Sunday, October 30, 2011

Love for pinch-hitters

Today I needed to call in some back-up. It's Halloween Eve and a while ago, there was not a jack-o-lantern in sight. I'm always the designated carver, and I actually love it, especially carving my own couple guys. But honestly, this year, I just didn't have it in me. There has been at least one sick person in my house for the last ten days straight and I'm tired. Also, I'm not great at letting go of the expectations that I put on myself, so sometimes, when I see a chance, I challenge myself to just say No. That's the long and the short of it.

But yesterday, at the mention of letting go of pumpkin carving for one year, my daughter emotionally declared "I will hate Halloween if we can't carve pumpkins!" To which I replied, "Well, what about the loads of free candy. How will you feel about that part?" Because I know she loves candy more than anything and puh-lease.

So daddy volunteered to be the designated carver approximately three hours before being taken under by some sudden illness. No joke. I then called in the pinch-hitters, a.k.a. Nana and Pops.

As usual, they stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park. Ninety minutes of blessing my children and letting me off the hook was exactly what I needed. Check out my cool dad. (Do your parents still wear tee-shirts from your college, and let the grandkids put stickers on them? Cute.)

My son is actually not wearing vampire teeth; he is just missing all the top middle ones. That's a funny joke, though, God. How seasonal.

My daughter's pumpkin is carved according to a little formula we learned at church one year. It's something about salvation, being a light, and something else about love. If I weren't so tired, I'd try to find it because it was a really cute idea.

I hope and pray you have some pinch-hitters in your life, and that you remember to call on them when you need. Because life as a mom - wait, life as a person - can be exhausting. And having loving support available to back you up when you need it most is truly a gift.

Thanks, mom and dad, for always stepping up to the plate.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Costumes that disturb me most.

If you know me, you know that I have a sensitivity to violence. Maybe it's because I've struggled with fear in the past. So of course, I have a strong aversion to any of the dark, gruesome decor and costumes that you see around Halloween. Those have always been around, scary masks, death-themed front yards, and the like. I could do without all that.

But what shocks me more every year is not the scary stuff. That I expect. What I'm most disturbed by is the increasingly provocative array of costumes for little girls. This year, while I was at Target, I was blown away by the choices. This line, as I stared at it on the hangars, left me standing there speechless.

It's called Monster High. If you've never heard of it, like I hadn't, these are the dolls from which the costumes are derived. I'd describe the outfits as either in the goth-stripper category or the goth-Brittney Spears-in-the-naughty-school-girl-outfit. Which is essentially the same thing. And friends. These costumes went down to a size that could fit a first or second grader. Did you catch the footwear worn by the girls modeling the costumes? I don't believe the shoes come with the outfits at Target, but the look on the picture is definitely being sold to small children as pretty, fashionable, and acceptable. (By the way, where exactly might one find knee-high, platform, lace-up vinyl boots in a child's size 2?)

I'm not going to take this opportunity to begin a diatribe against our culture for not protecting its children. A culture that no longer simply winks it's eye at immodesty, but that unashamedly promotes the sexual objectification of children's bodies. Read that sentence again. This is real. Mainstream. At Target. It's enough to turn my stomach.

What I can address, however, is my personal struggle to train up my daughter against the driving current of the world. One of her close friends purchased one of the above costumes. This girl lives in a Christian home. I simply asked her what she was going to be for Halloween, and her exact words to me were, "It's soooo cute and not inappropriate at all." Usually quick on my feet with words, I simply did not know how to respond. I couldn't tell if this child was defending herself on a presumption that I'd disapprove, or just repeating what she'd heard. And what does this tell me about her internal gauge as to what is or is not appropriate?

The word that comes to mind is the one my dad uses to describe himself when it comes to watching shows with violent content: desensitized.

It's a difficult job raising modest daughters in this day and age. And I expect it is just as difficult to raise a son who can turn his eyes away from the parade of sexualized young ladies long enough to make wise choices. I'm not quite at that point with my 6 year old son. But with my 9 year old daughter, yes, we're going there. She can't understand sexuality in any way yet, but she can understand basics: that some girls try to get attention by showing their bodies, instead of realizing their worth comes from the inside.

She'll be a cowgirl, come Monday night, by the way. She was so excited to choose it off the Target rack. The skirt was a little bit short since she's tall for her age, but it's nothing a pair of brown leggings underneath can't solve. I tell my daughter that God made her body beautiful. She doesn't have a sense that her body is bad or shameful; just that modesty is a value in our home. We'll get to deeper conversations on "why" when she is a bit older.

For now, though, I'm curious. How do you handle issues of modesty in your house?     

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: Avalanche

My latest favorite worship song is called "Like an Avalanche" by Hillsong. This week, these two lines are speaking to me:

And I find myself here on my knees again
Caught up in grace like an avalanche.
Nothing compares to this love. Love. Love.

I wonder if I experience grace like an avalanche. It's a powerful phrase that I skip over as if it's simply poetry. But watch this.

An avalanche is not careful. It is trembling and awesome, wiping out every hindrance in its path without effort. It makes a landscape altogether different. Do I allow grace to do that in my heart?

When I was very small, I started to accumulate this pile of sin, let's imagine, in heaven. I see it as on a scale tipping lower and lower as the years went by, my rebellion adding to it every day. The pile became a mountain of debt I couldn't pay. It was a pile of darkness and filth compared to His holiness.

But then the moment arrived when I yielded my life to Him. I found myself on my knees pleading for that heap of sin to be taken off my scale. All that weight had followed and haunted me too long. I asked Jesus to forgive me, and I believed that His blood paid the debt I owed. And suddenly, all was changed.

Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow
Isaiah 1:18

The mountain on my scale became glaring and white, and it was so heavy that the scale began to tip. At first a bit slid off, snowflakes sprinkling down on me below. But momentum gathered the rest and suddenly, a tremendous avalanche of grace cascaded downward until every last bit had been cleaned off the scale. Does my heart tremble at the thought of what Jesus has done to my mountain of sin?

I realize I don't want a little grace. I don't want God to sprinkle it onto my life like I sprinkle cinnamon on my coffee, yet that's sort of how I picture it sometimes. Like it's a garnish on the side of my life for me to then sprinkle on those around me when they "need" it, and when I feel like giving it. No.

He longs for us to let grace crash down on us like an avalanche, catch us up in the power, overwhelm us, and altogether change the landscape in our hearts.

After an experience with grace like that, everything looks different, particularly other people's mountains. For those you know who have also trusted Jesus with their lives, you begin to recognize their snowy landscapes, understanding that their sin has been paid for just like yours (so who am I to condemn?). For those who still bear the weight of their own mountain of sin, you begin to pray that they too will one day yield to the One who can free them (so what can I feel but compassion?). Totally different landscape.

This avalanche of grace is not a one-time event at the moment of surrender. It's a constant flowing, a sea of white, covering us and our sin. Washing away the shame. Cleansing us from the filth. Exchanging darkness for light.

And God knows I need to be caught up in it every single day.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Let's talk technical

This is going to be the most boring post ever. But we need to talk.

First of all, if you comment here, a lot of times, I try to reply to your comments via email, but many of you don't have your email address enabled in your blogger profile and that's bad news. Is this confusing?

OK. I get comments on my blog sent to my email. I like to just hit "reply" and then, if your email address is enabled, your email address pops up magically in the "To" field and I can say something back to you. Following me? If it is not enabled, it says instead "No-Reply Blogger" in the "To" field. And when I see that, I feel sad, because I had something to say to you and can't.

So. If you want to get replies to your comments via email, do this (if you're on Blogger):

1. Go to your dashboard
2. Click Edit Profile (next to your profile picture)
3. Check the box that says "Show my email address"
4. Make sure under "Identity" below that, your correct email address is in the box.
5. Test it out. Comment on this post, and I'll try to reply to you. If for some reason, your email address still doesn't come up, then I'll reply in a comment on this post as well.

OK. Next order of business. Now I'm the one who needs technical help. 

A lot of times I want to quickly make a little graphic. Like perhaps with a verse or something on it. I want it to be cute, like you all have. But I don't know how. I'm so impressed by all of you who know how to make your own buttons, and headings, and printables! I don't know anything about digital scrapbooking, and I don't want to have to pay for these things that I want to use one or two times. I also don't want to have to use Photoshop, because it's such a pain. Do you know of any sites where I can get free downloadable frames or decorative thingys that I can open in Picnik and add text to? Know what I'm talking about, peeps? I hope so, because I barely do.

Thanks guys. Sorry for the boredom here today. I guess it has to happen once in a while. Hey, have you checked out Cake & Cotton lately? It's happy times over there today, with a cute pic of Shauna and I from Blog Sugar. Anyway, just go there. Because here, it's boring.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bad day therapy

Here, in my neck of the woods, beach therapy is always an option. Doesn't matter how cold it is, or how cloudy, you are guaranteed to see people in the water in swimsuits, in flat out denial that summer is over.

And yeah. I will happily partake in the denial when things start to go south on me. Even when it is foggy and grey.

I think the spiral started with my caramel apple crash and burn. Then one of the kids got the stomach flu. My body has been toying with the idea of getting it ever since. Next in line was emotional WWIII with the other one. The order of events was: disobedience, disrespect, yelling (both of us), tears (both again), and calling for the guy who talks everyone down (husband/dad). Bad times. So bad, in fact, that consequences were in order. We had to cancel Saturday's trip to the pumpkin patch, just as much a disappointment for me as for them. Bad got worse when my husband got the flu, which meant cancelling the babysitter and missing a very big, special party for some of our favorite people on this earth. A party we've been planning on for months. Memory making and special outfits and toasts were in order. It's killing us that we missed it.

So do you blame me for choosing to avert my eyes from the frustration heaped on this week, and wanting to just stare off into the horizon? I took a few of my favorite things.

My tea, obviously. A box of Reduced Fat Cheez-Its (far superior to the regular ones, FYI and you're welcome). And my favorite kids.

One thing I'm learning from this book (that is really starting to mess me up) is that I'm meant to laugh. Jesus didn't come to make everyone straighten up and be serious. I mean, did we think that we had more of a sense of humor than He does? Didn't He create laughter in the first place? Why does this come as a bit of a surprise to me? Of course! He intends for me to laugh all the time. Just look at the way he's made animals, and my children, or aligns crazy coincidences, and inspires silliness.

This was one of my views as I sat on the sand. I've seen this "guy" a hundred times, and have never realized that God is trying to get a laugh out of me from it. I think He thinks it's hilarious. And isn't it, really?

At the beach, the kids and I wandered off to explore the tide pools. On the way back, when we rounded the bend and could spy our towel in the distance, we were shocked to find it covered with seagulls pulling the bag of Cheez-Its out of its box and shaking it upside down. I sent the kids shrieking and scrambling in their direction, which flushed the birds up into a beautiful spiral of wings. We laughed. And we were meant to laugh.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."
Proverbs 17:22 

If things go south on you this week, and if you can't make it to the beach, look for laughter. You sorta have to be open to it, don't you? Sometimes, I will let my crushed spirit dry up any chance of laughter in me. I will squash all hints of a cheerful heart, snapping, "It's not funny!" to the world. I think that's called pouting. Yuck!

Tonight, I thought of Heather, and what I believe she intends to inspire with her Monday linky. It's not called "Life is Lovely." Because life is not lovely all the time. Sometimes there are disappointments and hurts beyond measure. Mine weren't too bad this past week. But I still had a challenge before me: Do I feel sorry for myself with my crushed spirit, or do I let Jesus lift my head and lead me back to a cheerful heart?

If I can allow Him to, I'll contribute to a life made lovely. He makes it lovely, because He loves me.


Friday, October 21, 2011

From the files: Recollecting

{this article was one I wrote for a newsletter about four years ago.}

my mom, my brother, and I, circa 1980

The fall always stirs my memory. The back-to-school season reminds me of my love for the smell of new books and my passion for school supplies. Those cardboard bins in Target containing mountains of markers and aisles full of folders make me long for a small wooden desk with an attached chair. Then, October comes around, and fall is truly upon us. I love any food or drink with cinnamon in it, and I can’t wait to wander pumpkin patches, looking for one with the perfectly shaped stem. The anticipation of Halloween is even still thrilling for me, remembering the long treks my brother and I would take trick-or-treating; we were a team on an expedition, pillow-cases filling with plunder at every doorstep. When we finally reached home, we’d dump our treasures out between us and begin our careful sorting and bartering ritual, trading off the candies we didn’t like and hoping to score the other’s ones we did. I was usually focused on increasing my count of Baby Ruths, and purging the chalky Bottle Caps.

my mom and my daughter, 2005

Because my two kids are the same gender and spaced the same as my little brother and I are, it is hard not to feel a little deja vu. I share my own memories of childhood with them as much as possible. I want them to know that I can relate to them because I’ve been there. This year, a few days before my daughter started Kindergarten, I drove her to the elementary school I attended. It was a Saturday, and the school was silent and still. We stood looking through the bars of the locked gate and I pointed to my classroom. I told her about my teacher, where I ate lunch, and that I didn’t know a single person. She listened intently, asking a few questions. And I’d like to think that when she started school a few days later, she didn’t feel so alone. At least I think she felt understood.

my daughter, son, and I, 2005

None of us wants to feel alone. I pray that I never get too far into parenthood that I get too far away from my own childhood, to the point that I can no longer relate to my kids. So we take frequent looks at old photos at grandma’s house, and talk about how parents were kids once too. My prayer for you this month is to dig back into your childhood and relate with your child about something. Show them old photos of you at their age, act like a kid and trick-or-treat with them if your family does that, and if so, try to negotiate a Baby Ruth out of the deal.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: Blind spots

Lately, I'm literally in my house a lot more than I ever have been. Before I had kids, I worked a full-time job. And since having kids, nearly ten years ago, I've been busy with them. As of last month, I have a new set up called They Are In School Until 2 Every. Day.

So in my added time, I've been working harder at keeping my house clean. For many years, I had a bit of hired help, but I've been on my own for the last couple. A few days ago, I was cleaning in my son's bathroom, and noticed something I'd never seen before. There was a faint ring of grime inside his tub, like where the water level would be when full. In fact, it is more tangible than visible, gritty from hard water deposits, dirt, and soap residue.

I've never noticed it. And in that moment, I had a choice to make. Do I feel badly for not being cleaner, shaming myself for negligence? (What a tempting choice for this over-achiever!) Or do I choose grace for myself, knowing that God may very possibly be opening my eyes to this mess simply because I now have the resources to do something about it?

I was instantly aware of Jesus next to me in that moment. Smiling. Saying, "Guess what? This has been here. This dirt. Before, you had too much on your plate to tend to it, so I allowed you a blind spot. And now, since you have the space in your life to handle it, I've gently opened your eyes. Please take care of this new job, okay? Because now you have what it takes."

What grace, I tell you. What kindness to me. Seriously, do you see it? Isn't this the case for many, many other things that we encounter in life? It took this little thing in the bathroom for me to put the pieces together in the bigger picture, to realize this is going on all the time. God allows us blind spots, he covers our eyes to our dirt until He has lovingly, generously equipped us to handle the problem with success!

How do you think we would feel if God let us see everything we were failing at all at once? Can you imagine how overwhelmed we'd be by our sin and our limitations? I can hardly bear the weight of one thing at a time. My shame-meter wants to skyrocket over the bathtub grime. How much more would I feel crushed if He exposed every dark corner of my heart to me? I mean, we're ALL aware that there are closets of brokenness in us that we don't even know about, right? Unhealed injuries and wrong beliefs all awaiting their turns to be brought into His cleansing His careful, appropriate and loving timing.

Two huge encouragements came out of this realization for me. One, that any challenge currently in my life is something God not only knows I can deal with, but has personally equipped me with the resources to succeed. It is agreeing with a lie of Satan to say, "I can't handle this!" or "I can't take it any more!" Those are beliefs our enemy would LOVE for us to agree with, because they are statements of defeat. Perhaps God is not necessarily making the circumstances easier for us because He expects us to lean on Him while we endure.

Second, I have been reminded that having blind spots is part of where God wants me to be. He is patient with my growth, not in any hurry to perfect me all in one week. That is grace, being lavished on my undeserving self every day. Can you imagine how my son or daughter would feel if I wrote out a long list documenting every area of their character and behavior that needed improvement? God would never parent us that way. He has me exactly where He wants me today, and He is fully in charge of where I am to be tomorrow. Who am I to rush ahead of His plans for my growth? Who am I to question how and when I should "be over" this thing or that thing? 

The one phrase coming into my head all the time lately fits here as well: these things take time. And grace is happy to give it to us. Take some for yourself today too. It's free.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I shall not live by bread alone

Happy Tuesday, friends!

I haven't shared this yet, but I've been feeling compelled to memorize scripture lately. I haven't really memorized ANY since I was in high school, when I was basically required to memorize a lot. I don't know why I suddenly feel compelled. I can't explain it. Memorizing anything, really, used to sound like such a chore, as if I were cramming for a Bio test in college. But for whatever reason, I have a new and somewhat urgent desire in me to make it happen. It has a bit to do with the time I have, now that the kids are in school all day and I am reading the Bible a lot more and realizing that I want to know where things are, and want to be able to easily recall things for the sake of both equipping myself and teaching my children.

SO without further ado, I'm going to type out the first thing I've memorized straight from my own head! You'll just have to believe me on that one. Also, I can't guarantee proper punctuation. Why did I start with Psalm 63? Well, it was a spontaneous choice that, while I happened to be reading it, went something like, "Hey, I'm already pretty familiar with this passage. I think I'll start with this."

Psalm 63:1-8

God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you.
My soul thirsts for you,
My flesh faints for you,
As in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
Beholding your glory and power.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
I will bless you as long as I live.
In your name, I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
My mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
When I remember you on my bed,
And meditate on you in the watches of the night,
For you have been my help.
In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you.
Your right hand upholds me.

Isn't that so beautiful!? I'm feeling good about this. I've memorized two other passages since, and I can't tell you how many times I've already recited them in my brain or written them out on scratch paper when I've needed some encouragement on the spot.

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt 4:4)

 It is good to hide God's word in your heart. For so many reasons, it's good.

Do you have a special saying or verse memorized that you like to recall in times of need? Please share! I'd love to add it to my repertoire. Have a great day.

{linking up with my pals Amy & Jami}


Sunday, October 16, 2011

You were right. Camping was fun. (Part 2)

Going apple-picking topped our to-do list last weekend while camping near Julian, CA.

My super-natural mama friends found this pesticide-free orchard about five minutes away from our campground.

We parked the car, and the next thing I know - before we have entered the actual orchard - my son is eating an apple from the ground. Whatevs. He's enthusiastic.

This orchard was beautifully quirky.

Really, the big secret is that I'm not a huge fan of apples. I don't hate them. But I'd never eat an apple for a snack. They're too sweet for me. So the highlights were watching the kids running up the lanes and being in God's amazing creation so unlike our coastal environment.

I see myself so much in this photo of my daughter. While my son's vibrant joy makes my heart smile every day, my daughter's thoughtfulness and seriousness is so familiar. I was a serious child too, and I see how beautiful that is in her. She takes life in, deeply, from the tiniest apple to the biggest dream.

I loved the day with my family. But since I don't love apples, possibly...for me...the best part of the outing...OK now I'm a little embarrassed to admit this. The winery across the street.

I blame it on the weather. It was hot, and they had a big chalkboard out front that read "Ice Cold Sangria." I really, really love sangria. Like way more than apples. 

 I like to think of it as my reward for braving so much of The Nature.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to have a restful weekend

Finding rest, these days, is like trying to find something dropped down the side of my seat in the car. I know it's down there, but no matter how hard I try, the thing is out of reach.

I know what it's like to need rest. To get in cycles of poor sleep, busyness, and prayerlessness.

I tell myself, "This weekend, I'm going to rest. I'm going to MAKE myself rest." And I miss the mark again, filling my time with that which does not fill me up. I might get a little more sleep, but deep down, I know that is not really what I need.

This week in Bible Study, we talked about rest. God's rest. In Hebrews chapter 3, the author uses the metaphor of the Israelites entering the Promised Land after being freed from the slavery of Egypt as a picture of what it means to enter God's rest. We enter God's rest, His willed destination for our hearts, when we believe He wants to free us from our burdens and lead us to something better.

But most of the Israelites resisted. They complained, focused on the hardships of the desert, and seriously questioned whether God knew what He was doing. Later on, God says of them, as recorded in Hebrews 3,

"Today, if you hear (the Holy Spirit's) voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said 'They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.' As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.' " (v.7-11)

The author of Hebrews summarizes in verse 19, saying, "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." 

Experiencing God's rest is fully dependent on whether or not I believe Him.

Not whether or not I believe in Him. But whether or not I believe Him. Do I take Him at His word? Do I have faith that He will do the things He says He will do, and is who He says He is?

This weekend, here's how I will find rest, the kind I really need:

I believe through faith.....

...that He knows me and delights in me.
...that He has has a good and purposeful plan for my life.
...that I am not condemned - not even one bit - for anything I've done, therefore I can confidently come to Him for anything.
...that He is at work, causing all things in my life to work in my favor, according to His loving plans for me.
...that He will supply me with everything I need, every single day, if I depend on Him.
...that He is teaching and raising my children with me.
...that no attack from the enemy against me shall succeed.
...that one day, my faith will be made sight, and I'll enjoy rest like I've never known, forever.

Believing. That's my secret to a restful weekend.

{Added later...
IF YOU LIVE IN THE SEATTLE AREA, go see this guy talk about Jesus tonight!
IF YOU LIVE IN THE DALLAS AREA, go see him on Wed. Oct. 26th.
He has a new book called Beautiful Outlaw (Click on the book title to see a trailer). It is on the true personality of Jesus, in light of the way history, the church, and our culture have minimized and reduced Him to a pasty "religious cartoon." This man knows Jesus, and has an incredible passion to teach others about Him. I could listen to him all day, he inspires me so much. Look here for the exact spot in your town.
I went last night in Orange County and oh. my. gosh! You won't be sorry. It was 90 minutes of phenomenal. If you want to see Jesus in a new way, if you want to find out more about the greatest, most powerful personality who has ever lived, show up. Seriously. Best $5 you'll spend this month.}