Friday, December 31, 2010

Backstory for 2010

It's the last day of the year.

And in light of my last post and my thoughts on being transparent, I thought I would take a step in that direction with you. I want to be transparent with you about where I'm coming from, recently.

Because it's tempting, probably, to wonder if I have it all together. It's tricky to look at my last post on Cake & Cotton, my other, less serious blog, and think I have always been pouring out crafty goodness. I haven't been, for the past few years. Yes, I've wanted to...and I've had some outlets. But I haven't had the room in my heart to be all I was created to be. I was in too much pain.

To be frank, my husband and I are coming out of our hardest season yet. We've been married thirteen years, and suffice it to say that the first half of 2010 was not good. Neither was 2009. Or 2008. It's been a while since I've consistently felt something other than striving to keep my head above water, emotionally.

And I'm taking a risk here, since even those closest to us haven't really been inside our doors. Right? No one really knows what's going on in your home, in your marriage. Do they? And now, as a family, we are experiencing a new, heavenly normal, by the sheer grace and power and work of God. I cannot emphasize enough that it is all Him. It was Him in the beginning, and in the middle, and in the end of our trials. (But of course, we never really reach the end, until heaven.) Always Him, at work.

I feel like I'm rambling. There are so many directions I could go with this post. So many thoughts, lessons learned, and ways I could sum up my year with words. And I am starting to cry because there are so many ways I could have gone in my pain too. Through those many trying months, I was alone in my own home, in my own marriage. My husband and I seemed to be in very different and conflicting universes. There was so much strife and we rarely found connection.

Here's the thing. I tried fixing it in lots and lots of ways. Good and right ways. For a long time, I hard. My love and commitment for my husband wasn't enough. All the while, God kept whispering this phrase to me: Let me do my work. Oh, but didn't He need a little help? Surely He didn't want me to stop "trying". And surely I could make it all "work" more quickly. All my efforts were such a failure, which led me to a phase of frustration and feeling so ineffective. I had all this pent up anger at not being able to change anything. I wasn't angry at my husband, but I still wanted to punch something. I wanted to hit a windshield with a bat. I desperately wanted to make something move.

Still: Let me do my work. At this point of pain and frustration and anger, I know most people medicate. Whether it's TV or pills or overcommitting so nothing stops spinning long enough to really feel.....But I've never been big on the effects of chemicals in my body, and everything else just leaves you so empty. Everything but Jesus makes it worse. And I knew that.

I finally stopped trying. I was too empty, too hurt, too alone. I was past prayer. Way past prayer. I had nothing else to ask for. In fact, I had no more words at all. I was, as I so often use the phrase, at the end of myself. All I could think to do was posture myself on the carpet, like I had read Elijah did in I Kings 18. The Bible says that when he wanted God to send rain during a famine, he "bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees" (v.42). It doesn't say whether or not he prayed. It simply describes a posture of utter humility. Elijah knew he couldn't make it rain. He did it seven times before his friend saw a tiny cloud in the distance.

I brought my pain to the carpet, weeping silently as I'd learned to do after all were in bed,. Night after night, tear after tear, my nose smelling the cheap carpet fibers, my body sort of in Child's Pose. It was a horrible season, and at the same time, it was where I found my life. I can't describe what happened, actually. I can't put into words what healing feels like when it's whispered in the wee hours of the morning in the core of your soul. I can't list out the ways God became so real to me, met me over the course of many months, told me that I was His beautiful bride. I can't describe how it was more than everything I needed, and somehow more than I'd ever had. You have to experience it. And I have a feeling that you have to get to a really awful place first. Empty out before you can fill up.

One thing I can say is that worked. Whether our marriage had come around or not, bringing all my emotion and need before God was finally the right choice. After all the trying and working and talking - gosh, the hours of wasted talking - my heart spread out all over the carpet worked. Isn't it exactly what He wanted all along? It wasn't literally being on the carpet, of course. For me, it just happened that my body reflected where I was on the inside. The posture, utter humility. And unfortunately, I was there because I had no other recourse. In the future, I pray I'll go there with my pain a lot sooner. Like first.

So the second half of 2010, God brought heaps of healing between my husband and I. Once God got me under control, He DID do His work. Heaps and heaps of healing and blessing and refreshment have been ours. And a magical thing has happened; I've been perhaps more free than I ever have been to be me. In all my gifts and inspirations and passions, I want to show God off because He has made my cup overflow with....I can't even pinpoint it. Joy? Life? Love? All of the above, and more.

To wrap up, I thought it was fitting with my story to share a portion of Oswald Chambers' words, from his daily devotional My Utmost for His Highest, on the last page of the year:

Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.

Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.

In 2011, help me remember to let all my worry, hurt, anxiety, and loss - past and present - sleep on the bosom of Christ.

Because that works.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Seeing right through me

Christmas break is so fun. We are truly enjoying it. We've been visiting family and friends the last few days, and are now back home, ready to organize and regroup. But yesterday, we went to the California Science Center in L.A. This place is amazing. (And possibly the most amazing part is that it is totally free.)

One of our favorite stops was the Ecosystems exhibit. The balmy Desert Room housed tortoises and staged flash floods. The chilly Polar Room had a giant polar bear pelt, one wall made of ice, and a snowmobile (a.k.a. "little boy magnet") you could sit on. But my favorite part was the underwater exhibit. Large aquarium tanks held bizarre fish and morey eels and sand sharks. Small tanks held all sorts of other beautiful creatures, some creepy, some breathtaking.

The tank housing these guys stopped me short. I grabbed my son's camera from his neck and snapped these.

They are Aurelia Aurita, or Moon Jellyfish.

What I instantly thought: "What if God made us completely transparent?"

We watched one jellyfish take in particles of food, and then we could see those same particles on its insides.

Total transparency. Think about it. What if everyone else could see what we took in? Not just food...I mean what we took into our minds and our hearts, what was churning around on our insides. What if no one could hide anything?

Then my mom-in-law pointed out something very interesting. It looked as if only a few jellies were in the tank. But no....a closer look revealed that perhaps twenty or more were in there. We could only clearly see the ones that floated up toward the light at the top of the tank. The rest swirled around, waiting their turn to float upward, in the total darkness below. And when they did float up, it seemed as if they were materialising out of nothing. It was quite mesmerizing to watch.

And memorable. Late that night, when the rest of the house was still, my husband, mom-in-law and I, with tea and PJ's, talked about the strange jellies. We talked about transparency. We talked about what happens to a human life when it moves toward the Light, this time meaning the exposing truth of God.

Nothing can be hidden from God. When we finally decide to place our lives into His hands, we must surrender to total transparency with Him. There, our true selves become more clear, though it can be an uncomfortably revealing process. He sees everything churning around inside of us, and it's never all pretty.

For me, there is no alternative to being transparent. With Him, and with you. I try to push up, up toward His light because I don't want to float around in the darkness. That's not life. In the light of the Lord, I can see myself and my purpose the most clearly. He reveals me. He shows me beauty in myself I know I could not otherwise see. Even if everyone else is gawking through the glass at how odd I seem, in His light is where I am me.

This passage from Psalm 139 speaks to our transparency before God so well. Is anyone else a little uncomfortable at this intimate knowing God has of us? Oh, thank goodness He has also made it clear that love is intertwined in every phrase.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!

Psalm 139: 1-18 

{Today I'm linking up with Ann's blog for Walk With Him Wednesdays, a collection of posts on simple ways we can draw closer to Him}

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Still unwrapping

Christmas is winding down. In 59 minutes, the day will will be officially done.

I took a little post-Christmas inventory at one point today. It was a slur of thoughts, really, pouring into my tired head. It went something like this.

Whew. OK. Man, am I tired. I didn't realize I'd been powering it out until it was over and now I want to sleep for three days. But did I do enough? Did my kids "get" it? Did we read the right passages, talk about why Jesus came, and focus enough on selfless giving? And what about how they'll remember me? Was I happy and joy-filled enough to outweigh my stressed, busy and distracted moments? Did I read them the books, do the crafts, bake, and create a magical season for everyone in my home? 

Kinda silly, right? It didn't take me long to realize hear in my Spirit that Christmas wasn't at all over.

Christmas isn't a thing wrapped in shiny paper only to be ripped open, enjoyed and then tossed aside, like every other gift.

It is for every day. Emmanuel was born on Christmas. But His birth was only a beginning, of course. And I am only at the beginning of learning how to receive His gifts.

Truly receive them.

It's hard. Sometimes I shove them away. Peace? No thanks, I think I can handle this on my own. Forgiveness? Not today, because I really feel more comfortable punishing myself a while longer. Rest? Who has time for that?

And sometimes I just leave them under the tree. Unopened. I'm sure there are times I don't even notice the gifts from Jesus sitting right in front of me. I can't list them out because I don't know what they are. I'm just missing out. Neglecting my relationship with the Giver.

So I wanted to tell you this. It's not over. Christmas is a beginning. Perhaps you need a fresh one. I say take it. Run over to the tree, slide down onto your knees, grab it with both arms and shred that paper like a five-year old on Christmas morning.

Some of you have a mental picture of exactly what that looks like. Embrace all He wants to offer you today. There are no gifts more valuable than His love. His forgiveness. His companionship. Oh, do you know what it's like to be His friend?

Tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, I want to be a child at Christmas, still unwrapping.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pick me, Pick me

OK, It's voting week on My First Kitchen.

If you want to vote for my "Cookie & a Story" you can do so HERE

You have to find my name, Leslie, on the list about three-fourths of the way down.

You can vote once a day until next Tuesday. Cool, huh?

Thanks guys & have a merry day!

Not what I was gonna say

I sat down to write about something else. I had some thoughts about Christmas and how we rightly prioritize telling the "story of Jesus" to our kids, but how He then gets contained to being a character in a story instead of being described as a real, living, person who wants us every day. I have a post about this I need to write.

But I totally got hijacked in my heart.

Ann did it. She has this blog where she hijacks me alot, alot. Her words are crazy, what they can do.

And I just read this post of hers which happens to be on words, and our responsibility to them.

I am stopped in my tracks right now because she echoes a prayer in me that runs so deeply, I cannot ever escape it. I have this thing with words. They are my blessing and my curse. My use of them is, at different times, both the source of my greatest fulfillment and my deepest shame, depending on how I use them. Or rather, who's in charge of them. And so that deep-running prayer is more than that; it's a plea for God to grow me in such a way that I build others up, instead of tear them down.

God's words: “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger.“ Ephesians 4:29 (NCV)

Ann's words: Mamas make strong.

I read all these words - for heaven's sake, read the post - and my heart is beating the familiar rhythm of my plea.

My words: Please Lord, help me make strong.

It's not Please Lord, help me be strong. I want to make (others) strong.

A whole lot of thoughts are circling about how it happens, the making strong, as a mother and as a woman. So many pieces are in that puzzle. But I do know it is impossible to do alone. I need Jesus for this, helping guide and shape my words. I need friends for this, influencing my vision, offering grace. And first I need to realize that I need so much more than I am.

I'm not talking about an endless striving to be better and more, which is the instinct we women have to fight against. I'm talking about giving up the illusion that we are self-sufficient. Surrendering the burden we place on ourselves to keep everything smooth. The opposite of striving, really. And letting Him in to be the Word.

Ann reminds me of the scripture: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This is what Christmas means, and from the beginning, Jesus was called the Word.

The Word nurtures and fills and breathes into me everything I need, when I let Him, and only then do I have words to make strong. But if I am deluded into thinking I can run on yesterday's strength, I better keep my mouth (and my keyboard) shut. Because I believe this: 

(more of Ann's words, from her profile page:) The only words that really matter are the ones I live.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Raining, inside and out

Today we're in a downpour. If we lived in a state that actually recognized winter as a season, it would be snowing and beautiful and fun for kids. But instead, its just cold and soggy and miserable. I don't like the rain. I look out my window and feel grouchy and sad.

But I woke up thinking This is the day that the Lord has made...I will rejoice and be glad in it.

And joy has been raining inside my house.

Giggles from kids playing, not fighting, sprinkled down for hours.

My husband, adorable in his knit beanie and PJs, made a fire in the fireplace, then made chocolate chip pancakes with the gigglers.

I sat making more gifts, working fabric and needle, watching a stream of stitches trickle with a therapeutic rhythm.

Mulling spices misted above the stovetop.

Chai tea spilled into white cups.

And Christmas music continued to pour fourth its blessing, one album after another.

This song, Eternal Gifts, by Leigh Nash is quickly becoming one of my favorite Christmas songs. Listen. It will warm your heart today.

And tonight, we were to have a party. An outdoor one. Thirty people, our friends, were coming. I am disappointed that it needs to be postponed.

But maybe, God has something else in store for this rainy night.

He loves surprises. He loves to rain down on us the thing we aren't expecting, until our cups overflow. We can never predict when He'll reach down, sweep our plans aside, and ordain a silent night. A holy night.

All is calm. All is bright.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Cookie and A Story

Today, my "Cookie and a Story" entry is posted on Kendra's blog, My First Kitchen. Yay! 

There are 20 other finalists besides mine (each has been posted for one day this month), and voting for the favorite will begin on Dec. 22nd. The winner wins a bunch of awesome stuff for their kitchen. So I hope I win! Next week, I'll remind you to vote for me if you have a minute.

For now, you can check out my recipe for Italian Anise cookies along with a little story about my family heritage here.

This recipe has withstood much. Immigration. The Great Depression. And the passing of several generations of capable hands.

And perhaps one day, my little aspiring baker (shown above) will make these cookies for her own family.

* Wishing you a sweet Friday *

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lesson from the antique store globe

I feel kind of ridiculous.

A bunch of holiday-related responsibilities are spinning around in my life; they are mild sources of stress, taking up all my time and energy, and I want to complain. I want to list out every annoyance. All the stuff and people and jobs and food I have to buy and wrap and make and manage. Too many extras on my plate and I start to get annoyed about it all.

So a while ago, I'm staring at the globe on my desk. I bought it at the local antique store strictly for its cool colors. All shades of turquoise. I love turquoise. And it is hard for me to stop my mind which is bathed in annoyance long enough to remember that the globe is a representation of something. I tell myself to remember that it's not just a pretty, turquoise picture wrapped and pasted onto a sphere. All the squiggly lines are outlining countries. Real countries, filled with real people. I keep staring.

Most of them don't celebrate Christmas.

It's the same today as when Jesus was born. The world kept on turning. Hardly anyone noticed the baby. Even given the smaller population of the world at the time, the birth of Jesus didn't turn more than a few heads. Today, fewer and fewer people, it seems, acknowledge Him at Christmas.

And I feel ridiculous. I feel like complaining about so many trivial things, when I am celebrating the birth of my Savior. It's like I know the combination of the lock on the safe that holds everything I've ever needed, but I keep getting distracted by a pebble in my shoe.

First I felt ridiculous, and now I feel convicted. I know the combination. And all those people.... and all these people, meaning not just those in distant lands, but on my own street. These, right before my eyes, they need the combination and they don't even know it. I have it. They need it.

And it's Christmas. Hardly anyone is noticing the baby.

I have to ask again, Lord, open the eyes of my heart. Let my life, my love, and my every way point to the baby like a star in the midnight sky.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wish I had a river

Joni Mitchell's River is another of my all time favorite Christmas songs.

I know, I know. I may have some opposition here. It's not really a Christmas song at all. It's more of a winter song. Not even a nod towards Jesus and the story of Christmas. But just bear with me; it's spiritual, under the surface. And actually quite moving to me.

If you haven't already gathered, or happen to be reading this blog for the first time in your life, I am a melancholy girl through and through. I find beauty in not only the beautiful things in life, but the bittersweet and sad as well. To me, there is something poignantly lovely about the human experience from its splendor to its grief. God created all our emotions, not just the happy ones, and for His good purposes. That's why a good cry can feel so good. And hitting our limits forces us to look outside ourselves for a Savior. It is in the plea, when we're at our end, that we can find that which is truly life-giving. Personally, my moments of deepest grief, deepest pain, have resulted in the most beautiful seasons in my heart. I've met God more intimately in those moments than in all the other pleasant ones combined. What isn't completely lovely about that?

Back to River.

It's comin' on Christmas.
They're cutting down trees.
They're putting up reindeer,
Singing songs of joy and peace.
Oh, I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.

You know this song? Isn't it depressing? Before I listened closely, I thought, but why? Why is she so down on Christmas? The song rambles through a few verses of winter-themed commentary, but we don't get an answer to the question of "why" until about halfway in:

I wish I had a river that I could skate away on,
'Cause I made my baby cry...

I'm so hard to handle.
I'm selfish and I'm sad 
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had.
Oh I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.

There it is. Brokenness. Loss. Remorse. Hurt. The Plea.

And this plea - whether Joni Mitchell's herself, or merely an invented character - is not so different from ours. Hard to handle? Check. Selfish? Check. Sometimes sad? Check. Doing my share of damage to my loved ones? Check and sigh. Sometimes I plain hate the sound of my own voice by the end of the day. 

But the woman in River makes an unfortunate, though very human choice. Her plea causes her to decide to retreat. Now, I've had these days. Sometimes weeks. I stop offering my true self. A relationship gets messy and hurtful and maybe I don't deserve more. Maybe the damage is irreparable. Maybe I'm alone. I start to believe there's only one choice.

Just. Skate. Away.

How many of us are way down that river in our hearts? How many of us have tried that route of managing our brokenness? Just skate away. All of us. Every one.

And you KNOW now why this is a Christmas song at its core. This messy, unpredictable, hurtful life spinning around us is exactly why Jesus came.

In His immense love for us, He became Immanuel, God with us. Not because we deserved it, but precisely because we didn't. When we were way the heck down the river, He came to save us. He came to be with us when we were sure we were alone.

In my life, I can tell you from experience, He continually works at melting all my rivers and quieting all my pleas. He gently reminds me that my plea, my yearning for healing and that abundant life, needs to turn me towards Him, not toward an icy path of resignation and retreat.

In River, again one of my favorite Christmas songs, Jesus whispers, I'm here. I've got this. So you can untie the skates.   


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

100 words for my 100th post

{These 100 words, for my 100th post, speak for themselves. They are from some more Christmas songs, and are infused with the meaning of Christmas for me.}

Fragile fingers sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood would save us
Unto us is born, unto us is born.

So wrap our injured flesh around you
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world


Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.


Silent night. Holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.

O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

O Come O Come Emmanuel, Part 2

I spent some time alone this past weekend. I didn't plan to or really want to. Friday afternoon, I drove for three hours, and then waited for three more before I met up with a great friend whom I don't get to see often. I happened to be in an unfamiliar city while a beautiful Christmas parade was about to take place. I bought a hot tea, and determined to watch the parade, enjoying all the holiday revelry, alone.

I was trying to be a big girl, delighting in the cool air, wrapping my scarf a little more tightly, and smiling at sparkling-eyed kids watching the parade. It was enjoyable. To a point. But mostly I was keenly aware of my NOT being with someone and the way that made me feel. I stepped outside myself, observing my feelings of discomfort, and found that it was hard to be familiar with my alone self.

I wasn't a mommy, for the moment, which is my ever-present definition most hours of every day. I wasn't even a wife or friend or daughter to anyone present. I was just me, under the stars. My heart searched for a comfortable, settled understanding of just me, like when I lie in the sand and need to wiggle my own form into it first.

While I sorted through this state of being alone, I realized, again, that we were made to love and be loved. Relationship is stamped into our very being. It is a thread of need that we cannot remove. The thread can only be severed, leaving loose ends, and the sting of a promise broken.

But Jesus, Emmanuel, whose name means "God WITH us," came to us when we were alone. And in need. And stinging and broken. Our mistakes kept us severed from God. The earth shuddered with a plea: O Come O Come, Emmanuel. And His love for us welled up into a great crescendo of the cries of a laboring mother, and a birth. He came. To live and die, in order to heal our thread of relationship with Him.

When I am alone, under the stars, with no one else to define me, Emmanuel does. My relationship with my Father is what defines me. And not just when I'm alone, but that definition supersedes all the others, every day, when I let it.

Phillipians 2:6-7 is not often considered a Christmas passage, but it's message certainly is:

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.

I don't think I would have made that trade - divine privileges for human flesh. In fact, I can't wait to trade in the opposite direction, when my days here are finished.

But He loves us. And so there is no where Jesus wouldn't go to be with us.
Grocery store, or parade, or cross.
No where he wouldn't go to be with me.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

O Come O Come, Emmanuel, Part 1

This is my favorite Christmas song.

The lyrics speak something new to me each year, and this year is no different. I am reeling in thought over the words already.

Two days ago, its messages started seeping in, as I searched for a version of the song to add to my mixpod (my little blog iPod thing on the right).

O come O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

O come. It starts with a plea, repeated and desperate. The melody is gilded with mystery and something ancient it seems.

And then a call, by name. Emmanuel means "God with us," a translation I will talk more about in another post. Our God came down to earth to be with us and to be us in nearly every way. That means he gets it. Anything I have to bring, he gets.

That pleading finally reached my center tonight. It became my plea, without my realizing it at first. I had a rough last couple of days as a mom, feeling blanketed with shame hearing the sound of my own harsh voice to my children. I finally brought my mess before Emmanuel, the one who understands because he was and is with us, and there is no human way I am able to hold back tears when I reach the point of the plea. I wonder if I can even plea at all unless I am crumpled up in need first.

A plea is not just asking for him, if he'll take a peek into my life. Check things out. It's not polite or careful. It's at the end of pretense and cover and excuse. And pride.

I am pleading, raw. O come, O come, Emmanuel...into my mothering and into my home and into my words. Please.

I sat on the couch in stillness for a few moments, wiping tears. Then something in my spirit responded, a quiet, gentle reply.

I'm already here. It is you who needs to come to me.

So. I'm doing my part. Moving my heart towards abiding. Again. It's so easy to get thrown off course, especially in busy seasons, sick seasons, weak seasons. And it's so easy to forget that it is more important than ever during those seasons to not just bring ourselves and our issues to our Emmanuel, but to stay put.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Story time with cookies

Kendra has a lot of yummy ideas over at My First Kitchen.

I first found her blog during the month of October when she participated in a "31 days of..." series of posts. While several bloggers followed the format along different themes, her series was entitled "31 Days to an Inspired Table."

I'm not sure why (because the name doesn't imply this), but I thought it was about decorating, or setting a nice eating area. I was only mildly interested, but clicked on her blog anyway. Instead what I found was Kendra's skill, insight, and passion for creating something much more substantial through the tradition of sharing meals with others. So much more than a food blog, she seeks to inspire her reader to infuse the time around the table with thoughtfulness and warmth in a variety of ways.

I loved her ideas. They were simple and felt attainable. But most of all, I loved how they pulled on something deeper in me: that instinctual craving to nurture my loved ones. I often feel the instinct and lack the skill, and she shared her giftedness with me.

(for examples of her great posts from this series, try Day 1, where she suggests we take a look at what defines our family's food culture, or Day 8, where she reminds us to have fun at the table.)

For the first 21 days of December, Kendra's posting the finalist entries of a contest which I entered. It is called "A Cookie and a Story," where writers were asked to share a favorite cookie recipe along with a personal story that goes with the treat. My recipe is for Italian Anise Cookies, and my story is about heritage, tradition, and the things that can't be watered down over time like genetics can. One of the photos I submitted to go along with my story is above. And guess what? I was chosen as a finalist (yay!).

My entry will be up on Dec. 17th (don't worry, I'll remind you again) and readers are to vote for the favorite!

Until then, I encourage you to check out Kendra's blog. She is filled with talent in matters of the kitchen and of the heart. I might win some awesome stuff for my kitchen, but you will receive some great inspiration and delicious recipes to serve up to your loved ones. I'm sure she has some killer ones in store for the holidays. (Not to mention all the other yummy cookie recipes you can steal from my adversaries the other finalists over the next few weeks.)

Won't you be glad to have some freshy ideas for that cookie exchange?

{And did you SEE that chubby wonderfulness on my baby girl in the top photo from seven years ago? Wow.}

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

He makes me lie down

{Sigh.} I miss you, little blog. I miss you blog world and blog friends.

I was sick for 2 weeks, and then I was fine. For one day. I functioned for one whole day of awesome productivity, some redecorating, hanging out with a friend, and cooking a super delicious beef bourguignon.

Then. My back decided to stop working. Maybe I did too much too soon, who knows. But suffice it to say that today is the first day since last Friday that I can sit in a chair. And walk without wanting to cry.

I imagined how I could suspend my laptop from the ceiling, dropping it down to the couch so I could type while lying on my back. But that wasn't really gonna happen. I practically emptied our DVR of recorded shows. Ones I don't even like that much. I watched them all, even into the night since the pain was so bad I couldn't sleep. At least with the TV on, I was distracted enough to stop crying. I was a mess. Finally, since yesterday was Monday, I went to the doctor and he is fixing me, one high-powered anti-inflammatory pill at a time. Thank you Lord.

But wait, what? A major holiday is two days away? And a special, romantic weekend getaway with my husband is the day after that, which means packing for myself AND for the kids who are going to grandma's? And the kids have been erecting a three-day long pile of everything they own "fort" upstairs that I haven't seen yet? And what about the other 12 things that have to be done by TOMORROW??

Plainly, I'm trying not to panic (but I really am).

I keep thinking of this over and over. The Lord is my Shepherd. He is good. I believe it.

He gives me everything I need.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul.

It's easy to skip over because we know these words so very well. But I've learned to look more closely at what appears to be no more than a Biblical lullaby within Psalm 23.

If, by chance, any sheep starts to wander, if she goes too long without resting, if she doesn't really know what's best for her (what sheep ever does?), then He will make her lie down.

It's not a suggestion to rest. It's not encouragement to slow down. He makes me lie down. I don't love that we had to go there, but OK .

When He makes me lie down, my ears and heart open afresh. It's always for a reason.
And I know it's just the kind of shepherding I need.

Note: If you've never read A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, written by a real shepherd W. Phillip Keller (see the bookshelf of my favorites on the right) you should. It is a powerful book about the way the Lord cares for us, and gives insight into the meanings of every metaphor in Psalm 23. Amazing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Guest bloggin' for one rad lady

If you haven't already, you need to check out Joy's Hope to see the radness transpiring over there thanks to Julie.

She has a beautiful heart and a beautiful home, filled with all kinds of her cool ideas and darling daughters. She expresses her passions and shares her aforementioned cool ideas (which often involve spray paint of some kind) on her very awesome and funny blog.

I am *super honored* to be her guest blogger today, as we are making an effort to get as many people as possible to participate in making some "Blessed to Bless" bags for those in need this Thanksgiving.

If you blog, please pass it on. If you don't, then perhaps you can send out an email linking up to Joy's Hope today, to share the inspiration with your people.

I know the life-changing power of love, and passing some to those in need can change people. Let's move hearts and impact our communities. Let's believe that God can multiply our efforts and resources to do His work in the lives of others.

And let's do it together.

Thank you, Julie, for sharing my mission today with all your fabulous readers.
You rock times a million.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Teachable Moment: It is better to give...

This time of year, it is so challenging for my husband and I to turn our children's eyes away from the focus on presents for Christmas. Not only during the holidays, but year-round, I find is so difficult to teach them the truth behind the adage, "It is better to give than to receive." To a child, what is better than getting a new box of Legos, or a new outfit for her American Girl? It is so hard for them to understand the concept of altruism, the idea of unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

I get fed up with the world's perpetual assault on my efforts to teach contentment and generosity. Remember how my postwoman took all my mail away since my box was full? Well, guess what it was filled with? Catalogs. Many of them for toys. The little swipers in my house try to grab them before I can trash the catalogs, and I find them riddled with red marker, indicating all the things they think they need.

I had had enough of catalog fever the other night, and pulled one out of my son's hands as we were trying to enjoy dinner commercial-free. I threw everyone off the toy topic by saying, "Hey, I wanted to show you guys something really exciting." I then pulled out another catalog, one from Samaritan's Purse, an international relief organization. Their Christmas 2010 catalog showcases a multitude of gifts that can be purchased for someone in true need in another part of the world. "Here are some ideas for gifts we could buy," and then I started reading.

Gift #1, on the first page, got everyon'e attention. "Feed a Hungry Baby for a Week." $9. This money goes to a feeding center in Ethiopia to meet the needs of malnourished babies and nursing moms.

Gift #5 is "Teach a Child to Read and Write." $15 is the cost for education and literacy materials for one month, for one child. My daughter perked up at the realization that she could help teach a child to read across the globe. Gift #17 costs $10, giving a child a mosquito net under which to sleep, meaning his life may be saved. My kids marveled at the notion of sleeping inside of a net to avoid deadly bug bites, as the child in the photo was doing. My husband's smart phone scanned the barcode on the page so we could watch this.

As I read through the entire catalog, they were mostly silent, piping up to show interest in one particular gift or another. My son liked the idea of buying someone a fishing boat for $50.

My daughter liked the dozen baby chicks you could provide for $14, both gifts providing food and a source of income to a family in need. All wanted to buy Gift #30: Household Water Filters. They looked in horror at the photo of the "before" and "after" glasses of water. I asked them to imagine what it might be like to have cloudy, brown water in your cup everyday.

Soccer balls. Fruit trees. Medicine. Shelter. Milk. All these could be purchased for someone else around the world. So many options for so many needs. Reading through, my kids quickly gained something most kids don't have: a little bit of perspective. Everyone forgot about the toy catalog. We exchanged ideas about which gifts we'd like to give as a family. And then I mentioned the reality: if we spend money to help others, then we have less to spend on ourselves.

I think our efforts at teaching generosity are finally getting somewhere, because after being exposed to the desperate needs of so many others in our world, no one really seemed to mind.

Click HERE to see the interactive, online Samaritan's Purse 2010 Gift Catalog.

Click HERE to see the gifts available for purchase in a list.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The yellow slip of doom

My postwoman is the most ungracious person on earth, and she angers me. (Just so you know, I'm having kind of an angry day, which is really rare. But when I have one, watch out.)

Every November this is what happens. I promise you. Every November since we've lived here, which means for the last 4 years, my mail volume quadruples because of the sickening number of catalogs I start receiving pre-Christmas, the box gets jammed full, I happen to skip a day or two of picking up the mail, and the next day I find a single, flimsy, yellow slip in the cavernous space.

The yellow slip says this: "Since you have apparently no respect for my fine work of delivering your mail, and could not bother yourself to retrieve it, I've gone ahead and removed it for you. Oh, and you'll have to go on a wild goose chase to get it all back. I hope you learn your lesson."

Not really. It really says this:
Postal Patron: Your mail receptacle is not condition to receive mail because... (check mark next to) BOX FULL.

First of all, I have an issue with the grammar, " not condition to receive". That's annoying already. Second of all, my door step is maybe fifteen yards from the box. Help me out, woman. Don't you ever get busy?? Leave it at my door once a year if the box is too full! (I get that she couldn't do that for every person who let their box fill up. She doesn't want to be an enabler. But I live in a neighborhood of seniors, who are literally at their boxes within ten seconds of the mail jeep departing. Trust me, I'm the only mailbox neglector.)

Then the slip says that they will detain my mail for 10 days at the region's central station, which is no where near my house. It is a giant postal office where you have to take a number and wait at least 20 minutes to ever get helped. There's a fun outing with the kids.

So I'm mad at her for giving me that stupid yellow slip today. I'm mad at her for saying, "Enough! I'm up to HERE with your mail and there is NO MORE ROOM for any more!"

But like I said, I had a mad day and it wasn't just because of the yellow slip.

Today, strangely enough (and God, I'm not laughing) I had it up to here too. I said ENOUGH. There is NO MORE ROOM in me for grace. None.

I'm DONE with being hurt by my husband. Being ignored by my children. Being treated like a maid and short order cook. I'm DONE with being invisible to them all. I have no more room for their careless words and bad choices. And suddenly, I'm the most ungracious person on earth. OK, postwoman and I tie.

It was not pretty. In all honesty, I've not made peace with this angst yet. I've not cleared my own spirit of the emotion. I will. But I do know in my mind one very, very important truth.

God never says ENOUGH! to me. He never bundles up all my mistakes and throws them in my face with a yellow slip. And right now, I'm going to allow that singular fact to be enough for me. That is what will rest my mind and soul as I go to sleep tonight, instead of dwelling on the day's craziness.

As for tomorrow, looks like we'll be spending it at the post office playing countless rounds of "Guess what I'm thinking of."

But between you and I, I'll be thinking of ways to put my shoulder into shoving my people's mistakes to one side, and making a little more room.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Boutique Rehab

I'm checking in to Boutique Rehab tomorrow.

I'm boutiqued out. Two days, and a total of 16 hours packing the car, unpacking the car, setting up, selling, smiling, transacting, tearing down, repacking the car and driving back home to cranky families and messy kitchens has me spinning.

Don't get me wrong. It was a great spin. I was surrounded by beautiful things and inspiring people, and blessings were all around me. I was caught up in a swarm of blessings.

But my body is saying stop it. A cold caught up to me, and today my voice stopped cooperating. It's gone. Can I just emphasize how much I hate not being able to talk? Words are my lifeline and it is really, really hard for me to feel like ME without them. So tonight I came home from Boutique #2 feeling like all I could do was crawl into something knit and get into my bed. Crummy.

But before I got there, I found out something amazing. Small miracles were happening in my absence. Because my daughter and I were tidbit-ing, my husband took an opportunity for some quality guy time with our 5 year old son.

He didn't know it at the time. He didn't grasp the gravity of the situation (who really does, when miracles are about to happen?). But he showed my son what a man was like.

My brave husband, who has a passion for the outdoors (which means he is a lover of all things backpacking or hiking), took my son on his first real hike. He challenged him with the two-mile journey. He told him he could do it, while understanding that he may not be able to. My son put on his Vans, grabbed his camera, a notebook, and pencil (just like Diego and his field journal, of course), and they set off up a mountain. Okay, maybe it was more like a big hill. But it was a mountain to my son.

My son put out all his physical body could exert, climbing and pressing into steep paths and toughing out a little fall. He snapped pictures of the scenery, the ocean in the distance, and his dad. My husband didn't think they'd get there, but they reached the glorious summit. I can imagine the radiance in their faces.

On the way down, my son was spent. My husband then carried him, knowing he was still just a little boy. He did not expect more. After all, true strength is inherently gentle. Reminds me of another good Father I know. The capital F one.

My son was so proud when I arrived home. I saw the paw print of a coyote he carefully copied onto the Marriott hotel notepad he'd brought along. He wrote awkward letters underneath, spelling "footpri," with the letters "nts" on the next line. I saw his photos. He beamed in the ones my husband took of him, looking like a tourist of God's great big world, with sunglasses and camera case around his neck.

Later, my husband quietly said he was a little jealous of me. I got to spend my day doing meaningful things, he said. I whispered (not to be dramatic...remember I can't talk) that he had quite a meaningful day himself. I reminded him of what I regularly witness: "Our son thinks you are the greatest thing in the world." He conceded, "I saw that for the very first time today." They hiked unto holy ground indeed.

Small miracles. Well, not so small, really. And where was I? Voiceless. Silenced. Absent from this busy, cluttered place we call home. As the mom and wife, I often feel like I'm keeping all the balls in the air, like I'm the conductor of a massive symphony of events and feelings and souls. But I love being reminded that God is always working, and doesn't need my words or even my presence to change the lives in my home. Somehow that is a huge, restful relief.

Just the rehab medicine I needed.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Where I will be this weekend

Did you know that God is super creative? Of course you did. We can see it all around us, though we may not think literally of His creativity as an aspect of His nature. But it is. And since we are created in His image, I believe that each of us has the capacity for creativity. Not all of us are comfortable with it, or have been encouraged in our capacity. But we all have a measure of creativity.

I have to get mine out. I have to express myself both in writing and in creating things or else I start to feel suffocated by life. My main goal with both writing and creating - in any respect - is to reflect something of the divine. I'm not saying sewing a pillow is a holy act, but there is something in the process that reveals a glimpse of God's nature. He loves to create and surround us with beauty. And He's given me some of that passion and thrill in creating something with my own two hands. I'm so thankful for His example, the ways in which He's created me, and the satisfaction He gives me when I am doing what I was created to do.

And I am thankful for Tidbit.

Tidbit is a blessing and an outlet for me, just like this blog is. In it, I mingle with a bit of the divine and that is simply fun.

We will be appearing at two Christmas Boutiques this weekend and I share all about them here
(click to see the awesome photo collages my partner-in-everything Tidbit, Shauna, created, offering a great sneak peek at our wares.)

If you live in the Orange County area, come visit us!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Refocusing, again

I wrote a post entitled The art of lifting only a few posts ago. But God is still bringing that message to me in my heart, pushing the roots of it further down, watering my conscience and turning my eyes toward Him.

Last night, I was listening to a broadcast of a lesson by the well-known pastor Chuck Smith when he shared a story that got my attention. When he was seven months in the womb, his little sister had, by all accounts, died. One day, after battling spinal meningitis for some time, the virus sent her little body into violent convulsions and when they ceased, she was no longer breathing. Somehow, her mother knew she was beyond medical care at that point since the doctors had done as much as possible for her. So she whisked her daughter's limp body up the street to a church. Chuck Smith implied their family was, at the time, unfamiliar with church and said of his mother, "But she knew they knew how to pray".

His pregnant mother, bearing three lives at that moment, entered pleading, sobbing, crumbling. Please help my baby! Please help my baby!

The pastor said to her, "Young lady. Take your eyes off your child and put them onto Jesus."

Think about that. If your baby wasn't breathing, would you take your eyes off him or her for even a split second? What a devastating request to a mother.

And yet so absolutely critical at every crossroad. At every pressure point. Every sickness, injustice, accomplishment, argument. I need to take my eyes off my child and keep them on Jesus.

What I realize is that my child can actually be a distraction from what is really going on. My consuming love for him or her has a way of blinding me to God's story for them. And God's story for me, for that matter. I start to feel panicky about all kinds of things, especially with my first-born, since every new stage feels like totally uncharted territory. I have a feeling my parenting can reach an obsessive level where I begin to miss the whole point.

At any given time, I can dwell on whether they are being good friends, choosing good friends, being accepted at school, being seen for their uniqueness and talents. Am I crushing their spirits or being too lenient? Am I missing opportunities, or smothering them with words?

I forget the goal of my job as a mother is not perfection in every area. And I live like it is, which means I believe it. I live like inching towards balance and harmony is our end, and I struggle to defeat this belief all the time. I am not called to solve all their problems and heal all their hurts. I am not called to pursue perfection. I am called to follow. When I follow the Lord's leading, tuning into His plans for my day - every day - then I will end up solving some problems and healing some hurts, of course. But He is in charge, and knows there is a lot more going on under the surface layer I'm trying to manage. Ultimately I am a character in the story He's writing, not the other way around.

And that is an abstract way of saying that He may have different ideas about our lives than we do.  Maybe my child's struggle that I just can't fix will result in a lesson he or she needs to learn down the line. And maybe, the constant grappling with my own failures and shortcomings has a point too. My lack of perfection should keep me following closely behind the one who has no lack. But does it?

That's where the fork in the road lies: Do my failures urge me to ramp up and just try harder, or do they bring me down to humbly accept my place of dependence on the Lord? I am not wallowing in guilt. I'm saying I can't do this alone. I exhaust myself when I walk down the road of just trying harder. At this moment, I'm backtracking to the fork, and taking the other route. It most definitely has a happier, healthier destination for myself and my kids. I need to take my eyes off my child and put them on Jesus. He is the only one who can bring me peace and wisdom in every circumstance.

So Chuck Smith's sister lived. God chose to answer their prayers with a "Yes," bringing breath back into her lungs and opening her eyes. What an exciting chapter of their stories, all revolving around a mother at her end. A mother who was helpless, and chose to depend on the Lord's strength.

I have to ask myself, How can I expect God to be at work in my life when I often live as if He needs my help? It is always when we come to the end of ourselves that everything gets still, space is created, and the Lord has room to act. He normally won't barge in. It's like He says, "Looks like you've got everything under control. I'll just sit back and be here, just in case you really don't. (And you REALLY don't)."

He will wait, patiently wait, for me to remember I can't do it alone. When I start in with the end-of-myself Please help... prayers, he lifts my head. He looks me in the eyes, smiles, and says, "Daughter, I thought you'd never ask."     

Monday, October 25, 2010

My need for grace, in pictures

Emily at Chatting At the Sky has been doing a magnificent series this month called 31 Days of Grace. Her writings have been so beautiful and inspiring. Today, I'm linking to her blog, sharing images that communicate what grace means to me today, in pictures. And at the moment, when I think of the word grace, I just can't stop thinking of how much I need it. Every single day.

I need Grace to help guide the seedlings of her dreams. 

I need Grace to help model and lead.

I need Grace to help him navigate.

Because someday soon, we'll be conquering much more than this. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Songs I'm lovin'

While listening to my favorite friend Pandora this morning, my Jadon Lavik station, I heard so many new songs, and was reminded of many others that I'm lovin' right now.

I had to make a new Mixpod (that little cutie iPod thing on the right) and put a few favorites on there. They are so awesome. Addison Road. Jon Foreman. Watermark. Mellow, inspiring, beautifulness.

The first song, What do I know of holy, by Addison Road is so amazing to me. Wow, it puts me in my place and brings me to worship.

Just had to share. Hope you like them too. I looped them so that you can just leave it on in the background of whatever else you're doing and it will keep playing. (And then you'll probably get sick of it, since there are only six songs, but let's cross that bridge when we get to it.)

{And if you happen to dislike the music playing while you visit top of the page, then just press the pause button and it will turn off.}

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The art of lifting

Apparently, eight years old is when the way others see you begins to trump everything else.

I'm hearing a lot of words lately from my daughter regarding her developing awareness that other people may not think she is as amazing as her family does. Perhaps those people, in fact, hold the truth about her. Perhaps my continual praise and instruction about what a beautiful creation she is in ours and God's eyes is just a thin sheet of lies that can be easily ripped down.

Suddenly, she's hearing a lot of junk from the world. No more double ponytails for her, since she was told she looks like she has puppy ears. No more using the "babyish" umbrella. One of her best friends likes to point out that she is last in completing her math every day. I can see the wheels turning; that must say something about who she is. And for the first time, she chose not to include God in her essay about the most important things in her life. She's never before been self-conscious or afraid of being a light. Overnight, it seems, everyone else's perception of her really, really matters. And by everyone else, I mean lots of other small children who are starting to uproot everything I've tried to plant for the last eight years in her tender self-image.

Then the other day, I was tired of it all. Tired of her feeling the fight to determine who she is and whose she is. And I took the fight into my own hands. I stopped her as she raced through the kitchen, leaned down looking her in the eyes, grabbed her face with both my palms, lifted up her head to mine and firmly said, "You don't have to be anything but yourself. You were created to be exactly who you are, and God is so proud of what He's created. Don't ever forget that."

You and I are assaulted by the same junk from the world every day. But we're more immune to it. Right? Now that we're grown ups? You and I would never be swayed by the opinions of handfuls of people who don't really even know us. Who cares what the neighbor says, or the annoyed cashier, or the mother of the wild child, or the aloof teacher. Nothing they could say or do could tear us away from believing how beautiful and unique we really are. Right?

Yeah, right. We don't do half the fighting we should to protect truth in our hearts about ourselves. The world kicks me around, and most of the time, I'm too busy or distracted to kick back. "You didn't turn his homework in yet?" "You don't know about Prop H?" "You aren't going to the fundraiser?" "You didn't finish your Bible Study this week?" And the negativity starts to seep in around my unprotected heart. I can start to reel, feeling like a bad mother, a bad homemaker, a bad anything! Some days, a bad EVERYTHING.

Last night, we went to mid-week church, and the woman who led worship sheepishly introduced her next song by saying it was a "moldy oldie." And what do you know, I knew the song. The words are right out of Psalm 3, and I remembered the tune from singing it in high school youth group.

Thou, O Lord,
are a shield about me.
You're my glory.
You're the lifter of my head.

It reminded me what Jesus does. He is the good parent who gets tired of watching me lose the battle for my identity. He grabs my face in His gentle, scarred palms. He lifts my head to look me in the eyes, and says, "You don't have to be anything but yourself. You were created to be exactly who you are, and I'm so proud of you. Don't ever forget that." His kindness sucks me in. His kindness is what makes me want to follow, and grow, and follow some more.

I love who I am when I let Jesus define me. But it takes a stopping and a listening. He is the lifter of my head, and I let Him see me. Then I listen in my heart to what He sees. His love for me is the shield about me, my glory, and the only thing that will protect me the next time I walk out the door.

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
Psalm 3:3

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

cake & cotton is here!

I hinted about it a few posts ago, and now it's here!

My friend Shauna and I have a lot of ideas. From projects, to recipes, to things we'd like to own from Anthropologie if money grew on trees....our new blog is where we want to share our conversation about all the things that inspire us. We are always thinking and talking and processing this welling of creativity and need for expression that we both have. And though we both have it, we like to express ourselves in different ways.

Our blog is a place where we'll try stuff out and tell you how it went. We'll help you learn how to make something you'd normally just buy. We'll help you nurture creativity in your children's lives, help make your home more beautiful, inspiring or efficient, and pass on some killer deals.

Because here's the thing: you weren't meant to endure your life alone. We all need ideas, support and a heck of a lot of encouragement. Our new blog is emerging from the truth that two are better than one.

You can meet Shauna here, and you can read the intro post on me here. Shauna and I thought it fitting to write our profiles about each other. I need her eyes for me, softening my rough spots with grace and appreciating my quirks as things of beauty. She helps me accept myself and I do the same for her. I know you'll relate to one of us, since we can be quite different, and perhaps finding yourself among our posts will encourage you to embrace yourself in a new way too.

We need each other, so I hope you'll follow our little journey. Welcome to cake & cotton.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Whoa nelly, we're in a storm

Right now, it is pouring rain outside like I haven't seen in years. The sky is still near completely dark at almost 8 a.m.

Lightning is like the feverish paparazzi, snapping pictures through my window. The dog won't stop barking from the incessant thunder.

God is putting on quite a display this morning. I always think thunder must reflect an aspect of Him. Like its His voice. And the Bible tells us that even when we witness some of the most incredible acts of His power on this earth, we are only getting a glimpse. I can hardly imagine that what is going on at this moment in the wild and reckless sky is merely a peek through the curtain at the unbelievable things He can do and has done. And will do.

"Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways,
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?"

Job 26:14

"At this also my heart trembles
and leaps out of its place.
Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
Under the whole heaven he lets it go,
and his lightning to the corners of the earth.
After it his voice roars;
he thunders with his majestic voice,
and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.
God thunders wondrously with his voice;
he does great things that we cannot comprehend."

Job 37:1-5

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Secretariat and Glory

"Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting? He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, and charges into the fray. He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; he does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against his side, along with the flashing spear and lance. In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground; he cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds." - God, in Job 39:19-24

And so begins the new film Secretariat, in a hushed voice-over, amidst the sound of violins.

For background on this passage, God asks these questions of Job, pressing him rhetorically, reminding him that He alone holds life in his hands. Job was created for specific purposes, one of which was to exemplify unwavering faith despite severe suffering. In fulfilling his purpose, Job reflected the very glory of God. God's creation, doing exactly what it was created to do, reflects the divine like nothing else can.

Secretariat's story is of the same marrow. He was born to run his race. The theme is repeated over and over, as if the filmmakers obsessed about driving the point home: what makes Secretariat such a tangible, even personified hero, is that his very nature drives him to run his race. All caution is thrown to the wind. All arguments about his limitations are stopped. All hindrance, threat of an enemy, even physical impairment are shaken off. The undeniable truth is that He was created to run. And Secretariat runs his race with such passion the watcher has to resist jumping to his feet.

I say Secretariat pursues running with a passion. He does not pursue victory. He is not shown to have an understanding of winning or reaching a goal. Secretariat simply craves being unleashed. The track is just the vehicle through which his most glorious strength can be unashamedly let loose. The track allows him to fulfill his single, magnificent purpose: glory.

Doesn't that strike a chord in you? Doesn't a part of you, deep down, just want your greatest power and brightest beauty to be unleashed just for the sake of its freedom? I want to shove everything else out of the way. I want to annihilate my inhibitions and clingy self-criticism. I want fearlessness. Lord God, free me up to run my race, fulfilling my purpose and revealing your glory!

[Whew. Breathe, Leslie. Told you it makes you want to jump up and down somewhere. In a large, Kentucky Derby kind of hat.]

When Secretariat is first learning to race, his trainer says he presses back against the gate before every start. And once the race begins, he takes a heck of a long time to find his stride. I get it, because me too. My track - the place where I'm supposed to shine - isn't always obvious. And when it is, half the time, I'm stumbling through, without a bit of gracefulness. Thankfully, my very nature drives me along, and my Trainer is perfect. At times, He and I have unleashed some serious awesomeness. Those successes remind me to keep in step, follow, listen. Obey.

I can only hope and pray that once I find my stride, once my race is being beaten out with a thunderous rhythm, that all who are watching just see glory. If I can reflect something about God while on the track He's laid out for me, I will have done exactly what I was created to do.

Run your race with all you have. The trumpet is sounding and I will not stand still.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1

Friday, October 15, 2010

Swing and turn, Live and learn

About a year and a half ago, I wrote this article for my MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers). It was entitled "Jubilee," based on the lyrics of an old folk song, reborn by Elizabeth Mitchell on one of her CD's for children. Since I wrote this, I've thought of it many times; the message that God spoke to me through this song and the insight He gave me from these lyrics continue to challenge my perspective. I'm here again, in the spot where these words were first spun together in my heart. I need the message again. I thought maybe you would too.

In honor of the song and its message, my friend Shauna and I will be selling this banner (and many others) at the Mariners Boutique coming up. The word in itself is a banner in my life, and perhaps the message of Jubilee will resonate with you as well.

. . .

If I had no horse to ride,
I’d be found a crawlin’
Up and down this rocky road
Lookin’ for my darlin’.

Swing and turn, jubilee.
Live and learn, jubilee.

How difficult it is to know another person. In fact, who truly knows you but God? Can you say with confidence that another person on this earth really understands who you are and why you are here? Perhaps your mother has a good guess, or your best friend presumes to know. But often we are merely looking for one another and waiting to be found.

This is especially true in marriage. If it is difficult to understand another human being, how much harder and more perplexing is it to understand a member of the opposite sex? They are wholly other than you, and created for totally different purposes. If you were like me, you signed up for a marriage expecting to be found, or known, in a way I know now is reserved only for the Lord. Intimacy between two people – two innately broken people - can only go so far. It is part of the reason why this earth will never feel like home; unlike heaven, this place has rocky roads, upon which we are constantly crawling, looking for each other.

A portion of an old folk song entitled “Jubilee” is above. My thesaurus gives synonyms for “jubilee”: celebration, festival. And if you read the lyrics, you’ll see the instant dichotomy. There is at the start a sense of loss and pain and longing, followed by references to dancing and celebrating. If I am figuratively crawling along a rocky road, in other words making an excruciating effort, to connect with a person whom I love, I am not celebrating.

Why did the author of this song juxtapose those two concepts, celebration and hardship? From a worldly perspective, the two just don’t ever meet. Rough times are just that, and parties are saved for later, when things get better. But this doesn’t seem at all to be what God has intended for those of us who follow Him. I am convinced the “abundant life” of which the Bible speaks is not referring to those smooth spurts we all experience from time to time. Life is more like a dance which swings and turns us every which way. We either move with its rhythm or contrary to it. Perhaps being able to sway with the rhythm of what life brings, and not against it, is where the abundance and the jubilee are found.

The “live and learn” part of the song barely escapes being reduced to cliché. But when I dig into it, I understand its gravity. Most people choose to ignore the “learn.” Life spins them a little too quickly, or in an unexpected direction, and all they can focus on is getting back to familiar ground. We’ve all done this, fought an unpleasant circumstance, unwittingly wasting the potential lessons to be learned as we desperately strive to reassemble what used to be. So there is celebration in being able to stuff that instinct to resist the unfamiliar, and seize the opportunity for growth which every trial brings. What kind of person would you be without such learning? Would you have any strength, endurance, or courage at all if you hadn’t survived some dizzying spins in your past? So the question is, in a time of trial, am I allowing God to lead as we dance through the steps of growth? Or do I struggle against His lead, trying to grasp my own footing? Either way, the circumstances of our lives will indeed come. So isn’t it all a matter of choosing which perspective we will have? Swing and turn, jubilee. Live and learn, jubilee.

How exactly God leads us in our personal dance is a little mysterious. I know that I’m at Point A in my walk with Him and my personal growth, and I know that I want to reach Point B, but how to get there is another question. More often than not, I don’t really want to take the steps needed; it’s much safer to stand still. Sometimes I may as well be engaged in a conversation like this with God as He leads me in some unfamiliar steps: “Lord, I’m slipping. I don’t think I can do this…Wait! Can’t you see I’m slipping! I’m about to fall!” I then feel Him hold me a little tighter, quietly replying, “I’ve got you.” The grace and strength my Lord bestows on me to carry me through trials is unexplainable. I cannot explain its presence, its shape, or its persistence. I simply know its source is God and His love for me. He is an expert at my personal dance because He is the only one who knows me through and through. Though I may search for connection with others in my life (of course we all need to fervently pursue relationships), at the end of the day, it is enough to be found and deeply known by Him alone.

Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, tells us, “In this life you will have much trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10 things of beauty

A little while ago, I looked at my clock. It said 10:10. And of course you know the date today. 10/10/10. So it got me thinkin'.

I've been struggling with beauty this weekend, that is, in terms of finding it in tangible ways in my life. That sounds terrible, but it's true. It is hard to explain and I need to write more on that later.

For now, I'm making a list. Because I need to.

10 things of beauty I can embrace right now

1. Reading with my kids. We read. I'm proud of that time spent; it feels very productive. My son took the photo of us above, arm outstretched as far as possible. We have a mutual love for sharing stories. Tonight it was this. The illustrations are so incredible.

2. No one in my home is sick.

3. I'm caught up on laundry (which means more time for crafts and writing).

4. I wrote down a plan for moving some things around and reducing clutter in two areas of my house last night, and I plan to execute said plan very soon. Watch out, visible enormous box of Hot Wheels and same-sized box of zillions of plastic members of the animal kingdom! You can no longer live in the family room.

5. I got to sleep in till 8 a.m. two days in a row this weekend. One of the days it may have been 8:30. And then I may have lingered until 9. Beauty.

6. I got to worship in my great church this morning and sing one of my favorite songs. Here is The Stand, by Hillsong. (It's always recorded live, so it's impossible to find a super clear version.)

7. I have friends who remind me who I am (and whose I am) when I start to forget. You know who you are.

8. I have outlets for my creative energy on the horizon. This month, I'm preparing for some tidbit showings in November. (tidbit is the teeny children's clothing line my friend Shauna and I work on when we feel like it - we have some amazing new things that are NOT for kids. They are for mommies who like having beauty in their home.) We're cooking up other fun things too. You'll see.

9. In the words of my then boyfriend, now husband, circa 1992: "You already have everything you'll ever really need." He meant in my heart, and I knew that he was right even at 17.

10. When I can't see beauty around me (instead, I get tempted to focus on messes that need me, frustration from my kids' school schedules, relational discord, dog throw-up, or the bathroom that needs cleaning), I have a love, tried and true. Literally, I've tested and tried Him, and nothing has ever been more true: Jesus is more than enough for me.

Can't get any more beautiful than that.