Thursday Thoughts for Writers~Comparison

Every Thursday this year, I’ll share thoughts, tips and inspiration for writers.  I’m certainly not an expert, but am simply seeking personal encouragement in this art and want to share with anyone who’s also trying to find their way as a writer.  These short posts will come from books, articles, the Bible, my own thoughts, and other people.  Check back each week and introduce yourself in the comments–I’d love to meet you!

Leslie  
 

Do you ever struggle with comparison?  What truths do you tell yourself to combat the lies in your head?


 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?  If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

1 Corinthians 12: 16-17 (ESV)


It is so easy for writers to compare themselves to others in the world of social media, measuring our worth by our number of “likes” or shares on Facebook.  I have been struggling with this for the past few weeks, comparing myself to an amazing writer I’ll call X.  But it was right before I fell asleep the other night that God brought a thought to mind,

The world doesn’t need another X, it already has one.  The world needs a Leslie Verner.


And something about that brought me so much peace.  Just as it is silly for an ear to try and be an eye, it is ridiculous to think that my writing would be the same as someone who lives in another part of the world, who has had a very different history from me. 

The world needs you, too, even though you may feel like an insignificant little ear (I certainly do!).  God wants to use you in your corner of the world as you sit typing away on your laptop or scribbling in your journal.  You have a story and perspective to tell that no one else has.  And God wants to use you as an eyewitness to complete the body of writers that are telling His story in the world right now.

Do you ever struggle with comparison?  What truths do you tell yourself to combat the lies in your head?

 

Related Article:
Facebook Envy, by Brianna Dewitt

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Linking up with Thought-Provoking Thursday  and #livefree Thursday and Coffee for Your Heart
and Word Filled Wednesdays 

Do you ever struggle with comparison?  What truths do you tell yourself to combat the lies in your head?

Eden & Vulnerability: Nakey, No Shame

My children like to do "nakey dances."  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.     So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

My children like to do “nakey dances.”  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.  

So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

I finally picked up a Brene Brown book recently to find out what all the fuss is about.  If you haven’t heard of her, she became famous after giving this TED talk on vulnerability and has since written several books.  She skirts around many Christian themes, but doesn’t seem to have an overtly spiritual message, yet applied to spiritual life, I think many of her concepts could revolutionize the community of the church.  Here are a few quotes from Daring Greatly:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.  Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…”

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

“There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and unworthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”

Adam and Eve felt no shame before sin entered the world, so really there was no need for vulnerability.  But after the fall, vulnerability is a ticket back to Eden because we must put everything on the line for Christ.  And it is through this risk that we find we are loved utterly and completely.  He looks at us as if looking at Himself, because we are made in His image.  He took our shame on Himself so that we can experience delicious freedom.  

While I accept this at an intellectual level and sometimes grasp it at a heart level, I also know that vulnerability does not end with me submitting myself to Jesus for salvation.  It also applies to my marriage, my parenting, my friendships and the way I use my work and gifts to serve others.  “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Mat. 16:25).

Where is vulnerability transforming my life from a life of fear into a life of power and freedom?

In my marriage, my husband’s devotion to me makes it easy for me to be vulnerable with him. I know from experience that if I were with a different sort of man, my tendency would be to close up, protect and retreat.  But even so, it is still easy to keep the deepest corners of my soul locked away, waiting for my husband to “happen” to stumble upon them.  But that is not realistic.  Most men do not naturally ask soul-searching questions of their wives, so I need to be willing to lay out a few treasures that are reserved for him alone.  

In my parenting, fear of loving too much prevents me from being vulnerable.  What if I pour myself into my role as a mother–love them TOO much–and something happens to one of my children?  How would I survive?  

In friendships, there is the fear that if I am vulnerable with someone, they will not reciprocate by pouring out their heart to me.  Or even worse, they will never call me again.  And yet Mike Mason says in Practicing the Presence of People, “Flaws form the best glue for friendship.  Indeed a friendship without many shared failures will remain stilted and lame.  We connect with others not primarily through our strengths, but through our weaknesses” (pg. 240).  We cannot have true friendships without vulnerability.

In August of 2015, I began blogging.  It was terrifying and I felt like I was standing naked in front of my friends and family to be judged and ridiculed.  But instead of feeling defeated, I felt brave.  Instead of feeling weak, I felt strong.  I felt courageous in a way I have never felt before.  And just as in marriage the nakedness gets easier the more you find you are loved and accepted not in spite of your imperfections, but because of them, being accepted for who I am as a writer has empowered me to keep writing.

Where is God calling you to be vulnerable this year?  In a relationship?  A new venture?  A job change with less pay?  A creative gift that you have shelved?

Pray for the strength to be vulnerable.  Never accept vulnerability as weakness, because moving forward and risking exposure takes amazing bravery and courage.  

If you want to return to Eden, ask that God remove your shame through Jesus so that you can dance the freedom of the nakey dance in every sphere of your life.  It is a dance that is full of joy and delight in being accepted for who you are.  Believe that you are a beloved child of God, extravagantly loved.  Excessively loved.  Be free, my dear.  And put some new part of yourself on the line this year, something that requires just a bit of courage.

In what area of your life is God calling you to be more vulnerable?

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Linking up with Velvet Ashes and Literacy Musing Mondays 

My children like to do "nakey dances."  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.     So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

What No One Told Me About Breastfeeding

Before I had a baby, I hadn't conceived of how amazing it would be to use my body in such a raw and mystical way to completely sustain another life.

When you are pregnant, there is no lack of doomsday warnings and terrible tales passed on in attempts to crush the spirit of the rosy-cheeked and hopeful mom-to-be.  So by the time I had my first child, my expectations were super low.  I was about to ruin my life.

And though I knew I wanted to breastfeed and was committed to it no matter what, I dreaded the soreness, time and late nights that everyone gave me dire warnings about.  

So I was floored to make a discovery after my son was born:  I loved it.

With my son, I planned on nursing for a year, but when that year came and went, I realized I didn’t have an endgame.  And I really enjoyed nursing, so I wasn’t eager to wean him.  I was thankful when he suddenly lost interest and weaned himself at 16 months.   

Now, I’m considering weaning my 17-month-old daughter, so I’m feeling nostalgic.  If we don’t have other children, these may be my last days of nursing a baby, which pulls on my mama heart in ways that watching our children grow can simultaneously bring us delight and sadness.

I know there are reasons people are not able to nurse their babies, but I wanted to write about some of the joy I personally found in nursing.

The Beauty
Before I had a baby, I hadn’t conceived of how amazing it would be to use my body in such a raw and mystical way to completely sustain another life.  To know that the milk I gave my baby was tailored to their specific age and developmental needs and even contained antibodies to fight off diseases and potential threats in our home gave me peace at a time when I often wondered if I was doing everything right.

I first read the book Babywise, which advocated a strict schedule and strongly discouraged demand feeding.  I did try and feed each of my children on a schedule of sorts, but I am so glad I read another book on breastfeeding, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (don’t be deterred by the cheesy title).  Reading this changed my perspective on breastfeeding and taught me to trust my body and trust my baby.

Nursing is the most beautiful thing I have ever done with my body.  Yes, the act that brought this baby into existence was beautiful and good, but making love takes effort and requires you to be actively engaged in the process.  But nursing is a passive generosity (especially as you and baby get stronger), requiring the simple offer of yourself, cradling of your child, drinking in their new baby scent, nuzzling their soft peach fuzz head and allowing yourself to relax in the natural mystery of womanhood.    

Night Vigils and Sleep Fasting
Though the tiredness struggle was more real with my second child, with my first baby, I thought about my evening vigils as “sleep fasting.”  I tried not to complain to people the next day about my lack of sleep just as a fasting person shouldn’t complain about how hungry they are.  My sleep was my sacrifice to God and to my baby.  And God met me in the watches of the night as my husband slept and I and my baby listened to clocks tick, cars make their way home from clubs, bars and social visits and the old apartment creak in the night.  When else do you sit awake in the middle of the night and do nothing but listen?

Solitude
As the feedings have become less frequent with each child, I find that I miss having an excuse to escape a crowd full of people to nurse my baby.  Not that I haven’t done my share of public nursing (I’m a fan of using a cover, but admire women who whip it out–more power to you!), having nursed in parks, bathroom stalls, store dressing rooms, restaurants, movie theaters, mall benches and numerous parking lots.  But there have also been plenty of church services, parties and weddings where I have been able to sneak away with my baby and allow myself to melt into the scene of mama and baby alone at last. 

Now, my daughter’s body hardly fits on my lap and I can tell that she is not getting much milk at each feeding.  She is a busy toddler and barely slows down during the day enough to sit on my lap anymore.  So I continue to hold on those few times a day she still nurses and I can’t deny her when she gives me the sign language sign for nursing.  I’m going by the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method of weaning.  So for now I will hold her squishy little girl body, with her wispy blond pig tales tickling my nose and her chubby hands grabbing my shirt and nurse her for just a few more days.  Just a few.

Linking up with: A Proverbs 31 Wife and Literacy Musing Mondays

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Before I had a baby, I hadn't conceived of how amazing it would be to use my body in such a raw and mystical way to completely sustain another life.Before I had a baby, I hadn't conceived of how amazing it would be to use my body in such a raw and mystical way to completely sustain another life.

(My and My Husband’s) Media Discoveries in 2015: Blogs, Podcasts, Apps, Books and T.V.

My smart and talented husband, Adam, agreed to join me in this post to add a more cool/geeky side to my reflective/analytical recommendations of what we have been reading and listening to this year.  We weren't sure if all of these were discoveries for us in 2015, but they were definitely a part of our lives this year.

My smart and talented husband, Adam, agreed to join me in this post to add a more cool/geeky side to my reflective/analytical recommendations of what we have been reading and listening to this year.  We weren’t sure if all of these were discoveries for us in 2015, but they were definitely a part of our lives this year.  Please introduce yourself in the comments below and leave us some new recommendations for 2016, we’d love it!

BLOGS
I just joined the blogging world in August of 2015, which is certainly not the solitary endeavor that I once thought.  Before I started a blog, I could have probably named two blogs off the top of my head, but I have had the privilege of reading hundreds over the past few months.  Here are a few that I’m loving (that are not new to blog lovers, I’m sure):

Spiritual/lifestyle blogs:
Sarah Bessey.  Sarah is my new best friend (she just doesn’t know it yet).  She has this way of writing that speaks to your soul. 
Shelly Miller: Redemption’s Beauty.  Shelley now lives in London with her family.  Her photos are incredible.  She started the Sabbath Society, which is a group of hundreds of women who are committed to observing the Sabbath each week.
My Daily Bread and Butter.  I found Devi through writing #Write31Days this year as we were both writing a series on transition (but she was transitioning from Sweden to Australia).  Her poignant words are heartfelt and poetic and I think I now count her as my first virtual friend.
Modern Mrs. Darcy.  For a book-lover, this site is a must-read.  This is a very new one to me, but I was excited to find a site that is dedicated to books.
The Messy Middle.  Okay, I’m pretty sure I didn’t discover Amy Young’s blog this year, but as I have started writing more, I have appreciated it more than ever before.  I love her perspective on life and how intentional and honest she is in her posts.  
Life of a Pilgrim. This is one of the most amazing stories I have been a part of praying for all year.  If you want to cry every post, then follow along as Katherine blogs about her journey after her child was given a terminal diagnosis early on in her pregnancy (this links to one of the early posts, but I couldn’t find the first one).

Food Blogs:  Cookie and Kate (whole foods and vegetarian recipes) and Pinch of Yum.  Both of these sites have healthy, delicious food and I have made several recipes from each.

ONLINE JOURNALS:
For Christian women:  
SheLoves and (In)Courage

For Expats/Cross-cultural Perspectives:
Velvet Ashes
A Life Overseas
Rocky Reentry
Taking Route

The Blogs Adam Reads:
Kottke.org
Boing Boing
Damn Interesting
Astronomy Pic of the Day 
Space.com 
Wired 
Slate.com

BOOKS
Check out my post on my favorite books from 2015 here and my husband’s at his blog here.  Mine have a definite memoir/historical fiction/spiritual narrative slant and his have a science/science fiction slant, so combined, you could become a very well-balanced reader!

PODCASTS
This is probably my weakest category as I haven’t joined the Podcast craze yet, but I did listen to Serial this year on our overnight drives between Colorado and Chicago.  And I just recently started listening to the podcast, Sorta Awesome, because it was mentioned by several bloggers I’m following.  Other than that, I wanted to put a plug in for the podcast, Sexy Marriage Radio, which all married couples should listen to for some really great discussions on married sex. 

Adam, on the other hand, is definitely that person you know who starts sentences with, “I heard on this Podcast…”  Annoyingly smart and one of those people who remembers everything he reads and hears, podcasts are just fuel for his knack for trivia.  

Here are some of his recommendations for podcasts:
RadioLab, This American Life, Reply All, Mystery Show, Reveal, Lore, Surprisingly Awesome, Snap Judgement, Arrvls, StartUp, Note to Self, Love and Radio, 99% Invisible, Hidden Brain

PHONE APPS
I have been in the Smartphone world less than two years, so I’m probably the last person to recommend apps to anyone, but for what it’s worth, here are the apps on my Android phone right now:  

YouVersion, Gas Guru, Maps, Pandora, Pocket Casts, Feedly (for viewing multiple blogs), Pocket (for saving articles), our public library app, Audible, Kindle, White Noise Free, Goodreads,
Skype, BBC News, CNN news, Line Dictionary (Chinese/English Dictionary), Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram 

Adam’s Apps:
He has many of the same ones I do, but also uses:  Flipboard (for viewing news), Play Newstand, Quora, Dropbox, and Adblock Browser


T.V. 
This was not a year for movies for us since we go to the theater about four times a year and are usually too tired to watch more than a 45 minute T.V. show in the evenings.  We really enjoyed watching Orphan Black (on Amazon) and Blacklist (Netflix).  We also watched Madame Secretary, but weren’t really in love with it (I call it “Madame Sex” because Tea Leoni is so stinkin sexy).

But if we happen to have an evening alone, we watch our own shows.

For Adam, that included:  Walking Dead, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Better Call Saul

For me:  Downtown Abby, Parenthood, Call the Midwife, and re-watching Gilmore Girls (obviously)

And though we didn’t discover it this year, we really love Raising Hope, which is probably the goofiest show you can watch (perfect for for us since we are award-winning goofballs).

For my three-year-old son, the shows I’ve settled on for him (all on Netflix and less than 30 minutes long) are: Daniel Tiger, Little Einsteins, Handy Manny, Dinosaur Train and Super Why.  (Though I’m certainly not a stranger to letting him watch a 45 minute Bob the Builder or 1-hour Winne the Pooh movie, just for the sake of full-disclosure).

~~~~

I mean it when I say I’d love to meet you in the comments and read some recommendations for any of the above categories! I’m sure with our diverse interests they are bound to appeal to one of us!  

Soon, I’ll be posting some of the more personal and spiritual discoveries I made in 2015, so check back in!

What were you into media-wise in 2015?

Previous Post:  My One Word for 2016 
Next Post:  What No One Told Me About Breastfeeding

Linking up with Emily P. Freeman: What I Learned in 2015 

My smart and talented husband, Adam, agreed to join me in this post to add a more cool/geeky side to my reflective/analytical recommendations of what we have been reading and listening to this year.  We weren't sure if all of these were discoveries for us in 2015, but they were definitely a part of our lives this year.

My One Word for 2016

Days before I ran across this new challenge (can you tell I’m an overachiever…), God seemed to be preparing me with a single word.


Enjoy.

I even wrote a post about it a day or so before I heard about #ONEWORD365, which is a challenge to throw out New Year’s resolutions to focus on just one word for the whole year. 

I didn’t want to just choose the word joy, because something about the word “enjoy” steals away the passivity and pushes you straight into action the way standing under a cold waterfall on a hot day startles you alive.  Or the way a sunbeam heats the floor under bare feet or a baby’s chubby newskin is the softest thing you’ve ever touched.  Enjoy cannot escape being in the moment.

And that is what God has been whispering to me on the days when I feel tired, overwhelmed, insignificant and bored. 

Enjoy. 

Just enjoy.

I am currently reading All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, and I just read a scene that is completely arresting.  Marie-Laure is a blind teenaged girl during World War II and has been holed up in her uncle’s house in an unfamiliar city in France that is occupied by the Germans.  She and her relatives are free to go out to run errands, but she has not been able to explore.  One day a woman she lives with decides to take Marie Laure outside of the city to the ocean, which she has never experienced before and didn’t even know was there.

“The ocean!  Right in front of her!  So close all this time.  It sucks and booms and splashes and rumbles; it shifts and dilates and falls over itself; the labyrinth of Saint-Malo has opened onto a portal of sound larger than anything she has ever experienced…She did not imagine it properly; she did not comprehend the scale” (p. 231).

How many times is God offering me blessings and glimpses of His grace and goodness that are right in front of me, but I am too distracted or even scared to notice?

The word enjoy means to “take delight or pleasure in.”  I love the synonyms:  cherish, relish, delight, admire, rejoice in, luxuriate in, revel in, appreciate, adore, savor, indulge in and treasure.

Jesus has been nudging me, inviting me to enjoy.  

To cherish Him, 
relish my marriage,
delight in my children,
admire where I live,
rejoice in writing,
luxuriate in simple moments, 
revel in nature,
appreciate daily tasks, 
adore reading,
savor resting,
indulge in exercising, and 
treasure people. 

God is calling me to live more in the moment.  It is so easy for me to think that I could be doing something more useful or world-changing than what I am doing at any given minute and I miss out on all the ways God is trying to alert me to His presence in the here and now.  But if I am actively enjoying, then it is hard to minimize the kingdom value of anything I am doing, regardless of how simple it may seem. 

I need to believe that God delights in seeing me enjoy what He has given me.

Here are some of my initial brainstorming questions that I may write about in the coming days and months:

How do I know I’m really enjoying something or someone?
How do I enjoy God?
Do I believe God enjoys me?
Can people tell I am enjoying them?  How?
Which verses speak to this word?
Which books can I read to urge me to enjoy more?
What prevents me from enjoying?

It’s going to be difficult for me as someone who loves control to allow God to work this word into my life in organic ways.  Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I love structure, plans and goals.  But part of truly enjoying something or someone is not forcing yourself to do something that feels unnatural.  So I’m allowing this word to be more of a open-handed prayer as I wait for God to show me what He wants to show me instead of trying to manipulate Him (ha!) into doing what I think He should do. 

“Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full”  (John 16:24).

Anyone else want to pick a word and join me on this journey?  Visit this site for more information.

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Previous Post~When You Feel Guilty About Your Blessings

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Linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays and Velvet Ashes and Inspire Me Monday

Days before I ran across this new challenge (can you tell I'm an overachiever...), God seemed to be preparing me with a single word.

When You Feel Guilty About Your Blessings

What are God's gifts to you right now?  Are you allowing yourself to enjoy them?


We spent Christmas at the nursing home, visiting my husband’s 94-year-old grandfather.  Normally a vibrant conversationalist, each visit since he moved into the home a few years ago the conversations have gotten shorter as his mind loops back to the beginning of the conversation.  

This time, the span was shorter than ever, including just one simple question about our children, “How old are they now?” he would ask.  And then he’d comment on how he forgets that children show intelligence beginning at such a young age.  He’d pause as other people talked, but soon would ask again, “How old are they now?” with the same genuine interest.

If my daughter lives to be 94, it will be the year 2110, which blows my mind.  It feels like a very long time.  And yet as soon as pregnant mothers pass from the random-stranger-warnings of, “Enjoy your sleep now!” they are hit with the next words of wisdom, “It goes SO fast!”  But there are days when it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s going fast.  


I had given up on the hope of having children.  I was very much single on my 30th birthday and even after I got married a few years later, I told myself that I probably wouldn’t be able to get pregnant (to protect myself from disappointment).  I eventually did get pregnant and then I told myself I’d probably miscarry or else there would be a serious problem with the baby.  But there wasn’t.  Apart from the Guinness Book of World Record-breaking long labor and a couple days in the NICU for a possible infection, we had a healthy boy.  And it was love at first sight.  I actually looked forward to waking up and seeing him in the middle of the night.

Two years later, I had another sweet baby, a little girl.  Now my kids are three and 17 months and I’m realizing that this parenting thing is no joke.

The terrible twos were true to their name and other very helpful people told me to expect the threes to be even worse.  Throw a new sibling and a cross-country move in there and you may as well double the tantrum quota each child is committed to fulfilling.  

But lately, I feel God has been whispering something hardly intelligible into my ear:  

Enjoy your kids, Leslie. 

Enjoy them.  Smile at them.  Slow down.  Laugh, dance, talk and pretend with them.  Learn how to be a child again.  

I feel much like Robin Williams in the movie Hookwho returns to Neverland as an adult after discovering he is Peter Pan.  I have forgotten so much.  When I was little, I always wanted to write a journal to my future self about what it’s like to be a kid so I wouldn’t forget.  But I have forgotten.  I now sit with the throngs of adults that watch children playing and say in a tired voice, “Where do they get all that energy?”

This summer I was in a multi-generational women’s book study.  I felt like I was following along behind the older women, gleaning from their every scrap.  One seventy-year-old woman shared that as she looks back at her life as a mother, she wishes she had enjoyed her kids more at the time.  She regrets missing out on them.

But sometimes I feel guilty for my blessings.  I feel ashamed that I have healthy beautiful children when so many of my friends can’t get pregnant.  Or when others long to get married and are still waiting for God to bring along the right man or woman.  

I hesitate to enjoy what God has given me out of guilt.  But that is like me giving my son a bike and him never riding it because the neighbor boy doesn’t have one.  It seems heroic, but he is actually depriving me of the pleasure of watching him enjoy a gift my husband and I wanted to bless him with.  

God delights in watching His children take pleasure in the blessings He gives them even more than I enjoy my children’s happiness over a gift I give them.  

Solomon writes, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor–it is the gift of God” (Eccl. 3:12-13). 

What are God’s gifts to you right now?  Are you allowing yourself to enjoy them?

Yes, my life could be harder and I’m sure that there are times in the future when it will be, but am I enjoying life and all of God’s gifts right now? Or am I letting Satan steal my joy?

I’m praying that God would help me to love like crazy and stop holding back.  I want to accept that He is elated to see the look on my face when I open His good gifts and delight in them as He intended.  And right now, He is inviting me to enjoy my children. 


Linking up with #Wholemama


Previous Post~The Truth About Family Advent

What are God's gifts to you right now?  Are you allowing yourself to enjoy them?


The Truth About Family Advent

It is day 22 of Advent and here is what celebrating actually looks like for us as a family of four with a three-year-old and 17-month-old...


A few weeks ago I posted about how we were planning to celebrate Advent as a family this year.  Lest you believe we are the poster family for spiritual and holy family moments, I feel an update is in order.  Advent is all about waiting, which for a toddler or preschooler is about the worst thing you can be expected to do. 

Last year for Christmas we asked for a wreathe with four candles and calendar with little Velcro nativity characters that you pull out of pockets and stick to the felt manger at the top.  A couple years ago we also bought a large beautiful Advent book that you read each day with doors that open on each page that tell the Christmas story. 

It is day 21 of Advent and here is what celebrating actually looks like for us as a family of four with a three-year-old and 17-month-old…

After putting on PJ’s and brushing teeth, my daughter slides down the stairs backwards on her belly to join her brother who is dancing around the living room.  She toddles to the tree and sits down with her tiny legs straight out in front of her.  Our son “helps” us light the candles by holding onto our hands while we use our grill lighter.  And by the time we are done lighting them, our daughter is up wandering around, draping dollar store necklaces around her neck and collecting random toys in the large Ziploc and old cooler bag she likes to haul around. 

We eventually get our son to sit down on the floor with us to read the Advent book and he insists on holding the door flaps open with his foot, which we ask him not to do.  He fills in a couple words as we read, shouting, “Immanuel!” and “Gabriel!”  He opens the next door in the book, leaving a wet streak from where he had his hands in his mouth.  He gets bored and my husband and I read the next few pages alone until he finally wanders back and insists on opening the door that we already read.

When she’s not trying to blow out the candles, my daughter shuffles in and out of the circle, backing up with all her gear to sit on our laps and occasionally tries to open doors as well.  We finally finish reading and sing a “Away in a Manger” as a family, my son picking his nose and eating it all the way through. 

After that, we bring over the wall-hanging Advent calendar where you are supposed to take out one king, star, shepherd or other nativity character each day and place it at the top.  First of all, the kids are having none of this “one a day” business, so it is a free-for-all to see how many objects they can grab and run away with before mommy figures out what they are doing.  And when I finally coerce them to stick their objects on the manger at the top, they inevitably fall off.

We sometimes pray at the end, but are mostly just ready to be done and for the kids to get in bed, so we let my son blow out candles and my daughter attempt to blow them out (mostly she just stares at them in a mesmerized stupor) and we herd them upstairs for books, songs, prayer and bed. 

But if we “forget” to do Advent one night? Oh boy.  This has already become a habit for the kids and though it is frustrating and we wonder if they are getting anything out of it, they seem to really want to do it each night.

I know it will get better in the future because our kids will not always be so little, but for now, it sometimes feels like we are just doing it to do it. 

And yet if we’re honest, isn’t this what much of being a Jesus follower is really all about–simply showing up?  We don’t always feel like pursuing God, but this doesn’t mean that we just give up all together.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to hang back until our hearts are perfectly in the right place before we pray, read the Bible or hang out with other believers.  He just wants us to make any small effort we can to inch closer to Him.  Sometimes we feel His presence, but many times we are just going through the motions, but this doesn’t mean we should stop trying.   

Life continues to be sticky, but God is here in the stickiness. 

He is in the chaos and the shrieking of my children as they fight over toys, in the repetition of meals, diaper changes and bedtime routines, and in the seemingly lame attempts at teaching our kids about God.

I wish that I could invite God into my immaculate “inn,” with shelves dusted and floors scrubbed clean, but right now all I can offer Him is this stable.  But I still invite Him in.  And He welcomes me to kneel at His side and worship Him right here in the dust.

And this is the God I love:  The God who came to earth not as a king, but as a carpenter; not in a mansion, but in a smelly stable; and not to a perfect people, but to a bunch of distracted, snotty-nosed whiners who needed to physically touch Him, hear what He had to say and see what He had to do for them. 

He didn’t come to people who were clean, worthy or even ready for Him, but He plopped down in the middle of messy life and allowed Himself to be known.

So this is Christmas.  And this is Advent for us right now.  It is not beautiful or filled with moments of enlightenment, but it is “God with us” in the stable of our living room, in the real stuff of life.  

How does your ideal celebration of Advent compare to your actual celebration of Advent? I’d love to hear some of your experiences in the comments! 

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It is day 21 of Advent and here is what celebrating actually looks like for us as a family of four with a three-year-old and 17-month-old...

Favorite Books in 2014 & 2015

Here are a few of my recommendations from what little I have read over the past two years.  (Since I didn't begin blogging until this year and I read some really fantastic books last year that I'd like to mention).


My husband reads about seventy books a year, so I am always a little embarrassed about how little I read in comparison (though, to be fair, he IS an audio book narrator, so he counts those books as well).  But for what it’s worth, here are a few of my recommendations from what little I have read over the past two years.  (Since I didn’t begin blogging until this year and I read some really fantastic books last year that I’d like to mention).

Books I Loved Best:

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
I can’t believe it took me so long to read this incredible book.  I first tried to read this in college before well, life, and I just wasn’t ready for it.  The characters, imagery, themes, style, and depth of research were amazing (she spent 10 years researching for it!).  Loved it.  I feel like this is a book everyone who wants to go into missions should read as a manual of what not to do. 

Bringing up Bebe:  One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, by Pamela Druckerman
I’m a sucker for a good book on cultural differences and this book has had a huge influence on my parenting, from what I feed my babies (anything I eat) to helping them sleep through the night (if they can do it in France…).  But it mostly just gave me peace of mind that there is not only ONE way to parent because someone somewhere in the world is doing it differently than I am and their kids become responsible members of society (as an aside, watch the documentary Babies to help you feel better as a mom–you can always tell yourself, In some countries, kids eat dirt and they still grow up into healthy adults). 

Practicing the Presence of People: How We Learn to Love, by Mike Mason
Mike wrote one of my husband and I’s favorite books on marriage, The Mystery of Marriage, so we knew we wanted to read any other books he has written.  This book has sat on our shelf for over a year and it wasn’t until this season where I am trying to figure out how to make new friends in my 30’s after moving to a new place that I finally picked it up.  I underlined over fifty percent of the book, so apt were his words, as if he were speaking right to my soul.  His writing style is beautiful and so profound that you feel deeper just by reading it.     
  
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross
This book has also been a major shaper of my parenting style and after reading it I promptly got rid of over half of our toys (so beware!).  But I loved how scientific it was and the ways it illuminated much of what our society deems as needs for kids are actually wants

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker
Similar to Simplicity Parenting, this book challenged much of my thinking about the sheer amount of stuff we have in our house.  I love Jen’s hilarious writing style and relatability.  I can’t say that I actually did everything that she suggested, but it caused me to take stock of my life and all that might be excessive about it.

Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I can’t believe I never read this before.  I loved the lyrical style and timeless essays on womanhood.  Her writing reminded me of Annie Dillard, but with fewer descriptions of bugs;-)

Family on Mission, by Mike Breen
This book was recommended to me by a friend who is trying to put this style of ministry into practice.  This year, I feel that it has shaped my perception of ministry as the Breens encourage people to invite people into your life and come alongside your family instead of having ministry be compartmentalized from your real life. 

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger
A fiction novel, this book was beautifully written and had characters that you could truly fall in love with.  It touches on the possibility of miracles and rings with themes of redemption and forgiveness.  I was swept into the story immediately and couldn’t put it down. 

Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy (sequel), by Lisa See
While I was living in China, I wasn’t as interested in reading books about China, but since I’ve been back for five years, I find I’m growing nostalgic.  I loved this book and its sequel as it was well-written and spanned many years of Chinese culture including Shanghai during the dawn of the cultural revolution, immigration to the U.S. and later life back in China in a labor camp.  Having actual characters in a story always helps me to better understand history, so I appreciated these books and feel they were very accurate to what I have read and experienced of Chinese history.

Also Worth the Read:

Non-fiction:
Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem and the Joys of Motherhood, by Rachel Jankovic

Mom Enough:  The Fearless Mother’s Heart and Hope, by multiple contributors from Desiring God

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L’Engle  (this was the fourth time I’ve read this–one of my all time favorites)

Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God, by Margaret Feinberg

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm and Other Adventures in Parenting (From Argentina to Tanzania and Everywhere in Between), by Mei-Ling Hopgood

Sacred Parenting:  How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls, by Gary Thomas

The Friendships of Women: The Beauty and Power of God’s Plan for Us, by Dee Brestin

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin

Natural Hospital Birth:  The Best of Both Worlds, by Cynthia Gabriel

Fiction:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows

Some Kind of Fairy Tale, by Graham Joyce

Among Others, by Jo Walton

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand


(For those who don’t know about it, I would highly recommend using the website Goodreads to keep track of what books you have read, want to read and are currently reading.  It connects you to other friends and I often get my book recommendations from there.)

I have about 100 books on my list of books to read, which at this rate is going to take me about 10 years!  My goal this year?  Read 20 minutes (at least!) a day.  We’ll see if I can do it…

What were your favorite books this year (or last)?  I’d love to get some new recommendations!
Do you have any reading goals this year?

Here are a few of my recommendations from what little I have read over the past two years.  (Since I didn't begin blogging until this year and I read some really fantastic books last year that I'd like to mention).


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Linking up with: Literacy Musing Mondays and Booknificent Thursday

Keeping Secrets With God

Have you ever held a profound secret that only you and God shared?


I think Mary must have been an introvert, listening and reflecting more than she spoke.  After the shepherds stormed into the birthing room, marveling over the infant Jesus and (probably) loudly relating their story about the multitude of heavenly host that recently had them surrounded, everyone else in the room vehemently discussed the shepherds’ story and wondered what it meant. 

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19).  She didn’t speak, just collected this news, mulling it over quietly.  She already knew she was in the middle of a magical story that would include every essential element of a riveting plot: strong characters, conflict, and the triumph of good over evil.

This was one of those moments that Mary and God shared privately, because who could really understand?

Have you ever had any moments like this?  Moments where life is a bottomless well of meaning?  Moments where all you know to do is to place them in the treasure box of your heart and marvel?  In her book Wonderstruck, Margaret Feinberg describes these moments as being “sprinkled with pixie dust.”

Have you ever held a profound secret that only you and God shared?

I have felt this way only a few times in my life.  The first was when I decided to move to China.  My roommates at the time were engulfed in life and death.  One was in love and the other had a family member who was dying.  And my impending move was not happy news for my parents, who hoped that God’s will for my life would lead me down the street, not across the world.  So I celebrated in isolation, rejoicing that God had made His way clear.  And I silently wondered how He would enable me to take this leap across the world as a single woman.  I considered how He would use me and whether or not He would seem different to me in another country. 

The second time was when I fell in love.  Like being pulled along in a current where I couldn’t swim backwards if I tried or like a slide where you can’t fight gravity to get back to the top once you have begun to fall, love was more powerful than I had expected.  But I was 10,000 miles from my love and all my friends and family, so God was my confidante.  He alone held my questions, fears, and hopes as I stood in awe at the strength of a love that could propel me in directions I had never expected to go.

Years later, having a human being growing inside me was the ultimate secret.  My husband and I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant for weeks and though my husband knew, only God truly shared the incredible mystery with me.  God knew my child’s name before I did and had chosen that egg and that sperm at that time to create the person He wanted to create.  And when my son came skidding across the bed and was laid on my chest?  Inexplicable love.  Wordless wonder.  The kind of moment where human fingers brush the clothes of the Divine and power leaks out. 

I aspire to be more like Mary.  To absorb more and pontificate less.  To meditate rather than act thoughtlessly.  To be a contemplative in a world that demands action.  And I want her awareness of the presence of God in a normal, dusty stable that smelled of horse manure and chicken feed.  I long for her peace when all around her screamed that she should fear the unknown and impossible.

I am not Mary.  I will never give birth to the son of God.  But I am a future character in the same story in which she is featured.  Lines of sacred and secular sometimes blur into holy moments of recognition and are added to my heart treasure box just as Mary added them to hers.  In these moments, all I can do is freeze in amazement because God, the author, is moving His divine story forward–whether I am aware of it or not.   


What about you?  Have you ever had any moments in your life where you felt like you shared a secret that was for you and God alone? 

What would it take for you to become more contemplative?

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Living the Sticky Life

We spent three days preparing, ignored our children all day the day of the party to get ready, spent more money than we expected, have enough left-over food to have party number two tonight if we wanted to, stayed up about four hours later than we usually do, and I, being an extrovert, couldn't sleep when it was all over and done because I was so wound up.  And now every floor in our house is sticky.

It turns out pink punch is a lot like the spot in The Cat and the Hat Comes Back that just wouldn’t go away.  After our first Christmas party in our new home, in which children were welcome, there is now sticky pink punch in every room of my house.  And the pink cream cheese mints?  I just realized I’m sitting on a smear and am looking at another blob on the coffee table.

We spent three days preparing, ignored our children all day the day of the party to get ready, spent more money than we expected, have enough left-over food to have party number two tonight if we wanted to, stayed up about four hours later than we usually do, and I, being an extrovert, couldn’t sleep when it was all over and done because I was so wound up.  And now every floor in our house is sticky.

So was it worth it?

Was it worth our neighbors coming over who we have talked to only once in seven months, who suggested we do a babysitting swap as they left?  Or two carpenter friends who didn’t know each other before discussing their passion for woodwork?  Was my college friend meeting my friend who just moved here from Chicago, two beautiful lovers of Jesus who didn’t know each other before, finding that they have certain people and places in common a waste of time?

Or my three-year-old son, watching a movie with the “big” boys (the oldest who is about 8), trying to put his arm around a six-year-old from our church–my son, who is not physically affectionate and will only sit in our laps about twice a week?

Or my friends who have taken in their troubled teen-aged niece, who secretly indulged my one-year-old daughter all night with chocolates, punch and cookies, delighting in holding her and drinking in her baby-love cuddles?  Or the couple that came by after all the families with kids had left that we got to talk to on a heart-level until late into the night?

We could have skipped the mess, saved money, spent a quiet Saturday as a family, and gotten more sleep, but in avoiding the inconveniences, we would have missed out on real, sticky, tired, rewarding life.

It is always easier to do nothing.  Don’t have the party, or whatever the party stands for in my life:  joining something new, taking a step of faith, or choosing to engage in a new relationship that may not have the promise of longevity.  But what might I miss? 

And the spilled punch acts as a litmus test for what I worship.  Do I care more about relationships with real people or about having nice things?  Do I want a home that is immaculate, or a home that is used and truly lived in? Do I want a place where people can gather to laugh, connect, and share their lives, or a quiet home that insulates the people that live there?

Fear of losing control keeps me from throwing the party (whatever that party may be).  I can’t control every person at every time and that scares me.  If it were just my kids and my family, they know we don’t eat in the living room, so we don’t have pink smears on the couch.  But as soon as I let new people into my home–into my life–who don’t abide by my rules, I may find my house sticky with pink punch, toys rearranged or broken and everything just slightly askew. 

But God is calling me to do life and to do it with people.  And that means stickiness–not just in some rooms of the house–but in every room of the house.  It means engaging with people even though I would rather not because of selfish reasons.  And it means giving up control because I don’t know who God will bring or what He will do, but He guarantees that people are worth the mess because they are made like Him.  And it is in the stickiness that we find life, because that is where Jesus lived, too. 

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