On community

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There are times when our small community feels too close to me.  The school and church crowds overlap, there is family around every corner, and at times it feels like it’s all pressing in.

I sat at our kitchen table the other day with a friend who finds herself in a similar situation, caring for children AND caring for parents who have recently moved in.  She’s a go-getter, this woman…a world-changer and an inspiration to me.  We’ve known each other for a long time, lived in the same church family, and are now able to put our heads together and dream about what supporting the sandwich generation in our own community needs to look like.  She came with a cup of coffee and we swapped stories and brainstormed, and it was life-giving.

Church attendance for me has been iffy in this season.  My husband is a pastor, so I’m by myself on a Sunday morning.  Getting three kids out the door, getting Grandpa up and ready, AND breakfast for the whole crew is a task. Plus, we can’t leave Grandma and Grandpa alone for any extended amounts of time, so this puts me in a tough spot on Sundays.  One week I just went to pick the kids up at the end of the morning, my in-laws having taken them to church for me. I walked in the lobby and saw everyone conversing and felt a loss. The next Sunday I was able to get in for the second service of the morning.  Just having the chance to sit in the service and sing and be taught by our dear friend was enough to get me all misty. Our families are close-our kids play together, go to school together. Hearing him share his heart-his hard-fought battles, and from God’s word, was such a gift. This is community.

So this past Sunday, I was up by 6:30 to get the whole process started so I could get myself and our girls out the door by 9.  We did it.  I came home to check on the grandparents during the morning and went back to church again.  Why?  Because being in the midst of this community became very dear to me when it became very difficult to make it happen.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that…

Being part of any community is filled with the good stuff and the bad stuff.  There is awkwardness, there are hurts, there are difficult people (I can be one of them, ahem)… But there are people who know you, who help you raise your kids and help you grow your faith.

I’m glad I belong somewhere.  I’m glad that I can see a friendly face at the school program, the grocery store, the gas pump, church… I’m grateful for the hugs and how-are-you-really and even just the knowing glances.  And my mom is grateful for this too, because she can only imagine how much more I would blow up her phone if I didn’t have anyone else. Lord have mercy.

 

On the non-precious moments

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There are plenty of precious motherhood moments, and then there are the non-precious ones.  You know what I mean?  Look, the joy I find in motherhood is a fought-for thing. It’s not easy.

We have three wonderful, verbal, leadership-gifted, emotionally aware, justice loving girls.  I am an introvert.  You guys, there are so many words in our house all day long that some days my word bank cannot receive any more words.  No more deposits, please.  Mom needs to hide in the bathroom.  Also, I think this might be why I blog.  I need to spend some of the words.

Two of these children share a room.  One is a packrat, one is a minimalist.  This is lively.  I keep telling myself that the world will thank me some day for this, as they will be able to room with opposites in college, in marriage, etc.  If the world could thank me ahead of time, I think that would be great too.

My hope is that their conflict resolution skills as adults will be stellar.  They will be corporate mediators.  They will be trial lawyers who win the big cases.  They will be working at the UN and will solve the nuclear crisis because there are some days that feel like the nuclear crisis around here.  They’ll have had practice.

I actually uttered these words the other day to one of my children… “Child, you cannot just say ‘boom-shaka-laka’ to your sister and walk away from her.  This hurts her feelings. ”  Other words I have uttered include, “If there is any more fighting over _____, I will take it and you will owe me the money we spent on it.”

I am happy to say that wading through all of the moments above has led us to some pretty cool places.  In amongst the weeds, we have found some beauty.  We are seeing girls playing games without fighting, giving up their turn with the cookie dough bowl to a sister, scraping pumpkins to get the seeds for the sister who really wanted them, helping each other clean their rooms… Those moments are gold.

We’re learning to find humor in the non-precious moments around here, too, because if we can’t laugh, we might just go crazy.  Hoping you can find the ability to laugh at times, too, mommas.

 

 

Weekend roundup

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I don’t know how this has been working out, but our weekends have been pretty peaceful.  After we got back from Florida in November I felt like I had fallen behind-Thanksgiving came and here comes Christmas and I was prepared to feel behind all season long.  But somehow, it’s not been like that.  I can only say it’s got to be Jesus, because we have had Grandpa come home from rehab and be significantly weaker, we have had sports, we have had ministry stuff, we have had family commitments, but in some ways I feel like God has been stretching our time.  Our weekends have been fairly peaceful.  The oldest took a nap this afternoon and upon waking up said, “Mom, I just realized that weekends are for resting!  Like, our whole week is busy and so we need this time to rest.  Weekends are awesome.”  Love it.

We’ve been baking and playing games and enjoying each other.  I think one of the reasons I feel so relaxed is that this year we decided on doing more experience gifts than little odds and ends.  Our girls are so blessed to have so many extended family members bless them with gifts that we decided to try something different on our end.  The result has been beautiful.  Stress free momma and daddy and a whole lot less wrapping.  I am so stress free that, one night, the kiddos got to eat dinner in the living room and watch their own shows on their Kindles.  (They had to earn those Kindles by creating an atmosphere of kindness in the house-which does not mean they are always kind but that they are trying harder at it.  Also, Cyber Monday deal. If anyone is interested I can post about the way they had to earn them in another post.) We never eat in the living room, and they hadn’t had any screen time all day. It was like Disney up in here.  I was LOVED and APPRECIATED and my children rose up and called me blessed.

We have had stress, but it’s like I was sharing with a friend, I feel like the orange has to get squeezed if you want the juice, you know what I mean?  Hope your weekend had some goodness in it, too.  Happy Monday!

 

 

On family memories

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If you know me, you know I love the farm.  The farm is the property I grew up next to, grew up on.  My grandparents lived there and now my cousin lives there.  When it was warm enough, I would sit on the porch swing with my Grandpa and he would say, “Laura, what’s new?”  And I would answer, “Not much, Grandpa.”  And that was the truth.  I could have spilled my teenage angst to him or discussed the latest music with him but he likely wouldn’t have been impressed and he likely would have said something about things not really being that different from when he was young.  So, Grandpa, not much is new.  A true statement.

I spent some warm days rowing the boat across the pond when I just needed to get some feelings out, some winter days taking walks through the new snow on the meadows when our house just seemed too small. I can recall one time when my parents thought our house seemed too small.  They sent my brother Luke and I out with a saw and told us to get a Christmas tree. We walked those 70-some acres and I cannot recall if we got a tree or not but I remember giggling and sliding down the side of the mountain in the snow.

I learned about wonder and seeing that the small things really are the big things thanks to those times.  Have you ever walked through fresh snow in the woods?  It’s so silent and when you see that it’s just you and the deer, well… It inspires awe.  Walking next to a pond and counting the fish, sitting on a porch still enough for the hummingbirds to come close, the smell of the spring thaw and the waters running in the streams… those are the small things that really are the big things.

I often tell my husband that family and space was the thing that saved me during my adolescence.  I needed to be reminded of the bigger world, the continuity of seasons.  I needed to be given the perspective of generations.  And perspective was something that never ran low.  Every Sunday we would gather at the farm with my mom and dad, her five brothers and their wives, my aunts.  Cousins would be running around (outside), and the grownups would be drinking coffee and sharing all of their “perspectives.”  There were seasons of hating those Sundays, to be honest.  I just wanted to stay home and feel my feelings, but skipping the farm meant harassment the next time you were there and it was just easier to go.

But in going, I got my head pulled out of the sand.  I learned that my identity wasn’t found in my feelings of the moment.  My family, for all it’s loud opinions and pot-stirring conversations?  They were the ones that always said they didn’t like that guy anyway.  They were the ones who would kindly tell me to yank my head out of my rear end and not speak to my mother that way.

We took our kids for a hike on the farm last week.  Our oldest wandered ahead of us, lagged behind us, picked up a treasure or two.  She hadn’t really wanted to go but I think she was glad she did.  Our middlest tried to push over a dead tree, catapulted herself out of the woods and into the meadow with warrior cries.  Our youngest had my dad carrying about 15 sticks she was collecting, and basically doing all of her bidding.  My husband brought a pack of candy along and snuck the girls a piece here or there, letting them think they were the only ones getting the treat.  They loved it.

On choosing stillness

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I was jut sitting down to write in the living room… our little dog snuggled up to me, my coffee in one hand.  I was thinking about how much I love this silent time of day-when the kids are off to school and grandparents have been woken up, gotten ready for the day, and have had breakfast.  It was a glorious and still moment.  And the doorbell rang, and I realized it was the OT for Grandpa.  I had momentarily forgotten about the 8:30am appointment!  The silence was broken and I was up and at it again.

I’ve been struggling to keep up with my personal Advent readings. There is never a “good” time.  There is non-stop laundry, literally.  (I haven’t had time to get out and walk these past few weeks, but I keep telling myself that since our laundry is in the basement all of those steps count for something!) But the other night, after a stressful day and some anxiety settling in on me, I had sent a text to some friends asking them to pray, that God would speak so clearly and that His peace would be so evident, and all of the big spiritual things.  They said of course, and offered encouragement and off to bed I went.

I woke up the next day and decided that instead of packing lunches I would catch up on the Advent reading.  Picking and choosing in this season, you know? Anyway, I read it and the very first verse was a direct answer to my prayers, speaking peace to my soul.  I read the accompanying devotional writing and it too was a direct and clear answer to prayer. I chuckled and sent the screenshots of verses and words to my friends and said, “Sometimes we ask God to speak and He’s like READ THE BIBLE.”

This is a season where all of us are giving more than usual from reserves that are tapped out. We want to buy all of the gifts but we don’t have any more money this month than we did last month.  We try to get to all of the parties but we don’t have any more time this month than last month.  We want to enter into those difficult family situations but maybe we don’t have any more patience for it than we did last year.  In fact, we are already overdrawn in so many ways and keep looking to withdraw more.  And in this month, we also think we are going to experience Jesus more than any other month but we just don’t leave Him any room.  Familiar?  We don’t have room at these inns for Him-they are overbooked, overbusy, overcrowded, and overdrawn.

There’s always something competing for our affections and I think it gets worse this time of year.  There will always be interruptions and inconveniences.  Sometimes we’ll choose  well and sometimes we won’t.  While we’re asking Him to be present and speak, let’s also know that He is present and He is speaking, and we need only listen.  Whether we’re spending time in His word or spending time in prayer or worship, He is already there.

Praying for myself, and for each of you that read this…that we would choose Him over packing lunches when we need to.  That we would leave some things undone so that we don’t become undone, and that we would extend grace easily.

 

On making room for wonder

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There is an innate desire for life to make sense.  We want to be able to fit things into categories, live efficiently, streamline our priorities and be comfortable.  We don’t like what doesn’t make sense.  We don’t like messy.  We don’t like discomfort.  Our society doesn’t know what to do with things that don’t fit into the normal flow.  The problem with this, for me, is that it leaves little room for wonder, and little room for God.

Our family is swimming upstream right now.  We have chosen a way of living that is not typical, not efficient, and not what a lot of other people are used to.  There is no formula to work through, no neat and tidy categories.  Our priorities are people.  This typically means some discomfort and usually is messy.  I don’t pretend to understand it all the time, and it doesn’t entirely make sense to me but it’s where we’re called so they’re you go.

In this advent season, I am particularly drawn to Mary.  I am drawn to her heart of submission to the will of God, though it meant messy and uncomfortable and an upstream path. She left room for wonder.  I mean, imagine her placing her hands on her swollen belly…knowing Who was resting and kicking and growing in there.  Imagine the places her mind travelled.  Yes, Mary knew.  For sure and for certain, she was aware.

But Mary’s allowance for wonder was not pain free.  She surely endured gossip, she feared for her future.  Would Joseph still marry her?  He had every right not to.  But God came through on that, didn’t He?  She lived this life, walking in step with the Prince of Peace.  By making room for wonder, she also had to make room for some hardship.  She watched her bloodied son endure crucifixion.  She mourned Him.  I cannot begin to fathom one ounce of what she felt.  She had no other moms she could go to who would say, “Me too, Mary.  I have been there and I understand.”  No, she was alone on this one.

Except, really, she wasn’t.  She carried the mysterious calling with her, the presence of God daily.  I sometimes think that in order to endure the terrible pain she would face, she needed that daily Presence.  Did Jesus minister peace to His own mother as He grew?

In making room for wonder, Mary made room for the mess.  In making room for wonder, Mary lived outside the norm.  In making room for wonder, Mary experienced God.  

Living a wonder-filled life means preparing some room.  Wonder, I think, comes in like waters rising.  It shifts things in it’s path.  It wrecks some things, gives you space to rebuild. Wonder leaves you changed.

May we feel the fullness of the wonder of Jesus this season, and may it change us.

 

On peace

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Peace gets a lot of mentions during the holiday season.  Peace on earth, Prince of Peace, peace-filled holidays… The image that comes to mind pretty quickly is of Mary cradling Jesus in her arms, filled with awe, while Joseph takes it all in.  I know peace, have felt real and bone-deep peace in the middle of chaos because I have a Comforter ministering to me.  But I wonder sometimes if we forget the work it is to bring peace.

I think about Mary and how she labored to bring Peace into this world.  I’ve never given birth but have heard enough stories to know it is messy and painful and you are vulnerable during the labor, and exhausted and weak until the whole thing is said and done.

I think about Jesus, and how in order to become our Peace He had to endure the cross… the painful, terrible cross.  He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our sins.  He received the wrath of the Father on our behalf.

I used to think being a peacemaker meant avoiding conflict, but now I know it means entering into it.  Peace requires sacrifice, submission, self-denial.  We talk about living in harmony with one another, and the thing is that musically, harmonizing is when many different parts come together to make some really beautiful music.  But they’re not singing the same note.  Each note celebrates the difference of the others.  Each voice is bringing it’s own unique contribution.  There is, in fact, a beautiful conflict in the harmony.

I’m grateful that Jesus entered the conflict to allow me the peace I have today.  I’m grateful Mary had God-given courage to live in the conflict that brought the Prince of Peace into this world.

Let’s wage peace together, and not be afraid of stepping into the hard places to bring it.

On surviving December

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There’s an image the plays in my head every holiday season… it’s from a cover of one of my mom’s Better Homes and Gardens. It has to be from the early 80’s.  I haven’t seen this image in decades, not physically.  But every year it flashes through my head.  It’s a woman who looks like Carly Simon, in a red and black plaid dress with a large collar, bending over a table to place a cake in the center of a perfectly decorated holiday table.  She is smiling, and in my mind I can hear Amy Grant singing “Tender Tennessee Christmas.”  This is, of course, taking place in Connecticut while the snow falls softly  and all is calm and bright.

This fictional character I have built up in my head never silences the table with a desire to talk about the recent New York Times article she read on the large amount of elderly in Japan dying alone and how the move from intergenerational housing to a more American lifestyle is what caused this and how much this says about our society.  Nope.  She always asks about the children and cares to listen and, in her era, served a cheeseball that was second to none.  Alas, I can never feather my hair like Carly and the red plaid would possibly cause me to look like a holiday table stood on end. Unfortunate.

There were years of unrealistic expectations for me, and they kept me from enjoying December.  Here are some practical things that I’ve learned over the years that have kept me a little more sane.

First, nothing has to be homemade if you don’t want it to be.  Gifts, pies, mashed potatoes, wrapping paper, even cookies.  I know this sounds terrible and even as I write it a part of me feels like it’s dying, but it’s true.  When we had an 8 year old, a 4 year old, and an 11 month old, I think I decided to try to make homemade Christmas cards.  Because I was exhausted and clearly this was the best choice.  One year I spent copious amounts of time making a yarn-wrapped wreath for each girl with specifically chosen colors and decorations that could be hung in their room for years to come.  Except for two months later when the middlest didn’t like cowgirl stuff anymore and the oldest thought it was too childish before Easter.  We have a large extended family, which means tons of family gatherings through all of December.  I used to think this meant all of the homemade love!  Now we sometimes stop at the grocery store on the way and I dump the store bought thing into a dish I brought from home and NO ONE IS THE WISER.  I really do enjoy spending time cooking and baking but there are some seasons where fatigue and life dictate otherwise.

Second, if you do not get the family photo card done, Christmas will still come.  I know this because for the second year running, we are not doing one.  I love getting the cards but there is an amount of pre-planning involved in this process that I am not able to handle right now.  There’s the finding a picture you want everyone to look at for the next year (which, let’s be honest-this derails the train before it’s even left the station).  There’s the selecting of a card online, then the ordering it, followed by the making a list of who to give it to (which, if the train has not yet derailed this will CERTAINLY do it) and finally the actual distribution of the cards.  Hello there, I just want to give my children clean clothes and read for Book-It this month.

Third, your children do not need to look like an LL Bean ad at every holiday function.  I used to really get stuck on this one (see first paragraph for context).  Newsflash: making them wear coordinating cable knits to a hot, stuffy gathering where they will likely be told to be quiet and not run around and also NO YOU MAY NOT HAVE UNLIMITED COOKIES FROM THE TABLE FILLED WITH COOKIES is a terrible decision.

Lastly, the church police will not come for you if you do not do an Advent calendar and coordinating crafts for your children.  Promise.  It’s been 6 years and we’re not in Bad Christian prison.

Remember this… no one is going to give you a gold star for any of these things.  And if someone get judgey? My favorite tactic is to offer them a hobby.  (Example: Relative notices that what you brought tastes remarkably like something from the local grocery store and offers a judgey smile and condescending remark.  You say, “Have you heard about basket weaving?  I hear it’s all the rage.”)

Here’s the thing.  If any or all of these things get done, it’s so great. There’s no shame in doing this stuff!  But I feel like we all need to hear it’s ok if they don’t. There’s no guilt in that.  Because you can do the Advent activities every day but worry more about that than sitting with the kid who just needs to talk.  You can bake and decorate the cookies but not let the kids help because of the mess.  You can be miserable for a half-day trying to get the Christmas photo.  You can stress over the cost of  the perfect foil photo card but order it anyway.

My prayer for myself, and for all of us this season, is that we remember our margins and more than anything, we just remember Jesus.  To celebrate the wonder of Him and the glory of Him.  Let yourself get stuck on the idea that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I could park on THAT for a long time.  Love Jesus.  Love your family.  Love your neighbors.  So much grace for all of us, friends.   Have a Merry December.

On a little bit of everything

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We have made it to Friday.  Glory to the actual hallelujah.  I had a birthday this week.  I’m now 37.  I still feel like the kid who received her diploma at age 17 and thought, “Ok, I figured I would know more by now but here we go.”  Just when you think you know what you need to, you realize you don’t.

Which brings me to my next thoughts on parenting an adolescent.  Mommas, repeat after me…”It is not personal.  It is not personal.  It is not personal.”  Glad we could have this talk.  Sheesh.  Any other ladies out there in the thick of it with an adolescent daughter?  It is a hard time for them, which translates into it being a hard time for us.  There are some really cool moments thrown in with the really tough ones, and I am all there for the cool moments.  It is looking more and more like I also need to be all there for the majority of the tough ones too.  That this coincides with the opening of the local coffee shop is not lost on me for two reasons.  One, this is a place where both my adolescent and I love to go.  Hello, common ground.  I will reside there as often as possible.  Two, this is also a place where I can have someone fix me something good and do the cleanup.  Yes and thank you.  (Also, a word to anyone who works with adolescents, whether as a youth group volunteer or a coach or a teacher… support us, please.  Unless you have lived through what we are living through, you really have no idea.  So unless it’s a very serious issue, more often than not a kid needs to hear, “Your parents are doing the best they know how.  Why don’t you cut them some slack?”  I have this conversation with our oldest from time to time…”Listen, you’ve never been 12 before and I’ve never parented a 12 year old before.  How about we offer each other some grace and try again?”)

There were several times this week where I got messages from people saying I was on their mind and offering me some kind words.  Every single one of those moments was perfectly timed and needed.  If God is nudging you in any way, follow through.  The worst thing that could happen is that you offer some encouragement to someone who is already having a good day and I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing. The best thing is that someone who is near tears could feel the presence of God because of your kindness. It’s worth it.

My husband’s grandfather (the one we don’t live with) was picking up some supplies for my husband’s other grandfather (the one we DO live with) and when he delivered them, he also delivered me a Big Mac.  I did not eat much of it but I did just about cry when he gave it to me because it was just random, thoughtful, and kind.  He wanted to do something nice for me, and that’s what he did.  Who knew that the ministry of the Big Mac could be a thing? So also don’t ignore that nudge when you’re at the drive -thru, ok?

We’re going out for dinner tonight for my birthday and while I would love to be able to name drop some great farm to table place, we’re actually going to Shady Maple Smorgasbord.  I picked it because I wanted to go somewhere the kids would have fun and it would be out of the way and also, we wouldn’t run in to anyone we knew.  Sometimes that’s nice, you know?  I’m in a place where, while I do love the nicer places, I love relaxed time with my family even more.  I’m a quality time gal, so this is the best gift.  A car ride, a big meal, and conversation around the table.

I had so many other things I wanted to write about, like consent and why people will call out Matt Laurer and not our president, but that doesn’t seem like a great fit for this post.  Perhaps another time…or maybe it’s just for the best that I don’t get into any of that.  I don’t know.

I hope your weekend is filled with good things, and family togetherness.  Even if some hard things come our way, may we have the wisdom to take a lot of deep breaths and the grace to see those hard moments through the eyes of Jesus.  I’m looking at you, mommas.  So much love to each of you.

On secrets manifesting

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It seems like every day there is a celebrity falling from the pedestal they’ve been placed on.  Every day, we wake up and wonder who else is going to have some major wrongs to make right, apologies to offer, consequences to deal with.  We’re seeing men in power answering for their decades of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment.  Good.  As it should be.  I once had a married supervisor ask me if I would consider sharing a hotel room with him when we went to New Jersey for an overnight training…you know, to save the company money.  I was 20 years old, working in the service department of a car dealership-one of two women in a department of about 30 men. Of course, I said no.  To their credit, when I reported this, the company made sure that supervisor had zero contact with me and he was soon removed. (Also-if at any point you thought that I put myself in a position to receive said harassment by working in a male dominated field, you have an answer as to why this has been able to go on for so long.  It’s not my fault, and I expect more from men.  That’s appropriate.)

Right now, though.  This is an important time.  We’re seeing staples of our society, powerful men, fall from power due to their predatory behavior.  The same cannot be said of our politicians, but the time will come.  I don’t care how beautiful of a movie Harvey Weinstein can push through, if he’s assaulted a woman he needs to be held accountable.  I don’t care if the morning t.v line up gets a shake up.  Whether your last name is Clinton or Trump, assault is assault and you need to be held accountable for it.  I’m watching this time and I’m wondering…what will be next?

There is a relief and a fear in knowing that the shaking is happening right now.  Beth Moore just tweeted today, “If I’ve ever seen a time in my life I thought Jesus was about to clean house, it’s now.  I say this with holy fear and self examination.  Christ’s theology of secrecy in Mark 4:22 can be summed up in 2 words: secrets manifest.  There are good secrets and bad secrets.  Both come out.  Time to deal, fellow Jesus followers, servants, leaders.  Time to do our own house cleaning before Jesus takes the broom to us.  Time to straight up END duplicity, time to repent, seek help, counsel.  Time to sow things of the Spirit in secret places so they’re what manifest.”

The crashing of idols will cause our ground to shake.  Celebrity culture, party politics…they’re going to fall.  People are flawed and this nation is temporary.  After the dust settles, there will be a Cornerstone that has not moved.  I want to use this time to check myself instead of reveling in the fall of another.  I am never so far from a terrible choice as I would like to think.  Thanks be to God for His grace-that He promises He can know all of my thoughts, and if I ask Him to search my heart He will be faithful to reveal the dark places.