Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Better Together

Today, I'm talking with my soul sister, Lori Harris, about what it has looked like for our families to travel similar but different journeys away from the security we thought we wanted and into the thick of our neighborhoods, where life is often complicated and always LOUD, but where we keep finding more of Jesus and the abundant life He called us to.

Pour a giant mug of Earl Grey, and don't even think about changing out of those two-day yoga pants. You come just as you are, and we'll do the same. We can talk about the hard and the good, remembering all over again why we're so much better together.

Join us over at (in)courage.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Simple Fall Decorating

Over the weekend I stripped the living room, just like Nester did. I liked the idea of taking everything away and then adding back in, selectively.

The only problem with that plan is that I haven't gotten around to the adding back in part. I'm sort of just enjoying all of the bare surfaces, and these things take a level of time and thoughtfulness I seem to have misplaced.

Maybe next week? Week after?
Maybe bare is the new Fall? Just-moved-in-chic?

I'll let you know.

In the meantime, I put together a post over at the Midwest Living blog sharing some of my favorite, simple, fall decorating tips. I definitely gravitate toward a fall decor that isn't overly-decorated or overly-Fall. It's fun to cozy things up and I love bringing small bits of nature inside, but whatever I do, I like it to stretch through Thanksgiving, and I never want to spend much cash (if any.)

I've also realized (this took me much longer than it should have, in hindsight) that I only decorate our living room. Ever. This might be why I do it so often. It's a very small space within a very small main level, and with our floor plan as open as it is, it easily sets the tone for the entire area.

Do you decorate as the seasons change?
Or do you think I'm nuts?

Don't answer that.

On another note, I recently finished two books, both worth sharing.

Wonder - R.J. Palacio
Calvin read this last year and has been asking me to read it. I finally picked it up and am so glad I did. It's the story of a 5th grade boy with a severe facial deformity and all the despair and triumph that ends up shaping his life. It's heart-breaking at turns, and there were a few lines here and there I felt weren't necessary in a book geared toward pre-middle-schoolers, but overall, I was glad he read it and that he shared it with me.

The Long and Faraway Gone - Lou Berney
I picked this up on the New Release shelf at the library a couple weeks ago, and I still have no clue why, other than I liked the title and its font. It goes against everything I typically read: It's a mystery, written by a man. Closing in on the due date, I grabbed it late Thursday night to flip through it, not sure I'd even commit. It grabbed me immediately, and I finished the entire thing over the course of the next (busy!) 72 hours. Though quite gritty in parts, it turns out I love a good who-dunnit. It's like Dateline Mystery, but without the creepy voice-overs!

That's all for now, homies. I know I've been a bit scarce around here, and I miss you!
Every day, I think of ten things each day I want to share with you, so just know you're never far from my  heart. :)

I'm in the home-strech and getting excited to share more with you about what's been keeping me away!

Happiest Tuesday,

*Amazon affiliate links

Friday, September 18, 2015

Everyday Us

I'm not sure what I'll remember about my life at home with my littles as we all get older.

A few days ago I saw a mom holding her small fella's hand in a store, making important conversation with him, her little buddy. My heart ached a bit for those long days that were often so hard. On this side, they do seem a bit magical. (Go here, here, and here for proof. SWOON!)

As a work-from-homer and a writer, my life is largely solitary now that all three of the kids are in school. I love quiet. But I'm starting to wonder if I have a saturation point. At the very least, these long stretches of quiet are a glaring contrast to 3pm, when everyone rolls in SO loud, SO bickery, everyone wanting my attention at once. The transition makes me feel like I need to rest under a compression blanket while someone brushes my hair.

But I don't want to be a person who always wishes they were in a different part of their day, or a different stage of their life. Looking at that mom with her little boy, I saw the way time has its way with memories and emotions. With any luck, these are all the glory days.

The future and the past and this right here is a web, stitched together and catching the light. We can't have part but not the whole. I want to keep feeling my life, not just remembering it in hindsight.

I want to freeze-frame the easy way we move through our afternoons, all that racket eventually settling down to an exhale. We're home.

Yesterday morning, in my quiet kitchen, I parsed through the day ahead of me. I've been spending most of each day at the coffee shop, finishing up the manuscript for my book. So there was that. But the library books need to be returned (and a fresh stack brought home), I'm heading out next week for a little workish adventure with Jailchap, and Si turns seven in seven more days.

I'm sure it'll feel pretty surreal to see a book with my name on the shelf, but what I want to really feel and really remember is the way I fold a load of laundry most days while dinner is cooking, or how Silas climbed into bed with us after having a bad dream that he was being chased by lightening. I want to remember the way I survived seven straight years (and counting!) of Legos strewn across every floor of every room. I never want to forget the ultra-verbose book Ruby wrote about Piggy and Elephant going to the beach, and the way she spelled cumpashunit. Hey hey, Silas got an 86% on his behavior chart in school yesterday! Calvin taught himself the opener to a Trampled by Turtle song on his violin!

These little things run the risk of blurring together into the greater good, and though good is always good, I'm a small moments girl, so I'll hold onto them like fruit in my apron.

Walking to school a few days ago, just as we we neared the building, Silas asked, "When Jesus made the numbers, how did He know what to call them?" We hadn't been talking about Jesus or numbers, and I sort of never want to solve the riddle of his brain.

{Si's toy box}

Back home in the quiet, it washed over me again. I LOVE MY LIFE.
It doesn't mean it's easy and it sure doesn't mean I always live it well.

Eternity calls, but I'm grateful for the other travelers I get to hold space with while we're here. God knew all along what I needed.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Of Course, Of Course

One of my most guarded secrets is that I don't really like animals HEAR ME OUT.

It's not that I don't like them, it's just that don't really like them.
It's an "I'm just not that into them" sort of situation, kind of like the book from the early 2000's but without the self-loathing, low self-esteem, and crying jags.

I feel strangely protective of animals. I don't wish them any harm. More than once I've caught myself pondering the mental health of our cat, Howard. (He enjoys licking Calvin's hair when he gets out of the shower and I'm no expert, but doesn't that scream feline psychological maladjustment?)

But the point of this post isn't really that I'd rather not hold your cat or that I'm slightly afraid of large animals because I once fell off a horse and twisted my ankle, or that when I see a human person letting a dog lick its face, it gives me the visceral shakes.

The point of this post is that I can't stop buying animal paraphernalia.

It started after we left the farm. And it confuses me deeply.

No amount of self-reflection could have prepared me for the moment I was minding my own business, traipsing through a barn sale with my friend Emily, and came upon a piece of animal art, rendered entirely from magazine pages.

I repeat: It is a farm animal magazine collage.

You know how I am about magazine handicrafts!

Yada yada, Stop it.

I casually walked past it, pretending to be normal. I browsed around outside, trying to make myself feel what it would be like to not take it* home with me. Then I slowly turned around and said to Emily, "Just fyi, I'm going to spend up all my pocket cash and buy a big picture of a horse."

"Okay", she said.

Tell me you blame me, even a tiny bit.

{Artist: Shelly Henning}

Turns out, it didn't fit in my checked baggage, so I shoved my purse into my carry-on and called this my personal item. Amazingly, no one questioned me. ( < horse miracle)

And that's the story of how I keep continuing to decorate with animal-themed objects, even though I it's not 1986, I live in the city, and I'm not a fan of animals.

For more animal-themed decor (<< something I never imagined writing at any point during my life), check out my gigantic cow canvas, which used to live over the couch but has wandered over to the kitchen. {Source: Whatever Shop}

And if you're anywhere near Thomasville, NC, be sure to check out the Chartreuse Barn Sale.

It was SO good!

* I know literally nothing about horses, so I can't tell if this is a man horse or a woman horse, but I do know that it doesn't deserve to be called "it". I'm taking name suggestions in the comments, and if yours is connected to a funny story, I'll love you forever.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Two Questions

When we moved into the neighborhood, we had ideas about the people we might meet.
I'd rather not even talk about the ways we got it all wrong.

But what would be the fun of that?

Vulnerability grows vulnerability. And if we ever hope to be free, we've got to first be willing to bare our guts.

Though I know most of them would be regular people like us, trying their best, I thought others would be broken. I imagined some with junk on their porches and track marks on their forearms. I thought there might be criminals, parents who didn't love their kids enough, or didn't know how.

I assumed they'd need Jesus.

Only because of God's great love, He nudged us along, calling us down to the humble place of understanding that all of our worst assumptions...were right.

Then he slowly turned that mirror around until all we saw was our own monstrous need, the ways we piled junk up around us and chased the wrong thing. We were them, and they were us. The only way out was to circle up and let God's glory bounce around in the space between us.

That's when I realized my faith, and any hope I had to offer boiled down to two questions. Who is God? How does He love us?

Those two questions form the bulk of my personal discipleship, these days. They're the very keys to holding on, our only hope for really loving one other.

I pray it for my neighbors and I pray it for me.
Show us. Just let us see for ourselves.

And He does. Every day, I'm looking out for signs left in my path.
Yesterday, I found a couple on our hard drive.

 This is who God is.
 This is how He loves us.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Reminder to Stay Small and Free

This morning, when the air is finally cooling around us and steam rises up from my giant mug of tea, I want to remember true things and relax into a pace I cannot change.

Fighting sleep last night, these words I wrote nearly three years ago kept springing to mind. I need them now as I needed them then. Maybe you'll feel the same.

**Excerpted from Permission to Fail - originally posted April, 2013**

The past year has felt like the most drawn-out invitation to retreat into the Small. It would have been nice if moving to a smaller house had been the extent of it.

Life has gotten busier in the strangest ways, and still, here it is, the nudge and pull to be less, do less, have less. We've been confined in closer quarters, squeezed of our excess, stripped of the senseless religion that's tailed us from our youth.

But we're a couple of old dogs and these new tricks don't feel right sometimes. We're prone to wanting, quick to forget that this is the flipped-under world we signed up for when we believed and agreed that we would walk these miles with Christ.

The truth is, God calls His people to do great things all the time, and by "great", I mean big. And by "big" I mean, like, really actually big. Things that get people noticed. Things that pay the bills and then some. Things that require marketing teams and fancy shoes and extra forms from the IRS.

But sometimes, His calling is big in a really quiet way. Sometimes - often - the Bigness happens shyly, inside us, when we finally agree to unclench our fists from the allure of standing just a little taller than the rest.

I still struggle to find my place, my worth, amid what I think I lack. But here's the fantastic, can't-wipe-the-smile-off-my-face fact of the matter: Little is much. Small is holy. Quiet can be sacred.

Right now, I'm clinging to the simple truth that my Savior found His home in the small and the ordinary. He invented the crazy math where a little + even less = more than necessary.

I'm here, cheering on those who are doing things "better" and "bigger". They're walking the path laid out for them and they're doing it justice. I'm reading and learning from them every day.

But for me, and maybe for you, our bigger doesn't work the room and our better won't ever own the crowd. 

It is neither my duty nor my desire to push away from where I've been placed because this is a thing of beauty and my heart is being straightened out in the process of watching those around me snatch up the things I always thought I wanted.

It's amazing how wrong I've been about what I need. I've seen too much to go back to thinking my plans are the right ones.

So my hope is that in the moments I seek recognition I will find only His; in the days I crave popularity I'll rediscover the humbling gift of my brokenness; in the time and time and time again that I fall back into defining success by things that aren't real, I'll come face-to-weary-face with my failure. Because only then can I remember the truth of it all - there exists no failure inside Christ's sovereignty.

If I am His, I am exactly enough.
If you are His, you are exactly enough.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Home is Where You Find Yourself

It's Thursday, and I'm drowning.

That's the word that keeps coming to mind when people ask how I'm doing lately. "Well, I'm drowning." It's so dramatic. Yeesh.

I spent Tuesday on the immediate verge of crying and puking, and, as you unfortunately already know, I am not a puker. I'm all keyed up, and it's deeper and wider and much more related to my soul than my word-count. It makes me feel needy; like I need a massage and an afghan and maybe for Silas to say something to me like, "You're just so cute and chunky. I can't believe you're my mom! I never knew you would be so cute and special!" (Editor's note: I've been using the words "cute" and "chunky" interchangeably to describe my nephew and it's causing some...confusion.)

In the midst of all this ridiculous drama, I made a curious choice, and I couldn't be more grateful.

I invited some friends over for tea this morning.
They're coming in and I'm not hiding all the piles. Nope. Not doing it.

It's a come-as-you-are (non) event, a bring-your-littles respite, because I'm busy and they're busy and we're all just way too maxed out to not sit and spill crumbs on the couch for a while. With any luck, someone will spill their tea.

When life gets too big or too tight, I need to throw open my doors and feel the settling of acceptance in my cute, chunky bones.

My home always returns me to myself, and never more so than when I share it with others.
There's a good chance you feel the same way.

My friend Jeanne Oliver is hosting a new online class called Art of Home: modern simple living and you're just going to love it. It's the perfect companion to the slow arrival of Fall and a giant mug of something warm.

"When we can embrace our handmade home and see the beauty in the little things then our homemaking becomes art.  It is not perfect and the beauty is actually in embracing the imperfection." - Jeanne Oliver

Art of Home | Modern Simple Living will be about some of the lost arts of caring for our home and family. Each week will contain step by step videos with decorating, cooking, gardening, entertaining, housekeeping and more.

This four week course is your favorite home and cooking magazines come to life!
The early registration price for this four week online course is $64.95  This course will begin on September 15, 2015 and you will have LIFETIME ACCESS* to the videos.

Week One
The Art of Farm to Table
This week is all about gardening, cooking and preserving food.

Week Two
The Art of Gathering
This week is all about opening your home and creating a space where people feel loved and special.

Week Three
The Art of Domestic Moxie
This week is all about creative and fun ways to keep your home.

Week Four
The Art of Reclaimed Style
This week is all about using what you have and finding new uses for found objects.

Sounds fun, right? You can register for Art of Home right here!

As for me, I have muffins to bake.
With any luck, I'll burn the edges a little. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Staying Part

Three years ago, we were still hanging pictures on our walls and unpacking boxes. Calvin and Ruby had just started at their new school and our hearts were wide open. The scary part was over. We had done a hard thing. We had listened. We had obeyed in the face of doubt.

We had no clear ideas about what to do next.
We didn't know we were just here to live and be normal humans, and we didn't have a clue how difficult that would be at times. We didn't know how much easier it is to help someone than to invest over time and grow to love them.

Our early jitters were swept away. The unknown quickly unraveled into something we were made for. We were simply home.

Please hear me when I say this: Just because something is unfamiliar doesn't mean it's not exactly what you were made for.

Our streets have been so quiet lately. Neighbors come and they go. This community of transience has surprised me and stressed me out. For us, the hard part was getting here. For many others, the hardest part is staying. That's something I knew nothing about, four or five years ago. I didn't realize how much work it is to be poor. I wasn't aware of lives being lived as sparring matches on a chess board. It's calculated and orchestrated, everything hinging on a single move. Stability is short-term and upheaval imminent. Reacting swiftly is among the most prized skills of the streets.

Mixed into the comings and goings was a woman. I met her early and thought she might be the reason we we came. The reason. It was more than enough, and she made my life better all the time. We spent hours together and the ways our lives intertwined made her burst out sobbing more than once. She was a miracle. I was inspired by her resilience and the way she parented her teenagers with stubborn love and vigilance. She became my friend. My sister.

She was the last person I expected to leave.
I see her kids now, from far away and up close, and I don't have any answers for them.

I worry for them, and for all the boys across this city with lives so rattled that stability is their great unknown, setting fear into their bones like an fever.

They react swiftly, and sometimes with force. There is no justice for these boys, born of hustle and grit, made too early into men inside homes shaped by lack.

There is justice for me, and for you. You know that, right? We stand protected by a margin for error we'll never even test. They react against a world hellbent on hating them, and it only takes one time.

If you don't think it's true, visit your county jail. Learn about your local juvenile justice system and take a hard look at the kids inside. Better yet, move into a neighborhood where you watch fifth graders with Coke-bottle glasses grow into high-schoolers that scrap one time at the park and pay for it with their entire future.

"What it comes down to, then, is the idea that the very same situations and behaviors are treated completely differently depending on how nice your stuff is. Kid gets into a fight at school? If he's black and poor, he's going to jail. If he's rich and white, he's going to military school. Was your daughter busted with drugs? If she's poor, she's getting charged. If she's rich, she'll go to a nice rehab facility for however long proprietary demands. The only reason it looks like our kids misbehave more is that we can't afford to cover up for them when they do." - Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

I never, ever cared about any of this before I moved to the city. I never read those books. It doesn't mean moving is necessary in order to care, just that it was for me. Sometimes I miss the nights where we sat on the porch and only thought about ourselves. I never broke my own heart.

My life is delineated by two places - the farm, and this city. For better or worse, my reality has lined up in two tidy columns, and I'm sure it's a little confusing. My actual living isn't so different here than it was "before". I have more neighbors, I take more walks, I see more shabbiness. But I'm still me and I love this city like I loved that land. I still enjoy the same things. I look mostly the same, but with a few gray hairs. Many of my friends are the same, and many are new. My day-to-day operations aren't vastly different.

So, why the two columns?

It's because my heart- and head-space are occupied by dramatically different things. I don't live on a block riddled by gang violence. Crime and defeat stay mostly hidden in the shadows here. But I have seen enough to realize an entire underworld I never knew before, and it rolls around inside me like a marble in a can. My worldview is being shaped as I open up my life up to a different (not worse) kind of living.

I'm acutely aware that my opinions are becoming increasingly unpopular. I know, I know. I've become that person. And I won't apologize.

God tells us over and over, "I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away." (Zephaniah 3:19) His heart beats for the fugitive kids and their tired-out, spent-up moms and dads, the ones we're quick to ignore or chase away.

When we allow our lives to intersect with souls wearing the sharp edge of pain, we cannot expect to walk away unmarked. I can't do a single thing for daughters abandoned by their Moms, or sons expected to fail. I can't help them at all.

But I feel myself rising up for them, and I don't know where it will go from here.

Three years and counting have taught me this: going might be hard, but it's the staying that will break you.

*Amazon affiliate link