You win some and you...well...don't

It’s been a minute.  Yes, I know you’ve all been eagerly checking your inboxes, biting your nails wondering O MY GOODNESS WILL LINDSEY EVER BLOG AGAIN?

My loves, you can rest at last. Pour yourselves a glass of wine or a mug of tea because I’ve got some ground to cover.

By the way, in case you’ve been wondering, I’ve been super productive in the past few months!  In fact, I would love to share a few wins and fails of what I’ve been up to.

First and Foremost:

I WROTE A BOOK.  Well, I wrote a book with 12 other people, and Holly did most of the work, BUT MY NAME IS IN IT. 

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Here she is.  Isn’t she beautiful?  (If you want to snag a copy, use my special contributor code SHSF20 and go here to order)

Most all of my writing/editing/communicating energy has gone into this little number, so I have not been wording on the computers as much as I should.  Either way, this is a win, and I’m so thrilled that I got to be a part of this project.  If you like laughing and crying or laughing until you cry, buy this book for yourself and everyone you know who has estrogen.

 

My Fail? Social. Media. 

Before you pass me the Werther’s , please know that I was one of THE first people on Facebook, when Facebook was reserved only for college students.  (Hipster facebook user? Is that possible?)  I loved it, but for reasons that I still need to flesh out in a longer post, I stepped away entirely a year and a half ago and have never looked back.  I’ve tried Instagram, but I can’t quite seem to find my voice on there.  I’m much more of a words gal than photog, so I keep trying Insta like someone trying to start an old car on a cold morning.  It’s painful.

This book has highlighted my premature entry into my semi-Amish lifestyle and has stretched me past my comfort in terms of self-promotion, posting, etc.  But I needed that.  I tried to make up for my lack of contribution to the marketing of this puppy by busting out my best Adele at the karaoke Launch party, but I think the chick that could both sing and dance all of the Bruno Mars totally owned me. 

 

Win:

I’ve been waking up in the early morning LIKE AN ADULT and have reaped the amazing benefits of not starting the day chasing children.

Fail:

Except for the one day I slept in and walked downstairs to discover the toddler sitting on the couch, a carton of ice cream between her legs, going full Winnie the Pooh in the Moose Tracks.  Both fists. 

 This was the day after I caught her eating frozen rolls straight from the Costco-sized bag,

This was the day after I caught her eating frozen rolls straight from the Costco-sized bag,

 

Another Win, you ask?

I’ve been hard at work at my sewing machine cranking out some of my most favorite little happies: crayon rolls. I was really happy with how they sold at Christmas, so I modified my pattern and made more for Easter Baskets, etc.  Add on a bunch of home projects, birthdays, a few holidays, etc., and I’ve about met my creative capacity for the year.  And that’s saying something.

 Lots of colors for boys and girls still available! $5 each. 

Lots of colors for boys and girls still available! $5 each. 

Nevertheless, I’m still trying to work some creative magic on behalf of our Wildflower’s big 5th birthday party coming up.

The theme?  Narnia.  (Shocking, I know.)

But seriously, this thing has been snowballing for the last few months, including very wonderful, amazing, loyal friends dressing up. (I love you, Ber.)  (Yes, I know I still owe you.)

We spent this afternoon building a wardrobe out of cardboard boxes (not finished yet, but getting there!).  We also successfully created a full Pinata makeover, turning this:

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Into THIS.

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(Peter slays a wolf that’s trying to eat his sisters.  It seemed like a good villain.)

 

But the fail came in the kitchen, as it often does.

I am a notoriously ambitious baker.  Like when I tried to build a 3-D squirrel cake the night before my oldest’s first birthday party.  I attempted this with boxed cake mix and all the knowledge I had gained from watching 3 episodes of Cake Boss.

It did not fare well.

(Bonus fact! I was able to concoct a decent squirrel out of rice crispies treats, but when covered with chocolate icing, it resembled the new vocabulary word my 8 year old learned at school last week that rhymes with “bird.”)

I come by it honestly.  One Christmas my mother made candy that had an uncanny resemblance to deer droppings, and there’s another story about “Roach Candy” in the archives. 

For all of the successes we have casually slid onto the holiday table, there’s a graveyard of culinary catastrophes in our closets.  I have turned more cakes into trifles than I can count and have learned that homemade whipped cream covers a multitude of sins. 

But tonight, there was no recovery.

I have thankfully learned from my ways and decided to test a daunting recipe well in advance of the actual party day.  My experiment: Turkish Delight.

I read the recipe THREE TIMES.  I cross referenced TWO RECIPES for consistency.  I went to a Middle Eastern Grocery store and pretended not to be awkward to secure the elusive rose water extract needed.

All was going swimmingly.  Soft ball stage.  Hard ball stage.  Double saucepans, candy thermometers.  The coloring was perfect, the rose flavor, delightfully subtle.

And then, the pistachios.

The recipe insisted they were the key to authenticity, and not wanting to neglect the STAR of the Dessert table.  I dumped all 16 ounces of lovingly roasted and chopped pistachios.

And it took a horrible turn.

 

 Lovingly titled “It’s my party and I’ll retch if I want to” 

Lovingly titled “It’s my party and I’ll retch if I want to” 

 What do you mean, you wouldn’t sell your soul and your siblings for a piece of this?

Let the little ones come

A few years ago, I found myself sitting in the sanctuary of my church, wearing all black, mourning for the sudden and shocking death of a beloved man in our church family. This man had not only been a dear presence in my life in Birmingham, but had sung next to my daddy in the church choir in my home church in Memphis. His daughter babysat me, and his wife had sat at our table with my mother. It was the deepest blow of an already hard year. 

As people filed in, the room became flooded with familiar faces, friends both new and old.  My childhood piano teacher sat a few seats away from my childhood pastor. A few rows over sat some of my mother’s best friends that had prayed for me since the cradle. But there was one face in the group that I couldn’t name, but, for the life of me, I knew. I peered at her soft, worn face and knew somewhere deep within, “that woman loved me.” I leaned over to my piano teacher and asked the lady’s name. Judy Pepper. Lovely, but a mystery still.  

A later phone call to my mother revealed that this lady had been my Sunday School teacher when I was only three. The catch is, she moved the following year, so I had never seen her since. And yet, when I saw her face, I was struck with the peace and safety I felt in her presence. I felt known, and I felt loved. 

I’ve worked with children for years, but this was a watershed moment for me in my approach to serving the little ones in my life. As a mother of four, the last thing I want to do most days is to be responsible for more children, more instruction, or more uncontainable energy. The Sunday school lesson plans, the songs for children’s choir, the catechism questions often have seemed like more on my plate than I really want to swallow. But that day of brokenness breathed new life into my heart for the little ones around me. 

You see, I don’t have any great wisdom to impart. My Bible knowledge is elementary at best, and too many times I’ve had to answer questions with “just wait- we’re going to cover that next week!” followed by me frantically searching for the answer before the next lesson. From preschool music, to nursery, to Sunday school and catechism, I’ve covered a lot of ground, but out of all these lessons, I don’t care if they remember a thing. There are two things I want the children in my care to take away: Mrs. Lindsey loves Jesus. And Mrs. Lindsey loves me.

I’ve been in the church long enough to know that chances are, I will cross paths with these students even after they’ve moved off to college. I’ll run into them at weddings, spy them across the room at conferences and worship services, and sit down the row from them at funerals. And when they see me then, I hope they remember. Not the lessons, but the love. I hope they feel at home knowing I’m just a few feet away, and that they feel connected to God’s kingdom when they see a familiar face from so many years ago. You see, just like the heart of the Gospel, teaching children is not about religious instruction; it’s about relationship. I love the Bible. I love the Grand Story that we’re all caught up in, but most of all I love the Family and am in awe that I have a seat at the Lord’s table with saints across the ages. It’s that sense of belonging, the knowledge that I have been adopted through grace into a family, that keeps me coming back. The teaching I give and receive is my family history and the creed of my people. And these kids are God’s people- and my people, too.

Lovely little things

Enough of the serious stuff, I'm ready for something lighthearted. How about you? 

The high holy days of autumn are nigh upon us, which makes me feel like we need to have a favorite things list.  Also, my 8-year-old just informed me that when I am old he's going to shove me into the back of his Corvette and drive it to the nursing home. I need a distraction right about now.

Let's start with something scrumptious, shall we?

Maple Granola

A favorite around here. This stuff is so good, you'll find half of it gone in the first hour! 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine:
3 c. rolled oats
1 c. flaked coconut
1 c. pecans
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. sesame seeds (I leave these out if I don't already have them around)
1 tsp. coarse salt
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (I use more)

1 tsp. ground cardamom

1/2 c. golden raisins (or Craisins) (also optional)

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. pure maple syrup

Optional: Zest of one Orange

Mix all dry ingredients together.  Add maple syrup and olive oil.  Place on rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  Remove and let cool. Try not to burn your mouth by eating it straight from the pan. Also, your house now smells amazing. You're welcome.

 

Stacy Iest Hsu's Fabric

Fairy tales spun into gorgeous fabric? Yes, please.  I made Little Edelweiss a quilt out of the Lil' Red line, and her dolly is from the accompanying fabric panel. I just love everything this designer has created, and the extra bonus is that her fabric is available in layer cakes, which is my very favorite kind of precut.

 Photo from stacyiesthsu.com

Photo from stacyiesthsu.com

 

American Girl Series

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  I lurrrved the American girl doll series when I was in elementary school, so it is the thrill of my heart that our Firefly is digging into these books right now. I saved all of my books and dolls from childhood, and the deal is, once she finishes the Samantha series, the doll comes down from the closet as her very own. We are also studying American history in school this year, so this is a major win for this lazy homeschool mom.

 

N.D. Wilson's Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

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I picked up this book a few years ago and tried to read it then, but the timing just wasn't right for me. This book is  chock full of philosophy and poetry and lots of great wonderings and meanderings of thought. If you liked Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz, this is that on steroids. It has provided a wonderful rest at the end of the day, and has re-awakened a sense of wonder and excitement in my soul. 

 

Scare tape

We live in a pretty wooded area, so our property is host to a lot of critters, from foxes to raccoons, possums, rabbits, owls, and most unwelcome, woodpeckers.  This one little twerp was absolutely tearing up the side of our house, which especially infuriated my husband after spending way too much having our entire home repainted. Since my aim with the Nerf gun wasn't quite what I was hoping, and since I was afraid I'd get caught if I shot it with a BB gun, we had to get creative. Enter Scare Tape. We have 4 foot streamers of this tape all around the periphery of our roof, and it has been extremely effective. Bonus: our house looks like a disco party in the wind. Our neighbors must think we're so classy.

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Here and Heaven

Nothing gets me so excited as good artistic collaboration, and this is as great as it gets. Four of the very best living musicians plus one of the purest voices in the world makes for a great piece of music. Plus they have a lot of fun in the process!

 

 

Baby curls. That is all. 

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Have a great weekend! 

Rest in the process

  (Any other rough first days of school out there? Today was a harsh reality check around here, and I imagine in some of your homes as well. I kept coming back and re-reading this piece I wrote a little while ago, needing to be reminded to keep my eye on the process and leave the product up to the Lord.)

 

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between good, soul-saturating, thought-provoking art and the cheap, fast, and unfilling stuff?  What makes bands like U2 last for decades in a world of one-hit wonders?  What separates Tolkien and Lewis from the momentary peak on the weekly best-sellers list? What put DaVinci in galleries all over the world, while so many other paintings hide in attics?

In a word, process.

If you want to create something magnificent, something so thoroughly well-done, the product cannot be your focus.  An artist who focuses on the product alone will turn out something contrived every time.  “Here is the effect I want to have, now how do I get there…?”  It might look good on initial glance, but such art usually has nothing to say, nothing that lingers in your mind hours or days after walking away.  You see, a true artist delights in the intricacies of each stroke, the mixture of the paint, the mood of the room and the music of the background.  A chef pays close attention to the quality of the ingredients, the coarseness of the chopping, and the precise heat used.  A singer must work to craft diction, articulation, posture, and presence before the sound can ever be successful.  The process is key, and it is those creators that delight in the nuances of the craft that are most powerful in communicating through it. 

Now take this, and consider this quote from author S.D.Smith:

“Your family is the most potent art you’ll ever be a part of creating.”

That’s right, this parenting thing, these long days of scraping cheerios off the floor, these endless carpool lines, this is part of a beautiful work that you are helping to create. And if you’re anything like me, chances are you spend a lot more time worrying about the final product than delighting in the process

For me, product-oriented parenting looks a lot like worry.  Worry over how my kids will turn out in light of my school choice.  Fretting over the diseases they’ll get from the GMO Fruit Loops they had for breakfast.  It also looks a lot like anger.  Anger over them fighting yet again over the same dumb toy. Anger at the teacher that misunderstands or the kid in their class that picks on them and might just destroy their precious self-esteem.  And a lot of times, it looks a lot like control.  White-knuckling in circumstances where I should probably let go.  Feeling defeated by the permanent crust that is my kitchen floor and wondering what kind of adults they’ll turn into if they get accustomed to this filth.  Cringing and imagining that this ugly moment right here might just be one more thing they tell the therapist one day.

But dear ones, we are not in control of the final product.  We were never meant to be.

In her excellent book “Teaching from Rest,” Read-Aloud-Revival leader Sarah MacKenzie gives weary mamas this gift of a word: Diligence.   She reminds the reader constantly that our job is not to secure their future, but to walk diligently step by step with them. Coaching them through the next melt-down. Helping them with this one page of homework. Guiding them through this difficult friendship.  It’s about being with them in the process, not trying to control the product.

What would our homes, our families look like if we would put our stories into the loving hands of the Author, and trusted that he was faithful to complete the work he started?  What would life look like if we took each moment as a small step towards unforeseen greatness?  If I could focus on being patient in this one moment instead of worrying about what this tantrum will look like when they’re teenagers?  If I could abide through suffering and allow my children to endure hardship, knowing that it may be the very ink in their most beautiful chapter?  Perhaps the brushstrokes of monotonous, daily living are the background of a masterpiece. It may be that these bedtime stories read long after I’m tired will add more flavor to their childhood than any elaborate family vacation ever could.

Instead of a contrived life of control and worry, what would it look like to rest and abide, to simply take the next step before us? To be swept up in a story far grander than what we could scribble ourselves?

What our children need is not for us to snatch the pen and force our way to a happy ending.  They simply need us to take their hands and walk through the pages with them, pointing out the hand of grace as the story unfolds, and teaching them how to read it themselves.

Like all good art, it will take a fight.  It will take scrapping one thing and trying another.  It will take meticulous attention the most mundane details.  And like most masterpieces, it will end up differently than what we initially pictured.  But by God’s grace, it will be beautiful.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

When He doesn't roar back

I caught her at it again today.  Blonde curls and white little bare feet, standing on the deck in the sprinkling rain and roaring into the forest.  Roaring with all her 4-year-old might, then traipsing back into the house, bottom lip quivering. "He didn't roar back." "Who, baby?" "Aslan. He just won't roar back."

She comes by it honestly.  We named our Wildflower after C.S. Lewis' little heroine, the one who followed Aslan though dark forests and across the sea and up into the heart of heaven itself.  It's been our prayer since her name was first spoken over her that she would fiercely love and chase after the King the way her namesake did.  But today, her precious trust and tender faith were met with silence, and I didn't know what to tell her.

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I lost my Papa last month.  The night he died, I sat and watched old family videos, listening to his booming voice as tears poured down my face.  Christmas morning, family vacations, there he was towering nearby as I played and danced and sang, the same age as my Wildflower is today. His death has felt like a wall crumbling, like a piece of the foundation under my feet breaking away.  It has been the biggest blow in a hard season, a season where I have asked many times "Why isn't He roaring back?"

We want that so much, don't we? We want our fears and anxieties to be met with a strong roar, a conquering and victorious word, a declaration of power.  We want the promise of the not-yet to be the right-now.  We want Thy Kingdom Come, and we want it soon.  

When bad things happen, people tend to question God's power. But for me, the question isn't "Is God sovereign?". I'm too much of a Presbyterian to get hung up on that one. No, no, the haunting question that surfaces in those quiet, lonely moments is "Is He good?" I fall under the delusion that his glory and my joy are at odds, and his power will reign at my expense.  

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We see our little heroine asking often in Prince Caspian "Why hasn't he come yet?" Around every corner, she longs to see him and with every trial and failure, she invokes his name, "But where is Aslan?" She waits for him to stomp the enemy like last time, but, just as her faith begins to falter, she instead wakes to find him dancing in the forest, beckoning her to simply enter his presence.  They walk and she buries her face in his warmth and realizes that his nearness alone is the victory.  He is bigger and grander than ever before, His power more majestic as she becomes more aware of the weakness within herself.

You see, we have a King who does more than roar. We have in Jesus a Savior who sits by the graveside and weeps bitterly with his friends. We have a Master of the Feast who turns common water into the best of wine. We have a Healer who gently touches our open sores and walks among our lepers. We have a Leader who sits with the outcast and broken, and gives them a home and a name. The victory of the cross has sealed us, and one day, there will be the final triumphant shout of victory, and then, dear hearts, will the real roaring begin. 

But until then, this is what I will tell my Wildflower: in those moments when you most want to hear him roar, quiet your heart and listen. Listen closely, little one, and in those moments of rest and waiting, that is when you will hear him; not roaring, but singing.   

You'll hear a song that began before the stardust settled into place, in a voice sweeter and richer than the heavens themselves.  You'll hear a love song with your own name in it, a song of rescue, devotion, sacrifice, and redemption. A song of delight and rejoicing. A song of promise and of hope.

Your job, my little lioness, is not to roar into the darkness, but to enter his presence and sing along. It's the best battle cry I know. 

 

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The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Pressing In

This essay was written back in February during a hard few weeks.  Health, stress, and winter blues were a challenge, but although the sun is out and the world a lot brighter, the message still rings true, no matter the season

It was a long, stressful day.  A day filled with the usual failures and the typical frustrations of parenting, housekeeping, and just being human.  I know this season of life is a challenge, but this season of year just makes it even tougher.  I was driving to the grocery store with my Firefly in tow, who was quietly watching the world as it passed by her window.  She’s an observant, sharp little thing.  I’m constantly amazed by her assessment and understanding of the world around her.  As we drove the familiar path, rain smearing the windows, I turned on music to pass the time.  An old favorite started pouring through the speakers.  I listened with fresh ears and was surprised to find tears pouring down my face and choking sobs rising up from my chest.

I remember a friend of mine describing a sacred, special moment she shared with her adopted son.  After bringing him home from three years in an orphanage, she would watch as he hurled himself off of furniture, crashing into the floor, the wall, anything he could to just feel something.  This is not uncommon behavior in children that have experienced neglect, abuse, or trauma.  There’s often a disconnection in the vestibular sense (ability to sense your body in relation to your surroundings) and proprioception (ability to discern the senses and motion of your own body.)  Lack of touch, lack of holding, and just sensory struggles in general can lead to a child feeling physically insecure in his environment and in his own skin.  One day, while observing this behavior, she scooped him into her arms and began gently squeezing him, pressing here and there as she caressed and held him.  “This is your arm,” she said.  “Here is your leg.  Feel your knee moving?”  As she continued, tears started streaming down his face as a release came over his little body.  In that moment, wounds that he didn’t even know he had were being named and healed.

I thought of this precious story as I sat in my car and wept.  You see, this song pressed on points and released fears I didn’t even see.  I’ve been too busy hurling myself through the world, trying so hard to understand myself and my surroundings. Trying to feel something.  I needed a Loving Father to scoop me up and press on the parts that hurt.  “Here are your fears.  Here are your sadnesses. Here are your gifts- see how they dovetail your weaknesses?”  As usual, He used honest lyrics and achingly beautiful music to press down deep and name the weights I’ve been carrying.  Sometimes it’s literature that excavates my feelings or art that illuminates the longings of my heart.  Whatever the means, I find that I’m often moved to tears or dancing at the sudden feeling of freedom that comes with understanding my place and posture in this world.  The freedom that comes with naming the frailties and acknowledging the hopes. 

At an annual arts event I recently attended, the pastor, in his opening remarks, mentioned the importance of art in communicating the Gospel.  He asserted that art often has the ability to bypass the mind and speak straight to the heart.  We are so good at mincing words and parsing phrases.  We are experts at selecting what facts and what philosophies to embrace.  But in encountering something profoundly inspired and beautifully crafted, we are knocked off our feet and forced to look deeply within and desperately up.  And in that looking up, that seeking, that longing, we find ourselves in the arms of a loving God, who gently holds and presses, reminding us all the while how very loved we are.     

Only Then

If you were to ask my husband and close friends for a handful of adjectives that describe me, I’m pretty sure “idealist” would pop up fairly quickly.  The term “hopeless romantic” is one I’m familiar in hearing.

Part of this comes with having a literary mind and an artist’s soul.  I see the world through a lens of possibility and potential, delighting in beauty where I see it and striving to add where it is lacking.  I do this in my relationships, my surroundings, and my circumstances.  There is always an underlying narrative running like a current in my mind as I watch The Story being woven around and through me.  This current can be life-giving, but sometimes it is absolutely exhausting.

For me, there’s a thin line between idealism and idolatry that I fall across all too often.

This faltering is sneaky too, as it starts with wistful admiration or longing, leads to imitation, and, fairly quickly, desperation.  It can be an Instagram feed, a blog post, a story, a scene or character in a movie, but wherever I start, my imagination leads me to a wondering of mind and a wandering of heart.  “If only I lived in that era...”  “If only we could live off the grid…”  “If only I could simplify our home…” “If only this relationship were restored…”

The thing about “if only’s” is the “then” that silently follows.  Our mouths rarely say it, but our hearts mutter it every time “If only….then I could be happy.”

I’ve learned to recognize the tangible comparisons in my life, like comparing my body or my house to others around me, but this sin is a sneaky worm that burrows deep into even my good longings and makes me yearn for perfection in the present.

I’ve blindly believed that if I just set the right stage (our home), then the actors (my children) will follow their lines perfectly.  That less toys, a simple pantry, and an unhurried day will yield thankful, peaceful hearts.  I’ve yearned for eras of long ago, assuming that without the distraction of technology and the luxury of modern conveniences, a kinder, simpler life could be attained.  But as the ancient truth says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  Slander, malice, materialism, and desolation have been around since the fall of man, not the dawn of Facebook.

I want beauty, peace, restoration, fruitful work, and grateful hearts.

In a word, I want Heaven.  I want Zion.  I want perfection, and I want it now. 

At this time of year, a time of fresh beginnings and well-intended resolutions, I need to remember that happiness does not lie in a slimmer waistline, a more organized home, a balanced budget, or anything of my own hands.  These might be worthy efforts, but I must remember that all the deep longings in my heart are an echo of what we lost in Eden and what we will regain in Zion. These things will only be made perfect through the work of Jesus;  what he is doing in me and what he already has done for me.  His efforts are not in vain, and have already sealed the perfection I so greatly long for. I close my eyes and dream about it, and I am again reminded of the then that my heart whispers here.  The then that comes only when I meet him face to face.  Then, I will be happy. And you know what?  This then is true.

Driving that same old car

 

After writing a piece in my head for over a year, I finally got it down on paper.  My words came as they usually do; after spinning lines and words together in a giant tapestry in my brain, I parked it in front of the computer and frantically typed it out before they escaped again.  This piece, oh it was good, too.  Powerful, convincing, tightly written with a great flow, it was one of my most coherent pieces yet.  It was good, but it was so very, very wrong. 

I felt a tug in my heart giving me pause before publishing.  “Is this fear or conviction?”, I wondered.  I decided to email the piece to a few trusted friends and, thanks be to the Lord, I’m so thankful I did.  Some friends gave me a hearty thumbs-up.  Apparently my rant was also on their soap-box repertoire, and I had struck a familiar nerve.  One response was different.  This friend very graciously took the essay, point by point, and held it up to the lens of the Gospel.  When I finished reading the response, I was a puddle on the floor.  I was undone by my own sin staring up at me, glaring through the words that minutes before I was so proud of.  I realized my words were tearing others down while building myself and my tribe up.  What made me do this?  The answer has been staring me in the face ever since:  old car righteousness.

We can usually spot self-righteousness a mile away.  The mom bragging about the superiority of her school choice, the man sneaking in details of how important his job is, the parent opining the virtue and perfection of their child.  But there’s a sneaky breed of righteousness that is just as deadly a cancer, yet doesn’t show up on the typical scans.  “Old Car Righteousness” is a term coined in the pulpit by our beloved pastor and has been volleyed around my circle ever since.  The story goes that as he drove his old clunker of a car through his college campus, he began reflecting on how nice everyone else’s car was, and how good he must be that he didn’t need a fancy car like everyone else.  He was content, dagnabbit, and he had the junky car to prove his lack of materialism.  He soon realized his self-righteousness was just as real, whether found in the shiny or new or the haggard and old.  He was in that moment finding his goodness outside of Christ, and no matter the strain, that virus is still deadly.

I find myself doing this every day.  The biggest indicator in my life is looking at what I am most defensive about.  Is it my school choice? Our parenting style?  Our food preferences?  Our method of worship?  I can either esteem my choice “better” than others, or judge others for making the “better” choices, assuming that they think they’re doing so out of spite.  (I love Glennon Melton’s story about how she once felt that another mom was feeding her child an avocado AT HER as she crammed pizza down her children’s throats).  The truth is, we find entirely too much importance in our own selves, whether glorying in our success or smirking in our failures.  But our righteousness, whether shiny and new or clunky and old, is still but filthy rags compared to the perfection of Christ. 

Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:23-24

In my case, the lovingkindess of God looked a lot like failure and conviction, forcing me to face my own ugliness and run back to him.  I have a good Father who won’t let my self-inflicted cancer spread, and that, dear ones, is the best thing to boast about. 

When real life begins

Dear sweet young self,  

    I remember you, dancing across the quad at one of the prettiest school campuses in the country. You were probably counting down the minutes until you got to see your fiancé again, getting ready for a class, or smoothing out your aria before your next lesson (spoiler alert: your lesson is going to end in tears. Again. ) I wince when I look back on how you bemoaned how gross the cafeteria food was as someone scooped food onto your plate FOR you, after fixing it FOR you, only to clean up and wash the dishes later FOR you. (I would give anything for Ms. Velma to hand me a piping hot plate of red beans and rice again, then put that plate on the magic conveyor belt that made all the dirty dishes disappear.) I'm sorry you're having trouble "finding time to exercise" as you walk everywhere with your friends in your single-digit size jeans. I'm sorry your Friday night plans aren't any more exciting than watching a movie with and kissing that cute boy you're going to marry. (My most recent date night with that same boy consisted entirely of an emergency late night run to Walgreens for feminine products and Preparation H, which I had to explain the purpose of to the 20 year old employee who was trying to help us find it.) I know you've received quite a shock recently in learning how much it's going to cost you to put blonde highlights in your hair, but swipe that card merrily, my naive self, for one day you're going to drop an even prettier penny buying Canine Crotch shampoo when your dog gets pelvic ringworm (Bonus question: who do you think gets that lovely chore?).

Remember when you said to that boy of yours "I'm just ready for real life to begin"  before you walked back to the eternal slumber party that was dorm life? That was sweet. And stupid. You had a lot of those moments. 

The thing is, sweet young college self, you still have those moments at 30. I still find myself thinking that "one day" holds something magical that today doesn't. I buy the lie all the time that one day, when the kids are older, when our day isn't ruled by naps, when we have family in town, when we can "abc", we will finally be able to do "xyz." It's a matter of what we put our hope in, really. Are we hoping in our circumstances or are we hoping in the good and perfect plan of our loving Father and enjoying the ride as much as we can, whether we're in that first slope, middle flip, or final tunnel? And the best part, at the end of the ride, real life really does begin. In the presence of the Author of our Story, we'll know real joy, real peace, real perfection beyond any ideal we could dream of in this world. And that's really worth holding out for, don't you think?

Why, I never...

 

Back when I was a perfect parent (before I had children), I had a long list of things I would never do.  Sitting on my lofty perch of idealism, fueled by enough childcare experience to feel knowledgeable about the field of mothering, I was emphatic on several points to which I would not yield.  I would never breastfeed (I nursed all four of mine), would never co-sleep (Somewhere in the middle of night 3 with our first, I caved on this one just for an extra 20 minutes of sleep.  Our bed at night now resembles a snake den of wiggly arms, legs, and torsos. The “snow angel” is the toddler’s favorite sleeping position.), and would CERTAINLY NEVER HOMESCHOOL (We’re in our third year of educational dictatorship…I mean…of our sweet blessed educational journey.)  I even now have a baby who refuses everything but organic formula (which I would have majorly rolled my eyes at years ago).  Somehow, I became accidentally crunchy, except for peanut M&M’s and the necessity of the times that is frozen pizza.  I was especially adamant that I would never put my child on a LEASH.  I mean, who would do that to their kid?  This girl.  Our first was an early walker, quickly turned fearless runner, and with a baby sister 18 months younger, that sucker was a lifesaver. Literally. I encountered the meanest comments and looks, which just served as a humbling reminder of my own ugliness and pride a few short years before. 

Another guilty pleasure turned humbling moment: the People of Walmart website.  I used to peruse the archives, cackling and snorting with superior glee as I clicked through the wardrobe malfunctions, hair travesties, and social faux pas.  Until one fateful day when I was making a quick run to Wally World myself, with my first child in tow.  I was extremely pregnant with our second, and as I hoisted my son on my hip and hauled it through the parking lot, I became increasingly aware of how cold it was outside.  I soldiered on until the looks and scoffs of those making the trek with me caused me to look down.  Good people, my yoga pants were riding mid-derrière and my maternity t-shirt had hiked it up to my ribs, leaving my stretched, burgeoning belly out for public display.  I have never returned to my former snickering at the People of Walmart in full confidence that I am now, most assuredly, on the website. 

But besides these humorous humiliations and general eating of my words, there are many other things I never thought I was capable of.  Ugly-yelling at my kids.  Cold-shouldering my husband. Throwing things across the room in frustration. Dark thoughts and secret desires.  The necessity of anti-depressants just to cope with life (thanks, post-partum depression.)  What this has revealed is not just my naivety and pride, but a deep lack of understanding of just how sinful I am, and just how much I need Jesus.  I hold a degree from Big-Girl-Panties University, but no amount of soldiering on and pushing forward can compensate for how much I need Grace.  There is no Pinterest project or parenting philosophy that covers the fact that I need the momently guidance of the Spirit, the life-giving instruction of Scripture, the loving chastisement of the Father, and the all-encompassing Grace of Jesus.  I could never live abundantly without them, and that’s a statement I feel confident I will never retract. 

Favorite things

Here are a few things that have captured my heart (or at least my attention) as of late.

1. Hamilton

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If you are not yet aware of this latest Broadway smash, then I am thrilled to introduce you.  Sophie Hudson over at BooMama has already catalogued her obsession with this musical, but let me just say, the hype is worth it.  I know, I know, you're skeptical.  A musical about the founding fathers written in modern language including rap battles over political events?  Sounds unlikely.

But. it. works.  Between the brilliant lyrics, humanity of the characters, and flawless execution by the cast, this is one you won't want to miss.  There's some language, so be warned that this is not for little (or sensitive) ears. 

2. La Croix

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I first started drinking this during my pregnancy with Edelweiss.  Carbonation was the only thing that settled my stomach, yet I didn't want the real or fake sugars that come with other sodas.  This one took some getting used to, but I'm hooked.  Besides, Pamplemousse (French for "grapefruit") is just too much fun to say.

(If you're wondering how to pronounce this particular beverage, I already entered a fierce debate on your behalf while vacationing at the beach with family.  According to the website, "La Croy" is the right pronunciation, although I stand by my French Diction classes and assert that although "La Croy" may be right, "La Craw" (the "cr" is almost a "q") is correct.  I will die on this hill.)

3. Maya Angelou

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I recently finished her first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and I am absolutely captivated by this woman's life and legacy.  The degree to which she overcame some tragic events with such grace and eloquence is remarkable.  I've watched every performance and interview I can find on YouTube, and I only wish I had met her in real life before she passed into Glory.  If you want your heart opened and your soul stretched in the most wonderful way, grab a copy of one of her many books.

4. LuLaRoe Leggings

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So, Facebook sales really aren't my thing.  I'm extremely skeptical of anything I cannot buy off a shelf by myself.  But with my brother and sister-in-law starting their own LuLaRoe business, I had some skin in the game.  Krista was kind enough to send me pictures to give me first pick of her new inventory, and I snatched these right up.  Ya'll.  I already love the whole long tunic + leggings look, and these things are heaven.  They were touted as being "butter soft," and good people of the internet, I think I wore them for 48 hours straight. (Yes, I even slept in them.  Don't judge me).  Since we homeschool, pajamas are our uniform anyways, so these babies are able to multitask like a boss. 

(However, I do ask that we abide by the Jen Hatmaker policy regarding leggings as highlighted in this video. Please and thank you. )

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This book has been a sweet haven as I've struggled to survive the rest of the summer and enter the school year with some degree of sanity.  It's full of great reminders of precious truth and comes with a deep assurance that you're not alone.  I love the solidarity it provides, yet instead of wallowing in the "this motherhood stuff is hard, ya'll" vibe, this book constantly points you back to Christ, his finished work, and your hope and rest in that.

6. First Graders

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I have a first grader.  I can't believe I just typed that.  The last few years of so many littles in this house had me truly thinking this day would never come.  But alas, we've entered a new era.  The benefits of having a reading, cognitively independent, tall, able to reach-high-things helper are amazing.  The fact that I can now put the baby down for a nap and take a shower while the other three watch a movie (knowing someone will come let me know if something is amiss) is a luxury I never imagined in the early years.  This of course comes with its own unique challenges, but let me just say that when he kindly offered to make lunch for his sisters while I fed the baby a bottle, I almost jumped up and down and yelled "Hallelujah, thank you Jesus!" There's a light ahead, baby mamas.  The fact that the lunch he made was a "peanut butter and M&M honey sandwich"?  I didn't even care.  Buddy the elf would be so proud.

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7. Storm trooper Elsa.

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I think this one speaks for itself.

 

That's it for now.  What have you run across lately that's brought a little happy to your world?

Life Abundantly

 

Bringing forth life is a long, arduous process.  The months of growing and swelling, stretching and aching.  The preparation, the learning, the books, the classes.  All leading to that one moment in which time stands still and all the pain and planning show their purpose: life.

Perhaps you feel like that.  Perhaps you are in a place where you feel you are laboring in vain, with nothing to deliver.  Perhaps you feel stuck, barren, or frightened by what you have inside you.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

I first fell in love with this verse (John 10:10) when I was expecting our Firefly.  Each of our children have a verse picked out based upon the meaning of their names, and this passage had captured my heart on her behalf.  After all, her name means life.  Over the following years, my heart has been unpacking this verse and all that it means and how it manifests in the lives of those who are in Christ.

Just a few short years before, I had been walking in the most pitiable darkness.  I was angry, disillusioned, and bitter.  I know now that I was in the painful part of breaking and becoming.  That’s why doubt no longer worries me.  Doubt shows the sign of a fight.  Doubt shows that you’re engaged.  The Lord will wrestle with us in our deserts and is bigger than even our biggest fears and arguments.

I’ve heard the Gospel my whole life.  I’ve been steeped in Scripture and washed in the water from infancy, but the darkness of my own heart and the darkness around me had left me viewing the Bible as a standard I could never achieve, a list I could never accomplish, and a set-up for all the hypocrisy I saw around me.  I vacillated between legalism, slamming those around me for their lack of adherence, or license, taking advantage of the promise of forgiveness.  I knew of Grace, but had no concept of how it could truly be manifested in my own life.

In those early years of marriage and motherhood, the Lord was faithful to water the hard soil of my heart and used his people, his church, his word, and his Spirit to coax light from my darkness and breathe life into my aching bones. 

 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

I began looking at the thieves I had welcomed into my heart.  The untruths I believed, the shadows I chased after, and the consumption with my own glory.

You see, I believed that God’s glory and my joy were mutually exclusive.  One led to the loss of another.  But no, dear ones, His heart is for you.  His commandments are not burdensome and are a delight.

We have an amazing backyard.  Wild violets, gracious trees, and a dry creek decorate the terrain.  Songbirds and owls, fireflies, and chattering squirrels flit through the leaves.  There’s a playhouse, tire swing, a picnic table, a swing set, and a large hill to zoom down on bikes.  There are wildflowers to pick, muscadines, and crabapples, all within a copious acre.  But the most delightful thing is the fence.  

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You see, beyond our yard, there’s a steep ravine that drops into a creek.  There’s unkempt land full of broken glass, tossed bottles, snakes, and boards with exposed, rusty nails.  There are several wild dogs that roam the neighborhood, and the ever present threat of cars wielded by the distracted and careless.

The fence is our love for our children.  Much like the Father’s love for us.  And we are free to dance, play, and love as much as we possibly can in that space.  Within his Word is everything necessary for the Good Life, and I have known such joy by dancing in it.

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It is my hope to expound here on what the dance looks like in my life.  It involves making peace with who I was created to be (not who I wish I was), what I was given to steward (not what I wish I had).  It means freedom from the opinions of others.  It means permission to chase the passions in my own heart.  It means recognizing and delighting in the good things that fill my own backyard, from the silly to the sublime.  It means recognizing the thieves for what they are and turning them over to the Shepherd. 

It means freedom.  It means delight.  It means abundance. 

Care to dance with me?

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My so-called life

I received my favorite catalogue in the mail the other day, and in addition to all the gorgeous clothes and scenes found in its perfumed pages, I absolutely love how well it depicts what my every-day life looks like. It's uncanny, really, how well they captured the ins and outs of daily life with four small children. 

Take a look.  

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Here I am, first thing in the morning. My effortless French braid has stayed put through my peaceful, full night of sleep. I am poised and alert as my husband and I swap details of the upcoming day. I rest near the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the many songbirds heralding the joys of the morning. 

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Following my morning coffee (which is purely for enjoyment since I am obviously so well rested), I gaze lovingly across the estate as I bid my lover adieu. I muse quietly to myself over some gentle secret he whispered to me before mounting his white horse and galloping into town for a pleasant day's work.  

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As the children play gaily in the next room, I grab a nearby frond and say a heartfelt prayer of peace and gratitude, enjoying the perfumed essence of the life-twigs in my hand and the sun tickling my soul through the open arched doorway.  

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I quickly dress my clean, cooperative children, with ample time to attend my hair and makeup, and we head into town for our morning errands. Our first stop is the local artisanal baker. We walk in just as he takes his first batch of piping hot French loaves from the oven, and I wrap them in a linen towel and tuck them under my arm.  I laugh at the antics of my cherubs as they sweetly banter over what organic, free-range soup they want to dip this heavenly gluten into. 

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Following our errands, we head to the nearby park. Despite it being a balmy seventy-two degrees outside, I am neither sweaty nor frizzy. An organic juice stand nearby offers me a bit of reprieve as the little ones playfully scamper across the natural landscape. My shoes are so comfortable, I only need to use one foot to stand. 

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Following lunch and reading time, in which each of my children eagerly and joyfully participates, I head to our portico, face the sun, and telepathically communicate with my husband. (If you do not yet know how to do this, both of you must simply find a place of perfect serenity, face the sun, and empty your mind of all thoughts but the untainted love you have for each other. Thoughts between you will begin flowing like rays of light.) He surprises me with the fact that he's leaving work early and would like to meet me in town for an afternoon rendezvous. 

 

 

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The children's au pair briskly heads over, and I finish the day with a few glasses of rosé, laughing merrily and smiling coquettishly. I must admit that perhaps I've had one glass too many, as I gracefully slip from my chair. I look so fabulous though, that my inebriation is more charming than it is awkward or embarrassing. My chivalrous husband puts me upon his horse, and we amble home through the stone-paved streets. 

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Following the children's baths, tender snuggles, and unhurried bedtime, I strike a pose next to our canopied bed, playfully beckoning my husband with my eyes. My nursing bosoms fit graciously into the plunging neckline, and my hair, though freshly showered, is already soft and fluffy. So confident are we in our impending uninterrupted sleep, we end the evening reading and conversing over the joyful moments that permeated our day. I look forward to waking, knowing that the coming day will be just as fabulously accessorized.

 

On a more serious note, if you are a clothing designer looking to sell yoga pants, concealer, dry shampoo, and tops that cover a four-babies-in-six-years belly, hit me up. I've got that look DOWN.  

 

 

** Edit: Several have asked which catalogue this is. Forgive me for not sharing that information originally.  All clothing and images are found in the most recent Soft Surroundings mailer. Soft Surroundings has been my favorite line for over a decade. The clothes are a bit pricey, but they are definitely of high quality and last for years (I have pieces from HIGH SCHOOL, ya'll). I invest in one or two pieces a year. You can shop at softsurroundings.com or softsurroundingsoutlet.com for deep discounts.  (You can also find this brand at ThredUp for even greater savings!)

 

Let the circle be unbroken

 

I’ve carried this ache with me as long as I can remember.  It’s one that’s kept me up at night and has left me feeling desolate and alone more times than I can name. 

It’s the feeling of being “outside.”

I felt this in elementary school- I preferred the company of those older than me to that of my peers.

I felt this in middle school- I wasn’t thin enough or athletic enough like the other girls.

I felt this in high school- I viewed the world through a much different lens, and constantly felt like I was on the outside looking in on my peer group, desperately wanting to be inside but not knowing how to get there.

And I feel this way even now. 

It’s not anything that’s been said or done to me that causes me to feel this, rather it’s an assessment I make and then disqualify myself.

And I have truly thought I’m alone in this.

That’s when I woke up- when I heard a voice telling me “you’re the only one.” 

That was my frog in boiling water moment.

Because the enemy loves nothing more than to get us isolated and alone.  Lone sheep make easy prey.

So, I did what any good 21st century woman would do.  I polled Facebook with this simple, but loaded question:

“Do you feel like you are "inside" or "outside" a social circle you operate in? This can include church body, moms' group, co-workers, etc. If the answer is "outside", what disqualifies you?”

The responses were staggering, both in their content and in their authors.  Those I was sure were “in” felt very much like outsiders.  And most bewildering of all, their reasons were all different.

“Everyone seems to have a much better spiritual life than me.  I don’t say prayers as eloquently as them.”

“Everyone around me is married and has kids, and I’m not.”

“I feel like having kids keeps me from being as active or engaged as everyone else.”

“I'm an introvert and kind of hate meeting new people and especially shut down in a large group. Making new friends has never been my strong suit.”

“I’m an extrovert, and people assume that because I’m friendly and talkative, I have friends. But I really don’t.”

“I feel outside because I work outside the home.”

“I feel outside because I stay at home and feel isolated.”

“Everyone seems to have all this extra money to go and do things, and we’re barely scraping by.”

“I feel too grown up for those my age, but I’m so much younger than my peer group.”

“Everyone belongs to the same fitness club and seems to always be doing things together.”

“Everyone else has known each other for so long that it’s hard to break in.”

“My ideology is so different.”

“I feel self-conscious about my appearance.”

“I have trauma in my story, and I’m afraid people won’t know what to do with it.”

Wanna know the saddest part of all of this?  Ninety percent of the responses were about church. Let me rephrase that: the majority of God’s people in our culture disqualify themselves or feel disqualified from true fellowship in the body of Christ.”

Dear sisters, may it never be so.  Allow me to let you in on a little secret: everyone feels on the outside.

Wanna hear something even more mind boggling? THERE IS NO CIRCLE.

Hear that?  There is no.such.thing. as an inner circle.

We’ve bit the bait and are drowning on our own hooks.  And sadly, the things that we feel disqualified by, we become either defensive about or we shame ourselves over.

Sweet sister, you have been bought by the blood of Jesus.  You are inside.

Yes, you. All of you.  Your doubt, your insecurities, your discrepancies.  Your excess and your lack.  Your words and your silence.  You are fully bought, redeemed, and welcomed.

Sadly, it is our very efforts to try to fit “in” that make other feel “out.”  We latch on to our commonalities and parade them, not minding that someone else is looking on feeling further and further away with each “me too!”

What if, instead of trying to fit into small man-made pseudo circles, we focused on building His.  What if, instead of asserting our belonging, we grabbed the other sheep around us and pulled them into the fold?  What if we rested in the fact that we are his, therefore we are loved, and spread that love to those around us? What if we stopped looking inside and started looking around?

It would change the church.  And it would change the world.

What if in the halls of the church, we acknowledged each other’s character instead of characteristics?

Characteristics are the work of our hands or things that are unchangeable about us.

 Character is evidence of God’s work in your life.

Instead of “Look at you!  You look amazing!  How much weight have you lost?” let’s say “I saw how you handled that conflict with your kids and I was really impressed by your gentleness.”

 Rather than “Those are the cutest jeans, where did you get them?” let’s ask “What has happened in your week that has been encouraging?”

Forgo the typical “Oh my goodness, my kids go to that school too, let’s get together!” and try “I’m so thrilled that our kids get to learn from the same amazing teacher!  How can we work together to love and pray for her this year?”

Now there is nothing wrong with noticing and mentioning the surface things in our lives, but let’s not stop there.  Shallow waters don’t fit many swimmers.  Let’s move into the deeps where there’s room for everyone.

Let’s call out and recognize what brings us all into the same circle: the love and work of God in our lives.

And remember that NOTHING- “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” disqualifies us from the love God gives his children.

Dear ones, we are family, not because of what we are, but whose we are.  And that circle?  It won’t change or fade.  The lines aren’t nebulous or arbitrary. 

This is the circle of eternity, and you are in.

 

 

 

Cinnamon caramel cake

It's thunder-storming outside which means the other 2/4 children will be hauling it to our bedroom any minute to lay in between us and flail in their sleep. Instead of going to sleep like a responsible adult, I'm just going to play on the interwebs and anticipate the inevitable. 

So...I made this a few weeks ago and have been meaning to share it on here ever since. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I made my own twist on a traditional Mexican Cake. The results were glorious. (Or "gloriouso" in Spanish.) 

First, the cake.  

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I used a box of yellow cake mix, then employed the trick to make it denser and richer as follows :

1. Replace water with milk. 2. Replace oil with butter and double the amount. 3. Add an egg.  

i also added a generous dose of cinnamon (1-2 tablespoons). It was muy bueno all by itself, but, of course, I had to fiddle with it.  

 

Next stop: homemade dulce de leche.  

 

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Prepare this first to give it time to cool. Take two cans of sweetened condensed milk, remove the labels, then boil for at least an hour. Poke holes in the beautiful cake you just made to give room for this amazingness to seep into the cake. Pour and smooth the caramel.  

 

Finally, dress it up.  

 

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I made a homemade whipped cream with vanilla and bourbon to dress this beauty up a bit. If you have a stand mixer, homemade whipped cream is a breeze. Take a pint of heavy whipping cream and slowly start beating it with the whisk attachment, gradually increasing speed. As the mixture thickens, gradually add extracts (I used about 1 tsp. Vanilla and 1 Tbsp. Bourbon) and sugar (1/4-1/2 cup). Beat until desired consistency is reached.  

Spread that fluffy goodness all over the warm cinnamon caramel deliciousness and top with tart apples and a light dusting of cinnamon.  

Enjoy! 

Sight

Belief is not agreement on a set of facts.  

It is sight to the blind, light to the dark.  

It is color, music, and a dance of the soul.  

Redemption is not a ticket out of suffering.  

It is belonging and becoming, 

breaking, growing, receiving, and giving.  

Worship is not a set of songs and a fancy dress.  

It is a posture of the soul, a cupping and tasting  

of holy things and deep, good magic.  

Belief is breathing, washing, dying, and living.  

It is tasting and seeing that the Lord is good,  

And hungering forever after.  

 

 

Life-giving books about death

Death. It's a topic few want to talk about, but one that nobody can avoid. Especially with children.  

I know I've often shied away from the harsh reality of it with my own little ones. "No, sweetness. The bee isn't dead, he's just sleeping." But this approach is dishonest and leaves our children unprepared for when reality undeniable and unescapably hits close to home.  

Last year, when my children were 5,4, and nearly two, my cousin passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She was a fixture in our home, often at our table for dinner, and never missing a single birthday or event. She was at our home one day and discovered in her apartment 2 days later. It was like having the wind knocked out of us and our children, particularly our oldest, who had no tools to cope. We were in crisis mode for several months, but thankfully through the wisdom of our family and church family, the guidance of the Spirit, and the healing passage of time, our children, and we as their parents, have walked away with a deeper hope in the Gospel and a less frantic view of loss. 

The sweetest gift we received in those early days was the gift of vocabulary. We decided immediately to use the word "broken" to describe how death happens. We told the children that Syndee's body broke, and that she went to Heaven where Jesus made her whole again, but that she had to stay there. We were careful to avoid words like "sick" and sleeping" as these would lead to greater anxiety for our children later. "I'm sick...am I going to die?" "If I go to sleep...will I not wake up?"  Later, as we have prepared the children to say good-bye to several of their great-grandparents, we've avoided the use of the word "old" as that's a very relative term to children. We've told them that as time goes on, your body breaks from the inside to where it doesn't work anymore. Your body can break from the inside (illness or age) or the outside (injury). 

Another disservice we do to our children is telling them that death is a natural part of life. It's anything but. It was never meant to be this way.  We were created for eternity and the curse of sin wrecked that. Telling children that death is supposed to happen is more bewildering than it is comforting, and it robs us of our need for hope and denies our yearning for redemption. Sit with them in their sorrow and acknowledge that this was not how it was meant to be- that death was never part of God's original plan, and then point them to the hope of the Gospel. 

We had the recent privilege of celebrating the life of a dear Saint in her final days.  Mrs. Barbara was a radiant source of light and life in our church. Her bright wardrobe, cackling laugh, and sparkling countenance brightened up the room. A broken collarbone led to the discovery of stage four cancer, and the time left was short. In true Babara fashion, she asked for a homecoming party, and boy did the church show up. What a gift it was, for us and for our children, to hug this sweet sister one last time and watch as she looked forward to heaven with hope. Reunion with her husband and loved ones.  Freedom from sin and sickness. Meeting her Jesus face to face. It was one of the sweetest celebrations I've ever been to, and a gift for our children to witness the peace and bravery that comes with hope. 

 photo courtesy of Amy Henry Photography

photo courtesy of Amy Henry Photography

 

Broken things are meant to be mended. Hallelujah that they are.  

With these things in mind, there are two resources I would highly recommend having on hand for when (not if) your children encounter the reality of death, whether it be a grandparent, church member, friend, or family.   (Both books are available on Amazon.)

Someone I love died 

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In the wake of our loss last year, I polled Facebook for suggestions on books that dealt with death, appropriate for preschool age. Our children's minister suggested this one, which I immediately bought. I checked the other suggestions out from the library, and although helpful, this one was the best in addressing death in terms of the Fall and in light of the Gospel. There are excellent spaces for children to write and process their own thoughts, as well as prose and Scripture. 

 

Voyage to the Star Kingdom 

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Ya'll, I ugly-cried my way through this book the first time I read it. (And still can't get through it without choking up at least twice. Or three times.) Written for a family facing grim diagnoses for two of their daughters, this gorgeously illustrated book drips with hope.  First of all, it reminds us that we are not alone- that the Lord will send his people to surround and uphold us, and that he gives his Spirit to comfort us. It is a beautiful reminder of his love and care even in dark providence, and gives a beautiful picture of the hope that is ours in Jesus. 

 

Remember, dear friends, that in light of this topic, we have not been given a spirit of fear. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but we have been given life abundantly. Go and live and don't let fear steal your joy. Remember you are not alone (and neither are your children!) and that after the last tear falls, there is love. 

Favorite things

 

I love making these lists because they're a curation of beautiful and enjoyable moments.  Life has so much ugliness, from within us and around us, so I find it important to recognize and name the good things that cross our path.  Here's my most recent gathering of silly, simple, and soul-nurturing gifts. 

Cookie Butter

Let's come out of the gate swinging.  This is good, good stuff.  If you like gingersnaps, then this is for you.  We love it on apples, but you can spread it on toast, bake with it, or just eat it right off the spoon.  If you don't have a Trader Joe's nearby, you can find the Biscoff brand in most grocery stores.  Your skinny jeans may not thank you, but your taste buds certainly will. 

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Yarn Bee Whimsy Line

My über-talented cousin, Heather, recently got me back into knitting. She's a crochet wizard, but has momentarily exchanged the crochet hook for knitting needles.  After nerding out with her about yarn on her last visit, I ran to Hobby Lobby and found this line of yarns. They're super soft, vibrant, and work up wonderfully.  One skein (how do you pronounce this? "Skeen?" "Skane?" "Skine?") is just the right amount for a child-sized scarf.  

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Yellow Table Cookbook

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My sweet mother-in-law gifted me with this a while back, and it's my new favorite. The recipes are artful and beautifully crafted while still being very accessible in terms of ingredients and skill. My February birthday soirée was crafted from this book.  

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Avon Bug Guard

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I loathe the smell of typical bug spray. It makes me sick and gives me a dementor-like headache. But we live in Alabama, and near water, so unless I want the children to become a buffet for "them pesky skeeters," bug spray is not optional. Enter Avon to the rescue. This stuff works well, smells pleasant, AND includes SPF 30 sunscreen, making one less step to getting my kids outside to spray each other in the face with a sprinkler while I drink my coffee on the porch. Win.  (And ya'll, it's currently on SALE). 

 The Lifegiving Home

This book, written by a mother-daughter team, has been so encouraging and affirming in the calling to cultivate a place of safety and beauty in the home. I'm only a few chapters in, but it's been a breath of fresh air and has given me a new energy behind my work.  

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And finally, this video. My face hurts from smiling so much when watching it. These guys are just having the best time on stage, and even the audience looks like a bunch of kids on Christmas morning.  

 

Summer is almost upon us with fireflies, watermelon, homemade ice cream, and fireworks. We can't wait! 

 

 3/4 children were crying by the end of this photo. Welcome to my chaos.  

3/4 children were crying by the end of this photo. Welcome to my chaos.