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."