Lost Shoes {Five Minute Fridays}

lost shoes five minute friday

We used to hide her brown leather shoes every time she came to visit.

Her cigarettes too, but those we’d bury or break. It’s not that we were so full of mischief, but we knew those things could kill a person. It was all we could do, to help.

She would say her goodbyes and head for the door. I can still hear her giggle. My sisters and I stood behind a corner wall and tried to keep our laughter hidden.

Then Mom or Dad would call. Girls? GIRLS! Where are Aunt Connie’s shoes???

We pretended to work hard to figure out where she left them.

I guess she’ll have to stay… But it never worked out that way. The shoes would turn up, from inside the dollhouse or deep recesses of a little closet in the Strawberry Shortcake bedroom.

I think she loved the way we begged her not to go, my gentle Aunt who visited often from her house just up the road.

I wonder when we stopped hiding her shoes.

When long afternoon visits went by the wayside. When all of us moved and left our childhood VIPs behind.

I wonder why it takes an urgent phone call, or a fall, or a treasured aunt lying sedated on a hospital bed with a failing heart, to wake these stories within us again.

Stories about chilly Michigan afternoons spent playing UNO round a small kitchen table. Stories filled with simple laughter, and lots of it.

Stories about an aunt with a quirky monkey collection stretched around the perimeter of her shaggy green family room.

Stories about a time when there was always time for people to stop in and visit.

Stories of a modest upbringing, made rich because of all the people who filled it.

These stories come back, and we tell them, because the past we treasure is never really lost. Because we can always remember.

And somewhere in their telling, we understand a little better. We remember why we stopped hiding shoes.

Blue Water

beach3She grabs his hand. “Come with me, Daddy!” He gives in without second thought.

She leads him down the beach, splashing through little pools of water, leaning on his arm, pulling him this way and that.

They stay that way, hand in hand, for most the long walk to the pier.

I follow behind with boys grown tall, enjoying the snapshot of my girl and her Dad.

Remembering what it’s like to be that little girl, in love with her wonderful Daddy.

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One of my boys wraps bare fingers around sand crabs. He laughs when tiny toothpick legs dash across his skin. He loves to hold God’s creatures in his hands, to show and tell.

Another one tries 20-question style to extract from my brain our plans for the rest of this day and the next. I don’t know all the answers, but he’s not convinced of that. I encourage him to chill–to just go with it, and it frustrates him. These phrases are not my norm. This is my vaca-vocab.

The littlest wants to make sure I lay eyes on every seagull overhead, that funny red house up the beach, shiny shells in the sand, and that big wave he plans to ride one day. He only wants me to experience every excitement with him. He doesn’t care that there are 4 other family members vying for my attention.

We’re living the beach life today, where gifts roll in like waves at the shore. Like waves of grace, one might say.

Every minute of this feels priceless. Except the exhausted minutes. Those are a dime a dozen.

My senses are on overdrive. This ocean’s a giant beauty. A feisty, beautiful giant.

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Nothing on earth stills me like waves at sea. Nothing overwhelms like this blue water touching sky, morning, or moonlight.

I swell with hope here. I dream. I’m filled with both longing and contentment. I’m home somehow.

The sea has a voice, and it speaks to me. It tells me to still more. To learn the strength of quietness, the art of sitting down on the inside when life swirls fast around me. The sea reminds me, He’s got this. Millions and billions of waves remind.

It tells me to embrace my life more purposefully, but with open hands. None of it belongs to me, yet I get to play my part.

I stand before this vastness, in wonder. Wonder and worship and a heart of praise. God, you are good.

I ponder my clinging–my closed, tight fingers. These human hands are tired, and I lay it all down again. Because when I pretend all these gifts are mine, then I fear the loss of them.

I promise the maker of the sea I’ll learn to travel light. I’ll learn to live with hands wide open.

 

He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; He puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him. (Psalm 33:7-8)

 

Birthday Week

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It started with little packs of my favorite Trident (Cinnamon) gum wrapped up in birthday notes a week early. Then a box of my favorite cereal in my car with another “Happy Birthday Week” note. He showered me with little gifts, which grew in value each day.

We were college students when he started Birthday Week, with the gum and cereal and handmade notes. My husband looked for any reason to prolong a celebration.

This tradition stuck. It was easy when it was just the two of us. Everything was easy then.

Except the part where you keep the gifts a secret.

I don’t do so well at that. But only because I do dumb things like leave items in shopping bags on the front seat of my car. My husband, will see something out of place and just happen to find his birthday presents. Year after year. I’ve never been the world’s best secret-keeper. I blame this completely on my Dad, by the way. Who’d be so excited to give gifts, he’d leave trails of hints and wouldn’t stop talking about them.  :)

Birthday week became a little harder but infinitely more exciting when babies came. One by one, until there were four of them, and here we are celebrating Birthday Week with our kids again, Year 11.

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My big kid turns 11 today, with his ever-expanding brain in his head and bigger-than-Mom’s feet in his shoes. Most of his 11-year-old friends haven’t hit the same manly stride yet, which is just how he came, a little ahead of the size curve.

There are things about this age I really do not enjoy, not one bit, and I feel the need to be honest about that lest anyone thinks we have anything extra figured out about parenting boys. For the one person left who hasn’t witnessed our family in meltdown-mode, well–now you know this is a thing for us.  :)

But there’s more about this kid, at this exact age, I love. So here’s a little birthday shout-out to end another birthday week, to my big kid.

The one who’s daily telling me a handful of jokes from the mouths of friends or pages of books, even if too often I’m saying, Let’s not repeat that one. The one with a bunch of 2, 3, and 4-year-old fans, because he loves to take good care of the tinies (unless his friends are around). The one who plays hard, works hard, reads hard, runs hard. Who performs top of the class, no matter which achievement test he takes. The one who’s read so many books of the Bible, all on his own and in addition to a hundred other books consumed this year. The one who puts my childhood summer reading contest victories to shame.  The one who loves his friends and family deeply, and who loves a good party or team sport at least as much as a Barnes & Noble date with Mom. Or a project (including drills and hammers) with Dad. The one with all the issues we nitpick, and the ones that seriously have to go. (You know the ones.) But the one made up of so much more we love and like and beg for more of, because at the end of the day, it’s his hearty laugh, his sweet smile, his hugs, and (most of) the words that come out of his mouth, that we treasure.

Happy Birthday to our first big life-changer!

What If?

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It was 5:00 on a rainy Thursday, and everything was just normal.

I spent that day running errands by myself, crossing items off my list, running, reading, resting a little. My mom was loving on my kids, giving me the day off from my life as a homeschooling Mom.

My husband trained his sales staff on a new tablet system around our kitchen table that day, leaving unexpected afternoon time for us to talk. I was just about to get in the car and pick up our little people from Mom’s house.

30 seconds later, nothing was the same.

None of my plans mattered anymore. That beach trip we needed to call and set up, the blog posts I wanted to finish, lesson plans waiting on my desk, the shelves my hubbie was about to build in the garage for me to organize…all of it seemed pointless.

My husband took the phone call I’ve always feared. I could hear it in his voice, something urgent. About my Dad.

On our way to Mom’s, he called a friend, who came over immediately to stay with our kids.

It took forever to get to the hospital. Combine rain with rush hour, and Raleigh falls apart. The ambulance took Dad to the furthest hospital across town, Big Wake. We kept asking Why? Why did they take him to Big Wake?

We knew he was installing blinds on a high ladder when he fell. And that he didn’t know his last name. We talked to the customer who found him, to our office staff and installers, to God, to the hospital, but we could only grasp for clues during the 40-minute ride.

We found him in the emergency room, in and out of consciousness. His main concern was getting out of the neck brace. At one point, he told a nurse, My neck’s not broken. I would KNOW if my neck was broken! He made us laugh, even while we all stood around his emergency room with him lying there, in and out of sleep.

The next morning, they moved him to a room in the Neuro ICU for a few days. Things were up and down. We talked with doctors and googled every idea they tossed around. Some doctors thought a stroke caused the fall. But in the end, the brain bleed was in a location consistent with a fall and not a stroke.

My older sister flew in from Tennessee. It was touch and go for a little while, but Dad started looking better. Waking up a little here and there. Remembering more. They let us take him home.

But then the fevers began. High fevers, shaking, confusion. We went back to the emergency room. His fever came down, and they sent us home. After another night of high fevers, Mom and her friend (a nurse) took Dad back to the emergency room, determined to get to the bottom of this.

They were leaning toward meningitis, which made stroke feel like a win.

But a friend mentioned Lyme Disease, and Mom remembered Dad pulling a tick off his leg the week before his fall. Suddenly his labs were consistent with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and they started him on antibiotics.

He looks like a million bucks now. Other than the purple eye, some extra gray hairs, and a lot of bumps and bruises. Oh, and he cannot complete a proper push-up yet. But who knows why we know that?

I wish I processed “ordeals” like this more quickly, but instead my feelings come in fits and spurts. In the middle of traffic, in the middle of the store, in the middle of vacuuming or reading my littlest a story.

I thank God He’s not done with my Dad {here} yet. But it’s the lingering question that stops me.

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What if?

What then?

Before I knew Dad would be okay, I had to answer. Even if—I will trust God. Even when His plan comes opposite my wishes. 

Because even in our heartache, God is good. Because He is coming again to set us free from pain and death. Because NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, not even the most painful losses.

After the last couple weeks, I’m more certain of this than ever.

 

The Way We Spend Our Messy Days

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I’ve hated the messes for as long as I can remember.

I like things tidy. I like things put together. I like my favorite overused phrase: Everything has a home. So get your junk and take it to its home…sweetie.

I like things clean. At least the counters and floors. Oh, and the walls. I like the walls without all the prints and smudges.

Is that so much to ask? I’ve been asking that question almost a decade. Since the first little bull-in-a-china-shop grew big enough to clunk around and bump around and rub his little prints around.

I never really wanted the answer. We share this home with four little tornadoes (of varying intensities). They see this as space to run and roam and play hide and seek in. Space to sort and create and build and spread out in. Space to bring their friends into, to leave doors swung wide open and carry sticks and rocks and turtles and birds into.

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They see this as the kind of place with a good pantry to raid for lemonade and disposable cups for their next new business. And the kind where mattresses become slides and closets become candy-wrapper collection areas. The kind where sleepovers happen often and carpets reveal marker stains and walls bear gloss stains, because some days the whole place becomes the artists’ canvas.

Most days, the whole place becomes the canvas, all these artists painting life on these walls.

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Often I fight for my own art in this place–for the pretty, in its place, sorted and organized, chosen and scrutinized, put together, “as it should be” kind of art.

But they fight harder for theirs–the messy, mismatched, scattered in every space, the loved and discarded, any and everywhere kind.

Who doesn't want a toilet decorated with monster trucks???

Who doesn’t want a toilet decorated with monster trucks???

They live life loud and in my face, and some days, I know I spend too much time and energy cleaning the life up after them.

But some days, it’s like I peek behind the curtain of all my tomorrows. The mess is okay there, and I know it.

Because the mess reveals the life they’re in the process of enjoying. That life is better than just okay with me. That life is my life now. My best life now.

It’s the childhood they’ll always carry with them, the days of building together this family I’ll always carry with me.

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These days are the icing on my favorite cake, even though it’s too much at times. Though it leaves a mess and sometimes stains. Though it gets sticky and everywhere. Though it stretches me and steals my comfort. I’d order it again, or make it myself. Again and a thousand times more.

Even though it’s the kind of life that can never be contained, this mix of mess and art and life and glory, the way we spend our days.

 

When Ordinary is its Own Kind of Brave

Happy Monday, friends. Today my friend Lisa-Jo Baker is guest-posting in this space, to inspire us in our ordinary bravery. Read on, and be blessed….

 

Most of my days look the same as the day before.

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And I wonder what to write about because, really, there’s nothing new.

The alarm goes off at 7:20 and I go into Micah’s room to rub his back and try to bring him awake on the right side of the bed. Jackson gropes for his glasses and walks through to use to the bathroom, never ever heeding my shrieks to, for goodness sakes close the door!

Zoe wakes up bright and chipper and her hair all standing haywire on end, straight up from her head.

Breakfast is bagels and cream cheese or toast or cereal or sometimes fried eggs and bacon if we have enough time.

And I have practiced, months and months of practice, of keeping my voice calm despite what my blood pressure is doing as the clock ticks toward the inevitable arrival of the school bus and the boys still don’t have their shoes and socks on.

But it’s ordinary. So very ordinary.

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I have meetings and deadlines and I write blog posts if I’ve got one that climbs up out of my head and demands to be written down.

I wear make up even when I’m working from home because it helps me feel awake; present in my life. I sit at the kitchen table in the pool of sunlight that streams in through the huge windows and I’m grateful for these small moment of ordinary glory.

But 8 hours tick by like that. Zoe goes to preschool every other morning and I’m left with my house and the dishes I don’t feel like unloading from the dishwasher and so many moments are simply the choice to keep showing up.

Meeting the kids as they get off the bus, figuring out snacks and math homework and new ways to trick Jackson into finding his reading assignments interesting.

The world spins by so slowly outside our windows.

I wonder what I got done and I stay up too late because I don’t feel like doing it all over again tomorrow.

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I wish for weekends away with just Peter.

I wish for movie nights out.

I wish for quiet conversations that don’t require kid-inserted subtitles.

That’s just the truth of it. That this season is very very slow and ordinary and I have to remind myself that this is what brave looks like for me. For us.

It doesn’t involve platforms or pulpits or speaking tours or social justice or passports.

It’s counting how many mornings this week I’ve held onto my temper and chosen to love my six-year-old toward a day of meaning for him. It’s showing up today and today and again today.

Because every day is building a lifetime of what they will remember about their mother and right now and here it’s OK to have late afternoons of lying under the grey blanket and simply stroking the hair of a boy who has outgrown his baby-skin by far. And still I pet his hair because he loves it. And me too.

And this? This is beautiful too. This is significant and necessary and real and I am loved not by the size of what I do but by the God who watches me do it. Today and today and again later today.

He makes all the things I do beautiful.

The ordinary glorious beautiful things.

 

{To see the video reminder of why ALL mothers are braver than they know, click here}.

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This guest post comes with love from Lisa-Jo Baker to our community in celebration of Mother’s Day. If you haven’t already – treat yourself, your mom, your sister, your BFF or your grandma to a copy of her new book, Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom. No matter what stage you’re in when it comes to motherhood, we promise it will encourage. And remind you that you are braver than you think.

 

Does Your Small YES Matter? {Another Giveaway!!!}

RhinestoneJesus_spine_mockup A few years ago, Kristen Welch was just a mom from Texas, writing a blog about parenthood. And then she took a trip to Kenya, with Compassion International, hoping to encourage families to sponsor children living in poverty.

But when she experienced life in the slums of Nairobi, she couldn’t believe her eyes. “These living conditions were not for the living.”

Desperate and hopeless and angry, she silently questioned God. How can you allow this??? But she felt His response–Kristen, how can you?

It was that exact moment, when she knew her life would never be the same.

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Yesterday, Kristen Welch released her new book: Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith is No Longer Enough. As part of her launch team, I am honored to celebrate this book with her, and to give away 2 copies on behalf of her publisher.

It’s taken me a couple weeks to wander through her story. It made me pause and pray and think about the state of my heart. It’s an encouraging story, one I think any of us could relate to in different ways.

Kristen started with a desire to make a difference in the world for Jesus. But things didn’t turn out the way she’d planned, and at some point, she stopped dreaming to simply survive life. God used her trip to Kenya to wake her up to His heart. Afterward, He gave her an opportunity to do something, and she said yes.

In Rhinestone Jesus, she tells her story of founding a non-profit called Mercy House Kenya, a maternity home for young girls in extremely difficult circumstances. It’s an amazing story, and chapters are still being written. As of May 1st, they are preparing to open doors to the SECOND HOME!!! Mercy House Kenya is growing, to accommodate more mothers and babies.

Kristen hopes her story shows us that our small yes matters. We often want to do something “big” for God, but she challenges us to lay the “big” down. To begin with the next small thing, right where we are. Say yes in your mess–yes to loving God and loving others. See one need near you, and do what you can to meet it. Don’t be paralyzed by ideas about what’s most important or about doing enough.

Say yes now in small ways, because when you love someone and care for their needs, you’re changing their world. And you’re changing yours, too.

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Now for the book giveaway: Please answer this question in the comments by Monday, May 5th at noon to be entered: What is just one way you can love God and love others this week? Do you know of someone sick or lonely or hungry or in need? How can you help someone in the next week?

The Grace of Friends {Five-Minute Fridays}

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I remember being the new girl who needed a friend. Living on the inside and then suddenly living on the outside. I remember observing others make new friends, with an ease I couldn’t replicate. And then memorizing Bible verses about friendship, hoping they would turn me into an extrovert.

I remember wondering what was wrong with me, before I knew I was afraid. And also wired differently.

I remember the gossip that left a heavy wall in my heart and begging God to make me less ridiculous at small talk. And of course, I remember when I was the only one not invited to the club.

I remember later, becoming an insider, but seeing more value in the ones still on the outside. And wishing the sparkly people understood that sometimes people make poor choices from a place of pain. That there’s often a deeper story we haven’t invited out.

I remember how my big sister shared her friends with me and spoke for me when I was afraid. And a solid handful of close friends, I look back on as pillars who made me belong. And the unexpected friendships, obvious gifts from God at perfect times.

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I remember friends I grew to love, who moved away. And the one I loved who died so young because of cancer.

All of this. The parts that hurt, the prayers, the work, the revealed weaknesses, seeing the underdogs and thanking God for the ones who saw me. The gifts and pure enjoyment, as well as the losses. These all became a part of me I wouldn’t trade. These shaped me, and they shaped my friendship with God.

Many times, friendships drove me to God. And He loved me in the middle of the hurts and the messes. Even though I just wanted Him to take those away. He used the changes I resisted to work in me and help me care more for other people. He showed me my shortcomings were nothing special, not so different from those of anyone else. And He does all this still.

God’s grace has been real to me through friends. Even the ones who humiliated me when they sent my underwear up the flagpole. Through those who labored long beside me to memorize the McDonald’s rap or make the Janet Jackson dance routines. Those who entertained and terrified me with shopping cart races in the Target parking lot and took me out for ice cream after breakups. Who shared wedding days and helped me plan baby showers and then became Mommies beside me. Who shared their stories around fondue and brought their babies over to play with mine and prayed over me when life got scary. Who helped me and let me help them. Who taught me and learned from me. Who do these still.

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Thank you God, for the grace of friendship.

 

**To learn more about this flash-mob of writers who join together and post on Five-Minute Fridays, click here. I wrote this Friday afternoon, but some of our favorite friends blessed us with their presence for the evening, so I didn’t get to add photos and post until today. Totally worth it! :)

Hidden Idolatry

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Even with truth living in and around me, somehow the lie came along too.

I believed in Jesus so young. No major questions, just a big Yes, I believe. I don’t ever remember saying yes to the lie, but it followed me anyway.

It’s the oldest lie on the books, the same lie that poisoned Eden. It wears the mask of something more, something better. But it spoils. After it weasels in to take root in our hearts.

God doesn’t truly love you, not enough. You need more. That’s the lie.

Did you know we can hold the truth in one hand, and reach for something better with the other?

We live in such a broken-down place, but we still build our towers to the skies. We fill ourselves up, or we try.

Even when we hold the truth, we can be living under the influence of the lies.

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We need to remember, on thousands of days–God loves us. Oh, how He loves and made a way to rescue us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He who came not to condemn the world, but to save it.

And we need to be reminded, Jesus is enough. He didn’t only die for us. He was raised to life for us. Because He IS life, and He wants to create new life in us.

Why do we still look for life in other places? We wouldn’t usually call it that. Okay, we’d never call it that.

But the root of all our sin is—we desire created things more than we desire the Creator. We are idolaters, of the hidden kind.

We need to remember who God is, and we need to remember who we are. And then, the only way for us, is to repent.

We need revival, the life of Jesus poured into us.

It starts here. Not at a spectacular event. Not under a big tent on a summer evening with a preacher’s voice booming and a call to come forward.

But here, in my heart, in the middle of April at my kitchen desk. With the Word open and my heart open. In this moment, I desire nothing more than Him. And when I stray from here, I need this revival again. {So I will need it by tomorrow. But actually much sooner.}

My life, in Christ, depends on it.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives IN HIM, rooted and built up in Him… Colossians 2:6-7

 

Glue {Five-Minute Fridays}

IMG_3875I know far too well the old way, the flesh and self-will in me. I know how to live this way, without even trying.

My heart is divided.

I knew it for certain one morning in January, with my Bible open to David’s prayer,

Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

I came undone. I knew my heart was divided, and this prayer has become my own.

I read this morning, The old has gone, the new is here.

This explains the division in me, at least a little. Why sometimes I desire what the Spirit of God desires, and other times, I only want what I want. We could talk about the way we waver between flesh and Spirit, for a good, long time. We could write a book about it, maybe a series. But I know this: I am not already grown-up in Christ. I am growing in Him. And He is growing in me.

Regardless of my state of (sometimes) being, God reconciled me to Himself through Christ.

He did this also for you, if you will believe. Instead of counting our sins against us, He glues us to Himself. Then He gives us a role in His story, a ministry. He makes us ambassadors of Jesus Christ, not because of what we might offer Him, but for His undeserved love.

He has done this, and He still does this, for all who are willing to believe. The brand-new followers of Christ and the leaders with heady degrees. God pays no mind to human ranks. He makes every believer His ambassador to the world.

What an honor. We represent Jesus Christ in this world.

We get to extend His offer to all people–not as a threat, but an invitation. Not to exclude, but to welcome. Oh, that we would handle this role humbly, with so much love and mercy.

We have been glued to Christ, with the glue of God, and we have been made His representatives, with an endless supply to give away.

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So on behalf of Christ this Good Friday–

Come back to God. Be reconciled to Him.

Because here’s the thing:

God made Him {Jesus Christ} who had no sin

To be sin for us,

So that IN HIM

We might become innocent,

The righteousness of God.

{2 Corinthians 5}