The day I thought I might never read another book

Two months now, we’ve been back from Kenya. It’s October, and late July/early August seem so far in the past. I can hardly remember what was happening B.K. (Before Kenya) and life after Kenya has certainly been a shock. Life has changed in some ways and in other ways not at all. I’m over the initial feelings of not knowing what to say, though I still find it hard to express all the experiences and feelings into words that make sense if you’ve never been to Africa. If you have been to Africa, I find it easier to talk to you. (Or if you ask really good questions beyond, “So how was Africa?”)

Short of selling everything we own and moving to Kenya (that’s not our path; not yet), I’m trying to find a way to hold on to something that is slipping away. And maybe the truth is that it’s not slipping away, not exactly, but burrowing deeper into my soul. You can hold a seed in your hand and admire its unique beauty, but unless you put it in the ground and cover it with dirt, you’ll never see its fruit or flower.

This is how it is with Kenya.

Our experience is like a seed that is buried now, but I’m watering it and giving it light. The only way I know to do this is with books and television.

In the weeks that followed our return from Kenya, Phil and I watched the documentary “Long Way Down,” the journey Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took from the top of Scotland to the tip of South Africa on their motorcycles.  They spent two entire episodes in Kenya, and we watched the whole series. We fell in love with Africa all over again, and not just the pretty parts. The series showed Ewan and Charley visiting humanitarian aid projects and war memorials. It was not a vacation, though they stayed in some beautiful areas.

We also watched an animated movie about zebras, called “Khumba,” with the kids. It was a little bit scary for our sensitive child, but it’s fun to see them take an interest in Kenya now, too. When we go to the library or a book sale, they will often pick out books that have an Africa theme. (And I checked out three books about Kenya and Swahili from the kids’ section of the library on our first visit after we got home.)

I tried to read books during this time. In fact, I had packed my suitcase full of books for all the travel and “down time” (har har–we had almost none). I’m not sure I finished more than one book. And when we returned, I couldn’t bring myself to read. I often read for distraction and I was either a) too tired or b) unwilling to be distracted, and I worried that maybe I would never read another book again.

Even now, fiction has been difficult for me. I’ve read six novels in the past two months, and three of them were set in Kenya. I’ve been more choosy than normal about the stories I read, which is a bit of a curse when you have a stack of books to review on your desk. I’m suspecting that when the new year hits, I’m going to have to scale back on the books I say “yes” to.

If you’re interested in the three novels I read that were set in Kenya, they were:

  • A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve. (It was okay. Mostly about a newlywed couple who decide to climb Mt. Kenya and whose relationship changes after a tragedy. I’ve never read Shreve, and I’m not sure I will again.)
  • Angel of Mercy by Lurlene McDaniel. (Horrible. A young adult pick when I was in a pinch at a library and needed something to read in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. No offense to any McDaniel fans out there, but I found this totally unrealistic.) circling the sun
  • Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. (Excellent. A fictional look at the life of Beryl Markham, whose name I would not even have known if I hadn’t taken an obsessive interest in Kenya. I will read anything McLain writes.)

I love novels, but lately I’m finding that I need to read non-fiction. The first book I picked at the library after we returned was Out of Africa by Karen Blixen. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the movie, but I was moved by her descriptions of Africa and the surrounding land. It dragged on a bit toward the end.out of africa

And I finished reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. I started this book months ago but didn’t think I could finish it. Hard stories of what life is like for women in some of the poorest areas of the world, but when we got back from Kenya, I needed to read it and discover how women are finding opportunities to change their circumstances and the lives of women around them. It was more inspiring than depressing.

I also read Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. I’m late to this party, but I loved reading about she was called to Uganda as a young woman and began adopting girls who needed a home. Her story was a picture of what amazing things God can do when someone says “yes” wholeheartedly.

And I’ve barely scratched the surface of the list of Africa/poverty-related reading I want to do. Maybe I’ll post some updates like this one occasionally. I never knew there was so much to read and watch about Africa.

What books would you recommend? You can leave them in the comments or meet me over on Goodreads and send your thoughts my way.

Let’s talk about this running thing

This morning, cold rain falls from the sky and the air has its first real nip. A true fall day if there ever was one. I lingered under the covers longer than I should have, so we scrambled through our morning routine to get the kids to the bus on time.

I ought to be out there now, walking and jogging, listening to some upbeat tunes to lead me through my workout. Instead, I’m huddled under another blanket with a cup of coffee and words to keep me company.

For five of the last six weeks, since my kids have been in school, I’ve reintroduced regular times of exercise to my life. I began, again, a couch to 5k program, and it’s been slow going. After five weeks, I’ve officially completed three of the program’s weeks and I’m not sure yet I’m ready to move on to week 4.

But I’m trying not to be sad about this. I’m a task-oriented person and many times I just want to check the boxes and get it done, but I’m learning to listen to my body and my life and take it as it comes.

Besides the rain and chill this morning, I had a bit of a sore throat. I could go out there running but I might come home having weakened my immune system and be sick for days to come. There will be more running days next week.

This is, in a way, grace.

I have a lot of “shoulds” in my life, some valid, some not. Exercise brings this out in me, sometimes, as I run against traffic and imagine the criticisms of passing motorists. (Why I think they think of me at all is another problem altogether.)

That girl should not be running, I think. My weight is more than what I would like, and I am not fast or elegant. My first time out this fall I spent more time adjusting my T-shirt and trying to keep the headphones in my ears and focusing on not dropping my water bottle than I did on anything else. I’ve found solutions and more of a rhythm since then, but I am not what you would call a graceful runner.

Joshua Sortino | via unsplash

Joshua Sortino | via unsplash

But I am running. For multiple minutes at a time. And I am tired and sweaty and red-faced when I finish, but I feel strong and alive.

That, too, is grace.

I pass an older man who walks by shuffling his feet along. And I see others who walk with canes or use a wheelchair to get around, and I vow to enjoy the use of my legs for as long as I have them, even when my calves start to cramp and my feet hurt.

Eventually, I want to run a 5K. It has  been five years since the last time. It is a feat I never thought I would accomplish, but I did it once and I will do it again. My husband and I finished nearly last in that race, but we finished.

I’ve heard it said that slow and steady wins the race. It’s a lie.

I think of this when I’m out jogging. I am slow. I won’t win any races or break any records.

Slow and steady rarely wins the race. But slow and steady is in the race, and that, I think, is what matters.

There’s a lot of talk in the Bible, especially in Paul’s letters and other epistles, about running the race and training yourself for the Christian life like you would for a physical contest. And it only really makes sense to me when I’m actually out there jogging and running and walking and working toward a goal.

What I love about the program I’m using to build my running muscles is that it’s doable and it starts off gradually. The program doesn’t tell you to wake up one morning after having never run a step in your life and attempt a 5k.

Instead, you alternate running and walking. The first week it’s something simple like one minute of jogging with 90 seconds of walking to follow. This week I’ve just finished, I’m up to 3 minutes of jogging at a time. The next step is  5 minutes.

It eases you into the discipline of running, building your confidence and your muscles at the same time.

And I wonder why we don’t adopt this model in our spiritual lives.

Why do we tell people they must spend 30 minutes or an hour in “quiet time” with God, or insist they read at least a chapter of the Bible daily? Why do we tout the benefits of lengthy prayer times or multiple days of fasting?

Maybe not all spiritual communities are like this, but I don’t remember much in my years of following Christ being said about easing into this new way of living. Spirituality, for someone who is new to it, takes as much training and getting used to as running does to someone who has been on the couch for too many years.

If we wouldn’t pull a sedentary person off the couch and throw them into a marathon, why would we tell someone new to walking with Christ that they must be spiritually strong? Or why would we assume that spiritual practices come easy to everyone who calls themselves a Christian? Not all humans excel at running. It certainly doesn’t come easy to me.

In this, too, we need grace. For ourselves and each other.

Back to the “shoulds.”

I should be reading my Bible every day.

I should be praying more intentionally.

I should be at church whenever the doors are open.

I should be reading my kids Bible stories at night.

I should pray before meals.

I should memorize Scripture.

I should trust God all the time and not worry or doubt or have questions.

These are the shoulds that keep me out of the race. (And there’s a whole lot of “should nots” that would take up another entire post.)  When I compare myself to these standards, I want to quit the race altogether. If I believed I could only call myself a runner if I entered a marathon, I would sit on the couch all the rest of my days.

What if instead of focusing on the shoulds, I, instead, faced the reality of where I am and figured out a plan to get where I want to be?

I want to pray more, so I’ll start with five minutes every other day.

I want to know Scripture better, so I’ll start with one verse.

I want to hear God, so I’ll start with one minute of silence.

And when those steps cease to become challenging, I’ll add to it.

That’s how I know when I’m ready for the next step in the running program. If it no longer feels like a challenge, then I’m ready to move on, until that one no longer feels like a challenge, and someday, months from now, I’ll be further along than I thought was possible.

Whether it’s running or praying or helping my neighbor, it matters less to me how much I’m doing than that I am doing.

I’m no longer in it to win it, whatever that means. I’m just in it, period.

Don’t worry about winning the race when you’ve only just begun. Just get in the race. Get off the couch or out of the pew or into a situation that isn’t warm and cozy.

Do the next step. Build your spiritual muscles. See where it leads.

And when you get further along the path, remember the person behind you who is starting off slow and cheer them on for being in the race at all.

Love in the Reformation: Review of Luther & Katharina by Jody Hedlund

A former monk and an escaped nun fall in love, marry, have a family, change the world. Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes, and Jody Hedlund’s new book blends both in an impressive historical novel.

Luther and Katharina. The names probably aren’t unfamiliar to you if you have an ounce of church background, or if you saw the movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes, that came out 12 (really?!) years ago.

Luther-KatharinaBut the story of their courtship is one I hadn’t read much about. I would want it in no one else’s hands but Hedlund’s. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.)

The events surrounding Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora’s relationship are sometimes shocking and unbelievable, but Hedlund assures readers in the end notes that much of what she writes is based on fact. Of course, she takes creative license in arranging scenes for dramatic effect, which is why it’s called a historical novel. In previous books, Hedlund has taken real people and events and changed their names and storylines a bit to tell a romantic tale. (For example, in Rebellious Heart, the characters are based on John and Abigail Adams and their revolutionary relationship but their names are changed.)

I loved the weaving of history, religious reformation and romance throughout the story. The characters were full of life and passion, confronted with danger and forced to make hard choices.

It is a gift, I’m discovering, that someone can take historical events and turn them into stories that are page-turning and applicable to life today. Jody Hedlund has that gift. You don’t even have to be Lutheran to enjoy this story!

I always love a little peek into the author’s world. Here are a few questions and answers about Jody Hedlund and her writing process and life. (And Illinois, friends, I just discovered she has an Illinois connection. Read on to find out what it is!) jody hedlund

You grew up Lutheran. Share with us how your Lutheran background influenced the writing of this book.

Yes, I was born and baptized a Lutheran. In fact my dad was a Lutheran pastor all his life until he passed away. I have an uncle who was a Lutheran pastor until he retired. I went to Lutheran grade school, and my high school alma mater is Lutheran High School in Rockford, IL. I took catechism classes and was confirmed in the Lutheran church. My German and Norwegian grandparents on both sides of my family were strong Lutherans as well. I have a very fond spot in my heart for all things related to Martin Luther since his name and teachings were such an integral part of my upbringing.

It’s obvious that research plays an enormous role in the development of your scenes and the characters that inhabit them. How did you begin the arduous task of researching these two historical figures and the period in which they lived?

One of the first things I do in the early research phase of any of my stories based on real historical figures is I locate as many biographies on the couples and individuals as I can get my hands on. Usually I can get quite a number through my library system. Once I figure out the books that will be the most helpful to me, I usually buy them.

After I have the biographies I spend an enormous amount of time reading through them, taking pages and pages of notes, and trying to gain a realistic grasp of the people and the events that fall within the time frame that I hope to write about (which usually entails the romance relationship–how the couple met, fell in love, and ended up together).

Once I’ve scoured the biographies, I begin the next phase of my research which is to delve into the details regarding the time period and setting. Usually I try to focus on gaining a “feel” for the era. I try to understand the social and political climate. I familiarize myself with wars or other disruptions happening during the time. And then I round out my research by studying clothes, food, homes, life styles, etc.

The process is intense and takes me weeks before I’m finally ready to begin the actual writing process.

Katharina von Bora is a name that most people would never connect with Martin Luther. Why do you think it’s important that we uncover and shine a light on some of the forgotten female figures who helped shape the Church?

My goal is to give a voice to the forgotten women of the past. Since most of history has been written by men, unfortunately all too often the accounts neglect to include or minimizes the many women who played critically important roles in the shaping of history.

As a mother of five children and a wife to a husband in Christian ministry, I’ve had a firsthand learning experience of the incredible work load and responsibility that comes with raising a family, being a wife, managing a home, as well as helping do all of the things necessary to provide emotionally, physically, and financially for our family. As I go about this calling God’s given me at this stage in my life, I have a greater appreciation for the women of the past who also struggled through the same issues (but without all of the modern conveniences that I have!).

I believe modern women will benefit from hearing their stories, will be incredibly encouraged to see these women who persevered through discrimination and found the strength to use their God-given abilities to make a difference. Not only did they make a difference in their era, but today (decades and even centuries later) we can see the fruits of their bravery and strength. These women of the past have encouraged me to persevere and to use my skills and talents to make a difference in my time. No matter how big or small that difference might be, I want to be faithful to leave an impact, just as those women did

As you began to read and learn more about Katharina, what particularly captivated you about her?

I was particularly fascinated by the fact that Katharina had once been a nun. And as we know, nuns take a vow of celibacy.

I was curious to know why she’d become a nun in the first place. What led her to that decision? And then what made her later decide to forsake her vows? What was life like for her after escaping her convent knowing that if she was caught and recaptured, she could face persecution and even death for running away? What were her hopes and dreams for her life after she’d denied herself for so long? What was it like for her to interact with men when she’d never before had the opportunity?

All of those questions and more reverberated through my mind. And what I really wanted to know was how she’d ended up with Martin Luther. What brought this couple together? It was a forbidden love during a time of incredible turmoil. It was a love that was never-meant-to-happen. So how did it come about?

What was the biggest surprise in researching this story?

As I dug into the research, the thing that surprised me most was that Luther and Katharina didn’t experience “love at first sight.” In fact, they had no thought of marrying each other. Katharina was a woman of noble birth and Luther a man of peasant beginnings. They were in two different social classes, which doesn’t sound like a big deal to us today. But at that time, social class was extremely important.

After leaving the convent, Katharina expected to marry a nobleman. And even though Luther preached the goodness of marriage and encouraged other monks and nuns to leave their convents and get married, he had no intention of getting married himself.  So, the question begs answering, how did these two opposite people with opposing personalities and aspirations, end up together? You’ll have to read the book to discover the answer!

What happened when I left my phone behind

God tricked me into taking a break from technology.

I’ve long admired people who can walk away from social media for an extended period of time and embrace the solitude. It sounds like a refreshing way to live.

And yet I can’t make myself do it. Which is why I think God had to trick me.

Earlier this summer, my husband and I went to Kenya with a team from our church. Two weeks before the trip, I learned for the first time that we wouldn’t be allowed to bring our cell phones with us. Maybe not a big deal. We were going to Africa, after all.

But we were leaving our kids, ages 7 and 5, behind with grandparents and in the year 2015, it never occurred to me that a cell phone ban would even be a thing.

I did not take the news well. I cried for days. I snubbed my pastor, who was leading the trip, when he tried to talk to me. It almost made me physically ill. I proposed a compromise. I sought commiseration. I basically behaved like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

No! You can’t make me!

There were deeper issues than just feeling like I needed to be connected to social media. I wanted a direct line to my kids, even if I couldn’t be physically present. I wanted to be in control of how I checked in on them. I had serious trust issues, even though I knew they were in good hands.

“If I’d have known about this at the beginning,”  I told Phil, “I’m not sure I would have signed up for the trip.”

“Maybe that’s why you didn’t know about it then,” he said.

For almost a year, God had made it clear that we were to go on this trip. He provided money when we didn’t expect it and He kept moving our hearts in ways we couldn’t ignore.

Maybe He wanted me on this trip whether I could take my phone with me or not.

I sat with that for a day or two, considering the possibility that God—not my pastor or my church—might be asking me to do this.

Our group settled on a compromise. We could take our phones but we would have limited access to them while we traveled. And my husband and I did have a chat with our pastor to clear the air before we left.

The way forward was settled even if I was still unsettled. It had only been two years since I’d had a smart phone and already I was so attached to it that I couldn’t imagine being without it for 10 days. That was a problem I could acknowledge, but I still didn’t see how it could possibly turn out well.

The phone went on airplane mode as soon as we loaded up the vans. I tucked it away, reluctantly and with a bit of anxiety, because I use my phone for lots of things: weather, clock, calculator, flashlight, to name a few.

Waiting to board our plane in New York

Waiting to board our plane in New York


Even as I write about it and think about it now, more than a month after, my heart starts to race. I’ve believed the lie that I’m useless without my phone.

As we flew from New York to Belgium and then from Belgium to Rwanda to Kenya, not having access to a clock was a benefit. I had no idea what time it was locally or what time my body thought it should be, so I just went with it. I slept when I was tired, and I ate when they fed us on the plane.

We were tired enough we got to our destination in Kenya that the phone didn’t beckon me at all.

The first morning was a different story, though. (You can read more about that over at Shawn Smucker’s blog, where I have a guest post on the subject today.) I felt like part of me was missing. I kept reaching for it, thinking I’d take a picture or check the weather or the time. I had to re-train myself to look for the clock in a room. Eventually, I could guess the time by where the sun was. We were so close to the equator that sunrise and sunset were near 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.

And the weather was virtually the same every day, so I didn’t have to check for the possibility of rain or whether I should wear jeans or shorts. We dressed in layers for the cool mornings and evenings, and changed our clothes when appropriate to the dress codes of the villages or the activities in which were participating.

I still wonder if it was easier to be without my phone on our trip because our days were planned out for us and because of our location.

Most days, we were so busy I didn’t worry about what time it was. On one of our painting days, four or five hours passed before I even thought, “What time are we eating dinner?” It was freeing, in a sense, to be so involved in life that I didn’t have to keep track of the time. Here, I feel like I have to fill my hours according to a certain schedule.

When we were given access to the WiFi password and agreed to limit our use to an hour in the evenings in our rooms, I will admit to being tempted to push past those limits. If I was in my room, who would know if I checked my e-mail in the morning? Because of the time difference, I didn’t always get the most current updates on our kids and how they were doing. I craved information about them, and the phone was the only way to get it. As hard as it was, I did stick to the agreement as I understood it. And most nights, I was too tired to even bother logging on to the network and checking e-mail.

In the evenings or at meal times, when I might have been surfing my phone for whatever, I was engaging with the world around me. We played Apples to Apples or sat around talking. We looked at the stars or smelled the flowers or took a walk.

I sometimes convince myself that I’m too tired at the end of a day to really engage with my kids for one more minute, but in Kenya, I was just as tired or more so at night and I still found some reserve energy for human connection. I’m ashamed of myself for all the times I zone out with my kids.

In the first week after our trip, I practiced leaving my phone in another room, or in the car if we were playing at the park. It was freeing when we didn’t need to be anywhere, and it was out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I didn’t think about checking it because I couldn’t. It wasn’t with me.

Old habits die hard, though, and I’m back to my former ways. Some of them anyway. The lure of social media, especially for someone who creates content, is hard to escape. I feel pressure to be interesting and post regularly so that people remember who I am and know what I’ve been up to. Because we all know that out-of-sight, out-of-mind also applies online. If I don’t see your updates regularly, it’s easy to forget you. (And that is not an easy confession to make.)

Even though I’m struggling to put my technology experience in Kenya into practice back home, I know that it was a good exercise for me, one I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. And I know I need to impose limits on myself for the good of my family and my soul. I don’t want to have to be tricked into doing it again.

I’m curious how you’ve accomplished this, or if you’ve ever thought about it. Do you feel the pull of social media on your life? Have you ever taken an extended break from it? How do you limit your online time in daily life?


This is what ‘yes’ looks like

“Phil, why am I doing this? This is a bad idea.”

My stomach churned. I thought I might need to throw up. Anxiety crept its way up my body, threatening to choke any courage I might have left. I stood at the door, keys in hand while the kids kept up their after-school shenanigans in all parts of the house.

I could stay and eat dinner with my family and do the normal bedtime routine.

Or I could go to the volunteer training I’d signed up for.

Yep. That was the cause of my anxiety. See, to attend this training, I had to drive into the city and find a place to park my van. I had to enter an unfamiliar building and sit with strangers to learn how to help strangers from other countries adapt to life in the United States. And I would have to leave the city in the dark.

For an introvert, this is a deadly combination.

Sonja Guina | via unsplash

Sonja Guina | via unsplash

But I did it. I got in the van and drove into the city. I had a plan for where I was going to park, but when I went to make the turn into the lot, a man was standing in the middle of the sidewalk so I aborted that plan and went down to the next street. Parking in the city, anytime, is stressful for me. I’m never sure if I can park in that spot or how much money to put in the meter and I’m forever afraid of getting a parking ticket or having our car towed.

So, imagine my surprise when I found a spot right next to the building on a side street. That eased my anxiety some.

As I drove by the building trying to find parking, I noticed some people gathering on the front steps. One of them was a man with long hair, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. After I parked the car, I was afraid to walk around to the front of the building because what if he was homeless. And then I realized how ridiculous that was because I was attending a training to help refugees–who are homeless!

Turns out he was there for the training, too, and if I believed all the western depictions of Jesus were accurate, I’d say upon closer look he looked a little like Jesus, so my anxiety leveled off.

We found our way into the building and entered the room and sat, not talking but looking through papers and a packet of information. Just after the presentation started, about a dozen more people joined us and I was intimidated by the look of some of them. I was in the city, after a work day, and many of them looked hip and chic and business-y. Maybe I was out of place. I’m just a mom, after all.

But then I remembered, again, why we were all there. This wasn’t something any of us had to do, I don’t think. It didn’t matter what else our lives were about. For this one night, we were united in our passion to reach out to others.

I was shocked by what I learned. Facts can be boring sometimes, but these facts represented people and for the first time in my life, I think I actually understand that.

Fifty percent of the world’s refugees are children. Like my own. There are 7-year-olds in this world who feel responsible for the safety of their family. I have a 7-year-old. She feels responsible for her second-grade homework and that’s about it.

Some families are separated for years in their journey to safety. This little office in a small section of Lancaster County in a tiny part of the world helps reunite families. Would I want someone to help me if I hadn’t seen my daughter in six years? This is superhero stuff right here.

When we traveled to Kenya earlier this year, we saw refugees boarding the planes we were on. We weren’t exactly sure at the time that that is what they were, but this training confirmed it. They were boarding planes and leaving countries of strife for resettlement elsewhere, maybe even here.

Did you know that refugees have to repay their travel expenses and they get a bill five months after they have resettled? Could you pay a $2,000 airline bill five months after moving your family to a new country and beginning entry-level work while learning how to pay other monthly bills in a currency unfamiliar to you?

Of the millions of refugees in the world right now, only a small percentage actually resettle in other countries. Most live in refugee tent “cities” for far longer than is planned or is healthy. There are some who have lived this way for decades. In Kenya we met people who had been living in an Internally Displaced People camp for seven years. They no longer had tents, but mud huts are no upgrade when you’ve lost the only life you knew.

Did you also know that refugees seeking resettlement are interviewed about their lives and personal stories and undergo health and security screenings before they are granted permission to resettle? Sometimes this process takes years.

And did you know that ISIS isn’t the biggest fear among Syrian refugees? No, they fear their own government and the corrupt regime of their president who tortures children and kills parents while the kids watch, who bombs houses where mothers sit nursing their children. This is why they leave.

I said “yes” to this training because I need to do something besides read and write and be horrified. I don’t yet know what this will look like, but I know that by the time I got in the van at the end of the night, I wasn’t anxious about anything.

Sometimes “yes” looks like an upset stomach before walking out the door because you don’t know what to expect. And sometimes it turns into stories you can’t ever forget.

The one thing my kids really want

Maybe your kids aren’t like this, but mine seem to always want something.

It’s Book Fair week at the school, so every day, we’ve had a request for books. I am not opposed to buying books (obviously; you should see our overstuffed shelves) but I’d like to be there to see what they pick out. Phil and I will take a spin through the book fair on parents’ night to find them something they want because I’m not a monster and books are my weakness.

Also, they always want food! I mean it’s not enough that I provide three meals a day, but the snacking is a major deal. Especially now that they’re both in school all day. I knew on the first day of school that they would be hungry when they got home, so I let them pick out a special snack from a couple of cookbooks and we bought what we needed and I made them their special snack.

It was a hit! And then they wanted a special snack the next day! And I knew there was no way I could keep up this streak for 180 days, so I had to come up with a plan. Could I give them a snack every day and make it special without busting our grocery budget or spending a ton of time on it?

The entire first week, one of their first questions off the bus was, “Did you make us a snack?”

There was such hope in the question that I couldn’t say “no” and disappoint them.

Could you tell them "no"? I didn't think so.

Could you tell them “no”? I didn’t think so.

But then came a week where we had a bunch of responsibilities and planning a snack, in addition to planning food for church events, and food for our own meals, was too much. So, I tried an experiment. I made a “special” snack from stuff we had in the house that wasn’t very special at all! (P.S. Do not tell them my secret!)

One day, I slathered some celery sticks with peanut butter and cut up some carrots and put ranch in a bowl. I set them out on plates at the counter, and the kids ate it up! The next day, we were going to have to take a snack with us because we had errands right after school, and the only pre-packaged stuff we buy is for their lunches, so I needed to improvise.

I made a snack mix out of a variety of nuts we had in the pantry. I cut up a fruit twist and a Twizzler and dumped in a bag of cinnamon sugar pretzels. I mixed it all up and gave it some kind of qwirky name and presented it as their special treat for the day. They were skeptical, and some of that stuff they wouldn’t eat on its own, but together, they tried a few bites. They didn’t end up finishing it that day, and that’s how I learned the secret of what my kids really want.

It doesn’t so much matter what I give them for a snack after school. But they want to know that I was thinking of them long enough to make an effort. On the days when I throw out a few options without an apparent plan, there is more grumbling and complaining than when I put something on the counter already prepared. A few days ago our daughter was complaining that she doesn’t like the taste of the baby carrots anymore and doesn’t want them in her lunch. I’m wondering what will happen if I put them out as a snack with a ranch or honey mustard dip. I’ll have to let you know how that goes.

What do my kids really want? I think they want what everyone wants: to be seen and known and heard and loved.

I fail at providing those things all the time, but I see the difference it makes when they know that I was thinking of them.

Maybe that’s all that really matters in any of our relationships: not that we get it right or perfect or that we make it special all the time, but that we make an effort to see and know and hear and love, in all of our imperfect ways.

I’m willing to give it a shot. Are you?

How Convenient

I pulled into the bank parking lot, hands a bit sweaty, rehearsing my lines before I walked in the door.

I need to withdraw some money in different denominations than I can get from the ATM.

Maybe it seems weird to you to have to practice what you’re going to say while running an errand, but I suspect most introverts know about this. If I don’t plan what I’m going to say, then I often stumble over my words or say something awkward or embarrassing.

It might not have been a big deal, but I hadn’t actually been inside the bank in two or three years. The world of online banking and deposits at the ATM have made it more convenient to not speak with a teller, and my introvert self sometimes prefers it this way.

I waited in line until it was my turn and then had a really nice interaction and conversation with the bank teller. I told him what I needed, and then I added, spontaneously, that it was for a yard sale I was having. This was my attempt at small talk and conversation, two things I’m not great at on the fly. When our business was finished, he wished me well on my sale, and I nearly floated out of the bank, so happy was I to have connected with a human being over something so small.

Read the rest over at Putting on the New, where I post on the 12th of every month.