Monday, November 28, 2011

Sit a spell with me

Whew. Why is it not even December and I feel tired? For some reason the additional demands of this time of year always surprise me. I'm sure it's because of our trip and being sick prior to that. I mean, I only took down Classy Spooky like two days ago! But right now, I'm going to sit for a while and chat, with my cup of hot tea.

Do you have yours?

So first up is how much weird pressure I felt over cyber-Monday. Am I the only one? I felt like everything I was going to buy online for Christmas HAD TO BE DECIDED UPON. It was a total tyranny of the urgent situation. I fell for it, and I'm glad it's over. Sometimes I think paying an extra $5 is worth not having to get the right timing, the right coupon code, and the right everything exactly right. Am I right?

Also, I bought an advent house thingy the other day. I've never had one before that you can fill with your own stuff. My overly ambitious idea is to fill it with items that tell a piece of the Christmas story. I thought, "Ooh, that's a good idea." Then I thought, "Wait...25 very tiny symbolic items...where the HECK am I going to get all those?"

The craft store clerk tonight told me they discontinued their line of miniature things six years ago. Thanks peeps. So I bought one small lamb from amongst the animals in the toy dept. One plastic lamb. 24 more holes to go. They did have a little angel, except it looked like a baby. That kind. Um, real angels don't look like chubby babies. That is not what appeared in the sky on Christmas night - not a multitude of winged babies singing "Glory to God in the highest." Help me. I need ideas. Lego guys? Felt critters that I make myself (sounds like a lot of work!)? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Finally, at the bagel shop, I saw a poster for this today, a concert tour called A Christmas Together.

I'm super excited and WILL go to one of these shows. I noticed too that this group of incredibly awesome Christian artists (many local to Orange County) will be taking this little Christmas shindig on the road and are hitting many west coast towns some of you LIVE IN. Hello. San Diego. Fresno. Dude. (That's not a town. Just an expression I sometimes use when I think I'm still sixteen.) But you know who you are if you live there. GO to this show. It will be awesome, and nearly all of the shows ARE FREE! What in the world, right? Sorry, I'm not trying to be pushy. Just excited.

We are in love with many of these bands, including Jadon Lavik, the Pawn Shop Kings, and Tim Timmons (who led worship at our old church for like ten years). I'm excited to get to know the others. My husband downloaded both albums today on iTunes. Those bands are so smart that they recorded all my faves. Even two versions of O Come O Come Emmanuel. 'Member how much I heart that tune? It got two posts last year. Part 1 and Part 2.

So whatcha doing today?

I hope taking some time for a cup of something warm. Cheers.

{Thanks, Amy, for hosting another Virtual Coffee this Tuesday}


Lovely moments

Of all the memories made and fun we had on our trip, the most precious moments were captured in the midst of love.

Relationships are what make my life lovely.

{how can two of my loved ones be exactly eighty years apart in age??}

Generations. History. Heritage.

{my grandpa and my brother}

{my mom and my daughter}

{little guy and my grandma}

 {little guy and my dad}



{our dear friend Kelli, who drove 5 hours to meet us in OK.}

{my sis-in-law and I rockin' the pre "no-heat curls" hair.}


{my fav aunt and uncle. ok, they're my only. but if I had a choice, they'd still be my fav.}

That's a life full of lovely. Thank you, Lord.

Where would we be without each other?


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Back home and a glimpse of OK

Hi Friends!

I missed my little acreage in blogland. And I really missed visiting all of yours. While we were on vacay in Oklahoma this last week for the holiday break, I was aware I'd be missing all the Thanksgiving blogland happiness and inspiration. But the break was so worth it to spend time absorbing a different environment and basking in relationships I don't get to enjoy often enough.

There is so much to tell...where do I begin?

Well, how about here: today I unpacked my kids' suitcase and started their laundry. Normally, I find little trinkets in the bottom of the washer after pulling out the wet clothes. Legos, marbles, coins...I'm sure you do too. Today, I found two 9 mm bullet casings that my little guy must have plucked out of the field the day we took quite an assortment of firearms out to shoot at buckets, plastic milk jugs, and paper targets.

How's that for evidence of a different environment? To say he enjoyed his share of turns with the BB gun (and new coon-skin cap) is an understatement.

Speaking of hats, my dad has to take a silly hat with him wherever he travels. You cannot conceive of the types of hats he has in his collection. I don't know where he finds them, but the supply seems to be endless. And funny. On this trip, he chose what appears to be a golf visor that has wild grey fur-like hair poking out the top. Moving on.

My little princess discovered she has a special place in her heart for fishing. Her pops does too, so his generous encouragement and patience in teaching her helped. She was the most stylish fisher-girl I've ever seen. Our first day at the pond on my grandparents' land, she caught 10 fish (and touched zero - smart girl).

As for me, I just loved being with my family. Staying in their homes, driving on their roads, eating at their restaurants, getting a taste for their lives.

Being in someone's world helps you learn so much about them. And I loved that. I actually welled up with tears upon entering my grandparents' house, where I haven't been for nine years, and where I have so many fond memories it was just too much for my heart to contain. I also sort of knew it was likely to be my last time there. My grandparents, both in their mid-80's, are already seriously struggling to live on their own, especially living an hour away from decent medical care.

It was so very good to be with them, and with all my other relatives for Thanksgiving. I have a lot more to share, but for now, here are a few shots we ended up with that we thought would make for a hilarious Christmas card. Just imagine the captions.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's a Jolly Holiday with Katy

Hi friends!

I'm over here today, sharing on Katy's blog as a part of her Jolly Holiday series (Katy has the cutest graphic ever for this series, doesn't she? Really. I want to hang it up somewhere in my house.)

You may have read this post before, but I just hope to inspire as many families as possible to make the most of their gatherings this season and to be a blessing to those in need.

That Katy girl is so talented and beautiful and has a baby girl in her tummy. Go check her out. Every Wednesday, she's sharing jolly ideas for a meaningful holiday season. (I totally want to make the recipe from last week!)

Hey, and let me know if you decide to make Blessing Bags with your people. I'd love to hear any stories that come out of it. Have a great week.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Taking a little (midwestern) break

We leave tomorrow for a trip to Oklahoma!

These are some of the things that may happen in our lives next week (that wouldn't normally).

I may catch a fish.

I may see my children shoot a real live gun.

I may see an animal after it has been shot.

I may eat an embarrassing amount of really good food.

I may giggle upon hearing "all y'all."

I may proclaim that Sonic cherry limeades actually taste better in the Midwest.

I may freak out at the sight of a water moccasin and run away, leaving my kids to get eaten by one, I guess.

I may suddenly like jewelry made with turquoise.

I may miss my pillow. And my wiener dog.

I may have a touch of nostalgia upon realizing that everything is wonderfully the same in my grandparents' house. The same smells and photos and furniture. The birdbath, the gravel, the collection of old cologne bottles. OK more than just a touch.  

I may fall in love with a real thunderstorm.

I may still go to Starbucks. (C'mon, let's be reasonable.) 

I may be with people I don't get to see nearly enough and also really, really love.

Wait, that one is for certain.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I'll miss you.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: Despite the remembering

A couple weeks ago, Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, misquoted the Bible. Badly.

He was summarizing part of an address Obama gave where he said, “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.” A few hours later, a reporter asked Carney during a press conference, “Isn’t it a bit much to bring God into the jobs debate?” Carney responded: “I believe that the phrase from the Bible is, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.’”

Except the Bible doesn't say that. Anywhere. Of course someone was quick to bring that up, and the Obama camp smart.

Our culture has somehow maintained a collection of sayings that sound Biblical, but aren't actually in the Bible. They are repeated over and over, as if from the mouth of God, and are nothing more than idioms.

One that particularly bothers me is the directive to "Forgive and forget." Gosh, it kills me to hear people stumbling over this order that seems holy, and yet is mercilessly difficult. If you've ever listened to a radio program where people phone in for advice, you'll hear the burden people put upon themselves to forgive the heinous sins of others and then expect the memories to simply vanish from their minds, as if that is proof of true forgiveness.

Well, as far as I know, God is the only one who can choose to forget sin (Isaiah 43:25). And He does not require the same of us. True forgiveness is always in spite of the fact that we remember. In the circumstances that really matter, how could we not?

Some of us have endured some horrible things. I don't need to go into specifics. You know what I'm talking about. Really broken people are in our worlds, and sometimes were or are in our homes. I'm sure among the women reading this post, every sort of abuse and violation can be represented by our experiences. Some of the worst moments of our lives have been lived in the shadow of another's sin. Plain and simple.

And those moments mattered.

They are not going to easily erase like chalk on a blackboard. The wrongs committed against us were just that. Wrong. And God grieved with us the entire time. That's the truth.

Yet, we are called, as followers of Jesus, to forgiveness. Not based on the merit of another, by any means. Not because the other person feels remorse. Not because someone is even cognizant of his or her own guilt. Our burden to forgive is only because we too were forgiven by God Himself when we asked Jesus to be in charge of our lives. He paid the debt we couldn't pay, and then asks us in turn to clear the debts of others. To say to the ones who have damaged us: "You don't owe me anything."

Wow, isn't that a high calling? Almost unbelievable that God would ask that of us? I know that even in the small things, the day-to-day emotional injuries that happen, for instance, in marriage, I really want an apology. (How much more do we feel this in the bigger hurts!) I tell myself that I need an apology before I can function lovingly again. However, I've learned that is a lie intended to hold me back and keep me in bondage to my hurt. Focused on myself, dwelling on my rights, and completely forgetting whose I am.

True forgiveness must be a supernatural transaction. I cannot expect my own hurting soul to muster up that kind of grace. No way. Only the power and blood of Jesus can heal us enough to get us to that place. And these things take time. God is not in a rush for us to get there. But He does call us to obey:

"As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive"
Colossians 3:13

Forgiveness is also not a one-time deal. Because there's the remembering. God has created our brains to more deeply etch the things that move us most. The good and the bad. So naturally, the very bad hurts leave lasting scars in our memories. That is why the "Forgive and forget" mantra really messes us up. It's plain impossible. And anything but Biblical.

During some seasons, I've had to choose forgiveness daily. Sometimes several times a day, as the remembering continued. It is a choice of the will, and it is the fruit of healing, laying down my struggle before the Lord, and asking Him for grace.

Really, the more we understand what grace has done for us, the more we are able to have grace for others. Unmerited favor is a great definition for grace: nothing earned, just granted, simply because it was first granted to us.

I'm pretty darn thankful that Jesus didn't wait for my apology before He died for me.


Monday, November 14, 2011

One more project and "bad guys"

Today, we completed another Happy Day Project activity, inspired by our thankfulness for service people in our community. (Yeah, it's a few days late. Whatevs.)

First we made these. Thank you Heather! How easy and delish. I will be making these many, many more times, especially with the seasonal Trader Joe's peppermint Oreo cookies that are out now. (I even ate one for breakfast this morning.)

Then I asked the kids to whom they wanted to deliver the treats. I gave them the nearest options...nurses, policemen, firemen, workers at our favorite local spots....

They chose the police. (My son said he just wanted to see a bad guy. To see what they looked like. I laughed, and said they looked just like regular people. I told him it wasn't as if "bad guys" all wore tee-shirts that say "I'm a bad guy" on them. My kids thought that was a really funny idea.)

I did not take the opportunity to explain how there is really no such thing as a "bad guy," just regular people who make bad choices. Sometimes really, really bad choices. But I just thought I'd tell you that I didn't go there. Know why? Because every moment doesn't have to be a teachable one. You know me. I am really intentional about taking advantage of teachable moments. But not all moments need to be. Sometimes, I just need to carry on with my kids, not teaching, not lecturing, just laughing at the idea that criminals could all wear matching tee-shirts that said "I'm a bad guy" on them. My son said, "Well, what if one guy didn't wear it?" I said, "Then they'd get another shirt in the mail that said, "I'm a really, really bad guy." I had them rolling in the aisles.

Back to the project. They made cards, which turned out really sweet. (Note the bad guy in the tee shirt and matching beanie declaring his guilt.)

And then we made our delivery. Not fancy. Forgot the printable. (No one noticed.)

The woman at the front desk of our local Police Services could have just taken our plate and cards and passed them on later. But she didn't. She called the Sergeant to come out and meet us.

The Sergeant could have just taken the plate and said 'Thanks," but he didn't. He offered to take us on a tour of the police station. It was nothing more than a couple offices and an empty meeting room, but the kids were wide-eyed, and thrilled.

At one point, my son walked in a full circle around the sergeant to check out all the gear strapped to his waist. The officer was kind enough to remove each thing to show him: his extra cartridges of bullets, his radio, his gun, and finally, he turned on his tazer to show us the electrical charge wiggling across the end of it. Spooky. I would not like to be a law-breaker around this big, husky guy armed with all that.

My kids were so impressed. And I hope, even though I didn't "teach" them with my words today, that they understood a little more of why we are thankful for our policemen and women. That they are brave. That they lay down their lives for us. That they are worth our honor and our thanks. So simple, and so important.

Thanks again, Jeannett and Jules, for one more chance to be a blessing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

El Roi and the homeless

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in Genesis 16 (you can read it here). It is a very poignant story of rejection and scandal. The brief version is that Abraham and his wife Sarah are to have a son who will be the father of many nations. The only problem is that Sarah is barren. Even though God promised Sarah a son years earlier, she makes the mistake of trying to speed up God's plan by allowing her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar. Hagar does conceive, which makes Sarah wildly jealous. (Um, what did she expect?) So much so that she mistreats Hagar until she finally flees.

Hagar is a foreigner from Egypt, a pagan, a pregnant woman, a runaway servant, an outcast for all of the above reasons, and is alone in the literal wilderness. Hagar is at the end of her rope, in the worst despair of her life. And the Bible says, "The angel of the Lord found Hagar..." Even when she ran, God pursued her.

Then and there, God shows up for Hagar. She didn't ask for Him, but He does anyway. He speaks worth into her soul, refreshes her purpose by giving her promises for the future, and sends her home with hope. But before she returns, Hagar gives God a new name; she calls him El-Roi, which, in Hebrew means The God who Sees. This is just so lovely to me.

This passage tells me that Hagar's question in her moment of deepest need was, "Does anyone see me?" And God answered with a resounding Yes. 

When we talk about the homeless, we can talk about providing resources, food, Bibles, and all those good things. But for me, what moves my heart is answering that question they all must have. Does anyone see me? They look around our world, and the answer is clearly No.

I don't claim to see them. I don't dare say I care enough, or that I stop every time to give change or a meal. I don't. However, I know the truth, that God sees them. He looks past their scandalous stories of trouble, and longs to speak worth and hope into their souls. I believe this. He knows their names.

So I wanted to let you know something is coming. As part of the Happy Day Project, on Sunday, Julie is again sharing the idea of making Blessing Bags, something I guest-posted about last November on her blog. They are basically large Ziplocs filled with basic necessities for those in need in our neighborhoods.

I may not know their names, but God does. Handing someone one of these bags gives me a chance to say so. God cares for you, I might say. Or maybe I'll put a note in mine explaining there is a God who sees them, who is pursuing them in love. 

So I hope you consider participating. It takes a handful of folks to make it happen, which is why the holidays are the perfect times to rustle up some family members to pull it off. This year, I'm thrilled to be bringing the idea to our local cub scout pack. And I know you know a group, a Bible Study, a mom's group, or a neighborhood of families who would be happy to join in a simple service project like this. The activity can be such a valuable teachable moment for children as well, one way to tear their focus away from their Christmas lists, at least for a moment.

Last year, many amazing stories came out of the Blessing Bags post, and so if you have any, I'd love to hear them after the fact. And lastly, the name comes from the Biblical idea that we are blessed so that we may be a blessing. God does not lavish us with gifts and resources just to simply enjoy. It is also so we may be generous people, and bless others in turn.

God saw you. He pursued you. By name. And He keeps pursuing, every day. He said to Peter as He says to us, "Do you love me? Then feed my sheep."

You are blessed to be a blessing.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleven Lessons

Think about how many lessons you've learned in your life. Thousands, I'd guess, from the benefits of obeying your mom or being kind to the downfalls of speeding or not studying for a test. Which ones were the "biggies" for you? The ones about love? Faith? Working out your own identity? Of course, we are all in process, learning lessons all the time. But today I'm sharing eleven big lessons I've learned in my life thus far, in chronological order. Not elaborating much, just an outline of the things God has taught me over the years.

5 yrs old - I learned God loves me.

I was little, but I knew it. I heard it at home and in church, and I believed. I asked Him to be in charge of my little life. I had a simple understanding that if I asked Him to, He would forgive me, guide me, and be with me forever.

17 years old - I learned God has a good plan for my life.

With encouragement from one of the youth leaders in the high school group at church, I decided to break up with my boyfriend who was not a believer, and who did not share my values. I took a leap of faith and was sure hoping God would notice. I lost friends through that choice, because I was honest about my reason. A couple months later, on Halloween, I took another leap by saying 'no' to a party I knew I ought not attend. I went to the church function instead, feeling pretty lame. That night, I met a different kind of guy. We've been married thirteen years.

20 years old - I learned God's plan isn't always what I want.

That guy and I had a painful break up. We were apart for a year, and I was bitterly hurting the whole time. Until I finally opened my white-knuckled fists and laid the relationship down. I took another leap and trusted God. It seems as soon as I let it go, He restored it.

22 years old - I learned that God has a crazy way of balancing me out.

And it's called marriage. When we first got married, I think we really believed we were the only ones who married their exact opposite. It was such a shock to realize that this was actually God's way of challenging me to grow and become less self-centered. I did think on occasion that God tricked me into picking that guy. :)

27 years old - I learned that God has a MUCH CRAZIER way of growing me.

And it's called motherhood. Whoa. Motherhood has at times made me feel like a disastrous failure more than anything I've ever experienced. Talk about a refining process. I was really thrown by how difficult it was/is to be a good mother. Now, nearly ten years in, it continues to be the most rewarding and yet most humbling job I've ever been given.

29 years old - I learned my husband makes a really bad God.

After about seven years of marriage, I was so disappointed that my husband wasn't better at meeting my every need. And then I learned he was never meant to. (But knowing that was only the tip of the iceberg. Keep reading.)

30 years old - I learned that God is bigger than I ever imagined and still really loves me.

I read the entire Bible cover to cover this year, using the One-Year Chronological Bible (see bookshelf on the sidebar) which sort of forces you to read it like a novel. It permanently changed my outlook on who God is. Start to finish, I saw that the Bible is one beautiful, exciting, suspenseful, and dramatic love story written by the most passionate and creative author to have ever lived.  

32 years old - I learned that I am beautiful.

Reading the book Captivating by Staci and John Eldredge (also on the sidebar) also greatly impacted me. We were going through rough times in our marriage and God used this book to speak immense validation and worth into my broken feminine heart. He reminded me that He made me beautiful in so many ways, and that He delights in who I am. He is God of the universe, but also wants to have a relationship with us in such an intimate, personal way. I think every woman should read it.

33 years old - I learned that God is my husband (and that my husband is just a human).

The rough times were continuing on, and I was out of ideas. Out of strength, and out of words. I finally saw the whole iceberg. The love I so badly wanted was available to me; I was just looking for it in the wrong place. Life-changing. My greatest lessons were coming out of my greatest heartaches. I wrote about this season in detail here.

35 years old - I learned that my story is God's story.

I started blogging a year and a half ago with the intent to share with you bits of my journey. And all along, though my "voice" has morphed a bit, my passion has remained: I really believe that part of my story is in the sharing of it. And I believe that for you as well. Part of what God is doing in my life crisscrosses with someone else's story and what He is doing over there, like times a thousand. So many times, we've learned from each other because He orchestrates it to be so. All I can do is offer up the testimonies He's given me, and trust Him to make something of it. God does not waste my pain. He bottles every tear, and infuses words with power to give hope. And I'm so thankful that part of the way He redeems our pain is by using our stories for good.

36 years old (now) - I am learning that I have no concept of what God has in store for me, in heaven or on earth.

I underestimate Him all the time, and He continues to chuckle at me, as if to say, "You have no idea. You think THIS is a big deal? Just wait and see what I can do." This has been His regular message to me over the years, bringing the verses in Isaiah to mind over and again: "Behold! I am doing something new! Do you not see it?" And last January, He gave me the word "Look" as the watchword for the year, as if to say, "LOOK! Open your eyes to my work all around you." It's the same thing I'm learning now: I cannot conceive of what great things He has in store for me. But I'm excited to find out.

So now you know mine. What's one lesson you've learned that's changed your life?


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: A sweet surprise

My daughter.
She has a very thoughtful heart. She is deep and soulful and wise beyond her years.

I've written about her a handful of times on this blog, but if you're new, here are some highlights. Here is an introduction to her. Here is where I talk about how she is my first born, and with that status comes constant challenge since we are both breaking new ground as parent and child together, all the time. Here is where I wrote about my battle against the world to help her form a healthy identity. Here is a perfect example of her thoughtful heart.

And this post is where I tell you how she surprised me with grace.

Tuesday was Day 2 of The Happy Day Project, where the challenge was to give someone a handwritten note. I prayed about it that morning, and decided that I would write brief letters to my kids. I filled one card each full of encouragement and placed them in their rooms. It's easy to encourage kids when they're tiny, when every step taken and word spoken is a celebration. But when they're a bit older, the instruction and correction take up most of the words. Encouragement requires more intentionality the older they get.

Especially since we've been sick for so long over here, I haven't been intentional about anything. I've been surviving. Basically wiped out, and happy if all my people are simply fed and breathing. I haven't read them any stories. We've played no games, done no crafts, and I haven't made paper chains with them like they've begged for counting down the days 'till our Thanksgiving trip next week. I feel like all I've done is ordered them to pick up their things, do their homework, feed the dog, help in the kitchen, pick up their things, and then pick up their things like ten more times. They'd be having more fun in the army.

Back to Tuesday. I knew my daugther had gone into her room for homework time, but wasn't sure if she'd seen the envelope I propped up on her desk. About thirty minutes later, she walked out, and propped up an envelope for me against some dishes I'd just cleaned next to the sink where I was working. She said nothing, shot me a sly smile, and retreated back into her room.

Right away, I saw work went into this. She had decorated the outside with an owl sticker (my favorite) and bubble lettering. But the inside words melted me.

Then there was a drawing. She and I lying on her bed reading together. The caption said, "I love to read with you."

Cue the tears. Wow. On a day I planned to surprise my kids with words of love, she affirmed me. And in a season when I don't really deserve it! Yes, I do love crafts, and yes, I am usually there for her. But not lately. I do like to read together, but I can't remember the last time we did. Lately none of those things has been happening. And when I get what I don't deserve, well, you know what that's called. Grace.

Grace from my child is just a different kind of surprise, another level of blessing.

She said I'm the best. Well, I'm certainly not the best. Far from it. But here's a secret about seeing with eyes of grace: grace sees who you were meant to be, and brushes your failures off like eraser dust. There are definitely consequences for my mistakes at times. And I'm sure she'll have her share of issues to work through later in life because of them. But for right now, she blessed me and surprised me with her generous grace.

Her grace today is what will remind me tomorrow to lean into God's strength when I am weak. Her grace inspires me to be more of whom I was meant to be.

And I pray my grace for her will do the same.