl who wrote those words has changed in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Some of it was her choice. Some of it wasn’t. But she’s different. I feel like that girl barely exists in my memory. I wanted to shake her. Or punch her in the face. And tell her that she had no idea what she was talking about.

Life wasn’t like she thought. Faith wasn’t what she thought.

It was like looking in a mirror and seeing a reflection of me 10 years ago. And I saw not only how I looked on the outside but what I thought on the inside.

The urge to destroy passed, and now I’m grateful for the look into the past.

Because change has happened. It has taken years. But the differences are obvious to me. Ten years seems like a long time, but with those clippings in my hands, I felt like no time had passed at all.

A week is not a worthwhile measure for change.

It is good to want to change. It is good to have a plan. It is good to pursue what is better and whole.

It is not good to expect immediate change. But oh, how I want a quick fix for everything.

It is not good to expect perfection. But oh, how I want to do it right the first time.

It is not good to give up after only a week. But oh, how I want to say “forget it” to all my plans and intentions.

Here is what I am learning. Slowly, but I’m learning.

Change can’t happen alone. I need community.

Part of my writing plan was to join a group for word count accountability. Nothing happens if I don’t meet my goal, but I can be encouraged by what others are writing and knowing I’m not the only one struggling.

As for the other areas where I want to change and need to change: community applies there too. But that’s hard. I can’t go to a gym right now. But I can let someone else know my plans.

Invitation is a key to transformation. I have to let people in, and that starts with talking about my failings. Then it moves to sharing my plans. It continues with commitment. And it doesn’t end with failure.

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The day was warm and sunny, unusually so for the season we were in. On a whim, we decided to go to the park. My husband dropped us off on his way to work, so we would only have to walk one way and be home in time to meet the bus.crane

My son played on the playground equipment, and some sort of water bird glided over our heads and landed in the shade of a weeping willow tree.

The sun in its warmth, the light breeze in its refreshing, the bird in its beauty–all remarkable. But what I remember most about that day is holding hands.

Our son is almost 4. When our daughter the kindergartener was this age, she began asserting her independence. She was ready to be in school years before her age allowed her, and I clearly remember the “I don’t need your help” battles. It was a confusing time for me, as a stay-at-home mom who sometimes wished she wasn’t. It is good, I would tell myself, that she doesn’t need me so much. But if she didn’t need me anymore, then what would my purpose be?

Fortunately, our son, the baby of the family, is spoiled by his mother who now has him most days all day by himself. Even when I’m tired and frustrated by his needs, I still say “yes” because some days I’m still not ready. The transition to stay-at-home motherhood was a long, tough battle for me, and the transition to kids-in-school-now-what-do-I-do is approaching.

And I find myself filled with expectation and dread.

It’s a dichotomy I can’t reconcile–wanting to be needed and wishing I wasn’t needed so much.

“I don’t need you hand.”

We walked into the school for kindergarten orientation and these were my daughter’s words as I reached for her. No, I thought. I suppose you don’t. But maybe, just maybe, I need yours.

“I need your hand.”

These are the words I hear most often from him. At times, they are part of a dramatic meltdown that only a gesture of hand-holding can solve. This day, it was a sincere request as we made our way home.

We walked home from the park that warm autumn day on tired legs. For all the energy he exudes, my son was dragging. It is no short walk. Manageable for a relatively healthy adult. Exhausting for preschool legs.

I am not a dawdler when it comes to walking. If there is a destination, I walk with purpose, closing the distance between here and there as quickly as possible. Some days I notice it. Most days, it’s just habit.

We left the park in plenty of time to be home for the bus’ arrival from school, yet I still felt myself wanting to hurry.

His hand in mine, we were forced to walk at his pace, much slower than my anxious hurry preferred. We took it slow. We stopped to rest when his legs needed a break. And each time we started walking again, his hand found mine.

“We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand …”

It was a recent Sunday that we’d sang the words to this neglected hymn in church. I remember in years past singing this song and actually holding hands during the singing. It is strange, at first, to hold hands with the people who sit in the pews near you. People who aren’t your relatives or spouse or children.

But it is an act of connection. A fleshly reminder of the humanity that surrounds you.

Holding hands while praying was something I often dreaded in my early Christian days. It felt intimate, even without fingers laced, and I was always self-consciously aware of whose hand I would be holding, like it was a proposal of marriage or something.

What I remember about those days is what I learned when I held someone’s hand. There were cold hands needing warmed. Rough hands reflecting a hard day of work. Dry hands in need of lotion. (Mine almost always are.) Sweaty hands in need of reassurance. Small hands needing a delicate touch. Large hands exuding strength.

No matter what the hand was like, there was a person connected to it, and eventually the hand holding became a normal part of our gathering.

My husband and I held hands a lot in our dating years and the first year of marriage. Then babies, diaper bags and children filled our hands and we slowly drifted from the practice.

As our kids get older, they like to hold hands with each other, and my husband and I are rediscovering the art of hand holding. One of the sweetest things I witness is an older couple, hands wrinkled, aged and still joined. I want to walk through these years of marriage still holding hands with the one I love.

DSC00090

When I hold my son’s hand, I am reminded to slow down.

When I hold my husband’s hand, I remember we are in this together.

When I hold my daughter’s hand, I remember that holding hands isn’t always about needing to; sometimes it’s about wanting to.

As a follow of Jesus, I want to hold the hands of my brothers and sisters when they’re weary, walking in step with them, not dragging them along to the next stop on the journey. I want to reach out and squeeze their hands to remind them we’re in this together. I want to offer my hand, not in a handshake as if we were doing business, but as one human connecting with another without words.

I will think of these things when we’re together and my insecurity will tell me I shouldn’t because maybe it’s too much touching. For whatever reason, there are some of us (I am one of them) who bristle at the touch of others. Maybe we’re fragile and fear that a touch will break us. Maybe we’ve been touched unkindly one too many times. Or maybe we’ve lacked touch and don’t even know that we’re missing it.

I’m slowly recovering my need for human contact.

My attempts will be hesitant at first. A pat on the shoulder. An uninvited hug. A squeeze of the hand.

Just know that what I really want to do is hold your hand.

 

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