Summer, Kids & Creativity: A Journey

It hit me today. Summer break starts next week.

I knew in my head it was coming – my planner and list of things to do have been screaming at me for quite some time. But today it really hit me.

How am I going to keep this habit of creative thinking through the summer?? I had visions of a wild eyed mammal loosely named “mom” clawing after every minute of peace and quiet so she could create and do the writing God wants from her… DANG IT!

Yeah. That’s not going to work.

So I began to think. Rapid fire thoughts began blend together until this idea emerged. I need to model what creative margin looks like. I don’t want them to “leave Mommy alone because Mommy is being creative right now” (which translates to: this is not something you can do – just mommy) and if I’m not proactive about it, summer will sit like empty boxes on calendar. No one likes a vacuum – literally or figuratively.

So. Next Tuesday will be our first step into this “something” of building creative margin.

Each of them, whether they see it yet or not, is created to create. Numbers, paper, pencil, marker, paint, doodles, words, sentences, ingredients, balsa wood, Legos… we cannot help it. Our Creator is worshiped when we reflect Him. I want them to see this.

These things aren’t simply rewards for time well spent (though managing time is a good thing too), but they are actual ways to praise the One who made us.

Tuesday is my jealously guarded weekly writing day, but this summer I will hold it more transparently. They will get to see how “being creative” isn’t starting a project only to get bored with it and leave the mess and move on. Sometimes you need to sit and look at the mess and think about it: Why am I annoyed by this? Is there something about it I could change and find I really love it? Am I afraid to start something because I don’t think I can do it “right”? Why did I give up? What if I kept going and made the mistakes part of the project? 

I don’t expect these Socratic questions to come from my children immediately, but I do intend to help them learn that this too is part of understanding that knowing God matters in their everyday parts of life.

If you come to my house next Tuesday, I guarantee a few potholes and a few false starts and probably more than a few relational tension moments. But I’m praying they will begin to see this as more than just “being creative” and maybe in a few years be able to see this as a way God brought them closer to Him.

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Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash
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In the Raw: Finding Normal

Remembering what life was like last year about this time… so thankful there are no boxes this year and rhythms and routines have found their grooves. Since life always brings change, I think “Rhythm Finder” sounds good on my resume, don’t you?!

If you’ve ever moved or have struggled to find your new normal after a huge change in your life… this post is for you. **fist raised** SOLIDARITY!

I’m a creature of habit and a hater of change. Mess with both and I get intense feelings of overwhelm and insanity. Oh, and habit is incredibly difficult for me to create, as much as I crave it. Once I have it, I’m loathe to let it go.

Enter moving our family of 5 in one month. Yes. Start to finish – even selling our old house was done in 30 days. (For the record… I don’t recommend it.) You may have noticed the absence of posts from April to May? Yep. Now you know the reason.

Habits are meant to be broken, you might say. Well, okay but no.

Writing is a habit not a diet. I have to fight for that habit the same way a kayaker has to continually fight to keep balance. Even though it feeds my soul and makes me feel alive, the fight to keep the habit can be exhausting with so many other big things going on.

In the not too distant past, I would’ve been discouraged by the change and given up. It sounds as lame as it really is. But this time, I’ve kept on with even a little bit because of my amazing writer’s group! Twice a month we meet over lunch and bring our work (or not, sometimes) and just encourage each other to keep striving for the BIC Award! (Butt In Chair)

This week was the typical struggle: laundry or writing. It’s not always this easy to solve, but I started a load of laundry before I sat down with my trusty laptop. The resulting article was nothing big or amazing or even something I would publish but the very act of choosing that part of myself over the daily-gotta-do-again-tomorrow left me feeling uniquely alive.

I want to skip over the trial and error that always comes with figuring out new rhythms in life: the new best time to fully focus on writing, the routine to bring down laundry from the kids bedrooms, the routine to keep the house de-cluttered, the load-a-day-keeps-the-naked-people-away routine, and let’s be honest: even getting a consistent time with God needs to rediscovered and refitted into this new normal.

Now that school is out for the summer – there is the added rhythm of summer that sounds uncannily like Jamaican steel drums. Slow yet fast, surprising, a beat all it’s own. The silver lining is that I never found our School Rhythm so figuring out our Summer Rhythm can’t be that difficult. ha.

Somewhere in between the science camps the boys have next week (that I registered way  before we knew we were moving 20 minutes further away) and picking strawberries and making jam and ranch camp, diving camp and tennis camp and camping as a family… we will be finding our new normal, our summer rhythm and making this new house into our home.

This year, our summer looks similar with a missions trip to Haiti, a wedding in Chicago, Mackinac Island Honor Scouts, ranch camp, various times camping as a family, and school now starting in August with rocket football right after that… but margin and rest with a few popsicles and books mixed in will define our summer. Yes. I’m ready. Bring it, Summer! 

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The Enneagram and Me

(This is your weekly Theological Thursday post but – on a FRIDAY!)

What is the Enneagram?? It’s one of a vast number of personality systems and ways of seeing ourselves.

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Ann Bogel has a great book called Reading People with a chapter on the biggest of the tests and how each is beneficial and complements the other.

Confession: I listened to it as an audiobook and I think I would’ve preferred to be able to skip to the chapters that interested me – to use it more as a reference tool.

Anyway, the Enneagram is not the kind of Facebook test you can take quick and easy and know your most intricate thoughts just like that. Much has been written (especially in Ann’s book) about knowing yourself well BEFORE you try to “type” yourself. Premature attempts will get it wrong every time.

I want this post to be a short-ish glimpse into my experience in learning to understand what it means to be a 6. This is a continuing process that we are on never static past-tense but once we have the direction, it’s mostly a maturity issue.

There are 9 numbers. I’ve linked each description from the Enneagram Institute as they have very detailed descriptions, though some of the numbers are labeled differently.

Type 1 – The Perfectionist    Type 2 – The Helper                Type 3 – The Performer

Type 4 – The Romantic         Type 5 – The Investigator       Type 6 – The Loyalist

Type 7 – The Enthusiast       Type 8 – The Challenger          Type 9 – The Peacemaker

Ian Cron wrote The Road Back to you and has a great free test to take on his website. I’ve been working through his book and study guide and found them very helpful!

When I first read through each description, I favored #4. I thought it suited me exactly, I’m creative and rather moody. But it was through taking the test and be gut-awful-honest with myself that I realized I was, in fact, a 6. A very fearful and worried 6.

Some people talk about how the birds sang for the first time and the sky was bluer and the sun was more sunny when they discovered their true selves.

But what actually happens is this: you want to hide. You are shocked someone wrote those words and could know that about you when you don’t dare admit those things to yourself. It’s awful and freeing and curious to know your number.

What I appreciate the most about the Enneagram is the deeply spiritual side to knowing ourselves. When we know who God has made us to be, we can better know God.

Each one of us has a passion/sin deeply rooted to our number. For example, a 6’s motivation is security and their “deadly sin” is fear. Uncertainty shakes me to my core. I want to count on things and know what’s going to happen. I have a billion thoughts going through my head about worst case scenarios – which I might add did not help me as a first-time mom. Most of my life I’ve put up strict boundaries so I could control each and every part of my life to unconsciously reduce fear. But that doesn’t decrease fear – it just builds walls to trusting others. This was the major lightswitch in knowing that I was a 6.

You know how I always say “everything is theological”?? Well, I’m preaching to myself. I shout to my fear that what I believe about God matters in that crazy “what if??” scenario my brain just came up with. It doesn’t always take away the fear, but at the very least it tells my emotions to “shut up and follow!”

WHY? This is often a question my Type 1 husband asks. Why is this necessary? I know you and does this really matter?! Well, yes. Yes it does. It matters because God doesn’t make mistakes. He created us to have relationship with Him and each other. This is one way we can go deeper in both.

Feel free to ask questions… I’m on this journey too!

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FMF – “Other”

There is always time for it.

Other.

Anything but what is truly important.

I flit to and fro for other people, other tasks, other relationships rather than believing my gift of words is important and valuable and worth sitting down to cultivate.

This is the reason I’ve been silent in this space lately. I’ve been doing writerly things, of course: composing a book review, sending off a guest post, helping a friend edit her manuscript, but I’ve not been intentionally making time for the gift. Being present and listening for the words – as Madeleine L’Engle says.

I believed the lie that begins to sink in after awhile that my words don’t actually matter in reality and no one cares about them.

For a writer, words always make us vulnerable. In other areas of our lives it’s easy to flick off that lie as one might do to a nagging fly. But this? It pierces like a nasty little flea sucking out our very lifeblood.

So today is a beautiful gloomy Michigan spring day with a forecast of thunder and rain – one of my most creative type of days.

I’m going to make the most of this day and His gift.

–I’m way over my five minutes, but sometimes you just gotta go with it! Join us over at the Five Minute Friday Community and check out even more posts on “Other”.

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Photo from Unsplash by Aaron Burden

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Book Review: A Place To Land by Kate Motaung

To this date, I’ve not lost a parent to death. Though I can tell you there are other hard circumstances where one feels as if they lost their parents and that a funeral would be simpler to grieve.

I met Kate for the first time at the Breathe Writers Conference. As part of the Five Minute Friday community, it was fun to chat without a keyboard.

When she sent out the email asking for readers and people willing to commit to the launch team, I kind of thought there must be other people more qualified to do this than me. Letting me read her story and know this part of her beyond the writerly chats over cups of coffee felt so deeply personal. Her descriptions of Holland and her family and the emotional struggles and questions riveted me.

Since I wasn’t born in West Michigan, I field the typical questions (where are you from?) with a strong sense of who is asking before I open my mouth. Home, for me, isn’t where I was born or grew up or even where my parents live. Home is truly here in West Michigan. I wish I could slap one of those Michigan “hand” car decals that declare “native” on my van but alas, I’m only a native in my heart of hearts.

Early in our dating experience when he came to Illinois each Friday and those strong flannel-shirted arms would hug me, my heart understood. This man is my home.

So now, every time we drive under that gorgeous blue sign proclaiming “Pure Michigan!” on our way home, his blue eyes bring a smile to my face and a blissful sigh. There’s no other place I’d rather be.

Over the last almost 15 years of marriage and 13 years of parenting, I’ve realized home is a place most people don’t question and rightly so. It’s supposed to be the place one is known most and deepest and embraced. When these basic things are questioned and answers either evade or can’t be found, one wields control or hides.

Dealing with your own questions as you have to continue slogging on as a wife and parent is daunting and scary. I’ve tried to control the uncontrollable parts of my life. I’ve hidden behind many things so I didn’t have to deal with the missing pieces. I’ve even blamed God.

Kate’s words on the struggle are perhaps some of my favorite in the whole book:
“My life sprawled out between the parentheses of two continents. This living in the ‘in between’ – between the fall and redemption, the already and the not yet, between hope’s longing and fulfillment. Where time passes with the click of a mouse and drags like a whiny toddler down a grocery store aisle. Where graves are dug and happiness buried. Where bees and words sting, and hopes are ripped off like stubborn bandages. Where victory has been accomplished but Christ has not yet returned.“

Words born out of pain and heartache always touch the deepest. These were no exception.

There were times I found myself laughing right out loud and many more where the tears dripped off my face as her words spoke right to the broken places in my heart. I know there are a lot of “somedays” spoken of too. There will be death of our parents someday. There may even be a battle with a disease. But the hope that shouts to me over all the pain is based solidly on Christ.

Someday this will be a book to read again and remind myself that cancer is not the end and even in that moment… even in the pain… God still loves me and will hold me no matter what.

Themes: Home, grief, joy, searching, struggle, faith, and ultimately how all of those things are found in one Person.

Recommendations:
You.
A reader who has lived through any amount of life. You will get this.
You need to know the hope in the midst of the pain.

Reservations: none.

Here’s the link for Baker Books and Amazon! It’s worth your while.

Thank you, Kate. Thank you for sharing this deepest journey and letting us glimpse the story God has given you.

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IF Gathering: 2017 Recap

Our texts flew back and forth. “I’ve got seats saved!”  “Can’t wait to see you!” with lots of smiley emojis. As we both finally took our seats in the auditorium of Community Reformed, our sigh of relief was in unison. We made it – physically, emotionally and spiritually. We so needed this time to remember spirituality and faith are done with others not just ourselves.

Katie was the one who’d introduced me to the ladies of IF the year before. I was so excited to sit and listen and lift my hands and heart in worship with women in my community

2017 was amazing yet full of heavy moments. Politics and deeply held beliefs seeped into a few of the speakers words causing us to remember that this gathering doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Laughter was quick, loud, long and glorious! It truly is medicine for weary souls – especially when it’s about ourselves.

Ann Voskamp boldly challenged us to get in formation; cruciformation – a life formed by the cross, lived in submission to the cross and in the process, creating change.

A panel of single women and women of color challenged those of us who didn’t even realize we needed to be challenged. Single women often are shoved aside in our churches and not given a place of worth. They are treated as though they’re not quite completed yet with their missing husband-piece. It was therapeutic to call out these things in the body of Christ. I didn’t say comfortable. Trust me, it was anything but comfortable.

Sitting there with the many women around me, most I didn’t know, I had no idea who was married, single, divorced, abused, or even who struggled with race questions. It’s a scary moment when hard things are spoken on that huge screen and we look around hoping that there is someone who understands and feels the same.

Being women whose greatest desire is to see Jesus magnified and other women discipled, we have to first acknowledge the junk in our midst and call it out. This is the only way we can come together and be safe places for truth conversations.

There were so many moments of gut-busting laughter, arms-flung-wide worship and heart-breaking truth it would be impossible to put it all in one measly post, but let me tell you, God always shows up.

These are the things that I’m most looking forward to tomorrow. It is so easy to get in our bubbles and our own little worlds that we scarcely even realize it. As women, we need to reorient our hearts from comparison and perfection to unity and humility. We need each other so much.

I have no idea who will be speaking tomorrow evening.

I have no idea who will be leading worship.

All I know is the theme: God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but of love and a sound mind. Living a life ablaze… these are the things I know.

This year is the first year I will be going without my dear Katie. Plans have a way of adjusting themselves when God chooses to do so. This year I’m joining my new town of Hamilton in their gathering.

And I can’t wait!

Oh, if I’ve piqued your curiosity, it’s not too late to come. 🙂 Here’s all the IF Hamilton info! 

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February is InCoWriMo!!

Evidently this has been going on since 2015 and I’ve had no idea there even was such a thing! You didn’t either?? Good. I don’t feel quite so late to the party.

What is it?

It stands for: International Correspondance Writing Month – much like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

As the goal of Nanowrimo is to get the participants to complete 50,000 words for their novel in the month of November, the goal for Incowrimo is for each participant to write and send a handwritten note each day for the month of February. It can be either someone they know or someone from the rather large database of addresses collected from all around the word – which is pretty darn cool.

Why do it?

December 2018 will be the first year I won’t handwrite a multiple page letter to a spunky 105 year old lady in Viking, Alberta, Canada. My Auntie Irene isn’t really my aunt but my mother’s aunt. Through our 15 years of handwritten friendship, I’ve learned quite a few things about her.

She was a teacher. At 90 years old, her handwriting was impeccable though she would disagree. She loved to learn and took writing classes in her 90’s just because she could. Knowing I was teacher prompted many stories of her classes in the 60’s and also her mother’s classes in a one room schoolhouse.

I met her once when I was a girl. My family journeyed up to Alberta on vacation, and we stayed on her farm in Irma. I have fond memories driving around the farm in the old brown pickup truck with her granddaughter Kareen and eating Salt & Vinegar potato chips.

Farm life was so different than anything I’d experienced. There was a huge breakfast each morning to hold us over to supper. If we got hungry before then, we found snacks in her huge garden and washed off our choices in the rain barrel. Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers! Could there be anything better??

I have a stack of handwritten cards from her, one from each year of our marriage. She remembered each of our children and would always comment on them from the family picture. As a woman with a farmer’s heart, there would usually be a line or two about the weather especially if it was markedly different from years past. I loved her complete sentences and beautiful slanted letters.

These are the things I know of Auntie Irene.

I knew she wasn’t doing well when I wrote her this past December. Being 105 years old will do that to a body.

Reading between the lines, I knew her heart was to be with her dear husband again and to see Jesus. I told her I was thankful for her caring for me through her letters for so many years and that I was just a tad bit jealous of her getting to meet Jesus. I reminded her that Someday we will have a cup of coffee and a good long chat together for as long as we want.

Then I sent it. I think she was able to read it before she got to meet Him. Out of the 100+ cards I send out each year at Thanksgiving, hers was my favorite. It forced me to slow and sit with my pen and think. Cursive letters and sentences would flow and I found myself talking to her page after page. I will miss that.

The Challenge…

For the month of February, write and mail one card a day. There will be days I will complete more than one to keep up with my challenge – as I did with my 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes. There is a address exchange over here if you’re stumped for people or you’d like some mail of your own!

Letters matter. Write them and send them. They will someday be cherished far more deeply than flat one-dimensional emails. Those who read your handwriting will have a piece of you to remember.

If your writing isn’t what you’d like it to be, practice! (I know I probably sound like a teacher here.) Practice making those cursive letters. Print if you like it better.

Just write those cards and make sure to send them! Have fun writing and sending to people you know and even a few you don’t.

The reach of our words and the timing may have eternal benefits or it might just make someone smile.

Happy Incowrimo 2018!!

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ArtPrize: 7 Reasons You Need to Go

On a blustery and snowy 20 degree (and dropping) January day, it’s a perfect time to remember the warmth and beauty of September!

Since 2009 each September-October, Grand Rapids breaks out in a colorful fever of sculpture, paintings and art! It’s everywhere: stores, restaurants, sidewalks, parks, the Grand River, even houses are purchased simply to turn into an exhibit. It’s glorious! The best part?? Any artist can submit their work!

What is this “art prize” you speak of?

An excerpt from the ArtPrize websiteArtPrize is an open, independently organized international art competition which takes place for 19 days each fall in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  More than five hundred thousand dollars in prizes are awarded each year, which include a $200,000 prize awarded entirely by public vote and another $200,000 prize awarded by a jury of art experts. 

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As I said in my title, I believe YOU should make time to go. In no particular order, here are my reasons.

Reason #1: You don’t have to travel to Paris – just Grand Rapids.

I grew up in Chicago. I love those beautiful downtown north-south, east-west streets that don’t change names no matter how many towns/counties you drive through. This is not the case with Michigan. I am not sure who designed Grand Rapids (which is beautiful in its own way) but that person should have his head examined. Diagonal streets?? Really?

They are the reason I travelled to GR by personal vehicle and only to easy to find places like the Children’s Museum for years. Since then, it has taken me a few tries and gritty moments, but I am far more comfortable with walking around downtown GR than ever before.

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My yearly journey starts with me driving to the Grandville Meijer. I park for free and hop on bus #8 all the way to Central Station. From there I usually get on the Silver Line and begin my art journey at DeVos Place depending on the weather.

All it cost me was the $5 ArtPrize bus pass! It’s valid for the entire time, 10 rides on any bus route, and unlimited rides on the Silver Line which goes throughout downtown. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me!

 

Reason #2: It’s FREE.

Other than the cost to get yourself downtown to the exhibits, there is no cost to see the art. For real. When you purchase the pass, it comes with a book, map and other info that will direct you around GR as you look for the pieces you’ve heard about or just meander as your art-loving spirit leads. There are also handy “Got a question??” people with maps at various corners ready to point you in the right direction or get you un-turned around.

As for food, you can take a backpack with a few snacks as you walk or stop when the aroma from a restaurant pulls you in. Up to you. Oh… and if you’re a coffee connoisseur, there are some fantastic coffee shops to try. Just follow your nose!

I don’t know of any other huge city-wide art competitions where you get to vote for your favorites without cost to you!

Reason #3: Whether you spend 2 hours or 10, it will be well worth your while.

There was the year when I tapped an art-loving friend who also happened to have a preschooler and we strollered our way around kid-friendly places like the Children’s Museum and other interactive exhibits. Proving that moms with preschoolers can indeed go to ArtPrize and still enjoy a couple hours before the Fits of Naptime descend.

There were also the years of being a second-grade field trip chaperone! I enjoyed going with my two older children’s classes. It was a challenge to help each kid in my group “see” the art properly. They learned to ask questions of each piece, find out what they could about the artist and what he or she was trying tell them. (Those moments helped shape what this blog would become.)

Now as a mom with all her children in school, I get the unimaginable luxury of going by myself to see art in a crowd. Walking around, listening and observing people, colors, lines, choices the artist made to bring out or hide things. It’s so much fun.

The twist, of course, being I often can’t/don’t give myself permission to enjoy a day or two of art because of all the craziness going on with the beginning of school and all that entails. Silly, I know. But isn’t that how we moms tend to think?? It’s worth the time. I have to simply make a date with myself and keep it.

Reason #4: You were created for this.

I used to ask my youngest this question: Who made you? He would reply: God made me. I would follow up: Why did He make you? For His own glory would come the reply.

As an image-bearer of the Creator, you’re designed to create. It is hardwired in your DNA. You can’t NOT create. You might argue with me “No way! I’m not artistic!!”  I would counter that you create with ideas, architecture, gardening or *gasp* even math! Art isn’t limited just to clay, canvas, paint, paper or pencil.

Being an image-bearer means we acknowledge it and remember to take time to stop and appreciate beauty whether it’s living organic beauty like flowers or a metal sculpture of horses and a foal on a sidewalk downtown. Stopping to remember that we are created to create lets a refreshing breeze blow through our souls reflecting our worship of the Creator.

Reason #5: It’s a great workout!

Thanks to the many hills of Grand Rapids, you will definitely get your leg day done.

If, like me, you make the decision to simply walk over to an exhibit with only a partial understanding of where it is and the logic that “it’s not THAT far and it’s a beautiful day!” and in the process discover a street that doesn’t go through and end up in the middle of a college campus, you will definitely find your FitBit registering a minimum of 12,000 steps.

As you backtrack in an attempt to find your destination, you may be tempted to say lots of bad words as streets change, run on angles and you begin to get looks from people as you pass them multiple times. Yeah.

Then you find the place, see the art and feel that deep satisfaction of conquering a foreboding task. Take that, Streets of Grand Rapids! I will best you! Think you can twist those streets on me again?? Aha! I will come out as victor – losing a pound or two in the process! Besides, it’s the journey not the destination, right?!

Reason #6: This is your chance to put on someone else’s view of the world.

Each of us has a unique set of family and culture experiences that colors everything we see. Sometimes, we don’t even know how much until we view art that challenges a part of our experience and we react. Often, we try to hide that reaction thinking that the art must be bad, but I want to challenge you. When that visceral gut feeling assaults you, don’t ignore it or pretend you’re cool with whatever started it.

Dive into it. Ask why. Think back to your life. Dig around and wonder.

Maybe it was the colors the artist used to portray her feelings. Maybe it was the collection of bars of soap from the immigration office made you feel like these were pictures from Auschwitz. Maybe you felt the artist crossed the line of polite racial conversation to extremely offensive. Maybe the genetalia exposed simply embarrassed you.

I’ve learned to first stand and take in the art. Feel all those feels. Then as you react and wonder, read the artist’s statement – there’s almost always a white placard next to the art explaining in their own words why or what they were attempting to do or say with this piece. I most often get a sense of understanding and can put my arms around those big feelings.

It’s good to switch out our lenses every now and then.

Reason #7: You will find your tribe.

This reason is probably my favorite. Your tribe isn’t simply your favorite people or the people most like you. They are the people God brings into your path for His purpose.

I go each year, not knowing a single person and being an introvert, I typically don’t strike up conversations with every person I see. But I am a follower of Christ and that gives me an edge. I sit on the bus and walk past people and notice and listen for those nudges.

This year, I met an older woman named Ruth who is a Religious Historian. Before her stop, she told me she was researching why the different Protestant denominations seem to hate each other so much. I asked her what she thought so far and we had a really great conversation.

I saw two women fumbling looking for quarters for the Egg Prize exhibit – see the post picture! Each egg contains a unique minute piece of art created just for this year. As I stopped to get my yearly egg, I gave her a couple quarters and her shocked face made me  wish generosity happened more often.

In DeVos Place, I found a piece of art called Women and Friendship by Carlos Tobar. One painting is of four women. They have different body types, hair types, but their faces show guardedness toward each other. The second painting shows five women, four of whom are pregnant and all have relaxed smiles for each other. I stood there thinking and processing (as bare-chested women kind of accost my sensibilities.) I looked around to see a woman in her 60’s standing near me. She commented on the ability of a woman’s birthing story to unite her to another complete stranger. I smiled and realized I almost missed the whole point. She began to tell me about her life in the 60’s and 70’s and all the things women of my generation have. I smiled and agreed. We as women have so much more equality today than this woman’s young adult years yet we are so focused on comparison with each other. Hair, body, wardrobe… yet a woman with a rounded belly or a young nursing baby levels every playing field we’ve set up. We’re simply women.

I could go on for several more posts with all the things I learned and the thoughts I had… but I want you to go see it for yourself. 🙂

ArtPrize 10 dates are September 19 – October 7.

Block out a day or two and get down there! Enjoy with a friend or simply walk around soaking up inspiration for your own creativity.

We might even see each other!

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FMF – “surrender”

It’s a glorious Five Minute Friday!

Today’s word is: “surrender”.

This word has a lot of baggage attached to it. A crusade hymn. A white flag during a battle. It can be both a noun and a verb.

But the idea we often forget about is the reason it’s needed. You only need surrender when there has been fighting previously. Spiritual or physical, it doesn’t matter.

Surrender can only happen when the fighting stops.

To surrender, you must quit.

No more manipulating and checking boxes and “trying” and hoping and just working a bit harder to make it happen.

Surrender means “hands up, you win.” The obvious person to win is obviously not ourselves. I must give up to the Person I’ve been fighting against. I don’t always boil down my own actions to realize just Who I’ve been fighting against with my beliefs or thoughts or actions. But it’s worth the time.

Today’s been rough over here and it’s only been me and the dog.

Rich Mullins words popped in my head: Surrender don’t come natural to me. I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want, than take what you give that I need.

In the end, you must simply act. Hands open. Put down the shattered pieces… as well as the super glue and surrender.

…and time’s up.

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Book Review: A Song of Home by Susie Finkbeiner

As with every reviewer, you need to know something about their tastes. A food critic who prefers Italian food will put Asian food at a distinct disadvantage simply by their tastes. Also a food critic who happens to be a pastry chef will have even more to say about a pie or cake.

So, you should know something about my literary tastes.

If you click on my Books tab, you will discover:

  1. Not many are Christian historical fiction titles – as in only 1 other book.
  2. I much prefer biographies.
  3. Literary fiction is definitely my favorite version of fiction.

Based on that understanding, please read on!

I first heard about Susie Finkbeiner at the Breathe Conference. Several friends told me about her books and how they couldn’t wait for the next one, but I’d never read any of them before this. As my initial response about Christian historical fiction is usually skepticism, I did the smile and nod thing.

Then one day I get an email asking me if I would be interested in getting to read a book and post about it for a Book Launch Team. Um. Would a writer EVER say no to reading a brand-new book from an author your friends have raved about?? Well. To be fair, I might – if I had to swallow down the typical predictable Christian fiction.

So naturally, I had to get the two previous books in the trilogy (which were a fantastic deal on Kindle!) and read them so I could write an informed review. Darn. More reading.

After the first page of the first book, I was completely hooked. This was definitely not the usual. Suffice it to say… you need to read A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs prior to this book. They set the scene so well for the final installment of Pearl’s story.

A Song of Home takes place in Bliss, Michigan. It’s definitely not the dusty town she left behind in Oklahoma, but even here with the green things growing all around her, she still finds she misses her dusty home.

Themes: The different ideas of home are a gold thread weaving it’s way through the story and at surprising moments you see it peeking out between the sentences. Home is so much more than a place or a group of people or even a building. It can be broken and rebuilt. But home is always best when placed solidly on grace and love.

Recommendations: Many places I found myself gasping and laughing right out loud as Pearl expressed her thoughts. But it wasn’t all hilarity. There are many heavy topics woven here and there. Susie never deals with them tritely or superficially but always with care and a depth of honesty not typically seen in Christian historical fiction.

The highest proof of praise I can give is that I am confidently giving this series to my almost 13 year old daughter to read – and I cannot wait to talk with her about the characters as she reads!

Reservations: none.

You need to get these books!! From the first page of the first book to the last page of the final book, you will find endearing characters and each one showing (not telling) us about our true Home.

Here’s a link to Baker Book House! No affiliate links – just wanting to get the word out to you about a great story and a book you just have to read!

Here’s a link to Amazon for the Kindle version of all three books!

Enjoy!

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FMF – “silence”

It’s Friday which means joining up with Kate Motaung over at the Five Minute Friday Community!

How fitting it is that “silence” is the word for this week.

Five minutes on the timer… and go!

I used to desperately crave silence. I would look out my kitchen window at my neighbor across the back yard and see her sunning on her yellow chair and wish and covet and all sorts of desperate things.

I knew, logically, she’d put in her time with littles and now her grands were as old as my kids. She even brought them over to play on our swingset when they were visiting.

Our 4 year old, 2 year old and new baby would drive me the point of distraction with all their needs. I felt awful as a new mom. My other friends all seemed okay with their levels of chaos whereas I felt like an autistic person in a fun house with no end to the crazy lights and noise. I wanted to run screaming out of the house never to return. “never” being a very strong term, but I think you get the idea. Overstimulation was a very real thing for me.

Now, I don’t believe that I’m autistic, but I wish someone would’ve told me that introvert moms react differently to the early mom years. AND IT’S OKAY FOR THEM TO FEEL THE WAY THEY DO. No Mom-guilt or shame in it.

I wish I knew my feelings weren’t to be hidden like I was an awful mom and that to crave silence is a good thing. It means I can recharge and feel like a better human and therefore be a better mommy to these sweet gifts.

I know these things now. So I write this to you, new mom or mom of demanding little people, if you are an introvert (maybe you know it or don’t know it) IT IS OKAY to need silence. In fact, ask for help so you can get some. It’s not admitting defeat or weakness.

This is simply who God has designed you to be – and since He’s perfect in His designs – go with it. 🙂

… and time’s up.

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In the Raw: Mammograms & Callbacks

She said, “The doctor saw a questionable spot on your mammogram yesterday and wants to see you again. Can you come in today?”

Her words made my heart stop and my thoughts fly.

Why did they want to see me so soon?? I have no pain! Are they just being overly cautious?? Is this the way people find out they have stage-4 cancer out of the blue all by themselves in a strange doctor’s office?? Why doesn’t anyone answer their phone at 9:00 in the morning?! Why were my words rushed and clipped this morning with the kids? I know so many people fighting this awful disease. Was I one of them and didn’t know it yet? Why did Mike have to be in Chicago today?? How do I fight and love and live well? Grandma went to Mexico for her cancer treatment way back in the day and mom’s cysts dissolved on their own after she quit sugar. What am I supposed to do?? I don’t want to be well-versed in this area of medicine as I have been with Jonny and his brain. Wasn’t I just talking to someone about the blessing of early-detection?…

The questions went on for a few miles of M40 but slowly they were replaced by these quiet words: God is my refuge and strength a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore I will not fear though the mountains crumble into the heart of the sea, though the waters rage and foam, I will not be afraid. He holds me with his righteous right hand. 

Regardless of the mix of KJV and NASB, these words calmed my heart and mind as they reverberated over and over. The uncertainty hadn’t changed. I still felt shaky like I was a poser in the land of the healthy, but my heart was quiet.

I arrived at BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) and after sending off a few quick texts to my husband and mother-in-law, I made it to the room in time to begin. Usually each year, the admin of our class mixes up the women so well that I end up in a group with no one that I know. This year, I’m with four of last years group – and one a dear sweet lady who survived her husband’s battle with Alzheimer’s and her own battle with breast cancer. It was next to her that I “happened” to sit as I arrived on autopilot.

With one glance, she saw something was wrong and asked. I told her. Her kind words, strong hug and the courage deep in her eyes were almost as effective as the words still scrolling through my mind. I hugged her tight as I would my grandma.

After our discussion time, she quietly asked me if I would like someone to go with me and that she didn’t have anything going on today. I thanked her with another big hug and said I would be okay.

I walked into that office feeling like I wasn’t walking in alone.

Within the hour, I was walking out again. The doctor, satisfied that it was just exceptionally dense tissue, told me to return in six months for another round of diagnostic testing to make sure the area was stable.

In the space of a morning, my perspective on life had been altered forever. Suddenly the little projects in the house didn’t matter as much as they had yesterday. I was excited for the bus to come home so I could squeeze my three crazies.

Even more than that, I was acutely aware of my need to begin some new verse memorization. Those words, regardless of the translation, quieted the raging pendulum swinging in my soul.

Being 40 isn’t for wimps, but God’s stronger than this body of mine. Whatever comes.

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Five Minute Friday – “depend”

It’s that time again! The Nerd Factory is joining up with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday community to add my take on the weekly writing prompt.

This week’s word is “depend”.

5 minutes on the clock – and GO.

I had a hard time with this word when we got married. To depend on my husband also meant that he could let me down – and even worse was the possibility I might come to actually trust him and come to let that dependence be my normal way of life.

It turned out to be rather crippling for our marriage. I held back. I depended on him for the things I knew I couldn’t do, but I wouldn’t depend on him for the other things I knew I was capable to provide. It created a dangerous habit and it was also shouting to my dear husband that I did not truly love him.

I realized this only when I saw the hurt look in his eyes after my typical reaction to handle things on my own. His hurt then hurt my heart.

It’s an unfortunate thing that we usually don’t change our choices until we see the hurt in the face of the one we love. Though, I am thankful to tell you I’ve learned how to depend on him – and enjoy it. It’s such a gift.

Timer done.

Now comes the hard part. Hitting send sans any edits!

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In the Raw: Moving isn’t for sissies

It’s the end of September. This means there have been several weeks for the kids to adjust to their new schools and today I got to volunteer for the first time.

After somehow misreading the volunteer email, I signed up for the 1st grade time slot instead of the 2nd grade – which turned out to simply be an opportunity to get more steps in and start the process of fitting in with the other moms. Win, right?!

As my youngest’s teacher came out leading her class, I caught sight of my mohawk-wearing boy and he ran over to me with his usual bear hug. The other mom to whom I was passing the time with the usual smalltalk came over and exclaimed over his height and asked if he really does belong in 2nd grade.

My heart hurt and I bit my tongue.

Right then and there, I wished I could teleport us back to his previous elementary school. He was simply the boy with the mohawk there. He’d begun in Young 5’s and progressed with each teacher loving his tender heart and sweet personality.  Now, he has to jump into a place where his obvious differences will be noted first rather of the rest of his personality.

The other day, out of the blue, he asked his dad if he was held back in school. He had to have heard that question from someone at school. I want to wrap my mother-bear arms around him and growl at every ignorant mom-question and odd look. When in reality, that will serve nothing more than to confirm his differences in a negative way to him.

So I do as I did today. I swallow my tears. I smile instead – truly smile – as I watch my strong boy run and imagine himself as an airplane with his arms outstretched. He high-fives his buddies as he passes them on the track and they smile at him. He comes running back around to me, grabs my hand, and tells me, as he always does, that he loves me so much. His joy and excitement for the little things in life lift my eyes to the God who perfectly designed him before he ever took his first breath.

So. Moving isn’t for sissies. Packing and unpacking boxes blows chunks.

Even more than that, you must be sure God has you where He intends before those moments come. Ugly crying can happen when you miss silly things like your finished office space or serious things like 5 years of friendships with teachers and other moms left behind at the other school. Knowing God has us exactly and perfectly right here is such a comfort even in the uncomfortable.

Moving isn’t for sissies, but it is worth it. It’s possibly the greatest avenue for you to get rid of the stuff you don’t need. That in itself is a serious win!

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Five Minute Friday – “future”

It’s that time again! The Five Minute Friday linkup! Our fearless leader Kate Motaung sent out some amazing news this week. We now have our own community on Facebook as well as a spiffy new website!! Check it out here!! Click on the link to find out how to join up if you’d like to link your own blog to this encouraging community.

Okay. Down to business. Today’s word is “future”. 5 minutes set on my timer… and GO!

This afternoon was surreal. Future was not what I was thinking about but the past. 14 years of memories to be precise. In the last month we sold the home we came home to as newlyweds and bought a new house (which is amazing and a great glimpse into our future) but when you close a door on a part of your life, you can’t help but look back.

There were a few tears as I pulled away. A thousand memories assaulted me as I walked through the house for the last time. So many I can’t even begin to put words to them in only 5 minutes.

What I want to focus on is where I was when I drove my familiar van out of the very familiar driveway for the very last time… I have a beautiful future. Regardless of how things go and regardless of what happens. I have a future because of Who died for me and what He paid for. I am redeemed and I have a future that shouts the greatness of my God. Gorgeous gold paths for me to walk… a tree with roots that are infinite and free of sin and the struggle to follow God… perfect existence with others and most importantly I will someday get to SEE my Abba God!

I cannot wait for this promised COMING future! I just can’t.

And Time’s UP!

There it is. This week’s FMF – “future”. What a perfect word for this week at the Nerd Factory!

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Five Minute Friday – “truth”

It’s another Five Minute Friday! I am linking up with Kate Motaung over at Heading Home. I so enjoy the amazing community of writers who encourage each other weekly!

Happy Friday-ish! So, it may actually be Saturday, but we can still call this the Five Minute Friday. Because we can!

It’s been awhile but the big move happened and we are settling in the new house bit by bit. (post coming about that soon!)

This week’s word is “truth”

5 minutes on the clock… and go!

Truth. This word seems picked especially for this week. Between the news media and friends I’m struggling to see that our culture even grasps the actual meaning of this word.

Truth is honest. transparent. It hurts sometimes but it always heals. It is fearful to those who have something to hide. But to those who stand in the Light, it is a warm whole sensation. It brings freedom from chains. It restores closeness in relationships.

Truth is hard to speak sometimes. It can be a delicate thing while feel like a 2×4 is being swung into your soul. But it is necessary.

Without truth, we have no TRUE relationships. It becomes all about feelings and keeping those feelings only in the happy places of our hearts. That is dangerous! Feelings change. They are so very fickle. I tell my children often, your feelings will always follow right choices – truth.

… and there you have it. 5 minutes of writing. Everything in me wants to edit and change and elaborate. But here’s me following the rules! 🙂

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Minimalist Mondays – Plot Twist

The Minimalist Mondays series began with the start of our journey.

Today, I want to continue where I left off… you may be thinking finally! Yes. It’s taken me a while, but here it is.

Like I said before, minimalism always felt like what the “cool” moms did and since I was neither a cool nor crunchy mom I wrote it off. Enter that 3 week trip out west and I’m ready to consider how maybe just maybe this might actually apply to me.

Remember that log cabin looking house with the wraparound porch? Yep. We sat down with the owners who were friends of my in-laws and talked for two hours conveying how serious we were and that our next phone call would be to our realtor to put our house on the market. They were as excited as our kids were exhausted that night.

The next two weeks flashed past at shocking speed while we packed liked crazy people, rode emotional highs and lows, washed and patched walls, and strove for perfection in the photos the realtor would take.

Saturday came. Half of our belongings were moved into my in-laws basement. I felt ragged and frayed in all the worst places. Insanity was surely lurking around the next corner as we looked down the barrel of the 4th week of school amidst these boxes.

Then. Sunday Mike’s phone rang. The sellers had cold feet and finally admitted that they decided not to sell, but they said we needed to go with them to look at the piece of property they were going to buy.

It was one acre way off a busy road in Hudsonville, close to grandparents and cousins, in a great school district, right up against a bunch of woods with quad trails and a pond, and in my heart the only thing I could do was yell “plot twist!!” and go with it. Feeling that somehow THIS was actually what God had for us, better than we had imagined!

Knowing we would need to do a leap-frog move (move in with his parents for a few months) in order to build in the spring, we made our offer. They accepted and we began drawing up the house plans! Since we love our home, we used the current floor-plan and added space here and there and moved things until we had the ideal space for the future teenagers we knew were coming. As anyone who has done this knows, you begin to live in that plan. You arrange your furniture as you think it would look best. You hang decorations. Your heart doesn’t care that its all hypothetical – as far as it knows this is real. Even the kids had Pinterest boards for their new rooms and all the ideas bursting from their minds!

Meanwhile, we packed and packed some more. Mostly, though, I realized just how much I didn’t need. So much was given away and tossed! The photographer came and the house was captured in all her glory. Mike called septic and well companies to begin the process of taming the land. I didn’t pay much attention because I figured it would all work out. This was what God had for us – obviously.

The Perk Test (a soil drainage test for where to place the septic tank drainage field) was done. We knew it was in process and were anxious for the results so Mike continually checked in with the guy. After two weeks, we were approaching the point of no return: the property closing date. Finally he admitted that he couldn’t give us the results because after measuring the property he found it was .0998 of an acre not a whole acre. He said he had no authority to declare it an acre. I remember this being around election time because of how irritated I was with big government. After another week, it was finally declared an acre – and we received the heart-dropping results.

It perked (drained) but only on the back portion. We’d have to haul in fill for a really steep driveway or give up the backyard.

In my heart, I wasn’t yelling “plot twist!” excitedly anymore, it was more of a whisper – a very pained whisper. I knew God was protecting us no matter how attached we’d gotten to the new house – that didn’t exist outside our hearts and minds.

After this news began to sink in, I looked around our home. Walls cleared of any evidence children had touched them, kids bedrooms with only the bare essentials, every book/dvd packed away, and the realization that everything I had been packing and doing for the last two months now had to be undone was like a ton of bricks about to crush me. It was emotionally expensive to pack it all up to begin with.

Somewhere the theology I know and cherish began to poke up in the middle of the rubble of dreams: He never makes mistakes – ever! Everything that happens is for His glory – to make His name great and THAT is my good. His plans are much higher than my own – I can’t even begin to understand them. This is why I say “everything is theological”.

Because it is.

Theology most applies to the daily grittiest parts of life. If it didn’t God wouldn’t be very big, would He?!

Little by little I began to see the ways God had been protecting us from ourselves. We hadn’t locked ourselves into a corner by listing our home or selling it before we had another one. The owners of the property turned out to be unwilling to see reason with the perk test and we lost our earnest money – but we weren’t stuck with property we couldn’t build on. Each step, we kept asking God to give us wisdom and show us the next step. “If you don’t want us to do this, shut this door so firmly and clearly we can’t possibly miss it.” Well. There was no mistaking it. He clearly closed the door and made sure it was dead-bolted!

With these precious truths in my mind, I began to see “stuff” differently. Maybe it’s a natural outcome of moving, I don’t know. I just knew that there had to be different criteria for allowing stuff back in.

I guess that’s where Minimalist Mondays began. It was the process of realizing that we do not “need” all the stuff we think we do. Even the kids loved the idea! Their bare rooms with plenty of space for creativity and actual play appealed to them. They kept telling me how easy it was to put clean laundry away in drawers not stuffed full and how their room didn’t get as messy! Win!

So while we didn’t end up with the beautiful blue gabled home we planned in our hearts and minds, I still holler “plot twist!” because God always does things better than I could imagine. We planted ourselves in this home once again: updating the bathroom, master bedroom and my office as we flew through November and December.

It felt good. Home.

While I still had no idea of what God would do later, this first prying my fingers off our stuff and our home was essential to His plan.

Theological Thursdays: Everything is Theological

I’m sure you’ve noticed that phrase on this blog and definitely if you follow me and my hashtags on Facebook. It’s a crucial piece of how I think and what I write about so rather than assuming you understand… here’s how “Everything is Theological” changed my life.

I first heard it as a senior at Moody Bible Institute by my brand-new advisor Mark Eckel. He had piece of paper tacked to his office door in Fitzwater Hall that said simply: “everything is theological”. No capital letters or anything. Just those words. Our class wasn’t big but we were the first group to complete the entire 4 year ACSI certification program from start to finish. We kinda thought we were a big deal.

Then comes this new advisor – a guy (in our mostly female prof selection). He essentially tells us that all we’d learned up to that point about integrating the Bible into our lessons had to be unlearned. We weren’t very nice to him. Slowly (very slowly) he changed our minds and our lives as he modeled for us what he meant.

He kept explaining that all truth was God’s truth. Pieces of it can be found everywhere – even in false religions. Finding truth there doesn’t validate the religion rather it points to the Creator who wants us to know Him. They are signs showing us who He is. As a very black and white sort of thinker, I could hardly process that. How is it that my life of list-following (listen to this music, not that! read these books, NEVER those!) law-abiding (grace mirage) life didn’t work?!  I could teach a math lesson and slide in a biblical-integration at the end and call it good. A verse a day could keep the devil away, couldn’t it?! I could compartmentalize life and love it. You just watch me. ​

Continue reading Theological Thursdays: Everything is Theological

Five Minute Friday – “more”

Happy Friday!

It’s another Five Minute Friday. We happily link up with the amazing writing community at Kate Montaug’s site Heading Home. Each Thursday night she posts the word for the week and we get 5 minutes to write unedited then gather up our courage and hit publish right then.

This week’s word is: more.

GO.

This week the word choice is once again ironic.

More. Layered with the idea of garage sales and you have an oxymoron. There is nothing about a garage sale that doesn’t scream more.

I want that one thing… for just a bit more money. Would you take this for that? Would you be willing to accept this price for that one thing more?

Yep. More. Not a word that fits this week usually – but this week is different.

This year we are moving. This year I have absolutely no idea what will fit where in the new house so my garage sale habit is still strong but very very limited. I walk away from most household items and keep solely to my predetermined list of clothing items the kids need or shoes in the next sizes and other things like that.

And I just have to share the very best thing God provided. It wasn’t anything I “needed” but such a sweet reminder that He cares for the smallest details of our lives. Our puppy has this insane need to rip my shoulder out of its socket when we go for walks. At this one garage sale, the lady picked up a harness that she said didn’t fit her dog and said it was supposed to curb the pulling. I thought – it couldn’t hurt! So she let me try it out right there as I had the dog with me. It was like another animal was walking next me!! She didn’t pull one bit. Suffice it to say that was the best $5 I spent the entire day.

Those little moments where God provides above and beyond what we think we might want MORE… precious. He never stops either. Even today. This moment. Always working and providing no matter the situation or the hardness of heart. His MORE is always better than ours.

Times up.

There it is. “more”

Enjoy!

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Five Minute Friday – “enough”

Today, I get to do something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile! I’m linking up with the amazing community Kate Motaung has going over at Five Minute Friday. This week’s word is “enough”. My job is to write for five minutes – no grammar checking, spell checking, self-editing… just let it out. Yikes. I self-edit constantly… this may be harder than I realize.

5 minutes on the clock… and go.

I saw the email with the weekly word in it and almost laughed. Enough? Really??? That word plagues me almost daily. Am I really enough? Am I doing enough? Do I go deep enough into the kids hearts to deal with their attitude behind their actions? Am I connecting deep enough with my husband to keep our marriage strong? Do I hold on to things so we have too much instead of just enough?

That’s what strikes me about the word right now. I’m staring at a pile of boxes and other as sundry items that I packed yesterday. Yep. Yesterday. Why you might ask am I packing boxes? Well, that would be the result of signing papers on a new house yesterday. The house I had no idea even existed Monday morning. It means our house now will be the proverbial blender soon. My organized (well maybe semi-organized) life will be upended until the unpacking begins.

I keep asking myself as I pack each box: Do I even need this? Is this too much? Have I used this within the last year? I am concluding the inevitable truth – I have more than enough. I am more than enough – but not by myself! Oh my no! I am more than enough only because in my utter weakness of the proverbial control freak – He is strong for me. —

Time’s up!
So there it is. Five minutes of writing. You’d think it wouldn’t be so hard but it’s rather deceptive – especially when you factor in Spring Break and three kids and snacks and neighbor kids ringing the doorbell and the dog wanting in and out. 🙂 But I did it!

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Minimalist Mondays – starting the journey

Minimalism. It’s the new organic, the thing to be – the hater of stuff.

Now, I don’t  hate stuff, just for the record. Though it gets on my nerves with its penchant for being everywhere all at the same time. I didn’t jump on this bandwagon mainly because I figured you’d have to live in a bark hut to be a true minimalist – and that was not going to happen.

This journey began in August.

We packed up our 29 foot Jayco, put the kids (next to each other, of all the horrible things!) in the backseat of the Tundra and headed out for 3 weeks of seeing the West. A week or so into this trip, I realized that life was so amazingly simple. We had just the kitchen items we needed – nothing extra, we got groceries when we were running out, we did laundry when we needed clean clothes, and tidying up the camper was simple. The kids each had a plastic shoe-box with their special items so “cleaning up” was putting their things in their box and putting the box on their bed. My “desk/office” was reduced to my backpack. Everything I needed to write, blog, read or be creative was right there. The kids even had a dedicated cupboard just for their creative pursuits: tape, crayons, coloring books, glue, scissors, blank paper, and lots of books to read.

Simplicity.

We soaked up the majestic beauty all around us as we lived life as a family of 5. Sometimes that meant a child throwing a fit as we sat around the picnic table at our campsite because they didn’t like what was on their plate. “My dear child, you will not die because you don’t like what you have been given to eat tonight. You will control yourself and remember gratefulness – and that your fit will not get you what you want. Now or ever.” These are the moments when I’m tempted to (and sometimes do) hang my head in frustration over their choices instead of looking into the blue eyes across the table and know we’re in this together.

Real life follows you whether you’re camping or not. Just keeping it real.

Eventually, we turned the truck to face East and I began to count down the days until I had my beautiful house once again. The experience of minimalism was going to pay off in other ways I could hardly fathom.

Continue reading Minimalist Mondays – starting the journey

IF Gathering: my hesitations & conclusions

Have you heard of Jennie Allen and IF? I hadn’t. So last year when yarn artisan and fellow sub Katie told me about the gathering of women in Zeeland for a Livestream event from Texas, I was skeptical. When you take a bunch of women anywhere, put them in the same room together and THEN have speakers (from who knows where, believing who knows what) talk, someone is going to be offended, or else the speaker will have her theology wrong and I will have a choice to make: leave or speak up.

So I looked up their statement of faith. I read how they began. Words like “all” and “unleashing” and “discipleship” and “calling” made me uneasy. They can be tossed around easily enough, but those ethereal words actually have meaning when you bring them back down to earth. That rubber-meets-road meaning was the fly in my ointment and only way to de-fly my ointment was to go and hear for myself.

It was a no-brainer, actually. The event was being held less than a mile from our house, AND I would get to know this amazing woman better? Yes, please!

The women who planned our local event, IF: Zeeland, did an amazing job! Dinner was provided when we got there at 5:30 Friday night. I had subbed all day unexpectedly and I was exhausted. Delicious food was a good way to begin the night.

A goody bag was waiting for each woman as she found her seat: a pen, a journal, a necklace with IF stamped into a charm, some tissues, and of course, chocolate.

Sessions 1, 2 & 3 flew past. The theme was about Jesus’ life: What IF we lived like Jesus?

Each of the speakers was funny, real, and bold. You knew by the end of her time that her struggles weren’t just hard but the tools God was using to shape her and use her. It sounds basic, but that’s what I needed to be reminded. My struggles don’t discount me. They push me to my knees so I’m in a position to be used.

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As my journal attests, I wrote and wrote (still testing what I was hearing), but the defining moment came when an Anglican pastor couple took the stage. They spoke about the theology of suffering. How the visual of the breaking of bread as Christ’s body arrests us and reminds us that suffering isn’t a separate part of our beliefs but central to it all. As beautiful and deep as they were, the defining moment was when I realized that an Anglican pastor was speaking to my heart.
If I could sit across from another woman and know that we both believe in Jesus, the only Son of God, who lived a perfect life, born of a virgin, died on the cross, rose from the dead, the only payment for our sin, and that we can do nothing to earn grace, the church she goes to isn’t the obstacle I thought. We may not completely agree on every piece of doctrine, but I can embrace her as a sister.

THAT is the drive behind the IF Gathering. What IF women were using their God-given gifts for God’s kingdom instead of comparing and dividing? The balance can be tricky and sometimes messy. Doctrine does matter, but how we treat our sisters matters more.

I heard women in a FaceBook Theology group call the IF Gathering a witches coven. A group of witches is called a “gathering” so they must be a cult of witches. Bizarre logic. Obviously, I left that group, mainly because the common thread in the questions posted was an “us against them” mentality. I don’t want to be known for that. Instead of picking apart titles and semantics, we should be seeing common ground.

You love Jesus?! Hey, so do I! Let’s love Him together. If we happen to disagree at some point, I will give you grace and not walk away.

So tonight is the start of IF Gathering 2017 – and I cannot wait! The theme this year is Acts and the early church. God’s been digging around in my heart and pruning the last couple weeks. I know He will continue tonight and tomorrow as I sit with my sisters at IF: Zeeland.

If you love Jesus and even if you’re not sure, come join us!
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The Year of the Puppy

Halfway through January isn’t usually when people post their New Year things. But this is me and sometimes The Nerd Factory is on its own schedule.

​Though, most of it is due to that purple-collared furry thing on my lap. Her arrival has meant being up several times a night, constant vigil for her potty-cues, and not much time or brain power to focus on anything else. Oh wait. It’s just like having a baby. Minus the stretch marks and leaky boobs. After eleven years of saying no and a certain birthday girl having that as her one and only request for a birthday gift… I gave in.

I knew whatever dog we found would eventually become attached to me and vice versa and that scared me. I watched my mom put down her 13 year old Lady & the Tramp look-alike cocker spaniel and my husband take his beloved Boomer Pug to be put down. My heart is already tied irrevocably to our three offspring  and that hurts a lot some days. I figured a dog was overkill.

So on her birthday date with her daddy, they went to our local animal shelter and found a litter of puppies just put up for adoption. They’d been moved up here from Missouri as a tornado had gone through their area and there was no room for them. The mama had had a rough time of feeding her puppies and ended up with mastitis (poor thing!!) and had to stop feeding them at only 6 weeks. With the constant rolling and romping pile of furry bodies, it was hard to decide. They FaceTimed me and showed me this little face…

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…and just what was I supposed to do?! This little girl just had to be ours! Her markings were the most distinctive of her whole litter! The other puppies had similar blazes but they were monochromatic instead of the contrast she displayed. She was also one of the smallest puppies and very calm. We didn’t even know she had a voice until we got her home Jan 4 and she made a little noise to Mike as he was playing with her. Her favorite place in the whole wide world? A warm and open lap – usually mine.

Potty training began with 21 degree temps and blustering winds that made her cry and whine when I tried to take her outside. I was so thankful when the snow melted away and the broken-down cardboard box could be exchanged for the grass outside! A corner turned.

The best corner turned?? Pepper sleeping through the night!! She finally did that this week! I feel like I have a brain again and that I’m not operating on def-con level Chaos. I know many moms who pull off life with 5 hours of sleep or less. In 12 years of being a mom, I have never been able to swing that AND be a nice person to be around. Naps only go so far… like a crutch. You can limp along for a bit, but it’s not recommended you drive heavy machinery with a crutch.

Pepper is my shadow when the kids aren’t around. She loves to play with them, but still prefers my lap when she’s tuckered out. I usually have a book handy while she naps on me.

My days have a new routine. Walk the kids to the bus to wear her out for a morning nap while I get some things done around the house. After lunch, go for a long walk on the bike path.

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Then read or write while she snuggles on my lap. After the kids get home, they play with her or read to her for their homework – while she tries to nibble the pages. I make dinner while trying not to step on her as she moves around my feet. Then Daddy gets home aka Pepper’s Giant Chew Toy. She sits on my lap and listens as I read aloud to the kids before they go to bed.

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By 9pm, she’s winding down (like me) and by 10:30/11pm she’s downright exhausted. She goes outside one last time before she goes in her bed and we don’t hear from her until 7am. ​

So now you know. It’s the year of the puppy over here. Our new normal. Like any change it felt odd and I wished we could go back to the safe “old normal”, but here I am risking my heart on this little fur ball.

As for the Nerd Factory, its cogs are still turning and the gears are moving – just with a little more puppy chow. Check out the new Book Journal tag! I’m stepping up my reading game 🙂

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

As a true Harry Potter fan, I was skeptical of this book especially in the script format. I wanted to dive into the world of wands, butterbeer and the insatiable characters again without reading the setting of each scene.

It’s 308 pages long, 2 Parts, 4 Acts and many scenes between. 

The story picks up right where Deathly Hallows ended – even using the “19 years later” epilogue as the start of the script. It was a familiar way to begin such an unfamiliar style. In my experience, I can tell a lot about a book as I’m standing in a bookstore perusing the first pages of the first chapter. If the author has grabbed me by that point, I know I need to find this book at the library and finish it, which is how this Dutch family rolls. I was surprised to find that she’d captured my attention! So I devoured it in a couple afternoons with a sleeping puppy warming my lap.

Themes:
Parent/child relationships, friendships, legacy, doubt, fame’s shadow all come once again into play (pun intended). The previous books are riddled (see what I did there) with similar things as the previous books – along with doing what’s right and outmaneuvering the bad guys. As a parent, I thought J.K. did an outstanding job making Harry’s effort at being a dad while having no experience to draw from completely believable. Even with a decent example, parenting is hard.

Teaser:
Self-doubt… ugly words spoken… a son needing to prove himself… a stolen time turner … and lots of twists. I’ll leave you with that. 🙂 Get the book!

Reservations:
-Language is a factor in this book. It’s not every other word, but I hold to the idea that the English language is full of many thousands of words that could used to better describe than the vulgar ones chosen for this book. If an author feels vulgarity is the only way to connect with her reader, she needs to reevaluate her voice in writing. If I were to read this book out loud to my kids (I’d first have to figure out a way to not awkwardly read a script) I would have to censor the unnecessary words as I’d done some of the previous books.
-As in some of the other books, Ron is rather a patsy, humorous but it bothers me at times that Hermoine belittles him. She’s better about it as his wife in this story, but the superior feminist mindset still seeps through. There is so much of that in our culture where offending women is taboo. As with any attitude, it has be be regularly addressed and pointed out.

Recommendations:
If you found the book series to be too much, this giant epilogue play will feel entirely unnecessary. If you loved the books and don’t mind a different format, dive right in!
Though personally, I think the authors took a page from Back to the Future Part 2. 🙂

Let me know what you think!

***UPDATE*** October 26, 2017

I have recently finished reading this aloud to the kids each night. It was awkward to read the scenes and locations but they eventually grew to expect it and even noticed when I skipped reading them when a location change was unnecessary. Funny!

I definitely edited as I read. I probably should’ve edited more with relationships but in this book, Hermoine and Ron are married and their comments to each other reflect a married couple and were appropriate for that.

My recommendation stands but so do my reservations.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, Barnes and Noble is having their annual Harry Potter Celebration! For those in West Michigan, it will be held at their Rivertown location at 7pm THIS Friday October 27, 2017!

Enjoy!

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In the Raw: Journey of Churches

I’m folding laundry this time. I seem to do the best thinking when my hands are busy doing mundane things.

My arms reaching out to pick up a towel. Familiar motions and soon it is folded. Another towel and anther. My body working in harmony.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a slow movement and without thinking my body snaps into action to prevent precious clean laundry from falling on the floor.

Instinct. Familiarity. Harmony. The Body.

Each member doing its job to the absolute best of its ability; instinctively. Hands, Feet, Head, Arms, Ears, Mouth, Eyes… not one part telling the other how to do its job. The Body functioning as it should.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on ecclesiology. The study of the church belongs to wiser minds than mine.

However, experience has taught me a few things. ​

My earliest memory of church:
A huge bright room with tall stained glass windows. Coloring pictures at a half-moon table. Sitting with my parents on red velvet stadium seats while listening to the historic pipe organ belting out Great is Thy Faithfulness.

My next memory:
Having my picture taken outside in the sunshine with my parents and sister on the day my father was ordained as pastor.

Being “The Pastor’s Older Daughter” and all that entails: knowing more Bible trivia, being the fastest in Sword Drills, being bossy knowing most people won’t tell me no, never breaking a rule that anyone would know. In AWANA, hearing how even my rule-keeping couldn’t do a thing for me in God’s eyes. Deep conviction and salvation.

Sitting in a volatile church business meeting and hearing the accusations and tears and shouts.

Junior High:
Moving across the country and knowing not one person, yet discovering paradise. A small country church who tithed in eggs, milk, produce, beef/pork. Being a small-town “Pastor’s Daughter”… busybodies taking it upon themselves to be their own journalists. Looking up from the long wooden pews as my father preached from a tall pulpit.

Once again, hearing accusations and pride and this time having to leave my beloved mountains. Burning anger at God and flashing rage at the Elders who made the decision.

Another move across country, a half-hearted attempt at trying to build relationships in a youth group. A youth pastor who later was arrested for preying on the girls in his care.

Another youth group my Junior/Senior year of high school. A youth pastor who took it upon himself to make me laugh and who left an indelible mark on my life. The very first time I understood what worship was: Songs from the Loft, hands raised, delighting in who God is.

After College:
Huge church. Huge young adults group. Learning more about how to worship with abandon, pouring my soul out.

After Marriage:
Much smaller church. Young marrieds group. Feeling very out of place as a new wife who left all of her life for this man. Learning to open up and not just sit back in safety and observe. Kids will force you to do that; three of them even more so. Eventually plugging in and serving and then eventually burning out.

Now:
Almost 4 years and friendships are still few. Tries to connect backfired too many times. Serving and learning how a team is so key in avoiding burn-out. Thankful for all-out-top-of-my-lungs-hands-up-high worship.

As you can see, there is so much baggage in my past with churches. Trusting leadership is a struggle; cynicism too easy. Yet. I know this Body, while broken and unharmonious most of the time, is what God uses to show His power in this world.

How? I don’t know. Grace. I think.

He gives us grace and somehow we hold each other to our own grace-less standards. Disappointment grows until it covers the original problem and can’t even be seen. Risking grace with each other deflates the disappointment to actually deal with the problem.

Grace can be a risk, but it is a risk a bloody man on a cross gave up his life to give me. I am obligated to risk such precious grace with others.

How do you overcome the tension in your church journey and come the place of risking grace for others?

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Why I dread Mother’s Day

I’ve written about Mother’s Day before.

I’ve written about being a mom – even about The Mother Curse.

But as the day gets closer and closer, I find myself in an odd state of mind. I feel like a fraud; like I’m on a treadmill that never quits. I’m trying to balance a scale that will forever be weighted on one side.

My sweet Engineer always teaches the kids by his example to love and respect me. He shows them by cleaning up the kitchen, cooking dinner, and the occasional load of laundry that those things aren’t just “mom” things but jobs he gets to do because he loves me.

For me, Mother’s Day isn’t about the outward things the kids do for me or give to me, or even say to me, but a week long introspection that almost always leaves me wanting to run crying to a corner.

For those of you who read my Facebook posts and comments, please know they are true and in the moment and I do my best to relay funny and hard not just the ones that make my parenting glow pretty… but this past week was ugly.

It is this week plus the countless other times that flood into my mind as Mother’s Day approaches.

The moments where I completely lose it over the stuff in the living room, the dirty laundry that somehow always migrates off their bodies to the floor and stays there as they get ready for school… even though I bust my rear to just keep Mt Laundry within reason. Just when I congratulate myself on an empty laundry room, I discover it has just blown itself all over the rest of the house.

I detest cleaning the house. Remember, I married Dutch. I am not the stereotypical Dutch woman who gets her energy on by cleaning up her house. Left to my own devices, I let things slide until I just can’t take it anymore. Then the impetus for cleaning hits. I like what it looks like when it’s done, but laundry and I are barely on speaking terms.

I figure, there’s toilet paper in the holder, soap in the dispenser, and no body fluids on the seat… bathroom’s great! My germophobe pops out when sickness is around so the kids make a game of who can clorox wipe as many lightswitches and doorknobs in the house in 20 minutes. But other than that, if it ain’t broke (or in this case, completely gross) don’t fix it.

The worst part is when I lecture certain individuals on controlling their responses… yeah. I can almost hear their little minds accusing, “But you don’t.” Wait. Nope that’s not the worst part.

The WORST part is when your sensitive child comes to you to be honest about something they did.  When you smile and say it’s okay, they burst into tears because they’d been expecting “the wrath of Mommy”. With my arms around the child, my heart sinks and a knife twists.

These moments and more pound my mind and heart. Yes. I know and have experienced the amazing power of Grace. But Mother’s Day feels like another day to remember just how badly I screw up motherhood. Trying to outweigh the moments of “bad mom” with the fun of “good mom” won’t ever happen.

Grace is what I lean on and what I must wrap my mind in… however what usually douses my mind is that poison of perfection. Comparison and ungratefulness.

I love the idea of taking a day to specifically honor the women who have chosen to pour into our lives. Especially since most of us have a woman who isn’t our blood mother who has poured her soul into our spiritual journey. Mine happens to also have my name. I cannot thank God for her enough.

In fact, it is her example that I lean on when Grace seems too costly for me to accept.

She has told me so often that the stuff she thought was most important then isn’t really at all. The time spent laughing together as a family, talking around the table at dinner, listening to each child express themselves and their ideas… that time spent is never wasted. And when you realize you’ve messed up, you seek forgiveness and know that God uses even the broken stuff. She and I have disagreed many times in the past 12 years, but I know beyond any momentary irritation – our relationship is solid.

I love that she is so open about her relationship with her husband. No false reality! Just because the kids are out of the house, marriage still takes intentional persistence. No magic stage of life. 🙂  She knows the power of prayer and uses it on behalf of her children and grandchildren.

She gave me her firstborn son without any strings attached. She let me be the woman in his life while she stepped back. She pours into the lives of our children every moment she can – whether it’s being silly spraying them with the hose or asking them how they are obeying God in their lives.

It’s pretty obvious physically I’m not her biological daughter, but my heart says otherwise.

So, when Mother’s Day becomes a condemning list of things I never get right… I listen to her wisdom and accept Grace.

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In the Raw: Perfect

My mom has said it often: Ironing is a great way to get warm in the winter and a time to think.

Though I like being warm and thinking, I still choose to iron as little as possible. I find as many ways/shortcuts to avoid ironing as I can. But, there are those moments (The Engineer’s work pants got left in the dryer) when ironing is a necessity.

One of those moments is today. I’m standing at this squeaky ironing board with steam hissing from my old iron. (Even though, the Engineer’s bachelor iron is probably better than mine, I prefer my old trusty one – something about the feel of it.) I see impossible-looking wrinkles and know that with a bit of heat and some applied steam, they will disappear into perfectly smooth.

These things tumble into other thoughts…
church.
friendships.
loneliness.
fake happy.
people.
hurt.
pain.
church.

All of a sudden, I’m desperately wishing that each wrinkle was connected to something on that list and my heat and steam could flatten it and make it perfect. ​

Perfect. No church is. No relationship is. No person is.

There’s the problem. I keep wanting to arrive at Perfect. I want to find that person who is going to go the distance with a friendship. Maybe that person will magically appear at a Bible Study or the grocery store or at church. Someone who sees the value of friendship together not as an afterthought. Someone who is okay with my quirky.

Reality is… you have to go through a lot of frogs to find one worth keeping. I’d prefer to skip the frogs.

Same is true for church.

Just like healthy food or good choices, you do them not because you particularly like it at that moment but because you know you need it.

Church is like that sometimes.

I know I need to be reminded that I am not the center of the universe. I am not the one who I worship. I must be reminded of my rightful place in the universe: face down at His feet. 

That part of church I love. I am right-minded. I am whole. I am full. I could spend way more time in that place remembering how I fit in His world.

The hard part is that church is made up of people: messed-up sinners just like me. When we all get together, we are a gigantic bunch of messed-up sinners who pretend we aren’t really that bad.

I don’t want to be a happy plastic church person but yet I do. 

Perfect looks so nice. It feels safe. Especially if you put it all out there before and had to collect the fall-out. It would be easier if the pieces weren’t in the form of relationships. Gallon containers would be preferable.

However…

“but this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end:
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’ ” (Lam. 3:20-24 ESV)

So. I’m still standing at that ironing board. The iron is making smooth where the wrinkles seemed impossible. And I call this to mind. I tell my soul. My heart remembers truth.

I remember that the church I get so irritated with was the same church Christ calls His bride.
I remember that the church is only messed-up people with baggage that would make Everest look like an anthill.
I remember that Christ loves me and those messed-up people. And our love for each other proves Whom we follow.
I remember God never leaves us as we are. He doesn’t give up on us. He is exactly what I need in each situation I face.

…and therefore I have hope.

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To the family in the booth behind us

I’m not sure when I began to feel your disapproving stares.

It may have been the moment when our youngest pointed out that he was coloring green fire out of his dragons tail which led to the middle child’s thoughts of green gas and then contagious giggling that even I couldn’t help!

It may have been the moment when their daddy hearing a Christmas carol over the speakers began to sing along – adding/substituting his own words. Which, of course, prompted another round of laughter from our little people! “Here we come a-caroling” will never be the same again for any of us!

Or it may have been the moment when our youngest figured out that if he wanted more food that if he picked up the phone by our table he could ask for more and tried but was caught by the long arm of his daddy…

Or when our oldest added her own words to another song (which rhymed very well – no matter the bodily function) and the table erupted in more hilarity…

Honestly, I was surprised to find that I didn’t really care if you decided we were terrible parents for enjoying the moment and laughing – even if the topic was bodily functions. Why the surprise, you might ask? Well, I used to live there in Seriousville. I grew up there. Sitting in a booth with my family of 6 was an excercise of self-control with the goal of not upsetting the one paying our family’s tab.

Your stares gave me a moment of perspective to see just how far God has brought me. Laughter is precious and I’m so thankful our children have a daddy who loves to laugh!

Before you conclude I’m heartless, I did put myself in your family’s proverbial shoes.

What if you just came from a doctor’s office or hospital appointment?

What if you are taking a break between funeral visitation and service?

What if your family is in the throes of being ripped to shreds?

Those are such heart rending things and I’m so very sorry. I pray that if those situations do fit, while not funny at all, that you would be able to find something… anything to laugh about. I personally recommend allaboutfarts.com. It is guaranteed comic relief in an ICU waiting room – speaking from experience. Laughter does have a way of healing – even a family.

So dear family in the booth behind us, please crack a smile! For us or at least as a result of us… it will do you a world of good!

Your next door booth neighbor

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