Sunday, January 30, 2011

Meal Plans

Hello, friends. I have some exciting news (and it does not require sending me baby gifts).

First of all, I have my first male blog follower, Mr. David from HighCallingBlog. Hate to embarrass you, David, but I'm excited! Welcome.

Secondly, my twin sister is writing today. We are clones of one another, and have shared a womb, bedroom, and life's hardest lessons mostly together. Now, she lives across an ocean with her four- and three-year old sons, and her herohusband, my husband's biblestudy partner via email. Skype is therapeutic, but we are counting down months until they come back stateside, God willing.

Until then, I'd like to introduce you to Kris. She's calming, peaceful, disciplined, practical, and a very good juggler of hats (mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend). I wish we could all get together and serve her a stateside hamburger, then you'd see for yourself.

But since you can't, I asked her to show you a bit of her creative practicality. Keep in mind that she lives in a small, Japanese fishing village in a rental home. And there is no Michael's craft store down the street.

And this is what she's been working on for us:

Without further ado, here's Kris:

Hello! I'm Karen's twin sister, Kris. She asked me to do a guest blog for which I responded politely, "One must have a life for there to be anything to blog about." She seems to think I have something worthy to say but I'm not so certain. So, therefore, I think I will let her and all her English genetics (I swear she robbed them of me in the womb) do the writing and I'll do a little show and tell.

My husband is a Marine. A hot Marine. It's true. We are stationed in Okinawa, Japan which is another post in and of itself. We have two small kiddos that can give me a run for my money at the grocery store. I don't know about you all but I can't stand going to the store with them in tow. My mind is so busy keeping them from pulling the salsa off the displays, pulling hair, well, you know, that I forget things that are on the list right in front of me. See the list that my hot and OCD Marine made me in perfect order of the aisles. Yep, he's the best.

So, I decided I had to change something. I am going to the store once a week and that is it. To do so I had to get organized. How long does it take you to make a grocery list? It took me forever until now!

Now, for all you "American" crafters, just remember that I live in a country where craft stores do not exist and if you say, "Hobby Lobby" they think you're talking about hot wasabi on your sushi. Keep that in mind here, and also consider that my materials were limited (as yours may be), but this can still be done.

I took an old piece of stiff cardboard and girlied it up with scrapbook paper. I glued it on how I liked it and ModPodged a few coats. Then painted 7 clothespins with some paint I had around. When they dried, add the days of the week with a Sharpie. The best part is that in the right hand corner I put together flash cards with all of our favorite meals. On the back of each meal idea card is a list of the ingredients.

So now when I say to the hot husband, "What do you want to eat this week?" instead of the blank stare, he flips through and picks his favorite 7, I make my list, and we're done.

We have been in motion now for a few weeks and I love it!

Thanks for letting me share,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Faith and Dinosaurs

It doesn't feel like twenty-seven years ago, but it was. I carried a Care Bear lunchbox and learned how to ride a school bus under Miss Mason's watchful tutelage. My twin and I were in different classes and they kept mixing us up. We'd just shrug it off. Inside my lunch box, there was always a quarter to buy an individual of milk; I'm old enough to remember when school milks came in boxes instead of plastic, and the milk tastes slightly like paper. And I'm old enough that it only cost twenty-five cents. Or maybe a dime, I can't remember.

My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Loveit and her halo of white poofy hair convinced me she was an angel. She had a piano, a dress-up box, and an art corner rife with glitter and pipe cleaners. She taught me a lot - things I still remember. Back then, your teacher was also the yard duty so one day, she taught us how to suck on honeysuckle buds. She taught me how to color in the lines, wait in lines, and how to open the little boxes of milk in the cafeteria after waiting in line. The only thing she failed to teach me was how to skip (I almost flunked over that one).

She is also the reason that I know about dinosaurs. We cut into old shoe boxes and made dinosaur models. I learned fancy words like carniverous, jurassic, and paleontology. To this day, I know enough to be the substitute host for Dinosaur Train, should they ever come calling. All thanks to Mrs. Loveit.

Remember how Kindergarten was partly done at school, and partly done at home? I spent endless hours recounting stories and explaining my higher intelligence to my parents - parents who did not know the difference between a stegosaurus and an ankylosaurus.

I can't remember where we were driving, but it was on a freeway. (I know this because country roads like those we live on now don't have bumps, not the kind that always made me drowsy as a kid in Southern California.) From the backseat of our Cutlass Supreme, I asked my parents if the dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark. Much to my delight, this caused quite an Oldsmobile discussion. Karen the Kindergartner had stumped her parents!

Now, years later, I'm still sketchy on the answer to that question. There were times in my walk of faith that it really mattered, this sketchiness. But now, I find myself quite unbothered by the whole business of Creation versus Evolution. Perhaps that's disturbing, or refreshing to you. I suppose that the older I get, the less I dapple in apologetics, and deep, analytical defenses of my faith.

As far as I can tell, my faith doesn't seem to be hurting because of this shift in perspective from head to heart. In fact, if I might be so bold as to admit it, I'm pretty sure I resembled a small toddler, whining and arguing her point, stomping her foot when someone didn't agree completely with Creation, the Biblical Creation, the way I knew it had happened. Now, I rate the debate somewhere just above the "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas" debate; just not one I have the energy, brain cells, or need to debate.

Not that the Creator God is not worthy of defending; I'm just not sure it's the debate He's calling me to organize. His Creation is adequate enough to tell me He did it Himself. There's just this part of me that says, the best proofs that God exists are only valuable when they move hearts towards Him. Some would criticize me for being too "experiential" in my faith, but that's what Creation, and life, are all about - experiencing it!

Tonight's sunset was the kind that proved the existence of God. It poured pink stain all over the sky and messed up everyone's interior latex paint. My brown walls became purple and my blue walls became green. More than my recognition that God exists, I was struck by His beauty and goodness. The cognitive debates suddenly become almost redundant as I watch colors change across my bedroom walls.

As Charles Martin's Chasing Fireflies character Uncle Willee explained while holding a mason jar of fireflies, "'I don't think an animal can just all-of-a-sudden decide it wants to make light grow out its butt. What kind of nonsense is that? Animals don't make light.' He pointed to the stars. 'God does that. I don't know why or how, but I'm pretty sure it's not chance. It's not some haphazard thing he does in his spare time.'"

There are more important things - all unseen (Hebrews 11:1) - that prove to me the existence of God, and a loving One at that. I'll tell you my most recent top two, in a simple-minded nutshell.

  • Perhaps the most important proof in my own faith walk has been the evidence of God's work in my life. How else can I explain the supernatural flow of love for an enemy? The strong sense that my needs are met in Him, my life is one of peace when it shouldn't be? Of course, these are only evident when I allow Him to lead and strengthen me. On the flip side of the coin, those moments when I'm not surrendered to Him, the converse proves His existence too - hating my enemies, envying my friends, wrestling against peace that only He can give. For me, even this is yet another proof that He exists!
  • When I choose not to walk in His strength, I find myself wandering from source to source, looking for satisfaction. The fact that I never find it in any other source tells me that I was not made to be satisfied by this world. This thirst I have for more is really a thirst for Him. In its rawest form, the quenching of my thirst in Him alone leaves me with a very rational decision - drink more or continue the search. I have chosen to drink, and find myself deeply satisfied. In my own life, Jesus kept his promise: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14)
This faith of mine is alive and real tonight. It's not perfect by any means. But it's pretty firm and rooted and observable. Like those fireflies I watched in Tennessee for the first time. Like those stegosaurus bones I've read all about. I can't help but believe in God. Though I don't understand Him, and though I might not like some of the stuff He allows, I can't NOT walk this path of faith.

As Uncle Willee goes on to say, "If God can make a firefly's butt light up like a star, then anything is possible. Anything."

Thank you for letting me believe in this safe place. And I hope you feel free to do the same.

What elements of your faith bring you comfort? Strength? What elements of your faith bring you concern and doubts? How has your faith evolved (excuse the pun!) over the years? Is it stronger or weaker?

I boast in His strength, which has even taken my faith and matured it. Can it be that He does even this for me?!

I'm resting here tonight.


P.S. I will be out the rest of the week. Thank you for letting me write, and for wandering these faith musings alongside me. Any walk is always better with companions like you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Perfect Welcome

I should not have been surprised by the sister-like friendships between these girls. Almost twenty years ago, it only took the quickest exchanges with their mother for me to be charmed for life, and loved so wonderfully over the last two decades.

Then, this weekend arrived and so did the next generation of friends, with suitcase and toothbrushes. Mother hugged mother and daughters hugged daughters. While the eldest one stood timidly in our foyer for those first few minutes, the younger beauty spun a recently learned twirl and fluttered her eyelashes at me. I must have responded correctly because her face broke into a wide smile; her big sister smiled too. We mothers did a quick catch up, reviewing last-minute instructions like milk allergies, sippy cups and sleeping arrangements; the younger bunch - timid one included - scampered to find new Christmas presents to share (sorta). I bid their mother, and my sweet sister, a final "Happy Anniversary!" and closed the door, five little ones and their happy noise shaking the very walls as I cleaned up dinner, dished up dessert.

[Huge aside: I tease their parents all the time, something about watching their brake lines around us because their kids are so sweet, we just might take matters into our own hands. Of course, we would lose our dearest friends, the ones we've prayed through medical emergencies and spontaneous home remodels (inspired by motivators like mold and flood). So, we leave things like they are and just take them - these little bundles of sugar-and-spice-and-everything-genuine - and relish them for the weekend. ]

By the end of Day Two, they allowed me to snuggle them, brush their hair, and even let down their guard enough to earn a gentle word of correction. Although the nightly slumber parties should have labeled them drowsy, they giggle and prance their way through the weekend, both mine and hers, these girls of ours.

How else can I welcome them into our home, our hearts? I love them with an almost-motherly heart...

And yet, it was still not enough.

I know this because Saturday night, when certain slumber party participants gave in to slumber, the little one, only three years old, whimpered a bit.

"I want Mama," she cried, sleepy tears hiccuping her words.

I held her, prayed for her, and even laid down next to her for a time, until one of my own daughters needed a glass of water. Returning to the room with the Cinderella cup full of water, I wondered what had gone wrong, how had our welcome fallen short. If I'm being perfectly honest, I also wondered if I would ruin an anniversary, calling at a late hour for a mother pick-up. Tiptoes on the floor, I peeked into the room, maneuvered around sleeping children, and found the sad one in the twin bed.

Only now, there were two in the bed - a big sister comforting a little sister in a tangle of arms and whispered love.

I kissed them both good night, and carefully slipped out of the room. I climbed into my own bed, a mixture of personal inadequacy, relief, and melted heart wooing me to sleep.

Today, I ponder the weekend, especially when my oldest daughter's first words this morning were wondering when her friends were coming back to sleep in her room.

As welcome as we made these girls feel, I found our attempts fell short. They still felt foreign. In the dark and sleepy moments, it wasn't their house they missed, it was their family. And it was only in family that they found comfort.

That feeling of homesickness - which is really more family-sickness - is an ache like none other. Haven't we all felt it? No matter how welcomed I might have felt in a home, in another family, eventually that ache cropped up...

What could I have done to make these girls feel more welcome? The only thing that would have alleviated their homesickness at its core would be to make them part of the family, to either adopt them or to change their very DNA. Silly as it sounds, only becoming a true member of the household could give them that sense of belonging they were craving.

But I know that craving - to belong, to thrive in sweats and no makeup - as a secure member of a family. And yet, there were times when I've felt so foreign, both an alien and a stranger (Ephesians 2:12).

Then, when my whimpers found voice, there were arms, even better than sister-arms.

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:13)

I remembered this over the course of my weekend. And recognized that the welcome, the feeling of security, that I wanted to give these beloved girls can only be found in Christ, the One who stays close even when mothers and fathers have anniversaries.

"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." (Ephesians 2:19)

My own homesickness is cured here - in the family of God. I've not only been grafted in; my very DNA has been changed.

I'm resting in this secure place tonight as one girl who was far off having now been brought near by Christ, the perfect welcome.

Have you sensed His welcome in your own life? I pray you do! His family can be a bit odd, like Thanksgiving dinners with distant relatives that eat sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin pie (that's odd!). At times, the family tree can resemble weeds more than fruit-bearers - but even there, Christ welcomes them, and you. Have you come near? I pray that you remain in this secure home, and feel the warmth of His family.

Resting in His Perfect Welcome,

Friday, January 21, 2011

Such as These

"What did I do to deserve this?" I asked for the second time in thirty minutes.

The first time I asked it, I was in the shower, one leg smooth and one leg not, when I heard crying, the real kind - the kind that pulls wet mother from the shower in a flurry of towel, bathrobe, and mad dash by windows. I ranted inwardly to myself, Is it too much to ask for ten minutes of shower!? What did I do to deserve this?

Sugs was crying, Papa carrying her with full arms and a toothbrush still in his mouth. She wanted ME - this damp scramble to be presentable at 2:30 in the afternoon. Real Gil passed me the bundle of four-year old, then he hurried to finish getting ready for work.

I clumsily carried Sugs to my rocking chair, and folded us into it. Wails became sobs, then whimpers as she explained how the misplaced toy had deliberately tripped her, thrown her head into the dresser. As she poured out tears and words, I saw the moment in new eyes. It became so much more than an inconvenient interruption to my shower reverie, a mother holding her ever-growing daughter. The indulgence of this was far greater than the indulgence of hot water.

I held her close, feeling a very guilty pleasure for the chance to hold her, (which only happens when she's hurt). The wet towel on my head grew heavy, so I leaned my head to the side and felt it slide to the ground, along with any tenacious traces of resentment at being interrupted mid-shower. Then, I adjusted my bathrobe, snuggled her in, and started rocking.

"What did I do to deserve this?" I asked, this time audibly. "What did I do to deserve you? I was just a normal girl with mistakes and grumpy days, and yet, God gave me you!"

"I don't know, Mama," she answered gravely, as if she herself did not understand this phenomenon.

"I'm so sorry you got hurt, but..." I lowered my voice to a whisper, my lips against her forehead. "I love being right here, right now with you."

She smiled, tears still peppered across her cheeks, and burrowed down deep. I suppose it was the right thing to say. Soon, she was pretending to be asleep, her tapping toes and furrowed eyebrows giving her away. But that was okay with me, because I was pretending too. She was no longer the four-year old daughter who just that morning, rode a bike without training wheels up and down our street. She was still my little baby, the one I didn't rock enough or savor enough.

Real Gil walked back through the room on his way out the door to work, his eyes brightening when he caught sight of mother and ever-growing daughter. I'm pretty sure he was envious, but he hid it well.

I mouthed one word to him: "Heaven."

He grinned wide and kissed me good-bye - not an easy feat in a moving rocking chair.

I settled in again, hearing the background noise of a computer game and a clicking mouse. Tracing her face, her not-so-little body with my eyes, I wondered how many more times I would rock her... the speeding bicyclist who needed me less and less. I wondered how terribly I'd embarrass myself, trying to keep her mine and yet, giving her wings too.

Hearing deep heaving sighs, I realized she was no longer pretending, her sleeping body relaxed.
I laid my head back and relaxed along with her. And I wondered...

What did I do to deserve this gift?

Resting Here,

P.S. Pictures brought to you by the ever-talented James Glover Photography.

The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: "Don't push these children away. Don't ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God's kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you'll never get in." Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.
Mark 10:13-16, the Message translation

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bad Guys, Good Guys

Hot, humid days in Tennessee lend themselves well to shaded playgrounds. The afternoon pattern of school buses, discarded backpacks, and visiting mothers on benches was an established routine. Although none of my kids were school-age yet, we still joined and my little ones clambered about, mimicking older kids and scaring me periodically with high-up antics.

Boys were swinging on things never intended to be swung on, climbing, scampering. One shouted, "You're the bad guy!" The race was on, and I watched closely as always, taking notes on this foreign gender called boys.

Next to me, a neighbor sat, discussing mothering things like how to keep pacifiers out of the dirt, and who to use for termite inspections. Then, she stopped the flow of adult words, and changed to her mother-tone without skipping a beat:

"Boys, my boys, we do not play bad guy, good guy. You can all be good guys if you want, but no bad guys."

I tried to follow her redirected conversation, something about banana bread with chocolate chips, but all I could see were the deflated boys - some hanging, some standing, some mid-sword-strike - lost suddenly in an imaginary world that has no bad guys.

Fast forward to today, when my own son put on his Superman costume for the fifth time this week. Somehow, I snuck in a speed wash-and-dry cycle and got it back into his room before he requested it again. It's old, there's a hole in the crotch, and the red cape is frayed on the edges. But when the S is firmly in place on his chest, he grabs a piece of discarded plastic he calls Sword, and goes off to fight the bad guys. Sometimes, when there are sisters playing too, he becomes the bad guy, or the "nice guy who is bad," he clarifies to me.

And I remember that mama on the bench at the playground. What would she think of my son? What would she think of my mothering?

I don't know. But I know my son, I know this boy. What is the fun in playing "good guy" if there isn't a bad guy?

And I know this world - a world full of epic tales of good and bad, right and wrong... Someday soon, I'll have to introduce shades of gray, where moral goodness is not always so clearly distinguished, where there are many sides to a story. Though I don't ascribe to moral relativism, I have broken up enough tiffs in my mothering days to understand that there is more than one variable to the good versus bad equation.And there is grace, always grace, that reaches out to all of us, both good and evil, blurring the lines even more.

But for now, I am watching delightfully as he slays dragons with plastic, fends off arrows with my pot lid, and swoops down to rescue hapless, helpless victims of evil.

Resting in His Goodness,

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

It felt like coming home this morning as I logged in here, and scrolled about, coffee cup at my elbow. I hope you are enjoying 2011 already!

Are you a resolution kind of person? Some years, I look down my nose at resolutions, and other years, I firmly plant one and work hard to conquer.

Last year's resolution was to write, to discipline myself to writing as often as possible here in this safe place. This year's resolution is to write, but to do so only when inspired, not on a strict day-by-day basis. So, I'll still be here, writing in the wee hours. But it will not be as often as last year. I sense that the relationships around me require a little bit more attention and time.

But if I can't write, I can still read. Here are a few of my favorite reads these days:

  • Is it too late to make snowflakes? I think not! Check out this tutorial.
  • We are so happy and content in our home. I love living right here. But it's still fun to dream, and if you like to browse houses like you're browsing a clothing rack, check out this website called The Plan Collection. I'll admit there were unaccounted hours spent here when I should have been wrapping presents.
  • Steve wrote this short and simple post that resonated with me. Who sits in our front row? Who do we honor higher than ourselves? And who do we not?
  • A new favorite for me is this girl, Elizabeth Esther. She writes provocatively about honest issues in mothering, faith, and life. Her article on Christmas grief was heart-wrenching, and yet, encouraging all the same.
  • I've always wondered why Thomas is so widely criticized for his doubt of Jesus and John the Baptist is not. Here's Hillary's perspective of John the Baptist and the glorious promise of Emmanuel.
  • A book I want to read - Euna Ling's survival of a North Korean prison, and more importantly, the refinement of her faith and understanding of God in the midst of brutality. Answering that question, Where is God in this?!, is a difficult (perhaps impossible) one, but I look forward to her story of finding comfort and truth.
  • This woman deserves a party, not a funeral! Wow!
  • If I had a time share, or a vacation home, I'd be donating the use of it here...
Happy New Year to you all. I look forward to writing, and sharing, in the next year.

Resting in God with Us,