Dec 19, 2014

The Un-Glossy Christmas Card

So here's is our Christmas card this year.  Actually it's a postcard because I figured out last year I could be even cheaper and pay for postcard stamps to family far away and it wouldn't be so painful.  Call me Scrooge. The only "issue" with that is that there isn't room on the back for more than a few bullet points of our family and our last year.  No long, glossy newsy letter.  No room for a personal note.  You get a simple postcard.  You're welcome.

 Our picture this year isn't glossy either but more of a candid.  Patience for picture taking was wearing thin by the time we took this only decent photo of us. Hi. This is us.

But honestly, this is us. So I chose the verse on the front on purpose.  The point of Christmas is "Immanuel, God with us" in our real, raw form.  Not the glossy perfect form anyways.

I was thinking Jesus's beginning and end moments here on earth. About how God arrived in the most third world way you could think of, homeless, in the dirtiest of conditions to the poorest of people.  It must have been purposeful right?  I was thinking how he left.  In the worst of ways, in the cruelest form of death the world has ever seen, in the greatest of shameful deaths.  It must have been purposeful right?  I was thinking about how in the middle He experienced the hardest of human conditions.  Poverty, betrayal and doubt from friends and family, grief, loss, threats, anger, and desperate wrestling with God in the garden of Gethsemane, pain and shame.  He was spared nothing.  It must have been purposeful right?  Truly, to be in God's presence must mean He is entered in with us in the worst of conditions, rather than He is outside of them. So when I experience fear, betrayal, doubt, grief, loss, threats, anger, pain, shame, and desperate wrestling with God, this doesn't mean that I'm not with God.  That somehow such thoughts and feelings are unholy and I approach holiness as I leave them behind. No, God is here among us.  In all the human condition and experiences. I was reflecting on some verses of the Christmas story that are often skipped over.  They are the parting words of Zachariah's prophecy on the birth of Jesus:
Luke 1:78-79
"Because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

The Lord shall visit us tenderly IN our darkness and shadows.  Even in death, He is there.  He comes as the sunrise, the dawning of hope coming, and walks with us step by step into the ways of peace.  That is Immanuel, God with us.  That is the true raw beauty in Christmas.  

Dec 10, 2014

Tiny lights of Joy


I wrote this post last year, but as I am working on Christmas cards again and my family is gearing up to walk the lights of Christmas tree lane, as I have the hard, gut-wrenching conversations of life with dear friends, I just wanted to post it again.  It still seems to be upper most in my thoughts this year again:
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It seems as this Christmas season ticks away, there seems to be swirling around me in different waves, moments of joy and moments of sorrow.  I place the creche up on my carefully decorated mantle, and carefully fill out my Christmas cards. As I fill them out, I am overwhelmed by the bountiful blessings of friendships that have poured into my life over the years. Many cards bring memories of laughter. Many cards are going to friends and family who have grief and sorrow swirling around them this season. My heart is heavy as I address some and wonder how this Christmas season is feeling for them.  Then my daughter calls and I get a silly little delightful moment with my middle child, who is writing Lizzle the elf a note, leaving me smiling at her innocence and sighing that it is passing.  Knowing that there is no sure thing in this life.  So I collect this moment with Ainsley as a precious bead on a string of happiness to be pulled out and treasured in other times.  Joy and sorrow.  Little precious moments butt up in contrast against tough monumental life struggles.

It seems to me that joy and sorrow do meet often and that they are strongest when they do.  The line between them at times seems so thin it's like a screen door, full of holes, where the air between them mingles and intersects.  The warmth from inside feels much warmer in contrast with the clear, cold blast from out of doors.  A taste of sorrow intensifies the warmth of joy when it comes.  And sometimes the air is so intermingled, you can't pull them apart or tell when one starts and one stops.

Mary must have felt that way as an unwed girl, laboring in a cattle stall, having a Son who is God, in poverty, having rough shepherds crash in on you during the night to talk about angels, and later, having kings visit with lavish gifts only to have to flee that night with your toddler across the desert.  Joy, pain, poverty, suffering, hope, chaos, love and wonder.  No wonder in Luke 2, it says of Mary that she treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart.
I ponder these things as well.
I wonder did Mary's joy and sorrow ever feel as if the separation between them was a solid as a heavy door rather than a screen?  Did seeing her son on the cross feel like being cut off from the source of joy?  Did she cling to the promise of hope and moments of wonder when the pathway to joy seemed to be slamming shut?  When Jesus's ministry years where spent rather opposite of what she had thought she had raised Him for, Mary and her other sons were embarrassed and tried to get Him to come home - and He publicly refused.  Did hope and joy mingle with confusion and pain?
And I ponder these things as well.
Do I limit God in my search for joy?  Do I miss that He is always at work?  Do I cling to Him when I cannot see?
I do not blame Mary if she had these thoughts at all.  I want to be like her.  I want to ponder, treasure and seize the little moments of joy and let them be sacred in their smallness.  Small pinpricks of warmth breaking into the cold, until the door is flung wide open and you are enveloped in it.  Sometimes joy is like that I think.  Sometimes it rushes in, and at other times, it's barely pinpricks into the darkness to remind us that joy and hope are just on the other side and closer than we think.  "Smallness" versus "bigness" don't seem to have a place in God's vastness.  To the Giver they are the same.  Therefore, the bigness of the sorrow does not make a small joy flippant or irreverent, rather it is a pinprick to be cherished.  A hope to cling to, a promise of more to come.
Like tiny little pinpricks of Christmas lights flung celebratory into the darkness.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
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As I reflect on this post from last year, I was reminded that Christ is truly God with us.  We read about rainbows in advent one night last week and discussed that God makes and keeps promises.  That night I was struggling with just feeling the nearness of God and asked Him to help me.  I opened the door the next day to see this flung across my doorstep.  It was a complete rainbow, end to end.  The brightest I have ever seen right in front of me.  The best I have is a dull cell phone picture.  But it's burned in my mind.  I have seen many rainbows from my house, some partial, some even full.  I have never seen one like this. Several neighbors came out and stared with me. God didn't want any doubts as to whether this was an answer to me.

Truly He is God with us.  Even for little doubting, pondering, wondering, hoping creature like me.  A celebratory rainbow of light, flung across the sky.  For me.

Dec 2, 2014

The Leisure of Advent

It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. Great. I'm so encouraged. Per definition I am a lazy slob.  Eugene Peterson clears it up with this quote: "By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us;  then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy half a dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone."

Oh for the love of Pete.  Guilty as charged.  And by other people, this usually means the little people aged 10 and under that live in this house.  Just WHY do they need to eat 3 times a day and just HOW do they destroy rooms in 10 minutes flat and then draaaaag around taking 2 hours to put it back?  Just yesterday I discovered that while I put away all the Christmas decor bins I'd just emptied, the girl's idea of playing quietly in their play kitchen meant turning on the outside hose, creating mud, putting it in their play dishes, carrying it into the house in little pots, and then taking my jar of peanut butter and adding spoonfuls to the "stew".  Just how did that EVEN sound like a plan with which I would say "Oh sure, go right ahead kids.  I just love it when you are creative with mud and pantry items IN THE HOUSE."?
We are approaching what many call the busiest season of the year.  The perpetual motion of this season seems to be a great churning spin cycle leading up to Christmas Day.   I have three children and we celebrate advent each night with three different activities because we attempt equal opportunity culture over here.  Oh sure, it sounds all cute and cozy, but last night saw one child throwing a fit on the floor because it wasn't her night to flip the calendar. For the love of holy advent, child. Really?! We purposely do little activities to build excitement and anticipation of celebrating our Lord's coming.  All the activities, advent, parties, traditions and gift giving are all meant to build excitement for our Lord's day of birth but they also create a phenomenal amount of business and occasional fits on the floor apparently.  Some years I just want to crash and spend a week doing absolutely NOTHING after the holiday because there was no rest or leisure in that slow build of anticipation.  I feel I have to do all the THINGS or I'll crush the "magic" for my children. (Although this year, I say crush it, two out of three have figured out Santa is a dud, though we press on: Santa's coming! ). And this season rich in tradition and gift-giving can surely crush that's for sure.  "Leisure" during the Christmas season?  Bwahahaha!

Switching gears a little, have you ever felt that time with the Lord was an additional item on your plate, or is it just me?  Have you heard of people talking about carving out time to do an advent devotion, putting it on their schedule as another "have to"? Sometimes spending time with God is like blasting myself with a fire hose in the face with scripture, trying to stuff a biblical meal down quickly, and doing a quick blast of of prayer requests.  Check, done.  If I'm honest, sometimes getting my devotion in is a source of guilt if I don't, and dryness when I do.  I've come away thinking, well, that was good I guess but it's not really changing me that I can see.  Going back to the quote at the top, was that devotion essential to my vocation?  Just what is my vocation anyways? Maid, wife, short order cook, teacher, bum wiper?

Having gone through seasons of this, I have been approaching my time with the Lord differently.  I've been approaching it as unhurried leisure and rest.  Hey wait, don't stop reading, you'll like this next part! It's a conscious detachment from the business of the day with giving my soul and body permission to do so.  It is a time to be silent in His presence. Leisure doesn't have to do with length of time but rather the kind of time I am spending.  This is not a mental blast of scripture, but time to read it and let God speak.  It is an enjoyment with the company of God.  It's a time to crash mentally and let God take over.

Every year my kids quote Isaiah 9:6 as part of our advent. "For unto us a child is born, for unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.  And his name shall be called, wonderful counselor, The mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace."  My favorite part of this was two years ago when Ainsley thought that He was the "prince of quiche" and joyfully shouted it every time. It was so good I let her do that for a week before I finally corrected her.  And poooossibly even got that on video. Better than quiche though, which once gave me the worst case of food poisoning I have ever had, He is the prince of peace.
Advent is a time for coming into this marvelous God's peaceful presence.  He is a wise counselor, mighty, a father and gives rest.  Advent is a time leisurely savoring His life among us.  And if He truly is all that, it's listening more than talking.  I want to know what the wise, peaceful, mighty counselor has to say to ME, as my father.  

Truly, Christmas is the best season to reflect on "Christ among us" and therefore, the enjoyment and unhurried time in His presence.  I am not blasting a devotion down my throat, I am sitting enjoying His companionship, even if I only sneak five minutes.  Some ideas to get that whole silence thing going:
1.  First sit for a couple minutes thinking of nothing else but Christ with me and me with Him.  Nothing else.   Banish all thoughts of what you will possibly feed the minions from the bare pantry, and which room is currently being destroyed by them.  Give yourself permission to bask in his peace.  Be a fat cat in a ray of sunshine.  Be silent before the Lord himself.  You can do it.
2.  Take a small chunk of scripture and read it slowly.  Ask God to speak and reread.  Perhaps stop on a  phrase.  Listen. Ponder.  Meditate.  Savor it.  Along the leisure lines, this is metaphorical chocolate and fine wine for the soul.
3.  If you have a thoughtful devotional reading this might be the time to break it out, but don't read for knowledge.  Read for the enjoyment of being with Him and being able to listen to Him. As you would to a friend who is telling you a story.
4.  Pray.  Don't pray to get something.  Pray and listen.  I really want the wise counselor to speak to me, but sometimes I do all the talking. Mmm hmmm.  Fat, crazy, diarrhea of the mouth talker sometimes right here. Forget perfect phrases and "right" words.  Just tell him your jumble of thoughts and let Him sort them out.  Don't worry about presenting whatever is in your head in the right way or with the right emotion.  Dump them out.  Be messy and take off the filter.  I'm pretty sure He can handle it.  If He really knows me as well as I think an all knowing God would, I'm also pretty sure I'm not shocking him with my thoughts.  And then BE QUIET.  Yes. Be silent again in your thoughts and let Him be your companion.  This is a back and forth conversation, be careful not to do all the talking.  Rest in the peace that you have given it all to Him and He is trusted to sort out your thoughts and the events of the day.  Fist pump.  He's got this.  

Other ideas might be to light a candle to symbolize God's presence with you as you pray.  Pray with your hands open in your lap as you physically show you accept what He gives and give up what you have.

Those are simply ideas but you see how that works there?  The intent is a leisurely rest in His companionship and peace.  I truly want this season to be "Immanuel, God with us".  While the season won't slow down, I can.  I don't know if I can promise that you will be as rested as enjoying a sunny beach trip to Cancun reading your favorite "Jesus Calling" and "1000 gifts" book with a week to journal with your perfect slim point felt black pen and the perfect blue Bible highlighter. I can only do so much for you. I suggest five to fifteen minutes at a time.  Busy holiday person, that's all you get, but it can be enough.  It can be your lifeline. 
Go. Be blessed and leisurely.

Nov 24, 2014

The Saturday I realized I wasn't man enough

The weekend before last started out with a bang.  Or rather the opposite of that: a dead battery on Friday night.  I was supposed to go out with friends.  When I opened up the hood I saw a corroded battery and so what does a good independent girl do?  I put on my big girl pants and...called the hubby in Chicago. With some trepidation, I thought maybe I can handle this. I had to ask him how to jump start the car with our battery pack since I literally haven't had to do this since college. Lame.  I know that my parents did their job when I got my license and made sure I knew how to do that and change a tire, but I haven't really had to ever do THAT.  There has been almost 20 years between that lesson and now. Needless to say, jumping it did not work out and I was sitting there with a can of battery cleaner in the dark, kids still in the buckled up seats whining that they wanted to go, trying to decide if taking the cables off to get it clean and then putting it back together was something I could actually do.  I decided "nope".  Friday night, I succumbed to being a "girl" and we hustled back inside for movie night with hot chocolate.  The next day Tone sent over one of his friends and my great neighbor and his friend took the battery and nasty cable out, ran down and bought me new ones, and got me back on the road.  I paid him with bottles of Tone's homemade beer and a piece of pie.  Classy.

I apparently was feeling the hit of not being "man" enough, because within 10 minutes of getting my car working, Hunter was complaining about the hedge in the backyard attacking him as he swung on the swing.  We have been meaning to take this massive hedge out for the last couple of years since it is growing over the lawn and taking over the flower bed.  I eyeballed it and thought I would give it a leeeeetle trim.
Within the first hack of the hedge trimmer I realized:  Mistake.  It was going to have to be all or nothing since all the green was on the outside and a little trim left a huge bald brown spot.  So I went for it.  For two hours I hacked at that beast.  I had the ladder out and everything.  The whole lawn was twigs, leaves and branches.  Two hours later, I was defeated.  The beast won.   Currently, he is still sporting a brown bald top.  However, I could now see the fence and that was something I haven't seen in months! Here the finished atrocity as it currently looks.  Bwahahaha!

My arms couldn't even lift anymore.  I looked around and realized I probably still had an hour of clean up to do. It hurt to bend over just to stick the leaves in the trashcan.  I had once again tackled something that was not a "girl" job on my own.  Car and hedge were the clear winners, but I gave them a good solid shot.

Apparently, I am a slow learner sometimes about the power of community.  I almost never ask for help because I feel like I burden people.  I am usually quick to give, but slower to receive.  I am so grateful for those that took a morning to get my car working.
And that hedge?  I'm pretty sure I can't get that bald top off by myself.  That part is the hubby's job.
Sometimes I just want to be "man" enough.  Sometimes I'm just not.

Nov 11, 2014

War games

Veterans day dawned dark, foggy and cold today.  On my way to work there was literally no visibility and the trees were dark sticks barely visible.  Currently, the kids are hunkered down with the neighbor kids over playing board games.  At first the boys were a little lost since we said no video games today. Daddy decided to break out Stratego and teach the boys to play.  It's all so very sweet and cozy and innocent.  The house is full of quiet children's chatter over who is attacking whom and who they lost on the board.
If only there was no war and the strategy of war could be only designated for children's board games.  As a parent, this is the closest you ever want your child to get to seeing war.  I want it confined to simple children's games.  But of course, if not my child, then whose?  Every soldier is valuable and not one is expendable, but yet there we are acknowledging that we depend on their volunteering to be expendable if it's asked.  The strategy of war plays with real people and lives and to this very real sacrifice we owe this afternoon of getting to sit down and safely play board games at home.
How does one even spend a day saying "thank you" adequately?  One can't, but one can acknowledge that the comfort of home, safety and family time is a reality because of what a veteran does and has done.  So we are holed up, enjoying the day, mindful of those we owe it to.  We are enjoying the simple moments because they are a gift and it seems that accepting and enjoying the gift is to give respect to those who gave it.  So, this is a very sincere and appreciative "Thank You" on Veteran's Day.  Soldier, if you are not yet home today because of the work you are doing, our prayer is that you come home soon.  

Nov 9, 2014

Of lazy mornings and pie

The other morning was a lazy, late, wake-up morning.  At some point my groggy four year old decided my bed was the place to be and by wake-up time, all three were snoozing up in my grill.  Tessa hasn't quite lost all her toddler chub yet and she burrows her soft little warm person up into my side for the night.  The other two are leggy and older and yet they still come in for the comfort of a warm family bed.  All was calm and quiet as it was our first foggy day outside and the morning light was very grey.  It struck me that this close family time can be a sacred moment while they are all still little enough to enjoy being tucked up close to a parent.  Even occasionally and every so often the ten year old.
So my last post revealed that I had been looking into the prayers and meditations of Benedict and other people who spent time in quiet and silence in God's presence.  However, this practice of silence often makes one imagine running away into the desert into isolation and escape from the daily pressures of social and relational living.  And I'm not really sure that the message of God's gospel love is to disengage from life and people.
I'm a mom with a busy schedule and job.  I homeschool.  I teach classes.
Things just got real.  A nice little desert trip to Palm Springs for reflection isn't EV-EH gunna happen for me.  So God had better be able to show up here for me too.  This learning to live in quiet doesn't mean that since monkhood isn't an option, the ship has sailed for me and chaos has become my middle name.  I think it is more of taking time to observe and appreciate the daily blessings that surely come even when life rages.

The girls wanted to make a pie.  While trying to grocery shop with three exuberant kids, I grabbed a roll-out pre-made pie crust and a can of filling and called it done.  Now I know that I actually have the best recipe for real crust and pie filling under the sun in my old recipe book, but the margin to make that in my life is about, oh, zero right now.
So Friday night saw us going crazy with the canned goods and making that fake-ish pie.  Complete with aprons and everything.  They were absolutely thrilled and the house still smelled amazing.  Tessa wore her usual tiger costume under her apron.  Standard uniform around here.
We made that pie.
Now this pie would never ever have won an award at any sort of country fair, and the girl's fork prints around the edges were wonky at best.  But let me tell you, that was a moment to appreciate time with them and enjoy the great smells that God invented.  Pie smell was one of His better ones I think.  Fake-ish or not.  Thank you Jesus for Friday night pies and time with my sweet girls.
And then today, there was a still a couple slices left.  After church today, during my Sunday rest time, I plopped that pie plate on my lap and enjoyed that pie blessing again.  

Here's the thing.  When I grab 15 to 20 minutes during the day to reflect on God and offer Him my day,  I am much more able to identify the sweet blessings during the day that He consistently gives me, dropped right down in the middle of chaotic, real, and all-consuming relational living.  He comes to me again and again and again with reminders of His love.  I do not have to escape to find Him, He is willing to come to me.

He'll remind me in the hush of a lazy morning when I inhale the sleepy smells of their hair and toddler skin pressed up close.  He reminds me in a "more rushed than I would like" moment of pie making.  He reminds me again and again of His presence.  He is close and accessible if I would only train myself to listen.  

Nov 5, 2014

Silence and clutter

Since we have come back from Costa Rica, the house has seemed barraged by noise and clutter.  The kids seem noisier and wild.  They reeeeeeally decided to bring the wild home with them.  The copious amounts of stuff we brought with us got dumped in the entryway to mock me day after day while I had zero time to unpack and put away.   We fly standby.  We bring carry-on bags. We pride ourselves on our light packing. How the heck did we EVER manage to get all this stuff in these bags and on a plane???  We don't even bring that much stuff, but yet there it was.  An literal explosion. The piles of daily living just went right on top of it.
On Halloween, I managed to clear out the main living space and I snapped this picture.  This is my "V" for victory shot, you all! However, the kid's rooms and the playroom behind me were still piled high.  Ouch - but I mean, lets not shoot for the moon.

But you know, I've had this kind of chaos in my house before, and it didn't translate to my heart.  This time my heart felt full of chaos and the buzzing of thoughts right along with the house. My heart felt frazzled, busy and cluttered.  I became a noisy dramatic mom in my discipline and interactions with my children. Because clearly, when the kids bring the wild home with them, upping my own voice tone over the din ought to calm everyone down a peg, right? Strategy fail.  I wanted my heart to be able to live in a place outside of circumstantial noise.

I yearned for quiet.  For silence.  For a centering.

I have been intrigued lately with daily meditations done by Benedictine monks.  I have looked into their prayers and quiet meditation on God's Word.  While I am not Orthodox in Christian practice, I feel drawn to taking time for moments of reflection and silence before the Lord.  I feel barraged by clutter, even in "holy" spaces that block my way to being with God alone. I feel the barrage of ideas on social media, the noise of family living, the buzzing of my to-do list, the chatter of relationships I pursue.  The chatter of life was obscuring God's invitation to live in His presence and His love for me.

Do you ever feel the same?  I said, "Self - Whoa Nellie!" and pulled the reigns up short.  I knew what I needed.  I got back to the basics.  I needed to go back to a healthier way of living in communion with God.
My quiet times have looked different this week.  They really are quiet and meditational.  They are more of an invitation to enter God's presence than to jam more knowledge about Him into my overly cluttered heart.

 I begin with silence.  Have you ever tried to Just. Be. Silent?  It's tooooough!  Oh my goodness!  Training the soul to stop and be quiet and sit in God's presence alone is no joke.  So much clutters the path to God's presence.  But it's more than just silence.  It's an invitation to let HIM speak.  A giving up of my words and requests and emotions within my pedal-to-metal thoughts and letting Him enter in with nothing blocking the way.  It's waiting for Him.

Next I take a small chunk of scripture and just chew on it.  Read it.  Read it again.  Chew the words around in my mouth.  I stop on phrases and wait.  Again, the waiting and invitation for God to speak into His very own words in His way just for me.  And He SPEAKS.  He speaks to the heart and shows up.  He exposes what is there, my desires and actions.  It is a very quiet voice that thunders in it's power to transform.  Truly it's a humble submission to the power of His presence.

I love ending on a short devotion, prayer, thought, quote, or poem by other Christians through the centuries.  Some are current and some have long been in the presence of our Savior, but all of them have tasted and written about the sweet presence of our Lord, and focus my mind on who He is.

And I pray.  I hold out with hands open what I have to hold out to Him.  Emotions, thoughts, actions, puzzlements, joys, requests.  They all are poured out to Him and I ask Him to take them, transform and do what He will with them.

In one day of re-centering around the Lord there was a dramatic difference in my soul.  Peace descended, motivations of the heart were exposed, love started refilling a heart running dry.  Truly, it was a gasping for His Spirit that nothing else can quench.

How do you invite the presence of the Lord into your life?  The practice of silence can be so difficult but is such an important exercise for the soul.  Certainly, I have begun to wonder if there is not a more important practice for learning submission so that God can transform.
"Be still, and know that I am God".


Nov 2, 2014

The Rainy Season in Costa Rica




We just got back from a 10 day vacation in Costa Rica.  One of the major reasons we homeschool is because we love to travel in the off-season with the perks of my husband's job.  This year we thought we would try Costa Rica in the rainy season.  A house overlooking the beach was rented, the dates were set, and off we went.  It basically took one full day of travel to get there and back but it was worth it.  I had to keep reminding myself that It. Was. Worth. It. for two long drives and two long flights to get there.  The kids held up marvelously, but it's always hard for me to not be stressed out of my gourd while flying standby with three kids in tow.  Now that they are older and very very used to flying standby, it has gotten much much easier.  All in all they did great.
We arrived there late afternoon and had enough time to swim in our pool and sit on the deck that overlooked this view.  I didn't realize we would get treated to such a sunset every night and watch this view as we sipped our coffee in the morning. Speaking of the pool, Tessa thought it was the best thing since sliced bread and was in it by 7 or 8 am every single morning, rain or shine, usually begging for someone (anyone!) to join her.  Basically, the whole trip we were wet.  We were either in the pool, the ocean, or the rain.
A couple of the days we boogie boarded and the boys took surf lessons all afternoon one day.  We stayed at a gorgeous, flat and pretty isolated beach.  We loved playing in the water and walking the coastline looking for whatever the ocean had washed up at high tide.  We visited the beaches to the north and south of us as well and it was surprising how different they each were from each other.  At each one, there was a different kind of animal, feature, or shell to discover.  In fact, some mornings we woke up to the trees outside filled with howler monkeys calling to each other, an iguana chilling on the retaining wall, or a coatimundi trying to get in the garbage.
One day we zip lined.  Tessa was a huge fan.  She practically demanded that she be first each time and the other two tourists with us were nice enough to let her.  Rude child.  She also lost her shoe on a platform (the guide had to scramble down for it) and had to go potty halfway through and we got to experience going in the jungle.  Super.  The guides were great with the kids and let them fool around a bit with trying no hands and going upside down.  They were well tipped.
Half way through our zipline adventure, this guy joined us on our platform 100 feet up in the air. We were having a snack and our guides apparently regularly feed him.  Literally I'm a foot away while he's chilling by my leg and I'm praying I'm not next for his lunch. Hunter, however, was delighted to be so close to an iguana.
One afternoon it just poured rain so we thought we would go for a drive and see if it would let up.  It didn't.  However, we did discover that getting to the next beach over could take an hour or more when the bridges are gone and roads are a soggy mess and you have to find a route around it all through a dripping rainforest.  We finally got to the next beach over which was a turtle nesting beach.  The beach was full of empty holes and rubbery egg shells where the turtles had hatched and made their way to the ocean.
It was usually hot and sunny in the morning and we would watch the rain clouds roll in from the ocean and send a deluge most afternoons.  Rain and rain.  Since we have been in such a drought here at home, I wished we could bottle it up and take it with us.  The rain was usually a welcome break from the sticky heat.
On one particularly rainy day, we decided to visit some tidepools around the point we were staying on.  We found these little tiny coves that you had to scramble down into and they were full of shells....that moved.  Hermit crabs had moved in and stolen all the shells and the whole ground was crawling and moving with shells of every size scrambling here and there.  It was the most bizarre thing I have ever seen.
One might think that on such a fabulous vacation with a country literally bursting with life everywhere, there was only delight, smiling faces and relaxation.  But on a vacation, you can't escape yourself.  I found myself getting grumpy and impatient and annoyed by the hot sticky atmosphere, whining kids and the copious amounts of bug bites.  Apparently, the insect life is also bursting in Costa Rica. It happened, and on more than one occasion I felt frustration bubbling up instead of joy.  In fact, in the first picture of this post, the one where the kids are all sitting smiling in a swing, we had just experienced the most frustrating eating experience on the beach on our last full day.  The place was on the beach, under the trees and had great food.  It was just that we were human, tired and it all caught up with us.  We had a "come to Jesus" moment where I realized all this angst was coming to a head with bickering, whining, and drama over a little spider that ended up on our table.

Rain and water.  There is that verse: "Watch over your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life."
Really, it doesn't matter where you go, and how much of God's natural glory is displayed all around, humanity is the same.   One would think on such a fabulous vacation, only the good would bubble up, but unfortunately, my true self follows me wherever I go, and so does whatever we are fostering in our family.
In this way, vacations are like a cleansing water I have found.  Vacations tend to expose our family's interactions for what they are, and provide for me moments in time to assess what I am experiencing and find bubbling out of me.  I find beautiful sweet moments and moments of ugly.  I found myself once home, praying for something better.  A sweeter heart, for God's life to bubble out of me with even more patience and love.  I find myself so thirsty.  Thirsty for more patience, more love, more life-giving relational living.
Once more, I pray for the Spirit of God to bubble up with life and over-run my life with love.  It seems to be the gasping desire of my heart. More of God, more of His life, more of His love.  I can never get enough.

Oct 13, 2014

On Adventures, Excellence, and Perfection

Usually I write my blog posts on Sunday, but this mish mash of thoughts was still perculating on Sunday as I snuggled in for the third night in a row and read two very different books.  As in, one was a decor book and one was on leadership.   However, God has a funny way of teaching me and He masterfully tied those two together in my brain to show me something I needed to learn.  An "Aha!" moment, if you will. On a side note, the third was on philosophy and science but somehow that didn't connect quite yet, though I'm sure God will when the timing is right.

 I know.  My interests are all over the board, don't even try to find the logical thread.  There is no such thing.  And then God makes one as only He can with a head like mine.

Do you ever have those moments when you know God is taking you to a pit stop on your adventure together?  I'm in a moment like that right now.  Adventures with God are curvy.  It may seem to take you here, there and everywhere.  Sometimes the adventure doesn't even seem to connect to the finished life goal you would like to see one day.  Sometimes that adventure takes us through hurdles and seeming road blocks to expose layers of personality and character that God needs to change and mature. But really, challenges add and don't detract from God's vision of fashioning you.  God has the finished vision in His mind and He can sometimes take us to destinations on the way that seem very out of place but are vital to our finished work and design, just out of view to us, but never to God.

So, in this spot, right here, with the "together we are adventurers" sign and the map garland of places we have lived and laughed hanging over my head, God took me to a new destination spot.


The first book is this one, The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith.  I've followed the Nester's blog for pretty much forever and I was eager to read this book of hers.  Her tagline is "it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful".  Which means she's my kind of gal if you even only kinda caught the gyst of my last post.  The book was as much as an excellent philosophy of living as much as it was a decor book.  I felt my soul saying, "Yep, yes, uh huh!" as I read and smiled along.  I couldn't put it down.
In one chapter, Myquillan quotes Sandy Coughlin who wrote: "Excellence is working toward an attainable goal that benefits everyone, while perfection comes from a place of great need - usually the need to avoid criticism and gain praise and approval from others."  Myquillan was pointing out that our homes need to fit the needs of the people who live there and comfort for those we invite in and not reach the unattainable goal of perfection which has us apologizing for and being ungrateful for the home we have been given.  This was about homes but my brain went elsewhere.  While I seem to have that somewhat nailed lately in the way of my home, God grabbed me and pointed out that I didn't have that so much nailed in other areas of my life.  And He was very painfully specific when I stopped to talk to Him about it in prayer.  Ouch.  God brought me to a screeching halt on the adventure train and asked me to camp out here for a while and this idea of excellence versus perfectionism.  Excellence is about others and goals that are attainable.  Perfectionism, while it sounds nice, is really all about me reaching for the unattainable and approval.  Again, a theme appears, which has been a theme all over this blog for months:  Its all about love.  God just showed up again and gave me another facet.

The second book I have just finished reading is this one, "Leading Up" by Joel Maynard.  I'm learning how to become a better leader in the role I have been given as a director the children's program at our church.  I have 80 volunteers working the program and I answer to people over me for how well it's running.  Eighty!  I don't know who's reading this but its a lot to me. That kind of responsibility is humbling, invigorating, frustrating, frightening, exciting, fulfilling, delightful and every other emotion in between.  It's not secret to anyone I work with that this was a job I turned down more than once through the years.  It's also not a secret that God definitely put me in this job through a series of twisty events straight from crazy town and I am 100% committed to it knowing God has a purpose for me here in this season.  God's adventure for my life is often laughable, often surprising, and very delightful. But just knowing an adventure is from God should also tip me off that He is planning on stretching and growing something in me. Doggone. Gear up.

 On a bad day whatever we do is about perfection - which Joel labels "insecure pride".  On a good day, it's about excellence - which he labels "humble confidence".   It was such a good read for those in leadership who lead in the middle  (which lets be honest, is just about everyone in leadership). In other words, you lead some, you answer to some, and navigating that tricky ground in-between, in a way the benefits all parties, is a challenging adventure.
I want to be able to have so much more of the humble confidence.  It's a work in progress over here. Humility to know it's never about me and to value everyone around me, over and under. Confidence that who I am and the way God has designed me gives me something to offer and I can speak into others.  It's delicate balance of listening and speaking all in a posture of love and edification of others.

Some say, well, I don't lead anyone nor do I have much to offer.  Halt right there and let me call that statement a bunch of unicorn poop.   You do.  You have much to offer and God will call you on this adventure too. If there is one confidence I know: God takes every child He has on crazy, exhilarating road trips. Sure, it may not be in vocational ministry but you have been specifically designed.  God's calling is to walk with Him on an adventure where he will ask you to offer what you are to others and develop in love.  As you offer more, He gives you more.  And before you know it, you are leading.  Leading is not an adventure for a few, it's an adventure for all who call Him Father and trust Him no matter where the adventure leads.  Maybe I should share how I ended up in the job I am in today, but that's another post.  Just know it didn't follow any typical "how to earn yourself a job" routes.  Nothing in my life ever seems to work out that way, nor do I usually seek out leadership opportunities.  

Be faithful, hold your hands open, and see.  I've learned to hold things loosely as the adventure takes me on many stops, but give it my all while I'm there.
One other thought.  When God gives you the next step, He throws in a mix of sugar and spice.  Delight and stretching.  Often pain.  
I would say that this adventure isn't for the faint of heart, but in the odd dichotomy of how God's kingdom works, I would say it IS a perfect fit for the faint of heart.  Yes, He stretches, but you are in the safest hands who WILL. NOT. LET. YOU. FALL.  You never grunt it out on your own and you will become more beautiful and whole than you ever thought possible.  His pain is the pain of a surgeon who is repairing.  It is not the pain of destruction from chainsaw (though it can feel like it, ask me how I know).  

So I would say go on your excellent adventure.
But then this reminds me of "Bill and Ted".  Does that totally negate what I just wrote with my clearly superior taste in movie quotes? 
 Still with me?  
Good.
Then let me lay one on you:
When you go on an this adventure you might just think in the words of Bill, "Ted, you and I have witnessed many things, but nothing as bodacious as what just happened."

Bodacious.  Welp.  Since I can't top that with anything much more eloquent than "bodacious", that about wraps it up.
I'm ending on a bodacious note.
The End.
  

Oct 5, 2014

Leveling with you


That's me.  Up there.  I have no makeup on in this picture and I'm sitting on the front porch chillin' in my messy braids and new $5 poncho rocking in my rocking chair which is on it's last legs.  Which means I'm at my real best self inviting you in to some honest chatty chat.

Once upon a time I was part of a play group where the mommies all read inspiring books together and swapped prayer requests.  We all had little ones underfoot, and boy, we needed those prayer requests.  So an inspiring book was picked...all about that Proverbs 31 woman.  Each chapter was carefully divided and then subdivided into areas of serving our family and keeping our homes top-tip.  With scripture to back. it. up.  Here it was.  The holy grail unlocking this wife and mother thing if only these chapters could be mastered. There were chapters exhorting us to aspire to healthy meals at all times, keeping the house spotless with tips to do it, how to clean, keep up a perfect budget, how to keep an encouraging and happy spirit at all times for our children and spouse, and you know, be the perfect wife.  With strong suggestions on how to make it happen.  Charts, and lists and tips.  Let's just say, I was NOT the party responsible for picking out that gem of fiction. So the inevitable happened.  A few picked it up with triumph.  Aha!  This would be the answer!  A few had their "fake" radar up but were nervously game.  And within two weeks we had our first mom snap.  She literally came into my home and chucked this book at my wall and yelled at it.  I bit back the suggestion of a book burning.  So at any rate, that book was toast at least figuratively though a few struggled gamely on and trailed off after a few more chapters.

I post ideas and pretty pictures, but I hope you don't think that being a perfect person is my philosophy of life.  Because it couldn't be farther from the truth.  I actually chose the tagline to my blog with purpose. "A little love makes even the weeds lovely" is a true statement around here.  This house, this marriage, this motherhood, this person called Jenny, is full of weeds.  It's a constant work in progress around here.  We try to make the guiding principle in this house love, but even that can get messy.

Oh you want an outward example? You want to see my craft room?  It's not the pretty kind that deserve whole blog posts showing it off.  Nope.  It's a messy, working space.  Here ya go.
Uh huh.  You're welcome. My point is that our hearts are the same.  They can be messy working spaces.  No book is going to give you the answers on this perfect way of doing motherhood and being a wife.  I think what flipped it for me in my mind was when my husband asked me to point out the SPECIFIC verse that told me toys should be picked up and healthy dinners on every night with dishes and laundry completed. Well, I opened my mouth to retort back with, "Well, everyone knows that it's...".  Well, daggum, he stumped me.  Maybe everyone doesn't "know" the exact one.  With of course, the answer being, well there isn't one.  No, I will not give anyone the title of that book lest you secretly go out and buy it having doubted me.  I'm sure the author meant well, but the point was that that was worked for her family and the way she loved them best.   Not the way all Christian women should do it to be holy.  It can be actually tougher yet easier and so much more freeing when you chuck the lists and get down to the brass tacks of loving.  Because that means having conversations about unspoken expectations and studying your people to see what makes them tick.

Here's an example.  I stink at doing dishes.  By stink, I mean that it's not high on my priority list and I don't regularly get to them.  Guess who does my dishes a lot of the time?  Tone, and it's his way of loving me.  And he kindly doesn't make comments when they aren't done but chips in.  We both know that we hate doing them after dinner because we eat late and we are too tired after the whole bedtime routine.  So we do them in the morning.  You want to know what wouldn't be loving?  Forcing our family rhythm to do them at night or making a big deal about them being done immediately.  Do I know families who can't STAND having dirty dishes in the sink and part of loving their family is getting them done pronto?  Yes, I do.  I grew up in one in fact.  When I visit, we get those dishes done, Stat.
So when I post pretty pictures and ideas, it's because I'm focusing on looking at those weeds and making them lovely.  I knocked my favorite picture frame off the wall one hour before my in-laws were supposed to arrive.  It was a doozy.  I broke the light switch and glass splattered everywhere and that large, multi-paneled frame was in pieces.  But the thing about weeds is that they can paralyze you.  That frame was never fixed and a blank wall stared at me for two months. You can get stuck.  That's where a little inspiration and not comparison comes in.  I still really wanted those family pictures up,  but nothing was going to compare to that purty frame I smashed.  After I came to terms with this factoid,  I bought a $1 raisin drying tray, hot-glued some twine and with some teeny tiny clothespins, stuck those pictures up.  Deciding it was still lacking in it's visionary glory, I propped open a vintage seasonal songbook found for $.50 on top with a dollar tree pom pom trim.  Well, hello new frame. Slap dash, imperfect, trash to beauty (in my mind).  My house speaks of my life.

What did I find this week?  Oh a new globe for $5.  See then what happened here was that I decided the fake nasty plants needed to come down and a display of globes and our airplane collection needed to go up there.  But then it was too bright, so I turned the books all around.  But then the pictures in front of the books were the hiding the beautiful page tones so I took them down.  But then I decided a teacup on each shelf would show off that collection and be a nod to tea and books and not hide the pages.  And then my son officially decided Mommy was crazy, having watched this whole process, and Tone wanted to know how practical it was not to see the titles.  I don't know, guys, work with me here.  It's pretty-ish right? (Oh hey, hi, me in the TV).  And they love me and work with it.
My second best find this week were these two deer for $5. Together.  I know.  I practically stole them since I've heard deer are so "in" this season in the decor world I don't belong in. Eh, one had a gold Christmas wreath around it's neck, so I slapped on a white berry wreath to hide it for the meantime.   Say, what, my plant is dying? I know.  Lets focus on the deer.  I just love them.
They bring to mind that verse, "As the deer pant for water so my soul longs after you."
Because really, let's not long for perfection. Perfection gets you nowhere but a book burning.

Let's long for the love of the Lord.  His love will make even your weeds lovely.

Oct 1, 2014

Teaching the Bible to Children at Home

Realizing that God gave me the responsibility to be the first person to reflect who He is to my children is a bit terrifying.  I'm fairly certain they'll regale their future spouse, or even counselor, with words like,
"A howler monkey has nothing on my mom when she gets going"
"My mom knew the Little Ceasar's Pizza guy's practical whole life story we went there so much"
"My mom (unknowingly OF course) once set me in time out at the park in a pack of fire ants" Whoops.

I mean, I make mistakes.  Sometimes big ones.  But hey, here I am entrusted by God with this responsibility of teaching my children who He is.  Sometimes by example, sometimes by admitting to them that I am not the finest specimen of humankind.  Ouch.  I've been thinking about how exactly to teach my children about who He is at their current stage, and how that actually looks for this family and the way we do life.
In all honesty, we are not the scheduled family.  We don't really take regular times for anything.  A scheduled family devotion where we all sit down together?  Bwahahaha! We have what I like to call "open ended routines".  Sure, we eat dinner together, but at different times every night, and sometimes it's more like a lunch together.  School is done a little bit different every day to work around other weekly obligations. But a few things have "stuck".  We do "tuck-ins" every night and we at some point eat a meal together each day.  I can work with that.





In thinking through what it is that seems to be important, one was knowing God's Word, the other was praying to Him.  It also seemed that knowing God's Word came through two ways:  Meditation on small chunks and knowing the over arching story.  So we are biting off chunks by memorizing verses in our "sit down" time at the table.  I combed the intrawebs  for verse cards.  Surely, I didn't have to recreate them did I? I was about to bite the bullet and admit that the intrawebs of information had actually failed me, Then I hit upon this little gem that seemed to be made just for me: little verse cards and with lovely vintage graphics.  They had "Jenny Plumb" written ALL over them, and I made them mine. Out came the laminator and I spent an evening printing, laminating, can cutting these puppies and stuffing this old truck with them.  300 verses later, we're in business and they're sitting smack dab in the middle of my table.  Some of the verses were truncated so before I laminated, I wrote the full verse on the back for the older two to learn.  The simple version is perfect for Tessa.

One other thought.  The Word of God is beautiful.  For me, boring plain verse cards just didn't invite an excitement to memorize.  But these made pulling out a new card feel like a new, tangible treasure.  The certainly invite my kids into memorization more than a plain white card would.  Ainsley has painfully read each one.  Her reading isn't quite up to par yet for some verses, but because they were child sized and beautifully pictured, it fascinated her.  Some might argue that the Word of God is beautiful in and of itself, and I do agree.  But still, something about turning the Word into something aesthetically pleasing also appealed to me.  I think the monks who painstakingly copied the first few versions of the Bible in the dark ages into gorgeous works of art would agree with me.
The other routine in the day that the kids just won't let me forget is their "tuck-ins" at night.  So this is when we fit in our Bible stories so that they learn the over arching story of the Bible.  We snuggle up on the bed together and read the next story.  For the girls, we are reading, "The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes" by  Kenneth N. Taylor.  The book pictured above is the version I had when I was little.  I think I picked it up at a yard sale.  It has since been redone into updated pictures but I still like this old version for sentimental reasons.  For Ainsley, I add in details that might not be in the simplified story.  The stories are short, in easy language, and has three follow-up questions that invite some discussion.
For Hunter, we are reading the Action Bible.  I know, every Christian parent on the face of creation seems to have this Bible and I'm not sharing something new.  Here is what I have noticed about the Action Bible as much as I love it: while it shares the story in a fascinating way to draw kids in, it does not necessarily share the purpose for the story.  For example, when we read about Jonah, we talked together about Jonah's love for a plant more than a love for the city of Ninevah who were his enemies.  When we read about Ezekiel and the dead bones (clearly appealing to my nine year old boy), we talked about how God was showing Ezekial that without God's spirit in our lives, everything we do is like dead bones - pointless and not life-giving.  When we read about Samson, Gideon, Ehud, and Deborah, we talked about how God used people who were arrogant, fearful, humble, outcasts and ordinary women to accomplish His purposes.  He doesn't pick favorites, or rather His favorite people don't even hit on the radar of earthly recognition.  It has been a fascinating read as this Comic Style Bible brings alive the fabulous and exciting stories of the Bible.  The Bible is not full of boring stories that's for sure.  God brings ultimate adventure to life.

So that is what is working for us this go round.  Next year, we may switch it up - we usually do, but this feels fresh and real and workable for our current way of living.  Teaching our children is purposeful and takes thought, but I think it has to be workable in your daily rhythm or you just have good intentions but it falls off when you get into your normal routine.  I have done this so many times.  I get excited about this great new idea that we are going to halt everything to try, and after reality sets in in about, oh two days tops, that great idea falls out of fashion.  Have you looked at your routine and figured out what is workable to teach your children within it, or do you think that you need to create something new?   Hey, it doesn't have to be new or amazing.  Just figure out something creatively that you are already doing and work it in.
So are you?  Don't be afraid to "fail".  There is no fail.  Just work at it until something clicks.

Sep 21, 2014

Little Things

Today was a crazy day. If you don't know, I manage running the Sunday morning children's program for one of my church campuses. Victories were had, my nine o'clock service was fully staffed for the first time in weeks, but the next service was severely short-staffed and unfortunately the victory of the first was dwarfed by the exhaustion of running the second. I came home and slumped into the couch, grateful for neighbors and friends who had my kids over to play.  While I grab moments of purposeful reflection on Sundays, they generally aren't my day of rest. I looked over from my comfy cocoon on the couch to find teeny little flowers on my succulents. Some days are like that. God blesses with many beauties in the midst of everything else.

So here are some joyful moments grabbed with my iPhone this week. Two little girls were heard not sleeping. They were found under a blanket on the top bunk with a book light with big sis reading to little sis and giggling. Precious. So I let them alone. Never mind the peed bed I had to change in the morning because a certain little girl can't get down the ladder in the dark. I forgot about that.


It's just still stinkin really hot out. No fall weather in sight. But the boy and I did manage to grab a game Battleship right here on the front porch. That boys love language is quality time so I grab it when I can. Even if we're sweatin' on the front porch.
Hunter said he had to memorize a verse this week for youth group and it has to be his parents favorite. So I doodled it while waiting for a certain 2nd grader to stop dawdling on her phonics page. It was a good reminder to me that only three things were required of me and that is all. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. Keepin it simple.

I may or may not have made the bed on more than one occasion and kept up with laundry. Never mind the rest of the house.

Tomorrow is the first day of fall. While I don't think Cali got that memo yet, my house needs to get there stat. This display is SO last week and had to go. I'm still working on this side of the room but the other side is satisfactory now.
See? This side is now happily up to speed with the deer head picture rescued from a trash heap last year making its mantle comeback.

His mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness O God. 

Sep 13, 2014

Cup of Joe

So two years ago I succumbed.  In a big way.  Total failure really.  I started drinking coffee.  
I made it through hours of study at college, early mornings with toddlers, early hours teaching at school with no coffee.    Why am I drinking it now?  I have no idea.  But I do know this: that I have no idea how I did all of that before without my wakey-wakey juice.  It's my morning treat.  I put some super unhealthy creamer in it (don't even knock it), and drink to my heart's content.  
The signal to start school for the day?  Momma is sitting down at the table with her full cup of Joe. Everyone knows at that point, I mean getting down to business. 
On the other hand, my daily treat is probably the one thing that I feel really really good about buying and sticking in the pantry.  Why?  About the time we started drinking coffee, my husband started ordering ours from Lanna.  It's delivered to our house and it's pretty good coffee.  It's not acidic at all and it's super tasty.  It's waaaaay better than Starbucks (which is now another habit of mine, FYI).  I know, this failure in healthy living snowballed pretty fast. Whatever. But besides all of that, we buy Lanna coffee because of work some people in our church are doing with this company.  

Do you know why Lanna exists?  Some visiting missionaries to the hillside tribes in Thailand noticed that the people there were desperately poor and were in the grip of drug cartels and human trafficking. They taught the people there to grow coffee, brought in clean water, provided education and now the tribes who grow the beans for Lanna are self-sustaining.  All because of some people with vision and a lot of love.  

So lots of times I feel guilty for wasting money on treats.  But not this time.  This time, I drink every little sip knowing that those little sips are going towards giving people great freedom.  Want to try some yourself?  Go to Lannacoffee.org, read their story, and get yourself some!

Sep 8, 2014

Opportunity not Limitation


This Sunday saw me per usual rocking babies in the nursery and taking a crying two year old around the courtyard for walks.  In between walks, the special mom bounces (you all know the bounce-walk), and wails, I listened to the sermon coming over the loud-speaker.  This was our "Get Connected" Sunday and the invitation was sent out to the congregation to get into something.  Join a lifegroup, serve, get involved.  In short, get invested in other people and get hands messy.  I was having a connecting  moment with a wailing kid.  Was that what he meant?

We heard that message moving into our new house in a new city and a new church seven years ago.  We felt brave.  We flung our doors open in our nice new house and our cavernous rooms that were yet to be filled with much furniture. We felt so courageous and generous.  And we were so surprised when people actually came.  And STAYED. Then they got to know us even more and saw our ugly sides too.  And STAYED.


  Flash forward, seven years, and things aren't the same.  Instead of brave, we are comfortable.  Those new people became best friends.  Our house in hanging in there by a thread from the damage three kids have incurred on it and it's jam packed with all the trappings families bring with them over the years.  It's no longer cavernous, it's scrunchy.  Inviting people over feels like a tight fit.  Being generous with my house means that I have learned to no longer hold anything sacred.  When you weekly for years throw open your doors to families with young children who shriek, playing tag up and down the hallways with light sabers, and eat messy family meals, there truly is nothing sacred anymore.
 Two small kid bedrooms, a filled-to-the-gills playroom and a dining room table that you can barely get around because of the narrow space we calling the "dining area", well, we're pretty maxed out here. I was starting to see all of this as a limitation and not an opportunity to throwing my doors open. But, honestly, it's all in perspective.  I keep making the invites and people keep coming.  Some days it just blows my mind.  People don't seem to mind my tight spaces and the kid-friendly (read messy) spaces and keep coming by and I keep slapping down the coffee in front of them.  We keep telling deep stories and consuming cups, and shoving snacks at kids, as kids keep shrieking and laughing and crashing down my long hallways.  And somehow, I've grown so much and am all the better for it.

 We also had maxed ourselves out with people in the last couple of years.  We didn't have room for anyone new, and well, we were just feeling comfortable.  It was time to take inventory. So Tone and I took an inventory this last year and decided to scrap some things and go a new direction this spring.  We quit leading the lifegroup we had led in our home for the last 6 years and jumped into new groups. At a certain point, sometimes you just get too comfortable, ya know, and quit challenging each other to dig deeper and grow more. I don't mean quit friendships, no way (best friends for life!), but allow space for new.  I took on the role of Kids Co Director at my church campus (our children's program) which means organizing and knowing about 80 volunteers and I still need a bunch more.  And yet, that's nice church business stuff, but really, can we branch out beyond that, we wondered?

I decided not to get involved with a Monday night Bible study so that I can get involved more with Hunter's Scouts.  I decided to start attending a card making club with women in my neighborhood.  I'm the only Christian in the bunch, and they are a really tight bunch (I'm the newbie), but yet they kept inviting me and I was even able to host them this summer while all their kids came and shrieked and laughed and crashed toys down my hallway.

Tone decided to help lead and be involved in our church's Regeneration group which is a group for accountability, grace and learning; how the gospel can touch deep areas of hurt and sin in our lives and change us from the inside out. It's a place for those who have a sickness or hurt deep in the soul that needs a Savior's touch.  So really, we should all be grabbing a seat at that table to drink in the message there.

But then we wondered, can we do more?  So Saturday saw me sitting in an orientation for the International Friendship Program at Fresno State University.  We are eager to invite an international student into our home for meals and friendship while they are far from home.  If they'll let us, we'd like to be their family away from home.  We are eager to know someone who can share another culture with us and make our world just that much richer.

We keep asking God for more.  In our maxed out little house we keep asking for more.  More opportunity to be seized, and for limitations to be weeded out.  More stretching, more growing, more bravery.

 If you come over, I'm kinda in this watermelon phase right now.  It's pretty much a staple.  The summer heat is hanging on and a watermelon out of the fridge is just so yummy.  I'll slap it down in front of you on my classy plastic pink platter, wave a cup of coffee your direction, and we'll have a chat.  Bring your kids, there is nothing sacred here but the conversation (as evidenced by Tessa feeling completely comfortable by plopping down on my table top).  But the conversation, the conversation could be oh so good.

I've learned that between the wailing babies, the toys being dragged up and down the hallway, and the snack crumbs, much is sacred and holy when you are willing to show your messy underbelly and dig in deep to a person. 

Have you flung your door open yet?  I promise the pay off is huge!