Thursday, June 28, 2012

Grace on a Thursday: Fatherhood, part 3

This post was supposed to go up last Thursday. Sorry for those of you who were missing my Thursday just didn't happen. It was my kids' last day of school and we had a whole day of activities. So here we are, and it's Thursday again! I'm thankful for that.

I wanted to say one more thing in honor of Father's Day, while it is still June. It's just a simple truth, really, but one I feel is so important for us mommies to learn and grow up into.

Husbands need room to learn how to be dads. 

We don't realize this at first. So many of us are born with instincts to mother and nurture and respond to our child's every need. It's very natural. I won't say easy. But much of motherhood comes naturally. And what doesn't we learn from community; that's the other thing we women are really good at.

Guys? Not so much.

They're not so much naturally nurturing, and they're not so much learning how to parent in communities of other parenting men. No, they're mainly in the workplace, "slaying dragons," as Dr. Laura would say. And for whatever reason, we often expect them to step in the door and know exactly what to do with their children.

Today, I'm challenging each of us to take a fresh look at this dynamic in our homes and choose grace for the dad of our kids.

Suppose each parent was given an empty file box when he or she came home with a new baby. And suppose that file box became the storage place for information about that child. Every look, every sound, and every motion that child made got filed under it's meaning. Over time, the box would be filled with experiences, conversations, moods, quirks, emotions, and preferences of that child. And the only way to fill the box with more information was to spend time with the child.

You have these files on your kid. You know the reaction when....
he misses a nap.
she eats too much candy.
grandma comes into the room.
he starts a new routine.
she has a conflict at the park.
he gets his feelings hurt.
you serve green beans.
she lies.
he gets chosen.
you argue.
he strikes out at the plate.
she gets to read in front of the class.

The amount of detailed information I have stored up about my kids is really astounding. My file box is bursting at the seams. I can anticipate the outcomes of most situations enough to mother them fairly well.

I see the difference between motherhood and fatherhood a bit like this: my file boxes on my children are much, MUCH fuller than my husband's simply because I'm logging so much more time with them. My husband therefore isn't able to anticipate situations as well, and has to rely on a more reactive style of parenting. And to be honest, me trying to shove my notes on the kids into his file box doesn't work very well. He needs to learn how to father them without me getting all up in his business.

Husbands need room to fill that file box of experience themselves. Which means I sometimes need to leave.

Because I hover. I'm a hoverer. I lug my file box around and hold up the papers on those kids and tell him how much better I know them. On rare occasion, that information is helpful and necessary, like on the big issues. But mostly, I'm just being annoying and I need to get out of the way. He doesn't need me to explain how our son won't eat that if there is cheese on it, or how our daughter's bad mood started four hours earlier when I asked her to clean her room. He can figure out the daily stuff. More importantly, he needs to.

(And incidentally, the fact that I married him means, at some point at least, I believed he could. Right? So why wouldn't I give him the room to become the dad that I knew he wanted to be and could be?)

So just get out. If this is new for you, try leaving the room for a fixed amount of time. Don't listen to them, don't hover, don't interrupt. Just let them be. After you see that the world kept turning (snickering at us both) with that amount of distance from your baby or child, try Starbucks. The library. It doesn't matter. Force yourself to leave, and then lower your expectations to zero before you walk back in the door. Not just a little lower. To zero. Most likely, nothing will go the same as it does when you're around. And though it's hard to get used to (um, only taking me ten plus years), different is perfectly fine.

It's so healthy for your kids to see a difference between the ways you parent (as long as you're a united team when it counts, of course). I'm totally speaking to myself here, as much as anyone else. My kids need a good, strong father, and my husband cannot become one unless I give him room to be just that in the relatively small amount of time he has with them.

My kids also need to see that I choose their dad, even when he does things differently. Even when the kitchen is left a disaster and the kids are in bed an hour late under his charge. Even when my jaw wants to drop to the floor when I walk back in the door. Choosing him, in this context, often means choosing grace. And when I have grace in my heart for him as a dad, I say thank you. I'm not thanking him for babysitting. I'm thanking him for parenting, the best he knows how to.

My husband needs to know that in my eyes, that's enough. 


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Featuring Blossom & Vine {& a giveaway!}

Well hello there, top of the page friends. 

My name is Aly and I'm a fellow dedicated reader who just can't get enough of Leslie and her wisdom and her writing. I'm sure you feel the same way, since your'e here. I'm so glad to be here today to tell you about myself and my shop and give a little prize to one lucky winner!

Like I mentioned, my name is Aly and I'm a mama to two beautiful little girls. They are three years old and five months old, and they keep me busy!

Since I can remember, I've always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and I really do feel like this is exactly where I'm called to be in this season of my life. But that doesn't keep me from pursuing things I'm passionate about. In fact, I think it allows me to pursue them. It's something I don't dare take for granted!

In the last four years I've begun to realize how much I crave a creative outlet just to stay sane. It's something I believe God has placed in me, and I shouldn't apologize for enjoying or for needing it.

Lately my husband has been realizing this as well, and has started to gift me with creative time. Doesn't really matter what I'm doing, I just need to be making, hanging, rearranging, or creating something.

I've been extra blessed in that many of my creative endeavors have turned into pretty things that other people want in their homes, too! I started out making headbands for babies, then transitioned to d-i-y patterns, and then prints, and then hoop art. Like I said, it varies.

Right now in my shop, Blossom & Vine, you'll find lots of prints and a few hoops. I'm especially fond of the prints because I am desperate for God's Truth to reign in my life, and I also like to put pretty things on my walls- best of both worlds!

In the last two years I've learned a lot about myself. A lot of good things and a lot of ugly things. I have a tendency to believe whatever voice rings loudest in my head, whether it's telling me the Truth or not. I think I usually believe lies because that seems to be the voice I feed throughout the day, with my sinful nature combined with the things I listen to or read or watch on TV. Lies are everywhere, and they're sneaky! If I don't consciously battle against them, by filling my mind with Truth, I can barely survive my day! 

That's why the prints are so important and dear to me, because they are beautiful to look at, but also serve such a vitally important purpose in my life. I need Truth to wash over me, get into the deepest parts of my heart and mind, really sink down and take root. My life depends on it. Being able to plaster scripture all over my house, that I created with my hands (okay, a keyboard and mouse) fulfills two great needs in my life, and I'm so glad to share that with all of you! 

Today I'm giving away a set of any two prints from my shop so that your home can be covered in Truth, too. OR if you're so inclined, you could choose a hoop instead. Either one, it's up to you!

{To enter Aly's giveaway, just leave a comment below. You will get an extra entry for being a follower of my blog, and for following Aly's blog, the mommie diaries, as well. That gives you a chance to enter three times total. Please leave a seperate comment for each entry!}

One more fun thing, and then I'm done. I recently opened a store on, where you can buy my designs on iPhone cases, iPad cases, stickers, poster-size enlargements, postcards... (basically anything). Check it out here

Thanks for having me Leslie! Oh, and you guys can use "topofthepage" for 10% off in the shop at any time!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Unstructured {and a summer psalm}

That is the perfect word for how I feel right now.


It tends to come with summer, doesn't it? The exact thing I equally crave and abhor.

Tomorrow is our first Monday of summer, as the kids got out of school in the middle of last week. I'm sitting, tonight, trying to sort through what our week will look like...and I'm a bit lost.

The fact that our days have no imposed routine in place means I have to create the structure myself. I'm pretty good at creating structure out of thin air, but I just haven't yet.

I haven't written out a weekly calendar, haven't allotted parts of the day to certain regular things, haven't decided how I'm going to structure time for my own chores and's just all a cloudy heap in my brain right now. I don't have it all together this year. The months are flying past me more quickly than usual. And a lot is on my mind besides how I might manage summer so that it doesn't manage me.

I even feel cloudy and unstructured with the Lord at the moment. I haven't spent the time I've needed to with Him this week and now I'm paying the price. My spirit feels vulnerable and tired. Joy is being suffocated by the little injuries I've neglected all week. I cried a bit earlier this evening as I recognized how lonely I feel. When I fail to spend regular time before the Lord one-on-one, I always end up like a weary soldier walking off a battlefield wounded and limping.

I think, when we all wake up tomorrow, we will start with quieting our hearts.

It's a good place to start. I will lead my kids to begin the day, the week, the summer, in gratitude and surrender.

We will pray, break out the new kids' devotionals, and offer our day (week, summer...) to the One who teaches us to number our days.

In the last Bible study I did with women's ministries this past Spring, at the end of each chapter, we were to write our own "psalm," or song declaring our feelings and thoughts about God in relation to what each chapter was about. Oftentimes, when a psalmist was going through an emotional season, he would write out the honest truth about what he felt and what he knew to be true. It was an interesting practice when we tried this in Bible study, and I thought I'd do that tonight, as I face this summer season feeling inadequate and disorderly. 

Lord, you are on my right and my left.
You never leave my side.
You give me all the tools I need to serve my family.
When I look to you, I am never left empty handed,.
You give me solutions when I run into problems, and
you give me ideas when I need new ones.
You help me see the needs of my family, and
you focus my eyes on the things that need my attention.
Please deliver me from feeling overwhelmed or inadequate
because your ways are orderly
and the jobs you give me are suitable and good.
Let my agenda fall away as I keep my eyes fixed on you and follow your lead.
All your ways are right, and in you I can find the wisdom I need.
May your Holy Spirit remain in this home and in my heart this summer
and may I be a minister of your love to everyone you place in my path. 
You are love and you teach me how to spend my days.

So how are you guys feeling about summer so far? How do you put a little structure in your summer?


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Insta-Friday and the outdoor art station

If the Final Jeopardy answer is ever "Summer", then you'll know the question: What is Leslie's Favorite Season? (Yep, I'm nerdy and wish I was smart enough to be on Jeopardy. Actually, I thought I was for like one second, and then the category Geography came up and those people who know all those answers....well, they have way too much time on their hands.)  

Back to summer. It's soooo my favorite.

And since our school district tortures us by making us the last on the planet to get out, TODAY, yes, June 22nd, is our official FIRST DAY OF SUMMER!

And surprise, surprise. I don't have everything "ready" like I wanted it to be. (If you did, don't tell me.)

I wanted to have a clean house, cleaned out closets, laundry done, new summer decor up, "happy summer" banner hung, the Summer List written and posted, and the new, fabulous highlight - the outdoor art station - all decked out. And zero of these things were accomplished in time for today. Except I did get the supplies for the outdoor station prepped.

We organized and cleaned out ALL our art supplies (And wow, did we have a lot. All I had to buy was paper. You don't realize how much junk you have until it's all gathered up in the same space, pulled out of drawers and backpacks and pencil boxes.) I haven't yet hung the clothesline for watercolor painting drying, nor draped the fabric on the underside of the patio cover to give a little more shade. But we're getting there.

My vision for the outdoor art station is that my kids could have a little autonomy. I direct so much of their little lives, I felt it was time to let go of the reins a little. So I'm setting limits I'm okay with, which include providing watercolors for painting, crayons, markers and oil pastels. Paper, large beads and string. No scissors; I don't want tiny scraps all over the yard. Activity books, tracing paper, and a big work surface. A canvas tarp underneath. Play clothes required. Paper plates and bowls for water and mixing. Help-yourself snacks and disposable cups next to a dispenser full of one of my infused water concoctions I've been making (watermelon mint, lemon cucumber, etc).

It's really exciting, actually, to imagine that they may be able to govern themselves for small windows of time out there. It may be so great that I am able to join them, stress-free. Create together, instead of me spending all my energy wiping up, and saying, "BE CAREFUL!" I've done that for the last ten years, indoors, and I'm really glad for the chance to experiment with a new stage. I'm grateful to Jami for inspiring me; I stole her idea for the outdoor art station.

Here are a few more things I've been up to.

Not finding things in my purse because of all the Legos in it.

Falling in love with peonies again.

Falling in love with Gatsby again.

Making Pam's Cheesecake for Father's Day.

Staring at this picture of my beautiful girl.

Staring at this picture of my girl and my mom. And tripping out about how similar they are.

Playing around with no-heat curls. (And thinking I'm wearing too much eyeliner.)

Learning how to make berry pies in mason jars (I owe you a full post on that one.)

And buying this fancy contraption to go with summer and the recipes found here. I was surprised at how inexpensive it was! My little guy vowed to juice all the lemons necessary for our first batch of sorbet. That will be photo-worthy too.

So that's how we're kicking it off over here. I'll share the Summer List when we actually make it, and more pics of the art station and the rest of our happenings next week!

Now I'm going to go do a little coloring.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Fatherhood, part 2

I have something akin to "survivor's guilt" around holidays like Father's Day. (You know, that awkward feeling you'd have if you were the one out of 100 who survived a plane crash?) Because I had a good dad. I get to feel grateful on Father's Day and write him a card full of loving words.

But not all dads are good ones. Let's not even go to statistics. They're pretty dismal. Let's just say that not all dads are good ones. Of course, I'm grossly oversimplifying this, but you know which kind you had. You know how Father's Day makes you feel.

Sad. Or resentful. Or joyful. Or abandoned. Or super grateful. Or sick to your stomach.

Regardless, I can say with total confidence that zero dads are perfect. In fact, zero parents are perfect. Moms get thrown under that bus too.

As great as he is and as much as I love him, my husband makes mistakes as a dad, just like I make mistakes as a mom. And here's what I find weird. Sometimes, I am tempted to protect my children from his mistakes, and I can at times see him feeling tempted to protect them from mine. It's good, I suppose, once in a while, for us to sort of buffer each other when one of us is in a grumpy mood. That's being a team, right?

But on occasion, when that temptation to protect our kids from the mistakes of others (anyone, really) flares, I think we are forgetting something really, really important: that they have a Father in heaven to do that job.

Before I go into this, I need to say that I'm talking about every day errors that we all make. I'm NOT saying that we should not go to great lengths to protect our kids from certain kinds of mistakes that I would not call mistakes. I'd call them evils. We always, always need to do our best to protect our kids from evils.      

So back to God. I forget that He is writing my kids' stories. I am not. I don't get to choose the chapters or the challenges they will face that ultimately shape them into the man and woman they are to become. That means I need to let go of mirco-managing the damage my husband or I may be doing to their little hearts. And I think it's foolish to believe I'm not doing any. I can't put my finger on exactly what, but I know I'm not perfect, so I'm doing some damage. Period. So is my husband. My parents did their best, they were Christians, they loved me, and they did their share of damage. That's what happens. 

Last week, I had to give my daughter this little speech. It wasn't the first time, and it won't be the last. I told her:

If you had perfect parents, you'd have no need for a perfect God.

Any mistake we may make as her parents hopefully points her to God, so that she learns just how good of a Father He really is. He will never let her down. He will always give her exactly what she needs.

I wish I could promise my children that their dad and I will never let them down. That we will be there whenever they call, and meet their every need. I just can't. And neither can you with your kids. We don't even know what tomorrow holds. So the best course of action is, firstly, to say so. Tell your children that you and your husband WILL let them down. And tell them why (answer: So that they learn to trust God!). And secondly, pray. Despite our many parenting flaws, thankfully we have the opportunity to come to God in prayer on behalf of our kids, asking Him to heal when we know we've hurt them, and asking Him to grow us in wisdom as moms and dads.

Good fathering (and mothering) means making disciples. When our kids leave our home, I certainly hope they are not disciples of Kevin and Leslie, following and hanging onto our every word. I hope they're disciples of Jesus, taking His word above all else.

God was their Father before we ever met our kids, and He'll be their Father long after we're gone. It's comforting to know they're in His hands, no matter what.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Fatherhood, part 1

Once upon a time, I left my kids with their dad. My husband.

I went to a women's retreat, and they went to a cabin in the mountains with my in-laws.

All weekend, I had a blissful, restful time. I don't ever consciously think this through, but when I leave my kids, I sort of assume they are being parented like I parent them. Like a mother parents.

So when I came home, all cheerful and relaxed, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the photos on the computer of what kind of weekend dad and the kids had.

First, I saw my son, who was not quite 3, standing alone on a dock. No railing. Surrounded by water on three sides. Um, where were the adults? Would you drop the camera quick enough to grab him if he plummeted in? Because I'm thinking he's going in! Deep son is right next to me, clearly alive and well.

Next, I saw my daughter who was just under 6 in an innertube on the water. An innertube with a rope on it that went off the photo. Like it was attached to a boat. Um, am I seeing that my Kindergartner was put in an innertube ALONE and pulled behind a motorboat on a giant lake? Yes, yes I was. She's never done that before and I wasn't there and I was a little shocked she survived without me. (I mean, it isn't logical. But that was how it felt.)

But the kicker, the photo I still get shivers from when I think about it, was where my son (the one who survived the dock) was also put in the tube. At that point, my brow was furrowed and my voice was full of that are-you-crazy-tone, "You put him in the innertube too??! And pulled him with the boat out on the lake??!"

(smiling) "Well, yeah! The boat went really slowly...and he had a life jacket on...and it was fiiiiine." His voice was full of that get-over-it-tone.

Oh my gosh. That was a moment in which I really struggled to accept something very important: Dads parent really differently.

In the book Captivating, one I think every woman should read, the author John Eldredge tells how God shows His glory through men and women in different ways. Through women, He tells us something about Himself in our beauty and our vulnerability (which is why a shut down, bitter woman is so tragic). But through men, God displays His character through their action and courage (which is why a passive, fearful man is so unattractive.)

Risk-taking and a love of adventure are rooted in the hearts of men because they are rooted in the character of God.

I can see that as glorious, or I can see it as threatening. I suppose the reason it feels threatening at times, for me, is that I can't relate. It is unfamiliar, that drive to seek out adventure and take risks. And put toddlers in innertubes.

But I don't need to "get" it to understand how much my children need to see the character of God in their dad. Oh, it chokes me up even to type the words. My daughter and my son BOTH need to learn that their heavenly Father is full of action and courage and encouragement and adventure, all under a banner of love and protection, all for their good. And they learn these things when they see these kinds of qualities in their dad.

When my husband is acting with passion, not lounging in passivity; when he is courageous, not fearful; when he says a sparkling "yes" to the kids because it means adventure and risk, when I may have said "no"; he is acting like his heavenly Father.

And his heavenly Father is a really good dad.

{in honor of Father's Day this month, I'll be spending some time in a series on Fatherhood.}


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Grace on a Thursday: Christians being all judgey

Thursday is a perfect day for me to continue this conversation.

You know, the one that started with this post. Then continued here (particularly in the comments).

And now, it's beautifully morphed into a deeper discussion on what the Bible says about judging stuff.

I emailed back and forth with a couple readers who really challenged my thinking on the topic, and in the face of conflict, I say yes please. I press in and examine and search God's word. Because I know I'm fallible. We all are. And God is not. His word is the bar and is 100% without error. So where else can we turn but to the Bible for clarification on these touchy subjects?

It's super important that we start with a definition of the word judge. lists 5 for the verb form.

#1 - to decide upon legally or to sentence
#2 - to hear evidence in a legal case
#3 - to form an opinion of, to decide upon critically
#4 - to decide or settle authoritatively
#5 - to infer, think, hold as an opinion, conclude or assess

Right away, I see God is clearly in charge of #'s 1 and 4 when it comes to mankind. He "sentences" and ultimately sits as judge over our lives. He also settles matters with authority when it comes to our final judgement. We have zero room to encroach upon His jurisdiction here. But sadly, lots of Christians have ruined it for all of us by justifying that very thing. Jesus knew that would happen so He told us, "Judge not, lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1) He is referring to this encroachment on God's authority to judge and condemn people for their sin. (A really good Biblical commentary on Matthew 7 and what kinds of judgements this verse prohibits and does not prohibit are found here.)

On the other hand, we as believers are clearly instructed in the Bible to judge in a #'s 3 and 5 sense. But are we? What I'm afraid of is that our culture has beat the critical thinking and spiritual discernment out of us with the words like "tolerance." Suddenly, Christians are told they are "judgemental" for deciding anything is actually wrong, even if it's explicitly described as such in the Bible. Moral relativism has become the clean way of saying the truths of the Bible are no longer relevant. (I'm getting off on a tangent that is another giant can of worms. Squirrelly, controversial worms.)

Most recently, I heard a sermon at my church on this passage. It is not unclear, and it's message is also NOT what our culture wants to hear. Paul says,

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.
I Cor 5:9-13

It's strong language. But you MUST REMEMBER that Paul is instructing Christians to judge other Christians only in alignment with the rest of Scripture: with gentleness, in love, with a sense of warning instead of condemnation, and most importantly with grace and humility. This passage is just one example of many where we are called to assess and "decide upon critically" how to interact with other believers who are blatantly walking outside of the truth. And the assumption, if you know God's word, is that we would do so under the direction of the Holy Spirit, ensuring that love was the greatest motive.

Well, there is no verse that explicitly says reading Fifty Shades is wrong. And the Bible is open to interpretation based on where we are in our journeys and what the Lord is working on in our lives. And God knows where each of our hearts is. And this issue is not a deal breaker. Obviously. I realize He could use something about reading those books to His glory if He wanted to. Of course He could. And He probably will in some cases.

But what I pursue and also struggle with, to be honest, is finding a way to obey ALL of God's word. There are many verses referring to our freedom in Christ, but there is also a clear direction in the Bible for us to exhort one another in love. says that "to exhort" means "to urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently." We are commanded to advise and warn each other in love when we see fellow believers compromising and veering away from what we believe God's word says. It is not judgement; it is obedience. This is exactly what I was trying to achieve in my first post on Fifty Shades, and exactly what I was encouraging others to do as well with the last bit of the post regarding our sisters in Christ.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Hebrews 3:13

I think what gets messy is when exhortation is done without grace. You knew it would come down to this. All along, the heavy-handed truth was thirsty for grace.

A person cannot be judgemental (in the wrong ways) if she is maintaining an understanding of her own sin and desperate need for God's grace. It's impossible. Maybe I didn't communicate my own need for grace well in my first post. And maybe I didn't feel a need to, since I talk about it all the time on my blog. But some of the resistance to my first post could also be that moral relativism has hardened our hearts a bit so that we are not as sensitive to truth as we could be, just like the Hebrews verse above describes. Our culture's gradual acceptance of sin in various forms is certainly a cause of hardened hearts. Mine included. (I mean, I'm ashamed to say that I laughed through the vulgar movie The Hangover, which after the fact I realize I probably should not have seen. But I have a bit of a hard heart that is not as disgusted by sin as God's is, and I'm working on that.)

Exhorting another believer without a healthy balance of grace walks a line of legalism. A person who is allowing grace to overshadow truth is promoting license. For real growth to take place, both are required: truth and grace. I have always tried to offer both on the subject of reading these books, sharing God's word on the matter, and having enough humility to say I don't always get things right.

And until God tells me to shut down this here bloggy, I'll keep trying to balance truth and grace in each and every post. But because I'm not perfect, my blog will never be.

So I'll keep needing a lot of grace from you too.  I pray I've accurately handled God's word here on these touchy matters. It's not easy to publicly address these kinds of things, but I do so in love. Really. Love for God's word, love for Him, and love for you.

Have a good weekend.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I think I touched a nerve.

A week ago, I wrote a post that has caused some ripples over here. My thoughts on why I feel Christian women should not read the Fifty Shades erotic fiction series were not what some people wanted to hear. Out of the near 40 comments on the post, I chose to delete two, the most critical I've ever received. However, I did not delete them because they were critical. I deleted them because they were critical AND the authors did not allow me a way to respond. One was submitted by an "anonymous" reader, and the other had only a first name, and when I clicked to respond to her thoughts via email, I saw she'd chosen the "no-reply-blogger" option by not making her email address visible.

My thought is that if you'd like to add to the conversation here, please comment with the same respect you'd like to have for your thoughts, and allow me to respectfully respond to your point of view. I never want this space to be a one-way conversation, whether it's me talking at you, or you talking at me. But when a reader removes her identity from an emotionally charged and disrespectful critique, I'm choosing to remove that kind of comment. (I actually tried a few months ago to install the Disqus commenting format so as to encourage more back and forth, but it had so many technical problems that I took it down within the week). I'm sorry to those two readers, but that is how I feel, and this is my space to govern. Other bloggers may feel differently. That's fine. But I think you'd more than likely do the same if I came to your space and left some harsh words under a veil of anonymity.

Actually, no matter what the comment says, I get bummed out when I click to reply via email and I see "no-reply-blogger" in the "To" line. I try to respond to as many comments as I can on a regular basis. If you've taken the time to offer some thoughts on my posts, I always want to share my appreciation. Now, whether I am able to get to all of them in a given week is another story. But I do my best. If you don't know how to enable your email address, go into your Blogger profile and change your settings to allow your email address to be visible. It is not visible to anyone but the person to whom you are submitting a comment.

And as an addendum to the Fifty Shades post, I wanted to clarify some things. First and foremost, I'm not above moral compromise. I'm a sinner saved by the grace of God that I do not deserve. Of course, I have the free will to choose what I do and don't want to read, watch, talk about, embrace, restrict, abstain from, etc., but my choices, in my opinion, should be governed by a passionate pursuit of transformation and holiness as the Bible instructs. It doesn't mean my choices always are. I'm saying if I were perfect, they would be. Free will is one of God's greatest gifts, and that means we, as sinful humans, will make wrong choices. Having free will doesn't mean all the options are equally right. It means we are required to use wise judgement, not of others, but of the options, so that we can discern what choices are best.

My choice is to not read Fifty Shades, not even in order to give the series a more thorough review. It is not worth putting that sort of material in my head. For me, it would violate my idea of what it means to pursue holiness. It is not because I want brownie points. It is not because I think it makes God like me more. And I certainly don't think I'm above anyone else. I have a fair idea of how sinful my heart can be. I cannot earn anything from God and I'm not trying to.

I'm choosing not to read these books because I decided it's the best choice, based on my judgement of the options. My other conviction is to share my story on this blog, and that's exactly what I'm doing. I also interpreted a portion of Scripture that I felt aligned with my conviction. That is where the discussion is especially open. I'd love to hear any other thoughts on God's word. I want to work out my faith with you and you with me, as we are a community; not endure personal attack and then be put in a position of defense. That's just not cool.
If you've read this blog for any length of time, I'm sure some of my areas of weakness are pretty clear. However, many comments have come from new readers clicking over from sweet blog friends who have referenced my post on their own blogs. I'm betting that if someone is not regularly reading Christian blogs, my words sound pretty preachy. I'm okay with accidentally rubbing someone the wrong way. I can receive grace for not being all things to all people all the time.

But I do want to please one reader. The One who reads my heart. He sees every bit of sin and pride in me, and still uses what I have to offer. He still calls me to stand up for what I believe and speak His name, though I represent it imperfectly. He still asks me to obey His voice. And anything good in me is nothing short of beauty from ashes, all His work.

As I stood washing my face last night, drafting this post in my head, Jesus reminded me once again that this wasn't actually about me anyway (there's that pride trying to sneak in!). All the comments and commenters and hearts, including my own, the end of the day, it's all about Him.

Friends, I don't know about you, but I find freedom in that.


{I just figured out that if I change my commenting
 form to "Embedded" instead of having comments pop up in a new window,
I can reply beneath a comment, and not just via email. Yay!}

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Grace on a Thursday: when you only hear roaring

The kids and I read together most days after school. Our most recent selection is The Magician's Nephew, the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series (yep, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is book two.)

We are about three quarters through it, and I am so moved by every chapter. Midway through, the main characters find themselves in an unformed world. All is blackness and nothing has been created. But suddenly, to the most beautiful song they've ever heard, creation begins. Light, darkness, earth, stars, sun, then plants and animals. Sound familiar? The onlookers (including us, the readers) watch as a majestic Lion roams this new world and sings everything into being. His name is Aslan, and it's pretty obvious that He is God in Narnia. Jesus, to be exact (which is made more clear in book two).

Finally, Aslan summons the animals, and those upon which He breathes gain the ability to speak. He then speaks, himself, and is clearly initiating and beautifying all of creation in this new world.

The two children watching, Digory and Polly, hear and see all of this take place as it actually does. However the character Uncle Andrew, their travelling companion, does not. The author, C.S. Lewis, describes Uncle Andrew's experience like this:

When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn't singing and never had been singing - only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world...And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring...He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan's song. Soon he couldn't have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, "Narnia awake," he didn't hear any words: he heard only a snarl.

A person's beliefs can change everything. Most importantly, they can change one's perception of what's real and true. I love how Lewis is demonstrating this truth through Uncle Andrew's disastrous disbelief and resulting inability to hear Aslan's voice. 

Our intellect can really interfere with our faith, can't it? Whether in a childish story or a real world conflict, what we believe about God quickly becomes the lens through which we experience all of life.

If I believe God is distant and disinterested, I am not likely to listen for His voice. That lie will steal my faith.

If I believe God may not be for me, if I think He may be playing a little disaster roulette with my circumstances, I will walk in fear and rely on control. That lie will steal my trust.

If I believe my brokenness is beyond repair, I will live bound to accusation and shame.That lie will steal my hope.

If I believe I have to earn God's love and perform for His approval, I will live with constant anxiety. That lie will steal my peace.

If I believe that God can't or won't speak to me, I will only hear roaring.

Jesus is in the constant business of forming my world. He builds, grows, and changes the scenery. He whispers to me, "Leslie, awake! I'm doing something new. Don't you see it?" And depending on the condition of my heart, I either recognize His voice, or I only hear roaring. By roaring, I mean the clamor of life: phones ringing, people complaining, stress whirling, everything demanding. It's all very loud.

The grace is that He keeps speaking. Keeps creating, working, and breathing life into me. Grace draws me away from the chaos to a softer place, a quieter place in my spirit. When I choose to spend time with Him, I can finally hear His voice, loving and clear. There, He opens my eyes to see what's real and true.

The question is how long I can stay there without letting the world harden my heart and dull my ears again. The ones who see and understand Aslan from the start have the secret: a childlike faith. It's so perfect and glorious that the unhindered, wonder-filled children can take in who Aslan is better than anyone in the story.  

Belief is a very powerful thing. Uncle Andrew's belief - really, his disbelief - caused him to miss the whole point. When we finished our chapter yesterday, we left him overwhelmed with fear, running for his life away from the animals. The beasts were all running toward him to greet him, but his beliefs caused him to interpret everything wrongly. He is portrayed as the token fool, and his character is a cautionary tale. The wrong beliefs will eventually send you running in fear.

The right beliefs mean everything. And they start with faith like a child. I don't need to understand everything first. I don't need to clean things up first. I need simply to come to Him with a sincere heart that says, "Speak Lord, your daughter is listening."

And then believe that He will.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Sleepover Birthday and how I told Pinterest I just want to be friends.

My first-born just turned 10.

It was a big deal because my tear ducts told me so. I didn't cry on the last day of preschool. I didn't cry the day my youngest went to Kindergarten. But I cried for two days when my big girl turned 10. The emotion totally ambushed me. I feel like I might blink and she'll be in college.

That may have been one reason why her tenth party was a hard one for me to plan. Subconsciously. Also, it was a challenge because awesome blog friend Denise inspired me to let my daughter choose everything because that's what she did for her daughter's birthday a few months ago. Besides obviously limiting the cost, really the only thing I kept control over was the number of kids. I held it at 6 for our first sleepover.

I even chose not to persuade her to invite the friend she didn't really want to, even though I knew it would lead to conflict on the grown-up end of things. Which it did. And which made me hold my ground more firmly. It was her Tenth Birthday. I chose to protect and respect her special day as much as possible.

Turns out, my girl is an awesome party planner. It went like this.

Craft (a la Deep Space Sparkle).
Swimming (a la community pool).
Dance party with dress up and karaoke (a la Taylor Swift and drama).
Dessert (this is where Pinterest comes in).
PJ time.
Mad libs in sleeping bags.
Sleeping (this part was way too short).
Waffle bar (a la mommy).
More karaoke.

And for some reason, it turned out to be the least expensive party we've ever had. Because they don't really make dress up attire for ten year olds, I bought six brightly colored fancy dresses at the second-hand store. They were between $3-6 each and were a huge hit. We had a zillion feather boas already. From my Vegas days. J/K. We bought a pad of "Sleepover Mad Libs" at the bookstore, tissue for pom poms to hang from the ceiling and 30 balloons for the garage-turned-dance-party. I even purchased take and bake pizzas from our grocery store deli for a fraction of the price of the fancy local pizza pub we usually order from.

And since I'm a slow joiner sometimes, I finally got on the Pinterest train and looked for ideas for sleepovers, favors, and special desserts. Well, after logging a few hours over a few days, I did not have butterflies in my stomach for Pinterest. I did not want to marry it or lose sleep dreaming about it. In fact, I came up with better ideas for favors my big girl self.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. I looked around my house and got inspired by the resources I already had. Namely, fabric. I also had a dozen plain clipboards for a project that has been on hold for like a year. Fabric plus Mod Podge plus clipboards equals super cute Mad Libs time. I spent $4 on pencils and colorful artificial flowers from the Dollar Tree and wrapped them to the tops of the pencils with green masking tape. These favors won't give a kid cavities or end up in the trash next week.

And since I get carried away, I also made matching pillow cases for the girls, with a felt monogram top-stitched on. Those cost me about $4 for the ribbon trim I added. I started to think I just didn't need Pinterest in my life to be happy.

But Pinterest, feeling jilted, decided to show up and try to impress me. My daughter requested brownies and ice cream for her special birthday dessert, and I found this idea to make a regular brownie more special. Brownie Bowls. Like, a bowl that you fill with something good and then eat it because it's also really good. Serious.

So I said, "Okay Pinterest. ONE date."

I had to order the molds - I bought two packs of two - from the company in Wisconsin (not sure why it has Chicago in the title). With the second-day air delivery, I threw down $30 for them. Still less than we've spent on some fancy OC bakery birthday cakes in the past, but I could use these molds again and again, right?

And use them I will. They were worth every penny. Love love love. I even followed the from-scratch recipe for Hot Chocolate Brownies on the same blog post I was led to via Pinterest and it was perfection! I considered photos and description of the whole process, but then that's what this other blog friend already did. I followed her whole procedure (though I doubled the recipe) and it all worked beautifully. She has lovely STEP-BY-STEP instructions and photos.

The birthday guests were so excited to decorate their sundaes in brownie bowls, and most importantly, my daughter loved them. Late that night, I finally made my own sundae (with some peach sangria on the side).

In my sugared/sangria-d state, the brownie bowls made me call up Pinterest in a moment of weakness and lead it on a bit. I knew it could impress me once; maybe it had potential for a long term relationship. But then I thought of all the girls it's disappointed. So many instagrams labeled "Pinterest fail!" Such a mixed reputation. All in all, I think I can handle a party pretty well on my own. And I decided I'm just not gonna be that girl doing drive-bys and smiling at Pinterest just because it's the talk of the town.

Pinterest, for now I just want to be friends. Redheads are a little spicy like that.

{Enjoy a few more glimpses of my girl's super special day. Each of us felt it exceeded our expectations. All the work and heart I put in truly paid off in fun and memories for us all. Here's hoping those memories last, because I think she may go off to college before I know it.}