Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Snippets between birthdays

This is birthday month in my home.

The lower-rung priorities tend to fall off. Like blogging. And keeping in touch with all our CA friends and family. Sorry guys, but my mini-baker wants a tripled recipe of from-scratch s'more cupcakes with from-scratch frosting for her class in 48 hrs. Oh wait, and she wants to do it all herself. Which is not a surprise. She is turning 11, but when she was 2, she would loudly assert, "I do it my big self!"

I'm totally not complaining. I LOVE to celebrate them, especially since it's just us here in the MT. But other things just have to give. I'm okay with that too.

I'll be back with my thoughts on friendship and whatnot soon. In the meantime, here are some snippets of what's been going on around here this past week.

Birthday boy who loves donuts, Mexican food, and his new bow and arrow.


The "planting" of artificial succulents in real dirt. (I said, "Let's just try that." And guess what? It's awesome.)

Days off, library trips, snacks and these two.

Thunderstorms and movie watching. We love vintage Harrison Ford. "Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?"

Memorial Day parade in the rain

Shopping for birthday girl's dessert this weekend, mega-s'mores.

Room prepping for visitors in my house. I officially have ONE cute room. (I might move in, I love it so.)

{print by Katygirl found in her shop here}

And there you have it. That covered our last 7 days. I'm tired.

But also excited; this coming weekend, we are taking our first mini-trip as a family in this Big Sky state. We are ready for a whole weekend of play. No emptying another cardboard box. No searching for a container the exact volume as all the Zhu-Zhu pet parts. No attempting to clean the mud off the dog's paws ten times a day.

I'll keep you in the loop like I usually do, with the help of my trusty phone camera and updates next week. Wait, in a couple days, it will be June! Now, isn't there something about June that holds a whole world of promise?


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

When your answer is, "I don't know."

This morning, we sat at the kitchen table before school. The sun soaked through the window and I moved the egg cartons of seeds into its light.

We watched CNN video coverage of the Oklahoma tornado on the iPad, over Special K and my stifled tears, my mama-grief over the loss of life for so many children.

One bystander had captured the tornado's wild building and twisting on his cell phone camera. During the short clip, I quietly thought aloud, "Can you guys even believe the power of God?"

And there it hung in the air: the truth I had just introduced to my children that this disaster was God's doing. Indeed it was. There was no shooter to blame. No evil root of sickness in this world to which to point. I could have guessed what would come next.

"But why did He do it?" my son asked, not pulling his eyes away from the screen.

My answer was all of our answers. "I don't know."

I went on to say something about how God has His reasons for all that He does, but my words felt flimsy and brittle against the force of the images we watched. I just don't know why.

I'm not a fan of sheltering my kids from the hardships of real life, as long as I am exposing them in a setting where I am available to keep things age-appropriate and answer questions. That's what I did this morning. It was planned. But there are some questions for which I have no answers.

Frankly, I hate that.

Events such as these cause people to question the character of God, not just our kids, but also our friends, neighbors, the grocery store clerk, the babysitter, everyone who is processing this devastating natural disaster within our country. Tragedy has a way of humbling us, and people who have carried on without God suddenly allow the eternally planted heart-cry to arise inside that asks, "Who is this God? What is going on?"

Though I can't ever explain why God does what He does, I do have some answers. I know who He is, and what I've learned about Him through the Bible acts as a lens through which I can process and understand everything in life.

This morning, I read Psalm 103 and 104. Here are some excerpts. Read the words carefully, and take in His character, for it is the lens through which we must see all His actions.

{Psalm 103}

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children's children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

{Psalm 104}

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
    you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
    flames of fire his servants.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
    may the Lord rejoice in his works,
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
    who touches the mountains and they smoke!
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord.

I may not know why, but I know who.

His power, His glory, His rule over this earth with justice and compassion and grace...it is too much for my small heart to comprehend. I find reading about His character so humbling.

Today when my kids come home from school, I'm going to talk to them about who God is, and how when we ask, "Why?" He doesn't always let us know. But trusting God means we don't have to know. Faith is being convinced of what we cannot always see: that He is good and He is love. It is not just that He is loving. His very being defines love. That means woven throughout this tragedy is love. It has to be. We can't forget that.

Until then, I'm keeping my head bowed, trusting that we will see glimpses of His goodness in Oklahoma soon. And if He doesn't allow us to witness it, I will still know who He is.

The little seedlings remind me of hope.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Befriending: Why we need friends


Last week, I shared a bit about my unique position right now, having just moved, to start a series on friendship.

Well, there are so many aspects of friendship, making friends, keeping friends, being a friend, and being without friends. But all of these conversations we could have stem from something: there are underlying reasons - Biblical reasons - why we all need friends.

I'm not saying there aren't seasons of our lives when God may remove a friendship for some other purpose. He can and does. Sometimes He clearly uses our absence of a friend, our loneliness, to drive us to a deeper relationship with Himself. He is, you know, always calling us to deepen our friendship with Him first and foremost.

But assuming you are in an average season of life, walking with God, there are reasons why you and I should put energy into pursuing and growing friendships. (I'm sure there are really good books on this subject, by the way. I'm not taking these truths from one; they are just from my heart and what I've learned in my life.)

Reason 1: We were designed to live in relationship.

When God created Adam, for the first time, He said, "This is not good," because Adam was alone (Genesis 2:18). So God gave him company. It was Eve, and she was not only his wife, but also his friend. The relationship between Adam and Eve was the first reflection, or symbolic relationship, of the one between God and his people. Never for a moment were we meant to be isolated.

God had a plan, here. We don't get to decide what's best for us. Of course we need regular solitude to refresh our spirits with the Lord. But in a broader sense, we were never, ever meant to be fully independent in this life. And God knows that that plan is harder for some personalities to navigate than others. Even in the absence of human friendship, we were created to be in intimate connection with God. Sometimes it's called fellowship. Just like He wants us to enjoy fellowship with Him, He urges us to pursue friendship and thus find fellowship with others. Even if that pursuit feels difficult and risky.

And I believe that because mankind's bent is to want to go our own way (let's face it, being alone and independent is often easier, safer), He is always pressing in, teaching us how to deepen our interdependence with Him and with His family. Jesus modeled this for us, and says in John 15:15,

"I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn't confide in his servants. Now you are my friends."

Friends are interdependent. Friendship is important to Jesus, and He is a perfect friend. He teaches us about friendship by the way He is a friend, in the Bible, and in our lives.

Reason 2: We need to be encouraged and exhorted.

People are sort of lazy. We love comfort and peace, and when things don't go our way, when we get uncomfortable, we tend to want to fold. We give up and withdraw and easily crumble. God knew that. That's why He puts other loving people around us to encourage and exhort us to try, try again. To choose well, to take heart.

I need that! Just yesterday, I threw out a lifeline to a Godly friend, because I knew I was crumbling in one corner of my heart. Her words of truth and encouragement made ALL the difference. Had I stayed isolated and independent, my feelings and thoughts would have ruined my day, and maybe several.

"Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near."            
Hebrews 10:24-25

This verse says to me that some people neglect their friendships. Another version says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing." Are you in the habit of NOT getting together with friends? It can become a habit to withdraw, to stay isolated. And it's not healthy. The verse implies that the people who are in the habit of neglecting their friendships will not have the emotional and mental nourishment they need from others to stay in the game and finish strong.

Reason 3: Sometimes we need to be held up by the locked arms of our friends.

I can't help but think of Russell Crowe here, and the scene in Gladiator when all the warriors have locked their arms to stay standing against their foes. Life is super hard, if you've noticed. Sin in this world delivers serious blows to our hearts, our identity, and our whole perspective. We need friends because during those times we get knocked down, a friend has our back and pulls us back up.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12   

This verse brings up the concept of strength being found in numbers. It implies, to me, that life involves fighting. It's abstract, but we know in our hearts this is true. All things worthwhile must be fought for. Stuff like staying married, raising children, and just living a life of integrity requires constant battle against our culture, sin, and our own flesh. And how defenseless are you if you're fighting those fights alone? The single sheep who has wandered from the flock is always the first to get picked off. 

We need friends to lock arms with us and watch our backs. 

Reason 4: We need wisdom.  

The bottom line here is that I need ideas. Sometimes my judgment during trials and conflicts is seriously questionable. My emotions get my own ideas all mixed up, and I can miss the wisest choice in a given situation. Wise, well-chosen friends are a crucial source of ideas when we need them most. I am not exaggerating when I say "crucial." I don't even want to think about where I'd be today had I not followed the wise advice of friends in difficult times in my past. This is perhaps particularly true in the area of our beliefs, about God, about others, and about ourselves. Don't forget that the Prince of Lies is working overtime to pull you away from all that is right and good. When your vision is clouded, you need the clear thinking, discerning advice of a friend.  

"As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend."   
Proverbs 27:17

"He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm."
Proverbs 13:20

And here's the thing. Those friends of yours need your encouragement, your loyalty, your wisdom too. In those critical moments, they need your clear thinking, your wisdom and your love when they are clouded. They need you to pick them up and fight for them when they are too broken. And they need grace and truth in all of life's challenges. By neglecting our friendships or the pursuit of new ones, we are not only robbing ourselves of nourishment, but we are robbing our friends of the same.

Okay pals, soak those reasons in. Are there any that you wrestle with? Any areas that sparked a little resistance in your spirit? Do not underestimate the power of how your BELIEFS about friendship will influence your actions from here on out, no matter what I or anyone else says.

There is an element of obedience here, a trust that we each need to have in a God who designed us in a particular way for particular reasons. When I would rather be isolated or just feel too lazy to pursue others, I need to instead act on my BELIEF that God has plans for me and my heart that can only unfold inside of friendship. 

Have a great day. 


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why enjoying Mother's Day is so hard


It's a crazy paradox, this Mother's Day business.

The reason it is so difficult for us mothers to enjoy Mother's Day is because we are mothers. We are highly skilled at giving to others, and highly horrible at receiving from them. It is impossible that a mother was the one who invented Mother's Day. A mother would have never suggested everyone else take a day to honor her. I'm sure it was a man. Men are typically great at respecting and honoring their mothers.

And mothers? Well, we stink at letting ourselves be honored.

On the other hand, we're amazing at pouring out into our loved ones.

We know unconditional love. We teach love every day.

No one on earth can take better care of our people than we can. We are irreplaceable.

We are experts in the thousand most important details of our children's lives. Hands down, no contest.

But get us to enjoy a day revolving around us? That's as likely as getting a walk-in appointment with the pediatrician on a Monday morning.

The fact is that somewhere between the positive pregnancy test and potty training, we totally forgot how to be honored. In the unrelenting, hard labor of learning how to lay down our lives, we grew quite skilled at giving to others, and quite unfamiliar with taking for ourselves.

I've heard many a mom friend say something like, "I just feel so guilty when I take time for myself..."

There you have it: it is so bad that we have criminalized meeting our own needs. And that's just backwards, isn't it? Of course! How can we fill anyone else unless we ourselves are filled up first? I think the ones who understand most our need to be prioritized are our husbands. That's why they will try, this Mother's Day, to treat us, in their own ways. To bless us. To make our kids wear scratchy button-up shirts because they know that's what we want.

And the best response we can have, the most loving thing we can do, is to enjoy it.

First of all, who am I to deny my husband the chance to love and honor me in front of my children? Not allowing them to pamper me a bit is denying them the blessing of serving.

And second of all, enjoying the day means remembering how valuable we are as mothers, and realizing how crucial it is for our children to see that. We deserve honor (wow, it's hard for me even to type the words), and our kids need to see that we believe it. It is damaging to our children's development to allow them to believe we are simply maids, short order cooks, and chauffeurs.

I know not every family works the same way. Many moms serve their families while receiving no appreciation or honor from their loved ones. That's sad, and that's not how God designed the family to function. But it is reality because we live in a broken world. In fact, our own brokenness is what keeps us from understanding our worth. But God knows it. He tells it. No one will ever affirm your role as a mother better than the one who gave you the role in the first place. To the unappreciated mother, I say let Him. Open your heart to hear the Lord's whispers of love and sincere validation for the job you are doing. He smiles when He sees you love on that child He gave you.

I need His validation, I forget who I am. I forget why I am. And while I'll probably get choked up by the loving cards from my family members today, I need God's affirmation most. He's the only one who really sees what kind of mother I am, what things about this job threaten to break me, and what my deepest desires for my family are. He hears every plea I make on their behalf, and He teaches me how to mother best.

So friends, I am going to try my hardest to enjoy the day. I will smile, be gracious, and say "Thank you!" when my husband and children make efforts to love me. I will not apologize for allowing them to do some of my dirty work. I will not hinder them from finding the blessing in serving me. 

Oh, it won't be a perfect day. Someone will be crying at some point, or arguing, or being selfish (and it may even be me!). Again. Broken world. But love covers a multitude of sins.

Let love cover them.

Let love cover you.

Happy Mother's Day.


Monday, May 06, 2013

Befriending {an introduction}


Raise your hand if you've ever had a hard time making a good female friend.

Raise your hand if you've lost a friend. Or had a falling out with a friend. Or gone for years without having one single friend with whom you could share your heart.

I can raise my hand on all of the above.

Have you ever moved away and lost ALL your friends, overnight?

Well, I'm realizing I'm in a situation, having just moved, where I am starting at square one with making face-to-face friends. And then as I've talked to a few people, I've also realized that pretty much all of us struggle to make or keep even one good, solid, safe, female friend. It is not easy. Women are not easy. We are complicated, emotional, protective, and horribly addicted to comparing ourselves with others. Comparison is like friendship arsenic, by the way (more on that another day).

I felt I needed to bring this befriending challenge that I'm up against to the table here. Maybe we need to talk about this friendship issue we as women have. Maybe it's just a little too easy to sit behind our screens and desire connection but feel too afraid to step out. I feel that way some days. I feel really, really lame. I don't want to drum up a conversation with that other mom standing five inches from me at school pick up. I don't want to ask my kids to point out the boys and girls they like so I can chase down their mothers in the parking lot and introduce myself. It is NOT fun or comfortable for me.

But I know it's worth it. And I've been taking some courageous steps - for me, anyway - in the pursuit of friendship.

So I thought you may enjoy it if I posted regular updates on this pursuit. I also have a lot of thoughts on the different seasons of friendship that I think God ordains for us. He hasn't always provided friends for me. I've been through painful seasons of loneliness. That's part of His plan too, sometimes.

I've received two emails this week asking for advice on friendship related matters. They are actually what prompted me to put my thoughts down here about starting a dialogue with you on friendship. Do you have any issues or questions you'd like me to address during this little friendship series? I'm hoping, through this process, you'll feel encouraged to pursue new or deeper friendships as well, whether you're in a season to look outside of yourself for that, or to look inward for a deeper friendship with the Lord.

Okay. Let me gather my thoughts for my first post on befriending, and I'll share soon.

In the meantime, answer me this:

What is one immediate thing you look for in a friend, something you can assess within the first few times of meeting?


Saturday, May 04, 2013

The classroom of life

I was just going to list the happenings around here lately. I could list the events and the activities. But all those moments actually mean so much more.    

We're learning, all the time, in the classroom of life.

I went to a furniture refinishing class at this antique store this week. I learned how to change ugly furniture into awesome furniture. But really, my eyes were wide open to the people, the culture, the social dynamics among the 15 women, and what it all meant for me.

I was learning a lot more than about furniture. I was learning about people. About them. And about me.

I've been having a lot of thoughts about seasons of friendship lately. Female friendships are hard wrought. Good ones are rare jewels. Right now, friendship feels elusive and off in the distance. But I'm learning, stretching, staying humble and walking close with my best Friend, first.

My life's classroom right now is teaching me how to operate and thrive without the many close friends I lived amongst just months ago.

Here are some more students in my household. I could tell you that my husband built shelves for the garage. But more importantly, he is learning to teach, learning and stretching in his understanding of what it means to father. One is learning how to follow, how to listen, how to emulate. Serious bonding is taking place in the midst of sawdust and power tools and paint.

My little guy built this stool and "desk" on his own. His feelings of pride over his work were beautiful (and he reminded me of Bob Cratchit in this photo, sitting on his perch, maybe counting coins for Mr. Scrooge).

He is learning how to be big. And he is glued to his dad's side in every project.

I could tell you that my husband joined his company softball team, and that we cheered for him at his first game. But he's also learning where he fits in to the dynamics among his co-workers. Learning to lead them, to minister, to make friends. It takes a lot of effort. Well, you know that.

I was learning, once again, how to stay warm. Oh, that was a chilly night!

I could also tell you that I found this blanket at an antique shop. But it's still all about learning, in my new space, to make a home. I spend a lot of time and thought on how to create warmth and inspiration on this blank canvas of a house with stark walls and empty rooms.

I didn't feel inspired to make my home in the same way in my last space. So it's a new opportunity for me to walk through the process of creating something - I don't know exactly what - in each room.

My dear friend Aly sent me this print.

She knows that my word for 2013 is "Together."

And what a beautiful reminder it was for me this week; if you recall, at the start of the year, our move was not yet public, but imminent. God gave me this word to remind me of something very important: no matter what Montana would bring, He and I would be together. And my family - we would all be together. I had a sense that unity would be critical, acknowledging the need to cling to the Lord and to one another during this season of change. It takes a lot of effort and is not easy. But you knew that.

I guess there is no tidy little lesson to wrap up this post. We are living our lives out here, all learning in the classroom of life. And God and I are hanging out.

Together, always.


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Teachable Moment: Staying Connected

Like I've done so many times in my mothering, I used to doubt whether I was making the right choice when I forced an answer out of my preschooler about her day when I picked her up. I wouldn't accept, "I don't know" or "I don't remember," or "Nothing." I would say, "Use the good brain God gave you and think of one thing to share with me." Lo and behold, she always could.

I felt mean half the time, like a communication tyrant. But I kept it up, and intentionally provided much time in our week for talking. I miss our days when I still had a napper in the house, and she and I would have an after school snack alone in the quiet, sitting across the table from one another and discussing princesses. There was only one reason I relentlessly pursued connection: I knew the day would come when she wouldn't need or want her parents as much. I wanted a bond to already exist, an openness, an availability that she knew she could rely on when her own bigger kid troubles arose.

So here we are, several years later. She is 10 and I am keenly aware that my relationships with my children are things for which I must fight. So many things threaten to deteriorate our connection.

Some things are mine to limit, like busyness, preoccupation, crafting, blogging. Some things are theirs that I must teach them how to limit. As a mom, it is critical that I teach them both the value of balance and that relationships come first.

If you couldn't tell, something prompted this post. Something happened that caused these issues to arise in my home and warrant a bit of training.

My girl - my introverted, beautiful, deep thinking, wise girl - loves reading. I know. It's a good thing, one that I've tried to foster just as intentionally as communication in our house. But you and I know even good things can become unhealthy when out of balance.

It may have something to do with recently moving; we have few commitments, extra time, and more free space in our lives to enjoy it. But she is suddenly, fully immersed in books. What started long ago as a before-bed habit has become an all day long obsession. She finishes one every couple days. She spends all her allowance on books. I've had to take her book away twice this month because it's gotten in the way of her obeying and completing her responsibilities. I have to call several times to come down to dinner. She is turning down all offers to play with her brother. And last night, after having a family time watching daddy play his first softball game with his new company, she was the only one not participating. Sitting in front of her in the car on the way home, I didn't realize it was because she was again reading, and then only wanted to discuss the characters in her book.

I cut it off, saying I would love to hear about her book, but that it wasn't the right timing. I explained that right then, we were trying to encourage dad, ask him questions and be happy for his new team. I said she needed to focus on real people right then. And at bedtime, I brought it up again, carefully explaining how any good thing can start to overshadow our relationships if we let it. She's old enough now for me to put the ball in her court a little, for me to encourage her to make different choices, rather than controlling them all. She took it all in, understanding the truth of my words, and hopefully realizing how indulging all one's desires and tendencies can be self-centered. 

I went on to explain that one of my biggest jobs as a mom before she leaves my house is to teach her how to be a loving person, and the only way she can learn to love is by being in functioning relationships. That's where she learns to say "You first," that's where she learns to resolve conflict, to be unselfish, to use her words when she is hurt, to be a good sport, to encourage someone feeling down, to be helpful...there are so many life lessons children need to learn that cannot be learned outside of the context of relationship. And I told her that.

When she was in preschool, I didn't know yet that she was a true introvert, like her daddy, needing alone time to rejuvenate, and erring on the side of independence. A good thing of course, when in balance with healthy relationships. And so with children like her, it takes even more training and patience to help her learn how to prioritize relationships, to stay connected and interdependent, while being sensitive to the fact that these things do not feel natural for her.

Even though I know God created my girl this way and I must provide for her needs for alone time, even though I know many of her strengths come out of her personality, I also know God created all of us to live in community, giving our hearts to others, and caring for those given to us. Relationship is where much of life happens. And for some of us, being in relationship is harder than it is for others.

If you know me, you know I have a great passion for books as well. They are valuable things in our home. But the good can sometimes be the biggest enemy of the best. Whether its technology, video games, cell phones, or books, as a mother, I am committed to teaching limits and fighting for the best. I need to model balance and healthy priorities, just as I attempt to teach them. And hopefully, my kids will know that maintaining my connection with God and with my family members is my greatest passion.

One day, when she's 17....maybe one day, she'll remember that.

And then come tell me about her day.