Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Good Things: Cherry Salsa & Interrupted

Jen Hatmaker just liked my comment on one of her Facebook posts. I nearly cried and keep clicking on the little "thumbs up" because I just wanted to see her name appear. I may or may not have the slightest case of Christian shero mumble-mouth because I have so much love for Jen. Y'all. Like I really think sometimes she's my big sister and forget I don't have her on speed dial. Is speed dial a thing anymore?

I was invited to be a part of her (re) launch team for her book Interrupted so Ima jump over here and tell you the highlights and share a recipe because Jen loves food and cooking. Did I mention that I almost tried to find her newly renovated farm house in south Austin when we were there in July? Oh, Jen, please don't get a restraining order. 

Interrupted tells the beautiful story of how Jesus wrecked the lives of a couple (who happen to be pastor/pastor-wife) as He called them into a new way of living. It's not the kind of living she addresses in "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess" where you want to donate all your clothes, stop wearing makeup, and send the massive piles of untouched toys and ever-loving, never-ending piles of loom bands to the curb and paint the walls white to remind you of simplicity and nothing other than...nothing. No, this was not that book.

Jen starts by sharing her healthy discontent with Christian living and a good measure of "deconstruction" and finds that God rebuilds His idea of church and mission/al in her heart. She talks about people finding God because they "already live at the bottom, in Jesus' zip code." Brandon, her cool husband, jumps in every few chapters because you can tell she needs his level headedness to balance her crazy passion. I'm sorry, Jen, is that too personal? I love you. Side note: his contribution was one of my favorite parts because we need more stories where God is moving in both the husband and the wife, and not just the wife. 

I recommend this book and think you should take the time to read it. Maybe wait until the kids start school in a couple weeks, find your still-warm cup of coffee, and read a couple chapters at a time. Digest it. Take a pause at the end of each chapter to wrestle through her experience and how you can learn from it. Let God do a work in you...because He wants to do a work through you. 

My favorite quote:

**Briefly, I would mention that her words excite me because I'm a part of a church that values this way of thinking. I have a feeling, however, that a good portion of her readers aren't in a thriving, missional church so I think it should be said that this isn't an invitation to leave your church. You can do the stuff she mentions with a friend or two, with your family, and don't have to mail your pastor a copy of the book. 

I have a crispy copy of Interrupted that I would love to give to one of you. All you have to do is share this post on your Facebook wall and then leave a comment below. I will pick a random winner in one week (deadline is Wednesday, August 13th at midnight CST) and mail the book to you!

Jen has been kind enough to extend a discount to anyone who wants to order a book. Click here and you'll automatically get a 20% off (discount already applied) until August 10th.

Finally, CHERRY SALSA. That's all. Link to recipe here. I did not add the chile but it would have been the perfect kick for those who like the spice. I love the spice but my children are bipolar when it comes to seasoning so we walked the safe path with this one. All things good were in this bowl and I'm resisting the temptation to call it Cherry Limeade Salsa. So good. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Party of Five: Groceries at Costco & Trader Joe's

I inquired via Facebook a couple weeks ago about friends' monthly budgets for groceries and was somewhat encouraged and somewhat disappointed by the responses. Turns out, we are right on track money-wise ($600-700) for feeding a family of five but I knew there had to be a way to do more real food on a real budget. Here's how we made changes this past month.

Before: shopping weekly at Walmart (price matching & Savings Catcher), 3-4 times/month at Costco, and eating traditional American meals - casseroles, pastas, PBJs, and eating meat at every dinner. I "ran out of money" by the end of the third week and we struggled the last 4-6 days of our month (which runs according to our credit card, resetting on the 15th). 

After: one trip per week at Trader Joe's and about 3-4 trips per month to Costco, eating lots of produce, less meat, and salads twice per week. Kids' lunches are about the same and now the only place we do pasta or bread. (P.S. When the hubs is gluten-free, this helps me work in cheap pasta meals without having to complicate dinner when he's home.) 

First, I created boards on Pinterest that helped me place meals for three weeks. It was a good start, worth the extra time up front and now I just reference the meals that were successful.

Here is an image of my week of meals so I can write down exactly what I need for the week and buy nothing more. LISTS ARE REQUIRED if you're trying to stay on budget. I sit at my computer for a couple hours each week to write down exactly what I need and where I'm getting it from, then email a copy to myself so it's on my phone. This is an Excel file I change/update each week. 

Strawberry-Candied Pecan-Feta Salad
Chicken Fried Rice
Pulled Pork on tortillas (corn & flour)
Fish tacos (with fried tilapia from Trader Joe's)
Coconut Shrimp (our new favorite, plus I use the coconut in granola)

Sweet potatoes (baked, with brown sugar & butter available)
Roasted red potatoes (with olive oil, seasonings, and parmesan cheese)
Broccoli, green beans, mixed veggies, and corn

Breakfast (this is still heavy on the carbs):
Homemade granola (with milk or yogurt)
Toast or English muffins with peanut butter or cream cheese
Honey-nut Cheerios (bulk buy at Costco)

New Lunches (still working on making improvements):
Tortellini with oil & parmesan cheese (TJ's)
Homemade pizza (fresh dough from TJ's)

Once I had my menu planned, I wrote up the grocery list and figured out what needs to come from Costco and what needs to come from Trader Joe's. Easy peasy and also Excel.

- I don't buy convenience foods or snacks.
- I do buy lots of small apples, bananas, pretzels, and a bulk box of popcorn from Costco for snacks. My kids also like mini bell peppers, cucumbers, baby carrots & hummus, and we go through about two watermelons per week. Summertime is the best.
- We rarely have desserts or sweets in the house.
- My kids only drink water and occasionally milk. 
- My kids love salad because I let them use whatever dressing they want. It's worth it to me for the gallon of ranch to be smothering their plate of real food. Pick your battles. 
- If I buy food, I have to use it that month. For example, I don't buy a 10 pound bag of chicken a week before my month runs out just because the price is less per pound. I get just exactly what I need for the meals that week and ultimately save money.
- We have our church small group about once/week so that eliminates at least three meals per month.  

Lessons I learned:
- Beware fresh bulk produce. For example, I bought a huge bag of fresh broccoli from Costco but it looked funny before I used the second half. Learned to buy frozen instead.
- My fridge is more organized and my pantry is no longer holding hostage random canned food or boxes from a month ago. That's the thing I learned: when you buy boxes or cans of food, there is no urgency to use them. Fresh food requires a plan and use.
- We spoiled some of our budget on 4th of July weekend and wine. Plan ahead and plan carefully for events like this. A random trip to Kroger/Tom Thumb to grab food for a couple days of fun meals and snacks can cost you more than 10-15% of your monthly budget!
- The samples at Trader Joe's are wonderful. And terrible. I often add to my cart what they're sampling which adds an additional several dollars per trip. Careful!

Share your tips with me! What are your favorite items from Trader Joe's? What have you learned about buying in bulk from Costco? 

Updated 07/17/14: Here's my favorite find at Trader Joe's. I eat them plain, as a great accompaniment to a lite salad, or I've heard they're amazing with honey goat cheese or a smear of brie. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014


My six-year-old, Colby, has been in a particular phase lately. By lately, I mean six months and it has been wearisome. He is typically and in his most honest state, a very silly and happy, sensitive and thoughtful little man who has come up against some challenges with his self-control. We have tried everything - we moved his bed upstairs to see if he needed space from his little brother. We planned our meals differently to see if he wasn't getting the nutrition he needed. We took him on more dates, engaged him a variety of ways when he burst out of control, and we seriously considered counseling or therapy. I shed many tears as I felt completely and utterly irrelevant to him and helpless in solving the problem.

Then, in the most casual of conversations, we discovered that he has been getting up as early as 4 o'clock in the morning to sneak upstairs and watch television. {insert face palm} For hours before the rest of us were up and certainly before the sun started peaking through curtains, my boy was watching Wishbone or PBSKids and sending his psyche into a spiraling hot mess. We unplugged that television immediately and told him to stay in his bed until the sun came up. Needless to say: problem solved. It's like we traded him in for a new model and we are now the happy owners of a very happy boy.

I'm obviously so grateful that we discovered the source of his angst but the reality is that this felt like just one of a handful of places that were crumbling at my feet. Our marriage is pulling out of a hard season, my heart has felt an unusual sadness about Olivia, and I'm just plain insecure about my roles as wife, mom, home schooler, and follower of Christ. I'm not used to be caught off-guard because I usually plan so thoroughly but these areas make me see that Jesus is again (and always) pursuing me. He's searching for deeper levels of commitment to Him and ravishing love on me in my brokenness and reminding me that He makes all things new.

I've been struck by a story in John 6 that I've heard and read many times. It's coming alive in me as I pause a little longer in the story. Jesus and His disciples have just gone up a mountain and He notices that a "large crowd" was following Him. There were 5000 men alone - can you imagine counting all the women and children, too? His first instinct, because He really saw them, was to feed them. Which makes me love Him - my Jesus loves to feed us. We probably all know the story from here - He feeds them to their fullest by making a handful of loaves of bread and two fish into food for thousands. He does the most sincere and relevant of miracles and leaves them satisfied by meeting their tangible, physical need. 

Here's the most amazing part of the story: they don't know it's a miracle until he tells them:

"Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost."
John 6:12

So sitting there, in twelve baskets, are these crumbs and broken pieces of bread with torn edges and tattered flakes. Jesus points to the crumbs and says, "See the miracle?" Jesus points to the fragments and calls it surplus and calls it His way. His way of nourishing and satisfying and filling the hearts and stomachs of men and women is displayed by broken leftovers. It's like He knows that our way, our nature is to find our stomachs and hearts full from His provision but it's not until He gently and strategically gathers the crumbs that He points to the miracle. The substance of the story is found in the crumbs and broken pieces of what God Himself gives to men. It seems to me that He likes bringing attention to the fragments and it's there that He shows His miracle. He places value on those bits and pieces, no matter how they've been handled, torn, and broken. 

I hope I'm always a person who can see the crumbs and leftovers in your life. I hope you're reminded today that while the character and goodness of Jesus always satisfies our longings and hopes, it's really the fragments of life that show off His glory.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#WhereverYouAre Campaign

We are in the thick of summer: sno-cones, a hearty dose humid evenings, and awesome, prize-motivated reading programs. Kids are home for the cruelest months of the year and I'm watching as many moms are slowing melting under the pressure. Summer is not for the faint of heart.

Hidden somewhere in the hustle and bustle of VBS, swim lessons, camps, and deep grief that mommy's day out has hit the pause until late August, we complain on social media and to friends that we can't handle the extended time with our kids. It's more than unhealthy; it's created a culture where selfishness is our motivation.  

So enters the "#WhereverYouAre Campaign" and the challenge for moms to better engage with JOY during our time with kids. Over the next few weeks I'm going to have some of my mom friends (a.k.a. shero-moms) share with us their practical tips on how they find joy, sanity, and purpose in time with their kids.

Jim Elliott, a missionary to Ecuador in the 1950s, says it beautifully & thus provides our campaign title: 

"Wherever you are, be all there."

So for the next several weeks, I'd love to see you post on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter some practical ways that you find joy while being with your kids. Follow me and you'll hear from my favorite women, see their precious kiddos, and get a renewed sense of your purpose in being a mom.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Faded: When Life Isn't What You Expected

Do you remember the last time you looked yourself square in the eye? I find myself only looking to check eyeliner or engaging in the infrequent use of dental floss. Any pause that allows my eyes to engage with my eyes in the mirror and I can sense the comfort being chased from the corners of my soul. I strategically avoid my own glance because somewhere inside the woman who stands there, when distraction and rush are placed to the side, I come face-to-face with often sad eyes. Eyes that carry disappointment.

For a long time I have been negligent to uncover the places of disappointment and loss because I genuinely didn't know they existed. Your life is your deal with it is the cruel whisper that makes me think that I'm brave and infused with confidence and perspective but denial is not strength, it is weakness. It lingers as a dark and dying place in the heart of people who cannot confront what is most real and most heavy at the bottom of our hearts.

So at the bottom of this deep ocean of my being is the sunken idea of who I thought I would be and how I thought I would be a wholly-LOVEr, vibrant-LIVEr, gracious-mother and good-wife. People said we would make great parents but I feel like it only brings out the worst in me. I thought I would have better maintained my waistline and committed to home-cooked meals every night. I just knew, as a 24-year-old, that I would find a rhythm in being a wife that would make our story look like a fairytale on the 4th of July. I thought I would have figured it out by now, ten years into marriage and entering my mid-thirties, but my life is not what I expected. And it might not even be what I wanted.

This conversation is often condemned and its mouth covered with a kind of webbing that not only discourages the plea for help but it shoves it back into our souls. I cannot help but think that even this darkness is always looking for the light, desperate for its own death. Open the doors, open the windows and let in the light. 

I guess because, honestly, I think it's hard - even impossible - to love the life we have until we grieve the one we've lost.

It's the paradox of growing and aging and maturity: we can carry deep gratitude for what we have, for what our hands and wombs create, for the time that has come and gone and for the time that is yet to envelop us. All this can live and thrive right alongside the gut-wrenching and take-your-breath-away sorrow that life is not what it should have been or what we had hoped it would become. It is the perfect union of our humanity and our other-worldliness.

There is a theology floating around today that makes us believe that running alongside the trajectory of our life and its brokenness and realities, is a path of the should-have-beens or what perfection would have brought us, had humanity never plummeted in the garden of Eden. As if God's script for humanity was originally written without "flaws" as defined by our hearts and minds. As if the fall was out of His divine and sovereign plan but when I look at the scriptures and fall back into what God says about what comes and goes and how He moves and breathes, I see that the life we have and the life we are living is His plan. It is His plan for us to live in brokenness, it is His plan for us to face trials and suffering, it is His plan that "bad things happen to good people," because He knows that our hearts cannot find rest and peace until we find Him. He will set aside or take away from us the gifts, circumstances, and even stability when He sees it replacing His role in our hearts and how that shapes our affections. So rather than fix our eyes on the imaginary path we call "Should Have Been" and wish we lived there, we "run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The disappointment that comes with being unhappy with how our life unfolds is placed there to create a deep desire for God himself, not the life we wish He had given us. It's really easy at this point for fear to creep into this way of thinking and cause us to fold into ourselves and away from Jesus. Unless we know Him, unless we've studied Him, and unless we have seen His beauty and goodness shining for us.

"For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17

"Those who look to Him are radiant 
and their faces shall never be covered with shame."
(Psalm 34:5) 

I am more convinced than ever that all things unfold for His glory and our good. I've given myself freedom to grieve the life I thought I would have and instead of finding a great void or emptiness, I've found myself falling deeper in love with Jesus. He can graciously fill the places of our hearts that writhe with disappointment and give us greater measures of Himself: the better and most satisfying. Treasure Him, friends, and you will find your life. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day :: How to Help the Grieving

June 22nd, 2012 @ 6:47pm. I birthed our beautiful, stillborn Olivia into the world and said goodbye to a piece of my heart that still flares with phantom pain. We drove home that night and I knew that everything had changed. 

Standing beside me through it all, was the most tender and amazing man. I love you, BT, more than a thousand blogs can convey.

Brad held Olivia for nearly all the time we had with her in the hospital but said to me days later, "You had so much more time with her." I was puzzled because she was cradled in my arms for just minutes, but then he explained. "You had her for the five months you carried her." In those months she learned and knew my movements and voice and heartbeat and I learned her frisky movements and felt her popping limbs. He was right, I had so much more time with her. 

For whatever reason, we are just not good at comforting the men who walk through the same trials. For every baby that dies, there is a father who had hoped for fishing trips and first dances. For every miscarriage, there is a silent suffering that happens beside the woman who cramps and delivers. We make Hallmark bereavement cards with flowers and pastels and put "pretty" covers on grief books. Blogs are written by women, for women, and come with gooey writing that solicits tears. 

And we silently communicate that grief is not for men. 

So my Father's Day gift to you is a compilation of things that blessed us and helped us along the grieving process. Up first are ways to bless the men:

Ask Questions
Men should be asking men how they're doing. Take the dude out for beer and wings and just hang out. He might want to talk about work or he might want to talk about burying his child. Brad sat alone in the funeral director's office and picked up the box that held our cremated daughter. He had to do the hardest things and he needed to be pastored, loved, and pursued in that season. Ask if he's escaping or coping in something that isn't healthy (alcohol, pornography, distance) and help him find ways to grieve well. Exercise, golf, batting cages, or a long drive alone in a car where tears and screaming is hidden.

Help Him...By Loving Her
There's just a way that friends and family can meet needs that the husband sometimes just doesn't know how or what to do. So it might look like mowing their yard so he can take her to a movie. Or gifting them with a housecleaner so they can sleep in and watch movies all day. Buy him a stack of paper plates and plastic forks so dishes don't have to be done. Gift him, too, if you're gifting her (see ideas below) and ask him if he needs help picking out something for her.

Send Flowers
The bouquets and arrangements that we received literally took my breath away and validated a death in our lives. I took multiple pictures of each one and can still smell the roses and carnations. Those flowers brought colors and dimension to a very bleak and broken backdrop. Pink and white petals might wither and sink deep into next week's trash but the thought remains - literally forever.

Text/Call/Email...and Expect Nothing
Old friends surfaced, friends of friends messaged me on Facebook, and emails poured into my inbox. The love and prayers expressed in those paragraphs stuck with me and helped knock some of the "funny" out of my mind. The words that didn't help? People telling me their story and feeling the need to compare it to what we had just experienced. 

Also, refrain from phrases like "God needed another flower in His garden," "God wanted another angel," and "She's in a better place." Words like that...they just don't make sense and were most certainly invented by people who have brain damage from shock therapy. In fact, walk past the bereavement section of the greeting cards and go to the "Thinking of You" and err on the side of fewer words.

Show Up in Pajamas...and Stay
I am amazed at how people become afraid of grief and loss and death. Unfortunately, that fear turns into distance and that distance from friends and family feels like invalidation and judgment. Don't be selfish; press into the uncomfortable and just be there. Show up in your pajamas with a bottle of wine and good movie and be flexible - be ready to stay, be ready to leave, be ready to laugh, be ready to cry. We need you when we have no idea what else we need.

Feed Them...or Send Restaurant Gift Cards
We had so many weeks of meals that followed and there is no doubt that my children would have otherwise starved. We reached a point where I couldn't handle visitors (especially people in the "acquaintances" category) so we asked for gift cards. We had one family give us $300 in gift cards to Jason's Deli, Chick-Fil-A, and Pei Wei. Their generosity was stunning. 

Practical Tips & Gifts
  • Care packages: journal, a great novel or movie, wine, cookie dough or candy. Drop it off on the front door and text to let them know it's there as you drive away.
  • Personalized gifts: jewelry with initials, name, birthdate, etc. Picture frames and even non-grief related items are so meaningful.
  • Redbox or iTunes or Amazon or Barnes & Noble credit/gift cards.
  • Gift cards to Starbucks or Sonic, fast food if they have kids.  
  • If the couple has kids: gift bags with movies, independent crafts, and snacks
  • If you bring a meal, bring items for breakfast and lunch the next day. Cinnamon rolls, a package of coffee, their favorite muffins, artisan bread and cheese.
  • Bring them groceries: a couple bags full of food they'll eat, a yummy candle, and Clorox wipes. 
Time Heals...and People Disappear
We still grieve what happened to us exactly two years ago. We still cry and send each other sad text messages and catch our breath when we stumble across her photos. People think that the sadness goes away after six weeks or once the bleeding has stopped but it just doesn't. The pain lasts forever, even when protected by grace and gratitude. Love them months later, on the birthday, and at random moments or holidays and parties.

**For BFFs Only
There were only a handful (like 2 people) who I felt truly safe to grieve and process and share what I really needed. For those people (if you consider each other best friends), text and tell them you're coming over and what do they want from Sonic or Starbucks. Tell her you're coming to do dishes or watch a movie - her choice. Or text her the night before and tell her you've schedule pre-paid pedicures and you're coming to pick her up in the morning. There's something about a best friend being slightly aggressive that just catches us when we're free-falling.

**Pregnant Bellies & Newborns
The truth is it's hard to see your growing belly or healthy baby. Wear a loose t-shirt if you're going to see her or leave the newborn with Grandma until the first month has passed. If she wants to see and hold the baby, she will let you know. If she wants to acknowledge and rub your belly, she'll do it when she's ready. And her heart will break regardless.  

There is always opportunity in the midst of grief and death and loss to display something that is other worldly. Kindness, compassion, generosity, and service are some of the things that we get to witness this side of heaven in our darkest days. Thank you for truly considering how to bless and love the brokenhearted.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Congratulations on making it through the set of double doors and getting a cart. By the time you're placing your lightweight purse into its spot and getting out your iPhone notes with a grocery list, I'll be noticing the smear of ketchup that made its way onto my white t-shirt at breakfast and still wondering why we needed it with oatmeal. I'm in the middle of unbuckling myself when I notice the cup holder with the coffee that is no longer "extra hot, hold the whip" but I'm gonna freaking need this today so I gulp it down while my toddler launches a Hot Wheels at my head. He barely misses.  

While you're making your first stop in cosmetics to get a bottle of nail polish, I'm only just now getting the sliding door of the minivan open, catch falling toys and say goodbye to a receipt blowing away in the wind, only to find all three children without shoes. I know they had shoes when we left the house and I'm (still almost) positive that the locks on the windows work so they have to be here. The boots are found, shoe laces are tied, and I don't care that half the shoes are on the wrong feet.  

Now we make our way through the parking lot and I yell so no one gets hit by the passing cars or trucks backing out of the handicap spot and I wonder WHY THE HELL there is no family parking. (Damn you, Ikea, with your childcare and family parking spaces and tiny meatballs.) We're finally inside and I have to explain, yet again, to the six year old why he cannot ride on the side of the cart: Remember, honey, when it tipped over sideways last month and you almost cracked your skull open? That's why! in my velvety voice because people are walking in behind us.

I have my mostly-list because it's never succinct and I hope today is not the day my iPhone drops and shatters on the floor. The kids are begging for the toy aisle but are content when I say no but I know the countdown has begun. 

Side note: I am thoroughly convinced that grocery stores, ahem Target, sends beams of rays that target a mother's intelligence and common sense because I start thinking that surely THIS IS THE TIME that I can get a shirt for 70% off in peace. My better sense of judgement kicks in and we beeline towards the groceries.

You'll be doing wine pairings for this weekend's hipster entertaining, grabbing an IPA six-pack, and answering a casual call from the BFF. Meanwhile in aisle six, I'm measuring distance from my youngest's fingers and the glass jars of spaghetti sauce. Wait, how did you get that toy from ten minutes ago? Please put it on a shelf, I don't care whereStop wrestling, we are indoors and this has never been acceptable behavior at a store.  

One last glance at the list and we're down to the last three items and produce will be easy because the bigs (my oldest two) will stand at the bakery looking through pictures of cakes while I make sure our potatoes aren't moldy and ensure the cheapest apples get in the cart. The youngest is screaming because he can't join the big brother and sister and you are happily walking past me, pause to pick out fresh flowers for your DIY table you finished over the weekend, and I'll glance at your skinny hiney, blink back jealousy, and debate between red or orange bell peppers. I have altogether forgotten what life is like without my kids but the sound of avocados rolling across the floor snaps me back to reality.

Considering the deep love I have for Target, I should be best friends with every cashier but I'm too exhausted for chit chat and I will cut you if you slow down so stuff those paper bags like your Christmas bonus is on the line.

You've driven off to meet girlfriends for a casual patio brunch by the time I'm opening the automatic hatch and my kids are asking "Did we do good today?" like pitiful little pups who know this routine all-too-well. I remind myself how amazing my little people are despite the look of death they all received when I was handed the receipt because they were trying to shoplift ChapStick.

We're almost done loading our bags into the back of the minivan, or Pearl, as we affectionately call her, and I am still scanning the parking lot for kidnappers and purse thieves because I am their perfect target and I have the most beautiful children in the world and they can sense my distraction. We're like the wildebeest on water's edge. The cart goes to the corral and we are all buckled and no purses were stolen and I can exhale because no one peed on the floor or dumped the bag of popcorn behind the clothing rack.

And for the briefest moment, I wonder if I could get away with drinking a Raz-ber-Rita on the way home.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

For The Bad Days...

Word is, at least on Facebook, that most of you moms are having a hard day. You are in good company and I have been on the verge of tears all day - after my own personal, full-on sob fest last night. It's been a long day of our a/c not working and my "finally potty trained!" THREE-year-old has regressed and my darling 8-yo just got hired as Parker County's whiner/back talker of the month. She's on track to earn a hefty bonus. Other tragedies include dogs eating Easter candy and smashing spiders that burst open, full of baby spiders. 

These are all trivial things and most of my heartache will pass by the weekend and I don't think for a single minute that my struggles are the WORST ON THE PLANET. But for me and for today, my capacity feels stretched to the outermost limits and I want to crawl under my (should-have-been-changed-two-weeks-ago) sheets and sleep until Monday. 

After a sweet e-chat with a girlfriend and finally laughing at ourselves 'til happy tears came from my tired eyes, I just wanted to get on here and tell you something simple:

The measure of your day will come 
from faithfulness not successfulness.

The problem is that most of us don't take the time to find out how to be faithful with our day. We need to start at the beginning, the dawn of schedules and appointments and the hours we've been given and find out what it will take to be faithful. Faithful for today. Faithful in today. Faithful to God first as we walk in character and integrity and choose a worshipful heart. Faithful to our husbands in stewarding our home in a way that honors him and creates space for peace. Faithful to our children with love and kisses and time spent on the floor while leaning against the whirring dishwasher. 

I think it's easy to miss the mark if we have a successful trip to the zoo but aren't faithful with our house today. We may have successfully hit the budget for grocery shopping but miss the faithfulness that needed to provide time in the haven of home for the baby to sleep in her crib. Let's take our eyes off success - which is nearly impossible to define - and set our sights on faithfulness. That way we can ask each other, no matter how it's being defined from day-to-day: "Are you being faithful with what God is calling you to?"

My week has lacked focus on both - it's easy to say that I've not been faithful and I've definitely not been successful. It's grace that only holds us accountable to faithfulness and dismisses successes. We will find that faithfulness provides some very lovely fruit in our lives that can't wither away with our shortcomings. So I'm going to exhale the success, wish it an exhausted farewell, and take a big, burning-lungs breath of faith...full...ness. 

Will you join me in faithfulness today? Freedom, my friend, FREEDOM. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Love Story

This is a follow-up to a recent post, Ruins.

I'm watching from behind the altar as you sit in the ruins of your nearly-enoughs and barely-successfuls, and I am reminded that in this place, you are most vulnerable. Your face cannot hide the struggle, the wrestling, the forming of hope that is quickly dashed by an anxiety that words cannot describe. The reminders of anger, impatience, a hand too quick to swat, and words that cannot be retracted from the hearts of your children. It could be that only a few weeks have gone by with such failure or perhaps it has been years. Right now, however, you must lift your eyes and look to Recovery.

Hush the lies, my dear, and start renewing your mind. Yes, those places are the most ugly of your gentle, feminine heart and brilliant mind but we begin to see that the most damaged places are absolutely destined to be the most fruitful. It is His rich kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) so we do not fear the clutch of conviction. Let's not be afraid to look at what has become ashes and then let the rhythm of Healing take over our lives.

The mind of a woman is one of the most beautifully-fashioned places where God gently sets His vision and value for humanity. Her ability to care for dozens of people while she remembers the menial and mundane always gives birth to the significant. Thriving in a place of humility and utter dependence on the life of Christ, she carries generations, cultures, and even nations over the threshold of her home. At the tips of her fingers are life and destiny and the power to shape a Kingdom through love, sacrifice, grace, and a hearty prayer life.

It's because of this well-intended placement & potential that your mind is so susceptible to the overwhelming waves of fear, doubt, and comparison. If we do not guard against less-than-living, we will begin to think that:
our children are unworthy & inconvenient,
our husbands are incompetent & ignorant,
our schedules are already too stretched, or
our God is not worthy of our everything.
I can see that many of you already have these anthems playing non-stop throughout the day. They are like wicked vines growing all over your heart and the roots are frighteningly deep and they produce a dark and deadly fruit. 

Oh, but it is never too late. 

With pleading whispers, I am praying that you will hear the melodies playing above the dust storm, as a sweet Savior beckons your brokenness (yes, this is all of you) to come out of the ashes and into the glorious light. Do you know that He rejoices over you? Every piece of your broken heart will align if you truly believe in the delight of God. It will motivate you, compel you, fix you, empower you, and most of all - create in you a heart of worship that will not be swayed by trials, disappointment, or the overwhelming task of raising children. You will find Him irresistible throughout all the moments of your day and a new chapter will begin as you see that mothers are created for The Love Story.

The overflow of this worship will make its way through every crevice of your heart and overtake your thoughts and mind and then your words will begin to exude a grace and kindness and a style of parenting that is supernatural. Your home will fill with peace, your children will find anchor in the rocking waves, and your marriage will find sustenance and renewal. What a privilege to let this process start with us, without condition or clause. May He have all of you and all of your mothering heart in this very moment and for always. 

Friday, March 28, 2014


The moment comes when I slip off the bed, trying my hardest to not squeak the mattress, and make my way to the dimly lit hallway. I don't exhale. I don't blink or rustle my hair. I only pray that the child doesn't notice my exit or hear my contacts realigning or my eyelashes growing. You know, the kind of noises that wake sleeping children, right? 

Don't be fooled when I settle down on the couch. I know I still have a full ten minutes before I can be completely assured the cherub is actually asleep. I swear, toddlers' beds must come with a super sonic alarm that senses when my feet finally make their way off the carpet and onto the wood, signaling to me relief but to them: DEFCON 1 has been set in motion. 

I wonder, yet again, why bedtime is so.freaking.hard.

Bedtime routines are not some occasional, just-when-we-feel-like-it tradition that take place when mom and dad have had one too many glasses of wine and decide that all mini-beings must vacate the premises. This is not some grand idea I've spent three months preparing for, like a baby shower or root canal, where all angles are considered and every detail sorted through like we're going on HGTV. This is bed time. This happens every, single night. Without fail they are in bed within the same two-hour time frame, in the same bed, with the same lights and the same routines. The distance from their bed to mine has not grown a hundred yards or been separated by a mine field containing ninjas in big foot costumes.

I'm specifically not mentioning nap time right now because some sort of guttural sound might come from across the internet and beg you to never mention the habit to me or ask my advice. Our house doesn't do no nap time and I ain't going back to that desolate land. I will not speak of it.

I will never understand why bedtime causes such a collective hyperventilating from every parent I know. It's like food: it's important, the habits stay with them for life, and we're responsible for training them in health and happiness. Only because I'm in my right mind and a decent three hours from the madness, can I say that bedtime must be downright important. The bigger the battle, the bigger the opportunity, right? Someone with teenagers, someone who doesn't have to go get another cup of water or tuck the sheet tighter or scratch the back the other way or sing another song, please tell me that we can build opportunities to genuinely connect with each child at night, right?

Half of you are already pulling out your essential oil sample to mail me, suggesting I rub their feet and start diffusing some Valorific or Solveallyourproblems an hour before bedtime. The other half have just renewed their Wine Club subscription and are wondering why Costco doesn't sell chewable children's Benadryl in bulk. Don't worry...I've already checked.

I'm not going to tell you that you'll need practically an entire day's grace for your kids all over again at 7 o'clock because that is depressing and unfair. I will tell you, though, that when I lay in bed with my eight year old, she begs for snuggles, the same song every night, and to always "pray for no bugs." There used to be a day when I didn't see the end of those requests. I can now sense that there will be a time when some book will distract her into another world or there won't be room for both of us on the bed, and she won't grab my wrist and plead for another two minutes.

Our boys share a room, each with their own twin bed, and most nights they try to catch up on their word count for the day in the few minutes I spend winding down with them. A few nights ago, Colby would not stop his chatter while Tucker was nearly settled and I firmly said to him, "Colby. Stop. Talking." The room hushed and I cringed to think that was the last phrase he heard from me that day. Even now, my heart aches to think those words ushered him into his dreams. 

This is the moment where shame or hope will take grip of your heart and lead you down tonight's path at bedtime. You can feel guilt and fear about how you've handled bedtime and routines and goodnights and the effect it has had on your babies. You can willfully put on a cloak of determination that resolves to do better tonight and tomorrow and then it will be a new week and your resolve will putter out of energy. You can adhere to some method or philosophy and become slave to its precepts, without the heart of compassion and guidance and your child's spirit will get lost in the mix of your pride and a stranger's advice.

Instead, let's load the last dish into the dishwasher and take a quick second to pray: God, help me with bedtime tonight. Help me love. Help me finish well. Help me not scream like Xena: Warrior Princess. Amen.  

I am thoroughly convinced that if you can put a child to bed without handcuffs, duct tape, or restraints, you could lead the G8 Summit (is it G7 now that Russia has been excluded?), hike at least half of Mount Everest, and breastfeed quadruplets. Maybe even all three in the same week. For tonight, here is my Irish blessing for you:
May exhaustion guide your child's will to a quick and painless death,May their bedsheets wrap ever so tightly lightly around their bodies,May you walk forth from their rooms without the spanker in hand,May you never hear their voices again. Until morning.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Candy Crush, Lent, and Rage

I'm hovering quietly around level 266 on Candy Crush.

There I said it, and now you can judge me. Maybe instead you're standing in awe of my candy crushing awesomeness. I only play a few minutes a day but in the spirit of vulnerability, I'll admit that somedays it's a lot more than a few minutes. I was even one of the last people to jump on the sweet ol' wrapped candy band wagon because I couldn't believe the obsession - or Facebook requests. Now I understand and it's embarrassing. One website says "it's both the best thing and worst thing to ever happen to you." Bless it.

Yesterday was the first day of Lent and while I'm making all sorts of confessions, I will tell you that I have never participated. I have never fasted during Lent, marked my forehead, or done a study alongside the weeks leading up to Easter. Fat Tuesday means nothing to me. Ash Wednesday seems to me more a day for finding out who's Catholic and thus, I don't identify. This year feels quite a bit more inviting as my church is providing us with a great resource that's guiding my prayers and focus. I'm observing Lent for the first time as a 33-year-old mom who drives a minivan, struggles with menu planning, and hasn't showered since Tuesday. Or maybe Monday, there's no telling. 

So the big question is what are you giving up? I'm not giving up Candy Crush, although I'm sure I will be playing quite a bit less. I'm not shutting down Facebook or unplugging the television or dumping desserts in the trash. I'm giving up excuses.

The more I think about the things that hold me back and keep me from seeking the heart of God, the more I realize that it's not the things in my hands that keep me from Jesus, it's the things in my head and heart.

It's ironic to me that on the first day of Lent, my day was marked by a full-scale, hormonal rage attack that nearly ended the lives of most of my immediate family members. I screamed like never before at each of my kids, cussed at my husband over text, and yelled at drivers on the road. Chipotle was out of chicken and I nearly drove through their front door. Over chopped meat, y'all.  I was legitimately mad and for legitimate reasons. I overreacted at every turn and hurt each of my kids and my husband. I laid in bed with a migraine for the entire afternoon while my kids ate cupcakes and bell peppers for lunch which undoubtedly led to Colby's horrible headache that evening. The hearts of my kids slipped through the cracks of my selfish, bleeding heart and I justified it because I was PMSing.

Oh wait: No excuses. No justifying.

My hormones didn't hurt people - I hurt people. I sinned over and over again.  I chose sin, I chose to offend and hurt, and there was damage left in the wake of my wicked behavior. There might be a good explanation for yesterday's destruction but I'm still responsible at the end of the day for what I did.  I stared the ugly straight in the face last night, repented to my kids & husband, and am asking God for forgiveness this morning.  He will rebuild, He will tend to their wounded hearts, and I can stand unashamed because He is a good God who redeems and restores, both them and me.

Our excuses cannot hide our sin from God. The ways people have hurt us cannot protect us from taking responsibility for our sin. Our busy schedules are not shields of protection that justify why we don't serve the poor, love our neighbor, and care for the orphan. Sometimes I look back over the past few years of my life and see more a string of excuses than I care to admit. It's enough to make me fall to my knees and cry for the things lost.

Because those excuses have had a dramatic effect on my life. They keep me from writing because "I have three kids, home school, and don't have a house keeper." They keep me from eating healthy because "I don't have the budget or resources to eat organic or Paleo." Excuses are keeping me from losing weight because "I don't have a gym membership or time in the day to walk around the block." Excuses keep me in bed in the morning because "I'm tired and sleep is more important than being filled with the life of God for my family." Excuses lead me to Candy Crush and Facebook because "I'm bored and lonely and my kids are annoying me." Excuses are keeping me from all the things I really want, mainly Jesus himself. 

For Lent this year, I'm catching the excuses as they enter my mind and fighting hard against the damage they create. Any ability to choose is all grace and what I believe matters, too. So I'm opening up Luke 14:16-24 and imagining the feast that God invites us to.
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’  
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 
Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” 
What if we really believed that everything is ready? Would you be willing to leave behind the excuses, no matter how valid, and pursue your banquet? Would you be willing to train your mind against the thoughts that keep you from what you know is waiting for you? During this season of Lent, where denial and sacrifice and fasting train our hearts and minds, I pray that you find a feast that satisfies.

"Quarry me deep, dear Lord, 
and then fill me to overflowing with living water." 
(Prayer from The Valley of Vision)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


The fog is heavy today and I wish for the light of morning like a watchman on the wall. I can almost "ache" it into being but my fingers cannot weave together comfort or healing or bravery. My shoulders lift and drop and the inhale of Spirit weaves hope and peace into the tension and you, sweet mama, have come full into my sight. Your weariness cannot be hidden by the coats of mascara or concealer and I wish I could hug you in a way that makes you realize how very honestly you are seen. Your battle is also my familiar battle and I know the strength required of you is unfair and shocking and most certainly exhausting. Please stop holding it together and just for a moment, rest and let the walls fall and the bricks collapse around you. I'll find you a cozy blanket and tissue and we'll cry together as the worlds we've built fall to ruins.

I can see by your hesitance and shaking that you are terribly afraid of the ruins. Oh, but why? What is there that has ever been that could not be rebuilt and by much better hands than ours? What is there anyway that we have actually created ourselves? It is nothing, nothing. We have done none of this ourselves and by trying to hold it together, it is likely that we are actually keeping it from glorious life and purpose.  

Let it fall, mama, let it fall.

The dust is still settling so let's take a quiet moment over here to tend to your broken heart. Of course you know that God is kind and tender and available but will you allow Him to come near when your life is ruined? I agree that it is so painfully humiliating to be found like this when you are ruined and everything you've made collapses onto itself. But where did you learn to be so ashamed of your weakness and why would we ever be anything but relieved to be at the end of ourselves and lacking even capacity to utter our need. It is not fatigue or frustration or disappoint that drives us here, it is weakness. Absolute depravity. Yes, I know it will cost you everything to admit this but can you see how it will only lessen your load and lighten the weight?

Now might be a good time to take a breath and have a cup of tea. Can I offer you a warm vanilla bean scone?    

Yes, of course, I know you've put so much time and energy into the mortar that holds your family together. The systems and routines and disciplines; the love and care and prayers; the research and crafting and good you've done for them. I can see by your worn fingers that you have given so very much and often only because so much is required of you. But have your efforts been with denial of your brokenness and in the name of capability? The very deepest place of you is all-together falling apart with no hope of self-improvement. Let's muster our strength together and see that not even the greatest acts of motherhood can provide salvation or hope. Nope, not one. Not for ourselves and definitely not for our children. We are not the way to God for their little broken lives.  

Let it go, mama, let it go.

Can we please for just a moment stop telling each other that we're doing a great job and admit, no, embrace the broken and terrible thing we've done to motherhood? We have been found dead in the ocean of raising children and cannot do this well until we realize we have done it wrong. Doesn't this feel so much easier to carry than perfection? Failure is the ugly, broken place where we start our journey so I will meet you here, at the bottom, but I will also remind you of hope.

Hope has come for you and your mothering heart and it comes again with blinding light and a balm of healing for your heart. His light was made for the darkness, it was made to fill the once-depressing darkness of our brokenness and while we wait in the rubble, it will find every corner of our failure and pride and impatience and selfishness.

It will shine on us and we will see that the gospel has come for mothers.  

The kindest King Jesus has given his very breath and blood to see that mothers can find peace and freedom to walk with Him. So we embrace that everything we need to raise our babies is found at the foot of the cross and that apart from Him we can do no good thing (John 15:5). We build our homes on the foundation that we are clinging to the grace of God and hour-by-hour, we seek how to demonstrate the living power of the gospel.

"He will bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
He will give you the oil of joy instead of mourning, 
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

He will rebuild our ancient ruins,
He will restore the places long devastated.  
Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance
and everlasting joy will be yours."
Isaiah 61

I believe in you, sweet mama, and believe in a bigger God than we can imagine and dare even hope for. My heart is for you and your home and so here is my practical, next-step encouragement: find some time with Jesus and find some more time with a girlfriend who will pray for you and love you and remind you that the ruins are not to be feared. Confess and repent. Every stretch of mother's destruction or failure is surpassed by God's grace and His far-reaching gospel. This truth will heal you and heal your children and heal your home.

I hope very much today that you find Him in the ruins.