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Keep Your Eyes On…The Road

So maybe I was breaking the law, but the text was urgent, and I was stopped at a red light. At least that’s how I justified it in my mind. The light turned green and I was startled by my daughter in the backseat.

“Mom! Drive! You’re supposed to be driving!”
“I am driving.”
“No you were looking at your phone.”
“The light was red. It was important. Besides, its not your job to tell me how to drive.”
Then she threw my own words back at me. The words I’d said dozens of times as the reason I couldn’t get a toy she or her sister dropped under my seat, or dig to find the exact snack one of them wanted to eat that very moment.
“Mom you’re job is to keep us safe.”
I was stunned silent. Then she repeated the very words I say to her Father if he tries to touch his phone when he’s driving us.
“Nothing is more important than keeping your eyes on the road.”

BUT THERE’S MORE TO RULES
As a wife, as a mom, as a human, I am a walking contradiction. Even when I try my best, my ideals never match perfectly with how I live them out. I give into itching fingers that grab my phone when I should be present with the person in front of me. I sneak chocolate before dinner and I don’t eat something from every food group for every meal. There’s been nights when I’m too tired for bedtime routines, and wind up falling into bed without brushing my teeth, or even putting on proper pajamas. I don’t always say please, or thank you, and I certainly don’t forgive the instant someone tells me too.

But I don’t need another measuring stick, in the form of my daughter, ticking off all the ways I don’t measure up. I have enough reminders in the form of well-meaning Christian blogs, Pinterest, and my own critical voice, that remind me that I’m missing the mark, thank-you-very-much.

She’s right in a way, I shouldn’t bother with a text when I’m driving, but yet her words feel like stones.

Maybe it’s not about me, after all. I realize that maybe this conversation isn’t to show me where I’m falling short, but to remind me that she’s actually listening—and that I am communicating important values to her even when I don’t realize it. But I want to instill more in her than just the a black and white sketch of right and wrong, but love and faith— the colors that breathe the very purpose and life to everything she sees.

It reminds me of a God who gave his people a list of guidelines on how to live, but by the time Jesus is on the scene, He sees that many religious groups have stretched and morphed the commandments to regulate every aspect of Jewish life. The rules were very clear, but their purpose had become diluted and distorted—like a misshapen shadow of the thing it once was. But Jesus would have none of it. No, of all the religious leaders he insisted on the integrity of the law, the heart of the law, and for Jesus it wasn’t found in the bleeding hearts of self-righteous men on self-made pedestals, but in the context of love and relationship. In the Gospel, we see a drama playing out between the Pharisees living a life of impossible standards, and Jesus and His disciples, who live lives of obedience fueled by love.

I don’t make rules about driving for the sake of rules, but to keep those I love safe. It’s the same reason I cook vegetables, limit TV time, and say “no,” according to my daughter, “all the time.” I love my kids, and I wants what’s best for them, even when that means tough parenting and inconvenient rules, steamed vegetables and cranky kids that aren’t lulled to apathetic silence by “just one more” show on the TV. My love means being a mother becomes more than just a job, but a calling. A calling that flows from love, and fuels everything I do.

I want my daughters to know the difference between right and wrong, and yet, I want them to live that out in the context of loving relationships. I want them to live a life of calling because of their love of God; a life that is fueled by a faith that means so much more than a legalistic book of whats right and whats wrong.

REMEMBERING LOVE
I quietly keep my eyes on the road a minute without responding to my daughter’s directives as I decide where to start.

“Bree, thank you for reminding mommy of the rules I have for driving. You’re right, I shouldn’t be on my cell phone when I drive.”
“You’re welcome,” she responds, self satisfied.
“In the future mommy will decide when its okay for me to use my phone when we’re in the car though.”
“But…”
“But can you tell me why mommy makes those rules in the first place?”
“Why?”
“Because I love you. I love you so much that I will do everything I can to keep you safe. And do you know who else loves you?”
“Who?”
“God loves you. And thats why God gives us rules too. Because more than anything else in the world, He wants us to love him back.”

She didn’t respond, but a dimple in her brow formed like a cog in a turning wheel. I knew it wouldn’t all click into place right now, but like the rules that I repeat over and over, I want to remind her about my love, and God’s love, so that she knows that to be the most important part.

For a Friend


For a friend,
I would move mountains for you if I could,
I’d cross a river, a sea, my love,
to bring your wandering heart home.

But I know thats not what you need,
I know that this is your battle,
That I must love from afar, and stand watch.

So I will be a bird, perched outside your window,
Singing you songs of light and love,

I will be the soundless whispers of love,
In the dark pitched night.

I will fight for you by never giving up on your heart,
By cradling it and lifting it to God who will,
Breathe it back to life.

I will wait for you, hurt for you, hope for you,
Quietly, without expectation, knowing that,
Your heart needs to be scattered, and broken,
To make a path home.

How to Find Holy in the “Offensively Ordinary”

 

This morning I read about Nadia Bolz-Weber’s story about being stretched to fit a mold of herself she didn’t recognize. A story of how God challenged her to be something she didn’t think she was, in order for Him to use her to reach a people who needed God’s grace–akin to a story many of us know of Jonah going to Nineveh, but not before a struggle.  For Nadia, Nineveh was speaking at a youth conference, when she saw her audience as sarcastic and skeptical adults.

This morning I read her words about an offensively ordinary God, who uses “offensively ordinary things,” to reveal Himself to us. Yes, Nadia and I agree “that this God has never made sense.” But even more, I love how she reminds me what this means for me too:

“And you don’t need to either, because this God will use you, this God will use all of you, and not just your strengths, but you failure and your failings. Your weakness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful, so don’t think all you have to offer are gifts” (Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints, pg 38)

This leads me to ask myself (and God), “Why aren’t you stretching me like this God?” because, if I’m honest I feel a little bored with my life. My stay-at-home mom existence certainly doesn’t look like Nadia’s challenge of speaking to thousands of difficult teenagers. For a minute, I stubbornly challenge God, “You aren’t stretching and challenging me to do great things God.” Then my mind returns to my own life challenges–I notice the sag of my tired body, kept up all night by a nursing toddler gymnast. I release a guttural noise, a confused half-breed of a cry and a laugh. In this ripe place of pain and uncertainty, of fatigue and resignation, God challenges me to be present in the places I don’t want to be either. In such a time as this, God is stretching me, my ego, my assumptions, and my patience. 

My older daughter, Bree, really wants to share a room with Elyse. She doesn’t think its fair that the three of us, and the dog, pile into our queen sized bed, while she sleeps alone in her room. Every night we pray together, “God please help Elyse to wean and start sleeping through the night so she can share a room with Bree.” 

I believe that there is power in prayer. I believe that prayer unlocks a Heavenly shift in our earthly reality. But this doesn’t mean it shifts in the way that we envision. God is moving in my present circumstances of nursing all night, and bed-sharing. He’s moving somehow in and through my sleep deprived body and is present in my addled thoughts and resentful reality. I had to chuckle when one morning Bree shared her dream with me. She dreamt God was raining down milk on the Israelites. They were drinking the milk until they turned into ghosts. I wish I had a Joseph to make earthly sense of what this dream could mean.

“Maybe Elyse will just nurse for her entire life?” Bree asked, smiling brightly.

“Lord help us!” I said with thick sarcasm and exasperation.

“Amen,” she responded with passion and enthusiasm.

I don’t have any qualms about a mom that wants to nurse her 28-month-old toddler through the night. Power to you sister. But I was never going to be “that mom.” No, for me, my cute baby would be healthy and ordinary (tongue in cheek). My cute baby would wean at the appropriate time–and sleep through the night too. I believe every mother should choose the path of motherhood, feeding, sleeping, nurturing, that works best for the whole family. I believe that in a theoretical way, like, “you do whatever works for you.” But for me, I’d rather not challenge the mothering norms. Yes, in my mind, nursing my 28-month-old and co-sleeping, challenges my own assumptions of what my mothering journey should look like. As my reality scrapes against my ideals, I see God using “offensively ordinary” things to challenge who I think I am.

In the past I’ve seen the things that others see as “shameful,” as opportunities to connect and stand in the light. This morning as I wrestle with my messy and imperfect reality, I want to hide it. I want to pretend my mothering journey is all the things beautiful and “normal” that fit squarely into a photo on Instagram. But then I feel God nudging me, whispering to me that this is where he wants me to stand in His light.

So here I stand. I stand here in this area that feels grey. I feel the thick seeping darkness beckoning me, to hide in the shadows. I’ve started thinking how I can hide from my friends the fact that I’m still nursing, because I feel embarrassed at this point. I feel like I’ve failed to help my daughter reach the next milestone. But for some reason, like Nadia, God is challenging me to stand in the bright lights, on an unfamiliar stage, to use my shame and weakness to usher in His love and grace. I really want my challenge to look much more glamorous, like speaking in front of thousands of sarcastic teens. But my audience is through this little blog, lit up on computers of stay-at-home moms, working moms, grandmas, dads, and grandpas, old friends, and new ones I haven’t met yet. My prayer is in this messy reality God stirs the contradictions and doubts in your mind. That God can use your “offensively ordinary” circumstances to move mountains that you don’t even know are there.

Brave Means Taking The Very Next Step

We think brave is shown in a big defining moment. But what if brave is something more humble? Sometimes its easiest to muster all our brave for the big earth shattering blow, but its the days that follow that sometimes take the greatest courage.

Putting on that cap and gown, saying “I do”,  getting the first glimpse of your baby’s face…these are the milestones that forever change the fabric of our lives, but its the ordinary days, after days, that layer together to build a lifetime..

As a teenager with social anxiety, my family was so proud that I had the bravery to go out on a stage and perform as Dorothy in Wizard of Oz. But the crowded auditorium and staring eyes were white washed under the bright lights as adrenaline propelled me forward through my choreography. What I couldn’t form words to explain to my parents is that it took more bravery some mornings to walk through the double glass doors of my school, day after day to the overwhelming buzz of small talk and what felt like critical stares.

Sometimes the initial blow overtakes us in a consuming wave that leaves us disoriented and underwater. Bravery comes as easily as swimming to the surface and finding air. But once we find our bearings, as we stand and begin walking to the waters edge, its the wave after wave that slowly wears us down and steals our strength.

Maybe brave isn’t withstanding the waves but finding the strength to get back up and take the next step. Maybe brave is getting out of bed when depression covers you like a thick blanket. Maybe brave is staring at your precious daughter, her face covered in an angry red rash and smiling past the tears that threaten, to tell her, “darling, you’re beautiful.” Brave is your 15th round of chemo, bringing your dad lunch as he recovers from brain surgery at the hospital, or making coffee and taking a shower two days after you kissed your wife goodbye after her final breath. Brave is raising your daughters, working a job, and supporting your husband while secretly battling the aches of a chronic pain. Brave is the wife beside her husband’s hospital bed after a year long fight with a disease that no one has heard of. Brave is having Christmas in a makeshift apartment as you rebuild your home that was lost. Brave is forgiving the husband that cheated. Brave is facing cancer for the third time and still fighting with all you’ve got.

Maybe brave isn’t dressed in the clanking armor of Saul, but the regular human flesh of you and me, filled full of an unshakeable God-sized hope. Brave doesn’t mean we have to be bigger than the giants that we battle, or the storms that we face; brave isn’t as strong as lions, or hate; as powerful as death. No. Brave is knowing WHO IS. 

Brave faces an uncertain future and grasps on to an unshakeable hope.

My dear brave friends– with shaking legs and outstretched arms I lift you up in fragile prayers, to the One who will hold our hearts and makes us brave.

You’re New Here–Its Nice to Meet You

 

Hello Blue Eyes
Its nice to meet you.

I knew you were coming,
I’ve been waiting and nesting,
But—oh my! My heart feels like its bursting.

Your brand new face, your fuzzy head,
All your own, but like an old friend.
My eyes just want to drink all of you in.

You’re familiar somehow,
Your yawn like a growl,

Our bodies fit, like our hearts always knew,

Hello Blue Eyes,
Its nice to meet you.

You’re holding on to my finger so tight,
My love, just keep holding on,
Sometimes it will be a bumpy ride,
But we’re together, so we’re not alone.

You’re big owl eyes know,
That I am all yours,
We talk in the quiet love language thats ours,

You’ll tell me your secrets
I’ll whisper my wishes,

The first has already come true,

Hello Blue Eyes,
Its nice to meet you.

BLACK COFFEE HEART

Come meet me in the morning,
When the monsters are asleep.
Whisper me the promises,
I know only you can keep.

Come meet me in the morning,
over coffee, black as my heart.
Let your love pour into me,
to cast out all that is dark,

Come meet me in the morning,
Tucked away, but not alone.
Let me know that you hear me,
Breathe life into dried bones.

Morning after morning,
You guide my mind; My thoughts you guard.
You greet me with the sunrise; And wipe soot from this old heart.

Wherever Fall Finds You

Fall is upon us. Yes Fall, where the cool winds blow in and draw us inside, where we make hot and savory meals in the crockpot, and cuddle under a throw to sip hot tea or a Pumpkin Spice Latte. The glorious season where we get to slip our unpainted toes into the comfort of knit socks and cute leather boots. Its that time again, where we get to slow down, just a bit, to admire the beautiful changing colors around us, and if we’re quiet enough, to feel our hearts stirring with the changing leaves.

We  gather together as the nights get darker and cooler, to laugh, and light candles, prepare and linger over hot yummy food, and good company…

If I sound nostalgic, its because I now live in Southern California. Yes, Sunny Orange County where Fall is a little bit of a pretense, since the days only continue their hot and humid march in their season-less monotony. Nonetheless, even us Californians like to gather together as the nights get darker and cooler, to laugh, and light candles, prepare and linger over hot yummy food, and good company, as we enjoy the months that transition us into the close of another year.

 

I have gotten to experience Fall in many different places and life circumstances, from my childhoods in Lake Tahoe to college days and early professional years in Sacramento and San Diego. From being a newlywed in St Louis, to a new mom in Sedona, to living as far away as Madrid, I’ve seen fall come and go in many different colors, and flavors, surrounded by different (and sometimes unexpected) people. I could tell you the Falls that were the most beautiful, most festive, and flavorful. If we had more time together, I would share with you about the Fall months my heart was full with friends and community, and the ones when loneliness followed behind me like a hand knit scarf.

Its easy to think that Fall should look and feel a certain way. But those that find themselves displaced from their homes by floodwater, for the broken hearted that mourn the loss of someone they thought would still be here, for the warrior women mustering courage as chemo drips into their veins, for you who are scared, or lonely, or disillusioned, Fall might look different than what you envisioned.

For those of us wrapped in Autumn nostalgia, and enjoying all the trimmings of Fall, enjoy. But for those finding that the festivity feels hollow this year, take heart. Jesus is in our midst, whatever your Fall looks like.

As I anticipate this season with my family, the prayer that I want to share with you is one we have spoken since I had to sit on my knees to reach the dinner table as a small kid. Its a prayer that my two little girls know by heart. I like it because its simple. It invites Jesus to come and join us wherever we’re at. Come Lord Jesus. It asks Him to make His home in our hearts and walls. Be our guest. It recognizes and thanks Him for what He has done, and what He is doing in our midst. Let these gifts to us be blessed.

As you snuggle in, and draw your loved ones close. As you slow down and sip life in, I pray that you would live out this prayer in your ordinary, every day. I pray that it would weave into your threadbare soul and keep your heart warm with a homespun kind of hope that gives comfort no matter where you find yourself this Fall—unpainted toes and all.

My First Book Launch Team: More Than Just Making It

About 6 weeks ago I signed up to be a part of my first ever book launch team. I didn’t know what this was exactly, but I knew I was 100% behind the author Erin Odom. You see, I’m in a writing support and encouragement group called Hope*Writers. Us Hope*Writers, we like to stick together, to pray for one another, to give positive feedback, and to promote each others work. But in HW, Erin is a shining star. Not just because her blog, Humbled Homemaker, is an amazing resource for moms (it is!), and not just because she is a great writer (she is), but because she is a person that is always answering questions, lifting others up, and offering encouragement and useful advice to other aspiring writers. This is an author I want to get behind.

To my surprise, her book More Than Just Making It wasn’t about mindful living or deeper spiritual awareness like I initially thought. Those are threads woven into it too, but when my book arrived in the mail, I laughed out loud. The full title was: More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated. While I’d love to read another book on living in the moment, receiving this book was a God wink, or as Erin calls it, “a kiss from Jesus.”

Yes God had been listening to my prayers. A burst pipe and a flooded house have displaced us from our home all summer. Dealing with insurance and the onslaught of expenses was not the easy process we’d imagined. In March my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease that meant a week long hospital stay, prescriptions, and a monthly visit to the hospital’s infusion center. As a LCMS pastor, my husband is blessed with a generous paycheck, but all these circumstances on top of each other, meant God was challenging us to make every dollar count.

 Money is an uncomfortable topic that most of us would rather avoid. But Erin cuts through the tension with personal stories that pull you in. Her useful advice feels like its coming more from a friend over coffee, rather than just a book of how to’s. More than that, her engaging stories and compelling honesty help me think about other friends that may be in need. Friends that beneath the smiling facade, might be struggling to buy enough food to feed their family. Her book has helped me become more clued in to the difficult reality that exists within my own community and church.

I recommend Erin’s book if you’re looking for ideas on how to make your budget stretch, or even looking for supplemental income. I also recommend her book for those that are financially secure, to go along with Erin on her journey as an educated woman from a “good Christian home,” living in poverty. She upends our comfortable categories, and challenges readers to see that anyone could find themselves barely making it.

More than Making It shares a message of hope, offering practical advice, along with the hope that comes from faith and God’s redemption.

After all, Erin Odom is an example of how God can walk with us through difficult circumstances, that shape us into Hope*Writers; she is a walking testament to how our sad songs become love songs, and how our struggles transform into stories of His goodness.

Pre-order your copy of More Than Just Making It before September 5th to receive $220 of free bonus gifts. 

Dog Years

Hours pass like a slow drip, belly full of jumping beans,
Days ticked off a calendar,
Until the day that meant another year older,
“When Mommy…when?
“Shhh…Not yet.”

At a desk, Staring out the window, 
Sprinklers dot the glass,  
Sun and kelly green grass shout summer,
 “Ms. Lake, Can we leave….now?
“Shhh…Not yet.”

Slow days measured by ringing bells
The hallway stretches so long,
Ruby red cap, pressed gown, behind a closet door,
“Is it time?”
“Shhh…Not yet.”

Hair grown long, mind made up,
Perfect plans with sips of coffee,
Kitten Heels, A job, A lease
“Do I have it figured out?”
“Shhh..Not yet.”

Candles, a ring, a date on the calendar,
One day that changes all tomorrows,
Wrapped in white, hair pinned to perfect,
“Dad, Am I ready?”
“Shhh…Not yet.”

Swollen, aching, impatient 
Bursting with life, Ripe with change,
Belly hiding toes, Quiet pastel room,
“Dr, Is she coming?”
“Shh…Not yet.”

Anxious, praying, hoping trusting
Letting go of what is, Waiting for what’s coming,
Tears of change, Heart spilling life,
“God…Will it ever make sense?”
“Shh…Not yet.”

 

 

 

Date Night

Lets pour our dreams on draft

like cool amber liquid

topped with white foam

forming mustaches

flirt with me

and you can catch my heart

once again.

smiling and laughing

and loving like we have

one life to live,

and I’d pick you to share mine with

again and again.

tonight my love,

tomorrow a daddy,

my husband always.