Thursday, March 31, 2016

On Kindness

Yesterday morning I walked home from dropping the kids off at school and became consumed with a prayer, one I seem to be praying on rotation: Help me to find meaningful ways to be a better neighbor.

It seems like I should have this figured out by now but honestly, I'm as in the dark as I was three years ago. What I keep coming back to is the simple/profound act of kindness. The key is somewhere in those eight letters - I know it. Nice means saying hello, or maybe smiling. The importance of being nice shouldn't be understated. I've seen for myself how repetitive niceness over time can slowly build to a brand new thing, a relationship maybe, or at least the start of one. Kindness, on the other hand, is weightier. It costs us more. It's looking around, seeing a need, and doing our best to meet it. It's lightening the load, putting my own wishes or plans aside for my neighbor's.

It's a discipline, I think. One I want to master.
I want to truly learn to love kindness.

 

"Kindness is a biblical way of living. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit on Paul’s short list in Galatians 5. It’s not a duty or an act. It’s the natural result of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. We exhale kindness after we inhale what’s been breathed into us by the Spirit. Kindness radiates when we’re earnest about living the way of Christ, the way of the Spirit. Kindness displays the wonder of Christ’s love through us." - Love Kindness by Barry H. Corey

We have a little book that we keep near our kitchen table. It's nothing fancy, one little question for each day of the year. Ideally, we would ask the question every night, jot down our answers, and end up with a cute little family diary of sorts. I'll give you an example.

January 23, 2014 Did anyone bug you today? If so, how?
Ruby - Silas was playing with my stuff.
Calvin - Silas kept getting in my face.
Robert - People be undermining my decisions.
Silas - No.

(By the way, all of ^^ that has me cracking up right now. Oh, January, 2014! You were such a hot mess!)

Though we usually forget to grab it, we've gotten semi-into the habit of pulling it out when company comes, a sort of quirky guest book. Here's another past entry, when two neighbor girls had joined us for dinner.

What do you get to do at someone else's house that you wish you could do at yours?

Calvin -  Play X-box.
Ruby - Play with our cousins.
Silas - Help Ethan's mom cook dinner.
L - Eat dinner together.
D -  Family dinner.

I found this entry last night, having long-forgotten it was there, and wondered for the thousandth time if kindness toward our neighbor doesn't very often begin at our table. It feels so simple, I risk overlooking it. It also feels hard. It feels like risk, and vulnerability. It makes my pits sweaty.

"Kindness is not incompatible with courage." - Love Kindness by Barry H. Corey

We can choose to open the door and wave someone in. We can learn to stretch the soup on a dime. The act of pulling up another chair is the very way of the Spirit alive within us. Why do we so easily forget?

Spring is blowing through town and summer can't be far behind. What if we all committed ourselves to searching out opportunities to show kindness to others around our table? I can't begin to imagine where it might lead, but my heart is racing at the thought.

Summer, 2016 - The Season of Kindness

It has a nice ring to it. What do you think?

"Kindness is radical. It is brave and daring, fearless and courageous, and at times, kindness is dangerous. It has more power to change people than we can imagine. It can break down seemingly impenetrable walls. It can reconcile relationships long thought irreparable. It can empower leaders and break stalemates. It can reconcile nations. Kindness as Jesus lived it is at the heart of peacemaking and has the muscle to move mountains. It’s authentic and not self-serving. Don’t sell kindness short." - Love Kindness by Barry H. Corey


*Amazon affiliate links 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

On Breakfast.

When I was a kid, breakfast wasn't altogether straight-forward. There were Corelleware bowls filled with sugar-sweetened cereal, the empty calories hugging the rim. We almost always went back for seconds, and then after school most days, thirds.

Some Saturdays my dad would wheel away from our drowsy house with his tiny bank ledger-book in the pocket of his work shirt, Dwight stitched across it in navy cursive. He would return home a few hours later smelling like the hardware store, with a white waxed-paper bag full of long johns and jelly-filleds. Powdered sugar became the taste of luck and love. I never took it for granted.

When I was in the 4th grade my mom went back to college. Things would be changing, we were told. And they did. We spent extra time with dad while she studied. He took us to dog shows, rare-pet shops, obscure errands, and the food court at the mall after church some Sundays.

Once he drove us twenty miles away to the Super Sale in a college arena, a sort of revival-service for the junk-deprived. We milled around the carnival of dingy booths, garish starving-artist landscapes in oil, carved pocket knives, must-have electronics that now sit somewhere all dusty and defunct. For years, our hunger for this strange excess couldn't be sated though we never bought a thing.

Back home, my mom bit her lip bruised with a pile of text books and a 2-liter of Pepsi. But sometimes, in the morning, she dunked bread into egg and fried it in the peeling non-stick pan.

Before long, she was an R.N. working thirds.
There was more money and a different kind of stress, but when one of us was sick, she'd cut buttered toast into narrow strips and stack them into the shape of a little house. When our throats were raw she boiled strawberry Jell-O and served it to us warm, in a mug.

There were packets of maple oatmeal and cinnamon sugar Pop Tarts.
There were pancakes with Mrs. Buttersworth and, when we were lucky, Toaster Strudels.

Not once did I go hungry. Every single breakfast was the quiet companionship of a well-loved life, whether I noticed or not.

In the end, it never mattered if it was a from-scratch day or one where I scarfed an Eggo then watched out the window for the bus, hoping mom might swing into the lane just in time to drive us to school in the little gray Sunbird. That four-minute drive carried us all through the next seven hours. I'd sit in World History, or Biology and think of her with the shades drawn, sound asleep. I'd wish I was there with her.


Food gives shape to memory.

For better or worse, my own kids will remember eating breakfast each weekday with their friends at school and, hopefully, the lazy "home days" where we haul the griddle up from the basement and take it slow.

Like me, they'll remember plastic cereal-bowls after school and the way they always begged for seconds. Calvin will remember learning to fry his own eggs when he was barely tall enough to reach the stove-top.

So, I raise my steaming mug of Earl Grey to the rhythms that form us and the inexplicable comfort of daily bread, whatever shape it happens to take.

Happy Thursday!

//

PS: I've been having a big of technological difficulty this week but I'm hoping it's *mostly* resolved. Thanks for hanging in there with me! I'm working on a few things that I'm super excited to share with you guys. Like, geeky-excited. Trust me, you'll want to subscribe to my newsletter. :)


My Favorite 5-Minute, Overnight, Steel Cut Oatmeal

1. Melt 1 tsp of butter or coconut oil in a large, lidded stock pot or sauce pan.
2. Add 2 cups of dry steel cut oats.
3. Stir often for 3-4 minutes, until they smell delicious and toasty and start to brown a bit.
4. Pour 5 cups of water into pan and give it a good stir.
5. Bring to a boil, then turn burner off.
6. Add a bit of vanilla and a couple of cinnamon sticks (or a strong sprinkle of ground cinnamon).
7. Put lid on pan.
8. Go to bed.

In the morning, give it another stir, portion it into a bowl, and nuke it for 2 minutes.
Add your favorite toppings. (I don't add any sweetener to the pan, but usually drizzle maple syrup on mine, and the kids like a few chocolate chips.)
Stow left-overs in the fridge for the rest of the week.

{pumpkin puree, chia seeds, plain Greek yogurt, walnuts, maple syrup}

{fresh raspberries, chia seeds, plain Greek yogurt, slivered almonds, maple syrup}

{sliced Cara Cara oranges, plain Greek yogurt, chia seeds, maple syrup}


Monday, March 21, 2016

Save Us Now


Nearly eleven years ago our first adoption referral buzzed across the dial-up internet, landing a grainy, photo-copied picture of our firstborn into our inbox and our hearts. Just one moment, and it suddenly didn't matter that my child didn't have Cory's blue eyes like I'd once hoped. But he almost shared Cory's birthday, and that seemed like something worth holding on to. I'm a daughter of common sense Christianity, after all, no time for mystery or questions without answers. I'd spent my life up to that point reaching into the past or imagining a new spin on the future when life lacked order, connecting unrelated dots with a heavy hand, combing scripture for a string of words to wrap around my particular need. It usually wasn't enough to just trust. I wanted a sign.

We spent last week celebrating Cory then Calvin, with just two days in between. Celebrating - I use that word loosely. On the first day of his thirty-eighth year Cory and I slumped in bed early, bearing the low-grade scorch of a reality slow to relent. I'm sure you can relate. "I just feel sad," I said. "I'm sorry." We faced each each other in our dimly lit room, the edge of my pillow touching his. "Me, too. I don't know why," he said, and for a second I knew the truest truth about marriage and life. Love means making space for things that don't make sense. Love means celebrating life, even when it's hard. Sometimes, love isn't a goodnight kiss, but feet that find each other under the covers until everyone is warm.

Two days later, life eased up in time to celebrate our first son, the one who made us parents. I kissed him every chance I got. He let me, and that's the best part of the miracle. Or maybe it's his shiny eyes, or the way he still likes to wiggle in between us in the mornings, or the fact that we get to watch him become a good friend - making room at his table for boys like him, right on the edge of leaping off the cliff of childhood. Maybe it's the way they keep circling up for Legos and sound effects when others are crouching down, ready to jump.

~

Jason called on Friday night. He's one of my favorite neighbors, and it makes no sense. I'm not entirely sure he even knows my name. But I know his name, and I'm well aware of the effect his face has on my heart. I've walked this road before. It terrifies me, because there's no controlling this kind of love. "What was that boy's name, with the bad life?" Silas would ask later. "Who was that boy who felt sad?" 

Cory scored an hour with him, and I spent the same hour murmuring desperate words while I tucked the kids in and tidied up from the pinata and the cake. What can we do? How will you fix this? The paper plate birthday banner arched overhead with its discount-store promise - what matters most usually isn't the special, but the ordinary. Well, that might be true. But what does that look like right now?

The problem with loving a near-stranger, really and inexplicably loving them, is that you're left holding whatever they give you. Months ago it was hope and promise, and I carted them around through months of silence, until both were absorbed by rattled nerves and worst-case scenarios. He was out doing what he does, but I was right here, thick with worries and wishes. Just like a mom.

~

Three different men planned to join us for church on Sunday, including Jason. Though I've never believed myself to be a reckless optimist, this single point of my reality proves otherwise. It almost never pans out, but this time might be different. I prayed strange prayers, thinly veiling my attempts at bargaining with God and reassuring both of us I would be just fine if we ended up sitting in our pew without them.

Sure enough. One was struck down with a bad tooth (our friends contend with these often), another stunned us with his early regrets (we're usually just left watching the door), and the kid with the baby face, the one betrayed last week to the point of despair, the one who says he wants more yet remains fixed in a cycle of pain and regret, the one I love the most, was a no-show.

I find myself getting worse at this from both sides. Impossibly, my hopefulness flourishes in direct proportion to my cynicism. There are things that make sense to me, but many that don't. I wonder what boundaries God put into place to safeguard a human heart as she loves her broken neighbor. I wonder why I've never been able to find them.

We walked to church, the five of us, in the lion winds of March.

We waved our palms, held hands and prayed. Hosanna! Please save us. Hosanna! In your unfailing love, rescue us. Hosanna! Let us not be your betrayer. Let us not be the crowd, demanding to be satisfied. Can't we be rescued without your suffering? Isn't there a way?

Somewhere,  past the daffodil buds and the tracks, our friends are shot through with different shades of pain.

I have no answers, and I see no signs.
But I ended my day tucking three of my children into bed and listened to their prayers. "Why can't we find someone poor and be their mommy and daddy?"

Just like a decade ago, I know true family isn't born as much as it's fused, without warning or reason.
And just like that night last week, I know sometimes sadness is its own kind of celebration.

Hosanna.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Hello.

It's 6:30 and the kitchen is a wreck. The sink's piled high with dishes, all the plates unscraped. The dinner I'd been proud of for a hot second ended with barley still tough on the burner and chicken  juice that didn't run clear. We'd nuked it, but it only made it dry, and Ruby hadn't known chicken had blood in it.

But the asparagus! Let's linger there.

We lace our shoes, throw the kids' bikes into the way-back. Ruby grabs her library book, the one that caused so much trouble before dinner. I've never before seen a kid burn with jealousy over a library book, but life is for surprises, and some of them are lame.

Piling out, I notice two men with massive cameras on tripods and I think, here we go...

Cory's supposed to be an introvert. It shimmers up to the surface at times when he zones out-of-range in small talk conversation. It seems we have different ideas about active listening and rules of engagement. But when it comes to camera gear, he wants all the dirt. The kids scatter ahead of us, pedaling hard, the boys' hair pushed straight up by the wind. We walk and I talk. Half-way around, a couple smiles at the chaplain. Everywhere we go these days, he's recognized. I blame the beard, but then again, I would. I blame it for a lot of things.

The air hits from a new direction as we round the bend. I pull up my hood, grateful to be anonymous, grateful for the buttermilk clouds and my kids, three specks of electricity throwing rocks into the pond, so far away that I only half-trust they're actually what I'm seeing. I know they're looking out for each other. I know the wild, skinned-shins way of childhood.

~

"Did you know that song?" Silas asks as we drive away, the handlebars of Calvin's bike shoved right up against Ruby, who doesn't notice a thing with her nose stuck in her book again. (It's still a touchy subject.)  Si sings a few bars, but doesn't know the words, and I know he's got the tune right because this kid was made for music. Still, I can't place it. "Sing it again," I ask, and he climbs the octaves as though they're a clean, straight line.

Hello.

I'm not sure where my seven year old had his ear tuned, if somewhere in Korea there live two songbirds with silky hair and a knack for seeing inside someone's heart. Maybe when he looks long and quiet at the daylight out the window, they're singing in the dark, and he feels it. I don't know. But he remembers important things like Adele. He likes the lady singers, the ones who can sing high and low. His brain processes things in warp speed, jumping tracks without cause, splitting and pitching and landing in a song he heard one time. He's always whistling and humming, singing things back to us without words. Tonight, it's clear. Of course we need to hear it together, right now in the van while the sun is half-set and we're racing the clouds to the other side of town.

The video plays on my phone while she starts low. Have I ever told you about my love for mixed-race couples? It pre-dates my mixed-race family by decades, a fondness I never saw as a promise.

Ruby puts down her book and we fall into the melody while Cory steers our ship.
My eyes well up.

We bump over the tracks, past the jail on the corner with its razor wire. We turn the corner and like eack time before this one, I remember the day I learned this was "gang-house row". I don't know if it's true and I honestly don't care. But I always stare hard. Which houses?

It doesn't matter.

The chorus times evenly with the freight train screaming down the tracks, one just as loud as the other, not competing at all, while the cool wind whips my hair. This is the soundtrack to my entire life, steel-on-steel, horn in my ear, singing along with the ones in the back. I feel every heartbreak I've suffered and dealt. I feel the ones lying in wait for my kids. They know pain now, but they don't yet know the half of it. They don't need to know that they will one day have their hearts ripped out by someone who has loved them. They will wound someone they love. They'll sob. They'll be forced to move on. They will endure the throb of unsaid words, shoulder questions that won't be answered.

But they will keep on moving.
And with any luck, the ones they hurt, the ones who hurt them back, will be the ones who heal them.


It's well past dusk, and the streets are dark. A man runs toward us down the sidewalk. I'm not sure if it's a good run or a trouble run. Then I see them, half a dozen kids the ages of Calvin and Ruby chasing after him with broad smiles, barely lit by the glow of our single headlight.

The arched windows of the gymnasium are lit in gold and everything becomes art. Brick and stone, patchy grass, splitting wood, the bare arms of children after winter's long yawn. The sagging porches whisper defeat, but the lamps lighting them tell a different story and that's the one I want to read to the end.

Hello from the outside.

My eyes still brim and I'm grateful the song is long. My kids are learning the words and I know I'll never be done telling them I'm sorry. Maybe it's the first kiss of spring that's doing me in. Maybe I'll recover. Maybe tomorrow I won't guzzle life like it's my last chance, or I'll spin back to a heart that doesn't feel the low pulse of beauty in what looks to the untrained eye like despair, or regret.

I hope not.

This life is a mosaic of jagged edges made smooth as a whole.

This is our place, and we choose it every day. Tonight, I choose it with my windows down, the house smelling like chicken grease, the mess that waits and the mess I bring. I choose the bedtime squabbles and the phone that keeps ringing past dark. I choose the hard Yes's and the harder No's. Why wouldn't I?

Hello.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Monthly Menu {with links!}

Last week I did something I haven't done in a really long time. I planned my meals for an entire month! I know not everyone feels this way, but it was so relaxing to flip through my recipe binder and Pinterest board and think about FOOD.

Then I made up my grocery list for the first week, and got exactly what I needed. Calvin joined me. :) There was a time getting groceries by myself was a treat but I'm on the flip-side of that reality now. I either scramble to the store in a mad rush before the kids get home from school, or ideally, I take one of them with me on the weekend. I much prefer the second option. It's such a good opportunity to catch up and steal some one-on-one. All it costs me is a few randoms in my cart! (Ruby always asks for Fuego flavored Takis, Calvin asks for something odd like a pomegranate or Hawaiian bread, and Silas asks for EVERYTHING.)

The catalyst for all of this uber-organization is the fun PaperWorks set that found its way into my mailbox. This set shown was actually the February set, but I fell in love with it immediately! Flowers and stripes, little Bible verse cards (I keep one by my sink and end up reading it several times a day, which is awesome since I'm the worst at memorizing scripture.)

When it inspired me to plan ahead a little I knew it was something I wanted to share with you guys.

I'm really hoping I keep up with this menu planning magic. I feel that way every time I do it. It takes a little time up front, but then for the rest of the month I'm done. I know every day what we're eating that night (sometimes I flip stuff around, based on what I'm in the mood for.) We are also really trying to cut down on eating out because it's one area we feel like we tend to over-spend...and the experience almost never even ends up feeling like it was worth it.

So, here's to more dinners at home, fewer frantic Kroger runs, and inviting more people to the table!

{Click here to get $5 off your first PaperWorks set!}

March Menu
1 - Sausage, Corn and Potato Chowder (small group)
2 - Balsamic pork chops and Brussels sprout salad (fyi, my brain always auto-corrects "salad" to "salsa")
3 - Snack Dinner
4 - Tex Mex breakfast casserole
5 - Crispy chicken thighs, crack broccoli, rosemary bread
6 - Anniversary dinner out! (Kids - lunchmeat, Pringles, fruit)
7 - Baked chicken & rice
8 - Tortellini soup (I prefer plain rotini noodles to cheese-filled tortellini) (small group)
9 - Left-overs
10 - Potluck chicken tetrazzini
11 - Egg McMuffin sandwiches
12 - Seared cod with artichoke relish and couscous
13 - Quinoa bowls with chicken tawook
14 - Lemon chicken orzo soup (church soup carry-in!)
15 - Butternut squash risotto and salad with white beans and apples
16 - Beef stir-fry with snap peas
17 - Chinese buffet - Calvin's bday!
18 - BBQ chicken pizza
19 - Wings, mac-n-cheese
20 - Pizza - out
21 - Taco soup (small group)
22 - Greek pork chops
23 - Vietnamese pork salad
24 - Left-overs
25 - Ohio
26 - Kentucky
27 - Kentucky
28 - Kentucky
29 - Chili chicken verde
30 - Slow-cooker chicken marbella with Mashed Potatoes


PS - How fun is the March set??? The whole paint-swatch theme is sort of brilliant.


Monday, March 7, 2016

"Weekend" State of Mind

So, yes. Normal bloggers post these lists on weekends. (They're some of my favorite posts to read! Curate the internet for me? Yes, please.)

But "normal" bloggers probably didn't spend last night watching Dateline coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial, eating dark chocolate covered salted cashews, and drinking mysteriously-clearanced Melon Pomelo La Croix like the Duchess of Gloucester. In the scheme of all that matters, who's normal now???

I love putting linky lists together. It's important to me to share just a slice of the good work my cyber-colleagues create. Only problem is, I'm not much in the way of an organized scheduler anymore. I lost that life-skill somewhere right around the time I tried to potty-train my youngest/my oldest was being sent to prison/I accidentally skipped eating salsa for ten straight days.

{Say it with me, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit!"}

Where was I??

Ah, yes. I end up hoarding links for weeks, then dump fifteen of them on you. On a Monday.

I'll give you tomorrow off so you have an extra day to make it through them. (Holy cow, I'm the best boss ever! Which is ironic because from 8-3 every day, I'm the big, bad boss of the worst employee in the history of the five-day work-week. Hint: she relentlessly wears an old-man sweater the color of...despair. Hint: she has knobby knees, lackluster hair, and botched lunch today, but her family still ate it (sob!). Hint: She bought "waffle" flavored English muffins because they were BOGO and because her foodiest son was with her and now she's filled with self-loathing. Hint: she has claw hands, and suffers sporadic, global insubordination.)


It's Monday morning, so get to work, pals! (This kind of work, not the other kind you were doing before I interrupted you.)


With each passing day, I feel the need to apologize to my Hispanic, Muslim, and Black neighbors for Trump’s brand of politics. - See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/trump-white-fear-and-the-death-of-the-first-amendment/#sthash.lhPhJ6Rf.dpuf
::  Drop everything you're doing and read this, by Seth Haines. Trump, White Fear, and the Death of the First Amendment. 
With each passing day, I feel the need to apologize to my Hispanic, Muslim, and Black neighbors for Trump’s brand of politics. - See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/trump-white-fear-and-the-death-of-the-first-amendment/#sthash.lhPhJ6Rf.dpuf
With each passing day, I feel the need to apologize to my Hispanic, Muslim, and Black neighbors for Trump’s brand of politics. - See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/trump-white-fear-and-the-death-of-the-first-amendment/#sthash.lhPhJ6Rf.dpuf
With each passing day, I feel the need to apologize to my Hispanic, Muslim, and Black neighbors for Trump’s brand of politics. - See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/trump-white-fear-and-the-death-of-the-first-amendment/#sthash.lhPhJ6Rf.dpuf

::  What Not to Say to Prospective Adoptive Parents. And What to Say Back by Jillian Lauren
"We ask that you live in the moment, with all of its uncomfortable uncertainty, along with us."

::  Osheta Moore of Shalom in the City, invited me on her Shalom Sessions podcast. We basically had a party! I even told a ridiculous story from back when we lived on the farm. Have a listen! (Scroll down to my pic and click the little triangle.)

::  D.L. Mayfield wrote a fun listicle about Instagram for Aleteia. (I gasped a little when I saw my name at the end!) 11 Instagramers With a Different View of the World

::  For All Who Hurt With Nothing Left by Alia Joy Hagenbach for Grace Table
"I want to tell you of the ways I’ve opened my home and set the table and pulled down the wine glasses and lit the good candles and said come. But I’ve done none of this lately. I would have to stretch my story so far back to tell you of the girl who did. I’ve barely managed myself most days."

::  Sean Lowe, a past Bachelor on ABC's most relentless dating show, offers some interesting advice to his predecessor. (Need I remind you of my affection for this show?)

::  Oh, and speaking of my love for that ridiculous show, my friend Emily Maynard Johnson just wrote a book called I Said Yes and I can't wait to read it. I sat across the table from her in Ethiopia over two years ago (Oh, life, you're so rad!), just as she was on the cusp of a husband and more babies. She asked the best questions, an I'll never forget that feeling I had bubbling up inside me - she is a woman intent on stewarding well God's grace in her life.
"I was oddly grateful for the boring coverage. Here are grown ups committed to their serious work. There was no ticker at the bottom. There were no glamorous reporters from NASA delivering interesting tidbits of information about asteroids or space travel or the moon...If we want to watch? Fine. But they are going about their business whether we watch or not. They have astronauts to bring home."

::  My fiction-writing buddy just published the second book in her latest series, Change of Heart by Courtney Walsh.

::  Meg Duerksen talks real about parenting 4 teenagers (and a tween!)
"sometimes no matter how loving, how wonderful,  how kind or how much fun you are… they still may not make the right choice. and that part truly sucks." 

::  Why Millennials are Trending Toward Minimalism by Joshua Becker
"As younger generations migrate toward smaller dwellings in walkable communities with shared amenities, consumer consumption will continue to slow."

::  I've gotten several emails from folks asking specifics about how to write to their newly-sponsored Compassion child. Ashley gives us all the details in her post Paper Treasures: I Got It All Wrong.

TGIM, homies! If we can muster up some love for today, the rest of the week will be downhill. Uphill? I'm almost 40 and still can't figure out which way is right. Questions for God...

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Over and Over


I'm currently suffering a wave of writer's block. (I can't say for sure, but it's probably buried under a pile of snow somewhere.) All week I've sat with my laptop and a pile of good ideas, but my fingers freeze on the keys. I get scared.

So, I wash all the dishes, even the pans, even the dutch oven with its blackened bottom. I move from room to room while snow falls outside my windows, the confetti of the forgotten, in early March. 

I try again, only managing to squeeze two lines onto the screen, one of which I immediately delete.

And I pull sausage from the freezer. I mince shallots. I dice potatoes. My good ideas sift like baking sugar through my fingers. "There's a difference between having good ideas and being a writer," I say to Cory late that night. "I used to be a writer and now I'm just an idea girl."

The next morning, I huddle up in my bedroom, where it's warmer. I remember last winter, the hours I clocked in here pounding out a proposal for my book, terrified in the end that I'd accidentally made it too strong. The book itself won't ever measure up. I tricked everyone, mostly myself. Those were the lies that piled up in cold heaps around me back then. But I wrote that book, and I'm proud of it. So maybe I can find my way out of this darkened place...

I fold two loads of laundry.

I fry the best pork chops of my life, with a pan sauce of balsamic, white wine, oranges, and herbs. I slice Brussels sprouts on the bias.

My word count burns in the pan. I scrub it clean.

The counter is wiped down, my laptop sits lonely while I pour the last three cups of whole milk, whisk it into cornstarch and chop up a chocolate bar. As it cools, we whip cream into magic, pure as the driven snow.

I've trained my kids to love dark chocolate, and I wonder if it'll keep them up at night.

Crowded together on one wing of our sofa, we huddle around Cory's tiny Chromebook. The internet's misbehaving and for whatever reason, it's the only thing that works.

For the third year running, Calvin wants Adam for his coach, Ruby thinks Christina looks just like Gwen and would take either one, and I sit and stare at Pharrell with his infant skin and his heart that, I swear, reminds me of Jesus.

I wonder if any of my kids will ever be singers. I'd buy that album.

Our spoons clink against our single-serving bowls and I don't give a rip if it's too late for dark chocolate.

I ruffle my fingers through Siley's hair, over and over and over again.

We are a miracle.

God fixed us, and he never stops. He pieced us together with a sturdy top-stitch, six wounded humans who needed to believe. He climbed into our boat, and maybe it took longer than I'd have liked, and maybe this lull won't last forever, but he calmed our seas.

God, in your mercy, restore and heal.


My job isn't to crank out words or shape meaning into my wild ideas. I wasn't created to be an endless supply of inspiration or to collect praise from other people.

I was made to notice God's goodness and reflect His glory.

Sometimes, that happens at my keyboard.

Right now, it happens in my kitchen, in the soul-quiet endless hours when I claw for something that isn't yet mine to hold and instead discover I'm already enough, even when I come up empty.

It's only Thursday, but I know the most important thing I'll do all week is sit with my child on my lap and run my fingers through his hair, over and over and over again.
 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Table


For most of my childhood, we drove thirty minutes to a church down, down, down the winding road.
My life was split in the middle back then - there was the place where we lived, and there was the place where we had church. The two halves didn't come close to intersecting.

Adults around me talked about being "fed", interesting now because our church body never shared a table, and though I'm sure I must be wrong, I don't recall ever swallowing the bread or drinking the cup.

The body of Christ was never broken for me, but His church was the shell of a cicada, a fragile representation of the life it might embody, full of holes yet somehow keeping its shape.

We wanted meat, that's what I was told. No milk for us, please. When it came to the ways of the Spirit, we were chest-pounding, steak-searing, fork-and-knife people.

And my baby teeth were sore.

~

2012, our first full year in our new community, stunned me with its easy way. I expected turmoil. Whiplash. I geared up to be broken and bent, assuming the church at the end of our street was one of the most obvious tools in our spiritual dismantling. We'd have to change our lens if we wanted to see things clearly. It would cost us. But that's not what happened, at least not at first.

Our souls found their fit among simplicity and our hearts were home in the broken place of the ordinary body.

We recognized our thirst for milk.

Year two was more of the same.
Year three nearly broke us.

We wrestled our will against the temptation to want what we wanted, to decide what was best. Day after day, week after week, we entered the ring, willing God to wind us back to the way it was before, when the change was all for us and following His hand was the obvious choice.

As it turned out, we liked our bones rattling from the shock-waves of excavation. Being broken had become the only way to feel whole, and doing everything differently was the only thing that felt normal.

I can't say what shot us back to a place of confusion and discontent, but I know it wasn't God.

The pews emptied, the cobbled-together church choir thinned. People became unhappy to the point of walking out the door without a glance back at the worn-smooth altar.

We begged to go with them. We worried for our children.

We wanted to be fed.

~

When I was a child, the bright spot of my church experience was watching the youth pastor's wife on stage with her mall-bought dress and her wireless mic. All of her teeth showed when she smiled, twin strands of pearls stretching back to her molars. I practiced in the mirror, and though I didn't have it mastered, I hoped it was something I'd grow into.

Choir robes were for light-weights, back then, and don't even mention a pastor in a robe. The pastors I knew wore silk neckties and drove Caddies waxed by lesser men. Their faces were tanned, their words a flurry. They spoke in the tongues of men and angels, banged tambourines, and palmed foreheads into submission. They swore they loved. For the most part, I believed them.

Sunday church was an hours-long series of promises made on God's behalf. Their faith could fix the middle class kid who robbed the convenience store and landed in jail. It could fix the druggie with red-rimmed eyes, and set life into barren wombs. It could quench red-hot lust and pull the devil out of a teenager like long strands of ribbon from a Black Sabbath cassette tape.

It could. It would. It will. 
He can fix you if you believe.

Their words never turned on themselves, not so far as I could see. They were wax. We all were wax. But I was a child, and I already understood my own capacity to melt.

Don't tell me who you were unless you're quick to follow it with who you are right now.
Please don't make me believe my dead cousin might knock on the door any day as long as I don't ruin it with my doubt. Don't convince me this life right here should be my goal, or that Heaven is only home to the whole.

I didn't want a faith that could move mountains.

I wanted a faith that could ride out a howling stretch of pain and keep its spark through the low winds of drought.

~

A few months ago, a man went to work in our sanctuary, yanking up a front-row pew by its screws. In its place now sits a table, kid-height.

There are things to consider when it comes to church, along the lines of calendars and logistics and what exactly do you do when there's no one left to teach children's church?

Our stale theology of convenience-store church has us wringing our hands and biting our nails until they bleed. Where will we put the kids? Who will lead them? Will it be good enough? Will it meet our standards? Will it make them whole?

As it turns out, desperate people can be shockingly resourceful. Just ask the women over at the county jail who make their own tampons and cook a holiday feast on a laid-open chip bag as a hot plate. In the case of our church, we needed to McGyver a viable option for the 5-10 kids who show up on Sundays.

Our pastor decided to keep them in with us.


It struck Cory and I as brilliant.
And, surely, equally misguided.

God whispers between the groaning planks that form us into His family. His wisdom floats on the dust mites filtering through the light-soaked stained glass window at our backs. My ways are not your ways, Shannan. You don't know the half of it. This isn't about you. Or even your kids.

~

They're squirrely. A smidge too loud. It's distracting, and makes some folks grumble. Once, Ruby climbed under the table and sat there for a full minute making silly faces, to the delight of her brother and friends.

They play with sticker books, and they aren't even religious stickers.

"This is a multi-generational church, and we have much to learn from each other." That's what our pastor said. "We send them out for their entire childhood then wonder why they don't believe there's a place for them as they get older."

The truth of her words stunned me with their clarity.

One Sunday, one of the moms unfurled a roll of white paper across the table top and dumped out a box of crayons. After the service, I gathered up stray pictures half-heartedly colored and cast aside.

This caught my eye, sermon notes penned by the wiggliest kid among them.


Jesus is dying to set a place for us, so He gives us the insider-scoop on how to make it happen. Among His key pieces of advice: you must have faith as a child.

You must.

Our kids don't have big opinions on doctrine or procedure. They're malleable and unfancy. Teachable. Committed to living the simple.

The Holy Spirit is alive and rowdy among them at His table.

What if God is bigger than we think? What if He supersedes our common sense that doesn't extend past the last row of congregants?

God keeps using my church, my community, the school at the end of the block, to redeem in me His kingdom here on earth. It's not because all the boxes on my wish list are checked, but precisely because they are not.

The work right now isn't as easy as it once was. We are not done wrestling and it feels at times like we've been forgotten. I want it easy again. I crave lightness and, if given the choice, I would always sway away from tension. I simply do not know what the future looks like.

But my prayer is that I continue to make the hard turn from insisting on my own way, to believing in my guts that I know almost nothing about what I need. I want to keep being proven wrong, and to test my faith not against how many of my wishes God grants or how closely He tethers me to what's familiar, but how ready I am to bend.

The health of my soul depends on my willingness to veer haphazardly away from what's reasonable and instead try my best to view life with the lens of what I can offer, not what I can consume.


I am a child of God. A child.
I want to get better at acting like one.



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